2010 in Review: Movies

From Management: this reads really disjointed, almost like I wrote each one at a different time and in a different mood. Because I did. It’s not as cohesive as a piece as I’d’ve liked, but here we are.

I watch a lot of movies.

Like, a lot. I could easily spend an entire day at a theater, and actually have before.

However, I’m not what you would consider an “intelligent” movie goer. I can’t stand most of the Oscar bait movies. Most of the time they bore me, and feel like everyone in involved, behind the scenes, on screen, and in the audience are all in on a plan to congratulate each other on how smart they are.

Which is fine. Some people find that fulfilling, and I bet it certainly is. I’ll be damned if I’m going to tell someone the right or wrong way to intake and interpret art.

I'm pretty sure 'join the 501st' is way higher on my list of things to do than 'get married,' and 'find real job.'

However, I feel compelled to explain why most of the movies on my list involve explosions and explicit use of the word ‘fuck.’

I am what I am.

One final note before I dive into my list. This isn’t the best films of the year list, I’ve noted which movies I truly loved or was moved by, but rather a list of the movies that stuck with me for some reason or another.

The Losers – Lot of lost potential on this one. The movie’s based a comic book put out by DC’s mature publishing wing, and it was a fast-paced, gritty, and violent story about a black-ops unit that was wronged by the people giving orders.

This film was hurt by not being rated R. A lot gets lost in that translation, and not just violence and language. The book never loses sight of the fact that these are not good men. Honorable, patriotic, loyal to each other, but they are still lethal people who go on the kinds of missions they don’t talk about on the History Channel. The book gives our heroes the same out the movie does to make they people they’re after truly evil instead of simply bad or morally compromised by the big picture, or an end justifies the means mentality.

The cast was good, equal parts lovable and capable, but in the end is a popcorn film without the swagger of the big boys, and none of the depth of the comic.

Green Zone – I hate, hate, hate Paul Greengrass’ directing style. I like the grain he leaves on scenes. I like the way he frames shots. But for the love of God pull back the goddamn camera.

I don’t need to feel like I’m “in” the fight. I’ve been in fights. Should the need arise, I can get into another one, I just need some tequila. I have complete and utter faith in my ability to be an abrasive asshole that people want to punch in the face.

Say what you want about the man, but that is one fine mustache.

Yes, it’s less of an issue on this film, unlike the Bourne movies because this is supposed to be grounded in reality, not Jason Bourne’s universe where physics are a little less concrete, however, he still needs to the camera on a tripod.

This is one of the two best films about the war in the Middle East because, except for one goddamn line, it offers no commentary on the war itself.  There are few digs here and there, but they are A.) historically accurate, and B.) not the point of the movie. It has an opinion on what we should do, or should have done, but again not the point of the movie.

Iraq serves as a backdrop but the focus is on the character of Roy Miller and what someone who’s a believer does when he finds out that maybe he needs to start asking questions. Then it’s a thriller and a chase movie. It almost operates as a crime thriller. If you swap out a few locations, anglicize the names, and change the Macguffin, you could have a crime movie about a private detective running down leads before the overzealous police force.

I don’t know why I typed all that because the reason I really liked this movie was mostly Matt Damon’s performance. The guy’s got range, and he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite actors, and I thought he did a good job and brought the script along with him to that higher level.

How to Train Your Dragon – When my roommate Nick got this, I initially wanted to hit him in the head with something heavy. A CG movie made by Dreamworks? I sure hope there’s a Smash Mouth song, and references to other movies I’ve seen before.

There wasn’t a lot of that in Kung-Fu Panda but I felt that was a fluke, and I forgave it a lot because of how well and lovingly it embraced the tropes of kung-fu flicks. That movie feels like the creators grew up on the same movies I did.

It’s called pandering, and guess what, it fucking works.

I was completely wrong about How to Train Your Dragon. There was no pop-culture references. No modern songs. No winking at the audience. This was a coming of age story set in Viking times in a world filled with dragons. The voice acting was rich, nuanced, and not all robotic or wrought with the awkwardness of people standing alone in a booth reading lines to no one.

The animation was smooth and lush, and the action sequences were well put together with an excellent eye for not only artistic moments, but they had a sense of geography. They flowed.

