And the Golden Reel goes to…

•March 14, 2010 • 3 Comments

The (I won’t call them the First Annual) Golden Reels were a success! I was surprised by the number of votes that my little blog was able to gather, and I’m hoping next year we can net even more. But more than anything the quality of votes was the big surprise. Readers, you know your movies and you have made me proud with your votes. After posting the original ballot I was able to see a few more movies and wish I could have included them in the voting process. “An Education” and “Crazy Heart” were two glaring omissions that I didn’t get to see until after the ballot was published, but you all did well with your write-ins. So without further ado, The Golden Reels!

We’ll begin our evening with the music protion of the program with the winners of the Soundtrack and Song categories respectively. Taking home the Golden Reel for Best Soundtrack in a Major Motion Picture is…Karen O. and Carter Burwell for “Where the Wild Things Are!” This is their first nomination and win at the Golden Reels (OK, I’ll stop the hokey Oscar parody now). This was a landslide win with 8 total votes. “Up” and “Inglourious Basterds” tied for second with 3 votes apiece, “Avatar” received 2, and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The Informant!” rounded out the voting with 1 each.

Best Song (Original and Otherwise) also went to Karen O. and the Kids for “All Is Love” from WTWTA. This was a much closer race, however, with Stu’s Song from “The Hangover” coming in second with 5 votes to Karen O’s 6. And Hall and Oates are continuing their comeback year with a 3rd place finish with 4 votes. Paul McCartney’s “I Want to Come Home” and Karen O’s “Worried Shoes” each garnered 1 vote apiece.

The Best Supporting Actress category came as a surprise to me. I was hoping for more love for Melanie Laurent’s performance in “Inglourious Basterds,” but I had to settle on her winning 2nd with 4 votes. Zooey Deschanel surged ahead early and stayed there winning the award with 8 votes! (500) Days of Summer received a lot of love, and I was glad. It was one of my favorites from 2009. Mo’Nique (Precious) and Emma Stone (Zombieland) each received 2 votes, and Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) rounded it out with 1 vote.


The Best Supporting Actor category was closer than I expected. I expected a torrent of votes for Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) but Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover) apparently impressed some of you because he finished second with 6 votes to Christoph’s 10, bringing home a win to the German newcomer. Woody Harrelson (Zombieland) got 3 votes for his hilarious performance and Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) impressed someone enough to get himself 1 vote.

“Up in the Air” got robbed again for Adapted Screenplay finishing all the way in 3rd (!) tying with “Fantastic Mr. Fox” with 2 votes. “The Informant!” grabbed 4 votes, good enough for 2nd, and “The Road” and “An Education” (a write in vote) both took 1 vote to give the win to Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze for “WTWTA.” For a movie that received such mixed reviews this year, I was surprised to see it get so many votes. Just more proof that the readers here know their stuff. 🙂

The Best Original Screenplay was another close race. We had 2 write in nominees – 2 votes for Nathan Parker for “Moon” and 1 vote for Rian Johnson for “The Brothers Bloom” (I still need to see both). “The Hurt Locker,” “The Hangover,” and “Away We Go” each nabbed 2 votes. “Zombieland” and “(500) Days of Summer” tied for 2nd with 3 votes. And the Golden Reel for Original Screenplay goes to the man, the myth, the possibly insane Quentin Tarantino for “Inglourious Basterds.” I was seriously happy this one took home the top prize.



We’ll get right to it on this one. The Best Actress award went to Gabourey Sidibe (Who in real life either really gets on my nerves or is really charming. Her interviews have been hit and miss with me. Anyone else feel that way?) for her stunning debut in “Precious.” Carey Mulligan received some much deserved love with 3 write-in votes to give her a tie in 2nd place with Sandra Bullock. Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia) and Maya Rudolph (Away We Go) both received 2 to round out the bunch.

Our first and only tie for 1st place came in the Best Actor category. Joseph Gordon-Levitt ((500) Days of Summer) and Matt Damon (The Informant!) grabbed 4 votes each to take home the top prize. Souleymane Sy Savane (Goodbye Solo) surprised me with a 2nd place finish with 3 votes (I can’t believe that many people have even seen it). The rest of the votes were split pretty evenly between the rest. You can go back to the original post to see the full results for this one.

