Thursday, December 30, 2010

Blue Valentine

This film has gotten a lot of attention since its Sundance debut nearly a year ago. Unfortunately, perhaps the thing it's best known for is receiving an NC-17 rating from the MPAA ratings board that was appealed and changed to an R rating, thankfully without the need for cutting any content. I saw this in a sold out theater - one of only two in New York - and the director, Derek Cianfrance, introduced it at our screening, having led a Q&A after the previous show. He was so excited to see a room full of enthusiastic people wanting to see this movie he spent the last 12 years trying to make that he took a picture.

I love living here. :) ANYWAY, the film.

If you're looking for the bottom line, I'd call this more of an actor's setpiece (and it's a truly extraordinary one) than a total package kind of movie. That's not a slight on the film or the director at all, but this film (for me, at least) is all about raw emotional power rather than stunning camera work and storytelling. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams do some amazingly heartbreaking work here, and they deserve all the accolades they're currently enjoying in this year's nascent awards circuit.

The first thing we see is the start of an average day in the home of Dean and Cindy and their daughter Frankie (who is possibly the most adorable and guileless child I have seen in any film, ever). Already you can sense some tension in this little family. This becomes a rough morning fairly quickly, and you can tell this is nothing new for Dean and Cindy. Over the course of the film, we'll follow them through two hellish days of their marriage, wherein they will try - and utterly fail - to keep things together and rekindle the magic. And the worst part of it is that there's no telling how many times this has happened before.

But that's only half of the film. The other half is set six years earlier, when Dean and Cindy first meet and fall in love. This is the sweetness that tempers the bitter of the other section, but it's got its own kind of sadness. See, Dean and Cindy aren't soulmatey made-for-each-other lovebirds. They're into each other, but you can tell from the beginning that they don't feel the same way about one another. Dean says early on in the film that he thinks men are more romantic than women. That men marry because they fall in love and have to be with that person, while women marry more pragmatically and calculatedly, because it's the right time and this is the right guy with whom to start the kind of life they want. This strikes me as rather childish and simplistic, but I definitely think that Dean is more romantic than Cindy about their particular relationship. Dean falls head over heels for Cindy, who is coming to this relationship with all kinds of baggage, and Cindy marries him because he's the most appealing option at the time. And that, to me, is the most heartbreaking thing about the entire movie. Because I don't think there is anything more soul-destroying than being completely in love with someone who ... well, they like you a lot, but they just don't feel about you the way you feel about them.

Of course, six years later, they're both a mess, because they're completely wrong for each other, which is not a deal breaker for every couple, but if you're not both willing to work on it, there's no amount of romantic chemistry that can make up for that. Dean is not the ideal husband. He drinks, for one thing, and is more of a peer for his child than a parent. But when Cindy asks him what he wants to "do" with his life, you can't not love him for answering that all he wants to "do" is be a husband and a father, and that what she would call gainful employment is just a way to make money so he can come home and be with them and do his real job.

Now, about Cindy. I was frankly disturbed by the slut-shaming mutterings of the girls sitting next to me during this movie. No, I don't think 13 years old is the ideal time to lose one's virginity, and yes, I do think that 25 sexual partners (which is only Cindy's best guess) in the space of about ten years is ... rather a lot. But every time the girls next to me said "slut" about Cindy, I wanted to smack them. Because we've been through this, people - slut is just a name for someone who's having more sex than you're personally comfortable with, and using it says more about you than the so-called slut you're shaming. *ahem* Moving on.

Though blame can be laid at both Cindy's and Dean's feet, I can't help feeling that Cindy ... well, no, I can't do that. Dean is trying harder than she is to make the marriage work, but she's trying to make their life work, and that's a huge, thankless job. And on top of that, she's trying to achieve something for herself. She's exactly the kind of woman that Dean described before, though. She married him because she couldn't bear to have an abortion and he was there and was so in love with her that he wanted to make a family with her, even though the child she was carrying was most likely not even biologically his. Dean is trying to make things work between them, but he can only do so much. Cindy is a dutiful partner, but it is obvious that this is a toxic relationship for her. There are moments, and I'm sure she's not the first person to feel this way about her spouse, where she just has to walk away and just be like "get out of my face, I just want to not have to see you for two minutes together."

