You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Another Year’ category.

But first, a special shoutout to Amazon’s recommendation engine, which sent me an e-mail suggesting I might want to check out Wrong Side of Town.  Which, you no doubt recall, was my least favorite movie of the year.

124. Piranha 

I saw this film in 2D, so presumably I lost out on some of the camp.  But I think this film tried to so hard to let everyone know it was laughing at itself that it never adequately established anything to actually laugh at.  Don’t get me wrong, piranha chomping down on spring breakers is a great start for a film, but I’m going to need something more to keep me entertained for an hour and a half.  And yes, I suppose one could argue that something more should have been busty British model Kelly Brook in a bikini, out of a bikini, engaged in Sapphic tendencies, and generally indulging any number of frat boy fantasies.  That was too on the nose, for me.  I was more interested in girl next door Jessica Szohr (who was fantastic in What About Brian?), but that storyline never got off the ground.  Neither did the one with Elizabeth Shue and Adam Scott, sadly.  Christopher Lloyd, Richard Dreyfuss, and Ving Rhames were all good in cameos, though.

123. The Square

Reviews of this film often describe it as an Austalian Coen Bros. noir.  I’d have to disagree.  Not with the Australian part, that’d be pretty presumptuous of me.  No, the plot wasn’t noir so much as darkly shot and with a lack of twists.  And given the diverse work of the brothers Coen, I’m not entirely certain what would prompt someone to compare a filmmaker to them.  To be fair, I have the same problems with No Country for Old Men that I do with this film, or at least I didn’t really get either.  The story focuses on a shady construction manager cheating on his wife and skimming profits off the construction job.  Extortion, arson, and murder soon follow.  I did like the main character (played by David Roberts), or at least the idea of him, as he got less and less sympathetic as the movie progressed and actually turned rather pathetic.  Also, the doggies were pretty great.

122. After.Life

Imdb claims this film was directed and co-written by someone named Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo.  I humbly submit that maybe imdb should lay off the bottle during work hours.  At first blush, it is a little confusing why After.Life didn’t make a bigger impact.  It stars Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, and Justin Long, and is listed as a horror film, which seems like it should have been good for a least a few million at the box office.  But the story, while interesting, is far from your typical slasher fare.  Liam Neeson plays a mortician who seemingly has the ability to communicate with the dead and help them on their way.  We’re big Liam Neeson fans on this here blog (or at least Adam and I are, don’t know about the others), and even in a disposable flick no one ever saw, he’s still nothing short of awesome, playing creepy as all get out.  Anyway, Christina Ricci’s character dies in a freak accident, and the film is about her refusing to believe it and trying to escape Neeson’s prep room, while Justin Long (her boyfriend) also refuses to come to grips with her death.  There’s an undercurrent of is she really dead that is kinda neat, but it can’t carry the movie, as it is seemingly expected to.

121. Shutter Island

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Fun fact: Shutter Island is Martin Scorsese’s second-highest grossing film, and it only misses The Departed by $4 million.  Another fun fact: Shutter Island is a bloated mess of a movie and I cannot believe people are too mesmerized by Scorsese’s name to see that.  I normally run through casts in these recaps, but there are nine really awesome people in Shutter Island, so I probably can’t get to them all.  Oddly enough, that count doesn’t include Sir Ben Kingsley, who I never really liked and Leo DiCaprio, who is OK, but overrated (in my humble opinion).  But yeah, this film was a psychological thriller for people who don’t like psychological thrillers, but want to say they do.  I honestly think that if the movie were attributed to M. Night Shyamalan, people would a) believe it because so much of the movie is keyed off a twist; b) not have seen the movie; and c) grumbled about the continued declined of the helmer of The Sixth Sense.

120. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I made the mistake of watching this movie a week after I read the book.  It was a mistake because I had the story fresh in my mind, and I’m skeptical there was any way for a movie to stay faithful to the six hundred page book.  (Though I guess we’ll see what David Fincher has to say about that.)  Of course, I didn’t really like the book.  I probably would have cut the first hundred pages (and last fifty), I felt it was salacious for no particular reason, and as a fan of locked room mysteries, I thought the mystery was below average.  Also, characters were constantly eating sandwiches.  But hey, people liked the book and the movie, so I suppose I may be the odd duck here.  Nah.  In trying to stay faithful to the story, I think the filmmakers took too many shortcuts and robbed the novel of what charm it did have.  I did really like Michael Nyqvist, and wished Noomi Rapace had a better platform on which to shine.

