Sunday, February 26, 2012

Goodfellas (1990) Review

What movies do you think of when you think of gangster films? Chances are, Goodfellas is one of them. If it isn't, clearly you haven't seen enough gangster films, or at least any good ones, because out of all the gangster films I've seen (which is admittedly not that many), Goodfellas is one of the best. It is a masterpiece, plain and simple, and it is now in my top 10 favourite films of all time. Often considered Scorsese's magnum opus, it's not that hard to see why. It is well-filmed, well-acted, well-told, and well-written on all terms and it features some of the most interesting characters ever put to film. It is also considered one of the greatest Oscar snubs and though I have not seen Dances With Wolves, it's not that hard to guess why.

Goodfellas is about what is essentially the life and times of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), also known as the utterer of the iconic line "as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a gangster". Hill supplies most of the narration, though occasionally it switches to his girlfriend-cum-fiance-cum-wife. The film begins with Hill as a teenager, making friends with Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) and doing odd jobs for the neighbourhood gangsters. It is also in his youth when Hill meets Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci in an unforgettable role), the other two main characters. However, this only makes up the first twenty or so minutes of the film. The rest of it is focused on Hill as an adult, and it essentially tells the story of about twenty years of Hill's life.

One of the funniest scenes in the film, which is actually very darkly comedic in a way

By this time, Hill is high up in the ranks of the Lucchese crime family and he can enjoy the perks of gangster life, which was one of the main reasons why he had wanted to be a gangster in the first place. Not exactly for the crime, but for the money and the luxury. During this time, he meets and marries a Jewish woman named Karen (Lorraine Bracco), with whom he has two daughters, he commits several heists alongside Conway and DeVito, including the Air France heist (which establishes Hill as a high-standing New York gangster) and the Lufthansa Heist, which drives the film's last act. Not in a sense of actually performing the heist, but it drives Hill's actions in the film's last act, and it is the reason why a lot of blood is shed in the film.

The film also charts Hill's downfall, all culminating in the single take (or at least, what appears to be a single take) known as the worst day of Henry's life, which happens to be one of the greatest scenes ever put to film. In fact, a lot of scenes from Goodfellas could be considered some of the greatest scenes ever put to film. The film is also quite violent, as are many of Scorsese's films, but the violence on display here is put to very good use, giving the film a certain amount of visceral power and shock value. The violence has kind of lost its power over time, as all violence has (mainly due to the type of society we live in) but that doesn't stop the film from being good, especially considering it has several of the best gangster deaths in movie history (mostly at the hands of Pesci, but ones I won't spoil just in case some of you haven't seen it yet).

Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro. Also co-starring Ray Liotta's pouty face..

The film covers a great deal of time, but what is most interesting about it (besides the downfall of Hill) is the interaction between the characters, and the close-knit almost family of the gangsters. This family dynamic is most evident in the wedding scene, where the narration skips to Karen and she's talking about meeting all of Henry's colleagues and their sons and nephews, all of whom are named Peter or Paul and their wives, all of whom are named Marie. It is also prevalent in another scene with Karen's narration, where she is with all the gossiping mob wives (all of whom seem to be stereotypically Jewish). This family dynamic can switch on a dime though, because you could be chummy with a guy one day and the next day he might want to kill you. It's this mentality that makes Goodfellas so interesting and it is what gives the ending the punch it has, making it one of my favourite endings in all of film.

The story is just one facet of the brilliant script by Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi. Together, they have also managed to write some of the most interesting and memorable characters ever written. Henry Hill is our protagonist and narrator, and we see the film's progression through his eyes. I'm not sure if we're supposed to sympathize with him, but if we're supposed to, I found it kind of difficult, especially at the film's ending (which I won't spoil). Still, the part of the movie from when he was a kid humanize what could have easily become a complete monster, and he is still an enjoyable character to watch, thanks, in no small part, to Ray Liotta's fantastic performance. Our other two male main characters are Jimmy (Robert De Niro) a coolly violent gangster, and Tommy (Joe Pesci), who is the exact opposite. De Niro is relegated to a supporting role this time around, but I'm sure Scorsese would have gotten him to play Hill if there were no Liotta, but he fits well in his role here, and his character takes on a sort of colleague/mentor role with regards to Hill. However, De Niro's character grows more threatening in the last act (whereas before he had merely been a thug), giving De Niro a chance to shine and prove his status as one of the greatest actors of our time.

We get it Scorsese, you love The Great Train Robbery

However, the performance that received the most acclaim (rightfully so) and the performance that made the film most memorable was that of Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito. DeVito is a total loose cannon, willing to kill a man who just looks at him funny and especially willing to kill a man who pokes fun at his past as a shoe-shine boy. In fact, when he is (SPOILERS)"taken out"(END OF SPOILERS), some of his ruthlessness and hot-bloodedness transfers into the rather level-headed Jimmy. This was the role that got Joe Pesci an Oscar, where he gave one of the most notoriously short and modest acceptance speeches in Oscar history (which really speaks to his character because Goodfellas was his major film role and apparently, Pesci is quite a nice guy in real life). It was also the role that got him typecast for life, playing a relatively similar role in 1995's Casino. Typecasting aside, Pesci's performance is extraordinary, the greatest one in the film in fact, and he is definitely part of why the film is so memorable.

