Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ball of Fire (1941) (2nd time)

A group of ivory-tower lexicographers realize they need to hear how real people talk, and end up helping a beautiful singer avoid police and escape from the Mob. [imdb]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:
Best Actress: Barbara Stanwyck
Best Writing, Original Story
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture
Best Sound

I'm glad I got the chance to see this film again for the other blog, because when I first saw it many years ago (must be about 8-10 years), I gave it a lower rating. And watching it again I found it funny, because if anything the film is well written (a screenplay by none other than Billy Wilder) and I giggled a couple of times.
It has to be one of the last true screwball comedies and it mostly works: the story is silly, but the film never gets too boring and Barbara delivers quite a memorable performance in what seems to have been a great acting year of hers (with other raved performances in The Lady Eve and Meet John Doe).
My rating for the film: 8/10.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hold Back the Dawn (1941)

Stopped in Mexico by U.S. Immigration, Georges Iscovescu hopes to get into the country by marrying a citizen. [imdb]

Nominated for 6 Oscars:
Best Picture

Best Actress: Olivia de Havilland
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture
Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White

This film was a very pleasant surprise; it seems the screenplay was written by Billy Wilder, which rather explains everything: it's very well put together, with interesting characters and a story that grabbed my attention. Charles Boyer is a captivating lead and gives an excellent performance (curious why he wasn't nominated; it's his film). Olivia is also memorable, playing the role that (maybe) fit her best: the kind, naive woman.
I can't say that I support the ending, but I understand why it went down like that, and I do respect the film a lot.
My rating for the film: 8/10
And some great piece of trivia: The original script included an early scene where Charles Boyer talks to a cockroach in his room. Boyer dismissed the scene as idiotic and convinced director Mitchell Leisen to delete it; screenwriters Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett were so incensed at Leisen for giving in they resolved to direct and produce their own movies from then on. [imdb]

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Big House (1930)

A convict falls in love with his new cellmate's sister, only to become embroiled in a planned break-out which is certain to have lethal consequences. [imdb]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:
Best Picture
Best Actor: Wallace Beery
Best Writing (WINNER)
Best Sound (WINNER)

The reason I saw this film was because it was recommended to me ;) and these days I seem to be in the mood for 1930s & 40s. And, of course, because it has a couple of Oscar nominations. The point is: I can't share the enthusiasm on it, because it IS terribly dated and there are moments where it sounded too scripted and fake. The problem is in the screenplay, which fails (except for the Robert Montgomery one) in developing believable characters. Why would x, y, z have done that?! Plenty of such questions crossed my mind. :)

The ending is fine, except for defying logic a couple of times and that silly last scene. The acting is mostly OK: I dislike Wallace Beery because of his personal life, but he gives a good performance here. The star of the film is Chester Morris: his performance is memorable and he is terribly charismatic. 

My rating for the film: 6/10. I just didn't enjoy it as much, and felt too dated to reward higher.

Blossoms in the Dust (1941)

It tells the true story of Edna Gladney who takes it upon herself to help orphaned children to find homes, despite the opposition of the "good" citizens who think that illegitimate children are beneath their interest. [wiki]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:
Best Picture

Best Actress: Greer Garson
Best Cinematography, Color
Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color (WINNER)

I must be the only living person who is not a Green Garson fanatic who has seen the film TWICE. :) For my other blog, of course. But I'm glad when I see them more than once, because I get to appreciate the performances more. This might just be the best Greer Garson performance I've seen so far and she is way better than the film would demand. There's a certain energy in the performance that is lovely to witness - and she also looks great in Color - this is overall a nicely shot film, with the colors being a delight.

Other than Greer, the film isn't much. It pretends to be a biopic, but, with a simple check on wikipedia, you can tell this takes so much liberties it barely has much to do with the real story. But writers did that A LOT back in the day. In many ways, it's your average 1940s drama. Something to note: I don't remember ever seeing so many black actors in a film of that era (a film with a story that doesn't specifically require black actors - so Gone with the Wind doesn't count); sure, the main roles are cliches of servants or helpers, but they're also portrayed as nicely dressed, included in a community, almost on equal ground, donating money to charity. This was 1941 after all. I'm curious if Greer's personal activism had anything to do with this or if it was all on the director.

