Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Exit Through the Gift Shop" - REVIEW

Some documentaries with extraordinary footage/subject matter come under fire and cause people to ask whether they're real or bogus. Exit Through the Gift Shop, allegedly directed by the rarely (if ever) photographed underground street artist Banksy, is no exception. But what separates 'Gift Shop' from similar fare, is that the sheer enjoyment factor wouldn't be ruined by the revelation that it was all faked. The film traces the paths of Banksy and amateur videographer Thierry Guetta. After Guetta becomes drawn into the world of underground street art, he makes it his mission to record the activities of the underground art world's biggest names. But his dream target, despite working with the likes of Shepherd Fairey (the now ubiquitous Obama-Hope poster), is the ever-elusive British artist Banksy. By a series of (planned?) coincindences, Banksy and Guetta become acquainted, and what starts off as a tale of artist and documentarian becomes turned on its head as Guetta blossoms in his own strange way. It's all handled with good pacing, and engaging looks at the creation of the stencil and paint-based art, and it can even be very funny at times. However, if you're looking for an in-depth look at the meaning of this sort of art, or people's deeper motivations for doing it, you might be left wanting; this isn't about the underground art world, but rather a look at how two men's relationship drastically changes the ambitions of one of the pair. Maybe somewhere in some dark alley with a spray can and stencil outline in hand, Banksy is having a laugh at all of us, but I frankly don't give a damn. His "documentary" is an extremely engaging, well put together tale of illegal art, obsession, and delusion.

Grade: B/B+

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"True Grit" trailer (watch it while you can!)

This looks pretty fantastic. Aside from the obviously stunning cinematography from Roger Deakins (maybe he can finally get that Oscar this year?), the film reminds me of a quote I read about the brilliant No Country for Old Men, where the writer described the film as the first time the Coens "treated their characters without a wink." The same seems to be true here; none of the cruel ironies of A Serious Man or Burn After Reading. And since the Coens' last effort like this turned out so well, I have great faith in this film.

Friday, September 24, 2010

First English trailer for "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest"

My anticipation for the final installment is somewhat hindered by the previous cinematic installment of the Millennium Trilogy. If you remember, I wasn't really kind to the film version of The Girl Who Played with Fire, for any number of reasons. With Daniel Alfredson back in the director's chair, I'm worried. Neither the books nor the films thus far have been anything really special; the Lisbeth Salander character deserves a much better constructed series to be the star of. Unfortunately, I haven't finished the the third book and I don't have it with me (I was about half way through), so I'm leaving the revealing of 'Hornet's Nest''s conclusion to Alfredson and crew, which worries me. He already botched the end of 'Fire,' with that ridiculous ducking scene, and I'm nervous about how all of the plot lines will be tied up on screen. Still, I love seeing Noomi Rapace all tricked out in uber-goth/punk gear and make-up; that is one hell of a mohawk.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Trailer for "The King's Speech"

And doesn't this look like a limited-but-compelling slice of acting heaven. Firth seems especially on his A-game, and I'm really loving the recent resurgence his career is having (remember The Last Legion...anyone?). He and Rush, one of my favorite working actors, seem to have great chemistry together, which has been stated in nearly every festival review. Bonham-Carter, another personal favorite seems solid too, though the strength of her role may not be up there with the former two. The film arrives in late November, but I wouldn't be surprised if at least Firth's campaign was only a matter of weeks away.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New "Deathly Hallows" Trailer

Even with the likes of Black Swan and The King's Speech, this is still my #1 must-see movie for the remainder of the year, and by a considerable margin. I get chills every time I see something new for this film, and there's plenty of "new" in this trailer. Aside from that obvious "this will totally be in 3D" shot of the snake's mouth, it all looks fabulously grim and gritty. It's also nice to get (brief) first looks and Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans, and that shot of the Death Eaters circling around the crumbling house is great. I also love that Imelda Staunton is back as Dolores Umbridge, who's just so much fun to hate. The only thing that's bothersome is that pesky gap between installments. I want to see the whole thing now, not wait until mid-July. Still, it's funny to think that only a few years ago I was bemoaning the fact that I would be a sophomore in college before the film series was complete and now BAM! it's almost here.

A quick word on "Catfish"

I actually saw this last week and wasn't able to get around to it. Like almost everything you've heard, it's best to go in without any foreknowledge, so I'm really not going to bother going into the set up. You can glean all of that from the trailer. All I will say is that if you've been hyped up into believing this is some Blair Witch-style horror fest, you'll be sorely disappointed. Whether you think it's a hoax or not (I can't really decide), it's a compelling (though not overwhelmingly so) and entertaining assembled-footage piece about the so-called Internet Generation.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Where We Stand: Post Venice/Toronto/Telluride Oscar Predictions

It's amazing how much the awards season landscape can change over the course of a few weeks, especially when film festivals are involved. The last few weeks were particularly charged with change. Films and performances received their first reviews, distribution deals were reached, campaign deals sealed, and the races for picture, director, and the acting awards began to finally emerge (if only slightly) from the murk of the first 7.5 months of the year. So, just how much have the front-runners, possibles, and DOA's changed? Here's a (hopefully) better look at what awards season 2010 might bring (excluding Foreign Language, Song, Documentaries, and Short Films):

Note: Categories marked with an '**' are NOT ranked in terms of likelihood (of a nomination).

