Monday, July 30, 2012

Silent Grey Salmon

     In this edition of DVD reviews, we explore a romance about the zen of fishing, an outdoor survival adventure, and a Uruguayan horror flick with very little dialogue.  No, after you...

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen - Director Lasse Hallstrom certainly has greatness within him, but he seems to be having a difficult time letting it out in recent years.  The last film that garnered him any real critical or awards oriented attention was 2000's Chocolat, and many feel as if THAT film were somewhat overrated.  I personally do not feel that he has ever topped his 1993 masterpiece What's Eating Gilbert Grape, easily one of my top 100 films of all time.  However, I digress.  We are here to discuss his current DVD release, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
     The film certainly has a unique premise: a fisheries expert is recruited to help create a habitat capable of sustaining salmon in the wilds of Yemen so that a local sheik can fish and ends up falling for a consultant in the sheik's employ.  It sounds much more fascinating than the script ever allows it to be.  I'm not sure how screenwriter Simon Beaufoy went from Slumdog Millionaire to 127 Hours to...this, but it hits all the most predictable plot points that a romance possibly could.  You see everything coming from way before it occurs because we've seen exactly this sort of romantic comedy a million times before.  Except when we saw it before, it was funny.
     Let's be kind and assume that it was Mr. Hallstrom's capable direction that allowed the cast to thrive in these somewhat tepid waters, because they actually did, making more of the material than I would have thought possible.  I'm already a huge fan of Ewan McGregor's and Emily Blunt is growing on me with each time that I see her.  They actually manage to pull a lot of chemistry together in spite of the pat storyline, and both elevate the production beyond what it would otherwise have been. 
     The standout performance of the film for me, however, was given by relative unknown Amr Waked as the sheik.  Although given mounds of mouthy monologues from some "Zen Islam" perspective on fishing and spirituality, he manages to pull off his role with charm and extreme watchability. 
     To sum it up - script:  lame, actors - saved the day.  If you can suspend your disbelief and put on cliche blinders more easily than I can (which applies to most people), you might well enjoy it.  Available on DVD.  3 of 5*

The Silent House - I hope no one is too disappointed that this review is actually of the Uruguayan, original version of this film and not the recent Elizabeth Olsen starring English language remake.
As of right now, I have no plans to review that film, but if even one reader leaves a response in the comments that they would like me to, I will certainly change that.
     This film was Uruguay's entry into the Foreign Language Film competition at the Oscars this year, which is how it got on my radar.  It did not secure a nomination, or even a spot on the short list, but I thought the premise sounded interesting.   It was...somewhat worth the wait, but some holes in the plot of the story keep me from giving it a truly enthusiastic recommendation.  Suffice it to say that it would make for significant spoilers if I were to expound too much upon the nature of said holes.  Basically, the big twist ending doesn't make much sense in light of some of the things that we see earlier in the film.  I'm being very tough on scripts this week, probably due to my recent post in my Best of 2011 series:  Writers and Directors causing me to view things through that lens, but I'm not wrong either.
     On the other hand, the film does have some really effectively chilling moments, particularly this bit with a Polaroid camera very near the end, that are highly effective.  I also must commend the lead performance by young Florencia Colucci, in her film debut.  The camera rarely leaves her for most of the movie's run time, and she never misses a beat.
     If you are a true horror fanatic (I try to be, I LOVE a GOOD horror film) than this is definitely an above average choice for you to indulge your obsessions with, but it does have some flaws.  I still enjoyed it, despite my aggravations with continuity.  Available on DVD.  3 1/2 of 5*

The Grey - To an extent, this is a pretty typical man vs. nature, outdoor survival action/adventure flick, but it is a very good one.  The thrills are intense, the suspense is palpable and the story moves along at an excellent pace.  Writer/director Joe Carnahan's previous endeavors have been a somewhat mixed bag (Smokin Aces and The A-Team), but The Grey seems to indicate that he is currently headed in the right direction.  Some of the effects with the wolves seemed a little forced, but that is a relatively minor complaint in view of the big picture.
      I also cannot conclude this post without praising the acting job turned in here by star Liam Neeson.  He is always good, but here he is really excellent, painting a portrait of a protagonist that is a little deeper and more well rounded than the hero of this type of film usually tends to be.  I'm sure that the early release date (and possibly even the genre) will render his hopes for awards recognition nill by next February, but don't be surprised if he earns a mention somewhere in my Best of 2012 series next year, because he really is excellent here.
     Dermot Mulroney and Frank Grillo are also worth applauding, as they gave impressive supporting turns, even if the rest of the supporting cast seemed a bit one dimensional.
     I would definitely recommend The Grey, even if it does not seem to be your thing.  It was most of what I look for in a good action movie, and very little of what I fear from one, making it my top recommendation of the films covered in this post.  Available on DVD.  4 of 5*

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Best of 2011 - Writers and Directors

     So, I apologize that I have not been producing more posts lately, but these Best of 2011 series take a lot of time to write.  With that in mind, I am stretching them out just a bit.  This week I will only be covering writers and directors, with the Best and Worst Picture categories covered next week, and the genres the week after that.  I know, I know, but anticipation is half the fun.  If you missed any of the previous posts in the series, you can follow these links to The Techs, The Performances Part One, and The Performances Part 2.  As before, any film titles that appear as links will take you to my review for that film if you click on them.  Oh, and I forgot to include the Tin Toadstool Award last week for Worst Ensemble Performance.  I hereby bestow it upon...The Immortals.  And without further ado...

Best First Time Director
     I feel it necessary to include this as a separate category because so many of the competitors in the Best Director race took decades to hone their crafts to become the caliber of director that they are today.  But if we look towards the future, we must look at the most promising members of a new generation of directors.  Besides, its always fun to be able to say, "Oh, I've been following their work ever since....".  Every once in a while, someone debuts with a Reservoir Dogs.  I believe that there is at least one such under appreciated masterpiece sitting atop the list this year, but all of these films are impressive freshman efforts worth watching.
  Honorable Mention:  Sarah Smith
                                     Arthur Christmas
     It is difficult to judge the director of an animated feature against live action directors because there are many dissimilarities in the job descriptions, but I couldn't let the opportunity go by to commend Ms. Smith enthusiastically.
  10. Sean Durkin
       Martha Marcy Mae Marlene
     Although I took issue with some of the choices that Mr. Durkin made in his screenplay, the job he did as director was actually quite impressive.  I hated the ending of the film, but the journey getting there was very well done.
  9. Ralphe Fiennes
     Mr. Fiennes didn't seem to realize that it even WAS his first directorial effort as he made every choice that could possibly make his production more challenging.  The craziest part is that he mostly made it all work.
  8. James Marsh
     Another Earth
     A very thoughtful sci-fi flick with a very limited budget.  Mr. Marsh managed to pull it off with intelligence, believability (not easy with this film), and heart.
  7. Angelina Jolie
      In the Land of Blood and Honey
     Like Fiennes and Farmiga, Angelina carries the added pressure of already being famous so a certain set of expectations exists about she will create.  I am pleased to say that my expectations were thoroughly exceeded.  I'm excited to see what her next (off screen) project will be.
  6. Joe Cornish
      Attack the Block
     The action adventure version of everything that was challenging about Another film on this list.  Tons of fun without ever condescending to the audience in the slightest.  Oh...and it was made on a shoestring.
  5. Dee Rees
     This was a very difficult and uncomfortable story, but Ms. Rees somehow kept it entertaining and engaging enough that you could not choose to look away, even in the worst parts.
  4. J.C. Chandor
      Margin Call
     It is quite an accomplishment to make something that is more than the sum of its parts when those parts include Quinto, Spacey, Tucci, and Irons for starters.
  3. Vera Farmiga
       Higher Ground
     Ms. Farmiga is a phenomenal actress, but this may have been the year that she found her highest calling.  Not to mention how good she is at directing herself.
  2. Michael R. Roskum
     Any director who, in his first swing at bat, can pull a lead performance like Michael Shoenaerts' Jackie out of an actor, is someone to watch out for.
  1. Peter Mullan
     For now, I will simply say that I would NEVER have guessed that this was a directorial debut in a million years.
  Tin Toadstool:  Julia Leigh
                            Sleeping Beauty
     If you lose yourself in the pacing of this film you fall into the sleep of a hundred years.

