Friday, June 10, 2011

Lost Horizon

It's hard to get this challenge going again without any momentum. Not impossible, but very difficult. I find myself lost now that the end of the list is not on my horizon...but I'm trying to find a way to carry on. So forgive me if I seem to be losing my footing at times.

A reader once told me that when I got to Traffic (2000), I would recognize the use of gritty images and the manipulation of colour balances in its shots because many films after Traffic mirrored its style. Well, that day has finally come, and I can definitely agree. Stylistically, this film is brilliant, edgy, and original, saturated with Stephen Soderbergh's distinctive guidance. But as a whole, this one didn't do much for me. The intertwined storylines were supposed to give the film intrigue and keep it at a galloping pace, but only one of them really interested me. Maybe it's too grown-up for me...I don't really know. I can't really relate to any kind of struggle with cocaine or Mexican drug dealers, so a film about such subjects is bound to fall flat with me.
Even so, the performances were still fantastic. Benicio Del Toro (where has he been lately??) brings smoldering Latino flare to the washed-out scenes in Mexico, while Michael Douglas keeps us hooked for the stateside scenes. Topher Grace surfaces for a few key moments, reminding us of the dramatic promise he once showed (and where has he been lately??). My verdict: great performances, fascinating delivery, unimpressive story.

The summer surprises just keep rolling in: X-Men: First Class is actually watchable. Maybe not just that- it's even a little bit entertaining. I was expecting to roll on the floor in agony, but I was stunned by its poise. A star-studded cast helped guide it through its minor kinks, and a fast, fluid plot moves the film along quickly enough so that we can't stop to think about its flaws. Kevin Bacon- always a blast to watch- has so much fun in his villainous role that we can't help but join in, and Jennifer Lawrence shows us her fun side as well, fresh off her wild Winter's Bone ride. My verdict: not a complete waste of summer-job money.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Graduate

That's right. After years of toil and struggle worthy of my own striking drama, I have finally graduated. The parties and celebrations have finally come to an end, the checks have stopped rolling in, and the confetti has at last settled...so you know what that means: it's movie season again. Just when you thought I'd never be back...I am, and I'm more ready than ever to take on my massive list.

First and foremost, I have to ackowledge the lone movie I managed to fit in during those few weeks of graduation. It snuck up on me and took me by complete surprise--but it ended up being one of the best movies I've ever seen. Seriously, it blew my mind. Hands down, best film off the list so far.

The Reader (2008) knocks the wind out of you with its powerful emotional punch. I can't even begin to describe the plot without feeling my tear ducts firing up, so I'll just say that it's a sweeping story of acceptance and unswerving true love. Painful, magical, gripping true love. Stephen Daldry delivers brilliantly in his directorial masterpiece. Kate Winslet muscles up the best performance I've ever seen her give, and Ralph Fiennes shows us his sensitive side in one of his better dramatic turns. For me, the real scene-stealer was David Kross. He is absolutely delicious and I have now decided that he is replacing James Franco as my future husband. Sorry, James, I hope you understand-- David is just too good to pass up.

Another crazy surprise I recently encountered? Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Biggest shock of the summer so far: it's actually good. The Pirates team out-did themselves in this one, whipping up the best installment in the series since the very first swash-buckling smash back in 2003. Hans Zimmer scores it again (in my opinion, his music makes these movies), giving that old familiar punchy tune a fresh new tone.
Sailing on sans Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, producers were taking a major gamble betting that Johnny Depp alone could take the helm-- but their faith in our favorite maritime outlaw definately paid off. Granted, he did get a hand from newcomers Ian McShane and Penelope Cruz, and from familiar faces like the pock-marked mug of Geoffrey Rush...but let's face it, this is Depp's movie. And it's a damn good one at that.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Alibi

It's times like these that make me miss those days when I would be bummed out about missing just one weekend of movie watching. Another two weeks down the drain? I still can't believe my slacking has reached this level. And my alibi isn't exactly rock solid either: a few AP exams, some end-of-the year festivities...hardly anything more than what I've dealt with since day one. Somehow, though, I let my project take a back seat to everyday life- and that's not really ok with me. I set out to accomplish something with feverish resolve...and, sadly, have watched my ambitions slowly wane sans any effort to maintain them. What a waste.

But tonight, I'm all the way back (and sincerely hoping to keep it that way!) with a phenomenal picture off my list and my latest journey out to the movies. Get excited.

I restarted my challenge with Terms of Endearment(1983)-- a touching golden classic everyone should see. Seriously...I'm still drying my tears. It went from an edgy comedy to a heart-piercing, devastating drama so fast my head was spinning for a good ten minutes. How do they do that?? And why do they have to make it so damn sad??

Shirley Maclaine made this movie. She gives her quirky character so much personality that we can scarcely keep up with the woman. First she's classy and principled, then she's vulnerable and unbridled, and suddenly she's hysterical swiftly followed by a long bout of stoic? It's exhausting, trying to label this broad. She and Debra Winger, who's also fabulously dynamic in her turn, whip up some textbook on-screen chemistry-- but they only clicked for the cameras. Maclaine would later write that Winger was difficult and nearly unbearable to work with in the production of this film.

As for the men of Terms, Jack Nicholson takes the cake. This guy just can't be beat. He assumes a typical Nicholsonian role, portraying an old cocky womanizer with a reflexive fear of commitment like only he can. I found it difficult to take Jeff Daniels seriously because I only know him from his Dumb and Dumber days (despite his valiant efforts to be dramatic), and when John Lithgow opened his mouth all I heard was Lord Farquad from Shrek. I know, I know, I'm a terrible movie watcher.

Anyway. In a recent rare trip out to the movie theatre, I got blown away by Scream 4-- the surprisingly smart reboot of the classic 90's slasher franchise that essentially saved the genre from straight-to-video ruin. Fresh new faces and bold new turns reinvigorate the stale series, while the return of the original cast and numerous references to the original storyline keep the memory of what made these movies so great alive in our minds.
A brilliant opening sets the pace for this movie, letting us know that no one and nothing will be safe once it revs up, and a jaw-dropping finale that you won't see coming ties a neat little bow around a daring little movie. Still, its genius comes from its ability to laugh at itself, acknowledging its flaws and embracing its cliches. It's just...so...meta. And while Neve Campbell's wide-eyed visage is always a treat, it's Emma Roberts who wows us here. She flaunts a frightening dark side here that's been kept hidden so far in her career under layers of innocent sweetness, which makes its debut all the more shocking and exciting. I'll tell you this right now-- she is definately one to watch. Now let's just hope they don't disgrace the franchise when they churn out Scream 5 in 2013.

Monday, May 2, 2011

One Foot in Heaven

It's been a crazy ride these past few days, and some absolutely amazing things have happened. I honestly feel like I've had one foot in heaven this weekend--the awesome just keeps rolling in. Never mind that I have an exam in T-minus four hours...I think pop culture holds its rightful place in my life.

First up: let's take a hit of Pot. I'm talking about Harry Potter-- or more specifically, the recently released Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 trailer that has everyone buzzing. I'm guessing that most everyone has seen it, but on the off chance that you haven't, update yourself right here:

If that doesn't get you pumped for the summer premiere of one of the most epic series conclusions of all time....then you don't have a soul. Seriously-if you're not on the HP bandwagon yet, get on it. There's still time. But you do not want to miss out on the magic of this last installment (get it?? magic??). For once, the hype is right (can't say the same for Twilight, though).

Secondly, I have to touch on the Royal Wedding. I was beyond stoked for "the social event of the decade" because, in the words of Jon Stewart, "Prince William is marrying a muggle" (see that awesome HP segway there? I am hilarious)! I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I refused sleep all of Thursday night and instead had myself a very regal celebration: first, I caught the last half hour of The Queen (2006), which I'd seen before in theatres (but more on that later), then I cracked open my newly-purchased copy of The King's Speech (2010), and finally I flipped over to BBC's live coverage of the main event. Yes, I had quite the busy night (so busy I just had to skip school the next day...). Kate's dress was amazing, and the whole event was enough to convince me that fairy tales really do exist...I'm now actually hoping to marry the remaining prince-the ginger one-and move into Buckingham palace with the royal fam. Fingers crossed.
(Side note: The King's Speech gets better and better every time I see it...it's really grown on me. It was especially exciting to watch it Thursday knowing that it's the story of Prince William's great-grandfather...and that it concluded on the same balcony that saw the end of the public portion of Will and Kate's perfect royal ceremony).

Next, I feel like I just have to throw in a mention of the Bin Laden capture because it's so epic and historical. And it happened just before I was about to pop in tonight's movie so I got delayed a couple hours due to intense news watch-age. Totally worth it. Go Team America.

