Monday, January 31, 2011

Movie of the Week - North by Northwest

This week’s movie is North by Northwest (1959).

The mystery thriller is about a New York advertising man, Roger Thornhill, who is mistaken for a spy by a group of criminals. Now, chased by both the police and the criminals, he must find the man who he has been mistaken for and try to survive. The film is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most revered and is among AFI’s top 100. Hitchcock collaborates with excellent composer Bernard Herrmann and cinematographer Robert Burks, both of whom worked consistently with Hitchcock on a number of his films. Production designer Robert Boyle only worked once with him, this film also was one of his first production design jobs (though he had worked on many previous film as an art director). The film has a fantastic cast – starring Cary Grant (his fourth and final Hitchcock collaboration) and featuring Eva Marie Saint, James Mason (who Eddie Izzard does a great impression of, about 4:30 in), Martin Landau, Jessie Royce Landis, and Leo G. Carroll. What makes the film great is the wonderful dialog, charisma of Grant and the style of Hitchcock. There are a number of great sequences – a drunken car chase, thrilling crop duster scene and finale on the top of Mt. Rushmore. This is a must see for film fans, Hitchcock fans and Cary Grant fans. It is one of the most entertaining thrillers of all-time. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD and to Rent

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TV Series of the Month - Band of Brothers

This month’s series is Band of Brothers.

The HBO miniseries is about the story of Easy Company (part of the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division) and their exploits during WWII in Europe from Operation Overlord through V-J Day. The show is by creators Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg based on the novel by Stephen Ambrose.  The whole cast is fantastic (the casting director(s) did an amazingly good job finding these guys). The stand outs are Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston, Scott Grimes, Shane Taylor, and Frank John Hughes. There are also a few guest/cameo appearances from better known actors throughout. The aesthetics of the show are also incredible. The score, cinematography, production design, special effects, writing, everything is superb and the best of anything on TV. Every episode (though there are only 10) is great, my favorites being Day of Days, Bastogne and The Breaking Point. The show succeeds not just because of the historical implications or the very well done action sequences, it is my favorite show of all-time (making it a great series to kick off this new monthly article series) because the story is done in such a way (with tons of characters and little time) that you really get to know, like and care about every principal character, which gets you very invested in the show, characters and lives of these men. The show is a must for WWII fans and those that like outstanding television, as this is the best. Check out the series trailer.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD and to Rent

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Green Hornet (2011) – Review

The Green Hornet is an entertaining buddy action comedy that takes full advantage of its cast, script and subject matter. Michel Gondry (known for his unique style) directs maybe his most straight-forward film to date, however his style is not completely gone as he does place his camera interestingly creating some nice shot composition (not always common for big action or comedy movies). However, this feels much more like a film by writing team Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg than it does a Michel Gondry film. That is not a bad thing, as it is very funny and the dialog and overall silliness of the situations and characters allow to film to stand out and in many ways stand above most other recent buddy action comedies. However, liking this film is probably contingent (to some degree) on liking their other two produced screenplays: Superbad and Pineapple Express, as the comedy in this film is in much the same vein as those films. The relationship between Britt Reid (The Green Hornet) and Kato – their dialog, interactions, friendship and so on – is the best part and generates most of the entertainment in the film. Sure there are good action set pieces, funny scenes with the villain and other characters, but Reid and Kato’s relationship develops in such a manner that the audience enjoys watching (and to some extend being a part of it), thus caring about the characters and outcome – making the film successful overall. The villain Chudnofsky also brings humor to the film with the continuous joke that he is not very menacing or cool. It is fairly refreshing and works quite well (I thought, at least). The issue with the film though is that outside the relationship of Reid and Kato and the exploits of Chudnofsky there is not much else there. All the other characters fill specific story roles, but do not feel real or even necessary. Plus, the major factors in Reid wanting to be The Green Hornet stems from both a need to help people and his relationship with his father, neither is given enough emotional weight to make Reid’s actions feel real or have the audience care (however, I think while important and ultimately what stops this from being a better film, this is not as important by a long shot to the relationship between Reid and Kato, which the film does very well). Despite some narrative flaws in building full characters, The Green Hornet is a blast, filled with fun action and lots of laughs.

