Oscar Nominations 2011: My Thoughts

The nominations for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards were announced early this morning and, like most years, it seemed to be quite the ho-hum affair – very few surprises, many who were snubbed, and even more who won a nomination thanks in part to fervent studio campaigning and “bandwagon word-of-mouth” via the blitzkrieg that is the media. Though it doesn’t lead the pack in nominations garnered, David Fincher’s The Social Network looks to be the early odds-on favorite – and though I thought it was a very good film, I can’t help but think how lucky it is to be released in what was yet another weak year in motion pictures. I look at the titles of the 120+ films I have screened so far this year (and still a few I must soon see) and see many good films that made their way to movie screens in 2010. What I fail to see are many great films released. One, two….three? Does anyone see three? Can I get a three? Anyone? [insert cricket noise here] It seems to me, to be indicative of last year and the recent years that preceded it – a bunch of solid, quality films and very few truly remarkable ones.

In any case, I thought I would share with you my immediate reactions to the list of nominations for this year’s Oscar. Please feel free to comment and leave your own thoughts on the Oscar race.

And let’s be real. All of these Awards ceremonies, the gluttony of presentations we see with each new year are just fodder…they really don’t mean very much at all…To be honest, it is all just meaningless filler – that is, until my own prestigious Magic Lantern Award nominations are announced! The most distinguished always makes the final entrance – and, if I may say, that holds true here as well. I will make sure to post the 1st Annual Magic Lantern Awards noms within 7-10 days. Sorry for the delay – I just need to make sure and see a few more select films.

OK, enough. My quick reactions to the Oscar noms:

What is the point of having a category for the ‘Best Animated Feature’ if you are just going to consider these films for the ‘Best Picture’ category? It seems to me that nominating Toy Story 3 for ‘Best Picture’ is an absolute waste – and completely unfair to a number of films that were very deserving of the 10th slot. We all know how this plays out anyway – no chance in hell of winning ‘Best Picture,’ but a shoo-in to win the Animated category.

I was afraid that Jesse Eisenberg would win a ‘Best Actor’ nom and sure enough, he did. Eisenberg did what he always does in the very same manner. He just happened to do it in a critically acclaimed film. What’s next? Michael Cera gets a nod for the one role he doesn’t wear a hoodie for?

Kudos to the voters for remembering and honoring much smaller/lesser seen films that deserve recognition such as: Jacki Warner’s chilling performance in Animal Kingdom, John Hawkes’ terrific work in Winter’s Bone, the intriguing documentary Waste Land, the very nice costume designs in the otherwise lackluster I Am Love, the impressive art direction and costumes in Alice in Wonderland.

Did Robert Duvall do or say something to piss Hollywood off at some point? His performance in Get Low was one of the year’s best and I thought, a shoo-in for a ‘Best Actor’ nom. Seems a shame that James Franco and Eisenberg get these slots. Don’t worry, Bob…there’s always the Magic Lantern nomination soon coming.

Speaking of James Franco – it has crossed my mind that if he were not co-hosting the Oscars this year, he would not have been voted in for ‘Best Actor.’ So he cut off an arm. Big deal. Not many stand-out performers by lead actors this year, but I can think of 5 better right off the bat. And while on the topic of hosts – this odd experiment of Franco and Anne Hathaway has boring flop written all over it.

Thank you voters for not encouraging the pretentiousness of Christopher Nolan with a ‘Best Director’ nomination. It’s bad enough the film is nominated for Picture (though certainly deserving of its Cinematography and Art Direction nominations). Thank God it was left out of the Editing category too – because that could have used some chopping up.

I saw Rabbit Hole (good) and Blue Valentine (not so good). Nicole Kidman and Michelle Williams give good performances. That’s it. Good. So many others are far more deserving this year – we nominate male leads in foreign films…why not Hye-ja Kim (Mother) or Noomi Rapace for giving the year’s gutsiest performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The omission of Rapace is this year’s biggest snub. And, Annette Bening surely deserves a nomination here – they just picked the wrong film to nominate her from.

