The Mallory Project

"Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it." – Julia Child

Oscar Winners and Losers Part 2

And Part Two of what is turning out to be my long Oscar-related rant. This post won’t be as long as the previous one, because I’m pretty happy with who won the “big” awards.

This year, I saw 7 of the 9 movies nominated for Best Picture. I didn’t see Life of Pi or Amour, so I can’t comment on their “worthiness” to win. Although it seems to me that a movie shouldn’t nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film. That kind of seems like cheating.

Anyway, I am very glad that Argo won Best Picture. I am not an impartial judge regarding Argo. I have a personal bias for that movie that actually has nothing to do with the movie. It was the first movie my boyfriend and I saw together in the theaters (our second date!) But it is a great movie. I’ll be able to watch it over and over again. But I do think that Lincoln was a technically superior movie. So in my opinion (duh, this whole blog is my opinion), Lincoln should have won Best Picture and Ben Affleck should have won Best Director.

Again, I haven’t seen Life of Pi yet, so I don’t know how Ang Le’s directing was versus Affleck’s or Spielberg’s. But it is a damn shame that Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were snubbed from that category.

I also didn’t see all the movies that were nominated for Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor or Supporting Actress, so my picks were based only on the movies I had seen.

Daniel Day-Lewis hands down deserved the Oscar for Lincoln (see my review of the movie here). Hugh Jackman was an amazing Jean Valjean, of course. I loved LOVED Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook. (I haven’t seen The Master or Flight, though I do love both Joaquin Phoenix (without the beard) and Denzel Washington.) But I don’t think I’ve seen acting like Day-Lewis as Lincoln since … I don’t know. Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, maybe. Day-Lewis should win Actor of the Decade, if they gave out that award.

For Best Actress, I love all the nominees (with the exception of Emmanuelle Riva; I’m sue she’s great, but I haven’t seen anything she’s been in.) Jessica Chastain is amazing in everything she’s in. Her portrayal of Maya in Zero Dark Thirty made me want to join the CIA. Naomi Watts is great, even in King Kong. And we can expect wonderful things from Quvenzhane Wallis in the future (hopefully we can all learn how to spell her name!) If I had been picking the winner, I would’ve had trouble choosing between Chastain, Wallis and Jennifer Lawrence. I love Lawrence, especially because of The Hunger Games. She acted her ass off in Silver Linings Playbook. But ultimately, I probably would have gone with Chastain.

I really, really wanted Christoph Waltz to win Best Supporting Actor, even though he was more of a lead in Django Unchained. Yeah, the movie was named after Django, but Waltz was really what held that movie together. Alan Arkin was great in Argo, but I really thought that Tommy Lee Jones would win for Lincoln. He was wonderful in that movie, and he won the Golden Globe and the SAG award. But I’m glad that the Academy agreed with me about Waltz.

Finally, Anne Hathaway is the new face of Les Mis. Her “I Dreamed A Dream” will be what people think of when they hear the words “Les” and “Mis” together. But it was more than just the song. I felt the pain, the heartbreak Fantine was going through. I’ve seen Les Mis live at the Orpheum in San Francisco, and I know every word of almost every song. But I felt more connected to the characters, especially to Fantine.

So that’s it. Award season is over, and blockbuster season is just around the corner. Stay tuned!

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Oscar Winners and Losers: Part 1

