Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Philomena + Blue Jasmine

So I watched both Philomena and Blue Jasmine within the past week and a half, so I thought I'd just do small, quickie reviews for both of these

Directed by Stephen Frears
Nominated for 4 Oscars, Including Best Picture

Philomena got pregnant while still a teenager. Her father, ashamed, left her at an abbey to live upon finding out. A few years after the baby was born, she was forced to give her son Anthony up for adoption, with no information on where he went, or who his parents are. 50 years later, Philomena meets up with a journalist who, recently let go, decides to write a piece about her and her son. The two, together, go on a journey to find Anthony, and uncover many secrets, about both the nuns, the abbey and Anthony himself.

I really like British films. And I like PG-13 films. I know some of the best all-time movies are really harsh and R-rated, but I do love PG-13 British Films. I like the dry humor in them, and the quirkiness. Philomena was definitely a very British film, and for that, I cannot fault it. It's not everyone's taste, but I enjoyed how the film was done.

Judi Dench was fantastic as quirky little Philomena, and Steve Coogan gave a fun and sometimes dark performance for Martin. While I know this is a true story, it seems the film was more or less faithful to the truth, which is always nice. And it took some twists and turns I didn't quite expect, and the trailer didn't give away. And while I felt there was not as much as closure of Philomena and Martin's battling about God, I do respect how they ended it and realize closure doesn't always happen in real life.

Should the film win Best Picture? No, not really, but it was a delightful, if sometimes dark and slightly disturbing, and that in itself was great.


Blue Jasmine
Directed by Woody Allen
Nominated for 3 Oscars, including Best Actress

Jasmine French used to have it all. Until she found out her husband was a crook, and moves to San Francisco to start fresh with her estranged and poorer sister. Battling between trying to adjust to her new life, and trying to make a comeback into the privileges she was used to, Jasmine is overwhelmed by her past, and isn't quite sure how to move forward.

First off, Cate Blanchett was impeccable casting, and her performance as Jasmine French is brilliant. I really mean it, she was really, really great. Jasmine is so messed up by what's happened to her, and Blanchett so easily was able to weave her rational and composure into her madness. Sally Hawkins gets a shout out for also being quite good, and for really holding her ground against Cate.

The subtleties of the film is probably what really makes it great (apart from Blanchett). Jasmine has lost everything but still has very nice close. Though if you watch the film, she doesn't have very many nice clothes. She has a jacket she wears several times, as well as a cardigan and a dress. All worn several times, which is subtle but speaks a lot about Jasmine. She still wants to put on the appearance of grandeur.

Watching Jasmine trying to muddle through everything and figure out her life is hard to watch. She's someone you want to kick in the pants and tell her to stop lying, to move on, and to take what she can get. Life is hard, which is something she didn't realize before now, it seems.

Overall, Cate Blanchett absolutely deserves to win, but does it deserve to win much else? Probably not


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Oscar Nominations

Below are the Academy Award Nominations for 2014. See below to see nominees and how well I did with my predictions!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel, 1932
Directed by Edmund Goulding
Nominated for 1 Oscar, Won 1 Oscar

Grand Hotel is the story of several different characters. We start off with Otto Kringelein, who arrives at the luxurious Grand Hotel in Berlin. He is terminally ill and is bent on living his last days with style. He meets Baron Felix von Geigern, who befriends him. The Baron, we learn, is broke, and is making his "living" off card games, and occasionally as a jewel thief. His latest mission is to steal the pearls from Grusinskaya, a Russian ballerina staying in the hotel while in town. But instead, the two fall in love. Meanwhile, the Baron is also sort of seeing Flaemnchen, a sternographer who is doing some dictating for Kringelein's old boss. Everything intertwines together, and, as said at the end of the film "People come and people go. Nothing ever happens". 

Final Oscar Nominee Predictions

With the Oscar nominations coming out tomorrow morning, I thought I'd do an official write-up of all my nominee predictions. I haven't seen tons of the films this year, but I thought I'd take a shot at it and see how well I do. Last year I got 69/97 nominees correct (70%), and the year before I got 64/91 correct. I'm hoping to best last year with at least 75%! Though we'll see how that goes.

