Archive for the ‘Oscars 2009’ Category

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Bunch Of Short Movie Reviews

June 16, 2009

Okay, so my goal to make a new post each day might have been reaching a bit. I clearly am not meeting that goal and on Fridays and Saturdays I simply don’t have the time to do it. So I’m going to lower my expectations and shoot for 4-5 updates a week. I’m finding myself having a hard time writing movie reviews. I want to talk about some of the films I’ve seen recently, but I can’t seem to find my voice. It just isn’t feeling right to me lately…. with that said, here are some quick thoughts on some recent films I’ve seen:

Zack & Miri Make A Porno – I liked this a lot more the second time I watched it. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood during my first viewing, or my woman was dragging me down, or my expectations were too high after hearing so many people say how good it was… whatever the case may be, I was really underwhelmed the first time I saw it. However, my initial reaction was misguided as this was a fun and humorous flick. It has a unique plot and plenty of crude humor and it’s Kevin Smith’s best film in nearly a decade. Also, Justin Long absolutely kills it in his cameo role as a gay porn star at a high school reunion. “Yes… fucking movies”

Grade: 6 out of 10 (recommended)

Observe & Report – I went and saw this with a group of people and I liked it more than everyone else. Seth Rogen seems to be in everything lately, but this is the first time I’ve seen him in a darker role since he played a random bully in Donnie Darko back before he was a star. I think this was Rogen’s best performance to date though and I found this dark comedy to be pretty damn funny and entertaining all around. Spoiler alert… the ending was pretty shocking when Rogen’s character walks up and shoots the streaker. That took me by surprise… what was even more surprising was how everything in the film was building up to a depressing conclusion, but somehow an unemployed former mall security guard can walk up to someone, shoot them in broad day, and not only avoid a jail bid, but have everyone cheering for him like a hero in the end. I thought it was a corny way to end an otherwise ominous film.

Grade: 6 out of 10 (recommended)

Milk – It took me forever to watch this movie. I rented it on March 11th and returned it on May 19th… I started watching it at least eight different times before I finally sat through the whole thing. That’s not a knock on the film though, it’s just a reflection of how much of a priority film-watching has been to me lately… because this movie was really, really good. I was shocked when Sean Penn won Best Actor earlier this year since all the hype was pointing towards Mickey Rourke and, to a lesser extent, Frank Langella. I saw both of those performances before the awards and even though I hadn’t seen Milk yet, I didn’t think Penn was going to top either one. I was wrong. Having seen all the nominated performances (aside from dude in The Visitor), I think Penn was hands down the best. It’s one of those rare performances where the actor completely becomes the character… so much that you forget that you’re even watching Sean Penn. It was truly remarkable. On top of that, Harvey Milk’s story was an interesting one, James Franco was really good, and Emile Hirsch is quickly rising on my list of favorite actors. While Milk probably won’t have enough replay value to be worth owning for me, it’s definitely something I’d highly recommend everyone see at least once.

Grade: 8 out of 10 (excellent)

Rachel Getting Married – I only rented this movie because of the buzz surrounding Anne Hathaway’s performance… an actress more known for corny teeny-bopper flicks than Oscar-worthy material. I can’t say the story particularly interested me, but Hathaway was as good as advertised and I’m looking forward to seeing her test her acting chops even more in the future. The best scene in the film is when Hathaway gives a grimace-inducing speech at her sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner. This movie is worth watching for Hathaway alone, but if you don’t care about great performances in mediocre movies, you can skip this one.

