Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Grey

Director: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale
Running Time: 117 min.
Rating: R

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

The Grey is a survival movie where it doesn't matter who survives. Or if anyone does. I thought I had the film all figured out within its first half hour, but then it slyly morphs into something else, with ambitions greater than the conventions of its genre usually allow.  At the very least the blueprint is there for your standard action survivalist story. Plane crash. Men vs. wolves. When I first saw the wolves I expected the whole thing to devolve into a gruesome horror. The presence of Liam Neeson as the lead did little to temper the feeling it would be predictably fun, but forgettable. I wasn't completely right.. The wolves are beside the point. So is any potential rescue. Instead what director Joe Carnahan presents, in a surprisingly emotional way, is a spiritual parable about life and death. Mostly death.

A moment early on sets an unusual tone, and it comes after the plane John Ottway (Neeson) shares with a team of oil riggers crashes in a blizzard. He not only tells a mortally wounded passenger point-blank that he's going to die, but exactly how he'll feels and what he'll see. Then every after death after that (and there are many) allow us to actually see and practically feel that the description is accurate. Each fatality somehow seems monumentally important, despite the fact that we aren't given much time to get to know Ottway, Diaz (Frank Grillo), Hendrick (Dallas Roberts), Flannery (Joe Anderson), Talget (an unrecognizable Dermot Mulroney) and Burke (Nonso Anozie). At first they all seem interchangeable and merely bait for an eventual wolf supper, with only a fireside chat providing any background or history for the characters. Without spoiling too much, I'll say that changes in a big way as the the situation becomes more desperate and the body count climbs. It's only through their deaths that we get a better handle on who they were.

If any complaints could be made about the wolf attacks, it's not in the CGI (which is impressive), but the speed of them and the darkness, sometimes making it difficult to see what's happening, or to whom. But the attacks never merely play as an excuse for gore or action, and by the end there's a good case to be made that having so many of them is the more realistic approach. Having crash landed right in their territory it's unlikely many would survive for long, or at all. And even if the wolves don't get to them first, the elements will. The wolves' unpredictable behavior lend the story that same sense of not knowing who's going to go next. And then the script, rather cleverly, makes it clear that it doesn't even matter. This is about how people face death and the wolves just happen to be the means of arriving at it.

The characters are types, but they're drawn intelligently. This marks yet another bad ass role for Neeson, who at the age of sixty has evolved a full-fledged action star for the first time in his career, and a believable one at that. But this isn't an action role. At least not how Taken was. There's action in it for sure but mostly it relies on Neeson's intellectual abilities as an actor. Quietly intense, but also terrified himself, Ottway is the only man capable of rationally giving these men their best chance at survival because he deeply understands death and was touched by it somehow. We're not sure at first why he understands it so well, but Neeson makes sure we don't need to. And when we do finally know, the performance seems even deeper in hindsight. He might be the only action star working today capable of actually elevating the material he's in, adding a sense of genuine believability to the most extraordinary of situations. When he's in command it never feels like we're going through the motions of an ordinary action plot. 

The other standout is Frank Grillo, who's given what's traditionally the most thankless of survival movie characters to play. He's that cocky asshole who's very existence in the story requires he pick fights and make enough dumb decisions to put everyone in danger. But Grillo--previously so believable as an MMA trainer in Warrior you'd think he was one--carries that same conviction here, turning what should be a one-dimensional cartoon into the film's emotional center. His performance really sneaks up on you, as you're prepared for one thing, but blindsided when he shifts gears and takes the character into a different mode that's entirely unexpected. 

That this comes from the director of Smokin' Aces and The A-Team is surprising not because those films are particularly awful (well, The A-Team kind of is) but they're first and foremost mindless entertainment and it's customary to expect a certain type of movie from someone who makes those. This isn't that, despite me thinking at certain points during the opening act it would be. The cinematography and score are also huge steps up from any other project baring Caranhan's name, or even most releases dumped into theaters during the historically dreadful moviegoing month of January. If anything, it proves Neeson is one of the few great actors who's also a big draw in everyman action roles. Many will predictably dislike the ending of The Grey, which requires the audience to let go of their preconceived notions of the genre as much as the filmmakers do. But that's okay, since it isn't that often a story like this asks anything of its audience at all. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Rum Diary

Director: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi
Running Time: 120 min.

