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14 actors I really dig

There’s a bit of a meme going on in Swedish film blogging circles. The idea is simple: list your seven favorite male and female actors. I’m participating too, although loosely. I’m not saying these are my very favorites, as that tends to change from day to day and I might have forgotten someone. These are, however, seven men and seven women whose work I really enjoy, either because they constantly deliver great performances, or because they possess some hard-to-define quality that makes my brain happily go “ding!” whenever I spot their names on a cast list.

First, some honorable mentions…

Kevin Spacey: Had I written this post 10 years ago, he’d be a shoo-in for sure. Alas, he hasn’t had many truly great roles lately.
Kirsten Dunst: She has been underrated ever since she lit up the screen in Interview with the Vampire in 1994, and only recently has she started getting the critical acclaim she deserves.
Al Pacino: Another one whose heyday is behind him, Pacino has tons of maniacally energetic performances on his CV.
Rosario Dawson: Effortlessly charming, possibly the hottest woman on this planet, and probably with her best work still ahead of her.
Jason Statham: The bona fide action star of the millennium.
Ellen Page: At 25 years of age, she has already amassed a number of impressive lead and supporting roles. What does the future hold for her?

On to the list proper. This is in randomly generated order.

MV5BMTMzODkzOTU4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzU0ODE5NA@@._V1._SX640_SY920_Catherine Keener

When I watch Keener play one of her evil characters, I can not imagine here ever being good. When I watch her play one of her good characters, I can not imagine her ever being evil. Her impressive range is perhaps her strongest quality and she has proven to only get better with age. When she got her first Oscar nomination for playing manipulative seductress Maxine in Being John Malkovich, she was already 40 years old. Since then – and before – she has kept putting in affecting performances no matter how small or large a part she plays.

3 great performances
Living in Oblivion – pulling off the difficult task of acting like you’re acting, both badly and well.
Being John Malkovich – toying with John Cusack with equal measures of bitchy and funny.
An American Crime – playing one of the most despicable abusive mothers in recent history.

Anthony_Hopkins_0001Anthony Hopkins

While there is a lot to be said for physical transformations and chameleon actors who are nigh-unrecognizable from one film to the next, perhaps even more impressive is someone like Hopkins. He always looks more or less the same, and yet he disappears into roles like few others. A master of mannerisms, body language, and voice, Hopkins portrays clearly defined characters utterly convincingly. Never one to turn down a paycheck, he appears in many films that might not make full use of his talents, but you will never see him slumming it or sleep-walking through a role. Hopkins always delivers.

3 great performances
The Silence of the Lambs – somehow making a mere 16 minutes of screen time into the one thing people associate the film with.
The Remains of the Day – redefining “emotionally restrained”.
The World’s Fastest Indian – completely inhabiting a man jovially dead-set on accomplishing his dream.

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Posted by on 18 January, 2013 in Misc.

 

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50 MORE Things I Love About Films

Well over a year ago, I wrote a post called 100 Things I Love About Films on my old blog, which I later reposted here at A Swede Talks Movies. This is the sequel, adding 50 more things to the original 100. I’ve tried to avoid repeating movies and actors I mentioned in that first post, though a few have slipped through anyhow.

Credit for the original concept goes to Beau Kaelin. Thanks also to gentleman and scholar Travis McClain for bringing the idea to my attention. The original description:

Rather than posting your 100 favorite films (which has been done and overdone), you simply post your favorite things about movies.  I dig the concept, because instead of obsessing over whether the films you put on a list are “objectively good enough” to put on said list, you simply jot down 100 moments/lines/visuals that have made a lasting impression on you or sneak their way into running gags between you and your friends. Just read below and you’ll get the idea.

Why only 50 this time instead of 100? Because… quality over quantity? Yes. Let’s go with that.

1. Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, the fear and agony on her face raw enough to make me gasp in sympathy.

