Friday, January 25, 2013

Argo and Silver Linings Playbook

I figured I would include the films in question in the title, to avoid initial confusion on what the post is about. It seems that the most viewed posts are those with a straightforward title. What I have to share this evening is an analysis on two of the major Oscar nominees, all of which are nominated for the big one. Best Picture, obviously. Why place them all in one basket of a post, one may wonder? There happens to be a logical and ever-so unique reason for this, a very unique reason indeed: They are exceptional. Perhaps this statement will look like an exaggeration later on, but for the moment I must express both surprise and jubilation on account of their great, great quality.

Argo - This portion requires significant attention, for there is an error of judgment to be accounted for in addition to praise. Prior to actually watching this film, I have scoffed at the prospect of Ben Affleck directing, let alone him being a sensational director. I have prematurely declared my animosity towards this picture--following the heated events of the Iranian hostage crisis of the 1970s--and targeted my allegiance to Quentin Tarantino's "masterpiece" Django Unchained. Since that was such a great success and I'm being sarcastic here, I figured to try another darling that was heavily followed by the awards circuit. I've been bombarded with glowing reviews on Ben Affleck's magnificent directing feat, sulking in my own loathing and prejudice against any success that faces that goofy man. Yes, I once considered Ben Affleck to be the joke identified by disasters such as Gigli and Surviving Christmas, where he in particular revealed his talent, which was limited to cheesy dialogue and resorted to merely flashing his good-looks grin. In short, I had little, if any, regard for Ben Affleck. With all this out in the open, I must bow my head in ignominy and request forgiveness because: Argo was, indeed, the great film it has been said to be. That required a colon mid-sentence solely to emphasize the shock value of such a statement. I imagine you appear to be shocked, do not attempt to mask your reaction. I, personally, was stunned at my own reception of Argo, a film I figured would not grasp my interest for even twenty minutes. I expected to stop watching barely halfway through, just as I did with Ben Affleck's previous directorial endeavor The Town, yet, almost immediately, I was intrigued. Of course, the topic of the Iranian hostage crisis during the era of shaggy hair-dos and Jimmy Carter did not have me intrigued to begin with, nor did it attract the interest of the general public, I'm sure. (Yet the film maintains a solid box-office to this day, being one of the highest-grossing Best Picture nominees.) However, the content of Argo was anything but dull and uninteresting; throughout the film, I had the urge to continue watching it, delaying certain natural urges whilst watching.
Once you've checked the historical background of the film--because I won't be telling the entire movie--the film is quite informative and even entertaining. Suspense was laced through the film, adding that coveted element of intrigue I mentioned, which heightened my concentration as well as my level of enjoyment. Remarkably, even Ben Affleck himself displayed impressive acting ability here, proving the film's overall amazing quality. Because, if Daredevil can be a fine actor, the entire movie should be held in high regard--one to be reckoned with, as I usually say. Alan Arkin, the only acting nominee of the film, was neither incredible nor awful. Whatever you'd expect of him is what was delivered. Is he really ever different in one role or another? That answer would be absolutely not. He will not be crowned Best Supporting Actor, I guarantee it. Rest assured, I was, surprisingly, greatly satisfied by Ben Affleck's picture. I no longer hesitate in saying that he has accomplished an extraordinary feat: He has crossed the threshold of pretty-boy actor and mediocre director, and reached a status of one worthy of respect. Along with respect, naturally, comes esteem. This leads towards his outrageous Oscar snub in the Directing Achievement field--he failed to receive a nomination this year, losing out to an Austrian (who has no place there) and an amateur (Beasts of the Southern Wild). My former self would not fathom what I am about to say: Ben Affleck was utterly robbed of that place among the best directors of the year. At the Golden Globes, he triumphed, beating Steven Spielberg, who now has the Oscar "in the bag" without Ben Affleck in the running. Perhaps that was the plan all along. Those damn, scheming Academy members. Despite his despicable snub, Argo was an expertly directed picture deserving of the esteem it did receive, and deserves the consideration of everyday viewers also. That means you, readers. Please, if you were as ignorant as I was, please take the time to prove yourselves wrong with Argo. If you even more narrow-minded than I once was, Argo fuck yourselves.

Bravo, Ben Affleck. Sincerely.

