Tag Archives: Michael Fassbender

“ASSASSINS CREED” Review (✫1/2)

Nothing is true, so nothing should be permitted.

There should be a special recognition for filmmakers who somehow squander great material set at their feet. Zack Snyder, for instance, had DC Comics’ two staple characters at his disposal, and yet somehow made a movie as incompetently dull as Batman V. Superman. Gary Ross had Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey, an intriguing premise, and the historical relevance to back up Free State of Jones, but he didn’t do anything with it despite having that much to work with. And don’t even get me started on Michael Bay and Transformers. That guy deserves an Oscar for how much he ruined a series about a galactic robot war on Earth.

Now we have Justin Kurzel here to continue the trend with Assassin’s Creed, a boring, stupid, frustrating experience that kills any of the fascination or thoughtfulness the video games inspired. Kurzel literally had everything to work with. Oscar-winning talent. A deep mythology built from its source material. Incredibly choreographed action that blows even Mad Max: Fury Road away. None of it amounts to anything worthwhile. Besides Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Assassin’s Creed is this year’s biggest disappointment.

Based on the video game series of the same name, Assassin’s Creed is set in the present day where a corporation named Abstergo is after an ancient macguffin called “The Apple of Eden”, a device which can control man’s free will and “cure them of violence” (The script’s words, not mine). The head of Abstergo, Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), charges his daughter Sophia (Marion Cotillard) with finding the artifact by tracking the ancestry line of the last man known to have it, an assassin from 15th Century Spain named Aguilar (Michael Fassbender). Tracking his descendants from Spain onward, Sophia discovers his only living descendant: Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), an inmate waiting on death row. After rescuing him from his execution, Sophia hooks Lynch up to this machine called the Animus, which allows you to relive the memories of your ancestors, and begins their search for the Apple of Eden.

Let me start with the film’s biggest and most fundamental flaw: the animus. This is, from what I understand, a virtual-reality machine, intended to allow users to relive the memories of their ancestors. Since its making users relive their ancestors memories, why is there a need for a crane? When Callum Lynch is in the present, he is re-enacting the movements of his ancestor from decades ago in real-time, with the crane throwing him around like a rag doll on a puppet string. Why is this necessary? If the Abstergo scientists built a machine that literally allows you to relive the past, why would anyone care if you’re mimicking them in the present? From an efficiency standpoint it makes no sense, and it seems really stupid to be flinging Michael Fassbender around in a big crane while he’s in the machine.

But you know what, that’s fine. Whatever. If Lynch has to move during his animus sessions, I can get behind that. But then that brings up another problem: the editing of these action sequences. While he’s reliving his ancestor’s memories, he’s also mimicking his actions in real-time in the animus. Because of this, the film cuts back and forth between the past and present to illustrate that Lynch is doing this. That would be fine if they did this at the beginning just to assert the idea, but then they keep cutting back and forth between the action throughout the movie. They do this constantly, like we won’t know that Lynch is re-enacting his ancestor’s movements unless they remind us every 30 seconds. The action is so choppy and poorly intercutted that its akin to switching in between two different channels on a television. You can’t keep up with what’s happening on one channel or the other, so why even bother to show us both at the same time?

This film is from Justin Kurzel, who before this has received critical acclaim for directing Snowtown and last year’s adaptation of Macbeth. What happened to him? My guess is studio interference. With this being a video game adaptation, there is an obvious pressure to relate to the aesthetic and feel of the source material in order to satisfy gamers of the original series. Add that on top of the pressure that there hasn’t be a satisfying video game movie ever (See Resident Evil, Doom, Prince of Persia, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros., etc), and you have an unreasonable amount of expectation to set on one director’s small shoulders.

All of the elements technically function in the movie. Fassbender is a powerhouse in the lead and firmly demonstrates why he’s one of the biggest rising stars in Hollywood. The premise is interesting and has the potential to explore deep ideas. And the action is impressive and depth-defying, when it isn’t cutting back and forth between the past and present.

