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Monthly Report: March 2013

One year ago, I made my first Monthly Report post here on A Swede Talks Movies. I didn’t plan for this at the time, but the Monthly Report has become the real rock of this blog. Even as the amount of posts has decreased throughout the last year, the Monthly Report provides regularity and stability. I like that.

Mighty Aphrodite (Woody Allen, 1995)
The whole Greek theater angle was largely lost on me. The story itself is solid Woody Allen, with a couple of pure gold lines here and there and some effective and affecting performances. Not the best film I’ve seen from the director, as in the end it doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s a fine enough watch.
3/5

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Lorene Scafaria, 2012)
For some reason, I was expecting something more comedic. I was also expecting something not as good as this ended up being. The whole coming apocalypse thing is shown with lots of fascinating details, but the real goodness here comes from the relationship building between Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Superb chemistry, and I found myself genuinely moved by their story. It’s a healthy reminder of just how great Carell can be with the right material, and of how Knightley is capable of so much more than just looking good in a period dress. Perfect ending, too.
4/5

TheRaid-1

The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans, 2011)
Badass to the highest degree.
5/5

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969)
I haven’t explored the western genre enough to really say with any degree of certainty that it isn’t my thing, but what I can say is that there is little about the genre that makes me inclined to investigate it further. I liked this movie, though. The banter between Paul Newman and Robert Redford made for a lot of fun scenes, and the story of the two outlaws was compelling stuff. The extended music scenes felt a bit weird, though.
4/5

Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
Some movies manage to really get under my skin. It might take a little while, but once they get through, they’re free to work whatever brand of magic they’re capable of, and it’ll just stick with me in a certain way. This does not mean that they’re better movies than others; it just means that they manage to operate in a different manner than most. Shame is such a film, and it achieves it through spellbinding long takes, a tremendous lead performance by Michael Fassbender, and a take on addiction different from the norm in films. The previous McQueen-Fassbender collaboration, Hunger, was a movie I admired more than I liked. Shame, I admire and adore in equal measures.
5/5

Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)
The most boring movie I’ve seen in quite some time.
1/5

Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
The lavish production of it all is what I found myself liking most about this film. The whole shebang looks great, from the costumes to the art direction to the environments. My main problem is Barry himself, who for most of the film is really quite boring. The story fortunately picks up a bit in the second half. All in all, though, this is one of my least favorite Kubrick films.
3/5

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Stephen Daldry, 2011)
Rough goings early on with this one, as I didn’t like the main character – more to do with the writing than Thomas Horn‘s performance – and found there to be too many shortcuts. Having the kid always carry around a tambourine that he shakes whenever he’s nervous is a lazy way to show his emotional state, for instance. That said, this film definitely managed to win me over as it went along. It unabashedly tugs on the heart-strings, and Daldry ultimately makes it work. Bonus points for fine performances by Max von Sydow and Sandra Bullock.
4/5

Set It Off (F. Gary Gray, 1996)
Very run-of-the-mill bank robbing movie, full of clichés and overwrought melodrama. Not very good.
2/5

Cleanflix (Andrew James & Joshua Ligairi, 2009)
A surprisingly compelling documentary on the business of edited movies, IE when companies buy and edit movies to remove content they deem unsuitable or immoral. Fair arguments are made for both sides of the argument, and while the process to me certainly seems legally wrong, the movie did make me pause to ponder the morality of it. This was more than I expected to do, so that was cool. What drags the movie down is the form, with lots of talking heads and floating text to provide narration. You watch it for what it has to say, not for the way in which it says it.
3/5

The Girl (Fredrik Edfelt, 2009)
Heartfelt and frank story about a 9-year-old girl (Blanca Engström) who has to spend a summer taking care of herself. The clash between childhood and adult life is potent here, and the movie does a good job in sweeping you along in its smooth pace. A Swedish film that rises a bit above the norm.
4/5

About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 2002)
Jack Nicholson is great here. It’s the kind of performance that make you wish there were more strong meaty roles like this one for older actors out there. The rest of the film is good too, although I was a bit bothered with the over reliance on narration in various forms to tell the story of Warren’s state of mind.
3/5

[Movie]11-14 (2003)

11:14 (Greg Marcks, 2003)
A black comedy thriller of sorts, with a number of different plot threads that intersect with one another. I found the tone of humor to be an ill fit for the more gruesome parts of the story, but it’s nonetheless fun to see in what ways the various plots are connected.
3/5

Morning Glory (Roger Michell, 2010)
The story of a plucky young career woman getting a new job and having to deal with old cranky people in order to show what she can do is nothing new; Morning Glory’s writer Aline Brosh McKenna herself handled similar subject matter four years prior in The Devil Wears Prada. The formula still works here though, largely thanks to Energizer bunny Rachel McAdams and a Clint Eastwood-channeling Harrison Ford. The whole movie is imbued with an energy that many comedies are missing these days, in fact. Everything just clicks. Morning Glory doesn’t break new ground, but it offers for a very fun time regardless.
4/5

Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day (Mike Clattenburg, 2009)
Me and a friend were nursing hangovers and flipping through Netflix when we saw this film none of us had heard about before and decided to give it a go. We didn’t know that it was based on a TV show, and not the first film to be based on it either. Regardless, I enjoyed it. The material itself runs a bit thin at times, as there’s not enough to fully sustain its 102 minutes, but the characters are amusing and have an off-beat kind of dynamic with one another. I found myself wanting to see more of them, so…
3/5

Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (Mike Clattenburg, 2006)
…naturally, I checked out this one too. It’s roughly on par with Countdown to Liquor Day. A bit better paced and with a sharper plot, but it’s not quite as funny – possibly due to less focus on Bubbles (Mike Smith). Nonetheless, I don’t see how you could like one of the films and not the other.
3/5

Skärmavbild 2013-04-02 kl. 11.15.57

Intolerable Cruelty (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2003)
Oddly flat in content for a Coens film, but the humor is there and the cast has a good bit of fun with it all. The ending seemed weird to me, but then that’s par for the course when watching one of the brothers’ movies for the first time, so I’m not holding that against it too much.
3/5

The Substitute (Robert Mandel, 1996)
Pretty bad in most every way, from the clichéed story and poor action scenes to the cheesy acting. But it’s at least the kind of bad that you can laugh at if you watch it with some friends. If I can give Troll 2 a score of 3/5, I can give this one a 2.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 18
Average score: 3.3 / 5
Best film of the month: Shame
Worst film of the month: Valhalla Rising

 
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Posted by on 2 April, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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“Final” 2011 Oscars Predictions

I haven’t been keeping quite as close a look at the Oscars race this awards season as I have the last few years. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but the result is that I find it hard to make confident predictions in quite a few categories. And it’s not even like last year, where a lot of uncertainty basically boiled down to whether The King’s Speech or Alice in Wonderland would pick up the most arts and crafts wins, or just how strong The Social Network still was. This year, there are plenty of categories where I have trouble even boiling things down to two possible winners. Then again, I did really poorly with my guesses last year – thanks to overconfidence in The King’s Speech, stubborn and ill-conceived faith in Annette Bening, and those damn short categories – so perhaps being a bit aloof about things will turn out to be a blessing.

So for what it’s worth, here are my picks in the various categories. They’re final, unless I change my mind. My predicted winners are in BOLD CAPS.

BEST PICTURE

THE ARTIST
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Back in September when the race was still wide open, I made a baseless guess that the unseen War Horse would turn out to be the eventual Best Picture winner. At the end of 2011, The Artist had established itself as the front-runner, yet I had a hunch that it would run out of steam and not end up the victor. Well, here we are a few days away from the ceremony, and I have to concede that I was wrong on both of those occasions. It’s hard to see The Artist losing at this point.

BEST DIRECTOR

Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris
MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS – THE ARTIST
Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Martin Scorsese – Hugo

Most of the time, Best Picture and Best Director go hand in hand. Yet year after year, there’s always people predicting a split between the two. This is rarely wise, as when a split does happen, it’s always a major surprise – think Crash / Brokeback Mountain. So I’m playing it safe and going with Hazanavicius.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 22 February, 2012 in Oscars

 

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Why I remain zen about the Oscars nominations

Me on Twitter, being a fool

Click here for a full list of the Oscar nominations.

As I was watching the live stream of the Oscar nominations announcement, here is what went through my head:

“Wow, this is fun. A screenplay nod for A Separation, Rooney Mara getting nominated for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Tree of Life up for both Best Picture and Best Director, Gary Oldman finally scoring his first acting nomination… A fair share of surprises and interesting oddities. I bet there’s going to be a lot of happy people on the internet today.”

Re-read that last sentence. Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking either.

Of course everyone was angry. My Twitter feed quickly filled up with outcry about what was snubbed, what undeservedly got in, and how the Academy members are a bunch of idiots with no taste. “Why no love for Drive!?” “No Michael Fassbender!? #OscarsFail” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for Best Picture!? #lol #smh” “Melissa McCarthy and Jonah Hill are now Oscar nominees? Kill me now.” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon – 3 nominations. Shame – ZERO. WTF?” “Somewhere in a bar, Tilda Swinton is drowning her sorrows. What the HELL, AMPAS?”

I do not begrudge people for being passionate about films they love. It’s what being a movie fan is all about. Here it was mostly expressed in negative ways, however. Many were happy about so-and-so being nominated for this-or-that, but a majority of the comments I read were focused on complaining about the nods and snubs they disagreed with. It got a bit tiresome. Surely we should be celebrating the good stuff instead of dwelling on the bad, no? But whatever. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Speaking of opinions: did you know that they’re subjective? And that there’s no such thing as “right” or “wrong” when it comes to taste? And that not everyone likes the same stuff that you do? And that the Academy members are people with their own opinions?

