A moody, brooding mobster movie trying really hard to find something worthy of salvation in its characters. It’s a beautiful look at the 30’s period and father and son relationships, with gorgeous cinematography too.
Gangs of New York (2002)
Marty Scorsese’s epic history lesson. I don’t even know how accurate it is, but it’s a gripping look at the cinematic staple that is New York while the Civil War is going on in the background. And it has one of the best Daniel Day-Lewis performances as Bill the Butcher.
Lost in Translation (2003)
A beautiful depiction of two wandering, weary souls finding each other, doubly disorienting because of the warped Tokyo setting. It’s an unlikely pairing of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson that works out perfectly.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
This movie! Once the credits start rolling, you’re glued to your seat, stunned. Not quite sure what just happened. It has one of the best villains in Anton Chigurh played by Javier Bardem. It’s total nihilism with the only decent guy to hold on to, with a faltering grip, being Tommy Lee Jones’ Ed Tom Bell. Brilliant in its hopelessness.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
A great take on the war movie. Jeremy Renner’s Sergeant James isn’t fighting anyone’s war and the movie doesn’t advocate one way or the other. It’s all about the danger rush and it’s one hell of a thrill-ride. Plus, y’know, Kathryn Bigelow.
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
I doubt you’ll find this one in many top 10 lists. But it’s a great story of unrequited love told in the most original, creative and fun way in a while. It’s also a loud critique on romantic comedies and their delusions.
Funny People (2009)
One of the best comedies to come out in years! It’s genuinely funny, but finds its comedy in really dark and honest subject matter. Oh and it humanises Adam Sandler in a poignant look at life, wasted opportunities and the inability to change.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Rollicking. But really stylish and clever. It quite literally changed history.
Monumental entertainment. Forget Batman, this is Nolan’s best movie. It’s one of those movies that started with a mysterious viral campaign and rode the hype-wave all the way to the bank, deservingly so. Its pure escapism embodies what cinema is all about.
Never Let Me Go (2010)
A stunning allegory about the meaning of life. And pretty much in the end it tells us it means nothing. Getting there is heart-wrenching and oddly life-affirming. Garfield, Mulligan and Knightley will melt your heart in an undercover sci-fi that moves me like no other.
Django Unchained, the much-anticipated upcoming Quentin Tarantino movie starring Jamie Foxx as a rescued slave out for revenge, will only hit our screens early next year a couple of months after its Christmas Day US release.
And to quell your nervous excited energy until then, may I suggest revisiting his previous film, Inglourious Basterds. It’s possibly his greatest work to date, much of the reason behind the Django-hype and simultaneously a very tough act for Django to follow.
Basterds, if you didn’t already know, tells the WWII story of a gang of all-Jewish soldiers dropped into Nazi-occupied France on a secret mission to kill German soldiers under the command of Brad Pitt’s Lt Aldo Raine. On the surface, the premise is as simple as that and it sounds quite silly. But then this is damn fine entertainment with also a lot more than what meets the eye.
The movie is grand for manifold factors. But aim a pistol at my nuts and I’d have to say it’s a fine study in tension and doubly great for this unexpected aspect as QT plays against type by downplaying the violence. There’s constantly the promise of cruelty, but until the end we only experience violence, albeit raw and graphic and chilling, in quick jarring bursts. Toward the end of the movie, in fact, the greatest show of violence is first seen in an onscreen film screening of Nation’s Pride, a Nazi movie about the exploits of a celebrated war hero who in staccato fashion mows down the allied enemy. It’s almost as if QT is trying to say something by keeping his trademark one step removed from the audience, until the violence in the Nazi film merges with his own in a ferocious climax.
So that tension I was talking about. Apart from the whole film building up towards the dramatic finish, there are microcosms as the tension is captured in three stand-out scenes.
The first is the opening scene where Colonel Hans Landa visits the home of Frenchman LaPadite who is harbouring Jewish neighbours. The encounter is brimming with suspense as one of the movie’s outright stars, Christoph Waltz, is unveiled. Waltz delights with his borderline psychotic colonel Landa who could at any moment let rip. He gives a performance so commanding, terrifyingly faux congenial yet likeable and endlessly fascinating, that they might as well have carved out ‘OSCAR’ on his forehead. He completely fills the screen when on it and deservedly got the gold statuette from the Academy to prove it. The tension is such that even drinking a glass of milk has something discomfiting about it. And you constantly fear for the vulnerable, outnumbered Frenchman and his beautiful daughters.
