Conviction. Directed by Tony Goldwyn. As the first Hilary Swank film I’d ever seen, I must say I got a lot out of it. Although it was a box office flop, it has many excellent performances which are certainly worth your time. Besides Swank, who plays working mother/struggling lawyer Betty Anne Waters, the other strong performance anchoring the film is Sam Rockwell. Rockwell plays Betty Anne’s brother, Kenny Waters, who was wrongly convicted for a murder and subsequently served 18 years in prison before Betty Anne was able to get him out. Other strong performances in the film are given by Minnie Driver as Swank’s loyal friend, Melissa Leo as a no-good cop, Juliette Lewis as an ex-girlfriend whose testimony could change the entire murder case for Rockwell, Clea DuVall as Rockwell’s ex-wife and Bailee Madison as a younger version of Swank. The cinematography by Adriano Goldman, which paints the film in muted, earthy tones, creates a compelling atmosphere for the characters as they overcome the injustices of an imperfect judicial system.
Cyrus. Directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass. Prior to seeing Cyrus, I probably would not have expected to love a film by the Duplass brothers. A few months earlier I saw Jeff, Who Lives at Home in theaters, which was disappointing except for some lovely work by Susan Sarandon. I was, therefore, really pleased by how much I loved Cyrus. John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Catherine Keener have long been favorites of mine and indeed they shine. Reilly and Tomei play a couple newly in love whose relationship is tested to the utmost limits by the introduction of Tomei’s grown son, played by a nuanced Jonah Hill. There is something weirdly charming about how earnest and unglamorous these actors/characters are; you can see Reilly, Hill, Tomei, Keener and their friends as people you might encounter in the real world. (The “Don’t You Want Me” dancing scene displays some of those realistic interactions.) By the film’s end, you care about what happens to these characters.
The Kids Are All Right. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. For years and years I couldn’t stand Julianne Moore. There was always some indescribable facet of her acting that annoyed me. You can therefore imagine my amazement when I found myself enjoying her performance in The Kids Are All Right. Her “marriage is hard” monologue had me in tears. Even through the adultery and the lies, Moore comes across as completely human and believable. This is not to say that Annette Bening does not do a fine job playing Moore’s wife, but rather that Moore deserved an equal amount of acclaim. (Bening was the only one of the pair to receive an Oscar nomination.) Mark Ruffalo’s character, on the other hand, is not particularly likeable. I suppose that might have been Cholodenko’s intention, but in any case I don’t see how you can possibly side with him; at most, you might pity him for wasting so much of his life on doing everything without a thought of consequence. Bening and Moore’s adolescent children – the “kids” of the title – are played by the well-cast Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson. As a whole it’s an entertaining film that makes obvious but well-written points.
The King’s Speech. Directed by Tom Hooper. As Best Picture Oscar winners go, there have been worse films. Overly sentimental in places but still very watchable, The King’s Speech is the kind of film that improves with a second viewing. Its tale of “Bertie” overcoming the obstacles of his stutter in order to become England’s King George VI is inspiring. Colin Firth absolutely deserved the Oscar he won for his portrayal of Bertie, alongside nominated performances from Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen Mother and an exceptionally witty Geoffrey Rush as speech therapist Lionel Logue. Guy Pearce is delightful as King Edward VIII (“David”), whose scandalous abdication forces Bertie to ascend the throne. The cast is populated with famous faces, including Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Claire Bloom, Timothy Spall, Jennifer Ehle, Anthony Andrews, Roger Hammond, Eve Best and Adrian Scarborough. I think the hype surrounding the film two years ago was a tad much, but overall I can’t really complain. The King’s Speech is a crowd-pleaser.
The Town. Directed by Ben Affleck. Considering how high my expectations were after seeing Affleck’s recent opus Argo, I was pretty impressed by The Town. This tale of bank robbery in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston has an authentic flavor to it, no doubt due to Affleck growing up in nearby Cambridge. There is an emotional undercurrent that allows the actors to breathe life into the characters. Affleck does well in the lead role, playing a career robber with a mixture of tough-guy physicality and subtle, sometimes tender feeling. The object of Affleck’s affection, Rebecca Hall, is as beautiful in this as in her earlier gem Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Her chemistry with Affleck is plausible. Blake Lively surprised me with the depth of her acting, playing Renner’s Oxycodone-addicted younger sister who has a history with Affleck. On a sadder note, I was sorry to see Pete Postlethwaite looking gaunt (not long before he died of cancer), but his few scenes are fantastic. I must admit that I don’t revere Jeremy Renner – who received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for playing Affleck’s criminal pal Jem – with quite the same adulation as many other people do, but his performance was generally good.