I am thrilled to see little-seen The Illusionist nominated in the ‘Best Animated Film’ category. But where the hell is the absolutely charming and intelligent My Dog Tulip? The film has received nothing but praise and they only nominate three films anyway. Seems to be a glaring omission from here. Gorgeous animation, wonderful narration by Christopher Plummer and one of the year’s smarter films.

Jeff Bridges. That is all.

Looks like comedies get left out in the cold again. It’s tough to squeeze them in, I understand – but in looking at all of the nominations – there aren’t a lot of laughs going around. City Island, Kick-Ass, Wonderful World, Please Give are all fine films…just couldn’t break through here. I know I piss all over the Golden Globes, but maybe the Oscars should start thinking of having a ‘Best Comedic Film’ category. Something to mull over, at least.

I still strongly believe there needs to be an award for “Best Performance by a Child.” There always seems to be a few solid performances given by actors under the age of 16. It is my belief that the work of a young child of say, 12 should not be compared to the work of an actor with years of experience and training. This would also avoid the whole Tatum O’Neal and Anna Paquin disasters. The Academy made the smart step in creating a category for animated films – this needs to be the next step. Chloe Moretz was too good this year to be excluded and Ms. Hailee Steinfeld (who was wonderful in True Grit) should not be going up against the multi-layered talents of Helena Bonham-Carter and Melissa Leo.

We’ll see how the race takes shape over the next few weeks. The King’s Speech made a mighty statement by winning the most nominations, perhaps putting a small dent in the momentum of The Social Network. Right now, it seems like a 2-horse race, but again…we’ll see how the media’s influence starts to shape the outcome.

As always, I am looking forward to watching the telecast, despite the inane choice in hosts and predictable ‘Best Picture’ nominations.

Next Up – The Magic Lantern Award Nominations!!!

You know…the real shit!

Peter Eramo’s Film Review of the Terrible “Trash Humpers”

There are those movies that I think are just bad – but can at least see how others may enjoy and even appreciate them. Then there are those movies that are just plain awful – and the majority who claim to appreciate the filmmaking and absolutely love the film are simply lavishing their pretentious airs about, wanting to be different and one of the few to proclaim, “I get it.” Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers is a perfect example of such a catastrophic film. Despite what J. Hoberman (Village Voice) and other “artsy” critics might have you believe, this is one hopeless, boring, and futile project disguised as cinema vérité, but in reality is just plain crap.

Abstaining from any narrative structure at all, Korine, the self-proclaimed “mistakist artist,” gives us a small band of older troublemakers who run about their trailer trash towns creating all kinds of havoc. The painfully long 78-minute film (shot on video) has the look of a worn out VHS home video, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But what we are given are snippets of random, silly acts with no form or logic attached, that plays like disappointing freak show. We watch the costumed characters ride bikes with baby dolls attached to them, destroy TV’s and other gadgets in abandoned lots, drink plenty and, most of all, dry-hump trash bins with reckless abandon anywhere they can find. There is a scene where “Momma” (Rachel Korine) gives delightful advice to a young boy on how to properly insert a razor blade into an apple to offer to a friend; another where a chunky hooker in a thong is fondling one of the guy’s junk while singing “Silent Night.” On top of this is the incessant laughing/shrieking that manages to hit the bottom of your spine and make its way up to your throbbing head, as it grates on your very last nerve. And on and on the stupidity goes.

Korine has said that growing up in Nashville, he would see trash cans strewn about and an elderly group of boogeymen would come out at night, camouflage themselves with bushes, get covered in dirt and peep through other people’s windows. This, my friends, was the mighty inspiration for this poor excuse of a film. To give off the look of spontaneity, Korine cut the film on two VCR’s and shooting is said to have taken two weeks. No script was attached, but rather, just a collection of ideas. Perhaps they (and in turn, we) would have been better off with some semblance of a script.

