Trailer: Shame (dir. Steve McQueen)

Every year sees a few films which dares to push the boundaries of film storytelling. This year already had the exemplary film Drive from Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn and now with the year on it’s final two months we have another in Shame by the British filmmaker Steve McQueen.

Shame is an erotic drama starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan and has been making the international film festival circuit with the film and Fassbender earning accolades for best picture and best actor. The film was already gathering some steam not just through the performances and McQueen’s direction, but for it’s producers stance on not appealing the MPAA giving the film the dreaded NC-17 rating. The film will be shown to the audience uncut and as it was meant to be instead of being re-edited for a much more business-friendly R-rating.

I, for one, applaud the filmmakers sticking to their guns about showing it in it’s NC-17 form. Now, the rest of the film-going world will finally get to see what all the hype and hoopla about this film when it gets a limited release this December 2, 2011 in the United States and on January 13, 2012 over in the UK.

Review: Drive (dir. by Nicolas Winding Refn)

Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn has made just a handful of films with most staying under the radar of most of the general film-going public. He first caught the attention of indie film fans with his Pusher Trilogy over in Denmark, but he really caught the attention of these fans with his explosive collaboration with Tom Hardy on the Bronson biopic. He would follow that film with the violent existentialist Viking film Valhalla Rising. It would take another major collaboration with another rising star in Ryan Gosling for Winding Refn to finally have his major breakout film which has caught the attention of not just the indie film fans and cineaste crowd, but the general public at-large.

Drive was first screened over at this year’s 2011 Cannes Film Festival where it premiered “in competition” for the Palme d’Or. While the film didn’t win the top prize for best film at Cannes it didn’t garner Nicolas Winding Refn “Best Director” award and his work on this film more than merits such an accolade. The film would begin to screen at other major film festivals before landing at the Toronto International Film Festival before making it’s major public release in North America. Everywhere the film went the consensus reaction to the film has ranged from positive to calls for the film as one of 2011′s best.

So, it would seem most everyone has been quite positive with their reaction to Refn’s Drive. Is this film just another indie arthouse title which the elitist film fans have begun to hype up to levels that would border on cosmic? Or is this film actually as good as it has been talked up to be by such film fans and those of the general public who have seen it? I think the answer lies somewhere in-between.

Drive has been called an action-drama to crime-thriller to film noir and even an existentialist meditation of the film variety. Some have even called it a modern urban fairy tale from the many traditional tropes and themes inherent in fairy tales. The film actually seems to defy genre labels as it’s all those and even more. Nicolas Winding Refn has made a film with so much variety in its cinematic DNA from other classic films and storytelling styles that watching the film once is not enough to find them all.

The film makes a strong statement with it’s introduction of the character who remains nameless but could be called “The Driver” or “The Kid”. Ryan Gosling’s performance in this opening sequence will set the foundation for his character from beginning to end. His driver role is not much for chit-chat and unnecessary talking with those who have hired him to be their expert getaway driver. He’s meticulous with his equipment and intractable when it comes to the rules he has set down for his clients. He would be theirs for the five minutes they need him to drive them away from their criminal acts. Whatever they do before or after those five minutes doesn’t matter to him and he sticks to this rule explicitly. Another rule which he lays down is that he will not be carrying a firearm. These rules have had some audiences bring to mind Jason Statham’s Transporter character and they would not be totally wrong to say so. What Gosling’s driver has over Statham’s is the air of realism to the role. It’s a realism that borders on hyper-reality as the film moves on to it’s climactic conclusion, but real nonetheless. Gosling’s “driver” will not do extensive and elaborate fighting skills the way Statham’s would.

The film would move from it’s powerful introduction and into a much more calm and somewhat serene section as the nameless driver gradually gets to know his next door neighbor in the form of Irene as played by Carey Mulligan. Their relationship will form the core of the film’s narrative and it’s the driver’s growing affection not just for Irene but her young son that would dictate some of the decisions he would make right up to the end of the film. It’s a relationship built not on extensive dialogue banter but mostly on meaningful glances and silent understanding between two characters who seem to have found a kindred kinship between them. It’s this growing relationship between the two and Irene’s son which almost look like a familial unit forming until the return of Irene’s incarcerated and newly-released husband Standard. This is a character played by Oscar Isaac as a man desperate to take full advantage of his last chance at normalcy and redemption, but ultimately doomed to fail.

Standard doesn’t just become the only wrench in the happy life Gosling’s character seems to want to have with Irene and her son. Into the picture also happens to come in is his mentor and business partner Shannon (Bryan Cranston doing a great job as the good-natured, but opportunistic fool character many Shakespearean tragedies always seem to have) and Shannon’s even seedier acquaintances in Hollywood mogul-turned-mob boss Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks in a chilling performance) and his more boisterous, but not as smart partner in Nino (Ron Perlman).

