Film Review: Holmes & Watson (dir by Etan Cohen)


Will Ferrell is Sherlock Holmes!

John C. Reilly is John Watson!

Together, they get really bad reviews!

Well, that and solve crimes and protect royalty.  Holmes & Watson, which came out this previous Christmas, features Sherlock and John attempting to prevent Professor Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes) from assassinating Queen Victoria.  Watson, being the proud Englishman that he is, is an obsessive fan of Queen Victoria.  In fact, he’s such a fan that, upon meeting her, he insists that she pose for a “self-photography” with him and Holmes.  Of course, cameras back then were a lot bigger and more bulkier than cameras today so Watson ends up bashing the Queen in the head.  Watson and Holmes are terrified that they’ve killed the Queen.  But then she wakes up.  That’s the joke.

Holmes & Watson isn’t so much a parody of the original Sherlock Holmes stories as much as it’s a parody of the Guy Ritchie films that almost everyone has already forgotten about.  Of course, it can be argued that the Guy Ritchie films were, themselves, parodies which makes Holmes & Watson a parody of a parody.  (Now, we just need someone to parody Holmes & Watson so that the universe can collapse in on itself.)  As a result, the film opens with a young Sherlock Holmes being tricked into kissing a donkey’s ass and then it progresses to an adult Holmes using his deductive powers to deduce that a man is a compulsive masturbator.  The film never seems to be quite sure if its version of Holmes is meant to be an eccentric genius or an overrated bungler and Will Ferrell’s inconsistent performance doesn’t help matters.  When Holmes starts to incorrectly suspect that Watson has betrayed him, we don’t know if we’re supposed to share Watson’s feeling of betrayal or if this is just another case of Holmes being a brilliant idiot.  The film doesn’t seem to know either.

In the role of Watson, John C. Reilly is expected to do most of the dramatic heavy lifting.  He gets several scenes in which he discusses how difficult it is to always be the sidekick.  It’s a role that Reilly has played in several other films and perhaps that explains why he seems so bored in this movie.  We’re all kind of used to Will Ferrell being an inconsistent performer but it’s far more depressing to see John C. Reilly sleepwalking through a film.

Anyway, Holmes & Watson is not a film that I normally would have wasted my time seeing but, with so many people proclaiming it to be not only the worst film of 2018 but the worst film of all time, I felt that I had a certain obligation to do so.  After all, I’ll be posting my worst of and best of lists over this upcoming week and Holmes & Watson seemed like it would be a legitimate contender for one of those lists.  Having now seen the film, I can say that it’s pretty bad.  Unfortunately, unlike some other bad films, it’s also rather dull and forgettable.  It’s certainly far more dull than any film featuring John C. Reilly, Ralph Fiennes, Rebecca Hall, Hugh Laurie, Steve Coogan, and Kelly MacDonald has any right to be.  It’s a comedy where so many of the jokes fall flat that even the jokes that do work kind of suffer just by association.  Usually, I would have laughed at the film’s Billy Zane cameo but I was still annoyed by the film’s unnecessary musical number so I merely chuckled.

If Holmes & Watson has a saving grace, it is that it’s just a silly comedy.  It’s not really pompous enough to justify the claim that some have made that it’s the worst film of all time.  It’s neither as smug as Vice nor as pretentious as Life Itself.  In fact, it’s not even the worst comedy of the year.  (That honor would belong to The Happytime Murders.)  What Holmes & Watson is, is a huge disappointment.  With all the talent involved, you would hope that the film would be a bit more memorable.

Here’s The Latest Trailer For The American Release of T2 Trainspotting!


T2, Danny Boyle’s sequel to Trainspotting, has already been released in the UK, where it received good but not great reviews.

(If anyone is interested in opening a TSL Bureau in the United Kingdom, please let us know.)

It’ll be released in America later this month.  Here’s the latest trailer for the American release!

Never Nominated: 16 Actresses Who Were Never Nominated For An Oscar


The late actress Deborah Kerr was nominated for six Oscars over the course of her distinguished career.  She never won and, in fact, she currently holds the record for the most Best Actress nominations without a victory.

But, at least, Deborah Kerr was nominated!

The 16 actresses below have never been nominated for an Oscar, despite some excellent and compelling performances.  10 of them still have a chance to be nominated.  Sadly, 6 of them are no longer with us.

