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Mini Movie Reviews: Biopic Edition

Like last year, many of this year’s batch of award-baiting movies are based on real people or stories. I’m not a big fan of this genre because unless you know very little about the subjects, it’s hard to be surprised by what’s on screen. Plus, many biopics come across like a checklist: in this year, this event occurred, and then in another year, this other thing happened, etc.

That’s not to say the results are always boring, hence my varying thoughts on the biopics I saw recently.


Samuel Goldwyn Films

Samuel Goldwyn Films


Bryan Cranston stars as Dalton Trumbo, the novelist and screenwriter who was blacklisted and imprisoned for refusing to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, but nevertheless managed to win two Oscars—for Roman Holiday and The Brave One—under an assumed name.

This is standard biopic fare, with nothing to qualify it as exceptional. Cranston is solid, Helen Mirren doesn’t do anything as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper we haven’t seen from her, and the ever luminous Diane Lane is wasted as Trumbo’s patient wife, Cleo.

Memorable performances come from Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson, torn by loyalty to his friend Trumbo and his need to preserve his career, and Dean O’Gorman, whose resemblance to the young Kirk Douglas is so startling, I thought Mr. Douglas had Benjamin Buttoned to be in this movie.

Reasons for seeing it: To be reminded of how mass hysteria and government-dictated imprisonment of US citizens for their political views is a very bad idea.


Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Steve Jobs

Based on Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography of the Apple cofounder, boosted by Aaron Sorkin’s script and Michael Fassbender’s mesmerizing performance in the title role, Steve Jobs is a surprisingly riveting portrait of the complicated man behind the popular computers and mobile devices.

As with all Sorkin-written movies, this is very talky, but the dialogue is sharp, often cutting straight to blunt truths, and nimbly delivered by the cast. When Jobs is asked why he never approached his biological father despite knowing the man’s identity, he replies, “Because he’d probably find some reason to sue me.”

Fassbender is a sure best-actor contender for simultaneously displaying the brilliance and vulnerability, arrogance and fear, triumphs and frustrations, confidence and regret that shaped the mercurial Jobs. Even when Jobs is being a jerk, I oddly found myself rooting for him because he’s simply more dynamic than anyone else on screen.

Kate Winslet supports Fassbender well as Apple’s marketing executive Joanna Hoffman, the only person who seemingly had the balls to stand up to Jobs. Michael Stuhlbarg shows up here, too, once again doing subtly effective work as another real-life person—original Apple team member Andy Herztfeld—struggling with conflicting loyalties.

Reasons for seeing it: Fassbender’s commanding performance, strong writing from Sorkin, learning about the development of iconic Apple products.


Focus Features

Focus Features

The Danish Girl

Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander can count on Oscar nominations for their work as married artists Einar and Gerda Wegener. With Gerda’s support, Eina became the first person to undergo gender-reassignment operations, transitioning into Lili Elbe.

I don’t think Redmayne will win again this year, though. Like he did as Stephen Hawking in last year’s The Theory of Everything, the actor fully immerses himself in the dual role of Einar/Lili, but he’s less effective here. Whereas with Hawking, the actor manages to show the man’s internal life while remaining mostly immobile, Redmayne’s Lili employs a lot of feminine mannerisms and hand gestures that make his performance seem more about the external than internal. Vikander, on the other hand, is raw and hearttbreaking as a woman who can’t stop loving her husband, even after Einar kills him off so Lili can live.

Reasons for seeing it: Vikander’s star-making performance, to better understand the internal and external struggles of a transgendered person.



I’ve seen so many movies lately and am so behind on reviews that I realized the only way to get them done is to write mini ones. Today’s batch:

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol (Dec. 16)

I didn’t like the last one and wasn’t over the moon about the first two, so it was a pleasant surprise to find myself having a lot of fun watching #4. Director Brad Bird (The Incredibles), in his live-action debut, has revived the franchise and made it exciting. This time, the mission is to prevent nuclear war, but it’s really just an excuse for some nail-biting action. Standout scenes include a chase—on foot and on wheels—in a sandstorm with no visibility, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) climbing the tallest building in the world in Dubai, and a fight inside a parking garage where Hunt does something insane with a BMW. The supporting actors—Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg—are not your cookie-cutter action stars. They bring a little humanity to their characters, with Pegg providing the humor. But this is Cruise’s movie, and he shows he’s still vital. There’s been talk of him passing the torch to Renner, but after this, I think Cruise should keep leading the IMF team, at least for a couple more missions. Nerd verdict: Accept this Mission.