Grade: 5.5 out of 10 (worth watching/recommended)

Lords Of Dogtown – Yeah, this movie is a bit older. It’s basically a film adaptation of the excellent 2002 documentary Dogtown & Z-Boys and follows the rise of a group of teenage skateboarding phenoms who build their skill sets by sneaking into someone’s back yard, draining their swimming pools, and honing their talents on their makeshift half-pipes. I can’t think of too many documentaries that have been recast with actors and turned into feature films, so I can see a lot of potential problems with the concept–most noticeably having an actor playing a real person that has already starred in the same story as themselves. However, all the actors did fairly well, and once again, Emile Hirsch knocked it out of the fucking park… which would give him a streak of three straight solid-to-excellent performances I’ve seen from him. Heath Ledger was also in this and was nearly as unrecognizable and amazing as he was playing The Joker. I didn’t even know it was him until halfway through the movie…. probably the first time he showed potential of his greatness. Overall, a fun and loyal adaption with surprisingly solid performances, but honestly, the documentary was much better and more interesting.

Grade: 6 out of 10 (recommended)

X-Men Origins: Wolverine – This movie got kind of slammed by critics, but I enjoyed it. It didn’t blow my mind and it doesn’t hold a candle to the much superior superhero films of last year (The Dark Knight & Iron Man), but I had fun watching it. I can’t say I’m familiar with any Wolverine comics at all, so I can’t comment on how faithful the adaptation was or if fanboys are going to think they butchered it. For all the hype surrounding a long awaited Gambit appearance, his character was pretty lame, didn’t contribute much to the film, and wasn’t nearly as bad ass as I remember him in the cartoons or video games. All I can really say about this movie is that it was entertaining, Lynn Collins is fucking gorgeous, and I need to get on Hugh Jackman’s workout regime for this film ASAP.

Grade: 5.5 out of 10 (worth watching/recommended)

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Oscars 2009 Wrap Up

February 26, 2009

First off, I went 14 of 24 in my Oscar pool, which is decent. I mostly missed the random categories like Best Animated Short and Best Short Live Action. I did make one big blunder, however, picking Benjamin Button over The Duchess in the Best Costumes category. I’ve seen enough footage from The Duchess to realize that was a shoo-in.

Secondly, let’s address snubs: no film got snubbed worse than The Wrestler. As it stands now, The Wrestler is one of the three best films I saw all of last year. With that said, I’d clearly put it in the running for Best Picture. I certainly liked it more than Benjamin Button and while I’m yet to see The Reader or Milk those typically aren’t the kind of films I see usurping The Wrestler from my top 3. Darren Aronofsky probably deserved a Best Director nod and the documentary-like cinematography should have gotten a nom in that category; along with The Dark Knight and Slumdog Millionaire the camera work in this film stood out to me more than any others. Also, it’s weird that Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler” not only got nominated for Best Song in all of the other award shows, but he also won, yet he was completely absent from the Oscar ballot. Go figure. Finally, the Best Original Screenplay category was one I wasn’t very familiar with (I haven’t seen three of the films), but the script for The Wrestler was better than In Bruges; that much I can say for sure.

As it happened, however, The Wrestler earned a total of two nominations (and it’s quite arguable that Marissa Tomei’s Best Supporting Actress nom was undeserved), but I think you can make a solid argument for seven nominations.

Other snubs:

The Dark KnightBest Picture
Chris Nolan – Best Director

Most Deserved Oscar – Heath Ledger as The Joker. I predicted a nomination for Heath after just hearing him talk over the teaser trailer. I could just sense that he was bringing something special to the table… plus my unwavering faith in Chris Nolan made me think that he picked the right guy for the job. I think ten years from now when people talk about the best performances of this decade, Heath Ledger’s Joker is going to be at the top of a lot of lists.

Most Underserved OscarBenjamin Button winning Best Visual Effects. Okay, we get it… the character ages backwards by computer effects and lots of good makeup. Yippee… How cool. Neat. Not quite the “wow factor” of seeing Tony Stark put on his Iron Man suit or seeing the BatPod in action, flipping an 18-wheeler on it’s back and then doing a 180 off a wall. This was the most bizarre win of the night IMO.

Biggest Shocker – Sean Penn taking down Best Actor. Again, I haven’t seen Milk, so I might be out of line… but all the hype was for Mickey Rourke and Frank Langella, and I have seen both of those performances and the hype is deserved. No one was really talking about Penn winning, so I’m sure I’m with the rest of the world in being surprised by this award.

Okay, that is all!

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In Bruges Review

February 15, 2009

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I’ve seen In Bruges on a couple of top ten lists and nominated for a couple of awards, including the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. I wasn’t too excited about it, however, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The plot about a couple of hitmen having to flee to Bruges because of a botched murder didn’t exactly reek of hilarity or originality to me. It didn’t help matters much that the first 20-30 minutes of the movie were boring enough for my girlfriend and best friend to quit watching it. I wasn’t exactly intrigued either, but I didn’t want stop watching it and hold onto it for several months instead of sending it back to Netflix, so I stuck it out… and I’m glad I did.

If you can stick out your initial boredom, you’ll actually find yourself watching a pretty funny film that is highlighted by the best performance of Colin Farrell’s career. I’m going to go ahead and spoil something that I don’t think is that important by saying that the characters of Farrell and Brendan Gleeson find themselves in Bruges because Farrell has accidentally killed a child while assassinating a priest and his boss (played fantastically by Ralph Fiennes) intends to give him one last vacation before his partner is to kill him.

What really stands out about In Bruges is the great dialogue the actors have to play with. The script is pretty good and gets much funnier in the second half of the film. I’m not exactly sure how this film gets nominated in the screenplay category while The Wrestler, a much superior film does, but it is a solid effort. Colin Farrell’s character is especially funny and is given several unique scenes to display his somewhat morbid sense of humor. Harry, the boss played by Fiennes, is the highlight of the film, however. I’ve never really thought of Fiennes as funny, which may be why his work in this movie really stands out as hilarious… although it is weird to see him being called “Harry,” whom he has been trying to destroy for two films as Lord Voldemort.

In Bruges is a pretty funny character piece. It’s more of a dramedy than a full blown comedy… and the pacing is troublesome at times, especially the first act of the film. It picks up nicely though and I found it to be a pleasant surprise. It’s not a must see, but it’s worth watching for its humor and for a Colin Farrell performance actually worth watching.

Score: 6 out of 10 (Recommended)

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The Wrestler: Top 3 of 2008

February 15, 2009

I had pretty high hopes for The Wrestler. Its director is responsible for one of the most memorable films of the past decade with 2000’s Requiem For A Dream and the praise for Mickey Rourke’s performance in the film has been overwhelming, with a number of sources claiming him the favorite for Best Actor. I also had a couple of people whose film opinions I hold in high regard tell me it was their favorite movie of the year, so even though I quasi-hated Aronofsky’s last film, The Fountain in 2006, The Wrestler had me quite excited to watch it.

When I heard that Darren Aronofsky was making a movie about a retired professional wrestler trying to deal with life after fame, I was already hooked, so it’s no surprise that I loved the story. I’d say it’s criminal that writer Robert Siegel (former Editor-In-Chief of The Onion) didn’t get a nomination, but I’ve only seen two of the five films nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category (Wall-E and In Bruges), so I’m not really sure. Regardless, the team involved here did more for character development within a couple months of Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s life than David Fincher and company could accomplish over eighty years in the life of Benjamin Button. No matter the case, anyone that can cause emotional resonance utilizing a dead beat professional wrestler who might as well be Hulk Hogan gets kudos from me.

Aronofsky has a tendency to make his presence overwhelmingly known in his projects. Pi was just flat out weird, Requiem For A Dream was a masterpiece, utilizing close-up vignettes for drug use and an unforgettably haunting and hypnotic score, and The Fountain might as well have been called Pretentious Shit. The director decides to take a more subtle approach with The Wrestler, displaying his uniqueness by filming the movie with a hand-held camera that gives it a documentary-like aesthetic. It’s almost like we’re taking a look at a couple of months of the life of a real person rather than watching a movie with fictional characters.

