Tag Archives: Academy Awards

Top Ten Films of 2013

The delay in me typing this up comes from the fact that there are still a few major films from 2013 that I have yet to see – American HustleHerInside Llewyn Davis, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street (though I’m thinking I won’t see the latter due to excessive sexual content). That being said, I wanted to go ahead and tackle what I have seen before too much of 2014 passes, so just know that, if I see these films and find them worthy of this list, I will update it and let you all know.

2013 was a pretty great year for me. I saw more films than ever before, largely due to my involvement in The MovieByte Podcast with my friend TJ. If I totaled everything correctly, I saw 40 new films this year in theaters, so this list is drawing from a pretty wide selection.

An important note: this is a list of favorite films, which may conflict with my ratings. My ratings are usually based on a combination of both quality and enjoyment, whereas this list will mostly be based on enjoyment with quality mixed in just a bit. Click on the titles to see my reviews for each film. With that said, let’s get started with number 10:

thor the dark world

Honorable Mention – Thor: The Dark World

After the mediocre first Thor film, I was hoping for a much better second film, which we thankfully got in Thor: The Dark World. Chris Hemsworth is an excellent Thor, made better by the fact that we’re not establishing an origin anymore. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki continues to impress as well, this time as an ally, bringing an interesting twist to the character and allowing for a fun and occasionally potent brother-to-brother relationship. Brian Tyler’s score is just as fun as the movie itself, and Christopher Eccleston’s villain Malekith is appropriately menacing, if a bit vague in intention.

frozen

10. Frozen

I love Disney films, especially musical ones, because they remind me of my childhood, when The Lion KingBeauty and the Beast (my review), and Aladdin were supreme. Frozen reminds me of those 1990s Disney movies, but this time with a nice twist at the end – which I won’t spoil for you. The voice cast is incredible here, namely Kristen Bell as Anna and Josh Gad as Olaf the Snowman, with Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” set to be a surefire nominee for Best Original Song at this year’s Academy Awards – and, I’ll call it now, it’ll win too. The animation is beautiful, the story is touching, and you’ll walk out whistling the songs, wanting to watch it again and again.

12-years-a-slave

9. 12 Years a Slave

This film is difficult to rank because, while it’s certainly a 5-star film, it’s also difficult to watch. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Solomon Northup, a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery for twelve long years. The film covers his incredibly painful time spent on a plantation in Louisiana, where he meets good people, bad people, and fellow slaves who are also struggling for their lives. Director Steve McQueen doesn’t shy away from the harsh truths of slavery and how brutal the slave owners often were, making this film exceptionally powerful and a must-watch – if you can stomach it.

Enders-Game

8. Ender’s Game

I read Orson Scott Card’s classic book in anticipation of this film, so it was fresh on my mind when I walked into the theater. As expected, the book is much better and much of the content in the film is watered down, but that doesn’t stop the film from being pretty excellent on its own. For the most part, it keeps the themes of morality and unnecessary violence intact, and Asa Butterfield as the eponymous Ender does a fantastic job of capturing the character, from his calm control in stressful situations to his intense emotional outbursts upon the realizations of what has happened to him. The visuals in this movie are gorgeous, with scenes from the book, such as the armies in the Battle Room, flying right off the page in a great way.

book-thief

7. The Book Thief

I also read Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief before seeing the film based on it, and many of my criticisms are the same as for Ender’s Game in regards to the watering down of content and such, but that doesn’t stop this film from being an emotional punch to the gut. Sophie Nélisse is outstanding as Liesel Meminger, as are her parents, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. The period setting of the film is well-done, and John Williams delivers as intimate and beautiful a score as ever. Bring a box of tissues for this one…maybe two.

Tom Hanks

6. Captain Phillips

In this film, Tom Hanks has the best performance of his life…for, what, the fifth time now? Man, he continues to prove that he’s one of the best actors out there. Captain Phillips tells the true story of how Somalian pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama but were thwarted by Captain Richard Phillips, who not only protected everyone on board with his actions but also offered himself as hostage to continue that protection. Barkhad Abdi plays the lead pirate, who isn’t portrayed as a bad guy but rather as a guy forced to do bad things due to unfortunate social circumstances. There isn’t a bad guy here, not really – at least, that’s not how the film portrays the pirates – but there is simply reality and suspense that rises from it. The long run-time never feels too long as you are caught up in the action from start to finish, and if Tom Hanks doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor, it’ll only be because he lost it to Chiwetel Ejiofor.