Carnage (Dec. 16)

The entire movie, based on Yasmina Reza’s play God of Carnage, takes place in one afternoon in one location—the apartment of a couple whose young son has been hit by a classmate. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play Penelope and Michael, the parents of the “victim,” and Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet are Alan and Nancy, whose son is the aggressor. The four start out politely trying to negotiate how they should deal with the incident, but the gathering slowly devolves into a nasty session of finger pointing, name calling, and literal projectile vomiting. Roman Polanski gets solid performances out of all four actors, but the problem is none of the characters is very likable. Watching it is like being at a really uncomfortable tea party. Alan can’t stop yapping on his cell phone, Michael turns out to be a boor, Penny is uptight, and Nancy is high-strung. When they start yelling insults at each other, I just wanted to leave the room. Nerd verdict: Carnage is emotional road kill.

Young Adult (Dec. 9)

Charlize Theron stars as Mavis, a YA writer whose maturity level seems stuck in adolescence. After she gets a baby announcement from her high school boyfriend, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), she returns to her hometown in Minnesota determined to win him back. Who cares if he’s married to a sweet woman (Elizabeth Reaser) and just became a father? Mavis is gorgeous and they once had a connection so she’s certain he should be with her. Theron, directed by Jason Reitman, goes balls to the wall with the emotionally screwed-up Mavis (who might also be alcoholic), and her refusal to ask for the audience’s sympathy is impressive. I’ve always thought Theron a gutsy actress and this might be her gutsiest performance, playing an ugly character without the help of prosthetics like in Monster. But Mavis is inaccessible, partly because she has no character arc. She learns nothing from her experiences so what is the point of our taking this journey with her? So we can laugh at or feel sorry for her? That’s the last thing she would want. Nerd verdict: Adult more cringeworthy than puberty.


My Oscar Predictions!

jackman_tuxThe Oscars are finally here! I’m looking forward to seeing Hugh Jackman in a tux and hopefully shaking his money maker a little. There’s a rumor that Anne Hathaway will be doing the opening musical number with him (click here to see him rehearsing, sans Anne). Hathaway can definitely sing (have you seen Ella Enchanted or her hosting stint on SNL?) and we have plenty evidence of Jackman’s musical prowess so it should be entertaining if it does happen.

Now, I know everyone and his best friend’s second cousin’s lip waxer have already done predictions so I wasn’t gonna do any more than the ones I already made back in December and January. But then I thought, Why not? Maybe I can help someone win fifty bucks in an Oscar pool to put towards next week’s groceries. I’ve seen all the nominated movies, except for the shorts and foreign films (you’re on your own there!) so I’m not making wild guesses based on hype. These are my (hopefully) informed opinions based on the actual quality of the films. I know—the Oscars are sometimes more about PR but I can hope, right?

Here goes:

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Actor: Sean Penn — Milk

Best Actor: Kate Winslet — The Reader

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger — The Dark Knight

Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz — Vicky Christina Barcelona

Best Director: Danny Boyle — Slumdog Millionaire

Best Animated Feature: WALL*E

Best Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black — Milk

Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy — Slumdog Millionaire

Best Art Direction: Donald Graham Burt (Art Direction); Victor J. Zolfo (Set Decoration) — The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle — Slumdog Millionaire 

Best Costume Design: Michael O’ Connor — The Duchess (no contest—Keira’s dresses were eye-popping)

Best Editing: Chris Dickens — Slumdog Millionaire

Best Makeup: Greg Cannom — The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Score: A.R. Rahman — Slumdog Millionaire

Best Song: “Jai Ho” — Slumdog Millionaire

Best Sound Editing: Glenn Freemantle and Tom Sayers — Slumdog Millionaire

Best Sound Mixing: Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty — Slumdog Millionaire

Best Visual Effects: Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron — The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Foreign Film: Waltz with Bashir 

Best Documentary Feature: Man on Wire

Do you agree with my choices? Who are you rooting for? Post a comment then check back Monday for scoopy stuff from inside the Oscars from my sources who will be there!


