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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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Monthly Report: June 2012

June turned out to be a month of solid movies for me. Very… even. The vast majority ended up in the 3-4 score range. There were perhaps some films I had higher hopes for than that, but c’est la vie.

Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)
It’s not Alien, but it’s a more than adequate tribute to it that manages to bring up some interesting ideas. There are a couple of scenes that have really stuck with me since I saw it, and Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are both great. My full review is available here.
4/5

Eat Sleep Die (Gabriela Pichler, 2012)
It’s rare for a Swedish film to accurately capture the way Swedes talk in real life. This one manages this perfectly. The story of 20-year-old Rasa (Nermina Lukac) who finds herself unemployed is a straight-forward one, but thanks to the characters and the down-to-earth nature of the material, it commands your attention more and more for each passing minute. There’s some real humor to be had here, the kind that’s funny because it’s true. I saw this at a cast screening, so the release is still some months away. Make sure to see it when you get the chance.
4/5

High Tension (Alexandre Aja, 2003)
A nice and simple premise sets the stage for a deadly cat-and-mouse game as a young woman (Cécile De France) tries to save her friend from a demented killer. This one took me by surprise with the frightening atmosphere it manages to pull off, often through the use of bloody violence. So often in horror films, gore is used for its own sake. Not so here. This is blood and murder to make you scared and worrying for the protagonist. The ending has apparently divided people on whether it’s good or bad. I wasn’t a big fan of it myself, and it’s the main reason why this one doesn’t cruise on to a full 5. I’d still call it the best horror film I’ve seen in quite a while.
4/5

Fast Times as Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
I feel like I’m missing out on some of the appeal of this one by not having seen it when I was younger. Nonetheless, this is a pretty decent high school flick. It didn’t make me laugh as much as it was hoping for, but there are some scenes of unexpected heartfeltness and maturity. If the movie isn’t quite as good as I had been led to believe, the same certainly can’t be said of Sean Penn as surfer/stoner Spicoli. He absolutely nails the part. I was also taken by Jennifer Jason Leigh‘s performance as curious Stacy.
3/5

Red State (Kevin Smith, 2011)
Easily the best-acted Kevin Smith movie I’ve seen, and I’ve seen most of them. John Goodman, Melissa Leo and Michael Parks all put forth impressive showings. The film is very different from Smith’s usual fare in terms of content, yet some things remain the same. For instance, Smith remains better at writing than at directing. The dialogue is as compelling and snappy as ever – though less comedic than usual – but the pacing of the film is kind of awkward. Not his best work, but an interesting step in a different direction.
3/5

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (Gareth Carrivick, 2009)
Very self-aware British time travel comedy that keeps throwing surprises at you while still retaining an effective sense of humor. I like how it starts out narrow and “small” only to gradually widen its scope. Fans of the genre should definitely check this one out.
4/5

Turn Me On, Dammit! (Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, 2011)
Norwegian coming-of-age story about teenager Alma (Helene Bergsholm) and her struggling with ostracism and her sexual awakening. The film does a fine job of evoking small-town life, at times reminding me of Lukas Moodysson‘s Show Me Love in this regard. Compared to a lot of teen dramas of this sort, this one maintains a very low-key tone for the most part, something I found perhaps more interesting than effective. The story is compelling and held my interest throughout, although the ending ties things up a bit too nicely. It’s an okay movie overall, but I wish it had dug a bit deeper emotionally.
3/5

Rock of Ages (Adam Shankman, 2012)
This glossy musical succeeds and fails in roughly equal measures. I had a good time on average, thanks to the nice song numbers and Tom Cruise‘s superb performance, but I can fully sympathize with those who are put off by the wafer-thin story and the lack of an edge. My full review is available here.
3/5

Super (James Gunn, 2010)
I did not expect this film to be as violent as it was. Compared to other self-aware superhero films like Kickass and Defendor, this one comes up a bit short. It strives for a darker story, but its handling of its rough scenes are hit-or-miss. There’s a certain unevenness to its tone. Even so, it is reasonably entertaining, and Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page and Kevin Bacon (why did I ever hate this guy?) all put in fine efforts on the acting side.
3/5

Hot Tub Time Machine (Steve Pink, 2010)
Not God-awful, but certainly not very good either. There are some laughs to be had here, but for the most part, the comedy here is lame and obvious. It’s also a case of wasted opportunity, as there is certainly a lot of humor that could be mined from having people revisit the 80s. None of it is taken advantage of here, sadly enough. I’m probably forgetting something, but off the top of my head, I’d say this could be the worst time travel movie I’ve ever seen.
2/5

The Grudge (Takashi Shimizu, 2004)
For clarity, this would be the English language remake. A solid effort in the horror genre, with appropriate creepiness and a strong climax. It has some problems, however. The pacing gets a bit too hectic, for one. The jump scares become repetitive after a while. The story isn’t very original, and the non-chronological way of telling it adds little to the proceedings. These issues may sound big, but the movie still succeeds at being scary, so they’re largely forgivable.
3/5

Total # of new films seen: 11
Average score: 3.3 / 5
Best film of the month: High Tension
Worst film of the month: Hot Tub Time Machine

 
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Posted by on 1 July, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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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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Noble failures

I recently got into a discussion online where I made the case that reducing talking about movies to “good or bad” (or similar simplified judgments like a numerical rating) can be detrimental. It’s useful shorthand to convey your general feelings towards a film, but there is always nuances and various aspects that can get lost in this simplification process. An example I used was The Exorcist. I gave that film a 3/5 score, which is basically the passing grade on my review scale. It means that I found the film to be okay and worthy of my time. And while that’s all well and good, it doesn’t tell you any details or reasonings. It doesn’t say anything about how I found the special effects to not have held up very well, to the point where some scenes that were probably scary in 1973 felt more inadvertantly comedic to me when I first saw it in 2010. Nor does it say anything about how good I felt the performances of Linda Blair and Max von Sydow were, or anything else. But now you have some reasoning and detail to my opinions on the film. 3/5 doesn’t provide that. 3/5 is just a number, and a number isn’t much more than a number.

1/5 and 2/5 are also merely numbers. As scores on my scale, they fall below my passing grade. If I give a film these scores, it means I didn’t like them overall. But again, the whole truth isn’t revealed. There are films I’ve given these scores that I can still appreciate for different reasons. Maybe the premise of the story felt fresh and unique. Maybe it tried to do something different that hasn’t been done much before. Maybe it managed to do a lot with a limited budget. Maybe there was one or two aspects of the production I was really impressed with. Sure, these movies didn’t fully succeed with their intended goals and I did end up disliking them (or at least found them to be lackluster) overall, but good ambitions can be worthy of praise alone. There is something to admire about a film that tries and fails, in some ways moreso than a film that plays things safe and turns out merely okay. So as paradoxical as this may sound, there are some films I’ve given 2/5 that I’m happier were made than some films I’ve given 3/5. Even if I didn’t like them as much.

I use the term “noble failures” here to describe these films. Failure might seem too strong a word in some of these cases, but they did fail. They failed to make the passing grade on my scale. And as my scale is highly subjective, so is the use of the word failure here. A noble failure can still have made back its budget and more at the box office, or received critical acclaim, or been a good movie in other people’s books. I’m not talking absolute failures here.

So what are some films I would classify as noble failures?

Well, Dogtooth is one. I really didn’t like this film, chiefly because it didn’t say anything. I’ve heard it described as a political allegory, but that didn’t work for me. What’s the message here? That people who have always lived in alien oppresive conditions might turn violent and want to escape? This isn’t a revelation. The movie is peppered with shocking moments of violence and sex, and it’s all for naught. That said, if taken at face value, there are still some scenes that are vaguely funny. And it’s a polarizing film for sure, so others have obviously seen something in the film that I haven’t. I might have disliked it, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to people so they can form their own opinions on it. It is at least a unique film.

Richard Kelly‘s Southland Tales is nothing if not ambitious. Every time I happen upon discussions about this film, I’m reminded of individual scenes that were actually quite inspired and funny (the commercial with the cars copulating, for instance). And there is certainly plenty of things to laugh about in the trainwreck sense, such as The Rock‘s constantly nervous steepling fingers, Seann William Scott‘s nonsensical babbling about how pimps don’t commit suicide, and the random musical number. But the film overall is just a huge mess, with a plot that’s impossible to make any sense of and a bloated running time of 140-ish minutes. I enjoyed both of Kelly’s other films (Donnie Darko and The Box), but with Southland Tales his imagination could have used some reigning in. This is a case of where the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

What’s the best ever use of an animal in a movie? For my money, it might well be the dog in the 1975 postapocalypse film A Boy and His Dog. This dog is awesome, conversing with his owner in voiceover and expressing so much character through body language and such. It’s really remarkable. Sure, the film as a whole is weird and awkward, but man, that dog! Worth seeing for him alone? Quite possibly.

Many people love Rian Johnson‘s sly Brick, a film noir with high school kids. I found it rather boring in the way it plays out, but the concept is a novel one, there are some teriffic lines of dialogue scattered throghout and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead finds exactly the right tone, hovering just a tad above the material. I’m glad I’ve seen this film, even if I kept glancing at the clock throught my watching of it.

Another film beloved by plenty is Children of Men. I found this one needlessly cold, keeping the characters and story at arms-length that made it hard for me to care about what was going on. But it sure is beautifully shot in all its dystopian grayness, with wonderful cinematography and some amazing uninterrupted takes. People who appreciate these aspects more than me should definitely see the film if they haven’t already.

Low-budget horror film My Little Eye from 2002 is one that could just as easily have gone in my post on films I’d forgotten, as the only thing I remember about it is that I really wanted to like it but couldn’t. In a sea of cheap shoddy horror flicks, this one at least tried to provide some scares, tension and an intriguing mystery, featuring a plot with a bunch of teens taking part in a Big Brother-style reality show. The film didn’t work, but the effort was there. Also notable for featuring an early pre-fame appearance by Bradley Cooper.

What else? Darren Aronofsky‘s debut Pi, which has similar atmosphere to his later films but none of the emotional investment. Rubber, the psychokinetic tire movie that toys with meta elements to limited success. The Tracey Fragments, an Ellen Page movie which uses a unique, if tiresome, shot-in-shot collage style to convey the fragmented mind of a teenage girl. And many other films.

As already stated, I didn’t like any of these movies, and yet I think they deserve better than to simply be labelled “bad” and swept under the carpet. They all bring something to the table and try to be good. Compare this to a film like Captain America: The First Avenger, that is so absolutely stubbornly determined to be merely “okay” that it doesn’t dare aspire to anything. I liked Captain America and was reasonably entertained by it, but I really would have been just as happy having never seen it. These other films listed here, though? I’m glad I saw them all. Even if they’re not very good.

Do you have any films you’re glad that you watched, even if you didn’t like them?

 
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Posted by on 2 January, 2012 in Misc.

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2007

Ah, 2007. Here’s a strong candidate for my favorite film year of the 00s. A ridiculously large amount of great films arrived this year, leading to a really wonderful selection on this list. The #10 on this list could beat the crap out of most other #10s of the decade.

I normally don’t do honorable mentions, but I really do need to give a shout-out to Persepolis, a lovely animated autobiographical film about a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It was originally on this list, and I had its entry written up and everything. But just last week, I discovered the film that ended up on #9 here, and thus Persepolis got bumped off. Very sad. If you haven’t seen it, you really ought to.

As usual, this is 2007 strictly as listed by IMDB. Also, this is a list of my favorite films of the year, and nothing more.

10 – NOTHING IS PRIVATE (TOWELHEAD, Alan Ball)

“See, the mark of intelligence, Gail, is having the capacity of holding two conflicting ideas in your head at one time.”

This is a film I found great, yet I have little desire to revisit it anytime soon. It’s a rough watch likely to make you squirm, about a young teenage girl who has lived her whole life with her American mother in New York but is now sent to Texas to stay with her Lebanese dad. The culture clash mixes with her sexual awakening to create an uncomfortable (in a good way) story, and director Alan Ball (who wrote American Beauty) wisely sprinkles it with some black humor to make it go down easier. Summer Bishil is effective in the lead, but it’s the supporting turns by Aaron Eckhart, Peter Macdissi and Toni Collette that leave real lasting impressions.

9 – TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE (Alex Gibney)

“If you weren’t a terrorist when you came here, you sure would be when you leave.”

A horrifying documentary on the torture and interrogation techniques used by the US during the War on Terror. But it goes beyond mere shock effects and investigates what made people carry them out and why and how they were put in place. Not a pleasant watch, but an important film. Michael Moore wishes he could make me dislike the Bush administration as much as this movie did.

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Posted by on 25 October, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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