It doesn’t have the depth of a Pixar movie, but you know what, a spotlight’s not as bright as the sun; it’s still pretty damn bright.

Daybreakers – What lost potential. Holy shit. The idea of vampires taking over society is such a neat idea. It’s not a  scary wasteland. It’s society where people can’t go out at night or only subsist on blood. How would we take what we know and apply the new rules of life to it? What happens to farms? Does anyone live out in the countryside? How do we fly overseas? Is there an overseas left to see?

The first act of this movie deals with that, and within the movie there are advertisements about a documentary chronicling the takeover and how society changed.

I would have watched the shit out of that.

As it is, this movie peters out of an extremely strong first act into another sci-fi themed chase/race against time movie. Oh, and what happens if a Lurker bites a cured vampire? Anybody?

Book of Eli– Yet another movie that could have been so much cooler.  The premise is neat enough, a man with last known Bible wanders the wastelands of North America trying to keep the book safe, and a crazy person wants to use the good book as all despots do, as a weapon to control the populace.

I like to pretend he spent most of his time stalking post-apocalyptic Utah. Not sure why.

I would have liked it if was Denzel wandering the Earth distributing Old Testament justice to sinners while staying just ahead of the gang of killers and conquerors always just behind him, finds a reason to live, and converts from Old Testament wrath to New Testament understanding, forgiveness, and instruction, but what the hell do I know?

Legion – How in the screaming blue Hell do you have a movie where God sends the angels to make war on humanity and only show one angel? Technically two, but he gave up all his sweet powers as soon as we see him, so fuck it.

They just possess people? This could have been a zombie movie, or freaks escape from a lab movie, but someone has a hard on for religion, no imagination or ambition to bring it to fruition, and decided to take my 12 bucks, anyway. Dicks.

Predators – I was extremely forgiving to this movie because after the two Aliens vs. Predator movies, we’re rewarding basic competency.

It’s clear that everyone involved has an affection for the original. However this movie has the exact same beats, and in few places, the same set pieces as the first movie. While fun for the super fans, it is kind of unforgivable if you’re trying to jump start a franchise.

This has the gleeful feel of a fan film, which helps you forgive a lot of it’s flaws, but that same sense of homage is what also holds it back.

Having said that, this movie does have one of the best “die with your boots on” moments in recent memory, and it’s hard to argue with watching a Predator get shanked.

Exit Through the Gift Shop – Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic movie.

Here’s the short version: a guy who never puts his camera down stumbles into the underground world of street art. He meets the outlaw king of this underworld, Banksy, then halfway through the film, Banksy realizes the filmmaker can’t actually make a film. So Banksy takes the footage and the camera, and turns it the former, and makes the film about an artist being born.
This is a meditation of art. It examines what is art, who makes it, who gets to judge what is and isn’t art, the people who appreciate art, the ones who know they’re talking about and the poseurs, and what it means to be an artist for the person doing the creating and what the world reflects back on them.

Do not let the rumors that this whole movie, especially the third act, is a put on, that it’s pre-planned, pre-designed, and directed exactly to go where it goes deter you. That whole thing adds to the fun. It adds another layer. It creates a completely new way to view this as piece of media, and the artist’s intent in not only why he made it, but how he wants you to watch it.

See it. Download it. I really don’t think Bansky would mind.

MacGruber – Easily the best SNL movie since Wayne’s World which isn’t saying much, but trust me, MacGruber’s good. It starts a little slow, but finds it’s footing when he first goes to the Pentagon, and then really takes off at a full sprint during the scene on the runway.

This could have easily been a MacGuyver spoof, but it veers around that by being extraordinarily sick and twisted.

Classic MacGruber.

It’s funnier than it deserves to be, and is actually shot really well. Will Forte’s always solid, and here he’s great, and the Lonely Island guys really step up on the script and behind the camera.

High art? Not even close, but it is funnier than anything else that came out this year.

Iron Man 2SUITCASE ARMOR. CHAIN GUN SHOULDER PAD. SAM ROCKWELL’S STRUT DANCE. There was a lot of talking (a lot, a lot) but those are the highlights.

It’s starting to come out that there was tension on the set and Marvel hijacked the movie away from director Jon Favreau. It shows, especially in the bloated, awkward second half, but again, and I cannot stress this enough, SUITCASE ARMOR.

