I decided I would do a big post, just giving my thoughts about all the movies I missed that I'm trying to absorb over the holidays. Right now, my MUST SEE list is down to:
(Crossing off Sweeney Todd, The Kite Runner, Enchanted, and The Diving Bell and The Butterfly)
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Margot at the Wedding
There Will Be Blood
Lars and the Real Girl
Gone Baby Gone
Starting Out in the Evening
I'm Not There
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
It may seem like an impossible task. However, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead has checked out of theatres, Lars and the Real Girl is no where to be found, and Gone Baby Gone is just that. Oh . . . and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days isn't being released here until February or something.
So far, here are some thoughts on the films I HAVE seen in my mad movie spree. I didn't really hate anything, which is nice, but I find I rarely do. I only usually see movies I think have a chance of being good, so I don't often catch an out and out bomb.
No Country for Old Men: Your opinion of this film will probably come down to whether or not you buy into the way the Coens structure and shoot the ending. After thinking about it, I did appreciate what they manged to do, challenging what would traditionally be expected from a film of a similar ilk, painting a much bleaker portrait of the world as a result. Javier Bardem may not have been the greatest thing since sliced bread, but he was chillingly intense and terrifying throughout, earning Anton Chigurh a place in movie villain infamy. Having seen a lot of desert in Texas, I appreciated the way the Coens shot the landscape (even if a lot of it was shot in New Mexico)and captured the wind swept isolation one can feel amidst the flat grounds and sparse vegetation. Kelly MacDonald, Josh Brolin, and Tommy Lee Jones seem to have been ignored, in large part, due to the juggernaut that is Bardem, but each play a part in making the film what it is.
The Kite Runner: When did linear storytelling become out of fashion? When did everyone decide 50% of films should open in the chronological middle or end of the story so that a flashback is needed to fill in the gaps? No less than 5 of the films I've seen on this film binge has done this, and I'm curious as to why. Sometimes it works, as it largely does in this film, but it's just as easy to screw it up. But nevermind . . . how is the film as a whole? I would call it good. It's not great, but it's competent and well-made. The acting is good, the screenplay is good, the direction is good . . . basically, it succeeds at everything, but never excels. I did enjoy the performances of Khalid Abdalla, previously seen in Untited 93, as Amir and Homayoun Ershad as his father, even if I wasn't always invested in what their characters were doing. The young child actors did impressive considering it was their first film, but a few of the things they were asked to say sounded unlike any child I've come across. I'm on the fence about Marc Forster . . . I really enjoyed Stranger than Fiction but, as a director, I don't know that he's quite come into his own yet. There are a few leaps in logic we're asked to make near the end but, not having read the book, I couldn't say if they are hold overs or not. Still, it's a decent film worth seeing, on the big screen even if only to appreciate the beauty that can be found in the surrounding countryside.
Away From Her: From any director, this would be a skilled and assured musing on life and love. From a first time director, it's something of a miracle that it manages to be as accomplished. It's a quiet film, a beautiful film. Julie Christie is almost borderline supporting in the movie, but she does a great job of breaking our hearts again and again. When she tells her husband, 'You confuse me . . . ,' we can still sense the brave sole her husband once knew fighting to hold on. As that husband, though, it is Gordon Pinsent who our sympathies and hearts truly go out to. As the nurse at the clinic, beautifully played by Kristen Thomson, tells him, 'It's never too late to become what you might have been,' and nothing could be more true for the character. As a man still trying to atone for past acts and demonstrate his love, the sacrifices he makes for the love of his life, the woman he still sees as a radiant, radical beauty with wind swept hair, Pinsent gives life to the character laid out marvelously by Polley in her script. Perhaps the way in which the film jumps around in time detracts from the film, but not enough to deny it a reccomendation.
Enchanted: Have I mentioned how much I love Amy Adams? Because I really do, and this film is nothing if not the Amy Adams show. Usually, I'm just another kind of a cynical, jaded college student but damned if I can't help being obsessed with this girl. Played wrong, the character of Giselle could have been one of the more annoying protagonists of the year, but Amy Adams manages to play it just right, with incredible sincerity and sweetness.There was a bit of irony in there too, but not more than the film would actually support. James Marsden is a lot of fun too, and he wears tights the whole time so . . . there's that. Patrick Dempsey usually bores me, but I liked him here. I do have to give credit to the makers of the film because, really, this story would have been unwatchable if it was chock full of too many eye winks and in jokes (ala Shrek). It's a kids' film, but I left the theatre feeling pretty entertained and have been listening to 'That's How You Know' non stop.
La Vie En Rose: Does Marion Cotillard deliver the best female performance of the decade as so many are claiming? I dont know . . . who's to say, anyway? If you said yes, I could probably come up with performances I liked better, and you, in turn, might not even like those performances. There's really no point in debating the statement, since it's unprovable. So, a better question: does she give a good performance? Yes, yes she does. It's certainly . . . gimmicky at times, but, not knowing much about Edith Piaf, it's possible she was just as eccentric and strange as Cotillard plays her. There's no debating that it's a transformation, at least physically, because I've seen Marion Cotillard and she does not jut her teeth out, nor do I suspect she will look so used up at the end of her life. The scene in which she screams 'Marcel!' and wanders through her house is heartbreaking. As for the rest of the film, I didn't mind the jumping around in time as much as everyone else seemed to (it beats yet another entry into the musical biopic formula), but it eventually got to the point where it was just impossible to place who everyone was and how they fit into her life. She had a husband, but I'm still not sure who exactly he was or when he left her. Her boss was killed with her as a suspect, but I'm still not sure where that actually fit in the timeline of her life. The film throws in a truly bizarre segment about her having a child that I still can't make heads or tails of 2 weeks later.
