Monday, December 27, 2010


"The King's Speech" (2010)

I still believe Colin Firth deserved an Oscar for his role in last year's "A Single Man." This role in Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech," however, as the stammering King George VI is just as worthy. It's time for Firth to receive his Oscar now with two outstanding and memorable performances two years in a row. As in another film this holiday season, "The Fighter," we follow a real life person who needs to find his voice. He doesn't just need a family to listen, though; his entire country relies on his voice for reassurance in a time of need, a time when Britain is on the eve of war with Germany in 1939.

We begin with a man named Albert (Colin Firth), the Duke of York, before he is crowned king. It's 1925, and he is required to address the public at the British Empire Exhibition. He chokes on his words delivering a stuttering mess full of painful silences and stammering outbursts, a condition of speech he has lived with for as long as he can remember. It's only apparent now because of the public speaking demands of his royal position, and so he begins desperately seeking help from speech therapists. His wife (Helena Bonham Carter) thankfully stumbles upon a new possibility: a failed Australian actor named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) who takes his speech therapy practice very seriously. Geoffrey Rush delivers the film's other outstanding performance as the eccentric, expressive, clever and well-humored Logue.

The film is greatly about the give-and-take, lifelong relationship that forms between Albert, referred to as "Bertie" in the speech therapy sessions by the insistent Logue, and Logue himself. Logue realizes the only way to properly instruct as a therapist to royalty is to lower him to the same level. It's a method Albert finds deplorable at first but warms up to only upon realizing it's getting him the results he wants. He's beginning to speak better. These two roles are extremely well written from screenwriter David Seidler, and they work best when sparring with each other. Albert's sessions with Logue are the lively highlights especially during a scene where Logue suggests Albert shout vulgarities to get his words out, a scene that inappropriately earned the film its R rating. But this isn't the place to rant about the MPAA.

The need for Albert to get rid of his stammer gets elevated with more urgency as the stresses of the monarchy unfold. Albert's father, George V (Michael Gambon), frowns upon the dawn of radio technology forcing monarchs to place themselves into the living rooms of their people. Also because it prevents his preferred son from properly taking the thrown with security. The other son is Edward (Guy Pearce) who does take the thrown after the untimely death of George V but only briefly. He's in love with Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), an American woman twice divorced. She would not be accepted into royalty, so Edward's only choice is to flee. This leaves Albert to become King George VI.

This places pressure on both Albert as king and Logue now as a king's therapist, and through the interplay of their growing relationship against the ominous threat of the wider sphere where Hitler is gaining power in Germany, the film becomes a fascinating blend of personal drama and historical period piece, one about friendship, loyalty and bravery, thanks to deft direction from Tom Hooper ("The Damned United," HBO's "John Adams").

A rich supporting cast fleshes out the strength of the two leads including Michael Gambon and Guy Pearce as part of Albert's royal family and even Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill. Helena Bonham Carter is also magnificent as Albert's loving and sympathetic wife. We're used to seeing her in such dastardly roles as in the "Harry Potter" films, but here she is quite the opposite and quite lovely.

Cinematographer Danny Cohen captures the scenes in an interesting way with tight, narrow framing which is unique for a lush and historically accurate period piece. Best is when the frame is filled with Albert's horrified, sweaty face placed before a radio microphone, the red flashing light reflecting off his skin. This arrives when he must deliver his first wartime speech, the pivotal moment to all of which "The King's Speech" builds up. Hooper expertly handles this final scene which escalates in tension as composer Alexandre Desplat uses the grandeur of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.

In this moment we absolutely feel the nerve-racking and pulse-pounding anxiety right there with Albert, a moment that boasts a walloping emotional impact. "The King's Speech" is about speech in two senses of the word. King George VI had to learn to control his speech in order to give the most importance speech of his lifetime.


"True Grit" (2010)

This is the story of young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), only 14-years-old, who wants to avenge the death of her father. He was ruthlessly killed at the hands of a man named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Scrappy and resourceful, Mattie recruits a haggard old bounty hunter, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), to help her in killing Chaney for what he has done. Cogburn reluctantly sets to go out on the journey with her and together they traverse the gunslinging western frontier on horseback.

"True Grit" is based on the novel by Charles Portis and a remake of the 1969 film of the same name where John Wayne won an Oscar playing the role of Rooster Cogburn.

It is a story already laid out to be told, and so this leaves Joel and Ethan Coen to work at their best. Nothing about the tale is too complicated. It is, at its core, a tale of good and evil, of what is right and wrong. It's all about the storytelling here, and allowing the Coens to tell it how they want, that's a thing of beauty. This is them casting aside their usual tricks and flexing their muscles in their mastery of the craft that is filmmaking.

And what they have lovingly crafted is a glorious western. With gorgeous cinematography we've come to know from Roger Deakins and a score from Carter Burwell that hits all the right tones, at the heart of it all is the rich dialogue that trails off like the twang of a guitar giving time for each and every line to settle in. It is a deliberately slow-moving movie in this respect, and so the best way to enjoy is to ease back with the pace and admire every detail.

I can't compare Jeff Bridge's Rooster Cogburn to John Wayne's Rooster Cogburn simply because I haven't seen it. I probably should. But, in any case, Bridges inhabits the role as the purposely growling and crotchety old actor should. He's perfect. With his crazy grey hair haphazardly slicked back and a patch covering one eye, his performance appears effortless. His inevitable Oscar nomination is well deserved, and right along with him touting what should be another nomination is the newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, 13, as Mattie Ross.

