Thursday, February 17, 2011
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
Oscar Nominations: Best Lead Actress (Williams)
Story: A couple deals with the harsh realities of life that threaten the stability of their marriage.
Review: No film from last year affected me more deeply than this heartbreakingly real depiction of a failing marriage. This magnificent film achieves so much through natural performances and a beautiful simplicity in the way it details their problems. This is not a film filled with shouting matches (though there are a few such moments), but in fact the most gutwrenching moments come from the quiet arguments, where one person is clearly upset at the other and you can feel the unpleasantness and anger boiling underneath. All of this is juxtaposed with flashbacks showing the happy and sweet beginnings of their relationship. The two performances are astonishing. Ryan Gosling has been one of the most consistently great indie actors ever since his revelatory performance in The Believer and this may be his greatest yet. Michelle Williams builds on the outstanding natural work she did in the magnificent low key drama Wendy and Lucy and turns in another quietly powerful performance. Cianfrance and his co-writers do a great job of building the structure to this story so that the painful implications of the failing marriage only become truly apparent until the end.
Oscar Outlook: Unfortunately, Williams has no chance in the Lead Actress race.
Trivia: To prepare for the film, Gosling and Williams rented a house together and lived on a budget based on their character's incomes. This is the 2nd nomination for Williams, after being nominated for Supporting Actress in Brokeback Mountain.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 10:31 PM
Sunday, February 13, 2011
The Confession (Tanel Toom) ***1/2
A young Catholic schoolboy worries that he can't be a true Catholic because he doesn't have anything to confess. He sets off with his friend to do something he can confess for, but their actions lead to disastrous results. Toom does a good job of creating a vivid, dark atmosphere and there are a few haunting moments in the film. The final scene is incredibly well acted.
Wish 143 (Ian Barnes) ***1/2
This is definitely the most affecting of the nominated shorts. A teenager with a terminal illness is visited by a "Make a Wish" style charity and his wish is to have sex. What seems like a vulgar, juvenile setup is actually handled with maturity and deep, absorbing emotions. It's a bit manipulative and an ex-girlfriend character that comes in late as a plot device doesn't work very well, but Barnes and his actors do a superb job creating several three dimensional characters with such a short running time.
Na Wewe (Ivan Goldschmidt) **
What a bizarre film we have here. A tour bus is pulled over in a small African village by a group of Hutu soldiers, looking to find and execute people they suspect of being Tutsi. Most of the film does a good job giving us a window into a tense and hostile atmosphere of a bitter civil war, but all of that is thrown out the window with a jarring ending that does not work at all. I appreciate the message that music can help diffuse tensions, but the way it is displayed here lacks credibility and turns a tense drama into silly fluff.
Care to explain this one, Academy voters? A ridiculously stupid story about a young boy who has a crush on his teacher and disapproves of the man he's going to marry. The filmmaker attempts to fuse both silliness and suspense, but never captures either tone correctly and we're left with a really stupid film and a moronic climax that lacks any subtlety.
This is probably the film that benefited the most from its placement in the Live Action Shorts program. After four mixed, mostly serious films, this was a breathe of fresh air. It follows a lovestruck lounge singer who comes across a love dart that can make any woman fall in love with him. The film follows his elaborate attempts to make this work on the woman of his dreams. Writer-director-star Luke Matheny does a great job of capturing that Woody Allen spirit, with excellent use of music and black & white cinematography that perfectly sets the mood. Matheny himself gives an ingratiatingly offbeat lead performance and the film ends on the perfect note.
Oscar Outlook: This being the first time I've seen all five nominees, it's hard to predict what the Oscars will do. My guess is they will go for the more serious Confession, but Wish 143 might pull the right heartstrings to get enough votes. I'll be happy with anything other than Na Wewe or The Crush
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 9:53 PM
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actor (Firth), Best Supporting Actor (Rush), Best Supporting Actress (Carter), Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound
Story: Historical drama about the early days of King George VI's (Firth) ascencion to the throne and his friendship with the speech therapist (Rush) that helped him overcome a stuttering problem.
Review: It's certainly no surprise that The King's Speech has garnered so much attention by both the public and the Academy. It is an uplifting, feel good story without any attempt to dumb it down for mass audiences. It's also exquisitely made, with top notch production values and careful craftsmanship from director Tom Hooper. It tells a great historical story and is headlined by a dream cast (Firth, Rush, Carter can always be counted on). A film containing such qualities will always be heavily praised and be a strong contender during awards season. But what I really love about this film is the great sense of humor running through it. This is no dry British history lesson. Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler do a great job of humanizing the characters and making this a pretty lively story . Geoffrey Rush has never been more likeable. Colin Firth is able to show both tremendous charisma and vulnerability in a delicate balancing act of a performance. The film may have truncated history or outrighted distorted it in many parts, but on its own merits remains a solidly entertaining drama made with superb precision.
Oscar Outlook: It is going to be a royal night at the Oscars as The King's Speech is going to win very many awards. The most likely is Colin Firth for Lead Actor. It is the biggest, most assured lock since Heath Ledger's 2007 win for The Dark Knight. Best Picture and Best Director wins also seems like sure bets since the film has swept the major guild awards (PGA, DGA, SAG) and I also expect it to compete strongly in many of the technical categories, although losing a few of them to Inception.
Trivia: Firth joins Jeff Bridges as repeat Lead Actor nominees from 2009. This is Rush's 4th nomination. Jennifer Ehle, who plays Geoffrey Rush's wife in the film, previously co-starred with Colin Firth in the popular BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 8:44 AM