Mickey Rourke deserves all the praise he’s received for this film. As many have said, the role was built for him and I can’t imagine anyone else playing this character. They pretty much took Rourke’s life and paralleled it with Randy Robinson’s and then subbed out “acting” for “professional wrestling.” I still think Frank Langella might be the favorite for Best Actor, but I don’t think Rourke winning would be an upset at all. Marissa Tomei also earned a nod for Best Supporting Actress, and while she looks great at 40+ playing a stripper, her performance wasn’t one that people are going to remember years from now.

I really can’t say enough about how good this movie was. There are so many good scenes in it that I don’t want to waste my time describing each one… a couple of personal favorites are The Ram working in a deli interacting with customers and The Ram at a fan fest signing with minimal attendance looking around at the other fallen wrestlers and seeing a bit of himself in each one as the melancholy score plays in the background. I also loved the ending, which has received a few complaints for its ambiguity. I don’t think it’s ambiguous at all, however, and I said “Credits” two seconds before they started, so I clearly thought it was a perfect spot to end the film.

When all is said and done, The Wrestler stands as one of my three favorite films of 2008, right up there with Slumdog Millionaire and The Dark Knight. It’s without a doubt a must see, if not spectacular film, that will probably grow even stronger in viewers’ minds over time.

Score: 8.5/10 (Must Own/Potentially Classic)

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Benjamin Button: Forest Gump 2?

February 3, 2009

I want to start by saying that I don’t hate Benjamin Button even though it’s probably going to sound that way. It’s important to know that I went into this film expecting greatness for a variety of reasons: 13 Oscar nominations, Brad Pitt, the concept of a man aging backwards having all sorts of unique possibilities, and finally, director David Fincher is very accomplished (Zodiac, Fight Club, Se7en). I guess anything less than spectacular was going to be a disappointment for me.

The biggest problem I had throughout Benjamin Button is that I kept drawing comparisons to Forrest Gump and thinking about how much better that film executed everything. We have all sorts of familiar elements: our protagonists overcomes physical defects (mentally handicapped vs. aging backwards, Forest breaking out of his braces vs. Benjamin getting out of his wheelchair), we have extended periods of time spent at sea, we have a love interest that flutters in and out of a story that extends over decades, we have mother figures that perish, we have cooky side characters, and we have a long ass running time.

Forrest Gump was just a much, MUCH better film and I couldn’t ignore the fact that I kept thinking about it while watching Benjamin Button. Forrest Gump came out 15 years ago and I still remember Jenny, Bubba, and Lt. Dan as if that film came out yesterday; I can’t remember the name of the love interest or the sea captain in Benjamin Button and I saw that movie a week ago… and I think that’s really at the root of why this movie disappointed me. Outside of Benjamin, I just didn’t care about any of the other characters; and that’s a big problem, especially since the love story is at the emotional center of this movie. I only discovered this past week that Eric Roth, who wrote the screenplay, also wrote Forrest Gump. That gave me a good chuckle when I found that out.

The pacing of the film was also problematic since it has a really long running time. I couldn’t help but look at my cell phone and think that it was moving backwards because the movie was so slow. I think with a shorter run time and a focus on actually developing the characters, would have made Benjamin Button a more pleasurable experience.

I don’t want to give the impression that the film is a total disaster, it does several things well. Brad Pitt gives a very good performance as the main character, though I’m not convinced it’s his best work ever. Also, the cinematography, art direction, make-up, and costumes are all award worthy.

So yes, Benjamin Button is a respectable, if not good, film. The Forrest Gump similarities and poor pacing ruined the experience for me, but I can imagine that plenty of people will still thoroughly enjoy it. I’m just saddened by the fact that David Fincher is receiving all this recognition for this movie, when he’s made plenty of much better films in the past and I definitely don’t think it’s 2008’s critical darling. It’s quite possible that I’m being overly harsh on this movie because of all the hype surrounding, but I can’t deny the fact that I left the theater disappointed.

