Tag Archives: Jennifer Lawrence

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” Review (✫✫1/2)

En Sabah No.

The biggest problem X-Men: Apocalypse faces is one it isn’t even responsible for. X-Men: Days of Future Past was and will always be one of the most definitive superhero experiences at the movies. Asking for follow-up to that is unreasonable, let alone damn near impossible, and to its credit, X-Men Apocalypse tries. It tries too hard, but at least it tries.

Taking place ten years after the events of Days of Future Past, Apocalypse shows an ancient threat that reawakens deep within the pyramids of Egypt. The first known mutant to ever historically exist, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) awakens to a world ran amuck in chaos and disorder. Political corruption. Poverty. War. Violence. En Sabah Nur sees all that’s wrong with the world and decides that, in order to save it, it must be destroyed and rebuilt.

Back in Westchester, at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) awakens from a horrible nightmare. Witnessing horrible visions of the end of the world, Jean is convinced that these visions are real and that they will come to pass. Her professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) thinks these are just dreams. Yet, as one thing happens after another, he begins to think there is something devestating going on that even the X-Men might not be able to stop.

The third movie for the newly rebooted X-Men universe, X-Men: Apocalypse boasts a lot of the strengths that its predecessors have. For one thing, the performances are superb, and the actors exemplify their characters down to the molecule. McAvoy is earnest and well-intentioned as Xavier, while Jennifer Lawrence is motivated and sharp-shooting as Mystique. The actor I noticed most, however, was Michael Fassbender, once again adopting the role of Magneto. Every time I watch him, I am reminded of this character’s tragic history and how other people’s cruelty has driven him towards violence and extremism. Without giving too much away, there is one moment where Magneto sustain a crippling loss that comes to define his character the most throughout the picture. These moments remind us that Magneto is not a villain, but rather a tragic hero who fell through grace, and Fassbender is brilliant in capturing both the character’s regret, penance, and guilt throughout the movie.

The action is also incredibly polished, especially for an X-Men film. En Sabah Nur himself is the most omnipotent, wiping enemies away with a dash of his hand or the white glow of his eyes. Havok (Lucas Till) reappears alongside his brother Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) for the first time, and their red energies run amuck obliterating anything in their path. The most fun X-Man to make a return, however, is Evan Peters as the speedster mutant Peter Maximoff. You remember his signature scene at the Pentagon in X-Men: Days of Future Past. His scene in this movie blows that one out of the water. I won’t give much away, but saving over 30 people at superspeed is much more impressive than taking out six security guards in a kitchen. This sequence was funny, exciting, and most importantly, entertaining. His scenes were easily my favorite from the film.

The action and the characters culminate together fluidly, similar to the other X-Men films. The differences lie in its story, or more specifically, in its lack of focus. There are about five different stories packed into one in X-Men: Apocalypse, and most of them are unnecessary. You have so many unraveled narratives trying to weave together into one that quickly falls apart once the plot starts picking up speed. 

Take, for instance, the plight of Magneto. His story is pure tragedy. His hearbreak, his pain, his loss, it echoes of Magneto’s earlier history and builds into a climactic moment between himself and his transgressors. The scene should have been a moment of suspense and satisfaction, but then all of a sudden, En Sabah Nur appears on the scene and completely disjoints the narrative.

The whole film is like that, building up to big moments and then suddenly switching to other ones. There’s Xavier’s arc, then there’s Mystique’s, then Magneto’s, then Jean’s, and then Cyclops’. The most dissapointing to me is Peter. His story has to deal with his true parentage, but it never even leads anywhere. Screenwriter Simon Kinberg and director Bryan Singer build all of this effort up for nothing. No conclusion. No resolution. No payoff. That’s because they don’t have a focus, and the picture ends up losing our interest, despite all of its spectacular action.

X2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past remain to be the best entries of the franchise, while X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the unoquivocal worst. This movie falls in the middle ground. Like its predecessors, X-Men: Apocalypse has great action pieces and performances, but it collapses under the weight of its narrative while simultaneously lacking in depth and development. As Jean Grey observes after seeing Return of the Jedi, “At least we can all agree that the third one is always the worst.” You read my mind, sister.

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“X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” Review (✫✫✫✫)

The next stage in superhero cinema evolution. 

X-men: Days of Future Past ranks among the best superhero sequels I’ve ever seen, one I would instantly compare to that of Spider-man 2 or The Dark Knight. There were so many things that needed to be done, so many risks that needed to be taken, and so many ways this movie could have failed. It didn’t. From the opening sequence to its last breathtaking moment, my mind was blown and the comic-book nerd in me was absolutely filled with joy. The movie did more than simply expand the franchise: it redefined it.

