Best Supporting Actor

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.

12 Years a Slave (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

12 Years a Slave (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 9 awards, of which it won 3.
Nominated for Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Costume Design (Patricia Norris), Best Director (Steve McQueen), Best Film Editing (Joe Walker), and Best Production Design (Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker).
Won Best Picture (Brad Pitt, Anthony Katagas, Dede Gardener, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o), and Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley).
Watched April 23, 2014.

12 Years a Slave is based off of the memoirs and book of Solomon Northup, a free black man who lived in the north in the 1800s and was kidnapped and sold into slavery.  This is no Quentin Tarantino’s Django.  This is raw, and somehow artistically balanced to give a small taste of what Solomon went through during 12 years in slavery in southern plantations.

 

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) fights for his freedom from the beginning, but the crippling terror and the ruthless inhumanity of the slavers beat him down into survival mode.  His fight becomes smaller and his caution greater.  His first owner is kind, as plantation owners go, but a run in with a power corrupt plantation hand lands him with the only owner who will take him.  Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) is matched in evilness only by his wife.  He has a lust for the slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), which has her physically and verbally abused repeatedly by the married couple.  Shortly after Solomon comes to the plantation, Patsey begs him to kill her.  After this they form a painful relationship that is more out of mutual understanding than of affection.  Solomon is a good man.

 

His ability to read and write must be hidden, but his intelligence and education helps get him out of many tight spots.  He still endures punishments we can barely fathom.  He spends a full day hanging from a noose with only his toes touching the ground.  He dares to hope and trust in few men, because those he takes a chance on are looking out for themselves and no one else.

 

((SPOILERS)) The one let down for me in casting was actually Brad Pitt who plays Bass, a Canadian who comes to work on the plantain to make some money.  He doesn’t agree with slavery, but Solomon calls him out to act on his beliefs.  For me, Pitt is so well known and so trustworthy that his appearance was a sure sign that Solomon’s salvation would come through him.  I wish they had chosen a lesser known actor to maintain suspense and realism.  ((End spoilers))

 

The film itself is artistic in nature.  Although most of the story line is linear, the director chooses a few painfully long sequences in order to communicate Solomon’s emotions.  He symbolically expresses an event or emotion when typical hollywood editing and story telling don’t seem to do an adequate job.  Solomon’s experience with the noose is long and drawn out.  Almost long enough for the viewer to go to the bathroom in the middle and not miss anything.  I cannot decide if I think this is a strong choice or a weak choice.  The style reminded me a lot of Beasts of the Southern Wild.  I almost wished for a little more story and less pause, but I can understand the choices of the director.

 

There are very few times that I can appreciate nudity in a film, but this is one of them.  The slaves are stripped of identity, dignity, respect, and humanity.  They bathe in the open, men and women together, watched by slavers.  They stand nude as plantation owners shop and decide who to purchase.  They are stripped naked and lashed to poles where they are whipped for things like wanting soap.  Although this symbolism is more obvious than others in the film, it showed a very raw side of the slavery culture.  Fed by their own justifications, the plantation owners were sick with the twisted logic of the south that believed that slaves were property and nothing more.

 

If you can take it, you should watch 12 Years a Slave.  In fact, even if you don’t think you can take it, you should watch it.  It has its flaws as a film, but its underlying message and its strong elements in acting and artistry are what won it the Oscar for best film this year.

 

Captain Phillips (2013) Reivew | Jamie Daily

Captain Phillips (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 6 awards.
Nominated for Best Picture (Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca), Best Supporting Actor (Barkhad Abdi), Best Film Editing (Christopher Rouse), Best Sound Editing (Oliver Tarney), Best Sound Mixing (Chris Burdon, Chris Munro, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Billy Ray).
Watched March 20, 2014.

There is some kind of magic between director and actor that sometimes happens.  When it does, the pair becomes inseparable, and the movie becomes something that is hard to forget.  Captain Phillips is one of those films, and the combination of director Paul Greengrass and actor Tom Hanks is a match made in heaven.

 

Tom Hanks is your typical go to guy to play a relatable hero who the audience feels safe with.  From Apollo 13 to Castaway, he has had some amazing roles and some amazing performances.  His role as Captain Richard Phillips is somewhat different, but that is certainly not a bad thing.