One of the Jewish stowaways, Shosanna Dreyfus, manages to escape and later there is a reunion between Landa and herself, delivering the second stand-out scene. This is played brilliantly by Mélanie Laurent and Waltz, as he gives nothing away of what’s going to transpire and she only hints at her anxiety by obliquely tensing up. Only at the very end does her cool facade break down completely after a rare moment of forgetfulness on Landa’s part, filling you with deep compassion for her character.
Before I get to the last scene, let me just also say this. QT gets terrific performances from his actors and can save or create careers. Case in point – John Travolta, shortlived, but still. And Basterds is no different. Apart from Waltz, there is a fantastic international cast with Laurent, Daniel Brühl and Diane Kruger all doing sterling work. But alongside Waltz, the true showpony is Brad Pitt. His Aldo Raine is Pitt like you’ve never seen him before in what has to be my favourite role for him ever. He plays it with a boyish charm and also embodies the film’s overall relish and glee, hamming it up just enough with his drawl, his smirk and his little homespun sayings to be the movie’s centre of fun.
The last outstanding scene, and the best, occurs in a basement tavern where a secret meeting has been set up between the Basterds and their mole, Bridget von Hammersmark, played by Kruger. This scene just has it all. They’re already a little uneasy about it all feeling ripe for ambush, when the three Basterds descend the steps in Nazi uniform to be saluted over-zealously by the German soldiers they find below. The waitress drops the tray, there’s a clattering and breaking of glasses, and we cut to the Basterds paused awkwardly on the steps, startled by this greeting.
But they push on and join von Hammersmark where they start discussing details for their grand plan, Operation Kino, until a drunken soldier, Wilhelm, has the impudence to make a nuisance of himself around supposedly superior officers. As Michael Fassbender’s British Lieutenant reprimands him in German (obviously), the stunned soldier stares back vacantly and then starts commenting on his peculiar accent. The jig is up! Fassbender’s colleagues quickly step in to dispose of Wilhelm with aggressive threats to all his friends to keep an eye on him. Crisis averted? Maybe, but then all of a sudden a hereto unseen Nazi soldier is revealed to be sitting in the corner. It’s almost laughable how the scene keeps escalating with this latest trump card played by the director. As the record player scratches with the music finished, like the fun has run out, the major (played to lingering perfection by August Diehl) approaches and starts interrogating Fassbender’s Hicox. And after barely accepting his explanation, he decides to join them for a game of Celebrity, where they place cards on their foreheads and have to guess the famous figure’s name written on it. It’s all Diehl here as he proceeds to guess his figure, King Kong, with a majestic, controlled display of acting. The scene simmers throughout and shortly after a drink of whisky and a brief standoff it finally explodes in one brisk elimination of almost everyone involved. Damn good stuff.
Anyway… it’s a propagandistic movie about propaganda, about how the propaganda pictures of the Nazis were at the forefront of the war effort and how ultimately the movies could’ve been used to end the war. It’s a celebration of what’s possible with the movies, as QT’s own escapist plot of killing Hitler illustrates, but it’s also a condemnation of how movies can distort reality and affect people. Therefore QT also plays on the idea of the Western genre having demonised Native Americans and includes King Kong to show how cinema romanticised slavery. Significantly, Aldo Raine is part Apache and the crushing blow to the Nazis in a way, the spark that lights the fuse, is dealt by a black projectionist during a film screening. There’s also a chronic preoccupation with nicknames mixed in, of how one is perceived and how legends are built up.
And finally: language, language, language. This film flits between German, English and French and even some Italian like it’s nobody’s business. Apart from loving it for its linguistic richness, which is beautiful in and of itself but also lends authenticity, language is cleverly used as a plot device. QT shows he isn’t just trying to be arty for the hell of it. Inglourious Basterds is a deep hard look at the influence of art and culture on us all. And it’s great storytelling, with the music also deserving a special mention, and ample fun. We should let this movie move us and be very thankful for that. Good luck, Django.
At least some of the Academy voters will like Michelle Williams’ hot display as Marilyn Monroe, but will it be enough to take down the iron lady of Hollywood, Meryl Streep? I would be delighted if it is. Here’s empireonline.com on Williams’ chances as well as her competitors:
Why she’ll be going home with Oscar
This is Williams’ third nomination and second in as many years. Who’d have thought Jen-from-Dawson’s-Creek had it in her?
It’s a terrific turn that gets under the skin of an icon and plays both her vulnerability and strength – and icons don’t come any bigger than Marilyn Monroe.
