Ryan Gosling

Early Bird Film Society’s Films O’ 2013!

Good evening and welcome to the EBFS review of the year (in film). Ahhhh…. 2013…. It seems a different, more innocent time. A time when the Academy saw fit to award Argo its highest honour at their annual, low-key shindig, despite their apparent belief that the film just popped into existence from nothing without any help from a director or anything. Cannes dropped to its knees over three hours of emotionally wrought, sapphic love in Blue Is The Warmest Colour, just to prove how stereotypically bloody French they are. Toronto, in a shameless attempt to hold onto it’s spot as “hot Oscar predictor”, hedged its bets and threw The People’s Choice Award at 12 Years a Slave, which is basically cheating. Venice and Berlin foisted their respective golden animal statues at Sacro GRA and Child’s Pose respectively. Two films so art-house and (eurgh) European that they have yet to see a release in either of the countries EBFS wanders around in. However, all of that backpatting, black tie dinnering, gladhanding was just window dressing compared to the (fanfare/family fortunes incorrect answer noise) annual verbal fist fight that has become the Early Bird Film Society’s Collection of Top Five Films And Some Bad Ones Of The Year! The title will be worked on.

Anyway, all four of us here at the global EBFS offices (Melbourne/Manchester Divisions) have picked our top five films that we saw at the cinema in 2013 based on a less than comprehensive release date schedule spanning two countries and poor recollection skills. It’s our list though, so don’t judge us and you’re welcome:

Top Five @DonDubrow

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (2013)

Joss Whedon threw this Shakespeare adaptation together using his house, his wife, his friends and his deft ear for fast, witty dialogue. Delightfully playful, completely faithful and a little breath of fresh air amongst the towering mega franchises.

– DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

Tarantino’s best film since Jackie Brown, completely ignoring any political subtext and a more brutal depiction of slavery for that reason. Great performances from Foxx and SLJ but Christophe Waltz’s warmth and DiCaprio’s gleeful evil earned them the plaudits. Extra points for surviving Tarantino’s inexplicable Australian accent which he’ll have to be brought to account for at some point.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013)

Divisive doesn’t even cover it. Nicolas Winding Refn’s desire to “violate” the audience came true with this lurid, neo fable of oedipal urges in Bangkok. Ryan Gosling’s easiest day at the office is a bleak and uncompromising, neon drenched nightmare set within the lowest parts of the human psyche. Maybe.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

Despite Spock’s presence, this embarrassingly colon free sequel was almost totally bereft of logic. Insane pacing and set pieces (and lens flare) and the worst kept secret of the year still made for a rip-roaring dash through a thousand tropes of the Star Trek universe all coated with JJ Abrams’ clever script reverses and cinema savvy. Best line delivery of the year too. Altogether now….”KHAAAAANNNNN!!”.

SPRING BREAKERS (2012)

Harmony Korine aims for the mainstream and thankfully misses with his visceral tale of hedonism and excess where the youth of America stop trying to be the best they can be and realise they no longer live in a country where anything is possible. Warning, contains James Franco saying “blue Kool-Aid” over and over and singing a Britney Spears song. Not for everyone.

Worst Film

After Earth (2013)

Will Smith “thinks” up an idea where he doesn’t play Will Smith but seventies Robert Duvall, his son convinces us that emoting is hard and M Night Shawaddywaddy directs? Ooh, it took a round of drawing straws to get one of EBFS into the cinema to begin with to gape open mouthed at a film with as much warmth, wit and charm as someone who bangs on a van at a sex trial. If this ruins Will Smith’s career (which it won’t), karmic film balance would at least creep back into the black….

Top 5 @stuartnbaillie

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

The award for best rug pull/slap in the fan boys faces goes to Shane Black’s exceptionally funny take on the superhero. RDJ nails it yet again as Tony Stark but the star of the show was Sir Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin/Trevor Slattery. Brilliant fun from start to finish.

GRAVITY (2013)

Adored by critics and loved by the public. Alfonso Cuaron’s marvelous film may have taken some fantastic scientific leaps in logic (seriously, look into it) but who cares, it was brilliant. Innovative and thoughtful this was on most critics top 5 lists. Ghost Clooney is my hero.

ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA (2013)

The funniest film I’ve seen in ages. Steve Coogan inhibits a character better than any other actor of his ilk, (take note of how it’s done Mr. Ferrell) and does it to consistently hilarious effect. The lip synch to Roachford’s ‘Cuddly Toy’ and ‘the man fanny’ were two of my highlights. Excellent work from everybody involved.

– CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)

Tom Hanks is as good as he’s been since he made me cry over losing  a chuffing volleyball. Special mention to debutant Barkhad Abdi who held his own against a hollywood legend, his turn as Somali pirate Muse was almost as good as Hanks’ titular hero. Intense,thrilling, fast paced and superbly directed (well-played Paul Greengrass) this was edge of the seat viewing. Worth it for the heartbreaking final scenes.

FROZEN (2013)

I’m a 35 year old man who likes boxing, MMA, rugby, NFL, horror movies and the 80’s back catalogue of ‘The Austrian Oak’ and Sly Stallone and yes….a Disney musical made my top 5. The music in this is as good as anything from the 90’s golden era. I’ll put ‘Let it Go’ up against ‘A Whole New World’ or ‘Be Our Guest’. It’s very funny thanks to a brilliant talking snowman and the message that you don’t need a man to feel loved plays totally against Disney’s apparent ethos.

Loved. Every. Second.

Worst Film

Only God Forgives (2013)

I thought long and ard about this. I nearly gave it to Anchorman 2 but as awful as that was it just didn’t make my blood boil as much as OGF. As beautifully shot and scored as this was it felt deliberately obtuse at times and constantly frustrating. I hate this film with a passion that burns with the fire of a thousand suns.

Top 5 by @noonanjohnc

-MANIAC (2012)

Elijah Wood is a maniac, maniac on the floor and he’s dancing like he’s never danced before. D’oh! He is NOT a maniac, maniac on the floor, dancing like he’s never danced before. He’s the puppy eyed, mumbling owner of a mannequin store, with an oedipal love for his dead mother. Oh and he likes to scalp women. Franck Khalfoun’s remake of the 1981 greasy cult classic, has the morals of American Psycho and the sheen of Drive. Shot from Wood’s POV, the film makes you an unwilling accomplice in his apologetic rampage (‘I won’t hurt you.’ He cries to one of his victims, before doing exactly that). Haunting, vicious and with a superb soundtrack, Maniac will stay with you for a long time. I suggest showering in Swafeger afterwards.

THE KINGS OF SUMMER (2013)

This tale of three lads building a house in the forest to escape their respective parents took me completely by surprise. Equal parts Stand by Me and The Hangover (Seriously), The Kings of Summer is brilliantly shot and hilarious. I’ve watched this several times now and it never fails to cheer me up. Pretty much every highlight includes either Nick Offerman’s grumpy sonuvabich father who continually fights with the local Chinese restaurant or Moises Arias as the alien-esque Biaggio; a boy who mistakes Cystic Fibrosis for being gay.

THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

Another coming of age film. This time from the writers of The Descendants, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who also direct. Duncan is a boy forced on a summer break with his mum and her somewhat dominant boyfriend. Whilst trying to find something fun to do, Duncan ends up working at Sam Rockwell’s rundown waterpark. Everyone is on fire in this film. Patriculalty Rockwell who has never been better as the lethargic Lothario with *all together now* a heart of gold.

THE ROCKET (2013)

I’ve got two Aussie films in my top ten. Ivan Sen’s noirish police procedural Mystery Road and this from documentarian Kim Mordaunt. I’ve gone with The Rocket simply because it’s probably the most accessible. A film that is both heartbreaking and joyful, The Rocket tells the story of a young boy just trying to prove his worth to his family when all those around him consider him to be bad look. I’ve told people it’s like a children’s story for grown-ups, and I think it’s the most succinct way I can put it.

GRAVITY (2013)

What can I say that hasn’t already been said on this page. I’m not going to waste your time. If you’ve seen it and loved it, you know why it’s on my list. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and see if you can find a cinema that’s still showing it. I’ll wait.

