Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Life of Pi (2012)

**Seen on December 21st, 2012**

A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor: a Bengal tiger. [imdb]

Nominated for 11 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: Ang Lee (WINNER)
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Cinematography (WINNER)
Best Original Score (WINNER)
Best Original Song
Best Editing
Best Production Design
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing
Best Visual Effects (WINNER)

I must confess I am becoming softer towards this film as time goes by... I didn't like it when I first saw it, but it seems my memory is prioritizing, so the good stuff always comes to mind. And by good stuff I mean the insanely fabulous visual effects & the entire experience on sea. What my memory tries to erase: the terrible ending, the weakness of the last 30 minutes, anything connected to the present times. That is where Ang Lee fails, that is where the screenplay fails, and it almost spoils the entire film for me (and for many others, as I've heard).
But when it's good, it's really good. I saw it in 3D, an experience I generally dislike, but it kinda made sense for this. The cinematography, the fx work, the original score - great, stunning, lovely... I even like the song. Everything below-the-line is really well put together. But what can you do about the story... it's interesting at times, but as soon as it hits the religious aspects it misses big. Notice that I am not someone to run away from such a debate, just that in the end the film wants to be smarter than it is, and that's not what we paid the ticket for. It fails when it tries to go all philosophical, because - I'd say - of the superficial way it attempts to bring ideas. But as an experience, as a ride, the film is mostly good and visually stunning.
My rating for the film: 7.5/10. Am I being too generous? The film it's so unbalanced that it's hard to judge. If anyone's curious, I'd give it the wins for Original Score & Visual Effects.

The nominations section of the 2012 films discussed below has been updated, with the winners marked in blue.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Brave (2012)

**Seen on December 15th, 2012**

Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Animated Feature (WINNER)

The Animated Feature category has been really disappointing for the past 2 years. Brave is a clear example of this new trend - the film is beautifully made, but really lacks in story... Actually, it's one of the worst screenplays for an animated feature that I've witnessed lately. There's nothing interesting to the story - and the plot, with the whole bear thing, is just a waste of time. It's so predictable, so dull, so eye-rolling. And it lacks a good villain.
But those technical elements are great - the film is visually vibrant, with gorgeous colors, and an adequate score, with one or two ok songs. But that's it - all style and no substance, easy screenplay solutions, an excuse of a film. Too bad for the shining technical aspects.
My rating for the film: 5/10. Oh, do I miss those Toy Story films...

Skyfall (2012)

**Seen on November 17th, 2012**

Bond's loyalty to M is tested when her past comes back to haunt her. Whilst MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. [imdb]

Nominated for 5 Oscars:

Best Cinematography
Best Original Score
Best Original Song (WINNER)
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing (WINNER)

I have never paid much attention to the Bond series - I don't have much against it, but it seemed like a rather redundant action type. I actually prefer the superhero ones. Still, if there was a series that needed something fresh, this was it. But even with Daniel Craig taking over the iconic role, it wasn't enough of a push for me to see it. And that makes Skyfall my first film to see with Craig as James Bond.
And it was a good action film, and I'll give some of the credit to Sam Mendes - he himself needed a new starting point in his career. The screenplay is sharp enough to make it interesting, but that wasn't the highlight. The best element related to this film has to be Javier Bardem, who gives a delicious Oscar-worthy performance as (from what I can gather) an unusual Bond-villain. I love his performance, both the fun and the tragic aspects of it. Also, everything below-the-line is top quality: Adele's song, the sound mixing & editing, the Production Design and ESPECIALLY Roger Deakins' cinematography. 
My rating for the film: 8/10. It's not without it's problems, mostly concerning the female characters. But overall a success.

