This week, I’ll be watching the nominees of this year’s Academy Awards. Specifically, I will be looking at the Best Picture nominees I haven’t seen yet, along with some other films nominated for acting awards.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
But first, here are my brief thoughts of the Best Picture nominees I have already seen:
Director: Ben Affleck
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin), Best Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score
This is a very finely crafted film from beginning to end. Affleck is bland playing Tony Mendez, the CIA agent who thinks of the scheme to rescue six trapped U.S diplomats in Iran, but his directing is masterful. The cast is on top of their game, including Bryan Cranston as a CIA official, John Goodman as famous make-up artist John Chambers, and Alan Arkin as composite character Lester Siegal, a film producer. The CIA’s “best-worst plan” to retrieve the diplomats involves the production of a fake sci-fi movie in Iran, and having the diplomats and Mendez pose as a film crew. The film never fails to produce a sense of urgency; there are multiple suspenseful sequences that will have your heart pounding. The film takes some historical liberties, but it makes for a good movie. Goodman and Arkin provide good comic relief, and Arkin and Cranston have some of the most memorable lines in the movie. The movie’s depiction of the workings of the CIA are pretty standard for a movie, but it’s good enough. What was entertaining was the movie’s brief satirical moments on Hollywood and the moviemaking industry. The movie runs at a perfect pace and never bores, which I would put on the outstanding ensemble cast and the editing. The only weak point of the movie was a subplot involving Mendez and his family, which didn’t fit in with the rest of the movie. Though the acting is great, we never feel a connection to the brains behind the plan. Still, there is great suspense, and the movie as a whole is very enjoyable and satisfying to watch.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing
Once again, historical accuracy is sacrificed for entertainment. This tribute to spaghetti westerns and blaxplotation films follows a slave, Django, played by Jaime Foxx, after he is freed by German dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz, who enlists Django’s help to find his next bounty. Later, Schultz takes Django under his wing, and they later begin a quest to find Django’s wife Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington, from devious plantation owner Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo Dicaprio. The scenery shots are beautiful, and Tarantino continues to prove how well he directs visuals and scenes of suspense. Waltz carries the entire beginning of the film; he is clearly one of the best deliverers of Tarantino’s unique brand of dialogue. But Dicaprio steals the screen from the moment he appears; he is an interesting villain, pretending to be civilized (and being a Francophile without knowing French), and yet is violent in nature. Samuel Jackson as Calvin’s house slave Stephen gives one of his best recent performances, as he is quite the schemer. The editing and pacing is not as precise as Tarantino’s previous films, and you are eventually left wondering when the movie will end, but the acting is great, the action is pleasing, the soundtrack is perfect for the movie, and of course, the Tarantino-speak is great as always.
Director: Tom Hooper
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hatheway), Best Original Song, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design
Being familiar with the stage production, I already had a great appreciation for the music. The cast and production design is definitely great. Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a convict who after freed, breaks his parole. Jackman, being both a movie actor and a stage actor, finally gets to show everything he has in this movie, and he gives his best and most emotional performance. His emotional rendition of “Valjean’s Soliloquy had me sold instantly. Same with Anne Hathaway as Fantine, who occupies little screen time, and yet makes such a large impact from it, especially during her version of “I Dreamed a Dream.” The rest of the cast is pretty good as well; Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert has the least impressive singing, but his interpretation of the character was decent enough. Among my favorites were Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Samantha Barks in her first feature film as Eponine, and minor characters played by stage stars Aaron Tveit and Daniel Huttlestone. There’s much to be said about Tom Hooper’s direction. Hooper likes the use of handheld cameras, closeups, and unconventional angles. The live singing, along with the style of directing, was meant to give this musical a realistic feel. This is definitely a film adaptation of the musical rather than the stage version filmed, which is good. However, the film is sometimes too in-your-face, as if Tom Hooper is saying, “YOU ARE NOW FEELING SAD FOR THIS CHARACTER.” It works for some numbers, such as “I Dreamed a Dream,” as you witness the emotional progression of Fantine, but not for others such as “Valjean’s Soliloquy,” where Jackman decides his own blocking, creating awkward camera movements and angles. The style will frustrate a good number of people, but the acting and raw emotion, along with the memorable songs, make this movie a worthwhile experience.
Life of Pi
Director: Ang Lee
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score, Best Original Song
Again, I was familiar with the source material beforehand, which made me appreciate the movie a little more. Initially thought to be “unfilmmable,” director Ang Lee proves everyone wrong with a visual spectacle. It has some of the best use of visual effects and 3D in a long time, and successfully conveys the book’s main themes. It is a movie about faith and survival, but I wouldn’t say that it is preachy. I don’t view it as arguing for or against the existence of God, but I instead saw it as a lesson that much can be learned from different religions, even if you don’t necessarily subscribe to their beliefs. Some of the darker elements from the book are left out, but everything important is still intact. I loved watching the growing relationship between Pi Patel, played by first-time actor Suraj Sharma, and “Richard Parker,” the tiger that Pi is stuck with on a lifeboat after a tidal wave sinks the ship they were on. The middle of the film is slow, as it depicts Pi’s journey of surviving and taming Richard Parker, but Sharma is very good in his role, and the visuals are spectacular to look at. My only criticism is the frame narrative; Pi, as an adult, tells the story to Yann Martel, who in real life, is the author of the book. The scenes of Pi recalling these memories can be intrusive, especially during the “survival” portion of the film. The ending is also frustrating to many, but I interpreted as it being an ambiguous ending. Overall, this is a great visual treat with a rousing tale of survival and lessons about the idea of faith, and is a great introduction to actor Suraj Sharma.