Sunday, January 27, 2013

SAG Predictions

Tonight is the 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.  We are effectively midway through awards season, and tonight's awards will either validate certain films' Oscar chances or tear them down.  It will be real telling tonight if Argo wins Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture without a solitary performance being nominated.  If Argo wins the big award tonight, it will effectively make it a threat to win Best Picture at the Oscars without being nominated for Best Director, especially after winning the Producer's Guild Award last night.  On the other side, if Lincoln or Silver Linings Playbook win, then it will really just be like flipping a coin to see which film is crowned Best Picture at the Oscars.  Personally, with so much sympathy poured out towards Ben Affleck since he got snubbed by the Academy, I think that will have been like a rally call and will win the big award for Argo tonight, and right now my money is on Argo being the frontrunner for Best Picture at the Oscars.

Other awards tonight that will be real telling on the Oscar race are Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, and Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role.  The Best Actress race between Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence, which was effectively split 50/50 after the Golden Globes with Chastain winning for a Drama and Lawrence winning for a Comedy/Musical, will really start to shape up after tonight.  They are no longer separated by genre and it will be real telling if Lawrence beats Chastain, not just for her Oscar chances, but also the chances of Silver Linings Playbook across all other awards shows.  Then there's Supporting Actor, which is quite possibly the most heated race at the upcoming Oscars, and is easily the most heated race you'll see tonight.  All five men nominated are worthy of winning the award and all have a case for it.  I think it's safe to say that whoever takes home the award will be standing at the podium come Oscar night, however I could always be wrong, seeing as how Christoph Waltz got the Oscar nod and the Golden Globe win, and yet was replaced by Javier Bardem in the SAG line-up.  Just adding more fuel to the fire.

Below you'll find my predictions for tonight.  Per usual for this type of show that awards both TV and film actors, I only cover the film side of things because I just honestly don't feel as if I am knowledgeable enough on the TV front to make good calls, though I will say, expect to hear lots about Homeland tonight.  My only vague TV prediction.  As well, I will be back after the show to update with my final thoughts on the evening.  If you wanna check out the SAG Awards, you can watch either TBS or TNT at 8/7 central tonight, with E! doing the red carpet starting at 6/5 central.  For a full list of nominees, check here, and for my predictions, they are posted below:

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture 

UPDATE:  So there you have it, I think it's safe to say that Argo is now the legitimate frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar after winning Outstanding Cast tonight at the SAG Awards.  As well, after Affleck's snub with the directing branch in the Academy, I think it's a safe bet to say he'll also take home the DGA Award too. 

As for my final tally tonight, I went 5/6, one of the better performances I've had in a while.  I almost thought I was gonna go 6/6 till Jennifer Lawrence won over Jessica Chastain, meaning the Best Actress Oscar race is a firm battle between Lawrence and Chastain to see who will get it.  Will Chastain's more serious performance net her the win, or will Harvey Weinstein find a way to push Lawrence into the victory circle?  Time will tell.  All tonight really did though was reaffirm how up in the air so many Oscar races are this year. 

From Best Director, which could easily go to Spielberg, Ang Lee, or David O. Russell, to Best Actress, all the way to Best Supporting Actor, which did not get cleared up in the slightest with Tommy Lee Jones's win tonight.  Best Supporting Actor could easily go to Critic's Choice winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman, or to Golden Globe winner Christoph Waltz, or to Tommy Lee Jones, or to De Niro or even Alan Arkin, all five have a shot.  Wouldn't it be funny if a different actor out of the five each got an award, with a different one getting the Critic's Choice, the Golden Globe, the SAG award, the BAFTA, and the Oscar?  I'm really just spitballing here. 

This truly is one of the most exciting awards seasons in my lifetime and I don't think I've ever been more excited for Oscar night.  For a full list of the SAG award winners, check here.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

J.J. Abrams to Direct "Star Wars: Episode VII"

After months upon months of rabid fan speculation as to who was going to direct the new installment of the Star Wars saga, Star Wars: Episode VII, it seems fears have been put to rest with the hiring of J.J. Abrams as director.

Personally, I am over the moon with this choice and I am flat-out shocked that he signed on, especially seeing as how he shot down the early rumors right after Lucasfilm was sold to Disney a few months back.  However, Abrams has always been a very vocal fan of Star Wars, often citing the original 1977 film for how he approached his 2009 Star Trek film.  With a planned release of 2015, presumably May, seeing as how that was the month when every other Star Wars film was released, it seems Abrams is coming onboard with just enough time to get the ball rolling on production.

I think what's the most interesting talking point for most geeks across the internet is that Abrams seems to be jumping ship from the USS Enterprise to the Millenium Falcon, with his sequel to Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness, hitting theaters this May.  However, as he did with the Mission Impossible series, it's highly likely that Abrams will remain involved with the Trek franchise as a producer.  To be honest though, as a fan who loves Star Wars a little more than Star Trek, I don't blame Abrams one bit for finally caving and agreeing to helm Episode VII.  It's one of those crazy dreams that a film obsessed kid grows up with, to be able to actually dictate how the story of Luke, Han, and Leia, are continued on past Return of the Jedi.  I know for myself, from years upon years of playing with Star Wars toys as a kid, that I had my own stories I'd love to tell with that original trio, and it looks as if that possibility was just too much for Abrams to pass up.  The real question is, what type of film can we expect from Abrams?

I said it after I saw Star Trek in '09, and I'll say it again, I thought Abrams outdid the Star Wars prequels, making the best science fiction adventure film since the original Star Wars trilogy.  In Abrams' career as a filmmaker, he has shown his enormous respect and admiration for the films of his youth, often mimicking their styles to create films that are throwbacks to bygone eras of moviemaking.  While I don't think Super 8 was as strong as Star Trek, there's no denying how similar in tone and feel that film was to the Steven Spielberg films from the '80s, like E.T. and The Goonies, and Star Trek felt almost more like a spiritual successor to the original Star Wars trilogy than it did to any other Trek film or series before it, at least in tone.

I am personally not worried at all, and think that Abrams is quite possibly the only guy in Hollywood who can bring back that original feeling of hope and excitement that the original three Star Wars films exude.  To think that we'll get anything other than an awesome, adventure filled thrill ride from J.J. Abrams is utterly ludicrous.

I can't help but say it, the Force is strong with this film.  First the hiring of Kathleen Kennedy as President of Lucasfilm, then the stepping down of George Lucas to merely a creative consultant, to the hiring of writer Michael Arndt to draft the screenplay.  So far Disney and Lucasfilm have hit all of the right notes.  Now if they can only deliver an official confirmation on Mark, Carrie, and Harrison, I'll be on cloud nine, if I'm not there already.  Is it 2015 yet?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Movie Review: "Broken City"

Broken City is not an unwatchable movie, but it's not a great movie either.  A standard, run-of-the-mill political thriller about corrupt politicians and the private eye caught in the middle of it all, is elevated by the turns of Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, but the script itself is bland and a little too on the nose for it to ever be believable or emotionally involving.  When a character is flat-out telling you everything about their backstory, rather than letting you piece it together through visuals and subtext, that's when you know the script doesn't always work.  Even still, there are good moments to be found here and there, but there's nothing about this movie that's any different than any similar movie ever released, and most of those do everything a lot better.  Want my advice, watch Serpico or All the President's Men instead.

I give Broken City a D-!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The 10 Best Films of 2012

This is it, the finale to my 2012 coverage.  2012 was an amazing year of film and it was by far the best year of film I've experienced since The Unicellular Review was born in 2009.  With that all said, only one thing remains, to name what I believe to be the 10 Best Films of 2012, counting down from my 10th favorite film, to what I believe to be the Best Film of 2012.