Best Adapted Screenplay
  20. Carlos Saboga
        Mysteries of Lisbon
     There were so many stories within stories in this source material, yet Mr. Saboga managed to craft a script in which they all functioned both as individual tales and as a part of the whole.
  19,  Yasmine Reza and Roman Polanski
     The stage play God of Carnage did not translate quite as smoothly to the screen as many had hoped, but it still had some great moments.
  18. Tate Taylor
        The Help
     Very mixed bag of brilliance and overindulgence in sentimentality, but worthy of mention.
  17. Steve Kloves
        Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
     It may have still been a little confusing to those who had not read the books, but you have no idea how much the story had to be compressed even into TWO films worth of footage.
  16, George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon
        The Ides of March
     A little less than cohesive, but it had some great dialogue.
  15. John Logan
     It is always nice to see a Shakespeare adaptation that finds clever choices and new ways of looking at a story centuries old.
  14. Sang-soo Im
        The Housemaid
     It was too much at times, but in all the right ways.  High melodrama.
  13. Moira Buffini
        Jane Eyre
     Ms. Buffini made this frequently remade story feel a good deal fresher than usual.
  12. Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, Cornish
       The Adventures of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn
     It's sort of funny that in a year of soooo many comic book adaptations, this funny and exciting yet obscure subject managed to trump all those famous super-heroes.
  11. Dee Rees
       I already praised Ms. Rees in the first time director category, but her work is even more impressive when you realize that she also wrote this complex story, adapted from her own previous short film.
  10. Steve Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin
     I know, it's sacrilege to have a Sorkin/Zaillian joint this low on the list, but while there was a lot of clever dialogue here, the film was still a little dry to me.  However, considering the source and subject matter, it is impressive that the film was as interesting as it was.
  9. Carolyn S. Briggs, Tim Metcalfe
      Higher Ground
     Spirituality and the search thereof is not the easiest subject matter to address in a movie in a way that will be both accessible and entertaining.  Job well done.
  8. Pedro and Agustin Almodovar
      The Skin I Live In
     This was truly a unique and crazy story, but the Almodovars specialize in tales of that nature and it really shows through in their work here.
  7. Steve Zaillian
      The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
     It's difficult to judge this film so recently after the Swedish version came out, but Mr. Zaillian made some interesting choices to help make this adaptation unique unto itself.
  6. John Logan
     Mr. Logan took a beloved children's book and adapted it into one of the most enjoyable film experiences of the year for viewers of any age.
  5. Bridget O'Conner, Peter Straughan
      Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
     A very complex story, already popularized on British television, that these talented writers made their own in subtle and skillful ways.
  4. Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
     Rise of the Planet of the Apes
     No writers this year were tasked with more tired and overworked source material than this team.  Yet the way in which they were able to produce a wholly re imagined take on things while still paying homage to the whole franchise is just this side of brilliant.
  3. Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
      The Descendants
     Working just as well on both dramatic and comedic levels, this script may have had the best dialogue of any on this list.
  2. Lynne Ramsey, Rory Kinnear
      We Need To Talk About Kevin
     The entire surreal atmosphere of this film was aided so skillfully by the time lapsing way in which the script reveals its story.
  1. Hossein Amini
      This film functions so well as an action/adventure flick, but the real genius of the screenplay is the depth of emotional undercurrent that it carries throughout.
     Tin Toadstool:  Gela Babluani, Greg Pruss
      Maybe this film worked better in Babluani's native language but this version of the story was beyond weak and barely watchable.

Best Original Screenplay
     The competition here was a little tougher than in Adapted this year. This list contains some great work, although you will probably note that none of the Oscar nominees made my top five.
  20. Brit Marling, Mike Cahill
        Another Earth
      There were some basic tenets of this script that stretched believability somewhat, but the fact that the rest of the story can make the viewer ignore this fact is impressive.
  19. Will Reiser
      This was not the most tightly scripted dramedy of the year by any stretch, but it was an excellent first effort on Mr. Reiser's part.
  18. Mike Mills
      This well written film featured an amazingly well written character in Hal Fields which elevated the production overall.
  17. Michael R. Roskam
     Another script whose greatest strength was one central character, this film tackled some tough subjects in a thoughtful, concise, and wholly original way.
  16. Thomas McCarthy, Joe Tiboni
       Win Win
     Clever would be an excellent word to describe this screenplay. Lots of excellent dialogue.
  15. Abbas Kiarostami
        Certified Copy
     This was a complex and subtly told story with surprises and twists in every conversation.
  14. John Logan, Gore Verbinski, James Ward Byrkit
      Highly creative and funny animated films were NOT easy to come by this year.  It is no wonder that this one won the Animated Feature Academy Award.
  13. Dan Fogelman
        Crazy, Stupid, Love
      In this film Mr. Fogelman crafted one of the best written rom-coms in quite some time.
  12. Kevin Smith
        Red State
      Kevin Smith is never going to write like Shakespeare, but no one else is ever going to write like Kevin Smith and this is some of his best work.
  11. Woody Allen
        Midnight in Paris
     I know it won the Oscar and I don't even have it in my top ten.  However, while it IS some of Woody's best work in years, it is not Manhattan, and some of the writers in the next ten may have created THEIR personal masterpieces this year.  Still, very enjoyable.
  10. JC Chandor
        Margin Call
     If this first effort is any indication of what we may expect from Mr. Chandor in the future, then he is definitely one to watch.
  9. Terrence Malick
      The Tree of Life
     This film ranks much higher on most of the lists that I put it on, but I feel that its brilliance lies more in how the pieces were put together than on the way those pieces were originally written.
  8. Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo
      Perhaps the best written dialogue of any comedy this year.
  7. Jeff Nichols
      Take Shelter
     Although this film was largely the Michael Shannon show, writer/director Jeff Nichols did give him some great material to work with.
  6. Michel Hazanavicius
      The Artist
     Notice that I carefully said that Bridesmaids had the best written DIALOGUE of any comedy this year.
  5. Asghar Farhadi
      A Separation
     This film fired on all cylinders, acting, directing, and writing.  Wholly original.
  4. Lars von Trier
     Mr. von Trier is quite simply one of the most unique and interesting voices in film today and this film is probably his best work yet.
  3. Paddy Considine
     This is a simple story, elegantly told, with penetrating characterizations and a few real surprises.  What else can I say?
  2. Andrew Haigh
     Besides being packed with insightful and believable dialogue, this script positively brims with the passion that Mr. Haigh obviously fed into it.  Amazing work.
  1. Steve McQueen, Abi Morgan
     Everything about the telling of this story made something inside me ache in this exquisite and terrible manner.  The best screenplay of the year, indeed.

Best Director
     Most of these films have already been cited multiple times in this series and will factor heavily into next week's Best Picture finale.  I want to have something left to say at that point, so I'm keeping it brief for now.
  20. Woody Allen
         Midnight in Paris
  19. Joe Wright
  18. Sang-soo Im
        The Housemaid
  17. David Fincher
        The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
  16. Pedro Almodovar
        The Skin I Live In
  15. James Marsh
        Project Nim
  14. Tomas Alfredson
        Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  13. Alexander Payne
        The Descendants
  12. Wim Wenders
  11. Mike Nichols
        Take Shelter
  10. Martin Scorsese
  9. Andrew Haigh
  8. Michel Hazanavicius
      The Artist
  7. Peter Mullan
  6. Asghar Farhadi
      A Separation
  5. Lynne Ramsey
      We Need To Talk About Kevin
  4. Lars von Trier
  3. Nicholas Winding Refn
  2. Steve McQueen
  1. Terence Malick
      The Tree of Life

     And that's it for this week, just under the wire.  Next week is the climax of this series so be sure to look for that next Saturday.  I promise the Classic Cinema series and reviews will get up and going again very soon.  As always, thanks for reading.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Best of 2011 - The Performances Part 2

    And now we finish up the last four categories in this week's Best of 2011 posts.  As always, film titles that are also links will take you to my review of said film.

