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Movie Rundown: Holiday Favorites and Oscar Hopefuls

February 16, 2013

Now that we are about a week away from The Academy Awards, it’s time for me to give you my Oscar/Holiday Season movie rundown! While my school schedule doesn’t warrant me the time to give each of these films its own individual review, I’ve given the most popular of the past few months and the biggest Oscar contenders most of the focus here. I still have yet to see The Master, though the only race it’s really involved in are the Supporting Actor/Actress categories wherein it has absolutely no chance. I have also yet to see Amour. A friend and I keep trying to organize a viewing and it just keeps falling through. Though I vow to see it before Oscar night and will add a bit about it when I do. 

 

Skyfall

Skyfall

Skyfall was probably the most enjoyable Bond movie I’ve ever seen. I found the first two Daniel Craig Bond films only ok, the first being a little dull and the second entirely confusing and unwatchable. This one at least had a plot that I could follow-and don’t doubt my abilities to follow plots please; roundabout and cerebral mysteries are some of my favorites. The banter and rapport between Craig’s Bond and Dame Judy Dench’s M was at its best, and a familial relationship budded between them that finally gave Bond’s relationships some consequences. Javier Bardem was also brilliant as the villain, and it’s nice that a Bond film finally noted the capabilities of a single man and his computer wizardry, rather than the usual big corporation and its army. The only bit that I would complain about is the relationship between Bond and the concubine Severine. I mean, when you meet a woman who has been raped her entire life, and is visibly traumatized by it and the man who now owns her, the most logical thing to do is surprise her, naked, in the shower, right? I mean, certainly she’s not going to say no, right? So just take advantage of her inherent, long ingrained inability to refuse a man his sexual needs and just keep getting laid, right Bond? Ugh. As for the Oscars, I’m pretty sure Adele’s “Skyfall” has it in the bag, and the opportunity for the Academy to add a performance by Adele is one they should snatch up post-haste.

 

The Sessions

The Sessions

How in the ever-living hell did John Hawkes not get an Oscar nomination? Forget Ben Affleck. Forget Kathryn Bigelow. THIS is the snub of the 2013 Academy Awards. I’m a sucker for independent little movies with a focused plot and great performances, and this one fit into that niche nicely. The film was based on an article by Mark O’Brien, which addressed his life with polio, living inside and iron lung, and his “adventures” with a sex surrogate. Hawkes performance as a physically restricted but emotionally available man was fantastic and heart breaking. Helen Hunt’s wasn’t so bad either, and she’s the one who walked away with the Oscar nomination, which I suspect, had to do with her full nudity, sigh. Though, I did leave the theater wanting to now a little more about Hunt’s character, Cheryl. The film made it seem as if Cheryl was developing feelings for Mark by the end of the film, which I found to be an odd conflict that may not have been in the original article or in any of the interviews with the real-life Cheryl (which I admit I’ve yet to read.) I wanted to know more about how her husband and family felt about what she does, if they even knew the full extent. It was explored a bit with the incident with her husband and Mark’s poem, but not to the extent that I would have liked. How often does her profession cause conflicts in her marriage? I’m also more interested in the general concept of sex surrogacy and the arguments for and against it, which is a testament to how the film did a great job of leaving little thoughts in your brain to keep you thinking. Congrats to Hunt; Hawkes, you were robbed.

 

 

