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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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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1993

It has been a while since my last top 10 of a year list. The further back we get, the less strong movies I tend to have seenfrom a given year. I’ve made a conscious effort the last few months of checking out some 1993 offerings to fill out the ranks here. A few have made the cut, and the result is a list of ten films that seem fit to be called among the best of their year.

Before anyone asks: I haven’t seen Schindler’s List.

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

Honorable mentions: Demolition Man, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Sunes sommar, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

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10 – THREE COLORS: BLUE (TROIS COULEURS: BLEU, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

“Now I have only one thing left to do: nothing. I don’t want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps.”

The first installment of Kieslowski’s Three Colors Trilogy, this part focusing on the concept of liberty and how it applies to a woman who just lost her husband and daughter in a car accident. It’s thematically gripping, and Juliette Binoche is great in the lead, but what I most remember of the movie is the way it looks: the many ways the color blue is used, the shot of the sugar lump, and a whole lot else. I should get around to watching the rest of the trilogy one of these days.

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9 – THE PIANO (Jane Campion)

” ‘Twere good he had God’s patience, for silence affects everyone in the end.”

Period romance dramas is not a genre I tend to flock towards (can a single person “flock”?), but this one I definitely enjoyed, chiefly thanks to the teriffic cast. The film also does a great job of bringing its environments to life, fully enveloping the viewer in its murky New Zealand locations. Strong stuff.

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Posted by on 4 December, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Monthly Report: October 2012

Hot diggity damn, what a movie month October turned out to be! With 28 new movies seen, it’s handily the most densely packed month since I started this series of blog posts. Netflix launching in Sweden certainly helped a bit, but it’s also a simple case of film once again rising above other pastimes of mine, as it tends to do sooner or later. Summer was a down-period; now I’m back into the swing of things again.

But it’s not just quantity that makes October a great month for film. The vast majority of what I watched these last 31 days has been good. Only three films failed to make my passing grade of 3/5, which is pretty impressive. It got to the point where I started second-guessing myself: “Can I really give another movie a positive mark? Shouldn’t I give out a low score to show some kind of… I don’t know.” In the end, I feel like I’ve been fair to every movie I’ve seen. Except the Bergman one, but we’ll get to that soon enough.

The Magdalene Sisters (Peter Mullan, 2002)
Structurally, this is familiar prison/asylum/escape stuff. It’s competently made for sure, and certainly not boring. That said, it doesn’t bring anything new to the table plot-wise. It is notable, however, for bringing cruelties performed by certain members of the Catholic church to the public consciousness. Young women were sent off to asylums to become, in effect, slave laborers indefinitely. Why? Because they sinned. They flirted with boys, or had children out of wedlock, or were raped. While being based on a true story is never a free pass for a movie to be considered important or anything, it does lend this one a certain weight it might not otherwise have had.
3/5

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Rodman Flender, 2011)
A bit repetitive at times, and not a very revelatory look at Conan O’Brien, but it – and its subject – has enough energy and drive to make for a fun watch. I haven’t seen any of O’Brien’s work other than the occassional clip here and there online, and I’m not sure I learned much about him here other than what the title reveals.
3/5

Faster (George Tillman Jr., 2010)
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went into this one expecting a straight-forward frantic action flick. That’s not what Faster is. It’s a revenge thriller with only sporadic scenes of gunplay and driving antics. For what it is, it works quite well. I was particularly fond of the attempts at characterization of the main players, with all three getting some unexpected depth added to them. The ending kind of flies in the face of what led up to it though, which is a bit of a shame. Still, this is a decent movie, and I’m actually vaguely curious now to see what else the director has made.
3/5

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Posted by on 1 November, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2001

Time to set the time machine to 2001, a year that like many others had a great deal of great films to offer. There’s a nice mix to be had with this list, I think. Sure, it leans slightly towards comedy as my lists tend do – although there’s nothing here that i’d classify strictly as a laugh-out-loud type of movie – but there is some international variety. USA, France, Spain and Norway are all represented in one way or another.

I don’t normally do honorable mentions for these lists, but I do need to give a shout-out to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The trilogy as a whole is a remarkably ambitious cinematic accomplishment which does such a great job of bringing the world of the novels to life. Both The Two Towers and The Return of the King barely missed out on spots on their respective year lists. The Fellowship of the Ring – my personal favorite of the three – was sitting at #9 on this list at first draft. Then along came a movie I hadn’t seen before (#7), and Fellowship got bumped down. And then I realized a teriffic film I thought belonged to 2000 was actually released in 2001 (#2), and just like that, Fellowship dropped off. So an honorable mention goes out to that film and, by extension, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.