In all honesty, I could have easily expanded this to a Top 15, or even Top 20, there were that many movies that I liked this year, as it is, I actually felt as if I had to play like a real critic this year and weigh each film that I really liked against one another, and the 10 below are what I feel best represent the best films from 2012.  Every film in the top 10 received an A+ rating, and deservedly so, but what is number one?  Time to say goodbye to 2012 with the 10 Best Films of 2012:

10.  The Secret World of Arrietty

I have always had an affinity for hand drawn animation, and no animation studio on Earth does as fine a job as Studio Ghibli in Japan.  Released in America by Disney, The Secret World of Arrietty is a Japanese adaptation of the classic children's book, The Borrowers, about six centimeter tall people living in the walls and floorboards of homes, scavenging for food and supplies.  The animation in this film is lush and colorful, and the film itself is a joy from start to finish.  Written by Studio Ghibli co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki, the film features many Miyazaki trademarks:  a strong teenaged heroine, a mischievous sense of adventure, and a deeper thematic approach than most American animation.  The film deals with ideas such as childhood cancer and the looming specter of death, while also telling a gentle coming-of-age story.  While not as large scale as Ghibli films like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, The Secret World of Arrietty may be one of Studio Ghibli's better films they've ever made.

9.  Lincoln

The story goes that director Steven Spielberg had been wanting to make a film about Abraham Lincoln for the past 12 years, and in 2012 he finally got his chance with Daniel Day-Lewis playing Honest Abe, and the film was definitely worth the wait.  Spielberg is by far my favorite filmmaker of all-time, so anytime I get to see a new film from him, I'm ecstatic, but Lincoln was the first film he'd made since War of the Worlds in 2005 that I felt he had a passion for the story he was telling.  That's the best way to describe Lincoln, it's a passionate look at one of the most revered US Presidents to ever live, and yet it never idolizes Lincoln.  Spielberg and company show Lincoln as a real, flesh-and-blood human being, with flaws and all, but in so many ways, that is what makes me love Lincoln even more.  If you haven't seen Lincoln because you feel that in Spielberg's work he often beats viewers over the head with music and shot design to force sentimentality, then you aren't giving Lincoln a chance.  Here, Spielberg really shows restraint, utilizing very minimal music and lets the actors' performances dictate when he pushes the camera into their faces, rather than him trying to force an emotional response.  As a diehard Spielberg fan, this is a welcome return to form for the master, and for those who are on the fence about his works, give this one a chance.

8.  Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook was one of those films that I was skeptical could live up to all of the hype surrounding it.  So many critics praised it, and the film itself seemed to have won over the arthouse crowd, winning the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, however, I was not sure on this one till I finally saw it and was utterly moved by the experience.  In the film, actor Bradley Cooper portrays a bi-polar substitute teacher named Pat, who has just gotten out of a mental hospital, where he was sent because he beat the living daylights out of the man who had an affair with his wife.  Now, back in the care of his parents, portrayed by Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver, Pat sets out on a hilarious and heartfelt journey to try and win back his wife with the help of his new friend, Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence.  What makes this film so magical is the chemistry between the actors.  Every actor brought their A-game here and delivered an award's worthy performance.  Both Cooper and Lawrence are hilarious in their performances, but they also both dug down deep and bared all their emotions with no filters.  What you see is what you get with Cooper and Lawrence in this film, and there is a genuine spark between the two actors that can't really be described in words.  This is just an uplifting film that is quirky, dramatic, while also being laugh-out loud hilarious.

7.  Zero Dark Thirty 

Another film that I was super skeptical about before seeing it.  So many critics were hailing it as the film of 2012, and you know what, Zero Dark Thirty truly is one of the finer films of 2012.  The film tells the 10 year long journey by the CIA to find Osama Bin Laden, culminating in the famous night raid on Bin Laden's compound from 2011.  While we'll never probably know how accurate most of this film is, seeing as how none of the real CIA agents are ever mentioned by their real names and they are forbidden to speak on it, what the film presents is a deep look at the War on Terror and the hunt for Bin Laden, illuminating many facets of the hunt that I never knew before.  Not to mention, the film is far more emotionally rewarding than I ever imagined possible, given its subject matter.  Not only is the film often tense and suspenseful, as it is in the night raid, but the film places the audience in the shoes of CIA analyst, Maya, played with fierce determination by Jessica Chastain.  In so doing, we see and feel every event through Maya's point-of-view.  When she is shaken by observing torture for the first time, or when she bursts into tears after the death of Bin Laden, we as the audience feel all that she feels, and are pondering the same question as Maya.  Now what?

6.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was like a dream come true as a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth.  For ten years, fans have waited for The Hobbit to hit the silver screen.  At times it looked like it would never happen, but The Lord of the Rings director, Peter Jackson, finally made the first part of a planned trilogy, and it was everything I could have hoped for.  Not only was the film a welcome return to the world and characters of Middle Earth, it expanded further on the mythology and expanded even upon Tolkien's original text.  Using the appendices of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson and company filled in all of the blanks that Tolkien never described in The Hobbit, which was written 20 years prior to The Lord of the Rings.  The film uses the backstory information to flesh out two-dimensional characters into three-dimensional beings, while also laying the seeds for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, making the story of The Hobbit more like a real prequel, rather than a separate adventure.  However, even though the film noticeably takes place in the same Middle Earth as The Lord of the Rings trilogy did, the film is much lighter, funnier, more adventurous and child-like, like the book.  The more innocent tone may be why I loved this film so much.  It felt as if it was a traditional adventure story that you might be read right before bedtime, and I don't think you could ask for any more from this film.  I cannot wait for the sequel hitting theaters this December.

5.  Wreck-It Ralph 

I was utterly charmed by this Disney animation about a video game bad guy who wanted to become a hero.  Wreck-It Ralph featured a great message for kids, but it was also flat-out hilarious with some genuine emotion underneath.  However, what really made this film stand so tall was the cast of eccentric, yet lovable characters.  From Ralph, all the way to go-kart driver, Vanellope, the characters were all fresh and original, putting new spins on the classic Disney hero and princess dichotomy.  Not to mention, as a lifelong video game fan, this film was just so much fun to watch.  There were so many little nods in the film, placed there purely for gamers, making jabs at classic video game cliches, as well as featuring cameos from video game characters like Q-bert and Sonic the Hedgehog, prompting me to watch the background almost as much as the foreground to see which characters were in there.  No other film in 2012 was as funny as Wreck-It Ralph, and no other animated film was quite as enjoyable or emotionally rewarding as it was also.

4.  Skyfall

In 2012, the cinematic James Bond turned 50 with the release of the 23rd Bond film, Skyfall.   Skyfall once more starred Daniel Craig as 007, and what made Skyfall such a remarkable Bond film was that it was sort of an anti-Bond film in concept.  The film starts with James Bond being shot, believed to be dead, only to return to action with an injury that keeps him from performing his typical super heroics for the rest of the film.  So for starters, the film portrayed Bond more so as a real human being and not as a superhero, but it also delved deeper into Bond's unexplored past than any Bond film before it.  In the past, it always seemed as if the producers simply wanted to leave the questions of where Bond came from a mystery, but here they return to the original Ian Fleming novels and boldly go where no Bond film has dared go before, detailing 007's childhood.  However, here was the true brilliance of Skyfall, and why it is one of the best films of 2012, while the filmgoers seemed to have set out to make an anti-Bond film, in the process they made the most Bond-like Bond film since the Pierce Brosnan-era.  Javier Bardem shows up as flamboyant cyber terrorist, Silva, who may just be one of the finer Bond villains in 007 history, and shooting the film in exotic locales with two of the more traditional-styled Bond girls since Die Another Day, made the film feel like Bond.  In essence, Skyfall was the have your cake and eat it too, Bond film.  It satisfied the inner 7-year-old who wants to see all the things that makes James Bond, James Bond, while giving more food for thought and deeper characterizations to please the film enthusiast looking for actual complexity to the story and characters.