Steinfeld's impeccable skill in the role is presented early on during a lengthy scene where she barters with a rat of a horse trader (Dakin Matthews). She, using her swift words and intelligence, gets her way easily enough. It's a fantastic scene. Our introduction to Bridges' in his role comes to us in a similar fashion. In another lengthy scene, he's being questioned at a court trial, and his gruff responses and demeanor get us to believe that Bridges is an ideal fit for this man, Cogburn. The entire film, however, belongs to Mattie Ross. From the serene opening all the way through to the thoughtful and nostalgic epilogue, this is her narrative.

They enter increasingly dangerous Indian Territory in search of Chaney, Mattie bringing along with her who she calls the "one-eyed fat man." A Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), occasionally joins the search dropping in and out at pivotal moments. LaBoeuf is there to bag Chaney for a large reward, and this rustles Mattie's feathers because she paid Cogburn specifically to have Chaney captured and killed her way, nobody else's. Damon's performance here must not be forgotten as he carries great weight in a supporting role.

On the side of villainy is Josh Brolin as the nasty Tom Chaney along with Barry Pepper who plays Lucky Ned, a spitting leader of a gang Chaney ends up with. This leads to a charge across a barren valley with guns flaring and horse hooves stomping furiously. While "True Grit" has an emphasis on violence, some of which is quite graphic for being PG-13, and the grit and dirt of the Old West, it really leaves you smiling, which is one of its greatest feats.

This film is the first in the Coen brothers' career that is a straightforward exercise in a genre. It is a western, but it's not a reinvention of a modern western like "No Country for Old Men." There's humor, but it's not their usual humor. There's nothing wry, deadpan, quirky or strange as in most of their other movies. This is the directors using all they know, and know well, to tell a simple story with simple artistry. While "True Grit" is still unmistakably a Coen brothers movie, they have now officially transcended their own particular style and have done so with such distinguished grace. It's a film I fell in love with more than I ever thought I would, and I can't wait to see where they go from here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


"The Fighter" (2010)

If it seems that Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) lacks a personality, it's because the rest of his family has enough personality to go around. There are moments during David O. Russell's "The Fighter" that we even forget the movie is supposed to be about Micky. He's a fighter all right, fighting in the world of professional boxing but also fighting above the influence of his boisterous family members including his mother Alice (Melissa Leo), his seven sisters and his older brother, Dicky (Christian Bale). Mark Wahlberg in the lead role does his character justice; there is strength in his quiet, reserved and seemingly impersonal performance. Sure he's passive but in his passivity he presents the core of his character's predicament: here's a family so hyped up to speak for him they don't let him speak for himself. His struggle is finding his own voice.

The movie is embedded in the American working class of Lowell, Massachusetts to tell the true story of Micky Ward. It's 1993, and we're placed in this sagging and worn down industrial town that is desperate for news and stricken with unemployment. Dicky Eklund is a local legend for the 15 minutes of fame he received back in the 80s when he beat down Sugar Ray Leonard in a boxing match. Or did Sugar Ray trip? It's a controversy that keeps the bruised underdog legend of Lowell alive. Dicky swears there's a documentary being made about his inevitable boxing comeback, but the cameras are following him for a different reason: his inevitable downfall.

Christian Bale is nothing short of phenomenal as the crack-addicted Dicky. We don't know he's a drug addict right away, but we realize something is wrong with him. His eyes bulge out of his head and dart around wildly, and his grin looks like something carved into a jack-o-lantern. We can tell he's an intelligent and skilled man, but it's all in decay now. Bale conquers the man's psychological and physical challenges and portrays them with ease.

Then there's their mother Alice who serves as Micky's manager who wants to bring him to the top and get him the best matches, but more often than not, it is she and Dicky as Micky's trainer that are unintentionally holding him back from success. Micky trying to tear away from his family, though, his blood, that's not going to happen. Melissa Leo is astounding as the chain smoking chatterbox mother who is a bit of a nightmare resembling the likes of Mo'Nique from "Precious" and Barbara Hershey from "Black Swan." Unwittingly aggressive and overprotective.

When another woman, Charlene (Amy Adams), a fiery bartender, steps into Micky's life over his mother, that's when things get ugly. The family becomes divided. Micky with Charlene and his soft-spoken but protective father (Jack McGee) against his hotheaded mother and brother. Amy Adams is cast against type here as we're used to seeing her playing the good girl. In a film full of throwing punches, she lands some of the heaviest blows when it comes to swinging her fists.

"The Fighter" is expertly cast, and the performances are all around outstanding making this a rousing ensemble piece. The best scenes are when these characters are all together butting heads like bulls. David O. Russell ("I Heart Huckabees") directs with a manic energy flipping rapidly from scene to scene. And while the movie is more exciting when it's outside of the ring, the fighting sequences are shot well in a grainy television style.

This is a movie that is more powerful in individual scenes than as a whole perhaps due to its confinement to the conventions of its genre. This is a sports movie about an underdog rising up in the world of boxing. It's a low-grade "Rocky." We've seen it before. For the most part, though, before that crowd-pleasing climactic knockout, Russell avoids the conventions and marks "The Fighter" as a solidly offbeat sports movie rather than the more typical one it turns out to be.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Top 11 Movie Posters of 2010

While my best films of the year list is not even close to being ready as there are so many movies left I have to see, filling in the gap is a different kind of year-end list. The following are the Top 11 movie posters of the year.

