Elizabeth Stoddard's blog

2010 in Review: Elizabeth's Favorite Film Scores



I've both read and heard it said recently that the best film score is one the viewer doesn't notice. I disagree fervently with this statement. The best film score complements the film perfectly and doesn't distract from the action onscreen, but is still distinct enough to stand on its own. Shoddy film music can ruin a movie (for me, at least), but a great film score serves to make a good movie even better. That being said, here is some of my favorite soundtrack work for movies I saw in 2010.

5. Federico Jusid, El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes). A simple, plaintive theme is used in Jusid's score for the 2009 Best Foreign Film Oscar winner. Since the Argentinean suspense film opened in American theaters in 2010, I’m including it in my list. [Don's review]
How to see/hear: The film is available on Blu-ray and DVD, and the soundtrack is available on CD.

Review: The King's Speech


Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

Buzz about The King's Speech has been circulating for months, before the MPAA fracas even took place. There have been mutterings for a while that Colin Firth is sure to win an Oscar for the lead role (and as the awards tend to favor biographical depictions, this speculation is likely not too far off). So I watched the movie bearing all this in mind, and all in all I was quite pleased with the British import. The movie opens on Saturday in Austin theaters.

The film opens in pre-World War II Britain with King George V (Michael Gambon) still reigning, but worried about his succession. Second son Bertie (Firth), the Duke of York, feels humiliated as he verbally stumbles through a speech at the 1925 British Empire Exhibition. His wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter) engages a speech therapist for her husband. Australian Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) works with the soon-to-be king using some non-traditional techniques. He also insists that their lessons occur on equal footing. As the lessons continue, a relationship grows between Bertie and Logue.  

Review: Morning Glory


Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton & Harrison Ford

Morning Glory is refreshing; not only is it a witty workplace comedy (these seem pretty rare nowadays), but it scores laughs without dumbing anything down. I went to the screening after dealing with a lousy day, hoping that the movie would just be decent, and it surpassed my expectations. It made me laugh, often and sometimes quite loudly. What an excellent remedy to a cruddy day!

Becky (Rachel McAdams) loves working on morning shows, and her life goal is to produce The Today Show. Because of network cutbacks, she loses her producer position at a New Jersey TV station, but is eventually hired by network TV muckety muck Jerry Barnes (Jeff Goldblum). Becky becomes executive producer for Day Break, a struggling morning show (consistently fourth in the ratings) featuring Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton, marvelous as ever) and her skeazy co-anchor Paul McVee (Ty Burrell). Among the changes Becky puts into place, McVee is out and curmudgeonly newsman Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) is in.

Review: Fair Game


Naomi Watts and Sean Penn in Fair Game

Opening this election week, Fair Game is chock full of drama. Based on the true story of how sources in the Bush administration outed Valerie Plame as a CIA operative, the movie is a mix of genres: spy movie, family drama and political intrigue. I'd say that the film ranks up with All the President's Men as far as political pictures go. It shares the same drive and energy, and it gives an informative look into part of the mess the administration got itself into. Not only that, but the movie shows the strain this action put on Plame's marriage. Fair Game strikes a good balance in its depiction of politics/CIA elements with more domestic elements.

Fair Game kicks off in late 2001, with Plame (Naomi Watts) in Kuala Lumpur posing as Canadian Jessica McDowell (one of her many aliases). Not ten minutes later, we see her at dinner with friends back in DC, refraining from comment on political discussion even as her husband (Sean Penn) can't help from participating. She tells any friends/acquaintances who ask that she is a venture capitalist, while in secret she serves as a spy for the CIA.

When the Bush administration asks for investigation into rumors of large amounts of yellowcake uranium from Niger being sold to Iraq, Plame's boss (Michael Kelly) asks if her husband can look into it. And thus the shenanigans begin!

AFF 2010 Review: Main Street


Main Street

When Main Street screened last Thursday at Austin Film Festival, Horton Foote's daughter Hallie introduced the movie, saying that her father was 92 when he wrote this screenplay. Foote's last screenplay is based in Durham, North Carolina. Durham, at least the way the movie depicts it, is dealing with recession and low tourism numbers, and their young folks are migrating to bigger cities.

Ellen Burstyn plays Georgiana Carr, whose father once ran a tobacco dynasty. She lives in the grand old family home, which is practically a separate character in the film, and has recently rented out her former tobacco warehouse -- now empty -- to somewhat-shady Texan Gus Leroy (Colin Firth, whose accent sounds nothing like Texan). The film starts the evening after she has made the deal with him, as she frets in her living room and calls her niece Willa (Patricia Clarkson, the saving grace of this film). They eventually discover what Leroy is storing in the warehouse: toxic waste. What will this mean for the town?

AFF 2010 Review: Waste Land


Filmmaker Lucy Walker's documentary Waste Land is lovely to behold ... yes, a lovely film about creating art from trash. A few years ago, artist/photographer (and native Brazilian) Vik Muniz made a decision to use his art to create social change, and the film documents his plan and how it was carried out.

"What I really want to do is to be able to change the lives of a group of people with the same material that they deal with every day," Muniz tells the camera at the start of the film. He travels from his home in the U.S. to Jardim Gramacho in Brazil, the largest landfill in Latin America. Here he comes to know some catadores, people who pick out recyclable items from the garbage in the landfill.

