Wednesday, January 30, 2013

FYC: Anne Hathaway


This parody video is brilliant! It basically captures everything about her performance and the Oscar campaign. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be mocking her, because it actually reminds me how much I love this performance. "I did it all in one take, bitches!"

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Kiss Of The Spider Woman


You may have noticed that this post is later than usual, but that's because I didn't see that many great movies this week. Today, I finally found something that I felt was worthy of a review. That film is "Kiss of the Spider Woman", a 1985 film directed by Hector Babenco. The film focuses on Luis Molina, a gay prisoner who spends his days recounting the story of his favourite romantic film to his cellmate Valentin Arregui, in an effort to provide a form of escapism. Molina is imprisoned for immoral sexual behaviour, while Arregui is a political prisoner. They are incarcerated in a South American prison and suffer through the unpleasant conditions that you would expect.
It's really quite a straightforward story, but it's infused with some artful flourishes that keep it constantly captivating. William Hurt gives an outstanding performance as Molina, carrying the film with his finely tuned characterization and winsome storytelling. As he narrates, his "Nazi romance" film is visually depicted, adding a nice subplot to the proceedings. It grabs Arregui's attention and it should certainly attract the viewer's as well. We never really get the relevance of this story, but that's the beauty of this film. There is a lot of vagueness in the plot, forcing you to read between the lines.
Despite this, the film is grounded in some clear themes of kindness, love, friendship and loyalty. As the 2 men endure their punishment, they develop a strong bond that felt very genuine. It's shows us how people can still maintain their humanity even in the most unfavorable situations.
On the surface, the story is just another prison tale of male bonding, but somewhere around the halfway mark, the film adds another layer to the its machinations. A political element is added that isn't telegraphed at all. An intelligent script reveals itself as the plot unfolds and this is definitely one of those finely crafted screenplays. The film gradually adds impressive depth to its deceptively slight narrative, commanding your attention and it never lets go. In the end, you're left with questions you never even imagined this little film would pose. Much like its title, "Kiss of the Spider Woman" is a mysterious, unique film that is befuddling and mesmerizing in equal measure.

Best of 2012

I've been very vocal lately in defense of 2012 as a high quality year for film. However, my Best of 2012 list seems to fall in line with other bloggers who say that there was a lot to like, but not necessarily to love. Especially considering the large number of films I watched this year, I'm really surprised that I didn't match the 30-film lineup of 2011. For 2012, I found 24 films that I really loved (4.5 to 5 stars). Here they are, starting with my #1 - "Arbitrage".




Arbitrage
The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
The Dark Knight Rises
Prometheus
Lincoln
A Royal Affair
Argo
End of Watch

Monday, January 28, 2013

A ROTTEN TOMATO: Hope and Glory


I've always wondered why I've never heard much mention of 1987's Best Picture nominee "Hope and Glory". Well, now I know why. To me, this film was a complete misfire. It's just as milquetoast as its title suggests, telling the story of an English boy growing up in London during World War II. Despite the supposed danger of wartime, this is a joyous period of adventure and excitement for this little boy.
The movie lost my interest early, as it's just too jolly for my liking. I didn't have a problem with it focusing on the "coming-of-age" aspects, but when the characters mention how times were better before the war, I expected some more substance. The film doesn't justify the setting of the story against the backdrop of World War II. There was no sense of fear or sadness. On the contrary, the film is filled with puppy love, music and games. In the end, the whole tone of the film makes it seem like a treacly Hallmark TV movie.
Apart from the story issues, the soundtrack and the acting are just as vapid as the screenwriting. The music sounds like it belongs to a film about old ladies enjoying tea in springtime, rather than a meaningful wartime story. The performances are universally awful, as none of the actors bring any nuance to their emotions. As you can probably guess by now, I was very disappointed with this film. It may have picked up 5 Oscar nominations, but it's hardly anything special.

My first podcast!

