Hollywood shows a softer side

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Old 17-Feb-2011
Hollywood shows a softer side

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There were hints of what was to come when Sandra Bullock's good-hearted Memphis mom in The Blind Side blindsided everyone in 2009 and even Quentin Tarantino staunched the blood flow a bit as his Inglourious Basterds stacked up Nazi scalps. But in 2010, across the vast cinematic landscape, a softer side began to emerge in nearly all genres, affecting, and reflecting, filmmakers and actors alike.

Quite simply, movies, and moviemakers, became nicer. Case in point: Set the Coen brothers' True Grit alongside No Country for Old Men or even their bloodless A Serious Man and it's as if the boys themselves underwent a charming conversion with their very winning and winsome Western. As significantly, True Grit would suggest that, wrapped up right, nice can be both critically acclaimed and audience-embraced.

Let me hasten to inject that dark, angry, edgy, brooding, bloody films certainly didn't disappear (just look at the run of bleak end-of-year movies, such as Blue Valentine and Biutiful) nor am I advocating that they should. Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, of which I'm an admitted fan, is arguably even darker than The Wrestler of a few years back. On the other hand, The Wrestler's stars, Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei, definitely had more fun in 2010, he in The Expendables, she in Cyrus.

Being nice didn't always equate with being good

There is a long list of misses on that score. Eat Pray Love comes to mind, a movie that even Julia Roberts' 100-watt smile couldn't salvage. It's just that when done right, nice proved to be just what the doctor ordered. How much have things changed?

Consider David Fincher's The Social Network, which brilliantly captured the birth of a cultural revolution and is the leading contender for best picture. Last year in that slot it was Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war story The Hurt Locker, an dark adrenaline rush. While Jeremy Renner's fearless soldier had a scary genius for dismantling bombs, the war around him remained unwinnable and the bombs never stopped being made.

In contrast, Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg developed a devastatingly stoic style haggling over intellectual property rights but at the end of the day gave us a technological advancement that did make it a smaller world, after all. And now, a sampling of the swells who helped make the movies slightly more inviting, gracious, good-humoured and forgiving. All in all, a peach of a trend.

No more running with scissors and no more wire hangers

Families for the most part bonded and supported each other through their differences and difficulties. It was an eclectic mix of texture and tone, virtually all of it engaging, starting with Nicole Holofcener's musing over whether charity truly begins at home in Please Give, with its two families colliding in a New York City hallway; Cyrus, with Marisa Tomei as a single mother sorting out the troubles between her two main squeezes; and the sleeper indie hit of City Island with Andy Garcia's patriarch just one of many keeping family secrets.

Topping that list are two award favourites - The Kids Are All Right, with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as two moms trying to keep the ties that bind, and Winter's Bone, which, though darker than the others, revolves around Jennifer Lawrence as an Ozark teen taking care of her kin by any means necessary.

Mean girls lost the election

Emma Stone's good girl looking for a bad rep in Easy A took on high school angst with a lot of cheek and charm. In the tradition of Glee, the problems somehow seemed manageable and the cool kids were only lukewarm.

In Alice in Wonderland, from director Tim Burton (talk about someone going to the light side), you knew that Mia Wasikowska's Alice had her coming-of-age issues in hand. Even Rapunzel's long Tangled imprisonment didn't dampen her verve.

Directors didn't cut

The Coens and Tim Burton were not alone here. Consider Mike Leigh, who journeyed from darker, political fare earlier in his career to Another Year, which found contentment and solace in a long marriage. Or take the case of David O. Russell, an edgy, ironic soul if there ever was one.

The Three Kings filmmaker, he of the existential I (Heart) Huckabees, gave us one of the most intelligent, uplifting movies of the year in The Fighter. Even Danny Boyle, with an assist from an exuberant James Franco, made 127 Hours into a walk in the park - well, except for the whole amputation thing.

Even history entered laughing

Usually Second World War stories, the powerful ones, leave you moved but saddened. Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in Atonement, Liev Schreiber and Daniel Craig in Defiance, Clint Eastwood's double-barreled shot in Letters From Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers, Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan.

But 2010's final weeks gave us The King's Speech, director Tom Hooper's trifecta of heartwarming and empowering and entertaining. Colin Firth was masterful as the stammering King George VI, who faced his fears to become the steady voice calming the Brits as battles raged and Hitler's bombs dropped, thanks to an unconventional friendship with a puckish therapist, played with disarming cheek by Geoffrey Rush.

Of course, nice may not last forever. Among films on the docket for 2011: Final Destination 5, which promises "no way you can cheat death"; Burning Palms, "where no taboo is left unexplored"; and All My Friends Are Funeral Singers. We can only hope they're nice funeral singers.

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