Muniz involves the catadores in his art project, constructing portraits of them out of items found in the landfill. As he learns more about them, we do as well. Zumbi started working the landfill at a young age, was almost killed when the back door of a truck fell down on him, and is upset when people throw away books. Tião, the young president and co-founder of Associação dos Catadores do Aterro Metropolitano de Jardim Gramacho (something like a union for catadores), reads Machiavelli and dreams of a better life for the workers. Irma, an elderly woman, cooks for the workers. Suelem, a teenager, is separated from her two children during the week as she works in the landfill. Magna, a wife and mother, comes to realize her worth during this artistic process.

AFF 2010 Review: New Low


Adam Bowers & Jayme Ratzer in New Low

Does hanging out with "good" people make you a good person? New Low attempts to address this question.  Twenty-something Wendell (played by writer/director/editor Adam Bowers) is a slacker video-store employee living in Gainesville. In his free time, he helps write stand-up material for his pal Dave (Toby Turner). He has no desire to venture into the world of stand-up himself, though.  This says a lot about his character: he's lackadaisical with no forward momentum.

He meets dumpster-diving bartender Vicky (Jayme Ratzer), who on their first date points out three of Wendell's physical faults (and sleeps with him anyway). Vicky is happy to troll dumpsters for food or mooch off of free food offered at gallery openings. She appears to be stuck in a rut, but at least (we discover as the movie progresses) she does have goals as far as her art is concerned.

Joanna (Valerie Jones) -- the other woman -- is an activist/feminist who happens to be an artist as well. While Vicky is the type of gal who tosses her empty cigarette packets on the ground, Joanna is the type who picks up other people's litter, telling Wendell, "I don't understand why people insist on living in such a shitty world." She drags Wendell along to parties where he never really fits in and gifts him with a book on environmental/social action.  

Review: Hereafter


Matt Damon and Frankie McLaren in Hereafter, from Rotten Tomatoes

There are three storylines in Hereafter, Clint Eastwood's latest flick. These focus on three characters who all have some connection to death and/or the afterlife: Matt Damon's George in San Francisco, Frankie McLaren's young Marcus in London, and Cécile De France's Marie in Paris. The film jumps around between them until their stories slightly converge.

George is a humble psychic who doesn't like to give readings and tells his brother (Jay Mohr), "A life that's all about death is no life at all." He blames his "gift" for his lack of a social life. Marie is a French journalist who barely survives the Asia tsunami and becomes obsessed with the "hereafter" after that experience. Marcus is dealing with the death of a very close relative (and his story is made to coincide with the 2005 London bombings).

Covering such a heavy topic as death and what comes next, it's disappointing how emotionally detached Hereafter leaves the viewer. As Marcus says good night to the container holding his relative's ashes, I felt slightly connected to his plight. However, this is primarily due to the performance by McLaren, and is only one of a few such moments.

Review: Never Let Me Go


Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go is an artful and elegant work. Director Mark Romanek uses a muted palette throughout the film, so moments of vibrant color stand out and are few and far between. The main characters have little control over their own fate, and the drab costuming (lots of dull browns and grays) and color tone of the film enforce this theme.

Twenty-eight-year-old Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan) narrates the film, which takes place in a sort of alternate past. In this alternate (but seemingly possible) past, Kathy and her friends Tommy and Ruth attend school at Hailsham in the 1970s. Their headmistress tells them, "Students are Hailsham are special." Their class learns why they are "special" when their new teacher Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) confesses their true purpose: to serve as living organ donors. That is "the life that is already set out" for them. With this, any semblance of free will they may have assumed they had disappears.

Review: The Town


Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner in The Town

As The Town opens, a black screen with white quotes regarding the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown appears. This is "the town": the neighborhood of Charlestown in which, we are told, an extremely large percentage of armored truck/bank robbers reside.

Director/actor Ben Affleck's crime-romance movie follows two main storylines: bank robber Doug MacRay (Affleck) falling for bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) as he tries to keep her from discovering too much, and Jon Hamm's FBI Agent Frawley as he endeavors to capture Doug's gang. Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner plays Doug's hot-tempered pal and crime partner James "Jem" Coughlin, and Gossip Girl's Blake Lively plays Coughlin's drugged-up kid sister Krista. Throw in Chris Cooper as Doug's jailed father, Irish indie favorite Pete Postlethwaite as a sadistic florist/drug dealer, and Titus Welliver (The Good Wife) as Frawley's FBI partner and you have a pretty stellar cast.

The stellar cast and their performances draw the viewer into the story. The Town isn't a dismal film, though it deals with dark issues (drugs, murder, and more). Affleck's smooth direction and the screenplay (by Affleck, Peter Craig, and Aaron Stockard, based on a book by Chuck Hogan) have a lot to do with this. At the point in the movie when Claire says to Doug, "On sunny days, I always think of someone dying," the line seems portentious, yet Hall's delivery is far from maudlin. Claire and Doug's connection is almost palpable, and Affleck is able to pull off a true anti-hero with this role. Doug has done some bad things, but Affleck keeps the character likable and the audience pulling for him.

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