Best Picture:
  1. The King's Speech
  2. 127 Hours
  3. Toy Story 3
  4. Black Swan
  5. The Social Network
  6. Somewhere
  7. The Town
  8. The Kids Are All Right
  9. Inception
  10. The Fighter
Best Director:
  1. Danny Boyle - 127 Hours
  2. David Fincher - The Social Network
  3. Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan
  4. Sofia Coppola - Somewhere
  5. Tom Hooper - The King's Speech
Best Actor:
  1. James Franco - 127 Hours
  2. Colin Firth - The King's Speech
  3. Robert Duvall - Get Low
  4. Ryan Gosling - Blue Valentine
  5. Javier Bardem - Biutiful
Best Actress:
  1. Natalie Portman - Black Swan
  2. Annette Bening - The Kids Are All Right
  3. Julianne Moore - The Kids Are All Right
  4. Lesley Manville - Another Year
  5. Nicole Kidman - Rabbit Hole
Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Geoffrey Rush - The King's Speech
  2. Ed Harris - The Way Back
  3. Sam Rockwell - Conviction
  4. Christian Bale - The Fighter
  5. Vincent Cassell - Black Swan
Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Miranda Richardson - Made in Dagenham
  2. Dianne Wiest - Rabbit Hole
  3. Mila Kunis - Black Swan
  4. Elle Fanning - Somewhere
  5. Amy Adams - The Fighter
Best Original Screenplay:
  1. Another Year
  2. The Kids Are All Right
  3. The King's Speech
  4. Somewhere
  5. Inception (it's certainly fading, however)
Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. The Social Network
  2. Toy Story 3
  3. The Town
  4. 127 Hours
  5. Rabbit Hole
Best Editing:
  1. 127 Hours
  2. Inception
  3. The Social Network
  4. Toy Story 3
  5. The Town
Best Cinematography:
  1. 127 Hours
  2. Black Swan
  3. Inception
  4. True Grit
  5. Miral
Best Art Direction:
  1. Alice in Wonderland
  2. The King's Speech
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
  4. Black Swan
  5. Inception
Best Costume Design:
  1. The King's Speech
  2. Black Swan
  3. Alice in Wonderland
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
  5. The Tempest
Best Animated Film:
  1. Toy Story 3
  2. How to Train Your Dragon
  3. The Illusionist
Best Original Score:
  1. Never Let Me Go
  2. The King's Speech
  3. The Social Network
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
  5. 127 Hours
Best Visual Effects:
  1. Inception
  2. Iron Man 2
  3. TRON: Legacy
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
  5. Alice in Wonderland
Best Sound Editing**:
  1. Inception
  2. 127 Hours
  3. Iron Man 2
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
  5. TRON: Legacy
Best Sound Mixing**:
  1. Inception
  2. TRON: Legacy
  3. Salt
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
  5. Robin Hood

Monday, September 20, 2010

Awards Season notables: Kings, co-leads, and James Franco [updated]

A significant amount of info has recently been released regarding the oh-god-it's-almost-time awards season mania about to descend upon us. First up, and somewhat late on my part, is news of The King's Speech's triumph in Toronto. Tom Hooper's film about the stuttering King George VI took the People's Choice Award at the now-concluded film festival. In recent years, winners of this award have gone on to rather strong success, including a little film called Slumdog Millionaire. And speaking of that film, Danny Boyle's current leading man James Franco led the way in the festival's critics poll over stiff competition from the likes of 'King's's Colin Firth. As of now, the Best Actor race really is down to these exceptionally well-received performances. Not to worry for The King's Speech; it also took home the award for Best Supporting Actor for leading Oscar contender (for now) Geoffrey Rush.

Also notable in the results from TIFF's poll is the placement of Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff, starring Michelle Williams (who has her own Oscar hopeful in the form of Blue Valentine) as the best liked narrative feature, beating out tough competition like Black Swan. Another Year, and Palme D'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Williams landed in 5th in the Lead Performance poll for Meek's Cutoff, right above Rabbit Hole's Nicole Kidman, who tied for sixth. Surprisingly high-ranked is Matt Reeves Let Me In, the American remake/re-adaptation of 2008's critically acclaimed Let the Right One In.

Meanwhile, in campaign news, Best Actress just became a little more crowded. People have been speculating for a while as to which one of the The Kids Are All Right ladies would be relegated to supporting. As it turns out, neither will be. The decision from Focus Features is that both Julianne Moore and Annette Bening will be campaigned as lead. Should they both score nominations in late January, they'll be only the sixth pair to do so, and the first since the 1991 Oscar race:
Thelma and Louise (1991): Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon
Terms of Endearment (1983): Shirley Maclaine (winner) and Debra Winger
The Turning Point (1977): Anne Bancroft and Shirley Maclaine
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959): Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor
All About Eve (1950): Anne Baxter and Bette Davis

Friday, September 17, 2010

"The Town" - REVIEW

The sophomore slump. Whether one is talking about music, TV, film, the stage, etc..., it's not a phrase that anyone wants to hear about their early work. When Ben Affleck tried his hand at directing with 2007's Gone Baby Gone, even some who praised the film were careful; did Affleck just get lucky? Was this a fluke? Now, three years later, Affleck returns with another Boston-set tale of crime-drama to prove that he actually might have a knack for this directing thing. Affleck's latest, while not as successful as his directorial debut, is solid proof that 'Baby' was no accident.

Adapted from Chuck Hogan's novel "Prince of Thieves," The Town is the story of Doug McCray (Affleck), a bank robber born and raised in Boston's Charlestown area who, along with right-hand-man Jem (Jeremy Renner) go after banks and trucks, usually on orders from their cryptic boss "the florist" (Pete Postlethwaite). After robbing one bank and taking one of its managers, Claire (Rebecca Hall), hostage (she is promptly released unharmed), they discover that she lives very close nearby. Doug follows Claire and starts to befriend her, which of course, will lead to some tensions later on. Meanwhile, an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) comes in to investigate Claire's kidnapping in an effort to finally pin down McCray and his cohorts. As the third major "one-last-job" movie this year (after Inception and The American), The Town is certainly the most conventional of the trio, but that doesn't stop it from being very well made and enjoyable.

Though the film's first third or so, including the opening heist, doesn't quite register, the film really ramps up the quality starting with a heist involving the gang dressed in the creepiest old-nun masks I've ever seen. Affleck, with help from DP Robert Elswit, proves adept at staging a good-old-fashioned car chase/shoot-out both here and at the end, and its these fire fights that help liven up the routine elements of the story. The direction here is tough, straightforward, and effective. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of Affleck's involvement as an actor or co-writer. There seem to be visible signs in Affleck's scenes that he is somewhat uncomfortable being in front of the camera under his own direction. One scene in particular of him simply sitting in a car waiting looks like it could have been behind-the-scenes footage of Affleck relaxing on set. The rest of the cast fare much better though (save for Postlethwaite), especially Hall (the second time she's been an MVP in an ensemble this year) and Blake Lively as the film's two female characters. Jeremy Renner does solid work as well as Jem, but he brings us to the other big issue with the film. Part of what hinders The Town and keeps it from achieving greater impact, aside from the too-tidy last scenes, is the writing, or rather, lack-thereof. These characters feel like types, and rather empty types for that matter. Jem's past and the 9 years he spent in prison feel more like a casually thrown in detail than a fully explored angle for the character, while poor Jon Hamm is stuck simply being authoritative and angry until he gets to share one of the film's best acting scenes with Lively. This lack of stronger, richer characterization (two men are there simply to be bodies for later on) is what keeps the film from being more compelling until the nun-mask-robbery, and unfortunately this carries over to the end; the film starts to lean towards being inconsequential.

