First, a few general thoughts. The movies had a heavy dose of 'based on a true story' or 'involving historical events', which I don't seem to remember in the past. Granted, this could be due to the fact I wasn't particularly looking for a link between the movies in previous years, or possibly because I didn't watch those ones in a condensed time frame.
Secondly, between Django, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty, the Academy had to watch a whole lot of torture and hear a lot of the n-word this year. Far more than any previous year, I would think.
Now without further ado, I will run through the movies alphabetically with a short run on each of them.
Emannuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant
Well, I must say that this was a tough one to watch. Not only did I have to watch it in chunks (for various reasons), but the climactic scene was so jarring in contrast to what had happened before it and left me feeling even more unsettled than I had been. Then, the following scenes are a bit confusing and the movie just ends, leaving the viewer a bit puzzled. I looked it up afterward and the director is Michael Haneke, who also directed Caché and that explains a lot. In that movie, it moves along at a slow and mildly tense pace and then WABAM, there is a self-induced throat slitting.
In this film, Haneke removes one 'how' mystery right off the top, while posing a new how/why in the process. The film opens with a fire rescue crew breaking in to the apartment and discovering a locked and tape-sealed bedroom which contains a dead body surrounded by flower petals.The film then goes back and takes a look at an elderly couple and how they deal with the stresses of aging and how one member of a couple deals with the increasing health issues of the other. The movie chugs along like a coming of age film for octogenarians (coming of death?), until a climactic scene which pulls the movie in a direction I did not see coming. In retrospect, it makes some sense and if I had known this was the same director, I might even have expected something of that nature. I think Emannuelle Riva did a wonderful job and deserving of the nomination for best actress, though I don't think she had the best performance of the year. The academy does love a shocking thing like old-age nudity or transformation into characters with disabilities. I do think that if she is worthy of a nomination, then Trintignant is worthy as well for lead Actor. He did a great job portraying the stresses of a man in that situation and all that comes with it.
It's a good watch, but I am not sure I would have felt that way watching it all in one sitting. I hadn't seen a subtitled film in a while and this was definitely a heavy re-entry into that world. I give it an 8/10 and a virtual lock for best foreign film and a fighting chance to Emmanuelle Riva for best actress.
Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin
If you had told me in the days of Mallrats that Ben Affleck would not only become a better actor, but a pretty decent director, I never would have believed you. However, this is the case. I have done a full 180 on him. I enjoyed The Town and even more so, Gone Baby Gone. As well as his acting in State of Play. I'll turn a blind eye towards Gigli. Let's just forget that happened at all.
Argo is based on a true story, in which a CIA agent stages an elaborate hoax of a movie that is to be filmed in Iran, where there are 6 fugitive American diplomats. The plan is to have the agent act as a director in the film and have each of the diplomats act as a different member of the film crew. After much planning and extreme tension, the plan is almost in place until the plug is pulled by higher-ups at the CIA. The agent decides to go ahead with the plan anyway and hope for the best. Everything comes to a head at the airport where many different things come together at once. The American government has to clear the tickets, the Iranians are putting together the shredded paper with the faces of the missing diplomats and the airport security is holding the team from boarding the plane until their movie story checks out.
It is a tense storyline, though the movie as a whole carries a lighter tone of a heist movie. Something along the lines of Ocean's Eleven, but with more on the line. I think it is incredible that this actually happened and I can't imagine how much sweating and shaking would be happening were I in any part involved. I'm not a good liar and this is all too much. Though maybe with my life on the line, something would change.
On a side note, it was strange to see the girl who was obsessed with horses on the final season of Scrubs in a more serious role.
Overall this was a fun movie to watch while also being informative and well acted. I will give it an 8.25/10
Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry
I saw this one twice. The second time was because I needed an emotional release and remembered that this would definitely do the trick.
