Archive for the ‘True Grit’ Category

I’ve been watching movies for a long time. When I say that, I don’t mean “watching” in the traditional sense, there’s just not really a better word. Everybody “watches” movies, it’s like breathing oxygen. I watch movies, and I’ve been doing it for a long time.

So, it is with that experience that I say this: Every year, critics whine that the movies were crap THIS year. Every December I read about declining ticket sales, public disinterest, and old geezers lamenting about “the old days” of Schindler’s list, Gladiator, and Citizen Cane and how “they don’t make ’em like that any more.”

Having said that, 2010 truly was garbage.

There were some greats, don’t get me wrong. But, I went through 2010 with a fine-toothed comb, week by week, checking the releases to make sure I hadn’t missed anything*. I looked at my list, floating around 7, and thought “there has to be 3 more movies that are best-of worthy. I eventually filled it in with what were, in my opinion, my favorite 10 movies of 2010.

(* note: I did not see “The Fighter” or “Black Swan” and judging by the industry buzz those two would have likely cracked this list. Also, for simplicity purposes I kept the top 10 to Wide Release films only. I would like to add that I am a supporter of independent film and there are many great movies that were released this year and I urge everyone to read up on some of the arthouse offerings.)

1. The Social Network


With credit to the geezers, they really don’t make ’em like this anymore. Just so you know my intentions, I admit that there’s a time in place to watch Jason Statham crack skulls and Megan Fox run from robots. While I appreciate escapism, I still can tell the difference between cheap thrills and art.

Social Network is the kind of film that not only tells a story, but captures a generation. With a group of college-age geniuses on the front lines of a changing society, SN gives us emotion in heavy doses, wrapped in crisp biting dialogue and bundled in one flawless package. It is powerful, it is thought-provoking, and its funny, with each character stealing the scenes simultaneously. Every actor shines and in my opinion the Oscars can’t give this film enough nominations.

2. Inception


Christopher Nolan is, as far as film is concerned, a god. If I were to ever teach a film appreciation class The Presitge, Memento and Inception would be required texts with the Batman series being optional for extra credit. The man manages to excel at exactly what makes smash bang directors like Michael Bay fail, he blends satisfying popcorn with deep brain teasing concepts. Case in point, he makes super hero movie and adds a layer of social commentary, pyscho-analysis and just plain blow-your-mind craziness.

In Inception, he gives us the world of the dream. Multiple actually. And then stands them on top of each other like a Jenga game. He gives us eye candy like zero gravity fight scenes and Ellen Page while using his bells and whistles to drive the story forward, upward, downward, backward and any direction he wants to. Now that I’ve seen the making-of featurettes, I only have more respect for the filmmaker and his desire to push the boundaries of story and picture without sacrificing heart and purpose. And, lest we forget, he only uses green screens when he absolutely has to.

Choke on that George Lucas.

3. It’s Kind of a Funny Story


Story is one of those rare quiet films that make you feel like it’s just good to be alive. It follows a teen dealing with depression who checks into a psychiatric ward. In many ways it’s what you expect, he meets some characters that make him appreciate what he has, he finds out things about himself he didn’t know, he meets a girl (Newcomer Emma Roberts – Julia’s niece).

Not exactly mind blowing stuff. But IKOAFS is just so darn charming in it’s blend of reality and fantasy – during a therapy session the characters, via pseudo-dream sequence, perform Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure, and it is pure gold – and it’s dark humor – watch out for some truly awesome vomit sequences – that you can’t help but smile. I walked out of the theater smelling the air and wanting to go on an adventure.

4. True Grit


Jeff Bridges shows his range in the latest endeavor from the Cohen Brothers. Bridges did country in Crazy Heart, the Cohens did country in No Country For Old Men, but in both cases True Grit is something entirely new.

The dialogue is perfect. So perfect it’s almost unbelievably good but who cares? You’ll want to take your Delorian back to the frontier just so you can spar with LaBeuf.

5. Shutter Island


I’ve always liked Scorsese. His films have a distinct visual style that you can pick out almost as though you were in an art gallery. He uses color, light and contrast to literally paint a scene so that even when the plot is on pause, the image dazzles.

In Shutter Island, Scorecese takes his steady directing hand to the Thriller genre, which is hardly known for beauty, and the result is absolutely mystifying. Some viewers complained about the plot, but I remember walking out of the theater and immediately calling a friend to discuss it. This week I was able to watch it again and I caught more intricacies than before and even knowing the end was pulled into this eerie world where nothing is what it seems.

For me, I thought the story was fresh and in the masters hands, it’s simply art.

6. The Town


I’ve never been to Boston, so a lot of the pseudo-romantic talk about capturing the “beat” and “essence” of the city in movies like The Departed and The Town is lost on me. Still, Ben Afflec’s latest is oozing with a particular vibe that is hard to define.

