Five Minutes of Heaven (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2009). In the midst of all these requests I’ve been watching, I found this one the old fashioned way: looking for something to pass an hour and a half, I chose the first short movie that popped up, knowing nothing about it. Not a bad choice, with Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt doing some fine acting in a story contextually about The Troubles, but which is ultimately more a character study than a political tract. It feels like an adapted stage play (which it is not), which is fine since the point of the film is to examine the characters played by Neeson and Nesbitt, not to show off fancy film making. Nesbitt externalizes in a way that plays well off of Neeson’s more silent, tortured presentation, and Anamaria Marinca makes the most of her small part. 7/10.
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010). I’m using this film in a class I’m teaching this spring, so I gave it a second look. I liked it very much the first time I saw it, and I didn’t change my mind this time around. The film was a big critical favorite (gathering a 90/100 on Metacritic, with 36 positive reviews, 2 mixed, and no negative). The “worst” rating from anyone I read regularly came from Stephanie Zacharek, whose review was titled “Winter’s Bone a Little Too Pleased With Its Own Folky Bleakness”. She felt the “characters veer too close to broad caricature”, but still finds Jennifer Lawrence “impressively quiet and controlled”. I think it’s the best fiction film I’ve seen from 2010, and I thought Lawrence should have won the Best Actress Oscar over Natalie Portman for Black Swan. Lawrence was a revelation when I first saw the film. I knew nothing about her. Things have changed in just two years: as the star of The Hunger Games, Lawrence is poised to become one of the top stars of her day, and she’s only 21 years old. Thankfully, she doesn’t seem to have reached such a pinnacle at an early age for the usual reasons (great-looking, panders to young males), but because she is giving excellent performances. It doesn’t hurt that she’s great-looking, of course, but Winter’s Bone buries her traditional good looks in grit and mounds of cold-weather gear, allowing her to be a special kind of beautiful, strong and centered. Perhaps Portman gives us a peek at what Lawrence might have in store: three movies in the Star Wars franchise, lots of indie films, the lead role in an action picture, and ultimately an Oscar. #48 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 9/10.
Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965). Reviewed earlier in the week as part of the “By Request” series. 7/10.