BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is a story about finding oneself in the universe.
I certainly didn’t plan for it, but I saved the best for last. Easily the best of the nine nominees for Best Picture in my opinion, BEASTS is a beautiful story full of beautiful people full of beautiful surprises. I couldn’t turn away from the screen.
About a young girl named Hushpuppy, the film follows her discovery of her world, where she lives with her father deep in the backwards southern wild, in a place called “the Bathtub.” It’s completely cut off from the world by a levee, so the threat of rising waters looms in this community. Meanwhile, large, extinct beasts, known as aurochs, awaken from their frozen slumber in melted icecaps far away and, throughout the film, make their journey to Hushpuppy. They’re real in the film, yet their role is more figurative than anything else: they seem to represent the southern wild itself.
Full of gorgeous imagery, glorious storytelling, and genius moments, BEASTS was perfect. It was, verily, the best film of the year. I enjoyed every second of it, and I found it profound, impeccable, and full of life. It was on a different plane than the other nominees.
I rate BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD 4 stars out of 4.
ZERO DARK THIRTY is a story about pursuance.
When a Navy SEAL is asked by another, before they plan to sack a stronghold, why it is he believes it’s Bin Laden living there, he responds, “her confidence,” indicating Maya, Jessica Chastain’s character. Maya is the dedicated CIA officer that’s been on UBL’s case her entire 12-year career, and her confidence descends directly from her commitment.
Here’s what I liked: the acting. Jessica Chastain was wonderful as per usual, and strong performances from the cast kept the film going. Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon from Game of Thrones) was in it! And Chris Pratt (Andy from Parks and Recreation) had a significant part, too. It’s strange to see these faces in a film like this, but they were both excellent all the same. I also loved the very ending—so simple, so perfect. Nothing over the top, exactly what the story, and Chastain’s character, called for; that’s all I’ll say about that.
To be honest, though, I didn’t really like the film. The entire movie was told from the CIA perspective, which was a serious mistake. It was too long by about an hour. And, after watching ARGO, it seemed ZERO DARK THIRTY did not come close to the kind of thrill, stake, and tension in its climax that it was capable of, perhaps because we all knew the ending already? Most of all, the film did not pose any real questions: should torture be condoned? Was it necessary to torture all those people to get one man? What else could be done? ZERO DARK THIRTY did not answer these questions, yet it certainly seemed to pose them. Why spend the first forty-five minutes of the movie obsessed with torture when no statement was ultimately made on its moral standing, or lack thereof?
It’s a great story, but I felt it just wasn’t told well.
I rate ZERO DARK THIRTY 2.5 stars out of 4.
LIFE OF PI is a story about clinging to life amidst struggle, hope, and companionship.
When 16 year-old Pi’s family zoo goes bankrupt, his father makes the tough decision that it is time to leave India behind and start a new life in Winnipeg, Canada. They set sail on a large freighter that ultimately sinks in a torrential storm, of which he is the sole human survivor; tragically, he loses his entire family and is ultimately forced onto a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean along with a dying zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and an adult tiger called Richard Parker. Very soon the orangutan, hyena, and zebra are killed, leaving Pi alone with one wild and fierce Bengal tiger. The film mostly follows the struggles of, and the relationship between, Pi and Richard Parker during their extraordinary 227 days at sea.
Many elements of the story are fantastical, it’s important to note, often leaving the audience incredulous, even stupefied. When Pi and Parker land on a small undiscovered island occupied by thousands and thousands and thousands of meerkats, for instance, I couldn’t help but smile. By the end of the film, the audience is sure to question whether Pi’s story was real or contrived, but this I feel is the greatest mistake one can make in watching LIFE OF PI: it is not meant to be questioned so much as cherished.
Yann Martel’s novel, Life of Pi, was said to be impossible to make into a film for all of its beauty and intricacy, and yet, Ang Lee’s stunning vision come-to-life proves not only that it was very possible but that it could be achieved majestically. LIFE OF PI is a moving tale full of impeccable imagery, genuine excitement, and powerful emotions. Yet in all its fantasticality, the film still manages to exude more the stuff of life than not.
