Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Fistful of Reads: February Edition

So this month was not as successful as last.  This month I only read one novel, but it was a big one.  I finally got around to indulging in Russell Banks’s ‘Cloudsplitter’, and I must say that this was one of the greatest novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  Since I only got my hands on one book this month, I’m just going to post my full review instead of mere thoughts.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Let's Review Something: Sunrise

In honor of our most recent Lead Actress Oscar winner, Jennifer Lawrence, I decided to finally watch ‘Sunrise’, the 1927 Oscar winner (Best Actress, Best Picture-Artistic Production, Best Cinematography).  If you recall, this delicate flower recently stated that she thought silent films were “boring”.  LOL, you have to love her crass and honesty, right?

I wasn’t really familiar with what ‘Sunrise’ was all about, but it had been sitting on my DVR for quite some time.  I remember months ago when it aired on TCM and I was kind of ecstatic because I had heard all sorts of wonderful things about it.  Heralded as one of the finest films of all time, even making Sight and Sounds top ten of all time this year (resting at #5), ‘Sunrise’ was one that I most certainly wanted to make the time  to see.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Oh, and a quick note on the Oscar fashions...

No matter what angle you look at this, it's PERFECTION.  Jennifer Lawrence was easily the best dressed last night.  She looked like a princess, but not in that cartoony, over the top way that most young starlets try and then fail to impress.  She was stunning.  Even her fall looked beautiful wrapped up in her gown.

Oscar Thoughts

Would you join this Oscar orgy?

So, last night was eventful and quite surprising in some respects.  It was fun, despite not all gelling, but that’s what the Oscars are all about.  Here are a few thoughts (ten) that I had while watching the telecast.  These are not in the order in which I had the thoughts, just the order in which they came to me this morning.

1)      Every time the screen panned over to Quvenzhané Wallis she looked as if she had NO IDEA what the hell was going on.  I love her, she’s adorable and she looks like she’s twice the age she was when she shot Beasts of the Southern Wild, but seriously, these awards things are way over her head.  She was just as confused the night before, at the Spirit Awards (her reaction to Beast It was hilarious), and it just made me love her more.  She ain’t no Dakota Fanning.  She wasn’t groomed for this.  She’s so genuine.
I wish he could keep it!
2)      The boost for Amour and Silver Linings Playbook on nomination morning meant absolutely nothing since both films won exactly ONE award, the award they were expected to win from the beginning (Foreign Film and Lead Actress respectively).  This leads to another thought, that of the fact that while Haneke accepted the award for Foreign Film, he didn’t actually win an Oscar and that pisses me off.  Instead Tarantino and Lee won SECOND awards (for Screenplay and Director respectively) and that just aggravates me.  I haven’t seen Amour or Django Unchained yet, but I was blind rooting for Haneke to actually WIN AN OSCAR.  He got to give a speech and he’s been receiving the best notices of his career and this was a giant boost for him in general, but he deserves to have an Oscar!

3)      Pixar is such a lazy win.  I haven’t seen ParaNorman or Frankenweenie, but both Wreck-It Ralph and The Pirates were better films than Brave.  Brave got mediocre reviews at best and really survived on the strength of the studio, and while I really liked the film it didn’t do anything remarkable.  It would have been great to see Disney back up there or even to see Tim Burton win an Oscar since this was probably the only chance he’d ever have.

4)      A TIE!!!  That hasn’t happened since 1968, when Hepburn and Streisand won in Lead Actress, and before that the only time was in 1931, when March and Beery won in Lead Actor.  So, the tie in Sound Editing this year (between Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall) is a rarity indeed and marks history as the first time a tech category garnered an Oscar tie*.

*this is all wrong...don't listen to me...there have been other ties...

5)      Is it just me or did Jennifer Lawrence kind of say “Fuck you Emmanuelle”?  
"Happy Birthday, Emmanuelle!"
But in all seriousness, I’ve made it pretty clear that I am not impressed with this girl usually.  I haven’t seen Silver Linings Playbook yet, but her awards run has made me a fan in a way.  She is just so genuine and fun and quirky and likable as a person.  She was also dressed like a princess last night (possibly best dressed, period) and her trip up the stairs was a wonderful touch (haters can say it was staged all they want, but it wasn’t).  That being said, the speeches in general were rather underwhelming, don’t you think?  I mean, outside of Adele genuinely losing it (and her amazing accent).