Earlier this year I made a New Year's resolution to finally do a podcast and I've kept my promise! I was recently a guest on episode #151 of the LAMBCast where Jess, Kristen, Nick, Joel and I discussed our Most Anticipated Films of 2013. Check it out on iTunes, or via the RSS feed.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

OSCAR WATCH: SAG Awards


Holy moly, I think Argo just won the Oscar! Signed, sealed, delivered. We all thought this was an über-competitive Oscar race, but it's clear that Argo is the definitive frontrunner. In a shocker that not many people predicted, Argo walked away with Best Ensemble (pictured above). There weren't any other surprises, so Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway are still locked, with Jennifer Lawrence and Tommy Lee Jones getting a good boost. I correctly predicted 3 of the 5 winners. Here's who won tonight:

Best Ensemble (equivalent to the Best Picture Award)
Argo

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Best Actress
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Supporting Actor
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Saturday, January 26, 2013

OSCAR WATCH: SAG Predictions

This unusual awards season continues tomorrow with the Screen Actors Guild awards, where the "frontrunners" in the various acting categories will hope to seal their Oscar fate. Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway seem like the only locks at this point, so a win here will be a good boost for the contenders in Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. I think "Silver Linings Playbook" will do pretty well here, but who knows. Here are my predictions:

Best Ensemble (equivalent to the Best Picture Award)
Silver Linings Playbook

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Best Actress
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Supporting Actor
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Friday, January 25, 2013

#FF Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables and more...


December releases Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables are still featuring prominently at the box office, albeit with significant detractors. Find out what some LAMB members thought of these films, among other great posts below:

Andrew wrote a wonderfully thorough review of Zero Dark Thirty. I highly recommend it.

Michael also reviewed Zero Dark Thirty, praising the skill of the director and the craftmanship.

Jessica defends Russell Crowe's singing ability in her positive review of Les Miserables.

Emil also responded favourably to Les Miserables in his review, where he professes his newfound obsession with the music.

Alex always creates some interesting lists and his "Top 20 Movie Title Line Deliveries" is no exception.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, January 24, 2013

ACTING SCHOOL: Philip Seymour Hoffman


The latest session of "LAMB Acting School 101" shines the spotlight on one of our best actors today - Philip Seymour Hoffman. He is undoubtedly one of the most dependable actors around, as he always gives a solid performance. I love that he's not afraid to take a supporting role and make the most of it. As usual for this blog-a-thon, here are my 3 favourite scenes featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

OLDIE GOLDIES: From Here To Eternity (1953)


Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed with their Oscars

On this edition of Oldie Goldies, I look at an iconic film (that beach scene) from 1953 - From Here To Eternity. This drama/romance/war film features a phenomenal cast who deliver all the depth of the equally fantastic script. All 5 of the principal players (Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed) were duly acknowledged at the Oscars, as the film was a major awards player. It picked up 8 trophies (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound and Best Screenplay) in addition to 5 other nominations - Best Score, Best Costume Design, Best Actress and a pair of Best Actor nods for Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift.

Monday, January 21, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Monty Python and the Holy Grail


At long last I have finally watched the Terry Gilliam/Terry Jones comedy classic "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". Now that I've seen it, I'm kicking myself for having delayed it for so long. This pseudo-adaptation of the Knights of the Round Table legend is undoubtedly one of the funniest films I've ever seen. I was initially worried that this brand of humour wouldn't appeal to me, but I quickly succumbed to its charms. Once I threw all my snark out the window, it had me in fits of serious belly laughter.
Normally I would give a quick plot synopsis, but this film really defies any explanation. You really have to see it for yourself. It's difficult to analyze the plot because it just seems to have a mind of its own. Also, it's one of the most unpredictable films you'll ever see, so I don't want to spoil it for anyone. For example, you've got a recurring gag of coconuts used to mimic the sound of horses, flying cows used in place of cannonballs, random animated sequences and modern cops. This film just plays by it's own set of rules (or lack thereof).
Apart from the many visual gags, the film's dialogue is wildly original. I could easily see myself quoting some of these lines. Needless to say, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is truly one of a kind. It's absolutely bonkers, but there's a certain brilliance behind all the absurdity.
If I had to give one criticism of the film, I would actually have to say that it's almost too funny. Literally every second is played for laughs (even the opening credits, which feature some amusing subtitles). Therefore, I could easily understand why it could be a tiring experience for some viewers. For me, the jokes were definitely ridiculous and perplexing at times, but more often than not I was thoroughly entertained. Like I said earlier, you have to completely suspend your disbelief to "get" this movie. Even if you end up hating it, I firmly believe that this is a movie that everyone should see before they die.

