Tag Archives: David Fincher

[Review] – Side By Side

12 Sep

Title: Side By Side
Year: 2012
Director: Christopher Kenneally
Writer: Christopher Kenneally
Starring: Keanu Reeves, James Cameron, David Fincher, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Robert Rodriguez, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 99 min
IMDb Rating: 8.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Metacritic: 84

For a while now I’ve been hearing just the best of stuff from people who have seen Side By Side. That only made me want to see it more, since this already seemed like the sort of film I would be so deeply in love with. It’s a documentary for film geeks, basically, but also for anyone else who wants to get into one of the most heated debates in the industry nowadays: film vs. digital. It’s about the history, the process, the feel and differences that come between working with digital film and the good ol’ photochemical stuff.

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[Review] – Silent House

3 Apr

Title: Silent House
Year: 2012
Directors: Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Writer: Laura Lau, based on the original screenplay for 2010’s The Silent House by Oscar Estévez
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens
MPAA Rating: R, disturbing violent content and terror
Runtime: 85 min
IMDb Rating: 5.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 44%
Metacritic: 48

Elizabeth Olsen broke out big last year, with a seriously mesmerizing performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, which I ranked as my second favorite performance by an actress in a leading role of 2011. She’s destined for great things, you just know that from watching that performance, but before we get a look at Ms. Olsen (insert here the obligatory mention that she’s the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) in the roles her breakthrough performance brought her, we get to watch her in a film she took on before she got all the great notices. And that film is Silent House, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau‘s remake of the 2010 Uruguayan film The Silent House.

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Best of 2011: 20 Directors

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 third entry in the series of posts we have my Top 20 Directors of 2011:

20. BRAD BIRD for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

I know this is kind of a weird pick, but, for one, I really loved the latest Mission: Impossible film (it would have been the 21st pick had my Top 20 been expanded), and, secondly, I think a lot of that has to do with how Brad Bird directed it. The fact that this was his first foray into live-action, after winning two Oscar’s for The Incredibles and Ratatouille, shows the man really has the goods, and here he delivers a tremendously fast-paced action flick that’s just full of huge set pieces that are jaw-dropping and it all has just so much style. It’s all done with an action-y kind of grace, with awesome scenes that are impeccably choreographed and a great sense of humor.

19. PAUL FEIG for Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids celebrates women in comedy, written by two extremely funny gals and acted out by an ensemble full of other ones, and it was a hugely refreshing and hilarious film to watch when it came out. But, for all the female talent it has, there are two key male players off-camera that also helped make it the $290 million-grossing film it is. One of them is producer Judd Apatow, but the other is Paul Feig, the creator of Freaks and Geeks and a comedic genius on his own right. This is comedy done to perfection, equal parts raunchy and witty, and with a helluva lot of heart in it, too. After naming it my second favorite screenplay of the year this is now my second ranking in which Bridesmaids appears.

18. DRAKE DOREMUS for Like Crazy

I named this film the eleventh best of all 2011, and its director gets a shout-out in this ranking too. And he has to be here because Like Crazy is all about very raw emotions being on display all the time, and it all starts with Doremus, who based it a lot on his own real-life experience and who gave his actors, Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin, just a very specific outlines and terrific direction and allowed them to improvise the drama unfolding. It takes a great director to have accomplished the kind of improvisation seen on screen in this film, as natural as it all feels you just know there was a lot of care and loving that went into it. He knows how to keep still and do a lot with silence, and he knows how to guide his actors; truly a talent to watch out for.

17. JEFF NICHOLS for Take Shelter

After appearing on the final spot on my Top 20 Screenplays, Jeff Nichols also appears here for his directing duties on his spellbinding film. It’s just a wonderfully subtle piece of work by him, really knowing how to create this outstanding sense of unease to go along with the mesmerizingly great domestic drama of it all. I just loved his work in this film, how he manages to make it just creep under your skin, making you feel uncomfortable and building a sense of horror while creating a really rich psychological examination of a contemporary American family.

16. ASGHAR FARHADI for A Separation

#15 on my Best Films ranking and #17 on my Best Screenplays one, Asghar Farhadi’s phenomenal film makes yet another appearance in this one. The direction is just so neat, and right after the opening scene Farhadi starts to shape his film tremendously, showing us the heart of the modern Iranian state while also commenting on the more universal themes this film touches upon, like marriage, parenthood, class and just an overall amazing portrayal of life. The ethical and moral questions this film raises are so deftly handled by Farhadi, it’s amazing.