119. Another Year

We’ve already spent some time talking about this Oscar nominee, so I’ll try not to rehash too much.  Adam and I saw Another Year at E Street.  As soon as the credits started rolling we looked at each other and laughed.  Because we knew that we both disliked it and that we were sure John was going to love it.  John talks about how the movie sacrifices plot for theme, and makes the excellent point that such a substitution isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  A conversation can be fascinating to watch.  But so much of this movie is boring conversations.  As John points out, Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play a perfectly normal couple, happily in love.  Which…isn’t fascinating to watch.  And yes, Lesley Manville playing against them in fun.  For a little, maybe.  I’m pretty upset at how the Oscar’s Best Original Screenplay nominations went down, in case that isn’t clear by now.

118. Agora

Just because I don’t like a movie doesn’t mean other people won’t.  Good taste isn’t universal, after all.  I’ve recommended Agora to a friend, because I thought he’d be intrigued by the film’s religious themes.  Some (or publicists trying to stir up controversy) have said the film is an indictment of Christianity or read into it something about American politics.  Which, I dunno, seems to me to be seeing what you want to see.  In the film, which takes place in the 4th and 5th century, Rachel Weisz plays Hypatia of Alexandria, a teacher of astronomy and avowed atheist.  Her fascination with the stars and learning leaves her no time or desire for religion, politics, or even boys, though she’s got a couple after her, including her student (Oscar Isaac) who becomes the governor and her slave (Max Minghella).  The problem, for me, is that the stakes were never sufficiently raised.  So we get some decent enough swords and sandals action and some tragedy, but no reason to really care.

117. Tamara Drewe

I so desperately wanted to like Tamara Drewe.  I loved the trailer, the film is directed by Stephen Frears, who did High Fidelity and I’m madly in love with Gemma Arterton.  Plus Dominic Cooper playing, improbably, a bad boy rock star.  The trailer, poster, and title are misleading, though.  While Tamara Drewe may be the catalyst that puts things into action, the film has a sprawling cast of characters.  Most of whom I wanted to smack upside the head.  And then downside the head, were such a thing possible.  Tamara is, if you’ll pardon my French, something of a bitch.  Her neighbors run a writer’s retreat, populated by nitwits.  They are a husband and wife, the husband is a famous author who doesn’t appreciate his wife, sleeps around, etc., the wife is the opposite.  She eventually ends up with one of the writers, who appears to be a poor man’s Bob Balaban.  Which doesn’t make any sense, I know.  The most interesting subplot, probably, involves a couple of schoolgirls who are in love with Cooper and start stalking him and meddling in his affairs.  In most cases like this, I’d suggest a more successful film would have narrowed its focus.  Which is true here.  But also, I think you need at least one character the audience actually wants to spend more time with.

116. I Am Love

I had really low expectations for this Oscar-nominated film, because it was universally described in terms like “sumptuous” and “a visual feast” that maybe made me hungry, but not really want to see a movie.  I get what people are saying, though, and I don’t necessarily disagree.  There are any number of lovely-looking scenes and costumes and whatnot.  So that’s nice.  Also, people who seems to know these things say that Tilda Swinton (who isn’t fluent in Italian or Russian) adopted a flawless Italian accent as spoken by someone from Russia, as her character was.  Which kinda boggles my mind.  After five years of Spanish, I could just about order at Taco Bell, so the idea of somebody being able to speak like that is kind of incredible.  Replaying this movie in my head, a lot of the film plays out like a commercial for a cologne or perfume.  The themes of family and temptation and food do seem very Italian, not that I would know.

115. The Experiment

You’ve most likely heard of the infamous Stanford prison experiment, a study where volunteers were placed in a mock prison, some of who made “prisoners” and others “guards”, with the results that people have a scary ability to adapt to the roles in which they are placed.  This movie, starring Oscar winners Adrian Brody and Forest Whitaker, along with Cam Gigandet, Clifton Collins, Jr., and David Banner, is a dramatization of the experiment.  Since the conclusion of the experiment is fairly well known, crucial to the execution of the film, in my opinion, is establishing an understanding of why people acted how they did.  And I don’t believe the film ever quite accomplishes that.  It also wastes a little time at the beginning, like the scene with Maggie Grace is completely gratuitous (in that the plot it advances could have been covered in one line of dialogue).  That said, I think there’s still some stigma attached to a film gong direct to video, which The Experiment did, and this film suggests it is unwarranted.  Sure, the film had its fair share of flaws, but while it probably have had some difficult finding traction in theaters, there’s every reason to believe it can find a loyal audience on DVD.

