The rants and raves of a teenage cinephile who is just a little bit obsessed with Catherine O'Hara and Hayao Miyazaki.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Golden Cornea Awards 2011: The Scores

Well hello everyone, and welcome to the first ever Golden Cornea Awards! My personal favorites in the year of film. I'm going to start with my favorite scores from the year. I've separated them into two categories in order for it to make more sense. Sorry, I know I'm a bit long-winded. :)

Best Adapted Score

5. Armand Amar - "The Concert"

"The Concert" mixes great classical works with the beautiful score by Amar to such great effect, using the works of masters like Tchaikovsky and Mahler beautifully.

4. Carter Burwell - "True Grit"

The use of hymns is simply perfect and Burwell's arrangements are stellar. A simply gorgeous score that works solely for the movie's benefit.

3. Grizzly Bear - "Blue Valentine"

Grizzly Bear's poignant arrangements may have been slightly overemphasized in the sound mix but nonetheless are a perfect backing track to the emotions taking place on screen - neither aiming to dominate or change the tone but simply to accentuate the work of Williams and Gosling.

2. Clint Mansell - "Black Swan"

It's almost impossible to tell where Mansell begins and Tchaikovsky ends but the use of both of their music intensifies and scares, creating a Classically Romantic score unlike that of any other horror movie.

1. John Adams - "I Am Love"

The use of John Adams's unbelievable music in this film is absolutely perfect. It's gorgeous and lush but there's that sinister underbelly that lies just beneath the surface, just like the characters in the film, and it's impossible to deny the music's intensifying of that last scene.

Best Original Score

5. Akihiko Matsumoso - "Summer Wars"

Just like the movie, Matsumoso's score is whimsical and fun, and it makes a more-than-perfect companion to the eye-popping visuals.

4. Anton Sanko - "Rabbit Hole"

It's so subtle, you nearly forget it's there - and yet, the simple and the innocent instrumentation led by piano and clarinet creates a heartwrenching accompaniment to the poignant film.

3. Nigel Godrich - "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World"

The song soundtrack is amazing but when it's not playing Godrich's hyperactive 8-bit rock score makes for a fun and frenetic musical soundscape that perfectly embodies the film and its characters. And, even when things get a little bit more sensitive, the score rises to the challenge with soft, Pitchfork-friendly atmospheres.

2. John Powell - "How to Train Your Dragon"

Seeing "How to Train Your Dragon" for the first time, the thing that jumped out at me the most was John Powell's sweeping, moving and epic score. Sure, it's very conventional compared to the other scores I've singled out but that doesn't mean it's any less. With a theme that is orchestrated perfectly so many times throughout, I get goosebumps every time I hear it.

1. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - "The Social Network"

No score this year has had the power to affect its movie as much as the score for "The Social Network" has. The main theme, though ridiculously simple, is so ridiculously perfect - the organic sound of piano over electronic textures is a remarkable combo that adds a whole other level of emotion each time it is played. And, the rest of the score doesn't fall short - it can be quiet, exciting, subtle or suspenseful, sometimes all within a single track. A simply perfect score.

Honorable Mentions: Edward Shearmur's score for "Mother and Child" is simple, poignant and beautiful, if not a bit unfocused; there's not much there but Byeung Woo Lee's score for "Mother" frames the film perfectly; I'm not a huge fan of Hans Zimmer and I do think it's a bit too loud but "Inception"'s score is still worthy of recognition; it's lesser Desplat but it's still Desplat - "The King's Speech" is lovely.


So there you have it. What were your favorite scores of the year? Since music is so subjective, it's a lot of fun to hear everyone's opinions. Sound off below!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Nomination Day Laughs and Tears


Anyway, needless to say, like everyone else this year's slate of nominees gave me some things that made me really happy and also some things that made me not so happy. Though, honestly, more of the former than the latter. So, here's what I thought of the noms.

Things That Made Me Smile
  • JACKI WEAVER. Sure, it came at Mila Kunis's expense (or was that Hailee Steinfeld's fault) but since Weaver was kind of iffy it made me so happy to hear her name being called. I can't wait to see her on Oscar night.
  • JOHN HAWKES. What a very pleasant surprise! Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic but it's Dale Dickey and Hawkes that really shine in "Winter's Bone" so I'm glad to see at least one of them getting recognized.
  • "How to Train Your Dragon" and "The Social Network" in Best Score. In fact, that whole Best Score category is pretty good. The music branch didn't screw it up too badly, did they! But those two are particularly deserving (more thoughts on this category later).

    What would "How To Train Your Dragon" have been without it's stellar John Powell score?

  • "Dogtooth" in Best Foreign Film. HELLLLL YESSSSS.
  • The Christopher Nolan snub. I know I'm going to get a lot of hate for that, and honestly I do feel sorry for the guy, but he was the weakest link in that category and though Id've preferred the spoiler to be Debra Granik or Luca Gaudagnino or someone like that the Coen Bros. are totally deserving.
  • "Exit Through the Gift Shop" in Best Documentary. So, the Documentary branch has proven that they don't just care about relevant subject matter, and that they just award really good documentary filmmaking! Yea!
  • "I Am Love" in Best Costumes. I think it speaks for itself, but the Costume Branch always seems to throw a bone to movie bloggers (remember "Bright Star" last year? heh)

  • Ooooh so pretty!

