THE FILM YAP » Christopher Nolan We Never Shut Up About Movies Thu, 23 Oct 2014 02:29:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ‘Non-Sequel’? Nonsense. Wed, 19 Jun 2013 22:47:49 +0000 Continue reading ]]> nonsequelinside

We’re all used to breathlessly hyperbolic box-office reporting, in which studios cling to the most tenuous, meaningless records. Highest Tuesday opening. Biggest fourth weekend. Best gross from 5 p.m. shows in cities beginning with the letter “Q.”

But this perpetually winded group of writers blew particularly hot air this week in declaring “Man of Steel’s” $116 million opening weekend “the third highest ever for a non-sequel.”

Technically correct? Sure. But he’s a 75-year-old character from numerous comic books, movies and TV series of old. Plus, look at the films that bested it or came close.

  • “The Avengers,” based on a legendary comic book and a combination of characters individually featured in five separately released hits.
  • “The Hunger Games,” adapted from a YA-literature juggernaut that remained on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly two years straight.
  • “Alice in Wonderland,” inspired by a then 145-year-old novel recalibrated on screens large and small countless times before.
  • “Spider-Man,” which depicted a teenager’s discovery of his super powers but was, at the time, a 40-year-old comic-book property.

So that got me wondering: What if we threw out this “non-sequel” nonsense? What truly original live-action films have had the biggest opening weekends of all time?

I left it at live action because fewer-and-farther-between animated films are often an event no matter their source material. And by original, I mean based on nothing previous — including WWII history (sorry, Michael) or religious texts (sorry, Mel).

The list is eclectic, to say the least. It includes the highest-grossing film ever, several that crawled past $100 million and one that didn’t even get there.

No bluster. No BS. No creative vocabulary accounting. Here is the real list of 25 original movies with the largest opening weekends.

1. “Avatar,” $77,025,481 – released in 2009
You’ve got to go 48 spots down the all-time opening weekend list for this, meaning 47 bigger openings came from pre-existing properties. “Avatar” had all the makings of a hit, but few predicted it would usurp “Titanic.” Naturally, sequels are coming.

2. “The Day After Tomorrow,” $68,743,584 – released in 2004
This movie didn’t even open at No. 1, frozen out by a second weekend of “Shrek 2.” But it did place director Roland Emmerich back in his easily identified element of global destruction that he’d created eight years earlier with “Independence Day.”

3. “Bruce Almighty,” $67,953,330 – released in 2003
Jim Carrey’s biggest opening weekend had Memorial Day all to itself after “Matrix Reloaded” fatigue. Plus, every summer has a comedy that, if only for lack of better options, becomes a default for families with older kids. Its sequel? Not so successful.

4. “2012,” $65,237,614 – released in 2009
As “Tomorrow” was to “Independence,” “2012” was to “Tomorrow.” Emmerich reliably brought another doomsday scenario to life with maximum cheese. Plus, it was that November’s last calm before the storm of the first “Twilight” sequel.

5. “Inception,” $62,785,337 – released in 2010
“Inception” had the benefit of promoting Christopher Nolan’s fame, cemented by his terrific handling of another DC superhero just a hair younger than Superman. Plus, like “The Matrix” before it, trailers sold the intriguing allure of its original mystery.

6. “Hancock,” $62,603,879 – released in 2008
Will Smith’s last huge hit sure feels longer ago than five years, huh? This rare original live-action superhero film was sold on the snippier side of Smith’s persona. Sequel talk simmers, but it could be a bigger risk than reward after “After Earth.”

7. “Signs,” $60,117,080 – released in 2002
Speaking of M. Night Shyamalan, chalk this up to great marketing because “Unbreakable” came nowhere close to matching Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense.” That said, “the next Spielberg’s” name still meant something then, and it held court as a late-August smash.

8. “Valentine’s Day,” $56,260,707 – released in 2010
Yes, that “Valentine’s Day,” as derp-derp a movie to drop on the Hallmark holiday if ever there was one, as well as the highest-ranking title on this list to barely slink past $100 million. A spiritual sequel, “New Year’s Eve,” made less overall than this one’s opening frame.

9. “Ted,” $54,415,205 – released in 2012
The list’s newest film was a legitimately surprising over-performer. But it also reflects longstanding popularity of co-writer/director Seth MacFarlane’s aggressively syndicated “Family Guy.” A sequel is high on Universal’s priorities.

10. “8 Mile,” $51,240,555 – released in 2002
Another wildly frontloaded, fast flameout that earned $116 million total on the strength of Eminem’s peak popularity and a hit song. The weirdest thing: Upon its release, “8 Mile” would have been No. 2 on this list.

11. “The Village,” $50,746,142 – released in 2004
The last time audiences provided the M. Night Discount (as Joe Shearer might say). It barely doubled its opening-weekend take, perhaps because most viewers, like this one, wondered what the hell a Chihuahua was doing in 19th-century Pennsylvania.

12. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” $50,342,878 – released in 2005
“Mr. and Mrs. Smith” had tabloid curiosity on its side as a film that tore asunder Brad Pitt’s marriage to Jennifer Aniston (whose own “The Break-Up” is 29th on this list). People found a good action flick in the process, and it flirted with $200 million.

13. “Independence Day,” $50,228,264 – released in 1996
The granddaddy of modern-day disaster films built a template Emmerich followed to the letter for “Tomorrow” and “2012.” Of note: This was only the second-ever $50-million-plus opening in box-office history, after 1995’s “Batman Forever.”

14. “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” $47,042,215 – released in 2006
This opening was more likely pinned to NASCAR’s pinnacle of popularity at the time than the specific bankability of Will Ferrell — still smarting from the previous summer’s double kidney-punch of “Bewitched” and “Kicking & Screaming.”

15. “The Hangover,” $44,979,319 – released in 2009
What became the highest-grossing R-rated comedy ever boasted a can’t-miss premise and was boosted by that summer’s lackluster early offerings. Its sequel nearly doubled this opening, while its recent threequel actually opened with less.

16. “xXx,” $44,506,103 – released in 2002
This rode the wave of Vin Diesel’s success in “The Fast & the Furious” (omitted from this list as it was based on a magazine article). After killing Diesel’s character off, a sequel grossed nearly $20 million less in its entire run than this did in one weekend.

17. “Hitch,” $43,142,214 – released in 2005
Will Smith’s only romantic comedy is also one of his most eminently rewatchable efforts. While there will never be a straight-up sequel to “Hitch,” the romcom might be a well to which Smith would wisely return instead of sequelizing past efforts.

18. “Anger Management,” $42,220,847 – released in 2003
19. “Big Daddy,” $41,536,370 – released in 1999
Since 1998, there have only been two years without a $100 million Adam Sandler movie — 2000, with “Little Nicky,” and 2009, with “Funny People”. Never mind most of these movies are moneymakers people would be hard-pressed to remember watching. (But that’s another article altogether). “Anger” boasted an odd-couple pairing with Jack Nicholson, and “Daddy” was Sandler’s immediate follow-up to his breakout hit, “The Waterboy.”

20. “Deep Impact,” $41,152,375 – released in 1998
21. “Twister,” $41,059,409 – released in 1996
Both films were their summers’ opening salvos. “Impact” took advantage of an atypically weak May to more or less play all the way until “Armageddon” took a less somber spin on the same story. And credit “Twister’s” brilliant teaser for drawing audiences in. Also, Warner Brothers wisely promoted it as “from the director of ‘Speed’ ” even if folks in Tornado Alley never knew how to pronounce Jan de Bont.

22. “Grown Ups,” $40,506,562
This was Sandler’s turn to hit summer’s default family-comedy sweet spot. If you liked this, well, watch a moose piss on Sandler’s face and David Spade unwittingly enter Kevin James in “Grown Ups 2,” Sandler’s first sequel, later this summer.

23. “Safe House,” $40,172,720
Denzel Washington’s “American Gangster” made more in weekend one, but it was based on a magazine article. This built on “Taken’s” wake-up punch to the early-year, post-Oscar rush malaise from a few years earlier. Sequel? It’s a possibility.