The film seems to settle on the low gears for the first hour of the film, but it’s during a botched robbery attempt where the driver becomes embroiled in that Drive finally moves into the high gears and stays there until the very end. Refn’s decision to use the first hour to round out and build the characters in this film definitely pays off in the end. The audience becomes quite clear as to who the players are and what motivates them to do what they do the rest of the film. Even the most secondary and tertiary roles in this film has a part to play. Even Christina Hendricks in the role of a low-level moll to a gang of criminals gets to have her time to shine if just briefly.

Once the narrative shifts from character study to an almost Cronenbergian exercise in violence and brutality does the film finally able to hook in the last few audiences who may have still been iffy about Drive. Not to say that the final 45-minutes of the film was a non-stop action film, but it does move at a consistently higher gear pace than the first hour. We see the driver having to show to the audience that he’s not just an expert wheelman for Hollywood (stunt driver by day) and the criminal underground (getaway driver by night). It serves the film well that Gosling’s character has the barest minimum of lines of dialogue. We see all we need to know about this character through his behavior that brings to mind roles played by such past luminaries as Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood.

Most likely it would be in the second half of the film that should satisfy the action junkies. While the action scenes are not of the Michael Bay-type they do show that Refn has a fine grasp of what makes an action scene thrilling. Whether the scene calls for some of the most well-done car chase on film since Frankenheimer showed everyone how to properly do it in Ronin or scenes of sudden brutal violence which calls to mind similar scenes from Cronenberg’s last two films (A History of Violence and Eastern Promises). Both types of action were done efficiently with little to no glamour to gloss over things. The burst of violence actually adds to the mystique of Gosling’s “Man With No Name” role. One particular scene in the apartment elevator where Gosling, Mulligan and a goon sent by the mob makes for one of the best scenes in the film and of 2011.

As much as these scenes of action and violence will be the ones to get the most attention from the general film-going public in the end it’s the excellent screenplay by Hossein Amini of the James Sallis’ novel of the same name which really holds everything together in conjunction with some top-notch performances from everyone involved. The film makes or breaks itself on Gosling’s performance as the driver and he delivers on all cylinders. His performance was quite reminiscent of past performances such as James Caan as Frank in Michael Mann’s Thief, Steve McQueen also as Frank in Bullitt, but in my opinion Gosling’s work in this film brings to mind young Clint Eastwood as “The Man With No Name” in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western trilogy. Both characters were the type to let their actions speak for them and were both full of quiet confidence not to mention restrained violence which would erupt when needed.

Much has been said about Albert Brooks’ turn as the mob boss Bernie Rose. how the role was quite the 180-degrees from people’s perception of the actor who usually did comedic roles. I say that Albert Brooks always had a dark side to his comedic talent. I mean he was and is megamaniacal villain Hank Scorpio from The Simpsons. In all seriousness, Brooks’ as the mob boss was the other pillar which held all the other performances focused. In fact, Gosling’s character and Brook’s Bernie Rose could almost be considered mirror-images of each other. They were characters who had found their place in the world and the role they would play and didn’t struggle against it. Everyone else in the film struggled against their lot in life. It was also these characters who had the bulk of the film’s dialogue.

Drive has been hyped (for some overhyped) since it first premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but it’s one of those rare films which has more than earned and surpassed the hype which has preceded it’s general release to the general public. It’s a film which bucks traditional genre labels by combining the themes, ideas and foundations from many different film and storytelling genres. For fans of action there’s enough thrilling action to sate them. For those who are fans of film noir this film definitely carries within it the DNA set down by the film noir of the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s. For some who wish to watch a film which explore existential themes then Refn’s film has that too. In the end, Drive manages to be a film which caters to so many different audiences without ever pandering to them or dumbing the story down. It’s a film made by a filmmaker who continues to impress and who has made his best film to date.

Drive is a film that is not for everyone, but it’s also a film that everyone should see and experience at least once. It is also one of the year’s best films and, so far, my top film of 2011.

Drive Review

This review is not one filled with spoilers but I’d just warn that one can better understand the points I’m trying to make if they have seen the film. Obviously everything I say below is my own opinion and interpretations of the film and many will disagree. I’m writing this second review because in order to sustain my recent obsession with Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film ‘Drive’, I have been reading a lot of interviews with the director so that I could both  better understand the motivation and ideas surrounding its creation as well as to better appreciate its style and themes so that I can add that onto my already huge admiration and love for the film to better articulate how I felt and express why I think it is the second best film of the year, the first being ‘The Tree of Life’ which was the only other I have seen in 2011 that has caused me to do a second write up like this one and although ‘Drive’ might not be as “deep”, I do believe it is much more complex than some make it out to be and a second viewing caused me to think about it none stop and there are just something’s I need to say.

Since this past weekend when I did see it that second time, the thing that I have come to understand that really caused me to view the entire film in a much different perspective was that my very simple explanation in my other review of it being some sort of character study in the vein of ‘The American’ mixed with ‘Taxi Driver’, though in some ways true, does not even begin to acknowledge the fact that what ‘Drive’ really is, and what Refn decided to create, is a film with a fairy tale archetype guided by an old fable whose themes of love, nature, brutality and heroism shed a new light on the character’s romance and exploits, as well as makes the stories ending that much more emotional.

