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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 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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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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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2004

Where my 2006 list featured lots of comedies and my 2005 one had a disproportionately high number of documentaries, this one doesn’t really feature any remarkable trends. Indeed, as great as all the films on this list are, perhaps the most noteworthy thing about these ten is what a homogeneous collection it is. All of them are fictional movies, and they could all be said to be American (though three are by directors from other countries, and a fourth takes place solely in Europe). As I’ve said before, I make no concious effort to either infuse or stamp out variety in these lists of mine. It just so happens that my favorite films of 2004 just happen to be these ones. And there is at least genre diversity within the specific subgroup here, with drama, comedy, action, animation and romance all getting their time in the spotlight.

As usual, this is 2004 strictly as listed on IMDB (which is the reason why there can be two Best Picture Oscar winners on here). And it’s merely a list of my favorite films, and nothing more than that.

10 – THE INCREDIBLES (Brad Bird)

” ‘Greater good’? I am your wife! I’m the greatest good you are ever gonna get!”

This is my favorite Pixar film, and a large part of it is due to its relatable characters. Sure, the family of superheroes all have their superpowers, but their problems are all human and recognizable, from Mr. Incredible’s longing for his old glory days in the spotlight to his shy daughter Violet’s feelings of inadequacy. Having a bunch of cool action sequences helps too, of course.

9 – CRASH (Paul Haggis)

“That’s good. A little anger. It’s a bit late, but it’s nice to see.”

Some love it, some hate it. I’m among the former. Crash‘s strength doesn’t lie in what it has to say about racism (someone in my Twitter feed once suggested that’s it’s actually less about that than about grace). Rather, what I appreciate in this film is the power of its individual scenes, helped along by strong performances by Michael Peña, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton and others.

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Posted by on 6 December, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Review: Contagion (2011)

With Contagion, director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns have crafted a viral outbreak movie that differs from the norm. This one has a very realistic feel to it as it examines the way a fatal pandemic begins, how it spreads, who tries to stop it and how. We also get a look at the effect it has on people, as well as that of the efforts to contain it. The film has similarities in its matter-of-fact tone and multi-character structure to Soderbergh’s 2000 drug trade film Traffic, but Contagion places less focus on the characters and more on the core subject. The virus is always the center of attention.

It comes from Chicago. Or Hong Kong. Or somewhere else. Nobody knows at first. What’s initially thought of as just a fluke occurrence or two soon manifests itself as a highly contagious disease. People who contract it get a nasty cough and might die within a day or two. The mortality rate is estimated at one in four, but that might be incorrect. Through carefully zoomed-in shots, we become aware of the way it spreads before the characters explain it explicitly. A handshake. There’s the virus. A credit card being handed to a cashier. The virus is there too. And in a world where jet planes fly halfway across the planet in a day, we know contagions spread easily.

As said, there are plenty of characters in this movie. Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the first one we see as she sits in a hotel lobby coughing. She might well be Patient Zero. Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spearheads the work to contain the virus. He might find himself biting off more than he can chew. Working with him is the driven Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) who’s sent to Minnesota to investigate one cluster of the disease. Dr. Orantes (Marion Cotillard) of the World Health Organization, meanwhile, is sent to Hong Kong for similar reasons. Scientists, most notably Sussman and Hextall (Elliott Gould and Jennifer Ehle) work tirelessly to come up with a vaccine. Inserting himself into the mix is freelance journalist Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), spreading conspiracy theories and sowing dissent online. There are reasons for his actions. While all this is going on, family man Mitch (Soderbergh-veteran Matt Damon) loses his wife and one of his children to the virus but is given little time to grief as his older daughter (Anna-Jacoby Heron) still needs to be kept safe from the contagion. Mitch himself appears to be immune, but others in the cast will contract the virus.

