Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 3 (Leading)

7 01 2013

Only three days until Oscar nominations are announced!  It’s so weird to have them this early … I feel like I barely predicted at all this year.  Nonetheless, it’s time to lock in my final picks!  Today, it’s one last glimpse at the leading acting categories.

See my predictions for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

See my predictions for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

Best Actor

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln
  2. Hugh Jackman, “Les Misérables
  3. Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook
  4. John Hawkes, “The Sessions
  5. Denzel Washington, “Flight

I was wrong, this is Daniel Day-Lewis’ race to lose.  My gosh, he is winning everything!  Look at this chart of dominance.  It turns Anne Hathaway’s dream to shame.

DDL Dominance

He’s going to come charging into the Kodak Theatre to get that record-setting third Oscar for Best Actor.  This is like Phillip Seymour Hoffman for “Capote,” Forest Whitaker for “The Last King of Scotland,” and … well, Daniel Day-Lewis for “There Will Be Blood” levels of momentum.

Les Miz

If anyone takes him down, though, it’s going to be Hugh Jackman.  He had many doubters until the film was unveiled, and he’s taken the big three nods from BFCA, SAG, and HFPA.  He will almost certainly win the Golden Globe.  Maybe, just maybe, he can stage an Adrian Brody-esque upset.

The nomination will likely be the win for Bradley Cooper, who has triumphantly exceeded expectations in “Silver Linings Playbook” and likely redefined how the industry sees him.  Well done, sir.  I’m pleased that a clear path to a nomination emerged with Critics’ Choice, SAG, and Golden Globe recognition.  I thought it might be a more uphill climb, but I have been very pleasantly surprised.

Beyond DDL, Jackman, and Cooper, my certainty stops.  I am almost positive the final two nominees will be John Hawkes for “The Sessions” and Denzel Washington in “Flight.”  They were feted by BFCA, SAG, and HFPA.  Joaquin Phoenix, on the other hand, missed with SAG and will likely be left out in the cold (much to my chagrin).

Master

I’m on the record as being nonplussed by Hawkes and Washington, though I greatly admire many other performances by the two actors.  For my money, Phoenix was the best performance of the year.  Several others have seen what I have seen, and he’s picked up a few critics’ groups notices.  He was also nominated by the Golden Globes, albeit in the segregated drama category, and the Critics’ Choice Awards, which had six nominees.

Sadly, it looks like Phoenix will follow the trajectory of Michael Fassbender’s work in “Shame,” my favorite performance of 2011.  Fassbender and Phoenix were both winners of the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival.  Their work was widely acclaimed, and their movies were polarizing.  They won Best Actor from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association among several other prizes.  They picked up key nominations from BFCA and HFPA, but their SAG snub raised some red flags.

FlightPhoenix’s journey will likely end the same way Fassbender’s did.  Repelling the Academy, Fassbender was left on the outside looking in at the Best Actor category.  Phoenix shouldn’t mind being put in the same position, however, because he hates awards season and thinks the Oscars are BS.

So it looks like I’ll be predicting the SAG nominees to repeat five-for-five.  Boring, disappointing, I know.  But there’s nothing screaming to go against conventional wisdom here.

I don’t think Richard Gere for “Arbitrage,” Jack Black for “Bernie,” Denis Lavant for “Holy Motors,” Jean-Louis Trintignant for “Amour,” or Anthony Hopkins for “Hitchcock” really have much of a chance.  Each has a few respective laurels, but the frontrunning five are just too strong for there to be a major surprise.

Then again, last year gave us not only Demian Bichir but an out-of-nowhere nod for Gary Oldman.  So we’ll just have to see.  Maybe the Academy has a few tricks up its sleeve in 2012 that we just have no way to forecast.

Best Actress

  1. Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook
  3. Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”
  4. Marion Cotillard, “Rust and Bone
  5. Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild

Zero Dark Thirty FYCThe dynamics at the top of the race have changed little over the past month.  It’s still a Chastain vs. Lawrence cage match, and I think we won’t really know until the envelope is opened.  They will go head-to-head at the Critics’ Choice Awards and the SAG Awards, but Viola Davis won both of those last year and lost the Oscar.  The Golden Globe will do nothing to clear up the picture as they will compete in separate categories.  I give Chastain the edge now.

But below Chastain and Lawrence, so much is fluctuating.  This is the most fluid acting category of the four in 2012, capable of many unsurprising surprises.  And if any race is suggesting that conventional wisdom and historical precedent simply won’t do, this would be it.

