Week of Favorites: Actors

The great thing about film is that there are so many aspects to appreciate, favoring specific tracks on soundtracks to cinematographers to performances to directors. Another great part about film is that it’s always evolving, introducing new actors, rehashing old story plots, improving technology. There are always new and old films to watch and rewatch, new introductions to characters to be made, new soundtracks worth listening to, and so on.

After a stroke of writers’ block, I decided to get back to the basics and post my “Favorite Five” of various film categories each day this week, today starting with my five current favorite actors. While over time (and with more films to view), I’m sure my favorites will change over time, but for now, these are my five six favorites. Stay tuned for favorite actresses, films, and other favorite lists coming up this week.

6. James Franco

I’m of the belief that James Franco will become one of the best actors of the younger generations. He’s still only in his 30s, but he already has a rocking resume that boasts plenty of potential. He’s done everything successfully, from the big screen to the small screen to soaps to hosting the Oscars, and yet he pulls it all off with incredible charisma. I really enjoyed him playing the sharp, confused Harry Osborne in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, although I was especially blown away by his Oscar performance in 127 Hours. I still laugh at him in Never Been Kissed, watching the then-unfamous, unrecognized Franco spout off a couple forgettable one-liners in the background. Who would have figured him to have embodied James Dean only two years later? There’s loads more of positive things I could say about him, so I would direct you to my spotlight post on him here.

5. Tom Cruise

Coming in at my number 5 slot is none other than Tom Cruise. He may not be the most popular person in real life, but on screen, he’s one of my favorites. I tend to lean more toward his 90s or early 2000s films, such as A Few Good MenVanilla Sky, and my favorite of his, Jerry McGuire. He also established himself through the Mission Impossible franchise, his latest film hitting theaters only in December of last year. He’s versatile enough to be playing action hero or dramatic lead, and he brings an intensity to each role that he plays. I found him unusually funny in Interview with the Vampire, easily outdoing his popular co-star Brad Pitt. Although Risky Business wasn’t my favorite film, I still appreciated Cruise’s hilarious performance back when he was younger. The guy ceases to age physically, as Richard Roeper tweeted during the Oscars that Cruise has aged at least 3 years in the past 30.

4. Matt Damon

Matt Damon is another hard hitter, although he’s often overlooked for George Clooney or Brad Pitt. While both the latter are good actors in their own ways, there’s this drama and insight that I see more in Damon. He embodied a newer, more interesting, James Bond-like character as Jason Bourne in the Bourne series, but he really won me over with his stunning and moving performance in Good Will Hunting. He’s transitioned from action star to more fatherly roles in his more recent films, and he balances them well. He works well as both a supporting and leading man in film, and I’m excited to see what else he has up his sleeve.

3. Will Smith

Part of me leans toward Smith because I grew up watching Fresh Prince and I dug his humor. He lights up the screen in whatever film he’s in. Smith either fights off the bad guys or moves you to tears. He also does a nice job of staying out of the limelight despite being married to an incredible actress and raising two kids that are turning in careers of their own. Since 2005, Smith has acted as producer for all of the films he’s collaborated with. My favorite films of his are currently Hitch and The Pursuit of Happyness. Will Smith is one of the few actors who seem to hold a strong grip on comedy, action, and drama films, making him one of the more flexible actors in Hollywood today. I don’t care much for the Men in Black franchise, but I look forward to him taking on newer projects in the future.

2. Jim Carrey

One of my favorite actors of all time is Jim Carrey. He tends to play character actors in most of humorous roles, but he’s also created new funny guys such as Bruce Almighty. Carrey is probably known best for his funniest films: Liar Liar, Dumb and Dumber, or The Cable Guy. It’s often said that comedic actors struggle to cross over into drama; that may be true, but Carrey would be an exception. From Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to The Truman Show to The Majestic to The Number 23, Carrey could be considered a dramatic actor every bit as much of a comedic one. He’s turned in multiple performances that make you question how someone can so effectively walk the line between comedy and drama and come out as successful as he has on both ends.

1. Tom Hanks

When I was thinking through some of my favorite actors, Tom Hanks was the first to come to mind. I grew up watching him in Big and Turner and Hooch and Sleepless in Seattle, and I loved how he was really the everyman in his films. I’ve always found Hanks to be a relatable guy in most of the roles he embodied, and that’s what always attracted me to his films. He’s won two Oscars and I wouldn’t be surprised if he weren’t through with winning big awards yet. He’s starred in some of the most memorable films, from Forrest Gump to The Green Mile to Philadelphia to one of my favorite films of his, Saving Private Ryan. He seems to have done a little bit of everything, from voicing the iconic animated character Woody in the incredibly successful Pixar franchise Toy Story, to working with CGI animation in The Polar Express, to bringing The Da Vinci Code books to life, to playing a man stuck in an airport in The Terminal. Hanks is one of those actors who will do most anything, even gaining a significant amount of weight, acting against himself, and talking to a volleyball in my favorite film of his, Cast Away.

Who are your favorite actors? What makes them so good to you? Who holds your top spot?

Advertisements

The New Academy Darlings

I posted like crazy in the past 5 days, so I’ll be keeping it short today. Obviously, the Oscars were last night and most of the results did not come as a surprise to many of us. I’m thrilled to say that my top 4 picks won (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture) [It’s true: check out my Oscar posts for acting, directing, and picture]. I’m beyond happy that Meryl Streep and Jean Dujardin won Best Actress and Best Actor. They were both wonderful in their respective films.

Perhaps Entertainment Weekly spoke too soon.*

*I loved Clooney and Davis in their films, but I loved Streep and Dujardin even more. 

Oscar Chatter with Kristin and Matt: Best Picture

Kristin: Out of the nine films nominated, I’ve seen all but War HorseHugo, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The good news is that I don’t believe out of those three films, that any stand a chance of winning. The most likely of them is Hugo, but even then, I see Hugo vying more for Best Director than Best Picture.

It really comes down to the main two contenders that have won most other awards this season: The Artist and The Descendants. Both are good films, yet very different from each other. The Artist seems to be the frontrunner, and having seen both films as well Tree of LifeThe HelpMidnight in Paris, and Moneyball, I will gladly confess that The Artist is my favorite of them all, and in my mind, the most deserving to win Best Picture this year.

While The Descendants was a good film that I would even watch another time or two, I don’t think it quite bears all the necessary material to win Best Picture. It stars Academy darling George Clooney, and was written and directed by Alexander Payne, an experienced writer-director who is no stranger to the Oscars, having had his writing for both Election and Sideways nominated (he won the award for Sideways). Payne’s work is story-centered, and a lot of reliance on his work being brought to life rests on the actors’ shoulders. The Descendants‘s cast gives justice to Payne’s script, and it is no surprise to see the film receiving such high accolade.

That being said, The Artist really separated itself from the mass when director Michel Hazanavicius chose to make a black and white silent film. A lot of great things have been said of The Artist in the past couple posts. But aside from its originality in this time period, The Artist also stars strangers to American film, namely Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, who won over the hearts of viewers. Their acting was flawless and moving, and they paid homage to the silent film era with their performances. Ludovic Bource’s score is unforgettable, and reveals the power of how a good score can complement a film that doesn’t rely on dialogue to tell the story. Hazanavicius was able to write a story with practically no words, and yet the story was easily told and understood by those who watched it. Of the six Best Picture nominations I’ve seen, The Artist, I believe, is the overall winner because it’s not strong only in story, but also in performances; not only is it a beauty to watch in the B&W film era, but also is the music stirring, the direction clear, and the film editing, visual effects, and art direction suitable for the film, delivering on all necessary levels. The Artist is the winner in my book. 

Matt: There is little doubt in my mind who will win Best Picture tonight. Like last years winner, The Artist slowly drifted from obscurity into the hearts of the film world. It will win not only because it was a very good film, but because it is exactly the type of movie the Academy loves. I quite enjoyed the film, and found it to be an ambitious, charming homage to a forgotten time in Hollywood’s history. Will people look at this film in twenty years and mark it as a classic? While that appears to be seen, my gut instinct is that they will not. The film works wonderfully for what it is: a salute to the silent era. Does it break new ground for cinema? I cannot argue that it does.

However, do any of this years nominees break new ground? Will any of these films be regarded as classics in the coming years? Now I have not seen War Horse, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, or Payne’s much praised film, The Descendants. I thoroughly enjoyed Midnight In Paris. Sweet and charming, it may be my favorite film of the year; however, it is not the best film of the year. Moneyball may be the first sports movie in years that I have not gagged over. Great writing and acting made it an enjoyable film. Was it this year’s best picture? Not remotely. The Help makes you laugh and cry; it also reminds us of a very dark time in our nation’s history. And Martin Scorcese created a dream to educate us all about the origins of celluloid dreams.

All of these were good; some of them great. Among the nominees, however, there was only one film that came close to breaking new ground for cinema. With each new film, Malick continues to explore the possibilities of pure cinema. Of this year’s nominees, The Tree of Life was the only film I couldn’t get out of my head. The film’s many themes stuck with me for days after I watched it: The birth of the universe, the existence of God, the smallness of man. The joy and hardships of childhood, the death of loved ones, what happens after this life passes. It asked all the right questions without giving too many definitive answers. That is what art is supposed to do, isn’t it?

Matt brings up an interesting point–should a film win Best Picture because it breaks new ground? Or is a film that’s considered popular or “the best”  more deserving? Does it matter if a film has more influence, but isn’t considered “Best Picture” by the Academy?  Share your thoughts below.

******************************************************************************************************************

Matthew Roth is an aspiring filmmaker from the Madison, WI area. While his passion is narrative film, he currently shoots and edits promotional and event videos at Inframe. In his free time, Matt enjoys researching and discussing film over a cup of coffee or meeting up with fellow film junkies through Craigslist. Be sure to check out his most recent short film Memoria.

Oscar Chatter with Matt and Kristin: Best in the Acting Categories

Kristin: I’ve seen all the nominees except for Demian Bichir in A Better Life. I was surprised Michael Fassbender from Shame didn’t get nominated, and I was disappointed to see JGL miss a nod for his great work in 50/50. I’m rooting for Jean Dujardin from The Artist to pick up this award, especially since he’s already picked up the Golden Globe and the SAG among others. I prefer Dujardin to Clooney, who may be his only serious competition, although I still see Dujardin winning. I’m also happy for Gary Oldman to get a nomination, even though I think he has better work that was previously ignored.

