Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best Films of 2010

Inception. Directed by Christopher Nolan


The Social Network. Directed by David Fincher.


Greenberg. Directed by Noah Baumbach


Black Swan. Directed by Darren Aronofsky


Biutiful. Directed by Alejandro González Iñarritu


The Secret of Their Eyes. Directed by Juan José Campanella


I am Love. Directed by Luca Gudagnino


Toy Story 3. Directed by Lee Unkrich


The King’s Speech. Directed by Tom Hooper


Never Let Me Go. Directed by Mark Romanek


Chloe. Directed by Atom Egoyan

For detailed reviews of the films check my blog.

The King's Speech

This is an impressive film, I have to say I am a sucker for this kind of period films with a great cast and elegant acting, I think the acting in this movie is simply perfection. "The King's Speech" tells the story of the man who would become King George VI, the father of the current Queen, Elizabeth II. After his brother abdicates, George 'Bertie' VI (Colin Firth) reluctantly assumes the throne. Plagued by a dreaded nervous stammer and considered unfit to be King, Bertie engages the help of an unorthodox speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Through a set of unexpected techniques, and as a result of an unlikely friendship, Bertie is able to find his voice and boldly lead the country into war.

The friendship that painstakingly evolves is between Prince Albert, Duke of York and Lionel Logue, a frustrated Austalian actor turned highly unorthodox speech therapist. Albert, who has a dreadful stammer, has failed all previous medical interventions and vows never to try another.

Only the ministrations of his wife, Elizabeth, (Helena Bonham Carter) bring him to Lionel, who, believing emotional intimacy is curative. Among many other good things, “The King’s Speech,” directed by Tom Hooper, who directed HBO’s “John Adams”, is a meditation on a transitional time when royalty was expected to speak to the nation and not just pose commandingly before it.

Albert, son of King George V (Michael Gambon), believed he was protected from the humiliations of public oration because his brother Edward (Guy Pearce) was in succession. But when Edward, as king, abdicates to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), Albert is reluctantly enthroned.

The film is able to balance the severity of the situation with a very honest and realistic perspective. At times they tread on some possibly dangerous ground, but because they handle the topic with such grace, what could be considered rude or offensive is actually quite interesting, important and even at times humorous.

The film concludes with the 1939 radio broadcast in which the stalwart, terrified King George VI, with Lionel alone by his side in a closed-off room, addresses Britain as it enters into war with Germany. This speech, a cliffhanger and a culmination, is what the entire movie has been incrementally leading up to.

Not only does Prince Albert have a stutter, a lisp, an accent different from Colin Firth’s, he also has to sound like the real King himself who has a very distinct voice. Not only does Firth give an incredibly compelling emotional performance, but the way he physically transforms himself is beyond impressive. this is THE BEST performance I’ve seen this year. It’s extremely complex and since his character is a stoic King he has very little room to express himself. A slight tonal shift in his voice has to speak volumes and luckily, due to his grasp of the character, it does. He should have won the Oscar last year for A Single Man, he should win it this year. 


This is the movie I was looking forward to, simply because this is the first movie of Alejandro González Iñarritu’s without Arriaga’s writing. The film is on the heavy side it depicts some brutal reality that these characters live in everyday. The topics are cancer, child abuse, drugs, exploited Chinese workers and more. However, the upside to this story is the light that comes out of the darkness, something I would say is a change of pace from Inarritu's two previous films, Amores Perros, Babel and 21 Grams. I would say that Gonzalez Inarritu's films belong to, maybe unbeknown to him, the great tradition of Mexican melodramas. The dramatically sad and hopeless tone reminds of classic Mexican 1940’s films from Ismael Rodríguez’s movies like the Pepe El Toro trilogy played by the famous Pedro Infante.  It is OK for Mexican cinema culture to see people suffer so much. I know moviegoers from other cultures that cannot understand this need for the dramatic tone.

