Zero Dark Thirty Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow Written by: Mark Boal (screenplay) Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle and Joel Edgerton
In 2008’s The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal created a searingly suspenseful modern war movie about a bomb diffuser addicted to the rush of potential detonation, which became a history-making Oscar and critical darling in the process. It was a grimy and unsanitized piece of work, more obsessed with masculinity on the edge than serving up an overt political agenda.
Zero Dark Thirty is almost clinical by comparison, if no less nerve-wracking. In chronicling the obsessive decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden, Boal and Bigelow re-examine the American psyche on a much broader scope. Again they try to keep an agenda out of it and simply dramatize the facts, but the sensitivity and weight of those findings make it impossible to avoid controversy.
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.
Restrepo Directed by: Tim Hetherington & Sebastian Junger Written by: N/A Starring: N/A
Many fictional films attempt to recreate reality and make it into art, often asking us to project ourselves onto the characters. When a filmmaker embarks on a documentary, they are essentially cutting out the middle man (the actors) and attempting to create art out of life as it is being lived. Restrepo, a war documentary of a new order, is an unassuming work of insightful journalism and people under stress.
Soldiers in Korengal Valley, one of the deadliest battlegrounds in the current war in Afghanistan, live day-to-day in constant chaos. Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger keep the audience in these moments as much as possible, with the excruciatingly loud bangs of their assault rifles and the whooshing sounds of landing helicopters. The only breaks from this combat are interviews with the soldiers shot in extreme close-up, and the occasional break showing them casually goofing off or chatting.
Verdict: The film is titanic in every way, from its dazzling images and special effects to its messages and attention to detail. But with big budget comes big demand, meaning Cameron must make a crowd-pleaser. Dumbing down the dialogue, character depth and dynamics, he creates a universal story the whole world can understand and enjoy. Avatar is whatever movie you want it to be, a love story, a message movie, or an visually imaginative heyday, but to sophisticated moviegoers it’s only meh. Grade: B- Full Review Here
The Blind Side
Verdict: John Lee Hancock’s bombastic, preachy and watered down The Blind Side is the one movie nominated for Best Picture this year that didn’t deserve its slot. This is the crowd-pleasing, melodramatic sports movie that moved both the Monday Night Football crowd and Sarah Palin wannabes to tears. Hancock directs this film with a style right out of the sports film playbook, taking no chances and milking every crowd-pleasing scenario for maximum fluff. Grade: D Full Review Here
Verdict: District 9 is the greatest display of gritty sci-fi, with its scathing political undertones and pulse pounding action. Blomkamp is able to mesh aliens seamlessly into a very real human world that echoes our own. While the obvious political undertones make this an allegory for apartheid, more conceptual parallels can be made with our current human rights, terrorism, and corporate moral dilemma. It’s expert movie making from top to bottom. Grade: AFull Review HereContinue reading →
CyniCritcs reviewer Matt Erspamer posted his Oscar predictions and hopefuls a while ago here. For a second opinion on the main categories and a look at some of the technical awards, Luke Miller posts his picks and favorites here.
The Blind Side
The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man
Up In the Air
Will Win: The Hurt Locker. Avatar may have audiences at home swooned away with its big glitzy effects, but with the new preferential voting system in place, The Hurt Locker has a lot less haters than Avatar which makes me believe it will be found on more number two and three place ballots of those who get cut in the early rounds. Avatar winning at this point would be one big upset after losing at the PGA, WGA, DGA and BAFTA which are all huge precursors to the Oscars.
Should Win: Up In the Air. I can’t really summarize how great this film is without ranting into a whole essay. You can read about it here in my review however.
Left Out: The following films that are better than The Blind Side: Star Trek, Away We Go, Moon, (500) Days of Summer, Public Enemies, State of Play, The Road, or Where the Wild Things Are. Personally, I would have chosen a comedy to put in this bunch and Away We Go had the best blend of funny and heart to rank it up with Juno or Little Miss Sunshine. Continue reading →
Even though there are 10 Best Picture nominees this year, as usual it comes down to a couple front-runners. As the March 7th air date approaches, two films, one of which is unexpected, have emerged as clear front-runners.
In this corner, the people’s champion; James Cameron’s high budget, jaw-dropping 3D epic Avatar. In the other corner, the critic’s darling; Kathryn Bigelow’s low budget, highly praised, action face-melter The Hurt Locker. So, how did it come to pass that these two films made it to the top?
Avatar was always a front-runner. Ten years in the making, big twelve million dollar camera, 3D visuals to die for- combine these three things with James ‘Titanic’ Cameron, and you have yourself a sure-fire hit. However, it was initially speculated that either Up In the Air or, way earlier in the season,Preciouswould square off with it. As the many daunting awards ceremonies have shown though, Jason Reitman’s film is really only going to expect a screenplay award, while Lee Daniels can only expect Mo’Nique’s Best Supporting Actress win for his film. How did Bigelow edge them out then?
The Academy Awards, whether I like it or not, are the biggest thing that happens to movies during the year. Though profit often blind sides quality, good decisions occasionally shine through all the sappy bull shit. Here are my picks for the office Oscar pool, who should win, and who should’ve been allowed a chance to swim.
The Blind Side
The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man
Up In the Air
Will Win: Avatar. Highest grossing movie of all time, revolutionary special effects, James Cameron- though none of these factors qualify it in my book, the Academy went with Titanic, and it will go with this one to get a ratings boost.
Should Win: Up In the Air. Jason Reitman’s film is a movie that perfectly captures and analyzes the point we are at in this country’s history. With a pitch-perfect screenplay, cast, and production team, you can’t go wrong.
Left Out: Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. Kids movie my ass, this movie deserved recognition. Not only does it speak the truth, something watered down in The Blind Side, it looks and sounds great thanks to revolutionary production design and some of the best voice work ever recorded.
The Hurt Locker Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow Written by: Mark Boal Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Ralph Fiennes
The Hurt Locker is that little military movie in the summer you didn’t see because you’d rather have watched Transformers 2 for the third and fourth time in a row. But I wouldn’t put myself on any pedestal, I didn’t see The Hurt Locker until it came out on DVD after garnering a plethora of critic groups awards and Golden Globe nominations, hoping the hype for Hurt was worth the watch. It is the movie against all odds, small budget in a big summer, female director in an industry run by men, an Iraqi war setting in the age of modern war movies being serious taboo, The Hurt Locker overcomes those obstacles, but not with the blast of fierce action as critics promise. Instead, it’s defused and delivered with a slow burning tension which is rare among war movies.
The film follows the reckless Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) as he steps up to head a bomb squad unit serving in Baghdad. His unusual and ballsy methods are not only cause trouble for the squad, but often is responsible for their ability to overcome some of the great obstacles they face. Their journey is a journey with no destination of place, but that of time. Each day survived is one day closer to them returning to home to their wives and families. The plot appears to follow the conventions of a typical modern war film, but The Hurt Locker is far from that. Taking unexpected turns and leaving politics aside, director Katherine Bigelow explores deep into what makes these characters tick, sans all the standard patriotic “I love my country” bullshit.