Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Apartment (1960)

A man tries to rise in his company by letting its executives use his apartment for trysts, but complications and a romance of his own ensue. [imdb]

Nominated for 10 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Billy Wilder (WINNER)
Best Actor: Jack Lemmon
Best Actress: Shirley MacLaine
Best Supporting Actor: Jack Kruschen
Best Original Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Best Editing (WINNER)
Best Art Direction, Black-and-White (WINNER)
Best Sound

Many seem to believe that the Best Picture winner for 1960 is one of the best films to get such a distinction in this category, one of Billy Wilder's best films and an overall romantic classic. Allow me to disagree with the majority this time. It was not an issue of high expectations: while I had never seen it before, I gave it a fair shot, and I must say I was really underwhelmed by it. While the film has plenty of OK & good moments, it never really shines.

I guess the highest achievement of the film stands in the acting of the two leads, and they're both good and they both do their best, but the screenplay does offer its limitation. Wasn't convinced at first about Jack Lemmon performance, but he gets better and better as soon as we find out a bit about the character's background. In the end, it's a touching performance, worthy of a nomination, but not Lemmon's best. 

Shirley MacLaine is sweeter than ever, and likeable, and charming, and nails the scenes where she has to cry or pose as a victim. But the role never becomes challenging enough. She lost the Oscar to Elizabeth Taylor's controversial performance in BUtterfield 8, and while I wouldn't dare to compare the performances, I can't really say Shirley was robbed of the Oscar. Just like in Lemmon's case, it's a good performance, but far from her best (which I guess came a year later under the name of The Children's Hour and was completely ignored by the Academy).

Strangely enough, I guess my biggest issue is with the screenplay. Billy Wilder certainly did not win Oscars for his best work - while this screenplay is quite creative at times, it just doesn't... sparkle. It feels flat, especially in the first half, not to mention the hard to ignore misogynistic tone. Sure, The Apartment gets better in the last 15-20 minutes, but it's not enough to change the film around. I consider it an ok romantic comedy, but it lacks  the excitement factor.

My rating for the film: 6.5/10. Nominations for Cinematography, Art Direction (win!), Sound & Supporting Actor make no sense. Billy Wilder's directing win (in competition with Hitchcock's Psycho) feels quite undeserved. My Best Picture series will continue.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ben-Hur (1959) (3rd time)

When a Jewish prince is betrayed and sent into slavery by a Roman friend, he regains his freedom and comes back for revenge. [imdb]

Nominated for 12 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: William Wyler (WINNER)
Best Actor: Charlton Heston (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actor: Hugh Griffith (WINNER)
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Cinematography, Color (WINNER)
Best Original Score (WINNER)
Best Art Direction, Color (WINNER)
Best Costume Design, Color (WINNER)
Best Editing (WINNER)
Best Sound (WINNER)
Best Visual Effects (WINNER)

The only reason I went for Ben-Hur again was to continue my almost-forgotten Best Picture series, where I see (again) all the Best Picture winners, in chronological order. This started years ago, and, as you can tell, I'm not doing that great. :) But here is Ben-Hur, a film I disliked the first time, felt better about the second time around, and disliked it again now. It does feel like an epic, no doubt about it, but too superficial in many ways, which made me roll my eyes more than once.

With 11 wins, it solely held the record for most Oscar wins, until Titanic came along 38 years later and matched it, and then LOTR: The Return of the King happened, and the record was matched again. It only missed Adapted Screenplay, which is kind of surprising to me: not because it's a great screenplay (no way!), but because it's wordy and lengthy enough for them to justify a possible win in this category too. 

I wouldn't have rewarded the film with Oscars in any of the leading categories: definitely not Best Picture, there were better supporting actors and definitely better Best Actor contenders. Heston does an ok job, but he gets so many cheesy moments, that it's very distracting at times. The directing impresses, but it also fails in some key moments. The technical aspects however are great all around.

The biggest flaw of the film, as I said, was making it too commercial, with too many moral standards and values, and not enough character study or any nuanced feelings or actions. The chariot race scene is impressive, the storyline with Jesus becomes surprisingly touching for a couple of scenes, but all these can't overcome the flawed screenplay development.

My rating for the film: 6/10. Stephen Boyd's Oscar snub for Supporting Actor was surprising, considering he had even won the Golden Globe.

***The updated BEST PICTURE WINNERS ranking is HERE (click!)***

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Chico & Rita (2011)

Chico is a young piano player with big dreams. Rita is a beautiful singer with an extraordinary voice. Music and romantic desire unites them, but their journey - in the tradition of the Latin ballad, the bolero - brings heartache and torment. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Animated Feature

The other unusual Animated Feature selection was Chico & Rita. The nomination itself was less surprising (it was predicted based on earlier buzz), but the film itself is probably the worst of the line-up (I haven't seen Kung Fu Panda 2 yet, nor will I adventure too soon). It's a predictable, superficial "love story", so poorly constructed that it creates no emotional connection with the audience.

