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My Oscar predictions

Last year, I got 21 out of 24 Oscar categories right, a number I was really happy with and which won me the betting pool I was in. You might not know this since, stupidly enough, I didn’t post my predictions here on the blog at the time. I’m not making the same mistake again, so here are my predictions for tonight’s event.

Best Picture
Gravity

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Best Actor
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Best Supporting Actor
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Best Original Screenplay
American Hustle

Best Adapted Screenplay
12 Years a Slave

Best Animated Feature
Frozen

Best Cinematography
Gravity

Best Costume Design
The Great Gatsby

Best Foreign Language Film
The Great Beauty

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Dallas Buyers Club

Best Documentary Feature
20 Feet from Stardom

Best Documentary Short
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life

Best Production Design
The Great Gatsby

Best Visual Effects
Gravity

Best Film Editing
Gravity

Best Sound Mixing
Gravity

Best Sound Editing
Gravity

Best Original Score
Gravity

Best Original Song
Let it Go – Frozen

Best Animated Short
Get a Horse!

Best Live Action Short
Just Before Losing Everything

 
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Posted by on 2 March, 2014 in Oscars

 

Monthly Report: January + February 2014

Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004)
A movie about the last days of Hitler’s life, as well as the people around him at the time, is a good idea, and this one is blessed by some strong performances, particularly from Bruno Ganz and Ulrich Matthes (playing Hitler and Goebbels respectively.) Unfortunately, this movie is still very much a drag to sit through, despite a couple of effective scenes towards the end. Not the best way to start the movie year of 2014.
2/5

Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus (Sebastián Silva, 2013)
It’s nice to see Michael Cera show off his range and break away from his old “awkward teen” schtick, even if it takes playing an insufferable jackass to do so. This turned out to be a peculiar film, featuring elements of road movies and drug trips, filtered through an indie sensibility. I may have dozed off a bit towards the end, but weirdly enough, I honestly believe that made the movie better. Not in a snarky “because I didn’t have to watch it” kind of way, but like it actually enhanced it somehow. I don’t know. I liked this film. It had some charm.
3/5

The-Hunt1

The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)
A harrowing story that isn’t afraid to ask hard questions. Mads Mikkelsen is excellent in the lead as a man accused of child molesting, but the rest of the cast provide ample support. Even better than Vinterberg’s great 90s effort The Celebration, and the first outstanding movie I’ve seen this year.
5/5

Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
With a peculiar premise like this – a guy falls in love with his computer operating system – it really is to the film’s credit how deftly it makes me buy it all. It’s an earnest film that touches on great thoughts and ideas, and it’s presented remarkably well; everything from the cinematography to the intriguing near-future production design to the acting is impressive. Something is nagging at me and keeping me from giving it the top score, though. I’m not sure what it is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it might disappear with time. I get the feeling this movie is going to stick with me for a while.
4/5

Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve, 2013)
Dark thriller that reminded me of both The Silence of the Lambs and Seven as I watched it. Strong performances, beautifully shot, and with a totally engrossing story.
4/5

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Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen, 2013)
The story is just kind of there, doing enough to keep the movie going but not being anything particularly noteworthy. This is a film where the acting is the highlight. Cate Blanchett puts in a wonderfully realized turn as a woman in breakdown mode. It’s a real powerhouse performance. Supporting players Sally Hawkins, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay and others are also memorable. Fun characters, but Woody Allen can do better than this.
3/5

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
Excellent performances that serve the heartfelt – if familiar – story perfectly well. There’s also quite a bit of cool soundwork going on here, and the final scene probably ranks among the year’s finest. 12 Years a Slave is not quite the kind of spellbinding film that McQueen’s previous movie Shame was, as here he settles for more conventional storytelling, but perhaps proving himself as a highly competent storyteller is the right way for him to go at this point.
4/5

Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski, 2013)
Plays kind of like a Pi by way of Christopher Guest, only neither interesting nor funny. This is a movie about nothing.
1/5

Total # of new films seen: 8
Average score: 3.3 / 5
Best film of the months: The Hunt
Worst film of the months: Computer Chess

 
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Posted by on 28 February, 2014 in Monthly Report

 

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The Films I Watched In 2013 Awards

It’s that time of the year again, folks! Time for me to take a look at the movies I watched this past year and determine which ones were the very best in a variety of silly categories. Other bloggers do Best of 2013 lists and accolades. Me, I’m as always way behind on my viewing of 2013’s movies, so I focus instead on what I actually saw this year, regardless of when it was released.

Not counting rewatches, I saw a total of 145 films during these past 12 months. A sharp drop-off from last year’s 209, but an expected one. Work and budding interests in other hobbies took some time away from the movies, something that has also contributed to a lower update rate on this here blog. To quote Vonnegut: So it goes.

But 145 movies are still quite a bit, and most of what I saw was good. It has been a fine movie year indeed. One well worth commemorating with these highly prestigeous awards of mine.

