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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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Wishful thinking and surprise predictions for the Oscar noms

I haven’t done any real blogging on this current awards season we’re in, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping an eye on the race. This year’s is more interesting than most, since a lot of the major categories lack a clear front-runner. Sure, everyone knows Anne Hathaway is taking Best Supporitng Actress for Les Misérables, and Best Actor is Lincoln‘s Daniel Day-Lewis‘ to lose, but everything else is still refreshingly open. There are at least four films I could see win Best Picture at this point that wouldn’t cause me to bat an eyelid.

As I’ve said before, awards season to me is an event for the brain and not for the heart. By that I mean that it’s fun to think about and predict the Oscars, but to invest hopes and emotions in the process is a fool’s game. The Oscars are determined by a large number of voters, who all fill out their ballots according to their own opinions – at least in theory. They are as entitled to like what they like as I am, so you won’t hear any cries of “so-and-so should have been/didn’t deserve to be nominated!” when the nominations are announced this Thursday.

That said, if I had a ballot, there are some things I would put on there that the Academy members may or may not be likely to spring for. Here are a few of them.

Wishful thinking

Skärmavbild 2013-01-07 kl. 13.52.34Best Supporting Actor: Tom Cruise – Rock of Ages & Garrett Hedlund – On the Road
Tom Cruise for showing that an old dog can still learn new “sex drugs & rock n roll”-fuelled tricks. Garrett Hedlund for announcing the emphatic arrival of a new young powerhouse actor. Both for giving some of the year’s best performances.

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Posted by on 7 January, 2013 in Oscars

 

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Monthly Report: March 2012

This is the start of what might turn out to be a recurring feature on this blog. Many of my fellow movie bloggers do something similar. The concept is simple: I talk briefly about all the films I saw for the first time this month. Mini-reviews, if you will.

The Abyss (James Cameron, 1989)
The Special Edition, for the record. Yet another impressive outing for Cameron, with the underwater setting providing most of the film’s memorable moments. The claustrophobic atmosphere is palpable, putting us right down there with the crew of oil-drillers on the ocean floor as they try to determine what caused a submarine to crash. It’s a great action film overall, though the ending feels a tad drawn-out and anticlimactic.
4/5

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)
Considering my extremely limited experience with old silent cinema, I’m probably not the intended demographic for this nostalgia-trip. I’m sure there’s a lot of allusions and homages in this one that I didn’t fully catch. Fortunately, this one can survive regardless based on its charm alone. The story isn’t anything special by itself – though intrensically linked with its style – but it’s a pleasant watch with what should in a fair world be two star-making performances from Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo.
3/5

Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
I was a bit wary of this film when I sat down to watch it. I had heard it could be a bit “difficult” and “strange”, and my previous experience with Bergman (Through a Glass Darkly) hadn’t quite knocked me over. Well, this one did, and with gusto. Wonderfully acted and thematically rich, but more than anything else, this may well be the most beautifully shot black & white film I’ve seen so far. I’m finally starting to see what Ebert is on about when he keeps praising B&W over color. Persona might well turn out to be the most significant movie-watching I do this entire year.
5/5

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Posted by on 2 April, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2000

The 10 movies on this list might not average out as the best movie year of all time or anything, but it is extremely top-heavy. The top three films here are ones I really truly adore for different reasons, and would all have a good shot at making the grade were I to compilea Top 10 Favorite Movies of All Time list. They’re that good, and they’re all from the same year.

As this list series of mine now gets set to leave the aughts and head into the 90s, we’re entering years where more films I saw for the first time back in the day will show up more. As I talked about in my post on how I became a movie lover, the 2000s were largely a dead zone for me in terms of film-watching, and the majority had to be caught up with in the last few years. I watched more movies in the 90s, many of which still hold up to this day. This presents interesting dilemmas with determining how much of my appreciation for these films is due to nostalgia. In some cases, just remembering the films can be tricky. For instance, #8 on this list is a film I think I saw in theater at the time and later bought on VHS (remember those?), but I haven’t seen it in over 10 years. Can I be certain that #8 is the right spot for it on this list? Sure I can. My memories of the film places it above #9 and below #7 at this moment in time. Opinions and likings always change, sometime from day to day. But this list reflects what I feel today. And today, I look back on #8 very fondly indeed.

