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Monday, October 31, 2011

In Time (Release Date: 10-28-2011)

        In Time doesn't waste any of its namesake in arriving at it's central concept, so I'd might as well not either. As we learn from some hyper earnest/serious voice-over narration from Justin Timberlake, we are now in the future, and the economic structure has seen a few changes. In this world, each and every person stops aging at 25, at which point they have exactly One year to live, a quantity of time that, somehow, is tattooed to everyone's wrist, glowing green and ever counting down. This time is the currency of the world, Four minutes buying a cup of coffee, several months bringing home a car, etc. Our hero, Will Salas (Timberlake), lives in a district named Dayton, wherein workers toil and sweat just in order to have enough time to wake up in the morning and get back to their jobs. Far, far away lies a city where no such sacrifices are made, and fat cats live with the utmost certainty that, as long as they don't act recklessly, they will live as long as they like (Don't worry, this movie is not a political analogy... *wink*). The system is corrupt, and Salas is out to take it down.

        In Time was never going to be a bad movie for a simple reason: It's conceit is extremely interesting, as it holds up a sort of fun house mirror to our current socio-economic landscape. Because of this intrigue, almost all of the movie's 109 minutes prove engaging. This, however, has nearly nothing to do with the execution. Writer/Director/Producer Andrew Niccol gives the movie a somewhat boring visual pallet, and its hard not to wonder why, in this distant future, the time-keeping wrists are literally the only futuristic devises that ever seen on screen. Cops drive around in boxy, souped-versions of older cars, and the decadently rich still spend their time in suites, casinos, and luxurious dinner parties with classic decor. Way to dream big about the coming years, buddy.

        The script is also riddled with mistakes, the most glaring of all being its complete and utter aversion to developing real characters. Olivia Wilde shows up for Two scenes and adds nothing as Salas' mother, Cillian Murphy hams it up in a goofy, occasionally enjoyable but impossibly shallow, villainous supporting role, and Amanda Seyfried, bless her heart, was obviously signed on for her looks, and her looks alone. I don't really have any idea if she can act, but In Time doesn't even give her a chance to try. Timberlake, who has had some charming performances in the last couple of years, isn't really up to the task of going full-on badass (Watching him turn to the camera, straight-faced, and deliver lines like, "No one should be immortal if any one person has to die," is somehow both hilarious and painful). His finer moments are his quieter ones, making eyes at Seyfried, or having a heart-to-heart with his best friend Borel (Johnny Galecki). In Time is a mixed bag, a great concept adorned with middling execution. It will hold your attention, but you probably won't be recommending it to any of your friends. Time is just too valuable.

Grade: C-

Friday, October 28, 2011

Leftovers: October 2011

Leftover Music:
M83: Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
        All kinds of great music came out over the last month, perhaps more than any similar span this year, and why not start my list with the biggest of them all. Anthony Gonzalez's musical project's newest release is hands-down the most ambitious offering I have heard this year, 22 songs expanded over Two discs and over 73 minutes... and these aren't small songs that we're talking about here. The album opens with what is likely the most grandiose song ever to be simply titled Intro, Gonzales and Zola Jesus' Nika Roza Danilova trading belted lyrics before transitioning into Hurry Up's first single, the impossibly catchy Midnight City. But there are riches to be found through-out the thing, from the cathartic release of Wait, to the smile-inducing story of Raconte-Moi Une Histoire, to other great pseudo-shoegaze, stadium rockers like New Map and Steve McQueen. Accusations of cheesiness are not unfounded; Gonzales clearly set out to make the biggest-sounding LP that he could, and some level of over-earnestness is always attached to such efforts. Some artists would perhaps have avoided such potholes, but just about none of them could have made something so expansive, beautiful, and emotionally involving. The trade-off is a no-brainer, and Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is too epic to resist.

Real Estate: Days
        From the most towering record of the year to One of its most subtly enjoyable, Real Estate never once aims for true grandeur, but their ability to craft a catchy pop song more than makes up for it. Like The Strokes without even the smallest drop of vinegar, Real Estate traffics in small, uncomplicated ditties built out of simple drum patterns and perfect guitar hooks. Just about every song on Days is a wild success, opener Easy coming off just as its name would imply; With a pronounced sense of effortlessness. Green Aisles and Kinder Blumen are even more chilled out, drifting along through the air as if hardly there at all. These songs serve as perfect counterparts to Days' more-caffinated entries, such as Out of Tune, Municipality, and lead-single/album highlight It's Real. It's a shame that this disc came out now, because the LP was clearly designed to fit the lazy days of Summer, laying around and having a beer with friends in the sunshine. Days is a small gem, filled with simple songs that go straight into your brain and never leave. It's ok though, because you won't want them to.

Surfer Blood: Tarot Classics EP
        A delicious little power-pop treat nestled in right the middle of the Fall, Surfer Blood's Four-song EP represents their first official release since 2010's totally-and-completely-awesome debut Astrocoast. Little here has changed, and thank god for that: Surfer Blood writes some of the best, 'college rock,' songs on the planet, bouncy, fun, and filled to the brim with ear-catching melodies. Opener I'm Not Ready sees lead singer John Paul Pitts' voice bobbing up and down on a simmering bass line, exploding into guitars and percussion crashes near the tune's end. The simple, repeated chorus chant of Miranda might be One of the most impossible-to-get-out-of-your-head moments in the band's discography so far, and, trust me, that's saying something. Voyager Reprise even slips in a bit of harmonica, perfectly utilized in the song's laid-back sway. Clocking in at just under 15 minutes, Tarot Classics is an undeniably modest entry into the musical landscape, but it's more than worth seeking out.

Youth Lagoon: The Year of Hibernation
         You've heard Youth Lagoon before, more or less. The solo-project of 22-year-old Boise, Idaho, musician Trevor Powers will prove familiar to anyone with a background in, 'Chill-Wave,' or indie rock produced at in-home studios. As those comparisons would suggest, The Year of Hibernation is a disc full of nostalgia, echoing, washed-out vocals, and escalating song structures. Lead-off Posters opens small and swirling, prompting One to wonder if the volume is too low before blooming into life at the Two-minute mark. What Powers lacks in individuality, he makes up for in some of the most heartening, gorgeous songs of the whole year. Posters is a perfect indicator of what is to come, nearly each and every tune starting off small before evolving into something gargantuan in size, the final moments of Cannons and Montana absolutely bringing down the house. If you've simply had your fill of this kind of music, I don't think Youth Lagoon will win you over, but if you're interested in One of the most melodiously gifted talents working in bedroom-pop today, The Year of Hibernation ought not be missed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Take Shelter (Limited Release Date: 9-30-2011)

        No matter how bad your life is going, I'm willing to bet that you have it better than Curtis (Michael Shannon). Sure, on the surface, the middle-aged mid-westerner has it pretty good: A stable job working alongside a good friend (Shea Whigham), a beautiful and supportive wife (Jessica Chastain), and an adorable young daughter (Tova Stewart) to boot. But underneath all of this is where things are going awry. He's started having apocalyptic nightmares, so intense that he wakes up screaming or worse. They begin to effect the way that Curtis sees the world around him, prompting him to build an expansive tornado shelter in his family's backyard for fear that his visions are prophetic, and that the storm of all storms is a-comin'.