3.  The Amazing Spider-Man

Sony boldly rebooted the Spider-Man franchise only a decade after the original Spider-Man was released in 2002.  I'll be honest, I didn't hold much hope for The Amazing Spider-Man before it was released, primarily because I was such a fan of the Tobey Maguire films and none of the trailers showed what ultimately made this film just as good as the others, it's beating heart.  I could go on to say how The Amazing Spider-Man actually delved deeper into the character of Peter Parker than the other films did, but what really sold me on this film after seeing it was how emotionally potent it was, and that was because of the pitch perfect cast.  Andrew Garfield was Peter Parker, there's no other way to put it.  He had the sarcasm, the wit and the charm, and what more can be said about the chemistry between Emma Stone and Garfield, as Gwen Stacy and Spider-Man, respectively.  This film just felt like the Spider-Man comic books to me.  Big scale action with a human heart beneath all of the epicness, lending the film an operatic quality.  Director Marc Webb and his cast and crew just all understood the material and it shows as you watch the film and are genuinely surprised at how they cleverly retell pieces of Spider-Man's origin while still delivering the chill inducing moments of awesomeness that one expects from a spectacle such as this.  A job well done.

2.  The Hunger Games

I feel I have already written an entire book about The Hunger Games by this point, but I'll just say this, The Hunger Games was a pitch perfect adaptation of Suzanne Collins' young adult novel.  The way director Gary Ross and his cast and crew brought to life Collins' world was simply amazing, and in many ways, better than its literary counterpart.  The filmmakers fleshed out the events of the story, imagining things that weren't in the book to make the film play better as a film.  The entire book is told from Katniss's point-of-view, therefore explaining why things are happening because we can read her thoughts, but film does not have that luxury, and so they created scenes to detail why Katniss thought those things in the book.  I'll be honest, I was at first put off the first time I saw the film due to this, and due to the simpler nature of some of the character relationships, in order to make them easier to understand, but in doing all of this, it made the film its own entity and made it stronger than it would have been had it told the story verbatim.  I now fully appreciate all that Ross and company did, and I absolutely love this film and find it suspenseful and thought provoking, but above all, I love the characters and that is what keeps me coming back to it, time and time again.

1.  The Avengers

No other film this year was as perfect as The Avengers.  This film was the culmination of four years worth of promises, with all of the little teases that had been sprinkled throughout the Marvel films since the first Iron Man in 2008 coming to fruition.  The Avengers delivered on all its promise and then went one step further.  In some ways I feel it's like the superhero version of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.  Earth is in danger from a bandit, or in this case, a celestial villain named Loki, and the only way to save Earth is for a group of the Earth's mightiest heroes to unite and fight together as one to save the day.  Like Kurosawa's film, these heroes don't necessarily get along at first, but through their common goals they learn to fight as one and by the end, they become a team.  But seriously, does this film really require so much in depth analysis?  Things go boom, Tony Stark has more snappy one-liners than ever before, and the joy of seeing Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor, onscreen together, all acting as if they stepped out of the comic books, is the greatest treat of it all.  Here's the best way to sum up how I feel about The Avengers.  I feel the same way after watching The Avengers as I do after I watch the original 1977 Star Wars.  I truly feel that The Avengers is a classic and may just be the only film on this list remembered fifty years down the road.


And that is it for 2012!  What a year of film.  All I have to say 2013, is that you have some awfully big shoes to fill.  Bring on Superman and some more Middle Earth, I'm ready.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Best in Film - 2012

So here we are.  Tomorrow I will be naming the 10 Best Films from 2012, but today it's all about what I thought was the Best Work that film in 2012 had to offer.  From Cinematography, to Actor and Actress, all the way to Director, what follows are my Best in Film honors for 2012.  It's a good, long list, so I wont waste time building it up, after all, we had a whole year to do that.  Let's get started:

Best Blu Ray/DVD E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial:  30th Anniversary Blu Ray

An entirely new category this year, and the reason for it is that this is a huge part of what shapes my filmgoing experience each and every year.  I love watching films at home, but I'm also a special features junkie.  The more deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes documentaries there are, the better.  Therefore this award felt like a natural fit to start this list, and no other blu ray from 2012 was as awesome as the 30th Anniversary release of E.T.  E.T. is a bona fide classic film, and the 4K transfer looks beautiful, as well, if you were not a fan of the 20th Anniversary Edition with updated visual effects and added scenes, you'll be happy to know that all of this is relegated to the Deleted Scenes' section and the film you watch is the original 1982 version in glorious high definition.  Featuring every special feature documentary ever made about the film, from the laser discs to the past DVD releases, to a brand new doc made up entirely of behind-the-scenes footage from back in 1981 when the film was shot, the special features are what put this one over-the-top.  So many hours of informative features, from being a fly-on-the-wall watching and learning how to direct by observing Spielberg to learning how the film was made, this is the ultimate release for an E.T. fan.
2.) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 & 2 (2-Movie Ultimate Edition)
3.) Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures
4.) The Hunger Games
5.) Jaws (Universal 100th Anniversary) Blu Ray

Best Use of a Pre-Existing Song - "Till Kingdom Come" from The Amazing Spider-Man

For a long time I've been trying to figure out how to break up the music categories, because there are so many different facets of music in a film.  There's music written for the film, and then there is the use of pre-existing music in a film, and the more I thought about it, some of the better moments in films are when the filmmakers use a pre-existing song to underscore an important sceneWhy Oscars and whatnot don't honor pre-existing music is beyond me, but I figured I'd do it, and this year, no other song was used better than Coldplay's "Till Kingdom Come" from The Amazing Spider-Man.  The song plays after Peter Parker makes a date with Gwen Stacy and celebrates using his newfound Spider powers to swing from rafters and do crazy, impossible skateboard tricks.  The sequence harks back to director Marc Webb's music video roots and is easily one of the better scenes of the film.
2.) "On My Own" from Les Miserables
3.) "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables
4.) "Feelin' Alright" from Flight
5.) "Baba O'Riley" from Premium Rush

Best Original Song - "Safe and Sound" from The Hunger Games

Very often an original song is merely relegated to the end credits, but in the case of Taylor Swift's song, "Safe and Sound," from The Hunger Games, the lyrics and feel of the song tie so perfectly back to the thematic ideas of the story, it makes the song like a companion piece reflecting on the film you just saw. Co-written by Swift, T Bone Burnett, and the Civil Wars, the song could easily be interpreted in multiple ways.  John Paul White of the Civil Wars said the song was inspired by the relationship between Katniss and Rue, but I've always thought the song was a poetic way expressing how Katniss really feels about Peeta.  Whatever the true meaning is, the song just befit the movie it was written for perfectly.
2.) "Song of the Lonely Mountain" from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
3.) "Skyfall" from Skyfall
4.) "This Gift" from The Odd Life of Timothy Green
5.) "Abraham's Daughter" from The Hunger Games

Best Original Score - The Amazing Spider-Man

2012 was an amazing year for film scores, from a return to the beautiful themes of Middle Earth in The Hobbit, to the video game-styled music of Wreck-It Ralph, all the way to the folksy feel of the score from The Hunger Games, this was a year with hours upon hours of just amazing scores, but the most amazing score was by far The Amazing Spider-Man.  Composer James Horner (Titanic) wrote a heroic, noble theme that easily gets stuck in your head, and what really sells it is how he uses different variations of the theme throughout the film to highlight all of the different emotions that Peter Parker experiences.  I genuinely feel it bested the Danny Elfman score from the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man 10 years ago.
2.) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
3.) Wreck-It Ralph
4.) Cloud Atlas
5.) The Avengers