Silver Linings Playbook - This film calls for no apology or element of surprise. I expected ingenuity and amusement and was tickled pink to be granted the satisfaction of expectations well met. Although I questioned its value of Oscar worthiness, I was glad to be far from right in those doubtful assumptions. Even though the film itself has that "indie" quality that is often shunned by my watchful eye, it was one of the most endearing films I've seen thus far, of the past year. Silver Linings Playbook possessed sweetness, heart-warming scenes likely to be captured in my memory, and fantastic on-screen chemistry between each cast member. Oh, but allow me to introduce the cast: Bradley Cooper portrays Pat Solitano, who spent time in a mental institution on account of his bi-polar disorder and divorce, and reconnects with his family and a new friend, while fixating on his wife (separated) as well; Jennifer Lawrence by far the greatest performance of the film portrays Tiffany, a recently widowed and troubled young woman who captures the interest of Pat and helps him in his recovery, and unleashes her own personal demons along the away; Robert De Niro portrays Pat Solitano Sr. who clashes with his son oftentimes and has a few obsessive-compulsive habits himself, mainly concerned with sports; and Jacki Weaver as Dolores, Pat's mother, whose meekness and maternal warmth serve as a light accompaniment to the film's overall airiness, much like her delightful culinary appetizers. By that, wouldn't you already have a craving to see what has me aflutter with nothing but praise? Well, maybe the fact that each of these actors has scored an Oscar nomination will add to your drive to watch it? Indeed, each of them has most-deservedly earned a nomination in their respective categories. Meaning Best Leading and Supporting Actor or Actress. Obviously. Do I still have to tell you all this? 
The film is a sheer delight, truly, one that should not be denied the pleasure of being watched. Bradley Cooper, for those skeptical of his dramatic acting prowess based on his stints in comedy, definitely proved his worth here. As someone in serious denial, as someone with strong tendencies towards releasing sudden rage, as someone realizing reality through moments of compatible intimacy--he definitely deserved that Oscar nod. As for that compatible intimacy, the other half of the equation presents itself through Jennifer Lawrence. And, might I say, how simply flawless she was in that impressive undertaking. The role, I mean. It is always a challenge, I'm sure, for actors to portray a character with such penetrating issues, which are accentuated by the death of their spouse; therefore, the task Jennifer Lawrence accepted by taking the role of Tiffany was all the more difficult to deliver well. Well, she most certainly nailed it, to speak commonly. Her performance was marvelous, in every sense of the word, as she masterfully slipped into such a damaged role and improved the expectations of the vision (of the director, I suppose) by making mental uneasiness alluring and even desirable. Not to say she was sexy--even though she was--but she made her problems attractive to a point where I related with her. Not to direct the topic onto me, but I have a few obsessive-compulsive issues of my own, and her confidence made me embrace my own flaws by ignoring the glaring "need to do everything that little voice tells me to do". It's a complicated affliction. How her character relates with Bradley Cooper's is very much believable; her so-called insanity embraces his in a manner that brings them that much closer together, and soon they realize they are perfect for each other. This final realization, of course, is achieved through hours of disagreement and acquaintance, and, as a viewer, I can say that this process is totally worth it on account of the delightful amusement that accompanies it. Jennifer Lawrence deserves every single word of flattery she is so far receiving, which does not exclude a certain golden statuette to honor her performance. 
Robert De Niro, in a daunting supporting role, shines in the background as a revered Hollywood actor who proves to blend right in the cozy atmosphere of this "indie" picture. As always, the legendary actor expresses humility by assuming such an under-the-radar role as a sport-obsessed man prone to gambling and organizing his remote controls just so. (I realize that Silver Linings Playbook is far from unnoticed, based on its astounding eight Oscar nominations, but, one must admit that this is the sort of film to pass by unrecognized. Though, based on my own reception I'm glad that it did not. Go by unrecognized.) In his Oscar comeback, after an eleven-year hiatus since Cape Fear, Robert De Niro most deservedly hones a place among the honorary. I enjoyed each fleeting moment with him on the screen, most notably when he fights with his son in a battle of mental instability and basic rage over their personal demons. The overall father-son relationship between Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro is so adorable and, subsequently, a nod towards their skill as actors as well as their on-screen chemistry. Exquisite display, if I do declare. Do not be dissuaded by the lengthy title, as my dad nearly was, for the film is an absolute pleasure in all ways imaginable. It has the pleasant air of a romantic comedy, yet the serious undertone of a drama--a dramedy, if you will. There is nothing corny, nothing tragic, nothing downright silly. One would call it the perfect film of the year. I would be that one.

Sensational couple.

Well, there you have it. Two genuinely entertaining films that just so happen to be significant Oscar contenders. If my own accounts of these films have not yet convinced you to experience them on your own, I cannot help you there. It's your decision of avoiding such cinematic entertainment as I have just described. By all means, deprive yourselves of that. Or, perhaps you will take interest in this year's awards season by taking a chance on a seemingly dull history-centric piece about Iran, and a seemingly ordinary comedy-slash-drama romance about two troubled victims of circumstance. I highly recommend the latter, meaning the path I said last. As for the time being, be grateful that I had an incredible urge to write in my severe state of exhaustion. I have to get up early in the morning. Good night, and good luck.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Django Unchained

Before you even ask: Yes, I realize the Golden Globes were given yesterday evening; no, I did not watch the event; and no, I don't want to hear anything about it. I will be watching the ceremony tomorrow evening immediately after "work", so, until then, keep the information to yourselves, if you please.

The title requires no following explanation, which is typically preceded by a colon for those who are familiar with this blog. Indeed, the pinnacle of my year has finally arrived--immediately following Ted, this is the moment I've been voraciously anticipating ever since I've been informed of the film's existence. Django Unchained. More than once have I breathlessly brought up Quentin Tarantino's freshest film, and surely I have embellished each mention with emphasis on its unquestionably stunning quality. Every reference to the film has an exceedingly positive and vivacious connotation and denotation, overflowing with anticipated awe and stubborn compliments of how it will absolutely be a--what was it?--masterpiece. Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to sheer originality and brilliant dialogue, as each are both demonstrated in films such as Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds, easily two of my most adored films of all time. For Django Unchained, he recruits Jamie Foxx to portray the freed slave who gave the title its name, and familiar alum of Inglourious Basterds Christoph Waltz to portray a suave bounty hunter who takes Django in as his partner-in-crime. (Based on his first American film, one that earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, I figured that the excellence in acting there would be present here as well. Christoph Waltz, I mean. He earned an Oscar for Inglourious Basterds. You know that.) As the sure-to-be memorable villain, Leonardo DiCaprio is summoned to play his very first evil role, an endeavor I was thrilled to behold and witness to be carried out flawlessly. Perhaps the wonderful actor would earn an Oscar for his sure-to-be vicious performance. He did not. With these factors in mind, as well as the controversial subject matter and the raw vision in which the film is to be documented, I was absolutely, without a single shred of a doubt, certain that I would relish Django Unchained from beginning to the very last minute. From that exaggerated opening, as well as the intermittent use of would-should-could prepositions (or adverbs), one can assume what I am reluctantly about to share. Yes, dearly beloved, it is sadly true: Django Unchained was a catastrophic disappointment.