  1. Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt came close this year.  She received a SAG nomination for her performance in Girl On The Train and some of the critics groups also honored her work.  However, when the Oscar nominations were announced, Meryl Streep was nominated for a film nobody saw and Emily Blunt was nowhere to be seen.  This year, she’s in good company, as neither Amy Adams nor Annette Bening picked up expected nominations either.  Personally, I didn’t care much for Girl on the Train.  I would have much rather seen Blunt nominated for Looper, Sicario, or even Edge of Tomorrow.  Blunt will be nominated eventually.

2. Dale Dickey

You may not know Dale Dickey’s name but you’d recognize her if you saw her.  She usually plays characters who are strong, outspoken, and occasionally a little scary.  You never want to get on the bad side of someone played by Dale Dickey.  To date, Dickey’s most award-worthy role was in Winter’s Bone.  She also had a memorable (if small) role in Hell or High Water, playing the bank teller who, when asked if the men who robbed her were black, replies, “Their skin or their souls?”

Melancholia

3. Kirsten Dunst

As a result of Bring It On, Dunst is often thought of as being the ideal cheerleader.  But, by far, her most award-worthy turn was in a film that was about as different from Bring It On as possible, Melancholia.  Dunst was just twelve when she was first mentioned, for her performance in Interview With A Vampire, as a potential nominee.  She was also very good in Marie Antoinette and the overlooked Crazy/Beautiful.  Dunst fell off the radar for a while but she’s been quietly making a comeback.

4. Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig is my spirit animal.  She deserved a nomination for Francis Ha and for Damsels in Distress before that.  She’ll be nominated some day.

5. Rebecca Hall

Rebecca Hall received some Oscar buzz last year for Christine.  I haven’t seen Christine but I think that her performances in 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona and especially 2010’s Please Give were criminally overlooked.

6. Katharine Isabelle

Though Isabelle is best known for Ginger Snaps, I think she deserved a nomination for last year’s underrated 88.  One of the best actresses working today, Isabelle will hopefully get a role worthy of her talents.

Film Review Under the Skin

7. Scarlett Johansson

It’s a bit of a shock that Scarlett Johansson has yet to be nominated.  Her work in Lost in Translation was just as important to that film’s success as Bill Murray’s.  And her performance in Under the Skin remains one of the bravest pieces of acting to ever be put on screen.

8. Ashley Judd

Unfortunately, Ashley Judd now seems to be more concerned with political activism than acting.  It’s been a while since she’s appeared in a really great role (and no, the Divergent movies don’t count).  Judd’s best work came in the 90s, when she gave award-worthy performances in Ruby in Paradise, Heat, and especially Normal Life.

9. Kelly MacDonald

Scottish actress Kelly MacDonald doesn’t make enough movies but it’s still hard not to feel that she’s been overlooked by the Academy.  Not only did she hold her own in Trainspotting but her performance in No County For Old Men provided that otherwise cold film with a much-needed heart.

Kristen Stewart

10. Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart managed to survive the Twilight films and has emerged as a consistently interesting actress.  Her work in Clouds of Sils Maria won her a Ceasar but was overlooked by the Academy.  Before that, Stewart did excellent work in Into the Wild, Adventureland, Still Alice and Welcome to the Rileys.

Sadly, these six unnominated actresses are no longer with us:

  1. Rita Hayworth

That the wonderful Rita Hayworth was never nominated — not even for Gilda — is nothing less than mind-blowing.

2. Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy was an actress who was such a natural that she made it look easy.  Perhaps that’s why she wasn’t even nominated for The Thin Man.

Marilyn

3. Marilyn Monroe

Perhaps one of the most tragic actresses in the history of Hollywood, Monroe was never nominated despite giving some of the most iconic performances in film history.  I would even make the case that she deserved a nomination for her tiny cameo in All About Eve.

4. Maureen O’Hara

Despite great performances in classic films like The Quiet Man and Miracle on 34th Street, Maureen O’Hara was never nominated for the Oscar she deserved.

detour1

5. Ann Savage

You may not recognize the name but if you’ve ever seen Detour, you know Ann Savage.  Savage largely appeared in low-budget noirs and she always gave performances that were just as fierce as her last name.

Edie!

Edie!

