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FEATURE COLUMN

Movie Talk with Greg Malmborg

An Entertainment Column

 


Welcome to Movie Talk, my new bi-weekly column. I want to thank all of you again who took the time to e-mail me your thoughts, comments, and ideas. It was very insightful. I also want to encourage more of you to e-mail me any comments on the topics I discuss or any ideas for the column. And as I said before, I will post some reader comments when I feel it is appropriate and I will run contests from time to time (no prizes, just recognition).

 

BEST OF 2003

 

So here we are in 2004, 2003 is long gone and it is time for my top 10 lists for best films, best performances by actors (lead and supporting combined), and best performances by actresses (lead and supporting combined).  Let me not waste any time:

 

Top 10 Films of 2003

 

Mystic River – Profoundly moving, deeply felt drama that is quite simply the best film since The Godfather with two of the best performances in film history and a supporting cast matched by no other.

 

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – Emotional, riveting conclusion to the best fantasy trilogy of all time.  A masterpiece that will be remembered.

 

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World - The most powerful $135 million art film ever made.  Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany were just brilliant together, and Peter Weir took us places we’ve never been before.

 

In America – The most heartfelt, sweet-natured and best-written film of the year with simply brilliant directing and great performances all around.  Leaves a lump in your throat and warmth in your heart.

 

Big Fish – The most creative, original, and emotional film of the year; with some of the most memorable and touching scenes I’ve seen in a long time.  This is Tim Burton’s masterpiece.

 

Seabiscuit - The year’s most inspiring film, with great performances, exciting action sequences and a truly heartwarming story.

 

The Last Samurai – Terrifically satisfying epic in the tradition of Braveheart, Dances with Wolves, and Gladiator.  Intense performances, exciting action sequences, and emotional drama highlight this great film.

 

Open Range - The best western I’ve seen since Tombstone and Unforgiven.  Costner captures the spirit of the western and brings out Robert Duvall’s best performance in a decade.

 

Finding Nemo – A sure Oscar winner for Best Animated Film, and a wonderfully clever, poignant, and hilarious family film with some of the best animation I’ve ever seen.

 

Lost in Translation – Funny and poignant tale of mid-life crisis with a very charming, funny, and witty performance by Bill Murray and an equally strong performance from actress-of-the-moment Scarlett Johansson.

 

Honorable Mentions: The House of Sand and Fog, Whale Rider, 21 Grams, The Missing, 28 Days Later, Elf, Love Actually, Raising Victor Vargas, School of Rock, Bad Santa

 

Top 10 Performances by an Actor

 

Sean Penn in Mystic River – Close to the best performance I’ve ever seen in film, no joke.  The Oscar already has his name printed on it.  This is the performance of a lifetime for Penn.

Tim Robbins in Mystic River – The best performance of a stellar career, Robbins is heartbreaking and devastatingly real as this sadly tortured soul. 

Benicio Del Toro in 21 Grams – Electrifying and truly memorable performance from one of the best actors in film today.   

Ken Watanabe in The Last Samurai – Overshadows the best performance of Tom Cruise’s career with this powerful, iconic performance as the great, wise samurai leader.

Ben Kingsley in The House of Sand and Fog – Understated, yet extremely powerful performance with one of the most devastating climatic scenes in recent memory.

Djimon Hounsou in In America – A surprisingly emotional, impassioned performance of a dying man finding life through a family trying to repair itself. 

Bill Murray in Lost in Translation – Very charming and funny performance (as always), yet more understated than a normal Murray performance and even poignant at times (which is what makes it so special and memorable).

Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean – The funniest and most entertaining performance of the year.  Depp single-handedly turned an average action movie into the year’s biggest hit.

Russell Crowe in Master and Commander – Crowe should now be thrust into the category of ‘can’t miss’, where Tom Hanks resides.  Another brilliant performance.

Robert Duvall in Open Range – Another great performance from one of the quirkiest actors around, Open Range used his unique personality and skill to perfection.

