The 4th Annual Davies Awards in Film

A Look Back at 2009:

Once upon a time…

…in 2008, while the world economy went into a tailspin, Hollywood delved into super-depressing, self-important mode and the Davies Awards asked sourly, “Why So Serious?”

But then the Brothers Coen and Quentin Tarantino looked around with their impish grins and wondered, “Why can’t we be a little serious but have fun, too?”  Meanwhile, The King of the World, James Cameron awoke from a decade long hibernation to deliver us into a fantastic world we had never seen and finally made a film where 3D technology rose above gimmick status.  All the while, his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow masterminded the ultimate coup-d’etat.  Will a woman director finally take home Oscar…for a war film?

But these golden days seemed so far far away back in January…

2009 began ominously. The multiplexes seemed a dark abyss. Continue reading

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The Summer of War

Superfluous slasher sequels and Labor Day mean one thing for filmgoers: the long summer movie season is finally coming to a close.  Though I did my fair share of grumbling and there were alarmingly more “Colon: Movies” than ever before, the summer of 2009 ended up being a fairly solid season.  The year as a whole has been eerily reminiscent of 1999 in that there have been a slew of top-of-the-line “niche” films and both art-house and multiplex offerings have been more thoughtful than usual by delivering subtext and social commentary with their cliches, laughter, violence and gore.  Whether any of these films will matter ten years from now is hard to tell.  Looking back on the summer trends, I think I’ll always remember this 2009 season as the summer Hollywood went to war. Continue reading

A Review of Sam Mendes’ “Away We Go”

8/10

Just six months after introducing us to one of the most unlikable and miserable movie couples viewers had ever seen in Revolutionary Road, director Sam Mendes takes us on a little detour from his usual style/genre and allows us to meet one of the most likable on-screen pairings in recent years with Away We Go.

TV’s John Krasinski is the amiable goof-ball and insurance-futures’ salesman Burt and SNL alum Maya Rudolph (in a quietly revelatory performance built on her gift of perfectly timed facial expressions) is his long-time girlfriend Verona who does illustrations for medical textbooks. Suddenly they find themselves pregnant and searching for a real home in this semi-autobiographical tale from scribes Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. The pair, untethered to their current situations, decide to travel all over North America visiting family and friends so that they might find that perfect spot to lay down roots. Fans of Eggers’ books should be pleased that the screenplay is imbued with his popular brand of sharp humor mixed with diluted sentimentality. The tale of these two thirty-somethings trying to do the right thing not only for themselves but for their daughter-to-be is filled with humor, warmth and a subdued pathos that allows us to relate to the both the chaos around the characters and their desire to shield their baby from it.

Under Mendes surprisingly laid-back director’s hand, the material and the performances rise above the clichés of the “she’s having a baby!” sub-genre of dramedies while successfully interweaving elements of “discovering yourself on a road trip” indie flicks. Episodic and sometimes meandering in nature, the film’s acts range from laugh-out-loud hilarious (including a scene-stealing Allison Janney making a bid for worst mother of the year in grand comedic style) to laughably absurd (witness Maggie Gyllenhaal as a self-righteous alterna-mom with an unfounded hatred towards strollers) to unexpectedly poignant (in an unexpected side-trip to Miami to help Burt’s brother through a crisis). You won’t find any screamingly awful delivery room scenes here, and while there is some semi-crude sexual humor, it’s reality-based instead of raunchy and never overshadows the film’s heart.

As with any Mendes’ production, the cinematography (this time from Ellen Kuras) is artistically sound and serves as the perfect place for Mendes to paint his details. When the director uses a steady tracking shot moving through the passengers on a plane in mid-flight to focus in on the sun’s hazy golden light coming through the windows highlighting the faces of our two stars sitting side-by-side, you can see Burt and Verona unified in a yearning pensive loneliness that makes you instantly root for their success. The promise of that scene is wonderfully fulfilled in the closing act (the details of which I will not divulge) which is probably the most hopeful denouement — beautifully understated and with minimal dialogue — you will ever find in a Mendes’ film. As with anything in life, even in the most hopeful of atmospheres there is still some uncertainty, but if we’re lucky, we’ll see the talented Maya Rudolph in more lead roles and Sam Mendes will take time for more pleasant detours such as this.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database.

When the Good Movies Are

Max decides to take a nap and dream of wild things until his movie comes out in October.

Max decides to take a nap and dream of many wild things until his movie comes out in October.

 

With last week’s unnecessary X-Men sequel? prequel? reboot? oh who cares?—and this week’s Star Trek hullabaloo, someone like me is left to wonder when will it be safe to venture back into the darkness of the movie theaters?  Thankfully the summer movie season has become a refuge for some decent counter-programming ignored by most feasting on Hollywood’s fatty products, but even better, it’s a good time to start checking out the early trailers and buzz for the gilded autumnal slate of films reeking of prestige.

Here’s my list of the most anticipated films for Summer 2009 and beyond ordered chronologically by alleged release date.  No sequels or franchises allowed beyond this point!

