Tag Archives: Natalie Portman

Hesher

21 Jun

Title: Hesher
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Spencer Susser
Writers: Spencer Susser and David Michôd, based on a story by Brian Charles Frank
Starring: 
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Devin Brochu, Piper Laurie
MPAA Rating: 
R, disturbing violent behavior, sexual content including graphic dialogue, pervasive language, and drug content – some in the presence of a child
Runtime: 
106 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 
53%

 

And so here we are, at the final stop on the Natalie Portman Movie Domination Tour 2011. Because, as you may have noticed if you’ve been to the movies in this first half of 2011, Ms. Portman, fresh off the Best Actress Oscar she won for my favorite film of 2010, has been everywhere: from her turn in the R-rated rom-com No Strings Attached back in January, to the medieval stoner flick that was Your Highness a few months later, to her very own superhero blockbuster in Thor to kick off the summer, to the more indie project that was The Other Woman, she’s done everything. And I usually would be against such huge overexposure, five films in less than six months is really something, but you look at the roles she has in each of them and they couldn’t be more different from each other, so at least she’s been exercising her range, just having fun with her choices. Not to mention that those four films I listed have all been pretty damn decent (I’ve given them, in the order I named them, grades of B+, B, A- and B) which means that it’s not as though making all them so close to each other is taking away from the overall quality of any of them.

But, before Ms. Portman can take a well deserved breather, as she currently has no announced projects in which she’s set to star, we have to take a look at the fifth and final film she’s been in this year, which is Hesher. Now, the film is probably the worst out of the five 2011 releases she’s been in (remember I liked Your Highness a bit better than most), but it’s still good, and I’ll recommend it to people. Plus a film like this was bound to be polarizing, as it’s not really all that often that you get an insight that’s so dark, and so lacking of any real emotion, to any character like you do with our titular character here, and I personally liked that about this film, I thought it did it’s own very peculiar thing and it didn’t care about any conceptions people may make about it. However, as cool as refreshing as that may have been, at times it felt as the movie was doing that just for the sake of doing that, not really achieving anything outside of it.

And that’s, I think, what prevented the film from being truly something special, that more times than not I felt like it didn’t have any reason to exist at all, harsh as that may sound. Don’t get me wrong, the performance given by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role is absolutely incredible, a magnetic one that will keep you drawn to the film for its entirety, and Ms. Portman and Rainn Wilson are also very good in their supporting turns, but there was just no real substance to Hesher when it all was said and done. I mean, yes, we get a main character that’s unlike anything we’ve seen before, a guy with long hair, creepy eyes, who loves porn and heavy metal, and has stupid tattoos that display gun violence on his chest, but once that novelty wears off there’s not much more underneath that.

And this character is pitted next to other characters that you just can tell weren’t meant to be in a movie together, something which is actually beneficial to that whole weird feel the movie has. I mean, Hesher himself is just thrown into the house of this 13-year-old kid named T.J. who’s point of view we see the film from, a kid who has just lost his mother, has a father that’s still in shock after becoming a widow, played sensationally well by Mr. Wilson, and a grandmother, played by Piper Laurie, who’s just sick of holding the fort together all on her own. And the reasons why Hesher, a guy that’s so different from them, is now to live with them, or just who he is, or where he came from, are never really explained here. And because T.J.’s father and grandmother are so depressed and idle with grief, they don’t really question why this bizarre guy is now to live with them, and they’re inactive when faced with his strange and violent antics.

And what happens after that feeling of not really know why everything is happening, nor why Nicole, the supermarket cashier Ms. Portman plays, is brought into the picture, you just get a movie that, while extremely well-acted, isn’t really saying much of anything. I mean, obviously there’s this big resolution at the end of the film after we’ve seen Hesher do his offensive and violent thing for an hour and a half, but even that I thought just didn’t really provide a solid enough sense of closure here. I liked the film, don’t get me wrong, but that’s fully because of Mr. Gordon-Levitt, Ms. Portman and Mr. Wilson, who I thought were simply superb, and even though I believe Spencer Susser, the first-time director of this one, showed some really promising things with his debut here, I think he crafted a character too complex and big to really contain successfully at his first big go-round at the helm.

Grade: B-

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The Other Woman

23 May

Title: The Other Woman
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Don Roos
Writer: Don Roos, based on the novel by Ayelet Waldman
Starring: 
Natalie Portman, Lisa Kudrow, Scott Cohen, Charlie Tahan, Lauren Ambrose
MPAA Rating: 
R, sexual content and language
Runtime: 
119 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 
38%

This is the fourth 2011 film starring Natalie Portman I have seen after No Strings Attached, Your Highness and Thor, and considering I have rated none of those in the C-range (I gave them a B+, B- and A-, respectively) I think it should be said that Ms. Portman’s having a very good follow-up year to her tremendous 2010 which saw her pick up the Best Actress Oscar for her sublime performance in Black Swan, which was my favorite film of the year. The Other Woman continues that trend, as it’s one solid little film that has Ms. Portman batting four-for-four in 2011 with Hesher being her fifth and final release in this year which I’ve still to watch.

