Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay

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.

Ides of March (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Ides of March (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (Beau WillimonGeorge ClooneyGrant Heslov).
Watched April 20, 2013.

 

“But is it better to win and deliver on half your pledges or retain your purity and achieve nothing?” (The Guardian)

 

I was working in a movie theatre when Ides of March came out and I had a vague interest in seeing it.  It probably had something to do with Ryan Gosling being in the film, but it was 2011, a year before elections, and I was sick of politics already.  It is probably best that I avoided it, but now that I have some political clarity, I actually quite enjoyed the film and for what people my age tend to call “an old person film,” I really appreciated the 102 minute runtime.

 

Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) is gunning for the presidency and is deep in the trenches of political warfare–the democratic primary campaign.  He claims no religion and always smoothly moves the questions in the direction of the constitution.  His campaign manager is Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a man who has equally made his life about politics as well as loyalty among the ranks.  The Ides of March has its main eye on another character–the right hand man to Zara is the young, dashing idealist Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) who still retains his innocence toward politicians and the campaigning process.  He claims the only reason he works for Morris is because he believes that he is the only solution to the country’s problems.  It is as if he has Morris on a pedestal and the man can do no wrong.

 

Things take a turn pretty quickly.  The competition’s campaign manager, a Mr. Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), sees something brilliant in Stephen and asks him to meet him at a bar.  It is here that he offers the young visionary a job and claims that he has caused another politician to jump ship with a promise of Secretary of State.  Stephen is confused and reeling, not sure whether or not he should tell Zara about his meeting and not sure why Duffy would come to him with these stories.

 

Stephen learns pretty quickly about the value of loyalty, but he also learns that no one is perfect.  If you want to survive in this career path, you have to make the tough decisions and sometimes you might even have to compromise your beliefs for a man you once thought a saint.  His innocence is shattered and he has to choose whether or not to let others trample all over him or to use the many weapons in his arsenal to get what he wants.

 

Ides of March is a slow, dialogue driven, political thriller directed by George Clooney that uses its short run-time very effectively.  Gosling’s character reminded me a lot of his character in Drive, although this time he is much more talkative.  All of the actors did a good job–they were all believable in their roles and the people who you might love in the beginning prove to fool the audience just like they are fooling the American public.  Politics can be a dirty game, and this film only shows a part of that.

 

There is very little bias toward democrats or republicans, although there are shorts snippets of Morris discussing his liberal ideals.  It isn’t a film to convince you to become democrat, but more of an insight into a world that we all know is full of liars and manipulation.  They all want to get to the top, even the interns.

 

If this sounds like your kind of movie, I would definitely recommend it.  It’s not something I would watch all the time, but it is well made and the scripting, of course, is very well done.

 

Life of Pi (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Life of Pi (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 11 awards, of which it won 4.
Nominated for Best Picture (Ang Lee, David Womark, Gil Netter), Best Adapted Screenplay (David Magee), Best Music, Song “Pi’s Lullaby” (Bombay Jayashri, Mychael Danna), Best Sound Editing (Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton), Best Sound Mixing (D. M. Hemphill, Drew Kunin, Ron Bartlett), Best Production Design (Anna Pinnock, David Gropman), and Best Film Editing (Tim Squyres).
Won Best Director (Ang Lee), Best Original Score (Mychael Danna), Best Cinematography (Claudio Miranda), and Best Visual Effects (Bill Westenhofer, Donald R. Elliott, Erik-Jan De Boer, Guillaume Rocheron).
Watched April 12, 2013.

 

Life of Pi is based off the award winning book by Yann Martel.  I have loved the book for years and was ecstatic when I heard about the film, but when the movie actually came out, other lovers of the book told me that they were really disappointed in it, so I decided not to see it in theaters.  Low and behold, I should NOT have listened to them!  Opinions about the film vary, which is understandable, from both those who have read the book and those who have not.  From my perspective, not only does the film follow the book incredibly well, but its execution stands up to Martel’s vision and I would love to watch it as often as I read the book… which is very often.

 

Life of Pi can be broken into three parts.  Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) is living in Toronto when an author (Rafe Spall) comes to him in search of a story–a story that is said to make you believe in God.  With a knowing smile, Pi begins at the beginning.  He was raised in Pondicherry as a zookeeper’s son.   The beginning is very family friendly–with silly humor including an overly buff and disproportionate swim instructor and Pi’s exploration of many religions.  The beginning almost feels disconnected with the rest of the film, but it is also necessary in order to set up the rest of the story.

 

Encountering some difficulties, Pi’s family decides to move to Canada where they will sell the animals and begin a new life.  Their Japanese ship never sees shore again because during a terrific storm, it sinks to the deepest part of the sea and Pi finds himself alone in the ocean, apart from the giant tiger Richard Parker.  This is when the story picks up and things get good.  Pi must find the strength to fight for his life, as it is being attacked from all angles.  His faith is challenged, and because he spends over 270 days at sea, he is left with nothing but faith by the end.