6. Edie Sedgwick

Sadly, Edie never got a chance to play a truly award-worthy role.  Actually, since almost all of her films were underground Andy Warhol movies, it’s debatable whether she ever played a role at all.  During the 1960s, as one of the top models in New York (a so-called “youthquaker”), Edie was best known for being herself.  But, whenever I see Edie in an old Warhol film like Vinyl or even in something like Ciao! Manhattan, I see what a great actress she could have been if she’d only been given the chance.

Edie Sedgwick (1943 -- 1971)

Edie Sedgwick (1943 — 1971)

Lisa’s Way Too Early Oscar Predictions For January


2013 oscars

Why are these Oscar predictions “way too early?”

Well, unlike every other movie blogger right now, I am not attempting to predict who and what will be nominated on January 24th.  Instead, with this post, I am attempting to predict which 2017 releases will be nominated next year!  In short, I am attempting to predict what movies and which performers will emerge as Oscar contenders over the next 12 months.

Needless to say, this is more than a little bit foolish on my part.  I haven’t seen any of the films listed below.  Some of these films don’t have release dates and others are coming out so early in the year that, in order to be contenders, they’ll have to be so spectacular that neither the Academy nor the critics end up forgetting about them.  For the most part, the true picture of the Oscar race usually doesn’t start to emerge until the summer.

For now, these predictions are, for the most part, wild guesses and they should be taken with more than just a grain of salt.  Each month, I will revise my predictions.  At the very least, next year, we’ll probably be able to look back at this post and laugh.

(Whenever trying to make early Oscar predictions, one should remember all of the award bloggers who predicted Nicole Kidman would win an Oscar for Grace of Monaco, just to then see the movie make its long-delayed premiere on Lifetime.)

With all that in mind, here are my way too early Oscar predictions for January!

Best Picture

All Eyez on Me

Battle of the Sexes

The Beguiled

Blade Runner 2047

Crown Heights

Darkest Hour

Downsizing

Dunkirk

T2: Trainspotting

War Machine

Again, for the most part, these predictions are a combination of wild guesses, instinct, and wishful thinking.  It’s entirely possible that none of these films will actually be nominated for best picture.  (Some might even end up premiering on Lifetime, you never know.)  Here’s why I think that some of them might be remembered next year at this time:

All Eyez On Me is a biopic of Tupac Shakur.  Assuming the film is done correctly, Shakur’s life would seem to have all the elements that usually go into an Oscar-winning film.

Battle of the Sexes is a film based on a true incident, a 1970s tennis match between a feminist and a self-declared male chauvinist.  It’s directed by the team behind the Oscar-nominated Little Miss Sunshine and it stars two former nominees, Emma Stone and Steve Carell.

The Beguiled might be wishful thinking on my part but, at this point, wishful thinking is all I have to go on for most of these predictions.  The Beguiled is a remake of a Clint Eastwood film and it’s directed by one of my favorite directors, Sofia Coppola!  Much like Battle of the Sexes, its misogynist-gets-what’s-coming-to-him storyline might make it the perfect film for the first year of the Trump presidency.

Blade Runner 2047 is one of the most eagerly anticipated films of 2017 and it’s directed by Denis Villeneuve, who is hot off of Arrival.  The Oscar success of Mad Max: Fury Road proved that a sequel can be a contender.

Every year, at least one contender emerges out of Sundance and this year, it could very well be Crown Heights.  It tells a fact-based story, about a man trying to win his best friend’s release from prison after the latter is wrongly convicted.  That all sounds very Oscar baity.

Speaking of Oscar bait, Darkest Hour stars Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.  If that doesn’t sound like Oscar bait, I don’t know what does.

Downsizing is Alexander Payne’s latest film.  It’s about a man (Matt Damon), who shrinks himself.  It may not sound like typical Oscar bait but Payne is definitely a favorite of the Academy’s.

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s big epic for 2017.  Will it be another huge success or will it just be bombastic?  We’ll see.  The Academy has a weakness for World War II films and it could be argued that the very successful yet never nominated Nolan is overdue for some Academy recognition.  (It is true that Inception received a nomination for best picture but Nolan himself was snubbed.)

T2: Trainspotting is probably coming out too early in the year to be a legitimate contender but who knows?  The trailer was great.  Danny Boyle is directing it.  And, much as with Blade Runner 2047, Mad Max: Fury Road proved that a well-made and intelligent sequel can find favor with the Academy.

