Archive for December, 2010

My Top 10 Movies of 2010

Posted in Lists on December 31, 2010 by judsonw

These are my favorite movies of 2010, not necessarily the “best.” The King’s Speech may be an overall better made film than Scott Pilgrim, but that won’t be the film I’ll be watching over and over again in 2011.

Honorable mentions that just barely missed my list: Toy Story 3, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Easy A, Winter’s Bone, True Grit

#10 127 Hours

Danny Boyle could have made any movie he wanted to after the surprise smash success of his last film, Slumdog Millionaire. Instead, Boyle decided to bring a story to the screen that would seem impossible for an audience to sit through. The 127 hours refers to the number of hours thrill seeker Aron Ralston was trapped down a canyon with his arm caught behind an enormous boulder. James Franco plays Ralston with a cocky likability and Boyle films his trauma in a way that really lets you inside the head of the man as he breaks down physically and mentally. 127 Hours is a film that affected me not only emotionally, but physically as well. I felt disoriented, thirsty, and more alive as I left the theater. There can’t be much higher praise than that for a movie.

#9 Shutter Island

It seems like forever that this movie was out in theaters. Originally planned for release in October 2009, it was pushed back to February 2010 after “budgetary concerns.” The wait was worth it. Though the story is somewhat predictable, the film is perfectly crafted by Scorsese around Leonardo DiCaprio’s finest performance to date. As I watched this movie for the first time, I was glued to my seat and barely moved a muscle as I eagerly anticipated what was going to happen next. It’s purely movie making at its finest. Just a beautiful, creepy, intriguing, and an expertly acted film.

#8 Black Swan

What more is there to be said about this film? It’s a descent into madness, an experience so intense that it only comes along every few years. Darren Aronofsky really puts you right into the mind of ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) with an up close and personal filming of the ballet sequences. Portman is simply heartbreaking as the perfection seeking Nina. As she breaks down with each passing minute, so do we. It’s a film I haven’t been able to get out of a mind since my only viewing of it. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

#7 The Kids Are All Right

What a refreshing little movie! Annette Bening and Julianne Moore both give Oscar caliber performances as a lesbian couple who have to deal with the repercussions of their children’s sperm donor coming into their lives. The film just feels so true and real, especially with its portrayal of marriage. The spouses could have just as easily been a man and woman. The best part of the movie? It’s hilarious! This is one film that we will be hearing a lot more of come Oscar time.

#6 The Fighter

This is one movie I didn’t expect to be on my year end top 10 list a mere few weeks ago. Out of all the movies I’ve seen this “awards season,” this is the film that has stuck with me the most. Is it Christian Bale’s powerhouse performance as drug addict Dickie Ecklund? Is it David O’ Russell’s unique filming of the boxing scenes? Or is it the funny yet heartwarming portrayal of a family striving for success but never knowing how to do it right? All of the above, and more. This is a perfect crowd pleaser of a movie.

#5 Catfish

“Don’t let anyone tell you what it is.” That’s the tagline for Catfish, and oh is it appropriate. This is a film that almost requires no prior knowledge to get the intended effect. It’s about a guy who meets a girl on Facebook. That’s all you need to know. Some emotions I felt during my screening of Catfish: interested, skeptical, enthused, nervous, terrified, weirded out, heartbroken, hopeful.

#4 Inception

Inception marks one of my favorite directors’, Christopher Nolan, greatest achievement in his career. A big budget summer blockbuster that makes you think – a lot – is a rare thing in Hollywood these days. I’ve seen the film four times now and still find myself wrapping my mind around some of the big ideas on display. The lack of significant character development (outside of Cobb) is overshadowed by all the crazy visuals and storytelling. And yeah…the top fell. The better question is “would it matter if it didn’t?”

#3 Let Me In

When I first heard that the 2008 Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In was being remade a mere two years later in America, I was enraged. Why remake a movie that is itself almost perfect? Imagine my surprise when I watch the remake, retitled Let Me In, and love it even more than the original. Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee are both incredible as the vampire and young boy who fall in love. Director Matt Reeves moves the story to 1980s New Mexico and makes the film more emotional, terrifying, and beautiful. This is the most gorgeous movie I’ve seen this year (aside from some shoddy CGI). Also, ever since I’ve seen this movie, I check the back seat of my car every time I get in to drive. Once you watch it, you’ll know exactly why that is.