Still, for its faults, The Town remains a compelling, albeit routine, film that is executed well for the most part. It may not be up there with the likes of Heat or The Departed, but it should more than satisfy one's fix for a gritty, well-told crime story.

Grade: B

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Trailer for "The Fighter"

Yet another long-concealed mystery debuted its first footage its week: David O. Russel's The Fighter. Starring Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo, the film's plot is as follows:
A look at the early years of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward and his brother who helped train him before going pro in the mid 1980s.
While the performers appear to be in top form, the way the trailer is cut feels a bit stale. It's your usual down-and-out-athlete-who-takes-a-stab-at-glory-against-all-odds story, at least the way the trailer is presented. Really, the only thing I'm amped for after seeing the trailer, which will hit limited release on December 10, is Amy Adams' performance, if only because the role is so much darker and grittier than the past few major roles she's had. At least now, AMPAS clearly loves Adams, and a going-against-type role, if well received, could land her a third nomination, and even a win for Supporting Actress, a category that isn't exactly stacked with buzzy contenders at the moment (save for 99% likely entry Diane Wiest). Bale looks solid as well, though he could prove to be one note if every scene looks like the glimpses in the trailer. Wahlberg looks...fine. He's a solid enough performer, but I really think we've already seen the best he has to offer as an actor (maybe he should take a cue from Ben Affleck?). And then there's poor Melissa Leo, who despite being an Oscar nominee, can't even get her name in the damn title cards, despite being one of the four major roles. There's just something flat-out wrong about that.

Say good bye to "The Conspirator," and hello to "Rabbit Hole"

In what is becoming an increasingly overcrowded year (especially in the lead actress category), some films are in danger of joining Tree of Life in 2011, despite assumptions that they would at least have Oscar-qualifying runs this year. Two films whose fates were recently questioned were Toronto selections The Conspirator and Rabbit Hole, which have both been seen by critics and the public after months of precious little promotional material. Well, for those of you keeping track, it's time to update your predictions, if only slightly.
Deadline New York has confirmed that The Conspirator has a distributor, but it won't land in theaters until Spring 2011 (in other words: good-bye Oscar chances). Meanwhile, Showbiz411 is reporting that LionsGate is very close to picking up Rabbit Hole with the intent being to get it out in theaters in time for the upcoming Oscar race.

Trailer for "The Tourist"

All in all, this looks like surprisingly standard normal-guy/girl-gets-roped-into-espionage/criminal-hijinks, (we already saw this with Knight and Day, albeit with the genders flipped). They're obviously banking more on the star power, which is something of a big deal considering that these two mega-stars have never worked together, let alone in co-lead roles. It could be lush, exotic (it's hard to mess up the visuals when the setting is Venice), and hugely entertaining, but I think we can scratch this off of the list of potential Oscar contenders, even with its director's pedigree (The Lives of Others).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Toronto Review Round Up: "Rabbit Hole"

Despite turning in some strong work in the past few years, Nicole Kidman has unfortunately found herself in that category of recent Oscar winners who just can't seem to catch a break. Ever since Cold Mountain (2003) and Dogville (2003/4 depending on your preference), nearly everything film she's been part of has been met with either mixed or negative reviews (which is a shame; I actually liked Birth and Australia quite a bit). Her latest attempt to get back on everyone's good side is Rabbit Hole, John Cameron Mitchell's (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) directorial adaptation of David Lindsey-Abaire's critically acclaimed play (which won Cynthia Nixon a Tony). After missing out on the Cannes and Venice film festivals, the film, also starring Dianne Wiest, and Sandra Oh, has finally been shown before the public, and if you've been waiting for the start of a "Kidman comeback," you can finally breathe a sigh of relief, if the first reviews and audience reactions are any indication.

Cinema Blend's Katey Rich gets things off to a glowing start, praising Mitchell's direction for "[opening] up the story without ever overdoing it. Most importantly, he leaves room for his stupendous actors to take over." And as for flaws, Rich points them out, but makes them seem minor at most. She writes that "Not everything in Rabbit Hole avoids cliche - the one screaming and crying scene between Becca and Howie feels a little forced," and "while Lindsey-Abaire's writing can put too fine a point on things in some scenes, it frequently takes your breath away with its insight." The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt isn't quite as positive, claiming that the film is "a little too self-conscious for its own good" in that nearly every scene involves the tragedy that sets off the film. Still, he praises much of the writing, despite some of it being "heavygoing" in subject matter.
Of the performances he has much nicer things to say, especially of Kidman, whose performance he calls "riveting because she essentially plays the entire film at two levels." Over at Variety, Peter Debruge calls the film "refreshingly positive-minded" in its treatment of the grim subject matter, and praises the film's use of humor. Debruge also highlights Kidman and Eckhart's work, which he calls "expert [and] understated." Like Rich, Debruge says that the film has been "adroitly expanded" from the stage version, which certainly helps to erase those fears that the film's stage origins might feel too obvious. Finally, the Seattle Times' Moira Macdonald writes in her late-night festival summary, "Saw my last TIFF '10 movie this morning and it was a stunner: Rabbit Hole."

Additional Reviews:

RopeofSilicon: "These characters feel real and so does their sadness and the way they go about trying to cope. Instead of their grief wearing on you, you want to reach out and give them a hug."

Toronto Verdict: A largely successful transition from stage to screen, thanks in large part to Mitchell's direction, Lindsey-Abaire's adaptation of his own work, and an ensemble filled with terrific performances led by Kidman and Eckhart.

First look at "The Tourist"

The first official trailer will hit tomorrow (exclusively on Yahoo! for the first two hours before it is sent to other sites). Originally slated for 2011, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's follow-up to The Lives of Others is certainly much more commercially friendly with Jolie and Depp headlining, but the 10 second clip, repeated OVER and OVER again for your viewing pleasure, doesn't do much to excite me. Granted, it's only 10 measly seconds, but Depp seems a little too close to Capt. Jack for my liking with that "aaaaaaaghgotta go!" bit. Maybe it will all seem less jarring in the full trailer, but considering the star power involved, I'd hate for one of the two leads to be a let down. Ah well, let's suspend trailer judgement until we actually see the trailer in question.

Toronto Review Round Up: "What's Wrong With Virginia?"

