Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 2012 Rundown

The Descendants (2011) – Mark it 9.

Seven years since his last film, Alexander Payne's The Descendants has been well worth the wait; it’s probably even his best effort yet.  George Clooney is fantastic as Matt King, an average middle-aged dad, who has had his seemingly normal Hawaiian life completely turned upside down.  In the midst of a major financial decision (the trust controlling his family’s huge tract of land is dissolving), Matt’s wife goes into a permanent coma after a boating accident, leaving him to take care of his two troubled daughters on his own.  When his older daughter (Shailene Woodley) reveals his wife’s infidelity, the family begins a quest to find closure.  By confronting the source of their pain, they are able to finally able to make their peace and say goodbye.  The Descendents is easily one of the best films of last year: darkly funny, tearfully poignant, beautifully shot, and filled with powerhouse performances. Clooney has never been better and the actresses playing his two daughters (Woodley and Amara Miller) hit just the right notes every time.

The People vs. George Lucas (2010) – Mark it 5.

This sloppy but entertaining documentary asks an interesting question about who should rightfully take ownership over the Star Wars legacy: the artist who created it or the fans who made it a phenomenon.  Of course, this is for the fanboys, by the fanboys and clearly gives only one point of view.  It is preaching the choir, but I had fun with it nevertheless.  With dozens of Star Wars geeks sharing the quest from idolizing Lucas (the original trilogy) to being mildly irritated (the 1997 special editions) and finally to complete disgust (the dreaded prequels), it is very thorough in explaining what exactly went wrong from the fans’ perspective.  When it comes to being a Star Wars fan, I am probably a step above casual (as you can see my Phantom Menace review this past March), so it was quite entertaining to hear the diehards state their case.  Overall, I am still a hung jury on The People vs. George Lucas between the artist and the fans.  Though it did convince me to put “seeing the real original trilogy” on my bucket list.

Wendy and Lucy (2008) – Mark it 7.

Writer/director Kelly Reichardt (2011’s Meek’s Cutoff) is a unique talent with a distinct style.  She tells deliberately paced, simple stories that are steeped in realism yet full of tension.  The plot revolves around a young woman, Wendy (Michelle Williams), on a long road trip with her beloved dog, Lucy, from Indiana to Alaska, where the job prospects are supposedly better.  But after her car breaks down in a small Oregon town, a small mistake separates the two companions and grinds their trip to a halt.  We are left to quietly watch Wendy’s desperate search to find Lucy and somehow pay for her car’s repairs, but this quest is full of hardships.  Williams is fantastic as the strong woman who slowly realizes that she is alone and in over her head on this journey.  I also loved the friendship she builds with an old security guard (Walter Dalton), the only man in town willing to help.  This simple little indie may not be everyone’s thing, but I found its quiet moments beautiful, its subtle performances great, and its small storyline very moving.

In the Loop (2009) – Mark it 7.

Describing In the Loop to a friend, I said it was a zanier and raunchier West Wing.  The similarity comes from seeing an inside look at the big decision makers in government (in both Washington and London), whose words and actions reverberate around the world.  However, In the Loop is a completely over the top and excellent satire of that world.  When a dimwitted British politician’s slip of tongue gets blown out of proportion, it sets off a series of events that lead the U.K. and U.S. toward war in the Middle East.  From the generals and diplomats to aides and spin-doctors, these characters are incompetent, arrogant and hilariously powerful, all at once.  So many things are fun to watch, like the slimy chairman of the secret war committee (David Rasche) going to toe to toe with a brutish, but peace loving, general (James Gandolfini).  But Peter Capaldi steals the show as his British media relations czar, Malcolm Tucker, spits out countless and brilliant obscenities throughout; that alone makes In the Loop worth watching.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) – Mark it 6.

It is necessary to pay very close attention to every second of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s two plus hours to understand what is going on as George Smiley (Gary Oldman) tries to unravel who among the high-up spies in Britain’s MI-6 is a mole for the Soviets.  It is impossible to deny what a well-crafted film this is, with its 1970s setting being so well done, the tension is always amped, and the performances by its all-star British cast are all top-notch.  However, to fully appreciate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s dense plotline, it will take a second viewing that I am not planning on attempting in the near future.  As usual, Gary Oldman is great but in the quietest and subtlest of performances.  He observes first and speaks second, but it fascinating to watch him observe and try to untangle the huge and dangerous mystery that is set up before him.  Also, Tom Hardy is in this and he is always awesome (I cannot wait for his Bane!).

