With 2010 about to fade into our rearview, it's time to pay our respects to a year that produced its share of very good movies, but precious few great ones. It was a year dominated by memorable performances in supporting roles – Christian Bale as a crack-addicted burnout in The Fighter, John Hawkes as a rough-and-tumble hillbilly in Winter's Bone, Jacki Weaver as an insidious matriarch in the overlooked Australian import Animal Kingdom – and the visual bravura of Inception, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and TRON: Legacy.
The weather outside is frightful, the fiery resurgence of Mike Singletary's 49ers so delightful, but if you've no place to go, check out one of these fine films at the city's venerable collection of indie theaters.
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., 415-621-6120
When: Dec. 9
If your post-holiday plans don't involve football and a tryptophan-induced nap, make your way to Embarcadero Center, where some of this year's strongest Oscar contenders, including 127 Hours and Fair Game, are now playing. Check out the Castro's two-day celebration of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, beginning Saturday. Or update your Netflix queue to include John Hughes' classic Thanksgiving comedy Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Happy Turkey Day!
1. Animal Kingdom
In April 2003, a falling boulder pinned Aron Ralston to the wall of Utah's remote Blue John Canyon for nearly five days, forcing the 27-year-old mountain climber to amputate his right arm in a desperate bid to survive.
In bringing his story to the screen, Danny Boyle deftly avoids the obvious stumbling blocks, transforming a mostly one-man show with a well-publicized ending into arresting drama that speaks not only to Ralston's implacable will but also to the durability of the human spirit. Boyle has described 127 Hours as an action movie about a man who can’t move, and the description is apt. Ralston’s existential struggle seems almost to sprint to its grisly conclusion.
Danny Boyle has directed stories about rage-driven zombies, Scottish junkies on the lam, and an unlikely game-show champion educated on the unforgiving streets of Mumbai, but never has he accepted a challenge as daunting as 127 Hours.
Inspired by the real-life ordeal of mountain climber Aron Ralston, pinned to the wall of Utah’s Blue John Canyon for nearly five days by an errant boulder, Hours, which opens Friday, finds the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire director and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy pulling their most ambitious trick to date – translating the agony of a man totally immobilized into riveting, briskly paced drama.
When Bob Rosenthal, executor of Allen Ginsberg’s estate, first approached filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman in 2005, asking them to do the seemingly impossible – adapt Ginsberg’s 1956 epic poem Howl for a movie – they immediately accepted his challenge. But how to do it?
“There was no way we were going to make the 50th anniversary, but we made the 55th,” says Friedman, 59. He and Epstein, an Oscar-winner for 1984’s The Times of Harvey Milk, had previously directed The Celluloid Closet, a 1995 documentary chronicling the history of gays in cinema.
The second Oakland Underground Film Festival kicks off tonight at the historic Grand Lake Theater with South by Southwest Film Festival favorite Thunder Soul, about the charismatic band leader who turned an inner-city Houston high school's jazz band into a powerful funk outfit, and American Grindhouse, a revealing documentary about cheerfully trashy exploitation cinema. Elsewhere:
The 34th Toronto International Film Festival, billed by organizers as "the most important festival after Cannes," concluded Sunday, Sept. 19, with the announcement of this year's Audience Award winner: The King's Speech, Tom Hooper's account of Bertie (A Single Man's Colin Firth), the man who overcame a humiliating stutter to become King George VI. (Bay Area moviegoers will get a sneak peek of Speech when it opens the 33rd Mill Valley Film Festival on Thursday, Oct. 7, at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center.) Here's an account of the 10-day Toronto festival's highlights, lowlights and (almost) everything in between.
Oscar-winning documentarians Rob Epstein (The Times of Harvey Milk) and Jeffrey Friedman (Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt) celebrate the life and poetry of Allen Ginsberg with their most audacious undertaking to date: Howl, a rousing, almost hallucinatory cinematic interpretation of the author's most famous work and an effective re-enactment of the 1957 obscenity trial, held in San Francisco, that made it famous.