My rating for the film: 5.5/10. For either fans of old film or Greer / Best Actress fanatics.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Suspicion (1941)

A shy young English woman marries a charming gentleman, then begins to suspect him of trying to kill her. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:
Best Picture
Best Actress: Joan Fontaine (WINNER)
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture
This has to be the worst Hitchcock film I've ever seen (he's done plenty of films nobody's talking about, so I can't say it's his worst ever). But how surprising for him to craft such a bad film, especially only 1 year after the wonderful Rebecca. This film has nothing except for 1 or 2 good ideas (the glass of milk) that aren't even explored properly.

Cary Grant is dislikeable here, even beyond his character. Joan plays a VERY naive woman in an overly theatrical performance that makes for one for the most unfortunate Best Actress wins in history. The music is too much, while the ending - I was hoping for it to redeem the film - is just pure vanilla, probably forced upon Hitchcock by the studio. Let's skip it unless we have to.

My rating for the film: 4/10.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:
Best Visual Effects
Best 
Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing

I am a sucker for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and I even enjoyed the first Hobbit (at least more than the others did). But I have to admit this one was... well... not exactly uneventful. More like unimportant. I mean: hey, I could've watched it for hours and hours, because I am fascinated by this universe, but there was nothing too fascinating going on. Like a mid-season so-and-so episode of an otherwise good TV series.
And why the hell was that dragon talking? :) Not too thrilled with the visual effects either. Hope the last episode will get to be the best - and somehow justify this entire new series of films.
My rating for the film: 7/10.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012/13)

Elise and Didier fall in love at first sight, in spite of their differences. He talks, she listens. He's a romantic atheist, she's a religious realist. When their daughter becomes seriously ill, their love is put on trial. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Foreign Language Film (Belgium)

I feel like I'm going to be unfair with this film, since many people DO enjoy it, and good for them. I've actually heard of one person hating it, but I don't hate it at all. I just think it goes for a couple of cliches that it could've avoided. I also think it reaches a high point in the plot way too early and then gets rather lost from there.
The actors do a fine job most of the time, but nothing spectacular. The music if fine. The directing is fine. The kid playing the little girl, she deserved to be named: Nell Cattrysse, brings some amazing Quvenzhan√© realness to the part, especially in the dead-crow scene. I can't get behind some of the dialogue, though, which seemed forced, almost out of place, and the ending was just a bit silly.
My rating for the film: 7/10. Since it never really bothered me.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one-man weapon of mass destruction. [imdb]


Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Visual Effects

A sequel that gives me hope: this was (much) better than the original Star Trek from 4 years ago, that I mostly didn't like (wasn't it too cheesy?!). This one was more grounded, with a story that felt right, enough action to never be boring, a good performance from Chris Pine and a GREAT one from Benedict C. 

Had I seen this before the actual Oscar nominations were announced, I would've correctly predicted this nominations - the Visual Effects are quite amazing. A good effort.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

When Tony Stark's world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution. [imdb]


Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Visual Effects

Time flies, and I can barely remember what happened in those previous films. :) I am the target of this film ONLY because sometimes I really enjoy visual-effects-driven stuff, but I have nothing to do with the whole Marvel thing. Too many of these already.

This was standard, if not a bit better than that. Not really boring, with decent performances, fine visual effects, Downey Jr still charismatic. Should I have asked for more?

My rating for the film: 7/10.

All Is Lost (2013)

After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face. [imdb]


Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Sound Editing

And here is yet another 2013 film that starts on the right note and doesn't end up so great. I appreciated the mood of the film, the big storms, the sounds and the visuals, but the story itself turns boring at some point. Robert Redford delivers a good performance, but this is not a film that would make an actor shine through his performance - it was all physically challenging, I bet, he gets one shouting scene, but otherwise it's all low key.

The original score is superb and I'm sad it didn't get nominated. If any justice, it should win Sound Editing, though it won't.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10.