On to the list proper. As always, this is 2001 as listed on IMDB to avoid confusion with international release dates.

10 – HUMAN NATURE (Michel Gondry)

“Remember: when in doubt, don’t ever do what you really want to do.”

The most overlooked of the films written by Charlie Kaufman, Human Nature is a movie of many questions about – of course – human nature. What’s fun is the strange ways in which it goes about asking them. The central characters are a scientist (Tim Robbins) trying to teach mice to have a formal dinner, a man (Rhys Ifans) who grew up in the wilderness thinking himself to be an ape, and a woman (Patricia Arquette) who voluntarily abandoned civilization as an adult due to feeling out of place because of her thick body hair. This story proves to be a good fit for Michel Gondry, here making his feature film debut and immediately establishing his unique style – how many directors would go with a sudden Disney-esque song number in a film like this? Human Nature is both funny and thought-provoking, and it deserves more attention than it tends to get.

9 – A KNIGHT’S TALE (Brian Helgeland)

“Now that I got their attention, you go and win their hearts.”

Wikipedia describes this as an action-adventure film. This is false. A Knight’s Tale is very much a sports movie, with all the familiar story elements and tropes associated with the genre. It just so happens to take place in medieval times, with the sport in question being jousting. What makes the film stand out even more is the anachronistic music. Here we have a dance scene in at the royal court set to David Bowie’s “Golden Years”, and joust audiences clapping along to Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. Heath Ledger makes for an effective protagonist, Shannyn Sossamon is as radiant as ever as his love interest, and Paul Bettany and Alan Tyduk as comedic sidekicks take turns to steal the movie. Often hilarious, always feel-good. A Knight’s Tale never fails to put a smile on my face.

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Posted by on 25 January, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2003

Would it be unfair of me to say that 2003 sucked movie-wise? Yes, of course it would. Not even going into how I’ve only seen a small percentage of all films released all over the world during the year, just looking at what I have seen tells me that there were plenty of good movies out there and no disproportionately large number of stinkers. I’m sure the average 2003 movie I’ve seen isn’t much worse than the average of most other years.

But this list is still… weak? No, not weak. These are all very good films. That might be the problem, though. Most of these are indeed very good. It’s just that there are few truly great ones on here. Movies I love. Compared to most other years from the decade, 2003 was a bit lacking at the upper section. Some of these films would have a hard time finding spots on previous top 10 lists I’ve made.

It’s all good, though. I’ll gladly take more years like 2003 as long as I get one film as good as what’s at #1 here.

As usual, to avoid international confusion, I go by years listed on IMDB to determine what is and isn’t “a 2003 movie”.

10 – AMERICAN SPLENDOR (Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini)

“Why does everything in my life have to be such a complicated disaster?”

Two things are key if you want to make a good biopic. 1: Find an interesting character to make a film about. 2: Find the right actor for said character. American Splendor accomplishes these two steps with gusto. Paul Giamatti plays Harvey Pekar, notorious underground comic book writer. A complicated character with plenty of odd quirks and a vitriolic personality, Giamatti nevertheless finds the human being within and offers a nuanced and believable performance. A lot of the film’s success is due to the actor. Without him, the movie might have been just as interesting, but probably not as good.

9 – MATCHSTICK MEN (Ridley Scott)

“She said you were a bad guy. You don’t seem like a bad guy.”

Of course Roy (Nicolas Cage) doesn’t seem like a bad guy. He’s a conman. It’s his job to appear trustworthy. And he’s doing good for himself, despite having to combat his OCD and other mental hang-ups. But then his daughter (Alison Lohman) whom he has never met before enters his life, and things get complicated. Matchstick Men tells an entertaining story with twists and turns a-plenty and features one of Cage’s better performances of the decade. Also: Pygmies!

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Posted by on 20 December, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2006

When I start putting one of these lists together, I first check which movies I’ve given high scores to during the years to get a general selection of likely candidates. Then I pick my favorites. No attempt is made to add variety to the list just for the sake of variety. I simply try to determine which ten films I liked the most from that year.

This 2006 list is very heavy on comedy. I count five clear-cut comedies and three more where humor plays a substantial part. That 2006 was a great year for this genre of film isn’t something I have reflected upon before, but there it is. It’s no secret that I’m very fond of films that make me laugh and smile, so one of these years were bound to pop up sooner or later in this series. The way things look at the moment, the eventual 2005 list will feature an unusually high amount of films of a different genre. Again, not a concious decision.

This doesn’t mean that 2006 was a weak year for more serious film. Plenty of great stuff from a variety of genres was released upon the world. The multitude of comedies on here is not due to a lack of competition. It’s just that I happen to love these funny movies so much.