Finally, we arrive at tonight's movie--and a major milestone in the BPC!! After conquering Babel (2006), I have officially completed my first entire year on this list...that is, I have seen every film nominated for Best Picture in 2006. Congratulations, me, it's about time I knocked out one of these!
Babel tried very hard to get somewhere special, but it set out in so many different directions that it ended up mostly just jogging in place. I get that it was trying to be an edgy, shocking exploration of the limitations of language and the buried similarities of the human experience all over the world-- and to a certain degree, it succeeds in this endeavor--but for the most part it's just dizzying, dramatic, and dripping with sadness. Still, the Moroccan scenery was breathtaking and certain players, like Brad Pitt, for example, managed to shine through the structural fog.

2006 was a pretty solid year for movies, if you ask me. With Babel bringing up the rear and Little Miss Sunshine sliding in at fourth place (I loved this charming little comedy but it can't hold a candle to the remaining three), the year's winner is tough to determine. I hated The Queen when I saw it (twice) in theatres five years ago- but I was 13 then, and this one is a little too grown-up to be appreciated by a seventh grader. Now, I'm absolutely fascinated by this picture and I'd love to give the whole thing another careful watch (since I only caught the end last week). Obviously Letters from Iwo Jima sucked me in...it's certainly one of the best war movies of recent years. Still, I have to side with The Academy when I choose my winner for 2006: The Departed.


The Scorsese was sizzlin, the DiCaprio was dazzlin- and that Flogging Molly track was indescribably perfect. This is one of those movies you just can't stop thinking about even months after you've watched it- one whose twists and turns keep you reeling long after you've put the DVD back to bed. Love it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lost in Translation

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only person who suffers from this particular phenomenon- because it feels, to me, like I am all alone in this one. Tell me if you ever experience this: You sit down to watch a unanimously loved and widely respected classic film, you don't like it for one reason or another, and then you end up feeling guilty and inferior as a result of said opinion. It's irrational, really-- no one truly judges you on the way you feel about old movies (in fact, no one really cares about our opinions at all). So why do I feel like a stupid, ignorant teenager every time I can't get into a movie I'm "supposed" to like? It's an interesting conundrum...

Dog Day Afternoon (1975) is a prime example of the aforementioned affliction. It's got rave reviews, solidified classic status, and a cult following to boot- and it couldn't keep me interested. I even found myself pawing through my backpack to find my homework just so I'd have something to do besides watch this drawn-out drama...and you know something must be seriously wrong if I'm voluntarily hitting the books.

I tried to start this one last night, but kept getting distracted...maybe I should have let those distractions keep my attention. Afternoon spends its entirety depicting a singular event- a botched bank robbery- from all angles of perception. I guess I understand what director Stanley Lumet was aiming for with his incredibly narrow scope of focus...perhaps he wanted to capture the claustrophobic, even timeless feel of the perpetuated heist...and this, he certainly achieves. I just found myself growing tired of the constant dialogue and monotonous scenery (come on, Stan, not even a costume change?? Throw us shallow kids a bone). And while I'm sure that Lumet intended to convey some sort of esoteric anti-Vietnam-pro-gay-rights-power-to-the-people hidden meaning sort of thing, the message got lost in translation for me when I couldn't invest in the story or characters (get it?? invest?? bank puns...)

Despite starring in an uncomfortably boring picture, Al Pacino still manages to rock. His skillfully faceted Sonny is puzzling and inviting-- quite a feat considering the fact that we're talking about actually liking an angry gay bank robber. Sadly, Pacino lost out to Jack Nicholson for Best Actor at the 1975 Academy Awards...but just because he's a loser doesn't mean we love him any less.

I think the main point I need to stress here is that Dog Day Afternoon is not a bad movie. Brilliantly fashioned, quirky, borderline ridiculous at times (and riddled with gifted performances, to top it off), the film is sure to please (and has pleased) a whole spectrum of viewers looking for a different kind of statement. It may not have piqued my interest...but I represent a very thin slice of the movie-going population (the high school girl...not exactly the bank-robbin type) and therefore my opinion should hold little to no weight (as should most of the opinions of high school girls). Though I do consider myself to be a slightly more discerning viewer than the average aimless teenager, I realize that some movies (like this one) are just going to be beyond me and you should realize that in no way am I trying to disparage the great pictures of the past.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Love Affair

It happened. I didn't want it to happen, I tried to ignore it, I even fought against it-- but all to no avail. Yes, the inevitable has unfortunately befallen me: I've caught Royal Wedding Fever. For anyone who's not familiar with this disease, let me identify some of its symptoms, as it can be a viciously aggressive ailment that may throw your whole life into chaos:

- The victim may suffer spontaneous spasms of fake British accents.
- The victim may find herself filling her DVR with more Will&Kate documentary specials than she could ever hope to watch in one week.
- All waking hours of the victim may be spent scheming ways to procure an invitation to the event, and all sleeping hours may be spent dreaming that she is marrying Prince William on Friday instead of Kate.
- The victim may involuntarily curtsy or bow when attempting to greet friends like a normal person.
- Despite her best efforts, the victim may find that she unconsciously steers each and every conversation towards the Royal Wedding so she can spout off random factoids about the couple, including, but not limited to:
---- A dated timeline of the couple's courtship
---- An overview of the wedding's most exciting attendees
---- A heated compare&contrast session featuring Diana vs. Kate
---- Fact-supported predictions of the wedding's menu selections
---- The color of Prince William's favorite boxers
- The victim may discover that the abominable Lifetime original movie "William & Kate" is actually her new favorite movie, and she may re-watch it an inordinate number of times.

In all seriousness, it's important to catch these symptoms early, because when one hits the advanced stages of RWF (RoyalWeddingFever) like I have, all hope is lost.
My love affair with this event has unfortunately precluded me from conquering any movies Sunday or tonight. As much as I want to work on my list, I'm just too afflicted to tear my attention away from the wedding coverage for more than a commercial's length. I even started Dog Day Afternoon (1975) this evening...but I only made it through the opening credits. Four minutes in, and I had to flip back to my TLC special on Kate's jewelry selection to prevent myself from hyperventilating. I'm in serious trouble.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Places in the Heart

Every once in a while, you stumble across a movie that sears through to your very core and reminds you why we go to the movies in the first place. Tonight, I've found just such a movie. Letters From Iwo Jima(2006).

To say that this film was "good" would be an understatement. Letters stretches beyond the mechanics of a great war movie to reach places in the heart we might not even realize are there. Exploring the human capacity to sacrifice and endure, this film brings grim reality to a famous battle most of us know only from our history textbooks.

Movies about World War II aren't all that hard to come by, and most of them have taken the same dramatic form in treating the conflict. This one finally breaks free from the patriotism-soaked melodramas of norm and breathes life into the ever-silenced American enemy. Told almost entirely in Japanese, the story follows shockingly relateable soldiers from the Imperial ranks as they prepare for and suffer through the bloodiest battle in the bloodiest war of all time. I use the word "shockingly" because I know that none of us would expect to have something in common with a Japanese soldier from the 1940's, as we have been taught our whole lives that they are cold, calculating killers of American soldiers who deserved every bit of the pain we inflicted on them. One of the greatest achievements of this film is proving our long-standing perception wrong, and forcing us to stare unblinking into the eyes of our "enemy"-- one who is now hardly distinguishable from our own brother.

Remember when I said that Clint Eastwood is the man? This movie pretty much cements that statement. His directing here is absolutely flawless, and as if that weren't enough, he had to help compose the tearfully beautiful instrumental score(his aid for this composing job was his own son, Kyle Eastwood!). Seriously, Clint? Let's at least give the other poor schmucks in Hollywood a chance at looking good. As it stands now, basically every other movie-maker in the world pales in comparison to this cinematic demi-god. The way he blends terrifying, sweeping battle scenes of violence with tender, deeply human moments is something only an expert like him could do right.


Ken Watanabe (top) has impressed me before. His turn in Inception (2010) was certainly nothing to scoff at. But here, he one-ups everything he's done before while bringing life to the strong, compassionate General Kuribayashi. Despite his best efforts, though, he doesn't get to win this movie.

Hollywood newcomer Kazunari Ninomiya (bottom) gets to be this movie's winner. His raw, fearless portrayal of young foot soldier Saigo breaks down all the walls surrounding a foreign fighter and makes us fall in love with him--in ways we never expected. Eastwood did a tremendous job selecting Nino, because he is the absolute perfect choice for this type of role: besides his considerable acting chops, he's got the correct look to pull it off. His lovable baby face and short, scrawny stature instantly catch us off guard because we're expecting him, as an enemy soldier, to be hulking and homely. By puncturing this first stereotype, Kazunari is able to crash through all others by showing us the human side of the other side.