This film is part of my List of Shame.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

OLDIE GOLDIES: Marty (1955)


Ernest Borgnine receives his Best Actor Oscar

Oldie Goldies is back and we're kicking off 2013 with a sweet little film called "Marty". This is one of the most heartfelt films I've ever seen. Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair are so endearing as 2 misfits who find love. On first glance it's a simple story, but it actually makes some astute observations about mother-son relationships and marriage while also reminding us of the extremely patriarchal society of the 1950s. This film was a big hit at the Oscars, winning 4 awards (Best Actor, Best Director, Best Picture and Best Screenplay). It was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

CONTEST: The Results!*UPDATED*

There was a small error in my points calculations. I forgot to allocate the points to those who predicted Skyfall for Sound Mixing. This didn't affect the outcome but Lindsay's win becomes even more impressive, with 81 points (as opposed to the 80 that was previously announced).

What a day! Those Oscar nominations were certainly very surprising. As I was going through the scores, I was convinced we were all doing equally terribly. I fully expected a tie or a very close end result. As it turns out we had a clear winner!


AND THE WINNER IS...
Lindsay Street of French Toast Sunday


She won with 81 points, 3 ahead of joint 2nd place finishers Amir and David. She sealed the win by incredibly picking the full Best Picture lineup (she was the only person to do so). 

Check the full spreadsheet to see how everyone else did: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AhQ_IQXST8BXdDk2T0ZBT21GNU5GdFk2R2sxTEFVeUE

Interesting Stats:
- Nobody predicted Benh Zeitlin's Best Director nomination or the Best Original Song nominations for "Before My Time" and "Everybody Needs A Friend".
- Andrew & Sarah were the only predictors of Skyfall in Best Original Score.
- Ryan was the only predictor of Snow White and the Huntsman for Best Visual Effects.
- Alex was the only predictor of Flight for Best Original Screenplay.
- Tony was the only predictor of The Pirates! Band of Misfits for Best Animated Feature.

I want to say one final thank you to everyone who participated. It was a lot of fun and I'm already looking forward to an even bigger, better competition next year! :) 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

OSCAR WATCH: Golden Globe Awards


Argo is looking surprisingly strong! Building on its wins at the Critics Choice, it once again picked up Best Picture and Best Director here. Anne Hathaway and Daniel Day-Lewis seem to have their Oscars secured but everything else is wide open. It's gonna get ugly! I didn't do as well as last year with my predictions, getting 9 out of 14. Here are all the winners:

Best Picture (Drama)
Argo (pictured above)

Best Picture (Musical/Comedy)
Les Miserables

Best Actor (Drama)
Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln

Best Actor (Musical/Comedy)
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables

Best Actress (Drama)
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actress (Musical/Comedy)
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Best Director
Ben Affleck, Argo

Saturday, January 12, 2013

OSCAR WATCH: Golden Globe Predictions

The next stop on the televised awards tour is the Golden Globes and I'm actually pretty excited about it (mainly because Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will be hosting). I have know idea how the awards will turn out, since the races in many categories is still wide open. I must admit, I was pretty lazy with my predictions, basically going with whoever won at the Critics Choice on Thursday night. We'll see that goes. Here are my predictions:

Best Picture (Drama)
Argo

Best Picture (Musical/Comedy)
Silver Linings Playbook

Best Actor (Drama)
Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln

Best Actor (Musical/Comedy)
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables

Best Actress (Drama)
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actress (Musical/Comedy)
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Supporting Actor
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Best Director
Ben Affleck, Argo

Friday, January 11, 2013

#FF The Paperboy, reviews and more...


