The Oscar race is turning into a weird and very ugly one this year.
Or perhaps because we've paid less attention than usual. The "big four" ended up being mostly a big waste of time: Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" is — again, we'll repeat this line cause it really fits — a tampon commercial set to the music of Enya (at least all those terrible fluffy CGI-heaven moments are), "Nine" was a major disappointment, "Invictus" is moderately rousing, but still an average-to-ok work and now we obviously have "Avatar" which was met with some surprisingly breathless reviews, despite being just enjoyable B-movie. Even folks that we respect like Jeff Wells and Anne Thompson were in the tank for the movie (honestly we were a little shocked by that).
"Avatar" is a grand spectacle and like "Jurassic Park," it's a big slice of entertainment, but it doesn't deserve to be at the Oscar ball.
In fact, "Invictus," "Nine," "The Lovely Bones" and "Avatar" all don't deserve to be part of the 10 Best Picture nominees, but it's frightening to think that all of them have a very good shot, which is why the 10 Best Pictures idea is seemingly an even worse idea now than when it was announced in May. Yes, Oscars a weird popularity contest and definitely a shallow enterprise.
However, bonehead Oscar blogger Tom O'Neil is correct for once (we hope) when he says (paraphrased by Jeff Wells) that "The movie's greatest fight lies ahead at the Academy Awards, but James Cameron's film will probably trip up in the home stretch due to the Academy's old-fart contingent."
God, we've never wanted old farts to yield this much sway ever before. Even films that we didn't necessarily totally love like Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" have more business being in the top 10 Best pictures than any of these four aforementioned films. There's been some Oscar talk for Spike Jonze's "Where The Wild Things Are" and that's a much more front-to-back successful film than all of those as well. Let's not even forget the "The Messenger" which is a very, very fine film.
We're afraid the top 10 is going to look like this:
"Avatar," "Invictus," "Nine," "The Lovely Bones," "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire," "Up in the Air," "An Education," "The Hurt Locker," A Serious Man," "Up"
When it should look like this:
"Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire," "Up in the Air," "An Education," "The Hurt Locker," A Serious Man," "Up, "A Single Man," "Bright Star"... fine if two of them MUST go in, "Nine" and "Invictus." Actually 'Inglourious' has a major shot here.
No, we don't care for "Precious" and that's not our definitive what the 10 Oscar picks should be (we'd probably even drop "Up" "Up In The Air"), but seriously, "the big 4" should not make it and its disheartening to think they'll all make it.
"Bright Star" and "A Single Man" don't seem to have enough box-office or support to earn nominations, but they're both tremendously deserving, should be there and both do contain traces for Oscar-baity-ness (Jane Campion's film certainly is Oscar-bait, but unfortunately has been inexplicably overlooked). This years Oscars may prove that this institution is only occasionally worth following closely (and 2007 and 2008 were both very respectable Oscar years that skeptics need not be embarrassed about).
Come February when the announcements are made, we fear we're going to be majorly disappointed.
The Oscar race is turning into a weird and very ugly one this year.
Yes, we reviewed it once, quickly. Now a deeper look.
We’re not sure if we feel envious of James Cameron. The mind behind “Titanic” reaped astounding rewards from the highest grossing film in history, the latest in a series of increasingly large action pictures including “The Terminator” and “True Lies” starring his favorite collaborator, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unlike Schwarzenegger, who seemed to take delight in poking fun of his action movie persona, Cameron’s infatuation with the large, the bombastic and the broad earnest emotion never seemed like a pose, it never commented on itself.
However, in Cameron’s world, Michael Bay never blew up Cuba, Jason Bourne never lost his memory, Batman never employed illegal surveillance and Rambo didn't genuinely fight ethnic cleansing. The grim, post-9/11 world of pessimistic, disillusioned action heroes and politically knotted adventure stories with dubious autocritical ideas of justice never seemed to catch with the director of “The Abyss,” who has instead been holed up in a series of elaborate studios world-building for the sake of “Avatar,” the latest biggest movie ever in history from one of the most prolific filmmakers of the blockbuster canon. And aside from the tech present, showcasing special effects we’ve likely never seen before, the film might as well be just another in a long line of James Cameron action spectacles — success hasn’t changed the man who wrote the book on the modern day blockbuster.
“Avatar” concerns Jake Sully, a paraplegic ex-grunt still willing to give his life for global militaristic cause, which involves coming to the planet Pandora to fill the shoes of his dead twin brother. He is valuable not for the shared interest in science he had with his sibling (there is none) but instead in his similar genetic code, the key to embodying a surrogate alien body manipulated for military purposes. The scientists want to use their alien avatars to explore the harsh terrain of the plush tropical planet and learn from the species, a primitive gamine type called the Na’vi. The military are more interested in learning more about the planet’s chief resource of alternative fuel energy, which we’re told could generate untold amounts of capital back on Earth.
Sully, a dumb jock type, is nonetheless seduced by his host body, going from wheelchair bound to Olympic gymnast, and he is intrigued by the physicality of the Na’vi, the animation subtly capturing the differences in body language between each side. The people are expressive mostly by extension of the arms, though it is often an aggressive display as well, as the eager-to-please Jake learns by foolishly extending his hand in a desperate show of ignorant respect. Jake learns the way of the Na’vi and realizes they are not going to evacuate, abandoning a spiritual connection with the land that, through a complex, computer-related explanation, seems like a psychic, spiritual link.
“Avatar” isn’t the thinking man’s action picture. It continues Cameron’s love-hate relationship with the military, where he will condemn what seems like a financially-motivated cause on the part of the industrial complex while still celebrating fetishistic their own combat tech. The vehicle serves as a metaphor for being more ecologically minded, though the film’s thematic underpinning seems to imply if you treat the earth right, it will send gigantic jungle beasts after your enemies in a time of need. "Avatar" serves both purposes — to condemn the blow-em-up attitude of jump-first-ask-later jocks like Jake and Stephen Lang's Colonel Quadritch character (himself a manifestation of jingoistic hoo-rah bullshit), while also sating their thirst for over-the-top action.
Thankfully, “Avatar” delivers in that aspect. The film seems belabored by its plot setup, which it speeds through in order to get to Pandora, but once the main conflict is illuminated, and Jake’s former betrayal evident to the Na’vi, it becomes the war that, surprisingly, the ads are failing to reflect. The third act ramps up the action in a way that delivers a marriage of spectacle and clarity missing from the contemporary action film. Even with the half-hearted and cliched lip service to “shock and awe” (quoted verbatim - who knew mid-twenty-second century scientists were so familiar with early millennial colloquialisms?) “Avatar” remains a satisfying B-picture with minimal pretensions.