The Best Director award went to Quentin Tarantino for his wonderful “Inglourious Basterds” with 9 total votes! Former self-proclaimed “King of the World” James Cameron came in 2nd (much to my chagrin) with 4 votes. Kathryn Bigelow came in 3rd with 3, Spike Jonze got some love with 2, and Jason Reitman and Clint Eastwood each nabbed 1 vote.

And without further ado, the Golden Reel for Best Picture goes to “Inglourious Basterds” with 5 votes! It was clear coming in that this was the favorite to win and it proved it with wins in 3 categories. WTWTA and (500) Days of Summer continued to prove as favorites for some with 3 votes each. UITA, “The Hangover” and “The Hurt Locker” gathered 2 votes, and “Goodbye Solo” took the final vote in the category.

Thanks to all who voted! I had a lot of fun with this and I’m already looking forward to doing it again next year. I’d love to hear any suggestion for the (definitely not the 2nd Annual) Golden Reels! Hope you enjoyed them as much as I did!

Oscar Wrap-Up – Better late than never, I suppose.

•March 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I know, I know. The Oscars were a week ago, but if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m sort of a procrastinator. It’s how I roll. Enough chit-chat, though. On to the Oscar wrap-up!

Overall, I thought the Oscars went the way they should have gone. There were no real curveballs that I didn’t see coming (with the exception of Foreign Language, but then again, is that really a curveball when I didn’t see any of the films?), and I was VERY pleased with the awards that “Avatar” won. It won exactly what it deserved to win. I was extremely nervous that it would take some of the major awards, but in the end the Academy seemed to nail it on the head this year. Kudos to you, Academy.

 Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did a fairly good job. I thought they came across a little stiff/akward in a few parts, but overall they were pretty funny together. And that leads me to an odd moment early on in the ceremony. They had a bit with George Clooney where they had a bit of a staredown. I’m assuming Clooney was in on the bit because of the general look of disgust on his face. At least, I’m hoping he was in on it. Hands down the best part of the ceremony was the tribute to John Hughes. Molly Ringwold and Matthew Broderick were extremely sincere and led perfectly into the tribute with the rest of the brat pack and various other Hughes prodigies. The memorial tribute was handled much better this year, as well, with a great performance from James Taylor. But what the heck was up with leaving out Farah Fawcett?!

The Academy’s producers have said that they limit it to 30 names for time constraints and they just didn’t have room for her in the tribute. Are you serious? That’s the reason you left out one of the most recognizable members of the Academy and one that fought a long hard battle with cancer, and you leave her out because you limit it to 30 names?! Make an exception and bump it to 31 this time around. How hard would it have been to add a 5 second clip of Fawcett to the tribute? It’s inexcusable. How is it that the one thing they mess up huge on every year is the memorial tribute? Last year they did the weird moving camera around the screen so you couldn’t see anything happening and this year they leave out a major star from the tribute?

If that was their only major misstep, though, then they did a pretty good job. I was happy to see “The Hurt Locker” take home the top awards, and I was thrilled that Kathryn Bigelow took home  the Best Director award. I’ve heard some people lately bashing “The Hurt Locker” and I don’t understand it. It was a great movie with a wonderful script, great directing, and strong performances from every one involved. It took the high road and avoided any political leanings and presented us with a story of a soldier’s struggles dealing with life in war vs. life at home and the effects that a war have on that dynamic. It should be required for any film student to see.

Two categories that I was a little upset about were the screenplay categories. Don’t get me wrong. I liked “The Hurt Locker” and “Precious” but overall “Inglourious Basterds” and “Up in the Air” were the better screenplays. QT just wasn’t able to avoid “The Hurt Locker” onslaught and Jason Reitman just straight up got robbed, but they’ll both be back in the future with some amazing material. I’m a big Jason reitman fan and I’m excited to see where he goes. He’s so young and already has 3 solid movies under his belt. He’s got potential to be the next big director in Hollywood.