Worst Film

– I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2

I’ve seen a lot of tosh in 2013. Hell, I saw three Dolph Lundgren films alone. However, absolutely none of them, not even Diana, could be considered the worst of 2013 when you have I Spit on Your Grave 2 vying for your attention. This shitpile of a movie is everything that’s wrong with most horror films today. Replacing subtly and scares with vicious and nasty, the film tries to justify the brutal hour long rape and abuse of its protagonist by letting her have the final third of the film to exact her revenge. No movie has ever made me as angry as this Fanta bottle full of piss.

Top 5 by @noonanhannah

– STOKER (2013)

I must confess to having mixed feelings about Park Chan-wook’s English language debut upon first viewing. But Stoker is one of those films whose utter dedication to atmosphere stays with you months after viewing until you begrudgingly admit that actually, that was rather brilliant. Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode all put in stellar performances and Chung Chung-hoon’s cinematography is positively lush. But the real star of Stoker is Wentworth Miller’s haunting script, a brilliant love letter to the twisted family shenanigans of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2013)

Flawed? Yes. Overlong? Absolutely. But Derek Cianfrance’s follow up to Blue Valentine is a brooding character piece that asks for a gamut of emotional responses from its audience, most of which it successfully achieves. Plus, it threatened to melt the internet by giving us a scene where Ryan Gosling dances with a dog to Bruce Springsteen, and if that’s not what you want out of a film, then we could never be friends.

THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s ode to coming-of-age films is beautifully judged, wonderfully directed and supremely enjoyable. Allison Janney puts in a brilliant performance as a fabulously awful drunk, and Sam Rockwell becomes the best friend any kid could want. There’s really not much else to say about the Descendants pair’s summer outing that I didn’t cover in my original review.

FROZEN (2013)

Disney’s wintery delight is a strong step forward for the house of mouse, and a beautifully woven tale of sisterly love, sassy reindeers and singing snowmen. But more to the point, the songs are fabulous and if you’re not singing ‘Let It Go’ by the end then you have a heart of ice.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

The second of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek outings is a two-hour exercise in fan wankery at its absolute finest and, forgive me, I fell for it hook, line and sinker. Benedict Cumberbatch e-nun-ci-aaaates his way into the British bad guy canon of Hollywood, and anyone who says it isn’t entertaining watching just how far those nostrils flare is frankly a liar. Star Trek Into Darkness is a film that fiercely says no to logic, and yes to “LOOK! SHINY THINGS!” so excuse me for being a magpie.

Worst film

– OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

Most likely not the ACTUAL worst film of the year (I never got round to that Shyamalan affair with Will Smith and his young clone) but certainly the most souless and tedious film I spent money on. James Franco is sleepy and disengaged in this needless and saccharine A list pantomime. There’s a terrible CGI monkey sidekick, a creepy porcelain girl I swear I met in a nightmare in my youth, and the dullest of Bruce Campbell cameos. I love The Wizard of Oz, I love Sam Raimi, but this was such a disappointment.

So there you have it. Did you think any of us were blisteringly right? Howling wrong? Let us know.

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Only God Forgives (2013)

When his older brother and partner-in-crime is murdered in a bloody act of vengeance, Bangkok-based drug smuggler Julian (Ryan Gosling) is entrusted with the task of killing those responsible by his foul-mouthed and venomous mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas). What follows is a neon drenched, slow moving Freudian nightmare of Lynchian coherence that poses more questions than it answers.

After the surprise mainstream success of 2011’s Drive, director Nicholas Winding Refn reteams with Gosling in this Thai western, and admittedly it is admirable of the two to deviate so wildly from their previous collaboration. Gone are the dreamy soundtrack, the longing looks, the romanticised quest. Only God Forgives’ Julian is, like most of the film itself, an intimidatingly unreadable creature of little to no words whose motivations, dreams and hopes are all up for the guessing. Vithaya Pansringarm’s corrupt police lieutenant Chang casts an equally prominent yet baffling shadow over the narrative. With a fondness for swords and singing, Chang, like Julian, is given no real past, with both warring antagonists being presented more as sketches of ideologies than actual characters.