Matt: In the first twenty minutes of The Artist, Jean Dujardin painted a grin on my face that would last nearly the rest of the film–he was charming in every way. It is a unique performance, if not just because Dujardin must convey his character’s thoughts and emotions without the luxury of ever speaking. In short, I would be very surprised if the Academy does not pick Dujardin. Unfortunately, I have yet to see The Descendants, but as Kristin has said, it seems that Clooney would be the only other close competitor to Dujardin. That being said, I found Brad Pitt completely deserving of his nomination for Moneyball. Of the nominations I’ve seen, Pitt was the only one whose role truly carried the entire movie. In my opinion, without Pitt playing Billy Beane, Moneyball simply doesn’t work. I actually forgot I was watching a Brad Pitt movie.

Kristin: I completely agree that Dujardin was utterly charming in The Artist, and you couldn’t help but smile throughout that film. The thing with Clooney is that he’s an Academy darling, even more so than Pitt. I know Clooney didn’t win much of anything for Up in the Air a couple years back (which I actually enjoyed more than The Descendants), but sometimes I think he’s receiving nominations just because he’s Clooney. He was good in The Descendants, but maybe I missed the “greatness” aspect. Glad you enjoyed Moneyball so much. I appreciated the film because I read most of the book it was based off, and I would agree Pitt embodied the Billy Beane. I’ve heard some complaints that Pitt should have been nominated for Tree of Life instead of Moneyball, but I agree with the nomination.

Matt: For me, what made Pitt’s performance golden were subtle things; for example, him constantly grabbing candy from the candy dish in the scene where he first notices Peter Brand. I think Pitt could have been nominated for either role, though a nomination for The Tree of Life would have had to be for Best Supporting Actor. Has an actor ever been nominated for Best Actor/Actress and Supporting Actor/Actress? A quick Wikipedia search yielded this answer: “Thanks to a voting quirk, in 1944 Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way became the only actor nominated in both the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories for the same performance, winning the latter.” Today’s Academy bylaws disallow this, of course. I was unable to find an actor or actress that has been nominated twice the same year for two different roles. That probably won’t ever happen either.

To sum up, while I enjoyed Pitt and Dujardin’s roles immensely, I think it has been a rather weak year for Best Actor. None of the roles nominated hold a candle to other recent years, say Colin Firth’s role in The King’s Speech or Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood. Such performances are ones that I will remember for quite a long time.

Kristin: I saw Glenn Close only in an extended preview for Albert Nobbs, and it certainly looks interesting enough, despite many believing that last spot belongs to Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk about Kevin or Elizabeth Olson in Martha Marcy May Marlene (or others I’m sure!). Previously, I had complaints over Emma Stone’s performance in The Help being completely overlooked, despite my loyalty to Viola Davis. This category is said to be the only real competition this year–between Meryl Streep and Viola Davis. I saw both films and much preferred The Help over TIL, but I think both performances are on equal ground. Honestly, it’s been YEARS since Streep actually won an Oscar, and she keeps getting told “you’ll get one next year.” So I’m rooting for Streep, although I’d be happy if Davis walked away with it too.

Matt: While I did think Emma Stone’s performance in The Help was good, I felt it was one of the easier roles in the film, and hardly on par with Viola Davis’ role. Her performance in the final scene of the film is one of the best (and most heartrending) I have seen this year. As for Streep, while I look forward to seeing her performance on DVD, poor reviews for The Iron Lady stopped me from dropping $8.25 to see the film in theaters. But what are the Oscars without a Streep nomination? After all, with The Iron Lady, Streep receives her 17th Oscar nomination. It would be interesting to see Glenn Close win the award; however, I would be surprised if it is given to anyone other than Davis.

Kristin: I have to agree that Davis had the most moving performance in that film. The Help really had a fantastic ensemble to carry it. I still would have liked to see Stone get some love for her work, even at just the Golden Globes, but I know her role wasn’t quite as dramatic or polarizing as the others. I wouldn’t even recommend seeing The Iron Lady with the exception of Meryl Streep. She gave an excellent performance. The direction of the film was off– it lacked an opinion, had too much focus on Thatcher’s dementia, and just felt too disjointed. That said, Streep’s performance somehow proved that you can have a crappy film and an incredible performance come out of it. I would love either Streep or Davis win, and I’m sure one will. Close and Mara definitely won’t win, and Williams’s nomination reminds me a little of Jennifer Lawrence’s last year, in that the real honor is the nomination.

Matt: I love Streep, but I really hope Davis gets the win. She would be only the second African American woman to win the Best Actress Oscar. I can’t think of a more appropriate role by which to win it.

