Jan 30, 2011


To quote Anthony Lane: "...the film should be endured for the sake of its leading man".
Endured is the operative word.
Javier Bardem's controlled, intelligent, beautiful performance is the only thing of integrity in this overblown, pretentious, tiresome movie. Except for the fact that everything happens in Barcelona and mainly to one character, instead of the customary multiple threads in Alejandro González Iñárritu's work, I don't see that he has curbed his melodramatic tendencies at all. Quite the contrary, at this point it is evident that Iñárritu has a hyper-sentimental, super-melodramatic sensibility that he wields with the finesse of a wrecking ball, and it is useless to expect from him any kind of restraint in the emotional department. Or in any department. He hits every note, of acting, cinematography, editing, sound design, art direction so hard and so bluntly, that you leave the film absolutely exhausted, as if you had ran a long and joyless marathon. Which is a pity, because he certainly works with extremely talented people and he is capable of orchestrating great scenes once in a while. Unfortunately, his intense energy, which has always been his strong suit, has given way to a sanctimonious moralizing streak I find endlessly boring. 
Biutiful keeps falling back on familiar tropes, and Iñárritu's style has now become a formula, which is to say, a cliché. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto is a master of color and composition, and he shoots the human face beautifully. The richness of detail in every frame is almost overwhelming. However, the cinematography would have had a much more powerful effect if they had held back a little on the wow factor. It's as if they want to show off their prowess in every single scene. There is a chase scene that tries to do, much less effectively, what the amazing and much imitated opening sequence of Amores Perros did much better; there is a too long sequence at a disco that tries to overdo the sequence at the Japanese disco in Babel. As much as I like Gustavo Santaolalla, a lot of the music is a rehash of all the scores he's done for the director, except for a lovely piano piece that mercifully cuts through those weepy guitars. And the writing is ponderously poetic, self-conscious and stilted. Plus, I'm tired of the globalization thing. 
Javier Bardem is the miraculous center of stillness in this humorless hurricane of pathos. He is a great enough actor that he shrugs off every excess around him and applies himself to the task with such dignity and grace, that if it weren't for him I probably would have abandoned ship halfway through. He counters the director's broadness with a magnificent, restrained, deeply empathetic performance. Not so his cohort Maricel Álvarez, who, because she is supposed to be bipolar, is instructed to tear up in every scene as if she was in the receiving end of tear gas canisters. She tries too hard to be manic, in a failed Almodovarian way. But Almodovar is a master at calibrating the bipolar tendencies of women with spunk, charm, and loving humor, whereas here what should be a sympathetic character quickly becomes someone you want to silence with a fist to the face. One cannot understand how a superior human specimen like Javier Bardem could fall for such a floozy. 
Many are the flaws of this movie, but to see a great actor rise quantum leaps above his material, check out Javier Bardem. 

Jan 29, 2011

The Company Men

A fabulous cast (Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Maria Bello, Rosemary De Witt, Kevin Costner), is wasted on what feels like an episode of a TV series.
I wonder if writer-director John Wells saw the excellent Italian movie Days and Clouds, because it just so happens that in both movies the people who lose their jobs work building ships at shipyards. I strongly recommend Days and Clouds, a personal horror story of the downward spiral of a sophisticated, upwardly mobile family. At its center is a flawed and fascinating character and the movie grips you because he is stubborn, arrogant, yet deeply sympathetic (the wonderful Antonio Albanese). In contrast, The Company Men feels like a lifeless, paint by numbers affair. At its center is also a stubborn and arrogant man, sympathetically played by Ben Affleck, but everyone in this movie is written like a sketch.  I wonder if American audiences will ever tire and revolt against the stick figures that pass for characters in Hollywood. To be fair, the characters in this movie are not one dimensional. They have one dimension and a half.
Two things make The Company Men worth putting in your Netflix queue:
The illustration that even people who have impressive sounding titles like Senior Vice President of Blibli Blublu, live in enormous houses and drive Porsches are up to their necks in debt and that their affluence is a delusional front aided and abetted by their incomprehensible enthusiasm for spending money they don't have.
The only other reason to sit through this movie (besides having the chance to watch Maria Bello even for a second) is Tommy Lee Jones. He is going on my nominee list. His character is a stretch: a decent corporate executive who is actually pained by layoffs even as his stock options soar. Yeah, right. But Jones brings no nonsense warmth and wit to this guy and he communicates volumes without saying a word. Somebody should make a movie of his face. You can feel he is tired and you can feel his pain, and you can feel his quiet outrage. The movie leaves its state of coma every time he commands the frame. He is funny, sharp, and awesome. 