24. “Cloverfield,” $40,058,229
An outstanding marketing campaign resulted in an en-masse opening … with a 63% tumble the following week in which it was toppled by “Meet the Spartans.” Plus, it’s the only movie on this list to not make $100 million, topping out around $80 million.

25. “Click,” $40,011,365
Boy, Sandler owns the bottom half of this list. It’s also the best of his four films on it — and one that played to a slightly different crowd, with a high-concept fantasy plot that skewed closer to “Bruce Almighty” than “Billy Madison.”

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Superman Revisited Thu, 13 Jun 2013 13:00:52 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

If any nation would believe a man could fly, it’s America.

1978’s “Superman” literalizes the level of extraordinary ability America expects of its residents. It’s rather fitting that Mario Puzo had a hand in the script; like his book “The Godfather,” “Superman” is a sprawling saga of the American Dream, telling of one foreigner’s big splash in the land of opportunity.

If you take out the superpowers and sci-fi spectacles, the film plays out like an epic American biopic in the vein of “Citizen Kane” or “The Aviator,” tracking a humble man’s journey from the farmlands to the big city and his transformation from a small-time newspaper man to a public hero. Therein lies the real magic of “Superman;” director Richard Donner presents it like any other American story rather than a superhero spectacle. That’s not to say its fantastical elements are not presented in a dazzling fashion, however.

From John Williams’ rousing score to star Christopher Reeve’s graceful flying, “Superman” is terrifically entertaining. And in this age of grittier comic book films, this wholesome adventure remains exciting. Like “Iron Man,” “Superman” is cool, feel-good fun. It also offers an embarrassment of visual riches, from the luminous surface of Superman’s home planet Krypton to the lush plains of Smallville and the steely city of Metropolis. The scale of the production is stunning, but style never triumphs over substance in “Superman.”

The film’s only somewhat glaring error is the villain Lex Luthor’s lack of menace. However, given the fact that the film is largely about the American Dream, it does seem fitting for the villain to be a smarmy investor fueled by capitalistic greed. Engagingly played by Gene Hackman, Luthor exudes sleazy charm rather than ominous evil.

Superman and Luthor have some fun standoffs, but the heart of the film is the relationship between Superman and Lois Lane (charmingly portrayed by Margot Kidder). What’s most engaging about it is the way Lois seems to fall for him not because of his powers but because of his good-hearted nature. A large credit for the film’s poignancy in this regard goes to Reeve, who plays the titular character as a man first and a superhero second.

I hope to see that same purity in the upcoming Superman film, “Man of Steel.” But I’m worried given the fact that director Zack Snyder (“300,” “Watchmen”) has a tendency to dehumanize heroic characters by over-stylizing them. Hopefully producer Christopher Nolan reminded him that Superman is more interesting when he’s more man than super.

Before you rush out to see “Man of Steel” on June 14, give “Superman” another look. It’s the kind of film that will send a tingle up your spine, the kind that will make you understand the meaning of movie magic. And it set the standard for all superhero films to come.

Fun Fact: When I was born, my brother wanted my parents to name me Superman. They compromised and made my middle name Clark, as in Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, who happens to be a writer, too!

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Nick’s 25 Best, 5 Worst and More of 2012 Sun, 30 Dec 2012 21:41:09 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Top10Django2


When a 10-best list isn’t enough and a 25-best list might not completely suffice, that’s a good problem for a film critic to have. Such was the uncommonly strong cinematic year of 2012.

Here are my picks for 2012’s five greatest documentaries, five worst movies (from which I saw blessedly few to choose) and, finally, the 25 best. All lists are in reverse order.



5. “The Invisible War”

Kirby Dick’s documentary about rape run rampant in America’s military is regrettably filled with soul-sapping recollections of rock-bottom moments. In 2012’s most infuriating documentary, the thousand-yard stares of these women and men have thousand-yard stares show they’ll never spiritually, emotionally or mentally discharge from their service. Available on DVD and VOD services.

4. “Room 237″

Rodney Ascher’s archival documentary initially appears to be merely a daisy chain of disembodied voices espousing demented, disparate theories about subtext in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” But slowly, the movie embeds itself like a sliver in the subconscious — trapping viewers at a disconcerting intersection of art and obsession. Scheduled for theatrical release / VOD in 2013.

3. “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”

A bracing chronicle of an imperfect artist in a nation where the permanent specter of oppressive violence looms over his brief, guerrilla commentary. The film bravely confronts the challenge of art as transparent activism where none is tolerated. “If they want to get me, they will. There’s nothing I can do about that,” Ai Weiwei rationalized. “Maybe being powerful means to be … fragile.” Available on DVD and VOD services.

2. “Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet”

“Searching for Sugar Man” got all the 2012 attention as the story of an underground rocker getting his due. But it never traced the creative impulse of its subject as this documentary does. To reveal what happens to guitarist Jason Becker would dilute the film’s power and pacing. Rest assured, it powerfully portrays artistic endurance as a potent motivation to live. Available on DVD.



1. “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

The seemingly simple tale of the world’s greatest sushi chef becomes a pensive parable about all that is gained, and lost, in the passionate pursuit of occupational perfection. Told with crisp visual acuity, its story makes magnificent metaphorical use of mirrors and reflective surfaces — a reminder of where its subjects are now and where they’ve come from. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.



5. “Hyde Park on Hudson”

A woeful biopic made for the seemingly miniscule audience who wanted “The King’s Speech” to have more handjobs, hot dogs and Harlequin romance narration like “If ever I were to miss him, there was a place I could come to be alone … and miss him.” In limited theatrical release.

4. “Red Tails”

Heart is all that’s in the right place in this George Lucas production. From a steroidal color palette to a constant strafe of clichés, it demonstrates less the power a veteran’s valor than the peril that has come from never telling Lucas “no.” Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

3. “Man on a Ledge”

Certainly, more occurs in this movie than a mulleted Sam Worthington muffing an American accent before jumping from the titular ledge. But there are times when it’s good to not take notes during a movie. No record of the brain cells sacrificed to make it all the way through. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

2. “The Devil Inside”

An admirably R-rated reversal of the passel of puny PG-13 possession films, but balls only got it so far. Its aggressive idiocy, relentlessly gabby grab at religious relevance, fatal self-seriousness and openly contemptuous conclusion make a strong argument for euthanizing found-footage horror altogether. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

This Means War movie 

1. “This Means War”

In this Slap Chop-edited hog slop, most things people enjoy about movies — humor, chemistry, coherence, Reese Witherspoon — die a slow death. Guns fire. Drones explode. Cars careen. Darts hit necks. Paintballs strike crotches. Witherspoon bugs her eyes. Repeat. Vomit. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.



25. “Sound of Noise”

This imported novelty boasts a giddily inspired premise — artistic terrorists using percussion to wreak sonic mayhem in Sweden. Moviegoers are hard-pressed to see, or hear, impish ingenuity like this anywhere else. Available on DVD and VOD services.

24. “The Bay”

For mutated crustaceans, our tongues are appetizers to our organ smorgasbord. Barry Levinson’s DIY-digital diary is his best in 25 years — plumbing modern fears of bureaucratic austerity with ick that sticks. Available on VOD services; coming to DVD March 5, 2013.

23. “Flight”

Robert Zemeckis returns to live-action filmmaking with an emotionally harrowing portrait of addiction, conscience and guilt, fueled by Denzel Washington’s best work since 2001. Only an overlong denouement drags it down. Now in theaters.

22. “ParaNorman”

Although not as supernaturally beguiling as its predecessor, “Coraline,” this 1980s fantasy-adventure homage earns bona fides by arriving at a place of poignancy — the power of friendship to move past pain. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

21. “Argo”

Ben Affleck’s best film as a director remains the one in which he wasn’t also the lead. Still, he confidently blends politics, suspense and satire with clever Hollywood jabs and legitimate tension. Coming to Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 19, 2013.

20. “Looper”

A refreshingly R-rated time-travel rumble with all the ruminations on fate and destiny but no rehashed paradox mumbo-jumbo. Plus, a future where a Mazda Miata is a collector’s car? Uniquely bleak. On Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services Monday (Dec. 31, 2012).