I rate LIFE OF PI 3.5 stars out of 4.
ARGO is a story about perseverance and hope in the face of an impossible struggle.
I enjoyed ARGO quite a bit. Of course, I might need to check my blood pressure after that intense, prolonged climax, but it was certainly entertaining for it all the same.
Where should I begin? Ben Affleck. He’s done it again. In ARGO he stars as Tony Mendez, a CIA exfiltration agent with the passion (and the balls) to come up with (and pull off) a crazy enough stunt to return the escapees of the American embassy in Iran to the United States alive. We all know the general history behind the Iranian hostage crisis, which lasted nearly a year, but Affleck consumes his film with the lesser-known story: of the six that escaped the embassy before the mob rushed it. The incredible story involves the incredible plan the CIA agent comes up with. He suggests they pretend to be making a science fiction film called “Argo” and that, with the six escapees, they’re looking for a filming location, Iran among the contending locations.
Other big names in ARGO include John Goodman, who is always a pleasure to see on screen, and he and Alan Arkin provide for some great comedic relief. And relief we need! What an utterly intense airport scene! Affleck has truly perfected the high-stakes, tense situations his films have been known for (recall, for instance, THE TOWN).
But the intensity may have been too much; ARGO, at times, became too much a hyperbolic, Hollywood-ized take on an already incredible story. Were some of the decisions to kick up the tension essential? Probably not. Did the movie suffer for these decisions? Not particularly. But it didn’t help the film either. Maybe it was just me.
I rate ARGO 3.5 stars out of 4.
LES MISÉRABLES is a story about love, hope, and revolution.
I’ve never read Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. I’ve never seen the musical on stage. I’ve never seen any film adaptation before today. In short, before seeing Tom Hooper’s adaptation, I had never been exposed to the story, the music, or the characters. Naturally, then, I knew I was in for a treat.
First, I want to talk about the story because for this film it was not original, obviously. I loved it. The story was beautiful, beautiful! And the film told it perfectly, I felt. So for those who know nothing about the story, this particular adaptation is certainly worth a viewing.
Now for the acting: it was tremendous! Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway. Wonderful, all! And this has been one aspect of the nominees for Best Picture this year that has blown me away every film. With LES MIS, I expected no less from the phenomenal actors, but expecting tremendous acting is different from actually witnessing tremendous acting. Splendid acting all around.
It was really an emotional film, mostly because it’s an emotional story, and the ending. The ending! Profound. Powerful. Incredible. It was a magical ending, and it made the whole film in my mind. All right. Enough from me. I liked it a lot. It was really good. This review sucks.
I rate LES MISÉRABLES 4 stars out of 4.
LINCOLN is a story about hope and change and war and peace.
I saw LINCOLN back in November. It was the first of the Best Picture nominees I got to see, and it was the only one, in fact, that I saw before they were announced in mid-January. Even before I watched it, though, it seemed like a given that it would be nominated. A film about Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, and Tommy Lee Jones, directed by Steven Spielberg? It’s no coincidence this was a film I’d been looking forward to seeing for three years.
Spielberg requires no introduction, but his historical films do deserve some mention here if only for the sake of context. This is the same man who directed SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, SCHINDLER’S LIST, MUNICH; even WAR HORSE deserves a passing mention. Spielberg has spent the latter half of his career largely dedicated to his successful historical projects (THE PACIFIC comes to mind), and with LINCOLN I feel he’s reached his crescendo in the genre, truly.
As for Day-Lewis, no better actor exists for the part to have played the sixteenth president of the United States. Day-Lewis, with this performance, has entered another realm of acting, in an echelon higher than any of his contemporaries. I am still comprehending the genius of his performance—his ability to encompass the essence of a president that lived and died a hundred and fifty years ago is truly extraordinary—and I am sure my comments are more than superfluous at this point. Please note, too, the lack of exaggeration in my comments.
