Best Actress

American Hustle (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

American Hustle (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 10 awards.
Nominated for Best Picture (Charles Roven, Jonathan Gordon, Megan Ellison, Richard Suckle), Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Actress (Amy Adams), Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Costume Design (Michael Wilkinson), Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Film Editing (Jay Cassidy, Alan Baumgarten, Crispin Struthers), Best Production Design (Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler), and Best Original Screenplay (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell).
Watched June 5, 2014.

David O. Russell is becoming an unstoppable director in recent years.  From The Fighter to Silver Lining’s Playbook, and now onto American Hustle, he groups his favorite actors together in this film to punch out another excellently made, sharp piece with similar humor that we all loved in Playbook.  Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence are the revisiting dream teams, but their performances are complimented this time by Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K. and other big names in the industry.  The star studded cast combined with the fabulous director should be a recipe for greatness, and although the film took home zero Oscars on awards night, it was certainly a strong contender.

The story is a little unoriginal and one we have seen often.  It is the late 70s and early 80s.  Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) is a small time scammer married to a young woman named Rosalyn (Lawrence).  When he meets vivacious Sydney Prosser (Adams)–if that is her real name–he falls in love and ropes her into his business.  They’re eventually cracked by the feds and ambitious Richie DiMaso (Cooper) offers them a deal to get off the hook.  If they will help him to take town some big time scammers they’ll walk.

Irving is a piece of work, and an excellent character, which is probably what attracted Bale to the part.  The opening scene shows precisely how the man creates his masterpiece of a combover, complete with hair piece.  He knows what he wants and how to get it but he also knows when things aren’t right.  Sydney might turn out to be better than him, but I’ll let you decide on that front.

Despite the fact that Rosalyn knows about Sydney, she comes off as a few crayons short of a set and is constantly setting things on fire or talking about her manicures.  She is surprisingly dangerous and passive aggressive.  In true Lawrence-fan fashion, she was one of my favorite characters in the film.  She brings a different side to the comedy that the other characters don’t, although everyone seems a bit gaudy.  As Christy Lemire  from Roger Ebert says, “Her complexity and unpredictability make her fascinating to watch—she’s just unhinged enough to think she’s the voice of reason—and Lawrence is a radiant scene-stealer.”

The costuming is truly on point.  Sydney is obsessed with the plunging neckline.  Just as distracting is Richie’s head of incredibly curly hair (which he curls every night).  Each character is so delectably unique, and yet somehow the story line doesn’t get bogged down with their loud, semi-insane character arcs and holds things together surprisingly well.

Jeremy Renner plays the mayor, Carmine Polito, who is one of the many they are trying to scam.  He is a big time family man who passionately wants to make a difference in the city, but unfortunately his methods are against the law and Richie is chasing after him.  Irving and Sydney have no choice but to go along.  Rosalyn is the loose cannon that could ruin the entire operation, and everybody knows it.  Instead of keeping her at home, they continue to take her to all of the events and set her free.

The big personalities are a recipe for disaster within the film, but outside of that, everything came together fairly well.  Russell went at the con artist angle with more humor than we typically see.  This is perhaps an attempt to make the plot more unique, but really it’s just a rehash of everything we have all ready seen out of Hollywood.  Everything is executed well, as you can tell from the list of nominations, but what was missing was the twist of originality we typically see from the director and his star studded team.

The film is rated R, but is a great comedy with a lot of wit, laughs, and ridiculous situations.  I can appreciate this type of humor a lot more than something like “Ted.”  If American Hustle sounds like something you would enjoy, I would definitely recommend it.

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Philomena (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Philomena (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 4 awards.
Nominated for Best Picture (Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan, Tracey Seaward), Best Actress (Judi Dench), Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Jeff Pope, Steve Coogan).
Watched May 11, 2014.

 

Philomena is based on the 2009 book by Martin Sixsmith about a woman who conceives out of wedlock and is forced by an Irish convent to not only serve years for punishment, but also to give her son up for adoption.  She has spent decades struggling with her guilt and emotions on her own, but in a reckless moment, she opens up to her young daughter.

 

Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) has recently been disgraced in the media, but when he tries to make a comeback as a journalist for the BBC, he finds Philomena’s story fascinating.  While she would love to find her son, he isn’t necessarily interested in reuniting mother with child, but with the story and the secrets about the 1960s nuns that will disgrace the Irish-Catholic community.  Despite the fact that BBC pays for everything, Philomena (Judi Dench) is incredibly reluctant to open up to the media and to have her private life on display.  After all, she has kept this secret for most of her life and now all of a sudden, she fears everyone knowing.

 

Their search, of course, takes them to the convent, where they are run around in circles and get no real answers because she signed forms stating that she will never receive further information about her son.  After walking through a graveyard full of the bodies of babies and mothers, Sixsmith and Philomena continue looking and end up finding out that her son was adopted by Americans.

