Tag Archives: Argo

Oscar Nominations Turn To The Dark Side

Another year, another time to gripe about the Academy Awards.

Nominations came out today, and while most of them are well-earned, there are obviously a few movies, actors, and filmmakers who were clearly snubbed for reasons we’ll never know. In previous years where I’ve written about the Oscars, I would build up to an infuriating rage about the Academy for not recognizing deserving filmmakers in either one category or another. Perhaps the biggest snub as far as nominations I’ve ever experienced is when The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated for best picture in 2009. Or when Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for best director for Argo in 2013. Or when The Lego Movie wasn’t nominated for best animated feature just last year. I don’t know. Roll the dice and tell me which is the worst. There’s lots to pick from.

This year, I’m a little more relaxed in my frustration. No, I don’t care less. The anger has just exhausted me, and in venting my emotions towards the Academy and their repeated negligence year after year, I’ve become so tired about it that it took away from my energy towards appreciating the year’s best films. So this year, I’m going to calmly state my perceptions towards this year’s Academy Award nominations. I will keep my cool for most of these, but there are a few nominees where it will be just impossible to keep my self-control in check.

For best picture, we have the hot-blooded true-story/comedy The Big Short, the British period-drama Brooklyn, the Steven Spielberg-directed Bridge of Spies, the ridiculously overblown Mad Max: Fury Road, the intelligent and funny sci-fi survival film The Martian, the brilliant and ambitious The Revenant, the indie dark horse Room, and the journalism drama Spotlight. Most of these pics are among the year’s best and deserve to be up here, though I haven’t met many people who have seen Room or Brooklyn. The biggest snub here is not one individual picture, but rather, the Academy’s capacity for potential.

Ever since the Academy announced its proposal for a max of 10 best picture nominations in 2010, they’ve never fulfilled that maximum capacity, minus the year where The King’s Speech won best picture. Every year since then has strayed slightly shy of nine best picture nominees, up until last year when they dropped it down to eight. It is unfair to do this to the movies. There are plenty of other films that are more worthy of a nomination than some of the other nominees on this list, especially including Sicario, Straight Outta Compton, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. No, I didn’t expect to see these movies on the list, but that’s not the point. These were movies that had a clear and visible reaction from the public. To not notice them by snubbing them of a nomination is absurd and unnecessary.

For best director, we have Lenny Abrahamson for Room, Alejando Gonzalez-Inarritu for The Revenant, Tom McCarthy for Spotlight, Adam McKay for The Big Short, and George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road. Again, these are well-deserved nominees, although I’m surprised to see that Ridley Scott was skipped over for directing The Martian. Then again, however, so was Dennis Villanueve and J.J. Abrams skipped over for Sicario and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so maybe it’s not so surprising to see great directors get snubbed at the Oscars.

For best actor, we have Bryan Cranston for Trumbo, Matt Damon for The Martian, Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant, Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs, and Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl. This is the category that by far pisses me off the most. Great actors get snubbed for great performances every year, but there is absolutely no reason why Johnny Depp should be forgotten for his mesmerizingly evil performance in Black Mass. His performance was not just the best of the year: it’s a competitor for best of the decade, with every ounce of his appearance erasing into this sick and wicked man who doesn’t have a shred of decency in him. With all of the other nominees, you can at least see the actors’ resemblances behind the characters they portray (Yes, DiCaprio purists: that includes good ol’ Leo too). With Black Mass, there was absolutely no indication that Johnny Depp and Whitey Bulger were the same person. The only way this category could be even more ransacked is if DiCaprio doesn’t win the Oscar come awards night. Cross your fingers that doesn’t happen.

For best actress, we have Cate Blanchett for Carol, Brie Larson for Room, Jennifer Lawrence for Joy, Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years, and Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn. Okay, call me out here for lack of gender equality guys: I have not seen any of the films in this category. Yes, I know, I’m a horrible person, critic, writer, throw anything at me what you will. However, it certainly doesn’t help that three out of the five nominees were limited releases, so cut me some slack. I will say that with her recent Golden Globe win, Larson is currently the leading contender for this category. We’ll have to see how the rest of awards season plays out first, though.

For best supporting actor, we have Christian Bale for The Big Short, Tom Hardy for The Revenant (which is very well deserved), Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight, Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies, and Sylvester Stallone for Creed. One complaint people have had with this category is the lack of diversity, with all of the nominees being tall, handsome white guys. However, I have to ask the dissenters: have you seen all of these performances? The biggest misses are the inclusions of Jason Mitchell from Straight Outta Compton, Will Smith from Concussion, or Idris Elba from Beasts of No Nation, and you could probably have switched one of those out for Rylance considering he was pretty one-note throughout Bridge of Spies. The rest of the nominees, however, are rock solid. No complaints from me as far as this selection goes.

