Friday, January 21, 2011

Film Yap: No Strings Attached

I could talk about the particulars of No Strings Attached but frankly it’s too boring to discuss. What has happened to romantic comedies? These used to be great. The quick-witted banter with Cary Grant. The inventive plots of Preston Sturges. The dynamic characters of the 70s. What happened and how is this movie guilty of every single one of its lazy clichés? To fix this, just follow these rules.

1. Cast the movie not the poster.

So two young attractive people decide to become friends with benefits. Don’t just pick two random attractive actors. First off all, let’s make sure they have at least a little bit of chemistry. Just a little bit. Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman have zero fizz and I can’t even tell if they like each other let alone love each other. Also pick actors who actually fit the characters. Don’t just shuffle the 20 something Hollywood types and decide these two haven’t been in a movie yet. Of course for that to happen…

2. Have characters.

There is nothing to the leads. Nothing. Aside from “they like to have sex” there is really nothing to describe these leads. The film has a few things like “she doesn’t want her heart broken” but that doesn’t count because that’s dialog she says about herself constantly. That’s not actually seen in the film. The best romantic movies are ones where the audience falls for the characters as well. Guys can talk about how awesome Annie Hall and Amelie are because those are actual characters. Girls talk about Mr. Darcy beyond just “he’s hot.” The audience needs to swoon as well or else it’s just an incredible dull experience.

3. Actually try with the flirting.

Part of this ties into actually having characters, but the romantic scenes need to try as well. (Am I asking too much for a movie to try a little bit? I hope not.). The following things need to stop happening. The girl is really good at something the guy likes. (No Strings Attached has her getting three hole-in-ones in miniature golf during a montage.) The girl is interested in the guy because he’s randomly vulnerable. (In a flashback Ashton Kutcher is crying about his parent’s divorce.) Also while on dates, the duo laughs at each other's jokes, regardless of the fact they're not funny. (The entire movie.)

4. Have a lot of characters.

It’s the new standard in Hollywood to have two attractive leads and make them really dull. So the only way to make this a romantic comedy is to fill the supporting cast with talented actors and solid comedians. Yet instead of giving them great characters to play off of, they just have to be themselves and improvise everything. This movie has Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig, Lake Bell, Olivia Thirlby, Ludacris (why not), Mindy Kaling, and Jake M. Johnson. None of these are actual characters. Kline is old and says sexual stuff! Bell is CRAZY! The others…nothing. There is literally nothing to describe the rest of them. The best friend archtype is the worst because it leads to…

5. Never have a scene where the lead repeats the plot to the best friend ever again.

This is become unbearable. This happens so many times during every romantic comedy. There is a comedic tentpole scene. In this case Ashton Kutcher gives Natalie Portman a balloon for a good job at sex. (Wondering why I’m not calling them by their character names? See point 1.) Then Ashton Kutcher talks to Johnson about it. Then he talks to Ludacris about it. They each give their one joke. Then we have to see Natalie Portman talk to Mindy Kaling about it. MOVE THE PLOT FORWARD. We clearly understood what each character thought about that scene and the best friends won’t give any actual advice. To have these characters only exist for the sole purpose of being silly sages is infuriating.

6. Don’t let the entire world revolve around the leads.

This one obviously has exceptions. (Arthur for example.) Yet it makes no sense that the entire TV show Ashton Kutcher works on would stop everything and throw him a surprise birthday party. He’s just an assistant on the show! (Don’t argue that Kevin Kline made it possible, because that doesn’t excuse the scene.) Everywhere these two go, they are the beloved ones in the room. Despite having low paying jobs, they live in GIANT houses. Yes, I get that we have to accept some disbelief that these two have trouble finding love, but if you want the audience to relate to the characters at all bring something down to reality. It’s not even glamorous anymore! Everyone has the same houses in these movies.

