My year-end movie list

It’s that time of the year again when Hollywood rolls out their award contenders as well as some big-budget feel-good blockbusters.

There are 7 movies which are on my must-watch list, another 5 which I will watch, either because they will be Oscar front-runners or because they come from big names, but am not necessarily interested in the subject matter or actors involved. And there are 3 high profile releases which I have no interest whatsoever in (but will probably end up watching anyway at some point). I have also thrown in two films under the heading Guilty Pleasures!

I’m going to start with the 3 big ones which I am not interested in:-

  • Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 – I have watched the entire series so far. I really enjoyed the first film, but I feel the acting and actors have increasingly looked more suited to a daytime soap than a big-screen film…nothing against it, but not really my cup of tea. And I am now thoroughly irritated with the Kristen Stewart approach to acting which mainly consists of furrowing her brow. No doubt, being the last in the series, the film will have a monster opening weekend. Stephanie Meyer fans can next look forward to the film adaptation of her scifi novel, The Host in March 2013.
  • Life of Pi – I am a huge fan of Ang Lee’s work, but have no interest in a story about a boy named Pi stuck on a boat for 227 days with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. I don’t see the point at all and the trailer did nothing to help me change my mind. I can understand that Ang Lee would want to push his own boundaries just as he did when he directed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hulk, so I hope for his sake that the film is at least a critical success if not a commercial one.
  • Frankenweenie – I had already covered this in a post soon after the trailer came out. I have watched every single Tim Burton film, except the latest Dark Shadows and his animated 2005 film Corpse Bride, but I haven’t really enjoyed one of his films since Sleepy Hollow back in 1999. And I find his stop-motion animation style too creepy, unless taken in small doses like in Beetlejuice.

Then come the 5 obligatory viewings:-

  • The Master – I have no real interest in this story of a man (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who creates a quasi-religious cult and has a troubled relationship with his most fervent disciple (Joaquin Phoenix). Having said that, I had no real interest in the story of a man who discovered an oil field and had troubled relationships with his son and with an over-zealous preacher, but 2007’s There Will be Blood remains one of my all-time favourite films, so I am certainly going to give Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest effort a fair chance, not to mention that it is most likely to win the Best Picture Oscar in February.
  • Cloud Atlas – I was so looking forward to the return of the Wachowski siblings, but was quite underwhelmed by the trailer. This hard-to-describe novel by David Mitchell was always going to be a challenge for any one director, so the producers hired a team of 3 directors, i.e. the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer to bring it to life. I hope that audiences are able to decipher the plot consisting of 6 nested stories beginning on a Pacific Island in the 1850’s, progressing to a distant post-apocalyptic future and then concluding back where it began. All of this spread over 3 hours with each actor playing multiple characters across the nested stories. I so want to like this movie, but something tells me The Wachowskis will continue the search for their first hit since the Matrix trilogy.
  • Les Miserables – Musicals have never been my cup of tea, but they are so few and far between these days that there is always a big buzz when a Moulin Rouge or Hairspray or Chicago is released. I’ve watched them all, but wouldn’t care for a repeat viewing of any of them. In this case, I certainly can’t say “No” to a film starring Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter…and directed by Tom Hooper (director of The King’s Speech and the outstanding 2008 HBO mini-series John Adams)!
  • Silver Linings Playbook – I am not a Bradley Cooper fan and his presence in films like the Hangover series have done nothing to improve the situation, but I am intrigued by the buzz from this film which won the People’s Choice Award at the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival. I absolutely loved director David O. Russell’s Desert Storm-set action-comedy Three Kings from 1999, but haven’t seen his critically acclaimed boxing drama The Fighter from 2010. This film represents a change of pace, a dramedy, somewhat similar to his I Heart Huckabees from 2004.
  • Killing Them Softly – New Zealander Andrew Dominik has directed just 3 films in his career. The first was Chopper in 2000, which introduced the world to a certain Eric Bana. Then in 2007, he released The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford starring Brad Pitt to great critical acclaim. He now reunites Brad Pitt in this crime-thriller which is already generating awards buzz, having been nominated for the Palm d’Or at Cannes.