19. “Chronicle”

A compelling, thoughtful and uncommonly poignant film couched in comic-book wit, color and momentum and a story about uncertain teens, not unstoppable superheroes. Josh Trank and Max Landis are truly exciting talents. On Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

18. “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Quvenzhane Wallis’s fearless, force-of-nature performance is the yin to Dwight Henry’s unexpectedly complex paternal yang. Their journey flirts with visually abstract impenetrability, but its dangers, thrills and hopes sneak up on, and stick with, you. On Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

17. “Cloud Atlas”

Peril awaited filmmakers deigning to adapt this novel whole cloth. Avoiding the mire of its minutia, the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer distinctively tap its marrow for a sprawling, messy, audacious, openhearted, beautiful movie. Coming soon to Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

16. “The Raid: Redemption”

You come away convinced every stuntman suffered permanently debilitating injuries. Topping itself in bone-crunching bombast every 10 minutes, this import is a relentless, fist-pumping triumph of pure, unadulterated hand-to-hand combat. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

15. “Life of Pi”

It doesn’t make you believe in God as the prologue insists. But it makes you consider, thoughtfully and harrowingly, why many choose to. It’s about faith, not religion, and decisions, not dogma. Plus, as masterfully molded and sculpted by Ang Lee — who toys with the screen’s limitations for a tale about boundless imagination — 3D does seem like the medium’s future after all. Now in theaters.

14. “Lincoln”

Leave it to Daniel Day-Lewis to find the man inside the mythology to deliver a forceful performance of introspective doubt, not blusterous certainty. Plus, every debate and filibuster in Tony Kushner’s fastidious script crackles in the hands of the biggest supporting-actor murderers’ row Steven Spielberg has ever assembled. Too bad Spielberg can’t avoid an unnecessarily exploitative exclamation-point treatment of Lincoln’s death. Now in theaters.

13. “Take This Waltz”

Is intimacy but an illusion for those who crave a constancy of new ideas? Sarah Polley’s stunning sophomore effort is an anti-romantic tale of incremental infidelity with full-flung turns from Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen. A played-out Buggles song finds new life and septuagenarian nudity succeeds as both sight gag and symbolism. It’s the movie Judd Apatow wishes he could make today. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

12. “Marvel’s The Avengers”

Marvel’s might for meticulous world-building. Four years of patient planning. Joss Whedon’s passion for the purity of comic-book culture. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo playing characters with identifiable burdens, pathos and conflict. A full hour of rousing action. The unfettered joy of watching Hulk smash in his best appearance yet. Now, that’s the pinnacle of pop spectacle. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

11. “Skyfall”

Without compromising action or scope, Sam Mendes brings introspection and intimacy to James Bond’s world. One hopes, though, that the new 007’s gauntlet of emotional tests is over — his next mission defined less by those he’s lost. By “Skyfall’s” jazzy, assured end, Bond’s leash is off. Perhaps next time, this dog can enjoy the thrilling chase that he can give. Now in theaters.

10. “Moonrise Kingdom”

With wit and wisdom, Wes Anderson understands the parameters of a pubescent childhood summer — that the madly elated rush of cramming “forever” into a finite time can, and must, end in some form of disappointment. His dioramic approach, more observational than aesthetic, asserts that adolescence is just the beginning of life’s many opportunity costs. And his sneakily bittersweet ending feels less about finding first love than finding family. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

9. “The Dark Knight Rises”

How to top “The Dark Knight”? That question matters little to Christopher Nolan, and not because he’s necessarily unsuccessful. Nolan’s M.O. all along is an action trilogy to dance along distinct lines of heroism and leadership between Bat and Man. Impressively bombastic, thunderous and exciting, yes, but also a beautifully beaten, character-driven retreat that understands why we invested in the most relatable Bruce Wayne yet. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.

8. “The Master”

For all this enigmatic drama’s widescreen majesty, its greatest visuals are its leads’ faces. It’s ultimately a two-hander about a parasitic (unrequitedly romantic?) bond between a brute and a scholar (Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, both brilliant). Its exact thesis on post-WWII America feels perhaps purposefully opaque after just one viewing. But indelible images and performances make this a malaise worth revisiting. Coming to Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 26, 2013.

7. “Django Unchained”

This emancipation exclamation starts as “Blazing Saddles” with a body count and blood squibs seemingly detonated with C4. But as in “Inglourious Basterds” — and with a far trickier topic of slavery — Quentin Tarantino eventually repurposes historical blight into pulp fiction to diminish its power if only for 165 minutes. Moreover, it conveys Tarantino’s sincere fondness for the old-fashioned, operatic power of good vanquishing evil. Now in theaters.

6. “Holy Motors”

Ascribing traditional narrative questions to French filmmaker Leos Carax’s mad-hatter mélange in which Denis Lavant plays 11 characters and tones shift tectonically every 10 minutes? That way, madness lies. Hold your breath, jump down the rabbit hole and marvel at Carax’s meditations — on acting, on film, on the creative struggle and, at the center of the story’s beating heart, on the consequences of roles we choose in life. Coming to Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 26, 2013.

The Grey2


5. “The Grey”

Although marketed as Liam Neeson in “Wolf Puncher,” Joe Carnahan’s best film to date shares a kindred spirit with the mounting existential dread and deliverance of man in the elements a la Jack London. Neeson has rarely looked more hawkish and predatory but shrewdly matches an anguished soul to mammoth strength. In some moments, he stares down nature and God, telling them both to step. But “The Grey” doesn’t set out to assert machismo. It ruminates on our mourning process and the value of dying among that which calms us, even if that’s a reclamation of rage to go down swinging. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.



4. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

Fourteen is a bitch — bringing bulletproof emotional euphoria at night and humbling reminders of high school’s pecking order the next morning. Adapting his own novel with the sophistication of a seasoned filmmaker, first-timer Stephen Chbosky captures underclassman aches, anxieties and exhilarations with unassailable authenticity and effortless circle-of-friends chemistry between Logan Lerman (in an attention-grabbing turn), Emma Watson and Ezra Miller (as charming here as he was malevolent in last year’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin”). However, this isn’t simply one of 2012’s most unexpected, lapel-grabbing surprises. It is, quite simply, one of the best films ever made about the high school experience. Now in theaters; coming to Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services Feb. 12, 2013.

Silver Linings Playbook - inside


3. “Silver Linings Playbook”

In “The Fighter,” David O. Russell proved himself a master of the sharp-tongued cadence of familial cacophony. But such spats are just one nuance of his latest clever, edgy and unruly response to genre trappings. Have you ever felt afraid of a romantic-comedy protagonist? Such misgivings about Pat, a bipolar man given revelatory depth and dimension by Bradley Cooper, require great patience. But it pays off in this unforgettable, infectiously optimistic film. Robert De Niro delivers his greatest performance in a decade. Jennifer Lawrence cements herself as a true star. And Russell deftly avoids an insulting, facile love-trumps-meds conclusion. Now in theaters.



2. “Zero Dark Thirty”

Defining actionable intelligence is a slippery slope. For what is “actionable intelligence” if not the viewpoint of the most persuasive person in the room? And even then, more questions. How does one evaluate the risk of inaction? How does one discern the lead they want to be true from what they know to be true? And where might that lead take you — nowhere, into a trap or, as we find at the exhaustive end of Kathryn Bigelow’s meticulously engrossing thriller, to an emptiness that follows the capture of your quarry. From its introduction — which chillingly contextualizes 9/11 into the day’s police-scanner and cell-phone chatter — to its conclusive, nerve-jangling raid in Abottabad, Pakistan, this procedural depicts the weight and burden of our nation’s decade-long journey into a heart of darkness. As for its oft-debated stance on torture, the movie neither condones nor condemns and allows us to make our own judgments — less for its efficacy in eliciting information about bin Laden than whether it was worth our moral quagmire. And thanks to Jessica Chastain’s magnetic lead performance, “Zero Dark Thirty” is not dry, dispassionate journalism. It’s a revealing portrait of her, and by extension America’s, white-whale obsession. In wide theatrical release Jan. 11, 2013.