15. JASON REITMAN for Young Adult

#12 on my Best Films ranking and #3 on the Best Screenplays one. Another film that’s now been in all three of my rankings thus far, and I’ve always really loved what Jason Reitman does in his films, and with Juno, Up in the Air and now this one he has a streak of three perfect films going on, and is quickly becoming one of the most important American directors around. It’s kind of a more snarky and sour film than what we’re used to getting from him, and he just knows how to execute that tone perfectly, and even though the portrayal Charlize Theron gives of Mavis Gary and the depiction of her from Diablo Cody’s screenplay don’t make her out as a likable character, he gets us to laugh at her and, maybe, even if it’s just a little bit, actually sympathize.

14. SEAN DURKIN for Martha Marcy May Marlene

Another film on all three of my rankings so far, coming in at #1o on the Best Films list and #13 on the Best Screenplays one. This is actually Sean Durkin’s debut feature, and it’s a thoroughly impressive one, just how he employs the various techniques to shine a light on the state of his lead character is fantastic, using really awesomely the time-shifting narrative, going back and forth from the chronological beginning of the story to the end, he uses that to create a sense of confusion and to make us join into her paranoia and understand how the realities are just as mixed up in her mind. Just a seriously terrific debut from a guy I can’t wait to see more of.

13. GEORGE CLOONEY for The Ides of March

#18 on both my Best Films and Best Screenplays rankings, The Ides of March gets a higher slot here because of how great I thought the direction by George Clooney, who also co-stars in it, was. You just get the sense that the man, while being a terrific actor, also has the makings of a great director, clearly having picked up some stuff after working under the direction of the Coen brothers, Steven Soderbergh and Jason Reitman. Here he shows he’s good at telling stories of smart men in complicated situations, and he creates just a great atmosphere and a wonderful sense of intrigue, as well as a kind of old-school pacing from political films of the 70’s.

12. LARS VON TRIER for Melancholia

My 16th favorite film of the year gets a nod to its crazy director, the one that got a lifetime ban from the Cannes film festival after some comments he made after the premiere of Melancholia. As always he brings forth a really unique vision to this apocalyptic story, but seeing the end of the world not in some grand way but in a smaller scope, in a very intimate way that allowed him to get a career-best performance from Kirsten Dunst, who just shines in this film, as well as create some really striking imagery to go along with the literal end of the world as well as for the inner crumbling down of the world that the depressed character Ms. Dunst plays is going through.

11. LYNNE RAMSAY for We Need to Talk About Kevin

Lynne Ramsay is one of the most talented female filmmakers around, and after a nine year absence (since 2002’s great Morvern Callar), she was back at it again with this film, teaming up with the great Tilda Swinton, an actress who delivers an amazing performance and in which she can rely to let tell the story and just take a more backed off kind of approach. How she employs the flashbacks to shine a light on the life of Eva before and after the school shooting committed by her own son is terrific, and how she never takes the easy way out of making Eva a pitiable character is terrific, trusting her actors to do all the heavy-lifting to make the story function, which the really succeed at under her confident direction.

10. TOMAS ALFREDSON for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Another film that’s been on all three of my rankings thus far, and in the Top 10 of all of them (#9 film, #8 screenplay, now this), and I guess I’ll say it again for this ranking: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is probably the smartest film to have come out in 2011. And kudos must be given to Tomas Alfredson who after delivering the sublime Let The Right One In in 2008 now made the leap to English language films with this one. And boy did he succeed tremendously, masterfully crafting a film that never once underestimates its audience, giving us an intricately-plotted film and never once dumbing it down, trusting that we’re smart enough to follow them through the puzzles of the espionage world he and his cast and crew so expertly craft.

9. BENNETT MILLER for Moneyball

Another film that’s been in the Top 10 of all my rankings so far (#7 film, #4 screenplay, now this). The fact that Bennett Miller has only made two feature films is actually quite stunning when you consider the two have been Capote and now this one. He really does bring a lot to the table in this film, a film that was based on a book about baseball statistics, but that thanks to the wonderful script, amazing performances, mainly from Brad Pitt, and the skillful Mr. Miller who made this film not about the numbers but about the people crunching them, and the relationships between them which really made this film as perfect as it ultimately was.

8. WOODY ALLEN for Midnight in Paris

My fourteenth favorite film and my very favorite screenplay of the year; all of that because of Woody. I’m an unapologetic Woody Allen fan, even his lesser works do it for me, the guy just seemingly having a direct line to my sensibilities and to my funny bone. Midnight in Paris, of course, is Woody going back to doing to what he does best and to what he’s actually the best at doing in the world; this film is just so beautifully embedded in a lot of nostalgia, and is so funny and charming, and everything else that a Woody Allen film should be. The opening scene of this one is as much an homage to Paris as the opening of Manhattan was to the place where he made his best work. He’s just sheer genius.

7. MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS for The Artist

The presumed front-runner for the Oscar. And while that award should certainly go to Martin Scorsese, I guess the frenchman would also be a worthy winner. Creating a silent, black-and-white film that has captivated every person that’s watched it (and that I ranked as the #8 film and #12 screenplay). It works as an homage of the highest class to the Golden Era of Hollywood, recreating the charm of the films of the time, showing that he as a director is skillful and knowledgeable about his art to make a film like this, knowing how to thrill and move his audience and make one of the most entertaining films of the year out of a silent film.