Note: This list goes by the release years listed on IMDB.

10 – BEST IN SHOW (Christopher Guest)

“Now tell me, which one of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?”

All of Christopher Guest‘s mockumentaries are worth seeing, but Best in Show is the sharpest one in my book. This film revolves around a dog show, and we are introduced to a number of the off-beat characters who compete in it. It’s a laugh riot, and since most of it is improvised, the whole movie is imbued with a fairly naturalistic feel. Cast stand-out: Fred Willard as a spectacularly incompetent commentator.

9 – CAST AWAY (Robert Zemeckis)

“Hello! Anybody?”

The opening part does drag a bit, and while I personally love the ending, some have decried it as being overly melodramatic. What most everyone agree on is that the middle part, the real meat of the movie, is superb. It’s just Tom Hanks being forced to survive on a desert island by himself. It takes skillful hands both behind and in front of the camera to keep things interesting despite only having one character on screen, and Robert Zemeckis and Hanks pull it off masterfully. Cast Away also accomplishes the significant feat of making audiences care deeply about… a volleyball.

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Posted by on 8 February, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2002

After the somewhat weak year that was 2003, we come to 2002. What is there to say about this year? Not much. It was a good year, thus making for a solid top 10. So with little to pontificate about regarding 2002, I’d like to take this space to talk about the fleeting nature of these lists.

I am by no means done with any year film-wise. Not yet, and I don’t think I ever will be. There are always more movies to see, from critically hailed modern classics to gems that have gotten lost in the shuffle and are waiting to be discovered. So it’s no wonder that the lists can get slightly dated with time. Not just in terms of the ranked order (which can change from day to day), but also in which films are included. For example, I hadn’t seen A Single Man when I made my 2009 list, but if I had, it would definitely have made the cut. The same goes for the wonderful documentary Best Worst Movie. Rather than going back to updating the lists when necessary, I’m fine with just leaving them as they are. All lists are windows into brief moments in time. “This is how Emil felt on this day”, is what they proclaim. Even if I see some 2002 movie later this week that would make the cut for this list, it doesn’t change the fact that this here is a collection of 10 movies I really enjoyed. To offer a general view of what kind of films I like has always been the purpose of these lists, and this goal is still accomplished by leaving them as they are.

So now, on to the list for 2002. As always, this goes by the release dates listed on IMDB.

10 – CHANGING LANES (Roger Michell)

“I can live with myself because at the end of the day I think I do more good than harm. What other standard have I got to judge by?”

Two strangers collide in a traffic accident. One is a lawyer at the cusp of his big break, the other a recovering alcoholic trying to gain custody of his children. The meeting causes a delay for both of them, setting them off on a spiralling path through the day where both will try to exact revenge on each other and struggle with determining who is right and who is wrong. A cleverly written film where we can sympathize with both sides of a conflict. Ben Affleck puts in one of his best performances, while Samuel L. Jackson is as fun as always.

9 – ONE HOUR PHOTO (Mark Romanek)

“No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget.”

A thriller that really gets under your skin, through a protagonist who’s troubled both psychologically and socially. Loner Sy (played expertly by a subdued Robin Williams) lives through the photos he developes for his customers, experiencing their joys that he himself has none of in his own life. But when he discovers that injustice is done to people he care about, he gradually snaps. It’s a story of morality and a reminder of how little we know of others, of the things we keep from them ourselves, and of how the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

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Posted by on 9 January, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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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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Rewatch Review – Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

This was a film that I absolutely owed a rewatch. The first time I saw Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead was a few years ago, and the circumstances were less than ideal. I was with two friends who didn’t like it at all and found it boring, and they wouldn’t shut up about it. Eventually, I just gave up on trying to focus on the film and we just started babbling about other things. I gave the film a low mark as a result, justifying it with “it failed to hold my attention”. While this is true, this is obviously not something that should be placed on the movie’s shoulders. When I thought about it a while ago, I realized I didn’t remember anything about the film itself other than the circumstances around seeing it. People seem to have a lot of love for it though, so it went onto my rental list. I’m glad I gave it another shot.

