Thursday, January 17, 2013

Best of '12: Beasts of the Southern Wild


In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub. 

Every once in a while a movie comes along that bravely throws out all of the rules for what a movie should be. Gone are the Hollywood actors. You'll find no catchy pop song in the trailer. There is no sign of a retelling (or remaking) of a classic book/film/comic/fairy tale. Even the idea of what CG can add to a film is completely flipped on its ear.

 Benh Zeitlin is a little more than a year younger than me. Sigh. With his beautiful script in hand he traveled to the Mississippi delta and scouted both his locations and his performers from the native area. This combination of a rookie filmmaker, rookie actors, and an area of the country that is already steeped in mystery, beauty, and pain provides for the perfect imagery for a modern day fable. Zeitlin's role certainly ensured that "Beasts" would be a well accepted art-house treat, but there was one more element that has pushed the movie into conversation for best picture of the year: Miss Quvenzhane' Wallis. At 6 years old, this young lady completely owns the film. There are no long monologues, and most of her speaking is done through narration, but her command of the role of a poor, semi-abandoned girl named Hushpuppy does exactly what every great actress in history has done. Most important, it is impossible for the viewer to avoid Hushpuppy's love, sadness, fear, and utter joy from the movie's opening rejoicing to its closing reflection.

 I still have a handful of 2012 movies to watch, but I find it hard to believe I will see a better movie than this.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) 3/5


I want targets. Do your #&%$ing jobs. Bring me people to kill.

 I usually agree with "the critics" on most movies. The Rotten Tomatoes "tomatometer" has been my guide as to whether or not I should check out a movie for more than a decade. Still, about once a year a movie comes along to unanimous critical acclaim that I find to be simply mediocre. Rarely is this movie a bad movie (see: A History of Violence). On the other hand, it's usually pretty good, but it just doesn't deserve the "best of the year" tag (see: The Artist, A Beautiful Mind, Crash, etc.). I mention all of this because this is how I have felt about both of Kathryn Bigelow's war films. The Hurt Locker was solid, but nowhere near the level of Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Up, or Up in the Air, and Zero Dark Thirty is sitting at 93% on the tomatometer and is a mildly impressive retelling of a truly exceptional story.

 Zero Dark Thirty is billed (both in print and in its trailer) as the story of Seal Team 6 and the killing of Osama Bin Laden in May of 2011. This is only true if you happen to show up two hours late for the movie. Sure, the last half-hour are a Blackhawk Down-style tag-along with the Seals, but the viewer has no investment in any of the individual members of the team. They are anonymous with their night vision and uniforms during the operation, and whatever meaningful dialogue they do share falls flat because they are nameless, well-trained men with guns. The other two hours of the movie follows Jessica Chastain's CIA operative Maya (again, no last name, no background, and no family) as she goes on a decade long quest to locate Bin Laden. This sounds more interesting than it is.  It mostly involves torturing detainees, staring at computer screens, and following dead leads.

 In all fairness, a big chunk of my feelings about this movie probably come from my feelings about the "War on Terror" in general. The movie does not take a solid political stand instead attempts to bridge the gap by not shying away from the horrors of the process, but also showing the horrors brought upon innocents by the groups led by Bin Laden. One could say that since May of 2011, there have been no major terror attacks, so the job was successful. My retort would be how many future terrorists have we birthed by torturing and killing not just men, but fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and brothers?

 Bottom line: This is a pretty good movie about a subject that is easy to stay disconnected from on the other side of the world. That being said, I really wish I had remained disconnected.

Golden Globe Thoughts

Predictions in bold.  Looking forward to an awesome show tomorrow night, too bad I have to sit through all of those boring TV awards.

Best Motion Picture - Drama
"Django Unchained"
"Life of Pi"
"Zero Dark Thirty"

I've seen all of these except for Life of Pi.  I think it's a two horse race between Argo and Lincoln.  Lincoln has all the Oscar momentum, but Globes votes have been in for quite a while.

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"
"Les Miserables"
"Moonrise Kingdom"
"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"
"Silver Linings Playbook"

Seen them all except Silver Linings Playbook.  It's the only one I think has a bit of a chance.  Still, I'd love to see a Moonrise Kingdom upset here!