In my opinion, The Paperboy has received unfair "worst film ever!" reviews. It's far from perfect, but I think there were some strong aspects to the film, especially the acting. Find out what Andrew and Dan had to say, among other great reads this week:

Andrew wrote a nice comparative review of Cosmopolis and The Paperboy, highlighting the lead performances the former teen stars.

Dan was lukewarm in his review of The Paperboy but like me, he found things to like in the film.

Jessica applauds the atypical characterization of Merida in her review of Brave.

Margaret did a special post for the fanboys, highlighting her 10 Favourite Scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Prior to the nominations, Joey did a great post reminding us that "However the nominations turn out, audiences won in 2012!"

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, January 10, 2013

OSCAR WATCH: Critics Choice Awards


Well, the Critics Choice Movie Awards certainly felt anti-climatic after the rush of the Oscar nominations this morning. The awards schedule is really strange this year, so it's too early to know if these winners will sweep through the awards circuit. Jennifer Lawrence certainly had a good night, winning Best Comedy Actress, Best Action Actress and was part of the win for Best Ensemble. Argo won Best Picture(pictured above) and Best Director but nothing else. I doubt that will have much effect on the race, especially since Ben Affleck can't build any Best Director buzz with this. I guess we have to wait for the Golden Globes to see if anyone's position is cemented. As for now, the race is still wide open! This year I correctly predicted 17 out of 28 categories. Here's the full list of winners:

Best Picture
Argo

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

Best Supporting Actor
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Best Director
Ben Affleck, Argo

FYC: Life Of Pi



Congratulations to Life of Pi, which picked up 11 Oscar nominations today. As a result I had to do another post to include all the tags for my awards tracker. Click here for my full review and Oscar analysis of Life of Pi.

OSCAR WATCH: Oscar Nominations

Truth be told, I was left speechless when the nominations were announced this morning. I think it's safe to say these were the most surprising nominations in the history of the Academy Awards. Bigelow and Affleck seemed locked for a nomination (they were even expected to challenge for the win!) but they were somehow left out of the Best Director lineup. On the plus side, I am delighted to see the love for Beasts of the Southern Wild, higlighted by Zeitlin's nomination for Best Director.
Here is the full list of nominees:

Best Picture
Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Best Director
Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A ROTTEN TOMATO: Hyde Park On Hudson


With awards season heating up, it's always interesting to see which "Oscar bait" films fell by the wayside. One such film is Roger Michell's "Hyde Park on Hudson". The film tells the story of the love affair between President Roosevelt and his distant cousin Daisy. It's set in Upstate New York, as they spend a weekend entertaining the King and Queen of the United Kingdom.
Despite the cheery countryside setting, this film is curiously dreary. It's weighed down in awful music and bland line delivery (especially in Laura Linney's constant voiceovers) that contrasts starkly with the bright costume design and landscape. It's quite shocking to consider that Michell thought he made good artistic choices. It's really a shame, as there was so much talent on hand. Unfortunately, not even a cast of Oscar-nominated actors could have saved this mawkish mess of a film.

OSCAR WATCH: Critics Choice Predictions

Had enough of predictions yet? In a strange turn of events, the Oscar nominations and the Critics Choice Awards will take place on the same day this year! This is where the consensus starts to form, as Oscar winners start building their buzz with televised acceptance speeches. Will we see some great speeches tomorrow that to indicate a sweep of the awards circuit? Tune in The CW at 8PM to find out. Here are my predictions for the 18th Annual Critics Choice Movie Awards:

Best Picture
Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

Best Supporting Actor
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

CONTEST: The Predictions!

