Tag Archives: Carey Mulligan

[Trailer] – The Great Gatsby

20 Dec

The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann‘s adaptation of The Great Gatsby was originally supposed to be released a few days from now, vying for some of the awards attention. Then it was pushed back until next year’s summer which, considering the already crowded late-year slate we have right now, may have been the right move, plus the novel always felt more summery than anything, right? In any case, to tide us over until the film arrives, we’ve now have a second trailer for it, which you can watch below.

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[Trailer] – The Great Gatsby

22 May

When Baz Luhrmann was announced to adapt The Great Gatsby, one of the greatest novels of all-time, you kind of knew what to expect. This is a guy who likes over the top and stylized visuals, and the material here was perfect for that kind of approach. Now, however, you can take an actual look at how it’s all shaping up, with the first trailer just released for the movie available for your viewing after the cut.

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Best of 2011: 20 Supporting Actresses

4 Feb

A whole month after 2011 ended I have wrapped up my yearly rankings, having seen 256 films released in 2011, granting 13 perfect A+ scores and a really superb 76 scores in the A range. To remember the year that was I thought I should start a feature that will hopefully become a yearly thing for me and do a few Best of 2011 posts, choosing my Top 20 films, directing efforts, screenplays, and performances (separated by lead male, lead female, supporting male and supporting female) and doing a post honoring them with a brief paragraph explaining what made each of those 20 options so remarkable and memorable and thus made 2011 a great year for films. For the fourth entry in the series of posts we have my Top 20 Performances by Supporting Actresses of 2011:

20. MICHELLE MONAGHAN as Christina Warren in Source Code

I’m giving this slot to Michelle Monaghan mostly because she’s just drop-dead gorgeous. Now, I don’t mean that in a superficial kind of way that would mean I would given an Oscar to an actress just cause she’s beautiful (though the Academy itself has used that as tie-breaker once or twice, I suspect), but in this particular performance, the fact that Michelle Monaghan is so beautiful and charming and likable adds a lot to her role. That’s because the film happens in the same spurt of 8 minutes, that happen over and over again, and she’s so great that we believe one could fall in love with her in eight minutes, and she enables us to fall in love with her warmth really easily, just a job well done.

19. JESSICA CHASTAIN as Celia Foote in The Help

Jessica Chastain used 2011 as one big coming out party for her talents, appearing in five films and having a great presence in them all, showing us why she’s one of the most in-demand actresses around. Now, people are saying that the fact that she got her Oscar nomination (probably her first of many to come) for her role in The Help was wrong since she had better performances for which to get the nod, and I would agree with that opinion, but that doesn’t mean that her work in Tate Taylor’s film isn’t great. She stars as this white-trash blonde housewife, a role that’s meant to provide some funny moments and that a lesser actress would have made seem clichéd. Ms. Chastain, on the other hand, gives an infectious kind of performance, and embeds Celia with a warmth that makes the role seem quite fresh.

18. JANET McTEER as Hubert Page in Albert Nobbs

Janet McTeer, a great actress by all means, got an Oscar nod for her role in this film. I obviously wouldn’t have actually given her one of the five nominations, but that doesn’t mean her performance isn’t great; in fact, I think hers is actually better than the one given by Glenn Close, which also got nominated in the Lead category. She gives this exuberant kind of performance as the woman posing as man who has really grown into her new identity, it’s the scenes between her and Close that are by far the best parts of an otherwise not-that-great movie.

17. JODIE WHITTAKER as Sam in Attack the Block

I think Attack the Block was one of the coolest, most pleasantly surprising films of all 2011 and I’m making it a personal mission of mine to try and get more people turned on to it so that they can experience all that the Joe Cornish film has to offer. One of those things is the lovely Jodie Whittaker, who stars as Sam, the young nurse who was being mugged by a group of teenagers while returning home after the night shift just as an alien invasion falls on the block, and she decides to stay with the group of thieves while it happens. I really want great things to happen to her in the future, she deserves the exposure.

16. ELLEN PAGE as Libby/Boltie in Super

Look, I’m a huge, huge fan of Ellen Page no matter the circumstances, so she was pretty much making this ranking no matter what. Here she plays this super crazy girl who works at a comic book shop and then becomes the sexually intimidating sidekick to a local vigilante. The performance is tremendous because she never holds back, and it’s not like she’s being her usual super hip and super cool self, but instead just goes all-out with a performance all over the place and that works for that exact reason, just being super physical and playing seriously well off Rainn Wilson.

15. MÉLANIE LAURENT as Anna in Beginners

Already having named this as my 5th favorite screenplay of the year, we now get a performance out of it making a ranking of mine. And it comes from Mélanie Laurent, the exceedingly adorable French actress who rose to prominence a couple years ago thanks to Inglourious Basterds. Her performance, like all of the ones in this film, feels just super organic and natural, and she conveys so much so well, her scenes with Ewan McGregor are amazing, their chemistry being one of the best ones seen on screen all year.

14. CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG as Claire in Melancholia

My 16th favorite film of 2011, my 12th favorite directorial effort, my 13th favorite performance by any supporting actress in the year. Charlotte Gainsbourg turns in a fantastic performance as Claire, the woman after whom the second half of the film is named, a woman getting incredibly paranoiac about the planet that seems to be heading crashing straight to Earth, bringing forth the apocalypse. This film has a lot of really sensational performances, and they’re all there to service Lars von Trier’s unique and intimate vision about the end of the world, both literally and internally thanks to a severe case of depression, and Ms. Gainsbourg is terrific.

