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On gender equality, Oscars, and great female performances

I made a list on Letterboxd recently where I picked my favorite movie nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars each year, as well as ranked the other nominees. Obviously, I skipped years where I haven’t seen at least two of the nominated movies. As I’m still a relative newbie to the world of film, there’s a lot that I haven’t seen, but I still ended up with 27 years where I had seen multiple Best Picture nominees, which is more than I had expected. Since it was a fun exercise, I went ahead and did the same for Best Actor. 22 years for that one. Not too shabby.

Then on to Best Actress, and a disappointing 14 years where I’ve seen at least two Oscar nominees. For 8 of those 14 years, I’ve only seen the bare minimum of two.

What does this mean, then? That what the Academy finds appealing when it comes to movies about women is not the same as what I’m drawn toward? Maybe. Or it could be a symptom of the fact that I don’t tend to gravitate toward movies about women in general.

Is this bad?

I seem to be stumbling upon a lot of writing and works on subjects of gender inequality and feminism lately, whether it’s a gaming website explaining why they won’t back down on the subject of misogyny in video gaming or a tumblr dedicated to showcasing bizarre examples of female anatomy in comic books (somewhat NSFW). I won’t pretend to be fully immersed in these issues, but I do feel they are a problem – a big one at that – and something worth devoting time to at least read about every now and then. The same goes for any kind of discrimination, whether it’s based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or what have you.

In particular, what I find worrying is the notion that male is the standard. The norm. The default. This is prevalent in movies too. On the viewer side of things, we have the thing where films about females are often automatically dismissed as “chick flicks”, whereas films with a clearly male perspective are somehow thought of as “for everyone.” Production-wise, there’s the notable lack of female directors and screenwriters compared to males, not to mention the short shelf-life of female actors – once you’re not young and hot any more, it will be harder to get good roles. Compare this to the guys: Brad Pitt is 49 years old, Johnny Depp is 49, George Clooney is 51, and Tom Cruise is 50. Are there any women in Hollywood of that age with as much fame and star power as them? Sandra Bullock (48) perhaps, but after that it’s slim pickings. That’s not even getting into an issue I myself keep wrestling with all the time: the word “actress” itself. Is it okay to use the word? If we have a specific word to refer to female actors, doesn’t that imply that male actors – generally referred to as just “actors” – are indeed the norm? So is using the word “actress” just perpetuating the problem? I feel like maybe it is, and that using “female actor” and “male actor” is no problem, so I tend to opt for the latter myself.

Because in a post on great female performances, why not a pic of Meryl Streep?

Because in a post on great female performances, why not a pic of Meryl Streep?

 

I want to make an effort toward being a more well-rounded movie watcher. I’m not always doing everything I can towards that goal – I still watch way more contemporary films than old ones, for instance – but this recently uncovered Oscars-related gender difference is bothering me in particular. Not because the Academy is to be trusted with recognizing greatness – because that’s not really their thing anyway – but perhaps because even when they turn their eyes toward female actors, they’re still not exactly concerned with rewarding strong female characters, or movies about them, as such. A portion of the performances they nominate for Best Actress can be more accurately described as major supporting roles for male leads. And even then I’m lagging behind in my watching of them.

I’m planning on filling in the blanks as far as Best Actress nominees go anyway. I need to do more, though. Especially for my sanity. After some brief examination of AMPAS’ Best Actress nominated movies stretching back to 1990 (see, I told you I lean contemporary), it’s predominantly important-sounding period biopics. Not saying that these can’t be great films, but diversity is good.

This is where you can help out. I’m open for suggestions of great female lead performances that were not nominated at the Oscars. Preferably undisputed lead roles. If the movie itself is great too, that’s even better. The films don’t have to be new, or American, or anything, really; what matters is that the central performance is a great one.

What are some of your favorite female lead performances NOT nominated at the Oscars?

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Posted by on 9 April, 2013 in Misc., Oscars

 

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Monthly Report: January 2013

I have no idea how this happened. I thought December was very movie-intense at 30 new films seen. Well, in January, I saw 42. Plenty of good stuff was at hand, including two terrific Best Picture Oscar nominees that stuck in my head for days and required multiple trips to the cinema. I did quite a bit of last minute catching up on documentaries and foreign language films of 2012 for award nominating purposes, too. Gotta love Netflix. February will have more work on its plate for me, so I expect there to be less time for movies. Then again, you never know…

13 Assassins (Takashi Miike, 2010)
Fitting choice to open 2013 with, don’t you think? This is a more accessible and to me far more enjoyable film than what Miike tends to put forth. The first half is decent enough talky set-up; it’s nothing mind-blowing, but it does what it’s supposed to. The second half is the real gem here though, featuring some of the most badass samurai action I’ve ever seen. Just tremendous stuff, and a great way to kick off movie year 2013.
4/5

All Good Things (Andrew Jarecki, 2010)
I’m not sure why this film has to exist, or why anyone should have to see it. It’s not bad or anything; in fact, there are scenes that are quite impressive, especially the ones focusing on the central characters’ relationships towards each other, which are more complex than what one first suspects. The actors all put in solid efforts, too. It’s just that the story as a whole, despite being based on true events, doesn’t really feel like it’s anything special. There is some awkwardness to the way it jumps around in its timeline. It’s a watchable movie, but by no means a must-see.
3/5

ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, THE SECRET OF THE UNICORNThe Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg, 2011)
Oh, this was a joy to watch. I grew up with the Tintin comics, so this had a lot of nostalgia value for me. It’s way more than just that, though. It’s a hilarious movie, with Captain Haddock providing the lion’s share of laughs, but pretty much all the humor is right on the mark. The animation is teriffic and offers such beauty that it made me wish I had seen it in theater. The action is cool and imaginative, with the astounding “long take” chase scene being just the crown jewel of a big old pile of gold. What I found most impressive was how well Spielberg utilizes the animation format, smartly employing angles, shots and effects in cool ways that would have been tricky to pull off in live action. All in all, this is a teriffic film. The 2015 sequel can’t get here soon enough.
5/5

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Posted by on 31 January, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1994

1994 tends to be one of those years people refer to as great film years. It’s hard to disagree too vehemently with such a statement, as it had plenty of quality movies to offer in a wide variety of genres. About half of these films are long-time favorites of mine, wheres the others are newer acquintances that I’ve seen for the first time within the last few years.

As always, this is going by listed release year on IMDB.

Honorable mentions: Ace Ventura – Pet Detective, Airheads, The Crow

10 – SWIMMING WITH SHARKS (George Huang)

“You are nothing! If you were in my toilet I wouldn’t bother flushing it! My bathmat means more to me than you!”

While Kevin Spacey recently played a horrible boss in the aptly named Horrible Bosses, this was hardly his first outing as that character type. In Swimming with Sharks, he plays a movie mogul who takes great delight in putting his new employee Guy (Frank Whaley) through all kinds of torment. Spacey is teriffic in the part, but praise should go not just to the delivery but to the material as well. A well-written black comedy with a brutal ending.

9 – HEAVENLY CREATURES (Peter Jackson)

“It’s all frightfully romantic.”

What’s really interesting about Heavenly Creatures in hindsight is how it encapsulates everything else Peter Jackson had done or would go on to do. There’s drama, there’s fantasy – in dream sequences -, and there’s bloody murder. Based on a true story, this harrowing tale of the obsessive friendship between two teenage girls is one that sticks with you. Also notable for being the film debut of Kate Winslet.

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Posted by on 27 August, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1995

As usual, this goes by release year as listed on IMDB.

Honorable mentions: The City of Lost Children, Copycat, Heat, Senior Trip, Welcome to the Dollhouse

10 – CLOCKERS (Spike Lee)

“Who the fuck is Rosa Parks?”

The plot of Clockers may be about a murder mystery, but it has a wider scope than that. Not surprisingly when it comes to Spike Lee, the film deals with black people in New York. There’s tension going on between them and the white cops, but also under the microscope here are the crimes the African-Americans inflict upon each other. It’s an intriguing film thematically, but it’s also some of Lee’s best story-telling that I’ve seen, and it all comes together through his trademark audiovisual style, with bright colors and an effective use of music. There’s also a pretty great Harvey Keitel performance in here. Clockers is not the director’s best movie, but it definitely deserves to be talked about more than it is.

9 – GET SHORTY (Barry Sonnenfeld)

“Rough business, this movie business. I’m gonna have to go back to loan-sharking just to take a rest.”

There’s a lot to like about Get Shorty. The numerous movie-related references and meta-jokes are sure to tickle the fancy of most cinephiles, but the humor is still broad enough to appeal to anyone. Having wonderfully constructed dialogue lifted straight from the Elmore Leonard novel helps too. Throw in a twisting plot of a loan-shark trying to get his foot – and more – into the doorway of Hollywood, and you have one hell of a fun ride. Has John Travolta ever been cooler than in this one?

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Posted by on 14 June, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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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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Disliking actors

It’s safe to say that actors get more attention than any other position involved with making a movie. People like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise and so on are mega-celebrities, household names and constantly in the public eye. Those of us who are more into film than the average movie-goer can rattle off the names of this director or that screenwriter, but most people tend to focus on the actors. The Descendants isn’t “the new Alexander Payne film.” It’s “the new George Clooney film.” This line of thinking often seeps back to critics and bloggers in a way. I can only speak for myself (though I see this in the writings of many people), but I know I certainly spend some time in my reviews talking about the actors. He was great, she was awesome, this guy did the best work of his career, etcetera. Even a brief cameo can be worth mentioning. But when was the last time I talked about, say, the sound mix of a movie? I don’t think I ever have, which seems unfair. The sound of a movie is always present, affecting me from beginning to end. And yet I’ll still be more inclined to mention the performance of an actor with 15 minutes of total screentime. I don’t have any real reason for this, other than the fact that it’s an established way of thinking that I rarely reflect over.

Since the actors is what many people care the most about when they see a film, they get a lot of passionate support. Everyone has their favorites, whether they’re Ryan Gosling, Robert De Niro, Catherine Deneuve, Tilda Swinton, Humphrey Bogart or what have you. The ones that make you want to see everything they’ve ever been in, or whose mention in the opening credits always puts a smile on your face.

"No no no no no no no!"

But then there’s the other side of the coin: the actors you hate. They keep popping up in movies you see, and you’re never impressed by them. You find them distracting, boring, annoying, overbearing. You wonder how they keep getting work and why people would pay to see them. Whether they’re leading stars or supporting players, you wish they would just retire. Some oft-mentioned targets for derision nowadays seem to be Megan Fox, Michael Cera and Shia LaBeouf. Others have more unusual dislikes. For instance, a real life friend of mine thinks Peter O’Toole is pretty much the worst thing in the world. To each their own.

I try to maintain a positive attitude as much as I can when it comes to film. That’s not to say that I won’t point out stuff I don’t like, but I do try to focus on the good things. This goes for acting too, especially since acting is a two-man job. A great performance is the result of a collaboration between the actor and the director. The director needs to convey just what it is they want from the actor. Some director-actor pairings just don’t function, because the people work in ways that don’t gel. Time constraints during shooting can mean that there’s just not enough time to get that one really great take. There can be many factors at play, and a lackluster performance can not always be blamed solely on the actor. Actors are among the many tools a director uses to craft a film. Is the hammer to blame when a nail bends? Some actors can shine in anything. Others need the right project and motivation. That doesn’t mean that the latter group is bad at what they do.

All I need from an actor to convince me that they have talent is one good performance. No matter how many hum-drum rom-coms Kate Hudson stars in, I’ll always have Almost Famous to remind me of how good she can be. Adam Sandler can be in as many unfunny films as he likes, because Punch-Drunk Love still tells me he has real chops. And while I went a long time thinking that Keira Knightley was pretty much useless, that changed once I got around to seeing Atonement. Another example: Keanu Reeves. Often described as wooden and life-less, but what if he had stuck to comedies a la Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a film many seem to like him in? He’d be much more loved today, I reckon. On a side-note, I thought he was pretty good in Thumbsucker too.

Anna Faris. Not one of my favorites.

As such, there are few actors I find unbearable. Few, but they’re there. Two examples stand particularly tall – or low. One is Orlando Bloom, who is just boring as all hell. Boring in Lord of the Rings, boring in Pirates of the Caribbean, boring in Troy, boring boring boring. The other is Anna Faris, a particularly annoying example as she happens to be in my favorite film Lost in Translation. Her effort there isn’t terrible, but then it boils down to nothing but a caricature of Cameron Diaz (would it be unfair to label her entire career as that?) with maybe 5 minutes of total screen-time. She tends to stick to comedies, despite the fact that she’s never funny or charming. Even when she ventures out of that comfort zone to try out different stuff, the results aren’t pretty. Evidence A: her turn in quirky horror film May, where she plays a seductress with a tone so disconnected from the rest of the movie. Highly jarring, and a blight on what is otherwise a very fine film.

That said, I’d be happy to be proven wrong about both Bloom and Faris. If you know of any great performances they’ve turned in somewhere, please let me know.

What actor(s) do you dislike?

 
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Posted by on 22 March, 2012 in Discussions

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1999

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the 10 films on this list is the abundance of directing newcomers on it. 7 of the movies were made by people who made their feature film directorial debuts, and while not all of these film-makers would go on to lasting greatness, it still makes for an impressive class of 1999. The other three films are made by two well-established masters and one quickly rising star. There’s also, as usual, a lot of comedy on here. This shouldn’t surprise you with my lists any more.

So far in this series of blog posts, I have chosen to largely abstain from making honorable mentions. This has largely been due to a stubborn adherence to principles; if one sets out to make a list of 10 films, one should not name 20 films. I have now realized that this is counter-productive to the aim of these lists, which is to give people an idea of what movies I like.

With that in mind, here are some 1999 films I really like that didn’t quite make my list. Honorable mentions, if you will. In alphabetical order:

Arlington Road, Beyond the Mat, Bringing Out the Dead, Girl Interrupted, The Green Mile, In China They Eat Dogs, Magnolia, Office Space, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Toy Story 2

Now on to the list proper. As usual, I’m going by IMDB’s year of release.

10 – EYES WIDE SHUT (Stanley Kubrick)

“No dream is ever just a dream.”

Equal parts nightmare sightseeing tour through New York City and meditation on infidelity, Stanley Kubrick finished off his career in great fashion with Eyes Wide Shut. Impeccably designed and shot – as is to be expected from Kubrick – and with one of Tom Cruise‘s best performances in the lead, this film is also helped by having a strong story, one that might seem simple and straight-forward on paper but that reveals more layers with each watch.

9 – THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez)

“I’m afraid to close my eyes, I’m afraid to open them.”

While this movie didn’t invent the found footage genre of film (Cannibal Holocaust from 1980 seems to be the agreed-upon originator), The Blair Witch Project popularised it, paving the way for films like REC, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and many others. When I first watched it at home alone one night as a teen, it had me rattled to the core. Even today, it remains a highly effective horror film by making us fear what we can’t see, rather than throwing a monster right in our faces. A picture might say more than a thousand words, but in horror, so does a sound that shouldn’t be there.

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Posted by on 5 March, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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