Best Picture
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips

Her (6th choice)
The Wolf of Wall Street (7th choice)
Dallas Buyers Club (8th Choice)
Saving Mr Banks (9th choice)
Philomena (10th choice)

Spoiler Nominee: Inside Llewyn Davis

After the top 5, I'm really unsure of positions to put these in. Her is definitely my 6th choice, but Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club, and Saving Mr Banks could all swap positions. However, I feel like Banks has faded a bit, while Dallas Buyers is on the climb. Wolf is Scorsese helmed, and the Academy does love him.

Best Director
Steve McQueen- 12 Years a Slave
Alfonso Cuaron- Gravity
David O. Russell- American Hustle
Spike Jonze- Her
Martin Scorsese- The Wolf of Wall Street

Again, after McQueen, Cuaron and Russell, I'm not sure who the last 2 spots could go to. There are several to choose from (including the mentioned Jonze and Scorsese) with Paul Greengrass, Alexander Payne and The Coen Brothers. However, I'm going to take a bit of a risk with Jonze and Scorsese on this one.

Best Actor
Chiwetel Ejiofor- 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey- Dallas Buyers Club
Tom Hanks- Captain Phillips
Bruce Dern- Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio- The Wolf of Wall Street

I'm really split on whether the Academy will pick Redford or DiCaprio. But it's been a while since they've nominated DiCaprio, and with his win at the Globes, I'm going to do with DiCaprio. I know I'll probably regret this tomorrow, but Redford has disappeared from much of the talk these days so either choice is a risk.

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett- Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock- Gravity
Judi Dench- Philomena
Emma Thompson- Saving Mr Banks
Amy Adams- American Hustle

As much as people love Meryl Streep, I don't think she'll be included this year. While her performance in a mediocrely reviewed film hasn't stopped her before, I think there's just too much to offer here this year and she'll be left out. Then again, Emma Thompson or Amy Adams could be the ones left out this year.

Best Supporting Actor
Jared Leto- Dallas Buyers Club
Michael Fassbender- 12 Years a Slave
Barkhad Abdi- Captain Phillips
Daniel Bruhl- Rush
Bradley Cooper- American Hustle

While Adams and Cooper both didn't make the SAG awards, I can't imagine Jennifer Lawrence being the only nominee for the film. The Academy loves to honor O Russell performances, so I think Cooper will also be included here, along with Adams.

Best Supporting Actress
Lupita Nyong'o- 12 Years a Slave
Jennifer Lawrence- American Hustle
June Squibb- Nebraska
Oprah Winfrey- Lee Daniel's The Butler
Julia Roberts- August: Osage County

I've become increasinly unsure about nailing down the 5 nominees for all the acting categories. Each seem to have 2-3 locks, and then a few open spaces that have been divided. However, I'll stick with this list.

Adapted Screenplay
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
Captain Phillips
Before Midnight

I feel pretty confident with these ones, as there is a lot more Original Screenplays this year, and these seem to be pretty safe bets.

Original Screenplay
American Hustle
Inside Llewyn Davis
Blue Jasmine

I wish I could completely write-off American Hustle here. I felt it was weak, and definitely not worthy of a nomination. However, I have a feeling the Academy will have some strong support for it, so it'll make the cut here. Here's to hoping that any other of the nominees wins in the end.

Best Animated Feature Film
Monsters University
Despicable Me 2
The Croods
The Wind Rises

I personally really enjoyed Monsters University and Despicable Me 2, so I'm hoping they make the cut. The obvious winner here is Frozen

Best Film Editing
American Hustle
12 Years a Slave
Captain Phillips

I'm going to take a chance here and pick Rush. I've heard wonderful things about it's editing, and think it could snag a spot. Spoiler nominee's include The Wolf of Wall Street and Her.

Best Cinematography
12 Years a Slave
Inside Llewyn Davis

I feel pretty good about these ones, but Her, Captain Phillips, and the Grandmaster could play spoiler

Best Production Design
12 Years a Slave
The Great Gatsby
Inside Llewyn Davis
American Hustle

All very different films, but I feel these all at least have a shot here, but could definitely be spoiled by other less accoladed-films.

