Ranking All 2011 Best Picture Nominees

February 28, 2011 in Entertainment, Misc, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Source: screenrant.com

Now that I’ve finally watched all 10 nominees for Best Picture for the 2011 Academy Awards, here is how I would rank them from 1 to 10.  Click on the movie title for full review.

10. Winter’s Bone

This was a film for indie film lovers and critics.  I thought it was a brilliant performance by Jennifer Lawrence (deserved nomination for Best Actress), a fantastic depiction of the life of ‘cookers’ and their families in rural USA, and had me on the edge of my seat with some frighteningly tense moments — but unfortunately it was my least enjoyed film out of the top 10.

9. The Kids Are All Right

A surprise hit in my books because I didn’t expect to enjoy this so much.  Loved Mark Ruffalo in this and thought it was very quirky, funny and strangely moving.  Not usually my type of film but this was a standout.

8. True Grit

The muttering aside, this was a terrific Western, powered by a star-making performance by Hailee Steinfeld (another deserved nomination, though should have been for Best Actress).  Can’t say it’s one of my favourite Coen Brothers’ movies (I have so many) but it’s another example of their unique style and versatility.

7. Black Swan

As expected, Natalie Portman took out the Best Actress gong, and just as well — she was awesome in this, the best I’ve ever seen her.  I went in having no idea that this was going to be such a trippy, horrific film that made me turn away so many times (especially when it comes to skin and nails).  Nothing like The Wrestler (companion piece) but almost just as good.

6. The King’s Speech

I know, I know.  This just won Best Picture, but it’s not even in my top 5.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought this was a phenomenal film, but it’s not my kind of film, or at least not as much as the other films on this list.  Colin Firth was definitely a deserving winner for Best Actor, and Geoffrey Rush a deserving nominee.  Helena Bonham Carter?  Not so much.  Surely there were other supporting actresses more worthy?

5. Toy Story 3

Can’t believe I ranked a cartoon higher than 5 other films on this list, but Toy Story 3 moved me in a way I didn’t expect.  The franchise has always been superb, but the third film might very well be the best of them all.

4. The Fighter

Being an avid boxing fan might have coloured my opinion a little, but The Fighter is one of the best boxing films ever.  It’s gritty, gut-wrenching and utterly compelling and anchored by 4 amazing performances (2 nominations, 2 wins).  There’s nothing quite like a triumphant true story.

3. 127 Hours

Another film I didn’t expect to enjoy so much.  Kudos to Danny Boyle and James Franco for bringing this incredible true story to life.  Even with that inevitability looming over every second, I never found the film boring or tedious.  This was an exciting, riveting, horrific, and ultimately inspirational film.

2. The Social Network

I was so disappointed that this didn’t win Best Picture, even though I knew the odds were slim because The King’s Speech really garnered momentum leading up to the Oscars.  As far as dramas and films with a genuine chance of winning Best Picture (hence ruling out my no. 1), The Social Network was the best of the lot.  In 10, or maybe even 5 years, The King’s Speech will still be regarded as an exceptional film, but The Social Network will be remembered as a classic and a defining film for this generation.  Just my opinion.

1. Inception

I knew this had no chance in hell of winning, so I was just pleased it got nominated.  But come on — Nolan not even getting nominated for Best Director and getting snubbed for Best Screenplay.  At least the technical awards it won were a bit of a consolation.  Whatever.  Inception was still the most enjoyable movie experience I had last year.

Pre-Oscars Movie Blitz (Best Picture)

February 28, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

The Academy Awards are upon us once again, and this year I vowed to watch all the Best Picture nominees before the ceremony. With the list of nominees extended to 10 for the second straight year, this was more difficult than I had anticipated. Fortunately, I had seen most of them already, so there were only three outstanding: Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right, and 127 Hours.

Here goes!

Winter’s Bone (2010)

There’s usually one powerful independent film in the Best Picture mix and this year it’s Winter’s Bone, which has gotten rave reviews from just about every respectable critic out there.

The story feels complex but it’s actually very simple. In an extremely poor rural area, a meth cooker has disappeared while out on bail and his daughter Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is looking for him — she has to, because she has two young siblings and a catatonic mother, and their house is collateral for the bail. But the more Ree snoops around the family business, the more trouble she gets into.

I suppose I would call it a gritty drama-thriller. A slow burn with moments of genuine suspense and horror. It’s the perfect example of a well-made indie film — low budget but compelling and well-acted — but I’m not sure I would put it in my top 10 list for the year (and hence Best Picture nominee).