The problem is Kurzel, and 20th Century Fox, focus on adapting the wrong parts of Assassin’s Creed. Yes, you want the action. Yes, you want the choreography. But beyond that, you also want the elements that made the video games so successful. The deep themes of religion versus identity. The lore of the Assassins and Abstergo. How it subtly ties itself to history and how it relates to humanity’s nature. The video games were successful not just because of the action. They were successful because they had a compelling, thought-provoking plot that made us question everything and trust nothing.

I think that’s the worst part of this movie, is seeing the potential in every scene, in every shot Kurzel sets up, only for it to get shot down due to one easily fixable mistake or another. If there is one thing I hate more than a bad idea, it is a good idea wasted on poor execution. Assassin’s Creed is not just a wasted film: it’s a wasted opportunity. To me, that is worse to stomach.

This is a stupid, sloppy, poorly assembled mess of a film that further asserts why video games make terrible movie adaptations. Kurzel should have saved us the trouble and chopped up the film stock into confetti. At least then it could serve a more useful purpose.

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“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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Leo’s Pursuit For The Oscar Is Now A Video Game and It’s Perfect

That’s it. My life is perfect. I can now die a happy man.

For those of you that don’t know, Leonardo DiCaprio has spanned a long and successful career, with many arguing that he’s been long overdue an Oscar since being nominated for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? in 1993. This year, all of the buzz is on his side for his pivotal performance as Hugh Glass in the survivalist drama The Revenant.

In the case that he doesn’t get it again, however, at least we can say we got a hilarious video game out of him getting nominated.

The game is called Leo’s Red Carpet Rampage, and it features everyone’s favorite Oscar nominee racing for the statue against his fellow nominees, including The Martian’s Matt Damon, Steve Jobs’ Michael Fassbender, Trumbo’s Bryan Cranston, and The Danish Girl’s Eddie Redmayne. The game features Leo going up against hordes of paparazzi, flashing camera lights, acceptance speeches, overacting, and Lady Gaga. Oh, and there’s hilarious mini-games in between all of the mayhem, including “Qualude Overdose” featuring the infamous scene from Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, and “Find The Black Nominee” which is pretty self-explanatory.

Hint: You’re never going to win the second one.

The game was created by video game developers The Line, and can be played at redcarpetrampage.com. Feel free to click and try it out. I know I’ll be playing it until Oscar night.

Click here to play.

– David Dunn

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“STEVE JOBS” Review (✫✫✫)

Creator. Entrepreneur. Father.

Steve Jobs is defined by three years of his life: 1984, 1988 and 1998.

The movie, Steve Jobs, covers these years of his life. So will this review.

1984

Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is on edge. The Macintosh is malfunctioning. He is told by his technicians that the computer won’t say “Hello” to him. It’s 40 minutes before the product launches. His ex-girlfriend is waiting in the other room with her daughter, who Jobs insists isn’t his, wondering why they are both living on welfare while he is making millions. He paces back and forth in between his professional and personal problems. He tells his technician to fix it and walks off stage.

Fassbender is mesmerizing as Jobs. He’s ecstatic, energetic, passionate. He’s tense, egotistical, confrontational. He’s at peace when thinking about how many people’s lives this new computer will impact. He’s angry at people who come up to him, trying to stop him from completing his mission. His expression shows that they’ll fail. He’s too determined to let his ambitions die.

The filming in this sequence is enclosed, personal. It uses tracking shots to follow Jobs as he paces back and forth, looking at TIME Magazines, drinking his sparkling water, his mind racing with everything that needs to get done. The reel itself has a texture to it that I couldn’t quite point out until it hit me: this sequence is shot on celluloid film, reminiscent of the decade that it’s reflecting. A great choice of stylistic direction from Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), but just like the time period we’re in, we know that it won’t last long.

Jobs handles his personal issues. The technical issues are resolved. He steps out onto the stage and introduces the Apple Macintosh.

1988

The Macintosh underperformed in sales. Jobs is let go by Apple, the company that he helped start. He feels betrayed by his closest friends, alone in his struggle for significance.

He meets a few of his former colleagues who want to wish him well. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) starts acting friendly to him, but then confronts him on not giving him enough credit on the launch of the Macintosh. He asks him what he does.