I can't believe how much I liked this movie. I honestly did not anticipate that it could capture my attention at all...but it ended up capturing a whole lot more than my attention. A visceral, heart-breaking, daring examination of the human soul, Letters tops the list of the vast body of work on World War II...and throws itself to the heights of the decade's greatest pictures.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ghost

I've been like a ghost this month, disappearing and then reappearing like some sort of phantom and tossing my movie list aside like spoiled garbage. Hopefully, though, I'm now here to stay- because I think the bulk of my hard work for the year is over...anything could happen still, but I'm staying optimistic.


What a way to bring it back. Million Dollar Baby(2004) surpassed my expectations in every way and forever redefined a sports movie in my mind. Though it started out slow (slow enough to make me consider turning it off and going to bed like a sane person), it soon erupted into an exciting, endearing drama soaring so far beyond a boxing story that I could hardly even recognize it at all. Eventually, the film took a shock-turn into heartbreaking territory and basically took my soul out and stomped on it...but that was surprisingly alright with me, because it ended so beautifully and sadly that I could accept the fact that I felt like I had just watched a puppy get drowned.

Let me just say that Clint Eastwood is the man. I'm pretty sure he can do absolutely anything in this world...maybe he could be the next president, or take up chainsaw juggling, or cook with Emeril- and he'd be awesome at any of it. As if his flawless directing wasn't enough of a contribution, Mr. Eastwood had to score the thing, produce it, and last but not least, give the most stirring performance in the whole movie from his perch as the lead actor. When do you think he sleeps? Watching his hardened Frankie Dunn crack with paternal affection for his protege Maggie (adoringly personified by Hilary Swank) made me melt, and his emotional display during the viciously tragic ending (which I won't spoil for anybody who hasn't seen this one yet) just about killed me.

But we musn't forget about Ms. Swank, because she was undeniably brilliant as well in her portrayal of Maggie, the impoverished yet brave welterweight boxer who fights her way into our hearts in this film. She has this dopey charm working in her favor...and you have got to give the girl props for allowing herself to go an entire film without looking attractive in a single shot. That takes guts for sure.

Anyway, while I'm on this Clint Eastwood kick, I think it'd only be fitting if I looked into his bright future for just a minute. Currently, he's got a biopic in the works starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover, throwing in Armie Hammer and Damon Herriman to fill the other leads. This latest directorial effort, titled J. Edgar, is expected to be released in 2012. There are also rumors churning around out there that he could play maestro to the third remake of A Star is Born, projected to feature Beyonce Knowles and to hit theaters in 2012. Either of those (the former moreso than the latter) will certainly find an eager, expectant fan in me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Coming Home

It's been a painfully long time since I wrote anything and I literally have nothing to show for it. Senior year in high school is a pretty busy time and especially now, in mid-April coming in hot off my spring break and a freight train of year-ending tests and projects, life is getting rough with me. I have definitely fallen off the wagon somewhat with my list and it's pretty much guaranteed that I won't be finishing by the end of 2011; however, that doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying. The fact that I'm choosing to persevere in an unnecessary film challenge and not in my mandatory school work troubles me a little bit, but luckily, not enough to get me to stop.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) brought me back on track for my challenge...and I'm not too sure if I really liked it enough to count it among my favorites. Although it made history by being nominated for every Academy Award category in which it was eligible (the only film ever to do so), it just didn't strike a chord with me. Perhaps that's because I'm too young and unseasoned to be affected by its thoroughly adult material...or perhaps it's just a slightly disturbing study of dialogue that holds little merit for the mainstream viewer. Either way, I can't say I was blown out of the water.



This was Elizabeth Taylor like I'd never seen her before. She was a whirlwind force on a warpath in this film, and though I didn't enjoy her character or the story itself, I couldn't help but be impressed by her performance. Taylor's turn as the boisterous, toxic drunk Martha was a far cry from the glamorous typecast I usually associate with the actress, revealing a depth to her range I couldn't have predicted. Put her up on the screen with real-life flame Richard Burton, and you've got an acting ensemble more raw and emotionally-charged than most any you can find on film.

This poster was released several weeks ago, so I'm quite late in joining in the global excitement over this, but I figured I'd blow my horn anyway and sound the alarm. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II" is scheduled to hit the theatres July 15, and no one could be more excited than I am. These movies constitute one of the most celebrated franchises of all time,and they have united the world's youth in unprecedented ways. Seriously, Harry Potter is bigger than you might think.

The anticipation over the final installment in the series is more intense than I've ever witnessed for any movie (though I'm still only a teenager so in reality I have little to compare it to). It's almost not necessary for the film to be good...all it has to do is exist, and it will pretty much rape the box office this summer. Rabid Potter-heads will be pitching tents on the streets for weeks leading up to this fateful date in July, and purchasing tickets could potentially turn into a bloodbath if addicted muggles can't get their hands on some. All this activity will make for a pretty interesting start to our July...so stay tuned.

In other, related Harry Potter news, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I" will be released on DVD on Friday....very exciting. I thought this was one of the most well-done films so far in the series, building to what is sure to be an explosive finale with some tight, mature drama. What's more, a commercial informed me today that a whole scene from Part II will be on the DVD to reel hooked fans like me in a little closer. Good call, Hollywood- I'm basically going to sprint to the store on Friday to get my copy. (Just typing that sentence made me feel less cool.)

Coming home to this blog makes me a little sad to realize I've bitten off more than I can chew here. But while I have resigned myself to the fact that this list will take more time than what just one year has to give, I refuse to give up on conquering the Best Pictures. However long it takes me, they will get watched...and after that, I think I'll have a little bit more credibility when I talk about movies.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Smilin' Through

Due to the fact that this past weekend contained my senior prom (which was very exciting, for anyone who may care!), I have not gotten a chance to watch a single movie since last week's Elizabeth Taylor tribute...and that feels like so long ago. Today I struggled to stay awake for all of Goodfellas (1990), and not because it was a bad movie. Anyone who's seen it knows it's anything but boring, but I was buckling under the exhaustion of a very long weekend and I just couldn't seem to keep my head up. I had to rewind it to watch the scenes I snoozed through, and even then my eyelids were fighting me. Needless to say, it was a very difficult accomplishment.

This has got Martin Scorsese's brilliant little handprints all over it- certainly an apogee of the director's bold style. The technique I dig the most is his tendency to pair upbeat classic songs with macabre scenes of death and violence...it keeps his films from ever rolling over into the deep end of drama. Emotional detachment like this feels refreshing in today's drama genre, where every new film out there seems to be trying so hard to make us cry that it forgets how to be good.

Robert De Niro is one of the funnest guys to watch onscreen.
Seriously...every time he steps into the frame of a movie a little part of me wants to jump up and applaud because I just know it's about to get good. And while he gives a satisfyingly awesome performance here, I don't think he wins this film.
If I were going to hand out a medal to the actor who does the most powerful mobster impression in Goodfellas, I'd have to give it to Ray Liotta. His screaming, cursing, gun-slinging gangster is as bad-ass as they come...so where was his Oscar, Academy?
Instead, the award went to Joe Pesci, a bronze-medal-er in this one, if you ask me, slotting himself in well behind Liotta and De Niro on the figurative acting podium. Incidentally, Pesci's acceptance speech was among the shortest of all time. The guy got up there on the stage, picked up his statuette, and delivered the following eloquent, emotional address: "It was my privilege. Thank you." Really, that's all you got, Joey? No genuine appreciation of any kind? I'm sure Ray Liotta's speech would have been brimming with joy and sincere gratitude if he had been given his rightful crack at the golden man.

Anyway, I seriously loved this movie, but it failed to surpass The Departed (2006) in my book. That's Scorsese at his finest, if you ask me, and anyone wanting to brush up on this director's modus operandi ought to pop that one out of their Redbox.

I'm approaching the realization that this list is not going to be finished by the end of the year, and though the thought of failure makes me want to give up completely, I'm just going to keep smilin' through until the credits roll on 2011 and see how far I've come by then. Who knows...maybe I'll have some sort of breakthrough in a few months and power my way through the remainder of the movies. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Giant

Tonight, the world mourns the loss of one of the greatest actresses of all time. Elizabeth Taylor, an iconic figure sprung from Hollywood's Golden Age, died today in Los Angeles at the age of 79. She will forever be remembered for her explosive acting talent, sophisticated glamour, and the turbulent private life that captivated the nation and redefined what it meant to be a true movie star.
I had planned on watching Goodfellas(1990) tonight, but in light of today's tragedy, I thought it would only be fitting to raise my glass to our fallen star (figuratively speaking, of course) by reliving one of her greatest performances.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) held so much more meaning for me watching it for the first time on the eve of its star's demise. Elizabeth Taylor has this glowing, vibrant energy emitting from her every second that she holds the screen- a force we no longer have in Hollywood; the likes of which we may never see again.
Tin Roof delves deeper into the human soul than I had braced myself for. It brings us down into the troughs of love, trust, and brotherhood before carrying us back up onto the crests of triumph over guilt and fear. The powerful presence of Paul Newman fuses with Taylor's radiant shine to create an acting duo so tremendous that it will never be erased from cinematic consciousness.