        If Take Shelter sounds like One of those movies that tries to turn the screws on its audience, then congratulations, you've guessed right! As written and directed by Jeff Nichols, TS is a movie that makes its name on dread and decent into madness. The visions that Curtis has are almost always distinct from the operations of the real world, but that doesn't make them any less terrifying. Even Curtis knows that it might be all in his head, as he visits his paranoid-schitzophrenic mother in her care facility in the middle of the movie, seeking answers about the illness, but too ashamed to ask. In short, Take Shelter is a check-up on the modern American zeitgeist, One wherein men who you will never meet take all of your money, and climate changes that you didn't cause threaten to harm you daily. It's a startling depiction of our current state of unrest, making vivid observations while never getting so caught up in its message as to forget to tell a story.

        In a lot of ways, Take Shelter is a pretty damn impressive movie, but there are a few things about it that just won't stop bugging me. The central conceit (is he crazy, or a prophet?) works in contradiction of itself: If he is just going insane, and was somewhat predisposed to insanity, then how seriously can we take him as a barometer of the current American sentiment? If he's right the whole time, isn't that kind of trivializing mental illness to a degree, posing as if really interested in the topic, only to use it as a red herring? I also think the movie could have stood a bit more visual intrigue, as cinematographer Adam Stone shoots almost everything with a still, unfiltered camera. Had the film been colored in the tones of, say, Adam Kimmel's subtly surreal south-west in the film Capote, we might have had a movie as appealing to the eyes as it is to the mind. And while the men behind the camera do, to my mind, come up just a hair short, no such thing could be said of the performers here.

        Everyone on board is top-notch, Chastain given the role of the ever-suffering wife that could have just been filler were in not for her capturing presence. Then there's Shannon, toning down his normative amounts of crazy in order to deliver One of the best performances of the year. Suffering and confusion are immovably etched on to the man's face, his triumphant feats of acting causing the audience to both sympathize and follow Curtis down the rabbit hole at the same time. And best of all, when the script calls for him to go nuts... well, let's just say he's alright at that. Take Shelter is a fascinating movie, a film of lofty, lofty goals that it may or may not attain, depending on your view. I think it gets close, and if the contemplative and thought-provoking aspects of the movie don't quite put it over the top, then Shannon's performance sure as hell will.

Grade: B+

Monday, October 24, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3 (Release Date: 10-21-2011)

        It's already become hard to remember that the Paranormal Activity series used to be a small thing. Like the first Saw film, the original Paranormal Activity was a festival movie first and foremost, and one that director Oren Peli surely couldn't have dreamed would blow up the way that it has. He shot his film in about a week's time, in his own home, and on a bankroll of $11,000. A few years later, the third film in the series is enjoying the biggest Fall opening weekend of all time (September and October considered). A simple, simple thing has become massive.

        That simple, simple thing, as you may well know, is the use of cheap cameras and amateur actors, set against a backdrop of perfectly relatable suburban life, to foster a feeling of immediacy and realism. Just like Paranormal Activity 2, the Third chapter is a prequel, this time taking the action back to 1988, as we witness the early years of Katie and Kristi, a pair of sisters who's fate is known by all who have seen the previous installments. The Two of them have an invisible friend who goes by the moniker Tobey, their gaurdians strongly disagreeing on how to handle the situation. Their mother, Julie (Lauren Bittner), avoids it completely, refusing to listen to any story that so much as involves his name. Her serious boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), however, starts to see signs as well, setting up cameras around the house (as is, apparently, everyone's first impulse when being haunted), and capturing One devious finding after another.

        As previously stated, the first film was a very simple movie, outstanding in its ability to pin the audience to One specific location (The couple's bedroom), and create dread and implications from just the sight its dimly-lit existence. The second expanded on this idea, changing up the formula not-at-all, but adding more rooms to revisit over and over again, the meaning of each space created in the mind of the terror-stricken viewer. Stated plainly, part Three does not have the powerful still visuals of the first Two films, and it attempts to compensate for this by having around twice as many scares as either of its ancestors. This works at first, but where the other films still had socking new places to go at their conclusions, this One simply doesn't withhold enough to make a towering climax possible. Each new scene has a new scare, and by about half-way through the movie, it's impossible not to start guessing if, 'the door is going to close,' or, 'that thing is going to fall,' and if you're having that active of a thought process, you probably aren't gripping your armrests with suspense. I'm a sucker for the Paranormal Activity series; The fear that they create resonates with me at a gut level. Sadly, even I am starting to feel some fatigue.

Grade: C+

Friday, October 21, 2011

Coldplay: Mylo Xyloto (Release Date: 10-25-2011)

        More so than just about any other rock band working today, Coldplay is a known product. Each release by Chris Martin and company comes with hyper-specific expectations, including a variety of orchestral instrumentation, a sad-sack set of lyrics or Two (or Eight), and a bare minimum of Two singles that will never leave your brain (or the radio airwaves) ever... like, ever. It is perhaps this reluctance to throw curveballs that has gotten the band as far as they are, their millions of fans hungrily anticipating each new disc, and the comfortable familiarity that it will surely bring. Of course, these expectations are also a curse on the band, causing sonic change-ups to sound too jarring, and balladry, wether simple or grand-standing, to seem like a par for the course.

        The band's approach to combating this image was apparent the moment that the disc's first single, Every Tear is a Waterfall, dropped: They aren't changing squat. If the song title alone wasn't Coldplay enough for you, consider the track's musical escalation, Martin's signature wailing (especially near the end), and the guitars, toned specifically to upset as few ears as possible. It's a solid song, but remember who we're talking about here. This band has never had a problem hitting solid, each of their Five efforts proving a good listen from start to finish, but the wow-factor is often a no-show. As a matter of fact, Mylo Xyloto often functions best when it avoids grandeur altogether, such as on proper-opener Hurts Like Heaven, a feather-light pop number with plinking electronics and exuberant chorus chants. More than anything, the song is fast and lively, Two words that don't often fit in with the band's aesthetic, and that's just what helps them here.

       But when you hear Hurts Like Heaven start off the disc on a bouncy, fun note, just promise me you won't get your hopes up. The back half of the tune dissolves into slower, sadder notes, draped in Martin's ever-present falsetto, dampening the mood before launching into second single Paradise. Here is what needs to be said about Paradise: The opening line reads, "When she was just a girl/She expected the world/But it flew away from her reach/So she ran away in her sleep/And dreamed of paradise." If reading that didn't cause you to either roll your eyes or throw up, then perhaps Mylo Xyloto is just the disc for you, but I for One have heard lyrics of a similar simplicity at a 6th-grade talent show, not to mention their too-emo-for-life meaning. The bitching and moaning is bad enough; The fact that the band somehow doesn't seem to realize how trite and predictable it is makes it even worse. Funny thing is, I kind of liked Paradise at first (the radio has already over-played it, so my current opinion isn't really the song's fault), and the same could be said about almost every track here.