War Machine is described as being a satire about the war in Afghanistan.  Could it be another Big Short?  With Obama out of office, the Academy might be more open to political satire than they’ve been in the past.

Best Director

Danny Boyle for T2: Trainspotting

Sofia Coppola for The Beguiled

Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Alexander Payne for Downsizing

Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2047

Again, there’s a lot of random guessing here.  Personally, I’d love to see Sofia Coppola receive a second nomination for best director.  Payne and Boyle are always possibilities and, if Villeneuve’s work on Arrival is ignored this year, nominating him for Blade Runner would be a good way to make up for it.  As for Nolan, he’s going to get nominated some day.   Why not for Dunkirk?

Best Actor

Tom Cruise in American Made

Sam Elliott in The Hero

Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman

Logan Lerman in Sidney Hall

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

In American Made, Tom Cruise plays a real-life drug runner.  It sounds like one of those change-of-pace roles that often results in an Oscar nomination.  Gary Oldman has never won an Oscar and has only been nominated once.  The Academy might want to rectify that situation by nominating him for playing Winston Churchill.  And finally, Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum in a big budget musical that’s scheduled to open on Christmas Day?  It sounds like either a total disaster or the formula for Oscar gold!

Logan Lerman is one of those actors who appears to be destined to eventually be nominated for an Oscar and, in Sidney Hall, he ages over thirty years.  Finally, Sam Elliott is a beloved veteran who has never been nominated.  If The Hero is a hit at Sundance, it’s easy to imagine the Oscar campaign that will follow.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain in The Zookeeper’s Wife

Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul

Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled

Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes

Naomi Watts in The Book of Henry

As of this writing, Meryl Streep does not have a movie scheduled to be released in 2017, which means that another actress will get the sport usually reserved for her.  But who?  Jessica Chastain could be nominated because she’s Jessica Chastain and the Academy loves her.  Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria for a second time in Victoria and Abdul.  The Academy loves movies about British royalty and Dench has already been nominated once for bringing Victoria to life.  Naomi Watts plays a loving but possibly crazy mother in The Book of Henry, which again sounds like a very Oscar baity role.  If Emma Stone doesn’t win for La La Land, the Academy could make it up to her by nominating her for Battle of the Sexes.

As for Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled — well, let’s call that wishful thinking.  My hope is that Sofia Coppola will do great things with The Beguiled and she will get another great performance out of Nicole Kidman.  We’ll see if I’m right.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Carlyle in T2: Trainspotting

Johnny Depp in Murder on The Orient Experss

James Franco in The Masterpiece

Bill Skarsgard in It

Kevin Spacey in Billionaire Boys Club

Admittedly, the guesses here are fairly random but there is a logic behind each nominee.  Robert Carlyle was great in Trainspotting so he might be just as great in T2.  In Billionaire Boys Club, Kevin Spacey plays a sleazy con artist and that sounds like the type of role with which he could do wonders.  If It is to be a success, Bill Skarsgard is going to have to be a terrifying Pennywise.  If Heath Ledger could win for playing the Joker, surely Skarsgard could be nominated for playing Pennywise.

As for James Franco in The Masterpiece … yes, it’s more wishful thinking on my part.  Franco will be playing Tommy Wiseau, the director of the notorious The Room.  Wiseau is, needless to say, an eccentric figure.  Not only do I think James Franco could give an award-worthy performance in the role but I also just like the idea of someone getting an Oscar for playing Tommy Wiseau.

Finally, we have Johnny Depp in Murder on The Orient Express.  Why not?  It seems like someone from that film’s huge cast is destined to be nominated so why not Johnny Depp?

 

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Aniston in The Yellow Birds

Danai Guirra in All Eyez On Me

Kelly MacDonald in T2: Trainspotting

Kristin Scott Thomas in Darkest Hour

Tilda Swinton in War Machine

These guesses are even more random than my guesses for supporting actor.  Jennifer Aniston and Danai Guirra will both be playing mothers who lose their sons.  A lot of people were surprised when Aniston was not nominated for Cake so here’s a chance for the Academy to make it up to her.  As for Kristin Scott Thomas, she’ll be playing Winston Churchill’s wife and the Academy loves historical wives (i.e., Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech and Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything).