#2 The Social Network

Who knew a movie about the founding of Facebook could make such a perfect film? Director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin make the perfect combo for a story about dreaming big and accomplishing those dreams, all the while making friends, enemies, and changing the world. Everything about The Social Network is pitch perfect, from Sorkin’s kinetic dialogue to every performance, the highlight being a terrific Jesse Eisenburg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. His less than flattering portrayal has made me feel guilty each time I log into the social behemoth. But then there’s Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Justin Timberlake, and Rooney Mara. I like, a lot.

#1 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Perhaps the most enjoyable movie ever created? Scott Pilgrim runs a mile a minute, as director Edgar Wright crams as much of Bryan Lee O’ Malley’s graphic novels into one film. The dialogue is hilariously snappy, the action scenes are expertly choreographed, the performances are a joy to watch, and the visuals are a feast for the eyes. Though the movie is an awesome experience for anyone, if you grew up playing video games (like me) then the enjoyment factor is bumped up 1000 notches as numerous references to games of the past and present are thrown at the audience continuously. To top it all off, a great soundtrack is provided by such bands as Beck and Broken Social Scene. I’m straight up in LESBIANS with this movie!


Movie Review: Steinfeld’s Mattie Ross the one with “True Grit”

Posted in Drama, Movie Review with tags , , , , , , on December 30, 2010 by judsonw

After 2007’s semi modern day Western masterpiece No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers release a true Western three years later in the form of a remake of the John Wayne 1969 classic. Is it as memorable, thrilling, and perfect as that film? Well, no. But that doesn’t mean True Grit isn’t an entirely entertaining romp at the movies. While No Country was a film that is still being dissected and discussed today, True Grit isn’t something that will keep you thinking and guessing for days after. It’s a fairly simple story that is told straightforward with a few Coen flourishes here and there. We follow Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld), a feisty 14 year old girl who is determined to bring her daddy’s killer to justice. Since she’s still a pigtail wearing preteen, she decides to hire a U.S. Marshal named Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), who she’s heard is a man who has “true grit.” Along for the journey is a Texas Ranger named LaBeouf (la-beef) played by Matt Damon.

When looking at the cast list for this movie, you can’t help but get excited for the headliners: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin (as killer Tom Chaney). So it’s suprising that after seeing the film, it’s none of these men that leave the greatest impression. That honor goes to newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who not only holds her own against these veteran actors, but pretty much carries the film on her small shoulders. No matter what the advertising for this film wants you to believe, Mattie Ross is the main character through and through. She is the first character we see in the film and the last, and Steinfeld simply pulls the film together. A combination of wit, snark, and intelligence, she ran the risk of coming across as just another annoying child actor reading big words off a script. However, everything Steinfeld does and says on screen seems entirely natural that’s it’s hard to believe she was only 13 years old during filming.

While Steinfeld is the clear star here, Bridges and Damon both give one of the best performances of their respective careers. Bridges is the perfect blubbering drunk as Cogburn and comes across as both pathetic and entirely likeable. He’s such a convincing drunk that I could barely make out what he was saying through his mumblings. The addition of subtitles for his character would not only have made it clearer but it would have added another level of hilarity to an already surprisingly humorous film. Damon and Brolin are both incredible in their respective roles, with Damon’s Texas Ranger acting as an effective villian and hero simultaneously. Though Damon’s performance is bona-fide awesome, I had some problems with the development of his character LaBeouf as I felt he transformed from mean baddie into warm, snuggly father figure far too quickly.

Though I was expecting something more “life changing” like No Country, I still thoroughly enjoyed True Grit. However, don’t go in expecting a modern re-envisioning of a Western. This is a true Western all the way from the costumes to the dialogue. Visually, it’s a beautiful feat of filmmaking. Cinematographer Roger Deakins knocks it out of the park once again, the highlight being a gorgeous horse ride across the vast dark plains of the old West toward the end of the film. While I didn’t leave the film obsessing over little details or marveling at the deepness of the story, I did feel a sense of discovery in Steinfeld’s performance. Forget Bridges’ mumbling Cogburn, Mattie Ross is the only character with true grit. Rooster and LaBeouf, along with the film itself, wouldn’t be a success without her.