Kristin: Nick Nolte in Warrior was the surprise addition to this category, and I was very glad to see it. I’m assuming Plummer will walk away with the trophy for his work in Beginners. He gave an exceptional performance, so that would make me happy. I thought Ewan McGregor was brilliant in Beginners and forgotten for his great work. It’s also cool to see a name like “Jonah Hill” join the ranks among the Oscar nominated, although it’s a sure thing that he won’t be winning. I’ve heard great things about Kenneth Branagh in My Week with Marilyn, but I have yet to see that film. I did finally see Drive and think Albert Brooks should have received some kind of credit, although I don’t know if I would have put him in place of Plummer, Hill, or Nolte. The interesting turn in this category is seeing Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close‘s Max von Sydow pick up a nom. I’m curious to see him in that film now.

Matt: I quite liked Jonah Hill’s work in Moneyball. It was nice to see him actually play a role other than the funny, fat kid. While I hadn’t given him much thought before Moneyball, he now is someone I will watch. I enjoyed seeing Nolte in Warrior; in fact, his role may have been the only thing about that movie I truly did enjoy. However, I didn’t think his performance was anything out of the ordinary; it was enjoyable, but not groundbreaking. I will readily admit my lack of knowledge for the other noms in this category, as sadly, I have not yet had the opportunity to view them. It is nice to see von Sydow get some recognition, albeit only his second nomination. Seems rather sad in such a great career that has spanned over six decades, but many great performances are not realized until decades after their release. So, yes, he should have been nominated Best Actor for his role in The Seventh Seal, not that anyone outside of Sweden would have even recognized his name at that time.

Missing from this section is Brad Pitt for his outstanding role as Mr. O’Brien in The Tree of Life. And the little Jack Russel Terrier from The Artist. 🙂

Kristin: I hope Jonah Hill gets offered some better roles in the future with his success from Moneyball. I know he’s in some upcoming silly movie with Channing Tatum, which probably won’t do him much good, but perhaps he’ll make it a point to be in the occasional drama. I’m happy to agree to disagree with you on Nolte. He probably had the best performance in the film, but I would consider his performance groundbreaking in Warrior.

I think it’s interesting that like many years, a lot of the actors nominated in the supporting category tend to be in films that are not widely released until later, or they never get a wide release altogether with the exception of a few big cities. I really enjoyed Beginners, and it doesn’t surprise me that its only nomination is for Christopher Plummer, given who he is and the role he played. My Week with Marilyn, Drive, Beginners–none of these movies scream Oscars at all, despite earning one or two nominations each. It’s movies like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close that work to be an Oscar film, and turn out successful enough (nomination for Best Picture/Best Supporting Actor), and go along a point of view that you hold, Matt–actors like von Sydow missing out in the past for great work and getting nominated currently for more mediocre or just good work. I finally saw The Tree of Life and wasn’t blown away by it in any sense other than cinematography, although I would agree Pitt was the obvious stand-out performance in the film. And I would be perfectly fine with the JR terrier from The Artist making an appearance 🙂

Matt: In regards to Nolte, he’s pretty much always great; I just thought his role fairly insignificant in comparison to his previous performances, in particular Colonel Gordon Tall in The Thin Red Line. In that film Nolte plays, with conviction, a selfish, power-hungry commander willing to sacrifice whatever number of human lives necessary to move his career forward. In regards to “make-up Oscars,” it’s annoying when the Academy chooses to acknowledge an actor they missed out on the first time (or first ten times, as it may be) around. No number of “make-ups” changes that they failed to realize talent in the first place. In reality, a “make-up” nomination is nothing less than degrading.

Kristin: I think the obvious choice is The Help‘s Octavia Spencer, since she’s graciously won the award at about every award ceremony so far. I thought she was brilliant in the film and is well-deserving. Although I wouldn’t mind Berenice Bejo receiving some credit. But I think we all know that Spencer has it in the bag. Oh, and I think it’s kind of ridiculous that Melissa McCarthy got a nomination for Bridesmaids. She’s a hilarious actress, and I’m all for comedy making its mark at the Oscars, but how on earth was that role Oscar-worthy?

Matt: Spencer’s performance in The Help was thouroughly entertaining. I doubt I will ever think about chocolate pie the same ever again, nor will I think of it without seeing Spencer’s face. It is interesting that both Spencer and Chastain were chosen for their roles, as much of their time on screen is spent together. Their chemistry was great, and I loved Chastain’s performance, but I couldn’t help but think two things: 1) As long as we’re doling out nominations for The Help, what about Bryce Howard’s role as Hilly? She embodied pure evil pretty convincingly for me. 2) Hasn’t Chastain been nominated for the wrong role? What about her embodiment of grace and motherhood in The Tree of Life?

Snubbed? Marion Cotillard for her role in Midnight in Paris. Can you think of a sweeter or more charming performance that you’ve seen in recent years? I can’t.

Kristin: I really enjoyed this category because there were so many great performances nominated. Spencer and Chastain both played character roles in The Help, so it doesn’t surprise me that both were nominated. It was nice to see Chastain show yet another side of her acting ability. Bryce Dallas Howard actually received a lot of slack for her role. I’m not entirely sure why, but the common consensus is that she keeps playing the villain (both The Help and 50/50). She completely embodied the evilness needed for the role.