Eastern Promises: Did this seem pretty conventional for a Cronenberg film to anyone else? Because, if it hadn't been for the naked bathhouse fight and the intense throat slitting, this really wouldn't have seemed at all like a Cronenberg flick. Viggo Mortenson is fine, as is Naomi Watts, but I wasn't exactly bowled over by either of them. Vincent Cassel was quite annoying throughout the film, but that may have just been the character who I didn't much care for. It was certainly well made, but, when the ending inevitably came, I couldn't help feeling like what I had just watched was just a better than average crime thriller. I still much prefer it over A History of Violence, though.
Juno: I 'get' the Ellen Page thing now. I really do. She's awesome in this movie, and I THINK that, if Juno MacGuff were a real person, I would want to be friends with her. Page is as great as you've heard (although everyone has mostly seen Juno already), and the scene between her and Michael Cera in the hospital at the end shows that her characterization of the title character is more than a one trick approach. JK Simmons and Alisson Janney are her parents. I mean . . . that's amazing. Do you need an excuse to see Alisson Janney in something? Jennifer Garner finally actually did a good job in a movie worth her trouble. Do I think it deserves a nomination for Best Picture? Probably not . . . but I've made no apologies for my love of Diablo Cody and seeing her at least nominated for best screenplay would suit me just fine. I do have to question the seemingly unnecessary Rainn Wilson cameo, but I really really liked most of the movie. Oh . . . and I'm keeping my eye on this Olivia Thirlby.
Into the Wild: I went in with LOW LOW expectations. I am by no means a fan of Sean Penn. As an actor, media personality, and political whatever, I find him pretty insufferable. Imagine my surprise when, after a shaky start, I started to really get into this film. Sean Penn's dedication to his own script certainly cost the film overall, and parts of it were a bit . . . over directed, but it came together quite nicely in the end thanks, in large part, to a great group of actors delivering pretty amazing performances. Emile Hirsch, Brian Dierker, Kristen Stewart, Catherine Keener, and especially Hal Holbrook are all memorable. It's always nice to be completely surprised by a film, so I give Into the Wild major points for far exceeding my expectations.
Sweeney Todd: I don't think there is anyone better suited to this material than Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter . . . I really don't. The visuals and over the top style were just perfect for the story, and the two leads were pretty much what I would have pictured. Plus, the orchestration is fantastic. What held the film back a bit, I think, has more to do with the source material than anything Burton may have done. The main problem I had was with the two young lover characters who essentially brought the film to a stand still every time they came on screen. I don't know if this was due to the actors' themselves or just the overall blandness of the characters. I suspect Burton would have cut them out almost entirely if it wouldn't have incurred the wrath of the Sondheim-nation. Overall, though, Sweeney Todd is a wicked good time and certainly worth a trip to the theatre.
Control: I was really prepared to love this film, but it never fully came together for me. That being said, it is probably one of the more beautifully photographed films of the year, and Sam Riley does quite well as Joy Division lead Ian Curtis. Casting a relative unknown was a stroke of genius because I really don't think the film would have worked as well as it did with, say, Jonathan Rhys Meyers or someone of his ilk in the lead. The story was refreshingly straight forward: it never attempted to 'explain' how he came up with songs like in 'Ray' nor did it fly around his life, throwing vignettes at the audience and hoping they stick as the makers of 'La Vie En Rose' resorted to at the end of that film. I will always call Samantha Morton one of the finest actresses working today, and this film gives me no reason to doubt, even if her character isn't much to write home about. The first 1/3 of the film is great but, once the usual rock star trajectory starts up (drugs, screaming wives, mistresses, angry band members), one can't help but feel this is just a more stylish version of what we've seen already.
Walk Hard: I dunno . . . I feel like this movie could have been a lot funnier at points. Don't get me wrong. I laughed, but not as much as I would have liked. The definite high point was the songs that worked both as parodies and songs that could have believably existed in the era of music they were aping. John C. Reilly and Jenna Fisher were on their A-game, there were some great gags . . . but it never quite became the 'Spinal Tap' or 'Airplane!' that it wanted to become. Part of this is that, for all the truly great bits (John C. Reilly aping Bob Dylan as his back up singers claim, 'It's DEEP'), there were parts that were just too broad to land on target (Jonah Hill's from another movie role as the ghost of Reilly's brother). It's a definite rental, but I don't think it's necessarily something you'd need to rush out and see.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Keeping in mind how far behind I am, I can confidently call this at least my #2 film of the year (Once is fighting for the top spot with this). It deserves pretty much every ounce of praise it's getting, and Persepolis better be a damn fine movie to justify passing this up as France's entry into the Foreign Oscar race. This is a FANTASTICALLY directed and written piece of work. Schnabel manages to take a story about a paralyzed man who communicates through blinking and turn it into the one of the most engrossing and lyrical films this year. I was surprised about how funny it was, how much I grew to love these characters. Through only what we see in their interaction with the main character, these people grow into human beings. When they leave the room, we miss them just as much as our protagonist does. The actresses in this film better appreciate Schnabel, because I doubt they'll ever be seen lovelier.
I also caught Stardust, which I was thoroughly prepared to hate, and I actually really enjoyed myself, Claire Danes and all. Oh . . . Michelle Pfeiffer is more awesome then ever, and Charlie Cox is adorable.
That is all.