The film is also very good-looking too, and I'm not just talking about Ray Liotta (hehe). With the three films I have seen of his, I can say this for sure. Scorsese definitely knows how to open and close a film in all aspects. The opening and closing of Goodfellas are both extraordinarily memorable, and definitely some of the best in all of film. The cinematography is amazing as well, whether it be some of the more basic stuff or whether it's when the film gets a bit more stylized. The film also has a damn awesome soundtrack, as per any Scorsese film (so I hear). The editing is also amazing, and the film is just very high-quality in general.

"You think I'm a clown? Like my purpose is to fuckin' amuse you"

The film is so high quality that even though I just watched it a week ago, it has already earned a place in my top 10 (possibly even top 5) favourite films of all time, and it is currently my favourite of the three Scorsese films I have seen. Goodfellas is simply a perfect film, no questions asked, and certainly one of the best films of the nineties. It is extremely well-written, extremely well-acted, and extremely well-filmed. This is a film that anyone and everyone should see, and any fans of Scorsese should see it now if they haven't seen it already (but I highly doubt that because Goodfellas is one of his definitive works). I, for one, can't wait to see it again and I can't wait for my love for the film to grow.

10/10-  Instant Classic, See it now

Damn straight.

My Favourite Films of 2011

Now that Oscar day is upon us, I think it's fairly safe to give my revised list of favourites of the year. There are still quite a few that I need to see, which I will spread out throughout the year (possibly doing one large marathon over the March Break)  since for now, I'm all 2011'd out. Anyway, here goes. My top 15 favourite films of the year!


The Iron Lady (8/10)

Thor (8/10)

Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary (10/10, but technically not a film, so I'm putting it here)

Paul (7/10)

Hanna (8/10)

Rio (8/10)

Our Idiot Brother (8/10)

Scream 4 (8/10)

TOP 15 FILMS OF 2011


Source Code


Kung Fu Panda 2


Captain America: The First Avenger


Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Rango Poster 211.



Rise of the Planet of the Apes


The Help




Midnight in Paris


The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn


X-Men First Class


The Descendants




Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt II


The Artist

Films from 2011 that I haven't seen yet that I would like to

  • War Horse
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene
  • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
  • Young Adult
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Carnage
  • Arthur Christmas
  • A Dangerous Method
  • Immortals
  • Take Shelter
  • J.  Edgar
  • Tower Heist
  • Puss in Boots
  • My Week With Marilyn
  • In Time
  • The Ides of March
  • Anonymous
  • 50/50
  • We Need To Talk About Kevin
  • Moneyball
  • Drive
  • Contagion
  • Warrior
  • The Debt
  • Fright Night
  • Crazy Stupid Love
  • Horrible Bosses
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  • Super 8
  • Beginners
  • The Tree of Life
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
  • Water For Elephants
  • Jane Eyre
  • Cedar Rapids
  • Never Let Me Go

Friday, February 17, 2012

And Then There Were None- Dream Cast

Since Wisenheimer made a blog with good ideas for movies, I thought I might make one presenting an idea of my own. Ten Little Indians is a book by Agatha Christie, possibly her best-known novel, and my personal favourite book. My idea is for a star-studded cinematic adaptation that would remain as close to the book as possible. I have seen one of the cinematic adaptations of it, but I absolutely loathed it and watched it for about 10 minutes and one death before I turned it off because it infuriated me so much. For those of you who don't know what it's about, I shall summarize it for you.

Ten Little Indians is a novel where ten different people are lured to an island, under various reasons. When they get to the island, they discover a quiet butler, a pale, ghostlike cook, and the abscence of their host and hostess. After a wonderful dinner, they hear a mysterious voice accusing them of committing various crimes that they never got their comeuppance for. One of them chokes on whiskey, and tension soon mounts as more of them get bumped off and they have to figure out who did it. The title comes from the fact that the killer is killing them based on a poem called Ten Little Indians, and that is all I'm going to tell you. I have ideas for who will play the characters and I shall provide the short synopsis from the book for each character to further explain.

For the record, suspend your disbelief about the likely clashing egos and HUGE wage bill. This is my cast, and I get to pick whomever I want.


"An ex-governess with a Coroner's Inquest in her past, she had been completely absolved of all guilt, she explained-even the boy's mother hadn't blamed her."

I think that Natalie Portman would be perfect to play her because the role requires a certain amount of class and Portman has that in spades. Plus, she's a terrific actress, and has brought something great to each role she has played (even Queen Amidala)


"A soldier-of-fortune, his past didn't bear close examination either. He was the only one that felt it necessary to carry a gun to Indian Island."

The role requires some toughness and and a world-weariness that I feel Tom Hardy could pull off. He also has the look of someone who has traveled the world, and that is needed for the character.