7. At least pretend it might not end the way we think.

The whole concept of “will they or won’t they” only ends with they will in Hollywood. With a lot of the way they were filmed in the 60s or 70s things felt a little more unpredictable. Scenes sometimes only existed to give a lived-in quality to these characters and their lives. It wasn’t just a cookie-cutter script. The three-act format is so calculated with this genre, everybody knows what’s going to happen. Was there any doubt that Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher were going to get into a fight about 2/3rds in? Was there any doubt what will happen next? You can survey the audience before the movie starts and they can probably give you the whole film. If you want the ending to matter, even a little bit, make the elements real. Make the fight believable. Just give a little bit of uncertainty!

8. Stop using homosexuality as an empty punchline.

Seriously. It’s just really old now.

9. If you’re going to be ‘R’ be ‘R’.

This is an R-rated romantic comedy about two people having sex. So there is no nudity and no graphic talk about sex (just a few dick jokes). If you have the chance to be closer to reality, take it. It just feels so contrived to actresses use the sheets in just the right way. This goes for the guys too. There is a painfully unfunny scene where Ashton Kutcher wakes up on a couch naked and Natalie Portman’s roommates are messing with him. Despite dancing naked the night before (off screen of course), he is shy so he keeps covering his little Kelso as he walks across the house. Not every film needs to be really raunchy, but when that’s literally your plot and there is nothing to edit for TV it just feels ridiculous.

10. Don’t spend this much money.

This could solve it all. This movie cost $25 million according to Box Office Mojo. Why? Okay I get actor salaries, but this could still be under $10 million. Then things probably won’t look as shiny. Every shot is too perfect and too lit. This is what’s adding to everything feeling familiar and predictable. People didn’t know how the movie Once was going to end because it didn’t look like it was The Back-Up Plan, The Bounty Hunter, Life As We Know It, Dear John, You Again, The Last Song, The Switch, Killers or Valentine’s Day. If you keep the focus on the characters, the plot, the romance, and the comedy then you have a movie. Not this incredibly lazy and forgettable whatever.

2 Yaps

Blue Valentine

Love is not always romantic. When the emotions run too high, mistakes can be made and people can get hurt. Then there are repercussions. Blue Valentine is a film void of hope no matter the time. There are two narratives in the film. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play Dean and Cindy whose marriage is on the verge of collapse. Then intercut is the two of them when they were younger and they first met.

It isn’t cruel juxtaposition, but everything constantly reminds about where it is going. In the present they have a little girl named Frankie. Cindy has an exhausting job as a nurse and Dean is a lazy painter. The tension is high and everybody always seems angry.

When they were younger things weren’t exactly easier. Cindy’s grandmother is dying and her boyfriend is a complete jerk. Dean often talks wistfully about love at first sight and pursues it when he first sees Cindy while he’s working. There are plenty of character hints on why things will not work out.

If this was a linear story there could be a tease of whether or not this could work. Instead the film presents this damning sense of inevitability and that’s what makes this feel like an incomplete venture. Jumping back and forward in time doesn’t always add something new to the characters or story so it feels more like an interruption instead of clarity.

The real reason this movie seems to have been made was to chance to have amazing performances. Michelle Williams is wonderful. She has the real arc of the film and because of that she can show of her subtly and raw emotions. Ryan Gosling is a very fine actor and he creates a very realized character that is a variant of the typical deadbeat husband. Unfortunately because of the inevitability factor, he feels stuck without being able to really move forward.

The stark realism works in a lot of key scenes, but sometimes it becomes a bit conventional. The metaphorical opening doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the movie and the endless chain of extreme close-ups eventually stops providing nuances but a reminder this is still an artificial creation.

Luckily the performances give that amazing sense of humanity that is needed. Just watching this movie for the train wreck aspect doesn’t cut it. The real interest comes from seeing two fantastic actors handle difficult material. There won’t be a Saraband to this Scenes of a Marriage, but at least there’s comfort knowing these two could handle that with high expertise.

Higgens Network: Country Strong

I’m not a big music guy. There are a few bands I like and listen to regularly, but for the most part I find new music through movies. Usually it’s just the random song that is incorporated well, but when music is a big part of the movie the stakes are different. The movie’s quality can be judged on whether or not I pick up the soundtrack the next day. These songs have extra weight to them because they are tied into the emotions of the characters. The soundtrack of Once is not just a collection of sweet songs, but reminders about the relationship of the lead couple.