2. The wonderfully trashy dialogue in Bitch Slap. I love the fact that someone actually put the words “Lube my boob, skank twat” to paper.

3. Natalie Portman‘s joy-stricken face when she phones her mother from the bathroom stall in Black Swan.

4. Michelle Williams‘ dorky dance in Blue Valentine.

5. When actors produce their own films, showing a real desire to have the movies made.

6. The brief cameo by Jason Statham reprising his role from The Transporter at the beginning of Collateral. Crossover stuff of that nature should happen more often.

7. The 20th Century Fox fanfare.

8. Robin Williams capping off his love declaration in The Fisher King with the words “But I still don’t drink coffee”.

9. The shot of the sugar lump in Three Colors: Blue.

10. Watching Casablanca for the first time and finally getting some context for all the well-quoted lines of dialogue. “Round up the usual suspects” put a big smile on my face.

11. Penelope Cruz performing A Call From the Vatican in Nine. I don’t mean to sound crass, but… hubba hubba.

12. The chase sequence through the construction site in the 2006 Casino Royale.

13. The Remains of the Day lunch box in Waiting for Guffman.

14. The whole sequence with the trunk in The Ice Harvest. Great mix of tension and humor.

15. Kat Dennings trying to pronounce Mjölnir in Thor. “What’s Myeh-myeh” indeed.

16. Danny DeVito trying to look scary to John Travolta in Get Shorty.

17. Sven Nykvist‘s gorgeous cinematography in Persona. I’ve never seen black & white look better.

18. Mark Ruffalo‘s “Why the fuck did I just say that?” grimace after stating that he loves lesbians in The Kids Are All Right.

19. Speaking of Ruffalo: The Hulk in The Avengers. Every awesome second of him.

20. When a movie just leaves me completely baffled about whether I like it or not, or whether it even matters. It’s annoying too in a way, but I love how it questions the very idea of why I watch films and what I take away from them. Funny Games would be a recent example of this kind of movie for me.

21. The ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Teriffic execution of a sequel hook.

22. Those performances that become so utterly convincing that my brain eventually has to break me out of the trance by going “Uh, Emil, you do know that this is an actor playing a character, right? It’s not a real person.” And then I go “Shut the fuck up, brain.” A recent example: Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story.

23. Seeing an actor I’ve never heard of before in a film and immediately wanting to find out what else they have been in since they’re so good.

24. The climax of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, a sequence that tops anything else in either of Guy Ritchie‘s Sherlock films.

25. Tippi Hedren waiting outside the schoolhouse in The Birds. Cue me gasping for breath and muttering “Oh shit…”

26. Kirsten Dunst looking stunning in the wedding dress in Melancholia.

27. Hugo reminding me that 3D can indeed be used to great effect. Thank you, Martin Scorsese.

28. Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Absolutely jaw-dropping.

29. The scene in 50/50 where Joseph Gordon-Levitt goes in for surgery and suddenly realizes that he might never wake up again.

30. Michelle Duncan‘s adorable Scottish accent in Driving Lessons.

31. This exchange in The Fugitive: “I didn’t kill my wife!” “I don’t care!”

32. The opening of Grave of the Fireflies. It’s good on the first watch, but it’s heart-breaking on a rewatch.

33. The lone penguin wandering off towards the mountains and certain death in Werner Herzog‘s Encounters at the End of the World.

34. The dream-like atmosphere of Robert Altman‘s Images. The kind of stuff that makes you realize how inaccurately the term “dream-like” tends to get thrown around.

35. Ellen Page in Juno. And Jennifer Garner. And Jason Bateman. And Allison Janney. And J.K. Simmons. And everyone else.

36. ))<>(( from Me and You and Everyone We Know.

“What business is it of yours where I’m from… friendo?”

 

37. The tense scene in No Country for Old Men where Javier Bardem makes the gas station attendant call a coin flip.

38. Seeing a scene that for some reason doesn’t work for me, only to much later have a revelation on what it meant. Guaranteed to make me love the part next time I watch the film.