Refn considers this idea of it being a fairytale to be true, and has said it multiple times, because that is ultimately what he wanted to create. In his words ‘Drive’ is a fairytale set in Los Angeles, whose characters are larger than life figures representing “pure emotion” as he put it; which explains why the love is so pure and the violence is so brutal and there is rarely a middle ground, they are exaggerations of real emotions to add to its fantastical tone.

The first half is the serene and pure story of the innocent young maiden lost in the woods who falls for a “Knight in shining armor”. When evil appears and violates their world of purity and love and threatens the young maiden’s wellbeing, they must be punished by the Knight which brings out a much darker side to the story, in the vein of the Grimm fairytales. The young maiden of course being Irene (Carey Mulligan), a single mother raising her son alone while her husband is in prison. The Knight she falls for has no name but is referred to as simply the Driver (Ryan Gosling). A quiet and mysterious man who is a mechanic and stuntmen by day and a getaway driver by night. He is lonely and most enjoys being out on the road, but easily falls for the beautiful Irene and her son, who offer a chance to be human and evoke emotions he rarely feels. This simple story of love is interrupted when Standard (Oscar Isaac), Irene’s husband, reappears. Not only does he cause a divide but his past resurfaces which has connections to two dangerous gangsters (Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman). In order to do whatever he can to protect Irene and her son, the Driver offers his services to Standard for a heist. It ultimately goes horribly wrong and the two gangsters look to cover it all up by getting rid of all involved, which includes the Driver and Irene.

From here that much darker side appears as the Driver is forced to fight back and protect the things he cares about. This half of the story is guided by the fable of “The Scorpion and the Frog”, about a scorpion who asks a frog to carry him across a river. The frog is afraid to do so because he does not want to be stung but the scorpion tells him that if he were to sting the frog they’d both drown, so the frog agrees. Halfway across the scorpion does in fact sting the frog dooming them both and when the frog asks why he did so the scorpion replies that it is in his nature. The idea being for some creatures their behavior is irrepressible and so cannot be controlled no matter what the consequences. For the scorpion his nature was to sting, he does things instinctively and without much thought. When in a situation where this instinctive nature must come to the surface, when cornered or in this case when those people the Driver cares for are threatened, he reverts to that aggressive scorpion nature and stings, hard and violent no matter the consequence which in this case means losing himself or the ones he cares for.

The elevator scene is really that tipping point where the stinger comes out and not surprisingly one of the best scenes in the entire film. It is when he puts his human emotion and love aside in order to fully protect Irene. After he kisses her goodbye he knows he is about to reveal his true nature. After viciously killing the man who had put him into that corner he looks at Irene and knows it is over which is his ‘great sacrifice’, letting the one he loves go in order to protect her, and what makes him a true hero. The elevator door closes and the two are separated for good. He must now do whatever he can to distance himself and all this evil from Irene and her son.

What is interesting about the idea of the Driver as being a hero is the sort of duel personalities he evokes. One could say he is human by day, working a normal job, shopping and falling in love but a “hero” by night, though not helping the right people. When the story really becomes interesting is when he has to blend the two personas to become something more which is why Refn and Gosling have described it as their ‘superhero’ film. He is a man with the capacity to be a “real hero” and it is only when he can bring his human emotion to that more aggressive and skillful side that he does become this sort of superhero-like character. Obviously it is difficult for him. It isn’t a smooth transition and at times he has trouble controlling it, which comes through as he shakes as his anger and adrenaline builds when talking to Nino on the phone and of course when he brutality stomps the life out of one of Nino’s hitmen in the elevator scene mentioned earlier. This is that scorpion nature coming through, this aggressive nature is the key to his power, and why it is most fitting that his ‘custom’ is a jacket with a scorpion logo on the back.

Though his actions seem necessary he still does not want to lose his ‘human’ side and puts on the mask towards the end because he must fully embrace this more aggressive side to get the job done, to quell his emotions and settle the battle raging between both persona’s and essentially become a lifeless and aggressive vessel with one objective. This way he can do what needs to be done, evoke a bit of fear from his target, but cover up and shield his human persona and not completely lose himself. Throughout this he becomes someone we empathizes with, even if his methods seem to be so extreme. The outcome to it all, although somewhat ambiguous, is a fitting and emotional conclusion where some people do in fact live happily ever after.

What makes this all work so effectively is the fact that ‘Drive’ is a film in which things don’t need to be spoken to be said. One where characters express more through silence, short but poignant dialogue and the interactions they have together. Refn brilliantly creates a dreamlike and contemplative exploration of the serene and the hyper violent set within a fairytale like story that happens to be a slow burning character study of the ‘scorpion’ where everything is just below the surface and it all builds up, through a series of quiet and calm moments, only to erupt into brutal violence. Nothing is handed to you, there is no blatant exposition, you don’t always know what is going on in a characters head and it helps create a level of tension and actually requires one to think. This isn’t some sort of mindless action thriller, it’s much more contemplative and complex than one would expect. He polishes it all off with a retro varnish evoking a different time, helping to set it apart from reality and add to its moody atmosphere, but still keeping it grounded enough to feel real and have that emotional punch. Add onto that all of that the fantastic performances: Ryan Gosling’s brilliantly effective and charismatic performance as the Driver, Carey Mulligans charming and sweet portrayal of Irene, Ron Perlman’s brutish and aggressive Nino, Albert Brooks as the ruthless but understandable Bernie, Bryan Cranston as the downtrodden but humorous Shannon, Oscar Isaac as Irene’s husband who needs help to avoid his past; and what you are left with is a masterful, beautiful and complex film. It truly is a modern day fairytale, perfect in every way, and a film that I couldn’t help but fall in love with.

