plot synopsis: A coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in 1960s suburban London, and how her life changes with the arrival of a playboy nearly twice her age.
A lot has been said about An Education so far, mostly about the supposed powerhouse, breakout performance from relative newcomer Carey Mulligan. And it’s all correct. This is one of the best films of the year.
Mulligan stars as Jenny, a brilliant young British girl growing up in the 1960s. She loves classical music, French films, and discussing Camus in coffee shops. So when along comes the dashing (but much older), and irresistibly charming David (Peter Sarsgaard), she falls head over heels for him. Even if everything else had been a failure, this film would’ve ultimately won me over from Mulligan’s performance alone. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Everything; from the beautifully done costumes, to the razor sharp script by Nick Hornby, to the superb supporting performances from a who’s who of British greats, is incredible.
But let’s start with Mulligan’s performance. I’ll be amazed if I see a better performance (in any category) this year. She manages to straddle this incredibly thin line of appearing to be this elegant, wiser-than-her-years woman, when, in actuality, she’s just another kid who doesn’t know the first thing about life being seduced and screwed up by someone who does (more or less). Endless comparisons have been made between her and Audrey Hepburn, and they’re all deserved. Every time she gives a smile (or more) to David, you just want to grab her and take her away from him so he can’t do anymore damage. These are the kinds of roles that make stars and win Oscars.
The supporting cast is also great, namely Alfred Molina (another good bet for Oscar) and Cara Seymour as Jenny’s parents. Molina’s simultaneous concern for his daughter’s future and disregard having the slightest idea of what she may want for herself is very hard to watch, while Seymour’s eyes give about 90% of her performance.
Finally, I want to give a special mention to the soundtrack, which, while it does include some legitimate 60s songs, also includes recordings from modern artists that may as well have been recorded 50 years ago. Beth Rowley’s “You’ve Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger” could be big very soon.
An Education is one of the best films of the year, and it’s just a matter of time before every hipster girl in America is doing everything they can to dress like Ms. Mulligan.
(extra note: really, carey? shia labeouf? you can do better…)
Directed by Stephen Daldry
I'm not going to lie, when I saw this as the fifth film nominated for Best Picture this year, I was livid. There seemed to be so many more deserving films; WALL-E, The Dark Knight, The Wrestler, etc. To be fair, however, I hadn't seen it. And while I still don't think it's even close to one of the five best films of the year, it is (behind Slumdog Millionaire and The Wrestler and ahead of Frost/Nixon and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) the third best of the nominees. The main problem with this film is that, for a film about Nazi's, none of the characters really elicited any sympathy from me. Winslet is brilliant, certainly deserving of the Oscar (though I wouldn't guarantee she'll win), but everyone else just seems to be coasting along for two hours. Still, I can recommend this film on Winslet's peformance alone.
I remember, back in November 2007, seeing a trailer for this film at the 8 Films to Die For Horrorfest. After seeing it before all eight films, I decided it looked like it could be a fun, scary, blood-spattering mess. Unfortunately, 14 months later, when it has bypassed a theatrical release and come straight to DVD, only the last word in that description applies. There are so many things wrong with this film writing about them in the general way would take up too much space, so i'll just list a few:
The film begins with about an hour of backstory on the three main characters, then proceeds to begin the actual film itself at about the 65 minute mark.
A character is introduced, then killed off, within about five minutes. No explanation is given to how this character got where they were, and they are never discussed again.
The film seems to make apologies for it's brutally sadistic villain in the final v.o. monologue of the film.
Jessica Lucas, so good in Cloverfield, is absolutely wasted. Instead, we get Katheryn Winnick and Laura Breckenridge, who are serviceable at best, awful at worst.
There are a ton more problems (not very scary, bad acting, etc. etc.), but I don't think it's fair to go into anymore of them. Just stay the hell away from this.