Inception – The best movie I never have to see again. I liked the movie; I love Nolan, and this was a staggering achievement of directorship (may or may not be a word), especially the juggling that was act 3, but despite this movie being about a man trying to deal with his guilt and getting back to his family, the movie has no heart.

Cobb’s a son of a bitch who went in too deep, got cocky, came out, suffered a tragedy, became morose, but nonetheless, he’s a son of a bitch, and it’s difficult to cheer for a son of a bitch.

Ellen Page is a cypher. She’s our in, because she’s us. Yeah, they try to jazz it up by making her the architect, but she exists to have back story and plot explained at her. She’s the audience.

Now, Joseph Gordon Levitt is great as usual, but he’s not given a lot to do character-wise, and everyone else is barely in it. That brings us right back to Cobb, who we’ve established is a son of a bitch.

I’m just not invested in Cobb, and you can throw all the tragedy exposition you want at him, but it doesn’t make up for the movie’s ideas being far more interesting than a character we’re not invested in.

The movie is well-written, not only in terms of giving the characters things to say and do, but in terms of construction. It’s got a great gimmick, a hell of a plot, and sense of urgency that’s hard to replicate inside a theater, but it’s got no heart.

To throw this out there, I think the ending’s in real life. A.) I like happy endings. B.) it doesn’t actually matter if the top falls, because he’s moved beyond it. That’s him physically and metaphorically moving on and away from what he was.

Still, how nuts was the twisty-turny, zero-G hotel? Goddamn, that was something.

Kick-Ass – This is one of those rare instances where the movie’s better than the comic.

Now, before all you Dark Knight lovers jump down my throat, that movie was based on a character, and Kick-Ass is based on a single story.

The comic book is really mean-spirited. No one in the entire book seems worthy of redemption, and not because they’re unrepentant pieces of shit, far from it, they’re just portrayed as so pathetic no one should care about them, let alone feel pity for them.

Say what you want about Garth Ennis and his anti-superhero stance, but the man respects his readers and their hobby, but Jesus, does Kick-Ass read like Mark Millar, one of the best-selling and well paid writers in the business, hates heroes, his readers, and the idea of comics in general.

The movie though is vibrant. Everyone’s in leather and Kevlar, but it’s bright and colorful. Even Nic Cage’s Big Daddy has bright splashes of yellow on his black suit. There’s so much energy at display on screen. The fight scenes are well-choreographed, well shot, and every scene is done in a different style.

Kick-Ass’ first fight with the thugs is quick cuts and close up because it’s brutal, up close, and there’s no skill involved. Hit Girl’s first fight is done like a kung-fu movie, pulled back to show off her moves. Big Daddy’s is brutal, methodical, letting the camera work and editing tricks move him around. I could go on, but you get the point.

If Nic Cage has a Facebook, I hope this is his profile picture.

Every character in the movie presented and written much better than the comic. I can’t believe it’s adapted from the same material. There’s a lot of cool stuff on display here, and it’s frankly the best work Nic Cage has done in years. It’s managed to harness the weirdness he’s brought to recent works and made it work for him.

Chloe Moretz is a tremendous child actor, and unlike Dakota Fanning, is in movies I want to see. It would have been easy to fall into shtick with the character of Hit Girl, but she brings depth and nuance to a role that required her mostly to cut people’s heads off and drop the c-word.

Clash of the Titans – RELEASE THE KRAKEN.

At least it gave the world that line. I’ve never seen a movie not know what it wants to be. First Zeus wants humanity wiped out, then he helps Perseus, then they’re drinking buddies, even though Zeus never called off the Kraken, or seemed upset that his son is trying to foil his plan to wipe out humanity.

I mean, what the fuck, guys?

Mads Miliken remained, as ever, the best part of any movies he’ in, but the 3D transition was beyond lousy, and no one seems to know what’s supposed to happen on either side of the camera.

Jackass 3D – If there was ever a way to embrace new technology and flipping it off at the same time, the boys at Dickhouse found it.

This movie leaned more on gross than painful, which makes me think the well’s drying up, but it went out swinging.

The show’s been around since the late 90’s. You know what it is going in, and no it’s not the end of civilization, it’s just a bunch of idiots doing shit to each other.