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Avengers (2012)

Directed by Joss Whedon
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, and Samuel L. Jackson

It is time for my take on the record-breaking mega-movie from Marvel, The Avengers.  With five movies setting up of this giant superhero ensemble, its billion dollar box-office has made the investment worthwhile.  However, that build up has left me a little burnt out on the super hero genre (Christopher Nolan’s Batman films excluded), but I was still looking forward to checking out The Avengers to see if the film was worthy of its self-produced hype.

I want to begin by quick highlighting the five films leading up to The Avengers.  

The build up started off with a bang as 2008’s Iron Man perfectly mixed fun and excitement with Robert Downey Jr. owning the role of Tony Stark (Mark it 7).  That summer’s The Incredible Hulk was pretty forgettable; in fact I barely remember anything about that film either good or bad (Mark it 5).  Iron Man 2 followed in 2010, which took everything fun about the original and beat it to the ground until boredom set in (Mark it 3).  2011 saw the final two set-up films, Thor and Captain America.  I enjoyed the fish-out-of-water aspects of Thor that added some freshness to make up for its convoluted plot (Mark it 6), while Captain America did absolutely nothing for me.  I found him to be a pretty boring character in a bad movie that was only made to act as the final bridge toward Marvel's culminating project (Mark it 3). 

Except for the first Iron Man, I thought The Avengers’ build up was less than stellar.  That being said, with Joss Whedon at the helm (I am a big fan of his television series, Firefly, and its movie sequel, Serenity), I was still pretty interested in what his take on the superhero genre would look like.  It’s an interesting idea to take these larger than life characters that each warranted their own stories (not including the Avengers' B-Team, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye), and see them interact as one unit.  Despite the ups-and-downs in the elaborate set-up, I went into this film with an open mind.

One has to weigh through a lot of Marvel geek speak at the film’s opening with the main bad guy, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), traveling to Earth from outer space to steal the Tesseract.  The Tesseract is an all-powerful cube of energy that is heavily protected by Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) secret agency, S.H.I.E.L.D.  Once the cube is in Loki’s possession, with the help of a couple good guys turned bad through a little brainwashing, Fury must turn to the team he has spent five movies setting up, the Avengers.  Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye must learn how to work and fight together before Loki and his alien army destroy the world.

That is a very complicated way to tell a simple story: bad guys show up, assemble the good guys, let them work out their differences, and then fight the bad guys.   The first half of The Avengers is a little bit dull.  It is easy to get lost in the all the technical talk of fake comic book science, and as a comic book villain, Loki, is not nearly memorable enough to instill menace (even as he kills dozens or hundreds).  But once the team is finally assembled on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier, The Avengers starts to pick up some steam.

Robert Downey Jr.’s entrance as Tony Stark instantly adds some energy and laughs that were sorely needed.  He was the highlight of Iron Man and the shtick worked well in its sequel of lesser quality.  I thought he was a highlight again in The Avengers.  The other standout was Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (the third actor to take a stab at the Incredible hulk in the last 10 years – after Eric Bana and Edward Norton).  Ruffalo’s Banner is a quiet and nervous genius brought into the fold for his great brain rather than the uncontrollable brawn he bottles up inside.  Watching Stark's brashness interact with Banner’s nervousness while the two geniuses bond were always great scenes.  By only hinting at the Hulk for most of the film, Whedon is able to turn his eventual appearance into a high point in the film.  The Hulk’s contributions in The Avengers' huge, and heavily CGI, final battle are easily the best parts of the sequence.  With the Avengers, even an uncontrollable beast can be used effectively to help the fight and save the world.

The other heroes are given their share of screen time.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has his memorable fights and can act as a liasion with Loki, as his brother, and Captain America (Chris Evans) is funny as the old-fashioned All-American boy who acts as the team’s uniter (for the good of the country, of course).  Black Widow and Hawkeye perform their duties when needed, but it is clear why neither warranted their own future film; they just aren’t as compelling as the other four.  And Samuel L. Jackson finally gets a chance to sink his teeth into the Nick Fury role, no longer relegated to post-credits cameos to set up this story. Altogether, I did have a lot of fun watching these characters hash out their differences under Fury’s direction and the action pieces are handled very well.

