Top 10 of 2010


It’s that time of year again, the time when critics both well-known and unknown create their lists of movies that were the very best of the year just ended. People seem to love these sorts of things – my top 10 for 2009 remains one of my most popular pages in terms of visits on my site. I expect that this page will probably do even better.

As I said last year, these lists are entirely arbitrary and shouldn’t be taken as gospel. For one thing, people’s tastes are different. A movie that may affect me deeply might seem manipulative to you. A movie that floats your boat may seem a waste of time to me. We all have our buttons.

The truth is, assigning a “best of” tag to anything is a highly fluid process. I’ve given these movies a position on the list but the truth is ask me what my top ten is a few weeks from now and it likely won’t be the same as it is here. It might also include one or two movies that I might have missed during the course of the year, or others that I have seen again recently and re-adjusted my opinion of. Hey, it happens – as with women, it is a critic’s prerogative to change their minds.

What gets a movie on this list? The basic qualifier is whether I liked or not. After that, I’m looking at movies that affected me emotionally, or that I thought was innovative either in its storytelling techniques, its look or its approach. While special effects continue to improve and push the boundaries, nothing this year rivaled the complete game changer that was Avatar last year, so you won’t see a lot of special effects-heavy movies on this year’s list, although Inception and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World both came very close indeed.

Some critics limit their list to five movies; others go larger, with 20, 25, sometimes even 50 movies on their list. I’m limiting it to ten; it’s an arbitrary number, and seems to be something of a standard. Five isn’t enough and twenty is too many. Ten seems suitable for a list of movies that I think is worth honoring above and beyond all the rest.

Most of these movies are either in general release at the moment or are available on home video, on demand or on cable. You may not agree with all my choices. You may wonder why I didn’t choose, say, Toy Story 3 or The Social Network (which might be the most controversial omission) or why I did choose the ones I did. As I said, ask me again later and my mind may have changed.

This is meant to invite discussion or at least some thought. You may not agree on all of these films being the ten very best – you may not agree on the order. However, I think that we can all agree that these are all quality movies that have something to offer nearly everyone. If you’re looking to see a good movie, I can pretty much guarantee you won’t walk out of any of these feeling disappointed.

HONORABLE MENTION

There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. In no particular order;

The Social Network, Toy Story 3, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Inception, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, Waking Sleeping Beauty, Get Low, Love and Other Drugs, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Shutter Island, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Secret of Kells, Leaves of Grass, Warlords, A Prophet, Cyrus, The Kids are All Right, The American, Let Me In, MegaMind, I Remember, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.

Also a special shout-out must be made for Montana Amazon, an amazing little indie film that certainly would have made a good case for the top ten but is not scheduled for theatrical release until 2011. If it comes to your town, by all means seek it out. If you’re interested in reading the original reviews, just click on the title.

10.  MID-AUGUST LUNCH (PRANZO DI FERRAGOSTO)

(Zeitgeist) Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria De Franciscis, Marina Cacciotti, Maria Cali, Grazia Csarini Storza, Alfonso Santagata, Luigi Marchetti, Marcello Ottolenghi, Petre Rosu. Directed by Gianni Di Gregorio

Released March 17, 2010 I first saw this at the Florida Film Festival and was overwhelmed by its charm and gentle nature. Here was a movie whose only aspiration was to make those watching it feel better, with perhaps a comment or two on aging in general. Genial Gianni takes on several older women along with his mother for a mid-August holiday in the oppressive heat of Rome. Gianni, chronically unemployed, is swept through life rather than sweeping through it, wanting no more than a good glass of white wine and the ability to cook a good meal.

WHY IT IS HERE: Gianni Di Gregorio wrote, directed and starred in this highly personal project which was based on his recollections of caring for his own elderly mother in the last years of her life. He also filmed it in his own apartment and utilized personal friends in the cast. The end result is a film that feels more like you’ve been invited to lunch by Italian friends, and are sitting around the table talking about this and that with them. Who doesn’t need more of that in their lives?

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Aunt Maria decides to run away and have a glass of wine or three or more. Drunk off her ass, she makes a pass at Gianni when he retrieves her but not before displaying a vulnerable side that comes out of left field.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $675,299 domestic (as of 1/6/11), $9.3 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

9. 127 HOURS

(Fox Searchlight) James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clement Posey, Kate Burton, Lizzy Caplan, Treat Williams, Sean Bott, John Lawrence, Rebecca Olson, Pieter Jan Brugge, Jeffrey Wood. Directed by Danny Boyle

Released November 5, 2010 Danny Boyle won an Oscar with his previous movie Slumdog Millionaire and is in serious contention once again with this movie. He could have gone with a big budget film as his follow-up, done any one of dozens of projects but this was what he chose to follow-up his Oscar party with, the story of a cocky type-A personality who gets into a pickle and has to resort to extreme measures to get himself out. These types of true-life stories may be inspirational on paper but they don’t often translate to Hollywood box office gold, so choosing this project was a brave move in and of itself.