For best supporting actress, we have Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight, Rooney Mara for Carol, Rachel McAdams for Spotlight, Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl, and Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs. Again, there’s a lack of diversity here from tall white women, but what other actresses would you put in their place? Can you name another ethnic actresses from this year that put on performances as unique and memorable as the ones here? If you can, please reply with those performances below, because I honestly can’t remember any.

And finally, we end on the screenplay categories. For best original screenplay, we have Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, and Straight Outta Compton. For best adapted screenplay, we have The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, and Room. Both categories are guilty of snubbing not one, but two great screenplays. Those scripts are The Hateful Eight and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, albeit for very different reasons. For the horrible year that Quentin Tarantino had to go through to bring The Hateful Eight into film, he delivered a very funny, witty, and memorably grotesque experience that can only be brought to life through his writing. Do I even need to explain why Star Wars belongs here? J.J. Abrams succeeded doing in one movie what series creator George Lucas couldn’t do in three: he breathed new life and energy into the science-fiction epic, providing noteworthy original content while at the same time paying homage to the classic characters and mythology that we came to love from Star Wars. Abrams continued Lucas’ epic story with seamlessness and creativity, and to not reward him and writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Ardnt is disrespectful to them and their vast accomplishment.

You can click here to see the full list of nominees. In the meantime, I’m going to be staring blankly at the nominations sheet until I can decide who the Academy is going to snub next on awards night.

– David Dunn

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“’71” Review (✫✫✫)

A boy trapped in a soldier’s life. 

We’re always looking for someone to blame in war. Most of the time, the blame is directed at the soldier. Rarely do we blame the military, or the government, or those we are fighting, and even more rarely do we blame the people living stateside, in the warmth and comfort of their blanket and home and far away from the battlefield. No, if we are angered at travesties such as the Vietnam or the Afghan war, we don’t point at the general who gave the order to shoot. We point at the soldier who was following orders.

In ’71, the soldier is treated not as a cold-hearted, emotionless machine, but as a young man, a flesh-and-blood being full of heart and consciousness, but who is equally confused, hurt, alone, and afraid of the people he’s trying to protect. The controversy around another war film called American Sniper released a few months ago argued if we glorify war and the military too much. Those same people need to watch ’71 and realize there is nothing to glorify about it.

Taking place during the height of civil unrest in the Troubles, ’71 follows a young British army recruit named Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), who gets deployed into Belfast during his first few weeks of training. Him and his squad is warned of the great dangers in entering the territory. Protestant and Catholic Irishmen are living side-by-side at each other’s throats, each with starkly different ideas of what is better for them. The protestants believe that the United Kingdom is their home and it is their best interests to remain with them. The catholics believe Ireland can be it’s own land and wants to secede from Europe. Hook and his fellow soldiers are just looking to keep the peace.

On the day of deployment, Hook watches as both sides come to a boil. The KGB is entering houses, threatening and beating people with their billy clubs, while an angry crowd of catholics gather outside in retaliation against the military. One of the rioting crowd members throws a rock and knocks a soldier out cold. A kid no older than ten grabs the soldier’s rifle and runs. Hook and another soldier chase after him when the crowd assaults them and beats viciously. Hook watches as the soldier is shot in the face. Hook only narrowly escapes with his life intact.

Trapped in Belfast with no way to find his comrades, Hook must fight through the night to survive against the city that’s hunting him.

Functioning more as a survivalist-thriller than as a pure-blooded war movie, ’71 strikes the viewer with sharp imagery and intelligence alike, filling them with a deepening sense of dread as we watch this young man crumble into desperation as he tries to escape from the people who are seeking to kill him. One of the things I love so much about this movie is how expertly it orchestrates itself and its emotions. French director Yann Demange, who before this directed British television shows such as “Dead Set” and “Top Boy”, debuts here as a talented filmmaker, crafting an exciting thriller that efficiently balances action with context.

I am reminded of another film similar in direction and subject, and that is Ben Affleck’s 2012 film Argo. In both films, the main character evades their pursuer through the chaos of a collapsing political climate. The camera captures the essence of both perspectives, with the pursuer desperately chasing their target while the pursued is equally as desperate trying to get away. And through both highly exciting and pulse-pounding features, both directors have deeper things to say about those societies and what impact they’re leaving on the people around them.

To me, ’71 is the British version of Argo, with one big difference: coherency. In Argo, everything is crystal-clear and straightforward. We know who the characters are, why they are there, what they are doing, who is after them, and how and why they plan to get away. In ’71, all of that is focused in towards one character only, and that is Gary Hook. We know everything we can know about a novice soldier, we just don’t know the same of everyone else around him.

For instance, the leaders of both factions, the catholics and the British Military Reaction force, are both skinny gingers with mustaches as thick as their hair. How can you tell who is who under the dim view of the street light? A young boy helps Hook towards a bar after his initial attack, but he’s on the same side as the people who are hunting him. Why is he helping Hook when he so clearly has so much disregard for British soldiers? In another scene, a Protestant seeks to help Hook when minutes earlier he had the cold, direct eyes of a killer with purpose. What inspired him to switch sides so easily? And then, near the end of the movie, there is a twist that didn’t make much sense to me at all.

Still though, the movie is there, and Demange handles the senses of unease and desperation well with the film, especially when trusting Jack O’Connell to portray all of these emotions at once. O’Connell is really having a strong career packing in for himself. In the past year, for instance, he created a very compelling presence in the prison-drama Starred Up and in the Angelina Jolie-directed biopic Unbroken. He makes a very strong case for choosing acting as a career in all of these films, and in ’71 he clearly shows that he can pull off the role of a young, desperate, and inexperienced soldier who just wants to go home. Demange was wise to cast him in this role and trust him with the emotional complexity of the character: O’Connell was the best part of the film.

I’ll admit, I didn’t understand everything I probably needed to understand in the movie, perhaps the biggest one being more aware of what the Troubles were in the 1970’s. Take that out of it. Take all of the political facets out of the movie, and what do you have? You have a raw, emotionally-charged war thriller that challenges the viewer to see it not from their perspective, but from the soldier’s perspective. Everyone hurts during the times of war. ’71 makes me wonder who war hurts the most.

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“ARGO” Review (✫✫✫✫)

“Argo”: The science-fiction epic that didn’t exist

In 1980, political instability and rebellion shook the grounds of Iran, a once prosperous city run dry by the greed and evil of its former shah, Mohammad Pahlavi.  When the U.S. agreed to house Pahlavi in southern California after he contracted cancer, the Iranian people stormed the U.S. Embassy in a furious rage and took everybody inside hostage.  Only six Americans escaped with their well-beings intact.

This is the true story of Argo, a political thriller based on the Iranian hostage crisis of 1980.  After barely escaping the U.S. embassy just before it is overran by Iranians, the Americans flee and take refuge inside Canadain Ambassador Ken Taylor’s (Victor Garber) house as social and political stability continues to crumble outside of the Taylor household. They remain stuck there for 69 days.

Enter the CIA. The intelligence agency plots ways to try and rescue the Americans and get them home to safety, but no luck. Their best ideas involve riding bicycles and meeting them at the border with gatorade. All hope seems lost until Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) hatches the idea of disguising the American’s as a film crew scouting for locations out in Iran. As the Secretary of State asks Tony Mendez, “You got any better bad idea than this?”

“This is the best bad idea we have sir. By far.”

Here is a movie that knows how to utilize suspense and tension to the fullest effect. Similarly to how Kathryn Bigelow sets up the stakes of the film within the establishing shot of the 2009 best picture winner The Hurt Locker, Argo similarly sets up its stakes with a tense, horrifying sequence of the Iranians overrunning the U.S. Embassy in the beginning shot. They jump over walls and tear down the gates as they storm through the front lawn. They break through doors and windows as they charge into the building, screaming as they hold up picket signs and crow bars. They bind their hostages in rope and cloth as they grab and shake them all while screaming into their ears and breaking furniture around them. In the world of film, the goal is to put audiences into the scene, into the moment of the picture. We are not just put into the environment of Iran in Argo: we are immersed in it.

At the same time though, this is a movie that knows how to expertly balance drama with humor and comedy. Two essential roles in this movie help achieve this: John Goodman as make-up artist John Chambers, and Alan Arkin as movie producer Lester Seigel. These two are the C-3PO and R2-D2 of filmmakers, a duo who argue and bicker over the smallest, funniest of details. In one scene where they were looking over scripts for the operation, Lester complains as to how they are all of poor quality.

John: “We’re making a fake movie here.”

Lester: “If we’re making a fake movie, I want it to be a fake hit.”

This is one of those rarities of films where it transcends merely being labeled as a “movie” and has graduated to being something as an “experience”.  Argo is a tense, nerve-wracking film.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat, cringing, waiting, teeth chattering, spine tingling with every tense moment of the film pulsating through your entire body.  Ben Affleck directs this film with alluring precision, utilizing jump-cuts and precise cutaways to the greatest effect during this American horror that is a true story.

Very few films match the precision and craftmanship that this film possesses.  Combine that with the film’s smart, witty dialogue, as well as its great spirit for humanity, and what you have is one of, if not, the best drama film of the year.

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