Best Supporting Actress
  15. Carey Mulligan
     I have a good friend who says that Carey Mulligan always looks sad.  She certainly captured damaged, fragile, and desperate as the damsel in distress to Gosling's (white? black?) knight.
  14. Amy Ryan
       Win Win
     One of the most convincing portrayals of a woman caught up in her maternal instincts against her better judgement that I have ever seen.  And funny at times.
  13. Elle Fanning
        Super 8
     Ms. Fanning is an adorable yet capable young actress and there are moments in this film where she becomes so much more.
  12. Bryce Dallas Howard
        The Help
     It took me a few hours after leaving the theater to stop hating her character enough to realize what a phenomenal job Ms. Howard had done.
  11. Yeo-jeong Yoon
         The Housemaid
     Korean character actress Yoon is fantastic as the older domestic who foolishly starts a most disastrous chain of events and spends the rest of the film trying to atone.
  10. Cate Blanchett
     I love the way Cate Blanchett commits to every role that she plays with everything she has.  I'd never seen her play a slightly psychopathic villain before, but this type of role was no different.
  9. Berenice Bejo
      The Artist
     It is refreshing to see perky played in a way that is more endearing than cloying.  She is a light in this film.
  8. Jessica Chastain
      The Help
     She would steal every scene she appears in here if she weren't in so many with co-star Spencer.
  7.  Vanessa Redgrave
     Her skill with the Shakespearean script is readily apparent and her characterization of this classic role is so...formidable.
  6. Janet McTeer
      Albert Nobbs
     She is just as believable as a man or as a woman living as a man.  These two perceptions of her vie for prominence from scene to scene to scene.
  5. Melissa McCarthy
     You have to make a very good bawdy comedy to get me laughing out loud but, dammit, she got me like a dozen times.  But then there's this very poignant scene with co-star Wiig late in the movie that really seals the deal for me.  Surprisingly well rounded performance.
  4. Sareh Bayet
      A Separation
     This young Iranian actress was the standout for me amid one of the strongest ensemble films of the year in any language.
  3. Octavia Spencer
      The Help
     One of the funniest performances by any performer in 2011, Spencer also imbued Minnie with so much humanity and dignity.  No one can begrudge her the Oscar win, but...
  2.  Jessica Chastain
       The Tree of Life
      No acting nomination has ever been given to anyone appearing in any film directed by Terence Malick, but she did so much with so little dialogue or screen time.  She was nurturing, beautiful young motherhood in archetype, but every look of worry, love, or sorrow was that of a living breathing woman.  Her voice made me feel safe, like you imagine a baby feeling safe in a womb....  I hate trying to talk about The Tree of Life. 
  1.  Carey Mulligan
     I have this friend who says that Carey Mulligan always looks sad.  Maybe she does, but in this film she plays the personification of sorrow, utterly horrible and beautiful to behold.  So much has been made by myself and many before me of her rendition of "New York, New York" and it is brilliant, but every moment of her performance as Sissy is.  I am rapidly reaching the conclusion that she is one of the most talented actresses of her generation.
     Tin Toadstool:  Barbara Hershey
     Oh, I feel guilty about giving this award to such a talented actress (but that's sort of the point).  Someone as talented as Ms. Hershey should have been able to rise above the quality of the script and give a performance that was a little less cloying and stereotypical.  I'm going to go rewatch Black Swan now and pretend that this never happened.

Best Actress
  20. Zana Marjanovic
        In the Land of Blood and Honey
     This largely unknown Bosnian actress's powerhouse performance was the centerpiece of Ms. Jolie's directorial debut.  Heartbreaking.
  19. Emma Stone
        The Help
     She may have been overshadowed a bit by some of her more experienced co-stars, but just holding your own leading this ensemble is still quite an accomplishment.
  18. Mia Wasikowska
        Jane Eyre
     This costume drama may have gotten lost in the shuffle by the time awards season rolled around, but this talented young actress still deserves credit for taking a role that so many have played before and making it decidedly her own.
  17. Khomotso Manyaka
        Life, Above All
     Whatever my problems with the way this movie ended, this young South African actress certainly made getting there a much more compelling journey than it otherwise would have been.
  16. Elizabeth Olsen
        Martha Marcy Mae Marlene
     There are so many layers to this young actress's performance.  A calm veneer with so much underneath.
  15. Michelle Williams
        My Week With Marilyn
     I know, this is nowhere near the top five, but while Ms. Williams always does a superb job, and this is no exception, I believe that her popularity with the Academy had a lot to do with her eventual nomination,  Still, very nice work.
  14. Vera Farmiga
         Higher Ground
     It is never easy to direct yourself, especially in your directorial debut, yet Ms. Farmiga does an exceptional job of doing just that as this woman in a life long search for spiritual enlightenment.
  13. Jeong-hie Yun
     As Mija, Ms. Yun faces so many challenges and problems with such courage and heart, how could I not honor this multi-faceted and subtle performance?
  12. Adepero Oduye
     As a young black lesbian woman having to come to grips with all aspects of how the world sees her and what that means to how she sees herself, Ms. Oduye had a lot to work with and more than makes the most of it.  Outstanding.
  11. Charlize Theron
        Young Adult
     The always impressive Ms. Theron might have place higher on this list if her character Mavis weren't so thoroughly unlikeable, but there IS still plenty to like about her portrayel.
  10.  Glenn Close
         Albert Nobbs
      The material she had to work with was a little dry, but the always ingenious Glenn Close still makes the most of it, even if she is overshadowed a little by co-star McTeer.
  9. Leila Hatami
      A Separation
    If you saw one non-English language film from 2011, it should have been A Separation.  Star Hatami is a huge part of the reason why.
  8. Saoirse Ronan
     Whether refugee, ghost, assassin, or sweet little girl, I always buy into whatever this young actress does.  Best action hero performance of the year.
  7. Rooney Mara
      The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
     Followed by the best action anti-hero performance of the year.  What else can I say?  I wouldn't mess with her.
  6. Viola Davis
      The Help
     I know, I know, but if we're being honest her Oscar campaign was based more upon how rarely they get the opportunity to honor her, than upon this being the best role she's ever played.  Still, excellent work, as always.
  5. Juliette Binoche
      Certified Copy
     This French actress can portray more in silent close up than most actresses can in a whole monologue...and she does.
  4. Olivia Colman
     From quiet strength to utter desperation, this performance runs the emotional gamut without ever skipping a single beat.  Absolutely extraordinary.
  3.  Meryl Streep
       The Iron Lady
     She WAS Margaret Thatcher, and there's not a lot more to say.
  2. Tilda Swinton
      We Need To Talk About Kevin
     There is absolutely no justification for Ms. Swinton's exclusion from the Academy Awards this year.  She is ALWAYS excellent, and this may be the best work she has ever done.  Her character goes through things we cannot even imagine, but her performance allows us to.
  1.  Kirsten Dunst
     Director Von Trier's misplaced comments at Cannes may have kept this film out of awards consideration, and that is very sad, as it was one of the year's best.  The greatest tragedy, though, is that Ms. Dunst's brilliant work went unrecognized.  Well, not here.  As a woman struggling with both her own internal issues and the end of the world, she shines with tarnished light.
  Tin Toadstool:  Sara Paxton
                            The Innkeepers
     I was rooting for the ghost fifteen minutes into her performance...the second time.  The first time I tried to watch it she put me to sleep in ten.

Best Actor
  20. Brendan Gleeson
        The Guard
     This Irish buddy cop movie left little to recommend BEYOND Mr. Gleeson's performance, but he is worth recommending.
  19. Peyman Moadi
        A Separation
     This Iranian actor was overshadowed a bit by his female co-stars, but this excellent film would still never have triumphed as it did without his excellent work.
  18. Brad Pitt
     Yes, Brad was very good and believable in this role, but in all honesty it didn't give him a huge range of emotions to work with and was not particularly challenging.  Still, very good.
  17. George Pistereanu
        If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle
     As debut performances go, it doesn't get much better than what this young Romanian actor does in this otherwise decent prison drama.
  16. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
     Some day Mr. Gordon-Levitt will reap awards glory and his dromedic (yes, it's a word NOW) portrayal of a young man fighting cancer is an excellent stepping stone in that direction.
  15. Hunter McKraken
        The Tree of Life
     As the symbol of both innocent childhood and growing up, this young actor's debut was quite astonishing.  More about simple little slices of life than big dramatic moments, but utterly believable.
  14. Ralph Fiennes
     As I've stated before, directing oneself in a directing debut is both courageous and difficult even when the script is not in Middle English verse.  Mr. Fiennes makes it look easy.
  13. Antonio Banderes
        The Skin I Live In
     This wacky, out there little horror/drama would never have worked without Banderes's compelling, slightly over the top central performance.  If you have never seen the man perform in his native language, you have no idea what he is really capable of.
  12. Damien Bechir
        A Better Life
     Only one of the Academy's nominees this year actually made my top five, but that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate how good they were.  Mr. Bechir's performance in this film was highly touching and EXTREMELY well done.
  11. Gary Oldman
        Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
     Very subtle work here, which actually makes it even more impressive how interesting he manages to make the character of Smiley.
  10. Michael Parks
        Red State
     Equal parts hilarious, charismatic, and scary.  An absolutely brilliant performance in one of the year's most underrated films.
  9. Peter Mullan
     Upstaged by co-star Colman?  Maybe a little, but almost the entire film hinges on these two roles, and the film is amazing.  So is Mullan.
  8. Tom Cullen
     Cullen is so natural and believable in this role.  He really takes you inside his head with him in a way that creeps up on you stealthily.
  7. Jean Dujardin
      The Artist
     I'm always impressed when an actor can convey just as much in their moments of silence as they do when speaking.  Here, those moments were the whole performance and the silence was mostly golden, indeed.
  6. Woody Harrelson
     Who would have ever thought when he was on Cheers that Woody would grow up to be one of our most versatile and capable film stars.  He is always outstanding, and this conflicted, dirty cop may be his best role yet.
  5. Ryan Gosling
     Remember what I said about Jean Dujardin's ability to convey so much in silence.  Well, Gosling conveys more in silence than everyone else in this film while they are speaking.  When he does speak, it carries even more weight for its scarcity.  It is also worth noting how difficult it is to create a character who is equal parts sympathetic and scary.
  4. George Clooney
      The Descendants
     It is no exaggeration to say that this is probably Clooney's finest performance yet.  Funny, poignant, conflicted, angry, sad...a whole spectrum of demands on his abilities.  He meets every one.  Out of the nominated actors at this year's Oscars, I feel that his performance was probably the most deserving.
  3. Matthias Schoenaerts
     This Belgian actor gives perhaps the most intensive study ever of the true meaning of masculinity and how society's perceptions of such affect the men within it.  Haunting.
  2. Michael Fassbender
     If Carey Mulligan was sadness personified in Shame, then what was co-star Fassbender?  Desperation?  Helplessness?  Futility?  Shame?  How about perfection?
  1. Michael Shannon
      Take Shelter
     Have you ever really worried that you were losing your mind, because I have, and its the kind of feeling that is almost impossible to express to someone unless they've been through it.  Somehow, Shannon does it.  He really does.
     Tin Toadstool:  Brian White
                               The Heart Specialist
     Muggiest, most predictable performance by anyone of any gender, maybe of the decade.