LINCOLN, like the president himself, is hard to dislike. As a film, it manages to grip the audience in a way often difficult for an historical film of its weight and length and breadth. As each character attempts to overcome what seem to be herculean objectives, from winning the Civil War to coping with psychosis to earning enough votes to pass the most progressive amendment in American history, President Lincoln has no choice but to keep his composure, and Day-Lewis, playing the “gentle giant,” was mesmerizing to watch.
The plot requires no summary—certainly not from me—and I don’t deserve to praise this film any further. Of course, many aspects of the film were flawless. Its mistakes I count none. Its the kind of movie history buffs and film critics alike wait decades for. I’d argue LINCOLN is Spielberg’s best historical work, better even than his work on SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, which we know earned him the Academy Award for Best Director in ‘99. I felt that Daniel Day-Lewis, too, gave his best performance to date, including his performance for, yes, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, which, again, won him the Oscar for Best Actor in 2008, to no surprise.
Am I implying Spielberg should win Best Director? Am I implying Day-Lewis should win Best Actor? Am I implying LINCOLN should win Best Picture? I have yet to see the remaining nominees … but I am rooting for them alright.
I rate LINCOLN 4 stars out of 4.
DJANGO UNCHAINED is a story about love and freedom.
I have to say of all the nominees for Best Picture, DJANGO was the one I most wanted to see. Quentin Tarantino is one of my all-time favorite directors, and I enjoy his films with a fervent degree of pleasure. PULP FICTION, both KILL BILL movies, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, RESERVOIR DOGS—these are all wonderful works whose praise would be a given in any number of separate reviews. This review, however, concerns Tarantino’s most recent endeavor, for which I have praise and criticism alike.
First, allow me the privilege of bowing down in the name of Christoph Waltz, who gave a profoundly remarkable performance in DJANGO. Yes, he’s outdone himself. If you thought he could pull off an evil, unyielding Nazi in BASTERDS with flourish, then you’re in for a real treat: as a kind, enigmatic bounty hunter, Waltz enters new realms of acting genius. Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio, too, each provided performances worthy of nominations, even if they were neglected. But more about that another day.
Now for the premise. We meet two slaveowners hustling a group of chained slaves “somewhere in Texas,” Django (Foxx) among them. Dr. Schultz (Waltz), an out-of-practice dentist who now makes a living collecting bounties, intercedes their trek and calls for a parley to purchase Django, who knows the faces of three men with a hefty bounty on their heads. After collecting several bounties with skill, Schultz and Django eventually make an agreement to continue working together until the end of winter, at which point the doctor will help Django find his wife, Broomhilda, whom he was separated from during a cruel slave auction in Mississippi. They learn she was sold to the fourth largest plantation in Mississippi: Candieland, where an eccentric man named Calvin Candie (DiCaprio) presides as slaveowner. The two bounty hunters plan Broomhilda’s daring rescue, and the rest of the film involves that plan’s execution.
Here’s what I liked about the film: the acting. Superb acting! Foxx, Waltz, DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson, who pulled off Candie’s senile, long-residing chief slave, were all fantastic. I also favored Tarantino’s style. With every new film he makes, his style matures, not unlike a fine, aged whisky, and a very violent whiskey it has become. Speaking of said violence, the backdrop of the spaghetti western allowed novel opportunities for the violence-inclined Tarantino to explore, a particular treat for fans of his more gory works. Much about the film was more than satisfactory, to say the least.
Here’s what I disliked: the movie was too long. It overstayed its welcome, in my opinion. Clocking in at nearly three hours, it was too long for a film of its genre. I was also puzzled by a few choices with the soundtrack; there were a couple instances of modern rap leaking into the late 1850s setting, which is fine—it merely left me puzzled. I couldn’t help, too, wondering what statement, if any, Tarantino was making. The film is Django’s story about love and the obstructions of achieving it, in a way, but the attention given to Dr. Schultz’s character overshadowed the majority of the story’s core and begged the question. What were his intentions? Who is he really? Why is he a bounty hunter? We never find out. I didn’t like that either. For this reason, I found the story was flat. Perhaps because it lacked an engaging subplot as BASTERDS did, employing not the clever multi-narrative arc I’ve come to know and love from Tarantino but a solitary storyline with a few elements of a nonlinear plot.