As usual, this is 2006 as listed on IMDB. Also note that this is a list of my favorite films of the year, and nothing more.

10 – LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN (Paul McGuigan)

“You mean this isn’t the first time a crime lord asked you to kill the gay son of a rival gangster to pay off a debt that belongs to a friend whose place you’re staying in as a result of losing your job, your apartment, and finding your girlfriend in bed with another guy?”

A smart crime thriller in which a young man (Josh Hartnett) finds himself caught in a war between two crime lords due to a case of mistaken identity. The main draws here are the funny dialogue that has its own unique rhythm to it, and the contrived but delightful plot. And Lucy Liu, whose role as hyperactive neighbor Lindsey surprisingly steals the show despite her being in the presence of some of the all-time greats in Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Bruce WIllis and others.

9 – TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY (Adam McKay)

“Hakuna matata, bitches!”

Sitting down to watch a Will Ferrell comedy is a bit of a gamble, as he has about as many misses as hits on his resume. This one is hilarious though, as his standard idiotic man-child character meets the world of NASCAR. A lot of credit needs to go to the supporting cast, especially John C. Reilly as his held-back team mate and Sacha Baron Cohen as the stereotypically French antagonist. Holds up surprisingly well on a rewatch, too.

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Posted by on 8 November, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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15 great movies from the 2000’s you probably haven’t seen

If you’re anything like me, you’re always on the lookout for more films to add to your already-too-large list of movies to watch. However, if you’re anything like me, you’re also very active in your pursuit. You read forum threads, blogs, critics lists of great films and so on. You’re already aware of most of the big blockbusters, most of the year’s critical darlings and everything inbetween. Finding new stuff gets harder and harder. Everybody knows of The Dark Knight. All but the most casual moviewatchers know of Memento. And while the average Joe might not be the slightest bit aware of foreign films like Oldboy or American indies like Winter’s Bone, a movie nut like you already saw them a long time ago. Twice. They’re hardly obscure among film fanatics.

But then there are the films that nobody ever talks about. The casual movie watcher never heard of them. The movie nuts skimmed them over. The critics reviewed them and forgot about them a month later. They rarely if ever pop up in online discussions, or blog posts, or anywhere.

And yet they’re movies I found myself really enjoying for various reasons. So if you’re looking for more movies to add to your watch list, you could do a hell of a lot worse than these 15 films from the past decade.

CASHBACK (Sean Ellis, 2006)

After a bad break-up, art student Ben (Sean Biggerstaff) suffers from insomnia. Not knowing what to do with all his extra free-time, he takes a nightshift job at a supermarket where he discovers he can freeze time at will.

Cashback is a delightfully funny British comedy. Ben’s new co-workers is a colorful bunch that all get their shots at providing laughs, whether it’s his overbearing boss, the kung fu expert or the juvenile slackers. The time-stopping thing mentioned above is not a gimmick the movie uses to base all its jokes and plot around. Rather, it provides time for Ben to reflect on how he views the world, his situation and the women around him. There’s plenty of monologues and flashbacks to flesh out his character, which makes for a nice counterpoint to the movie’s more humorous side. Also featured is a fairly touching romance developing between him and co-worker Sharon (Emilia Fox), as well as plenty of gratuitous nudity. So there’s something for everyone!

THE RULES OF ATTRACTION (Roger Avary, 2002)

Here’s another comedy, but one very different from the humor Cashback provides. The Rules of Attraction follows a couple of college students as they embark on various short-lived romances. Bisexual Paul (Ian Somerhalder) is attracted to bad boy Sean (James Van Der Beek), who’s pursuing the virgin Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), who’s saving herself for Victor (Kip Pardue), who’s on a crazy vacation to Europe, and so on. But while there’s plenty of sex and partying going on, this is not your typical college sex comedy. This is comedy of the black kind, where every joke is punctuated with the despair and lack of direction that’s plaguing its protagonists’ generation. The characters are not likeable, but then they were never meant to be. It’s the second part of that sentence that differs The Rules of Attraction from most post-American Pie films in its genre.

The film is based on a novel of the same name, penned by American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis. The book (featuring a very rambling and at times incohorent tone and multiple narrators, none of them reliable)  is one that you’d never think could work as a movie when you read it. Director Roger Avary (co-writer of Pulp Fiction) magically pulls it off, though. Highlighting the comedy yet never losing sight of the darkness, he comes up with plenty of clever and unusual solutions on how to present the haphazardly compiled events of the plot. It’s a captivating and isolated world we get to visit, one that will probably make you laugh as much as it makes you feel filthy.

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Posted by on 7 August, 2011 in Lists

 

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