Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay

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.

 

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.

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.