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Stats: There have been 334 opportunities to win an Oscar and approximately 1320 nominations.
18 Lead Actors 10 Lead Actresses 31 Supporting Actors 39 Supporting Actresses
Congratulations to actors who have scored another nomination since this list was created, therefore removing themself from the list: 2018 - Sam Rockwell 2018 - Mahershala Ali 2018 - Rachel Weisz 2016 - Octavia Spencer 2015 - Eddie Redmayne
Prior to that, here is an incomplete list of some that found their way off the list: 2014 - Reese Witherspoon 2014 - Marion Cotillard 2013 - Sandra Bullock 2013 - Christian Bale 2012 - Helen Hunt 2012 - Christoph Waltz 2008 - Angelina Jolie 2007 - Philip Seymour Hoffman 2007 - George Clooney 2005 - Charlize Theron 2004 - Hilary Swank 2003 - Benicio Del Toro 2003 - Marcia Gay Haden 2002 - Christopher Walken 2002 - Nicolas Cage 2001 - Marisa Tomei 2000 - Juliette Binoche
~243 movies on this list
Mr. Holmes (2015)
Refreshing and simple take on classic character
As a standalone film, one of the great charms of Mr. Holmes is that it can be viewed with equal level of enjoyment by two different types of people: the type who know nothing other than the basics regarding the character of Sherlock Holmes, and equally the people who have seen or read everything about him. It manages to appeal to both camps by being both a revisionist version of his stories, yet still keeping in the same spirit and not denying any of the prior literature.
Due to the fact that the film's metronome is a 93-year-old man losing his memory, the pace is unfortunately slow for the first half of the film. Having multiple flashbacks that omit information until necessary keeps the viewer guessing but also at times frustrated. In the meantime, the real entertainer is Sir Ian McKellen, who is not nearly as old as his character is in real life and yet captures the nuances of someone that age to precision, all while forming his own character of the titular Holmes. It's one I hope can make its way into the Oscar conversation yet is so much simpler I won't count on it.
The second half of the film picks up in pace as the 3 story lines all begin to start solving themselves, but more importantly Mr. Holmes (I don't think his first name is ever uttered in this movie) starts to realize a moral that he never quite came to terms with in all of his sleuthing regarding the truth and humanity. I've seen a solid handful of the countless Sherlock Holmes incarnations (he is the most commonly portrayed character in cinema) and there is something that becomes almost tragic about each one as you realize he is someone whose intelligence and wit makes him unable to live normally amongst other 'ordinary' people. As some subtext, it is perhaps a nice touch that Mr. McKellen is a proud member of the LGBT community, as there is reason to believe (although rarely outwardly said) that Sherlock Holmes may be gay himself. These are details you don't need to watch the story but can help enhance the nuance.
In terms of filmmaking, director Bill Condon and co. don't particularly do anything to motivate the situation other that just let the characters take care of business. Again, this is not a movie notable for having a quick pace, but it is never dull altogether either. The next movie I'll be watching is Gods and Monsters, the previous Condon/McKellen collaboration.
As you can see from how much I've written, I'm fond of the movie, enjoyed the numerous elements, and was left with a lot to think about. It's a small scale film and should be viewed as such, but is nonetheless enjoyable and is a nice spin on the iconic character.
Somewhere in the Middle (2015)
An improv-based journey of love deceit, and sexual tension
Somewhere in the Middle comes from a team of Brooklyn filmmakers led by Lanre Olabisi (whose last film August the First is streamable on Netflix) that successfully raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter in order to produce this film, a rare feat. Taking influence from the styles of Mike Leigh and other dialogue-driven directors, Olabisi manages to craft something that feels fresh and unique, and plays with our understanding of cinema in how we view individual scenes compared to how we view a complete movie.
For the first half of the film we are introduced to four protagonists in an unconventional manner, each of whom are intertwined with the others. First we meet Sophia (Marisol Miranda) in her therapist's waiting room where she meets Kofi (Charles Miller) and immediately develops a liking to him. After seeing her side of the story and how she views this meeting, we then see Kofi's perspective, and gain a better understanding of why he behaved the way he did. Anyone who has tried dating someone and felt like they didn't understand their behavior can relate to this scene. Rather than taking an omnipresent perspective, we view each vignette from a distinct point of view, then return to it from another perspective and have a completely different understanding of what happened. The result is an electrifying journey of love, deceit and evocative sexual tension. In a conventional film it is a given that the scenes play out in chronological order with nothing important in between, but in Somewhere in the Middle, information is often deliberately withheld until much later, resulting in a much more engaging and authentic experience. The closest structural companion that comes to my mind is Iñárritu's 21 Grams, which similarly is successful in telling a gripping non-linear story.
As I began to realize that the film took on the concept of 'everything is connected' I was apprehensive it would lead to a neatly wrapped coincidence-heavy conclusion, because at first it seems unlikely that the characters have any natural connection. However, as more information is revealed, it becomes clear that these characters have defined connections that aren't made clear until later in the runtime. You're never quite sure how it's all going to pan out.
Structurally, the centerpieces are the intense dialogue sequences most often between two of the given protagonists. In the beginning, the film diffuses some of the momentum by showing a large number of transition shots of characters going between places. However, once the story actually gets going, these transitions become fewer, and the character interactions start to define the film as a whole. Olabisi worked closely with all the actors to construct improvised pieces that feel authentic and motivate the story. The most dynamic character created is Billie (Inside Man's Cassandra Freeman), a powerhouse boss whose untamed love life causes most of the turbulence in the story. It is a rare treat to see a character with so much dimension who can be flawed without being unsympathetic. Billie is far from perfect yet her motivations are familiar to all. This is the type of character we love to follow, and the fact that she is a woman of color and has this much depth is unfortunately very rare in mainstream cinema, but as such, she is that much more exciting to watch.
