2012 was actually a great year when it comes to what was nominated for Best Picture. This was the first year when nominating more than five films felt right and still even one or two got left out (“Moonrise Kingdom”). So that being said I actually enjoyed all of the films that got nominated. “Les Miserables” got the most backlash of the year and “Argo” came out as the winner of Best Picture as “Lincoln” began to lose steam as the awards season went on. “Life of Pi” won the most awards this year and the only film nominated for BP that walked away with no awards was the little film that could, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. Here is my ranking of the nominees from my most to least favorite:
1. Life of Pi
2. Django Unchained
5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
6. Silver Linings Playbook
7. Les Miserables
8. Zero Dark Thirty
“Lincoln” is everything you’d expect. Good Direction, beautiful cinematography, solid score, great screenplay and powerhouse performances. My problem with the film is that it doesn’t take any chances. It’s a very safe film and I’m glad that it didn’t sweep the Awards like many thought it would. Daniel Day-Lewis (Best Actor Win) of course give an absolutely astounding and 100% specific performance as Abe, working with a commanding ease and handling Tony Kushner’s (Best Adapted Screenplay Nomination) dense, play-like text. In fact, I think because Kushner’s is so wordy and almost more fit for the stage is the reason why he lost the Oscar. The screenplay for “Argo” is simply more taut and suspenseful. Sally Field (Best Supporting Actress Nomination) and Tommy Lee Jones (Best Supporting Actor Nomination) give powerful and moving performances in this and in another year might have won. But as amazing as they were, it sometimes felt as if they were in a different film than Day-Lewis, simply because he immersed himself in Lincoln whereas, Field and Jones almost were different personas of themselves. The most disappointing thing about this film is the direction. Though it is good, it shows the continued lack of chances that Spielberg (Best Director Nomination) is taking with his films these days. Watching this film, I felt like almost anyone else could have directed it. It didn’t feel like it had the same directorial trademark that the other Best Director Nominees had. I would like to hope that that may change with some of his upcoming projects, especially the Sci-Fi ones. All in all, I enjoyed this film but didn’t love it. I loved the performances from the three aforementioned acting legends and that’s why you should see it.
Based on the incredible true story during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis, “Argo” tells us what really happened behind the scenes of the CIA operation. The man behind the operation was CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck, who also directed and produced) who eventually gets the idea to get six American hostages who are from the U.S. embassy out of Iran by staging a fake film and posing them as a fake film crew.This one was honestly better than I expected it to be. Yes it won Best Picture, but I honestly thought that that might have been for political reasons with Ben Affleck not being nominated for Best Director, but now I see that it’s more than that reason. It’s a really great movie that’s all at once about how to make a film and about an inspiring, somewhat patriotic and suspenseful CIA operation. It celebrates film and our nation’s intelligence agency which is the best of both worlds for most Academy audiences. Its also a well made film in itself. The cinematography is awesome as is the sound. Both combined just give the film a certain “coolness factor” in certain moments of the film. Also the acting is pretty good, especially from the supporting performers. I loved how cynical John Goodman’s character was and he was perfectly complimented by the badass Alan Arkin (Best Supporting Actor Nomination) who played the fake film’s producer. I also enjoyed Bryan Cranston and Clea DuVall’s work as always. DuVall gets a ton of work as a supporting actress in TV and film and I’m always impressed with her work. Interestingly enough, Kyle Chandler played a very similar part in this film as he did in fellow Best Picture nominee “Zero Dark Thirty”, which I found to be a much less suspenseful film than this. My heart was beating about five times too fast by then end of this one even though I knew what was going to happen. As much as I enjoyed this film I will say that it was a “safe” pick for Best Picture, and I wouldn’t have given it to this personally but I would say it would make my top 5 favorite nominees of this year.