13. EVAN RACHEL WOOD as Molly Stearns in The Ides of March

The first film to have figured in all four of my rankings so far (18th Film, 18th Screenplay, 13th Director, now this). And I’ve actually heard more than a few people say that they didn’t like this role, that they didn’t like this performance, when to me it was just phenomenal. Granted, I’m a big, big fan of Evan Rachel Wood, I think she’s one of the best under-thirty actresses around, and her performance as Molly, a young intern at a political campaign, I thought was great. I thought she went head-to-head with Ryan Gosling really nicely, and that she showed a lot of depth in the role, getting a lot of emotion into a role that probably didn’t demand it all that much in the script, adding her own stuff into the already great material she had to work with.

12. JUDY GREER as Julie Speer in The Descendants

Another film with mentions in all four of my rankings thus far (5th Film, 7th Screenplay, 6th Director). Now, Judy Greer is an actress I absolutely adore and who I really do believe should be a bigger name by now. But still, she’s always doing solid work in a wide array of projects, and such is the case in The Descendants as well, even though she doesn’t get a lot of screen time as the wife of the man George Clooney’s character’s comatosed wife was having an affair with (that sounded soap opera-ish, I know). But in the time she does get, she just totally owns the screen in such a way that was just phenomenal to witness to me.

11. CHLOË GRACE MORETZ as Isabelle in Hugo

Yet another film that’s now been in all four of my rankings thus far (1st Film, 11th Screenplay, 1st Director). Chloë Moretz is one of those young actresses that you just know is headed for greatness because of how terrific she already is, and in Hugo she only continues to show that, working under the direction of the all-time greatest. The childish curiosity Moretz brings to Isabelle is fantastic to watch, and just how she plays off the young Asa Butterfield is tremendous, creating a mischievous chemistry that’s just so believable and that drives the first half of Hugo so terribly well, just coasting on the talents of its young stars.

10. ANNA KENDRICK as Katherine in 50/50

While it’s the chemistry between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen that drives 50/50, the scenes that really elevated this film for me were the ones between Ms. Kendrick and Mr. Gordon-Levitt. She plays Katherine, the therapist to Mr. Gordon-Levitt’s Adam, who was just diagnosed with cancer, and it’s great how she plays the inexperienced therapist, and how she’s not able to just look from a distance but instead gets involved with her patient. She’s perfect here, just wonderful, and the complicated feeling that develops between her and Adam are portrayed so well by Ms. Kendrick.

9. MARION COTILLARD as Adriana in Midnight in Paris

Yes, I’ll say it again, another film that’s made it in all four of my rankings (14th Film, 1st Screenplay, 8th Director). And to be honest I was having a hard time choosing between Cotillard or Alison Pill for the ninth slot, I didn’t want to put both in the list because I honestly felt that it wasn’t the performance itself that I was honoring, but instead the overall effect that the supporting female characters of Midnight in Paris had in me. I chose Ms. Cotillard’s Adriana because she’s the main one, and because it’s through Gil’s love for her that the film becomes just so endlessly and effortlessly charming, and it’s a great performance by a great actress, but yeah, this is kind of a nod to all the ladies (Cotillard, Pill, Bates, McAdams, Bruni and the rest).

8. JESSICA CHASTAIN as Samantha in Take Shelter

This film has already been on other rankings (20th Screenplay, 17th Director) and the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain is a double mention in this ranking herself now. And, boy, she’s unbelievable here, going head-to-head against the great Michael Shannon who turns in a beast of a performance himself. The film is all about Shannon and his character’s turmoil and his performance, that’s true, but he needs an actress like Chastain to ground him, to make him better, to feed off of, and she’s all that and more, perfect as the loyal wife watching her husband lose his mind.

7. ELLE FANNING as Alice Dainard in Super 8

If I’m to be perfectly honest, when I made the first draft of this ranking I didn’t include Elle Fanning because she didn’t pop in my mind. And I guess you can say that if a performance isn’t memorable it isn’t all that great, but I’m blaming this on a moment of sheer stupidity from me, because the performance the young Fanning turns in this film is absolutely marvelous. There are some scenes in this film carried by the younger actors that are really emotional and can really get you misty-eyed, and some others that are just ridiculously well acted; just you take a look again at the scene in which Elle Fanning does her audition for the film the boys are shooting and imagine making this ranking without her name on it. Exactly.

6. CAREY MULLIGAN as Irene in Drive

If you’ve been reading thus far, you know what I’m going to say: another film that’s made it into all four of my rankings so far (4th Film, 2nd Director, 16th Screenplay). And if you’re a regular reader of mine you know just how much I love Carey Mulligan, she’s one of my ten favorite actresses right now, and the stuff she does in Drive is just really great. What’s great is that the film is quite quiet, relying a lot on the faces of its actors than on actual dialogue, mostly in the performance by Ryan Gosling, but also in the one by Ms. Mulligan who’s just so, so good at exuding this kind of vulnerability that adds a lot to the Irene character.

5. OCTAVIA SPENCER as Minny Jackson in The Help

Now, the Oscar statuette probably already has Spencer’s name engraved on it; she’s won every award she’s been up for pretty much, and while I wouldn’t choose her as my winner, she really does give a formidable performance as Minny in The Help, a film with two performances in this ranking. What’s so good about her performance here is that she can do all of the dramatic stuff, just really go at it and get to you in a really great way, but at the same time she has this terrific comedic touch that brought a lot to the role and the overall effect of the film.

4. MELISSA McCARTHY as Megan in Bridesmaids

From the film with my 2nd favorite screenplay and 19th favorite direction, comes my fourth favorite supporting actress performance. Melissa McCarthy is an Oscar nominee for a role that demanded her to shit on a sink; oh the times they are a-changin’. No, but seriously, McCarthy is an infinitely likable actress, she won a bloody Emmy for her work in a decidedly mediocre show probably just because she’s do damn likable. And that’s good, because when you put her charms and talents to use on a good material, you get stuff like Megan in Bridesmaids, wanting to apologize for not knowing which end her gasses came out of, asking her real-life husband if he can feel that steam heat. It’s the most raucously hilarious performance of the year, and I really liked that it was honored.

