Tag Archives: best picture

12 Years a Slave (2013)

12-years-a-slave

The purpose of cinema is often to entertain, but that is not always the case; sometimes, its purpose is to inform, to educate, or to enlighten. Such is the case with Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. Though it’s certainly not comfortable viewing, it is powerful, emotional, and heart-breaking film.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a free black man living with his family in 1840s New York. A true story based on Northup’s memoir, 12 Years a Slave follows him as he is captured and sold into slavery, with him remaining in captivity as a slave in Louisiana for twelve years before being released. We are given a glimpse into the cruelty of the slave trade and the struggles that Northup faces during his time in captivity.

In a film full of excellent performances – with “excellent” here meaning “painfully believable” – from the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, and Brad Pitt, among others, it’s hard to imagine that one person would stand out – but stand out he does. Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a performance that can be described with nothing less than the word “incredible;” the emotions he brings to the story, from joy to fear to anger to depression, are each powerful in their own way, and I found myself captivated every time he was onscreen. Another standout performance comes from Lupita Nyong’o as another slave named Patsey. She goes through quite a lot throughout the course of this film as well, from being the apple of the slaveowner’s eye to begging for death to being flogged for wanting to take a bath. Her performance is also an extremely emotional one – one that will likely bring you to tears more than once.

Often in the film, we are treated to long, still camera shots that linger on Solomon’s face as he stares into the distance, contemplating his current situation. These shots are interesting in that they allow us to see the subtleties in Ejiofor’s acting skills; we can see his emotions develop in real time, like a glimpse into his soul, and it is an unusually compelling technique that works astonishingly well. During these scenes, and during other scenes in which the focus is mostly silence, we are also treated to Hans Zimmer’s minimal but profoundly touching musical score. He utilizes a single theme throughout the film, but each time we hear it, it seems to adapt a new meaning – hope, despair, hopelessness, joy, reunion, thankfulness, tension, and others are all heard in the repetition of this simple theme. Zimmer has been improving with each new score he releases, and it certainly shows here as he deviates from his typically exciting, driving scores to something much more intimate.

This film is difficult to watch in many scenes as we are shown cruelties that no person should have to endure, but it is a sobering and important glimpse into our nation’s past. I mentioned earlier that the purpose of this film is not to entertain, a statement which may draw comparisons to my review of the 2012 Michael Haneke film Amour, which I only awarded 2.5 out of 5 stars because it was such an incredibly depressing film, no matter how artful or masterful it was in execution. Precedent might dictate that I rate this film similarly, but the fact here is that the two films are entirely different in nature. 12 Years a Slave is an often depressing film, yes, but it also has one of the most satisfying endings of any film I’ve seen (you’ll cry if you have a heart), and the historical significance of the story and of the depictions of slavery in the film make this film one that I would entirely recommend…if you can stomach it. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a definite contender (and likely the winner) for the Academy Award for Best Actor, and the film itself and Steve McQueen as director just might walk away with Best Picture/Director.

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality


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


Amour (2012)

This is the most depressing movie I’ve ever seen.

Amour tells the story of an elderly couple, Anne and Georges. Anne is a professional pianist, but this comes to an end when one day she suffers from a stroke. In dealing with the aftereffects of this attack, the couple’s love is put to test.

This film does a wonderful job of using still cameras to their fullest potential. The takes are long, meaning that the actors are truly acting for longer than two seconds at a time, and there isn’t a lot of cutting back and forth from character to character, even in a two-person conversation; there are a couple of instances when two people will be talking, one with his/her back to the camera, with the camera staying in one place the whole time. In an era where the “shaky cam” is all the rage, some still, smooth camera work is nice and refreshing.

As you all know by now, I’m a huge fan of musical scores, but one of the best parts of this movie is that it doesn’t have one. It relies instead on the performances of the actors onscreen to convey the emotion of the story, which is another testament to the talents at work here. The only other film that I can think of that takes this approach is Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film Cast Away, which doesn’t introduce musical score until the end of the film when Tom Hanks’ character leaves the island. In both situations, it is the lack of music that creates the “soundtrack”…it’s quite wonderful.