“I play the orchestra, and you’re a good musician,” Jobs says. “You sit right there and you’re the best in your row.”

The scene switches to another where Jobs is confronting a former confidant. The editing is off, choppy. It’s cross-cutting between this scene and a flashback so rapidly it’s hard to keep track of the two conversations. I don’t know what Boyle was trying to do here. Maybe he thought he was adding tension to the scene. I thought he was adding confusion.

Jobs visits his daughter in the next room, who is skipping class to come and see him. She’s in middle school. He tells her she needs to go to school before she rushes up to him and hugs his legs.

“I want to live with you, daddy,” she whispers to him.

She and her mother leave. Jobs is shaken. He steps out onto the stage.

1998

This is it: the launch that has come to define both Apple and Jobs for years to come. This is the most important act of the film, and the one I will talk less about for the sake of spoilers.

Jobs looks different. He looks older. His hair is whiter. He’s sporting the iconic glasses and turtleneck that most people recognize Jobs in. Fassbender is no longer just acting like Steve Jobs. He has become Steve Jobs.

The framing of shots is similar to the beginning. It tracks Jobs while he walks from one place to another. He’s more sure of himself in relationship to Apple, less sure of himself in relationship to his daughter. Boyle captures the panic on his face, the fear recognizing his failings as a person and as a father.

It’s nearing the end of the film, and I realize the thing that I love most about the movie is its screenplay. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin captures both the genius and fragility of Jobs, the sharpness in his words and the intimacy of his emotions. This is a good change of pace for Sorkin. From a filmography of lightning-quick, witty characters and dialogue from A Few Good Men to The Social Network, this is his most emotive work yet. It makes you feel more than it makes you think.

I exit the theater. I call my dad on my iPhone and tell him I love him. Steve Jobs too realizes that the greatest thing he ever made wasn’t an Apple product. It was his daughter.

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Top Ten Films Of 2014

Has anyone ever stopped to wonder why all of the best of the year lists have to be in the top ten? Like, what sort of critic was working on his list and thought that ten would be the magic number? Why ten and not twelve? Or fifteen? Five? Twenty? Eight? Why was ten specifically chosen as the big number? Was it chosen at random, or was it actually chosen for some relevant, significant reason?

Regardless of whatever the case may be, I’m choosing to be a little rebellious this year. For the past few years, I’ve seen enough films to make a “Top 15″ list if I wanted to, but if I had done that, my site viewership would go down by about twenty views.

So this year, to battle the preconceived notion that “best of the year” lists have to have ten movies, I’m doing two different things. 1) I’m adding an “honorable mentions” selection that while those films aren’t necessarily in my top ten, they are still significant films that have contributed to the year’s industry regardless. 2) In honor of our first full year without the wise, sometime snarky, words of film critic Roger Ebert, I’m offering a special Grand Jury Prize, which honors a film from the year which has made a notable accomplishment that fits outside of my year’s top ten.

As always, there is a few things you need to know before I get into my year’s best. First of all, I haven’t seen all of the films the year has had to offer. I’ve heard from so many people how Jean-Marc Vallee’s Wild was emotionally stirring, with Reese Witherspoon’s performance being the greatest highlight of the film. I’ve also read from critics that Selma, A Most Violent Year, and American Sniper were great movies as well, but guess what? None of those movies get a wide release until after Dec. 31, so I’m not able to even see those films until after the year anyway. So what am I going to do? Release a revision to my current list, or add those films to 2015 if they’re good enough? I’ll make a decision when it comes to that. It’s the studio’s faults for releasing those movies so late into the year anyway. Blasted film mongers.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, this is my list for the best films of 2014. Not yours. There has been high praise from many notable films of the year, including Edge of Tomorrow, The Theory of Everything, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. None of those films will be on my top ten list because I didn’t deem them worthy enough to be on there. It’s nothing against the films or the filmmakers: I just didn’t think they were good enough.

If you’re not satisfied with that, then please, make your own top ten list. I’d love to read it, and if your reasonings are sound enough, I’d like to share it with others.