Guilty Pleasures

  • Jack Reacher – After the embarrassment of Rock of Ages this summer, Tom Cruise returns to a more comfortable setting in this screen adaptation of crime novel One Shot, one of a series of novels by Lee Child featuring former Army Major Jack Reacher. Having said that, I cannot imagine what the studio was thinking when they cast the 5’7” Cruise to play a character described as being 6′ 5″ tall with a 50-inch chest and having ice-blue eyes and dirty blond hair. Why even bother to call it an adaptation of a Jack Reacher novel and risk upsetting the hard core Reacher fans? Anyway, I am a big Tom Cruise fan, so I count this film as a guilty pleasure.
  • Taken 2 – In early 2009, Liam Neeson had his biggest career hit as a leading man, playing former CIA operative Bryan Mills who creates mayhem among East European human traffickers after they take his daughter. There is nothing as enjoyable as a good old-fashioned action thriller where the good guy takes apart the bad guys one by one. Fans have been looking forward to seeing more of Neeson’s character, so writer-producer Luc Besson has come up with a new adventure, this time the bad guys specifically target Bryan Mills’ family in revenge for the people he took out in the first movie.

And finally, the 7 movies I am really looking forward to:-

  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – A few months ago, Peter Jackson delighted his fans with the announcement that he had shot enough footage of The Hobbit story to produce 3 films, not the 2 as originally planned. The films are adapted not just from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, but also depict incidents from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings books and from Tolkien’s companion-piece publication The Silmarillion, hence the over-abundance of available material and the opportunity to feature characters from LOTR like Galadriel and Legolas. The build-up to the release of the first film has been perfect, with the release of a number of photos of the 13 hobbits comprising the Company of Dwarves and recently the release of an iPad App with lots of goodies. I expect/ hope this will be the biggest box office hit of the fall season and also that it will be as critically acclaimed as the original trilogy. The latest trailers with their four different endings are superb.
  • Django Unchained – I raved about the Django Unchained trailer when it first came out. It’s a new Quentin Tarentino film, not much more needs to be said.
  • Skyfall – I am really looking forward to seeing Daniel Craig chug a can of Heineken in the upcoming Bond film…and of course, eager to see if they can get the Bond franchise on track after the mess that was Quantum of Solace. I am looking forward to some of the gritty storytelling that director Sam Mendes put on show with Road to Perdition back in 2002 (interesting bit of trivia here – Road to Perdition featured a then-unknown Craig playing the cowardly son of mob boss Paul Newman).
  • Lincoln – Daniel Day Lewis brings his famous method acting chops to play the great American President. I expect to see the full bells and whistles which we have come to expect from Spielberg, hopefully it doesn’t become another Amistad. I was surprised at Lincoln’s nasal voice after years of hearing him portrayed with a deep sonorous voice. There has been a fair bit of internet chatter about the voice, which is apparently historically accurate. I think a lot of viewers will really have a problem with this, but hopefully the rest of the movie will be engaging enough.
  • Argo – It’s interesting that Ben Affleck, an actor I have taken such a dislike to, has directed two of the most gripping films in the last 5 years – Gone Baby Gone and The Town, both set in his native New England. This time around with Argo, he goes across to Iran for a fact-based drama-thriller in which he also acts (and looks quite good in that beard, by the way).
  • Hyde Park on the Hudson – I am a sucker for period dramas – Downton Abbey being my current favourite – and there has been steady buzz building up about this FDR biopic, featuring funnyman Bill Murray as The President and directed by Roger Michell of Notting Hill fame.
  • Flight – This is Robert Zemeckis’ first live-action film since Cast Away in 2000. It features Denzel Washington as a pilot who becomes a hero after safely landing a flight in distress, but the subsequent investigation reveals that he may not be a hero after all. Denzel does this sort of role very well (remember Courage Under Fire?) and I am hoping Zemeckis has not lost his edge after making only motion-capture pictures for the past decade.
  • On the Road – Jack Kerouac’s beat-era cult classic finally gets the big screen treatment, directed fittingly by Brazilian ‘road movie expert’ Walter Salles, famous for the touching Central Station and the delightful Motorcycle Diaries. On the Road features a great cast of actors including Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Amy Adams and oh…Kristen Stewart. Well, if I needed a good omen on that last one, it could be the fact that Kristen Stewart played a very short and sweet role in her last road movie Into the Wild. Hopefully the same will be the case here.