3. SHAILENE WOODLEY as Alexandra King in The Descendants

Much like The Help, The Descendants also has two entries in this ranking for me, and the fact that Shailene Woodley was snubbed from an Oscar nomination is kind of scandalous to me, especially when it went to McTeer whose performance is nowhere near as good. She plays Alexandra, the daughter of George Clooney’s Matt King, who’s mother just got into a coma, and this is just a seriously stunning breakthrough performance from her, a wonderful performance in which she really does go toe-to-toe with George Clooney in the scenes they share together. She’s the same age as me and I’m just in awe of the fireworks that went off on screen with the brilliance of her performance.

2. JESSICA CHASTAIN as Mrs. O’Brien in The Tree of Life

Yes, that’s three appearances from Jessica Chastain in this ranking, this time for The Tree of Life (which I ranked as my 6th Film, 3rd Director and 19th Screenplay), and if justice was exacted, this would have been the role that had gotten her the Oscar nomination and not the one in The Help. That way, I think she might have actually had a shot to win, especially considering how much the Academy apparently loved the Terrence Malick film, and since she wouldn’t have to lose votes to her cast-mate Spencer. But anyways, this is the definitive Jessica Chastain role in a year that saw her give a number of great ones, she brings such emotion to the role that it really helped this film be as affecting as it ultimately was.

1. CAREY MULLIGAN as Sissy Sullivan in Shame

That’s right, another appearance by my adored Carey Mulligan, this time atop of the rankings, for a performance that was inexcusably snubbed by the Academy. Shame has appeared a lot in my rankings so far (2nd Film, 4th Director, 14th Screenplay) and now here, as Ms. Mulligan plays Sissy, the needy sister of Michael Fassbender’s Brandon, with whom its hinted at that she shares this dark and complex connection with from years past, a true damaged soul. Like I said talking about her role in Drive above, Ms. Mulligan is infinitely good at showing vulnerability, and how she exposes her emotions at such a raw level is just impeccable in this film, just showing a relentless need to feel rescued, to have some sort of intimacy with someone.

Those are my Top 20 performances by actresses in a supporting roles. You may realize that only 4 of the Oscar nominees are in this ranking, and that’s not because I didn’t like Bérénice Bejo’s performance in The Artist, because I did, but rather because I think of that performance as a leading one, so look for her in a coming ranking. Were I to ran the Oscars, only McCarthy, Chastain and Spencer would remain nominees, and Chastain would be one for an entirely different film.

Shame

23 Dec

Title: Shame
Year: 2011
Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, Nicole Beharie, James Badge Dale, Hannah Ware, Elizabeth Masucci
MPAA Rating: NC-17, some explicit sexual content
Runtime: 101 min
IMDb Rating: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Metacritic: 72

With Shame, I’ve now watched five great films in a row. Five films that I’ve graded either an A-, A or A+. Five films that show why 2011 is really being a terrific year for movies, no matter what some people may say, and why this last part of the year is really awesome as far as how it delivers high-quality entertainment. In the two years that I’ve been reviewing films so far I’ve never watched five great films in a row. And, what’s more, Shame not only is the fifth great film I’ve seen in a row, it’s also the best film I have seen all year, out of the 212 releases from 2011 I have seen to date, this is the very best I’ve seen.

This film is unlike anything I have ever seen, a intensely powerful effort from Steve McQueen, the guy who with his film Hunger in 2008 introduced the world (or at least the few who saw it) to Michael Fassbender. Of course Mr. Fassbender has been around a lot this year, in Jane Eyre (which I gave an A to), A Dangerous Method (an A-) and X-Men: First Class (which I missed upon its release but plan on catching up with soon), and he’s bound to become a true superstar sooner rather than later, but it’s in Shame that the guy really shows why he’s probably one of my five favorite actors working today. This is a performance for the ages; an Oscar should be in order but the Academy won’t go there so I’ll make do with a nomination for him, anything less would be insulting. Not to mention that alongside him, propelling his performance to further greatness with a spectacular awards-worthy performance of her own, is Carey Mulligan, my biggest crush and one of the very best young actresses around. With a cast like this it’s no wonder Shame is the most perfect film of the year, a harrowing look at sex addiction.

I said that the Academy won’t dare to actually give Michael Fassbender the Best Actor Oscar he deserves for this film (someday, though, someday), and that’s because this is an NC-17 film. The kiss of death for most films, a rating that usually means most theaters won’t show this film, that people will look at it with some kind of taboo, thinking something must be wrong for that rating to have been awarded. Thankfully, Fox Searchlight, at the insistence of Mr. McQueen, did nothing to alter their film in order to get an R rating, instead wearing the NC-17 as a badge of honor. That people are saying Shame is a bad film because of how graphic it is in its portrayal of the hell Brandon, the protagonist Mr. Fassbender plays, is going through as he can’t seem to have any sort of grasp whatsoever on his sexuality, is truly something I can’t really understand.

People are dismissing this film, some critics aren’t getting it, the New Yorker critics gave it bad reviews, and I’m sorry to say so but that’s just dumb. I usually don’t care what people say about films, I respect every opinion and there are more than a few critics I read regularly, perhaps with even more interest when my opinion differs from theirs, not to mention that there’s a reason why they’re the ones that are hired to write reviews for a living while I do so just for kicks. But with Shame I actually get a bit defensive, I don’t get why people are dismissing this film, saying that we they don’t really understand Brandon’s plight, saying that the good stuff isn’t shown, and arguing that by that good stuff they mean the internal machinations of Brandon, even though I’m afraid they actually mean there’s no real money shot of good sex on the film. I don’t know why a few critics are having negative reactions to Shame, maybe they haven’t experienced emotions like the ones Brandon experiences and connect to them, and I don’t mean sexually, I mean feeling the shame, that horrible feeling inside in which you feel like you can’t hide from yourself. That’s the real shame.