6. ALEXANDER PAYNE for The Descendants

One of the greatest living American directors, as well as the man responsible for the screenplay of the film (which I ranked #7 in that ranking) and the film itself being my fifth favorite of the year. Here again he captures the essence of life every so masterfully, giving us his very unique human mix of emotions that take you by surprise; sometimes having you laugh at what’s happening on screen, sometimes having you cry. The balance between tragic and funny on display in The Descendants is one that only a man like Alexander Payne could have achieved, and the moments of emotional sincerity on display in this film, most of them acted out by George Clooney in a career-best performance, are a thing of beauty.

5. DAVID FINCHER for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher is probably one of my five favorite living directors, after delivering my second favorite directing effort of 2010 with the masterpiece that was The Social Network he’s at it again only a year later with my third favorite film of 2011 (and the one that had my 15th favorite screenplay of the year). Creating a two-and-a-half-hour film that’s unapologetically brutal and ever so captivating, getting an iconic performance from Rooney Mara that will grab you by the throat and never let you go. Every single frame of this film, from that insanely awesome opening sequence onwards, is sheer perfection, he’s known for asking up to a hundred takes of any one scene, but at least he has stuff to back that crazy request with when the results are going to be as masterful as they are here.

4. STEVE McQUEEN for Shame

My second favorite film of the year, and the one with my fourteenth favorite screenplay. Steve McQueen is proving to be a director with a truly unique voice. He’s such an intense kind of director, ready to deliver some truly outstanding and powerful films that will certainly leave their mark on you once you see them. Shame won’t be for everyone, I know that, but to me it was just spectacular to see how a director so vividly portrayed a state of addiction and an inner life that’s a living hell through his lead character, Brandon, that’s so masterfully acted by Michael Fassbender, who was also McQueen’s lead in Hunger, proving that theirs is one of the most exciting actor-director tandems in film right now.

3. TERRENCE MALICK for The Tree of Life

I ranked the film as the sixth best of the year, and the screenplay as the nineteenth best, but Terrence Malick as a director gets a higher positioning because this film proves why he’s such an exceptional auteur, and why his long, tedious and picky process of creation really does pay off. The Tree of Life is a true cinematic achievement in every sense of the word, even if you think some scenes are too long and how it sometimes didn’t feel all that cohesive a film you have to acknowledge that, you have to acknowledge the man made a tremendously special film that, even if the emotional and spiritual parts of it didn’t ring true to you, is still an undeniable visual feast.

2. NICOLAS WINDING REFN for Drive

#4 film, #16 screenplay, and now #2 director. Nicolas Winding Refn is a man with such a unique and incredibly awesome visual style that Drive is just a masterpiece pretty much solely because of that, and if the aforementioned director-actor tandem of McQueen-Fassbender is one that really gets me excited, so too is the one of Refn-Gosling, since the two really seem to have a lot of chemistry and trust in each other in this one. How he uses violence is just outstanding, maybe it’s too extreme for some, but it was just right for me, and as shocking as it may be, it’s not gratuitous, but used by the director to elicit reactions from his audience, and that, alongside some of the other heavily-stylized techniques he employs, are used to really add a lot to the end product.

1. MARTIN SCORSESE for Hugo

Of course Martin Scorsese was going to top this ranking for me; Hugo I have already named as the best film of 2011, and the screenplay for it I ranked eleventh in those rankings. Considering he’s my favorite director all-time, this was a no-brainer. Also considering he crafted another masterpiece, but this time did so straying far away from his comfort zone, making a film aimed at kids, in 3D no less. But this is also probably the most personal film the legend has ever made, one he did so that his young daughter Francesca could finally see a film of his, one that he did as a beautiful love letter to the art of cinema himself, one that he’s incredibly passionate about and does so much to preserve. A clear #1 for me. All 5 of the Oscar nominees are in my Top 10, but if I ran the Oscars, only two of them, Scorsese and Malick, would have actually gotten a nominated, here’s hoping Scorsese can pull of the win against Hazanavicius.

