Thursday, December 27, 2012

Promised Land

The gentle everyman rhythms of Matt Damon work well for him in the plainly righteous message picture Promised Land.  Damon at the age 42 typically uses his likable, aw shucks demeanor to clue audiences into his character and that all-encompassing nice guy approachability is his center as a movie star, whether playing characters verging on psychotic (like The Talented Mr. Ripley), superhero-ic (the Bourne films) or the quirkily warped (like The Informant!); in the truest sense he's likely the heir apparent to 21st century movie stars to perhaps Tom Hanks during his '90s heyday or Jimmy Stewart.  In Promised Land, Gus Van Sant's latest film, with a screenplay by Damon, co-star John Krasinski, and a story credit to Dave Eggers, Damon's handsomely boyish face and frame is a bit more weathered, his age slowly creeping in, and it serves his character well, especially since the film, more small-boned morality play than great cinema, needs the seasoned pros to sell something that on the surface is so utterly corny, with a narrative that was well dated even back in the days when Frank Capra was extolling similar iterations of wholesome American values.

Damon plays Steve Butler, a mid-level traveling salesman for a natural gas company.  In toe with his ball-busting partner Sue (Frances McDormand, one of America's best at selling even the most hokum of dialogue), they go from small farm town to the next leasing properties in order to drill, exciting poorer citizens with hopes of a large payday.  Steve, a small town farm boy in his youth, speaks plainly and directly, priding himself with straightforward honesty and charm, without big city tricks or bells and whistles.  He's such a good salesman, he believes his pitch himself and that he's a helpful ambassador to struggling, disenfranchised Americans.  The dangers, and thus the message, of Promised Land, gets out of the way fairly early on-- that with the process of the drilling, called "fracking"-- a potentially dangerous and controversial environmental issue.  Steve, no stranger to semantics, holds his ground and firmly believes in the honesty and faith of not just what he's selling, but the corporate world larger than him.  That notion is the one major miss of Promised Land, where Steve's naivete, essential for coaxing the drama and in moving the character and the plot forward.  Damon seems to savvy for that, but like any good salesman, spins it as well as one can, retaining he's easy-going, nice guy persona.  Steve, himself, as he begins to question, even reminds himself, "I'm the good guy."

As the town is divided over what direction they should take-- Hal Holbrook plays an esteemed small town gentry who fears what his community will come to if too many people agree to drilling-- and decides to hold a formal vote.  Steve and Sue become nervous upon the arrival of an environmental activist (played by Krasinski) who stirs trouble by canvassing the town with slogans and a pinched bravado.  At this point in the film, the bigger dramatic question looms...could Matt Damon be playing the villain here?  Of course not, he, as well as the film keep reminding us, that "he's a good guy," and Krasinski's environ-douche Dustin is such a cad from the onset, that just can't be possible.  Never mind all of that, however, for the plainly stated virtues of Promised Land, which does a decent enough job of taking a snapshot of a topical subject matter that isn't as viably discussed as much as it should, and, better yet, for keeping it at arms length as to not read as didactic as it surely could have.  Cynically, the film can be read as a pet project, write off for movie stars in pursuit of charity work, or a film that will, no doubt, further push the well-greased argument that the media is speared by the liberal elite.  Van Sant debunks that with a small and earthy straightforwardness, so much so, that even the climatic Capra moment where our hero does the noble thing and the emotional violins strum along, it registers with the simplest of beats.

But that's also a bit of a shortcoming as the tiny play is at times so muted it barely registers a pulse.  A grating subplot where Steve and Dustin pine for a local school teacher (Rosemarie DeWitt) further pulls the film away; a shame considering the warmth a performer like DeWitt imbues is one that the film could have taken advantage of wisely had the stridency of formula not stood in the way.  Similarly, most of the characters outside of Steve and Sue reads far too easily and, perhaps even a tad offensive.  Most residents come off as ignorant rubes, following like cattle to whomever has the fanciest speak, and others including the character portrayed by Holbrook as mere ciphers for the films messaging.  While the film is nearly defiant in it's lack of vanity, Promised Land still adheres to the staples of the message picture, one that even the even the finest messages can't quite hurdle.

The presence of Matt Damon, as guide, advocate and movie star, is likely the only legitimate reason a film like this could have gotten off the ground, and how it could be given an Oscar-qualifying release by Focus Features, and why, I have little doubt, anyone will turn up to actually watch it to begin with.  He sells well and earnestly with integrity and quiet compassion.  And while Damon may well be our generations Jimmy Stewart, there's really no denying that Steve Butler will come any near Mr. Smith in the pantheon of American cinemas great nice guys.  B-

Monday, December 24, 2012

Anna Karenina

When a filmmaker chooses to adapt one of those often made (and remade) classic pieces of literature that some may have a passing familiarity of whilst trying to get out of directly reading in high school, there comes the same set of challenges.  Trying to clear the cobwebs of times long ago and bringing something new and exciting and relative to the stuffy tales of yore.  The best of the old Merchant Ivory films were a clear gold standard in dusting off the good taste and good for you vein of the classics.  A more recent choice example could be Joe Wright's messier and spirited redoing of Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice, which felt like a valentine to the old values, but rid itself the middlebrow bourgeosie.  Joe Wright continues his re-working of the classics with Anna Karenina, a stately, handsome boldly alert adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy novel, a continuation of his work with corset muse Keira Knightley after Pride and Prejudice and Atonement.  It's a solid place for Wright, whose modern, genre efforts The Soloist and Hanna were mixed at best.  The best, and also the worst, thing Wright has done with Anna Karenina is in his unique quest to keep the action flowing.  He sets is all on a stage, letting the artifice and theatricality flow and linger with the hopes of it fully coming alive to contemporary filmgoers.

The conceit-- strange and often beautifully rendered, actually kind of works as the story gets started.  The choreography and the stage is mounted so over the top, you half expect the cast to break out in song.  The story, set in the higher echelons of society in 19th century Russia is a doomed romantic tragedy, and the theatricality often works in the mirroring that the private scandals and heartbreaks of its characters were put on display as a mere form of idle gossip and entertainment-- sound familiar?  Wright and his team of stylists-- many he's worked with before-- continue to deliver bold period details to their art.  Sarah Greenwood's production design of moving set pieces is at times bewildering in it's construction and wonder.  Jacqueline Durran's costume designs are opulent, large and immense.  Seamus McGarvey's cinematography is often to beautiful to withhold; playful in besotted times; fragile when the story turns melodramatic.  Dario Marianelli's score is classical, but tuneful, a perfect fit for twisty artistry.  It's easy to get lost in Anna Karenina in its superficiality, for unfortunately the film is but skin depth, with a story and arc that plays more like an episode of Gossip Girl than an epic romantic tragedy.

Anna (Knightley) is a dutiful wife and mother, a member of the St. Petersberg elite thanks to her husband (Jude Law; a terrific cuckold- a change of pace for the one cinematic seducer) and a ravishingly charming socialite.  The plague of her high society days are when she meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a young, handsome man instantly enraptured by her.  The two famously begin a romance, but the film comes to sudden limp once the two embrace one another.  The conquest and the pursuit are where Wright's project exceeds, especially in the grand theatrical sequences of the dance halls, where Anna tries to resist temptation and the great artifice on display reaches its eye candy climax.  The biggest problem with Wright's Anna however, is that Vronsky, as depicted and portrayed by the wan and sulky Taylor-Johnson, is such a cold fish, the question arises as to what drew her in at all.  And for the great deal of risk, histrionics and over-flowing of emotion to come on her part, in Wright's version, she would be better of with her distancing, but stable husband and provider.  Knightley is a bewitching Anna, and comes into nearly full maturation in her parade of classic heroine, unearthing the charm, wit and poise of a woman always nearly on the verge of hysteria.