6)      Seth MacFarlane didn’t do THAT bad, but he didn’t do that well either.  He’s a showman and so he sold his numbers, but they didn’t all gel the way they should have.  In fact, this ode to musicals didn’t gel as well as it should have.  Zeta-Jones was obviously lip-synching, which was distracting and Jennifer Hudson got a tad shrill when she lost all the weight.  The Les Miserables number was amazing and Streisand was fantastic and so was Bassey, which was a delight since usually when these shows bring back legends to perform it comes out hideous since age wares on the vocal chords apparently.  That being said, the tribute to 007 was retarded since they open up saying it’s going to be all about the music and they played exactly TWO variations of the score and then had Bassey sing Goldfinger.  Like, how is that a tribute to the music?  They did try too hard to force the musical angle.  The opening numbers were too nonsensical (why are Tatum and Theron dancing?  Are they dating now?  Did I miss something?) and that closing number dedicated to the losers was lazy and poorly put together.  It was also boring and tame and should have been a lot tackier but instead just kind of laid there, rather flat.

What the fuck was this about?
7)      The world needs to stop trying to make the Obamas the ‘cool Presidential family’.  Like, I get that they are young and black or whatever but they don’t have to have their hands in everything.  Why the hell was the First Lady introducing the nominees and then announcing the winner?  I understand that the internet moaned when Jack Nicholson was announced as a presenter, because we knew he was going to announce Best Picture…AGAIN, but the First Lady?  It just seemed so…

8)      I totally forgot that Naomi Watts was nominated for an Oscar this year.

9)      Ben Affleck won his Oscar.  I love how his snub for Best Director is still the most talked about thing on these awards shows.  I actually thought the opening joke about the director of Argo being so top secret he was unknown to the director’s branch was hilarious, but the follow up of “they know they messed up” brought it to an uncomfortable place.  Also, the doting of the third producer (the one who is ‘hot by association’) about Ben being THE DIRECTOR was just tacky.  Like, we get it…he would have won the Oscar had he been nominated but he wasn’t nominated and that snub happened over a month and like five awards ceremonies ago.  We can talk about something else.

I love you girl, but this was seriously the best you come up with?
10)   This may be totally sacrilegious at this point, and I love it as a winner because I love listening to it, but ‘Skyfall’ is kind of a dumb song when you actually listen to the lyrics.

Oh yeah, and here are the winners (with an * next to the ones I correctly predicted):
Picture: Argo*
Director: Lee/Life of Pi
Film Editing: Argo*
Adapted Screenplay: Argo
Original Screenplay: Django Unchained
Lead Actor: Day-Lewis/Lincoln*
Lead Actress: Lawrence/Silver Linings Playbook*
Supporting Actor: Waltz/Django Unchained
Supporting Actress: Hathaway/Les Miserables*
Costume Design: Anna Karenina*
Cinematography: Life of Pi
Art Director: Lincoln
Makeup: Les Miserables*
Visual Effects:  Life of Pi*
Original Score: Life of Pi*
Original Song: ‘Skyfall’/Skyfall*
Sound Mixing: Les Miserables*
Sound Editing: Skyfall* & Zero Dark Thirty
Documentary: Searching for Sugar Man*
Foreign Film: Amour*
Animated Film: Brave
Short (Animated): Paperman*
Short (Live Action): Curfew
Short (Documentary): Inocente

Friday, February 22, 2013

Oscar Predictions: The Winners

For the mere fact that I will forget to do this tomorrow, here are my final Oscar predictions.  We'll see what happens Sunday night.  This is a bizarre year where anything can happen.  I'm prepared to be surprised.

Best Picture

Best Directing
David O. Russell/Silver Linings Playbook

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Daniel Day-Lewis/Lincoln

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Jennifer Lawrence/Silver Linings Playbook

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Robert De Niro/Silver Linings Playbook

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Anne Hathaway/Les Miserables

Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Silver Linings Playbook

Best Animated Feature
Wreck-It Ralph

Best Foreign Language Film

Best Documentary Feature
Searching for Sugar Man

Best Documentary Short
Open Heart

Best Short Film (Animated)

Best Short Film (Live Action)
Buzkashi Boys

Best Music (Original Score)
Life of Pi

Best Music (Original Song)

Best Film Editing

Best Cinematography

Best Art Direction 
Les Miserables

Best Costume Design
Anna Karenina

Best Makeup
Les Miserables

Best Sound Mixing
Les Miserables

Best Sound Editing

Best Visual Effects
Life of Pi

Hello, I'd Take This Waltz Forever...

So, I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss three performances that really struck me this year.  None of them were nominated for Oscars and really, only one of them got any attention whatsoever (two actress mentions, winning San Diego and Vancouver critic’s awards), but at the moment they make up 3/5 of my Best Actress ballot and I’d be shocked if all of them fall off by the time I finalize my personal awards.  What is interesting is that these three performances/characters/films have a lot in common and really feel unified in a way.

How can you praise one and not all?