        I honestly can't think of any band who was bigger at any point in the 2000's than A Rush of Blood to the Head-era Coldplay, and that was only their second disc. It's the kind of success that tends to glue you to a spot, or, in this case, a sound, and Coldplay is living out that problem as we speak. Not too many popular, renowned musical acts are all out of surprises by album number 5, but that's just where the band has found themselves, playing the same 6 chords on different instruments, throwing in the voices of random pop stars (Rhianna makes what is either an inspired or confusing cameo on Princess of China, I'll let you decide), trying to recapture the magic.

        Mylo Xyloto is good at first listen, but its blatant identity as, 'Another Coldplay Album,' becomes more and more grating with each spin. I started this week cranking the thing up in my headphones; By now, hearing Every Tear is a Waterfall has become an actively frustrating experience. The good tunes (Heaven, Charlie Brown, the second half of Up With the Birds) are, in time, dragged down by the off-putting lesser tracks (Us Against the World, Up in Flames, Don't Let it Break Your Heart), adding up to a pretty unappealing whole. It has now become nearly impossible to hear the band's music without their legacy in mind, and were I to have no previous experience with the Four-Piece, I can imagine enjoying the disc quite a bit more. But it's not their debut, and worse yet, there are no Spark's or The Scientist's hiding on this LP, the lack of any single great song(s) depriving the album of a true center. It's alright, better than most of the things it will be playing in between on the radio, but is, 'alright,' really what we want from, 'America's Biggest Rock Band?'

Grade For the First Four Listens: B-
Grade For Listen Number Five: C+
Grade For Listen Number Six: C
Grade For Listen Number Seven: C-
(You get the drill)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Justice: Audio, Video, Disco (Release Date: 10-25-2011)

        Like most everything fame-related in the world of music, writing a cross-over hit can be a blessing and a curse. Just ask Peter Bjorn and John, or MGMT, or MIA. It puts your name up in lights, sure, but it also serves to define you as an artist, given that almost everyone who has heard that popular song of yours has only heard that popular song of yours. Whatever you do from here on out will be viewed in light of that single Four-minute clip of audio, which, of course, can make an artist feel like their hands are tied creatively. It's a dilemma that the likes of Florence and the Machine, Foster the People, and The Black Keys will soon face, and One that French electronica duo Justice will finally face this Tuesday, when a slew of music fans will grab their new disc, Audio, Video, Disco, searching eagerly for the next DANCE.

        If there was One thing that we learned from the Spring-time release of the album's first single Civilization, it was that Justice had no intention of ceasing to be Justice. Loud and aggressive while somehow maintaining brightness, the song carves out large spaces for slow-motion, auto-tune-dreched verses, but their lethargy give the pounding, multi-colored chorus its real power. And though the song's chorus is hugely familiar to anyone who heard the band's 2007 debut, it's the vocals, drums and guitar of the verses that foretell the more interesting, more damning desire of Audio, Video, Disco; It kind of wants to be a rock album, and Justice just isn't really a rock band.

        This new-found focus on penning lyrics tied to traditional song structures is not without its successes: On'n'On leads with a sparser, more appealing version of Civilization before popping into a jubilant bounce. But Newlands, on the other hand, simply sounds too far out of reach, asking listeners to lend an ear to mediocre rock when they asked for great dance music. But even when the band looks back to their roots, the results are mixed. You can almost hear Horesepower, Canon, and Helix all blow a fuse under the weight of their desire to be badass dance-rock songs, all accomplishing their goal to varied degrees, but the intentionality of the thing drains some of the life out of the songs. The only track on Audio, Video, Disco that truly works from front to back is Ohio, another number that relies on mechanized vocals, this time layering them to warped and ear-catching effect, all before unleashing into One of the smoothest dance tunes of the whole year. The song is nearly impossible to sit still through, its night-life vibe and lack of desire to blow out speakers defining it against an album that often slips into the background. I have to imagine that Audio, Video, Disco plays a whole lot better when listened to as intended: At a club, or party, or anywhere the volume could be cranked up to absurd volumes. As music to listen to on one's own, it's a mixed bag.

Grade: B-

Monday, October 17, 2011

Footloose (Release Date: 10-17-2011)

        Another year, another remake of an 80's song and dance movie. Along with the fright flicks from the same generation, these toe-tappers are proud (or shamed, depending on your view) members of the, 'most likely to be remade,' genre, re-dos of Fame and Hairspray both happening within the last several years. Most people who have seen the Fame do-over will tell you that there's no call for making these things. Anyone who has seen Hairspray would beg to differ. That's why we watch the movies; because sometimes, even the Ones you doubt turn out to be winners. I entered my showing of Footloose with just such a hope.

        Relative unknown Kenny Wormald steps in for Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormick, a rough-and-tumble youngster who has just been shipped from big-city Boston to a crumby old southern town named Bomont. Three years before his arrival, the people of Bomont experienced a tragedy: Driving home drunk from a party, Five teenagers got in a car accident and lost their lives, prompting the town to pass a law against every fun and youthful thing that you can think of, most especially that damned dancing! Well, Ren doesn't want anything to do with this, and after a couple of run-ins with the law for such devious activities as playing his music too loud, the rebellious youngster decides to start a petition to have the law against under-aged dancing over-turned, winning the scorn of a local preacher (Dennis Quaid) and the affections his in-heat daughter (Julianne Hough) in the process.

        The Footloose remake isn't exactly what I would describe as a, 'dirty,' movie, but it is without a doubt much more grimy and interesting than I would have expected. Dirt and sweat are littered all over the screen, Amy Vincent's work behind the camera lending the film a tone that is at once real and boisterous, as full of life as it is of grim. Its a vision of the South, scuzzy and vivacious, pulsating with both inter-racial bonding and segregation, that director Craig Brewer has brought to both of his most recent films, Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan, and he fits it into the flick's PG-13 canvas with surprising ease. The acting is fine, chemistry between thespians and Brewer's keen sense of interplay creating the movie's most believable moments, Wormald proving just good enough to hold the movie together, though I wouldn't expect too many more starring roles to be coming his way.

        The dance scenes also prove exciting and mirthful, though noticeably too infrequent, as Wormald spends only a small fraction of his screen time doing what he was clearly brought in to do (Boy can dance). Truth be told, with its insufficient stock of body-moving footage, and premise that is simply too out-dated to be taken seriously, it's a marvel that I liked Footloose as much as I did, but I kind of dug it a lot. Chalk it up to Brewer's gift for ambience and his keen ability for composing and filming basic human interactions. Footloose didn't exactly open my eyes to any new truths about the universe, and it's a far cry from the remake-revelation that was Hairspray, but it's a pretty damn fun Friday night at the flicks, and that counts for a lot in my book.

