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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

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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!


Dr. No (1962)

James Bond is a staple of British cinema, a fact that I acknowledge despite my lack of familiarity with the character. Aside from the recent reboot of the franchise starring Daniel Craig, I had only seen one Bond film, Connery’s You Only Live Twice, which I don’t remember much of at all. With the success of Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film produced by Eon Productions, I thought it appropriate to return to the character’s roots with the very first Bond film, Dr. No, starring Sean Connery. Though this film just celebrated its 50th anniversary this past year, Sean Connery’s portrayal of the classic spy is just as entertaining as Daniel Craig’s…possibly even better, depending on your tastes.

Dr. No follows 007 as he investigates the disappearance of John Strangways, the Secret Intelligence Service Chief in Jamaica. He soon bumps into Felix Leiter of the Central Intelligence Agency, who had been working with Strangways on finding the source of some mysterious radio jams that  have been disturbing rocket launches from Cape Canaveral. Bond’s sleuthing eventually leads him to Crab Key, a local island owned by a mysterious man known only as Dr. No, a man who may end up being more than Bond bargained for.

Unlike the modern films featuring the character, this one presents Bond as more of a man of words than of action; he relies on his intellect to gather information and survive, making him a sort of present-day Sherlock Holmes. He shows his intelligence in many ways: he powders the lock of his briefcase and places a hair over the crack of a door in order to know whether they have been tampered with,; he sets a trap by fooling an attacker with pillows placed under bed sheets; and he counts the bullets of the men he fights with so that he has the tactical advantage (this latter example made me quite happy, as many times the bullet count is ignored). That’s not to say, however, that he doesn’t throw a few punches, shoot a few people, or participate in one or two car chases…he certainly does all of these things, but the only action present in the film is that which is necessary to further the story, rather than the films of today that use action scenes to show off a large budget or to add a few extra minutes to the total run time.

Connery’s Bond is also more suave than Craig’s. His initial introduction as the character with the now-classic “Bond, James Bond” appears to be more of a witty response to the woman who just introduced herself as “Trench, Sylvia Trench.” Dr. No is filled with quick quips and clever responses like this, including a joke to a woman he’s about to sleep with (who actually works for Dr. No) about how she “believe[s] in living dangerously…sitting around with wet hair, [she]’ll die of pneumonia” – which is funny because he had just overheard a phone call in which she promised to keep Bond from leaving her house, though she doesn’t know that. His humor certainly helps him with the ladies…of whom there are three in this film. He certainly gets around, doesn’t he?

Connery isn’t the only actor to brag about…Ursula Andress plays the very first “Bond girl,” Honey Ryder, with an air of innocence; instead of throwing herself at Bond as a love interest straightaway, she plays the character as someone who is wary of his charms before eventually falling in love with him after they’ve been through near-death experiences together. Andress’ performance is even more impressive when you consider that she is essentially a puppet; her voice was dubbed over by Nikki van der Zyl, which I only knew by reading – a true testament to the talents of Andress, Zyl, and to the sound crew for lining everything up so well. Of course, the title character, Dr. Julius No, played by Joseph Wiseman, is appropriately sinister in first his disembodied voice (we hear him before we see him) and later in his straight-faced, no-nonsense performance.

As much as I may rave about this film, I certainly had my qualms with it, most of which can be taken for a grain of salt. For starters, what happened to the “Three Blind Mice” murderers who kill two people in the beginning of the film and later try to kill Bond himself? They’re completely forgotten in the hunt for Dr. No. Also, while the idea of having a rumor of the existence of a “dragon” as a scare-away tactic for Crab Key makes sense, the way this rumor is presented is done poorly. Quarrel, a man helping Bond with his mission, identifies “dragon tracks” that are obviously tire tracks, and the “dragon” itself (a fire-spurting tank) looks nothing like something that could even be mistaken for a dragon. My last major complaint is over the ending…Bond is beat up and locked away, but within five minutes he has climbed through a vent, dressed as a worker, overloaded the nuclear reactor, and defeated Dr. No. It’s just a bit too easy for my tastes, and it certainly feels rushed.

