Best Supporting Actor

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 5 awards.
Nominated for Best Picture (Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland, Emma Tilinger Koskoff), Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill), Best Director (Martin Scorsese), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Terence Winter).
Watched January 29, 2014.

  

I normally don’t watch nominated films until after the Oscars, but once I saw The Wolf of Wall Street, I decided pretty quickly that I wasn’t down with watching the film a second time for my blog.  You may think that I am about to flame this movie, but really I thought it was strong, well done, and incredibly risqué.  Believe it or not, an X rated film has been nominated for an Oscar before, and although Wolf is rated R, it sure did not seem like just soft core to me.

 

Based on a true story and adapted from the novel, Wolf is about a stock broker in New York who makes it big.  Jordan Belfort (Leanardo DiCaprio) starts out well at a respectable brokerage with an innocent smile.  His wife rode the bus downtown with him to wish him luck on his first day.  But who should he find himself dining with for lunch?  Mark Hanna, (Matthew McConaughey) whose vulgar philosophy is communicated through what will become an iconic rhythmic drumming on one’s own chest with their fist.  Belfort learns what he needs to, but in a depression he finds himself out of work and in a penny stocks office, somehow making over seventy grand a month.

 

Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), in the second best performance of the film, becomes Belfort’s sudden wingman.  With a huge grin populated by shiny veneers, he embraces and encourages all the dishonest methods Belfort uses because it makes them rich.  They slowly climb their way to the top, teaching their people a carefully constructed sales script that is sure to win every time.  By 26, Belfort has earned 49 million dollars in a year.

 

Through money, they find drugs, strippers, and whores, and walk us through a description of the different levels of hookers.  Belfort’s first wife gets caught in the cross hairs and he finds himself divorced and then remarried to a blonde bombshell.  Although from the outside, Belfort has it all (the car, the house, the wife, the job), the feds are hot on his heels.

  

Like any Martin Scorsese film, nothing is held back.  They go all out.  Although the circumstances are vulgar, they are raw.  Although they may be immoral, they are also authentic.  Belfort, with all of his money and the ideal American lifestyle, is unhappy and unsatisfied.  The imagery is perfect.  Nothing is ever enough and they always have to go bigger.

 

The cinematography, colors, editing–everything comes together perfectly.  It is not pristine.  Although it is rich, there is a certain gaudiness along with it, as if the pride and bragging cannot hide what is missing.  Belfort cannot stop chasing and even in the death of a family member he can only think about the money.  It takes something huge to bring him back to reality.

 

I understand why The Wolf of Wall Street did not win any awards, particularly because of the films it was stacked up against.  However, I think that DiCaprio deserved the Oscar.  I have yet to see McConaughey’s performance is Dallas Buyer’s Club, and as such do not want to belittle it or say that he did not deserve or earn the Oscar, but even disregarding Leo’s body of work, he did a particularly spectacular job with Jordan Belfort.

 

I recommend this film lightly.  As much I don’t ever want to watch it again, there are more than a few scenes that positively inhabit my memory.  I loved the lunch between Belfort and Hanna.  I loved when Donnie quit his job to work for Jordan.  I loved when he spoke to inspire his sales floor.  The run time of this film is long because they pulled out all the stops.

 

Be aware, there is a lot of drugs, sex, nudity, and swearing.  If you can handle it, go for it, but you might need to shower off the filth after viewing it.

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Django Unchained (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Django Unchained (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 5 awards, of which it won 2.
Nominated for Best Picture (Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone), Best Sound Editing (Wylie Stateman), and Best Cinematography (Robert Richardson).
Won Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz) and Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino).
Watched February 12, 2014.

  

Back in the day (and by that I mean the distant four years ago of my university days), I was a huge Quentin Tarantino fan.  I was studying film, screenplays, editing, and acting.  Tarantino is an original, extremist, mainstream director who combines old-school techniques (especially typography) with new age music to create an irony that is amusing and jarring.  Tarantino loves reminding his audience that they are watching a movie.  While most directors and editors want everything seamless and invisible, specifically in editing, Tarantino does the exact opposite.  Even in his period films, he uses current societal trends to create humor because the audience recognizes that it is misplaced.