As for the last two predictions, Tilda Swinton is listed because she’s Tilda Swinton.  Kelly MacDonald is listed for the same reason that I put Robert Carlyle down for supporting actor.  She was just so good in the first film.

So, there you go!  Those are my too early Oscar predictions for January!  Will they prove to be accurate?  Probably not.

But we’ll see how things change over the next couple of months.  At the very least, you’ll be able to look back at this post and laugh at me for thinking that … oh, let’s say Battle of the Sexes … would ever be nominated for an Academy Award.

As for me, I’ll be revising my predictions in February.  At least by that point, maybe the Sundance Film Festival will have provided some guidance…

Tommy_Wiseau_in_The_Room

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #107: No Country For Old Men (dir by the Coen Brothers)


No_Country_for_Old_Men_posterI love my home state of Texas and I love movies. Therefore, it has always upset me that most movies set in Texas get the state totally wrong.  That’s not exactly shocking.  Unlike the rest of the states, there’s actually a lot of variety to Texas.  We’re a big state and we’re home to a lot of people.  Unlike some place like Vermont, Texas is a world all its own and it’s not surprising that most outsiders are incapable of getting their mind around that and instead find themselves embracing simple-minded clichés and stereotypes.  That’s perhaps why the best films about Texas tend to be ones that were actually made by Texans.  If you want to see the real Texas — flaws and all — than I suggest watching the films of Richard Linklater or perhaps Wes Anderson’s Rushmore.

And yet, it took two outsiders to write, produce, and direct one of the best films ever made about Texas.  The 2007 best picture winner No Country For Old Men was largely the work of two brothers from Minnesota, Joel and Ethan Coen.  It’s not only one of the best films about my home state but it’s also one of the best films of the past decade.

Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men tells the story of three determined men in South Texas whose lives are interconnected despite the fact that three of them spend almost the entire movie one step behind each other.  In fact, despite a few brief encounters where their paths meet, it can be argued that, at no point, do any of them truly interact with each other face-to-face.

Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is the type of person that anyone who has ever lived in Texas will have met.  He’s a hard-working, plain-spoken man, the type who drives a pickup, owns a gun, and likes to begin and end the day with a beer.  He lives in a trailer with his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald, who may be Scottish but speaks here with an almost flawless Texas accent).  Llewelyn’s not a bad guy but he’s not as smart as he thinks and, like a lot of folks down here, he doesn’t like the idea of being told what to do.  In fact, he’d almost rather die for his trouble than admit to making a mistake.  When Llewleyn comes across the aftermath of a drug deal turned violent, he takes off with a suitcase that contains $2,000,000.  After barely escaping the remaining drug dealers (and the scene where Llewelyn is chased by a pit bull is a classic), Llewelyn sends Carla Jeans to stay with her sick mother and then he grabs the suitcase and heads over to the next county.  It quickly becomes apparent, to the viewers at least, that Llewelyn has absolutely no idea how to get out of the mess that he’s found himself in.

And it’s quite a mess because Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) has been hired to track down the money.  Perhaps one of the greatest movie villains of all time, Chigurh is an almost unstoppable force of death and destruction.  Chigurh pursues Llewelyn across Texas, killing almost everyone who he meets along the way.  Interestingly enough, just as Llewelyn continually makes excuses for his own greed, Chigurh also makes excuses for his murderous activities, seeming to obsess over the role of fate and chance.  Whereas Llewelyn refuses to give up the suitcase, even though it means that he’s putting his own wife in danger, because he insists that he can figure out a way to keep the money, Chigurh occasionally dodges responsibility for his own actions by flipping a coin and putting the blame on fate.

And finally, there’s Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who is both the most decent and the most ineffectual male character to be found in the film.  He’s an old-fashioned lawman, the type who, had this film been made in the 50s or the 60s, would have been played by Gary Cooper and would have both vanquished Chigurh and given Llewelyn and Carla Jean marriage advice as well.  In the world of No Country For Old Men, however, Ed is almost always one step behind both Chigurh and Llewelyn.  Instead of saving the day, Ed spends most of the movie shocked and saddened by the violence around him.  As the film draws to its conclusion, he’s left to wonder whether any one man can make a difference.  He’s left to literally wonder whether his area of South Texas has truly become no country for old men.