Jersey Shore is the end of civilization as we know it.

Tron Legacy – What a cool looking movie with no sense of urgency. Getting to the portal barely seemed like a priority for anyone, and there’s a solar sailer that goes there?

No one in the entire movie is in a hurry. Also, the Daft Punk soundtrack, while amazing, is oddly soothing. It may have worked against it. Even the bass heavy parts are relaxing.

I tried to workout with the soundtrack playing and all I wanted to do was lie down and play with a laser pointer.

I don’t know what to do with this movie, because no one seems particularly worried about anything happening, and they never explain why the Iso’s are so important to our world. I get why spontaneously self-generating codes and programs would be interesting in the digital world, but what the fuck would they bring to the table otherwise, especially in reality and not to mention she never seems that special in the computer world aside from being preternaturally hot?

I want to love you, Tron, but first you need to tell me why I should give a shit.

Expendables –On one hand, it was great to see an old school action movie. Good vs. evil, no real twists, just giant men, and Jet Li, murdering wave after wave of interchangeable henchmen.

The most refreshing part was the movie being filled with people I believe could kick my ass.

I don’t think Paul Walker or Channing Tatum could kick my ass. They probably can, in fact, I think I read somewhere that Walker has a couple of black belts, but when I watch either on screen, I never for a second think they could beat the hell out of me.

I do not have the problem with Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Jet Li, or Randy Couture.

Let’s all take a moment to pause and reflect on how absolutely badass Crews’ automatic shotgun is. It’s like Christmas and the Fourth of July put together.

However, the movie does suffer a bit for being an anachronism in the modern age. The first one is shaky cam. Sly, you should know better, especially when you have people like Jet Li and Stone Cold, two men who have made their livings staging combat. Then Couture who is a professional fighter, and Statham who was at one time an Olympic class athlete (England’s swimming team) and has proven that he can do the fight choreography, so tell me, the guy who did the Rocky movies, why in the hell does the camera spend most of the time in either someone’s cheek or crotch during every action sequence?

Finally, Stallone wanted this to be a “message movie.” A noble cause to be sure, but what’s his message? He decides to go kick ass after Mickey Rourke’s speech, but the speech stressed doing action to save a life by giving a shit, whereas Stallone wiped out half the population of an island nation to show he was worth a damn or a man with a soul?

Not that’s there anything wrong with that, but what were you trying to teach me other than the automatic shotgun is my new god?

The A-Team – I love this movie. A lot. Hard. This is loudest, dumbest, swaggeringest movie I’ve seen in a long time. There hasn’t been this kind of ‘fuck you’ insanity brought to an action film since Bad Boys 2.

I get why people don’t like this film. It’s loud and cocky, and largely impossible, but I found it to be so much damn fun. The actors are all having a great time, and despite Bradley Cooper going over the top; Sharlto Copley’s complete inability to shake his South African accent; Rampage’s insistence on either mumbling or screaming, and some semi-shoddy CG towards the end, the movie just gets by on sheer momentum.

Liam Neeson seemed to relish chewing the scenery as Hannibal Smith, a man so capable he disarms his own gun to make a point, but at one point, while interrogating someone, switches into scary mode from Taken.

If you’re hanging out and you want something you can laugh at and will keep your attention, I highly recommend the A-Team and a couple of beers.

Toy Story 3 – Caught in a sickass four-way for my movie of the year, Toy Story 3 is the capstone to perhaps the perfect film trilogy.

Now, I love Star Wars and Lord of the Rings but the last two of the former and the entirety of the latter serve one story. They are great movies, but they are incomplete films, relying entirely on what comes next to justify everything currently happening, which, if the Matrix taught us nothing else, can be very treacherous.

However, each Toy Story can stand on it’s own. The only cliffhanger is that more adventure awaits. More importantly, each one is a great movie.

I was incredibly moved  by Toy Story 3. The idea of growing up, moving on, and how more people are affected than just the person moving. I’m not sure how many other creative forces could make you laugh at witty jokes, pratfalls, and then nearly bring the audience to tears as the toys silently accept their fate in the junkyard, their only solace is that they’re together. Neither scene feels out of place or like a betrayal in terms of tone. Kids, that is damn good story telling.