Grade: B+

Friday, October 14, 2011

15 GREAT Actors Who Can't Act AT ALL

Searching around the internet, a fair amount of different definitions for, 'acting,' can be found. One reads, "Temporarily assuming the duties or authority of another." Another calls it, "The art or practice of representing a character on a stage or before cameras." But who needs a definition; You know what acting is, right? It's the ability to morph one's self into a different person or character, the chemeleonic abilities and range of a particular thespian used as a tool to evaluate talent. If we can all agree on that, then allow me to offer a claim on which we just might differ on: Almost no One in Hollywood is a real actor, even the really, really good actors.
        For the last several years, I've had to hear One person after another bemoan the minimal acting ranges of comic actors like Michael Cera or Seth Rogen. Even I can't help but observe it upon occasion. What's absurd about this argument, however, is that it ignores the fact that almost every well-known and highly-regarded actor really only does one thing, from Cera's mumbling self-doubter, all the way down to Cary Grant's too-suave-to-be-real besuited gentleman. This article is titled the way it is for a reason: These are screen idols who offer something irreplaceable and specific to their films, which certifies them as great actors, and I have done my best to limit this list to top tier performers only. However, they also hardly ever change up their schtick in any way, which would tend to imply that they can't really act a lick. Here's your list, ordered from most versatile to least:

P.S. Congratulations to Sean Penn, who was so vivacious and great in Milk that, when paired with good old Jeff Spicoli, I feel alright giving him a pass on his near-permanent, 'I Hate the World,' vibe.

15. Paul Giamatti
The Part He Aways Plays: Short-Fused, Ever-Suffering Shouter Who's On the Verge a Breakdown
Examples: American Splendor, Sideways, Shoot 'em Up, Barney's Version, Win Win
        As a supporting player, Giamatti can see a few different uses, but thus far into his career, the lovably surly schlub has really only been used One way. It's not easy being versital when your expression eternally suggests that you just smelled something foul, so we should probably expect some more crotchety Giamatti in the future.
14. Carey Mulligan
The Part She Always Plays: Doe-Eyed Innocent Entering into a Cold, Cruel World
Examples: An Education, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Never Let Me Go, Drive
        Carey only gets to be this low on the list because she's hardly been in anything yet, but her angel-crashing-down act remains all that we've really seen of her. It's good stuff, but that's a pretty exact box to fit into.
13. Don Cheadle
The Part He Always Plays: Straight-Man Side Kick With a Caring, Gentle Inner-Sould
Examples: Traffic, Reign Over Me, Ocean's Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen, Iron Man 2, The Guard
        Need a guy to pal around with the funny/eccentric/charming lead character of your movie? Don Cheadle is here for you, offering just enough charisma to win over the audience, but not enough to distract from that juicy lead role at the center of your flick.
12. Nicole Kidman
The Part She Always Plays: Chilly Personality Who's Noticeably Distanced From the World Around Her
Examples: Moulin Rogue, The Others, The Hours, Cold Mountain, Margot at the Wedding, Rabbit Hole
        Aloofness simply wafts off of Kidman, a fact that was used to great effect in last year's Rabbit Hole, but seriously, why so far away, Nicole? I don't care how famous she is, the woman seems like she'd be a bummer to hang out with.
11. Michelle Williams
The Part She Always Plays: Stoic and Strong-Willed Woman In the Midst of Having Her Life Torn Apart
Examples: Brokeback Mountain, Wendy and Lucy, Synecdoche, New York, Blue Valentine, Meek's Cutoff
        Williams has been climbing up the ranks of, 'serious actresses,' for a few years now, and there's good reason: The woman can embody a sense of feminine strength better than anyone else working today. She's so good at it, in fact, that no one asks her to do anything else, besides suffer, that is.
10. Leonardo DiCaprio
The Part He Always Plays: Haggard Straight-Shooter Who's Haunted By Innumerable Demons
Examples: The Departed, Blood Diamond, Body of Lies, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island, Inception, J. Edgar (I know it's not out yet, but have you seen that trailer?)
        Leo gets off kind of easy because he showed some real range in his olden days, from his youthful, dashing playboys in Titanic and Catch Me If You Can, to his oscar-nominated work as a mentally handicapped teen in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? But I have One question for you, dear reader: When is the last time that you saw DiCaprio smile in a movie? I for One don't know the answer.
9. Colin Firth
The Part He Always Plays: Timid, Sad, Beautiful Soul Who You Root For Like Hell, But Would Probably Bore You In Real Life
Examples: Bridget Jones's Diary, Love Actually, Mamma Mia!, A Single Man, The King's Speech
        To be fair, I have never seen the role that seems to endear most people to the Brit, that being the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice, but, 'lovably meek,' could accurately describe every role that I've ever seen him in. Sure, his King's Speech performance was pretty moving, but sub out the stutter, and what separates it from the rest of Firth's catalog?
8. Kevin Spacey
The Part He Always Plays: Smarmy Smart-Ass Who Just Might Be the Smartest Guy in the Room
Examples: Swimming With Sharks, The Usual Suspects, L.A. Confidential, American Beauty, The Big Kahuna, K. Pax (JK), Fred Clause, 21, Casino Jack, Horrible Bosses
        Kevin Spacey is probably my very most favorite actor working today, and even I can't deny that the dude is a total one-trick pony. The guy colors inside the lines something fierce; I just happen to be tickled by what he draws. Seriously though, that's a long list of movies to play rough variations of the same shady, sarcastic bastard.
7. Bill Murray
The Part He Always Plays, 1979-1993: Charming Lay-About Who Takes Next to Nothing Seriously
Examples: Meatballs, Stripes, Tootsie, Ghostbusters, Scrooged, Groundhog Day
The Part He Always Plays, 1993-Present: Hopelessly Depressed and Nearly Impossible to Faze
Examples: Ed Wood, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Lost in Translation, The Life Aquatic, Broken Flowers, Get Low
        Somewhere along the line, Murray stopped being a haphazard hellion and morphed into the silently solum character that he occupies today (me thinks it had something to do with Wes Anderson), but during both phases, he was mostly only doing that One thing. Having Two different basic characters does perhaps make him more versatile than some actors on this list, but its not like he alternates between the Two. Downer Bill is here to stay.
6. Al Pacino
The Part He Always Plays: Furiously Intense Tough Guy with an Obvious Napoleon Complex
Examples: The Godfather Part's I and II, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Scarface, Heat, The Insider, Insomnia, Righteous Kill 
        This might be my first step onto truly hallowed ground, but this article was always going to upset some people, so I'd might as well get going. Nobody in their right mind would argue that Pacino is the actor today that he once was, and they have plenty of comparable evidence: The dude has been playing the same stressed-out hard-ass for the last few decades, and it's readily evident that his fire started to wain quite a while ago.
5. Russell Crowe
The Part He Always Plays: Heroic Workman Champion With Some Real Aggression Simmering Just Below the Surface
Examples: L.A. Confidential, The Insider, Gladiator, Master and Commander, Cinderella Man, 3:10 to Yuma, American Gangster, Body of Lies, State of Play, Robin Hood, The Next Three Days
        Do I really need to explain this One? Few people in Hollywood yearn so deeply to be taken seriously, and Crowe accomplishes his goal by being... well, unfailingly serious. Could you ever, and I mean ever picture that dogged face in a comedy? Because I sure as hell couldn't.
4. Morgan Freeman
The Part He Always Plays: A Wise, Experienced Vet With a Palpable Air of Grace and Authority
Examples: Glory, The Power of One, Unforgiven, The Shawshank Redemption, Se7en, Amistad, Bruce Almighty, Million Dollar Baby, Batman Begins, An Unfinished Life, Lucky Number Slevin, Evan Almighty, Gone Baby Gone, The Bucket List, Wanted, The Dark Knight, Invictus, Red, and as the narrator of everything.
        The day that Freeman was cast as God in Bruce Almighty must have been One of the biggest face-palm moments in the history of the movie industry. Even Freeman's occasional bad guys move and talk and act and exude grace in the exact same way as his lovable types. Without a doubt the perfect actor to play the lord on high... but not really too much else.
3. Denzel Washington
The Part He Always Plays: Pacino's Surface-Level Fury, Paired with Freeman's Grace and Innate Sense of Leadership
Examples: Glory, Malcolm X, The Bone Collector, The Hurricane, Remember the Titans, Training Day, John Q, Antwone Fisher, Out of Time, Man on Fire, The Manchurian Candidate, Inside Man, Deja Vu, American Gangster, The Great Debaters, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Book of Eli, Unstoppable
        Thought of as a critical and commercial titan of the industry just a few short years ago, Washington has now taken to slumming it up in feather-brained action movies, and even has a pretty hilarious SNL skit dedicated to his complete and total lack of range. The guy can turn up the intensity with the absolute best of them, but he's done it a few too many times in a row to be taken as seriously as he once was.
2. Robert DeNiro
The Part He Always Plays: Serious-Minded Individual With a Steely, Intense Exterior Who Might, Quite Possibly, Be Totally Bat-Shit Crazy On the Inside.
Examples: The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, Once Upon a Time in America, The Untouchables, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Casino, Heat, Sleepers, Jackie Brown, Ronan, Men of Honor, the Meet the Parents movies, Hide and Seek, The Good Shepard, Righteous Kill, Stone, Limitless, Killer Elite
        I know, I know, settle down. DeNiro is, without question, One of the greatest screen actors in history who also happens to be a personal favorite of mine, his Raging Bull work serving as my fall-back answer to the question, 'What's the greatest performance you've ever seen?' In a sense, his being on this list is almost a compliment: The name DeNiro is synonymous with not only a certain type of ambience, but also a type of movie, performance, character, and even body language. The man's younger mad-man years are iconic to the point that modern-day DeNiro almost seems like he's trying to act especially like himself. He doesn't have to try too hard.
1. Jack Nicholson
The Part He Always Plays: Jack Nicholson
Examples: Every Movie with Jack Nicholson
        Bold statement time: Jack Nicholson is the most distinctive actor in the history of American Cinema. When you sign him up to be in your movie, you're buying a very, very, very particular flavor, One that has led him to Three Oscars, and a variety of other accomplishments. Oh, and you also get Jack Nicholson, a human too unique to ever be even somewhat lost in a character. He's played good, bad, happy, sad, and everything in between, but regardless of the movie, when you look up on screen, you see Jack.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Ides of March (Release Date: 10-7-2011)