Predicting the Oscar Nominations

24 Jan

I still have a handful of 2011 releases to catch up with (namely: Submarine, Daydream Nation, Kaboom, Crazy Stupid Love, Arthur Christmas and Hugo) and while I wanted to make my Oscar nominations predictions post having seen all of them (especially Hugo since its poised to be a major Oscar player) the nominations come out tomorrow so I’ll have to post them now. Below is how I think the categories announced tomorrow morning will shape up (in order of likelihood of having their names called out), with a brief paragraph following them stating how I think that race is shaping up. Please let it be known that this not my personal preference of films, performances or technical achievements, just how I think the Academy will cast their votes (which, as we know, is something they get wrong probably more than they do right), and my personal Best of 2011 posts will come as soon as I watch those six 2011 releases I’m still waiting to catch up with. This will probabyl be a really long post but, without further ado, here are my predictions of tomorrow’s Oscar nominations:

BEST PICTURE

  1. The Artist
  2. The Descendants
  3. Hugo
  4. Midnight in Paris
  5. The Help
  6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  7. Moneyball
  8. War Horse

The first 5 films are absolute locks, and the actual trophy will be fought over by the handful of them alone. It’s beyond that that it gets tricky, since under the new Oscar rules anywhere from 5 to 10 Best Picture nominees can arise, depending on the percentage of the votes they get on the nomination ballots. The contenders for those potential five other slots are known, but how many slots there will actually be is too tough to call. I’m predicting an extra three slots, though maybe War Horse will fall off and there will be only 7 nominees, or maybe the eighth slot will go to The Tree of Life or Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, or a fun pick like Bridesmaids or an edgy one like Drive. Who knows.

BEST DIRECTOR

  1. Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
  2. Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
  3. Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
  4. Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
  5. David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

The first three names are all locks, and I’m guessing so is Woody. The fifth slot is trickier, I’m going with Fincher because I love him and I think he should be there, but don’t be surprised if the name called out is Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Tate Taylor (The Help) or Steven Spielberg (War Horse)

BEST ACTOR

  1. George Clooney (The Descendants)
  2. Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
  3. Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
  4. Michael Fassbender (Shame)
  5. Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

The first four slots, I think, are pretty much locked. The fifth one is a bit tricker, with Oldman and DiCaprio (for J. Edgar) battling it out, and even Demián Bichir (for A Better Life) and Michael Shannon (for Take Shelter) trying to get in there. I’m predicting Oldman because his is the better performance, the better film, and he’s incredibly overdue.

BEST ACTRESS

  1. Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
  2. Viola Davis (The Help)
  3. Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)
  4. Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
  5. Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

The first three are absolute locks, and the general consensus is that the final two slots will go to Swinton and Glenn Close (for Albert Nobbs). I’m guessing one of them will be snubbed, probably Close, and Mara will get in and be the fresh face in the competition (though don’t count out Charlize Theron for Young Adult to maybe pull off that upset).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  1. Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
  2. Albert Brooks (Drive)
  3. Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
  4. Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
  5. Nick Nolte (Warrior)

This is pretty much the general consensus for this category (which has already been won by Plummer, so whatever). If there’s an upset look for it to be at the expense of either Hill or Nolte, and by the hands of either Patton Oswalt for Young Adult (which would be insanely awesome), Ben Kingsley for Hugo (which would make the film a huge threat for the Best Picture crown) or Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  1. Octavia Spencer (The Help)
  2. Berenice Bejo (The Artist)
  3. Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
  4. Jessica Chastain (The Help)
  5. Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)

Much like the male equivalent of this award, this one already has a name engraved in the golden man. Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs) is the only name I could forsee getting in here, though I would kill for a Carey Mulligan mention (for either Shame or Drive).

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  1. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
  2. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
  3. Bridesmaids (Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo)
  4. Young Adult (Diablo Cody)
  5. Beginners (Mike Mills)

I’m torn here for the final two slots, Thomas McCarthy for Win Win could easily be there, ditto for Will Reiser for 50/50, Asghar Farhadi for A Separation and J.C. Chandor for Margin Call. I always love this category.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  1. The Descendants (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash)
  2. Moneyball (Aaron Sorkin, Steve Zaillian and Stan Chervin)
  3. Hugo (John Logan)
  4. The Help (Tate Taylor)
  5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Steve Zaillian)

I think the four first slots are in for sure, but the fifth could also go to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or The Ides of March.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  1. A Separation (Iran)
  2. In Darkness (Poland)
  3. Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)
  4. Pina (Germany)
  5. Footnote (Israel)

Other than A Separation (which I gave an A to) and Pina (A-) I haven’t seen any of the other remaning seven films fighting for the five available slots here, so this is pretty much guesswork.

BEST DOCUMENTARY

  1. Project Nim
  2. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
  3. Pina
  4. We Were Here
  5. Bill Cunningham New York

This is also pretty much guesswork in this category, but so long as both Pina and Project Nim get in here (and one of them wins the whole enchilada) I’ll be good with this.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  1. Rango
  2. The Adventures of Tintin
  3. Puss in Boots
  4. Cars 2
  5. Kung Fu Panda 2

Cars 2 shouldn’t get in here, but its Pixar so it probably will. Instead, a nod for Winnie the Pooh would be quite nice to see.