Top 10 Performances Robbed of Oscars

Oscar Sunday is coming up this weekend and, though I’m really looking forward to it, I have a feeling at least one of my faves won’t win. I think my predictions are pretty solid but there’s always an upset. Last year, I thought Amy Ryan’s fierce performance in Gone Baby Gone was the obvious choice for best supporting actress but no, Tilda Swinton inexplicably won for her one-note work in Michael Clayton (I like Swinton but didn’t think she deserved to win for this).

Of course, it wasn’t the first time that’s happened. Over the years, many actors have been robbed of Oscars. I’ve narrowed this very subjective list down to the ten most egregious snubs (besides Ryan’s) in the last twenty-five years, starting with the most recent.

  1. jackie-earle-haleyJackie Earle Haley for Little Children. Seriously, did voters watch this performance? He was both creepy and impossibly sympathetic as the pedophile who loved his mama, but Alan Arkin won for his performance as a grandfather who taught his granddaughter how to dance. Whatev. Haley is bouncing back as Rorschach in the sure-to-be-blockbuster Watchmen so I guess the Academy can suck it.
  2. denchjudi_notesJudi Dench for Notes on a Scandal. Oh my gosh, she creeped me out in this. Like Haley, Dench pulled off a character that’s both disturbing and sympathetic. Her schoolmarm with repressed desires for Cate Blanchett’s character was incredibly manipulative but Dench also made her desperate loneliness palpable. I adore Helen Mirren and thought she was good as The Queen but her performance wasn’t as complex as Dench’s.
  3. pm_ledger_wideweb__470x3210Heath Ledger for Brokeback Mountain. I recently read an article in Entertainment Weekly that claimed Ledger was relieved he didn’t win. So maybe he didn’t care but he made me care. His performance as Ennis Del Mar was simply devastating. Philip Seymour Hoffman always turns in good work but Capote felt like a very good impression whereas Ledger created an indelible character from just words on a page.
  4. eternal2Kate Winslet for Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. This isn’t taking away from Hilary Swank’s gutsy performance in Million Dollar Baby, which deserved to win. I just wish there could have been a tie that year (hey, it happened when Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn tied for 1968’s Best Actress). Winslet’s Clementine was a freewheeling, damaged soul but the actress also showed us her pluck and heart and never allowed us to feel sorry for her. Clementine might have been trying to clear her head of memories but, years later, I still can’t erase Winslet’s performance from my mind.
  5. j-mooreJulianne Moore for The Hours. Yeah, yeah, Catherine Zeta-Jones sang and danced very well in Chicago and looked great doing it. But this is an acting award and her acting was nowhere near as affecting as Moore’s as the depressed 1950s housewife Laura Brown. Moore’s dutiful smile hid her inner anguish from everyone but the viewer. Watching her, I just wanted to reach through the screen, take the poor woman away on a tropical vacation and give her some happy pills.
  6. Russell Crowe for A Beautiful Mind. This movie won Best Picture, Best Director, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actress. Well, it wouldn’t have won any of those categories if it hadn’t been for Crowe, who carried this movie. Crowe’s performance as John Nash elevated the work of everyone around him so it’s rude the Academy gave them Oscars but sent Crowe home empty-handed (at least for this movie).
  7. tn2_sixth_sense_2Haley Joel Osment for The Sixth Sense. C’mon, that little kid was so memorable, you can probably still quote some of his lines. His performance was subtle and poignant, which is doubly impressive considering his age at the time (what life experience did he tap into?!). But noooo, Michael Caine won for The Cider House Rules. Do you even remember what that movie was about or why Caine won? Exactly.
  8. Leonardo DiCaprio for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? I’ve done a lot of volunteer work with mentally handicapped people and can tell when an actor’s portrayal of a challenged person is realistic or just wrong. When I saw this movie, I thought DiCaprio was really handicapped, not an actor doing a great job. He didn’t employ some broad, cliche mannerisms; he went inside Arnie Grape’s head and skin. Though his work was a true transformation, the Academy gave the Best Supporting Actor Oscar to Tommy Lee Jones for barking out orders in The Fugitive.
  9. pfeiffer-baker-boysMichelle Pfeiffer for The Fabulous Baker Boys. Oh, I’m not hatin’ on the late, great Jessica Tandy, who took home the Best Actress award that year. But that was more a lifetime achievement award because surely Pfeiffer’s performance as Susie Diamond was more spectacular than Tandy’s Miss Daisy. Pfeiffer’s Susie was a gorgeous, tough chick whose looks didn’t take her as far in life as she’d hoped, a diamond whose sparkle was becoming duller by the day. And who can forget her writhing on the piano in that red dress, purring her way through “Making Whoopee”? All I remember about Miss Daisy is she was a cranky old woman.
  10. h-hunterHolly Hunter for Broadcast News. As neurotic news producer Jane Craig, Hunter ran the gamut of being in charge to completely falling apart, sometimes within seconds. Jane was flawed, funny, frustrating—a full-bodied character. But Cher won that year for Moonstruck as a consolation prize for Silkwood.