I know I haven’t said much about the actual film so far, but that’s because I think it’s just as good for me to voice my disbelief about those who can’t get it. People argue that they can’t get why Brandon is the way he is; after all, he’s handsome, has a way with women, is successful and wealthy. And yes, that’s true, but Shame isn’t so much about who Brandon is as it’s about both the guy who he can’t be and the guy who he was and who he has such an incredibly trouble leaving behind. It’s about what happened in his past, the memories that haunt him and that have, through a sexual encounter in his life, left him feeling ashamed of himself, and with a thirst for sex that can never get quenched, a need to be loved. Not the kind of thirst for sex that will give us hot scenes, but scenes that aren’t as pretty to watch, no matter how many gorgeous people are on screen. You have a man and his sister, the character Ms. Mulligan plays, who can only express themselves through sex to try and hide the emptiness of how they can’t connect to anyone, not even to themselves. I think the fact that some people are dismissing Shame as empty and shallow says a lot about them, and I’m damn glad I’m not part of that group.

Anyways, this has been me for the length of a usual review just stating that I don’t understand the negative ones this film has gotten. But that’s just because of how much I love Shame and the need I feel to defend it. Even though that’s something I shouldn’t do, because once you watch Shame you’ll see it says it all by itself and needs no one defending it. This is a beautiful film, a brilliant analysis of the human experience, of the power an addiction can hold over oneself. A film that’s unflinching in its portrayal of sex, and that never once compromises a single frame of its one hundred minutes. Brandon relies on pornography, prostitutes and masturbation in order to achieve this sort of fake intimacy to replace the real one he can’t seem to be able to achieve. You see this man desperately seeking to shed off the emotional damage he was no doubt subjected to in his past, which in turns sees him behaving like any addict would, living for the high risk of his new behavior.

The stuff Michael Fassbender brings to the role is a thing of wonder, a man with many inner demons trying to hide them under his external quest for pure satisfaction. How an actor can be so great at showing a man just spiraling downwards with his addiction is amazing, as you compare the behavior Brandon exhibits with the many women he has no trouble picking up because of his charm and good looks with just how impossible it would be for him to have sex with someone he actually cared about. Like I said, another factor that makes Mr. Fassbender’s performance even greater is the one Carey Mulligan gives, her desperately needy sister, with a really darkly complex connection to her brother which the film hints at but never explains. She’s a damaged soul, and Ms. Mulligan is perfect in showing her emotions at such a raw level, a woman who also wants some sort of false intimacy, not because of a sexual addiction of her own, but because of her need to feel rescued. She’s an impeccable actress, ever since she I saw her on the Blink episode of Doctor Who (my favorite of that show) I was in love with her, and of course it’s with her starmaking role in An Education (my third favorite film of 2009) that she really broke through and has been delivering fully realized performances ever since; she’s another one who’s bound to win an Oscar someday soon.

Shame ultimately is about that hole addictions usually leave you in, empty holes without real satisfaction. And the film doesn’t so much judge Brandon’s addiction as it tries to sympathize with it. And the result is endlessly compelling, a piece of film that’s so incredible, with two performances that are nothing short of perfect and a direction by a guy with a truly spectacular vision who I can’t wait to see more of; his next film, Twelve Years a Slave, due out in 2013, is to be about slavery in the mid-1800’s with Mr. Fassbender reuniting with him again, joined by Brad Pitt and Chiwetel Ejiofor. This McQueen-Fassbender combination may be my favorite modern director-star combo alongside Scorsese-DiCaprio or Refn-Gosling; the actor trusting the director implicitly, delivering a truly courageous performance.

The film won’t be for everyone, that’s true, there are scenes that aren’t all that pleasing to withstand; but the people that like it will really love it. Just please, if you don’t like it, let it be for real reasons and not the dumb ones I’ve spent some time discussing above, this is a film that really deserves to be seen, one that never once compromises and goes for crowd-pleasing moments, and one that contains some of the best minutes of cinema I’ve seen in recent memory, stuff that’s just impeccably done. This is a masterpiece, make no mistake about it, the best amongst the very best in a really great year for film.

Grade: A+

Drive

15 Oct

Title: Drive
Year: 
2011
Directors: 
Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer: Hossein Amini, based on the book by James Sallis
Starring: 
Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks
MPAA Rating: 
R, strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity
Runtime: 
100 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
8.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 
93%

Prior to watching Drive, I had seen two films to which I had given a perfect A+ grade this year out of the 149 releases I have seen so far. One of them is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which I technically just an A grade film but that I bumped up to a perfect score because I’m a huge fanboy of the series and I wanted to give its final epic outing a perfect grade to reflect the tremendous impact it has had on my life. The other I saw even earlier, in early June, and it was The Tree of Life, the polarizing and breathtaking masterpiece from Terrence Malick, a visually stunning film that was gorgeous to look at. I don’t want to get going about my feelings about that film, because those have been explained in the lengthy review I did upon watching it, and because they would need a whole new post. I’m here now to talk about Drive, and I talked about the films I have given a perfect grade to so far this year because Drive is now the third to get one of those, and, moreover, it’s right at the top, this is the best film I have seen so far in 2011, and it’ll take quite a bit to top it.