And while the deduction of Anna Karenina is a pity, especially in it's latter and unfortunately weaker half, there's a richness to the spectacle that reads that a great film could probably have been achieved.  Either if the on-the-stage conceit been maximized to the fullest of its convictions, and not just in easier stretches of surface exposition, or if the story had been tightened.  Many of the supporting characters-- some of whom played by luminaries like Olivia Williams, Emily Watson, Matthew Macfadyen and Kelly Macdonald-- feel are the more extraneous; I'd keep Alicia Vikander, whose enthused Kitty is a notable bright spot in a underdeveloped part.  However, be it by ego of Joe Wright, or a whittled down screenplay by Tom Stoppard, Anna Karenina is only at its sharpest when the stakes are at their most banal.  C

Climate Change

The tragic events that occurred in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises this past July, was something I felt I wanted to leave aside here.  For someone who values and holds true that some of the my savory and precious moments have occurred in the peaceful tranquility of the confines of a movie theater, there was a nod and threat that almost as if a tragedy had struck inside my own backyard.  The events were dreadful, as was the fearful loom of panic and anxiety that would come (and likely hasn't quite quelled) for ones safety in the most ordinary and commonplace of scenarios.  Big Hollywood made their usual immediate adjustments-- the cancelling of movie premieres and the like, Warner Bros. (the distributor behind The Dark Knight Rises) withheld opening weekend grosses out of respect to victims, and a saving face for the opening week records that suddenly seemed unattainable.  The same distributor also pushed back and retooled the violent feature Gangster Squad, the awards wannabe featuring Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn and a ill-timed movie theater melee.  Again the issues of violence presented in movies, television and video games was sought as a defacto claim for the horrific events.  A few months later, and dreadfully in tune with the yuletide season, another massive shooting occurred in another unforgivable place.  And yet again, fingers are pointed at the same targets, without underlying the greater problems.

A full week went on before the NRA made an official statement in the aftermath of the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut.  During the address, spokesman Wayne LaPierre posited a few ideas that will rattle around the media maelstrom, and again waged the war against violent content in movies, television and video games as a trigger for the insane trigger-happy likes.  And again, Hollywood made swift decisions like cancelling the movie premieres of the violent Tom Cruise film Jack Reacher and the ultra violent Django Unchained.  It's worth noting that similar causes of actions for major American players remains firmly similar, and without a proper measure or even the slightest bit of necessary dialogue in a culture permeating with unease and violent content.  That is what is missing-- pointing the fingers at one another does no such good, and until this nation can address violence without the need of "he said, she said," child-like back-talking, more of the same will be cause and effects relations.

There's another discussion to be raised to, if the effect of violent representations in artistic content is to be a factor in begetting violence in real life.  After all, there's two classes of representations of violence in film especially.  There's the gratuitous type that glorifies the like, and the rarer and more insightful of which explores violence in an artfully real world situation, without bestowing further glorification, instead raising the question of its purpose.  For instance another hard-hitting holiday offering, Zero Dark Thirty comes courtesy of Oscar-winning team of The Hurt Locker in director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Marc Boal.  The film explores the manhunt behind the eventual capturing and killing of Osama bin Laden.  Here's another film, that's striking a chord in Washington for different reasons-- that of the graphic scenes and questionable realities of torture and waterboarding used in the investigations.  Senators from the both sides, including Rep. John McCain and Dem. Dianne Fienstein argue no such methods were actually used.  It's a blow to a film that's seeking Oscar consideration on top of it's roaring critical reaction.  Again, rather than an exploration of the content itself, Hollywood is questioning how this blow will hurt in garnering further Oscar buzz.  On the basis, and at the very least for viewers who haven't seen Zero Dark Thirty yet, the real questions should be bestowed on the content themselves, and as The Hurt Locker showcased three years ago, the imagery and intensity of that the film was wrought, tense and moving because the filmmakers never once politicized or glorified the situation, instead leaving it the eyes of the beholders to decide what to think.

The world is scary, and media content (perhaps a largely ignored aspect could rest in twenty-four news coverage, which I would argue is more grisly than anything I typically see in a movie theater) is sometimes varying to far over the edge.  By now means should an argument ever be based on back up the second amendment by reducing the first amendment, and if the National Rifle Association seeks to uphold films and other content to such reductive confines that were introduced back in Production Code, that would be deplorable and inexcusable for all.  It's the discussion that needs to happen, and for that, by all means, we're at a stalemate.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Oklahoma Film Critics Awards

PICTURE: Argo
DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck, Argo
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Moonrise Kingdom- Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Argo- Chris Terrio
ANIMATED FEATURE: Wreck-It-Ralph
DOCUMENTARY: Searching for Sugarman
FOREIGN FILM: Amour
FIRST FEATURE: Beasts of the Southern Wild- Benh Zeitlin
BODY OF WORK: Joseph Gordon Levitt, The Dark Knight Rises, Lincoln, Looper
GUILTY PLEASURE: 21 Jump Street
OBVIOUSLY WORST MOVIE: That's My Boy
NOT SO OBVIOUSLY WORST MOVIE: Prometheus

Nevada Film Critics Awards

PICTURE: Argo
DIRECTOR: (tie) Ben Affleck, Argo; Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
ACTOR: John Hawkes, The Sessions
ACTRESS: (tie) Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook; Helen Hunt, The Sessions
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sally Field, Lincoln
ENSEMBLE CAST: Lincoln
ANIMATED FEATURE: Frankenweenie
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Life of Pi- Claudio Miranda
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Les Miserables
VISUAL EFFECTS: Life of Pi
YOUTH IN FILM: Tom Holland, The Impossible

Saturday, December 22, 2012

RIP: The 5 Best Performances of 2012 Without the Slightest Bit of a Chance in Hell

It came with a great shock and awe when Nicole Kidman's trashy Southern belle performance in The Paperboy netted the Academy Award winner nominations from both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild.  The road to the Oscar for the critically reviled Lee Daniels' gothic nor is tremulous at best, even for an actress with the refinement and temperament of someone like Kidman shepherding away.  While I, personally, couldn't really go on board with The Paperboy, I strongly admire the dedication and craft and deft hidden skill of Kidman's performance and greatly applaud the out-of-left-field choice, even if perhaps its a bit smeared by the fact the Hollywood Foreign Press likely nominated her more so that she would attend the fancy show versus the strength and magnitude of her performance.  Cynicism aside, it's great when choices like this are made by merit, instead of all-encompassing, often sadly confining choices typically made by what's been pre-selected as an "awards film."  Here are 5 other performances that shouldn't have been overlooked:


Emily Blunt in Looper
Blunt has had a pretty impressive 2012, with nicely modulated turns in The Five-Year Engagement, Your Sister's Sister, Looper and Salmon Fishing on the Yemen.  She received a random Golden Globe nomination for the latter, but it was her performance in Rian Johnson's dazzling science fiction feature that was the most fascinating.  At first nearly unrecognizable, exhibiting a raw toughness she has never really showcased before, she paints a vivid performance as young woman who would do anything to protect her child.  As introduced as a rifle-toting alpha, Blunt carefully and exquisitely unveils hidden vulnerabilities and maternal good-naturedness, while casually transgressing the archetypes of the noir vixen at the same time.  In a fairly weak Best Supporting Actress line-up, her's was one of the strongest, and is worthy of a nod alongside the locks of the category-- a French prostitute, bio-polar First Lady, and sex surrogate.