A lot has been said about the sexual content in this movie, but I don't think it's gratuitous or excessive. It's realistic, rather than softly lit and romanticized, and it does what all sex scenes *should* do, which is inform the characters. It really underscores what it means for each character in a way that dialogue just can't. This is a good example of the MPAA appeals board doing the right thing with a rating. Because context matters. And I think if there is anything in the film that someone is too young to understand, they're probably not going to notice it anyway, frankly. That's just the nature of this film, I think.

Anyway, good, good movie, but if you're a Plot Person you might not be satisfied with it, because it's more of an intense character/relationship study than a traditional narrative film.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Top 10 of 2010

It's that time of year again! Time for all the real critics to post their much more meaningful Top 10 lists and time for me to mimic them, like a child playing dress-up in mommy's clothes and high-heels. Again, as in previous years, this is not my notion of "the best" or "most awards worthy" films of the year, but it's a little more complicated than just a list of my favorites. I genuinely feel that each of these films is a great total package and more than just a good time at the movies or a great performance or good writing.

"Did you ever want to be a proper politician in your own right?"
"Of course. Didn't you want to be a proper writer?"

10. The Ghost Writer (original review here)
It's past the point of cliche now to say that "They don't make them like they used to." But here is Roman Polanski, a filmmaker in his seventies, making them exactly like he used to, like he hasn't for decades. This is a real meat-and-potatoes thriller for grown-ups, without the frills and audience grabbing tactics of modern films of the genre but overflowing with the solid storytelling skills so many of those films sorely lack. This film excels on pretty much every level - writing, acting, and technical. Ewan McGregor gives the film its foundation with a modest, understated performance, but Dollhouse's Olivia Williams is the standout.

"Jessup and me run together for comin' on forty years, but I don't know where he's at, and I ain't gonna go around askin' neither."

9. Winter's Bone
A film that, like so many of its characters, keeps its cards close to its chest. Ree Dolly has a seemingly simple task - track down her missing father. But the reason she needs to find him and the obstacles in her way are eked out slowly and brilliantly over the course of this remarkable film. The most fascinating aspect of this film to me is the unique role that women play in how this particular subculture deals with Ree as a potential threat who happens to be female. This is a hard film to categorize (though the climax takes it almost into the horror genre), and that's kind of its genius for me.

"You're waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can't be sure. But it doesn't matter - because we'll be together."

8. Inception
I struggled with whether to include this, because I feel that once I got the hang of the mechanics of the movie - the dream levels and how they work - a lot of the magic was gone. I found myself less excited by my second viewing, and while everyone around me was hashing it out and discussing it, I just didn't feel like I had anything to say. But the more I thought about it, the more I found that what makes it memorable for me is not the mind-bending dream world - not even, as amazing as it is, Joey Gordon-Levitt doing his zero gravity thing - but the fact that, stripped of all its gimmickry, it's this moving love story. Sure, all these other characters are brought into it, but the impetus for the entire setup is Cobb's grief and guilt over his wife's death and his desparate need to get back to his kids.

"How do I get a hold of you?"
"You just contact the mayor's office. He has a special signal he shines in the sky. It's in the shape of a giant c**k."

7. Kick-Ass (original review here)
I will readily concede that part of my affection for this movie has to do with the amazing screening it had at BNAT last year. But while no screen audience comes close to the enthusiasm and appreciation of a BNAT audience, pretty much every "normal" audience I saw this with had a similar appreciation for it. It wasn't as successful as it should have been, but I think that, like Scott Pilgrim, this will gain a pretty substantial following in the coming years as people discover it at home. This is a movie that speaks to our culture's fascination with celebrity and what draws us to superhero stories in particular, and it does it irreverently, humorously, and intelligently (no matter what its detractors say). It might have been an even more compelling story if, as was originally intended, it had revolved around Hit Girl and Big Daddy. But its hard to argue against the focus on Dave/Kick-Ass. He's the viewer's proxy and the reason it's as thoughtful a film as it is.