The film itself feels like an excuse to just to play the music - which is fine, but it could've been much more had they put some effort into the story. The animation is ok, though often enough it looked like a computer game to me. And who would've thought I'll live to see an animated woman's full frontal (breasts, pubic hair, everything) in an Oscar nominated animation film?! And in competition with something like Puss in Boots. :))

My rating for the film: 4.5/10. Too often it fails.

A Cat in Paris (2011)

In Paris, a cat who lives a secret life as a cat burglar's aide must come to the rescue of Zoe, the little girl it lives with, after she falls into a gangster's clutches. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Animated Feature

The big surprise of this category was the nomination of A Cat in Paris - it was obvious to everyone that Animated Feature was going to have a weak line-up, judging by the finalists, but this 60-something minutes French animation somehow managed to beat Cars 2, Rio, The Adventures of Tintin and Arthur Christmas for that 5th nomination. And it was a surprise.

After seeing it, I can definitely admit it has some qualities: the animation feels special, a reinterpretation of the traditional way of doing the job, and the story, the main idea is quite interesting and dynamic. The problem is that in the end it all feels under-cooked: the film is too short for its own good and focuses more on style than on dialogue or memorable events. That being said, one could make a very interesting live-action film adaptation of it.

My rating for the film: 6/10. And of course I tend to like a bit more anything with cats in it (even animated ones).

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cabaret (1972) (2nd time)

A female girlie club entertainer in Weimar Republic era Berlin romances two men while the Nazi Party rises to power around them. [imdb]

Nominated for 10 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: Bob Fosse (WINNER)
Best Actress: Liza Minnelli (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actor: Joel Grey (WINNER)
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Cinematography (WINNER)
Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and/or Adaptation (WINNER)
Best Art Direction (WINNER)
Best Editing (WINNER)
Best Sound (WINNER)

Cabaret holds the distinction of winning most Oscars (8) without a Best Picture win among those. This happened because the Best Picture winner for 1972 was no other than The Godfather, so that makes sense. Even so, the musical won 2 acting Oscars and Best Director, over Coppola. Many would say that The Godfather has aged better, and I have to agree: while Cabaret is a nice musical, with plenty of funny moments, The Godfather is a true classic to me and an alltime favorite.

But I understand why Bob Fosse won Best Director: he does a nice job with the musical numbers and most of all knows how to keep it subtle and smart, with a great integration of historical events inside of what it seems to be a silly musical. More on Liza on the other blog, but she's certainly as charming as possible; the Joel Grey win is harder to agree on: he is great at what he does, but we basically know nothing about his character, which results in the performance being very one-note; yes, he's as entertaining as you'd see someone in a music video, but you wouldn't give them the Oscar for that: not when competing with Al Pacino or James Caan. Still, he really is almost-brilliant at what he does for the film.

Most of the songs are classics, Michael York is very nice to look at, Marisa Berenson should've received an Oscar nomination, but the film doesn't feel as focused or fun in the second half. I respect it, I like it, but I never fell in love with Cabaret.

My rating for the film: 8/10. Also, not all of the technical wins feel worthy.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jane Eyre (2011)

A mousy governess who softens the heart of her employer soon discovers that he's hiding a terrible secret. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Costume Design

5 minutes into this film all I could think of was: I bet this film is better than the book. This happens because I think the film has a good start, with beautiful landscape, artistic direction and a screenplay that seems to correct the story mistakes the book does. The other reason would be that I am not a big fan of the book, I think it has its good parts, but it's overall mediocre. 

To the screenplay's credit, it almost completely ignored the childhood scenes which are indeed the weakest in the book. To the screenplay's fault, it doesn't sell the love story enough, and that's why the 2nd half fails a bit inside the film: the characters are nicely developed, but I didn't feel the twisted love connection between Jane Eyre and Rochester. Had it looked more believable, it would've made the film better.

Mia is simple enough to be right for the part and she gives a good performance, though nothing groundbreaking. Judi Dench is memorable, while the best performance comes of course from Michael Fassbender - he does the best he can with the character, gets the dark side of Rochester, but I feel like he's not the right casting choice: not because he wasn't good, he really IS, but because Rochester was a well-built, but unattractive man in the book, and Fassbender is... well... quite gorgeous here. I didn't appreciate that.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. The costume design is worthy of the nomination, also beautiful Cinematography.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

W.E. (2011)

The affair between King Edward VIII and American divorcée Wallis Simpson, and a contemporary romance between a married woman and a Russian security guard. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Costume Design

Madonna made a little movie about a controversial couple (I would say controversial not because he was the future king and she was a married woman, but because of the long debate if or if not they were Nazi sympathizers) and the movie failed. 

