Posts Tagged ‘the way back’

Critics Roundup: February 20

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

I Am Number Four|||||
Vanishing on Seventh Street||||Yellow|
The Eagle|||||Green
Gnomeo and Juliet|||||Yellow
The Way Back||Yellow|||Green
The Company Men|||Yellow||Green
The Mechanic|||||Red

Friday Estimates — January 22

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

No Strings Attached|7.2|3018|NEW|7.2
The Green Hornet|5|3584|-55%|50.4
The Dilemma|3|2943|-52%|26.6
The King’s Speech |2.1|1680|-43%|51.6
True Grit|2.1|3464|-37%|132.7
Black Swan|1.7|2407|-28%|79.1
Little Fockers|1.2|2979|-41%|138
The Fighter |1.2|2275|-20%|69.7
Tron: Legacy|0.9|2018|-35%|160.5
Yogi Bear |0.75|2510|-29%|85.6
Also Debuting
The Way Back|0.39|659||0.39
The Company Men|0.17|106||0.17
Dhobi Ghat|0.13|79||0.13
Evangelion: 2.0|7,950|15||7,950
Un Vie Qui Commence|4,700|13||4,700
L’Autre Dumas|3,800|8||3,800
The Woodmans|1,800|1||1,800
* in millions

Wilmington on Movies: The Way Back, The Company Men and Blue Valentine

Friday, January 21st, 2011

The Way Back (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S./Poland: Peter Weir, 2011

Movie tales of  agonizing attempts at human survival against long odds in dangerous conditions — from Robert Aldrich‘s The Flight of the Phoenix (plane-crash in the desert), Kalatozov’s The Red Tent (Arctic expedition gone wrong) and Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala (lost in Siberia) to Danny Boyle’s recent 127 Hours (trapped in a crevasse) and Peter Weir’s current The Way Back — serve one very useful function. They help us keep our own difficulties in perspective. They remind us of how fragile life really can be, of how relatively small and manageable most of our own civilized daily problems are. Money messes? Romantic failures? Bad co-workers? Tough, but manageable.

But, what would we do, for example, if we were faced — as are the eight central characters of The Way Back — with trekking on foot through  freezing, wolf-infested Siberian forests during the height of World War II, with the soldiers of the Soviet Gulag and their guns somewhere behind us? Or crossing the Gobi Desert under a scorching sun with little water, and boots falling apart?

What if we had to walk 4,000 miles through those forests, and that desert, then face climbing and crossing the Himalayan Mountains before reaching the safe haven of India — only to have World War II still raging all across the world all around us?

The Way Back is based on a famous book by Polish writer and ex-gulag prisoner Slawomir Rawicz, the bestseller The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom. Weir’s movie, co-scripted by Keith R. Clarke, with a multi-national cast headed by Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan,  purports to tell us that story of that 1940 escape and the people who made it. And though Rawicz’s facts have been seriously challenged (it’s said by some investigators that he never escaped from the Gulag at all, but was released in 1942, and that thus the whole tale of the trek is fictitious), Weir’s movie still has lots of visual and emotional impact.

Stunningly shot in Bulgaria (standing in for Siberia), Morocco (standing in for Mongolia) and India, The Way Back is an old school adventure movie made without the aid of CGI enhancement or technical trickery. It has an often overwhelming visual impact. Filled with over-powering landscapes and spectacular desolation, Weir’s movie creates an often riveting vision of escape, of the wilderness and survival, with the seven men — a colorful, diverse group that includes an American (Ed Harris), a Stalinist thief/killer (Colin Farrell), and an artist who keeps drawing pictures — sometimes pitted against each other, or hurled into wolf-infested forests, and vast scorching stretches of the Gobi desert. Along the way, they’re joined by another fugitive/pilgrim, a fragile-looking young Polish girl on the run named Irena (Saoirse Ronan). As the grueling journey proceeds, some of them die, some survive  — and all of them are constantly battered and tested.