If you want to go back and see the awards for 2011 and 2012, the links are right here and here.

On that note: on with the show!

2011_jiro_dreams_of_sushi_003Most Explicit Food Porn Award
Winner: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

I’m not much of a fish eater, and I’ve never had sushi in my life. This movie could easily change that, because it makes the food looks absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious. And it’s all shot in intense tantalizing close-ups, too! Mmm…

Skärmavbild 2014-01-08 kl. 13.48.51Most Surprising Director Award
Winner: Compliance

A seriously creepy based-on-a-true-story thriller featuring dark manipulation and sexual abuse, directed by… Craig Zobel, co-creator of kid-friendly web series Homestar Runner?

CA.1205.top.shots.Alpha Award for Best Opening
Winner: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Runner-up: Les Misérables

Certain opening shots in movies just have a way of hooking you right from the start. They make you wonder what it is you’re seeing, then why it’s there, and finally what you’re about to see next. Tilda Swinton floating around in a sea of people all drenched in tomato sauce certainly manages to do all that.

Skärmavbild 2014-01-08 kl. 13.51.12Omega Award for Best Ending
Winner: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Runner-up: Martha Marcy May Marlene

You might think that a romcom set during the last days before the end of the world can only end in one conceivable way, and perhaps you’d be right. What I didn’t expect from this film, however, was the emotional reaction I had to its conclusion. When I sat down to watch the movie, I was looking for something easy to go along with my hangover. What I got was something far more impressive. Martha Marcy May Marlene earns the silver medal by initially making me go “What!? This is where you end it? Just like that?”, but then making me question what the film was really trying to tell me, and subsequently sticking with me for days afterward.

Skärmavbild 2014-01-08 kl. 13.51.54Best Worst WTF-est Use Of Fried Chicken Award
Winner: Killer Joe

Scenes that leave you dumbfoundedly staring at the screen wondering just what the hell you’re seeing are rare. Even rarer is when they do this in a good way. William Friedkin‘s Killer Joe certainly manages this with its most infamous scene, featuring Matthew McConaughey, Gina Gershon, and some fried chicken.

scarlett_johansson_1179511561Award for Excellence In Sexiness
Winner: Scarlett Johansson – Match Point

While not as overt or smoldering as previous winners in this category (the entire cast of Nine, and Clooney + J-Lo in Out of Sight), Scarlett Johansson’s turn in Woody Allen‘s infidelity thriller Match Point still has a ton of fire to it. Her pulling Jonathan Rhys Meyers into an affair with her certainly seems believable.

Skärmavbild 2014-01-08 kl. 13.53.51“What’s The Big Deal?” Award for A Beloved Film That Left Me Underwhelmed
Winner: Animal House
Runner-up: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Animal House is hailed as a comedy classic in most American writing I find online. I rarely if ever hear much reverence for it from Swedish writers. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. I didn’t find much to like about the movie, other than a few John Belushi moments. But if I want Belushi, I’ll just stick to The Blues Brothers, thank you very much.

Skärmavbild 2014-01-08 kl. 13.58.28Masticating The Environs Award for Most Acting
Winner: Keira Knightley – A Dangerous Method

Nobody tried harder on a screen I found myself in front of in 2013 than Keira Knightley in David Cronenberg‘s psychosexual drama slash biopic. Whether her chin-jutting and high-strung performance fully works is most definitely up for debate, but she certainly gave it her all.

11168823_800High Concept Award for Best Premise
Winner: Timer
Runner-up: Grabbers

Irish horror comedy Grabbers features invading monsters averse to alcohol, necessitating that the protagonist townsfolk stay drunk all the time. This is such a brilliant and obvious idea for the genre that I’m surprised I haven’t come across it before. But the best idea I saw this year was in Timer, a sci-fi romance set in the future where someone has invented a timer that counts down the seconds until you first meet your soul mate – but it only starts counting once they too get a timer. It might sound gimmicky, but to its further credit, the movie plays the premise for all its worth, exploring different angles of it right up to its logical yet surprising conclusion.

MORNING GLORYGrumpiest Old Man Award
Winner: Harrison Ford – Morning Glory

Veteran TV journalist Mike Pomeroy used to cover wars, politics and other high prestige stories. In Morning Glory, he finds himself having to host a breezy morning news show. This does not exactly sit well with him. Harrison Ford plays him almost like a parody of Clint Eastwood‘s Gran Torino character, where every word is delivered like a raspy grunt. “Are you drunk?” Rachel McAdams‘ distraught character asks him before a broadcast. “Insufficiently”, he replies.

the-50-greatest-movie-fights-ever--46-420-75Brains Over Brawns Award for Smartest Fighter
Winner: Paul Newman – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Sometimes, all you need to win a knife fight is some swift thinking and an even swifter kick to the groin.