The biggest problem is the screenplay, which is filled with uninspired choices: the present-day story shouldn't be there at all I think, the film is 30 minutes too long, and small details fail big time: the visions that Abbie Cornish's character has go from uninspired to ridiculous; the fact that 76 year old Wallis would dance a twist for the dying husband is also a terrible idea. :) Mostly, one poor choice after the other. 

The directing is all over the place, and Madonna is clearly trying to copy what Tom Ford did with A Single Man, except... you know... he proved talent. She doesn't. But it's not all messy and it's never horribly bad. The technical aspects are good, with the Art Direction and the Costume Design as outstanding elements; I believe it should've actually won Costume Design, because they are quite memorable. 

Andrea Riseborough is the only one giving a good performance, as Wallis Simpson; every time she returned to the screen I had a glimpse of hope the movie might get better. She is right for the part and had the movie been written/directed by someone who actually knew what he was doing, I'm sure we would've had an Oscar talk about it.

My rating for the film: 4.5/10. It's boring; only for die hard Oscar fans.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Iron Lady (2011) (2nd time)

An elderly Margaret Thatcher talks to the imagined presence of her recently deceased husband as she struggles to come to terms with his death while scenes from her past life, from girlhood to British prime minister, intervene. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Actress: Meryl Streep (WINNER)
Best Makeup (WINNER)

After the Oscars, many have said: oh, this won more Academy Awards than Tree of Life, Moneyball, Midnight in Paris, Tinker Tailor combined. And that is true, but can you really argue with any of these 2 wins: Viola Davis is superb and has plenty of fans, but Meryl (!) - oh, finally a 3rd (because before this win, she had only won once every 8 nominations... not even Glenn Close can beat such a negative track). And the makeup, easily the best I've seen since La vie en rose and such a key part of the film and the story and the performance.

What I can admit is that this is not a good movie as a whole: the screenplay might be the problem, or Phyllida Lloyd's rushed style of directing. There's nothing terribly bad about it, but it doesn't feel deep at any particular point (other than what Meryl is trying to do with it). A more focused screenplay might've helped, also some smarter choices (Jim Broadbent with  a turban, oh my).

My rating for the film: 5.5/10. Felt even less interesting the second time, but I think the haters are exaggerating. More on Meryl on the other blog, she really does give an acting class here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Muppets (2011)

With the help of three fans, The Muppets must reunite to save their old theater from a greedy oil tycoon. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Original Song (WINNER)

I'm not so familiar with The Muppets, because I guess we don't care so much about them here in Europe; also, I am somewhat over the age of 10, so I guess I'm not the main target of this film... - ok, that was bullshit, because this is clearly not for kids, even though it has a nice message in a born this way kind of way.

So it didn't start well for me, but as the story progressed some of the jokes got better: Miss Piggy was more of a delight than I expected and the character "Animal" was fun too. The humans - just ok, they didn't get the best of the screenplay. So it became more enjoyable, and it's definitely easy to watch and relaxing. I'm not sure if it deserved the Oscar, neither of the 2 nominees in this category impressed me. What I can say is that I'm surprised Life's a Happy Song didn't get nominated, as it was featured twice in the film, it IS a better song than Man or Muppet, and they were really pushing for it.

My rating for the film: 7/10. I am being generous just because I laughed a couple of times and thought it was overall enjoyable.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Real Steel (2011)

Set in the near future, where robot boxing is a top sport, a struggling promoter feels he's found a champion in a discarded robot. During his hopeful rise to the top, he interacts with his 11-year-old son who wants to know his father. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Visual Effects

This falls in the category of stupid films I see for Oscar, because there's no way I would've wasted time on this stupid mess called Real Steel. And no, not even the visual effects are worth it: because they don't bring anything new to the table, so the nomination is both surprising and saddening. 

The screenplay of the film is Razzie-worthy, with situations that are beyond any believable standard: for example a small boy able to carry a hundreds of kilos robot from a junk yard by himself. The cliches are there: a ridiculous love story, the underdog robot winning against all odds (they truly found it in a junk yard), morons as villains. And again, more outrageous storylines: apparently in the near future there's no such thing as Child Protective Services, and an irresponsible father who trades his child for money can get temporary custody of the child he's never met without any additional back-up check from anyone. 