BEST EDITING

  1. The Artist
  2. Hugo
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  4. The Descendants
  5. Drive

I’m really hoping the Academy shows Drive some love tomorrow, and this would be a really nice nomination to do it with if they can’t go for the Best Pic nod. War Horse or Moneyball, though, are probably safer bets here.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  1. The Artist
  2. The Tree of Life
  3. Hugo
  4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  5. War Horse

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Moneyball could get in here if the love for War Horse is even weaker than it already seems to be.

BEST ART DIRECTION

  1. Hugo
  2. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  3. The Artist
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The first three films are total locks here. The rest is me just guessing, though it would make sense to see those other two films here, though War Horse, Jane Eyre, Anonymous and The Tree of Life could show up just as easily.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  1. The Artist
  2. Hugo
  3. War Horse
  4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  5. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Artist has this one in the bag since the score helps narrate the silent film. The rest of the field is quite tough to predict, I’m guessing Hugo and War Horse are definitely in there, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has the best score of the year so I’m hoping it’ll get in there too, and for the last slot I picked Desplat’s score for the 9/11 film over Dario Marianelli’s for Jane Eyre.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  2. Hugo
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  4. The Tree of Life
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger

Transformers: Dark of the Moon or X-Men: First Class could get in here as well, but I’m predicting a trio of really good blockbusters to go along with a couple of serious awards contenders.

BEST SOUND MIXING

  1. Hugo
  2. Super 8
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  5. War Horse

This is where the big, loud summer blockbusters get recognized, so don’t be surprised if Transformers: Dark of the Moon or Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides get in here.

BEST SOUND EDITING

  1. Super 8
  2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  3. Hugo
  4. War Horse
  5. Drive

I have really no idea how this one will go, I just want Drive nominations.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  1. The Artist
  2. Hugo
  3. Jane Eyre
  4. The Help
  5. W.E.

I’m pretty confident in the first four films I have predicted here. The fifth slot I’m giving to Madonna’s film because the costumes were the only great thing about it, though maybe Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 will also be here or, a personal favorite of mine, Midnight in Paris which combined contemporary and period costumes splendidly.

BEST MAKEUP

  1. The Iron Lady
  2. Hugo
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

I’m not predicting The Artist here. If anything Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life would be more deserving of an upset nod.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  1. “The Living Proof”  (The Help)
  2. “Life’s a Happy Song” (The Muppets)
  3. “Lay Your Head Down” (Albert Nobbs)
  4. “Pictures in My Head” (The Muppets)
  5. “Hello Hello” (Gnomeo and Juliet)
Two songs from The Muppets for sure, and I’m guessing they won’t snub Elton John.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

27 Dec

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Year: 2011
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Goran Visnjic, Embeth Davidtz, Elodie Yung
MPAA Rating: R, brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language
Runtime: 158 min
IMDb Rating: 8.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic: 71

 

Yes, last year the Swedish adaptation of the hugely popular Stieg Larsson novel came out, and it was seriously great (I ranked it as my thirty-fifth favorite film of 2010, giving it an A-), and it had a breakout performance from Noomi Rapace in the role of Lisbeth Salander (which I ranked as my tenth favorite by a leading actress in 2010). So, of course people will say that it’s unnecessary to get a new adaptation only a year later. Well, I won’t say if thinking that was wrong or right; all I’ll say is that by the second you walk out of this American adaptation you’ll realize that this is a masterpiece, surpassing whatever great expectations were set by the original film, and finding in Rooney Mara the perfect actress to tackle on the role of Lisbeth Salander, no matter how great Ms. Rapace was a year ago. This is David Fincher proving to us why he’s one of the Top 3 directors working today, following last year’s masterpiece The Social Network (my second favorite film of 2010), with this one; going from hackers in Harvard to hackers in Sweden, but that doesn’t have any other similarities, the cold of Sweden making the cold of Cambridge seem like child’s play, and crafting a film that’s over two-and-a-half hours and that’s unapologetically brutal and yet so, so captivating. This is genius stuff, one of the very best films of the years hands down.

A lot was said for months about the search for the perfect actress to play Lisbeth Salander. And rightfully so, the role was hugely demanding, had just been played extremely well by Noomi Rapace just a year before, and, in the hands of the wrong actress, would make the movie crumble down. So pretty much every great young actress in Hollywood tried out for the role: Carey Mulligan, Kristen Stewart, Ellen Page, Mia Wasikowska, Evan Rachel Wood, you name it. Natalie Portman was supposedly offered the role but declined due to exhaustion from all the Black Swan craziness, unable to throw herself into such an intense role for the second year in a row. Jennifer Lawrence’s name was also thrown around, one of the brightest young actresses, but ultimately she was said to be too tall for the role. Scarlett Johansson was also considered, but Mr. Fincher considered her too sexy to play this role of a recluse hacker with a really weird kind of sex appeal.