★★ ½ (out of ★★★★)

What sticks out most in the mind after watching Bruce Robinson's run-of-the-mill adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary is its insignificance. That would be fine if it were fun, but instead it plays as if a studio executive just got a memo that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas became a cult classic that needs to capitalized on as soon as Johnny Depp's available, but failed to take notes on what made that movie so crazy and special. This seems to want to be that crazy, and even comes close a few times, but a conventional, uninspired treatment of the material ties it down. And if there's anything a Thompson adaptation shouldn't be, it's conventional. But even taken on its own terms it doesn't quite work like it should, oddly mixing romance and adventure while managing to supply only a few laughs. There was definite potential for greatness and some moments really work, but not consistently enough to amount to a worthwhile experience. And that's a shame, because my expectations were reasonably high, if you can forgive the pun.

Depp plays unsuccessful novelist Paul Kemp who on a whim gets a job as a journalist with the struggling San Juan Star newspaper in Puerto Rico, edited by the grumpy, toupee wearing Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) who immediately resents his excessive drinking and partying. Soon after his arrival he befriends the paper's photographer, Sala (Michael Rispoli) as well as the perpetually stoned and drunk Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), a freelance reporter who can't be fired. Kemp's exploits soon catches the eye of sleazy local real estate developer Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who offers him an ad writing job for his latest land venture. The only problem is Kemp's fascination with Sanderson's sexy, mysterious girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard) who he was immediately taken by after a memorable ocean encounter at a party. Torn between business and pleasure, Kemp is warmly welcomed into Sanderson's fold initially, but his new friendship comes at a personal price.

There's little plot in the film but what plot there is still seems like too much. Nearly everything involving Sanderson's land deal plays as a half-hearted attempt to shoehorn all these eccentric characters into a cohesive narrative. They're all entertaining and it's easy to imagine a film where they'd all be let out of their cages to run wild instead of merely going through the motions of a partially developed romantic triangle and an awkward crusading newsmen sub-plot that takes center stage in the final act. By the end of the first hour, the story already seems to be running on fumes. That's there's still something addictive about all this is a credit to the talent of the actors involved and the fact that Robinson's mesmerizing evocation of 1960's Puerto Rico is absorbing enough to distract from the fact that the film barely connects on a dramatic or comedic level.

The biggest laughs come from the feud between Jenkins' old school editor and and Ribisi's druggie character. Always a strange type of talent who's tough to cast in anything, this might the first time Ribisi outright steals a movie from his co-stars with his unhinged craziness. His part has no aim or direction, but that's actually a relief compared to how restrained and ordinary everything else seems, especially the love triangle. While this is the most interesting Depp has been onscreen in a while, I just never got the relationship that was supposed to be developing between Paul and Chenault, probably because there just doesn't seem to be much of one. Or at least as strong of one as there should be to justify all the silly developments that occur. The risk-taking Amber Heard (who beat out her lookalike Scarlett Johansson for this part) continues to prove herself as the real deal in an underwritten role, with the movie feeling most alive when she's sharing the screen with Depp. Aaron Eckhart plays yet another expert sleazebag with duplicitous motives, reminding us that few do it better.

The movie's saving grace is Depp, who's always excelled most when not playing freaks, but somewhat normal people with off-kilter quirks. What's fun is how you can see more subdued, less cynical glimpses of Depp's Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing taking shape in the performance. That Paul Kemp qualifies as a somewhat "normal" character for him these days is kind of scary. Unfortunately, these semi-human performances seem to only come around once a decade so even if the results are a lot less spectacular this time around, it's a relief to just see him in Thompson's universe again instead of mugging it in kabuki face paint for Tim Burton. I wish Depp would take more projects like this, only with slightly better results.  Emblematic of the movie's main problem is a single scene in which Kemp and Sala go on a hallucinogenic drug trip. It's so tame, so visually uninteresting you'd think they only took an extra teaspoon of cough medicine. The whole film needed to contain the reckless abandon of two key scenes heavily advertised in the trailers and commercials. One in a convertible on the road. The other in a nightclub. They carry the promise of what this should have been.