"The blunt, bearlike ex-CID man tried to pass himself off as an African Colonial, but when the game was up he amused himself by suspecting everyone else's motives."

 I haven't seen De Niro in much, but something about him makes me think he could play a detective well. Regardless, he has been pretty much great in everything I've seen him in (and according to the work he has been in that I haven't seen, he is a splendid actor) and he would bring justice to this role.


The reptilian old man, known in the press and the courts as a "hanging judge", had the blood of countless prisoners on his hands. How many of them were innocent?

This type of role requires a seasoned actor, and Nicholson is just that. I have a feeling that Nicholson could pull off this role and take the position of leadership that the character requires.


A sixty-five year old spinster whose troubled dreams and rambling diary were the only indications of a disturbed-and perhaps dangerous-mind.

I imagine Helen Mirren could play a religious nut very well, and has an authority and self-righteousness about her that would be perfect for this character. Plus, she's a terrific actress no matter what, just like the other actors I have mentioned thus far.


"His life, as far as he was concerned, had ended in the trenches in the Great War. "I'll never leave Indian Island alive", he said to anyone who would listen."

Anthony Hopkins can play crazy very well, judging by his most famous performance, and I have a feeling that he would bring a great dignity to the role. Anyway, I did cast him for a reason.


"At first the physician was a convenient dispenser of sedatives and diagnostician of causes of death, but later the others remembered that he was the only one who had easy access to poison."

Johnny Depp is one of the finest character actors of our time, and Dr. Armstrong is certainly a character. The character himself is incredibly interesting and Depp could bring everything necessary to this role.


"Like a young, bronzed god, he came careening into their lives as if he would live forever. His stunning strength proved pitifully inadequate against that of his unknown adversary."

Andrew Garfield is certainly handsome enough to perform this role (as one of Marston's defining traits is is handsomeness), but unlike some attractive young actors, he's not just coasting on his looks. He actually has talent to go behind the role, and he would certainly bring greatness to the role.


"The stammering butler and white, bloodless cook for the strange gathering on Indian Island had been the perfect servants, as the others learned when circumstances forced them to fend for themselves."

 Michael Caine and Meryl Streep are terrific actors, and The Dark Knight has proven that he can play butler. Plus, Meryl Streep would bring class and elegance, but also quiet fear to her role as Mrs. Rogers.

I will post my choices for the flashback characters soon.
Hugo (2011)

When you think of Martin Scorsese, what kind of films do you think of? I think of films like Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, and The Departed, some of the more popular entries in his body of work. Who'd have thought that the director of such crime classics could direct a 3D G-rated family film and do it so goddamned well. Hugo is a truly unique film and as Scorsese's love letter to silent cinema, it may be the film that he would connect with most as a filmmaker (of course, I don't know, I can't see into the man's mind). Hugo reaffirms Scorsese's status as one of the greatest directors of all time and the film itself is one of the best films of 2011, if not one of the best films of all time. There is nothing really wrong with it, plain and simple, and there's nothing that I can see anyone (especially a film buff) disliking. It looks great in all aspects, it's extremely well acted, the story is told brilliantly, and it is a worthy film in what I call the Nostalgia Trilogy of 2011 (the other films being Midnight in Paris and The Artist, two fellow Best Picture nominees). Also important, it was nominated for a fuck-ton of Oscars, many that it has the possibility of winning, and it is my second choice for Best Picture behind The Artist.

Hugo takes place in 1931 in a Parisian train station, where our main character (Asa Butterfield), an orphan named Hugo Cabret, has lived and worked since his father (Jude Law) passed away. The story proper begins when Hugo tries to steal a toy mouse from the grumpy old man that owns the toy shop in the train station (played by Ben Kingsley). He makes Hugo empty his pockets and comes across a notebook filled with drawings of some sort of robot. The old man takes the notebook, claiming that it belongs to him, and is adamant in his threats to burn it. Hugo cannot have that happen (for reasons that we will find out) and he desperately begs the man for the notebook to minimal avail. He even goes so far as to go to the man's house and beg.

Asa Butterfield and the adorable Chloe Moretz as Hugo and Isabelle respectively

Why, do you ask, is Hugo so desperate to get the notebook back? Well, the notebook belonged to his father, as well as the automaton that the drawings depict. Hugo and his father were trying to fix the automaton, but all that was missing is a key in the shape of a heart. That key is around the neck of the old man's goddaughter, named Isabelle, (Chloe Moretz), who is our secondary protagonist. Hugo and Isabelle try to activate the automaton, and the actions of the automaton drive the second half of the film, where Hugo and Isabelle find out more about her godfather (hereafter referred to as Papa Georges) and his past. That's all I want to say. I don't want to spoil anything because quite frankly, there's a ton of stuff to spoil about this movie and you should honestly see it for yourself instead.