 Lincoln

Lincoln

Holy Crap! If C-Span were this exciting, I bet we would all know more about the inner workings of Congress. Tony Kushner’s script was absolutely brilliant, though I did find a few parts a bit slow-which is usually the one problem with many of Kushner’s scripts; roller coasters of excellent, witty dialogue with a few snoozy dips. I thought Daniel Day Lewis’ performance was fantastic, and I got over the high-pitched voice pretty quickly. Sally Field’s unfortunately misunderstood and occasionally crazy Mary Todd was also an award worthy performance (poor woman doesn’t have a chance against the cry-singer Anne Hathaway though.) I only wish that the film had ended differently. I agree with Mr. Samuel L. Jackson, who went on a rant about the film’s ending leading to this great piece in the L.A. Times. Jackson noted that, “I don’t understand why it didn’t just end when Lincoln is walking down the hall and the butler gives him his hat. Why did I need to see him dying on the bed? I have no idea what Spielberg was trying to do. I didn’t need the assassination at all. Unless he’s going to show Lincoln getting his brains blown out. And even then, why am I watching it? The movie had a better ending 10 minutes before.” I completely agree Mr. Jackson. The shot of Lincoln walking down the hall was gorgeous. His final line, “It’s time for me to go, but I’d rather stay,” was an ephemeral goodbye. We knew exactly what was going to happen, but none of us wanted to see it. The film really should have ended on his walkout, but Spielberg did what the L.A. Times described and just drew the thing out into Return of the King style 72 endings. Despite it’s botched ending, I’m pretty sure Kushner will take home the Best Adapted Screenplay to add to his numerous Tonys.

 

 Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Again, I did not see this in 3D. I’m sort of done with 3D. Though I still found the cinematography utterly gorgeous. The ship-wreak itself was on par with Lost‘s heinous pilot plane crash; disturbing and nightmare inducing, but quite realistic. The story was epic, tear jerking, and beautiful, and the allegorical pieces were the stuff of spiritual reflection. I think, however, the placement of some of the flashbacks and present day scenes were annoyingly done. When the interviewer first meets the older Pi and begins his story, the flashback scenes were too often interrupted by a cut back to older Pi and the interviewer. I would rather stick with the younger Pi and see what’s happening, or hear voice over narration, than cut back to a shot of two people on a park bench talking. That, in my opinion, was the only real flaw in a really beautiful movie. I don’t think it has a shot at Best Picture, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Ang Lee snagged Best Director (since it’s pretty clear at this point that Picture and Director aren’t going to match up), and I think it also has a good shot at winning Cinematography and Visual Effects.

 

 Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

Really the only thing this film had going for it was the utterly beautiful costumes and sets. The whole film suffered from a poorly constructed theatrical environment. Everything was confined to a theater, and every scene, the balls, the bedrooms, the trains, took places within that theater. The only time we ventured into the outside world was when the character Levin went out to his country estate. His exit from the theater into a snow covered landscape, with actual natural sunlight made me gasp in shock at an exterior. Believe me, I totally get it. The world and society of Anna Karenina is phony like theater, and all of the men and women merely players in an unfair, sexist, and disingenuous play. The reason that Levin is permitted to leave the theater is because he doesn’t take part in the pantomime of their society. I thought, though, that what might have been a creative choice more appropriate for actual theatrical production was way too constricting for film. I felt so suffocated watching it that it ruined the entire movie for me. That said, the performances were fine, with Jude Law’s standing out a bit more then the rest of the cast’s, and it has a good shot at winning the Oscar for costume design.

 

Les Mis

Les Miserables

Eh. See my lengthy review.

 

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

Just a caveat: I’m really tired of the 20-year-old girl and 40-year-old man falling for each other trope. It’s creepy and getting really old. That aside, I did like this film. The story was great, the actors fantastic, and the setting is what wins the game! OK, well, youse guys all know I’m from Philly, and the Eagles love, the Llanarch Diner (that’s MY diner!) and the actors’ attempts at the truly bizarre accent really won me over. I did feel that Jennifer Lawrence’s character lacked detail. Did she actually have her own mental illness, or was she just eccentric and slutty? I also wished that they had addressed Robert DeNiro’s clear OCD and own mental issues as a genetic pathway to Bradley Cooper inheriting some of the same problems. Though, I have to admit, despite the creepy age difference, the chemistry between Lawrence and Cooper was quite adorable, and the fact that they’re both such humble actors willing to make themselves look ridiculous added to their charm. The dance contest (which I’m still not really clear about; why was Tiffany doing that again?) was a fabulously hilarious scene and their reactions at getting a 5 was gif-worthy. I think J-Law might nab the Oscar for Best Actress (and good on her, because she’s great both on and off screen) though I think standing in her way might be Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty or Emanuelle Riva, the 85-year-old nominee from Amour.