Nicely offsetting this is Kristin Scott Thomas’ poisonous mother figure Crystal, the perma-tanned, sharp-tongued Lady Macbeth. One of the most enjoyable (although perhaps that’s the wrong word) scenes of Only God Forgives is when Refn simply allows Crystal to drink and chain smoke her way through one of the most awkward meet-the-parents dinners captured on screen. Scenes like this, and Crystal’s sheer aura of awfulness elevates the film out of many a dull moment.

Despite Scott Thomas’s best efforts however, Only God Forgives simply never gets you to invest enough to care about what happens. Sure the film is basically about a bunch of villains all out to off each other, but on top of this, the bizarrely stilted direction, emphasis on visuals and overly stationary compositions leaves the whole film feeling like an assembly of video game cut scenes. The dialogue is clipped, whenever there actually is any, and each character has a grand total of around 3 facial expressions. But damned if they aren’t beautifully lit!

Which is a shame, because the atmosphere is all there. Throbbing like a hangover, Larry Smith’s cinematography is both inviting yet seedy, classy yet crass. The colour palette of the whole film is simply and undeniably stunning. Add to this Cliff Martinez’s almost tangible score which displays more dimensions than the characters on screen. The combination of the two is immersive and claustrophobic, but unfortunately feels squandered on a narrative that refuses to match its excellence.

Only God Forgives is a heavy handed string of motifs and themes which never really takes you anywhere new in its brief but beautifully presented 90 minutes. That being said, it wholeheartedly offers itself up on a plate for discussion, which is a certainly a commendable feat.

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

Ryan Gosling is stunt motorcycle driver Luke Glanton, whose job in a travelling circus makes him a fleeting presence in the lives of others. One such other, old flame Romina (Eva Mendes), reaches out to Glanton upon his return to Schenectady, New York to inform the wandering thrill seeker of his having fathered her one year old son, Jason. In an attempt to convince Romina that he can provide for their son, despite her having set up house with new love Kofi (Mahershala Ali), Glanton decides to put the speed and technicality he’s developed as part of his circus act to criminal use in a series of bank robberies.

So far, you’d be forgiven for believing from this description and the film’s own marketing that The Place Beyond The Pines is simply a retread of Gosling’s most iconic role to date – a blue collar version of 2011’s Drive perhapsBut Pines reaches far beyond its initial plot motivations to deliver a meditative, if often meandering, study on the relationships between fathers and sons. As Glanton gathers confidence – some would say misplaced cockiness – with each bank robbed, he puts himself on the map of the police, in particular Bradley Cooper’s rookie cop Avery Cross who has also recently fathered a boy. As the admittedly long running time unfolds, Pines casts its spotlight on how the families of both men have evolved beyond their first act actions, and becomes a nuanced observation on family dynamics more akin to director Derek Cianfrance’s previous effort, Blue Valentine.

 As in that film, Cianfrance puts his documentary making past to good use in allowing the camera to observe rather than dictate the action, and never is it more evident than in the film’s opening tracking shot that fully immerses the viewer into Glanton’s death-defying world of small town thrills, as well as the film’s one-take bank heists. In keeping with this, the performances of all involved are subdued and rightfully so, with no showboating scene stealing despite the wealth of familiar faces.

Pines does have its flaws, particularly under any close comparison with Cianfrance and Gosling’s original collaboration. The novel-like structure is perhaps too broad in its reach, and as such the characters don’t feel as fully fleshed as they could be, meaning the film’s attempts at emotional punches aren’t as immediately visceral as those in Blue Valentine. The film also precariously tip toes the line between down to earth realism and extraordinary situations, complete with cheesy dialogue designed for poster taglines, none more so than “If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.”

So whilst the film’s attempts at epic scope may fall a little short, The Place Beyond The Pines succeeds at providing a lingering and insightful exploration into the effects of the sins of the fathers over the generations, proving that when it comes to cinematic dissection of familial relations, Derek Cianfrance is a reliable force.

Gangster Squad (2013)

Los Angeles, 1949. Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) returns from service in WWII to find his beloved City of Angels drowning under a tidal wave of sin, orchestrated by East Coast mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Wanting a better future for himself and his pregnant wife (Mireille Enos), O’Mara jumps at the chance to eradicate Cohen and his influence when Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) instructs him to form a vigilante-style task force. They must strike in the shadows, targeting each layer of Cohen’s criminal empire without leaving any trace of police involvement. Cue a series of clandestine missions and high-risk strategies that call into question whether the squad really can succeed fighting fire with fire.