My Favorite Movie Podcasts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 26, 2010 by judsonw

I’ve always been surprised at the amount of people who have no idea what a podcast is. Like radio talk shows, they are “shows” you download to your iPod/iPhone/mp3 player that run usually around 30 minutes to 2 hours in length depending on the content. They are responsible for getting me through long drives, walking my dog, and just making something tedious like cutting the grass bearable. While I listen to many different types of podcasts ranging from sports (Eaglesfancast!) to story telling (This American Life), the film podcasts are what really get my brain going. Here are my favorites:

/FilmCast: I could not live without the /filmcast, born out of (an excellent movie blog). The three hosts (David Chen, Devindra Hardawar, Adam Quigley) are all insanely likeable guys that have great chemistry which makes listening to them so enjoyable. They go over “what they’ve been watching” which always gives me new flicks to add to my Netflix queue, movie news, and then move into one in-depth movie review for whatever film is out that week. Some other topics up for discussion are things I’m constantly thinking about but will not bring up with my friends. Topics such as movie-going etiquette, why trailers suck, what makes a good blu-ray, etc. Though I’ve never met or spoken with any of these 3 guys, I feel like I’ve been in a friendship with each of them for the past 2 1/2 years since I started tuning in. What makes the /FilmCast even more awesome is the addition of some kickass guests ranging from movie directors (Kevin Smith, Richard Kelly) to entertaining movie bloggers (Katey Rich, C. Robert Cargill) to movie critics (Armond White, anyone?). I don’t look forward to many things on a weekly basis, but the /FilmCast is certainly one thing I can’t wait to listen to each week.

IFC Podcast: Though I’ve only recently started to listen, I’m definitely a huge fan. Alison Wilmore and Matt Singer are two intelligent, funny and easy-on-the-ears podcasters who certainly know what they’re talking about. Their structure involves taking one topic (boxing movies, for example) and going over the entire history of that genre. It’s a great way to remember some of the long forgotten greats.

Filmspotting: A little on the pretentious side, but still fun to listen to none the less. Adam Kempenar and Matty Robinson seem to be great friends and that comes across while listening to their discussions on the movies of this year and yesteryear. Though I sometimes find myself violently disagreeing with them (they hated Avatar!), I keep coming back for more. If it weren’t for these two guys, I probably wouldn’t have seen half the classic films I have today.

Creative Screenwriting Podcast: Complementing the magazine, Jeff Goldsmith interviews pretty much every great screenwriter you can think of working today. A great look inside the movie industry and really great advice for aspiring screenwriters (like myself).

Movie Review: Insanity on full display in “Black Swan”

Posted in Drama, Horror, Movie Review with tags , , , , , , , on December 22, 2010 by judsonw

There’s a moment in director Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan where ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) walks into her mother’s room full of paintings. She glances inside, notices it’s empty, and continues on her way. However, for a brief second, the eyes of one of the portraits in the room moves. Moments like these, a brief moment where you question what you just witnessed, are what make the film such a unique experience. The combination of Aronofsky’s inventive filmmaking and Portman’s devestating performance as a dancer gone mad, makes Black Swan a true dive into the mind of a crazy person.

In Black Swan, Nina is a ballerina in New York City who finally gets her dream role of the Swan Queen in the upcoming production of “Swan Lake.” To say Nina is sheltered would be putting it lightly, as she still lives with her overbearing mother (a scary good Barbara Hershey) who is trying to live the dream that she was never able to accomplish in her former ballet career. The role of the Swan Queen requires two separate personas: the White Swan and the Black Swan. Nina embodies the White Swan perfectly; she’s innocent, weak, and graceful. However, it’s the Black Swan she’s cant grasp; a being full of sexuality and recklessness. When Nina meets a rival dancer named Lilly (Mila Kunis), who seems to be the perfect Black Swan, her world starts to unravel. Question is, are we really seeing what we think we’re seeing?

There are so many different ways to view and dissect Black Swan. It can be seen as a retelling of Michael Powell’s 1948 classic ballet tale The Red Shoes. The film was obviously inspired by Powell’s impactful movie, especially in the showstopping performance of “Swan Lake.” The movie can also be seen as just another telling of “Swan Lake.” As the show’s director (Vincent Cassel) so bluntly puts it early on in the film, it’s been done to death. Characters in Black Swan fit nicely into the roles of “Swan Lake” and the story progresses in an almost identical manner. Aronofsky doesn’t make the interpretation any easier, as he adds numerous little signs early on that everything isn’t what it seems. Whether it’s Nina seeing her face on the head of another or the growling sound of the subway, we’re constantly meant to question whether what we’re seeing on screen is in fact real or imagined. The fact that there are mirrors everywhere in the film just adds to the ambiguity, double meanings, and “did I just see what I thought I saw” moments.