Score: 6 out of 10 (Recommended)

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Slumdog Millionaire Review

February 2, 2009

This movie is definitely worth of all the hype you’ve been hearing about it. I first got wind of Slumdog Millionaire via some random website’s list of the 25 best films of 2008. I was shocked to see it ranked #2, especially since, at the time, I had yet to hear of the film. The premise sounded promising enough: a young man goes on the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” and makes it to the final question only to find himself arrested for cheating and having to explain himself through flashbacks on how he happened to know the precise answers.

The high ranking on that list and the story had me interested enough to propel it to the top of my must see list. I entered the theater with a mixture of excitement and apprehension (how seriously can I take a website that lists Iron Man as the absolute best film of 2008?). I left the theater thinking that it was a good film, but feeling slightly disappointed that I wasn’t blown away. However, over the past month, the more I’ve thought about the film, the more I’ve realized how great everything about it was. In all honesty, I thought the story had the potential to be really hokey, but it didn’t come across very corny at all; some moments are downright chilling. The cinematography is astounding and Danny Boyle is a near lock to win the Best Director Oscar later this month. Also, anyone that fails to mention the effort that was put into the sound and music of this picture is making a mistake. I’m sure once you’ve seen this film a couple of times, you’ll be singing “Jai Ho” unintentionally over the days that follow. Finally, the cast of unknowns did a remarkable acting job and it looks like Dev Patel might be on his way to stardom, as his casting in M. Night Shamylan’s The Last Airbender, due out in 2010, might indicate.

I think when all is said and done, Slumdog Millionaire is taking down the Best Picture Oscar and will be remembered as the best film that came out in 2008.

Score: 8.5 out of 10 (Must Own/Potentially Classic)

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Batman Was Robbed!

January 31, 2009

With the Oscars coming up in February, I’ve been trying to see as many movies contending as possible. While award shows are generally popularity contests, I find the Oscars to be a rather accurate representation of the year’s best films and performances. However, I do have one big gripe with this year’s nominations: no Best Picture or Best Director nods for The Dark Knight and Chris Nolan’s amazing work on that film. The films picking up Best Picture noms are:

Milk
Frost/Nixon
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire
The Reader

I’m yet to see The Reader and Milk, but of the other three films only Slumdog Millionaire is arguably better than The Dark Knight, in my opinion. In support of my argument, it’s worth noting that only Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire received more total nominations than the latest Batman flick.

The academy seems to agree that The Dark Knight is a more technically impressive film than Frost/Nixon and The Reader; it picked up nominations for visual effects, cinematography, make-up, etc. So how is it that those films are better all around pictures? If the argument is direction, Chris Nolan did an amazing job and the IMAX cinematography was groundbreaking. If the argument is acting, the entire cast of The Dark Knight was at least above average and Heath Ledger gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen as The Joker. Yes, Frank Langella gave a staggering performance as former President Nixon, but I think if people look back on 2008 (and maybe even the entire decade), the performance everyone is going to remember is Heath Ledger’s Joker portrayal.

So it must come down to the writing. That’s the only aspect where The Dark Knight might be coming up short against the competition. Personally, I found the writing in TDK to be extremely well done. For such a long film, it was quickly paced; I was on the edge of my seat the whole time during my first viewing and one can’t help but be excited for The Joker’s next appearance. Heath’s performance was phenomenal, but the writer’s helped steer the character in the right direction. We don’t have The Joker dancing to Prince songs and we have the screenwriting team to thank for that. While some may prefer Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson’s cartoony rendition, I believe it’s unarguable that Heath Ledger’s dark and demented turn is a more accurate portrayal of the character and a much more intriguing fit for the big screen, especially in Nolan’s reality-based Gotham.

So while I can’t consider picking The Dark Knight for Best Picture, I do believe it should at least be in contention. Either way, my vote goes to Slumdog Millionaire, which is far and away the best made 2008 film I’ve seen.

I’ll be back with mini-review for Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Revolutionary Road, and maybe some others shortly.