Michael Fassbender in Prometheus
Shamelessly snubbed last year for his incomparable work in the tough indie Shame, Fassbender went another direction in 2012 as the mysterious humanoid David in Ridley Scott's massively hyped and slightly underwhelming Alien origin story.  However, Fassbender, with his magnetic charisma and always intoxicating intensity bridged a few of the thematic boggles with an ingenuity and mystery and even an elegance.  We were never quite sure what was triggering David, aside from his obsession with Peter O'Toole and Lawrence of Arabia, but he bestowed such a credulous interest that he's work feels as deserving of trophies and plaudits just as much as those in the more "prestige" films.


Eva Green in Dark Shadows
Mere best in show honors seems like too small a praise for Green's remarkably agile performance in Tim Burton's massive dud- a retooling of the popular? soap opera.  I honestly believe that if the film, a shaky rehashing and dumping ground of past Burton forays, had been on line with the way that Green portrays the slinky, funny, dangerous, sexy villain Angelique, it would have been a ghoulishly fun ride.  As is, it's mostly a mess, but like Kidman in The Paperboy, Green's choices, line readings and allure cast a wider net than the sum of her films drifting parts.  Charismatic, fetching and adroitly playing to room, as her co-stars are slumping for pay day, Green was the best thing in a bad thing all year long.



Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street
It was the year of Channing, like it or not, and even ones not quite wise to the charms that led 2012's sexiest man alive to churn out three films to grosses north of $100, one would be hard pressed to not be charmed, amused and elated by his masterfully on the nose supporting performance in 21 Jump Street.  Playing half of a team of cops sent back to high school, Tatum's sweet dim bulb showcases a versatility, grand sense of play, and a knack for comic timing, that counts as one of the biggest cinematic surprises of the year.  That he imbues an honest sensitivity to the broadly stretched raunchiness is a small miracle.


Charlize Theron in Snow White & the Huntsman
Unjustly ignored in 2011 for her bravura turn in the dark comedy Young Adult, Theron further found her grove in bitchiness as the Evil Queen in one of the thousand or so takes on Grimm classic this year.  Playing up the vanity and clearly having a ball, she merely saves Snow White & the Huntsman from the eternal doldrums of self-seriousness, but underlies her evilness with a grand connection with the scope, tremor and insecurity of her most powerful weapon-- her beauty.  Theron continued to be fairest of them all, but awards season probably won't pay much attention-- they usual prefer they're beautiful to de-glam for their art.

Jack Reacher

It should be said with some consternation, that be is as it may, the film Jack Reacher reads a little differently than it might have a eight days ago.  Of course, for a genre feature with little interest in the real world whatsoever, one should probably just get over it and try and enjoy the ride, an intermittently bumpy one, but not without some mild pleasure to be sure, and forgo that a film revolving around a sniper who guns down five innocent strangers without any thought of real life tragedy.  Based on a series of successful detective novels by Lee Child, Jack Reacher, the title character, is a sort of modern Dirty Harry-type, a vigilante, a former army police officer, who has noir tales will always fashion, take the law in their own hands in the pursuit of justice.  The Jack in the books is described as an imposing 6'4 badass, whose chilly authority and mighty mass so to speak gets the job done.  The film casts Tom Cruise, and even though unfamiliar with the source material may feel inclined to call the casting suspect.  Cruise, a capable actor under the right tutelage, has a way of chipping away his boy scout persona within the confines of ace filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson, Michael Mann and Oliver Stone, but his mystery man Jack Reacher feels more like posturing than anything else.

Christopher McQuarrie wrote and directed Jack Reacher (he previously scripted the Cruise vehicle Valkyre), and received well earned bona fides for his Academy Award winning screenplay to The Usual Suspects, one of the best crime thrillers of the past two decades, that it seems like a letdown that he would even pursue a mystery tale with so little mystery in itself.  A man is charged with the horrific and seemingly random shooting with a cavalcade of evidence point in his direction-- he's directive is to "get Jack Reacher."  Neither a friend or really an ally at least from the start, Cruise sashays into the scene, full of corny one-liners that may have been dated back in 40's era noir, and becomes the head investigator.  Aided and goaded by junior defense attorney Helen (Rosamund Pike), a pretty lady with daddy issues, going head to head against her father (played by Richard Jenkins) and against popular opinion, as one presumes (except the audience, who has witnessed the opening sequence of Jack Reacher) this dude is guilty as sin.

The action, or story points as it goes, kick in, as Reacher begins his kicking butt stuff, with Cruise caught in a one versus five showdown.  The trouble is, despite the faux tough guy dialogue and demeanor, Cruise still embodies the same angelic boy scout role he's played for years.  Worse yet, the scene seems to reek of certain vanity as well.  There's a few nice effects in the cool and icily filmed chiller (beautifully photographed by Caleb Deschanel) including a terrific (and nearly silent) chase scene part way through, a cleverly bent villain turn by Werner Herzog and a nice reunion of sorts between Cruise and his Days of Thunder co-star Robert DuVall, but Jack Reacher is mostly a meandering, easily reductive slice of junk food, strangely offered for holiday counter-programming.

Dublin Film Critics Circle

 PICTURE: The Artist
DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke, Amour
ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
ACTRESS: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
BREAKTHROUGH: Gareth Evans, The Raid: Redemption
BEST IRISH FILM: What Richard Did
DOCUMENTARY: Maria Abramovic: The Artist is Present

This is 40

Leslie Mann, wife of Judd Apatow, is nearly extraordinary in This is 40, a peaks and valleys scenes from a marriage comedy-drama.  Funny, frank, alluring and earthy, her character, Debbie, is the easiest, yet most complicated aspect of Apatow's latest.  The startling thing-- a bit more telling coming off the breakaway woman power, Apatow-backed Bridesmaids, is that for the first time in one of the filmmakers own features, a woman is granted the freedom, luxury and balls to be just as dirty and messed up as her male counterparts.  For some of the flack Mr. Apatow has received since his style and humor became a brand name, some of which valid or not, verging on the misogynistic or homophobic, he has always been an adept showman and capturing real world frustrations and awkwardness and tenderly allowing the audience to both freely laugh at and with his characters.  At his strongest, he's achieved catharsis through humiliation, at his weakest, he's appeared a tad self-serious and perhaps overly pompous.  This is 40, his fourth feature film, travels the gambit so to speak from the highs of The 40-Year Virgin to the dragging, lost in translation mixture of thematic material in his last offering, Funny People.  Mann, thankfully, is the saving grace, tenderly imbuing womanly grace and a comedians gift of the absurd, settling the film as it travels a something interminably long running length exceeding two hours.

Billed as a "sort of sequel" to Apatow's 2007's hit Knocked Up, we revisit characters Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Mann) for the contentious week of their lives as both are setting to turn the big 4-0.  Both react to their growing pains in different ways.  She prefers to lie about her age, sneaking cigarettes in between fights with her husband and latching plans to better her and family's life for the better-- rid of junk food and electronics.  Pete is more content sneaking his iPad in the bathroom and sneaking cupcakes when no one's around.  It proves a family affair as Apatow and Mann's own children Maude and Iris continue their roles in Knocked Up as the couples children, themselves experiencing their own growing pains.  One of the more affable and frustrating to This is 40 is that in many ways Apatow presents his film both as family album and perhaps free therapy.  Many of his film regulars-- Jason Segal, Charlyne Yi, and Bridesmaids alum Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd and Annie Mumolo, as does the Apatow-produced Girls phenom Lena Dunham stop by to say hello, while the marital strife-- the more engaging material-- floats in between.  There's a nice caveat of Apatow that he goes out of his way to keep gainful employment to the talent he admires, but there really needed to be some trimming to This is 40, which verges on over-indulgence from time to time.