Burl Ives (playing a memorable "Big Daddy") spoke this of Taylor's character in the film:

"Yes indeed, this girl has life in her body. And that's no lie."

I heard that line tonight and almost choked up thinking of how profoundly true his statement rang, rings today, and will continue to ring as long as there are cameras rolling somewhere in this world. Elizabeth Taylor had an effervescent life in her that infected a nation and tore open an entirely new dimension on the silver screen. Her adulthood may have been marred by rabidly-followed controversies, but I believe that history will remember her as the extraordinary artist that she was, counting her among the most influential individuals ever to step onto a set.


Hollywood would never be the same after "One-Shot Liz" rolled through, and we wouldn't have it any other way. The dimming of her candle marks a definitive end to the bygone era in American cinema that is considered the very best of all- our glimmering Golden Age. It is with a heavy heart that we bid adieu to America's most beloved screen personality. A trend-setter. A trail-blazer. A legend. A Giant.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

True Grit

Why does time pass so much faster when you have important things to get done? It's like some sort of switch exists in the space-time continuum that flips on and off depending on the urgency of the tasks at hand. Seriously.

But anyway. It took some true grit on my part to stay awake and watch a movie tonight. I'm nearly nodding off now and I would be asleep already if I hadn't just witnessed such an awesome movie.

Before tonight, the only Scorsese film I had seen was The Departed (2006), and it was so good that I sort of bought into the whole Scorsese-craze. But after conquering Taxi Driver (1976), I'm all in. For real, this guy is a savant.
He gives his movie such an edgy, desperate vibe that I feel like I've become more hard core just from watching this one. Seriously, I could probably go rob a bank right now and not even break a sweat. Thank you for the inspiration, Marty.

Then...
...and now






It almost made me sad to see a fresh-faced, vibrant young De Niro after having watched his current geriatric self hobble through his latest work on Saturday. I miss this old Deer Hunter, muscle-bound, silky-locks De Niro (have you checked out his hair lately?? yikes...); this movie reminded me exactly why we consider him to be one of the greatest actors alive. I'm pretty sure he's the only guy out there who could make a reclusive taxi-driving potentially racist quasi-stalker seem like a lovable guy while also shooting up an entire whorehouse in the presence of a young child. That pint-sized whore was played by a young Jodie Foster, who wasn't Scorsese's first pick for the role by any means, but after a string of girls turned it down, the already established child-star Foster was tossed the part. Personally, I thought she did a pretty good job. But nowadays she just sort of bothers me. I really can't put my finger on why...but for some reason I want to throw my coke at the screen every time her face is on it.

Anyway, I loved Taxi Driver. LOVED it. I see now why it's up there with the greatest movies ever made (number 52 on the American Film Institute's list)...it's certainly up there with the best movies I've seen. So, in light of my new-found love of gritty Scorsese flicks, I'm thinking Goodfellas (1990) is going to be my next viewing. And with that, I'm heading off to bed.

Well, with that, and... "You Talkin' To Me?????? I Said...You Talkin' To Me??"
(Greatest. Line. Ever).

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Lost Weekend

If you're trying to get your movie nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, but you're at a loss for titles, here's a suggestion: name it a name. That's right- a simple, first & last name title is a thing of value to the Academy, and I did the counting tonight to prove it. 17 films with name-names have been nominated for the award since they started handing these things out: Alice Adams(1935), David Copperfield (1935), Anthony Adverse (1936), Kitty Foyle(1940), Mildred Pierce (1945), Johnny Belinda(1948), Julius Caesar (1953), Elmer Gantry(1960), Tom Jones(1963), Mary Poppins (1964), Barry Lyndon (1975), Annie Hall(1977), Norma Rae (1979), Forrest Gump (1994), Jerry Maguire (1996), Erin Brockovich (2000) and number 17,tonight's feature, Michael Clayton (2007). I'm sensing a pattern here.
Clayton starts with a bang, lets up, and then has you figuring out what might possibly be going on for the better part of two hours in a long series of cryptic conversations and dramatic stares into mirrors and out car windows. Still, for all that mental work you have to do to actually enjoy the film, it ends with a pretty subdued catharsis. It's Erin Brockovich-meets-Jason Bourne without the do-good joy or the gritty action, but let me be clear: it's not a bad movie. It just isn't an explosion...the matte, emotionless format that Tony Gilroy shapes always feels like it's building to something, like it's holding back a bull that's just about ready to burst out of its stall and stampede...only we get to the end, and it turns out that the bull was just a lamb all along. And that's not a bad thing, because lambs are good too, they just aren't bulls. Which is a little disappointing to someone who came to see the bullfight.
But I have to hand it to George Clooney; he really made this movie. Suave, tough, smart, caring- there's few dimensions Clooney doesn't develop in his performance, except maybe fearfulness....Michael Clayton doesn't do fear. Clooney gives Clayton just enough smooth awesomeness to make us love him while keeping the character grounded in reality, so we can hope that someone this cool might really exist out there. Love it.
And Tilda Swinton is scary good. She's got fragile evil in the bag, delivering to us a villain that doesn't look the part- one that we almost feel sorry for, all wrapped up in a neat little bow. I'd say she totally deserved the Best Supporting Actress Oscar she won for this part.
So anyway, my final verdict is this: good, but not explosive. That makes this picture so real. But my question is this: do we really go to the movies for reality? Or do we go to get swept up in larger-than-life stories that only Hollywood magic can create?

Return of the King: Jackson is back!

In other news, production has FINALLY begun on the long-awaited Tolkien project The Hobbit, helmed by Lord of the Rings mastermind Peter Jackson. The two-part epic will surely grab much more attention as it picks up momentum, since it will be serving as a prequel to Jackson's wildly successful Rings trilogy. Personally, I could not get enough of LOTR...collectively, the three serve as one of my favorite movies of all time. The only fantasy film ever to snag a Best Picture Oscar, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003) is still regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made. Basically, the bar has been set pretty high for the latest installment in the franchise (if it can even be considered that), and Jackson should be feeling that pressure all the way in Wellington, New Zealand where the shooting is taking place. Unfortunately for us, we will have to wait until late 2012 to see the first flick hit theatres (and til late 2013 for part two).

Now this has absolutely nothing to do with the BPC and is therefore very unnecessary, but seeing as I went to the theatres for the first time in a long time this weekend, I thought I'd share some thoughts.
It's not often that you can get me to pay ten bucks to go see a movie when a DVD is five to own or one to rent, and the extra expense is just to see it on a much bigger screen with louder people sitting around you. Let me save you some time and money by advising against my latest expenditure: Limitless.
It was a good idea. Really, it could've been an OK film had it been done well. But relative newcomer Neil Burger sort of strangles this one in the crib with tedious narration and an effects overload. Luckily, Robert De Niro is awesome (if not aging) no matter what he does, and Bradley Cooper is extremely attractive (and has a lot of potential, if you ask me)...so that in itself may warrant a Red Box rental later on down the road. Maybe. Just exercise caution when approaching a half-baked movie like this...you may end up losing some IQ points.

Anyway, that's all I've got to show for this whole weekend. I'd call that another lost weekend for sure. When will I ever learn my lesson: stop trying to sleep at night, stop having a job, stop doing schoolwork, stop having friends, and watch more movies! I'm starting to feel like I'm drowning in a project that I can't possibly hope to finish...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Deliverance


Last night consisted of a coffee milkshake, my flamingo pajamas, and An American in Paris (1951), a charming little musical that is still loved and respected today. I feel warm inside just remembering how good it felt to wrap up in my snuggie and bob my head along to Gene Kelly's swinging dance numbers, giddily applauding his light-hearted love story. Yes, I would say I'm now a major fan of this movie.

I wasn't expecting to recognize any of the songs in this ancient musical...but "I Got Rhythm" is one of the most beloved classics in the world, and who knew it came from this movie? Every minute of watching and listening to Gene Kelly is like crack...I just couldn't get enough of him. Seriously, this guy is fantastic! He can sing, he can tap-dance like a machine, and he can act like nobody's business...perfection, basically, in human form.

The other day I mentioned how pumped I was for the release of "Beautiful Boy", although sadly a release date has not yet been announced. Tonight I went ahead and watched the trailer...and now I'm practically beside myself. This one looks incredibly sad, but one of those good sad movies...you know?