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
Daniel Day-Lewis - "Lincoln"
Richard Gere - "Arbitrage"
John Hawkes - "The Sessions"
Joaquin Phoenix - "The Master"
Denzel Washington - "Flight"

No contest here, although it is worth noting that Gere's performance in the little-seen Arbitrage is simply astounding.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
Jessica Chastain - "Zero Dark Thirty"
Marion Cotillard - "Rust and Bone"
Helen Mirren - "Hitchcock"
Naomi Watts - "The Impossible"
Rachel Weisz - "The Deep Blue Sea"

Again Zero Dark Thirty is the only one I've seen, and Chastain is also the only one with ANY buzz.  Too bad she is gonna win for her worst performance to date.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Jack Black - "Bernie"
Bradley Cooper - "Silver Linings Playbook"
Hugh Jackman - "Les Miserables"
Ewan McGregor - "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"
Bill Murray - "Hyde Park on Hudson"

Yet another lock here methinks.  Love this category though for mentioning two amazing and completely underseen movies from '12 - Bernie and, the unfortunately named, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.  Jack Black and Ewan McGregor both do some of the best acting of their spectacular careers.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Emily Blunt - "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"
Judi Dench - "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"
Jennifer Lawrence - "Silver Linings Playbook"
Maggie Smith - "Quartert"
Meryl Streep - "Hope Springs"

The Globes splitting up their acting categories certainly makes for some pretty obvious winners.  Anyone other than Katniss would be a major upset.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Alan Arkin - "Argo"
Leonardo DiCaprio - "Django Unchained"
Philip Seymour Hoffman - "The Master"
Tommy Lee Jones - "Lincoln"
Christoph Waltz - "Django Unchained"

DiCaprio probably deserves it for his first turn as a completely intriguing villain  but I can't see the voters ignoring Tommy Lee Jones scene-stealing performance that is quite a bit more lovable than Leo's slave torturer.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Amy Adams - "The Master"
Sally Field - "Lincoln"
Anne Hathaway - "Les Miserables"
Helen Hunt - "The Sessions"
Nicole Kidman - "The Paperboy"

I'd love to see Helen Hunt or Amy Adams steal this one away (I'd also love to see their respective movies :'( ), but have you seen Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream"???  She has this category sewn up.

Best Director - Motion Picture
Ben Affleck - "Argo"
Kathryn Bigelow - "Zero Dark Thirty"
Ang Lee - "Life of Pi"
Steven Spielberg - "Lincoln"
Quentin Tarantino - "Django Unchained"

I have no idea why Ben Affleck got snubbed by the Oscars.  I hope the Hollywood Foreign Press soothes the sting from Thursday by awarding him for what is, simply put, the best directing job of the year.

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
Mark Boal - "Zero Dark Thirty"
Tony Kushner - "Lincoln"
David O. Russell - "Silver Linings Playbook"
Quentin Tarantino - "Django Unchained"
Chris Terrio - "Argo"

No real idea here.  Going with the film that had the most talking.  ;)

Best Original Song - Motion Picture
"For You" - "Act of Valor"
"Not Running Anymore" - "Stand Up Guys"
"Safe and Sound" - "The Hunger Games"
"Skyfall" - "Skyfall"
"Suddenly" - "Les Miserables"

I'm pretty sure everybody likes Adele.

Best Original Score - Motion Picture
"Life of Pi"
"Anna Karenina"
"Cloud Atlas"

Cloud Atlas' score is astonishing, but I don't think many people (other than me) really loved that movie.  The Globes are going to want to honor Pi somewhere.  Why not here?

Best Animated Film
"Hotel Transylvania"
"Rise of Guardians"
"Wreck-It Ralph"

I've seen all except for Frankenweenie.  None of the 4 I saw were overly exceptional, so I think I'll go with the unknown.

Once again, I am seriously looking forward to what Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have in store for us tomorrow night!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Best of '12: Bernie


Well, I know the Bible says Jesus turned water into wine, but it didn't say liquor store wine. It had to have been non-alcoholic wine, because it didn't have time to ferment. 