  • Michelle Williams bringing the otherwise sadly ignored "Blue Valentine" to at least one nod. I wish it had been Ryan Gosling but I'm super happy for her since the performance was wonderful and she totally deserves it.
  • The fact that I predicted 10 out of 10 in Best Picture. I mean, not that it was that hard, but still.
Things That Made Me Frown

  • The lack of "Scott Pilgrim" in the visual effects category. I don't want to call it a snub because maybe it was never that realistic to begin with but it's a real pity.
  • Andrew Garfield's snub. I suppose this is John Hawkes's fault and I'm happy for him but Garfield gives a fantastic performance and it's depressingly ironic how he was shafted, just like Eduardo in the movie.
  • The Best Song category. I didn't really have any favorites going in but that group is really weak. I think this category becomes increasingly irrelevant as the years go along...
  • Julianne Moore's "snub". The more I think of it, the sadder it is. In my opinion, Moore's performance is superior to Annette's and she is just as overdue as Bening, if not more so. It's odd how out of the two performances, it was Bening's and not Moore's that took off. I think Bening is totally deserving but I wish they'd gone for two leading lady noms from the same movie this year.

  • It's okay Julianne. You'll get your Oscar soon.

  • Mila Kunis won't be an Oscar nominee. I'm totally okay with her not getting nominated (duh, Jacki Weaver), but the idea of her being an Oscar nominee was so awesome to me. Plus, what clip would they have used for her? HA!
So there you have it. All in all, it's a pretty satisfying group of nominees and I can't wait for the big night. Comment below on your reactions to the big announcement! :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Final Oscar Predictions (AKA Peer Pressure)

Well, I wasn't going to do this. I was going to leave the Oscar predictions to everyone else but here I am! Hehe. So here are my predictions. With alternates! Yay!

Best Picture
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone
Alt: The Town

I was this close to not predicting "Toy Story 3". I've had this bad feeling about it from the beginning of the season and I'll kick myself if it does get snubbed but it just seems like it's doing too well. Otherwise, perhaps the "127 Hours" thing is just wishful thinking but it and "The Town" both seem to be in the same kind of buzz boat so I'm thinking it'll be the former that makes it in due to other possible nods (Franco, screenplay, cinematography?).

Darren Aronofsky, "Black Swan"
David Fincher, "The Social Network"
Tom Hooper, "The King's Speech"
Christopher Nolan, "Inception"
David O. Russell, "The Fighter"
Alt. Debra Granik, "Winter's Bone"

Debra has support in high places. So, perhaps she could pull a spoiler. But who'd she kick out?

Lead Actor
Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"
Robert Duvall, "Get Low"
Jesse Eisenberg, "The Social Network"
Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
James Franco, "127 Hours"
Alt. Ryan Gosling, "Blue Valentine"

Totally playing it safe with the Duvall thing, though I think it's doubtful. But, as much as I'd love to see Gosling get it, I just feel like it's very unlikely.

Lead Actress
Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"
Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"
Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"
Alt. Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"

Honestly, that fifth spot is SO scary. It could be anyone, it could be Tilda Swinton for all I know! Her age aside, the category fraud thing could either get Steinfeld snubbed totes (think Cotillard and Laurent last year) or upgraded (Winslet or Castle-Hughes?). At least there'll be something surprising. You know, I fear for Nicole Kidman. I really want her to get nominated but she could be the surprise snub. Seriously people, watch out.

Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, "The Fighter"
Andrew Garfield, "The Social Network"
Jeremy Renner, "The Town"
Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"
Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech"
Alt. John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"

I'd like to see John Hawkes in here, but this category seems locked and he'd probably have to kick out Garfield, which would also be very sad. Otherwise, Rush isn't going to win so is it bad to say that I don't really care about this category...?

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech"
Mila Kunis, "Black Swan"
Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"
Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom"
Alt. Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"

Well, with Hailee out of the way, there's room for everyone to be happy! Ha. Right. The problem with this lineup is that the Oscars rarely make everyone happy, so having Kunis and Weaver is probably not going to happen. I'm going to go and make the risky prediction anyway.

Original Screenplay
"Another Year"
"The Fighter"
"The Kids Are All Right"
"The King's Speech"
Alt. "Please Give"

Well, Mike Leigh is popular here. I'd like to see "Please Give" pull a spoiler but I think it'll be one of those surprising WGA things that doesn't go anywhere.

Adapted Screenplay
"127 Hours"
"The Social Network"
"Toy Story 3"
"True Grit"
"Winter's Bone"
Alt. "The Ghost Writer"

The writers have really good taste and aren't afraid to be unique, so "Ghost Writer" is very probable. I'd like this lineup though, I really do. Strong group of movies.