I’m talking about Melanie Lynskey, Michelle Williams and Rashinda Jones.  They starred in ‘Hello I Must Be Going’, ‘Take this Waltz’ and ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’ respectively and these three films and performances were such delightful surprises for me.  I mean, I’m OBSESSED with them right now.  Sure, I’ve seen better films and performances (it’ll take an act of nature to dethrone ‘Declaration of War’ from the top of my Best Picture ballot and Rachel Weisz from certain Fisti victory), but these three gems are so spectacularly underrated that I feel compelled to champion them.

All three of these women portray a midlife crisis of sorts, depicting that certain moment in a woman’s life when everything that makes sense all of a sudden makes no sense anymore.  In doing this, they give so much of themselves; so much raw and intense emotion that just drips from their every pore.  Watching the way they cycle emotions in a singular scene is just magic and proved to blow my mind this year.  Watching Michelle Williams’ face fight those hot flushes of uncomfortable excitement as Luke Kirby tells her just what he wants to do to her in the bedroom or the heartbreaking realism Rashinda Jones brought to her Maid of Honor speech or watching Melanie Lynskey completely unravel after being pushed to far by Blythe Danner were all just so special to witness.

In ‘Take this Waltz’, Michelle Williams plays a married woman who strikes up an unexpected affair with a neighbor who offers her an escape from a marriage that felt somewhat constrictive.  As Margot, Williams finds a beautiful way of exposing the guilt her character feels as she flirts with an affair she continues to tell herself she will not venture into.  What I love so much about what Michelle does here is that she never once plays up the victim card despite allowing us to see her tortured emotional stance.  You feel for her, but not in the way you might expect.  She doesn’t vie for our sympathies, she merely exposes both sides of the affair through the eyes of a woman torn.  Her love for her husband is never doubted and yet she continually doubts herself (a common thread for these three performances) and that leads her to doubt her marriage and her husband’s affections and her eventual catastrophic decisions.  The film is beautifully composed and reflects on the affair from a purely unbiased eye, which is refreshing.  To all the naysayers saying that this affair is portrayed as a woman’s self-discovery as opposed to the devastating act that it really is surely missed the point of the film.  There was no discovery other than the obvious; that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

I love the bookends!

In ‘Hello I Must Be Going’, Lynskey plays Amy, a divorcee who recently moved back in with mom and dad and who is groveling in self-pity as she attempts to put the pieces of her life back together.  Her family is clearly oppressive in ways they don’t see as oppressive and so Amy recoils, protecting herself from further harm and embarrassment as she tries to heal from her divorce.  Everyone is intent on telling her that she causes the dissolving of her marriage, thinking that she has to grow up, but as the film explores her backstory through simple conversations we can see the bigger picture.  What is so beautiful about Lynskey’s performance is that she is able to find such depth in a character that could have been a cliché.  She adds so many beautiful touches (the happy moments in particular are so special to the development of her character).  She understands how to shade her portrayal with enough childish touches to create a fully realized woman.  She is jaded, she is pained, she is justified and yet she can’t communicate these feelings correctly in a house filled to the brim with people so detached from the reality of life.  As she strikes up an affair with a much younger man, she finds a joy in her soul that she hadn’t felt in maybe forever.

Such a richly textured performance that could have easily been one-note.

Rashinda Jones serves double duty on ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’, since she not only stars in the film but she co-wrote the screenplay.  In the film, Jones plays Celeste, one half of a failed marriage that is still being strung along by mutual affections.  Celeste and Jesse were married for six years before separating, but despite being separated for six months and going through divorce proceedings, Celeste and Jesse remain best friends.  They do everything together and Jesse even lives in the studio behind Celeste’s house.  Their friends oppose and consider them ridiculous.  They are making it harder on themselves to move on, and when they each start to try and do just that their special friendship starts to fray.  Rashinda wrote such a beautifully intricate and intelligent story, reflecting on so many emotional reactions to love that I was moved so sincerely by this story.  It reminded me of last years ‘Like Crazy’ in a way, a film that understands the deepness to love, which usually comes with heartache and even bouts of hatred.  Jones’ performance is astonishing.  She is able to build such likable lines in a truly unlikable character.  It isn’t that Celeste is a terrible person, she is just a person very much inside her own ways.  Jones takes on building this foundation and then magically strips it all down as she watches everything she doesn’t realize she needs falling away from her.  Her reaction to Jesse’s news is tremendously real and grounded.  Her speech at the wedding is heartbreaking, and yet it NEVER feels schmaltzy or gooey.  You break for her.

And bonus points for being genuinely funny.