Once again, let me thank everyone who participated. It was a lot of fun to see all the predictions coming in and I hope it will be equally as fun for you as the nominations are announced tomorrow. Win or lose, I hope you enjoyed it and I'm already looking forward to next year's edition. Here is my predictions post in case you missed it earlier: http://filmactually.blogspot.com/p/my-oscar-nominations-predictions.html 

Enough rambling, here's what you're interested to see:


ALL PREDICTIONS



N.B. -  A "1" indicates a prediction. 
If you can't remember which blog each name relates to, check out the previous post with the full entry list: 

OSCAR WATCH: BAFTA Nominations

As always, the BAFTA nominations gave certain British contenders a boost in the Oscar race. Skyfall did well, but didn't crack the Best Picture lineup. Check out the full list of nominees below:

Best Picture
Argo
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Zero Dark Thirty

Best British Film
Anna Karenina
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Les Miserables
Seven Psychopaths
Skyall

Best Actor
Ben Affleck, Argo
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Best Actress
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Judi Dench, Skyfall
Sally Field, Lincoln

Director
Michael Haneke, Amour
Ben Affleck, Argo
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

OSCAR WATCH: The Animated Films

If you follow my blog, you may have noticed that I hardly ever review animated films. In an effort to change things up a bit and provide more comprehensive Oscar coverage, I decided to watch as many of the eligible contenders in the Animated Feature film category as I could. This category tends to be one of the easier categories, so I won't bore you with the same old predictions. These are my simply honest opinions on 12 of the 21 eligible films in this awards race. Check 'em out below:

Monday, January 7, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Jaws


Oh the 70s. So many amazing films came from that decade and they still hold up remarkably well today. One of those is the classic horror/thriller film "Jaws". Released in 1975 to massive box office success, "Jaws" is often credited as the film that established the wide-release model of the summer blockbuster. Set in a summer getaway spot called Amity Island, the plot follows the hunt to stop a great white shark that is terrorizing the vacationers. This was only my 2nd viewing of the film and I noticed some new things that increased my appreciation for the film even more.
The main thing I noticed was the excellent cinematography. It’s not something that I’ve heard mentioned much in relation to this film, but I found it quite impressive. While the interesting underwater perspectives are commonplace today, the film still stands out for it’s warm sunlit photography. Compared to the usual dark, nighttime setting of most horror films, the pleasant glow really emphasizes the mood. In a town that is popular for its peaceful atmosphere, the juxtaposition of the red blood in the clear blue waters really builds up the sense of dread. Additionally, the use of early evening scenes (rather than dark late hours) draws attention to the visible danger that lurks. For the most part, you only see the shark's fin, but that’s all it takes to get you really worried.
Further adding to the fear is that iconic music that often accompanies that equally iconic fin. It’s really one of the best pieces of theme music composed for a film. John Williams was really on a good run with all his memorable music scores during this collaborative period with Spielberg.
The other new and unexpected thing that I found on this re-watch, was the humour. There a small nuggets of jokes littered throughout that further add to the entertainment value. Thankfully it’s done very tastefully, keeping in line with the high artistic quality of the film. While other horror films are mainly concerned with the effectiveness of their visuals, "Jaws" is firmly grounded in a well-written story that is equally concerned with the development of characters. When many people think of this film, the memory of Robert Shaw’s character (Quint) and his monologues are just as important as the shark attacks. This artistic integrity may result in modern viewers finding the pacing too slow, but back when this was released, it was the epitome of the "popcorn movie". The legacy of the film’s style is easily evident in today’s blockbusters. With this keen interest in its characters and great storytelling, "Jaws" is a classic that will surely stand the test of time.

Special thanks to Ryan McNeil, who kindly gifted me this dvd.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