 

Django Unchained, while it is no Kill Bill, is no different.  The setting is a couple years before slaves become free, and Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave who was recently sold at auction.  He crosses paths with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter, who purchases him and promises him his freedom if he helps him find three very valuable wanted men.  Django’s main mission is to find his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and after obtaining his freedom he continues to work with Schultz in order to find her.  She was sold to one of the biggest plantations in the south, Candieland, where the crazed owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) is protected by family and slaves alike.

The film is no less brutal than Tarantino’s recent Inglorious Basterds and he pulls no punches.  In fact, the blood and gore is to such a ridiculous point that it is morbidly humorous.  Candieland is horrible and Candie himself is both puppet and puppeteer.  His right hand man is Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) who hates the fact that Django rides a horse as much as any white man would.  Eventually guns are pulled and shots fired and the death toll becomes so impressive you would think it a battlefield.

 

The story is extreme and the circumstances follow suit.  Broomhilda is probably the weakest character, and yet her terrified silence is the most realistic of the entire film.  Each character is distinctly different and loud in its traits.  Django has a steel and a smoldering anger that only Broomhilda can solve.  Schultz is a chatty German who hates the KKK and doesn’t mind shooting a felon in front of his kid son.  Each performance is a knockout, but it is certainly no surprise that Christoph waltzed (get it?) away with the Oscar.

 

This is one of the few films that DiCaprio has starred in where he is not the main character.  His character is distinctly darker and more sinister than he usually plays.  He participates in an underground fighting ring involving slaves fighting to the death.  In order to get in his good graces, Django and Schultz put on an elaborate charade to convince Candie they want to buy one of his fighters, when in fact they only want to purchase Broomhilda.

Django Unchained is no picnic.  While it is staged during the years of slavery, it was not created to make a statement about the practice.  It is as much a character study as it is a comedy and a gruesome action film.  Each plantation in the film is distinctly different from other films about slavery.  On one planation, dozens of women stand about the house and their curious questions are bemusedly answered by their owner, while one poor girl is being whipped for dropping eggs.  At Candieland you are placed naked in a steel “hot box” if you try to run away.  Tarantino’s style gives the plantations a sheen that most films avoid.  Slavery is certainly not presented as something positive, but its storyline is different in Django Unchained.

 

I could probably write a fourteen page essay on any Tarantino film, so I will summarize the rest of my opinions.  All of its nominations are deserved.  I am a little shocked that he won Best Original Screenplay, but not upset.  The cinematography is a feast for the eyes, the costumes are either humorous or indistinct.  The side plots and characters lend to the story well and although the run-time is a bit much (and the gruesome firefight is probably where the story gets unnecessarily lost and meandering), all in all it is a great film.

 

Please be aware that this film is 100% rated R and make your decisions accordingly, but what kind of Tarantino fan would I be if I did not recommend this nominated film?  I suggest that you see it not because it is a historical film about slavery (because it is not), but because its characters, editing, story, and humor are all something unique out of Hollywood.

 

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 8 awards, of which it won 1.
Nominated for Best Picture (Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen, Jonathan Gordon), Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver), Best Adapted Screenplay (David O. Russell), and Best Film Editing (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers).
Won Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence).
Watched January 24, 2014.

  

Silver Linings Playbook is your average rom-com story, but with creative and unique characters that take the film up a notch.  It is no wonder that it received so much recognition from the Academy, and if it weren’t for some stiff competition, Cooper might have been accepting an award right alongside Lawrence.

 

Pat (Bradley Cooper) has spent the last eight months in a mental hospital.  He found his wife in the shower with another man and almost beat him to death.  He found out in the hospital that he is bi-polar and has been struggling with it his whole life.  Against his doctor’s wishes, Pat’s mom Dolores (Jackie Weaver) gets him out on court approval and he moves back in with his parents with one goal in mind–get healthy and get Nikki.  His wife Nikki (Brea Bree) has placed a restraining order on him, but Pat will do anything to get her to see that he is better and that he is good enough for her.