As Sully, Sam Worthington doesn’t have much depth worth plunging — at this point, this guy seems like he’s cast in everything because fully animating an action figure is cost-prohibitive. Zoe Saldana fares well enough as his Na’vi lover, though the tech is sound enough that you aren’t sure which parts of her character are actually from a human actor.
Sadly, the villains don’t get much to work with, even with Stephen Lang bringing a layer of genuine gristle to the ornery Quadritch. “Avatar” opts for black and white villainy by refusing to detail the military’s grand plan. We know Pandora features limitless resources that would be beneficial to man in some way, but bureaucrat Giovanni Ribisi, all pie charts, button downs and flow streams, seems only interested in the financial gain. Wouldn’t it have been more compelling has the film explicitly stated that Earth’s resources had eroded to the point where Pandora was our only hope? How much more intriguing and complex would the film be if it’s “villains” were motivated not by greed but towards actually saving a dying Earth? It's a major missed opportunity. Moreover, why do we only gloss over the fact that Sully’s presence is only warranted by the passing of his brother, a scientist who’s genetic code was the key to the avatar program? The idea of intergalactic mining in the future, with twin brothers on different sides of the operation, is strong enough to hold its own narrative — if anything, “Avatar” will spawn very ambitious fan fiction.
The star of “Avatar” isn’t the story or characters as much as its Pandora, which Cameron has designed completely from the ecosystem up. The planet is bursting with plant life and filled with unusual monsters, from a hammer headed rhino hybrid to the robust carrier lizard birds the Na’vi tame to take to the skies. When the planet is under siege in the third act, it’s not any of the flesh and blood characters you’ve invested in as much as this exotic land. It’s this attention to detail and significant scope that suggests after the holidays are over, you’ll likely have visited Pandora more than once. When it comes to big blockbusters, its been a long time since there was one you could settle into and “Avatar” certainly fits the bill. [B]
Not a first look exactly (the image made the rounds when the festival was announced), but the Sundance Film Festival preview for Derek Cianfrance's "Blue Valentine" starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams has an interesting soundtrack connection of note.
According to the "about the film" details, music for the film will be provided for by indie-rockers Grizzly Bear whose sound is of course an experimental, psychedelic pop-folk-rock (in snob circles they are known derisively as a sub-Animal Collective type). The band's latest album, Veckatimest, was released earlier this year to major critical acclaim and their involvement in this film is sure to makes waves in the independent music community. Presumably this means an original score, and there are no additional details out there so far, but it sounds like a fair assumption if past Sundance details are any indication
The Sundance page also contains the film's synopsis with one particular point catching our eye. See if you can spot it:
"Blue Valentine" is an intimate, shattering portrait of a disintegrating marriage.A young daughter? That's new info and certainly adds a whole new dynamic to the relationship. Said daughter will be played by 5 year old Faith Wladyka who will be making her feature film debut and may just add another element of heartbreak and/or joy to the story. Meanwhile, Wladyka's on-screen parents — both of whom we're big fans of — seem to be earning rave reviews from the preview, though would you expect anything less from two of the more stronger talents from their generation.
On the far side of a once-passionate romance, Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) are married with a young daughter. Hoping to save their marriage, they steal away to a theme hotel. We then encounter them years earlier, when they met and fell in love — full of life and hope.
Moving fluidly between these two time periods, "Blue Valentine" unfolds like a cinematic duet whose refrain asks, where did their love go? Framing the film as a mystery whose answer lies scattered in time (and in character), filmmaker Derek Cianfrance constructs an elegant set of dualities: past and present, youth and adulthood, vitality and entropy. The rigor of his process is visible throughout the film. Eliminating artificial devices, he has only the truth of the characters to work with. Because Gosling and Williams bring amazing intensity and emotional honesty to their roles, the experience of connecting to these two souls becomes truly moving.
Originally set for a 2009 release, the film is now scheduled for a second quarter release but, before that, will be premiering at Sundance on the 24th of January.
Not exactly a first look but the Sundance website's preview for directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's "Howl" starring James Franco as poet Allen Ginsberg does reveal some interesting tidbits.
Firstly, the film will be scored by the proficient Carter Burwell who recently has scored wide range of films including "Twilight" to "Where The Wild Things Are" and is also always the Coen Brothers' musical go-to-man.
The page's synopsis for "Howl" then informs us that the film will feature a "mind-expanding animation" as one of three interweaving narratives. We're just as puzzled as you are, but it sounds pretty ambitious and intriguing:
It’s San Francisco in 1957, and an American masterpiece is put on trial. "Howl," the film, recounts this dark moment using three interwoven threads: the tumultuous life events that led a young Allen Ginsberg to find his true voice as an artist, society’s reaction (the obscenity trial), and mind-expanding animation that echoes the startling originality of the poem itself. All three coalesce in a genre-bending hybrid that brilliantly captures a pivotal moment—the birth of a counterculture.Also listed on the page is the fact the film has a running time of 90 minutes and will be color (duh) and black and white. Thematically speaking, could the narrative focusing on the young Ginsberg be in black and white? That would separate the film's three threads up into a normal color segment about the Ginsberg trials, a black and white segment about a young Ginsberg developing as a poet and an animated segment bringing the poem to life — all interwoven into ninety minute feature film. Either way, it sounds like Epstein and Friedman are aiming for something unique with their feature film debuts.
Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman navigate a seamless segue from their documentary roots to masterful storytellers. They expand the notion of how a "true story" can be realized on film by not simply relying on facts but enlisting cinematic vision to capture the Zeitgeist of an era. The amazing cast provides the extra passion and urgency that are sure to introduce Howl to the best minds of a new generation.
Co-starring the likes of David Strathairn, John Hamm, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeff Daniels, "Howl" premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21st.
The Sundance website keeps on giving, this time with the first look at Michael Winterbottom's "The Killer Inside Me" starring Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba.
The following synopsis raves on about Affleck's performance which doesn't surprise us, his a supreme talent. The page also informs us that film comes in at 148 minutes which is just shy of two and a half hours.