"I hold out little hope for you winning your bounty ... My man'll beat you to it. I have hired a Deputy Marshal, the toughest one they have."

6. True Grit (2010)
It seems like every new film that Joel and Ethan Coen make feels like an odd decision at first, and this was no exception. Taking a classic that has perhaps been better remembered than it ought to be and remaking it seemed a bizarre choice, even for these unconventional filmmakers. Focusing the film on a precocious and wise-beyond-her-years child character was a bit risky as well, as those characters can so frequently be off-putting (*raises a knowing eyebrow to Dakota Fanning*). The result, however, is a genuine masterpiece and a noble addition to the ranks of The Searchers, The Magnificent Seven, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Shane, and other great westerns, in whose company this new True Grit need not be ashamed. Bravo, Messrs. Coen, Bridges, and Damon, and especially Miss Steinfeld.

"You better lawyer up, asshole, because I'm not just coming back for 30%, I'm coming back for everything."

5. The Social Network (original review here)
I don't think it's incidental that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin chose to title this film The Social Network, rather than use the title of the book on which the script is based (The Accidental Billionaires). This could not be a clearer attempt by Sorkin to mimic the work of his idol (and mine), Paddy Chayefsky, and Chayefsky's beyond brilliant script for the 1976 film Network. Few films in recent memory have dealt more closely with the kind of world we live in today. Not just our interactions on social networking sites, but the nature of the business world, where it's not so much being the first to have an idea but having the talent to take a good idea and make it bigger and better. And how lonely it must be to be that kind of person. People who aren't plugged in to Facebook and other networking platforms might not relate to a lot of this movie, but the final shot of the film is one of the most human moments I've seen in a film in this or any other year. Refresh, refresh, refresh...

"Please don't do that. ... I believe sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you."
"My physicians say it relaxes the throat."
"They're idiots."
"They've all been knighted."
"Makes it official, then."

4. The King's Speech (original review here)
At first glance, this looks like an Oscar war horse. It's British, it's a period costume drama, it's set just before World War 2, and it features a character trying to overcome or at least deal with a disability. In other words, it's right in the Academy's wheelhouse. This film is much, much more than that. The Big Scenes in the film get all the attention, but they would mean nothing without the little moments that build up to them. This is not a movie centered on a disability (sorry, Harry Knowles, but you are wrong about that); it is a movie about a friendship and a king's duty as a symbol for his country during some of the most difficult times in our world's history.

"Now Woody, he's been my pal for as long as I can remember. He's brave, like a cowboy should be. And kind, and smart. But the thing that makes Woody special is he'll never give up on you ... ever. He'll be there for you, no matter what"

3. Toy Story 3 (original review here)
How - HOW - did Pixar take a movie trilogy about toys and teach us about our own lives and human frailty? The first film showed us a world where toys not only talked but had feelings; they could fear being mishandled by a malicious child and, most significantly, they could feel jealous of newer, cooler toys, much like a child feels jealous of a new sibling. The second film took it a step further, showing us toys who fear their eventual neglect as their child outgrows them. And the third film takes it even further, showing us what happens to these toys when they are eventually cast aside, in a setting that is somewhat analogous to a nursing home. Not only that, but having them face their own mortality and be, in a way, resurrected as they find a new life with a new child. As strange as it seems, though, the toy box is a rather perfect metaphor, since as children we act out what we know of life with our own toys. If this is what Pixar can do with sequels, I frankly can't wait to see what they can do with new chapters in the Cars and Monsters, Inc. universes.

"I just want to be perfect."

2. Black Swan (original review here)
The best High Horror film since Silence of the Lambs? Quite possibly. A critic I follow said that the two overarching themes of films this year (as far as his responses to them were concerned) were 1) art, and how artists create it, and 2) human frailty. This film is a brilliant meditation on both of those themes. Natalie Portman's struggle to play a dual role in Swan Lake and her eventual descent into madness vacillates from the humorous to the horrifying. We are appalled by the lengths she goes to to achieve her art, but we are nonetheless fascinated and full of admiration for her achieving it. The thing about art is that is it important enough for people to want to give their whole selves, their sanity, their health and well being, and perhaps even their lives in pursuit of it, and even though we might hate to see people suffer like that, the scariest thing is ... isn't it worth it to create something of true beauty?