WHY IT IS HERE: Most of the movie takes place in a narrow canyon with Aron’s arm pinned to the wall with a boulder. It’s almost all Franco for the bulk of the movie and Franco delivers with a memorable performance that has to be a major contender for the Best Actor Oscar this year. Nominations for director and screenplay are probably not out of the realm of possibility either. The film takes essentially one person in a confined space for about an hour of screen time and makes it riveting, making this as good a piece of filmmaking as you are ever likely to see.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene in which Aron imagines himself as a guest on a talk show, in which the host asks him some pointed questions is humorous and poignant simultaneously.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $10.6 million domestic (as of 1/5/11), $10.6M total.

BUDGET: $18 million.

STATUS: Theatrical run has been completed for the most part; you may be able to find it in second run theaters. Home video release is tentatively scheduled for March 2011.

8. TRUE GRIT

(Paramount) Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Dakin Mathews, Jarlath Conroy, Elizabeth Marvel, Roy Lee Jones, Ed Corbin, Leon Russom. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Released December 22, 2010 I was none too pleased to find out that one of my all-time favorite westerns was being remade. I’m a big believer that if something ain’t broke, you don’t need to fix it. Most Hollywood attempts to remake classics had ended up in disaster – ask Gus Van Sant about his fling with Psycho sometime. On top of that all, Westerns haven’t been in vogue since, well 1969 when True Grit was first released. I had plenty of misgivings all right – and then I heard it was the Coen Brothers that would be directing it. Sigh. Everything is going to be all right.

WHY IT IS HERE: While this is still the basic plot and the same characters, the whole feel is different. The movie is said to be more in line with the Charles Portis novel the original was based on, and certainly feels more authentic to the time period of the original. The language is very much in line with the way people spoke during that time in history. That said, it isn’t The Duke and it isn’t the original and it will never really replace them, but given that Bridges turns in a performance that is as good as any actor turned in this year, it stands on its own.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Mattie in the pit. ‘Nuff said.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $95.4 million domestic (as of 1/6/11), $95.4 total.

BUDGET: $38 million.

STATUS: The movie is still out in general release in the United States and Canada; overseas release is planned for the early part of 2011. Home video release is tentatively scheduled for May of this year.

7. ALICE IN WONDERLAND

(Disney) Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Anne Hathaway, Matt Lucas, Alan Rickman (voice), Timothy Spall (voice), Stephen Fry (voice), Christopher Lee (voice), Michael Gough (voice), Michael Sheen (voice). Directed by Tim Burton

Released March 5, 2010 From the beginning I thought this was a perfect match. Tim Burton and Lewis Carroll are much like peanut butter and chocolate; two great tastes that taste great together. Burton is one of the few modern directors that has the vision that is even in the same ballpark as Carroll’s.  

WHY IT IS HERE: This is one of the most visually impressive movies of the year. The vision of Underland is whimsical to be sure, sort of like an English garden as seen through a kaleidoscope while smoking a hookah. However, the thing to remember about this Alice is that this isn’t Lewis Carroll’s Alice. This is a different story based on Lewis Carroll’s characters. I guess they decided to keep the name for marketing value.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The Mad Hatter’s victory dance. You’ll know it when you see it.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $334.2 million domestic (as of 1/8/11), $1.0 billion total.

BUDGET: $200 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

6. THE WHITE RIBBON (DAS WIESSE BAND)

(Sony Classics) Christian Friedel, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur, Burghart Klaussner, Ursina Lardi, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Leonard Proxauf, Susanne Lothar, Rainier Bock, Branko Samarovsky. Directed by Michael Haneke

Released December 30, 2009 Although this was released in 2009 in New York and Los Angeles, most of the rest of the country didn’t get to see this until January of 2010. An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, this movie looked at the nature of evil and how it can appear in the most innocuous of places. Filmed in black and white, the movie never really attracted much of an audience which is a shame. It deserved better.

WHY IT IS HERE: The realization of a pre-World War I Germany is one of the best I’ve seen from a modern movie. It captures the nuances of a different era, from the politeness of the children to the monstrous discipline imposed on them. The last vestiges of feudal society are shown in this very chilling and very thought-provoking film.  

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene when the Baroness discovers the ruined cabbage patch is priceless.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $2.2 million domestic (as of 1/11/11), $19.2 million total.

