Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Movie Reviews - Gearing Up for the Oscars

Ladies and gentlemen, it's game time. From the end of December through the beginning of March, I see more movies than the rest of the year combined in anticipation of the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. Along with a few of my fellow movie-lovers, I try to see most (if not all) of the major Oscar nominees: Best Movie, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. So far I've done fairly well, though I won't know for certain until February 2nd when the nominations are announced (predictions coming soon). Still on the list to see: The Hurt Locker, Avatar and The Blind Side. I'm a bit behind in my reviews, so here are the movies I've seen since Christmas:

Up in the Air
If this movie had come out in 2007, I'm not sure it would have resonated has strongly as it does now in a post-recession 2009/2010. The montages of anger, sadness and rage while employees are laid off could easily be from a nightly news segment - in fact, director Jason Reitman filmed interviews with recently fired workers in order to get real, true reactions. George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick deliver wonderful performances that expertly shift from drama to comedy and back again. Clooney and Farmiga have great chemistry as two equally matched status-obsessed travelers, and Kendrick sheds all traces of Twilight as the young and headstrong Natalie. Grade: A-

Sherlock Holmes
This was not at the top of my list of movies to see. I can safely say it should have been. Director Guy Ritchie brings the mysterious world of 1880s London to life in a rip-roaring adventure that dazzles the eye and keeps the audience thinking. The cast is chock full of hard hitters: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams and Mark Strong dive headfirst into their roles. I honestly cannot imagine anyone else playing Holmes besides RDJ. The cinematography is sensational, especially the sequences on top the half-constructed Tower Bridge. And on top of everything, Holmes never caves and utters "Elementary, my dear Watson." Grade: B+

It's Complicated
Spoiler Alert: Meryl Streep gets high. If that is not enough to get you to go see It's Complicated, I'm not sure what is. Streep delivers another incredible performance (obviously) along with co-stars Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. The plot is fun, yet predictable; the chemistry between both Streep/Baldwin and Streep/Martin is what makes this movie shine. I would be surprised to see this movie nominated for any Oscars, but it is definitely a great romantic comedy. Also check out a terrific performance (and wardrobe) from The Office's John Krasinski. Grade: B

A Single Man
Fashion designer Tom Ford's directorial debut is, in a word, stunning - not only in its dynamic visual motif, but also in Colin Firth's awe-inspiring performance. This is truly the best role of Firth's career, brilliantly capturing the quiet mourning of George Falconer, a closeted man in the early 1960s who has lost his partner of 16 years. Though in only a few scenes, Julianne Moore brings a total sense of grandeur to Charlotte, an alcoholic and George's best friend, that is certainly worthy of an Oscar nomination. A Single Man manages to be subtle and strong, pensive and suspenseful, beautiful and tragic, and one of the best movies of the year. Grade: A

An Education
In a world of Latin and literature, recitals and reading, 16-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan) has it all - she is smart, talented and hellbent on attending Oxford, that is until she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), an early-30s man who drinks from the cup of life and asks for more. David brings Jenny beyond the walls of her school and introduces her to a world full of jazz clubs, Parisian cafes and beautiful art. To truly talk about Sarsgaard in this role is to give away too much about the plot, so all I'll say is that he plays the part perfectly. Mulligan, however, truly steals the show. Jenny, like most 16 year olds, has moments of brave maturity and bratty childishness and Mulligan brings a sophistication and beauty to both. To be honest, beyond the strong performances I did not enjoy An Education until the last 25 minutes. Those last scenes made the entire movie come together and delivered a wonderfully understated payoff. Grade: B+

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
This is a movie everyone should see. Its exposure of some of our society's darkest and often ignored horrors is gut-wrenching and unrelenting. Like Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), the audience never gets a break from the onslaught of hardship and abuse. Sidibe's debut is touching and tragic, and remarkably overshadowed by the juggernaut that is Mo'Nique's shocking turn as Mary Jones, Precious' monstrous mother. There are scenes that evoke gasps, others that bring tears. Most importantly, the images, messages and soul of Precious strike a special chord that allow the world to finally connect with "Precious girls everywhere." Grade: A

Inglourious Basterds
I was really nervous to watch Inglourious Basterds, as all I knew about it was: Tarantino + scalps + Nazis...a terrifying combination for sure. In actuality, it is the perfect combination for a great film. It is no secret that Tarantino is a wonderful storyteller, and Basterds is no exception. Where it excels beyond his other films, however, is in the seamless assimilation into a historical world of chaos and madness that allows the suspense and drama to shine above the quirky, over-the-top characters. The opening scene ("Chapter One") had me white-knuckled and holding my breath more so than any scene in Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction. Of course, this is only possible with the help of an absurdly talented cast. Christoph Waltz is chillingly brilliant as Colonel Hans Landa, also known as the Jew Hunter. Diane Kruger, Brad Pitt, BJ Novak, Mélanie Laurent and Eli Roth round out the great cast of rebels fighting against the Third Reich in Nazi-occupied France. Though Tarantino got some flack for rewriting the war, the movie never once attempts to masquerade as documentary or fact. The true history of World War II is well documented enough - Tarantino can certainly take artistic license. And if that artistic license allows him to blow up a bunch of Nazis and end the war early, I'm in. Bold, violent, grand and unapologetic, Inglourious Basterds just might be, in the crudest of ways, the feel good movie of the year. Grade: A-
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