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I’m counting down all the movies released in 2012.  The ones I’ve seen, at any rate.  In what is unquestionably a timely manner.

#100.  Farewell, My Queen

Nominated for a ton of Cesar awards, it mostly lost out to Amour and Rust and Bone in the major categories, only managing wins for Cinematography, Costume Design, and Production Design.  Seeing as how those two movies already showed up on my list, I’d say it wasn’t a terribly good year for French film, at least in my humble opinion.  The film did have an interesting concept, I thought, with Lea Seydoux playing a reader for Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger), who would do anything for her queen.  The final, oh, ten minutes or so are actually fairly gripping, as Seydoux’s character has to come to terms with what her devotion actually means.  The rest of the film, though, is all over the place, with subplots going all over the place and not doing much to support what I thought was the main crux of the movie.  In some sense, that may have been intentional, as the film depicts the uncertainty of the court following the storming of the Bastille.  But the chaos of the film doesn’t translate to an interesting viewing experience.  Don’t let the trailer fool you, the Sapphic nature of the relationship between the three gorgeous ladies is a very minor part of the plot.  And the cast is always kinda wasted, though maybe I’m just saying that because I’m not sure any actresses do cruel better than Seydoux and Kruger can.  Someone needs to write them a withering look-off, stat.

#99. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I like the idea of this movie more than the movie itself, I think.  It was a story of redemption for director John Madden, who had seemingly spiraled into directing increasingly obscure and, well, not good movies after helming Shakespeare in Love fifteen years ago.  It was a story of Hollywood economics, where everyone seemed stunned that a film starring a bunch of elderly British actors cavorting around India could be crazy profitable.  The only thing without a compelling story, as it turns out, was the film itself.  The premise was solid.  And the cast is fantastic.  I mean, any film with Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson is going to be watchable on some level.  But the characters all had only the minutest of progressions.  As a pilot for a TV show, it got the job done.  As a complete movie, it seemed like the film got lost in all the characters and didn’t have enough time to give them all engaging arcs.

#98.  Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I can still remember when last year’s Golden Globe nominations came out and the sheer befuddlement upon realizing this film, which had rather quietly come and gone from theaters, and had received pretty much zero awards love anywhere else, managed to pull down not one, not two, but three Golden globe nominations.  Never change, Globes.  Never change.  Not having read the novel, I can’t say for sure if it is the source material or the script (written by Simon Beaufoy, who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire along with nominations for The Full Monty and 127 Hours), but the film has a terrible case of ADD.  Subplots are picked up and put down seemingly at random, only to be picked up again several scenes later, when they’ve completely lost their resonance.  Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt are fine, if not terribly stretched.  Kristin Scott Thomas definitely made the most of her turn, and with a stronger script, probably could have received some awards attention.

#97.  Savages

We’ll talk more about Taylor Kitsch as the countdown goes on, I’m sure, but sure seems like Riggins’s luck has carried over from FNL.  Because I don’t see any way you can blame his string of flops on him.  Correlation does not equal causation!  Take this film.  Doesn’t matter who you put in his role, the film isn’t going to make any more sense.  For me, the film was one of those that wasn’t anywhere close to being as sexy, innovative, and envelope-pushing as it seemed to think it was.  Instead, everything felt unnecessarily over the top and campy without having a sense of humor at all.  So, boring, really.  Which is the worst crime of all to commit.  Especially because it wasted such a bizarre and fascinating cast.

#96.  Arbitrage

I honestly couldn’t tell you the difference between this film and a made-for-TV movie Hallmark mystery, other than this one had a better cast and the Hallmark movie would likely have more interesting twists.  Richard Gere generated some awards buzz, including a Globe nom, but I think that was more due to Richard Gere playing a douche than anything specific to the performance.  Not to take anything from Gere, the character just didn’t lend itself to anything career-defining.  The machinations related to various business deals aren’t anywhere near as interesting as it seems like they should be, and there’s a poorly-done subplot involving license plates that’s been done better by probably dozens of mystery shows.

#95.  Keep the Lights On

John and I discussed this film some in our Spirit Awards post, as the film received four nominations: lead actor, screenplay, director, and picture.  I thought Thure Lindhardt was pretty great, but the film didn’t do a whole lot for me.  I guess I sorta felt like I did about The Kids Are All Right, if the film was about a heterosexual couple, would it have received as much notice?  Obviously, in some sense that’s not fair at all.  Gay and heterosexual couples certainly had different experiences in the mid-90s, and I don’t mean to give that short shrift.  My point is more than I personally felt the hardships a gay man faced in the time were used, not necessarily as a crutch, but as a way to give more import to the characters than they may have otherwise deserved.