11. Jack Goes Boating

The design for Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut is elegant, simple and the use of blues just really looks great.

10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

It really captures the mood of the first installment to the franchise's big finish. Hermoine, Ron and Harry are all grown up now, and this tells us. They're running from something all right.

9. The King's Speech

This is a whole bunch better than any of the other posters for this movie out there. A mouth and a microphone: perfect.

8. Tiny Furniture

I love how the type for the tagline of the film is the same size as the actual title and, not only that, also comes first. Clever and fitting to the quirkiness of this small, independent film.

7. Love & Other Drugs

Two attractive leads naked together in bed? Catches your attention. And ideal for the poster as the movie is largely about two attractive leads naked together in bed.

6. The Human Centipede

Trashy as trash can be. And perfect. Obscured just enough but still able to show that, well, three people have been sewn together.

5. Somewhere

Reminiscent of the poster for Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation," its prominent use of background is great plus the subtle inclusion of both leads.

4. Inception

Shifting, bending, perspective-changing, a labyrinth of a poster just like the film "Inception" itself and presenting not just a select choice of leads but everyone.

3. Rabbit Hole

Beautiful. And showcasing Nicole Kidman's range of emotion, as well.

2. I Am Love

I love how the title expands across the entire poster and how the typography covers everyone's face except the woman who matters: Tilda Swinton.

1. Black Swan

Arguably the most iconic movie poster of the year. Natalie Portman's white porcelain face against a white background. Ominous with her dark eyeshadow and crooked crown. Simply awesome.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


"TRON: Legacy" (2010)

The original music from Daft Punk, which magnificently combines the pounding adrenaline rush reminiscent of Hans Zimmer's scores for "Inception" and "The Dark Knight" and the techno synthesizer rhythms of the '80s, is not only the best part of "TRON: Legacy" but arguably IS "TRON: Legacy." The movie, directed by Joseph Kosinski, is a triumph in sound and visual design, a movie rightfully playing to the pleasures of the eyes and ears more than the mind.

The digital world Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) enters to find his father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who disappeared inside for 20 years, is shimmering in glossy blacks lined with neon-colored lights. It's sleek, sharp and has an electronic liquid texture from the programs' suits and helmets to the path of light a zooming lifecycle leaves in its wake during an exhilarating duel. It is a world wonderfully rendered with the use of CGI and great style, and the movie is clever in the way it sucks you in.

At the movie's opening, a message appears on the screen stating how some portions of the film are deliberately presented in 2D. Now just as you might be thinking, "Well, what does that mean?" you'll know exactly when to use the 3D glasses. The opening and closing sequences take place outside the digital world. Enter the world, put your glasses on. Otherwise, leave them off. It's simple and a totally innovative way to use the technology along with a smart way to get the audience to feel like they themselves have been plugged in. The dimness of 3D is actually an advantage when viewing the digital world because blacks become darker and the neon colors pop more creating even more contrast. It works to wonderful effect.

Jeff Bridges plays two characters who are essentially the same man: one is Kevin Flynn while the other is Clu, the digital version of himself he created in order to assist him in expanding his virtual frontier. Clu, however, doesn't age and is a much younger Jeff Bridges. Seeing him is a blast from the past compared to when we're introduced to the haggard and grey Jeff Bridges we know today who we'll soon be seeing in "True Grit." The motion capture technology used to make Bridges look younger is convincing, and he's also convincing when arguing with himself.

Meanwhile, Michael Sheen shows up as a David Bowie look-alike spinning around a glowing cane and chattering madly with a stark white grin.

Now, I've gone this far without even mentioning the plot. Why? Well, it kind of sucks. It's entirely hokey with some of the most pivotal lines delivered in an equally hokey fashion. It isn't so much bad acting as it is actors dealing with such preposterousness in the only way they know how: straightforward. I have no familiarity with the original "TRON" (1982) or what this sequel means for the franchise and for Disney 28 years later.

But I know I had fun. I had fun with Daft Punk's soundtrack as the movie acted like a backdrop playing to their beat to the point where the French electronica duo makes a cameo at a futuristic nightclub. "TRON: Legacy" is completely devoted to its look and sound, but why wouldn't it be when it looks and sounds this good?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

17th Annual SAG Award Nominations

The nominations for the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards were announced this morning, and they stand as one of the very best predictors for the acting nominations we'll see at the Oscars. How does this list of acting nominees look against the likes of the Golden Globes and the Critics' Choice? Let's take a look.

Leading the nominees were "The King's Speech" and "The Fighter" with four each.

Outstanding Performance by a Cast went to "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "The Kids Are All Right," "The King's Speech" and "The Social Network." It's looking more and more like "The Fighter" has the strongest full cast recognition, but any of these nominees are likely to take this award.

The SAGs did not honor the two leads of "Blue Valentine" as other award nominations have, which opened up spaces for others to slide in.

Colin Firth for "The King's Speech" led the nominees for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role followed by James Franco for "127 Hours," Jesse Eisenberg for "The Social Network," Jeff Bridges for "True Grit" and, replacing Ryan Gosling, Robert Duvall for "Get Low." This boosts the veteran's chance for an Oscar nomination for this role.

