Well, let’s start off with old business, in our last poll, in which we reviewed the merits of women who have donned the high-waisted bodice of Jane Austen’s beloved Elizabeth Bennet, we ended up with the following results:
The delightful BBC incarnation of the heroine, played by Jennifer Ehle, walked away with the most votes, with a scrappy Keira Knightley, from the 2005 theatrical edition, came in a very close second. And in third, one unique voter picked out the Bollywood extravaganza Bride and Prejudice, starring Aishwarya Rai. But now, on to the new business!
#7 – Martha Marcy May Marlene (dir. Sean Durkin)
After taking Sundance by storm as the breakout hit of the festival, Martha Marcy May Marlene brings together newly welcomed into the Oscar fold character actor John Hawkes with younger sister of the Olsen twins, Elizabeth Olsen, in a story about a girl who falls victim to and attempts to recover from a stint in a manipulative cult. Buzz is that the film is gritty and effective and that Olsen is a breakout star not unlike last year’s indie starlet and eventual Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence. Distribution for the film is still shaky at this point, but surely a movie that garnered so much attention will find a home by year’s end. Between this and a part on the next film on the list, perhaps Hawkes will go from virtual unknown to red carpet staple. (TBA)
#6 – Contagion (dir. Steven Soderbergh)
Director Soderbergh is no stranger to the massively starstruck cast (see the Ocean’s trilogy for proof), and this one is no exception. Telling the action-thriller tale of a group of doctors brought in from around the globe to assess a potentially world-destructive disease breakout, the cast is headed up by Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, and John Hawkes. Yowza! That’s a doozy. Aside from the directing pedigree (let’s hope this is more Traffic and less Full Frontal) and the potential of the high-concept storyline, Contagion is reuniting the trio of actors from The Talented Mr. Ripley (Law, Damon, Paltrow), who haven’t worked together in more than a decade. Oh, and never mind the fact that it’s Winslet (finally) big-screen follow-up to her Oscar-winning The Reader. (Oct. 21)
#5 – My Week with Marilyn (dir. Simon Curtis)
I’m a sucker for movies about old Hollywood. And with a glamorous a cast as this assembled, it could make for a great backstage drama (if done right). I have high hopes for star Michelle Williams, who will be taking on the role of the legendary Marilyn Monroe, as portrayed during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier (they reportedly did not get along swimmingly). Playing Olivier is the now-little-seen Shakespeare enthusiast (fitting) Kenneth Branagh. Rounding out the cast is Emma Watson, Judi Dench, and Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh. Williams is on a roll lately, with Brokeback, Wendy and Lucy, and Blue Valentine, and I doubt her streak of stellar performances will end this year. Marilyn seems like a saucy melodrama that could certainly deliver the goods. (TBA)
#4 – Hugo Cabret (dir. Martin Scorsese)
Though not your typical cup of tea for director Scorsese, Hugo Cabret sounds like it could either skew enchanting and wonderful or misguided. I lean toward the former, obviously. Telling the story of an orphaned boy who lives in a Paris train station, the movie follows the boy’s travails as he encounters a mystery around his late father. Scorsese reportedly has high hopes and confidence in newcomer Asa Butterfield, who plays the title character. I predict he may become this year’s Hailee Steinfield as a result. The supporting cast includes Jude Law, Chloe Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Ben Kingsley. This sounds like a far cry from his work last year on Shutter Island, but it’s nice to see that Scorsese is experimenting a little bit with his genre work since his 2006 Oscar win. (Nov. 23)
#3 – The Skin that I Live In (dir. Pedro Almodovar)
Almodovar is basically the Pixar of live-action filmmaking. Seriously – take a look at his filmography. The man can do no wrong. Which is why his latest effort, and follow-up to the stylish Broken Embraces, is so blatantly on my radar. He’s reteaming with the actor he essentially discovered back in the day, Antonio Banderas. Banderas and Talk To Her‘s Elena Anaya co-star as a husband and wife. Banderas plays a surgeon who is desperately trying to invent a way to create a new skin for his ailing wife. Sounds a little more sci-fi than what we’re used to seeing from Pedro, but it’ll surely be kooky and artsy (and include at least one wisecracking crossdresser) to stay true to his form. Banderas hasn’t done anything critically redeeming in quite some time, so this could make for a huge comeback for the once-popular actor. (Nov. 18)