And now...









"Such a beautiful place .. to be ... with friends."

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I (scattered thoughts here)
I realize that for some people this choice may invalidate the entire list, but this is my list and there is seriously not one film this year from which I derived more joy or meaning. I am forever grateful that I encountered Rowling's books and these films precisely as I did, and whatever remakes the future might hold, these particular films will always be entwined for me with the books and my own fandom experiences. I think all of the films prior to this have their peculiar mix of virtues and faults, but as I said earlier this year, there is not one thing about this movie I don't like, even after five viewings. Every aspect of filmmaking has gone up several steps with this one, and kudos to them for just going for the best adaptation of this particular book that was possible, regardless of whatever setups and clues from the earlier books they neglected in earlier films in the series.


"You're a porn actor who wants to know what a porn film is about?"

A Serbian Film (original review here - by all means, click if you're curious, but DO NOT GOOGLE THIS FILM)
I could not, in good conscience, even think about giving this a number on any kind of list. But at the end of the day, no other film this year - in my life, I expect - has had a bigger impact on how I watch movies, how I think about them, and how I talk and write about them. This is a truly shocking, boundary-pushing film, but an intelligent and very well made one. I'm rather surprised at all the people calling shenanigans on the metaphor, because if you are paying attention to anything besides the shocks it is splattered all over the film, especially the dialogue. These filmmakers are mad as hell, and they express that feeling in a piece of extraordinary political and pornographic rage. I'm not sure director Srdjan Spasojevich and his co-writer Aleksander Radivojevich could ever top this (and I don't really think I want them to), but I'm excited and frankly a bit horrified to see what they do next.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Final Girl Film Club - Sugar Hill

Time for another round of Final Girl Film Club! This month's selection is the blaxploitation zombie flick Sugar Hill. Indicentally, the neighborhood in Harlem where I live is called Sugar Hill, so I felt a connection to this movie right off the bat. Also, this is a Samuel Z. Arkoff and AIP production (that's American International Pictures, not Amazingly Idiotic Productions), and if that name means anything to you, a) you probably watch too much MST3K, and b) this movie probably just jumped up several points on your AwesomeMeter.

The film begins with what appears to be a voodoo ritual - drums, dancing, chicken blood, you probably know the drill. The natives are voodoo-ing to the particularly groovy strains of "Supernatural Voodoo Woman" by The Originals - a song that's a bit too slow for what's going on, until - wait a minute. It's not an actual voodoo ritual. The lights have come up now and what we've just been watching is the floor show at the popular Club Haiti.

We meet Diana Hill (aka "Sugar") and her man Langston, who owns the club. They are a loving pair, which is good because this is the only opportunity the movie is going to offer us to be invested in their relationship at all. Some thugs come around, talking trash, and Sugar begs Langston not to provoke them - "I just don't want anything to happen to mah man," she says. But lo, something does happen to her man, and the thugs, all white men except for the pimptastic Fabulous (yes, that is his name) beat Langston to death.

Sugar swears revenge and goes to visit Mama Maitresse (which may, in fact, just be a fancy name for "mattress") to order up some zombie-style retribution. Mama Maitresses (played by Zara Cully, aka Mother Jefferson) conjurs up this guy, Baron Samedi (played by the disturbingly cheerful Don Pedro Colley)...

...who commands a gang of zombies who, when they lived, were plantation slaves who died of fever. These dead-heads, it must be said, are fairly awesome zombies. Sugar is told "Put them to evil use; it's all they know or want." These are happy zombies, and you can tell because they SMILE. CREEPY! Perhaps even creepier - they have shiny ping-pong ball eyeballs that make them look like bugs.