 

Honorable Mentions:  Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, Jude Law in Cold Mountain, Sean Penn in 21 Grams, Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa, Paul Giamatti in American Splendor, Paul Bettany in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Albert Finney in Big Fish, Jack Black in School of Rock, Paddy Considine in In America, Jack Nicholson in Something's Gotta Give

 

Top 10 Performances by an Actress

 

Charlize Theron in Monster – Amazing transformation for Theron, and I’m not talking about her appearance in this film.  It’s her internal transformation as an actress that is so amazing to watch, she truly inhabits this tortured, lost soul of a character to provide this award-worthy performance.

Naomi Watts in 21 Grams – The most ferocious, gutsy, and memorable performance of the year in a film filled with great performances.  She let it all hang out there and this will establish Watts as one of the few great actresses in film today.

Jennifer Connelly in The House of Sand and Fog – Very memorable, very real performance that is even better than her Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind performance.

Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday – The funniest, most entertaining female performance of the year in one of the surprisingly best-written films of the year, Curtis gives the role everything she has and it pays off.

Diane Keaton in Something's Gotta Give – Charming, intelligent and witty performance in which Keaton manages to upstage Jack Nicholson (no easy feat), and in doing so gives her best performance since Annie Hall.

Shohreh Aghdashloo in The House of Sand and Fog – The most interestingly memorable performance I’ve seen this year, she has almost no dialogue yet her expressions of pain, fright, and loss give off more emotion than most actresses do with pages of dialogue.

Emma Thompson in Love Actually – She may not have a lot of screen time, yet she is the emotional core of the film with one of the best scenes of the year.

Marcia Gay Harden in Mystic River – In a film full of absolutely riveting performances, Harden gives one of the best and shattering performances of the year.  She is a lock to get a nomination.

Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale Rider – One of the most moving and heartfelt performances by a child actress in decades.

Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation – Great, understated yet emotional performance from one of the hottest young actresses in Hollywood.

 

Honorable Mentions:  The two little girls in In America, Hope Davis in American Splendor, Holly Hunter in thirteen, Laura Linney in Mystic River, Charlotte Rampling in Swimming Pool, Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Volume 1, Agnes Bruckner in Blue Car, Samantha Morton in In America, Cate Blanchett in The Missing, Melissa Leo in 21 Grams

 

So there you have it, my top 10 lists for 2003 (note: there are a few performances I have yet to see that are generating some buzz such as Alec Baldwin in The Cooler, Peter Sarsgaard in Shattered Glass, and Patricia Clarkson in Pieces of April).  2003 was not a great year in film and that’s because the first ten months of the year were filled with average to horrible films (excluding only a few like Seabiscuit, Open Range, Finding Nemo and Whale Rider).  But the last two months of the year were just chock full of good to great films, with each weekend having two to three new, great films and two masterpieces thrown in (The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Mystic River).  How about spreading it out a bit, huh?

 

The Top 10 films were difficult to put together, and there was an especially strong top 5 for 2003.  Surprisingly enough, my top 5 are all big studio films and they are all terrific Oscar-worthy films.  Most years, I tend to go with more independent films, which have always tended to be more creative, original, and risky than the big studio films that come out.  But this year was different; the big studio films delivered in a big way (like The Lord of the Rings, Master and Commander, Big Fish, The Last Samurai, and Mystic River) and took just as many, if not more risks than the lot of independents to come out.

 

WORST OF 2003

 

I couldn’t do a best of list without a worst of list.  So here are my choices for the Top 10 worst films of 2003:

 

Legally Blonde 2 – Put this series to bed immediately, Reese Witherspoon is just too talented for recycled crap like this.

 

The Real Cancun – Hopefully that will be the end of reality TV based movies.

 

Boat Trip – Cuba Gooding should immediately fire his agent, because there is not one reason on earth why an Oscar-winner is in a piece of crap like this.

 

National Security – Martin Lawrence should go back to stand-up, he’s on this list twice (he’s on the worst of list almost every year).

 

They – The most pathetic excuse for a horror movie, just horrible to sit through.