The realistic tone of Contagion occasionally reminded me of Paul Greengrass‘ 9/11 drama United 93. Particularly in the early goings where nobody is really sure what’s going on, the same sense of helpless dread is present, if not to the same degree of effectiveness (the first act of Contagion moves a bit slow and is bogged down somewhat by technical jargon). But once the ball really gets rolling, the film’s strive for realism becomes it’s greatest asset. Why? Because it’s different and fresh. There’s no immediate breakdown of human civilization, no sensational miracles and no evil army sent out to reinforce quarantines by any means necessary. The aim is to paint a picture of what a large-scale outbreak could be like if it happened in real life, and the film certainly feels believable.

The movie jumps back and forth between all its characters and their story arcs (which rarely intersect directly). At times the film gets too crowded, leaving some people on the sideline for a bit too long. Most egregious is the case of Cotillard’s character, who very much disappears during the film’s second half and had me going “Huh? Oh, right, she’s still here” when she suddenly popped up again. Her story could have used another scene or two both to keep it in the viewers’ mind and to flesh it out more. It’s easy enough to infer what happens as it is, but the emotional weight is diminished when we don’t get to see it. But in a way, this works to hammer home the point that the film is about the virus, not the people. All story threads are resolved in the end, but the aftermath for many characters is left ambiguous.

While Contagion isn’t a perfect film, the good far outweighs the bad. It engagingly shows many different aspects of the outbreak in its effect in personal (Mitch and Beth), professional (the doctors) and social (Alan) spheres. The actors all deliver good to great performances, with Winslet and Law leaving the strongest impressions on me. It’s shot beautifully and has an oddly fitting score. Is it Soderbergh’s best film ever? No, but it puts in a very admirable effort. It’s more ambitious than your standard Hollywood flick (the star-studded cast and the marketing gives off that vibe) and its stark tone which might turn some people off. For those willing to immerse themselves in its narrative, a feast is waiting.

Score: 4/5

 
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Posted by on 3 November, 2011 in Reviews

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2008

2008 saw The Dark Knight crush everything at the box office, with Iron Man picking up what super hero crumbs were left over. WALL-E charmed the pants off of everyone, becoming both a critical darling and a major crowd-pleaser. Standard procedure for Pixar, of course. Teenage girls packed theaters for the first Twilight film, while their mothers came out in droves for Sex and the City and Mamma Mia. Slumdog Millionaire hit the film festivals and began one of the least-threatened journeys to the Best Picture Oscar in recent memory. Mickey Rourke had his career resurrected through The Wrestler, Titanic co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet reunited in Revolutionary Road and Harrison Ford donned the iconic hat once more in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. More saddening, 2008 also had the deaths of Heath Ledger, Sydney Pollack, Bernie Mac, Paul Newman, Charlton Heston, trailer voice-over guy Don LaFontaine and others.

This was an important year for me as a movie-watcher, since it was in 2008 that I went from very casually interested to becoming the movie-nut I am today. And what a good year it was for cinema, with plenty of wonderful films arriving from all corners of the world. Culling these films into a mere 10 was not the easiest task.

As usual, this is 2008 strictly as listed on IMDB. And do note it’s a list of my favorite films, and nothing else.

10 – IN BRUGES (Martin McDonagh)

“Of course you can’t see! I just a shot a blank in your fucking eye!”

Who’d have though a film about two assassins on vacation in a quiet Belgian town could be so great? Director/writer Martin McDonagh crafts a tale filled with black humor, sadness, guilt and violence, helmed by two great performances by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. One of the funniest films of the year, only strangely enhanced by the thick melancholic atmosphere.

9 – LAKEVIEW TERRACE (Neil LaBute)

“I am the police! You have to do what I say!”

This choice is sure to raise a few eyebrows, but I really dug this film. It might not have anything revelatory to say about racism (“Did you know that black people can be racist too?”), but it walks the fine line between mumbling and top-of-the-lungs screaming regardless. It also works really well as pure entertainment. There’s lots of fun to be had watching Samuel L. Jackson‘s bigot LAPD cop character troll his new neighbors, an interracial couple played by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington. Many disagree with me and say this movie is nothing special. I found it surprisingly great.