Ultimately, DJANGO is a fine film, but I didn’t love it. Something was missing, I just don’t know what. It was entertaining, sure, riveting and powerful, but it lacked the “panache”—as Dr. Schultz describes a slave he pretends to try and purchase—and for that the movie suffered. But who knows? Maybe I expected too much of the film in my anticipation. But let’s be honest: can you ever expect too much from Tarantino? He’s better than DJANGO.
I rate DJANGO UNCHAINED 3 stars out of 4.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is a story about finding one’s way back to happiness.
The movie is about a lot of things — it’s about love, it’s about family, it’s about hope and happiness. Most of all, I’d say, it’s about life: relationships, mistakes, anger, football, mental illness; you know, the “usual” stuff we face day-to-day.
Alright, so this movie is difficult to pinpoint. And I’d attribute that to its unique style, its flavorful denial of conforming to genre, and its exploration of character.
Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) just got out of a mental hospital, where he spent eight months recovering from a serious bi-polar episode. His wife left him, he was fired from his teaching job, and everyone thinks he’s crazy. But despite all this, we find a positive, optimistic figure in Pat from the second he returns to the real world. When he’s invited to a small dinner party at his friend’s house, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a recent widow and recovering sex addict with mental problems of her own. Before long, the two befriend each other and make a deal: if Pat promises to partner with her in a local dance competition, she’ll agree to deliver a letter to his wife.
If you, as I certainly did, expected from the previews that this film is just another cheap romantic comedy, you’d be wrong. Very wrong. And not because SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK isn’t a romantic comedy — it is — but because this movie rejects the typical, banal form of romance found in nearly every rom-com ever made. It also avoids the cheap jokes and silly banter almost always present in said genre. Instead of equipping corny humor and watered-down romance, SILVER LININGS extracts somehow the meaningful, genuine, real-life comedic relief found in our everyday lives. The romance in the film, too, has echoes of something more … which brings me to my next topic: the stunning characterization.
You get the distinct sense while watching this movie that the characters on screen possess a third dimension, that they think, act, and make decisions of their own accord. In other words, the writing and story and characterization of this movie are so well-done that the audience is utterly absorbed with the lives and outcomes of these characters. And when half of them are mentally imperfect, it’s no mystery why that is. Pat suffers from severe bi-polar disorder, Tiffany is coping with some form of hysterics, and Pat’s father (Robert De Niro) is an out-of-work, superstitious-to-a-fault Philadelphia Eagles fan.
A lot was done well with this movie, and to be honest, I didn’t expect to be admitting that. While a lot more could be said, I’ll just say this: it’s not your typical rom-com.
I rate SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK 3.5 stars out of 4.
Please note: There are a few minor spoilers in this review.
AMOUR is a story about pushing the boundaries of love as far as they can go.
No, this film is not a typical love story, but who says it has to be? Instead of focusing on the usual subject matter of love found in movies—dates, the wedding, the baby, the second baby, the struggles of early marriage, the many fights and split-ups, and so on—this film skips to the very end of love’s story, to those final weeks of a relationship. In this film we meet an elderly couple, Anne and Georges, who live a peaceful, day-to-day life at their home in Paris. We know very little about this couple: Georges (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant) is loving and kind; Anne (played by Emmanuelle Riva) is loving and kind, too, in her own way. All that is clear from their first moments on screen is that they have spent a lifetime together and that they love each other more than life itself.
… then Anne has a stroke.
