Watch: The #Focus Is On #WillSmith and #MargotRobbie

Will Smith, Margot Robbie, movie, Focus, con game, romantic thriller

Remember, oh say twenty years ago, when Will Smith wasn’t known primarily as a smart-ass action hero? Smith burst onto the scene in playing a con man in Six Degrees of Separation, way back in 1993. Then of course he met Michael Bay and diverged from the path marked “actor” and chose the prettier, shinier one that pointed to “movie star”.  It’s a crowded road; he had a lot of company.

It would appear, with the release this week of Focus, that Smith is now trying to get back on track. Oh sure, there have been a couple of side trips over the years, like when he made The Pursuit of Happyness and Eight Pounds for director Gabriele Muccino (you know, the two films that sold Gerard Butler on Playing for Keeps. Yes, I know. I liked it. I have my reasons.), or Ali for Oliver Stone or even the under-rated Hancock for Peter Berg. But all of those films were made when Smith, one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, was riding high.  Today we see an older and wiser Smith trying to recover from a string of box-office bombs, culminating in last year’s M. Night Shyamalan mess, After Earth, an ego project if ever there was one.

Watch the trailer below. I’m getting a strong “George Clooney in Steven Soderbergh‘s Out of Sight” vibe. If Smith is truly on a mission to reshape his career, George Clooney’s is not a bad one to emulate. (Especially since Clooney doesn’t seem to be very interested in being “Geoge Clooney” at the moment.)

In the midst of veteran con man Nicky’s latest scheme, a woman from his past – now an accomplished femme fatale – shows up and throws his plans for a loop.

We don’t often see Will Smith in any sort of romantic setting. (I would not count Hitch as romantic. It’s rare that a so-called “rom-com” generates any actual sparks, but I see plenty between Smith and costar Margot Robbie.

Not many had even heard of Robbie before Martin Scorsese gave her the female lead in The Wolf of Wall Street opposite Leonardo DiCaprio (another actor who doesn’t get to do romance very often. You probably had to stop and think about that, Titanic fans, but it’s true), but she managed to more than hold her own and at the tender age of just 21. Yeah, that’s right. Robbie is only 24 years old. Doesn’t it seem like she’s always been around? (I liken her to a young Cathy Moriarty, who was also in her early twenties and playing women older and more mature than her age.)

Throw in Rodrigo Santoro (yes, please) as the villain of the piece and the third point in romantic triangle, and the always terrific Gerald McRaney as his capo cum bodyguard, and it looks like Glen Ficarra and John Requa, the duo responsible for Crazy, Stupid, Love., have created another improbable soufflé that just might rise, this time in the vein of Elmore Leonard or John D. MacDonald.

I don’t expect that anyone’s reinvented any wheels here, but that’s okay. You buy a shiny new car, you don’t expect it to come with anything less than four tires, an engine, seats and a steering wheel, right? It’s all about how those things are crafted. Just judging from this trailer, Focus looks like a well-crafted romantic thriller with all of the right accessories. I’m in. Are you?

Also starring BD Wong, Adrian Martinez and Robert Taylor, Focus opens wide in the US (in IMAX in some places!) on February 27.

Advertisements

Watch the 1st Trailer for Tomorrowland, Today!

Tomorrowland, poster, Disney, George Clooney, Brad Bird, movie

Even if your teams weren’t playing, chances are you still tuned in to last night’s Super Bowl – either for the commercials or one of the fifteen new, and hotly anticipated, movie trailers.  Disney was one of the studios who paid big bucks to unveil one of those trailers in front of one of the largest (if not the largest) television audiences of the year.

Take a look at the first trailer for the sci-fi thriller, Tomorrowland:

“What if there was a place where nothing was impossible,”

After watching this little 30 second tease, that place still exists only in our imaginations, since we don’t know very much more than we did before we saw it. What we did get was the teensiest of peeks at the visuals,  which since they have to compete with the 3-D Tomorrowland  that many grew up actually walking around in, are sure to stunning.

from Walt Disney Studios:

“Bound by a shared destiny, a bright, optimistic teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor jaded by disillusionment embark on a danger-filled mission to unearth the secrets of an enigmatic place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory as “Tomorrowland”.”