Argo (2012)

**Seen on November 11th, 2012**

A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran. [imdb]

Nominated for 7 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin
Best Adapted Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Original Score
Best Editing (WINNER)
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing

Once Argo wins Best Picture a couple of days from now, it will instantly become probably my least favorite Best Picture winner in more than 50 years (yes, I think Braveheart, Driving Miss Daisy, Crash are a bit better)... How did this happen in a year that received so much praising? [more than I'd give it, but whatever] Well... a combination of smart campaigning and a lot of sympathy votes. 
Argo's biggest problem, in my opinion, is that it's an average thriller film and nothing more. NOTHING. The writing is mostly bad - and by that I mean scenes that are so "intense" that would be embarassing even for a van Damme film (and by this of course I mean the big final scene), Non-Westerners are Evil concept, individual villains that are either embarassingly stupid or evil in a mechanical way, screenplay solutions beyond belief... And so on.
I enjoyed Affleck's previous directing efforts: The Town was good enough and Gone Baby Gone was a GOOD film. But, dear world, please stop praising his directing style here - sure, it's above the level the screenplay requires, but there's nothing that good or even great about it. It's as well directed as any ok-ish political thriller drama. Nothing more. And THIS is what makes me happy about the Directing snub for Affleck, one of the most enjoyable this season - he really wouldn't have deserved the nomination, and even less so the win.
The acting is ok, even though Affleck had NO need to take over the leading role. Cranston might just give the best performance, while Arkin is clearly a coaster with this not-worthy nomination (the only stinky performance of his category, actually). The below-the-line aspect are ok, nothing ground-breaking. It will win Editing in a heartbeat, even though it doesn't deserve it.
My rating for the film: 6/10.  Much better in the quiet scenes. Otherwise, one cliche after the other.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

**Seen on October 27th, 2012**

A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Original Screenplay

Wes Anderson is a director with a lot of style, his films are usually easy to recognize. And I think that's why I respect him more as a director than an actual screenwriter. A lot of people seem to like Moonrise Kingdom, but I wasn't one of them. To me, the film IS a big "so what"... It's exaggerated beyond belief, it's never really funny, not even in a witty way... It has one or two interesting characters, but I felt it turned boring really quickly.
The Production Design is really REALLY nice, the costumes are fun, but the story isn't. Not  a lot of interesting acting either - Tilda Swinton makes for a delicious cameo, Bruce Willis brings a bit of heart, Edward Norton is ok... and that's about it. I thought the 2 leads make it all seem a bit fake. Frances McDormand is playing the same old thing again and again.
My rating for the film: 6/10. I don't hate it, I just didn't find anything worthy in the story.

Monday, February 11, 2013

ParaNorman (2012)

A misunderstood boy takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Animated Feature

Maybe I wasn't in the right mood when I started watching ParaNorman, but this animated feature wasn't the most pleasant to sit through. I found it disturbingly creepy in the first 30 minutes, with ugly-designed characters, almost of monstruous features - OK, so maybe it was just my mood, but it felt slow, uncomfortable and just pointless... And then it got better as it reached the middle, and that ONLY with the help of the supporting characters.
The screenplay is a bore, there are only a few laughs, but the "visual effects" of the last segment (if I can call them like that) were quite spectacular. Nice original score, a nice look for the film and... that's about it. I won't hold this against it, but this really isn't a film for any kids, despite the age of the leading character - and not because of the subtle fun gay bit, but because of how dark it is and the way it treats death (and especially one dead character) - found that myself to be a bit uncomfortable.
My rating for the film: 6/10. Not much to get excited about.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Master (2012)

A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future - until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix
Best Supporting Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams

For month I've been really curious about The Master. Will I love it? What's it really about... Well, I saw it last night and... I can't really show my support for it, unfortunately. Paul Thomas Anderson picks it up & elevates it and then let's it fall on its ass. This is an unbalanced, inconsistent film and I can totally understand why Oscar refused to get near it, in anything other than acting.
Because the acting IS what saves it. I don't even wanna imagine it without its two leads. Joaquin Phoenix is fascinating to look at and, in my opinion, easily delivers his best performance to date: so deep, so raw, so scary. It's an uncomfortable performance that will have its own cult following in the years to come. He nearly didn't make Oscar's list, but I'm so pleased he did - he's the best of his line-up and a snub would've felt outrageous. But it's his co-lead that gets even bigger applause from me: Philip Seymour Hoffman is just as much a part of this film as Joaquin is. The whole supporting campaign is bullshit. PSH has the screentime, his own path in the story and is FANTASTIC at it; he really is one of my favorite actors of the past decade - charming in every scene,  perfectly balancing the fanatic with the vulnerable man trying to figure out what he's saying. A great-great performance from such a versatile actor.
The cinematography is beautiful, and would've deserved a nomination (Great work from my fellow Romanian - Mihai Malaimare Jr). The music is interesting, the editing quite good, adequate costume design. Amy Adams is ok, but not great. Did her nomination cost Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy) hers? That's crazy. Amy follows the path she's put on, but the character is quite one-dimensional.
The directing is good at times, but not always consistent. Where the film fails must be in the screenplay. It can't decide if this is a mood piece, or some meaningful story-driven drama; ends up not being any of it completely. The last 30 minutes, at least, are quite boring and I question some of the "writer"'s choices. That's too bad, I think PTA played too much & it could've been much better had it been more grounded.
My rating for the film: 6.5/10. Both its failures & successes feel like an inside job.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

**Seen on October 7th, 2012**

In a twist to the fairy tale, the Huntsman ordered to take Snow White into the woods to be killed winds up becoming her protector and mentor in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Costume Design
Best Visual Effects

A lot of people seemed to hate this film, so I saw it back then with little expectations. I can't say I was blown away by it and that it's a great one, but it's definitely not the stinker people make it to be. Its biggest problem, in my opinion, is that it's a bit too long and doesn't know what to do with itself in the second half. 
Kristen Stewart is... well, watchable. Charlize Theron is delicious as the villain (take note, Julia Roberts!), a role that is perfect for her. The film has enough action scenes to make it interesting, even though, again: it drops the ball towards the end. It is, however, visually gorgeous - the cinematography was extremely beautiful & artistic, beautiful art direction, lovely costumes (especially for Ravenna, the evil queen) and relevant visual effects.
My rating for the film: 6.5/10. Totally watchable.

Prometheus (2012)

**Seen on October 2nd, 2012**

A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Visual Effects

This film was suppose to be the greatest thing ever; promoted initially as a prequel to Alien AND directed by Ridley Scott?! Wow. And what did we end up with? Mostly a big nothing. Even so, of course I enjoyed it - in that visual kind of way, because the screenplay makes little sense at times - and when it does make sense, I just questioned the writer's choices.
The visual effects are superb, so the nomination is worthy. A nomination for Production Design would've also been great, considering the great set decoration & everything. I also liked the cinematography and 2 of the performances: Noomi Rapace does the best she can with a problematic leading role. But she is convincing and probably the one character that really makes sense. Michael Fassbender is quite intriguing as David, an android with a hidden agenda. 
But the story lacks in substance and so many things end up unexplained and, worst, unexplainable.
My rating for the film: 6.5/10. Wish it would've been much much better.

The Avengers (2012)

**Seen on September 9th, 2012**

Nick Fury brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers to help save the Earth from Loki and his army. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Visual Effects

The film is clearly an excuse to make money, and this time it worked. They brought together a group of relatively well-known actors, built up on the back of the Iron Man franchise (did anyone even see Captain America?! not me :p ) and came up with this adaptation - that overall doesn't work that much for me. Some characters are great; Iron Man is always charismatic in the hands of Robert Downey Jr., but most of them aren't. What is Jeremy Renner doing in this film?! Why does the only female character have no real superpower?!
My dislike for Mark Ruffalo comes naturally, as I can't stand seeing him on camera (sorry!). I've never seen Thor, so that guy makes little sense to me and... the villain is such a pathetic one, from his name to his "superpowers" and background. What survives is the shitload of visual effects, most of it thrown at us in the last 30-40 minutes. That justifies the nomination, though nothing groundbreaking there either.
My rating for the film: 5.5/10. Little to get excited about; some mindless fun.