She loses control over the entire right side of her body, and from the moment she returns from the hospital in her wheelchair, both Georges and Anne realize things will change, and in fact they already have. Poor Anne, she can hardly move. She needs assistance with everything, from getting off the toilet to getting into bed, and faithful Georges is there every time, without a complaint, much to her own indignity. I won’t reveal the ending—it’s powerful and enlightening and real—but let me pose you this one question: what would you do? The woman you spent your life with is dying and can barely move. Every day she gets worse and worse. She refuses to go to the hospital. What can you do?
Through riveting performances from both Riva and Trintignant, we learn that little more can be done than to cherish those final moments together and to reflect on the past one last time. During one moment, right in the middle of dinner, Anne asks for Georges to bring her the old photo albums, to which Georges eventually obliges. “It’s beautiful,” she remarks, as she flips through the pages. “What?” asks Georges. She replies, simply: “Life.” I couldn’t agree more.
I rate AMOUR 3.5 stars out of 4.
i liked it. i mean, BRIDESMAIDS certainly had more downs that ups as far as hilarity goes, but overall, it wasn’t the least funny film i’ve ever seen. a couple of hilarious scenes scattered through a shitty movie is still a pretty funny movie. maybe i’m being generous or maybe i’m biased towards the cast (kristen wiig and a cluster of minor characters from “the office”), but either way, it’s not my favorite and it’s not my least favorite comedy. do i wish that i never saw it? no. do i wish i hadn’t seen it with my mom, grandma, nana, and aunt? of course. would i recommend it to anyone and everyone? probably not. go see it anyway; get your own opinion. it wasn’t what i expected and yet it was.
"The King of Limbs," I will admit, leaves me with wanting something more. But when it comes to Radiohead, such a yearning does not suggest that the album was left unwhole, unfinished. Quite the opposite, wanting more of their music is the tell-tale sign that "The King of Limbs" did its job; it stimulated us fans for about 37 minutes, leaving us blabbing to ourselves, mumbling something along the lines of: "Damn, I need more of that. That’s new." I then hit the loop button and went far, far away…
As for the band, I’m still absolutely convinced that Radiohead are the most innovative, avant-garde, and eccentric band since the Beatles (though I’ll be the first to say that the latter weren’t exactly playing fairly with their LSD-inspired musical breakthroughs). With unfounded, controversial comparisons aside, I don’t consider Radiohead a rock band; they’re really not. But that’s great because I’ve never appreciated rock (classic or otherwise) as much as I do the genre of “Radiohead.” And I still see the band as a progressively-moving force in search of their true selves. Many critics and fans are disappointed with “The King of Limbs,” but I see the new album as a step forward, closer to that archetypical Radiohead sound, whatever it might end up being. Want to hear an understatement? Okay: I’m a fan of Radiohead. But what that means for me is joining the band on the musical and artistic journey that they have been leading since 1993. If that means experiencing different sounding music every album, then I’ll interpret it in such a way that the true genius of the music is clear. After all, I don’t want albums that are facsimiles of the band’s previous ones (if you want to hear more of “The Bends,” then listen to it!). With that said, I still found “The King of Limbs” brilliant. I love every song on the album for its own individual reasons, and the quality of their music cannot be explained in words. Thus, ce n’est pas une critique. Radiohead are at the point in their careers where everything they do is genius in its own way, despite what anyone has to say about it. Look at “Kid A.” It was not well-received by critics when it came out. Now look at it: it’s considered the best album of the decade. My point is that music from a band that requires a lot of understanding will not appear brilliant at first or second or third listen. As the axiom goes: the longer it takes to truly understand the genius of a song or album or band, the better it is. True, isn’t it?
Radiohead, through the years, have obtained the perfect balance between “it would be awesome if we tried this” and “who gives a fuck what they think.” With that balance, they continue to set precedents, break barriers, and walk all over that which the music industry has declared what “should be” and what “is expected.” For many reasons (including that one), Radiohead are my favorite band, and “The King of Limbs” has corroborated that statement; it hasn’t spoiled it.
Starting today, I resume my wait for the next Radiohead album.