Best Make-Up - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

This was a competitive category.  I was real impressed with how the crew of Lincoln made up Daniel Day-Lewis to look just like Honest Abe.  I was also blown away by the amazing cut and injury effects that the make-up crew for The Impossible used to believably sell the idea that these characters were tossed by a tsunami, but it was the make-up work for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey that blew me away.  Almost every character in the film had some sort of wig, fake nose, or beard on, and the make-up crew made the work perfectly match the natural skin tone and hair colors of each actor to make the work believable and seem as if it was all actual features of the actors.
2.) The Impossible
3.) Lincoln
4.) The Hunger Games
5.) Cloud Atlas

Best Costumes - The Avengers

I have always been in awe of how costume designers take comic book reference material and transform superhero costumes into real suits that seem as if they'd actually function if you were fighting to save the world.  The costumes in The Avengers were so well done.  From the skin tight leather of Black Widow's costume, to the Iron Man armor, all the way to the redesigned Captain America and Thor costumes that look just like their comic book counterparts, the costume designers managed to keep the costumes faithful to the comics without ever traipsing into cheesiness.
2.) The Hunger Games
3.) Mirror, Mirror
4.) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
5.) Argo

Best Sound - The Secret World of Arrietty

Sound is often one of those categories that is very hard to give out, because if the sound mixers and sound designers did their jobs right, then you aren't supposed to notice the sound work, it's just supposed to sound seamless.  However, there was one occasion from 2012 where the sound work really stood out for me, and it was for the Studio Ghibli film, The Secret World of Arrietty.   The film is based on the book, The Borrowers, about a group of six centimeter tall people living in walls and floorboards, and what I was so blown away by with this film was how they designed the audio and mixed it to where ordinary, everyday sounds sounded larger than life and frightening.  The sound work really put you into the world of the Borrowers, and that is why it won here.
2.) Zero Dark Thirty
3.) The Hunger Games
4.) The Avengers
5.) The Impossible

Best Special Effects - Flight

It would have been very easy for me to have given this award to a film with more effects' work, but the work in Flight is just so real, it had to be acknowledged.  The only real effects' sequence of the film is the plane crash that kickstarts the story, but the crash is rendered so realistically that you actually believe you're watching a real plane fall from the sky.  It makes the sequence all the more harrowing and unforgettable.
2.) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
3.) Zero Dark Thirty
4.) John Carter
5.) The Dark Knight Rises

Best Production Design
 - The Hunger Games

Hands down, no other film this year had production design work as extensively researched or as intricate as the design work for The Hunger Games.  The novels by Suzanne Collins are fairly specific in how places look and feel, but director Gary Ross and his team of set designers and art directors took that and ran with it.  You learn by watching the documentary on The Hunger Games Blu Ray, how they researched how societies under dictatorial rule tended to design buildings and cities, and they applied that with a futuristic sheen to the world of Panem, creating a futuristic world that looked unlike anything else I'd ever seen on film before.  A tremendous accomplishment.
2.) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
3.) The Woman in Black
4.) Argo
5.) Lincoln

Best Editing - The Hunger Games

Like sound, editing is a tough beast to award, because if an editor does their job well, you shouldn't even notice it.  I really could have gone many different directions with this award, but I chose to honor the whip smart editing for The Hunger Games because of how it effectively placed you in the point-of-view of Katniss Everdeen.  The editing was all quick, and in the action moments, very chaotic, as I would imagine it would be like in real life, with only quick, fleeting glimpses of the tragedies transpiring around you, and only showing what Katniss sees.  However, the moment that really won this for The Hunger Games is when the tributes are raised up on their platforms around the cornucopia, awaiting the start of the games.  As the announcer is counting down, the sequence is cut to manipulate your heart's pace, as the cutting gets faster and faster as the count gets closer to zero, forcing your heart up into your throat by the time the signal sounds and the games begin.
2.) Zero Dark Thirty
3.) The Bourne Legacy
4.) Argo
5.) Django Unchained

Best Cinematography - The Master

This was the award I was most on the fence on, because I just did not like The Master as a film, but if you look at the cinematography on a stand alone basis, it features the most beautifully framed shots from any movie in 2012.  Each shot is picturesque and all of the camera movements are timed and executed to perfection.  Not to mention the breadth of the image that you get from the film being shot in 65mm.  While I fought for so long against it, I just had to give credit where credit was due, and no other film in 2012 looked better than The Master.  Now, if only the story were good, we'd be on to something here.
2.) Skyfall
3.) Looper
4.) Lincoln
5.) Django Unchained

Best Animated Film - Wreck-It Ralph

This was a fairly weak year for animation overall, but Wreck-It Ralph and The Secret World of Arrietty made it a worthwhile year.  Both were stellar animated films, but I think Wreck-It Ralph had the slight leg up.  The Secret World of Arrietty was a Japanese adaptation of a classic children's book, where as Wreck-It Ralph was an original film about a video game bad guy who wants to become good.  It was laugh-out loud hilarious, but heartwarming and tender when it needed to be, striking that rare balance that only an animated film can.  Not to mention the fact that Wreck-It Ralph is a Disney movie featuring some of the more lively characters to ever be introduced into the Disney canon, as well as a message that tells kids it's okay to be who you are.
2.) The Secret World of Arrietty
3.) Brave

Worst Film of 2012 - Take This Waltz

I don't even want to write about this one, but I will.  It was a hipster soap opera of people who don't know what they really want in life, yet they all live in cushy hipster-land.   Michelle Williams plays a married woman who starts developing an inappropriate relationship with her neighbor.  It was as if Lifetime was trying to pick up the Indie/hipster market.  This movie was just unwatchable to me, so unwatchable in fact that I only watched the first thirty minutes.  I know critics loved this one, but I just could not get in to it.
2.) Snow White and the Huntsman
3.) Prometheus
4.) Haywire
5.) Mirror, Mirror

Biggest Disappointment of 2012 - The Dark Knight Rises

Now, let me come clean and say this does not mean I think The Dark Knight Rises is a bad film, after all, I gave it an A-rating, but there is a reason it was not an A+.  Where The Dark Knight Rises disappointed me was the fact that there was just so much going on, and the movie was not that much about Batman and was more about Christopher Nolan's ideas that he was wanting to play with.  As such, Nolan disregarded the comic books and made the characters do things that they would never do in the comic books, I mean, Bruce Wayne would never give up being Batman, it is too much of a compulsion for him, nor would Alfred ever leave his side.  Then there was the cheap Robin-nod at the end of the movie, and I was just fuming when I left the theater.  If you are going to include Robin, then include one of the real Robins from the comic books.  Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Damian Wayne, there were four you could have chosen, but leave it to Chris Nolan wanting to make it a twisty surprise, so therefore he disregarded over seventy years of history just to get that aha moment similar to when he revealed Liam Neeson was Ra's Al Ghul in Batman Begins.  It worked once, but failed the second go around.  Congrats.
2.) Looper
3.) John Carter
4.) Prometheus
5.) Beasts of the Southern Wild 

