Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best of 2010

It’s that time of the year when movie lovers look over film’s shoulder at the year that was and count down their picks for its best movies. It’s been nearly a year since The Gibson Review first launched so I figured I’d count down the ten best - those films that were reviewed best by yours truly and some that weren’t featured on this site.

This time, I’m not playing favorites. There may come a time when Film Faves circles back to this year, but not today.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of this year’s movies (41 to be exact). But before I count down, I must first admit there are a few bright spots of the year that for one reason or another I have yet to catch, but fully intend to during the next couple months.

Those films are: Animal Kingdom, Blue Valentine, Buried, Catfish, Cyrus, Dogtooth, Fair Game, The Fighter, Four Lions, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, The King’s Speech, Never Let Me Go, Rabbit Hole, Restrepo, Salt, Somewhere, The Tillman Story, and Waiting for ‘Superman’.

It may be said that no “Best of” list is complete without some of those movies. If that’s the case then you’ll have to accept this list as incomplete for the time being. Regardless, even though the former half of the year was quite lackluster, it still became a challenge to boil what I was able to see down to a list of ten.

Here they are:


10. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
After seeing Tron: Legacy, my respect for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World nearly doubled. Director Edgar Wright managed to create a film with more thrilling fight scenes than most of the year’s action movies. Adapted from Brian O’Malley’s comic series, Scott Pilgrim was a clever blend of video game, indie rock, and comic book cultures in a romantic comedy rich with substance and eye-popping visuals.




9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
This was a thrilling near-end for what is quite possibly the greatest children’s fantasy film series of all time. Rich with pay-offs of previous installments and mature content, Deathly Hallows emphasized how greatly these films have detailed this world of magicians and how the leads have matured into fine actors. Oh, and did I mention the franchise’s incredible assembly of the top British talents, most of which are crammed into this one film?




8. How to Train Your Dragon
I was fortunate enough to see this film at the theaters in 3D. Twice. How to Train Your Dragon (aka Dragon Movie! around my house) may be a familiar story, one that has parallels to last year’s Avatar – but it’s one of the best versions of this familiar story. And it is every bit the spectacle James Cameron’s sci-fi epic was and in half the time! I was greatly impressed by how well the flying sequences played in 2D; the jaw dropped often. If you missed it in 3D (which was superior to Avatar’s and one of only three of this year’s worthwhile 3D excursions), but have a decent HD home theater system then you owe it to yourself to check this out.




7. Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller has its influences, but nothing else is quite like it. Mostly about a buttoned-up young woman’s attempt to lose herself, which results in her losing it instead, Black Swan is equal parts character-based drama, body horror, and mind-bender. Aronofsky adds some clever uses of mirrors and the colors white, black, red, and pink for character and symbolism. Natalie Portman gives a very convincing performance as a ballet dancer who just wants to be perfect, but is haunted by her insecurities and visions that may or may not be real. Black Swan just falls short of Aronofsky’s best work, but does pirouettes around others.




6. Kick-Ass
Kick-Ass is the year’s most exciting and enjoyable action film – and the most underappreciated film of the year. It is an unabashedly fun film that pulls no punches. It winks at other superhero movies, admits their ridiculousness, yet embraces them completely and gives them a wild, wet kiss. Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz gave stand-out performances (and sparked controversy) as the father/daughter crime-fighting duo Big Daddy and Hit Girl. These characters have the most memorable scenes, but those scenes feature some of the most brilliantly executed filmmaking I’ve seen this year: the hostage first-person-shooter scene, Hit Girl’s John Woo-influenced action scenes, and Big Daddy’s warehouse blow-out shown to us via Teddy-cam. Not only that, but this is a film that was self-financed and looks like a big budget studio film. Those who can’t stand a bit of edge to their action should look elsewhere. The rest of us should savor Kick-Ass.




5. Winter’s Bone
Winter’s Bone is a great character-driven mystery with excellent performances, featuring one of the year’s best characters, Ree Dolley (Jennifer Lawrence). Moody, yet as naturalistic as you’ll ever find, Winter’s Bone is so low-key it went under many people’s radar earlier this year. But it is as fine a film as you’ll ever see in 2010.




4. True Grit
When I screened the 1969 western starring John Wayne last August for The Gibson Revue, I selected it not only because it fit with the theme of a loner befriending others or that it, like Let the Right One In, was an adaptation of a novel. I selected it in part because I knew it, like the Swedish film, was being remade – and once I saw the original I knew the Coen Bros. were the right people for the job. Coincidently, the western fared better than the vampire story. It is one of the most beautiful and engaging films you’ll see this year, which had a decent crop of new female talent pop up, including Chloe Moretz and Jennifer Lawrence. Just as 2010 was tipping its hat and bidding us adieu, it gave us Hailee Steinfeld also.




3. Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3 is the year’s best sequel – and there were a lot of sequels! It’s extremely clever and side-steps the traps of other sequels, animated or otherwise, for a beautiful and thrilling story that fondly bids these characters a fond farewell. This is the film that will make you laugh and cry like no other. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Pixar can treat its next couple sequels of other films with the same brilliance.




2. Inception
Inception is best-remembered as a mind-bending thriller with ingenious stunts. It was also the first truly great original idea to hit theaters this year. Under the surface was also an intriguing message on storytelling, specifically in movies, by a man who is one of today’s most exceptional storytellers, Christopher Nolan. For several months, this was the best film of the year.



1. The Social Network
Timeless, yet era-defining, The Social Network is the film that is not only about the King Geek of an era ruled by geeks in nearly every way but also about how geek-kind was destined to rule our future. Our society has been defined by a technology created by geeks like Bill Gates and entertainment that is derived from geekdom’s literature, comic books. Mark Zuckerberg is just the latest geek to rule another aspect of society: social interaction. The Social Network is no “Revenge of the Nerds”-tinged biopic. Nor does it ever treat its audience as though its intelligence is inferior to its subject by spelling everything out. Nor is it a biopic that simply fires off a list of factual scenes. It is about how one man’s idea can change a world – and how it did. Featuring the year’s most nuanced and complex performance, by Jesse Eisenberg, with a superb script by Aaron Sorkin and magnificent direction by David Fincher, The Social Network is not just the best of a bunch of really good films – it is the greatest film, hands down; one that will surely be remembered for decades to come.


Honorable mentions must go to:

127 Hours
Easy A
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Kids Are All Right
Mother
A Prophet
Shutter Island
The Town


Those are the best movies of 2010. Do yourself a favor and hunt them down in theaters or wherever you rent movies these days.

If you agree or disagree with my picks, please leave a comment below or on Facebook or drop me an email at thegibsonreview@gmail.com

Coens Kick Aside Dusty Classic with Grit

The Coen brothers are among the great auteur filmmakers of our time. They might occasionally lean too much on quirk and despicable characters as in Burn After Reading and The Big Lebowski – which formed my love/hate relationship with their work - but they are undeniably talented, which is why we now have such great American films as Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and last year’s A Single Man. Now, the Coens can add True Grit, adapted from the novel by Charles Portis, to their list of great films.

True Grit stars Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, with appearances by Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. It is a film, like the brothers’ other work, that’s about faith, selfishness, and solitude. It relishes the American landscape and the English language. It is what one would call a “traditional western” where its only frills are its gorgeous Big Country photography, its 19th century manner of speaking (so foreign in an age of LOL text-speak), and its lack of larger-than-life performances. This is a western for fans of Unforgiven, Tombstone, or High Noon.

Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, a tough-talking 14 year-old who can out-haggle and outsmart men three times her age. Ross is looking to hire someone to hunt down her father’s murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She hires the reluctant and drunken Rooster Cogburn (Bridges). A proud Texas Ranger (Damon) also joins up to bring Chaney to justice for a crime committed in Waco.

Comparisons to the 1969 John Wayne original are unavoidable. After all, it was the film that won the acting legend his only Oscar. In a remake-happy film industry, it’s rare for one to actually avoid disgrace and improve on the original. The key here is the original, as an adaptation of a novel, had a lot of room for improvement. But fans of the ’69 Grit can rest easy knowing the Coens have avoided a moment-by-moment modern retread. In fact, they have succeeded at crafting something that is superior to the original in every way.

Jeff Bridges, complete with the trademark Cogburn eye patch that John Wayne originated as homage to his favorite creative partner, John Ford, gives his own version of Rooster. Where Wayne was hammy and larger-than-life, Bridges is mangy and at times incoherent. His Cogburn is not fall-down drunk, but his taste for the flask causes him to stumble on the job. Cogburn may be a drunken cowboy like last year’s Bad Blake of Crazy Heart, but he’s much more grizzled and intimidating enough to give a tough outlaw pause before filling his hands for a shootout.

But the true star of this film is not Cogburn this time around. At the year’s twilight, we are given quite possibly its best character, Mattie Ross. Like Ree Dolly of Winter’s Bone earlier this year, Mattie is stubborn, determined, and tougher than one would expect from a girl her age. Both set out in a dangerous locale on a quest related to their fathers. Both can fend for themselves, but whose headstrong ways back them into a corner, to paraphrase a line from True Grit. Ree and Mattie are kindred spirits separated by a lifetime and two of the most fascinating characters of the year performed by two of its best new talents: Jennifer Lawrence and Hailee Steinfeld. I was unable to resist watching Steinfeld with fixed attention, tickled by her gumption and fascinated by her ability to perform as expertly as the stars riding by her side. Like Damon in his role, Steinfeld blows her predecessor out of the water.

In True Grit, the violence is occasionally gory, the humor is dark and understated, and the imagery is striking. It is an old-fashioned revenge western featuring a character that demands your attention to her story’s end. It’s one with an edge, realism, and subject matter the potential of which had until now had gone unfulfilled. It is one of the best films of the Coen brothers’ unique career.


9/10

Should you see it? Buy tickets.


True Grit is now playing in theaters.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Gibson Revue: Taking It Down a Notch

Hey folks!

Plans have changed for the upcoming Gibson Revue: Winter Movie Marathon.  It will still be held at 12:30p on Saturday, January 15, 2010.

The difference is that due to some complications that come with screening movies in a public event, I have been forced to scale it back down.  Instead of being held on campus with a crowd of folks from both The Evergreen State College and all over the South Sound area, it will once again be an intimate gathering with just you devoted readers at my house.

This means the event is once again free of admission!  And there will also be free food! 

So, how can you resist?

Once again, join me for an afternoon of three movies - all love stories from the male perspective - with audience/host discussion and breaks after each film.


Annie Hall - the legendary and hilarious romantic comedy starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. 1hr. 33 mins.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - the brilliant sci-fi romance starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.  1hr. 48mins.

(500) Days of Summer - 2009's indie romance nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical by the Hollywood Foreign Press, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.  1hr. 35mins.


Please RSVP at thegibsonreview@gmail.com or on Facebook.  Thanks and I look forward to seeing you then!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Golden Globes Prove Laughable with Comedy Noms

Last week, the Hollywood Foreign Press (via a couple famous celebrities) announced their nominees for next month’s Golden Globe Awards. In the past, the Globes have earned credibility as an indication of the best picture nominees for the Academy Awards. But in recent years, the awards show has received some derision as nothing more than an industry frat party. This year’s nominees didn’t help.

At a glance, one may not think twice about this year’s nods. The Social Network, Inception, Toy Story 3, and The Kids Are All Right all received attention. But let’s take a look at what is nominated alongside The Kids Are All Right for best musical or comedy:

Alice in Wonderland

Burlesque

Red

The Tourist

Some may argue a couple of these are enjoyable. With the exception of Red, most critics would disagree. The Tourist was nearly universally disparaged; Burlesque was often compared to the campy Showgirls; and Alice in Wonderland was deemed appallingly dull (full disclosure: of the films nominated, I’ve only seen Alice and The Kids...). However, the one achievement these movies made this year – with exception to Burlesque and The Tourist, two recent bombs that were criticized for their acting and writing – was financial.  Alice earned big 3D dollars at over $1 billion, Red nearly tripled its own budget, and The Kids Are All Right proved to be the indie smash of the year.

Better received comedies – both by critics and the average Joes that saw them – like Easy A, Cyrus, Four Lions, Get Him to the Greek, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World were completely snubbed, save for Emma Stone’s nomination for best comedic actress. Even if they were considered, The Kids... would still be deemed the front-runner (at a 94% positive on Rotten Tomatoes, it is the best-reviewed comedy of the year). But the question remains: why were these films of favorable repute snubbed?

Cynics argue that as a show, the Globes wanted to get a star-studded ‘cast’ to appear, hence the nominations for Angelina Jolie (The Tourist) and Johnny Depp (The Tourist, Alice in Wonderland). We may never know the real reason for sure and, if The Kids... loses in an upset, we may not have any credible authority to indicate what the best comedy of the year truly was.

However, best musical or comedy wasn’t the only category with snubs this year. Movies like Korea’s magnificent mystery from Bong Joon-ho, Mother; and Sweden’s sensation, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were ignored in favor of a couple lesser-known or liked films.

Last year, the Golden Globes seemed to honor the movies that were popular over those that actually deserved to be described as “the best”. It’s Complicated, Julie & Julia, and last year’s musical lemon Nine were all nominated for best musical or comedy, as well as the year’s indie (500) Days of Summer – all lost to the popular hit The Hangover. 2010 lacked any comedy phenom, but if box office returns are to be viewed as any indication then Alice in Wonderland could be slapped with a label most agree is better suited toward The Kids Are All Right. After all, Avatar joined The Hangover as the highest-grossing films of their categories - and both won.

At any rate, movie lovers can rest easy knowing that whatever happens during the Golden Globes won’t necessarily mean squat come Oscar time. As last year’s Best Picture win for The Hurt Locker showed us, popular movies may get noticed more these days during awards season, but the ones that truly deserve the crown may still earn it.

What do you think?  Leave a comment below or on Facebook. Or you can now drop an email at thegibsonreview@gmail.com
 
You can view a complete list of this year's Golden Globe nominees here.

TRON: Legacy - Dazzling Fun, Little Else

In 1982, Disney released a computer-generated special effects extravaganza that sent audiences into the world of technology, a world that at the time was still in its infancy. Accounting and security programs were sentient beings that lived on a physical plane of existence divided by blue and red neon highlights and used discs with their identity and information as weapons. It featured religious allegories with programs created in the user’s image and the idea of the existence of these creators as a persecuted religious concept. Unfortunately, TRON failed to use these ideas to say anything interesting. In hindsight, TRON is a cheesy, dated experiment with great unrealized ideas and bad dialogue.

Thirty-eight years later, a sequel is born, TRON: Legacy, full of whiz-bang special effects of the 3D digital age that makes the original look ancient. The sequel, directed by newcomer Joseph Kosinski, tells us that a few years after the original, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the cocky yet easy-going vindicated game-developer-turned-industry-leader, was trapped in the ‘grid’, having been betrayed by his own program, Clu, while building a new, perfect technological world. Meanwhile, in the real world, his disappearance is an unsolved mystery, leaving some to posit Flynn simply walked away from success in self-exile, as well as his bewildered little boy suffering from abandonment issues.

That little boy, Sam, is now a rebellious technological genius in his late twenties (played unexceptionally by Garret Hedlund). He receives a page (remember pagers?) from his dad’s abandoned arcade. One thing leads to another and soon he, too, finds himself in the grid, coming face-to-face with neon red sentries and dumped into technological gladiator games. Before long, Sam – and the audience – is caught up to speed, meets his father and is plotting to get them both back home.

TRON was a movie that had a lot of interesting ideas about a fictional technological world that a sequel, nearly thirty years later, had the potential to run wild with. If you’re hoping for a film that expands on the original’s ideas and religious allegories, you’re out of luck. The Matrix redux, this is not. You won’t see today’s programs, apps, social networks, or other forms of technology represented in sentient form or as part of some expansive universe. Nor will you see religious allegories treated with more than a cursory interest.

But as a simple, straight-forward sci-fi spectacle, TRON: Legacy delivers. It still makes flimsy attempts at themes of the dangers of today’s technology ruling our lives, with religious symbolism threaded in. However, unlike with The Matrix, that’s not what one should come to TRON: Legacy expecting. This movie is all about the dazzling special effects – and you will be dazzled – and cool action. It doesn’t even seem to pretend its intentions are to be anything more. This may disappoint anyone who remembered the original with anything other than rose-colored glasses and hoped for more.

Light cycle races and gladiator-style disc fights will no doubt entertain, especially in 3D, which the film was shot in and lacks the adjustment period last year’s Avatar required. Also, some of the performances help keep TRON: Legacy from being a dull special effects money-waster, chiefly by Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, and Jeff Bridges.

Olivia Wilde adds to the film’s eye-candy and fills the role of the butt-kicking babe so often seen in these films by memorably playing an ally program with a secret. Sheen, however, as Castor, is clearly having fun as a sort of dance club owner who knows the location of a key character. Decked out in such brilliant whites that you’d think he were a David Bowie iPod app, Sheen is over-the-top fun in a world dominated by sincerity.

Jeff Bridges reprises his role as a bearded Kevin Flynn, all full of Zen-like easy-going just this far away from rolling a doobie. He manages to refrain from cartoonish hippy-dippiness, making Flynn a man who understands the stakes and his mistakes; more Jedi than Lebowski.

Bridges also does double-duty as enemy program Clu with impressive de-aging CGI. This character was speculated to be the crack in the film’s showy effects, but turned out to be competently executed and believable.

As a simple sci-fi action film that Legacy strives to be, it still falls short, sometimes lacking sense. A key character’s sudden switch of alliances and a dinner scene are examples of things that become equally perplexing simply because not enough effort is made to make sense out of them.

TRON: Legacy may not be the brilliant sequel that many hoped would deliver on the original’s ideas in a way great science fiction stories can. It takes a more straightforward route – and fails to excel at that, as well – thereby making it inferior to the year’s other video game-influenced film, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. But for those looking for pure escapist spectacle, TRON: Legacy abides.


6/10

Should you see it? The film literally explains it's intended to be seen in 3D, so buy tickets – it’s worth it.


TRON: Legacy is now in theaters in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Gibson Revue: Winter Marathon

The wrinkles are currently being ironed out as preparations for the 2nd biannual Gibson Revue movie marathon are under way.

Due to campus needs, there has been a change in the location of the event.  It's still being held at The Evergreen State College campus.  Instead of Lecture Hall 2, as previously announced, I will be hosting the event in Seminar II B, room 1105.  If that sounds a bit more complicated it's because it is.  But fear not! A map can be found below to help you find your way on campus.


The Winter Marathon is still taking place on January 15, 2011.

Featured are three films, love stories from the male perspective, with a short audience/host discussion and break after each film.

The films and start times are:


12:30p - Annie Hall, Woody Allen's legendary comedy that the AFI ranked as the 31st greatest American film and 4th greatest comedy of all time.  Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Carole Kane, Paul Simon, and a slew of cameos.  1hr. 33mins.


3p - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the modern classic about the desire to forget a former lover.  Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, and Mark Ruffalo.  Directed by Michel Gondry.  1hr. 48mins.


5:30p - (500) Days of Summer, 2009's indie romance about how love can blind us to the reality of a relationship.  Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, and Chloe Moretz.  Directed by Marc Webb.  1hr. 35mins.

Admission: $10 at the door, cash only.

Some snacks and drinks will be available free of charge.

18 and over only!

Mark your calendars and take note of the location change.  I look forward to seeing you all there!

Holiday Movie Guide

Getting into the Christmas spirit and looking for something to watch during the holiday season? Here is a list of a dozen movies and TV specials to help pass the time during the wet and chilly month.


Movies


Scrooged (1988)
An updated re-imagining on A Christmas Carol with Bill Murray as a TV executive that exploits the holiday season in order to boost ratings. If you enjoy Murray’s droll performances of the ‘80s then this must not be passed up. A Christmas Carol has been retold many times in different ways, but Scrooged must be the best update; after all, there are now cable channels devoted entirely to exploiting the holiday spirit. Directed by Richard Donner (Superman, Lethal Weapon series).




Gremlins (1984)
A young man is given a strange creature for Christmas that, if not cared for in very specific ways, can sprout mischievous and vicious monsters capable of tearing an entire town to pieces. Guess what happens. You may have forgotten this classic ‘80s farcical creature feature takes place around Christmas. You may have also forgotten that it was produced by Steven Spielberg and co-starred a young Corey Feldman. But don’t forget to give this one a shot, especially if you have kids. Directed by Joe Dante (The ‘burbs).




Love Actually (2003)
It’s Christmastime in London! Here are ten separate but intertwining stories of love during the holidays. Love Actually is one of my favorite movies of 2003 – and it’s easy to see why with a cast of British actors that rivals any single Harry Potter film, including Colin Firth, Martin Freeman, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln, with Elisha Cuthbert, Shannon Elisabeth, January Jones, Laura Linney, Denise Richards, and Billy Bob Thornton. Directed by Richard Curtis, screenwriter of Bridget Jones’s Diary.




Home Alone (1990)
Kevin McCallister (Macauley Culkin) acts out the night before a family Christmas vacation to France. The next morning, in a rush out the door, his family forgets him. Now, two bungling burglars are trying to break into the house and Kevin must defend it. While the slapstick that the movie is best remembered for may not occur until the third act, Home Alone still proves itself to be more than a pop culture nostalgia trip. It’s still a rather solid family film, which isn’t a wonder since it was directed by Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire) and written by John Hughes (The Breakfast Club).





Elf (2003)
A baby is raised in the North Pole by Santa Clause and his elves. As an adult his differences seem to become suspicious, which leads to a quest to meet his human dad in New York City. This fish-out-of-water tale is another from 2003 (which also brought us Bad Santa) and arguably the best holiday film of the year, as well as possibly Will Farrell’s best comedic performance. Directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man).





The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Jack Skellington, king of Halloweentown, discovers Christmas Town and aims to usurp Santa’s role with hilariously demented results. This stop-motion musical is now a Christmas staple, having been annually re-released in 3D for years. The songs are irresistible (composed and sung by Danny Elfman) and the visuals are spectacular. Directed by Henry Selnick (Coraline).





National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
The Griswolds have a family Christmas get-together full of hilariously disastrous events. Arguably the best and funniest of the National Lampoon Vacation films, full of memorable moments like the cat and the tree, the septic explosion, and the squirrel. Also written by John Hughes, directed by Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon).





A Christmas Story (1983)
A little boy wishes for a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas and spends his time dropping hints to his parents and fantasizing about the gun. No film captures the childhood holiday experience quite like A Christmas Story. It may take place in the ‘50s, but what boy hasn’t dreamed of a toy for Christmas and done everything in their power to convince their parents of getting it? This is one that stacks up there with A Christmas Carol and A Miracle on 34th Street as required Christmas viewing. Directed by Bob Clark (Porky's).






TV specials


Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)
An impoverished otter and his mother hope to buy gifts for each other for Christmas. Unfortunately, Emmet’s oddjobs and Ma’s work as a laundress doesn’t earn them enough money. Both decide to compete in a local talent contest in order to earn more money, but sacrifices will need to be made to do so. It may be a bunch of puppets with visible strings, but this is a very charming, simple tale that’s great for the family. Directed by Jim Henson, with voice work by him and Frank Oz.



A Garfield Christmas Special (1987)
Jon Arbuckle packs his pets Odie and Garfield up to spend Christmas at his grandma’s house. Garfield decides to find Grandma a present. Fans of the daily strip or the late-80’s cartoon Garfield and Friends will enjoy this as it is better than most of today’s Garfield direct-to-video features. This can be found included in the Garfield: Holiday Celebrations DVD.



How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Dr. Seuss’s classic tale comes to life in this classic cartoon. No, this isn’t the mediocre live-action Jim Carrey vehicle. This is the essential anti-consumerist classic co-directed by legendary Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones and voiced by the Mummy himself, Boris Karloff.





A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Charlie Brown is depressed during the holidays by everybody around him demonstrating selfish or materialist behaviors. He’s continually frustrated when asked to direct a Christmas play that can’t seem to make it through rehearsal. Perhaps the greatest Christmas TV special in the history of dime-a-dozen holiday specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas is simple, amusing, and takes a jab at the ever-growing commercialist tendencies of Christmas.


That should help make your spirits bright and scratch that Christmas movie itch.

What movies do you like to watch during the holidays?  Leave a comment below or on Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter.

Remember That Movie: The Green Mile

Stephen King is best known for stories about the horrors we inflict on each other and the dark side of humanity. Perhaps that’s why so many were surprised that The Shawshank Redemption, a film about hope and friendship in the loneliest of places, surprised so many. That picture was directed by Frank Darabont, who seems to take great interest in stories about the good in us shining through the darkest of situations, which is perhaps why he’s adapted such works as the aforementioned Shawshank, The Mist, TV’s current hit The Walking Dead, and 1999’s The Green Mile.

In case you don’t remember, The Green Mile begins with an old man, Paul Edgecomb, in a nursing home, thinking about the past. He’s so afflicted by his memories that he begins sharing them with a friend (a.k.a. the audience). This, an old man remembering astonishing days of the distant, serves as the framework for a three-hour-plus story.

The memorable year is 1935. Edgecomb, played with nice guy authority by Tom Hanks, is in charge of a death row known as the Green Mile for its lime green flooring. He, with his staff of five, watches over the condemned during their final days and practices the electrocution of each and every inmate with great professionalism and care – despite having probably been through the whole she-bang several times before. The story centers on what happens during the stay of one particular inmate, John Coffey (say it with me now, “like the drink, only not spelled the same.”). Others come and go during this time, including a mouse. But the story implies, despite the amount of time it devotes to them, they don’t matter as much as Coffey, a towering gentle giant played by Michael Clarke Duncan. It doesn’t take long to suspect Coffey’s innocence, after which we learn that he has a magical gift, which he shares with Paul. This is what drives the major plot points of the rest of the movie.

I use the word ‘drive’ loosely since The Green Mile suffers from a complete lack of momentum. This is a deliberately paced character piece with a dose of fantasy to dazzle the masses. The problem is that not enough is done with the fantasy material. The film wants to be both a prison drama that showcases the characters and acting, as well as a fantasy with high-brow themes. It isn’t enough for it to settle on the relationships these inmates develop with the guards-as-caretakers/executioners – or even the contradictory nature of a job that requires one to sooth these men only to eventually march them to their deaths – or what happens when a bad seed is introduced on either side of the bars. These are the things that a movie like Shawshank would revel in.

Unfortunately, what works on the page doesn’t always work on screen. Coffey is the purpose of the story, but to make him and his themes effective the rest of the characters and their drama would have to be played down, making for a slimmer adaptation. There’s also a certain solemnity toward Coffey that the movie tells you to feel, but fails to come through. Not everything that happens to John Coffey makes sense or is explored as fully as everything else. If the film is in part about miracles happening in the face of human cruelty, then it why not have Coffey share his gift with the nastiest characters instead of the good guys? Otherwise he’s preaching to the choir.

That said The Green Mile is a fine film full of outstanding performances among a great cast. The film stars James Cromwell, Graham Greene, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Jeter, David Morse, Barry Pepper, Sam Rockwell, Harry Dean Stanton, and Gary Sinise (who’s reunited with Hanks for an unfortunately disposable scene that serves only to reunite the Forrest Gump duo). Jeter gives probably the best performance of his career as a Cajun who befriends a mouse. He also has a most gruesome execution that is probably what gave the film its R rating. Rockwell, as a rambunctious killer, and Morse as Paul’s sidekick, Brutal, also offer impressive work. Kudos must also go to Doug Hutchison (unrecognizable as Horace in Lost), who plays the rotten guard Percy, a conniving, sadistic squirt with the temperament of a schoolyard bully. He’s incapable of compassion and serves as Rockwell’s mirror image. Hutchison gives a performance here that is vile in the best ways possible.

The Green Mile is a lengthy character piece that falls short of greatness due to its slavish faithfulness to its source novel. It isn’t Darabont’s best work (that may be that other character-driven prison drama based on a Stephen King story). The film was nominated for Best Picture, but was deemed the dark horse – rightly so, as there were movies that got the Oscar snub and more deserving of the honor. The Green Mile has weight, but is awfully sluggish and is that rare adaptation that could’ve benefited by being less faithful.


6/10

Should you see it? Rent


The Green Mile is available on 2-disc special edition DVD and Blu-Ray.

Note: if you get curious enough to check out The Green Mile, be sure to grab the Blu-Ray as even the special edition DVD divides the 3-hour feature between two discs shortly after the second execution.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Boyle and Franco Put In a Solid 127 Hours

We live in a time of great modern technology, what with our iPods, Blackberries, streaming internet, and digital this or thats. We’re so connected to our own inventions we are almost completely removed from where we came from, the great outdoors.

127 Hours is a movie about a man who in some ways is the opposite of a culture that wants to know everything we’re doing every hour of every day. He distances himself from everybody and enjoys getting outside alone. He tries to conquer nature, even going so far as to video record his efforts. This man, Aron Ralston, played by James Franco, takes a trip to canyoneer in the dry crevasses of Utah, free of any cellular connection to anyone, and finds himself in a bit of a jam, wishing he hadn’t cut himself off from everybody so cleanly.

One of the biggest challenges of shooting 127 Hours, based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston, is three quarters of the story takes place in one spot where Aron gets stuck, which can be difficult to make visually interesting. Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) overcomes the challenge with ease. He starts out the movie with a great musical beat behind a lot of physical movement. The screen splits into crowds of people bustling to work or cheering together at sporting events as we simultaneously watch Aron alone in his apartment, getting ready for his trip. And when Aron eventually gets stuck, the camera hardly seems to stay still in any shot for very long. We get different angles, split-screens, point of view shots of his camera, point of view shots behind his camera as he’s recording messages to his family, and even what may be the world’s first CamelBak cam. All of these techniques are in service of pacing, character, empathy, and giving the audience a sense of Aron’s time running out.

