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Best Supporting Performances of 2009

January 30, 2010 2 comments

My list of the supporting performances that I loved in the year 2009.

MALE

1. Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds: There is nothing else I can say about this performance that hasn’t been said before. Waltz is brilliant as the evil, cunning Nazi Colonel Hans Landa. Tarantino created a truly memorable character on the page and it’s Waltz who brings Tarantino’s vision to life on-screen. He deserves all the awards coming his way. If you haven’t seen the film, go now! The opening twenty minutes of the film showcases Waltz at his most spellbinding.

2. Christian McKay as Orson Welles in Me and Orson Welles: Christian McKay’s portrayal of Orson Welles is the main reason to go and seek out this picture. The film itself is average, but it’s McKay’s performance that will make this film last long in your memory. McKay is able to perfectly capture the ego, talent and brilliance of the real Orson Welles. For an example of McKay’s brilliance, look at the long tracking shot of him walking into a radio station and totally taking control.

3. Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker in In the Loop: I just love watching Capaldi as the super foul-mouthed director of communications for the English prime minister. It is completely absorbing to watch him unleash blistering curse words against people. This man is always on the edge of having a blood vessel burst. The profanity flowing out of his mouth is delivered so smoothly it leaves you simultaneously shocked and bursting with laughter.

4. James Gandolfini as Carol in Where the Wild Things Are: This could be considered a controversial choice. Gandolfini is never physically seen on-screen, but that didn’t stop me from connecting with this performance. Gandolfini’s brilliant voice work completely made this tall creature a believable, unique character. His voice is full of anger, hate, joy, and it’s these emotions that connects him with film’s main character, Max. Who would have thought the Tony Soprano could so perfectly convey a sensitive side to this Wild Thing named Carol?

5. Fred Melamed as Sy Ableman in A Serious Man: The above photograph completely captures the brilliance of Fred Melamed as Sy Ableman. Even though Melamed is having sex with Larry’s wife, he couldn’t be nicer about it. He is both Larry’s antagonist and tries to be his best friend. It takes a great actor to capture the genuine sincerity and creepiness of Sy Ableman.

Honorable Mentions: Jake Gyllenhaal in Brothers, Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker, Michael Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds.

FEMALE

1. Mo’Nique as Mary in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire: Like my number one pick for best supporting actor, Christoph Waltz, Mo’Nique is almost certain to win the Oscar for best supporting actress. She is absolutely terrifying as the worst mom ever depicted on-screen. The words she throws against her daughter are as frightening as any fists she throws. Mo’Nique is able to create a character that we have some level of pity for by the end of the film.

2. Anna Kendrick as Natalie Keener in Up in the Air: Kendrick is really the heart of this film. On the surface you think her character is going to be a corporate lackey without a soul. As it turns out she does have a soul, and she is the reason for Clooney’s change in the film. Kendrick has great chemistry with Clooney and is not afraid to go head to head with him during their first confrontational meeting. It’s a great scene to watch.

3. Diane Kruger as Bridget von Hammersmark in Inglourious Basterds: Kruger is beautiful to watch on-screen as the German film star, turned British spy. The way the camera shoots her, only helps us believe that she really is this beautiful film star of the 1940’s. Kruger has all the charm of a movie star, but also the ruthlessness of a double agent. The scene where she meets up with Hans Landa during the movie premiere is a beauty to watch.

4. Marion Cotillard as Luisa in Nine: Cotillard is one talented actress and the best thing about the movie Nine. Cotillard is able to bring real depth and emotion to this role as a woman who has been cheated on. When she shows up on-screen, she is able to bring a sense of history to this character. This is something that none of the other actresses in Nine is able to do.

5. Vera Farmiga as Alex Goran in Up in the Air: Farmiga has always been an actress I enjoyed seeing ever since her work in 2006’s The Departed. In this role she now gets a chance to shine. She is sexy, strong and intelligent. Like Kendrick, she is able to go head to head with Clooney which creates a unique chemistry between the two. The scene where the two first meet in the hotel bar is one of the great scenes of the year.

Honorable Mentions: Catherine Keener in Where the Things Are, Olivia Williams in An Education

Review Roundup: Brothers, A Single Man, Nine

January 4, 2010 2 comments

As 2009 was quickly coming to an end I made  an effort to catch up with some films before the year’s end. Here are some quick thoughts on 3 pictures I caught up with.

Brothers: Never judge a movie by the trailer. The trailer for Jim Sheridan’s “Brothers” was among one of the worst I saw this year. The trailer made the film come across like melodramatic trash. After hearing some good things about the picture I decided to give it a chance. This is a film that I think everybody should check out.