BUDGET: $18 million

STATUS: Available on DVD/Blu-Ray at most online and local home video outlets.

5. WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN”

(Paramount Vantage) Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada, Anthony Black, Daisy Esparza, Bianca Hill, Bill Strickland, Randi Weingarten, Bill Gates, George Reeves, Davis Guggenheim (voice). Directed by Davis Guggenheim

Released September 24, 2010 Guggenheim came into prominence after directing the acclaimed documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Although some decried it, it did bring global warming into national consciousness and made Al Gore hip (briefly). Now, Guggenheim turns his attention on the American public school system, noting that almost everyone agrees it is badly in need of fixing.

WHY IT IS HERE: The movie shows the importance of education and suggests some means of fixing the public school system. While I don’t agree with all of the film’s conclusions (I think that the problem is much more complicated than blaming it on the teacher unions’ refusal to get rid of tenure), it certainly opens up the opportunity for dialogue and hopefully, focuses the attention of more Americans on the problems facing our students who at this point are going to be competing in a global economy insufficiently prepared for it.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The interweaving lottery results as the students being followed throughout the movie await their fate on which their future hangs in the balance.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $6.4 million domestic (as of 1/24/11), $6.4 million worldwide.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Scheduled for home DVD/Blu-Ray release on February 15, 2011.

4. THE FIGHTER

(Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Mickey O’Keefe, Melissa McMeekin, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Jill Quigg, Dendrie Taylor, Kate O’Brien. Directed by David O. Russell

Released December 17, 2010 Six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Bale) and Best Supporting Actress (Adams and Leo) show the members of the Academy were high on this movie and critics gave it high praise as well. The story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward resonated with everyone who’s ever had to struggle to get out of a family member’s shadow.

WHY IT IS HERE: Great performances (Wahlberg didn’t get a Best Actor nomination but many felt he should have) and a terrific story made this one of the year’s highlights. Casting is definitely the key, as the chemistry between the various characters is authentic and compelling. Is it as good as classic boxing films like Raging Bull? No, but it’s damn close!

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The catfight between Amy Adams and the sisters. Classic!

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $72.7 million domestic (as of 1/23/11), $73.4 total.

BUDGET: $25 million.

STATUS: Currently in wide release.

3. WINTER’S BONE

(Roadside Attractions) Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt, Lauren Sweetser, Shelley Waggener, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Isaiah Stone, Tate Taylor, Sheryl Lee, Ronnie Hall, Ashlee Thompson. Directed by Debra Granik

Released June 18, 2010 Every year at the Florida Film Festival, there is always one movie that just seems to capture my attention and imagination, and one that just is so good that it cannot be ignored. This year, even Oscar didn’t ignore it – the movie wound up receiving a nomination for Best Picture, as well as Lawrence for Best Actress and Hawkes for Best Supporting Actor. This is as high-quality an indie film as you are ever likely to see.

WHY IT IS HERE: In some ways, this is a grueling movie to watch. Ree Dolly, as played by Jennifer Lawrence, searches for her wayward drug dealing dad who has put her home at risk. With her mother suffering from mental illness, Ree is it when it comes to her younger siblings and it has cost Ree plenty. She yearns for a normal teenage life, one she knows she will never have. It’s heartbreaking, it’s compelling, it’s a look at the dark side of the mountain people to whom loyalty is a given but truth isn’t necessarily so.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene where Ree crashes a party where the people there are singing; it is both awkward and eloquent at once.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $6.3 million domestic (as of 1/23/11), $7.8 million total.

BUDGET: $2 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

2.  FLIPPED

(Warner Brothers) Madeline Carroll, Callum McAuliffe, Anthony Edwards, John Mahoney, Aidan Quinn, Rebecca de Mornay, Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Weisman, Ashley Taylor, Israel Broussard, Cody Horn, Ruth Crawford. Directed by Rob Reiner

Released August 6, 2010 First love is very special, very frightening and unforgettable. We remember it our entire lives and yet no movie has captured it so beautifully and as touchingly as this one. Director Rob Reiner makes his best movie in years, aided by a wonderful supporting cast (particularly Mahoney) and a pair of juvenile actors who are as good as anybody out there.

WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that flew below everybody’s radar. Critics missed it and audiences certainly did, as the studio gave it a microscopic release. It missed out on major award and fell between every crack that Hollywood has. That makes this a hidden gem just waiting for audiences to discover it. No movie left me feeling as good when I left the theater this year. I highly recommend you seek this one out – you’ll thank me for it later.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The conversation between Juli and Chet…or the one between Bryce and Chet…or the uncomfortable dinner scene with the Loskis and the Bakers…Oh hell, any scene that has Mahoney in it.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $1.3 million domestic (as of 8/6/10), $1.8 million total.