It would seem that Naomi Watts and Marion Cotillard would be assured nominations for “The Impossible” and “Rust and Bone,” respectively.  They’ve scored the BFCA, SAG, and HFPA hat trick of nominations, just about the best safety net you can have.  Both also look to be the only nominations for their respective movies as “The Impossible” missed the cut for visual effects and France chose “The Intouchables” over “Rust and Bone” to compete in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

WattsI’m much more bullish on Watts, a prior nominee for “21 Grams” back in 2003, perhaps because I haven’t seen the movie yet and can visualize her more as a statistic (sorry for the bluntness, but that’s the name of the game).  I’ve read that “The Impossible” has really played the guild circuit, ginning up admiration for Watts and the cast along the way.  She got a high-profile shout-out from a mere acquaintance, Reese Witherspoon, in Entertainment Weekly that a lot of people saw.

For whatever reason, she just seems very strong to me.  The movie seems like the emotional tour de force they look for in leading performances for women.

Having said that, Marion Cotillard shows the same level of emotional devastation, just on a more subtle level.  If she hadn’t won for a French language performance, I’d be hesitant to think she could be nominated for one.  But she has, and I feel a hunch that the Oscars won’t snub her brilliant performance.  Apparently, the Academy voters really responded to “Rust and Bone,” and if that’s the case, why wouldn’t they nominate its star?

So I’ll go ahead and predict that Watts and Cotillard make it, although I could see a foreseeable outcome where one gets knocked out.  I doubt they slap these precursors in the face so hard that both get turned away.

HitchcockSAG’s fifth nominee was Helen Mirren for “Hitchcock,” who also landed a Golden Globe nod.  Mirren has become a recent darling of the Academy.  I got fooled once by not predicting her in 2009 for “The Last Station,” and a part of me thinks I might be making the same mistake again.  Check out how eerily similar these two cases of Helen Mirren in Best Actress contention are:

“Common sense would say it is going to Helen Mirren for ‘The Last Station.’  She has the respect; we know because she won this award three short years ago.  She has been nominated by the SAG and the Golden Globes, two very crucial precursors.  But she has no victories and, more importantly, no passionate supporters.”

Going back and reading this is actually kind of scary because this year, she has SAG and HFPA in her corner … and basically no one else, unless you put a lot of stock in the prognosticating abilities of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association.  The movies even received the same lukewarm reception: “Hitchcock” got a 66% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while “The Last Station” scored a 70% fresh.

I fear that the British contingent, which was a major part in making a Best Actor nomination for Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” a reality, might be muddling our ability to make a prediction here.  Will this sizable portion of the Academy come through and give Mirren a fourth nomination in seven years?  I’m not picking Mirren because a 5-for-5 match with SAG just doesn’t feel right for this field rife with contenders.  (And especially with the men looking likely to perfectly align with SAG.)

RivaPerhaps that same European bloc of voters will be split among several other contenders from across the sea.  The French Cotillard could steal some European love, as could the British-Australian Watts.  Emmanuelle Riva could also make a play for that contingent for her work in “Amour.”

The Critics’ Choice nominee has quite a case to make for her nomination.  At 85, she’s a respected figure from the French New Wave that many recognize and respect.  Sony Pictures Classics has even gotten her to do some press for the film, including an in-depth session with The New York Times that’s well worth a read.  Many critics’ groups have aligned behind her, including such notable groups from Boston, Los Angeles, New York Online, and the National Society of Film Critics.  Perhaps worth noting, she won the European Film Award for Best Actress.

But why did SAG and the Golden Globes overlook Riva?  Neither are particularly xenophobic; the Globes’ dramatic actress category has seen a number of foreign-language nominees, including a rather strange nod for Kristin Scott Thomas in 2008 for “I’ve Loved You So Long.”  And at her age, it would seem that the SAG would want to bow down at her feet, and at the very least nominate her!

Rust and Bone

I can’t predict Riva with these two high-profile misses.  Perhaps she will be the exception, but I think her nomination is a pipe dream of critics.  She’s the Sally Hawkins for “Happy-Go-Lucky” of the year, a nominee that they try to make happen but just doesn’t click with the Academy.

Even less likely is British actress Rachel Weisz, in play for “The Deep Blue Sea” thanks to the New York Film Critics Circle reminding voters that her movie exists.  A March release automatically faces an uphill climb for a nomination since it has to fight to be remembered, and the Golden Globes did reward her performance.  Perhaps she’s the big surprise, but a SAG nomination would have been the more helpful precursor notice to pick up.