So, do you think the Academy mostly gets it right or does it seem like they sometimes vote while high on crack? Which performances do you think were wrongly denied an Oscar? Comment away!

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81st Oscar Nominations are Here! My Predictions and Reactions

I can’t believe I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to hear them announced live. I haven’t seen this side of morning since…never. Here are nominees in some of the major categories (winners will be announced Feb. 22):

Best Picture

Best Actor

  • Richard Jenkins—The Visitor
  • Frank Langella—Frost/Nixon
  • Sean Penn—Milk
  • Brad Pitt—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Mickey Rourke—The Wrestler

Best Actress

Best Supporting Actor

  • Josh Brolin—Milk
  • Robert Downey Jr.—Tropic Thunder
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman—Doubt
  • Heath Ledger—The Dark Knight
  • Michael Shannon—Revolutionary Road

Best Supporting Actress

  • Amy Adams—Doubt
  • Penelope Cruz—Vicky Christina Barcelona
  • Viola Davis—Doubt
  • Taraji P. Henson—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Marisa Tomei—The Wrestler

Best Director

  • David Fincher—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Ron Howard—Frost/Nixon
  • Gus Van Sant—Milk
  • Stephen Daldry—The Reader
  • Danny Boyle—Slumdog Millionaire

You can see the complete list of nominees here.

Didn’t expect Kate Winslet to be nominated for Best Actress for The Reader, though it only reinforces my belief she’ll win this category.

Revolutionary RoadOverall, I agreed with most of the nominations. LOVED that Michael Shannon got a nod for Revolutionary Road. He was exceptional. The Supporting Actor category is ridiculously jampacked with really strong contenders. Last December, I picked Josh Brolin and I’m holding on to that for now, but Shannon just made this category impossible to handicap, Heath Ledger aside.

2008_tropic_thunder_034I also loved Robert Downey Jr.’s performance so I refuse to consider it a “surprise” nomination (the live audience at the announcements ceremony gasped loudly then chuckled). There’s precedence for a great comedic performance to be nominated in this category: Kevin Kline for A Fish Called Wanda and he won. RDJ’s feat as “the dude who played the dude who played a black man” in Tropic Thunder was astounding. He completely transformed himself into two different characters—even in the brief moments when he wasn’t “black” in the movie, he was a platinum blond, blue-eyed Australian guy and there wasn’t a hint of RDJ in either guise.

Loved that In Bruges got a Best Original Screenplay nomination for Martin McDonagh. I’ll stop shoving that movie down your throats now.


Loved that WALL•E was nominated for Best Animated Picture though it could well contend for Best Picture, period. Then again, it’s sure to win in the animated category. It also received a Best Original Screenplay nod for Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon and Pete Docter and I wouldn’t count them out but I think Dustin Lance Black will take it for Milk.