And as exhausted as I am from this long week, as much as I'm praying for some sort of deliverance from this hectic springtime rush into the calm of this summer, I managed to fit in one more movie tonight: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935).


An engaging seafaring classic, Bounty was everything I had hoped it could be, having known of this legendary film my whole life and never getting around to seeing it. I'm getting more and more used to these black and white movies, which used to disinterest me and now barely phase me at all. In fact, I actually loved how the black-and-white picture gave this one an authentically historic feel...and this movie truly is historic: it was the last film ever to win the Best Picture Oscar without winning any others, and the only one to have all three of its actors nominated (Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone) though none of them won that year. Gable was my favorite lead of the movie, as he holds the screen with tremendous power. Still, I do have one question: why did men wear their pants up so high back in the day? It's almost impossible for anyone to look attractive when the height of their belt buckle exceeds the height of their belly button. I'm just sayin.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Grand Illusion

There are approximately 800 things that I could, or rather, should be doing right now besides sitting back and watching a movie...but I can't seem to shake this grand illusion that, if I just slough off more and more of my school work to focus on the Best Picture challenge, I will eventually accomplish this daunting feat and somehow achieve a level of movie expertise to which few are privy. Unlikely, but I'm still clinging to the belief that I'm going to grow up to be the next Peter Travers.

So as long as we're playing pretend-movie-connoisseur, I think I'm going to discuss my feelings towards some of this year's projected big hits...but only a few. Notice that I have not babbled on about how pumped I am for Scorsese's pricey 3D flick or Spielburg's one-two punch at Oscar gold this year...I'm sticking with the four that have my wheels turning the most.
I've read only good things about upcoming "Beautiful Boy", which hit the film festival circuit in August of 2010 but has yet to enjoy a wide release. The story follows a mother and father- played by Michael Sheen and Maria Bello- as they struggle to cope with the news that their son shot up his college before taking his own life. The hype surrounding it has been hard to ignore and I'm getting all fired up for a release date to be announced.
It could find some competition in "We Need to Talk About Kevin", another upcoming movie that follows a strikingly similar plot line. However, the names atop this one are just a little bit grabbier (John C. Reilly and Tilda Swinton respectively can always draw a crowd). Could we be seeing Kevin take the lead sometime soon? This is a battle I'll be following all the way to the ticket booth...
And while there are other movies coming down the pipe soon that I've got my eyes on, no other work-in-progress gets me giddy with excitement like "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", which will star Sandra Bullock and my all-time favorite, Tom Hanks. I absolutely loved the book and I can't wait to see what Stephen Daldry does with the film. We have a bit of a wait for this one, though, as it's currently still shooting.
Also: "The Tree of Life". An enigma, to me, because it topped many prediction lists for last year's Oscars and yet somehow has managed to elude release all this time. The date has finally been set (May 27- mark your calendars!), and it will surely open to a crowd given the vibrant anticipation attached to the picture. I've seen the trailer, and I have to admit it looks fantastic. My money's on Brad Pitt to go for the Oscar from his performance here (I hear it's super good...get excited!).


Oh, I almost forgot. The reason I actually started this post at all, my current movie. I conquered Crash (2005) tonight....and it was unbelievable. Seriously, why had I not seen this before?! I wasn't expecting such an affecting, sweeping drama- and what a cast. There were so many fantastic performances that I can't even list them all, or even pick a favorite. Everyone popped. And it was interesting to compare it to the last two movies I saw, as both of those also dealt with forms of racism (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1966) and The Defiant Ones (1958) in case you need a refresher). This one brings our toughest racial quarries into today's world and forces us to look at an ugly side of society that we like to pretend does not exist. Peter Haggis wove many contrasting strips of story into one warm quilt of a film with effortless perfection- the type of smart, intricate delivery that we just don't get to see too often. Crash is brilliant in every way...and probably one of my favorite films in the challenge so far. If you haven't seen it yet, go get it. Right now.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bad Girl

It's the same every weekend. I go into it thinking "Finally, the weekend! I'll have so much more time to watch movies!"...and end up so busy that I actually lose days and movies. I was a bad girl again this weekend and didn't get around to sitting down for a showing until tonight (though, can you really blame me when I worked more hours these past three days than I have in the past two weeks combined?).

It's late, and I'm tired, so I'm going to keep this short and sweet. Nobody wants to read a long, rambling page anyway, least of all myself.

Tonight's pick was The Defiant Ones (1958), another racially charged drama, following hot on the heels of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1966). Again, this one features Sidney Poitier, ever the dazzling scene-stealer, and the masterful direction of Stanley Kramer, who also crafted Dinner. Kramer has an enormous reputation in the film world, and he certainly lives up to it here.

The theme of the movie was a groundbreaking and thought-provoking one at the time, as many Americans were still caught in the throes of the widespread bigotry that plagued the nation. We follow a white prisoner and a black prisoner who are chained together as they make their desperate escape from a southern prison. At first, the two despise each other and are constantly on the verge of starting an all-out brawl, but through a series of harrowing encounters and stiff situations, they are able to transcend their deeply rooted prejudices to develop a firm friendship.

Round Two of Poitier let me see a different, blazingly brilliant facet of a man who clearly understood everything about bringing nuanced life to a character. His white costar, Tony Curtis, proves he is able to hold his own against the legend, displaying a strong screen presence and fierce delivery. And Kramer's passionate hand directs this piece into deep, affecting territory with tremendous skill, proving once again that he's our guy when it comes to tearing down racism.

Anyway, that's my opinion of the movie as fast I could give it. This was my second chain-gang film from the list , but when I compare it to I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1933), I have such a tough time picking a favorite. Each has something different and stirring to offer...this is one I'm just going to have to sleep on.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Talk of the Town

So as I've written before, we're studying Death of a Salesman in my lit class right now. I spent each class reading the play thinking to myself: "wow, this would make a great movie"...and then, what do you know, my teacher whips out a film version of this classic story.
Don't get too excited, though...the 1985 made-for-TV movie is as big a let-down as getting socks for Christmas. It was only watchable because Dustin Hoffman, in all his brilliant glory, gives us the ultimate Willy Loman while the rather attractive young John Malkovich breaks our hearts as soul-searching Biff.

Here's what I'm thinking (Hollywood, you might want to take some notes): We need to give this timeless story a makeover, bring it into a 21st century context, strip it down visually while infusing some gritty realism, and tie it to a bitchin soundtack (you know, peppered with spot-on indie tracks like "Garden State"'s was...and then I'd like my boy Alan Silvestri to whip out a tear-jerking orchestral score like he did in "Forrest Gump" and "Cast Away"...if he's still got game).

Then we'll pop a few of my favorite people into the leads to really bring home the money. For Linda Loman, I'm feeling a solid Meryl Streep plug...you really can't go wrong with this lady, and if she pulls out those innocent rosy cheeks she was flashing in "Julie and Julia", then there probably isn't a woman in the world who could play this part better.
For Biff, I think Jesse Eisenberg will do. He's got the puppy dog face and the broad range to handle the job. Plus, as we observed in his recent film "The Social Network", there's just something so inherently human about the guy that makes him prime material for a tragedy like this.
My pick for Happy is a little bit out there, though, so just bear with me...how about a little Tom Felton action? We already know he can play a cold-blooded kiss-ass from his sprightly work in the "Harry Potter" franchise, so why wouldn't he be able to pull off the womanizing suck-up of this story? The kid screams superficial sometimes and quivers in his vulnerability at others- exactly the type of persona that Happy Loman would need to exude.
Finally, I don't think I'd be alone in stating that Tom Hanks, an actor of practically immortal stature, would play a dead-on Willy Loman. The man can do anything, but I think his best niche is here in the realm of the tragedy of the mundane (as I so affectionately call it). The fate of the entire movie rests on the audience's ability to feel for this character, and no actor alive is better at making America fall in love than Mr. Hanks.

Anyway, that's what I want to see coming down the pipe someday. I don't think that's too much to ask of you, Hollywood. Make it happen.


I don't have enough thumbs to stick up for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)...it's that good. There's nothing better than watching firmly-held stereotypes get so completely crushed...and in the hot racial period in which this film was released, it must have been the talk of the town. I mean, interracial marriage was illegal in 17 states the year this movie came out, so I can't even imagine the kind of stir it created when it shed such a favorable light on the subject.

The context of the film is almost more interesting than the film itself, if you ask me. Even if you don't consider the ground-breaking timing of the movie's release, you can still be blown away by the power of the people playing in it. Seriously- Sidney Poitier leads in this one. Sidney Poitier. That in itself makes the movie a big deal.