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Well this look at the successful performance showcases, the complement to my earlier look at the failed ones, is ridiculously late. But it’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while so why waste it? Plus many of these are now available on DVD so you can go judge them for yourselves. Though you may as well leave the judging to me, right?

Animal Kingdom

There was a good chance that this one was going to land on the “failed” portion of these posts, but happily Jacki Weaver eked out a Supporting Actress nod for this very low profile film. Animal Kingdom is an Australian crime drama centered around a family of bank robbers. The opening credits made me think I was about to see The Town: Down Under with its images of bank heists. Instead, it’s a character-focused drama about the family unraveling as the crooked cops close in.

Weaver plays the family matriarch. She’s outwardly sweet and caring, but in reality is chillingly ruthless. Her daughter dies of a heroin overdose so her estranged grandson comes to live with her. Meanwhile, her son is hiding out from the cops while the Melbourne police become more brutal with their tactics. The cops begin killing off members of the gang, the gang retaliates, and the heretofore innocent grandson gets entangled in it all.

The movie is very good. I think some people may find the grandson character frustrating as he waffles between his family and the police and seems to willfully put himself in danger. But I think the film does a good job establishing the character and his passiveness. Weaver is quite memorable. I think it’s a role ripe for scenery chewing, but she dials it back and it makes her actions even more chilling. Hopefully her nomination will cause more people to seek out the film.

Rabbit Hole

This story of a couple mourning their recently-deceased son works in parts. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart grieve in their own ways, which drives a wedge into their relationship. Kidman is prone to awkward public outbursts that can be quite uncomfortable to watch. The film is filled with these scenes and it can be hard to take.

But some scenes are just wonderful. Most of the scenes Kidman shares with her mother, played by Dianne Weist, are terrific and insightful. Eckhart has a nice scene in his son’s bedroom with a family looking to buy the house.

The film is a series of mostly successful individual scenes while some overall plot points fall a little short. I found the relationship between Kidman and a young man sort of contrived, but it yielded several nice moments.

I think your mileage may vary in a heavily dramatic movie like this. What rings true or connects emotionally for one will feel wrong to another. And that is fine, considering the film is about people who express their grief differently.

Kidman is very good and she grabbed the film’s one Oscar nomination for Best Actress. I enjoyed Eckhart, and he did land an Independent Spirit nod, though a few of his showcase scenes didn’t work very well for me. How much was him and how much was the writing, I don’t know. Finally, Weist is also very good and it’s too bad awards momentum for her stalled so early.

It’s a good film that I would recommend, but given its weight I’m not sure if there are many people I’d specifically recommend it to.

Biutiful

We all severely despised this movie. Javier Bardem landed a Best Actor nod for his role as a Barcelona black marketeer who is severely down on his luck. His illegal immigrant workers get deported and he has the heart to care about their families. His own ex-wife is unreliable, leaving him to worry for his children’s safety. He is sick. His dreams are full of tiresome artsy fartsy imagery.

The film received some critical malign for being such a downer. I contend that to be a downer a film must make the viewer care enough to feel the depression and Biutiful fails miserably at that. I wasn’t saddened by Bardem’s slog. I was bored. Very, very bored.

It severely drags. I started looking out for the ending, constantly expecting for the finale to be right around the corner and pondering if I liked certain developments as the denouement. In hindsight it turns out I started doing this about 45 minutes in. That is a bad sign.

Blue Valentine

I anticipated this being up my alley but it started losing me pretty quickly. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are a married couple with a young daughter. The film starts with their relationship in trouble and watches as it crumbles. Interspersed are flashbacks showing them meeting and falling in love.

It reminded me a lot of Revolutionary Road from a few years back. It could be a poignant look at the strains that are put on a relationship, but it’s really just about two people that shouldn’t be together. And at least one is a douchebag. It becomes pretty clear that there isn’t a lot of depth to their relationship and I began rooting against the pair because it seemed like they’d both be better off alone. By the end it was just tedious.

Williams got a Best Actress nomination but it’s surprising that Gosling was barely even in the picture. He didn’t even score any recognition from the Independent Spirits. Maybe the field for Best Actor was just more competitive. But I have a hard time imagining someone responding the movie and Williams’s performance but not Gosling’s.

Another Year

This one isn’t a successful performance piece but at least it did get some Oscar attention, receiving an Original Screenplay nod. Lesley Manville really should have been in the mix for Supporting Actress, but at least she was a contender.