Ousting Michelle Williams in the category of Outstanding Performance by a Female in a Leading Role was Hilary Swank for "Conviction" boosting her Oscar chances. Lesley Manville for "Another Year," who has also received some notice, got skipped. With her was the expected bunch of Annette Bening for "The Kids Are All Right," Jennifer Lawrence for "Winter's Bone," Nicole Kidman for "Rabbit Hole" and Natalie Portman for "Black Swan." It is really between Portman and Bening for this one, and whoever wins here will most likely take home the Oscar, too.

Mark Ruffalo of "The Kids Are All Right" is turning into more of a lock as he again got nominated for supporting actor. Joining him in the category of Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role were Christian Bale for "The Fighter," Geoffrey Rush for "The King's Speech," Jeremy Renner for "The Town" who's gaining momentum and, lastly, the surprise of John Hawkes for "Winter's Bone" over the other likely candidate, Sam Rockwell for "Conviction." The lack of appreciation and nominations for Andrew Garfield of "The Social Network" still upsets me. His Oscar chances are now looking slim.

I'm pleased to say, though, that Mila Kunis is now officially a lock for "Black Swan" as she got nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role. Still surprising to note she is getting recognition over Barbara Hershey, but warranted praise nonetheless. Joining her was Helena Bonham Carter for "The King's Speech," Hailee Steinfeld for "True Grit," Melissa Leo for "The Fighter" and Amy Adams for "The Fighter." Jacki Weaver who has been taking the supporting actress awards by storm is absent. For the Oscars, it is really between whether she or Amy Adams will make the cut as the rest are nearly locked in.

The nominations for this year's SAG awards throw a rather hefty wrench into the suspected acting nominees--John Hawkes, Hilary Swank, Robert Duvall--while also securing a surefire lock for others--Mila Kunis, Hailee Steinfeld, Mark Ruffalo. Time will only tell who the Academy will pick.

Click here for a complete list of the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards Nominations.

Stay tuned to find out who the winners are on Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 8 p.m. on TNT and TBS.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

68th Annual Golden Globe Award Nominations

This morning the nominations for the 68th Annual Golden Globes, presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, were announced. Leading the nominees was "The King's Speech" with seven nods followed closely by "The Fighter" and "The Social Network" each with six.

The biggest surprise of the morning? "The Tourist," which not only got nominated for Best Picture Musical or Comedy but also its two stars, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Meanwhile, the movie just got done being panned by critics upon its release. Figure that one out.

The nominees for Best Picture Drama were "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The King's Speech" and "The Social Network." Notable absences included "True Grit" and "127 Hours." I guess we now understand why the Oscars bumped this category to 10. I'm picturing the HFPA awarding "The King's Speech" this one. I'm also picturing them being wrong for the Oscars again. Last year they awarded "Avatar" over "The Hurt Locker."

"The Kids Are All Right" led the nominees for Best Picture Comedy or Musical by a landslide and will without a doubt win now that it has been placed in a separate category from the other big contenders. Its fellow nominees included "Alice in Wonderland," "Burlesque," "Red" and, yes, "The Tourist." Why? To get Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp to show up to the award ceremony. In any case, I'm actually quite upset "Love & Other Drugs" got snubbed here. A worthy comedy. And what about "Easy A," the charming teen comedy starring Emma Stone? Also surprising is the absence of James L. Brook's new comedy, "How Do You Know."

Best Director nominees lined up with Best Picture Drama, and they were Darren Aronofsky for "Black Swan," David Fincher for "The Social Network," Tom Hooper for "The King's Speech," Christopher Nolan for "Inception" and David O. Russell for "The Fighter."

The nominees for Best Actor Drama were Jesse Eisenberg for "The Social Network," Colin Firth for "The King's Speech," James Franco for "127 Hours," Ryan Gosling for "Blue Valentine"--kudos to the HFPA for that one--and, yet to get much attention for his lead role, Mark Wahlberg for "The Fighter."

Best Actress Drama is perhaps one of the most interesting categories now that Annette Bening is out of the running shoved into the Best Actress Comedy category. The nominees were Halle Berry for "Frankie and Alice," Nicole Kidman for "Rabbit Hole," Jennifer Lawrence for "Winter's Bone," Natalie Portman for "Black Swan" and Michelle Williams for "Blue Valentine," another kudos to the HFPA. It's tough to say, but I'm going with Natalie Portman on this one without Bening in there.

Accompanying Annette Bening for "The Kids Are All Right" is her co-star, Julianne Moore, in the category of Best Actress Comedy. Bening will most likely win over Moore, but it's nice to see her finally getting noticed. Joining them were Anne Hathaway, who deserves the win if it weren't for Moore and Bening, Emma Stone for "Easy A," and, yes, nobody knows why but Angelina Jolie for "The Tourist."

Best Actor Comedy was a painfully lacking category this year. The nominees were Johnny Depp for not only "Alice in Wonderland" but also "The Tourist" along with Paul Giamatti for "Barney's Version," Kevin Spacey for "Casino Jack" and Jake Gyllenhaal for "Love & Other Drugs." Honestly, I don't care who wins here.

Joining frontrunner Christian Bale for "The Fighter" in the category of Best Supporting Actor were Michael Douglas for "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," Andrew Garfield for "The Social Network," Jeremy Renner for "The Town" and Geoffrey Rush for "The King's Speech."