There may be soldiers somewhere behind them too, ready to take them back to the gulag, villagers ready to betray them. But, as the commandant tells the newly arrived prisoners at the beginning — including the movie’s main character, Polish prisoner Janusz (Jim Sturgess) — it is the land itself  that is their jailer, their nemesis, their tyrant, their gulag.  
Few filmmakers alive can wring as much mystical splendor and dangerous-looking beauty out of a landscape or seascape (or here, a mountain-scape and desert-scape) as Weir — especially when he’s joined by his fellow Australian, cinematographer Russell Boyd (an Oscar winner for Weir‘s last film, the 2003 sea saga Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). Together, Weir and Boyd lavish on Way Back the gifts for outdoor moviemaking Weir displayed in films like Gallipoli, The  Mosquito Coast, and Master and Commander, showing once again that great talent he has for immersing us in the excitement and strangeness of the world around us.

The dramatic elements of The Way Back aren’t as strong — even if, compared to most would be action or adventure films these days, they’re strong enough.  Sturgess’ Janusz, sent to Siberia because of a political frame-up in which his wife (Sally Edwards) participated, is a protagonist with a kind heart (the reason, one character tells him, that he’s wanted for the escape and journey), but few interesting quirks. (Janusz’s betrayal by his wife and the climactic aftermath, are two of this story’s least plausible elements.)

Of the other characters, the most forcefully or memorable drawn are Irena (Ronan), whose ethereal face lends weird contrast to the elemental backdrops; the American Mr. Smith (played broodingly by Ed Harris); and the thug Valka (played explosively by Colin Farrell), who kills a man for his sweater, and has Stalin and Lenin tattooed on his chest.

It’s been said, by Roger Ebert, that the movie might have done better dramatically to compromise and create some more involving romantic drama around Irena. True. But is that really a compromise? Not having read the book, I don’t know what happened in real life — there apparently was a woman refugee described by Rawicz along with the escapees, but not a teenager like the movie’s Irena (Ronan is 16) — or even if Irena really existed (or existed only in a made-up memoir). But I found it down-right weird that there was so  little sexual tension between Irena and any of the men. That’s another area where the human interiors of The Way Back seem scanty next to the film’s transfixing exteriors.   

A word about Weir. Even if his material here lacks some depth and power (and even if it has a pretty corny ending), it’s a daring, worthwhile project. Weir is a marvelous filmmaker, at his best with large or exotic canvasses like this — an expert portrayer of the spectacle and mysteries of the world, and the shadows of the human mind and heart. It’s good to see his work on screen again. I thought his last film, 2003‘s Master and Commander, which was adapted (and somewhat changed) from Patrick O’Brian‘s excellent sea stories, starring Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey, was a rousing, first-class adventure movie, and I would have been happy if that movie had had as many sequels as Pirates of the Caribbean.

So I hope we won’t have to start waiting as long between Weir films as we eventually did for those of David Lean — a superior filmmaker, but one to whom Weir can be fairly compared. Ambition and the desire to make movies for adults shouldn’t be penalized, or made into marks against you. There are artistic and financial gulags as well as physical ones, and after all the fine films Weir has made — Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, The Year of Living Dangerously, and The Truman Show as well as the ones I‘ve already mentioned — he‘s earned the right to make the kind of films he wants to.   

Now, a word about Ed Harris. Two words. Great actor. Furthermore, as always, a reliably fine actor, one you can count on. All of the roles in The Way Back, though mostly well-played, are somewhat sketchy, which is odd for a story allegedly taken from life. But if Ronan supplies pathos and Farrell adds tension and conflict (the movie loses a lot when he departs), Harris is the one actor in The Way Back who really adds the element of human suffering and stoicism, the measure of how we react to danger and hardship, how we can survive. Almost effortlessly, Harris’ Mr. Smith takes over the movie, supplies its true emotional center — and he does this not by succumbing to the dangers and difficulties of the trek, or pushing his role obviously forward, or obviously registering anguish and pain, but by constantly fighting against them. (At one point, when it looks as if Mr. Smith will succumb, the movie seems ready to collapse around him.)