Foreign Film
"In A Better World"
"Life Above All"

Yes. I really want "Confessions" to get nominated because I really want to see it. Haha! I'm so selfish.

"How To Train Your Dragon"
"The Illusionist"
"Toy Story 3"
Alt. "Tangled"

Pleeeeease no "Tangled". I forgot about "Despicable Me" but...hopefully the Academy does too. Hehe!

Uh...I don't really know but please "Exit Through the Gift Shop"? Teehee.

"Black Swan"
"True Grit"
"The King's Speech"
"Alice in Wonderland"
Alt: "Made in Dagenham"

"Black Swan"
"The King's Speech"
"The Social Network"
"True Grit"
Alt: "127 Hours"

Art Direction
"Alice in Wonderland"
"Black Swan"
"The King's Speech"
"Shutter Island"
Alt: "True Grit"

"127 Hours"
"Black Swan"
"The King's Speech"
"The Social Network"
Alt: "The Fighter"

That was a toughie. I think "Black Swan" is very likely the snubee for "The Fighter" but for now...

Visual Effects
"Alice in Wonderland"
"Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows Part 1"
"Iron Man 2"
"Tron Legacy"
Alt: "Scott Pilgrim VS The World"

PLEEEEASE let it be Scott Pilgrim. But I didn't want to jinx it by predicting it.

"Alice in Wonderland"
"Barney's Version"
"True Grit"
Alt. "The Wolfman"

Remember that weird "Il Divo" nom last year? Yep.

Original Score
"How to Train Your Dragon"
"The King's Speech"
"Never Let Me Go"
"The Social Network"
Alt: "127 Hours"

I've not seen "Never Let Me Go" yet, but I'd be happy with this crew of nominees. Actually, as long as "Dragon" and "Network" get this, I'd be happy. Ecstatic, in fact! Oh, I hope it happens.

Original Song
If I Rise from "127 Hours"
I See the Light from "Tangled"
Sticks and Stones from "How to Train Your Dragon"
We Belong Together from "Toy Story 3"
You Haven't Seen the Last of Me from "Burlesque"
Alt. Um, something from "Country Strong"?

Hm, this should be interesting. I honestly have no idea.

I won't predict the sound categories. But wouldn't it be lovely if the much deserving "Scott Pilgrim" made it into one of those? Ha. Who am I kidding.

Anyway, so, who's excited for the Oscar nominations? I actually have a big recital tomorrow night, so hopefully they're to my liking. Or else it might not go so well. Kidding!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Even the second time...

..."The Social Network" is amazing. Hooray for staying power! I watched it on DVD with my mom and sister, and my dad for the first five minutes, but then he left. Not sure why.

Anyhoo, in other news, for those of you who don't know, the Oscar nominations come out on Tuesday which I'm pretty PSYCHED about. As in, I'm upset because some amazing films and performances and technical thingies are going to get snubbed, but it's always fun to complain about it, right?

Plus, you all can be looking forward to this year's biggest cinematic event (heh), my "Golden Cornea Awards". Which will be happening muy soon, I promise. Just, you know, have to wait to get the results back from Pricewaterhouse.

Um, anyway, that's all I have to say. It was obviously nothing significant, but feel free to start a discussion below on any topic of your fancy. I promise that posts with some actual legitimate thought behind them are coming soon. Don't I always say that?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Summer Wars (2010)

One of the best things about director Mamoru Hosoda's feature film "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time", which I absolutely love, is how interesting and complex all the characters are. Unfortunately, though "Summer Wars" is much more visually stunning than "Girl", the plot does leave something to be desired. The most interesting character in the film is the Grandmother, and her relationship with her family (especially with Wabisuke) is extremely complex. However, the film chooses not to focus on the interesting characters, and instead tries to concentrate on the poorly formulated romance between Kenji and Natuski. The film also misses an opportunity to really explore the subject of technological dangers and dependency that our society faces - it touches the issue, but never quite gets where it wants on that front. That being said, the film is in no way a failure - the use of the "big eccentric family" subplot has been done over and over but this time it feels exhilarating and new. And, based solely on the visuals, this film is magical and magnificent, especially any time the breathtaking digital "Oz" world is involved. It may not be the most satisfying film plot-wise, and it certainly does not match up to "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time", but this film does everything else so, so right.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Contest Results!

Well, everyone, the time has come! With an astounding 5 submissions (no sarcasm intended), this edition of the Eye-dentification Banner Contest was the most popular yet. Before I announce the winner, I just want to say thanks to all of you who participated. It's always a lot of fun and I do hope that trying to guess those eyeballs isn't too frustrating.

On that note, though a lot of you had trouble individually, collectively there was only one pair of eyes that nobody identified, and they were these...

Interestingly, more than one of you thought they belonged to Ashley Judd, which actually makes sense.

BUT! 'Twas not the case. They actually belong to the always amazing Toni Collette in the classic "Muriel's Wedding".