I will never buy the soundtrack for Country Strong.

It doesn’t matter that I don’t listen to much country, because I was still sold on Crazy Heart’s songs. I cared about Jeff Bridges’ Bad Blake and his songs really reflected his current state of life and his struggles. With Country Strong there are no characters to be interested in. There are four people running around, having affairs, talking about music, and singing in an incredibly boring fashion.

Gwyneth Paltrow is Kelly Canter, a famous country singer who is getting out of rehap. She’s having an affair with her sponsor Beau, played by TRON Legacy’s Garrett Hedlund. Kelly’s husband (Tim McGraw) wants to put Kelly back on the stage and wants Beau and a hot new star (Leighton Meester) to open for her.

There is great potential for this redemption plotline but everything is so muddy. Writer/director Shana Feste previous made The Greatest a movie that was almost good. This is almost decent. Especially at the beginning of this film, every character is incredibly two-dimensional, almost embarrassingly so. None of their relationships or motivations gel together into something realistic.

For example Beau doesn’t want to leave his happy bar performances because he thinks you can’t mix love and fame. Also if you become famous you only have to play the songs they want. However when he’s on the road, he’s beloved by everyone and he gets to play the songs he wants. He still sputters about the bad aspects even though none of that is seen throughout the film.

Feste has a habit of doing things for the payoff, even when the set-up doesn’t make sense. There are certain lines of dialog that don’t really work but part of them sound nice. The plot operates in the same way. She wants this ending, but doesn’t know how to naturally get to that point. Having the characters blankly looking at each other is NOT character development. Especially when this feels like 80% of your film. (Sometimes the camera even zooms in!)

It is a weird world when Get Him to the Greek is tackling similar material with more understanding. Both movies have their addict heroes making their way to the “big show” and that is the scene where everything matters. They even start their sets in the same way. However when the lights open on Russell Brand and he belts his lyric, there is such a mixture of sadness and relief for him. When Paltrow sang, it was nothing.

Film Yap: The Virginity Hit

The Virginity Hit is exactly like Superbad with the plot of American Pie. The only thing it’s missing is the humor, wit, characters, plot development, relevance, worthy performances, and any sort of grasp on the reality of high schoolers.

This movie fundamentally fails on every level. Even the premise is just gross. Four friends decide to smoke out of a specialized bong whenever one of them loses their virginity. One by one they all do the deed except for Matt. Led by his intolerably obnoxious step-brother Zack, they obsess to help Matt.

Now Zack records every single moment of his life. This isn’t some stupid commentary about the YouTube generation. It’s just a poor gimmick that makes this overdone story even worse. Yes teenagers talk about sex, but these morons only talk about sex in bizarre detail. Zack seems to have devoted his entire existence to recording the physical nature of Matt and the worst part is, it isn’t funny.

The rest of this world seems okay with this as well. Zack knows everybody’s favorite porn star and will even give Matt a used pair of panties at a family birthday party. That’s not really a punchline…it’s just working hard to make these characters even more unlikable. The amount of work Zack goes into to film Matt having sex is not an look on voyeurism but more of wondering why any of these people hang out with each other.

There is nothing new added to this story. They even go out of their way to include another genital shaving scene. The few times they try to have a new joke or concept, the execution takes forever and it never really adds up to the plot at all.

This is a horrible movie on every front. It’s hard to believe these are the same credited screenwriters as The Last Exorcism, which used the handheld method in a clever way. Then again it seems like they just let these actors improvise with horrible results. The format is supposed to allow things to be more “natural” but instead everything feels more stilted than the American Pie franchise is ripping off. (This is impressive because those four have so little chemistry, I always assumed they filmed their scenes separately and then edited together.) Maybe just once or twice, there can be overlapping dialog besides “Ooohhhhh” and “What happened?!?”