I’m glad that Chastain got nominated for The Help and not The Tree of Life, primarily because I enjoyed her role more in the former. I’m just not Terrance Malick’s biggest supporter in his heavy amount of editing in his films. Perhaps performances could have been stronger if he would have dropped the scissors and let actors just breathe. But that’s a whole other story. As for your snub mention–I never even considered Cotillard as an option, but I think you bring up a great point–she was graceful and lighthearted in Midnight in Paris, and it almost is surprising to see her not nominated.

Matt: Chastain’s roles in The Help and The Tree of Life show just how dynamic of an actress she is. She has had quite a year, and I look forward to catching up on some of her films that I missed. As far as Howard is concerned, I’m not sure how much the Academy likes to nominate villains. Nominations tend to fall on “hero” roles only. Even three dimensional villains rarely get a Oscar nod. I suppose everybody wants the “good guys” to win, even at the Oscars.

******************************************************************************************************************

Matthew Roth is an aspiring filmmaker from the Madison, WI area. While his passion is narrative film, he currently shoots and edits promotional and event videos at Inframe. In his free time, Matt enjoys researching and discussing film over a cup of coffee or meeting up with fellow film junkies through Craigslist. Be sure to check out his most recent short film Memoria.

Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2011

The time has come for me to finally make this list. I haven’t seen Tree of Life or Drive yet, so I feel like this list could possibly be adjusted after a viewing of either, but despite those exceptions, I still had a difficult time compiling this list. Without further ado, here are my top 10 favorite movies of 2011:

10) Something Borrowed

Of course I’m the only person out there who will be putting Something Borrowed on my list. It rated 14% on Rotten Tomatoes and received poor reviews all around. HOWEVER, this is my “dud” on the list. There’s a reason Something Borrowed makes my favorites list (as I not so subtly bolded the word favorite earlier), and not the list I consider to be the BEST movies of the year. I know it’s not going to be other people’s favorite, but that’s the point, right? This film resonated with me. I enjoyed the story (and the book it was based off), and maybe part of my problem is that I have this thing for John Krasinski. I don’t know.

9) The Muppets

And now to hit the movies that are on other people’s lists. I ended up seeing The Muppets twice. This is one of the most fun films to come out this year. Jason Segel did an excellent job reincarnating this group of lovable puppets that stole many hearts of earlier generations. From the screenplay to the original music, The Muppets won me over almost without trying.

8) Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

I found this newest edition to the franchise to be the most adrenaline-pumping of them all. Nonstop action, and some of the craziest stunts I’ve seen take place in a movie. There was great chemistry between Simon Pegg, Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, and Jeremy Renner for the latest IMF team. I really enjoyed the craziness of this movie and am happy to see Tom Cruise phoning in another good performance.

7) X-Men: First Class

This is one of the most exciting movies that came out this summer as well as the best one of the franchise by miles. Originally, I had never seen any of the X-Men movies, but on just a single viewing of  First Class, I was interested in the series. When a prequel can draw a non-fan in without annoying fanboys/girls with excessive detail or repetition (or really, just treating them like they’re stupid), then it can really be a great thing. I really enjoyed being introduced to the awesome Michael Fassbender as well as seeing James McAvoy play a young Professor X. And to top it off, a great soundtrack by Henry Jackman served as background.

6) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. II

I was one of the people who waited in line to see Deathly Hallows Pt. II and left feeling exceptionally underwhelmed, most likely due to steep expectations. After a second viewing of it, I came around and started thinking more about it. Deathly Hallows Pt. II was a great end to such a successful movie franchise. Although many fans of the books were left wanting with having many scenes changed or completely left out of this movie, it’s hard to argue that this movie didn’t move you in some way if you’re a Harry Potter fan. I was especially fond of the epilogue and the tone it left viewers with. There were so many great performances, that it’s hard to pick just one or two standouts. For me, it was exceptionally nice to see Daniel Radcliffe give all that he could to his Harry Potter role throughout the series, and then watch it all come together as he gave his life in Deathly Hallows Pt. II.

5) Midnight in Paris

I’m so happy to see all the critical chatter Midnight in Paris is drawing. I had heard almost nothing about it before I saw it, but I read a nice review by Roger Ebert. In the middle of a summer filled with lots of action, superheroes, and monsters comes this beautiful and creative stand-alone movie from Woody Allen. All the locations filmed in Paris alone serve as a great backdrop and historical picture of past and present Paris. I really enjoyed seeing Owen Wilson shine in a newer type of role for him alongside the gorgeous Marion Cotillard. From the music to the costumes to the humble, but smart screenplay, Midnight in Paris was easily one of my favorite movies of the year.

4) The Descendants

Since I first saw a trailer for The Descendants in theaters, I knew I would want to see the movie. I really enjoyed George Clooney’s previous Up in the Air, and I was excited to see him in an indie-styled film. Coming across as very grassroots, The Descendants takes a family that is seriously messed up and lets us journey with them through an especially harrowing time for George Clooney’s character, Matt King. What I enjoyed most about this movie was the realistic touch. Shailene Woodley gives her all in a dramatic role of playing a rebellious, but hurting teenager. It’s a story about family, making decisions, grieving, and dealing with unpleasant situations, and at the same time, it gives the audience a sense of realism. That pain and frustration and arguing and death is a real thing that happens every day, and shapes you as person as you deal with those times by your reactions to certain situations and interactions with the people close to you in life.