I’d be remiss in not mentioning the other actors as well — Dragos Bucur, Alexander Protocean, Gustaf Skarsgard, Sebastian Urgandowsky, and Igor Gnezdilov. They’re all good, even if, frankly, the dramatic elements of the movie — however close or far they may be to the book or to fact, or how moving they may be to us  — don’t feel especially true. Against the overpowering, dangerous physical world of Way Back, the men and woman enact what is often a typical adventure movie fable of suffering, quest and redemption. They and the story tell us what we’ve heard before, in ways we expect, and that rarely surprise us. But that’s not bad. Weir and Boyd make sure that the landscapes around those escapees have their own fierce truth.    


The Company Men (Three Stars)
U. S.; John Wells, 2010

Three executives at a vast Boston-based conglomerate called GTX, caught in the opening crash of the G. O. P.‘s Great Recession, see their careers derailed or destroyed when their company’s callous, greedy, phlegmatic CEO, James Salinger (played viciously and perceptively by Craig T. Nelson), starts closing divisions, cutting jobs and downsizing with a vengeance. Those company men are 37-year-old yuppie Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), 50-something longtime original employee Phil Woodward (about to get caught in the crucible of ageism), and tough but compassionate 60ish Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones),  who started the company (as independent shipbuilders) with Salinger, but is about to find out he’s no safer from the current economic mess than anyone else — especially when he proves too tough, and too compassionate, for the tastes of his  oldest friend, that same Salinger.

The Company Men is the first theatrical feature written, directed and produced by longtime TV writer-producer John Wells (a multiple Emmy winner for shows like E.R. and The West Wing), and it’s the kind of drama that, back in the ’50s would have been rolling off the typewriters of Rod Serling and Reginald Rose. (In fact, Serling told a similar story about corporate brutality in his breakthrough ’50s teleplay Patterns.) It’s good to see somebody sticking it to the corporate establishment for their entrenched selfishness, their blank-faced brutality toward their employees (and toward society as a whole), and their longstanding sins of ageism, obsession with the stock market, and social irresponsibility. (Wells writes and Nelson portrays these real-life vices of the corporate super-rich and their minions with economy and force.)

It’s also good to see somebody trying to reawaken the Serling-Rose-Chayefsky tradition of adult, issue-oriented popular drama — and doing it, for the most part, this well. Since its brief Academy qualifying opening, I’ve decided to bump up the rating, though I still agree with some of its detractors that Company Men is an unabashed message drama, with some flaws, and that there are people who are suffering much, much more from the bilked, ravaged economy, than the desperate execs we see here.

But I also still disagree strongly with those Company Men critics who think this movie is too preachy or too obvious. If all these lessons were so clear to the movie-going public, and not just to some of the friends and social acquaintances of us movie critics, then the country as a whole might not have voted for the political party in cahoots with the same damned greed-crazed creeps and idiots who got us in the mess in the first place.

Wells does a good job of needling the guys at the top, of sketching in the milieu, laying down the table stakes, and giving us a large gallery of mostly well-cast and well-played characters — including all above, plus Bobby’s wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her blue collar carpenter brother(Kevin Costner). Special kudos to Jones (as usual), to Nelson, to DeWitt, to Cooper (who plays Woodward like a walking raw wound) and to Costner.

Especially Costner. His part here, independent builder Jack Dolan, in fact, reminded me a bit of my own Swedish-American Wisconsin carpenter grandfather Axel Tulane — though Grampa was funnier, more jocular and more congenial than Jack. Here’s what was amazing about Axel and why Costner’s expert worker reminds me of him: When I was in school in Williams Bay, Axel planned and designed and got the materials for, and actually built with his own hands, several houses, the last when he was in his 70s. He planned that last house by himself, and, working mostly alone, did nearly everything, with no fellow carpenters, and only a little help that I knew of from my mother and me. I suppose my Grampa must have had some specialists, plumbers or electricians or such, but I had the impression he was doing that too. Axel knew how to build a house, you see. And he would have known what to do with a bastard like Salinger.