Quite a sentence to begin with. Unfortunately, it is not far from the truth. Catastrophic is a term used to express my high expectations and forlorn reaction to the film. Indeed, forlorn was my reaction because it is an utter shame to witness your firm hopes shatter in front of you. That is exactly what happened as Django progressed at its steadily delaying pace. Another way of saying that the film was much longer than it should be. I really cannot begin to describe the flaws of this movie, solely because I am still stunned as to how my expectations did not exceed or even meet the actual result. Why did this have to happen? Couldn't Quentin Tarantino have recreated the awe-inspired edginess of Inglourious Basterds, adjusted for the Wild West setting? I understand that he wished to compose an homage to the spaghetti westerns of yore, but there is such a thing as passing the limit or simply giving a bloodier rendition of a film you enjoyed as a kid. And, believe you me, it was bloody. In the most obnoxious manner imaginable, Quentin Tarantino managed to make the blood burst upon the screen suddenly and pointlessly. While he is renowned for the graphic violence in his films, it was an artistic, masterful display of cinematography and, more importantly, timing. Here, in the Old West, blood seemed to explode from the impact of the bounty hunters' skillful gunshot from oblivion, as if the director just wanted to depict a bad-ass murder for the hell of it. And the blood looked a whole lot like red paint. Maybe that is yet another spaghetti western motif, but, for one who does not watch the genre, it was disturbingly amateur for a director I hold in such high regard. Rather than shielding myself from the horrific scenes of brilliant bloodshed, I cringed at the exaggerated display of paint splatter and cheesy farewell lines. "I like the way you die, boy." I realize that this is an allusion to how the mean old white man mistreated Django, but that is unnecessarily cheesy. Apologies to the renowned screenwriter.

Where are my manners? What of the story? The general idea is that a European bounty hunter named Dr. King Shultz (smoothly portrayed by Christoph Waltz) enlisting a slave by the name of Django (pompously portrayed by Jamie Foxx) to assist him in apprehending the Brittle brothers, a gang of white men who, coincidentally, separated Django from his wife. Naturally, Django has a vendetta against them, which stirs him into helping a white man--though it does not take much time for Django to begin feeling superior to the whites. (This is merely what I personally gathered from watching the movie.) This marks the first half of the film, at which point I am genuinely curious and amused by the antics of the characters and situations. Like every Tarantino film I've encountered, there is a nifty dose of engrossing conversation and hilarity. The interesting dialogue, or monologue rather, is provided by Christoph Waltz, and is further enhanced by his soft, German intonation. He speaks slowly, for he is indeed foreign to the English language, yet steady enough and in such an articulate manner as to give the impression that he comprehends what he is saying as well as the influence it has on his listeners. In many instances, he resembles John Malkovich, singularly in tone of voice, as he appears to be amiable until he shocks you with malediction and fear. He, Christoph Waltz, first demonstrated this prodigious talent of transpiring speech in Inglourious Basterds. Unlike the aforementioned film, however, Christoph Waltz assumes the role of the "good guy" (or more suitably anti-hero which, in Tarantino's films, are considered the ones to root for) in Django Unchained. Amazingly enough, the Austrian actor achieves remarkable heights of his craft in the film, proving that he can portray both the hero (or anti-hero) and villain effortlessly. Though he is a better villain, considering the film in which he portrayed one of the most sinister villains in cinematic history. Nevertheless, Christoph Waltz was indubitably the greatest piece of an otherwise inadequate picture.

Don Johnson
Surprisingly amusing addition.

The second portion of the film--which upholds my overall assessment of it--takes place when Django and Dr. Shultz journey to find and rescue the freed slave's wife, Broomhilda, from captivity of a charmingly cruel plantation owner. Who might that be? Yes, indeed, Leonardo DiCaprio makes his appearance as the very brutal yet suave Calvin Candie, owner of the plantation called Candyland (clever title, I do declare). Interestingly and tragically enough, this marks the point where the film faces its irreversible decadence in quality and enjoyment. How, one may wonder, can the film just begin to decline at the very introduction of a character played by Leonardo DiCaprio? I ask myself that very question even now as I write. Frivolous musings, I'm afraid, for it is what it is. Anyway, Django and Dr. Shultz arrive under the pretense that they will purchase a Mandingo fighter* of Mr. Candie's for an astounding (and therefore exaggerated) $12,000. In addition to the Mandingo fighter, Dr. Shultz casually proposed to purchase Broomhilda, since she spoke his native German, which was the ever-so sneaky plan hatched by the two bounty hunters. Oddly, the apparent scheme went unnoticed by Calvin Candie, who I imagine would have been much smarter than that considering his position, but his house slave, Stephen, caught whiff of the deceit. (Strange how a house slave sensed the suspicious nature of their visit and a wealthy goddamn plantation owner did not.) Being a loyal servant, Stephen (ruthlessly and disgustingly portrayed by Tarantino's Pulp Fiction alum Samuel L. Jackson) reveals his suspicions to his boss, who does not take the news lightly.

Samuel L. Jackson
Just how repulsively calculating he appears to be.