Right off the bat, I will admit that I did not actually watch the Oscars this year. To be honest, I usually don’t. I like tuning in to see the opening monologue and then checking back in every so often to see the winners. But with the proliferation of social media and various entertainment news outlets live blogging the event, I didn’t have to watch. I was able to follow along by pressing refresh on my Browser.
So I won’t talk about the Boob Song – because I haven’t heard it. I won’t talk about Seth MacFarland’s sexist jokes – because I haven’t heard them.
Instead, I’m going to talk about the BIG winners. By which I mean the Acting, Writing, Director awards and Best Picture. I’ll tell you who I thought would win, and who I wanted to win, and why.
Note: this post was getting too long, so I’m going to split this into several posts.
The only category that I am disappointed in is Best Animated Picture.
Those of you who know me personally know how much I love Pixar. I wrote my Master’s thesis on Pixar films. I can quote every single line from Monster’s Inc and The Incredibles, and I make a mean ratatouille (hell, it’s thanks to Pixar that I can even spell ratatouille.)
But I’m upset they won for Brave.
I wanted Wreck-It Ralph to win. I expected Wreck-It Ralph to win. And it’s not because I also love Disney (I do love Disney just a slightly bit more than I love Pixar.) If Ralph had been produced by DreamWorks or 20th Century Fox, or any other studio, I would have expected it to win.
The writing on Brave was unoriginal. The story was a re-hashing of Brother Bear, and the dialogue wasn’t anything special. Voice acting was good, but again not special. The animation was gorgeous, like always. Merida’s curly and fiery red hair was unlike anything else I’ve seen in animated movies.
Brave was a solid B movie, in my opinion. I liked it, it was enjoyable, but I won’t hurry to add it to my DVD collection anytime soon. I actually think I would have enjoyed it more if it hadn’t been made by Pixar. Pixar has a mysticism to them that brings certain expectations. And Brave unfortunately missed that mark.
On the other hand, Wreck-It Ralph exceeded expectations.
Disney has a much longer history of excellence, dating back to Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon in 1928. After Walt died in 1966, the quality of some of the movies went down (have you watched Black Cauldron recently?) Then Eisner came in and gave the world The Little Mermaid and Lion King and all those great movies.
The quality of movies was hit and miss after Eisner left. (Cough Valient cough.) Princess and the Frog from 2009 was a big success, but 2010’s Tangled didn’t do quite as well at the Box Office. So I was pleasantly surprised at just how good Wreck-It Ralph was. The story is original and entertaining. The characters are cute and endearing. The voice acting is phenomenal. I like how they used big names, but they were organic and not a stunt, which is all too common in animation today. But it was the animation that really blew me away. I watched in on a computer the other day and it was just as impressive as it was on the big screen. (Brave wasn’t as lucky.) The animators melded several types of animation, including 8-bit, with CG, seamlessly.
My personal opinions aside, Wreck-It Ralph is clearly the superior animated movie of the 2012. It’s disappointing to see it not get the recognition it deserves.

Tune in next time for the rest of my thoughts about last week’s Oscars!

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Oscar Race: Lincoln

I will readily admit that I have long held a biased opinion on Stephen Spielberg’s movies. I love them.

I don’t really know why. Maybe because of American Tale? I have two versions of “Somewhere Out There” on my iPod, and I once had a pet mouse I named Fiefl.

That being said, I went into Lincoln with high expectations.

And Spielberg shattered those expectations.

It is a testament to a great director when you’re sitting on the edge of your seat, biting your nails, about the outcome of an event you’ve been aware of your entire life.

(I won’t give any filmic spoilers here, but I believe that everyone in the English-speaking world is aware of how Lincoln’s legacy ended.) But one of the best scenes in the movie comes in the third act. It’s the depiction of the House of Representatives vote regarding the 13th Amendment. The Amendment had been approved in the Senate months before, it the debate in the House was contentious, at best. Spielberg weaves the actual vote in with shots of Mrs. Lincoln and General Grant keeping “score” from, respectively, the balcony of the House and the Union army headquarters, and with shots of Lincoln in the White House, reading stories to his youngest son.

And I knew how the vote would turn out, obviously. There aren’t slaves anymore (at least, no legal slaves); no spoilers there. But, like I said earlier, I was on the edge of my seat, biting my nails.

Though the story was far from new, Spielberg found the perfect angle for this biopic. He showed Lincoln’s vulnerable, human side. Lincoln is a mythical figure in our culture, seen as an (almost) infallible giant. And though he physically was a giant, this movie showed that he was far from infallible. (No assassination quips here. I’m talking about his political life.) Even within days of the vote, he wasn’t sure he’d win. His wife was overcome with grief from the long-ago loss of their son. His oldest son wanted to enlist in the army. His youngest son hadn’t even gone through puberty. And his country was in the midst of a bloody, horrible civil war. There is one line in the third act that sums up how all of these hardships affected Lincoln: “outwardly, you have aged ten years in the past year.”

