We’ll start off the year with another post falling into the “better late than never” department – clearing out the Netflix backlog, and then rating the Top 10 old movies seen on Netflix for the first time in 2010.
“In the Loop.” Borrowing some of its characters from a British miniseries/TV production, “In the Loop” is a well-made dark comedy focusing on a foul-mouthed British Communications Director who is never satisfied with anything or anyone. Peter Capaldi is terrific as Malcom Tucker, but if you have a problem with characters who swear a lot, then this is not the movie for you. For someone like me, who considers swearing to be nothing less than an art form, it was great. Other familiar faces are in the cast, including James Gandolfini as an equally profane general and Tom Hollander (a veteran of classy English productions, as well as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies) as the somewhat hapless British Minister who can’t seem to avoid putting his foot in his mouth. The story here is secondary to the characters, and the characters are all well drawn. Not perfect, but well worth a watch.
“In Bruges.” I’ve mentioned before that I’ve got a thing for stories about assassins, and this is a very good, albeit off-beat, one. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are outstanding as two killers who are sent to hide in Bruges by their evil boss (a very nice turn by Ralph Fiennes) when a job is botched and a small boy is killed. It’s another movie where the story plays second fiddle to the strength of the characters, and their reactions to their surroundings in a city that lives by a pace that they are most definitely not accustomed to. The story becomes more conventional (and less interesting) when Fiennes comes to town to wrap things up (so to speak), but like “In the Loop,” it is well worth a watch.
“Life Is Beautiful.” When Roberto Benigni made a spectacle (and an ass) out of himself at the Academy Awards where he was crowned Best Actor, I swore I would never see this movie. However, the Netflix queue is not in my control, so I relented and gave it a chance. I would say two things about it – one, I am now convinced that Benigni is indeed a comic physical genius, and two, the movie just did not work for me. Try as I might, I could not accept the premise of a man trying to make light of what was happening inside of a concentration camp – even though he was doing it for the benefit of his son. So while I admit that I admired Benigni’s work a great deal, I can’t say I ever want to see the movie again.
“The Green Mile.” This was a very strong adaptation of the Stephen King serial, deftly guided by Frank Darabont’s patient direction. Darabont (now helming “The Walking Dead” series on AMC) allows the story to unfold at its own pace, much like “The Shawshank Redemption,” and as a result the payoff works. The strong cast helps quite a bit, and even though Tom Hanks is the “big star,” David Morse and Barry Pepper are just as effective, and Sam Rockwell was effectively creepy playing a very creepy guy. And Michael Clarke Duncan is just fine in a role that makes as much of his physical stature as it does any of his personal characteristics.
“State of Play.” This was a well-made, effective thriller with a great cast including Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, and Ben Affleck. One’s enjoyment of the film can probably be gauged by whether they’re willing to believe Crowe and Affleck as opposites –one a straitlaced Congressman, the other a disheveled reporter – who also happen to be great friends. But it came close enough for me, and the pace never lets up. The story is layered, with congressional wrong-doing, corporate conspiracies, love triangles, and kinky behavior all playing into the denouement. Not a classic, but very solid.
“Blood Diamond.” You don’t often hear Edward Zwick’s name mentioned when it comes to a discussion of great directors, but the “Thirtysomething” veteran has had a very solid career, with highlights such as “The Last Samurai,” “Courage Under Fire,” and “Glory.” He’s also made some lightweight but likable romantic comedies, and yes, he is to blame for the ridiculous “Legends of the Fall,” the movie that cause me to hate Brad Pitt until “Seven” was released. “Blood Diamond” is an excellent film, with a strong performance from Leonardo DiCaprio and an even stronger one from Djimon Hounsou. The story is disturbing, involving the market behind “conflict diamonds” and the terrible, blood-soaked conflict in Sierra Leone. The movie’s weakest point is probably Jennifer Connelly, who has been excellent elsewhere but never quite seemed believable as a hard-edged reporter.
And now, The Top Ten Netflix Movies of 2010. To qualify, the movie had to have been released prior to the calendar year 2010, but had to be one that I was seeing for the first time.
1. “A History of Violence,” directed by David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and Willam Hurt.
2. “Lost in Translation,” directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.
3. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” directed by Michel Gondry and starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.
4. “Michael Clayton,” directed by Tony Gilroy and starring George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton.
5. “(500) Days of Summer,” directed by Marc Webb and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.
6. “Gone Baby Gone,” directed by Ben Affleck and starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, and Amy Adams.
7. “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” directed by Niel Arden Oplev and starring Michael Nyqkvist and Noomi Rapace.
8. “Sideways,” directed by Alexander Payne and starring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh.
9. “Eastern Promises,” directed by David Cronenburg and starring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts.
10. “In Bruges,” directed by Martin McDonagh and starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes.