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Is Joseph Gordon-Levitt a movie star? The folks in Hollywood certainly seem to think so. After leading indie films like (500) Days of Summer and 50/50 to wider success, Levitt has received key supporting roles in big movies like The Dark Knight Rises and the upcoming Lincoln. But while his latest film, Looper, may not have Christopher Nolan or Steven Spielberg at the helm, it can certainly still be classified as a bona fide blockbuster action flick for the young actor to headline.
And while he may not be as big of a name, writer-director Rian Johnson has proven his clout as a director with smaller movies like 2005′s Brick and 2008′s The Brothers Bloom. So when film geeks found out that he and Levitt (who also starred in Brick) were teaming up again with a bigger budget and a sci-fi plot, the excitement was palpable. And, as it turns out, that excitement was absolutely warranted. Looper is the kind of bold, grand Hollywood blockbuster that critics constantly hope for, but only see once or twice a year. It has a brain in its head and an artistic sparkle in its eye. And, quite simply, it’s the best movie of 2012, so far.
Levitt plays Joe, a wayward assassin living in the year 2044. Being a “looper”, his job is to kill rival gangsters sent back from the future. Thirty years beyond Joe’s time, time travel has been invented and it has also become impossible to dispose of dead bodies (hence why they’re sent back to Joe’s time for removal). But, of course, there is a catch: for the sake of simplicity, loopers are eventually sent their future selves to kill (thus completing the “loop”). When Joe’s future self (played by Bruce Willis) decides to fight back against his seemingly inevitable end, this sends young Joe into a race against time, the mob, and (quite literally) himself.
At its heart, Looper is a sci-fi blockbuster. However, despite featuring a gun-toting Bruce Willis, it actually goes fairly light on the shoot-’em-up action. Don’t get me wrong – there are enough chases and blood splatters to satisfy those looking for a high-octane thriller. But for audience members looking for a little more depth, it also offers some surprisingly complex moral questions, unique character development, and delicate artistry. Rian Johnson applies his stylized visuals perfectly to a bigger scope, but he also doesn’t lose the intimacy that made the hard-boiled Brick crackle with such electricity.
Joe is an undeniably complex protagonist. In many ways, he is despicable. But while he’s hedonistic and ruthless, he is not without remorse. And by juxtaposing him against his even more morally complex future self (Willis), it highlights the emotional toll that his lifestyle has hit him with. As does young Joe’s unique relationship with a young single mother, Sarah (Emily Blunt), who he meets while tracking his future self. While some might argue that the film takes a slower turn once Joe meets Sarah and her son, the tenuous, frayed bonds that are revealed between that trio of characters offers the film its emotional heft. Blunt, especially, shines as the strong but vulnerable Sarah, and it’s largely her nimble performance that gives the film’s finale such a punch.
And speaking of emotion, it’s easy to get swept up in the film’s beauty. Johnson creates an expansive, slightly off-kilter dystopic world that is bleakly stunning. Something as simple as a shot of a skyline or a cornfield drips with such melancholy that it’s nearly overwhelming. It’s hard to pin down what it is about Johnson’s anti-Americana vision that works so well, but somehow Looper comes out feeling like a grade-A Important Film because of it.
This is not a perfect film. While Joe, Sarah, and her son are interesting characters, other supporting players (especially those played by Piper Perabo and Noah Segan) seem to get discarded part way through, and never fulfill their potential to be impactful. A few plot twists feel overly convenient and ultimately pointless. However, for the most part, Johnson has created a well-structured, thoroughly engrossing blockbuster. At two hours long, it never drags, and I was happy to let myself be pulled along for the ride. While watching it, I almost forgot that it was a sci-fi movie where people fly around on hovering motorcycles. It just felt like a rich drama that I wanted to see more of. And if you ask me, that’s one of the biggest compliments that I can give to a film. Looper is the rare blockbuster that can knock you back with its visual flare and still stay on your mind long after the credits roll.
When one thinks of British monarchs, the word “stuffy” likely comes to mind. But the eponymous protagonist of The Young Victoria is anything but prim and proper, despite the best efforts of those around her.
The Young Victoria follows the life of a 17-year-old Queen Victoria (played by Emily Blunt) as she takes to the throne when her uncle dies. She faces adversity both from a jealous mother and an unruly public, and the film explores her first few years in power.
Part of what works so well about The Young Victoria is the small timeframe that Jean-Marc Vallee limits the story to. It gives the film an intimate feeling, and it’s a nice counterpoint to the sweeping epics that many films about royalty become. Though the subject matter is grand, the characters feel well-developed, authentic, and timeless.