 

 Hobbit

The Hobbit

Let me preface this snippet of a review by saying that I did not see it in the 3D, high frame rate, but regular old two dimensional movie viewing. The movie was beautifully shot, characters were great, and the LOTR world that Peter Jackson has created is an amazing feat. That said, WOW what a snooze fest. I remember thinking about 45 minutes into the film, “Isn’t this movie called ‘An Unexpected Journey’? Why haven’t they gone anywhere yet?!” The film also suffered from being a serious, serious sausage fest. When Cate Blanchett appeared on the screen about five hours into the film, I caught myself internally screaming, “Ehrmagherd! A lady!” Also, how many of the same Hobbit-fights-creature-bigger-than-him battles can I watch over and over again without getting bored? Also, is it me or are the evil creatures all starting to blend together? I can’t really tell the difference between and Orc, a Goblin, and an Urukhai. Also, at the end of the movie when the Eagles swoop down and save them, why the hell didn’t they just fly them the extra like 10 minutes over to the mountain that they were heading for?!? Come to think of it, why didn’t Gandalf just hire an Eagle to take the ring of doom back to the volcano in the original movies?!?! If I find this first Hobbit film so incredibly tedious, how on earth will I get through two more freaking movies? 

 

Django Unchained

Django Unchained

I must admit I was a bit hesitant to see this film. I was never a huge Tarantino fan to begin with, though I really liked the Kill Bill‘s and was surprised at how much I enjoyed Inglorious Basterds. However, once this film started, I was immediately into it. The revenge plot was kickass and decidedly Tarantino. I liked the characters, especially Christoph Waltz’s performance as the eccentric and gentlemanly Dr. King Schultz (and his horse Fritz!) I liked the journey that these two opposites embarked upon together, and there was a clear goal set ahead for Django. Everything was going well for me until Tarantino showed up… in his own movie that is. There was a logical and expected ending to Django Unchained and Tarantino completely ignored it and made the film about 40 minutes too long. The additional Australian characters, returning to the mansion, the second giant shootout, it was all completely unnecessary and I found myself zoning out. It was because of that extra and unnecessary 40 minutes that I started having what Gawker author Cord Jefferson calls a “Django Moment” when you find yourself asking whether or not you find any of the violence funny anymore, or even if you should find it funny. Jefferson says, “And since Django runs close to three hours long, at a certain point you start to catch yourself laughing where you shouldn’t or—worse, even—hearing others laughing at something you don’t find funny at all. Eventually, you begin to wonder if you’re being too sensitive, or if the movie and everyone else around you are insensitive. Then you start to consider whether any of that even matters.” There were definitely moments in Django where people I was watching it with were laughing at scenes I found severely difficult to watch. Those moments seemed to increase after that natural ending point where everything afterwards just felt gratuitous and sensational. I think this film had a shot at being great, but Tarantino did what he does best and took it a bit too far. If it had ended where it should have and not included that unnecessary 40 minutes that just acerbated the violence, I think it would be an A+ film. That said, I think that Christoph Waltz has a great chance at taking home Best Supporting Actor, and even Tarantino might even take home Best Original Screenplay.

 

 Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

I wasn’t as wild (heh heh) about this film as most of the other critics. I think I expected either a little more fantasy or a little more reality and I thought the film was too wishy washy about what ground it stood. The environment was too recognizable of a place to be a “fictional” community or a fantastical location, and yet it was too obscure to reflect any actual community. I suppose that was the point. Though when it came specifically to the prehistoric hog creatures, I wasn’t really clear what I was supposed to be viewing. The film depicted them to be “real” outside of Hushpuppy’s narration or imagination. The girls at the end were screaming and running away from them. If they were only objects of her imagination, why did the other girls see them? If they were only a metaphor, why did the film depict them as real? If they were only a part of her imagination, why is this film considered a “fantasy”? If it were clearer that they were imaginary, then I would have rolled with it. If it were clearer that they were actually, physically real, I would have rolled with that too. The problem was with how the film represented them, as both real and imaginary, and never seemed to make up it’s own mind about them. Performance-wise I thought that Quvenzhané Wallis was charming and a joy to watch. Though I think her Best Actress nomination is more a reflection of Ben Zeitlin’s Best Director nomination. And on that note, since I didn’t totally love this film, I feel like Zeitlin’s nomination is thieving a nomination for Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow.