You'll notice I have avoided speaking too directly about the specific events that happen in this film. Because of the twisting nature of the story lines, knowing less up front will produce a far richer movie-going experience. I congratulate the cast and crew for putting together such a vibrant drama, especially within the constraints of such a low budget. Somewhere in the Middle debuted at the Newport Beach Film Festival today at 5:15 pm. It will screen again Thursday April 30 at 7:30 pm. I strongly recommend you catch this film then! It is exactly the type of independent film that makes smaller film festivals so exciting to attend, and hopefully will find its way to larger release later on.
Félix et Meira (2014)
Felix and Meria begins with a traditional Hasidic Jewish dinner: singing, celebration and religious clothing. Everyone seems comfortable except for Meria, our protagonist, and immediately through visuals we sense that something does not sit well with her. Thus begins the major conflict of the film as Meria debates internally her commitment to tradition.
Because of the timeless nature of this culture, at the beginning it is deliberately unclear what time period the film takes place in. Meria is scolded by her extremely traditional husband for playing LP records, indicating the film is a period piece. Yet as the film goes on and Meria slowly ventures outside of her Hasidic bubble, we realize that the film does in fact take place in present day, yet we discover it through her eyes and slowly it becomes more modern. The visual palette (like a love child of last year's Ida and A Most Violent Year) distinctly drives Meria's journey. This makes the modern world look in a distinct way unlike anything I have ever seen in a movie.
While focusing on Meria and her doubts in her beliefs, it quick develops into a love story. Despite being married and living among the traditional culture, Meria falls for Felix, a bachelor without the same family values. This isn't the adulterous kind of romance - everything is subdued, making even holding hands feel like a display of passion. The suspense remains because of how forbidden the relationship is in the first place, and thanks to top-tier performances and direction, the relationship between protagonists never feels inauthentic.
The dramatic sequences scattered throughout the film significantly outweigh the overall narrative. The symbols are rich without being overt. As said above, this is a movie full of subtlety that matches the emotional tone of the characters. The only not subtle moment happens right after Felix and Meria first spend time together, when the film transitions to an isolated clip seemingly unrelated yet emotionally moving. I would have been happy to see more of these, but alas because it only happened once it draws more power to itself.
As stated above the primary conflict of the film is tradition vs. love, which is incredibly powerful yet not as universal in today's world. Unfortunately, Meria's husband is reduced to being a caricature and not given enough complexity as a character. Had he been more layered, it would increase the stakes in how difficult it would be for Meria to decide to stray away from him. Regardless, this is the romantic drama that people should yearn for. Most romance audience prefer the more saccharine Nicholas Sparks adaptations, but could truly enjoy seeing something much more subtle and powerful as seen in Felix and Meria.
Furious Seven (2015)
The Fast franchise roars forward
While every entry of a franchise usually totes itself as the 'biggest entry yet,' never before has it been so true. I successfully managed to avoid any actual trailers or movie reviews for the eagerly anticipated Furious 7, which has defied all odds and firmly established itself as a worldwide box office juggernaut.
Two summers ago in anticipating Fast and Furious 6, I rented all of the sloppily titled Fast and Furious movies (except the first one which I saw shortly after its release) to understand how exactly this franchise came to be. Unlike the superhero franchises which have a dense canon from which they are pulling stories, one of the admirable elements of this franchise is that it is not based on previous material and therefore can much more easily reinvent itself. Indeed, it's pretty amazing how well the series has managed to keep the same basic characters and story intact despite so many offshoot trajectories.
The main transition the series has seen is changing the characters from street racers to elaborate heist leaders, which has allowed the series to have a lot more fun and take itself less seriously. Slowly, more characters have been added, greatly expanding the 'family' of alpha character Dominic Toretto (Diesel). The story lines have always been the weakest part, which is why fewer people have seen the middle installments, but since Fast & Furious (the fourth entry – again the titles are incredibly scattered) each movie has successfully upped the ante. I stand by Fast Five as the pinnacle of the series where it fired on all cylinders (yet even that isn't exactly an A-level action movie), with the sixth film not too far behind.
In Furious 7, the mission is bigger than ever before, and feels less and less about the cars and more about spies and missions. The movie is attempting to widen the audience and be more broadly appealing than the humble originals which were all about urban street racing. Here, we go from London, to Abu Dhabi, to LA, with a few scattered cameos in between, all with massive action setups.
The part that the film does extremely well of is creating a villain worthy of opposition to the protagonists. Jason Statham is in fact more bad-ass than you could ever imagine, going toe-to-toe with both Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson. Another villain is also established, played by Djimon Hounsou. In two years, three movies have underutilized him as a villain: How to Train Your Dragon 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, and now this. It is truly a shame that an Oscar nominated actor is getting commissioned to throwaway bad guy parts with no real character. Regardless, Statham is a truly awesome guy to watch and makes the film all that engaging even though he isn't given a huge chunk of time. Another character that has unfortunately been completely sidelined by the franchise is Jordana Brewster's character. In the first few movies she could stand on her own and was a pivotal member of the crew. Now, she has literally been reduced to a housewife. Without Paul Walker, I fear that her character will be slimmed down in future installments. The first half of the film is much more entertaining, while the second half feels a bit tiresome despite a few epic action sequences.
Lastly, there is the inevitable question of what the film had to do regarding the unplanned passing of Paul Walker. I had no idea what they had planned, and let's just say they don't avoid the subject by any means. It is unfortunate how clearly different the ending of the film is than what they had planned – even a casual moviegoer can tell. But it's a nice enough tribute to the series co-lead. I truly do wonder what Vin Diesel and Co. will do from here moving forward. There is no right answer, but right now they've got the biggest movie yet on their hands and so much more to do. The passing of Paul Walker only heightens just how bizarre the trajectory of this franchise has gone, and while this series is certainly not the top of the line for action movies, I will remain along for the ride for any future installments that follow.
Hollow and misguided but still intriguing
Despite seeing this film on opening night, I already had caught word that it could potentially be a disaster. I otherwise saw the movie completely blind, knowing only the loose concept and the director/writer Neill Blomkamp.