I know this was sort of a lack-luster post on the Oscars, but there really weren’t any big upsets or surprises to talk about. It went about the way that I thought it would. I got 14 out of 24 picks right, and if I would have gone with my gut it could have been 18. And I have seen all but 3 of the winners (the only three left: Foreign, Doc. Short, Live Action short) so it was a good year for ole’ Oscar and me. Now to keep up on this year’s potentials and see how next year turns out.

(And be sure to read the next post – the Golden Reel results!)

My Thoughts on the 2010 Oscars – Thus far…

•February 23, 2010 • 5 Comments

*Update* At 5;00 pm CST on March 7th, I have changed some of my original picks. I was reviewing my ballot for our Oscar party, and I decided that some of my original picks were not quite right. So these are my official picks. Only 2 more hours till the Oscars! And one more day to vote on the Golden Reels! There’s some tight races so go vote for your favorites!

I’ve decided that this is the year I will see all 58 nominees. Best Picture, Documentary, Animated Short, Makeup, etc. They’re all on the list. And so far, so good. Of the 58 I’ve seen 35. It’s pretty clear, though, that my goal may not be acheived. The shorts are next to impossible to find and the odds are slim that there’ll be any special viewings of them in this dead zone known as Southern Illinois. But I must go forth. With most of the major categories under my belt, I felt it was time to share my picks (and my personal favorites).

Best Actor: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)

This year was full of good performances. Colin Firth and George Clooney were both fantastic in their roles in “A Single Man” and “Up in the Air” respectively. But this battle boils down to Bridges and Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker.” I think Renner gave the better overall performance but Bridges’ dominating screen time and pedigree give him the edge. That’s not to say that his performance isn’t worthy of the win because it certainly is. This is one win that Oscar might actually give out based on the performance and not the career.

Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

Seriously, this doesn’t even need to be discussed.

Best Actress: Sandra Bullock (The Blindside)

It hurts me to even type those words. Sandra Bullock will be an Oscar winner. It tastes like Ipecac. Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia) gave a very Meryl-esque performance and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) ripped my heart out and gently put it back in for her breakthrough role, but Carey Mulligan in “An Education” deserves the award. Bullock’s caricature of a Southern Belle with an attitude is a joke. This category should read the same as the above: “Seriously, this doesn’t even need to be discussed.” The fact that we have to is disheartening.

Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique (Precious)

This doesn’t need much discussing either. Maggie Gyllenhaal proved again in “Crazy Heart” that she can take any role and bring something to it. Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick (both for ‘Up in the Air’) both had solid turns but neither one stood out above the other. Penelope’s (Nine) nomination seems like a pat on the back from the Academy for a career well-done so far. That leaves Mo’Nique with her surprisingly strong performance as an abusive mother in “Precious.” It’s a movie that’s tough to watch and so is Mo’Nique’s character, but when you can bear to watch it you know you’re seeing a career changing performance.

Best Animated Feature: Up

The only nominee I didn’t enjoy was “Coraline.” What a steaming pile of cow crap that was. Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” still makes me smile when I think about it. “The Princess and the Frog” was cute (and how can you not like little Raymond?), and “Up” was what you’d expect from Pixar – great as usual. But the real surprise here is “The Secret of the Kells.” It’s original, inventive, and absolutley deserves the nomination and the added attention it’s receiving as a result. If you get a chance to see it, you will not be disappointed. I’m crossing my fingers that the Academy takes a chance and goes with the best movie in this category, but I know in my gut it’s going with the populus vote. Such is life.

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)

This is where it starts to get dicey. Bigelow deserves it. Plain and simple. But QT throws a wrench into it with his “I’m possibly the greatest director alive and here’s more proof” turn with “Inglourious Basterds.” And Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) and Lee Daniels (Precious) both had solid turns, but the real dark horse here is James Cameron with “Avatar.” He shouldn’t win but that doesn’t mean that he won’t. Cross your fingers on this one.

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker

Basically, see above. With 10 nominees in this category, the Academy is definitely hoping for more viewers. What better way to reward the mainstream with a win for the biggest blockbuster of the decade? Let’s hope that’s not the case. “The Hurt Locker” deserves it and I think it will win. My personal fave is still “Inglourious Basterds.”

Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air)

I’m surprised to see “District 9” in the list. I wasn’t impressed with it, but it’s nice to see a film like that get a nod. “An Education” was wonderful and “In the Loop” was one of the funniest movies I saw all year, but “UITA” is easily the best of the bunch. It’s a movie about our time and for our time. Oscar, give it some love.

Original Screenplay: QT (Inglourious Basterds)

The surprise here is “Up.” It deserved the nomination for the first 30 minutes alone, but the last 30 minutes negated that. I’ll be honest. I saw “A Serious Man” and I’m still not sure I know what it was about. But those Coens, they’ll do that to you. You’ll see it, be confused by it, think you don’t like it. Next thing you know, you’ve seen it 4 times and have embraced it. Maybe that’ll happen with this one. “The Messenger” and “The Hurt Locker” were performance driven movies with well-written scripts to back them, but QT comes flying in with a burst of machine gun fire and blows them all away. He never ceases to surprise me. Seriously, he doesn’t. Here’s a story to prove it.

And to round out the Oscars:

Art Direction: Avatar

Cinematography: Avatar

Costume Design: The Young Victoria

Best Documentary Feature: The Cove (although I think Food, Inc. was put together better)

Best Documentary Short: China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province (my default pick. It’s the only Doc Short that I was able to see)

Best Editing: Inglourious Basterds

Best Foreign Film: The White Ribbon

Best Makeup: Star Trek

Best Original Score: Avatar

Best Original Song: “The Weary Kind” – T Bone (Crazy Heart)

Best Animated Short: French Roast (I won’t be surprised at all, though, if A Matter of Loaf and Death wins)

Best Live Action Short: The Door (I haven’t heard anything about them so this is a complete guess)

Best Sound Editing: Avatar (I might kick myself later for changing from The Hurt Locker)

Best Sound Mixing: Avatar (I think I should have picked The Hurt Locker for both Sound categories. We’ll see, I guess)

Best Visual Effects: Avatar

I reserve the right to change these as I continue to see more. And don’t forget to vote on The Golden Reels! Polls open until March 7th!

The Golden Reels – The “Official” Ballot

•February 5, 2010 • Leave a Comment

 Check out the previous post for the “rules” and a quick explanation of The Golden Reels. Don’t forget, you can vote once a day so make sure to come back and help your favorites win! Also, be sure to hit vote at the end of each category to make sure the vote counts.

The Golden Reels – I won’t call them the “First Annual”

•February 5, 2010 • 1 Comment

You can actually buy this. Pretty cool actually. Check it out here:

Every year countless blogs and critics debate the annual Oscar nominees and winners. Who was snubbed? Who shouldn’t legally be within 500 yards of a nomination? You know, the usual questions. So instead of joining in the diatribe (Even if it is warranted. For crying out loud, where’s the love for “The Informant!”, Oscar?!) I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands. I’m creating my own response to the Academy Awards and have thus named them “The Golden Reels.” I pick the nominees and you get to pick the winners. It’s as simple as that. You have until midnight on March 7th to cast your votes. You can vote on each category once a day. On March 8th, the winners will be announced and we will proudly beat our chests and thumb our noses at Oscar (all while secretly wishing we could have been there). The only catch is that my nominees are coming strictly from the movies I have seen this year (truth be told it is a lot but I still missed a few. I’m only human.). Out of the 10 nominees from the Academy for Best Picture, I’ve only missed one – “An Education.” Some other notables I’ve missed out on or that simply haven’t been in theaters here yet include “Crazy Heart,” “Brothers,” “Two Lovers,” “The Messenger,” “The Lovely Bones,” and “The Last Station.” And there is no rhyme or reason to the number of nominees in each category. I’m not assigning an arbitrary number to any category. Can you narrow it down to 5 or bump it up to 10? If I think it’s worthy of a nomination, I put it in. Like I said, these are our awards and we’ll do what we want.

Ok, ok, so it isn’t a perfect system, but it’s mine and that’s all that counts. And I’m allowing write-in votes so if you see a category that you think deserves someone not on my list of nominations, pencil it in. Come back every day and pencil it in again. Who knows? Maybe it’ll win. Let’s see the other guy’s golden trophy go to a write-in.

Well, what are you waiting for? Get to voting!