The story is a blend of fantasy, drama and recent history. The temperamental and ill Wink lives with his daughter Hushpuppy in 'the Bathtub', an area of Louisiana cut off by a levee (presumably related to hurricane Katrina, though not mentioned directly). Hushpuppy is learning in school about ancient creatures called 'Aurochs' that were frozen in the ice caps centuries ago. Now that the ice caps are melting, the world will have to deal with their return. Hushpuppy is dealing with her short-fused father and trying to understand the disappearance of her mother when a storm hits, forcing the members of the bathtub together to figure out what to do next. They blow a hole in the levee and drain the water, but end up being taken in by a rescue team from the mainland. Their lifestyle does not mesh with the regular world and they escape to return to the bathtub, where everything comes together. The father's health deteriorates and the Aurochs arrive and meet Hushpuppy face to face in the film's pivotal scene.
I'm not sure if Beasts was trying to follow all of the story lines or just use pieces as vehicles to drive the main story. The effect of humans on the environment was used to have the Aurochs return via melting ice caps, but was not otherwise mentioned. Similarly, the treatment of the people of New Orleans was certainly a heavy part, but again not addressed directly. Tying in with that is the natural disaster element, which would seem to be the source of the bathtub being cut off and also the storm that pushes the story forward. All of the elements balance well to create the overall story and I guess the movie was just about how everything in the world affects the Hushpuppy character.
Quvenzhané Wallis does an incredible job carrying this movie and is totally deserving of the nomination. I don't think she will win, but I sort of hope she does. I certainly wouldn't mind it if she did. Overall I will give the movie an 8.5/10, higher than I would if it didn't hit all the right strings emotionally.
Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Another tough one to watch. This time it is the plethora of n-bombs that are dropped throughout, mixed with the slavery/whip marks and also the excessive blood that comes with all Tarantino films. Jamie Foxx and the ever-lovable Christoph Waltz do an incredible job carrying this movie and DiCaprio, Washington and Jackson do a good job of rounding out the cast.
The story followd Dr. King Shultz (Waltz) who is a dentist/bounty hunter who buys Django (Foxx), a slave who can identify a set of brothers that Dr. Shultz is looking for. Along the way, Django is his freedom as long as he works to complete the bounties. After a series of collected bounties, Dr. Shultz takes Django to a plantation where his wife, from who he was separated an indeterminate amount of time earlier at a slave auction, is being held. They concoct a plan to offer the plantation's owner Candie (DiCaprio) money for one of his 'Mandigo Fighters' (slaves forced to fight), while secretly intending to get Django's wife (Washington) for much less money and leaving before the deal for the fighter is completed. The plot is found out and results in a shootout on the plantation, leaving most of the main characters dead. Django is shipped off, but convinces his beholders to return to the ranch to collect a bounty, before killing them and returning alone. Once there, he kills everyone except the slaves as he and his wife ride off into the sunset.
Again, this was a fictional piece with a taste of reality. Slavery definitely happened. A revenge story? Perhaps, there may have been a few or even several. This particular sequence of events? Enh, I don't think so. It's a pretty great story and would be kind of awesome if it were true; it's fairly great as is. Christoph Waltz again steals the show, this time as the completely opposite character than his part in Inglorious Basterds. Well, I suppose it's more like opposite parts of the same spectrum, because the character shares some similar tendencies, though one is 'good' and one is 'evil'. I do feel like the gratuitous blood is a bit over the top. I'm aware that it's Tarantino's thing, but a little variety is nice, no? I'm not saying do away with the deaths, because they are entirely necessary to this particular plot, just maybe they could use a few less gallons of corn syrup and red food colouring. I'll give this movie a 7.5/10. I like it better than many of Tarantino's films, but again, some of his elements feel a bit stale.
As a side note, in a film that is a commentary on racism, is it racist that the Caucasian lead got the nominations but the African-American did not?
Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle
Many people told me that seeing this movie made them not want to fly anymore. The opening scenes were definitely terrifying and I certainly wouldn't want to watch it as an in-flight movie. The remaining parts are definitely thought-provoking, but really, it's just a drama. The cause of the malfunction was apparently 'inspired by' Alaska Airlines Flight 261 (cited on Wikipedia, for what that is worth), but the storyline where Whip (Washington) was a drunk was completely fictional. Such a thing may happen in real life, but I choose to think that it won't be a problem on any flight I am on. Isn't that the only way we can fly/drive/anything that puts our lives on the line, when you really think about it? To put a little faith that everything will be fine? Everything else could be paralyzing, I think.