As Aron thinks about his last interactions with the people in his life, we are also treated to flashbacks. Boyle is sharp enough to avoid the plain-jane trope of taking us completely away from the present for minutes on end to depict some chapters in Aron’s life that helped shape him or bring him to his current predicament. Instead, Boyle employs split-screens or makes memories appear in the canyon in order to keep us at Aron’s side and in his mind. While Aron’s self-created isolation crashes down on him, we are there keeping him company.

Boyle has repeatedly expressed an interest in themes regarding the necessity for others, appreciation for life, and man’s hubris ending in disaster. 127 Hours is no exception since it tackles these themes well, even if simply. Ralston initially tries lifting, hitting, and budging the rock that has rendered him immobile. He even tries creating a clever pulley system. All of this comes before he can admit his folly and be willing to get over his reluctance to free himself from himself, so to speak.

“I did this,” he says, “This boulder has been waiting for me… everything I’ve done has been leading me to this crack in the earth.”

To speak momentarily about the event this movie is most known for and what got the real Aron Ralston his fifteen minutes a few years ago, I will say it is in the film. Briefly. It is bloody, but not graphic. At least not as much as the hype would lead you to believe. What’s important is you feel the experience just as you feel his need for water. That being the case, we learn we may not be so different from him… and may even be willing to make the same sacrifices he does to stay alive. Regardless, its part in this film is too small to merit avoiding the film entirely, even by the squeamish.

Recently, I counted James Franco among my favorite Digital Age actors, noting a promising talent that has yet to have its moment to shine. 127 Hours is certainly Franco’s moment. This is a performance that will nominate Franco for many awards, but few wins. He carries the film as well as anyone could be expected to – and better than most would.

The same could be said of Danny Boyle’s handling of the story; it’s told as well as it possibly could be (it could’ve been a lot worse) with a fantastic soundtrack that cements Boyle as one of the great soundtrack directors and an ability to draw the audience into the situation. But 127 Hours won’t exactly move mountains.

One thing is for sure: as you watch Ralston run short on water and dream about ice cold bottles of beer and other beverages pouring into perspiring glasses of ice, you will be grateful for the ice cold soda by your side – and its free refills.


7/10

Should you see it? Rent


127 Hours recently widened to 433 theaters and may be playing near you.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Gibson Revue: Winter Marathon

It's official!

Join me, cinephiles, as I host this winter's 2nd biannual Gibson Revue.

On Saturday January 15, 2011

At The Evergreen State College, Lecture Hall 2
2700 Evergreen Parkway NW
Olympia, WA 98505


Featured are three love stories from the male perspective, with a short discussion and break after each.


12:30p - Annie Hall, Woddy Allen's legendary comedy that influenced hundreds of subsequent movies, including those in this marathon.  Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Carol Kane, and Paul Simon.  1hr. 33mins.

3p - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the modern classic about the pain of lost love.  Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, and Mark Ruffalo. Directed by Michel Gondry.  1hr. 48mins.


5:30p - (500) Days of Summer, 2009's brilliant romantic comedy about the idealized perception of love and its clash with reality.  Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, and Chloe Moretz.  Directed by Marc Webb.  1hr. 35mins.


Admission is $10 a person at the door, cash only.  That's three movies, with intelligent discussion and enthusiasms, snacks and drinks - all for only $10!


18 and over only!


So, mark your calendars and come on down for a good time with great movies.

The Expendables: Action's Biggest Failed Idea


Growing up in the eighties and nineties, action films seemed to almost always be about the three Bs: Big guns, Bulging muscles, and Babes. The bad guy always represented corruption (drugs, crime, financial power, or politics) or incited revenge (perhaps by wronging or endangering the good guy’s family). Sometimes that unlikely of evil, the terrorist, would rear its head. The good guys were guns-blazing anti-heroes, law enforcement, or martial arts experts. The movies themselves either became classics of the action genre (Die Hard, Predator, First Blood, Escape from New York, for example) or were clichéd formula pictures with forgettable titles that were mediocre at best (Hard Target, Hard to Kill, Eraser, The Specialist). Most of the time, regardless of quality, they gave us cool stunts or creative kills.

Those kinds of action films went by the wayside in the sobering aftermath of 9/11. We wanted our heroes to be relatable everymen who became super (Spider-Man) or are at least relied less on brawn than cunning (the Bourne series). Martial arts heroes like Jet Li turned fighting into a beautiful dance instead of the rough-and-tumble blood sport of Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Villains were either a terrorist of some kind that represented an immediate threat to a large population or someone who represented corruption in our government or military. It wasn’t enough to see muscles flex and things blow up; there had to be interesting characters and clever writing. Of course, these are the sort of things that made the action movies of old that we adore such classics (Die Hard is a great example of this). There have been few exceptions. Jason Statham has upped the insanity level of the genre, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has occasionally dabbled in rote revenge plots, and WWE star “Stone Cold” Steve Austin seems positioned to carry on the B-movie explosives of action’s past.

The Expendables, written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, seems to be an attempt to bridge these two generations of action heroes for one big explosion reminiscent of the good ol’ days. The premise of taking a dozen action stars, old and new, and mixing them together for one film sounds too good to be true.

The result tells us it is.

Wouldn’t it be great to see a film starring Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jason Statham, and Jet Li, with cameos by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Matt Damon? Word has it that Seagal and Van Damme were approached, but Seagal refused to be in a film with Van Damme while the Muscles from Brussels passed because he had better things to do. Chuck Norris was also approached, but unavailable.

As a result, we’re given a film starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Mickey Rourke, and two guys named Terry Crews and Randy Couture, with cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s a bit underwhelming.

Too bad more of the real action stars of old couldn’t join the team. I couldn’t help wonder what some of the cast did to deserve being included in this film, especially Terry Crews and Randy Couture, neither of which have had a leading role in anything worthy of note, if at all. Mickey Rourke, one known more for acting than enacting brutal kills, is just as inexplicable. This leaves us with Jet Li, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, and Sylvester Stallone who is the ringmaster of this bumbling circus. Schwarzenegger, having the state of California to repair, is understandably only in for a three-minute cameo. But Willis is deserving of a much larger role than he gets here. Li, Statham, Lundgren, and Stallone are the only worthy stars of this project given enough screen time and even they are let down.

Last spring’s The A-Team was somewhat exciting because its one saving grace was the chemistry among its action leads. The Expendables feels hollow, second-rate and like watching your favorite action stars be reduced to a direct-to-video action film; you know, like when direct-to-video guaranteed cheaply made and poorly acted schlock. Instead of stars of action’s past raising to their level those of action’s present, the former is instead lowered to the ranks of today’s WWE action star. In reading a recent article by Stallone about his writing process for The Expendables (which he wrote alone; the co-writing credit is to the writer of a story that Stallone bought with a similar idea), one is given the impression that not only does each character get a “moment”, but they all have dimension. That’s not the case at all. The Expendables are one-dimensional cartoons. We don’t care if they survive and because there are no stakes to the action, we have a feeling they all will. The team could’ve lived up to their name as a rag-tag group that courageously gets knocked off one-by-one. Instead all we get are weak attempts to make each member likable through piss-poor banter and action hero posturing.