Technical and acting achievements: Michel Gondry tackles his most ambitious film here, having not really shot big action set pieces before and not to mention that this seems out of his comfort zone. The result does not really resemble a typical Gondry film, but his aesthetics and keen sense of composition still creep their way in; they are just not blatant (like his other films). James Newton Howard provides a good score for the film that while not overly memorable fits the visuals and tone well. Cinematographer John Schwartzman’s work also fits the tone of the film well – letting the actors play out their comedic roles while also presenting the action in an exciting manner. A lot of credit also goes to editor Michael Tronick who did great work on the film. Owen Paterson’s production design grounds the film in the real world, but also includes grand sets (like the newspaper building) and cool ‘home bases’ for the characters (I like Chudnofsky’s construction trailer office, for example). Tom Wilkinson, David Harbour, Edward James Olmos and especially Edward Furlong (who is hilarious in his small role) provide good supporting work. Cameron Diaz is really given little to do in the film and it is hard to believe that they cast her or anyone as famous as her for the part, and thus ends up merely being just a pretty face, and she has some funny moments too. James Franco has a fantastic cameo in the film. His scene with Christoph Waltz is maybe the best in the film (it is awesome). Waltz is wonderful as a crime lord with seemingly low self-esteem. He pretty much steals every scene he is in (but what else did you expect). Leads Rogen and Jay Chou make a great team and their performances are very funny and charismatic, carrying the film.

The Green Hornet is very funny, has good action and will entertain. 7/10

Monday, January 24, 2011

Movie of the Week - The Big Country

This week’s movie is The Big Country (1958).

The western is about a New England ship captain who arrives in the old west to marry his beloved who met him while visiting the east coast. Once there, he becomes wrapped up in a feud between two old families over a patch of valuable land. Directed by one of the best, William Wyler, this is a wonderful classic western. Wyler is certainly one of the great auteur directors, along with the likes of David Lean and Alfred Hitchcock. The film features a good score from composer Jerome Moross, great cinematography from legendary D.P. Franz Planer (also shot Wyler’s Roman Holiday) and very good art direction from Frank Hotaling, who did some of the best work on westerns of the period. It has a fantastic cast starring Gregory Peck (playing a stoic honorable man, a lot like Atticus Finch, only he made this first) with Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, and Charles Bickford in supporting roles. What makes the film great is the character that Peck plays: James McKay. He is completely honorable and seemingly infallible. All his scenes are fantastic, but I love his square-off with Heston’s Steve Leech. This is an absolute must see for western fans, as it has great scenes, characters and dialog. The story is a parable, in a sense, warning off hatred and ill-will. Check out the trailer.

Available on DVD and to Rent

Friday, January 21, 2011

Natalie Portman – Movies Spotlight – January 2011

Natalie Portman is best known for her daring roles as a child-actor, Padme in the new Star Wars Trilogy and being one of the best actresses of her generation, culminating in a likely Best Actress Oscar this February for Black Swan. Throughout her career, she has managed a good mix of prestige and big films, with a few rom-coms thrown in. This month she stars alongside Ashton Kutcher in No Strings Attached, a romantic comedy about two friends that engage in a strictly sex only relationship only to find that they want more (trailer).

Early Career:

Portman began her career at the age of four, taking dancing lessons and performing as part of a local troupe, which is where she got her absolute love of dancing and ballet (leading to her always wanting to do a film about a dancer which finally became Black Swan). Then at age ten, she was offered to be a child model for Revlon but turned it down to focus on acting, spending many school holidays at drama camps. She auditioned for the off-Broadway show Ruthless! about a girl who would kill to get the lead in a school play. Portman ended up being the understudy for Laura Bell Bundy – the other understudy was Britney Spears. Then in 1994 she got her big break, as she was cast by Luc Besson in his hit man film The Professional. The role was very adult-like and caught the attention of many critics and filmmakers. Once cast, she decided to use her grandmother’s maiden name “Portman” as her stage name.