Blue Valentine (Three Stars)
U.S.: Derek Cianfrance, 2010
An uncompromising drama about a busted romance, told in two alternating story-tracks: one where the couple (Ryan Gosling and somewhat higher-class Michelle Williams) first comes together, one where they finally split apart. The subject of some idiotic MPAA controversy about sex, this a real moviemaker’s showcase for newcomer Derek Cianfrance, and an actors’ showcase for Gosling and Williams, who burn up the screen. With their acting. As for the sex, isn’t that what most couples do? 


No Strings Attached (One and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Ivan Reitman, 2010

 A movie critic friend of mine wrote me the other day that my review of Ben Stiller’s and Robert De Niro’s Little Fockers should have ended right after the first sentence. Thus: After rambling on and on about the Coen Brothers’ True Grit, I wonder if there’s any real need to say anything at all about Little Fockers  except just this: This movie is not funny.

Well, I’ve got a second chance to follow his advice, thanks to director Ivan Reitman and his mystifyingly unentertaining (to me) so-called romantic comedy, No Strings Attached, starring the unchemical couple of Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, doing a sort of cross between Last Tango In Paris (sex without mush)  and When Harry Met Sally (friendship and sex) and Mutt and Jeff (the long and the short and the tall).

Here goes: After rambling on and on about The Way Back, there’s no need to say anything about No Strings Attached except this: It ain’t funny. It ain’t sexy. It looks like it was shot in a permanent smog attack. And what a criminal waste of Kevin Kline.

There, that’s already more than I should have said. (Maybe more next week, if I feel up to it.) But I’ll add this: I think I’d rather walk from Siberia to Tibet than watch this movie again.


 Dissolution (Three Stars)
Israel-U.S.: Nina Menkes, 2010

I love black and white cinematography, I love the styles and moods of noir, and off-Hollywood director-writer-editor Nina Menkes (Magdalena Viraga, The Bloody Child) uses them both pretty well here. Her latest movie, a kind of modern Israeli Crime and Punishment, heavy on angst and sin and lighter on philosophy, follows a brooding, dark John Lurie-ish looking sort of guy (Didi Fire), who kills a pawnbroker and starts falling apart. The scenes are sometimes a little too early Chantal Akermanish — one take, distanced, minimalist, sometimes almost actionless — but the movie has a mood. And a style: art-house noir. (Israeli and Arabic, with subtitles. (At Facets, Chicago.)


Ed Harris Finds The Way Back

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Ed Harris Finds The Way Back

David Thomson Sez The Way Back Is The Trek Of 2010

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

David Thomson Sez The Way Back Is The Trek Of 2010

Weary Mr. Weir

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

“If I can’t make the kind of film that I want to make, then the hell with it, I’ve had a great run. But I’m more concerned with the younger people coming up that want to make this kind of film.”
Weary Mr. Weir

How “The Long Walk” Became The Way Back

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

How “The Long Walk” Became The Way Back

The Way Back, director/co-writer Peter Weir

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

17 Weeks To Oscar: It’s Raining Men

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

The Best Actor category is always loaded. This happens to be a strong year for Best Actress as well. But with the ladies, there are a good number of completely worthy performances. In the Actor this season, there are more than five Undeniables. Yet, some of them will be denied.

Javier Bardem is an Undeniable. There is no tougher movie in our American mainstream cinema this year than Biutiful. Compared to a film like Hereafter, it is the suicide bomb vs. the 100 virgins you party with after you are freed from your mortal coil. It’s the story of a man who is connected to The Dead finds out he is going to die himself and struggles mightily to tie up loose ends for his children and others whose lives he has touched, for better or worse. But Bardem… my God… he is not only 100% present in every moment we experience with him on screen, but he oozes empathy through all the harshness, never for a second falling into the sentimental, commanding the audience to stay with him… this is about you… this is about your soul… life is a scary ride, but here we go.

Robert Duvall is an Undeniable. One of our greatest actors and has been for decades. Get Low gives him room to perform to most of his strengths as an actor… all those colors, power seething under restraint. And then, he gives us one of the great one-person speeches, near the end of the film, and pulls it off brilliantly when it could have gone so wrong. This is the role that aging actors dream of finding… and Duvall wears it like a handmade glove.