 

From Justin to Kelly – Here’s to America, where we now know we’ll never have another movie based off of American Idol (because this movie thankfully bombed big time at the box office).

 

Dreamcatcher – The most incoherent, ludicrous film of the year, the book had to have been better than this garbage.

 

The Cat in the Hat – Please go back to Saturday Night Live, Mike Meyers…Please!!  Spare us!

 

Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd – They touched sacred ground here and failed so miserably that the Dumb and Dumber name needs to be stripped from this movie.

 

Gigli – Yes, it was seriously bad, but it was not the absolute worst thing I’ve ever seen.  The media was really after Affleck and Lopez this year.

 

Honorable Mentions:  Deliver Us From Eva, Hollywood Homicide, The Guru, Tomb Raider 2, The Order, Bad Boys 2, Head of State, Freddy vs. Jason, Spun, Basic

 

Please send me your thoughts and comments on my best and worst of 2003 lists.  I’m interested in what you guys think…

 

Oscar Outlook

 

OSCAR PREDICTION TABLE

Best PictureMystic River, In America, Cold Mountain, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World

Best ActorSean Penn (Mystic River), Ben Kingsley (The House of Sand and Fog), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean), Russell Crowe (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World)

Best Actress – Jennifer Connelly (The House of Sand and Fog), Charlize Theron (Monster), Jamie Lee Curtis (Freaky Friday), Diane Keaton (Somethings Gotta Give), Naomi Watts (21 Grams)

Best Supporting Actor – Albert Finney (Big Fish), Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai), Benicio Del Toro (21 Grams), Djimon Hounsou (In America), Tim Robbins (Mystic River)

Best Supporting Actress – Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River), Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider), Hope Davis (American Splendor), Shohreh Aghdashloo (The House of Sand and Fog), Renee Zellweger (Cold Mountain)

Best Director – Clint Eastwood (Mystic River), Tim Burton (Big Fish), Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King), Jim Sheridan (In America), Peter Weir (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World)

Best Animated Feature FilmFinding Nemo (hands down winner, will not even put another nominee)

 

These are my predictions for the upcoming Oscar nominations, as well as my predicted winners (bolded) in each category.  Remember, these are my predictions of what and who will be nominated, not my top films of the year.  Meaning, Cold Mountain will probably get nominated even though it was only average (at best) and Renee Zellweger, who was nothing but annoying throughout the film, will probably be nominated and may even win (please no!). 

 

For Best Picture, I’m certain that both The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Mystic River will grab nominations, and I’m pretty certain on Cold Mountain.  That leaves two spots left, and more than likely it will be one big studio film and one independent film.  The big studio nomination is probably between Seabiscuit, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and Big Fish.  This is very close, but I’d go with Master and Commander even though all three of those films should be nominated over Cold Mountain.  The independent nomination would be between In America, Lost in Translation, and American Splendor.  All the heat has been on Lost in Translation, but I think the Academy will be smarter and go with the best, In America.

 

The nominations come out January 29 so we’ll see which direction the Academy goes.  Hopefully, they wise up and Cold Mountain is shut out and the more worthy films will get the glory (In America and Big Fish especially).

 

 

Feedback, Questions and Nonsense

 

“Greg, do you think that Return of the King will receive a lot of awards based on the strength of the entire trilogy or will it stand on its own?  I don’t think it would be fair to base it on the entire trilogy.” – Tom in San Jose, CA

 

Tom, after seeing the film, I not only realized that it was far and away the best film of the trilogy, but that it was one of the best films of the year and the best fantasy film of all time.  I think it is impossible not to base the film somewhat on what has preceded it, because these films are basically one big film chopped into three parts.  But I can say that the third part of this big film is the strongest, most emotionally resonant, and award-worthy of them all.