The screenplay by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John McLaughlin isn’t anything to write home about. However, Aronofsky makes the story his own with his signature inventive style. The camera is constantly following Portman over the shoulder, giving the feeling of actually being there, just following her on her way to the dance company. The same can be said for the dance scenes as the camera is right up in the middle of the twirls, jumps, and leaps (okay, I don’t know any ballet terms, shoot me). This up close and personal nature makes it even tougher for Portman, who has to prove herself as a capable dancer to both her director and us, the audience.

Speaking of Portman, she’s simply exquisite. She captures Nina’s innocence and weakness, repeatedly apologizing for every wrongdoing. You just want to smack her and yell “stand up for yourself” with each vulnerability on display. As the film progresses through Nina’s mental breakdown, however, Portman takes on a different role completely. So much is demanded of her as she puts herself on display sexually, emotionally, and physically. The sport of ballet destroys Nina completely. The same can be said for the experience of watching Black Swan, but only in the best of ways. A psychological drama mixed with true horror and disguised as a ballet film, the movie will stay with you long after the screen goes black. Like Nina, the film strives for perfection and very nearly achieves it.


Friday (Wednesday) Faceoff: True Grit vs. Little Fockers

Posted in Friday Faceoff on December 22, 2010 by judsonw

True Grit (96% RT rating) marks the Coen Bros’ first attempt at a full on Western after 2007’s brilliant semi-Western No Country for Old Men. Jeff Bridges stars as U.S. marshal Rooster Cogburn, who is hired by a feisty young girl named Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to track down her father’s killer. Matt Damon is the Texas ranger La Beouf and Josh Brolin is Mattie’s father’s killer. If a cast like this doesn’t get you pumped, I don’t know what will. What’s even more intriguing is the fact that newcomer Steinfeld apparantly steals the film right from underneath her more famous co-stars. So if you want to see a star-making turn or if you’re a fan of, you know, fucking fantastic movies then True Grit seems to be a safe bet.

Little Fockers (8% RT rating), on the other hand, screams soulless cash grab. 2000’s Meet the Parents was an enjoyable romp that really showed off the comedic chops of stars Ben Stiller and a surprising Robert De Niro. 2004’s Meet the Fockers went down a few notches in the genuine laugh category but still had some great moments with new stars Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand. Now, 6 years later, we’re getting Little Fockers which is milking that “focker” joke for all it’s worth. What is this movie even about? Babies…aka “little fockers?” It’s sad to see such talented actors involved in a film that’s only purpose is to be unfunny all the way to the bank.



Movie Review: Christian Bale pulls no punches in “The Fighter”

Posted in Drama, Movie Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2010 by judsonw

There’s a reason the opening shot of David O. Russell’s new film, The Fighter, features Christian Bale’s Dicky Eklund and not Mark Wahlberg’s Mickey Ward. Don’t let the title fool you. The “fighter” is none other than Dicky, not Mickey as the trailers and advertising may make you believe. Based on a true story, the film follows brothers Dicky and Mickey in early 90’s Lowell, Massachusetts as ex-boxer Dicky trains his brother before he goes pro. About 14 years earlier, Dickey was a successful boxer and even knocked Sugar Ray Leonard over, though that may be argued against. However, now he’s a sad sight of a man, addicted to crack and still living in the past as he constantly brings up his bout with Sugar Ray to keep his persona up and running. When that “knock down” is occasionally brought up as being more like a “trip down,” Dicky becomes incredibly defensive because this proud moment in his boxing past is all he has left. If it’s a falsified tale then it ultimately changes who he is. Mickey isn’t only coached by his brother, as his mother Alice (Melissa Leo) acts as his manager and his 8 sisters as his support group. The Fighter isn’t about the sport of boxing at all, you see. It could have been any sport to steer the story forward; football, baseball, even competitive ping pong. The family dynamic is front and center here, which makes the movie much more memorable and unique than any other boxing film.