Also feted by the Golden Globes was Judi Dench for “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  This wouldn’t really be worth mentioning if it wasn’t … well, Judi Dench.  However, the movie is more likely to see recognition in the Best Supporting Actress category for Maggie Smith.  For that matter, Dench is more likely to see recognition in that category as well for her work in “Skyfall.”

And now, we arrive at our final contender, Quvenzhané Wallis for her extraordinary performance in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  Now 9, the pint-sized but spunky Wallis would be the youngest Best Actress nominee ever.  Even more impressive is that she was 6 when the movie was shot.

However, at the moment, she’s going virtually unnoticed.  Could Scott MacDonald have been right in his article on The Atlantic?

“Though she’s nine now, she was a mere six when the film was shot. To put it another way, she was not quite seven, which is the year developmental psychologists like to refer to as the age of reason: when kids start making decisions based on logic and causality. I’m no psych expert, but it seems to me this might be the sensible cut-off point for acting plaudits.

Acting requires some intentionality on the part of the actor, some conscious effort to adopt a persona other than his or her own. Even adult actors who get criticized for “playing themselves” are engaged in a series of more or less conscious decisions about how best to be themselves onscreen. A young child, meanwhile, likely isn’t thinking at all about how to be herself, let alone a character. She’s a kid, and she just ‘is.'”

Beasts

So is that it?  Have most considered her too young and written off her candidacy?  MacDonald did note that 8-year-old Justin Henry was nominated for “Kramer vs. Kramer,” so a nomination wouldn’t be entirely unprecedented.  But all she’s netted is a Critics Choice nod for Best Actress and a handful of breakout performer awards.

We will never know if she had a shot with SAG because the non-union production “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was ruled ineligible to compete.  However, the novelty of her contention should have been enough to attract the Golden Globes, but they totally snubbed the entire film.  I already floated the “too American” rationale for its exclusion, citing “True Grit” as an example, but the snub is really troubling.

The Oscars do love young nominees, though.  There have been plenty of pre-pubescent nominees in Academy history, most recently Abigail Breslin for “Little Miss Sunshine.”  Saiorse Ronan and Hailee Steinfeld, though quite a bit older than Willis, nonetheless were nominees.  And in 2003, lest we forget, 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes’ performance in “Whale Rider” knocked out Nicole Kidman for “Cold Mountain” and Scarlett Johansson for “Lost in Translation.”  The young are often a force to be reckoned with at the Oscars.

I’ll lay out that Wallis would be a shocking Best Actress nominee.  If I was thinking by rules and precedents, the obvious pick would be Mirren.  If I was attempting to focus on just this season, I might have to go with Riva.  Yet I’m going with Wallis on little more than a gut feeling that maybe the Academy’s hearts were taken by a precocious tyke.

Check back tomorrow, January 8, to see my final predictions for Best Director!

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LISTFUL THINKING: 2012 Superlatives

1 01 2013

New Year’s Day always marks a very interesting balancing act, reflecting on the old while also ringing in the new.  So while people are still thinking about 2012, let me offer up the first annual Superlatives post for the films of 2012.  I’ve already weighed in with the best and worst 10 of 2012, but what about the other 80 movies of the year?  What about the performances?  What about all sorts of other things?  This is the post where I get all sorts of stuff floating in my mind out there.

For the sake of review, I’ll go ahead and re-list my 10 best and worst of 2012.

Top 10 of 2012

10 Best of 2012: “21 Jump Street,” “Argo,” “Hitchcock,” “Killing Them Softly,” “Looper,” “Bernie,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Les Misérables,” “The Master,” “The Queen of Versailles

Prometheus

Honorable Mentions: “Rust and Bone,” “Prometheus,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “End of Watch,” “Holy Motors

Worst 10 of 2012

10 Worst of 2012: “The Grey,” “The Bourne Legacy,” “John Carter,” “Gone,” “The Vow,” “Killer Joe,” “The Paperboy,” “The Deep Blue Sea,” “The Watch,” “Casa De Mi Padre

pitchperfect2

Honorable Mentions: “Pitch Perfect,” “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” “First Position,” “Keep the Lights On,” “Being Flynn

10 More 2012 Releases I Still Need to See: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” “The Impossible,” “Promised Land,” “The Intouchables,” “Seven Psychopaths,” “Hyde Park on Hudson,” “Not Fade Away,” “Smashed,” “The House I Live In,” “Searching for Sugar Man”