Five films in the making, The Avengers turned out to be a pretty good superhero movie.  There have been some transcendent films in the genre (The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United), and some that have been pretty bad like Captain America, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Green Lantern (which I didn’t actually waste my time by seeing).  I think that The Avengers shares company with a lot of the other superhero movies somewhere in the middle. 

Superhero movies are usually dumb fun that, when handled well, are really enjoyable to watch.  Whedon does a good job mixing all the parts, and his attempt at the superhero genre is a fun two plus hours at the cinema.  Marvel had a lot riding on Whedon and The Avengers, and they didn’t screw it up (though with its gobs and gobs of money it made, it wouldn’t have mattered to Marvel if they did).

Mark it 6.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Matthew McConaughey (and many more)

Going into Dazed and Confused, I knew more about its famous soundtrack (filled with so much memorable 1970s rock ‘n’ roll) than the film itself despite its being widely considered a “classic” among Generation X, and the Millennials (my generation) to a lesser extent.  I was aware of Matthew McConaughey’s famous line about the age of high school girls and Ben Afflect’s obsession with paddling the little freshmen.  Beyond that I just assumed it was a standard teen stoner sex comedy where dimwitted kids spend their days trying to score drugs, booze, and tail.  While the kids of Dazed and Confused do spend a considerable amount of time getting high, drunk and (attempting to get...) laid, it is not nearly as dimwitted as the teen stoner sex comedies I associated it with.

Richard Linklater’s breakout film follows a vast cast of characters in a small Texas suburb on the last day of school, and its subsequent night.  The kids of this town perfectly reflect every high school cliché.  What separates this film from others is Linklater’s ability to strike a balance between all of Dazed and Confused’s characters.  They may be clichés:  the football star who has trouble with authority, the preppy bitch, the perpetually red-eyed stoner, the sadistic bully, the scrawny freshmen, the creepy dude in his 20s who feels important around teens, the philosophizing observers bound for college, and many, many more.  But within its 100 plus minutes, all these kids are given enough screen time that they are molded into compelling characters nonetheless.

These kids may be very different but with no more school to worry about, they are all left in the same situation: stuck in a rink-a-dink town with nothing to do.  Dazed and Confused is about how these kids find ways to fill their time.  One of the most popular activities to pass the time is smoking pot.  The days are spent toking up during the lunch break and their nights are spent taking drives to nowhere with a freshly rolled joint.  One of the bigger storylines involves the Randall “Pink” Floyd’s (Jason London), the star quarterback, rebellion against his meathead coaches making the team vow to stay on the “right track,” whatever that means.  Pot also leads to some of the biggest laughs in the film, such as Slater’s (Rory Cochrane), the preeminent stoner, theory about Martha Washington being a “hip, hip lady.”  Dazed and Confused definitely earns its title as a stoner comedy, and it is a damn effective one.

This small town also has well-defined hazing traditions that help these kids pass the time on the first night of summer vacation.  At the end of every school year, the soon to be senior guys unsheathe their wooden paddles and round up the incoming freshmen for a brutal ass beating while the senior girls degrade their incoming freshmen with ketchup, mustard, and insults.  These scenes are horrific (if things like this actually happened), but seeing it so widely accepted with teachers chuckling and concessions being sold in the parking lots, that its absurdity heightens the horrors into hilarity.  It’s especially funny when the two most sadistic tormentors have become two of the film’s biggest stars in subsequent years, Parker Posey and Ben Afflect.  With a cast full of no names, it is fun to see some the biggest names play the most deplorable people on screen (though everyone was a no name at the time).

The hazing rituals also allow for Dazed and Confused to enter the “coming-of-age” genre.  Once Fred O’Bannion (Ben Afflect) unloads his paddle on the scrawniest of freshmen, Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), the young kid can officially begin his transition from middle school to high school.  These seniors unleash hell and those who can take it instantly earn their respect.  In the course of one night, Mitch (with "Pink" Floyd’s guidance) goes from being the cowardly middle school kid to a pot smoking, beer drinking ladies’ man.  This transformation is one of the most fun aspects to watch in Dazed and Confused, especially when the events run counter to our initial expectations (A smooth beer run?  Hooking up with an older girl? Being accepted by the stoners and jocks?).  The hazing is just a way to pass the time in an aimless, nothing-to-do town and once one gets through that ritual, everyone is stuck in the same boat.