None of those films get her to give a performance like the one she gave as Nina Sayers in Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece, but that’s because the role and the film didn’t require such a powerhouse showing from Ms. Portman, and she’s given the performances perfect for the films. In No Strings Attached, a surprisingly good romantic comedy, she’s super funny and cute acting from a pretty cool script by Liz Meriwether, and she’s just what the film needed. In Your Highness it’s the same, that’s the least impressive film of hers this year, but it’s cool to see that Ms. Portman can play a lazy stoner comedy and be totally game for the ridiculous situations she’s put on. Because her 2011 will be remembered as the year in which she showed he definitely had some range, I mean, a racy rom-com alongside Ashton Kutcher, a stoner comedy set in medieval times from the guy that directed Pineapple Express, and playing the romantic interest to a norse god in a superhero blockbuster. She’s done it all this year.

And she continues that trend of picking different roles this year with The Other Woman, in which she plays Emilia, a woman who just lost her newborn daughter with husband Jack, and is now seen trying to connect with his son form his previous marriage, as well as cope with Carolyn, Jack’s jealous ex-wife. And if I liked the film as much as I did, it’s essentially because of Ms. Portman, who delivers a pretty fantastic performance as Emilia that just elevates this film to heights that wouldn’t have been possible had it been left to rely only on Don Roos, who as a director leaves much to be desired and who as a writer, adapting from Ayelet Waldman’s bestselling novel, gives us a script too choked up with melodramatic moments and that leaves it with little breathing space to be anything more than that.

This really is a showcase of Ms. Portman’s skills as an actress, I mean she gets a lot of beefy scenes here, and comes through every single time, really letting us feel Emilia’s pain. And that is especially true in one stand-out scene with Lauren Ambrose, and in the ones she shares with Lisa Kudrow, who plays the ex-wife Carolyn and who’s the next best thing about this film, they are the ones that keep this film going on, and I think that if they had gotten a better director to guide them through it all then the result would have been that much better.

Not to say that everything other than the direction in The Other Woman is just great, because there are obviously other things that don’t work, but in a more free environment I just think Ms. Portman’s performance would’ve been allowed to shine that much more. But, let’s keep on showering the woman with praise for a bit here, because she really is splendid. We get to see how her relationship with Jack started via flashbacks, and get to see how fragile a marriage can turn after such a painful event as losing as child (though, of course, if you want to see a better portrayal of that then go watch last year’s terrific Rabbit Hole), and we get to see Emilia having a huge amount of trouble trying to bond with Jack’s son, and Carolyn angry at having to see the woman that broke up her marriage. And Ms. Portman does a tremendous job to show all of this, it’s not often that a movie’s main character is “the other woman”, much less one with such complex circumstances as Emilia, but Mr. Portman tackles the challenge of playing her head-on, and she delivers in heaps and bounds.

The direction by Mr. Roos however, like I said, ends up limiting this film quite a lot. And that’s not because he took this film to a wrong place, but because it seemed as though he was unsure about which place he wanted to take it to in the first place. Ms. Portman shows here that she’s dynamite at portraying these really difficult sort of emotions, but Mr. Roos for some reason just opts to show them in a way that feels too simple to feel real, and he takes away from her performance by doing so, not to mention that he seemingly never decides on the overall tone he wants the film to have, and it all feels decidedly unbalanced because of that.

There are some terrific scenes in The Other Woman, which is no surprise considering the source material is a fine novel, and the actors here are truly good at playing these scenes, and they all seem like really accurate observations of society nowadays, but for some reason it seems as though these observations have just been meshed together in a way that’s not cohesive at all, which obviously takes away from the end result considerably. And that’s what hurt this movie in the end, that at times it seemed to make little to no sense at all, taking us through complex roads it had no intention of following up on. But, hey, at least it did so with great acting, and that’s really what the film is all about, and because of that I’ll give it a good grade, because I did like it just fine, just interpret my disses to the film here as frustration about how much better it could have potentially been.

Grade: B

Thor

14 May

Title: Thor
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne, based on a story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich, in turned based on the comic book by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby
Starring: 
Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Joshua Dallas, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo, Clark Gregg
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence
Runtime: 
114 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 
78%

And so we get to Thor, the movie that officially kicked off the summer season and one that came with huge expectations on my behalf. You might know I’m a huge comic book geek, and while Thor is far from being my favorite comic book character, and I don’t even own that many comics of him, I  was still deeply intrigued not only by how the film would choose to represent Asgard, the supernatural world where Thor inhabits, but also by how Thor, a lesser known Marvel character than the ones that have been portrayed in films previously, would be able to carry a film all by himself. Not to mention that I wanted to see how it would start shaping things up, with the help of this July’s Captain America, in preparation for next summer’s The Avengers film, which is being directed right now by Joss Whedon, geek genius extraordinaire.

So I was intrigued by Thor, and I very much needed it to be great. And it was, probably not as amazing as that first Iron Man movie but, for my money, better than the sequel to that one, and a tremendous addition to the Marvel repertoire. And I think a lot of this has to be attributed to the very bold choice Marvel made when it picked its director. As Kenneth Branagh, he who spends much more time dealing with Shakespeare than with superheroes, brought his sensibilities to the project, and instead of this one being an all-out special effects action film, we also get quite a lot of seriously solid family drama, paired up with a very witty sense of humor that’s sure to appreciated by everyone.