So, I know that these beautiful and talented actresses got the shaft this Oscar season, and quite frankly I’ve only seen one of Oscar’s nominated five ATM (Wallis), but I just feel compelled to gush all over what these women did this year.  I was truly surprised by the depth of spirit and honesty that they brought to these performances.  It’s been a great year for actresses, I’m just sad that they didn’t get more attention (not even at the Globes!).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Let’s have a party!

I mean, I understand that the Oscar telecast is beginning to look like the MTV Movie Awards at this point, with one famous face after another being announced as presenters (I mean, how many fucking awards are there to actually hand out?) but it’s not like the Oscars have been remotely distinguished for years now so why not indulge in the ridiculousness.  Far be it for me to ‘not complain’, but last year’s telecast was a disaster of epic proportions, and that was after recruiting Billy Crystal to try and salvage the bad taste left in the mouths of many during the ridiculously pairing of Hathaway and Franco.  Oscar hosts in general tend to suck.  Jackman was good.  He’s a showman and worked the room despite having shitty material.  I was one of the few who enjoyed Ellen DeGeneres, but honestly when you are desperate enough to grab a has-been like Chris Rock to host your show you know that you are grasping at straws for relevance.  The fact that the only reason Crystal was approached was because Eddie Murphy (when was the last time he was relevant?) backed out. 

The problem always stems from the poor decisions made behind the scenes anyways.  I mean, remember the year (I think it was 2008) when they decided to have those human car people interpret the big films of the year behind the blackscreen? 


So they decide to make the Oscars all about the musical this year.  I’m all for it.  It doesn’t make sense really.  I mean, it would if ‘Les Miserables’ had been a critical hit and was destined to win more than a Supporting Actress Oscar.  Maybe this is there way of making this year even more about Anne Hathaway than she’s already made it.  Yes, I’m pissed that they are only honoring ‘Les Miserables’, ‘Dreamgirls’ and ‘Chicago’ with big numbers.  I find that ridiculous, especially when they could have paired Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman (you know, stars who can sing) and had them sing ‘Come What May’ (still my favorite ‘Original Song’ of the aughts) or reached out to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (since ‘Once’ is like the best Musical of the aughts).  Instead, they are honoring the more uninspired numbers (minus ‘Les Miserables’ which I loved more than most). 

Still, I ask once again, how is this ballsy decision to have Seth and Kristen sing some god-awful number (you know it will be tacky and garish once you hear that Chenoweth is involved) after Best Picture is awarded a worse idea than any of the others?  Like, do we really watch the Oscars to be entertained in a good way anymore?  The reaction from people saying that they will turn it off after Best Picture is awarded so that they don’t see this is stupid.  Of course you won’t!  Don’t even pretend like you aren’t remotely interested in how bad this is going to be.  I, for one, cannot wait.  We watch the Oscars to watch shit get uncomfortable so that we have something to bitch and laugh about on Monday morning.  If you don’t watch it then what will you have to blog about the next day?  Yes, this is a bad idea, but I’m ok with that now.  Bad ideas make for funny moments that result in more chit-chat on Oscar sites the following day.  I mean, if we really didn’t want to see these fuckups we’d forego the whole experience and just Google the winners the next day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Early careers of Oscar nominees...

Saw this a few minutes ago and thought y'all might like to take a gander.  It's pretty cool to see where the acting nominees from this year's Oscar shortlist got their start.  Yes, Little Q.'s first film was 'Beasts of the Southern Wild', and I feel like Weaver got shafted here, but the hilariousness of Phoenix's opening clip (I honestly thought he was Jodie Foster and was trying to remember what she was nominated for) and the look back at Riva's career was enough to validate giving this a spin.


In Les Mis news…

Looks like the stage musical is coming back to Broadway in2014!  Yes, I plan on planning my entire YEAR around getting out there to see it again.  It’s been too damn long.  In the meantime, The DVD/Blu-ray of the movie and the extended deluxe 2-disc edition of the soundtrack featuring an additional 22 tracks will be released on March 22!  

Monday, February 18, 2013

A look back: My Oscar Predictions...

So, I thought it might be fun to revisit my initial Oscar predictions now that we’re a few days away from the big ceremony!  You can find my May predictions (with commentary) here, and if you want to embarrass me you can skew through the few posts I made in April with my early, really dumb predictions, but if you remember I nixed April here so they don’t count.  I’m only going to look at what I do right, since remembering my convictions about categories like Lead Actress and Supporting Actor (where I make that bold statement that predictions don’t matter since Crowe and DiCaprio will duke it out for the gold) will only hurt my ego.  What won’t hurt my ego is gloating over correctly predicting six out of the nine Best Picture nominees and bumping that total up to seven if you include my alternates!