This is the year of Ryan Gosling, people. I mean, it’s also the year of Jessica Chastain and maybe Brad Pitt, too. But to me, this is the year of Ryan Gosling. This is a guy who has been delivering amazing work throughout his whole career at a seriously consistent pace, and that’s what makes a great actor to me: consistency. And by my money right now the most consistently amazing actors are probably him, Daniel Day-Lewis and Michael Fassbender, and I know how much of weighty statement that is, but just look at the stuff he’s been doing since his breakout role in The Notebook, which even though is Nicholas Sparks adaptation is still one of the best romantic movies of the past decade, he’s given us his Oscar-nominated performance in Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl and, especially, his heartbreaking turn in last year’s Blue Valentine (which I also gave an A+ to and finished as my 4th favorite film of 2010). This is a guy who’s just supremely talented. And this year he’s given a trio of really versatile performances, but this is the first I’m actually getting to see since I missed out on Crazy, Stupid, Love. (though I’ll catch up on it soon) and I’ve still to see the recently-released The Ides of March, but yes, even if he only had done Drive, this would still be the year of Ryan Gosling.

And we got lucky with the casting and directing changes in Drive, since reportedly this would have been a film starring Hugh Jackman instead of Mr. Gosling, and directed by Neil Marshall instead of Nicolas Winding Refn. And boy we really luck out because of it, since not only does Mr. Gosling give this sublime performance, but a lot is also owed to Mr. Refn, a director known for his visual style which he has displayed in his Pusher trilogy, the amazing Bronson and last year’s Valhalla Rising. No disrespect to Mr. Jackman or Mr. Marshall, but if Drive is the masterpiece it is it’s pretty much because of Mr. Gosling and Mr. Refn and the chemistry they struck with one another.

As they did the press rounds to promote this film Mr. Refn and Mr. Gosling told lots of times the story of how they got together to discuss the film before it went into production, and it never gets old to me: Mr. Refn was battling a horrible cold and was high on his medicine and then goes to meet Mr. Gosling to dinner but is so phased out by the drugs he’s taken that he asks the actor whom he just met to please drive him home, on the silent and uncomfortable drive home REO Speedwagon’s ‘I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore’ comes on the radio and they both start singing to it. That was the moment that made them realize they wanted to make a film about a guy who listens to the radio as he drives through Los Angeles during the night, and it was the moment that really made these two guys bond and that begun a friendship that really struck a chord with both of them, as they already have at least 3 upcoming projects lined up in various stages of development.

And if you think Mr. Gosling and Mr. Refn aren’t enough to get you insanely psyched for a movie (though they seriously should be), then just take a peek at that supporting cast. Carey Mulligan is in it, and frequent readers of mine may know just how talented I think she is and how much I adore her, and then there’s Albert Brooks, yes, Albert Brooks, in a role that you wouldn’t think wouldn’t necessarily be suited for him but that he nails to perfection and is already garnering him some Oscar buzz, and they are joined by a trio of stars that you may best know for their work in three of TV’s ten best series: Christina Hendricks (from Mad Men), Ron Perlman (from Sons of Anarchy) and the incomparable Bryan Cranston (from Breaking Bad). That’s a cast that exists, these people actually got together and made a movie, it really shouldn’t be that surprising that Drive was this good.

I have written about as much as I write for a regular review and I realize I haven’t said a single thing about the actual film, so I guess you’ll have to bear with this review going into overtime. But I guess I don’t really know how to put into words all that I felt about this film, it’s quiet in its contemplation of its sublimely-built atmosphere, and it actually takes on a story that we have seen before plenty of times, because it gives us our hero, Driver, who’s actually a good-hearted guy but with this seriously dark side brooding within, and there’s the woman in peril he has to save, and there’s these bad guys that are doing everything they can for the dark side of our her to emerge victorious in the battle for his soul. These are elements we have seen before, and it’s a film that’s influenced by a lot of things we’re familiar with as well, it has a lot of 50’s noir elements, it feels like a thriller from a decade or so after that and it sounds like something straight from the eighties thanks to the score provided by Cliff Martinez, also one of the year’s best. And yet, all of that considered, it’s still an exceptionally unique work.

This is a film in which our hero has no name, he’s only referred to as Driver, and the reason for that becomes increasingly obvious from the very first moment we see him, driving a getaway car in one of the best-staged, most-intense and best-edited car chase scenes I have seen in my life. We learn that he’s a stunt driver by day and a getaway driver by night, and we learn not much else about him after that. He has no name for all we know, no family, and pretty much no emotions, he’s a man that doesn’t say, he just acts. And the way Ryan Gosling plays him is just phenomenal to watch, there are some pauses he takes in this film that seem to last forever, and yet you kind of want them to last longer. Not that this is a film about stares and few words, just wait and see the violence that this film offers, it’s exceedingly gory, and off-putting to some, but to me it never felt like too much, and just the way it’s so stylishly built by Mr. Refn makes it worthwhile.

It’s good that Driver is a guy defined by what he does, a guy that feels deep inside but that doesn’t show it on the outside because the plethora of supporting characters we get here do more than enough talking, and are very clear about what they want and how they’re going to get it, it balances out perfectly. I just love it that in today’s movie world that at times seems so dumbed out, asking for an explanation for everything, there’s still room for a character to exist and rely on a performance that’s deliberate and stoic and intense and that just with those qualities gives us all the background information we could need for a main character. Seriously, I cannot praise this character enough and how perfectly he’s played by Mr. Gosling, it gets to the point that you don’t really care at all about how he got to this lifestyle and you just want to see what’s next for him.

Ms. Mulligan’s character, Irene, is what’s next for him, as she and her son, Benicio, cross paths with Driver, who lives down the hall in their apartment building. Irene’s husband is in prison, we learn, and she strikes up a friendship with Driver, not the sort of friendship that has you thinking sex from the moment they lay eyes on each other, but one that’s rather more innocent and pure, and the first time they go out together (another scene that’s wonderfully soundtracked) you get a look at what lies underneath Driver, you see his grin that shows that he doesn’t have many moments in his life that are as pressure-free as that one, that whole scene is just remarkable. Because if Mr. Gosling is one of the best, if the not the best, young actors in the world today, then Ms. Mulligan is surely one of his female counterparts. As we’ve seen in her masterful turn in An Education and now here, she’s a woman who can exude a vulnerability that’s amazing to watch.