Which is not to say that Mr. Branagh paid no mind to special effects and the regular components of Marvel’s blockbusters, not at all, this film has splendid action sequences, and the special effects are pretty tremendous themselves, especially those used to create the world of Asgard, which looks extremely cool. Thor was, I thought, prime entertainment, a supreme way to kick off the summer season, and not just one full of superficial set pieces, but one that under Mr. Branagh’s direction makes do with some really solid performances that help this one become as good as it is.

Chris Hemsworth, the Aussie actor in charge of playing the norse god, does a really spectacular job at it. And I had my doubts about him going in, because I didn’t know this guy outside of a small role in 2009’s awesome Star Trek reboot in which he played George Kirk, and I was skeptic about how he would handle this role of a supernatural being on Earth, and if he would be able to go toe-to-toe with Robert Downey Jr. when The Avengers came along. And I honestly think he will, he not only looks the part, but he also sounds the part with his big voice, and just absolutely owns the role.

And the rest of the cast is equally impressive. You have Natalie Portman, of course, in the third film I’ve seen her in this year after No Strings Attached and Your Highness, and she’s awesome here. She plays an astrophysicist who’s the first one to encounter Thor as he lands on Earth, exiled from Asgard by his father Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins doing his usual Anthony Hopkins magic. Along with Ms. Portman’s character, Jane Foster, we have our other two main human characters, Darcy Lewis, played by Kat Dennings who’s always a favorite of mine, a student who signed up to help on the investigation Jane was conducting, and Dr. Erik Selvig, played by Stellan Skarsgard, as Jane’s superior and the one supervising the whole experiment.

They find Thor and we must see him on Earth without his powers, desperately trying to get back to Asgard. And our story has two sides here, then, one is on Earth, with Thor eventually getting Jane to believe him about his identity, and falling in love with him in the process, and them doing everything they can to get him home. This part obviously includes a visit from Clark Gregg’s character who we’ve seen in both Iron Man‘s, Agent Coulson from S.H.I.E.L.D., who’s sent to investigate what’s going on and deal with Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer which has landed on Earth and can’t seem to be moved by anyone.

The other part of our story takes place back in Asgard, with Loki, Thor’s brother played extremely well by Tom Hiddleston, being the story’s villain. He’s the one that betrays Thor and does everything he can to keep him from coming home. He has to deal with the Warrior’s Three, Thor’s allies and friends over at Asgard who quickly come to realize that Loki’s the one that did wrong to their home. And there’s also Heimdall, who’s played real nicely by the terrific Idris Elba, the guard of the Rainbow Bridge, where one of the movie’s climatic scenes happens and which, by the way, looks infinitely cool.

Honestly though, if you had any doubts about Thor, trust me when I tell you they’ll be vanquished as soon as you get to see what Mr. Branagh and his cast and crew did here. He really was the perfect choice by Marvel to direct this movie, his Shakespearean background really enabling him to get to the story behind it all, and getting him to shine a light on the family issues that lie so deep within Thor’s mythology. And as a film to kick-off things for next year’s The Avengers it works wonders, not only does it introduce Thor as a great character played by a very promising actor, but it keeps tying together the Marvel universe in a way that feels extremely rad and not one bit overstuffed. We get a little reference to Tony Stark made by Agent Coulson, a mention of Bruce Banner by Dr. Selvig, an actual look at Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye who’ll obviously be in The Avengers, and of course we also get our easter egg scene after the credits with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, which I won’t spoil for you here but suffice it to say it was terrific and set things up real nicely for what we’ll get this July and next summer.

Grade: A-

Your Highness

3 May

Title: Your Highness
Year: 
2011
Director: 
David Gordon Green
Writers: Danny McBride and Ben Best
Starring: 
Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Toby Jones, Justin Theroux, Rasmus Hardiker
MPAA Rating: 
R, strong crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity, violence and some drug use
Runtime: 
102 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 
24%

David Gordon Green’s last film, 2008’s Pineapple Express, I consider to be one of the five best comedies of the past decade and is a film I can watch over and over again, and it’s one of those that if I ever catch on TV I will stop doing whatever it is I’m doing to keep watching it. Seriously, that film is full of hysterical moments coming from the likes of James Franco, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson, and even since that August I’ve been waiting to see what the guy was going to do next. It’s not as though the guy has just been MIA from our lives for the past three years, the guy has been on the director’s chair for half of the Eastbound & Down episodes there have been to date, and that show, which also stars Mr. McBride, is probably one of the five funniest ones on television right now.

