Eastern Promises has dropped from a Four Star effort to a (***1/2) film. A repeated viewing didn't sit as well with me as the first time; the richness of Viggo Mortensen's performance, screenplay of Steven Knight, and direction by David Cronenberg stills holds strong with me. I'm sorry for saying Armin Mueller-Stahl's supporting turn would be the hands down winner this year. We all make mistakes.
No Country for Old Men & The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford have risen to (***1/2) star from (***) films. No Country's ending still holds it from being the film of the year for me but still holds great substance. Jesse James is just a visual masterpiece with great performances by Casey Affleck and the ignored Brad Pitt.
Here are some brief snippets from the reviews of previously seen films. Full reviews will be up on the site when the new year starts.
The Bucket List (***½)
The Bucket List is so inspiring and so beautiful and should be seen by all especially those of earlier generations who feel they never got that chance. When the National Board of Review named this one of the ten best films of the year, heads were scratched across the web. I, too was scratching; on the surface who looks so plain and bland. Watch top notch actors, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman bringing in their most personal and tender roles of their careers. That will change your mind.
I Am Legend (**½)
The first ¾ of the picture are engaging as we follow Smith around the jungle-like New York City and brought into flash backs of the end of days over three years ago. The ending is very sour in taste and unrealistic in actions. I have an imagination as much as the next person, but some things just bother the viewer when we’re watching an event unfold that seems so witless.
Consequently, it’s Will Smith that is the revelation and fantastic to watch. He gives us range, humor, dramatic elements, and something to awe at.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (***)
Burton has created his darkest film of his career with lots of grotesque images and even darker set decorations and mood settings. Depp is as great as can be as Mr. Todd bringing great characterizations not yet seen before by the actor and surprisingly, a very good voice. Even though Sweeney is the one who is wronged, he makes some choices that don't agree with the viewer. You're pulling for Sweeney and feeling the tragedy for the character even though, you know you shouldn't be. That is Depp's greatest achievement from the character.
Gone Baby Gone (****)
Comparisons to Mystic River are all about, being done by the same author how could we expect no less. Gone Baby Gone brings it to a new level. This film is about a society, a society who has lost the importance of innocence and the beauty of life. It focuses on the beauty of children and rest assure, when the film is over, if you're not yearning to be a better parent of embrace a child as a blessing, there is probably emptiness in your chest. This film is marvelous, beautiful and spectacular. A must-see film of the year and a pleasant surprise coming from Ben Affleck.
Into the Wild (****)
Sean Penn's direction is marvelous and Emile Hirsch's performance is breathtaking. This is the best performance by an entire cast of the year. The undeniable beauty of the picture is a major threat for a Best Picture victory.
The Great Debaters (***1/2)
Washington's achievement here is pulling the performances of this new, unknown young actors. Denzel Whitaker as the innocent, curious James Jr. is wonderful in exposition of character and gives the best child performance of the year. At 17, young Whitaker should have no problem coming into his own as a great young leading man in the future. Nate Parker in a momentous breakthrough performance indulges the audience as Henry, the angry young college student dealing with the inequalities of African-Americans in the South. In the end it's the tenacious performance by the beautiful Jurnee Smollett that holds the emotional premise of the film together.
Also, new Oscar Predictions over at my Blog. Check it out on the side under Links.