28 November 2009

A Revised "Wait List"

On October 6 I posted a list of the ten films I was most eager to see this fall and winter, as studios shove Oscar bait down our throats. I have now seen 6 films that were on my list: Precious (#10), An Education (#7), The Men Who Stare at Goats (#6), A Serious Man (#5), Fantastic Mr. Fox (#4) and Where The Wild Things Are (#2). Which was one was the best so far? A Serious Man, the Coen brothers most recent effort narrowly beats out Precious. And which was the most disappointing? The Men Who Stare at Goats. It is an enjoyable movie, but it did leave me wanting more and maybe I expected something more than just frivolous fun.

There are only 5 films that I am now waiting to see:

5. It's Complicated
Meryl Streep is still the queen of the screen, and I am excited to see how she interacts with Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin. With both men now set to host the Oscars, does this mean good things for the film itself?

4. Nine
I am interested to see how critics react to this film, and I believe that it will make money no matter what. I do not like Kate Hudson, and I am still on the fence when it comes to Marion Cotillard. But Penelope Cruz and Nicole Kidman are enough to warrant my attention. The only negative is that too much press coverage can kill my desire to see it. Though I do doubt it can eclipse the magic of Chicago.

3. Los Abrazos Rotos
Very little is known about the plot of the film, except that Penelope Cruz seems to play a wide range of personalities. The film's trailer is beautiful to watch, but it is a bit cryptic.

2. A Single Man
Fashion designer Tom Ford seems to have created a fantastic film, if solely based on the trailer. The trailer is stunning and each subsequent viewing makes me want to see it more and more. Julianne Moore has never been in a bad film, and Ginnifer Goodwin just makes me yearn for more Big Love!

1. Up In The Air
It is still my most anticipated film of the year, and only a week until it opens in limited release. I am starting to get sick of the previews on television, but I try to ignore them because too much anticipation can be a bad thing.

Honourable mentions:
The Lovely Bones: The lack of publicity and few mentions among bloggers has made the film fall from my list. I kind of forget it exists.
The Road: Viggo Mortensen is said to be quite good in this film, and if he is nominated for awards it will have to be seen.
Crazy Heart: Jeff Bridges is supposedly amazing in this film, and it might be one of those films I go see on a boring December afternoon.

And the film I am least anticipating? James Cameron's Avatar. I feel like it is going to crash and burn or be successful, either way I do not think I will be a huge fan.

Review: "Fantastic Mr. Fox"

"Are you cussing with me?"

Fantastic Mr. Fox, while based off a story written by Roald Dahl, is absolutely a Wes Anderson film. I have professed by unrequited love for The Royal Tenenbaums,
and I have told everyone I know that it is a must-see film. When I first heard that Wes Anderson was going to make an animated film the only thought in my mind was that I had to see it as soon as possible. That was over a year ago. When I was younger I remember reading James and the Gaint Peach over and over again. And I think we have all read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Obviously I was very excited to see what Wes Anderson could create, especially with a screenplay co-authored by Noah Baumbach (who wrote and directed The Squid and the Whale, and the underappreciated Margot at the Wedding). My only disappointment was when I saw that Cate Blanchett (one of my favourite actresses) had dropped out as the voice of Mrs. Fox. This may be the only time in history I will be ever be disappointed to hear Meryl Streep has been cast in a film! Fantastic Mr. Fox is an animated film, but I do not think that it is aimed at a younger audience. Its use of stop-motion animation is refreshing in today's world of animation, especially with films like Up, that are visually stunning, but, in my honest opinion, cannot connect with all viewers.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a fox with such visions of grandeur that his action eventually put his family and friends in danger. His wife (Meryl Streep) begged him to stop his dangerous ways when she became pregnant. Two human-years later, the family moves from a foxhole into a tree. Their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is in the midst of his awkward teenage years, and is crushed when his cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson, brother of Wes) comes to live with them. Kristofferson is more athletic than Ash, and receives more attention from Mr. Fox. Across from their new home are the farms of three of the most notoriously evil farmers in the world. Mr. Fox is overcome with the desire to commit one last heist. While Mr. Fox is ultimately successful in his three attempts to steal from the farmers, he underestimates how far the men will go to gain their revenge.