I recently rewatched No Country For Old Men on TCM and I was surprised to discover just how well this film holds up, even after repeat viewings.  If anything, the film actually improves on repeat viewings.  Once you know how the story is going to end (and, in a fashion typical of both the Coens and Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men does not have a traditional ending), it’s easier to see all of the things that you may have been too overwhelmed to appreciate the first time, like Kelley McDonald’s performance as Carla Jean and Stephen Root’s cameo as Chigurh’s shady employer.

However, for me, the main reason that I appreciate No Country For Old Men is because it is one of the few films that actually manages to get South Texas right.  My mom was born and grew up in South Texas, in the town of Benavides to be exact.  I’ve spent a lot of time down there.  The portrait that No Country For Old Man paints of South Texas is not always flattering but it is largely accurate.  No County For Old Men captures both the region’s terrifying violence and its natural beauty.  It’s honest about the fact that there are men like Anton Chigurh but, at the same time, you occasionally meet an Ed Tom Bell as well.  And, of course, there’s a Llewelyn Moss in every town.  He’s the one who you meet and you hope — often against your better instincts — that he won’t get in over his head.

The Academy named No Country For Old Men the best film of 2007.  For once, the Academy was right.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #97: Elizabeth (dir by Shekhar Kapur)


Elizabeth_Poster“I am no man’s Elizabeth!”

— Queen Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) in Elizabeth (1998)

I have to admit that I always feel guilty about the fact that I love movies about British royal history.  After all, I have roots in Northern Ireland and I was raised Catholic.  If anything, I should refuse to watch films about British royalty on general principle.  I should be writing more reviews of films like Bloody Sunday.

But I can’t help myself.  Whether it’s because I enjoy looking at all of the costumes or I just have a thing for movies set in drafty old castles, I have a weakness for films about British royalty.  (And I will also admit that I sat through the entire royal wedding and I have a bit of a girlcrush on both Pippa and Kate Middleton.  As I said, I just can’t help myself.)

Of course, some of it definitely has to do with the fact that I’m an unapologetic history nerd.  I am fascinated with how people lived in the past.  And, of course, anyone who shares my obsession understands that, when it comes to history, there’s both the official story and the truth.  The official story is something that’s passed down over the centuries.  It’s what we learn in school.  The truth, however, is always far more obscure.  The truth is what historians piece together from what little gossipy evidence has managed to survive the passage of time.

We all know that the official story of Queen Elizabeth I is that she was England’s greatest Queen, she defeated the Spanish Armada, and she never married.  She was the “Virgin Queen,” forsaking love to serve her nation.  That’s the official story but is it the truth?

That’s the question at the heart of the 1998 Best Picture nominee Elizabeth.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not arguing that Elizabeth represents the truth.  Historically, the film is messy and full of speculation that is less based on evidence and more on the desire to keep things cinematic.  But still, Elizabeth is an interesting film specifically because it takes a historical figure and dares to suggest that she may have been human before she became an icon.

Cate Blanchett gives a great performance in the role of Elizabeth.  When we first meet her, she’s a somewhat silly girl who is less concerned with politics and religion and more concerned with her boyfriend, Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes).  Elizabeth is also the protestant half-sister of Catholic Queen Mary (Kathy Burke).  Mary is planning on ordering Elizabeth’s execution but dies of stomach cancer before she gets around to singing the order.

Suddenly, Elizabeth is Queen of England.  Young and insecure, she is, at first, manipulated by advisors like William Cecil (Richard Attenbrough), who pressures her to marry the cross-dressing Henry III (Vincent Cassel) of France.  Meanwhile, the Pope (John Gielgud) signs an order calling for Elizabeth’s death.  Catholic nobleman Thomas Howard (Christopher Eccleston) and mysterious priest John Ballard (Daniel Craig) conspire to assassinate Elizabeth.  With even Robert Dudley giving her reason to distrust him, Elizabeth discovers that her only ally is the enigmatic and ruthless “spymaster,” Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush). It all ultimately ends in a sequence that basically transports the finale of The Godfather to the Elizabethan era.