Based on the novel by legendary pulp writer Jim Thompson, "The Killer Inside Me" tells the story of handsome, charming, unassuming small-town deputy sheriff Lou Ford, who has a bunch of problems. Women problems. Law-enforcement problems. And an ever-growing pile of murder victims in his west Texas jurisdiction. All the while Lou manages to remain his stoic self. However, as evidence is discovered over the course of the investigation, suspicion begins to fall on Lou. But in this savage and bleak universe, nothing is ever what it seems.A six-minute long promo video for the film — presumably for the American Film Market which was co-currently running at the time — found its way on the internet a few weeks ago but has since been taken down. Hopefully, a distributor was successfully found because it looked great and a film with talent like Affleck, Winterbottom and Thompson behind it deserves to be released. Also starring in the film are Simon Baker, Ned Beatty and Bill Pullman.
In this film, Michael Winterbottom continues to show his immense prowess as a director. Pushing noir to its darkest extreme, he has fashioned a star vehicle for Casey Affleck, who delivers a powerful performance that evokes shades of Robert Mitchum. This violent, stylish psychosexual thriller is imbued with all the amoral energy of its genre and is sure to shock some and dazzle all.
Next up is Sundance's preview of Spencer Susser's "Hesher" starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson and the film's protagonist Devin Brochu who is seen in this first official still.
The following synopsis paints a very different picture to what we expected from such a cast and the happy-go-lucky set pictures and loglines previously seen. Instead, "Hesher" sounds like a pretty twisted story with dark comic elements:
"Hesher" is the story of a family struggling to deal with loss and the anarchist who helps them do it — in a very unexpected way.It was previously revealed that Wilson will play the pill-popping father of Brochu's protagonist while Portman will play a girl who saves Brochu from the hesher. If this cast doesn't get you excited, we seriously don't know what will. The film's Sundance page also reveals that John Carrol Lynch features in the film that will run 100 minutes.
TJ is 13 years old. Two months ago, his mom was killed in an accident, leaving TJ and his grieving dad to move in with grandma to pick up the pieces. Hesher is a loner. He hates the world — and everyone in it. He has long, greasy hair and homemade tattoos. He likes fire and blowing things up. He lives in his van — until he meets TJ.
"Hesher" is that rare film that manages to be a completely original vision, a thoroughly entertaining story, and a provocative metaphor. Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings the character of Hesher to life with anger and angst, and Devin Brochu makes quite a splash as the young boy dealing with both the loss of his mother and an unwanted houseguest. Cowriter/director Spencer Susser crafts a multidimensional, darkly humorous film that exhibits an immensely talented storyteller at work.
"Hesher" premieres on January 22nd while "The Killer Inside Me" will play on the 24th.
First Look From Sundance: Floria Sigismondi's 'The Runaways,' Mark Ruffalo's 'Sympathy For Delicious'
Here is the first official still and synopsis from Floria Sigismondi's upcoming biopic, "The Runaways," courtesy of the Sundance website.
Starring, among others, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, the film reportedly has a running time of 105 minutes and credits Currie's "Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story" as source material.
What resonates most from the following film synopsis is that it seems to imply that opposed to an out-and-out Runaways biopic, the film will seemingly focus on the relationship between Jett and Currie. The picture, of course, faced a few legal speed bumps during production thanks to other band members but hopefully Sigismondi didn't have to compromise her film because of it. And where is this trailer they speak of? Surely, it must be out soon if they expect us to understand the "mosh pits of Tokyo" reference. Here's the synopsis:
Of all the bands to come out of the 1970s Los Angeles music scene, The Runaways are by far the most uniquely fascinating. This is partially due to their music but more so to the fact that they were teenage girls whose wild and reckless lifestyle was the stuff of legend.The film also stars Michael Shannon as the band's infamous manager Kim Fowley; Scout Taylor-Compton as guitarist Lita Ford and Stella Maeve as drummer Sandy West. Alessandra Torresani was bumped off the picture. Initially she was set to play Ford, bu Taylor-Compton took over the role. We speculated that Torresani could play one of the Runaways' short-lived bassists, Jackie Fox, but the lawsuit that the real-life Fox introduced, got her promptly written out of the script (though Joan Jett insists she was never part of it).
Focusing on the duo of guitarist/vocalist Joan Jett and lead vocalist Cherie Currie as they navigate a rocky road of touring and record-label woes, the film chronicles the band's formation as well as their meteoric rise under the malevolent eye of an abusive manager.
Acclaimed video artist Floria Sigismondi directs from her own script, and her luscious camerawork captures every sweaty detail—from the filthy trailer where the women practice to the mosh pits of Tokyo. What really makes the film cook are the sizzling performances by Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart. Not to be missed, "The Runaways" is an ode to an era and a groundbreaking band.
Another film featured on the Sundance website is Mark Ruffalo's directorial debut, "Sympathy For Delicious."
The first official still provides our first look at the film's screenwriter and protagonist, Christopher Thornton as DJ "Delicious" Dean, alongside Orlando Bloom's rockstar character who was previously photographed on set.
'Delicious' also stars musician/actress Juliette Lewis, Laura Linney and Noah Emmerich and has a reported running time of 98 minutes. Here's the synopsis:
Recently paralyzed DJ "Delicious" Dean battles the mean streets of Los Angeles, struggling to survive in his wheelchair. Yearning to walk again, and fighting to spark the ashes that were once his career, Dean turns to the dubious world of faith healing and gets much more than he bargained for. Lured by easy money and the heat of fame, Dean sells out to an unstable rock band, stomping the dreams of so many who see him as their only hope. World-famous DJ "Delicious" must now tackle his own worst demon—himself—if he is ever to conquer his “handicap” and find true healing.The film is being scored by Canadian orchestral indie rockers, The Besnard Lakes, and will feature music written by Shiny Toy Guns performed by The Mars Volta's Cedric Bixler-Zavala who will act as a vocal stand-in for Bloom's musician character on at least one song.
Written by and starring Christopher Thornton in a gripping performance as the fiercely determined deejay, "Sympathy for Delicious" is a wildly original story. Mark Ruffalo makes an auspicious directorial debut with a gritty, yet fervent, take on the search for meaning amidst tragedy and the redemptive power that is compassion.
"Sympathy For Delicious" premieres on the 23rd of January at Sundance while "The Runaways" screens for the first time the next day.
Here is your first look at the Duplass Brothers' upcoming film starring Marisa Tomei, John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill.
Premiering at next year's Sundance Film Festival and it's nationwide Sundance USA, the film has now evidently changed it's title to "Cyrus." That stands to reason but — shortly after we reported it's last title change (to "Center Of Attention"), we were informed that the title had tested poorly and would likely be changed again.