The plot? Not that anybody cares, but it has something to do with the CIA hiring the Expendables to take down a corrupt leader of a small fictional South American island, a leader who is somehow in the palm of Eric Roberts’s hands. In a movie like this you don’t need much of a story – one would assume it’s about the cast – but it’d be nice to have a story we care about with a villain we love to hate (again, character). The Expendables completely lacks any of that so when we see bullets fly or things go BOOM! we can’t get excited about any of it. It feels too generic, too “been there done that”.

Speaking of which, in Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s prime the action and stunts were impressive. Here they feel rudimentary and fail to match the awesomeness of any one of these star’s mid-quality films. Go back and watch any of the classics mentioned above or even Demolition Man, Under Siege, or True Lies. To argue the action in The Expendables is acceptable by comparison is to lower standards, expect less, and be content with lazy filmmaking.

Many might say, “Leave it alone, it’s just a fun action film.” The problem is The Expendables is dumber than the talent deserves (especially Jet Li, who is known for his excellent kung fu films overseas). Stallone had his share of bad action films, but even he had First Blood and Cliffhanger, two films that could chew this movie up and spit it out. Judge Dredd, also a terrible movie, is more fun than The Expendables.

Stallone wanted to bring together the biggest names in action – past and present – to make a film that tried to remind us of a time when men were allowed to be gun-toting Neanderthals whose muscles were as big as the real estate they blew up to solve Third World problems. Had The Expendables been directed by a better filmmaker (let’s say John McTiernan of Die Hard) and better written (perhaps by Shane Black of Lethal Weapon) and featured a cast worthy of its premise, The Expendables would’ve been a booming victory cry. We are instead left with the scraps of an idea that reality tore the meat away from. It is the biggest disappointment of the year.


2/10

Should you see it? Skip


The Expendables is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Potter & Co. Near Their End in Darkest Chapter


The day has finally arrived. After a decade, the final chapter of the Harry Potter film series is here… well, almost. The final book of the beloved and seminal fantasy series is split into two movies, so the fate of the wizarding world first introduced to theaters by Chris Columbus nine years ago is delayed for another eight months, at which point readers will already have known the outcome for exactly two years.

Regardless, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 suggests no one will be disappointed when the screen goes black and the credits roll after the final moments of the series.

As per the last film, The Half-Blood Prince, The Death Eaters, led by Sirius Snape, stormed Hogwarts and assassinated Professor Dumbledore, after which our teenage trio flee the school. As Harry, Hermione, and Ron are absent from class, so is the school from The Deathly Hallows, Part 1. The three young adult heroes are on the hunt for horcruxes, which help make Voldemort immortal, while also being hunted themselves. Hermione takes her fated friend and boyfriend Ron from barren landscape to barren landscape, casting protection charms so no one can find them while they sort out where to go next.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Magic is destroyed and usurped by Voldemort’s army, securing power over wizard-kind. And Harry’s scarring connection to his archenemy inflicts flashes of Voldemort’s latest pursuits upon him, allowing us to see more peripheral characters meet their end.

I remember a big hullabaloo was made over the death of a single character way back in The Goblet of Fire. In The Deathly Hallows, Part 1, a character dies within the first ten minutes – and many more follow.

Since the Death Eaters are taking over, a dark cloud is cast over every aspect of this movie from its color palette and tone to moments scary enough to make Middle Earth’s Eye of Sauron have nightmares. This is the darkest of the series and of the entire family-friendly fantasy genre. Also, mature themes and dialogue are stretched throughout nearly every scene spent with our young heroes in hiding, which make up over half the movie. Older audiences will be engaged - which fits perfectly with how much our heroes have grown up - but the younger crowd will long for the days of magical mischief and Quiddich matches.

This is not a film for Muggles aged six and under.

Speaking of the past, fans and faithful audiences will delight in all the characters, objects, potions, and places from previous installments that The Deathly Hallows recalls. This is one of the film’s most thrilling successes as it made me anxious to see if certain characters that have yet to return will be seen in Part 2. Part 1 is very focused on the effects of recent events on Harry and his friends. Hopefully, Part 2 will look out and widen its gaze to how the new Ministry and its half-blood hunting Seekers Snatchers affect the rest of the magical landscape. After all, this may be the richest world ever put to film and the more The Deathly Hallows recalls past installments, the more this is proven.

Does the film stand on its own with artistic or thematic merit? Please, if those are the questions you’re asking at this point then you really need to get over yourself. Not only is this only one-half of a complete movie, but it is a part of what is essentially a seven-part theatrical mini-series. Besides, the series has consistently proven itself to be of superior quality to most movies targeted at youth, fantasy or otherwise. That said, if you’ve never seen a Harry Potter film, do not begin with this one, because it relies greatly on the rest of the series, especially Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince (both happen to be directed by this chapter’s David Yates).

Furthermore, say what you will about Chris Columbus’s Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets (the latter is also heavily referenced in Deathly Hallows), but the colorful, brightly lit, and tonally whimsical and innocent elements of those films effectively contrast with every aspect of the final chapter, giving a tremendous sense of progression and growth. Even the young actors’ talents have evolved greatly throughout the series.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is a film all about character (figurative and literal), emotional suffering, trust, betrayal, and death, which becomes a constant presence here. The stakes are high and the strength of our trio’s solidarity is tested as we near the end of the saga. As in every penultimate chapter, we are left with the villain gaining the upper hand and our heroes narrowly escaping death (most of them, anyway). This is heavy stuff for The Boy Who Lived to endure. And after all that, he still has to conquer The Dark Lord.

I couldn’t be more excited for Part 2.


8/10

Should you see it? Buy tickets


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is now in theaters in 2D and IMAX.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Film Faves: The Digital Age - Directors

Here we are at the final part of this special three-part edition of Film Faves.  If you haven't already, please start with parts one and two of this series before reading on.

Here we are at the visionaries behind the camera, those who actually choose to shoot digitally or with film, the directors.  Here are my six favorite directors to debut or break out during the Digital Age of film.


Directors:



6. Darren Aronofsky
Favorite films:
Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler

You may say Darren Aronofsky is a pretentious visionary, who takes himself too seriously, but I find Aronofsky’s work to be some of the most powerful and expertly-handled films I’ve ever seen. I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of his debut, Pi, or his existential fantasia, The Fountain. But I am looking forward to next month’s The Black Swan and his much-courted crack at geek culture (he’s been interested in Batman and RoboCop before), 2012’s The Wolverine. Why? Because Aronofsky always has something interesting to say in interesting visual ways and no two films of his are alike. He’s really good at stripping a story or character down to the basics. If his work on The Wrestler isn’t evidence enough, go look up his pitch for Batman: Year One from prior to when Nolan made the franchise what it is. His work may seem pretentious to some, but it’s rarely boring.



5. Judd Apatow
Favorite films:
The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up

A lot of comedic directors will focus primarily on humor that is broad or gross. As a result, the characters will often come across as one-dimensional cartoons. Judd Apatow is a director who is hilarious, but always puts the jokes second to the story or characters. As a result, he’s become the top comedic director and producer of the digital age. His films are interestingly in contrast with a period that is defined by its technology, effects, and sleekness. Apatow’s work, humor aside, could’ve been filmed in almost any era because there aren’t any flashy effects or costly production values (two out of three of his films cost no more than $30 million). They’re just people dealing with situations life throws their way, be it a socially-impaired 40 year-old or a lazy man-child whose life forces him to grow up. Judd Apatow is also responsible for nurturing countless writers, directors, and actors over the past decade, including Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, James Franco, Nick Stoller, Seth Rogen, Greg Mottola, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd, Jay Baruchel, and many others. This guy knows comedy.