I’m not generally a fan of films based on theme park rides or attractions, but I am intrigued by Tomorrowland.  One reason is that its director, BradThe IncrediblesBird,  was offered Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens as only his second live-action film (after IM5:Ghost Protocol), but turned it down for this one because, “when you get the rare chance to do an original film like Tomorrowland, you take the opportunity”. Since he co-wrote the screenplay with Damon Lindeloff, I’m not sure which came first, the film or the opportunity to direct.

Actually, the idea for the film has been kicking around almost as long as its Disneyland incarnation. Okay, that’s hyperbole. But in Hollywoodland terms,  2008, might as well be 1955.  It all started with a script from writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore,  who wanted Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to star. Their screenplay was supposedly not based on the Disney Tomorrowland attractions, but was an original story which merely “borrowed” the title.

In 2013, Walt Disney Pictures announced that a film titled 1952 (a code name for the top-secret, very hush hush project) would be re-titled Tomorrowland.  It doesn’t appear that Bird and Lindelof are using Lucas and Moore’s script at all, since only they (along with Jeff Jenson) have story credit on the film.

In any case, Bird has assembled a cast top-lined by the world’s most famous newlywed,  George Clooney, as inventor Frank Walker, as well as Hugh Laurie, Kathryn Hahn, Judy Greer, Keegan-Michael Key, Lochlyn Munro, Tim McGraw and  Britt Robertson, best known for “Under the Dome”, as budding scientist Casey Newton.

More will follow…and soon. Tomorrowland opens the flood-gates on this summer’s blockbuster season, on May 22…everywhere.

Final Trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar Teases Epic Space Odyssey Epically

Interstellar, Christopher Nolan, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, poster, movie, trailer

Warner Brothers has just released the final, mind-blowing, trailer for Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar. Kudos go to the team that has cut these three teasers, because while we do get a sense of the epic scale of the film, I’ll be damned if I really know what the hell it’s about. (Other than that the Earth is dying and a group of scientists, including Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway embark on a deep space mission to find us all a new home.) That is the way Nolan wants it, for now. But I want to know, and that’s the most important thing. I can’t wait to hand over my money for a ticket to this giant ride.

We’ve already learned that Interstellar will be nearly three hours long, so if the footage we’ve seen didn’t give us a clue, we can tell by this fact that it’s the “biggest” film Nolan has yet produced. While bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, if this movie is half as good as he and Warner Brothers would like us to think it is, and that these trailers would indicate, then, JMHO, for the second time in two years, we’re looking at a guaranteed awards contender set in space.
Now, I don’t yet know about the technical aspects of Interstellar, in terms of whether or not they are more dazzling than Alfonso Cuarón‘s Gravity (or if they even come close), and let’s face it, that is a bar set about as high as K12, but what Gravity was really missing, was a pulse. Sure it had George Clooney sacrificing himself for Sandra Bullock, who was left alone in that capsule to hallucinate and remember her daughter etc etc. But, to paraphrase Rick Blaine*, “the problems of {two} little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this world”. and what kept it from winning anything other than technical prizes (aside from the fact that it was up against 12 Years a Slave) was heart.

Interstellar, on the other hand, would seem to have that in spades. Oscar winners McConaughey and Hathaway will trump Oscar winners Clooney and Bullock because not only is it about the fate of all mankind, but also on a more personal level, it’s about a father trying to save the world…for his children. Children that, unless I miss my guess, will grow up to be Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck, carrying on the good fight back on Earth will Dad spends most of their lives trying to get back to them.

So, sight unseen, on the basis of three trailers (a total of less than 10 minutes of footage from a three hour movie), I’m making a completely subjective, non-scientific prediction: along with also sight-unseen flicks Birdman, Unbreakable, The Imitation Game, and Wild, Interstellar will be on the short lists for all of the major year-end prizes (along with Boyhood, Foxcatcher and A Most Violent Year, which I have seen). This list is, of course, subject to change. It is, after all, only October 1. Enjoy the trailer.

Interstellar, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, co-written by Jonathan Nolan, starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Elyes Gabel, Wes Bentley, Topher Grace, Mackenzie Foy, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, David Oyelowo, William Devane, and Michael Caine (plus an uncredited Matt Damon – perhaps to do his Matty impression?), opens in the US and the UK on November 7. (Actually it pretty much opens everywhere on the planet with a movie theater between November 5 and November 7 – you won’t be able to miss it, but why would you want to try?)

