In June 2010 the moment we had all been waiting for arrived; another instalment of Buzz, Woody and the gang. The Facebook group said it all “Move out of the way children I’ve been waiting 11 years to see Toy Story 3”. Much to my relief Andy had continued to age and was now the college kid we could all identify with, torn between a new exciting move to university, and one last adventure with his toys. Heartbroken to be left behind the toys find themselves donated to ‘Sunnyside’ playgroup is not quite as toy friendly as it first appeared and Woody, who Andy has chosen to take to college, returns to rescue his friends. As expected an epic adventure ensues, including that jaw-dropping moment where we all believed we might actually witness the melting of the beloved characters from our childhood. The ending was heart-warming and brought more than one tear to most viewers’ eyes.
On the whole I found Toy Story 3 almost on a par with its earlier films, and certainly one of the most moving this Oscar season. I have only two concerns surrounding it; the 3D effects added little and appeared nothing more than a money making gimmick. I also fear that this will not be the last we see of the Toy Story characters, much as we love them, the film drew their adventures to a beautiful conclusion and I would hate to see it milked in the future. As far as the Oscars go ‘Best Animated Feature’ looks set to be Toy Story 3 and a moving soundtrack, as always, will likely fall short of ‘Best Original Song’ for “We Belong Together” as it follows a very similar style to the previous Toy Story soundtracks. Whilst it looks likely to miss out on ‘Best Picture’, an animated film has yet to ever win and the competition this year is strong, ‘Best Animated Feature’ is a safe bet.
As far as Oscars go this film ticks all the boxes. A box office success, nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush), Best Supporting Actress (Helena Bonham Carter) and, of course, Best Actor (Colin Firth). Whilst I will voice my opinion on these a little later, there can be no denying that the Oscars have, in the past, favoured films that either show somebody overcoming a disability of some description or the British Royal Family, so a king with a speech impediment looks like an Academy Award dream. Whilst Colin Firth deserves credit for playing King George VI and his stutter so convincingly (and credit he has received with the BAFTAs), I feel he has not been the only good actor this season and Geoffrey Rush seems almost forgotten as audiences discuss the film. As George VI deals with his new found public speaking role, with help from his speech therapist and loving wife, World War Two looms ever nearer. The climactic speech made towards the close of the film leaves the audience positive and almost celebrating as the King delivers it without stuttering. I however felt uncomfortable with the upbeat tone that was placed on the announcement of one of the world’s most devastating wars.
It seems inevitable that The King’s Speech will sweep up at the Oscar’s this year, but it is worth remembering it was not the only good film of the year.
The story tells of a young dancer in New York City that lives and breathes ballet. With fierce competition for the lead role of the newly opening production of Swan Lake, Nina (Natalie Portman) must vigourously prove herself worthy to take over Beth’s (Winona Rider) previous prima ballerina position. Nina embodies all the characteristics of Tchaikovsky’s virginal and fragile White Swan, but lacks the seductive skill for the Black Swan and her classmate Lily (Mila Kunis) shows threatening competition. The ballet teacher Leroy (Vincent Cassel) also pushes Nina and encourages her to go beyond her childish obsession for perfection and release the passionate primal side of her dancing needed to perfect the Black Swan. He unknowingly unleashes a nightmare.
The audience watch Nina’s transition from child to woman; white swan to black swan in a hyper dramatic nightmare and at several points you begin to question the reality in Nina’s mind as her dangerous self-destructive imagination takes a stronger hold. The delicacy of ballet as a high art and the physicality of the psychological thriller provide an interesting interplay – an aspect I particularly enjoyed.
I believe Portman performs the physical stress and tense lifestyle of a ballet dancer well and accurately, yet tension seems to be the only thing she concentrates on. As a thriller, I do not believe it has the psychoanalytic development necessary to fully accentuate Nina’s schizophrenic downfall. But the use of editing helps bring the film together; the camera chillingly stalking Nina through her mental breakdown.
In many ways the film is difficult to categorise, touching on many different genres such as thriller, dance and drama, perhaps if it had focused on one of these aspects, it would have a larger following. But I believe the disjuncture and fragmentation mirror the content of the film perfectly.
Overall, I enjoyed Black Swan. I like to be freaked out in a film; for it to push the boundaries of comfort and challenge me. I like Portman and Cassel as actors, and I also like ballet, so for me it ticked all the boxes.
Debra Granik takes us deep into the Ozark Mountains in Missouri with Winter’s Bone, where 17 year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) struggles to take care of her 12 and 6 year old brother and sister while her father is in jail and her mother is mentally ill. The Sheriff tells her that if her father doesn’t show up for his trial, the family will lose their house as it was put down as collateral for bail. Ree then sets of on journey to find her father, which proves to be extremely dangerous as she is dragged into a community of violent crystal meth addicted country folk, who are set on scaring her to keep her silent. Her tattoo covered wife beating uncle, Teardrop, won’t help and as she is met with closed doors from aggressive strangers she is forced into extreme actions.