Other categories I’m calling (I already predicted acting winners last month): Best Director—Danny Boyle, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture—Slumdog Millionaire. I also think the film’s A.R. Rahman will take Best Score and one of the Best Songs, and Anthony Dod Mantle will win for Slumdog‘s cinematography. When Mantle talked about shooting in Mumbai among the crush of people, running after children, trying to keep everyone from looking at the cameras, I’m amazed he managed to pull it off.

E!’s movie critic Ben Lyons, who annoys me because he can’t even get titles right (at the Globes, he said “Welcome to the Golden Globe” at one point and then called Meryl Streep’s next movie Julia & Julie when it’s actually Julie & Julia), said right before the announcements that he thought Clint Eastwood would get a Best Actor nom for Gran Torino. I was vigorously shaking my head because I couldn’t disagree more. Eastwood squinted and growled like a junkyard dog throughout the movie and I thought it was ridiculous. I kept thinking, “I get it, you’re a tough guy, stop with the overly indicating.” I’m glad Richard Jenkins got nominated instead for his funny, sweet performance but was disappointed to see Michael Sheen omitted from this category for Frost/Nixon. He was just as good as Langella.

What did you think of the noms? Any mentions really excited you? Any egregious omissions? Leave me a comment. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts but right now, it’s roughly 6:30 and I’m amazed my brain is even functioning at all.


Your Obsessions This Week–Open Discussion

I’m trying something new today. I’ve written about what captured my attention these last few days so I was wondering: What bits of entertainment did you enjoy this week? Did you see/hear/read anything awesome/dreadful you want to rant/rave about? Tell me what you’ve been obsessing about and why.

Here are some topics to maybe spark some thoughts: Kelly Clarkson’s new single “My Life Would Suck Without You” (listen to it in the video below), news coverage of that amazing US Airways plane landing, Watchmen lawsuit settled, Joaquin Phoenix releasing a rap album produced by P.Diddy, The L Word getting a spin-off in prison, Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser teaming up for a movie with no swashbuckling whatsoever, Grisson’s CSI goodbye, Kate Winslet winning two Golden Globes, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, your early American Idol faves, the inauguration—where/how will you be watching it?

C’mon, the floor is yours, tell me what captivated you, share a guilty obsession and maybe find out you’re not alone. Don’t be shy—promise I won’t judge!*

*Unless you’re addicted to porn or The Hills



They Said What?! Stars’ Quotes Not Televised During 2009 Golden Globes Ceremony

These tidbits were heard during press, on the red carpet and at after-parties.

  • “Beer, but I think someone put a little bit of crack in it.” — Ricky Gervais explaining what was in the glass he was drinking from on stage while presenting the Happy-Go-Lucky clip.
  • “I had my first sober blackout, can’t remember a thing.” — Colin Farrell describing what it was like to win the best comedic movie actor award.
  • “I want to learn how to read.” — John Krasinski discussing his new year’s resolution.
  • “I want Salma Hayek’s boobs.” — Megan Fox talking about her insecurities and poor body image.
  • “Don’t worry, I won’t have to stand up again.” — Kate Winslet to someone who spilled a bottle of water all over her dress after she won her first Globe of the evening.
  • “Kate Winslet is my girl crush.” — Angela Kinsey talking about the Globes’ new poster girl.
  • “I’d call Jack Nicholson.” — Slumdog Millionaire‘s Freida Pinto saying who she’d call if she could use the Call a Friend lifeline as a Who Wants to be a Millionaire? contestant.
  • “He was kind of a pain in the ass so that’s why he was so fun to play.” — Paul Giamatti describing John Adams.
  • “I decided to be rude, push him around, and it worked…He respected that.” — Evan Rachel Wood explaining how she dealt with Mickey Rourke on the set of The Wrestler so she wouldn’t be intimidated by him.
  • “I haven’t seen the movie.” — Rourke saying he never watches anything he’s in until 4-5 years later because he’s too critical of his performances.drew-mickey

2009 Golden Globes Winners

Let’s get the official winners out of the way and then I’ll give out my own awards for the best and worst of the evening (click here for my reactions). My Globes mole took this photo.


