Greenberg. Directed by Noah Baumbach. Prior to Greenberg, I knew that Ben Stiller could be funny and fairly snide in films like Tropic Thunder, Dodgeball and Mystery Men. It wasn’t until the dry indie comedy-drama Greenberg that Stiller proved to me he could actually act. Although his character, Roger Greenberg, pursues Greta Gerwig’s Florence Marr, the film can hardly be considered a romance. Not a typical one, anyway. The characters circle each other warily rather than falling in love in an easy Hollywood way; it’s a creative concept I highly approve of. Besides the surprisingly excellent leads, Greenberg has a terrific supporting performance from Welsh actor Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1) as Greenberg’s best friend, the curiously named Ivan Schrank. Where other quirky indie films of late (especially Ceremony) have failed, Greenberg succeeds: naturalistic acting; dialogue that feels sincere and not as though it were trying too hard; a plot that is never sappy or meet cute. A budding filmmaker myself, I have a lot of respect for Noah Baumbach, who, incidentally, is an alumnus of my own alma mater, Midwood High School. We had the same creative writing teacher who once mentioned that Baumbach wanted to model his prospective career on that of another Midwood alum, Woody Allen. If his acting is anywhere near as good as his directing and writing, Baumbach will really have accomplished his teenage goal.
Inception. Directed by Christopher Nolan. As IMDb reviewer D_Burke said, Inception may become a religion. Unlike most science fiction films, however, Inception was a huge hit at the box office and is currently rated #9 on the IMDb’s Top 250 movies list (not that that’s so important, but I’m just making a point here). The film has a stunning score, cinematography, editing, visual effects and sound editing/mixing. It also boasts an excellent cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Ken Watanabe, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy and, in one of his last roles, the great Pete Postlethwaite. (I recall when I first saw the scene near the end of the film with Postlethwaite lying in bed and feeling an inexplicable but definite sadness.) Even Ellen Page, who served as the voice of the audience with her constant questioning of what was going on, was good. As for Leonardo DiCaprio, though, I’m not so certain. He had a great run in the 90s – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet in particular come to mind – but he failed to impress me in either Inception or The Aviator. Maybe it’s not his fault; maybe the roles he tackles are out of his league. DiCaprio used to be one of the best young actors around and I hope he pleasantly surprises me with the upcoming biopic J. Edgar.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg. I have always been a fan of Joan Rivers, warts and all. I know a lot of people hate her (especially because of the excessive plastic surgery), but I think she’s fascinating. Besides the fact that I think she’s funny, I guess I feel a connection since we’re both Jewish and from Brooklyn. The film touches on a few poignant subjects – the suicide of Rivers’ husband, letting go of her longtime manager – but most affecting is Rivers’ convictions about acting. Rivers’ approach to life is inspiring and, at times, very emotional. I suggest trying Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work if you want to learn more about a strong-willed woman who doesn’t believe in retirement. You just might discover something new in a national treasure who refuses to grow old.
TRON: Legacy. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. This was only the second film I’d ever seen with Jeff Bridges – Iron Man being the first – but now I am absolutely a fan. I saw TRON: Legacy about four months after its initial release, at a special screening at the Museum of the Moving Image. I knew nothing about the original TRON but that didn’t prevent me from loving its sequel. Garrett Hedlund (Four Brothers, Country Strong) and Olivia Wilde (Thirteen in “House”) provide both eye candy and likeability, and Michael Sheen (the pretentious art historian Paul in Midnight in Paris) is delightfully wacky as a Bowie-esque club owner. TRON: Legacy is a fun flick full of great music (the score is by Daft Punk), acting, plot, cinematography and special effects. You’ll get a kick out of this wild ride!
True Grit. Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. Despite hating No Country for Old Men, I thoroughly enjoyed True Grit. Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic as Mattie, the heart and soul of the story. As my brother pointed out, Steinfeld is really the lead and Jeff Bridges is the support. Just as good is Matt Damon as the stubborn Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (amusingly pronounced “LaBeef”). Interestingly, LaBoeuf has a noticeable chemistry with the equally headstrong Mattie. That may not have been in the script, but it does help make the characters feel like real people. Frankly, I’m glad that Inception beat True Grit for the cinematography Oscar; although the film has some indelible images, those visuals lack the originality or depth of Inception’s camerawork. However, True Grit does achieve brilliance in the beautiful hues that color its southwestern country landscape. My only real issue with the film was that – in spite of its length – it ended abruptly.