Reviews from Telluride and Toronto may have been mixed, but Jason Reitman's Up in the Air got a bit of a boost yesterday when the National Board of Review named it Best Film of 2009 (as noted in the current lists and awards tracker). To drive the point home, the NBR gave it Best Supporting Actress (Anna Kendrick), Best Adapted Screenplay (Reitman and Sheldon Turner) and let George Clooney share the Best Actor award with Morgan Freeman, whose Nelson Mandela in Invictus is, according to none other than New York Times editor Bill Keller, "uncanny - less an impersonation than an incarnation." So for the next couple of days anyway, Up in the Air is a frontrunner in the awards race this season, with a clear shot at the Big One even, and it's among the films opening in theaters today.
"This is a movie that's easy to like - and to dislike as well," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Less adapted from than inspired by Walter Kirn's 2001 novel, Jason Reitman's third feature is a glibly serious comedy about a professional terminator. George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, corporate road warrior and hired gun, living out of a stowable wheeled suitcase and flying first-class city to city, or rather company to company, discharging redundant workers. It's a job and the joke is, he loves it.... Up in the Air is the most topical Hollywood release of the season, a far more scarifying disaster film than 2012 or The Road."
"There are different ways into Up in the Air, which can be viewed as a well-timed snapshot of an economically flailing America, appreciated as a study in terminal narcissism or dismissed as a sentimental testament to traditional coupling," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. "Certainly you can fall for Bingham, maybe even shed a tear for him, though don't get carried away (as he does) or mistake him for some kind of hero. The truer tragedy here, as the repeated images of fired men and women suggest, doesn't belong to him."
More from Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com), Sean Burns (Philadelphia Weekly), Fernando F Croce (Slant), Alonso Duralde (IFC), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), David Edelstein (New York), Steven Erickson (Gay City News), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix), Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe), Kathleen Murphy (MSN Movies), Christopher Orr (New Republic), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Nicholas Rapold (L), James Rocchi (Redblog), Nick Schager, Dana Stevens (Slate), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York), Armond White (New York Press) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
Interviews with and profiles of Reitman: Rachel Abramowitz (Los Angeles Times), David Carr (NYT), Scott Foundas (LA Weekly), Jette Kernion (Cinematical), Scott Macaulay (Filmmaker), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Anne Thompson and Scott Tobias (AV Club). Aaron Hillis talks with Danny McBride for IFC. Online viewing. David Poland talks with Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.
Updates, 12/6: IndieWIRE's Peter Knegt reports on the "stunning numbers in its first weekend of limited release." Also: Up in the Air leads the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association's (WAFCA) nominations.
"What accounts for the film's runaway critical acclaim?" A roundup of opinions from Carl Franzen at the Atlantic Wire.
"Leo and Sofya Tolstoy had one of the great literary marriages," writes Chris Wisniewski at Reverse Shot, "a passionate half-century love affair that resulted in the birth of 13 children, a deep and abiding partnership that inspired and helped to produce some of the most significant works in all of world literature, and a scornful, destructive relationship that drove each of them to the brink of insanity. They were collaborators, lovers, and formidable adversaries, and theirs was a story so richly dramatic that Tolstoy pilfered liberally from it in War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Kreutzer Sonata, among other works. With The Last Station, writer-director Michael Hoffman, whose best film is the delightfully absurd satire Soapdish (other, lesser credits include A Midsummer Night's Dream, One Fine Day, and Restoration), takes this legendarily tempestuous relationship and turns it into middling awards bait."
"To say that the actors - Helen Mirren, James McAvoy, Christopher Plummer and Paul Giamatti, among others - overdo it would be an understatement," writes AO Scott in the NYT. "I can't handicap their Oscar chances, but isn't there a scenery-eating contest every summer out on Coney Island?"
More from Bryce Renninger (indieWIRE), Nick Schager (TONY), Andrew Schenker (Slant), Ella Taylor (Voice) and James van Maanen. Earlier: Reviews from Telluride. Susan King talks with Christopher Plummer for the LAT.
"There is a grim timeliness to the release of Brothers, Jim Sheridan's movie about the effects of war on the family of a Marine serving in Afghanistan," writes AO Scott in the NYT. "Whatever the other consequences of President Obama's revised strategy in that country, we can be sure that it will yield more stories like the one told in this film. And it is sobering, eight years into the war, to reflect that in 2004, the first time this movie was made - by the Danish director Susanne Bier - it was just as topical and urgent."
"Empathy must come as naturally as breathing to the Irishman Jim Sheridan, director of My Left Foot, In America, and now the overpoweringly intimate Brothers," writes New York's David Edelstein. "Working with screenwriter David Benioff (25th Hour), he skips among three protagonists and emotional states without losing the story's pulse: Every narrative beat is also a heartbeat."
More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Sean Axmaker (Stranger), Alonso Duralde (IFC), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe), Michael O'Sullivan (Washington Post), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Nick Schager (Slant), Scott Tobias (AV Club) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). For the NYT, John Anderson talks with Sheridan and Benioff.
"Time has reduced many of the idiosyncratic American leading men of the 70s into harmless, adorable senior citizens," sighs Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Dustin Hoffman and Richard Dreyfuss appear onscreen these days almost exclusively as cutesy old codgers. Now, a neutered Robert De Niro plays a widower who dodders around the country visiting his grown children in Everybody's Fine, a schmaltzy Americanization of Giuseppe Tornatore's 1990 Italian drama."