I really should not like Elizabeth.  It’s undoubtedly an anti-Catholic film, though it’s nothing compared to the histrionic anti-Catholicism of its sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age.  But I can’t help myself, I enjoyed Elizabeth.  It was impossible for me not to relate to Cate Blanchett’s passionate performance.  (And there was just something so incredibly hot about the way Joseph Fiennes, with his intense eyes, would stare at her.)  When you ignore the film’s protestant bias and just concentrate on the performances and the gorgeous production design, you can’t help but love Elizabeth.

Lisa Marie’s Favorite Film of 2012: Anna Karenina (dir by Joe Wright)


For the most part, 2012 was a bland year as far as cinema is concerned.  The most acclaimed films of the year (Argo and Lincoln being two obvious examples) were well-made and often entertaining but they were hardly revolutionary.  2012 was the year that the establishment told us what we should enjoy and, for the most part, film critics slavishly hopped on the bandwagon.  As you can probably guess, 2012 was not my favorite year as far as the movies are concerned.  That said, there were a few films that gave me hope.  As the year ends, despite being underwhelmed by most of the films that were released, there are a few that I truly did love.

My favorite film of 2011 was a criminally underappreciated film from director Joe Wright.  That name of that film was Hanna.  My favorite film of 2012 is another criminally underappreciated film from director Joe Wright.  The name of this film?  Anna Karenina.*

History has a way of repeating itself.

Anna Karenina is, of course, based on the classic novel by Leo Tolstoy.  Anna Karenina (played, quite brilliantly, by Kiera Knightley) is the wife of the noble (but somewhat boring and judgmental) Russian statesman Alex Karenin (Jude Law, who is also quite brilliant and rather tragic in a role that, in lesser hands, could have become a stock villain).  When Anna’s good-for-nothing brother (played in a wonderfully comedic performance by Matthew MacFayden) is caught cheating on his wife, Anna leaves her safe home in St. Petersburg and travels to Moscow where she helps to save her brother’s marriage and meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

Among the members of the Russian high society, it is well-known that Vronsky is pursuing the hand of the young and beautiful Kitty (Alicia Vikander, who generates a lot of sympathy for a character who, at the start of the film, could easily have been portrayed as just a spoiled brat).  However, at the ball where it is widely expected that Vronsky will ask Kitty to marry him, Vronsky creates a scandal by dancing with Anna instead.

Vronsky loses interest in Kitty and instead, he now obsessively pursues the married Anna.  Though Anna is resistant at first, she finally gives in and embarks on an adulterous affair with Vronsky, resulting in scandal and tragedy.

Again, history repeats itself.  The story of Anna Karenina is a familiar one that has been told repeatedly over the ages.  That’s one reason why Tolstoy’s novel has remained one of the greatest novels ever written and why it has been adapted into so many other mediums.  Director Joe Wright begins Anna Karenina with the assumption that the majority of the people in his audience already know the story of Anna’s ill-fated love affair with Vronsky.  As such, he puts less emphasis on the story itself and more on how the story is told.

Anna Karenina is a masterpiece of style.  When the film opens, Wright has his actors literally performing on a stage.  When Anna travels to Moscow, a miniature train is seen rolling across the stage.  When the scene changes from a factory to a high society ball, the factory workers walk backstage, change costumes, and then step back onstage, suddenly transformed into noblemen.  At one point, we even see a janitor nonchalantly cleaning up the now-empty theater while the story continues to play out on the stage in front of him.  When Anna and Vronsky dance for the first time, the other actors freeze in place and a spotlight shines down on the dancing couple.  It’s an amazingly romantic moment, one to which anyone who has ever been infatuated will be able to relate.  Finally, a door opens onstage and the characters (and the viewing audience) are able to step out into the “real” world but, throughout the film, we occasionally return to that stage.  While several critics have criticized this aspect of the film, I thought it was brilliant.  By literally putting his actors on stage, Wright both acknowledges that this is a story that may be familiar but can be interpreted in many different ways and he also drives home the point that, ultimately, we are all just actors on a stage, being observed and judged by a society that is often hostile to any sign of individual desire or unpredictable  emotion.

Needless to say, the film’s extreme stylization is not for everyone.  That’s actually one of the reasons that I love this version of Anna Karenina so much.  In a year that was almost excessively safe, Joe Wright took a risk and, as a result, encouraged us to look at a familiar story in a different way.  For that reason, Anna Karenina is my favorite film of 2012.

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* For the record, my second favorite film of 2012 was The Cabin In The Woods.