Directed by Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend seems to have become one of his lesser known films, despite the fact that it won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1945. This is understandable when your filmography includes classics like Some Like It Hot, Double Indemnity, The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard, etc. Regardless, this absolutely deserves inclusion in the list of his greatest films. Ray Milland is captivating as Don Birnam, a failed New York writer who spends a weekend more or less drinking himself to the brink of death. It's all you can do to gape at the screen when he lets loose one of his drunken monologues to bartender Nat (Howard Da Silva, as a perfect foil to Don). A beautiful Jane Wyman as Don's girlfriend Helen is also great. This is one of the true brilliant but mostly forgotten gems of the 40s (of which there are an infinite number).
Directed by Walter Salles
Gael Garcia Bernal is fantastic as a young Che Guevera traveleing across South America with his friend Alberto Granado. The film follows them all across the continent, leading to a leper colony where the help out as doctors, which certainly gives some insight into Guevera's transformation into a revolutionary later. The direction and cinematography is fantastic, with Salles and his cinematographer Eric Gautier capturing the natural beauty of the South American landscape in every shot.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
The film that inspired the tv series Alice won Ellen Burstyn an Oscar as a newly widowed woman who moves to Phoenix en route to Monterey with her son in tow, trying to become a singer. Suffice to say she gets caught up along the way. Burstyn is absolutely fantastic in a film that now seems radically uncharacteristic for Scorsese. Drags on a bit long, but the incredible dynamic between Burstyn and kid is well worth watching.
A day-laborer inadvertently gets mixed up in a deadly game of Russian Roulette. This is an 86 minute thrill ride that literally never lets go of you until the last credits roll. Some people may call it more of an exercise in style than substance, but I loved it.
About as interesting as a film about a FONT could possibly be. Which is not very. Manages to pick up the pace a little in the middle when they start talking about the "Helvetica backlash." Other than that, though, you'd have to be a graphic designer to really not be bored by this film.
A fascinating look at one of the most crime-ridden countries in the world, Brazil, and how certain people manage to survive there. Most interesting characters are the plastic surgeon who gets the majority of his business from reconstructing lopped off ears, and the mysterious "Mr. M" who sells bulletproof cars. Sometimes goes too far (particularly in the surgery scenes), but still absolutely worth a look.
A documentary on the life of outsider artist/author Henry Darger, who, throughout his life, wrote a 15,000+ page novel (unofficially considered the longest book ever written) about the "Vivian Girls." The story of Darger and the mystery surrounding his life and unglamorous death is actually more interesting than the film itself, though it was a very clever choice by Yu to have Dakota Fanning do the narration.
Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir is a documentary, but you would never guess by watching it. It's shot in fantastic animation, and really plays more like a war/history film (about the director's efforts to remember his part in the events leading up to and including the Sabra and Shatila massacre) that grabs you by it's enchanting visuals and then hooks you completely with it's unbelivable story.
Much like the films of the Dardenne brothers, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days or United 93, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, about an old man being pushed carelessly from hospital to hospital on a rainy Romanian night, doesn't create drama. It simply lets it's story unfold, and if drama should happen to come about, then it captures it. Otherwise, this is a brilliantly frank story of the problems with Romania's health-care system, and the cruelness some of its doctors can exhibit under stress.
Directed by Guillaume Canet
A modern French thriller that harkens back to the days of "don't let anyone in the theater after the first five minutes of the film" filmmaking, there are so many twists in this film I wouldn't dare ruin any of them for you. Add to that a brilliant performance by a man I hope will soon become commonplace (Francois Cluzet) and an assortment of characters you'd probably expect more in an American thriller than a French one, and you have proof that France is capable of making a lot more than just arthouse features.
Anyone who was maybe too young to get the enormity of the Enron scandal should check out this film. I had always been under the impression that the scandal was caused by just two or three main guys, but when you realize the amount of people who were doing things that were, at the very least unethical, it's really a shock. Gibney adds his own personal touches that have now become commonplace in his films (clever chapter titles, pop songs, "salty" language) that makes this rise above the standard PBS documentary.