Despite those small complaints, my first real experience with Connery’s James Bond is a pretty fantastic one. Sure, his abilities/luck might be a little over-the-top, but I think that M justifies this with a quote early on in the film: “If you carry a double-0 number, it means you’re licensed to kill, not get killed”…a theme that continues to stick with the character of Bond even today. This film introduces characters and concepts that remain prevalent in today’s installments to the franchise, such as Felix Leiter, Miss Moneypenny, M, the Aston Martin sports car, the Walther PPK gun, and SPECTRE as an organization. The musical score and main theme by Monty Norman are well-composed and appropriate to the scope of the story and character, and the classic feel of the film remains timeless. For a more intellectual, polished James Bond than Daniel Craig’s, you need look no further than Sean Connery’s wonderful performance here in Dr. No.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)


Top Ten Films of 2012

2012 was a good year for movies. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see everything – films like Moonrise Kingdom, The Master, Argo, Les Misérables, Django Unchained, etc. are all films released in 2012 that I haven’t seen yet – but I DID manage to see quite a few. Here is my personal list of the best films of 2012 (click on the titles to view my full review):

 

10. Wreck-It Ralph

This was another film that I had been looking forward to for months on end. I’m not as into video games as some other people, but watching this film was still like revisiting my childhood. The heart of this movie is in the right place, with the main message being “accept who you are because you’re a wonderful person just as you are.” A talented voice cast, a sweet story, candy puns out the wazoo, and a fun score by Henry Jackman make this film everything I wanted it to be…and the animated short shown before the film, Paperman, was just as fantastic.

 

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I was late to the whole “Lord of the Rings/J. R. R. Tolkien” party, having only seen Peter Jackson’s film trilogy in the past two years, but I was keen to read The Hobbit and see the movie as soon as I possibly could. While I was disappointed on my first viewing, mainly due to the cartoony special effects that resulted from the higher frame rate (48fps HFR), this film was a faithful adaptation to Tolkien’s original novel, and the return of familiar faces such as Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Andy Serkis as Gollum is refreshing. The real highlight of the film, though, aside from Howard Shore’s beautiful score, is Martin Freeman, who plays the perfect Bilbo Baggins. While some may find the run time to feel a little stretched, I found it to be justified by the attention to detail to the original novel.

 

8. The Hunger Games

I read Suzanne Collins’ acclaimed Hunger Games trilogy just a few weeks before I saw the film, and I was hooked from the get-go. The film did a wonderful job of adapting the novel, perfectly capturing the dystopian society introduced in Collins’ literary world. Jennifer Lawrence did a particularly outstanding job as Katniss, and the scenes added by the filmmakers to show the control that the Capitol has over the people of Panem and over the Hunger Games do nothing but add to the story in a great way.

 

7. Flight

Robert Zemeckis, director of Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, released his first live action film in more than a decade this year. Flight was something I had anticipated for months, and it quite lived up to what I had in mind for it. Denzel Washington gives a powerful performance as a pilot struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, and the film explores topics such as love, recovery, lies, and responsibility. Zemeckis proves that he still has what it takes to direct a top-notch film that focuses on character and story just as much as it does on visual effects.

 

6. Life of Pi

This is a film that I sort of went to see just on a whim, and I’m glad I did. With gorgeous visuals that looked fantastic in 3D (something I don’t say often), Life of Pi excels the most in its storytelling. While the ambiguity of the ending may not appeal to some people, I found the film to be a thoughtful exploration of faith and of religion in general, leading me to look at my own relationship with God. It sort of melds the biblical Book of Job with Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film Cast Away, and it definitely sparked my interest in reading the book it was based on.

 

5. Skyfall

In anticipation of this film, I first watched Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale, which was entertaining in its more muted kind of way, and Quantum of Solace, which was pretty disappointing. I still had high hopes for Skyfall, though, and it exceeded every expectation I had set for it. The action was fun, Javier Bardem as the villain sent chills up my spine (and also brought a couple of laughs), and Daniel Craig and Judi Dench both gave outstanding performances in their respective roles. The length wasn’t an issue to me because I was too caught up in the entertainment of the film to care.