So, you see, when the details started lining up for Mr. Green’s follow-up to Pineapple Express I was unable to contain my excitement. Not only would he remain in the stoner comedy genre that helped him craft that hilarious film, and not only was he now taking that funniness to medieval times, but he also got himself a tremendous cast. Mr. Franco and Mr. McBride are still there for him to work with and so are Zooey Deschanel, whom he had already directed to sublime effects in the tremendous All the Real Girls, not to mention that Natalie Portman, fresh off her Oscar victory for Black Swan is also part of the cast here. For those regular readers of mine you might already know that to me Ms. Deschanel is far and out the most gorgeous creature on earth, and also a seriously talented actress, and Ms. Portman, who’s pretty damn hot herself, is also ridiculously good. So yeah, this movie, on paper at least, was fool-proof.

On execution, however, it’s a whole different story. This is far from the worst film I’ve seen all year, but it just might be one of the most disappointing. You can tell they really tried their best to making the medieval feel genuine, the budget was twice as big as the one for Pineapple Express and it shows on the scale and costumes this movie counts on, but raunchy improv-heavy comedies don’t really need all of that, they just need people being funny, and by concentrating too much of the medieval-ness of it all Your Highness sometimes forgets about just being plain funny and ends up on a monotonous road that is often funny, but not as often as it should have been, or at least as I would have wanted it to be.

Look, I didn’t dislike Your Highness, and when people ask me about it I may even recommend it because it’s quite good fun. The thing is that if you’re like me and were hoping that this one was going to be just as great as The Pineapple Express, if not better, you’re in for a rude awakening, and you’ll find yourself frustrated about seeing these immensely talented people working with material that’s not worthy of them. I don’t know if that’s because the script, written by Mr. McBride along with Ben Best (who co-created Eastbound & Down with Mr. McBride as well as wrote some episodes for it), didn’t give them the proper cues or lines to be awesome or if, by making their actors feel free to do as much improv as they want, not even using a script on-set and just relying on notes and vague outlines, Mr. Green let this one go off its rails. Maybe it’s a combination of both, I don’t know, it just should have been much more than this.

Some critics are hating on this one quite a lot, Roger Ebert, the best one out there, gave it 1 star, ditto with Peter Travers, and Andrew O’Hehir said that for a few hours after having seen it he considered it may have be the worst movie ever made. Not to mention that the always-defiant Armond White went ahead and gave it a good review, which usually means the movie’s actually bad. But those opinions are really too harsh, I didn’t adore this to the level that I adored The Pineapple Express and No Strings Attached, that other film this year starring Ms. Portman, is a better movie than this one is, but it’s not that bad. And my guess is that some of the people that didn’t get this film just didn’t get it because they were totally not the target audience this one was aiming for.

Because, you see, if The Pineapple Express had a very definite audience for all its stoner jokes (though it laughed its way to the bank with $100 million in box office gross), then this one has an audience that’s infinitely more limited than that because it’s appealing not only to those who love stoner comedy, but who love medieval films as well. This is a film you’ll enjoy only if you go to see it high as a kite or if you’re one of us who love the 80’s fantasy movies and Dungeons & Dragons and the whole nine yards in between. And the people involved in Your Highness won’t care if you don’t like their film if you’re not part of that group of people because all their energy is spent into pleasing those of us who are. Not to mention that they were so obviously having the best time just filming this one so they probably won’t care either way.

And yet even though I’m a huge fan of that genre these guys are spoofing, and even though I clearly acknowledge the love these guys certainly seem to have for the genre, I’m still not sure I really loved this film all that much. Comparisons to The Pineapple Express aside, as necessary as they may prove to be, this is still not that great. But anyways, let’s take a look at the story it’s telling. It’s the story of Thadeous, Mr. McBride’s character who’s the character Mr. McBride is used to playing of the lazy-ass, foul-mouthed and inappropriate guy who this time around is the brother of Fabious, Mr. Franco’s character, who’s the heir to the throne and super macho like all the princes of the 80’s fantasy films are.

In any case, the bride of Fabious, which would be the part the stunning Ms. Deschanel gets to play, is kidnapped by the movie’s villain, who’s played by Justin Theroux who I think is quite good. So of course Fabious is to set on a quest to rescue his virgin bride from the hands of an evil sorcerer, it’s just that this time, at his father’s persistence, Thadeous is forced to tag along. And also tagging along is a very mysterious warrior girl they meet on the way, which would be Ms. Portman’s character. And that plot is one I like, and the idea of embedding it with some stoner references and a lot of modern profanities is one I embraced at first, but it turns out the laughs we get out of them are way too dumb.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a dumb laugh, Pineapple Express had them and they were great, and this one after all does reference a genre and films that were quite dumb themselves. And I do admit I gave this film a bit of hate at the beginning of this review, but that was just me venting off about this one not being the next Pineapple Express, but as a guy who’s unashamedly in love with fantasy films and their worlds, and has a special place in his heart for those bad ones made in the eighties, I thought this one was pretty genius, dumb as it may have been it was sure as hell made by smart people.

