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First, a special shoutout to Xiaoyu.  Always nice to know someone is reading these.

144. Jonah Hex

If you didn’t know me, you’d probably think I’d learn at some point that most often a flop is a flop for a reason.  Fortunately my friends here will be more than happy to tell you I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer.  Because the cast is generally pretty awesome (regardless of your opinion of Megan Fox, you can’t put this film’s faults on her), I’m placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of writers Neveldine and Taylor.  I liked Crank about as much as anyone else did, but I’ve seen Crank 2 and Gamer.  Increasingly, they are looking like one hit wonders.  I realize the whole point of Jonah Hex is the supernatural stuff, but frankly, I didn’t think it worked at all here.  I’m kinda curious how things would have played out as a more traditional Western.

143. Dorian Gray

I actually read The Picture of Dorian Gray relatively recently, maybe two or three years ago.  I’d had the book forever, but I’ve no clue from whence it came, and after three or four moves, I figured that if I was going to keep shlepping the book around, I might as well read it.  Anyway, the book, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a lot better than the movie.  The problem, I think, is that there’s really not enough action to support a feature-length film.  As a Twilight Zone episode, it would have killed.  Still, Colin Firth is in it, as is Ben Barnes (the guy from The Truth About Cats and Dogs, duh), and Bond girl Maryam d’Abo.  Don’t mind the Spanish in the poster image, I had to look extra special for one with Rebecca Hall.

142. The Freebie

I swear that having two Dax Shepard films in my bottom 15 has nothing to do with the fact that he’s with Kristen Bell.  I’m sure he’s a very lovely person.  In case you missed it, The Freebie is about a married couple who’ve become something more like platonic best friends.  With each afraid (or unwilling) to back down, they egg each other into talking about giving themselves a one night stand with a stranger.  After daring each other with the ground rules, they set a night for the fling.  It is becoming increasingly apparent that mumblecore is not for me.  Haven’t exactly figured out why, yet.  Maybe I prefer scripts with more polish?  Because the problem here, for me, was that it often felt like I was watching a normal, everyday couple.  Which I’m sure is exactly what director and co-star Katie Aselton was going for, but if I wanted boring, everyday life, I wouldn’t watch movies.

141. Due Date

Robert Downey, Jr.!  Zach Galifianakis!  From the director of The Hangover!  And yet, wow.  Forget the fact that the film isn’t funny at all.  It is so mean-spirited.  Robert Downey, Jr.’s character is a total prick.  And while it is refreshing for him not really to learn a lesson by the end of the film, it is really difficult to see him be a bastard for no apparent reason.  Galifianakis is playing his usual man-child, but the character doesn’t have any consistent character traits.  Another problem with the film is that so few of the subplots or jokes ever pay off.  I chose the poster of the dog…well, because I love doggies, but also because there’s absolutely no reason he is in the film.  Galifianakis carries him around in a couple of scenes, and that’s it.  Same thing, really, with Jamie Foxx, and it is a waste of Michelle Monaghan.  Oh, the ending scene is really worth watching, because  it sorta sums up what I’m talking about, in a very roundabout way.  But it is somewhat of a spoiler, so only watch if you don’t mind being somewhat spoiled.

140. Operation: Endgame

The week this hitman action comedy was released straight to DVD, film blogs were all atwitter about this film, with an incredibly bizarre ensemble including: Odette Annable (nee Yustman), Ellen Barkin, Rob Corddry, Zach Galifianakis, Beth Grant, Brandon T. Jackson, Maggie Q, Emilie de Ravin, Ving Rhames, Adam Scott, and Jeffrey Tambor.  The script actually won a competition or two, though (naturally) was re-written.  The film is about a covert government organization employing hitmen, who are divided into two separate teams, though they all have cubicles in the same secure facility.  For whatever reason, the building begins a countdown to self-destruction, leaving the two teams to start killing each other as they try to figure out how to survive.  Theoretically, this film should have been the greatest thing ever.  Sadly, the fight scenes are just awful (even if they did let me fulfill a dream by seeing Adam Scott fighting), as is too often the case, “dark comedy” is code for “nothing is really funny, but not quite dramatic either.”  A real letdown, given the cast and premise.

139. The Last Song

I saw The Last Song on an airplane, so shut up.  For a Nicholas Sparks movie, I didn’t really get that emotional.  And, I mean, there were dying characters and tragedy and heartbreak and all sorts of stuff that theoretically should have been moving, but just wasn’t.  A lot of that is Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth being asked to carry more than they should, sure.  But if Greg Kinnear’s part didn’t do anything for me, that’s clearly a script thing.  Raylan’s boss from Justified (Nick Searcy) shows up, which is cool.  Someone in the production did have a sense of humor, though.  There’s a scene where Miley Cyrus is cruising in the car, listening to Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved”.  In that song’s music video, Kelly Preston plays the mother of Adam Levine’s ridiculous good-looking girlfriend (I won’t spoil the plot, the video is good, you should check it out.) and she plays Cyrus’s mother in this film.

138. Solitary Man

There was a brief moment where Michael Douglas was getting some Oscar buzz for his role in this film, and I was predicting it to nab him an Independent Spirit nomination.  But then everything sorta fizzled out, which is probably for the best.  In the film, Douglas plays a former car dealership magnate, who was ruined after some of his shady dealing came to light, and threw over his family in order to chase after much younger women (successfully, come on, he is Michael Douglas).  Solitary Man, which is by Koppelman and Levien (the Rounders guys, and we pretend they stopped making movies after that), doesn’t really add anything new to the older playboy who lost his way character.  Though it does get a little bit darker than I was expecting, which was nice.  The film boasts a rather fun supporting cast, not the least of which is Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg.  Also Imogen Poots, who I had refused to believe was real, because really?  That’s not a name.  But nope, she’s real and she’s fantastic.