39. Everything about Catherine Keener in Being John Malkovich, but particularly her dismissive reactions to everything John Cusack says and does in the early goings.

40. Uggie playing dead in The Artist.

41. The meet-cute between Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent at the costume party in Beginners.

42. This poster for 127 Hours.

43. The entire showdown between Uma Thurman and David Carradine in Kill Bill: Vol. 2. Had me at the edge of my seat when I first watched it.

44. The very recognizable video game scene in Swingers.

45. Brad Pitt‘s ridiculous accent when speaking Italian in Inglourious Basterds.

46. The suffocating atmosphere of Seven.

47. The big fight on the rope bridge in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

48. George Clooney‘s fine-tuned and low-key performance in The American.

49. Robert Downey Jr. sucking at math in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

50. Shea Whigham‘s brief part in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, repeatedly uttering “Whoa!” in the funniest fashion.

 
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Posted by on 22 May, 2012 in Lists

 

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An introduction to the Flickchart world of ranking films

A while ago, I found myself staring at my computer screen, furrowing my brow, tilting my head from one side to the other. Flickchart.com had just told me to choose between Blue Valentine and Before Sunset. Two movies I really love, and I had to put one above the other. Do I go with all the wonderful conversations that are the core of Before Sunset? Or the powerful contrast between hope and dismay found in Blue Valentine? Should I take into account that Blue Valentine stands on its own better, whereas Before Sunset relies on its predecessor Before Sunrise to achieve its full impact? Or should Before Sunset be credited for achieving so much despite only being two people talking for 80 minutes? Should I just go with my gut-feeling? Which one would I rather watch right then and there? Reaching a decision took me a good five minutes, I reckon.

There are those who say that making ranked lists of movies is a pointless endeavor. Films should be judged by their own merits and not just in context of others, they might argue. My take on it is that context is something we always use when thinking about films. I saw The Gold Rush back in July, which was not only my first Charlie Chaplin film but also my first ever silent comedy. Did I like it? Yeah, I did. It was funny and charming. But it was very different from the types of films I had seen before. It took a while for me to get into its groove. It seems likely that my opinion of it will shift when I get around to seeing more Chaplin films, more 1920s films, and more silent films. As it is, I can still evaluate The Gold Rush strictly as a comedy and determine if I like it better or worse than, say, There’s Something About Mary. But as I haven’t seen anything quite like it, I can’t compare it to movies that are more closely related to it. Still, every movie we see, no matter what kind, gives us some degree of context against which to judge every other movie.

We rank movies all the time. Every time you give a film a review score of 8/10, you’re ranking it above every film you’ve given a 7/10 and below every film you’ve given a 9/10. When you call a movie the best of the year, you’re ranking it above all the other ones you saw that year. The issue people have with ranking, then, seems to be one more of degree than of concept. Any rating scale allows for a varying amount of ties. That 8/10 movie gets deemed to be in the same tier as all the other 8/10 movies. Are they all exactly equally good? Of course not. But the numerical rating is just a shorthand. If you write reviews, you hope that people will read the full text to find out what you thought about the film, which aspects worked for you and which didn’t. The score is just a quick summary. But when you go beyond these steps on your review scale to rank films, things can get very detailed. Too detailed for some.

Saying that Casablanca is better than Sucker Punch may be easy enough, but is it better than Pulp Fiction? “Oh, I couldn’t say. They’re so different.” Well, Casablanca is different from Sucker Punch too, and that didn’t stop you from proclaiming it superior. “Yeah, well, I can’t choose between Casablanca and Pulp Fiction. They’re both great. Ranking movies is stupid anyway.” Except when it’s easy, it seems.