This film is based on a reasonably popular novel by Brian Selznick entitled The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I was semi-aware of the book's existence before an adaptation was announced, but I had never read it and when I had seen it, I dismissed it as another young-adult fiction book. However, I considered this a good thing while watching the film, as it allowed me to view the film objectively and look at it as a movie rather than just an adaptation. Seeing the film doesn't exactly make me want to read the book, but I will say that the film tells its story very well. It is a relatively simple story, but it has not been done before and it is refreshing to see an assurance to the fact that movies somewhat aimed at children don't have to have labyrinthian plots filled with pop-culture references to be good. The story may be told from Hugo's perspective and he may be the main character, but the film is really a loving tribute to the life and work of one of the geniuses of early filmmaking.

The automaton that drives the first half of the movie, or why the film got a visual effects nomination


That filmmaker is none other than Georges Melies, one of the pioneers of early film and one of the masters of old-timey special effects. The film states that Melies was in his heyday before WWI and made over 100 films during that time, enjoying phenomenal success. However, once the war was over, nobody was interested in his films and he retired in shame, destroying all of his sets and all the copies of his films. People also thought he died in the War, so there was no question as to where he was or what he was doing. As far as I know, this story is pretty accurate. However, more negatives were found of his work (being found in the film through a film buff and huge fan of Melies played by Michael Stuhlbarg) and Melies gained a whole new fanbase. Seeing this film has made me want to check out some more of his work. It is this tribute to Melies' life and work that makes Hugo truly special, as there has not been a film about the director and I'm guessing that Hugo is the closest we are ever going to get.


You can tell that Scorsese has great respect for the filmmaker I mentioned in the spoilered paragraph, so much that Hugo can be considered as a whole film of Martin Scorsese fanboying for the directors and the films of yore. This love for old cinema is more prevalent in the second half of the film. The first half is merely about a lonely boy trying to fix a machine in the hopes that it contains a message left to him by his father. The movies are not mentioned that often, but the film sort of transitions over in the second half. May I say, I loved it. I loved the idea presented that films had the power to make dreams come true, which is what, in my opinion, films are all about. This is best shown in the scene where Hugo and Isabelle sneak into a movie theatre because Papa Georges won't let Isabelle go to the movies. This could be considered the film's turning point and it demonstrates what the film is trying to say very well. It is likely the most important scene in the film, and it is basically where the plot switches. It works because Isabelle had never seen a movie before and when Hugo takes her to the movies, she goes through the experience that I think everyone should go through at least once in their life. That is, the joy of watching an old movie. I felt that with The Artist, and I definitely felt it for Hugo.

Scenery Porn Exhibit A. Just look at the background.....

The film is considered Scorsese's "love letter to silent cinema", and it is through that idea Hugo is truly special. I loved the clever ways this idea was executed, I loved the flashbacks towards the end, I loved the use of footage from some of the popular films of the time, I just loved it. However, the other main thing that makes this story special is it's innocence. These days, people don't like innocent. They like cold, hard, and cynical, and Hugo delivers an innocence that is unfamiliar in children's films nowadays. Hugo is a genuinely likeable and interesting boy, as is his companion Isabelle, and there is not a single unlikable character. Even the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), the film's antagonist were it to have one, is a reasonably sympathetic character with the help of a few humanizing character traits. This shows the genius of John Logan's screenplay and it is probably the reason why Hugo nabbed an adapted screenplay nomination, because the dialogue is admittedly not spectacular. But I think I've talked about the story and characters enough, so let's talk about the rest of the film.

First of all, the film looks fantastic on all counts. It looks so fantastic that I consider it the film's greatest strength. Everything about this film is visually perfect, and it could very well be one of the prettiest movies I have ever seen. First of all, the scenery is fantastic, so much so that I am absolutely certain that this film will win Best Art Direction come February 26th, as there is not a single film in that category that was more visually brilliant than Hugo. It all looks fantastic, especially the train station and the clocks. I would say that they are not fake enough to be CGI but not quite real enough to be sets. Regardless, they look fantastic. The costume design is also excellent, though I don't see much chance of it winning, and the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. I don't think it will win for either, but the sets look fantastic. Since I asked for a few adjectives to describe the visuals, I will say they are mesmerizing, enchanting, sumptuous, and vibrant. I think I've said enough though, so I'm going to move on.

One of the images from what is certainly one of the most beautiful openings in recent memory.

The film also boasts a phenomenal cast, all of whom give good performances. Asa Butterfield is pretty good as Hugo, not to mention utterly adorable. Anytime he cried, it was incredibly distressing and any time he was happy, I was happy. I think the crying thing has to do with the fact that he has eyes so big and so blue that he could easily be mistaken for the kid brother of Elijah Wood. Chloe Moretz  gave a decent performance as well, working well alongside Butterfield and capturing the bookworminess of her character very well. Her accent also seemed to be channeling Hermione (a three-way accent, seeing as she is an American actress playing a French character with an English accent). Ben Kingsley is also excellent as Papa Georges, and he displays the character well, holding up the biopic sections of the film. Even as comedy relief goes, Sacha Baron Cohen gives a fantastic performance (probably one of his best) as the Station Inspector, who, though a villain, is just as human as Hugo and the other characters. The rest of the cast includes the likse of Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy) as Mama Jeanne, Michael Stuhlbarg as Rene Tabard (a movie buff and kind of a surrogate for the audience, at least the audience of movie buffs), Christopher Lee as a kindly librarian, and Jude Law as Hugo's father (who does extremely well considering how little he is in the movie). Needless to say, it should have received a SAG nomination for the ensemble cast because though the acting was not the strongest element of the film, there was no bad performance amongst the A-list cast.