Best Acting Ensemble
     A truly great acting ensemble is not just about a lot of good individual performances.  It is about how the actors work together to make a cohesive whole that truly is greater than the sum of its individual parts.  Which is very different from Best Picture.  I'm not giving any commentary on these.  If you've seen the films, read over the list of actors and I think you will understand why each of these made the list.  If you haven't seen them, shame on you, go do so.  All fifteen of these are well worth your time.
  15. Ides of March
       Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marissa Tomei
  14. Red State
     Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Michael Angaro, Nicholas Braun, Ronnie Connell, Kyle Gallner
  13. Midnight in Paris
     Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Corey Stoll, Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody
  12. The Housemaid
     Do-yeon Jeon, Jung-Jae Lee, Yeo-jeong Yoon, Woo Seo, Ji-Young Park, Seo-Hyeon Ahn
  11. The Artist
     Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle
  10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
     Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, John Hurt, Helena Bonham Carter, Kelly MacDonald, Ciaran Hinds, Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Miriam Margolyes, Gemma Jones, David Thewliss, Julie Walters, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman
  9. The Skin I Live In
     Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet, Marisa Paredes, Roberto Alamo
  8. Crazy, Stupid, Love
     Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marissa Tomei, Kevin Bacon
  7. A Separation
     Peyman Moedi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayet, Sarina Farhadi
  6. Margin Call
    Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci
  5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
     Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Ciaran Hinds, Kathy Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch
  4. Drive
     Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Al Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, Ron Perlman
  3. Bridesmaids
     Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolf, Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd
  2. The Descendants
     George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer
  1.  The Help
  Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson

     And that completes the Froggies for performances for 2011.  Join me back here next Saturday as we continue the Best of 2011 series with writing, directing, and Best Picture Awards.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Best of 2011 - The Performances Part One

     For those of you who did not read my Apologetic Amphibian post last Wednesday, I apologize that everything here at The Movie Frog wound up running a week behind, but starting today I hope to keep everything running back on track.  If you are unfamiliar with the format I'm using in presenting the Froggy Awards for 2011, please refer back to my former post Best of 2011 - The Techs to aid in your understanding.  Any film title that appears as a link will take you to my review of that film if you click it (I only made one link for any particular film).  Beyond that, I am rushing to get this out on time, so let's get started with...

Breakout Performer
     Some of these names were completely new to us this year.  Others were actors and actresses we were already somewhat familiar with who in one way or another boosted their careers in extraordinary ways.  ALL of them left the year 2011 far more established as practitioners of their craft than they began it.  And they are...
  20. Alex Schaffer
        Win Win
     This was young Mr. Schaffer's debut feature performance and he did an extraordinary job of portraying Kyle as the sort of realistically troubled young man we all felt like we could easily have met in our own lives.  If the film had gotten just a LITTLE more exposure, he would be much higher on this list.  Next on his plate:  second billing in the forthcoming film Land of Tomorrow.
  19. Elle Fanning
        Super 8
        We Bought a Zoo
     Sure, she debuted last year impressively in Sophia Copolla's Somewhere but only the biggest film snobs (guilty) even saw that movie.  Her appearance in Super 8 gave her FAR more widespread exposure.  Her role had fairly limited screentime, but in the two scenes where she is captured on film within the film, I got chills that were the real highlight of the whole piucture. Zoo was just gravy.  Next up: Vivaldi, Maleficent (with Angelina Jolie)
  18. Shailene Woodley
        The Descendants
     So maybe she didn't get the Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars that everyone expected last year, but she made enough of an impression on critics and audiences for there to be a good deal of surprise that she didn't.  I didn't know her name in 2009.  Next up:  The Spectacular Now
  17.  Chris Hemsworth
    The very model of a beefy blond thunder god, Chris made audiences (and this Movie Frog) dig this second string super hero a lot more than we expected.  Next up: Well, he's already been in The Cabin In The Woods, Snow White and the Huntsman, and some little movie called The Avengers  this year with the Red Dawn remake close on the horizon.
  16. Berenice Bejo
        The Artist
     For the meantime, she does not appear to intend to ride her Academy Award nomination to English language crossover success, but she does seem poised to become the new French actress who can help you get American distribution and box office.  Next up:  French language film Populaire
  15. Andy Serkis
        Rise of the Planet of the Apes
        The Adventures of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn
        Arthur Christmas
        Wild Bill
        Death of a Superhero
     Yeah, he's been around for years and does great work whether it be live action, voice over or motion capture and there was (at the time wild) speculation about a nomination for his work as Golem in The Lord of the Rings.  But 2011 was the year that he became the undisputed Laurence Olivier of motion capture performance.  His work in both Tin Tin and especially in Apes gave virtual characters a SOUL.  He may well become the man that inspires the AMPAS to create a category to honor this sort of work.  Next Up:  Back to Middle Earth in The Hobbit.
  14. Emma Stone
        The Help
        Crazy, Stupid Love
        Friends With Benefits
     Yes, her initial breakout was last year for Easy A, and that's why she's fairly low down on this chart.  Still, this year she went from leading a well regarded little indie comedy to leading a hugely successful film cast with some truly brilliant and seasoned ladies.  Keep breaking, Emma.  Next up:  She's already in The Amazing Spider-Man and will be appearing with Sean Penn in Gangster Squad later this year.
  13.  Adepero Oduye
     As all five of you who read my review know (I'm not even kidding, five freaking pageviews, click over there now and make me feel better about writing it) I found Miss Oduye to be absolutely amazing in this role.  Not a lot of people saw the film, but we're about to see a lot more of her.  Next up:  The made for TV all African American version of Steel Magnolias, followed by Twelve Years a Slave with Steve McQueen.
  12. Elizabeth Olsen
        Martha Marcy Mae Marlene
     The film may not have been as big of a box office success as many had hoped it would, but it definitely got Ms. Olsen a lot of attention in Hollywood.  Being so much better than her sisters helped.  Next up:  Peace, Love & Misunderstanding with Jane Fonda and Red Lights with Sigourney Weaver and Robert DeNiro.
  11. Ezra Miller
        We Need To Talk About Kevin
        Another Happy Day
     Not that many people saw these films so call it a hunch I have, but this kid is GOOD.  If he can pick projects that show range beyond EXTREMELY troubled young man, he could have a brilliant future.  Kevin will be seen as the film that made him.  Next up:  The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  10. Matthias Schoenaerts
     This performance made this Belgian powerhouse an overnight international sensation.  Next up:  Director Audiard (A Prophet)'s Rust and Bone with Marion Cotillard already earned the actor raves out of Cannes.
  9. Hunter McKraken
      The Tree of Life
     In his acting debut, this young man gave the central performance in one of the most moving films of the year.  One can only hope he sticks with it.  Next up:  ?
  8. Tom Hardy
      Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
     Warrior may have underperformed significantly but critics took notice of Hardy's performance which proved he could lead a cast effectively.  Tinker continued to prove his amazing skill within a strong ensemble.  Next up:  He's already appeared this year in This Means War and The Dark Knight Rises.  Still to come is Lawless.
  7. Demian Bechir
      A Better Life
     Mr. Bechir was best known to me from Showtime's Weeds before 2011, but his nomination for Best Actor at last year's Oscars gave him exposure he had never known.  Next up:  He's appearing in theaters now in Oliver Stone's Savages.
  6. Rooney Mara
      The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
     She went from a bit part in The Social Network one year, to a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards the next.  Not a lot more to say.  Next up:  Projects with Spike Jonze and Terrence Malick.
  5. Chris Evans
      Captain America:  The First Avenger
     Besides leading the best super hero movie of the year, this enterprising young actor also gave an impressive and heavily nuanced performance in Puncture.  Keep up that kind of balance and he should have no problem having whatever kind of career he wants.  Next up:  More of both faces of
Chris Evans (starting with the third highest grossing film of all time).
  4. Jean Dujardin
      The Artist
     Winning an Oscar is a very good way for a European actor who is a star is their own country to become a star to the world.  Mr. Dujardin just might.  Next up:  More work back home followed by The Wolf of Wall Street with Scorsese and DiCaprio.
  3. Michael Fassbender
      A Dangerous Method
      Jane Eyre
      X-Men: First Class
     Talk about a well rounded resume, especially for one year.  He was very good in all four films, but Shame was probably a career best for this highly talented actor.  Next up:  He is widely being haled as the standout performance in Prometheus even garnering a bit of awards chatter.
  2. Ryan Gosling
      The Ides of March
      Crazy, Stupid, Love
     Gosling was everywhere.  He was the celebrated star of one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year that also proved he could play one hell of an action hero. He also proved both his comedic chops and his viability as a major sex symbol in one of the best and most successful romcoms of the year.  Then there was high profile political intrigue drama directed by George Clooney.  No one gets that much work without being typecast.  No one but Gosling.  Next up:  Gangster Squad, Only God Forgives, The Place Beyond the Pines, Terence Malick, and a possible remake of Logan's Run.
  1. Jessica Chastain
      The Help
      The Tree of Life
      Take Shelter
      The Debt
      Texas Killing Fields
     No actress has ever had such a dramatic debut year as Jessica Chastain.  First off, she appears in six films, playing VERY different characters in each.  Then two of them get nominated for Best Picture by the Academy and she gets a Best Supporting Actress nomination herself for her role in The Help (and had serious awards buzz for both Tree and Take Shelter).  Up next:  A high profile 2012 with Hillcoat's Lawless, Malick's To The Wonder, and Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty which is already gaining her Oscar buzz for this year.
  Tin Toadstool:  Nicholas Cage
                            Season of the Witch
     I figured this one should go to the once celebrated performer who continued to exhibit the greatest ability to completely destroy whatever credibility they once had.