Told in a non-chronological order, the film uses a botched robbery as its real kick-off point. A masked guy threatens the elderly shopkeeper (Rosemary Harris) with a gun, but the end result is both of them shooting each other. At this point in the film, we are not aware of who these people are. It’s soon revealed that the robbery was the brainchild of a corporate accountant named Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who soon enlisted his weak-willed brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) to help him do the deed. Both are in urgent need of money: Andy to cover up his embezzling at work, Hank just to pay the rent and provide good living for his daughter. It was meant to be nice and simple: no guns, no bloodshed, no victims (the diamonds were all insured). As we now know, this is not how things turned out.

This is a wise crime film in that it deals with ordinary people who are forced to deal with the fallout of a heist gone awry. They’re plagued by guilt over the people who died, they have to look after their distressed father (Albert Finney) who had ties to the store, and all the problems the robbery was supposed to take care of still remain. Andy was planning a vacation to Rio de Janeiro to liven up his strained marriage to Gina (Marisa Tomei), but now that’s out the window and the auditors at work are fast closing in on him. He also has a heroin addiction that needs feeding. Meanwhile, Hank is struggling to just get through the day financially, something not alleviated by him now being blackmailed by a man (Michael Shannon) who seems to know about his involvement in the robbery.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is made by Sidney Lumet, highly acclaimed director of films such as 12 Angry Men, Network and Dog Day Afternoon. It was to be the last film he directed before he died in April this year. It’s a strong note to end a career on, even if not everything in the movie fully works. Perhaps my chief complaint is how little is done with the non-chronological structure. The opening robbery where we’re not sure what’s going on is effective, but apart from that, the constant back-and-forth jumping in time adds little to the film. This is a story that could have been told more straight-forwardly and still accomplish everything it needs to. The shifts in time and perspective are accompanied by flashing cuts and noise that distracts from the characters’ lives. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is many things, but seamless is not one of them. But it’s a fun story to behold no matter how it’s presented. It’s clear to see how one event leads to another and how the situation slowly but surely spirals out of control. This is a character-driven film free from contrived plot developments, and debuting screenwriter Kelly Masterson deserves a lot of praise for his work here.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favorite actors working today, and he doesn’t disappoint here. His character Andy feels the most fleshed out of the main players, swaying from jovial smooth-talker to stressed-out volcano with ease. As he inches closer to the deep end, we’re with him every step of the way. Ethan Hawke also does a fine job as the easily manipulated Hank, more overtly nervous than his brother. It’s a role that doesn’t necessarily play to his strengths (to me Hawke shines in roles that put him in more ordinary situations like Before Sunset/Sunrise, Reality Bites and Fast Food Nation), but he pulls off a solid performance here. Albert Finney brings a weighty presence to the role as the father, really bursting with energy in a couple of choice scenes. And then there’s Marisa Tomei, constantly getting better with each passing year, here doing the most of what limited screentime she has and nailing every second of it.

So yeah, I liked this movie. More than on my first watch, understandably, almost to the point where I wonder how any of us could have been bored with it. While there’s little extraordinary about the film, it’s a tight story where we’re clearly aware of the characters’ motives and reasonings throughout even when they’re not spelled out explicitly. I do wish the film could have provided a stronger sense of urgency at times. It feels a bit too methodical and distant at times, and some more tension would have been welcome. Regardless, it’s a well-acted film with a compelling story. Others have liked it more than me, so if it sounds appealing to you, don’t hesitate to check it out.

Score: 3/5

 
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Posted by on 6 October, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews

 

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