Here's a full list of the eyes up there, from left to right:

---Ellen Wong (Scott Pilgrim VS The World), Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose), Catherine O'Hara (For Your Consideration), Clark Gable (Gone With the Wind), Viola Davis (Doubt)---

---Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey), Audrey Hepburn (Wait Until Dark), Bjork (Dancer in the Dark), Naomi Watts (I Heart Huckabees), Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny)---

---"Paprika", Beyonce (Obsessed), Ellen Burstyn (The Last Picture Show), Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love)---

---Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding), Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal), Emile Hirsch (Milk), "Ratatouille", Bae Doona (The Host)---

Anyway! On to the winner. With a whopping 21 points, the winner is none other than...

Amir from the blog Amiresque!

Congratulations Amir! As the winner, you get either a custom song about whatever your heart desires, written by yours truly. Or, a guest post on this very blog! Email me to claim your prize.

To everyone else, thanks again for entering! And keep your eyes open, because soon the banner will be changing to a 2010 tribute version as I begin the first ever "Golden Cornea Awards". Hehe, see what I did there, with the name? Haha.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Am Love, and a Perspective on Perspective

I think it'd be fair to call Luca Guadagnino's film "I Am Love" one of the most critically hypeds of the year. On the internet at the very least, it seems as though everybody who watches it falls head-over-heels with it. So, by the time I finally got around to watching it, I already had this expectation - this idea in my mind that I was going to be simply blown away. As a consequence of this expectation, I also developed a tinge of unwarranted bitterness towards the film. Quite simply, though I was expecting to be blown away, I think a subconscious part of me wanted to dislike the movie, so I could emerge as one of its few detractors.

This is, probably, why it took me so long to really develop an opinion on the film. Immediately after watching, though I was enthralled by the closing scene, I was already formulating what I believed to be the negatives in my head. Of course, it wasn't very easy to think of negatives, but I managed to scrounge a few up - "the story was cliche," I thought, cynically. "Too much melodrama - it's a boring premise cloaked in pretty cinematography and acting." I further went on to think, "if it wasn't Italian, and if Tilda Swinton wasn't the lead, nobody would care."

But, something felt false about these assertions. Namely, the fact that in reality, I didn't actually believe my own "opinions". Instead of officially denouncing the film with a review, I decided to let it simmer, and like the food in the film, the more it did so, the tastier it seemed. The things I liked about the film began to emerge. Tilda Swinton was, as usual, fabulous, in a language that wasn't even her own. Her conflicted and complicated Emma was a brilliant creation.

Besides Tilda, there were other fantastic things about the film that kept nagging away at my more bitter side. That cinematography, that art direction, that score, that Alba Rohrwacher, that final scene - especially that final scene. I began to realize that perhaps, I loved the movie more than I initially allowed myself. The "cliche" story and the melodrama began to seem less and less like issues, and instead, things that allowed the romance to blossom from the film's own cinematic beauty. Even the particular plot point near the end that I once considered ridiculous seemed like a non-issue.

So here I am now, proclaiming that in fact, I find "I Am Love" to be a gorgeously crafted piece of cinema, a romance whose surface simplicity is in no way a hindrance. The characters are complicated, and interesting - the fact that the movie is able to feel so minimal is a testament to how masterfully it was directed. As I said above, Tilda Swinton, who gave my favorite female performance last year, does marvelous work which is to be expected. Alba Rohrwacher's
absolutely devastating final glance at the camera is probably one of the best shots of the year. It's a gorgeous film.

All that aside though - how much can reviews and, perhaps even a little bit of blogging-peer-pressure, affect our perspective of a film? I had to cross this wall that I'd built for myself in order to truly discover how I felt about "I Am Love" and I find it strange that I couldn't respond to my feelings directly. How do you cope with pre-watching buzz and expectations? Respond below, I find this to be a rather interesting and relevant topic for all of us who want to intelligently and personally watch and experience cinema.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Yay, Gosling! Nay, Gosling... (Two Short Reviews)

All Good Things: It's really disappointing when a concept with such high potential falls as flat as this one did. The real life story is fascinating and the cast looked to be truly intriguing, but due to the film's unfocused direction and tonally-confused screenplay, the entire film turns into a boring slog that goes completely nowhere and leaves you knowing less about the topic than you did before you watched it. However, while Gosling and Frank Langella were unable to come out of this film unscathed, Kirsten Dunst was quite the opposite - in fact, she did quite fantastic work, the likes of which could be the only redeeming thing about this movie. Dunst gives such subtle work and her arc was absolutely perfect. I do hope we see more of her soon, because she's proven here her worth, and this movie is perhaps worth watching to see her fantastic performance. Oh! By the way -
Kristen Wiig is hilarious. (5/10)

Blue Valentine: Despite what the critics will have you think, this film does have flaws, which I attribute in large part to its screenplay. The overall effect of the writing is perfect - the development of the relationship between Gosling and Williams is perfectly paced and bittersweet. However, some of the smaller units end up feeling slightly unnecessary and rambly. Of course, starting with this small complaint is to give too much emphasis to the negatives, which really pale in comparison to the wonderful things about this movie. Williams, who I love, may not be doing her best work here, but it is still a heartbreaking performance; and Gosling is simply stunning. He completely inhabits his character and the way he plays the very last scene is simply devastating. In reality, that last scene sealed the deal for me - what with the Grizzly Bear score and the fireworks and the...aghhh. It was just so moving. The film is truly an achievement, if not the masterpiece that some have called it. (8/10)

Last chance to enter the contest!

That's right everyone, it's your last chance to enter the banner contest! As in, the deadline is tomorrow, as in, Wednesday January 19th, so if you don't submit your guesses to my email by midnight tomorrow evening then it cannot be counted.

And if you don't enter, you might not win! And that would be a sad day. Especially if you possibly know some of the answers.

So remember - email me ( the movie and actor that you think appears in the banner above before tomorrow, and you might win a customized song!!! Or a guest post. Whatever floats your boat. :P

So get guessing!

Original details here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Quick! I need your help!

Hey readers! I actually need your help for a school project type thing. The actual logistics of the project are a bit too complicated to explain, but basically what I need from you all is to do what movie bloggers do best - recommend a movie to me.

But not just any movie - I'm looking for a REALLY good movie (preferably a recent one) that deals with the theme of "reconciliation between fathers and sons". That's very vague, I know, but I'm having trouble coming up with it on my own, and I know that with such diverse readers with all different movie-watching backgrounds, you all will be able to come up with something better than would I could think up on my own.

So go at it! Give me your best "reconciliation between fathers and sons" movie! And don't worry, this isn't cheating. Haha!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

127 Hours (2010)

I think that one of the greatest testaments to the emotional power of this film is that I began sobbing about thirty seconds into the credits. Really, any film can make you cry with ease in the middle of it - just play some weepy strings and show an actor tearing up. It takes real skill to make a movie that affects one in such a way that even after the images on the screen are gone, the impact that they leave on a viewer can move one to tears. "127 Hours" is, then, one of the most powerful films I've seen all year. James Franco is so real, bending his natural charisma and charm and turning it into a powerfully layered realization of Aron Ralston. His eyes are so expressive, and considering that we rely on them to tell so much of the story, that's a great feature.

Not all of Danny Boyle's choices are necessarily convincing, but it's impossible to say that he doesn't take risks; and though some fail, others succeed with such gusto it's possible to overlook the others. The talk show scene, for example, was a directorial triumph made that much better by Franco. This sort of juxtaposition of jovial dialogue with the reality of a tense situation permeates the film and accentuates the suspense of every scene. Then there's the absolutely brilliant cinematography - just look at the way the colors start out so bright and then begin to lose their luster as the days pass and the situation becomes more hopeless. And then there's...that scene. Not gratuitous but still so, so effective. Perhaps the attempted message of society versus isolation isn't quite pulled off the way it wants to be, but as a complete unit this is a raw emotional experience, the likes of which I have not had in a very long time.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Super important reminder...

...that the submission deadline for the third Banner Eye-dentification Contest coming up! Due to my own schedule, I've extended the deadline to next Wednesday, January 19th. So submit SOON so you can possibly get a song written for you! That is, considering I get any entries. That's right, nobody has gotten the courage to enter yet. Yeah, I'm looking at you. You know who you are. Why haven't you submitted yours yet? I'm disappointed in you.

I'm not singling anyone out, I just put that there to intimidate all of you. Take note. Hehe! Anyway, good luck everyone, and send in those submissions ASAP!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The King's Speech (2010)

I have nothing against period films. In fact, as of late, my preconceptions have been proven quite wrong about a lot of them ("Bright Star", for example). Still, it does take quite a bit of prodding to get me particularly excited about seeing one. I knew I had to see "The King's Speech" because of its awards buzz and the three lead actors whom I quite like, but I wasn't as enthusiastic to see it as, say, "Black Swan". It seemed like it could have fallen apart - the World War II subplot seemed stuffy, the "inspirational" subtext a recipe for an Oscar bait disaster. But as usual, I was proven completely wrong - "The King's Speech" is really a treasure of 2010.

The film tells the true story of King George VI (Colin Firth), known more commonly in the film as Bertie, whose speech impediment caused him great angst amongst his family members, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), and the people of the United Kingdom. After failure after failure with speech doctors, Elizabeth decides to hire a rather avant-garde speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), to try one last time to cure Bertie of his problems. The narrative puts the backdrop of impending war on the progression of Bertie's work with Logue.

Director Tom Hooper realizes completely that film is a visual medium and uses this to his utmost advantage. Every room and costume is impeccably and beautifully designed (to be expected from a period film, after all). Then there's the cinematography - perfectly framing every moment of dialogue, the camera shakes and moves with Bertie, focuses in and out on his quivering mouth as he struggles to get out a word, focuses completely still on a single glance from Elizabeth. The masterful direction is what gives this film such a power - we feel so completely and so perfectly the tension and the frustration when Bertie is stammering.