*I discovered after posting this that the Motion Picture Sound Editors guild (or MPSE for short) has an annual awards ceremony called…wait for it….The Golden Reel Awards. My lowly blog awards were not named after them and in no way was an intentional “ripping off,” if you will, of their namesake. If you have any suggestions for a new name for my blog’s awards, I’d love to hear them!

Avatar – 5 stars (loved it)

•January 13, 2010 • 8 Comments

James Cameron’s “Avatar” is a movie of epic proportions. The budget has been reported as high as $300 million and it’s been years in the making. “Avatar” has arrived and it exceeds the hype. It is the blockbuster to end all blockbusters. I don’t think I’m overstepping or exaggerating when I say that it’s the biggest thing to hit movie theaters since “Star Wars” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic Marine, has been sent to Pandora, a distant planet with a mineral (or ore, I can never remember the difference) worth $20 million per kilogram known as Unobtanium (worst name for a Macguffin possibly ever). There is a United States corporation stationed on Pandora to mine the valuable mineral (or ore, someone help me out here) but there is one problem – the natives. The Na’vi  are the inhabitants of Pandora and are causing problems for the miners. Jake’s mission is to work with a team of scientists that have engineered a Na’vi-human hybrid known as Avatars. Jake will embody an Avatar and hopefully learn more about the Na’vi and coerce them into moving so that the corporation can reap the reward. And if he can’t convince them to move, well, that’s okay because the Marines stationed there would rather go “Apocalypse Now” on the natives anyway.

We have the usual cast of bad guys with the corporate crony, Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Risbi), and the war hawk, Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang). We could get political here and compare them to war hungry, environmentalist hating  conservatives that view terrorists and other foreigners as less than human and the planet as something to be conquered rather than respected, but we won’t go there in this review. Colonel Quaritch seems to eat Napalm for breakfast, and he likes it that he’ll have a Marine working for Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and her Avatar program. He gets to Jake early on and promises him a new set of legs if he helps him move the Na’vi out of their home. At first Jake thinks it sounds like a great idea.

He, Dr. Augustine, and Norm Spellman (Joel Moore) take a trip into the forest of Pandora to take some samples and instead encounter a creature that seems to be a combination of a dinosaur, a lion, and a certain unmentionable body part with teeth. After an intense chase scene with some great 3D effects (which we’ll get to more later), Jake finds himself lost in the forest and being rescued by a Na’vi named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Before long he’s whisked away into the world of the Na’vi and is accepted as one of their own (Yes, I skipped a lot of plot detail. Deal with it.).

This is a long movie (162 minutes to be exact) with a lot stuffed into it, but the material never seems to get away from Cameron. He takes his time establishing the Na’vi as a people with a real culture complete with their own language and rituals. And what a beautiful people they are, too, with their different shades of blues and greens and their unique animals and plants, most of which seem to glow in the dark. We know going in to the movie that Jake will most likely be accepted as one of the Na’vi and that he’ll learn to love them, but Cameron even handles this correctly making the process a fun one to watch as it unfolds – especially in 3D.

I’m not sure I’ve ever really seen a full-length film in 3D, but I’ve been to Disney World. I’ve seen the “Bug’s Life” production with different objects hurtling at your face making you wet yourself and cry a little inside because you’re so terrified at what might come next, but “Avatar” doesn’t use 3D as a gimmick. It doesn’t take anything away from the story happening in front of us, but rather, it enhances the story. It makes us feel like we’re on Pandora walking through the phosphorescent plants with Jake and Neytiri. Every once in a while you can see a little bug fly in front of one of the characters or some ferns that bounce back as someone walks through them. The effect is engaging and beautiful. “Avatar” has raised the bar in standards for special effects and the use of 3D. The work done is truly groundbreaking.

For all that the movie has going for it, there are flaws – mainly with the dialogue. I understand that this is a blockbuster and that Cameron wasn’t going for the Best Screenplay Oscar here, but the number of clichéd lines glides dangerously close to the outer limits. The Colonel actually says at one point, “You’re not in Kansas anymore.” The storyline isn’t the most original either. I’ve heard it compared to “Fern Gully” and “Pocahontas” and it’s an accurate comparison. Environmentalist rhetoric mixed with some New Age philosophy isn’t exactly new material  for Hollywood, but the message that Cameron is going for comes across clearly without ever seeming too heavy-handed.