Remember, Korine was one of the writers behind the fascinating and brilliant 1995 film Kids and has since succeeded in alienating his audience by making movies with the sole intention of making us feel uneasy. David Lynch does it well. Werner Herzog does it well. Lars von Trier also succeeds more often than not. Korine is none of these masters. Unlike some of his previous work that can be viewed (at least by a few) as thought-provoking, challenging or downright disturbing, Trash Humpers is a tedious mess with nothing at all to say.

Rating:   
Year:       2010
Director:  Harmony Korine

Movie Review of “Rabbit Hole” by Peter Eramo

They say that losing a child is the greatest grief a parent can endure. For whatever reason, there is the myth that the majority of married couples who experience the death of a child end up in divorce. However, a 2006 study showed that only 16% of these couples go down that unfortunate path and of that 16%, less than half felt that the child’s death actually had an impact on the marriage terminating. So there goes that theory!

Hollywood likes to over-dramatize this sensitive occurrence from time to time – perhaps never done more brilliantly than Robert Redford’s 1980 Ordinary People. Oddly enough, that film ends with a more-than-likely divorce. Lawrence Kasdan’s touching The Accidental Tourist and Todd Field’s outstanding In the Bedroom are other examples of terrific films that center on the loss of a young child.

Now Rabbit Hole attempts to tackle this very difficult subject matter which doesn’t scream “Box-Office Bucks” for people looking to escape reality and have a good time. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, the film is based on David Lindsay-Abaire’s award-winning 2005 play (he also, thankfully, wrote the screen adaptation) and produced by Nicole Kidman’s own production company. What Rabbit Hole gives us is an intriguing and, at times, fascinating exploration of a once happily married couple now struggling to survive in the wake of their young son’s death eight months prior.

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play Becca and Howie Corbett – parents who are grieving in very different ways. Howie gets to go to work all day for a little escape, while Becca stays in the home, tormented by traces of her lost son that linger in every nook. Howie goes out and plays squash, he embraces group therapy sessions, while still secretly watching home videos of his son in his private time. In other words, Howie seems to be dealing with his tragedy about as well as anyone can be. He mourns the death of his son, but still manages to exist and go about his business from day-to-day. Eckhart handles the tricky role quite well. He is a rock…the “strong” one, but you can tell that he may break at any moment, which is a credit to Eckart’s work here.

Becca handles her loss quite differently. She doesn’t want to socialize at all. She hates group therapy and simply wants to be left alone. She can’t seem to move on sexually with her loving husband and she lashes out at her mother (Dianne Wiest) at inopportune moments. She desperately needs help, but will not allow herself to receive any. That is, until she accidentally spots young Jason (Miles Teller) on his school bus on the way home. Jason is a senior in high school and is the young man who was behind the wheel in the ill-fated accident that killed Becca’s only child. Becca is drawn to him, though she is not sure why. They meet in the park and talk. There is a connection between the two. The exchanges between Kidman and Teller, who has not been in a feature-film until this, are riveting. Teller is a true find and a sensation here. His gestures, reactions, mannerisms are wildly authentic and I am sure we will be seeing more of the young actor in the years to come. Kidman has played the “cold”/detached character many times before and she does fine here. Becca though is in deep mourning, despite her behavior, and I never felt that Kidman showed this in clear fashion – nor does she garner as much sympathy from us as she perhaps should.

Dianne Wiest is wonderful as Nat, which should come as a shock to no one. She is much stronger and much smarter than she looks and does her best to reach out to her daughter. She too has experienced the loss of a child – and though one would think this bond would bring the two women closer together – it sadly takes on the opposite effect. Sandra Oh is also a stand-out here as Gaby, another grieving parent who the Corbett’s meet at group therapy. When Becca decides to drop therapy altogether, Howie insists on going and his friendship with Gaby is the film’s only other interesting subplot.

Rabbit Hole is a tight film and tackles its rough material very delicately. It has a realistic look and feel to it and Lindsay-Abaire’s characters are intriguing to watch. Going “down the rabbit hole” is a metaphor for adventure into the unknown in Lewis Carroll’s masterful work. Here, it seems that once Becca spots Jason by happenstance, she in for her own personal journey of rediscovery. If the subject matter doesn’t turn you off, I’d certainly recommend seeing it.

