Tag Archives: The Dark Knight

Is Young Talent Being Wasted on Superhero Movies?


I like a good superhero movie as much as the next person. I really liked the first two Spider-Man and X-Men movies, and The Dark Knight even found its way into my top 10 movies of the decade list. But I feel like we’re getting a huge overkill of suited-up action capers. Now we’re even getting superhero franchise reboots within five years of each other, and a lot of Hollywood’s most promising young stars are suiting up.

The cast of X-Men: First Class is coming together nicely. James McAvoy (Wanted, Atonement) is playing a young Professor Xavier, while Michael Fassbender (Hunger, Inglourious Basterds) will play his nemesis, Magneto. And just today, it was announced that Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man, About a Boy) will be taking on the role of Beast, while Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) is rumoured to be playing a young Cyclops. As much as I like all four actors, I feel like the X-Men movie franchise wore out its welcome a while ago. X-Men: The Last Stand (if only it had lived up to its title) was borderline awful, and last year’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine felt totally unnecessary.

The same goes for news of the Spider-Man reboot, which will star Andrew Garfield (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus). As well, Chris Evans (who is no stranger to superhero movies) will be taking on Captain America, with An Education‘s Dominic Cooper joining the supporting cast.

But I suppose most actors try the mainstream at some point in their career, if they can. Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an actor known for his decidedly smaller film choices, is making his way to IMAX screens with his work in Inception, and his upcoming roles in thrillers Premium Rush and Looper.

To be clear, I don’t blame any young actor for taking a role in a big-budget movie. The goal is to get your name out there and increase your paycheck, and starring in films like Boy A and Rory O’Shea Was Here for the rest of your life is hardly the best way to accomplish that. But as I see more and more of my favourite young actors sign on to these superhero romps, I can’t help but feel slightly disheartened. As great of an opportunity as a big role in a summer blockbuster can be, I feel like a lot of these actors were already on the rise. And maybe I just take my movies to seriously, but I’d much rather see talented actors in roles that push them and evoke emotion from me. Even when I see Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, which is undeniably fun, I kind of just wish that I was watching him in a different movie, instead. It’s not so much that I’m blaming the actors for taking the roles (because, really, who could resist?), it’s more that I’m getting sick of superhero/comic book adaptations.

**(Side Note: Now that I think about it, perhaps the parade of highly-coifed photos at the top of this post, while quite enjoyable, doesn’t really fit with my plea to respect acting skill over marketability… But that doesn’t mean I’m going to ditch the eye candy any time soon.)

Way, Way Back in 2008

With the Oscars just a day away, I felt like handing out a couple of my own biased awards. But then I realised that I haven’t seen nearly enough films from 2009 to fairly do that. So in order to uphold the Oscar spirit, I’m going to reflect all the way back to 2008 and pick a few of my favourite films and performances from a year where I’ve seen most of the big ones. Stay with me, I promise it’ll be fun (Note: not an actual promise).

Best Picture

The Dark Knight

Milk

Slumdog Millionaire

Snow Angels

Wall-E


And the winner is…

The Dark Knight

Back in 2008, it was a simpler time. There were only five best picture nominees (though if I had to choose ten, I’d rattle off The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Rachel Getting Married, Doubt, and Vicky Christina Barcelona as the additional five). Christopher Nolan created something of a masterpiece in his sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins. The storytelling is rock solid, and the film’s two and a half hour running time feels like a breeze. It’s not only great by superhero movie standards; it’s a taught, satisfying thriller.

Best Actor

Philip Seymour Hoffman – Synecdoche, New York

Sean Penn – Milk

Brad Pitt – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Sam Rockwell – Snow Angels

Michael Sheen – Frost/Nixon


And the winner is…

Michael Sheen

Frank Langella, while of course very good in Frost/Nixon, seemed to steal a lot of the attention away from my favourite performance of the movie, which came from the Michael Sheen. Playing the Frost to Langella’s Nixon, it’s a relatively low-key performance in a quiet film. But Sheen does a great job of conveying the frustration and moral quandaries that David Frost experiences in his time with the enigmatic former president.

Best Actress

Rebecca Hall – Vicky Christina Barcelona

Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married

Sally Hawkins – Happy-Go-Lucky

Meryl Streep – Doubt

Michelle Williams – Wendy and Lucy


And the winner is…

Anne Hathaway

From her early work, I never would have guessed that Anne Hathaway would be nominated for an Oscar. But her gritty performance of recovering addict Kym is unforgettable. She’s wry and hilarious at times, and utterly heartbreaking at others.