Vanellope

5 Most Surprising Movies of 2012: “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Bernie,” “End of Watch,” “Hitchcock,” “21 Jump Street

Denzel Washington in Flight

5 Most Disappointing Movies of 2012: “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Django Unchained,” “Lincoln,” “Flight,” “The Bourne Legacy

Bachelorette

10 Most Forgettable Movies of 2012 (in alphabetical order): “Bachelorette,” “Hysteria,” “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” “Lola Versus,” “Man on a Ledge,” “Men in Black III,” “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” “Take This Waltz,” “Trouble with the Curve

Silver Linings Playbook

5 Most Rewatchable Movies of 2012: “21 Jump Street,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Argo,” “Ted

Lincoln

5 Movies of 2012 I’m Glad I Saw But Will Never Watch Again: “Lincoln,” “Amour,” “The Invisible War,” “Compliance,” “ReGeneration

Killing Them Softly

5 Most Underrated Movies of 2012: “Killing Them Softly,” “Les Misérables,” “Prometheus,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “End of Watch

The Avengers

5 Most Overrated Movies of 2012: “The Sessions,” “Lincoln,” “Django Unchained,” “Life of Pi,” “The Avengers

PSH

5 Movies That Got Better with Distance and Time: “Killing Them Softly,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Master,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Prometheus

Brave

5 Movies That Got Worse with Distance and Time: “Brave,” “Lincoln,” “Flight,” “The Sessions,” “The Dark Knight Rises

Argo

5 Movies That Felt Shorter Than Their Runtime: “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Les Misérables,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Argo,” “Django Unchained

Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina"

5 Movies That Felt Longer Than Their Runtime: “Lincoln,” “Anna Karenina,” “This Is 40,” “Damsels in Distress,” The Five-Year Engagement

BOTSW

Breakout Performances: Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,”  Eddie Redmayne in “Les Misérables,” Ezra Miller in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Garrett Hedlund in “On the Road,” Scoot McNairy in “Argo

Silver Linings Playbook

Breakthrough Performances: Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Michael Pena in “End of Watch,” Jack Black in “Bernie,” Channing Tatum in “21 Jump Street,” Elizabeth Banks in “People Like Us

Best Exotic

Breakdown Performances: Anna Kendrick in “Pitch Perfect,” Salma Hayek in “Savages,” Tom Cruise in “Rock of Ages,” Emile Hirsch in “Killer Joe,” Dev Patel in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

frame 01021605R

Best Body of Work in 2012: (tie) Anne Hathaway in “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Les Misérables,” Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games” and “Silver Linings Playbook

The Deep Blue Sea

Worst Body of Work in 2012: (tie) Rachel Weisz in “The Bourne Legacy” and “The Deep Blue Sea,” Taylor Kitsch in “John Carter” and “Savages

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

Best Heroes: Jessica Chastain as Maya in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk in “The Avengers,” Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables

John Carter

Worst Heroes: Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Taylor Kitsch as John Carter in “John Carter,” Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross in “The Bourne Legacy

Catwoman

Best Villains: Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Russell Crowe as Javert in “Les Misérables,” Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie in “Django Unchained

Skyfall

Worst Villains: Tom Hardy as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Javier Bardem as Silva in “Skyfall,” Rhys Ifans as Lizard in “The Amazing Spider-Man

Joaquin

Best Possessed Performance: Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master

The Paperboy

Worst Possessed Performance: Nicole Kidman in “The Paperboy

Bernie

Best Comedic Performance: (tie) Jack Black in “Bernie,” Channing Tatum in “21 Jump Street

The Watch

Worst Comedic Performance: The cast of “The Watch

Uggie

Best Cameo: Uggie in “The Campaign

Ryan Reynolds

Worst Cameo: Ryan Reynolds in “Ted

Eddie Redmayne

Best Singing: Eddie Redmayne in “Les Misérables

Alec

Worst Singing: Alec Baldwin in “Rock of Ages

That’s about all I can come up with for now … may add to this later!  Happy 2013, everyone!





Not Your Average Top 10: The Best of 2012

30 12 2012

It gets harder to believe every year when this point of the year rolls around, but it never ceases to amaze me when it comes time to make end-of-year lists.  Although if I’m being honest with you all, I’m making the list all year long in my head.  But to know there’s a point of finality is always a little scary.