 

While having dinner at his friend’s house, he re-encounters Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a recent widow who is just as messed up as he is.  After only an hour or so she makes him walk her home and then offers him sex, but Pat insists that he’s married.  They begin an unlikely friendship in which their problems sometimes complement each other and other times result in public embarrassments and encounters with the cops.

  

Tiffany’s sister is Veronica (Julia Stiles) who is friends with Nikki.  Pat wants Tiffany to get a letter to Nikki explaining how much he has improved, but Tiffany decides that she will only do it for something in return, which is how Pat gets roped into doing a dance competition with Tiffany.  Pat’s dad, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) hates Tiffany because he thinks she’s messing up the Eagle’s juju.

 

Pat’s relationship with his family is complicated, and it is obvious that his dad probably struggles with the same emotional problems that he does.  His mom fights for both of them, hoping that love will cure them both although she always seems anxious about her men.  Pat senior makes a living from betting on the Eagles games and Pat Jr. is his good luck charm.

 

While the end of the story is pretty typical and the rest of the time Pat is pretty good at playing the hero, the remainder of the film does a really good job of showing an honest and raw view of Pat, his family, and what they are going through.  Tiffany seems like she’s had an extra helping of crazy but Pat slowly brings her down to earth.  Both Cooper and Lawrence fully inhabit their roles and bring a reality to them that is exquisite, especially from Cooper whose previous appearances in films such as The Hangover didn’t show the abilities that he possesses.

 

Despite the fact that Lawrence is pretty hot right now and I am a fan of hers, I think she deserved the Oscar that she won.  She became Tiffany, leaving behind the teen Katniss from The Hunger Games and embracing more of the Ree from Winter’s Bone (that earned her a nomination in 2011), she went all out.  Cooper also did the role justice.  My favorite scene was when he could not find his wedding video and a terrific family fight ensued in which the cops were called and a teenage neighbor showed up with a video camera.  I could feel Cooper’s frustration and his loss of control while his family tried to help instead of escalate the situation.

 

The film is kept pretty muted as far as colors go and the comedy is all appropriate and well timed.  David O. Russell obviously did an amazing job directing this film and while I didn’t find the editing particularly unique, it got the job done (aka it was invisible, as it should be).  The visuals and behind the scenes are all top notch, but the thing that makes the film for me is the characters and the actors who inhabit them.

 

If you can handle a good amount of swear words and a little bit of crazy, I would definitely recommend Silver Linings Playbook to you.  While it might be a romantic comedy, your guy will enjoy it as much as your girl (Cooper and De Niro don’t hurt, and the football talk is good as well).  If you don’t have this film on your Netflix list yet I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

The Master (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

The Master (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
1/5 Stars
Nominated for 3 awards.
Nominated for Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams).
Watched April 25, 2013.

Everywhere I look, the world of reviewers is raving about The Master.  Hardly anyone has anything negative to say.  To be quite honest, there have only been two films I have watched so far that have driven my writing on this blog to a complete standstill, and this is one of them.  It was all I could do to sit through the first half hour of this film, let alone the remaining 100 plus minutes.

 

While the acting was all well and good and those embodying their characters gave intense commitment to their character arc, the story itself was lackluster and slow moving.  The emotional depth was so one note that it was hard to keep my eyes open.  When the story attempted to get deep and perplexing, there was so little explanation and so much left to the audience to discover and decide that I lost interest immediately.  I am a big fan of films that make you think, but this film made me so uncomfortable that I had to walk away from it several times.

 

In the most simple of terms, the film is about a cult.  A man named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) returns home from World War II a broken man.  He spends his nights making and pushing his moonshine (generally made out of soap and paint thinner, among other things), and his days searching for his next job, because he can’t seem to hold down anything.  His world changes drastically when he happens upon a storybook ship adorned with lights and laughter.  He hops aboard and finds himself the new pet of The Master, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

 

Author and thinker, Dodd leads around a gaggle of ex-wives and family as he teaches about past lives and healing faults and hurts of the past.  He argues that the earth is trillions of years old and that by healing our past wounds we can become a more perfect species.