Blomkamp captured lightning in a bottle in his 2009 debut feature, District 9, which remains one of the greatest modern science fiction movies in the way it serves as an allegory for the racial divide of South Africa, but also a high concept science fiction piece, not to mention a terrific action movie. Elysium, on the other hand (released in 2013), had an impressive concept but ended up as a rather hollow movie. Chappie unfortunately has more in common with the latter, primarily in that it never escapes the shadow of District 9. In so many elements, it feels like an attempt to recreate the wow-factor of that film.
The first confusing element is whether or not the film is supposed to take place in the future or in an alternate present day. There isn't enough establishment of the world to verify either one. Chappie tells the story of a corporation's brilliant young genius (Dev Patel) going rogue and making his own type of robot that isn't the fighting machine it was intended to be. Chappie (Sharlto Copley) is born, and must learn the nuances of humanity through the underground culture of Johannesburg. What works well are the small moments, such as Chappie learning English and early communication. But for all of those, an equal number of them feel incredibly hokey. The supporting characters are absolutely ridiculous in two different ways; the two main characters are played by rappers Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser from the South African rave-rap group Die Antwoord. Neither one has previous acting experience, which makes for brutally uncomfortable performances until finally you get used to them. The rest of the cast consists of notable actors (Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver among others) who give their all toward undeveloped or misguided characters.
For what it is worth, the film is unpredictable in many ways. Especially since I avoided trailers, the story took many directions I did not expect. I was intrigued through the lengthy runtime, but also made painfully aware of its cringe-worthy bad moments. Ultimately, the film is weighed down by how implausible some of the decisions are and how little the details are developed, much like Elysium before it. If that sounds interesting to you, then by all means go see it, but if you're looking for a well developed, quality project, you're going to have to wait for something else to be released.
I find it interesting that this film is produced by Sony. For one thing, it means that you'll get more blatant product placement than any film outside the Transformers series. It also feels like the type of project that is a hit on paper, but is undeveloped and misguided in its execution. In the end however, I did enjoy the film, knowing it was flawed beyond belief but at least it didn't feel generic or bland. I hope that Blomkamp steps farther outside his safety net on the Alien franchise, which he is slated to direct next. If he takes the same approach as his last two films, it will similarly feel ambitiously interesting but hollow and misguided.
Weak Ensemble Movie
It's 2002 in Rochester, New York, and the Valentino family have four grown children who are all facing their own battles and trying to make ends meet. Two major events progress the film: the marriage of their daughter Max to Andy, and Mitch and Christian trying to pull their family business out of debt. Through the entire film, there is a constant tension hanging in the air, and some hints that there is more to this family than we know.
Even from the synopsis, the first thing to notice is that the film juggles an enormous ensemble cast, each with their own storyline. There are eight characters who are given focus, which ends up delineating the narrative. In this sense, the film feels more like something made for television, without a clear through line as to what the message of the film is, because a movie runtime isn't enough to finish any of these stories. Toward the end of the film, the main message is revealed, but it lacks the build-up or punch that it could carry because it's a plot point the audience hasn't even seen as the main part of the story. Personally, I had been focused on other elements and didn't realize until after the big reveal that I should have even been looking for that.
To make matters worse, a lot of these stories don't quite add up. There's an aunt character (based closely on the writer's true life) who feels completely expendable to the film's forward motion. Yet she gets plenty of screen time, including a quick romance that has nothing to do with the family. In an interview, writer Sabrina Gennarino stated that this was based off of a real character in her life (as are most of the protagonists), but this is a perfect example of a character that adds little to the story and could be left on the cutting room floor. Some worse examples are sequences that don't make sense. Nicky, one of the brothers, refuses to serve a customer for a reason we assume we'll find out later, but never do. A fight ensues, but without knowing why, it leaves little personal impact. With a sprawling ensemble cast, these little character errors add up more than enough to become distracting.
As a drama, the film is effective in that it isn't difficult to connect with what the characters are going through. However, like many movies billed primarily as a drama, there isn't much to make light of in the film. It feels thoroughly moody to the point of melodrama. While After does feel like the honest and personal film it has set out to be, its pitfalls are many, and enough to detract the viewer from connecting to the characters. However, the ensemble offers a diverse slate of actors each with moments to shine, and promises further potential in the future for all parties involved.
Wrenched - Denver Film Festival Review
A small-scale environmental documentary with a big message, director ML Lincoln's Wrenched is about the writer and radical conservationist Edward Abbey and how his message and legacy carried on after his death. Abbey is known for writing Desert Solitare and The Monkey Wrench Gang, both classic books for anyone who cares about wilderness and ecology, but also did some "night work" as he called it, involving tearing down billboards, destroying bulldozers, and other behavior all with the intention of stopping the destruction of the natural world. While neither are required reading, knowing the material will make the film that much more enjoyable, especially Monkey Wrench Gang, which turned out to be much less fiction than one would believe. The documentary has a great deal of archival footage which makes it easy to see the movement and get excited about what is going on, and the film chronicles from the 1970's until present day but never feels like too broad of a scale to cover.
One of the key elements of Abbey's work that made it so successful was that he made being an environmentalist fun and something that people should want to do instead of a chore or obligation. There is something truly special about the wilderness and its unfortunate that fewer people with each passing generation will have access to it, a message the film will not let you forget. There is no definitive villain shown here either: it is the mass corporations building dams and mines that permanently scar the natural world. It is hard not to see this movie and be moved to action, and Lincoln does a great job of inspiring young people today rather than seeing it as a lost cause. Edward Abbey had a spirit that continues to leave a legacy, and despite being labeled an "ecoterrorist," his principles are about respecting the natural world and realizing how imperative it is for our long term survival, something often overlooked. Wrenched is not meant to be provocative, none of what has happened should be shocking, but is actually meant to be moving and entertaining, at which it succeeds.