Best Picture:
I correctly predicted Amour, Argo, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi and Lincoln and had Beasts of the Southern Wild in my top fifteen.  By May the buzz over Beasts was in full swing and the Argo trailer had dropped and it had become apparent that it was going to be a major player.

Yes, I was convinced that Les Miserables was winning.

I’m thrilled that I got Haneke correct, and everyone knew Spielberg was happening.  I had both Zeitlin and Lee as alternates, with Zeitlin at #6, and if you recall I was a HUGE Zeitlin supporter throughout the season and was convinced that he was happening up until precursors started and he made it nowhere.  Sadly, I dropped that ball.

Yes, I thought Hooper would win a second in a walk at this point.

Adapted Screenplay:
Whoop whoop, I got Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook correct.  At this point I did not know that Beasts of the Southern Wild was an adapted piece and I had it predicted as an Original alternate.

Original Screenplay:
Amour, Django Unchained and Moonrise Kingdom were all in my top five and Zero Dark Thirty was an alternate for me. 

Lead Actor:
I think all season there were four names that popped up everywhere.  Day-Lewis , Jackman and Phoenix were there as well as Hawkes (I predicted them all at this point) and then you had those who were in camp Washington and those in camp Murray.  I thought Murray was going to win, so you can see what camp I was in.  I was pretty confident that Cooper would NEVER be an Oscar nominee.  Regardless, I had him at like #14 though.

Lead Actress:
My predictions were actually pretty reasonable (Scarlett Johansson aside) but none of them turned out.  I did have Wallis and Lawrence (I had Lawrence predicted in my top five for Supporting Actress) in my top fifteen though.

Supporting Actor:
I don’t even want to talk about this.  Anyways, I got none right, but had Hoffman and Arkin in my top fifteen.

Supporting Actress:
Hathaway has been my prediction for winner all year long.  I also thought Lawrence was going to wind up here too.  That said, I had Adams and Field in my top fifteen.

Film Editing:
Argo and Zero Dark Thirty correct with Lincoln as an alternate.

I had Anna Karenina and Django Unchained as alternates.  Yeah, that’s about all.

Art Direction:
Les Miserables was a prediction with Anna Karenina and Lincoln as alternates.

Costume Design:
I correctly predicted Anna Karenina, Les Miserables and Mirror Mirror here.  In my defense, in May, The Great Gatsby was still supposed to happen so…but I had Lincoln and Snow White and the Huntsman in my top ten.

I had Les Miserables correct and The Hobbit as an alternate.

Visual Effects:
I correctly predicted four of these (The Hobbit, Life of Pi, Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman) and then had The Avengers as an alternate.

Sound Editing:
Zero Dark Thirty was the only one I got correct here.  I had Argo and Django Unchained as alternates.

Sound Mixing:
Les Miserables was it for me, with Argo, Life of Pi and Skyfall as alternates.

Original Score:
I got Anna Karenina, Life of Pi and Lincoln correct, with Argo and Skyfall as alternates.

That is 35/88 (that is allowing ten nominees in Best Picture) which is gross and yet I guess not too bad.  How did you do?  I don’t predict Song/Foreign/Documentaries this early on, and I never predict the shorts.  My 2013 predictions will be coming in April.  I’m working on them now.

A Closer Look: Best Picture 1992

So, in moving on with the Fisti Awards, I’ve been trying to wrap up 1992.  2012 won’t be finished for a few months since I usually don’t get to see the big ‘end of year movies’ until they are released on DVD (kids, wife, work, life all seem to get in the way of trips to the theater), so in the meantime I’ve been working on the 90’s.  I still have about another month before I’ll be finished with 1992, considering that I have a quota to meet (I require at least 50 films to have been seen from the year in question) and I do have a few I really want to see before finalizing anything, but I thought I’d go ahead and post my thoughts on the Best Picture race for 1992.  I’ve seen all five films and must say that despite abhorring one of them and considering another to be truly unremarkable, I’m kind of impressed with Oscar this year.  Three of the five films are astonishing, two of them masterpieces (and honestly I have no qualms with anyone considering all three of them masterpieces and on some days I do too).

I’m not quite ready to post my personal Best Picture ballot, but at the moment all three make my top twelve and two of them are my current #1 and #2 of the year, and I go back and forth with which one I like better almost every day.


So, I figured I’d post my personal reviews for these films and try and get your thoughts on the films in question.  As a bit of trivia, these five films all won pretty impressive awards throughout Awards Season and while I’m pretty sure that Eastwood’s unanimous director wins propelled the film to frontrunner status, something can be said for all five films in contention.  ‘Unforgiven’ obviously won the Oscar (and it also won the DGA and LAFCA as well as a slew of other unimportant critics wins) but ‘Howard’s End’ won the BAFTA and the NBR, ‘Scent of a Woman’ won the Golden Globe and ‘The Crying Game’ won the PGA (which is kind of a big deal).  Oh, and let’s not forget the combination of MTV and People’s Choice Award that ‘A Few Good Men’ won.