The robot fights are just ok, as I mentioned: nothing in this film to justify any kind of award buzz, let alone Visual Effects, with shortlisted films like Tree of Life, Captain America, Mission: Impossible 4, Pirates of the Caribbean, X-Men getting snubbed in favor of this mess.

My rating for the film: 3/10. I'm being generous.

Margin Call (2011)

The film follows the key people at an investment bank, over a 24-hour period, during the early stages of the financial crisis. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Original Screenplay

I guess this film was meant to be something like "financial crisis for dummies", so it's surprisingly uncomplicated for this type of film. I liked the screenplay, but what I liked more was the ensemble cast, which really takes the film to a different level and makes it feel more special.

Kevin Spacey is the obvious stand-out in a dynamic, engaging performance. The other great one is Jeremy Irons, and it's the type of man-in-charge role that fits him perfectly, with a touch of greed and a bit of villain. Hell, they even made Demi Moore bring in a good performance, Stanley Tucci is good as always and Paul Bettany is also memorable. 

The directing is good, simple, sharp, with an effective cinematography. I actually prefer this screenplay to The Artist or to Midnight in Paris, so I couldn't really complain about the nomination, though I would've rather seen Young Adult taking that 5th slot. Even if I appreciate the screenplay, you can tell some scenes are fillers - a scene that doesn't push the story forward and is there only to fill in pages or to move around some characters. 

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. I respect it, great cast and overall a better film than most of the Best Picture contenders.

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

Intrepid reporter Tintin and Captain Haddock set off on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock's ancestor. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Original Score

You can tell the amount of work that went into making this film look as special at it does. Even so, I must admit I'm not a big fan of this type of animation: to me, it mostly looked like a very well made video game. sure, the big chasing scenes are amazing, but the way the characters look was a bit distracting from the story.

The story itself needs some warming up, because it only gets interesting after the first 30 minutes of so: but once it starts going, it's a great adventure, and the film was entertaining, with plenty of action scenes that were really suspenseful. The star here is Steven Spielberg, for orchestrating this and it really is well directed - again, if we get over the fact that I'm not cheering for this kind of animation. 

I don't remember much from the score, but it's John Williams, so it's gotta be good; though this one didn't feel specifically distinctive. I think it deserved an Animated Feature nomination, and I liked it slightly more than Rango, so I guess it should have won. 

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. I might've went with a different ending, but overall it was a fun ride.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) (2nd time)

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker. [imdb]

Nominated for 5 Oscars:

Best Actress: Rooney Mara
Best Cinematography
Best Editing (WINNER)
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing

Unfortunately, the film didn't seem better the second time around: I still feel like it's too long, poorly written in key parts, there's too much editing going on and it loses the essential part of the story: the mystery which was so interesting in the Swedish film is almost completely changed here and it goes for an easy solution. That was very disappointing. Those who've seen the original know what I mean.

On the good side I must mention Rooney's Mara edgy performance which I appreciate much more now. Also, the technical part is as great as in any other Fincher film; the director itself does an ok job, but the screenplay is too messy at times for the directing to save it. Oh, yes, and the best part of it all: the opening credits, which are dreamy.

I think the film also deserved an Original Score nomination, I've learned to like it more and more ever since I listen to it outside the film; it certainly creates a mood. Had we had 10 Best Picture nominees, this would've definitely been the 10th, I think we can all agree on that; I'm a bit surprised that Academy members were more tempted to put Extremely Loud (which I liked) as their no. 1 rather than Dragon Tattoo - even so, I'm happy with their choice, Dragon Tattoo is not a bad film, but it's not Best Picture material. And the Editing win was probably the biggest shock of the evening, and rightfully so: I thought the editing was very messy, cutting scenes in all the wrong places, but I guess they just went for the most edited film.

My rating for the film: 6/10. I will admit though that it's a cool movie.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

My Week with Marilyn (2011) (2nd time)

Colin Clark, an employee of Sir Laurence Olivier's, documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during production of The Prince and the Showgirl. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Actress: Michelle Williams
Best Supporting Actor: Kenneth Branagh

This is a film I really wanted to like, but it didn't do it for me: and it's not just the obvious reason that I simply couldn't buy Michelle as Marilyn. That was a big factor, but the main problem is in the screenplay (isn't it always?!), for not making Marilyn enough of an interesting character.

I don't know how accurate this is, but she was presented either as a moody dumb blonde, or as a manipulative bitch or as a constant victim. There is nothing empowering about this character and I don't remember any particular scene in which I cared for her. Laurence Olivier is nicely written and beautifully portrayed by Branagh in a performance that deserved the Oscar recognition. Judi Dench is always a nice presence, Redmaybe was ok as the leading Colin Clark, but the most interesting character in the film was by far Paula Strasberg, nicely played by Zoe Wanamaker. It's not good writing, when in a film about Marilyn Monroe, I am intrigued only by Paula Strasberg.

I'll write about Michelle on the other blog. This film has issues with the casting (Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh?? wtf), the screenplay is flawed and the ending just wrong. It's not that it's a complete failure, but nothing to get excited about.

My rating for the film: 5/10. I feel like had it been darker it would've been better.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Anonymous (2011)

The theory that it was in fact Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, who penned Shakespeare's plays. Set against the backdrop of the succession of Queen Elizabeth I and the Essex rebellion against her. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Costume Design

This is a film that starts with plenty of potential, but quickly becomes too complicated for its own good, with a screenplay that would be a match to any juicy soap opera. While I can accept the main idea of the film: Shakespeare didn't write all those plays, the film really loses me when it portrays him as a complete moron. Just the same: I can accept changing small historical facts about the Earl of Oxford's story to fit the context, but the conclusion of his story is simply ridiculous (I don't wanna spoil it).

I am a bit surprised by the Costume Design nomination: there are plenty of costumes, but none that really stands out to me; for sure they could've found worthier films to score in this category. On the other hand, the one pleasant surprise was Rhys Ifans' dynamic performance: he has great presence, but also handles well the more dramatic scenes.

My rating for the film: 5/10. Vanessa Redgrave is ok as an old Elizabeth, but Joely Richardson is not so convincing, playing the younger part.

Puss in Boots (2011)

A story about the events leading up to the sword fighting cat's meeting with Shrek and his friends. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Animated Feature

Just because I like cats so much, this film is gonna get a higher rating from me than it might actually deserve. The story is fine, there are plenty of good jokes here, the leading character is quite adorable, but this isn't a film people will be talking about next year. It's quite forgettable, considering this is the category that in the past years nominated stuff like Wall E, Toy Story 3 and Illusionist.

Puss in Boots has good animation, an ok screenplay, good technical stuff and a couple of well executed action scenes. But as I said: nothing to write home about, except for some adorable cats & kittens; I think I was the target for it, and it succeeded, as I went awwwwwww more than once. :)

My rating for the film: 7/10. Thankfully, it has no Shrek in it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Warrior (2011)

The youngest son of an alcoholic former boxer returns home, where he's trained by his father for competition in a mixed martial arts tournament - a path that puts the fighter on a collision corner with his older brother. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Supporting Actor: Nick Nolte

Even with the poster on the right, can you believe this film wasn't a box office success? To quote Mae West, "so much meat and no potatoes". :)) Getting back to the film, I was pleasantly surprised by it, as it made for a pleasant movie experience. It helps that the cast is so amazing: both Tom Hardy & Joel Edgerton give Oscar worthy performances (I mean it, they definitely deserved some awards' recognition).

But truth is, and no shame about it, that Warrior is a soap opera with boxing; while this doesn't completely take down the film, it does hurt its credibility - the fact that the 2 brothers end up fighting eachother (in the final - not a spoiler, it's in the trailer) is hard to believe (of course!) and kills the credibility that the film longs for.

The actual fights are great and very very well directed, but to see the commentators talking and all other stuff from behind the scenes of the fights seem quite silly and cheesy. The film IS quite inconsistent, both in writing & directing and I often question their choices, but the actors & the boxing actually make it work. Nick Nolte's nomination seems justified, he was really good in a couple of scenes, though I've heard some of the performance was taken out during editing - which is a pitty.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. Had it been more dramatic & less commercial it would've made for a more serious Oscar contender.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Separation (2011)

A married couple faces a difficult decision - to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimer's disease. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Foreign Language Film: Iran (WINNER)
Best Original Screenplay

In such uncertain times, this film is the best ambassador Iran could've asked for, and Asghar Farhadi's Oscar speech was the most inspiring of that evening. Putting that aside, A Separation really is a good film. While the acting is top class and the direction is what the film needs, the success of the film is in the screenplay - a complex look at Iranian traditions and the juridical system, without being too judgmental which I much appreciated.

The story is interesting and very captivating at times, with twists and turns that were a delight to follow. Sareh Bayat gives a heartbreaking supporting performance and she's by far the best in the film as a suffering wife with a moral dilemma. The direction is quite subtle, but given that the writing gets most of the attention, it couldn't have been otherwise. A Separation is a good film; I'm not sure I loved it and I'll probably never see it again, but it tells an interesting, captivating story.

My rating for the film: 8/10. I could go for more, but the 8 makes sense for now. What it isn't is the masterpiece some claim it to be: it's just a very well written film that works.