catacombsShannyn Sossamon Award for Best Shannyn Sossamon Performance
Winner: Shannyn Sossamon – Catacombs

Shannyn Sossamon continues to dominate this category, taking home the award for the third year straight. Her work in humdrum horror flick Catacombs is hardly career-best stuff from her, obviously, but she does make for a fairly effective state of distress protagonist. It’s just a shame that the movie is still terrible.

pi_a_jeho_zivot_foto_01Best 3D Eye Candy Award
Winner: Life of Pi
Runner-up: Gravity

In 2013, Life of Pi became the first movie I ever paid to see more than once in theater. Part of the return trip was to watch the story unfold while knowing where it’s ultimately going, but the chief reason was simple: a film as gorgeous as this deserved to be seen on the big screen more than once.

ddb7e022b292016cf2b46f33ce5d609cBest Underwear Award
Winner: Sightseers

Because hasn’t everyone always wanted to type the phrase “knitted crotchless panties” at some point in their life?

sleepwalk-with-me-e1361469729824Most Forgettable Award
Winner: Sleepwalk With Me
Runner-up: Employee of the Month

The only thing I remember about Employee of the Month is that it had a bunch of twists near the end. This is more than what I recall about Sleepwalk With Me, which was one of those movies that showed up on Netflix and a lot of bloggers ended up watching for some reason. My scorecard tells me I gave it a decent score after watching it almost a year ago, but I remember nothing about it today.

les_miserable-people-singA Swede Loves This Movie Award
Winner: Les Misérables

As you may recall, I crushed pretty hard on this movie when it arrived in theaters here back in the early parts of 2013. My love for it hasn’t diminished since then, and I still rewatch it on Blu-ray every other month or so. It’s not the best movie I saw last year, but there is no movie that spawned such an obsession in me in a way that honestly no other movie has ever done. For that, it deserves a special award.

gravity-movie-review-sandra-bullock-shiopBest 2013 Film So Far Award
Winner: Gravity
Runner-up: Before Midnight

For sheer visceral power and physicality, no 2013 film seen by me could top Gravity this year. It has left nearby theaters by now, and I’m kicking myself for not rewatching it while I had the chance. It’s that kind of movie. I’m not ruling out the possibility that runner-up Before Midnight could surpass it when revisited on home media, though.

texte-fff13-03-04Worst 2013 Film So Far Award
Winner: Upstream Color
Runner-up: The Purge

The Purge squandered an intriguing idea by employing it in a repetitive and tired home invasion horror flick. It wasn’t very good. That said, Upstream Color takes the prize here for being a film that I just couldn’t wait for to be over. I know there are plenty who like the film, but it just wasn’t for me.

U2190P28T3D3314520F329DT20110522234015Best Swedish Film Seen By Me In 2013 Award
Winner: The Girl
Runner-up: Winter Light

With Winter Light, Ingmar Bergman came close to repeating the victory in this category that Persona brought him last year, but ultimately, I was more moved by Fredrik Edfeldt‘s story of a girl trying live by herself for a summer. The Girl is a touching and thoughtful movie, and one deserving to be seen by more people outside my country.

limousineWorst Film Seen By Me In 2013 Award
Winner: Cosmopolis
Runner-up: Valhalla Rising

I’ve described Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising as a Bergman film without any of the things that make Bergman films interesting, but it does at least have some striking cinematography going for it. What does Cosmopolis have? Nothing.

shame-2011-movie

Best Film Seen By Me In 2013 Award
Winner: Shame
Runner-up: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I think I died a couple of times while watching Shame, and I didn’t even care. A spellbinding movie with amazing acting, fully deserving of all the praise it got upon its release. Could Steve McQueen take home this award again next year through 12 Years a Slave? Time will tell.

What’s the best film you saw in 2013? And what did you think of my picks here?

 
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Posted by on 8 January, 2014 in Year End Awards

 

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Monthly Report: December 2013

One last Monthly Report to fill out the last bit of 2013. A solid group of movies of different types, with both some strong showings and some disappointments. As usual.

I’m hoping to get my annual year end awards post up within the next few days, so if you’re waiting for that one, just hold on for a little bit longer.

Happy new year, by the way!

Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012)
Few people can make movies that are as great to just listen to as Baumbach does. Frances Ha is no exception. More grounded and “real” than his usual collections of strange characters, this is a fun look into the life of a woman struggling to fit into her own idea of life. Greta Gerwig is great in the lead, while the script is smart and oddly touching.
4/5

One Last Thing (Alex Steyermark, 2005)
A teenager with cancer tries to get a date with a supermodel he fancies before he dies. This is a frustrating movie. The tone set by the awful poster is not indicative of what the film tries to be. The beginning is promising, as I found myself thinking “Oh, this is one of those movies that’ll be smarter than what it looks like at first glance.” It isn’t, though it certainly tries to be. It’s just kind of poorly put together. The actors do decent enough work – I particularly enjoyed Cynthia Nixon‘s turn as the mother – but there’s not enough time for the characters to get fleshed out enough for what the story tries to pull off with them. The film takes narrative shortcuts, skipping scenes that, while not crucial to understand what’s going on, are necessary from an emotional standpoint. There’s too much half-baked focus on religion and spirituality, and the climax just felt messed up to me. I wanted to like this film, but there’s too much getting in the way.
2/5

hero_EB20110331REVIEWS110339996AR

Trust (David Schwimmer, 2010)
I wonder why this didn’t garner more Oscar attention for its actors, as it’s exactly the kind of “big” acting AMPAS usually loves. Just the wrong time and place, I suppose. The main trio (Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, and Liana Liberato) are all great, and the film has its emotional priorities straight. An interesting look at both how a young girl copes with sexual assault, and how her parents react. Strong movie.
4/5

Miss Representation (Jennifer Siebel Newsom & Kimberlee Acquaro, 2011)
This is a documentary everyone ought to watch. It’s not perfect by any means – tons of talking heads, some repetition, more of a light-shiner than a solution-finder – but the subject of female representation in media is a vital one that more people need to get into. And this is a good movie, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been thinking and reading about things like this for a while now, and this film still had a good deal of new insight in store for me.
4/5

Ghostbusters II (Ivan Reitman, 1989)
Strictly speaking not a new watch, as I have seen it one a great many years ago. I didn’t remember much of anything about it though, so whatever. It’s easy to come down hard on this one due to the existance of the original Ghostbusters. The first one is indeed superior in every imaginable way, mostly thanks to sharper dialogue and that whole “originality” thing. The sequel doesn’t bring much new stuff to the table, but it does have its moments, and Bill Murray as Peter Venkman remains a very fun character. It makes the passing grade – if not by a huge margin – but there’s no reason to watch it when you could be watching the 1984 movie.
3/5

(A)sexual (Angela Tucker, 2011)
Solid doc on asexuality, a subject which I knew very little about before seeing this film, learned a lot about through seeing it, but was left with a lot of questions afterwards. The movie is short, clocking in at 75 minutes, and I feel like they could have gone deeper without sacrificing pacing. Some of the stuff that was included felt a bit fuzzy too, like the whole “multiple quasi-romantic relationships” thing. Still, a movie that lets me learn new stuff, and does so in a well put-together manner, deserves credit.
3/5

Cary-in-His-Girl-Friday-cary-grant-4267465-1024-768

His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
The rapid fire dialogue took some getting used to, but this turned out to be a really funny movie with a bit of an edge to it. I wouldn’t mind watching more stuff like this.
4/5

Our Idiot Brother (Jesse Peretz, 2011)
Obvious but harmless.
3/5

Inseparable (Dayyan Eng, 2011)
Chinese movie in which a guy attempts suicide, only to get interrupted by a strange dude (played by Kevin Spacey, intriguingly enough) who tries to get his life back on track. Naturally, this involves becoming a superhero. There’s a bit more to this story that what first meets the eye, but while it’s all handled fairly well, there’s little here that hasn’t been done before in films like Defendor, Special and Kick-Ass. The addition of Spacey to the otherwise largely Chinese cast is ultimately more of a distraction than anything, even though he of course puts in a fine performance.
3/5

Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012)
Wheatley’s follow-up to the intriguingly baffling Kill List offers a similar sense of bizarre and Britishness, but blends it with some down-to-earth comedy. The thick mood is still present too, offering a sense of things just being really off. It’s the stand-out quality of the film, but the acting is nothing to scoff at either. Wheatley makes films like few others.
4/5

Paradise: Love (Ulrich Seidl, 2012)
Middle age woman goes on vacation to Kenya hoping to find a man, at least for a night or two. The subject matter is of course uncomfortable, so this is not what you’d call an enjoyabe viewing experience. The film does get its points across though, and the acting is solid. Very European.
3/5

upstream_color

Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, 2013)
The man who brought Primer to the world returns with an equally confusing but far less entertaining film. I have no idea what this one was even about, and I couldn’t wait for the credits to start rolling. The sound was good though, I’ll give it that.
1/5

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Peter Jackson, 2013)
It looks good, and there are enough cool action scenes to bring the score up to a passing grade. You pretty much know what you’re getting yourself into with a film like this. But man, this trilogy is really starting to run out of steam. Stretching out the relatively modest-length novel to three movies was worrisome enough, but then they have to stretch out each individual installment too just to make it “epic”, and it’s beginning to show some tearing. There is quite a bit of padding, many scenes just run way too long, and the flow of the story is bumpy indeed. At this rate, I’m not even sure I’ll be going to see the closing chapter next year. Also, fuck Legolas.
3/5

Total # of new films seen: 13
Average score: 3.2 / 5
Best film of the month: Frances Ha
Worst film of the month: Upstream Color

 
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Posted by on 2 January, 2014 in Monthly Report

 

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Monthly Report: October + November 2013

Another month or two, another bunch of movies seen. October was a bit middling with few real highlights, but November picked up in a big way. November 11 in particular was a great day, with two 5/5 movies seen, something I don’t think has ever happened before. Good times.