Altogether, there is an incredible array of award-winning directors and actors on show in the next few months. Looks like I will have to watch multiple movies on some weekends if I am going to fit in 17 movies from now till end-December!


Possible cast for a “female Expendables”

I read the other day an online rumor that there were plans to put together a female version of the testosterone flick The Expendables. Naturally I started wondering who would feature in the cast, if such a movie ever became a reality.

The first two names that came to mind were the actresses made famous by James Cameron in the ’80’s, namely Sigourney Weaver playing Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise (who can ever forget the line “Get away from her, you BITCH!”) and Linda Hamilton who as Sarah Connor, transformed from the fluffy haired victim in The Terminator to muscle-and-leather-bound uber-mama in the sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Not to mention the fact that Sigourney Weaver also flexed her action chops in Galaxy Quest and Avatar.

Next up was the name which most people would probably have thought of when thinking of female action stars, none other than Angelina Jolie. While the two Lara Croft movies from 2001 and 2003 have pretty much secured her legacy as action star, she has also kicked butt in films like Gone in Sixty Seconds, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Salt.

Speaking of Tomb Raider, one cannot forget the actress who was the original role model for the character in the computer game, British actress/ model/ singer Rhona Mitra. Mitra is not really a big name outside of the fanboy club, but she had a particularly good action role in the futuristic action thriller Doomsday.

Asia has a great representative in Michelle Yeoh, who has had her fair share of action roles, from playing a Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies to the martial arts expert in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Another Asian action star I am a big fan of is Vietnamese-American Maggie Q. Maggie Q hasn’t really had a big breakout hit, but she did have a significant baddie role in Live Free or Die Hard and supporting good girl roles in Mission:Impossible III and Priest.

Then we move to second-tier action franchises from the past decade. Kate Beckinsdale figured that she didn’t have much of a future acting in Shakespearean comedies (Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Kenneth Brannagh way back in 1993) or wallflower love interests (Pearl Harbor), so she went and became a vampire in the Underworld series, starting in 2003 and still going strong with the 4th edition having been released this year.

In a similar vein, Milla Jovovich has become the face of the Resident Evil franchise, battling zombies over 5 films running from 2002 to 2012. For a change of pace, she decided to take on vampires in another futuristic action film Ultraviolet in 2006. And of course, she started her scifi action-adventure journey playing the alien Leeloo in one of my all-time favourite films, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. On the other end of the spectrum, she has also played Joan of Arc in Besson’s The Messenger, back in 1999.

One actress who has appeared in different action franchises, sort of like a ‘female hero-for-hire’ is Michelle Rodriguez. She has appeared in two films from Fast and Furious franchise and is slated to appear in the 6th edition filming currently. She has also appeared alongside Milla Jovovich in a couple of the Resident Evil movies. She was in James Cameron’s Avatar, the flop video-game adaptation BloodRayne, alien invasion film Battle: Los Angeles, Robert Rodriguez’s Machete and…you get the picture.

I did think about the 3 ladies in the Charlie’s Angels movies, but then I disqualified them because other than those films, they are better know for their work in other genres – Cameron Diaz (screwball comedy), Drew Barrymore (romantic comedy) and Lucy Liu (err…nothing, really). Having said that, Cameron Diaz may just qualify on the basis of her Charlie’s Angels films and her team-up with Tom Cruise in Knight and Day. But I shudder to put Cameron Diaz on the same pedestal as Sigourney Weaver.

Similarly, Jessica Alba is another actress who has been in a few action movies, but I would hesitate to call her a female action star. She played Sue Storm in the two Fantastic Four movies and famously was picked by James Cameron back in 1999 to play genetically-engineered super-soldier Max Guevara in the TV series Dark Angel.

And perhaps to round it off, if the team needed a leader, we could go with ’70’s blaxploitation star Pam Grier, who I see as a sort of Nick Fury-type commander giving the girls the details of their next mission.

Now, all we have to do is wait for someone to write a script. Oh wait, we’re talking action movies here, we don’t need a script! Let’s just get them to sign a contract and get started…