 

The relationship between the two characters makes Philomena such a strong film.  The New York Observer describes it as “an overpowering novel you cannot put down, this gripping real-life story allows you to share the journey, step by step, as Philomena, who still clings to her faith, and Martin, a lapsed Catholic and devoted atheist, leave no rock unturned in their search for answers.”  It is the relationship between Philomena and Sixsmith and their battle of wits that earned the film four stars from yours truly.  Judi Dench does it again!  I forgot I was watching a film as I saw Philomena discover fact after fact about her son.  Some things will tear at your heart strings, others will exasperate you, and a lot of them will more than likely surprise you.

 

It is not a feel good story.  Based on real life events, it reveals a sad history in Ireland and most especially in this woman’s life.  Clearly, its strengths are Judi Dench and the writing.  While the film did not win, its nominations were deserved, albeit its Best Picture nod was probably a little low on the totem pole compared to the other nominees.  However, we all know how I love a good story driven film, and despite how sad this film left me, I loved it just the same.  Likewise, the score is properly haunting, full of nostalgia, sadness, and hope.

 

If you like a good story combined with an actress who can deliver, this would be a good film for you!  At only 98 minutes long it is the perfect length for a difficult subject matter that makes one think about family, morality, and Philomena’s ability to forgive.

 

The Impossible (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

The Impossible (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Actress (Naomi Watts).
Watched March 27, 2014.

  

I try to stay away from descriptions of the movies coming up on my list, but I vaguely knew that The Impossible was about a tidal wave.  In this film, a tourist family is vacationing in Thailand for Christmas and is caught in the 2004 tidal wave that devastated Thailand and other locations connected to the Indian Ocean.

 

Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three sons are given a short introduction that gives a small foundation of who they are as a family and a little of who they are as individuals.  There is a quietness in the beginning of the film that forebodes the events coming up.  The tsunami hits pretty quickly into the film and the scenes that follow don’t hold back.  The intensity of the raging waters is matched by the ferocious survival instincts of the family.

 

It is hard to give a synopsis of this film because I would really like to not spoil it.  I will simply say that people get split up very easily in the chaos of an emergency situation and finding each other again is almost as terrifying as the disaster itself.  The Thai people carry the wounded, clothe the naked, and rush strangers to overflowing hospitals in the backs of trucks.

 

The acting is phenomenal.  There are sequences that are a little drawn out and melodramatic, but the intensity of the film calls for that.  The brief moments of relief are a breather, but really I did not breathe properly or stop crying until the credits were over.

 

Is The Impossible the best made film?  No.  The acting is either excellent or acceptable.  The editing and therefore storytelling is good for the most part.  The melodrama gets a bit much and can be frustrating.  Despite all of that, it is a really good view into a disaster situation and how it affected this real family, whom the story is loosely based around.  I have been a huge fan of McGregor since he was in Star Wars and I was very happy when I found out he was in this film.

 

If you have the time and the emotional stamina, I would highly recommend this film.  Come prepared with tissues and a shoulder to cry on.

Gravity (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Gravity (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 10 awards, of which it won 7.
Nominated for Best Picture (Alfonso CuarónDavid Heyman), Best Actress (Sandra Bullock), and Best Production Design (Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woollard).
Won Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón), Best Film Editing (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger), Best Original Score (Steven Price), Best Sound Editing (Gienn Freemantle), Best Sound Mixing (Chris Munro, Christopher Benstead, Niv Adiri, Skip Lievsay), and Best Visual Effects (Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould, Tim Webber).
Watched April 7, 2014.

  

What was undoubtedly this year’s overall “winner” at awards night, Gravity is a huge accomplishment in all areas of filmmaking.  To get ten nominations is impressive enough, but to walk away at the end of the night with seven wins is a testament to the skills behind this piece.  If that isn’t enough, the movie even lives up to the hype.  From story and casting to visuals and sound, the film is a feast for your senses.

 

Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer on her first space mission.  While out on a routine space walk making repairs, their shuttle is hit by debris and Ryan finds herself detached from the shuttle and spinning helplessly into space.  Luckily, her colleague Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who is vastly more experienced, was attached to thruster jets when disaster hit and he is able to tether Ryan to himself and begin a horrifying orbit around the earth towards a space station.  Every breath is terrifying as Ryan’s space suite constantly reminds her how little oxygen she has left.  She has to learn to overcome her fears and must refuse anything but survival as a possibility.

 

We know very little about the characters, but the back story that is revealed about them gives all we need to know.  The story is not simple and predictable, although it has the possibility to be that.  While Clooney’s performance is simple and to the point, his character is exceedingly impressive and calm.  Bullock commands attention, adding to the crescendo of sound and visuals that make Gravity hard to look away from.  Her nomination was extremely well deserved.

