Lincoln (2012)

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Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book)
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones,  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Jared Harris, Joseph Cross, Tim Blake Nelson, Lee Pace and a host of others

Oscar Nominations:  Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Editing, Screenplay, Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones), Supporting Actress (Sally Field), Directing and Picture.

The second movie I watched in the last 24hours is Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s historical drama about the final months of Lincoln’s Presidency as the civil war rages and he attempts to unite the country and abolish slavery.   I would love to argue that the Academy went with the safe choice here, nominating it for twelve Oscars, more than any other film (Life of Pi is a close second with eleven), but I can’t.  I have yet to meet someone who hasn’t seen and enjoyed Lincoln.  It is a movie where the seasoned director and actor are at their best.

What I liked: Daniel Day-Lewis, from his voice to his walk to his gestures to his charm, is transformed.  No one in the actor category comes close to this performance and proves, yet again, that Day-Lewis may be the best actor of the last 15 years.  Like Zero Dark Thirty, the cast is teeming with recognizable faces but here, Spielberg’s (admittedly) first character drama offers each role a distinct personality and connection to the audience whether they are on screen for 2minutes or 2hours.  James Spader delivers as the only comic relief in the film.  The screenplay is excellent in presenting the complexity of both the politics and the characters, as are both the staging and tone of the movie.   The emotional weight of the story is felt throughout but Spielberg does well to play a light hand and add only subtle touches through editing and camerawork that remind of us of this moment’s historical impact.

What I didn’t like: Tommy Lee Jones is excellent, as always, but I have to wonder if he warrants a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  My feeling while watching the film was that this nod is more a sympathetic gesture towards what his character represents rather than his actual performance.  Sally Field is also commendable in her complexity but both, standing next to Daniel Day-Lewis, felt like performances.

My rating:  Likely Best Picture

IMDB: 7.7

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

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Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

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Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jason Clarke, Reda Kateb, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, Jeremy Strong, Mark Strong and a host of others

Oscar Nominations:  Editing, Sound Editing, Original screenplay, Actress (Jessica Chastain), Picture

It’s been a bit of a scramble to get all of the Oscar nominated movies under my belt before the big day.  In the last 24 hours I’ve watched two Oscar nominated films deeply seeded in American history.  Here, Kathryn Bigelow’s drama about one woman’s dedication to the hunt for Osama bin Laden is focused on the tactical steps leading up to his death.  The movie is riddled with familiar faces but the focus here is on the story, which is deftly told.

What I liked:  Jessica Chastain is excellent as the CIA agent obsessed with a seemingly insignificant lead to bin Laden.  Bigelow does little here to develop her character and all the nuance in Chastain’s performance comes from her reaction to harrowing events which slowly and seamlessly evolve.  It is made clear in the final scene that this was Bigelow’s intention and it is expertly executed.  She also does well to hire well-known actors who bring some recognition to characters who are only on screen for a short while but with whom we nevertheless feel connected.  My hat is also off to Jason Clarke who has received little recognition for this role but who managed to engage our attention through some very difficult scenes.  I was disappointed to see his role diminish during the course of the film.  The writing and editing are also commendable as they incorporate a decade of complex details through smooth transitions that move forward to a strong climax.  My heart was pounding as we embarked on the final crusade.

What I didn’t like:  I like character development so the distance the audience is kept from the characters left me a little cold, although it may be a testament to Bigelow’s skills that she intentionally tried to uphold some form of objectivity here.   There were also so many details that I was often lost during the first half of the film.

My rating: I’m surprised by how little I found to critique.

IMDB: 7.6

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

Flight (2012)

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Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: John Gatins
Starring: Denzel Washington, Nadine Velazquez, Don Cheadle, Brian Geraghty, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood and John Goodman

Oscar Nominations: Original Screenplay and Best Actor (Denzel Washington)

Unlike some of the Oscar nominated movies I’ve raved about, there is nothing particularly new in Flight, the story of a troubled airline pilot who prevents a devastating plane crash and the ensuing investigation into his competence.   The narrative, editing and directing are all straight-forward and yet there is something unsettling but engaging about the movie that is, I believe, entirely thanks to Denzel Washington.

What I liked:  Washington is transcendent.  His character is so well-developed (hence the screenplay nod?), so complex, so arrogant, so charming and so frightened that each scene elicits an emotional response.   He is at his best when his character, Whip Whitaker, is at his worst.  The story itself is interesting and moves smoothly forward to its finale.  The supporting cast provides some wit, some centering and helps to ask some tough questions.

What I didn’t like: The story itself felt nuanced enough that the lyric-heavy score annoyed me with its blatant reminder of what we were seeing.  The frequent reference to God as explanation for personal tragedy or salvation was probably meant to invoke discussion  but felt heavy-handed to me.

My rating: My favourite Denzel performance.