My problem with it is that it rarely gets out of first gear, and all the mumbling makes some of the conversations difficult to decipher. That said, I was intrigued even through all the slow bits, and it was a very bleak and harrowing depiction of rural meth country.

Nevertheless, this film will likely make Jennifer Lawrence (nominated for Best Actress) a big star (she’s already nabbed the role of young Mystique in X-Men: First Class, and had an Esquire photo shoot that was rumoured to be the source of many ‘Winter’s Boners’). It was a knockout performance, subtle and utterly believable. Her co-star John Hawkes (also nominated, for Best Supporting Actor), was also very good.

Overall, a very good film, an excellent indie film, but perhaps because of the lofty expectations I came away slightly disappointed.

3.75 stars out of 5

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

I had no idea what this film was about before I saw it and I didn’t really care — it just didn’t look like the type of film I was interested in. But it’s a Best Picture nominee so I forced myself, and came out pleasantly surprised.

If there’s one movie I would compare The Kids Are All Right to (in terms of style and feel), it would have to be American Beauty. It’s one of those quirky dramas about suburban life in America, with genuine dramatic elements but also plenty of witty laughs and awkward moments.

Without giving away too much, it’s about a lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), their kids (Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) and Josh Hutcherson) and the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo). As usual, the less known the better.

I would say this is a borderline deserving Best Picture nominee if we’re talking about a list of 10 (which is still pretty darn good in a relatively strong year). It had a fabulous script with terrific dialogue that’s amusing while remaining strangely realistic, plus killer performances by all involved. The standout for me was Mark Ruffalo (Best Supporting Actor nominee), who was just such a fantastic character.

Even though I wouldn’t consider this a classic or a particularly memorable film, I still really enjoyed it.

4 stars out of 5


127 Hours (2010)

I was vary wary of watching 127 Hours, and it’s not just because of the gruesomeness most viewers knew they were about to encounter. It’s because it’s a story where it’s predominantly one guy in one place (think Buried, which a lot of people loathed) and you knew exactly what was going to happen at the end because it’s a true story.

But my concerns were absolutely unfounded. 127 Hours is hands down one of the best films of 2010 and a deserving Best Picture nominee (even if there were just five instead of 10). Full credit to Danny Boyle (who won for Slumdog Millionaire a couple of years ago) for overcoming all the obstacles I thought this film would have and delivering such an emotionally involving, jubilant, triumphant motion picture.

Just in case you’re one of the three people on earth who don’t know the story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), I won’t say much. I just wonder how I would have received the film had I not known about his amazing story, but the impressive thing is that I was still completely absorbed by the film despite that dreaded feeling of inevitability.

I thought there was going to be a lot of extended flashback sequences, but to Boyle’s credit, there were surprisingly few. Some clever use of sound and sporadic dream sequences pushed the plot right along and kept it interesting and eventful for the entire 94 minute running time.

Of course, you can’t talk about this film without mentioning the ‘masterful’ performance from James Franco (a strange word for the guy from Pineapple Express), who has become one of my favorite actors. Is there anyone in Hollywood more affable than him right now?  Who else could have carried a film like this from start to finish?  It’s a shame he’s going up against virtual lock Colin Firth this year.

I loved this film and can’t believe I passed up two advanced screening opportunities last month.  If I redo my Top 10 Films of 2010 this would probably be in the top 5.

4.5 out of 10!

Movie Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2009)

February 27, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

I read the first book and saw the first two Swedish film adaptations, but unlike millions of people out there, I don’t really get why Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy is the biggest commercial book sensation in the world at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the first book (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) was pretty good, albeit a little long and tedious, and I thought the first film was phenomenal. The second film (The Girl Who Played With Fire — I have the book but haven’t read it yet) was pretty good, but nowhere as good as I wanted or expected it to be.

And now, the third and final (unless Larsson’s widow writes another one) volume of the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, is about to hit Australian cinemas next month. I saw it at a critics’ screening earlier this week, and I believe hard core fans of the series will not be disappointed. It’s still not as good as the first film, but is a moderate step up from the second.

This one picks up from where the second one left off, and Lisbeth Salander (ie, Noomi Rapace, aka the ‘Girl’ in all the titles) is fighting for her life after being shot in the head (at the end of the previous film), but things are just getting interesting as there is a massive conspiracy behind everything and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nykvist) is there to get to the bottom of it.

Like the two earlier films in the series, Hornet’s Nest is a slow burn for the most part, with short bursts of excitement and exhilaration tossed into the mix.  Once again, the story is driven by the two central characters, both who whom are at the peak of their game in this one.