LOL, yup…let’s remember that combination since the film probably should have won a Razzie (I haven’t seen ‘Shining Through’, so I can’t really say for sure).

So, with that, we’ll kick off my rankings and reviews:

05/A Few Good Men
I walked into ‘A Few Good Men’ knowing that Jack Nicholson’s monologue at the end of the film is considered one of the greatest in cinema and that the whole “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH” line is quoted and re-quoted over and over by thousands of people the world over.  That was about it.  I mean, it was a vehicle for Demi Moore and Tom Cruise to try and be serious actors and it was a chance for Jack Nicholson to regurgitate ‘Jack Nicholson’. 

I hated this movie.

Within the first five minutes, so many clichés were thrown all over the screen that I felt like I was watching a Naval version of ‘Forrest Gump’.  The worst part about ‘A Few Good Men’ is that the character development is so miniscule and so skeletal that they are, in a word, unbelievable.  Like I said; clichés.  Tom Cruise plays yet another hot headed arrogant kid.  Demi Moore plays your standard over achieving woman in a man’s world overlooked and prickly because of it.  Jack Nicholson plays himself yet again.  But the issues run deeper.  The story itself is plagued with improbabilities and the development of themes just never makes any real sense or impact.  The depiction of marines is predictable and sadly insulting and the way the film closes is so forced and so manipulative, but not in a successful way.  Instead, it feels like a poorly conceived television movie, and the ‘Matlock’-esque score doesn’t help it any.

I’m floored this was written by Sorkin.

The film centers on a young Naval lawyer who is asked to represent two marines accused of killing a fellow marine.  They claim they were ordered to perform a ‘Code Red’ (seriously, the term alone feels so contrived and lazy), which is where they are asked to perform some sort of brute force against a fellow marine because of their failure to ‘live by the code’.  Their superiors obviously deny the order and so they are fighting against accusations made by more decorated and respected men.  This young lawyer predetermines his course of action, but under pressure from a bitter female Lieutenant he changes his mind and starts to act with ‘honor’. 

This could have been something exciting and fresh, but instead if feels so heavy handed and yet so hollow.  Cruise cheeses his way through his scenes, Sutherland snarls with comical intensity, Nicholson puffs on that cigar like he were a cartoon character and Demi Moore tries really hard to fake competence as an actress.

Poor dialog, embarrassing development and mediocre filmmaking cause ‘A Few Good Men’ to be a forgettable stain of a film.

04/Scent of a Woman
** ½/*****
 As a whole, ‘Scent of a Woman’ is rather endearing and it possesses a level of charm I really didn’t expect.  On the other hand, there are parts of this film that are genuinely terrible.  It’s hard to decide my concrete feelings because the film is wildly uneven.  The entire closing segment (or really anything pertaining to the ‘troubles at school’) is an eye-rolling waste of celluloid, and yet the majority of the antics in New York City (especially that beloved tango scene) are fun and witty and enchanting to tell you the truth.  It’s just that the film loses itself in a sloppy closing (yes, it’s terrible in more than one way) that betrays some of the honesty (if you can call it that) that the film was reaching for.

I’ll yell SPOILERS, just in case.

The film revolves around a retired Lieutenant Colonel named Frank Slade.  Frank is a bitter, blind alcoholic who resents his life and his family.  He is living in a guest house behind his niece’s home since Veteran housing was not to his liking.  He has burnt many bridges in his family, and his prickly demeanor makes it difficult for him to interact with others.  In walks Charlie, a young prep school student looking for some extra cash in order to afford a plane ticket home for Christmas.  He answers an ad to basically babysit Slade for Thanksgiving weekend so that his niece and her family can go on vacation.  Little does Charlie know, but Slade has other plans.  Shortly after his niece is gone, a taxi arrives taking both Slade and Charlie to the airport.  They are going on a little trip to New York City, where Slade plans on reuniting with his brother, eating at a fine restaurant, making love to a beautiful woman and then killing himself.  Charlie isn’t really keen on the whole idea, but the last part especially concerns him.  Frank is very persuasive though (or should I say ‘aggressive’) and so Charlie bends to his wishes.