 

Because Pi is telling his story to the author, we know the outcome, and for those who have not read the book, this is perhaps a let down.  However, the book reads the same way and therefore Ang Lee, who directed, took no liberties in that regard.  Although there are a few weak links in the production, as a whole, the entire cast performs very well, and one could argue that the three who carried the film were Ang Lee, Claudio Miranda (the cinematographer), and Suraj Sharma, who plays Pi for the majority of the film.

 

Ang Lee has directed many award winning films in his time.  His wins with Life of Pi are well deserved.  Miranda’s work is exquisite, and combined with the visual effects, the screen becomes candy to the eyes.  When the heavens reflect so perfectly in the waters that it seems Pi and his raft are floating in midair, I wasn’t sure where to look because I wanted to look at everything at once.  Richard Parker, the tiger, is 100% animated and there is very little within the film that indicates this.  Sharma does a magnificent job acting and reacting to his tiger-less circumstances and I am pretty shocked the Academy gave him no recognition.

 

There is love, humor, sadness, and fear.  The end delivers the best moment of the film by Sharma and although many reviewers dislike the conclusion, feeling as if it is a bit tacked on, I found it wrapped everything up nicely.  It is a film that causes one to think rather than just something that entertains.  Although I’m not sure if Pi’s story would cause one to believe in God, I really enjoyed it.

 

I would definitely recommend this film.  Hands down, no arguments against it.  It can be slow at times and the three parts of the film can feel a bit disjointed, but as a whole it is a beautiful film and one that I would love to own.

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!

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 4 awards.
Nominated for Best Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis), Best Directing (Benh Zeitlin), Best Picture (Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, Michael Gottwald), and Best Writing-Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin).
Watched March 30, 2013.

My thoughts about Beasts of the Southern Wild, whether profound or otherwise, are few and far between.  The reviews I have read about the film seem to be on either one side of the fence or the other–complete love or near hate.  I am a rarity and find myself on the fence–neither a devoted follower or a hater.  It’s a coming of age story… but with a six year old.

 

This is Benh Zeitlin’s breakout film as a director, and as such, he came out with a bang.  Being nominated for four Oscars while taking the risks that he did in the film are gutsy, and I doubt this will be the last we hear from him in Hollywood royalty.

 

The film is about a community that lives outside the levy in New Orleans around the time of hurricane Katrina, although this fact is not stated in the film.  The main character, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives in this place called the Bathtub with her father.  They live in two separate trailers that are perched on stilts.  Her father is not always present, and sometimes Hushpuppy has to fend for herself.  Although it is obvious that her father Wink (Dwight Henry) isn’t the best dad in the world, he is desperate to teach his daughter how to take care of herself because he knows he won’t be around forever.

 

When the hurricane comes, many in their community leave for the protection of the levy, but those who stay see their home torn apart and spend the next while riding boats on what were once streets.  The animals and sea life slowly die and the group has to decide what to do, because doing anything might make the levy people force them to evacuate.

 

Hushpuppy occasionally narrates the film with thoughts so profound and poetic, even though it might be in broken english, that it is hard to believe a six year old could phrase anything that way.  And yet, it is believable because we know Hushpuppy, and we know what a stubborn, quiet, intuitive little girl she is.  We also understand the love she has for her home, as well as the imagination that plays out for us on the screen.

 

Zeitlin used all non-actors for his cast.  The actor who plays Hushpuppy’s dad Wink (Henry) is a baker and has stated no interest in pursuing an acting career.  Many times when non-actors are used, it tears the film apart and very little of the other positive qualities matter.  However, I think the fact that Wallis was nominated for Best Actress, being the youngest ever nominated at nine years old, speaks volumes about the performances in Beasts.

 

Despite the wonderful acting and the art direction, I found the story hard to connect with.  Even though there are traumatic things happening on screen, I felt little to no connection with the characters and felt very little whenever bad (or good) things happened to them.  The cinematography, at times good, others not, was shot on film instead of HD.  I generally like this quite a lot, but the film utilized the currently very popular style of hand held shots, which is something I can only stand in minimal amounts.  I understand the choice, in part, but think it would have been much more powerful if it was used more sparingly.

 

I’m not sure whether or not I would recommend this film.  If you are a fan of such brain benders as The Tree of Life by by Terrence Malick, you might enjoy Beast of the Southern Wild, although Zeitlin has a ways to go before he reaches Malick’s genius.  This isn’t a movie to watch casually, but if you are looking for something serious with childhood adventures (in a non-children friendly movie), it might be a good option.