Posts Tagged ‘Winter’s Bone’
I really struggled over my top ten list this year. There were maybe six films that were pretty hard locks early on, which only left four open slots for the rest of a field of strong contenders — not a lot of wiggle room in a year with a good many solid films rightfully in contention for top ten lists.
For the most part, I think the films that made the final cut onto my top ten list will not come as a surprise if you know me and the types of films I tend to like more than others.
Some of the films that did not make the final cut for me, though, may surprise you, and I’d like to say a few words about that. First, there were several other films to which I gave thoughtful consideration (and if this had been a Top 20 list, they likely would have been on it); some of them are smaller films, and not all have distribution, so I’d like to recognize their excellence.
They are, in no particular order: For the Good of Others, Secret Sunshine, Father of My Children, The Vicious Kind, The Illusionist, and Shutter Island. I Saw the Devil, which was one of my favorite films at TIFF, would have made my top ten, but since it’s supposed to be released here in March, I’ll hold off and include it next year.
And it might come as a surprise, given the number of artsy films on my list, to learn that the two films that came closest to making my Top Ten list but just missed are Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.
And while I haven’t done a lot of Oscar prognosticating yet, I will say right now that The Illusionist is my pick for Best Animated Film over Toy Story 3, fond as I am of Woody, Buzz and the gang.
There are not any documentaries on my top ten, not because there were no good docs this year, but because I find it very hard to compare features to docs; there’s a reason fests and the various awards separate the categories. So I will have a Top 5 (maybe 10) Docs list in a day or so. Yes, yes, it’s a bit of a cop-out. Sorry. I’d rather put the spotlight on the docs separately, though.
The most notably absent of the major awards-contending feature films on my final list are The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, and The Social Network. Of these, The Fighter came the closest to making the cut, but in the end I found that the acting, for me, was stronger than the writing, and that it was problematic for the supporting characters in the film (particularly Dickie and Alice) to be more flawed and interesting on the surface (which is what the script and director chose to show us) than the main character.
Mark Wahlberg’s younger brother Mickey was the more psychologically complex character in his quieter way, but he wasn’t as showy as Christian Bale’s malnourished crack addict or Melissa Leo’s flamboyant stage mother; that’s a writing and directorial decision that made it hard to know who we were supposed to be rooting for — Mickey? Or Dickie? Or both? Or all of them? That said, there was a subtlety to Mark Wahlberg’s performance that I found very moving, and Amy Adams, reaching outside her comfort zone, is excellent.
I enjoyed The Kids Are All Right, for the most part, but again, for me it was a film driven more by the excellent performances by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore than by the direction or script. I applaud Lisa Cholodenko for her handling of the subject matter and for the originality of the idea, but the execution I found problematic. I already devoted an entire column to this subject, though, so I’ll leave it at that.
And then we have The Social Network by far the most popular kid in the Top Ten lunchroom this year. There’s some good acting in there, and it’s an entertaining enough film, although I still take issue with the way Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed — not so much with Jesse Eisenberg’s performance, which is solid, but with the way the character is scripted by Aaron Sorkin. There are some cleverly edited scenes in there (but if you put them side-be-side with similar scenes from Wall Street 2, are they really head-and-shoulders above?).
I suppose Social Network reflects the “cultural zeitgeist,” and critics love them some cultural zeitgeist about as much as they love seeing reflections of themselves in a movie. It’s certainly true that the last 15 years or so have been a remarkable bit of our societal growth to be a part of. I get that. And as a regular Facebook user, I admit it was kind of cool watching this film and seeing the birth of a website that’s become a regular tool I use in my own work and life to stay connected with friends, family and colleagues scattered far and wide.
But Social Network did not, for me, represent David Fincher’s best effort as a director, particularly when I compare it to the sheer balls of Darren Aronofsky in making the crazy, beautiful Black Swan as a follow-up to The Wrestler, or the brilliance of Chris Nolan in conceiving and bringing to life a starkly daring and creative bit of genius like Inception. It doesn’t match the artistry with which Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy attacked what could have been a Lifetime Movie of the Week in 127 Hours, spinning a a compelling, gorgeously shot film out of a story about a guy stuck alone in a crevice in the wilderness with his arm pinned by a rock. It cannot stand against the meticulous process with which Mike Leigh worked with his cast in crafting Another Year, or the poignant honesty and deep sadness of Rabbit Hole, or the rich, full exploration of what it means to live and to die in Biutiful. These films captured raw, honest, flawed and deeply human characters acting and reacting to each other in ways that make us feel like we have been gifted with a rare and insightful mirrors that reflect back to us our own humanity.