We open on a post-apocalyptic future that hasn’t been this catastrophic since James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator. Years after X-men: The Last Stand took place, humans are now being hunted by the same weapons they created in the first place: the Sentinels, a coalition of dangerously armed robots who can track and exterminate any mutant they can find on planet earth. Amongst the ruins of battered buildings and fallen icons, the human race has now been collected into a sort of concentration camps: all that’s left for the mutants then is the mass graves filled with the dead bodies of their kin.

Lifelong frenemies Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) collaborate on a plan they would like to enact. Besides having the ability to phase through walls and objects, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has recently developed the ability to transfer someone’s consciousness into their younger bodies in the past, allowing them to change the future and avoid the unfortunate outcomes that might become of them. Kitty has been able to use this ability on multiple occasions now to save her friends, but now Professor X and Magneto want to go back into the past (1970, to be exact) to prevent the event that triggered this horrifying future and save human and mutantkind as they know it.

Problem is, Kitty can only send someone back a few days or weeks at a time. Any further than that and she risks tearing apart the mind of the person she’s sending back to the point beyond repair. Luckily, Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman, who else?) has the ability to heal himself at a faster rate. So Professor X and Magneto decide to send Wolverine back into the past to coerce their younger selves (portrayed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively) to stop the triggering event and save the future.

Serving as a sequel to both X-men: First Class and X-men: The Last Stand, and incorporating characters and actors from both translations, X-men: Days of Future Past is, in a word, a game changer. It brings in all of its key players, from the original cast members and its most revered director Bryan Singer, to the newcomers who’ve newly defined their roles, including McAvoy as Xavier and Fassbender as Magneto. Everyone meshes so perfectly with each other, especially Jackman once again, who essentially has to react to characters from two different time zones. There hasn’t been a cast this big since Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, and I’m tempted to say the movie is better because of it.

Do I really want to stand here though, and compare Days of Future Past to that of The Avengers? Yes I do. The Avengers was a bold, brave step forward in comic book evolution, combining characters from five different movies to make a superhero epic that hadn’t been tried before. Days of Future Past follows that same model, bringing in characters from six of its movies, but the end result is vastly different. There’s a much deeper plot going on here, a vastly intelligent and contemplative story that elaborates on its recurring themes of racism and, once again, bringing in the consequences of discrimination to the forefront. I loved X2 for this very reason, for it being more than just a comic book movie and focusing itself more as a political thriller with comic book elements thrown into the mix. This movie is that to, like, the tenth power.

Oh yes, this movie will fill comic fans with glee everywhere. Similar to the small little easter eggs that can be picked up in other Marvel movies (Note: The Doctor Strange reference in The Winter Soldier), this movie too has sweet little moments that comic fans can pluck from the ground and take a moment and appreciate the aroma. My favorite had to be a moment where a mutant named Peter (Evan Peters), who can run at supersonic speeds, rests in an elevator with the younger Magneto as he’s helping him escape from prison, and makes a comment about his long-lost father. That’s just the tip of the Bobby Drake-iceberg. There’s so many moments I can pull from that filled me with joy and happiness, while others filled me with dread and angst. The film orchestrates its emotions wonderfully, and in every fabric of the film I felt what I was supposed to feel.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the best X-men movie in the series so far. Bold claim, I know, but it deserves it. From its first moment to its last, Days of Future Past is completely, utterly, fascinatingly mind-blowing and involving. From its quietly hinted-at themes of xenophobia and extermination to its climactic action scenes where we don’t see how on earth our heroes can win, Days of Future Past combines the best parts of all of the movies and makes itself the best entry out of them. Many audiences have recently been experiencing superhero movie fatigue, with movies such as Man of Steel and The Amazing Spider-man 2 recently being met with mixed reaction amongst audiences and in the box office. Days of Future Past is one of those movies that restores your faith in the genre.

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“X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” Review (✫✫)

Pretend G-men trying to skip out of class.

The very first shot of X-men: First Class is the exact same scene of the Holocaust, frame-by-frame of the very first X-men movie directed by Brian Singer. Not a good way to start off your movie by copying another one, isn’t it? The very next scene after briefly skipping through that one is a young Charles Xavier’s encounter with a young, hungry blue-skinned mutant named Raven who was trying to steal food from his refrigerator. Talking to her in a very sincere, comforting voice, he assures her that she doesn’t have to steal, and reaffirms it by saying that she’ll never have to steal again. Touching. I wonder how this conversation went over with his mother?