James Cameron is clearly the Hollywood money-maker with hits like “The Terminator” and “Titanic” under his belt (and in his wallet) and he’s squashed all expectations with “Avatar.” The film has already made its money back and is set to break box office records. In a year with big-budget blockbusters like “Transformers 2” and “GI Joe,” “Avatar” could have simply become another footnote in this year’s releases, but with an extremely (and surprisingly) moving story and some of the most beautiful special effects (and in 3D at that!), it is now in contention for one of the best films of the year. This is the blockbuster of the decade.

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 162 minutes

Starring: Sam Worthington (Jake Sully); Zoe Saldana (Neytiri); Sigourney Weaver (Dr. Grace Augustine); Stephen Lang (Col. Miles Quaritch); Giovanni Risbi (Parker Selfridge); Joel Moore (Norm Spellman); Michelle Rodriguez (Trudy Chacon); CCH Pounder (Mo’at); Wes Studi (Eytukan); Laz Alonso (Tsu’Tey)

Directed by: James Cameron; written by Cameron; produced by Cameron and Jon Landau. A Twentieth Century Fox release.

A New Year and A New Top 10 – Top 10 of the 2000s

•January 2, 2010 • 8 Comments

Happy New Year and welcome to 2010! 2009 was a pretty eventful year for me. Mrs. ReeltoReel (Thanks to M. Carter for the new nickname 🙂 ) and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary, moved to Carbondale, started law school and new jobs respectively, and my posting on this blog was hit and miss. But with a new year comes new year resolutions and one of those resolutions is…oh, it’s not even worth typing. On to the top 10 of the 2000s! 

10. Children of Men (2006) 

Alfonso Cuaron’s chilling look at the future. Clive Owen gives his best performance as Theo, an apathetic man given the task of caring a great deal for the only pregnant woman alive. Julianne Moore and Michael Caine turn in solid performances, as well. Cuaron, along with Alejandro Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro, proved during the 2000s that Mexican cinema is alive and well. This is a film that I feel is underrated/underappreciated. A solid story, heart-pumping action, and some of the best tracking shots ever filmed help put this one at numero 10. 

 9. No Country for Old Men (2007) 

The Coen brothers did it again in 2007. With movies like Fargo and The Big Lebowski already in their pantheon of greatness, they didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. But they did it anyway because, well, they can. That’s how they roll. Based off of Cormac McCarthy’s (which, btw, you should read his stuff if you haven’t) novel the Coens delivered a pulse-stopping thriller with fantastic turns by Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Tommy Lee Jones (who had a great 2007 in general). If you haven’t seen it, grab a coin and give it a flip. Lands on heads, you watch it. Lands on tails…Trust me. You don’t want it to land on tails. 

 8. Juno (2007) 

No Country for Old Men and Juno were made in the same year and you couldn’t get 2 movies more different from each other – a psychopathic serial killer on the prowl in one and a 16 year old snarky hipster pregnant girl in the other. While they differed a great deal, they were 2 of the best films of 2007 (and now, looking back, the 2000s). Jason Reitman’s second feature film was a great one (and his newest is pretty darn good, too) with a smoking hot screenplay by Diablo Cody that sizzled with enough one-liners to make even Anton Chigurh crack a smile. Check out my full review here


7. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) 

Like his fellow Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro has emerged as a director to be reckoned with. With a flair for the fantastical, del Toro took a fairy tale about a little girl named Ofelia trying to survive in war-torn Spain and turned it on its head. It is terrifying, beautiful, gut-wrenching and mesmerizing. It makes Alice in Wonderland look like a birthday party at a McDonald’s Playland. 


6. Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Surprised to see this one on the list? You shouldn’t be because it’s a great film. Joe Wright directs Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in the best adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. Wright doesn’t simply present the story, he involves us in it with his curious camera (a la Scorcese and Paul Thomas Anderson). Check out the ballroom dancing sequence with a wonderful unbroken shot that takes us from one room to the next while still moving the story along. This movie exudes romance.