 

Despite how interesting and soul searching this might sound, that’s really all there is to this film.  There are some awkward experiences and a few fists are thrown here and there, but the film really stays at a standstill and by the end there is very little growth seen in any of the characters.  Freddie maybe has the most change, but the rest are determinedly still.

 

While there are some winning scenes of impeccable performances, the scenes together do not combine into anything moving or resolved.  I would not recommend this film, and will likely avoid it from now on at all costs.

Argo (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Argo (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 7 awards, of which it won 3.
Nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin), Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), Best Sound Editing (Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn), and Best Sound Mixing (John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, Jose Antonio Garcia).
Won Best Adapted Screenplay (Chris Terrio), Best Film Editing (William Goldenberg), and Best Picture (Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney).
Watched March 22, 2013.

When it comes to Best Picture of the year, Ben Affleck’s Argo was not my pick, but the buzz around it going into awards season this year meant that it was probably the strongest contender for the title.  It is an entertaining, engaging, and very well made film based on real life events in 1979 and 1980.  In fact, the film is made so well that it feels like it was actually made in the era it documents.

 

In the first five minutes of the film, Affleck treats us to a crash course in the recent Iranian political climate and bases many of his footage off of actual photographs from the event.  There are some nasty feelings toward the United States because they have given asylum to a political leader the people want to hang.  As a result, the Iranians take over the American embassy and take everyone inside hostage.  Everyone but the six citizens who escape out the back door and find refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s home.

 

Tony Mendez (Affleck) is a hot shot CIA exfiltration specialist, and after months of the hostage situation, he is finally brought on board to get the six escapees home.  In perhaps my favourite part of the film, he gets the bright idea of flying in alone, claiming to be a part of a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi thriller, and will fly out with his crew.  He even goes so far as to fly to Hollywood and bring two greats onto his side to help prove this film is real–Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) is a long time producer with shelves of awards and John Chambers (John Goodman), a special effects and prosthetics artist.  They find the script (Argo), stage a reading, create storyboards and posters, and even make it into the press.

Although a lot of people I have heard claim the beginning of the film is slow, if you stick with it, the last forty minutes or so are a fast paced roller coaster.  Without knowing much about each individual character, we almost immediately feel a connection with them.  It is easy to pull for both Mendez and the rest of the Americans.  They are stressed to the breaking point and trust isn’t easy to come by, but it is time to go.  Even though running and hiding hasn’t been the easiest thing, escaping in broad day light through a busy airport is the scariest thing most of them have ever experienced, and for good reason.

 

The film is based off of real life events that were declassified by President Clinton several years ago.   It is fascinating that a hero such as Mendez could exist and receive the highest award the CIA has to offer, and no one knew about it until many years later.  Affleck embodies the character very well.  He has confidence in the “best bad idea” that they have, and he works the entire movie to instill that confidence in everyone else.  Arkin and Goodman were exquisite comic reliefs and one of my favourite aspects of the film.  At times, the Hollywood action tends to pull the focus too far out of Iran, but perhaps the crazy almost non-reality of their world helps the audience believe the crazy reality of the exfiltration and the story that they are trying to pull off.

 

The story is wonderful, although it doesn’t try to be any deeper than it is.  There is little attempt to delve into the psyche of the characters, but instead we are given little clues that tell us just enough to understand what we need to, and then we move on.  It is as if the whole film is just a blink of what actually happened and we are privileged enough to get that glimpse.

 

The style of the film is almost as admirable as Mendez himself (okay that’s a stretch, but seriously… it’s good).  Affleck chose to shoot on film instead of HD, like most of today’s talent.  Every nomination and win was deserved.  The exquisite detail, the 70s hair, and the nail biting sound all wove together into a wonderful historic narrative that will hopefully live on well beyond 2013.

 

I would highly recommend this film.  It isn’t a family movie and if you have kids you might want to exercise some caution.  However, they might also fall asleep before the movie is too far in–once you get past the initial takeover of the embassy, of course.  It is a film I would love to own and one that I could easily watch a couple times a year.  If you haven’t had the chance to see Affleck’s best directorial work, now would be a fantastic time!