The DVD extras include Zack’s audition, which doesn’t explain why he was hired. There is the line-o-rama, which is usually there to show all of the unused funny lines. This one just showed even worse lines. (Or lines that didn’t even make sense.) Then there’s a commentary track and a screen test which featured the hysterical Carlo Gallo, who wasn’t in the film. Smart girl. Also there is a very uncomfortable segment about how the girl who plays Nicole is still living in New Jersey and she seems really embarrassed she made this film. Gold!

Film: 0 Yaps

Extras: 1 Yap

Film Yap: Alpha and Omega

Everybody likes to rail on the big bad studios. “Look at them with their suits and how they hate artists. So evil…” Yet animation seems to be a bit backwards. The three major film studios dealing with animation are Pixar, Dreamworks and Disney. So why are they taking risks with their storytelling and smaller films like Alpha and Omega aren’t?

This is a lower budgeted movie than what those studios are dealing with, but that’s not an excuse for its quality. If there is a good story or characters at its core, mediocre animation can be ignored. Yet everything just feels incredibly lazy with this movie. This doesn’t feel like a story, but a calculated attempt to figure out what kids will like. “Kids like sledding right! Let’s have THREE scenes where wolves use a log as a sled!”

The animal of choice this movie is wolves. Kate is an alpha wolf and Humphrey is an omega wolf. Will they find love? That’s just about it. The two of them get separated from their tribes and they have to get back before a war starts. What follows is an incredibly dull road trip with dumb conflicts and little imagination.

Talented voice actors like Justin Long and Christina Ricci try to do what they can with very thin characters. The rest of the voice cast (Hayden Panettiere, Dennis Hopper, Danny Glover and Larry Miller) are just stuck being the stale children’s film archetypes.

The animation really doesn’t look good at all. During some scenes it looks like it’s a prototype version on display. The hair on the wolves never moves like hair, the scenery doesn’t feel like the characters are affecting it at all. Also there is this creepy sexual presence of the wolves. There are a lot of reproduction jokes. Characters spend a lot of time physically lusting over them and so does the movie to an extent. Female wolves will walk in slow motion with a seductive pose to the camera and at one point Kate is wearing a bra.

This is undeniable a kids’ film, not a family film. All ages will quickly become bored with this and will want to move on to films that will actually try. Yes, Dreamworks the studio behind Shrek Forever After is trying more than Lionsgate. What a strange world.

The extras are equally boring. There is a 20 minute featurette where they all talk about what a great job they did. The oddest part of this was not the quick reminder that Hopper died before this came out, but the look at the early sketches of the characters. They looked really good. Why didn’t they keep this 2D instead of making this terrible looking computer animation that was (of course) released in 3D. There is also a featurette about wolves that is…all right. There is also a deleted scene, an idiotic game, a “personality test” and animal “fun” facts. Yep!

Film: 2 Yaps

Extras: 2 Yaps

Film Yap: Funny or Die Presents Season One

“Funny or Die Presents” knows what an odd concept it is. It constantly makes fun of the fact that their website,, is free to the public but now it’s a TV show with the same sort of content. In their defense, a lot of what is seen on the show is original material mixed in with site favorites.

Unlike other sketch shows, “Funny or Die Presents” doesn’t have a singular voice like “Chappelle Show” or “Mr. Show”. Instead it’s a group of comedians each getting their own set time. Some of them are familiar names in the comedy scene like Mike O’Connell (Star of one of the best films of last year, “The Living Wake”) and Brett Gelman (“The Other Guys”). Others are rising talents like Derek Waters.

In 12 episodes, the content switches from ongoing stories, reoccurring bits, and stand-alone comedy shorts. One of the two main ongoing stories is “Designated Driver” which involves a drunk Rob Riggle ruining Paul Scheer’s night and possibly his entire life though a series of violent misadventures. The stronger one is “Hold Up” where a bank is being robbed and Rob Huebel, Thomas Lennon, Ed Helms, Rachael Harris, Malin Akerman and The Office’s Creed Bratton are held hostage.