BEST DRAMA: Slumdog Millionaire (click here for a discussion with the filmmakers)

BEST COMEDY: Vicky Christina Barcelona

BEST DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire

BEST ACTOR – DRAMA: Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler

BEST ACTRESS – DRAMA: Kate Winslet – Revolutionary Road

BEST ACTOR – COMEDY: Colin Farrell – In Bruges

BEST ACTRESS – COMEDY: Sally Hawkins – Happy-Go-Lucky

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Kate Winslet – The Reader

BEST SCREENPLAY: Simon Beaufoy – Slumdog Millionaire

BEST SCORE: A.R. Rahman – Slumdog Millionaire

BEST SONG: “The Wrestler” – The Wrestler (written & performed by Bruce Springsteen)


BEST FOREIGN FILM: Waltz with Bashir – Israel





BEST ACTOR – DRAMA: Gabriel Byrne – In Treatment

BEST ACTRESS – DRAMA: Anna Paquin – True Blood

BEST ACTOR – COMEDY: Alec Baldwin – 30 Rock

BEST ACTRESS – COMEDY: Tina Fey – 30 Rock

BEST ACTOR – TV MOVIE OR MINI-SERIES: Paul Giamatti – John Adams




What did you think of the winners? Who do you think deserved it and who just happened to coast by on popularity and/or past achievements? Leave me a comment!


My Oscar Picks

Though nominations haven’t even been announced, I think the following actors are going to win Oscars come February 22, 2009. This is not based on counting how many nominations/wins they’ve racked up from other organizations; I’m going strictly by my opinions of their performances and feel confident about my choices. If you’re participating in an Oscar pool, feel free to steal my predictions. When you win, just send me 10% of your winnings!

Best Actor: Sean Penn for Milk. This is Penn as we’ve rarely seen him—smiling, vulnerable, in love, inspiring—instead of angry, grim or high. He brings Harvey Milk vividly to life and makes us feel the loss of the real man all over again.

2008_revolutionary_road_0131Best Actress: Kate Winslet for Revolutionary Road. I’ve liked some of her other performances better—Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Sarah in Little Children—but this year has been light on female contenders so I think Winslet will finally get her little golden man for this harrowing performance.

2008_milk_010Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin for Milk. The film’s cast is very, very strong but, besides Penn’s, Brolin’s performance as Dan White is the one that stayed with me long after I saw the movie. It’s a beautifully nuanced portrayal of a man in conflict with himself and the changing world around him.

2008_vicky_christina_barcelona_001Best Supporting Actress – Penelope Cruz for Vicky Christina Barcelona. She is on fire in this film. She’s passionate, electric, crazy, and just uninhibited. When she’s on screen, you can’t watch anyone else. Considering the other actors include Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson, that’s saying a lot.

I’m not going to pick Best Picture because I’m not passionate about any of the contenders. There are some good films but none made me say, “Wow, I LOVE that movie!” I remember back in 1981, my favorite movie was Raiders of the Lost Ark but Chariots of Fire won. Chariots was respectable, but it didn’t blow my mind like Raiders did. In 1995, I admired the production values and talent involved with Braveheart, but I was rooting for Babe on Oscar night.

2008_in_bruges_011At least Raiders and Babe were nominated for Best Picture. My favorite film this year, with probably no chances for any Oscar nominations (though I was thrilled it received 3 major Golden Globes noms), is In Bruges, a film starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes that I saw back in January and has long been out on DVD. This movie is well-acted, brilliantly written, suspenseful, hilarious, twisted and most important (to me), it was damn entertaining.

What are your favorite films this year that you think have about as much chance of being nominated as Oprah has of being poor? Leave me a comment below.

Here’s hoping you’ve enjoyed yourselves at the movies this year and will have many good reasons to go to the theater next year.