My colleagues liked Another Year considerably less than I did and I understand why. It’s slow with a very understated plot. But it’s all in service of its themes. I’m not sure why, but I’m drawn towards films about the passage of time and the transient nature of lives in this permanent world and Another Year has these in spades. Four segments corresponding to each of the seasons follow English married couple Tom and Gerri as they host family and friends at parties and events over the course of a year. They are in love and appear to have a happy life, but the same cannot be said about everyone else in their coterie. Manville stands out as Gerri’s lonely middle aged coworker who drinks too much at the get-togethers and fancies her hosts’ much younger son.

The film does sacrifice plot for theme. In fact, it would be hard to claim there’s much of a plot at all as the action is all conversation. We do see the characters’ progression throughout the year though much of the action occurs between the seasonal meetings. Mary’s excitement to buy a car and subsequent troubles with said car later in the year is one more light-hearted example.

The slowness did get to me a little as some of the scenes aren’t the best at advancing the themes. I’m happy to accept subtlety when warranted, but sitting through some of the scenes that seemed pointless to me was harder to stomach. With a little tightening it could be more entertaining and packed a heftier punch.

We’re taking a look at Oscar categories in advance of tomorrow’s show. Today we’re on Original Screenplay. The nominees:

  • Another Year
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech

John

This is a really tough category for me. There are three potential winners, each with its own pros and cons. Of course, that makes it easy to discard two. The Kids Are All Right has an interesting premise that it takes in a plot direction that I found not terribly interesting or powerful. I can see why other people reacted strongly to it, but to me it is a mild diversion with promise for much more. And to me The Fighter is painfully straight-forward and much more of an actors’ movie. I don’t know for sure, but the three screenplay and three story by credits screams screenplay by committee and the film sort of feels like it.

This is how you script Inception

But what to do with the other three? There’s Inception, my favorite film of the year. But its success is so much more on the directorial and editing sides, to me. It didn’t get nominated in either of those categories so this could be its shot to be rewarded. I give it high points for having such a great concept and for the imagination required to create the different, interacting dream levels. But it really succeeds in how Nolan visualizes them as a director.

Another Year is a film I liked a great deal more than my colleagues. This is a picture that is very devoted to its theme of the ravages of the passage of time, which it supports beautifully. It does sacrifice plot for its theme, though to my mind that’s not a detriment. A scene that’s slow or subtle can have an impact. But there are several scenes that are both fairly uninteresting from a plot and character perspective AND not particularly good servants to the theme. The late scene featuring the characters of Mary and Ronnie in the greenhouse is an example. Furthermore, it should have been shorter.

I wonder if the way that Mike Leigh composes his movies has something to do with it. He famously relies on actors’ workshops to flesh out characters and plots. And the result is well-developed characters but some meandering scenes. It could use some tightening. The scenes could come together better or more explicitly explore the theme and the less effective ones could have been more direct.

And then there’s The King Speech, a film without a misstep. Every element is solid and it results in an amusing and rousing film. It also doesn’t have anything particularly outstanding. I feel like both Another Year and King’s Speech would have been successful as the same script in a different director’s hands. The same might not be said for Inception. Is that a fair way to judge a screenplay as a separate element? I don’t know.

So what is it? The one I loved for non-script reasons? The one with some really terrific parts and some notable downfalls? Or the one that’s totally solid but didn’t do anything that blew me away? That’s a tough choice. Today I’ll pick Inception, and I’ll be rooting for it on Sunday as it will be the only major category it has a chance in. But my mind may change.

Jared

Original Screenplay is often the category where the Academy will give a token nomination to a smaller, arty movie that is one of my favorite films of the year.  It still makes me smile to think that Lars and the Real Girl received a nomination here.  Of course, the Academy being the Academy, they also often use this category to recognize a smaller, arty movie that I really dislike.  The Messenger last year, for example (over (500) Days of Summer!).  Sadly, this year the academy has chosen the latter option and recognized Mike Leigh’s script for Another Year.  Which was just not good.  Now, I’ll give him credit for creating Lesley Manville’s character (though he obviously must share that with the actress).  But in a sense, she’s quite similar to Sally Hawkins’s character in his prior film, Happy-Go-Lucky.  Both are characters defined by their one-noteness.  They are unique characters, to be sure, but hardly developed.  And the rest of the movie, well, maybe someone out there thrills at the mundane details of a happily married older couple.  I just call my parents.

If you hate sports movies and get a pretty big kick out of insulting working class folk, then I guess I see how you could appreciate The Fighter.  Otherwise, I mean, the script is absolute dreck.  If handed to me, I think I would have demanded every scene rewritten.  The movie flits through time seemingly randomly, stopping to show unnecessary scenes and leaving out interesting or useful ones.  There’s little to no understanding of the relationships of the characters, other than in the broadest strokes possible.  The “humor” is even broader and extremely repetitive.  And the boxing scenes were scripted by someone who might have played Punch-Out once.  To me, the script failed at every conceivable level.

