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no clue movie review: 2010 Spirit Awards - winners & impressions

I’m a Film Independent member so each year I get to vote for the Independent Spirit Awards. I usually watch the show too on IFC since it’s a breezy show and there’s an open bar and it’s always interesting seeing free booze and speeches mixing. Also, each year, since I do get a vote, I get to see all kinds of nominated movies. It’s usually a mixture of big exciting finds, lots of depressing films, some really lame boring movies that I can't wait to end and finally a few I actually had found on my own and really enjoyed. I thought I’d offer my comments on the winners, the show itself and the many nominated movies I saw and the ones that I still want to see.

You can get a list of all the nominees and winners here since I’m bound to not hit all the categories and movies.

Precious was the big winner. 5 nominations and 5 wins. Best Feature, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best First Screenplay. The official film title is Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. This was an extremely powerful movie. It hit me seriously in the heart. It has fantastic performances by Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Sherri Shepherd, Mariah Carey & Lenny Kravitz and many more. Gabourey Sidibe plays Precious. An overweight illiterate teenager with an awful home life. Her whole life has been filled with horrific physical, mental and sexual abuse. It shows her struggle to put a life together for herself and her children. This movie is carried by the performances of Gabourey and Mo’Nique. They are powerful and for Mo’Nique - who knew she had that in her. She’s been getting tons of recognition for this role and rightfully so. The movie is amazingly tough to watch, but really should be watched. It’s raw and emotional and gut wrenching. I don’t know what else to say. This is the kind of powerful movie that I loved and may only watch it once. It’s that tough, but I would recommend it.

Crazy Heart won 2 Spirit Awards. It was up for 3. This movie was excellent too I thought. Not as tough to watch as Precious, but also featuring a really flawed lead character who undergoes a transformation. It deals with a country singer, down on his luck called Bad Blake. Bad is played by Jeff Bridges in what I would call a role of a lifetime that he was born to play. Brilliantly understated and tragic performance. You see Bad go through so much and out of those experiences some great music emerges as well. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall among others follow Bridges’ lead with their fantastic performances but this movie revolves around Jeff Bridges. It’s a fantastic little movie and I urge you to see it. And enjoy the music where Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell both sing too.

Winner for Best Screenplay was my favorite find of the Spirit Awards season - (500) Days of Summer. I had wanted to see this movie when it was in theaters, but I missed it. It was a truly fantastic movie and unlike Precious, this could be easily added to my DVD/Blu-Ray collection. Interestingly enough, it’s the type of movie that doesn’t normally get honored at the Spirit Awards. It’s funny, heart warming, unromantic romantic comedy. It was really well done, but it’s not your typical romantic comedy since it’s story telling is kind of all over the place. It’s a very non-linear story but it works so well and delivers so much emotion - laughter, tears, excitement - all kinds. It’s a really well done well written movie that everyone should watch. Great performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel among others. Gordon-Levitt has really made a name for himself in the indie film circuit. I’ve loved him in recent years in Mysterious Skin, Brick, The Lookout and others. He was also in what I can only assume is awful, but haven’t seen it, G.I. Joe movie from last summer. Again, I don’t want to give away too much, but this is a fantastic movie in all regards and I look forward to watching it again someday.

Woody Harrelson won Best Supporting Male for The Messenger. He plays a soldier who notifies next of kin when a soldier dies. It’s an Iraq war drama about another soldier played by Ben Foster (who’s really good in this movie, but needs to show more of a range next time. Too angry all the time, even when he’s maybe looking happy. He was the kid in the Disney Channel series Flash Forward. He's also been in Six Feet Under and Freaks and Geeks.) who starts to fall for a widow of a deceased officer. This movie I found to be good. Not great. I think it’s a movie that is trying to say too much sometimes, not sure. Good performances and good story, but maybe a little too much of the same tough emotions all the time. I think the romance part was done well and brave to not go too far and stay poignant. Those scenes show real emotions but the characters only let you see what's on the surface. The rest is left up to the audience. This movie is worth watching, but it’s another tough and for me ultimately depressing movie even though I felt like the director tried to offer us hope at the end of the movie.

