Posts Tagged ‘best picture’

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Django Unchained (2012)

February 24, 2013

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christopher Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Director: Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds)

Quick Thoughts: I’m starting to feel like I need to watch Death Proof again because I didn’t love it and Quentin Tarantino simply doesn’t miss. For the past twenty years I can’t think of a more consistent filmmaker. If nothing else, he makes movies that are specifically tailored to my tastes. Django Unchained is more QT awesomeness and I can understand arguments claiming it as his best film ever. It’s certainly his longest, clocking in at nearly three hours, but barely feels like two with its swift pacing and frequently comical dialogue. To paint this film as a comedy would be unjust, however, as slavery and racism are the biggest themes being tackled and there is nothing funny about whip scars and savage abuse. To his credit, Tarantino is absolutely fearless and it seems he’s earned the right to be. I can’t think of another white director/writer that could have pulled off Django Unchained–or more accurately, that has the balls to try to. Tarantino is a masterful filmmaker and Django Unchained is his latest classic, featuring another Oscar-worthy performance from the spectacular Christopher Waltz and a new cinematic hero in Jamie Foxx’s Django.

Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Tons. Like all Tarantino movies, a must own for any serious film collector.
Sequel Potential: Very unlikely.
Oscar Potential: Numerous nominations including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Waltz.
Nudity: Yes, but there’s nothing sexy about it.
Grade: 8.5/10 (Excellent/Potential Classic)
RottenTomatoes Scores: Critics: 89% Audience: 94%
IMDB Rating: 8.6/10
Recommendation: Even with its touchy subject matter Django Unchained is one of the most fun and enjoyable films of 2012. It’s so good my mom saw it in theaters and sat through the whole thing…twice. Another hit from the nearly flawless Tarantino.

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127 Hours (2010)

April 12, 2011


Starring: James Franco
Director: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting)

Quick Thoughts: Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours is a gripping, claustrophobic film. James Franco plays Aron Ralston, a perpetual outdoorsman that must fight for his survival after his arm gets trapped under a rock while hiking through the mountains and canyons of Utah. It’s a compelling story, as Ralston slowly realizes the severity of his situation: it takes at least 24 hours for the boulder on Ralston’s arm to transform from major inconvenience to a seriously life-threatening object. No sir, that rock’s not going anywhere. 127 Hours makes you squirm in ways that would make a horror auteur jealous; it’s genuinely scary. Take a step outside the film and realize this is something that actually happened to someone and then put yourself in his shoes… it will send shivers down your spine. Due to the nature of the situation, the scope of the film is pretty limited, but Boyle and Co. more than make up for this in the first twenty minutes, most of which features stunning cinematography of the beautiful landscape this crisis takes place in. Franco is great in this movie and well deserving of his Oscar nomination, displaying a wide range of character that goes from cocky to scared to outright delusional. 127 Hours is a haunting, true tale of survival that is thrilling throughout its duration despite the fact that the majority of the story unfolds in a very small space.

Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Doesn’t strike me as something I’d want to watch repeatedly, but I’d strongly consider buying it.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Six nominations: Best Actor (Franco), Best Director (Boyle), Best Original Song, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Picture. No wins.
Nudity: None.
Grade: 7.5/10 (Must See/Excellent)
Recommendation: 127 Hours is a great story with a fast pace and clocks in at just over 90 minutes, making for a quick watch. I’ve heard complaints about the hallucinations (Scooby Dooby Doo… where are you?)–people calling them silly–but I suggest going five days without food or water… or mobility… and seeing how your brain holds up. Personally, I thought this movie was great, but if you didn’t like Into The Wild or Slumdog Millionaire, you suck… and you should probably skip this.