This is partly thanks to some of the key performances. Blunt plays Victoria with just the right amount of modernity, and her performance is electric. Whether Victoria is playing with her pet dog or facing the wrath of the nation, Blunt embodies a woman who is trying to break free of the rigid limits imposed upon her perfectly.
Rupert Friend (Pride & Prejudice, Cheri) also gives a highly charming (but impactful) performance as Victoria’s suitor, Prince Albert. As the film progresses and his character becomes more unsettled, Friend proves that he can pull off the dramatic scenes just as aptly as the earlier light-hearted ones. He and Blunt have undeniable chemistry, and their joint work injects some fire into this occasionally dry film.
While The Young Victoria offers breathtaking costuming, a lovely score, and a visually impressive representation of life as a British monarch, it lacks the quality of storytelling and pacing that would make it a more compelling film. Victoria faces the disapproval of many of her subjects, yet the moments involving their unrest aren’t played out for full dramatic effect. Instead, most of the film’s interest lies in her relationship with Albert.
At parts, The Young Victoria drags. Paul Bettany is wasted as the bland Lord Melbourne, who serves as Victoria’s advisor, and the politics surrounding Victoria’s reign become tedious. The film’s real strength comes when it focuses on Victoria and her frustrations, insecurities, and relationships. Friend and especially Blunt add the proper spark to make the film well worth seeking out.
Charlie St. Cloud
I feel like an idiot for being excited for this movie, but I kind of am. Call it Zac Efron fangirl-ism if you want, but I think that Efron’s a surprisingly decent actor. Considering how fun he was in 17 Again, it’ll be interesting to see how he handles a fully dramatic role. By the looks of the trailer, Charlie St. Cloud seems a bit overly sappy, but Efron’s acting isn’t bad, from what I can tell, and it might be a good transition for him into weightier roles. It’s always a good sign when I’m more excited to see a movie after seeing the trailer, and even though it looks rather clichéd, I’m still interested.
I loved Emma Stone in films like Superbad, The Rocker, and Zombieland, so it’s great to see her getting her own movie. Easy A looks surprisingly good for a teen comedy, and with Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Lisa Kudrow, and Thomas Hayden Church in the supporting cast, I’m pretty much sold on this Scarlett Letter-inspired comedy.
Inception (trailer #3)
We’re finally kinda sorta getting some plot information, and it’s great to see all of the major players in the cast pop up in the third trailer for Christopher Nolan’s highly-anticipated Inception. I’m trying not to build it up to much in my mind, because it’ll be hard for it live up to my expectations, but this trailer is pretty awesome.
The Adjustment Bureau
What starts off as a rote romance film soon adds an interesting twist to the political thriller genre in this trailer for the latest Matt Damon vehicle. Damon and Emily Blunt are great, and The Adjustment Bureau looks like a big, fun film. Glad to see both of these actors making a film like this.
Kristen Bell is a charming actress, and Betty White, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Sigourney Weaver are always a lot of fun when they pop up in goofy supporting roles. However, this trailer is too manic and clichéd to make me want to see the movie.
This teaser trailer for Buried barely shows us anything, but it looks like a refreshingly different role for Ryan Reynolds. Definitely intriguing, but I’d like to see more.
Again, this shows us barely anything. The train crash on its own isn’t that interesting, but if it’s a J.J. Abrams film (presumably) about aliens, I’m on board.
Each year, movie studios campaign for their films to be considered for Oscar nominations. “For Your Consideration” posters are often made to accompany the campaigns (you can find official examples for this awards season here). Anyways, there are some films that I think should get Academy recognition, but likely will not, so I’ve decided to create some “FYC” ads of my own. It’s my first stab at it, and I’m basically just using Paint, but I thought I’d share what I’ve created (be sure to click on the image to see the full-size version). Let me know what you think!
Often considered the precursor to the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes announced their nominees at the crack of dawn this morning. I made some predictions for the major film categories beforehand, and I was surprised to see that my predictions were 100% correct for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy, and Best Supporting Actress. I haven’t seen many of the big Oscar contenders yet (like, basically, I’ve only seen Julie & Julia), but I’ve been following this awards season fairly closely. I might post some predictions for Globe winners, or Oscar nominees later on.
Here are some quick reactions to the nominations.
- I was thrilled to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt nominated for (500) Days of Summer, and for the film to be nominated in the Best Musical/Comedy category. It’s my favourite film of the year so far, and I’m glad that people haven’t forgotten about it in the deluge of big Oscar movies.
- The biggest surprise, for me, in the film categories was probably Tobey Maguire’s nomination for Brothers. I’m sure he’s good in it, but I’ve heard very little talk of awards for his performance. The iffy critical reviews didn’t seem to help his chances, either. I would have expected to see Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker (who I had predicted), Viggo Mortensen for The Road, or Johnny Depp for Public Enemies in the fifth spot of the category (Clooney, Firth, Bridges, and Freeman were obvious nominees) long before Maguire. But I like when the awards shows keep things interesting with some surprise nominees.