We're just wondering why they landed on a title seemingly synonymously associated with a certain teenage celebrity?
"Cyrus" follows the story of a divorcee (Reilly) who gets a second chance at love when he begins an affair with a free spirited woman (Tomei) only to realize that her close knit relationship with her son (Hill) is getting in the way. What then transpires has been described by co-director Mark Duplass as a "very bizarre co-dependent relationship" that develops into an "obtuse love triangle as Reilly and Hill wrestle for Tomei's love."
The film's inclusion in the Sundance USA initiative also sheds light on Catherine Keener's participation in the film. Our guess would be that she'll play Reilly's ex-wife who may or may not make splashes on her former husband's life. Her addition only adds to our excitement for this project, which marks the Duplass Brothers' first time working with big name actors, and what a great cast it is.
UPDATE: The film's newly-updated Sundance page now has a synopsis which explains that Cyrus is the name of Hill's character:
The Duplass brothers are back with their singular knack: treating us to a tingling, irresistible experience of utter discomfort—suffused with pathos, romance, irony, and a little dollop of horror. This time they intrepidly mine Oedipal terrain to wrestle with stirring, profound questions about the obstacles to human intimacy.
Alone and acutely depressed, having just learned of his ex-wife’s wedding plans, John can’t believe his luck when he encounters beautiful, charming Molly at a party. The two get along famously and launch a passionate affair, until Molly’s 21-year-old son, Cyrus, enters the scene. Will Molly and Cyrus’s deep and idiosyncratic bond leave room for John?
Cyrus becomes a dark, poignant, sometimes hilarious war dance as Molly, Cyrus, and John walk the line between creepy and sympathetic. Each member of this awkward triangle teeters somewhere between bare honesty and furtive manipulation as he or she lets loose all manner of dysfunctionality. The excruciating, delightful fun is seeing where the boundaries ultimately land.
A slim weekend before the arrival of "Avatar" next week, as only one new film hits theaters in wide release. A drama about a rugby game is a tough sell here in the States, but with heavy starpower and an uplifting sports theme, "Invictus" might pull in a decent sum this weekend. Although most of America would probably rather hit up the more familiar "The Blind Side" again for their sports tearjerker fix. Surprisingly dark dramas rule the limited release world with new films by Peter Jackson, Werner Herzog, and Tom Ford headlining the art-house marquees.
In Wide Release: Clint Eastwood is back with his yearly Oscar-bait, this time directing the political sports-drama "Invictus." Morgan Freeman stars as South African president Nelson Mandela, desperate to unite his divided country in the wake of apartheid. Joining forces with the captain of the national rugby team, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), Mandela rallies the squad to the 1995 World Cup championship match. We had the chance to see the film this week, finding it an occasionally rousing piece of work despite some distracting flaws. We won't count it out of the Oscars just yet, though with half-baked accents and overblown music, it all seems a bit too average to take home the big prize. Critics overall are fairly positive, Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 77% rating, while Metacritic chimes in with a 74 score.
Expanding to wide release is Disney's "The Princess and the Frog." We wrote about it in our In Theaters piece a couple weeks ago, when the film first hit screens in New York and LA. It's been doing huge business in limited release and it is a great return to hand drawn animation for Disney. Rotten Tomatoes tracks it with a 79% rating, while it's a little lower over at Metacritic with a 69 score.
In Limited Release: Peter Jackson returns his focus to personal drama after spending the decade crafting larger-than-life epics such as the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "King Kong." Based on the hugely successful novel by Alice Sebold, "The Lovely Bones" is the tale of a girl looking down on her family from the afterlife, after being murdered by a psychopathic neighbor. We reviewed the movie earlier this week, hoping for a "Heavenly Creatures"-style drama but were disappointed by the film's inconsistent tone and clumsy CGI. Despite a very solid cast that includes Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon, Jackson misfires here. The film doesn't go wide for a month, so it remains to be seen how the negative buzz will effect the movie's box office returns. Rotten Tomatoes stands thus far with a 42% rating and Metacritic with a score of 47.
Megastar fashion designer Tom Ford makes a surprising debut as a director with "A Single Man." Colin Firth gives the performance of his career as a college professor mourning the loss of his partner in early 1960's Los Angeles. The film also features Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, and Nicholas Hoult, alongside gorgeous art direction and flawless costumes. We caught the film back at Toronto, finding it an immensely moving and extraordinary first film. The awards season has fallen pretty flat for us this year, and this is a great alternative to much of the hype coming out of Hollywood at the moment. "A Single Man" has a 77% rating from RT and a 73 score from Metacritic.
His second theatrical release in less than a month, Werner Herzog is back with "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?" Produced by David Lynch, the film stars Michael Shannon as an actor gone bonkers, killing his mother and holing up in his pink house, claiming to be keeping company with God. Willem Dafoe and Michael Pena are the two detectives brought in to sort out the case. We saw the film at Toronto, where it played like a parody of a David Lynch film and was one of the biggest disappointments of the festival. We can't really suggest you stay away though, as Herzog is notoriously divisive and his movies can sometimes take multiple viewings to really stick. However, it may be hard to catch this one, as it is only opening at one theater in NYC this week and another in LA next. Rotten Tomatoes has it at an appropriately divided 50% rating, while Metacritic only has a few reviews in so far.
Other options in limited this week: Broken Lizard's new comedy "The Slammin' Salmon," starring Michael Clarke Duncan as a former heavyweight champion turned restaurant owner in Miami. The reviews aren't promising, with a 36% rating from Rotten Tomatoes, but we suppose that it shouldn't be a big surprise after "Beerfest." Russell Crowe appears in a supporting role in John Polson's "Tenderness." A drama about a damaged young girl's obsession with a killer, Crowe plays a detective determined to keep her safe. The buzz-less film has a 57% rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
Summit Entertainment has gone from niche distributor to major distributor seemingly overnight. The studio has had one helluva year with a box office smash in "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" and a critically acclaimed Oscar contender in "The Hurt Locker." Now, they are looking to cap things off by acquiring one of the more infamous films of the year.
The studio announced today they have acquired the rights to "The Ghost Writer," the film Roman Polanski was working on when he was arrested. As Polanski's case has dragged out, the director apparently continued to work on the film from his jail cell. It's said he sent instructions for the score to composer Alexandre Desplat and now that he's under house arrest in Switzerland, there's no doubt he's probably going over the film again and making further tweaks in advance of its debut at the Berlin Film Festival.
In case you've forgotten, here's the synopsis of the film from the press release:
As author and screenwriter Robert Harris previously noted, it will certainly be one of the most intriguing films to hit cinemas next year, because of the salacious story behind its making. "Whether the film can rise above the circumstances in which the director now finds himself I don’t know. We will test to the upper limits the notion that there’s no such thing as bad publicity," Harris said.
The movie thriller tells the story of a former British Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), who is holed up on an island off the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. in midwinter, writing his memoirs. When his long-standing aide drowns, a professional ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) is sent out to help him finish the book. The anonymous ghost writer is quickly drawn into a political and sexual intrigue involving Lang’s wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams) and his aide (Kim Cattrall). Hanging over Lang is the threat of a war crimes trial and a mysterious secret from his past that threatens to jeopardize international relations. The cast also includes Jim Belushi, Robert Pugh and Tom Wilkinson.
As for us, we're looking forward to it. The cast is first rate and the material sounds meaty. If anything, we're curious as hell about what Jim Belushi will be doing in the film because that guy hasn't done anything worth talking about in decades.
Summit will be moving quickly on the project, and plans to release it in the first half of 2010.
So 20th Century Fox's "Avatar" embargo broke yesterday and its because post-press screening buzz last night (almost all of LA and NY saw it last night, including us) was positive and loud. Fox's plan was to sit on reviews until day of — they were nervous for sure — but some breathless thoughts last night — especially from Variety (who along with The Hollywood Reporter apparently strong armed Fox into lifting the embargo), changed their minds quick.
But is James Cameron's long-gestating epic a game changer? Did the 3D make you feel like your eyes were getting fucked by our lord Jesus? Not quite, however the film was undeniably visually impressive. If geek bloggers, who always put a major premium on effects and spectacle aren't jizzing all over their computers this very second, you know they soon will be. "Avatar" is a geek bloggers wet dream, and as per usual many of them are likely going to be dazzled by the effects and scope, yet completely blind to how broad, pedestrian and juvenile much of the story, characterization and dialogue is.
Most characters are written as cartoons. Great actors like Giovanni Ribisi can't help but come off as a one-note worm in his underwritten role (an exact replica of the avarice and slimy Paul Reiser character in "Aliens") and Stephen Lang as the tough-as-nails hilariously black-and-white military villain of the affair is pretty unintentionally comical. But there's not a lot either of them can do with the material, so they both just go for broke, which is amusing, but still largely entertaining.
But Cameron's "Avatar" no matter how dated (it feels very '90s rather than contemporary) or silly or adolescent — it's "Dances With Wolves" in outer space, make no mistake — is still massive in scope, ambitious and grandly operatic. Where Cameron mostly fails (or fails to truly convince) with story (not terrible, but pretty formulaic and banal in spots), he succeeds with action, thrill rides and visual spectacle. Story though? Basic as all get out: again, Sam Worthington is Kevin Costner, who meets an indigenous people, falls in love with them (yes, it's part love story) and their nature-spiritual ways, and realizes his own people are greedy and "bad." Time to fight back! But the character arc is also a bit convoluted, wanting to be a Anakin-Skywalker hero, but a set-up reveals absolutely nothing remarkable about him. A jar-head meathead ex-solider who becomes the chosen one, he is played out like a grunt and what makes him special is never ever explained (other than being one of the few humans with a conscience, maybe that's enough these days).
"Ferngully"-like concerns were had by all when the trailer came along obviously, but once you're acclimated to how goofy the characters look, its not a problem or dealbreaker and the 3D and visuals are pretty incredible at times. Some vistas can even be stunning, but it's also not a painting to admire, it's a movie and visuals of course can only take you so far.
Even though he kicked off his career with the scripts for dramas "Regarding Henry" and "Forever Young," and for the college-set TV series "Felicity," writer-director-producer J.J. Abrams has become best known for his genre work - from sci-fi tinged spy stories like "Alias" and "Mission Impossible 3" to reinventing well-worn sci-fi tropes in "Cloverfield" and "Star Trek." But he may be returning to the real world for an adaptation of the National Book Award-winning novel "Let The Great World Spin."
The novel, from Irish-born writer Colum McCann, follows a series of ensemble character, including an Irish monk in the Bronx, a grandmother, and a group of mothers grieving their sons, who died in Vietnam, against the background of Philippe Petit's wire-walk between the towers of the World Trade Center (as immortalized in last year's amazing documentary "Man on Wire."). McCann (who adapted his own short story into the Oscar-nominated short "Everything in This Country Must") will write the script, and Abrams is currently attached to produce the film, for his Bad Robot production company.
The book is, by all accounts, pretty great, and it sounds like it could make a decent film (we'd rather see Petit's achievement told in this way than in the mooted big-budget "Man on Wire" remake), even if this kind of ensemble drama can be tricky to pull off. Abrams isn't set to direct this, but it's not outside the realm of possibility - the "Star Trek" sequel's been delayed until Summer 2012, so if McCann's script comes together in good time, maybe Abrams will try and sneak it in, although if we were betting men (and we're not anymore, at least not since the nice men from New Jersey came and broke our thumbs) we imagine it will be passed off to someone else.
— Tempter of Spider-Man, daughter of Richie and Nicole Kidman substitute Bryce Dallas Howard has signed on to the currently-filming Clint Eastwood drama "Hereafter." There's no official word on who she'll play, but from the script, it's most likely to be 'Melanie,' a potential love interest for Matt Damon's character - not a huge role, but a key part for a very important central scene. Cecile De France and Lyndsey Marshal also star.
— Not for lack of trying, but Steve Coogan's yet to fully translate his success with British TV comedies to mainstream cinema, despite brilliant performances in Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People" and "A Cock and Bull Story." But, along with his villainous role in Adam McKay's "The Other Guys," Coogan's finally close to bringing his trademark character Alan Partridge, a failed chat show host, to the big screen. He tells Empire that they're close to a deal, and that filming will start next year. The character won't be Americanized though - "It'll be a British fool/idiot character in a movie that should appeal to everybody." The actor's also reteaming with Winterbottom for road movie "The Trip," and set to star in an HBO series co-written by "Tropic Thunder" scribe Justin Theroux.
— Empire also talked to Ray Stevenson about his role as obese warrior Volstagg the Valiant in Kenneth Branagh's "Thor." The "Rome" star will be donning a fat suit for the part, and is pretty excited about it: "I've tried the suit on, and what they've done is kind of sex him up: he's sort of slimmer, but rounder. He's got every bit of that Falstaffian verve and vigour, and a bit of a beergut to suggest that enormous appetite, but he's not the sort of Weeble-shaped figure he is in the comics. He's Falstaff with muscles. I've got this amazing foam-injected undersuit that flexes with me. I can't wait!"