 

 Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

Guys, I’m not even going to get into the argument about torture, the CIA, war tactics, revenge, or the wars, because good grief those are years long arguments that won’t end and no account of them in a film will be able to encompass their reverberations throughout the world. I’m just going to talk about Zero Dark Thirty  as a film; a film that I thought was very well done. The story is naturally gripping; we all know it, minus the extreme details.  We all connect to the catalyst of 9/11. What Bigelow did here was show us the inner workings, put faces to unknowable people that we will never recognize, and provided humanity to people we think are supposed to be machines. Jessica Chastain’s performance was tough, driven, and ruthless yet ultimately human. And can I just say bravo to a modern war film on passing the Bechdel test?! Also, some think that the raid sequence was the weak link of the film when I thought it was the very best part. The entire 25 minute sequence had me breathless and really showed off Kathryn Bigelow’s directing chops. Because of the controversy, this films is not going to take home Best Picture, though if anyone’s got a shot at a statue it’s Chastain. One thing I will add is a question: Do you think that the controversy surrounding this film is what cost her a Best Director nomination, and do you think that the result would be the same if she were male?

 

The Impossible 

The Impossible

Yikes, guy. Talk about a harrowing story. While this isn’t a film that will go down as introducing anything game changing or being a must see picture, it was beautifully acted, and heartbreaking to watch. I think the film suffered from being just a straightforward tale of a family’s attempt to reunite after a devastating natural disaster. The plot was a straight line from A to B. That said, focusing on one family during a larger scale disaster was a smart one, though I would have liked to begin Ewen McGregor half of the storyline at the impact of the tsunami, just as they had with Naomi Watts’. I think the film could have been improved with a more interesting structure, maybe simultaneous scenes while the two facets were separated, or like I said, going back to McGregor’s experience with the impact. Though this might not stick out in my mind as one of the best of the year, the performances from Watts and McGregor were moving and the overall accomplishment of the film is its portrayal of the perseverance of hope and family.

 

 Argo

Argo

Ladies and Gents, I give you your Best Picture*. It was a slow burn with Argo. When it came out back in October it got great reviews. Then as the other holiday films started pouring in, Argo was forgotten. When the nominations started coming out, Argo and director Ben Affleck were on them as expected. But then, BUT THEN, the Oscar Nominations came out. There was Argo, but…where’s Ben?!? That’s when it all started. The snub articles, the race to see Argo in theaters, the speculation that the Academy was too old fashioned and crotchety to allow the kid who played Daredevil and Gigli win an Oscar. (Personally, I don’t understand HOW a film can be nominated for Best Picture and not get a Best Director nom.) But then came the Critics Choice, where Affleck won Favorite Director. Then the Golden Globes, where Ben won for directing and Argo took Best Drama. Then came the AFI’s where both won again. Then the PGA Awards and the DGA awards. Then finally the BAFTA’s where Affleck and Argo won again. That’s a hard train to stop. And while there’s a good chance the Academy could go full on old and crotchety and give the whole director/picture shebang to Lincoln, I have to say that would be a pitiful mistake. Argo was my favorite film on this whole list. It was suspenseful, despite knowing what happens in the end. It was funny. It was wonderfully cast, and the design and cinematography of the whole film was just downright cool. I’m not talking too much about the actual film here because I want you guys to go see it. See it before Oscar night, it’s about to come out on DVD, and see it before it become one of the few Best Picture winners to take home the top trophy while it’s director got snubbed for a nomination.

*My Prediction

 

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