The thing is that soon after, Irene’s husband is release from prison, and it’s not that he’s jealous about Driver, or that he tries to intimidate him, it’s that he sees an opportunity with him, and it’s not long before he pitches him an idea for a heist. That’s what will keep the film going, because you know things will go wrong, and Irene and Benicio will get in trouble, and Driver will then show his loyalties, will finally show some emotion and will try to do every little thing he can to keep them from harms way. It’s really amazing what happens next and how the other characters come into play, whether it’s Shannon, Driver’s boss played by Bryan Cranston who owns a garage shop and wants to start a racing team, or Bernie Rose, the character played to perfection by the amazing Albert Brooks, who embeds in him this whole lot of charisma and empathy even though you know his character means no good.

After all of it is set up, you just have to sit back and leave the driving to Mr. Refn, who’s a master at getting reactions from his audience because he knows how to get them and he know exactly the kind of reactions he wants, even if people may get shocked at the violence in here. Even the sound here is awesome, not only the aforementioned electronic score by Mr. Martinez, but just how every gunshot sounds, it’s awesome, and that many parts of it are edited to the musical cues just gives this one a sensational sense of rhythm. And if you think this film is over-stylized, you and I have to do some talking, because it may be stylized like crazy, but not to point in which it’s too much and it takes away from it, if anything those nifty little angles and slow-motion shots Mr. Refn employs add to the experience like crazy because this is a director that doesn’t employ of all these techniques for the sake of employing them, but that knows how they’ll come together in the end product.

If you can, go see Drive right now, it’s the best film I have seen all year, it has Mr. Refn fully taking advantage of his Hollywood coming-out film, because as much as this is still an arthouse kind of flick and has all of this stylized auteur flourishes the guy is known for, it’s still hugely entertaining and, unless you have a problem with too much blood, you’ll get a great kick out of it. And the whole cast is just sheer perfection, embracing their roles and playing with their characters, and the stunts all look terrific and the music and, damn, just everything about this film is unbelievably good. And chief among the things that are good about this film is Ryan Gosling, again, this is his year, this is an actor that can just find the best roles out there and make of them what he wants to and have us believing him every step of the way. You can’t really ask much more than that.

Grade: A+

OscarWatch: Best Picture

24 Jan

Since the Academy Award nominations will be announced bright and early Tuesday morning (!) I thought I’d do seven OscarWatch posts for the main races: Screenplay (encompassing both Original and Adapted), Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Director and Picture.

In them I’ll detail my thoughts on the given race and how I think things are starting to shape up considering we have now seen most of the precursor awards and count with BAFTA and SAG nominations. I’ll give my personal Top 20, with a brief paragraph on each, for any given race and detail which I think will be the nominees for the Oscars come Tuesday. And in the very final pre-nominations OscarWatch post we’ll of course tackle…

Best Picture

I’ll give my Top 20 picks for the best films in all of 2010, my brief thoughts on each and then I’ll say how I think the Oscar nominations for the category will look once they’re announced on Tuesday.

As for the state of the race, well, it’s a two-way race here. The precursors gave huge momentum to The Social Network, as did its win and mini-sweep at the Globes last week. However, yesterday The King’s Speech won the Producers Guild Award, and considering it will most certainly win the BAFTA, and will have a very decent shot at the Best Ensemble SAG award this really is a two-horse race, and a very very entertaining one at that.

