Friday, January 18, 2008

the Rest of january

well, shucks: i've really started out quite slack. wrote one blog to wrap up the last year of film, then promptly fell off the face....
Have seen a handful of films, of course, in the last two weeks. figured i'd get caught up on my limited-release international selections, for starters--a couple of which i considered surefire candidates for best foreign film oscar nods. notsomuch.
better films than usual for a january, i must say. while most folks are looking to catch up on last year's late releases/this year's award nominees, we forge ahead.

the band's visit (review written jan 20)--
i don't suspect that israel's entry into the academy sweepstakes will ultimately grab one of the five coveted nods, yet i did find it to be a pleasant piece of indy art-house cuteness. the pacing and shot selection show real discipline, lending themselves smartly to the sad, lonely cast of characters and their literal & figurative isolation. one masterfully staged (choreographed, really) and executed scene really stood out. you'll know it when you see it, but let's just say it's a kitschy, clowning bit of coaching in how to woo the girl that simultaneously brings to mind both cyrano de bergerac and sixteen candles(???). weird + cute + foreign + indy + slow = pleasant: 3 stars (of 5)

heard the hype for months, since it made quite an impression at cannes last year. distinct in that it's old-school 2-D, black & white animation in a 3-D IMAX hyper-tech world. the characters, however, are as rich and full and real as any you'll find on screen, and the autobiographical story is thusly compelling and fun. not enough fun, for my taste, to warrant a feature-length film, and, despite its many critics' distinctions and academy nomination for best animated pic, certainly not among the best overall films of the year(!).
distinct: 3 stars

the orphanage
certainly has the look & feel of a del toro production, and prospers accordingly. terrific casting, beautifully shot, and legitimately spooky, this is the best quality scary movie in a long time (yeah, there were none in 2007). rather than go the route of today's typical shock/horror cinema, director bayona cares enough to deliver a classic experience. a true supernatural/psychological thriller. more akin to hitchcock than to rob zombie.
classic: 4 stars

released exactly one year after i simply could not get a ticket at sundance, this is one i had been most eager to see. takes about half the film to settle in to its ultimate tone, yet once it does, it hits the ground running. very clever, often ridiculous, totally unique. lead jess weixler won a special jury prize in park city last year "for a juicy and jaw-dropping performance"--justifiably so. at turns sweet high school virgin, hysterical mess, and vengeful vixen (to name a few), she's got it all down. watch her closely through the film's numerous shortcomings, you're witnessing the birth of a star.
clever: 3 stars

i admire abrams' producer guts on this one: he's trying new things. and some of them succeed. i mean beyond the marketing. i liked the camera work least of all, though, and i feel that's way too big a piece of the puzzle to mess with (cuz let's see: we've got only picture & sound to relate to...). and historically, creature features have had such significant socio-political messages embedded, i left feeling a bit short-changed by this trifle of a tale. no standout characters, no real story resolution, no significant allegory, no ultimate recommendation.
trifle: 2 stars

cassandra's dream
i've been racking my brain trying to figure out the last time a film ending was so disappointing. not because of the outcome, but due to the fact that the writer/director completely jumped ship! this film has a solid foundation, some key winning attributes--colin farrell doing some of his best work in years (maybe ever), a stirring score by philip glass, luscious relative newcomer hayley atwell, and more--then literally within one minute the damn thing is just...done. what happened to the denouement, a third act, any kind of resolve?! yuck. damn near ruined the entire experience for me. may explain why the release date was pushed back from last fall into the dead zone that is january, and with virtually zero marketing. it's too easy (cliche, even) to lambaste woody allen for the precipitous decline in his work over the years, but with an ending this crap, what's a critic supposed to say?
disappointing: 2 stars

next up: more reviews (naturally), plus an in-depth analysis of next month's academy awards, including who will win versus who should win.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

2007 Standouts

greetings, friends! welcome to my first stand-alone blog site, devoted to providing a regular (the goal is weekly), semi-thorough explication, via review, of the film world.
i'll be offering up reviews of all the films i see, highlighting their strengths & weaknesses, plus occasional quick rundowns of why i skip the many releases i do.

i recommend bookmarking this page to use as an easy reference for what is and what is Not worth your time & money. i intend to offer insightful commentary from a (laughably low-level) hollywood insider perspective (for whatever that's worth), without the filters that necessarily censor so many mainstream pundits.

here's something fun and easy to kick off the site and the new calendar year: my comprehensive list of 2007 standouts--movies, direction, performances, etc. that grabbed me and demanded special mention. not necessarily the best (i.e., not who will or should be nominated for any particular awards shows), but my favorites, in no order, maximum ten per major category. i'll dissect the awards shows as they drop; you can get an idea of where i stand in comparison by soaking this up.
and i'm excited to hear your feedback. so bring it.

There Will Be Blood
No Country For Old Men
American Gangster
Eastern Promises
Into The Wild
Michael Clayton

Sean Penn (Into The Wild)
Coen Bros. (No Country For Old Men)
Ridley Scott (American Gangster)
Joe Wright (Atonement)
David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises)
Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood)
Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly)

Don Cheadle (Talk To Me)
Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises)
Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood)
George Clooney (Michael Clayton)
Christian Bale (Rescue Dawn)
Tommy Lee Jones (In The Valley Of Elah)
Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men)
Joaquin Phoenix (Reservation Road)
Richard Gere (The Hoax)
Frank Langella (Starting Out In The Evening)

Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age)
Julie Christie (Away From Her)
Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose)
Angelina Jolie (A Mighty Heart)
Keri Russell (Waitress)
Amber Tamblyn (Stephanie Daley)
Jodi Foster (The Brave One)

Supporting Actor—
Hal Holbrook (Into The Wild)
Alfred Molina (The Hoax)
Ben Foster (3:10 To Yuma)
Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men)
Tommy Lee Jones (No Country For Old Men)
Casey Affleck (The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford)
Armin Mueller-Stahl (Eastern Promises)
Elijah Kelley (Hairspray)
Max von Sydow (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly)

Supporting Actress—
Ruby Dee (American Gangster)
Cate Blanchett (I’m Not There)
Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone)
Jennifer Garner (Juno)
Catherine Keener (Into The Wild)
Susan Sarandon (In The Valley Of Elah)
Samantha Morton (Elizabeth: The Golden Age)
Tilda Swinton (Stephanie Daley)
Emily Mortimer (Lars And The Real Girl)

Ensemble Acting—
No Country For Old Men
Into The Wild
Eastern Promises
Michael Clayton