A Better Life (2011)

A gardener in East L.A. struggles to keep his son away from gangs and immigration agents while also trying to give him the opportunities he never had. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Actor: Demian Bichir

What a waste of a nomination! And more importantly - I think I even tweeted it: I can't believe the movies I see for Oscar! And that's because I try to see all the nominees from all the feature film categories. And given that Best Actor is such an important one, I couldn't miss this. But I swear, it was painful to get through. All the cliches are there; and it's bad even for a TV movie.

It's predictable, with poor writing and it creates these supporting character that are embarassingly written and even more tragic: embarassingly acted. The casting hurts, i don't think they could've found least talented teenagers; the leading kid is ok-ish, but the rest of the gang made my eyes roll till I fainted. :D

Demian Bichir gives a good performance, but NOT one that would become worthy of a nomination. He gets a more emotional scene towards the end, but that's just about it: it's true, the screenplay doesn't help much, but I am surprised that some voters actually had him as their number one choice (and moreso, that they saw A Better Life to begin with, and not Shame or other indie films).

My rating for the film: 3.5/10. The film tells a predictable story that didn't need to be told.

Hugo (2011)

Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton. [imdb]

Nominated for 11 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: Martin Scorsese
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Cinematography (WINNER)
Best Original Score
Best Art Direction (WINNER)
Best Costume Design
Best Editing
Best Sound Mixing (WINNER)
Best Sound Editing (WINNER)
Best Visual Effects (WINNER)

The most outrageous loss on Oscar night was The Tree of Life not winning Best Cinematography. It wasn't hard to anticipate, but it still broke my heart. It lost to Hugo, a film I had seen that exact week, a film Oscar voters liked enough to throw in some technical wins, but not enough to give it any of the big prizes. I do not love Hugo, but I can't really argue with some technical elements.

The main reason I don't love this film is by far the screenplay; the fact that the writing was nominated makes me sad and I'm surprised to say the least: the story is weak, not very interesting and with little motivation behind the characters. It often fells flat and ends every storyline on a disappointing note. On the negative side I'd also add the booooring performance of Miss Moretz - no performance stands out for me, I thought Ben Kingsley was fine, so was the leading star Asa Butterfield, but Miss Moretz was just annoying.

The film is well directed, but it was hard to get over the superficial glow of the writing. The Cinematography was ok, though Robert Richardson is becoming a one-trick ponny with the blue-light and blue-green-colors that he's already used at least in The Aviator and Inglourious Basterds; and I'm getting tired of it. The best element of the film has to be the fantastic art direction, with impressive and very creative sets.

My rating for the film: 7/10. It didn't feel magic to me.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

A nine-year-old searches New York City for the lock that matches a mysterious key left behind by his father, who died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Supporting Actor: Max von Sydow

I think this is the first year that the more-than-5 nominees for Best Picture worked fine with me. I didn't really like The Artist, Hugo, Descendants & Midnight in Paris, so with only 5 nominees it would've made for the worst line-up in history for me. But with 9 I got Tree of Life (masterpiece), Moneyball, War Horse & our Extremely Loud - all of which make my top 4 of the 9. Without these, I'd be lost.

But this doesn't mean I think Extremely Loud is a great film... It's not a masterpiece, but I liked it and it had more emotion in a scene than Artist, Descendants & Hugo put together. Of course, everything about 9/11 is heartbreaking. The scene with Sandra in the office looking out the window breaks your heart; the scene with Oskar's big reveal is also incredibly emotional & touching... For all this, I appreciate the film a lot.

But it does have its problems: I think it's a bit too long and it doesn't always balance well - some parts are less interesting than others. So the fault is mostly in the screenplay, which doesn't mean it's bad writing. The performances are all fine with me, Thomas Horn gives a real breakthrough performance and I believe Sandra was one Oscar scene away from a potential nomination - she is really playing against type.

Max von Sydow's nomination is what makes Oscar seasons more exciting - I didn't see it coming and we had almost no warning sign for it. But the performance is there, which makes it a worthy nomination.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. The direction is fine and the original score beautiful. In the end all I can say is that it's a really underrated film & I have no idea what the critics are bitching about.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Help (2011) (2nd time)

An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids' point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis. [imdb]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Actress: Viola Davis
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer (WINNER)

Just like I tweeted yesterday, The Help seemed better the 2nd time around, as I was less annoyed by all the scenes Emma Stone has. It's not that she delivers a bad performance, but I prefer the more dramatic storylines that the film has to offer. I would've liked The Help more had it been less commercial; though, had it been less commercial, it's quite possible it wouldn't have been made at all.