        Spoiler Alert: The Ides of March is a good movie, but you knew that already, right? With a stacked cast featuring the likes of George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffery Wright, and Evan Rachel Wood, headlined by Ryan Gosling, who is Hansel-level, 'hot right now,' there was next to no way that this thing wouldn't work out. Throw in the movie's political focus, right in time for the much-contested Republican primary, and you've got a hot-button flick with enormous, starry names to catch your attention. The fact that The Ides of March is a good flick is more or less not up for debate; Wether it makes good on its gargantuan promise is a trickier question to answer.

        David Morris (Clooney) is running for President, and he's got charisma, stage-presence, and game plans to burn. His bid for office has engendered some staunch supporters, none more ardent than Stephen Myers (Gosling), a hot-shot campaign manager who readily admits to having never seen anything like Morris. Paul Zara (Hoffman), Myers' immediate superior, warns him against getting so rosy, as does unscrupulous Times reporter Ida Horowicz (Tomei). While on the campaign trail, Stephen strikes up a casual relationship with an intern named Molly Stearns (Wood), a happening that, when paired with an early-film meeting between Myers and rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Giamatti), grow to define both the man and the movie, twisting and unfolding in unforeseeable ways.

        Clooney, now in his fourth outing as a feature-film director (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night and Good Luck, and Leatherheads), films the proceedings with colors and tones that all harken back to the political thrillers of the 70's. He's also no slouch where actors are concerned either, never allowing any of his players to ham it up enough to take over the thing, but capturing small moments in conversation that prove revelatory as the film progresses. The Ides of March is handsomely made, winningly acted (by Gosling, especially), and unpredictable to the very end. So why is it that the movie is almost impossible to get excited about? It's an experience that I've read critics recite time and time again, and now, it's my turn to hop on the, 'good, not great,' bandwagon. Sure, it checks all of the boxes, but that elusive X-Factor seems jarringly missing. In a sense, Ides is the victim of its own world view: The film sees politics as a hopelessly corrupt enterprise, unsalvageable in any respect, and that deep-running cynicism eventually applies to the way the flick looks as a whole. Coming from a cast who has Three Oscars and Eleven Nominations between them, it's hard not to expect the world, and not feel a bit jaded and spurned when the world is not delivered. What you should expect is, 'good, not great.'

Grade: B+

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fall 2011 Playlist

        Welcome back to my Seasonal Playlist feature, this time set to the falling leaves and cool breeze of Fall. Obviously, these selections are decidedly less sunny than the ones featured on my last playlist, so if you're not quite ready to settle into Fall's lull, these might not be the tunes for you (lots of acoustic guitars, balladry... you know the drill). As always, these songs are not selected from any particular era or genre; They're just a few tracks that remind me of the season. Play in order for best results:

***Each title is a clickable link to its respective song on Youtube***

1. The Wild Hunt---The Tallest Man on Earth
        The most emotional song on an album chuck full of them, The Wild Hunt is perhaps a meek tune to lead a playlist with, but when this much nostalgia and romance can loft off of a single man and a guitar, you'd might as well go first.
2. Revolving Doors---Gorillaz
        From last Christmas' free LP The Fall, Revolving Doors is a swirling, enveloping number that uses synths and acoustic guitars together like they were made for each other, calling to mind the wilting trees of autumn.
3. Hearts of Iron---Handsome Furs***
        Before they became the electro-poppers that they are today, Handsome Furs released Plague Park, an album full of down-tempo, slow-burning guitar jam. Hearts of Iron is my personal favorite, sounding both classic and immediate by virtue of Dan Boeckner's wierdo croon, and an impossibly hearty axe-part.
4. Remember the Mountain Bed---Billy Bragg and Wilco
        An ode to love found in nature and the passing of seasons, Mountain Bed slowly unfolds over Six and a half minutes into an intimate epic, as earnest and true as it is expansive and grand-standing.
5. Be Still---Big Boi featuring Janelle Monáe
        A highlight from Big Boi's incredible 2010 solo debut, Be Still calls a piano it's main instrument, the MC's slippery flow taking an early lead before handing the rest of the tune to Monáe's sweet, smooth sway.
6. Too Far Too Late---CANT
        Grizzly Bear multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor made his solo debut this year as CANT, and Too Far Too Late is his best track to date. Layering his voice over a feverish, bizarro beat, Too Late is dizzy-making in the best of ways.
7. Curs in the Weeds---Horse Feathers***
        Lush allusions to forgotten pastures, and strings that drip with gorgeous misery, Curs in the Weeds is the best kind of downer, shimmering and beautiful to heartbreaking degrees
8. I'm Going Down (itunes Session Bruce Springsteen Cover)---Vampire Weekend
         An uncluttered cover that wrings a personal joy and meaning to someone else's work, I'm Going Down is blissful little ditty that ought to be heard by more people than its, 'itunes session,' designation will likely ever allow it, so it's up to you to spread the word.
9. Baby's Arms---Kurt Vile***
        From this year's Smoke Ring For My Halo, an album of similarly scaled offerings, Baby's Arms layers subdued, emotive guitar parts underneath Vile's placid yearning, putting you under its slowed-down spell.
10. Lalibela---Caribou
        Like a wiser, more contemplative relative of Ratatat, the shortest track on Caribou's mesmerizing 2010 offering Swim, Lalibela is a comely little instrumental offering that works as a perfect segway into the second half of the playlist.
11. I'm Losing Myself---Robin Pecknold featuring Ed Droste
        Probably the year's best song that no one has heard, Pecknold released this beauteous lament for free earlier this year via his personal website. Filled with stunning, moving lyricism and the match-made-in-heaven pairing of Pecknold and Droste's voices, I'm Losing Myself is One blue tune, but its the most deeply and purely blue to come along for quite some time.
12. Home---Glasser***
        Filled up all the way with swirling, hypnotic loops and stray hand-claps, Home is a song that manages to be both austere and inviting at the same time, strange and familiar the way that coming back home is.
13. The Birds Part 1---The Weeknd
        Anyone who has heard either of The Weeknd's mix-tapes can attest to just how awe-inspiring Abel Tesfaye's voice is, but no song puts it on display quite like this one, his desperate pleas set onto of furiously militant drums.
14. When U Love Somebody---Fruit Bats
        Hokey and, 'ah, shucks,' in just the right way, When U Love Somebody is a love song that doesn't need to over-think things to be both genuine and relatable, not to mention catchy and toe-tapping.
15. Cruel---St. Vincent***
        The stand-out track from St. Vincent's recent LP Strange Mercy, Cruel is an odd slice of peppy pop that boasts of Annie Clark's pitch-perfect delivery, and a guitar part that won't be leaving your head any time soon.
16. Mr. November---The National
        Really, the entirety of The National's Alligator sounds like Fall to me, but this one just happens to have it right in the name. Oh, yeah, and its a hell of a song, cathartic, grand, and full of ferocious percussion, breathing fire all the way.
17. Boat Behind---Kings of Convenience
        A band who's eternal calm is perfectly befitting of the season, Boat Behind show the Kings at their string-filled best, their sound something like lovely male counterpart to Feist.
18. Come to the City---The War on Drugs***
        A good old fashion rock song, escalating in intensity and sound as the tune progresses, pounding percussion taking turns at center stage with a grinding guitar.
19. Parents---Gold Panda
        Something of a curveball for the dub step artist, Parents is nothing more than simple guitar strumming with a sample or Two in the background, but its ability to bring you back to older, simpler times is fully-realized.
20. What Would I Want? Sky---Animal Collective
        Probably One of the best songs ever released by an impossibly prolific band, the centerpiece to 2009's Fall Be Kind evolves from the indecipherable chants of its first half to bloom into a glimmering sing-a-long, set to one of the most rare and head-spinning time signatures I've ever heard in a pop song.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Oscar Predictions 2011: Round One

        If there's One single thing that I care way too much about, it's the Oscars. Deep down, I of course know that they are arbitrary, over-gloried, and semi-pointless, and yet I wait like a kid for Christmas morning, just to find out who's name gets called. In truth, I do find something valid about joining a list of winners that has existed almost as long as the art form itself, but more than anything, I just like predicting things, and then arguing about them later, Two things that Oscar never fails to prompt. So here I am, way out in October, posting my absurdly early rankings in Five major categories, seeing if this year, I can be the guy who calls some of them from way out. If you don't give a rip about the Oscars, just think of it as a Fall Movies Preview. I myself will look forward to my faulty Christmas morning.

***All categories are ranked according the how I PREDICT things will turn out, not what I would wish.***

***Links to the imdb pages of each of he individual titles, where you can read cast lists and synopses. This is already a lengthy article; Explaining every movie would be pretty rough***