And finally let me just address on this closing paragraph to the other group of haters of Your Highness. If you’re part of the bunch that’s hating on Your Highness not because it’s not the next Pineapple Express but rather because it’s not the next George Washington or All the Real Girls or Undertow or Snow Angels, which were all pretty awesome and had a huge amount of emotional depth and showed Mr. Green as a director that showed a tremendous potential as a very exciting auteur (Terrence Malick was a producer on Undertow for god’s sake!) then let me just tell you something: get over it. Sure, those movies were amazing and if Mr. Green decided to go back to that area I would so welcome that, but if he wants to keep doing comedies, which seems to be the cast as he’s releasing The Sitter with Jonah Hill this August, then just leave him be, this one wasn’t amazing but it was still decent enough, and he’s proven he can actually do an awesome comedy, so yeah, leave him be, and this review is more than long enough already so I’ll leave it at that.

Grade: B

Oscar Predictions: Best Leading Actor and Actress

24 Feb

In my second to last Oscar Predictions post I will tackle both Lead acting races, both of which are pretty much considered locks by most, but one of which really isn’t.

BEST LEAD ACTOR

Nominees

  • Javier Bardem (for Biutiful)
  • Jeff Bridges (for True Grit)
  • Jesse Eisenberg (for The Social Network)
  • Colin Firth (for The King’s Speech)
  • James Franco (for 127 Hours)

In case you were wondering, this is that one that actually is a mortal lock. There’s absolutely no way in hell Colin Firth will not walk away from the Nokia Theater without the golden man firmly in his hands. He gives a masterclass in acting in The King’s Speech, not to mention he’s coming off his other Oscar-noinated stellar performance in A Single Man last year.

Should Win: Colin Firth
Will Win: Colin Firth

BEST LEAD ACTRESS

Nominees

  • 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)

These are actually my Top 5 performance by any actress in a leading role in all of 2010, so I was specifically happy about this bunch of nominees. But this is the category which I think isn’t as clear-cut as most are assuming.

Yes, Natalie Portman has swept through the precursors, and her performance, to me, is certainly the best in this group and should most certainly earn her her first Academy Award (she was previously nominated for her supporting turn in Closer).

But then there’s Annette Bening. This woman is heavily involved in the Academy, absolutely loved and revered by everyone in the business, as she should be because she’s one seriously awesome lady, and has already lost three times before (twice to Hilary Swank, one of those, to me, quite unjustly), so the Academy may feel like she’s due (and she honestly is) and give her the award, even if her performance, stunning as it may be, isn’t as great as Portman’s.

So yes, I’m saying Portman for now. Not because she has won all the other awards, just because I liked her performance better. But maybe Annette Bening will pull off the upset, I mean, just look at her face during the scene at dinner in Paul’s house and it’s tough to argue against giving her the golden man.

Should Win: Natalie Portman
Will Win: Natalie Portman

No Strings Attached

14 Feb

Title: No Strings Attached
Year:
2011
Director:
Ivan Reitman
Writer:
Elizabeth Meriwether, based on a story by herself and Mike Samonek
Starring:
Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Cary Elwes, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Olivia Thirlby, Lake Bell
MPAA Rating:
R, sexual content, language and some drug material
Runtime:
110 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
6.1
Rotten Tomatoes:
52%

 

No Strings Attached was a far more enjoyable affair than I initially thought it would be. I mean, Ivan Reitman has done a few amazing films in his lifetime like Meatballs, Dave and, of course, Ghostbusters, but in the last decade the guy had only directed two films (My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Evolution) which were both kind of dull. But then again, this one had Natalie Portman, coming off her career-best performance in Black Swan, so she obviously elevated the project. Not to mention that Ashton Kutcher can be quite alright when paired up with the right co-star, no matter what his many naysayers may think.

And this really did feel like quite a fresh film to me. The premise was obviously a very fun one, about what happens when a sex-only, friends-with-benefits relationship starts having feelings involved, and one that will actually be sort of replicated come July in Ms. Portman’s Black Swan co-star’s, Mila Kunis, latest film called Friends with Benefits, which actually has the original title this one had and looks even better. But yes, for now we only have this one, and we can’t compare the two yet, so we’ll just judge this one for what it is, which means, judge it as one of the most solid entries in the commercial rom-com canon of the past few years.

I mean, yes, like most romantic comedies you always know the path this one is going to take, but the difference with this one is that the very charming leads and steady hand of Mr. Reitman make the ride down that path feel endlessly enjoyable no matter how predictable the destination.

Not to mention that the script is actually pretty decent, which is surprising considering the genre it was servicing, but Elizabeth Meriwether, making her feature film writing debut, gets a lot of pretty sharp and raunchy one-liners in here. Ms. Meriwether, who has written for stage and TV before this (she actually has a pilot at Fox with Zooey Deschanel attached to star), inserts quite a lot of cool gags here, as well as a few colorful supporting characters that provide our two stars a lot of room for play, and, for a January release, you really couldn’t ask for that much more.

Now, Natalie Portman is obviously amazing in anything she’s in. Personal crush aside you have to concede that the girl really makes anything she’s in marginally better than it would have probably been otherwise, and in No Strings Attached she proves just how game she can be, and considering she has four other films due this year, then I guess we better get used to seeing her ridiculously gorgeous face quite a lot. Not to mention that Greta Gerwig, who, along with Jennifer Lawrence has to be my pick for niftiest new star to come out in 2010, is also here, so she bumps up the beauty/smart/awesome quota as well.