Another art that Hooper has evidently mastered is that of the montage. The speech exercises montage near the middle of the film is so fun, so revealing, and ultimately, so effective. Later on, as Firth gives the film's titular speech, the combination of Beethoven's music and the use of different shots makes the scene one of the year's best. Speaking of music, Alexandre Desplat does wonderful work as usual, though I consider this some of his lesser work. Of course, it's lovely - and the fusion of Beethoven into the score is smart and moving.

But one cannot even begin to speak of "The King's Speech" without mentioning the brilliant acting on display here, especially from Rush and Firth. Rush gives Logue such subtlety, such nuance and such character that even the smallest eyebrow raise or mouth twitch tells us a wealth of things about his character. His audition scene, near the beginning, is absolutely marvelous and though I haven't seen Christian Bale yet, I'm wont to say that Rush deserves the Oscar. Firth's King George is a brilliantly layered creation and that stammer is perfect. It's as if it comes not from his vocal chords but from the bottom of his soul, from the inner depths of his persona. He uses it more here, less there and ultimately dissolves completely into the character, making us forget he's acting at all.

Overall, "The King's Speech" does exactly what a film is meant to do - it tells a story, a great story, and it tells it with finesse, skill, beauty and charm. It's an ultimately inspiring film that absolutely belongs in this year's Oscar race and will hopefully be remembered for years to come as a period piece that stood up to its hype.

See it: If you're following this year in cinema at all, if you want to be genuinely inspired, if you want to see a couple of the best male performances of the year, or if you like good montages.

Skip it: If you'd go solely for Helena Bonham Carter. She's quite fabulous as usual, but the film doesn't give her too much to do - this is Firth and Rush's movie.


Animal Kingdom (2010)

Everything you've heard about this film is true. In other words - Jacki Weaver is an absolute force of nature in this Australian family crime drama. Weaver's masterful juxtaposition of her character's corrupt intentions against her seemingly innocent and sweet persona is simply breathtaking to watch, and it's a performance that just keeps reminding you how great it is as the time goes by after you watch it. However, Jacki's brilliance also works against the film, since it seems to lilt a bit whenever she's not on screen. That is not to say, by any means, that the rest of the film is of poor quality - in fact, quite the opposite. It's a fine piece of cinema with a strong screenplay, good acting from the rest of the cast and subtle directorial choices that create masterful pathos. Though it may seem paradoxical, simply put, Jacki is so fantastic, so brilliant and so marvelous that even as good a film as "Animal Kingdom" is, it does not shine quite as brightly next to her.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Supporting Actress Blogathon 2010: Ellen Wong in "Scott Pilgrim VS The World"

It's nearly impossible to single anyone out from the stellar ensemble in "Scott Pilgrim VS The World", especially when it comes to supporting actresses. Every single member of the cast adds so much to the overall movie that when thinking back on who shined the most, there's no real correct answer. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was the perfect fantasy girlfriend and allowed her shady past to shine through her indie exterior; Anna Kendrick was a bundle of adorableness as Scott's sister; Allison Pill delivered her lines with masterfully deadpan sardonicism, and when the true emotion breaks through it's utterly affecting; and Brie Larson, Aubrey Plaza and Mae Whitman have some of the greatest moments in the film.

However, there is one actress in "Scott Pilgrim" who, in my opinion, does shine just a little bit brighter than the others, and that is Ellen Wong as the seventeen-year-old Knives Chau.

Knives is a student at a private, Catholic high school that the 23 year old title character Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) began dating some time after a messy breakup, much to the dismay of his friends, who want him to ditch what they call his "fake high school girlfriend" and move on. However, Scott dreads the thought of ditching the sweet and innocent little Knives and even
when he meets his dream girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) he can't break it off.

We first meet Knives at the very beginning of the movie, where she comes to one of Scott's band practices. From the get go, she completely geeks out about the band and her absolutely unflinching adoration of Scott is made perfectly clear. Throughout the first part of the film, we get an overview of her and Scott's relationship, which consists of dishing about high school drama and playing arcade games. In these scenes, Wong gives Knives an appropriate level of over-the-top immaturity and bubbliness without being annoying - making the audience instantly fall in love with her.

And that's why what I consider her best scene is so heartbreaking. Knives and Scott are doing their regular platonic activites - but this time, we know that Scott plans to break up with her. Knives begins to invite him over to dinner at her house, saying that she wants him to meet her parents. As he continually makes excuses, she keeps affirming her love for him, Wong making each line transform gradually from having a childlike infatuation to being more and more completely sincere. When she finally confesses that she is "in LOOOOOVE" we all feel terrible inside, knowing what is to come - and when Scott does finally deliver the news, Wong's reaction is so perfectly poignant.

However! All is not lost - Wong returns in later scenes as an embittered (but still totally lovable) Knives who wants revenge on Scott. She flirts with Scott's friend Neil, and dyes half of her hair blue in an attempt to counteract Ramona's dyed hair. However, behind this facade lies the Knives we all know and love. Her completely genuine reading of the line "I read your blog" to Brie Larson's character gives me chills.