This is always the most opportune time to muse on trends in the year of film and perhaps even unify the most exemplary movies under a common theme.  To be honest, I thought 2012 was a bad year for the movies.  As of the publication of this post, I saw one hundred movies released in the calendar year – the majority of which could be described as cliched, stale, average, mediocre, unspectacular, color-by-numbers, tired, banal, so-so, or middling.  Or to put all that into one word: unambitious.

2012 was a year where filmmakers and financiers played it safe, resorting to the comfort and ease of the stock and formula.  That can be okay at times, but the upper limit on those types of films is being good – not great.  And when we expect greatness, what we are left with when the credits roll is a lingering sense of disappointment.

So when I sat down and decided to officially declare what I thought the ten crowning achievements of cinema in 2012 were, it was not particularly hard.  But I think that was facilitated not by how good my top ten films were, but rather by how bad the majority of my bottom 90 were.  Save my top two films of the year, I don’t think 2012 gave us any masterpieces (and even those are a stretch).

Yet these ten movies did give me a flickering feeling of hope that there are people in the industry who still have a little bit of that iconoclastic spirit left in them.  These filmmakers made bold works, ones that stood markedly above the otherwise average year … and were not your average version of whatever framework they were working inside.

21 Jump Street

#10
21 Jump Street
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Written by Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill
Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Ice Cube

Not Your Average High School Movie

I normally reserve a slot for a comedy in my top 10 – just because I think there are plenty of great contributions to cinema that don’t come in the form of serious, brooding drama.  This slot, however, produced a top 10 berth for “Get Him to the Greek” in 2010, a pick I now regret.  But something tells me I won’t regret including “21 Jump Street.”  It’s a movie that sets out to be an entirely different kind of high school movie, one not perched in the cliches of old.  By redefining who the popular kids can be, it provides fantastic humor and imagination to a subgenre dwelling in obsolescence.  Maybe subsequent films inspired by its greatness will do it best, but “21 Jump Street” most definitely did it first.  And darned well by 2012 standards.

Argo

#9
Argo
Directed by Ben Affleck
Written by Chris Terrio
Starring Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman

Not Your Average Escape Film

If “Toy Story 3” was any indication, no one wants to watch a serious escape movie anymore; they just want to see a tongue-in-cheek parody.  But Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” set against the background Middle East chaos in the 1970s, recalls the brilliant and classic filmmaking of that same era.  It’s a thrilling ride that takes us through three different worlds: the hilariously superficial Hollywood, the dimly-lit and smoky corridors of Washington bureaucracy, and ultimately the precarious and hostile Iran with anti-Western sentiment always palpable in the air.  With every scene, Affleck finds the perfect tone and straps us in for a thrilling ride.

Hitchcock

#8
Hitchcock
Directed by Sacha Gervasi
Written by John McLaughlin
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Scarlett Johansson

Not Your Average Biopic

I’m getting really tired of hagiographic biopics that act as if all people worthy of having their lives documented on film follow the same clean narrative pattern.  Sacha Gervasi’s slice-of-biography “Hitchcock,” focusing on the struggle to get the now-classic “Psycho” made, resists falling into the typical trappings.  It’s got a killer sense of humor and an even better sense of history and the shortcomings of the past.  Gervasi’s biopic is both entertaining and informative, but more importantly, it’s fair because it discards the usual illusions.

Killing Them Softly

#7
Killing Them Softly
Written for the screen and directed by Andrew Dominik
Starring Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, and James Gandolfini

Not Your Average Gangster Film

Though I had my reservations upon seeing the premiere in Cannes, “Killing Them Softly” has grown on me in a way that no other film has in 2012.  The daring style Andrew Dominik injects into his film provides such a kick that I’ve been feeling its reverberations all year long.  It’s a movie that uses the framework of a gangster film to make a statement on violence and criminality, but Dominik doesn’t blare out what that statement is.  How he figures out a way to be restrained while kicking out our teeth with his killer finale.

Looper

#6
Looper
Written and directed by Rian Johnson
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt

Not Your Average Sci-Fi Flick

There’s nothing strong characterization can’t fix, and Rian Johnson employs it to superb effect in “Looper.”  He finds that by taking the time to develop and invest in his characters, particularly Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis’ Joe (at different ages), every aspect of science-fiction gets better.  It results in more investment and far greater payoff.  If this is the new direction of the genre, I am totally on board.