Quentin Tarantino has done it again folks! He has created a truly unique film that mixes his specific brand and style with that of a classic Western in “Django Unchained”. Production wise, I think this may be one of his best shot, art decorated and costumed films he’s ever done. The team worked together and did some awesome stuff with this. The colors simply look amazing and every shot is incredibly specific. Even the sound design is flawless! (With a great soundtrack to boot!) I also fell in love with this screenplay pretty much from the moment Cristoph Waltz started talking in the first scene. He shines in the role of the bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz and I couldn’t get enough of him. Again as in “Inglorious Basterds”, Waltz shows such comfort on screen and he just oozes charisma. I certainly hope he is nominated for Best Supporting Actor again and I would love it if he pulled off a win. Leonard DiCaprio also gives a very charming (in a different way entirely) performance and does some of his best work here as an evil plantation owner who has Django’s wife Broomhilda (played by the beautiful and wonderfully talented Kerry Washington) in his possession. I think he’s a shoo-in for a nomination. Samuel L. Jackson is also awesome in this as DiCaprio’s head servant. He gives a very funny and hateful performance that is fun to watch, as despicable of a character as he is. And finally as the title role of Django, Jaime Foxx does the best work I’ve seen him do since “Ray” and “Collateral”. He was very grounded and simple, and showed such a clear journey from a man who almost has a childlike innocence as a recently freed slave to being a very hard killer by the middle, to the end of the film. It was so great to watch. I really loved this film. It was fun to watch these four amazing actors play off of each other with this wonderful script and it was cool to view it as a kind of revenge companion piece to “Inglorious Basterds”. In true Tarantino style, it can get quite violent at times, and the Mandingo fighting scene may be the hardest to watch. I really hope this one racks in some awards!
First off, I have to say that “Les Miserables” is one of the most ambitious movie musicals I have seen probably since “Moulin Rouge”. The world of movie musicals has been in somewhat of a mess for years with a couple of exceptions (“Chicago”, “Hairspray” and almost “Sweeney Todd”) but “Les Mis” in my opinion is exactly how they should be done from here on out. The production team that put this film together is absolutely brilliant. From the sets, to the costumes and the amazing performances (more on those in a second) I was immediately immersed in this world to the point where I actually didn’t feel like I was watching a musical, but rather watching these people express themselves in the only way they could, which happened to be through song. The live singing technique used in the film allowed much better and clearer moment to moment work in the piece and there was also more action and motivation within the musical numbers than I have seen or heard since the original French Concept version.
I feel I must start talk of the performances with Ms. Anne Hathaway. Yes, her big number “I Dreamed a Dream” was helped by a much better context, but that was hands down one of the best performances of a song on film I have ever seen. I was just there with her for every moment, every lyric, and it’d not just because she cried or emoted or what have you, it’s because it was vulnerable, real and in your face. She didn’t sugar coat the song in technique and I really appreciate her performance for that. She will be hearing her name on Oscar night.
Hugh Jackman also does some really surprisingly awesome work here. I actually got the chills during his soliloquy and because of him and Colm Wilkinson, the prologue was actually engaging to me for the first time! I wasn’t a fan of the new song “Suddenly”. I didn’t find it necessary (they just want a Best Original Song nomination) and it didn’t fit because there were no motifs or themes present from the other music in the piece. I didn’t love Russel Crowe’s voice but I did eventually get used to it somewhat. I just didn’t really see a lot of the hunger Javert should have for justice in his eyes. It was almost like he was being coy or uncaring at times. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen deliver as expected as the Thenardier’s. They were very funny and instead of trying to play the roles as robust as they usually are, they used more of their actual strange, hammy personalities which worked very very well.
