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Flickcharting #2 – Rocking my Top 100

Time for more Flickcharting! For those still unfamiliar with the website Flickchart, here’s the gist of it: You’re presented with two random movies. Pick the one you like the most. Repeat until the end of time.

Last time I did this, I had Flickchart pick movies out of all the films I’ve seen. This time, I’m restricting the selections to the films currently in my top 100 on Flickchart – based on all my previous rankings. This should lead to harder decisions, as these 10 match-ups will all be between movies that I love.

Take it away, Flickchart!

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Black Swan vs Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia always deserves more love than it currently has. Always. It may be my favorite movie about childhood, and watching it is a wonderful experience. It’s so much better than what the misleading marketing made it seem. So it’s with heavy heart that I can’t give it the win here. Black Swan is such an intense film, and a terrific production in all regards, from the cinematography to the acting. The final scene always leaves me breathless.
Winner: Black Swan

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Best Worst Movie vs Take Shelter

There are plenty of things that I like about Best Worst Movie, the documentary on the notoriously bad Troll 2 and its cult following, but one part that really stood out to me was when they visited Margo Prey, who played the mother in Troll 2. At first, I just laughed at how out there she was, but gradually, that gave way to thoughts of “Wow, she’s really in a bad state.” It’s quite the shift from the generally humorous tone of the rest of the documentary. And then you have the scene at the convention, where both the Troll 2 people and the viewers come out of the bubble and are reminded that cult following is not the same thing as wide-spread fame. Two great documentary moments. Now, Take Shelter is a nuanced and engaging movie with a powerhouse performance by Michael Shannon, but I had fonder reactions to BWM.
Winner: Best Worst Movie

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The Wrestler vs Little Miss Sunshine

I’ve gone back and forth a bit on Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler since its release. I loved it when I first saw it, but on a subsequent rewatch, I felt the story was a wee bit too familiar, and I docked it a point in my review of it. Since then, my appreciation for it has risen again, largely due to how cleverly it uses its pro wrestling subject matter to create a different vibe from most sports dramas. “Sports”-wise, it’s not about a guy proving that he’s better than others; it’s about a guy willingly putting his health at risk because it’s all he knows how to do. It’s a unique beast, that film. That said, there is nothing in the movie quite as great as the rollercoaster of emotions that is Little Miss Sunshine’s climax, and while Mickey Rourke‘s performance in The Wrestler is worthy of all the praise it has gotten, there is a lot of fun to be had in the many ways the members of Little Miss Sunshine’s ensemble cast interact with each other. Plus, I’m a sucker for comedies.
Winner: Little Miss Sunshine

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Hero vs Stranger Than Fiction

This is a case of where I appreciate the two films for very different things: Hero for its jaw dropping visuals and twisty Rashomon-esque storytelling, Stranger Than Fiction for its performances and quirky plot. Hero wins though, because it’s pretty much the most gorgeous-looking movie ever.
Winner: Hero

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Life of Pi vs Groundhog Day

Life of Pi was the first movie I ever paid to see more than once in theaters. Like Hero above, it’s a stunning achievement in visual splendor, and the story it tells is one I adore for many reasons. It is, however, sadly lacking in Bill Murray at his best and snarkiest. Groundhog Day also has quite the nostalgia factor for me, which proves to be too much for Life of Pi to overcome.
Winner: Groundhog Day

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The Rules of Attraction vs Requiem for a Dream

Flickchart is in an Aronofsky kind of mood today, it seems. Three films in six match-ups so far. Funny, that. Roger Avary’s The Rules of Attraction is a film I enjoy championing, because it rarely gets the credit it deserves – especially next to that other Bret Easton Ellis adaptation American Psycho. It’s great, wickedly funny, kind of alcoholic, and has some real teeth to it. If you haven’t seen it, you’d do well to check it out. Not that it’s better than Requiem for a Dream or anything, however. I saw Requiem early in my cinematic awakening, and it was a real eye-opener to me in terms of what was possible to achieve with directing and editing, not to ention the story that had me totally reeling. As an aside, it’s fun to note that the Victor segment of The Rules of Attraction owes a lot to Requiem’s hip hop montage editing style.
Winner: Requiem for a Dream

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The 40-Year-Old Virgin vs Lost in Translation

One of my Flickchart philosophies is that there should be no “automatic” wins. Just because I call Lost in Translation my favorite movie doesn’t mean that the match-up shouldn’t warrant full consideration (in fact, I never would have realized that it was my favorite movie if not for this philosophy, as described here.) So let’s look at the opposition here. The 40-Year-Old Virgin is pretty much the cream of the crop of the Judd Apatow brand of comedy. It’s hilarious, the cast is hitting on all cylinders, and there’s real affection for the main character and his plight. I’d call it one of the finest laugh-out-loud comedies of the 2000s. There. Case made. Lost in Translation is still better. Its meditative nature and profound tale still strikes all the right chords for me, and it keeps growing all the more relevant to me for every year as I traverse the age gap between Charlotte and Bob.
Winner: Lost in Translation

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High Fidelity vs The Ice Storm

Two movies about relationships here. Well, kind of. High Fidelity very much is, whereas The Ice Storm focuses more on a specific time and place (70s American suburbia) and the way people and families operated during this era. The Ice Storm is arguably the deeper of the two, and its approach to its themes is impressive considering that it’s directed by non-American Ang Lee. Even so, High Fidelity is a movie I find more relatable, and its blend of outright comedy and introspection is handled wonderfully. Having read Nick Hornby‘s source novel, I’m also in awe of what a skillful adaptation it is. Oh, and it has Jack Black‘s best performance ever.
Winner: High Fidelity