The acting was phenomenal. I was pulled out of the film several times by seeing faces I didn’t know were in the film (Lee Pace, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the guy who played Lane on Mad Men). But when Day-Lewis was on screen, I wasn’t seeing an actor. I was seeing Lincoln. I didn’t see Forrest Gump’s mom, I saw Mary Todd Lincoln. And I couldn’t even hate James Spader (that’s another story for another time, but I do NOT like James Spader on a personal level.)

If Lincoln sweeps the Academy Awards, I wouldn’t be disappointed. (Though I’m still rooting for Argo to take home the Best Picture trophy.)

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Oscar Race: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Wow.
I didn’t know anything about this movie going in, except that the star (Quvenzhane Wallis) was only 8 when filming began, and she’s now the youngest actor to be nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award.
As Hush Puppie, Wallis fills the screen with her personality. She was adorable. I just wanted to pick her up, hug her and take her to wherever she wants to go.
As much as I loved Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook and Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, I am now rooting for Wallis to win the Oscar. Her depth was incredibly impressive for such a young actor. The world is falling down around Hush Puppie (or more accurately, filling up around her) but she is singularly set on finding her mama. Her mama “swam away” when Hush Puppie was a baby. Her father wasn’t there much (I’m going to spoil why) so she has had to basically raise herself, with some help from her community.
I know this review doesn’t go into much detail, but I can’t really put in words what exactly I feel about this movie. I loved it, that much I know, and it really inspired me to get to writing my own script.
I’m pulling for this small and wonderful film to be recognized by the Academy this year, and I highly recommend it for everyone out there to go see.

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Oscar Race: Zero Dark Thirty

This film was, technically, good. Mark Boal wrote a great script. Even though we all knew the ending, he keeps us at the edge of our seats, waiting to see what exactly is coming up next.
The cinematography was great, making the Middle East look less like a desert than the typical stereotypes we see. There were several scenes that were too shaky and made me slightly motion sick, but that’s a pretty common effect in today’s films.
The acting was marvelous. Jessica Chastain was wonderful as CIA agent Maya, obsessed with catching a mysterious al-Quada member Abu Ahmed, rumored to be Osama bin Laden’s most trusted courier. She brought humanity to the film’s most disturbing scenes, those controversial torture scenes everyone’s up in arms about.
The aforementioned torture scenes were graphic, but hardly the most violent I’ve seen in films lately. From what I understand, most of the controversy comes from director Kathyrn Bigelow’s claim that “the following events are based on first hand accounts of actual events”. I don’t want to take a political turn here, so I won’t go into detail on this. I feel that these scenes served the narrative of the film. They revealed information about the situation, characters, and story world that couldn’t be revealed in other ways.
But if the CIA is correct, and Bigelow did exaggerate these events, she has a responsibility to be open and honest and admit it.
One of my favorite parts of this movie involved Chris Pratt as a member of Seal Team 6. Most of the comedic lines in the film were provided by the Seals. I’ll admit I’m biased; Pratt plays Andy Dwyer on one of my favorite sitcoms, Parks and Recreation (NBC, Thursday nights).
My biggest critique of the film is how Bigelow handled settings. Instead of letting viewers learn the settings in organic ways, Bigelow included redundant supers. Over a shot of a Marriott hotel was the super “Marriott Hotel, Islamabad, Pakistan.” Just one scene before, she’d established we were currently in Pakistan. Several scenes later, a character states “the Marriott is one of the most popular (hotels) in the area for Pakistanis and visitors alike”. Does Bigelow underestimate our intelligence so much that she needs to tell us three, four, or five times where we are?
Bigelow made another odd directing choice. She seemed to split the film into chapters, with such titles as “The Meeting”. These ‘chapter titles’ appeared on dark screens, cut oddly between scenes. It made the editing appear strange, like Bigelow couldn’t find other ways to transition between scenes. They didn’t add much to the movie, giving very little information, if any, about the upcoming scene or change of location. It pulled me out of the movie every time it happened.
Culturally, this is a very important movie. It opens up a dialogue we’ve been having since before 9/11/2001. It portrays real-life examples of American heroism (slightly fictionalized, of course). It already won Chastain a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama, and it may win her an Oscar. There is a slight possibility it will win Best Picture, but I think that award is more likely to go to Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild or Lincoln. Bigelow may win Best Director, but only because of her history (The Hurt Locker), and because Golden Globe winner Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated.

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