*Casablanca (1942) Humphrey Bogart to Ingrid Bergman

Danny Ocean’s Grandfather Fights the Nazis

Matt Damon, George Clooney, movie, The Monuments Men

courtesy 20th Century Fox via USA Today

Way back in January 2012, Oscar nominee George Clooney, then enjoying the hoopla surrounding his performance in The Descendants, announced that his next film behind the camera would be based on the true story of a group of “soldiers” (really architects, art historians, museum curators, etc.) tasked with protecting priceless art treasures from the ravages of war and from Hitler’s grand plan to wipe out the culture of the Jewish people.  (“This sounds promising!”)

As soon as the project announcement was made, casting rumors began to circulate. Daniel Craig and Bill Murray were the first names to surface. (Craig didn’t stay, but Murray can be seen in the trailer). Cate Blanchett, with whom Clooney worked on The Good German, came next .  After that, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and Hugh Bonneville all added their names to the dotted line. The last “get” was Matt Damon, who replaced Craig.  I’m sure that took some real heavy duty arm-twisting on Clooney’s part.

Based on the book “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History” by Robert Edsel, the screenplay is by Clooney and his producing partner Grant Heslov.  The cinematography is by Phedon Papamichael who shot The Descendents and The Ides of March. The score is by gifted and prolific Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat, but Clooney’s imprimatur alone put high expectations on this movie before a single frame was lensed.

Filming began on March 6, 2013.

On March 11, I saw the first mention of the film in the same sentence as “Oscar contenders for 2014”.

In April, Sony showed some early footage at CinemaCon in Las Vegas.

Here we are in August and by now nearly everyone capable of making an awards contenders list for the upcoming season has The Monuments Men firmly entrenched in nearly every possible category including actor, director, and screenplay.  This is gonna be big! HUGE!  (Despite the fact that it’s not traveling to Venice or Toronto – or even, as of this writing, New York – for a festival).

So now we have the first trailer. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. What’s the tone Clooney’s going for? Where’s the gravitas?  I wasn’t looking for another Schindler’s List, but I wasn’t  expecting Ocean’s Eleven Takes on the Nazis. Have a look:

Is it me?The delivery of the dialogue implies one thing, the song playing under the trailer implies another (more in keeping with the subject matter).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I won’t see it, because I will. There’s too much here that promises to be a good time at the movies. Clooney being Clooney is very entertaining. When he teams up with his friends, like Matt Damon, they have great fun and it translates to the screen.  This is a very impressive cast and the opportunity to see them work together, again is too good to miss.  I guess I was just expecting “more”. More what exactly I can’t quite say yet. And why isn’t simply a “good time at the movies” enough anymore?

Then again, this is only the first trailer. Perhaps my questions will be answered before the very awards season conscious December US release date.

In a race against time, a crew of art historians and museum curators unite to recover renowned works of art stolen by Nazis before Hitler destroys them.

The Monuments Men costars a lot of fine European character actors like Diarmaid Murtagh (Vikings, Starz Camelot) and opens on December 18 in the US but not until January for the rest of the world, including the UK on the 9th.

Just my humble opinions. Feel free to put me in my place in the comments. In the meantime, check out the images courtesy USA Today:

“It’s Good to Be George Clooney”

If they gave out Oscars for being a bon vivant, the best raconteur or guy-you'd-most-like-to-have-at-your-next-dinner party, then George Clooney would be a shoo-in. I could listen to him talk for hours. He's intelligent, charming, self-effacing and very, very funny. He's also not hard on the eyes. I enjoy his films immensely. He makes smart choices and if he can't find a movie from someone else that he wants to do, he and his producing partner, Grant Heslov, will write their own. Then he gets his friends to help out.I've never heard or read a single negative anecdote told by actors who've worked with him and his private life and behavior don't make the tabloids for anything other than the fact that he's a serial monogamist.
 
He also puts his celebrity to good use, which is a better reason to admire the man  than the way he looks in a tux. There is no question his interest in the crisis in Darfur has shone a light on a region of the world that no one was paying attention to, despite the fact that another holocaust was happening under our noses. He's by no means the only activist to highlight what's happening in the Sudan (Sam Childers aka "The Machine Gun Preacher" may have been there longer and is more hands on, but until recently not many had ever heard of Sam or his work) nor is he the only celebrity attempting to put their fame to good use (ie Angelina Jolie or Madonna) but, I think the fact that he's so well regarded in general means attention will be paid.   

He's a great guy and everyone loves him.