So Sugar summons the zombies, who are much more like Inferi than traditional zombies in that they don't just shuffle and eat; they actually do someone's bidding. The zombies kill the guys who killed Langston, and that's pretty much the story. The script, when not dealing with the zombies, is pretty painfully bad, though the actors do what they can with it. What sets this apart are the aforementioned zombies and some rather unique kills. My favorite is when Sugar uses voodoo to make one of the guys stab himself. And once it's down to just the main bad guy, we pan around the group of zombies and his recently killed cronies are among their number! So not only has Sugar killed them, she now commands them to do her will!

There are so many things to love about this movie, but the greatest and strangest is Sugar's two separate identities, the purpose of which is never really addressed. All I know is that Sugar looks like this when she's not doing zombie things.

And like this when she's an ass-kicking zombie queen.

There may be something metaphorical there, but that's probably giving the filmmakers way too much credit.

There are definitely problems with this movie, but what works REALLY works. Sugar Hill is, in 70s parlance, DYNAMITE!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Black Swan

I'm still working out exactly how I feel about this movie - meaning that I'm trying to figure out if I merely love it or OMG LOVE it. I'm leaning toward the latter. There was something about the very end that was ... I don't want to say unsatisfactory, but it wasn't quite the "woaaaah" I was expecting after the twenty minutes that immediately preceded it. Twenty minutes which, I must say, make up perhaps the most perfect movie climax I've seen on a movie screen this year. Period.

Natalie Portman plays Nina, a professional ballet dancer in New York. She's been with the company for a long time, and you get the impression that if she were going to break out and get lead roles it would have happened by now. It's not that she's not a good dancer - she has great skill and technique - but she's not a Star. Still, when the company's prima ballerina, Beth (Winona Ryder) is pressured into retirement, the director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassell) needs a new face. He picks out a few girls to audition for his reimagining of Swan Lake, and he is going to pick one girl to play the dual role of the White Swan and the Black Swan. He tells Nina, in as many words, that if he were only casting the White Swan it would be hers. But the Black Swan is supposed to seduce the Prince, and he doesn't see the seductress in her at all. She manages to persuade him, however, during a private moment in his office, and she gets the one role every ballet dancer dreams of.

The problem, though, is that her persuasive moment in Thomas's office, was just that - a moment. She knows the steps, but she can't find the inner siren, no matter how impatient Thomas gets with her (or how many times he tries to kiss and grope her and bring that out of her again). Meanwhile, there's a new girl in the company named Lily (played by Mila Kunis). She's everything that Nina is not - she's confident and sexy but lacking in technique, she's got an attitude, she smokes, she eats hamburgers, she's frequently late for rehearsal, etc. Thomas points Lily out to Nina, though, as an example of the passion he wants to see in her Black Swan. Nina becomes paranoid that Lily is trying to steal her role, and the two of them have quite an uneasy relationship, but she's also kind of drawn to her (though not exactly in the way you might be thinking). The stress of trying to develop the dual role of the White Swan and the Black Swan drives Nina to the brink (beyond it, actually) of psychosis and self loathing, pushing her to an opening night performance that starts as a failure and becomes an utter revelation. And that's where I'd better stop with regard to story.

The film's crowning jewel, without a doubt, is the last approximately twenty minutes, which involve the opening night performance. And I'll have to be vague as heck because this is spoiler territory. Most of these "backstage melodrama" films have the big performance scene or sequence and they can occasionally be thrilling but usually only serve to weigh a film down. Not here. Oh no. The whole film has been building to this climax of Nina's inner demons and watching what she goes through to be what she needs to be for each act of the ballet took my breath away.

For some reason, although I'm usually quite the spoiler whore, I was quite scrupulous about spoilers for this movie. I watched the trailer once, then immediately watched it again, and was so intrigued that I decided then and there that that was all I wanted to know about the movie until I saw the whole thing for myself. I'm still not sure whether that really made any difference or not. Possibly the thing I love best about this movie is that it's not a "Gotcha!" kind of movie. It's not a movie built on twists. There are reveals, to be sure, but they're not of that nature. There are clear indications early on that things aren't what they seem and that Aronofsky is engaging in some metaphor. I was reminded a bit of movies like Jacob's Ladder and The Shining, where you're never entirely sure what's real and what's not. And maybe the greatest thing is that a lot of the time there's not really a right answer to that.