Anyhow, the story in the movie begins with pilot Whip waking up with his co-worker, flight attendant Katerina after a night of debauchery and very little sleep. Whip uses cocaine to wake himself up and the two board their flight separately, heading to Atlanta. Hitting some turbulence, Whip aggresively pushes the airplane through and the flight levels out. After taking a drink and taking a nap, Whip is awaken with a startle and the plane begins a steep descent into a plummet. Contacting air traffic control, Whip tries everything to right the mechanical error and eventually resorts to inverting the airplane to steady it. He rights the plane, but the plane ends up crashing anyway, killing six, including two crew members (one was Katerina).
His quick decisions saved many lives, but the resulting fatalities lead to investigation which uncovers many questions about his lifestyle. Throughout the investigation, he suffers many up and downs and appears like he may come out clean from the whole affair. At the very last moment, it seems he can get off entirely by pinning empty alcohol bottles on the now deceased Katerina, but seeing her face on the projection screen stirs his guilt and he ends up coming clean.
This movie obviously stirs up a bit of fear in anyone that has flown before or might fly in the near future. It also leaves you conflicted as to how to feel about Whip. He obviously has made terrible life choices and put many lives in danger, but that always comes from somewhere, doesn't it? Also, he saved the lives of many people on that flight, which is identified in the movie as basically impossible. This is probably the best performance I have ever seen by Denzel Washington and I think if he weren't up against Day-Lewis-Lincoln. The movie gets an 8/10 from me with Denzel accounting for a whole lot of that.
Naomi Watts, Ewan McGegor
If I didn't know this was based on a true story I would say it was, as the title suggests, impossible. This is one of those movies that I probably could have watched with a mostly flat emotion prior to becoming a parent. However, movies like this turn me into an emotional mess these days. Not that I find it unbearable, but it definitely makes the tears well up more than would have been possible before.
The Impossible begins with a family on vacation in Thailand. While they are out poolside, the resort is hit by a tsunami (the 2004 boxing day tsunami). When the tsunami levels out, the mother, Maria, is left searching for her family. She locates her son Lucas, but the two can't find the father or the other two boys. Maria has a badly injured leg and can barely move. They locate another young boy and eventually the trio is brought to a nearby hospital. While they are there, it is revealed that the father and two boys are together at the now decimated resort and trying to find the other two. A rescue team arrives to bring the people from the resort to a higher ground for safety. The father decides to stay and continue searching while sending off the two boys to the safer area. Back at the hospital, Maria's health is getting worse, but she sends Lucas off to help other patients however he can. He tries to help match family members up and finally makes a connection. When he returns to tell his mother, she is gone and feared dead. After many different paths and missed connections, the father and all three sons reunite just outside of the hospital just before buses are about to take away the father and two sons in different directions. The film ends as the mother safely goes through surgery and the credit roll, showing the real-life family the movie is based on.
I can't even imagine, well, pretty much any part of this movie. Being stuck in a tsunami, being separated from my children, any of that. Ugh. I was surprised by what a great performance Naomi Watts gave, though I suppose the Academy doesn't just hand out best actress nominees to anyone. The movie itself got most of its emotion from a real-life story, but was adapted well for the big screen. That combined with Watts' performance (McGregor was good, too) made for a 7.5/10.
Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway
An adaptation of my favourite stage show, this movie had no chance to live up to my life-long love of the live show. To try and preserve the 'live' aspect of the show, they had the actors sing the songs as they did their acting. My question is, why? It ended up muddling some of the more comedic songs (Master of the House) and outside of Anne Hathaway's one good song I don't know that it added too much. The actors apparently liked it, so I guess I can't complain. The other thing I am not sure of is why they felt the need to get big-name actors at all. I think the musical was well known enough to do well theatrically regardless. I did enjoy the casting of Éponine (older) and Marius. I know Anne Hathaway will win for best supporting actress, and I am not saying she doesn't deserve it, but she was barely in the movie and her other song isn't anything to write home about.