Let me be clear on why I believe Dicky is the titular “fighter.” This is his movie, his story. All the training, hardships, fights and triumphs that Mickey goes through seem to be just as part of Dickey’s journey, if not more so. The family looks up to Dickey as the gifted son who’s just waiting for his comeback. Alice obviously has a soft spot for her older son, unwilling to believe he’s become an addict. Bale’s incredible portrayal of Dicky turns the film into something much more special than your average uplifting sports story. Calling it a portrayal is almost inaccurate, as Bale transforms into Dicky. The actor has been known to alter his body physically for each character he plays, and that doesn’t change here. However, Bale also embodies everything about Dicky, from his friendly demeanor to his out there mannerisms. He manages to be both depressingly pathetic and extremely likable at the same time. It’s truly a revelation of a performance that will surely be rewarded come Oscar time.

While Mickey and Dicky are close, the family as a whole is overbearing on Mickey’s dream and even unknowingly takes advantage of his abilities. While it’s all out of love, Mickey has had enough. In numerous scenes, Mickey looks away from his family’s rambunctious chats or scoots over a bit from a restaurant booth, his isolation tearing through. In two instances, O. Russell inserts tracking shots of telephone cords stretched out of one room into another, representing Mickey being stretched to the limit. He can’t take it anymore. Once he meets a bartender named Charlene (Amy Adams), he’s able to vent these frustrations and begins to change things.

The Fighter has to be one of the best acted films of the past 10 years. Along with Bale’s powerhouse turn as Dickey, Adams steps out of her comfort zone as the lovable red head, playing the rough “MTV” wild girl to the tee. Leo manages to simultaneously be hilarious, mean spirited, caring and heartbreaking as the mother of 9 (from different fathers, mind you). Wahlberg is definitely the weak link in this ensemble, but his withdrawn and quiet personality fits the character as his insane family takes center stage in his life. His mother and sisters are always around, there to give a helping hand or word of inspiration. Mickey’s sisters are interestingly always shown together, almost like they’re one single character.

The Fighter is by far David O’ Russell’s best film, both in story and visual form. While the boxing fights aren’t on Raging Bull-type levels, O. Russell chooses to film them in a grainy, ugly style as if they were from the HBO fights from the 90’s. This adds a layer of authenticity, giving off the feeling that these fights actually happened. There’s no dull moment to be found in the film. It’s quick paced, heartfelt, funny, moving, entertaining and thought provoking; the perfect sports movie. We all have to fight the elements to succeed in life, and The Fighter shows this in an insanely satisfying way. You may just want to stand up and cheer once the credits roll. I know I did.


When Movies Make a Difference: A Look at Dear Zachary

Posted in Documentary with tags , on December 20, 2010 by judsonw

In 2008, one of the most gut wrenching and upsetting documentaries I’ve ever seen was released and it’s called Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about his Father. It’s also one of the most effective and well made documentaries I’ve ever seen. The film chronicles director Kurt Kuenne’s best friend, Andrew Bagby, after he is murdered seemingly by his ex-girlfriend Shirley Turner. What makes the situation even more icky is the fact that Shirley is the mother of Andrew’s child, Zachary.

*SPOILER ALERT* If you haven’t seen the documentary…read no further. But it’s on Netflix Watch Instantly so what are you waiting for?

Dear Zachary starts out as a loving portrait to the man that was Andrew Bagby, and then moves to the custody battle between his convicted killer (Shirley) and Zachary’s grandparents (Andrew’s mom and dad). The rug is completely pulled out from beneath you, however, when it’s revealed that Shirley was released from jail on bail in Canada and gets Zachary back from his grandparents. She then proceeds to strap Zachary, all of 13 months old, to her chest and jumps into the Atlantic Ocean, killing them both.

So how the hell was a woman convicted of killing the father of her child released from jail for “exhibiting no behavior that suggests she poses a threat to society in general,” as the judge who released her so kindly put it. Well, that’s the main question posed in the documentary and we’re finally starting to see the impact this movie has made. This year Bill C-464, also known as “Zachary’s Bill,” was finally signed into law in Canada. The bill refuses bail to anyone charged with a serious crime that poses a threat to the public, especially children (aka murdering your child’s father).

This is fantastic news and if you’ve seen the film, I’m sure you’re ecstatic as well. Dear Zachary is the rare film that truly touches your heart, simultaneously yanking it out of your chest and stomping on it. The pure injustice of what occurred is enough to inspire rage, so there needed to be a change. About damn time.