SAVING MR. BANKS

5. Saving Mr. Banks

Emma Thompson shines in this historical film about the making of the 1964 Disney film, Mary Poppins, based on the book series by P. L. Travers. Thompson’s portrayal of the stubborn author is both quirky and humorous, but it’s also heartbreaking in her remembrance of moments in her childhood that inspired her books. Colin Farrell plays her father in these flashbacks, juxtaposing a happy-go-lucky father with a down-on-his-luck drunkard, giving us insight into Mary Poppins and the Banks family that I was not previously familiar with. Tom Hanks plays an admirable Walt Disney, even if his performance doesn’t convince me enough that I am watching Walt himself rather than Hanks playing him. Still, the charm of the movie as a whole as well as Thompson’s performance knock this film out of the park. (You should probably bring tissues to this one as well.)

oblivionstarringtomcruise

4. Oblivion

I had a self-imposed boycott on Tom Cruise’s films for quite a long time, but since lifting it for 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (my review) he has quickly become one of my favorite actors. His performance here is great, as is Andrea Riseborough’s performance as his partner, but it’s the themes and questions raised by the film that bring Oblivion so far to the top of my list. Themes of asking questions, seeking answers, and the thirst for knowledge vs. the fear of knowledge are brought to the forefront, and, for some reason, it really resonated with me. The script is smart, Tom Cruise is as great as ever, and the score by M83 is energetic and fun, in the same vein as Daft Punk’s score for TRON: Legacy (my review), which was directed by the same man, Joseph Kosinski. This film not only shows off Tom Cruise’s continuing capabilities as an action star, but his talents as a dramatic actor as well.

the hunger games catching fire

3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

As far as book-to-film adaptations go, 2012’s The Hunger Games (my review) was one of the best I’d seen, but it still had problems. Director Gary Ross’ replacement by Francis Lawrence for the second film seemed worrying at first, but it seemed to pay off. Not only is Catching Fire a better film than the first one, but it’s also a better adaptation of its book counterpart, which is hard to believe. In fact, if I may be so bold, I think that I enjoyed the film more than the book, at least as far as the opening scenes involving the Victory Tour go, which I know is probably blasphemy. Jennifer Lawrence is surely one of the best actresses out there today as evidenced by her continued terrific performance as Katniss Everdeen. The stakes of this film are higher than in the first, and the character development is even better than the already-good character development of the first film. The shaky-cam is gone in favor of better choreographed action scenes, and, in fact, nearly every aspect of the first film is improved upon this time around. This is an excellent film whether you’ve read the books or not.

gravity

2. Gravity

If you didn’t catch this film in theaters, I’m sorry. You missed out. Maybe they’ll bring it back for a few extra showings before the Academy Awards, in which case you should buy a ticket as soon as they’re available. Though this film is great all-around, from the performance of Sandra Bullock to the music by Steven Price to the brilliant visuals of space, the real thrill comes from the thrill of total immersion. You seem to experience everything that Bullock’s character experiences, from spinning around in the vacuum of space to the rush of being trapped in a shower of incoming deadly space debris. The theater experience makes an already-great film even better by involving the audience fully in the action and atmosphere – or lack thereof – of space.

The Way Way Back

1. The Way, Way Back

I love, love, love this film. Love it. I caught an early screening about a month before it reached theaters and subsequently paid to see it twice more. I purchased it on Blu-Ray the day it became available and have watched it three times more since then, and I have yet to tire of it. The Way, Way Back is a coming-of-age film about Duncan, played by Liam James, who is the most perfectly, believably awkward person I’ve ever seen onscreen, which is exactly how his character should be. The growth of his character throughout the film is equally fun and touching, contrasted by Steve Carell’s portrayal of Duncan’s awful stepfather, a role refreshingly atypical of Carell’s usual fare. However, the standout performance in this film is that of Sam Rockwell as Owen, a local waterpark owner who befriends Duncan and helps him to make his summer one of the best of his life. Rockwell brings many laugh-out-loud moments, but he also brings the most poignant moments of the film. The moral is great, and the ride is a great one. I don’t think I could possibly over-recommend this movie.