A couple of difficult themes are tackled in Amour as well, namely remembering youth, accepting death, and enduring love through it all. These are handled well, but they make the film understandably difficult to watch.

This is a beautiful, heart-wrenching film that is certainly deserving of awards, but it is depressing to the point that I can’t recall a single part that I actually “enjoyed.” In fact, I think that anyone who says they “enjoyed” this film is lying to you; the love shared between this couple even in the hardest of times is admirable, but the circumstances shown in the film are grueling. Overall, Amour is a piece of art, a beautiful example of cinema at its finest, but I would never watch it again for fear that my heart might drop out. This is why my rating is as low as it is…not because it wasn’t a good film, but because its “entertainment value” is, in my eyes, fairly nonexistent.

-Chad

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language


Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Going into Silver Linings Playbook, I literally had no idea what to expect…I knew absolutely nothing about it, aside from the fact that it was nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards and that the lead actors were also nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress. With Robert De Niro in a supporting role (also nominated for an Academy Award, I might add), how could I not expect this to be good? Though I didn’t know what to think halfway through it (what the heck was going on?!), everything eventually came together, making Silver Linings Playbook truly worthy of its nominations.

Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a man suffering from bipolar disorder who has just left a mental hospital after being there for eight months. He has lost his wife and his job, so he lives with his parents and fantasizes about reuniting with his wife one day after proving that he has defeated his bipolar disorder, but he continues to struggle with his disorder. Things start to look better when he meets Tiffany Maxwell, played by Jennifer Lawrence, a woman who has just lost her husband and her job, making the pair kindred spirits. As their friendship grows, they both continue to fight to be understood and to improve their lives.

Much of this film is pretty disjointed; though I questioned it at times and was initially considering commenting on that aspect negatively, it was the incoherence of everything and the lack of sense from some of the characters – De Niro’s character (Pat’s father) is highly superstitious to the point of being crazy, Cooper’s character is just plain crazy, and Lawrence’s character is sometimes terrifying for no apparent reason – that made me all the more sympathetic to their situations. Mr. Solitano’s superstition is an outward expression of his desire to reconcile and spend time with his son, Pat’s mood swings are directly attributed to his love for his wife and his desire to be with her again, and Tiffany’s anger is a result of the death of her husband and need for someone to watch over her. It’s the eccentricities of these characters that makes them so fascinating, and it’s their interactions with each other that propels the film forward; the pace of the film is never rushed, nor does it drag, using the quirks of the characters to set this comedy apart from other comedies.

Really, there isn’t too much else to say. Everyone involved does a fantastic job, with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence being incredibly well-deserving of their Academy Award nominations; while I don’t think that Bradley Cooper will win Best Actor (I think he would if Daniel Day-Lewis wasn’t nominated for his performance in Lincoln), I believe that Lawrence walking away with the award is definitely a possibility. This film is happy, it’s sad, and it will make you laugh, though it’ll be for different reasons than if you were to see any other typical comedy that Hollywood usually produces. With a surprisingly refreshing score from Danny Elfman (the last composer I ever thought I’d say that about), Silver Linings Playbook delivers a touching story with unorthodox characters and top-notch comedy and drama, bringing the two genres together in a way that works amazingly well.

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for language and some sexual content/nudity


Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

When I first heard about Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, I suppose I was interested, but I don’t recall being overly excited for it. It was a story that we all already knew: 9/11 happened, we declared war on terrorism, several years went by, and Osama bin Laden was finally found and killed. But this film gives us much more than that: it explores how all of this happened, and it’s fascinating.

Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, a CIA officer whose sole focus is to find Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. Through torture of captured al-Qaeda operatives, information received from said operatives, and a fair amount of deduction, surveillance, and luck, Maya and the CIA manage to track down bin Laden…and the rest is history.

What carries this film, as I mentioned, is the want of the “how.” Through its vignette-style storytelling, skipping from year to year at a time, this film manages to keep us interested by jumping from the discovery of one piece of information to the next, which I really enjoyed. For the first half of the film, I was wondering why Jessica Chastain had been nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards; she certainly wasn’t bad, but she didn’t seem to be anything special either. My opinion changed in the second half, however, from the moment Maya stood up to her boss and told him exactly why what she was doing was important and what was on the line. The emotion she was able to project in that moment was incredible…though I still don’t think it’s worthy of a win for Best Actress.