 

The screenplay is based off of a true story.  Captain Richard Phillips is a merchant captain whose assignments often take him far away from home.  He is a quiet man who takes to leadership well, following regulations and gently but sternly insisting that his crew does the same.  He is captaining a large container ship, the Maersk Alabama.  There is no fraternizing with the crew.  He is there to work, and once he receives an email about increased pirate activity off the coast of Somalia, he runs safety drills to the chagrin of everyone on board.

 

The Maersk Alabama became the first cargo ship in two hundred years to be hijacked by pirates.  Phillips is calm and collected, showing heroics in his leadership skills and his cool head, despite the fact that he is just an ordinary man.  He becomes a tour guide of sorts to the Somali pirates, and in trying to get the pirates off the ship and to keep his crew safe, he is kidnapped and finds himself on a lifeboat with four Somalis with guns and short tempers.  The Somali captain, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) is young and often finds himself being influenced by Phillips’ logic (and obvious leadership), but the muscle of the crew, Najee (Faysall Ahmed) is much more free with the trigger finger and much less likely to listen to anyone but his own addrenalin.

  

The performances in this film are all top notch, but Tom Hanks towers above them.  His last scene will stay with me for a long time.  I would definitely consider his lack of a nomination an upset, and Abdi’s nomination a surprise.  For someone with no acting experience he had a stellar performance, but with no disrespect meant, I don’t necessarily think he deserved a nomination.  Despite these opinions, there were no weak links in the film.  It is a tense roller coaster from the beginning.  There is very little time spent on back stories, but the audience gets to know enough about these men as the film progresses to understand their simplest traits.  Phillips is a family man who is good at his job.  Muse is in a deadly, competitive environment where the emphasis is on money and not on family.

 

The editing on this film was seamless.  The pace has its peaks and valleys, but once they are in the lifeboat it just continues to quicken.  Despite minimal gunfire, the terror is rampant, and when Phillips puts his own safety at risk just to write a note to his family, the crescendo seems never ending.  If I can rave about anything in this film it would be the pace.  It never lets up.  The story never stops.  The director never lost control of his film and juiced everything he could out of every minute of screen time.

 

What an incredible nomination that received no awards.

 

I’m basically gushing about this film.  If you haven’t seen it already, you need to.

Lincoln (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Lincoln (2012)
85th Academy Awards
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 12 awards, of which it won 2.
Nominated for Best Picture (Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy), Best Director (Steven Spielberg), Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones), Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field), Best Adapted Screenplay (Tony Kushner), Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Sound Mixing (Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ronald Judkins), Best Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski), Best Costume Design (Joanna Johnston), and Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn).
Won Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Best Production Design (Rick Carter, Jim Erickosn).
Watched February 27, 2014.

I have heard a lot of good things about Lincoln, and perhaps these things, along with Daniel Day-Lewis’ win at the Oscars made me expect too much.  As much as I tend to enjoy the pristine nature of a good Spielberg film, the stage like dialogue, production design, and cinematography left something to be desired.

 

President Abraham Lincoln is perhaps one of the most well remembered Presidents.  This film focuses on a small period of time around his reelection, just months before his assassination.  He is gunning for the 13th Amendment, which would abolish slavery, much to the chagrin of his cabinet.  Even some within the Republican party were hesitant.  Everyone wanted peace from the Civil War.  They wanted their sons to stop dying in battle and for the South to come back to the nation.  The Democrats were vehemently opposed to the Amendment.

 

We all know what happens in the end, which takes away some of the mystery and suspense, although the filmmakers tried their best to keep the audience on the edges of their seats.  The representatives vote and threaten each other.  Lincoln is slow and yet eloquent.  He speaks strongly when needed but prefers a calm state and story telling.  In tense situations he commands the attention of a room by telling a story that might relate to the situation at hand.

 

The acting, particularly from Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field, is top notch.  They deliver difficult lines and portray a wounded spirit very well.  My favorite scene involving Mary Todd Lincoln (Field) is when she defends her remodel of the white house to some extremists, showing a bit of the gumption that Lincoln must have fallen in love with in the beginning.  The loss of one of her sons has all but done her in, but in this moment there is fire in her eyes, much like in the President’s when he expresses how disgusting slavery is.