BUDGET: $14 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

1. THE KING’S SPEECH

(Weinstein) Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom, Timothy Spall, Eve West, Roger Parrott, Anthony Edwards, Patrick Ryecart. Directed by Tom Hooper

Released November 26, 2010 The Royal Family is much in the news and on the silver screen lately, with the Royal Wedding set for this year as well as films such as The Queen showing the human side of the family which has often been de-humanized by their status, not entirely of their own doing. Here, we see the courage of habitual stutterer George VI (father to current monarch Elizabeth II) who learns to overcome his affliction with the help of unorthodox Aussie speech therapist Lionel Logue. Rush, who plays Logue, was a producer on the film which received more Oscar nominations (12) than any other this year. Firth has a Golden Globe for best dramatic actor already on his mantle; he’s an odds-on favorite to add an Oscar to his collection.

WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that displays unusual courage and charm, given the subject matter. Some movies just grab your attention from the moment the projector lights up the screen and keep it until the theater employees come in to clean up the theater. This is one of those films. Every performance here is nothing short of amazing, led by Firth and Rush, as well as Carter – all of whom will be competing for acting Oscars in February. Director Tom Hooper brings you into the Royal Family’s boudoir and you feel like a fly on the wall in the palace halls, and that works for me. This is a quality production, from the set design to the costumes to the score and especially to the acting performances. I honestly thought the top three movies this year were very close in terms of quality – I could have been just as happy with either #2 or #3 in this spot – but at the end of the day, if there was one movie from 2010 that you should see for sure, this is it.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Some have mentioned the climactic scene where the King gives his radio address, but I much prefer the scene when George and Elizabeth are revealed to Myrtle Logue as her husband’s clients; it’s charming and shows as much heart as any scene in the movie.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $59.0 million domestic (as of 1/25/11), $108.8 total.

BUDGET: $15 million.

STATUS: Currently in wide release.

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Waiting for “Superman”


Waiting for "Superman"

Anthony Black watches his future passing him by.

(2010) Documentary (Paramount Vantage) Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada, Anthony Black, Daisy Esparza, Bianca Hill, Bill Strickland, Randi Weingarten, Bill Gates, George Reeves, Francisco, Davis Guggenheim (voice). Directed by Davis Guggenheim

One of the few things both the left and the right agree on in this country is that the education system is broken, and very badly at that. Comparative test scores with students in other developed countries rank the United States near the bottom in math, science and reading comprehension. However, we are ranked first in one category; student confidence. Thank God for all those positive self-image programs implemented in the 90s!

Guggenheim, the Oscar-winning director for An Inconvenient Truth, returns to the subject that he first visited back in 2001 with the television documentary The First Year. In that documentary, he focused on teachers going into the trenches in inner city schools back in 1999. With the “No Child Left Behind” program having run eight years out of its ten and unlikely to reach its goals, Guggenheim decided to look at the problem from the other side – from the students’ perspective. 

He chooses five of them – Daisy, Bianca, Anthony, Francisco (all from poor ethnic neighborhoods) and Emily (from a middle class Silicon Valley neighborhood). Their stories are troubling – and all too common. All five of them have academic promise; Daisy wants to be a veterinarian while Anthony likes math. They all have parents (in some cases they are the children of single parents) that are singularly involved with their education, helping with homework, assisting them with reading, fully invested in the process. The trouble is that all of the parents know that they are fighting a losing battle.

Many schools, particularly in the inner cities but also elsewhere, have turned into what are termed dropout factories. They are unable and in some cases, unwilling to give their students the education they need to be successful in college. With each passing year, kids fall further and further behind until they simply drop out. Even if they do beat the odds and somehow manage to graduate, they are woefully unprepared for college and spend their freshman year taking remedial courses to try and catch up, and very often, they simply never do.

Guggenheim asks the valid question whether the neighborhoods make the schools bad, or the schools make the neighborhoods bad. It’s a fair question; certainly when a single school over a 40 year period drops 30,000 high school dropouts in a neighborhood, that’s going to make a dent.

But why are schools so bad? This is where I think the film drops the ball a little bit, seeming to oversimplify the issue. According to Guggenheim, it boils down to bad teachers and the inability of school districts to fire them, due to issues of tenure. The documentary asserts that the powerful teacher unions have made sinecures of their jobs, leading to a culture that the job is the teacher’s right, rather than a privilege. In New York City, teachers who are undergoing disciplinary hearings for reasons as varied as excessive lateness to work to sexual abuse are all made to spend their days in a waiting room reading newspapers and playing cards – at their full salary – while they await a disciplinary hearing. That wait lasts months, sometimes up to three years and costs Big Apple taxpayers more than $65 million a year.