The concept is easy to grasp, two friends who decide to start having sex while remaining nothing more than friends, but you obviously know feelings will the arise. And, as I said, that’s a pretty neat premise for a rom-com, especially when you have a script that manages to effectively capture the feelings and emotions that would probably come out of such situations.

Ms. Portman’s character, Emma, is a med student who always thinks of sex as something totally casual, while Mr. Kutcher’s is a guy who wants to become a writer and has just been dumped by his girlfriend who’s now shacking up with his father. By this you can probably gather that the guy, Adam, will end up suddenly, in full rebound mode, sleeping with Emma, and they’ll continue at it, because she doesn’t think that highly of the emotional connotations of sex, and because he, deep down, is a romantic who’s trying to make this no strings attached relationship work out.

It’s cool how the film and these actors deal with that question, of whether it’s possible or not to have sex with one person a lot without having love be a part of it, and that’s mostly precisely because of the two leads we get here. Ms. Portman and Mr. Kutcher actually have a really rad chemistry together, and they are the ones that make this film much much better than the typical rom-com commercial fodder you were no doubt expecting. Not that this one was super groundbreaking and daring or anything, if anything it didn’t even feel like an R-rated film most of the time, but it did still feel to me like a rather refreshing film that you could go see on a date.

Grade: B+

Oscar Nominations: My Reactions

25 Jan

The Oscar nominations were announced bright and early this morning. And while most of the nominees were predictable, there were still quite a bit of storylines to take out of the morning’s announcements.

Firstly, of course, the outrageous snub of Christopher Nolan in the Best Director category, Inception might have made the Best Picture ballot and Mr. Nolan himself got his second career Screenplay nod, but the Academy yet again failed to mention him for Best Director to make room for the Coen brothers. Another snub was The Town, which ended up with a sole Oscar nomination and got snubbed in the Best Picture as well as Director and Screenplay races, the films nominated instead were still quite deserving, but still, too little love bestowed on such a great film.

Then, on a far more positive note, this was also the year in which films that came out of Sundance came out strong at the Oscars, which is terrific news for the independent film business, The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone both got 4 nominations in major races, Animal Kingdom got a Best Supporting Actress bid, and four out of the five Best Documentary nominees were shown in Park City a year ago.

As for what the nominations will mean come the big night on February 27th, well, The King’s Speech certainly got a huge boost today, scoring an even dozen nominations, the most out of any film this year. That has some people jumping from The Social Network‘s bandwagon into the one driven by Harvey Weinstein, since for the last several decades the movie with the most nominations has won the Best Picture race 75% of the time. Now, let’s play statistics for a while here, I actually still think The Social Network will still win this for now, but the stock on The King’s Speech has certainly risen in the last few weeks. First, of course, was Saturday’s PGA win, and considering that association has bestowed its award to the eventual Best Picture winner 13 out of the last 20 years it means it has the odds going for it.

But then again, lets not forget just how much The Social Network has going for itself, it pretty much swooped the Critic’s groups awards, including big wins at the Globes and the National Board of Review. Not to mention that David Fincher is the clear front-runner to win not only the Best Director Oscar, but the DGA honors that will be announced on Saturday. And really, the Best Director winner is always considered the likely victor of the big race and, in fact, the winner of the DGA award has actually went on to have their film win the Best Picture Oscar 33 times in the last 40 years.

So, who really has the advantage? I honestly don’t know, this really is one seriously tough race to call, and I won’t call it until all the remained precursors are done with. Yes, the DGA will most likely go to The Social Network, but then the BAFTAs will presumably be all over The King’s Speech considering it’s a home-grown film. The PGA win by Tom Hooper’s film was big, yes, but so were the many Critic’s Associations and Globes wins by David Fincher’s movie. So, if I may interject, I think that the one awards show that may be a big indicator as to what will happen on Oscar night will be the SAGs, taking place this coming Sunday.

Hear me out for a while, the SAG obviously doesn’t have a Best Picture award, but rather a Best Ensemble one, meaning it will honor the combined acting performances of the cast in a film. And while I still think that the front-runner for that one is The Fighter (which has four seriously spectacular performances), I can see an upset happening courtesy of The King’s Speech. The Social Network won’t win that one, it has some great performances but it can’t compete acting-wise with those two other films, so that race will be the one to prove just how much support The King’s Speech has. And if it wins that one, then I probably will update my predictions and consider it the front-runner for the Oscar, because, remember, the SAGs have many times served as indicators of Oscar upsets, I’m obviously referring to 1998, when the SAG went to Shakespeare in Love, the same film that went on to win the Best Picture Oscar over the clear favorite, Saving Private Ryan, and most recently in 2005, when Crash ended up with the SAG win and ended up upsetting Brokeback Mountain for the Academy’s top honor.