Director Ruben Fleisher’s first foray into the gangster genre certainly looks the part. The men of 1940s LA walk the streets with their eyes hidden in the shadow of fedoras whilst the women sashay in curled hair and vampish red lipstick. This is a place where naïve young girls hoping to be movie stars prove easy prey for evil-minded, tommy-gun wielding crooks, and every exhalation is accompanied by a snappy line and a cloud of cigarette smoke.

Brolin’s is the sort of face that fits perfectly into this retro milieu, all chiselled frown lines and heavy brow, and the film really does belong to him. Amplifying the desperate tenacity he demonstrated on the run in the Coens’ No Country For Old Men, Brolin’s O’Mara strikes as the only character with anything really to lose, bar Giovanni Ribisi’s quietly intelligent Conway Keeler, who supplies the squad with “the brains to balance the brawn.” On the other side of the law is Sean Penn’s intense portrayal of Cohen, one which manoeuvres back and forth between reserved menace and chest-thumping rage so quickly it’s no wonder those around him don’t get whiplash. With an opening scene demonstrating just how violently vengeful Cohen can get using only two cars and some rope, Penn’s is a performance that truly convinces despite being weighed down by some dodgy prosthetics.

Such a shame then that the other characters are given so little room to shine. Ryan Gosling’s Sergeant Jerry Wooters proves a certified scene-stealer, though this seems more down to the actor’s decision to play the clichéd ladykiller as charmingly flamboyant more than anything. Completing the gangster squad itself are Gosling’s former Half Nelson co-star Anthony Mackie as streetwise Coleman Harris, Robert Patrick as straight-shot Max Kennard, and Michael Peña as keen-to-prove-himself Navidad Ramirez. Emma Stone is unfortunately given little to do but look pretty as Grace Faraday, Cohen’s attractive arm piece. Bored of her duties as gangster moll, she starts an affair with Wooters, which should be a tense subplot but is instead drowned out by the sound of all the explosive set pieces crashing around it.

It is these action scenes which provide the film with its best visuals and some of its most enjoyable moments, with Fleisher taking a leaf out of Zack Snyder’s big book of action directing, presenting his audience with slow-mo comic book style shootouts, the camera weaving between a rain of bullets to show the violent confrontations from all angles. A particularly tense moment in the film’s first act involving Wooters being sucked into a street siege, as well as an effortlessly cool raid the squad pulls in formal dinner wear whilst accompanied by contrapuntal cha-cha soundtrack are demonstrative of Fleisher’s capabilities despite his reputation for comedic fare. However, as you’d expect from the director of Zombieland, Gangster Squad is not without its brief light-hearted moments, particularly in the early stages of the squad’s formation, wherein bickering and banter show the team’s schoolboy side before the dirty work must be done.

Sure there are better gangster films, and yes, the first of the most eagerly anticipated Hollywood offerings of 2013 is somewhat disappointing. But somehow Gangster Squad keeps fighting beyond its underused A-list cast and clunky structure to secure your support for the good guys all the way to the final towering showdown. Though it may not leave that lasting an impression, it’s a slickly presented 113 minutes of unadulterated and superficial pulpy goodness. For all its flaws, Gangster Squad is still a solid piece of non-committal, popcorn entertainment.

The Ides of March (2011)

Ryan Gosling is Stephen Myers, the cocksure Junior Campaign Manager for Governor of Pennsylvania, Mike Morris (George Clooney). He’s awesome, he’s witty, he brown-noses Morris on a daily basis. Then one day, as they say in the trailers, his life is turned upside down when he is invited to a join the oppositions campaign trail and he begins a relationship with Evan Rachel Wood’s spunky intern. What’s a guy to do? Well, as Ryan Gosling is in the lead, we get lots of staring like a child who’s just been told that Father Christmas doesn’t exist.

The Ides of March wants to be so intelligent. It really does.