Quick Review: Drive (dir. by Nicolas Winding Refn)

Here at the Shattered Lens, we’ve been eagerly awaiting Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, which has picked up some major buzz over the last few months. So note that this will not be the only review you’ll see for the film. As the other reviews come in, I’ll update this paragraph to link to them.


Leonth3duke has added his Drive Review, which examines the film from a lens closer to the director’s point of view and remains spoiler free. Definitely worth reading!

Arleigh has also added his Drive Review - which compares the film to both Michael Mann and David Cronenberg’s styles.

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I was so excited by Drive that I treated my extended family to it (just in case the film went sour, it would be easy to apologize). This is going to be a quick review, because I’m going to ramble.

To quickly sum it up, Drive is a beautiful, artistic film that hits all the right buttons when it comes to the crimes it showcases. It occasionally explodes between quiet reflection and ultra violent action. Even the music was sweet. It’s just a shame though that all that coolness is wrapped up in dialogue and scenes where the pacing……moves……as……………slow…………………………this. Honestly, the book this was adapted from felt like it must have been about 50 pages, at best.

Drive is the tale of Driver (Ryan Gosling), a stuntman for the movies by day, and a Wheelman by night. His partner, Shannon (a nice performance by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston) gets involved with a mobster (Albert Brooks) on a business venture. After getting caught up in a heist that goes awry, Driver has to try to protect himself along with the woman and child he’s recently befriended.

Drive has a fantastic sequence before we actually see the opening credits. Everything about that opening is downright sharp and creative. I haven’t seen that cool an opening to a film in quite a while. What a way to hook the audience in.

Overall, the film feels great and unique, but it suffers from one problem that I’ve only seen a few people actually mention. It feels like there’s this pause between every statement between Driver and Irene (Carey Mulligan). Imagine having one character say “Hello”, and then having someone pause the movie for a few minutes before picking it up from there. Drive ended up doing this quite a bit.  I can understand if Driver is a soft spoken, man of action,  but there were moments where I wanted to shake both Gosling and Mulligan to communicate more. I’m not saying they had to move in a particular direction, but they had a lot of patience waiting for replies from each other.  There were other scenes where I felt Refn should have considered adding just a few cuts to the film to increase the speed of the film. The slow pace keeps it from becoming The Transporter, but most of this movie felt like that 3rd act in Heat after the robbery (or the multiple endings in Return of the King) to me. The film felt more like it was in love with itself than anything.

I understand that Drive is an independent film, and with independent filmmaking, there’s a bit more freedom to do things artistically instead of having movie marketers breathe down your throat. While I may lack the film appreciation skills to effectively grasp the artistic impact of Drive on screen, I can say that as a dialog or story driven piece, the movie suffers that one hiccup. Others may see the movie differently than I did.

Pacing aside, Drive is easily worth seeing, and is in some ways similar to some of Michael Mann’s films like Thief and the aforementioned Heat. Ryan Gosling was cool, but knowing that you’re not going to get the kind of emotion from his character compared to maybe Blue Valentine helps to brace you. Working from Mann’s concept of movies, you could relate Driver to a Neil McCauley. In Heat, DeNiro’s McCauley took action when he needed to. If someone forced his hand, the response was harsh. Driver felt like he had something of the same approach, which I really did like.

Visually speaking, I loved it, but it just has areas where Refn appears to be in love with a shot so much that he lingers longer than he needs to. If you never told me who directed this, I might assume it was David Lynch.  The driving scenes themselves are done very well, and the action is also explosive, breaking the silence in the film a number of times. The silence is so strong that something as simple as a gunshot caused most of the audience to jump, which I found interesting.

The other performances in Drive are interesting, especially Albert Brooks and Oscar Issac, particularly. I didn’t even recognize him in this film, compared to his bad guy role in Sucker Punch. Christina Hendricks, though nice to see, didn’t really do too much here.

So with Drive, you can go see it. I may see it again myself. I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but if you yawn somewhere down the line, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

One other thing I had to add here. The Marketing for this film a few months ago (including the original trailer) is closer to the impact of the actual film than some of the marketing that’s being done now. Most of the recent posters and tv ads push Drive as something of an action piece. I would consider it more of a Drama with action occasionally spliced in.

Song of the Day: A Real Hero (by College feat. Electric Youth)

For the latest “Song of the Day” I only had one choice in mind. No other song has wormed it’s way into my waking consciousness than the song I chose. It’s the 80′s-like synth-pop song “A Real Hero” by the band College feat. Electric Youth.