The film is based on the 2004 Danish film of the same name. The story focuses on Tobey Maguire, a marine who is presumed dead during a mission in Afghanistan. The loss of Maguire hits his family back home hard. As a result, Maguire’s wife, played by Natalie Portman, starts to grow emotionally close to Maguire’s ex-con brother, Jake Gyllenhaal. Things get complicated when Maguire returns back home. This is not a spoiler; the movie’s advertising reveals this.

Sheridan does a great job of creating a family dynamic that you can believe. We feel the pain that this family is going through. The film never dwells on over-the-top melodramatic moments. Don’t let the trailer fool you, there are some real nice quite moments in the film that let it breathe.

Maguire, Gyllenhaal, and Portman all deliver some of their finest work to date. Gyllenhaal is the best of the three. He’s entirely convincing as the black sheep of the family who tries to make things right by helping his brother’s family. There is a real nice scene between him and his father (Sam Shepard) in the kitchen where the silence speaks volumes about the problems the two have gone through. The actors deliver the emotional moments without going for big acting. However, Maguire towards the end of the film does dive into big acting. His buggy eyes were troublesome. This film was a real nice surprise. Check it out.

3 1/2 stars

A Single Man: This is an impressive directorial debut from fashion designer Tom Ford. Based on the 1960’s book of the same name, Colin Firth plays a middle-aged college professor living in 1962’s Los Angeles. He is suffering over the loss of his lover, played in flashbacks by Matthew Goode.

Firth is fantastic here. It’s hard for an actor to convey all sorts of feelings just through one’s face. Firth is able to pull this off perfectly. On the outside he is a proper Englishman, but there is a lot of hurt beneath the surface. The only time we get to see that mask torn down is when he gets the phone call telling him his partner is dead. He maintains his composure through the call, but after he hangs up, it collapses. No dialogue is necessary to convey the heartbreak he is going through.

Throughout the film we follow Firth as he encounters one of his students (Nicholas Hoult) who may have a thing for him. We also meet his former lover and friend, played by Julianne Moore, who does her best to comfort Firth. The two spend a drunken night thinking about the past and the future . I think Moore is good in the film as a British boozehound. Though, I’m not sure if she deserves the award talk surrounding her performance.

Ford has a great eye for visuals. Everything in the picture from the camera angles, the framing,and the music is all laid out perfectly on-screen. The meticulous nature of the film aesthetic is used to represent how Firth leads his life. While Firth keeps up a proper appearance, Ford uses the imagery to convey the desire that he feels toward the male form. The great cinematography by Eduard Grau perfectly captures the 1960’s. A great performance, and great visuals make this film one to see.

3 1/2 stars

Nine: I must admit that I was looking forward to this film. A film based on the great Fellini film “8 1/2,” starring the great Daniel Day-Lewis and a line up of talented actress, how could it miss? It does.

The film is a musical version of Federico Fellini’s classic “8 1/2.” The plot of the film is essentially the same as Fellini’s film, but just with some musical numbers thrown in. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Italian director Guido Contini. He is a a man facing deep troubles in his life. He is near ready to shoot a film, but without a script. The women in Guido’s life come in and out of the film as he confronts the professional and personal issues in his life.

This isn’t a very good musical. The songs are just plain bad. The only song that is memorable is “Be Italian.” The other song I did enjoy was one called “Cinema Italiano,” which is sung by Kate Hudson. There’s something catchy about the song, even though I admit it’s bad. It doesn’t help that the actors, except for Fergie, can’t sing at all. Penelope Cruz, playing Guido’s mistress, is horrible during her musical number. She is sexy to look at, but I don’t know what the fuck she is singing about. Even though the actors can’t sing, I did find some enjoyment in that.

I like what Roger Ebert said about the film’s quality of stars. He says though the film may be full of big stars, none of them are actual characters. The only one of the ladies who is actually able to create a character is Marion Cotillard. She is great as the betrayed wife of Guido. Cotillard is able to make us sympathize with her during her brief time on screen.

I found the musical numbers boring because the director Rob Marshall, never takes advantage of the cinematic medium he is working in. The film is based on a stage musical, so many of the films musical sequences are theatrical. But this isn’t the theatre. It’s tiresome to see numerous musical number take place on an actual stage. Lewis is good as Guido, but he’s a no better singer than some of the ladies. I was surprised that this film didn’t bring together all these actors together in one big musical number. The film doesn’t even try to replicate the famous harem scene from the original “8 1/2.” That was a big letdown. The opening and closing curtain calls of the film are well done. No singing is required by any of the leads during those moments. This is an interesting film, but a lot of potential was wasted.

2 1/2 stars