An effeminate 30-something bachelor assistant funeral director befriends a very wealthy elderly widow in the small town of Carthage, Texas, kills her, hides the body, and convinces the town that nothing is wrong for nearly nine months. What an amazing true crime story! Let's get Jack Black to play the guy, Shirley MacLaine to play the old lady, and the real life townspeople to play themselves in a big screen adaptation of this story! Better yet, since Kay McConaughey is from Carthage, let's interview her as well. Maybe she can talk her son, Matthew into being in our little film too (I hear he's a pretty good actor).

I know the above paragraph sounds pretty ridiculous, but I assure you it is completely true. I also assure you that only my favorite director, Mr. Richard Linklater could pull this off. And he does. In astonishing fashion.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2013 Oscar Ballot

Oscar nominations will be announced tomorrow morning.  As usual, I don't have a vote, but if I could nominate here are my picks for the esteemed categories.  Still have between 15-20 possible nominees to see, but I've seen most of the biggies.

Best Picture
Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Director
Ben Affleck - Argo

Best Actor
Hugh Jackman - Les Miserables

Best Actress
Quvenzhane' Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Supporting Actor
Tommy Lee Jones - Lincoln

Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables

Best Adapted Screenplay

Best Original Screenplay
Ruby Sparks

Best Cinematography
Moonrise Kingdom

Best Costume Design
Moonrise Kingdom

Best Film Editing

Best Makeup

Best Original Score
Cloud Atlas

Best Original Song

Best Production Design
Moonrise Kingdom

Best Sound Editing
Django Unchained

Best Sound Mixing
Les Miserables

Best Visual Effects
The Avengers

Best Animated Film
The Secret World of Arrietty

I honestly haven't seen enough of the 2012 Documentaries or Foreign films yet to make a comment about those.  I'll be rooting hard for most of these tomorrow, but especially hope that "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and the amazing young Ms. Quvenzhane' Wallis get their deserved spots.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Best of '12: Argo

Photobucket -

-The saying goes, "What starts in farce ends in tragedy." 
 -No, it's the other way around. 
 -Who said that exactly? 
 -Groucho said that?

 This is true-story drama-thriller for the Star Wars generation in a very literal sense. There have always been quite a few of Affleck doubters. When he and Matt Damon burst on the scene with "Good Will Hunting", I clearly remember the conspiracy theorists who attributed the development of the movie to someone else. There was a quite popular (and equally silly) hypothesis that Kevin Smith wrote the film and attributed it to the handsome young men to make it a better human interest story. After 3 movies in the directors chair, I think Mr. Affleck has certainly done enough to silence any of his doubters.

 This movie stretched the limits of our definitions of the true-story-spy-drama. It was at the same time thrilling, moving, and supremely intriguing. Many of my favorite movies or off-putting to some, slow to others, and downright boring to many. Rest assured this is not one of those. Even though there are enough references to a galaxy far, far away to make this film quite personal, I simply cannot understand an American movie-goer leaving this film with anything but a spring in their step, pride in their hearts, and maybe even a little extra love for their loved ones.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Best of '12: Moonrise Kingdom

Triumphant return to the movie blog!!! Over the next couple of weeks I will profile my favorite films of 2012 (in no particular order, mind you). I will also through out my Oscar/Golden Globes/Independent Spirit picks, and culminate my movie watching season sometime in February with my Top 10 list of 2012. Stay tuned!


We're in love. We just want to be together. What's wrong with that? 

Not my favorite Wes Anderson film (that would still be "The Royal Tenenbaums"), but I truly believe this is Anderson's masterpiece. It is everything about what makes his films great reduced to the simplest context of boy meets girl/girl meets boy innocence. All of the the unique filmmakers elements are there from the pitch perfect soundtrack, to the quirky, but sweet dialogue and performances, to the sets and scenery sculpted with a "doll-house" level attention to detail.

 Every performance is brilliant; where else can you see Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Jason Schwartzman and Tilda Swinton all at the top of their comedic game? Still, the film belongs to the magical performances of the two young stars Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as they take the fragile and sweet script and make us believe in the purity of their true love.

 PS: My list of movies to watch before I make my 2012 top ten list: Flight, The Master, Life of Pi, Looper, The Dark Knight Rises, Amour, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty, The Sessions, Rust and Bone, The Paperboy, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Hope Springs, The Deep Blue Sea, Arbitrage, and probably a handful more...