Just like SAG noticed, what stand out in this film are the performances: Viola Davis, Allison Janney and especially Jessica Chastain are amazing. Octavia Spencer gives a fine performance that I respect a lot, but in my opinion Jessica should've been the one to actually win the Oscar. She creates such a memorable character, both fun & heartbreaking like this category hasn't seen in a while; it feels special. No point writing about Viola's performance here, I'll do that on Alex in Movieland, but I liked it quite a lot.

I think the film is well directed, easy to watch, the screenplay is ok for the most of it (minus the shit pie scene; it's distracting and I don't think it's something Minny would've done), but the film is overall too long.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. The performances turn it into something special.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Beginners (2011)

A young man is rocked by two announcements from his elderly father: that he has terminal cancer, and that he has a young male lover. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer (WINNER)

Best Supporting Actor has been such a flashy category for the past 4 years, with winning performances that were really... out there: Bardem as a killer, Ledger's Joker, Waltz's Natzi, Bale's drug addict boxer; all of them fantastic performances. Which doesn't mean that Plummer isn't worthy of the win (he is), but that his performance is much more quiet & subtle than we're used to in this category. What I love about this character & the performance is how little idealized it is, how he's not playing a kind old man, but a real character, a real person with flaws and weaknesses. It's a good performance, a worthy winner, also my choice from the 5.

Getting to the movie, I'd say I admire it more than I like it. The performances are all good, but the film just ends up being too slow at times (and not slow in the Tree of Life kind of way); it just didn't always challenge me, so I guess that could be the screenplay's fault. The love story of the two leads feels honest and it's nicely constructed, but I wonder now if the film isn't a bit overdirected.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. I just can't love it.

Albert Nobbs (2011) (2nd time)

Albert Nobbs is a woman living as a man in order to find work in the harsh environment of 19th-century Ireland. [wiki]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Actress: Glenn Close
Best Supporting Actress: Janet McTeer
Best Makeup

Whoever did the Oscar campaigning for Albert Nobbs did a mighty fine job; sure, it didn't win anything, but 3 nominations is a lot for a film that has received so many bad reviews and nobody seems to like; at least from the people I know. I dislike it less than others do, I actually thought it was ok-ish the first time, but you can definitely tell the flaws the second time around. Even so: there's nothing SO bad about it, and I still think it's very watchable and fascinating in a weird way.

Its weakness has to be the screenplay: when Glenn Close & Janet McTeer are on screen, it all works much better, but those supporting characters and story with Mia & Aaron make you lose interest quickly. Had the film been a more intimate study of Albert Nobbs, I think it would've made the film weirder, but also more attractive. The acting is ok, even the boring characters are well played. Congrats to Glenn Close for her movie comeback, Janet McTeer gives a convincing performance and I must mention Pauline Collins for her deliciously funny supporting performance.

My rating for the film: 6/10. A nice effort and you can tell the passion that went into it; but the screenplay needed changes, and maybe also a better director. The makeup nomination is a bit of a surprise: I'll keep saying it: Janet's nose looks different from one scene to another.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Eight years of being raised by humans and now left behind in an abusive sanctuary, a hyper-intelligent chimpanzee will lead a revolution of apes towards freedom from man's torturous exploitation. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Visual Effects

As I was catching up with Oscar nominated films, I could only think how many overrated films 2011 has given us; I dunno what was wrong with critics the past year, or maybe it's just me: how is it that Rise of the Planet of the Apes got so many good reviews?? Ok, so maybe Andy Serkis's work IS revolutionary from a technical perspective, but the film is crap, one of the worst written movies of the year!

The visual effects themselves are not so impressive, so let's not imagine that this is on an Avatar level. They're ok and I can understand the nomination. But all the other aspects make for a gigantic mess: the screenplay is RIDICULOUS, with screenplay gaps like never before (brilliant scientists were making tests for weeks on a female chimp and they couldn't tell she was expecting?! :)), just to give an example). All the humans in this film are complete idiots; and the acting isn't helping either. John Lithgow, Freida Pinto, Tom Felton and especially James Franco (!) deliver AWFUL performances. The directing is a mess (nobody ages over the course of 8 years, obviously; they don't even change their hairstyle; none) and the action scenes are held back until too late in the film.

My rating for the film: 3.5/10. I don't understand the fans of this.

Rango (2011)

Seen on December 28th, 2011

Rango is an ordinary chameleon who accidentally winds up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost in the Wild West in desperate need of a new sheriff. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Animated Feature (WINNER)

It really wasn't a great year for animation, right? I haven't seen most of them yet, but I hear people saying that a lot and I suspect they're right. I'm usually up for a great animation, let's just remember that my favorite 2010 film was the instant classic Toy Story 3... But this year we have Rango. It's gonna win the Oscar, it might actually deserve it, it's not a bad film, but not a memorable one either.