Most Underrated Film of 2012 - The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man has gotten more flack from critics and comic book fans than any other comic book film released from the past year, and I just feel it is all unwarranted.  I mean, did they have to reboot Spider-Man only ten years after his first big screen appearance?  No, but did director Marc Webb and company knock it out of the park and one-up the Sam Raimi original?  Yes, they did.  They delved deeper into the character of Peter Parker and they actually created a more complex origin story than in any other incarnation of Spider-Man, making the film feel fresh and exciting.  Why so many people are still clinging to the idea that there can only be one continuity of Spider-Man on film is beyond me.  I love the Sam Raimi movies, but now, I also love the Marc Webb movie and cannot wait for the sequel.
2.) The Odd Life of Timothy Green
3.) The Woman in Black
4.) Lawless
5.) Premium Rush

Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises

Anne Hathaway's performance as Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, was the best part of The Dark Knight Rises.  She portrayed the character with a brain.  She wasn't slinking around or purring like Michelle Pfeiffer, she was portraying Catwoman as a smart cat thief with a chameleon-like persona, who actually feels emotions.  While there were many good performances from this past year, the way that Hathaway channeled the comic book Catwoman was just so spectacular, she deserved to be recognized.
2.) Sarah Silverman, Wreck-It Ralph
3.) Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games
4.) Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man
5.) Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Best Supporting Actor - Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers

There is the classic saying that a hero, or in this case, heroes, are only as good as their villain, and that applies to Loki in The Avengers, played brilliantly by Tom Hiddleston.  What I love so much about the way Tom Hiddleston portrays Loki is that he doesn't play Loki as a mustache twirling bad guy, but rather he portrays him as a person who feels wronged and desires to prove himself through power.  Hands down, the finest supporting performance of 2012.
2.) Javier Bardem, Skyfall
3.) Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty
4.) Woody Harrelson, The Hunger Games
5.) Ewan McGreggor, The Impossible

Best Actress - Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games

This really was the year of Jennifer Lawrence, not only did she knock it out of the park with her performance in Silver Linings Playbook, she proved her box office credentials and delivered her finest performance to date in The Hunger Games as heroine, Katniss Everdeen.  Lawrence's Katniss is such an engrossing character to watch onscreen, not because the character is charismatic, but because Lawrence brings a rawness to the emotional side of the character that bears her inner feelings for all to see.  Few performers genuinely open themselves up and just risk it all, letting audiences see all of the nasty emotions inside, but Lawrence was unafraid to do this as Katniss.  Honestly, the same could also be said for her performance in Silver Linings as well, but as a bigger fan of The Hunger Games, I just had to give her props for bringing Katniss to life.
2.) Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
3.) Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
4.) Naomi Watts, The Impossible
5.) Elizabeth Olsen, Liberal Arts

Best Actor
 - Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

As soon as I saw Lincoln, I just knew, there was no contest, Daniel Day-Lewis was the one to beat for Best Actor.  You know, we'll never know how accurate his Abraham Lincoln voice was, but what we do know is he channels the Abraham Lincoln that we all wish was the real Honest AbeDay-Lewis portrays Lincoln with an equal mixture of charm and fiery stubbornness.  However, what always seals the deal for a Daniel Day-Lewis portrayal is just how he alters himself for every performance.  Physically, emotionally, from the way he walks and talks, to the way he acts and reacts in each scene, it is different based upon each character he is portraying, and I really think Abraham Lincoln may be his best performance he has ever done.
2.) Andrew Garfield, The Amazing Spider-Man
3.) Tom Holland, The Impossible
4.) Jack Black, Bernie
5.) Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Ensemble - The Avengers

Each year it's difficult to ask yourself which film had the best group of actors working together to form an ensemble worthy of recognition, this year had many great ensemble casts, but in the year of the ultimate superhero team-up film, how could you not award The Avengers?  From Robert Downey, Jr.'s charismatic portrayal as Iron Man, to Chris Evans' straight-laced Captain America, all the way to such great talents as:  Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, and the above mentioned, Tom Hiddleston.  I mean, my goodness, each actor is terrific in their own individual films, and then when you bring them all together into one movie, it's a feast.
2.) The Hunger Games
3.) Silver Linings Playbook
4.) Lincoln
5.) The Impossible

Best Screenplay - The Avengers

This was the best script of the year, hands down, bar none, this is where writer/director, Joss Whedon, shined.  The story which was thought up by Whedon and Zak Penn, with the actual screenplay coming entirely from Whedon, was just one of those perfect blockbuster scripts.  Not only did the screenplay execute a picture perfect three-act structure, but it also brought together superheroes from four different franchises, all with big personalities, and gave each hero equal time and a moment to shine.  There was no character shortchanged by the script, with almost every character given an arc to go through throughout the film.  Then there's the Joss Whedon dialogue which is so clever, so funny, and so emotionally potent, I really don't see how you could give Best Screenplay to any other film in 2012.
2.) Liberal Arts
3.) Skyfall
4.) Wreck-It Ralph
5.) Lincoln

Best Director
 - Gary Ross, The Hunger Games

No other film from 2012 had an artist's signature quite like The Hunger Games did.  The choices that Gary Ross made, from the shooting style to the look of the film, all the way to how he portrayed each event from the book, there was a noticeable artistic stamp to each and every frame.  I think that's why I liked this film so much.  It does not look, feel, or play like any other film, and for a big scale motion picture like this, which could have easily been done in a boring Hollywood style, that is rare.  It's rare even for an arthouse film to have such a unifying vision that ties every moment together, like The Hunger Games has.  This is why Gary Ross was the Best Director from 2012, and it's why I am so sad he isn't returning for any of the sequels.
2.) Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
3.) David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
4.) Peter Jackson, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
5.) Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty


And that's that, tune in tomorrow as I finish my 2012 coverage naming what I believe to be the 10 Best Films of 2012!

Monday, January 14, 2013

My 10 Favorite Cinematic Moments of 2012

So here we are, I set a date and I'm sticking to it.  Time to kick off my honors of the best that I feel film had to offer in 2012!

The first thing to point out about 2012 as a whole, was just how good movies were all year long.  There were so many movies I gave favorable reviews to, and ten or more films I gave an A+ rating, more than I have ever given out before.  Perhaps it's because I saw over fifty films released in 2012 over the past year, but I truly believe that it's because there was so much quality filmmaking all around, placing me in a position I've always wanted to be in for the first time ever.  Ever since the Unicellular Review has been in existence, I didn't feel as if the lists I compiled were that strong, because there were only a few films that were genuinely great and the rest were okay, but this year, there were so many great movies, rather than having a year where the Top 3 films purely were the Top 3 because nothing else could challenge their dominance, I really get to say what my Favorite Films of 2012 were, rather than just saying what films were of better quality than others.

So with that said, I am starting my 2012, Year in Film coverage, with a look back at my 10 favorite moments I experienced in the past year of movies.  My favorite cinematic moments, if you like.  These moments could be as long as just a few seconds, or be an entire sequence or scene that works to send shivers down my spine, to make me almost feel like losing it, or are just awesome and insanely funny.  So without further ado, let the celebration of 2012 begin:

10.  "Rue's Farewell" from The Hunger Games

There were many moments in The Hunger Games where director Gary Ross and novelist Suzanne Collins expanded the events of certain scenes from the book to the screenplay to show more than just Katniss's perspective, which is all we ever get in the book.  The death and subsequent farewell sequence for Rue is the best moment out of all of these scenes that Ross and Collins expanded.  Not only does Ross capture the emotion that this scene in the book evoked to perfection, but he also shows us how Rue's death and Katniss's subsequent kindness sparked a riot in District 11, the home district of Rue.  This moment was only fleetingly mentioned in the second book I believe, and seeing it not only makes the moment more emotional, but it also lays seeds for the full on revolution to come in later installments.