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The King’s Speech (2010)

February 23, 2011


Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
Director: Robert Schwentke (“John Adams” mini-series)
Quick Thoughts: The King’s Speech opens with Colin Firth’s character, the future King George VI, preparing to address an audience of thousands over a megaphone. There’s sweat on his brow, his eyes are watering, and he’s visibly shaken. You know this isn’t going to end well. It’s actually painful watching him stammer helplessly, unable to even complete a sentence, embarrassing himself in front of his legions. Part of you wants to laugh, but most of you is horrified. Can you imagine being a man of enormous power, required to be the voice of your people, when speaking publicly is your absolute worst nightmare? I’ve actually heard criticism of The King’s Speech claiming that the story isn’t particularly strong or interesting, but I personally find the King’s predicament absolutely fascinating. If this story was about a regular Joe with a speech impediment the dilemma wouldn’t be nearly as dire nor the impact as strong, but this is royalty we’re talking about here and his problem is severe. Though The King’s Speech is clearly a dramatic film, it had numerous hilarious moments. I was laughing out loud through numerous scenes, including this exchange:

Lionel Logue: I believe sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.
King George: My physicians say it relaxes the throat.
Logue: They’re idiots.
King George: They’ve all been knighted.
Logue: Makes it official then.

And the script is filled with funny moments like that. Obviously, Colin Firth’s performance is phenomenal here. Successfully pulling off the stammering dialogue is impressive enough, but he does it while exuding the body language of someone that is completely void of self-confidence. Amazing. Anything short of a Best Actor statue is CRIMINAL. Nothing comes close. The entire acting ensemble is solid, from Helena Bonham Carter in an oddly subdued role (sedatives?) as George’s hopeful and supportive wife, to the excellent Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist, all the way down to Timothy Spall in a small, but great role playing a smug Winston Churchill. The King’s Speech has more Oscar nominations than any 2010 film and deserves all of them. The Social Network is favored to win Best Picture and even though I love that movie, I know I wouldn’t bet my money against The King’s Speech. An excellent movie with a triumphant story and great acting, and easily one of the best films of the year.
Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Character dramas don’t tend to have a ton of replay value, but the script is funny enough and Firth’s performance is so good that repeat viewings are a must. I know I’ll be buying it.
Sequel Potential: N/A
Oscar Potential: 12 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay and acting noms for Firth, Carter and Rush.
Nudity: None
Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)
Recommendation: Obviously, this is must see cinema.

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The Best Movies Of The Past 20 Years

August 1, 2010

I’m going to start a series of posts highlighting the best movies of the past twenty years. I’ve made some pretty solid lists for the 1990s, but I feel there are a lot of important films that I either haven’t seen in forever or just haven’t ever watched. I was eight in 1990 and I didn’t really get into movies until 1999, so there is a bit of catching up to do. I’m going to start with the year 1990 and over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be watching some of the films from that year that I think should be considered and I’ll be posting mini-reviews for all of them. I’m going to start with the past twenty years and see how that goes, but I ultimately want to expand the series to the Best Movies Of My Life, which would date back to 1982.

For each year, I’m going to pick what I think is the best overall film and also include a list of my top 5. Since certain genres are often overlooked in Best Of lists, I’m also going to include my top comedy, horror, and animated movie for each year. Lastly, we all have a movie that we love but isn’t particularly good; something that holds a special spot in our heart anyways. For each year, I’ll be selecting my top guilty pleasure. Stay tuned. I’ll be starting on 1990 this week.

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My Avatar Experience

January 25, 2010

What I’m about to say doesn’t really make any sense. I’m a self-proclaimed movie buff and lover of great film-making. James Cameron has been one of the most successful and talented directors in my lifetime. There was tons of hype prior to the film’s release and it has recently passed The Dark Knight as the nation’s second highest grossing film of all-time, only trailing Cameron’s Titanic . Word of mouth for the film has been pretty spectacular. Yet, somehow, six weeks after its release, I woke up this morning and I still hadn’t seen Avatar.

2009 hasn’t exactly been the most active movie year for me. It’s almost February 2010, but I’ve only seen a handful of movies from last year and nearly all of the films on Oscar’s radar are unseen by me. Perhaps life has finally gotten in the way of my hobbies. I broke up with my girlfriend (and movie-watching partner) in March and I’m yet to find a reliable replacement or someone that watches movies and appreciates them the same way I do. My role at my job has also become much more demanding and time-consuming. I only work nights, so I prefer to spend the few precious morning and afternoon hours I do have, either sleeping or catching up with responsibilities unrelated to my job. Or maybe I’ve simply become a lazy bum. Needless to say, getting to the theaters has been tough.

Well, the Avatar hype machine finally caught up to me this past week and woke me from my slumber. Somehow I had managed to dodge any news of the film’s success and critical praise for five weeks. My former roommate and fellow film afficionado informed me of Avatar’s record-breaking box-office results, a clear sign of great word of mouth. He also chimed in with his own opinion, saying it was a great movie and I absolutely had to see it in 3D. I went ahead and put it on my To Do List. The last straw was when a group of ladies in their 50s and 60s sat at one of my tables at work and raved about how amazing the movie was. They insured me that I needed to see it immediately. I made plans to see it the next day.

Despite my buddy’s insistence, I still wasn’t sold on the idea of seeing it in 3D. Sure, it sounded interesting, but I wasn’t about to travel out of my way to make it happen and the idea of wearing some goofy ass red and blue glasses for roughly three hours didn’t sound all that awesome. Luckily, the theater closest to me was showing it in 3D, a technology I didn’t even know it was capable of. I can say with confidence that no one I talked to about Avatar did the 3D in this film justice. I don’t know what I was expecting. The only film I’ve ever seen that had any 3D in it was Freddy’s Dead almost 20 years ago, so I really wasn’t prepared for what was in store. I was sold before the trailers were finished. The advances that have been made in 3D technology since my initiation 20 years ago are astronomical. The Cheshire Cat was within reach despite the fact that I was sitting in the middle of the theater.

Movies have always had the capability of taking you on an adventure. Even so, films still didn’t have the means of fully immersing you in their world like a book can. Not anymore. Avatar plunges you right in the middle of Pandora with the rest of the characters. Creatures were screeching right in front of my face, debris was flying at me, and actors were jumping off the screen. It was amazing. The action sequences were more exhilarating than any roller coaster I’ve been on. I was stunned. I can’t imagine watching this movie in any other format. I’m curious to see how they are going to handle the DVD and if it’s going to hold up on my piece of shit TV. I can’t even fathom how awesome this movie would be in IMAX 3D. I might have to make that my next priority.

From a technical standpoint, Avatar is going to be remembered as a ground-breaking film. I can’t say it’s the first film to fully realize the potential of 3D, but it’s certainly the first mainstream blockbuster film to utilize it successfully that I’m aware of. In my lifetime there are a few films that stand out in my mind as bullet points in changing the way movies are made. The first one to really wow me with special effects and film-making trickery was Robocop. Not only was the protagonist made of metal and bad ass, but the robot Alex Murphy fought against was particularly awesome and unique for the time period. Half a decade later, another James Cameron film, Terminator 2: Judgement Day did things with special effects that had never been seen before. The T-1000, to this day, is still one of the dopest things I’ve ever seen on screen. Two years later, Steven Spielberg made dinosaurs look real in Jurassic Park. Can you imagine seeing that movie in 3D on an IMAX screen? Even though the quality of the JP franchise has diminished greatly since the original, the possibility of a T-Rex in 3D and Spielberg’s alleged increased involvement has me looking forward to the fourth installment. The next movie to stand out in my mind is The Matrix and the introduction of bullet time photography. Movies were trying to mimic Neo’s dance moves for years to follow. I should also mention Toy Story and Pixar for changing the way animation is done. The 2000s brought us CGI, which seems to have limitless possibilities and the tremendous advances in technology the past decade have kind of spoiled us to the point where it has become hard to truly impress us. Avatar and Real D 3D has managed to do just that, which is a pretty remarkable feat in this day and age. Trust me, unless I missed out on something major the past few years, you’ve never seen anything like this and you absolutely must watch Avatar… in theaters… in 3D. I seriously can’t emphasize this enough.

Fortunately, Avatar doesn’t rely completely on 3D to sell its tickets. All around, it’s a very well made and unique film. The world and creatures of Pandora are equally different and breath-taking. Cameron’s Navi civilization is strangely beautiful; it’s hard to tell where the make up ends and the computer generated effects begin, as even the slightest facial tics are finely detailed and loyal to the creatures’ emotions. Not only that, but the relationships of the characters with the animals and manipulation of the environment around them reminds me of JK Rowling’s ridiculously layered Harry Potter universe. Even the humans get to ride around in machines that make Robocop’s nemesis look like Bender from Futurama.

While Avatar is going to receive most of its accolades due to its presentation, the story is pretty damn good too. James Cameron deserves an Oscar nomination for the writing he did on this movie. Clearly, his imagination and talent goes beyond how to film a great movie. Sure, it’s hard to distinguish some of the minor Navi characters from each other, but the core of this story stems from Jake Sully’s relationship with the Navi Neytiri and both of these characters are fully realized and developed. You get emotionally invested in their adventure and there were at least a few moments that actually sent chills throughout my body, a sign that separates the great movies from the truly amazing ones.

Talking with a friend after the movie and hailing Avatar as one of the best films I’ve ever seen while predicting it as a lock for this year’s Best Picture Oscar, he quickly downplayed the flick’s greatness by claiming unoriginal themes and weak characters. Okay, sure, we’ve seen technologically disadvantaged and repressed societies overcome their suppressors hundreds of times before… but not like this… in 3D! And yeah, some of the Navi and human characters are shallow and quickly forgotten, but all of the important ones make their expected impact. So yes, I’m calling Avatar the best movie of 2009 and one of the most innovative films I’ve ever seen. I fully expect this movie to get a dozen Oscar noms and I’ll be shocked to see anything better in the near future.

Grade: A+

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The Wrestler: Top 3 of 2008

February 15, 2009

I had pretty high hopes for The Wrestler. Its director is responsible for one of the most memorable films of the past decade with 2000’s Requiem For A Dream and the praise for Mickey Rourke’s performance in the film has been overwhelming, with a number of sources claiming him the favorite for Best Actor. I also had a couple of people whose film opinions I hold in high regard tell me it was their favorite movie of the year, so even though I quasi-hated Aronofsky’s last film, The Fountain in 2006, The Wrestler had me quite excited to watch it.

When I heard that Darren Aronofsky was making a movie about a retired professional wrestler trying to deal with life after fame, I was already hooked, so it’s no surprise that I loved the story. I’d say it’s criminal that writer Robert Siegel (former Editor-In-Chief of The Onion) didn’t get a nomination, but I’ve only seen two of the five films nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category (Wall-E and In Bruges), so I’m not really sure. Regardless, the team involved here did more for character development within a couple months of Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s life than David Fincher and company could accomplish over eighty years in the life of Benjamin Button. No matter the case, anyone that can cause emotional resonance utilizing a dead beat professional wrestler who might as well be Hulk Hogan gets kudos from me.

Aronofsky has a tendency to make his presence overwhelmingly known in his projects. Pi was just flat out weird, Requiem For A Dream was a masterpiece, utilizing close-up vignettes for drug use and an unforgettably haunting and hypnotic score, and The Fountain might as well have been called Pretentious Shit. The director decides to take a more subtle approach with The Wrestler, displaying his uniqueness by filming the movie with a hand-held camera that gives it a documentary-like aesthetic. It’s almost like we’re taking a look at a couple of months of the life of a real person rather than watching a movie with fictional characters.

Mickey Rourke deserves all the praise he’s received for this film. As many have said, the role was built for him and I can’t imagine anyone else playing this character. They pretty much took Rourke’s life and paralleled it with Randy Robinson’s and then subbed out “acting” for “professional wrestling.” I still think Frank Langella might be the favorite for Best Actor, but I don’t think Rourke winning would be an upset at all. Marissa Tomei also earned a nod for Best Supporting Actress, and while she looks great at 40+ playing a stripper, her performance wasn’t one that people are going to remember years from now.

I really can’t say enough about how good this movie was. There are so many good scenes in it that I don’t want to waste my time describing each one… a couple of personal favorites are The Ram working in a deli interacting with customers and The Ram at a fan fest signing with minimal attendance looking around at the other fallen wrestlers and seeing a bit of himself in each one as the melancholy score plays in the background. I also loved the ending, which has received a few complaints for its ambiguity. I don’t think it’s ambiguous at all, however, and I said “Credits” two seconds before they started, so I clearly thought it was a perfect spot to end the film.

When all is said and done, The Wrestler stands as one of my three favorite films of 2008, right up there with Slumdog Millionaire and The Dark Knight. It’s without a doubt a must see, if not spectacular film, that will probably grow even stronger in viewers’ minds over time.

Score: 8.5/10 (Must Own/Potentially Classic)

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Benjamin Button: Forest Gump 2?

February 3, 2009

I want to start by saying that I don’t hate Benjamin Button even though it’s probably going to sound that way. It’s important to know that I went into this film expecting greatness for a variety of reasons: 13 Oscar nominations, Brad Pitt, the concept of a man aging backwards having all sorts of unique possibilities, and finally, director David Fincher is very accomplished (Zodiac, Fight Club, Se7en). I guess anything less than spectacular was going to be a disappointment for me.

The biggest problem I had throughout Benjamin Button is that I kept drawing comparisons to Forrest Gump and thinking about how much better that film executed everything. We have all sorts of familiar elements: our protagonists overcomes physical defects (mentally handicapped vs. aging backwards, Forest breaking out of his braces vs. Benjamin getting out of his wheelchair), we have extended periods of time spent at sea, we have a love interest that flutters in and out of a story that extends over decades, we have mother figures that perish, we have cooky side characters, and we have a long ass running time.

Forrest Gump was just a much, MUCH better film and I couldn’t ignore the fact that I kept thinking about it while watching Benjamin Button. Forrest Gump came out 15 years ago and I still remember Jenny, Bubba, and Lt. Dan as if that film came out yesterday; I can’t remember the name of the love interest or the sea captain in Benjamin Button and I saw that movie a week ago… and I think that’s really at the root of why this movie disappointed me. Outside of Benjamin, I just didn’t care about any of the other characters; and that’s a big problem, especially since the love story is at the emotional center of this movie. I only discovered this past week that Eric Roth, who wrote the screenplay, also wrote Forrest Gump. That gave me a good chuckle when I found that out.

The pacing of the film was also problematic since it has a really long running time. I couldn’t help but look at my cell phone and think that it was moving backwards because the movie was so slow. I think with a shorter run time and a focus on actually developing the characters, would have made Benjamin Button a more pleasurable experience.

I don’t want to give the impression that the film is a total disaster, it does several things well. Brad Pitt gives a very good performance as the main character, though I’m not convinced it’s his best work ever. Also, the cinematography, art direction, make-up, and costumes are all award worthy.

So yes, Benjamin Button is a respectable, if not good, film. The Forrest Gump similarities and poor pacing ruined the experience for me, but I can imagine that plenty of people will still thoroughly enjoy it. I’m just saddened by the fact that David Fincher is receiving all this recognition for this movie, when he’s made plenty of much better films in the past and I definitely don’t think it’s 2008’s critical darling. It’s quite possible that I’m being overly harsh on this movie because of all the hype surrounding, but I can’t deny the fact that I left the theater disappointed.

Score: 6 out of 10 (Recommended)