“Biutiful” which is “beautiful” phonetically spelled in Spanish depicting an almost beautiful reality that the characters seemed impelled to achieve, figuratively and literally. The film is a soulful and spiritual journey centering on Uxbal, played by Javier Bardem, he already won the best actor award at Cannes, he deserves it but I am beginning to dislike his persona along with bad actress and wife Penelope Cruz, but that is beside the point, sorry. Uxbal is a contradictive and hypocritical character with similar responsibilities like so many of us. Currently, his primary responsibility is to take care of his two kids. For the most part, raising them on his own following his separation from their mess bi-polar mother, Marambra (Maricel Alvarez).

Uxbal fights for the rights of the underprivileged all while benefiting from their exploitation. You can see he's tormented, but that isn't all he has to contend with. Each new day could call for fighting for better living conditions for the Chinese immigrants being exploited as cheap labor, but at the same time accepting payment for freeing the souls of the recently deceased or paying the cops to stay off the backs of African street vendors.

He has recently discovered he has prostate cancer, which causes the fatherly instincts in him to emerge to an even greater level. After all, not only does he play father to his children he must also look out for the lives of the people he's been caring for, and making money off of, on a daily basis, which is the duality of his character.

“Biutiful” is an exploration of one man's emotional journey and for as much as death guides the majority of this story, it's the preservation and caring for the life that will remain. González Inarritu has dealt with this piece brilliantly and it was in the final 30 minutes or so that he finally started pulling us out of the deep depression the film seems to go deeper and deeper, this where this hopeless culture that I was referring to is most evident. Never before has a birthday celebration been such a welcomed on screen moment, and once the candles are lit this film goes from being a real downer to a magnificent feature, this where most critics coincide and I agree with them.

The emotional range Bardem has as an actor was tested in every scene and he absolutely never comes off as someone trying to hard. The same can be said for the rest of the cast, including Ige (Diaryatou Daft), an African woman whose husband is being deported back to Senegal leaving her and her child homeless and alone. Uxbal lets her live in his apartment for free. Daft lifts plenty of heavy weight in the film's final moments and does so with an effortless smile helping the film dig its way out of the dark and into the light. She is the ray of hope of this dark scenario.

The film will be enjoyed primarily by the art house crowds everywhere it is shown. This is a great film that confirms the great cinema that contemporary Mexican directors are capable of creating as much as the Golden Era ones did.

Never Let Me Go

I have to admit that when I saw this film at the Landmark Theater in Houston, I didn’t know much about it, I have not read the book either, but the cast was very appealing, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  "Never Let Me Go" is a passionate film about restraint. Starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, the A Team of young British actors, this is a moving and provocative film that initially unsettles, then disturbs and finally haunts.

This beautiful film is an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s highly regarded dystopian novel. Directed by Mark Romanek, this coming-of-age story involves three British friends who are raised with others of their kind in a group home that proves more Orwellian than Dickensian. In time, they timidly make their way into the world, which turns out to be crueler than most of us would, like to believe. The unkindness emerges gradually, teased out through meaningful conversations and significant scenes. The story begins in the 1990s, with the narrator, Kathy played by Carrie Mulligan, who calls herself a “carer,” reminiscing about her childhood while watching a man, Tommy (Andrew Garfield), as he’s being prepared for an operation. Along with their friend Ruth (Keyra Knightley), Tommy and Kathy grew up with hundreds of others in Hailsham, a boarding school in the middle of nowhere. There, watched over by Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) and the other adults, all called guardians, the children did what children do, playing, fighting, forming friendships, while also receiving peculiar instruction about their unknown horrible future as organ donators.

You initially have only a partial view of their lives, how they came to be at Hailsham and why, you will learn with them.  The film reveals the secrets. The kids wear a bracelet is like a scanning device, the first time you see them do this, it raises a question that, like other Hailsham rituals, it remains unanswered.