Well, there you have it. Do you agree or disagree with my list? What were your favorite films of 2013? Sound off in the comments – I’d love to hear your opinions.

Here’s to 2014 – another great year for movies!

-Chad


Oscar Predictions 2013

2012 was a fantastic year for film, and, for the first time, I’ve seen a majority of the nominated films, including all nine Best Picture nominees, all five Best Animated Feature nominees, all five Best Live Action Short Film nominees, and all five Best Animated Short Film nominees. I also own and have listened through all five nominated Best Original Scores. Needless to say, I feel relatively prepared enough to type out my own predictions list for this year’s Academy Awards, with a little help from various other people’s lists in the technical area. Just to clarify, though: this does not necessarily reflect my personal favorites (otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen Mychael Danna’s score to Life of Pi for Best Original Score), but it instead shows what I actually think will win.

I’ll give commentary for the first six awards and will simply list the rest.

-Chad

P.S. If something is linked, it’s a link to my personal review of that material, if you’re interested in reading.

Best Picture: Argo

When I first decided that I was going to type up one of these, I argued with myself for a long time over whether or not Argo would win the Oscar for Best Picture, but now I’m almost positive. In the entire history of the Academy Awards, there have only been three instances ever when the winner of the Best Picture Award did not also win the Best Director Award, so, since Ben Affleck isn’t nominated for Best Director, I was leaning more toward Lincoln/Spielberg for the Best Picture/Director awards, but Argo has gotten enough steam built up behind it to snatch the Oscar, and rightfully so.

Best Director: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln

Had he been nominated, I think that Ben Affleck would have won this award for directing what is sure to win Best Picture, Argo, but, since he’s not, Spielberg seems to be the best choice. He has a long history of bringing us excellent films, and Lincoln was no exception. However, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Ang Lee received the award for directing Life of Pi, but I don’t expect that’ll happen.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln

I wasn’t able to see The Master, but of the other four nominees there is no doubt that all four actors did fantastic jobs in their respective roles, but I think that Day-Lewis will take the cake after his incredible portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg’s latest film. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t get the award, but, if I had to make a second guess, it’d be for Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook.

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook

I may have this one completely wrong, as Jessica Chastain also seems to be a popular pick for her role in Zero Dark Thirty (which I don’t agree with), but I think that Lawrence was the definitely the best of those nominated. I must admit to not having seeing The Impossible, but I’m pretty sure that the winner will be either Lawrence or Chastain, and my hope is for Lawrence.

Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained

I’ve changed my mind about four times while trying to write this because both Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz in Django Unchained and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln were fantastic and are deserving of the Oscar. However, I do believe that Waltz’s performance shines just a bit brighter than Jones’, putting him at least slightly ahead in my book.

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables

I am almost completely confident that Anne Hathaway will win this award. While Sally Field was a great Mary Todd Lincoln and Jacki Weaver did a fine job in Silver Linings Playbook (I haven’t seen The Master or The Sessions, but I’m sure that Amy Adams and Helen Hunt were great as well), but I think that Hathaway’s stunning performance of the classic “I Dreamed a Dream” is reason enough to justify her receiving the Oscar.

Best Writing – Original Screenplay: Michael Haneke for Amour

Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio for Argo

Best Animated Feature: Wreck-It Ralph

Best Foreign Language Film: Amour

Best Documentary – Feature: Searching for Sugar Man

Best Documentary – Short Subject: Open Heart

Best Live Action Short Film: Curfew

Best Animated Short Film: Paperman

Best Original Score: Mychael Danna for Life of Pi

Best Original Song: Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth for “Skyfall”

Best Sound Editing: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Mixing: Les Misérables

Best Production Design: Les Misérables

Best CinematographyLife of Pi

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Les Misérables

Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina

Best Film Editing: Argo

Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi


Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

The last film for me to see of the nine films nominated for Best Picture at the 85th Academy Awards was Beasts of the Southern Wild, a film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2012, so it’s been out for quite a while. This is another of those films that I knew nothing about until I actually saw it, and, now that I’ve seen it, I still can’t tell you much about it except that it’s touching.