This fictional conversation partner might have a point, however. Distilling all discussion on film to “good” or “bad” – and by extension “better” or “worse” – is reductive. I talked about this briefly in the opening of my blog post Noble Failures, where I argued that even overall bad films, or films we don’t like, can have parts or qualities that are worth discussing. “Good” and “bad”, like review scores, are just the sum total of everything we think about a movie. A useful shortcut in many cases, but we should be careful not to boil it down to this sum all the time. It’s a trap worth avoiding even when going into the specifics. The movie was “good”. Why? It had a “good” story and “good” acting. Why was the story good? Why was the acting good?

But for the purpose of ranking movies, we need these shorthands. Once you take everything about a movie into account, from technical merits and emotional impact to story, acting, how much it speaks to you as a person and everything else, you end up with your opinion of the film. Making a ranked list then becomes a matter of weighing this overall opinion against the opinion you have of other movies. Is your opinion of X stronger than your opinion of Y? If yes, is it stronger than your opinion of Z? And so on. Compiling a ranked list is to make a series of choices between different movies.

This is where Flickchart comes in.

Flickchart, the brainchild of Nathan Chase and Jeremy Thompson, is a website that presents you with two movies. Pick the one you like best. Now you get two more films. Pick again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If you get a film you haven’t watched, you mark it as unseen and get another one instead. Eventually, you get recurring movies in new match-ups. If you like Trainspotting better than Fargo, and then Batman Begins better than Trainspotting, that means you like Batman Begins better than Fargo too. As you go along ranking on Flickchart – which can be devilishly addicting – the site compiles a list based on all your choices: your all-time list, from the very best to the very worst. Eventually, you will spot things that don’t look right. The first movie you pick to win a match-up will end up at the top of your list, and if that one doesn’t show up in match-ups for a while, it will sit at #1. Maybe it doesn’t belong there. You can then look up that film and re-rank it. This will pit it against the film at the center of your list. Is it better? Then it gets pitted against the film a quarter from the top. The halving process continues until the film has been placed at its opimal spot on your list. You can then go back to ranking films at random again, or keep fine-tuning your list by re-ranking individual movies.

A typical Flickchart match-up. Notice how your top 20 list is always staring you in the face as you rank? This is why most Flickcharters are obsessed with keeping their top 20 nice and tidy.

Should you pick the films you consider your favorites, or the ones you think are the best? This is a hot debate topic among Flickcharters. Some like to focus on a film’s objective qualities. Others favor a subjective line of thinking, going strictly for the films they enjoy more. A third group thinks that good films and films they like are one and the same. Flickchart doesn’t force you into either way of thinking, but lets you create your list according to your own parameters.

Choosing between two films can be hard. I’ve already mentioned Blue Valentine vs Before Sunset. What about Back to the Future vs Raiders of the Lost Ark? Or The Empire Strikes Back vs The Shawshank Redemption? The Breakfast Club vs Groundhog Day? How about a more unorthodox battle, like The Devil Wears Prada vs Saw? It can be equally tricky to decide between two so-so films, such as Charlie’s Angels vs Dan in Real Life. And just which is worse: Street Fighter or Super Mario Bros? Flickchart doesn’t allow for ties; there’s no Skip button (reloading the page will bring up a new match-up, but that’s not in the spirit of things.) One must always choose.

When you get tired of ranking random films, you can employ some of Flickchart’s various filters. You can choose to rank only films from the 1970s, or specify it further to 1977. Maybe you just want to rank action movies. Or Pixar films. Or Best Picture Oscar winners. If you just want to get new stuff on your chart, you can use the Unranked filter and only be presented with films you haven’t ranked yet. And if fine-tuning the top 20 on your chart is what you want to do, you can restrict your match-ups to just those 20 films as well.

A snippet of Flickchart's global chart

Flickchart offers plenty of other features too. Every match-up has a discussion page where you can leave a comment on your reasoning for your choice and see what other users have had to say. Then there’s the global charts, where the win percentages of all films are compared against each other to produce a list of Flickchart’s favorite films. Here too you can use filters to get specific information. You can also get recommendations on the best films you haven’t seen of various types. If you’ve added other users as your friends, Flickchart allows you to combine the rankings of you and them to find out what your combined favorite films are, or what the best films neither of you have seen yet are. New features are added frequently; the Flickchart of today has more bells and whistles than the one I joined a few years ago, and more is always on the horizon. But the core essence of pitting one film against another remains the same.