Pity, since the relationship between Pete and Debbie is full of fine, raw material.  It helps that Rudd and Mann have such a warm, flowing chemistry to one another.  And it helps even more that there's a genuine love story at their center-- they're just at odds on how to live with one another and continue to like each other.  There's a few typical movie screen battles, over sex and money and work and their own messed up parental figures-- John Lithgow plays Debbie's absentee father and a delicious Albert Brooks plays Pete's mooching mensch of a pop-- but there's a finely details pathos in their battle of words.  While This is 40 is entirely laugh out loud, it's is amusing more times than not, and thankfully, isn't dragged down by an overwrought cloud of self seriousness of which plagued Funny People; Apatow has always been best at freely associative banter, hidden behind a shield of self-doubt.

And that brings me back to Mann, who is totally in control of the film from the first take.  She readily exposes her less than attractive characteristics and rides the film in many ways feels like a valentine to her.  Whether in exposing sequences that reveal Debbie's insecurity of her age (presented to the hilt in an awkward exchange at the gynecologists office), rage over Pete's waning affection, efforts to control her family, or frolicking in a silly nighttime excursion with Desi (Megan Fox), the hottie she employs at her small boutique shop, Mann maneuvers the jokes and the pathos with ease.  The best exchange in the entire film is when Debbie and Pete sojourn to a short, pot-fueled holiday where they lovingly express how they would off on another.  She offers to quietly poison the cupcakes he sneaks out, while tenderly loving his last days.  Mann manages to sweet sell this with mixed components of warmth, lust and remorse.  That feels like the heart of This is 40, but it's a nice, if slightly disposable, trinket of film for the most part.  I sense in a few years time, it might not be a bad idea for Apatow and team to check in with again.  B

Friday, December 21, 2012

Best Foreign Film

The race for the Best Foreign Language Film has been whittled down to nine films; let the battle begin, as well as the now annual guess of which film was selected by committee vs. actually have been voted in.

The Intouchables is a semi-finalist for the Oscar.

  • Amour (Austria)- directed by Michael Haneke
  • Beyond the Hills (Romania)- directed by Cristian Mungiu
  • The Deep (Iceland)- directed by Baltasar Kormakur
  • The Intouchables (France)- directed by Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano
  • Kon-Tiki (Norway)- directed by Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg
  • No (Chile)- directed by Pablo Larrain
  • A Royal Affair (Denmark)- directed by Nikolaj Arcel
  • Sister (Switzerland)- directed by Ursula Meier
  • War Witch (Canada)- directed by Kim Nguyen

Utah Film Critics Awards

Wes Anderson wins his first Best Director prize of the season for Moonrise Kingdom
PICTURE: Zero Dark Thirty
runner-up: Looper

DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
runner-up: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
runners-up: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln; John Hawkes, The Sessions

ACTRESS: (tie) Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook; Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
runner-up: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
runner-up: Ann Dowd, Compliance

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Looper- Rian Johnson
runner-up: The Cabin in the Woods- Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: The Perks of Being a Wallflower- Stephen Chbosky
runner-up: Silver Linings Playbook- David O. Russell

ANIMATED FEATURE: ParaNorman
runners-up: Frankenweenie; Wreck-It-Ralph 

DOCUMENTARY: Indie Game: The Movie
runner-up: The Invisible War 

NON-ENGLISH LANGUAGE FILM: Headhunters
runner-up: Amour 

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Skyfall- Roger Deakins
runner-up: Life of Pi- Claudio Miranda

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Django Unchained

The unveiling of a new Quentin Tarantino film seems akin to that of what a space launch might have been as enthusiasts tend to salivate eagerly for first contact.  It's nearly hard to believe that the once-upon-a-generation has been toiling away at it now for twenty years, as Django Unchained, his eighth feature debuts on the anniversary of Reservoir Dogs.  In the space, the cinematic language and molding that Tarantino has invented-- re-sculpted and transcribed from his on cinephilia as the narrative of video store clerk to iconoclast would go-- has vitalized modern American cinema.  It's that penchant for language, for words strewn about casually but mightily, matched with the wiz bang eye for spectacle and genre mash-ups that allure the fans of the past while connecting the fans of today.  Within single and broader strokes, Tarantino, with that eye and sense that everything can be learned and cultivated through the prism of a movie screen, always supplies his baggage and his fandom to his work, unleashing a new generation to terms like "spaghetti western" and "grindhouse."  That his exploits have grown past novelty, and his own filmmaking powers and gifts have improved and delighted through the years is the violent, yet succulent gift left for his audience.

The first notable thing about Django Unchained, a revenge flick set in the Deep South a few years before the Civil War, is the inevitable comparisons it shares with his his last feature, Inglourious Basterds.  Both set in turbulent, oppressive time frames, and both designed as revisionist-history fairy tales.  Perhaps Tarantino had such a blast rewriting the past as he presented a murdered in cold blood Hitler, he wanted to go back further-- Django Unchained is ultimately a tale of former slave who gets to get a whole lot of white dudes.  However, the comparisons end in tone, execution and refinement.  Basterds through its bombast and at-times comic absurdity with an elegant refinement and sprawling characterizations, some moving, some ridiculously anachronistic, but underlined with a sensitivity to its subjects and the period.  In Inglourious Basterds bests stretches, Tarantino achieved an artful humanism to his grisly non-factual show.  Django, on the other hand, is messier and grind-ier, tackling slavery with the same transgressive aplomb, but with a seemingly unfinished veneer.  It's both a simpler revenge fantasy and more daring in it's broadly comedic strokes.

Django (Jamie Foxx) begins his revenge fantasy in the opening bout as he's rescued while miserly navigating through a chain gang.  The mystery savior is Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a former German dentist-turned American bounty hunter.  He needs help in identifying three nasty men, who happened to Django's former owners.  The first sequence, a delicately worded elongated one is striking in its Tarantino-isms, and especially in setting up the first confrontational and assaulting tone.  As Django is sold to Dr. Schultz, who informs of his abolitionist ways, shoots the white leaders of the chain gang and unearths the other members to do as they will and head to safer territories, as he embarks on a journeyman quest with Django, eventually becoming his mentor in the killing and cashing-in business.  The upfront and grisly depiction of slavery is a daring do for Tarantino, but also one for Hollywood-- there's a through line, if one wants to see it-- from Birth of a Nation to Django Unchained; it's in the eyes of the beholder if that's a good thing or not.

Tarantino reverts his tale into a buddy film between the Dr. Schultz and Django, with the promise that once their job is done, the ex-dentist (with a tooth-laden atop his bunker to boot) will free him.  Instead, Django becomes a natural shoot, and comes closer to partner in the bounty hunter game.  An early sequence reveals the nastiness of the period with, one assumes, an accuracy of spirit, if not tone, as Django, liberated with the thrills of dressing himself and riding horseback side by side a white man, setting the South into a flurry with each step.  The first stop is to bigwig plantation owner Big Daddy (Don Johnson) where the first bounties are conveniently hanging around.  Django makes such an impression, that the duo are quickly thwarted into the night by a group lead by Big Daddy in an early incarnation of Klan members.  Tarantino uses this as mileage to lump around with the films strangest joke about the members arguing over the inadequate masks before meeting eventual slaughter.