Now then, let’s hop to it, shall we? Here are my top ten films of 2014:

10. Interstellar 

A mesmerizing, breathtaking, and exhilarating journey that may have only slightly exceeded it’s grasp. Based on an idea by physicist Kip Thorne and directed by Christopher Nolan, Interstellar takes place in the future on a dying planet Earth, where the only source of sustainable food is by growing corn. When former aircraft pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles upon a secret station that has been hiding NASA for so many years, Cooper enlists in a daring space mission to find a new planet that will be able to sustain and save the human race. A testament to the quality of film that Nolan is consistent in making, Interstellar is a brilliantly woven, thought-provoking plot, invoking the same themes of humanity and identity that Nolan exercises in all of his films. McConaughey reaches an emotional depth much deeper than past “Nolan” actors, and succeeds in making his character more human than hero. This is Nolan’s most emotional movie yet, but it’s also his most complicated and convoluted. But if Nolan’s only real flaw with this film is being overly ambitious, I don’t consider that a flaw at all. Three and a half stars.

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

A crafty and artsy film that acts as a homage to the early days of cinema. After being framed for a violent murder of one of his former hotel guests, Concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) teams up with his young apprentice Zero (Tony Revolori) to set out and prove his innocence through a series of weird, wacky, and crazy adventures. Written and directed by Wes Anderson, who was nominated for an Academy Award for The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a peculiar, quirky film, a fun and enjoyable ride in it’s own singular way. Anderson is very specific with the direction of the film, using practical effects and set pieces that gives the film a very distinct visual style and aesthetic. The antics Gustave and Zero go through are the stuff of slapstick gold, with these guys doing silly stunts and chase sequences that reminds me of the silent film days of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. It’s definitely seasoned for the art house crowd, and it’s definitely more difficult to appeal to the masses. But if you allow yourself to be lost in it and have fun with it, you’ll find that it is easily the most unique film of the year. Three and a half stars.

8. How To Train Your Dragon 2

A wildly exciting and entertaining animated ride that appeals to both kids and adults. When a crusade of dragon-hunters reach the land of Berk and begin their hunt for the flying beasts, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) must team up once again with his dragon Toothless to stop the brigade and save Berk’s dragons and dragon riders. Written and directed by Dean DuBlois, who returned from directing the first film, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a near-perfect follow-up. It hits on every note it needs to, from the comedy, to the animation, to the action, to the emotion. Hiccup is a much stronger, yet more vulnerable, character now, and needs to face more mature situations now as a grown man rather than as he did when he was a boy. In many ways, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is to it’s first counterpart as Hiccup is to his younger self: they both grew. Three and a half stars.

7. Gone Girl

A brilliantly frustrating thriller that exercises themes of infidelity and media harassment. When Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, all eyes turn to Nick for what happened to his wife. When clues slowly surface and more details surrounding the disappearance reveal themselves, everyone is asking the same question: did Nick Dunne kill his wife? Directed by David Fincher and written by author Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is a masterfully orchestrated thriller, equal parts daring, inventive, intelligent, and unpredictable. Fincher propels Flynn’s brilliant plot forward with expert direction, eye-striking camerawork, and a cast that Fincher pulls the best from. This movie is like a game of cat and mouse, except no one really knows who is the cat or mouse. There is not one note in the film that you can guess is coming. Three and a half stars.

6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A compelling and exciting survivalist-drama that looks at the human/primate condition as two sides to one coin. After the chemical attack on planet Earth that took place at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes follows the story of Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the leaders of the apes and the humans, respectively. As the human-primate war rages on violently, Caesar and Malcolm begin to see that the apes and the humans aren’t so different from each other, and they begin to explore any possibilities of peace between two races. Matt Reeves builds an intelligent, in-depth story around Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and handles its premise with skill and precision.  It surprising that the basis of this film wasn’t grounded in action or ridiculous CGI stunts, but rather in small, intimate moments of conversation and ape-sign-language that characters share with each other. Serkis is a revelation in the movie, and deserves an Oscar nomination for both his physical and emotional performance. Four stars.