Best Supporting Actor

Michael Angarano – Snow Angels

Robert Downey Jr. – Tropic Thunder

Aaron Eckhart – The Dark Knight

Emile Hirsch – Milk

Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight

And the winner is…

Heath Ledger

After his tragic death, Ledger became last year’s sentimental favourite at every awards show. But if things had gone differently, I think that Ledger still would have deservedly gone home with the Oscar. His portrayal of the Joker is terrifying and iconic in a way that few recent performances have achieved.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams – Doubt

Penelope Cruz – Vicky Christina Barcelona

Rosemarie DeWitt – Rachel Getting Married

Samantha Morton – Synecdoche, New York

Tilda Swinton – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

And the winner is…

Amy Adams

As a young nun, Adams’ Sister James found herself in a moral dilemma, and Adams proved once again to be a very capable actor. Her simpering innocence was perfect, and she provided so much heart in an otherwise intense film. Adams, already receiving two nominations, will one day win an Oscar, for sure.

Best Director

Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire

David Fincher – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

David Gordon Green – Snow Angels

Christopher Nolan – The Dark Knight

Gus Van Sant – Milk

And the winner is…

Danny Boyle

His lush, sweeping images of India in Slumdog Millionaire were breathtaking, and the gritty interrogation scenes packed just as much of a punch. He’s a director whose proven that he can do anything (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Trainspotting) and he reinvented himself yet again in a wonderful way.

Best Original Screenplay

Happy-Go-Lucky

Milk

Rachel Getting Married

Synecdoche, New York

Vicky Christina Barcelone

And the winner is…

Rachel Getting Married

This screenplay by Jenny Lumet made the most mundane facets of life feel fresh and significant. All of the characters feel like real people, and the wonderful, subtle humour helps save the film from ever becoming gloomy.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Doubt

Frost/Nixon

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Snow Angels

And the winner is…

Frost/Nixon

Peter Morgan’s script (based on his own play) ramps up the tension between Frost and Nixon and creates a wonderful game of Chicken between the two. Great dialogue and pacing.

Best Ensemble Cast

The Dark Knight

Doubt

Milk

Slumdog Millionaire

Snow Angels

And the winner is…

Milk

Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, Victor Garber, and Alison Pill all bring a wonderful spark to this film about Harvey Milk’s fight for gay rights. It’s a treat watch them all interact and get their individual moments to shine.

Best Scenes (as spoiler-free as possible)

The Joker and the boats – The Dark Knight

Jamal’s last question – Slumdog Millionaire

Kym’s rehearsal dinner toast – Rachel Getting Married

Day in the park – Pineapple Express

The late-night phone call – Frost/Nixon

Best On-Screen Duos

Eve and Wall-E – Wall-E

Salim and Jamal – Slumdog Millionaire

Frost and Nixon – Frost/Nixon

The Joker and Batman – The Dark Knight

Tony Stark and Pepper Potts – Iron Man

Top 10 Movies of the Decade

Of course, it was a daunting task to pick my favourite movies of the decade. But after re-drafting my list at least a dozen times, this is what I managed to come up with. These are the ten films that I enjoyed most from this decade.

10. Capote (2005)

For some reason, the #10 spot seemed to be the hardest to fill on this list. But Capote, which won Phillip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar, was captivating in every way. The acting (of course), the story, and the visuals are all stunning. The evolution of Capote’s character, and his relationship with the murderous subject of his next book, were astounding to watch unravel.

9. Finding Nemo (2003)

I guess this is my requisite Pixar choice. Up and Ratatouille underwhelmed me, but this colourful tale of aquatic life was undeniably joyful. The animation is hypnotic, and the characters are unforgettable. It’s both a touching story of family, and an exciting adventure tale. Throw in Ellen Degeneres’ hilarious Dory character, and you’ve got a fantastic family film.

8. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Spend thirty seconds with the foul-mouthed grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine (played by the wonderful Alan Arkin), and you’ll likely appreciate your own family a little more. But underneath the biting, dark humour of this film, there is actually an incredibly heart-warming road trip story. Steve Carrel’s suicidal scholar and Paul Dano’s voluntarily silent teen make one of the best on-screen duos I’ve ever seen.

7. Memento (2000)

Guy Pearce (one of the more underrated actors out there) plays a man who can’t make new memories in Christopher Nolan’s frenzied breakthrough film. The film amazingly manages to keep up its fast-paced momentum, despite the fact that it’s scrambled and chopped, and that scenes play out in overlapping reverse order. It’s amazingly unique, and Memento is both intelligent, and an incredibly entertaining whodunit.

6. There Will Be Blood (2007)

This film seems to be popping up on everyone’s top 10 list (often at the top spot), but that’s probably because There Will Be Blood is such a masterpiece. Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing, there are so many striking, unforgettable moments (the whole oil rig fire sequence was amazing, not to mention the final scene).

5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

There is no doubt Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most unique films of the decade. From the quiet, realistic courtship of Joel and Clementine, to the unusually messy breakup (they decide to erase each other from their memories entirely), it’s a whimsical, gorgeous film. It feels like it’s made for this time, which is probably why so many people connected to it so intensely.

4. The Dark Knight (2008)

Honestly, do I need to say anything at all? I’ll just apologize and move on.

