academy awards nominees

Curfew (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Curfew (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Live Action Short Subject (Shawn Christensen).
Watched July 22, 2014.

I adored this short film.  In my opinion, it is everything that a short film should be.  There is symbolism, experimental and artistic cinematography, strong story telling, solid acting, and a cohesive whole that definitely deserved to win the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Subject in 2013.

This film does not need to be longer.  It is complete in and of itself.  Sometimes full length features are left too open to sequels, as is all the rage in Hollywood.  Once you find a formula that sells, you just keep selling it.  Curfew stays out of that trap and is phenomenal on its own.  Just the opening shots scream “this is a winner.”

Richie (Shawn Christensen) is in his bathtub, clearly in the middle of committing suicide by razor blade, when his phone rings.  It is Maggie (Kim Allen), and apparently Richie is the last person she would ever call but she needs his help.  Richie gives in, cleans himself up a little, and heads out to meet his niece whom he hasn’t seen in years.  Sophia (Fatima Ptacek) is a force to be reckoned with, just like her mother.  Strong, and independent, she knows how to stick up for herself, which may be because she grew up in New York, or maybe it’s because of her mother’s example.  She thinks very little of her Uncle Richie who supposedly messed up really badly when she was little and has been cut out of their lives since.

He is a mess.  He has huge circles under his eyes, his wrists are bandaged, and a cigarette hangs from his mouth.  He takes Sophia to the only approved place (the bowling alley), where things get a little weird and people start dancing, but it actually works incredibly well with the story line and character arc.  It is night time in new york, therefore the lighting stays pretty dark, but the filmmakers use a strong contrast that works well for the film.  He forms a tentative relationship with Sophia who is slow to let down her guard, but she seems to get the measure of him pretty quickly (which is good since this is a short film).

The short uses the landscape of New York City nightlife very well.  It follows the growth of their one-night relationship and makes you root for everyone, even the mom.  Christensen wrote, directed, and acted in the piece, which surprisingly works out pretty well for him.  Honestly, Curfew is the type of piece I would have adored in my intellectual, artistic filmmaker university days, but at a level that the more consumeristic side of myself can enjoy just as much.  It is a great film.

If you have twenty minutes, or even if you don’t, this is a short I would definitely recommend that you watch.  If you have never really sat down just to watch a short film, I would suggest that you start here.  It is that good.

Mirror Mirror (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Mirror Mirror (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Costume Design (Eiko Ishioka).
Watched June 23, 2014.

Lately a lot of fairytale remakes have been surfacing.  The summer of 2012 saw two different takes on Snow White.  Snow White and the Huntsman took a darker approach with impressive special effects and love triangles.  Mirror Mirror is a comedy first, excellent display of costuming second, and pretty okay movie all around.  It was a corny, good kid friendly movie and my inner child really enjoyed it.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of Snow White, know that the film follows the basic plot line with some stabs at originality.  The Queen (Julia Roberts) married the King (Sean Bean), who promptly disappears, leaving behind his beautiful daughter named Snow White (Lily Collins) who is abused by the jealous, youth obsessed Queen.  She meets a Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) but is chased from the kingdom by the Queen who wants her dead.  She comes upon seven dwarves, who are not named things like Grumpy, Dopey, and Doc in this version, and joins them after some resistance on their part.

There are other unique aspects of the film, but the biggest is the comedy.  There is a cute, although fairly childish bit in which the Queen accidentally switches a love potion with a puppy love potion and the Prince’s affections for her become something other than what she wished for.  The dwarves are also outcasts who enjoy robbing people instead of mining and Snow White learns some moves while she stays with them.

The costumes are clearly a highlight of the film.  Both original and mostly colorful, I really enjoyed their unique flavor.  The whole film seeks to add new spins on a classic story.  The dark forrest, the village of the kingdom, the court life, everything in-between has an unrealistic quality that adds to the charm of the storyline.  To be quite honest, the film isn’t a knock-out artistically, or even technically, but it was certainly entertaining and fun.

Roberts is definitely a standout as the Queen.  Her brand of crazy is more comical and magical.  She undergoes ridiculous beauty treatments and her “mirror on the wall” is certainly depicted differently than one might expect.  The romance is sappy, the plot is predictable, and the roles seem less than challenging, but as a whole the fun and colors won me over and Mirror Mirror is probably going to become one of my guilty pleasures.