Everyone talks in ridiculously long sentences that can only ever happen in political movies. ‘Well, Ted, if we don’t get the vote for the 45% of the 10 members of the ABC generation in this state, then we may as well hook line and speak to the frighteners about approaching this campaign from a new angle nearer to the unions’ idea of a plate of eggs’.

Everyone furrows their brows, rolls up their sleeves, undoes their ties and look serious. We’re talking Oscar baiting seriousness. Hey, you know what Hollywood? This film has a message that needs to get out there… Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And you know politicians? They lie, man. They lie and they don’t care who gets hurt. It’s true. This film is pulling back the curtain, it’s through the looking glass, it’s pointing at other films and questioning their reason to exist.

It’s so heavy with it’s own self-importance, it gets crushed underneath the weight of it’s own bullshit.

That power corrupts is nothing new. The Godfather Part 2 pretty much wrote the book on wide-eyed innocence becoming a cold icy stare. That doesn’t instantly mean that the film is bad. It’s just it doesn’t shed any new light on to the subject. The other issue is that Gosling is so unappealing. His character is so unlikable, that you have next to no sympathy for him as the likes of Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei begin to piss on his parade. And piss they do. As Gosling stumbles like a new-born fawn from one ludicrous plot twist to the other, you wonder when he’s going to realise that he is acting like a total idiot that kind of deserves what’s happening to him. And as each bad thing that happens to him, the melodrama begins to increase. Evan Rachel Wood’s final scene genuinely made me smirk. I don’t think that was Clooney’s intention. I’m pretty sure he was going for drama. The final showdown between Gosling and Clooney is  nothing more than a moodily lit wailing and gnashing of teeth to show amazing these two actors can act when they want to show how good they are at acting. OMG, they R so gud!!1

The Ides of March is so serious and aiming to be worthy, that it loses sight of what’s important. Namely characterisation and plot. Seriously, save yourself some time and pop The Godfather Part 2 back in  the DVD player.

Drive (2011)

Drive is not a bad film. Far from it. You do find yourself caught up in the adventures of Ryan Gosling’s may-as-well be mute, The Driver.  But let’s not pretend we’ve travelled further than b-movie territory. The Driver is equal parts stunt man, getaway driver and racecar driver. Women want him, rednecks that hire him for robberies want to be him. He’s uber-cool. All this, despite wearing a silver jacket and constantly chewing on a toothpick like a nu-rave James Dean.

Into his life walks Carey Mulligan, who is only challenged by Emily Watson for most likely to burst into tears at the drop of a kitten. Mulligan brings with her a son and criminal husband who owes money to a local mobster. On attempt to woo Mulligan, Gosling offers to help the husband rob a pawn shop that will see his debt cleared. Then it all goes a bit Pete Tong. Not that the Driver listens to Pete Tong. He’s too fucking cool.

Walking around in skinny jeans and smiling like a 12 year old that’s got his first erection, Gosling borders on the edge of slapable. His ‘five minute’ speech being a particular low point of arsery. An over-rehearsed monologue that is sure to be recited by various university tits on a night in some pound a pint hellhole. That the film manages to make us care at least a bit for him by the end of the film is a feat in itself.

To say all this, suggests that the film isn’t worth watching. I guess if I’m criticising anything then it’s the reviews that have come before this. Drive is dangerously close to the cinematic equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes. For all its plaudits and praise, underneath its aggressively faux-80s soundtrack, it’s really a wafer thin plot that would be sniffed at had it been done by other genre emulating directors. Cough, Tarantino, cough. There’s a boy’s club that suggests that if you don’t like Drive then you didn’t ‘get it’ because it’s arthouse. That Drive is classed as arthouse is amusing in itself, as it appears the definition of arthouse now means sloooowing things down for no clear reason. After a while, it starts feeling like a directors’ in-joke or, at the very least, a homage to Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace.

Some will be put off Drive because of what has been said before and it’s a shame. Once it gets into top gear, it is a tense little number that you’ll really enjoy. You’ll just wonder what all the fuss was about.