Django Unchained finally rests out the films real plot in a dialogue where Django reveals he has a wife, and his mission is to rescue her and run off as free; Schultz agrees to help.  Her name is Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) and is owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the Hans Landa of the Deep South.  The centerpiece scene of Django Unchained lies at Candyland, Candie's grand plantation, and one of which that lies on the conviction and fortitude and multi-layered capacities that defines the film, but more importantly what it could have been.  The scene in question, is a long one, one consisting only of dialogue, the directors forte.  The key players have gathered for a dinner, each with their own agenda, and each seemingly unwitting of the others or the hands being dealt.  Django and Schultz are trying to convince the sale of a black male fighter from Candie (with the hopeful extension of Broomhila, quietly serving behind), Candie, all grandiosity with flowery language and oddly incestuous puppy eyes at his sister, is in for the greed or the pleasure, finding himself smitten by Django's fortitude and charisma.  As counterpoint, it's Steven (Samuel L. Jackson), Candie's in house possession, and an interesting case study in himself, who becomes the smartest man in the room.

What evolves is a pure Tarantino medley of violence, but what's missing the emotive current that bridges these characters together, or to the audience.  For all the actorly precision and grandstanding around, there's little on terms of performance.  Waltz and DiCaprio billow colorfully and madly to the rafters (DiCaprio, for instance, is the loosest and most free associative he's been in his entire career, relishing the ham provided and calling out the hope that a great character actor may actually exist bellow his movie star glow) while Foxx projects consistent bad-assery but the main characters are surprisingly rote and one-note by design, neither granted nor advised to flesh out the meaty patches of dialogue.  Washington is sadly just window dressing, itself a nagging transgression.  It's Jackson who has the most interesting character, one of a not-quite freed man, who is given license to behaving above the simpler subjects.  His loyalty and psychology could be a movie in its own, but the bombast takes over the quiet shades of character as Django Unchained unravels its simple tale of fantasy revenge.

But there is something different about Django Unchained that's harder to finger.  It appears shapeless, lost in itself and perhaps a bit hurried.  For a film with a nearly three hour run time, the climax is a race to the finish.  It's not that the film drags necessarily, but it's messy and perhaps a bit unsure of itself, despite all the bravado.  I'm no doubt sure there's a great movie in here somewhere, there's glimmers of one all over the place, but this ain't it.  C

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Austin Film Critics Awards

PICTURE: Zero Dark Thirty
DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Looper- Rian Johnson
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Argo- Chris Terrio
ANIMATED FEATURE: Wreck-It-Ralph
DOCUMENTARY: The Imposter
FOREIGN FILM: Holy Motors
CINEMATOGRAPHY: The Master- Mihai Malaimare, Jr.
SCORE: Cloud Atlas- Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer
FIRST FILM: Beasts of the Southern Wild
BEST AUSTIN FILM: Bernie
ROBERT R. McCURDY MEMORIAL BREAKTHROUGH ARTIST PRIZE: Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
SPECIAL HONORARY AWARD: Matthew McConaughy- Magic Mike, Bernie, The Paperboy, Killer Joe

TOP TEN OF 2012
  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Argo
  3. Moonrise Kingdom
  4. Django Unchained
  5. Cloud Atlas
  6. Holy Motors
  7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  8. The Master
  9. Silver Linings Playbook
  10. Looper  

Florida Film Critics Circle

PICTURE: Argo
DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck, Argo
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Looper- Rian Johnson
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Argo- Chris Terrio
ANIMATED FEATURE: Frankenweenie
DOCUMENTARY: The Queen of Versailles
FOREIGN FILM: The Intouchables
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Skyfall- Roger Deakins
ART DIRECTION: Anna Karenina- Sarah Greenwood
VISUAL EFFECTS: Life of Pi
BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE: Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Dallas-Ft. Worth Film Critics Associaton


PICTURE: Lincoln
DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sally Field, Lincoln
FOREIGN FILM: Amour

TOP TEN OF 2012:
  1. Lincoln
  2. Argo
  3. Zero Dark Thirty
  4. Life of Pi
  5. Les Miserables
  6. Moonrise Kingdom
  7. Silver Linings Playbook
  8. Skyfall
  9. The Master
  10. Beasts of the Southern Wild  

Hyde Park on Hudson

Just as The King's Speech was a historical footnote set within a tremulous backdrop, Hyde Park on Hudson may perhaps be a footnote upon that footnote.  And just as the international acclaim, dollars and awards bestowed upon the former likely netted the green-lighting of the latter, there's an easy digestibility to Roger Michell's lightly wrapped little period piece, made seemingly with the sole purpose of staging refined actors in famous roles, draped in Masterpiece Theater-lite circumstances with the hopes of catching wind in the same fashion.  However, as The King's Speech told its simple story of one mans journey to defeat and hide his own weakness, just as the perils of war was raging, Hyde Park on Hudson, a wan counterpoint, tackles the same period (and a few of the same main characters) from the American perspective, taking a few strange detours along the way.  Ones that prevent the film from truly blooming on it's own pleasant promise.  And while some of those strange sidetracks might have delved in  a deeper, richer way, the film rides it's machine-like currents so that nothing is stirred or aroused.  Bill Murray's portrait of Franklin Roosevelt is surely punctuated to be Hyde Park's highlight, and his clipped, charming presence is the films richest weapon, but the film, set around the historic weekend Roosevelt shared with King George VI and his wife Elizabeth at his upstate New York residence is so strange and misshaped that the deepest drama in the film comes down to whether or not King George will take a bite out of a hotdog.

There's hardly much of a glance into the life of Roosevelt himself, the film first undoing, as he is presented, polio-laden, and on the surface of things perhaps a bit bored, despite the aftermaths of the Depression and a war looming.  In need of service, his fifth cousin, Daisy (Laura Linney) is called in.  Hyde Park on Hudson is told from Daisy's perspective, that of an in the shadows woman who became mistress to the President.  She dryly narrates the film, fleshing out key players as the feverish weekend approaches-- the first time sitting members of British royalty have visited American soil.  There's inferences to the world behind, as King George (Samuel West) and Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) have made the voyage in hopes of generating US support for the coming war, and slight nods to strife at home, but Michell and team (Richard Nelson wrote the screenplay) are more interested in a broader drawing room light comedy instead.  The always welcome Olivia Williams plays Eleanor.

As a relationship slowly starts to build between Roosevelt and Daisy-- first seen through his sly flirtation as he shows her his stamp collection, then proceeding to afternoon drives, complete with hand jobs-- Daisy is seen in full tilt.  Think of a besotted Jane Austin heroine, except this time she's playing mistress.  Mid-way through, there's a dash of development and hurt in Daisy from which-- Hyde Park on Hudson's own sobbing Wuthering Heights moment-- but it feels silly and completely separate from the film at a point when the royals arrival and fussing about has backlogged our narrator even more into the shadows.  Linney, for her credit, tries to provide Daisy resilience and nuance, but the film doesn't seem to particularly care one bit and the role is decidedly one-note, if verging on slightly ridiculous.  What's left to cling to is sharply written passages nearly about nothing-- there may be a framework for a sitcom upon the era if evidenced by Hyde Park on Hudson.  In clipped scenes and vignettes, there's a quiet and stately charm, but as a whole the filmmakers seem uninterested in fleshing out any sense of character or story.

