Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2010

Note: Some of the films on my list were released, seen, and even reviewed in 2009, but they will not be released near me until the new year. This is a personal list, so the release dates referenced are the ones when I am personally able to see the film.  

The end of one calendar year always brings about the anticipation of the next. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of my most anticipated films of 2010. I am working hard on both of my "best of" lists for 2009 and the 2000's as a whole, but I still have many films I want to see before I can feel confident submitting both of those lists. However, an anticipation list is based on personal preferences and gut-feelings more than anything else, so I feel perfectly confident sharing my top ten with you. 

Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces is one of the most pleasant surprises 2009 has had to offer. The buzz surrounding it has been relatively quiet, but I came out more than impressed. It features one of the year's best ensemble casts, and although the story doesn't quite come together perfectly, it manages to be a captivating and fresh film noir. Almodovar puts his signature on every frame of this beautiful film, and I have never seen a director more expressive with his colors and tones. It is a visual feast.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Movie Review: Magnolia (1999) - 3 1/2 stars

Note: This film was reviewed for the "1001 Movies You Must See" Club. Click here to read the reviews of other members. 

Paul Thomas Anderson is perhaps the boldest filmmaker working today, and although Magnolia was one of the 1990's most overlooked films, it remains a stunning piece of cinema. It opens up with a five or six minute narration by Ricky Jay, as he explains three distinct incidents revolving around chance and coincidence. This is the framework of Anderson's film, and the results are mind-blowing. By the end, I'm not quite sure I was fully convinced this film actually had to be 188 minutes, but there are so many things in this film that occur without definitive reason that you have to be willing to sit through it. Not many people would read a plot summary about a group of intertwining stories and expect it to be a sprawling epic, but that is exactly what Magnolia is.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Second Trailer for Nolan's 'Inception'

The second trailer for Christopher Nolan's Inception has debuted online. It is currently playing in theaters in front of Sherlock Holmes, but feel free to watch the embed version below, or check it out in HD over at Apple

The film is set to be released on July 16, 2010. The stellar cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine. This is far and away my most anticipated film of 2010.

Best Picture:

1. "Up in the Air" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
2. "Avatar" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
3. "The Hurt Locker" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
4. "Precious" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
5. "Inglourious Basterds" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
6. "Invictus" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
7. "An Education" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
9. "A Serious Man" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
10. "The Messenger" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
11. "Nine" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
12. "Bright Star" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
13. "A Single Man" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
14. "Crazy Heart" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
15. "500 Days of Summer" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
16. "Julie & Julia" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
17. "Star Trek" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
18. "The Road" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
19. "The Lovely Bones" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
20. "The Last Station" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
21. "District 9" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
22. "Broken Embraces" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
23. "Where the Wild Things Are" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)

Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart centers on the type of story we have all seen and heard countless times before, but it has one thing going for it that makes it a genuine film, and that is Jeff Bridges. One of the industry's most respected actors, Bridges has finally found a role that could land him his first ever Academy Award. His portrayal of Bad Blake is the reason to sit through this film, and if he does in fact win the Oscar, it will put a smile on my face. There have been few male performances this year that have carried a film from start to finish, and Bridges delivers what might be the best one of the bunch.

About a Boy is a curious little film, a comedy-drama with a sneaking desire to be better than your average heart-warmer, but at the same time, it never really shows a longing to truly challenge the audience. The film is directed by Chris and Paul Weitz, and was adapted from a best-selling novel by Nick Hornby. The first half of this thing is terrific. It is funny, even hysterical at times, and it introduces a couple of well-defined characters. Unfortunately, the third act threatens to diminish all of the charm of the first hour, and nearly does so.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Movie Review: Hard Candy (2006) - 3 1/2 stars

David Slade's Hard Candy is a psychological thriller of the first order. This is a film that takes a normally predictable issue in the movies, pedophilia, and tells it in a way I've never seen before. Slade and screenwriter Brian Nelson take a lot of risks with this film, and while some of the story development may not be as good as it could have been, the remarkable performances more than make up for it. It's one of the most uncomfortable films I can remember, but if you can stomach the content, this is a ride well worth taking. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Quick Thoughts on 'Julie & Julia' - 2 stars

I finally found some time to catch up with Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia, and I'm not quite sure it was worth it. I wouldn't say it's a terrible film, but there's hardly enough story for a two hour comedy, and the pacing is a major problem. The film also never seems to take itself very seriously, and as a result, I had trouble caring at all for any of the characters. The performances are fine enough, but the script lacks any depth whatsoever, and the dramatic moments had little to no impact. 