Safety Not Guaranteed - inside


1. “Safety Not Guaranteed”

“Have you ever stared fear and danger in the eye and said, ‘Yes’?” Within the context of recruiting possible time-travel partners, it’s the question to which Kenneth (Mark Duplass) must hear what he perceives to be the right answer. But what is that if not the question we all consider when we fall in love, take a risk that pays off or make choices all but certain to end in pain and regret? To that end, Colin Trevorrow’s film tries to persuade us less of Kenneth’s time-travel abilities than the possibility, potential and riches that can await when we’re brave enough to take a leap. What matters more than living for the now? Many time-travel films have played off nostalgia and reminiscence, but few with such existential truth, and Derek Connolly’s clever, sincere script diverges from convention at every turn like a tangential timeline on Doc Brown’s chalkboard. Even amid lo-fi thriller elements, Connolly resists every temptation to go for action, cynicism and cheapness. Instead, its center is the romance between Kenneth and Darius (Aubrey Plaza) — a courtship of mutual inspiration. Not only do you feel the millisecond when they fall in love, but you spot the moment that Plaza — who lives every week like it’s snark week on “Parks & Recreation” — matures as an actress. Equally shrewd is Jake Johnson as a seeming lothario journalist who pushes down a painful, primal scream of rage under his partying pretext. In “Big Machine” — the best original film song of 2012 — Kenneth ponders: “Maybe I’m wrong and all that you get is what you see / Maybe I’m right and there’s something out there to believe.” The greatest film of 2012 truly made you believe in the beauty, and danger, of love, trust, friendship and chance. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD services.


Christopher Lloyd

Sam Watermeier

Evan Dossey

Caine Gardner



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The Dark Knight Rises Tue, 04 Dec 2012 05:39:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

The conclusion of the Batman collaboration between director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale is a big, ambitious film just like “The Dark Knight.” And also like its predecessor, “The Dark Knight Rises” is overburdened with too many supporting characters and secondary plots.

As the story opens, it has been eight years since Bruce Wayne last donned the Caped Crusader’s cowl. Peace has reigned throughout the land, but then a mysterious terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives. He handily defeats Batman in personal combat and takes the reins of Gotham City.

Meanwhile, super-thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) plays the lines of loyalty between the two, whispering ominously about a storm brewing to wipe away the city’s veil of security.

The biggest problem with Bane, other than the fact that he pales in comparison to Heath Ledger’s Joker, is that his motivations never really come into clear relief. Hardy’s choice to play him with an odd speech cadence, coupled with Bane’s metallic face mask, also makes him difficult to understand.

Familiar faces return, including police commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), loyal Wayne family butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and weapons guru Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). New on the block is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young police detective whose importance becomes clearer late in the going.

It’s still a worthy piece of filmmaking, especially for those who like their superhero tales in the dark-and-portentous mode. But I can’t help thinking a stripped-down, sleeker finale would’ve been better.

In terms of extras, Blu-ray is the only way to go for the serious videophile. The DVD comes only with a single featurette chronicling Bruce Wayne’s journey from zero to hero.

The highlight of the Blu-ray edition is “Ending the Knight,” a comprehensive making-of documentary examining virtually every aspect of the filmmaking process, from the story concept to special effects. It also includes a gallery of images and a documentary on the Batmobile, chronicling all five of the Dark Knight’s motorized chariots.

Film: 4 Yaps
Extras: 4.5 Yaps

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The Dark Knight Rises Thu, 19 Jul 2012 20:19:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

And so the Batman saga ends not with a bang but an allegory. Director/co-writer Christopher Nolan has made it clear “The Dark Knight Rises” will be the last movie about the Caped Crusader — at least that he will make — and this knowledge seems to have freed him to make a superhero movie that’s different from any other in the genre, one in which the superhero has grown tired of the mask and has to be convinced to put it on again.

It’s notable that Christian Bale spends far more screen time out of the Batman costume than in.

It’s a big, epic, sprawling movie that, like the last entry four years ago, is too overstuffed with tertiary plot lines and secondary characters for its own good.

And, of course, nothing can replace Heath Ledger’s unique, disturbing presence as the Joker. Even though he was captured at the end of the last movie and, at one point, Gotham City’s prison is busted open for all the criminals to escape, there’s no half-hearted (and misguided) attempt to cast another actor in that now-iconic role.

As the story opens, eight years have passed since the events in “The Dark Knight.” Bruce Wayne has not donned Batman’s cowl since then, with the populace mistakenly believing that he killed Harvey Dent, who actually went mad and became Two-Face. Dent has become a symbol of the peaceful good times that have endured since — thanks in part to some draconian laws put in place in Dent’s name.

When we first see Bruce, he seems to have aged 20 years. He has graying hair and a lined face, and walks around with a cane and a severe limp. He’s become a recluse, rarely leaving his mansion despite the urging of loyal butler/henchman Alfred (Michael Caine) to do so. You quit being Batman, Alfred tells him, but you didn’t start a new life.

The villain here is Bane, played by Tom Hardy underneath a strange metal mask of tubes and 30 pounds of muscle he put on for the role. Bane is a brilliant terrorist who’s utterly unnerving but whose motives never really come into clear relief.

He emerges from a mysterious past, supposedly growing up in darkness inside a pit of a prison, and seems to have dedicated his entire life to destroying Batman and the city he loves. Why? We’re never really sure.

When Bane first appears on the scene, Bruce resolves to get back in the game. He is cocky and confident in his gadgets and combat abilities despite a doctor’s assessment that he has no cartilage in his knees and scarred internal organs. He shouldn’t even be skiing, let alone tangling with super-strong madmen.

Bane easily defeats Batman in personal combat and exiles him. Bane then steals something really, really powerful that belongs to Bruce Wayne and turns it against Gotham. And then he … waits five months to unleash the destruction, which just happens to be enough time for Bruce to convalesce and return to foil his plans.

Hardy makes a few bold performance choices, some of which pay off and some don’t.
Much has been made about his voice, occasionally difficult to understand
behind the metallic echo of his mask, which resembles a shark’s maw coming at you. Beyond the comprehension issues, Bane speaks in an oddly inflected pattern with a stiff sort of formality to it. He also has a habit of placing his hands on the lapels of his coat or armor, like a Dickensian barrister puffing himself up.

The other big addition is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, a slyly seductive jewel thief who tries to walk a risky line between loyalty to Bane and Batman. Neither really trusts her, or her either of them, but there’s a connection between her and Bruce. He represents the 1%, and she makes Occupy Wall Street-ish threats about “a storm coming” to wash away the privileged, which supplies an edge to their banter.

I should mention that no one ever actually calls her Catwoman, and she doesn’t wear a costume other than some minimalist sartorial adornment. It’s a surprisingly beefier role than you’d expect, and Hathaway has a strong presence in it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another important new character as young police detective John Blake — or, at least, seemingly important. Blake seems to be everywhere during the movie, popping up to assist Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) with a key bit of evidence or even fight alongside Batman. But after the movie, I started thinking about what purpose Blake plays in the story and decided he’s really not that pivotal at all, except for that part at the end where … well, you’ll see.

Matthew Modine is another new add as Gordon’s right-hand man, Ben Mendelsohn plays a mercenary-minded industrialist making a play for Wayne Enterprises, and Marion Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, a former business partner of Bruce’s who got burned on a bad business deal.

Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Bruce’s R&D man, returns to the fold and apparently has spare Batman suits and gear stuffed in just about every corner of Gotham. Most notably is a flying machine that’s part helicopter, part jet and all seriously badass.

I saw this film in a genuine IMAX theater at the Indiana State Museum. More than an hour of the 165-minute film was shot on special IMAX film, and when that entire picture opens up from widescreen to a massive six-story wall of spectacle, it’s quite tremendous. This one is definitely worth the ticket upsell.