There is hope, however – the knight charging to the rescue, as Guggenheim sees it, is charter schools. These are schools that have been created by communities independently of the school district, allowing the administrations to hire excellent teachers at increased salaries with merit bonuses and by allowing the teachers to actually teach rather than simply follow an antiquated lesson plan. However, there are very limited numbers of openings at these chartered schools, and a whole lot of parents wanting their kids to fill them, so according to law, lotteries must be conducted to fairly select which students fill those spots. Literally, the future of these kids hangs on a lottery pick.  

There are heroes too, like Geoffrey Canada, a crusading educator who became fed up with a system that resisted change, and went on to found a school in the worst part of Harlem and immediately set graduation rates and test scores that were better than even the charter schools. There’s also Michelle Rhee, the controversial chancellor of the Washington D.C. school system who took on the unions over tenure, and closed down 21 schools in the district. When she proposed a contract that would give the teachers the option of choosing a small pay increase and keeping tenure, or a larger increase with merit bonuses that could wind up raising teacher compensation into six figures, the union wouldn’t even let their rank and file vote on it. I guess they knew how that vote would turn out.

For my part, I think the movie raises some very important points, but I’m not sure they’re really seeing the entire problem. For one thing, I have to wonder if charter school students perform better because they have motivated parents invested enough in their kids’ education to fight to get them into those schools?  Would the test scores be as high if there were children with parents who were unable or unwilling to put as much time in with their kids?

Also, I don’t think that the film addresses a very crucial subject. While there is a high emphasis placed on the need for teacher accountability, it doesn’t do a lot to look at student accountability. In an atmosphere where the attention of young people is taken by video games, smart phones, surfing the internet, cable television and online social networking, school can’t really compete with these entertainments. Getting kids to understand the need for education is crucial and having a son who has been through the public school system, I can tell you that the issues he had were partially of his own making.  

However, I also know the schools failed my son. The administration put a label on him early on as an underachiever and tracked him with remedial kids. While he always excelled in tests, he had a bit of a lazy streak when it came to homework. The school’s solution was to put him in an environment where he was guaranteed to be bored, and once that happen, the system lost him. He is in college now but it hasn’t been easy for him and that he has fought back and taken charge of his future has made me a very proud papa.

What is important about this movie is that it starts a dialogue. There’s no doubt that our education system needs serious fixing, and sometimes we look at the problem, throw up our hands and say “It’s just too big to be fixed.” The movie shows us that isn’t true; with the involvement of parents and concerned citizens all over the country, we can make a difference and with our children’s future – and indeed, the continued economic health of the United States – in the balance, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

The grim truth is that statistically, we are no longer producing enough students proficient in math and science to fill the Silicon Valley-type jobs that demand those disciplines, and over the next ten years that gap is only going to widen. We are having to bring in students from India, China and other emerging nations who have invested a great deal in their education system and are churning out capable students at a rate the U.S. once did. We are on the brink of becoming a second rate nation, and fixing this crisis in education is the best way of preventing that from happening.

REASONS TO GO: One of the most urgent issues in the United States gets thoughtful treatment; while you may not necessarily agree with all of the filmmaker’s conclusions, there are at least some places to begin the dialogue on how to fix our educational system.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie isn’t terribly complementary to teachers unions and those who believe in them may find the movie insulting.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of bad language and some kids may find the themes difficult to comprehend, but this is perfectly acceptable for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Those who bought tickets in advance from the film’s website can get a free download of the John Legend song that is played during the closing credits.

HOME OR THEATER: While on a viewing level this isn’t the kind of cinematography that begs for the big screen, the issue is important enough to motivate me to urge viewers to see it in theaters.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Nowhere Boy

New Releases for the Week of October 22, 2010


Hereafter
Matt Damon peers out the window, afraid he is still being stalked by Ben Affleck.

HEREAFTER

(Warner Brothers) Matt Damon, Cecilie de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard, Richard Kind, Steven R. Schirripa. Directed by Clint Eastwood

The lives of three people in three different places on Earth are touched by death in different ways; a blue collar American is able to communicate with the dead but finds this less a gift and more of a curse. A French journalist has a near-death experience in a tsunami, shaking her to the very core of her being. Finally a young London boy loses his twin brother and searches for answers. Their lives will eventually intersect as they embark on a path to search for the truth of what they believe awaits in the hereafter.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language)

Anton Chekhov’s The Duel

(Highline) Andrew Scott, Fiona Glascott, Tobias Menzies, Nicholas Rowe. A ne’er do well in a Russian village begins an illicit affair with a married woman, but when they plan for her to leave her husband for her paramour, his true nature begins to emerge in this well-reviewed version of a classic tale by the Russian author.