It’s a quiet movie, about bank robbers. In that way it passes on the glitz and bubble gum of other heist flicks like Ocean’s 11 and 13 (there is no 12) and The Italian Job and instead feels more akin to talkies from the production code era, except that every other word is an F* bomb.

The film is one giant juxtaposition, from the tender scenes of romance to the expletive rants to the actual heists where criminals don masks that look like Michael Myers joined a convent. It pulses, like a breathing animal, down on all fours and preparing to pounce; and even though it never quite explodes like you think it might, you come to find out that has been its strength all along.

7. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World


Great film is like good food. We all know that there are superior culinary arts, garnished and presented flambe in a bed of tastes and textures. Sometimes though, we just want to dump Hershey’s syrup in a bowl of ice cream and go to town.

Watching Scott Pilgrim is like being a kid in a candy store. For two hours you are bombarded almost incessantly with audio a visual stimuli and the more it dips into crazy town the more you find yourself loving the ride.

8.RED

Now we’re in the minor leagues. Two year’s ago RED (a good movie, to be certain) would never have even scratched the top 10 and certainly would not be in the running for a best picture award (Golden Globes, comedy division).

Alas, this is the year that we are writing about and I loved watching RED. The title stands for Retired, Extremely Dangerous and refers explicitly to Bruce Willis but also the combined force of Morgan Freeman, Dame Helen Mirren (she’s a Dame right?) and John Malkovich who dusted off his particular brand of crazy for this one. All of the above named are retired special forces operatives thrown back into action when Willis is targeted by the CIA, personified by the ever-enjoyable and drastically underrated Karl Urban (Star Trek’s Bones).

Add in the mousy-hot Mary Louise Parker as the love interest and civilian audience liaison and you have a recipe for a fresh spin on a tired genre of comedy action flicks, of which we’ve had an abundance this year (The A-Team, The Losers, The Expendables – note, I’m not ragging on these movies, I actually thought they were all pretty good, ok, and awesome, respectively).

9. Knight and Day

I’m not afraid to admit it, I’m a Tom Cruise fan. Sure, he’s kind of crazy these days, but as I always remind my friends I’m Mormon, and it doesn’t get much crazier than that. Tommy Boy, despite his loss of star power, has been delivering some solid hits these days (M:I-3, Tropic Thunder) and this little gem sadly went mostly unnoticed during the doldrums of summer.

In K&D Cruise plays a government agent of questionable mental stability being hunted by his own and lugging around Cameron Diaz for eye candy. That said, Diaz manages to bring the funny, especially during a sequence where she is mildly sedated (actually, there’s 2 sequences like that but only one in which SHE is funny, the other one is all Tom).

This is popcorn entertainment at its best. It doesn’t change your world view, it doesn’t make you switch political parties, it just delivers some fast paste clever entertainment. Some of the supporting players run a little thin and the ending fizzles but Cruise in his off-hilter uber-trained paranoia is an absolute delight.

10. Easy A

I had some qualms going into Easy A. Emma Stone plays a geeky nobody at a high school where having sex makes you the talk of the town … I’m sorry, but what High School in America is that? Eventually, however, I was able to swallow the pill of necessarily contrived plot devices and enjoy the story, which is darned enjoyable.

Easy A is a modern retelling of The Scarlett Letter. Stone lies about losing her virginity, gains some notoriety, then falls into a slippery slope of lying about trysts as favors to other societal outcasts until (ominous music) things get out of hand.

It’s not the most original plot, but the performances of Stone and supporting players Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci ARE original and dynamite. It’s the funniest high school script since Mean Girls and the best adolescent identity movie since the John Hughes Era (which receives healthy shout-outs during the movie). I wouldn’t give the movie an A, but it stands out amongst many comedy offerings this year.

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As is custom, the holiday’s brought me home for an extended period of time which, inevitably, coincided with an increase in film consumption. You all know the drill by now.

1. True Grit


I knew nothing of neither the book upon which this movie is based nor the original cinematic interpretation starring John Wayne when I walked into the theater. What I DID know, was that The Coen Brothers (No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man) had used their two-headed super powers to conjure up yet another holiday release brimming with Oscar Buzz.

Oscar Buzz can sometimes shoot a movie in the foot, driving up viewer expectations to a point where they can’t appreciate the filmmaking achievement for lack of raw entertainment value. In a way, they can’t see the forest for the trees and all around them loudspeakers shout “WOAH, LOOK AT THIS F***ING FOREST!”

True Grit, however, did not disappoint and will surely land on my 10 Best films of 2010 (coming soon). It tells the story of a young girl, played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who hires a U.S. Marshal – a one-eyed Jeff Bridges – to track down her father’s killer. Along they way they join forces (kind of) with a cock-sure Texas Ranger named LaBeof (pronouced, hilariously, La-Beef) played by Matt Damon.