Jan 26, 2011

Nomination Nation

Here we go again. This time it's 10 best picture nominations so presumably there will be more suspense until we confirm that indeed The King's Speech won.
Here are my agreements and disagreements. The lists are in order of personal preference. The color type -- the inexplicable snubs. Asterisk connotes actual prediction.
For the first time in years, the Best Picture category is a toss off and there are at least 5 good movies in it. Most probably it will be The King's Speech, today's Chariots of Fire, and a huge crowd pleaser. But it would be way cool if it was a bona fide American Western. Or an American movie. We finally got some great contenders. Fuck the Brits! I'm also rooting for Black Swan, for sheer cojones.

Best Picture
Black Swan
The Social Network

*The King's Speech
The Fighter 
Blue Valentine: I find it a travesty that this movie was ignored in most important categories. It is one of the best American movies of the year.
The Kids Are All Right 
127 Hours 
Winter's Bone Overrated. Indy has become a formula and they are always freezing their asses off. 
Toy Story 3 Haven't seen it yet...

Best Actor
James Franco, 127 Hours  As much as I love Firth, I'm rooting for Franco. Also since I believe that everything is already preordained, he may win only because he is the emcee.  
*Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Javier Bardem, Biutiful  Haven't seen him but he is always amazing. Or is he the token ethnic?
Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
Best Actress
*Natalie Portman, Black Swan I usually hate her, but she went to bat for this one. Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole I have not seen her. But contrary to what many of you think, she is a good actress.

Best Supporting Actor
*Christian Bale, The Fighter
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Frank Langella Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. 
Tommy Lee Jones The Company Men 
Ewan McGregor I Love you, Phillip Morris

Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right  Charming, but no great shakes.

Best Supporting Actress
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom 
*Amy Adams, The Fighter 

Melissa Leo, The Fighter 
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit. I'm the only person in the world who didn't love this girl. She's impressive but not great. 
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech She's great but she can do this in her sleep.

Best Director
This one is tough to predict. I'm really bad at predictions because I predict with my heart, and not with algorithmic calculation. 
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit GO COENS! 
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan GO DARREN!
*David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter
Derek Cianfrance Blue Valentine

Best Original Screenplay
Blue Valentine This script will be studied for generations to come. Egregious mistake not to nominate it. 
Black Swan Why is it not here?
*The King's Speech
The Fighter 
Another Year 
Inception You've got to be kidding me.
The Kids Are All Right 
This movie worked my last nerve.

Best Adapted Screenplay
True Grit
*The Social Network
127 Hours
Toy Story 3
Winter's Bone

Best Cinematography
Black Swan
(Consolation prize)
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
Everything is yellow, as in every David Fincher movie.

Best Foreign Film 
*Biutiful (Mexico) They tend to pick tearjerkers.
Dogtooth (Greece)  I'm rooting for this one. I'm amazed it made the cut. A very original, disturbing film.
Hors la Loi (Outside the Law) (Algeria)
Incendies (Canada)
In a Better World (Denmark)

Documentary (Feature)
Exit through the Gift Shop YAY! Banksy sells out!
* Inside Job
Waste Land 
I found this doc irritatingly self-serving. 
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work  An honest look at a hardworking, desperate, hilarious woman.

Best Animated Film
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
*Toy Story 3

Art Direction
The King's Speech
True Grit

*Inception Consolation prize 
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1


Costume Design
Alice in Wonderland
I Am Love
*The King's Speech
True Grit

Music (Original Score)
*The Social Network GO TRENT REZNOR!
True Grit Carter Burwell
How to Train Your Dragon (?)
The King's Speech
I love Desplat but who gets the Oscar, Beethoven?
127 Hours
I hate the A.H Rahman disco adventure. All that was missing was a mirror ball.

Film Editing
*Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network

Sound Editing
Toy Story 3
Tron: Legacy
True Grit

Sound Mixing
*The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

Barney's Version
The Way Back
The Wolfman

Music (Original Song) WHO CARES?