Is Flickchart a useful tool for making ranked lists? It can be, but you have to work at it. If you just rank random movies, getting anything fully accurate will take a very long time as a lot will hinge on getting “the right” match-ups. If you use the re-rank feature diligently, you can get something good going. That said, I don’t tend to look at Flickchart when I make my Top 10 lists here on the blog. The main reason is that my Flickchart isn’t in perfect order. During my time as a Flickchart member, I’ve picked winners in over 14000 match-ups, but there are still oddities on my list. Some films are way higher or lower than what feels right. Plus, I’m very fickle. From discussions with fellow Flickcharters, I know there are people who feel there is a perfect order for the movies they’ve seen. I’m of the mindset that my opinions can sway daily. I might pick the black comedy of The War of the Roses over One Hour Photo one day, only to find that the latter’s creepy atmosphere speaks more to me the day after. Movies drift in and out of my top 20 with ease, whereas other users keep a tight lock on their top spots. Different strokes.

Why do I keep using Flickchart then? Primarily, because it’s fun. It’s fun to just think about random films I’ve seen and discover what it is I really like about them, and seeing my list change and transform is oddly satisfying. It can also be a source of revelations about my viewing preferences. I might file a movie away as a 3/5 after first seeing it, only to later realize that I keep choosing it over films I thought I liked more. There are also more general observations to be made. For instance, I’ve never considered romance to be one of my favorite movie genres, and yet my Flickchart top 20 has a pretty high amount of them, all films I truly adore. Apparently, I do love me some well-made romances after all.

As you might gleam, there are many aspects, features and uses when it comes to Flickchart. Some use it as their primary way of keeping track of films they’ve seen. Others employ it to calculate their accurate ranking list of movies. Others still, like me, see it as an entertaining time-killer. Either way, it’s a site well worth checking out. You might just learn something about yourself. It made me realize I had a new favorite movie a while ago.

So go to Flickchart and start ranking. If you do, feel free to add me as your Flickchart friend at my profile page there.

Oh, and for the record:

Blue Valentine > Before Sunset
Casablanca > Pulp Fiction
Back to the Future > Raiders of the Lost Ark
Shawshank Redemption > Empire Strikes Back
Groundhog Day > The Breakfast Club
Saw > The Devil Wears Prada
Dan in Real Life > Charlie’s Angels
Street Fighter > Super Mario Bros

 
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Posted by on 2 March, 2012 in Links

 

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The Films I Watched In 2011 Awards

As the year is approaching its end, it’s customary for bloggers and critics alike to do a top ten list of the best movies of the year. I won’t be doing that, because I haven’t seen nearly enough films of 2011 yet. A list like that from me is still a good half year away from meaning anything. So rather than reflecting strictly on the films released this year, I’d like to reflect on all the films I saw this year.

Thus, I present A Swede Talks Movies’ The Films I Watched In 2011 Awards! Or ASTMTFIWI2K11A, if you’re into the whole brevity thing. A bunch of random categories will be conjured for whatever films I feel like singling out for one reason or another.

This year I watched 229 movies I hadn’t seen before, from 19 different countries with release dates spanning from 1925 to 2011. A lot of it is from recent years, but I did check out a couple of older “you haven’t seen that one!?” flicks too. I saw my first ever films from Belgium, Brazil, Greece and Russia (Ben X, City of God, Dogtooth and Night Watch, respectively). I saw my first ever Charlie Chaplin movie (The Gold Rush) and got my first glimpse of Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark. I watched highly regarded classics like Casablanca, The French Connection and the Alfred Hitchcock films Vertigo and Rear Window, as well as newer stuff like the brunt of the Best Picture Oscar nominees from the last ceremony. I saw great films like Man on Wire and A Single Man, and I saw crap like Season of the Witch.