Lies (4)

EBFS (like Wolfe and Steinbeck) is a sucker for the flawed American male. We are therefore anticipating great things from Michael Shannon in Take Shelter out this week. Shannon plays a blue collar worker cursed with visions of an apocalyptic event who develops a sort of Noah complex. This got EBFS thinking of our favourite male leads of the last twenty years or so. To qualify, the role had to be American (and flawed), had to be in drama (out and out comedy is too nuanced, requiring a different set of skills, like not being Sean Penn) and had to be neither Michael Douglas nor Edward Norton who play nothing but the flawed American male. This means no place for the Narrator in Fight Club or Gordon Gekkon but well, it’s our list.

Also ineligible were Oscar Bait like Rainman and whatever that guy in Beautiful Mind was. First because they are slightly more than flawed and secondly (mainly) because they are really annoying. So no As Good As It Gets either and I think we can all be grateful for that. So on we go to…….

Russel Crowe as Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider.

Mchael Mann’s bluest film, just beating Heat and Collateral, is essentially a two header with Pacino trying to get Crowe to go public with his knowledge of the immoral practices of big tobacco. Crowe plays Wigand, a paunchy, middle aged, greying, scientist who’s thrown away his ideals to take money from the most unethical of employers.Crowe achieves this by putting on weight, wearing a wig (close to cheating, “Just act old” as George Roy Hill said) and speaking softly. His promise displayed in L.A. Confidential comes beautifully to fruition here, whilst Bud White was a one dimensional, repressed thug, Wigand is a classic contempary male figure. He’s torn between doing what’s right and providing for his family. Crowe cuts a forlorn, nervous figure, shuffling with his weight, both physical and of his situation. Crowe is helped by Pacino in full on scenery eating, fear of god, pants soiling mode. This makes Wigand seem normal and damaged, all Crowe’s little nuances and tics fade into the background of an almost operatic performance from Pacino. Crowe makes an overlong film full of potentially boring situations fly by by injecting the audience with that most rare commodity, giving a shit. Crowe was beaten by Spacey in American Beauty for the Oscar.

Ryan Nelson as Dan Dunne in Half Nelson.

Half Nelson might be the best American Indie of the 00’s (not the noughties, ever) and it contains at it’s core a delicate, real, sad/funny performance from Ryan Gosling. Gosling is aided by a brilliant screenplay that shoulders a lot of the emotional heft of the story through superb structure and clever visual explanations. Watch the opening scene where Gosling’s alarm goes off and he’s still awake in the lounge and witness a great picture;thousand words thing going on. Gosling plays Dan Dunne, an unconventional teacher who also has an unhealthy cocaine habit, he befriends one of his pupils (Shareeka Epps) and their relationship is complicated by their mutual connection to a drug dealer (Anthony Mackie). Gosling, a naturalistic actor if ever there was one, underplays Dunne to superb effect. He’s less noticeable than the excellent score by Broken Social Scene and the Jerky, bad documentary camera work used. This works brilliantly, making the film seem like a window into reality. For the record, Gosling lost the Oscar to Forrest Whitaker shouting with an accent as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland

Casey Affleck as Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

This is the most unnappealing and yet fascinating of performances. High pitched, overly nuanced, self concious and creepy, Robert Ford just wants to be loved. Giving away the end of the film in the title seldom works but Andrew Dominik’s revisionist western keeps going and going until it becomes interesting all over again. Casey Affleck might yet become the most difficult of stars and his style may quickly fall into repetative parody but here he’s fresh, unique and brilliant. The very opposite of Gosling’s subtle turn, Robert Ford dominates every scene he’s in through sheer weasling, snivelling, pathetic adoration. Brad Pitt and Jeremy Renner’s admirable turns barely register in the memory. All that’s left in the mind’s eye are Affleck’s pale teeth, milky eyes and juddering delivery of  line after line of almost prose like dialogue. Affleck didn’t even register on the Academy’s radar and wasn’t even nominated. He now makes unintelligible, joke films about fellow actors. Do you see what you’ve done Academy members?

So there you go. Three searing, very different performances of American men by very different actors in very different films. Michael Shannon has a lot to live up to.

Just so you know, Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood, Morgan Freeman in Seven (acting without moving) and John Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank were very high up in our considerations and will, we’re sure, be gutted on missing out on a brief profiling here.