Best Costume Design
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I've always thought the Hunger Games did so well with costumes and makeup, so I'm going to take a bit of a risk here and pick it.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
American Hustle
The Lone Ranger
Dallas Buyer's Club

All I know is American Hustle will make it in here. I'm also crossing my fingers that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire makes it in here rather than the Lone Ranger

Best Original Score
12 Years a Slave- Hans Zimmer
Gravity- Steven Price
The Book Thief- John Williams
Saving Mr Banks- Thomas Newman
Alexander Ebert- All is Lost

I'm very unsure over this one. Newman, Williams scores don't seem to be overly fantastic, though I'm not sure what else I would swap. It hasn't really been a year for great scores.

Best Original Song
Let it Go- Frozen
Ordinary Love- Madela: Long Walk to Freedom
Young and Beautiful- The Great Gatsby
The Moon Song- Her
In the Middle of the Night- The Butler

I'm not even going to try and say I know anything about this category. I really could care less.

Best Visual Effects
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
Pacific Rim
Iron Man 3

Of these, I've seen Gravity, Iron Man 3, Oblivion, and a little less than half of Pacific Rim. They all had great special effects. And if Gravity weren't the completely obvious winner here, I'd root for Oblivion (the effects were the best part of the film)

Best Sound Mixing
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor

Best Sound Editing
Captain Phillips
Lone Survivor
All Is Lost

While I don't know much about the sound categories, I know Gravity is a pretty sure bet for both, and I've hear that Captain Phillips is too. Also, I feel All is Lost could go the Drive route, and only be nominated for Sound Editing. However, we'll see on that one.

Well, there you have it! I've predicted the top nominee being 12 Years a Slave with 11 Nominations, closely followed by American Hustle (10) and Gravity (9)

Good luck everyone!

Monday, 6 January 2014

American Hustle

American Hustle, 2013
Directed by David O. Russell

American Hustle is based upon ABSCAM, a scandal and con that took place in the 1970's. Loosely based on those facts, we get the story of Irving Rosenfeld, Sydney Prosser and Richie DiMasso. Irving is a brilliant conman and when he meets Sydney Prosser at a party, a girl who is trying to find herself, they fall in love and start up a con business together. They are a loan business, and when they get caught by Richie DiMasso, an FBI agent, they are given a deal. If they perform four more "busts" for the FBI, they can walk. At first Irving and Sydney (known as Lady Edith Greensley to DiMasso) are hesitant, but then agree to do business. DiMasso, it turns out, wants in way too big. Pushing to entrap politicians and getting involved with the mob, Irving feels they've gone in way too deep. But it could be Irving's crazy wife Rosalyn who brings the busts crashing down with her talking to anyone and everyone, and not knowing all the details.

This film is one that blogger and Oscar predictors have had on their radar since it was announced, getting ever so excited with the cast, and the trailers. However, despite the amazing cast Russell put together, and his success with Silver Linings Playbook last year, this was never a film that really caught my interest. The synopsis I always found vague, as did the trailers. I never really knew what the film was about, and I started to wonder if it was really about anything.

Upon watching the film just before Christmas, I found that it still wasn't about very much. Sure, the film had an objective that was easy enough. The conmen/women need to make 4 busts for the FBI and they can walk. And yes, that did happen. But the story still felt rather vague, and never as well explained as it could have been.

While I found the screenplay extremely weak, it made up for it in it's performances. Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper are our three main players. Amy Adams, always charming in her roles, was sly and tricky. We never really knew where she was going or what she was thinking. And never quite knew if she even knew herself. Christian Bale, a little less harder to read, was openly uneasy about the whole operation, but was determinedly in love with Sydney. Bale is always so committed to his roles, and this is no differences. The weight, the hair, everything. Bradley Cooper, who surprised me with his acting chops last year, did another great job. Cooper seems to flourish playing the neurotic character, and again he is given a slightly more stable, though still neurotic role. He is desperate for fame and for power, and willing to do anything, and go way too far to achieve it.

As well we have Jeremy Renner, playing Carmine Polito, the enthusiastic and well-loved Mayor of Camden, NJ. He is a genuinely nice guy, who would do anything for his city. And last, we have Jennifer Lawrence, playing Irving's young and beautiful wife Rosalyn.