— David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jody Hill, who lived together in their first year at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and have collaborated on HBO's "Eastbound and Down" and the upcoming fantasy comedy "Your Highness," have set up a production company together. Rough House Pictures, named after Green's debut short film, is set up with a two year deal at Mandate Pictures, and Green tells Variety "Our aim is to bust out with a slate of comedy projects that are a little left of center, but our target is the bull’s-eye. Danny and Jody and I have been making movies with our friends since we were in college together. Rough House is an opportunity to expand the family and the ambition."
Natalie Portman is set to produce and star in an upcoming adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith's mash-up novel "Pride And Prejudice And Zombies," according to Variety.
The actress was linked to the project earlier in the year and is now signed on to play the film's protagonist heroine as well as produce under her handsomecharlie banner.
First published in 2009, Grahame-Smith's novel puts an undead spin on Jane Austen's classic novel and follows feisty Elizabeth Bennet (Portman) on her "quest for love and independence amid the outbreak of a deadly virus that turns the undead into vicious killers" only to be distracted by the arrival of a monster-hunter, Mr. Darcy. Interestingly, Portman doppelgänger Keira Knightley portrayed Bennet in Joe Wright's 2005 adaptation of Austen's original.
'Zombies' peaked as high as third on the New York Times Best Seller's list in April and has already spawned one sequel, "Sense And Sensibility And Sea Monsters," with a prequel due early next year, "Pride And Prejudice And Zombies: Dawn Of The Dreadfuls."
The proficient Portman can currently be seen in Jim Sheridan's potential Oscar-contender "Brothers" alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire but also has Spencer Susser's "Hesher" with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rainn Wilson debuting at next year's Sundance and David Gordon-Green's "Your Highness" with James Franco, Danny McBride and Zooey Deschanel due out next October. On top of that, the actress is also currently shooting Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" with Mila Kunis and is due to shoot with Kenneth Branagh and his massive cast on "Thor" sometime next year.
Rhys Ifans And Toby Kebbell Join Mitch Glazer's 'Passion Play,' New 'Iron Man 2' And 'Clash Of The Titans' Posters
— Brit actors Rhys Ifans (who seems to share the same hairdresser as the kid from "Let The Right One In") and Toby Kebbell have joined the cast of Mitch Glazer's "Passion Play." The Mickey Rourke and Megan Fox led indie will see Rourke as a down-and-out trumpet player who seeks redemption through Fox's 1950's Los Angeles "angel," a caged circus freak with angel-like wings growing out of her back. Shooting begins next week in New Mexico.
— Looks like someone got in trouble... "Dark Shadows" producer Graham King has now back-tracked on his earlier comments about a possible October start date for the Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration: "I said to someone last week in L.A., I said, 'You know, I think, you know the script's being rewritten – I know that the studios are hoping to move it next fall,' suddenly it's on the internet everywhere I said the movie's going next October. Waiting for a script. I know Johnny wants to do it and Tim wants to do it and just has to get the script."
— Mickey Rourke also features in the newest "Iron Man 2" poster whose release coincides with that of a series of new "Clash Of The Titans" posters starring Sam Worthington.
— It's only numbers but Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes" is reportedly tracking much stronger than James Cameron's "Avatar." Surely, it has something to do with one, Robert Downey Jr rocketing to the top of the Hollywood food chain?
— Here is an ad that reunites "Burn After Reading" co-stars George Clooney (who is actually a Nescafé ambassador) and John Malkovich. Seems a bit over-extravagant for a 30 second coffee ad, right?
Well, here's a nice holiday surprise for Spike Jonze and company. The omnipresent evil that is Miley Cyrus has had her Grammy nomination for Best Song Written For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media disqualified after it was nominated because it wasn't specifically written for the movie. Apparently Cyrus' industry reps in a rare showing of integrity, quietly pulled her song, "The Climb" for "Hannah Montana: The Movie" when they realized the error.
So, the song with the next highest amount of votes, "All Is Love" by Karen O, has been ushered into the vacant nomination spot. Jonze dropped the news on his blog and we couldn't be happier. Karen O's strikingly original soundtrack drew from a variety of inspirations including the Langley Schools Music Project, Cat Stevens' songs for "Harold & Maude" and Simon & Garfunkel's work for "The Graduate." The result was a great soundtrack that perfectly captured the dark edges and bursts of joy that mark Jonze's fantastic "Where The Wild Things Are." Have a listen to "All Is Love" below:
In the Best Song category, Karen O's competition is pretty slight, and though we're rooting for her, we'd be happy if Bruce Springsteen's "The Wrestler," overlooked by the Academy last year, gets some recognition.
Here are the full film related Grammy nominees. Tarantino heads will be happy to see the soundtrack to "Inglourious Basterds" has been nominated for Best Compilation, and we're always glad to see Alexandre Desplat getting recognition, even though his Best Score nominated work for "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button" isn't his strongest:
Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media
· Cadillac Records (Various Artists) [Music World Music/Columbia]
· Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (Various Artists) [A Band Apart/Warner Bros.]
· Slumdog Millionaire (Various Artists) [N.E.E.T./Interscope Records]
· True Blood (Various Artists) [Elektra]
· Twilight (Various Artists) [Summit Ent./Chop Shop/Atlantic]
Best Score Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media
· The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (Disc 1), Alexandre Desplat, composer [Concord Records]
· Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, Nicholas Hooper, composer [New Line Records]
· Milk, Danny Elfman, composer [Decca]
· Star Trek, Michael Giacchino, composer [Varèse Sarabande]
· Up, Michael Giacchino, composer [Walt Disney Records]
Best Song Written For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media
· All Is Love (From Where The Wild Things Are), Karen O. & Nick Zinner, songwriters (Karen O. & The Kids)
· Decode (From Twilight) Josh Farro, Hayley Williams & Taylor York, songwriters (Paramore)
· Jai Ho (From Slumdog Millionaire) Gulzar, A.R. Rahman & Tanvi Shah, songwriters (A.R. Rahman, Sukhvinder Singh, Tanvi Shah, Mahalaxmi Iyer & Vijay Prakash)
· Once In A Lifetime (From Cadillac Records) Ian Dench, James Dring, Amanda Ghost, Beyoncé Knowles, Scott McFarnon & Jody Street, songwriters (Beyoncé)
· The Wrestler (From The Wrestler), Bruce Springsteen, songwriter (Bruce Springsteen)
After a tweet by Production Weekly revealed James Cameron would be working on a "a Shane Salerno-scripted sci-fi action script for Fox, described as an "event" film set in the future," many speculated that the project was a script Salerno sold last year about an unlikely mix of humans and aliens who team up to save the Earth titled "Doomsday Protocol."