The plot of the movie and show is long and convoluted, so I will sum it up in plot points:
-Jean Valjean, prisoner 24601 is released after serving 19 years for stealing bread/trying to escape
-Policeman Javert refuses to let go of the idea of catching him
-Valjean becomes Monsieur Madeline, a factory owner and mayor
-Javert suspects his true identity, renewing his obsession
-Valjean learns of a factory worker secretly sending her money to her daughter Cosette
-The mother dies and Valjean swears to find Cosette
-He finds her and 'buys' her from crooked innkeepers
-Ten years later a general is dying and a group is preparing a rebellion
-Éponine, daughter of the innkeeper remembers Cosette from childhood, is caught in a love triangle with Marius
-Éponine dies for Marius, Marius is saved by Valjean (Hugh Jackman botches one of the best songs in the show)
-Javert lets Valjean go and is conflicted, commits suicide
-Marius and Cosette marry, Marius has many revelations
-Valjean dies by Cosette and Marius' side
So much happens in this story, it almost should have had the intermission that the play has. At least when you watch the play, there is a feeling of optimism that you get to hold on to for a few minutes. In the movie, you feel good about the rebellion and then the bulk of them immediately die. I will generously give this movie a 7/10, but most of that is for the memories I have of the musical.
Sirraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan
Based on the gripping best-selling novel of the same name, Life of Pi is a visual masterpiece.
The story follows Pi (named Piscine, but changes his own name to Pi to avoid the nickname 'Pissing') as he reminisces about his childhood and his family home, which included a zoo. The family sells the the home after a dispute with the government and takes the animals to distribute to various zoos worldwide, then end up in Canada. Along the way, the boat crashes and Pi is the only human survivor. He spends the bulk of the story on a lifeboat with multiple animals. At the beginning, there is a zebra with an injured leg, an orangutan and a hyena. The hyena first kills the zebra and then the orangutan. As Pi is wondering what to do, a previously hidden Tiger emerges from under the boat's tarp and kills the hyena. Scared for his life, Pi assembles his own makeshift boat out of emergency supplies and tethers it to the lifeboat. Pi catches fish for himself and the tiger, whom he has named Richard Parker and tries to come to terms with the beast as best he can. The journey concludes on the shores of Mexico where they wash up and Richard Parker walks into the jungle without even an acknowledgement to Pi. The narrative jumps to the point of the crashed ships company investigating why the boat crashed and they do not believe Pi's story. He tells them another story of human brutality that parallels the animal story and lets them decide which one they prefer. The viewer is left pondering which is the truth.
It is a soulful watch, though I didn't find it quite as gripping as the novel. Perhaps that is because I knew the twist, but I can't be sure. I'd like to give it another watch to really soak in the artistic side of the film. Not sure it has much of a chance at the major awards, but it should pick up one or two of the technical ones. Let's say 7.75/10 for this.
Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field
Watching this movie, it is pretty impossible to take your eyes off of Daniel Day-Lewis.As always, he plunged himself deep in the character. I wonder if he has trouble with the staying in character things if he, say, goes to a grocery store?
Anyhow, the movie itself is less of a life story and more of a snapshot of the last section of Lincoln's life. Sensing an end to the civil war, Lincoln seizes an opportunity to end slavery in America. He rallies support, while having to balance a number of things and prove that the vote to end slavery is necessary to end the war. However, to gain support in another area, he has to agree to send a peace treaty, which could also end the war and complicate the vote. He plans to go ahead with the vote anyways, thinking there is no better time. There is simultaneously drama between him and his family and a whole lot of random stories that everyone seems to like, save for one guy who makes a big scene of yelling 'NO MORE STORIES' and stomping off. The vote passes and slavery is abolished. Lincoln gets shot in the theatre as part of a(n otherwise botched) plan to take out the top level of government and reverse the bill. Obviously and thankfully that plan failed.