Mila Kunis is getting some real steam as she was nominated again for Best Supporting Actress for "Black Swan." Surprising, really, that she is getting noticed over Barbara Hershey. In any case, it's well deserved. Joining her was Amy Adams for "The Fighter," Helena Bonham Carter for "The King's Speech," Melissa Leo for "The Fighter" and frontrunner Jacki Weaver for "Animal Kingdom" who has already been winning this one in the award circuits.

Without the division of Original and Adapted, there's tough competition in Best Screenplay with Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy for "127 Hours," Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg for "The Kids Are All Right," Christopher Nolan for "Inception," David Seidler for "The King's Speech" and Aaron Sorkin for "The Social Network" all in the running. Sorkin has got this one locked.

It's surprising to note "True Grit" got shut out entirely, even Jeff Bridges. Apart from that, and the travesty of "The Tourist" making its way into the rankings, these nominees are becoming pretty standard. Again, I predict the HFPA is going to award the most to "The King's Speech" including Colin Firth for Best Actor along with the top prize of Best Picture. Curious to note, too, that the HFPA awarded all four actors of "The Fighter" with a nomination. Usually Wahlberg or Adams get left behind.

As the trend has become, the Critics' Choice Awards are now more of an indication of what the Oscars will look like. And for good reason. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association really is a mixed bag. Popularity or quality? You tell me.

Click here for an entire list of the 68th Annual Golden Globe nominations.

And find out who wins on Sunday, January 16, 2011 at 8 p.m. on NBC!

Monday, December 13, 2010

New York Film Critics Circle Awards

After the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded David Fincher's "The Social Network" Best Picture yesterday, we now have the New York Film Critics Circle following suit by giving "The Social Network" the top prize.

Most notable behind this, though, was "The Kids Are All Right" which got three awards for Best Screenplay, Best Actress for Annette Bening and, the biggest shock of all, Mark Ruffalo for Best Supporting Actor. Nice to see considering the Critics' Choice Award nominations snubbed it earlier this afternoon.

Best Director went to David Fincher for "The Social Network."

Colin Firth in "The King's Speech" won for Best Actor while Melissa Leo in "The Fighter" won for Best Supporting Actress.

A huge surprise came in the category of Best Animated Film which went to "The Illusionist" over "Toy Story 3." Could this upset happen at the Oscars? Likely not, but it's good to see Sylvain Chomet's film getting recognition.

"Black Swan" won for Matthew Libatique's cinematography while "Carlos" won for Best Foreign Language Film.

Considering the New York Film Critics Circle awarded "The Hurt Locker" last year, I think for the Oscars everyone's eyes need to be set on "The Social Network" over the previously thought-to-be-frontrunner "The King's Speech."

16th Annual Critics' Choice Award Nominations

After yestserday's onslaught of picks for best of the year from critic circles and associations across the nation, all of which mostly praised David Fincher's "The Social Network" as the best of 2010, today we get a list of important nominations for the 16th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards which is organized by the Broadcast Film Critics Association. These awards have become a better predictor for what we're going to see for the Oscar nominations than even the Golden Globes.

And so, here's a run-down of the nominations for the 2011 Critics' Choice Movie Awards, which were led by Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" with a record-breaking total of 12 nominations. Close behind with 11 each were "True Grit" and "The King's Speech" followed by "Inception" with 10 and "The Social Network" with nine.

The nominees for Best Picture were "127 Hours," "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The King's Speech," "The Social Network," "The Town," "Toy Story 3," "True Grit" and "Winter's Bone." This list mirrors the 10 Best Picture nominees we'll see at this year's Oscars except for one glaring error: "The Kids Are All Right." How could a snub this large happen for such a deserving film? This is truly discomforting for the film's Best Picture chances at the Oscars.

This category got narrowed down by the Best Director nods which were Darren Aronofsky for "Black Swan," Danny Boyle for "127 Hours," Joel and Ethan Coen for "True Grit," David Fincher for "The Social Network" and Christopher Nolan for "Inception." Again, Lisa Cholodenko for "The Kids Are All Right" is absent.

"Blue Valentine," now happily R-rated, got some love with a Best Actor nomination for Ryan Gosling. Joining him were Jeff Bridges for "True Grit," Robert Duvall for "Get Low," Jesse Eisenberg for "The Social Network," Colin Firth for "The King's Speech" and James Franco for "127 Hours." The win could either go to Firth or Eisenberg as both have been getting considerable attention all season.

More love for "Blue Valentine" as Michelle Williams got nominated for Best Actress along with Annette Bening for "The Kids Are All Right," Nicole Kidman for "The Rabbit Hole," Jennifer Lawrence for "Winter's Bone," Natalie Portman for "Black Swan," and as an amazingly pleasant surprise, Noomi Rapace for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Finally that astounding actress gets some recognition for her amazing work. Considering the exuding love for "Black Swan" with the nominations, I predict a rightful win for Portman here.

The category of Best Supporting Actor tossed in a few twists with the frontrunner Christian Bale for "The Fighter" predicted to win. With him were my personal favorite, Andrew Garfield for "The Social Network," Jeremy Renner for "The Town," Sam Rockwell for "Conviction," Mark Ruffalo for "The Kids Are All Right" and Geoffrey Rush for "The King's Speech." The fact that Rockwell, Garfield and Ruffalo all slipped in there gives them great hope for the Oscars, which will be an excellent addition to the proceedings.