3. Half Nelson (2006)

Ryan amazingly subtle performance as a crack addicted teacher is the anchor of Half Nelson, but the film as a whole is entirely absorbing, and it’s a stunning debut for director Ryan Fleck. Half Nelson celebrates and laments the small moments in life that everyone experiences, as well as delving into the tragic problems of the character’s lives. The relationship between Gosling’s Dan and Shareeka Epps’ Drey is beautiful – full of sorrow, understanding, and respect.

2. Juno (2007)

Maybe it sounds stupid to say this about a fairly lightweight comedy, but Juno is a film that really spoke to me. I love that Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody created a fun, mainstream film that actually has something to say, and it features some amazing well-written characters. It’s touching and funny, and Juno is one of the only honest on-screen depictions of what it’s like to be a young woman.

1. Almost Famous (2000)

Almost Famous has a wonderful sense of joy, and it captures the feeling of being young and loving music in a way that I didn’t even know was possible. Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson (in what may be her only good performance, like, ever), Frances McDormand, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are vibrant, and the killer soundtrack (featuring the first Led Zeppelin tune to be licensed for a film) tops it all off.

Honourable Mentions:
A Beautiful Mind, The Departed, Donnie Darko, Garden State, Into the Wild, Requiem for a Dream, Signs, Snow Angels, Zodiac

Favourite Performances of the Decade: Part 3

I think that I’m going to expand this list from 25 to however many performances there are that I feel are noteworthy. Here are five more performances from this decade that I’ve loved. Be sure to check out the other parts of this feature, and feel free leave me some comments on what you think!

Kate Winslet – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind starts off as an unconventional love story, and then becomes even more unconventional when love goes sour, and Clementine and Joel decide that they want to erase each other from their memory entirely. The most memorable moments of Winslet’s performance come when Clementine gives glimpses of her emotional, raw inner self. This often comes during spats with Joel. While I loved Carrey’s moody, restrained performance, Winslet is the opposite. She’s fiery and passionate, and Carrey almost feels like the “straight-man” to her ultra-vibrant character. Yet the vulnerable moments are great too. And even the moments where everything is actually going right in Clementine and Joel’s relationship seem elevated from the usual romantic comedy fare. Without Winslet, much of the quirkiness, heart, and charm of this movie would be gone.

Sam Riley – Control (2007)

My favourite musical biopic of the decade was Anton Corbijn’s Control, which chronicles the short adult life of Ian Curtis, and the rise of his band, Joy Division. It’s a pretty grim movie. Curtis cheats on his wife, has horrific seizures, struggles to find success with his band, and ultimately takes his own life. But Riley’s up to the role, clearly. Riley’s Curtis is soft-spoken, withdrawn, and petulant. Yet when he steps on stage, everything comes alive in a bizarre, desperate kind of way. Riley switches between Curtis’ electric stage persona and troubled personal life with startling ease, and you can feel Curtis’ pain. At times, it feels much more like a documentary than the usual glossy biopic, and this is largely because of Riley unaffected performance. Curtis is a figure who is often romanticized in hindsight. But Joy Division was only on the cusp of success when Curtis killed himself. Riley portrays him as the real, troubled human being that he was.


Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)

I’m not sure if there’s much left to say about this instantly iconic performance. Only exacerbated by the tragedy of Ledger’s untimely death in January of 2008, his brilliant performance as the Joker was haunting. Darkly funny and incredibly eerie, his take on the anarchistic clown has become a landmark of 21st century pop culture. Some questioned whether Ledger would have won the Oscar (which he was posthumously awarded at the 2009 Oscars) if he had still been alive. I have no way of knowing if he would have, but I absolutely believe that he would have deserved it. His death is tragic for many reasons, but for the fans, perhaps the most frustrating aspect is the idea of the performances that we could’ve seen from this immensely talented actor.


Benicio Del Toro – Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)

While it was generally received positively by critics, Things We Lost in the Fire seemed to disappear as soon as it was released. This is a huge shame, because as well as being a really good film, it features one of my five favourite performances of the decade. Benicio Del Toro plays Jerry, a heroin addict who, after the death of his friend, goes to live with his friend’s wife and kids. If you look at a film like Requiem for a Dream, that film is all about the surreal, frightening visuals, which are meant to represent a drug-induced whirl. This film has a much simpler style. It relies on Del Toro to convey the horrors of his addiction, rather than the style and editing of the film. It’s not a by-the-numbers character arc, and Del Toro’s performance is anything but contrived. He takes the performance far beyond the usual one-dimensional “drug addict” stereotype, bringing a surprising amount of warmth to an otherwise bleak role.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Capote (2005)

Whether his Truman Capote was captivating a crowd at a lavish party, or visiting a convicted murderer in his tiny jail cell, Hoffman’s performance was both grand and subtle at the same time. Of course, he imitated the infamous voice of Capote well, but the performance goes far beyond an impersonation and never becomes the stereotype that it could have been. I thought Capote was an excellent movie, and the performances were a large part of that. Some of the supporting performances are great (Clifton Collins Jr. is incredible and understated in his role as one of the murderers that Capote is chronicling), but it’s clearly Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s show. He earned a well-deserved Oscar for his work in Capote, and it cemented his status as one of the best working actors.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5