The problem I have is with George Clooney, Academy Award nominee for Best Actor. I enjoyed The Descendants both times I saw it, but when I walked out the second time, my opinion hadn't changed from the first. It's a good movie. It's well written and it's well acted, which is what we should expect when we buy a ticket. We should not be so surprised when we come upon quality that it's immediately given front runner status for Awards Season. There is a lot to like in that film, most notably, in my opinion is the discovery of Shailene Woodley. She's just twenty years old and has a great career ahead of her if she continues to make smart choices. (For the record I don't consider her performance awards worthy either, even though she was touted for Best Supporting Actress early on.) Nor do I think this was Clooney's best work, a phrase being bandied about more and more as we get into the final stretch before Oscar night.

I would suggest that he was better in Michael Clayton (for which he was nominated but lost out to Daniel Day Lewis for There Will Be Blood). I suggest that he was better as Archie Gates in Three Kings, Jack Foley in Out of Sight or even as Everett in O Brother, Where Art Thou? all of which were made when it was still possible for him to disappear into a character. Now, whenever I see him on screen, I rarely see anything other than George Clooney. He's too famous to completely disappear into a role. (Something I dread happening to all of my favorite actors, the ones the world has suddenly caught on to like Michael Fassbender and Tom Hardy. It's already happened to a large extent to Gerard Butler.) In the clip below, Clooney mentions how, in his later years, Spencer Tracy always played some version of Spencer Tracy, but "you couldn't take your eyes off of him." That's how I feel about Clooney. 

I am very happy his script for Ides of March was nominated. More than the performances (and Clooney was very good, make no mistake. So were Gosling, Wood, Tomei, Hoffman and Giamatti for that matter), the words were the star, just as they were when it was a play. I love the story he told "The Hollywood Reporter about how restless he is and how he wakes up five times a night and it was during one of these sleepless nights that he wrote a particularly memorable line of dialogue from Ides of March. (Arguably the most memorable) "I woke up and sat down and wrote the whole scene in the kitchen between Ryan and myself: 'You want to be president…You can start a war, you can lie, you can cheat, you can bankrupt the country, but you can't fuck the interns.'" 
Speaking of that venerable publication, Gorgeous George is on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter next week and he invited the photographer and journalist into his home for the interview.  Below is a video clip of the photo shoot. (This is by the way, the 2nd time this awards season that Clooney has allowed cameras to film him in his private domain. The first was for CBS News' "Person to Person" with Charlie Rose and Lara Logan. The seventeen minute video can be found at the link. If he were anyone other than George Clooney, one might say he was lobbying hard for that Oscar. But because he IS George Clooney, it's easier to give him the benefit of the doubt. He just wanted to invite us all in for a chat.

“Obligatory End of Year Movie List” Post

Well, I can’t bring myself to call it a "Top 10"… or a "Best of"… Just seems rather presumptuous on my part, to weed ten films out from the thousands that were released this year and call them the "top" or the "best." According to whom? Me? And why does it have to be 10? Because David Letterman made the "Top 10 List" a part of the cultural vernacular? Maybe I’ll do eleven. Or nine…just to be contrary.

I sound cranky already, don’t I? I don’t mean to. I love talking about movies. It’s the main reason I started this blog, so that I’d have someplace to do it without boring my friends to tears. It’s just that the idea of doing a list like this is intimidating, for many reasons, not the least of which is that everyone with a movie-related blog (and his brother,) has already done one, so it almost seems like not only an exercise in futility, but just a great big conceit.

Okay, okay, enough of the whining. I think I’ll consider this "my list of my favorite movies that I saw in 2010." So, without further ado…

In order of US release:

Shutter Island
How to Train Your Dragon
The Ghost Writer
The Square
Kick-Ass
Inception
Animal Kingdom
The American
The Town
The Fighter
True Grit
The King’s Speech

(Ha! That’s 12 and I didn’t even plan it.)

Of course I saw more than twelve movies this year, and I liked most of them for one reason or another. I’m no Armand White, but I generally try to find something likeable in anything I’ve bothered to devote two hours of my time to. I had no desire to see Eat Pray Love, but I saw it with my mother and Javier Bardem was, as usual, sex-on-a-stick, so I can’t hate it.
Morning Glory
is another one I wouldn’t have chosen, but that I saw with my mother (we got to spend more time together this year than usual) and, while it was fluff, it was smart and entertaining fluff and perfectly suited to its star, Rachel McAdams.
I enjoyed The Bounty Hunter and I won’t apologize for it. There are scenes in that movie that are well worth the price of admission AND dvd and I don’t care what anyone else says or thinks. Even Jonah Hex had Michael Fassbender using his own Killarney accent going for it. Granted, not nearly enough of him to save the thing, but mercifully the movie was short anyway.