The movie slows down at a point and you want to know more. Mark Romanek creates a coherent world, particularly at Hailsham, where the children’s monochromatic uniforms and their muted affect are mirrored by interiors similarly drained of interest. Despite the story’s monochromatic colors, literal and emotional, the scenes at the institution are among the strongest, partly because the mysteries are still hidden. Eventually, the story shifts from the past to the near past, when Kathy, Ruth and Tommy have left Hailsham for some more dilapidated and awful accommodations called the Cottages. Ruth and Tommy are together now, leaving Kathy to watch their affair. Unlike at Hailsham, where they never strayed outside the school’s boundaries, the three friends leave the grounds, at one point taking a trip to find someone referred to as Ruth’s “possible.”

The definition of the “possible” is more like a “receptor”. One of the pleasures of “Never Let Me Go,” comes from the deduction work the story requires, by the way that Romanek groups actors in the image. All this tells you something, as does Ruth and Tommy’s droopy, loose-limbed physicality, which has none of the normal energy of youth.

During one important moment of the film, Kathy stares out at the countryside and in a soft near monotone, voice she explains the film we’ve been watching. There is a large tree that looms over her, the soft light that spills around her. Everything is in its place, including the unnecessarily wrapped up meaning. We understand that what’s missing is the film is the spark of life, the unexpected, by its insistence on its own beauty, obscures the tragedy that the three characters, by their nature, cannot express. However, the film has great acting and for sure this is an unusual story.


Black Swan

I was really drawn to this film because of the previews and because I have been always a fan of Darren Aronofsky’s work. Natalie Portman is one of the great Amercican young actresses, the whole package. Also I had the precedent of a film like “Turning Point” a great film about the rivalry of two ballerinas played masterfully by Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, “Black Swan” is not that type of film. It is more like a surreal thriller set in the world of New York City ballet. “Black Swan” centers on a veteran ballerina who finds herself trapped in a competitive situation with a rival dancer, with the stakes and twists increasing as the dancers approach a big performance. But it's unclear whether the rival is a supernatural apparition or if the protagonist is simply having delusions.

This film takes a wild and melodramatic look at the blood sport that is New York City ballet. This story of ambition starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as dueling ballerinas is not just any kind of psycho melodrama, it's high-art psycho melodrama, hysteria over sanity that it's worth telling when its characters are hallucinating and when they're not.

Natalie Portman, in this dramatic thriller, plays the role of a beautiful increasingly troubled ballerina fighting for the lead role in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Swan Lake is a ballet about the very pure and beautiful Princess Odette who is transformed into a swan by a sorcerer. Only true love can transform her back. Her dream is nearly realized, but the Prince who would have transformed her back into a human is seduced by the Black Swan. In an act of despair, the White Swan commits suicide. This role is a difficult one to play for Portman’s character, however, because the swan queen must encompass both the black and the white swan. A one-dimensional ballerina will simply not do. And unfortunately, that is exactly what Portman’s character is initially. Her form is perfect, she never makes a mistake, but in that perfection something is lost. That “something” requires a style far more effortless or “self-forgetting” as Nietzsche would put it.

Throughout the movie, she struggles with a competitor who drives her, as the movie progresses, ever so much closer to the cliff of insanity. In the final act of her performance, however she becomes the black swan on stage, made very convincing through special effects (though it is her delusion). Remember Nietzsche? In the Dionysian, man “…is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art.” The film thrives in a Nietzchean discourse embracing the Dionysian, that great unknown and formidable chaos lurking just beneath our various “constructions”.

The movie is phenomenal. Portman gives a stunning performance. She is such an effective screen performer because she is not showy. She was so powerful in "Closer". Here, one wonders at first why she doesn't manage to convey the sheer love of dancing that would make her character endure the physical and mental torture of such hard work.  But by the end it's clear that Portman knew exactly what she was doing, with Aronofsky's help. The movie is made that much better if one reads the first few pages of The Birth of Tragedy. This film confirms the great work of Aronofsky as a director.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Social Network

I have to say I really like this film. My particular reasons are based on the fact that I teach twenty-year old kids that are really into technology, however they are rather apathetic about life in general. So, to see a contemporary story of a young man that can have the drive to achieve basically how the world communicates it is amazing to me. I would naively want those kids to get inspired by the story and think of their own potential.