For this film, it seems best to use the short summary found over on its IMDB page: “Faced with both her hot-tempered father’s fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.”

Beasts of the Southern Wild takes place in a world outside of our own, where the people live off the land and have a sort of oneness with nature. After reading a bit about the film, I’ve learned that most (if not all) of the actors who appear have little to no previous acting experience, including the lead actress, Quvenzhané Wallis, who is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. The lack of acting experience in the film may worry some, but I thought that it gave the movie a sense of authenticity; these are real people. We see everything through Hushpuppy’s (Wallis) six-year-old eyes, meaning that her imagination is ours. Her father, Wink, played by Dwight Henry, may have a “hot-temper,” but it’s shown throughout the film that he loves Hushpuppy and that he wants nothing more than for her to survive, especially if he’s not around to take care of her. The most touching scene in the film has Wink telling Hushpuppy that he’s not trying to get rid of her but that he can’t take care of her because he’s dying. She responds with, “Don’t be saying things about dying,” and, after he tells her that everyone’s daddies die, she responds with, “Not my daddy.” It’s her innocent outlook on life and her sense of responsibility in a world where she must learn to take care of herself that makes her such a passionate character that you love from the start.

One aspect of the film that I didn’t quite understand, though, is the “aurochs” mentioned in the IMDb summary above. They’re introduced early in the film as prehistoric creatures that are trapped in the melting polar ice caps, and the kids are told that the creatures will come and hunt them down once they finally thaw out.  As the movie progresses, we see the ice caps melting, releasing these aurochs, and we see snippets of their travel as they make their way down to the little community of Bathtub. It seems to me that they are simply used as a device to point out the need for Hushpuppy to learn to fend for herself; with the population of Bathtub dwindling and her father being as sick as he is, the time is fast approaching, like the aurochs, for her to be able to survive alone. Nick over at TheMovieSpoiler.com (spoilers in link, obviously) points out that both Hushpuppy and the aurochs are beasts of a nearly extinct species, as the Bathtub community is dwindling.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so it’s best that I wrap it up. This film explores the importance of love, sacrifice, and being one with nature, and I imagine that it’d be hard for anyone to dislike it, though I’d understand if someone didn’t absolutely love it. The cast of unknowns brings a lot to the film, but no one does this better than the young Quvenzhané Wallis, who, at the age of nine, is the youngest actress to ever be nominated in the Best Actress category. I doubt she wins, but her performance as Hushpuppy is strong, brave, thoughtful, and inspiring. Even if you like nothing else about this film, Wallis will still touch your heart. Beasts of the Southern Wild has already grown on me, even in the short time its been since I watched it, and I won’t hesitate to watch it again. A. O. Scott with The New York Times calls it “a blast of sheer improbable joy”…while I’m not sure that “joy” is the right word, it’s still a fantastic film.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sensuality


Skyfall (2012) – Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman is a composer who I’m fairly familiar with; I own his soundtracks for Finding NemoWall-ELemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Help, all of which are pretty good. BUT they are all quite outside the action genre, so you can imagine my surprise when I learned that Newman was composing the score to the newest James Bond film. I must admit, I was a bit unimpressed during my first listen, but over time, especially after seeing the film, I’ve grown to really enjoy it and was happy to see it nominated for Best Original Score at the 85th Academy Awards.

The very first track, “Grand Bazaar, Istanbul,” opens with the familiar trumpet notes heard in David Arnold’s arrangement of Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” from Casino Royale (2007), called “The Name’s Bond…James Bond.” This transitions into a sort of groove that takes us completely through the opening chase sequence through the bazaar and on top of the train. It perfectly captures the excitement and anxiety of the moment, pushing forward with brass and an energetic percussion beat. There are a lot of these action-packed tracks that match the action-packed film, including tracks such as “Granborough Road,” which uses mainly strings to drive the music forward and closes with a soft rendition of the “James Bond Theme” on guitar, and “Welcome to Scotland,” which relies again on brass and percussion. A wonderful moment in the soundtrack is heard in “Breadcrumbs” when we’re treated to a more complete rendition of the main theme, typical of the James Bond films of old.