The harsh rural landscape emulates Ree’s struggles in poverty and sets an eery atmosphere for the dramatic events which unfold. We are transported into a bleak reality where independence is a necessity from a young age (we witness a 6 year old girl shooting a squirrel with a hunting rifle) and where life horizons go as far as joining the army (providing a tempting $40,000) or be confined to domestic bliss.
Part of the feeling of authenticity from the film comes from the fact that this is a cultural reality for many people and while we are guided through banjo playing parties where people eat fried deer and have unique speech patterns (which I found often tricky to decipher) y’all get a sense that the bleak social deprivation is genuinely problematic in the deep South.
Jennifer Lawrence has been nominated for Best Actress, an award I would happily see her take home.
Danny’s Boyle’s follow up to the wildly successful Slumdog Millionaire (2008) is 127 Hours, based on the true story of Aron Ralston, a confident (cocky) mountain climber who, while canyoneering alone, near Moab, Utah, traps his arm under a boulder and must resort to chewing the arm off to escape.
A film which largely consists of one man and a camera for 5 days, the film needed a brilliant lead, and James Franco perfectly plays the part, first showing off to the cameras the carefree Aron, bounding from rock to rock without maps, living on the edge. However, once he is trapped, his breakdown becomes a study in human survival. Days are filled up with visions of memories and as the time wears on and the water runs out, hallucinations and madness take hold.
The film takes the viewer on the intense emotional journey with Aron, which becomes nail-biting, disturbing and a little disgusting!
James Franco has been nominated for Best Actor and is also co-hosting the official ceremony with Anne Hathaway.
Lisa Cholodenko directs Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as the parents who both gave birth by artificial insemination. When the children grow up and are ready to leave home, they search for their father, the sperm donor, wishing to get to know him. However, inviting him into their home brings all kinds of trouble, and threatens to break up what had always been a strong family home.
This family drama gives a fresh perspective to the post-modern unit with brilliant comic acting from all and a script which gives the family striking realism. Annette Bening plays Nic perfectly, showing her strength as the Breadwinner, yet revealing a palpable vulnerability and fragility as wife and parent: deserving of her nomination for Best Actress.
Mark Ruffalo is ideally cast as sperm donor dad, Paul, the irresponsible and lazy/ easy-going and unconstrained, restaurateur. Although charming and attractive, he quickly exposes the same flaws in Nic and Jules’s relationship that every marriage encounters, proving that it is not only tears in trust and fear of the wandering eye, but the cracks, which in time form a wedge between couples.
Until this, I had never seen a film handle the topic of IVF treatment well. But The Kids Are All Right brings it together with ease and naturalness, putting two fingers up to anyone still questioning what a ‘normal’ family is.
For The Kid’s Are All Right, a pro-gay marriage film to win at the Oscars, hosted in a state where same sex marriage is not legally recognised, would be a huge success for activists and for the gay community.
This film tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard dropout who revolutionised the world of social networking from an idea he had one night in his dorm room, which led him to become the youngest billionaire in history. Facebook, love it or hate it has penetrated our society and many more on a scale I don’t think even Zuckerberg saw coming. Adapted from the book, ‘The Accidental Billionaires’, by Aaron Sorkin, and brought to the screen by David Fincher, the film focusses on the development of Facebook and the effect that has on Zuckerberg and his friends, as well as those controversial lawsuits that helped make Zuckerberg and Facebook so famous, so quickly.
Stepping up to the plate in a role far from his comfort zone is Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Zuckerberg in the film. Most well known for his nervous, awkward teenage boy roles (Adventureland, Zombieland), this was his chance to break away from the inevitable type casting we’ve seen happen to others like him (think Michael Cera). And I was very impressed with the results. Not only was his performance incredibly engaging and believable throughout the film, but his presence on screen was strong and confident, the sign of a young actor really starting to come into his own. This is not a flattering representation of Zuckerberg as a person, but Eisenberg balances the obnoxious and self-centeredness elements of his personality with the vulnerability and desperation to fit in very well.
Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is one of the best I’ve seen on screen for a long time, and David Fincher’s directing works very well with the non-linear narrative, combining interesting shots with unobtrusive camerawork. How this story is told is very clever, not just focussing on how Facebook came to be what we know it as today and the man behind it, but also what the consequences of his actions were on everyone affected. The editing team deserve special praise for this – not every film that uses the jump-cut style works, but here it is clearly and carefully put together; masterful. Overall, a very well thought-out approach to the genre of biography.
Aaron Sorkin deserves Best Adapted Screenplay; I would be happy if it also won for Best Film Editing, but I don’t think Eisenberg is quite ready to bring home to statuette just yet. He’s well on the way though.
The Fighter tells the story of Dicky Eklund and Micky Ward, two brothers whose lives revolve around the sport of boxing. Dicky, the elder brother of the two, is retired from the sport and works as Micky’s trainer, although there is talk of a career comeback for himself throughout the film.