That The Rum Diary was written by Thompson in 1961 but didn't see publication until 1998 is ironic considering it's the same year the big screen adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas undeservedly flopped in theaters before re-emerging later as a classic. One of those feels like a true adaptation while the other barely seems to have come from the same author's pen. Or typewriter. As much as I love good films about crazy writers, this one could have stood to have actually been more of a mess, truer in spirit to its source. So while I appreciated The Rum Diary for what it was, I was more disappointed in what it wasn't. The potential still exists to adapt it into a great movie. But as this attempt proves, that's far easier said than done.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

In Time

Director: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde, Alex Pettyfr, Vincent Kartheiser, Johnny Galecki
Running Time: 109 min.
Rating: PG-13

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

In Time hooked me at the first scene. Justin Timberlake's character gets up, goes into the kitchen and greets Olivia Wilde with a "Good morning, Mom." We're not hearing things. He calls her "mom" about three or four times before wishing her a happy 50th birthday and loans her an hour of "time" before heading out to work. That's great screenwriting. Within a minute we're already immersed in this world, as well as surprised, intrigued and not at all confused. No set-up necessary. We're already there. For its first hour, Andrew Niccol's In Time is in the zone. Not The Twilight Zone (though comparisons could be made), but that zone where nothing is going wrong. It's brimming with ideas and atmosphere, visually stimulating and at least for a while seems to have something deep to say. When movies deserving of a wide audience like this flop and the critics dismiss it there's an excited film geek in me that dies a little bit. Or least it did until the second hour came. It's still effective, but far less so if only because action movie commercialism intrudes into a story that doesn't need it. Those ideas that were flawlessly implied become a bit too literalized, resulting in a high-octane mash-up of Logan's Run and Bonnie and Clyde and a messy final act. It's reach definitely exceeds its grasp. I wish all mainstream sci-fi movies could have that problem.

In a dystopian future where people stop aging at 25 and must accumulate more time (displayed by a green counter on their arms) in order to remain alive, ghetto factory worker Will Salas (Timberlake) is on the run after being gifted 100 years by the wealthy Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), whom he saved in an attempted time robbery bar assault. Suddenly blessed (cursed?) with all this time, Will discovers the playing field between the "haves" and the "have nots" is more uneven than he imagined, with costs rising unreasonably as time accumulates, making the wealthy richer as the poor continue seeing their precious few minutes run out. Now a suspected murderer and time thief, Will's trailed by determined "Timekeeper" Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) as he enters the posh "time zone" of New Greenwich, where he kidnaps Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), the beautiful daughter of millionaire businessman Phillipe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser). Having taken a more willing hostage than expected, Will must evade the Timekeeper as well as the mob of Minutemen led by elderly British crime boss Fortis (Alex Pettyfr), both of whom are after his time for very different reasons.

There are some sensational scenes dealing with the transfer of time and time running out throughout the entire film, which no one deny exploits its premise to a hilt. In a pulse-pounding one early on, a character's seconds are counting down in a literal race against time, their life depending on meeting someone fast enough to reload. In a smart, non-gory PG-13 manner, we can almost literally see life escaping the person's body as they flail helplessly to the ground after "timing out."  And take the introduction scene between Will and Sylvia, where it's cleverly pointed out that he can't be sure whether she's actually Philipe's daughter, sister or maybe even wife due to the strange situation of this world. Niccol's confident command over this world initially brings to mind something out of Blade Runner, A Brave New World, Dark City, or 1984. Unsurprisingly, Niccol wrote and directed 1997's terrific dystopian nightmare Gattaca and this looks and feels a lot like that. It's really a technical sight with stunning lens work from the great Roger Deakins and cool, futuristic production design from Alex McDowell. Craig Armstrong's score is unforgettably haunting, arguably of far greater quality than you'd usually expect attached to a film of this nature.

Being that you'd pretty much have to be under 25 to get cast in movies these days anyway, it seems to work perfectly that this film actually has a built-in, plot-related reason for stacking its cast with young actors. Justin Timberlake once again proves there's nothing he can't do by adding "action star" to his resume while Amanda Seyfried (resembling a short-haired porcelain doll) ends her recent string of fluffy flops with one of her most interesting turns yet, reminding us how she first became a star by giving an quiet, expressive performance in which see seems to only act with her saucer-sized eyes. With only a few crucial scenes White Collar's Matt Bomer makes a good case for why he was originally one of the top contenders to play the new Superman with a performance that could easily double as a Clark Kent audition reel. Based on those few minutes, I'd have hired him. Mad Men fans will be happy to know that Vincent Kartheiser gives what's probably the best big screen performance by a member of that cast so far. It's surprising how large the role is, how well he plays it, but also how natural a fit it seems for him. Primarily known for playing scary creeps, Cillian Murphy plays a character on the other side of the law this time, nobly committed to to a cause for a society with practices that are anything but noble. He's still playing a scary creep, but with some actual humanity  that he makes sure subtly seeps through.