Movies like this are why I want to write. I’ve had to grow up, and put away my toys, but Pixar shows us that growing up doesn’t mean you have to stop playing.

It kills me that animation isn’t as accepted in the US as viable form of expression as places like Japan. This is just as sincere and speaks to and of the human condition as anything else that came out this year, but it will be relegated to the best animated Oscar; like the movie’s great but with an asterisk.

Fuck the asterisk.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World –Easily the best videogame movie ever made, which is saying something considering it’s actually based on a comic book.

It’s interesting that Bryan Lee O’Malley, the writer and artist of the comic book has such a mastery over the form, because with the exception of a few X-Men references this is a coming of age story is framed like videogame that’s equal parts Final Fantasy and Street Fighter 2. There are so many little in jokes and asides to gamers, and include the fact that it builds in terms of difficulty for Scott and the stakes, just like a video game, but they managed to map it onto a movie’s structure. This is history’s first good videogame movie

The thing I can’t believe about this movie is the economy of storytelling. The original work is six volumes long, each volume is over 100 pages, and they managed to put all emotion and growth into a movie that’s under two hours long.

That’s staggering. A lot of stuff is cut out, for example the boyfriends we barely see, the Katayanagi twins, have enormous roles in volume 5, and we find out that Envy Adams, is Scott’s Gideon.

She’s the one that got away, did the most damage to him, and is the person he’s forever running from and trying to prove himself to as man.  The only piece of the original story that I really miss is how volume six reveals that everything we’re seeing is filtered through the viewpoint of Scott, and that he is a truly unreliable narrator, and that maybe instead of being a nice guy who got dumped by Envy, maybe he was a jerk and a heart breaker who got what he deserved.

Overall, Edgar Wright did a tremendous, tremendous, tremendous job adapting this into a cool, funny, touch movie that never drags. There’s no fat anywhere on this movie. What they cut, and what they kept, and how they made it all work is fantastic.

This movie did the impossible, it proved Michael Cera had range. The cast is great, I in particular thought Gideon and Kim were inspired casting, but man, oh man, was I wrong about Cera.

I read somewhere that Edgar Wright treated this movie as a musical, and that’s the perfect way to describe it. In musicals people break into song to deal with emotional scenes that they can’t communicate in conversation. It’s how they say the things that can’t be said. In Scott Pilgrim they break into fights, which seems like it’s cool and Scott’s awesome until the fight with Roxy, when we hear comments from the people around them. It’s a vicious emotional beating, and brutal unveiling of the truth, and how we work through someone’s past, but instead of being boring and taking place in a coffee house through a series of sighs and indie music, we get a fight scene.

Which, can we take a moment to reflect on how this hipster movie about indie kids falling in love had the best choreographed and most dynamic fight scenes of the year with the best use of CGI?

It’s baffling.

Equal baffling is how this movie made no money, though I blame Universal’s strategy of showing it to everyone in the entire nerd community for free, and the fact that this movie is damn near impossible to mass market to everyone.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is going to be the next Fight Club or Office Space; it’s a great movie that did no business in theaters, but will be discovered and loved on DVD by college kids and hipper-than-thou high schoolers.

The Black Swan –I’ve seen this movie twice and I still have no idea what the hell happened.

I get the plot and the through line, but by the beginning of Act 3 Nina’s been revealed as an unreliable narrator and obviously a lot of the body dysmorphic stuff and people turning into the evil wizard  from Swan Lake is only happening in Nina’s head, but what about she sees when for example her director turns into the Wizard, the thing she sees him doing in the first place, did THAT happen?

Listen baby, your insistence on marrying other dudes and getting knocked up is really hurting our relationship. I forgive you.

How much of the pain, physical and psychological, is she feeling and inflicting on people actually happening and how much is in her head?

I certainly respect Aronofsky’s technical skills as a director. For the nuts and bolts, he’s fantastic, but I always felt he was too cold and too distant from the characters. He came away from that a little with the Wrestler but is right back at it with this movie. However I think the hard analytical style works well here, because at no point is he judging Nina, because she’s doing that enough herself. It’s a dispassionate style shooting something that is equal parts beauty, grace, and Cronenberg body horror.