Two years ago Dustin Lance Black wrote a screenplay for a little movie called Milk, and it kind of went over well with the Academy. Two years later, Black's latest, which he also directs, is opening in at the TIFF in hopes of finding a distributor. Unfortunately, if these first reviews are any indication, there could be quite a bit wrong with "Virginia."

Cinema Blend's Katey Rich is mixed on the film, and says that it is "all over the place in every imaginable way...vacillating wildly from camp to melodrama to harsh satire and back again." However, she's kind to the performances, particularly Jennifer Connelly's weave, about whom she writes, "Connelly has rarely looked more fragile or dangerous," and calls the performance "her best work in years."
Slightly less kind is The Hollywood Reporter's Michael Rechtshaffen, who summarizes the film as "an unfortunately curdled misfire." He gives no praise (or criticism) to the performances, but repeatedly takes Black's tone to task, and says that the film is "tonally all over the place" and that "what's wrong with Virginia is small potatoes compared to what's wrong with this film." Howard Feinstein at Screen Daily continues in the same vein, and says that while the film starts out with promise, "the screenplay becomes as overloaded as a packed rollercoaster, testing the viewer's patience along the way and offering little in the way of pay off."

Additional Reviews: [awaiting]

Toronto Verdict: [awaiting]

Monday, September 13, 2010

Toronto Review Round Up: "Little White Lies" [incomplete]

One of the biggest film festivals in the world, and one of the most important in regards to Oscar predictions/indicators, has been underway for a few days now, and along with previously premiered films like Black Swan, The King's Speech, and 127 Hours are previously unreviewed films like Rabbit Hole (I'm reaaaaaally hoping for good reception on this one) and the subject of this post, Little White Lies.

"Lies," which has been on my radar for a while now mostly because it stars Marion Cotillard and is directed by her boyfried (fiance?) Guillaume Canet, even though there hasn't been too much available out it yet. That should change very quickly, and the first reviews from the TIFF screening are finally making their way online. Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter is generally positive in his assessment of the ensemble dramedy, though he says the film is hampered and "loses much of its effervescence as it goes on - and on." Rechtshaffen praises the performances, especially those of Cotillard and co-star Fracois Cluzet, both of whose work is described as "bright and energetic."
Variety's Jordan Mintzer's review is similar. He says parts of the movie fire on all cyllinders, and the performances are strong, but that it's simply too long for its own good. Mintzer calls the film "disjointed [and] occasionally effective" and says that Cluzet is "too over-the-top here." Mark Olsen over at the LA Times is more positive on all fronts though. He only mentions the film's length once, writing that Canet "somehow pulls it all together." And Olsen is particularly kind to Cotillard, writing that she, "gives a performance of acute emotional ability. There is a mischievous playfulness to her performance here, with a deep undercurrent of sadness, which makes for a most remarkable turn." He goes on to suggest that, were the performance in English, Cotillard would be a likely Best Actress hopeful, even in this increasingly overcrowded year that is threatening to push some films (please don't let one of them be this or Rabbit Hole) to 2011 to join Tree of Life.

Additional Reviews: [awaiting]

Toronto Verdict: [awaiting]

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"The Social Network" - REVIEW

Last night I was lucky enough to attend an early screening of the increasingly buzzed-about The Social Network, aka "that Facebook movie with the weird trailer." Writer Aaron Sorkin and actor Armie Hammer (who plays a pair of WASPy twins) were in attendance for a Q&A session after, which I'll touch on briefly in the review, which only adds to the excitement. Considering its recent gain in awards potential buzz, I was particularly excited to see what David Fincher and crew had to offer, and they certainly don't disappoint.

It would (and a few months ago, was) be easy enough to dismiss a project like The Social Network as a sign that Hollywood has run out of ideas, and is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. After all, how interesting could the founding of a damn social networking site be? Some code gets strung together, and BAM, popular website, right? Not exactly. Quite a bit of drama went down in the founding of the massively popular site, and director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin have done a very good job of putting the story (from Ben Mezrich's novel "The Accidental Billionaires") on screen in a very compelling manner.

Perhaps the best decision that Sorkin made in his screenplay was to keep the film from siding with any of the three main angles involved (Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, and the Winklevoss twins). In taking various scenes that happened according to the three wildly differing depositions, he's turned it into a sort of Rashomon-style story, only you only see everything once, and never know whose point of view it's from. While this does have some slight drawbacks (you don't really "feel" for someone even when they get screwed), the decision overall is a success. Zuckerberg could easily been an easy villain/anti-hero, yet the final scene seems to tell us to hold off on making a final judgement. Another small issue is that, given Sorkin's love of (rapid-fire) dialogue over story (his words, not mine), at times the characters all feel less like fully-developed people, and more like extensions of Aaron Sorkin (to make an unnecessary Inception reference, these would be the different sides of his subconscious populating his dream world). As such, it's also not much of an actors piece, despite solid work across the board from its young and capable cast. Eisenberg is conniving and hard-to-read, Garfield is sympathetic, and Armie Hammer and Max Minghella are suitably flustered as Zuckerberg's first enemies. Roles played by Rooney Mara (our new Lisbeth Salander), Rashida Jones, Justin Timberlake, and Brenda Song are all solid, but without enough to make them terribly memorable.

But the issues pretty much stop there. Even though I'm not sure I'd call this Fincher's strongest effort as a director, this is a very good film that perhaps owes more to its screenplay. Sorkin's rapid-fire exchanges really suit the material and setting here, all very smart Harvard students, computer programmers, and lawyers for whom such off-the-cuff cleverness seems plausible, and as a result, is highly entertaining. And even with the above-mentioned love of dialogue, Sorkin has still crafted an immensely engaging and compelling story. Helping him along are the film's second and third strongest assets: the editing and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score. The two together bring an incredible sense of life to a bunch of conversations of computer code, blogging, web design, and legal questions, pushing the film's tone at points to pseudo-thriller (and I mean that as a high compliment). Even a scene of Andrew Garfield's Eduardo Saverin looking at an envelope on his floor is made compelling simply by the placement of the pulsating music. The film runs two hours, yet when I realized that I was at the final scene, all I could think was, "but wait, please tell me there's more to see."