 

“You know, it is not easy to find a good, quality, non-animated family film that is funny for both kids and adults.  I thought Daddy Day Care was a good family film that both kids and adults can enjoy together… you were too harsh on it. ” – Ali in North Kingstown, RI

 

Well, maybe I was a bit too harsh on it, because it really wasn’t a horrible film.  It was just not very funny and it was very average.  I’m sick of Eddie Murphy doing all these average, unfunny family comedies.  And, as we’ve seen with Elf, a family comedy can actually be funny for kids and adults.

 

Love Actually should have been rated much higher than 3 and a half stars.  As romantic comedies go, it doesn’t get any better.” – April in Los Gatos, CA

 

I enjoyed Love Actually and I thought it was an excellent romantic comedy.  But it was not a five star film and there were a few scenes and characters that just didn’t work, so I had to knock it down a few notches.  But it’s still a very good film and 3 and a half stars is not bad at all.

 

Film Quickies at the Movie Theater

 

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

 

Profoundly moving, deeply satisfying, and thrilling conclusion to one of the most spectacular and unforgettable cinematic achievements of all time.  Every inch of this film is meticulously detailed, beautifully shot, and extraordinarily acted.  Any doubts on this being a letdown or disappointment of any kind are immediately squelched, this is the best fantasy film I have ever seen and the trilogy will go down as a classic.  But I should say that if you did not like the first two, you still probably won’t come away thinking this is the best you’ve ever seen, but you will still be awed and you will come away with a profound respect for the director, Peter Jackson.  If you loved or even just liked the first two, you will be moved and come out of this film completely satisfied.  Peter Jackson deserves all the credit for this amazing trilogy, and being that this was far and away the best of the three sections, he should be a lock to come away with the Best Director Oscar.  It is his attention to detail, his brilliant use of location and effects, his masterful work with the actors, and his unadulterated passion for The Lord of the Rings books that make this the best trilogy of our time.

 

My Rating – 5 stars out of 5

 

The Last Samurai

 

Stirring, thoughtful, and thrilling epic about the bond between two warriors whose values and honor bring them together in a time of war.  Director Edward Zwick does a phenomenal job of blending riveting action scenes, dramatic scenes of emotional power and sweeping scenes of the beautiful locations to capture the sense of place and culture.  The acting is nothing short of brilliant, from the lead down to the smallest supporting roles (especially by the Japanese actors).  Tom Cruise gives his most intense and passionate performance to date, and he obviously took a lot of time and dedication to learn the fighting techniques and culture of the ancient samurai.  The passion he has for this project leaps off the screen.  As great a performance as Cruise gives, Ken Watanabe is even better, giving a classic, iconic performance as the soulful, intelligent samurai leader.   The two actors also work so well together; the bond they form is believable and feels true (which is absolutely critical to the story).  There has been a bit of negativity from critical circles and the main criticism is not over anything about the film itself, but really that of Cruise.  Critics notoriously do not like Tom Cruise, and they are backlashing against the thought of Cruise’s character leading these samurai in battle.  So if you feel the same way about him, you also may have a problem with the film.  But this is truly a great performance from Cruise, and this is an intelligent, emotionally resonant, exciting, and thoughtful epic that should not be missed, and should not be hampered based on the star power of its lead.

 

My Rating – 4 stars out of 5

 

Something’s Gotta Give

 

Sharp, witty and very funny, this is one of the best romantic comedies of the year and it features two of film’s greatest actors.  Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson are hilarious, poignant, and real in this comedy about love and dating in the over-50 crowd.  There is a wonderful chemistry between the two leads that grounds the film in reality and provides some much needed emotional weight in an otherwise, very light-weight comedy.  Keaton is the standout; this is her best performance since Annie Hall and will probably earn her an Oscar nomination.  The supporting cast is all top notch; with Keanu Reeves giving a very charming and sophisticated performance (read that one again) and Frances McDormand is a scene-stealer as always.  The script is intelligent and witty, the direction is excellent, and the film is a funny, entertaining romp.