3) The Help

Based off the novel by Kathryn Stockett, the story of The Help is both moving and inspirational. This movie was able to accomplish both of those tasks–move and inspire viewers–without the unnecessary pizzazz or cheesiness that tends to accompany many films of the same genre today. Stripped of all the colors from the costumes, The Help makes you think beyond the movie theater and the book. Some of the best performances of the year took place in this movie, from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer to Emma Stone. Jessica Chastain was hilarious in her supporting role as well. Although there’s still controversy over this movie, The Help is no doubt one of the best movies to come out in 2011.

2) 50/50

Barely missing the top spot for my favorite film of the year, 50/50 made me cry and laugh and walk away very thankful for life by the movie’s end. Perhaps because the story was written by the guy (Will Reiser) who was actually diagnosed with cancer–and has now survived it and is in remission–50/50 offers the most realistic look at a young person dealing with a rare form of cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is both brilliant and endearing in this role, seeming to act the part from the inside out. A great supporting cast of Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston, and even Seth Rogen ties this dubbed “bromance comedy” together. Both moving and hilarious to watch, 50/50 was one of my favorite movies of the year.

1) The Artist

Until this past Sunday, 50/50 held the number one spot in my list of favorite movies for 2011. And then I saw The Artist and couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen one of the greatest films to come out in a long while. I walked in with low expectations, assuming I would be bored or disinterested, but found myself unbelievably surprised and thankful for the opportunity to see this movie gem. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo are flawless in this Michel Hazanavicius film filled with great performances, a great score, great writing, and great cinematography. It’s difficult to restrain from overpraising The Artist, not only because was it that good, but also because nothing else remotely similar has come out in ages, much less would be comparable to it. The Artist will probably hit it big at every awards ceremony this year, and rightfully so. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, please do so. It’s definitely my favorite of 2011.

What was your favorite movie of 2011? Did you like any of the ones on my list? What was missing from my list, and what do you think I should see still? I missed out on just about all documentaries in 2011, so I’m definitely looking for suggestions!

Yes, I’m Going to Talk about the Golden Globes

And the nominees are . . .

Not going to be listed here. But if you’d like to see a list, they’re just about anywhere else. Like Fandango, or Rotten Tomatoes, where it lists the movies with their RT rating. Kinda nifty.

Unfortunately, I haven’t see all of the films/performances that are up for awards yet. It’s difficult to make it to the theater for all of them, but I can comment on what I know and hope to happen. Here are my personal thoughts on each category, and who I guess will win each.

Best Motion Picture – Drama

I’ve seen 4 out of the 6 nominations. I’m actually stunned Ides of March made this list. Really? But then again, the Golden Globes occasionally pulls an odd nom or two out of a hat, so I’m crediting Ides with being the weird pick. My greatest disappointment is that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is entirely void from not only this list, but from the Golden Globes as well. Come on! I’m happy, however, to see Tree of Life not present, because people were making far too big a deal out of that film (if you ask me). I would be happy, however, to see The Help or The Descendants win this category. I enjoyed Moneyball a lot, but don’t think it deserves to win over either of those. I also think Hugo is entirely overrated because it’s a Scorsese film. I can’t comment on War Horse because I haven’t seen it, but it’s difficult to put into the mix when I don’t even have a desire to see it. Perhaps when it is in full release, I will reconsider.

Best Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical

In this section, I’ve seen half the films. My Week with Marilyn was always on my list to see, but it hasn’t worked out yet. I will personally be pulling for 50/50 to win, because it was my favorite film of the year thus far, but with The Artist having the most nominations of the season, I see it easily stealing this win. Midnight in Paris is a close personal second pick for me. It’s a Woody Allen treat and a great film, but I find it unlikely to beat out The Artist. Unlike the rest of the world (and critics alike), I was not a giant fan of Bridesmaids, although I was impressed with Wiig’s writing more than her performance with it. Surprisingly, Carnage is really pulling out a nice string of nominations, but I doubt it will fare against The Artist, much less Midnight in Paris.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

This is perhaps one of the easiest categories for me to comment on, because I have seen all the performances except for Michael Fassbender in Shame. However, after reading reviews, if I were to bet on who would surprisingly come up and win this category, I would bet on him. Plus, I think those awards voters smile upon nudity, but that’s those awards voters for you. Judging on all other performances, it appears to be a pretty tight race. Unfortunately for Brad Pitt, I don’t see Moneyball nominations faring well at all against it’s competition. Despite my dislike of J. Edgar, I think DiCaprio gave a fantastic performance. And despite my thoughts, I think voters will overlook him again and go with Fassbender. My personal pick would be between George Clooney in The Descendants and Brad Pitt in Moneyball. I won’t even give Gosling a fair chance in this match because I’m still one of the many stunned that his performance in Drive wasn’t considered for this category.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, I find myself with little to say, seeing that the majority of these performances are difficult to judge since half the films haven’t been widely distributed yet. The competition appears to be even more fierce in this category when big names like Meryl Streep and Tilda Swinton are included. Although I will be biased and think that Viola Davis is more than deserving of this win, I see either of the former winning this category. I’m also left disappointed with Emma Stone not getting any credit for her work in The Help, but it doesn’t surprise me, unfortunately. I’ve heard great things about Rooney Mara’s performance in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I don’t think she has a fighting chance.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical

I feel like I’ve really missed out on all the nominated performances this year–I’ve seen only one in this category as well! And that, being Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, which I don’t think will do anything. I see Michelle Williams easily taking this win with her performance in My Week with Marilyn. I’ve heard great things about Charlize Theron‘s polarizing performance in Young Adult, but I don’t know if that will come to anything or not. Two nominations are phoned in for Carnage, but again, it’s difficult to comment having not seen it. Although Kate Winslet seems to be an awards darling more than many.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical

Clear and simple, I would easily place my vote for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to win this category. I was blown away by his performance in 50/50. This is only the second time he has ever been nominated for a Golden Globe. But I think the obvious winner of this category will be Jean Dujardin in The Artist. Again, I’m stunned to see Gosling nominated for Crazy, Stupid, Love, of all the movies to be nominated for. And although I very much enjoyed Midnight in Paris, I doubt Owen Wilson will do anything. Either way, I’m happy to see him nominated.

Best Performance by an Actress In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

For this category, the stand-out performance for me was Shailene Woodley in The Descendants. The Help scored two nominations in this narrow category for Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain, two actresses that I would also be happy to see win–I think Jessica Chastain has a little more edge then Spencer in this category. But then again, The Artist may take this category, too, with Berenice Bejo‘s performance. More than ever, I’m wishing I had seen that movie so I wouldn’t feel so begrudged in talking about it’s likely and hypothetical victories.

Best Performance by an Actor In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

It’s a strange thing to see Drive finally get a nomination with Albert Brooks in this category. My pick would go to Jonah Hill in Moneyball, although I see Christopher Plummer (Beginners) or Viggo Mortenson (A Dangerous Method) walking away with the trophy before Hill does.

Best Director – Motion Picture

I will admit I’m very biased in this category. First things first: No, George Clooney, I don’t think you should win, much less be nominated in this category. Yes Ides was good, but it wasn’t Best Director nomination-worthy. Second: Despite the hype over Hugo, no, Scorsese, I don’t think just because you decided to make a family film that was largely successful, that you should win this category either. What kid wants to sit in a theater for over two hours when the film is more fitting for adults? That’s what The Muppets is for–to make children laugh and smile and sing and enjoy going to the theater. And get ready for it: No, Mr. Allen, I don’t think you should win either. Yes, you are an incredible writer, director, and storyteller, but you’re also the biggest Academy Darling of those listed, and just because those voters love you doesn’t mean you should win every year you’re nominated. Off your high horse. Which leaves Alexander Payne (The Descendants) and Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist). My gut tells me Hazanavicius is going to walk away with it, and I would be all the happier if he did.

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

My first choice? Midnight in Paris. The writing is the strength of the film, and I think it’s spectacular. I think Ides should be thrown out the window on this one too. It is likely that The Artist could take this one, too, but then again, so could The Descendants. Moneyball was a nice adaptation, but for those who have read the book (*raises hand*), they know it wasn’t a great representation of the book. It was, however, an excellent way to translate the story for today’s viewers and make something that might not entertain most to something that could now entertain many.

Best Animated Feature Film

The question we should all be asking is, where the heck is Kung Fu Panda 2 on this list? Seriously, Cars 2  was the least successful Pixar film to date, yet it still makes it on the list of nominees. If I were to pick a favorite, it would be Puss in Boots. Then again, I remained unimpressed with this list, considering the great past couple years of animated filmmaking.

Best Foreign Language Film

I have little to nothing to say about this category as well, since I haven’t seen a single film on the list. My only thought is that it’s interesting to see Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut make the list, In the Land of Blood and Honey. But that’s all I have to say about that.

Best Original Score – Motion Picture

There’s a great many popular and suspected composers’ scores on this list, from Howard Shore to John Williams to last year’s Oscar winners, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo this time around. I put this category entirely up for grabs.

Best Original Song – Motion Picture

I’m definitely a fan of Mary J. Blige’s The Living Proof from The Help, but I can’t help but get angry at not seeing even a showing for The Muppets on this one. Really? I’m actually stunned. This is a huge disappointment for a film with such great original songs.

And those are my thoughts! What are your biggest disappointments and surprises for this year’s Golden Globes?

Mini-Reviews: The Muppets and The Descendants

I’m back after the hiatus with a double-mini review on the latest Muppets movie to hit theaters and the latest of George Clooney in The Descendants.

First, let’s start with The Muppets.

OK, let me just say that Jason Segel is a little bit of a genius. The fun, quirky songs, the back story of how all the Muppets are now spread out, the villain (played by Chris Cooper) who’s constantly demanding a maniacal laugh from his evil cohorts–The Muppets contained enough charisma to charm nostalgic viewers (consisting mainly of adults who grew up watching them), as well as kids looking for new friends and heroes. Amy Adams played a great supporting role as Mary, Gary’s girlfriend of 10 years who’s helpful and supportive, but questioning of Gary’s humanity/muppiticity. Her performance in Enchanted would only confirm with the studio that she was the perfect fit for her role. Segel, already a bit of a dork himself, fit right in with the Muppets and his brother, Walter, who is the biggest Muppets fan ever.