Years pass, and we’re reintroduced to the characters we’ve come to know for the past few movies now. Erik Lenshurr (Michael Fassbender), the man soon to become Magneto, is out on the hunt, looking for the man who killed his family and tortured him as a child back when he was a Jew in the concentration camps. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is now in college with the now much more mature Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), who is pursuing his masters degree in psychology.

There’s a mutual enemy that unites these three individuals together: Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a menacing and conniving mutant with the ability to absorb and redistribute energy. That means a grenade can explode in his hand and he can transfer the explosion straight into you with a touch of his finger. Shaw is the man who tortured Erik back when he was a young child, and Xavier discovers a sinister plot that Shaw is setting to unveil upon the world. Erik and Charles combine their resources and their efforts to form a mutant team to work together and stop Shaw.

And how exactly does Shaw plan to carry out this giant, dastardly plan? By conspiring and coercing the Cuban Missile Crisis among nations, that’s how. How original. I wonder if these guys considered overthrowing the Chinese government while they were at it?

Hypothetical question. If you hear the term “prequel” being used, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For me, its the word “beginning”. Beginning, as in, the start of the story. Beginning as in, the start of a legacy. Beginning as in, filling in the holes of all the ambiguous stuff we were told in the original trilogy, and beginning as in making sure everything fits into a nice, nifty little package by the time the end credits roll.

As a superhero blockbuster alone, X-men First Class succeeds. It’s exciting, it’s visually stunning, it features everyone’s favorite X-men that they’ve come to know and love, and it has enough comic book lore in it to make even Kevin Smith giggle with glee. As an action movie meant to please summer movie lovers, it is fine. As a prequel to the critically-acclaimed series that it is based on, however, it is utter and absolute failure.

Three of the biggest goofs that completely and utterly frustrated me. 1) There were flashback scenes in X2, X-men: The Last Stand, and Origins: Wolverine where Xavier is clearly seen as to being able to stand. Yet at the conclusion of First Class (spoiler alert!) Erik deflects a bullet into Xavier’s spine, permanently paralyzing is legs. 2) In the first X-men, Professor X audibly said to Wolverine that him and Magneto helped build Cerebro together, while in this movie it is very clear that a mutant named Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) was the one who built it instead of them. Magneto’s helmet also didn’t exist prior to X-men, whereas here it already does. And lastly 3) a cameo appearance of a certain three-clawed mutant meeting Xavier and Erik about halfway through the movie at a bar. Wouldn’t they have remembered him thirty years later, especially since one of them is a telepath?

These ignorances to the plot show me that instead of providing an accurate prequel to a highly-revered superhero series, the filmmakers were more interested in letting loose and having fun rather than making something straight-laced and refined. I’m all for fun and high-octane action movies, but if you go in ignoring everything else that happened in the movies previous to your own, you’re being disrespectful to the franchise.

Oh, the cast was more than exceptional, I won’t deny that. McAvoy portrays the younger Professor X wonderfully here, passing himself off as a sort of young Patrick Stewart that’s more reckless and immature than his older self. Bacon is smug and charismatic as Shaw, and even though his role wasn’t as compelling as Ian McKellan’s was in the original trilogy, it still served its purpose in the film.

I especially enjoyed Fassbender’s performance as the angry, relentless, and grief-stricken Erik Lenshurr. The staple performances in the series overall belong to Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, there’s no doubt beyond that. Still, Fassbender gives it his all here. You notice the effort he extends here, the passion and the fire he instills in this character. McKellan’s rendition of Magneto was calm, collective, and calculated, a great foil to the equally intelligent but more morally aligned Xavier. Here, Fassbender is neither calm nor calculated. He is simply a raging, hateful man, a mutant who has been in pain and alone all his life, desperately seeking some sort of way to fill the emptiness within his cold, solemn heart. I genuinely liked and appreciated his take on the character, even though he bends missiles in one scene that look about as realistic as a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

“But wasn’t it fun?” is a common argument I get from a lot of moviegoers. “Fun” is such a subjective word, and can mean any one of different things. In the aspect of simple, plain, straightforward blockbuster fun, I guess this movie satisfies. The problem is I didn’t go into X-men: First Class expecting a brainless blockbuster. I went into this expecting this to be exactly what it claimed to be: a start to the X-men’s journey, an insightful and hot-blooded prequel that showed perspective on how their story began. This wasn’t even close to being a prequel, ending with more questions where there should have been answers. Fox has already announced that a sequel is currently in the works to be released sometime in 2014, and here I am, thinking that these kids need to go to summer school before even thinking about going into the second semester.