So yes, this will be a Best Picture race for the ages, one I’m really excited for and one that will come down to the very end. Will The King’s Speech end up with the win? Consolidating itself as the biggest Oscar bait there ever was in 2010, a biopic about British monarchy counting with excellent performances all around and a spectacular director working form a brilliant script. Or, will The Social Network prevail? The film with very young up-and-coming actors, directed by a director that started out working on music videos and then went on to create some of the most masterful and popular films of the last decade and a half, one about a modern phenomenon and full of quick-witted, very fast and talkative scenes. It will be a New School vs. Old School battle to the very end, the historical dramas have fared very well in the past, I’m thinking Gandhi or The English Patient, but as of late, with winners like The Hurt Locker and No Country for Old Men, it feels as though the Academy is skewing more towards films oriented to younger audiences with a more gritty sort of feel. We’re in for one very entertaining race to the finish line.

But enough about the big race, I’m sure we’ll talk much more about that in the near future, but for now let us revise all the nominations announced by the Academy today.

BEST PICTURE

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

All the usual suspects here. I went 9 for 10 as far as my predictions go, considering Winter’s Bone felt the love from the Academy big time today and crept into the big party, throwing out my original prediction for the tenth slot: The Town. Again, as for who will actually win it, I have no idea, it’s a big split between The Social Network and The King’s Speech, and we’ll have a clearer idea of the state of the race once the remaining precursors are all said and done.

BEST DIRECTOR

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

I went 4 for 5 in this one, considering I predicted the horribly snubbed Christopher Nolan to be invited to the party instead of the Coen brothers. However, True Grit got a massive ten nominations and the love went to the genius brothers instead. Which was well deserved, but it’s ridiculous that Nolan doesn’t have a Best Director nomination to his name yet. However, massive kudos to Darren Aronofsky for finally getting his first career nomination for helming what to me was the best film of 2010.

BEST LEAD ACTOR

  • Javier Bardem (for Biutiful)
  • Jeff Bridges (for True Grit)
  • Jesse Eisenberg (for The Social Network)
  • Colin Firth (for The King’s Speech)
  • James Franco (for 127 Hours)

Went a perfect 5-for-5 in this race, correctly predicting Javier Bardem’s nomination over Get Low‘s Robert Duvall. Still, Bardem’s nomination was much deserved, and it was awesome to see a foreign language performance getting a nod here. However, this has never been a race, the golden man probably has Colin Firth’s name engraved from this very moment.

BEST LEAD ACTRESS

  • 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)

Another category in which I went 5-for-5 in my predictions. And it really is a lovely bunch of ladies getting nominated here, Michelle Williams got her extremely deserved nomination for her beautiful work in Blue Valentine and Jennifer Lawrence capped off her breakthrough year with an invite to Hollywood’s biggest party. This is, though, still a Portman vs. Bening battle, and even though I think Portman has the edge because hers was the better performance in the better film, I’ll wait until the SAGs are done on Sunday to call her a lock.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Christian Bale (for The Fighter)
  • John Hawkes (for Winter’s Bone)
  • Jeremy Renner (for The Town)
  • Mark Ruffalo (for The Kids Are All Right)
  • Geoffrey Rush (for The King’s Speech)

I predicted four out of the five here, the one I got wrong was Andrew Garfield who I thought would firmly land a nod but was bumped off by John Hawkes who was riding on the huge love given to Winter’s Bone here. Still, this is no contest, it’s Bale’s to lose, and he just won’t.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Amy Adams (for The Fighter)
  • Helena Bonham Carter (for The King’s Speech)
  • Melissa Leo (for The Fighter)
  • Hailee Steinfeld (for True Grit)
  • Jacki Weaver (for Animal Kingdom)

I’ve always said this was my favorite race of the year, and even though my personal #2 pick, Mila Kunis, was left out, it really still is. I said that if Hailee Steinfeld remained here and wasn’t voted as Lead, then either Ms. Kunis or Jacki Weaver would get the boot, I picked Kunis in my predictions but apparently the Academy really loved the Australian crime saga and wanted to give it a nod, as they should have, really. Still, this is the best race there can be this year, considering I could see any of these ladies potentially winning. Amy Adams was my personal favorite of the year, and she gives her best performance yet, and considering it’s her third nomination they may (and hopefully will!) give it to her. Helena Bonham Carter may find herself winning if The King’s Speech sweeps. Melissa Leo is the current favorite, and if she wins the SAG on Sunday then this will be hers. Hailee Steinfeld carries True Grit and the voters may like to reward a young one. And Jacki Weaver created one seriously compelling character here, though considering she missed out at the SAG I think she’s the less likely to end up winning.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Another Year (written by Mike Leigh)
  • The Fighter (written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson)
  • Inception (written by Christopher Nolan)
  • The Kids Are All Right (written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg)
  • The King’s Speech (written by David Seidler)

I went 4 for 5 in this one, and the one I missed was the one that pains me the most not to see here which was the beautiful Black Swan screenplay, which I had in favor of Another Year, but I guess you can never count Mike Leigh out of this race, he’s just that good. As for who will win it, I would very much like to see The Kids Are All Right pick this one up, or if not then Christopher Nolan as a sort of apology from the Academy for not even nominating him for Best Director. But, most likely, this one will end up firmly in the hands of David Seidler.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • 127 Hours (written by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, based on the book by Aron Ralston)
  • The Social Network (written by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Ben Mezrich)
  • Toy Story 3 (written by Michael Arndt, based on the story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich)
  • True Grit (written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, based on the novel by Charles Portis)
  • Winter’s Bone (written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell)

As I said in my predictions, Winter’s Bone was going to put up a fight to be honored in this category. In my predictions I had The Town listed instead of Debra Granik’s film, but, as I’ve already said, the Academy shout-out the Ben Affleck film outside of Jeremy Renner’s nod, so no love here either. I like Debra Granik’s script better though (had it 6th in my Best Screenplays of 2010 list, while The Town was 15th), so I’m happy about it. Still, there’s no way Aaron Sorkin is losing this one, but then again I said the same thing about Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner’s script for Up in the Air last year.