Building Her Career After Her Breakthrough:

With the critical and commercial success and rave reviews for her performance in The Professional, Portman had good roles for great directors coming her way. She got a supporting part in Michael Mann’s superb crime-drama Heat, which again saw her character shown in a very adult situation and she got to share scenes with Al Pacino. Next, she had a major role stealing the heart(s) of the main character and the audience in Beautiful Girls. Woody Allen then cast her in his musical romantic comedy Everyone Says I Love You. She also played the daughter of the President of the United States in Tim Burton’s outrageous comedy Mars Attacks!. At this point in her career, she had quite a track record working with some of the best directors and making interesting films. She was also Baz Luhrmann’s first choice to play Juliet in his Romeo + Juliet, but producers felt she was too young. She took a break from film in 1997 to star as Anne Frank on Broadway.

Star Wars and Harvard:

Then came international recognition in 1999, as she took the role as Padme in her first blockbuster: George Lucus’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (or as we call the trilogy, the films that ruined Star Wars). That year she also got her first award recognition, being nominated for a Golden Globe for her supporting performance in Anywhere But Here. Initially, she had turned down the role because her character had a sex scene, but co-star Susan Sarandon and director Wayne Wang were set on having her in the film and had the script rewritten. She next stared as a teenage mother in Where the Heart Is. Upon completion of the film, she moved into the dorms at Harvard University, where she would graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, focusing on her studies, filming her part in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones during her summer break. She also had time to take the role of Nina in Mike Nichols’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Seagull, which opened in 2001 on New York’s Public Theater and co-starred Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Philip Seymour Hoffman. She additionally filmed a small role in the multiple Oscar nominated Cold Mountain and finished her commitment to the Star Wars Trilogy with Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, the biggest box office film of her career.

Hollywood Leading Lady:

With school and Star Wars behind her, Portman decided to take a role in Zach Braff’s indy comedy Garden State, a film that immediately returned her to darling status among film fans, as it and her performance were well received (not to mention that her character introduces The Shins to the world). Next she worked again with Mike Nichols playing a pole-dancer who seduces Clive Owen in Closer, which garnered her first Oscar nomination (for supporting actress). Continuing her string of critical successes, she next starred in the very well received graphic novel adaptation V for Vendetta, which marked her first (true) leading role in a big film. Continuing to work with top directors, Portman next starred in Milos Forman’s Goya’s Ghosts, took a supporting role in Kar Wai Wong’s My Blueberry Nights and co-starred with Jason Schwartzman in Wes Anderson’s prologue to his fantastic film The Darjeeling Limited (which she also has a cameo in) Hotel Chevalier. However, next she would take roles in the critical and commercial flops Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and The Other Boleyn Girl. Portman returned, however, with great performances in Jim Sheridan’s Iraq War drama Brothers and Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, becoming one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading ladies with her tragic and beautiful performance.

Future Projects:

Portman has been busy and has a packed upcoming schedule with six potential films being released in 2011 (plus she is currently pregnant and engaged). First she has this month’s No Strings Attached (mentioned above). Next on the slate is David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Ben Best’s adventure stoner comedy Your Highness (which looks amazing), co-starring James Franco and McBride. From her digital short with Lonely Island, Portman has shown her knack for silly comedy (and I am really interested to see how this film turns out). In May, she has her next big blockbuster starring in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor (trailer), as Chris Hemsworth’s love interest (not sure if she will make it into Joss Whedon’s Avengers film though). She also has Hesher co-starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Other Woman a film about a woman’s difficult relationship with her stepson (trailer) and the sci-fi film Cloud Atlas by Tom Tykwer (though it will probably be pushed to 2012) potentially with 2011 release dates.

Natalie Portman’s Selected Career Highlights:

1.)    The Professional (1994)* – lead – available on Blu-ray/DVD
2.)    Heat (1995)* – supporting – available on Blu-ray/DVD
3.)    Beautiful Girls (1996) – supporting – available on DVD
4.)    Mars Attacks! (1996) – supporting – available on Blu-ray/DVD
5.)    Garden State (2004)* – lead – available on DVD
6.)    Closer (2004) – supporting – available on Blu-ray/DVD
7.)    V for Vendetta (2006)* – lead – available on Blu-ray/DVD
8.)    Hotel Chevalier (2007)* – lead – available on Blu-ray/DVD
9.)    Brothers (2009) – lead – available on Blu-ray/DVD
10.) Black Swan (2010)* – lead

*editor’s picks

Natalie Portman’s filmography is also available on to rent and stream.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

LeapBackBlog 2010 Film Awards – Part 5: Films

Film in 2010 was fantastic, full of great performances, great directing and great work behind the camera (or in post-production). More so than the last few years, 2010 had a greater number of excellent films, which made choosing the best films, performances, directors, and technical achievements very difficult. The LeapBackBlog Film Awards are comprised of what I think were the best and most interesting films, the strongest performances (taking into consideration who the actor is and what else they have done, and 2010 features a lot of amazing breakthrough performances), the narrative style that drew me in (best directing), and exquisite craftsmanship (best technical achievements). But really, these are lists of my favorites from the year.


Unflinching, 127 Hours is an intense film, the audience feeling each moment of panic, dread, elation, and euphoria.  The story centers on outdoorsman Aron Ralston and his incredible true story of survival against all odds. Danny Boyle directs the film to be a manic barrage of images and sounds, each conjuring emotions that create the journey. The film is a thrill ride, juxtaposing extreme emotions – a difficult task as it primarily takes place in a claustrophobic canyon. But what else would you expect from Boyle and his fantastic cast and crew?

A beautifully shot film about Nina’s rise to ballerina in her company’s new production of Swan Lake, Black Swan turns dark once director Darren Aronofsky warps it to be a psychological thriller. It is a scary film with jolting moments. But as it plays with the psyche of Nina struggling with the pressure to be perfect, the narrative is often unreliable, making for an interesting journey deeper into the darker recesses of Nina’s mind. The acting and technical work are aesthetically wonderful, leaving the film to be all the more alluring.

The first half of the finale in the Harry Potter series, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is the perfect set up to what should be an action packed Part 2. But the film does not just merely play as a prologue. It is a very sad film at heart with characters being pushed closer to their breaking point and feeling the sheer anguish of their situation. However, director David Yates is very good at inserting humor into even the darkest films, and this is no different with many fun moments. And like many of the other films in the series, the aesthetics are amazing.

A heist film taking place on many levels within the target’s dream, Inception is simply an amazingly grandiose film. How writer-director Christopher Nolan every put it together is mind boggling. The acting and aesthetics are fantastic, but it is the characters and story (and astounding visuals) that make this (probably) the best film of the year. More than any other film during 2010, Inception was the cinema experience. But again, it is not all just spectacle. The story and characters are just as dense and rich. It is truly a masterful piece of filmmaking.

Probably the most fun of all these films, Kick-Ass is about a normal kid who tries to be a superhero. Director Matthew Vaughn’s realistic(ish) approach to the material pays off resulting in great action scenes, hilarity and genuine emotion. The cast is phenomenal and really elevate the film. Vaughn made this for fans of the genre who were tired of the predominantly sappy and lame adaptations coming out of Hollywood (though, of course there are a few great ones too, Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight for example), and we loved it.

The true story of King George VI’s friendship with his speech therapist, overcoming a debilitating stammer to lead his country during WWII, The King’s Speech is at its heart a buddy film (only surrounded with grave stakes and real consequences), which is very well crafted and structured hitting all the right emotional notes. Director Tom Hooper is also able to find humor in the serious subject matter and the cast is superb. It makes for a great companion piece to Hugh Whitemore’s Winston Churchill films.