Juvenile Performer
     It's hard for a kid to get a break when working with much more experienced and well known adults.  That's why I figured I would give them their own category so they can bask in a little glory before child stardom completely ruins half of them.  This year's honorees are:
  15. John Boyega
        Attack the Block
     This little sci-fi gem didn't do a lot of box office in the U.S. but its delightful ensemble was led ably by this virtual unknown.  His interpretation of gang leader Moses had the makings of cult classic anti-hero.
  14.  Maggie Elizabeth Jones
         We Bought a Zoo
     I feel like a bit of a sap who gives awards just for precocious cuteness here, but while these qualities are much of what her role consists of, young Ms. Jones is somehow the one member of the cast who never seems buried by the schmaltziness of this production.
  13. Khomotso Manyaka
        Life, Above All
     Although this film got a little cheesy in the end, we are propelled through most of the story effortlessly by the stellar performance of the young lady who stars in it.  Chanda, the character she plays, is such an old soul, and I imagine that Ms. Manyaka must be as well.
  12. Kerris Dorsey
     Her role is very limited, but there is a moment with a guitar, and a little song, and its the most charming part of the whole movie.
  11. Seo-Hyeon Ahn
        The Housemaid
     In this ensemble melodrama full of capable actresses playing strong women, it would have been easy for this young actress to get lost in the mix.  She did no such thing, serving instead as the capable moral center of the film.
  10.  Chloe Grace Moretz
     Before this year we knew Moretz as a child actor who played monsters and pint sized assassins.  Impressive that she can do those roles so well and still be as lovely and charming as she is in Hugo.
  9.  Cameron Spurr
     Playing a helpless young child facing the end of the world and trying to be brave would be a challenge even for someone with life and acting experience to draw upon.  Young Mr. Spurr had neither, but he was magnificent.
  8. Elle Fanning
      Super 8
     Young Ms. Fanning has the two best moments in the film and they are truly magical things.  In one of them, she's a flesh eating zombie.  She really has a rare sort of screen presence. 
  7. Asa Butterfield
    Hugo was really one of the most ambitious and impressive films of 2011 and it all rested on the shoulders of the young actor playing the title role.  Nuff said.
  6. Melusine Mayance
      Sarah's Key
     This film seemed a bit forced in the modern day segments, but this young actress kept me captivated and enthralled during the scenes set in the Holocaust.  It is totally worth watching just for her.
  5. Alex Shaffer
      Win Win
      This slightly obscure indie dramedy may not have launched this debut teen actor to super stardom, but his talent is clearly visible.  His character Kyle is a many sided conundrum of a young man, and Mr. Shaffer nails every facet.
  4. Saoirse Ronan
     Ms. Ronan has been turning in such mature performances for long enough now that it seems impossible that she could still be young enough to appear on this list, but she is, just barely.  When you are a sixteen year old girl and you somehow come off as the most believable action hero of the year, you deserve a little credit.
  3. Sareh Bayat
      A Separation
     In one of the strongest ensemble acting pieces of the year, I found her to be the strongest piece of the puzzle.  It is through her eyes that we see the situation of her crumbling family, and it is her our heart breaks for.
  2. Hunter McKraken
      The Tree of Life
     I have never seen a child actor give a performance that truly reminded me as much of what it feels like to be a child in quite the same way as this one in this film.
  1. Ezra Miller
      We Need To Talk About Kevin
    As brilliant as Tilda Swinton is in this film, I think I would gladly watch it just for this performance.  Utterly brilliant, chilling, and all the scarier in the parts when he seems most human.  Check it out.

Motion Capture or Voice Over Performance
     See, Academy, that wasn't so hard, was it?
  5. Antonio Banderas
      Puss in Boots
     Yeah, we've heard it all before, but Banderas is still really great in this role even if the material he is given has seen better days.
  4. Jamie Bell
      The Adventures of Tin Tin:  The Secret of the Unicorn
     Bringing a much beloved character to life is always challenging.  Doing it with motion capture animation and making it all seem (almost too) real is even tougher.
  3. Ashley Jensen
      Arthur Christmas
     In a very delightfully wacky film, her gift wrapping obsessed elf character Bryony is the very heart and soul of these qualities.  "Three pieces of sticky tape!"
  2. Johnny Depp
     If only Depp's live action roles of recent years reflected as much of the zany yet debonnaire young actor of yesteryear as this voice effort did.  Still, it was a little like running into an old friend.
  1. Andy Serkis
      Rise of the Planet of the Apes
     Surprise!!!  See, not that hard at all.
  Tin Toadstool:  Archie Rice
                            Red Riding Hood (voice of the wolf)
     Amazingly, this is the first and only acting experience to Mr. Rice's name.  I could have sworn I'd heard sinister lines delivered with those exact inflection patterns a million times before.  I could have sworn it was him.

Best Supporting Actor
  15.  Corey Stoll
         Midnight in Paris
     In a fantastic ensemble cast full of quality supporting turns, his Ernest Hemingway easily stands out as the best of the bunch.
  14. Ye Liu
        City of Life and Death
     The cast of this Chinese film was such a huge sprawling mass of characters that it was not easy to stand out in. Mr. Liu did, most dramatically when he was completely silent.
  13. Ezra Miller
        Another Happy Day
     As Elliot, young Ezra was completely insufferable yet was the character the audience most closely empathized with.  Neat trick if you can do it.
  12.  Christoph Waltz
      This adaptation may have failed to recreate the resonance of its source material to an extent, but Waltz definitely comes closest to pulling it off.  And his accent is more believably that of a New Yorker than is Jodie Foster's.
  11. Jonah Hill
     If we're going to give points for effectively playing against type (and we always do), then you cannot ignore the usually clownish Mr. Hill's skill in handling something a little more dramatic.
  10. John Hawkes
        Martha Marcy Mae Marlene
     This film was not all that I had hoped for, and I found myself wishing that they had given Mr. Hawkes a little more to do.  Still, the man is an exceptional actor, and one must applaud what he did with what he had.  The serenade gave me chills.
  9. Noe Hernandez
     Miss Bala
     His performance as cartel king Lino Valdez was equal parts frightening and charismatic.  He was a very hard man, but somehow still more man than monster.
  8. Ryan Gosling
      Crazy, Stupid, Love
     We knew that Gos was a very talented actor.  We didn't know that he could be so funny.  We also didn't realize quite how sexy he really was.  Now we do.
  7. John Goodman
      Red State
     You know, its about time that one of America's greatest and most beloved character actors got some awards recognition for something and he was really great in this, as he was in the Artist.
  6. Brad Pitt
      The Tree of Life
     Like all the actors in this movie, Pitt had to both embody an archetype (the stern, and emotionally distant father figure) and still create a real person.
  5. Alex Shaffer
      Win Win
     I don't know what I haven't already said here.
  4. Albert Brooks
     Another funny man being deadly serious.  I utterly bought it.
  3. Christopher Plummer
     He was great, but I don't have umpteen decades of snubs to make up to him, so I can't give him number one.
  2. Chris New
     It wasn't as flashy or extreme as most of the performances on this list, but it was poignant, vulnerable and utterly real.  I felt like I knew him.
  1.  Ezra Miller
       We Need To Talk About Kevin
     I don't know what else to say except that this kid is scary as hell!!!
  Tin Toadstool:  Bobby Cannavale
                            Win Win
     I think there is a Sex and the City diminishing returns curse and that's all I really have to say about it.