#2 – The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick)
Probably the most high-profile non-blockbuster movie of the year, the return of Terrence Malick to the director’s chair is possibly so highly anticipated because of The Tree of Life‘s release date juggling. It looks like it’s finally coming out this year, though, and the teaser trailer is completely obscure and beautiful all at once. An intergenerational epic that centers around a father (Brad Pitt), wife (Jessica Chastain), and grown son (Sean Penn), the drama is reportedly semi-fantasy as well. Malick, who’s prone to historical project like The Thin Red Line and The New World, doesn’t seem to be sticking to his typicality this time, but as the gifted writer penned the script as well, this will surely be yet another game-changer for the face of cinema. (May 27)
#1 – We Need To Talk About Kevin (dir. Lynne Ramsay)
One of the great things about Tilda Swinton is that she’s so unafraid to play controversial, potentially unlikable characters. She played a boozy child-kidnapper with nary a soul in her body in Julia, she played a conniving high-up in her Oscar-winning role in Michael Clayton – the woman doesn’t mind playing strange or unruly for the sake of doing great work. And in Lynne Ramsay’s film about the mother of a teen who goes on a school killing spree dealing with the aftermath of the events, Swinton will surely shine in what will certainly be an emotionally draining role. The film co-stars John C. Reilly as Swinton’s estranged ex-husband. (TBA)
When asked what the greatest love story, musical, or animated film of all time is, the answer has always been very easy – Beauty and the Beast is the undisputed champion of all three genres, in my book. (And it’s achievements are all the more impressive after seeing the 2010 doc Waking Sleeping Beauty – it’s a good watch… rent it!) At the heart of the film is the impeccable scoring and lyrics from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, undoubtedly one of the all-time great duos in song-writing. The entire soundtrack is sheer perfection. From the jaunty, upbeat “Be Our Guest” to the thrilling and très français opening number “Belle” to the incredibly romantic and timeless title song, it has to rank among the best played movie musicals of all time, without even dividing the live action and animated ones. And thankfully, this outing is much more than just the insanely addictive soundtrack. The animation is beautiful and a great testament to the merits of hand-drawn animation. CGI has churned out some impressive and wonderful films in the past decade-and-a-half, but 2D animation hasn’t gotten its fair shake in that time. The simple fact is, children today can still watch Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin and be completely amazed at the color and style that comes with hand-drawn work.
And as far as the voice acting goes, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – stunt celebrity casting does not a great animated movie make. Studios in this past decade have relied so heavily on casting famous tabloid fodder for their voice cast, neglecting the wealth of little-known talents (namely people like Pat Carroll who played Ursula in Mermaid or Jonathan Freeman who played Jafar in Aladdin). In Beauty and the Beast, the stars are little-known Broadway actress Paige O’Hara and sideline player in a handful of movies Robby Benson. Sure, they picked up the luminous Angela Lansbury, David Ogden Stiers, and Jerry Orbach for the trio of household objects who steal the show, but the pedigree is far surpassing anything you’ll likely see in anything DreamWorks Animation puts out. Speaking of, Lansbury is giving arguably one of the best animated voice acting performances ever – it’s unfortunate that the Oscars completely poo-poo this sort of things as “true acting.” But all things considered, the true star and biggest success of this movie is the storytelling – adapted from the French fairy tale, it’s the prime example of a film that works for all ages and generations. It’s beauty transcends preconceived notions, cynicism, and ill will.