White Shadow (2013)
Intriguing, not perfectly fulfilled
White Shadow is a vérité style depiction of Alias, a young albino growing up in the outskirts of an unnamed city in Tanzania. The primary conflict is that as an albino, Alias is the prey of witch doctors, who cut up albinos and use them for outlandish potions and mysticism. His journey shows us all sorts of elements of a world that is completely foreign to us, but remains wholly individual and never tries to be the definitive "Africa story" that would be an easy route to take. Because of the film's looser style, it requires extra attention from the viewer and doesn't have a clear through line, but is compelling because of how otherworldly it feels. There isn't a big takeaway or call to action, but the film's expose cannot help but leave a mark. There are a few incredible sequences, including a betting scene and a sequence where the protagonists are digging through e-waste looking for salvageable electronics, but the collective whole still feels looser than it needs to be, and the stylistic elements of the film are not employed often enough to be the focus of the movie. White Shadow will most likely not be playing in US theaters anytime soon due to a depiction of animal cruelty that probably wasn't fake (although is rather tame compared to any day at a US meat factory). However, as a festival film, it is intriguing and unlike anything else you will see, and for that alone it may be worth your time.
Deux jours, une nuit (2014)
Excellently realized drama
The film centers around Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a married mother who is overworking to make ends meet, but has just been fired from her job. Her foreman has agreed she can get her job back if the majority of her co-workers vote yes to her return. But, there's a catch: if she gets her job back, all of her 16 co-workers will lose their bonus. From there, the film is a depiction of Sandra's journey of visiting all of her co-workers asking them to vote in her favor. What sounds simple enough turns out to be a fascinating display of the human spirit and the insidious affects money has on anyone who is working to make end's meet. Every one of her co-workers has a different response to this Hobson's choice that she presents them with, and the story builds extremely well throughout. What makes the film so effective is the style that is employed. Rather than favoring conventional coverage, with a mixture of close- ups and cuts between dialogue, every interaction Sandra has is an uninterrupted take, and the result is stunning. There is no flashy shot that draws attention to this effect – in fact, as a regular film viewer it would be easy to overlook this directing feat. There is no clear reason as to why this technique is used, but because it is so effective at drawing the viewer in, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that when you strip the film down, it is about authenticity and human experience, and Cotillard brings that to the fullest. It is not an ostentatious showcase of acting range, so unfortunately she might be overlooked come awards season, but instead she is on point at displaying the emotional exhaustion of a person in her state. This is as relatable of a film as they come, and touches on experiences that everyone has had at some point. Without a doubt, this is one of the finest dramas of the year.
Viaggio sola (2013)
Themes of isolation and comfort in the 5-star hotel world
Irene is in her 40's, single, and has a job that sounds like a luxury: reviewing 5 star hotels in gorgeous locations. But mind you, her job isn't just basking in all the amenities that a hotel provides, her job requires a meticulous attention to every possible detail, and all kinds of factors, from the amount of dust on the lamps to the timeliness of the staff, is thoroughly considered. Since her job requires her to be away from home so much, she is single and has estranged relationships with her family and friends. If the premise reminds you of Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, you're on the right track.
The premise of the film allows us as an audience to venture to some magnificent locations, and it's immediately recognizable how well the film utilizes every location it visits. Paris, Berlin, The Alps, Marrakesh, and a few hotels in Italy all get the deluxe treatment and are showcased beautifully here. But where it would be easy to venture into imagery reminiscent of the travel channel, this film instead focuses on the sense of isolation that each hotel brings. Sure, the views are all exquisite, but the film wonderfully captures the hollow reality that these deluxe locations encapsulate. Thematically, the film encapsulates this sense of isolated beauty that Irene embodies. As fun as it is to gasp at the luxury, the purpose is not to envy Irene by the end of the film but to simply understand the world that she inhabits.
Despite being a movie about luxury, the biggest strength of the film ends up being its simplicity. There is no grand revelation or massive plot twist here, but we do feel the many themes that are shared with us. One of these is the concept of artificial comfort. Is having someone wait on you nonstop really a key to happiness? How arbitrary is our modern day measurement of luxury and quality? While the themes are played out visually in the various locations, we see them play out emotionally in Irene's interactions when she is back at home. Her best friend and former lover is about to be a father because the mother believes it will make her happy, a tangible showing of how happiness has become a material good. Her relationship with her sister, brother-in-law and nieces fluctuates but is her only hope for having family in her life. From the concept, it would appear that the heart of the film comes from her travels, but the film very uniquely also covers the many times that she comes home and the impact she has on those who don't share her lifestyle.
A Five Star Life is a short, simple film but is fully engaging because of how well its themes are realized, both visually and emotionally. It may not have the same level of prowess that Up in the Air has, but for a smaller film, it certainly engages for the entire runtime.
Dinosaur 13 (2014)
Dinosaur 13 - Incredible Documentary
I have continually had the conversation that we live in a beautiful era for documentaries that push narratives and transcend what audiences previously believed a documentary could do. I am reinforced in this belief by a handful of films that I've seen, but another such film, Dinosaur 13, will now join those ranks.
Exposing us to a narrative that few people know, Dinosaur 13 is a roller coaster of a story in the best way possible. What starts as a humble yet passionate following of a group of paleontologists becomes a conflict that is bigger than they could ever expect. I don't want to give any part of the film away because there are so many twists and turns in this story. It is documentaries like this that make me question why even bother with writing stories when there are great ones like this that are more compelling than fiction. I will highlight a few things that I resonated with. First, this is a film about small town USA, in this case Hill City, SD (in close proximity to the Badlands), and the power of community in places like this, both in good times and bad times. Secondly, this is a film about passionate people. The subjects of the film, notably Peter Larson, the paleontologist who is the primary focus, but also the many other folks involved, all share a beautiful love of what they do. Despite all adversity, carrying passion and optimism is a beautiful thing to watch.
From a craft standpoint, the film is greatly benefited due to a high quantity of archival footage. Had these events transpired 20 years before, home videos would not have been commonplace and it would have to rely more on reenactments and interviews, but instead a good amount of the film actually uses footage, along with some reenactments and some fantastic interviews.