Reoccuring segments include Sleeping With Celebrities, which is more literal than you might think, and Playground Politics, which has adorable children recreating global conflicts. Also there is the beloved Drunk History, where a comedian gets absolutely wasted and recounts a historical event, which is then recreated with actors like Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, and Crispin Glover.

Like any sketch show, there are things that work and things that fall flat. Every episode is a mixed bag but there’s never anything derivative. The worst part of the show is the opening few seconds where they tease the episode by showing random lines from upcoming seconds. Many times it deflates the punchline when it’s in context.

The biggest thing working against it is the sense of relevancy. There are sketches on their site that are much better. There are many more that are poor, but the show just provides a nice sampling. Besides missing out on some nice shorts like Hold Up and Gelman’s One Thousand Cats, this is not mandatory television viewing.

Show: 3.5 Yaps

Extras: N/A

Film Yap: The Last Exorcism

Exorcisms in horror films haven’t had the expansion as other myths. Vampires have had a whole collage of stories evolved now to romances. Even though it came out almost 40 years ago, the movie The Exorcist remains incredibly vibrant in people’s minds and it’s difficult to break away from it. With The Last Exorcism it seems like it is falling into the same tropes.

Underrated TV actor Patrick Fabian is Cotton Marcus. He’s the pastor who loves the theatrics of religion. He has realized throughout the years that do not have much faith and this is making his job difficult. So he agrees to be a subject of a documentary exposing his biggest problem with Christianity, which are exorcisms. He has performed several of them and it is all a fraud put together by special effects.

So the documentary crew and Cotton travel out to Louisiana for the “last exorcism.” This is the one that will show how the process is done. From this point the plot could be on autopilot. Will this look at evil be the thing to restore Cotton’s faith? That’s where this film really succeeds. The screenplay by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland provides several impressive twists that really make this movie something special.

It uses the expectations of the familiar story to subvert it into new directions. This movie has more in common with films like The Blair Witch Project and a few 70s small town horror films over The Exorcist. Beyond being very clever with the story, director Daniel Stramm avoids the typical jump scares but uses his mockumentary format to create a very uneasy vibe about this Louisiana house. There are very little special effects in the film and that makes it more realistic.

That realism is what draws people to demonic stories. Most people do not believe in werewolves or risen mummies, but demons are something that factors into a lot of religious mythology. So a mockumentary format is more organic of a choice and is pulled off better than recent entries to the subgenre. Part of this is due to the fantastic performances by Fabian and Ashley Bell. Too many mockumentaries have the characters ignore the camera too much, but these actors really do a good job about naturally responding while still remember every moment is being recorded.

The ending of the movie is very refreshing and unnerving. It presents just enough questions to have a healthy debate without leaving like nothing was resolved. This story may still rely on the stale plot to tell this story, but at least there is plenty of fresh material at its core.

The DVD is full with cool features. There is a very good making-featurette that showed their philosophies on how to give this a new visual take. It is also the calmest place to see Eli Roth, who produced this film. There is also a creepy short looking at real exorcism, equipped with a title card saying that religious officials have advised them to include on the DVD a protection prayer because watching this could influence real demons. So that prayer is also available to recite. There are also two commentary tracks, one with the producers and one with the director and cast.

Film: 4 Yaps

Extras: 4 Yaps

Monday, January 3, 2011

ATNA Website

Hey Everybody,

Our podcast And the Nominees Are has been a bit tricky lately as we try to get movies and try to juggle everything. Yet we have one bit thing finally finished. Our website is now up! There's still a few more things to add on the episode page, but this is something we've been working on for a little bit. HUGE thanks to Jeff Higgens for designing this and putting it together.

We are finishing up the last few films of 1938 and shall get another new episode up soon. Along with that will (probably) be an announcement involving Keith. Another one!

Also to tease something else, my next housekeeping blog post will be talking about a new publication I'm writing for. Not movies this time...

Thanks everybody for reading this silly thing and Happy New Year!