To say that Nicolas Winding Refn’s first Hollywood film (though still quite modestly budgeted) was something that stuck to me would be an understatement. One of the factors which just made the film one of the best films of 2011 has to be the 80′s retro synthpop soundtrack by Cliff Martinez and some perfectly chosen licensed songs. The one song which definitely has become a favorite and also one which has stuck itself in my mind since I saw the film is “A Real Hero” which we fully hear in the end of the film and into the end credits (the song get a brief appearance in the middle of the film).

This song perfectly encapsulates the restrained love story between the characters played by Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. It explores the dynamic between The Kid (Gosling’s role) and Irene the young mother (Mulligan’s role) as heard through the song’s sparse lyrics which intersperse itself between the electronic synth keyboard play. It’s inclusion in two spots in the film adds different meanings to the song. The first time we hear it the song adds a soft layer of old-school romanticism to Gosling and Mulligan’s characters, but when we finally hear it in full in the end that romanticism takes on an ambiguous tone with just a tinge of bittersweet to the romance.

There’s another song from the Drive soundtrack which also made quite an impact not just in the film’s overall quality but in me as a listener and an audience. That would be explored in a day or so.

SDCC 2011: Drive (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn) Red Band Trailer

One of the films I’ve really been following since last year and can’t wait to see this September is the latest film from Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. I’ve loved his work since I first got introduced to his Pusher Trilogy and saw his two most recent work with Bronson and Valhalla Rising. He is following up the latter with what I could only describe as his own take on the neo-noir genre film, Drive.

At San Diego Comic-Con 2011, the latest trailer for Drive was introduced during the FilmDistrict panel which also had Guillermo Del Toro and his upcoming produced horror film, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. This latest trailer for Refn’s Drive is of the red band variety but from what I could tell from the trailer it shouldn’t be NSFW.

The trailer really doesn’t delve too much into all the plot points of the film. It does give a sense that the film has been influenced by past genre crime films and some of the classic grindhouse chase films of the 70′s. One thing I’m sure of is that this film’s cast looks to be one of the best for any film being released in 2011: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks just to name a few.

Drive is set for a September 16, 2011 release here in the United States.

Source: IGN

The 10 Worst Films of 2010

Sometime during the first week of January, I’ll post my picks for the top 25 films of 2010.  But for now, I’m going to go ahead and post the much more fun list, my picks for the 10 Worst Films of 2010.

10)  Knight and Day — Tom Cruise gets creepier with each film.

9) Robin Hood – Sorry, but that “I declare him to be an …. OUTLAWWWWWW!” line can only carry a film so far. 

8 ) Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – Money may never sleep but Lisa Marie did.  Shia LeBouf as a financial genius?  Plus, any film that so completely wastes the talents of Carey Mulligan deserves to be on this list.  The Other Guys got across the exact same message and was actually entertaining.

7) Eat Pray Love – Finally, a film that tells us all how to find peace, enlightenment, and happiness.  First off, have a lot of money.  Secondly, be Julia Roberts.

6) Solitary Man – A superb performance from Michael Douglas can’t disguise the fact that this is yet another entry in the “Men-Just-Can’t-Help-It” genre of film. 

5) Hereafter — This is, quite frankly, one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen in my life.  And I’ve seen a lot of boring films.  This is also one of those films that attempts to convince you that it’s a quality production by making all the actors look as crappy as possible.  Seriously, did they just pump collagen into Jay Mohr’s face?

4) Clash of the Titans – Zeus must be turning over in his grave.

3) Chloe – Great director (Atom Egoyan), great cast (Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried), terrible movie.  I’m still trying to understand how this one came about.

2) The American – An homage to the French New Wave that fails because it is neither French nor new and there’s also a notable lack of waves.

1) Love and Other Drugs – What makes this film the worst of 2010?  The beginning, the middle, and the end.

20 Cinematic Moments That Will Define 2010 For Me

Every year, there’s a handful of film scenes that come to define the entire year for us.  At their best, these scenes can leave such an impression that they become a part of our shared history.  For some people (though not me), 2009 will always be the year of Avatar.  Meanwhile, for me (but not others), 2010 will always be the year I realized it was okay to admit how much I love to dance.  Listed below are 20 of the many film moments that I will remember whenever I look back on this current year.

20) Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield discover what really happened to all of their childhood artwork in Never Let Me Go.

Permeated with an atmosphere of nonstop melancholy, Never Let Me Go never quite found the audience is deserved but I think it’s one of the best films of 2010 and the scene mentioned above is one of the reasons why.

19) Scott Pilgrim says, “Oh cool, coins!” in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

And Lisa Marie suddenly realizes that she has fallen in love with a movie.

18) Keifer Sutherland says, “Tap that ass” in Twelve.

Truth be told, I don’t even remember what was happening on-screen.  I just remember Keifer, as the film’s narrator, saying “Tap that ass” in that sexy, nicotine-fueld growl of his and thinking to myself, “Well, okay…”

17) Jake Gyllenhaal chases down a bus full of dying old people in Love and Other Drugs.