- Sandra Bullock, Matt Damon, and Meryl Streep got double nominations (and in Streep’s case, it was two nominations in the same category!) And even though I’d been expecting it, I’m really confused as to why Bullock got nominated for The Proposal (I haven’t seen The Blind Side, so I can’t judge the validity of that nomination). She was fine in it, but I thought that category had so many other stronger contenders. I would have rather seen Amy Adams (for Sunshine Cleaning, or even Julie & Julia), Zooey Deschanel (though she was the weaker of the duo in 500 Days of Summer, she was still good in it), or Maya Rudolph (Away We Go) nominated instead.
- Though I haven’t seen their performances yet, I’m still glad to see these actors nominated, just because I like them J: Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Homes), Daniel Day-Lewis (Nine), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria – wasn’t expecting that one!), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Julianne Moore (A Single Man)
- I don’t follow the Television awards too closely, but I was really happy to see Glee nominated for Best Comedy, and to see Lea Michelle, Matthew Morrison, and Jane Lynch all nominated! Pretty good for a show in its first season.
- When did it become a rule that Julia Roberts has to be nominated for a Globe for every film that she makes?
- I think that the Best Picture – Musical or Comedy category is a lot of fun. I like Julie and Julia, really liked The Hangover, and loved (500) Days of Summer. I have no idea who’s going to win this category, since early reviews of It’s Complicated and Nine seem a bit mixed.
- Could this be the year that a woman finally wins Best Director at the Oscars? I think Kathryn Bigelow has a good shot for The Hurt Locker. I’m sure she’ll get nominated, but she’ll have tough competition in Jason Reitman, James Cameron (who also happens to be her ex-husband), and even Clint Eastwood. It should be an interesting race.
To read the full list of Golden Globe nominees, click here.
So far, 2009 is shaping up to be a decent year for movies, I think. There’s already been some great films released, and Oscar season is getting started. I recently watched I Love You, Man and Away We Go, which had been two of my most anticipated movies from earlier in the year. Both we great, and it got me thinking that 2009 seems to have been an exceptionally good year for comedies. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen as many dramas, but so far seven out of my top ten favourite movies of the year are comedies. Of course, not every comedy was good. For every Away We Go there’s a Confessions of a Shopaholic. But I’ve seen some fantastic comedies with some very strong performances. I thought I’d share some of my favourite comedic performances of the year. Since I think comedies are always criminally underrepresented in the awards season, I’ll give my two cents on who I think is deserving of nominations, and who actually has a chance. I might update this list as awards season gets closer, and as I see more movies from 2009.
Oh, and since I only seem to get comments on the posts where I encourage them, be sure to leave comments on which choices you agree/disagree with, and your own opinions on your favourite comedies of 2009!
Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia
Meryl Streep can do no wrong (well, except maybe Mamma Mia…), and she’s given some great comedic performances this decade (Adaptation and The Devil Wears Prada both gave her Oscar nominations). Her performance as legendary chef Julia Child was delightful (though the movie as a whole was just decent). She had the voice, the body language, and the spirit down pat.
Award Season Prospects: This is the only performance on the list that’s guaranteed to get an Oscar nomination, and she just might win the whole thing.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt – (500) Days of Summer
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of my favourite young actors, and I was excited to see him return to his comedy roots after all of the heavy movies he’s made this decade. His comedic timing is brilliant, and at times, he’s pretty hilarious here. This is not a typical romantic comedy, and Levitt elevates his performance so far beyond the usual acting in those types of movies. It’s a subtle performance, but the genuine warmth and feeling that he brings to this role is unusual.
Award Season Prospects: Based on what I’ve seen this year, I think he’s worthy of an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. But that category is always overstuffed, so I’d be shocked if he got one. A Golden Globe nomination is possible, but sadly, still a bit of a stretch.
Maya Rudolph – Away We Go
Most people know her from her great comedic work on Saturday Night Live, and I was really surprised by how good Maya Rudolph was in Sam Mendes’ Away We Go. It’s considered a comedy, but there are a lot of scenes (especially in the latter half of the film) that are entirely dramatic. My mom said she found the film depressing, but I disagree. And I think a lot of that has to do with Rudolph’s vibrant performance. Her character is pregnant, and both worried and excited for the future. I thought Rudolph gave a very genuinely likeable and optimistic performance.
Award Season Prospects: I think a Golden Globe nomination is possible.
