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.