Yes, the old people desperately need to get up to Canada so they can get their prescriptions filled but unfortunately for them, Anne Hathaway happens to be on the bus as well and Jake — apparently realizing that he’ll never get to see her breasts again if they break up — chases the bus down in his Porsche so he can reconcile with her.  And, of course, the old people are just so adorably excited at the idea of a 15-minute delay while these two deeply damaged characters stand outside and talk about their relationship.  I mean, fuck it — who cares about getting these people their medicine when there’s a disposable pop tune playing in the background and Jake wants to talk to his ex-girlfriend?  In so many ways, this scene represents everything I hate about mainstream filmmaking.

16) Joseph Gordon-Levitt flies through the corridors of a dream hotel in Inception.

Inception was a film full of amazing images but my personal favorite was perhaps the simplest — Joseph Gordon-Levitt (looking rather adorable in his dark suit) floating down those Argentoesque hallways while trying to figure out how to wake everyone up.

15) Jacki Weaver delivers the line of the year in Animal Kingdom.

“And you’ve done some bad things, sweetie.”

14)  John Hawkes “talks” his way out of a traffic stop in Winter’s Bone.

While Winter’s Bone should rightfully make Jennifer Lawrence a star, John Hawkes also contributed some of the film’s best moments.

13) Patrick Fabian slips a recipe into his sermon in The Last Exorcism.

Cast as a modern-day Marjoe Gortner in this underappreciated film, Fabian gives one of the best performances of the year, if not the best.

12) Chloe Grace Moretz saves Kick-Ass from the mafia in Kick-Ass.

As far as women kicking ass was concerned, 2010 was a good year.  Sure, the majority of cinematic female portraits were — as always — sexist to the extreme but there were a few rays of hope.  Angelina Jolie in Salt, Noomi Rapace in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo films, Mila Jovovich in Resident Evil – all were among the women who got to do something more than just look pretty while the boys saved the day.  Seeing as how I’m honoring Rapace further down the list, I’m going to allow Chloe Grace Moretz (in the role of Hit Girl) to serve as a stand-in here for every single woman who was allowed to kick a little ass in 2010.

11) Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg walks down the streets of Lowell at the beginning of The Fighter.

Seriously, this entire sequence — set to Heavy’s How You Like Me Now? (or “The Sock Monkey Song” as I call it) — could be a short film in itself.  Call it: “Men and why we love them.”

10) Colin Firth fearfully waits to give a speech at the start of The King’s Speech.

One look at Firth’s terrified eyes and I was in tears.  From that minute on, this unexpected gem of a film had me.

9) Jennifer Lawrence fishes for her dad’s hand in Winter’s Bone.

Southern gothic at its best!

8) James Franco is rescued by a purifying storm in 127 Hours.

Helpless and hopeless, Franco is suddenly freed by a sudden storm.  Both Franco and director Danny Boyle handle this scene with such skill that the audience finds itself just as saddened as Franco when it all turns out to be a hallucination.

7) Katie Jarvis dances in an abandoned apartment and finds a momentary glimmer of hope in Fish Tank.

Between this movie and Black Swan, 2010 was the year that reminded me of just how much I love to dance and why.  2010 is the year that I realized it was okay for me to love to dance again.

6) Andy gives away his toys at the end of Toy Story 3.

And Lisa Marie cries and cries.

5) Lisbeth Salander (played by Noomi Rapace) gives her abusive guardian a tattoo in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

For any and every girl who has ever been used, abused, hurt, spoken down to, insulted, manipulated, or betrayed by someone who claimed to only be looking after her best interests, this scene was truly cathartic.  When I say that Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth will be iconic, it’s largely because of scenes like this.  In that one scene, Lisbeth is established as a woman who will never be victimized and it gives hope any for those of us who don’t have dragon tattoos. 

4) Footage from Theirry’s completed “documentary” is revealed in Exit Through The Gift Shop.

And the audience is  suddenly forced to question just how much of anything they’ve seen is the truth.

3) The spinning top wobbles at the end of Inception.

Or does it?

2) Kathryn Bigelow becomes the first woman to win the Oscar for best director while her ex-husband glowers in silence.

I wasn’t a huge fan of The Hurt Locker but I still squealed with delight as Kathryn Bigelow accepted the award that should have gone to Sofia Coppola back in 2004.  Not only did Bigelow make history but she did it by beating her soulless jerk of an ex-husband, James Cameron.  And then she gave one of the best acceptance speeches in Oscar history, all the while looking about 20 years younger than she actually is.  In short, Kathryn Bigelow showed every Oscar winner — past, present, and future — exactly how it’s done.

1) The final fifteen minutes of Black Swan

In 15 minutes, Darren Aronofsky reminded me of how much I love ballet and audiences of why we love movies in the first place.