Aesthetically brilliant, Never Let Me Go is tragic but hopeful tale of three children who grow up to be harvested for their organs. It is the most beautiful film of the year with wonderful cinematography, music and performances. Yet, the subject matter is difficult, as the dystopian film is haunting and ultimately heartbreaking. Director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland structure the story to focus primarily on the three children and their emotional journeys.

Probably the favorite to win the 2011 Oscar for Best Picture, The Social Network is the story of the founding of Facebook – lies, deceit, betrayal, and other fun stuff. It features excellent performances, music and a genius script by Aaron Sorkin. Director David Fincher does masterful work turning scenes of programming into exciting espionage. But what really makes it a great film is the character work, as the audience follows an antagonistic Mark Zuckerberg as if he were the hero of the story.

While this may just be a made for TV movie (though HBO’s homegrown movies are generally quite good), Temple Grandin is nonetheless one of the year’s best. It is a biopic about Temple Grandin an autistic woman who grows up to be a top scientist in the field of animal husbandry. Director Mick Jackson does good work visually expressing the perception that Temple has on her world, while also allowing the wonderful performance by Claire Danes to play as the center of the piece. It is a heart-lifting and inspirational treat of a film.

A classic western in style, True Grit features some of the year’s best performances, cinematography, music, and dialog. It is a hoot. Writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen tell the tale of Mattie Ross who hires a U.S. Marshall to help her track down her father’s killer. The film has a perfect mix of humor, violence and drama to both entertain and enthrall its viewers. For those that love westerns (as I do), this is probably the must see of the year.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

LeapBackBlog 2010 Film Awards – Part 4: Leading Performances

Film in 2010 was fantastic, full of great performances, great directing and great work behind the camera (or in post-production). More so than the last few years, 2010 had a greater number of excellent films, which made choosing the best films, performances, directors, and technical achievements very difficult. The LeapBackBlog Film Awards are comprised of what I think were the best and most interesting films, the strongest performances (taking into consideration who the actor is and what else they have done, and 2010 features a lot of amazing breakthrough performances), the narrative style that drew me in (best directing), and exquisite craftsmanship (best technical achievements). But really, these are lists of my favorites from the year.
Leading Performances:

In True Grit, Bridges gives another fantastic performance as Rooster Cogburn, evoking feelings of “wow this guy is a bad-ass” and “wow this guy is totally worthless” sometimes in the same breath for the audience – and for Mattie Ross. He is incredibly funny and his line delivery and timing are just genius. He takes a line like “You are not LaBoeuf!?!” and turns it into comic gold. Yet, he is stern and proud while being fairly ridiculous. It is just marvelous work.

In what is probably the best performance of the year (along with Christian Bale in The Fighter), Danes is simply amazing as Temple Grandin. The role required Danes to play an autistic woman, the most challenging role of her career to date. And, she just completely embodies the character and makes the film something quite special. I look forward to see what Danes does next, as she has certainly shown herself to be an elite acting talent.

Inception is such a big action adventure heist film that it really needed a strong emotional center for the audience to be fully engaged and care about the outcome (aside from just seeing how the plot plays out). DiCaprio fills that role perfectly. He is both very good at his work and in control, and yet broken emotionally. For many action films, drama is often an afterthought or not done well enough. DiCaprio’s performance is top-notch dramatically, as if he were in a tragic romance film (without all the amazing action) which in turn is what makes the ending so powerful. It was a good year for him as he was also very good in Shutter Island.

Eisenberg is very good at playing roles that are sort of nerdy, awkward and sensitive but determined young men, and this is very much that kind of role. However, what sets this particular performance in The Social Network apart is that it called for almost a complete lack of emotion (at least on the outside). Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg to be seemingly uncaring and almost cruel, but there is a deeper sensitive emotional core that drives his actions, which he does subtly and expertly creating an anti-hero – a character we do not like, but are intrigued by nonetheless. It is the best performance of his career to date.