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OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2013

Ah yes, its that time of the year again, ladies and gentlemen. It’s Oscar time, where forgettable movies to get gold statues, while great movies get ignored.

Calm down, calm down, I’m just kidding. Except not really. People know that I’m openly critical about the Oscars for a number of reasons, mostly because the movies that were nominated were given those nominations by bloviating pundits and not genuine movie lovers. Don’t agree with me? Look at the following movies that weren’t even nominated for best picture: Rush. Harry Potter. The Dark Knight. Pan’s Labyrinth. Black Hawk Down. Fight Club. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rear Window. Psycho. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. 

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy the majority of the motion pictures that are nominated at the Oscars, and I usually agree with their picks of who wins best picture. I absolutely love The Lord of The Rings trilogy, I love Rocky, The Godfather, Slumdog Millionaire, Titanic, and I uphold that Schindler’s List is the best academy-award winner for best picture of all time. Just because those movies deserved it, however, doesn’t mean those other movies don’t deserve mention, and I find it absolutely despicable that the academy snubs pictures that have made a large impact on society. I mean, everyone’s heard of Oliver! before, right? RIGHT?!

Okay, rant over.  This year is a very interesting awards race, with Gravity, American Hustle, and 12 Years A Slave the frontrunners for the best picture race, not to mention all of the other awards in the ceremony. I’ve already written my top ten list of the year, so I won’t bother you with the details of which I think is better. Let’s begin the predictions.

BEST PICTURE: Since Sundance of last year, 12 Years A Slave has been recieving the most steadfast buzz that lasted all throughout the year into this ceremony. While I agree that Gravity is a great frontrunner, I don’t think that consensus is going to change. Plus, look at the academy’s track record. Based off of previous data, the academy loves to give the best picture Oscar to movies based on real events and that statistically grossed less than 100 million. Not only is 12 Years based on the true story of Solomon Northrup, but it also grossed 96 million dollars. I’m sticking to my gut here. 12 Years A Slave is winning best picture. 

BEST DIRECTOR: Everyone seems convinced that Alfonso Cuaron will win the academy award for best direction with Gravity, and that especially seems the case since he won the DGA award as well. I’m not convinced, however, that he’s the most fit for this award. Gravity, of course, was science-fiction perfection, accurately capturing the physics and dangers of space so perfectly that it could have been filmed in space for all we know. Equally as difficult, however, is capturing the cruelty of the slave era in a relentless, gritty, unhinging fashion, and director Steve McQueen did that masterfully all while maintaing his decorum. I won’t be mad if Cuaron wins and McQueen loses, and to be honest, both are very deserving in this award. All I’m saying is that if Cuaron wins, it will be the equivalent of Steven Spielberg losing for Schindler’s List to Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive.

BEST ACTOR: The battle has been in between actors Matthew McConaughey and Chiwetel Ejiofor, both nominated for their roles in Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years A Slave.I’m going with McConaughey for three reasons. 1) Since his win at the Golden Globes, he’s had a steady winning streak in many award ceremonies, including the SAG Awards. 2) His performance was stunning, sinking into this role of an aggressive party-hard cowboy turned health advocate, and 3) He’s Matthew freakin’ McConaughey. Do I really need to give a further argument?