I like awards season. At times, I even love it. But it’s for the brain, not for the heart. I like seeing the ebb and flow of the race, sussing out which films have buzz going for them, spotting the dark horses, and trying to determine which of my hunches should be followed up on. This is completely separated from how I feel about the movies themselves. The truth is that I haven’t seen most of the films nominated for anything yet. Hell, I’ve only seen two of the Best Picture nominees at this point: Midnight in Paris and The Help, both of which I enjoy but wouldn’t put on my own ballot were I an Academy member. Don’t take my lack of personal viewing as a reason for why I remain so detached, though. I was more caught up last year and had more horses I loved in the race, and I still had no problem remaining zen about the nominations.

The Academy voters like what they like. There is no reason for me to be neither overjoyed nor sad if their opinions do or do not match my own. I don’t need Nicolas Winding Refn to be nominated for Best Director to know that I thought Drive was a great piece of movie-making. I thought Super 8 had jaw-dropping visual effects and a teriffic performance by young Elle Fanning, but I’m fine with AMPAS not nominating that film for anything. And the fact that Corey Stoll wasn’t nominated in Best Supporting Actor for playing Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris doesn’t mean he didn’t steal in the film in my eyes.

If there is such a thing as “objectively good film” – and I doubt it more for each passing year – it’s clear that the Academy voters don’t concern themselves too much with the concept. I assume that’s what gets people so riled up: that “Best Picture” is supposed to go to what is objectively the year’s best movie – hence the outrage that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was surprisingly nominated when most critics found it lacking. It’s currently at 48% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, a fact that many people have cited the past few hours. Many haven’t seen it themselves, probably because of the lukewarm critical reception and, if I may be a bit presumptious, because it was written off as not likely to score any Oscar nominations.

But now more people probably will check it out, if only to see if it’s “worthy” of its Best Picture nomination. Which brings me to the good aspect of awards season: the way it brings attention to movies that otherwise wouldn’t be seen by as many. If not for awards season, there’s little chance that something like The Artist – a French black & white silent film – would have ever been talked about outside of hardcore cinephile circles. Smaller films from previous years like An Education and Winter’s Bone also garnered more attention thanks to the whole Oscars thing, which has lead to more interesting roles being available for their stars Carey Mulligan and Jennifer Lawrence. The Oscars and other awards ceremonies can thus do good things for movies. Perhaps this is why many people get so emotionally invested. We all want the films we love to be seen by as many as possible. Both for the sake of people seeing good movies, and so that the men and women who made them will gain added exposure and be allowed to make more great films in the future. Still, the point is diluted when you go from “I hope Fassbender gets nominated so that he’ll get more awesome roles” to “By snubbing Fassbender, AMPAS once again proves that their members have their heads up their asses.”

To me, words like “worthy” and “deserving” tend to be misused in Oscars discussions. It’s a contest to get the most votes from the Academy members. If you do well in this contest, you get in. That’s the mark of being deserving of an Oscar nomination. I get what people are saying, though: this or that movie does not deserve to be called one of the best films of the year. What I feel often goes wrong is that the sentiment gets warped by the wording and context. A movie can be worthy of attention, accolades and acclaim in our eyes, yes. But what tends to be conveyed instead is that “this film does not deserve to be liked by the Academy members”, which is something I don’t think we have any right to say.

By all means, express love for the films you adore and spew bile on the films you hate. You are definitely entitled to. Your opinion is as important and valid as anyone’s. But allow the same courtesy to the Academy members. They’re often the same people who make the movies you enjoy seeing.

A few closing notes on the nominations…

Max von Sydow

  • A big congratulation goes out to my fellow Swede Max von Sydow, who got an unexpected Best Supporting Actor nomination for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It’s always nice to see Swedish actors recognized internationally.
  • Drive, which I’ve seen at the top of more 2011 Top 10 lists than any other film, got its sole nomination in the Best Sound Editing category. 12 years ago, this very same fate befell another film with lots of devoted fans: Fight Club. They both made roughly the same amount of money at the box office, too.
  • It has been 30 years since a film won Best Picture without also being nominated for Best Editing. If this holds true this year too, there are only four conceivable Best Picture winners: The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, and Moneyball.
  • Yes, Transformers: Dark of the Moon got three nominations: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects. Don’t be upset about how it doesn’t deserve to call itself an Oscar nominee. The Oscars are meant to reward great crafts work within their respective fields. The overall quality of the film is irrelevant.

What nomination were you the happiest over?

 
18 Comments

Posted by on 24 January, 2012 in Oscars

 

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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?

 
10 Comments

Posted by on 2 January, 2012 in Misc.

 

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