It is obviou
s how much effort Wes Anderson and his production team put into the creation of the film. Fantastic Mr. Fox is the most enjoyable animated film I have seen since Finding Nemo. The film does contain Wes Anderson's signature theme of quirky family dynamics. Anderson had the voice actors (except Meryl Streep, for unknown reasons--perhaps she joined the film too late) working on a real farm and acting out scenes rather than just adding voices inside a sound both, which makes the film seem more real and less animated. There are very dark elements of the film which make the film more adult, and Wes Anderson's films often polarize audiences, and this is no exception. Fantastic Mr. Fox is an enjoyable film that is both humorous and touching. To borrow from the title, it is a fantastic film.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

21 November 2009

Review: "Precious"

Precious (or Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire) is maybe the most buzzed about movie in recent memory. After first premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Oprah Winfrey was supposedly so moved by the film that she has become one of the film's producers. Usually anything with Oprah's name attached to it would cause me to vomit. Thankfully, she had nothing to do with the making of the film and has only aided in its distribution. Performances by Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe were heavily lauded. Precious was then screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was only behind Up In The Air in terms of buzz. It has been said that it is the only film to have won the Jury Prize at Sundance and the Audience Award in Toronto. It is the second film directed by Lee Daniels, who may be most well known for producing Monster's Ball (the film which won Halle Berry the Oscar for Best Actress). Armed with friends and Kleenex, I went to see Precious expecting to feel emotionally ruined when it was over. It is a special film with a beautiful message of hope.

Claireece 'Precious' Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is an obsese, sixteen year old girl living in Harlem. It is 1987 and she is pregnant with her second child, the result of rape by her own father. Her mother Mary (Mo'Nique) is physically, verbally and emotionally abusive, and rarely leaves the apartment, she depends on her welfare cheque for Precious and her special needs granddaughter (who lives with Precious' grandmother). When the principal at school discovers Precious is pregnant, she advises Precious to start attending an alternative school. Precious is basically illiterate (a fact highlighted in the opening credits of the film) and she is encouraged by her new teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), to write everyday. Precious has become so introverted and shy that she believes she has nothing to offer the world and that no one loves her, but she has made the first step in changing her future.

I had expected Precious to be so emotionally draining that I would feel emotionally abused when it finished. The film has such a positive message of hope that I could not help but smile when it was over. The film has so many moments that are laugh out loud funny, which help keep the audience focused. There are scenes that are harrowing, but Daniels resists the urge to show too much. The song I Can See in Colour by Mary J Blige wonderfully expresses the theme of hope in the film. Comedienne Mo'Nique goes to such a dangerous and dark place to create the character of Mary that every single scene of hers had me on edge. Ultimately, the film belongs to Gabourey Sidibe, who leads us on an emotional voyage of Precious' growth and self-esteem.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

18 November 2009

The Times Online's 100 Best Movies of the Decade

As someone who is a self-proclaimed film snob, I was a little put off reading The Times Online's list of the hundred best films of the decade. Admittedly, I have not seen a fair number, but there are certainly some glaring omissions and some titles that have no business being included.

100. The Devil Wears Prada
As I have already discussed in this blog, The Devil Wears Prada has the absolute worst film ending I have ever seen. The article calls it satirical and soft-centred, and while I enjoyed the film (mostly due to Meryl Streep) I would definitely not include it in any list a hundred best anything.

98. Crash
The 2005 winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, Crash, was a surprise winner (with many predicting Brokeback Mountain to claim the award--a film I have zero interest in seeing). The highlight of the film is Sandra Bullock's unexpected performance. While the film is worth seeing once, I do not believe that it ranks amongst the best of the 2000s.

95. Amores Perros
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's first feature film is brilliant, and it is fascinating to watch how the stories are linked together. I think that it is absolutely pathetic that his second film, 21 Grams (with a sublime Naomi Watts) is not included much higher on the list.

88. The Royal Tenebaums
Wes Anderson's film The Royal Tenebaums is a brilliant film (and according to my personal list of the best films, the second-best film of the decade). Anderson and his group of actors (including Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston and Owen Wilson) have proven to skilled film makers, and even if his recent films have failed to live up to the promise of The Royal Tenebaums, it is a remarkable film.