Lone Survivor (2013)

Marcus Luttrell and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, in late June 2005. [imdb]


Nominated for 2 Oscars:
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing


I wrote on Twitter that this film was in desperate need of Kathryn Bigelow, and I still stand by it. It's a poorly directed, exploitive film that has little popcorn fun to it, and never feels compelling enough because of some cliches and not-so-inspired directing choices. Some people fall for this, I found it offensive at times, both towards the "enemy" and also towards the real life heroes: did we really need to see the characters continuingly hitting their heads on rocks?! What was the point of that.

Oh nevermind. Not my cup of tea I guess.

My rating for the film: 5/10.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Author P.L. Travers reflects on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walk Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen. [imdb]


Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Original Score

It so happens that most of the times a film made from the so-well-known Hollywood structure doesn't really work out for me. This is a film with not enough depth, and when it does exist, it's only in Emma's performance - which is not some kind of treasure, but it's a fine effort, and the best in the film.

Hanks was fine, Colin and everything connected to the flashbacks not so much. It needed better writing, better directing. The original score is not that good either, by Thomas Newman standards.

My rating for the film: 6/10.

The Book Thief (2013)

In World War II Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books. Under the stairs in her home, a Jewish refugee is being sheltered by her adoptive parents. [imdb]


Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Original Score

Next to Fruitvale Station, this wins my prize for the not-so-obvious worst film of the year. And the screenplay is not even the worst element of it: the directing is a nightmare, from the strange pace, to the flat, almost chiched acting, to some ridiculous choices (did you see how those bodies looked after a bombing?!). 

It's a dull story that we've seen tens of times before. Even the costume design choices are weird: children during war-time living in poor conditions dressed like from a Burberry catalogue. And, ah yes, the original score is nothing interesting.

My rating for the film: 3/10.

The Lone Ranger (2013)

Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice. [imdb]


Nominated for 2 Oscars:
Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Best Visual Effects

Without a doubt, this was one of the most underrated films of 2013. The Razzie nominations are ridiculous - while it could've used a better screenplay, this film was perfectly entertaining most times. And forget the rumours: it didn't lose that much money if you count worldwide box-office. 

I thought it was really funny overall, I laughed outloud once or twice and enjoyed a lot the Wilhelm Tell train-action scene. The Makeup nomination, at least, is very deserving, and might've actually had my vote.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10.

The Great Gatsby (2013)

A Midwestern war veteran finds himself drawn to the past and lifestyle of his millionaire neighbor. [imdb]


Nominated for 2 Oscars:
Best Production Design (WINNER)
Best Costume Design
 (WINNER)

Another adaption of a book I never really enjoyed. I will say this: Baz's version is better than the 1974 one, which was a borderline disaster. So... that's something, right? Some people seem to have an issue with the production design, but I thought it all looked lovely and the costumes are quite memorable themselves.

The weak element of the film must be the acting: I can't approve of either Leo or Carey, though Joel Edgerton is quite intriguing. Not a deep or meaningful film, but pleasant to watch and talk about that soundtrack...

My rating for the film: 7/10.

The Grandmaster (2013)

The story of martial-arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee. [imdb]


Nominated for 2 Oscars:
Best Cinematography
Best Costume Design


This film reminded me a bit of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, one of the best films ever. It doesn't reach it greatness, but it has a couple of very memorable scenes (train station fight) and its Oscar nominations are both very well deserved. It should actually win the one for Costume Design, though it won't happen. 

Ziyi Zhang delivers a good performance and the overall film was a pleasant experience, quite visually stunning.

My rating for the film: 8/10.

Prisoners (2013)

When a man's daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts. [imdb]


Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Cinematography

Here is a film with a lot of potential that almost goes to waste. I thought it started on the right foot and it was quite captivating up until the last 30 minutes or more. Its biggest assets are Roger Deakins' Oscar nominated cinematography (OK, so most of it is name recognition, but it works wonders for the film) and Hugh Jackman's performance. 