 

4. Lincoln

Does Spielberg make bad films? I’d answer that with a “no” (I have an argument in favor of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). With 2011’s War Horse and his newest film, Lincoln, he has taken a step back from the typical sci-fi/action/fantasy films he is known for and has focused more on period dramas – both of which were fantastic. If Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor, I won’t know what to think. Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones also deliver standout performances in a film that is just as engrossing and fascinating in its exploration of politics as a good action film is in its exploration of shooting and blowing things up. Spielberg is a true master.

 

3. The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan set the bar high with 2008’s The Dark Knight, and this conclusion to the acclaimed trilogy did not disappoint. Tom Hardy as Bane was sinister and terrifying, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were both welcome new presences, and the return of the familiar faces – i.e. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman – was satisfying and well-done. The Dark Knight Rises perfectly concluded Nolan’s trilogy.

 

2. The Avengers

There are so many ways that this film could have gone wrong. I mean, think about it – they took four characters from four separate films and brought them together into one super-film. In the hands of a less-capable director, it could have easily been one of the worst movies of the year, but with Joss Whedon at the helm, it ended up being one of the best. Smart dialogue with exciting action and a great story, The Avengers proved that an ensemble cast like this could work just as well in a film as it does on television.

 

1. Looper

Well-choreographed action sequences meet a smart script in this film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. As a time travel movie, it explores the consequences of our actions and the true cause of evil, and it spends just as much time in contemplation as it does making you sit on the edge of your seat.

 

Well, there you have it. My top ten films of 2012. What were your favorites of 2012?


Skyfall (2012)

A month ago, I had only seen one or two Bond films, one of them being Sean Connery’s You Only Live Twice. However, in preparation for the release of Skyfall, I snagged a couple of copies of the first two Daniel Craig James Bond installments and caught myself up. Casino Royale was a lot of fun, but Quantum of Solace was significantly less so. Nevertheless, I had high hopes for Craig’s third entry into his Bond legacy, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

(Though it should be obvious, I would like to point out that 1) I am not a longtime James Bond fan and 2) likewise, I am not a James Bond expert. I am not attempting to appear to be either of these in this review.)

I loved everything about this movie, from the exhilarating opening sequence, to the opening credits featuring the fantastic title song by Adele, to the character development, to the villain, to the final climactic action sequence. Daniel Craig was back in full force, giving us a Bond that was (to me) highly reminiscent of Christian Bale’s performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman earlier this year in The Dark Knight Rises: our hero is growing old and is struggling with physical tasks that were once easy for him, so he considers retirement before realizing that the situation is bigger than him and his wants. (Am I the only one who kept finding this parallel throughout, including lines referring to characters originating in “shadows” and “storms coming?”)

Though I’m sure it was a departure from the typical Bond film formula that has been in place since the first film 50 years ago, I appreciated the fact that romance didn’t play a huge part in this film as it did in the previous two. However, that’s not to say that Skyfall ignored the previous 22 films in the James Bond franchise; in fact, it seemed to me (though, keep in mind, I haven’t seen many Bond films and am merely assuming) that there were plenty of references to the older films, such as the classic car, Q’s quip about “exploding pens,” and several others that I’m sure I missed due to lack of education.

Where Skyfall especially succeeds is in the choice of its villain, Mr. Silva, played by Javier Bardem. He comes across as truly sinister, but he still maintains an air about him that allows for several laughs. What really makes him appear so evil, though, is the fact that he doesn’t make an appearance until the movie is halfway over. The first half of the film is filled with terrorist attacks, random murders, exploitation of sensitive information – and it’s all done by a villain who we haven’t even met yet. Bardem plays the role convincingly, with all of the malicious intent and residual hatred that we expect from a villain of his caliber.

From start to finish, Skyfall had me captivated, not only with its exciting action sequences and impressive character development, but also with the tremendous scope of the landscapes and locations presented throughout…it just looks good. Plus, with a terrific performance from Judi Dench, a nice sort of cameo from Albert Finney, and a promise of more Ralph Fiennes in the future, everyone stepped up to the plate and gave more than their fair share to help knock this film out of the park. Boosted by a wonderful score from Bond newbie Thomas Newman, Skyfall more than redeems the not-nearly-as-good Quantum of Solace and promises more to come…Bond 24 has a lot to live up to.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language, and smoking

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