72. The Hurt Locker
As only a handful of films released this year that are included on the list, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker is deserving of its place. I wish I had been warned that I would suffer from severe motion sickness watching it, and I am eager to see the film again in the comfort of my own home on a smaller screen.

63. There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood may soon be regarded as a cinematic masterpiece. It is a shame that it is ranked so low. Daniel Day Lewis' performance was so compelling that it is a shame that Javier Bardem's performance in No Country For Old Men overshadowed it in 2007.

56. Volver
This is the film that made me fall in love with Penelope Cruz. Pedro Almodovar's 2006 film is a wonderful study of character and family.

52. The Constant Gardener
Fernando Meirelles' The Constant Gardener is a beautifully crafted film with a incredibly moving performance from Rachel Weisz. This film was so close to being included in my top ten, and is a must-see film for everyone.

42. The Incredibles
I think I must be the only person in the world that did not love The Incredibles. I found it to be the weakest and least enjoyable of all Pixar films.

29. Being John Malkovich
Spike Jonze's film Being John Malkovich is a wonderful journey into absurdity (somewhere I would consider living permanently). Charlie Kauffman's screenplay and Spike Jonze's vision combined with amazing performances from John Cusack, Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener make this film incredibly enjoyable to watch over and over.

21. Good Night, and Good Luck
George Clooney's second attempt at directing was so painful to watch that I wish I had never seen it. It has no business in the top one hundred films, or even in the top 200.
While the story itself is not very compelling, it is the excruciatingly slow pacing that ruins the film.

9. The Queen
Sure, Helen Mirren won an Oscar (and every other award) for her role as Elizabeth II, but Penelope Cruz was a revelation in Volver and Kate Winslet was breathtaking in Little Children. I fully believe that The Queen is an overrated film that indulges the film industry's proclivity to honour well-acted and dry period pieces.

6. Slumdog Millionaire
This year's Oscars finally had a film that could be, and was, embraced by everyone. Slumdog Millionaire is well-acted, visually amazing and beautifully directed. We will have to wait a number of years to feel its lasting effect, but it is certainly a film that was well deserving of every single one of its many accolades.

2. The Bourne Supremacy/The Bourne Ultimatum
Is it fair to combine both films? They were both enjoyable action films, but neither showcased Matt Damon's acting ability (but is there a film that can make him look like a real actor?). I love Joan Allen (and why is her film The Contender not on the list?!) and she is reason enough to see both, but neither are worthy of the second spot.

1. Caché
This film was so boring that I could not even finish watching it. Juliette Binoche is a wonderful actress (watch Trois Couleurs: Bleu or The English Patient), but this film was way too slow. After reading through the list of the top one hundred films of the decade and seeing this ranked number one, I felt like it was a joke.

There are some wonderful films that were neglected, and my list for the decade would have to include, in no particular order:
-Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) and Match Point (2005)
-Todd Field's Little Children (2006) and In The Bedroom (2001)
-Joel and Ethan Coen's A Serious Man (2009)
-Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby (2004) and to a lesser extent Mystic River (2003)
-Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Rob Marshall's Chicago (2002), which made musicals relevant again
-David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (2007), arguably his most complete film
-Sarah Polley's Away From Her (2006), which should have won Julie Christie an Academy Award
-Robert Altman's last great masterpiece Gosford Park (2001)

10 November 2009

Review: "The Men Who Stare at Goats"

Looking at the poster for The Men Who Stare at Goats you can assume that it is going to be a crazy adventure, as only someone with my sense of humour would love a film that gives star billing to a goat! Grant Heslov's directorial debut stars George Clooney and Ewan McGregor with Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey in supporting roles. With such an accomplished cast one would assume that Grand Heslov is a very lucky man, but he is an Oscar-nominated producer of Clooney's film Good Night, and Good Luck. Maybe becoming friends with George Clooney would help land me a job! The Men Who Stare at Goats, based off a book by Jon Ronson, centres around one journalist's investigation into a U.S. military squad that uses psychic powers. The Men Who Stare at Goats is a satirical film that is as times incredibly funny, and yet at the end of the film it is no less clear whether any of the events depicted on screen were actually based on fact.

