From Speeches to Swans

The great thing about being on break is that I now have time to see a lot of movies. And since we’re close to Oscar season, I get to see supposedly “cream of the crop” award contenders. So instead of talking next steps, I thought I’d offer my brief assessments of some of the films I’ve caught in the past week. You know the saying about opinions being like a certain part of the anatomy: everybody has one. So, as always, please take mine with a grain of salt. (And feel free to use that salt to line your margarita glass!)

THE KING’S SPEECH: I went in expecting this one to be good and it was. Very, very good. If you like your history lessons well-written and superbly acted, then this is the film for you. The Academy should just hand Colin Firth the Oscar now. He is both subtle and explosive as the reluctant King with an emotionally debilitating speech impediment. And Helena Bonham Carter is effective as his wife – the Queen we currently know and love – Queen Elizabeth. As I told my friend Ed, she’s more the refined Merchant-Ivory Helena Bonham Carter versus the crazy Tim Burton one, which is a welcome change of pace. But I was particularly impressed with Geoffrey Rush. For all the acclaim Firth is getting, Rush deserves it, too, as the unconventional teacher who has the strength to stand up to the King and the vulnerability to be cut down by him. Director Tom Hooper serves these performances well by often going in close on his actors’ faces. All in all, I was royally impressed. (See what I did there? Clever, eh?)

Speaking of speeches, get your Oscar one ready.

THE TOWN: Granted, this one came out a while ago, so it ended up being an “on demand” selection with Mom & Dad. As I posted on Facebook, I have to agree with my father’s overall assessment of the movie: “It’s just a bunch of police cars banging into one another.” It has all the trappings of what a Best Picture should look like (compelling story, complex characters, great cast), but it still felt hollow to me. It’s a well-packaged picture that falls far short of its Mystic River aspirations, and the result is a bloated, unsatisfying 125 minutes. The footage of Boston is beautiful, though, so I still got something out of it!

And the award for best-filmed city goes to...

BLACK SWAN: This one is not for everyone. It’s dark. It’s disturbing. At times it borders on cuckoo-clock-crazy. But Darren Aronofsky is committed to the craziness and the result is visual virtuosity. He reminds us that we sometimes have to sacrifice our comfort with the literal and succumb to a storytelling style that may be eccentric, but is wholly original. Every last detail of this film is thought out in its portrait of a ballerina’s descent into madness as she strives to create the perfect performance – from the constant color palette of white, black, and ballerina pink to the use of mirrors casting reflections both real and false. And, like Tom Hooper, Aronofsky loves his actors’ faces and trusts that no matter how close his camera lens gets he’ll find authenticity. I have to say that as the film reached its final crescendo, with Natalie Portman’s Nina struggling to both summon and repress her inner Black Swan, I was totally exhilarated by what I was witnessing. For me, this is what filmmaking/viewing is about – that cinematic moment that is surprising and gratifying and takes your breath away.

Don't mess with this bird!

SEX & THE CITY 2: No breath taken away…just hours of my life. Two hours and twenty-six minutes to be exact. Please, Darren Starr and Michael Patrick King, I beg you to let the legacy of those four women live in your dazzling HBO series and not in these painfully pointless, unfunny, unfeeling films. The party’s over now. Pack up the Manolo’s and catch a cab home.

I think that heel is crushing my movie-going spirit...

NEXT UP: Hello, 2011!

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