Today marks the second time I’ve written an entire post about the Oscar nominees for Best Picture. If you know your history, you’ll remember that last year’s Academy Awards gave us NINE Best Picture nominees to choose from: the thoroughly annoying-as-fuck
“Extremely Depressing and Incredibly Boring” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”; the baffling and HIGHLY OVER-RATED existentialist drama “The Tree of Life”; the less-baffling but equally over-rated baseball drama “Moneyball”; the light-hearted, superbly-written Woody Allen comedy “Midnight in Paris”; the Civil Rights-era sisterhood drama “The Help”, a Steven Spielberg-directed war film about a horse simply titled “War Horse”; a family drama starring George Clooney in one of his best roles (“The Descendants”); Martin Scorsese’s CG-enhanced tribute to the early days of cinema (“Hugo”); and of course, the highly-entertaining, heartfelt homage to the silent film era (“The Artist”) that took home (wherever the hell that is) 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
With the exception of “Extremely Depressing and Incredibly Boring” (SERIOUSLY, it was!), “The Tree of Life” (which I honestly think I’ll fully appreciate after a couple more views….in the next 10 years or so) and “Moneyball” (Yes, I know. How could I say that? Well, I’m sorry. I’m from the Caribbean. I know about cricket. I hardly know anything about baseball. Sue me! ), the other films in the Best Picture list actually deserved their esteemed nominations. This year’s nominees – NINE AGAIN, since the old guys running the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still can’t make up their fucking minds as to what film truly deserves to be nominated that they get their grandchildren to assist them (“Grandpa, vote for ‘Les Miserables’! Anne Hathaway’s in it! I LIKE Anne Hathaway! She was AWESOME as Catwoman! Nominate her pleeeeeeease!”), however, are all surprisingly very good films in their own individual right. I managed to view all nine of these films and I can safely say that there’s not one terrible film in this current Best Picture nominee list. Two of them are ridiculously over-rated and over-hyped (I’ll reveal their names later) – but all of them aren’t terrible. But then again, this is all based on my personal opinion.
With that being said, today’s post will consist of mini-reviews (with little to no spoilers) of each of the Best Picture nominees of 2013. All of these films will get fair, decent ratings so don’t expect to see a “I Want My Money Back” rating for any of them (*COUGH*Extremely Depressing and Incredibly Boring*COUGH). So without further ado, on to the reviews! (cue orchestral music)
“AMOUR” – Also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay
We start things off with the latest film from art-house film legend Michael Haneke, and the only foreign-language entry in the Best Picture category. “Amour” (or “Love” for you non-French speakers out there) focuses on a retired music teacher named Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), his paralyzed wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and the emotional strain on the love that they have for each other. “Amour” presents a simple story in an unconventional and minimalist (both intentional) manner. The film’s slow pace and lack of an actual musical score will turn off, or baffle the shit out of, the casual viewer. But it’s Haneke’s skilled direction (with a number of sequences resembling that of a fly-in-the-wall documentary), cinematography by Darius Khondji (“Midnight in Paris”), the naturalistic, honest performances by both Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, and the film’s overall sombre tone that transcends “Amour” from being just a simplistic drama. Apart from its character study on an aging couple, the film touches on themes of love, life and death, and subtly asks questions related to these themes. For example, if you manage to find your soul mate/significant other, is it guaranteed that you will spend the rest of your life with that person? What if he/she is seriously injured, paralyzed or dying? Will you stay with that person or will you abandon him/her and look for another soul mate at the nearest lunch club or bingo hall or wherever the fuck old, single people hang out? The film doesn’t exactly ask that question, but you get the point – hopefully. Clearly for the foreign language and art-house movie aficionado, and for those with the patience and fortitude to sit through two hours of watching an old couple in an apartment, “Amour” is an emotional, profound, heart-rending and realistic portrayal of love unlike anything shown in contemporary cinema. Of course, it’ll win the Best Foreign Language Oscar tonight, so if that’s not reason enough to watch this film just to understand what the big deal about it is, I don’t know what is. 4 out of 5 stars.
“BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD” – Also nominated for Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay
If I ever have a daughter, I’ll call her Quvenzhané – the maiden name of the child star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. Why, you ask? Because she’s the youngest actress to be nominated for Best Actress. And she’s African-American! *HEYYYYYYYY!!* And her maiden name is AWESOME! Mind you, I still can’t properly pronounce the name “Quvenzhané” and I’m guessing that when I call my daughter that name, I’ll just call her “Q” for short. So how is Quvenzhané Wallis in this film? Simply put, she’s the best thing about “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. For such a young age (nine at that), she delivers a breakthrough performance as the precocious Hushpuppy, a resident of the Louisiana bayou community called the “Bathtub”. When a ferocious storm attacks the “Bathtub”, Hushpuppy learns about courage, survival and love during the time she spends with her unhealthy, hotheaded father. The story, narrated by Quvenzhané herself, is expressed through Hushpuppy’s vivid imagination and childlike perspective. As such, the movie feels both like a documentary-style drama and a fairy-tale-like fantasy. The result is one of the most unique and original films to grace the silver screen. With a well-written, heartfelt story, sharp direction by first-time feature film director Benh Zeitlin, fantastic performances by its cast and a soul-stirring musical score that should have been nominated for an Oscar (in my honest opinion), “Beasts of the Southern Wild” definitely deserves its Best Picture nomination. I just hope that they pronounce Quvenzhané’s name correctly when they start announcing Best Actress nominees though. 4 out of 5 stars.
“DJANGO UNCHAINED” – Also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing and Best Original Screenplay
Since I recently stated that “Django Unchained” fucking RULES, there’s no need for me to state the obvious again. But I will say this much: this film deserves to win the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award tonight. I’m just saying. 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.
“LIFE OF PI” – Also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score (Music), Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects, Best Adapted Screenplay
One of my favourite films of 2012, as I eloquently stated in my Top 10 Best Films of 2012 list, and well deserving of the Best Visual Effects Academy Award tonight. If you still don’t know what the movie is about, or you’re wondering how I can love a film about a boy and a tiger on a lifeboat, then feel free to check out my review for the film. I’ll wait. 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.
“LES MISERABLES” – Also nominated for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing
Here is one of the more better musical films I’ve seen in recent years, since musical films nowadays involve uninteresting to shitty narratives (*COUGH*Rock of Ages*COUGH), lip-synched covers of popular songs (*COUGH*Rock of Ages*COUGH) and questionable casting choices (*COUGH*Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages*COUGH*). “Les Miserables” makes the bold decision to have its actors sing on-set during their performances (similar to the legendary stage musical of the same name), avoiding the need for post-production syncing. The cast, which consists of Hugh Jackman (who’s going up for Best Actor – ain’t that some shit?), Anne Hathaway (Best Supporting Actress), Amanda Seyfried and Russell Crowe (yes, ladies and gents, Mr. Gladiator himself), sing to their heart’s content in this film. Matter of fact, the dialogue for the ENTIRE FILM, with the exception of a few sparse lines of normal speaking, are sung. If you approach “Les Miserables” with an open mind and a closed mouth (since nobody wants to fucking hear you sing “Suddenly”, the song nominated for Best Original Song – in case you were wondering), you’ll be rewarded with a compelling story, exquisite cinematography, great performances (especially from Hugh Jackman, who literally owns this movie) throughout, and a shit-ton of great singing (passable singing from Russell Crowe though). However, the film is far from perfect. The film’s near-three-hour running time gets to you after a while, especially in the pacing department. And the singing, while nice to listen to, comes off as unintentionally campy and cheesy in certain scenes (some of which involve a certain gladiator named Russell Crowe – no offense). Overall, if you love musicals, especially those with grandiose and emotion, then you’ll love the Les out of “Les Miserables”. But even if you hate musicals, you should find something to enjoy – whether it’s watching Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) sing or laughing at Russell Crowe as he….umm…..sings. And while the film is ridiculously over-rated (ADMIT IT! It is!), it does have one of the finest performances from Anne Hathaway. Look at her heart-rending rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” if you think I’m lying. But if you do know that song, please don’t sing it. ‘Cause nobody wants to fucking hear you sing that either! 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.
“SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” – Also nominated for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay
Of all the films in this year’s Best Picture nominee list, “Silver Linings Playbook” is the most relatable. Even if you don’t suffer from bipolar disorder (like Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s respective characters do), or you don’t know anyone who suffers from it, you can easily sympathize with these two neurotic, flawed individuals. Bradley Cooper plays Patrizio Solitano Jr., a guy who, after being released from a mental health facility, is determined to reconcile with his estranged wife and get his life back on track. “If you work hard, you have a shot at a silver lining”, he says in one scene. But for Patrizio, finding the “silver linings” will become more complicated than expected when he meets his friend’s sister-in-law, Tiffany Maxwell (Lawrence), who’s just as neurotic as he is. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, impressive actors in their own right, bring their A-game to this film. The supporting cast is great as well. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver deliver strong performances as the OCD-diagnosed father and the concerned-for-my-son’s-welfare mother of Patrizio respectively. And Chris Tucker (remember him?), was great as Patrizio’s humourous friend Danny. Combined with a script that’s sharp, witty and full of heart, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a brilliant dramedy/rom-com that, despite its serious subject matter, will leave you with a smile on your face. 4 out of 5 stars.