I usually use this as a criticism of a movie, but I loved how the main characters in this film each acted like they were in a different movie. Mila Kunis’ character was in a movie where a young girl goes to another city to discover herself and in the process meets a shy, inwardly drawn girl whom she wants to get out of her shell and they’ll become the best of the friends.

Vincent Cassel is the gifted ballet director who finally proves his genius by saving his company and discovers a new star in a shy performer. This explains why no one seems to notice Nina’s breakdown until it’s too late; they’re too wrapped up in their own stories. Just like real life.

It was movie that kept me guessing, and towards the end, nearly gave me a panic attack both times I saw it. One of my favorite movies of the year, and one day, I hope to understand it.

The Fighter – GO SAWKS!

Hahahaha, in all seriousness: fuck the Pats and the Red Sox (I’m a Colts fan. If someone in Boston had a blog and said ‘fuck the Colts,’ I’d understand [probably]).

Continuing in the fine tradition of the Town we have a bunch of people with Boston accents yelling at each other a lot.

I don’t know why I’m coming down on this movie so hard, as I really enjoyed it. Maybe I read too much Kissing Suzy Kolber, the kings of busting Boston’s balls.

This is your basic underdog-feel-good sports story elevated by a truly great cast. Mark Wahlberg hasn’t been this good since Three Kings which incidentally was also directed by David O. Russell. Not that the guy’s a bad actor, but this cast is stacked, especially when you consider the performance Christian Bale delivers.

It’s funny; people talked about how Bale was overshadowed by Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight, but that wasn’t the role he needed to play. If anything, Bale should be commended for his discipline to not take the easy way out or give into pride and meet Ledger at that level, and Wahlberg does exact same thing here with an unleashed Bale. It’s what Wahlberg’s Mickey doesn’t do or say that speaks more to us than anything he could verbalize around Bale.

I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but damn it, I’m going to say it, I think this Christian Bale guy has a future in motion pictures. Boom. There it is.

Bale’s Dicky is a bundle of energy, and while he looks emaciated next to the filled out Mickey you believe that he could have knocked down Sugar Ray with a combination of that energy directed and sheer bravado. You get why this crackhead who continually lets people down keeps getting another chance. While the Fighter in the title is Mickey, the movie is equally about Dicky and his attempts at redemption.

Amy Adams is great and while she’s always beautiful, you believe she could live in that side of a bad town. She’s tough and mean as hell, and you understand why she’d have to be like that to make her way in Lowell, and feel bad for what she’s lost to become such a person.

Melissa Leo as Mickey’s mom is so goddamn believable. I’ve never seen Irish Catholic guilt wielded like that before. It’s psychological nunchuks in her hands.

Chief Reilly, Jack McGee, from Rescue Me shows up as Mickey’s dad, and I really like McGee as actor. It’s not a huge role, but he does step up when needed serving as comedic relief and a port in the storm for Mickey.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge Mickey’s sisters, a Greek Chorus of shrill white trash, none of whomever are ever actually given names. At one point, Adams’ Charlene tries to figure out their names, but I don’t think we get to see who she’s talking to in the scene and we don’t need it. One of my favorite comedic performances of the year is any time the sisters are all in one place.

A really good, but not a great film, although Bale’s performance should be recognized by some group that hands out gold statues.

True Grit – This, Black Swan, Toy Story 3, and Scott Pilgrim are easily my favorite movies of the year.

Of the four, I think True Grit and Toy Story 3 are at the front of the pack because I rant and rave about them without adding “if” or “but.”

“You’d like this movie if_____” or “I loved this movie, but _____”

True Grit is just a damn good movie. It’s storytelling and characterization first. There’s no flaunting of special effects or directing wizardry.  At no point do any of the actors attempt to run away with the movie and use it as an awards showcase. They serve their characters and the characters serve the story.

Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf is a man who wakes up, says the Ranger creed or motto, and absolutely believes it. He believes in his mission and what the rangers are supposed to be. He’s basically Old West Hank Hill, except not as consistently competent. He walks a line, serving as comedic relief but also a dangerous bounty hunter, and Damon continues to turn fantastic, but not flashy performances.