The bones of the story are what you would expect. Three travelers in unfriendly terrain tracking down killers and encountering any number of obstacles along the way. What elevates Grit from the pack, however, is brilliant diologue that makes you wonder “did they really talk like that?” but not really care because it’s just so good. The Coen brothers also weave together bits of whimsey and surrealism with tense action and a fair dose of gory violence. Steinfeld is pitch-perfect as the pushy-tenacious Matti while Bridges and Damon spar with brilliantly defined characters.

In many ways, the plot itself is merely the device that allows you to take a journey through an artistic interpretation of the Wild West. In Grit, this little history lesson in Americana takes on a form and feel so uniquely constructed that it rivals Last of the Mohicans in pure grandeour, even while it revels in its own simplicity. A-

2. Megamind


I’m not really one for cartoons. I understand and appreciate their role in our cinematic society and simply put I am not their target audience so I usually do everyone involved a favor and avoid them entirely. From a critical standpoint, the average cartoon is a contrived cookie cutter form of entertainment designed for family-friendliness and younger audiences who ask nothing more than to be dazzled for 80 minutes or less by flashing colors. Again, that’s not me.

So, in a holiday spirit I joined my sister and her children for a viewing of MegaMind at the discount theater.

For every “Toy Story” that blends genres and transcends itself to provide clever refreshing entertainment to all ages, there’s about 9 “Shrek the Thirds” that seem to be phoned-in box packages that come equipped with their own punchlines and provide a “satisfactory” taste in the mouth. MegaMind is the latter.

The premise is cute enough, alien kid lands on earth and is reared in a prison, destined to be the bad guy. His rival is superman (essentially) and they battle until one day superman dissapears and bad guy wins once and for all. He soon becomes bored being a yin with no yang and seeks to create a new counterpart to do battle with but in the process learns that he’d rather be the good guy blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Perfectly adequate in every way. B-

3. How do you know


James Brooks’ latest is having a rather rough time at the box offices. After a fairly aggressive marketing campaign HDYK failed to find its audience and seems to have puttered out after 4 weeks with about $25 mill. For those of you who don’t talk Box Office, that’s not very good.

Then again, anyone who has ever seen a movie directed by George Lucas knows that success DOES NOT equal quality.

In HDYK we find George (Paul Rudd), a shlubbishly charming boy scout of a man suddenly under the strain of a large-scale fraud investigation. In a swift progression George finds himself increasingly down-trodden by fate, losing his job, his apartment and his girlfriend.

Sidestep frame, and we encounter Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) a plucky olympic-level softball player who has just been cut from the U.S.A. team, but doesn’t know it yet. She begins dating a cocky, yet admirably honest baseball star (Owen Wilson) and then the world drops out from under her feet just as she meets George. He is smitten (who wouldn’t be) but he’s also falling apart at the seems. She’s confused, and tries to navigate the changes in her life without breaking down and screaming.

I found HDYK charming. For me it was one of those rare occurences where a romantic comedy brings something fresh to the table and in the vein of reigning champion 500 Days of Summer it’s humor is built on the wrenching awkwardness of everyday encounters and miscommunications rather than the cliched idiocy of contrived rom-com trash. There are many scenes where Rudd’s behavior as the nice-to-a-fault George make you squirm in your seat the way that Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott did in the glory days of The Office, begging the movie to end the suffering while simultaneously causing you to giggle unceasingly.

Jack Nicholson, in a supporting role, is as magnetic as ever as George’s father and corporate employer. He brings just enough crazy and just enough heart to make you wonder what he’ll do next and is solely responsible for the films funniest and most admirable gag: an intentional GOTCHA that winks its eye at the very genre you’re watching.

I doubt this movie will be in theaters much longer, but catch it if you can, or grab it on DVD when it’s out. B

4. The Fall.


It’s hard to put “The Fall” into a box. It tells the quiet story of an injured stuntman in a hospital, befriending a young girl and telling her the fantasy story of 5 heroes on a quest for vengeance. The story, through her imagination, is shown in fascinating visual style via mesmerizing cinematography.

In many ways, it reminded me of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. Not in the actual product but in the way that the scenes seemed like thinly connected artistic segments. There’s an an underlying story, one that is represented both literally and metaphorically through the story being told, and yet you get the feeling that what your seeing is supposed to represent something larger that is not expressed directly through the events.

It is a visual treat, and a beautiful film, but at times the plot seems to be sacrificed to the visuals like Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones”, not enhanced by them like “Hero.” The Fall is a singular film, in his review Roger Ebert worte “You might want to see for no other reason than because it exists. There will never be another like it”

In the end I would certainly recomend it, but it left me wanting more. B

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