Ewan McGregor stars as Bob Wilton, a small town reporter for the local newspaper in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At the request of his editor he speaks to a man who claims that the U.S. military had funded a secret force of psychic soldiers and that he needs to speak to Lyn Cassady. Bob, in an attempt to prove his manhood to the wife that recently left him, ends up in Kuwait. By pure chance he finds himself sitting across from Lyn Cassady (George Clooney). Bob convinces Lyn to let him write his story, and the two men embark on a trip into Iraq. Lyn reveals through flashbacks that in the 1980s a man named Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), inspired by the New Age movement, founded, with military approval, the New Age Army. Django's vision was to create a force of psychic spies that used remote viewing and intuition to aid in military operations. Lyn and Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) were two of the New Age Army's finest spies, but had vastly different ways of interpreting the army's teachings. Lyn and Bob find themselves in a world of trouble in Iraq and Bob eventually finds that there is some truth to the wild stories that Lyn has shared with him.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is an incredibly funny film at times, but the film does fail to find any emotion beyond the shocking events of the New Age Army. Ewan McGregor, who has done some superior acting in films like Trainspotting and Moulin Rouge!, has created a likable character in Bob Wilton, but at the end of the film I did not feel overly invested in his future. George Clooney has never been more amusing and it is a pleasure to watch him create the character of Lyn Cassady. Jeff Bridges is wickedly funny as Bill Django, almost an army version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski. After watching the film I realized that it is not really about the validity of the facts. The Men Who Stare at Goats is a highly enjoyable film that is fun to watch, even though the characters are unable to connect with the audience.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4, because it's wickedly funny and fun to watch!

01 November 2009

Review: "The September Issue"

After the film The Devil Wears Prada, Anna Wintour's status as the ice queen of fashion editing was all but etched in stone. Speculation has always been that Anna Wintour was the inspiration of the 2003 novel and 2006 film (starring Meryl Streep in an Oscar-nominated performance). Anna Wintour, with her signature bob and ever-present sunglasses, was probably never bothered by the comparisons, and it can be assumed that the fashion industry benefited from the publicity. The September Issue is a documentary that follows Wintour and her colleagues (a term that can be used loosely) at Vogue as they prepare the year's most important issue: the September issue. Director R.J. Cutler and his camera crew were given unprecedented access to Vogue and its team of editors as they work to prepare the telephone book-size September issue for 2007. Anna Wintour made a timely decision to have her magazine scrutinized, it just seems a shame that it took another 2 years to have the film released for audiences.

For Vogue, as one editor at the magazine states in the film, September is their January. September is the month that women change their wardrobes and Vogue has established itself as a fashion authority. The September issue for 2007 was the magazine's largest, at over 800 pages. The film showcases Anna Wintour's total involvement in the magazine, from layout, to fashion choices for photo shoots and choosing the right font for the cover. for the first half of the film we see Wintour meet with her team of editors in attempts to choose the right articles for the issue, she meets with Stefano Pilati (creative designer of Yves Saint Laurent), and while still making the rounds at New York and Paris fashion weeks she finds time to meet with representatives from Neiman Marcus. While Anna Wintour is the obvious star of the film, there is great focus on her creative director, Grace Coddington. Unlike Anna Wintour, Grace wears her hair like a disheveled mass of red frizz, and does not hesitate to voice her complaints of Anna's editorial decisions to the cameras. Grace gives the film its heart, and she is incredibly gifted as a creative director.

The September Issue is not the exposé that the masses may have wanted, and it should not be expected. Anna gives little insight into her private life, save for a few scenes at home with her daughter. There is a great scene where Anna talks about her siblings, and had the scene continued we might have seen the great ice queen cry. It showed that there is a real person hiding behind her designer sunglasses. When the film ended I wanted to know more about Grace Coddington, it was her role in the film that was most refreshing. And the scenes with Andre Leon Talley, especially his attempt to play tennis, were hilarious. He may be a bigger caricature than Lady Gaga. The September Issue is definitely a thoroughly edited documentary that left out a lot of material, it did present the challenge of publishing a magazine and portayed Anna Wintour as an intelligent and knowledgeable editor.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.