For Your Oscar Consideration

It’s November and that means that we have now officially entered Oscar season.  For the next two months, movies specifically designed to win awards will be released in theaters across America.  Movies like Fair Game, The King’s Speech, True Grit, For Colored Girls, Another Year, and 127 Hours will be presented for “your consideration,” as they always put it in the Oscar ads.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to seeing quite a few of those films.  Fair Game looks like its going to be a bit of a pain (seriously, Sean Penn, it’s great you were right about Iraq and all but get over yourself)  and For Colored Girls seems like it’ll be one of those films that people are scared to admit disliking.  However, The King’s Speech looks like it might be a funny and sweet little movie and  127 Hours looks like it might be the film that proves that James Franco is a major hottie who could use and abuse me in any way he…uhmm, sorry, where was I?  Oh yeah — Oscar season!

The unfortunate thing about Oscar season is that often it seems that movies that were released before the end of the year are either totally forgotten or only given a few sympathy nods.  So, here’s my personal list of a few contenders that, though released pre-Oscar season, I think are just as deserving of consideration as Fair Game.

1) Best Picture — Exit Through The Gift Shop

People either love this film or they hate it.  I love it.  I think it’s a great mindfuck and, as of now, it’s my favorite film of 2010.  In a perfect world, it would not only be the first documentary to be nominated for best picture but the first one to win as well.  Unfortunately, the Mainstream hates having its mind fucked.  Which is why I say — Grindhouse Victory for Exit Through The Gift Shop!

2) Best Picture — Animal Kingdom

This grim yet compelling Australian crime thriller plays like an unromanticized version of The Town, which is probably why it will be no where to be seen once the nominations are announced.  Animal Kingdom also features award worthy work from actors Jacki Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce, and director David Michod.

3) Best Picture — Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Yes, it crashed and burned at the box office and it’s been the victim of an anti-Michael Cera backlash but Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was one of the best and most original films of the summer.  If the best movies succeed by creating their own unique worlds, then Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World deserves to be recognized as one of the best.

4) Best Picture — Never Let Me Go

Mark Romanek’s low-key but affecting adaption of Kazou Ishiguro’s award-winning novel takes a familiar Sci-Fi plot — clones are raised in seclusion so that their organs can eventually be harvested — and turns it into a haunting meditation on life, death, love, and fate.  Carey Mulligan, who deserved the Oscar last year for An Education, holds the film together with quiet strength while Kiera Knightley and Andrew Garfield make the most of the more showy supporting roles.

5) Best Actor — Patrick Fabian, The Last Exorcism

Yes, Fabian will never be nominated because The Last Exorcism was a box office flop, a horror film, and it had an ending that generated a lot of negative word of mouth.  However, I believe that Fabian gave the best performance of the year (so far) in this film.  One reason why that over-the-top ending upset so many viewers was because Fabian had kept the film so grounded in reality that the sudden appearance of the supernatural almost felt like a betrayal.  Incidentally, I think that Fabian’s performance was meant to be an homage to former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner.  (And yes, I realize that’s like the 100th time I’ve casually mentioned Marjoe Gortner on this site.  It doesn’t mean anything.  Or does it?)

6) Best Actress — Noomi Rapace, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Mainstream has pretty much already declared Annette Bening to be the winner for her work in The Kids Are All Right but the Grindhouse knows that 2010 was the year of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

7) Best Actress — Katie Jarvis, Fish Tank

Fish Tank probably played too early in the year to be properly remembered by the Academy but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the best films of the year.  Playing an angry but naive British teen, Katie Jarvis gives a fearlessly vulnerable performance.  Just consider the harrowing scene where, after kidnapping her older lover’s daughter, she realizes what a mistake she’s made.

8 ) Best Supporting Actor — John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone

While I hope Winter’s Bone, at the very least, receives nominations for best picture, best actress for Jennifer Lawrence, and a best director nod for Debra Granik, I fear that John Hawkes will be forgotten.  That’s a shame because Hawkes, arguably, gives the strongest performance in the film.  As Lawrence’s drug addicted uncle, Hawkes is both scary and heroic.  If Lawrence represents hope for the future, Hawkes epitomizes the doom of the present.

9) Best Supporting Actress — Chloe Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass

If Moretz is nominated, it’ll probably be for her performance in Let Me In.  However, good as she was in that film, I think her performance in Kick-Ass is even better.  Playing the controversial character of Hit-Girl, Moretz was the film’s foul-mouthed, borderline-psychotic heart.

10) Best Cinematography — Twelve

Yes, Twelve is a dire film that manages to turn a good book into a silly melodrama but the movie is gorgeous to look at.

11) Best Original Score — Machete

As performed by the band Chingon (which features the film’s director, Robert Rodriguez, on guitar), Machete’s score was much like the film itself: over-the-top, shameless, and a lot of fun.   In much the same way that Hans Zimmer’s score made you believe in the world of Inception, Machete’s score literally forces the viewer into the proper Grindhouse mindset.

12) Best Original Song — “Pimps Don’t Cry” from The Other Guys

Oh, why not?

13) Best Feature-Length Documentary — Best Worst Movie

A charming documentary about the making of that infamous film, Troll 2, Best Worst Movie is also a look at how a movie can be so amazingly bad that it eventually becomes a beloved classic.