#94.  Think Like A Man

This movie raked in $90 million dollars, for the record.  Which says something.  The film heavily employs one of my least-favorite trappings of romantic comedies: boiling relationships down to a small set of rules which magically grant you all the power over the person you are chasing.  That said, the film is based on a relationship book by Steve Harvey, and I, for one, am not going to disagree with anything Steve Harvey has to say.  So the movie is basically the girls read the book, take the power in the relationships, and then the guys find out about the book and then they get the power.  Hilarity ensues somewhere along the way, I guess?  The biggest shame is how badly the cast is wasted.  Taraji P. Henson is all kinds of amazing and really should be getting better roles.  I’m hoping Almost Human works out for Michael Ealy, because he deserves a good vehicle (and not just because he’s from Silver Spring).  At this point in her career, Gabrielle Union should finding her way into more awards bait, instead of being an on-screen couple with Turtle (?!).  Etc.  Etc.  Pretty much the whole cast is coming back for a sequel, though, so look for it in theaters in June 2014.

#93.  Looper

The time travel/sci-fi movie for people who don’t like time travel/sci-fi movies.  Maybe my expectations were just too high for a time travel film directed by Rian Johnson and starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and involving hitmen, Emily Blunt, and Jeff Daniels, but this movie just didn’t do anything for me.  All of the genre stuff was undercooked, the rest of the film wasn’t terribly interesting, and aside from maybe two or three scenes, Johnson’s signature flashy style was nowhere to be seen.  Where Brick was a fantastically creative take on noir, this one felt flat and uninspired.

#92.  Hope Springs

I made sure to watch this film for two main reasons.  First, I know John loved it.  Second, to more fully appreciate this subplot of a Bunheads episode.  Oh, Bunheads, you were gone too soon.  Anyway, turns out Tommy Lee Jones being uncomfortable with his sexuality is not enough to get me to like a movie.  Who knew?  I look forward to John calling me out in the comments, but as far as I can tell, that’s pretty much the whole premise of the movie, along with Meryl Streep, playing his wife, learning to stand up for herself a little more.  I mean, yeah, I guess it is charming at times, but the film has no real shape and isn’t particularly funny.

#91.  The FP

The Vegas line on where this film would end up on my list had to be around, like #10, right?  Basically a modern take on an 80s post-apocalyptic movie where gangs battle via a Dance Dance Revolution clone.  I mean, that sounds like a pure genius.  But I’m not sure I quite got the joke they were going for, or that they played the tone right.  1980s camp is a surprisingly difficult thing to emulate, I think.  And they played this one pretty straight, which I’m not certain was the right call for a story that never really made any sense at all.  I really wanted to like this one, but it just wouldn’t let me.

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Oscar nominations come out on the 10th.  I’m looking at the state of the race in the big eight categories.  This time: Supporting Actress

VIRTUAL LOCK

  • Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
  • Sally Field, Lincoln

Say what you will about Hooper’s direction (and I did), but Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” may well have been the quintessential Oscar scene.  She has one prior nomination, for Rachel Getting Married.  In my mind, Sally Field’s Mary Todd Lincoln wouldn’t have been enough if the rest of the movie had turned out to not be very good.  As is, the two time Oscar winner (Norma Rae and Places in the Heart) should be through just fine.

GOOD BET

LIKELY IN

  • Helen Hunt, The Sessions

The only thing dropping Hunt down to this section is that The Sessions just hasn’t been in the Oscar conversation as much as I would have expected.  But she gets naked, and it is Meaningful, so the Academy should eat it up.  Hunt won an Oscar for As Good as It Gets.

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Amy Adams, The Master
  • Samantha Barks, Les Miserables
  • Judi Dench, Skyfall
  • Ann Dowd, Compliance
  • Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
  • Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Still haven’t seen The Master, but Amy Adams is supposed to be solid and in a role unlike most of her others.  She suffers from being a movie that appears to be losing ground in the Oscar race, though she does have three prior noms (JunebugDoubt, and The Fighter).  I thought Barks was quite good, but she is facing a movie with sharply divided reviews and is overshadowed by Hathway, plus she has no Oscar history.  Judi Dench has five Oscar noms (Mrs. BrownChocolat, IrisMrs. Henderson PresentsNotes on a Scandal) and a win (the infamous Shakespeare in Love), all since 1998.  Her role isn’t terribly showy, but it is a meaningful one in the Bond canon, and Skyfall‘s PGA nom may suggest support for the film.  I just figured out that Ann Down played Busy Philipps’s mom on Freaks and Geeks.  I haven’t seen Compliance yet, but Dowd is the easy to root for underdog, as the veteran character actress is self-financing her campaign.  The Paperboy is supposed to be dreadful, which would be entirely consistent with seemingly 90% of the films Nicole Kidman picks.  She’s picked up steam lately, and has past noms for Moulin Rouge! and Rabbit Hole, along with a win for The Hours.  I don’t understand the love for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  The characters really weren’t any fun at all, but Smith’s is the only one who shows even mild signs of development.  She has prior noms for OthelloTravels with My Aunt, A Room with a View, and Gosford Park along with wins for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and California Suite.