Fright Night (Craig Gillespie, 2011)
A solid horror movie, albeit one with few surprises along the way. What I really liked about it was how the characters and their reactions felt largely believable. They filled standard parts for a horror film, but they did in such a way that they didn’t come off as mere archetypes. That was cool, and a spark of just the kind of thing I’d expect from the director of Lars and the Real Girl.
3/5

Room 237 (Rodney Ascher, 2012)
I wouldn’t take any of the theories on Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining presented in this documentary as anything resembling facts, but it’s nonetheless quite fun to listen to people talk about something they’re passionate about and have devoted a lot of time to. It’s all fairly well executed and presented, but it does get a bit samey at times. Perhaps a shorter run time would have been a nice idea.
3/5

ent-god-bless-americajpg-abbb-de-311965954

God Bless America (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2011)
As subtle as a bowling ball, and roughly as sharp, but at its best, it’s a really funny black comedy; at its worst, it’s Goldthwait soap-boxing in the guise of 10 minutes long montages of TV parodies. It’s a good movie, but hardly a step forward from his previous film World’s Greatest Dad.
3/5

Good Bye Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003)
A sweet story combined with an interesting look at East Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. While the basic premise of a lie that needs to be upheld is far from rare, the setting and earnestness makes it work here. A fun and fairly touching watch.
4/5

Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, 2012)
The acting is the strong point of the film, with Channing Tatum doing everything right in the lead and Matthew McConaughey putting in a supporting turn that’s charisma all the way through. The story is fine, but you’d expect a Soderbergh movie about male strippers to either have more to say, or at least put a fresher spin on things. There’s a lot of angles that could be explored here, and it feels like there’s plenty of missed opportunities. Not the director’s bravest effort.
3/5

A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)
Very 80s-y. Freddy is more goofy than anything, and the ending is awful, but it does have its moments. Although not many.
2/5

The Eye (David Moreau & Xavier Palud, 2008)
Jessica Alba sees something scary and freaks out. Repeat a thousand times. Roll credits. Weak horror movie with a story that moves at a snail’s pace.
2/5

Avalon (Axel Petersén, 2011)
Kind of dry, like many Swedish films tend to be. Johannes Brost puts in a strong lead performance, and really shines when his character is stricken by guilt. Those scenes are the highlight of the film. The rest, I could take or leave. The ending is pretty but weak.
2/5

side-effects1

Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh, 2013)
Twisty, tense and entertaining thriller that keeps you on your toes throughout. The antidepressant element of the plot helped introduce some welcome ambiguity to the proceedings, and Rooney Mara puts in a performance at least as good as the one in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Just a damn solid film.
4/5

The Innkeepers (Ti West, 2011)
Perhaps not so much a slow-burner as a late-starter, The Innkeepers lulls you into first thinking it’ll be one certain kind of horror film, only to carefully flip your expectations upside down – or at least 90°. By the end of it, the tension and atmosphere had me clutching my pillow tightly. Great pacing, wonderful execution, and a very compelling set of lead characters. Best horror film I’ve seen in quite some time.
4/5

Win Win (Tom McCarthy, 2011)
There’s little particularly new or noteworthy about the story and characters in this film, but fine execution goes a long way and makes this a solid and enjoyable watch regardless. With a lesser cast, this could have turned out really weak.
3/5

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)
While there’s a lot to like about this film, the best reason to see it is to witness Elizabeth Olsen‘s terrific performance in the leading role. There’s a lot of tricky emotions at play for her character, and she nails it all. The rest of the movie can’t really hope to match it fully, but that says more about Olsen than anything else. It’s a fascinating character study, as much about paranoia as about cult life, and while the ending really caught me off guard, it did so in a way that made me reevaluate what the film was really trying to say. And that’s fine. As is the movie.
4/5

The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011)
Brendan Gleeson is in fine form here, playing a somewhat grumpy policeman. He and Don Cheadle have plenty of fun interactions with one another, rising above your usual “buddy cop” routines. The plot itself might be somewhat familiar, but that’s not what you should be here for; the Irishness of both the humor and the tone is what makes the film stand out.
4/5

