CLASSICS: American Beauty

American Beauty
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: Alan Ball (screenplay)
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, and Wes Bentley

American Beauty shouldn’t be the kind of movie Oscar loves.  It’s hard to watch a movie that begins with a man saying that masturbating in the shower will be the highlight of his day and pair it alongside other Best Picture winners like The King’s Speech or Shakespeare In Love.

That’s not even the biggest reason American Beauty defies the Academy, though.  At almost every chance the voting members get, they favor superficial uplift over true grit.  Yet when you look closer at this movie (as its tagline instructs you to do), you see that there is no happy ending, at least not in the traditional Best Picture sense.  Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) really does die like he says he’s going to in the beginning.

Movies that blatently tell you their outcome are usually more surprising than ones with a big reveal at the end.   Sometimes knowing the conclusion is more baffling than not.  How can a man who’s already dead die, and why will we care?

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And the winners should be…. 2011 Oscar Predictions (Matt’s Picks)

Best Picture

The Social Network
Black Swan
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
Winter’s Bone
The Kids Are All Right
Inception
Toy Story 3
The Fighter
True Grit

Should Win I’d be the most happy with Social Network, Black Swan, or The Kids Are All Right.  There’s no real Blind Side this year, but The King’s Speech is the least deserving… and it’s also one of the front-runners.
Will Win: The Social Network has a real shot, but so does The King’s Speech. Many have already handed it to King George, but I’m leaning toward King Zuckerberg.
Snubbed: There’s really no Blind Side this year among the nominees. However, over The King’s Speech I would’ve nominated The Ghost Writer, Enter the Void, White Material, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Splice or I Am Love.


Best Director

Tom Hooper- The King’s Speech
Darren Aronofsky- Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen- True Grit
David Fincher- The Social Network
David O. Russell- The Fighter

Should Win: Aronofsky.  His direction on Black Swan was the best thing about the movie, which is saying a lot.  Fincher is also great, but so many other elements of Social Network would’ve worked on their own if not as well.  You can’t really say that about Black Swan.
Will Win: Fincher.  Even if The Social Network doesn’t walk away with the night’s biggest trophy, this one is a pretty safe bet.
Snubbed: Yes, yes, Christopher Nolan deserved a nomination  for Inception here over Tom Hooper, but don’t forget Danny Boyle.  His direction on 127 Hours was impeccable and his movie was better than both Inception and The King’s Speech.   I’d also throw in Lisa Cholodenko’s low-key genius in The Kid’s Are All Right, Gasper Noe’s hallucinatory brilliance in Enter the Void, Roman Polanski’s artful storytelling in The Ghost Writer and the mesmerizing work of Claire Denis in White Material.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Written by: Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Mia Wasikowska

You usually watch a movie about the inner workings of the suburban American family expecting to see it deconstructed, but sitting through Lisa Cholodenko’s bracing, hilarious The Kids Are All Right you watch something strange: it being rebuilt.  Following an economic crisis and subsequent rethinking of what it means to be American, Kids comes at the perfect time.  It rethinks the nuclear family on the silver screen by doing the most daring thing: not mentioning it.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), the two moms at the center of the film, were each impregnated by the same sperm donor.  Now that their daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) has turned 18, her brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) pressures her to contact the donor (Mark Ruffalo).  They do, it’s awkward, and it almost tears the happy family apart.

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The Best Performances of 2010

1. Annette Bening- The Kids Are All Right The kids might just be all right, but Annette Bening as a modern lesbian mother seeing her family spin out of control no matter how tightly wound her controlling character may be is more than all right, she’s fantastic. Her ability to play the character with such effortlessness and ease makes the audience forget they are watching film and instead submerse themselves into the troubles, anxieties and and love that her character Nic feels as she undergoes a common, but crucial stage in life. Key Scene: Even with so many to choose from, one scene one can’t forget after watching the film is the humorous yet explosive scene of seeing her daughter come home on a motorcycle with “donor-Dad” and finally releasing her feelings about his unwanted parenting.

2. Christian Bale- The Fighter– Bale steals scenes left and right in The Fighter, much like they were stolen from him in The Dark Knight. As the crack-addicted former boxing star of Lowell, Mass., he must now watch as his brother Micky chases after the dream with a clearer head.  Adding in humor only makes his character the sad clown, one that, unlike The Joker, you really feel for.  Key Scene: Bale singing a song with his mother (Melissa Leo) in the car after the two had just had a big argument.  The full spectrum of these two characters’ relationship comes to light thanks to this explosive and charming scene.

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SPOTLIGHT: Annette Bening

There’s always a little bit of madness lurking behind Annette Bening’s eyes.  Whether this is her character or the real woman is a mystery, one that viewers have been more than happy to be wrapped up in throughout her career.  Bening is an expert at pealing back the layers of characters we would normally dismiss as arrogant, shallow or bitchy.  She does this either with an objective approach to a distasteful character (American Beauty) or by putting herself completely into the role (The Kids Are All Right.)  No matter what her approach, though, there’s always that little bit of madness below the surface, ready to snap.

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REVIEW: The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Written by: Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
Starring: Annette Bening, Juliane Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Mia Wasikowska

You usually watch a movie about the inner workings of the suburban American family expecting to see it deconstructed, but sitting through Lisa Cholodenko’s bracing, hilarious The Kids Are All Right you watch something strange: it being rebuilt.  Following an economic crisis and subsequent rethinking of what it means to be American, Kids comes at the perfect time.  It rethinks the nuclear family on the silver screen by doing the most daring thing: not mentioning it.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Juliane Moore), the two moms at the center of the film, were each impregnated by the same sperm donor.  Now that their daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) has turned 18, her brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) pressures her to contact the donor (Mark Ruffalo).  They do, it’s awkward, and it almost tears the happy family apart.

Continue reading