Best Supporting 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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The Sessions (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

The Sessions (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Helen Hunt).
Watched May 6, 2014.

“A man in an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity contacts a professional sex surrogate with the help of his therapist and priest” (IMDB).

Well if that concise synopsis isn’t enough to at least pique your interest, I don’t know what is!  This idea and plot line could have gotten very heavy very quickly, but instead the writers and director did an excellent job of keeping the story on point and moving.  I wasn’t expecting to like the subject matter… at all.  Instead I found it kind of beautiful, in a weird sort of way.

Mark (John Hawkes) is a writer and a devout catholic.  More than that, he was crippled in childhood from polio and has had to spend a significant amount of his life in an iron lung.  He has feeling all over his body but cannot control his muscles.  He can only move his neck a little bit.  He lives alone but has multiple caretakers, and while living to be 38 is something of an accomplishment, he feels very unfulfilled because he has never had sex.  He finds an unlikely and very accepting confidant in a priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), who is torn between his convictions and the reasonable arguments that Mark puts forward.

After seeing a therapist, Mark is referred to a sex “surrogate” named Cheryl (Helen Hunt).  Their sessions are a big focus of the film, and while it is certainly rated R and Hunt is nude for most of those sessions, her very straight forward and yet learned dialogue sort of distracts the audience.  She will only see Mark for six sessions, no more, and as they begin she is surprisingly clinical.  The brilliance of this film is its specificity.  Cheryl and Mark are both very vocal about everything that is happening.  Father Brendan is a somewhat comedic relief that represents the part of the audience that is thinking, “this is bizarre and yet I get it.”  Mark’s aids are extremely supportive and defensive of him, and as the story moves along, we begin to see the positive effect that he has had on the women in his life because they have learned to love unconditionally a man who, by all means has every excuse to roll over and hate his life, but instead he fights back for what he finds most important, and that is the love of a woman.

The story is definitely unique, and while I would not necessarily watch it all of the time, I found the experience strangely rewarding.  It isn’t about the nudity–it is about Mark and his approach to life.  The performances of both Hawkes and Hunt are magnificent and demanding.  They treat their characters seriously and with respect–so much so that they embody them fully.  I didn’t expect to find the story touching, but I really did.  While its cinematography, editing, production design, and other aspects were all right and somewhat average, I like that The Academy recognized the film (and Hunt) in this small way.

Hawkes’ role was incredibly demanding.  Physically, but especially emotionally, he rules the film with his performance.  He has a self deprecating humor that shadows his deeper and more conflicting emotions that Hunt’s character Cheryl pulls out of him (through dialogue, mostly).  He is very bare in his emotions, while Hunt is bare physically and much less emotionally.  She has an extremely professional manner, but we get to see a little of her vulnerability in her home life where she has a family.

I don’t recommend the film to everyone.  I think one needs to approach it with an open mind, although even with a closed mind one might still enjoy 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.

 

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.

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.