The trailer for this movie is unavailable.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

I’m Still Here

(Magnolia) Joaquin Phoenix, Sean Combs. Actor Joaquin Phoenix shocked Hollywood in the fall of 2008 by announcing that he was retiring from his acting career and instead, becoming a hip-hop artist. Oscar-nominated actor Casey Affleck was behind the camera documenting this “career reinvention” that would later turn out to be a hoax. Still, the film that came out of it has gotten a good deal of buzz as a look at life in the public eye and the odd worship of celebrity that creates an environment that allows celebrities to do whatever they please.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Mockumentary

Rating: R (for graphic nudity, sexual material, pervasive language, some drug use and crude content)

Lebanon

(Sony Classics) Yoav Donat, Michael Moshonov, Zohar Shtrauss, Dudu Tassa. During the First Lebanon War of 1982, a lone Israeli tank and a platoon of paratroopers are sent to a hostile town for a simple mission that turns into a nightmare of survival as the soldiers, motivated by fear and instinct, try not to lose the best part of themselves in a situation that demands their worst.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War Drama

Rating: R (for disturbing bloody war violence, language including sexual references and some nudity)

Paranormal Activity 2

(Paramount) Katie Featherston, Gabriel Johnson. Further supernatural goings-on are captured in a house via security cameras, this time affecting a different family in the sequel to the smash hit horror movie that was made for only $15,000 – I’m assuming the sequel cost them a bit more to make.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Supernatural Thriller

Rating: R (for some language and brief violent material)

Stone

(Overture) Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich, Frances Conroy. A man imprisoned for covering up the murder of his grandparents with a fire is up for early parole, and that decision rests in the hands of a parole officer approaching retirement age. In order to up his odds, the prisoner sends his sexy, amoral wife to help convince the parole officer to set him free.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong sexuality and violence, and pervasive language)

The Tillman Story

(Weinstein) Pat Tillman, Dannie Tillman, Richard Tillman. When pro football star Pat Tillman gave up his lucrative career to fight for his country in Afghanistan, that was big news. When he gave his life for his country, that was even bigger news. The real story is his family’s fight to find out the truth behind his death, and the government’s equal determination to cover up that truth.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for language)

Waiting for “Superman”

(Paramount Vantage) George Reeves, Geoffrey Canada, Michelle Rhee, Randi Weingarten. Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) focuses his lens on the American public education system. Once the best in the world, it has become a morass of drop-out factories and bureaucratic bungling that inhibits rather than promotes academic excellence. However, there is still some hope as good teachers and innovative administrators are creating a new educational system with programs in charter schools and other enlightened academic institutions that may eventually deliver on the promise of leaving no child behind.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for some thematic material, mild language and incidental smoking)

Four-Warned: September 2010


Devil

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.
The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.
Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief explanation
Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. DEVIL (1.9)
TIE. MACHETE (1.9)
3. WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (2.0)
4. THE AMERICAN (2.1)
TIE. RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (2.1)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. CATFISH (1.1)
2. WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” (1.9)
3. NEVER LET ME GO (2.1)
4. A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP (2.3)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

SEPTEMBER 1, 2010

THE AMERICAN (Focus) Genre: Suspense Thriller. An American assassin prepares for one last job in an idyllic Italian village, not realizing that love may be deadlier than any bullet. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 I’m always up for anything George Clooney does.

SEPTEMBER 3, 2010

A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP (Sony Classics) Genre: Comedy Thriller. A Chinese remake of the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple, the owner of a noodle shop whose wife is cheating on him pays a patrolman to kill her, but the patrolman has his own agenda. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Director Zhang Yimou is in my opinion one of the top five directors on the planet; he has an amazing visual sense which makes this like catnip to me.
LAST TRAIN HOME (Zeitgeist) Genre: Documentary. The human cost of China’s economic ascent is measured in families separated by members working factory jobs far from home. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.6 A different look at China than we have ever seen.
MACHETE (20th Century Fox) Genre: Action. One of the faux trailers from Grindhouse gets its own feature film as an ultra-violent 70’s-style B-movie with a Latin flavor. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 Nobody does this kind of movie better than director Robert Rodriguez, except for maybe Quentin Tarantino.
MESRINE: PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1 (Music Box) Genre: True Crime/Gangster. Gangster Jacques Mesrine, an anti-hero who has captured the imagination of his native France, escapes from prison only to find the police closing in on him. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.6 The second of two films about the notorious gangster.
PRINCE OF BROADWAY (Elephant Eye) Genre: Drama. A Ghanaian immigrant to New York City finds himself unexpectedly charged with raising his baby. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 3.0 A New York story reminiscent of The Visitor.
WHITE WEDDING (Dada Films) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A bride’s perfect wedding is threatened when the groom goes to pick up his best man in a neighboring town. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 3.3 South Africa has been turning out some impressive movies of late.
THE WINNING SEASON (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Sports Comedy. An adult misfit is called upon to coach the local high school girls’ basketball team. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 Sam Rockwell stars in this, so that makes it of interest to me from the get-go.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2010