“LINCOLN” – Also nominated for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Director
Look into a mirror and say “Tonight, Daniel-Day-Lewis will win the Academy Award for Best Actor” three times and it’ll happen. 4 out of 5 stars.
What?! I did say I’m doing mini-reviews, right?!
“ZERO DARK THIRTY” – Also nominated for Best Actress, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Screenplay
The second over-rated movie on this list, and the most over-hyped, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a really good thriller but it’s far from great. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (who made the war thriller “The Hurt Locker” which won the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars in 2009), this film gives a dramatized account of the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden following the September 11th 2001 attacks. Jessica Chastain plays the film’s sole protagonist Maya, a CIA agent involved in gathering intelligence related to the whereabouts of Bin Laden. She is present throughout most of the film, while the supporting cast – which includes Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton and James Gandolfini (a.k.a. everyone’s favourite Mafia dad, Tony Soprano) – either show up periodically or sporadically, depending on the character. Unfortunately, none of these characters – not even Jessica Chastain’s – are well-developed enough to give a fuck about them. In this film, characters do actions but it’s never quite clear why (except that it’s their “job”). Take Jason Clarke’s character for example. Within the first 20 minutes of the film, he brutally tortures a detainee with links to Saudi Arabian terrorists. Why? Because he needs to get as much info on the location of the terrorists as possible. But how does he feel about torturing this guy? It’s never said. I will admit it was a smart move on Kathryn Bigelow’s part to show the contrast between Jason’s violent, machismo-fueled methods and Jessica’s reasonable, non-violent approach to uncovering information from the detainees. Kathryn’s study of the male ego has been the subject of her most well-known films like the BAD-ASS action film “Point Break” and the aforementioned “The Hurt Locker”. And while it’s great to have the protagonist of this film be a strong, dedicated woman, her character would have stood out so much more if it were developed better.
However, the film gets points for its emphasis on detail (i.e. procedures, planning, decisions made etc.) and making each scene feel as authentic as possible. There are a number of moments in this film (none of which I’ll spoil) that will make you jump out of your seat. This is in part to the film’s brilliant editing, which actually deserves its nomination. The performances are great, especially by Jessica Chastain who has no choice but to steal the show from everyone else. Even the uncredited guy who plays the dead Bin Laden (oops…spoiler alert) was great. Just kidding, guys! And the last 20 minutes (which nearly every reviewer will say is one of the most intense movie sequences of 2012) is indeed intense, but you’ll be wishing that you didn’t have to sit through 2 hours of build-up just to see it. In the end, while it isn’t as perfect as some people may have you believe, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a well-directed, well-acted and well-written thriller and a worthy addition to the still-impressive filmography of Kathryn Bigelow. 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.
“ARGO” – Also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score (Music), Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Adapted Screenplay
Ben Affleck’s ‘magnum opus’ (for now, that is, if he maintains his directorial talent, “Argo” has the earmarks of a classic Hollywood thriller from the 70s (right down to the old Warner Brothers logo that opens the film). At the same time, it tells an extraordinary story (“based on real events”, of course) of a CIA-based mission to rescue a group of Americans during the hostage crisis in Iran, using a fake sci-fi movie called ‘Argo’ as its cover. I praised the film last year (check out my review) and added it to my Top 10 Best Films list. After watching it recently before writing this post, my views haven’t changed. Undoubtedly one of the best movies of 2012, “Argo” is my pick for Best Picture of the Year. In the words of Alan Arkin (who’s going up for Best Supporting Actor tonight): “Argo fuck yourself”. 4 out of 5 stars.
CLOSING WORDS: While I could use this section to write some last words on my views of the Best Picture nominees, I’d much rather conclude today’s proceedings with a quote that best expresses the significance of Ben Affleck’s nomination and hopeful victory in tonight’s Oscar ceremony:
“You shouldn’t be able to be good-looking, and be with Jennifer Lopez, and be a good director! Alright, Alright, fine! Argo is a good movie! There, I admitted it! I told people it didn’t hold up, but it holds up, gosh darn it! Ben Affleck has everything, grah!”
– Butters: “South Park”
Well said, Butters. Well said.