Saturday, March 1, 2014

I Just Want to be a Picture Director

I'm a little behind with my Resolution reading goal.  I've been busy doing something else with my kids-are-finally-in-bed-hallelujah-I'm-free time.  I've spent a lot of time on this.  I haven't devoted so much time to one single project since law school.  I'm really excited to share this with you.

I love movies.  When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a director, making groovy movies.  Obviously, I didn't see that goal to fruition....mostly because I don't have talent for movie making.  But I love movies, especially watching movies.  (I also love The Kinks...have you notice?)

For years and years and years, I've wanted to watch every Oscar nominated film for that year prior to the award ceremony. (Show of hands: who else makes this goal?)  I've never had the chance to do it before.  There was always something preventing me from it.  Usually, it was lack of time.  I rarely have time to visit a cinema and see a show.

It's no secret I love I think it is the most wonderful website ever and, next to Facebook, I visit it most often.  Thanks to its online movie viewing fantasticness, I was able to watch ALL nine, yes 9, Academy Award Best Picture nominated films. The following is my review.  Keep in mind that I am not an movie expert.  I am sharing with you what I liked about the films.  I offer only the opinions of a lay person.  If you are looking for expert reviews, you won't find them here.  I will also do my best to refrain from spoiling the films.  I despise when others ruin my excitement by being too generous with plot detail or giving away the ending.  Those people are assholes.

So, here you go.  The films are listed in the order I viewed them.

I had not heard of Philomena prior to watching it.  I was delighted to see it starred Judi Dench, as she is a fine actress.  The movie is based on a real-life story about a woman named Philomena whom birthed a child when she was a teenager.  Her father, embarrassed by her "condition," sent her to live at a convent during her pregnancy.  The convent charged the young mothers a hefty fee for services so most had to enter an indentured servant-like agreement to work 4 years at the convent to repay their debt.

While working at the convent, Philomena's young son was adopted.  The movie focuses on Philomena's search to find her lost son.  Steve Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith, a political journalist Philomena's daughter calls upon to help track down information about the missing son.

Martin is not a "human interest" reporter.  He is resistant to becoming involved in Philomena's plight.  But, something about her gets to him and he agrees to write her story.

The events in Philomena's life are incredibly sad, but I don't think sadness is the message the movie conveys.  It's a story of survival and of a woman's ability to see the very best in everyone despite having been repeated hurt.  And there's hope.  So much hope.  I wish I saw the world through Philomena's eyes.  I really enjoyed this film.

If you're a political scandal junkie like me, check out American Hustle.  The movie is chock-full o' hot stars:  Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence and is based on a real FBI-sting called Abscam.

From 1978-1980, the FBI, with help from Conman Melvin Weinberg, conducted an incredibly elaborate, and often comical, sting to catch Congressmen taking bribes.  It was successful, putting 6 congressional representatives and 1 senator in prison and securing around a dozen other significant convictions for bribery and conspiracy.  It was also an expensive operation for the FBI, which paid Weinberg, a known criminal, $3000 per month plus bonuses in addition to the exorbitant cost of running such a fancy operation.  The probe was widely criticized and has been largely forgotten.  Until now.

Obviously, American Hustle has been sexed up for audience appeal.  It is quite unlikely that the real people behind the story were as beautiful as the cast, or as interesting, nor were the circumstances as exciting.  However, the movie is quite good.  I had to check out the cast list to identify some of the actors.  Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were easily identifiable, as was Bradly Cooper, but Jeremy Renner and Christian Bale surprised me. Christian Bale blew me away.  Batman is a fat, bald, crooked bastard.
At the beginning, I struggled to see Bale as Weinberg, but he sold the part quickly.  In fact, it was good acting all around.  Jennifer Lawrence has proven capable of stepping outside "Katniss" to bring other roles alive.  Amy Adams is spot-on, as always.  While it isn't my favorite film nominated, and not likely I will watch it again, I did enjoy it and it certainly kept my interest throughout.

Gravity: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney?  Yes, please.  Once again, Bullock steps out of her comedic box to put forth a serious and wonderful performance.  Like in The Blind Side, she does not disappoint.

The story is centered around Dr. Ryan Stone, who is on her first space mission and Matt Kowalsky, who is a veteran astronaut.  While making a routine spacewalk for shuttle repair, Kowalsky and Stone are hit with space debris, which destroys their shuttle and leaves the fighting for survival.  As Kowasky and Stone are attempting to navigate space, save themselves, and return to Earth, we learn so much about Dr. Stone.  There is a very significant story within a story happening here.  It's tragic and gut-wrenching but there is a greater message of the human will to rise above life's trials to find happiness despite adversity.

Tom Hanks is one Hell of an actor.  Everyone on the planet is aware of this. He stars in 3 of my Top 10 favorite movies: Castaway, Forrest Gump and The Polar Express. He just gets better and better and better and he delivers a captivating performance in Captain Phillips.

Based on the true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 Somali pirate attack upon his U.S. cargo vessel, Maersk Alabama.  Most of us are aware of the story line, having followed the actual news story in 2009.

The crew of the ship are on a mission to deliver goods and food to poverty stricken Africa.  Along the way, they encounter a small group of pirates.  The crew successfully defend their unarmed ship during the first attack, but the pirates rebound and board the ship the following day.

Real pirates are nothing like Jack Sparrow.  They're ruthless murders only interested in procuring money. An American ship is a big prize.  This movie depicts true pirating with surprising accuracy.

According to interviews with the real Captain Phillips, the movie remains true to events that occurred. However, the real life crew disagree.  In the movie, Phillips is a victim and a hero.  The real life crew claim Phillips was reckless and had no regard for their lives.   The crew have sued their employers for "willful, wanton, and conscious disregard for their safety. Captain Phillips is a witness for the defense. I find this conflict to be interesting.

Regardless of the real Captain Phillips heroism, this movie is worth watching.  I don't care if it may not be true to life.  Tom Hanks is incredible.  It's worth watching the entire movie just to be treated with the rescue scene.  During the rescue, Phillips is blind folded and tied.  He has no idea what is happening around him. He believes he is about to be executed by his captors.   When he realizes shots have been fired and he is still alive, he response is primordial:  he cries with such a guttural wail that I couldn't hold in my emotion.  I felt empathy.  Tom Hanks is that good...he forces you to put yourself in the Captain's shoes.

It's absolutely worth watching.  However, I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it with any other actor. Tom Hanks makes this movie a contender for an Oscar.

Her:  C-R-E-E-P-Y futuristic tale about a man who falls in love with his computer operating system.  Yes, you read that right.  Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, falls crazy in love with Samantha, an OS1, entity capable of "learning," communicating with voice, and conferring emotion.

He has conversations with Samantha. He finds "her" easy to talk to.  Quickly, she becomes his girlfriend.  They have a sex life.  It's warped, and weird, and I couldn't stop watching.

Samantha is voiced by the lovely and talented Scarlett Johansson.  She's very pleasant to listen to.  OS1 systems were designed to learn from their operators.  They had the capability of understanding and reflecting emotion.  It became difficult for their operators to recognize the difference between a real human connection and a machine processed facsimile.

As the movie progresses, human-os relationships become more prevalent and accepted.  Twombly discovers that there are others, including his friends, that have begun dating their computers.

It is so strange!  But it is also a fantastic commentary on our current society.  Many of us are married to our cell phones.  We are so highly dependent upon technology, perhaps we are losing the ability to relate to one another.  It's really quite something to think about.  While I don't believe this movie will win the Best Picture Oscar, I definitely believe it deserves the nomination.

I sat down to watch Dallas Buyers Club not knowing what to expect.  My first thought was, "Matthew McConaughey looks like crap!"  That was highly unexpected.  He always looks amazing. Healthy, fit, you know.  But, in the first few scenes of the movie, he looks very skinny and gross.

The film is based on a true story and is set in the mid-1980s.  McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, an electrician, cowboy, boozer, and native Texan.  In the '80s, and part of the '90s, AIDS was largely considered a plague affecting homosexuals.  When Ron is diagnosed with AIDS, he is in disbelief.  However, once he accepts his condition, he becomes educated.

He is sent to Mexico for treatment.  An ex-doctor, stripped of his credentials by the FDA, ran a clinic in Mexico with good results.  The doctor used a vitamin/protein/herb cocktail to treat his patients.  Ron found these pharmaceuticals improved his health.  He immediately recognized the profitability these meds could bring if brought to the United States.

After getting caught smuggling the vitamins into the US and an IRS probe into his business, he formed a buyers club...a place where members got their vitamins for free with their paid membership.  Given the results the vitamins and proteins were showing, and the desperation of the AIDS infected community, the club was an instant hit.

The rest of the movie focuses on the difficulties Ron faced getting the meds into the US, as none of them had been approved by the FDA.  Ron received help from Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender female also living with AIDS, and Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) whom treated AIDS patients in her hospital and believed there had to be better options than AZT.  (FYI- the movie is based on a real story, but Rayon and Saks are fictional.)

The performance is probably a career best for McConaughey.  He shed 47 lbs to play the part.  He and Jared Leto, whom lost 30 pounds,  were rumored to have starved themselves to "look" the part.  Shooting occured rapidly, having only 25 filming days, perhaps to minimize the actors' deprivation.  I'm not an expert, but I don't believe the rapid filming hurt the movie.  It's a very good film.

When you see Bruce Dern, Will Forte, and June Squibb are headlining a movie, you probably don't think "Oscar Nominee!"  Like me, you may wonder how in the world MacGruber found himself a star in one of the best movies of the year.  It doesn't seem the likely combination for a hit.

But it is.  Nebraska   floats comfortably in the nominee pool.

The movie is shot in black and white.  I loved that!   It's about an elderly man, Woody Grant, whom believes he won $1 Million from a magazine distributor.  His family knows it is a scam and tries to convince him, but he firmly believes he is entitled to the million.

The Grants live in Montana.  The publisher company is in Nebraska. Woody is hellbent to go to Nebraska to claim the money, even without his family's support.  Forte plays Woody's son, David, whom agrees to drive Woody to Nebraska.

The movie takes you along their journey to Nebraska.  You encounter their greedy relatives and despicable former friends.  Anyone and everyone from Woody's shady past come forward to claim a portion of his millions.  David is his one true friend.  David entertains his father's eccentricities, shows him support, and helps him keep dignity when others have written him off.  It's a lovely father/son film.

Yet another movie based on a true story, you say. Yes, it is.  The Wolf of Wall Street is so fantastical it feels like fiction.  Holy crap.  There are people who live like this?!!

Leo DiCaprio stars in the titular role of Jordan Belfort, a former stock broker, whom made his millions swindling money from common folk by promising large returns and quick money.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the real Jordan Belfort admits that the movie depicts the company culture quite accurately.  He also states the characters were fairly similar to their real counterparts.

Watch this movie.  Look at the drug culture.  How did people live like that?  Look at their decisions and the way they treated one another.  Principles of decency were clearly abandoned and replaced with complete arrogance and greed.

Jonah Hill, whom co-stars as Donnie Azoff, Belfort's out of control sidekick, agreed to be in the film for a measly $60K. He must have believed in the worth of the film. He certainly earned a bigger payday.  His performance was spectacular.  He has been nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this role and I think he deserves the win.

Likewise, Leo should win the Oscar for Best Lead Actor.  His portrayal of Jordan Belfort is nothing short of genius.  The acting all-around is perhaps the finest of any film made this year.  In fact, if I were to choose the best picture, this is the film I'd choose. (Although I don't believe it is going to win.)  It is no surprise that The Wolf of Wall Street has become Scorsese's largest grossing film to date.  If you have time to watch only one of the nominated films, choose this one.

I knew 12 Years A Slave was based on a true story before watching the film.  As a history buff, I was aware of Solomon Northup's illegal sale into slavery.  It is a relatively well-known story, especially since Northup published an autobiography by the same name in 1853.

This film is beautiful.  If you don't feel a human connection to the suffering brought upon slaves, as depicted in this movie, you're an animal.  It hurts to watch them suffer.  It hurts to witness Northup's kidnapping, knowing that he will be illegal sold into the slave trade.  It hurts to watch Northup shrink from a proud gentleman to a quiet, scared, broken man.

The acting is top-notch.  In the first half hour, I paused the film to Google search for a cast list.  Well known actors, like Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, and Benedict Cumberbatch, have bit-parts.  I had no idea who Chiwetel Ejiofor was, but I'll never forget the name now.  His portrayal of Solomon Northup is splendid.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your 2014 Best Picture Oscar winner. (If I'm wrong, don't hold it against me.) I don't write this because it is the film I like most (it's not), but because, over all, it's the best choice.  The subject matter is still fresh.  Although slavery ended more than a century ago, there are lasting negative effects of slavery in the USA.  The story is captivating; it leaves you with that "what did I just witness?" feeling.  All great films leave you with that feeling.  this, my friends, is the clear winner.

I am over-the-moon happy to have finally done this!  I hope you've enjoyed the post.  If I get the chance to do it again next year, I will be sure to begin the blog post after watching the first movie.  My crazy ass has written this in 2 sittings....all morning and all evening.  It's exhausting.  I'll probably take a break from movies for a while.  I'm 3 books behind my Resolution Reading goal.  Look for a new post there soon.

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