The title of the movie does not refer to grizzled old cowboy, Rooster Cogburn, but to our narrator and POV character, Mattie Ross, played by Hailee Steinfeld. This is not a western picture, but rather a coming-of-age story taking place in the ashes of the 19th century.  Mattie learns what it is to step into the world and be an adult. It is hard, cold, brutal, and filled with predators, both real and symbolic and she comes out the other end equally hard.

If you’ve seen the original, then you know that Mattie Ross is annoying and spends most of her time getting John Wayne’s way. Steinfeld has none of that. This is an incredible performance. Not as a child actor. Not as a new actor, but an amazing performance, period. Her quick, precise, enunciated speech pattern is easy to hear and easy to get lost in. The verbal alchemy she casts with the man who sold her late father horses was impossible for me to follow, but knowing the Coens probably makes perfect sense if you break it down, but I was as in over my head as that man, and I had the same reaction when she walked back in the next day.

It turns out the future of acting is not in the hands of CW cast-offs and the stars of Twilight, and I cannot wait to see what Steinfeld does next, because she’s in nearly every frame of this movie, and has to hold her own with two of the best actors working today, not to mention her scenes with Josh Brolin and the underrated Barry Pepper.

She excels.

Now we come to Jeff Bridges. He has the task of measuring up to John Wayne, not a fun or easy job by any stretch of the imagination and instead of trying to outdo the Duke, Bridges goes left. He zags where everyone else would zig.

Wayne’s Rooster was a good man who liked to drink and wasn’t used to working with or around little girls. Bridges’ Rooster isn’t fit for society. He’s played as a few steps above crazy homeless person. The first time we’re introduced to his characters, he’s a joke. The second time we meet him, it’s a funny situation but we discover that he’s also dangerous, and possibly more of a killer than a lawman.

But all that’s just words. I have a jetpack. See how I can just say anything?

One of my favorite characters in westerns, samurai movies, and kung fu flicks is the bad ass trying to hide. He acts like a fool and a drunk to distance himself from the man he was until he’s again called into action. He wears a disguise to hide from his past or the darkness in his heart.

Rooster Cogburn is not that man. He is a drunk. He is a lout. He is a fool. There is no great darkness; he’s just incredibly flawed.

Then there’s a scene where he (and we) think Rooster and Mattie might be in trouble. Without a line of dialogue, or even pulling out his gun, we discover that under all of that booze and all those flaws is steel. Bridges does it all with his one eye. This is where the movie stops telling, and shows us.

If the academy was going to give Bridges just one Oscar, it should have been for this performance. He moves beyond vanity, and removes any all of his off screen mannerisms and tics to become someone completely different.

This is a beautifully shot film, and the cinematographer captures the wilderness perfectly, capturing its natural beauty and conveying it’s pitiless rugged quality.

Considering all the action movies I see and the attention I pay to choreography, I think my favorite shot this year is the first one of this movie, as the first scene comes into the light and then the focus under Mattie’s narration.

First there’s a light, like an old projector warming up, then maybe, you think, it’s an old lamp, and then as Mattie fills in the spaces, so too does the picture come into view.

Simple, easy, and used to great effect, and it’s a microcosm of the entire movie. No tricks, just talent.

The only hard part now is how do I explain to my grandfather that someone outdid John Wayne?

Before everyone crawls up their own ass praising the Coens and talking shit about the original, I'll remind you: this is what Death Looks like.


Wow, over 6,000 words. If you made it this far, I owe you a beer.

See you guys Thursday with something. Maybe the best in comics. We’ll see.



About Nonstop Karate

Created by Chad Quandt and Matt Loman Lonely. Online. Angry due to being online and lonely.

Posted on December 28, 2010, in Lists, Matt Loman, Movies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. One thing I thought was interesting is that Jeff Bridges deliberately chose to wear his eyepatch on the right, because John Wayne wore his over the left. Sort of a subtle tribute to a man whose performance he wouldn’t try to emulate.

  2. Where’s that damn beer? You know damn well that I’m going to collect on that shit.

  3. It’s called “PANDAring”

    That’s how i chose to read your line about Kung Fu Panda. You made that joke. HA.

    also, what about Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs? I thought it was better than How to Train Your Dragon, although i thoroughly enjoyed both.

  4. What I would love to see is a quantitative analysis of “The Losers” vs “The A-Team” vs “RED”, preferably by Michael Bay.

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