Jesse Eisenberg is an Undeniable. His “Mark Zuckerberg” is not only the single most unforgettable character of the year so far, his reading of Aaron Sorkin’s unique verbal music is definitive in The Social Network. Lots of great actors have made wonderful moments of Sorkin’s words, but Eisenberg seemed born to it, a perfect blending of an actor’s unique being and a writer’s precision.

Colin Firth is an Undeniable. Last year, he broke through the awards ice with an unexpected, tortured, desperate man whose façade had all the charm of, well, Colin Firth. This year, his is still under siege, but his own mind is responsible in The King’s Speech. It’s closer to roles that we have known Firth in over the years, but a great balance between his ascendant prince, an uncommon Australian, and a wife who has a clear vision of the entire chess board makes audiences want to scoop up all three actors and thank them for being.

James Franco is an Undeniable. He holds the audience in his palm from the third minute of 127 Hours (when we first really see him) until the very last moment, when he hands it all back to the real Aron Ralston for a closing bow. It is a tribute to Franco and Boyle and the whole team that something as tightly defined as being stuck in a narrow passage of rock for more than 5 days feels like so much more. But first, it is on Franco. As an audience, we cannot disconnect from him for a single moment or the illusion is over. And we don’t.

That’s five. And that doesn’t start to take into account the performances that are on the way from reigning Oscar champ Jeff Bridges, Hollywood favorite Mark Wahlberg, and nice-to-see-you-back Jack Nicholson, at least two of which look like Undeniables in the making.

That’s seven, folks.

So whom do you leave out?


Trailering The Way Back

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Gurus o’ Gold – A Post Toronto Look At The Field

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Updated on 10/11/10, 3p… adding Guru #15, Emanuel Levy and a few adjustments to others…

Trailering Peter Weir’s The Way Back

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Trailering Peter Weir’s The Way Back

Gurus o’ Gold – A Pre-Toronto Look At The 2010/11 Field

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Welcome to the first Gurus gathering of this upcoming season.

It always seems a little silly to offer strong opinions before the Toronto International Film Festival has even begun. So we don’t. Consider these a gentle guide to what the buzz is, very early in the season.

We asked The Gurus to offer their 15 favorites to end up nominated for Best Picture come January. No ranking, No “sure things.” Just instinct and as much insight as is possible at this moment.

Last year, we did the same and the result was that The Gurus hit seven of the final ten in their Top Ten from this long distance. Two more were picked in the Top Sixteen. And the only film to get nominated that was nowhere to be found on this early list? The Blind Side. (Perhaps that explains the shock from the media when it got nominated… even after becoming a well-reviewed massive box office hit.) So maybe this early poll isn’t really all that silly .

Is there a stone unturned this year? Well, not Stone, which got a vote from Pete Howell. And not Tree of Life, which got 4 votes last year at this time… and just 3 votes this time around (2 of them from the same Gurus as last year).

This is not the look for the future of Gurus moving forward. But our team is designing a databased system that will launch when Gurus goes full-out in November. So, until then…

UPDATE, 9/7/10 – The last three Gurus have now chimed in.

The Participating Gurus
Anthony Breznican – USA Today
Greg Ellwood – Hitfix
Pete Hammond – Deadline Hollywood
Eugene Hernandez – indieWIRE
Pete Howell – Toronto Star
Dave Karger – Entertainment Weekly
Mark Olsen – LA Times
David Poland – Movie City News
Steve Pond – The Wrap
Sean Smith – Entertainment Weekly
Sasha Stone – Awards Daily
Kris Tapley – In Contention
Anne Thompson -indieWIRE
Susan Wloszczyna – USA Today

Scott Admires Power Of The Natural World In Films High Up In Telluride

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Scott Admires Power Of The Natural World In Films High Up In Telluride

Peter Weir Does The DGA Quarterly Interview

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Peter Weir Does The DGA Quarterly Interview With Riff-Rafferty


Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Twenty-four new feature films to preview in Festival’s main program, the ‘SHOW’

Claudia Cardinale, Colin Firth and Peter Weir to receive Silver Medallion Awards

Special revival programs selected by Guest Director Michael Ondaatje

Telluride, CO – Telluride Film Festival (September 3-6, 2010), presented by the National Film Preserve is proud to announce its 2010 Festival program. Twenty-four new feature films presented by their creators in the Festival’s main program; six programs curated by 2010 Festival Guest Director Michael Ondaatje; twenty-five new short films; plus thirteen documentaries screening in the Backlot program. Celebrating works from over twenty countries, Telluride Film Festival opens Friday, September 3 and runs through Monday, September 6, 2010.