As the weekend proceeds, and it's a blunder in more ways due to plates being broken at dinner, Roosevelt's mother and her dallying about, and the farce of the King and Queen, President and First Lady and Mistress, all trying to hide their own indiscretions in name of diplomacy and good taste.  But eager to leave the party with smiles all around-- King George does indeed bite into his hotdog, and Daisy quietly settles into being one of FDR's ladies on the side-- Hyde Park on Hudson keeps everything mutely humming, registering subtle nods of a pulse along the way.  C

St. Louis Film Critics Awards

FILM: Argo
runners-up: Life of Pi; Lincoln

DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck, Argo
runners-up: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained; Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
runner-up: John Hawkes, The Sessions

ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
runner-up: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
runner-up: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: (tie) Ann Dowd, Compliance; Helen Hunt, The Sessions

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Zero Dark Thirty- Marc Boal
runner-up: Django Unchained- Quentin Tarantino

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: (tie) Lincoln- Tony Kushner; Silver Linings Playbook- David O. Russell

ANIMATED FEATURE: Wreck-It-Ralph
runner-up: ParaNorman 

DOCUMENTARY: Searching for Sugarman
runners-up: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry; Bully and How to Survive a Plague


FOREIGN FILM: The Intouchables
runners-up: The Fairy; Headhunters 

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Skyfall- Roger Deakins
runner-up: Life of Pi- Claudio Miranda

MUSIC: (tie) Django Unchained; Moonrise Kingdom

VISUAL EFFECTS: Life of Pi
runner-up: Marvel's The Avengers

COMEDY FILM: (tie) Moonrise Kingdom; Ted
ART HOUSE FILM: (tie) Compliance; Safety Not Guaranteed

SPECIAL MERIT (for best scene, cinematic technique or other memorable aspect or moment:
  •  Django Unchained- "Bag Head" scene
  • Hitchcock- Hitchcock's audience reactions to the first screening of Psycho
  • The Impossible- Opening tsunami sequence
  • The Master- The first "processing" of Joaquin Phoenix

Southeastern Film Critics Associaton

PICTURE: Argo

DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck, Argo
runner-up: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
runner-up: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
runner-up: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
runner-up: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
runner-up: Sally Field, Lincoln

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Moonrise Kingdom
runner-up: Zero Dark Thirty

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Argo
runner-up: Lincoln

ENSEMBLE CAST: Lincoln
runner-up: Moonrise Kingdom

ANIMATED FEATURE: ParaNorman
runner-up: Frankenweenie

DOCUMENTARY: The Queen of Versailles
runner-up: Bully

FOREIGN FILM: The Intouchables
runner-up: Amour

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Life of Pi
runner-up: Skyfall

GENE WYATT AWARD: Beasts of the Southern Wild
runner-up: Bernie

TOP TEN OF 2012
  1. Argo
  2. Zero Dark Thirty
  3. Lincoln
  4. Moonrise Kingdom
  5. Silver Linings Playbook
  6. Beasts of the Southern Wind
  7. The Master
  8. Les Miserables
  9. Life of Pi
  10. The Dark Knight Rises

Indiana Film Journalists Association

PICTURE
Safety Not Guaranteed
runner-up: Beasts of the Southern Wild

DIRECTOR
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
runner-up: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

ACTOR
(tie) Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook; Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
runner-up: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
runner-up: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
runner-up: Helen Hunt, The Sessions

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Safety Not Guaranteed
runner-up: Django Unchained

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
runner-up: Silver Linings Playbook

ANIMATED FEATURE
Rise of the Guardians
runner-up: ParaNorman 

DOCUMENTARY
Searching for Sugarman
runner-up: Room 237 

FOREIGN FILM
The Raid: Redemption
runner-up: Amour 

MUSIC SCORE
Skyfall
runner-up: Life of  Pi

ORIGINAL VISION AWARD
Beasts of the Southern Wild
runner-up: Django Unchained                  

Golden Satellite Winners

PICTURE: Silver Linings Playbook
DIRECTOR: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
ACTOR: Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Javier Bardem, Skyfall
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Zero Dark Thirty- Marc Boal
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Life of Pi- David Magee
FOREIGN FILM: (tie) The Intouchables; Pieta
DOCUMENTARY: Chasing Ice
ANIMATED/MIXED MEDIA FILM: Rise of the Guardians
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Life of Pi- Claudio Miranda
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Lincoln- Rick Carter, Curt Beech, David Crank & Leslie McDonald
COSTUME DESIGN: A Royal Affair- Manon Rasmussen
FILM EDITING: Silver Linings Playbook- Jay Cassidy
SCORE: Argo- Alexandre Desplat
SONG: "Suddenly," Les Miserables
VISUAL EFFECTS: Flight

Chicago Film Critics Association

PICTURE: Zero Dark Thirty
DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Amy Adams, The Master
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Zero Dark Thirty- Marc Boal
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Lincoln- Tony Kushner
ANIMATED FEATURE: ParaNorman
DOCUMENTARY: The Invisible War
FOREIGN FILM: Amour
CINEMATOGRAPHY: The Master
ART DIRECTION: Moonrise Kingdom
FILM EDITING: Zero Dark Thirty
SCORE: The Master
BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMER: Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
BREAKTHROUGH FILMMAKER: Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

African American Film Critics Awards


TOP TEN OF 2012
  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Argo
  3. Lincoln
  4. Middle of Nowhere
  5. Life of Pi
  6. Les Miserables
  7. Django Unchained
  8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  9. Moonrise Kingdom
  10. Think Like a Man
DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck, Argo
ACTOR: Denzel Washington, Flight
ACTRESS: Emayatzy Corineadli, Middle of Nowhere
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Nate Parker, Arbitrage
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sally Field, Lincoln
SCREENPLAY: Middle of Nowhere- Ava DuVernay
BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE: Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
ANIMATED FEATURE: Rise of the Guardians
DOCUMENTARY: (tie) The House I Live In; Versailles '73
FOREIGN FILM: The Intouchables
MUSIC: Middle of Nowhere
INDEPENDENT FILM: Middle of Nowhere 

Monday, December 17, 2012

San Francisco Film Critics Circle

PICTURE: The Master
DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
ACTRESS: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Helen Hunt, The Sessions
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Zero Dark Thirty- Marc Boal
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Lincoln- Tony Kushner
ANIMATED FEATURE: ParaNorman
DOCUMENTARY: The Waiting Room
FOREIGN FILM: Amour
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Life of Pi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Moonrise Kingdom
FILM EDITING: Argo

Kansas City Film Critics


FILM: The Master
DIRECTOR: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: The Master- Paul Thomas Anderson
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Argo- Chris Terrio
ANIMATED FEATURE: Frankenweenie
DOCUMENTARY: The Imposter
FOREIGN FILM: Amour
VINCE KOEHLER AWARD FOR BEST SCI/FI, FANTASY OR HORROR FILM: The Cabin in the Woods 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Guardian's 10 Best of 2012

  1. The Master
  2. Ted
  3. Amour
  4. Silver Linings Playbook
  5. Holy Motors
  6. This Is Not a Film
  7. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
  8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  9. Alps
  10. The Queen of Versailles

What doesn't belong here?  I strike for the very mention of an un-Oscary favorite.

WGA Rejects

It comes about every year.  Every movie awards season as one and all is bestowing year end kudos to what individually and together one marks as the best of the year.  It's a shame of sorts the politics that rears its lousy head into the machine of nominations and awards.  All should stand for the same set of values-- what's the best in the year on terms of cinematic achievements.  One of the best of 2012 had an uphill battle from the start-- Beasts of the Southern Wild-- Benh Zeitlin's extraordinarily lush Katrina indictment\new-world cinematic experience, one which employed non-professional actors, and which stands one of the years most crowning critical achievements despite the whatever you call sense of know-how expected upon by members of the filmmaking guilds.  The film wasn't eligible was SAG awards due to it's non-union cast, and will be a castoff as the awards season enters phase two of the session when the guilds take over Academy Award bellwethers.  Expectant, but still stinging, the film was deemed ineligible from the Writers Guild Association of America, along with a slew of other films, in what is largely considered all apart of seasonal offerings at this point.  The shame in it, of course, is that the scrappy Beasts, a true indie acquired by Fox Searchlight Pictures, after winning the Grand Jury Prize at last years Sundance Film Festival, politically and strategically could have used the healthy boast of exposure that nominations from SAG or WGA could have given it in terms of being a part of the celebrations of the best of year.

