Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (2/17/13 - 2/23/13)

Holy crap! This is late. LOL. I got caught up in the excitement of the Oscars, I completely forgot about posting this.

Inside Job (Charles H. Ferguson) ***1/2 - Despite having been raised by two people who worked in banks, I know next to nothing about financial stuff (math scares me - why else would I be into the arts? LOL) so one of the things which this film does quite successfully is to turn potentially confusing, complex financial banking principles understandable for the lay man while at the same time crafting a compelling narrative (and cinematic too) about the global economic collapse of 2008 and the fall out. It's one of those films which got me royally pissed off and outraged being the bleeding heart liberal that I am.

Lincoln (Steven Spielberg) **** - Calling this simply self-important "Oscar bait" is kind of doing it a disservice. The film about Lincoln's struggle to pass the 13th amendment of the U.S. constitution that abolishes slavery may sound like a history lesson but director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner manages to make a talky historical period piece into a rather gripping, rousing and even moving and thrilling drama. Spielberg's direction and Kushner's writing is a magical combination. And what puts this over-the-top is the terrific central performance of Daniel Day-Lewis who simply wows as Lincoln. If that's not enough, Spielberg populated the cast with an all-star ensemble of character actors who manages to make an impression not make simply just the Daniel Day-Lewis show. This is top-flight Spielberg for sure.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Final Predictions for the 85th Oscars

I also wanna say that I'm gonna try to live-Tweet the Oscars in my Twitter account @malcolm_irvin.


Ang Lee, Life of Pi

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Emmanuelle Riva, Amour

Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Michael Haneke, Amour

Chris Terrio, Argo


Amour, Austria.

Searching for Sugar Man

Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi

William Goldenberg, Argo

Sarah Greenwood (production design) & Katie Spencer (set decoration), Anna Karenina

Mychael Danna, Life of Pi

"Skyfall", Skyfall; music & lyrics by Adele and Paul Epworth.

Jacqueline Durran, Anna Karenina

Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes, Les Miserables

Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton, Life of Pi

Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik De Boer and Donald Elliott, Life of Pi

Peter King, Rick Findlater and Tami Lane, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Adam & Dog

Buzkashi Boys

Open Heart

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ranking all the Best Picture nominees from 1991 to 2011

This weekend, it's the 85th annual Academy Awards! I've been watching the Oscars since I was 11 so I thought I'd rate and rank all the Best Picture nominees I've seen from 1991 to 2011.

The Silence of the Lambs – A
Beauty and the Beast  -  A
JFK – B+
Bugsy – B
The Prince of Tides – C-

Unforgiven – A
The Crying Game – A-
Howards End – B+
A Few Good Men – B
The Scent of a Woman – C

Schindler’s List – A
The Piano – A-
The Fugitive – B+
The Remains of the Day – B+
In the Name of the Father – B

Pulp Fiction –A
Quiz Show – B+
The Shawshank Redemption – B
Forrest Gump – B
Four Weddings and a Funeral – B

Sense and Sensibility – A-
Babe – A-
Apollo 13 – B
Il Postino – B
Braveheart – C+

Fargo – A
Secrets & Lies – B+
Jerry Maguire – B
The English Patient – B
Shine – B-

L.A. Confidential – A-
Titanic – B+
Good Will Hunting – B
As Good As It Gets – B-
The Full Monty – C+

The Thin Red Line – A
Shakespeare in Love – B+
Saving Private Ryan – B
Life is Beautiful – B
Elizabeth – B-

The Sixth Sense – A
The Insider – B
The Green Mile – B
American Beauty – C+
The Cider House Rules – C

Traffic – A-
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – A-
Gladiator – B
Erin Brockovich – B
Chocolat – C-

Gosford Park – A-
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – A-
In the Bedroom – B
Moulin Rouge – B
A Beautiful Mind – C-

The Pianist – A-
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – B+
Chicago – B+
Gangs of New York – B
The Hours – C

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – A-
Lost in Translation – A-
Mystic River – B+
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – B+
Seabiscuit – C

The Aviator – B+
Million Dollar Baby – B+
Sideways – B+
Ray – C+
Finding Neverland – C

Brokeback Mountain – A-
Good Night and Good Luck – A-
Munich – B+
Capote – B-
Crash – D+

Letters from Iwo Jima – A
The Departed – B+
Little Miss Sunshine – B
The Queen – B
Babel – D+

There Will Be Blood – A
No Country for Old Men – A
Atonement – B+
Juno – B+
Michael Clayton – B

Milk – A
Slumdog Millionaire – A-
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – B+
Frost/Nixon – B
The Reader – C-

Inglourious Basterds – A
Up in the Air – A-
District 9 – A-
Up – A-
The Hurt Locker – B+
A Serious Man – B+
An Education – B
Avatar - B
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire – B
The Blind Side – D