For the most part, the film excels while in New York City.  The relationship that blossoms between both Frank and Charlie is sweet and sincere.  The fears that corrode Frank’s demeanor are believable; I just wish that they were addressed a little more authentically (his sudden shift at the close of their trip is a little too abrupt for it to feel honest).  Sure, some parts can seem a tad hokey (like the Ferrari scene) but they work in the atmosphere created for the film.  It’s just that the entire ‘school’ subplot is so ridiculous that it drags the entire film into an area it didn’t need to go.  The closing ‘hearing’ itself was kind of disgusting, and Pacino’s monologue is overdone and the reaction afterwards was unintentionally hilarious.  The site reviewer was correct when he made the connection to ‘The Dead Poets Society’ (another film that makes me roll my eyes).  I was just waiting for the students to hoist Frank and Charlie on their shoulders and carry them out of the auditorium. 

And then there is Pacino.  I hate what he’s been reduced to.  He basically plays a caricature of his own persona in every film.  I will say this; I totally understand why he won the Oscar for this.  First of all, he is ridiculously convincing at playing blind.  Second, he has all the right ‘scenes’ to win an Oscar (he tries to kill himself, he insults everyone around him, he gets drunk, he saves the day…HE YELLS).  Third, he was overdue by a large margin.  But, with all that said, if we are basing this on the merit of the performance alone; he was far too uneven here.  In fact, the only scene that really felt genuine and just perfect was that tango scene.  He was marvelous there, but Pacino often reverted to his overacting and yelling and overselling everything to the point where he felt phony.  I understand the whole ‘character’ thing, but there is such a thing as subtlety, and there were so many opportunities to use subtlety to convey a deeper emotion in Frank (especially when he’s breaking down about his life).  A scene that really works thanks to some subtlety on Pacino’s part is the scene at his brother’s home.  I just wish that he had expounded on that side of Frank a little more.

He’s not bad, but Eastwood, Rae, Downey Jr. and especially Washington were all better than him.

At the end of the day, I liked this movie.  I’d watch it again.  I’d even recommend it.  But, the film is not great, and it barely makes ‘good’ when you look at it as a whole.  If you can delete the last twenty minutes from your mind you may have a really good buddy flick.

Watching `Unforgiven' has really made me realize that you should never judge a film before you see it, because you never truly know what's in store for you.

`Unforgiven' opens with a sharp pain of brutality as two men victimize a woman. When the sheriff doesn't do anything more than slap the men's wrists the women of the community put out a reward for the men's head. William Munny, a former murderer turned caring father and widower, hears of the reward and, hesitantly, decides to pursue it in order to better take care of his two children. Along with his former sidekick Ned Logan and an overly confident young gunslinger going by the name of The Schofield Kid, Munny makes his way into town with his horse and his gun and the smell of blood.

Eastwood really went all out with this production. The overall feel of the film is very gritty and dark and adds weight to the moral that is brought to the full as the curtains close so-to-speak. The film is violent, but in a repressed sort of way, allowing the majority of the film to ride on the anticipation of bloodshed and only truly rearing its head in short explosions of brutality. This allows `Unforgiven' to become more than just an action film or a bloodbath but creates a film that is as deep and poignant as it is entertaining.

The acting is also golden here. Morgan Freeman seems to just coast through his scenes, but his companionship with Eastwood is unmatchable. He just has such a natural talent that even when he isn't doing anything exceptional he is still amazing. Clint has never really sold it for me. I was impressed with him in `Million Dollar Baby' because I felt as though he made his harshness work to his advantage. He does that here as well. Next to `Million Dollar Baby' this has got to be his finest performance. Gene Hackman steals the whole show though as Bill Daggett, the ruthless sheriff. His savagery is embellished by his sick sense of justification and that makes Hackman's character development nothing short of extraordinary.

In the end I'm pleased to say that `Unforgiven' stands up as worthy of the praise and attention it has received. I can't say if it was the best film of the year (92 was such a fantastic year for film) but it most definitely ranks in my top ten and surely will stand the tests of time as one of the most effective westerns of all time, defining everything that makes the genre what it is. I may not be an avid supporter of the genre as a whole, but when a western is done right it can be nothing short of amazing. `Unforgiven' is done very, very right.

02/Howard’s End
What could easily be dismissed as a quiet love story (which it most certainly is) should never be dismissed at all, for ‘Howard’s End’ is so much more than meets the eye.  Quiet, yes, but the emotional sentiments ring very loud.  This marvelously crafted tale of love, loss and societies constant manipulations is just an outstanding and engrossing cinematic treat.  Layered with profound and intriguing characters, outstanding performances, intelligent scripting and lush cinematography (not to mention authentic costumes and a beautifully subtle score), this beautiful film is a superb addition to any DVD library.

The film really tells a few stories in one.  There is the budding friendship between Margaret, the eldest of two well-educated sisters, and a sickly matriarch.  There is the romance between Margaret and a wealthy widower.  There is the constant feuding between Margaret and her hot-headed and very opinionated sister Helen.  There is the relationship between Helen and the poor yet charming (and married) Leonard.

