REVIEW: The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins

(Spoilers throughout)

The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino’s most punishing film, both in terms of length and content.  His eighth feature is a three hour chamber drama that crams post-Civil War America into a cabin during a blizzard and watches as its characters tear each other apart. It seems made with a sinister glee that antagonizes the viewer more than it entertains, coaxing uncomfortable laughter and squirms as it becomes more and more sadistic.

Though much of The Hateful Eight takes place in the same room, it begins in the snowy Wyoming wilderness.  A black Yankee soldier-turned bounty hunter named Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) crosses paths with a stagecoach carrying three white people: a driver, another bounty hunter and his bounty.   Warren himself is hauling a few dead bounties with him, but the other bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), prides himself on taking his in alive so they can hang.

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REVIEW: 12 Years a Slave

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12 Years a Slave
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Written by: John Ridley (screenplay), Solomon Northup (memoir)
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofer, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o and Sarah Paulson

Connecting 12 Years a Slave immediately to its Oscar buzz because of when a studio chose to release it would be a disservice to it.  To put it simply, this is the most powerful film about American slavery that I’ve ever seen, and diminishing that accomplishment by asking if the white male establishment of the Academy can handle it enough to nominate it for anything is at the bottom of my list.

Steve McQueen’s previous two features, Hunger and Shame, were visually brilliant, but at times lacking a crucial human element.  This was especially true of Shame, whose miserabalism was supposed to be its own profound reward but ultimately registered as empty.  There is obviously a great deal of suffering in 12 Years a Slave, but also an intense humanity.

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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.

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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

BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Django Unchained

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Django Unchained
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino (screenplay)
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kerry Washington

Django, like the ‘D’ at the beginning of his name, is silent.  This is no small feat, given that he is the main character in a Quentin Tarantino movie, and should be stopping to yak at any given opportunity, preferably before a burst of ultra-violence.

Of course there is plenty of bloodshed in Django Unchained, so much in fact that it paints a white plantation red, mostly with the blood of its owner and his employees.  It is Tarantino’s second historical revenge fantasy in a row, following the revisionist WWII epic Inglourious Basterds.  Here, though, he crucially refuses to revise the horrors of American slavery, and depicts them in ways that are startling and horrific.  The blood from the shootouts may be gratuitous and expressionistic, but it’s the beating, dog mauling and whipping that feel brutally real even if the movie they are in is often highly stylized.

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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: Django Unchained

Django Unchained movie still

Django Unchained
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino (screenplay)
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kerry Washington

Django, like the ‘D’ at the beginning of his name, is silent.  This is no small feat, given that he is the main character in a Quentin Tarantino movie, and should be stopping to yak at any given opportunity, preferably before a burst of ultra-violence.

Of course there is plenty of bloodshed in Django Unchained, so much in fact that it paints a white plantation red, mostly with the blood of its owner and his employees.  It is Tarantino’s second historical revenge fantasy in a row, following the revisionist WWII epic Inglourious Basterds.  Here, though, he crucially refuses to revise the horrors of American slavery, and depicts them in ways that are startling and horrific.  The blood from the shootouts may be gratuitous and expressionistic, but it’s the beating, dog mauling and whipping that feel brutally real even if the movie they are in is often highly stylized.

Continue reading