The score is not without its light moments though, which is appropriate since this is one of the more thoughtful and contemplative of the film series. “Day Wasted” features a shimmery sort of electric background before the strings come in with gentle interruptions that hint at the main theme. A later track, “Mother,” which almost sounds like it has a couple of featured voices, though it may just be an instrument that emulates the voice. Halfway through the track, warm brass sounds join the mix, helping to emphasize that Bond is home again and is being faced with his past. Other more gentle tracks include “Enjoying Death” and “Close Shave.”

Newman has done a fine job with the music to Skyfall after taking over from David Arnold, who had composed the scores to five previous Bond films. My one disappointment is that, aside from the main theme, the bits of Adele’s “Skyfall,” and a couple of instances of repeated musical ideas, there isn’t another unifying theme heard throughout the soundtrack. I had the same complaint in my review of James Newton Howard’s score for The Bourne Legacy, which lacked the unifying theme heard in John Powell’s scores to the original Bourne trilogy. Despite that disappointment, the score to Skyfall is an excellent action film score, which you don’t often get.

I would be remiss to not say a couple of things about Adele’s “Skyfall,” the title song for the film, though it was not composed by Newman (bits of it can be heard in the soundtrack tracks “Skyfall” and “Komodo Dragon”). It’s probably my favorite Bond title song (that I’ve heard), and I’m certain that it will win Best Original Song at the 85th Academy Awards.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1. “Grand Bazaar, Istanbul” 5:14
2. “Voluntary Retirement” 2:22
3. “New Digs” 2:32
4. “Sévérine” 1:20
5. “Brave New World” 1:50
6. “Shanghai Drive” 1:26
7. “Jellyfish” 3:22
8. “Silhouette” 0:56
9. “Modigliani” 1:04
10. “Day Wasted” 1:31
11. “Quartermaster” 4:48
12. “Someone Usually Dies” 2:29
13. “Komodo Dragon” 3:20
14. “The Bloody Shot” 4:46
15. “Enjoying Death” 1:13
16. “The Chimera” 1:58
17. “Close Shave” 1:32
18. “Health & Safety” 1:29
19. “Granborough Road” 2:32
20. “Tennyson” 2:14
21. “Enquiry” 2:49
22. “Breadcrumbs” 2:02
23. “Skyfall” 2:32
24. “Kill Them First” 2:22
25. “Welcome to Scotland” 3:21
26. “She’s Mine” 3:53
27. “The Moors” 2:39
28. “Deep Water” 5:11
29. “Mother” 1:48
30. “Adrenaline” 2:18
31. “Old Dog, New Tricks” 1:48

Total Length: app. 80 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of this film here!


Life of Pi (2012) – Mychael Danna

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Mychael Danna sort of came out of nowhere for me. The first of his film scores that I’d ever heard of was his score for the 2011 film Moneyball, a score that was minimal but effective. A brief look at his Wikipedia filmography reveals other such scores as (500) Days of Summer, Capote, and Little Miss Sunshine, none of which are films that I’ve seen, let alone heard music from. Despite my unfamiliarity with Danna’s work, though, his score for Life of Pi is enjoyable and fits in nicely with the film.

The soundtrack opens with the track “Pi’s Lullaby,” which is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Though I don’t think it’ll win, its soothing vocals and relaxed accompaniment are nice to listen to. Bits of this track are heard throughout the score in different forms, building onto the character of Pi Patel with each occurrence. The sitar, a guitar-like instrument traditional in Indian music, is featured prominently in many tracks, emphasizing the heritage of our main character, but the Indian-inspired music fades with Pi’s family’s move to Winnipeg, Canada. In fact, in the track “Leaving India,” there is a moment when we hear bits of “Pi’s Lullaby” played by (what I think to be) the ney, a wind instrument that is often heard in Middle Eastern music, but this is taken over by a similar Western instrument, the flute.

Danna does an excellent job with incorporating vocals into the score to evoke emotion. For example, in the track “First Night, First Day,” we hear a low male vocal drone with a solo soprano line sung over it. Eventually, other female chorus members join in, giving the whole track an air of both remorse and mystery, alluding to Pi’s recent tragedy with the loss of his family and to his unknown future while stranded alone at sea. Another instance of good choral work is toward the end of “Back to the World,” in which we can sense Pi’s mixed senses of relief in returning to civilization and disappointment in the loss of Richard Parker.