Firth has always been a good actor, but with his last two performances (A Single Man and The King’s Speech) he has shown himself to be a great actor. As King George VI, Firth must speak with a restrictive and damning stammer (which I imagine was quite difficult to master). But the performance is not great solely due to his ability to stammer, it is his ability to convey the emotions of a man that is put upon by tremendous pressure who takes it in and is able to overcome it and succeed. Firth is able to pull the audience in and make them feel true joy at his character’s triumph. It is a beautiful performance.

If there ever was a film that could be called a one-man-show, it is 127 Hours. And for such a film to be any good at all, its lead must be superb. Franco is even better than that. Playing Aron Ralston in the film is challenging as the character is stuck in one play for a large portion of the film with no interaction with other characters. Yet, Franco is able to entertain and draw his audience in –having them laughing, gasping and crying from moment to moment. It is an incredible performance, and one that should certainly see Franco getting bigger and better roles in the future.

One of this year’s breakout performances, Lawrence is perfect in Winter’s Bone, as if the film were a documentary merely following this young woman around as she tries to save her home. But Ree is a character and Lawrence an actress playing her to be strong and matriarchal, yet still childish and wanting more which is a delicate balance and was so important to the film working as well as it does. The audience is completely behind Ree and wants so much for her to succeed, making every twist and turn, negative and positive so meaningful. I think we all expect big thing from her in the future.

Moretz had really three great performances this year (being the best part of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, her breakout role in Kick-Ass and an amazing performance in Let Me In). What makes her performance in Let Me In all the more impressive is that she had a lot to live up to (almost too much to live up to), as there was so much love for the original film and actress. But, Moretz is even better playing the role forcefully and being quite scary, while also being sweet and loving. It is an astounding dichotomy. Maybe above all the other great young faces to emerge from 2010 (this also applies to Andrew Garfield), she has asserted herself as a star to watch.

We always knew Portman was a great talent, but we were just waiting for that leading role for her to really blossom – that role is as Nina in Black Swan. Psychological thrillers are often hard for actors to give great performances because they are so fractured, and the same is true with Black Swan. But, Portman is able to craft a whole character from the moment we first see her, making her unraveling all the more compelling and scary. She is both introverted and extroverted in the role, which I imagine is quite difficult playing different psyches of the same person. We truly feel her fall into madness (gripping our seats the whole way down), and that is due to the excellence of Portman in the role.

Talk about a daunting first major leading role, playing opposite Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon (both of whom are also excellent). Steinfeld did just that, and is just as good in True Grit as Mattie Ross (and maybe even a little better than her co-stars).  I cannot imagine a more perfect casting choice for the role, as her performance is wonderful – playing it just tough and all-knowing, bullying around adults and yet still letting moments of childish feelings sneak out. Having not seen her in anything else, I am quite interested to see what she does next.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Movie of the Week - A Shot in the Dark

This week’s movie is A Shot in the Dark (1964).

The comedy is the second film in the Pink Panther Series, starring Peter Sellers and directed by Blake Edwards, a team that worked so well together making some of the funniest films in cinema history (also see Return of the Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again and The Party). The film features a fantastic score from Henry Mancini and very good work from cinematographer Christopher Challis and production designer Michael Stringer. The film is the most aesthetically well done and interesting of the series; the opening sequence alone is wonderful. Sellers has so many hilarious running and bit gags throughout, making the film just pure joy to watch. Sellers is just in top form in the film. It also introduces a number of series regulars including Herbert Lom, Burt Kwouk, Andre Maranne and Graham Stark. The rest of the cast is good as well, featuring Elke Sommer, George Sanders and Tracy Reed. What makes the film great is how well shot and staged it is, while maintaining and even heightening the gags from the first film. Peter Sellers is the star of the film, instead of a supporting character, and the comedy benefits from him getting to be the principal. The film is just hilarious. It is a must for comedy fans. Check out the trailer.