I am blown away by this story and look forward to watching it again in theaters. Paleontology is essentially the study of history and uncovering the truth in the past: Dinosaur 13 has done the same for this powerful story that should be heard by all. 10/10
Admittedly flawed, but still a gripping Aronofsky film
A difficult film to rate or categorize because it continually battles between supreme epic and flawed blockbuster. The first great news is that Darren Aronofsky's vision does not feel lost, and it is clearly the director of modern masterpieces behind the wheel of this ship. What makes the film feel incredible is when these touches play out: its a gorgeous cinematic dream that captures all. The usage of the other Genesis stories within this one will be what makes the film so memorable in long term. But it still gets plagued by many moments that feel contrived and take the viewer out of the movie. This is where I settle on the score: I loved the film the entire time, but was able to recognize much of its clear weakness in story. It remains a triumph for blockbuster filmmaking, and exactly the type of project that I would love to see more of.
We Come as Friends (2014)
A Daring Triumph
Opening with a shot of ants crawling on sand and around a toy airplane, it is clear from the very first shot that this is going to be a different kind of film. The next two hours are long and painful but teach so much about the people that make up this new and frustratingly conflicted country. Sauper continues with voice-over and upside-down aerial shots of planet Earth. He compares colonialism (the primary focus of the feature) as well as his own voyage to entering a foreign planet. This sets the tone for where he is going, as it is so foreign to anything we've seen in the western world. Sauper does a fantastic job of mixing his experimental and metaphorical imagery with the main focus, interviews of the people who live in South Sudan, from villagers, to missionaries, to oil drillers, and much more. All kinds of ethnicities, all sorts of moral dilemma. It is a frustrating movie to walk out of and a lot to take in, but this is a film that everyone can learn from and has a lot of potential to show the world what is going on in a place that is truly foreign but is still part of our Earth.
Up in the Air (2009)
Timing, Timing, Timing
It's not often that I watch a movie and I really do not want it to end. When I was watching UP IN THE AIR, it felt like a long movie, but I loved every minute of it. I could've watched it all day. They say, "Location, Location, Location" about selling things, but for movies, it is "Timing, Timing, Timing". Slumdog Millionaire was successful because it came at a time when we needed to see that underdog story and we needed to know about the poverty in India. Although "City of God" is the superior film, it's timing was poor and meant that it wasn't as well received and most people have never heard of it. Up in the Air could not have been more aptly timed. It tells the story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who makes his profession by flying around the country and personally laying off employees in the masses. He loves it – he's excellent at it, he has been doing it for so long he is incredibly efficient. At that cost, he has no ties to anyone, spending all his time on the road and not communicating with most of his family. His whole life shakes up when a young college grad Natalie (Anna Kendrick) enters the workplace offering to start doing the job via video chat, thus reducing the cost of flight, as well as shaking up Bingham's lifestyle that he has mastered. Their boss (Jason Batemen) instructs Bingham to show her the ropes and take her on his next trip. Jason Reitman has been 3 for 3 now with his movies. Thank You For Smoking was an excellent satire of consumerism, Juno was a fantastic comedy that reminded us that good dialogue alone can make a movie hilarious, and now comes Up in the Air, a much more mainstream and much more ambitious project. His direction isn't noticeable, but he certainly knows how to pick the right projects to work on. I talk a lot about how Do The Right Thing excels because of its perfect balance of comedy and drama. Up in the Air nails this, matching every scene with comedic excellence as well as emotional story. It can't really be described as either; instead it feels much more real. The characters aren't always sad, nor are the situations always funny. It feels like real life. All of the lead characters in the film feel like people we know, our friends, and we enjoy watching them do their thing. Real life is boring, but there is enough color added to it via the writing that makes you enjoy this movie and to not want it to end. It's a movie you will love watching, without necessarily rolling on the floor laughing or crying your eyes out in. The acting from the three leads (Clooney, Kendrick, and Vera Faramiga) is good and all of them carry their own weight. It helps that the script they are working with seems flawless. All of them have memorable moments. Nominations for all three is a near guarantee, but I don't think Up in the Air will be winning any acting awards. Up in the Air is just perfect in so many ways. It's layered with many ironies, as well as some great messages about life, and more importantly, whom we spend it with. I am left slightly speechless at the genuine quality of the film. It's the kind of movie I love, and it's perfect. So far, this is the best we've seen in 2009. My Rating: 10/10
The Road (2009)
I really have got to get used to reviewing adaptations of books, because they come out all the time. But reviewing them is so much different it almost doesn't seem fair. A movie like Watchmen would have seemed completely different had I not read the book. It just changes the playing field completely and usually not in a good way. However, it's not going away anytime soon.
Let me start by saying how I came across the book "The Road", by Cormac McCarthy. It was about two years ago this time, and I was talking to my dorm parent about Children of Men, a movie that was so clearly well made and excellent, but I was left frustrated with it. Without giving too much away, Children of Men left me with no closure because the entire purpose of the movie seemed to be finding the cure, and the movie ends before they find it. In other words, it left too much unsaid, and for that, storyline alone, I gave it a 4/10. My dorm parent mentioned that if I didn't like Children of Men I probably wouldn't like The Road, because it gives you absolutely no information about what happened, it just tells you a story of a father and a son traveling in a post-apocalyptic world. Intrigued, and being a fan of Cormac McCarthy, I bought the book at the airport and on my way home for Thanksgiving, read the entire book. I really couldn't have imagined reading it any other way. Because the book has no chapters, and because it is so engaging, you have to read it in one sitting.
A movie was inevitable from such a great story, especially hot off of No Country For Old Men's success. And the road (haha) to this movie's release has been long and slow. It got delayed a whole year, which made me apprehensive as to how good a film it was. So as I entered the movie theater last night, almost two years to the date since I read the book, I was nervous. Would this be another I Am Legend? Or would this capture the greatness of the book?
The plot of the film and the movie are the same: a father and a son are some of the last remaining people on earth after an unexplained tragedy has happened. The two are just trying to survive, by heading south. Along the way they encounter many problems, but the heart of the story is in the relationship between the two characters, and the plot is minimal.