As mentioned, Day-Lewis was incredible. However, I found myself not completely connecting with this movie. I don't know if it's the Spielberg touch? I am back and forth on him, usually depending on mood. There is no denying this is a good movie and was well executed, it just didn't have the 'knock me off my feet' feeling. I will still give it a solid 8/10
Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper
Out of all of these, it would be down to this one and Beasts of the Southern Wild as to which is my favourite. Maybe because I first saw him in the Hangover, but I've always found Bradley Cooper to be smarmy. The last few things I have seen him in have started to win me over. Also, interviews with his co-stars lead me to believe he is very professional and a decent guy.
The story follows Pat (Cooper) as he is released from a mental hospital for assaulting a man he found showering with his wife. Despite this, Pat believes he is capable of living medication-free. He meets Tiffany (Lawrence) while at a friend's house for dinner. The two bond over their mental problems and develop a friendship. Tiffany agrees to deliver a letter to Pat's ex Nikki in exchange for him being her partner in a dance competition. As time goes on, Pat abuses the relationship, obsessing over the letter and his desire to get Nikki back. Tiffany says she has delivered the letter and has one back from Nikki, though it turns out she wrote it herself. Pat's OCD father is a fan of football and believes that the performance of his team, the Eagles, is based upon his son's watching the game with him. He loses all of his money on a bet, but parlays it into a double or nothing that involves a final football game and the results of Pat and Tiffany's dance.
The dance competition finally comes and to everyone's surprise, Nikki comes to see how Pat has dedicated himself to something. Thinking she has lost her opportunity with Pat, Tiffany hits the bar and is in danger of ruining what they have worked towards. Meanwhile, the Eagles win the game and everyone is coming up to watch the competition. Pat locates Tiffany and convinces her to go ahead with the dance. Despite not being nearly as good as the other dancers, they manage to score a 5, just barely meeting the conditions of Pat's father's bet. Tiffany storms off as Pat talks to Nikki, but when he catches up to her, it turns out he has let go of Nikki and has fallen for Tiffany.
I found the performances very believable. I am really rooting for Jennifer Lawrence to win best actress. I know she got the nod for Winter's Bone, but I also fear she might get typecast for her role in the Hunger Games series. I think a win at the Oscars would help her avoid that typecasting. The movie had multiple story lines, humour, sadness, redemption and great performances. For this, I give it an 8.75/10
Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton
Hmm, what to say about this movie? Is there a possibility this never even happened? I suppose there is. I hope that it did, but it's all very secretive. How then did the movie-makers get the information? I am not sure.
The movie follows Maya, who has dedicated her career to chasing Bin Laden. She is put in the field in Pakistan and encounters her first first-hand experience with torture as a means to confession. She seems conflicted by it, but is so dedicated to seeking information on Bin Laden that she sticks with it, even eventually taking the lead on questioning. She eventually gets the information she is looking for and buys into it full force. However, government officials don't feel sure enough to go for it. She eventually wins them over and a full-force raid is made on a hideout believed to be housing Bin Laden (or possibly some other high-end criminal). They attack with secret stealth copters, but things get tangled when one of the copters crashes. The team rounds up many women and children and kills several men, including what is believed to be Bin Laden. They explode the crashed copter and bring the body back to an army base where the waiting Maya confirms it is Bin Laden and boards a plane that offers her a ride anywhere she pleases. The camera cuts away as she remains silent and begins to cry.
A few things. 1. Could've gone down any number of ways and we will never know. 2. Weird that the only publicized information about this raid is via a hollywood movie that both Obama and the movie team deny acquiring illegally. Most importantly, in my opinion, 3. This movie just feels like Hurt Locker, but with Bin Laden and Jessica Chastain. I know the stories are different, but that is just the sense I had. If you've seen one, you've seen the other. Same type of drab emotion about a serious issue. It draws out a tension, but the exact same feeling both times. I know they're both revolving around middle-eastern war stories, but I just think I should've got something different out of it. Both times I was mildly uncomfortable and couldn't connect with the character. In fact, I much preferred Hurt Locker. I do believe she stands a chance to win best actress, but my vote isn't there for her. (Not a knock on her specifically, I enjoyed her in The Help). I will give this a 6.5/10