Black Swan – A
Toy Story 3 – A
The Social Network – A
Inception – A-
Winter’s Bone – B+
The Fighter – B+
True Grit – B+
The King’s Speech – B+
The Kids Are All Right – B
127 Hours – B-

The Tree of Life – A
Hugo – A
Midnight in Paris – A-
The Artist – A-
Moneyball – B+
The Descendants - B
War Horse – B-
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – C
The Help – C-

Monday, February 18, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (2/10/13 - 2/16/13)

Mama (Andres Muschietti) *** - I came into this with low expectations. After all, it is a PG-13-rated horror film released in January and is of the horror subgenre (which I noticed has been rather popular in recent years) of the creepy ghosts/ghouls tormenting/possessing/collaborating with children. Though it's far from being a masterpiece, it's actually a pretty darn good horror film with some nice atmospheric scares. Executive producer Guillermo Del Toro's influence is all over this film, almost as if he co-directed it himself. Jessica Chastain is good but it's the two little girls who shine. It's a nice, solid genre piece.

Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul) ***1/2 - A fascinating documentary about a failed musician whose music finds itself a vast audience in South Africa and helped with the revolution and change within the country. The film starts out as a sort of "unsolved" mystery type of investigation of this musician, rumored to have committed suicide but in reality is living anonymously in Detroit oblivious to the popularity of his music in another part of the world. Then it turns into this rather beautiful, moving statement on the power of music and art and of course second chances. His music is pretty darn good too.

Winter's Bone (Debra Granik) ***1/2 - Well, better late than never. I finally caught up with Jennifer Lawrence's breakout performance. She is simply wonderful as a teenage girl fighting to take care of her siblings and keep her house as tries to find her missing father in the run from the law. This film feels a bit like a European film but set in rural America. Director Debra Granik does a great job of maintaining tension and atmosphere throughout the film. One of the unique things about this film, I find, is that there's a sense of a bigger story going on but you only get to see a sliver of it from the point of view of Lawrence's character. Definitely a solid piece of filmmaking.

Flight (Robert Zemeckis) **1/2 - After years of toiling in mo-cap animated features, Robert Zemeckis returns to directing real people in this drama about an alcoholic pilot who manages to save a lot of people from a plane crash. First off, the first half-hour or so of this film is quite great. The crash scene is quite suspenseful and extremely well-done and it ends on a relatively good note. In the middle though, it gets highly problematic and flawed and it's buoyed only by the excellent performances.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Great Films # 10: His Girl Friday (1940)

Directed by Howard Hawks
Happy Valentine's Day! Or as I personally like to call it, February 14th, just another ordinary day because I'm extremely and excruciatingly single. However, for all you romantics out there, I present one of the best screwball romantic comedies of all time, His Girl Friday. It's such a sharply written, wonderfully acted comedies that they sadly don't make anymore.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (2/3/13 - 2/9/13)

Coraline (Henry Selick) ***1/2 - I finally caught up with this. I'm surprised by how actually kind of scary this film is and not just as a kids' film. It's actually pretty creepy as a film period. Henry Selick blends both creepy and whimsical visuals very well (sometimes at the same time) and Dakota Fanning gives probably my favorite performance from her. It may not be as good as Nightmare Before Christmas but it's pretty darn close.

Holy Motors (Leos Carax) **** - Who says art house films can't be fun? This sure is! At least for me. If you're into film, acting or the arts, it will probably be for you too. The film's strange, bizarre structure where an actor drives around in a limo acting vignettes is a stupendously unpredictable tribute to both the art of acting and of film in general. The film is a strange, weird but joyous ride that mixes shocks, drama and laughter in almost equal doses. I'm guessing this is what happens if a Godard film and Bunuel film meet and have a baby. These types of films for me can be either pure joy or pure torture (...and the latter can be a good thing or a bad thing). This is definitely pure joy. One of the best films of 2012, for sure.

Exit Through The Gift Shop (Banksy) **** - It's probably one of the most unusual and most fun documentaries I have ever seen (or mockumentary for some people). It's tough to describe it. It's about a French immigrant who decides to film everything in his life and decided to concentrate on street artists, particularly the British anarchic artist Banksy....who directed the film. It's such an unusual film and not your typical documentary. It's often very funny and actually has a lot to say about the nature of arts and artists.

Kill, Baby, Kill (Mario Bava) *** - The cheesy title is rather misleading. This is not a cheapo exploitation/slasher flick. It's actually a pretty spooky ghost story about a malevolent ghost of a little girl that's plaguing a town. The climax was a tad disappointing but the build-up to it was pretty great. Director Mario Bava's use of production design, cinematography and just plain atmospheric effects was quite effective in illiciting chills.