Most importantly, Dazed and Confused consistently brings the laughs, and laughs that are good enough in their own right, that getting high beforehand is not necessarily a prerequisite.  Having to be a stoner to like a “stoner comedy” is merely an excuse to forgive bad comedy and Dazed and Confused does not fall into that category.  I think every character in the cast made me laugh at some point or another, and with so many characters, that happened plenty of times.  There was a lot of hype surrounding this film (from critics, friends, and the general population in between), so I was perhaps a little suspicious that it could actually be as good as people say.  In the end, I enjoyed Dazed and Confused enough to say that it was worthy of the hype.  It takes the stoner teen comedy genre and ups the quality of it in every way; I’m a big fan.

One final note about this film before I wrap things up with a “mark”:  did anyone else feel super lame about their high school experience after watching Dazed and Confused?  I know the hazing rituals never happened in the streets of West Allis (and hope that things so barbaric are never tolerated), but the more realistic party aspects depicted here were just as foreign to my high school self.  You can’t help but feel like there was fun to be had that I wasted in years past (though I broke out of my shell in college enough that the feeling never gets beyond just the “bummer” territory).  However, it would be interesting to see a Dazed and Confused sequel where the overweight tormentors in its hazing rituals slouch at the bar nostalgically petting their paddles, the only reminders of their life's pinnacle.  Then the lamer high school kids (myself) can enjoy Dazed and Confused without a twinge of guilt. 

But all this is a minor and silly quibble in an otherwise excellent comedy.

Mark it 8.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Starring Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, and Richard White

Not sure how it happened, but I somehow grew up in the Nineties without ever seeing Beauty and the Beast.  Similar to how George Lucas’ cash-grab 3D conversion got me to revisit The Phantom Menace a few months back, Disney’s release of its Beauty and the Beast in 3D got me interested in finally checking this film out (though I just borrowed the DVD from the library rather than dole out $13 to see the film’s shapes slightly jump out at me in dimmed colors).  I’m not sure what was holding me back; it was a sensation during the midst of my childhood, it was the first animated feature to get a Best Picture nomination, I’ve only heard and read good things about it, and I love animated films (when done artfully).  With all these criteria in line, one would assume that it would’ve crossed my path at some point during the last 20 plus years.  However, that moment didn’t come until this past week.  Better to see a classic of my childhood at 23 than never at all, I suppose.

First of all, Beauty and the Beast lived up to it to my lofty expectations, placing it right alongside the other Disney classics of the 1990s, Aladdin and The Lion King (two films that did find a consistent home in our VCR when I was a kid).  It definitely has all the ingredients that make an effective animated family feature:  an interesting story, appealing characters, excellent visuals, and the extra ingredient necessary for most Disney fare, a good score with memorable songs.  Great care was taken into making this film, and there is consistent proof on the screen.  I think this care is often what separates the films that become timeless family features that are loved equally by kids and adults, from those disposal kids movies that may hold the attention of little ones decently but offer nothing to anyone older than 10.

Beauty and the Beast is Disney’s take on a classic fairy tale about love overcoming superficial judgments.  Belle, the beauty, is an uncommon character in her small 19th century French town.  She is an independent thinker who loves to read, cherishes her idiosyncratic father, and is not smitten by the town heartthrob, Gaston.  With his rippling muscles and dozens of hunting trophies, Gaston is under the assumption that he has the right to any woman he chooses, and his sights are set on Belle.  I have a feeling that, if not for the curse caused by his shallowness, the Beast would have developed into a man of similar morals to Gaston.  However, having been turned into a hideous beast, he has been given years of seclusion to brood over where his poor choices have led him.  And of course, the curse is reversible.