4. Jason Reitman
Favorite films:
Thank You for Smoking, Up in the Air

Jason Reitman is an intriguing director, one whose style and themes may not yet be clear. I think if one were to take a look at his three films, they’d see that Reitman enjoys movies that refuse to play to the lowest common denominator, which is to say his sense of comedy is intelligent, dialogue-driven and maybe situational at times. But if one were to look at his biggest successes, Juno and Up in the Air, what’s most important to him is character and story – and he’s good at both. Thank You for Smoking had some good character moments, but was mostly about the satire. Juno stepped up the character elements to the primary focus (What kind of character is Juno? What would she do in her situation? How do others respond to her?). Up in the Air dialed down the comedy, played up the drama, and added layers to character and story. It is his best film so far. Reitman is a talent that we’ve witnessed become a better director with each film. I can’t wait to see what he does with his next film.



3. Edgar Wright
Favorite films:
Shaun of the Dead,
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Is there a contemporary British comedic director superior to Edgar Wright? Wright is one of the preeminent filmmakers of a specific culture and generation, one that grew up on video games and balls-out action flicks. Having grown up in the eighties and nineties, he is able to perfectly tap into those pop cultural touchstones that informed many of us during that time. There are very few films that can speak directly to his generation and the next generation as entertainingly or meaningfully. Wright walked hand-in-hand with his buddy Simon Pegg virtually out of nowhere with the brilliant comedy Shaun of the Dead. British audiences were already familiar with them for their TV series Spaced. But none of us Stateside were familiar with their brand of geek humor. Wright and Pegg recently took a break from each other for other projects, which in Wright’s case was this year’s brilliant adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. His next project may continue his love of geek culture in an adaptation of Marvel’s scientist Avenger, Ant-Man.



2. Zack Snyder
Favorite films:
Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen

Zack Snyder may be the best stylized action director of the digital age. He’s also consistently proved himself a great adapter of other works, be it a remake of a classic zombie film, mature graphic novels, or children’s adventure stories. Some may criticize Snyder for failing to use his slow/fast stylized action talents for something wholly original. We may get a fantastic reply to that criticism with next spring’s Sucker Punch. But after that, Snyder will direct a Superman film (Superman: Man of Steel) and a sequel to his sophomore effort 300 – both of which keep him heavily steeped in geek culture. His most recent effort was a CG-animated children’s film Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. I have yet to see this, but judging by trailers and comments I’ve heard it is a visually fantastic film – especially in 3D. Zack Snyder, while a filmmaker of action films that aren’t for everybody, must be given credit for consistently pursuing material that few would consider – and doing so with a great deal of success. He is a visual master, able to make brutal violence look just as beautiful as a bird flying in the wind. I’m not waxing poetic here; just compare scenes of 300 with the trailer to Legend of the Guardians. Whether or not his stories appeal to you, there isn’t an action director in the digital age as visually interesting as Zack Snyder. On a side note, I personally nominate this guy to direct the BioShock film.



1. Christopher Nolan
Favorite films:
Memento, Batman Begins,
The Dark Knight, Inception

I believe last December I named Christopher Nolan one of the best directors of the decade. He is also my favorite director of the digital age. He hit it big with the “film noir in reverse” indie Memento and eventually moved on to take the superhero genre to the highest level of storytelling. Watchmen may be the greatest superhero story ever written, but The Dark Knight is the greatest superhero story ever filmed and it’s thanks to Christopher Nolan. Nolan knows how to make popcorn films with intelligence and depth. His recent film Inception was the year’s most highly-anticipated live-action film, mostly because, like Memento before, of its original premise and execution. It also happened to be the first wholly original film to be released in a year full of adaptations, sequels, and remakes – very few of which were any good. It was one of the only original films to treat its audience as intelligent beings. That’s a consistent element in Nolan’s films that is unfortunately atypical of most American movies. Nolan’s ability to make serious films out of commercially-successful crowd-pleasing entertainment such as the Batman franchise and Inception makes him the best talent to come out of the digital age.


There you have it!  That about wraps up this special edition of Film Faves.  Who are your favorite actors, actresses, or directors of the Digital Age?  Please feel free to comment below or on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or via email if you have a lot to say.  I welcome your thoughts.

Thanks so much for reading.  Film Faves will take a month off, but will return hopefully in January to start a new decade with the year 1999, quite possibly the greatest year of '90s film.  See you then!

Film Faves: The Digital Age - Actresses

Welcome back to a special edition of Film Faves.  This is part two of my look at the talents that emerged during the Digital Age.  If you haven't already, I strongly encourage you go back to part one, where introduce the topic and countdown my favorite actors from this period. 

This time, I'll be counting down my favorite actresses of the Digital Age.  While my previous list was only six actors long, there were so many actresses worthy of mention that I couldn't pare it down to the same amount.  Besides, men also make up the entirety of part three's list of directors, as well, so it's only fitting for the actresses to make up half of this entire edition of Film Faves.  So, here are my twelve favorite actresses.


Actresses:


12. Anne Hathaway
Favorite performances:
Brokeback Mountain, Rachel Getting Married

Like her princess alter ego in the misguided, yet popular, Princess Diaries films, Hathaway has really blossomed over the past decade. She left the family-friendly fairy tales behind for more mature roles in movies like those in Brokeback Mountain and Rachel Getting Married. She also proved effective at the less broadly comedic The Devil Wears Prada. But it’s her dramatic work that proves this gal isn’t just letting that sunny smile coast her through Kate Hudson rom-com land. I look forward to seeing what more she can bring to the table.



11. Anna Faris
Favorite performances:
Scary Movie, Lost in Translation, The House Bunny

I must first admit that I really don’t much like the comedies in which Anna Faris stars as the lead. But I do love what she’s doing in them. A comedienne all her own, this former Washington State resident perfected the good-natured and/or shallow dim bulb, playing different versions of this type in nearly every movie. While she’s established herself as one of the leading comedic actresses of the digital age, I’d like to see her branch out to more challenging and substantial work. However, since her slate is dominated by kids movies (Yogi Bear) and romantic comedies (What’s Your Number), I may need to be content with her current niche for a little while longer.



10. Evan Rachel Wood
Favorite performances:
Once and Again, Thirteen, The Wrestler

While Evan Rachel Wood may not garner the attention the likes of Dakota Fanning, she is without question one of the most compelling young talents of the digital age. Wood started out on ABC’s Once & Again as Billy Campbell’s tween daughter who eventually suffers from bulimia. For such a young age (12) her performances surprisingly felt real and less like performances, fitting in to the fabric of the series. Since then, Wood has avoided crowd-pleasing treacle typical of actors her age and dove into more challenging dramatic work, most notably 2003’s Thirteen and 2008’s The Wrestler. Just look at her filmography and you won’t find a single girl-gets-guy chick flick or low-brow comedy. Underappreciated by many, Wood is a powerhouse in the making.



9. Naomi Watts
Favorite performances:
The Ring, King Kong

I have to admit that despite her being one of the period’s most talented dramatic actresses, I’m only a fan of two films starring the radiant Naomi Watts, both of which are genre films atypical of her career. That said, Watts has a career filled with electricity and gravitas, one that is steeped in so much awards-baiting dramatic work that it’s hard to believe she has yet to win a single award outside the festival or critics circles. Rare is it that she takes a one-dimensional or light-weight role, always playing strong or challenging characters that require an actress of considerable daring and courage. What better example than her breakout role in 2000’s Mulholland Dr.? As an aspiring actress in David Lynch’s head-scratcher, Watts was simultaneously captivating, sexy, and twisty-turny enough to make your head spin and eyes cross. I look forward to catching Watts as wronged agent Valerie Plame in Fair Game, along with whatever else she chooses to challenge us with next.