The same isn't so much the case for big guns in the race like Argo, Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty, all hearty WGA and guild-eligible appointees who can coast along with a knowing that, despite ebbs and flows along the season, they are in safe places at the end of the day.  The annual list of who will be deemed ineligible from the Writers is official, courtesy of Kris Tapley of In Contention:


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
  • Amour- Michael Haneke
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild- Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin
  • Django Unchained- Quentin Tarantino, whose never been a member of WGA-- he can regroup with the DGA, for which he is a member of.
  • The Impossible- Sergio Sanchez
  • The Intouchables- Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano
  • Middle of Nowhere- Ava DuVernay
  • Seven Psychopaths- Martin McDonagh
  • Take This Waltz- Sarah Polley
  • Your Sister's Sister- Lynn Shelton

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
  • Anna Karenina- Tom Stoppard
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel- Ol Parker
  • The Deep Blue Sea- Terence Davies
  • Les Miserables- William Nicholson
  • Quartet- Ronald Harwood
  • Rust & Bone- Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain & Craig Davidson

Also due to union, animated films are not eligible for WGA award.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Best Make-up and Hairstyling

The shortlist for what will be considered for the Best Make-up and Hairstyling Academy Award:


  • Hitchock
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Les Miserables
  • Lincoln
  • Looper
  • Men in Black 3
  • Snow White & the Huntsman
Snubbed: The Impossible, Holy Motors

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It's been nearly a decade since filmmaker Peter Jackson last ventured into Middle Earth, and since the concluding of his billion dollar epic franchise The Lord of the Rings, and the bounty of Academy Awards earned for its conclusion, The Return of the King (which won eleven- every category in which it was up for), the cinematic universe for the famously rotund (now svelte) Kiwi has been decidedly earthbound.  Following the grand Tolkien trilogy with King Kong (2005), which many accused of being heavily bloated and self serious, one with a running time that was nearly twice as that of the original film, and further so with his adaptation of The Lovely Bones (2009), there was a aura of perhaps the director, who began his career his low budget horror and the enchantingly morbid Heavenly Creatures had lost his touch.  For The Lord of the Rings was a majestic and mighty piece of entertainment, presented with such lush visuals that it felt like a child running loose in a candy store of adventure and possibility, high on the adrenaline of movie magic.  The great feat of his three films were that they could appeal, not just to the Tolkien fan club, or the cinephile who could rejoice movie-making wizardry, but nearly everyone who could embrace high order cinema of fun and splendor.  Could something of the like ever be replicated, and even so, should it?

Jackson tries to answer that prickly question with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the prequel chapter to The Lord of the Rings' dense and mythic trilogy.  While Lord of the Rings handles a rich and ever expansive universe, The Hobbit, as a source, is a fairly light one with a straight-forward tale told nearly with the swiftness of a prologue of what Tolkien would conjure.  The film has made more than a few headlines in the fan boy culture in the realm of the controversial.  First, with the decision of expanding The Hobbit into three parts-- a tall order considering the volume of the text itself.  Second, with the divisive visual unveiling of The Hobbit's novelty in being presented in 48 frames per second, double that what movies are typically presented in meaning in laments terms that the audience is getting twice the information per frame, which has presented issues in it's own right from early reports of nausea, to the less than thrilling spectacle view of Middle Earth.  The richest pre-screening caveat may have been when Jackson usurped the directorial reins from Guillermo Del Toro (who still retains a screenplay credit), returning to the franchise helm that made him king.

To be fair, Jackson has retained the sheen and glow of Middle Earth, recapturing the magnitude and awe-inspiring visual effects that made The Lord of the Rings the David Lean gold standard in fantasy storytelling.  The beauty and wonder and the pure wizardry of the magicians of Weta Digital Effects remains firmly intact.  The problem lies, as most of them do, with the difficulties and rigors of the business of sequels and prequels to past marvels.  The relevancy and unexpected charm seems missing, and Jackson incorporates a more business-minded method to the very expected journey of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  What's more the film, clocking in at nearly three hour, has the reek and feel of over-bloated indulgence versus the brisk, nearly click pace set by the similarly timed first ventures of the franchise.  And while The Lord of the Rings set a lofty mantle for the wow-inspiring, jaw-dropping set pieces when it first was unveiled, there's a sad thought of been there-done that, that prevents the magic from every really taking flight.

Set sixty years before The Fellowship of the Ring, The Hobbit introduces us to a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a tightly wound ninny of a hobbit who enjoys simple Shire-time solitude, that is until Gandalf (Ian McKellen), the impish wizard, sparks and awakens a sense of adventure and quest opportunity for the nervous little man.  The Hobbit opens with a prologue, and continues to prologuize for quite some time.  Firstly as general backstory to the quest that awakes, and secondly as way to reintroduce the older Bilbo, played once again by Ian Holm, as he begins to tell our tale proper.  One of the best bits of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey play up the nostalgia factor as familiar faces from the past pop by to drop off blessings.  Elvish royalty Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and the ethereal Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) are always welcome back.  As ia McKellen, who serves as our delectable Middle Earth tour guide, charting the great English tradition of elegantly vamping franchise material.  He serves as The Hobbit's most invaluable player.  The quest offered to young, dallying Bilbo is a part of a mission to join a dwarf army to reclaim their once prosperous land that was robbed of them.  It's easy enough to follow, and certainly not required in a three-film by three-hour course plan.  But there's obvious padding along the way that the filmmakers (as well as the nervy studio execs in search of harvesting ever more dollars) will mask for story.  Nearly a hour encompasses that of a dwarf party which consists of not one, but two musical numbers, for instance.

Even as the quest in underway, our adventurers are swept in battle after battle with orcs, trolls, goblins and mountainy shape shifters-- there's a current that while the tale is lined with a visual finesse and refinement, there's little by way of story.  The dwarfs themselves are fairly indistinguishable, save for the tragic once-king, Thorin (Richard Armitrage), that that great sense of character so readily defined in The Lord of the Rings is taken a back seat to spectacle; Freeman, however, is a charmingly befuddled presence as the reluctant hero.

Throughout the nearly three hours of the first chapter, there's startlingly little story to cling to, except for one bravura sequence where Jackson the storyteller comes back and Jackson, the accountant, retires.  It's one that's heavily steeped, further more, into the lure and nostalgia of the first set of films, but a triumphant aside that sharpens the divide of art versus commerce.  A trapped Bilbo encounters Gollum (once again majestically and eerily played with a potent mixture of state of arts craftsmanship and pathos-inspired mania by Andy Serkis), and consists mainly of clever wordplay and delightful exchanges as the deranged and demented hobbit, still in awe and under the scope of the ring that will prove more compromising in later chapters.  It's the easiest and most unexpected portion of The Hobbit to grab onto, and a late in the day deal breaker for the road that lies ahead.