BEST ACTRESS: Again, this battle is between Sandra Bullock for Gravity and Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine. There are two reasons why Bullock won’t win this year: 1) She won the academy award for best actress a few years ago for her performance in The Blind Side, and 2) I’ve never seen a best actress win for a science-fiction film in any year. So Cate Blanchett is the assumed winner. 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: I want every single molecule and fiber of my being to give the award to Michael Fassbender as a hateful slave driver in 12 Years A Slave. His performance was cruel, relentless and teeth-grinding all at once, and was so despicable as a villain that he surpassed Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in Django Unchained. He won’t win it. The dominant opinion has been swayed towards Jared Leto in his transformative performance as a transgender AIDS victim in Dallas Buyers Club. While I commend his bravery and his ability to slip so effectively into this role, it doesn’t change the fact that his performance didn’t shake me as much as Fassbender’s did. Fassbender played the more striking character: he’s the one that’s more deserving in the award.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: This is the only acting category where a consensus is generally already made. Besides Ejiofor, Lupita Nyongo stood out both as a character, as an actress, and as a spiritually broken slave who lost all hope at life and at happiness in 12 Years A Slave. Her performance truly broke my heart, and she deserves no less than the academy award for best supporting actress. 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: This battle is between writer-director David O’Russell and Spike Jonze, both responsible for their respective films American Hustle and HerBecause it takes a lot more ambition to write about a middle-aged man falling in love with a computer than it does to write a historically based crime-comedy-drama, my best is on Spike Jonze’s Her. Just because its a smarter story, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a better one.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: If 12 Years A Slave is going to have any chance in the best picture race, it needs more of a push than best supporting actress. It’s going to get that extra push in this category. Not only is it among the year’s best, but it is one of the most spellbinding stories of the year, only barely straying from the original text that Solomon Northup wrote all those years ago. Not only will John Ridley win for 12 Years A Slave: he deserves it. 

BEST ANIMATED FILM: I’m one of the relative few that did not enjoy Disney’s newest feature Frozen, a story based on the “Snow Queen” fairy tale about two sisters trying to save each other in a crumbling kingdom. While the characters were fun and energetic, they were equally annoying and ditzy, especially whenever the stupid trolls were on the screen. While I’m less enthusiastic about it, however, it obviously hasn’t disappointed its mainstream audience, garnering a 90% on rotten tomatoes and a rare A+ on cinema score. There’s no question on who’s winning this: Frozen will win the best animated feature award.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: I’ll give Frozen this: it had wonderful music. It deserves no less, then, to win the academy award for best song for their brilliant track titled “Let it go.”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: A few years ago, The Social Network won best original score for its energetic beats and its fluid synthesized sounds. For these reasons will Steven Price not only win the Oscar for Gravity, but deserve it because his music added tension, edginess and paranoia to Gravity’s already heart-pounding premise. 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubewski lost years ago with The Tree Of Life against Robert Richardson for Hugo. The Academy will make that up to him this year for giving him the academy award for best cinematography for Gravity, although I’m still sad that Roger Deakins is getting left behind for Prisoners. 

BEST FILM EDITING: Let me say something here: great visual effects doesn’t make for great editing. Likewise, a masterful editor knows not only when to cut away from a shot, but also on how long to stay on one as well. Although Joe Walker is more that deserving to win for capturing the tragic essence of 12 Years A Slave, I believe it will go to Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger for Gravity due to its technical achievements. 

BEST SOUND EDITING: “In space, no one can hear you scream?” Yeah right. I heard a mother in mourning screaming in space for 120 minutes and I was absolutely petrified.There’s no question on which movie this award deserves to go to: Gravity. 

BEST SOUND MIXING: Gravity for the same reasons as above. 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Gravity. End of discussion.

BEST MAKEUP: Dallas Buyers Club is going to win. If the academy dares to give the award to either Jackass: Bad Grandpa or The Lone Ranger, I’m going to invite them inside my personal port-a-potty and wait for them to realize that its the poo cocktail from Jackass 3.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: I’ve flipped sides on this one a few times now. First I thought The Great Gatsby’s flashy and colorful costumes were going to take home the award. Then I considered American Hustle for its stylish, contemporary costumes. Now, after giving it a second look, my mind is made up: 12 Years A Slave is going to win for best costume design.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: I was hesitant to name this at first, because honestly anyone can take this one home. The set pieces and designs for all of the film were spectacular in the least, ranging from the financially corrupt society that American Hustle portrayed, to the bleak, barren landscapes of 12 Years A Slave, all the way to the surreal, futuristic Stanley Kubrick-style buildings in Her. I’m ultimately going to guess that The Great Gatsby wins best production design only because it is excellent at displaying the roaring twenties as well as being the most diverse out of any other nominee. 

BEST DOCUMENTARY: This category started off controversial, leaving off one of the most critically-acclaimed documentaries Blackfish off of its list of nominees. Disregarding that, however, look at the other nominees. Out of any of the other selections, which one was talked about the most? Which one is the most controversial? Which one gave a clear, unbiased perspective of a serious issue and let the film show reality as it is?

Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer was praised all around for his film The Act Of Killing, a story about a former soldier revisiting his dark past and facing the truth about the lives he took long ago. It ended up taking many number one spots on many top ten lists, including Sight and Sound’s poll for best of the year. It’s no contest for me. The Act Of Killing is taking this Oscar home. 

