Though Lars von Trier is often hailed (or derided, depending on your sensibilities) as European cinema’s foremost provocateur, let’s not sell Michael Haneke short. The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane recently described the German-born auteur as “unsmiling,” but that doesn’t go far enough. Haneke is an art-house terrorist, and I say that with no small admiration. He confronts us with images ranging from the vaguely unsettling to the downright appalling, and our discomfort is his reward.
You might expect Denzel Washington to seem intimidating. At 55, he’s a two-time Oscar winner, the broad-shouldered star of Glory and Training Day, an actor who commands the screen with effortless authority. Despite his iconic stature, he can disappear into a role with ease, but at the end of the day he remains one of Hollywood’s most recognizable leading men. Introductions are unnecessary.
He offers one anyway. “Call me Eli,” he says, flashing the thousand-watt smile that inspired People to name him Sexiest Man Alive in 1996.
Ballads of whiskey, women and heartbreak are a country music cliché, the wistful laments of road-weary troubadours resigned to lives of mistakes and regret.
Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) leads just such a life. Some country crooners sing the blues for the money, but Bad is the genuine article. He has walked away from every relationship he's ever known, drunk himself into a stupor more times than he can remember, and fathered a son, now in his 20s, that he's never met. Once he played to packed houses, but when we meet him he's preparing for his latest show – at a bowling alley, with a pickup band – by drowning himself in the hard stuff.
Don’t bother trying to understand the curious logic of Daybreakers, in which the world of the not-too-distant future is overrun with vampires and mankind teeters on the brink of extinction.
It’s a familiar scenario, treated oh-so-seriously by Australian directors Michael and Peter Spierig, whose no-budget 2005 debut, Undead, was sloppy but diverting enough to earn them a call-up to the bigs. This time they’ve upped the ante with expensive-looking CGI, handsome cinematography and a veteran cast featuring Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, and the improvement is marked.
You’ve got to admire Terry Gilliam even when his madcap experiments shatter the test tubes. The former Python is the ultimate independent filmmaker. He has worked within the studio system before, often frustrating the moneymen, but you get the feeling he’d rather burn the negatives than conform to their whims. He is not, as they say, a company man.
Michael Cera has established himself as the sensitive, self-effacing symbol of geek chic, whose trademark monotone seems at once unassuming and laden with irony. In Miguel Arteta’s Youth in Revolt, he cuts loose. Nobody will confuse Francois, his chain-smoking, mustachioed wild-man, with the sort of characters played by Jack Black, a master at embodying the untamed id. But it’s a refreshing change of pace.
Cera plays two roles here: Nick, a shy, retiring teen, and Francois, his rascal of an alter ego. Nick is polite, virginal and far too timid to land the girl of his dreams. That would be the lovely Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), who has a boyfriend but seems open to collecting another.
If you’ve seen one Final Destination movie, you’ve seen them all. Actors drift in and out of the series, forever linking themselves to the mythology dreamed up a decade ago by screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick, but their on-screen fate remains as inevitable as death itself. The reaper is coming, and he doesn’t take no for an answer.
It is the dawn of a new decade, a time for reflection and self-improvement. In that spirit, I humbly submit my list of movie-related resolutions, complete with links. If you'd like to suggest any New Year's resolutions for me, yourself or anyone else, feel free to drop me a line.
The final days of December are not just an excuse to eat, drink and be merry, but also to organize our most beloved cultural offerings into a series of lists. Who am I to buck the trend? With 2009 winding to a close, the time is right to reflect on the past decade and the movies that made it great. Among those honored: Michel Gondry, the French-born auteur whose Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Science of Sleep proved two of the most poignant romances in recent memory, and Jake Gyllenhaal, the quietly effective star of Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain and Zodiac.
If there remains any doubt that Jason Reitman has arrived as one of Hollywood’s most gifted young directors, Up in the Air, his incisive new comedy about a corporate hatchet man who flies the friendly skies from one soul-crushing gig to the next, should put it to rest.
Reitman, 32, was determined early on to follow in the footsteps of his father Ivan, who directed hit ’80s comedies including Stripes and Ghostbusters. He was equally determined not to hitch a ride on dad’s coattails.
So by the time he got to college he’d made a difficult choice.