Without a doubt, The Muppets is the family-friendly, feel-good film of the year. Receiving great critiques across the board (just check out Rotten Tomatoes’s high rating for it), and including some hilarious and well-placed cameos by various celebrities, the movie has you wanting to dance and sing along by the end.

The Descendants is on the other end of the spectrum. Painfully honest, with twists and turns that emotionally injure Matt King (George Clooney), the “back-up parent” and businessman first, who’s dealing with multiple issues vying for and demanding his attention. Clooney again knocks it out of the park with a great performance that’s likely to spark chatter at the Academy this year. If there had to be a stand-out performance for the movie, however, it would have to go to Shailene Woodley, who played Matt’s daughter, Alex. Alex, who has just been unexpectedly plucked from her rehab clinic by her father and younger sister, Scottie (Amara Miller), no sooner than later breaks the news to her dad that her mother, Elizabeth, has been cheating on him. But she doesn’t learn this revelation until her dad informs her while she is swimming in their leaf-filled pool that Elizabeth will not be waking up from her coma. Thus, Matt, his two daughters, and Alex’s odd-ball friend, Sid (Nick Krause), embark on a trip informing Elizabeth’s parents the news. As Matt and Alex learn more of Elizabeth’s affair, Matt starts to come to terms with what what to do with the land he has inherited, how he must deal with being a single parent, and having to break the news of Elizabeth’s impending death to Scottie, who’s too young to realize the seriousness of her mother’s condition.

The Descendants is kind of like a really pretty picture from first glance at a distance. And then when you walk closer to it and start looking at it more clearly, you notice the different smudges and the imperfections and perhaps the pain that the artist was inflicted with while creating the piece. It’s about a real family dealing with real issues, and what you see is not pretty, but it’s close to a realistic view of what it actually is. The writing and performances were top-notch, and it’ll be no surprise if it gets nominated for a few Oscars in February.

Little Less Known Up and Coming Movies

I boggled my mind to come up with a decent title for this post, but as you just read, it doesn’t really fit what I’m trying to describe. There’s a few movies that haven’t been marketed to death in our theater previews, TV commercials, and various billboards outside. These movies, however, are some of the ones I look most forward to for the end of the year. I might even have to do a little pre-Academy Awards speculation about a few.

  • J. Edgar

This film, in fact, has been marketed some, but primarily only as of late since its release date is Nov. 11. Personally, I think LDC had a fantastic year last year in film (Shutter IslandInception), yet he didn’t receive a nomination for either. Perhaps playing a historical figure (think Colin Firth [The King’s Speech] from last year) will be just what he needs to score a nod this year.

J. Edgar

  • The Descendants

I will admit that this film has already previewed as well, despite it’s later release date of Nov. 18. The main ploy here is George Clooney (yet again this year, thanks for Ides of March, sir) and Shailene Woodley from a little show called The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Since Clooney’s already dipped his toes in a political drama, maybe he’s looking to add some variety and thinks an indie flick will up his chances at the awards this year. I look forward to this movie much more than Ides. Maybe because Clooney didn’t write or direct it.

The Descendants

  • The Artist

The week following the release of The Descendants comes this 1920s film about a romance between a silent movie filmmaker and a girl who plays an extra. Michel Hazanavicius directs, who is responsible primarily for French TV movies and series that came out in the late 90s.

The Artist

  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I have been waiting for this movie to come out longer than the others. Originally, I was expecting it to come out last month, only to discover that the U.K. was going with a September release date; U.S. is waiting until December. Based off a novel and composed of a mostly British cast, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is about an intelligence officer who believes there may be a Soviet mole in the British Secret Intelligence Service. Gary Oldman stars (or you could just look at the poster).

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

  • The Iron Lady

Meryl Streep seems incapable of picking a movie that doesn’t put her in a very interesting position. She has played a world reknown chef, the boss from hell, a mom with no clue who she had her child with (musical . . . you know this one, right?), an object to be fought over between Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, and those are only more recent roles she’s played. I saw an SNL video that had one of the actors playing her, iceskating for the first time . . . perfectly. The joke? Meryl Streep is capable of doing anything perfectly. And this time she plays this interesting person called the Iron Lady, being the first and only female prime minister of the United Kingdom. One of my most-anticipated films this winter.

The Iron Lady

  • We Bought a Zoo

Perhaps it is time for Cameron Crowe to make his comeback at the Oscars and receive some nominations, because it’s been too long since Almost Famous. Plus, this time he has Scarlett Johansson and Matt Damon to help him. We Bought a Zoo is based off a true story of a widower picking up the pieces of his life by buying a rundown zoo in hopes of repairing it, and in return, hoping it repairs him. Crowe is one of my favorite directors. He’s responsible for Jerry McGuire, Vanilla Sky, and Elizabethtown to name a few. He’s in touch with the best of artists out there and knows how to put together an inspired soundtrack (not score . . . ehem) better than most directors, in my opinion.

We Bought a Zoo