BEST FOREIGN LANGAUGE FILM: The more I look into this category, the more I notice that The Hunt has been getting more and more buzz with moviegoers about the Oscars, and is the only nominee to be on IMDB’s top 250 films of all time (although, oddly enough, its listed for 2012 instead of 2013). Despite how praising the word of mouth has is, however, I’m convinced that it won’t win. The Great Beauty has been getting the most buzz out of any other nominee, and that buzz usually isn’t wrong. Plus, my ex-film professor loves it. That’s when you know two things: that it’s a bad movie, and that it’s going to be an Oscar-winner.

And here it is, at last, my three (least) favorite awards categories: the short films. Why do I say that? With the exception of one, I haven’t seen any of them. Nobody has seen them. Point me to one normal moviegoer who has seen any of these shorts, and I will pay him $100 to smuggle in DVD-ripped copies of them to my home theater.

Blehhhhhhh. Let’s finish this.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM: The only one I’ve seen out of any of the films in any of these categories is Disney’s Get A Horse, a buoyant and clever combination of classic 1930’s Disney animation with that of today’s three-dimensional standard. I got this category right last year, but that doesn’t mean I will do it again this year.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM: Cavedigger, because it has the coolest title. 

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM: Helium, because I can’t breathe. 

What are your predictions? Do you think Gravity is going to take the big picture home, or am I shortchanging 12 Years too much? Comment below, let me know.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write the president of AMPAS an angry letter about why Rush wasn’t nominated for anything.

-David Dunn

Correction 2/25: On the “best production design” category, ‘American Hustle’ was inaccurately identified as being “the roaring twenties that American Hustle portrayed”. The description was intended to go towards ‘The Great Gatsby’ and has since been corrected. 

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Where Did These Nominations Come From, Kemosabe?

Today is the day. I was looking forward to this all of yesterday, and its finally here. I can hardly contain my excitement: the nominations for the 86th Academy Awards have been announced.

What, you didn’t think I was talking about Librean President Ellen Sirleaf’s anniversary, did you? Of course not, I only focus on things that are important. And what could be more vital, necessary, and inaccessive than handing out a slew of golden statues to over 24 nominees?

All sardonicism aside, I am excited about the nominations this year. I always am. While I am constantly critical about the Academy Awards and the films they snub and spoil consistently, I always look forward to predicting the winners with my family and always beating them out 18 to one. I get even more excited when a movie that wins best picture actually deserves the win. For example: Schindler’s List or Argo.

The nominees are in, and just like last year, there are nine films up for the award for best motion picture, among other awards. The first film that’s up for grabs is David O’Russell’s comedy-crime-drama American Hustle, a smart, surprisingly witty exercise that looks at the financial situations of characters and how it affects their morality. Besides best picture, American Hustle has also been nominated for awards including best film editing, best costume design, best production design, best original screenplay and direction for David O’Russell and all of the nominations for his cast. Seriously, check the list. Just like last year, all of his leads got nominations in every single acting category, with Christian Bale for best actor, Amy Adams for actress, Bradley Cooper for supporting actor, and Jennifer Lawrence for supporting actress. Geesh. Conceited much, O’Russell?

Just kidding. The film is good, and O’Russell is deserving in most of the nominations, although I think ten in total is a bit of a stretch. Tied with Hustle’s nominations is a film that deserves every single one of them is Gravity, a moving, enthralling picture that plays out as a heart-pounding race of survival in outer space. Gravity’s total nominations besides best picture includes best direction for Alfonso Cuaron, best sound editing and mixing, best production design, best cinematography, best film editing, best visual effects, and best actress for Sandra Bullock. Gravity and American Hustle have ten nominations each, making them the films with the most nominations out of any other picture.

Coming up with nine nominations is my favorite picture of the year, 12 Years A Slave, a motion picture that is devastating, cruel, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking all at once. This drama-driven biopic is directed by filmmaker Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), and its easily his best one yet. 12 Years is nominated for best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, best production design, best costume design, best film editing, and best acting nominations for Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbenber, and newcomer Lupita Nyongo, who is the most deserving out of any other nominee in the supporting actress category. Out of any of the other best picture nominees, 12 Years has been getting the most buzz and talk about the Oscars the entire year. I would pay attention to this one if I were you.

Tied with six nominations each is Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, and Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, a story about a dismal father who wants to go to Nebraska to collect a sweepstakes prize that he supposedly won. Nebraska was also nominated for best cinematography, best acting nominations for Bruce Dern and Kate Grant, and best directing and writing nominations for Alexander Payne. He won his second academy award a few years ago for The Descendants with his first being Sideways, so for his sake I hope he doesn’t win again so his head doesn’t get too big.

