American Gun

It's quite likely that you haven't heard of this movie. In fact, the only reason I knew about it is because I knew some people who worked on it. Overall, I'd say I liked it. I don't generally enjoy "message movies," because the themes being portrayed--in this case, the effect of the proliferation of guns on American society--are often pushed into the foreground at the expense of good storytelling. This movie didn't totally avoid that problem, but I think that the quality of the performances was enough to offset the fact that the script was a little shaky. All of the principal actors did a good job, and I particularly liked Forest Whitaker and Donald Sutherland. I've also been noticing Linda Cardellini more and more lately--I think she's pretty talented and I found it a little unfortunate that her storyline wasn't developed more. It was a little hard to see how it fit with the rest of the film. From a technical standpoint, it seemed a little obvious that the writer-director was new to filmmaking, because he chose to use a lot of what I call "film school" techniques. Some of it worked, like the way the different storylines had different film textures and color balances. On the other hand, some of the camera angles and cuts kind of bothered me. Still, I think that the film does what it sets out to do, which is to spotlight an issue that we as a culture are currently dealing with. I'm not sure that I completely agree with the standpoint the film seems to take, but it's a subject that certainly merits discussion. If it comes to your local indie theater (and you can check the release schedule at the film's web site), you might want to check it out.

Viewed: 3/25/2006 | Released: 3/21/2006 | Score: B

IMDb Page

Sakeriver Movie Awards for 2005

I wonder whether or not posting my picks on the same day as the Oscars will become a tradition--this is the second year in a row that I've done it. This year it was only partially due to procrastination. As it turned out, 2005 was a difficult year for film. Box office returns were the lowest in recent history and most of what came out was crap. On the other hand, the few good films were really good. All of this made it difficult to make decisions in many of the categories--either because there were a few really great choices or because there were none. But anyway, on with the show.

Best Drama: Brokeback Mountain

I suppose my pick of Brokeback Mountain is probably not terribly surprising given how much buzz that film has generated this year. It's already won both the Best Drama and Best Director Golden Globes and in all likelihood it will easily win those categories at the Oscars. For me, though, it was actually a tough decision because Match Point was so good. In the end, though, I went with Brokeback because even though I think that Match Point was smarter and better written, and even though both films were technically excellent, Brokeback was more emotionally evocative for me. Though both films had wonderful acting, Brokeback's performances were deeper, and while both made excellent use of cinematography and setting to deliver their respective stories, Brokeback's majestic use of landscape made the setting take on a life of its own.

Runners-up: Match Point, Dear Frankie, Shopgirl, Jarhead, Serenity

Best Comedy: The 40 Year-Old Virgin

Here, again, I had a tough choice between two excellent candidates. I eventually went with The 40 Year-Old Virgin because I felt it was a better film all around. Kung Fu Hustle made me laugh harder and was brilliant in managing to both parody and represent the Hong Kong martial arts genre, but Virgin was one of those rare movies that manages to be both truly hilarious and truly touching. The idea of a sex farce with characters that you care about seems unlikely, but that's exactly what Virgin is.

Runners-up: Kung Fu Hustle, The Matador

Best Actor: Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain)

Despite the fact that Heath Ledger's performance runs afoul of my biggest acting pet peeve--don't screw up the accent--the fact is that he did some really amazing work with this role. His performance as the laconic Ennis Del Mar was so nuanced and so quietly passionate. Being able to pull so much emotion out of such a sparse script is really what acting is all about.

Runners-up: Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), Pierce Brosnan (The Matador), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Match Point), Steve Carell (The 40 Year-Old Virgin)

Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line)

This category was hard to pick, but for a completely different reason than the first two. There just weren't any female performances that really wowed me this year. Part of this is probably due to the choices we made in what movies to see--in particular I think having seen Transamerica might have made this easier. In any case, I chose Reese Witherspoon because, even though her performance didn't strike any major chords with me and it was completely overshadowed by what Joaquin Phoenix did in that movie, it was certainly the best work she's ever done.

Runners-up: Emily Mortimer (Dear Frankie), Claire Danes (Shopgirl)

Best Supporting Actor: Jason Schwartzman (Shopgirl)

Jason Schwartzman has this great quirkiness that he brings to all of his roles, from Max Fischer in Rushmore to Albert Markovski in I Heart Huckabees. I'm not sure exactly how to describe it--maybe a sort of awkward, geek-chic self-absorption--but whatever it is, I like it. His performance in Shopgirl was a lot of fun to watch, and provided a great comic counterpoint to the LA fable that forms the rest of the movie.

Runners-up: Jeremy Irons (Kingdom of Heaven), Jamie Foxx (Jarhead), Peter Sarsgaard (Jarhead), Michael Caine (The Weather Man)

Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain)

I wasn't too impressed with Michelle Williams at first but the more I think about it, the more I appreciate her performance. My attention in Brokeback Mountain was so focused on Ledger and Gyllenhaal that I hardly even noticed her, but having had time to reflect on it, I think that is really to her credit. A lesser actress would have seen the character's struggles as an opportunity to really act, and would consequently have overdone it. In fact, that's more or less what Anne Hathaway did in the same film. Williams, though, gave a much more subtle performance--you never see the actress in her thinking "OK I'M CONFLICTED RIGHT NOW"--which allowed her to play off of Ledger in a much more realistic way. It's a little ironic, really, that sacrificing the "spotlight" in that film is what brought her so much critical attention.

Runner-up: Emily Mortimer (Match Point)