I’ve had the privilege of being exposed to a great many films over the last several weeks, so I’m going to provide succinct reviews for them in one go, rather than draw out long ones for them all. Although I might come back to some of these later.
Never Let Me Go. I was thoroughly impressed by this film. I’m surprised it didn’t get more attention from the Academy, considering it came out last year; I heard about it through my beloved EMPIRE magazine, and I’d seen it in other various entertainment magazines, praising the likes of Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield (post Social Network anyway) and Carey Mulligan. And they deserve every word of credit; they give wonderful performances (the best I’ve seen in a long while from Knightley), the cinematography is gorgeous and the writing is superb. The subject matter is directly addressed only once in the entire film and yet the level of intensity and heartbreak expressed throughout is astounding. It’s a film for which you definitely have to brace yourself, but it is well worth watching.
Winter’s Bone. Perhaps I’m just not indie-filmmaker-y enough to appreciate this film to its full credit, but, watching it, I just kept waiting for it to get to the action, the intensity, the core of the story. But it never seemed to arrive at it; the tone seemed fairly monotonous all the way through when, objectively speaking, the subject ought to have come over as very intense. I was impressed with Jennifer Lawrence, who leads the film in her performance. I expect that she is someone we will see again, often. She’s up next to play Raven Darkholme/Mystique in X-Men: First Class. I can’t wait.
The Duchess. The movie itself is pretty forgettable, but I was impressed with Keira Knightly in the title role. For all of her celebrity, she managed to deliver a very well-crafted performance. I don’t necessarily recommend the film, but it’s not quite so wholly bad as I had expected, largely due to Knightley.
Waking Sleeping Beauty. Any Disney fan should see this documentary. It’s impressive because it manages to tell the story of what was going on without bells and whistles, or any of the fanfare that usually gets thrown along with any Disney-flashback sort of film or featurette. They didn’t shy away from the realities that have been very-well hidden up until now. The fact that Don Hahn was able to do this really impressed me because I didn’t think the Disney company would let him get away with it. It’s not the best thing ever, but it’s very enlightening and very humanizing.
The Young Victoria. Another not-so-memorable film, but another example of why Emily Blunt is someone to watch. I look forward to seeing her career unfold.
Secretariat. One I intend to watch again, because it was not at all the film I expected. I can’t even say for sure whether or not I liked it; it’s not really about the horse at all. In fact, our leading lady doesn’t have much of a relationship with the horse. Or any horse for that matter. Based on just one viewing, I have to say that Seabiscuit was better.
Dorian Gray. I had only half-formed notions about The Picture of Dorian Gray, both the book and the various film adaptations of said book. I’ve always been somewhat intrigued by the story, by the mystery of it, and the fact that it’s not entirely clear in any version (save maybe the book) what, exactly, happens to the main character. My expectations were somewhat shattered when I saw this take on the story. It’s definitely more of a horror film, with very specific horror-movie gags and devices. I’m not sure how one would take this film out of context – probably not too well – but even in context, I was not entirely impressed. Big motivating factors for me to see it to begin with was Colin Firth and Ben Barnes’ involvement, both of whom do fine (and no one is surprised) but, again, not what I expected. In any sense. I have since picked up the book and found that it is entirely different in every way.
Coco Before Chanel. Very nice! It reminded me a lot of The Social Network, in the sense that while Coco Chanel was the creator of a huge movement in fashion, and she does create her business over the course of the film, it’s not really about fashion, the same way Social Network really isn’t about Facebook. It’s more of a love story and it’s beautifully crafted. I highly recommend this one.
The Oscar Contenders (albeit belated):
Black Swan. I liked it. I wasn’t quite sure at first, as it sort of leaves you feeling perplexed after first viewing, but I do like it, overall. Darren Aronofsky’s style is definitely an acquired taste, but this film wasn’t quite as crazy as some of his others. It’s still marvelously intense, but not so much that you can’t still see the underlying story. What I like about it is that, while it is a modified, altered version of Swan Lake, it’s ultimately its own story. Nina is not really Odette, no more than Lily (or, likewise, Nina) is Odile. They all fit into the character archetypes, but, separate from the Swan Lake context, the story manages to stand on its own. Again, I liked it. But not everyone did. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it sort of deal, I think. But go in with an open mind.
127 Hours. I’m glad the film got as much attention as it did. Under normal circumstances, this might have gotten swept under the rug, but in the hands of Danny Boyle and James Franco, the one-man-show is actually quite an achievement of storytelling. It reminded me several times of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with the abstract visuals of the dream state, both when Ralston is dreaming and when he begins to lose his mind. The inevitable scene of him cutting off his arm is wicked intense; not because there’s a lot of gore or blood, but because of the artistic methods they use to convey the pain (i.e. musical score, lighting, etc.). I was very impressed. Highly recommend.
The King’s Speech. This was my vote for Best Picture all along. I didn’t think it would actually win, but I was very happy when it did. I thought that the story was very powerful and very touching. I could ramble on and on about it, but I will just say this: it’s beautiful, moving, funny and sharp. If you haven’t seen it, please do!