There was some controversy this screenplay was plagiarized from legendary sci-fi author Harlan Ellison's short story, "Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman." Having read it years ago, I can't say that occurred to me once while watching this and apparently Ellison agreed since he dropped his intended lawsuit after seeing it. The entire picture is very much a tale of two movies, a victor and victim of its own brilliant premise, eventually undercut by a somewhat clumsy conclusion. The final ten minutes are particularly head scratching. If ever there's a time for a tragic ending, it's in a speculative story exactly like this. Any other direction feels like a cop-out. On the bright side, the tone remains consistent and it doesn't become a completely different movie that's untrue to its original conceit (like The Adjustment Bureau embarrassingly did), but it does point out the importance of being able to stick the landing. That In Time still comes off as an underrated achievement despite all this is a testament to the talent both behind and in front of the camera. It could have really been something special, and for a while there, it at least came very close.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

We Bought a Zoo

Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Colin Ford, Elle Fanning, Angus Macfadyen, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, John Michael Higgins, Peter Riegert, Carla Gallo
Running Time: 124 min.
Rating: PG

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

We Bought a Zoo is the kind of movie you like because you'd almost feel guilty not liking it. Or at least I would. While that may not exactly seem like the most glowing of recommendations, it actually is. Cameron Crowe just might be the only filmmaker capable of doing this unironically and succeeding. It's a gift. Precocious kids. Cute animals. A villain who would be twirling a mustache if he had one. And of course Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens and Neil Young are thrown onto the soundtrack for no reason other than that Crowe loves them. Every beat in the plot is predictable, there aren't any surprises to be found, and yet, it all works. His movies have this magical quality of transcending any kind of assembly line approach to film criticism. With Crowe, the whole always ends up being greater than the sum of its parts and when it's over all you remember is the whole. It's tempting to resent him for it, but you can't. He just gets you every time.

This effort marks his first full-length feature return after going on a six-year hiatus following the release of the widely reviled Elizabethtown. He had nothing to apologize for with that. If it was a colossal mistake, at least it's one only he could have the talent to make and deserves respect for having the guts to put himself out there in such an embarrassingly personal and sentimental way. Upon recently re-watching it, I still say the first 10 minutes of that movie mark what maybe his finest hour, with the rest not being too bad either. But it's strangely fitting how it's plot (particularly that opening) foretold the public's reaction to it. Adapted from Benjamin Mee's 2008 memoir, We Bought a Zoo is as equally sentimental and lacking in cynicism. Not as gloriously messy or personal as that previous effort, it's certainly slighter and more conventional, which could stem from the fact that Crowe only co-wrote the screenplay.  Matt Damon plays Benjamin, a struggling journalist still grieving the recent loss of his wife when he packs up 7-year-old Rosie (an adorable Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and moody teen son Dylan (Colin Ford) in an effort to start fresh in a new home. That home is located on the grounds of the dilapidated Rosemoor Animal Park and after ignoring his own initial hesitation and warnings from older brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church), Benjamin caves and buys the zoo, much to Rosie's delight and Dylan's resentment. With no experience he must rely on the close-knit staff lead by head zookeeper Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson) to get the park up to code in time for re-opening, even as he struggles to keep his family together in the wake of his wife's passing and come to terms with their new life. 

No one will ever accuse this film of being unpredictable, which is fine since it's not really supposed to be. What Crowe always excels at is once again on display, manufacturing a sense of community onscreen with the characters, so in that respect it's easy to see why he gravitated toward this material. It probably has the least amount of depth of anything he's tackled and in a way that's a relief because with the bar set so low we find out what he can do with a story that in any other filmmaker's hands would have seemed like pure manipulative schmaltz. Just that very term implies dishonesty and whatever accusations have been hurled at Crowe from his critics, even they'd admit that label won't stick. He's too sincere for that.