For these awards, I’m only counting films I saw for the first time in 2011. Rewatches need not apply.

And now, on with the show!

Most Eyebrow-Raising “And Introducing” Credit Award
Winner: Kate Winslet – Heavenly Creatures

It kind of feels like Kate Winslet has been around forever, always turning in great performances. And yet there she was in Peter Jackson‘s teen murder drama Heavenly Creatures, her arrival on the big screen loudly heralded in the opening credits. As for the performance itself? A bit rough around the edges perhaps, but full of energy and enthusiasm.

Best Use Of A Urinating Baby Award
Winner: Hard-Boiled

Hard-Boiled was pretty kick-ass all around and could have gotten a shout-out for plenty of different things. But that baby putting out a fire by wetting himself really stood out. Patently ridiculous, but so good.

“What’s The Big Deal?” Award for A Beloved Film That Left Me Underwhelmed
Winner: Carrie
Runner-up: Withnail & I

While I did like Withnail & I less than Carrie, that one seems to be more of a cult classic than anything. Carrie has more wide-spread acclaim, which made it all the more disappointing to me. I’ve had more fun discussing the film with people afterwards than I had watching it.

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Posted by on 27 December, 2011 in Year End Awards

 

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Better late than never: My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2010

Most critics and bloggers put together their Best Of The Year lists at the end of the year. That doesn’t work for me. Many films take a long time before they arrive here in Sweden, a problem hardly alleviated by American studios scheduling a lot of quality stuff for awards season at the tail-end of the year. So by the time the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, I’ve never seen all the films I feel I need to in order to make a list that has any chance of meaning anything.

But by now I feel like I’ve caught up on a lot of my personal must-sees of last year, so the time to make my own list is at hand. That’s not to say I’ve seen all there is to see. I’m particularly underwatched in non-English language films still, not to mention documentaries which people were saying had a banner year in 2010. But the great thing about lists is that they’re never set in stone. This list only reflects my feelings today, and might well look radically different one year from now.

There isn’t a ton of surprises on this list of mine, which I’m okay with. So far I’ve mostly focused on seeing the films people are talking a lot about. As time goes on, I will hear about and track down the smaller films, the forgotten gems, the new cult classics. The further removed you are from a year and the more you see, the more eclectic your list is bound to become. Time changes everything.

So here are my ten favorite movies of 2010 (note: listed as 2010 on IMDB), a particularly strong year of cinema in my opinion. Many films were hard to leave off, but that’s the way it is. No honorable mentions, no consolation prizes, no mercy. Just ten films that I love.

10 – GREENBERG (Noah Baumbach)

“There’s a confidence in you guys that’s horrifying. You’re all ADD and carpal tunnel. You wouldn’t know Agoraphobia if it bit you in the ass, and it makes you mean.”

Some people can’t stand the quirky characters Noah Baumbach comes up with. I can’t get enough of them. In Greenberg, we’re treated to two stand-out examples. One is the titular Robert Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a man angry at the world and obsessed with his own misery. It’s arguably Stiller’s most nuanced and impressive performance, in some ways his own Punch-Drunk Love. The other is Florence (Greta Gerwig), a woman whose life is in turmoil yet she still can’t help but bend over backwards to help people. Gerwig is even better than her co-star. A grimly funny film, true to life if not the one we live.

9 – THE SOCIAL NETWORK (David Fincher)

“Did I adequately answer your condescending question?”

David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin play loose with the truth as they tell the tale of how Facebook came to be. Those wanting the real story ought to look elsewhere. The rest of us can enjoy the quick razor-sharp dialogue, the impressive performance by Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the Trent Reznor-penned score and a fascinating tale of how in the pursuit of connecting people, two friends can drift farther apart than ever.

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Posted by on 13 September, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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