Mila Kunis got nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her sultry work in "Black Swan." Interesting to note, however, that she got nominated over both Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey. Nonetheless, a worthy nomination. Joining her were Amy Adams for "The Fighter," Helena Bonham Carter for "The King's Speech," Melissa Leo for "The Fighter," the newcomer Hailee Steinfeld for "True Grit," which gives her some Oscar momentum, and the actress who has been getting the most attention in this category so far, Jacki Weaver for the Australian drama "Animal Kingdom."

These awards also have the odd categories of Best Comedy and Best Action Movie.

The Best Comedy nominees were "Cyrus," "Date Night," "Easy A," "Get Him to the Greek," "I Love You Phillip Morris" and "The Other Guys."

The Best Action Movie nominees were "Inception," "Kick-Ass," "Red," "The Town" and "Unstoppable."

My question: where is "The Kids Are All Right" at least for comedy? Another huge snub for the film.

Best Foreign Language Film nominees were "Biutiful," "I Am Love" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." It's disappointing to note that all three of these will more than likely be absent from the Oscar's nominees for this category.

It's refreshing to see that something other than "The Social Network," although entirely worthy, got some recognition. These awards have also introduced new faces to the list of possible nominees for the Oscars including Andrew Garfield, Mila Kunis, Noomi Rapace, Mark Ruffalo and Hailee Steinfeld. But geez, let's get "The Kids Are All Right" back in the picture please.

Go here for the entire list of nominees for the 2011 Critics' Choice Movie Awards and find out the winners on Friday, January 14, 2011 at 9:00 p.m. on VH1.

And stay tuned tomorrow for the announcement of the 68th Annual Golden Globe Award nominations!

Saturday, December 11, 2010


"Black Swan" (2010)

Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" is reminiscent of the director's previous work, "The Wrestler." Both films show a struggling person trying to perfect their professional career in performance. There a wrestler and here a ballerina. Both films also boasted an unforgettably physical and demanding performance from an actor. There Mickey Rourke and here Natalie Portman. This, however, is also an even better film. It is an exquisite horror film through and through echoing the feel and paranoia of Dario Argento's "Suspiria" and the electric eroticism of David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive."

Let's first make this clear: Natalie Portman deserves an Oscar for portraying Nina Sayers, the dedicated young woman who loses her mind in the face of her own obsessive strive toward perfection. It is a sublime performance of good and evil, dark and light, the themes of Tchaikovsky's ballet "Swan Lake" that consume Nina, and it is fearless.

It is a new season with a ballet company in New York City where Nina performs under the scrutiny of director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). He is intelligent but arrogant, egotistic and frightening, a beast rumored to allure the principal ballerina of his choosing. Nina is selected to star in his reimagining of "Swan Lake," and though she is ecstatic, the pressure is on. She is replacing the former principal and Thomas' former lover, Beth MacIntyre, who is ferociously bitter and played by Winona Ryder in a role so brief yet enormously powerful and haunting.

New to the company is Lily (Mila Kunis), a free spirit from the west coast who flows with carefree expression and sexuality, the opposite of the frigid Nina. She enters as a professional rival but also a personal role model as Nina wishes to embody Lily's confidence. It is also what Thomas wants from Nina: more feeling, less technique.

It is clear Nina has been a dancer all her life. She lives in a cramped apartment with her mother, played pitch-perfect by Barbara Hershey, who loves her daughter dearly but is oppressive and overbearing calling Nina her "sweet girl." Nina's mother was once a ballerina herself, and one can't help but get the feeling she's now living vicariously through her. When Nina returns home, it's like returning to her jail cell.

Lily enters Nina's life and wants to free her from her own self-control. Mila Kunis is superb as the sultry temptress, especially during an intoxicating scene at a night club. Nina instead begins to lose herself as she blurs the line between performance and reality. The film opens inside Nina's dream and continues as a hallucinatory nightmare from there.

Thomas wants to see both sides of Nina, the white swan which she excels at but also the ferocity of the black swan, the one with which she struggles to convey. This use of black and white in the film is to be expected, but Aronofsky puts it to work in playful and tantalizing ways with visual effects that are subtle but chilling.

"Black Swan" is about an inner battle with Natalie Portman at its center, a woman tragically consumed by the demands of her profession while losing sight of all else. Her own life becomes "Swan Lake," and in effect the film garners an operatic and melodramatic style with Clint Mansell's take on the orchestrations of "Swan Lake" swelling through every scene which grow into an exhilaratingly manic, gorgeous and demented tour de force of passion. This is one of the year's very best films.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ranking the Past Decade's Best Pic Winners

In honor of Oscar season, I figured it would only be appropriate to rank some of the Best Pictures in the past years. Now, I'm not ambitious enough to go back and watch all of the ones I haven't seen, so we're keeping it current. Below is a ranked list of the Oscar Best Picture winners from 2000 to 2009.

10. Gladiator (2000)

Ridley Scott's Hollywood blockbuster lands itself at the bottom of the list simply because that's all it is: a Hollywood blockbuster. And while it's fantastic and rousing entertainment with Russell Crowe playing a convincing gladiator hero, there's not much more to it than that. Certainly not Best Picture worthy considering it was up against more worthy films.

9. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

It's funny to note that Russell Crowe has starred in a Best Picture winning film two years in a row. In any case, it's another one at the bottom of the list. Although this biopic is well-crafted and respectable with superb performances, it remains still rather forgettable in the larger scheme of things.

8. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Danny Boyle's immensely stylish and triumphant crowd pleaser is the Academy's way of saying they know what's popular. And while Boyle's film was great and popular and a bit of a success story, it is not by any means one of his best films. Just take a look at "127 Hours" which came out this year. It was also nominated against more deserving films such as "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "Milk."

7. Crash (2005)

The uproar surrounding this film winning Best Picture over "Brokeback Mountain" is enough to get this one higher up on the list because, in my opinion, this was a better film than the other. Although overwrought and scattered, this observation of racial tensions post-9/11 was the first film in a while to address such issues and in such a timely manner. It achieved such with great power and resonance, as well.

6. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

A great honor to veteran Clint Eastwood in one of his later, and arguably one of his best, directing efforts, this dark but ultimately life-affirming film showcased a strong performance from Hilary Swank and told a story about faith and redemption with a simple grace and elegant, heartbreaking beauty.

5. Chicago (2002)

One of the best musicals ever made, hands down. From director Rob Marshall, this film really deserved its Best Picture win for taking a Broadway hit and making an equally successful movie hit. Taking unexpected actors/actresses and turning them into dancing and singing stars worked perfectly in one of the most purely electric and entertaining films to come along.

4. The Departed (2006)

Legendary director Martin Scorsese finally got the praise he deserved with the Best Picture win for this one. A superbly structured and twisty game of cat and mouse with excellent performances all around from Mark Wahlberg, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson who all give perhaps some of their best work. A completely worthy win considering its competition that year ("Babel," "The Queen," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Letters from Iwo Jima").

3. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Arguably the Coen brothers best film since "Fargo," this dark and brooding meditation on violence and the immorality of unjustified coincidence and fate is a haunting masterpiece. It also boasts an absolutely dynamite performance from Javier Bardem embodying the horror of impending death.

2. The Hurt Locker (2009)

Director Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" is perhaps the best film about the Iraq war ever made. Simply enough, it's an astonishing achievement and a story of David vs. Goliath for beating out "Avatar."

1. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Peter Jackson's glorious epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy gets the worthy finish it so highly deserves with this final installment. Though "Fellowship of the Ring" and "Two Towers" were also superb, "Return of the King" truly is the top and encompasses the series in a fittingly lengthy and powerful grand finale. This winning Best Picture only makes sense, and it was one of the grandest wins of recent memory.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

National Board of Review 2010 Awards

The National Board of Review announced their awards for the top films of 2010. While giving highest praise to "The Social Network," the NBR completely shutout "127 Hours," "The Kids Are All Right" and "Black Swan," all of which are being considered huge award contenders. Some of their choices for their top films, especially in the independent category, seem a bit random, as well.

Best Picture: "The Social Network"

Best Director: David Fincher, "The Social Network"

Best Actor: Jesse Eisenberg, "The Social Network"

Lots of love for "The Social Network" here.

Best Actress: Lesley Manville, "Another Year"

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, "The Fighter"

Best Supporting Actress: Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom"

Best Foreign Language Film: "Of Gods and Men"

Best Documentary: "Waiting for 'Superman'"

Best Animated Feature: "Toy Story 3"

Best Ensemble Cast: "The Town"

Breakthrough Performance: Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"

Best Original Screenplay: Chris Sparing, "Buried"

Here's a shock in my mind. I guess there really weren't as many original screenplays this year, but still, there's "Inception."

Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, "The Social Network"

Top 11 Films:

Another Year
The Fighter
The King's Speech
Shutter Island
The Social Network
The Town
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Top Independent Films:

Animal Kingdom
Fish Tank
The Ghost Writer
Let Me In
Please Give
Youth in Revolt

In both lists for best films, "The Kids Are All Right," "127 Hours" and "Black Swan" are not even mentioned while films like "Youth in Revolt," "Buried" and "Hereafter" are. While I find that strange, I don't see it as any sort of premonition of what the Academy will do. In any case, this is the National Board of Review, and it at least seems they might be on the money giving "The Social Network" their top honor.

Now comes the waiting game for the announcement of more year-end nominations and awards.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The nominations for this year's Film Independent Spirit Awards were announced this morning, and the little-known independent film "Winter's Bone" lead with a total of seven nominations followed by "The Kids Are All Right" with five. Although these do not usually have too much of a bearing on the Oscars, they do give some particular films and actors/actresses the small boost they might need for award season.

"127 Hours," "Black Swan," "Greenberg," "The Kids Are All Right" and "Winter's Bone" were the nominations for Best Feature. I'm placing my bets on "Winter's Bone" to take the top prize here though it could just as easily go to "The Kids Are All Right" or even "127 Hours" and "Black Swan."

It's curious to note that "The King's Speech" was nominated under the category of Foreign Film perhaps because it is based in the UK.

Nods for Best Director went to Darren Aronofsky for "Black Swan," Danny Boyle for "127 Hours," Lisa Cholodenko for "The Kids Are All Right," Debra Granik for "Winter's Bone" and John Cameron Mitchell for "Rabbit Hole." Again, I see Granik taking the prize here.