Mr. Poitier continues to be an American legend and celebrated cinematic hero: in 2009, President Obama even gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the country's highest civilian honor...no big deal). He broke the ice for African-Americans in film (though Hollywood still seems to lack a solid reservoir of African-American actors) and became the first black man to snag an Academy Award for Best Actor. But you probably know all that already if you happen to be here reading about classic movies...

His affluent character absolutely destroys the typecast black man of the time, so we can't help but applaud him all the way through. Still, two other performances constantly threaten to steal the screen from him, especially when you take a look at what was going on behind the cameras.

Dinner marked the seventh and final joint effort of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, as Tracy died just 17 days after the shoot wrapped. In the final scene, when Tracy delivers a passionate monologue to his motley dinner guests, we see Hepburn looking on with a face full of tears- real ones, because she knew that this would be the last time she would share the screen with her friend, and that he was not long for this world. The crew had to adjust the filming schedule so that Tracy could participate even as his health fell apart. Knowing that, I couldn't help but tear up as the final credits rolled.

I could probably go on for days about this picture, but I'll spare you the (additional) rambling. The weekend's coming up and I have a pretty tight work schedule, but I'm going to try my hardest to stop the days from getting away from me without fitting in some movies. I'm already falling miserably behind in this slightly impossible challenge.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

All That Jazz

Tonight I decided to give this blog a makeover...now it looks just a little bit more like a real blog and a little bit less like a word document I opened up to play pretend.

I also learned how to put pictures onto the blog by googling how to put pictures onto the blog...who knew it was that simple?


Anybody know what movie that picture is from?? If you guessed I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1933), then you would be absolutely correct. But don't be fooled by the fuzzy black and white framing of the film into thinking that it's a boring, dialogue-heavy snoozer like most other movies from 80 years ago...because this one is anything but.

I fully expected to be bored into a state of semi-consciousness when I popped this ancient picture in last night...but even though I planned on daydreaming my way through it just so I could cross another title off my list, I soon found myself completely sucked in to what turned out to be a surprisingly fresh drama- one that kept me pinned to the edge of my seat from start to finish.

If you're not familiar with the film: it follows a wrongfully accused veteran of the Great War to the brutal chain gangs of the south, where he briefly suffers before boldly busting out one day during a day shift of labor. A couple of hair-raising close calls ensue before he settles in at what appears to be a respectable boarding house...until he starts shacking up with the land lady. Big mistake. The chick turns out to be a stage 5 clinger (Wedding Crashers reference, anyone??) and blackmails him into a miserable marriage...I'm actually not going to spoil the rest of it because this is one that you should go see for yourself, but I will say that it has a pretty epic ending that I liked even though it wasn't a happy one...and I don't usually like unhappy endings.

Chain Gang plays out like a more intense (and altogether better, for that matter) "Cool Hand Luke" with an endearing 1920's spin (who doesn't love to hearken back to the times when hamburgers only cost 15 cents??). Its gritty shots resemble today's abstract filming style more than that of the time from which it came, giving it that edgy feel that we have come to love and expect from our crime dramas. And to top it all off, Paul Muni is a babe. Seriously.


Anyway, that was last night. Tonight I conquered Broadcast News (1987), which was a complete 180 in tone and pace. This one is driven more by witty dialogue and character explorations than by an exciting plot, but that in itself doesn't stop the movie from being enjoyable. It's got the ethical dilemmas, sexual tensions, professional struggles- all that jazz that makes up a mature comedy in which we can find a deeper, hidden meaning.

I got a real kick out of recognizing familiar faces, since a few I wasn't expecting floated across the screen in this one. Jack Nicholson shows up as the usual cocky hard-ass that he plays all too well; Joan Cusack bumbles across the film in big 80's hair and spastic movements; her brother, John Cusack, also makes a cameo; and I seriously could have sworn Phillip Seymour Hoffman played a tape operator in the very beginning of the movie, but he isn't billed...

I wouldn't have realized that our outwardly harsh (yet inwardly insecure) heroine was Holly Hunter if her voice wasn't so distinct...she's really changed these past twenty years, hasn't she (remember that awful TV show they tried to shove down our throats, "Saving Grace"? Yeah, that was her...)? Back in this day, she gave a beautifully layered performance of a driven career woman who secretly craves love. On the other hand, I just wasn't buying William Hurt's rendition of a "sexy", "enigmatic" news anchor with good intentions but a less-than-perfect IQ score. Maybe that's because when I look at him, all I see is the old Amish dad from "The Village"...or maybe he was miscast? I don't really know. All I do know is that, while he is clearly a very talented actor, he isn't exactly a glove-fit for this part. Perhaps he seems this way because his co-leads Hunter and Albert Brooks are cast in their parts with deadly accuracy. And while I have a tough time taking Brooks seriously after watching a much older, plumper version of the guy play a goofy foot doctor in "The In-Laws" at least twenty times (it's one of the most worn-out DVDs in my collection...funny every time), I can't deny that his subtly nuanced performance verges on stealing the screen. His repressed, intellectually under-worked, winsome victim of unrequited love completes a character trio that works together like a harmony...perfectly balanced.

I felt so adult liking this comedy, because that's just what this film is...an adult comedy. It has a lot more to say than just what it says, especially concerning contemporary American journalism and workaholics the world over. The bits about honest news in jeopardy have particular relevance today, I feel, as our media descends into a state of moral atrophy. I'd have to say this is a pretty good little movie.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Longest Day

After a long weekend of avoiding any progress while simultaneously putting off my homework and pressing scholarship applications, I finally finished one film in order to save these last few days from being a total waste. However, this only happened after I made it past the longest day I've experienced in quite some time. I hustled through the opening shift at the ice cream shop where I work, sped home for my brother's and sister's confirmation (Catholics, anyone??) barbecue, jumped back in the car to return for the closing shift at the shop, stumbled out to look for a dress to wear to tomorrow night's ceremony (no luck), and made it back home just in time to be too late to get a good night's sleep (or any, for that matter) and still get everything on my rambling list done. Not that anyone should care about all that rushing around...I'd just like the world to know what I had to go through today to get to my next installment on the Best Picture Challenge List.

Wow. That's the first word I could form after sitting through Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" By Sapphire (2009), a gut-wrenchingly depressing movie about incest, AIDS, illiteracy, inner-city violence, abject poverty, and all sorts of other wonderful little subjects that leave tiny little holes in my heart every time I remember that they exist. To think that this movie could be based on a true story is truly unthinkable to me...I was choking back sobs and praying for a rainbow to emerge from this storm-cloud story all the way to the closing credits. Well guess what (spoiler alert!): there isn't much of a rainbow here. You could probably count all the smiles in the whole movie on just one of your hands (even if you were missing fingers).
And I have a real beef with the back of this DVD case, which blatantly lied to me: it had "IRRESISTIBLY INSPIRATIONAL!" printed in all caps across the top of it, as if all the critics in the world concurred that this was the feel-good flick of the year. Um, excuse me, world? The only thing this movie inspires me to do is kill myself. The DVD case's string of lies continued when it described the film as a story of "revelation and celebration". I don't recall any miraculous revelations in this wrist-slitting festival...I pretty much knew that Precious' life brutally sucked from start to finish. And what exactly are we celebrating here? The fact that our teenage hero is going to die from AIDS in the very near future and leave two innocent little children homeless on the Harlem streets while her pathetic old mother shrivels up and dies in her moldy apartment? You're right, DVD case, that's a real party right there. Thanks for tricking me into watching the most horrifically sad movie I've ever had to see.

Even though the movie itself encourages self-mutilation, the performances that shape it are brilliant. Mo'Nique stands out the most in the villainous role that won her last year's Best Supporting Actress...and gurrrrl, did she deserve that award. I hardly recognized her underneath all the cornrows and Ebonics. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe pulls off the perfect Precious, evoking both overwhelming pity and fierce admiration from a tearful audience. Even Mariah Carey turns out to be good, which might have been the biggest surprise of all. In this movie, just being able to share a frame with Mo'Nique in all her sobbing, jiggling glory without melting into a sticky puddle is quite the accomplishment. So way to go, Mimi.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sense and Sensibility

Due to my keen ability to function for long periods of time without sleep, I was able to go all the way through this night without a moment of rest and knock out my science project, a reading of Death of a Salesman, and some tricky French. Even more exciting, I got a double feature in during this time thanks to my multi-tasking skills (though in hindsight I probably could have fit some time for sleeping in if I had turned off the tube and actually focused). Why am I such a procrastinator? If I had any sort of sense...and sensibility...I would have started this project at any point during the two weeks I had to do it. But unfortunately, I have none. That's why I'm trying to cram movies in during these early months of the year so I don't end up in a frantic scramble come December. With all the work still ahead of me, though, I foresee a mad December dash anyway.