Enraged by this duplicity, Candie demands the twelve-thousand for Broomhilda, or he will kill her right there. At the dinner table. Now, this scene is truly intense and even deserving for some award recognition for Leonardo DiCaprio in this evil display: He calmly begins his wrath by explaining the schematics of the skull, then illustrates his lesson by nearly smashing Broomhilda's head in rage. I must admit, I did jump a little, for it was profound scene of meticulously crafted monologue and violence. Well, maybe not as far as meticulous, but definitely a moment of entertainment. Regrettably, this was the lone instant where Leonardo DiCaprio presented himself as a worthy candidate for an Oscar win. This is a wretched and perplexing realization, for, from what I gathered from the trailer (which by my definition is an organized and accurate preview of the film in question), he was supposed to deliver the one of the greatest performances of his career. Also, knowing Quentin Tarantino's talent for creating devious and hypnotic villains, I expected a Southern reincarnation of Colonel Hans Landa, even the possibility of the writer outdoing himself with Calvin Candie. Alas, it was not meant to be. It seems that the loathsome charm I witnessed in the preview was, actually, genuine kindness extended to his guests. That 'ol Southern hospitality was real back then, albeit to fellow men of his race. Even to his colored company he was pleasant enough, considering that he was a plantation owner. And, until his house slave informs him of the visitors' furtive intentions, I perceived him to be a bit foolish, which immediately disqualifies him from being any remarkable villain. I am ashamed to say that it is fortunate that Leonardo DiCaprio did not receive an Oscar nomination, for, if he won, it would have been a pity Oscar. And he most certainly deserves his due.

From here on, there are significant spoilers. As if there weren't any prior to this courtesy warning.

The film then begins to approach what will be the revelation of this film's indecency--the peak of its perversion that I thought I have already begun to feel. Following Candie's livid outburst, the time to seal the contract that would free Broomhilda had dawned upon them all. Once everything was finalized, once Dr. Shultz and his accomplices were granted the relieving gift of freedom when they deserved death--this is when Dr. Shultz, driven by morality and conscience, decides to act on it. Provoked by Calvin Candie's hypocritical "Southern hospitality" (since he had shown his true colors the evening before), Dr. Shultz shoots him. Dead. Then, after apologizing to Django for his weakness, Dr. Shultz is shot by one of Candie's henchmen. Dead. Once the single two intriguing characters die, the film reaches its pinnacle of inane violence, with Jamie Foxx remaining as the only "good guy" to literally kill everyone left. Seriously, he, alone, kills absolutely every person left in the movie, aside from his wife obviously. There is an additional scene (where Quentin Tarantino cameos for no reason, other than to flaunt his awful Southern accent) that has no solid sense in being a part of the film. Terrible job of editing shines bright right about here, as well as the entire ending. Oh, and somewhere within the chaotic haze that is the clumsy conclusion, Django kills the scheming, evil Stephen, who, just before exploding with Candyland, shouts, "Django!" in a cheesy exit line undoubtedly familiar in spaghetti westerns. Now, this ridiculously unbelievable display of the finale is, surely, another homage to those old westerns: One vigilante emerges, soaked in the blood of his enemies, only to ride off in the sunset on horseback with his girl. The end. After more than two-and-a-half hours, the end.

To finally conclude this painful-to-write post, I must express my embarrassment at the former exclamations of this film's mastery. While there were a few moments in which I was enthralled, there were not nearly enough to support an overall judgment of excellence. Just to clarify, the judgment was, in actuality, disappointing and unfulfilled. Quentin Tarantino could have made so much more out of this picture, for it clearly had potential, otherwise I would be skeptical from the beginning. Perhaps he was simply determined to honor the beloved westerns of his childhood, or maybe, like me, he dreads editing and the possibility of cutting out valuable scenes he had already envisioned. (Valuable, of course, to him alone.) There was one scene that I would like to mention, for it was definitely the best and most entertaining one throughout the entire production. The scene where Don Johnson and Jonah Hill, among others, gather together at night wearing white hoods over their faces (obviously hinting towards the Ku Klux Klan, which had not yet been "invented") was a comedic work of brilliance of Tarantino's part. This was a scene that proved the director-screenwriter still harnesses creative ingenuity deep within, one that reflected onto (or unto) the rest of Django Unchained the potential to be a magnificently written picture. Alas, this hilarious scene revealed only a glimmer of what the film could have been, and a sharper comparison to what is lamentably was in fact: an absolute misfire.

Most artistic scene--split of a second.

*Mandingo fighters were male slaves who were trained to fight to the death. This was a sick form of entertainment for such sick white folk as Calvin Candie. History is history.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Lincoln: The American President

Good evening, everyone. Second post of the year. I won't be doing that with every post. With the new year of 2013 slowly reaching an unbelievable momentum that will cause me to ponder "Where did the time go?" yet again in December, awards season has just begun officially. This week, myriad awards ceremonies will be broadcasted on television, the triumphs of which shall paint an accurate foretelling of who will strike at the Academy Awards in late February. (I would tell you who the host will be, but you already know that.) During this glorious period of award-giving, I find myself inclined to hunting for the films that are highlighted in the general Oscar race. And watch them. That's what I do, hunt them down and watch them. Of course, I familiarize myself with the contenders and decide which most deserves my close observation and, most importantly, which deserves the esteem it is receiving with nominations. This year, I've settled on a few worthy sure things that should win, and these views are concrete even before I watch them: Among them are Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables (though the review in Entertainment Weekly was less than flattering), and Lincoln. The latter seems to be the absolute sure thing for the Best Actor category for Daniel Day-Lewis in a remarkable transformation into the sixteenth president of the United States; and, it seems to me, now, the Best Supporting Actor category for Tommy Lee Jones as a disgruntled abolitionist, which is a damn shame considering the rival candidate. Leonardo DiCaprio may very well experience the outrageous insult of losing yet another well-deserved award. Steven Spielberg, also, appears to have the Best Director nomination in the bag. (I've always disliked that phrase "in the bag". Why do all certainties wind up there?) Basically, Lincoln has plenty of admirers that will catapult it into the echelons of Oscar gold. But, how did it fare with me? As much as I expected from the film, being that both Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis were attached and that it may be the first movie about Abraham Lincoln, it was, for lack of a better word, disappointingly lackluster, in my regards. (Regards, yes.)

Perhaps I should not have expected anything incredible from Steven Spielberg, especially when it concerns the most controversial president in history. He was controversial in the sense that he was notably involved in ending slavery (so to speak) and that he receives passionate mixed interpretations of either the greatest or the utter worst. Of course, if you live in America, you know that the former is more common. Abraham Lincoln is reputed for ending slavery, and the issue of race is eternally relevant in society, so, naturally, he is revered. Though there was a hefty amount of politicians who were against the thirteenth amendment (which outlawed slavery), one crucial event at Ford's Theatre put a cease to their blasphemy as well as stapled Lincoln the unquestionable best. Lincoln's assassination made him to be somewhat of a martyr, for he died because he saved thousands or hundreds or billions (depending where you get your information I guess) of slaves. And he did not have the burden of handling stormy political affairs after the Civil War, only the sweet silence of eternal rest. I may sound horridly subjective, but that's that. As I said, I should not have expected anything astounding from Steven Spielberg's direction of the film because he is known for adjusting his work in the way he sees suitable.
With Lincoln, the perspective generally matches that of everyone else who honors that president: He was a genial, stalwart leader who spoke with eloquence, years of wisdom evident in his profound speeches and thought-provoking actions. Though I can conjure a way of describing his manner in an appealing light, that is not how I see it. What I perceived from Spielberg's interpretation of Abraham Lincoln was that he was a stubborn yet try-to-please-all person (not president or leader, just a person) who displays signs of dementia as he transmits stories of the past to his listeners, primarily tales that have nothing to do with the topic of discussion. This senile tendency alone causes me to see that Abraham Lincoln was a very evasive "leader", since he seemed to use these amusing stories to make others laugh (how nice) and forget about the heated discussion of the nation's politics. Of course, this analysis is based only on the film, not on what I've learned from history lessons. Overall, Steven Spielberg has orchestrated his self-satisfying historical epic, that has critics bowing to his legendary eminence, in a way that fulfills, perhaps, only himself and those who actually enjoyed this which involves comprehending the picture throughout. Apparently, in-depth knowledge of Lincoln's term during the Civil War is mandatory if you wish to watch the film without unanswered questions. Seriously, you need to know everything that is unfolding before you, for there is little explanation and the fast pacing does not allow anyone to catch up. In other words, you would not be able to keep up with the overflowing information and scene-switching. This is interesting, as the film really focuses on the passing of the thirteenth amendment. Moreover, the title of the film is unfitting, since it covers only a shred of Lincoln's term, let alone his entire life, which is what the title implies.

Daniel Day-Lewis stands as an indubitably exceptional actor, sinking into his character as if he were actually becoming that character. I gather this testimony from one performance that I deem the most magnificent of the decade: Bill "The Butcher" Cutting in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. Another film set during the Civil War, Daniel Day-Lewis portrays a ruthlessly charismatic leader of one of Manhattan's Five Points gangs who, aside from being violently involved in the Drafts Riots of 1863, was against Abraham Lincoln. This unappealingly unpatriotic trait may explain why Daniel Day-Lewis incredulously lost the most unacceptable loss in the history of the Academy Awards. In Lincoln, obviously, there is a slight role reversal--one that conveniently secures his Oscar victory. As extraordinary as his performance is (as all endeavors of his are), Daniel Day-Lewis is scarcely present in the role of the Great Emancipator, which does not so much as criticize the acting as the actual president himself. (But that is a historical topic unwelcome here.) Based on the screenplay, Lincoln was useful as a mere edifice of the Civil War and a tender advocate for abolishing slavery, the latter of which is little less than true. (Historically speaking, Lincoln was focused more on maintaining the Union than ending slavery; he was even quoted to have said he would rather have half of the slaves freed if it would keep the Union whole. Moving on.) There is not much to rely on when analyzing the accuracy of his portrayal, as there was only an array of speeches, personal accounts, and portraits. There was no actual footage of how Lincoln spoke or of his physical mannerisms and facial expressions. Therefore, Daniel Day-Lewis is judged as an actor of his craft, or rather an impersonator of how Lincoln is viewed through the eyes of the idealistic American public. While there is no evidence as to how Abraham Lincoln behaved, Daniel Day-Lewis gave a marvelous performance in every single frame of the film. It was not, however, even close to what he delivered as The Butcher. Regardless of what I surmise about his performance, Daniel Day-Lewis will receive a third statuette on Oscar night. And, considering his competition, it is well-deserved. True, I have been leaning towards Silver Linings Playbook recently (despite never actually seeing it yet), but I do not see Bradley Cooper beating Daniel Day-Lewis just yet. Same goes for Hugh Jackman. As for Denzel Washington, another brilliant actor who stands amongst Daniel Day-Lewis as one of the greatest, he may prove to be the strongest combatant in this race. Joaquin Phoenix doesn't care, so neither do I about him.

The remaining performances to be recognized are of the supporting sort, in the form of Tommy Lee Jones as the (eternally) stone-faced radical abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, and Sally Field as the hysterical yet composed-in-public First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Already they have been nominated for Oscars for their endeavors, to which I respond in the negative. Of course, they have received Oscar buzz since the film came into light, and I expected each of them to find a place among the nominees. That does not mean that I know they are going to actually win, though I really hope neither of them do. Tommy Lee Jones, everyone is aware, is known for his signature gruffness and intimidating blank stare, as well as his serious, monotonous voice. In films, he settles into the role of the harsh, unfriendly man of higher position, someone who(m) everyone around fears and respects. Here, in Lincoln, one should expect nothing less than his status quo of acting. As stubborn, antagonistic Thaddeus Stevens, Tommy Lee Jones plasters (or maintains) his well-known emotionless, serious expression where you don't know what he's thinking until he talks, in an aggressively straightforward manner. Perhaps I am prejudiced against his character, for I find those anti-slavery abolitionist types to be, for lack of a better word, predictable and conformist. This bias solidifies when Tommy Lee Jones makes his heart-wrenching "vote for the thirteenth amendment, god damn it" speech, which follows with nearly every congressman to vote for the amendment. Then again, did I expect any different ending? Based on history, that is what happens. It's just so corny as all, how all African-Americans started cheering and the congressmen actually picked one another up in triumph or happiness. That is rather immature for representatives of the United States, but I guess that is what occurred in the Capitol that morning. Anyway, Tommy Lee Jones demonstrated absolutely nothing remarkable and worthy of Oscar recognition unlike Philip Seymour Hoffman, who I predict gave a hypnotic performance as a leader of a cult in The Master.
Sally Field has two Best Actress awards already, an incentive for her not to deserve an additional. Also, Anne Hathaway is the clear frontrunner in the Supporting Actress race, so there are no anxieties over whether any other lady will win. Why I am against the victory of Sally Field is that she was too, shall we say, disturbing in her Oscar-emotional scenes, such as when she confronted her husband over their son's premature death. (Premature in manners of "he was gone too soon" or "he was just a boy".) As for her sanguine confrontations with Thaddeus Stevens, she was merely acting in a scene, which does not call for esteem from the Academy. Thankfully she will not be receiving such acclaim. As for Tommy Lee Jones, here's hoping the Academy will be too nervous for even allowing his name to be called. Because he's so intimidating.

There has been a lot of buzz for Steven Spielberg's latest historical epic about that man on the five spot. I meant for that sentence to sound as simple and weak-minded as it did, as it balances with the overall quality of the entire movie. That's right, my fellow beings: Lincoln was an inadequate picture. The reason the preceding text is both grey and italicized is because it was written more than a week ago, when I actually watched the film. It is said that first impressions are the most accurate reactions, though I would not quite agree with that when the scope of cinema broadens. Specifically to other Oscar nominees. After watching Django Unchained, another film with a Civil War-era setting and considerable nominations, I realized that Lincoln was not as unfulfilling as I first conjectured. While it is a tad subjective, what movie about the Civil War and slavery isn't? The last, and perhaps only, great film of that genre is Gone With The Wind, which depicts each side of the slavery argument with flawless objectivity and accuracy (Margaret Mitchell was there to experience it herself.) As for such films of the present times, there exists no comparable film. That being said, Steven Spielberg did an excellent job with his adaptation on Abraham Lincoln, even though it was concerned with one certain period of his life. Really, the title is misleading. The film was, truly, as good as it gets when it comes to depicting Abraham Lincoln. One simply does not illustrate him as a villain or, heaven forbid, supporting slavery. Even if it might have been the truth, filmmakers are to avoid such a controversial area of history. The most one can do is explore Lincoln's hobby of hunting vampires. Isn't society sad? Since Ben Affleck is, regrettably, not in the Best Director field, Steven Spielberg should prepare to wait for everyone to sit done after his name is called, for the first time in thirteen years. (In other words, he should be ready to win.) Daniel Day-Lewis, surely, has composed a humble yet revered speech in his mind, for he is not so pompous as to have one prepared on paper in his jacket. And the supporting actors, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field, should--should--sit this one out, for there are others more worthy of such an honor, I'm afraid. Do not be repelled by the incredible length, for this is a historical epic that should be experienced, quite frankly, if not for Steven Spielberg then to be hypnotized by Daniel Day-Lewis in his embodiment of Abraham Lincoln. Though once is definitely enough.

David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward
Immensely overlooked actor. Much better than Tommy Lee Jones, I reckon.

P.S. You may have noticed that I mentioned Django Unchained as my reasoning for giving Lincoln a lighter, more accepting judgment. By that, one might assume that Django Unchained was not as extraordinary as I before said it would be. Also, this post has been in draft for more than a week, so several of the praising references to Django may not balance with other mentions I've made. Well, you'll be surprised, once I write about it in the near future. Have a pleasant week, and keep the winners of the Golden Globes to yourselves!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

And the Nominees Are...

One would expect a continuation of the title, such as a list of the nominees for the 85th Annual Academy Awards. Indeed, I shall share a list with you (compliments of, but first I'd like to compose a short introduction, as I always do. First off, I must apologize for the less-than-steady rate of posts that have been released here. Why, this is the first post of the year, ten days in. Unacceptable, and I strive to make retributions for it in the following weeks before the big day. That's right: the 85th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, that will air on February 24 at eight in the evening on the east coast. Prior to this glorious event, celebrating the cinematic triumphs of the past year, I aspire to familiarize myself with as many of the contenders (or nominees, rather) as made available to me. Of course, there are those films that I have absolutely no interest in, and therefore find it utterly pointless to "see what everyone is talking about" as it must not deserve to be mentioned in the first place. (That must be the third time I said first.) I may have shared which of those unruly pictures I find to be unworthy of the esteem--yes, even being nominated is just as humbling as winning--and I will most certainly ring them up here. (I nearly typed "bing" instead of "bring". How foolish that would have been.) I think how I will do this is the exact manner in which I discussed the Golden Globe nominations. Category by category. Only you have to pronounce it "cat-e-gry", as the British do. I reckon I'll save Best Picture for last, being that it is so important and all. Is it really?

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook
Denzel Washington for Flight
Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix for The Master

I should mention that there are two categories that already have an absolute victor, with such a trivial amount of uncertainty that it can be ignored completely. This is one of them. Daniel Day-Lewis embodies the Great Emancipator so extraordinarily that, if there was digital evidence, he would have mimicked him flawlessly. Not only that, but he made Lincoln somewhat likable--with his trademark dignified aura and solemn expressions that have a hint of humor. Indeed, Daniel Day-Lewis proves, once again, that he is one of the greatest character actors of the decade, and even beyond that. (Of course, there was only one other film in which I admired him in, though his performance in Gangs of New York will forever be revered by this critic.) Although the winner is basically assured, I'll peruse the other nominees, in respect. I am glad that Denzel Washington received a nomination for his role as a pilot who impossibly landed a crashing plane while under the influence of alcohol; the publicity his character encounters is preposterous in fact (he landed the plane, that is all that matters), and I am positive Denzel provided a great and seriously poignant performance. Seeing both Bradley Cooper and (especially) Hugh Jackman named as finalists in the year's best actor race was, truly, a delight. This implies that John Hawkes would be rightfully excluded from the category, for his pathetic portrayal of a horny man in an iron lung. Thank you Academy, for overlooking this weepy, sick drama. It also muscled out Ben Affleck for the nod, which was, amusingly, a possibility early in the season. I did expect Bradley Cooper did get a nomination for his role in the ever-tantalizing indie (I have yet to watch, but eagerly intend to) where he plays a bi-polar guy who nourishes a relationship with his sport-centric parents and develops one with a mysterious, eccentric young widow. Indies never really have a straightforward plot. Hugh Jackman was the real surprise in this category, as much as I anticipated recognition for Les Miserables, because, well, it just wasn't expected. It may have been predicted by various publications, but I did not delve too much into their beliefs. As for Joaquin Phoenix, he definitely will not win, so I could care less.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
Naomi Watts for The Impossible
Emmanuelle Riva for Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild

Quite frankly, this category might as well be shortened to three nominees, for the latter two are merely attempts to set two records in one shot. Emmanuelle Riva, who portrays one half of an elder couple who discovers that she is dying, is the oldest nominee for Best Actress at eighty-five. Quvenzhane Wallis, who portrays a young girl in the face of what seems like an apocalypse both in the natural and emotional-domestic sense, is the youngest nominee for Best Actress at nine. Each of these performances may have been wonderful, considering the international acclaim they are receiving, but they do not really have a place here. However, as I contradict myself now, I do not have much of an issue with their places here, since there really were no other performances by a leading actress that I would deem worthy of an Oscar. I withdraw my pessimistic criticism concerning these nominees because I do not want to be marked as one against the elderly or children. Yes, there are times when blunt opinion should just be kept to one's self. Naomi Watts was simply another slot to fill; her performance may have been touching and dramatic, worthy of a nomination even, but she is as much in the race as the oldest and youngest honorees. The actual competition stands between Jessica Chastain's role as a CIA operative who is involved (or even responsible) for (allegedly) killing Osama bin Laden... Who knows if he really is dead? I'm no conspiracist. and Jennifer Lawrence's role as the alluring yet troubled widow who steals Bradley Cooper's attention and even his heart. In this dilemma, I root for Jennifer Lawrence, seeing as she has had an incredible year and I happen to prefer her and Silver Linings Playbook over Kathryn Bigelow's documentary. The Academy might as well award Jennifer Lawrence with the triumph, for it would be the ideal entrance into the new, sure-to-be productive year.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Alan Arkin for Argo
Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master
Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln
Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained
Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook

This may be the most cutthroat category this year, including three outstanding performances that, really, are equal to one another. I can, honestly, speak for only one of these great performances and two overall. Of the two that deserved the nomination and quite possibly the honor is Christoph Waltz in the long-awaited Django Unchained. (Yes, I finally watched it and will certainly be sharing my analysis in due time.) With his serene, eloquent German/Austrian diction, he carried the film as delicately as a silk sheet in a production that is otherwise violent and aggrandizing. The fact that he was a European in the Wild West, making a living as a bounty hunter, only accentuated his brilliant performance, for he observes his surroundings with foreign objectivity and even amusement at the bravado masculinity of pompous cowboys. One may wonder why I have not expressed incredulous rage over the snub of Leonardo DiCaprio's performance in the same film, as the maliciously sadistic Calvin Candie. Well, all I shall say now is that perhaps I had my expectations for the film a bit too high, and that his performance was not all that it could have been. In other words, I hate being wrong. The remaining two actors that measure up to Christoph Waltz are Philip Seymour Hoffman, for his charismatic portrayal of a leader of a cult that mirrors Scientology, and Robert De Niro, for his recognizably gruff role as Bradley Cooper's sport-fan father. Although I have not seen either of these films, I am fairly certain they will deliver what they promise, and that is Oscar-worthy excellence. Then again, I've been disappointed before this year. Tommy Lee Jones performs in the manner which everyone would expect of him: stern-faced, monotonous intimidation and disapproval towards each man he encounters. Moreover, not that impressive, and certainly not deserving here. Agent K was much better than Thaddeus Stevens, to be wholly honest. As for Alan Arkin, I simply do not like him, nor do I find him that great of an actor, objectively speaking of course. Like Tommy Lee Jones, he has a monotonous way of speaking, though, unlike Jone, in a way that makes him sound senile and annoying. Also, his acting is just as bland and uncharacteristic as all performances should be when considered for esteem. Unfortunately, Alan Arkin is somewhat in the lead of these contenders, if not tied with Tommy Lee Jones. Then again, there is hope that talent will emerge and triumph. These actors are familiar with the Academy, and how they will favor, so perhaps they are aware of who will be gracing the stage alongside Seth MacFarlane, if he presents. He is hosting, you know.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables
Amy Adams for The Master
Helen Hunt for The Sessions
Jackie Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook
Sally Field for Lincoln