Robin Hood
narrowly missed being included, but I had to stop somewhere. (See that’s why these things are so difficult. I have an irrational fear of offending "someone" by not including "them".) There’s too much there for me to like: the cast, the director, the genre, the production values, the costumes, the score… *sigh* The same could be said of Centurion. It was just plain visceral fun. (And again…Fassbender.)

Then there are films that I’m aware of and have seen, that are well-made and for one reason or another will be remembered during awards season and hence, be given some sort of significance in the annals of film history. (I feel like I’d be remiss in not mentioning them, but they can’t be considered "favorites" for reasons that will hopefully become clear.) Winter’s Bone, for example. Without the fierce and star-making performance of Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly, this might as well have been a Barbara Kopple documentary*. It was bleak and gritty and real, and completely joyless. I feel no need to see it again.

The Kids Are Alright almost made the list as well. It’s a critical darling and may very well earn Annette Bening her first Oscar. (Julianne Moore also deserves a nomination. Any other year I’d say, so does Mark Ruffalo, but there are only five slots in the acting categories.) The film is well-written, well-acted and well-directed, but it’s also so perfectly "in the moment," so completely of the time in which it was produced, that I can see it being considered dated in a few years. It may belong in a time capsule, but it doesn’t belong on my dvd shelf for future viewings.

Toy Story 3 has, upon further reflection, lost some of its luster for me. I know that I enjoyed it immensely when I saw it, but not only do I not feel the need to see it again, I can’t remember what it "felt" like the first time. I seem to recall that the emotional heart of the story was a footnote to what became nothing more than an animated action adventure film. (I may be alone in my thinking on this one, wouldn’t be the first time.)

I would have liked to have included Carlos on this list, but because it was first shown in this country on The Sundance Channel it didn’t seem right. Edgar Ramirez’s performance in the title role is nothing short of mesmerizing and I will end up watching this one again and again. All five and a half hours of it.

There are also films that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see, that probably would have made this list. I’m more enchanted with the idea of Blue Valentine every time I see the trailer. Hopefully, I will be able to see it prior to the Oscar nominations coming out because from what I’ve read (and the little I’ve seen) both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams will be among them.

I feel like a fraud because I failed to see Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I even had a free pass to a sneak preview, but I didn’t go. The rest of the blogosphere may think it’s brilliant, (and it may be… Director Edgar Wright is full of potential. I loved Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz,) I just couldn’t do it. Michael Cera was easy to take in small doses on the small screen in "Arrested Development," but I can’t take him for 2 hours, 7 ft high and in Dolby surround sound. I also still have not seenThe Social Network. Again, a conscious decision, (I had a pass for this one, too) and one I would not regret were it not for the fact that it’s made so many lists of so many critics whose opinions I respect. It’s out on dvd in a couple of weeks. I’ll rectify the situation then. If I have to amend my list, I will. (One mustn’t be rigid in one’s thinking, but I’m betting this is another that will belong in a time capsule.)

Now, as I pointed out, the films that do appear on my list are in order of their US release and not in order of preference. I chose my list primarily by looking at my ticket stubs for the year and thinking about which of these that: A. I would want to watch more than once (if I haven’t already), B. which are worth owning on dvd for that purpose? (For the record I already own 8 of the 12 on the above list, 4 aren’t out yet.), and C. which ones have "stuck with me" the most? Which ones can I not stop thinking about? I don’t mean constantly, but even better — which ones have enough resonance that perhaps little snippets of dialogue or an image will come to me at random moments or have situations or characters that I recognize in daily life? etc. etc.

Most of these films aren’t perfect, in fact quite a few are deeply flawed. They might have made my list because they are excellent examples of my favorite genre, like The Square, or because of a performance by a favorite actor, like Kick-Ass.