I thought Jake, Maria Bello and Melissa Leo gave almost-bad performances, but Hugh was amazing, Paul Dano was very good, and Viola & Terrence were ok. As I said, I enjoyed it up until it got so foolishly complicated. The answer to the mystery is all kinds of ridiculous.

My rating for the film: 6.5/10.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwish Village folk scene of 1961. [imdb]


Nominated for 2 Oscars:
Best Cinematography
Best Sound Mixing


The more I remembered this film, the most I appreciated it, because while I respected it at first, I slowly learned to love it a bit more weeks and months later. The lack of serious Oscar love upsets me because this is a special film that deserved more recognition. It has a good screenplay, it's very well directed and Oscar Isaac gives a subtle, yet fascinating performance. His singing is good too.

And, of course, the cat(s). I love cats. A particular scene in this film still breaks my heart. But maybe that makes me like it more: I appreciate the honesty, being ok with making the character dislikeable.

My rating for the film: 8.5/10.

The Hunt (2012/13)

A man who becomes the target of mass hysteria after being wrongly accused of sexually assaulting a child. [wiki]


Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Foreign Language Film (Denmark)

I compared watching this film to looking at a car crash. The first 40 minutes are gruelling, and the injustice level in this is through the roof. Watching it makes for a frustrating experience, but given the subject matter, I found it to be well put together.

What stands out is the acting. Mads Mikkelsen delivers one of the best performances of the year, both in subtle and not-so-subtle moments. There are a couple of great supporting performances also. Then, it's the direction which I appreciated because it somehow made me interested in the film despite the difficult subject. Normally I stay away from such films.

My rating for the film: 8/10.

The Great Beauty (2013)

Jep Gambardella has seduced his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome for decades, but after his 65th birthday and a shock from the past, Jep looks past the nightclubs and parties to find a timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty. [imdb]


Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Foreign Language Film (Italy)  (WINNER)

I was just saying on Twitter a couple of days ago that I can't really justify my love for this film. Sometimes I run into a film that's so visually beautiful, that I can forgive most of the faults in the screenplay. And this was gorgeous: Rome looks amazing, the cinematography in general was exquisite. 

Since the screenplay is not so great, and without a clear direction, it sure helped that the directing is almost flawless. Overall, it feels like a traveling ad, with a touch of substance and a nice leading performance. I was hooked. But I must admit I'm being subjective and it's not a film everyone could enjoy.

My rating for the film: 8.5/10.

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help deal with a powerful new super criminal. [imdb]


Nominated for 2 Oscars:
Best Animated Feature
Best Original Song

I can't remember if I liked this one more than the original. I think I gave both of them the same ranking. [note: the first Despicable Me film was, surprisingly, not nominated for Animated Feature] Just like the first one, this also tries to be funny, but succeeds only partly: I'm referring to one word, the minions. They are the reason to watch this film, since they get all the laughs and they're also adorable.

Otherwise, nothing eventful.

My rating for the film: 7/10.

Frozen (2013)

Anna sets off on an epic journey to find her sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. [imdb]


Nominated for 2 Oscars:
Best Animated Feature (WINNER)
Best Original Song
 (WINNER)

I think I pissed-off some people of Twitter for criticizing this. Since I didn't like Tangled, I should've guessed that I might have a problem with this one also. Hey, it looks great, I'll give it that. The songs are just ok, with the exception of Let It Go which really works inside the context. 

I appreciated Disney trying to go for something juuuuust a bit different (the "replace this with gay" undertone), but damn was that screenplay boring. The story too - the snowman is fun, but otherwise you get some boring leading characters, a lack of a real villain and troubling story gaps and screenplay solutions. I couldn't connect to it the right way.

They should've invested some of that 150 million budget (!!) in good writers.

My rating for the film: 6/10.

Ernest & Celestine (2012/13)

The story of an unlikely friendship between a bear, Ernest, and a young mouse named Celestine. [imdb]


Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Animated Feature

This category always surprises us with a small foreign animation film that somehow manages to sneak through. Sometimes such choices are really boring (Chico & Rita, Secret of Kells), other times they're a nice surprise, like this one. 