OSCAR WATCH: Zero Dark Thirty


Whew, that was intense. After the highly successfully (awards-wise) "The Hurt Locker", Kathryn Bigelow is back in the director's chair with her latest foray into the Middle East - "Zero Dark Thirty". This film follows the tireless search for terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Much like the hunt itself, the screenplay is a probing investigation into these real-life events.
From the opening scene, Bigelow gets right down to business. We go straight into a torture scene, as CIA agents try to extract some information from an alleged terrorist. In the hands of another film-making team, this would suggest a action-packed thriller to follow, but Bigelow and Boal aren't interested in that. This film is a procedural that serves to showcase the extensive research that Boal did for this script. Bigelow eschews any sort of forced melodrama or amusing side plots to really put you inside this high-stakes manhunt. It's not exactly a drama or a thriller in the usual sense of the word, but it's very engaging. It had me glued to the screen from start to finish, even though the most "exciting" parts came in the beginning and the very end. It's a slow burn that's punctuated by some explosive (literally) moments that really jolt you from your seat. The tension is palpable as you never know when something catastrophic is about to happen.
What makes this film most effective is the outstanding work being done behind the scenes. Apart from Bigelow's focused direction and Boal's smart screenplay, the film is primarily elevated by the editing and sound design. Editor William Goldenberg is having a great year, as he has cut 2 of the most nerve-wracking films I've seen in a while (this film and "Argo"). Each scene is concise and to the point, allowing the plot to fit in as much information as possible. More importantly, the film never lost my interest, which is key to a film that is this long. With dramas I tend to check my watch frequently, but I was completely unaware of the time, as the film just whizzed by. There is a strong sense of urgency that propels the film towards it's riveting conclusion. Due to the intimate cinematography (we hardly get a feel for the environment apart from some overhead shots), the film relies on its impeccable sound design for atmosphere. The subtle underscore keeps you alert, while the loud booms that accompany the explosions really instill the terror.
Yet despite the immaculate construction, I still have some qualms about the film. For all its technical genius, it lacks emotion, leaving the viewer a bit cold at the end. This is mainly due to a lack of character development even with the lead character Maya (played by Jessica Chastain). The film has to deal with a sprawling cast, which prevents the script from really digging deep into any of their individual personas. Chastain is good, but it felt like her character was written like a machine. It isn't the soulful performance that I've come to expect from this brilliant actress. For me, the most memorable actor was Jason Clarke, as he brought the most nuance out of anyone in the cast. He is unflinching in his interrogations, but you're reminded of his humanity when he's not on duty.
It's undeniably a well-made film, that will probably have the most impact with viewers already knowledgeable and interested in all the events that took place. If you're not already invested in the story though, the film could leave you feeling a bit detached. The title change from "Kill Bill Laden" to "Zero Dark Thirty" makes total sense now, as Bigelow doesn't dumb down the material at all. Basically, if you already knew what the term "Zero Dark Thirty" means, then this is tailor-made for your enjoyment. For regular folks like me, I just wish Bigelow had loosened her grip a bit and let the film breathe. Much like "The Hurt Locker", I ended up admiring the film more than I loved it.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

CONTEST: See Who's Playing!

What a turnout! When I was planning this I was hoping for around 20 participants, so I'm very happy to see that we ended up with 26 players. I am definitely encouraged to make this an annual event and rest assured, it will be even bigger next year.

Check below the list for a reminder of what's up next in the contest. Thank you for interest and in the meantime, go visit some of these fine blogs!

Me! - Film Actually
Alex - Time for a film
Tony - Coogs Film Blog
Andrew K. - Encore's World of Film & TV
Amir - Amiresque
Vern - The Vern's Videovanguard
Shawna - SNG Movie Thoughts
Ryan - Lord of the Films
Lindsay - French Toast Sunday
David - Never Too Early Movie Predictions
Josh - The Cinematic Spectacle
Brian - The Soap Box Office
Stevee - Cinematic Paradox
Donovan - Movies and Other Things
James - The Gold Knight
Nika - The Running Reel
Andrew E. - A Fistul of Films
Joshua - The Film Minion
Samuel - Sam Watches Movies
John - John Likes Movies
Kevyn - The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World
Matt - Matt Awards
Clayton - Such Moving Pictures
Andrew & Sarah - Two Tickets For...
Tom - At The Back
Daniel Chicago Cinema Circuit

- Your predictions are due by 6PM EST on Jan 9th. They will then be posted here on a spreadsheet for everyone to see(including mine).
- Remember: once you have sent me the link, those will be entered as your FINAL predictions. No changes accepted.

Click here for a quick refresher of all the instructions.