Director John Hillcoat's last film, The Proposition, was an attempt to revive the dead genre of the Western. And it was brilliant in so many ways, but I especially liked how the setting was displayed in the film. You can taste the nasty feeling of 1850 Australia in The Proposition. And that's why he's a great fit for The Road, because he brings us into a setting very well. And in The Road he does this again, maybe not as well, but considering he has no source material other than the novel, he does a very good job at conveying this dead world. I enjoyed seeing all of the eclectic images of destruction he brought to this film. Images from the Yellowstone fire, Mount Saint Helens, and Hurricane Katrina were compiled together to create this world, as well as some decent special effects. My favorite image from the film is when the go on an overpass. The overpass stuck with me.
The acting of the two leads is superb. Viggo Mortensen continues to impress me as a fantastic actor. When I was reading the book I imagined him as Djimon Hounsou, but Mortensen encompasses the character extremely well. Newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee is just as good, and together they carry the entire film on their shoulders, and they do it effortlessly. My only complaint with the film is that because there is no driving plot, my guess is it could become tedious and hard to follow if you didn't read the book. Overall the fear and the relationship moved the story enough to keep me interested, but I can see how a lack of structure could be tedious to some.
The tone and art direction are spot on, the acting is excellent, the story is a perfect adaptation of the book, but it isn't a groundbreaking film. The Road is as good as adaptations get, one of the best I have ever seen. It wasn't a white-knuckle film the way No Country was, nor was it nearly as well directed. But, it's a riveting and engaging film, and it's a fantastic story of two characters. In the end, that's enough of a reason for it to be a great movie. As for my expectations: it blew me away. Despite a delay and a bad trailer, The Road is an impressive film. My Rating: 9/10
Precious Movie Review
I won't try to deny my slight bias while I was watching this movie. To be in a theater among many movie enthusiasts, and most importantly the director of the film (Lee Daniels) and the author of the novel (Sapphire) will most certainly have an effect on your movie going experience. But not enough of a bias to effect whether or not the film is any good.
Precious is the name of the protagonist, (played by Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe), a teenage girl who is one of the most harsh conditions upon our first meeting with her. She's pregnant for the second time to her own father's child, her mother (Monique) is an unstable and dangerously abusive woman, and she is unable to read and write. This is a terrible situation to be in, but Precious manages to live through it through her dreams, blocking out harsh memories with hopes of becoming a fashion model or a movie star. The story kicks off when Precious is invited to a special learning school, where the classroom is small and where she will be able to learn in a better environment.
From this description of the plot, the film sounds tried. I was concerned for a brief moment while watching that this would be another "Stand and Deliver" or "Freedom Writers". We've all heard and seen these "problem stories" of inter-city kids who go to the top. For one, although the film briefly uses these classroom dynamic scenes, enough of the film is so unrelated we realize that comparing this film to those isn't fair. Precious is about a girl, not about a student or a classroom.
Let me tell you up front: Precious isn't a problem movie (the kind of movie where things just get worse and worse, and then finally some solution is made). Despite how many obstacles are thrown at Precious, and believe me a whole lot are, the film is still entirely about who Precious is, and mostly, how she can raise her head high and keep going in all these loathsome situations. Director Lee Daniels (here I go with my bias of seeing it with the director) actually encouraged the audience to laugh, because there are a lot of humorous scenes, intertwined with some incredibly jarring ones. Unlike "Requiem for a Dream", which is such a depressing movie you are left with a bad taste in your mouth, Precious is actually a very positive film about how to stand through these trials of life. You will see scenes in this film that will irk you, but enough of the film is good-spirited and, dare I say, light, that leaving the film you will feel good about yourself, and with a positive outlook on your own life. It also makes one grateful for the fortunate situations we're all in, because I don't think anyone has it rougher than Precious in this film.
This isn't a Slumdog Millionaire rags-to-riches story. Because the film only deals with about a year of her life, we don't see Precious win the million dollars or get into college. Any of that would just be cheesy. Instead, we see her trying to learn to write, being a single parent, and getting out of potentially dangerous situations. It adds for a fuller and richer film that feels more heartfelt.
The directing is not some of the best ever, but it is of a high enough caliber that Lee Daniels deserves some praise this awards season. I think he will not have too much trouble getting a nomination. As for a win, I am not so sure (especially with my personal pick Kathryn Bigelow). My only complaint is some jerky hand-held for one or two scenes, but that's not enough to defer from the great things he does. The acting and the screenplay of this film are exactly the type of Oscar-winning pieces you can name. Monique as an abusive mother is downright scary for a long time, but soon she actually makes us empathetic toward such a monster. I have no doubt in her chances of getting a nomination, and as of now she is my pick for the win. As for Gabby Sidibe: she's very good, but it all depends on who the competition is.
The screenplay is brilliant, never feeling slow or rushed. The pacing of this film is steady enough that we're engrossed the entire time. Watch out for smaller roles by Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz, both of whom appear briefly (without any make-up or nice clothing). So far, Precious is sweeping the festivals and is looking like it's on a road to Oscar glory, and well deserved. The film opens in NY and LA on November 6th, and will be in theaters everywhere by November 20th. Be sure to make a point of seeing this film.
My Rating: 10/10
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
500 Days of Summer Movie Review
I got to see this film for free, in an advance screening and the Denver premiere (because of my membership in the LTFC and DFC). It was a full theater, and I almost didn't make it in, because only the first 120 people got in. To top off a full theater, the air conditioning was broken, so my sunburned back worked up quite a sweat, but that's already more than you need to know.
The tag line says, "This is not a love story, this is a story about love", which couldn't be truer. For all of the lame romantic comedies (rom-coms) that believe they have something fresh to offer, I have yet to see one that does, until now. This is for a number of reasons, but most obviously, this is about the man, not the woman. And this is an ordinary guy, not some Hollywood hunk. They're also all very formulaic, and from the very opening scene of the film, in which we learn that our two leads are in a sticky situation, we know that this isn't the case. "Summer" offers everything with a fresh and very indie plate, but one that tastes good as well.