The film is part boardroom drama, part conspiracy thriller; the story is adapted from Ben Mezrich's non-fiction The Accidental Billionaires. There appears, however, to be nothing accidental about it. The film version perfectly displays Sorkin's gift for creating instantly believable sympathetic-yet-irritating characters, and the chief of these is Facebook's driving force, Mark Zuckerberg, played with exemplary intuition by Jesse Eisenberg (We have seen him in movies like “Roger Dodger”, The Squid and the Whale”, The Education of Charlie Banks, “Adventureland” among others). What a perfect casting. He is a borderline sociopath, never smiling, never raising his voice, never conceding an argument, driven to create his. Sorkin gives everyone great lines. It's pretty much a non-stop shooting of put-downs and insights.

David Fincher’s direction creates just the right intensity and claustrophobia for a story that takes place largely in a male environment at Harvard University in 2003, shown in flashback from various legal proceedings. Here, computer-science student Zuckerberg has the same sense of entitlement and self-congratulation as everyone else, but combined with social resentment about being barred from snobby fraternities and clubs. When his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) breaks up with him, the director shows how the emotionally wounded Zuckerberg embarks on a retaliatory campaign. He blogs vengefully about Erica and, in an evil-genius frenzy, creates Facemash, a spiteful and misogynistic site that invites the guys to rate campus girls against each other. It is from this beginning that the smilier, friendlier Facebook emerges. But we have been cleverly shown the site's nastier, more paranoid origins: a clue to its unspoken world of friend-number envy, cyber-stalking and anxiety about having no friends at all.

Zuckerberg gets investment from fellow geek Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield (I think this kid is a promising actor, we saw him pn “The Imaginarium of Dr, Parnasus” and one of my favorites this year, “Never Let Me Go”), of whose marginally superior social success he is jealous and whom he later betrays by cutting him out of the action in favor of web entrepreneur Sean Parker, smoothly played by Justin Timberlake, I think he is great in this film. The wealthy alpha-male twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) plan to launch their own site, called The Harvard Connection, and try to recruit Mark as their tame techie-nerd; initially dazzled by their cachet, Zuckerberg plays them along, delaying their launch while secretly getting his own up and running.

Probably conceived when Facebook was at the top of the heap, the movie now arrives in cinemas at a time when Twitter has overtaken it.

The success of The Social Network lies in capturing the fever of Facebook's startup, while subversively implying that it created money and ephemeral buzz. At the end, all is loneliness. This is an exhilaratingly hyperactive, hyperventilating portrait of an age when the web became sexier and more important than politics, art, books – everything. It is a combination of the excitement with a dark, insistent kind of pessimism. It is a great movie and Jesse Eisenberg should be nominated for an Oscar.

The Secret of Their Eyes.

El Secreto de Sus Ojos

This is a special case because the movie won the Oscar for best foreign language film, however it wasn’t released after the event. I saw the movie in Houston and a month later in Mexico City. The story is basically a thriller. The film starts in Buenos Aires in 1974, when a criminal court investigator, Benjamin Espósito (Ricardo Darín, we have seen him in some other great films like “The Son of the Bride” and Nine Queens”), arrives at a crime scene with a colleague, and sees the naked corpse of a beautiful young woman. She has been raped, beaten, and murdered. Not only does he relentlessly pursue the killer; he becomes close to the woman’s husband, a bank employee named Morales (Pablo Rago), who remains obsessed with his dead wife for the rest of his life.

Benjamin Espósito has a love of his own, which he’s too shy to act on. A few scenes approach the melodramatic kitsch like a telenovela. The director José Campanella will then take us into a story of great depth and intrigue.  “The Secret in Their Eyes” is a fine, complex film, whose corners and passageways will be discussed by moviegoers afterward.