*“Coming Home” from Country Strong
“I See the Light” from Tangled
“If I Rise” from 127 Hours
“We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3

Documentary (Short Subject)
Killing in the Name
Poster Girl
Strangers No More
Sun Come Up
The Warriors of Qiugang

Short Film (Animated)
Day & Night
The Gruffalo
Let's Pollute
The Lost Thing
Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)

Short Film (Live Action)
The Confession
The Crush
God of Love
Na Wewe
Wish 143

Jan 23, 2011

Blue Valentine

According to Richard Brody from The New Yorker:
Blue Valentine is a blend of a TV commercial and an acting class; it's a portentous and monotonous slog through deterministically scripted plot points, overcalculated performances, and artificial poignancy — an utter non-experience.

Funny, because Brody usually waxes poetic about the most pretentious, portentous and monotonous films himself. He gives ecstatic reviews to obscure, irrelevant oddities. So why the nastiness towards a good, honest movie like Blue Valentine? This is as ineffable as his pedantic taste. Read Anthony Lane's review instead (after you are finished with this one, of course). He nails it.

There is nothing in Blue Valentine that is remotely similar to a TV commercial (we wish) and yes, it is an acting class, but in the best sense of the word: with two brave actors (Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling) who put themselves on the line in order to create absolutely believable, endlessly complicated, flesh and blood characters. The depth of character and painful intimacy of Blue Valentine you rarely see in American movies. The one influence that comes to mind is John Cassavettes.
This film by Derek Cianfrance is a very well written, beautifully crafted story of a real romance: a couple meets, falls in love, tries to build a life together and fails miserably.
It is as life: bittersweet, predictable yet full of surprises, sad, tough, complicated and lovely.  Except perhaps for one harrowing family dinner scene that seems a bit of a cliché, you will not find in Blue Valentine the usual stereotypes, not those of Hollywood nor of American independent films. Every aspect of character that could be one dimensional is offset by real shading and complexity, so instead of types (artsy hipster guy meets hardworking small town girl) you have real characters.
As played by Ryan Gosling, Dean is an eccentric with a charming but immature romantic streak who is content with doing odd jobs and being an oddball. A potential creative type with zero ambition, he is a good dad and a loving husband but he is also a pill -- a man who deploys charm as a deadly weapon until he wears people down, with whom it is impossible, as Cindy points out, to have an adult conversation. There is a very sharp edge beneath his sweet nature. At first one thinks Cindy is a plain, relatively shy, no nonsense woman, but as you get to know her you find deep undercurrents of toughness and a sadomasochistic streak. She is as emotionally repressed and passive as he is defensive. Good luck trying to make this work out.
As we see the story unfold from a marriage that is not working anymore, to courtship, to before the courtship, to the beginning of the relationship, we learn who they are and why they act the way they do. There is perhaps one sentence of exposition in the entire film, and it is so well deployed towards the end of the film, that it deepens our understanding of Dean's actions and the entire arc of his character, though it happens at the beginning of their courtship. Because of the time structure, there are many rich layers of meaning to be mined from this movie. A conversation about a former boyfriend between Cindy and Dean gains a whole different meaning once the movie goes back in time. The structure goes back and forth, but it is always clear where the relationship is. This movie should get the Oscar for best original screenplay.
The one false time note is that Dean loses his hair and starts wearing glasses, looking 20 years older, and so one thinks that the movie spans a longer period and then you realize that it's only been 4 or 5 years since they met. Perhaps Cianfrance and Gosling wanted to show the toll of a life of diminishing returns and steady drinking, but it's the only thing in the movie that seems arbitrary and artificial. Williams' physical transformation is much more successful. Just by putting her hair up in a bun and giving it the remnants of a bad dye job, gaining a little weight, and shooting her from less flattering angles, she goes from being a sprightly, beautiful girl to a harried, exhausted working mom (put anybody in a nurse's uniform and watch them age instantly). Williams is both sexy gorgeous and plain-looking and although her role is not as flashy as Gosling's, I think it is the tougher part, for she is much more of a mystery and a loose cannon, albeit one who bottles everything up. Williams has a harder time making Cindy into a psychologically consistent character. But perhaps the point of Cindy is that she isn't. Dean definitely is. He marches to the beat of his own drummer but it is always perfectly clear what that is. Both of them are outstanding.
Had the story been told chronologically, the movie could have slid into tawdry melodrama, but because it jumps around in time, it allows the audience to discover the characters instead of obsessing with what is going to happen. It's like when you meet someone new, a friend, colleague or partner.  Many times your first impression (you think you nailed them) is going to disappear under the force of their real personality as it emerges through time, until you barely recognize whatever it is you saw in them at the beginning.
A film that allows the audience to get to know its characters so deeply and intimately is nothing short of miraculous. What this clear eyed, deeply poignant but unsentimental movie breaks to the audience, not too gently, is that love is going to take a thorough thrashing at the hands of real life. So grow a pair because if you love, you are going to need one.