More from Josef Braun, Erin Donovan, Alonso Duralde (IFC), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Stephen Holden (NYT), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Paul Matwychuk, Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly), Benjamin Sutton (L), Keith Uhlich (TONY), James van Maanen, Bill Weber (Slant), Armond White (New York Press), Robert Wilonsky (Voice) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). ST VanAirsdale talks with Sam Rockwell for Movieline. Online viewing. David Poland talks with director Kirk Jones.
"The ordinary wear, tear, and occasional rending of relationships you and I might actually know is portrayed infrequently enough onscreen that when it does turn up, the recognition factor is a little startling," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Everything Strange and New seemed a tonic at the Sundance Film Festival this year precisely because it was the kind of indie - quiet, serious, intimate, void of stars and buzz - people complain can't get made, or even into Sundance, anymore."
"Thematically and visually, Gigante is as full and rich as its title suggests," writes Benjamin Sutton in the L Magazine. "Cut down to fifteen minutes, or filled out with actual characters and compelling conflicts, Gigante could be a beautiful treat." Nick Pinkerton in the Voice: "With potentially lethargic materials, [director Adrián] Biniez has made a quiet, intent, involving film, a moony-innocent urban alienation fairy tale of bashful ogre and village beauty - and it never quite crests." More from Chuck Bowen (Slant), David Fear (TONY), Stephen Holden (NYT) and James van Maanen.
"Serious Moonlight has neither enough bite nor enough heart to sustain it as a female-revenge-fantasy-cum-romantic-comedy," writes TONY's David Fear; "even its 'shocking' switcheroo and faux-edgy moments seem remarkably frivolous and flavorless." More from Sam Adams (AV Club), Melissa Anderson (Voice), Stephen Holden (NYT), Liz Kilduff (L), Michael Koresky (indieWIRE), Ryan Stewart (Slant) and James van Maanen.
"Could Dave Foley prostitute his talent to amuse any further without actually becoming a prostitute?" asks Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "In a plunging step down from emceeing celebrity poker, Foley provides a recognizable face to Jameel Khan's picked-over Goodwill bin of workplace comedy, The Strip." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant) and James van Maanen.
"From one perspective, you could say that Breaking Point never steps wrong since its every movement is perfectly (almost comfortingly) predictable," writes Tim Grierson in the Voice. "But between [Armond] Assante's tough-guy A.D.A. with something to hide and [Tom] Berenger's squinty-eyed inner torment, Breaking Point is so dry you may wish it had the good sense to be a campy hoot." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT).
Daniel M Gold in the NYT: "Mystery Team, directed by Dan Eckman, runs up against the hazard that confronts all sketch comedy: Can an idea that works for 5 minutes be sustained for more than 100? Not surprisingly, especially for a movie heavy on college humor, the results are hit-and-miss."
"Amitabh Bachchan has acted in films with his son Abhishek before. But in R Balakrishnan's odd and sometimes oddly affecting Hindi movie Paa, the son plays father to the father." Rachel Saltz explains in the NYT. More from Aaron Hillis (Voice).
"Big River Man is a self-marketing tool for the hard-drinking, overweight Slovenian swimmer Martin Strel, only it's disguised as a global warming awareness tale of human endurance," writes Diego Costa in Slant. "But while this over-narrated, over-scored beauty of a film follows Martin's attempt to cross 3,375 miles of the Amazon, it's his relationship with his son Borut that stands out." In the Voice, Ella Taylor agrees that that's where "the real drama lies"; for TONY's David Fear, the doc turns from "by-the-book hagiography into the realm of compellingly cracked vérité." More from Manohla Dargis (NYT) and James van Maanen. Alicia Van Couvering talks with director John Maringouin for Filmmaker.
"'Everything is meaningless,' says Varg 'Count Grishnackh' Vikernes, former leader of pioneering Norwegian black metal band Burzum and a convicted murderer and church arsonist, in Until the Light Takes Us." Nick Schager in Slant: "That goes for Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell's documentary as well, a fan-perspective depiction of the Nordic black metal scene so superficial and poorly assembled that it not only crucially fails to address the cultural forces that might have spawned the country's prime musical export." More from Mike Hale (NYT), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Steve Smith (TONY) and Sean "The Butcher" Smithson (Twitch). Andy Battaglia talks with the directors for the AV Club.
"Two young soldiers in Germany during WWII discover a cache of jewels and and samurai swords then hide them prior to leaving for home back in the USA." James van Maanen: "Sixty years later the hunt is on to find these treasures, even though the soldiers are aged and decrepit and can't quite remember where in hell they are. If the scenario of Loot sounds enticing, the finished documentary made from it turns out - something on the order of the treasures themselves - to be paste." More from Andrew Grant (TONY), Noel Murray (AV Club), Nicolas Rapold (Voice) and Andrew Schenker (Slant).
"When director Toshiaki Toyoda was arrested for possession of 3.9 grams of stimulants in August of 2005, he had just finished Kuchu Teien (Hanging Garden), a black dramady about a dysfunctional family that has made a ritual of truth-telling, while living lies," writes Mark Schilling in the Japan Times. "This funny, unsparing, poignant film was released to rave reviews (including one from me), but Toyoda went into the twilight for four years.... Toyoda had long taken outlaws, punks and other marginals as his subjects, starting with his 1998 feature debut Pornostar and continuing with the documentary Unchain (2001), the dystopian high school drama Aoi Haru (Blue Spring, 2002) and the road movie Nine Souls (2003).... His gorgeously mounted (if cheaply made) comeback film Yomigaeri no Chi (Blood of Rebirth) has this personal flavor, being about a wandering masseur who literally goes to the hell and back. But it is also a departure from his previous work, with a story based on the centuries-old Oguri Hangan legend that has inspired Kabuki and bunraku plays."
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