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
The opening scene had me immediately enthralled. 10 minutes in, I had found 10 or so things about this film I really loved. And then it just kept on going at that same high level. A horrific tale to be sure, but it’s impossible to tear one’s eyes from the screen. A top-notch performance by Tilda Swinton, and Ramsay’s directing is flawless. Had I seen this when I was first getting into movies some years ago, it would have blown my damn mind. Even watching it now, it still does.
5/5

gravity-movie-review-space-2

Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
I wasn’t all that enamored by Cuarón’s much-beloved previous film Children of Men, finding it visually impressive but sterile to a fault in terms of story and characters. I was thus a bit wary of Gravity, in spite of all the praise it has been receiving. Well, Gravity is good. It’s really good. Great, in fact. The visuals are certainly the highlight here too, but they’re combined with solid characters (Sandra Bullock has probably never been better), thematic food-for-thoughts, and more suspense and excitement than you can shake a stick at. Wonderful.
5/5

Headhunters (Morten Tyldum, 2011)
Cool Norwegian thriller that ramps up and transforms as it moves along. Some of the more comedic parts feel a bit out of place, but that’s about the only major gripe I have with the film. Everything else is pulled off really well, which makes for a captivating ride.
4/5

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)
Exhilarating action scenes, solid plot and characters, interesting theme of old vs new, expert pacing, and visually stunning. That last thing is almost done to a fault, as there were times when the flashy cinematography took me out of the moment. Overall, however, this is a very fine action film, one of my favorite Bond movies, and another winner from Sam Mendes.
4/5

Six Degrees of Separation (Fred Schepisi, 1993)
Six Degrees of Separation somewhat fails to get its point across, and the transition from stage to screen is not a particularly smooth one. Whether Will Smith is just ill-suited for this kind of theater material or whether it was just too early in his career for him to tackle it, I’m not sure. He’s not bad, but his part is one that ought to sparkle, and it doesn’t here. The cast is fine for the most part, though the acting is lacking in “oomph” until Stockard Channing‘s big emotional scene towards the end.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 18
Average score: 3.4 / 5
Best film of the months: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Worst film of the months: The Eye

 
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Posted by on 1 December, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2011

Remember when I made a list of 22 movies I needed to see before making my Top 10 of 2011 list?

Remember when, in December of 2011, I said that it would be half a year or so until I got around to making said Top 10?

Well, as it turns out, that was what we in Sweden call “being a time optimist.” Better late than never though, right?

The funny thing is that there are still movies from 2011 that look really good which I haven’t gotten around to yet. Into the Abyss, This Must Be the Place, Damsels in Distress, Weekend, Warrior, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Another Earth, and A Separation are all unseen by me still, to name but a handful. I could have held off on making this list longer to get even more stuff in, but I feel like I’ve waited enough already. These lists are never set in stone, so it’s not like I’m committed to these being the year’s best for ever and ever.

For those wondering how I’m doing on my 2012 backlog, well… Let’s just say that my Top 10 for that year is probably still a good 12 months or so away.

But this is 2011. On with the show!

Honorable mentions: 50/50, Attack the Block, Carnage, Headhunters, Young Adult, Your Sister’s Sister

 

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10 – HANNA (Joe Wright)

“Adapt or die.”

Equal parts stylish action flick and off-beat coming-of-age story, mixed in with plentiful fairy tale elements, Hanna is a unique beats of a movie. Saoirse Ronan is great in the lead, playing a girl who knows all about survival, little about human interaction, and who has to rely on both to escape the bad people who are chasing her.

 

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9 – THE INNKEEPERS (Ti West)

“Let’s go to the basement and find out what that fucking ghost’s problem is.”

The Innkeepers is kind of like what Clerks could have been if 1: it had been a horror film, and 2: if the lead characters had been interesting, entertaining, and brought to life by gifted actors. The work by the lead duo Pat Healy and (especially) Sara Paxton really helps to make you invested in protagonists, so that when the frights start piling up, you actually care about what’s going to happen, rather than just jump because something said “boo!”. This is a quality horror film.

 

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8 – THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (Steven Spielberg)

“Give me those oars! I’ll show you some real seamanship, laddie! I’ll not be doubted by some pipsqueak tuft of ginger and his irritating dog. I am master and commander of the seas!”

Speaking of creating investment in characters, that’s an area where The Adventures of Tintin had it easy, since I’ve been invested in Tintin, Captain Haddock and the others since childhood. But Spielberg’s film doesn’t prey on nostalgia. It feels very much like a modern thing, especially in the clever shots and action sequences where it really takes advantage of its animated form by pulling off stuff that would be hard to do with live action. Pure entertainment, this one.

 

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7 – MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (Brad Bird)

“A crude drawing, but by your description, that could be Kurt Hendricks. 190 IQ. Served in Swedish Special Forces. Professor of physics, Stockholm University. Specialist in nuclear endgame theory. Asked to resign… well, because he’s crazy.”

It has been about 10 months since I saw this film, and I still haven’t recovered from that tower climbing scene.

 

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6 – TAKE SHELTER (Jeff Nichols)

“You think I’m crazy? Well, listen up, there’s a storm coming like nothing you’ve ever seen, and not one of you is prepared for it.”