Available on DVD and to rent

Thursday, January 13, 2011

LeapBackBlog 2010 Film Awards – Part 3: Directors

Film in 2010 was fantastic, full of great performances, great directing and great work behind the camera (or in post-production). More so than the last few years, 2010 had a greater number of excellent films, which made choosing the best films, performances, directors, and technical achievements very difficult. The LeapBackBlog Film Awards are comprised of what I think were the best and most interesting films, the strongest performances (taking into consideration who the actor is and what else they have done, and 2010 features a lot of amazing breakthrough performances), the narrative style that drew me in (best directing), and exquisite craftsmanship (best technical achievements). But really, these are lists of my favorites from the year.


With Black Swan, Aronofsky has created a film that seduces its audience, luring them in and then scaring them half to death with thrills. His work, his style, his vision produce such an interesting visual world in which the camera floats dancing as if another character in the narrative, while the narrative lies and is completely dishonest yet enthralls and garners authentic emotion. It is a very compelling and difficult achievement.

Coming off is Oscar victories for Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle had a tall task living up to the expectations of his next project. He chose the cinematically difficult story of Aron Ralston – an outdoorsman whose arm gets trapped under a rock in the middle of nowhere, having to go to extreme measures to survive. Most of 127 Hours takes place in a tiny confined space, yet the brilliance of Boyle’s energy and kinetic, even manic style makes the film seem larger in scope than it is. This is a film few directors could make (let alone make well), and to do so with such flare and narrative style only solidifies Boyle as the auteur his fans know and love.

The Social Network every easily could have been a terrible film, boring and riddled with shallow unlikable characters, but it is not. Why? Fincher is a master of unlikeable protagonists and scene structure. The opening scene in the film featuring Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara is pure genius (my favorite individual scene of the year). It plays a bit like a prologue for the rest of the film both setting up the character of Zuckerberg and his journey. In this scene alone, Fincher exhibits his gift for storytelling in the visual medium of film.

Nolan is quickly becoming a household name and god to film fans. Since 2005 with Batman Begins, has there been a filmmaker with a better critical and commercial track record? With Inception, Nolan took the insanely high expectations following The Dark Knight into his latest film and still blew everyone’s mind. The sheer scope of the film is immense; the writing must have been daunting; and still Nolan delivers a fantastic narrative filled with great performances, action and drama. Nolan’s cinematic mastery for making great cinema that is wholly entertaining to a broader audience (i.e. not just appealing to film fans, but to more casual movie-goers too) is unmatched.

Romanek’s work on Never Let Me Go, an aesthetically brilliant film, is top-notch. He tells the story of friendship and love dashed by tragedy and haunting heartbreak so subtly, that many viewers simply just disregarded the film. But for those willing to engage the film and let it take hold, it is a beautiful piece. Essentially, Romanek takes what has been called an “un-filmable” novel and produces a unique dystopian film that stays with its viewers reminding them of the fragility and importance of life and its moments.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

LeapBackBlog 2010 Film Awards – Part 2: Supporting Performances

Film in 2010 was fantastic, full of great performances, great directing and great work behind the camera (or in post-production). More so than the last few years, 2010 had a greater number of excellent films, which made choosing the best films, performances, directors, and technical achievements very difficult. The LeapBackBlog Film Awards are comprised of what I think were the best and most interesting films, the strongest performances (taking into consideration who the actor is and what else they have done, and 2010 features a lot of amazing breakthrough performances), the narrative style that drew me in (best directing), and exquisite craftsmanship (best technical achievements). But really, these are lists of my favorites from the year.