“The Dark Knight Rises” isn’t as good as the last film, but I wouldn’t call it a disappointment. If anything, its faults arise from being too ambitious, too big and too much. A shorter film that focused on the dynamic between Batman, Bane and Selina Kyle might’ve been a better fit for this material. But that’s the sort of movie you make when you’re starting out something big, not wrapping it up.

4 Yaps

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Reinventing Batman: Part Two Wed, 18 Jul 2012 16:54:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Anticipation

The sequel to “Batman Begins” had built up such an air of anticipation that it practically exploded onto screens three years later with a record opening weekend. Christopher Nolan’s “Begins” was pretty self-contained, and fans were content with his reinvented, modern Batman. But in these times of sequels, prequels, redos and revamps, of course there was going to be more.

A big viral marketing campaign began, centered on one of Batman’s most well known villains: The Joker. Posters of Heath Ledger (2005’s “Brokeback Mountain”) in the infamous clown makeup and purple suit seemed to dominate every available ad space. Then after Ledger’s tragic death, this was considerably dialed down. However, anticipation of not only “The Dark Knight” but also of Ledger’s twisted performance as Batman’s legendary nemesis meant that excitement surged rather than slowed. Aside from The Joker, a marketing focus was also directed on another of Batman’s adversaries — Harvey Dent aka Two Face (Aaron Eckhart of 2007’s “No Reservations”). Fan anticipation and general buzz about the sequel was so high that Warner Brothers’ campaign was less aggressive than it might have been.

“The Dark Knight”

It’s always a good sign when nearly all the main cast returns for the sequel, with the exception of Maggie Gyllenhaal (2002’s “Secretary”), who takes over from Katie Holmes as Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes. Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonathan was also taken on as a screenwriter, having previously written for “The Prestige” (2006).

We are also introduced to another type of hero, Gotham’s “white knight” District Attorney Harvey Dent. He prefers fighting crime from the courthouse instead of running around the city in a mask and cape and therefore is more of an official hero, more widely accepted by society than Batman. Dent and Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman of 2011’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) try to change the world without the use of fancy gadgetry and a costume.

In “The Dark Knight,” it has been a few years since Batman introduced himself to Gotham City as a crime-fighting vigilante. Controversy surrounding his role in society is evidenced by a discussion heard on the radio in the opening scenes. He is perhaps not as revered or accepted as Superman was by the people of Metropolis. With Dent, Gordon and Batman fighting the good fight, hope is slowly returning to the city — that is until The Joker makes his appearance.

He follows no rules and doesn’t hesitate in beginning an anarchic campaign to destroy the city and everyone in it. Ledger’s towering performance dominates, taking the character to its darkest corners and sidelining Batman somewhat. But when they are together, the atmosphere is electric.

The Joker’s schemes are decidedly complex, and there are so many of them in the film that they almost trip over each other for screen time. It isn’t surprising that Batman, Dent and Gordon can’t keep up with him. The plot also takes us to Hong Kong and the chance for some jumping from impossibly tall buildings Bat style and to introduce the audience (or at least those who aren’t comic-book fans) to the sonar device created by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman, of 2005’s “Million Dollar Baby”). A lot of praise is given to Nolan for his exceptionally mature film that succeeds in taking the story to its darkest places. This is his best work, taking the comic-book movie to the next level.

“The Dark Knight Rises”

As with “The Dark Knight,” marketing for “Rises” began with a new villain. This time, it was in the form of other malevolent mad man — the extremely muscular Bane, played by Tom Hardy (of 2008’s “Bronson”), whose image was released to the world over a year ago. We have seen a glimpse of the power behind Bane’s punch and the carnage he can bring about. This is a villain who is a physical and mental match for Batman.

We also have another key player in town – Selina Kyle, played by Anne Hathaway (2010’s “Love and Other Drugs”). She’s been seen wearing standard prison garb, leading us to think she’s been broken out by Bane, along with a group of other dangerous-looking inmates. Her story treatment will be an interesting one; scenes from trailers show her as also a possible romantic interest for Bruce Wayne. And she appears to have her own Batpod; this girl has a cunning plan and is not to be messed with.

Even with the high number of TV spots, trailers, posters, virals and sneak previews, no major plot spoilers have been given away. Warner Brothers has made it a challenge to go in to the film completely blind; it is difficult not to come across something about the film in the lead up to one of the summer’s biggest releases. Of course, this is the third film in the trilogy, so as we know by now, all bets are off. With villains taking the fight to the next level, there is a possibility that Batman will lose. This is not, after all, your typical Hollywood blockbuster, where all loose ends will be taken care of by the final act. With Christopher Nolan at the helm, anything is possible.


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Reinventing Batman: Part One Sun, 15 Jul 2012 16:17:12 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Early Batman

Tim Burton took the reins from the 1960s camp TV show and transferred the character to the big screen with his 1989 blockbuster hit “Batman.” His Bat superhero was much darker and had an edge of dangerousness compared to Adam West’s portrayal in the TV series. It was more akin to Frank Miller’s darker series of Batman comics, “The Dark Knight.” Burton’s heavy gothic themes, though impressive, keep the character and Batman universe in the area of whimsy and remain, until a few years ago, still a sort of joke. Cinematically speaking, his and Joel Schumacher’s subsequent films, were more for the masses. However, Burton’s darker vision is still praised today and his Batman, Michael Keaton (1988’s “Beetlejuice”), is seen as the best among him, Val Kilmer (2005’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”) and George Clooney (2010’s “The American”).

Director Christopher Nolan

No one really wanted to touch the Batman franchise again after the barrage of abuse aimed at the last Batman film, “Batman and Robin” (1997). Since then, studios have tried many times to regenerate the Batman franchise. Finally, keeping a tight lid on the project, indie-cult director Christopher Nolan was hired by Warner Brothers on a new Batman project. With him at the helm, it was fair to say that this was going to be a very new and different approach to the superhero. Fearful of anything leaking onto the Internet, meetings about the new Batman film were held in top secret at his house. Nolan says he was influenced by the Superman franchise, in particular Richard Donner’s 1978 film that explores the origins — something he felt hadn’t been covered before for Batman. He was also aiming for a darker and more realistic tone and wanted to use as little CGI as possible, preferring grand-scale sets, up-to-date costumes and sleek gadgets.

Batman Begins

Nolan and his co-screenwriter David S. Goyer go behind the mask, uncovering the mystery of Bruce Wayne and his transformation into Batman. The relationship between superhero and society and how society views the superhero/vigilante type is explored.

We go right back to when young Bruce first discovered the bat cave underneath his parents’ sprawling mansion and the circumstances of his parents’ death. Scenes before the tragedy seem almost bathed in light and warmth, then everything after is muted in shades of blue and black. Years later their killer Joe Chill (Richard Brake, 2007’s “Hannibal Rising”) is murdered by crime boss Falcone’s assassins for testifying against him, robbing Wayne of his chance of revenge. This sparks a quest to learn of the criminal underworld, leading him to the harshness of a Bhutanese prison and then training with the League of Shadows under Ducard (Liam Neeson of 2008’s “Taken”).

Wayne returns to Gotham City, reintegrating himself to society and creating his alter ego in secret — a hero who lives in shadows, creating fear in his enemies. Fear and guilt are big themes for Wayne and Nolan’s film in general. Wayne utilizes the bat symbol, a representation of his own fears, as it was this fear that led his parents out into the alley the night of their death. He feels incredible guilt over this and being unable to exact his vengeance, which becomes a motivator for him. Fear is also a very modern theme that resonates with the audience — fear of terrorism, of being afraid to go about daily life, and also fear of the corrupt government.

Bruce sees that his family was failed by the system when Joe Chill was allowed parole for testifying against Falcone. The people of Gotham (the cityscapes are a mix of real ones such as Chicago and New York, making Gotham more real for the audience) live in fear every day, not only from the sheer number of criminals and high crime rate but also because of the corruption in the city’s government — the people they should trust to protect them. Wayne/Batman is a crimefighter, but he is also in conflict within himself. Christian Bale’s Batman is clearly influenced by his previous roles as the very dark and monstrous Patrick Bateman in 2000’s “American Psycho” and the realistically pained Trevor Reznik in “The Machinist” (2004). In the end, his devotion to Gotham (something he shares with his father) and its people brings hope for them and the possibility of an end to the hold criminals and the corrupt have.