Rating:   
Year:       2010
Director:  John Cameron Mitchell

10 Fun Film Superlatives for 2010

Two things. One is that with 2010 now complete, everyone’s Top 10 lists have been coming out. I can’t do this just yet as there are still a handful of films I need to see before composing my own. I never like to rush such a list as I take it kind of seriously (too seriously, if you ask me) and it takes a while for me to figure it all out. So my personal Top 10 List of 2010 will probably be posted in the next few weeks.

Second nugget. I don’t follow any Awards shows, but have been glued to the Oscars since I was a child. I watch them each year without fail and many close to me refer to the Oscars telecast as my Christmas. I know they are very political in nature, but this does not seem to deter my passion for following them. Each year that the nominees are announced, I (like most of my film blogging companions) am left feeling happy for some who are recognized and angered at the omissions who I feel were worthy of great praise. I see where all of the marketing, campaigning and politicking take effect and taint the list of nominees. So, I have come up with my own solution. Now that I wield such enormous power with this Film Blog, I will start my very own listing of Awards — The Magic Lantern Awards. I will post my own list of nominees in the “major” categories and decide upon a winner, who will be awarded the prestigious Lantern (small print: actual award not real). Sure it will all be just one movie buff’s opinion, but I shall not be swayed by anything doled out by the media or other awards ceremonies. So I will be working on that and releasing the nominees quite soon (I know – you are all waiting with bated breath).

In the meantime, here are 10 superlatives (or stand-outs) in film for the 2010 year – 6 very positive and 4 that are…well, not so positive. As always, your comments and feedback are encouraged. And here we go!

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Awarded To: The Red Riding Trilogy

This honor does not go to a terrible film that I wasn’t expecting much from in the first place (see Grown Ups or Cop Out). This is for a movie I thought would be great and turned out to be a big let-down. When I saw the trailers for The Red Riding trilogy, I couldn’t wait to see all three films (1974, 1980, 1983) that centered around the Yorkshire killer. It looked suspenseful, exciting and dark. Turns out that it was all one big snoozefest. I couldn’t believe how slow and uninteresting it all was. What a downer.

MOST OVERRATED FILM

Awarded To: Inception

I have already come to terms with the fact that Christopher Nolan’s opus is going to garner a slew of awards and nominations in the months ahead. I want to make clear that I don’t think this was a bad film at all. There were some great aspects to it (see my review here). I just never got on the bandwagon that many bloggers and critics hitched to declaring it to be some kind of masterpiece. It was visually stunning and challenged its audience. But there was a lot left to be desired, such as plot holes, poor characterization, and much needless over-indulgence on Nolan’s part. Again, not a bad flick – just so highly overrated.

Honorable mention should go to all the praise that Jesse Eisenberg is getting for his lead role in The Social Network. I really liked this movie and he was fine in it – but he really didn’t do anything he hasn’t already done in his other films. Same delivery, same persona, same style. I am hoping that a ‘Best Actor’ Oscar slot isn’t wasted on this mediocre performance.

BIGGEST PIECE OF SELF INDULGENCE

Awarded To:     Prodigal Sons

I wanted to go with Casey Affleck’s I’m Still Here — absolutely fitting in that it seemed as if Joaquin Phoenix and Affleck served only to gratify themselves here with this ho-hum project. In the end, I had to go with Prodigal Sons, a documentary by Kimberly Reed. Reed happily turns the camera on herself (and her family) in her return to Montana for her high school reunion where she was once a star athlete, and yes, a young man. In her long absence away from home, she had a sex change operation which has caused much friction between herself and her adopted brother, Marc. Marc made for a fascinating subject, but Reed is so overly concerned with herself throughout the film that we are left wanting more of an exploration on Marc. It is oh-so-obvious that she wants so desperately to get dramatic reactions from her old classmates when they now see her as a woman. It backfires, as everyone seems more than fine with the extreme transformation. The whole time I kept thinking this came off as a glorified home video made by someone who wants much more attention than she deserves. A real, “Look At Me!” piece of filmmaking.