This is the other category whose champion is a certainty, and that woman is Anne Hathaway. I haven't seen Les Miserables (or Les Miz as the hip people call it), but, based on the trailer and word-of-mouth, I can safely assume that it is decent at best. As for Anne Hathaway's performance, she appears to be in sheer suffering throughout the entire film, as she faces poverty and disease and partakes in powerful musical numbers. The most I can gather from her performance is from Uma Thurman's portrayal of the tragic Fantine in the older non-musical film, and hers was an acting feat of awe. Since Anne Hathaway is more than likely to receive the statuette, here's hoping that she has successfully reincarnated another fantastic performance. (I allude to The Dark Knight Rises, where she assumed the role of Catwoman, unofficially bequeathed from the former villainess Michelle Pfieffer. The new Selina Kyle was surprisingly good, considering how low my expectations were and how I do not really care for Anne Hathaway, but she could never surpass Michelle Pfieffer's alluring, duplicitous femme-fatale.) Once again, the only nominee I've met close and personal was a part of Lincoln: Sally Field, whose hysterical and assertive (for a woman of the nineteenth century) demeanor did not astonish me whatsoever. In fact, I was slightly disturbed by her performance because the actress can suddenly become one-hundred years old when she shouts and gestures frenetically. Unimpressive. I am a tad pleased to see Helen Hunt--and only Helen Hunt, not The Sessions--nominated as it satisfies my craving for nostalgia. Remember As Good As It Gets? What a delight. Always pleased to see Amy Adams be recognized for her talent, especially when she plays the wife of a hypnotic leader of a cult. It should be interesting to see how she manages a life with a man who naturally persuades and brainwashes, and I am sure to be impressed. I do not mind Jackie Weaver's nod here as much as I did in 2010-2011, when she stole the honor from a most-deserving Mila Kunis in Black Swan; here, however, she adds another mark for Silver Linings Playbook, which is an indie I hope to behold walking away with more than one win.

Best Achievement in Directing
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
Ang Lee for Life of Pi
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook
Michael Haneke for Amour
Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild

It is not customary for me to ever discuss the directing field of the awards season, unless there happens to wander a completely inane consideration by the name of Ben Affleck. How he got into his enormous head that he is some sort of directing savant will be one of those perplexing mysteries rooted in shameful cinematic records. What urges me to cover this category is merely to announce a delightful piece of news: Ben Affleck has been "snubbed". Indeed, the Academy has made the wonderfully wise decision of omitting that pretty-boy auteur (which is a term I mean to be insulting) from this ceremony. Also "wrongfully" ignored is Kathryn Bigelow for her marvelous feat in directing another documentary. You are aware that all her movies are documentaries, that they just happen to star a variety of actors in the place of real people? Her year of The Hurt Locker--where Inglourious Basterds was outrageously snubbed for all the major awards--is enough. Isn't being the first woman to win Best Director satisfactory enough of a title? Aside from Spielberg and Ang Lee, the rest were total shocks. Perhaps David O. Russell was not as much of one, for he merely assumed a slot that could have easily been occupied by Ben Affleck giggles menacingly or Quentin Tarantino. The last two on this round-up are absolute shocks, being as the majority of the public has never seen nor heard of either of them. More of them in a moment because they are also--spoiler alert--of the nine nominees for Best Picture.

Best Motion Picture of the Year
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Les Miserables
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Zero Dark Thirty
Django Unchained

Here they are. The nine assumably best films of the past year. I find it rather irritating that, ever since a new rule has been instated that declares only the five-to-ten number one voted pictures receive a nomination, there have been nine chosen films. They might as well make the rule nine films, or, better yet, back to the simple and succinct five nominees. Having so many nominees diminishes the idea of having the Oscars, quite frankly, for it suggests that all of these films have a chance of winning, which further suggests that there really is no "best" picture. Regardless and nevertheless. Of these nine, the five that are truly the ones to take seriously as a contender are Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty, and Life of Pi. Obviously, I do not agree, but that is besides the point. Which is what? The other four are mere placeholders, chosen to satisfy a particular group of critics or sociological realm of the industry. The one that has me both perplexed and even a bit aggravated is the nomination of Amour, which also has a well-deserved nod in the Best Foreign Language Film, has absolutely no place in the overall Best Picture race! That deserves an exclamation point, as it infuriates me when a foreign film finds its place among the other films. It's as if they get a second try of receiving another award. Utterly arbitrary--courtesy of I am slightly surprised to see Django Unchained here, desolate as I am to admit it, for it was just as edgy and over-the-top exaggerated as the critics say it was. Truly a disappointment, especially knowing that this follows the glorious masterpiece that is Inglourious Basterds. Ben Affleck's pseudo-intellectual piece received a nod, I think, because he was neglected of one. Doubtful that it's remarkable enough to be taken seriously. As for Beasts of the Southern Wild, that is just a complete bombshell in terms of unexpected blows. Where did it come from? And more importantly, where will it go? Just a thought for future Oscar ceremonies: I believe it should be made a prerequisite for each prospective nominee to have been at least heard of by a certain amount of people, as well as have accumulated a modest box-office. Future plans of one individual voice can, quite possibly and with much hope, be heard and held in regard by those who can make that difference. Or, more likely, I am just another person with a computer and an opinion.

First post of the new year completed. That should gratify me for the next few days. Though, never fret, for I shall post some judgments of more than one film listed here. Looks as if we'll be having an interesting race, one that will have me hoping against certain contenders, as well as for. Oh, and, have you heard? Seth MacFarlane garnered a nomination of his own, for Best Original Song in Ted called "Everybody Needs a Best Friend". That's right, Seth MacFarlane is nominated for an Oscar. Let that resonate through your mind for a while. Feels good, doesn't it? Cheers, on yet another awards season coming to its climax, and will immediately dissipate once the Oscars are over. Oh, how I love the holidays. Here's to a divine new year! Or, to steer away from religious allusions, a marvelous new year.

Best Original Song
Should be Best Picture, but whatever.