This is not so much a review as it is a rundown of six movies I’ve watched recently and my impressions of them. More entries like this will follow soon.
The Lego Movie
Everything is indeed awesome! This movie thoroughly blew me away. I absolutely loved everything about it. The look was stunning, the storytelling was impeccable, the casting was spot-on. This was not only a well made story, but really felt like love and creativity was poured into the making of it. The animators did a superb job of bringing Lego to life while simultaneously retaining a sense of realism with the plastic bricks. I loved the subtle details, like fingerprints on the plastic. I really thought it was cool how the entire Lego universe was in fact made of Lego. Lego clouds, Lego water, Lego dirt. If this doesn’t win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars next year I will be sad. This is my favorite animated film since The Incredibles. In fact I would put this up on a pedestal with the original Toy Story. A true masterpiece of animation and filmmaking in general.
Paul Greengrass knows how to make an intense thriller. This is a story that the whole world is familiar with. You know how it ends before it even begins, yet it keeps you on the edge of your seat for the entire two plus hours. Tom Hanks gives yet another fantastic performance and newcomer Barkhad Abdi was completely convincing in his role as a Somali pirate. He definitely deserved his Best Supporting Actor nomination and I think it would have been nice to see him win. I am curious what sort of career lies head of him if he continues to act. One thing I really like about Paul Greengrass films is the tight collaboration between Greengrass, DP Barry Ackroyd, and editor Christopher Rouse. Every frame was expertly executed. I really thought Rouse had a lock on the Editing Oscar, he did such an amazing job with this film.
Winner of 7 Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Editing. Despite the implausibilities of several things in this film, I was thoroughly entertained by it. Alfonso Cuarón has pushed visual effects to a new level. This film is vastly superior to and will likely have much greater impact than that other VFX showcase, Avatar. I completely disagree with the Academy that this was the best edited film, but the care with which it was assembled is impressive. I can’t really bring myself to say that this film was edited in the traditional sense. It was very carefully planned. The choreography and execution of each shot is beautiful. Unlike Children of Men where I thought the extremely long takes were a distraction, I never really noticed them here. Cuarón was so much more effective here at sucking the audience into this film early on. I wasn’t aware of the long takes here because I was too caught up in the story.
12 Years a Slave
A truly beautiful and heartbreaking film from Steve McQueen. Powerhouse performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, and many others. This should be required viewing for all Americans. It makes me sad that people refuse to watch it because it deals with a difficult subject in such a direct way. This film deserved its Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay wins. I was beyond thrilled that Nyong’o won Best Supporting Actress. I was sure that the Academy would give it to Jennifer Lawrence, but I was happy to be wrong. Nyong’o’s performance as Patsey was haunting, gut-wrenching, and amazing. She is definitely someone to watch for in the future.
I was actually a little sad that 12 Years a Slave only took home 3 Oscars. I think editor Joe Walker did an amazing job with this film and I would have given him the Best Editing Oscar. In a perfect world Ejiofor would have tied with or beaten Matthew McConaughey for Best Actor. He did an amazing job in his role. In the silent moments where the camera lingers on his face he conveys such raw emotion that you feel as if you are looking into Solomon’s soul. What Ejiofor can do with a look is mind-blowingly powerful. And the decision from Walker to hang on some of those looks was brilliant. My only complaint about this film is that you do not get the sense that 12 years has actually elapsed. I don’t know if this was an oversight or a conscious decision, but simply aging the actors a bit more with makeup would have helped enormously.
Dallas Buyers Club
Another amazing film that far too few people have seen. This one is a bit controversial because of the changes that were made in regards to McConaughey’s character Ron Woodruff. The real man was not a homophobe and it is said that he was actually a bisexual. I can understand why the changes were made from a storytelling standpoint. Making Woodruff a straight man and a homophobe provides a more dramatic story arc for his character. I can look past those changes because the film is important and moving. McConaughey gave a career defining performance in this film. Many years from now he will be remembered for two roles, his debut as Wooderson in Dazed and Confused and Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club.
I also thought this film was well edited by Martin Pensa and director Jean-Marc Vallée (under the pseudonym John “Mac” McMurphy). This was my second favorite in the Best Editing category. I was less impressed with Jared Leto’s performance in this film. I found him a bit bland and, to me, it seemed as if he didn’t fully understand what it means to be transgendered. I actually think there were four better choices for Best Supporting Actor this past year, but unfortunately none of them won it. Many in the LGBT community are comparing Leto’s performance to Hattie McDaniel’s Mammy in Gone with the Wind. What was seemingly groundbreaking at the time will be looked back at as ignorantly clichéd in years to come. I can’t say the faults I found with Rayon lie entirely with Leto. He didn’t create the character, he merely played her. All that aside, he was good in the role, but not great.
(Not to take away from McDaniel’s accomplishments as an actor, her Oscar win for the role of Mammy was an important win for actors of color in a time where racism was far more rampant and overt than it is today.)
I was incredibly bored with this film. I have enjoyed other Alexander Payne films, but this one was terrible. I thought the characters were uninteresting, the look of the film was dull, and the writing was bland. I felt like editor Kevin Tent relied too heavily on dissolves for transitional moments. Bruce Dern was the best thing in this movie, and honestly, I thought he was just playing himself. I wanted to stop the movie after about twenty minutes, but I stuck with it to the end. I wish I hadn’t.