The story follows Tom (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) who is a greeting card writer, and a talented one at that. One day his boss gets a new assistant, Summer (Zooey Deschanel) who is sort of the typical indie girl (the only generic part of this film). We learn about their relationship in a mixed fashion, we scan through the titular 500 days in a jumbled order, started with 250- something and moving to 1, then going back to 260-something. For the first 30-odd days Tom is too nervous to talk to her, other than small talk in elevators and such, but his crush on her is ever-present to the audience. Finally they meet, and when they do it's movie magic, despite that we already know that something major goes wrong. Now that description does no justice to the brilliance of the story. I can't describe it without revealing much, but it's a carefully woven story pattern that is top-notch, and just as important, feels more realistic than any other rom-com I've ever seen. I could relate to Tom so much on his struggles with his woman, and that coming from a kid it extraordinary. I imagine it will click even better to the lonely 20-something men out there, who I'll join before I know it. Mind you, realistic is different than plausible, but that's a topic for a different post.
Did I mention that this film is hilarious? Not rom-com funny, laugh out loud hilarious. And that's another element that's missing from these romance flicks. Realistic problems and confrontations are much funnier than the silly slapstick ones in the long haul.
Marc Webb's direction feels like a good indie music video, and that makes sense seeing that's all he's done before this. He alludes to his background with a very funny dance number that puts most movie musicals to shame. The editing is also fantastic, and some of the best I've seen on this type of work (comparing it to Thelma and Bourne isn't fair). And the actors are fantastic, and let's pray for some Golden Globe nominations for Zooey and Joe. But of all the elements, the screenplay deserves the most praise. Creating a realistic, funny, romantic, enjoyable, feel-good, and out of order story is incredibly hard to do. I will remember this film on my roster in the Best Original Screenplay category, even if it gets out shined everywhere else.
Overall, it's a fantastic, funny, and memorable film, and it puts all other romantic comedies, indie romances, and feel good-flicks to shame. Don't let the mediocre trailer deceive you – this film is a 10/10
Public Enemies (2009)
Offers Nothing New
Movies about cops and robbers are as old as movies themselves. We've seen hundreds of versions of bank robberies and yet somehow we're still drawn to the very nature of breaking the law. So in that sense, Public Enemies offers nothing new. It is as formulaic as movies get in this world of crime. Formulaic is not always bad – but movies require something new as well to keep me entertained.
Set in 1933 during the Depression, John Dillinger is Public Enemy #1 and we see him on many accounts robbing banks, escaping the seemingly useless lawmen, and murdering people who get in his way. Johnny Depp plays Dillinger the same way he plays Jack Sparrow (and many others) only without the make-up: he is an upbeat and likable bad guy. And in this one he somehow manages to be chewing gum throughout it all. He squares off against a countless number of ugly cops in suits, led by none other than Christian Bale. Bale doesn't add anything to the film. It is truly unfortunate that Mr. Bale hasn't really done much good lately; he seems to be dead weight in all of his recent films (Terminator Salvation comes to mind). In fact the last movie where I thought Bale was good was Rescue Dawn (2007). Billy Cudrup has a small role as J. Edgar Hoover, the head of this war on crime, but he doesn't do anything either, besides give us a good accent. And Marion Cotilliard, who recently won the Best Actress Oscar, has a very important role as Dillinger's girl. While she is good in scenes without Depp, she doesn't hold her own when she's with him. Giovanni Ribisi, David Wenham, Jason Clarke, and Stephen Graham (as Baby Face Nelson) round out this bloated cast. In terms of acting, this film isn't going to get any Oscar nominations.
Director Michael Mann is a master of crime movies. His movie Collateral is one of my all time favorites. Since Collateral, Mann has used Digital Video –the same thing I use, and not Film, to shoot all his movies, creating a look as if it is a movie made by a very good amateur. This was great in Collateral, adding some realism to the LA modern-day film, but does it work in a 1933 Crime movie? I think it's fine, but it doesn't add anything to it. And once more we see another director using the "Paul Greengrass Effect" – shooting the action sequences so close up and with hand-held cameras that we sometimes don't get what is going on. While I respect Mann for bringing something new to this period piece, I don't think it is justified, and I don't find it impressive.
There are two scenes that I really enjoyed – I loved the scene where Dillinger walks into the police department, and I loved the last scene of the film. Other than that, a large amount of the movie was predictable, too long, and most of all generic. The screenplay itself feels like it is stealing parts from other great ones – on a couple occasions I heard movie lines that were straight out of Bonnie and Clyde, which this film seems to rip off of in plot as well. Here's a movie with a dream cast and director, and yet still we get a mediocre picture. Public Enemies will not be remembered as one of the great heist films, and in fact, I don't think Public Enemies will really be remembered for anything at all. My Rating: 5/10
Here's what I can say:
I enjoyed this film quite a lot, but I have a lot of complaints. I felt the beginning was top notch, interesting, and made me think the whole film was going to be great. However, the film slowly eased off and got progressively worse as it went on. I noticed this when the person I was sitting next to (who originally looked quite engaged) was asleep. One of the strengths of the beginning was the amount of fantastic characters with interesting stories. As the film went on, the minor characters slowly disappeared, until all that remained were the two leads. At the end of the film it shows all of the characters, and NONE of them were introduced after the second half, they were all from the beginning. That was a clear sign of weakness. The second half seemed to be more of a quick explanation on what happened to Benjamin. It was frustrating that the second half was quick and didn't do anything more, and after choosing to go to a long film, you would expect for a good finish. But it wasn't. Another part of the film I thought that weakened it was the lack of purpose. No real message was gotten out of the film. Nothing to leave you with. It was a pretty simple story, and it was entertaining, but moving - no way. And for a heavy Oscar favorite, I would expect a bit better. Not to mention it's insane similarity to Forrest Gump, but that's another story.
A generous 7/10
Do the Right Thing (1989)
My Favorite Movie
Spike Lee's film opens with an incredibly long opening credits featuring a woman (Rosie Perez), dancing/boxing angrily at the screen with Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" in the background screaming. It is already clear this movie involves anger and frustration. Finally it says "Written, Produced and Directed by Spike Lee", and the movie begins.
It starts by showing members of the Bed-Stuy community, a multiracial but predominately black neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Every character is interesting, funny, and unique. It is summer 1989 and the day it takes place is on a scorcher. While every character is different, they all have the heat in common.