Turns out, their collaboration is even more uninspiring than that "Avatar"-esque project. MTV reports that the collaboration is in fact a 3D remake of Richard Fleischer's 1966 "Fantastic Voyage," which was later novelized by iconic sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov. The Cold War-set film centers on a professor who masters the concept of miniaturizing matter however, on route to the West, he is subject to an assassination attempt which leaves him comatose. A team of medical staff are then miniaturized in a submarine and sent into his body in an effort to save his life.
Admittedly, the concept of a 'Voyage' remake seems undeserving of Cameron's talents and a 3D version only makes it sound like an educational kid's IMAX movie. Luckily, Cameron is only on board as a producer which leaves the door open for what his next directorial effort will be. Perhaps now that Arnold Schwarzenegger will be handing in his 'Governator' title soon, Cameron might be involved with his Hollywood comeback? The director recently discussed the possibility with surprising optimism.
"I think he wants to come back to Hollywood," Cameron said. "I think he wants to act again, and we will talk when he’s clear of his problems and I’m clear of mine. I'm thinking of things we could do together. I'm sure he is as well."
Schwarzenegger in"Avatar 2"? Let's hope not.
As the decade came to a close, we have little to complain about. The second-half of the aughts were fantastic and gave us many of our best overall films.
At the box-office, it was nice to see something that wasn't part 4 of a McFranchise. Instead, a piece of smart, thrilling entertainment, Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" took the #1 spot worldwide grossing over more than $1 billion dollars. Even if your opinions of that film are negative (a small minority to be sure), one has to admit this was a step in the right direction. But OK, looking at the rest of the international box-office not so much as films like, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," "Kung Fu Panda" and "Hancock" were the films that dominated.
Still, things were looking optimistic, at the Oscars, Fox Searchlight's persistent, mini-major campaign — which brought two small indie-major films to the Oscar previously ("Juno" and "Little Miss Sunshine") — finally paid off as Danny Boyle's vibrant and immensely enjoyable fairytale "Slumdog Millionaire" (reminding the haters that it has a 94% RT score with Top Critics, not the plebeian masses) deservedly took the Best Picture award. Sean Penn was rewarded for his turn in Gus Van Sant's "Milk" and Kate Winslet finally won a Best Actress Oscar for "The Reader" (she was nominated three times before, and five times in total. It wasn't her best work, but it was her first Oscar). And Heath Ledger won the second ever posthumous acting award in Academy history for his riveting turn as the Joker in "The Dark Knight" (perhaps the film wouldn't have been half of what it was without him).
A rather stellar year for film, 2008 — and the last half of the decade, really — gave us tons of unforgettable classics.
10. "The Wrestler"
Just describing "The Wrestler" sounds like a clumsy jumble of clichés. After all, it's got a down-on-his luck, drug-addled former athlete (a hypnotic Mickey Rourke) who wants to reconnect with his daughter (Rachel Evan Wood) and marry the stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold he covets (Marisa Tomei), all while vying for a return to his former glory. But Darren Aronofsky, taking a documentary approach that wouldn't be out of place on ESPN, captures all the emotion, unexpected comedy and character that lies in between the banalities, signaling a new and brave direction in his filmmaking that brings the story to fully formed life. And at the center is Rourke giving a tour de force performance that seemed to parallel his own career. Raw, modest and austere, his soulful, naked performance blurs reality and fiction in entirely riveting and uncomfortable new ways.
9. "The Edge Of Heaven"
A profoundly entrancing meditation on kismet, chance occurrence, and the capacity for human forgiveness, three seemingly disparate Turkish and German families (Nurgül Yeşilçay, Baki Davrak, and noted Fassbinder actress Hanna Schygulla among them), spanning a few generations, are touched by death and intercede through fate in this Kieslowski-esque- drama by noted director German/Turkish director Fatih Akin. Travel and migration being a major theme in all of Akin's work, characters journey back and forth between the two countries, but any of the-universe-is-all-interconnected conceits are subdued and told in three elliptic vignettes that overlap softly like a dissolve. It's a resonantly compassionate and intricate quilt handcrafted by an intelligent and thought-provoking filmmaker.
8. "A Christmas Tale"
Arnaund Desplechin's "A Christmas Tale" runs down the most rote and well-worn Christmas movie formulas: a family is brought together for the holidays; the matriarch is terminally ill; there's a whole bunch of skeletons in the closet (unrequited love, implacable, long-standing feuds, etc). In lesser hands, this could have been a French "Family Stone." Instead, Desplechin — ironically influenced by "The Royal Tenenbaums" but exceeding it by miles — has woven a novelistic little gem of a movie, odd and oddly moving filled with prickly and vindictive characters giving us a much rawer, and honest view of family life. Stacking the deck with almost all of France's renowned stars (among them Catherine Deneuve as the matriarch and Mathieu Amalric, more villainous than he was in Bond, as the asshole son) and subtle stylistic flourishes (Iris ins, etc.), the movie is acidic, yet eventually, warm and rewarding and a future classic for discerning film lovers who enjoy some bite in their holiday cheer.
Lance Hammer's self-distributed this stark, raw, deeply rich and emotional ravaged tale of a fragmented African American family in a poverty-stricken Memphis delta. Mostly unknown actor Michael Smith Sr. gives an outstandingly inward, yet profoundly projecting performance as a twin quietly devastated by the suicide of his brother who has lost the will to live, yet has to attempt to guide and mentor his troublesome nephew and desperately lost sister-in-law. Pathologically unsentimenta, often bleak and unnervingly spare — with the only moments of music being diegetic sound — the fractured poetry of the austere picture is viscerally gut-wrenching.
Sally Hawkins gives a fizzy tour-de-force performance as Poppy, a character filled with such bubbly levity she would float off the ground, if she weren’t so grounded by the realities of the world around her. Eddie Marsan is as heartbreaking as he is terrifying as Scott, the tightly wound, paranoid, angry driving instructor whose ill will is no match for Poppy’s eternally sunshiney attitude. The dialectic forces of these two actors’ opposing performances explode in the small confines of the car, and director Mike Leigh uses the jumping off point of Poppy’s always-up demeanor to explore some of humanity’s darker and more interesting moments. Some of Leigh's greatest work in years and bolstered by two of the best performances of the year in Hawkins and Marsan. To write off this film as aggressively ebullient is deeply shortsighted.
