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8 Reasons to Believe In Hollywood Again
It's not dark yet, here are some rays of sunshine
By Ken Pasini
October 01, 2009
Movies are typically replete with implausible action flicks or raucous adolescent comedies, often lacking tightly woven, thought provoking stories. This year however, a surprising number quality films harmonized these perspectives, delivering fascinating stories of complex characters embroiled in dramatic, very intense situations, merged with thrilling action and comedic elements. Let’s reflect on a few these, and delve into the actors and filmmakers responsible for this unusual phenomenon.
8. District 9
D9 received exceptional reviews by critics and fans alike. First-time Director Neill Blomkamp (with his mentor Peter Jackson producing), managed to create a film that dramatically reveals the ugliest aspects of humanity, while jointly showcasing a heroes journey. Sharlto Copley portrays Wikus Van De Merwe, a bumbling MNU agent charged with heading up the relocation effort of thousands of ‘Prawn’ aliens stranded on earth for the last 30 years. This fascinating story is galvanized in the tapestry of emotions Copley so affectively conveys in his character. Considering that this well-crafted story was the brainchild of first-time filmmaker Blomkamp, and that an inexperienced actor served as the stories protagonist, is truly amazing. Copley affectively transforms his character (both emotionally and physically) during the course of the film, and through his rich characterization, causes the audience to empathize with every heart-wrenching obstacle he faces. A commendable achievement by both director and cast, this was the summer’s hidden gem, outpacing every box office projection.
A carefully crafted story with lone actor Sam Rockwell playing dual roles against Kevin Spacey’s robot voice, delivers this season’s most surprising entry. Directed by newcomer Duncan Jones, the story examines the intricate qualities of being human, and what it means to confront your own mortality. A fascinating character study brilliantly portrayed by Rockwell (for whom the role was written), the story forces the audience to connect the dots as the plot progresses. This rare film avoids the usual genre trappings of standard sci-fi, delivering a compelling, character driven, thought provoking journey that stays with you long after the credits roll. A remarkable achievement by first-time filmmaker Jones, this one should join the ranks of El Mariachi, Reservoir Dogs, Clerks and other respected introductions by notable filmmakers.
6. Inglourious Basterds
Continuing on the war genre for a moment, those seeking an engrossing movie with outstanding characters (played by equally impressive actors), need look no further than Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering, Inglorious Basterds. Tarantino demonstrates his brilliant, quirky style and pervasive humor in many scenes, providing several reasons to subscribe to this latest entre’ by one of Hollywood’s most eclectic filmmakers. The story takes significant liberties with historical fact, revealing itself in a riveting, absurd five-act story, each more engrossing than the one before it. Similar in style to Tarantino’s masterpiece Pulp Fiction, this film is more tightly tied together with a satisfying, exuberant, over-the-top ending. Without a doubt, Christoph Waltz (probably unknown to most Americans) delivers one of the year’s best acting performances as Col. Hans Landa. He portrays the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ persona so successfully, that menace appears to ooze from his every pore as he interrogates the characters of the film. Due to his absolutely brilliant performance, we expect to see him clutching a Best Actor Oscar on awards night.
5. Shutter Island
Several excellent films are also on the horizon. Shutter Island (recently rescheduled from October to February of 2010 due to marketing reasons) looks to be a creepy, psychological thriller by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Working again with Leonardo DeCaprio, Scorsese has adapted Dennis Lehane’s haunting novel for the screen. The story takes place in an asylum for the criminally insane, which in actuality, was shot in an abandoned mental institution. Most films by this auteur generally border on masterpiece, and this one looks to fall within that category. The mystery also stars Ben Kingsly, Mark Ruffalo, Max Von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley and Ted Levine.
4. Foundation Trilogy
Attending the 2009 San Diego Comic Con to promote ‘2012’, an audience member asked Emmerich what was next for him, now that he’s managed to destroy the world yet again. He shared that they’ve (he and Columbia Pictures) recently acquiring the rights to Isaac Asimov’s classic ‘Foundation Trilogy’. Many have flirted with the idea of bringing this spectacular set of novels to the big screen, but none successfully. Emmerich plans to direct, but could not comment on whether the plan is to film the initial trilogy as a whole (similar to Jacksons approach to ‘The Lord of the Rings’), or if ‘The Foundation’ will be presented as the first of potentially three films. Regardless, this will be a welcomed cinematic event, assuming Columbia can manage to steer their ship into profitable shores long enough to actually see this movie get made.
3. The Lovely Bones
December usher’s in Alice Sebold’s monumental best seller The Lovely Bones, adapted for the screen by none other than Peter Jackson. It’s encouraging that Hollywood continues to mine stories from novels which obviously resonate with a large audience. Mark Wahlberg plays the tortured father of a slain 14-year-old girl, who watches those she loved from the after-life. Rachel Weisz (the mother), Susan Sarandon (grandmother), and Stanley Tucci help round out the cast. The studio postponed the original release date by nine months, so confident were they in the films Oscar potential. Jackson has certainly proven his ability to helm fascinating, big-budget, action movies (Lord of the Rings, King Kong), so it will be interesting to see how adept he is at handling such emotionally laced material.
2. The Road
October ushers in The Road, adopted from the best selling, Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy. It follows the struggle of a man (played by Viggo Mortenson) and his son struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The film has been delayed to allow for additional cinematic work and post-production effects, needed to establish the realistic ruin of the films landscapes. Although the movie was made on a relatively low budget (around $20-$30 million), care was taken to convey the somber tone of the book. Considering the heavy source material, Mortenson’s ability to portray brooding characters, and the film’s outstanding supporting cast (Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, and Robert Duvall), this could prove to be the sleeper worth seeing.
December also welcomes the years-in-development, James Cameron project ‘Avatar’. This arguably was the ‘Bell of the Ball’ at 2009’s San Diego Comic Con International, and the 16 minute 3D teaser has since been shared with a much wider audience during the aptly coined ‘Avatar Day’. This looks to be an amazing 3D wonder, the preview showcasing several affects laden, visually stunning scenes from the first half of the film. This movie could prove to be a masterpiece, possibly heralding in a new generation of 3d Motion Pictures, much the same way Spielberg’s ‘Jurassic Park’ or Cameron’s own ‘Terminator 2’ helped redefine computer-generated capabilities of modern cinema. Cameron has proven he understands where his sweet spot is (big-budget, in your face action), delivering every dollar spent directly onto the screen. His movies are always worth the cost of a ticket.
Hollywood will always gravitate towards the virtual money machine of summer blockbuster action flicks, but will occasionally invest in mature, less ROI assured projects. Recognizing that a market exists for intellectually stimulating, character driven stories, these will also garner attention when budgets are allocated. We’ve presented 8 genre focused reasons to renew your faith in Hollywood, but certainly have not exhausted the list. Offer your own perspective, and by all means, support the films crafted by brilliant filmmakers and outstanding actors. You do have a voice in what Hollywood produces, it resonates with the sound of tearing theatre ticket.