THE SHOW: I thought it was OK. Eddie Izzard was a bit crude and rude, but that’s Eddie Izzard isn’t it. Maybe a little too much polished looking show, but that isn’t 100% accurate. It was enjoyable and still moved at a good pace. I guess the polished part was that it’s starting to feel like a big awards show. They had a set this time and normally it’s just some podiums and a screen. Since it was on Friday night instead of Saturday afternoon, the mood was maybe a bit more glamorous too. Usually this is a T-shirts and jeans crowd, but they were all decked out this time around. I did miss the really corny singing silly songs about the nominated features. I always hated that, but found myself missing it. All in all, it was a fun show I guess. Maybe uneven. OH, and my one pet peeve was the fact that everyone kept saying “independent film” like it was some sort of virus. Once I’d like to watch this show and have them talk about the movies as movies. I understand that they want to highlight that a lot of these movies are done on small budgets and outside of the standard studio system. But most of the winners get released in theaters by Fox Searchlight, Lionsgate, etc. These aren't movies we only saw at festivals. Maybe if we just stuck to the idea that these are good movies that deserve to be celebrated and people should go out and see them or watch them on DVD. I did like the fact that I felt like we got to see more clips this year of the movies, so if you hadn’t seem them, then maybe you were intrigued by the clips to go seek them out.

Overall, I guess the movies this year were of a good quality. Here’s a few more mini-reviews of films that I got to see this year.

Amreeka: Great movie about a single mother moving to America from Palestine. Great understated movie about a family struggling to realize the American dream and caught between the culture they knew and the world they live in. Really a movie concerned greatly with identity. Well done and deserves a look. Nisreen Faour is a great find of an actress and there a lot of good performances by actors I had never seen. (Except Maeby from Arrested Development)

Paranormal Activity: Good little low budget psychological horror. I had seen this one in theaters in October. I thought it was a good movie with OK performances that scared the bejesus out of me. It’s one of those horror movies where you don’t see any blood or killing, but it’s what you don’t see that’s interesting. I left the theater feeling kind of nauseous. I find that the mark of a good flick. The problem is that this movie will probably not repeat well since the shock of it all has worn off. Who knows. Big indie hit though. Hope the filmmakers and actors get more opportunities after this.

Easier With Practice: This is a fucked up little film. The story of a guy on a book tour who receives an anonymous phone call from a woman in a hotel room and he continues on with a phone sex affair with her that kind of takes over his life. It’s whacked out and weird! Creepily enjoyable though. Shot with the RED camera it looks great. It’s also fairly well acted and feels like you’re watching real people. It’s worth a look, but the tagline for this movie would never had got me to watch it. Luckily, they sent me a DVD. The director is someone to look out for in the future. His name is Kyle Patrick Alvarez.

Zero Bridge: This movie deserves a mention for many reasons. It’s a fascinating movie. Shot by a director, Tariq Tapa, with a camera and no other crew and a bunch of non-professional actors in the war torn region of Kashmir. It deserves a look by anyone who likes watching different kinds of movies (notice I didn’t say “independent”). It’s a slow moving story, but riveting and held my attention. I wanted to know more about these characters throughout the movie and after the movie I thought about it for a few hours still. Interesting flick.

Humpday: I just didn’t get it. It was boring, seemed like interesting people having stupid conversations. I did find a few scenes humorous, but not enough to say go see this movie. It won the John Cassavetes Award for best movie made for under $500,000. This is one of the “mumblecore” movies. It’s the story of 2 straight guy friends that decide to make an amateur gay porn film. Again, I just didn’t get it and I was bored the whole time. Stars Mark Duplass of The Puffy Chair. Another flick I just didn’t get.

The Vicious Kind: This was a movie filled with good performances, but sadly for me, the movie wasn’t good. It was just an all negative portrayal of family life. The characters were too screwed up and to me did things that didn’t match themselves. Actors Adam Scott (he was in Party of Five), Brittany Snow (gorgeous girl from American Dreams & Hairspray (2008) ) and others are good, but can’t save this depressing ugly movie.

October Country: Real life family that have a lot of problems. Delicate and beautifully filmed movie that doesn’t ever seem exploitive, but is really depressing. Just reminds you of all the crazy things that can happen in your family. I recommend seeing it, especially if you like family portrait documentaries. Just don’t do a double feature day with this and Precious.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil: Winner of Best Documentary, this is a great real life film. Good find! It’s the story of a Canadian heavy metal band that was very inspirational to a lot of bands like Metallica & Slayer but never hit the big time. They struggle to bring new music to their audience. It’s really an inspirational story about never giving up and always keep working toward your dreams. I highly recommend this movie. Great movie and makes you want to bang your head to some heavy metal hard rock music.

Here’s a few movies that I haven’t seen yet, but want to:
Sin Nombre, The Last Station, Two Lovers, A Serious Man, A Single Man, The New Year Parade, Big Fan, Adventureland, Cold Souls, Downloading Nancy, Goodbye Solo, Fifty Dead Men Walking, That Evening Sun, Gentleman Broncos, Me and Orson Welles, An Education, A Prophet, Food, Inc., and More Than A Game.

Thanks for reading some mini-reviews and I’ll post my 2010 Oscar Picks tomorrow morning.

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