DARK HORSES

  • Emily Blunt, Looper
  • Jennifer Ehle, Zero Dark Thirty
  • Kelly Reilly, Flight
  • Amanda Seyfried, Les Miserables
  • Kerry Washington, Django Unchained
  • Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

I don’t really think any of these actresses have much of a shot, you basically have to believe in the wave theory of nominations and that the Academy really liked each respective film.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Emily Blunt, Your Sister’s Sister
  • Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister
  • Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises
  • Taraji P. Henson, Think Like a Man
  • Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man
  • Charlize Theron, Snow White and the Huntsman
  • Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect

Stupid work getting in the way of this.  Seems like every year people say it was a bad year for the Best Actress category, which is generally hogwash, and  I especially don’t really think it is true this year.  Sure, maybe my list for Best Actor possibilities was longer, but I’m fairly certain the next five women off the list would have still made a very strong category.

1. Patricia Clarkson, Blind Date

Nobody does sullen and deadpan like Ms. Clarkson.  Just no one.  And here, to pull off that underlying sadness while playing a variety of personalities, well, it was pretty perfect.

2. Zooey Deschanel, (500) Days of Summer

I swear, it wasn’t intentional to have my top two actors and actresses match up.  Maybe it is fitting, though.  It was pretty fascinating to see Deschanel’s character morph from The One to a biatch and all phases in between, at least through Gordon-Levitt’s eyes.  Sure, the role was right in Deschanel’s wheelhouse, but she still knocked it out of the park.

3. Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria

To me, at least, a monarch at a young age is a fascinating topic.  And here, a terribly difficult role to play, as Victoria learned to play the political game while going through adolescence.  Which is insane.  I mean, think about Adventureland, only if instead of learning to survive on his own, Jesse Eisenberg had to rule a friggin’ country.  And I think Blunt didn’t get a nomination here for exactly that reason.  The Academy wasn’t comfortable with a ruler who showed such humanity.

4.  Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

I think I may have discussed her elsewhere, but wowza.  When going through the best actress nominees this year, I’d be stunned if voters didn’t take at least a second to think about writing in her name. [Edit: To clarify, I meant choosing her as the nominee they think should win.]

5.  Carey Mulligan, An Education

It isn’t just that I fell madly in love with Ms. Mulligan after the film, it is that I can’t imagine anyone not falling in love with her.  I think she took a weak script and ran with it something fierce, and with many other actresses, this film gets shut out of Oscar completely.

Just off the ballot: Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia) and Tilda Swinton (Julia).  And not just because that’s funny.

I’d say over the course of a year I see most films that come highly recommended. Not all of them fit into the discussions we have on this site. I try to talk about the ones I love in lists or separate posts but not every one lives up to expectations. Instead of giving these films a pass via my silence I have decided to pillory them here. That’ll show ’em.


Star Trek and Whip It
(95 Rotten Tomatoes, 83 Metacritic; 82 RT, 67 MC)
I feel like I covered most of my objections here and here, but is there a plot point or line of dialog in Star Trek that isn’t a cliche? Or a scene or shot in Whip It?

Sunshine Cleaning
(72 RT, 61 MC)
A textbook case of a movie trying too hard. This film has enough themes and subplots for three Sundance films. And unfortunately too few go anywhere and few I cared about. The one where Emily Blunt befriends Mary Lynn Rajskub is just confounding. Alan Arkin’s character is almost a carbon copy of his work in Little Miss Sunshine. I didn’t care for Emily Blunt. One aspect I found quite interesting was the family’s burgeoning relationship with a one-armed cleaning supply shop owner, played by Clifton Collins Jr. He’s a real revelation in a film that doesn’t do enough with him.

Goodbye Solo
(94 RT, 89 MC)
I expected this movie to be right up my alley. I usually find myself drawn to small, slow, slice-of-life character-driven dramas like this. See my outspoken (at least amongst the Grouches) support for 2008’s The Visitor and Frozen River. And I know Ramin Bahrani is a Next Great American Director. But holy shit this was boring. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen or to get fully involved in a character or their world, but no.

Sugar
(93 RT, 82 MC)
On the one hand, it’s a film about baseball. On the other, it comes from the team behind the Grouches-reviled Half Nelson. Could any film tear Jared apart more? Actually I do hope he sees it because I’d be curious about his take on it and what he thinks of the film’s baseball scenes. Sugar follows a Dominican baseball player as he arrives in America to play minor league ball. More than baseball it’s about the modern immigrant story. I was totally on board for about a third of the movie before it began to lose me. I became less interested in Sugar and his travails. The whole thing just never coalesces into anything particularly interesting.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
(92 RT, 83 MC)
Wes Anderson has made no more than 2/3 of a good movie since his brilliant Rushmore / Royal Tenenbaums run. (That good 2/3 was the front end of Darjeeling Limited.) I loved this book as a kid and the stop-motion animation intrigued me, but it just gets bogged down in Anderson’s increasingly tiresome style. He’s so betrothed to his special Wes Anderson trademarked quirks that he forgets to make a movie that’s actually good. Every touch that seems like it should be clever (Mr. Fox’s mid-life crisis, a badger lawyer/side-kick) are just ill-conceived. I think of Jason Schwartzman’s bored, monotone voice acting as Mr. Fox’s son and I’m reminded all over again why this film was a collasal disappointment.

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