Whew!!!! In order to get this up today like I promised (and to give you a break, this is long) I am going to have to split the Froggies for performance into two posts.  I will return with the other four categories either tomorrow or Monday.  In the meantime, it is good to be back.  Please feel free to rip me a new one in the comments section.



Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Apologetic Amphibian

     I know, I know, I haven't posted in a week, not even the Best of 2011 series article promised for last Saturday, or the Classic Cinema Series post promised for today.  I promise I am not giving up on the Frog (quite the opposite) and everything should get back to normal next week.  I'm not making any money off of The Movie Frog (yet) and I work nine to ten hours a day at my day job, plus three to four more on this blog, five days a week.  Add in a few more hours of Frog time on my two days off and I don't have a lot of spare time.  It's always a race to get my articles posted on time under normal circumstances.  This week was my birthday week and I just let everything fall to the side for a moment, Frog-wise.  I needed the downtime to avoid total burnout.  I love doing this site but it is a lot of work.
     I plan on putting up one or two review posts before Saturday, then the acting awards on Saturday.  Obviously, the Best of 2011 series is now going to stretch into August by one week, but we do what we can.  Next Wednesday will see number one in the Classic Cinema series revealed and discussed.  Until the Best of 2011 series is concluded, I plan on posting it on Saturdays, Classic Cinema on Wednesdays, and at least two other posts during the week, ideally a Now in Theaters review and a set of DVD reviews.  The remaining weeks in August, I will probably move the Classic Cinema Series to Saturdays temporarily, to give it a little boost in readership before moving it back to Wednesdays in September when Saturdays will be occupied by Oscar buzz and prediction updates. 
     I mentioned earlier that I make no money off of doing this as of yet, but our readership is growing quickly.  Pageviews increased over 400% between March and April, then increased steadily over the course of the next two months, and it looks like July is going to yield an increase of at least 100% over June.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!  Thank you for reading the Frog, and thank you to those of you who have recommended it to others.  I have no idea how my large reader pools in the U.K. and Russia found my little blog, but I thank you and hope I don't come off as too much of an "ugly American" in the perspective I bring to this page.
     I still need your help, though, to make the Frog bigger, so I can devote more of my time to it and produce a greater volume and variety of material for your enjoyment.  So...tell all your movie buff friends about the Frog.  Follow the blog.  Follow me on Twitter @themoviefrog.  Post links on Facebook.  Like articles on Google Plus.  Retweet me on Twitter.
     Above all, please feel free to throw your two cents in by leaving comments.  I promise to try to respond to all of them in a prompt manner.  I can't make this a more compelling read without some insight into what my readers like, dislike, and want to see more of. 
                                                               Happy Belated Articles

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Classic Cinema Series - Preview

     So, I promised that this series of articles was coming almost a year ago when I started The Movie Frog, but then the Frog went on hiatus for several months, and after that it was a matter of playing catch up to finish out the 2011 film year.  Now that I'm finally posting my Best of 2011 series ( intro here and the tech awards here) every Saturday in July, it is time to explore yet another corner of The Movie Frog swamp and begin the classic cinema series, which will be posting on Wednesdays starting next week.
      In this series I will be highlighting the very best in film from the birth of cinema (there are a couple of films on my list that predate the first World War) to 2010 (the last year that predates The Movie Frog).  I hope to eventually cover 1000 films.  At one film a week, this will take a loooong time.  In creating this list, I scoured top 100 (or whatever) lists of films from dozens of different sources, including critics, film preservation and history organizations, popular opinion polls, etc.  I then combined these with my own personal list (which was only one of many) and compiled the results paying attention to both how many lists a film appeared on and how highly it was placed on the numerically ranked lists. 
     As a result, the top 250-400 movies on the list pretty solidly hold the title for greatest films of all time according to the general consensus.  After that, I will begin making some editorial decisions about the films that these lists have delivered to me for consideration.  Most of the top 250 will probably not be big surprises to most of you who are obsessed with such things.  For those of you who love movies but have yet to really dive into the history of cinema, I can unequivocally state that these offerings would make an excellent starting point.
     As in most of life, seniority does count, especially to place near the top of this list.  It takes time to be able to really tell if a film is going to speak to people in a way that lasts.  Today's special effects extravaganza is just a campy relic in thirty years if it doesn't have a little meat on its bones.  Some films spark great admiration in the context of the specific moment in time of their release, and find that in hindsight the glow fades considerably.  Only one of the top 100 (#99) was made in the twenty first century.  Any film that continues to inspire and fascinate for years and decades has proven that it is more than popular entertainment, it is art.
     As for the top ten, which we'll be covering between now and September 19th, there are two from the 1940's, two from the 1950's, three from the 1960's, and three from the 1970's.  Three directors have two films each in the top ten.  The Oscars may discriminate against genre films, but this bunch contains a thriller, a science fiction film, a horror flick, a musical, and a comedy.  Only three of these films won Best Picture.
All ten of these films were on almost every list I looked at somewhere, including my own.
     The top three are pretty much always the top three in these discussions.  Over ninety percent of the "greatest film " lists that I scoured through had one of these atop it.  They are without a doubt the films most commonly referred to a the greatest ever. They range from 1941 to 1972.
     Okay, enough (almost) teasing you about the coming weeks.  Please join me on a journey to explore the greatest works of Godard, Pixar, Bogey, Nicholson, Hitchcock, Chaplin, Nolan, Hepburn, Kubrick, and Kurosawa.  I will leave you with this quote about next week's film (#1) by Roger Ebert:

     "No one making "          " thought they were making a great movie.  It was simply another Warner Bros. release.  It was an "A list" picture, to be sure...but it was made on a tight budget and released with small expectations."
                                                                                      Keepin it hoppin,

Monday, July 9, 2012

John's Woman in Wrath

     Reviewing as many foreign language, documentary, and little bitty indie films as I have been in the last few weeks has been a little like subsisting on a diet of dried fruit and salad. I love it and it's really good for me, but after a while I require some cinematic junk food. we are reviewing a classic sci-fi adaptation, the sequel to a fairly undeserving remake, and a very British ghost story.  Let's begin with...

John Carter - Author Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known as the creator of the Tarzan mythos, but his OTHER popular series of books was about a man named John Carter and his adventures on Mars.  As I was watching the Disney adaptation of the first book in that series, my viewing companion kept saying, "Oh, they stole that from this, and this from that."
     I would reply, "Actually, this film's source material was probably the original inspiration for this or that thing that you remember in this or that other movie."  The quality point, however, was his.  The average movie goer is not going to know or care about the history of the source material.  All they know is that the high speed desert chases with aliens remind them of Star Wars:  The Phantom Menace and that's that.  The John Carter series of books spent almost a century in existence before they were translated to film and in that time the story has become dated, its elements dissected and disseminated to a dozen other sci-fi franchises, and we're left with a film that feels like its been done before.
     Director Andrew Stanton is best known for his work on Pixar's animated films, and this does play a little like a live action cartoon.  It's full of cliched pronouncements, and sweeping blasts of the original score that is a little too obvious in its emotional intent.  The film's basic story is still a good one, however, and this kept John Carter watchable.  Available on DVD.  2 1/2 of 5*
     (At this point, Dakota, my movie dog, would like to say that he liked the movie much more than I did.  He says that if you just want to see some action, weird creatures, and the occasional explosion, you should find John Carter extremely gratifying:  4 of 4 paws.)

The Woman in Black - So, no matter what quality level this movie turned out to be, it was always doomed to be remembered as Daniel Radcliffe's first post-Potter film.  Fortunately for him, it turned out to be a better than average horror flick.  Writer Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class, Kick Ass) turns in a script that actually relies on mystery and suspense more than gore or shock value (although the movie does have a few quality shocks and starts), and director James Watkins (Eden Lake) translates these qualities to the screen admirably.
     As for Radcliffe, he was definately able to embody the role of Arthur Kipps effectively enough that you are not left thinking, "Oh, look at Harry Potter, all dressed like a grown up", which he had no choice but to make the main goal of this performance.  He plays sullen and melancholy very well, and it was refreshing to see him playing his own real age for the first time since The Sorceror's Stone.  He is supported ably by Ciaran Hinds as the stiff-upper-lipped cynic who doesn't believe in all this nonsense, and recent Oscar nominee (for Albert Nobbs) Janet McTeer, as his addled wife who definitely does believe.
     Overall, Woman in Black is not destined to become a classic of its genre, but it is a much more adult movie than its niche usually produces.  You actually think a bit trying to figure it all out.  It should make perfectly sufficient viewing for a dark and stormy night, or a date where you want your companion to sit really close.  Available on DVD.  3 1/2 of 5*