Amy Adams – Sunshine Cleaning
With two Oscar nominations already under her belt, obviously Amy Adams is a fantastic actress. She’s got a great screen presence in every movie that she’s in, and Sunshine Cleaning is no exception. It’s a comedy, but there isn’t a ton of laugh-out-loud kind of laughs. It’s just not that kind of movie. But Adams does a great job with the subtle humour, and the human drama that the role calls for. She was good in Julie and Julia as well, but this is the more interesting role and performance.
Award Season Prospects: Sunshine Cleaning was under the radar, and got somewhat mixed reviews (though I loved it). I think that Adams is worthy of a Golden Globe nomination, but it may or may not happen.
Emily Blunt – Sunshine Cleaning
Starting off as the more comedic character in Sunshine Cleaning, Emily Blunt played the mix between comedy and drama perfectly. Something about her screen presence is magnetic. Blunt had a few scenes that really showed off her acting skills (everyone talks about the “tressling” scene), as well as a bunch that allowed her to be sarcastic and curmudgeonly, which she does very well. She’s great in those roles that blur the line between humour and drama (The Devil Wears Prada, The Jane Austen Book Club)
Award Season Prospects: I’m not sure if her performance qualifies as lead or supporting, but I’m not sure if her chances are great, either way. I’d love to see her get some kind of nomination for her work here, though.
Zach Galifianakis – The Hangover
Oh, God. I can’t even think of this performance without giggling a little. There were so many hilarious moments in The Hangover courtesy of Mr. Galifianakis. I like Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms a lot, too, but this guy stole the show. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t know much about Galifiankis, I’m sure you’re a bit puzzled by all the fuss. To which I say, go see The Hangover.
Award Season Prospects: Hey, remember when Robert Downey Jr. got an Oscar nomination for wearing blackface last year?
Jesse Eisenberg – Adventureland
Oddly, this is only the second ugliest t-shirt that appears on this list. Anyways, some people call Jesse Eisenberg the poor-man’s Michael Cera. But I think that he’s some alternate version of Michael Cera who is capable of conveying genuine emotion. Don’t get me wrong. I love Michael Cera, but I was really impressed by the earnest, sweet performance that Eisenberg gave here. He’s still funny and awkward, but there was just something very real about his performance, like he wasn’t constantly worried about being clever and funny.
Award Season Prospects: Not great. It’s not the kind of performance that usually gets recognized, sadly.
Paul Rudd – I Love You, Man
I’ve been a fan of Paul Rudd for a while now. I first noticed him on Friends, and then I went back and loved him in Clueless. So after a string of iffy movies and supporting roles, I was glad to see him starting to get the leads in major comedies. Role Models was a lot of fun, and he topped it with this year’s I Love You, Man. He is so incredibly awkward (“Slappa da Beeaaaass!”) as Peter, a man with no male friends, but so charming, too. There’s something about Paul Rudd that you just want to root for.
Award Season Prospects: Hilarious performance, but just not award-worthy.
Chris Messina – Away We Go
Alright, so it’s a really small role and not even an especially comedic performance, but I just wanted to talk about how impressed I was by Chris Messina in Away We Go. The movie is split into different parts, and when Burt and Verona travel to Montreal, they meet up with Messina’s character, who Burt went to college with. He has a great monologue, and Messina delivers it perfectly. His character starts off as seeming like a laid-back guy, but as we learn more about his and his wife’s circumstances, his character takes an unexpected turn. It’s a really understated performance, but that whole section in Montreal was my favourite part of the movie, partly thanks to Messina’s performance.
Award Season Prospects: Not a chance.
Zac Efron – 17 Again
I’m probably not helping my case by choosing a photo from the most shamelessly pandering scene in the whole movie. But whatever, I thought Zac Efron actually did a good job. He proved on SNL that he has comedic talent (I loved the “I AM YOUR MOTHER!!!” sketch. Anyone who can keep a straight face through that earns my respect). I’m not a fan of the whole High School Musical franchise (though there was an unintentionally awesome scene in the third movie where Efron breaks into the school at night and basketballs start raining down upon him. ANYWAYS.), but I thought he made this otherwise iffy movie a lot funnier (well, him and Thomas Lennon).
Award Season Prospects: Ha.
Comedies from 2009 That Look God-awful, and I Vow Never to Watch:
- Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
- Bride Wars
- The Pink Panther 2
- Dance Flick
- Miss March
- I Love You, Beth Cooper
- All About Steve
- My Life in Ruins
- Imagine That
- Post Grad
- The Ugly Truth
Comedies from 2009 of Interest That I Still Need to See:
The Brothers Bloom
It’s Complicated (upcoming)
Pirate Radio (upcoming)
A Serious Man
Up in the Air (upcoming)
World’s Greatest Dad