14) Best Animated Feature — A Town Called Panic 

This surreal, French, stop-motion film only played for a week down here in Dallas and I nearly didn’t get to see it.  I’m glad I did because, seriously, this movie — oh my God.  The best description I’ve heard of it comes from Empire Magazine where it was referred to as being “Toy Story on absinthe.”  Of course, since apparently California can’t even handle legalized weed, it’s probably hoping too much that they’ll be willing to drink the absinthe.

As just a sidenote, isn’t the poster for A Town Called Panic just adorable?  I swear, just looking at it makes me feel happy.

A Quickie with Lisa Marie: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Dir. by Oliver Stone)

Sometimes, words escape even me. 

I’ve been trying for about three days now to figure out how to explain why Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is one of the most disappointing films of 2010.  Notice I didn’t use the term “worst film.”  There’s enough in the movie that works (Michael Douglas is fun to watch as Gordon Gekko and there’s a handful of scenes that perfectly capture the modern atmosphere of financial panic) to keep it from being a truly awful movie.  But just because the movie isn’t awful, that  doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s any good.

Oh, Wall Street — how did you fail?  Let me count the ways.

1) Michael Douglas gives a great performance but he actually has less screen time here than he did in the original Wall Street.  Yes, it’s fun to watch Gekko claw his way back up to the top but, once you take those scenes out of the equation, you still have about 1oo minutes of non-Gekko material to slog through.

2) Instead most of the screen time goes to Shia LeBouf.  Let me repeat that — most of the screen time goes to Shia LeBouf.  In this film, Shia plays a cocky young financial genius.  Let me repeat that.  In this film, Shia LeBouf plays a genius.  Back before Shia became the human face of the Transformers franchise, I’ll admit that I thought he was kinda cute in his geeky, awkward way.  However, in Wall Street, his character isn’t supposed to be geeky or awkward.  He’s supposed to be some sort of financial genius.

3) We’re also supposed to automatically sympathize with Shia LeBouf’s character because, while he’s a part of the system that created the recession, he’s also dedicated to funding some sort of green energy project.  Much like James Cameron in Avatar, Oliver Stone trots out a simplistic environmental theme here and expects to be praised just for mentioning it.  The message is: “Love my film or Mother Earth gets it.”

4) The film’s plot: Shia LeBouf’s mentor and boss — played by Frank Langella – commits suicide after being run out of business by evil millionaire Josh Brolin.  So, Shia takes a job working with Brolin.  Meanwhile, Shia is also engaged to the daughter of Gordon Gekko.  This leads to him taking Gekko on as a mentor.  Shia apparently wants to take Brolin down.  Or does he?  Unfortunately, LeBouf doesn’t seem to know for sure and that comes across in his performance.  As a result, the majority of the film is about as exciting as watching anyone else go to work.

5) Josh Brolin’s the villain here.  We know he’s a villain because everyone else in the film keeps insisting he’s the villain and Brolin plays the role as if he’s auditioning for a role in the next James Cameron film.  Which is to say, Brolin gives a dull and lifeless performance.

6) The little guy who is creating this alternate source of energy that Shia is so obsessed with?  The little guy is played by Austin Pendleton who, I swear to God, is one of the most annoying character actors ever.  Seriously, Pendleton, stop fucking smiling all the time! 

7) Having seen both this and the original Wall Street, I can now say that I have no idea how the stock market works and I really don’t care to learn.  I just want everyone to stop yelling and throwing paper all over the place.  Seriously, Stone tries to make the “market” scenes exciting here but, once you get over the fact that Stone knows how to use a zoom lens, they’re pretty dull.  Lucio Fulci and Jean Rollin — they would have found a cool way to film those scenes.  Stone just resorts to the same old tricks.

8) That little smiley face looks so cute with his sunglasses on.

9) As with the original Wall Street, this is yet another film about little boys and their daddy issues.  Which father figure will Shia choose?  Meanwhile, Shia’s mother (a grating performance from Susan Sarandon) and his girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) are portrayed as total fools.  Mulligan, after her performance in An Education, especially deserve better than to be stuck playing some sexist fantasy of a human being.  Sarandon is blamed for the housing collapse while Mulligan’s character is cheated out of a fortune towards the end of the film.  The message here, I guess, is don’t let women have money because we’ll just fuck everything up.  I love how I can always count on “progressive” filmmakers to prove themselves to be a bunch of pigs at heart.

10) Charlie Sheen shows up for a really awkward cameo.  He’s supposed to be playing his Bud Fox character from the original film but, watching his performance, you get the feeling that Charlie doesn’t remember being in the original film.  Showing up at a charity dinner with a separate date on either ar, Bud Fox is presented as being just as corrupt as Gordon Gekko.  Michael Douglas, quite frankly, looked somewhat embarrassed by the whole scene.  However, as awkward as the scene was, it did manage to perfectly capture the theme of this movie:

Eventually, even Bud Fox will grow up to be Charlie Sheen.