REVIEW: Gone Girl

gone-girl-DF-01826cc_rgb Gone Girl
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Gillian Flynn (screenplay & novel)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon and Tyler Perry

There are many, many spoilers in this review.

Amy is missing, yes.  Her blood is at her and her husband’s home along with a shattered glass table and an open front door.  Her porcelain skin, glowing smile and flowing golden hair is plastered desperately on “Missing” billboards and posters by her loved ones.  The media quickly catches Missing White Woman Syndrome and flocks to the scene to revel in and exploit the spectacle.  They want more blood, her husband’s blood, and the police are gradually running out of reasons not to give it to them.

None of them seem willing (or able) to fathom that Amy (Rosamund Pike) would flee on her own free will, let alone her other, more sociopathic impulses. It takes her clumsy, baffled husband Nick (Ben Affleck) a while to realize he’s ensnared in an intricate, sadistic web by his wife.  However, she’s also caught in a different but equally sinister web with everyone else in the movie, one woven by David Fincher and Gillian Flynn.

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REVIEW: To the Wonder

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To the Wonder
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick (screenplay)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem

To the Wonder is the quickest turn-around of the legendary auteur Terrence Malick’s career, coming out a little less than two years after 2011’s The Tree of Life.  For a director who famously took 20 years after 1978’s Days of Heaven to resurface, that is quite a 180.  This is also significant when examining this latest film because, though it contains moments as transcendent and beautiful as anything he’s ever done, those moments are trapped inside many less significant ones.  It doesn’t feel fully formed, and though it’s by no means lazy or even bad, several parts feel out of place and sloppy.

Malick’s camera, aided by the infinitely gifted cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, washes over any landscape with lightness and grace, tilting, panning and maneuvering around endlessly twirling and writhing bodies.  He speaks a language of pure cinema, enhancing each gesture and glance with a swell of music and a matching camera movement, and then using his trademark narration to an almost entirely expressionistic effect.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Argo

Argo

Argo
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Written by: Chris Terrio (screenplay), Joshuah Bearman (article)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman

I think Argo is going to win Best Picture, if the studios play their marketing cards smartly and don’t push too hard before the end of the year.  This isn’t because it’s the best movie of the year, but it’s the kind of movie that Academy voters can agree on.  It’s very suspenseful, it has a good ensemble cast decked out in ’70s hair and it’s in part about Hollywood helping rescue hostages in Iran.

Ben Affleck has been steadily building up his directing chops in his previous features Gone Baby Gone and The Town, and in leaving contemporary Boston behind here he has created his most assured movie yet.  Argo is consistently engaging, from its washed out ’70s look to its fluid, precisely orchestrated camera movements.  The first 20 minutes, where the U.S. embassy in Iran is stormed by protesters, are brilliantly conceived.

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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.

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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

The Fine Line: How the Oscars subdue controversy by embracing it

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Looking through the latest score of Oscar nominees, it’s difficult not to be a little bit happy. Eight of the nine nominees for Best Picture actually sort of deserve to be there, as do most of the acting nominees.  It’s actually difficult to pinpoint the greatest surprise success, though you’d have a hard time arguing that it’s not either Michael Haneke’s Amour and Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Both of these films “stole” Best Director nominees from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck, though we named them as the two best movies of the year.

However, the Oscars have slowly been dwindling further into mediocrity long before the Academy switched their Best Picture policy to, “We’ll nominate however many goddamn movies we feel like” and kept the directing category limited at five nominees.  Looking at the past five years of winners, three of them (Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech and last year’s The Artist) were the un-upsetting crowd-pleasers of their respective year.  The other two (No Country for Old Men and The Hurt Locker) were technical masterworks deserving of the kind of pedigree the Oscars are supposed to represent.

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Our Favorite Movies of 2012

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1.  Beasts of the Southern WildNo matter how skilled a filmmaker is, rarely does a movie come along that creates a cinematic world that is seething with a new kind of life, a world or vision that movies haven’t seen before.  Director Benh Zeitlin, working with a do-it-yourself low budget commune of filmmaking talent and some extraordinary “non-professional” performers, does that with Beasts of the Southern Wild.  The ferocious story of Hushpuppy (the amazingly talented child actress Quvenzhané Wallis) and her small, increasingly hopeless village on the other side of a Louisiana levee is filled with fantastical, visually stunning sequences as well as low budget narrative economy.  It is this year’s biggest contradiction, and its biggest success.

amour

2. Amour– Michael Haneke’s second movie in a row to win the Cannes Film Festival’s highest honor (the Palme D’or) is the director’s most empathetic and devastating work to date.  As the camera lingers in the apartment of Georges and Anne (legendary French performers Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva in devastatingly good form), we become privy to the elderly Parisian couple’s tender, haunting final moments together.  It is a slow crawl toward death, absent plot twists or Haneke’s sadism.  Watching it yields no pleasure, but everything from the incredible performances to the wonderfully precise camera movement lingers long after the movie ends.

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REVIEW: Argo

Argo
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Written by: Chris Terrio (screenplay), Joshuah Bearman (article)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman

I think Argo is going to win Best Picture, if the studios play their marketing cards smartly and don’t push too hard before the end of the year.  This isn’t because it’s the best movie of the year, but it’s the kind of movie that Academy voters can agree on.  It’s very suspenseful, it has a good ensemble cast decked out in ’70s hair and it’s in part about Hollywood helping rescue hostages in Iran.

Ben Affleck has been steadily building up his directing chops in his previous features Gone Baby Gone and The Town, and in leaving contemporary Boston behind here he has created his most assured movie yet.  Argo is consistently engaging, from its washed out ’70s look to its fluid, precisely orchestrated camera movements.  The first 20 minutes, where the U.S. embassy in Iran is stormed by protesters, are brilliantly conceived.

Continue reading