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Man on the Moon vs Forrest Gump

Oh, this is a tough one. My gut reaction is to go with Forrest Gump due to its emotional and touching story, but the more I think about it, the more I lean towards the Andy Kaufman biopic. It’s the one movie where I can actually forget that I’m watching Jim Carrey, as he does a great job of inhabiting the Kaufman character. Compare this to Forrest Gump, which is more a case of “Tom Hanks is sure acting the hell out of this movie.”
Winner: Man on the Moon

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The Woodsman vs American Beauty

Remember how I said that Lost in Translation is the movie I tend to call my favorite? Well, that used to be American Beauty, which to this day holds a special place in my heart. The Woodsman, on the other hand, is the film that made me a certified Kevin Bacon fan through his stunning performance as Walter. Both movies deal with the touchy subject matter of adult men lusting after younger girls, with The Woodsman fully focused on this whereas American Beauty has this as just one aspect of main character Lester’s mid-life crisis – and said crisis is still just one part of everything 1999’s Best Picture winner deals with. This thematic multitasking is part of what I like so much about it. The Woodsman is a more harrowing film, and certainly the more fearless one, but superior to American Beauty it is not.
Winner: American Beauty

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

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Posted by on 4 October, 2013 in Flickcharting, Misc.

 

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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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Rewatch Review – The Wrestler (2008)

As I mentioned yesterday in my review of Up in the Air, awards season is weird in the ways it can influence how you view movies. I went back and glanced through a bunch of reviews for Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler just now, and all anyone could talk about at the time was leading actor Mickey Rourke. Rourke is brilliant, Rourke’s career mirrors that of his character, Rourke makes a triumphant comeback, Rourke will win the Oscar, Rourke this, Rourke that. When it was time for me to sit down and watch the film, it became impossible to separate Rourke’s performance from the movie. And Rourke was brilliant, so the movie was brilliant too. I called it my favorite film of 2008 at the time.

While my adoration for the film is dampened a little bit as I watch it for a second time, my appreciation for Rourke’s performance is anything but. He plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a professional wrestler who was a big star in the 80s, selling out Madison Square Garden. That was a long time ago, though. Now he’s old and washed up, his body’s broken down and he’s wrestling in small gyms in front of crowds barely scratching triple digits. The money from his heydays is long gone. He lives alone in a trailer, takes odd jobs where he can find them and spends his free time at the local strip club. He seems to enjoy doing what he does and takes things in stride, but when a health issue suddenly pops up and doctors tell him it’s time to retire lest he risks permanent injury or death, he’s forced to reevaluate his life. If he can’t fill his life with wrestling, he doesn’t want to be alone anymore. One particular stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) seems a possibility for a romantic relationship, and there’s also his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) who he tries to get back in touch with after having neglected her during most of her life.

There are certainly similarities between the careers of Mickey Rourke and Randy The Ram, but focusing on that too much is to do a disservice to what a transformative performance this is. This is one of those turns where the actor fully becomes the character. We’re not seeing Mickey Rourke in this film. We’re seeing The Ram from the word go, as he sits quietly in a dressing room preparing for a match, as he marches to the ring basking in the crowd’s approval, as he puts his body through immense physical punishment because it’s all he knows and all he wants to do. The only time when Rourke shines through and I become aware that he’s acting is during an emotional talk with his daughter, but that is one brief scene and the illusion is soon restored. This is the actor’s finest performance to date that I’ve seen.

When you look past said performance, you find a fairly straight-forward and familiar story. The estranged daughter is a character and subplot we’ve seen many times before, and stripper Cassidy isn’t far removed from your standard hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold (Tomei still puts in a great performance, I should point out). Their presence here makes sense, as many old pro wrestling stars can attest too (for more on the subject, check out Barry W. Blaustein‘s fascinating documentary Beyond the Mat), but we still know who these characters are and what role they’ll play in Randy’s story from when we first see them. While The Wrestler is more of a character study than a plot-driven drama, I would still have liked something a bit more fresh underneath the no doubt unique facade of a serious wrestling film.

This was Aronofsky’s fourth feature film. His first three (Pi, Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain) were heavily stylized and harrowing mindscrews. The Wrestler is thus a radical departure from his signature style, as he instead wisely opts for a realistic tone more suited for the material. There’s more of a hands-off approach at work here, just shooting to see how a scene goes with no storyboarding to map things out. The result is a markedly different film from Aronofsky’s usual fare. His next film Black Swan would see a return to his normal style, but The Wrestler stands as testament to his versatility as a director. He can make great movies in different ways. If you didn’t know it was him, you’d have a hard time guessing that this film is the work of the man who made the vibrant thread-twisting The Fountain.

But just because the film is somewhat austere in its tone and visuals doesn’t mean the emotions are. As familiar as the plot may be, it’s still a very gripping tale being told. Mickey Rourke is indeed the film. His haggard face tells the whole story, both when he struggles to form bonds with the people around him and when he’s going through physical anguish in the ring. Had he not done such a teriffic job, the whole movie could have ended up a slight footnote in Aronofsky’s filmography. But Rourke is game here, and it’s only a shame that he hasn’t shown the same fire since.

Score: 4/5

 
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Posted by on 10 September, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews

 

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