8. Elizabeth Banks
Favorite performances:
Slither, W., Zack and Miri Make a Porno

The only comedic actress more worthy of praise than Anna Faris is Elizabeth Banks. Though labeling Banks a “comedic” actress might be slightly objectionable since she has successfully handled nearly every genre from horror to superhero. Banks started out with bit parts in the Spider-Man movies, Catch Me If You Can, and Apatow comedies until she combined her comedic timing and all-American good looks to play the leading lady opposite the charming Nathan Fillion in the horror comedy Slither. But what surprised most was her one-two punch in 2008 as the raunchy romantic lead in Kevin Smith’s underappreciated Zack and Miri Make a Porno and her rock-solid performance as Laura Bush in Oliver Stone’s W. Banks has proven herself to be one of the most versatile actresses of the digital age. I welcome her in any quality comedy, but am eager to see her show off those dramatic chops even more in her upcoming thrillers The Next Three Days and Man on a Ledge.



7. Keira Knightley
Favorite performances:
Bend It Like Beckham, Love Actually, Atonement

Often considered as Portman-lite, upon closer inspection of the beautiful and similar-looking actress’s filmography, there’s actually very little merit to such impressions. With work in such films as Pride & Prejudice, The Dutchess, Atonement, and Never Let Me Go, Knightley is hardly worthy of dismissal. She’s proven she has range from accessible romantic lead to action heroine to respectable dramatic actress. She has the chops and potential for excellence. We’ll just see how the rest of the period treats her.



6. Chloe Moretz
Favorite performances:
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Kick-Ass, Let Me In

While many tripped over the precocious talents of Dakota Fanning – and rightly so – I’ve been more impressed with the choices and talent of another rising ingénue, Chloe Grace Moretz. We’ve seen a dozen times child actors who impress with a performance or two and then flame out with a series of bombs, make personal choices that ruin their careers, or simply fail to capture audiences after they hit their teens. That remains to be seen with Moretz, however what’s helped give her future promise is, like Evan Rachel Wood, her preference toward adult-oriented material. So far, that’s served her well since she’s yet to appear in any crap for the sake of exposure or under the guise of being edgy (I’m looking at you, Dakota!). This year alone, Chloe has starred in three movies, only one of which targeted her age group. When she’s on screen, the camera absolutely adores her. She knows how to perform for the camera as when launching into brutal acrobatics with a sneer in Kick-Ass, as well as adding nuance and depth to a role as she does in Let Me In. Having that chemistry with the audience and bringing weight to a performance is what makes a star. Chloe Moretz is certainly a rising star in the vein of Jodie Foster or Natalie Portman. That is, as long as she doesn’t go Lohan on us.



5. Scarlett Johansson
Favorite performances:
Ghost World, Lost in Translation,
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Scarlett started her career very young by playing “the daughter” in a handful of movies. Her breakout role was in Ghost World as the best friend who wants to move on from teenage antics into young adult responsibilities. Scarlett quickly became the cinephile’s siren, starring in such character-driven pieces as Lost in Translation and Girl with the Pearl Earring. She’s since dabbled in the more popcorn-friendly spectacles, but balanced those with low-key productions, including being Woody Allen’s leading lady for three films. Scarlett has a classical beauty about her that contrasts sharply with today’s more titillating sexiness. But what’s important is she really has the A-game to back it up. She is one of young Hollywood’s best talents. Say what you will, but there is nothing vacuous about Scarlett and, action spectacles aside, I am almost always intrigued by the roles she chooses to play.



4. Maggie Gyllenhaal
Favorite performances:
Stranger Than Fiction, The Dark Knight, Crazy Heart

Last November, I named Maggie the best actress of the decade, barely trumping the heavyweight talent that is Kate Winslet. While she may not be as big a star, the proof is in the pudding. It’s tough picking out favorite performances by Gyllenhaal because she consistently gives her all, which is always more than enough. Maggie broke onto the scene with the indie comedy Secretary, an offbeat romantic comedy for those bored by the typical studio rom-coms. From there, Maggie played a variety of roles – none of which could be described as average or lazy – most impressive of which is in Sherrybaby, in which she plays a former druggie mom trying for a better life and failing at every turn, and Crazy Heart, in which she plays a different sort of single mother who happens to fall for a drunken country musician played by Jeff Bridges. Gyllenhaal has proven that no matter the film, her presence will bring authenticity, nuance, and a courage few others can claim. She’s an underrated talent of the digital age who hopefully will gain the respect she deserves before long.



3. Ellen Page
Favorite performances:
Hard Candy, Juno, Inception

Another of the digital age’s teen ingénues. If you’ve seen the 2005 thriller Hard Candy and considered the fact Ellen Page was around the age of sixteen at that time then her inclusion on this list should come as no surprise. Of course, Page is best known as the smart-alecky teenager with a bun in the oven from Juno. Page could’ve kept playing wry-witted teenage girls, but she didn’t, mostly preferring roles in mature films (we’ll ignore the X-Men 3 debacle) over surefire hits. And most of her movies aren’t hits, but that’s no fault of Ellen’s acting. She is a natural, intelligent actress whose reputation is just left of center enough that her name was even thrown in the ring for the lead part in the U.S. version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Page didn’t win that role, but that only opened her up to a possibly more interesting film. Regardless, I have no doubt Page has plenty more interesting performances left in her.



2. Rachel McAdams
Favorite performances:
Mean Girls, The Notebook, Wedding Crashers, Red Eye

McAdams may yet be able to hold her own alongside the best of today’s talents, but she’s definitely on her way and I have no doubt that in time she’ll join their ranks. While she’s not immune to disappointing performances (State of Play, Sherlock Holmes) or mediocre films (The Lucky Ones, The Time Traveler’s Wife), Rachel McAdams never ceases to hold my attention; I’m always willing to go along with her on whatever journey she wants me to take. She also has demonstrated a fair amount of range and is rarely unconvincing – not to mention she’s utterly gorgeous! Her filmography includes work with such great talents as Wes Craven, Harrison Ford, Robert Downey Jr., and Russell Crowe, which is a lot to learn from. Given more time (it’s only been six years since her breakout films Mean Girls and The Notebook), Rachel McAdams will certainly prove herself worthy of earning mention on anybody’s best-of list.



1. Zooey Deschanel
Favorite performances:
Almost Famous, Elf,
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,
(500) Days of Summer

My favorite actress of the digital age (big sighs!). Zooey Deschanel is someone who has given such consistently satisfying performances and choices that when she shows up in something as atrocious as The Happening, the pain is about as bad as being strung up and whipped with a devil’s club plant (it really stings!). Zooey started with noteworthy supporting roles in films like Almost Famous and The Good Girl. With blue saucer eyes and a fair complexion, Zooey was unmistakable even before becoming a known name. Her performance in David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls broke her in the art house and critical communities while that same year’s role as Buddy Elf’s “most beautiful thing in the world” in Elf gained her wider attention with general audiences. Since then, she’s become indie film’s leading lady while also occasionally starring in better known films like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Yes Man. Last year, she starred in one of the best romance films of the past decade, (500) Days of Summer, as the incredibly desirable Summer Finn. Her filmography may not be dominated by as many good or high-profile choices as some of the other actresses on this list, but Zooey does make many interesting choices and she’s always irresistible. Whatever the case, as long as she stays away from that Shyamalan fellow, I’ll place her above all others in the Digital Age.


What are your favorite actresses to emerge since 2000?

We're two-thirds of the way there! Please read on as I round out this look at the Digital Age with my favorite directors of the period.