Shutter Island is a film that, if it had been released in November 2009 as was originally scheduled, probably would have been on the awards/critics favorite lists for that year. I loved the book by Dennis Lehane and, while I’m aware that movie and film are two separate entities, I was eagerly awaiting the adaptation from the moment it was announced. Martin Scorsese again directing Leonardo DiCaprio? I’m there. I wasn’t disappointed either. In addition to DiCaprio, the whole thing was peppered with great performances from Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, et al. Scorsese handled the twists and turns of the dark plot so deftly that, even though I KNEW the secret, I was so caught up that it came as a surprise to me as well as the rest of the audience. It’s also one of those films that reveals a little bit more each time one sees it and so definitely bears repeat viewings. I read somewhere a review that called this Scorsese’s homage to Hitchcock. Not a bad description, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with one master paying tribute to another.

My love for How to Train Your Dragon has been well-documented and I’m not sure I can add anything here that I haven’t already said. It’s a simple story beautifully told. Visually stunning, aurally stimulating, heart-warming and just plain fun. It’s the kind of movie about which one could have said, "they don’t make ’em like that anymore". Except they did.

The Ghost Writer is a well-written, well-acted little thriller that took me completely by surprise. It is essentially about a writer hired to "ghost" a politician’s memoirs, even as the politician seems to be torn as to whether he actually wants them told, and who uncovers layers and layers of secrets. It’s another film that begs for repeat viewings both to catch all the little clues you missed the last time and just because the performances are so good, particularly Pierce Brosnan and Ewan MacGregor.

Made in Australia for next to nothing, directed by Nash Edgerton and written by his brother Joel, who also plays Billy (Gawain in King Arthur, Hugo in Smokin’ Aces, etc.), The Square is a tough and brilliant bare bones neo-noir that reminded me a lot of The Coens’ Blood Simple. It wouldn’t surprise me if most of the people reading this have never heard of this movie. It’s a time honored tale of lovers who devise a plan in order to be together — a plan that sounds so simple until everything goes horribly wrong. Watching it unfold, you know nothing is going to go right for these people, but you can’t look away as each domino knocks down the next. I’d already seen it when I got the dvd for Christmas, and I’ve already watched it twice since then. This is one of those movies that some Hollywood mucky-muck with more money than sense is probably already plotting to remake with a bigger budget and a big name cast. See this one first.

Kick-Ass holds a special place for many reasons, not least of which is that it was just plain fun. Also, it featured a brilliant, comedically menacing (or menacingly comedic) performance by Mark Strong. His Frank D’Amico is kind of like Archy’s** angry American cousin (with better fashion sense.) My further thoughts on this film can be found here: weetiger3.livejournal.com/13926.html, in an earlier post.

I’m not sure anything I could say here could influence someone’s choice to see Inception, if they haven’t already done so. Brilliant is too pale of a word to describe it. It’s everything we go to the cinema to see a movie for. Big, stunning visuals. An original and, yes, complicated plot full of interesting, well-formed characters that we care about. Well-written dialogue spoken by talented actors and an ending that had people talking not only as they left the theater, but for weeks and months after.

Animal Kingdom is another Australian film that you may not have heard of (also with Joel Edgerton). I do intend to talk more fully about it when it’s released on dvd next month. It’s a family drama about some low-rent, but extremely dangerous villains. (I know I’ve hooked some of you already.) I mentioned it in passing when comparing Melissa Leo’s character in The Fighter with Jacki Weaver’s in this film. "Smurf" Cody, a combination of Lucretia Borgia and Ma Barker, has to be experienced to be believed. I can’t wait to see this again.

I only saw The American very recently. Two nights ago as a matter of fact. I felt compelled to put it on the list because I couldn’t stop thinking about it, even as I was watching it. I went out and picked up a copy the next day. I can very clearly envision myself popping this in to watch a Renault wind around the stark Abruzzi countryside and listen to Herbert Gronemeyer’s haunting score. (Not to mention watch "Mr. Butterfly" run around sans shirt.) Anton Corbijn, best known for directing music videos (U2, Metallica, Depeche Mode) and Control (a biopic of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis) has made a small 70’s era European art-house film starring one of the world’s biggest movie stars, George Clooney. Clooney is so good as a burned-out hit man that you forget that he is George Clooney. There are no smug smiles or even smugger line deliveries. In fact there are few lines at all, but he’s fascinating to watch. You can’t look away because from the opening sequence you don’t know what he’ll do.