BIGGEST WASTE OF MY VALUABLE TIME

Awarded To:     Catfish

Again, I’d love to go with Grown Ups here, but I kinda knew what I was in for walking into the theater. Instead, I’ll go with the “documentary” that led viewers to think one thing in the trailer and provide something completely unsatisfying with the end product. I have made my strong feelings pretty clear in earlier postings (see here), so I will try not to repeat myself. Suffice it to say that this was a manipulative, anti-climatic and insulting film. And after the appearance made by its creators (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, & Nev Schulman) on the nationally televised “20/20,” I still say that they’re hypocrites (see why here). This was a tremendous waste of 87 minutes that I will never get back – 87 minutes that I would have rather spent doing something else that I hate…like trying to repair something or ironing all of my trousers…even turn on any of the crap that airs on primetime TV would have been a welcome reprieve.

And Now For The Good….

 

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

Awarded To:     The Fighter

Marc Wahlberg, as the struggling boxer Mickey Ward, is very good as the centerpiece to David O. Russell’s powerful film….the supporting cast around him is nothing short of extraordinary. The casting could not have been more ideal here. Melissa Leo again proves that she is one of our most gifted actors (though often overlooked) in a towering performance as matriarch of her clan. Though the character doesn’t win our sympathy, Leo certainly owns the screen and commands our attention. Jack McGee plays her husband and is terrific as a man torn between his loyalty towards his wife and his dilemma-ridden son. All of the Eklund sisters are cast beautifully and have the look and feel of Lowell, Massachusetts. It is also a pleasure to watch Amy Adams finally take off the princess tiara and get her hands dirty in a meaty role that she takes complete advantage of. Adams is wonderful and is a force to be reckoned with as she battles wits with her boyfriend’s over-protective mother. She is also pretty damn sexy to watch as well. But the real standout among this talented ensemble is Christian Bale. Now, I am not a fan and I really don’t much care for the guy, but I never let my personal feelings inhibit my critique and what this gifted actor does as Dicky Eklund, the drug-addicted former boxer clinging to a what-might-have-been past, is nothing short of spectacular. Sitting in the theatre, I could not believe what Bale was doing and he had my complete attention. A marvelous performance that is deserving of every accolade I am sure it will get. A stellar job by a top-notch cast.

Honorable Mentions The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and You will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

BIGGEST WAKE-UP CALL

Awarded To:     Waiting for Superman

As I said in my initial review (which you can view here), if you have a child or want to see how pathetic the education system is in this country (as opposed to others who are ahead of us by leaps and bounds), then you must see this eye-opening documentary by Davis Guggenheim. The statistics here are startling as teachers and school systems across the country continue to fail the generations of tomorrow. Unlike Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth, which I considered to be a somewhat biased documentary with some errors in facts presented, Waiting for Superman is not subjective at all and lets the facts do all the talking. The film explores our joke of a tenure system as well as those educational crusaders who know how to turn the madness around and educate our children properly – but fight tremendous opposition and a futile uphill battle. Like Food, Inc., The Cove and Jesus Camp, this is an alarming wake-up call for anyone who is willing to open their eyes.

MOST IMPRESSIVE BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE

Awarded To:     Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)

This was a toughie as the distinction could just as easily go to Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), or Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass; Let Me In) – all doing astounding work in 2010. I must also add that it is nice to actually embrace and feel good about the success of a child star…I was getting so used to experiencing my knee-jerk reaction of wanting to turn off the TV if my eyes landed on Dakota Fanning.

In the end though, I was left most impressed by the work of Swedish actress, Noomi Rapace for her jaw-dropping performance in the Stieg Larsson trilogy (mostly for its 1st installment, which I still can’t get out of my mind). Rapace turned in one of the most courageous performances by a leading actress that I have seen in years (Tilda Swinton in Julia or Mimi Rogers in The Rapture come to mind). As the troubled and fearless computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, Rapace is flawless and is more than up to the ever-demanding task of everything this poor character has to endure. And it’s not simply what Rapace must portray, but her every move, however subtle, is right on the money. It angers and upsets me that her name is barely being mentioned by critics throughout all of the year-end Awards hoopla. Was the first film released too soon in the year? Is everyone’s memory that poor? Or is it because she is a foreign actress that we are not acknowledging this remarkable talent? Whatever the case, the American version of this trilogy is (sadly) in the works and I don’t even have to see it to feel secure in the fact that no matter how effective Rooney Mara may be, she won’t come close to what Rapace was able to capture here.

MOST DESERVING OF AN OSCAR NOMINATION
(Though Will Likely Be Snubbed)

Awarded To:     Noomi Rapace (see above)

                   

You can also include Michael Nyqvist for the same film, who many overlook and is overshadowed by the “showier” role of Lisbeth. I also fear that Hye-ja Kim’s fascinating performance in Joon-ho Bong’s compelling Mother will go unnoticed, due to either forgetfulness and/or sheer ignorance. Jeff Bridges rightfully won the Oscar for ‘Best Actor’ last year and I hope that doesn’t deter those in power to nominate him once again for his magnificent turn as the drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn in the Coen Brothers’ impressive remake of True Grit. It should come as a shock to no one that Bridges is the epitome of awesomeness in this gripping western.

BEST FILM YOU HAVEN’T SEEN

Awarded To:    Cemetery Junction

I was getting used to seeing Ricky Gervais in ridiculously funny comedies, but here, he and co-writer/director Stephen Merchant present us with a more touching and heartfelt dramatic comedy. This is one of the films that I can’t imagine anyone watching and not enjoying it. Set in the 1970’s in a blue-collar English town, the movie revolves around 3 young friends, with one (Christian Cooke as Freddie) dying to get out and onto bigger and better things. The supporting cast is great, which includes a stuffy Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Felicity Jones and Gervais himself in a backseat role as Freddie’s father. I also appreciated the depth given to all of the supporting characters and what they were going through too. Gervais’ scenes are quite amusing, but the film is a moving drama at heart that showcases the scope and talent of Gervais and Merchant. I don’t recall ever seeing this in U.S. movie theaters, but I rented and did a write-up of it (see here) because I was so happily surprised at how good it was. Charming and poignant, the movie tackles such themes as love, family, friendship, and loyalty. A great little film that unfortunately, I don’t think many have seen just yet.

Honorable MentionsMy Dog Tulip and La Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard)

MOST DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE

Awarded To: Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (TIE

                                    

These two films were such pleasant surprises to me and among the year’s best films. Matthew Vaughn’s highly entertaining Kick-Ass took me completely off-guard with its intelligence, humor and unpredictability. Chloe Moretz rocked in this movie as Hit Girl and Aaron Johnson made a charming lead as the awkward teenager who has fantasies about becoming a real life superhero. Nicolas Cage hammed up his supporting role – and I mean that in the best way possible. Judging by the way it ended, a sequel is surely in the works and this time, I won’t wait to rent it. I have high hopes now.

As far as Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, word of mouth led me to finally watch this one. I’m not big on Michael Cera. I mean, he’s funny at what he does, but he only does one thing. Here, he is pretty much the same (albeit a different hoodie), but the film is just done in such a unique, stylish fashion. Adapted from a graphic novel, Scott must defeat his new girlfriend’s 7 evil exes if he has any shot at staying with her. Sounds silly, but I loved it. The screenplay (like Kick-Ass) is clever and the supporting cast is great. If you haven’t seen either of these films and you’re in the mood for a comedy, I would surely recommend both — as they had me laughing out loud.

So that’s it. Ten fun movie superlatives to kick-off the end of 2010. Now to get to those few films I have yet to see – and work on my exalted Top 10 List…and the nominees for the 1st Annual Lantern Awards! I know…you can’t wait, right?