The movie opens in 2000. It is twenty-five years after the murder, and the investigator, retired yet still fascinated by the case, Esposito is assembling his recollections of it. Campanella is seriously teasing us: Espósito may be dissatisfied with his writings, but what he depicts in these first-draft attempts actually happened (we see the scenes again later, in their proper place in the story). Back in 1974, Espósito chases the killer with the help of his partner, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), and their cautious superior, Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a judge’s assistant educated in the United States. Espósito is an intelligent man, but he’s not a lawyer, and the difference between them in income and status stops him from openly declaring his love for her, which she keeps hinting that she wants. Instead, he worries about Sandoval, an alcoholic genius who in his drinking acts pulls together the clues that lead to the identity and the arrest of the murderer. Sandoval is a lovable mess, who, despite his gifts, can’t survive the chaos and the repression of Buenos Aires.

The murderer is a guy named Gomez (Javier Godino), and what follows his capture is altogether startling. When Benjamín Espósito, interrogates him, doesn’t get anywhere, Irene takes over. She turns the questioning into a sexual duel, taunting Gomez’s manhood, her words more wounding and more effective than a beating. Irene plays a sarcastic bitch in order to provoke Gomez’s rage, and enjoys a triumph that pushes feminism beyond a critique of men, beyond ironic mockery.

Gomez is freed by one of the judges and becomes a member for the new fascist regime. He’s a serious threat to Espósito and a provocation to Morales, the dead woman’s husband, which explaind some of the corruption that existed within the system. More than the political background, the story focuses on the main players, who are woven together in an increasingly intricate structure. The movie is a great story that combines other genres besides the thriller, like the romantic melodrama. It has something for everyone.

Toy Story 3

I saw this film the opening night in Mexico City. It was a real trouble to find a theater that will show the film in 3D and subtitled. The wait was awful lots of nasty children with their more nasty parents.

Directed by Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3 opens in a similar fashion to the previous film, but this time Woody (Tom Hanks) is the hero of the imaginary adventure. We’re in the old west and he’s trying to save a train full of orphans that has been hijacked by the evil Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. Right from the opening minutes the film will put a smile on your face and please you with surprises.

There’s a sweet montage right after that which shows Andy (owner of our little group of friends) on videotape as we remember him from the previous films, playing with and loving his favorite toys. We see him grow up a bit, and now he’s 17 years old and days away from leaving for college. We can all relate to this plot, presumably we all had childhoods and we had to leave some dear objects behind. The gang of toys hasn’t seen much play action, spending who knows how many years now closed up in an old toy chest.

Well with Andy leaving, mom wants to clean things up and Andy has to decide what to take with him, what to throw away, donate or put up in the attic for storage. Except for Woody and Buzz (Tim Allen), the toys are freaking out thinking they’re headed for the city dump. While of course they weren’t headed that way, some confusion ensues and they do indeed end up at the curb. Woody rescues them and tries to tell them it was a mistake, but they’re all convinced that Andy was trying to get rid of them.

Hiding in a box meant for toy donations to a local daycare center, they believe they’ve found a new home where there will be an endless supply of young children to play with them forever and they’ll never be outgrown. The daycare is a hellhole literally and you realize the sort of dark side of these children and their future personality projections. The toys are welcomed by the veteran toys, led by Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear (he smells like strawberries!). He (Ned Beatty) welcomes them, explains what a wonderful place they’ve found and shows them where they’ll be living. Eventually they come to find that this isn’t a paradise, but a prison. Woody leaves prior to this discovery, and of course the rest of the film is dedicated to setting everyone free and getting back to Andy’s house whether he wants them or not.

The film is very entertaining with new characters, my favorite one is Ken, self-centered, no too bright and above all a secret thing for clothes. The film is full of great sequences, it was quite pleasing to realize that the sequel was so good. Toy Story 3 was laugh out loud funny, exciting, heartwarming and touching.