Personal Top 20

  1. Black Swan – My favorite film of the year by heaps and bounds, a true masterpiece, directed by one of Hollywood’s most ambitious and perfectionists minds, featuring a handful of exceptional performances and just nailing every single frame.This is intense and passionate filmamaking at its very best, and were it up to me it would win absolutely everything.
  2. The Social Network – This is being heralded as the film of a generation. And as huge a statement as that may seem, it’s really kinda sorta on the money. A film about the phenomenon that’s consuming huge amounts of time of our lives, directed to perfection by a guy who can’t seem to do a bad thing and who started directing music videos, bolstering sensational performances by a cast full of up and coming actors, and with a script full of words and witty remarks. This really is the film of a generation.
  3. Inception This was the popcorn film that was actually stimulating, the smartest film of the year directed by the visionary we have all embraced like crazy into our lives. This was the one everyone talked about even months after its release, the one that when released on home video showed us just how awesome a blu-ray can really be, the one that had some seriously amazing performances and a very emotional story in the midst of all its visual spectacle. True innovative filmmaking.
  4. Blue Valentine The rawest, most emotional film experience I had in all last year. Bolstered by two pitch-perfect performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, this film showed how quick love can start, and how quick it can all end. It’s portrayal of a crumbling marriage is a very powerful thing to watch, the actors putting everything on the line, masterful stuff all around.
  5. The Kids Are All Right – This one has superb performances around the board, and tells a very contemporary story about family which we can all relate to in one way or another. Beautifully written, directed and acted, The Kids Are All Right was one of the best films of year just because of that, but it became even better when you realized just how much the writers knew their wine.
  6. Somewhere – Sofia Coppola’s back at it again, coming back to the stuff she’s comfortable with, and directing a quiet and gorgeous film. One which takes quite a bit from her own experiences as the daughter of a big star, and has her exploring celebrity like few directors can.
  7. Never Let Me Go – And I’ll say it one final time in these OscarWatch posts, this was, to me, the most underappreciated film of 2010 by a fair amount. Capturing the style and essence of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel it was based on was going to be a tough task for anyone to accomplish, and yet Mark Romanek did so splendidly, directing Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley to beautiful performances.
  8. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – A truly original film, one that captures to perfection the style and flair of the graphic novels I love so much and that found in Edgar Wright the perfect director to convey the precious little life of Scott Pilgrim, and in Michael Cera the perfect guy to bring the character to life. This one goes by really fast, with its stunning visuals and cool one-liners, and every last second of it is pure bliss.
  9. Toy Story 3 There hasn’t been an official confirmation that this will be the last Toy Story film. But if it is, it’s probably the most graceful conclusion to any trilogy ever, coming full circle, full of memorable moments, of huge laughs, of meaningful tears. A beautiful film that ranks amongst Pixar’s best.
  10. 127 Hours A really powerful film, this one is. James Franco delivering the best performance of his career for director Danny Boyle, who entrusted him with portraying Aron Ralston, the real life man who was trapped when a boulder crashed his arm in a Utah canyon. The result is really breathtaking, with a stunning performance by Mr. Franco, sharp directing and writing by Mr. Boyle and some really gorgeous cinematography.
  11. True Grit – The Coen brothers are at it again with True Grit, continuing the ridiculous string of stunning films. They also have a wonderful cast full of amazing veterans in Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin and found in Hailee Steinfeld one of 2010’s coolest new stars, who clearly has a very bright future in front of her. If you liked Intolerable Cruelty, and manage to ignore that underwhelming The Ladykillers then you just might say the have a perfect body of work.
  12. Winter’s Bone – Debra Granik creates a very bleak and somber atmosphere for her film about the Ozarks, and found in Jennifer Lawrence the perfect actress to bring Ree to life, and carry and bring a speck of hope to the film. This is a real starmaking turn from her, and what lies in her future is just amazing to think about.
  13. The Town – The film that proved to us that Ben Affleck really is a fantastic director. A film that was extremely entertaining and full of spot-on performances by a cast that included Mr. Affleck himself, as well as Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Pete Postlethwaite, Blake Lively and Chris Cooper.
  14. The King’s Speech – If you exclude Black Swan this is the best-acted film of all 2010, the sort of thing you can write “Oscar bait” on, everyone delivering some truly masterful performances, directed by Tom Hooper from a fantastic script. If Black Swan was a very polarizing film, this is one I cannot see anyone not really falling in love with, if anything just because of how amazing Colin Firth is in it.
  15. The Fighter – Yes, this is another rather predictable boxing film, but the real-life story and people in it make it a very very compelling family tale. This is not a boxing film with a human story in it, but a human story with boxing in it. The performances here are just amazing, with Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg all doing wonders with their characters.
  16. Let Me In – The fact that this film ended up being nearly as perfect as the original Swedish one is the biggest compliment one could give it. This is the perfect definition of a good remake, one that never once tries to lose the essence of the original, but that adds enough spice of its own to separate itself from it in order to be judged on its own.
  17. Greenberg – Noah Baumbach yet again delivers a darkly comic script and amazing directing chops to a small little film that deals with the intricacies of an offbeat character. That character is played by Ben Stiller in what might be the performance of his career, a nuanced portrayal that was perfect in all the best ways. Not to mention that it was also the film that introduced us to Greta Gerwig, and she’s all sorts of lovely.
  18. Kick-Ass – A very fun film to watch, one that honors its graphic novel roots, isn’t afraid to show a cursing thirteen-year-old or hugely graphic and gnarly violence. This really is a treat for the eyes, one that has Nicolas Cage in full-on spectacle mode being awesome, and in Chloë Moretz one of the best finds of the year.
  19. Animal Kingdom – The stunning portrayal of the Australian criminal underground world. The performances here are just stunning to watch develop, the script is really clever and the film is just intensely plotted and structured to deliver a really thrilling ride.
  20. Biutiful – This is a very powerful film, one that’s many times hard to watch, but one that’s extremely rewarding to watch as well. Bursting to life by a beautifully raw performance by Javier Bardem and confident filmmaking by Alejandro González Iñárritu, it’s strong stuff, but compelling, too, and one that will have you leaving the theater and really thinking deep about what you just saw.

How I Think the Oscar Nominations Will Look Like (in alphabetical order)

  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • Inception
  • The Fighter
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Social Network
  • The Town
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit

The Town and 127 Hours are the wildcards for me here. The other 8 I think are guaranteed to score an invite to the big race. I named both The Town and 127 Hours as hypothetical candidates, but I could actually see either one of them being bumped off the shortlist in favor of Winter’s Bone, we shall wait and see what happens Tuesday morning.

OscarWatch: Best Lead Actress

24 Jan

Since the Academy Award nominations will be announced bright and early Tuesday morning (!) I thought I’d do seven OscarWatch posts for the main races: Screenplay (encompassing both Original and Adapted), Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Director and Picture.

In them I’ll detail my thoughts on the given race and how I think things are starting to shape up considering we have now seen most of the precursor awards and count with BAFTA and SAG nominations. I’ll give my personal Top 20, with a brief paragraph on each, for any given race and detail which I think will be the nominees for the Oscars come Tuesday. In this post I’ll tackle…

Best Lead Actress

I’ll give my Top 20 performances given by actresses in a leading role in 2010, my brief thoughts on each and then I’ll say how I think the Oscar nominations for the category will look once they’re announced on Tuesday.

As for the state of the race itself, I’d very much like to call it a lock and say Natalie Portman will no doubt win this one. However, I don’t think we should count Annette Bening out just yet. I mean, I’d call it an 85% certainty that Ms. Portman will win this one, but Ms. Bening has already lost twice in this race (and I’m guessing that on both occasions she came in second in voting) so she’s due, and actors and audiences both love her, so an upset may occur.