Maybe I’m the weird one, but I tend to prefer comedies to make me laugh, or at least smile a little.  Of course, The Kids Are All Right isn’t terribly dramatic, so I guess you couldn’t call it a drama.  I’m being a little harsh here, the film does at least bring up a number of interesting ideas.  And it does a pretty good job establishing interesting characters.  But the film never rose to the occasion.  The dialogue is serviceable, but never stands out.  The story is fine, but I think it is only a little interesting because of how few movies center on a lesbian couple.  And the script is content with leaving things there.

I think the script to The King’s Speech is being underrated by a lot of non-Academy types.  I’ll be the first to grant that the story arc and themes aren’t exactly novel to the realm of cinema.  But so what?  I don’t think a film has to be unique to be successful, it just has to entertain.  And this script absolutely is entertaining.  It keeps a good pace, has a consistently funny sense of humor, and hits plenty of emotional notes.  If every film were like this one, sure, movies would start getting boring.  But they aren’t, and the vast majority of movies could only dream of having a script of a quality as high as this one.

One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that a script is so much more than dialogue.  All that action, for example, has to be first written down before the director and guys behind all the tech stuff get the chance to work their magic.  Which is something you need to keep in mind when thinking about Christopher Nolan’s script for Inception.  It is big and bold.  It isn’t perfect, but it is wonderful.  Cold and unfeeling, with poor character development, sure.  But fun as all get out.  Without question one of those movies that makes you go, “Wow.”  And isn’t that, really, what movies should be about?

[ed. note: Apologies for the delay in posting this QotW.  My computer’s hard drive crashed last week (for the second time this year), so our responses may be slightly out of date.  This question went out before TIFF and Venice.  Hopefully we’ll get back on schedule soon.]

This week’s installment: What yet-to-be-released potential Oscar contender or contenders are you most looking forward to seeing?

John

I had been getting excited for this fall, but when I went to check the list of suspected contenders at the usual awards sites, well, yikes. I mean, did you know there’s a period piece this winter about King George IV’s speech impediment and how he overcame it? Lord.

For now the prognosticators can play it safe with the likes of Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. (How do you go from pulsating Mumbai to a whole movie where a guy is just stuck under a rock? It sounds like a snoozefest.) But as time goes on some of these pictures that have awards season written all over them will fall by the wayside and some interesting stuff will take their places. Meanwhile, the one I’m most looking forward to is Black Swan. Darren Aronofsky has a terrific track record and this one is a psychological thriller with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Okay, so it’s set in the world of ballet, but otherwise it couldn’t sound more exciting.

I’m also looking forward to True Grit. An interesting string of westerns have come out in recent years and the Coens’ take on any genre is something to anticipate. I can totally see Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin in a western, but I’m interested to see what Matt Damon will do.

Finally, I have Another Year and Blue Valentine pegged as this year’s films I will love that the rest of the Grouches hate.

Jared

In case anyone out there would like a summary of the very rough Oscar picture, I though In Contention did a nice job recently.

I dunno, John.  Sure, The King’s Speech is Oscar-baity as all get out.  But it was directed by the guy who did The Damned United and features a pretty fun cast, including Colin Firth in the lead.

You definitely stole one from me, though.  Sure, Portman and Kunis are ridiculously attractive, but I tend to have extremely visceral reactions to Aronofsky’s work (well, The Wrestler was a little more muted, I suppose).  Similarly, the pairing of Knightley and Mulligan has me intrigued for Never Let Me Go.

There’s also a few films being bandied about now for the Oscar race that I’m not yet convinced will make an impact.  If The Tourist actually makes a play, you are looking at a film with Jolie, Depp, and Paul Bettany directed by the guy who did The Lives of Others and written by guys who wrote Gosford Park, The Young Victoria, The Day After Tomorrow, and The Usual Suspects.  And you may have recently seen the trailer for Love and Other Drugs.  I haven’t loved the few Ed Zwick movies I’ve seen, but I was completely sold on the trailer.

But if I had to name one film, it’d be The Social Network.  In Jesse Eisenberg, it has the star of my favorite 2009 film.  Rooney Mara seems on the verge of a breakout.  While I haven’t loved David Fincher’s films, I’ve certainly liked them.  Plus he did the video for Englishman in New York!  But, of course, the main reason I’m most looking forward to the film is because it was written by Aaron Sorkin.

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