Bernie

#5
Bernie
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater and Skip Hollingsworth
Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey

Not Your Average True Story

My love of “Bernie” may be partially inflated due to the story’s setting of Carthage, Texas being close to home in Houston.  But after several viewings to let the novelty wear off, and I’m still a huge fan.  Linklater’s film is a finely tuned tale of a man, Jack Black’s brilliantly played Bernie Tiede, and the spell he cast on a community.  Yet Linklater cleverly recognizes the limits of fiction and captures Carthage with a semi-documentarian angle.  As a result, the magnetism of Black’s character feels all the more authentic when placed in a real-life context.

Zero Dark Thirty

#4
Zero Dark Thirty
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Mark Boal
Starring Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler, and Jason Clarke

Not Your Average Procedural

Not unlike “Looper,” Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s “Zero Dark Thirty” finds transcendence in a strong character.  Jessica Chastain’s Maya, the hero of the year on screen, is so fiercely committed to finding Osama Bin Laden that we can’t help but get all worked up alongside her.  We normally watch events unfold from a cool distance in procedurals, but that’s not the case here thanks to Bigelow’s unbelievable ability to create tension and Chastain’s tour de force.

Les Miserables

#3
Les Misérables
Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by William Nicholson
Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway

Not Your Average Musical

I feel like my 1400 word review said just about all I could say about the brilliance and boldness of “Les Misérables.”  Tom Hooper has literally redefined what the movie musical can be with his movie.  By trying out an entirely different visual feel, he has now opened the floodgate for less literal and more cinematic adaptations of musical theatre.  It’s made even more impressive by the fact that this technical marvel also provides the most emotionally powerful movie experience of the year.

The Master (6)

#2
The Master
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams

Not Your Average Paul Thomas Anderson Film

In 2012, I feel like I paid a lot of attention to auteurs, directors with their own personal stamp on their movies.  And this year, so many of them flopped, failing to show signs of growth or simply stalling in familiar grounds to disappointing effect.  Not Paul Thomas Anderson.  With “The Master,” he has truly come into his own as a filmmaker.  Gone are the vestiges of Scorsese and Altman, two directors he imitated successfully for a decade.  He’s now in the realm of Kubrick, not necessarily in terms of feel or style but definitely in terms of impact and originality.  Anderson dared to push the boundaries of cinema in ways we will not likely realize fully for years.  And I just can’t wait to see what revelations his meticulously crafted “The Master” holds in store in the future.

Queen of Versailles

#1
The Queen of Versailles
Directed by Lauren Greenfield
Featuring Jackie and David Siegel

Not Your Average Documentary

The dichotomy between my top two movies of the year is quite interesting.  “The Master” is a marvel of planning and method.  “The Queen of Versailles,” on the other hand, is a happy accident.  When Lauren Greenfield first fixed her lens on the Siegel family, they were on top of the world, building the biggest house in America and throwing caution to the wind.  Then the recession happened, and things got really interesting.  By having her camera in the right place at the right time, Greenfield epitomizes the ability of cinema to capture, reveal, and discover.  With fine tuning and a sharp sociological imagination, her final film is the most inquisitive and incisive work to date about what it means to be an American in the Great Recession.  It entertains us not unlike a Bravo special, yet it also asks us tough questions about the American Dream as well as our notions of success and happiness.  Greenfield captures reality like a documentary but suggests layers of depth normally only found in fiction.  It’s an important work that will undoubtedly serve as a cultural signpost while also continuing to probe our collective psyche.





REVIEW: Bernie

25 06 2012

Most movies are just set in some generic city, and it proves merely a bland backdrop for the story.  Sometimes, though, a filmmaker finds a special affection for a city, a state, or a country, and the setting becomes a character in the movie.  Lucky New Yorkers have been lavished with movies celebrating their magical city thanks to Woody Allen and all his proteges, and Allen gave Europeans one of the all-time best city characters with his recent “Midnight in Paris.”

Richard Linklater, a fellow Houstonian, has created his own “Midnight in Paris” with “Bernie,” a true crime flick with a documentary angle set deep in the heart of Texas.  Granted, no one would ever mistake Carthage, Texas for Paris, France.  But just as Allen acquaints us with the architecture, the culture, and the rich history of Paris, Linklater gives us a taste of small-town Texas with pinpoint accuracy.

For once, my beloved state isn’t the butt of the joke, mocked by caricature, or stereotyped into a mythical land where cowboys ride their horse to work.  (As I like to remind everyone, we have three of the ten most populous cities in the United States!)  It’s a tender and nuanced portrayal of a tiny community rocked by a scandal beyond their wildest imaginations.

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