Jan 20, 2011

My Golden Globs of Snot

After a prolonged absence in which we went up and down temples in the set of Apocalypse Now, Cambodia, and The King and I, Thailand, and I came back with a terrible sinus infection I ascribe to accidentally snorting beer, here are the people who I consider should be rewarded for their acting and directing in movies this year:
(I'm missing some important movies like Blue Valentine, but I have been sick and unable to hit the screens, which is driving me to despair. This post will be updated as I watch more films).

Best Actor
James Franco 127 Hours
Colin Firth The King's Speech
Jeff Bridges True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg The Social Network
Ryan Gosling Blue Valentine

Best Supporting Actor
Frank Langella Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and All Good Things  HE ROCKS. Christian Bale The Fighter 
Geoffrey Rush The King's Speech
Jack McGee The Fighter
Ewan McGregor I Love You Phillip Morris
John Hawkes Winter's Bone
All the lawyers except Rashida Jones in The Social Network. I adore the lawyers in this movie.
Best Actress
Natalie Portman Black Swan
Annette Benning The Kids Are All Right
Giovanna Mezzogiorno Vincere
Michelle Williams Blue Valentine
Jennifer Lawrence Winter's Bone

Best Supporting Actress
Jacki Weaver Animal Kingdom
Barbara Hershey Black Swan
Melissa Leo The Fighter
Amy Adams The Fighter
If it was up to me, they would all get it.

Best director
Olivier Assayas Carlos
Joon-Ho Bong Mother
Chang Dong Lee Poetry
The Coen Brothers True Grit
Benjamin Heisenberg The Robber
Radu Muntean Tuesday After Christmas
Darren Aronofsky Black Swan

Best American Film
True Grit The Coen Brothers
Blue Valentine Derek Cianfrance
Black Swan Darren Aronofsky
The Fighter David O. Russell 
The Social Network David Fincher

Best Foreign Film
Carlos  France
Mother Korea
Poetry  Korea 
The Robber Austria (Dumbed down American version coming soon)
Vincere  Italy
Tuesday After Christmas Romania
Dogtooth Greece

Jan 17, 2011

My Golden Globs Recap

There isn't any because I screwed up my TV. It's a long story. I don't have cable either. So I didn't watch them. Now, with twitter and all that live blogging, you don't have to see the shows to know what's happening. It's even more fun (if you go to the right live blogging sites with literate people and not just people who scream OMG! LMAO!).
I will give you a recap anyway.
1. The British elephant in the room; namely, Mr. Gervais: You hired him, you stick by your decision, you stupid foreign press fucks. I saw the opening monologue today on the internet. I thought it was funny. However, as the evening progressed it got more mean spirited and rather acrid. Actors, like my beloved RDJ, fought back.
As many others have pointed out, if you want Tinkerbell to host the show, don't hire Ricky Gervais. And if you do, don't backtrack like a sissy. Own it. 
2. Gervais was at least funnier than Robert De Niro. Next time hire someone funny to write your shtick, Bob. US Latinos, constitutionally impervious to irony, were promptly saying he was being racist. Dudes, you have to stop watching the novelas and the sleazy talk shows and sharpen your sense of humor. He wasn't funny, or relevant, but he was not being a racist.
3. I don't care who won or who lost, because it's going to happen 25 times again between now and the Oscars.  But I'm glad for Paul Giamatti. And glad for the music of The Social Network.  But not particularly glad for The Social Network. So now it's time to thank Mark Zuckerberg, the man you made look like a total douche, since you are on the road to Oscar, huh?  Collecting good will and Brownie Points? Sorkin and Fincher, I'm talking to you. Own it.
4. I love what Tilda Swinton wore. That dame has class. She didn't look like a mermaid, upholstery at the Munsters mansion or Jessica Rabbit, like everybody else. She looked elegant and original and she must be commended.

And that's my recap.