Hugo is a brilliant film, and it is apparently one of the best of Scorsese's oeuvre. It is definitely one of my favourite films of 2011 and one of my top 30 favourite movies of all time. Hugo could easily be described as an experience, and it is an experience that all film buffs should go through, especially those who are knowledgable with regards to silent movies, because there are a ton of references that even I, one who hasn't seen that many silent films. Hugo is a masterpiece, through and through, it has brilliant and exhilarating visuals (which I could imagine would look amazing in 3D, judging by the opinions I have heard on this site), a great cast, and a great story. I don't know how many Oscars it will win, and I don't know how it would work for kids, but I know that it deserved every single nomination it got and if I were to have children, I would definitely show them the film. So in short, see it. See it before the Oscars if you can, as it was the film with the most nominations and it is one of the best films of the decade.

10/10- Instant Classic, Must-See

Jude Law and Asa Butterfield.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Midnight in Paris Review

Midnight in Paris (2011)

My Oscar countdown continues on, this time with Midnight in Paris, which also happens to be my first film of Woody Allen's. This film is a particularly interesting entry into Allen's long body of work, as it is a surprising success after a series of misfires. What I mean is, depending on the person you ask, Allen hasn't made a good film since either 2005's Match Point or 2008's Vicky Christina Barcelona. I have not seen either of those films, so I am looking at the film objectively, and for what it is, it's a pretty damn good film. It was also a surprising commercial success for Allen, in fact, his highest grossing film to date (surpassing Hannah and Her Sisters). But enough about how it rejuvenated Allen's career, let's talk about the film itself. Midnight in Paris is in no way a perfect film, but it is a solid one, and it has its moments of inspired genius as one of the best films of the year. It has its weaknesses, but rises on the strength of its original concept and its array of brilliant supporting performances. For Allen fans I'm sure it will satisfy, but for a newbie like me, it served as a great introduction to a director I hope to explore further in the year to come.

One of the many examples of gorgeous Parisian scenery in the film.
Midnight in Paris is about Gil (Owen Wilson) an American writer who is vacationing in Paris with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. Inez and her parents are thoroughly shallow and unlikeable characters (who I will talk about later), and they all think Gil has a screw loose for the following reasons. Inez dreams of living in the Malibu suburbs and bores easily in Paris, whereas Gil dreams of living in Paris and giving up his Hollywood script-writing career (for which he calls himself a hack) to write actual literature and become one of the literary greats, such as Hemingway or Fitzgerald. From the moment we meet him, we learn that Gil longs to live in a different world, namely, 1920's Paris. Any other film would likely paint Inez sympathetically, but Allen does not do that. His script paints her as a shallow unlikable spoiled bitch, so much that we sympathize with Gil where we would not otherwise.
Example #2 of Parisian scenery

The story proper kicks in when Gil goes out for an evening walk and gets into a strange car that leads him to a strange place. This strange place happens to be the very place he's dreamed about, 1920's Paris. It is there where he meets such legendary figures as the Fitzgeralds, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Luis Bunuel, and Salvador Dali, and he gains inspiration to finish his book. He goes back night after night and distances himself day after day, much to the chagrin of Inez and her parents, who are as jerky as she is. He also meets a woman named Adriana (Marion Cotillard), Picasso's mistress and muse, who he finds himself instantly attracted to. Gil and Adriana are very similar characters, in that they are both unsatisfied by the present and wish to live in a rose-coloured view of the past. Whereas Gil would rather live in the 20's, Adriana would rather be a costume designer in 1890's Paris.
Marion Cotillard, Allison Pill, Owen Wilson, and Woody Allen respectively

The message of this film is not exactly subtle, but it is one that needs to be stated. Everyone has felt, at least once, that they were born in the wrong time and that they may have been happier in another decade. Wilson states the film's message in a speech near the end of the film in a speech that I'm sure will become somewhat memorable (especially the bit about novocaine at the dentist). The lesson that Gil needed to learn was that although past may be home to artistic legends, there was no penicillin (until 1928), no modern medicine, to prevent the many diseases of the time, and life would pretty much suck for anyone who is not a white man (which Gil is). Not to mention, France would be torn apart again in about twenty years with a little thing called the Second World War. Also, the twenties were only one decade. I'm not sure how badly the Depression affected France, but the twenties were fleeting and unless Gil was living in a stable time loop that went back to 1920 on New Year's Eve '29, history would march on, with or without him. However, accepting the present for what it is doesn't mean one has to live in misery, like Gil certainly would with Inez, and the ending definitely enforces that (though I won't spoil).