So while its characters may not exactly "pop" or feel like full-on, flesh-and-blood people, they certainly aren't one-note caricatures; they're simply part of the Aaron Sorkin universe. And with David Fincher at the helm, directing such a solid ensemble of young talent, it's hard to say that this is a bad thing. This is a well-acted, excellently crafted, and occasionally very funny film that does a great job of telling a story that most people probably wouldn't want care about on the surface. A Facebook status message might be shallow, and hell, the whole site might be completely vacuous, but the story behind it is certainly not. This is so much more than just "a dumb Facebook movie."

Grade: A-/A

Saturday, September 11, 2010

2010 Venice Film Festival Winners! [updated as announced]

  • Golden Osella for Best Cinematography: Silent Souls
  • Best Actress: Ariane Labed - Attenberg
  • Best Actor: Vincent Gallo - Essential Killing
  • Golden Osella for Best Screenplay: Alex De La Iglesia - Balada Triste de Trompeta
  • Marcello Mastroianni Award: Mila Kunis - Black Swan
  • Leoncino D'Oro Award: Barney's Version
  • Special Jury Prize: Jerzy Skolimowski - Essential Killing
  • Silver Lion: Alex De La Iglesia - Balada Triste de Trompeta
  • Special Golden Lion for the director's overall work: Monte Hellman - Road to Nowhere
  • Golden Lion (unanimously): Sofia Coppola - Somewhere

Trailer for Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter"

Ever since Million Dollar Baby (2004), Clint Eastwood has had something of a bumpy streak. There have been highs (Letters From Iwo Jima) but more often there were lows (Changeling) or straight up middling efforts (Gran Torino). Hopefully Hereafter, described as a "supernatural thriller," will be more in line with 'Baby' or 'Iwo Jima,' because when Eastwood is on point, he's incredible. The plot description as per IMDb:
A supernatural thriller centered on three people -- a blue-collar American, a French journalist and a London school boy -- who are touched by death in different ways.
Honestly, the only thing here that worries me is the whole supernatural element. I don't have a problem with psychics in stories in general, not at all. I just think there needs to be a proper context, and something about this film seems too "straight" and gritty to balance a psychic character; it could end up trivializing the serious situations at hand (was that flood supposed to be a parallel to the 2004 tsunami?). One of the reasons I can't stand the TV show Medium is because everything in it is so damn self-serious that it just comes off as stupid. Let's hope that Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) will find a way to make it acceptable to those of us in the audience who don't give psychics one iota of credibility.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Trailer for "Country Strong"

Yesterday brought the release of the as-yet-not-much-talked-about film Country Strong, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, and Leighton Meester. The plot is as follows:
A drama centered on a rising country-music songwriter (Hedlund) who sparks with a fallen star (Paltrow). Together, they mount his ascent and her comeback, which leads to romantic complications involving her husband/manager (McGraw) and a beauty queen-turned-singer (Meester).
This is one of those strange trailers that seems to promise good acting in relatively routine/corny writing (I really hate that title, though that may be because I thought it was titled Country SONG). From the character types to the subject matter, it's hard not to look at this as a female-oriented version of last year's severely blah Crazy Heart. That whole "Give me the bottle!" "No!" scene reeks of Oscar-begging, but the rest of the movie seems a little more subdued; hopefully it all looks better in context. Still, I'll probably see it for the performances; I miss seeing Gwyneth Paltrow in a strong-looking leading lady role, and this looks like it could be a decent enough vehicle for her to really show off those acting chops, something she can't do so much in the Iron Man series. We're still too far out to make real acting predictions, but with this officially on the table (it will receive a qualifying run in late December), best actress suddenly feels filled to the brim with potential contenders.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"Tree of Life" release date reached: Fall 2011

JSHDFKHIUEGIFOCYE*(*#HF*(H@#(. Sorry, that was just the tail end of my rage stroke. Fox Searchlight, the indie distributors behind such Oscar hits as Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, and Slumdog Millionaire, have acquired the release rights for Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, which was recently compared to that Kubrick movie set in space. That's great news, especially after word had hit that the original distributor, Apparition, was in financial trouble.

But the good news stops there; Fox Searchlight won't put the film in theaters for the (semi) regular public until about a year from now. Word is, however, that the film could make a debut at next year's Cannes Film Festival, which would at least give us some reviews (and maybe a trailer/clip) to read over and over again. Is it really too much to ask for Martin Scorcese, Clint Eastwood, Darren Aronofsky, the Coen brothers, and Terrence Malick in one year? I think not, but hell, at least we know we'll be getting something closer to whatever Malick's full vision is for this project. For the full article, hop on over to /Film. In the mean time, I'll be busy making this face:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"The American" - REVIEW

In the first half of The American, director Anton Corbijn's follow-up to his Joy Division movie Control, an Italian priest (Paolo Bonacelli) tells Jack (George Clooney), " have the hands of a craftsman." Like the film's main character, The American has some small issues that hold it back from its full potential, but when it depicts the scenes of Jack being a craftsman, it succeeds.

The film opens with Jack, an assassin, botching a job in Sweden, and like a darker, humorless brother of In Bruges, the film's main plot involves Jack in hiding, waiting for his next assignment. That assignment comes in the form of Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), who commissions Jack to build her a very special rifle for a task she won't reveal. As far as plot goes, that's about all that goes on, aside from Jack's suspicions that someone is following him, and a relationship with a local prostitute (Violante Placido). Though I suspect it would still prove to be divisive even without the terribly misleading marketing campaign (a shoot-em-up-thrill-ride it is not), for this viewer, Corbijn and Clooney worked magic. This is a steadily paced film, with little happening, and peppered with intriguing-yet-vague conversations that leave the focus on the characters and what little we know about them. In fact, The American may boast some of the quietest suspense I've seen in years, with any number of scenes (usually at night) that look as though they will finally lead to a chase/shoot-out and don't. And yet, for me, that's not a problem. Some may say that the shots lingered just a hair too long, or that there wasn't anything going on except at the end. Regardless of whether you liked the film or not, the last half of that statement seems to miss the point. This is not about where Jack is going, it's about how he deals with what has happened in the past, while stranded in a village that at times feels like purgatory on earth.