This is, at its most basic, a horror movie. It's been compared to David Cronenberg's work (I think The Fly and The Brood are the most comparable), but there's a lot more going on here than a body horror comparison will cover. It's been compared to Dario Argento's work, but while it's about people in the arts (specifically, about ballet dancers, as Argento's Suspiria was), it's still more than that. Nina isn't just a ballerina dealing with the pressure of her first major role and the other struggles that accompany her career in general. She's a woman trying to claim her identity, and while we may not all be ballet dancers, that is something at least that we can all relate to. And I think we can all agree that it can often be scary as hell. Okay, maybe not quite as scary as Nina's experiences, but frightening nonetheless.

I'd love to talk about Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassell, and Mila Kunis, because the acting across the board is superb, but I'm afraid of making this even longer than it already is. So I'll leave it with a "These guys totally own!" and move on, because I have to say a bit about casting, particularly the casting of Winona Ryder and Natalie Portman.

Darren Aronofsky's casting choices can be downright uncanny commentaries on the actors themselves, perhaps none of them more so than Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. It's almost as if he wants an actor's baggage to add an extra layer to the character they're playing. I was especially intrigued by the choice of WInona Ryder to play the involuntarily retiring ballet dancer. She's not someone I can really imagine as a dancer, but that doesn't matter as we never see her dance in the film. What we do see are a few choice meltdowns. Ryder's real life drama a few years ago can't help but affect how you view her in the film, and I think this is at least half the reason she was cast. And having her play the fading star while Portman's character rises to take her place was kind of genius. Because in many ways Natalie Portman is, for her generation, what Winona Ryder was for hers when she was that age. And speaking of Natalie...

I don't think I'm alone in having found Natalie Portman's transition from child star to adult actor a trifle disappointing. She had a maturity beyond her years as a young girl. When she was in Beautiful Girls alongside Timothy Hutton, his character told hers that he was sure that when she grew up whatever she ended up doing with her life was going to be amazing. Audiences had a similar expectation for Natalie herself, I think, but her adult roles have been frequently flat (with a couple of exceptions). So it was only fitting for her to play this dancer who has skill but can't quite sell herself in a grown-up role. Any doubts on that score should be put to bed with this film. And yet what I love is that she isn't wildly different. She's not made up to look different, her voice is not suddenly more sultry or aggressive. She's not all of a sudden hardcore, like this gangster rapping self-parody she did on SNL.


She's simply using her instrument in a way that I'm convinced she's just never been asked to before. It's hard to even imagine something like "Hold me like you did on Naboo!" after seeing her in this. Her Nina in is a cut above every single lead female performance I've seen this year. (Yes, even you, Annette Bening. I know losing the Oscar to Swank twice has got to burn, but if you won this year, it would be an apology Oscar.) While still managing to make what she does look easy, Portman's performance is nevertheless a reminder that not everyone with a pretty face can be an actress. There's a fearlessness and a dedication to the role and the world of this film that I think have put her in another league of artistry altogether.

Excellent, excellent movie. Man, I love this time of year!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December Movie Releases

Okay, here goes. The end of the year is nigh, and the studios have saved a lot of their best stuff for last and before the end of this week we'll start to get the first look at who the award show contenders are shaping up to be (*waves to the National Board of review*).


[MUST-SEE] The Black Swan - [limited] I've watched the trailer twice by my own volition (and a few times in front of films it's been attached to), but I am determined to know as little as possible about this going in. There is ballet, body horror, and psychological terror. The director said this and his previous film The Wrestler were at one point all one movie. That's already more than I want to know. This has gotten some incredible buzz coming out of the festivals, and I cannot wait to see it. Darren Aronofsky is fast becoming one of the all-time greats. Another one in my "most anticipated" pile. I'm hoping to make it a triple feature with two other ballet-centric movies, The Red Shoes and Suspiria.