Ladies and Gentlemen, the second-greatest thing about this movie. Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway

One of the film's greatest strengths is the series of segments that take place in the past, where Gil meets all the creative greats of the time. The present-day segments aren't really that interesting until Gil's visits to the past start to affect the present and change him as a character. Inez and her parents are not very interesting characters, but that is kind of their point, to provide foils for Gil while insulting him at every turn and just being jerks. They are the film's antagonists, were the film to have clear antagonists, and it is them that make Gil a sympathetic character. Adriana is also a foil for Gil in the results of their characters, which I shall not spoil. The film also introduces the idea that nobody is satisfied with their present and everyone is drawn into the allure of another time. It is these things that show the true genius of Allen's script, and the reason why it will certainly be walking home with Best Original Screenplay come Oscar time.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the most memorable thing about the movie.

Speaking of original, another one of this film's strengths is its concept. Although time-travel has been done before, and jumping into another world has also been done before (in Allen's own Purple Rose of Cairo in fact), Midnight in Paris manages to maintain some sense of originality simply because it hasn't been done this way before. Simply put, there has not been a movie where a writer travels back in time through a magic car and meets the artistic and creative legends of the time. It is not a remake, sequel, or reboot, and it shows that there is still some original thought in Hollywood nowadays. This film is truly one of a kind and a film that deserves to be rememebered as one in the filmography of an (allegedly) classic director that needed a really good movie.

The other element of this film that will no doubt turn this film into a classic is the performances. Owen Wilson does a decent job as Gil, providing a sympathetic and interesting lead in a role that I'm sure Allen himself would have played if he were not...say, forty years too old for the part. Wilson plays the nebbish writer type, but Allen mercifully downplays the neuroticness in favour of nostalgia and constantly being annoyed by the shallow people he is surrounded by. Instead of being an insufferable starving artist like he very well could have been in the hands of a different writer, Gil is a reasonably entertaining character and a likable protagonist, though this is exacerbated by the horrible people he has surrounded himself with in the present day. I am not a huge fan of Owen Wilson, but I can't deny that he gave a good performance that was worthy of the Golden Globe nomination that he got. The other present day characters are Inez and her parents, who are played with supreme jerkiness by Rachel McAdams, Kurt Fuller, and Mimi Kennedy. I may hate their characters with a burning passion (because Allen wrote it so I would), but I can't knock their performances, which are pretty good. The only other present-day character worth noting is Paul (played by Michael Sheen), a pseudo-intellectual friend of Inez's, whom she is enamored with but Gil (rightfully) can't stand. He gives a good enough performance, one of the many in this film.

I wish I could crack witty jokes that go along with pictures....
However, the acting that really makes the movie is that from the supporting characters. They are the main reasons why the past segments are more interesting, more witty, and generally more awesome. Some of the more famous members of the supporting cast include Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Tom Hiddleston and Allison Pill (of Thor and Scott Pilgrim fame) as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Corey Stoll (of Law and Order LA) as Ernest Hemingway, and Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali. Those are the recognizable past characters and the ones that are seen most often, but there is a whole slew of unknowns playing various denizens of Paris. All that I mentioned did great jobs, but the two standouts are definitely Corey Stoll's Hemingway and Adrien Brody's Dali. Stoll was worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nomination in my opinion, as he captured the commonly perceived image of Hemingway perfectly while being downright an abrasive kind of way. He could have easily been nominated in Max von Sydow's place because though he was in the film very little, he totally knocked it out of the park and gave one of the film's most memorable performances. The other extremely memorable performance is Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali. He was in the film even less than Stoll and he is easily the most memorable character to come out of this film. I won't spoil his awesomeness, all I will say is..."rhinoceros". The one original character in the past universe is Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard, and while weaker than the rest of the actors, she definitely did okay. Needless to say, the film was packed with solid performances throughout.

Wilson, McAdams, and Sheen as Gil, Inez, and Paul respectively.

The film also has brilliant visuals, having also scored a nomination for Art Direction alongside Director, Original Screenplay, and Picture. The film opens with an array of shots of gorgeous Parisian scenery (similarly to how Manhattan opens so I hear, except Manhattan is with New York) and it is an utterly perfect beginning to the film, signifying the warmth and joy that this film has to offer. The cinematography is utterly gorgeous, providing some great shots of Paris both past and present, and the sets are impeccably designed. I don't see it taking home the Oscar (which will probably go to either Hugo or The Artist), but it is as visually sumptuous as it is intellectually satisfying. It could have easily scored a nomination for cinematography, but art direction is good enough.

Exhibit A: Why this film scored an Oscar nom for Best Art Direction

All in all, Midnight in Paris is a terrific movie, and I have praised it to death for a reason. Though it does have flaws (albeit very minor ones), it was one of the best films of 2011 and one of my new favourite films of all time, which I look forward to watching again. It features dazzling Parisian scenery, an original concept accompanied by a brilliant script, and a series of fine performances with Owen Wilson giving the single greatest performance of his career. Those who are fans of Allen will love it I'm sure, but it served as a good introductory film for me and I'm sure it will do the same for other Allen newbies. Regardless, I give this film my strongest recommendation, especially around Oscar time. I can't wait to watch more Allen films in the future, and this one has certainly convinced me to do so.