Moon (Duncan Jones) ***1/2 - Sam Rockwell gives an amazing performance as the lone crew member aboard a mining facility in the moon. Thought-provoking and intelligent (and adult) science fiction films that don't rely on eye-candy action scenes to propel their stories are increasingly rare these days so this piece is a breath of fresh air. It cannot be said enough: Sam Rockwell was magnificent and was robbed of an Oscar.

The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson) **** - As a filmmaker, Paul Thomas Anderson's evolution is probably one of the most fascinating and interesting ones for me. His early works contains lots of moments of brilliance but also some deep flaws and he's been developing into one of the most fascinating cinematic voices of his generation. There's a lot to chew on in his latest one. It's very easy to simply dismiss this as pure pretentious twaddle but I think there's way too many layers, too many complexities and ambiguities and to simply just brush it aside is a disservice. Is it a thinly veiled scathing attack on Scientology? Yes and no. Is it a critique on organized religion and New Age mumbo-jumbo? Yes and no. Is it a character study? Yes and no. It's all of these things and it's none of these things. It's a film whose contents and themes will be hotly debated for years to come. What's undeniable though is that it is a extremely well-crafted film, the cinematography and the score are superb. In addition to that, Joaquin Phoenix probably gives his career-best performance in this film and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams make an impressive impact as well. It's not the most accessible or the easiest film to digest but it's certainly truly unforgettable.

Hitchcock (Sacha Gervasi) ** - I should like this movie. I'm a film buff. I'm also a huge fan of Hitchcock. A movie about the making of Psycho and Hitchcock's working relationship with his wife should be up my alley, right? Nah. The film largely missed the mark. Sure, it actually starts very promisingly with good moments scattered here and there and the final 15 minutes or so is quite good but it came too little too late. A huge bulk of the film feels like forced, padded drama with Hitchcock being haunted by Ed Gein and becoming jealous of his wife working and hanging out with another writer. It's all a bit obvious, generic and frankly even dull. It sinks the film. The good moments in it only highlight how much of a missed opportunity this movie is.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Listology # 24: Top 10 Films of 2009

Oh, my. I haven't done one of these in a while. I've been trying to catch up on films in order to finish off their respective years so I'll get a more "finalized" list.

10. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
The Academy Award winner for Best Picture is a thrilling, intense piece of work from director Kathryn Bigelow. The vignette-esque structure of the film is actually a character study of a man who works in the bomb disposal unit during the Iraq War and how his psyche is shaped by the horrors of war. It features a star-making performance by lead actor Jeremy Renner who takes through the pulse-pounding masterfully directed sequences with the bombs.
09. The Road (John Hillcoat)
 I actually debated with myself whether or not to place this film in my list because I'm such a HUGE fan of the Cormac McCarthy novel. I will say off the bat, this is not a perfect adaptation but the novel is so poetic and so literary that its translation into celluloid is going to be very tricky. It is far from perfect but I do think it MOSTLY pulled it off thanks to the excellent performances of the two leads, Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the nameless father-son duo trying to survive a harsh, bleak, post-apocalyptic world. The strength of the material shines through and therefore earns a place in my list.
08. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)
This is quite possibly the best prison film of this century so far. It is an intense, brutal and violent film about a 19 year old French Algerian who gets himself caught in the battle between two major groups of inmates, the Corsicans and the Muslims. It features one of the most unforgettable and shocking murder scenes of recent memory and fantastic performances.
07. Up (Pete Docter)
After three dark, adult and violent films, here comes Up, the wonderful PIXAR movie about an old man who decides to fulfill his and his late beloved wife's dream of travelling to a place called Paradise Falls He does this by having his house lifted by numerous balloons. The first 15 minutes of this film, that sets up the lead character, is such a beautiful, heartbreaking piece of storytelling and ranks as one of the most beautiful love stories of recent memory.

06. District 9 (Neil Blomkamp)
The allegory may have been a bit too obvious: Racism and apartheid in South Africa as told through the tale of aliens stranded in Johannesburg trying to live alongside humans. The film was amazingly only made for $30 million but features very impressive visual effects but that takes a backseat to the compelling story of a midlevel beaureaucrat who is forced to see things from the perspective of the aliens.