All of their losses are our gain, as Mr. Fincher pushed and pushed for Rooney Mara, a girl who had appeared in The Social Network in a small but pivotal role, as Erica Albright, the girl you see in the opening scene at the bar telling Mark Zuckerberg he’s an asshole, effectively causing him to create Facebook out of spite towards her. She was made to audition time and time again, and finally won the role. And the stuff she brings to the table is such an incredible level of commitment that you can’t imagine any of the other prospective actresses would have brought, she’s fireworks in this film, and it would be an insult if she didn’t get an Oscar nomination (though she actually probably won’t).

I get why some people would argue against remaking a film that just a year ago did such a great job at capturing a story that, being written by a Swede and set in Sweden, was pretty much all their own. But people, take a look at what’s at the bottom of this story and you’ll realize why it needed to be told on a wider canvas, with a bigger budget, for a broader audience, with one of the most masterful eyes in cinema directing. This is a story about a female heroine, a different kind of heroine, for sure, but one that, in her quest of being an avenger against men who exact hatred towards other women, is a heroine that’s revolutionary and incredibly relevant, and a heroine we haven’t seen in films yet and that really gets to you in this one.

Because Lisbeth Salander is a truly unique character. To have a hero in this kind of film that isn’t a white male of middle age guy (because as great as Daniel Craig is as Mikael Blomkvist, this is Lisbeth’s film and story) is truly something special, a thin white girl with a petite frame and a style full of black clothing and piercings, that suggests either a hardcore goth or an S&M enthusiast. And the stuff Ms. Mara does with her is awe-inspiring, showing her unbelievable intelligence just as well as she hides her emotional scars, her eyes intently focussed underneath the strands of jet black hair that fall down her face. It’s an unbelievable character and a spell-binding performance, able to seduce you just as perfectly as she’s able to intimidate you, a woman who plays by her own set of rules, trusting no one but herself.

Screenwriter Steve Zaillian made a few changes to the story, that much is true, but this is a great writer and it still follows the story pretty close by and is quite similar to its Swedish counterpart, but from those changes and the subtle alterations made by Mr. Fincher, the film starts feeling different, becoming its own, different beast. From the minute the opening credits start rolling along David Fincher will have grabbed you by the throat and won’t let go for one hundred and fifty-eight minutes; it opens with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Immigrant Song’ by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Karen O that plays through a series of really piercing images that will set the tone for the rest of the film. That opening sequence is a thing of brilliance, and the whole score throughout the entire movie is pretty much revolutionary, the stuff that Mr. Reznor and Mr. Ross brought to the table, and that won them an Oscar last year for The Social Network, being intensified tenfold for what they bring to this film; much like in last year’s masterpiece, the score here is just as big a part of the storytelling as any other variable.

The mystery story is obviously there, with Christopher Plummer, delivering his second great performance of the year which will help him sow up even further that well-deserved Oscar for Beginners, starring as Henrik Vanger, an old millionaire, patriarch of a powerful family that lives far off from the mainland, obsessed with finding out how his adored niece died four decades ago. The body of the niece, Harriet, was never found, and no trace to suggest she’s still alive and well somewhere else were uncovered either, so theories start forming in the mind of the old man, and later in that of Mikael Blomkvist whom he hires to help him out, and who then brings Lisbeth onto the case, theories that point the fingers at the people who were there that day all those years ago, most of them members of the Vanger family tree themselves.

As far as that goes, then yes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a mystery murder kind of film, and alongside Se7en and Zodiac you could say Mr. Fincher has crafted a masterful trilogy of murder investigation movies, giving you information like crazy and expertly showing the investigations, carefully allowing everything to set into your mind. But when Salander is on screen this film transcends that label, and becomes about the women who fought back against those men that hated them, Lisbeth being their Joan of Ark. The murder stuff is an incredible backdrop to which to set all of this to, but, like I said, this is Lisbeth’s story we care about here. It’s amazing to see an American film made by a studio that pays so much attention to a strong female character, one that’s so in control of her own sexuality no matter how vulnerable she may appear at times.

David Fincher understood all of this, he knew this was her story, he knew Stieg Larsson wrote the books because when he was fifteen he witnessed a brutal gang rape of a woman and never got over the fact that he did not help the girl, Mr. Fincher didn’t forget the fact that the original title for the book is Men Who Hate Women. So in return he fought for who he thought was right for Lisbeth, Ms. Mara, an actresses audiences don’t know and who may not seem desirable enough for many (though she seriously is, but that’s not the discussion here), and he gave her the role of a lifetime, he gave her a big-budget, huge running-time, R-rated movie for her to shine in. And she paid off his trust in her by delivering a performance that will stay with you for quite some time well after the film ends.