It probably comes as no surprise that The Town has made my list of favorites. Parts of it were filmed at "the cathedral of Boston," Fenway Park, which is about two blocks from my apartment. Running late for work one morning, I took a cab and we drove right through where they were unloading the trucks to set up for the day’s shooting. It’s a small thing, but it makes me feel connected somehow. Charlestown, the neighborhood where most of the movie takes place, is where my stbex lived when we met. I love seeing Boston on screen. It may be a big metropolitan city to the rest of the world, but to those of us who live here it feels like a small town. And regardless of what anyone thinks of his accent in this film, Ben Affleck’s second foray into directing proved that Gone Baby Gone, another of my favorites (and another based on a Dennis Lehane novel), was no fluke.
I’ve always thought Affleck was a better actor than he was given credit for or that his list of credits could attest to. (For proof, I offer Hollywoodland. He’s fantastic as George Reeves. It’s too bad more people didn’t see it.) In any case, if he’s a good actor, he’s an even better director. I’ve read in several places recently the topic of who will succeed Clint Eastwood. Why there has to be a successor I don’t fully appreciate, but of all of the candidates mentioned I can foresee the mantle falling to Ben Affleck. He’s already taken the idea of actors securing control of their projects to a higher level than mere producing can obtain. He’s been writing good parts for himself since Good Will Hunting, which he co-wrote and famously won an Oscar for with Matt Damon, and he co-wrote The Town as well. He wrote Doug McCray with the intention of playing him, but was not always planning to direct. Apparently, Adrian Lyne was Warner Brothers 1st choice. Frankly, I can’t imagine why and am very happy Affleck stepped up. He directed Amy Ryan to an Oscar nomination his first time out of the gate and I predict he’s done it for Jeremy Renner this time. Renner is perfect as James "Gem" Coughlin. Watch his face right before he says "whose car we takin’?" as he works out what Doug has just asked of him. Everything you need to know about his character, his history with Doug, everything, is right there. (There’s a reason that’s the clip that he takes with him to the chat shows.)

The rest of the cast: Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper (in his one scene), are all brilliant. The only one I didn’t buy was Blake Lively. She tried. The problem was that I could see her trying. I never believed her. Oh well, maybe it’s just me.

It is mere coincidence that the last three films on the list also happen to be my three absolute favorites of the year, although not necessarily in the same order. JMHO, everything you’ve heard about these next movies is true. They are each completely deserving of every superlative that has been used to describe them and of the accolades that are being heaped upon them.

My feelings about The Fighter can be found here:  weetiger3.livejournal.com/21316.html I’ve seen it twice and not only did it hold up well on a second viewing, I came away with an even greater appreciation for Christian Bale’s performance. The only thing that really bugged me was the same thing that bugged me the first time around: The movie starts in 1993. No mention is made of how much time has passed, but it appears to have only been a year at most. We’re never told how long Dicky is in prison. If it is only a year, then there is a glaring anachronism in the climactic fight scene, and frankly, I couldn’t believe the filmmakers hadn’t noticed it. (I’m referring to the logo for a website that appears in the middle of the ring during the Ward v. Neary fight in London.) Well, after some research and if the actual timeline is correct, it turns out it wasn’t an anachronism at all. The Ward/Neary fight took place in 2000, seven years after the start of the film. In no way is this ever made clear. It’s a small thing, but it smacked me between the eyes and took me out of the moment both times I saw it. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t detract from the overall power of the film. I’ll continue to get chills whenever I hear Whitesnake’s "Here I Go Again" and I know I’ll want to watch the movie again when I do.

I enjoyed the Coen Brothers’ True Grit immensely, but it almost didn’t make my list. I’ve written about it recently and my thoughts, in case anyone who is interested missed them, can be found here: weetiger3.livejournal.com/22509.html It was a tough call because I wasn’t sure, if based on my criteria above, that I could call it a "favorite" yet. I was afraid that it was actually the pounding baseline of Johnny Cash’s "God’s Gonna Cut You Down" that plays under the trailer that had continued to move me. I added the film to the list and took it off several times before I decided to sleep on it. I finally realized that not only will I add this to my collection because it’s another fine example of a Coen Brothers spin on a classic genre (no, I do not follow them blindly — I did not like Burn After Reading and I do not own A Serious Man), but that I will want to watch it over and over again because I want to spend more time with those characters, especially Jeff Bridges’ Rooster and Hailee Steinfeld’s Mattie. I know there are still a lot of naysayers out there and I’ve said all I’m going to about why this movie deserves to exist along side the earlier version, but anyone who denies themselves the pleasure of watching this unknown, untested thirteen year old girl go up against an Oscar winning veteran like Bridges is missing out. Ms. Steinfeld may or may not go on to other great parts, but there’ll only ever be one first.