An affecting drama with some real power acting on display, particularly from the always commanding Michael Shannon. I love the story in Take Shelter, about a man whose chief want is to keep his family safe, but who can’t be sure whether he’s justified, paranoid or delusional. And it looks great too.

 

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5 – THE RAID (SERBUAN MAUT, Gareth Evans)

“Pulling a trigger is like ordering takeout.”

It’s amazing how much variety you can have with your badass action when it all takes place within an apartment building. Evans here mixes gunplay with martial arts to craft an action film that keeps you on your toes from start to finish, and where every scene could be the stand-out scene in most other movies of its kind.

 

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4 – DRIVE (Nicolas Winding Refn)

“From now on, every word out of your mouth is the truth. Or I’m going to hurt you.”

At the end of 2011, I called this the best movie of 2011 that I had seen so far. Almost two years later, only three have managed to top it, and even then, it’s a close call. Drive remains an excellent and tense experience, like a spring that just keeps getting pressed and pressed and pressed until it explodes into scenes of horrific violence. Ryan Gosling in the lead is superb.

 

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3 – BRIDESMAIDS (Paul Feig)

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen you look ugly, and that makes me kind of happy.”

The only real comedy to make the cut this year, Bridesmaids is everything that’s good about Judd Apatow comedies; it’s absolutely hilarious, but there’s also a lot of heart and emotional resonance with the characters, here focusing on the nature of friendship. Kristen Wiig deserves the lion’s share of praise for this one, both putting in a pitch-perfect performance and having co-written the script.

 

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2 – WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Lynne Ramsay)

“Just because you’re used to something doesn’t mean you like it. You’re used to me.”

In a long line of great performances, the one as distraught mother Eva in this movie might be the best work Tilda Swinton has ever done. This is a character stuck in awful circumstances, and just how Swinton mined the necessary emotions for the part, I have no idea. Remarkably, the story and directing is every bit as good as Swinton’s performance. As I’ve written (though not yet posted) in my Monthly Report for November, this is a film that would have blown my mind had I seen it when I was first getting into movies. And even now, it still does.

 

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1 – SHAME (Steve McQueen)

“We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place.”

While we’re still on the subjects of awesome performances and blowing my mind, there’s Shame, the best movie of 2011. This is a truly spellbinding film with a number of utterly convincing role portrayals, none sharper than Michael Fassbender‘s powerful performance as sex addict Brandon. McQueen peppers the movie with impressive long takes that, unlike many usages of them, feel like a part of the complete package rather than a cool gimmick. What’s not to like about this movie? Nothing.

What are you favorite films of 2011? What do you think of the movies on this list?

 
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Posted by on 14 November, 2013 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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4 reasons why Crank is the best action movie of the 2000s

Bourne is too shaky, Avatar is gorgeous but narratively familiar, the Fast franchise can never quite shake its street racing roots, Minority Report is meh, most of the superhero movies all blend together, and Drive, while one hell of a film, is way too restrained for me to truly think of it as an action movie.

No, the real king of the 2000s is a film that rarely gets the full recognition it deserves: Crank. It’s written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, and stars Jason Statham as hitman Chev Chelios who after ruffling some feathers in the criminal underworld of L.A. gets injected with a lethal poison that will kill him if he doesn’t keep his adrenaline levels high. Essentially, it’s Statham in the role of the bus from Speed. The movie is a crazy ride that never takes itself seriously. It’s loud, mindless (not to be confused with stupid), preposterous, occasionally outrageous, and, above all else, pure fun. It’s a movie that fully accomplishes everything it sets out to do, and does so in style.

While there have been a fair share of truly great action movies so far this millennium – Inception, The Dark Knight, The Raid, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, to name a few – Crank is the best of them all. Here’s why.

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1. It actually delivers non-stop action.

So many movies are described as non-stop action, but few actually are. There are always lulls and breaks, dialogue-sections to enhance the plots of flesh out relationships between characters, or a myriad of other non-actiony things. Take Shoot ‘Em Up, for instance, a movie I tend to describe as “good, but why would I ever watch it when I could watch Crank instead?” It’s another mindless action flick with plenty of cool and outrageous amounts of gunplay going on, and yet it’s bogged down by stretches of plot that feel like padding. Shoot ‘Em Up has a humdrum story that adds nothing to the film and takes away from what you want to see, I.E. Clive Owen running, leaping and sliding around guns akimbo. Crank, however, is a different beast. Due to the premise of the poison being kept in check by adrenaline, there is an in-story need for the action to just keep rolling. Sure, there are some scenes focusing on dialogue here too, but they will generally be interrupted or interpunctuated by action, even if it’s just something minor like Chelios shoving his hand into a waffle iron to keep his heart going.