9.  "Maya's Breakdown" from Zero Dark Thirty

This was the most powerful performance moment of 2012 for me.  It's the final scene of the movie, when Jessica Chastain's CIA analyst, Maya, boards a plane to presumably return to DC after spending the past 10 years of her life hunting down Bin Laden and having now finally succeeded.  Established earlier in the film, we know that Maya has no time for friends or relationships, she was recruited into the CIA straight out of high school and is entirely driven by her career.  She has little sense of who she truly is outside of her hunt for Bin Laden.  When she's asked where she wants to go upon getting on the plane, she doesn't answer, she just succumbs to tears, with all of the emotions she'd bottled up the entire film finally coming to the surface.  There is this look on Chastain's face of a woman who has no identity and no real home.  This was just one of those simple moments that very often makes an entire film worth it.

8.  "Ralph Saves the Day" from Wreck-It Ralph

In the film, Wreck-It Ralph, if a video game character dies in another person's video game, then they are gone forever.  When Ralph is inside the video game Sugar Rush, trying to prove that he is not a bad guy and can be seen as a hero, Ralph makes his final statement when the game is overrun by a parasitic virus and the only way to stop them is by Ralph falling from high up in the sky and pummeling a large pile of mentos into a Diet Coke volcano, to kill the parasites.  For the entire film, Ralph was misunderstood, the odds were always stacked against him, with everyone saying a bad guy could never be a hero, but here is Ralph, willing to sacrifice himself in order to save his friend, Vanellope.  That's the mark of a true hero, when they are willing to sacrifice themselves to save others.  It no longer is about them, but about ensuring the safety of everyone else.

7.  "Bane Breaks Batman's Back" from The Dark Knight Rises
Okay, as a diehard comic book fan, this was quite possibly the greatest piece of fan service in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy.  When Bane and Batman fight in the sewers underneath Gotham, it's like a boxing match, as it's clear that Bane is just toying with Batman, who is giving all he's got.  The reason why this moment is so awesome, is because in the early '90s comic book storyline, Knightfall, Bane told Batman he was going to break him, and then he proceeded to pick Batman up over his head and slam Batman's back into his knee, breaking Batman's back in the process.  When Bane does this in The Dark Knight Rises, it's as if seeing the comic book panels come to life.

6.  "Family Reunion" from The Impossible

For almost the entirety of the film, the family had been separated by a devastating tsunami.  The Mom (Naomi Watts) was in a hospital with her oldest son, the Dad (Ewan McGreggor) was searching for his wife and kids, and the two youngest sons were on a truck taking them to a shelter.  The moment when they reunite is so perfectly orchestrated, you see all of them at the same place at the same time, but none of them see one another, and all you're thinking in the audience is, "They're right over there."  Of course, they all reunite and whatnot, but having the build-up of seeing near misses makes the emotional impact when they finally find one another all the more potent.

5.  "The Night Raid" from Zero Dark Thirty

This is the longest sequence I'm honoring here, being essentially the final thirty minutes of the film, but it all flows together and is literally one big, gigantic scene.  This entire sequence, showing the Seal Team 6 raid on Bin Laden's compound, felt gritty, real, and spooky.  The whole raid was eerily quiet, with a plethora of night vision point-of-view shots leading you to suspect that a person with a gun is just around the corner.

4.  "Bernie Confesses to Murder" from Bernie

I just totally lost it at this moment when I first saw this movie, it was so funny.  Jack Black's character, Bernie, has been arrested for the murder of the mean old lady in the small Texan town where he works as a mortician.  When Bernie just breaks down, crying, confessing to her murder without having to even be interrogated, I couldn't help but laugh-out-loud.  I didn't think I could laugh any harder until Bernie blurts out how he shot her in the back with the armadillo gun, and I nearly found myself in tears from laughing so hard.  Simply the funniest moment of 2012.

3.  "Cranes to the Rescue" from The Amazing Spider-Man

Okay, this moment has been seen as a little controversial to some comic book fans and critics, claiming it's borderline jumping the shark.  While logically it makes little sense, come on, it's emotionally powerful when Spider-Man has been shot in his leg and musters up the last of his strength when he sees New York crane operators moving their cranes to form a path for him so that he can reach Oscorp Tower and stop the Lizard.  Maybe I'm just a sucker for big moments such as this, but when James Horner's score brings in the chanting choir and director Marc Webb hits the slow mo as Spider-Man runs and makes a flying leap, I can't help but be moved by this moment.  As a lifelong Spider-Man fan, this is where the movies really trump the comics.

2.  "Avengers Assemble!" from The Avengers

This was the money shot from The Avengers.  The moment when the Avengers finally all come together as a team, assemble if you will, and stand united to fight the aliens trying to destroy New York.  As a lifelong comic book fan, there's just nothing like the goose bumps I get when Hulk downs that giant Chitauri with one punch and then director Joss Whedon did that shot circling our heroes, all standing together, primed and ready to save the day.

1.  "The Bridge Rescue" from The Amazing Spider-Man

This was the moment in The Amazing Spider-Man where I knew this film was something just as special as the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire films from the past decade.  This moment just was Peter Parker/Spider-Man, representing him as a selfless hero whose responsibility is to save those in need.  When a kid is trapped in a burning car hanging off a bridge, Spider-Man gives the kid his mask so that the kid will be strong and climb out to meet him.  This was the most heroic moment of 2012, and what was so amazing about it was that it wasn't Spidey punching the Lizard in the face or a big, epic super feat, it was something as simple as saving a kid from a burning car, and it worked to showcase what's so special, not just about this film, but also about the character of Spider-Man in general.


So that's that.  Tune back in tomorrow as I continue to honor the Best in Film of 2012!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Predicting the Golden Globes

This truly is an intriguing, one-of-a-kind award's season.  2012 was such a great year for movies, with so many films released that just swept audiences, critics, and people in the film industry, genuinely off their feet.  With this being such a high quality year, there is no clear frontrunner, as can be seen the other night with the Critics' Choice Movie Awards.

They awarded Argo for Best Picture and Best Director, where as Ben Affleck got snubbed at the Oscar nominations that very morning, so there is no shot for him with Best Director, and there has not been a film that wins Best Picture without being nominated for Best Director since Driving Miss Daisy at the 1990 Academy Awards, so Argo's chances of repeat success are slim.

What I'm getting at here, is that the race is wide open.  It's highly likely that a different film will win the Critics' Choice, the Golden Globe, the SAG Ensemble Award, the BAFTA, and the Oscar.  There has not been a year like this in a long time, and it makes me all the more excited to watch each award's show when they come on.

Tonight is the 70th Annual Golden Globes' ceremony, hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (which if they don't get too political, will be quite funny).  Unlike the Oscars, which are voted on by the Academy (which is basically a large sampling of the best and brightest talent in the film industry, from actors to set designers), the Golden Globes are voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

To understand the difference between the HFPA and the Broadcast Film Critics Association which put on the Critics' Choice Movie Awards the other night, the BFCA are a collection of North American film critics, where as the HFPA are a collection representing the world press, therefore, in a nutshell, foreign film critics.  Unlike the Critics' Choice or even the Oscars, they are not swayed by American success or opinion, but are typically swayed by international success and opinion, making their award's show, often very different from all the rest.

This year's Golden Globes looks to be one of the more heated in years, with so many categories that are almost too close to call, but I'm going to try anyways, cause as I said the other day, these shows are just so much more fun when you're predicting.

There are four races that I feel are really going to be big battles tonight, and they are:  Best Drama, Best Comedy/Musical, Best Director, and Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.  Whenever predicting the Globes, you have to think of how that film played internationally, which is why I'll be surprised to see Lincoln win big tonight.  Of course, crazier things have happened.