Not all of this score is so depressing, though. “Piscine Molitor Patel,” which serves as the backdrop to Pi’s explanation of his name, features some schmaltzy accordions that fit in the with the bits of the story involving Paris and French (his first and middle names are derived from the name of a well-known public pool in France). As I mentioned in my review for Alexandre Desplat’s score for Argo, there is also a beatboxing segment in this track, a trait shared by both scores…unusual, but it doesn’t seem inappropriate for either film. Another “fun” track is “Flying Fish,” which comprises of a string melody that starts off light and bouncy and grows a little weightier as the track comes to a close.

While I do enjoy all of the music presented here, the reason that I don’t place it as high as Desplat’s score for Argo or Williams’ score for Lincoln (my review here) is because much of it is so repetitive. The same themes are presented over and over again from track to track, and, though this could be interpreted as a conscious decision on Danna’s part to emulate Pi’s increasingly mundane day-to-day routine in his music, I think that it is unnecessary. There are complex emotions and ideas presented in the film, and I think that the score could have done a better job of highlighting all of these.

That’s not to say that it’s not still a pretty great score, though. Danna has composed a score that generally fits the film well, and it’s certainly pleasant to listen to. The score for Life of Pi walked away with the Golden Globe, but I don’t think that it’ll get the Academy Award for Best Original Score. Who knows, though? I’ve been wrong before. It’s entirely possible that my view is skewed since I’m partial to Williams’ scores.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1. “Pi’s Lullaby” 3:42
2. “Piscine Molitor Patel” 3:39
3. “Pondicherry” 1:12
4. “Meeting Krishna” 1:51
5. “Christ in the Mountains” 1:13
6. “Thank You Vishna for Introducing Me to Christ” 0:55
7. “Richard Parker” 0:54
8. “Appa’s Lesson” 1:06
9. “Anandi” 0:55
10. “Leaving India” 1:20
11. “The Deepest Spot on Earth” 0:48
12. “Tsimtsum” 2:49
13. “Death of the Zebra” 0:33
14. “First Night, First Day” 3:45
15. “Set Your House in Order” 2:10
16. “Skinny Vegetarian Boy” 2:16
17. “Pi and Richard Parker” 2:14
18. “The Whale” 2:02
19. “Flying Fish” 0:49
20. “Tiger Training” 1:22
21. “Orphans” 1:36
22. “Tiger Vision” 4:31
23. “God Storm” 3:42
24. “I’m Ready Now” 3:21
25. “The Island” 1:59
26. “Back to the World” 8:20
27. “The Second Story” 4:02
28. “Which Story Do You Prefer?” 2:05
Total Length: app. 66 min.
iTunes Album Link

-Chad


ParaNorman (2012)

I’ll prepare you now: I’m about to give this film the lowest rating I’ve ever given. I didn’t really enjoy it at all. It is by far my least favorite film of 2012.

ParaNorman tells the story of Norman, a boy who can see and communicate with ghosts. He is constantly made fun of by his classmates, and his father consistently tries to stifle this gift. One day, Norman’s uncle, who he’s not supposed to talk to, shows up, telling him that he must save the town from the infamous “witch’s curse” that has plagued Blithe Hollow for 300 years. Norman decides to fulfill his duty and goes on a mission to stop this witch from laying waste to the city.

I suppose I can start with the good things…I thought that the animation is well-done and appropriately grotesque. I like that character design differs from person to person (i.e. facial structure, body shape, etc.), rather than all the characters essentially having the same build with only slight variations. The stop-motion in this film is done quite well also, though the style of it is certainly different from the other Academy Award-nominated film, Frankenweenie (read my review here).