Personally, I felt Jennifer Lawrence was one of the best parts of the film. I know many people felt that (again) she was miscast and was way too young for the role before the film had come out. However, I felt Jennifer Lawrence was perfect for the role, and was such a riot. As wonderful as she is doing drama, she is equally as good in comedy, and this was her place to shine in that. Her part was small, and I know I could've used more of her as she always had me laughing.

The film was fun and you never really knew who was conning who anymore, but this movie felt too weak to win any major awards at this years Oscars. It was fun, and the costumes and hair were fantsticly horrible (in a good way). It was a character based film, but had Russell maybe taken more time with the screenplay and released it this year, it may've been a much stronger movie. The performances were fantastic, but it wasn't enough for me. Perhaps a second viewing will change my mind.

However, expect to see this up for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Costume, Best Film Editing and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Other possibilities include: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director.


Dances With Wolves

Dances With Wolves, 1990
Directed by Kevin Costner
Nominated for 12 Oscars, Won 7
Wins Include: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score.

Dances With Wolves takes place in Civil War America. Lt. John Dunbar becomes an accidental hero when, choosing suicide over leg amputation, rides his horse up the Confederate Front line, which distracts them and leads the Union Army to winning battle. Dunbar survives, is allowed to keep his leg (which indeed recovers properly) and is given his choice of posting. He requests the Western Frontier so he can see it "before it disappears". He is sent to Fort Sedgewick, but finds it abandoned and in bad shape. While devouting himself to fixing it so he can prepare for the troops to be stationed there, he discovers a tribe of Sioux Indians not far away, as well as a lonely but timid wolf who stays nearby. He quickly becomes friends with the Indian tribe and finds himself getting drawn farther and farther into its lifestyle and culture, while possibly falling in love with the white woman (who was taken in by the tribe as a young girl) who is his only link to communicating with the tribe.

I have never really heard wonderful things about Dances With Wolves. Reading the back of the DVD, it sounded extremely similar to dozens of other movies including Pocahontas and Avatar (among others). I was always disappointed to see it was three hours long, and didn't look overly interesting. I mean, Avatar was pretty good but it didn't need to be nearly as long as it was. As well, I expected this to be an extremely naive story and be terrible with historical accuracy.

I was encouraged to find that the 3 hours weren't so terribly dragged out. It moved at a pretty good pace, even if there wasn't much of  a story. It wasn't terribly inaccurate, and upon reading, there was not much controversy around the content.

Personally, I found the movie moderately enjoyable. It's a story I've heard countless times in movies and books, but it was nevertheless a decent story. I found Dunbar falling in love with the community and the people of the tribe to be quite beautiful. However, am I the only one in thinking the story would've been better without the love story? To me, it would feel almost more impactful had there been no woman, no wife. That he was simply determined to return to "his people", to protect them, and that he fell in love with them, just them, instead of them plus the woman/his wife.

The cinematography is, what I think, the movie did best of all. It really captured the American Frontier in all it's beauty and desolation. The shots of the buffalo heard were incredible. As well, the buffalo hunting scene was beautiful, especially after learning that there was very little CGI/animatronics and most of it was shot was an actual large heard of buffalo. It was shot incredibly well.

The acting was fine, though nothing spectacular. As well with the screenplay.

Like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, Kevin Costner didn't seem like the best choice for Dunbar. When lacking the facial hair, he looked too modern to be a believable Civil War soldier. Even with the facial hair, he didn't look quite right. The acting was very subpar, and I felt someone else may've been a better choice.  

Was this a good movie? Meh, it was okay. Should it have won Best Picture? Probably not. Especially over a classic like Goodfellas. Granted, I haven't actually seen Goodfellas, but I know it is a mobster classic, and is considered one of (if not #1) Martin Scorsese's best films.

This felt a lot like the "safer choice" of that year. While it was an alright film, it was certainly not deserving of anything more than a cinematography or costume award.

Acting- 7/10     
Directing- 7/10     
Screenplay- 6.5/10     
Music – 8.5/10    
Visuals- 9/10     
Captivation- 6/10    
Emotional Connection- 6/10     
Rewatchability- 6/10     
Overall Enjoyment- 7.5/10     
Overall Package- 7/10      

Total: 70.5/100