Bright Star. Directed by Jane Campion. This was my first Jane Campion film and I must say I was greatly impressed. The Academy Award-nominated costumes by Janet Patterson give this period piece a sense of authenticity. The performances ring equally true: I thought Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw fully captured the essence of Fanny Brawne and John Keats, conveying their romance effectively. I really liked Paul Schneider as Keats’ fellow poet and friend Mr. Brown; Kerry Fox, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Samuel Roukin (Poppy’s boyfriend in Happy-Go-Lucky) and Samuel Barnett helped to fill in the rest of the exceptional supporting cast. The moody cinematography by Greig Fraser cast a pale, almost otherworldly bluish light over the leads, lending the film an added tone of melancholy. I look forward to seeing Campion’s other films, particularly An Angel at My Table (starring Kerry Fox) and The Piano, the latter of which won the Palme d’Or and three Academy Awards (for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Screenplay).
The Messenger. Directed by Oren Moverman. Ben Foster, whom I had previously enjoyed as Eli in two episodes of “Freaks and Geeks,” stunned me in this film. I had no idea he could actually act. I wouldn’t say that The Messenger is a “war film” – rather, it is about the repercussions of war and what happens to those who try to find their places in society again after serving their country. Woody Harrelson, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, gives a strong performance as the army captain who works with Foster. Steve Buscemi is also good in his two short scenes as the father of a soldier who was killed in action. But the actor I may have been most moved by was Samantha Morton, whom I had never seen in anything before. She gives a understated performance as an army officer’s widow and has a flawless American accent (I completely forgot that she was British until after the movie was over!). The gentle romance that blossoms between her character and Foster’s is bittersweet; it benefits from Moverman’s tender direction, especially during a pivotal scene that takes place in Morton’s character’s kitchen. The Hurt Locker may have been the big hit war film of 2009, but The Messenger deserves its place in history too. Frankly, I think Foster and Morton were robbed of Oscar nominations and the film deserved a Best Picture nod as well.
My Year Without Sex. Directed by Sarah Watt. Watt’s film, which I saw back in July, provided my introduction to the world of Australian cinema. Sadly, Sarah Watt passed away ten days ago at the awfully young age of 53 after a long struggle with cancer. There are so few women directors out there compared to male ones that any time a female director passes away, it is a sad event; for the woman in question to be young is even sadder and for me to have seen a film of hers and appreciated her makes it even harder – but I am glad I enjoyed her work while she was alive. Therefore, this film will always hold a special place in my heart. Sacha Horler (who was nominated for the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Lead Actress) and Matt Day were terrific as Natalie and Ross, a couple who must deal with Horler’s character surviving an aneurysm and subsequently being told to abstain from sex for the year afterwards in order to minimize the chances of another brain injury. The real heart of the film belongs to Jonathan Segat as their prepubescent son Louis, who questions his sexuality; Portia Bradley is also quite good as the younger daughter, Ruby. My Year Without Sex was the second film in a suggested trilogy which will unfortunately never be completed.
Sherlock Holmes. Directed by Guy Ritchie. It’s no wonder I’m looking forward to this December’s sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, when the first film was so much fun! Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law have real chemistry as Holmes and Watson. RDJ’s British accent, silly as it might initially sound, is fairly decent. (Trust me, I’ve heard far worse.) Eddie Marsan, who I believe deserved the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Happy-Go-Lucky, is a welcome presence as Inspector Lestrade and Mark Strong makes an excellent villain as Lord Blackwood. Less noteworthy are Rachel McAdams, who I found really dull as Irena Adler (Sherlock’s love interest); Kelly Reilly had a throwaway role as Mary Morstan, Watson’s fiancée. I recall that when I saw Sherlock Holmes, it was in a Brooklyn theater I had never been to before. I went with my family the day after seeing An Education with my mother at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas; I had not liked that film (hence my not choosing it for this post) so my expectations for Sherlock weren’t all that high. So I was surprised and delighted to discover that the film was both funny and exciting, packed with enough wit and adventure to make my moviegoing experience a thoroughly entertaining one.
Up. Directed by Pete Docter; co-directed by Bob Peterson. Although I would probably choose Ratatouille as my favorite Pixar film of the 2000s, Up is a very close second. (I’m probably the only person who hasn’t seen WALL·E yet, so I can’t comment on it.) The 2010 winner of the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film, Up features the vocal talents of Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Delroy Lindo, John Ratzenberger and co-director Peterson, among others. As likeable as the comedy was, what really affected me was the drama. The film has some unexpectedly poignant moments, all of which made me tear up (as I am wont to do during movies). The sentimentality was never cloying, though; the emotion felt genuine, especially in scenes depicting Carl and Ellie’s marriage and their love for each other. The Oscar-winning score by Michael Giacchino (who composed the beautiful music for “Lost”) creates an extra layer of depth in an already lovely film.