I disliked pretty much everything else. The film was filled with what I thought to be pointless scenes (one in which Norman spends two minutes attempting to pry a book from a dead man’s hands comes to mind) and others that just left me asking “why?”, such as the scene in which his uncle’s ghost appears from a toilet in the stall of the school restroom that Norman happens to be occupying at the time…why the toilet? Why then? That’s not a question for the character but for the filmmakers. Everything in a film should have its reason for existing, and I simply can’t find the reason for that scene and for others. The humor found in the movie was typically very unfunny for me, and most of the characters were completely flat and uninteresting, including Norman. I didn’t care what happened to him, and I didn’t understand his motives for anything. Why would he choose to try to fend off this witch based on incomplete information given to him by his crazy uncle? As for the motivation of other characters, why do his sister and other friends suddenly make the decision to stand by his side when the time comes despite having done anything but that beforehand?

Maybe I’m looking too much into this. Maybe I should think, “oh, this is a kid’s film” and approach it appropriately. But kids’ films should be better than that. I don’t know why critics have given this film such favorable reviews, but I did not like it. To be fair, I will probably give this a second chance somewhere down the road…after all, I own it on Blu-Ray. And maybe I’ll change my mind about it, in which case I will let you all know. But for now, I think that ParaNorman is a movie that suffers from poor characters, lame humor, and a lackluster script. While it does contain positive messages about finding the good in people around you, not bullying others because they are different, and being who you are no matter what others say, it’s just not a film that I would recommend.

-Chad

Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language


Frankenweenie (2012)

I was sick of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie before I ever saw it. The trailer was attached to nearly every film I saw in theaters over the summer, driving it into my head to the point that I would change the television channel whenever the trailer popped up during commercial breaks. I’m not traditionally a huge Burton fan, though I certainly enjoy films like 1989’s Batman and 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (story by Burton, also produced by him, but directed by Henry Selick), and this just wasn’t a film that was on my must-see list. With the approach of the Academy Awards, though, and with Frankenweenie‘s nomination for Best Animated Feature, I finally got a hold of a copy of the film on Blu-Ray and watched through…and I was impressed.

Frankenweenie is based on the live-action short film of the same name from 1984, also directed by Burton, and is about a boy (Charlie Tahan) whose only friend is his dog, Sparky. When Sparky is hit by a car and killed, the boy is understandably devastated…oh, and I forgot to mention that the boy’s name is Victor Frankenstein (hint hint). Victor sets out to bring his beloved best friend back to life and succeeds. Everything is right with the world until the word gets out that Victor has brought back his dog from the dead, and, suddenly, everyone wants in on it. Chaos ensues!

The close bond shared between Victor and Sparky is made very clear from the start of the film, making Sparky’s untimely death all the more devastating, but it also makes it that much rewarding when Victor succeeds in bringing him back to life. Victor’s character arc is a strong one, as he realizes that re-animating the dead is not necessarily the best option and that sometimes it is necessary to let go of the ones that you love – a lesson that we all learn at some point in our lives, whether it’s with a pet or with a friend or family member. Themes such as the strength of friendship and love, persistence, the implications of science, letting go, and family expectation are all addressed throughout the film, making it a sort of educational experience without it ever feeling like preaching.

Where Frankenweenie succeeds the most, however, is in its references to classic horror films – plus a reference to Burgermeister Meisterburger from the 1970 stop-motion Rankin/Bass film Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. While watching, I found references or allusions to the following horror films or actors: Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Vincent Price, Jurassic ParkGremlinsDracula, Psycho and Godzilla…and I know that there have to be even more than that; I’m not as well-versed in classic horror films as I would like to be. It’s really quite impressive to see so many films referenced in one.

One of the most interesting aspects of this movie is that it is presented in black and white, likening itself back to the typical horror films found in the 1930s-1950s. The lack of color gives the classic sort of “Burton-esque” feel a refreshing new twist, deviating from the vibrant colors and extravagant set designs from more recent Burton films such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Alice in Wonderland. The stop-motion animation is seamless, never feeling like a stop-motion film. 

I was quite prepared to dislike this film…it just didn’t seem to be my cup of tea, but Frankenweenie impresses on both technical and narrative grounds. The voice acting (from actors such as Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, and Catherine O’Hara) is top-notch throughout, and the story is both endearing and slightly disturbing. In my opinion, this is Burton’s best film in some time. Even Danny Elfman’s score is refreshing atypical of his usual work, managing to be more intimate than bombastic (for once). Will Frankenweenie win the Academy Award? It might…but we’ll see.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for thematic elements, scary images and action