Dallas Buyers Club is also nominated for best makeup and hairstyling, best film editing, best original screenplay, and best acting awards for Matthew Mconaughey and Jared Leto, who are currently the frontrunners in both categories. Captain Phillips is nominated for best picture, best film editing, best sound editing and mixing, best adapted screenplay, and best supporting actor for newcomer Barkhad Abdi. Surprisingly, Tom Hanks wasn’t nominated for a best actor nomination, and I can’t help but feel really frustrated by this. If you saw the film, you would understand why.

Her and Wolf Of Wall Street both have five nominations, including best picture. For those of you who haven’t heard about it, Her is a light science-fiction romantic dramedy about a lonely older man who falls in love with a computer program. Yes, I know it sounds weird. I still encourage you to seek it out. While it isn’t as straightforward as other movies, Her is an experimental film in every right trying to say something about love and the reliance on technology. Her is nominated for best original score, best original song, best production design, and best writing and picture awards for director Spike Jonze. Even though it has lesser nominations, I’m definitely going to pay close attention to this film.

Wolf Of Wall Street is easily the most controversial out of any other best picture nominee. The opening shot is Jordan Belfort snorting cocaine out of a hooker’s arse, for crying out loud. Regardless, that obviously didn’t slow the picture down. Wolf is nominated for best adapted screenplay, best acting awards for Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, and best picture and direction for filmmaking legend Martin Scorcese.

And lastly, the final best picture nominee is a humble little picture called Philomena, a true story about a struggling writer chronicling the story of an older mother trying to reconnect with her long-lost son. Out of all of the best picture nominees for the Oscars, this one was the least expected and one of the few that I have not seen. Besides best picture, Philomena is nominated for best original score by Alejandre Desplat, best actress for Judi Dench, and best adapted screenplay by Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan, who also starred in the movie.

Also nominated for the evening is films including Blue Jasmine, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Frozen, Inside Llelyn Davis, The Great Gatsby, and… The Lone Ranger? 

Yes, dear reader, Lone Ranger is nominated for not one, but two academy awards, although I have no idea why. I haven’t seen the film, but reception has been polarizing from both critics and moviegoers, so I can’t imagine anyone being happy about this. It’s nominated for best makeup and hairstyling and best visual effects, which the second one irreverently ticks me off because neither Pacific Rim or Man Of Steel is nominated. Did I also mention that The Lone Ranger was also nominated for five raspberry awards, including Worst Picture?

Other surprises includes Blackfish and… Bad Grandpa? Yes, Jackass: Bad Grandpa is nominated for best makeup, but why the heck is it nominated for an academy award? That makeup looks about as realistic as a halloween mask. I certainly didn’t expect it, and I don’t think many others did either. The seaworld documentary Blackfish, which has been talked about all year, also did not get nominated for best documentary, even though it grossed more than any of the other nominees, save for 20 Feet From Stardom. Why the snub? I have no idea, but it certainly deserves a nomination over Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger.

Overall, I’m satisfied with the nominees. There’s a few weird inserts here and there, but generally, most of the nominees are very deserving. My only complaint is that the Ron Howard-directed Rush, a true story about two racers and the rivalries that they shared with each other, was nominated for nothing, not even best makeup, which certainly deserved it more than Bad Grandpa did. The heck man?

On the bright side though, Ellen Degeneres is hosting. Tune in on March 2nd, and you might see Dory make a cameo appearance.

-David Dunn

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“AMERICAN HUSTLE” Review (✫✫✫)

FBI trying to hustle politicians by hustling con artists.

“We’re always conning other people,” says a slurred, yet sure voice in the background. “It’s in our nature. We even con ourselves.” These words are coming from the mouth that belongs to Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a con artist who quickly learned what it meant to grow up and survive in a harsh economy. Irving is the sort of guy you wouldn’t want to interact with out in public. He is grossly out of shape, he smells of old hairspray and cologne, his crafty eyes hide behind a dark pair of shades, and his diet consists of nothing but beer, fast food and cigars. From an outward appearance, Irving doesn’t really make a good impression. But man, can that guy talk a good game.

After rushing through Irving’s very brief childhood, we are quickly introduced to Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a woman in her mid-thirties whose beauty is both ageless and captivating. Despite his nauseating physical appearance, Sydney almost instantly falls in love with Irving, and Irving falls in love with her too. So much so that he discloses his illegal business with her, asking her to become a part of him scamming other people out of their hard-earned cash and checks.

