Posts Tagged ‘Joel Coen’

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Top 50 Films of the Decade: Pt. 4 (20-11)

December 29, 2009

20. ALL THE REAL GIRLS (2003) – David Gordon Green, before he went into teen comedies, did teen dramas and this one is note perfect. Paul Schneider, who co-wrote, stars as a dude with a womanizing reputation who returns to his hometown and falls for his best friend’s sister, played by Zooey Deschanel. How can he prove his feelings are genuine? The movie belongs to the two main actors who turn in astoundingly real, painful and genuine performances. Their actions and feelings for each other had a real effect on me. Coupled with an amazing ambient score and editing that supports the lyrical quality of the camera work and you get an amazing experience.

19. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2004) – Overlooked as a minor Coen Brothers, this film captures Clooney and Zeta-Jones at their most glamourous. A modern day screwball romance, Clooney plays Cary Grant playing a divorce lawyer bored with his success so he takes on impossible cases. Enter Zeta-Jones, the ambitious man-eater, looking for financial security. The zingers rip back and forth and the chemistry sizzles the screen. I found this more consistently funny and engaging than Burn After Reading, though that movie is quite good as well.

18. THE WAY OF THE GUN (2000) – Chris McQuarrie’s debut as director shows absolute confidence and control. Phillipe (in his best role) and Del Toro kidnap a pregnant surrogate for ransom. Enter bad-ass James Caan as the bounty hunter hired to retrieve the girl. A fantastic gritty thriller studded with great set pieces. The 5 mile-per-hour car chase has to be seen to be believed. With a hilarious cameo by Sarah Silverman.

17. THE INCREDIBLES (2003) – Brad Bird’s follow up to The Iron Giant with Pixar and he knocks it out of the park and into the next time zone. A great metaphor for letting your talents shine and not being afraid to be extraordinary. Great retro designs and color schemes. The best parts include the look on Dash’s face when he realizes he can run on water, and when Bob asks his wife to stay behind and be safe and she challenges him, he admits that he isn’t strong enough. So why can’t she help? Because, he confesses, that he’s afraid he won’t be strong enough to lose her. Brilliant writing, jaw-dropping action scenes, ad astounding animation.

16. ADAPTATION (2002) – Charlie Kaufman’s script is the real star here, but the dual performance by Nic Cage more than makes up for his previous crap roles (Con Air? Gone In 60 Seconds?). Nic Cage plays Charlie Kaufman, a writer tasked with adapting Susan Orleans’ The Orchid Thief. What follows is a great meta-commentary on screenwriting, truth vs. fiction and one’s ability to change. Brian Cox as Robert McKee is perfection.

15. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) – The right way to do a vampire film without the cheezy teen angst. Oskar, a bullied loner, befriends the new girl next door, Eli and discovers her true nature. What follows is an innocent romance with very dark undertones. Brilliant and simple, it does more to forward the vampire mythos than dreck like Twilight or 30 Days of Night. The brilliant final scene at the pool house remains vivid in my mind mainly for what we don’t see.

14. PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002) – Leave it to PT Anderson to follow up his mega-epic Magnolia with this smaller, shorter more intimate romantic comedy that surprises and delights by casting Adam Sandler as the quirky, repressed plunger salesman who falls in love with Emily Watson. His man-child tantrums punctuate a number of memorable scenes, but what delights is how he grows out of his shell in pursuit of what he wants. All aided with the harmonium. It’s a symbol people!

13. MONSTERS, INC. (2001) – Pixar provides another of the decade’s best films with this touching and hilarious tale of monsters who scare kids for energy. The crisis occurs when a human child, Boo, invades the monster’s world. Best scene is when Sully thinks Boo has fallen down the garbage chute and is crushed into a tiny cube; it tugs at the heart-strings while serving up some hilarious reactions by Sully as he faints and swoons. If you’re not bawling by the end of the movie you have no heart.

12. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001) – The trilogy as a whole would have been included, but for my money the first film gets it 100% right while the last two provide diminishing returns. Visually stunning and well-crafted with epic scope that establishes Middle Earth as real as the New Zealand locations it was shot in. Great ensemble cast and the perfect blend of CGI with miniatures (or “bigatures” as they call them). My favorite scene is noble Boromir’s sacrifice and redemption.

11. MEMENTO (2000) – Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough film explores memory, as well as cause and effect in this twisty thriller about a man without short-term memory who is hunting for his wife’s killer. Who does he trust — the sleazy Joey Pantoliano or the femme fatale Carrie Anne Moss? With its scenes starting from the end and unravelling backwards to the beginning, the reveal is a doozy and speaks volumes for the control and tight crafting executed by Nolan.

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High Level Spy Shit — The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading

December 27, 2008

BURN AFTER READING (2008)
d. Joel & Ethan Coen

The Coens return to comedy a year after their intense thriller No Country For Old Men with a movie that also marks a return of many themes and character-types seen throughout their work.

Burn After Reading’s basic premise revolves around a disgraced Washington analyst (John Malkovich) who, while undergoing a divorce (from Tilda Swinton), has his memoirs and financials on disc end up in the laps of two gym managers (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) who mistakenly believe that it is high-level spy shit. The double pun here concerns the burning of information onto the disc as well as a reference to the book Burn Before Reading, which was about CIA goings-on.

A large part of the fun of the movie is witnessing how the errors of judgement and farce pile up in typical Coen fashion until the last act is a dazzling maze of twists and turns all predicated on mistaken identities and the idiotic choices made by people way in over their heads.

Frances McDormand brings in a brilliant performance as one of the gym managers who, prisoner to her desire for plastic surgery, decides to use the disc as an opportunity for a blackmail scheme. Her character is an amazing study in how everyday people can think they are in control when in reality they are anything but.

Her actions, based on her greed and self-absorption — to the point of idiocy, are a theme constantly explored in the  Coens’ films. They of course always spell disaster for several characters. It’s something we see from Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo to the barber in The Man Who Wasn’t There  to even The Ladykillers.

For example, she unwittingly sends Brad Pitt to his doom by having him break into Malkovich’s house in order to get more information they can use to supply to the Russians. Part of the humour is that her espionage skills all seem to have been culled from an antiquated idea of spy-politics during the Cold War. Even the Russians are baffled by her actions.

Another character whose world falls apart in the Coens’ hands is George Clooney’s. He is cheating on his wife with Tilda Swinton, and, because of his womanizing ways, ends up crossing paths with McDormand. But what sinks him is an event that blindsides him and reveals his inadequacies and mortality. From that point, his paranoia takes over.

It’s all done humorously and with the classic Coen irony that allows us to finger-point and laugh without feeling as if we are implicating ourselves even as we identify with these characters.

Despite the heady and mesmerizing last act where all the jigsaw pieces fall into place with expert handling, the feeling of having been there done that does linger, and I was somewhat disappointed in Brad Pitt’s antics this time around, though his character’s final scene is tense and horrifying.

Overall, a fine effort by the Coens, but not the best. Perhaps on par with The Man Who Wasn’t There in its finely crafted execution and the sense of spiraling dread it creates, but not enough to blow my expectations out of the water.

**1/2 stars.