Williams has won a huge number of critic’s awards in the pre-season and was nominated at SAG too. She’s hit the campaign trail too, giving interviews and good red carpet throughout the last few months.
Why she might be stood up
She didn’t win the SAG award, which might mean that her acting brethren aren’t really behind her.
As with The Iron Lady and indeed The Help, the film is perhaps not quite as good as its star’s performance. (on a personal samovieguy note – while true, this should be a moot point)
Can anyone really play Marilyn Monroe well enough to make Hollywood happy? Is that even possible?
Hey all, sorry I skipped a review last week, I know my loyal readership are probably still hurting from that. But worry not, this week I’m back and I’m bringing some class with me. That can only mean it’s British. But don’t worry, it’s not all high and dry, they have the f-word there too.
So, My Week With Marilyn tells the unlikely true story of a young man, Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne) forcing his way into the movie business with sheer determination only to have the world’s biggest star, the inimitable (but wait, I’ll get to that) Marilyn Monroe, arrive in England to shoot a movie with Laurence Olivier as soon as he’s succeeded in doing so.
The movie opens with Michelle Williams acting as Marilyn in a movie and bewitching British audiences with Colin among them. And in the same way she transfixes the boy, Williams proceeds to light up the screen all the way through. As soon as the curtain lifts you are witness to a truly dazzling performance from an extremely talented actress. Of all the Dawson’s Creek kids I guess we should have had our money on her all along. I mean, she was always even more serious than the rest.
Not only is she completely transformed into Marilyn Monroe in appearance and little idiosyncrasies, but once she gets going “on-screen” she has the same exotic, enchanting appeal of the actual Monroe. She is fun and flirtatious in Monroe’s good moments, but she also shines when her pill-addled character doesn’t.
And where Williams spearheads the movie to create a pleasing timewarping feel, the picture follows suit by being presented in a wonderful grainy texture that makes it resemble old film footage of a real Monroe visit. It really is quite lovely to take in.
Then there is the support. Kenneth Branagh, for one, is just fantastic. Much like the weirdo behind me, who once or twice raised his voice during the screening, I wanted to shout out: “More of this, Kenneth, less of Thor!!!” He is tremendously entertaining as serious thespian Laurence Olivier whose patience is tested to the brink by Ms Monroe. Redmayne is sufficiently enthusiastic, overawed, smitten and heartbroken as and when required, while Dame Judy Dench and even Emma Watson do a fine job too, even though they’re just there to colour in the edges.
This movie is about Marilyn and what a complicated, troubled yet incredibly gifted young woman she was. And also how screwed up her idea of love was. I mean, this is no place for someone as “young and innocent” as Colin to get involved in. So subsequently it’s also a bittersweet romance, a little one-sided, a little unrequited, of the besotted boy who would do anything to help someone who is tragically beyond helping. She would peak with her next film, the timeless Some Like It Hot, and after that make only two more movies before passing away from an overdose at age 36.
The whole thing, despite feeling slow at times, is a whirlwind affair and, while having left a lasting impression on the boy, its effect will probably wear off in audience members not long after leaving the cinema. On occasion the romance and the damaged aspect of Monroe can become somewhat cloying, but the movie is a softly handled, sumptuous and charming study of what will forever remain a fascinating figure of the silver-screen. And someone give Williams the Oscar, Meryl already has two.
With a couple of weeks to go before the Oscars, empireonline.com have placed their bets for who will take home the coveted Best Actor man-trophy (statuette; I’m talking about Oscar) at the Academy Awards. Here are their reasons for and against Mr Clooney’s performance in The Descendants:
Why He Should Win:
The smile, the charm, the irresistible charisma, how good he looks in a grey suit: who could resist voting for George Clooney?
He’s really very good in Payne’s film, toning down both the looks and the charisma to play a man in difficult circumstances but trying to soldier on regardless. He won the National Board of Review prize for the role already.
He’s won Best Supporting Actor previously, but it seems odd that such a huge figure in the town doesn’t also have a Best Actor statuette.
What Might Stand In His Way:
He didn’t take home the SAG prize, losing out to Jean Dujardin for The Artist. And while Alexander Payne is good at getting his stars nominated, none have yet won.
It’s a tiny bit obvious to give it to Clooney, isn’t it? Handsome and all as he is.
He has one Oscar already and is nominated for his Ides Of March screenplay this year as well. There’s no rush: the man’s going to produce more great work next year, we’re sure.