IMDB: 7.7

Rotten Tomatoes: 78%

The Master (2012)

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Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons and a host of others.

Oscar Nominations:  Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Best Actress (Amy Adams)

The Master is excellent filmmaking; every shot and every moment is poetry and what I think makes it special is that the characters, an alcoholic war vet suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, an enigmatic yet charismatic cult leader and his believing wife, come together in a way that makes us understand them despite their foreignness.  As with most Paul Thomas Anderson films, the story is tough to pinpoint.  Rather, The Master is a confounding psychological journey of discovery, acceptance and manipulation.

What I liked: It’s redundant at this point to mention Philip Seymour Hofmann and Joaquin Phoenix.  The movie succeeds because of their performances.  Amy Adams is understated and convincing but I wouldn’t put her on par with the other two who carry the film; although, in some ways, she’s eerier in her tranquil judgement and faith which is a testament to her performance.  The images are transfixing and there are a number of shots that I would frame and put on my wall.  Finally,  Anderson, brought back Jonny Greenwood  to delivery a score that is as entrancing as the movie.

What I didn’t like: I enjoy an Anderson film but I’m not an avid follower.  While I appreciate his filmmaking skills, often his artistry distances his audience from his characters just enough to prevent me from empathizing with them in the way I do other films.  I always walk away more disturbed and ponderous than entertained.

My rating: Two of the most challenging and successful performances of 2012.  If it weren’t for Daniel Day Lewis and Christoph Walz, these two would have my vote for the Oscars.

IMDB: 7.5

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

The Impossible (2012)

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Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona
Written by: Sergio G. Sánchez (screenplay), María Belón (story)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewen McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress (Naomi Watts)

I have included this in my Oscar list because a) Naomi Watts is one of my favourite actresses and her performance in this movie puts her at the top of my list of hopeful winners and b) how this movie was overlooked for editing or cinematography for the tsunami scene alone is beyond me.  The story, based on the real events of a family ravaged by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (one of the worst on record) while on vacation in Thailand is horrifying in its gritty camerawork and devastating in its performances.

What I liked: Naomi Watts is sensational as the mother desperately trying to stay alive for her family. Though I tried, I couldn’t help but feel her pain both physically and emotionally.  The performances overall are convincing enough to hold the movie together as, aside from the exceptional and harrowing tsunami scene and the core emotion and sense of loss, there isn’t much in the way of plot to move it forward.

What I didn’t like:  Critiquing this movie almost feels like criticizing actual victims of this horror which is awkward but, no matter how true, I did feel that Bayona pushed a little too hard to deliver the blood and gore reality that goes along with a natural disaster, excessively so.  On the other hand, this could also be a testament to the movie’s realism.  I can see why critics didn’t gush over it but I’m also a little surprised by their reserve.  Granted the movie may rely on the fact that it is based on a true story but this family’s nightmare stays with you even after it’s over.

My rating:  Enjoy it for its triumphant truth.

IMDB: 7.6

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%

Something I try to avoid but couldn’t resist:  For those of you who have no interest in seeing a disaster drama, I highly recommend this incredible scene which is worth the price of admission alone.

Video courtesy of Pantherapardus2012

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker and Anupam Kher.

Oscar Nominations:  Actor (Bradley Cooper), Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Supporting Actor (Robert de Niro), Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver), Editing, Screenplay (Adapted), Directing and Picture.

I’m a huge fan of David O. Russell so needless to say I was pretty excited to see his take on the romantic comedy.   I enjoyed the story, about a young man trying to come to terms with his bipolar disorder, his father and the rejection of his ex with the help of young woman who forces him to face his reality; and I enjoyed the performances but, I have to admit, I came away from it a little mystified by the acclaim and Oscar nominations.

What I liked:  Bradley Cooper is excellent as Pat and he was convincing enough to let me forget he was ‘Bradley Cooper’.  I was also happy to see Jacki Weaver nominated for her performance as Pat’s mother, the cracked glue trying desperately to hold her family together, as she could have easily been overlooked for the subtlety of her role compared to the neurosis around her.  The casting is excellent and I liked that I could finally enjoy a romantic comedy that focused on the characters rather than the formulaic plot points.

What I didn’t like:  I thought Robert de Niro was admirable as Pat’s equally neurotic father but there was so much depth to his character that it felt like Russell tried to force too much into the brief moments when he was on screen.  That is only one instance where I felt the editing failed.  The transitions also felt strained and at times I wanted to see the missing gaps that had been pared down to make this choppy final cut.  Finally, Jennifer Lawrence was enjoyable as Tiffany and her performance stands above the role of  ‘love interest’ in most romantic comedies but I never forgot for a moment that she was ‘Jennifer Lawrence.’

My rating:  Don’t believe the hype.  Sure it’s a good, heartfelt, funny movie but Best Picture? Nah.

IMDB: 8.1

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%