Of the “younger” performances, I thought Aaron Tveit did a wonderful job in the underrated role of Enjolras, as did Daniel Huddlestone and Isabelle Allen in the somewhat thankless roles of Gavroche and Young Cosette. The latter two join the ranks in a good year for young child performances (along with “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, “Looper,” “Moonrise Kingdom”) who I applaud for knowing how to play real, in-precocious children. When it comes to the lovers, Amanda Seyfried brings much more of a depth to the role of Cosette. Her voice wasn’t my favorite but for the first time I saw Cosette as an assured young woman and I applaud Seyfried for that. Eddie Redmayne does nice work as Marius, especially with “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”. And in the role of Eponine, Samantha Barks does wonderful work that comes closest to Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman’s when it comes to delivering a song well vocally while still acting well. However, I did feel her role was a bit diminished somehow, like we didn’t get enough time to know her and therefore feel sorry for her by the time “On My Own” came around.
All in all, I applaud everyone who was involved in this wonderful production. I never felt that the director shied away from the musical aspects of the film, which has been an issue with the movie musicals of late. Here we finally have a movie musical that is the best of both worlds. It’s not perfect but it comes damn closer than any other movie musical has in years.
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “War Horse” were the only Best Picture noms that I hadn’t seen by the time the ceremony occurred, but now having finally seen both I can rank all of the nominees and give my thoughts on the year in general. Overall, this is a pretty decent group of nominees that have a nice bit of variety. However, this group could have been amazing if “Extremely Loud” and “Tree of Life” were not present and were replaced with the likes of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, “Bridesmaids” or “Drive.” “The Artist” was of course the winner which I think is appropriate because it celebrated cinema and was very enjoyable, though not my favorite of the bunch. Here is my ranking of the nominees from my favorite to least favorite:
1. The Descendants
2. Midnight in Paris
3. The Help
4. The Artist
6. War Horse
8. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
9. The Tree of Life
So there you have it! I’m very excited to see what gets nominated this year because it’s looking very very strong so far!
Based on the popular 1982 children’s novel and Tony-Award Winning stage play of the same name, “War Horse” is the story of a young British boy named Albert (played by Jeremy Irvine) who develops a deep loving relationship with a horse his father acquires through a gamble, named Joey. After raising and caring after Joey for quite some time, Albert’s father has to sell Joey to the army to be used as a war horse in World War I in order to make the family some money. The rest of the film follows Joey’s journey as he travels through different countries and many experiences along the way during wartime. I enjoyed this one alot more than I thought I would! I thought I would find it over sentimental and too long but I thought neither of these things. Spielberg moves us along Joey’s journey at a nice pace so that we’re never in one place too long, which keeps us engaged. Also the relationships that Joey forms with various people including a young French girl named Emilie are quite engaging. It’s hard to point out specific performances because the film truly is about the horse, but Irvine does nice work as Alfred, and many great British actors like Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Marsan, and David Thewlis do some solid work as well.
Based on the novel by D.H. Lawrence, “Sons and Lovers” is a coming of age story about a boy named Paul Morel (played by Dean Stockwell) who lives in a coal mining town with his alcoholic father (played by Trevor Howard, Best Actor Nomination) and his over protective mother (played by Wendy Hiller). We follow him over the years as he experiences first love, true love, loss and many other trails along the way. I really liked this film. It was simple, and parts of it reminded me of fellow Best Picture nominees “America, America” and “Darling”. Though Stockwell does nice work as Paul, I was most impressed with Trevor Howard, Wendy Hiller, and Mary Ure (Best Supporting Actress Nomination) as an older married woman who Paul has sexual experiences with. Howard breathes life, humanity and somehow empathy into a character that could easily be very unlikeable which is no easy feat. Hiller is wonderful and strong as always and we also clearly see where she’s coming from even though her motives could be misconstrued as well. The section of the film that Ure dominates is what reminds me of “Darling”. She portrays a tragic, dependent, user with such light loveliness. I recommend this one if you enjoy family dramas and novel adaptations.