BEST ART DIRECTION

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
  • Inception
  • True Grit
  • The King’s Speech

Very very good bunch of nominees here, the only film I could have seen making the cut and still be happy about it would have been Shutter Island, but nevertheless, this will be a very cool race. I’m hoping Inception will prevail here, though Alice in Wonderland may have something to say about that and, if it turns out to be a sweep, so may The King’s Speech.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Black Swan
  • Inception
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Social Network
  • True Grit

If I would have to guess, I’d say True Grit will win this one. However, it was amazing to see Black Swan get listed here, though I would have liked to see The King’s Speech miss out on this race in favor of the wonderful job by the 127 Hours guys.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Io Sono l’Amore
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Tempest
  • True Grit

As I said in my review for The Tempest, you can never count any Julie Taymor film out of the Best Costume Design race (all four of her films have now been nominated), but still, this one will most likely go to Alice in Wonderland. Cool to see Io Sono l’Amore get a nod here, too.

BEST EDITING

  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Social Network

Out of the technical categories, Best Editing is the one that foretells the Best Picture winner the most, so this one is one we should pay close attention to. Since the award was introduced nearly eight decades ago, only nine films have won Best Picture without being nominated here. Which I guess also goes to explain why Crash trumped over Brokeback Mountain. But still, the two Best Picture front-runners are here, so seeing who wins may be decisive as to who takes Best Picture. My vote goes to The Social Network here, and I still can’t fathom why Inception wasn’t named.

BEST MAKEUP

  • Barney’s Version
  • The Way Back
  • The Wolfman

They failed to recognize Alice in Wonderland in this one somehow, so I’m guessing this one’s definitely The Wolfman‘s.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • 127 Hours (composed by A.R. Rahman)
  • Inception (composed by Hans Zimmer)
  • The Social Network (composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)
  • The King’s Speech (composed by Alexandre Desplat)
  • How to Train Your Dragon (composed by John Powell)

Usual suspects in this one. Awesome to see Reznor and Ross up for this one, and they’re definitely my favorites to end up picking the award. However, Alexandre Desplat gets his fourth nomination with this one and still hasn’t won, so if The King’s Speech ends up owning the show he could win. However, Hans Zimmer’s score for Inception, which is all sorts of mind-blowing, may end up getting the win if the Academy feels it didn’t bestow enough nominations love towards the film, he hasn’t won an Oscar since The Lion King in 1995, despite being nominated 6 additional times since.

BEST SONG

  • If I Rise (from 127 Hours)
  • Coming Home (from Country Strong)
  • I See the Light (from Tangled)
  • We Belong Together (from Toy Story 3)

I honestly don’t know who will end up with the win here. All I know is that I’m happy no songs from Burlesque were named here.

BEST SOUND

  • Inception
  • The King’s Speech
  • Salt
  • The Social Network
  • True Grit

This is the one category that had most prediction experts baffled. Everyone predicted a maximum of 11 nominations for The King’s Speech, and this is the one nobody imagined, and the one that showed us just how much the Academy loved the film. As strange as it may sound, a Sound nomination is what really let us know that it was the front-runner.

BEST SOUND EDITING

  • Inception
  • Toy Story 3
  • TRON: Legacy
  • True Grit
  • Unstoppable

I really liked seeing TRON: Legacy here, and I was sure that The Social Network would get a nod here, but out of nowhere came Unstoppable and made the cut. Still, a cool and eclectic bunch.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
  • Hereafter
  • Inception
  • Iron Man 2

I expected TRON: Legacy to make the cut here, but at least it got a Sound Editing nod so it didn’t go unmentioned. Still, if Inception loses this race the Oscars will have lost all credibility to me.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • Biutiful (from Mexico)
  • Dogtooth (from Greece)
  • In a Better World (from Denmark)
  • Incendies (from Canada)
  • Outside the Law (from Algeria)

This one’s always very tough to predict. But hopefully Biutiful will end up with the trophy.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • L’Illusionniste
  • Toy Story 3

This one isn’t a race at all, Toy Story 3 will win this one hands down.

BEST DOCUMENTARY

  • Exit Through the Gift Shop
  • Inside Job
  • Gasland
  • Waste Land
  • Restrepo

No Waiting for Superman? Yeah, very very weird. Same with the lack of Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. Still Inside Job would be a very cool winner, as would be Exit Through the Gift Shop, especially if we somehow get a Banksy appearance.