There is a lot going on here, but thankfully everything is handled with enough precise detail to make it all understandable, intelligible and memorable.

The film’s main plot revolves around a family home called Howard’s End (thus the film title).  When Margaret makes close acquaintances with the withering Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave in a quietly powerful performance) she never expected the generosity that she would receive, but before her death Ruth made it clear to Margaret that she wanted her to take ownership of Howard’s End, for she thought that she would appreciate it far more than her spoiled children.  Once Ruth has died though, her family is not too keen on this last wish being carried out, and so the recently widowed Henry finds his loyalties tested as he opts to crush Margaret’s plans to take over Howard’s End.

It may seem like a trivial matter, but no matter is trivial when love, loyalty and integrity are at stake.

What really makes this film such a goldmine is the remarkable acting.  Emma Thompson swept the awards circuit back in 92, winning nearly everything all the way up to the Oscar.  Her performance is equal parts witty and charming as well as devastatingly serious.  She has this period down pat, and this is her crowning achievement.  Helena Bonham Carter is marvelous as the impetuous Helen.  Her performance has been labeled shrill and annoying, but she is completely in character and does an effortless job at it.  Vanessa Redgrave may not have deserved the Oscar nomination for her few moments on screen, but she is very, very effective and quite memorable, hauntingly so (the opening sequence of her walking through the dewy surface of Howard’s End is one of my favorite scenes in movie history).  Anthony Hopkins is just splendid here (why was he shafted on Oscar’s supporting ballot?) and proves once again that when he is on, he is ON.  Thompson and Hopkins make a marvelous team and really should consider teaming up again. 

They possess a magic together that is rarely captured on-screen.

With spirited supporting performances by Susie Lindeman, Samuel West and James Wilby, ‘Howard’s End’ is a stewing pot of acting greatness, and should be regarded as such.  Perhaps the greatest performance given is that of director James Ivory (who would work wonders with the two leads again the following year in ‘The Remains of the Day’) who casts a stunning shadow over this briskly paced and effortlessly sunny film.  One of the greatest films of the 90’s, this beautifully crafted romance will leave you begging for more.

01/The Crying Game
If you have yet to see ‘The Crying Game’ and think that you know what this film is about, I promise you that you don’t.  I was completely blindsided, and while I knew the big reveal because of internet spoilers, I must say that it adds a whole new dimension to the film when you see how it plays out.

I don’t really want to give too much away here, for the brilliance of this film comes in the mysterious way in which it all comes together.

I’ll try my hand at this.

The film opens with a rather hurried and chaotic sequence that lands a British soldier named Jody in the custody of the Irish Republic.  They are holding him prisoner in ransom for one of their men, and they plan on killing him if their demands are not met.  Over the course of his imprisonment, he is cared after by Fergus, a man who is obviously struggling with his role in all of this.  The two men form a bond that is severed when Fergus is told to kill Jody.  What happens next proves to be an eye opening (and life altering) event for Fergus, moving him to seek out Jody’s girlfriend, Dil, and attempt to, in a way, live his life for him.  When Fergus’s partner in crime, Jude, finds herself back in Fergus’s life though, things get even more complicated.

What appears on the outset to be a thriller of sorts breaks itself down rather quickly into a character driven piece that rests solely on the shoulders of the incredible cast to create, and sustain, a connective tissue between these people.  The bond that forms between Jody and Fergus is remarkably grounded, even if it only lasts about thirty minutes tops.  The tension that arises between Fergus and Jude is so thick you could cut it with a knife, and the budding love between Fergus and Dil is remarkably believable, down to the last ‘awkward’ detail.

“Details baby, details.”

And that is what this film is all about, subtle yet poignant details.  The actors understood that (can I get a round of applause for Forest Whitaker, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Rea and Jaye Davidson please) and so did Neal Jordon, who wrote and directed this surprising gem of a film.  The script is phenomenally crafted to be as genuine and as complex as possible without ever losing one to the other.  It is told in a straightforward motion, but it never loses the ambiguity needed to keep you holding your breath.

This is a truly remarkable film, from start to finish, a film that exposes the secrets that lie within human nature and serves as one of the better character studies I’ve seen in a long time.

So what did you think?  What films would make your ballot?  Personally, my top twelve looks pretty varied, with the top three here joining films like ‘Death Becomes Her’, ‘Reservoir Dogs’, ‘A League of Their Own’, ‘Benny’s Video’, ‘The Player’ and ‘Man Bites Dog’.  I should be finalizing ballots by the end of March, and I’ll let you know once I start posting them.