Otherwise, we, as expected audience members must shake ourselves from a film, one that's certainly in no ways bad, or bad for us, with the slight discomfort from jetting around our movie theater seat after three hours, with the unsettling reaction that, honestly, nothing really happened.  B-

Detroit Film Critics Society

PICTURE: Silver Linings Playbook
DIRECTOR: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
SCREENPLAY: Silver Linings Playbook- David O. Russell
ENSEMBLE CAST: Lincoln
DOCUMENTARY: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE: Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks

Film Comment Top Ten of 2012

The best in film from Film Comment magazine:


  1. Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
  2. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)
  3. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)
  4. This Is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi & Mirtahmasb)
  5. Amour (Michael Haneke)
  6. The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr)
  7. The Kid with the Bike (Jean Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
  8. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
  9. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)
  10. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Las Vegas Film Critics Society

PICTURE: Life of Pi
DIRECTOR: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
SCREENPLAY: Looper- Rian Johnson
ANIMATED FEATURE: ParaNorman
DOCUMENTARY: Bully
FOREIGN FILM: Amour
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Life of Pi- Claudio Miranda
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Prometheus- Arthur Max
COSTUME DESIGN: Anna Karenina- Jacqueline West
FILM EDITING: Zero Dark Thirty- William Goldenberg & Dylan Tichenor
SCORE: Life of Pi- Mychael Danna
SONG: "Skyfall," Skyfall
VISUAL EFFECTS: Life of Pi
BREAKOUT FILMMAKER AWARD: Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
YOUTH IN FILM AWARD: Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: Alan Arkin

TOP TEN OF 2012
  1. Life of Pi
  2. Zero Dark Thirty
  3. Argo
  4. Silver Linings Playbook
  5. Lincoln
  6. Moonrise Kingdom
  7. The Impossible
  8. Les Miserables
  9. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  10. The Master 

Golden Globe Nominations

BEST PICTURE (Drama)
Argo
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Zero Dark Thirty

BEST PICTURE (Musical or Comedy)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Les Miserables
Moonrise Kingdom
Salmon Fishing on the Yemen
Silver Linings Playbook

BEST DIRECTOR
Ben Affleck, Argo
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

BEST ACTOR (Drama)
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Richard Gere, Arbitrage
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight 

BEST ACTRESS (Drama)
Jessica Chastian, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust & Bone
Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea 

BEST ACTOR (Musical or Comedy)
Jack Black, Bernie
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Ewan McGregor, Salmon Fishing on the Yemen
Bill Murray, Hyde Park on Hudson 

BEST ACTRESS (Musical or Comedy)
Emily Blunt, Salmon Fishing on the Yemen
Judi Dench, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Maggie Smith, Quartet
Meryl Streep, Hope Springs 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Alan Arkin, Argo
Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy 

BEST SCREENPLAY
Argo- Chris Terrio
Django Unchained- Quentin Tarantino
Lincoln- Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook- David O. Russell
Zero Dark Thirty- Marc Boal

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Brave
Frankenweenie
Hotel Transylvania
Rise of the Guardians
Wreck-It-Ralph 

BEST FOREIGN FILM
Amour (Austria
The Intouchables (France)
Kon-Tike (Norway)
A Royal Affair (Denmark)
Rust & Bone (France)

BEST SCORE
Anna Karenina
Argo
Cloud Atlas
Life of Pi
Lincoln 

BEST SONG
"For You," Act of Valor
"Not Running Anymore," Stand Up Guys
"Safe and Sound," The Hunger Games
"Skyfall," Skyfall
"Suddenly," Les Miserables

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Screen Actors Guild Nominations

Les Miserables nets SAG nominations for Ensemble, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Best Stunts!

ENSEMBLE CAST
Argo
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Les Miserables
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook 

ACTOR
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Denzel Washington, Flight 

ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust & Bone
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Naomi Watts, The Impossible 

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Alan Arkin, Argo
Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

STUNT ENSEMBLE
The Amazing Spider-man
The Bourne Legacy
The Dark Knight Rises
Les Miserables
Skyfall


The biggest and most delightful surprise from the Screen Actors Guild comes in the form of recognizing the great performance of Nicole Kidman in the otherwise none so great The Paperboy.  While surely the sight and spectacle of the great actress and movie star to come to the ceremony might have been potential enough for the voting this singular creation, it still stands as a superior move on the part of actors appreciating great acting.  Kidman saunters and teases as a white trash tart in Lee Daniels' mess of a feature with such a confidence and stature and all consuming passion that there's little doubt with whom best of show honors rightfully belong to.  Alongside that, there was little surprises, aside from the Javier Bardem's inclusion for playing villain to James Bond in Skyfall and the prominence of this summer's octogenarian hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which netted Ensemble acting mentions alongside Supporting Actress Maggie Smith.  Joaquin Phoenix was shut out for The Master in a tough category, while Marion Cotillard, Naomi Watts and Helen Mirren skirted into the definitely in flux Best Actress category.  Whilst critical favorite Zero Dark Thirty just has Jessica Chastain to claim as nominee, and Django Unchained lies snubbed.  Thoughts?  How do you think they did?

Blancanieves

Blancanieves is the official foreign language selection from Spain, a revisionist take on the Snow White staple, it self already presented with such American works as Snow White & the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror this past year.  The differentiation, or what may be more closely read as the what The Artist hath brought, and more importantly is that film's massive awards and international pedigree, is that Blancanieves brings about the novelty of being a black and white silent picture.  And while derivative in content and context, there's certainly a novelty and charm that runs through director Pablo Berger's take on the Grimm tale that's bouncy and spirited and affirms that ones connection to fairy tales can be translated almost anywhere and anyway.  It's likely the closest in spirit in contrast the American products, primed as star vehicles and smug genre readings, and the most formally respective.  Instead of a kingdom in far far away, Blancanieves imagines the fair maiden an orphaned heir to a prime lineage of bullfighters, her father being one of the greatest, and in a nice way frees the heroine from eventual martyrdom.

Antonio Vallalta (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) is a prized bullfighter and king of the ring, admired by many and loved by his beautiful and dutiful, and very pregnant queen.  A freak accident leaves Antonio paralyzed and the distress prompts his bride to kick the bucket during child birth.  The charge in every great fairy tale is the entrance of the villain, in this case Encarna (Maribel Verdu, of Y Tu Mama Tambien and Pan's Labyrinth fame), as the deceitful nurse taking care of Antonio.  She's an altogether different take on the Evil Queen, one not of magical gifts, but of duplicitous power and all imposing glares.  The silence allows Verdu to play up and over accentuate every gesture with a purposeful pose.  Her vanity has no ends, and, of course, wants nothing to do with the young child left in the shadows or to potentially cast herself off the side of luxury.

Carmen (played by Sofia Oria as a child and Macarena Garcia in adulthood) is first shipped to live a fanciful childhood with her grandmother, forever longing for her father to come.  A tragedy sends her to father and Encarna, who's held the once triumphant bullfighter to sequestered quarters in full invalid confines.  She insists Carmen makes no contact with dad and quickly enlists her to partake in arduous chores, signifying alpha control and odious contempt at all cost.  The impish and inquisitive girl breaks these rules and starts engaging with a genuine relationship with her father, who in efforts of both humility and bedazzlement teaches Carmen the ways of his trade.  The story continues, much as the story dictates, with the similar bits of further paternal abandonment, Evil Queen business and the entrance of the dwarfs, themselves a pint-sized calf-fighting traveling act.  Blancanieves travels the same wobbly steps its supposed to, and at times drags a bit more than it should considering the acquaintance any filmgoers will have with its tale, but still manages a few charming sights and performances along the way.  The rhythmic and delightfully tuneful score plays its cues a bit too sharply from time to time, but sets the mood nicely as does colorfully gray costumes by Paca Delgado (on ace year with this and Les Miserables) and inventive camera work by Kiko de la Rica.  B
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