Soon enough tension rises between the characters and violence breaks out. The characters are all clearly biased and discriminatory between the other races, and eventually it all comes out in an intense climax.
But the beauty of the film is the almost perfect balance of comedy and drama. The first hour will have you laughing out loud, and by the second hour you are riveted, scared, and most importantly moved. The experience is unforgettable. Do the Right Thing is my favorite movie.
Darfur Now (2007)
Weak: Watch "The Devil Came on Horseback"
I hate to be slightly cocky, but I feel like I am well-knowledged on Darfur and I am passionate on saving it, and ideally I would like to make a documentary on Darfur. I recently rented The Devil Came on Horseback (for the sake of typing DCoH) and Darfur Now in a span of about three weeks. I loved DCoH. It was a perfect documentary. It showed us everything, left us with a sense of frustration and urgency, which is exactly what Darfur is going through.
Darfur Now is solid, but lacks any new substance. We know people are active, and while some of the people are interesting in the movie, others are fairly boring. Don Cheadle and the other guy from California bring nothing new to the table. The other four stories are interesting, but nothing ever happens to any of them. For example, with the female rebel, we hear her story and see her walking around. That's it.
Plus, I know I would feel confused if I knew little on the subject. It is geared at an already knowledgeable audience, so those who don't know anything would most likely feel lost.
Overall, it is okay, but nothing special. Instead, i recommend The Devil Came on Horseback, a fantastic documentary on Darfur.
Jungle Fever (1991)
Let's talk about Jungle Fever
I am a huge fan of Mr. Spike Lee. I find his talent is overlooked by his radicalism. But if you ever study "Do the Right Thing", you can see that any man who can act, write and direct such a powerful, provoking, and funny film is genius. I have since then made it a goal to see as many "Spike Lee Joints" as possible.
Jungle Fever is the story of Flipper, a black middle-aged man from Harlem with a large constellation of friends and family. He is frustrated with his job, since he cannot seem to get a raise. At his job he meets Angie, a young Italian intern with a boyfriend and a family of 4 older men she has to take care of. When they meet, "it's Jungle Fever". It seems scores of famous actors portray members of either side's family and friends.
Jungle Fever is clearly a similar subject to Do the Right Thing, or any of Lee's films. All his films tackle race and one other thing. With He Got Game it's race and sports, with Malcolm X it's race and history, and so on. Jungle Fever is set up to tackle race and sexuality. Obviously this is what Spike enjoys and what he does best.
While I was watching this movie, I had hopes that it would become one of my favorites. For a while, it seemed it could. However, the film takes a sudden change when Flipper's brother, Gator (played by a very young Samuel L. Jackson), comes into the picture. Gator is a crack-head who mooches off of his parents (Ossie and Ruby) and is obsessive over getting some dope.
From that point on, the film becomes very little about the premise. It seems that from then on the movie is about the dangers of crack. This includes a long scene where Flipper is looking for his brother among a warehouse full of crack-heads, and many more scenes with this, all leading up to a horrible ending.
I think what happened was Spike Lee tried to cover sex, drugs, and race into one movie, and though attempts were good, it was not a success. I respect the movie, the music is great, the beginning is excellent, but eventually it drops off. I guess the moral is it should have been two movies.
The Devil Came on Horseback (2007)
Can't say I've seen much better
The Devil Came on Horseback is an exceptional documentary. Darfur is a conflict long overlooked and I rented this movie with apprehension. While I am a passionate advocate for action in Darfur, I wasn't sure weather this documentary would do it any justice or just be the same old boring info. I was wrong, and blown away. I have seen some moving films, regular or documentary, but this was incredible. Not only did it map out Darfur, but it also gave us an honest, compelling 1st-person account of what happened. As soon as I saw this movie I knew that I wanted to do something. The movie gives off so many emotions of frustration and sadness, and it's time to do something. I feel proud that a man like Brian has devoted his life to Darfur. I feel so frustrated that I cannot help more, but I will do my best to help as much as possible.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Dark, Scary, and Fantastic
I have loved every one of the Coen's dark comedies, and they all have the same great edge to them. However, their latest film, No Country For Old Men, is no such film. The film focuses on three characters. Josh Brolin as Llewellyn, a poor veteran who stumbles upon 2 million dollars, Javier Bardem as Anton Chirguh, a sociopath who is after the money and will let nothing get in his way. Bardem gives the best performance because he is so inhumane but attempts to have mercy. He is one of the scariest villains I have ever seen. Lastly Tommy Lee Jones as Ed Tom Bell, the sheriff who follows their footsteps. The film is mostly told through Jones's character, but all three characters have their own moments where they are telling the story. Every year comes a film that makes you grip your seat. This is the one. The whole movie feels so real as Brolin and Bardem play cat-and-mouse with one another. Part of the reality is that there is no music, and there is no soundtrack playing in the background in real life, and without the music you feel more in the movie, like it is happening to you. The Coen brothers know exactly what they are doing and as a result they make the best movies. 10/10 or A
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
The Bourne Ultimatum
Going into this movie, all I had heard was how fantastic this movie was, from friends AND critics. I had to put it to the test.
I saw both the past Bourne films. While I enjoyed them, I would hardly call myself a fan. I gave the first a 7/10 and the second a 5/10. But when there is 100% positive reviews for a film, it's a must see.
Bourne is all over the world in this one with a simple goal: to find out who he was. Meanwhile, a new bad guy, the guy from Good Night and Good Luck, is on his tail trying to kill him so that secrets about the CIA are not spilled. Helping him are the two women from the last movie: Joan Allen and Julia Stiles.
The action scenes are constant. This is good, the movie's pace never goes down. But I have one major complaint that almost ruined the movie for me. Paul Greengrass, the director, is not only obsessed with hand-held, but also with extremely close shots during action. Through two of the major fight sequences, I had no idea what was going on because I couldn't see anything. The camera was so close you were confused.
But the fact that the plot is fantastic is what saves the movie. This plot is one of the best I've ever seen in an action movie. Period. So, while the directing is poor, the screenplay and story pull the weight making it a great movie.