5. The Departed (2006)

Martin Scorcese has had an amazing career. Taxi Driver in the 70s, Raging Bull in the 80s, Goodfellas in the 90s, and now The Departed for the 2000s helps complete his “At Least One Great Movie Per Decade” quota. This is the movie now responsible for showcasing Boston as the “new” New York City, gritty, dark, violent, and one heck of a nice city to look at. The Departed plays like a crime thriller, but, as is usual with most Scorcese films, he transcends the story and delves into the human psyche. Leo Dicaprio and Jack Nicholson are wonderful counterparts, and the juxtaposition of Dicaprio’s boyish good looks with Nicholson’s tough guy persona help add to the suspense of the film. The fact that this was Scorcese’s first Best Director Oscar is a travesty, but at least it was for one of his best.

4. Once (2007)

Once is a low budget, pseudo-musical written and directed by a former indie band bass player starring the same indie band’s lead singer and a singer from the Czech Republic. This movie shouldn’t have been a success, but John Carney, the bass player turned writer/director, paints such an intimate portrait of the Guy and Girl that you can’t help but feel good afterwards. And Glen Hansard’s and Marketa Irglova’s Oscar winning soundtrack help carry the film to it’s surprising but perfect ending. The R rating is ridiculous. This isn’t a sex-fueled rom-com but a mature and lovely movie about two people meeting and falling in love in their own way.

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Don’t let the fact that Jim Carrey stars in this movie keep you from watching it. This isn’t his typical Ace Ventura character. He plays Joel Barish, a man reeling from his recent break-up with Clementine (Kate Winslet). He discovers there is a procedure that will erase any memories of Clementine and decides to go forward with it, but half-way through he realizes he’d rather hold onto the memories, good and bad, than forget about her. The catch is he can’t wake up to stop it. Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay is nothing short of genius and Michel Gondry handles the material with care and gives us one of the most original movies of the decade. It blew me away when I first saw it and it still blows me away with each viewing.

2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003)

You can argue that this is really three movies in one pick, but you can’t view one without the other two. This trilogy defines the term “epic.” Who knew that a movie about hobbits and orcs and elves and wizards could be so moving? Sure, LOTR doesn’t present us with any new or profound ideas, but the message of hope and friendship shines bright and clear even in the depths of Mordor. Peter Jackson proved himself as a true auteur with his handling of such a huge story with an equally large cast. You’re not a true fan of the series until you’ve watched all 3 in succession – the extended versions. Yes, that’s a challenge.

1. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2006)

A documentary about a man playing Donkey Kong shouldn’t be the best film of the decade let alone interesting, but it’s definitely both. Steve Wiebe is an average man that finds himself unemployed and with a Donkey Kong arcade machine in his garage. After playing it a few times he realizes that he is pretty good and might actually have a chance of breaking the high score held by Billy Mitchell, a video game champion from the 1980s that might not realize quite yet that it’s the 21st century. This isn’t really a documentary about video games but rather about a man up against a system and a society that seems to want him to fail. His wife comments that he “is good at a lot of things but isn’t great at any one thing.” She understands that this Donkey Kong crusade is about more than breaking a silly record. It’s about Wiebe’s redemption to himself as a man that has some sort of worth. I’ve seen the movie now at least half a dozen times and each time it hits me like a ton of bricks. It’s the most personal movie on my list and not everyone may like it or “get it.” But if you’ve ever dealt with anxiety or depression or simply dealt with a bully that you wanted to kick in the balls, this movie is for you.

Law School > This Blog

•December 8, 2009 • 1 Comment

There will be more posts in a week or two. I promise. My wife is in law school and we only own one computer. Since studying for finals and taking said finals require a computer, this blog has gotten pushed to the back burner (and rightly so). But once those finals are over on the 14th (or so), I’m taking back the computer and will post ASAP. For now it’s back to the ol’ pen and paper.

Stop watching *@#*&%^ “Lost”!

•November 29, 2009 • 6 Comments

Gary Vaynerchuk told me to stop watching @!&*$^% Lost!