Of course, I’m not saying that story and dialogue are bad things. You get more invested when you care about what’s going on with the characters in a film, so they most certainly serve a purpose. Pacing is also a factor. As an example of this done right, there’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It has that long desert section in the middle that acts like a cooldown before the high-octane final act, and the film is better for it. But Crank’s non-stop approach works too, because it serves the particular story being told. And it makes no bones about it. When a film can’t even have establishing exposition without setting it during a high-speed car chase through a shopping mall, you know you’re in for something out of the ordinary.

Also: bonus points for Statham doing all of his own stunts.

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2. It has interesting dynamic between protagonist and antagonist.

Another unique thing about Crank is that it’s made clear from the first scene that the villain has essentially already won. Ricky Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo in a great turn) has injected Chelios with poison that will kill him. There is no cure. Chelios will die. It becomes a matter of just whether he can keep himself alive long enough to kill Verona before he goes down himself.

This opens up possibilities that the film takes full advantage of. In most action movie, you need to build up the bad guy as threat throughout the movie, to make you feel like the protagonist is in danger and might not make it. The antagonist has to be kept strong. He needs to always be one step ahead of the hero, whether in terms of brains, brawn, wit, or what have you.

In Crank, there is no such need, as the villain has already accomplished his goal. So Verona becomes an atypical action antagonist. Never during Crank is he seen as truly in command of the situation. He’s cocky and arrogant, but it’s clear that he’s just trying to overcompensate; in truth, he’s a small snivelling sycophant – more middle management than an actual crime lord – who has to rely on his stronger brother and his numerous henchmen to get anything done. He calls up Chelios on his cell phone just to taunt him, but all his threatening and gloating just gets brushed off by the snarky hero in hilarious fashion, causing Verona much frustration. He’s like an ineffective schoolyard bully who throws tantrums whenever he doesn’t get his way. Yet even this serves the movie, because even if we don’t perceive him as a continuous threat – the poison is the real danger in Crank, not Verona – he’s still such an annoying jerk that we can’t wait for Chelios to get his hands on him.

As for Chelios himself, well… He certainly doesn’t fit into the Bruce Willis Die Hard “vulnerable everyman hero” mold. Not at all. In fact, he’s quite unstoppable. If not for the poison, he’d be the archetypical invincible action man. Appearance-wise, he’s no Schwarzenegger-ish übermensch, but the attitude is certainly there. How much of it is based on desperation, though? He works successfully as a hitman, a job that would require a modicum of finesse and patience – qualities rarely on display from him in Crank. What we do see is him robbing a convenience store for copious amounts of energy drinks, riding a motorcycle while standing on it with no hands, and fleeing from a hospital in nothing but a patient’s gown. Is this desperation on display? Determination? The acts of a man with nothing left to lose? What would a prequel to Crank look like, with no threatening poison? This may be more pondering than what a movie like this should ever warrant.

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3. The presentation matches the content.

Crank is a highly stylized movie. While it has some aspects of action movies of days gone by that I dig, you’d never mistake it for anything but a product of the 2000s due to its visual style. When the plot of the film has the hero scrambling to keep his adrenaline running, the directing and editing becomes key. This is where Neveldine, Taylor, and editor Brian Berdan shine. Through liberal use of montages, quick-cuts, fast-forwarding, cut-aways, color filters and other tricks, we’re constantly in the same mind-state as the protagonist: that of a frantic pursuit. Thankfully, despite this, Crank never descends into shaky-cam hell. I loathe when you can’t make out what is actually happening on-screen in movies, and it’s something a great many post-Bourne action films falls prey to. But Crank knows that it’s an action movie, and it knows that the viewers want to see the action. So when shit goes down, it keeps things clear and in focus.

The soundtrack is also worthy of mention, as it adds a lot of variety to a film that could easily be seen as one-note. There are songs by Quiet Riot, The Crowd, Harry Nilsson, Jefferson Starship, NOFX and more on display here, all adding unique flavors to various parts of the movie.

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4. It’s really funny.

Chelios’ mildly annoyed look when an entire room of gangsters point their guns at him. Verona’s Seinfeldian telephone-slamming freakouts. Ditzy love interest Eve (Amy Smart) imploring Chelios to help her adjust the timer on her microwave oven. There’s a lot of humor crammed into Crank, and pretty much all of it works and suits the overall tone of the film. Statham in particular really has a lot of fun with his character, playing the sarcastic British badass to perfection. The sequel, Crank: High Voltage, did the slight mistake of upping the ridiculous comedy, which made for a movie that felt like it tried too hard to be silly. The original is more measured.

It’s all nicely integrated into the rest of the movie, too. Crank doesn’t have comic relief per se, because everything in the movie is equally ridiculous, so there’s nothing for it to relieve. It makes for a smooth viewing experience. Or at least as smooth as a high-strung film like this could ever be.

What do you think of Crank? And what is the best action movie of the 2000s? Comment below!

 
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Posted by on 22 October, 2013 in Misc.

 

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