Supporting Performances:

Bale is a fantastic actor, becoming the characters he portrays. In The Fighter he does not so much play a role or portray a character, rather he is Dickie Eklund. It is the performance of the year (along with Claire Danes in Temple Grandin). What makes it so good, aside from Bale’s uncanny ability to transform himself completely into each character, is that we sort of root for Dickie even though he can be thought of as one of the film’s villains (in a sense). Dickie sort of becomes the hero of the piece due directly to Bale’s brilliance and the empathy he elicits.

Carter is known for her whimsical and dark characters. She is, however, very versatile. In The King’s Speech, she is very restrained and modest, but still inserts a bit of her mischievousness into the character, though subtly. It is my favorite supporting actress performance of the year. Carter had a good year, also giving great performances in Harry Potter in the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Alice in Wonderland.

Cotillard is beautiful, and she uses her allure well in her performances. In Inception, she plays the villain, but a sympathetic one – her performances plays as tragic and powerful, a difficult mix. The film has wonderful performances and characters throughout, but her performance is the most important as it is the emotional core driving Cobb’s decisions, and Cotillard plays it amazingly well.

What a year for Garfield! He starred in two of the best films (The Social Network and Never Let Me Go), was amazing as the lead in Red Riding: 1974 and won the role of Peter Parker in the new Spider-Man film. But it is his performance in The Social Network as Eduardo Saverin that stands out. The character is an unfortunate one, getting betrayed and left behind. Garfield plays the role as soft and heartfelt, a real likable guy, making the deception and villainy of Sean Parker and Zuckerberg all the more powerful. He, along with the amazing performance by Rooney Mara in the opening scene, provides the catalyst for all the other performances, especially Jessie Eisenberg’s, to build off of, resulting in it being a great film (and I have to say Armie Hammer was fantastic in the film too).

Hall plays her characters to be sweet and loving, but there is still a strong woman in there too. This comes out in The Town. She is traumatized by what happens to her in the beginning, but is strong enough to not only overcome it, but actively stand up to other strong characters and performances in the film. Hall has the brunt of the emotional work to do in the film, while also needing to have the audience fall in love with her, as the main character does. She does all these things flawlessly, making the film all the more better and emotionally impactful.

Hardy has a breakout performance in Inception. He plays his role as Eames, the forger, as if he was James Bond, and it is brilliant. His bravado mixed well with the array of characters and acting talent. The interplay between his character and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Arthur is funny and a bonus to a great action-thriller. Director Christopher Nolan must have thought his performance was great too, casting him in his next film: The Dark Knight Rises.

Harris is deranged and downright scary in Red Reding: 1980. This is the kind of role he plays exceptionally well (as can also be seen in Harry Brown). His Bob Craven is a crooked cop that is slimy, squirrely and just despicable. Yet, he commands the attention of the viewer, as he is like lit dynamite – you are nervous and anxious watching, but cannot look away as the devastation it will leave in its wake fascinates you.

Leo completely transforms into her character in The Fighter. She is strong and sort of awful, yet still emits compassion and love. She will make the viewer hate her and in the next moment symphonize and then hate her again. What makes the performance all the more impressive is that she holds her own against very strong performances from Christian Bale and Amy Adams. Just like with Frozen River, Leo distinguishes herself as one of the top actresses in Hollywood (though, she typically sticks to indy films).

Renner has been acting in tons of stuff for years, but it was 2009’s The Hurt Locker that put him on the radar of movie-goers and industry professionals. In The Town, he is excellent. He has such an edge to him in the film that anything seems possible at any moment. His performance alone will keep the audience enthralled and on pins and needles. Many who saw the film complained that there was not enough of him in it – certainly a complement to his talent.

Wong probably is not going to make too many 2010 “best of the year” lists I suspect, but she should. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World represents her first major acting role and she is simply brilliant as Knives Chau. Her spunk and adorableness make every scene she is in better. The film features great work from an ensemble cast, but Wong and Kieran Culkin are the standouts. Director Edgar Wright liked her performance so much he adapted the ending of the movie as to not leave her character hurt (emotionally). Personally, I look forward to her future work.