From fade in we know there's a pretty good chance this zoo, its animals and its employees will change he and his kids' lives. Benjamin and Kelly will probably fall for each other. He and son Dylan will have a screaming match over his mother's death. Dylan will crush hard over Kelly's home-schooled niece Lily (Elle Fanning). The nasty zoo inspector ( a suitably slimy John Michael Higgins) will threaten to shut them down. They'll be a final act crisis. No viewer could doubt for a second that the zoo won't be ready on opening day. None of these can even be considered spoilers. And I was still absorbed every step of the way, due mostly to Matt Damon's surprisingly moving performance. Pudgy and disheveled, he strangely resembles Philip Seymour Hoffman in appearance while giving off a normal, every guy vibe that recalls '90's era Tom Hanks. There's this huge scene involving a sick tiger and it's almost scary how good he is in it, subtly suggesting things the script is trying to hit us over the head with. He's handed some pretty sappy stuff, but he somehow makes it ring completely true with his earnestness. And isn't it about time to acknowledge few actor have come as far or improved as much in the past decade as he has? With wildly varied performances of late in the Bourne franchise, The Informant!, True Grit, Hereafter and Contagion and good case could be made he's one of the best working right now.

When casting the role of a zookeeper, Scarlett Johansson doesn't exactly jump out at you as an inspired choice, but who would have guessed that she should have? Leave it up to Crowe to finally come with the idea of casting her as someone other than the sexpot. Watching this it hit me what the problem's been with her career: She's never plays a regular person. Here she plays kind of a nerd and she's actually really good at it. It isn't a particularly deep supporting part but it's a different one for her and exactly the kind she should start taking more often. It's also one of Crowe's more mature and intellectually developed female characters, providing a respite from the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" type that usually exists in his universe to rescue the male protagonist.

A scene-stealing Thomas Haden Church gets a few good zingers in as Benjamin's droll, skeptical brother, despite not getting nearly enough screen time and leaving me wondering when someone will let him headline his own movie.The rest of the cast also gets the job done, as Elle Fanning plays Lily as a long ways off from the wise-beyond-her-years teen she portrayed in Super 8. She supposedly based her performance as a socially awkward, immature farm girl on Taylor Swift, an unintentionally hilarious detail that also makes entirely too much sense. Angus MacFadyen as the crazed, bearded zoo carpenter and Almost Famous' Patrick Fugit as some employee with a pet monkey are mostly relegated to the sidelines but flesh out the cast nicely enough. In the case of Fugit, you can't help but feel disappointed that this marks his long overdue reunion with Crowe since he isn't given much of anything to do at all.

Like any other of his films, Crowe's soundtrack is jam-packed with those aforementioned classic rock favorites as well as a few newer songs that sound like classic rock favorites. In this outing more than any other except Elizabethtown, the musical selections really calls attention to itself. I'm still trying to figure out whether that's good or bad, but have settled on mostly good since it doesn't necessarily harm the film any and for my money no writer/director has better taste in music.  The whimsical score composed by Jonsi fits the tone even better, or at least as well as some of Crowe's most successful collaborations with ex-wife Nancy Wilson, who's surprisingly not missed too much here.

While this seems to be one of the more dispensable Crowe efforts, there's still enough behind it that it co-exists nicely with the other work in his filmography, proving to an extent that he hasn't lost a step.  The commercials and trailers have sold We Bought a Zoo as a sappy family film and while that isn't necessarily untrue, it's also decidedly more adult than expected, intelligently dealing with family, love and loss in a way that doesn't feel too manipulative or insulting. Crowe's always been an expert at pulling audience's emotional strings, but at least he has enough guts and integrity to unapologetically tell us to our faces that he's doing it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, Nicole Beharie, James Badge Dale
Running Time: 101 min.
Rating: NC-17

★★★ ½ (out of ★★★★)

It's infrequent seeing an NC-17 rating splashed across the screen before the start of a film, but on the rare occasion it happens, it's kind of a big deal. No studio heads in their right minds want to release a film that limits their audience and potential revenue right off the bat, Often the director or studio will give in, re-cutting it for a more respectable "R," as was the case with 2010 Blue Valentine, which featured a controversial sex scene. Steve McQueen's Shame is an anomaly in that it proudly wears its NC-17 as a badge of honor. There wasn't a chance anything with this much nudity and graphic sex would ever receive an R in this country. And we all know why.