That’s all I’m going to get into as far as the plot synopsis goes. Believe me, I haven’t even gotten to the surface of it. There’s an FBI agent trying to catch them named Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), there’s a New Jersey mayor played by Jeremy Renner somewhere in the mix, Irving has a son and a wife he’s committed to named Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). There’s even a mobster somewhere in this movie where an actor makes a cameo appearance, but I won’t spoil the surprise by revealing who it is (hint hint: He’s got some bad ideas in his head).

Point being: this is a smart movie. It’s funny, original, intelligent, and thoughtful, an observant portrait that looks at the moral and financial struggles of these characters and what impact their actions have on the people in their lives. Part of this, no doubt, is because of the cast’s mastery at delivery. Part of it is also because its writer-director is equally as funny, original, intelligent, and thoughtful as the story is. David O’Russell, who was nominated for best directing and writing Oscars for the past few years now (For Silver Linings Playbook last year and The Fighter in 2010), returns yet again with the same wit, charm, and complexion that made his previous films both unique and entertaining.

The dialogue is authentic, almost like it pops off of the pages of the screenplay just as much as it does in the movie. How though? This is, after all, a work of fiction, right? Wrong. The plot is just is like Irving’s deceptions: they’re only half fake. The movie is based on the real-life ASCAM sting operations of the late 1970’s, in which the FBI arrested over 31 individuals of congress and 7 were convicted of bribery and conspiracy. That sort of realism translates brilliantly to the screen, and makes the conversations characters share feel so personal. Make no mistake, fellow reader: this is, in every definition, a heist picture, because everyone is all after something and are willing to manipulate everyone in order to get to it first.

The cast is unforgettable. So much so that I can’t even pick a favorite among them. Bale is as talented as ever in this movie, a brilliant and dedicated method actor who has immersed himself so much into a role that its hard to imagine that at one point he was Patrick Bateman or Bruce Wayne. Lawrence and Adams are excellent female leads, and are great at expressing how conflicted Irving feels towards the both of them as lovers. Renner is great as the New Jersey mayor, a loving and kind-hearted man, father, and husband who just wants the best for everybody, but ends up making the wrong decisions in trying to do so. If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be Bradley Cooper, only because he is so passionate and wacky that he could have been redone as a cartoon character. Like I said though, I can’t pick one. This cast is so talented and skilled in their roles that to pick one performance over another would be considered a sin. They are just as responsible for bringing this story to life as David O’Russell is.

This movie has all of the elements of being Oscar-worthy material: a great story, dialogue, characters, direction, and a great cast that fills these figures with vibrant energy and personality. The only real problem with this movie is the setup, and that’s unfortunate because that’s one of the most important parts of any movie.

Let me provide an example: when I first watched Goodfellas, what absorbed me into that picture was the first 15 minutes, a little italian boy learning about the mafia as a child, and the first narration we hear being “Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster.” Another one? In the opening scene of There Will Be Blood, we see a touching yet tragic portrait of a man seeing one of his workers die in an oil deposit, leaving behind an infant who can’t even speak, and Daniel Plainview deciding, against his better judgement, to adopt him as his own. Do I even need to mention Up?

All of those pictures started off with a bang because they gave us a perspective into the character’s history before getting into the meat of the story. Not that there needs to be a “How-to” guide for making opening sequences, but American Hustle literally flashes Irving’s childhood for about a minute before throwing us into the plot. I’m all for “show-don’t-tell” stories where they’re all situational, strictly limited to being set in their own present (Such as The King’s Speech or Black Hawk Down), but this one felt too much like being thrown into cold water when you can’t even swim.

Despite my views, I know critics already have their opinions established on this movie. They’re going to say its a masterpiece. That it is masterfully written and acted (which it is) and that it is going going to be nominated for multiple Academy Awards (which it will be as well). What critics won’t realize is the movie itself might be a con, making people believe that it is better than it actually is.

Well, if it is a scam, and David O’Russell is the con artist, then all I’m going to say is that he did a damn good job at it.

Post-script: For you irresponsible parents that are considering taking your teenagers to see this movie, don’t. The MPAA rated this movie R for “pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence.” The violence is very brief and honestly not a large problem. The sexual content, however, is profuse because of Irving’s two sexual partners, and the movie has no shame for showing us any of it. I noticed over 100 F-words.

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