5. "Silent Light"
A transcendent and slow-moving tale of adultery set amongst deeply religious Mennonites faced with a personally fractured morality, "Silent Light" is luminously shot and practically a religious experience in itself. Mexican arthouse director Carlos Reygadas' third feature film features all unknown, untrained actors, a meditative and quiet, Terrence Malick-ian tenor, breathtaking, patient visuals and a stunning conclusion that is utterly radiant. Spoken entirely in Plautdietsch, the language of the Prussian Mennonites, this bewitching story of a married man who falls in love with another woman in a small community has not been widely-seen, but it's worth the effort to track down this heavenly piece of cinema endorsed by Martin Scorsese and given award props at Cannes.
4. "4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days"
As an abortion-drama, '4 Months' is the first of its kind, but manages not to skimp on either side of the description. Directed by Cristian Mungiu, this raw-nerve and unflinchingly told picture takes place in the late-80s Communist Romania, and follows a pair of college students (Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu), one of which needs an abortion dangerously far into her pregnancy. The harrowing chronicle becomes extra potent by being told through the eyes of the friend trying to assist the matter who pays her own heavy psychic toll. As desperation sets in, a roughhewn handheld style not dissimilar from Paul Greengrass' docu-drama feel heightens the tension and immediacy of the girls' situation. Fortunately never falling into the traps of an "issue film," after the most brutal moments are over (and some of it is hard to watch), the film lets you reflect on the disquieting and disturbing acts that have followed.
3. "I've Loved You So Long"
Just thinking of this movie makes us want to quietly weep in a corner. A soulful and extremely moving portrait of the seemingly limitless and incontestable bonds of sibling love, the ugliness of family dark secrets and the hope of personal rebirth, writer Philippe Claudel's directorial debut is anchored by an arresting (and criminally overlooked by Oscar) performance of Kristin Scott Thomas. She plays a drained-of-life woman just released from prison after 15 years for the murder of her six-year-old son. After the family has denounced her, the only one waiting for her is the loving younger sister, Lea, terrifically played with tenderness and empathy by Elsa Zylberstein. Forgiveness and self-absolution in the picture is an arduous and painful cross to bear and 'Loved You So Long' is one of decade's most emotionally wrenching films made about family.
A vibrantly alive and magnetic ode to youth, a passionate chronicle of friendship and the manic energy of a restless mind, "Reprise," struck a chord and never left. Some called this dynamically visualized tale of two competitive best friends (Anders Danielsen Lie and Espen Klouman-Høiner) with literary aspirations and their chronicles of love, loss and mental illness, "Charlie Kaufman-esque," but that's actually banal and fairly reductive. The film does traverse in concepts of fluid time, but the electrical human energy, Bergman-esque contemplation and kinetic zeal is distinctly its own work. A startlingly affecting feature-length directorial debut by Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier (born in Denmark), now the big question on our mind is what is he doing next and why hasn't Hollywood, or some smart producer, swooped down on this preternaturally gifted filmmaker to direct an ambitious new project? Perhaps he's far too good for them all. We can only hope another work arrives soon.
Steven Soderbergh's two part epic is not going to win any points for politics, as it jumps around Che Guevara's life quite liberally and tiptoes around his more serious discretionary acts. However, it does not lionize the man either. Soderbergh takes his coolly proficient scalpel to instead illustrate the anatomy of a revolutionary, a field leader, and a man capable of great change, who was intrigued with the verbal exchanges in the middle of sieges, the physical steps taken between two points, the hairsbreadth between being the leader of your people and being a victim of unmanaged hubris. Soderbergh benefits from a go-for-broke performance by Benicio del Toro as the political game-changer, and he presents an intense and typically focused characterization that helps create a full picture of a man we might not want to befriend or vilify, but one we desperately want to know.
It really pains us how many great films we had to leave off this list. Number one in that category is perhaps French-Tunisian director Abdel Kechiches' sprawling, roving cinema verite family restaurant drama "Secret Of the Grain." Other strong films that unfortunately could not make the cut, but we still wish to pay recognition to include, Guy Maddin's drunken, wintry and hilarious docu-fantasia, "My Winnipeg," Kelly Reichardt's micro-minimalist poverty tale, "Wendy & Lucy" which suffers from zero plot, but boasts a devastating performance by Michelle Williams; Hou Hsiao-hsien's meandering, but touching, "Flight of the Red Balloon"; still-going at 79 years of age, French New Wave stalwart, Claude Chabrol's deliciously sardonic, "A Girl Cut In Two," featuring excellent performances by Ludivine Sagnier and François Berléand; Danny Boyle's kinetic and celebratory fairy-tale, "Slumdog Millionaire," Gus Van Sant's fourth experimental film in a row, the skate-park teen drama, "Paranoid Park" featuring lovely lensing by the great Christopher Doyle; the German-made Jewish Holocaust prisoners story, "The Counterfeiters" and Claude Miller's absorbing WWII family drama, "A Secret," including an excellent performance by Cécile De France who Clint Eastwood recently tapped for his near-death experiences film, "Hereafter." Also quite amazing is Steve McQueen's IRA hunger-strike drama, "Hunger" featuring an amazing performance by Michael Fassbender.
Other films we appreciate are Martin McDonagh's feature-length directorial debut, the hit-man comedy, "In Bruges" (someone please figure out how to adapt his amazing play "The Pillowman," we elect someone like Bong Joon-Ho or Park Chan-Wook), the Swedish tender-vampire film, "Let The Right One In," "Waltz With Bashir," Harmony Korine's most successful feature film, the dreamy and melancholy, "Mister Lonely,"the under appreciated (at least in the U.S.), Palme d'Or winner, "The Class," by director Laurent Cantet, Thom McCarthy's simple, but effective sophomore picture, "The Visitor," David Gordon Green's Altman-eseque, and surprisingly funny drama, "Snow Angels," David Mamet's mixed-martial arts drama, "Redbelt," Charlie Kaufman's swirl-headed and dour dream, "Synecdoche, New York" and enjoyable entertainment like, "Wall-E" and "The Dark Knight." — Gabe Toro, Drew Taylor, Katie Walsh & RP.