The Top 5 Coen Brothers Films…So Far

I am not one for hyperbole, especially when it comes to my assessment of films. I won’t write it if I don’t fully believe in what it is I am pontificating. That said, as I was walking out of the move theater this weekend to see the remake of True Grit, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Are there any better American filmmakers working today than Joel and Ethan Coen?” I am of course aware of heavyweights such as Coppola, Scorsese, Lynch, Eastwood, and Spielberg (to name a few), but since their impressive debut in 1984 with Blood Simple, all they have done is repeatedly churn out stylized, profound and highly entertaining works on a consistent basis that is quite uncanny. I am sure the most ardent of Coen Brothers fans can even excuse the much more commercially targeted Intolerable Cruelty, as I do. The only other director who I see as coming close to this ridiculously high batting average is the brilliant P.T. Anderson, but I will reserve judgment until he builds more of a resume. True Grit marks the 15th feature film for Joel and Ethan Coen and it surely did not disappoint. More on that terrific film in a later post. First, since coming to the realization of where the Coen Brothers stand at present, I thought I’d celebrate this earth-shattering epiphany with what I view their Top 5 films to be. With so many good ones, this was pretty tough to put in order. Also, if you can think of another director who releases one brilliant work after another for as long as they have, I would love to hear it!

5. A Serious Man (2009)

This slot could have easily been reserved for Blood Simple, No Country for Old Men or even their latest, True Grit. But I was so taken aback with this oeuvre (rightly deserving of its Oscar nom for ‘Best Picture’) for its tremendous profundity, dark wit, and waters yet unchartered by the master filmmakers. To me, this is their most personal, most mature work to date. Michael Stuhlbarg plays Larry Gopnik, a Midwestern professor of mathematics who is used to solving formulas and equations with ease. But he is left helpless when, bit by bit, coincidental events take hold of his life which is slipping through his fingers. Stuhlbarg was robbed of a ‘Best Actor’ Oscar nomination and his work here is extraordinary. Richard Kind plays his brother, Uncle Arthur and brings a great deal of empathy to the role. Fred Melamed is a joy to watch as Sy – the man who steals Larry’s wife away from him. The screenplay is taut and insightful, the mood, ominous throughout. Again, the Coen Brothers don’t serve up all the answers for you on a silver platter – they challenge their audience, letting you solve the puzzle on your own. I was glad to see the filmmakers tackle on such issues as God, faith, the Jewish religion, fate and karma in such a forward manner. This film is unlike any other they have ever done –a bold project to be sure, though the Coen Brothers never seem to shy away from new challenges and new frontiers. A small gem of a film that stays with you long after the end credits roll.

4. The Big Lebowski (1998)

I’m not sure what to say here except when I first saw the film, I never would have guessed the enormous cult following and staying power that this ridiculous comedy would endure. Like most Coen Brothers films, this one gets better with additional viewings. Many of their dramas have a lot of comedic elements and humorous nuances, but this one (like the very funny Raising Arizona), is straight up funny, bordering on the farcical. With “The Dude,” Jeff Bridges creates a character that will surely go down as one of the most comical in film history. Bridges makes it all look so effortless, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not a brilliant performance. Like his Almighty rug, this Dude ties the movie together. John Goodman is loud, maniacal, and uproarious. Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Philip Seymour Hoffman add more laughs – and John Turturro, with about 5 minutes of screen time, steals the show as The Jesus, the master bowler who will fuck you any day of the week. I also love Sam Elliott as The Stranger, the film’s narrator…perfect voice for it. The pacing of the film in non-stop and it’s one absurd incident after another, one insane line after the next. You sit back, and go along for the ride. It is pure Coen Brothers comedy – and there was no way I could omit it from this prestigious Top 5.

3. Fargo (1996)

I vividly recall the late Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert proclaiming this to be their #1 film of 1996, stating that this was the reason they went to the movies – that this was one of the finest American films to be released in that decade. Though the Coen Brothers were already critical darlings for a few years, this one seemed to put them over the top, garnering a number of Oscar noms, while taking home two. One of the many things that the Coen Brothers are brilliant at is giving the viewer a sense of time and place. Fargo is the perfect example of this. As a wanna-be writer, I would love to be a fly on the wall to study and see how the two writers go through the process of writing their scripts because their framework and dialogue is so masterful. The script here is what every writer should strive for, capturing the characters and their regional vernacular so exquisitely. The film is bloody, dark, funny, and at times, quite touching. The score also plays a pivotal role (which is true of just about any of their films) and depicts the mood perfectly. The unbelievably talented Frances McDormand shines here as Marge Gunderson, the pregnant police officer. But it is William H. Macy’s incompetent car salesman that sets the wheels in motion. Everything falls apart for poor Jerry Lundegaard and so many others pay the heavy consequences. In many ways, the film remind’s me of David Lynch’s 1986 masterpiece, Blue Velvet – exploring the dark and violent side of suburban America. An outstanding piece of filmmaking — considered by most critics to be their signature work and has already gone down as one of the finest films ever made.

2. Miller’s Crossing (1990)

When I think of finest screenplays written, I always think of this masterful mobster flick. The dialogue cracks, sizzles and keeps coming at you at a fever pitch – so authentic to the prohibition era that it is set in – and oh so very smart (“take your flunky and dangle”). As is the case with all of their films, the Coen Brothers get wonderful performances from their impressive ensemble that includes Albert Finney, Marcia Gay Harden, Jon Polito (again), and J.E. Freeman. Gabriel Byrne is perfectly cast and the wise-cracking poetry just oozes from his lips like honey. As the film’s nucleus, Byrne holds it all together – he is strong, witty and merciful. And it should be to no one’s surprise that John Turturro as Bernie Bernbaum rocks the house. It constantly amazes me how much Turturro adds to the supporting roles he plays (see Film #4). The climatic scene where Byrne’s Tom Reagan takes Turturro out to the middle of the woods (Miller’s Crossing) to shoot him dead is riveting and always has me on the edge of my seat. It is wonderful work and Turturro doesn’t hold back one tiny bit. One of their more violent films, Miller’s Crossing is beautifully shot and the costume design and art direction are without flaws. It also keeps you on your toes – who is double-crossing who? Who is working for who? Who is going to get rubbed out next? I know we all think of The Godfather trilogy and Goodfellas when we think of cinema’s greatest mobster flicks, but this deserves to be strongly placed in the Top 5. And that, my friends, is the rumpus!

1. Barton Fink (1991)

This one is a no-brainer for me. This haunting (oftentimes funny) film has always fascinated and entertained me, while never losing tread on the wheels with many repeat viewings. In fact, I seem to catch something new each time. John Turturro, one of our most underrated actors, takes the lead here as a New York playwright who suddenly becomes the toast of Broadway. The lure of Hollywood success and money reels him in and Barton now finds himself in a hellish west coast hotel writing a motion picture about a wrestler. John Goodman is brilliant as his ominous neighbor, Charlie Meadows. Turturro is mesmerizing as the often-troubled intellectual writer and his chemistry with Goodman is ever-engaging. Michael Lerner, John Mahoney, Judy Davis and Jon Polito turn in outstanding performances as well. The film is filled with quirky characters and dialogue that have become standard fare in most of the Coen Brothers’ works. No strangers to period pieces, the Coens beautifully capture the look and feel of 1941. Exquisite art direction, a haunting score and superb cinematography – the film never caves in and gives you all the answers. It challenges its audience and forces you to figure it out, which I admire and appreciate. Not a movie for those who don’t embrace and appreciate the voice of the Coens’, to be sure. But a brilliant film — perhaps their closest to a masterpiece yet. Then again, perhaps it is.

In my estimation, these are some of the finest films made in the past 25 years — and they don’t show any signs of slowing down or fading out. The Coen Brothers are master storytellers who seem to do just about everything right — and to this one film buff, have no equal in the industry at present.

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