The film looks beautiful because it goes back to the classical way of animation (nothing computer generated or whatever it's called). It has a nice, simple story, a beautiful score and I liked that it felt very unfussy.

My rating for the film: 8/10.

The Croods (2013)

After their cave is destroyed, a caveman family must trek through an unfamiliar territory with the help of an inventive young man. [imdb]


Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Animated Feature

This animated film was quite the surprise. I had avoided it for a while, and saw it just because of its nomination: but I ended up being delighted by the funny screenplay and the beautiful animation. Some of the dialogue was really memorable. The story has its amount of moral-blah-blah, but not so much as to bother me. I ended up liking it, and I'd give my vote if I would have a ballot.

My rating for the film: 8/10.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Before Midnight (2013)

It has been nine years since we last met Jesse and Celine in Vienna. They now have twin daughters, spending a summer in Greece on the invitation of an author colleague of Jesse's. [imdb]


Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Adapted Screenplay

I must confess I didn't do a recap of the Before films in advance of playing this. I was too anxious to see it, I guess, and I wanted to experience it with some time between the films. I wasn't sure what the result would be once the film started... it's a bit shaky at first, but as soon as they start walking on the island, it all changes for the best. The key of the series was always the dialogue, since it's so much of it, and so well-written. This was no exception: I loved the dialogue in the hotel scene, it felt very authentic to me. Ethan is good, Julie is superb. The ending is so damn sad, but I'll take it. A film for the soul, for sure.

My rating for the film: 8.5/10.

August: Osage County (2013) (2nd time)

A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them. [imdb]


Nominated for 2 Oscars:
Best Actress: Meryl Streep
Best 
Supporting Actress: Julia Roberts

I was vaguely familiar with the play, but not enough as to tear this to pieces for not including this and that. Had I read it, I might've noticed the flaws in the adaptation. Any problem the film has comes, in my opinion, from the direction which needed just a touch more personality. Not too much though: this is clearly a vehicle for actors, not for the director to shine. As I said on Twitter, give me a Todd Field and I would be happy.

Meryl's amazing, Julia's amazing, Julianne Nicholson is really good, Margo Martindale & Chris Cooper are very memorable. I enjoyed the film a lot, it's the acting that makes it worth your time. Underrated by critics, for sure.

My rating for the film: 8/10.

Blue Jasmine (2013) (2nd time)

A New York socialite, deeply troubled and in denial, arrives in San Francisco to impose upon her sister. [imdb]


Nominated for 3 Oscars:
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett (WINNER)
Best 
Supporting Actress: Sally Hawkins
Best Original Screenplay

Not only is Cate the most stylish, fascinating, classy film star we have right now, she's also delivering an acting performance that really does feel like a masterclass. Woody helps a lot with the writing, which is not original at all, but offers SO MUCH to Cate to play with. When was the last time she got such a juicy role? Maybe I'm Not There, but that was too cold. This performance somehow manages to combine the technical aspect of acting (she owns it!) with the humanity of the character, which I didn't notice at first and is much more obvious with a second viewing.

The film itself is a modern Streetcar Named Desire rip-off (don't call it homage, since it doesn't give any credit to it) with highs and lows. Cate MAKES the film, Sally Hawkins delivers a good performance, and so does Bobby Cannavale. It's a film that works only/mostly as a vehicle for Cate. And nothing wrong with that.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government. [imdb]


Nominated for 5 Oscars:
Best Picture
Best Director: Martin Scorsese
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio

Best Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill
Best Adapted Screenplay

It's the most infamous film of 2013, some might say. Martin Scorsese was really fucking with us, and what I LOVE is that he still has the balls (and the passion) to produce such a daring film. But it needs to be said: the film is too long, it gets redundant at times AND, regardless of them denying it, it does glorify these Wall Street assholes. It's a good film about characters I mostly hated. With a couple of really funny scenes.

Leo is all kinds of great here. While it's not my favourite performance of him, it might just be his most challenging one yet. Jonah Hill, I thought, was really funny and the film needed him. A great acting ensemble all around, and a mostly good screenplay.

My rating for the film: 8/10.