I kicked off the night with The Thin Man(1934), a light murder mystery story clearly coming from a different place and time. The hero and heroine, a married couple, were shown sleeping in separate beds...what a wild departure from this year's nominees' vivid sexual imagery! It seems to me that much of what is emphasized and explored today in contemporary films was understated and subtly played in the distant classics, like this picture.
Throughout the movie, I kept wondering if the recent "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist" featured title characters with stolen names (if you've never seen this one, the two crime-soliving main characters are named Nick and Nora). I also wondered why they always had that dog following them around. And while I did find myself chuckling at a few humorous turns, I just don't know if early 30's cinema is really my scene...but I guess I'll find out when I sift through the other nominees and winners of the time.

I chased that one with Ninotchka (1939) and found it significantly more entertaining. Perhaps this is because 1939 was just a golden year ("Gone With the Wind" popped out this year and is still going strong in the movie world) or because this movie is simply better. Either way, I spent a lot less time writing my science paper and a lot more time staring wide-eyed at the screen during these 110 minutes than when "The Thin Man" was blazing across my living room.
I'd heard the name before, of course, but this was the first time I'd seen Greta Garbo in action. She seemed simultaneously cold and endearing in her role as the suave Russian envoy of the title, bringing to life a deft, humorous story of romance in high society Paris. This was one of the first American films to portray the Soviet Union under Stalin, though it does so under the translucent cover of comedy. Despite that groundbreaking fact, it went home completely empty-handed from the 1939 Academy Awards (not really surprising considering Wind was sweeping through the ceremony). There's a little history lesson for you...don't worry, it's free.

In other movie news, 127 Hours was released on DVD and BluRay (but who actually has a BluRay player??) today, and I rushed home from school to buy my copy. It may have gone home sans a statuette on Sunday, but "Citizen Cane" didn't win either, and look how it's doing now.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Friendly Persuasion

I can't help but feel this tiny pang of disappointment in the wake of last night's Oscar ceremony, as my favorite movies of the year went home empty handed and the two major pictures "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" proceeded to soak up nearly every award available. Every one of my predictions for the awards came true- except, oddly enough, my Best Picture pick. Although I knew that Speech was the front-runner from the get-go, I figured that the Academy would ultimately side with the jazzy modern flick rather than the archetypal Oscar bait, as it has appeared to be going younger for the past two consecutive years with its "The Hurt Locker" and "Slumdog Millionaire" picks...but again, I was just putting too much faith in the organization. Academy, I'm really starting to doubt your wisdom. Not to say that Speech wasn't any good though- it certainly deserves some accolades. Just maybe not all the accolades.

James Franco and Anne Hathaway did a tremendous job hosting the ceremony. I thought it was a particularly good one, definitely aimed at the younger demographic this year. This is their charmingly funny opening movie montage:



As for the BPC, I know that the show must go on. I have to wait another year before the Oscars come around again (which is pretty depressing...like that grey-cloud feeling a little kid gets the day after Christmas), so I should really get cracking on those movies again before the next time they light up that Kodak theater. I jumped back into it tonight, though tired and strapped down with homework, by conquering A Man For All Seasons (1966).
Usually these old, bare historical pictures tug at my eyelids, but not this one. I found Seasons to be a rich, brilliantly acted, even suspenseful tale to remind us of the good old days of Hollywood. It was interesting to watch a regal Best Picture winner so soon after rolling my eyes at this year's British royalty victor...perhaps it's to these simpler cinematic times that the Academy was hearkening back when it selected Speech.
Anyway, I quite enjoyed this film (I imagined myself saying that sentence in a British accent in my head). Sir Thomas More astonishes us with his moral fortitude and unwavering piety, played to perfection by Paul Scofield, who undeniably deserves the Best Actor Oscar he received for this work. I also found Robert Shaw's bombastic King Henry VIII to be a real scene-stealer and I wonder why he lost out on the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in this year (though I haven't yet seen any of the other nominees' performances, so I guess I really can't judge).

A quick tally of my list tonight told me that, to date, I've watched 68 of the films on my long queue, leaving 417 movies to be watched in the 305 remaining days of the year. Much of that time must be taken out, too, considering that in the fall I will be headed to college and therefore unable to sit for hours on end and watch any movie I want. Thus, it appears that I need to step up my game pretty intensely if I want to finish up by the end of the year. Or perhaps I can use some friendly persuasion on my parents so they will allow me to drop out of school and take up movie-watching as my fulltime occupation. I guess we'll see what happens...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spellbound

So I had typed out a long, articulate page predicting each category of tomorrow's Academy Awards...and then my computer shuts down the internet. I'm about to fall asleep after a long day of trekking all over DC, so though I'm bursting with excitement for tomorrow's festivities and though I expect to be fully spellbound by the results, I'm going to make these predictions quick.
Keep in mind that this year is a tight race and no category is completely dominated, so these are just speculations.

Best Supporting Actor
Nominees:
Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"
John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"
Christian Bale, "The Fighter"
Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech"
Jeremy Renner, "The Town"
Ok, so I don't have too much credibility here because I have yet to see some of these performances. Still, I'm going to put my money on Christian Bale. The buzz surrounding his work here is too loud to ignore, and you have to admit that his physical transformation for the role was pretty hard core.

Best Supporting Actress
Nominees:
Amy Adams, "The Fighter"
Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"
Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom"
Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech"
Bonham Carter was pretty good in her quiet turn as the queen and Steinfeld is young, new, and prime for receiving an award, but I'm going to go with Melissa Leo, again choosing to believe the rumors and jump on the bandwagon without havin seen the performance. She's a solid bet though, especially considering that many contend that she was snubbed for her work in "Frozen River", so this could be the Academy's chance to make amends.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominees:
Javier Bardem, "Biutiful"
Jesse Eisenburg, "The Social Network"
Collin Firth, "The King's Speech"
James Franco, "127 Hours"
Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"
This one is hard because I'm basically in love with James Franco and was brought to tears by his mind-blowing performance, but I still know that the Oscars aren't always about what's technically better. Collin Firth's work was also very moving...few could pull off a loveable stutter as effortlessly as this guy, so he's my pick. The rest of the bunch fall shamefully short of Franco and Firth; the winner is sure to be either one of them.

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominees:
Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"
Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"
Jennifer Lawerence, "Winter's Bone"
Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"
Natalie Portman. I'd be pretty shocked if anyone else took the cake.

Best Director
Nominees:
Tom Hooper, "The King's Speech"
David Fincher, "The Social Network"
David O. Russel, "The Fighter"
Darren Aronofsky, "Black Swan"
Joel and Ethan Coen, "True Grit"
This category is tough to call because everyone did a good job. Again, I find my preference (here, Aronofsky) clashing with who I think will win (here, Tom Hooper). I fully expect King's Speech to sweep and I think that Hooper's easy style will help him be part of the broom. However, it is highly likely that David Fincher could jump in here and win with his groundbreaking, talked-about work.

Best Animated Feature
Nominees:
"How To Train Your Dragon"
"The Illusionist"
"Toy Story 3"
I'm almost positive that Toy Story 3 will be the victor here. The poignant close to the franchise totally deserves to be rewarded.

Best Editing
Nominees:
"Black Swan"
"The Fighter"
"127 Hours"
"The Social Network"
"The King's Speech"
The edgy editing style of The Social Network is my pick to nab the award in this category, although "The King's Speech" will surely be lurking in the shadows...this will be another super-close section where Network and Speech will duke it out.

Best Original Screenplay
Nominees:
"The King's Speech"
"Another Year"
"Inception"
"The Fighter"
"The Kid's Are All Right"
The King's Speech. It's all part of its sweep.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominees:
"127 Hours"
"The Social Network"
"True Grit"
"Toy Story 3"
"Winter's Bone"
Is this really a question? I feel as though no other movie stands a chance when The Social Network or Speech stand in its way.

Best Picture
We know the nominees. We know the frontrunners. We know my favorite (127 Hours, doomed to stay a nominee forever). Now all that's left is to pick a winner, and my guess is The Social Network. It's a defining film that many enjoyed(including myself, though I wasn't blown away) and I think it's a serious contender. This category, the most important one there is, will boil down to the final round of Network vs Speech.

Those are the only categories I really care about. Expect to see "Inception" grab the technical awards like visual effects (barring an "Alice in Wonderland" upset) and an epic showdown between a classic and a new wave; the uplifting and the bloodless; Speech and Network. Who's excited?? I am!!!!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sayonara

It's not too often that a movie can come out of nowhere and surprise me, but The Kids Are All Right did just that. Last time I dismissed it as a second-rate story only nominated for its topical content, and expressed little interest in seeing it. However, after reluctantly agreeing to watch it with some friends on Wednesday night, I realized that I needed to say sayonara to my previous prediction of the film.
A family helmed by a faltering lesbian couple endures a shock when their sperm donor suddenly enters their life...and I loved every turbulent minute of their saga. The family drama takes on a new form in this raunchy, touching tale, owing some of its potency to the stirring performances given by Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and most especially, Annette Benning. Despite their deft efforts, the film's real power lies behind the daring storyline. When a comedy can force you to examine everything you thought you knew about love and family relationships, you know you've struck gold. The homosexual dynamic really makes for an endearing movie.