This brings me to the final film on the list, The King’s Speech. I’m such a complete anglophile that I’d been anxiously awaiting this one from the moment I first heard about it. I raced to the theater to see it as soon as it opened here and really, since my expectations were so high, the only real question was whether or not I’d be disappointed. I was not. I loved every minute of it.
Ostensibly, the film is a period drama about a member of the British Royal Family with a speech impediment, but there’s so much more to it than that. I don’t want to do a detailed synopsis, and I’m rarely interested in doing a conventional review. None of the reviews I’ve read do it justice anyway. The direction and the performances, all of which are spectacular, turn what could have been a dull and dry footnote to British history into a completely engrossing emotional experience.

Colin Firth is astounding. It’s as simple as that. Through the course of the film, one literally watches him transform himself from the shy Duke of York into King George VI, the man who symbolically held his country’s hand and led them through the dark days of World War II. What’s truly amazing is that Firth does it mainly through the way he carries himself and the way he composes his face and his jaw, all of which we see closeup. The camera stays tight on his face and sometimes just his mouth, nearly every time he opens it. I believe he’s a lock for an Oscar. He deserved it for A Single Man and he’s just that consistently good, no matter what piece of dreck*** he appears in, but I don’t think they’ll be able to overlook him this time. I could continue to gush, but what would be the point? This performance is indeed award worthy. For that matter, so is Geoffrey Rush’s. Their dynamic is wonderful. They’re so good together. Just like Wahlberg and Bale, I find it hard to differentiate between these two lead and supporting performances. I suppose it comes down to screen time and Firth is onscreen just slightly more than Rush.

There wasn’t a false note in any of the other performances either. Timothy Spall looks nothing like Churchill, but he evokes the man completely. Guy Pearce not only looked like Edward VIII, he sounded like him. It wasn’t just a matter of him adapting his Australian accent to a posh British one, but anyone who has ever heard snippets of the actual "The Woman I Love" speech would find Pearce uncanny. (Bit of trivia: Anthony Andrews who plays Prime Minister Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain’s predecessor, played Edward VIII in a tv miniseries called "The Woman He Loved" and when he appeared on screen my first thought was, I wonder if he gave Guy Pearce any pointers. Oh well, I had to digress at least once…"so they’d know it was me". )

Helena Bonham Carter has never been better. She seems to have taken to heart what Eleanor Roosevelt once said about the Queen Mother, Elizabeth: that she’s "perfect as a Queen, gracious, informed, saying the right thing & kind, but a little self-consciously regal."+

The relationship between George VI and his "commoner" wife is depicted as being very loving and affectionate and in sharp contrast to what "Bertie" grew up with. His mother, Queen Mary, was shown to be cold and emotionally distant and his father, George V, a tyrant to his children. I was struck by how loving and even demonstrative the current Queen Elizabeth’s early life was supposed to have been, considering how detached she’s supposed to have been with her own children. I think it had to do with the idea that she and her "family" were not being groomed for the throne at the time. A shift in tone is hinted at in one scene after George VI became king. Let’s face it, the British monarchy have always been fairly dysfunctional, but it did feel like a telling glimpse into their lives.

I enjoyed everything about this movie. The costumes, the hair and makeup, the set design and decoration are all stunning. Alexandre Desplat’s score is inspirational and moving and makes wonderful use of some well-known classical pieces. The climatic "speech", the famous one that first rallied the British people at the start of the war, was of course incredibly well done and very emotional (which is as it should be since it is the culminating point of the film), but it is because of the journey we’ve taken more than the words that are spoken that makes it so.

I saw this one a second time as well. Until I had, I was vacillating between this and The Fighter as to which one would be my absolute favorite of 2010. Both films certainly hold up under a repeat viewing (something I haven’t done at the theater for any film without Gerard Butler in it in a very long time), packing the same emotional wallop as they did the first time and both will find a place on my dvd shelves. The difference is that I would be hard pressed to find a single flaw in The King’s Speech.

It’s perfect. Just My Humble Opinion.

*for example Harlan County, USA. A doc focusing on a coal miner’s strike in Kentucky, but depicting the same kind of impoverished rural existence as that of Winter’s Bone.
**Mark Strong’s character in RocknRolla
***Take that, Rupert Everett
+ William Shawcross (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography, Macmillan