Drag Me to Hell:  (5/29/09)  This is that horror flick from guru Sam Raimi for those who enjoyed The Evil Dead trilogy over his Spiderman trilogy.  It looks kinda goofy, kinda ghouly and kinda fun with a smoking hot Alison Lohman playing a mortgage broker who gets damned to hell after turning down a little old lady’s application for an extension–how timely!  My only concerns are why this thing isn’t rated R and where the heck is Bruce Campbell?  Check out the trailer or go to hell. 

 

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Alison Lohman can drag me to hell anytime. But I don't think she'll ever approve me for a mortgage.

 

If this one cops-out on the gore, be sure to check out the Norwegian zombie Nazi romp Dead Snow due to infect art-houses in June.

Away We Go: (6/5/09, limited)  After giving us one of the most depressing films of recent memory with Revolutionary Road, Sam Mendes goes all quirky dramedy on us with this one featuring a surprisingly likable John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as an expecting couple re-examining their life together.  Let’s hope this doesn’t suffer the same unfair fate of Sunshine Cleaning, which was mostly ignored by mainstream audiences due to a bad marketing campaign that endlessly compared it to other (and lesser) quirky dramedies.  Novelist/memoirist du-jour Dave Eggers co-wrote the screenplay.   Check out the trailer or go away.

Public Enemies:  (7/1/09)  This is an A-lister all the way and promises to be the thinking person’s summer event flick.  Michael Mann, who has proven that both filming in digital doesn’t mean things have to be shaky and grainy and that Depression era films need not be saturated in sepia tones, has crafted what looks to be a crackling period gangster flick inspired by true events featuring a swaggering Johnny Depp, an always brooding Christian Bale and a seductively demure Marion Cotillard.  This thing looks like a real brick that is about to be thrown through everyone’s window.  Check out the trailer or go to jail.  I reckon I won’t be all alone when I take that ride come July.

District 9:  (8/14/09)  It’s so rare these days to see a non-franchised non-comic book based sci-fi flick come out during the summer.  It’s even cooler when that sci-fi film is presented by Peter Jackson, has been kept mostly under wraps, and is just now releasing the early stages of an ultra-clever viral marketing campaign.  The trailer for this one is wickedly deceptive (it looks like some political documentary) and reveals just enough of the “alien…shall we say, invasion?” plotline to tantalize viewers.  This one has some major potential for social commentary, satire and some kick-ass alien action as it blends elements from V,  Alien Nation and Starship Troopers.  Check out the humorous mock-site Maths from Outer Space, or better yet, check out the hella-cool trailer.

Antichrist:  (Unknown)  The only thing more interesting to watch than an established director attempting to go back to his roots (see Sam Raimi above) is watching a controversial auteur go off the deep end with something he’s never attempted before.  Here, Great Dane Lars Von Trier (last seen directing people acting on minimalist chalk-lined stages in Dogville and Manderlay) goes the psychological horror route with this tale of an emotionally crippled couple seeking refuge at their cabin in the woods and perhaps coming in contact with…Satan?  Guaranteed to be his most stylistic film since Zentropa (aka Europa), Antichrist‘s reception at this month’s Cannes Film Festival will go a long way in determining its potential success in the States.  Look for a limited Fall release and prepared to be disturbed.

Shutter Island:  (10/2/09)  Leonardo DiCaprio stars in a Martin Scrosese adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel.  Need I say more?  Added bonus for me:  my favorite underrated actress Emily Mortimer co-stars.  I was in line for this before I even knew it was being made.

 

Emily Mortimer contemplates a vacation to Shutter Island this fall.

Emily Mortimer contemplates a vacation to Shutter Island this fall.

 

Where the Wild Things Are:  (10/19/09)  Any doubts about this Malkovich-less Spike Jonze adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book should be wiped away by what is hands down one of the most infectiously appealing trailers ever crafted.  The versatile Eggers appears again as co-scripter.  Go ahead, get wild and check it out.

Amelia:  (10/23/09)  Will Indian born Mira Nair finally achieve a massive cross-over hit with this bio-pic of Amelia Earhart, or will this be another well intentioned and glossy miscalculation like Vanity Fair?  If Nair can inject the emotional connection she so effortlessly achieved with Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake into the still unsolved mystery surrounding the famed female pilot, then we should be in for something special, and watch out for Hilary Swank in the lead role to nab her third Oscar nod.

Tree of Life:  (Unknown, potentially 2010)  Having once allowed two decades to pass between films, legendary auteur Terrence Malick has now adopted a more Kubrickian five to ten year span between projects.  Given his notoriously long post-production process, this one might not find its way into theaters until the end of 2010 even though principle photography has been completed for some time.  Though this Brad Pitt/Sean Penn drama has been kept tightly under wraps, the advanced buzz surrounding a potential IMAX companion piece and a special effects team working on the “dino shots” make it clear this will be more than just some dreamily poetic coming-of-age mood piece.  For the first time, we might witness Malick go whole-hog.  As such, film purists should be waiting with baited breath.

Other potential films of interest include Quentin Tarantino’s spelling and good-taste-be-damned WWII flick Inglourious Basterds (to be released in August) and James Cameron’s uber-secretive sci-fi epic Avatar (to be released around Christmas) that will either be the biggest bomb or hit of the holiday season.

What films are you most looking forward to?  Leave your top pics in the comment form!

Written by David H. Schleicher