Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Week at the Movies

This week, in an effort to see as many of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award nominees as possible, I saw three films - A Single Man, The Lovely Bones and Crazy Heart.

A Single Man
In co-writer/director Tom Ford's A Single Man, Colin Firth plays George Falconer, an English professor in the 1960s who recently lost his partner of 16 years (played by Matthew Goode). It follows him throughout one day in his life, from the memories of Jim, the aforementioned partner, through his work day at a small university to dinner with a close friend (Julianne Moore) and beyond. The entire cast is wonderful, but Firth, Nicholas Hoult, Moore and Goode all give great performances. Firth especially is brilliant; he fully embodies the character, conveying the accurate amounts of emotion expected from scene to scene, and bringing just the slightest bit of arrogance he has displayed through playing Mr. Darcy three times. Fashion designer Ford does a brilliant job of setting an extremely elegant, stylish tone in his first film.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

The Lovely Bones
At its best moments, The Lovely Bones is a tense thriller about the hunt for a murderer. At its worst, it dawdles in the invented landscape of the "in-between," with over-dramatic narration by the aforementioned murderer's young victim, Susie Salmon, played by Saoirse Ronan. Unfortunately, the film spends too much time at its worst. Ultimately, the film's best moments rely on the tension created by Stanley Tucci's performance as the murderer. He does an incredible job of embodying someone capable of such a monstrous act. Mark Wahlberg, who plays Susie's father, gives a very uneven performance - he is great at certain points, horrible at others, much like his career in general. The other performances are just okay. Some of that may lie with the film's co-writer/director, Peter Jackson, as some of the transitions between the real world and the "in-between" seem awkward and forced. Those awkward and melodramatic moments tend to overshadow the more poignant or gripping parts of the film.
Rating: 3

Crazy Heart
In writer-director Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, a country singer whose life has become an endless blur of booze, small gigs, one-night stands and more booze. Things start to look up when he meets a small-town journalist (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) and reconnects with a country music star who used to be his protege (Colin Farrell). Bridges takes his character through a range of strong emotions, managing to avoid overblown stereotypes - it truly is one of the best of his career, and possibly the best leading actor performance of 2009. Cooper does a terrific job of allowing Bridges to shine, by avoiding overloading scenes with too much dialogue or action. He only brings in other characters when he feels it's necessary; Gyllenhaal, Farrell and Robert Duvall all give great supporting performances. The original music, by T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham (who also has a small role in the film), adds another refined layer. When Bad Blake plays those songs in the film, it is easy to think that they are really coming from him - a testament to Bridges and the songwriters.
Rating: 4.5

Of all the awards season movies, the only major contenders I still need to see are The White Ribbon, The Cove, District 9 and A Prophet.


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