Though I enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty as a whole, I did have a couple of issues with it. First off, the drive for the capture of bin Laden, while we certainly know what it was, didn’t seem to be very well-represented. Granted, we were shown a few terrorist attacks, including one in London and one or two that affected Maya and her team, but none of these really communicated to me the weight of the mission at hand. However, my biggest problem was with the overexcessive amount of foul language – I’m talking the “F word” out the wazoo, among others – that was present throughout the entire film from nearly every character. I can handle it to a point, but it was like the bad language was a large, wooden club that I was constantly being hit over the head with.

Bad language aside, this is a decent film with a captivating story; the search for Osama bin Laden was something that America feverishly pursued for nearly a decade, and to have the full story told in such an artful way is intriguing. I’m not sure exactly how accurate it is to the actual events, but it’s a good enough film for me to not care too much. Is it worthy of the coveted Best Picture award? I wouldn’t say so, but that doesn’t stop Zero Dark Thirty from being a powerful film – though, in reference to the torture early in the film, it is sometimes difficult to watch.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language


Argo (2012)

When I first heard of Argo, I had no interest in seeing it. Sure, it was getting great critical reviews, but I didn’t know anything about it except that Ben Affleck directed it and starred in it. I don’t watch much television, so I never saw a trailer that would spark my interest, but this past week, after seeing it nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, I finally decided that I should take my time to find it and watch it. Luckily, the theater in my hometown holds on to movies for a while, so I was able to catch a showing this morning. The only Ben Affleck movie that I can recall seeing is 2003’s Daredevil, which I’ve since forgotten (for a good reason), but Argo succeeds where Daredevil didn’t: for starters, Argo is actually good. In fact, it’s downright excellent.

For those who don’t know, Argo tells the true story of CIA technical operations officer Tony Mendez (Affleck) and his mission to exfiltrate six American hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Iran by pretending to be a Canadian film crew. As Bryan Cranston’s character – Mendez’s supervisor, Jack O’Donnell – says in the best line in the film, “this is the best bad idea we have…by far.” Yes, the idea sounds ludicrous, but in the film’s execution it comes across as possibly the only thing that could save the hostages from certain death. Ben Affleck plays his role with a hard determination; he knows that so much hinges on this ruse and that so much could go wrong, but his resolve as Mendez shines through. Cranston does an admirable job, as do both John Goodman as John Chambers, a Hollywood makeup artist with a history of helping the CIA with disguises, and Alan Arkin as film producer Lester Siegel…though I’m not sure I would say that Arkin is deserving of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role.

There isn’t a lot of character development in this film, but it isn’t non-existent. One of the hostages is reluctant to participate in the deception, but he eventually realizes that Mendez is putting his own life at risk by trying to save theirs, so he participates and eventually helps to convince the radicals that they are who they say they are. Mendez himself changes a little bit, with the ending visit to his estranged wife and son suggesting that his visit to Iran has helped him to realize the importance of family and of being there for his son. 

My favorite moment of the film takes place during a reading of the script for the fake movie that Mendez is pretending to make; as he stands at the table with the fake cast and listens to them read through the script, we are shown everything that is currently happening in Iran with the hostages…the people dying, the demands being made by the Iranians, the hostages pent up in the the home of the Canadian ambassador. It’s a juxtaposition of the fake story that Mendez and team have created and the reality that the hostages are experiencing on the other side of the world. It’s a powerful moment in the film, and, to me, it really showed the importance of the success of this mission…failure wasn’t an option.

Argo is not thought-provoking so much as it is just a great story; it’s a dark caper (the real-life event is referred to as the “Canadian Caper”) that manages to be simultaneously intense and humorous, bringing laughs at one moment and an anxious chill up your spine at the next. Fueled by the smart script that relies more on storytelling than on action and by Alexandre Desplat’s score (nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, though I’m not sure if it’s better than Williams’ score for Lincoln), Argo is one of the best films of 2012.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for language and some violent images

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Alexandre Desplat, here!