The category of Best Female Lead got extended to six nominations as opposed to the usual five. It is clear that powerful female performances outweigh the male ones this year. The nominees included Annette Beining for "The Kids Are All Right," Greta Gerwig for "Greenberg," Nicole Kidman for "Rabbit Hole," Jennifer Lawrence for "Winter's Bone," Natalie Portman for "Black Swan" and Michelle Williams for "Blue Valentine." Again, I see another win for "Winter's Bone" with Lawrence's breakout performance.

Though Michelle Williams got nominated for "Blue Valentine," the film got snubbed everywhere else. Is this thanks to the MPAA's NC-17 rating?

The Best Male Lead nominees were Ronald Bronstein for "Daddy Longlegs," Aaron Eckhart for "Rabbit Hole," James Franco for "127 Hours," John C. Reilly for "Cyrus" and Ben Stiller for "Greenberg." I can't see anyone but Franco taking the win here.

Those are the most notable nominees, but here is a full list of nominations for the 2011 Film Independent Spirit Awards.

The 2011 Spirit Awards ceremony airs on Saturday, February 26, 2011.

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's been announced that James Franco and Anne Hathaway will host the telecast of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards.

The first question that pops into my head: why?

Hathaway and Franco are both young, likable actors. I think the keyword in there is young. Picking them to host goes with the Oscar's recent efforts to attract a more popular and younger audience. But, how oh how are these two going to entertain us for the telecast's first 10 or 15 minutes? Are they going to crack jokes? I just, I worry. I worry that it could be dull and awkward.

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin are comedians. They could do it but just barely. The idea of co-hosting is just a bad one because it creates the tension of two people struggling to decide when it's the other person's turn to speak not to mention the painfully forced conversation between them.

Or maybe it could be great fun. Maybe these two have enough charisma and charm to make the pairing work. It also helps that Franco was recently seen in "127 Hours" and Hathaway--a whole LOT of Hathaway--was recently seen in "Love & Other Drugs."

I have to wonder, though. How uncomfortable will it be when James Franco stands there with his nomination for Best Actor when Anne Hathaway stands there with nothing? Will he make a crack about it? Or, better yet, will her hosting boost her chances in garnering a Best Actress nod?

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards will air on Feburary 27, 2011.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Love & Other Drugs" (2010)

"Love & Other Drugs" needs medication for its own case of schizophrenia. The movie's distractingly abrupt tonal shifts aren't enough, though, to ruin the romantic couple at its center. It's a romantic comedy, but it's set to the backdrop of something more, a smart and zippy satire about the corporate pharmaceutical world. It's a movie in the hands of the capable director Edward Zwick ("Defiance," "Blood Diamond," "The Last Samurai") who is stuck working with sketchy writing. There's never a satisfactory balance of the two elements, the love and the drugs, but Zwick still manages to bring out key scenes and give them a necessary weight against bland placebos within the screenplay. These scenes are weighted on the side of love which sways the entire movie to drop the drugs side almost completely. Had it been the other way around, this would've been a very different movie.

It is 1996, and Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) casually slides into the career of a pharmaceutical rep when he gets fired from his job selling electronics. It's not much of a change for him because he carries his same charismatic, carefree attitude to both jobs. His charm works wonders as he works as a salesman for the drug company Pfizer selling samples of Zoloft. He slips into doctor's offices by talking up--and occasionally sleeping with--the female receptionists and befriending doctors to begin his domination with Zoloft over his adversary, Trey Hannigan (Gabriel Macht), whose drug of choice is Prozac. Cheered on by his supervisor Bruce Winston (Oliver Platt), Jamie paves his way through this business of bribes, gratuities and sleazy relationships between doctors and their reps.

Getting close with one doctor, Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), gives Jamie the opportunity to meet one of his patients, Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), and not only that but also a peek at her breast. Maggie notices, follows Jamie out to the parking lot scolding him for allowing her to expose herself to him and from there, Jamie is immediately entranced by her cold bitterness, asks her to coffee and their story as a couple unfolds from there.

The movie is at its best when scorching the screen. At the start of their relationship, all Maggie and Jamie want and need from each other is sex. And so, they are naked a lot and having sex, well, a lot. In these instances, the movie becomes the ideal modern R-rated romance. It's hot and steamy with two delightfully attractive leads. We love when they're together, and the most memorable moments come when they're romping around in bed. All of this raunchiness is never gratuitous because these characters' bodies speak for themselves, and the sex and nudity has meaning to it; this is the way they communicate upon first meeting.

As Maggie, Anne Hathaway is great. Maggie is only 26-years-old and dealing with the early stages of Parkinson's disease. Her way of controlling it on her own is to not let anyone get too attached to her, which is why Jamie is such a good choice for empty sex. Hathaway presents a range of vulnerability and strength in Maggie that is authentic and a very fine performance. Gyllenhaal's Jamie is not as complete but effective nonetheless alongside Maggie. Also admirable is Hathaway's openness to the movie's blunt sexuality. This could be considered her first mainstream adult role, another role that truly launches her into the limelight.

By the third act of "Love & Other Drugs," it does fall victim to tired rom-com tropes. In spite of this, we care too much about the two leads to let it become too bothersome. What is bothersome, however, is the supporting character of Jamie's obnoxious younger brother (Josh Gad) who brings a whole baggage of unnecessary subplot and comic relief with slapstick that gets too gross and ends up belonging in a lesser buddy movie. And though the drugs take a backseat by the second half, the introduction of Pfizer's Viagra is a winning addition since this really is a movie all about sex and sexiness.