And there are three keys that hold it all together: Corbijn, Clooney, and cinematographer Martin Ruhe. Corbijn, a photographer himself, displayed a strong visual eye with the stark black and white of Control, but in collaborating with Ruhe, he's taken it up a notch; color suits him well. Once Jack arrives in the village, the location never really changes, yet the constant use of wide, establishing shots of the village's buildings (often surrounded by clouds) never grow tiresome or feel unnecessary. The pair also play with light beautifully, filling the frame (if only briefly) with reds, blues, browns, and in one of the best shots in the film - Jack sitting on his bed after awaking from a nightmare - gold. Even the more plainly lit scenes, like those of Jack working away at his project, remain dynamic simply because of the (often simple) movement taking place in the frame. And like Animal Kingdom, Corbijn and crew know how to use sounds carefully, so that the few "bang!"'s in the film (some of which aren't gun shots) resonate. Herbert Gronemeyer's music, though used infrequently for the first half or so, adds additional atmosphere to Ruhe's subdued-yet-beautiful images.

And this brings us to the last piece of the puzzle, Mr. Clooney himself. It's easy enough to write Clooney off as more of a star than an actor, playing relatively similar roles that capitalize more on his charm and persona that real acting heft. And this is why Clooney might be the film's greatest strength; despite not having too much time to talk, Clooney is never given a chance to project his usual charm. This is not a spin-off role of Danny Ocean, this is a fully realized, darker, complex character who succeeds thanks to Clooney digging into the role and (in a minimalist way) acting the hell out of it. The rest of the cast do fine work as well, using their minimal dialogue to create characters with some illusion of (un-seen) depth when they could have easily been empty or one-note.

Yet while some elements of the screenplay - the conversations - are high points, others put a bit of a damper on the overall package. I won't say why, but after certain events you might wonder why the police are never called to the town. In another instance, a compelling turn ends up feeling horribly inefficient from a narrative stand-point. Yet despite some plot-holes, The American is a success thanks to its performances and overall craftsmanship, which might just be enough to keep those plot-holes from being too much of a distraction. That is, if you're in the section of the audience who are engaged and not bored to tears.

Grade: B/B+

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Telluride First Review: "The Way Back"

One film that we haven't heard much about until recently, though it's been buzzed plenty enough, is Peter Weir's The Way Back. The film covers the true story of soldiers (and others) who escaped from a Siberian gulag in the early 1940s. The film, which stars Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess, and Saoirse Ronan, has been talked about as a possible come-back project for Weir, and while this first review makes it sound like such a come-back, it sounds like it could be too intense to garner much awards traction.
Cinematical's Eugene Novikov writes that the film "enters the canon of survival films as perhaps the most sadistically intent on making you feel as much of its subjects' physical agony as possible." He also says that the first half is "Weir at his hypnotic best," but that it "makes for an intense, unpleasant experience." Novikov also writes that the second half loses some impact because it becomes "a series of obstacles and triumps...the moral ambiguity drains from the film."

Additional Reviews:

The Hollywood Reporter: "...a harrowing epic that will not be an easy sell, but it finds Weir again working at the top of his game."

Telluride Verdict: An intense film that doesn't sugar-coat the harshness of its story, and that, flaws and all, is a major new work from Peter Weir.

Telluride Review Round-Up: "127 Hours"

When the trailer for Danny Boyle's true-life drama 127 Hours first arrived, I'll admit, I wasn't impressed. I was already iffy about putting the story of Aron Ralston on the big screen, and the trailer only solidified this early judgement. However, the reviews coming out of Telluride beg to differ, and after reading through the reviews that I've found so far, Boyle's latest has shot up quite high on my must-see list. There have even been reports that the film was so intense it caused one audience member to faint.

Peter Sciretta of /Film gives the film an impressive (9.5/10) and writes that Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy "really shine" in their depiction of Ralston's time trapped, immobile, and running out of food and water. He goes on to say that "[James] Franco gives the performance of his career and hits emotional levels I didn't believe the actor was capable of." He also praises the film's editing (over an hour of it is "Franco stuck between two walls") and cinematography, and concludes his review with the following summary: "127 Hours is a brilliant, gut-wrenching and moving cinematic experience."'s Alex Billington also gives the film and Franco high praise and says that "Franco does indeed knock it out of the park with this," though he does say that while he thinks the film is great, "[he] couldn't get into it as much as Slumdog Millionaire or Buried." He also says that he feels the film's score isn't entirely appropriate and that it should have had "a more melodic, moody, conventional score."
Over at Cinematical, Eugene Novikov writes that the film is "gut-wrenching in a queasy, horror-movie way - a shield-your-eyes-from-the-screen, chuckle-in-relieved-astonishment sort of experience, done incredible well." However, despite praise for Franco's performance, Novikov doesn't seem convinced that it's really best-of-the-year material. He finishes his review by saying that the film is "extremely effective as a thriller, and moderately so as a minor character study. Adjust expectations accordingly and you'll have a good time."

Additional Reviews: [awaiting]

Telluride Verdict: A mesmerizing, harrowing depiction of Ralston's story, bolstered by superb direction from Danny Boyle and acting from James Franco.

Telluride Review Round-Up: "The King's Speech" [incomplete]

One of the remaining mysteries of 2010, Tom Hooper's The King's Speech, which has no official stills and no trailer, opened today in Telluride. Based on the true story of King George VI's struggle with a speech impediment, the film stars Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter, all strong actors. Still, there was always the chance it could turn out to be another The Young Victoria in terms of reception and awards success. Apparently, that isn't the case, and the period piece is launching with some fantastic first reviews:

Variety's Peter Debruge kicks things off with a prediction that the film "should tap into the the same audience that made The Queen a prestige hit," and that "both roles provide a delightful opportunity for Firth and Rush to poke a bit of fun at their profession." He goes on to say that while Rush's performance seems - on the surface - to be showier, "the big scenes are indisputably Firth's." The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt is also extremely positive, and writes that "Firth doesn't just make a British king vulnerable and insecure, he shows fierce courage and's not just marvelous acting, it's an actor who understand the flesh-and-blood reality of the moment and not its history."
But Firth and Rush aren't the only ones receiving attention; Honeycutt writes that Bonham Carter "is a revelation here despite a long career as a leading lady." Over at Incontention, Kris Tapely awards the film ***1/2 out of **** stars and says that "These two [Firth and Rush] have amazing, impeccable chemistry together. Each should comfortably find himself in the hunt for Oscar," and predicts that the film will have strong shots at Picture, Screenplay, and Art Direction.

Additional Reviews: [awaiting]

Telluride Verdict: A handsome and standard -yet-engaging royalty piece headlined by two fantastic lead performances.

