BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: True Grit

True Grit
Directed by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (screenplay), Charles Portis (novel)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin

True Grit is not about the large names behind the camera and on the marquee, nor is it haunted by the ghost of John Wayne.  Above all, it is a fatalistic Western with more dry wit than dead bodies behind its lessons.  It is a tall tale about a small girl and her quest for blood.

Don’t be fooled by Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, or Josh Brolin.  The Coen Brothers know that many who aren’t drawn in by their own names will be drawn in by the names of those stars or fans of the original film that won John Wayne his Oscar.   All the hype surrounding the mystical one-eyed Marshall and his eye-patch has made many lose sight over the fact that this is indeed a film about that 14-year-old and the loss of her innocence by her own accord.

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Our (Belated) List of Favorite Movie Directors

1. Martin Scorsese- It may seem unimaginable that nearly three years ago director Martin Scorsese had yet to hold an Academy Award in his hands, but it is the disappointing truth. The once would-be Catholic priest entered the film making world with hits like Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets which put him at the forefront of New Hollywood with his violent, audience-specific films. Though Francis Ford Coppola felt he was unfit to helm The Godfather: Part III, Scorsese quickly overshadowed Coppola to become an icon of his own, creating films filled with themes related to violence, machismo, Italian-American identity, immigration, Catholicism and New York City. Five decades of classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed, Scorsese set a style of quick editing, rock and roll soundtrack and frequent collaboration with actors and editors who claim Scorsese to be a living encyclopedia of film history. The film that did it for us: Though he’s created modern epics including a personal favorite, Gangs of New York, Scorsese’s talents are most apparent in Taxi Driver, a film with some of the most carefully constructed technical detail and powerful themes of isolation, violence, sex and how they are related and lead to destruction.

2. Stanley Kubrick– One of the unprecedented visual artists in all of cinema, it’s hard to not love movies when Stanley Kubrick makes them.  His gift for telling a compelling story is aided by those infamous distant shots, able to encompass the idiocy in The War Room (Dr. Strangelove) or gravity-defying in the great beyond (2001: A Space Odyssey).  He never told the same story twice, but each film carries with it his distinct visual flair,  helping him to create some of the most fully realized worlds the movies have ever seen.  Kubrick is one of the biggest influences on American cinema not only because of his artistic genius, though.  His ruthless dedication to his vision of the material led to feuds with his actors and the writers of the source material (both on The Shining.)  Perfectionism is costly, but with it he created many things that are, in fact, perfect.  The film that did it for us: There’s never been a more beautifully filmed comedy than Dr. Strangelove, and there are few as horrific.

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REVIEW: Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone
Directed by: Debra Granik
Written by: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini (screenplay), Daniel Woodrell (novel)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey

In the realm of regional specific tales of mortality, Winter’s Bone is endowed with the element that puts it in the caliber of every other movie in this subgenre: hollowness.

Just like the dryness in Frozen River or the arid feeling in No Country for Old Men, the film holds an empty feeling that results from holding itself to the conventions of convention-bucking indie cinema. The conventions rely on being as minimalistic and realistic as possible, which is indeed interesting and brave, but results in a complete lack of tension, which is key for a character based thriller. Continue reading

A Few Movie Facts: Matt

1.  I hated Pulp Fiction the first time I saw it, but for some reason watched it again a week later and loved it.  Now I watch movies I think are bad twice on occasion just to see if I’m missing out.  (Exception: Michael Bay movies or ones that are really bad.)

2. I saw The Dark Knight 7 times in the theater.  I’ve only watched it twice on DVD.

3. Like Luke, my favorite director is also Martin Scorsese.  The Coen Brothers and Francis Ford Coppola are close behind, though.

4. One movie that’s super acclaimed that I will never, ever watch is Bridge on the River Kwai. It just looks like something I could never sit through.

5.  Out of all the movies I’ve seen, I probably think about There Will Be Blood or No Country for Old Men more than any of them.  This is mostly because they are from the same year and thinking about one leads to the other, but also because they are two of the greatest movies made in the past 30 years.

6.  Brad Pitt is a good actor, but I really don’t like that many of his movies even though I’m a guy and I’m “supposed to.”

7. My two favorite actors are Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis.  If they ever did a movie together, the script wouldn’t even matter.

8. TV Shows like Mad Men and The Sopranos are better than 90% of the movies that come out these days.

9. I consider myself a huge movie buff, but I don’t want to sit around for hours and discuss the French New Wave or German Expressionism.  I’d rather watch the movies.

10.  My guilty pleasure movie is The Devil Wears Prada.  I know it doesn’t utilize anything revolutionary or tell a new kind of story, but come on.  Meryl Streep’s power to carry a movie has never been more prevalent.

BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: A Serious Man

Image courtesy of Time Out New York

A Serious Man
Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel & Ethan Coen (screenplay)
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, and Sari Lennick

The Brothers Coen set the last three years of the 2000’s on fire.  First No Country For Old Men, their new-age western masterpiece adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, wins Best Picture of 2007 at the Academy Awards.  Then the next year, fearful of being taken too seriously by the Hollywood elite, they unleash Burn After Reading, a hilarious farce of mass proportions.  Now with 2009’s A Serious Man, they put forth comedy so staunchly pitch-black a viewer not accustomed to the Coens may think they have no idea how to tell a joke.

In that assumption, they couldn’t be more wrong.  In their screenplay, the Coens have managed to not only write one of the funniest scripts of 2009, but also layered it with philosophical musings and darker thematic elements.  All of this is set against the the late 60’s Midwestern Jewish background the Coen brothers grew up in, which many critics think makes the film autobiographical.  What I think they are trying to do is just show what it was like, not tell their life story.

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is the vessel with which the Coens convey that environment.  He is an academic coming up for tenure with a wife  (Sari Lennick) who wants to leave him for the more sensitive and passive-aggressive Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), children who only want him to fix the TV, and a social outcast brother (a hilarious Richard Kind) who sleeps on the couch and comes up with formulas to win at gambling.  All of these forces crush Larry simultaneously, as well as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed neighbor who is invading the property line in order to build a garage and the other neighbor who teases him by sun-bathing nude.  Surrounded on all sides both physically and mentally and desperate for answers, he reaches out to three rabbis.

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