There are some solid performances in Social Network, yes . But even looking at the acting, there’s not a performance in The Social Network that has the depth and soul of Javier Bardem’s dying father in Biutiful, the sheer guts of Natalie Portman’s tragic perfectionist in Black Swan, the anguished loneliness of Lesley Manville in Another Year, the clarity and honesty of Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit. Or for that matter, the chemistry of Chloe Moretz and Nic Cage in Kick-Ass.
You, of course, are free to disagree with what made my list and what did not, and no doubt many of you have your own thoughts to share on why you disagree with my choices and reasoning. That’s the best thing, to me, about top tens — they provide an opportunity to hone down the year and then engage in energetic debate about our choices. My top docs list is coming soon, and after the holidays I’ll break it down further with my picks for who should win at the Oscars, all political BS aside.
All that said, here are my Top Ten Feature Films of 2010:
2. Another Year
3. Black Swan
4. 127 Hours
5. True Grit
6. Winter’s Bone
7. Rabbit Hole
9. Blue Valentine
Every year around this time, the award-season storylines begin to take shape. You see, like in politics, it’s not always the best candidate or film that gets awarded, it’s usually the one with the best publicity, the best “story.” When Best Picture actually goes to the best film, all it means is that the best particular film that year just so happened to have a great hype machine behind it. As a result of this, a lot of really deserving films and actors don’t get the recognition they deserve.
This is where critics and film writers are supposed to come in; they are supposed to be the ones who point out the films and performances that you haven’t seen, but should.
More and more, it seems like film writers on the beat are merely “covering” the awards and prognosticating rather than offering opinions. Just because the “buzz” is telling a writer that a certain film is a “lock” to get nominated, it doesn’t mean they should just parrot back that buzz. Most of the “buzz” comes from PR folks anyway, or people with a vested interest in what gets talked about as a front-runner. As a film lover first and foremost, I will never stop proselytizing when I believe I’ve seen something noteworthy.
So, I’d like to bring your focus to a few different films and performances that should be talked about more as contendersthis awards season.
Nicole Holofcener’s film is a wonderful little movie about what it means to be kind and caring. It follows the lives of two families in New York City: Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt are a husband and wife with a teenage daughter who live next door to a cantankerous 91-year-old woman. That old woman is cared for by her loving granddaughter, played by Rebecca Hall, who lives with her blunt and uncaring sister Amanda Peet.
There are a lot of little moments that I found especially touching, but especially the performances of Catherine Keener and Rebecca Hall. They are playing women who are good and decent, striving to be better people. What makes them so fascinating is that they aren’t portrayed as martyrs; they have flaws too, like real people.
I found it especially touching when Keener goes to a school for mentally disabled children, with the hopes of volunteering and helping, but is so overcome by sadness for these children that she breaks down crying; she cares too much, she feels too much, to help. Or, perhaps it’s knowing that no matter how much she tries to help these children, they will never get better.
Holofcener is a fantastic and underrated writer/director, who continues to get great performances from all of her actors and writes films that are filled with nuance and poignancy. So, of course, she’s never been nominated for her writing or directing. I wish I could say that it would change this year, but it probably won’t. But do yourself a favor and check out her latest movie.
John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone
Jennifer Lawrence is justifiably getting a lot of credit and award-buzz for her lead performance in Debra Granik’s gritty, dirty film. But Lawrence doesn’t even give the best performance in Winter’s Bone and it’s not to say that Lawrence isn’t fantastic – she is – but rather that John Hawkes is so utterly brilliant that he blows everybody else off the screen.
Hawkes has long been an actor I’ve admired, one that is consistently underrated, but as Teardrop in Winter’s Bone, he really cements himself in my mind as one of the finest character actors out there. From the second he shows up on screen, he’s got this quiet ferocity that is always bubbling beneath the surface. There is always doubt as to what his motivation is or whether or not he’s a “good guy.” But one thing is certain: he is terrifying.
One of the best scenes I’ve seen all year is when Teardrop and Ree are pulled over by the Sheriff. With just a few words and that scary, unmoving presence, Teardrop not only convinces the Sheriff that it would be best for him to get back in his car, but he convinces us that the Sheriff makes a good decision by walking away.
