Tag Archives: best picture

The Artist – Review

8 Apr

In the beginning of cinema, film makers and the studios that backed them had the distinct challenge of telling a story without the use of dialogue, and relied on the talent of the actors and the use of montage. This was a magical time for movies that serves as the genesis for the films we know and love today. There are people who are turned off by the idea of silent films, and that’s the reason why I feel that Michel Hazanavicius’ Academy Award winning feature The Artist was a bold move that reflects his love of film and successfully captures an important and unique time in film history.

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George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the king of the silver screen. At the premier of his latest picture, a random fan, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), bumps into him leading to a front page headline. This chance encounter changes Peppy’s life as she begins rising through the Hollywood ranks, and getting bigger and better parts. Soon, the studio that Valentin works decides to start producing only “talkies” leaving Valentin in the dust. As Peppy’s career takes off, Valentin’s plummets to the lowest depths that the actor has ever experienced.

The Artist is a truly remarkable film that just goes to show that silent film still has the same power that it had 80 to 100 years ago. Like I said, this is a very magical time in the history of film, and Hazanavicius has recreated the feeling of the time and the mood of classic Hollywood films. This is a comedy, a drama, and a romance that isn’t just an homage to a simpler time, but also a great stand alone piece that is highly artistic, but never condescending. People with no prior knowledge to the time period will still have a great time, although if you’re a fan of these types of films you will probably better appreciate everything the film has to offer.

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Being a silent actor is not an easy thing to do because you have to rely on how well you can physically convey something. In this respect, every single actor in this movie knocks it out of the park. Dujardin deserves his Academy Award for Best Actor. His character is pompous, yet likable and even though he doesn’t talk, I understand his character very well and got very emotionally attached. I can say the exact same thing about Bejo’s character. While Dujardin’s character communicates to the audience with his over the top body movements, Bejo is very good with her face. What I mean by that is that she has a very broad smile and eyes that can switch the tone to sadness. Let me reiterate, this type of acting is very difficult and these two actors are absolutely superb. Oh, I almost forgot. Keep your eye on the puppy in this movie. Please.

The production design is beautiful. Shown in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the audience is from the very beginning thrown through time. This certainly is the farthest thing from IMAX. The title screen also completely mimics the titles of the time. I was smiling from ear to ear before the narrative even started. The sets are elegant and occasionally over the top. One great scene in particular shows a stair case from an angle that you don’t usually see in movies. Finally, what would a silent film be without its soundtrack? The soundtrack is more than appropriate. It’s almost eerie how well the music sounds in relation to the film. I loved it.

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The Artist is a magical film. I know, I know. That sounds completely corny, but as a person who has dedicated most of his life to film, it’s really a wonder to watch. In a culture that has become jaded by dialogue driven movies, it was so refreshing to see a silent film sweep all of the major awards, but also deserve every award it got. From the acting to the production design, this is a perfect movie. It’s easy to find faults in movies, but The Artist is absolutely flawless.

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Argo – Review

1 Mar

It’s hardly even an opinion to say that truth is stranger than fiction. There are some things that happen in this world that make me stop and say, “How could someone ever think of this?” Now take a film like Argo, which is based on the true story of the Canadian Caper in 1980. Again, how could someone ever think of this? The story is so hard to believe that I almost dismissed the movie, but in light of overwhelmingly positive recognition, it was about time I gave it a watch.

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In 1979, the American Embassy in Iran gets over run by protestors who are demanding the return of their exiled leader for his prompt execution. Many workers are held as hostages, but six manage to escape and take refuge in the home of a Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). The CIA brings in an expert in exfil missions, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), who is at first unsure with how to go about a rescue mission. It comes to him one night. Enlisting the help of Hollywood make up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), Mendez heads over to Iran under the guise of a film maker doing location scouting. With the escapees acting the parts as film makers, the group attempts to leave Iran in plain sight.

Just writing this small summary, I find it hard to believe that a lot of this actually happened. A portion of it is definitely dramatized and the roles of the Canadians are downplayed while the roles of New Zealand and Britain are left out all together. Affleck said this was to keep the film at a quick, but steady pace and I can agree with him there. This movie does feel very Hollywood in a couple of ways. For one, it is partly a satire of the Hollywood business, but the entire feel of the movie feels like something that would have been made in the classical period in film history.

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It’s become quite clear with Gone Baby Gone and The Town that Ben Affleck is a much better director than he is actor. To me, his acting is nothing special, including his performance in this. His “character” is very passive in this movie up until the end, which was when I really got into his performance. His directing is impeccable, however. With Argo, my opinion about Affleck has only gotten better. This is a completely different film than his previous two, which only proves that he is versatile and can cover any number of genres. Speaking of genres, Argo quite clearly blends a few.

It’s actually kind of amazing how well this movie combines a human drama, a political thriller, and a satirical comedy. A lot of movies try to do this, but they unfortunately don’t always measure up to what they’re trying to accomplish. I feel like I reference Hitchcock a lot in this blog, but with good reason. Think of North by Northwest and how it’s a thriller, but also an excellent comedy. Argo works just as well. I laughed as hard as a bit my fingernails. The writing is sharp, witty, and smart.

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Argo has swept the awards this year, and I think with good reason. It was an excellent film about an incredible true story. It’s expertly written, directed, and acted (especially Goodman and Arkin). I’m content with this movie winning Best Picture, amongst other Academy Awards, but I can’t say it would’ve been my choice. I’m still going to stick with The Master as my favorite film of 2012. Still, Argo is an excellent movie that deserves all of the recognition it is receiving.

Midnight Cowboy – Review

1 Feb

The history and stigma surrounding Midnight Cowboy should be enough to attract viewers to see it. When it was released in 1969, it was prompt rated X for it’s strong emphasis on sexual content and other themes that play throughout the movie. More importantly, it is the only X rated film to win an Academy Award, and for Best Picture no less. I recently reviewed another film from director John Schlesinger, Marathon Man. I only found Marathon Man slightly enjoyable, and hoped for more from Midnight Cowboy.

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Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is a naive Texan who travels to New York City with dreams of becoming a wealthy hustler. In other words, a well to do male prostitute. When he gets there, he soon realizes that NYC is a totally different world from the one he’s used to, and he quickly loses all of his money. Now down on his luck, he meets “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a small time thief with a couple of cents to his name trying to survive the harsh conditions of the city while fighting polio. Together, these two form an unlikely bond and do their best to make some money to get to Florida, but as the winter draws closer, Rizzo’s condition worsens.

I was surprised with how much was actually in this movie. There’s so much subtext and thematic material to latch on to, and once you do, you’re more than ready to give it back. This is an intensely emotional film that may possibly leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. This isn’t something you want to watch when you’re in a great mood, because once it’s over, that good mood will have left about an hour and a half ago.

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The film does a great job at pacing itself. We start with Joe Buck in Texas, a place filled with bright sunshine and happy music. Once he gets to New York, we’re in a whole other world with him, but it’s still looking bright and hopeful. Then things start going wrong and winter begins approaching. At this point everything seems to get dirty, gray, and ugly along with the entire story. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad story, in fact, it’s remarkable. Much like Aronofsky’s Requiem for a DreamMidnight Cowboy uses a strange sense of realism to really immerse the viewer into the entire situation. There are stylistic elements that work very nicely too. Schlesinger relied heavily on the juxtaposition of flash backs to tell Joe’s story, but also juxtaposition everyday items to mean something else. There’s an interesting sex scene that plays out with an unusual use of a television and its various programs.

As for the performances, they belong on anyone’s Top 10 best. It’s impossible to choose between Voight and Hoffman. Both show tremendous talent with method acting (which Hoffman is known for) in this film, and seem to be fully into the minds of their respective characters. Hoffman even put pebbles in his shoe to help with the limp, and despite being almost hit by a car, he continues a scene still fully in character, resulting in one of the most famous lines in film history (I’M WALKIN’ HERE!)

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Midnight Cowboy explores so many different elements in its story. Human sexuality, both hetero- and homosexual. Loneliness and friendship play a key role in the story, and can arguably be the most important. It also exposes a strange period of time. The era of peace, love, and happiness was coming to an end, all the while America was in a bad state with the Vietnam War. Midnight Cowboy doesn’t overtly come out and say it, but it definitely shows a historic subtext that offers little hope for the future.

I could write an entire paper just on this movie. I can’t think of the last time I saw a movie that made me think so much about so many ideas. Midnight Cowboy may look a bit aged in both style and presentation, but the performances and themes are timeless. This film deserves its spot as one of the  best, important, and most controversial films ever made. Check it out and you may even accidentally learn something.

The King’s Speech – Review

27 Apr

I don’t really have a whole lot to say as in an introduction to my review for The King’s Speech, except for this little anecdote about the Academy Awards. I put my whole hope for Best Picture at the 2011 Oscars in Aronofsky’s Black Swan, even though I really didn’t think it would actually win. When The King’s Speech took Best Picture, I was pretty angry, still thinking that Black Swan should have won. This all took place before I actually saw The King’s Speech , and now that I have, my attitude is 100% changed.

Prince Albert (Colin Firth) has always had trouble speaking, especially with his stammer that makes it almost impossible for him to get a word out, but he’s been able to live with it for most of his life. When his father, King George V (Michael Gambon) dies and his brother Edward (Guy Pearce), because of his romantic interests, can’t reign as king, Albert is forced to become King George VI. Amongst the family troubles, King George is also staring Adolf Hitler and the impending WWII directly in the eyes, but has no voice to unify the people. Enter Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist who will not stop until King George has overcome his speech impediment and the underlying fear, all with the support of Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter).

Sometimes it seems that there are certain actors who are born to play a particular role. This is the case with Colin Firth who plays King George VI in a way that needs to be seen to be believed. When you’re watching a movie, and you forget that the character you see in front of you is an actor merely playing a character, then you know that it is a terrific screen performance. I not only felt that way about Colin Firth, but also about Geoffrey Rush, who plays George’s eccentric speech therapist to a tee. He also gets the chance to offer the audience moments of much needed laughter amongst the drama, and the chemistry between Firth and Rush is just fantastic.

Director Tom Hooper, who first caught my eye with his fantastic mini-series John Adams, does a superb job at visualizing the King’s emotions and nervousness through not only the structure and blocking of the scene, but also in relation to the camerawork, which was stunning especially for a historical drama piece such as this. The framing seems to ignore the Rule of Thirds and makes evokes the feeling of uneasiness, discomfort, and/or insecurity. This combined with the numerous close ups that slightly distort the image and the constrictive hallways that the King finds himself in, adds a great deal to the visual style. It’s a truly remarkable way to visualize the feelings of this movie and Hooper rightly deserved his Oscar for Best Director.

The real drama in this movie doesn’t come from the family turmoil or the impending war with Germany. The drama stems completely from the battles that King George must go through with himself and his own self acceptance, in order to defeat his impediment. Although the story of a man who must rid himself of a speech problem doesn’t sound all that exciting, the personal way that the story is told, combined with the “backbone” of the other subplots makes The King’s Speech a full and moving story.

If you haven’t seen The King’s Speech yet, it is absolutely necessary that you give it a watch. It doesn’t matter if you like action, drama, romantic comedies, or splatter horror. This film speaks to all people and will entertain even the most jaded of film goers.