Saturday, January 1, 2011

Saturday Night at the Movies: "Shutter Island"

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island opens with a shot of a ferry boat emerging from a thick, soupy Massachusetts fog, emerging from the dense haze like Lawrence materializing from the horizon. As with much of his best work, Scorsese’s latest is imbued with his lust for film; he gets drunk off movies, then sits us down and pours us a shot. That kicky energy disappeared for the first half of the previous decade, as he made well-crafted entertainments like Gangs of New York and The Aviator that threatened a metamorphosis into a respectable classicist in the order of his heroes Powell and Pressburger. Then came The Departed, a crackerjack thriller filled with shocking jolts and dirty jokes, a reminder of how much fun we could have a well-made pop picture.

The Best Films of 2010

There were a great many films worth recommending in 2010, which takes some of the sting out of the fact that so few of them were genuinely memorable. It was, like last year, a time of many, many very good pictures, and not many out-and-out great ones—not a lot to knock us back, that is, but plenty to make us sit up and take notice. Mainstream Hollywood filmmaking continues to operate at an all-time high of craftsmanship and all-time low of narrative innovation; there is an abundance of skilled technicians, and a disturbing majority are slaving away tirelessly to bring us the most impressive batch of sequels, remakes, and 3-D focus group product that they can. All told, the whole thing is a little depressing. But once in a while, a Christopher Nolan or David Fincher or Danny Boyle will bend the tremendous resources at their disposal towards the telling of stories that are fresh, untold, and exciting. Those are the films worth remembering at year’s end.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Know Your Natalie Portman/Mila Kunis Sex Comedies

“BLACK SWAN DIVA FEUD!” screams the National Enquirer headline. All right, we’re listening. According to “sources” and “an insider,” Ms. Portman is livid (LIVID!) at her Black Swan co-star. Why? Because Ms. Kunis is getting “Oscar talk” for her supporting work, though the film was supposed to be Portman’s showcase, and she is therefore (direct quote) “totally upset.” Well, as much fun as it must be to write anything that includes the phrase “diva feud,” we’re calling poppycock on this notion; anyone paying even a modicum of attention to the Oscar prognosticators knows that Portman is a shoo-in for a Best Actress nomination, and probably for the big prize itself. If there is bad blood brewing between the off-screen friends, we’ve got a better theory: it’s because of their competing 2011 sex comedies.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Best Movie Moments of 2010

Plenty of film critics and movie pundits have bemoaned the lack of truly great films in 2010, and while that’s not necessarily a notion that’s without validity, it could also be said that there was a surplus of awfully good movies this year. There may not have been many that really knocked us back, that pulled together ace screenplays, smart direction, and brilliant acting into the full package, the way the best movies do. But there was plenty to entertain, to enlighten, to thrill, to arouse; even some of the year’s lesser movies had an element—a good performance here, a memorable scene there—worth recommending. So with that, let’s take a look at some of the best scenes from this year’s movies—not all of them in films that were great (or, in some cases, even particularly good), but all meriting a spot in our 2010 movie scene mixtape:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On DVD: "Gasland"

Good Lord, watch enough activist documentaries and you’ll pretty much give up on the entire human race. The food isn’t safe to eat, the environment is wrecked, the educational system is a mess, the economy will continue to fail, we’re in a cycle of never-ending war, and the world as we know it is pretty much on the edge of a collapse. Now we have Josh Fox’s Gasland, where we discover that natural grass drilling is contaminating our water. It’s hard to overstate the value of fictional escapism these days; if all we watched was non-fiction, we’d hide under the bed.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

On DVD: "Handsome Harry"

Harry hasn’t heard from Kelley in something like thirty years, and when he does, the guy’s literally calling from his deathbed. “Do you remember the night we almost killed Kagan?” he asks. Harry does. “I’m going to hell for it,” Kelly tells him. Harry’s pretty sure he is too. But Kelley’s guilt and fear gets Harry thinking, and he decides maybe it’s time to deal with what happened that night, all those many years ago.

On DVD: "Lennon Naked"

Has anyone in modern popular culture been the subject of as many biographical films as John Lennon? Every portion of his too-brief life has, it seems, gotten the docu-drama treatment: his boyhood and teen years (Nowhere Boy), the embryonic stages of his band (Backbeat, Birth of the Beatles), his relationship with manager Brian Epstein (The Hours and Times), his time with Yoko Ono (John and Yoko: A Love Story), his estrangement from Paul McCartney (Two of Us)… hell, even his murder has been the subject of not one, but two fictionalized accounts (Chapter 27 and The Killing of John Lennon). The BBC’s new drama Lennon Naked takes, as its focus, his relationship with his father and struggle for independence—from his past, from his first wife, from his bandmates. It is a flawed and somewhat shallow account, but it goes to some interesting places, and Christopher Eccleston (Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later, Doctor Who) is dynamite in the leading role.

On DVD: "The American"

Anton Corbijn’s The American begins with a short burst of austere action—regarded flatly, from a distance. Corbijn drains the scene of its sensationalism; there is no scare music, no tight close-ups. It is an unfortunate thing that happens, and that we move on from. There will be a good long while before there is more action. There is some at the end, also. But The American is not about action, and audiences looking for it will be disappointed, perhaps angered. It is a deliberate, methodical picture. Some have called it “slow.” They’re right in literal definition, if not in connotation. There’s a whole lot happening in it while nothing is happening.