A certain set of circumstances eventually leads Belle to the Beast’s castle, leaving behind a furious Gaston (he's not used to not getting what he wants) but entering a prison sentence of sorts where she will become the Beast’s permanent guest.  Luckily, Belle is not one to judge people on first impressions and the Beast is not evil like he initially appears.  Given time, and assistance from his devoted (and similarly cursed) servants, the Beast and Belle develop a relationship based on love, and not solely upon appearances.  My favorite part of this film was how under his rough exterior, the Beast reveals himself to be nothing more than a confused and awkward individual.  Without the coaching by his servants, the anthropomorphized household objects such as a candlestick (Lumiére), clock (Cogsworth), and teapot (Mrs. Potts), the Beast would be a lost cause with no charm and the curse would become permanent.  Throughout the course of the film, the Beast can learn the lesson that his curse was intended to teach.   However, circumstances back in the town involving Gaston and Belle’s father may prevent that lesson from being fully realized.

Before, I move on to the catchy tunes and outstanding visuals, I want to expound a bit on the side characters I briefly mentioned before.   I was taken by just how clever the artists who created Beauty and the Beast were in bringing all these household objects to life.  First of all, they are functionally convincing; the filmmakers did not simply slap faces on the front and have them magically glide across the floors.  There is a logic to the way they move that adds depth to the story overall.  Also, their personalities are smartly reflected in the objects they embody.  Lumiére, the candlestick is a suave romantic who would find himself at home on top of a table for two.  Cogsworth is the tightly wound control freak who is always fretting that order be upheld, perfect qualities for a clock.  And Mrs. Potts is that warm motherly figure that will always be there to pick you up when you’re feeling down (perhaps over tea?).  The thoughtfulness behind these characters are handled across the board.  The enchanted objects are also given the juiciest bits of comic relief and provide the most memorable songs (though Belle and Gaston each have their own strong pieces).

As I embrace more and more films, I have become less judgmental based on genre.  The belief that a film should be written off because of a certain tag it is given like cartoon, romance, or musical (all of which can be applied to Beauty and the Beast) has dissolved.  Films of any genre can be excellent when made with care.  That can be said about Beauty and the Beast, an excellent musical.   Each song is memorable with a catchy tune and clever lyrics.  “Be Our Guest,” the household objects’ huge song and dance number was still in my head the next day, and the titular track, “Beauty and the Beast,” deservingly took home the Best Song Oscar.  Reading about the film afterward (as I always do), it was quite moving to learn that the chief songwriter, Howard Ashman, was losing his battle with AIDS while writing these songs.  It is poignant to think that while he never could see the finished product, his songs will be around for generations to come.

I’ve discussed in detail how Beauty and the Beast is a success in storytelling, but it is an impressive visual achievement.  The Beast’s castle is quite the creation.  It is both cold and foreboding but also magnificent and expansive.  These powerful images, in both the castle and beyond, are achieved by many of the film's solid artistic choices.  Backgrounds in animated features are often filled with hard lines and bright colors that give it an artificial feel.  However, Beauty and the Beast approaches the scene setting with a painterly touch.  You feel as if you are weaving with the camera through an old Renaissance painting as the story is told.  This approach culminates perfectly during the film’s big ballroom sequence, with the camera gliding through the huge space and circling Belle and the Beast.  Kids can be amazed by the film’s sheer entertainment value while the adults can also marvel at its artistic achievements.

My prolonged wait to catch up with Beauty and the Beast was rewarded generously.  With its hype, I assumed that I would be in for a good film and it definitely lived up to that hype.  When the time comes to start a family film collection, the Beauty and the Beast blu-ray (or whatever technology is king at the time) would comfortably sit beside the other Disney classics (The Jungle Book, Aladdin, The Lion King, etc) and the gems from Pixar (Toy Story, WALL-E, Up, etc.) and Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, etc.).  It’s really cool that the 3D re-release introduced this great film to a new generation of little kids.  It’s just too bad they’ll be introduced to it through a gimmick and a pair of dark glasses; but that topic is for another day.

Mark it 8.

Note:  Glancing at the great titles I have mentioned in this review, it is clear that animated film is a genre just as valid as any.  One who cannot look beyond the “family film” label is really preventing themselves from enjoying a plethora of excellent movies.  I hope more will expand their horizons because there are great films made in every genre.  You just have to seek it out (and I'll be happy to help).