Where have I been?! Holy crap. It’s been a long time. I have to admit that my lack of presence on here can be attributed to my recent obsession with “Lost.” I watched the first season a couple of years ago and sort of left it at that. Recently Netflix had 4 of the 5 seasons available to watch instantly. So naturally I seized the opportunity. I have finished all 5 seasons now (yes, the viewing of the 5th season wasn’t what you could call “legal”) and have returned to my regularly scheduled movie watching and blogging.

Some recent viewings include:

  • Away We Go
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
  • 12 Monkeys
  • Amelia
  • Men Who Stare At Goats
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Tell No One

I’m also working on my top 10 of the Decade list as well as the top 10 of 2009. Any suggestions?

Ahhhh, it’s good to be back. 🙂

Goodbye Solo – 5 stars (loved it)

•October 29, 2009 • 4 Comments

goodbye soloRamin Bahrani has the ability to do so much with so little. His budgets are small. His stories are intimate. His actors are unknown. Despite what lesser filmmakers see as obstacles, Bahrani is able to push past any sort of problems and continually make great films. The first movie I saw directed by him was “Chop Shop,” a small powerful film about a brother and sister attempting to overcome extreme poverty. His latest film, “Goodbye Solo,” is just as powerful.

Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) is a cab driver living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (Bahrani’s homeland). He is an immigrant from Africa that has dreams of becoming a flight attendant. No, this isn’t a comedy. Solo lives with his girlfriend, Quiera (Carmen Leyva), and her daughter, Alex (Diana Franco Galindo), who he has accepted as his own. He and his girlfriend are expecting but having a rough go at the relationship. Eventually she throws him out because of what she considers his foolish dream. During the course of his cab driving, he meets an elderly man named William (Red West).

William is one of his regular customers although he doesn’t like small talk and is a little abrasive to Solo. Solo tries his best to break down the wall that William has put up, and he is surprised one night when William offers him $1000 to drive him to Blowing Rock where it is said the wind blows straight up into the sky. The only catch is that William needs only a one-way ticket.

Solo is concerned that William wants to kill himself so he brings it upon himself to befriend him and convince him to do otherwise. After he is kicked out of his girlfriend’s home, Solo talks his way into staying with William in his hotel room. Eventually the wall begins to come down and they enter into a strange but genuine friendship.

The movie is full of heart. Bahrani doesn’t mind simply letting the camera linger on after a scene is over, and the effect is strangely powerful. It allows us to step back and observe what is happening without stopping to explain everything to us through unnecessary exposition. Solo never comes out and says he thinks William is going to kill himself, but we know that he does. By doing this Bahrani is allowing us to become intimate with his characters. We’re getting to know them instead of being told about them.

As the movie goes on we learn more and more about William and his motives for going to Blowing Rock, and we learn more and more about Solo, too. Solo is an intelligent, caring and persistent man with a smile that could penetrate Darkness itself, and William is quiet, thoughtful, and a deeper man than we realize at first. The two living and riding around together make for some funny and extremely touching scenes, but Bahrani keeps it from becoming parody or comedy with an African immigrant and an old crotchety man striking up a friendship a la “The Odd Couple.” And Alex continues to stay close to Solo after he moves out and eventually becomes close to William, too, viewing him as a grandfather figure.

None of the actors are known and many are appearing here in their first performances. They are all exactly right for their roles. The screenplay (by Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi) and direction by Bahrani are superb. He takes such a small story and breathes life into it. When the credits roll at the end we hope that the cameras continue to follow the characters. We care about them and want to see where their lives take them, and it’s all because of Bahrani.

If you think I’m drooling over Bahrani a little too much, it is obvious that you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing one of his films. He is the next great American director. “Goodbye Solo” is a great place to start if you’ve never seen one of his films. His lingering cameras and slow unraveling of his stories may take some getting used to at first, but stick with it. It’s worth it. “Goodbye Solo” is one of the best films of the year, and you don’t want to miss it.

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 91 minutes

Starring: Souleymane Sy Savane (Solo); Red West (William); Diana Franco Galindo (Alex); Carmen Leyva (Quiera)

Directed by: Ramin Bahrani; written by Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi; produced by Bahrani and Jason Orans. A Roadside Attractions release.