The After Effect

What a difference a few years make. We couldn’t be further from Schumacher’s trashiness and the camp TV show. The Penguin and the Riddler would look seriously out of place and out of their league in Batman’s modern city. Here we have a true vigilante for modern times, fighting back against the criminal underworld with all the swanky gadgetry money can buy. He’s saved the city and given hope back to its residents. Four and five stars are the average rating for the regenerated Batman film, the critics studios feared the most are satisfied and the crew can breathe a sigh of relief. The next challenge: the sequels.


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Pete Postlethwaite: Actor and Activist Mon, 10 Jan 2011 17:00:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

A wide variety of smaller film and TV roles for any other actor would have meant a less-than-notable career, but for Pete Postlethwaite, it sealed the deal for him to become one of the most remembered faces and voices in movie history.

His rugged visage and brilliant performances, despite many times being minor and supporting, were too memorable to be ignored. He put his all into every role.

The only performer in Baz Lurhmann’s “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet” to speak his lines in iambic pentameter, this Brit actor came from a distinctly working class background, brought up in Warrington (situated in between Manchester and Liverpool). He fought his way out to embark on a career in theater and on the big and small screen.

Initially bound for the priesthood, Postlethwaite set out to tackle the world of acting after seeing his first plays, “Waiting for Godot” and “Look Back in Anger.” Being of working-class stock and having no theatrical background, this was difficult to achieve, but he started out by teaching drama and physical education before attending Bristol Old Vic Theatre School at age 24.

Acting then wasn’t about being on TV or in films; the stage was where any British actor started his career. Postlethwaite’s first real taste of acting came in the 1960s and ’70s when he took to the stage at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre alongside other acting greats like Julie Walters (Molly Weasley in the “Harry Potter” films) and Bill Nighy (“Love Actually”).

Postlethwaite’s movie biography is littered with more small parts than you would initially expect from such a well-known, highly talented actor. His distinctive features, complex surname and gravelly Northern tones meant he could be easily picked out and remembered.

Perhaps Postlethwaite’s most endearing aspect is his unending modesty when it comes to his fame, dismissing comments from Steven Spielberg (who directed him in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Amistad”) that he is the greatest actor in the world and saying he doesn’t consider himself an A-list star.

One of his most memorable roles was as Mr. Kobayashi in the 1995 thriller “The Usual Suspects,” achieving maximum impact in a pivotal, but still supporting, role in the film as the lawyer and enforcer of criminal mastermind Keyser Söze.

Patriarchal roles also awarded Postlethwaite much recognition. The first was in 1988’s “Distant Voices, Still Lives,” where his portrayal of the hero’s father was considered terrifying and monstrous — reminiscent of director Terence Davis’ memories of his own father.

One of Postlethwaite’s more major roles was as Daniel Day Lewis’ father in 1993’s “In the Name of the Father,” which earned him his only Oscar nomination.

Postlethwaite also had roles in other widely released films, including “Alien 3,” “The Constant Gardener” and “The Shipping News.” Never ignoring the stage’s call, though, he is also well known for playing the lead role in “Lear,” which toured Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain in 2008.

Despite Postlethwaite’s private struggle with cancer, he still gave two memorable performances in two of 2010’s most acclaimed films.

In Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” he played dying businessman and father Maurice Fischer, upon whom the film’s emotional aspect is hinged. He also starred alongside Ben Affleck in “The Town” as an Irish kingpin moonlighting as a florist.

Outside his acting career, Postlethwaite was a passionate political activist, campaigning against the war in Iraq and marching in the Make Poverty History rally in Edinburgh at the G8 summit. He also was a firm environmentalist, solidified by his central role in the post-apocalyptic film “The Age of Stupid,” set 500 miles north of Norway in 2055. Postlethwaite played an archivist looking back at news footage to understand why humankind failed to do more about climate change.

A list of film achievements and life details doesn’t compare to seeing Postlethwaite perform on screen. It is his voice and way of speaking that really sets up what kind of actor he was.

Here is his big speech from 1996’s “Brassed Off,” directed by Mark Herman, about a miners’ brass-band set. It is set during the time then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher closed more than 100 mines — leaving more than 1,000 miners without jobs and threatening the tight-knit communities in the North of England.

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Austin’s Top 10 of 2010 Fri, 31 Dec 2010 09:59:17 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Top Ten lists are tricky because when is the list ever done? There are a bunch of movies I still want to see, including “All Good Things,” “Blue Valentine,” “Buried,” “Carlos,” “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” “Enter the Void,” “Howl,” “Last Train Home,” “Lebanon,” “Mother,” “Somewhere” and “Tiny Furniture.” I will get to those in the next few months. Who knows if they will crack my list, but for right now, this is what matters.

#10 – Winter’s Bone

This movie is cold, but not just because of the Ozark Mountain setting. There is not one warm ally on Ree Dolly’s quest, only the cruel. Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in this neo-noir as a young girl trying to find her deadbeat father. Without him, her family will lose their house, so she has no choice but to confront the people of her town. Her journey through this masterfully crafted world s mesmerizing and unflinching. Lawrence, writer/director Debra Granik and the brilliant character actor John Hawkes deserve all the praise they’ve been receiving.

#9 – The King’s Speech

Period pieces are often hailed by the Academy because of their attention to the production detail and their grand sense of scale. “The King’s Speech” succeeds because it’s about the smaller things. What really works in the film is the friendship between King George VI and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue. This build-up is so well handled by the script and the actors that the entire film because incredibly captivating. Everything is incredibly important on a personal and nationwide scale, but the movie never uses melodrama to make this point. Such a fine movie.

#8 – The Secret in Their Eyes

How can last year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar winner be on a Best of 2010 list? Everybody else is counting is as a 2010 movie, so why not? It’s my list, dangit! Films are too often blatant when setting up plot points or jokes for later use. It’s only clever when all of the pieces come together without any obvious setup. If the movie can naturally create the environment with characters that aren’t just vehicles for plot, then something special can happen. That’s what this movie pulls off with beautiful style. It’s full of romance and mystery, with an altogether wonderful story.

#7 – Mother and Child

When movies are compared to novels, that’s a compliment. Sometimes movies are too hung up on their three-act narrative structure or only focus on one character’s arc. Rodrigo García delicately created a story around three distraught women and their uncomfortable positions in their lives and families. Annette Bening is a 50-year-old woman still haunted by the child she gave away when she was 14. Naomi Watts is that child, who proudly grew up independen but has become emotionally cold. Kerry Washington is a young wife trying to work her way through the adoption process. The movie is heartbreaking at times and it earns all of its moments. Like a fine novel, the movie knows its themes and naturally lets its characters revolve around them. It’s a shame this movie went so largely unseen.

#6 – True Grit

There is so much expectation when established filmmakers release a new movie that it seems like every movie must be their next masterpiece. Is “True Grit” the best Coen Brothers movie? It doesn’t matter. This is still an amazing movie. Top-notch dialogue, a fantastic story and great lead performances by Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges. The film shows how entertaining movies can be while never talking down to their audiences. There is a vibrant quality to their storytelling that is missing from too many movies out right now. This is one of the few remakes that is better than the original.

#5 – Inception

In my top 10, there are only two films based on original ideas. Signing off on something without a built-in audience scares producers. The only way a movie of this scale could be made was having Christopher Nolan as its architect. What a movie he built. There have been complaints that there is too much exposition, but that is not a problem when characters are answering questions asked by the audience. Too often, movies insist on telling you backstory or upon random flashbacks. Every answer in “Inception” comes from a worthy question, and is fun. It’s not a complicated movie, just a new one. And that’s great.

#4 – Exit Through the Gift Shop

Although it’s not exactly reflected on my list, this was a fantastic year for documentaries. The shining jewel was this odd examination of street art. Much like “My Kid Could Paint That,” this film investigates whether this can be considered art or just graffiti. Then it takes really unexpected turns that could either be completely ridiculous or the exact thing to prove the movie’s point. This all could be part of profiled street artist Banksy’s master plan, but either way this is a stellar look at art and those who value it.