Wrath of the Titans - Well, this is certainly going to date me, but I saw the original Clash of the Titans in the theater as a child, and it really excited my imagination.  I credit it largely with inspiring my life long interest in mythology, inaccurate as some of its details were (the clockwork owl, for instance).  Still, it was close enough in spirit to the original source material to create a hunger to actually learn about and appreciate another culture, long dead.
     Then came the remake in 2010, and I couldn't help but be excited.  It had a fantastic cast, and radically updated special effects, yet (for me) only a fraction of the wonder that the original film contained.  Still, at least it told a story firmly based upon the actual myths of Greece that might still incite some inspiration in minds less jaded by age (and nostalgia) than my own.
     Now we have Wrath of the Titans, which was...just silly, and owing more in source material to the "Death of the Gods" season on Xena: Warrior Princess than to the myths that spawned the characters.  Or most of the characters.  I can only assume that the demi-god Argenon was based on the mythological figure Agenon, but as far as I can tell he and Perseus had nothing to do with each other.  Perseus also had nothing to do with most of the foes that he pilfers from the myths of other Greek heroes:  The Minotaur (Theseus), Cyclops (Odysseus), etc. 
     I was going to give this film 1 1/2 stars out of pure righteous indignation, but Dakota, the Movie Dog (who gave this one another 4 of 4 paws rating) reminded me that I had obviously enjoyed some of the action sequences, and I needed to stop being such an insufferable snob.  Available on DVD.  2 of 5*

     Well, we're finally moving into the films of 2012 in our DVD reviews, but so far the popcorn seems a little stale.  I will try to find something a little more satisfying for my next set of reviews.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Best of 2011 - The Techs

    I am not an expert on the intricacies of the art and science involved in many of the tech or craft categories, so maybe I am unqualified to judge what is the best, oh let's say editing of the year.  This almost discouraged me from making lists in many of these categories.  However, I feel that the set decorators, directors of photography, hairstylists, etc. often get treated like second class citizens when it comes to many critic's awards, and I don't want to play that way.  I know how integral the people behind the scenes are to the magic that keeps us staring at that screen and they deserve a little recognition.  I can tell when a film that really worked hinged on precision and timing in the editing room well enough to recognize some very worthy work.  If there was work that was even more worthy but escaped my attention due to my aforementioned lack of expertise, I apologize.  I also apologize to the sound editors and mixers who I really did feel too ignorant to make judgement calls about, but here at The Movie Frog, we appreciate you too.  Clicking on the name of a highlighted film will take you to my review of said film, where applicable.  And now, the first annual...Froggies?

Best Achievement in Make-Up and Hair Styling
     You know, I keep reading on other film blogs about how the Academy has lumped the make-up artists and hairstylists in together this year and how that must make them feel having to share a category.  Very few seem to realize that as I stated in my review of The Help back in August of last year that they have always shared the category, the name has just never reflected it.  I myself was planning on referring to this list by this title before the Academy even announced the name change.
  6. Captain America:  The First Avenger
      Lisa Westcott, David White  
     I am surprised the work this department turned in did not gain more buzz than it did.  Not only did you have the complicated, flashy job of turning Hugo Weaving into the Red Skull, but it was a period piece that required styling to match an age seventy years gone.
  5. Anonymous
      Heike Merker, Bjorn Rehbein
     This film required the even more stylized look of a much farther removed era and even period theatrical stage makeup.  The entire production was visually stunning.  This was a key component.
  4. The Help
      Camille Friend
     I only listed Ms Friend because the film's inclusion here is really ALL about the amazing hair design and implementation.  I'm serious.  Watch it again and think about it.
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
      Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight, Lisa Tomblin
     It will be a refrain when discussing this movie, but it did have a leg up in that many of the effects this team had to create had already been developed and implemented earlier in the series, but they still deserve one last round of kudos for playing such an essential role in the creation of such an intricate, fantastic world.  The range of effects created for this series is almost unparalleled.
  2. The Skin I Live In
      Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Marti
     The makeup crew behind this film had to slowly transform actor Jan Cornet into actress Elena Anaya...and not let us realize exactly when the performers switch.  Which they did.  Well.
  1. The Iron Lady
      Mark Coulier, J. Roy Helland
     What can I say?  Sometimes the Academy does just get it right.  Whatever this film's many flaws may be, the work done by these men to transform Meryl Streep physically into Margaret Thatcher was outstanding.  The likeness was amazing and the makeup never wore the actress.

     And the Tin Toadstool (just thought of that) for worst makeup and hair of the year is awarded to...
   J Edgar
   Tania McComas
     This...enthusiastic makeup department head oversaw all the old age effects on this picture.  This means that it was under her watchful gaze that Leonardo DiCaprio was transformed into a Sid and Marty Croft character and Armee Hammer transmogrified into a standard manekin left on the sidewalk in the middle of the afternoon, in July, in Las Vegas.

Best Costume Design
     I feel like the work of the costumer is fairly easy for even the uninitiated to see, so for the most part I'm just gonna give you my picks here without a whole lot of justification.
  10. The Housemaid
        Se-yeon Choi
  9. The Help
      Sharen Davis
  8. Albert Nobbs
      Pierre-Yves Cayraud
  7. My Week With Marilyn
      Jill Taylor
  6. Captain America:  The First Avenger
      Anna B Sheppard
     Again, this film may seem like an odd choice but it's the double duty of super hero movie costumes and serious authentic period outfits that I can't help but be impressed by.
  5. The Artist
      Mark Bridges
  4. Jane Eyre
      Michael O'Conner
  3. Anonymous
      Lisy Christi
  2.Mysteries of Lisbon
      Tania Franco
  1. Midnight In Paris
      Sonia Grande
     I know, I know, two highly stylized time periods automatically trumps one, but all three eras of this film were handled brilliantly.  When I'm right...

  Tin Toadstool:  Sucker Punch
                          Michael Wilkinson
     Anyone who is tired of hearing feminists say that women are infanticized and objectified by their representations in American media should stop making films like Sucker Punch, because it completely validates all of these women's positions.  The costumes were probably the most egregious I'ing and O'ing. of the entire production.

Best Editing
     This is one of the categories where I feel like I don't have the eye to really appreciate all of the finer points of the job that these artists do.  Here are ten films that even I couldn't help but appreciate the editorial contributions in.
  10. Bullhead
        Alain Dessauvage
     So many times in Bullhead, quick cuts were used to the cattle and other imagery that would help to illustrate what was going on in Jacky's head.  It was an effective but tricky technique that had to cut away from him long enough to make the point, but return to Jacky quickly enough to prevent the viewer from breaking their connection with him.  It really enhanced an already impressive performance.
  9. Hanna
      Paul Tothill
     Action films always present editors with a challenging task and this was a very stylized film for that genre. In a movie like this, pace and timing are everything.
  8. Hugo
      Thelma Schoonmaker
     I think this one sort of speaks for itself.  Highly visually stylized film.  Almost had a rhythm like a dance.
  7. 13 Assassins
      Kenji Yamashita
     The last half of the movie is an hour long non-stop highly choreographed, high impact, vastly creative fight sequence between our band of 13 and a whole town full of angry enemy warriors.  Nuff said.
  6. The Artist
      Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius
     This film was edited in a way that was very reminiscent of silent era Hollywood without causing any emotional disconnect in viewers more accustomed to the way modern movies flow.
  5. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
      Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall
     Everything I said about Hannah applies here but more so.
  4. Drive
      Matthew Newman
     And just a teeeeny bit more so.
  3. Pina
      Toni Froschhaminer
      Sometimes the way that the vignettes that made up this documentary flowed together were almost as creative as the brilliant choreography and dance found within them.
  2..We Need To Talk About Kevin
       Joe Bini
     This film flowed so seamlessly back and forth along its narrative timeline and carried the viewer so effortlessly along, how can you not honor the man who put the pieces back together that way.
  1. The Tree of Life
      Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber, Mark Yoshikawa
     Too many cooks can sometimes spoil the broth, but the film, while all over the place, is so brilliantly all over the place and abstractly cohesive at the same time.  Tree of Life should win a special award for "film most impossible to try to explain without sounding like a douche."  I think it just did. Trust me, this had to be one of the most difficult films ever from an editor's perspective.
  Tin Toadstool:  W. E.
                          Danny Tull
     I was really surprised to find that this film did not share an editorial staff with MTV's the real world.  I struggled to avoid giving all of these to W. E. but in this case, there was just nothing justifiably worse to choose from.