Best Picture:
1. War Horse---At this point, picking a leader in the best picture race is just about impossible. Given that information, Steven Spielberg plus War Drama plus Christmas Day release seems like a pretty safe bet, and that’s why it’s here.
2. The Descendants---Probably the film getting the most buzz of any coming into the season, Alexander Payne’s newest was the talk of both the Venice and Telluride film festivals, and has one of the Academy’s very favorite leading men headlining. I would have it in first if I didn’t think it was peaking early, a la Clooney’s last Best Picture starer, Up in the Air.
3. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close---The academy loves Director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliott, The Hours), so much so that a few years back they shafted Wall-e, The Dark Knight, Doubt, and The Wrestler just to fit in his controversial The Reader. Chip in writer Eric Roth (another one of oscar’s favorites with Forrest Gump, The Insider, and Benjamin Button), a pair of iconic actors (Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock), and 9/11 subject matter, and you’ve got a real contender.
4. The Artist---A silent film that the world remains largely oblivious to, The Artist has been the talk of the town in some circles for quite some time now, early reviews calling the film magical and hailing Jean Dujardin’s titular turn. It’s hard to think of a non-talkie as a real heavyweight, but if it’s as good as everyone says it is...
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo---Me thinks people are sleeping on this One pretty hard right now. Yeah, it’s a remake. Yeah, it’s subject matter seems potentially too grisly for the academy. Oh yeah, and it’s directed by David Fincher. Fresh off The Social Network, Benjamin Button, and Zodiac, he’s an awfully hard guy to bet against, so I just won’t.
6. Midnight in Paris---Sure, it’s totally light-hearted, and not a whole lot more than a comedy (Two things Oscar usually shies away from), but boy, do they love the Woodman. The movie is dripping with nostalgia, and may prove extremely appealing to the academy’s older voters.
7. The Tree of Life---There’s no point in hiding the fact that this might just be wishful thinking on my part, but hear me out. Unlike the last several years, wherein Oscar picked Ten best picture candidates, the 2011 ceremony will have anywhere between 5-10 nominees, the number decided by how many film’s receive at least 5% of the group’s number 1 overall votes. The Tree of Life might have some pretty ardanent detractors, and it doesn’t have a chance in hell of actually nabbing the top prize, but it also has some pretty starch advocates, and I think that the magical 5% seems wholly within its reach.
8. Young Adult---Another One that I have ranked higher than most, and for the exact same reason as Dragon Tattoo. Jason Reitman has only directed Three movies thus far, the first of which (Thank You For Smoking) was a critic darling, and the latter Two (Juno, Up in the Air) were both Best Picture nominees. Betting against him just sounds foolish to me.
As of now, I am predicting that these will be the Eight that get nominated (I don't have some crazy math problem that helped me determine the number, these just seem like the ones). The following is where I rank the next movies in line.
9. J. Edgar---I have this One lower than a lot of people. Eastwood’s magic with Oscar has cooled considerably of late (his last Four films have garnered a total of Two nominations in major categories, winning neither), and I personally have to say that I don’t think DiCaprio seems right for the role. That’s why I have it this low. I have it this high because, if it does go well, it will be a shoe-in for just about every award of the night.
10. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy---I was a lot, lot higher on this One a mere month ago, but the same festivals that made The Descendants a near lock have weakened this One a tad. Still, it’s a movie with an outstanding cast and serious subject matter, not to mention the fact that it’s directed by Let the Right One In’s Tomas Alfredson
11. The Help---Everyone and their pet cat wants to call this movie a lock, but I’m just not drinking the Kool-Aid. Part of this obviously comes down to my own feelings on the film, but I also think that it had an awfully early release date, not to mention some pretty mediocre reviews. You can compare it to The Blind Side all you want, but that movie was an exception, not a rule, and to assume that Oscar has a, ‘Blind Side,’ slot reserved for every year is a step too far in my opinion.
12. Moneyball---I know, I know, this is awfully low for a pretty solid Brad Pitt Vehicle, but again I ask, do you really think 5% of the Academy will put this talky baseball drama as their number One of the year?
13. The Ides of March---Early reviews say, ‘good, not great.’ I know it looks strong with its stacked cast and serious subject matter, but, ‘good,’ is just not going to cut it under the new rules.
14. The Iron Lady---The fact that we have no early word so far is unsettling, but the presence of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher is anything but.
15. Martha Marcy May Marlene---Festival darling will likely have a small release, but, just like The Artist, if it’s as good as people say it is, counting it out this early is just foolish
16. My Week with Marlyn---Much like J. Edgar, if things go well, all kinds of attention will be shown to this Michelle Williams starer. If things don’t, it’ll hardly see the light of day.
17. Coriolanus---Shakespeare adaptation directed by a much-liked actor (Ralph Fiennes), featuring the emerging favorite for Supporting Actress (Vanessa Redgrave). Might be a big spoiler.
18. Take Shelter---Another flick who’s early buzz has been sensational, Take Shelter also has buzzy performances from Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain to keep it on everyone’s minds not.
19. Like Crazy---Like Martha Marcy May Marlene, this was a real hit with festival crowds earlier this year. Can it get enough attention in a small release?
20. We Bought a Zoo---The trailer doesn’t really make it look like Oscar’s cup of tea, but with Cameron Crowe behind the camera, and Matt Damon in front of it... we’ll see.
21. The Adventures of Tintin---Spielberg toying with Motion Capture Technology. It’s a big, big question mark, which is exactly why you shouldn’t take it off your radar just yet.
22. Hugo---See Tintin
23. 50/50---Probably just wishful thinking, but 50/50 did get some of the year’s best reviews, and boasts of truly amazing work from star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Then again, it also co-stars Seth Rogen... not sure on the Academy’s thoughts about that One.
24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2---The best reviewed installment of a hugely successful (commercially and artistically) series. Before the Academy changed the rules this year, I would have half expected this to be in the ten, but I don’t see it racking up enough first place votes
25. Drive---A big critic favorite, I don’t really see this One as having much of a chance, but it certainly has its supporters, so who knows?

Best Actor:
1. Jean Dujardin (The Artist)---Supposedly incredible in the film, Dujardin’s unknown status could either help him or hurt him, but it’s too early to tell.
2. George Clooney (The Descendants)---If gorgeous George didn’t already have a statuette, I’d already have some money on him in Vegas somewhere. I just don’t see him beating out so many actors who might be seen as, ‘overdue.’
3. Brad Pitt (Moneyball)---Very popular, iconic, unrewarded actor in a well-regarded movie. My only reservation is that the role might not be showy enough.
4. Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar)---If the movie works, he’ll win it in a walk. I’m just sticking to my Clint-Eastwood-doubting guns.
5. Michael Shannon (Take Shelter)---Allegedly an amazing performance in a terrific movie, if Take Shelter gains some attention, don’t count Shannon out, even for the win.
6. Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)---A much-loved actor who has yet to win a golden man. Finally in a leading role (not to mention in a much-anticipated film), Oldman is a certified member of what looks to be something of a Six-Horse race...
7. Jeremy Irvine (War Horse)---...but if anybody can crack the line-up, it’s the unknown lead in the new Spielberg epic. No One has any clue what this guy has to offer the film just yet
8. Michael Fassbender (Shame)---A brilliant actor having a great year, but his film’s NC-17 rating will likely kill his chances.
9. Matt Damon (We Bought a Zoo)---Just as is the case with the film as a whole, it’s tough to judge this One from so far out, but his chances certainly aren’t dead yet.
10. Ryan Gosling (Drive or The Ides of March)---An actor having a huge year, I just don’t see either of his films drumming up enough excitement to get him in.

Best Actress:
1. Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)---A gender-bending role for a veteran actress who’s been putting in solid work for years and yet never been recognized? Sounds like the One to beat to me.
2. Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)---More so than any other thespian of our generation, the Academy hands Oscar nods to Streep just for showing up. Her playing a divicsive historical figure might just be the biggest lock of the night, even if the movie’s a total wreck.
3. Charlize Theron (Young Adult)---Besides simply crafting good movies, director Jason Reitmen excels at Two things: (1) Getting good performances out of his leads (2) Getting good performances out of his females. A quick look around the internet tells me that not too many agree with ranking her this high. We’ll see come February.
4. Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene)---All kinds of hype surrounds this performance from, ‘the other Olsen sister.’ The Best Actress category LOVES to include an unknown youngster, and if you’re thinking they won’t include One of Olsen, Mara, and Jones, I think you’ll be surprised.
5. Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)---Just like Leo, a great actor stepping into an iconic role that could prove Oscar gold, or total flame-out. Only time will tell.
6. Viola Davis (The Help)---A lot of folks have her as their number One at the moment. Yet again, we know how America liked The Help, but the academy is totally different. Also, winning a lead acting category is about dominating your respective film, and Davis isn’t even the movie’s protagonist. Still slotting high on my list, but I just can’t be there with everyone until I see some guild recognition.
7. Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)---Terrific in her brief screen time in The Social Network, Mara now graduates to a ballsy lead performance in a David Fincher movie. Need I say more?
8. Felicity Jones (Like Crazy)---As previously stated, Oscar loves his unknown youngsters in this category, and some folks have been singing Jones’ praises for quite some time now.
9. Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia)---Best actress winner at the Cannes Film Festival, Dunst is supposed to be stellar in the role, but Director Lars Von Trier’s aggressive style will likely prove overwhelming to voters.
10. Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin)---Like Dunst, a performance that is supposed to be completely stunning, set in a movie that is likely both too small and too unsettling for the academy’s older members.