OSCAR WATCH: Django Unchained


From the first image, I knew I would love this movie. "Django Unchained" is another outstanding effort from Quentin Tarantino. The film tells the story of freed slave Django, who joins forces with a German bounty hunter to rescue his wife from an evil plantation owner. On paper it sounds like an outdated spaghetti western, but in the hands of Tarantino, the genre is given a modern breath of life.
This film just exudes so much style. Tarantino's signature touch permeates throughout "Django Unchained" with its eye-catching visuals, sharp dialogue and a killer soundtrack. They lay the tone for a surprisingly hilarious film. As such, I can almost understand Spike Lee's feelings towards the film. At times, I personally found myself feeling slightly uncomfortable for laughing in some scenes. Indeed, the funniest scene in the film is during a raid by the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike Lee however, it didn't feel frivolous or disrespectful to me. Much of the humour actually serves to shed light on the stupidity of ignorance and racism.
Tarantino really did his research for this film. Despite the heightened reality of the plot, he managed to touch on some potent truths about this dark period in American history. Even though there are many funny moments throughout, they are interlaced with scenes of disturbing brutality. As a result, we never lose the feeling that there is a shroud of evil and wickedness over the land.
Although the effectiveness of this film is largely due to Tarantino's abilities as a writer-director, the 3 standout performances (Christopher Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson) deserve high praise. It's hard to pick an MVP from this lot, as they are all excellent in different ways. Although "Django Unchained" is named after Jamie Foxx's character, the film really belongs to Christoph Waltz. He drives the proceedings of the plot and creates a very charismatic character. He has a natural candor as Dr. King Schultz that suggests that he is the most comfortable in Tarantino's universe. DiCaprio also shines as he brilliantly plays against type, reminding us of his versatility and considerable talent. Unlike his typically tense, "tortured soul" roles, he is so loose and unhibited here. His Calvin Candie is almost flamboyant, but grounded in real menace. DiCaprio shows great skill as he never goes "over-the-top" with his interpretation of this villain. The character that resonates most in this film though, is Stephen (played by Samuel L. Jackson). His character represents perhaps the most awful legacy that resulted from slavery. He plays a self-loathing(hateful towards his own race) house slave that sucks up to "massa". If you know about black history, you will recognize the painful truth in this character, as some of slavery's existence was fueled by blacks who betrayed their own people. It's a sad psychology that lingers today, as evidenced by the inferiority complex that hinders the ambitiousness of many underprivileged black youths. In casting this role, Tarantino couldn't have made a better choice. Jackson plays the role with a brave, "no bullshit" integrity that is hard to pull off.
Compared with this trio (Waltz, DiCaprio, Jackson), Foxx is fine in the lead role but doesn't have the same magnetic screen presence. That being said, his character provides a great source of entertainment, especially in the more serious/dramatic tail end of the film. As a black person, I must admit that it gave me immense satisfaction to see Django kicking ass, as if it were some real retribution for our horrific past.
On the more "technical" side, the production values are just as exceptional as you would expect. I love the production design with the saloons, opulent plantation houses and fields of cotton really capturing the period and setting. The costume design is also brilliant, as the clothing choices are all very specific to each character. As with all his films, much of the energy comes from his exciting camerawork too. I just loved how the camera moves to tell the story visually. Finally, it can't be overstated how awesome the soundtrack is. The songs are great on their own, but when placed in the film, it really makes the script sing (pun intended). Basically, I loved everything about this movie. If I were to think of a complaint, I would say that some of the scenes felt like they could have been edited down a little. They never felt like filler though and they always had a purpose within in the plot, so it wasn't an issue for me.
If you know about Quentin Tarantino, you've probably heard about his love for cinema. In this film however, I was remined of something equally important - his love for his audience. Even when "Django Unchained" slips into seemingly gratuitous violence or talky scenes, he never alienates the viewer. He knows what his fans want and delivers it with aplomb without forgetting to make it artful. Tarantino loves to entertain us and if he keeps making movies like this, the affection will continue to be mutual.

Friday, January 4, 2013

#FF Best of 2012, Movie Alphabets and more...