The 2 elements about it that stand out are the technical part which is quite impressive if you pay attention and some funny lines from the screenplay. It's creative, it gets better towards the ending, but it still lacks a likeability factor that would make me actually love it. Maybe because it's about a... chameleon? It could be. Though I probably don't like it so much because of how slow the first part is and it did test my patience.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. Hey, at least it wasn't a princess fairytale... It does feel more different that many others.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

Seen on December 26th, 2011

Harry, Ron and Hermione search for Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes in their effort to destroy the Dark Lord. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Art Direction
Best Visual Effects
Best Makeup

...And it has finally reached an end. I really hope 10 years from now someone will make a mini-series adaptation of the Harry Potter books, something in like 20 episodes so that the ones who haven't read the books (myself included) could understand a bit what this was all about. This final chapter might just be the messiest of them all, with gigantic plot holes for anyone who bothered to follow the story.

And of course the screenplay has to be blamed for this. I'm sure there was a lot of screenplay editing going on, but I'm convinced they could've done a better job. The Oscar nominations make sense and I have to mention Ralph Fiennes, who gives by far the best acting performance of the entire series, not just this film. He is FANTASTIC, and an Oscar nomination should've followed; seriously. I'm not that impressed with Alan Rickman here, though many seem to be.

The film is a confusing piece of work, with a couple of good scenes (anything with Voldemort), but mostly very poor writing & directing choices. Don't even get me started on the ending, which is ridiculous to say the least.

My rating for the film: 5/10. Not a film to go down in history; let's move on.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Drive (2011)

Seen on November 27th, 2011

A mysterious Hollywood stuntman, mechanic and getaway driver lands himself in trouble when he helps out his neighbour. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Sound Editing

This film was probably the biggest pleasant surprise I've had all year, because I wasn't prepared for the stylish action classic film it is. It's such an unusual, intense, original film, with incredible direction, fantastic cinematography and good performances. I am disappointed that Oscars didn't give it the attention it deserved.

At least they could've went for Albert Brooks, which is quite great in a flashy supporting performance. Ryan is perfect for the role, his character is less showy, but he does his best with what's given. The real star of the film, however, is director Nicolas Winding Refn, who has grown a lot as an artist since Bronson, that weird Tom Hardy film from 2008. Drive is almost perfectly put together, with a fantastic care for detail and a clear point of view.

My rating for the film: 9/10. I am not sure if Carey Mulligan was right for the part, I kinda wish they'd chosen another actress.

The Ides of March (2011)

Seen on December 13th, 2011

An idealistic staffer for a presidential candidate gets a crash course on dirty politics during his stint on the campaign trail. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Adapted Screenplay

I was really hoping this film won't get nominated for anything, so that I won't have to write about it and justify the rating I'm about to give it. I know I stand alone here and I need to defend myself, but to me this is by far the worst Not-so-obviously-awful film of the year; it was a failure, a mass of clichés thrown in together and made up to look like something interesting and new.

I rolled my eyes at the cheating candidate theme, Marisa Tomei gives one of her most boring, clichéd performances in a stupid role, the writing is just silly, either completely predictable (the suicide) or filled with dialogue that would never happen (the confrontation). I blame Clooney for this: for writing a lazy screenplay and directing it in a lazy way. Ryan is fine, Philip Seymour Hoffman is fine, but this film annoyed me a lot.

My rating for the film: 4/10. Clooney, put some effort into it the next time!

Bridesmaids (2011)

Seen on October 20th, 2011

Competition between the maid of honor and a bridesmaid, over who is the bride's best friend, creates chaos right before the big wedding. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa McCarthy
Best Original Screenplay

It needs to be said that I liked this more than I liked The Hangover, I thought it was very funny in a silly way, and it's the kind of movie that I recommend to everyone - because everyone seems to enjoy it. I rarely laugh while watching a film, and this definitely had me smiling and laughing from start to ending.

Oscar got it right with the 2 nominations: Melissa McCarthy is my favorite of the Supporting Actress line-up, she is so damn funny and makes those crazy lines into classic quotes; her character introduction is simply fantastic. She'd get my vote. Bridesmaids was lucky that this year's Original Screenplay category was quite weak, because it secured a nomination early on; I'm not saying it doesn't deserve it, I actually prefer it to Artist or Midnight in Paris, just that Oscar doesn't tend to recognize this type of writing. And I'm happy it did this time: the film is one funny scene after another, with the kind of jokes that I like.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. It can be easily described as a silly comedy that's not to be taken serious, but I've enjoyed it a lot.