This film is perfect, I don’t care what any of its critics may say, it’s just insanely perfect frame by frame. And I can’t wait to watch it a second time, and a third, and a seventh; because, like any other truly great director, David Fincher’s films are ones you should spend quite some time getting into, breathing in every shot, studying them, there’s a reason why he’s famous for asking for close to a hundred takes for many scenes; he wants every little small detail to be just right. As amazing as Rooney Mara is in the role, kudos also have to paid to the rest of her cast members, Mr. Plummer like I said is terrific, and Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson and a slew of other truly tremendous actors give their all to flesh out a number of really memorable characters to support Lisbeth’s story. And then there’s Daniel Craig, who plays the role of Mikael Blomkvist different than Michael Nyqvist did in the original film, something which may be expected considering the guy’s James Bond, but he also plays it perfectly, allowing for a sweetness to come organically towards a girl he starts caring for quite a lot, but knowing to always keep his distance, not to scare her off.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, may seem like a movie about a complex man helping out another man. But in reality it’s the story about a girl, and about avenging the death of another girl, and David Fincher knows that. He’s crafted yet another absolutely perfect film with this one, taking hold of a wildly successful novel that had already spawned a very great film and out-doing them all. Yes, the rape scene shown here is seriously brutal. Yes, you won’t be able to listen to Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’ the same way again. Those are all things that are strong to see, brutally shown, but the way Mr. Fincher opts to show them is just a thing of beauty only someone as good as him can achieve, a master storyteller. And then there’s Rooney Mara, about whom I’ve already said quite a bit, and about whom the rest will be for you to discover. Trust me, it’s well worth it.

Grade: A+

Sympathy for Delicious

19 May

Title: Sympathy for Delicious
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Mark Ruffalo
Writer: Christopher Thornton
Starring: 
Christopher Thornton, Mark Ruffalo, Juliette Lewis, Laura Linney, Orlando Bloom, John Carroll Lynch, Noah Emmerich
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
Runtime: 
96 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 
30%

I was greatly looking forward to Sympathy for Delicious, the directing debut from Mark Ruffalo. And that’s because Mr. Ruffalo not only is one of the most consistent actors working today, as can be attested by his Oscar-nominated performance in last year’s sublime The Kids Are All Right (which I ranked as my 2nd favorite male supporting performance of 2010, behind just Christian Bale’s Oscar-winning turn in The Fighter), or by the ones he gave in You Can Count on Me, Shutter Island or Zodiac, to name a few. But I wasn’t just looking forward to see what he’d do as director only because of how amazing he’s as an actor himself, which considering the wide array emotions he’s so perfectly portrayed would have you think he’d be great at getting similar results from people under his direction.

No, that wasn’t the only reason why I was interested to see him take on directing duties, a lot also had to do with the fact that the guy has worked under such amazing directors that you just know a man as smart as Mr. Ruffalo has been learning a lot along the way. Just take a look at this man’s resumé and you’ll quickly realize this guy has been surrounding himself with the best directors: Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Michael Mann… the man has worked for the very best, and some of that was bound to pay off.

And so I saw Sympathy for Delicious with high hopes. The movie was written by Christopher Thornton, Mr. Ruffalo’s longtime friend, who also stars as “Delicious” Dean O’Dwyer, an up-and-coming DJ in the L.A. underground music scene who is left paralyzed after a bad motorcycle accident. A story that’s close to him, as he also had a promising career, but at 25 he had a climbing accident and was left paralyzed from the waist down himself, forced to live in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Mr. Thornton didn’t give up, obviously, as he went back into acting in theatre a small time after this accident, and now here he is, in front of the camera for Mark Ruffalo, and acting alongside him and people like Laura Linney and Juliette Lewis.

And giving up is something Sympathy for Delicious explores, as Dean quickly starts getting depressed about his situation, ready to give up on life. But then he meets this young priest, which would be the character Mr. Ruffalo plays, who’s an advocate for faith-based healing, and tries to convince Dean that this might be the way to get him to walk again. And so Dean starts experimenting with healing, and he actually somehow has this supernatural power that allows him to heal… everyone but himself. So that begins this new stage of the film in which Dean, against father Joe’s advice, starts using his ability to get famous and get money, and actually joins a rock band and gains notoriety. But that just doesn’t fix anything, so we have to go on this spiritual journey with him, and realize what’s to be done for Dean to come to terms with his tragedy.

But even though I think I appreciated certain bits of Sympathy for Delicious, this film as a whole just didn’t do it for me. Which sucks because I really wanted Mr. Ruffalo to proof he can be awesome at directing as well, but I honestly didn’t get this film, no matter how much I wanted to. It’s not because the story was sort of unusual, it’s just that I don’t think I ever really got what Mr. Ruffalo and Mr. Thornton were trying to say with it. There were times in which it seemed as though they were being a satire of religious views like the ones proposed here, then there were times in which it seemed as though they were focusing on criticizing what may happen due to an excess of fame and exposure, and I just lost track of its intentions.