 

My Rating – 3 ½ stars out of 5

 

Stuck on You

 

Sweet, warm-hearted story about the bonds (literally) of brotherhood with two endearing and funny performances from Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear.  Do not make the mistake of thinking this is your typical Farrelly brothers film, with tons of gross-out gags and toilet humor.  This film has those things in very small doses (only conjoined twins sight gags, really) and is more of a straight arrow story.  The Farrelly brothers are more concerned with the story and with the emotions behind it.  In fact, the sight gags feel a little out of place and are the weakest parts of the film.  The most enjoyable aspect is the wonderful chemistry and sweet-natured performances by the two leads, it is their sweet ignorance that gets the laughs and there good spirit that puts a smile on your face.  But, overall, this is a very light-weight production and the Farrellys attempts at keeping that gross-out humor in there make the results a bit mixed.  Damon and Kinnear really give it their all and this alone is worth a look.

 

My Rating – 3 stars out of 5

 

Cold Mountain

 

Exquisitely directed, perfectly crafted epic that is more about the will to survive and the brutality and ridiculous nature of war than a love story.  The film plays very much like a well-made miniseries unfolding in rigid episodes with new characters introduced in each.  The problem with the film is the uneven quality of these ‘episodes’.  Some of these episodes contain the best scenes and filmmaking of the year (mainly the adventures of Jude Law’s character as he makes his way home) and then some other scenes (mainly the scenes between Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellwegger) fall embarrassingly flat and don’t feel like they should be part of the film.  It’s this uneven feel that is the main disappointment I had with it, because a good majority of the film is phenomenally well done.  Nicole Kidman felt miscast in this to me.  She does a wonderful job with the material but she just didn’t feel right to me.  Maybe it was the gorgeous hair and make-up on her after supposedly almost starving to death that bugged me.  And Renee Zellweger was utterly annoying and grating through the whole thing.  Every time she came on screen I had to cringe, her accent was just horrid and all she did was yell obnoxiously through the whole thing pretending to be so tough.  If she had downplayed the character, it would have fit better with the tone of the film and it would have been a welcome comic relief instead of a complete annoyance.  Jude Law does a great job in downplaying his sullen, quiet character.  The true joy of the film is all the supporting characters that come in and out of the story.  There are so many great ones, it’s hard to list them, but Natalie Portman and Philip Seymour Hoffman are the definite standouts.  Recast the two female leads and have them downplay their roles, and then Cold Mountain would have been a great film.  Instead, it’s merely good.

 

My Rating – 3 stars out of 5

 

House of Sand and Fog

 

Devastating and heart-wrenching film about a woman left with absolutely nothing, looking for anything resembling a life, and the immigrant family led by a man of pride and honor looking to secure the American dream for his family, and the depths to which both would go to get there.  This film is brilliantly scripted, swaying the viewer back and forth between sides, never settling on one being right or wrong.  The direction is also first rate, capturing a tone of despair and foreshadowing the terrible events to come.  This is one of those films that stay with you long after you’ve left the theater.  The House of Sand and Fog is really all about the acting though.  Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly deliver riveting, emotional, and Oscar-worthy performances.  Connelly gives an even better performance than her Oscar-winning turn in A Beautiful Mind, her performance is truly gripping and amazing.  She manages to make the viewer sympathize with her, hate her, and cry for her.  And Kingsley gives a thoroughly powerful and thought-provoking performance with an absolutely knock out climatic scene.  Just his glares and slight facial expressions speak volumes through most of the film, and when he finally breaks it is just devastating.  This is a riveting, tough, and unforgettable film that you will not leave without a tear in your eye.

 

My Rating – 4 stars out of 5

 

Monster

 

Charlize Theron gives one of the most surprising, revelatory performances in years, transforming herself both internally and physically to truly inhabit this sad, tortured, and pathetic woman.  In this brave performance, Theron digs deep and pours her own soul into this character.  She is almost a guarantee to win the Best Actress award this year, which will turn her career around.  She will no longer be just the hot babe in the film; she will actually get some meaty roles to chew on.  As phenomenal as she is in it, the film itself is nothing great or original.  The film makes excuses and tries to justify and rationalize the horrible killings this woman does with very mixed results.  The film just completely forgets that this woman is a convicted serial killer put to death for her horrendous crimes.  It is so one-sided that it comes across too heavy-handed.  The other problem is Christina Ricci as her lesbian love interest.  I’m not sure if the director wanted her to act so uncaring and flaky or if that’s just Ricci’s personality popping through, but it just flat out does not work.  If it weren’t for Theron’s gutsy performance, this would be a chore to sit through.