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Never Let Me Go (2010)

Directed by Mark Romanek
Starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley

The podcast that inspired me to start this blog back in February, Filmspotting, is such a favorite of mine because it brings so many lesser known films to my attention.  I hear them mentioned, stick them in my Netflix queue, and get pleasantly surprised when they pop up in my mailbox.  Never Let Me Go is one of those films.  I had never heard of it, despite its star-studded cast with Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean and tons of stuff), Andrew Garfield (The Social Network and the upcoming Spider-Man reboot), and the always amazing Carey Mulligan (An Education and Drive).  However, I quickly became quite interested in this (technically) sci-fi romantic drama that was championed hard by Filmspotting host, Adam Kempanaar, in multiple episodes.  It was even his favorite film of 2010.  Needless to say, I had to check it out.

With Never Let Me Go, Mark Romanek (best known for 2002’s One Hour Photo and music videos for Nine Inch Nails, Fiona Apple, and Jay-Z) has adapted a highly regarded novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.  The film spans from the 1970s through the 1990s in an alternate reality where medical science has advanced so far that by the mid-twentieth century, the average human lifespan exceeds 100 years.  However, life without terminal illness is not free of sacrifice.  This setup gives Never Let Me Go its science-fiction tag, but the real meat of the story focuses on the relationships of three individuals as they cope with their feelings of love in a world where they are disposable.  We come to understand their place in this world throughout the film's three acts, and this understanding can be quite moving.
Never Let Me Go begins innocently enough at a British boarding school in the 1970s where we meet three pre-teens, Kathy (Isobel Meikle-Small as a child; Carey Mulligan as a teenager and adult), Tommy (Charlie Rowe, child; Andrew Garfield, teen and adult), and Ruth (Ella Purnell, child; Keira Knightley, teen and adult). They play sports, attend class, gossip, and start to fall in love, as kids their age tend to do.  However, they soon learn that their school is not normal but rather a place where people are bred to eventually donate their vital organs, ensuring that the society’s new standard of living can be sustained.  Living under these circumstances would put a strain on any relationship, but when two friends with seemingly little to live for are in love with the same boy, these complications increase tenfold.  On a side note, the actress who plays the young Kathy strikes an amazing resemblance to Carey Mulligan (kudos to the casting); while the young Tommy and young Ruth are less uncanny, both child actors are also really good.  

Structured around three clearly defined acts, the film then ventures on into the next stages of Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth’s lives where they finish donor training, awkwardly assimilate into regular life, and learn of rumors about ways out of their situation.  A lot of the film’s power comes from these rumors because they hinge on love, and these friends have grown into adulthood with the cloud of a love triangle hanging over them.  Kathy is kind, caring and madly in love with the meek Tommy, whom is taken by the assertive and strong-willed Ruth.  All three main actors are so strong at subtly portraying these emotions (Knightley probably being the least subtle, but her character’s traits somewhat demand that that be the case).  There are multiple plot points that arise during these two acts that I am hesitant to mention in order to avoid making this review too spoiler heavy.  Each turn in the story takes only adds to the emotional buildup as these characters’ paths diverge and converge throughout the adult stages of their lives.

In her three films I’ve seen (An Education, Drive, and Never Let Me Go), it has become apparent that Carey Mulligan is a feast to the eyes.  Every time she is on screen, I cannot turn away because she is not only beautiful but also so damn good.  Without uttering a word, she can express so many emotions through her eyes, face, and mannerisms.  Her face alone can tell know how much pain she is in when Ruth flaunts her relationship with Tommy, how happy she is when she can get a taste of the love she seeks, and how sad she is when the weight of their place in the world bears down on them.  She got an Oscar nomination (and Oscar snub: Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side my ass) for An Education, and I am sure that the accolades will continue to pile up as her career continues to develop.  Andrew Garfield is also great and Keira Knightley is really good, but Mulligan is the one who steals the show.

While it will not reach the heights of “Best of 2010” for me (like it did for Filmspotting’s Adam), Never Let Me Go is still a very strong film.  It takes a story of unrequited love and adds such a unique twist that it quickly got me hooked.   You are both terrified by the world that has been built and moved by the personal stories that take place within it.  I cared deeply about Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, and pulled for them to find some happiness in their unhappy situations.  As a film buff, there’s no better feeling than finding pleasantly surprising films that completely missed your radar.  Never Let Me Go was such a case.

Mark it 7.