I don't think I will write a full review on this film, but I will say that I would have trouble recommending it, even to cooking fans. Yes, the performances are fine, but Streep's turn is hardly worthy of an Oscar, and the script is so thin that you could step away from this film for five or ten minutes and not miss a single thing. It's kind of a shame that any performance with Streep's name on it nowadays is automatically considered for an Oscar. To even put this performance in the same conversation as Gabourey Sidibe's turn in Precious is pretty mind-boggling.  

Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles is a very enjoyable film about love and ambition that rarely hits the wrong note. I am not familiar with some of Linklater's most highly-praised films such as Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, and Before Sunset, but after seeing this one, he is definitely a director I am going to be keeping my eye on. He commands his material just as much as his actors command their characters, and although it may be too tidy at times, the film is a gem.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Movie Review: The Road (2009) - 4 stars

John Hillcoat's The Road is a fascinating, complex tale that is certainly one of the best post-apocalyptic films I've seen. Along with Zack Snyder's Watchmen, Hillcoat's film is one of the toughest adaptations of the year. It is based upon a Cormac McCarthy novel, and it is obvious to the viewer that the novel must have been very light on dialogue. Although I haven't read the book, it seems that it was very successful, and in large part due to McCarthy's language. It is impossible for a film to succeed using the power of prose and language, so Hillcoat relies on his devastating atmosphere and haunting performances to carry the weight; and everything works. 

The Chicago Film Critics Association has chosen their winners for 2009: 

Best Picture
The Hurt Locker

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Best Actor
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Best Actress 
Carey Mulligan, An Education

The winners of the 2009 Satellite Awards have been announced:

Motion Picture (Drama)
The Hurt Locker

Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical)

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Actress In A Motion Picture (Drama)
Shohreh Aghdashloo, The Stoning of Soraya M.

Actor In A Motion Picture (Drama)
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Actress In A Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical) 
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Best Picture:

1. "Up in the Air" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
2. "The Hurt Locker" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
3. "Precious" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
4. "Avatar" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
5. "Inglourious Basterds" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
6. "Invictus" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
7. "Nine" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
8. "An Education" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
10. "A Serious Man" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
11. "The Messenger" (My Review, Trailer, Rotten Tomatoes)
11. "Bright Star" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
12. "A Single Man" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
13. "Star Trek" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
14. "Crazy Heart" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
15. "The Road" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
16. "The Lovely Bones" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
17. "500 Days of Summer" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
18. "Julie & Julia" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
19. "The Last Station" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
20. "District 9" (My ReviewTrailerRotten Tomatoes)
21. "Broken Embraces" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)
22. "Where the Wild Things Are" (TrailerRotten Tomatoes)

It's very hard for me to express just how delighted I am that James Cameron's Avatar is in the thick of this year's Oscar race. It is enjoyable, mainstream filmmaking at its finest, and rarely do we see films like these competing for Oscars, but with the Best Picture expansion to ten nominees, this is something we could see more of in the coming years. With Avatar, Cameron, a very confident filmmaker, has undoubtedly shown the vast potential for 3D filmmaking. He takes a decent (at best) story and creates a wholly immersive experience with visual effects that are sure to hypnotize audiences across the world.

Cameron transports us into the year 2154. The planet is called Pandora, and two groups of species are fighting over the land: the humans and the Na'vi. Pandora is home to a rare mineral named Unobtainium, a substance that could seemingly solve the energy crisis back on Earth. Because it is assumed that humans in 2154 are no more energy-concerned then they are in the present day, the Na'vi, a group that honors nature to a very high degree, make for a fascinating contrast. 

It seems that communication between the humans and the Na'vi has been inefficient for years, but with the introduction of a new program, there is hopefully room for improvement. The new institution is called the Avatar Program and it was created by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver). The program consists of mixing the DNA of both the humans and the Na'vi to create a body that can successfully communicate with the natives. These bodies act solely based on the minds of Grace's employees, and when one of her most promising workers is killed, his twin brother is called upon. 