Similar to a few years back when Avatar was the big winner, bringing home both Best Drama and Best Director, I feel that international hit, Life of Pi, may very well steal those two awards this year, because of international success, but it could go any which way.  Then there's the Best Comedy/Musical categories, and I think most of them will be split right down the middle between Les Miserables and Silver Linings Playbook, with the real battle being whether or not the Globes loved Hugh Jackman's singing more so than Bradley Cooper's soulful performance.  We'll see tonight.

As per usual, I wont try and predict the TV side of things, because I am just not informed enough on that side to make good guesses.  As well, for a full list of nominations check here, and for my predictions, look below:

Best Drama - Life of Pi
Best Comedy/Musical - Silver Linings Playbook
Best Director - Ang Lee, Life of Pi 
Best Actor in a Drama - Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Actress in a Drama - Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy - Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy - Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Supporting Actor - Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Best Screenplay -  Tony Kushner, Lincoln
Best Foreign Language Film - Amour
Best Animated Feature - Wreck-It Ralph
Best Original Song - "Skyfall" from Skyfall
Best Original Score - John Williams, Lincoln

Tune in tonight on NBC at 8/7 central to see who wins, and as usual, I'll update my tally after the show and give my final thoughts on the night.  Cheers.

UPDATE:  Okay, I cannot reiterate enough how crazy this award's season is, and we're just getting started.  I went 7 out of 14 on my predictions, but honestly this just makes the award's shows to come all the more exciting, and harder to predict.  I overestimated Life of Pi and vastly underestimated Argo, which speaking of Argo, I think tonight pretty much sealed up the Director's Guild Award for Ben Affleck, as well as putting Argo firmly back into the Best Picture hunt at the Oscars.

This year, the Academy moved up their voting deadline a few weeks, and if it were any other year, Ben Affleck would have probably been nominated for Best Director, alas I am seeing a scenario forming where Argo pulls off the Oscar rarity and wins Best Picture without its director being nominated.  It's clear from it winning big both tonight and with the critics, that there is huge love for the film, and the sympathy for Affleck not getting nominated may very well push Argo over the hump.  We'll see, but all the Golden Globes did was really make this award's season more up in the air. 

Could this be one of those years where the Best Picture winner wins nothing other than Best Picture?  That's an even greater rarity, but I actually see it possibly happening, because I don't think it will win Adapted Screenplay, and it isn't nominated for acting or directing, and most likely wont win the tech categories it's up for, so wouldn't it be interesting if out of all its nominations and snubs, Argo only wins one Oscar and it's Best Picture?  An interesting, one-of-a-kind year indeed.  For a full list of winners, check here, and be sure to tune in tomorrow, where I start my Best of 2012 coverage. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Movie Review: "Zero Dark Thirty"

Zero Dark Thirty is the story of how the CIA found Osama Bin Laden, and yes it is one of the better films made in 2012.  The film follows a young CIA analyst named Maya, portrayed with fierce determination by Jessica Chastain.  Maya is the only analyst who chases a lead that most of her superiors feel will go nowhere, and it's her unwillingness to give up on that lead and not succumbing to her human emotions that allows her to uncover Bin Laden's hideout.

How much of this film is true, we'll probably never know unless the government declassifies it someday, but as a film it works as a powerful, taut thriller and a modern history lesson.  The film opens by smartly never showing any footage of 9/11, but just leaves the screen black for nearly two minutes, just playing overlapping phone calls and news reports from that horrific day.  In this day and age of whiz-bang moviemaking, that took guts on behalf of director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal.  Then, there is the Seal Team 6 night raid on Bin Laden's compound.  Bigelow makes it tense and eerie through the night vision point-of-view shots, but most importantly, it feels real, as the events play out in real-time and nothing is ever overdramatized for Hollywood.  However, even though Seal Team 6 performed the job, it was Maya and her intelligence that led to that moment.

We are never given much backstory on Maya, all we know is that Maya is young, has only been in the CIA for 12 years, having been recruited straight out of high school, and that she is darn good at what she does.  She does not have time for friends or relationships and for the past 10 years, Bin Laden was her life.  She is dedicated.  Even though she is affected by seeing a man tortured, she maintains a fiery exterior to get to the information she needs.  Possibly the best moment for Chastain as Maya comes when she is sitting in the plane after Bin Laden has been killed, she's asked where she wants to go and she does not answer, just succumbing to tears.  Her emotions finally take her over.  At this moment, there is this look that Chastain has, of a person who does not truly know who they are and where to call home.  It's the most powerful moment of the film, and easily a scene that will linger in many Oscar voter's memories.

I give Zero Dark Thirty an A+

Movie Review: "Gangster Squad"

If you're looking for a history lesson, then avoid Gangster Squad at all costs, but if you're looking for an Untouchables styled throwback to gangster classics starring the likes of Cagney and Muni, then look no further than this film.

Set in 1949 Los Angeles, the film blends real history with fictionalized characters and events to create  a love letter to old Hollywood gangster films that plays well to modern audiences.  In the film, Sean Penn plays a villainous gangster named Mickey Cohen, a real historical figure who took over most of LA's underbelly in the '40s and '50s, and it is true, like the movie shows, that the police chief created a secret squad of cops, known as the Gangster Squad, to try and hamper Cohen's operations.  The idea of the Gangster Squad is that they leave their badges at home, they are not cops, they're just vigilantes out to do what they cannot do as cops, requiring little things like miranda rights and evidence.

Really, this movie just scratched an itch I've had for a long time for a movie like this.  I love this era of US history, the era of the gangsters.  It's a fascinating era, but one that Hollywood has been obsessed with representing realistically pretty much ever since The Godfather in the '70s.  What I love about Gangster Squad is that it hyper stylizes and romanticizes everything to the point that you know they're not trying to be realistic or even historically accurate, they're just trying to make a fun, emotionally involving ride.  From Ruben Fleischer's stylish visuals, to Will Beall's screenplay that accentuates 1940's slang, this is a film that knows what it's meant to be from the first frame and never tries to be anything more, and that is why I loved it so much.  Of course, what made this movie work so well though, is the fact that I cared for the characters.

They made all of the characters likable and relatable.  They're all morally upright guys who will always do the right thing, so when they get in gunfights, you don't want any of them to die, that's the true brilliance of this film, and that really has a lot to do with the stellar cast.  From Josh Brolin to Ryan Gosling, they cast likable actors in these roles that we're supposed to love, and it works.  Though, none of our heroes would work unless you had a villain so nasty that you wanted them to bring him down, and Sean Penn delivers that as Cohen, chewing up the scenery every scene he is in.  From the first time you see Penn's Cohen, he is being painted as this emotionless guy out for only money and power, and will kill all in his way to get it.  Who doesn't wanna see a guy like that broken?

Overall, Gangster Squad works for what it is.  While many would rather like to see a historically accurate retelling of the real Gangster Squad, as a fun popcorn movie, this Gangster Squad more than suffices.

I give Gangster Squad an A!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Predicting the Critics' Choice Awards

The 18th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards are tonight at 8/7 PM on the CW.  While I know the People's Choice Awards were last night (which on a side note, I was pleased to see The Hunger Games win, as well as Nathan Fillion), I really feel that today is the real start of the award's season.  Having started off with this morning's Oscar nominations, which you can read my reactions to here, to the Critics' Choice Movie Awards tonight, this is where everything starts to get real serious and the foot race to the Oscars begin.

The Critics' Choice Movie Awards are voted on by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, which is basically a large sampling of film critics from across the country, all coming together and picking what they thought were the best films of 2012.  So those guys and gals you read in the newspapers, they're the ones who choose the winners, so with that said, the Critics' Choice Movie Awards do tend to go more for critical favorites rather than popular opinion, like the Golden Globes and the Oscars tend to do.  In some ways, Critics' Choice tend to be the more popular award show amongst the arthouse crowd, and it's because the critics are typically the only ones who will honor artiness for the sake of being artsy.