Personal Top 20

  1. Natalie Portman (for Black Swan) – My favorite film of the year, my favorite performance of the year. I would love to see Annette Bening win because I thought she was robbed that first time she lost, but considering this performance by Ms. Portman then I’ll be sorry to tell her she should brace herself for a third loss.
  2. Michelle Williams (for Blue Valentine) – Michelle Williams I think I’ve never seen do a single bad thing. And she, alongside Ryan Gosling (who I ranked 3rd in my Best Lead Actor rankings), is just dynamite here. Providing a brutally honest and painful look at a very troubled marriage.
  3. Annette Bening (for The Kids Are All Right) – She’s undeniably great here, and she’s an awesome woman. The dinner scene at Paul’s house, from her singing that Joni Mitchell song, to finding out about her wife’s cheating and the expressions in her face, that’s all unbelievable acting from a woman who’s incredibly good at picking the right projects and is one of the best in the business.
  4. Jennifer Lawrence (for Winter’s Bone) – One of the breakout stars of 2010, she carries her little film to absolute greatness with a remarkably grounded performance which gives a speck of hope to a horribly bleak film.
  5. Nicole Kidman (for Rabbit Hole) – Nicole Kidman hasn’t been this good since The Hours. This was her passion project, she helped produce it and she stars in it, giving a gut-wrenching performance as a mourning mother.
  6. Julianne Moore (for The Kids Are All Right) – She goes head to head against Annette Bening in here, as her character goes through an emotional rollercoaster which she conveys to perfection.
  7. Carey Mulligan (for Never Let Me Go) – And I’ll say it one more time, Never Let Me Go, my official selection for the most underrated film of 2010. Carey Mulligan comes off her stellar star-making performance in last year’s An Education to star in this one, and she’s just amazing in it too.
  8. Lesley Manville (for Another Year) – Mike Leigh’s films are always an actor’s dream if the actor is willing to shed off any sort of vanity they may have and just lay it all on the line for the amazing director. Lesley Manville does just that, and the performance we end up seeing is a thing of beauty.
  9. Tilda Swinton (for Io Sono l’Amore) – I’m a big fan of Tilda Swinton, who already has an Oscar, and the work she did in this gorgeous Italian film is amazing, I seriously doubt a nomination will happen, but, much like Javier Bardem’s in the Best Lead Actor race, it would be kinda nice to see a foreign language performance get an acting nod.
  10. Noomi Rapace (for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – She’s generating some very nice buzz for her role in this one, the first entry in the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novels, and it’s all well deserved. She has a toughness that’s just brilliant to watch develop.
  11. Anne Hathaway (for Love and Other Drugs) – This film is one I thought was severely underrated, and Anne Hathaway’s performance was truly amazing here. She won’t get nominated, but this only builds up her string of amazing acting in very solid films, and I can’t help but think she’ll get one of those golden men in the future.
  12. Kirsten Dunst (for All Good Things) – Consider this mention my official “welcome back” card for Ms. Dunst. We hadn’t seen her in anything for quite some time, so just the sight of her was something I cherished, the fact that she went on and delivered a very good performance was just additional icing on an already very sweet cake.
  13. Sally Hawkins (for Made in Dagenham) – Though this wasn’t as amazing as her performance in Happy-Go-Lucky (which the Academy failed to recognize) it was still buzzing with the charismatic energy Sally Hawkins has, and the film is a lighter than most Academy baits so it has that fresh appeal going for it.
  14. Annette Bening (for Mother and Child) – A double-honoree in my rankings here, this was a film I thought was seen by too few people and was also full of impeccable performances. Ms. Bening’s was the finest of the bunch, as is usually the case.
  15. Naomi Watts (for Fair Game) – To go toe to toe with Sean Penn, and actually manage to out-do him is something very few actors can accomplish. Naomi Watts does just that in Fair Game, a film in which she gets to play Valerie Plame and does some incredible things with the role.
  16. Diane Lane (for Secretariat) – This film was supposed to be much more an awards bait than it eventually turned out to be. But I still thought it was a very very good inspirational film, anchored by a very nice performance by Ms. Lane.
  17. Chloë Moretz (for Let Me In) – 2010 was also the year in which we discovered Chloë Moretz, first in Kick-Ass and then in Let Me In. The latter was the one in which she delivered her better performance, and, even though the film was well-received, very few people actually saw it. If you haven’t done so, please watch it, it’s nearly as perfect as the original Swedish film on which it’s based, and has Ms. Moretz bringing her A-game.
  18. Kristen Stewart (for Welcome to the Rileys) – You just have to watch Ms. Stewart’s non-Twilight roles to really see how great an actress she actually is. Yes, her style of acting may be the same in all her films, kind of fidgety and quiet, but that gives each of her characters something rather unique. In Welcome to the Rileys she plays a troubled girl to tremendous results, going head to head with James Gandolfini in some really tough scenes.
  19. Gwyneth Paltrow (for Country Strong) – The film eventually wasn’t as amazing as it first seemed it would be. But Gwyneth Paltrow was still amazing in it. I’ve heard a lot of people say she’s way overrated, but I disagree, I think she’s pretty damn awesome in everything she tackles.
  20. Amanda Seyfried (for Chloe) – As always, the final spot of my Top 20 goes to a sentimental favorite of mine. Here it’s Amanda Seyfried, who does wonders with the titular role in Chloe, having some electrifying scenes alongside Julianne Moore.

How I Think the Oscar Nominations Will Look Like (in alphabetical order)

  • Annette Bening (for The Kids Are All Right)
  • Nicole Kidman (for Rabbit Hole)
  • Jennifer Lawrence (for Winter’s Bone)
  • Natalie Portman (for Black Swan)
  • Michelle Williams (for Blue Valentine)

First time in my OscarWatch for the acting races that the five nominations I imagine the Academy will name matches five-for-five with my five favorite performances of the year. Natalie Portman and Annette Bening are the mortal locks, with the award itself being a fight between the two of them, a fight in which Ms. Portman currently has the edge. Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Lawrence also look like very strong bets. As for that fifth slot, there’s a few ways in which that one could go, Michelle Williams I think will make the cut, and if she doesn’t I’d say it won’t happen because the voters will have put Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit as Lead instead of Supporting and she ended up bumping Ms. Williams off the shortlist.