All Good Things - [limited] Now is the winter of our Ryan Gosling (with this and Blue Valentine coming out this month)! I've seen the trailer for this a few times, and I still can't figure out what it's about. Is it a love story about people from opposite sides of "the tracks"? Is is a story about a man's career and family heritage coming between him and his wife? Is it about a woman giving up everything about herself for her marriage? Is it (and this doesn't even come up until the last couple of seconds) a murder mystery? I'm waiting to hear more, even if more is just "trust me, you want to know as little as possible."

I Love You Phillip Morris - [LA/NY] I am downright furious at the treatment this film has gotten in the last several months. I've put this on I don't know how many drafts of the coming months' releases and it has kept getting pushed back. I saw it written in my old calendar for JULY. And it's as clear as day why this has happened - studios don't know how to sell Jim Carrey as a man in love with another man. I hope THIS time it actually sees the inside of a theater.

Night Catches Us - [LA/NY/Phil.] I have literally never heard of this film (which apparently premiered at Sundance in January) until today when it suddenly showed up on IMDB's "coming soon" page. This also just got nominated for Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. Anthony Mackie, who made a memorable supporting turn in The Hurt Locker, gets top billing in this, alongside Kerry Washington, as a man accused of orchestrating the murder of a Black Panther. This looks very interesting and has (judging from the trailer) some amazing music by The Roots. Sadly, however, this is exactly the kind of thing that slips through the cracks of my movie-watching. Hopefully, it will be playing somewhere in January during the nadir of good movies.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale - [NY] Last holiday season I amused myself while listening to "Here Comes Santa Claus" that the lyrics could be the tagline for a slasher flick - "Hang your stockings and say your prayers, 'cause Santa Claus is coming tonight - MUAHAHAHAHA!" The good people of Finland seem to have heard my giggling and have made a film about Santa as the boogeyman. Which, if you think about it, is not far off the mark.

The Warrior's Way - The trailer totally had me at "Ninjas ... damn." Ninja assassins AND Geoffrey Rush? God bless us every one, it's Christmas after all!

Meskada - [LA/NY] What is it with these movies popping up out of thin air on the release schedule?! Buzz on this is not good, despite the impressive cast (Nick Stahl, Walking Dead's Norman Reedus, and Grace Gummer (daughter of Meryl Streep, and I'm sure she loves people calling her that)).


The Tourist - Something about Angelina Jolie's way-too-clean British accent is off-putting. But ... Johnny Depp. You know I'm there. :-) Also, the line about "upgrade it from room service" gets me every time I see the trailer.

The Tempest - Julie Taymor's film projects have been hit and miss, mostly miss for me. The film I like best of hers is Across the Universe, but it's still deeply flawed, in my opinion. This has not gotten good reception at all. I still think my favorite way of experiencing this particular Shakespeare play is the fantastic documentary Shakespeare Behind Bars. May watch that again instead and listen to the recording of Anne Hathaway and Audra McDonald singing "Full Phathom Five."

The Company Men - I could have sworn this was coming out a couple of months ago, and I may have even had it on one of the other months' posts. John Wells, the television producer who gave us E.R. and (*choir of angels singing*) The West Wing turns his eyes to films. The trailer breaks my heart, and it actually looks like even more of a "movie of the moment" than Up in the Air, with the focus on layoffs and trying to pick up the pieces and start one's life again.

The Fighter - [limited] After screening at AFI a few weeks ago, this has gotten all kinds of Oscar buzz. It's the kind of crowd-pleaser that would do well, even without the expanded Best Picture field. Most attention seems to be going to Christian Bale, though, rather than Wahlberg, the film's star. What is it about boxing movies that's so darned captivating?

Voyage of the Dawn Treader - I confess that I have read none of the Narnia books save The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, so I have no idea what to expect here. Except that I understand what little there is of shipping to be had in the series appears in this book. I'm not sure what it is about these films that strikes me as disappointing, but this looks more in the same a-cut-below vein.


[MUST-SEE] TRON: Legacy - Possible BNAT premiere? It's 1982 predecessor screened at the very first BNAT. I appreciate the nostalgia for the original, and I do think it's rather cool, but I saw it relatively late in life, so I don't have the same reverence for it that the fanboys do. Still, it looks pretty wicked awesome. And how about that movie magic making Jeff Bridges look twenty-eight years younger?