AHEAD OF TIME (Film First) Genre: Documentary. A documentary about the amazing life of 97-year-old Ruth Gruber, once the world’s youngest PhD and later a key member of the FDR administration and a journalist in the Middle East in the 1940s. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles September 24). RATING: 2.5 This is the kind of movie that always piques my interest; someone who I’ve never heard of yet had a profound effect on history.
BRAN NUE DAE (Freestyle) Genre: Musical. An aboriginal couple in Australia has a series of misadventures. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 One of Oz’s most popular stage musicals of all time but I wonder if it will translate for American audiences.
HEARTBREAKER (IFC) Genre: French Romantic Comedy. A young Frenchman who is hired to break up relationships falls in love with his target. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 The French are the best at romantic comedies, but this sounds a bit too much like My Best Friend’s Girl for comfort.
HIDEAWAY (Strand) Genre: Drama. After her boyfriend dies of a drug overdose, a pregnant young girl flees to a relative’s house far from Paris but is joined there by her dead boyfriend’s brother. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles September 17). RATING: 2.9 Sounds a bit melodramatic, but I have confidence that director Francois Ozon will make a terrific film.
I’M STILL HERE: THE LOST YEAR OF JOAQUIN PHOENIX (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. The star of Gladiator decides to retire from acting and reinvent himself as a hip-hop artist. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 A quirky doc that could be fascinating or could be surreal.
LEGENDARY (Goldwyn) Genre: Family Drama. A young boy seeks to reunite his family a decade after his father, a celebrated wrestling coach, passes away suddenly. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 Wrestler John Cena makes a dramatic turn as an actor; could he be the next Dwayne Johnson?
LOVELY, STILL (Monterey Media) Genre: Romantic Drama. A chance encounter leads a lonely elderly man into a romance that takes an unexpected turn. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Considering the leads are Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, this one might be worth seeking out.
RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (Screen Gems) Genre: Horror Sci-Fi Action. Alice continues to find survivors of the zombie plague and try to lead them to safety but the Umbrella Corporation has a fiendish trap set for her and her team. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.1 This series has been the best videogame adaptation of them all.
THE ROMANTICS (Paramount Famous Productions) Genre: Dark Romantic Comedy. The night before a wedding, the bride and her friends go for a swim with the groom and return…minus the groom. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 Haven’t seen much about this one but Josh Duhamel is in it and I usually like him.
THE VIRGINITY HIT (Columbia) Genre: Sex Comedy. Three guys try to get their buddy, who is still a virgin, laid. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.0 Sounds to me like a raunchier version of The 40-Year-Old Virgin without Steve Carell, although Will Ferrell is a producer on this.

SEPTEMBER 15, 2010

NEVER LET ME GO (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Sci-fi Drama. A sheltered group of young people at a British boarding school discover a terrible fate awaiting them when they graduate. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 From what I can see this is a thought-provoking drama with sci-fi elements concerning what it means to be human – sounds intriguing to me.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2010

