Two Testosterone-fueled Treats: Steve Recommends Drive and Warrior

Once again this year both a crime movie and a movie about fighters find their way into upper end of my rankings. As Ray Davies sang in “Lola,” that great song by the Kinks, “Well, I’m not the world’s most masculine man,” but there is something about these kinds of movies that really gets my blood pumping. On the crime scene I’ve recently fallen for Animal Kingdom, In Bruges, Gone Baby Gone, and, of course, No Country for Old Men. This year it is the magnificent Drive that fills that spot. As for those fighters, in the past couple of years I’ve been captivated by The Wrestler and The Fighter, and this year, amazingly enough, by a mixed martial arts movie, Warrior.

As is often the case in crime movies, dating back to the film noir era, Drive is driven by atmosphere. From the opening sequence, it sets forth a mood and I was totally sucked in. Ryan Gosling delivers as the driver. Is there a better young actor working today? He conveys so much with a look, a gesture. Even the way that he moves his hands on the steering wheel is incredibly cool. His character is intriguing. On the one hand, he is so gentle in reaching out to his neighbor’s young son. On the other hand, he makes it clear that he is not someone you want to mess with. His calm exterior hides a truly frightening rage. That points to the one aspect of the movie that I wish had been handled differently. It is ultra-violent. I can’t stress that too much. I do recommend the movie, but with the warning that the violence is very graphic. The movie does ask an interesting question, how do you do what is right in a situation where there are no right answers?

In many ways I am surprised that I liked Warrior as much as I did. I’m certainly not a fan of mixed martial arts. In fact, I have never watched a single match. The movie seems to include every sports movie cliché and a key element of the plot stretches credibility to the breaking point. There is going to be a big MMA tournament featuring the sixteen top fighters in the world with a five million dollar winner-take-all prize. Two brothers come out of nowhere to make it into the field of sixteen! Despite that ridiculous premise, the movie works. It works because of the performances by Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as the brothers and Nick Nolte as their father. Nolte is well deserving of his Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor. As is the case with The Wrestler and The Fighter before it, the strength of the film is not the fighting in the ring, but the complexity of the relationships outside the ring. The unique twist here is that the struggles outside lead to an encounter inside. I’m really not giving anything away by revealing that the brothers face one another in the final bout. Despite the inevitable outcomes of the earlier fights, they are still fun to watch. Since both brothers carry equal weight in the movie, the outcome of their match could go either way. This movie is really about the long, hard road to forgiveness and, for that reason, well worth watching.

Ranking the 2010 Best Picture Nominees by Steve

As the 2010 Oscars ride off into the sunset (thanks for nothing, James Franco!), I’ll bid them adieu by posting my rankings of the Best Picture nominees.  I still haven’t seen 127 Hours yet, so I’ll update the post when I do.  It’s available on Netflix at the end of the month, so I’ll see it then.  I sure hope that Franco is better in the movie than he was on the aforementioned Oscars.

Drum roll, please…

1. Black Swan – This movie drew me in like no other this year.  I’ll write a reflection soon on why I found it to be such a fulfilling movie experience.

2. Social Network – Among other things, Jesse Eisenberg was incredible!

3. True Grit – Blows the original away.  I love the Coen brothers!  A reflection on their movies soon, also.

4. The King’s Speech – I wanted to dislike it, but I couldn’t.  I cried…a lot.  Another coming attraction: a reflection on why I like to cry at the movies.

5. Winter’s Bone – Among other things, Jennifer Lawrence was incredible!

6. The Kids Are Alright – It was certainly more than alright.  I laughed, I cried.

7. The Fighter – Great performances by the leads, but the bizarre sisters nearly ruined it for me.

8. Inception – A reflection coming on why this was the most disappointing movie of the year.

9. Toy Story 3 – With our son going off to college, it certainly hit home and there was much that I liked, such as the prison camp movie references.  Yet much of it was simply fluff and some of it was interminable.  I couldn’t wait for the extended escape sequence to be over.  Alright, I’ll confess, I was hoping they would all burn up in the incinerator so we could be done with it!

So there you have it.  Now on to the magical movie moments of 2011.