P.S. Personally, I don't long for a past. I'd rather be an older version (by older, I mean early-mid twenties) of myself in the present day. That way, I would have a bit more freedom and I would have the means to travel (namely, to go to England and see Les Mis on the West End).

9/10- Must-See,  Instant Classic 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Artist Review

The Artist (2011)

The Oscars certainly feel nostalgic this year, don't they? I mean with films like Hugo, Midnight in Paris, and The Artist all heavy hitters (the first and last more so than the middle) for the Oscars, it seems pretty obvious. This is why The Artist truly feels one of a kind, although its story is nothing really new. It feels one of a kind because it came out this year, yet seeing it on the big screen made me feel like I was back in the twenties, back when silent films were the huge thing in Hollywood and before the dawn of the talkie. In the wrong hands, The Artist could have felt gimmicky, like they were making a silent movie just for the gimmick as opposed to a genuine throwback. However, it is in the hands of Michel Hazanavicius that this film is a true gem and a must-see for all film buffs. It has everything that a silent film should have. It has the comedy, it has the seriousness, and most importantly, it has a sense of joy and nostalgia even in its most melancholy moments. As of now, it is my personal pick for Best Picture and Best Actor, and I can bet that the filmmakers will be taking home many more awards come Oscar night. Out of all of its ten nominations, there is only one that I feel the film doesn't deserve, but we'll get to that later, onto the review.

The Artist centres around a silent film actor named George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). Valentin is the reigning star of the silent movie world and adored by both the studio and the public. One day, through a meet-cute where she drops her autograph book and accidentally bumps into him while getting it, Valentin meets a young woman named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) who is amongst the screaming fangirls and initially acts towards him like any young woman who has a crush on a movie star. She shows up to the studio where Valentin works to audition as an extra for one of their films, and through more circumstance, she and Valentin end up working on a picture together and he helps her get her start in the movies, which quickly escalates into superstardom.

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in the scene of their first meeting.

What I have described may seem like a plot for an old-fashioned screwball romantic comedy, but there is much more to this film than that. Like Singin' in the Rain dealt with the transition to talkies in musical format, The Artist deals with a similar topic, except it deals with it very differently. In Singin' in the Rain, Don Lockwood adapted very easily to talkies. In The Artist, George does not adapt so easily. In fact, it is his unwillingness to adapt that results in Peppy's star rising (although it rose with his guidance) and his star fading. This rising star/fading star conflict is what drives the movie and what makes us feel sympathy for our protagonist. As Peppy's life gets better, George's life gets phenomenally worse and for him it's just one humiliation after another, so much that the only companion he has left (besides Peppy, whom it takes him a little while to warm up to after an incident that I'd rather not spoil) is his utterly adorable dog.

Berenice Bejo and Malcolm McDowell in his brief cameo

Although it is through his stubbornness and insistence that sound is merely a fad that made those things happen, I can't help but feel sorry for him. There could be several reasons why he was so resistant towards the dawn of sound. It could be simply that he is afraid of change, or it could be insecurity about (maybe) not being able to speak English very well. If the last was true, it is a perfectly realistic insecurity and it gives the character a bit more humanity. However, Dujardin himself is such a phenomenally attractive man that he could pull it off. Seeing as Dujardin is French and French is his native language, this is one of the great examples of the actor's nationality influencing the character for the better. However, it's not like he was hiding a high shrill voice or a thick Brooklyn accent like Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain. Quite the opposite in fact, his voice is not unpleasant at all and being in the talkies would not damage his ability to play a romantic lead.

I don't want to spoil any more of the plot for you, but I will say that it borrows many plot and character elements from Singin' in the Rain, not enough to call it copying but enough for me to consider the two films companion pieces. First of all, George Valentin reminded me a lot of Don Lockwood, the king of silent films who has to deal with the transition to talkies. They are both noted for their talent, they are both pretty damn good dancers, both adored by the public, and both incredibly charming. Plus, Dujardin looks like he could be Gene Kelly's french son (or, judging by their ages, grandson). But whereas Lockwood adapts to the talkies, Valentin instead goes through what I presume to be any actor's worst fear (namely, becoming a forgotten has-been and losing the fame and admiration they once had). Peppy Miller also reminded me a lot of Kathy Selden, even in a direct scene where she is one in a group of showgirls that even wore costumes reminiscent to Debbie Reynolds' in that particular scene (those who have seen Singin' in the Rain know what I'm talking about). Plus, there's the whole showgirl becomes actress and rises up through the ranks of Hollywood that their characters have in common, though Selden rises up in a different way. They even make the film actress played by Missi Pyle look like Lina Lamont at the beginning, though she is not an antagonist and has no bearing on the plot at all. The last act of the film also resembles Singin' in the Rain in a way that I'm not going to spoil. However, this borrowing does not make me like the film any less. In fact, it makes me love it more because Singin' in the Rain happens to be my favourite film of all time.

Seriously. French grandson.