#3 – Toy Story 3

Few trilogies actually have three good entries. “Toy Story 3,” with its amazing structure and attention to characters, not only pulled off a worthy conclusion, but possibly the best installment. Pixar goes beyond what is expected from children’s films, and this is no exception. It ends the story of Woody and the gang by having them look into how they are going to spend the rest of their eternity — their lives without Andy. Essentially, this is their afterlife. It deals with this topic with outstanding maturity while still having a very funny prison-escape plot. This is not just a great kids’ film, but an outstanding piece of art.

#2 – The Social Network

Everyone has it on their list and everyone should. Nobody thought this could be a movie, but not enough people knew the story. To make a scathing movie about Mark Zuckerberg (my unofficial doppelganger) during the height of his power is a risky move. It is reminiscent of  “Citizen Kane” in that regard, but there are more apt comparisons. The rise to power has been told many times, but Aaron Sorkin reinvigorates it with his best screenplay since his “West Wing” years. The non-linear format and unconventional third act alone would rank this as one of the great scripts of the year. Yet his dialogue, that much-missed rapid-fire dialogue … there’s so much of it that this could easily have looked like a theater piece, but David Fincher can do wonders if he has the right script. This is a movie that will be remembered for many years to come.

#1 – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Prepare yourself for hyperbole overload. This movie is beyond magnificent, one of the most important comedies in years. Too many comedies are dictated by the actors. The script could be solid (or often not solid enough), but it’s the actors who have to make or break the comedy. Acclaimed comedy directors are the ones who let the actors do what they do best. Edgar Wright has shown the potential for comedy beyond that.

No longer are dramatic and genre directors the only ones allowed to show their visual style. Wright’s direction of “Pilgrim” never detracted from the comedy but exemplified it to new heights. The editing, the innovative transitions, the BAMs, the tricks. Everything worked and was amazing. Wright is the most exciting director since Martin Scorsese, and this is his “Mean Streets.”

Beyond that, this movie brings forward the intelligence everyone has been asking for in romantic comedies. Exes are not just here for punchlines but to show the emotional repercussions the characters face. The movie isn’t about the relationship, but the potential to have one in a modern setting.

This has the best set of supporting characters seen in any 2010 film, everyone is hysterical, and the action is better filmed than anything else this year. Even Michael Cera gives his best performance since “Arrested Development.”

This is the type of movie that will inspire the next generation. With today’s cookie-cutter output from Hollywood, there aren’t enough risks and original voices. People became invested in film from movies like “Jaws,” “Ghostbusters” and “Pulp Fiction.” This is the movie for which kids will wear out the disc and want to go out and make a movie (or a rock band). This is truly something special.

Honorable Mentions
  • Never Let Me Go
  • 127 Hours
  • The Living Wake
  • Inside Job
  • Restrepo
  • Waking Sleeping Beauty
  • The Lottery
  • I Am Love
  • Get Him to the Greek
  • Red Riding – 1974
  • Soul Kitchen
  • Let Me In
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
  • Best Worst Movie
  • The Kids Are All Right
Other Yappers’ Top Ten Lists

Chris Lloyd

Nick Rogers

Joe Shearer

Sam Watermeier

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Nick’s Top 25 and Worst 10 of 2010 Tue, 28 Dec 2010 20:14:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Although I spent the better part of the year revisiting the best and wallowing in the worst of 2000-2009, I still managed to watch 111 movies from 2010.

First, here are my picks, in ascending order, for the 10 worst. The less said of them at this time, the better, and I’ll readily admit I’ve probably not yet seen the true dregs.

10. Conviction

9. Clash of the Titans

8. Legion

7. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

6. Repo Men

5. The Wolfman

4. Skyline

3. Brooklyn’s Finest

2. Cop Out

1. Get Him to the Greek

Now, in ascending order, here are my choices for the 25 best.

25. Enter the Void

This makes the cut on directorial ambition alone. Don’t give much thought to the puerile plot of a drug addict sailing over the Tokyo where he’s recently died. Just find the largest screen possible, crank it up and let director Gaspar Noe attach electrodes to your cortex with amazing technique.

24. Please Give

“The Kids Are All Right” was an indie Nancy Meyers movie. Nicole Holofcener offers the real deal — a sharp, true comedy about altruism, aging and life’s other clutters. Amanda Peet’s brassy, caustic turn reinforced Holofcener’s theme: We’re awful to each other sometimes, but we’re all we have.

23. Buried

Ryan Reynolds awakens buried alive and attempts escape, but there’s little room for sarcasm in this sarcophagus. Reynolds’ atypical panic, logic, disbelief and rage drove this unrelentingly claustrophobic thriller about a civilian chasing his own high-risk, high-reward war profit.

22. Solitary Man

This perfectly prickly lease-on-life story takes a hard left from sentimentality — not so much about learning to live life but (possibly) facing death. An arthritic bird dog tracking the scent of women, Michael Douglas is a jewel of denial — predatory, delusional, wolfish, unforgettable.

21. Let Me In

Matt Reeves’ cover of “Let the Right One In” changes the tempo to tap into an undercurrent of darkness beyond the allure of a melody. More taciturn, tragic and terrifying than the original, it discusses how evil feeds upon innocence as desolately as “No Country For Old Men.”

20. Red Riding 1974 / 1980

Comparing this British crime trilogy to “The Godfather” or “The Wire” is somewhat valid … if you bail after “1980.” Forget the syrupy, ludicrous conclusion. Savor the intro (a visually intoxicating exploration of vengeance) and interlude (“L.A. Confidential” without the reversal of misfortune).

19. Kick-Ass

Casting a tween as a one-girl wrecking machine of maiming and murder proved divisive to many. But Matthew Vaughn’s punk-attitude action film had one of the year’s best shots: Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl letting a true glint of fear, and subsequent heroism, flash into her eyes.

18. Rabbit Hole

John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) directing a dead-kid drama seems like opening a craft shop next to a cabaret. But with tough humor and a trio of outstanding turns from Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest, it thoughtfully explored grief.

17. Winter’s Bone

Debra Granik’s stunning, sobering film transplanted mob-movie mentality into Missouri’s meth wastelands — never condescending to its people, only anthropologically observing their actions. John Hawkes and Jennifer Lawrence give two of the year’s most mesmerizing performances.

16. Splice

A cautionary tale coated with midnight-movie mucosa, “Splice” achieved severe psychological discomfort most audiences didn’t stand for (given its relative lack of traditional terror). Morally sticky, diabolically satirical, ambitiously allegorical, dangerously kinky and skillfully disconcerting.

15. Best Worst Movie

Wikipedia’s most amusing understatement: “ ‘Troll 2’ is widely considered to be of poor quality.” The opposite holds true for this philosophical, poignant and riotously funny look at the low-budget film’s resurgence and a timeless question: What is the standard of “bad,” exactly?

14. Blue Valentine

Derek Cianfrance’s marital horror show employs dermatological closeups and heartbreaking work from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams to document a marriage’s destruction. A critical choice: We see the flutter in their hearts form through flashback before it stops and falls dead.

13. 127 Hours

Danny Boyle’s endorphin-rush visuals get blood pumping before it runs cold in this terrific true-life “jailbreak” movie boasting James Franco’s greatest performance (morbid, heartfelt, disappointed and determined all at once) and a moving liturgy for connection and community.

12. The Good, the Bad, the Weird

A breathless action rush from start to finish, this Korean interpolation of Sergio Leone’s Western seamlessly blended practical, plentiful stunts with eye-popping CG visuals. This is the sort of giddy, hellzapoppin rush of excitement that makes you feel like a 12-year-old all over again.

11. Toy Story 3

Talk about a horse race for 2010’s best animated film. Pixar’s flagship franchise came to a tremendously moving finish. The template for “The Great Escape” never seemed so existential, and never have you wanted to sock a sullied, purple-pink bear so hard in his filthy, filthy mouth.