In a better world, Hawkes would be the front-runner for Best Supporting Actor right now; as it stands, I haven’t heard any “buzz” about him at all.
Rachel Weisz in Agora
Agora is one of my favorite films that I’ve seen this year and it came and went in a blink without anybody paying much attention. In an article I wrote earlier this year, I called it “The Great Atheist Film.” I stand by that.
It’s a film that stuck with me, a big-budget epic that decided to tackle the controversial topic of religious intolerance. Alejandro Amenabar deserves heaps of credit for not only attempting to dive into the topic, but successfully structuring an engaging story around it (not to mention the monumental task of getting it funded).
But the film doesn’t work at all if it doesn’t have the great Rachel Weisz as its lead character, the astronomer Hypatia. In my earlier column, I said about her performance: “Rachel Weisz is truly astounding in this film, as she often is. Hypatia is not an easy character to play; she must be idealistic yet intelligent, a dreamer but a realist. Weisz is such a wonderful presence, so charismatic and likable that although her character is not as fleshed-out as she could be, she is still imbued with a certain vigor and humanism.”
I’d also add that it’s a performance that is reliant on not just her words, but in the passion behind those words. Weisz has to deliver lines that might not necessarily roll off the tongue easily and she pulls them off. Weisz also does something that I love to see actors do: allow their characters to think. When Hypatia comes to a conclusion about something, Weisz lets us see the wheels turning in her head, her eyes darting back and forth.
Weisz has won an Academy Award for her exquisite turn in The Constant Gardener, but she should be getting buzz in the lead category for Agora. Alas, I don’t think anybody has seen it besides me.
Okay, there is no world that exists where a film like Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers would get an Academy Award. This is a truly bizarre film without any coherent narrative and is probably one of the most visceral films I’ve ever seen, a film whose goal seems to be to unnerve and annoy its audience. It might not have the same pretentious attitude of a lot of Godard’s later work, but it reminds me a bit of that man’s experimental spirit … albeit with a bit more of a sense of humor.
This was a film that I saw a few months ago and wanted to write about, but I just didn’t know how. As I was watching it, I wouldn’t exactly say that I enjoyed the experience. But in retrospect, I really love what it does. It’s a film that is just a series of weird scenes where four bandits in old-person make-up just kinda fuck shit up in Nashville. They trash houses, break electronics, and yes, hump trash. And if the whole film followed that pattern, I don’t know that I would think it was anything more than an interesting – failed – experiment.
But then something happens in the last reel of the film. It changes. We no longer focus on all four of the bandits, but two. These two bandits, Herve and Momma, are played by Harmony Korine himself and his wife Rachel. It’s unclear how, but the two of them splinter off and somehow have possession of a baby. They aren’t destroying things anymore and the film ends (spoiler alert, I guess) with Momma singing to the baby as she rocks it back and forth in a pram.
Now, maybe I was in a strange mood, but I found this extraordinarily touching and affecting. It was probably the most personal moment in any of Korine’s films, at least in my eyes, because it seemed to be so much about who he is as a filmmaker (and perhaps a person). He used to be the enfant terrible of indie cinema, happy to be the wacky artist who trashed everything (including his own body for a discard comedy called Fight Harm, look it up). But now he’s grown, he’s matured and he’s moved on from being that person. And despite the fact that Trash Humpers is about people giving fellatio to trees and looks like a found VHS tape, it might be the most mature and confident thing he’s directed.
It’s not a film that will win any awards, but for the patient viewer who understands what he’s signing up for, it might be a real find … or you’ll think I’m insane.
Summer of Our Discontent
Domestic box office for the summer season dropped 3% from 2009 on an estimated gross of $4.05 billion. On an even graver note admissions sank at least 10% and possibly as high as 12%. Following a fast start in early May, movie going appeared to lose steam mid-stream and though the final Labor Day holiday frame contributed a slight 5% weekend boost it was insufficient to close the gap.
Heading into the weekend, Paramount led in market share but were out-gunned at the final shoot out by Sony with the latter closing the season with a 16.5% slice of the big pie to the former’s 15.9%. The summer’s top grossing film was Toy Story 3 with a $408.8 million tally. Five of the top 10 top seasonal grossers were in the 3D format and two others — Inception and Iron Man 2 — had a significant number of large format engagements. The surge of premium price movies proved to be a ferocious audience magnet. Collectively the seven films contributed $1.82 billion to the box office, or 45% of all summer ticket sales.
