best picture

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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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!

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
1/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards.
Nominated for Best Picture (Scott Rudin) and Best Supporting Actor (Max Von Sydow).
Watched September 6, 2012.

 

My emotions about this film are so all over the place, I don’t think that I can write a proper review.  Originally I had refused to see it in theaters.  I worked at a Regal at the time and the fact that I wouldn’t see something that I could get into for free was odd for me.  For the purposes of this blog, I had to watch it , but I did in four sittings and cried the entire time.  9/11 is always something that hits me hard, especially on the day of.  I will be the first person to admit that I wear my emotions on my sleeve and am the type to cry at a Hallmark commercial, so my tears are no surprise, no matter what the content is.  However, I will do my best to step away from my own lens and look at the technical side of this interesting interpretation of September 11, 2001.

 

It is about the World Trade Center, and it isn’t.  It is more about life, and death, and how we deal with our humanity.  Most importantly, it is about how children deal with heartbreak and tragedy, and how they heal from it.  How do you make sense of something like a man flying a plane into a building?  You can’t, because it doesn’t make sense, which is something that Linda Schell (Sandra Bullock) says emphatically in the film.  Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is her socially awkward son whose dad (Tom Hanks) was more than his father and more than his friend.  From the opening seconds of the film I was gripped by a stunning sequence of shots showing a man falling, not through dust and smoke and debris, but through blue sky.  Thomas Schell was a jeweler, because being a scientist wouldn’t have made the money to support his family.  He was constantly inventing adventures for his son so that he could step outside of his comfort zone and grow.  He knew how afraid Oskar is of almost everything – trains, planes, smoke, loud noises, strangers.  For a boy who claims he can’t talk to people, he spends a lot of time doing it.

 

When Thomas dies in one of the twin towers, Linda becomes barely a presence in Oskar’s life.  He spends the first year in a sort of daze, knowing that his “eight minutes” with his dad are almost up.  But then, he finds a key that he is sure his dad left for him–another adventure and another clue that he has to follow.  Most of the film follows him as he runs around New York trying to find the lock that the key unlocks, and who the key belongs to.

 

I almost feel as if the film tried too hard.  The sequences where Oskar opens up and reveals his secrets, primarily to The Renter (Max Von Sydow), the mute man renting a room from his Grandmother, are over the top and exaggerated.  The editor used a lot of jump cuts* to emphasize the chaos and disorder of Oskar’s raging mind.  Things do not flow smoothly when you are trying to make sense of your father’s death.  There is a lot of chaos implied by the editing in this film, especially when Oskar reveals his fears to the audience or is overwhelmed by emotion.  The slow quiet moments are when he is with his mother and her hurt is a constant ache that hangs over the entire scene – the ache of her loss and the ache of her son’s loss.  They both wish it had been her in the tower, not him.

 

I’m not sure about my thoughts and feelings on this film.  They are so very clouded by my emotions toward the original event that I cannot separate the two.  I gave it one star because I rarely voluntarily watch something that makes me cry so much.  I cannot make a recommendation that you do or do not watch Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  That is a choice I leave entirely up to you.

 

 

*jump cut
noun Movies .
an abrupt break in the continuity of a scene created by editing out part of a shot or scene.

noun
an immediate transition from one scene to another

 

Sources: IMDBRotten TomatoesNew York TimesLA TimesMSN EntertainmentFox NewsNPR

Annie Hall (1977) Review | Jamie Daily

“Annie Hall” (1977)
50th Academy Awards (1978)
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 5 awards, of which it won 4.
Nominated for Best Actor (Woody Allen).
Won Best Actress (Diane Keaton), Directing (Woody Allen), Best Picture (Charles H. Joffe), and Writing–Original (Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman).
Watched August 18, 2012.

 

Oh Woody Allen, what do I say about you?  You are a genius, and yet despite your brilliance, the majority of your films rub me the wrong way.  They have all the pieces, and they fit together very nicely–from the writing to the directing to the characterization to the cinematography and all the way to the editing, Annie Hall is flawless.  Most distinctly it is recognized for its non-linear approach.  However, something about it left with me with a bad taste in my mouth.

 

The film is a romantic comedy following the main characterAlvy Singer (Allen) who is a comedian.  Ironically, Singer’s comedic journey follows Allen’s journey.   From a writer to a stand up comedian who eventually begins writing plays, his character is incredibly pessimistic.  The film opens with a brilliant camera- and audience-directed monologue.  Within the inevitable love story of this film, Singer is a witty realist while Annie (Diane Keaton) is a ditzy artist.  Through every discussion and experience, we discover more about them–about the depth of Singer’s nervous tendencies and Annie’s impatience with them.  They fall in and out of love almost as many times as the roller coaster Singer grew up living underneath rose and fell.  They are constantly pushing one another to be who they desire, when in reality they are trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

 

Much of the film revolves around sex.  Right up front you can see how much Annie lacks confidence with men, but it is even more evidenced when she can’t sleep with Singer until she has smoked weed.  After they are past the honeymoon phase, Singer is dismayed that they only have sex three times a week, while Annie feels as if they are constantly having sex, “I’d say three times a week!”  Because they both approach life so differently, it is difficult for them to journey it together.

 

I think one of the main things that held me back from enjoying this film was the fact that Annie fell for Alvy at all.  He was obnoxious, rude, and funny looking, but right from the start she was taken.  Cynicism is not my favourite attribute, and I think that stopped me from liking Alvy at all.  When you don’t like the main character, it is hard to enjoy a film, no matter how well done it is.

 

Despite my negative opinions, I do think that it is a film worth seeing!  My absolute favourite piece of the film was the non-linear approach–not showing their relationship from start to finish but jumping around in order to show a more reflective, emotional flow to the relationship.  For all of the good pieces to this film, I would be curious what you think of its humor and depth.

 

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Sources: IMDBRotten TomatoesTriviana ReviewsNew York TimesThe GuardianThe Oscars ProjectFan Pop