Friday, December 31, 2010


by Maggie Mayall

BEST PICTURE PICKS: “The Fighter,” “True Grit,” “Black Swan,” “The King’s Speech,” ”Toy Story 3”

Runners-Up: “The Social Network,” “127 Hours,” “Winter’s Bone,” “Get Low”

A few years ago, my husband John joined BAFTA, the British equivalent of the Academy Awards, because he qualifies from so many television and film appearances. Every year, starting around Thanksgiving, we get “screeners,” which are DVD’s of the latest movies that will be up for consideration for awards. We get some of them before they are even released in theatres! I will tell you that we take the movie business very seriously in our house because we even have our own screening room with THX sound! We also take our membership very seriously, much to our friends’ disappointment, because we never lend our copies out and John takes special care with his voting.

This year I have compiled my reviews for the movies we have watched this holiday season and throughout the year. A few of them are British and may not be as accessible for many of my American movie-going friends, but are important enough to include.

The following is strictly my opinion. Take what you want and leave the rest!

"THE FIGHTER"(A++) "Well-produced" says it all: from the story (Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington) the script (Scott Silver, Tamasy & Johnson), director (David O. Russell), casting, the individual and ensemble acting (those sisters are an entity), the photography, down to the big hair, makeup and costumes (I OWNED that same denim skirt in the '80's). Mark Wahlberg gives a great performance as Mickey Ward. What CAN’T this guy do? I mean, he gave us hilarious performances this year in “The Other Guys” and “Date Night,” he produces some of the most cutting-edge programming in television, and now this? All the acting performances in this film are noteworthy, especially Melissa Leo as Alice Ward. Of special note: Christian Bale should be nominated for an Oscar for his heartbreaking and bitter performance as Dicky Eklund, the fallen older-brother mentor. Finally, my personal barometer for a great movie is when not only does every thing else work, but the score and soundtrack moves me at times, moves the story along seamlessly at times, and is hardly noticeable at others. Great music selection throughout, with original music by Michael Brock, and some chestnuts from the late 70’s and 80’s—by artists like Hall & Oates, White Snake, Wang Chung, “Til Tuesday, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Traffic—were well-chosen and well-placed. Ben Harper’s “Glory and Consequence” over the closing credits had me dancing in the aisle! Well done, Marky Mark. My Top Pick of the year, I think it's Best Picture.

"TRUE GRIT" (A+) I have raised my grade for this movie from an A- to an A+, because the more I think about it and talk about it, the more I am amazed at what a truly great movie this is. What a skilled piece of work, this latest from the Coen Brothers and Scott Rudin, (Executive produced by Steven Spielberg).  I am making this one of my top five films of the year. Of course Jeff Bridges is excellent as Rooster Cogburn, though I found it difficult to understand him at times. Matt Damon provides comic relief while retaining a very believable characterization as Mr. Le Beouf, a man with a big ego but a lot of humanity. Based more closely on the novel by Charles Portis, like the 1969 film, which won an Oscar for John Wayne, the dialogue and screenplay came alive with authenticity. The photography, by Roger Deakins, is beautiful. The music was by Carter Burwell was gorgeous. When Josh Brolin finally shows up as bad guy Tom Chaney, his performance was deeply nuanced—I was surprisingly both empathetic and repulsed by this bad guy with tragic flaws. Barry Pepper, always adding interesting choices to the mix, makes an appearance as a truly sinister yet strange character. And I loved Bear Man.  Most important, Halee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, gives a breathtakingly stunning performance. Closing credits song: “Leaning on The Everlasting Arms” performed by Iris DeMent, was absolutely beautiful and stuck with me as much as Halee Steinfeld’s deep brown eyes. I can always expect great things in music in a Cohen Brothers film. I feel this is the most commercially accessible film from them to date, yet they haven’t sacrificed their “true grit” and integrity as filmmakers.

"BLACK SWAN" (A+) Eerie, dark, scary, ewww! But cool! Darren Aronofsky gives us a modern take on one of my favorite movies of all time, "The Red Shoes."  “The Black Swan” is a creepy psychodrama about ambition—with anorexia, ballerinas, blood, sex and insanity—a horror movie about art, a slasher movie “en pointe!”  It’s sooo like a cross between “The Red Shoes” and Roman Polanski's "Repulsion"—so creepy, so scary it messes with your head. Oh yeah, also throw in a little “Gypsy,” with a psycho stage mom played by Barbara Hershey! Natalie Portman, as the “good” ballerina Nina, portrays a young artist losing her grip with reality against Mila Kunis’ “bad” ballerina Lily. Some may find the story-line and director’s treatment of it melodramatic and like being hit over the head with a mallet, but I thoroughly had fun with this one.

"THE KING'S SPEECH" (A++) Brilliant! God Save The King! Not everybody’s cup of tea (pun intended), who knew that a film about a stutterer and the speech therapist that helps him overcome it would be so great? What was unexpected, for me, was putting the story into context at the climax where Colin Firth’s King George VI gives a moving pre-World War II radio address as a call-to-arms that unites the British people and sets the course of history. Never knew that! I never really put that together, as an American baby-boomer baby, and I found that part in the movie very moving. Geoffrey Rush’s performance as the “Doctor” was entertaining and multi-faceted, as usual for him. Wouldn’t be surprised if both actors were nominated. Also, Helena Bonham Carter as the young Queen Mum was stellar! Well-made film. Long live the King!

“TOY STORY 3” (A+) Don’t think this will actually make the final five for Best Picture Oscar, but it WAS the highest-grossing film this year. And the reason is simple—it’s a really good frikkin’ movie! This animated feature from Pixar is not just for kids. It’s sweet, it’s funny, it can be dark (scary Care Bears!) and it’s poignant—about what happens to a kid’s beloved toys when he grows up and begins to move on. For those of us who had young children when the first “Toy Story” came out, “Toy Story 3” is all the more meaningful. But that doesn’t diminish its stand-alone capacity to be a great film for all. I rate it one of my Top Five this year, barely beating out “The Social Network,” because of the music and because I was actually crying for several minutes (hours? days?) after the closing credits.

“GET LOW" (A) What can I say? Great story, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray. Beautiful photography. Beautiful sound track. 'Nuf said.

"THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT" (A) Lovely film about a real family. Deep, poignant, touching.

"HEREAFTER" (D+) Wha' happened, Clint? They made a TV show that was better than this called "Medium." And IT was canceled!

”BIUTIFUL" (C) Good story, nice direction, but without Javier, I don't think it would be as noteworthy. The score really irritated me, too, and that does it for me.

"SOMEWHERE" (D) Couldn't get past the first 15 dull minutes. Sorry, Sophia. Maybe I'll finish it later and raise the grade, I don't know.

“BLUE VALENTINE” (C-) Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling play a couple unraveling. With seriously graphic—but was it really necessary?—sex scenes and interesting and quirky actors, I kept watching waiting for a pay-off, but in the end I was disappointed.

“INCEPTION” (B+) Fun Sci-Fi!

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, Part One” (B) It helped if you’ve read and savored every word of all the books, like I have. My husband was confused and finally just took a nap, snoring away, because it was really long. But I liked it and can’t wait for the finale next year!

“WINTER’S BONE” (A) Jennifer Lawrence deserves an Oscar nomination for her soulful, intense depiction of a teenager living in desolation and bleakness, searching for her father so that she, her disabled mother and two young siblings will not lose their home—all the while dealing with local Ozark mountain folks cooking up methamphetamine. Yikes!

"BRIGHTON ROCK" (C+) A remake of a B movie from England, it’s a bit corny. We watched the original and I found the new one a bit more interesting because it was set in the early ‘60’s rather than the late ‘40’s and because Helen Mirren and John Hurt, though not on-screen for long, make it worth it. We could’ve had a whole completely different movie just based on their characters. Now THAT would have been something!

"THE TOWN" (A) Ben Affleck has had his mojo back for a while now. Brilliant cops-and-robbers!

"THE SOCIAL NETWORK" (A) How do you make a movie about a legal question interesting? Aaron Sorkin, that’s how!

"MADE IN DAGENHAM" (A-) Not a big fan of Sally Hawkins, but I was pleasantly surprised by this film—an English version of “Norma Rae,” set at a Ford Motors factory outside London in the early ‘60’s.

"NEVER LET ME GO" (D) huh? Parallel universe where special human-types are bred to be organ donors, with Keira Knightly and Carey Mulligan. Based on a Japanese movie that I bet was better.

"127 HOURS" (A) I vote James Franco for King of Everything! (but he’s in a tie with Marky Mark)

"THE GHOST WRITER" (B+) Hitchcock lives on.

"THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO," "THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE," and "THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST" (A+) Brilliant. Totally true to the books by Steig Larsson.

And these were not in the "screeners," but I saw them and was sorry I saw them:

"SHUTTER ISLAND" (D) Hitchcock doesn't live on. Nice try, though, Martin Scorsese.

“EAT PRAY LOVE” (D-) Loved the book, hated the movie.

“SEX AND THE CITY 2” (F) Time to retire this old girl.

Also saw: "THE AMERICAN" (B+) "ALICE IN WONDERLAND" (B-) "TRON LEGACY"(C+) "LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS,"(D) "PLEASE GIVE"(B+) "BARNEY'S VERSION" (D) "ANOTHER YEAR" (C) Also saw the 1969 version of "TRUE GRIT" and loved it!

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