Frenzy on the Wall: 10 Movies to See This Fall/Winter

Monday, August 30th, 2010

I write this column every year. In fact, I write this column three times a year, with the changing of the movie seasons. The interesting thing about writing this particular column at this particular time in this particular year is: 1) this has been such an unfathomably terrible year at the movies that the fall has never been more important and 2) never has a fall/winter movie season looked so appetizing from afar.

What’s most astounding to me about this year’s fall crop is that there are movies that I couldn’t fit on this list that I’m still dying to see; movies like Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Ben Affleck’s The Town, Casey Affleck’s I’m Still Here, the documentary Catfish, Stone, Red, Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, Todd PhillipsDue Date, Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, Doug Liman’s Fair Game, the new Harry Potter movie, Love and Other Drugs, Julie Taymor’s The Tempest, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Tourist, Julian Schnabel’s Miral, and Blue Valentine.

These are all movies I cannot wait to go see, yet none of them cracked the top ten list of the movies I most want to see before the year is over.

So without further ado, these are the ten movies that I am most excited to see this fall:

Never Let Me Go (Dir. Mark Romanek) – September 17th

Considering that Romanek has only directed one feature previously – the underrated One Hour Photo – it might be somewhat surprising for me to include his sophomore feature on this list. But when one looks at the music videos he’s directed, it’s clear that this is a man who has a distinct vision and a unique way of bringing that vision to life. I’ll always remember the scene in One Hour Photo when Robin Williams is running through a parking structure and the way the camera follows him, creating a sense of uneasiness in the viewer just by the way the camera tracks him down the parking garage as he runs in circles.

Here, Romanek is working with a peculiar storyline that follows three young people (played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley) as they grow up in a very different kind of school. Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and adapted for the screen by Alex Garland, this promises to be something like a Michael Bay film (like The Island) as filtered through the lens of a Merchant-Ivory sensibility. I don’t know about you guys, but that definitely has my interest piqued.

The Social Network (Dir. David Fincher) – October 1st

I’ve made no secret of my love for David Fincher throughout my years writing this column. I put him on a pedestal with a handful of other directors across the world as one of the visionaries of cinema. I just find that Fincher never takes the easy approach and has a very particular vision that never ceases to amaze me. The way that Fincher handles the mise-en-scene of his films is always just a little bit off-kilter, just like his camera and the lighting; he is one of the best in the business at creating a certain mood and sustaining it throughout the running time of the film.

Here, Fincher works from a script by the Aaron Sorkin, who has such a great sense of dramatic tension and who writes dialogue better than almost anyone. To have Fincher’s visuals matched up to Sorkin’s dialogue sounds like a such a treat that I can barely contain myself. And that was before watching one of the best trailers that has ever been cut before. If you haven’t watched the preview for The Social Network, do yourself a favor and watch it now.

Anybody who refers to this film as “the Facebook movie” is someone who clearly doesn’t have a strong interest in film. For us geeks, we call it “the Fincher film.” He’s reached that echelon for me where it really doesn’t matter what the subject matter of his film is, I know he will elevate it to something of merit artistically. I also think that Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield are going to smash it out of the park playing the Facebook founders. And being a fan of Justin Timberlake’s work on SNL, I’m excited to see what he can do in the hands of a master filmmaker. This is my number 1 must-see film of the year.

Jackass 3-D (Dir. Jeff Tremaine) – October 15th

Lest you think I’m some kind of film snob, this is the comedy I’m most excited to see this year. I don’t know what to tell you; you either love this stuff or you hate it. All I know is that the first two installments in this franchise had me crying with laughter. Comedy is such an instinctual thing and I will never be able to explain to you logically why I find it hilarious to watch a man get hit in the face by a giant hand. What these sick bastards do just entertains me to no end, but I understand completely why someone would be off-put by their antics.