So there you have it, that’s why I didn’t get Sympathy for Delicious, I felt it lacked a clear point of focus. This is a film that Mr. Ruffalo and Mr. Thornton have being trying to get made for the past decade, and it’s obviously one they both hold very near to their hearts, but I just felt it was lacking, especially during the middle when it just feels all over the place for too long. But this is not to say that Sympathy for Delicious doesn’t have its moments, because it does. When it regains some of its focus it gets to shine a light on the chemistry that Mr. Ruffalo and Mr. Thornton have which can translate beautifully on-screen at times, not to mention that there are a couple of truly brilliant scenes between Mr. Ruffalo and the impeccable Ms. Linney, who, if you’ve seen You Can Count on Me (and if you haven’t then get on it now), you know can be dynamite together.

The thing is that for those really good scenes, those that focussed just on the drama between Dean and father Joe, there are many scenes that don’t do anything for us at all. The faith-haeling stuff is very exaggerated, and more so is the stuff that goes on in the rock band, and I think that was done as an effort to satirize those things, but it just doesn’t do that very well. The part with the rock band especially, with Orlando Bloom’s and Juliette Lewis’ characters, those don’t work for a second, falling into unfortunate clichés that take away from the main drama of the story.

And that’s why I won’t give Sympathy for Delicious a very good grade, because I felt it missed its target, if it even had one to begin with. But that’s not to say this was a bad debut directorial effort from Mr. Ruffalo, not at all, I thought this had some very good moments thanks to him, especially with how he managed Mr. Thornton’s performance. I mean, the performance really is monotone, and only goes in one direction, but because Mr. Thornton under Mr. Ruffalo’s direction can connect so deeply to it on a personal level it also has this raw feel to it that feels very intense and adds to the character. In the end, Sympathy for Delicious may have been too unfocused to be great, but I’m ready to welcome the opportunity of seeing Mr. Ruffalo back in the director’s chair.

Grade: C+

Oscar Predictions: Best Picture and Director

25 Feb

This is the last of my Oscar Predictions posts, in which I tackle the two main races: Best Director and, of course, Best Picture. These two races will see Sunday’s two main players pitted against each other, with The Social Network and The King’s Speech considered the front-runners for both categories.

Most are saying they will split the two, with the British biopic getting the big one, and David Fincher nabbing the Best Director statue for his work on the Facebook film. Some are saying The King’s Speech will get both, some say the same of The Social Network, so yes, there’s a nice variety of ways these two races could go. Read on through for my opinions.

BEST PICTURE

Nominees

  • Black Swan (Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin)
  • The Fighter (David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg)
  • Inception (Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan)
  • The Kids Are All Right (Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray)
  • The King’s Speech (Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin)
  • 127 Hours (Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson)
  • The Social Network (Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin)
  • Toy Story 3 (Darla K. Anderson)
  • True Grit (Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen)
  • Winter’s Bone (Anne Rosselini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin)

So, The King’s Speech or The Social Network? How this race has evolved has been the highlight of the 2010 awards season to me, The Social Network seemed unstoppable early on, winning every critic’s group award, the Golden Globe, nothing seemed to stand in its way to get the big one come Oscar night.

But then Harvey Weinstein came up with The King’s Speech and that one started killing it, winning the PGA, DGA, SAG, BAFTA, pretty much every single big award it could after that initial Social Network streak, and it’s now considered the clear front-runner.

This is obviously a question of new versus old. The tough, gritty, relevant and modern The Social Network, acted out by up-and-coming actors, a film in which there’s really no hero, no one to root for. And it’s standing against The King’s Speech, the sort of movie Oscar used to love, a biopic about the British monarchy, made by many veteran actors and which definitely tugs at the voters heartstrings with the warm relationship and message at the heart of the film.

My personal pick is actually Black Swan, but amongst these two I love The Social Network the most, I mean, to base a film on Facebook is daring enough, but to have the end product by this masterful, no one really saw that coming.

I’m gonna go and say The King’s Speech will win this one because it seems like it will, even though The Social Network is the better film. But don’t write out The Social Network just yet, it may seem like it’s all said and done, but a last minute revival may occur.

Should Win: Black Swan
Will Win: The King’s Speech

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees

  • Darren Aronofsky (for Black Swan)
  • Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (for True Grit)
  • David Fincher (for The Social Network)
  • Tom Hooper (for The King’s Speech)
  • David O. Russell (for The Fighter

In my mind there should be a tie between Darren Aronofsky and David Fincher, the two are masters of their craft, and yeah, they should split the golden man up between the two.

But in all honesty, this one’s David Fincher’s. Even if The King’s Speech sweeps the night I think this one will still go to The Social Network. I mean, if a film about a social networking site and the story behind it was as compelling and intriguing and plain out entertaining as this was it’s because of how this man handled the material, sheer perfection.

Should Win: Darren Aronofsky/David Fincher
Will Win: David Fincher