(2008) Joel and Ethan Coen - USA
In conversation, I've discovered that this falls into that "love it or hate it" category that so many Coen Brothers films seem to fall into. Quite obviously, I'm on the "loved it" side of that debate. I don't think Brad Pitt or Frances McDormand have ever been funnier or more endearing, and while it may be a screwball comedy that doesn't add up to much, it's one hell of an entertaining ride.
89. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
(2006) Cristi Puiu - Romania
This one's a bit more difficult to pigeonhole... a darkly comedic tragedy, perhaps? Anyway, this tale of a dying man being shuffled from hospital to hospital all over Bucharest is among the best of a great crop of films coming out of Romania these days.
For whatever reason, I have a strange affection for zombie films, and seeing this in a crowded theater certainly added to that experience (it doesn't fare quite as well at home for me). It provided me with one of the most flat out entertaining theater-going experiences of the past year. And although Woody Harrellson earned an Oscar nomination for his performance in The Messenger I actually prefer his performance in this one, as the wisecracking Tallahassee, who gave the movie some of it's best laughs, along with the surprise celebrity cameo (which I won't ruin for you).
Five different stories interweave in this film with one common bond: The Camorra, a Naples-based crime syndicate that controls the city and whose tentacles extend far beyond just the seedy criminal underworld. The stories are based on an exposé done by Roberto Saviano, who now lives under 24-hour government protection because of what he managed to expose about the Camorra's operations. If you're fond of films like The Godfather series or Scarface (which serves as the inspiration for the two young wanna-be gangsters at the center of one story), you may want to give this one a go.
The Magdalene Laundries in Ireland were a place where "wayward" girls were sent for punishment, forced to work mercilessly while enduring cruel abuse at the hands of the nuns that headed the laundries. This is the story of one group of girls sent to live there back in the 1960's, many of whom found themselves there for wrongs that would even be considered slight by 60's standards. I don't much care for the trailer (Miramax went through a period where they had to make all of their films look like "triumphs of the human spirit," and this is one example). It's a lot grittier than the trailer suggests.
As a devoted educator and teen basketball coach by day and a crack addict by night, Ryan Gosling deservingly garnered an Oscar nomination for his performance in this one. Matching him every step of the way was young Shareeka Epps, as a street smart young girl finding herself at a crossroads - she's clearly capable of so much more than what her surroundings offer her, yet in danger of becoming another statistic of those surroundings. An incredibly smart and insightful character study.