The MPAA reserves its dreaded NC-17 rating for low budget, independent films with something important to say, while mainstream movies featuring gruesome violence and gratuitous sex for entertainment's sake often get a free pass. Shame is as much about sex addiction as Requiem for a Dream is about drug addiction or Leaving Las Vegas is about alcoholism. Which is to say not much at all. Addictions aren't actually about what they to seem to be about and only the best movies on the subject understand this. It's of little surprise the MPAA once again failed to grasp something called "context," which, in a fair system, would count for a whole lot more when rating a film.

All descriptions of thirty-something New Yorker Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) would read as "pervert" or "sex addict" when in fact the more accurate description of the protagonist is probably as "the loneliest man in the world." The opening scenes eerily resemble Young Adult as virtually no dialogue accompanies the boring rituals of one person's depressing existence. With a spacious, sterile Manhattan apartment looking as if it's been rented out by Patrick Bateman, you half-expect Brandon to be doing sit-ups and listening to Genesis. Instead, most of his time is spent bringing home hookers and masturbating to internet porn. When he isn't doing that he's roaming the streets for action or mentally undressing a married woman he sees daily on the subway. When desperate answering machine messages from his mentally unhinged, lounge singer sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) begin piling up because she needs a place to crash, before he knows it she's at his door. When their tumultuous sibling relationship resumes and she starts sleeping with his boss David (James Badge Dale), Brandon starts to fly over the deep end, his anger, isolation and addiction consuming him like never before.

Anyone going into this thinking it's a movie that asks us to feel sorry for a rich, successful, handsome guy who goes around town getting laid at every turn is in for a rude awakening. In lesser hands this could have easily been, but in McQueen's it's a descent into emotional devastation. There's very little if any eroticism in any of these explicit sex scenes. In fact, if they're at all thrilling for him, the high wears off pretty quickly until he can get his next fix. Shame couldn't have possibly been a more appropriate title since Brandon spends the entire length of it in a permanent state of humiliation and embarrassment. Like when his boss confiscates his computer or when his sister publicly bares her soul with a version of "New York, New York" so out there and emotionally naked, he can't even bring himself to watch her sing. Without fear, she's able to express herself in a ways he's incapable of because of self-doubt and insecurity. His only chance at any true emotional intimacy is with co-worker Marianne (a revelatory Nicole Beharie) but the closer he gets the more difficult it becomes. Sex and love can't possibly co-exist in his world.

That Fassbender wasn't Oscar nominated for this shattering performance is definitely an injustice, though not exactly a shock considering the subject matter. Seemingly coming out of nowhere in 2011, a good case could be made he was the big breakout actor of the year with three wildly different roles in three completely different genres, with this being the most challenging and unforgettable. He doesn't do a lot of talking and the slick suaveness we usually associate with him as a performer is replaced with desperation, hopelessness and pent-up aggression. Add to that the number of incredibly uncomfortable scenes he had to perform and you have a performance that may not have gotten serious award recognition, but will no doubt outlast those that did. Opposite him, Carey Mulligan silences her critics who feel she's only capable of playing "cutesy" by proving she can get down and dirty with the best of them, going down some really dark paths we've yet to see her explore as actress and showing a range most were probably unaware she had. As the loopier half of these dysfunctional siblings,  Mulligan plays Sissy as a total train wreck, her toxic dependency pushing all of Brandon's buttons and eventually sending him off the deep end. He refuses to put up with her unless she changes her wild ways, whereas she feels it's his obligation to help in spite of them. They're both right. And wrong. Eventually they'll have to learn to change their ways but the question is whether it'll be too late. The final scene vaguely suggests there could be hope for Brandon. Or maybe not.

Timely and hypnotizing, this is a film that cuts quite a bit deeper than even its most ardent defenders have given it credit for. In a society where we seem as connected as ever in our daily interactions it's easy to forget that we're actually drifting further apart. The scariest thing about Brandon is that we can picture ourselves knowing him and believing everything on the surface seems fine. It isn't a movie about sex, but the loneliness manifesting itself in that addiction. Based on content alone it surely deserved the MPPA rating it got but what's more noteworthy is that the film actually needed it to tell its story and showing any less would almost feel like a betrayal of its purpose. A minimalistic but searing human drama, Shame is too depressing to watch more than once, which shouldn't pose a problem since once is more than enough.