Yogi Bear - No. I don't care who does the voices (Dan Ackroyd and Justin Timberlake, in this case). Thank goodness for Tron, otherwise this would make even more money than it probably still will.

Rabbit Hole - [limited] Nicole Kidman is apparently back in fine form in this grieving parent dramedy from John Cameron Mitchell (of Hedwig and the Angry Inch fame). Everything I've seen and heard makes me want to see this even more. Perhaps no piece of marketing, however, is as brilliant as this poster. How amazing is that?!

Casino Jack - [limited] Wasn't there a documentary about Abramoff recently? This is getting pretty good buzz. I haven't seen a lot of Kevin Spacey lately, but it's good to see him ... back, I guess.

How Do You Know - It's hard to believe James L. Brooks has only directed five films before this in his entire career. He's been far too busy with "The Simpsons," I expect. But three of his five films are absolute classics - Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, and As Good as It Gets. I look forward to seeing this latest directorial offering. Except that I resent that idea that a woman of 27 is "a bit past her prime," as the IMDB synopsis puts it. Hmph.


[MUST-SEE] True Grit - Now is also the winter of our Jeff Bridges. This looks so awesome it ought to be criminal, which usually means a movie is bound to disappoint, but the response to this week's secret screening has been incredible. I'll go ahead and say that I don't foresee it making a huge Oscar impact, since the Coens sweep for No Country for Old Men (another western) was just three years ago and Jeff Bridges won just last year. Honestly, though? I don't really care. This looks amazing and I can't freaking WAIT. *crosses fingers for a BNAT screening, though we'll probably get our Bridges fix with Tron instead*

[Side note: I was watching the first trailer recently that has the a cappella gospel song playing in the background. The song is "Where No One Stands Alone," as recorded by the Peasall Sisters, who provided the singing voices for George Clooney's three daughters in another Coens film, O Brother, Where Are Thou?. I just thought that was cool. And a great song, too. :) ]

Little Fockers - I have never gotten into these films at all (I think I finally, accidentally saw the first one a few years ago and found it mildly amusing at best). I'm impatiently waiting for this franchise to just go away.

Gulliver's Travels - Everything I've seen looks terrible, but I guess the studio has faith in it if they're putting it out this close to Christmas.

Country Strong - [limited] So ... Crazy Heart, but with a rich female singer instead of a washed up has-been? Seriously, the character even has a drinking problem, which of course is not unusual for the country music business, but still. And while I love me some Gwyneth Paltrow, her accent in this kind of grates. I think it's cool that she's getting another chance to show off her singing ability, though, because she's pretty darn good. And I have to say that setting it in Nashville is obviously pushing my hometown buttons. Also, YAY WOMEN FILMMAKERS.


The Illusionist - [limited] From the filmmakers who brought us the delightful Triplets of Belleville. That alone is enough to recommend it.

Somewhere - [limited] The latest from Sofia Coppola and the big Venice Film Festival winner. There's a thread running through most of her work regarding the loneliness of fame. This looks pretty interesting, but the name Fanning (even if it's not Dakota) makes me twitch.


Biutiful - [limited] Responses to this on the festival circuit have been all over the map. The trailer for this movie may in fact be the most pretentious thing I have EVER seen, and the director Alejandro González Iñárritu is sometimes brilliant, sometimes infuriating (I loved his 21 Grams, hated Babel). Javier Bardem, however, may be enough to get me to a theater to see it.

Another Year - [limited] I love Mike Leigh, and he's made some of the most interesting and complex character studies of anyone making movies in the last twenty years. I don't know that anything of his will exceed my affection for Topsy-Turvy, but this looks wonderful. Speaking of Topsy-Turvy, I'm always amused to see people who've played a couple (in this case, Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert, played in TT by Jim Broadbent and Lesley Manville, respectively) playing something totally different.


Blue Valentine - Another movie the MPAA ratings board has picked out to make an example of, this time slapping an NC-17 rating on what should by all accounts be rated R. The trailer is adorable (though I understand the film is heart-shattering), and I can't wait to see this.