137. Edge of Darkness

The film that was supposed to rehabilitate Mel Gibson’s image before The Beaver didn’t.  And theoretically, with a script co-written by William Monahan (The Departed) and directed by Martin Campbell (Goldeneye, The Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale), it really should have.  My opinion, though, is that Gibson only gets back on track with an action comedy that has broad appeal.  Anyway, Edge of Darkness was a muddled mess about Gibson investigating the murder of his daughter.  Turns out there was a conspiracy behind her killing.  Oh, whoops, should have put a spoiler alert there.  I think Gibson’s “Boston” accent moves around more than the plot does.

136. Biutiful

John did an excellent job summarizing our thoughts on the film.  Let’s face it, if John is bored by a film, there’s no hope for the rest of us.  As John mentions, there are three four disparate threads of Bardem’s life that never really go anywhere on their own, and certainly don’t tie up together.  I think a more successful film could have dealt with one of them.  Instead, we get the illegal immigrant employer, the guy with the crazy ex-wife, the dying family man, and the guy who can communicate with the dead.  All filtered through a lens of gray.  I know some people were blown away by Bardem’s performance, and maybe, but it was hard to tell through my drooping eyelids.

135. Leap Year


Actually the first 2010 movie I saw in theaters, if I remember correctly.  Saw it with my family in Florida during a comically ill-fated vacation.  The plot is chock full of classic romcom tropes: Amy Adams really wants to get married so she’s going to propose to her boyfriend (Adam Scott (really, Adam?  Two movies in my bottom 20?  Tsk.)) in Ireland, but through whatever plot contrivances, is forced to go on a road trip with the incredibly handsome Irishman (Matthew Goode) who is horribly mean to her at first, so you know they totally belong together.  Frankly, it is movie like this one that give romcoms a bad name.  It isn’t even how the plot is blindingly obvious, I don’t think.  It is that you have a characters who aren’t very nice, especially not to each other, falling in love for no particular reason other than maybe they are into some sort of bizarre mental S&M where they berate each other all night.  Also, the end, when she realizes Adam Scott doesn’t love her how she wants to be loved was pretty bogus.

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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 tonight’s show. Now we’re on Supporting Actress. The nominees:

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

John

Give me my award. Today, junior. Did I stutter? Oh, right.

This is a good crew, but Best Actor usually is. It’s Colin Firth in a walk for me, but that doesn’t reflect poorly on any of the others. What chance do they have against the charm, the grace, and yes the stutter of Firth? He’s so good all the time so I’m glad he’s getting his due, even though it does take a showy disability to get him the prize. Didn’t Tropic Thunder say something about going partial retard is Oscar gold…?

Franco is perfect for his role, both as a slightly off outdoorsy guy and the type of presence that can carry a movie when he’s the only one on screen. I didn’t give enough credit to Eisenberg when I first saw The Social Network. He gets some crap for playing the same character repeatedly, but I happened to see Network again soon after watching Zombieland and the differences were clear. This is also a performance that succeeds on a lot more than just line reading. I really like the way he carries himself.

I do think Bridges gets a boost just by being Jeff Bridges. It’s a memorable character that allows for some showy acting, but the type of role that I think needs a name to propel it to awards season. He’s still great, of course, but I do see a clear gap between him and those listed above. And Bardem is an interesting nod, displaying the kind of acting that I have not seen from him before. I just wish it had been in a better movie where his performance could have affected me more.

Snubs: As good as this list is, I would have had Robert Duvall for Get Low and Sean Penn for Fair Game. Maybe also Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine.

Jared

Yeah, geez, how do you pick a winner here?  It is a little odd that precursors have been so unanimous just because everyone here absolutely deserves consideration for the win.  The Grouches closed out Oscars this year with a screening of Biutiful, which was was too long and didn’t give the view a chance to get emotionally invested in the characters enough.  My expectations of Javier Bardem were maybe too high, because I’d that people just absolutely went gaga over his performance.  He does a fine job, of course, but I think he’s hampered by the script here.

If an actor can get a nomination for a role that won John Wayne an Oscar, well, he must be doing something right.  Even if Jeff Bridges took a note from the Marlon Brando school of acting and stuffed a handful of pebbles in his mouth before talking.  If he didn’t get his career achievement Oscar last year, I have the feeling that we’d be hearing a lot more about him.  It is still weird to me, as a devotee of Freaks and Geeks (OK, who am I kidding, as a devotee of Whatever It Takes), that James Franco is a highly-regarded thespian.  But he’s unquestionably deserving.  And in 127 Hours it takes some kind of screen presence to be the sole focus of nearly every shot of every scene.

John makes a good point above, Jesse Eisenberg definitely does not play the same character in every film.  Are they similar?  Sure.  There’s the ever present joke about how he and Michael Cera fight over the same roles.  But really, I can’t imagine  Eisenberg as Scott Pilgrim nor I could see Cera as Zuckerberg.  Sorkin’s Zuckerberg is  a difficult nut to crack, but I think Eisenberg handles it quite deftly.

Like Mr. Darcy needed anything else to be a chick magnet.

But, of course, like everyone else in the world, I’m jumping on the Colin Firth bandwagon.  And while he’s had an impressive career, this victory is certainly not just for his body of work.  Doing the stutter is the obvious part of his performance.  And he does do it in a way that (apparently) very close to reality, but also works on screen.  That said, there’s so much more to his role.  How he, as a prince and king, husband and father, handles his relationship with each one of the other characters.  Part of that is Seidler’s script, naturally.  But a lot of it is Firth working his magic.

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