International trailer for "Biutiful"

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's latest film finally has its first proper trailer available for viewing, and it's intense to say the least. Bardem stars as a cop whose life "is in free fall" and must deal with a variety of obligations amidst his decaying health. Inarritu's films usually involve fractured story-telling; sometimes it works (21 Grams) and sometimes it doesn't (Babel), but the results are usually quite powerful. Based on the (generally positive) word from Cannes, Biutiful follows a much more linear story, which I think should help Inarritu and crew maximize the film's potential. Inarritu's films usually feature some outstanding performances, but in the case of Babel, the story-telling is what undermines the film as a whole and turns it all into pretentious nonsense, so here's hoping that this time the (reportedly) good performances are surrounded by a strong film as well. Bardem has mostly great reviews so far, and this could be his big ticket to a third Oscar nomination. If the film goes over well enough once it hits the states, Bardem and Inarritu could become a major part of the upcoming awards race.

Telluride Review Round-Up: "Never Let Me Go"

How silly of me to forget. September brings not one, not two, but three film festivals which should eventually overlap (and it might be four if NYFF starts this month...sheesh). Telluride has hosted some interesting films over the years, but from this year's line-up, none caught my eye as much as Mark Romanek's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's amazing novel "Never Let Me Go."

The film's first review thus far certainly gets things off to a great start. Peter Sciretta from /Film writes, "The film is emotionally powerful, a haunting meditation about love, death, humanity, and acceptance," and says that the performances "are all top notch - fantastic performances across the board, but Carey Mulligan is center stage." His only complaint in his (9/10) review is a minor quibble with an aspect of the story (which I won't spoil or detail), which - having read the novel - is a somewhat valid question narratively, but I think there's thematic justification for it (how the film handles it, however, might be the reason for him taking issue with it).
Meanwhile, Movie City New's David Poland is equally, if not more, ecstatic, proclaiming Romanek's (he gives special praise to the director) second feature film to be a "masterpiece...a film we'll be discussing, frame by frame, in schools 20 years from now." Like Sciretta, Poland also gives across-the-board raves to the performances, and gives Mulligan the most credit, while also mentioning the strong work from smaller roles played by Charlotte Rampling and Sally Hawkins. He also mentions the recently released score (on Itunes) by Rachel Portman, which he says could be the one to be this year. Incontention's Kris Tapely has a different take, however, and says that the film "kept [him] at arm's length from frame one. There is a distance here, a cold sense of removal from what would otherwise be an extremely moving narrative." In the rest of the **/**** review, Tapely praises the performances, cinematography, and the score (which he claims is the film's best Oscar bet) but reiterates his point that the film left him cold. Awards Daily's Eric Bialas echoes this and writes that "the movie distances itself from the viewer too much to ever really shock viewers when its main emotional scenes arrives." Having read the book, this feels a bit like missing the point; the story is never meant to be built on shocks or 'gotcha' moments, though it's easy to see why one might believe that it's what the film is building towards.

Additional Reviews:

Variety: "...a fragile little four-leaf clover of a movie that's emotionally devastating, yet all too easily trampled by cynics." / "...Romanek has more on his mind than simply making people cry."

FirstShowing.Net: "There are many great elements to the film: Adam Kimmel's very beautiful cinematography, Carey Mulligan's phenomenal performance, Rachel Portman's mesmerizing score, Mark Romanek's careful direction, even the concept and story overall." (9/10)

Thompson On Hollywood: "...tells us a lot about who we are by showing us something that could be."

Telluride Verdict: It is strongly acted, shot, and scored, yet Romanek's direction and Alex Garland's adaptation will most likely prove to be extremely divisive.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Venice Review Round-Up: "Somewhere"

Day 3 in Venice brings the latest from another heavy hitting writer/director: Sofia Coppola. Since Somewhere was announced, people have been waiting to see if it falls more in line with Lost in Translation or Marie Antoinette, not just in themes, but in actual quality. The film has also been buzzed about because of its casting; not only does Elle Fanning (younger sister of Dakota) have a lead role, but her co-star is Stephen Dorff, who could be in for a Mickey-Rourke-esque comeback if Somewhere takes off. Based on the (still early) word coming out of the festival, it's more in the vein of the Lost in Translation, and even for someone like me, who wasn't crazy about that film, that's definitely a good thing:

The film gets off to a good start from The London Evening Standard's Derek Malcolm, who writes, "The film has no big dramatic moments, just a series of sequences gradually making the watcher aware of just why there's a text on Johnny's phone stating: Why are you such a ****?" He goes on to say that "Dorff and Fanning play naturally well," and that, "[the film] may last a little more in the memory than Marie Antoinette, if not quite as long as Lost in Translation." Over at Incontention, Guy Lodge gives the film ***1/2 out of **** and claims "both actors are a delight...this [is] Dorff's finest hour" and Elle Fanning "is a quietly rewarding screen presence, perceptive rather than precocious."
David Jenkins of Time Out London, however, isn't quite so enthusiastic. Despite awarding the film ***/*****, his review gets off to a rather nasty start: "A cloying sense of deja vu radiates from Somewhere, Sofia Coppola's long-gestating follow-up to her divisive postmodern historical biopic Marie Antoinette." However, Jenkins also writes that "The relationship between Johnny and Cleo is beautifully modulated, satisfyingly free of the torrent of sentimental heart-to-hearts that a lesser film would have bludgeoned us with." He praises both performances, but is more enthusiastic about Fanning, who he calls "a revelation." However, Jenkins concludes his review by saying that Coppola perhaps too frequently borrows from Lost in Translation.

Additional Review(s):

Variety: "...A quiet heartbreaker"/"[Coppola] further hones her gifts for ruefully funny observation and understated melancholy..."

Empire: "...some audiences may struggle with finding sympathy with for Johnny and his zombified state of spoiled-brat ennui. But if you roll with it, Somewhere is a rich and sophisticated film that draws its world so deftly it's easy to forget it isn't ours."

Thompson on Hollywood/Indie Wire: "Witty, spare, and gorgeously framed, Somewhere should play well for the young smart-house set."

Venice Verdict: Though it will strike some as a retread of Coppola's earlier work, Somewhere is a quiet, un-eventful, yet compelling look at relationships.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Aaaaaaaand they're off!

