Monday, December 27, 2010

Quick reviews for 2010

Around this time of year, it's not always easy for me to find time to write proper reviews for every movie I catch up on. So anything that I see and can't be bothered to compose a lengthy review for will be mentioned here over the next few months. Read them after the cut:

Four Lions
Four Lions is an hilarious satire about a group of bumbling British Muslim terrorists with big aspirations for a public bombing, but whose personal delusions and philosophies about what they're doing lead to hysterical foul-ups. The immensely clever screenplay written by Sam Bain, Christopher Morris, Jesse Armstrong, and Simon Blackwell (the latter two who helped write 2009's In the Loop) pointedly mocks the senselessness of terrorism in a broad farcical fashion that is seriously funny, while also delivering more subtle jabs at racial profiling and government incompetence. If you're looking for a salty and hard-edged tragicomedy, this one's for you!
*** out of ****

Rabbit Hole
To call John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole bittersweet would do a disservice to the film, for he achieves a much more unique emotional flavour. The screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire (based on his play) mixes the painfully unspoken sorrow of a couple grieving the death of their young son with a wry but tactful sense of humour. Nicole Kidman is superb. As her character strives more and more to remove every vestige of her son, the more she is reminded of him, making her a caustic mess of denial and defensiveness. As her husband, Aaron Eckhart is equally brilliant, playing a character who staunchly clings to every memory of his son in order to subdue a bitter rage that simmers beneath a stoic front.
***1/2 out of ****

I Am Love
I Am Love is a stylish Italian melodrama about breaking out of the boxes into which society puts us, be it by class, gender, or sexual orientation. The mercurial Tilda Swinton is great as a woman of a well-to-do family of socialites who finds she is tempted by a younger man of lower standing. Some of the visual symbolism is a bit overstated, but they make for some interesting scenes when paired with the unconventional musical score. It's a fervent but ultimately pessimistic interpretation about the dangers of succumbing to your passions and exploring beyond the societal norm.
***1/2 out of ****

Javier Bardem gives a great performance in Biutiful, in which he plays a single father of two who resorts to crime so that his children won't have to lead a similar life. The thought of his own mortality haunts him as he struggles to put things right in his life before his chance is gone. Inarritu's direction is sure-handed but the film is too long, and could possibly have been told more succinctly without diminishing the emotional response. It's beautifully shot throughout, creating a beautiful sense of place with textured, carefully composed shots.
*** out of ****

Blue Valentine
Derek Cianfrance's devastating marital drama Blue Valentine benefits from a tight structure, a loose observational style, and a pair of brilliant performances from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. The story of how a marriage soured between two passionate but very different people (one charming but childish, the other down-to-earth but defensive) warns us that it takes more than just love to make a relationship work. Gosling's is a wholly realized, lived-in performance that cuts close to the bone. He turns himself inside-out for this one, embodying all the love, anger, fear, compassion, and regret that goes hand-in-hand with marriage all at once, but in different proportion and focus depending on the progression of his character. Every bit as raw and unfiltered as her costar is Michelle Williams, who finds genuine pain, joy, love, and heartbreak somewhere inside of her and brings it out onto the screen. Not unlike her outstanding work in “Wendy and Lucy” (2007), the performance feels naturalistic and uninhibited.
*** out of ****

Waste Land
A stirring and inspiring tale of art and social responsibility, it's not hard to see why Waste Land brings festival audiences to their feet. The only thing more extraordinary than Vik Muniz's garbage creations is how profoundly they affect the lives of the people who inspired him. director Lucy Walker wisely avoids an formalism in telling a story as emotional as this.
*** out of ****

The Illusionist
The film marks a wonderful meld of the endearing comedic stylings of classic French director/comedian Jacques Tati and the gorgeous visual film artistry of animator Sylvain Chomet, which births something rare and beautiful and completely one-of-a-kind. The story is beautifully told (mostly in pantomime) from adorable start to devastating finish with a gentle sense of humour and a meticulous attention to detail. Gorgeous watercolour effect.
***1/2 out of ****

Denis Villeneuve's back-and-forth chronology may bother some, but I think it succeeds at highlighting the passage of time and the values that differ as a function thereof. Performances are strong, as is Villeneuve's confident direction, which is unafraid to jar or disturb us.
*** out of ****

Another Year
A devastating study of middle class monotony, manifested by a handful of beautifully written characters. His humour feels organic and genuine, his tragedy equally so. The character arcs are a subtle extension of character bakcstories that sneak up on the audience before the final crushing scenes. Every actor brings something slightly different to the table, they all perform together in perfect harmony, projecting a convincing group dynamic that serves Mike Leigh's focus on character. Lesley Manville's performance is a standout. It's a wonder to behold her as her witty disposition gradually fades over the course of the film into eventual resignation, culminating in a ruinous final cadence that feels so heartbreaking because the character feels so real. A masterstroke of acting.
***1/2 out of ****

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