Despite the potency of such conventionally formatted films as The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and unexpected results for the likes of Grown Ups and The Expendables, box office events are increasingly tilted toward pictures with higher entry fees. And whereas the historic trend of successful films increasing attendance, the present situation appears to have limited the general publics frequency at the multiplex in what may be a factor of the slowly recovering American economy. Gloom and doom aside, major gains were made in the independent sector.
The likes of Summit and Lions Gate chose to compete against the majors for a change and the former was a hair’s breath away from nudging Fox out of the top six. Niche titles ranging from the first two portions of the Millennium trilogy, festival favorites such as Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right and critical favorite I Am Love were a significant factor in summer sales. In all 13 films of this type grossed in excess of $4 million each — a seasonal record that indicates a growing audience for alternative fare.
Though the industry has long contended that there is an insufficient market for mid-range pictures, the absence of a breakout title on the order of The Hangover may have finally sealed that verdict. Summer 2010 certainly underlines that the multiplex comes in just two sizes — big and small.
Weekend (estimates) September 3 – 6, 2010
|Title||Distributor||Gross (average)||% change *||Theaters||Cume|
|The American||Focus||16.5 (6,060)||New||2721||19.6|
|The Last Exorcism||Lions Gate||8.7 (3,030)||-64%||2874||33.5|
|Going the Distance||WB||8.6 (2,840)||New||3030||8.6|
|The Expendables||Lions Gate||8.3 (2.440)||-46%||3398||93.9|
|The Other Guys||Sony||6.6 (2,520)||-16%||2607||108|
|Eat Drink Pray||Sony||6.1 (2,300)||-29%||2663||70.2|
|Nanny McPhee Returns||Uni||4.6 (1,690)||-24%||2708||23.4|
|Despicable Me||Uni||3.8 (2,400)||-2%||1600||241.3|
|The Switch||BV||3.8 (2.030)||-32%||1885||22.2|
|Vampires Suck||Fox||3.7 (1,520)||-43%||2434||33|
|Toy Story 3||BV||2.6 (1,730)||89%||1520||408.8|
|Piranha 3D||Weinstein Co.||2.9 (1,640)||-46%||1789||23|
|Avatar (reissue)||Fox||2.8 (3,480)||-43%||811||758.1|
|Lottery Ticket||WB||2.6 (1,990)||-41%||1310||21|
|Scott Pilgrim vs. the World||Uni||1.9 (2,390)||-38%||807||29.2|
|Get Low||Sony Classics||1.5 (2,910)||-26%||526||5.7|
|Dinner for Schmucks||Par||1.2 (1,540)||-45%||804||71.1|
|Step Up 3D||BV||.89 (2,050)||-44%||434||41.2|
|Grown Ups||Sony||.65 (1,950)||88%||333||160.1|
|Cats & Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore||WB||.64 (1,410)||-30%||455||42.2|
|The Sorcerer’s Apprentice||BV||.57 (1,600)||63%||357||61.7|
|Twilight: Eclipse||Summit||.54 (1,360)||-18%||396||298.8|
|The Kids Are All Right||Focus||.51 (2,130)||-22%||239||19.9|
* percentage changes are 3-day to 3-day
|Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films)||$125.10|
|% Change (Last Year)||5%|
|% Change (Last Week)||-11%|
|We Are Family||UTV||.32 (4,730)||67||0.32|
|Cairo Time||IFC||.22 (3,960)||-11%||55||0.9|
|Mesrine: Killer Instinct||Alliance/Music Box||.16 (3,110)||-38%||52||0.88|
|Mesrine: Public Enemy no. 1||Alliance/Music Box||.15 (3,020)||143%||51||0.23|
|A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop||Sony Classics||33,800 (6,760)||5||0.03|
|My Dog Tulip||New Yorker||14,100 (14,100)||1||0.01|
|Prince of Broadway||Elephant||12,300 (12,300)||1||0.01|
|White Wedding||Mitropoulos||6,700 (1,670)||4||0.01|
|The Winning Season||Roadside At.||6,100 (2,030)||3||0.01|
|16 to Life||Water Dog||3,500 (1,750)||2||0.01|
Domestic Summer Market Share (May 7 – September 6, 2010)
|Rank||Distributor||Gross||Mkt Share||% Change||Rank|
|% Change 2010 (Other Distributors)|