While Kids really grabbed my attention, Disraeli (1930) put me right to sleep again. An ancient biopic in grainy black and white, the film blandly tells the story of British prime miniter Benjamin Disraeli's acquisition of the Suez Canal...sounds like exciting stuff, right?? Wrong. I felt like I was in history class. Now I'm noy trying to bash a respected classic here or anything...but this one is the equivalent of an Ambien.

Just two more days are left until the Academy Awards...I literally cannot wait any longer. It's going to be a fantastic ceremony and an intense night...for those of us that care too much!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Right Stuff

It's true...I lost nearly a week of movies, and I have no idea how I'm going to make it up. Our school has this ill-placed week-long break stuck in the middle of February, and my family used the first part of it to go skiing in Breckenridge. I learned two things: that I'm not destined to be a skiier, and that next time I should pack a couple DVDs to save myself from late night cable. My whole body is sore from countless awkward falls into the powder, and I really can't stand to see one more episode of a poorly written cookie cutter crime drama.
Anyway, the point is that I lost a lot of time and I'm just about to lose some more. Tomorrow I leave for North Carolina, and Friday, I jet off to Washington DC and don't return home until Sunday. How am I going to recover all these days of missed movies? I guess I'll have to double up this summer...

Sunday, February 27th is just four short days away...and I'm almost counting down the seconds. It's the biggest day of the year if you ask me...more exciting than Christmas and more meaningful than my birthday. That's right, this Sunday night marks the eve of the Oscar ceremony, a night when cinematic history will be written. I anticipate a lively and entertaining broadcast, as Anne Hathaway and my future husband James Franco are slated to host the event. The Academy better have made some wise choices, because there will be one angry kid out there if JFranc (like the nickname??) and 127 Hours go home empty-handed. I've listed them before, but in the name of simplicity, here are the nominees for Best Picture:

1. Inception Mind-blowing. How else can you describe it? This one achieves a rare double victory, pleasing the pickiest of critics and exploding into a box office success all at once. Though I'm skeptical that it has a chance amidst all these other attention-grabbers, I'd say Inception can still dream of gold (get it...dream?!).

2. The Fighter Still haven't seen it! I know, I know, I'm a major slacker. This one just didn't look all that good to me in the commercials. I just feel like the tough-Boston-down-on-his-luck guy thing has been way over done, and so has the whole boxing thing. I mean, we have The Departed (2006) (amazing flick) and Million Dollar Baby (2004) (still need to see this one!)...so what do we need The Fighter for?? Maybe just to see Christian Bale slim down to cancer-victim size.

3. Toy Story 3 Love it! But it won't win in this category...I'm 99% sure (though I'm just as sure it will take the cake in the Animated Feature category). This one really hit home for me because I'm also going to college in the fall, and I feel just like Andy, giving up my childhood and driving off into the sunset...I definitely needed the tissue box to make it to the closing credits.

4. Black Swan Interesting. Very interesting. I found it both haunting and wildly entertaining, and ended up heading back to the theater more than once to really digest this one. It's a very original piece of work, with brilliant cinematography and directing (though Darren Aronofsky is no Danny Boyle). Natalie Portman deserves the Oscar for throwing herself into this twisted ballet world.

5. True Grit Haven't seen this one either! If I had to base my opinions on those of my friends, though, this one isn't winning anything.

6. 127 Hours I can't say enough good things about this movie. This one is my favorite for sure. If you haven't seen it, GO NOW! I'm still reeling over the fact that Danny Boyle didn't get a director's nod for his highly original work here, and I will be reeling if JFranc doesn't win his Oscar (though he will find some tough competition in Collin Firth).

7. The Kids Are All Right So I haven't seen this one either...but from what I've heard and read, it's not that great of a film. It's only nominated because of its progressive subject matter...or at least, that's what I've gathered. I'll get around to seeing it eventually (it's on my list!) and have some sort of opinion to share.

8. The Social Network Ehhh...it's alright. Quirky, cute, a little shocking sometimes...but Best Picture material? I don't think so. But although I don't think it's worthy of the golden man, The Academy may very well think it is come Sunday night. I guess we'll see.

9. Winter's Bone Ok, you got me...I didn't see this one either. So I'm not exactly qualified to be making all of these predictions. But here's another one I'm going to make anyway: The Academy won't be throwing this dog a bone (another pun?? I'm on fire tonight!). These Sundance-born indies still don't seem to have the wattage that a major studio film like Inception has.

10. The King's Speech I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this movie is overrated!! I'm not saying it's not good, because it is, but it's not the best of the bunch by any stretch (and I haven't even seen the whole bunch yet!). Still, if I was a bettin man, I'd say the odds are very much stacked in this one's favor.

So there you have it, a round-up of my current opinions as we head into the final days before the Oscars. It'll be a real nail-biter waiting to hear the verdict on these movies, with the top contenders (in my mind) being The Social Network, The King's Speech, Inception (maybe), and (I know it's probably just a pipe dream, but I'm gonna keep on dreaming) 127 Hours. The others, I think, are not nearly as likely to win. We'll see on Sunday night which film has the right stuff to become number one.

Now for the challenge, something I've been putting off lately. I watched American Beauty (1999) tonight and found it very...interesting. Despite being laden with graphic language and occasionally obscene images, the film felt poetic and graceful all the way through. Kevin Spacey, ever the acting savant, puts up a fantastic performance as a confused, aimless middle-aged man, and Annette Benning, a current nominee whose fate will be decided Sunday night, shines in her also-nominated turn as a repressed wife on the edge. Chris Cooper also surprises in his gritty portrayal of the homophobic neighbor. A twisted, sordid take on the American family deserving of pensive analysis.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Place in the Sun

Too tired to write STOP So I'm practicing my telegraph STOP Watched The Phantom of the Opera(2004) which is not on my list and therefore a waste of time STOP But I needed a free night STOP I have too much homework and I wish I was at the beach lying in a place in the sun STOP I also wish I could sing like Emmy Rossum STOP The play is much better than the film STOP How does one end a telegraph STOP I guess I'll give it a try and perhaps resume the challenge tomorrow OVER&OUT

Sunday, February 13, 2011

From Here to Eternity

So I've decided that I'm going to marry James Franco. This is because he is absolutely amazing in every way...I learned enough about him from his Wikipedia page, and of course, from drooling over him in every movie I've watched that features his perfect face. Naturally, that's enough for me to determine that he is actually my soul mate despite the fact that he's at least fifteen years older than me. Age is just a number.

My James Franco preference became a James Franco obsession when I conquered Milk(2008) on Saturday and saw how effortlessly he pulled off a sensitive gay man's role even though by nature, he is a deliciously macho straight man. Even more impressive than Franco is Sean Penn, who practically becomes Harvey Milk reincarnated as he sinks into the role of a flamboyant homosexual politician. The mayor of Castro Street has never seemed more real to those of us born long after his tragic assassination.
Milk informs, inspires, and eventually devastates as it climbs towards those inevitable gunshots that simultaneously ended and began so much. I have to admit that I found myself reaching for the tissue box at the end of this one, crushed by the very personal loss of the enigmatic character we have come to love over the course of the film. A surprisingly engrossing biopic worth a second look.

Now maybe it's just my teenage bias against super old movies, but I just couldn't get into Gaslight(1944), though I had just survived two consecutive sleepovers so my sleep deprivation could have been a contributing factor to my inability to keep my eyes open. Sure, it was riddled with intrigue, mystery, twists, and all that, but the slow, wordy manner in which it was delivered did not spark my gaslight (get it?? punnny??). It just kept going and going...I thought the thing was going to last from here to eternity.
I don't think that sort of plot development is an inherent flaw of the film by any means...I just think that movies were made differently 75 years ago, and those of us who have never been exposed to such ancient methods have a hard time enjoying those old melodramas. At least, that's the case for me.

On an unrelated note, I think I've come to accept that as a general rule, I'm the only one who reads these posts. That's alright with me...I think I just use this blog as a way to keep me on track with the challenge and ensure that I actually think about the movies I've seen. However, if there's anyone out there who does read this, I'd appreciate any sort of contact...
When I started this blog, I envisioned some sort of Julie and Julia-esque success, through which I achieved international acclaim and got invited to host the Oscars and attend every premiere forever. That isn't going to happen, but I'm still halfway crossing my fingers!