Of course, it's that very last line that seals the deal. "Go ahead, I'm too cool for you anyway." Wong's delivery is absolutely pitch-perfect. The tiny tinge of sadness in her eyes, the reconciliation in her voice, and that absolutely irresistible smile all work together to make Knives's last words some of the most memorable in the film.

Though it may not seem like much, Knives is absolutely in no way an easy character to play. The energetic naivetee at the beginning of the movie could have totally come off clingy and annoying, and the character arc that she experiences throughout the film (from sweet high school girl, to vengeful ex, to total badass ninja girl, to an even more lovable and more mature young woman) could have completely fallen apart.

But, thanks to Ellen Wong's, it's impossible to see this movie and not feel love and sympathy for Knives, and for many people I know (including myself) she ends up leaving the biggest impression on the movie. She's endearing, funny, naive, and perfect - a fully fledged character out of what could have been a comic-book caricature. Wong's work may not get her anywhere remotely close to an Oscar nomination, but it's still an absolutely fantastic display of supporting actressing - and I sincerely hope that post "Scott Pilgrim", Ellen Wong gets some more opportunities to show the world what she's capable of.

This post is for StinkyLulu's awesome annual Supporting Actress Blogathon. Go check it out and see what other bloggers thought of the wealth of amazing supporting actresses this year!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993)

It's a bit embarrassing to admit that even though Glenn Gould is one of the hugest icons in the world of classical piano, my knowledge of him has always been relatively scarce. Of course, I'd been familiar with his recordings, especially those of Bach, as they are considered some of the finest in existence; and I was marginally familiar with some of his legendary quirks - namely, his compulsive aversion to performance and the trademark humming present in his playing. However, it was not until I finally watched Francois Girard's film "32 Short Films About Glenn Gould" that I was truly educated on the mysterious and ultimately fascinating figure that is Glenn Gould.

The film is pretty much in accordance with its rather descriptive title - the entire film is composed of thirty-two extremely short segments that together create an all-encompassing biopic of Glenn Gould's life. In reality, each of the segments is really less of a "short film" and more of a vignette, and each highlights a different aspect of Gould in a unique manner. Some of the segments are actual interviews with people who knew Gould, some are animations, and many are slightly more "traditional" biopic style portraits starring Colm Feore as Glenn Gould.

Far too often, biopics try to employ some kind of a structural gimmick to paint a full picture of their subject and they fail to either successfully execute the ambitious style or to tell a compelling story. However, "32 Short Films" is not one of those films. The style, which at first may appear like a cheap gimmick (since it is inspired by Glenn Gould's most famous recording of the 32 Goldberg Variations), actually works brilliantly to emphasize every fascinating piece of Gould's persona. And even while it's covering so many topics, it never feels overwhelming - in fact, each segment is just short enough for you to still want to know a little bit more, and this longing is what makes the film truly succeed as a whole. Glenn Gould is, in essence, someone who we can only know about through fragments and this film's fragmented structure preserves that sense of mystery.

Another necessary thing that the film does completely right is the integration of Gould's recordings into each of the short films. Each segment usually highlights one or two of his recordings and this aspect, perhaps, gives the film more emotional resonance than any other. Additionally, the transition of using his Baroque recordings in the first half to using the recordings of 20th century composers like Hindemith and Prokofiev in the later shorts is another subtle but perfect detail that truly heightens the power of Gould's transition into paranoia and illness.

The simple short "45 Seconds and a Chair", which is, surprisingly, 45 seconds long, simply features Bach's A Minor invention and one shot of a man sitting in a chair, simply listening to the piece. The simplicity of the music versus the listener makes this particular short one of the best and most memorable in the whole film.

Another standout is "Hamburg", in which we see Gould's chambermaid (Kate Hennig) react to a recording. Hennig's face is so expressive as she seems to live through all of her memories in the music. It's fantastic to witness, and one can relate to that sense of emotion since the music is so ridiculously wonderful. Of course, there are so many other fantastic shorts that I could rave about - "Practice" and "Passion According to Gould" are thought provoking and brilliantly directed and "Questions With No Answers" is really fascinating.

It's hard to find fault in the film, though its structure does prevent one from becoming completely emotionally involved. And, like most movies of this style, there are a few shorts that don't work quite as well as the others. However, overall the film is an absolute triumph. It's a fascinating, beautifully crafted and all-encompassing portrait of an absolutely essential figure in the history of music.

See it: If you even remotely like classical music. If you know nothing or everything about Glenn Gould. If you appreciate fantastic and memorable acting in small roles (Kate Hennig, what a performance!).

Skip it: If for some bizarre reason, you hate Canadians? Or if you cannot stand Classical music. I strongly disapprove of both of these reasons...but, hey. Haha.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Documentaries are difficult to judge, and the more and more I see the less I really know how to critique them. It seems like even the most poorly edited, lazily made documentary can be fascinating if it's based on the right subject matter. On the other hand, one watches a movie like "The Cove" (a brilliant, brilliant documentary), which not only features a compelling topic, but is wonderfully crafted, and realizes how effective the documentary can be.