I would definitely recommend this film if you have kids or if you are a Julia Roberts fan.  I had no desire to see the film from the marketing, but upon seeing it I truly enjoyed it.  If you have the time, it might be worth a watch if you can stomach the cutesy execution.

Redemption (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Redemption (2013)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject (Jon Alpert, Matthew O’Neill).
Watched June 30, 2014.

Redemption is a unique view of life in New York.  On the very doorstep of nice homes and large buildings, condominiums and the Empire State Building itself, the impoverished of the city spend endless hours, day in and day out, collecting bottles and cans from trashcans in order to redeem them for five cents a piece.

This documentary short follows a basic premise to tell a sad story.  It follows different people, from veterans and the elderly, to immigrants and single mothers.  Some of them live on the streets and band together from a mutual need of safety.  Others live in a one room apartment with at least six other people.  Some New Yorkers help the collectors, while others turn a blind eye.

The one bedroom apartment is like a scene from hoarders.  It makes the situation more real and brings the message of the film home.  It doesn’t matter where you come from.  There is a woman who worked for Microsoft for years, but now her Social Security benefits don’t cover everything and she has to can all day, fighting with an angry and overly competitive Chinese woman who will steal your cans right from under you.  Each person has a story.

The film is very transparent.  It doesn’t seek to hide its message or motives under artistic camera work or in-studio interview footage.  It is all on the streets.  There is little to no symbolism.  It is simple.  This probably makes it more powerful, and yet from an artistic standpoint it is very blah and unimpressive.  It transitions from character to character well, and it tells their stories even better, but there is nothing else to it.  Perhaps its length limited it, but its rawness was a negative for me.

The documentary is less than half an hour long.  If the story sounds interesting to you, then I would definitely recommend it.  I am a lover of documentaries and don’t consider my time wasted by viewing it.  It did open my eyes a bit more to the poverty around us, which is probably the biggest goal of the film, and therefore it did its job.  However, in my opinion, a film should exceed the bounds of just “doing its job” in order to deserve an Oscar nomination.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards.
Nominated for Best Cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel) and Best Sound Mixing (Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland, Skip Lievsay).
Watched May 30, 2014.

Inside Llewyn Davis is cyclical.  It is the depressing period in one’s life after the death of a loved one and partner.  It is also a behind the scenes peak at the life and struggled of a folk artist in 1961.  More specifically, it is a week in the life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac).

At first we don’t know why, but Llewyn is extremely down on his luck.  He is hopping from couch to couch on the sometimes grudging shoulders of friends.  His sister is a hard love type of woman and his ex-secret lover is pregnant with his baby while her husband (Justin Timberlake) is helping him out with jobs and connections.  It is winter in New York and Llewyn can’t even afford a coat, that’s how unlucky his is.  We find out later why he is no longer a duo and his emotional scarring makes him refuse much musical help or the thought of joining a group.

He is a rough human being.  He heckles other singers and is angry and unforgiving, but somehow he is able to muster the responsibility of taking care of his friends’ cat who follows him out one day. His chase of the cat and his attempt to bring it home is a consistent theme in the film and adds a cute quirk to his character that was needed.  The snow, cold, and dark night clubs bring the depression level of the film down and Llewyn’s character arc doesn’t go very far in the span of a week.

It is clear that most of the characters in the film are sympathetic to Llewyn and what he has gone through.  He has a distinctive surliness that is tough to connect with, yet somehow I was rooting for him that somewhere in the film his life would turn around.  We know next to nothing about his history, which makes him a mystery.  That is definitely a weakness of the film, in my opinion.

It is very obviously a Coen brother film.  Having been away from art and filmmaking for a few years now, I find it a lot more difficult to appreciate dark and depressing films.  There are little to no redeeming qualities in Inside Llewyn Davis, and to be honest I was at a loss as to what the moral premise was.  I felt that the script needed to be more rounded out and complete.  However, the cinematography was certainly excellent and painted the mood of the film extremely loud.  The folk songs are particularly good and Isaac delivers a good performance.

I don’t think that I will ever watch the film again, but if you have love for the Coen brothers, Oscar Isaac, or especially a connection to music, this could be one that you would enjoy.

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.