Summer's over, and to kick off the last four months of the year, we've got a festival in Venice, a festival in Toronto, and now the beginning of the anticipated/dreaded Oscar campaigns. Surprisingly, the first film out of the gate with an FYC campaign isn't something like Black Swan, The Kids Are All Right, The Fighter, or the much buzzed-about The Social Network. Rather, it's Dreamworks' surprise critical hit How to Train Your Dragon, and it's gunning for everything from Art Direction to Best Picture. With Toy Story 3 likely to take home the Animated Feature Oscar and score a nomination for Best Picture, Dreamworks is smart to start reminding everyone of their own highly praised film if they want to stand a chance of becoming the second animated film to make it into the Academy's top 10.

Venice Review Round-Up: "Miral"

Day 2 of Venice brings the first reviews of Julian Schnabel's (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Israel/Palestine orphanage/liberation movement drama Miral. Schnabel's previous film was a big hit with critics and landed a number of major Oscar nominations (including Best Director). Unfortunately, if the first batch of reviews are any indication, his next Oscar hopeful (which the Weinsteins have reportedly made their #1 Oscar priority) isn't getting off to the best start:

Incontention's Guy Lodge specifically takes Schnabel's direction to task, and writes that he "awkwardly welds his pet visual and sonic tics onto a narrative that struggles to support them," and that "his approach feels both shoe-horned and fairly disingenuous in this context." Lodge also refrains from giving praise or criticism to the performances, though he suggests that Hiam Abbass is wasted in an old lady wig. ThompsonOnHollywood's Anne Thompson is slightly more positive, and writes, "while Miral packs an emotional punch, [Schnabel] tells the wrong story," and goes on to say that the film's bookend sections which focus on "the great Hiam Abbass" had her in tears.
Unfortunately, she's less kind to the sections that focus on Freida Pinto's titular Miral. Thompson writes, "[Miral's] story remains expositional and flat," and says that Pinto is "not an expressive actress." Derek Malcom of The London Evening Standard awards the film 3 out of 5 stars, and amidst a review that is mostly description/plot summary (boooo) says that the cast play their roles "with an emotional skill that points up the story convincingly."

Additional Reviews:

Variety: "Schnabel's style feels misapplied..."

The Hollywood Reporter: "Although too schematic and unfocused to garner much critical support, it has the kind of direct simplicity that could reach out to historically challenged audiences and politically minded festival juries."

The Independent (UK): "Miral is plodding at times, choppily edited and unevenly performed"/"At its most leaden, this is more like a school lecture on in Middle East history than it is a piece of drama." (***/*****)

Empire: "...simply dreadful...It's a film so obsessed with being about Big Important Stuff that it forgets all the important little stuff - er, like characters and good writing - and, as a result, it's a chore to sit through."

Venice Verdict: Schnabel misfires with a film that mishandles its subject matter, characters, and story, with performances that are hit and miss.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Month in Review: August 2010

Sadly, with the end of August and the end of summer, comes the last "Month in Review" until May 2011. I might still do shorter round-ups starting at the end of September, but now that I'm heading back off to school, the only films I'll be able to consider will be whatever I find time to see in theaters and whatever I'm shown in classes (if anything). So, to close out this segment (and consequently, the "What I Watched this Week" segment), here's a look at the best of what I saw in August:

Best Film (Theaters): Animal Kingdom
David Michod's stellar debut has been marketed as a crime drama, though it's filled more with character inter-play and story-telling than all-out firefights. The violence is limited to no more than two gun shots, and there's nothing remotely stylized or "cool" about it, causing each 'bang' shake you up a little more than the last one. And despite the steady pacing, Animal Kingdom works because of strong work from its cast (especially MVP Jacki Weaver), a story that avoids typical genre story plot lines, and hypnotic, ambient music that makes the simple moments as compelling as the main story.

Best Film (DVD/Rental): The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Before Philip Kaufman took a look at the madness of the Marquis de Sade in Quills, he made a surprisingly successful adaptation of the novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being." Mixing sensuality, eroticism, political upheaval, and a surprising amount of humor, Kaufman's nearly-three hour film earns every minute. Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche as Tomas and Tereza are at the film's center, but the movie earns a great deal of heft from Lena Olin's performance as Tomas's on-off lover Sabina. In the film's best scene, Tereza and Sabina photograph each other nude, and the scene seamless moves from (classy) erotic, to magnetic, and finally, hilarious territory.

Best Director: Edgar Wright - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Despite an extremely talented group of young actors filling out the many roles of "Scott Pilgrim," the real star is director Edgar Wright. Wright has a talent for both sending up genre tropes while also indulging in them, to create movie experience that are both tongue-in-cheek and legitimately compelling. Every image is so dense, so packed with details and references, that it's hard not to be blown away by the obvious amount of time and effort Wright took to make sure that this adaptation (his first) transferred successfully to the screen without losing the spirit of the source material.

Best Actor: Robert Duvall - Get Low
For all that is ordinary in Get Low (most of it), Robert Duvall is anything but. While the screenplay leaves a lot to be desired in its exploration of the central character, Duvall's willingness to completely sink into the role, is what holds the film together, and helps keep it interesting, which it might not have been with a different lead.

Best Actress: Julianne Moore - The Kids are All Right
It's hard to pick which half of the lesbian couple in Lisa Cholodenko's indie smash is superior. Neither of them is "weak," so it really comes down to a matter of preference, and by just a smidge, I think I preferred Moore's Jules. Despite her character's actions, Moore keeps her real and likeable; she's the flightier of the pair, but she's never turned into an easy "villain" or a broadly written caricature. While a lot of this is due to the screenplay, Moore's charming and emotional portrayal takes it to another level.

Best Screenplay: Talk to Her
Pedro Almodovar's Talk to Her and I got off on the wrong foot. While never bored, there was something missing in the characters and story telling that kept me from being as instantly swept up as I was in, say, Volver. And then, just when you think Almodovar is going to continue in this solid-yet-unspectacular vein, he ups the dramatic stakes considerably, and the movie soars to new heights all the way to its ending. A deserving winner for Best Original Screenplay, Almodovar's film gracefully explores a unique situation with tinges of soap opera, and the result is heart-stopping.

Best Ensemble Cast: All About My Mother
Women played an important role in Almodovar's life, thus the very feminine slant in his films. Along with Volver, no film exemplifies this better than his 1999 Best Foreign Language Film winner, about a group of women and their various maladies. Led by strong work from Cecelia Roth as a woman coping with loss, she's backed up by strong turns from Penelope Cruz as a well-intentioned nun, Marisa Paredes as a conflicted theater star, and Antonia San Juan as a raunchy friend from Manuela's (Roth) former life, in one of Almodovar's finest, most engaging ensembles to date.