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Posted by on 12 October, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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The Book and the Movie – Revolutionary Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t meant to take so long for Richard Yates‘ highly acclaimed novel Revolutionary Road to find its way to the big screen. The book was released in 1961 and was planned to be adapted to film soon after, but problems with putting together a usable script and distribution rights kept the movie project in development hell for decades. It wasn’t until 2008 when the finished film was actually released. By then, Yates himself had been dead for 16 years. So it goes.

Set in 1950s America, the story told is of the middle-class married couple Frank and April Wheeler (in the film played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet). They live in suburban Connecticut, with Frank working a dull office job while April looks after their two kids. As the drudgery of suburbia starts taking its toll on their marriage, they hatch a plan to move to Paris to give Frank time to find his purpose in life and become all that he can be. Complications arise however, and the marriage keeps crumbling.

The movie follows the novel quite faithfully in terms of plot. Some parts are left out, but it still mostly plays out the same way in both mediums. A lot of the dialogue is also lifted straight from the source with no rewriting, which works well since it gives a sense of accuracy to the language of the time period. Screenwriter Justin Haythe has put forth an effective script here, one that hits most of the notes of the book while still keeping things running smoothly.

The novel is told mostly from Frank’s point of view, with a few choice passages devoted to April, their neighbors the Campbells and their realtor Helen Givings. In the movie, April gets a bit more room to play and we see things a bit more from her perspective. This is a smart move as she’s a crucial character, and in a medium where one can’t delve as much into Frank’s thought process, something else is needed to add richness to the relationship between the two characters. They come off as more on equal terms here than in the novel, even if it still remains largely Frank’s story.

Indeed, the thing I miss most in the movie is partaking in Frank’s reasoning. He’s constantly rationalizing and planning ahead in the novel, especially during a prolonged period of arguement between him and April which he strategizes as though it was a military operation. Another thing the movie fails to go into is Frank’s feelings towards his father. Some scenes in the movie concerning this took on a somewhat different meaning for me when I rewatched it after having read the novel.

Director Sam Mendes does a lot of things right with his adaptation, however. Revolutonary Road isn’t the first time he’s made a film about people trapped in suburbia. His debut American Beauty dealt with the same subject matter, so it’s something he’s familiar with. He still finds new ways and angles to approach the themes, though. One striking sequence early on in the film shows Frank on his way to work, surrounded by people just like him, men in the same suits and the same hats, mulling about like ants in an ant farm. It’s a great way to visualize Frank’s feelings of being stuck in mundanity when he and April have always considered themselves to be special and destined for better things. Thomas Newman‘s score, including the recurring main theme, is also a big point in the film’s favor.

And then we have the actors who uniformly do a fine job. Winslet is the stand-out, always giving off the imprssion of believability despite the shifting moods her character goes through. DiCaprio is vivid as Frank, always on edge. When the role calls for him to really fly odd the handle, he doesn’t disappoint. The two actors have great chemistry together and not once am I reminded of them being star-crossed lovers in Titanic a decade earlier. They embody their parts here very neatly. In the supporting cast we find a solid pool of talent: Kathy Bates, Dylan Baker, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn, Michael Shannon and others. All good or great.

I found the film quite enthralling the first two times I saw it. It’s a striking portrayal of the hopeful 50s and the pressure that time could create, with enough new facets to the image of suburban life to keep it from becoming a retread of American Beauty for Mendes. Through the actors, the score, the set designs and much more, Revolutionary Road is a great film in its own right, and one that holds up surprisingly well even after having read the novel.

That being said, I do like the book better. We get much better insight into the characters, and this really helps to create even more nuances and depth to the themes of the novel. It’s one of those things where the film doesn’t feel lacking for not having it, but the book is very much enrichened by it. Yates doesn’t utilize the kind of extensive vocabulary that’s on display in the other books I’ve talked about on this blog (Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road and Rex Pickett‘s Sideways), but this is not a minus. The prose flows really well and it’s easy to get caught in the characters and their loves. It’s a proper page-turner even when you know how it’s going to end.

So in conclusion: great film, greater novel. Pick whichever medium suits you best, but if that’s a tie, go for the book. It’s a story well worth experiencing either way.

 
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Posted by on 17 September, 2011 in The Book and the Movie

 

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