COMING SOON: An evening with the director (Edward Zwick) and cast of Defiance (Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Alexa Davalos), and the stars of Revolutionary Road (oh, you know who they are).


Review of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD with DiCaprio and Winslet

Remember those scenes in Airplane! when Robert Hays’s character tries to tell fellow passengers his life story but it’s so intolerable, one lady hangs herself while another man commits seppuku? When the lights went up in the theater after the screening of Revolutionary Road I attended, I half expected to see people hanging from the rafters or setting themselves on fire. This is easily the most depressing movie of the year and I’ve seen Defiance.

But let me be clear: Road is very good; it’s well-acted, -written, -directed, -photographed, -costumed, -scored, etc. It’s definitely smart, adult fare. But its themes are so disturbing, the film is more terrifying than anything featuring people with saws or wearing hockey masks.

The obvious draw will be the reunion of Titanic lovebirds Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, playing another period couple—this time in the 1950s—but engaged in a very different kind of relationship. Frank Wheeler (DiCaprio) meets April (Winslet) at a party when they’re both young and certain they’d set the world on fire. She’s studying to be an actress while he’s just back from the service, still figuring out his future. Fast forward to two kids and seven years later, her acting career has fizzled and he’s stuck in a soul-sucking cubicle job which he describes by saying, “There’s nothing interesting about it at all.” Desperate to infuse some passion and excitement back into their lives, April sells Frank on the idea of ditching everything and moving to Paris with their children. But complications ensue and the dream ends up far from a happy ending.

2008_revolutionary_road_008DiCaprio and Winslet do wrenching work, taking Frank and April from a hopeful existence to a “hopeless emptiness.” The acting isn’t always natural, sometimes overly demonstrative and other times very fifties-style Stepford-ish. But the two stars manage to cut open Frank and April’s inner selves as if performing metaphorical open-heart surgery on each other and the result is just as bloody and raw.

The supporting cast is first-rate, especially Michael Shannon as John Givings, the supposedly insane son of Kathy Bates’s realtor character. Shannon gives an electrifying performance as an outsider who comes into the placid neighborhood on Revolutionary Road (ironically named because there’s no revolution happening in any of these people’s lives) and rips right through the Wheelers’ facade of domestic perfection. But while the performance is a standout, the employment of his character is a bit cliche and too convenient—having the crazy guy be the only person who speaks the truth no one else will.

2008_revolutionary_road_011Besides the name of the road, other monikers also seem to mock what they represent. Wheelers are supposed to denote people on the move but this couple is paralyzed by inertia. Frank is not so much—he has moments of eruption but most of the time he puts on a smile and keeps his innermost thoughts to himself. And April, a word which usually symbolizes spring and a time of renewal, can’t seem to escape a lonely, unending winter.

The devastating thing about this movie, based on Richard Yates’s novel of the same name (which I haven’t read), is that it posits Frank and April’s situation could happen to anyone. (Heck, it could’ve happened to Jack and Rose from Titanic had Jack lived.) We all start out thinking we’re headed for great things but some wake up one day realizing “we’re not that special,” as April says. Even if you watch this movie feeling all superior and thinking, “I’m not a housewife stuck in a rut” or “I’m not some guy in a dead-end job,” who knows where you’ll be ten years from now? The deterioration of lives and dreams could happen so slowly that you don’t notice until one day you look around and wonder how you got to where you are, an unfulfilled place you swore you’d never end up in. I’m not trying to depress you; this is what Road depicts. It puts these issues under a magnifying glass and no matter how much the characters squirm, director Sam Mendes keeps the glass on them until the heat makes them burst into flames.

Revolutionary RoadMendes has plumbed this territory before—Road is like American Beauty (it even has a similarly stark, piano score by Thomas Newman) with a younger couple and less black humor. He’s a brave man to embark on such a bleak exploration of marriage with his wife in the lead; the film’s even dedicated to their children. (I wouldn’t know WHAT to think if my parents dedicated a movie like this to me.) Road deserves to be seen and I’d recommend it, but be forewarned it will not add to your holiday cheer.

And leave all weapons at home, just in case.

(Limited release, December 26)

Rating: Good