 

The film does not make a grand statement.  It revolves around the ideas of “you never know who might be listening” and that space is not able to be conquered–that life in space is impossible.  Almost right away Ryan says, “I hate space,” which sets up her character for what she is about to experience.  You might laugh, you might cry, and you will definitely be sitting at the edge of your seat.  I can only imagine what the film was like in the theatre in 3D, but even on my HD 47inch it was to die for.

 

Director, writer, and editor Alfonso Cuarón paired with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki are unstoppable.  I cannot rave enough about the imagery and the lighting.  To be fair, there was no weak link.  All of the puzzle pieces fit.

 

Clearly I would highly recommend this film.  It is one of the best films out of Hollywood in a long time.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 5 awards, of which it won 1.
Nominated for Best Picture (Mark BoalKathryn Bigelow, Migan Ellison), Best Actress (Jessica Chastain), Best Original Screenplay (Mark Boal), and Best Film Editing (Dylan Tichenor, William Goldenberg).
Won Best Sound Editing (Paul N. J. Ottosson).
Watched February 20, 2014.

  

Honestly, Zero Dark Thirty is one of my favorite films from the 85th Academy Awards.  The acting, the story, the editing–everything together makes an intense roller coaster of awesomeness.  A lot of people are concerned about the political statements, or are distracted by the scenes depicting torture.  I of course feel the emotional impact of this film like many other Americans.  I feel it positively and for the most part am okay with the past of my country that the narrative portrays.  I like the essence of America that the film depicts (when it comes to the Intelligence behind war), but I can understand those who do not agree politically with what this film represents and how that might cause some to dislike the movie as a whole.  As most reviewers should be able to do, I will separate my personal and political opinions to dissect the film as objectively as possible.

 

Maya (Jessica Chastain) was recruited right out of high school to join the CIA.  After 9/11, she is sent to Pakistan.  Her number one job is to track Osama bin Laden.  It is all she has ever done.  The film opens on an interrogation sequence in which Maya is introduced to water boarding and other techniques that intelligence used on terrorists.  Dan (Jason Clarke) becomes a good friend and support of hers, but is unwavering in his interviews.  He shows no problem with sleep deprivation and other tactics, but has a little more emotional depth outside of the interrogation room.  He and Maya trust each other early on, but he eventually heads state side when their interrogation techniques begin to become a little taboo politically.  This leaves Maya to fend with Josephy Bradley (Kyle Chandler), the head of the CIA Pakistani office, on her own.

Maya is the job.  She spends long days and nights at her desk and we rarely see any sort of social life from her.  She seems to have one friend among her coworkers, Jessica (Jennifer Ehle), in which we see her go out for dinner one time throughout the whole film.  She works for over a decade, doing nothing but tracking bin Laden.  Her coworkers lose focus after London bus bombs and attacks on their home.  Protect the home land becomes the motto, but this statement produces one of the most emotionally charged scenes of the film in which Maya asserts herself to Joseph, insisting that he provide her with the resources that she needs to track the most dangerous wanted man in the world.

 

We know from history what the end result of Maya’s dedication is.  The last third of the film is all about the operation to get bin Laden, and it is eventually Maya who identifies the body.  Over a decade of work to track one man–now what?  I can imagine the surreal weightlessness of the situation, and the imagery of this sequence is spot on.  As she identifies the body, the camera is shot up at her, showing that this is a powerful moment for Maya, and as she leaves Pakistan, the weight of what she has accomplished seems to hit her.

  

There are no weak points, in my opinion, to this film.  The story telling is magnificent, the focus is great, the camera work is acceptable, and the sequence within bin Laden’s compound is so realstic it is impressive.  Despite all of these strengths, Chastain is above and beyond all of them.  Who would think that this is the same actress who played the ditzy blonde Celia Foote in The Help the year before?  She is outstanding.  Her character is emotionally distant and dedicated to the job, but Chastain puts humanity into her.  She has a steely resolve that makes the audience have more confidence in her than her on camera superiors.  She is driven and feisty–the ultimate leading lady with enough gumption for the entire cast.

 

The supporting cast is so sparingly used that when we come to the sequence in bin Laden’s compound and the cut aways to Maya are so few, one might think this would be too much of a change in the narrative.  I actually really liked it.  It is long and quiet and suspenseful.  All Maya is doing is sitting on pins and needles, waiting, which is exactly what we are doing as we watch the film.

 

They never show bin Laden’s face.  They show a trail of blood and some blurry images.  They might show a beard, or a nightgown here and there, but his image is never glorified for memory.  He was and is no more, and it is Maya who should be remembered for her accomplishments, not bin Laden for his terrorism.

 

This film is rated R and is intense.  It is as much a character driven film as it is a narrative driven film.  There is plenty of action, plenty of drama, and plenty of suspense.  I would highly recommend this film, as it is one of my favorites.