But I’m going to be there opening night and I imagine I’ll laugh til’ I cry once again.

Black Swan (Dir. Darren Aronofsky) – December 1st

I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Wrestler. I mean, I thought it was fine and I enjoyed it for the most part, but I thought it was a bit of a let-down from what I had come to expect from Darren Aronofsky. The three features he had directed previous to that film were complicated and implored the viewer to open their minds and think long and hard about the narratives presented. I felt like The Wrestler was Aronofsky recharging his batteries after the difficult – and beautiful – The Fountain. He was trying to go back to telling a story that had a very clearly defined beginning, middle and end. While I enjoyed seeing Aronofsky tell a more conventional story, I longed to see him tell a story that engaged my brain a bit more.

Well, it seems like that’s exactly what Aronofsky has in store for us with Black Swan, a thrilling tale of ballet and horror starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Portman is one of the most talented young actresses of her generation, but it seems like she’s been a bit stuck as of late. I admire that she’s taken risks in films like Brothers and The Other Boleyn Girl, but it seems like she’s been trying a bit too hard to break away form a certain kind of mold and has been miscast in films where she’s been forced to be a too…adult. Despite the fact that she’s now 29, she still looks so young that it’s hard to take her seriously as the mother of two young children (as she was in Brothers).

But as a young ballet dancer who’s beset by psychological turmoil when a rival joins the company, I think she could potentially hit that out of the park. Portman was never better than she was in Closer, playing up a mixture of vulnerability and sexual empowerment, and it seems like Black Swan might present her with a role that straddles that same line. I’m excited to see what kind of magic Aronofsky and Portman can bring to the table.

The Fighter (Dir. David O. Russell) – December 10th

I just re-watched I Heart Huckabees later and I still feel, six years later, that it is one of the most underrated films that has been released in the past decade. Never before (or since) in my lifetime have I felt like the critical community so missed the mark when it came to reviewing a film. I hate to be one of those assholes who says, “well, they just didn’t get it!” but when it came to that particular film and the critical community…well, they just didn’t get it!

It is such a funny film in a deadpan way, yet it speaks to a lot of the existential issues we all face on a day to day basis. Namely, it deals with a specific feeling that a lot of youth faces today: how do we make a difference and can we make that difference without sacrificing our ideals? More than that, it’s about how we navigate the murky waters of today and how people that seem to be our polar opposite are, in the end, exactly the same as us.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a pretty big David O. Russell fan (and I haven’t even gotten into the brilliance of Three Kings!) and I think Mark Wahlberg has done a lot of his best work while being directed by Russell. Here, Wahlberg plays a real-life boxer named Mickey Ward and Christian Bale plays his trainer and half-brother Dickie Eklund, who was an addict. Bale playing an addict, Wahlberg playing a boxer, directed by the great David O. Russell? I mean, who isn’t excited about this project?

How Do You Know (Dir. James L. Brooks) – December 17th

Spanglish was awful (except for the scene where Adam Sandler makes that delicious looking sandwich) and the trailer for this film looks absolutely terrible. But this is James L. Brooks we’re talking about. The man makes a movie every six years if we’re lucky and more often than not, he’s hit the mark.

Brooks tries to make a very specific kind of film each time out: films that defy conventional plot descriptions and deal with adult themes that are tonally difficult to figure out. In other words, he makes films that are neither comedies nor dramas, but contain elements of both. Some weirdos call these films “dramadies” but I don’t think Brooks’ films can be labeled so easily.

This latest film involves a love triangle between Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Owen Wilson. Jack Nicholson plays Rudd’s father. There’s some kind of accounting scandal and at least one of the leads is a professional baseball player. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the film is “about” because James L. Brooks films are all about the how rather than the why.

Sure, if you boil down most of his films to the bare essentials, they are about a boy and a girl and falling in love and yadda yadda yadda. But, the emotions and themes are never that shallow and even when he stumbles, he always makes something that is worth considering.