05. In The Loop (Armando Ianucci)
This is a spin-off of sorts of the BBC comedy television series The Thick of It. But you need not be a fan of that show to love and appreciate this biting and hilarious satire on the politics concerning the war on Iraq. F-bombs and cracking insults fly almost as soon as it starts and it almost never stops and the outstanding ensemble lead by Peter Capaldi all make it a joy to watch.
04. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)
Writer-director Jason Reitman continues his ascent as one of his generation's best filmmakers with this smart, wonderfully acted comedy-drama about a man who simply travels the country firing people and suddenly is forced to deal with his own humanity. George Clooney gives probably one of his career-best performances and he is supported by the wonderful Anna Kendrick and the luminescent Vera Farmiga.
03. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke)
I once remarked that The White Ribbon feels like Village of the Damned had been directed by Ingmar Bergman but that's being way too glib and simplistic. Writer-director Michael Haneke is indeed one of my favorites, if you noticed, since his films seem to be popping up a lot on my lists. This chronicles strange, disturbing events that seem to involve a group of children in a pre-World War II village in Germany. Like with many of Haneke's films, the film does not offer easy answers or resolutions. It is a film that stays with you and gets you thinking about its implications for days on end.

02. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
It may be animated. It may star animals. But make no mistake, Fantastic Mr. Fox is still a Wes Anderson film through and through. Anderson's quirky sensibilities is a pitch perfect match for this adaptation of Roald Dahl book about chicken thievery. The old-fashioned stop-motion animation may seem crude when compared to today's slick CGI animation but that just adds to the charm of the entire thing. It's one of the best.

01. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
I actually have mixed feelings putting this as number one of 2009. It's not because I didn't like it. Quite the opposite. I loved it. But personally, it's not my favorite of Tarantino's films (this is, at best, a third or fourth). I've read quite a few valid criticisms levelled against it which I think is totally justified but goshdarnit, it is a movie that is just oodles of fun for a movie lover and a Tarantino fan. It features an outstanding performance by Christoph Waltz as the Jew hunter Hans Landa, one of the most beautifully written villains of cinema. There's way too much good stuff here for me NOT to put it as #1.

Runners-Up: Where The Wild Things Are  (Spike Jonze), (500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb), A Serious Man (Joel Coen/Ethan Coen), Moon (Duncan Jones), An Education (Lone Scherfig).






Sunday, February 3, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (1/27/13 - 2/2/13)

A Serious Man (Joel Coen/Ethan Coen) ***1/2 - Now I know what it must feel like to watch Dogma as a non-Catholic (a little bit at least). But even as a non-Jew, this is still quite a wonderfully twisted comedy, a sort of loose adaptation of the Book of Job reset in the 1960's. A physics professor meets one misfortune after another (his wife leaves him, he has an awful neighbor, his student is threatening to sue, etc.) and it all plays out in darkly funny and absurd heights that only the Coen Brothers can do. I saw Precious last week and this could make for a nice double feature. Michael Stuhlbarg and the ensemble supporting cast are fantastic.

After the Wedding (Susanne Bier) *** - A Danish man running an orphanage in India gets a call from a wealthy philanthropist to go back to his home country then invites him to a wedding. That's all one has to know going to really fully get the dramatic impact of the film and the twists and turns the film takes. To be honest, I wasn't really expecting all that much from this but the dramatic road it took hit me quite hard. Though after the twists, it follows the expected dramatic beats, the performances are more than enough to carry it through.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Nicholas Meyer) *** - Finally caught up with this one. I don't know what to say about this. I liked it a lot. I enjoyed it. It's a good movie, very entertaining. Perhaps it was overhyped for me. Perhaps it's because I'm not that big of a Trekkie but despite the fact that I enjoyed it and I think it's overall a really good movie, I can't help but feel disappointed because for me, this is only qualifies as "good" not GREAT as many people have said. Frankly, I prefer First Contact and the Abrams reboot over this.

Warm Bodies (Jonathan Levine) **1/2 - It's time for the zombie to get the Twilight treatment but...it's really not that bad. The concept is actually kind of a fresh take on the zombie lore, sort of like expounding on the "Bub" character from Day of the Dead. Unfortunately, the filmmakers didn't really challenge themselves with it. The concept is full of potential and there are flashes of it here and there but overall, it's simply just a fluffy romantic comedy with zombies toned down for a PG-13. In fact, it's probably the least violent and gory zombie movie I've ever seen. It's fine enough for what it is but it's disappointing because of squandered potential.

The Man With The Iron Fists (RZA) **1/2 - This is a pulpy, bloody tribute to kung fu movies by RZA, Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. There are lots of really good things in this movie. RZA, in his directorial debut, shows off a surprisingly decent visual sense. I'm lying if I said that there weren't moments when I was impressed and wowed by the action sequences which are often wonderfully over-the-top. Unfortunately, the film suffers from RZA' s decision to cast himself as the title character. He's deadly dull as an actor especially since the character he's portraying is supposed to be enigmatic and interesting. Instead, he comes off as a mere afterthought and because of this, the film doesn't quite reach the heights it's supposed to reach. It's too bad because the ingredients are all there.