Now that 2012 has come to a close, it's that time of year when everyone weighs in on their personal favourites of the year. Find out what Ryan M., Ryan F., Shala and Andy thought were the highlights of 2012, among other great posts from the past week:

Ryan also released his own Best of 2012, a pretty great lineup if you ask me.

Ryan recently named his Top 10 Performances of 2012.

Shala did her unique Best of 2012 list, giving an overview of the best films by genre.

Andy recaps the year in film, with his 2012 Buckle Awards.

Inspired by his Las Vegas trip for NYE, Alex listed his Top 10 Las Vegas Films.

Getter kindly assembled all the blogathon entries into a single definitive list for "Our Movie Alphabet".

John gives a great overview of the hopeful nominees who are "On the Oscar Bubble".

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

OSCAR WATCH: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel


After its surprisingly strong showing in the early precursor awards, I decided to revisit "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" to see what all the fuss was about. Honestly, after I watched the film last year I never gave it a 2nd thought, but this viewing proved much more rewarding. On this occasion I was struck by the thematic depth of the script and was further impressed by the fine ensemble cast.
The film follows a group of British retirees who fly to India to relax in a supposedly luxurious hotel. Upon arrival they find that the country and the hotel itself are not what they expected and are forced to adapt to their environment. This results in many subplots as each character tries to find their place in this new world. With their different personalities and individual struggles, the cast has plenty to chew on. Thankfully, these veteran actors are more than capable, as they make the blend of comedy and drama seem effortless. Whether or not you connect with the story, there's no denying that these performers (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton and Celia Imrie) are on their "A-Game". They really showed up Dev Patel's inexperienced "eager beaver" performance. The main attraction is probably Maggie Smith, who is very amusing as the haughty and slightly racist Muriel Donnelly. Her character's attitude is quite distasteful in the beginning, but she makes it hard not to be on her side when she's delivering such great "Maggie Smith-ness". Her facial expressions and reactions are truly one of a kind.
While most will say the acting is the only draw to this film, I feel there is a fairly substantial script underneath it all. The movie gives a nice brief introduction to Indian culture including the food, customs and basically the whole atmosphere of the setting. In addition, it gives a fascinating exploration into the struggles of old age. The individual struggles of these characters gave a wealth of insight into issues such as diminishing physical beauty and coping with death. Mainly, it's a nice reminder of the importance of one's willingness to adapt and change, even in your twilight years. It's a shame that the film is so resolute in maintaining its lite tone (for the most part), as it really could have dug in and lived up to its considerable potential. For me, it's just a minor complaint as I firmly believe that this film is nicely executed overall. It's a refreshing diversion to see these stories on screen, as modern film-making is largely geared towards young men (i.e. flashy blockbusters).
As I said earlier, this film has picked up some Oscar buzz that is worthy of discussion. Mainly, it seems to have 2 possible nominations in store - Best Supporting Actress (Maggie Smith) and Best Picture. Some cynical critics will still say it's a long shot for these nods, but I don't agree. This film should sit very well with the large number of older Academy members who will definitely relate more to the film than most bloggers/critics. Furthermore, the cast is highly-respected (as evidenced by the various Best Ensemble nominations it has already received) and we all know that the Oscars can turn into a popularity contest. If you're an Oscar pundit, this is one to watch for next week.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My New Year's Movie Resolutions

Wow, is it really 2013 already? 2012 was as certainly an interesting year for movies, while my life was uneventful in comparison. I certainly did a lot of movie-watching this year though and have been introduced to some fantastic older films too. I'm hoping that 2013 will bring more of the same movie-wise. With that in mind, here are the 5 main things I want to achieve this year:

- Finally do an episode of the LAMBCast (I'm already scheduled for podcast #154!).

- Correctly predict at least 20 winners at this year's Oscars (I've been consistently predicting 19 out of the 24 categories).

- Attend my first major film festival (most likely TIFF or NYFF).

- Watch more documentaries.

- Finish watching every movie on my List of Shame.