One of the things I liked most about this film, is that it’s not a typical boxing movie. The story had two main plots running through the film; Micky’s struggling career and Dicky’s addiction to crack and how this effects everything and everyone. You see his progression from an addict to getting clean, alongside Micky’s battles in the ring – a nice balance between the two main characters which is carried throughout. A lot of the film’s themes are well balanced; young and old, has-been and upcoming talent, family and business, and all are explored and presented on a level where the audience can relate but also just observe, thanks to the fantastic acting displayed throughout.
The other thing I really liked about this film was the cast. Mark Wahlberg is well suited for his role as Micky Ward, packing on the muscle for the role and focussing on being the best boxer he can, whilst dealing with all the drama that surrounds him, something I think Wahlberg does very well. Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund definitely gives the best performance of the film, doing the opposite to Wahlberg and slimming down dramatically to fulfil the role’s requirements. He provides most of the drama, due to his drug-related antics, failure to help with his brother’s career, and general selfishness. Yet, he is not a unlikeable character. I was annoyed by him, felt sorry for him and even laughed at him, but you always get the sense that everything he does is for his brother, a quality that helps him deal with his addiction and try and create a better life for himself. Melissa Leo who plays the boys’ mother is always absolutely fantastic, doubling as Micky’s manager, ‘as family are the only people you can trust’. Her unconditional love for Dicky and her ignorance to his drug problem causes tension within the family, especially within the already turbulent relationship she has with Micky, which gives her so many chances to show off her amazing talent as an actress.
The film that sees the Coen brothers return to our screens is a remake, which is not normally the Coen brothers’ style, but they insisted that they were using the original book by Charles Portis as their chief source of inspiration. The story is about a 14 year-old girl named Mattie Ross, who seeks revenge after her father is killed by a hired hand named Tom Chaney. She acquires the services of an U.S Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, who reluctantly allows her to accompany him on the hunt for Chaney, along with Texas Ranger LaBeouf, who wants Chaney for his own purposes.
All the typical Coen-esque traits are on display here – thoughtful eccentricity, wry humour, arch irony, and brutal violence, so if you’re a Coen brothers’ fan, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this film. I personally am indifferent to their style; they make good films, with great actors and an intriguing plot-lines, and that’s what I associate them with.
A rejuvenation of the Western genre is on the rise across the media of film and television, and I’m definitely not complaining. I love Westerns, and it was nice to see the genre being treated with the respect it deserves in this film (although it is too short to be a true Western). The cinematography is absolutely breath-taking, reminiscent of the American desert landscape seen in Western classics. The theme of death in this film is extraordinary, presented extremely well by the lead characters, forcing the audience to deal with the literal visual impact, as well as the philosophical associations with the landscape and genre, something some filmmakers would try to avoid, but not the Coens. The more uncomfortable you are, the better job they’ve done.
The problem I have with this film and I find this crops up in the Coen’s work from time to time, is a sense that the style, look and atmosphere of the film becomes more important than the people in it. A fantastic cast of Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is a winning combination on paper. However, I felt that none of them were used or pushed to their full potential; they were literally there to help move the plot along and fit into 1 dimensional stereotypes: Cogburn, the mean old drunk who has a kind heart, LaBeouf, the straight and narrow law enforcement officer who goes out on a limb for them, and Mattie Ross, the incredibly determined, mature beyond her years female lead, who brings out the best in her two male companions. Despite this, they all do a fantastic job, but it’s just a shame that they come across as limited, rather than having the freedom to really explore their roles.
Christopher Nolan’s non-Batman related film was one of the biggest blockbusters of 2010, and with every successful blockbuster, you always get lots of people who love it, some that hate it, and in this case, others who were just plain confused by the 148 minutes of cinema they had just watched. Which one were you?
The story is set in a time where technology has been developed to be able to access people’s dreams. Dom Cobb is the main character, whose job it is to steal important information from deep within the subconscious of the subject; corporate espionage on a whole new scale basically. The plot of the film is one more job for Cobb to take on, but it requires a reversal of his skills; he must plant an idea rather than steal it – inception.
There are some amazing scenes in this film, and I always associate Nolan with great tension-building across his work. The problem with the film is that it’s trying too hard; the script is written in such a style that the audience is only given the minimum amount of information needed to understand each scene, which is fine in theory. However, when you’re dealing with multiple levels of dreams, rules for each level and the recurring theme of impossible vs. exception to the rule, it becomes hard to keep track. I understand that the filmmakers didn’t want to assume the audience were idiots and have to spell it out for them, but I think the fact that Nolan had been working on this script for about 10 years before he made it, may have allowed him to focus on the visualisation of the film, rather than the story-telling.
This film also tries too hard in terms of the cast. Leonardo DiCaprio does well in his role as Cobb in terms of the action sequences, but he lets it down with his non-convincing emotional scenes; he overplays it with his facial expressions, his tears and his delivery of the dialogue. Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays Cobb’s right-hand man seems way out of his depth in this role; he is meant to be very serious and give an air of experience to the job, but unfortunately, his action scenes are just not believable enough. And finally, Ellen Page. What on earth are you doing in this movie? I felt that this was the most mis-cast role of the bunch. This screamed ‘I don’t want to be type-cast’, but instead of highlighting her acting strengths, it just pointed out the weaknesses. Fail.