Best Art Direction and Set Decoration
     Which is really what this award is at the Oscar's too, they just don't call it that.  And Art Direction is a lot like Set Design for you theater geeks.  
  10. Albert Nobbs
        Art Direction:  Susie Cullen, Set Decoration:  Jenny Oman
     Everything in the world of Albert Nobbs looked as stuffy and reserved as Albert
  9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow Part 2
      Art Direction:  Andrew Ackland-Snow, Alastair Bullock, Set Decoration:  Stephanie McMillan
     How can a world that has become this familiar to our collective subconscious still look this visually impressive?  How can you not honor that one last time?
  8. Jane Eyre 
      Art Direction:  Karl Probert, Set Direction:  Tina Jones
     The ruins sealed the deal for me on this one.
  7. Anonymous
      Art Direction:  Stephan O. Gessler, Set Decoration:  Simon-Julien Boucherie
     I mean, this movie was really amazing to look at, every scene.
  6. The Housemaid
      Art Direction: Jung-yoon Bae, Set Decoration:  Hyeon-mi Yang
     Contemporary settings usually get ignored by the Academy in this category but the opulence of the Goh home is a work of art in itself.  The incorporation of fire into the sets is truly inspired.
  5. We Need To Talk About Kevin
       Art Direction:  Charles Kulszinski, Set Decoration:  Heather Loeffler
     Another contemporary piece but it deserves its place on this list simply for all the brilliant uses of the color red throughout the production.
  4. The Skin I Live In
      Art Direction: Carlos Bodelor, Set Decoration:  Vicent Diaz
     Pedro Almodovar films always seem to occupy a world just off of reality.  This part of the production team really showed us that world in a tangible way in Skin.  Uncomfortably beautiful with just a whiff of Clockwork Orange.
  3. Midnight In Paris
      Art Direction:  Jean-Yves Rabier, Set Decoration:  Helene Dubreuil
     This is deserving in all the same ways, for all the same reasons, that it was deserving in Costume Design.
  2. The Artist
      Art Direction: Gregory S. Hooper, Set Decoration:  Austin Buchinsky, Robert Gould
     Half of this movie was movie sets within movie sets and all of it was set in a long gone era, and all of it had to look enchanting and magical.  Somehow all of that worked.
  1. Hugo
      Art Direction: David Warren, Set Decoration:  Francesca Lo Schiavo
     Again, the world of Hugo was a highly stylized one, especially from a visual standpoint, sort of off-fantasy with period elements.  Beautiful work.
  Tin Toadstool:  W.E. 
                          Art Direction:  Steven Lawrence, Set Decoration:  Celia Bobak
      Sometimes more is not better.  Royalty has never looked so gauche.

Use of Music
     I sort of made this category broad enough to cover Original Scores, Original Songs, and films that made brilliant use of non-original pieces.
  10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
        Original Score:  Alexandre Desplat
     Yeah, a lot of the motifs at play here are familiar from earlier in the series, but it doesn't negate the quality of the work being done.
  9.Martha Marcy Mae Marlene
      Original Music:  Daniel Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
     I'm not sure which, if either, of the above mentioned gentlemen wrote the song that Patrick sings for "Marcy Mae" when she first joins the commune, but it was a chilling moment, enhanced greatly by John Hawkes' performance.
  8. Hanna
      Original Score:  The Chemical Brothers
     Following up their excellent scoring on Tron, The Chemical Brothers seem primed to follow Trent Reznor from pop innovation to Oscar glory...some year soon.
  7. Shame
      Original Score: Harry Escott
     Not to discount Mr. Escott's fine composition, but it is really Carey Mulligan's brilliant rendition of New York, New York that earned Shame a place on this list.  Heartbreaking.
  6. Chico and Rita
      Original Music:  Bebo Valdes
     Chico & Rita is a story of jazz musicians in Cuba's golden age of music.  The story is the music and vice versa.
  5.  Pina
  Most of Pina's music is unoriginal to the film, but it is a dance documentary, and an exquisite one.  Dancing IS about the music, and it is one of the film's most integral elements.
  4. Drive
      Original Score:  Cliff Martinez
     Nothing makes B-movie violence seem like art house styling like a soaring, powerful score set behind it.  Job well done.
  3. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
      Original Score:  Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
     Hot off of their Oscar win for The Social Network, this pair returns to prove that they may indeed be the hottest new thing in music composed for film.
  2. The Artist
      Origianl Score:  Ludovic Bource
     Most films are supported by their score as a background soundtrack underneath the sound of the dialogue and action.  In The Artist, the score WAS the soundtrack.  Front and center.  If it had not worked, the film would not have either.  They both DID.
  1.  The Tree of Life
       Original Score:  Alexandre Desplat
     The score was disqualified for Oscar consideration because of unoriginal elements woven throughout it, but it is so magnificent that I couldn't care less.  There is probably just as much unscripted screen time in The Tree of Life as in the Artist and often the music was the whole movement of a scene.  I cannot stress how impressive the great Mr. Desplat's work is here.
  Tin Toadstool:  To Die Like a Man
       No original score here, but there is this sequence in the woods where all the characters freeze in tableau for like five minutes while the moon or stars or something sing gospel music to them.  It was by far the worst part of a movie that was pretty bad already.

Best Visual Effects
     I tried to consider not just how impressive the special effects were, but how well they were used to enhance (rather than totally overshadow) the plot.  That should help explain why some of the films below weren't ranked higher than they were, as well as why some were left off.  I had a difficult time distinguishing exactly which members of the vast teams behind the visual effects on these movies should be singled out, so I just gave up.
  10. Anonymous
     The London cityscape of a bygone age was recreated with a majesty that simple sets or location shots in the present day never could have produced.  Like most visual aspects of this film, it was quite impressive.
  9. X-Men:  First Class
     Marvel Studios always does a state of the art job with their FX while still focusing on story.  There was nothing that revolutionary or mind boggling here, just believable work that wove seemlessly into the film.
  8. Take Shelter
     Yes, the work here was quite simple and low tech compared to most of the films on this list, but it was still integral to the plot and dollar per dollar maybe the most that anyone on the list got for their money.
  7. Transformers:  Dark of the Moon
     I admit, some of the sequences in this film were mind blowing, and it had some of the most innovative effects on this list.  The reason that it doesn't rank higher on the list is because the effects were so amazing and all-attention-hogging, that you failed to notice anything else about the movie.  To me (and this is just me) truly great Visual Effects of the cinema should enhance a film rather than distract from it.  It's almost like they were purposefully designed to keep you from noticing how hollow the rest of the film was.  Hmmm...?
  6. The Tree of Life
     We've all seen CGI dinosaurs before, but the way that the FX were integrated into Tree of Life made them MEAN so much.  They served the film well, as they should.
  5. Thor
     I don't care that this film got almost no Visual Effects buzz, I thought Asgard looked great.  In a super-hero flick that flits casually between dimensions, the effects never once ruined the suspension of my disbelief.  And I can be a very cynical bastard about such matters.
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
     So many characters and creatures (and Kreature), and spells, and worlds, and ghosts, and we all bought into it all for the most part, I mean, come on, you know you did.  I did.
  3. The Adventures of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn
     Whether the animation branch wants to honor this film as true animation or not, the team here used existing technologies in new ways and created an animated film that looked so hyper-real that it was almost a little spooky.  The characters looked alive and, thanks to motion capture, bits and pieces of them were
  2. Hugo
     There were no monsters, aliens, dimension hopping, spells, or space travel in Hugo per se, but the use of 3D effects was probably the most artful in any film ever, so it didn't really need those things to deserve this slot.
  1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
     Rise put motion capture animation beings into our own world, which means that it took human actors and turned them into animation, and then integrated it back into our world and it so totally worked that you had more empathy for the apes than you did for the humans.  To feel something complex in relation to a visual effect is probably the greatest compliment you could give its creators.
  Tin Toadstool:  The Strange Case of Anjelica
     The supernatural aspects of this film were totally mishandled in every regard, but the cheesy cut and paste (like with scissors and actual paste) green screen effects were absolutely the worst part of the whole experience of watching the movie.

     I saved this one for last because this was a really great year for cinematography.  Many of my favorite films of the year are on this list and nine of them got five star ratings from me (#8 was a 4 1/2 star film).  There are many other films that in a weaker year could easily have ranked in the top ten including Midnight in Paris, The Skin I Live In, Harry Potter, etc.  These, however, are the ten films I have chosen to honor.  I think that watching the films is the only way to really see why, so commentary will be minimal.
  10. Take Shelter
        Adam Stone
  9. The Descendants
       Phedon Papamichael
     Makes you want to move to Hawa'ai.
  8. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
      Jeff Cronenworth
     The man is truly a master of his craft.
  7. The Artist
      Guillaume Schiffman
  6. Shame
      Sean Bobbitt
  5. Hugo
      Robert Richardson
     Best use of 3D camera work ever!
  4. Drive
      Newton Thomas Sigel
  3. We Need To Talk About Kevin
      Seamus McGarvey
     So much red, so much pain, so beautifully rendered.
  2. Melancholia
      Manuel Alberto Claro
     There was more exquisite camera work in the first ten minutes of this film than in most whole films.
  1. The Tree of Life
      Emmanuel Lubezki
     There was more exquisite camera work in every ten minutes of this film than in most whole films.
  Tin Toadstool:  To Die Like a Man
                          Rui Pocas
     Just as overblown as everything else in this film, but with weird red screen effects that meant nothing.

     And thankfully, that is it for today.  The next installment of the 2011 series will be up next Saturday.  In it, we will cover the acting lists from Best Actress to Best Juvenile Performance.  And don't miss the beginning of my coverage of the films of 2012 in my DVD reviews tomorrow.  I'll see you then.