The story is not particularly original, and yet the film maintains some sense of uniqueness and originality in that it is the first silent film to come out in wide-ish circulation since Mel Brooks' Silent Movie in 1976, and it will likely be the first silent film to win Best Picture since the twenties. It also has an element of uniqueness in its nostalgia, how it's a throwback to the classic films of the twenties, and how films like this normally wouldn't be made in this day and age. This, however, brings me to the one Oscar nomination that I felt The Artist did not deserve. That nomination was for Original Screenplay. Seeing as this film was completely silent, title cards were used to express dialogue. However, they weren't used very often and although they did get some good deadpan one-liners in, the rest were rather unremarkable. Not bad, just unremarkable. The Academy could have easily given Diablo Cody a second nomination in The Artist's place, or any other original screenplay in general. I don't think it'll win though, and though I feel The Artist is undeserving for that one Oscar, the rest of the nine awards it was nominated for were wholly deserved.

First of all, the performances were phenomenal, so much that this film has my personal choice for Best Actor. I am sincerely hoping that Dujardin will win the Oscar come Oscar time and I have a feeling he will, as he has received a tad bit more praise than Clooney (who is the other popular choice for Best Actor) and though Clooney is a bigger name in the States, Dujardin's performance is generally looked upon to be the better one. Of course, I haven't seen The Descendants, so I can't be a fair judge, but I still hope that Dujardin wins the award because he truly deserves it. He embodied all of the emotions of his character, all the flaws, all the likability, and all the charm. Seriously, there is so much that he can convey with just a smile, which is so irresistable in itself that it can melt hearts, my own included. He's also a throwback in and of himself, which is one of the many things that makes this film unique. He's the old-fashioned leading man. He's the Errol Flynn, he's the Douglas Fairbanks, he's the Gene Kelly.  Plus, another reason why he will likely take the award over Clooney is that he had to convey the thoughts, feelings, and interactions of his character without words, entirely through his actions and his facial expressions, whereas Clooney had the advantage of being able to speak. In that, Dujardin's performance is the most substantial (both in the happy and sad moments of the film) male performance I have seen this year and one of the greatest things about this film, thus making him my personal pick for Best Actor.

One of the funniest scenes in the movie. You wouldn't be able to tell by the picture though.

However, his performance was not the only good performance in the film. Berenice Bejo also received an Oscar nomination for her performance in the film and though she doesn't have much chance of winning, she gave a great performance nonetheless. She had the flair, the pizzaz, and for lack of a better word, the pep (funny, because her character's name is Peppy) necessary for this performance, and she makes an excellent foil to George with her star rising and his star falling. She's a fundamentally good person, and though her rise to the top could have made her conceited and ungrateful, she does not forget Valentin and how he gave her her start, and she sticks by him the entire course of the movie when she could have abandoned him (not in a romantic sense, but in a friendly sense). She and Dujardin worked extremely well together and they were backed up by decent supporting performances, such as John Goodman as the cigar-chomping studio exec and James Cromwell as Clifton, Valentin's driver. Another humourous albeit brief turn is the one by Missi Pyle as Valentin's Lamont-ish costar. Needless to say, a slew of solid and delightful performances all around, one that will be taking home the Oscar.

But the slew of great performances is just one of the fantastic things about this movie. It also got nominated for a ton of Oscars below the line (by which I mean below the line of the screenplay awards in the technical section) and it deserved them, being an overall visually pleasing film. The film's cinematography is excellent, making good use of each shot and embracing the old-fashioned by filming in 4:3 as opposed to the standard widescreen, and the film on a whole is presented beautifully. I don't see it taking home the award (which will likely go to Janusz Kaminski for War Horse judging by the photographs I have seen), but the film was definitely well-shot. It has a chance at winning for editing, and there is a definite chance that it could win for art direction because the sets were superb, from Valentin's colossal mansion to Miller's mansion to the shops in the city. For now, it is still my favourite for Art Direction. The one award I am absolutely certain it will win is Best Original Score (Kim Novak controversy aside), because with no dialogue, this film is entirely dependent on the music because if there was no music, there would just be dead awkward silence. The music is simply delightful, probably the best score I have heard all year and though the film used little sound, the uses of sound were extremely clever. I won't spoil them for you, but they are extremely clever. Overall, The Artist is a visual delight as well as a delight in many other fashions.

Dujardin again and the film's second brightest (and certainly most adorable) star, Uggie the Dog

In short, The Artist is truly a phenomenal film and a gem, considering it came out in today's society. It is a must-see for all film buffs and though it may decrease in popularity when the Oscars are over, it will be remembered amongst the film buffs as a classic. The Artist is an utterly perfect film and has the honour of being my favourite film of 2011 and my personal pick for Best Picture and Best Actor amongst other things. It is a sheer delight through and through, featuring beautiful visuals and black-and-white cinematography, excellent performances through and through, and a refreshingly old-fashioned (though not entirely original) story. I recommend a viewing before Oscar time, especially if you want to formulate a good Oscar ballot and I recommend seeing it just for the experience, as there is nothing in this for a movie fan to dislike.

10/10- Must-See, Potential Classic