 

He and his political party dance the line between peace and the freedom of slaves.  They believe that if they declare peace with the south before the Amendment is brought to a vote, there will be no sense of urgency and it will not be passed.  They employ questionable and typical techniques to “buy” votes and stall envoys.

 

Some of the story is much too slow, or maybe unnecessary.  I understand why they included the story line of Robert Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the son who wants to go to war, but it is so underused that it is more of a distraction from the main story than anything else.  It shows the fear of his parents and unearths more of their grief.  The emotions in these scenes are palpable, but the execution of the filmmaking is very staged.  There is a constant tug of war between filmmaker and actor in this film that I found very distracting.

 

Despite some negative attributes, the film is well done and deserving of its nominations as well as wins.  I would definitely watch it again, although I might not own it.  If you are a history buff you will probably really enjoy it.  I can recommend Lincoln as a good film, but you should expect it to be somewhat slow, dark, and quiet.

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 6 awards, of which it won 3.
Nominated for Best Picture (Robbie Brenner, Rachel Winter), Best Film Editing (John Mac McMurphy, Martin Pensa), and Best Original Screenplay (Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack).
Won Best Actor (Matthew McConaughey), Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto), and Best Makeup (Adruitha Lee, Robin Matthews).
Watched March 14, 2014.

I have heard a lot of rave reviews of Dallas Buyers Club, many stating that it is a story that needs to be told, but mostly that the acting is out of this world.  I was very young during the time period of this film (beginning around 1985 and going into the nineties) and don’t remember anything about the AIDS crisis.  I have little to no personal experience with it and therefore it hits me in a less personal way.  I am very glad that I watched the documentary How to Survive a Plague before I watched Dallas Buyers Club because this film is more about the characters and a small populace of affected people whereas the documentary had a lot of facts and really represented the numbers and scope of the epidemic well.

 

Dallas Buyers Club is a character driven film with very few side plots.  There are a lot of small rolls and a few big ones, but McConaughey and Leto are, in my opinion and beyond contention, well deserved of their wins at this years’ Oscars.  I was on the fence about McConaughey at first but he slowly won me over.

 

His character, Ron Woodroof, is a genuine cowboy in Texas.  An electrician by day and a rodeo cowboy by night, he spends the rest of his time drinking, doing drugs, and sleeping with hookers.  He is from the beginning shown as a homophobic southern man who perceives himself as quite the ladies man, but when he lands in the hospital from electrocution he is told that he has HIV and has thirty days to get his affairs in order.

 

After a disastrous experiment with AZT, the only drug for HIV and AIDS that was undergoing trials at the time, Woodroof runs down to a doctor in Mexico who tells him and his now full-blown AIDS infected self to switch to vitamins and non-toxic medicines.  He loses his job and is ostracized by his friends, so as a way to make ends meet he starts selling alternative medicine.  In walks Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender with AIDS who ultimately opens the homosexual market to Ron.

While fighting the FDA and selling medicine, Ron fights for his life, with a little bit of innocent romance on the side.  He becomes taken with the only doctor who seems to care about the patients and about AZT’s toxicity–Eve (Jennifer Garner).

In a lot of ways I can understand why this story needs to be told, but more than anything I marvel at the performances of McConaughey and Leto.  Both men lost an exorbitant amount of weight to portray the roles well, which in turn affects their performances.  The moment when Ron realizes the weight of his condition is truly poetic, which is actually a flaw throughout the whole film.  It is more poetic and artistic than raw, which makes the story lose some of its impact.  It is complicated to explain, but its editing and general flow of story, as well as its use of flashbacks give some of the plot an ethereal quality that pulled me out of the film.

 

Leto seems to have a moment every time he is on screen.  It is not just the type of character he is portraying, but the way in which he does it.  His makeup and costuming certainly lend to the character but Leto inhabits and commands it.  From a playful, unabashed personality, to addiction and pure despair, Rayon was generally a very strong character with a smaller role than I expected.  He is leaps and bounds above his competition from this years’ nominees and I would watch the film again just to see his performance.

 

The Dallas Buyers Club is rated R and has a heavy topic with some explicit scenes.  Enter into it knowledgeably.  If you don’t know anything about the AIDS epidemic you might want to do a little reading before you watch the film because it doesn’t represent the magnitude of the situation that well.  Otherwise, of just Leto’s performance alone I would recommend the film.