Somewhere (Dir. Sofia Coppola) – December 24th

I think Sofia Coppola is capable of being one of the best filmmakers alive. I think her first two films (Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation) are about as close to perfect as two films can be. I also think that her last film (Marie Antoinette) was one of the most disappointing that I’ve ever seen – beautiful to look at, to be sure, but interminable and without a plot. I think Coppola made a mistake in trying to make a film that was outside her comfort zone before she had truly mastered her particular milieu. In other words, I think she tried to stretch before she was ready. Perhaps she’ll never be ready, but I do know that he first two films had a wisdom to them that cannot be learned.

With this film, it seems like Coppola is returning to Lost in Translation territory in that we have a movie star – this time played by Stephen Dorff – lounging around a hotel and trying to find himself. The catalyst for his potential change comes in the form of his daughter (played by Elle Fanning).

The few clips I’ve seen have made the film feel very familiar and a bit derivative of Coppola’s own work. But I have more faith in her than that and I’m hoping that this film is as good as I expect all of her work to be. It won’t be a comeback film if it’s as excellent as it should be because Coppola has never been anything less than brilliant. But even brilliant artists make mistakes. Here’s hoping this isn’t one of them.

True Grit (Dir. The Coen Brothers) – December 25th

I have no feeling one way or another for the original film version of True Grit, starring John Wayne. I thought it was fine enough, but not exactly a scared cow of cinema. So it doesn’t bother me that much that someone decided it might be a good film to revisit and remake. And it certainly doesn’t bother me that the Coen Brothers are the ones who decided to remake it. And it CERTAINLY doesn’t bother me that Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper decided to join the cast.

The crucial role in the film will be played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, as the young girl who enlists the aid of a US Marshall to track down her father’s murderer. That man is, of course, Rooster Cogburn – originally played by Wayne and now played by The Dude himself, Jeff Bridges.

Honestly, if you’re a film fan at all and you’re reading this column, do I really have to give you reasons to see the newest Coen Brothers flick?

The Way Back (Dir. Peter Weir) – December

This one doesn’t have a firm release date yet, but when I hear the name “Peter Weir,” I instinctively know that it’s going to be an expertly made film, from the hands of a true craftsman. What I find most fascinating about Weir is that I don’t know that I’d call him an “auteur” because each of his films feel so different. I can’t say that there’s a definitive “Weir style” or that he’s explored a specific theme and returning to it many times over the course of his career.

Instead, Weir has been a bit of a chameleon. He doesn’t work that often, but when he does, he makes films that cause me to say, “wow, I need more Peter Weir in my life!” Whether he’s making Fearless, Green Card, Witness, The Mosquito Coast, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Truman Show, or Master and Commander, he’s always delivering something astounding.

With his latest film, The Way Back, he’s making a film that has perhaps one of the most fascinating premises of the year: it’s the true story of a group of soldiers who escaped a Siberian gulag in the 1940s and walked 4000 miles to freedom in India. It stars Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Mark Strong, and Saoirse Ronan. It’s the first script written entirely by Weir since Green Card, so we know it must be an important story for him to tell.

Whenever it winds up being released, I’m sure we can count on it being gorgeous to look at and thoroughly engaging at the very least.

Tree of Life (Dir. Terrence Malick) – ?Who Knows?

I’ve put this on every damned list for the last two years. It’s the latest Terrence Malick film, it’s got Brad Pitt and Sean Penn and potentially dinosaurs. It’s shrouded in secrecy despite the fact that it stopped shooting two years ago. It’s about a family in Texas as well as the creation of the world we live in and somehow, those things will merge or run parallel to one another or something. It will be the most beautiful film we’ll see all year and it’ll most likely blow our minds…

…if Malick stops cutting it and lets it get released.

This used to be the one film I was most excited to see. After having waited for it for so long, it seems even further away. It doesn’t even seem realistic that I’ll see it anymore, like it’s a specter or a mirage. It’s somewhere in the distant at all times, taunting me with its beauty and brilliance. Please, Terry Malick, stop playing games with my heart and let me see this damned thing already!