Film Yap: Top Ten Films of 2010

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, 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, they’ll lose the house so she has no choice but to confront the people of her town. Her journey is mesmerizing and unflinching through this masterfully crafted world. 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 nation-wide 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! Too often, films are too blatant when they are 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, mystery, and altogether wonderful story.

#7 – Mother and Child

When movies are compared to novels, that’s a compliment. Sometimes movies are too hung up in their 3-act narrative structure or only focus on one character’s arc. Rodrigo García delicately created a story around three distraught women and their uncomfortable position in their life and family. 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 independent, which has made her cold. Kerry Washington is a young wife who is 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 underseen.

#6 – True Grit

There is so much expectation when established filmmakers release a new movie. 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 dialog, 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 audience. 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 ten, there are only two films that are based off original ideas. Signing off on something without a build-in audience scares producers. The only way a movie of this scale could be made was having Christopher Nolan as the architect. What a movie he built. Their have been complaints that there is too much exposition but that is not a problem when they are answering questions that are being asked by the audience. Too often movies insist on telling you backstory or random flashbacks. Everything answered in Inception is fun and a worthy question. 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 movie, this odd examination at street art. Much like My Kid Could Paint That, this film investigates whether or not this can be considered art or just graffiti. Then it takes really unexpected turns that could be completely ridiculous or the exact thing to prove the movie’s point. This all could be part of Banksy’s master plan, but either way this is a stellar look art and the ones 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 its unconventional third act alone would rank this as one of the great scripts of the years. Yet his dialog, that missed rapid-fire dialog… There’s so much of it, this movie could easily have looked like a theatre piece but David Fincher can do wonders if he has he 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. This is one of the most important comedy films in years. Too many comedy films are dictated by the actors. The script could be solid (or often not solid enough) and 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 allowed to be the one who show their visual style. Wright’s direction in this never detracted 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 Scorsese and this is his Mean Streets.

Beyond that this movie brings forward the intelligence everyone has been asking for in romantic comedies. Ex-es 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 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 and Ghostbusters and Pulp Fiction. This is the movie that kids will wear out the disc and will 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


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

Higgens Network: True Grit

Writing and directing a western was a smooth transition for The Coen Brothers. All of their films deal with morally questionable people operating with a purpose. Unlike the inhabitants of Fargo, the men of True Grit show more of their true nature on the surface.

These people are dirty, grimy, and a shower is never in question. Through this there is a sense of honesty among them. Rooster Cogburn is first introduced in an outhouse recovering from a long night. Then he is seen as a witness in a trial where it is put into question whether he was justified in murdering two men. Young Maddie Ross sees the potential in Cogburn and hires him to track down her father’s murderer.

Despite all of the reputation and promotion, this is really Maddie’s story not Cogburn’s. She is in almost every scene and the actress Hallie Steinfeld dominates it. She is up against A-listers like Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, but she holds her own. The first half hour is just devoted to her moving around town putting her affairs in order. What could be tedious ordeals ends up being one of the most entertaining parts of the movie because of her performance and the Coen’s wit. The language is vividly realized and operates in a fun rhythm.

Even though this western isn’t as clean as the Hollywood pictures from decades ago, there is still allowance for romanticism. There is affection for the genre and that is seen as they frame Cogburn into beautiful shots that show the blueness of the sky and the openness of the plain. There are gunfights and chases that remind the audience of the thrills of having a western.

The intelligence of the script is displayed naturally. There are plenty of funny lines throughout, but the Coens never draw too much attention to it. Instead of telegraphing their jokes, they actually do the opposite. Most of Cogburn’s lines are incomprehensible as he is drunkenly mumbling. When the characters are telling stories that might be perceived as themes of the movie, it is not contrived. They are entertaining anecdotes on their own. Must like the film, it is incredibly fun on the surface level before diving deeper.

This holds up as one of the best Coen Brothers movies in many years. With every film, they tighten their craft while still feeling like energetic young filmmakers. They bring out some amazing performances by new and experienced actors while knowing how to keep a story vibrant. There have been some criticisms that they don’t care for their own characters, but the last fifteen minutes of this film ended up being surprisingly sentimental.