10. How To Train Your Dragon

Just as the characters in the year’s best animated film slowly tiptoed outside of the boundaries of how they expect each other to act, so did the story itself.

There’s so much subtext beyond believe-in-yourself bootstraps: how little we know of history reinforced only via tradition and textbook; seeing compassion and conscience as empathy, not cowardice; a nearly imperceptible message about living with disability, and that’s just a sample.

Plus, spine-tingling animation achieved awesome aerial action and artistry better than “Avatar.” There’s more detail in Toothless’s eye than in most films altogether, and the creature is a chummier version of the “Cloverfield” creature as he’s a panther, bunny, duck, cat, dog, bat, whale, newt, bird and dragon all at once.

It’s visual majesty on a level with “Fantasia,” and much like a hippo ballerina, this pas de deux of a boy and his dragon reached an unexpected grace.

9. The Tillman Story

Even at 25, Pat Tillman was an elder statesman — inquisitive, influential, calming. After his death in Afghanistan, his complexities were put under a button press and packed into political talking points.

In a way, Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary scattered his ashes — letting Tillman, known for defensive prowess in the NFL prior to military service, be all that he was. It was an honor denied by the U.S. government for which he fought, and “The Tillman Story” becomes an infuriating story of how officials used intimidation and invalidation to manage the perception of his death. (They tried to sweep something under the rug on a family that’s all hardwood, all the time.)

Unfiltered and uncut, “The Tillman Story” erected a more moving monument to Tillman’s valor than anything made of metal.

8. Exit Through the Gift Shop

If Charlie Kaufman made a documentary, it would be this meta-commentary on artistic integrity and inspiration that might also well be nothing more than a fascinating, suspicious, funny goof.

Credited as a Banksy film, “Exit” begins as a look at the hooded, masked vanguard leader of the guerrilla street-art movement. He’s chronicled by Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant obsessed with the movement. But as Banksy takes the reins and encourages Thierry to explore artistic interests, “Exit” busts out the pledge, turn and prestige and becomes a playful, beguiling puzzle.

Banksy’s art is a finger to the chest, poked to provoke response, awareness and a change of perception. In “Exit’s” case, it’s the documentary form. Whether it’s true detracts not from its salient, spectacular, occasionally snotty point: Commerce and hype often trump creativity, as exhibits dump you into stores with take-home versions of singular creativity you just witnessed.

7. Greenberg

Who’d have thought it possible to feel this good after a Noah Baumbach movie?

A romantic comedy between a hedonist and a nihilist, “Greenberg” is hardly saccharine, but thankfully it’s not the abrasive chemical treatment Baumbach usually applies. Perhaps the best, most humane parts of working with Wes Anderson have finally rubbed off on him.

Call it Ben Stiller in “The 40-Year-Old Urchin,” as an ornery, egotistical misanthrope who writes passive-aggressive consumer complaint letters. His gradual warm-up to a 25-year-old woman (Greta Gerwig) and estranged friend (Rhys Ifans) is freeing, funny and powerfully told.

It’s a huge moment to finally embrace that on which you’d never planned, especially if it’s good for you. It all leads to one of the truest endings to a romance since “Before Sunset” — a character revelation proving these people, however broken, are the perfect fit for each other.

6. Animal Kingdom

There are feature-length directorial debuts of pleasant, cordial introduction. Then there are blindsiding handshakes of remarkably assertive, assured death-grip intensity. David Michôd’s mercilessly riveting, judiciously violent “Animal Kingdom” was one of those.

Never once did this Australian cops-and-robbers tale — buoyed by Oscar-worthy supporting turns from Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver — feel like it would barrel toward anything less than a grim resolution, but its stunning ambiguity remained worth ruminating over.

One thing was clear: When it comes to the territory of men who would be criminal kings, Martin Scorsese has New York, Michael Mann has Los Angeles, Ben Affleck has Boston and, even after one movie, it feels like Michôd already owns Melbourne.

5. Never Let Me Go

Unlike Kazuo Ishiguro’s heralded novel about humans cloned to be harvested for spare parts, Alex Garland’s script didn’t shamefully hide away its sci-fi slant. It let its clinical connotations and emotional components about the value of life, identity, creativity and self-knowledge sink in more deeply than Ishiguro’s dreary scene-setting details.

Mark Romanek’s sturdy direction, Adam Kimmel’s cinematography and Rachel Portman’s score added to its icy formalism, and terrific turns from Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley complemented its script’s soul — three actors who could look 25 but exude the body language of senior citizens without aid of makeup and were able to sum up years of guilt in a glance.

It’s a transfixing, mournful and tragic love story, a cautionary tale against the scope of fearmongering propaganda and an aching parable of resignation we all tend to feel as we age.

4. The Fighter

There’s not a feint to be found in a film full of scenes coloring outside lines defined by uplifting sports tales. It’s unexpectedly, ferociously funny in spots, and its portrayal of a flammable family that creates four-alarm fights with the slightest spark of ignition rings true at every turn.

Everyone touts Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese as a new actor-director muse model. Screw that. I want more of Mark Wahlberg and David O. Russell. In Russell’s hands, Wahlberg always elevates, and Russell rebounds from a scattershot run with uncommon energy.

Still, the movie and a likely Oscar belongs to Christian Bale as Wahlberg’s half-brother — intelligent about boxing but hobbled by insatiable addictions to crack and chaos. Although self-destructive, Bale has never seemed so at ease as Dick, and his story is infused, darkly, into the movie’s battered, bloody soul about synthesizing the good and bad into a sense of self.

3. Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky understands that, at some level, ballet is dignified erotica. He also knows how, as in “The Wrestler,” the profession pushes extremities to extremes — unholy adjustments and atypically wicked body contortions that make even trapezius muscles a macabre sight.

As much Argento as it is Polanski, “Black Swan” is a scorching psychological nightmare soaked in sweat, tears and blood. This headlong, heedless rush into the psychotic, paranoid pursuit of perfection is bolstered by purposefully dizzying camerawork that matches its racing mind and the oppressive swell of Clint Mansell’s Tchaikovsky-augmented score.

But it’s owned by Natalie Portman, who’s dainty, damaged, delicate and destructive in a way we’ve never seen her. It’s a complete transformation of her tactics in more ways than one — reptilian, truly terrifying, unruly and unhinged, just like this piece of grand Grand Guignol.

2. Inception

For all of the complexities, exposition and showmanship of street magic, sometimes its simple illusions and emotions dazzle the most. The same could be said of “Inception” — a dangerous tumble down a rabbit hole of perception, identity and memory and the bravest, boldest, most bracing blockbuster since “The Matrix.”

Writer/director Christopher Nolan was too busy throwing haymakers of sheer spectacle and pop psychology (which no other 2010 film bothered to throw) to hold audiences’ hands through this mind game — the inter-dream audacity of which made “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” read like a Little Einstein title by comparison.

Intelligent, witty, exhilarating, and it contained the year’s best onscreen kiss.

1. The Social Network

Regardless of dramatic embellishment, “The Social Network” told a fascinating, electrifying, merciless and nasty tale of how one man’s idiosyncrasies and insecurities came to speak, in a way, for almost everyone who uses the Internet.

Aaron Sorkin’s rat-a-tat screenplay is caffeinated, but clear-headed — paced at information’s MBPS pace and cognizant of tipping points on friendships and business in Facebook’s birth. Recalling the chilly reserve of Wendy Carlos, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score rumbles ominously, predatory noises accompanying every throat lunge in a dog-eat-dog business deal.

And after just five minutes, Mark Zuckerberg brings out Jesse Eisenberg’s best performance — a man playing a boy who prefers the full view of a room when backed into a corner and overcompensates for nerdiness with passive-aggressiveness.

The brilliant final scene (as deftly directed by David Fincher as the rest of the film) finds him sitting there as we all have at one point — impatiently refreshing, awaiting digital confirmation of our flesh-and-blood worth.

Other Yappers’ Top Ten Lists

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Austin Lugar

Joe Shearer

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