If you've been keeping up with all of the critics' awards filtering out over the past two months, then you'll know that two movies are the ones to beat tonight -- Zero Dark Thirty and The Master.  While both films came away fairly battered and scarred from the Oscar nominations this morning, the critics will more than likely make up for the lack of Oscar nominations for both films with some hardware.  Other films to be mindful of tonight, obviously Lincoln, but I also would not count Argo out.  As it is, the critics do love to share the love, so it's often hard to predict them, but I am going to do my best.  For a full list of nominees, check here, and for my predictions, check below:

Best Picture - Zero Dark Thirty
Best Director - Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Best Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Actress - Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Best Supporting Actor - Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Best Young Actor/Actress - Quvenzanhe Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Acting Ensemble - Lincoln
Best Original Screenplay - Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Best Adapted Screenplay - Tony Kushner, Lincoln
Best Cinematography - The Master
Best Art Direction - Life of Pi
Best Editing - Zero Dark Thirty
Best Costume Design - Anna Karenina
Best Makeup - Cloud Atlas
Best Visual Effects - Life of Pi
Best Animated Feature - Wreck-It Ralph
Best Action Movie - Skyfall
Best Actor in an Action Movie - Jake Gylenhall, End of Watch
Best Actress in an Action Movie - Judi Dench, Skyfall
Best Comedy - Silver Linings Playbook
Best Actor in a Comedy Movie - Jack Black, Bernie
Best Actress in a Comedy Movie - Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Sci-Fi/Horror Movie - Looper
Best Foreign Language Film - Amour
Best Documentary Feature - West of Memphis
Best Song - "Skyfall" from Skyfall
Best Score  - Lincoln

Remember to check back in later tonight, where I'll update my final tally to see how many I got right, and how many I was astronomically wrong about.  Predicting just makes it all the more fun to watch, so make your own predictions and tune in tonight on the CW.

UPDATE:  Okay, 19 out of 28.  Not too shabby considering how all over the place the critics were this year.  The biggest surprises were obviously the huge showing for Argo, with Ben Affleck winning Best Director and the film also taking home Best Picture, with critical favorites like Zero Dark Thirty and The Master being mostly overlooked.  Overall, though, it was a great show, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised more often than I thought I would, and you know what, that's the type of award's show I like watching, not one where you can predict every winner before they're announced.  For a full list of winners, check 'em out here.

Reactions to the 2013 Oscar Nominations!

Wow!  That's all I can say after the Oscar nominations this morning.  Lincoln has now jumped out as a clear frontrunner with the Academy, racking up 12 nominations, the most nominations that any film nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director has, which is a genuine sign of it being the one to possibly place your money on come February 24th.  Personally, with Steven Spielberg as my favorite filmmaker of all-time, I'm ecstatic to possibly see him win his third Best Director Oscar.  Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, the heavyweights like Capra and John Ford won multiple times, and Spielberg is just as deserving as those heavyweights.  Of course, the big news is the strong showings for Silver Linings Playbook and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

I honestly was not a fan of Beasts of the Southern Wild, but I highly respected the vision of director Benh Zeitlin, and felt that in all actuality, the script and the cinematography were what bogged it down, so to see recognition for Quvenzanhe Wallis for Best Actress was very welcome indeed.  Probably most surprising though, was to see first-time filmmaker Zeitlin nominated for Best Director.  While I didn't like the script, it was pretty much a forgone conclusion it was going to be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, and I thought that was where Zeitlin would get his one nomination, along with Lucy Alibar.  To see Zeitlin nominated, not just for his first film, but also for a film that only cost a little over a million dollars to produce, shows how much the Academy loves this small, Independent film that has been making waves since the Sundance Film Festival last January, further reinforcing why Sundance is such an important festival for Indies looking to get major recognition, both critically and financially.

Then, there's Silver Linings Playbook, which came out swinging, getting a nomination in all acting categories, followed by Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director for David O. Russell, who was ignored by the Director's Guild, but finds just love here.  I honestly love this film and am so happy to see that the Audience Award winner from the Toronto International Film Festival not just get nominated, but also be the film looking to possibly spoil the whole thing by winning Best Picture.

Typically, if a film's screenplay is nominated, along with Best Picture, Best Director, and for an odd reason, though it has proven itself to be true almost every year in the past, Best Editing, then one of those films that racks up all four of those nominations will typically win Best Picture at the Oscars.  There were only three films to do just that:  Lincoln, Life of Pi, and Silver Linings PlaybookLincoln and Silver Linings both have an edge by getting multiple acting nods on top of the four nominations mentioned above, but one cannot deny how well-liked Life of Pi is.  Considered an unfilmable novel and then turned into one of the more enjoyable family entertainments from the Holiday season, it's just an uplifting film, one that, while I found it occasionally slow-moving, I did really enjoy, and obviously, so did the Academy.  So I would definitely say, it's a three way race to the finish line for those films, just my two cents.

As for other big surprises, an amazingly strong showing for the foreign film, Amour, getting nods not just for Best Foreign Language Film, but also pulling a coo and getting nods for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress.  This is a film that I have not seen yet, but really do want to see, if it will ever come out where I live.  What's real impressive though, is that this is a foreign language film breaking the barrier between English and another language, and to be honest, is just being considered another film alongside all of the American and British productions recognized.  This is uber-rare for this to happen, and it just shows how much love there is for this film.  Even if it doesn't win anything else, I would say that Best Foreign Language Film is a certainty for it.  Speaking of Foreign Language Film, anyone else shocked that the highest grossing French film of all-time, The Intouchables, was not even nominated?  The Academy loves to go sentimental with this category, but they omitted quite possibly the most sentimental film in the running.  Of course, the two biggest surprises were the snubs for Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.

All I've heard the past month is how Argo and Zero Dark Thirty were the films to beat, and while they both had impressive hauls, both films missed out for Best Director, which puts their perceived Best Picture hopes in the gutter.  It could still happen for both films, but it is real rare for the Academy to give Best Picture to a film not even nominated for Best Director, and when I mean real rare, it's like less than a 5% chance.  Honestly, though, I am so happy with the nominations and how they've completely changed the story of this year's award's season.  I was afraid it was getting to the point that we were gonna see a sweep from Zero Dark Thirty, considering how so many pundits were going on-and-on about how this was the one to beat, and yet it failed to get Oscar traction where it needed it, dashing, I believe, its Best Picture hopes.  So why did these two films miss?

Well, the Academy loves films that are emotional, both of these films were more cerebral than emotional, plus it shows that the Academy still isn't behind Ben Affleck as a director, which is a total shame in my opinion, I mean, have they not seen Gone Baby Gone?  As well, it reinforces the sexism of the Academy by ignoring Kathryn Bigelow, the only female winner for Best Director ever, not even giving her a shot for a second Oscar.  Of course, another film that, perhaps not so surprisingly got a little bit of a cold shoulder, was Les Miserables.  While it did net Best Picture as well as Best Actor for Hugh Jackman and Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway, who will most likely win, no nod for Best Director for Tom Hooper.  There has been a lot of backlash in the industry to many of Hooper's stylistic choices he made with the film, and that is probably the reason he didn't get nominated like he did with the DGA.

So there you have it, award's season is in full swing, and I cannot be any more excited.  Tonight are the Critic's Choice Awards airing on the CW, of all places.  Expect Zero Dark Thirty to be the big winner there, if anything else wins with the critics, I would be shocked, and honestly, this may be this films only shot at bringing home major hardware this award's season.  Of final note, you can check out the full list of Oscar nominees here, and remember to check back here at the Review for predictions on all the major award's shows.