I actually consider Dragon Tattoo to be kind of a separate part of the trilogy because it’s a film that stands up very well on its own.  On the other hand, Fire and Hornet’s Nest are essentially one film, with Fire providing the set up (which is why it was weaker) and Hornet’s Nest providing the climax.

I can’t say I found the conspiracy to be particularly intelligent or engaging (to be honest I found it a little unnecessarily convoluted), though the way it was all brought together was ultimately quite satisfying.  The courtroom scenes were especially enjoyable, as was the climatic showdown in the abandoned warehouse.

That said, like Fire, I was expecting and hoping for more, something that would blow me away and justify the hype surrounding this series.  It didn’t happen, but on the whole, I was still pleased with the experience.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: Still kinda looking forward to the American version.

My Career Tarot Reading

February 25, 2011 in Misc, On Writing, Paranormal by pacejmiller

I’ve always been terrified of tarot cards.  I mean, come on, in every TV show or movie that features tarot cards, things never turn out well.  People always get ‘The Devil’ or ‘The Hangman’, or something ominous.  And then they die a gruesome death.

Nevertheless, I tried a tarot reading for the first time last year after borrowing a set from a friend and former colleague.  I was at that point in my life where I had already decided on a career change, but was terrified of the unknown and what lay ahead of me.

Thanks to the booklet accompanying the deck, I learned a lot about tarot cards and got quite addicted to them, conducting several ‘readings’ for friends during office hours (we either used the meeting rooms or went down to the cafeteria).

As it turned out, they are not as frightening as Hollywood has made them out to be, though I still get scared every time I do a reading for myself.  Cards can be interpeted differently, and your future is supposedly subject to change all the time.  As they like to say in the movies, your destiny is in your own hands.

Anyway, I returned the deck and stayed away from tarot cards until last week, when I downloaded a tarot app called ‘Tarot Holic’ on my iPad.  It’s apparently the #1 top paid lifestyle app in South Korea!

The app has several types of readings, and the first one I went for was an ‘In-depth Career Spread’ with 5 cards.  What that meant exactly I wasn’t sure, but I was ready to find out.  It has almost been a year since I left the legal profession and took the plunge to become a ‘writer’.  So far I am still a student, but I’m slowly making progress, even if it’s not as much as I have hoped for.

So, I selected 5 cards by concentrating on my questions and tapping on a spread out deck.  And the results were very interesting…

(click on ‘more…’ to read on!)

Read the rest of this entry →

Movie Review: I Am Number Four (2011)

February 23, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

No, I Am Number Four is not a sequel, nor is it the fourth film of a franchise.  It’s a semi-children/adolescent sci-fi film based on the first (and currently only) book of the new hot novel series by Pittacus Lore (pen name of Jobie Hughes and James Frey — yes, that James Frey of A Million Little Pieces infamy) that attempts to cross-appeal to the general population (in the vein of Harry Potter, Twilight, etc).

I can’t speak for the book because I’ve only had a cursory glance of it in a bookstore, but if the movie is any reflection then it can’t possibly be very good. The story feels strangely familiar: aliens destroyed by other evil aliens send 9 gifted children to Earth; the evil aliens chase and start killing the kids off, one by one. Guess which one they are up to?

However, the premise is not the issue here, because any premise has potential — it’s the characters and the development of the story that lacked punch.  Alex Pettyfer, who plays Number Four, is not a bad actor, but his character is not particularly likable or sympathetic.  As of now, the character is just not very interesting.  He needs more charisma, more heart — he needs to be more than just your typical angst-driven teenager.  Maybe we’ll get to see more of that if this film does well and they decide to continue the series.

The love interest, Sarah Hart, is cringeworthy not just because her character is a horrible cliche, but it’s also because the actress playing her, Dianna Agron, has little more in her repertoire other than a flirty smile.  Aussie Teresa Palmer, who plays Number Six, put on the absolute worst American accent I’ve ever heard for a mainstream movie.  Why can’t she just be Australian?  As for Timothy Olyphant — he’s still rather serviceable, but is it just me or was he Hitman not that long ago?  And now he’s already the greying, ageing babysitter for the protagonist?

Anyway, I Am Number Four is adequate in some respects — the action sequences and the special effects are fairly good — but it’s still a somewhat uninspiring film that is more Percy Jackson than Harry Potter (and at least Percy Jackson had that whole Greek mythology thing going for it).  The characters and the way the story unfolds is all very ‘cookie-cutter’, and I longed to see something I didn’t expect.  It didn’t happen.

I could be wrong, but right now I just can’t see this film franchise coming close to replicating the success of Harry Potter or Twilight, or even Narnia.  The second book (and potentially second film) would have to take it to a whole new level for that to be remotely possible.

2 stars out of 5