I felt like I really witnessed something like that when watching "Exit Through the Gift Shop". The film is a documentary directed by infamous street artist Banksy, which begins by seemingly being a documentary about the general street art movement and then moves seamlessly into the biography of "Mr. Brainwash" - formerly Thierry Guetta, a compulsive cameraman who previously followed and filmed street artists and then became himself an overnight sensation in the art world.

What makes "Exit" work is that does everything that a documentary should do, and it does it perfectly. First of all, it features a very interesting and little-known topic (the world of street art). Secondly, it also spotlights two extremely complex people - Thierry (who is easily one of the most interesting figures in this year of cinema) and of course, Banksy himself. Finally, it is perfectly edited, a must for any documentary. The film seamlessly blends footage of the creative process of the street art, talking head interviews, and narrative content to create a fast moving, constantly absorbing 86 minutes that, while tackling several topics, never once becomes unfocused.

Unlike this year's other famous doc "Catfish", which was certainly entertaining and compelling in its own way, "Exit Through the Gift Shop" does not rely on any gimmick to keep the viewer interested - it succeeds solely on its quality as a film and its perfectly highlighted subject. Of course, there is the ever-circulating question of its validity. I personally think that it's real - however, like I said about "Catfish", even if it wasn't, it would still be a fantastic film that not only educates but makes an interesting statement on what art really is. And did I mention that it's actually extremely funny as well?

I know it's been said time and time again by bloggers, audiences and the critics' awards groups but I'll add my accolades to the pile - "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is ridiculously interesting and a true testament to what a documentary should be.

See it: if you're interested in art, great documentary filmmaking, human psychology, or mysterious British dudes.

Skip it: if you think street artists are vandalizing punks. Grrrr.


(By the way everyone I'm trying something new with the "see it skip it" thing. I'm thinking about making it a consistent review feature. Like? Dislike? Opinions below!)

2010 in Albums

Since I am sooooooooo not ready to review the past year in film (there are so many more movies I have to see, it's ridiculous), but I'm jealous of everyone else's nostalgia, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite albums from this past year, along with some of the best songs from said albums. I mean, music, it's what I do, so why not? Haha. In no particular order, here you go!

Sia - "We Are Born"

Sia's remarkably uplifting album is almost completely perfect - even the "weaker" songs (like "Cloud") are a ton of fun. And though there's nary a song on the album that you can't dance to, Sia's soulful vocals and poignant lyrics keep the songs from becoming mundane or superficial. It's pop music with major heart.

Sufjan Stevens - "The Age of Adz"

Such a moving album, the transformation from beginning to end is simply remarkable. Every single tiny layer is so meticulously placed and yet everything feels so ridiculously spontaneous that even the 25 minute closer to the album, "Impossible Soul", doesn't drag on. And even though this is the album where "Sufjan goes electronic" he doesn't lose any of his original personal emotion. For proof, just listen to "Want to Be Well" or "Vesuvius".

Best Coast- "Crazy For You"

The classic, summery emotions, beats and rhymes prevalent on each track of "Crazy For You" may seem, at the surface, to be a gimmick repeated to the point of unimportance. However, when you listen to each little gem (some not even two minutes long) you realize how perfectly fun and unique they all are. Majorly addicting, this album will make you feel like you're on a beach in California, no matter what time of the year it is.

The National - "High Violet"

While "Crazy for You" and "We Are Born" are a couple of the most fun albums of the year, "High Violet" is by a mile the most moving. Each song is complex, never too long and yet ultimately satisfying. When the album reaches its highest emotional point at "England", an indescribable feeling of bittersweet has taken hold and doesn't let go for days after you finish the rest of the album.

Little Boots - "Hands"

Quite a different style from The National, newcomer Little Boots is totally a guilty, sugary pleasure. This dance album almost evokes the early aughts and though the two standout tracks "New in Town" and "Remedy" completely outshine the other tracks, it is still, as a whole, perfectly addicting.

Crystal Castles - "Crystal Castles (II)"

Crystal Castles's second album was my introduction to this electronic duo and what an introduction it was. It's unlike anything else - atmospheric, exhilarating, and sometimes, even frightening. It disregards the rules in a way Ke$ha could only dream of doing. Plus, all those crunched 8-bit sounds totally cater to my nerdier side. Which is like, most of me, so, there you go.

Rihanna - "Loud"

I swear, I've had "Only Girl (In the World)" stuck in my head since the first time I heard it. I've never really cared much about Rihanna until "Loud" and it's fitting that this album is the one that finally caught my attention. I also give Rihanna props for performing on SNL and actually sounding decent. I'm not sure what it is about perfoming on SNL, but it seems like nobody sounds good on that show. So, congrats Ri ri. Haha.

Well, there you have it - and that's just a small portion of all the great music that was released this year (not even counting film soundtracks!). What were some of your favorite albums/singles from 2010? Share below!