 

My Rating – 2 ½ stars out of 5

 

Big Fish

 

This is Tim Burton’s masterpiece, finally finding the right dramatic story to infuse his amazing skills with.  The story is classic, a son trying to connect with his father before he passes away, and the way in which it is delivered is so creative and so original, it just enhances every inch of the story.  The father is a born storyteller; always telling these amazing tales of his journeys in the South when he was a younger man, and his son feels like everything his father ever said to him was a lie.  In flashback, the father’s life, through his own eyes, is told and it intercedes with what is happening in the present (his reconciliation with his son).  Burton gets to use his phenomenal imagination, creating these extreme worlds and characters, and also play to his usual dark side.  The flashbacks are always entertaining, creative, and fun.  There are giants, witches, strange towns in the woods, and giant catfish and it is all played with a certain whimsy and dreamlike state.  But it is the reality of the story and who the father really is that hits emotionally.  Let me warn you, the film will probably have you in tears but the journey is worth it.  Albert Finney as the father gives a great performance as a man who would rather use his imagination than succumb to the truths of life.  The supporting cast is terrific, especially Danny Devito as a circus ringmaster with a secret.  This is a classic Burton film, entertaining, creative, and original but this film also adds something else to that formula: heart.

 

My Rating – 4 stars out of 5

 

In America

 

A moving, enchanting, and deeply felt film about the pain of losing a child and the profound effects that other people can generate in your family.  This is a very rich and moving story with simply wonderful acting and refreshing aura of hope.  The director, Jim Sheridan, infuses this film with so much love that it will get to even the most cynical of viewers.  The script is award-worthy, the direction is nothing short of perfect, the acting is tremendous, and the story is timeless.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  The two little girls who play the adorable sisters are miracles, they are so real, so sweet, and full of life.  Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton are also terrific as the parents, but it is Djimon Hounsou in a surprisingly strong performance as the stranger that enters their lives that provides the most emotional impact.  He deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this outstanding performance.  In America is a sweet little miracle of a film that everyone should see, that is just brimming with sentiment, soul and spirit.

 

My Rating – 4 ½ stars out of 5

 

Film Quickies at the Video Store

 

Anything Else–This is the perfect title for this movie, when you see it in the video store make sure to rent anything else.  This is one horrible film, with three uncompromisingly annoying performances (especially Christina Ricci) and no real story to speak of.  I think Woody Allen needs to call it quits because he has officially lost it.

 

My Rating – 1 star out of 5

 

Morvern Callar– I love independent filmmaking and I love when filmmakers come up with something new, original, and fresh.  This is new and fresh, but in the absolute worst way.  This is one of the films a film school student would make thinking it’s art when, in fact, it is absolute crap.  This is one of the worst, most boring films I’ve ever seen.  Avoid at all costs.

 

My Rating – 0 stars out of 5

 

My recommendation for today:

 

Rounders – In case you missed this amazing little film, go rent it and tell me what you think. Matt Damon and Ed Norton are terrific as poker sharks (rounders), one trying to go straight and the other trying to find more ways to cheat. Even if you’re not into gambling, this is a great character piece with some very tense and gripping scenes.

 

Talk to you again soon,

 

Greg Malmborg

gregm99@hotmail.com

 


 

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MovieTalk

Edition #10

 

Article Posted: Jan 20, 2004

 

Past Editions:

Dec 10, 2003

Oct 29, 2003

Sep 12, 2003

July 10, 2003

May 17, 2003

Apr 23, 2003

Mar 21, 2003

Mar 11, 2003

Feb 25, 2003

 

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