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is the paraplegic Marine that is in fact called to duty on Pandora when his twin brother passes away. He has absolutely no experience with the Avatar program, and his introduction makes Dr. Augustine unhappy, particularly because his brother has been so dedicated to the program for so many years. However, she doesn't really have a choice, and is forced to see what kind of contribution Jake can make. 

As it turns out, Jake's free-wheeling spirit ends up putting his avatar in a very interesting situation as he begins to form a relationship with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Neytiri convinces her parents to keep Jake alive, and she is enlisted to teach him the ways of the Na'vi. Jake learns of their intense belief in gods and nature, their ritualistic ceremonies, and their complex hunting practices. He realizes that the Na'vi are not the savages his commanders think they are, but rather a delicate species that deserve to have a peaceful land of their own. 

As Jake begins to become closer and closer to Neytiri and the entire Na'vi people, his human commanders become more and more hostile. The violent Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang, in irresistible form) reminds Jake of the little time he has left before all out war becomes a reality. Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), the business man of the bunch, is a money-hungry negotiator losing more and more confidence in Jake every day. The pressure is mounting and it is up to Jake to decide where his true loyalty lies. 

The core of Cameron's story here is very familiar. We have seen films that deal with similar subject matter, but never have we seen a film bring its story to life quite like this. Cameron's Pandora is a truly beautiful place, exactly the type of setting that audiences can stare at for 162 minutes and never be bored. This visionary of a director brings the possibilities of 3D to the front of the stage and makes one hell of an argument that this could be the future of cinema. 

Perhaps Avatar is a movie that will be defined by its future impact more than anything else. It has finally arrived, it is here, and it has delivered. It will likely receive a Best Picture nomination and Cameron has a strong shot at winning Best Director, but this is a film that strives to do much more than succeed in the present moment; it strives to impact the filmmaking process well beyond its years.

I implore everyone to see this film. This isn't a festival film about a pregnant Harlem teenager or a film about a corrupt, drug-addicted detective; it is a film for all audiences. The reason why movies are so appealing is because audiences want to be transported into another world. They want to be moved and entranced by the visual presence of a film, and Cameron has hit the bullseye. Once again. 

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Screen Actors Guild Nominations

The SAG nominees have been announced today, and there are a few surprises, but we have seen a lot of the same names over the past couple days. Precious, Inglourious Basterds, and Up in the Air were the big winners with three nominees each, but the snub for Up in the Air in the ensemble category is puzzling considering Clooney, Kendrick, and Farmiga were all nominated in their respective categories.

The success of Inglourious Basterds seems to be the big surprise, particularly the nomination for Diane Kruger in the supporting category. It's a fine performance, but one that hasn't received much Awards attention. It's also encouraging to see Jeremy Renner score a nomination for his performance in The Hurt Locker. He's still on the Oscar bubble, but any buzz for him is a great thing to see. 

Check out the full list of nominees below.

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Best Actress
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Best Supporting Actor
Matt Damon, Invictus

Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds
Mo’Nique, Precious

Best Ensemble
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds

Best Stunt Ensemble
Public Enemies
Star Trek
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Awesome 'Iron Man 2' Trailer

A trailer has debuted for Jon Favreau's Iron Man 2, and it definitely has me excited for its release date of May 7, 2010. The film brings back stars Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow, and also welcomes new cast members Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, and Don Cheadle.

You can watch the trailer in its embed version below or in high definition over at Apple

A trailer has debuted for Ridley Scott's (Gladiator) Robin Hood. The film stars Russell Crowe (as the title character), Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Danny Huston, and William Hurt among others. It is set to be released on May 14, 2010. The scripts was penned by Brian Helgeland (Mystic River). 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Movie Review: Sugar (2009) - 3 1/2 stars

We have become accustomed to sports movies that introduce conflict and end with joyous triumph. It is undeniable that when these films are done well, they are very effective, but Sugar is a film that throws formula out the window just about as quick as you fall in love with it. Newcomer Algenis Perez Soto stars as the title character in an understated, honest performance, and he's an actor that truly understands what direction film is meant to go in. Writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck present a truthful look at not only the process prospects take to move their way through minor league baseball, but the entire experience of an immigrant, and that is where this film really hits you. 
When we first meet Miguel "Sugar" Santos (Soto), he is playing baseball in the Dominican Republic. He is a talented, albeit raw pitching prospect, but with the advice of a scout, he learns a nasty knuckle-curve, and is invited to the United States before we know it. This is a bittersweet experience for Miguel because he truly is a family man. He loves spending time with the people he cares about, and it's not an easy thing for him to say goodbye to them, regardless of how much he loves baseball.

Miguel ends up in Iowa playing for a Single A team called the Swing. He is housed by the Higgins family, who has supported many prospects before him. The family is made up of Helen and Earl (Ann Whitney and Richard Bull) and their granddaughter, Anne (Ellary Porterfield). These are good, sweet people with a vast knowledge of the game. Miguel wouldn't be better off anywhere else. 

Sugar's first couple of outings go very well. He pitches just like he did back home, but it is off the field where he has trouble finding a comfort zone. He knows hardly any English and struggles to make complete conversation when he isn't on the phone with his family back home. The filmmakers give us a real sense of how much baseball means to Miguel and his family. It is a way of life for the Dominicans. Miguel was born and raised to be a baseball player, and the burden on his back is overwhelming. He manages to send good amounts of money back home, but the daunting road ahead of him consistently weighs down his happiness.

For the first hour, there is hardly anything to dislike about this film. However, I'm guessing that the film will shock a great amount of viewers with where it goes in the third act; not because it isn't a realistic path, but because it is one not often taken in "uplifting" movies. But Sugar isn't a film that is meant to bring the audience to their feet, nor is it one to make them cry, and that's part of what makes this film such a unique, rich experience.

Boden and Fleck are creating an honest portrait of the life of an immigrant, a testament to the difficulties that these people face. Yes, Sugar is benefiting his family with the money he sends home, but he never really gets to see how it benefits them. He is confined to his telephone conversations. 

Regardless of how nice the Higgins family is, they don't know his language, and even though their attempted communication is well-intentioned, it ends up seeming awkward and off-putting. While this film does make the physical path to the major leagues seem attainable, it reminds us that the emotional difficulties are perhaps the more potent obstacles. 

This is a film that really owes a lot to its leading performer. Soto effectively gains our sympathy and creates one of the year's most memorable characters. Many viewers might wonder what the true meaning of the "Sugar" nickname is. The film presents a couple possibilities, but never defines the exact origin. In Miguel's own eyes, it stems from his smoothness around the ladies, but it goes much deeper than that. He is a sweet, genuine kid, full of emotion, and always trying to please everybody. He is a marvel, and so is the film. 

The nominees for the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards have been announced and Up in the Air leads the way with six nominations. Just behind Jason Reitman's film is Nine with five nods and Inglourious Basterds and Avatar with four each.

After seeing Brothers last week, I am pleasantly surprised to see Tobey Maguire get a Best Actor nomination. Although I think his Oscar hopes are slim, it's good to see him getting recognition. I was shocked to see Julia Roberts get a nod for her performance in Duplicity, a film that really didn't click with me. 

Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep both received two nominations each, and the couple of 500 Days of Summer is only represented by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. 

The Golden Globe Awards will be presented on January 17th and I'm looking forward to Ricky Gervais hosting as much as anything else.

One of the most iconic actors of his generation, Al Pacino is surprisingly just a one-time Oscar winner. He won his only Academy Award for his lead performance in Martin Brest's Scent of a Woman, and the clip below is arguably his signature scene in the film. It is a remarkably commanding performance and the sequence below shows just how mesmerizing Pacino can be when he's at his best. He has, like many great actors, fallen off the map as he's gotten older, but that doesn't mean we can't take time to remember some of his memorable accomplishments. 

Jacques Audiard's critically acclaimed prison trailer A Prophet has finally received a domestic trailer. The film won the Grand Prix Award at this year's Cannes Film Festival and has received nothing but stellar praise. Be sure to check out the trailer below and also read some of the positive early reviews right here

Broadcast Film Critics Association: 

Best Picture
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Best Directing
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Lee Daniels, Precious
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Viggo Mortensen, The Road
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Best Actress
Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock,
 The Blind Side
Carey Mulligan,
 An Education
Saoirse Ronan,
 The Lovely Bones
Gabourey Sidibe,
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

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