ALPHA AND OMEGA (Lionsgate) Genre: Animated Feature. Two wolves – one an Alpha female at the top of her pack, the other an Omega male at the bottom, must rely on each other to get back home. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 From the trailer, the animation looks just plain awful.
CATFISH (Rogue) Genre: Documentary. A young man’s Internet romance is documented by his filmmaker brother, only to turn into something completely different. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.1 One of the most amazing trailers I’ve ever seen – I’m hoping this will be the next Paranormal Activity-like buzz film.
DEVIL (Universal) Genre: Supernatural Horror. Four people are trapped on an elevator with someone who isn’t who they appear to be. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 A very interesting concept that could yield a pretty decent movie.
EASY A (Screen Gems) Genre: Teen Comedy. A teen girl lies about losing her virginity and discovers that she is being seen in a whole new light. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 Looks like a cross between The Scarlet Letter and High School Musical.
THE FREEBIE (Phase 4) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A married couple that has lost interest in sex gives each other a “freebie,” one night where anything goes with no questions asked, no repercussions. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.6 A very sexy concept but Dax Shepard, not one of my favorite actors, is the guy.
THE GIRL (Olive) Genre: Coming of Age Drama. A young girl left on her own by humanitarian parents and a bohemian aunt decides to take care of herself. Release Strategy: New York (opening in Los Angeles October 1). RATING: 3.1 Could be intriguing if the juvenile actress is solid enough.
JACK GOES BOATING (Relativity) Genre: Dramedy. A pair of shy, lonely New Yorkers begins to come out of their shells when they meet one another. Release Strategy: Limited (Expands September 24). RATING: 2.9 Very indie in concept but with the great Philip Seymour Hoffman headlining this could be a gem.
KANDAHAR BREAK (Peace Arch) Genre: War Drama. A British bomb disposal expert falls afoul of the ruling Taliban and must flee pre-9/11 Afghanistan on foot. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.9 Intriguing considering the production crew actually did come under fire from pro-Taliban forces while filming this.
PICTURE ME (Strand) Genre: Documentary. A look at the modern fashion model culture as seen through the eyes of Sara Ziff who went from juvenile model to world famous supermodel. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles September 24). RATING: 3.8 In all honesty given all the problems in the world, the problems of women who want to have glamorous pictures taken of them doesn’t really move me all that much.
THE TOWN (Warner Brothers) Genre: Crime Drama. A bank robber falls in love with a bank manager he took hostage and begins to court her, she being ignorant of his true identity. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 A very strong cast with Ben Affleck in the lead; yes, I know but Affleck has been very strong in supporting roles of late.
THE WILD HUNT (Hannover House) Genre: Thriller. A young man follows his girlfriend into a medieval re-enactment game that quickly gets out of hand. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Originally scheduled for July 16; hopefully that’s not a sign that this sucks.

SEPTEMBER 22, 2010

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (Sony Classics) Genre: Dramedy. A distinguished cast stars as a family trying to overcome tangled love lives and their tendencies to be their own worst enemies. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 Woody Allen has always been an acquired taste that I’ve never acquired.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2010

A MOTHER’S COURAGE (First Run) Genre: Documentary. Kate Winslet narrates the story of a woman who refuses to give up on her autistic son and works tirelessly to find a way to unlock his mind even when conventional medicine has turned its back on them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 The story of an admirable fight that I might catch on cable someday.
BURIED (Lionsgate) Genre: Thriller. A contractor in Iraq awakens to find himself trapped in a coffin buried underground with only a dying cell phone, a lighter and limited air. Release Strategy: Limited (Opening Wide on October 8). RATING: 2.7 A hit at Sundance, but can it sustain my interest over the course of 90 minutes?
ENTER THE VOID (IFC) Genre: Supernatural Thriller. A small-time drug dealer shot in a police raid tries to fulfill his promise to his girlfriend even as his soul begins to leave this world. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 If done right this could be a very interesting film.
FRICTION (Hyrax) Genre: Dramedy. The lines between script and reality blur as a high school student writes a script about a love triangle. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Has gotten good reviews on the festival circuit.
HOWL (Oscilloscope Labs) Genre: Bio-Drama. Partially a biography of the life of beat poet Allen Ginsberg, partially a chronicle of the obscenity trial surrounding his masterpiece Howl and partially an animated ride through the landscape of the novel. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Ginsberg might have loved this but not so sure audiences will.
IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (Focus) Genre: Dramedy. A teenager who checks himself into a mental institution is taken under the wing of a fellow inmate. Release Strategy: New York and Los Angeles only (although I’m seeing trailers at the AMC in Orlando so likely this will turn out to be limited release at some point). RATING: 3.0 It will be interesting to see if Zach Galifianakis is ready to take a critical supporting role in a movie that isn’t strictly comedic.
LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Animated Feature. A courageous young owl searches for legendary warriors to save the owls from the forces of evil. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.4 The 3D animation from 300 director Zack Snyder looks absolutely astonishing.
WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” (Paramount Vantage) Genre: Documentary. The director of An Inconvenient Truth takes on the American education system. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 A timely film that will give night terrors to any parent hoping for something better for their children.
WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Drama. 80s greed icon Gordon Gekko is released from prison, this time taking on his prospective son-in-law as a protégé. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Director Oliver Stone revisits characters and situations that are as relevant now as they were 20 years ago.
YOU AGAIN (Disney) Genre: Comedy. A young woman tries to prevent her brother from marrying her high school rival, only to discover that the rival’s aunt was her mom’s high school rival. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 Strong female cast including Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis and Betty White but the trailer didn’t really look good.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The American, Machete, Devil, The Town, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps