REVIEW: Interstellar

Interstellar

Interstellar
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Bill Irwin

It was only a matter of time before Christopher Nolan made a space epic. In Interstellar, he treats the universe in a similar way he treated dream-space in Inception; that is, he plays boundless absurdity with such straight-faced showmanship and serious sense of purpose that the movie feels much bigger and more important than it actually is.

Interstellar is about Matthew McConaughey saving humanity from the dry near-apocalypse of climate change.  He plays Cooper, a widower engineer-turned-farmer who lives in the Dust Bowl of the future with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and two children.   It’s easy to tell that Cooper’s daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) is his favorite, though we’re not with her or her brother Tom (Timothée Chalamet) as children long enough to really understand their relationship.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Les Miserables

reg_1024.10lesmis.ls.12212Les Misérables 
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Written by: William Nicholson (screenplay), Herbert Kretzmer (lyrics), Victor Hugo (novel)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried

When I originally saw Les Misérables, I was so disheartened and uninspired  that I didn’t even want to write down any thoughts about it.  Anne Hathaway was great, yes.  At times the raw combination of extended takes done in close-up and live singing from the performers was thrilling.  But the movie was bloated, sloppy and completely overdone.

Having not seen the stage musical or read Victor Hugo’s gargantuan novel, I came to the material with completely fresh eyes.  It begins with a sweeping, artificial-looking descent into a 19th century French work camp, where Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is completing a 20 year work sentence for stealing a loaf of bread for his family.  He is overseen by Javert (Russell Crowe), a ruthless, incredibly narrow character whose sole pursuit throughout the movie is to show up conveniently at any given scenario where Valjean is present and make him squirm.

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2013 Oscar predictions: Matt’s picks

I must preface my list of predictions as I do every year: I really could care less who wins any of these awards, even though this is a surprisingly decent year as far as the Oscars go.  With that said, here are my thoughts on this year’s nominees, including who should have been nominated.

Argo

Best Picture: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty

  • Will Win: Argo.  Ben Affleck’s spy thriller has been gaining crucial late-season momentum, and even though it is without a Best Director nomination, it has surpassed both the Weinstein-backed Silver Linings Playbook and the seemingly unstoppable Lincoln as the front-runner.
  • Should Win: Beasts of the Southern Wild or Zero Dark Thirty.  Both were groundbreaking, uniquely powerful movie-going experiences.  Not to say that I wasn’t moved in some way by each of the others (even Les Mis), but as a whole, those two and Amour were the three best movies I saw from 2012.
  • Left out: This is one of the least upsetting batches of Best Picture nominees in recent memory, but I can still complain about the exclusion of The Master, Dark Horse and Take This Waltz.  All would’ve made fine substitutions for a certain horrendously dull musical that I think I’ve complained about enough for a lifetime.

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Best Director: Michael Haneke (Amour), Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

  • Will Win: Steven Spielberg.  Though he is likely to lose the biggest prize of the night, he will be honored here for his superb, subdued direction in Lincoln.
  • Should Win: All are fine nominees, but I would pick Zeitlin or Lee over Spielberg.  Lee pulled off astonishing technical feats in Life of Pi and used it to enhance the story rather than overshadow it.  That’s the kind of thing this trophy should reward.
  • Left out: Obviously the biggest omission here is Kathryn Bigelow, though seeing Paul Thomas Anderson or Quentin Tarantino up there wouldn’t have been upsetting.  As it stands though, not a bad batch of nominees.

troubled lincoln at desk

Best Actor: Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) and Denzel Washington (Flight)

  • Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, obviously.
  • Should Win: Day-Lewis, Phoenix and Washington are all worthy, so no complaints about DDL collecting his third Best Actor trophy.
  • Left out: Richard Gere in Arbitrage, Jean-Louis Trintignant in Amour and/or Jack Black in Bernie should have replaced Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper.

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Best Actress: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

  • Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence is the only near-certain victory for Silver Linings Playbook, and deservedly so.
  • Should Win: This is one of the stronger, more surprising categories.  Emanuelle Riva gives the best performance of the bunch, though I haven’t seen The Impossible yet.
  • Left out: Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone and Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea were both incredible performances, but if they had been nominated I would complain about the exclusion of one of the others.

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Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) and Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

  • Will Win: This may be the most unpredictable category of the night, though I think Tommy Lee Jones and his wig will walk away victorious.
  • Should Win: Jones was incredibly entertaining in Lincoln, but so was De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook.  Waltz and Hoffman were both leads in my eye (The Master is named after Hoffman’s character), and Arkin was spunky but not really anything special in Argo.  
  • Left out: Matthew McConaughey had a hell of a year in 2012, and could’ve been nominated for either Magic Mike or Bernie.  It would’ve been nice to see Javier Bardem make history and be the first Bond villain nominated, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson were also terrific baddies in Django Unchained.

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Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Fields (Lincoln), Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

  • Will Win: Despite a series of increasingly unbearable acceptance speeches, Anne Hathaway has this one on lockdown.
  • Should Win: Sally Fields would be my first choice, but Amy Adams is a close second.  Both stick out in male-dominated movies, and Fields in particular brings astonishing life to her character, the volatile, mentally anguished Mary Todd Lincoln.
  • Left out: Overall this is a weak category.  Jacki Weaver was good but very minimal in Silver Linings Playbook, and Anne Hathaway is really only nominated for singing well.  She was very good in The Dark Knight Rises, and should have been nominated for that instead.  I haven’t seen The Sessions, but I would’ve given this category an overhaul and nominated Frances McDormand in Promised Land, Cécile de France in The Kid With a Bike and Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy.

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Best Original Screenplay: Michael Haneke (Amour), Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), John Gatins (Flight), Wes Anderon & Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom) and Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)

  • Will Win: I’m going to take a risk here and bet on Michael Haneke, though Tarantino could win since the Academy likes to recognize him more as a writer.
  • Should Win: I need to revisit Amour, but its screenplay was subtle and haunting and Haneke deserves recognition.  However, Mark Boal’s work with Zero Dark Thirty is a layered, incredibly complex piece of work.
  • Left out: Paul Thomas Anderson deserved to be nominated for The Master, but I would also lighten it up more with Leslye Headland’s brutally comedic script for Bachelorette.

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Best Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio (Argo), Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), David Magee (Life of Pi), Tony Kushner (Lincoln) and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook).

  • Will Win: Tony Kushner, though Terrio could upset if Argo steals more awards from Lincoln.
  • Should Win: Kushner’s immaculately detailed flair for language is one of Lincoln’s biggest strengths.  He is far and away the most deserving nominee in this category.
  • Left out: Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth deserved to be nominated for their Bernie screenplay, but the greatest omission here is David Cronenberg for the richly layered copy-and-paste job he did with Cosmopolis.  Without that intense dedication to capturing Dom DeLillo’s language, the movie would’ve failed miserably.

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My predictions in the remaining categories:

Cinematography: Life of Pi

Animated Feature: Wreck It Ralph

Costume DesignLincoln

Art DirectionLincoln

EditingArgo 

Foreign Language FilmAmour

DocumentarySearching for Sugar Man

MakeupThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Original ScoreLincoln

Original Song: “Skyfall”- Adele

Visual EffectsLife of Pi

Sound EditingLife of Pi

Sound Mixing: Les Misérables

REVIEW: Les Miserables

MISERABLES-articleLarge-v3

Les Misérables
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Written by: William Nicholson (screenplay), Herbert Kretzmer (lyrics), Victor Hugo (novel)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried

When I originally saw Les Misérables, I was so disheartened and uninspired  that I didn’t even want to write down any thoughts about it.  Anne Hathaway was great, yes.  At times the raw combination of extended takes done in close-up and live singing from the performers was thrilling.  But the movie was bloated, sloppy and completely overdone.

Having not seen the stage musical or read Victor Hugo’s gargantuan novel, I came to the material with completely fresh eyes.  It begins with a sweeping, artificial-looking descent into a 19th century French work camp, where Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is completing a 20 year work sentence for stealing a loaf of bread for his family.  He is overseen by Javert (Russell Crowe), a ruthless, incredibly narrow character whose sole pursuit throughout the movie is to show up conveniently at any given scenario where Valjean is present and make him squirm.

The movie hinges on their incredibly poorly realized relationship and countless manipulative emotional tangents.  Les Misérables seems to operate with the understanding that it deserves every wrenching, song-driven outburst without the slightest bit of narrative coherence.  More so than director Tom Hooper’s previous Oscar-baiting effort The King’s Speech, it is a deliberate ploy to earn trophies with period costume design and unearned emotional response.

As grimy and desperate as Jackman appears and as surprisingly good as Crowe’s singing voice is, the movie is punishing.  It peaks less than an hour into its two-and-a-half hour run time with Hathaway’s take on I Dreamed a Dream,” where her downtrodden prostitute Fantine weeps for her ruined life after she’s sold her hair and teeth to support her daughter.  Shot in a single take like several of the other numbers, it is a very good illustration of what Hooper occasionally does very well and often does very poorly with this material.  The close-up of Hathaway’s face is effective precisely because it seems unable to contain her emotion, and because her singing is raw.

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Jackman’s Valjean, on the other hand, does not have the luxury of being an effective character in close-up.  He is often on the move evading the authorities or trying to rescue and care for Fantine’s daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen as a young girl and Amanda Seyfried as a young woman), but the constraints Hooper placed on the musical demand that he must capture the singing live, and gets the camera in obsessively close to highlight just how live and strained his performers are.

This would be an admirable effort if the movie wasn’t such a blatant grab at awards.  Despite the desperate hearts at its core, it is exhausting not because the story is effective but because it isn’t.  It jumps ahead years at a time, stopping for revolution and love but never expanding or really caring about them.  The music often adds nothing to a scene, and despite coherent, elaborate costume choices and set design it never transports you.  Above all else, Les Misérables is the triumph of artifice over feeling and entitlement over storytelling.

Grade: D

REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan (screenplay), Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer (story) and Bob Kane (characters)
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

It’s often impossible for a highly anticipated movie to live up to expectations, though Christopher Nolan certainly gives it his all in the conclusion to his Batman trilogy.  The Dark Knight Rises is as large-scale a production as almost anything that Hollywood cranks out on James Cameron’s down time, a pitch black morality play on the grandest scale imaginable.

Nolan is one of the premiere modern directorial maximalists, able to sustain brooding tone and narrative complexity while also delivering spectacle on a blockbuster scale.  His movies, however uneven in quality, are always eye-popping and visually inventive.  The Dark Knight Rises is not the near-masterpiece that its predecessor was, though like the first film in the trilogy it is still a highly admirable, disturbingly relevant vision.

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The Oscars: Forever restless, never young

Now that the smoke has cleared and the winners have been announced at the 83rd Academy Awards, I would like to offer a few thoughts on the ceremony.  Let’s begin with the most obvious:  that’s it?!

The Oscars came and went almost without incident this year, save for an early F-bomb from The Fighter winner Melissa Leo.  She was perhaps the evening’s most enthusiastic and entertaining winner, and she took the stage about 20 minutes into the show.  Before and after her it was dull montages interspersed with predictable winners.

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