As one can probably assume, “The Alamo” is about the true historical 1836 Battle of Alamo between Texas and Mexico. It stars John Wayne as the famous Davy Crockett who comes from Tennessee to help lead the battle with Jim Bowie (played by Richard Widmark) and William Travis (played by Laurence Harvey). This one starts off well enough but it failed to keep my interest. As the film went on it became clear that this was one of the many films in Oscar history that got a Best Picture nomination because of aggressive campaigning from the studio and producers (one of which was John Wayne). Wayne and Widmark were good, and the battle scene at the end, though wrought with many over dramatic deaths, was well done. I just really can’t believe that this film got a nomination over a classic like “Psycho” or even “Spartacus”. I wouldn’t recommend this one unless you’re a big fan of historical films, westerns, or John Wayne.
The winner of the 2012 Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at the Sundance film festival and the Camera d’Or at Cannes, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” centers on a young six year old girl named Hushpuppy (played by Quvenzhane Wallis) and her father (played by Dwight Henry) who live in a community called the “Bathtub” which is an island surrounded by water near New Orleans. It shows us their very intense, visceral and ultimately survivalist relationship once a huge storm (echoing Hurricane Katrina) hits. I don’t want to say much more about the plot because I don’t want to give too much away, but this film was excellent. I haven’t been so moved by a film in a while and this one really pulled on my heartstrings many times, which isn’t easy to do to me. Eight year old Wallis is a shoo in for a Best Actress nomination, with her simple, yet strong and incredibly effective performance. I love seeing a child really play a child and that’s what she did. Granted she’s a child in some very strenuous circumstances, but she never loses that childlike curiousty, and it really keeps so much of the movie alive. I also hope Dwight Henry gets a nomination for Supporting Actor. He does wonderful wonderful work in this as a father preparing his child for the worst. This one will certainly get a Best Picture nomination and I also think along with the acting nominations, that it gets a Screenplay nod. Highly recommended.
Set in the Australian outback, “The Sundowners” follows the Carmody family, led by Paddy (played by Robert Mitchum), as they travel and herd sheep. Because this is their living, they move very often and haven’t settled down in a place to live. Conflict arises once his wife Ida (played by Deborah Kerr, Best Actress Nomination) and his son Sean (played by Micheal Anderson, Jr.) want to settle down in the town of Cawndilla in order to save up money to stop moving all the time and live on a farm. I enjoyed this film a lot more than I thought I was going to. I usually don’t like this genre, but it does a nice job of mixing it’s Western elements with an engaging family drama. I can also appreciate films like this because they help me to explore a world that I am completely unfamiliar with. The only other film I’ve seen even remotely about sheep herding was fellow Best Picture nominee “Babe” but this was very different. However, as much as I liked the film, I found the ending to be quite unsatisfying. This one contains two standout performances from Kerr as the fiery and determined matriarch of the family and from Glynis Johns (Best Supporting Actress Nomination) as the funny and energetic hotel owner, Mrs. Firth. I recommend this one if you like Westerns.
“The Apartment” is a wonderful romantic comedy classic starring Jack Lemmon (Best Actor Nomination) and Shirley MacLaine (Best Actress Nomination). Lemmon plays C.C. Baxter, a regular office Insurance man who lends out his apartment to some of the married higher ups he works with, so that they can carry out their affairs with other women. Doing this favor for these men eventually gets him a promotion, but things get complicated when Fran (played by MacLaine), a girl C.C. has a crush on ends up being his boss’s “girl on the side” and winds up in his apartment one night over dosed on sleeping pills. I really enjoyed this movie! It was very simple but effective in that I found all the relationships to be very believable because the circumstances were hardly ever perfect for the pair we’re rooting for. Lemmon gives a very nice layered performance as a lonely, well meaning man (who his neighbors think is promiscuous because of all the sex they hear the men having with their girls) and uses a lot of small physical bits to his advantage. MacLaine also does wonderful work as always as Fran, who is also lonely in her own way. This film went on to win Best Picture in 1960, and was later adapted into the popular musical, “Promises, Promises”. Fun fact: this was the last entirely Black and White film to win Best Picture until “The Artist” in 2011.