Supporting Actor:
1. Christopher Plummer (Beginners)---The grand-daddy of, ‘overdue,’ actors in the specific categoy that loves to validate such thespians, 81-year-old Captain Von Trapp has the biggest lead of anyone in an acting category right now by virtue of career credentials, and lack of category competition.
2. Albert Brooks (Drive)---Here for the same reason as Plummer, though ironically in a villainous turn.
3. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Ides of March)---Not exactly sure how to rank old Phil, as I simply don’t see the Academy passing on yet another chance to give him a nod, but I’m also of the mind that he has next to no chance to win.
4. Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life)---The academy loves to make headlines, and a double-nomination for Brad Pitt seems a bit irresistible.
5. Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)---Pretty sick of saying it by now, but as with all things Marilyn, if it’s good, he’s a lock, and if it’s off, count him out completely.

Supporting Actress:
1. Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus)---It’s just the buzz right now, and having not seen several of these movies, I won’t go against that.
2. Berenice Bejo (The Artist)---A hailed performance from One of the year’s biggest contenders. Sounds like a lock.
3. Shailene Woodly (The Descendants)---The Descendants seems like a big enough contender to send Two acting nominees, and from here, it sounds like Woodly is most likely.
4. Octavia Spencer (The Help)---A memorable performance in a sentimental favorite seems like a good bet.
5. Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life, The Help, The Debt, Take Shelter, or Coriolanus)---When you act in about half the oscar-y movies of a given year, chances are you’ll turn up somewhere.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Netflix Instant Watch Picks for October 2011

Great Emerging Young Actors Edition
        This month's edition of Netflix Picks will be focused on the incredible crop of young actors and young directors who are exploding onto the scene of late, and why not start that list with the least likely of all (not to mention the most Halloween-friendly) flick/thespian on the list. Ryan Reynolds (Yeah, that Ryan Reynolds) gives a stunning performance as Paul Conroy, an everyman who, as the film opens, wakes up to find himself buried in a coffin underground with only a half-powered cell phone and a lighter to comfort him. The second feature from Director Rodrigo Cortés, Buried is made a stirring and unsettling vision by its commitment to not letting the audience off easy. The camera never once leaves the box, placing the entire weight of the film on Reynolds, his mesmerizingly real senses of panic, dread, frustration, and humanity all wholly realized. Screenwriter Chris Sparling even managed to snag a Best Original Screenplay award from the National Board of Review, though the movie flopped horribly in the American box office. One of my very favorite flicks from all of last year, if you love good film, or are curious about what it looks like when Reynolds tries, you owe it to yourself to give this One a shot. Just don't blame me when your palms start to sweat. This guy is stressful.

        The secret on Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been out for quite a while now, and Brick sits right at the forefront of his big coming out party. The directorial debut of Rian Johnson (who's fun follow-up The Brother Bloom certified him as a name to watch), Brick tells the story of Brendan, a teenager who's public school experience differs a bit from my own, and hopefully yours as well. His ex-girlfriend has just gone missing, and it's up to Brendan alone to delve into the seedy underbelly of his (cough) high school. The prospect of a revamped film noir taking place in the suburbs with culprits who still live under their parents' roofs admittedly sounds dicey, but Johnson makes the most of his unlikely trappings, stuffing the film with incident and mystery. Nearly every character uses excessive slang that seems to exist in the social universe of this movie alone, and it's Gordon-Levitt's command of this speech, as well as his magnetic, emotive screen presence, that glues the thing together. A scintillating yarn that keeps the viewer guessing from first frame to last, Brick is a great showcase for Gordon-Levitt's talent (which is currently being put to wondrous use in the terrific 50/50), not to mention being a hell of a flick in it's own right.

Half Nelson
        It's been a big year for Ryan Gosling, starting out with rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love. before moving on to a captivating turn in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, and now starring in the new George Clooney film The Ides of March, which opens on Friday. But those who have only thought of Gosling as, 'that guy from The Notebook,' up until now might be surprised to find that the heart-throb has actually given a series of jaw-dropping performances, including Half Nelson, for which he received a Best Actor nomination, the seventh-youngest actor to ever receive such an honor (and the youngest since John Travolta in 1977 for Saturday Night Fever, the rest of the list dating back to 1956 or earlier). He stars as Dan Duune, an inner-city middle school teacher and girl's basketball coach who manages to genuinely inspire and engage his students... in between trips to the bathroom to nurse his coke habit. Duune's secret is discovered by strong, stoic teen Drey (Shareeka Epps), and the Two form an unlikely bond. Beautifully composed by co-directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (who's last feature sadly left me reeeeeally cold), Half Nelson is an emotionally draining experience that asks tough questions without giving easy answers, a film highlighted by Gosling's stellar central turn. As always, the actor puts his signiture charisma to good use, but it's his clear sense of inner turmoil that keeps your eyes glued. Featuring a soundtrack almost entirely composed of Broken Social Scene's career-best album You Forgot it in People, Half Nelson is an emotional roller-coaster, and yet another example of just how much Gosling can offer a single film.

        Tom Hardy might be a slightly smaller name in a slightly smaller movie, but his titular Bronson performance is nothing if not massive. The film follows the life and times of Michael Gordon Peterson (Hardy), who, following an attempted theft, finds himself imprisoned at a young age. As it turns out, worse things could have happened: As he tells the camera in the movie's surreal opening moments, Peterson has always wanted to be a star, and his natural tendency towards violence makes the joint a perfect place to do this. Beating up prison guards becomes Peterson's calling card, swapping out his old name for his glamourous, 'fighting name,' a title that the movie shares. Bronson is directed by macho-ism wunderkind Nicolas Winding Refn, who's insane new flick Drive can still be seen in theaters, but for my money, this is his more satisfying vision. Bronson locates a strange place where animal magnetism and sordid celebrity rule the world, and Hardy knows just how to occupy such a universe. Taking turns as both a humorous charmer and a fearsome beast, Hardy dominates the role from front to back, One of the most compelling physical performances that you're likely to ever see. Hardy is only really known to American audiences as shape-shifter Eames in Inception, but by this time next year, he will have already starred as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, and on this evidence, he's going to be knocking that One out of the park. Beat the crowd, and see this movie now.

        It's saying something that Hunger proves the most disturbing film on a list that includes prison beatings, missing youths, crack addicted teachers, and being buried alive, but I suppose that's just the kind of film that we're dealing with here. Hunger tells the story of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, an event promoted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), a group that sought equal rights and political status, sometimes through violent means. Michael Fassbender, an actor first known in the states for his role in Inglourious Basterds who has since starred in the latest Jane Eyre adaptation, as well as this Summer's X-Men: First Class, shines as IRA volunteer Bobby Sands, a man with enough determination and ambition to starve himself to death should the cause necessitate it. His performance is tragic and grand, highlighted not only be scenes of skin-crawling physical deterioration, but also a 17-minute-long shot of him and another man simply talking at a table that radiates heat and philosophical quandaries. Director Steve McQueen (no, not that Steve McQueen), is able to locate tortured beauty amidst all the madness, his fully-formed style and unwavering determination making Hunger One of the most striking Directorial debuts to come along in quite some time. Later this year, McQueen and Fassbender will team up again for Shame, a film that has been lighting up the festival circuit for some months now. Don't wait until then to see what these Two are all about.