5. Birdman

One of the most mesmerizing, unique, disturbing, shocking, and darkly funny films I’ve ever seen. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu writes and directs this ingenious dramedy starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, a washed-up movie actor trying to escape his image in a former superhero role by adapting his favorite broadway play to the stage. Keaton is a natural in the role, relating his own experience to portraying Batman in order to further authenticity for the character. Cinematographer Emanuel Lubeski contributes to the visual design of the film, shooting and editing it to look like one, continuous shot rather than multiple longer takes. But Inarritu is the most essential storyteller here, making a visual and emotional masterpiece that is so distinct in its own language that it is impossible to define it, let alone replace it. Four stars.

4. Whiplash

One of the most edgy, thrilling, and provocative films of the year. Miles Teller stars as Andrew, an upcoming college student who is majoring in music and dreams of becoming one of the best drummers in the country. A series of events lands him in the top jazz orchestra of Shaffer Conservatory and under the tutelage of Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a brilliant but harsh and antagonistic instructor who is known to go very hard on his students. Andrew and Fletcher both develop an intense rivalry that both hurts Andrew, angers Fletcher, and yet equally compels them both to become the very best they can be. Writer/director Damien Chazelle conducts both actors through his sophomore effort, and does a great job in producing a tense, electric vibe consistently throughout the film. Teller and Simmons’ chemistry with each other is equally perfect, with the both of them bouncing off of each other’s words and emotions as perfectly as a drum beat. This film is about more than just music. It’s about the human desire to be great and what sacrifices we’d make to get there. Four stars.

3. Boyhood

The most revolutionary film of the year, ambitious in both production and vision. A twelve-year project pioneered by writer/director Richard Linklater, Boyhood tells the story of Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) childhood, chronicling his entire life from when he was six years old, up until when he turns 18 and leaves for college. The movie isn’t so much a story as it is a scrapbook of memories, and Linklater is pulling each photograph out of it just to show it to us. When he is younger, Ellar isn’t acting but living, behaving like any other child would in the moment because he is in the moment. As he gets older, his performance gets more stagnant and Coltrane becomes more of a surrogate for us to express our emotions through, rather than experiencing his own. In this day and age, it’s rare to find a film as real and honest as Boyhood is. Four stars.

2. X-men: Days of Future Past

The best entry out of the X-men franchise, and the best superhero movie of the year. Serving as a sequel to both 2011’s X-men: First Class and 2006’s X-men: The Last Stand, X-men: Days of Future Past is set in the apocalyptic future where mutants are being exterminated by humanoid robots called “Sentinels”. Having only one chance to go back in time and stop this future from ever happening, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) through time to their younger selves (Portrayed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) so they can stop the triggering event and save the future. Directed by Bryan Singer, who formerly helmed the first two entries in the franchise, X-men: Days of Future Past is a game changer. It is not only a visually-dazzling and highly climactic sci-fi blockbuster: it is a vastly intelligent and contemplative story that focuses on its recurring themes of racism and xenophobia, once again bringing the consequences of discrimination to the forefront. X-men: Days of Future Past is one of those movies that restores your faith in the superhero genre. Four stars.

And finally, my number one film of the year is —

1. The Fault In Our Stars

Surprised? I’m not. The Fault In Our Stars is one of the most magical, heartbreaking, and genuine films you will ever see, and is more than worthy of being called the most emotional film of the year. Based off of the novel by John Green, The Fault In Our Stars follows the love story of two Cancer-stricken teenagers: the shy and book-loving Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) and the optimistic amputee Gus (Ansel Elgort). Written and directed by independent filmmaker Josh Boone, The Fault In Our Stars is one of the best stories ever translated from book to film. I initially was skeptical on seeing this film, considering how much it seemed to have been doused in rom-com syndrome. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Boone adapts Green’s story perfectly to the big screen, retaining everything in the novel from the visual details to the words that were written. But its Woodley and Elgort that sells it so well, their chemistry that vibrates so wonderfully with each other and leaves such an impression on you. Trust me when I say this isn’t your typical rom-com: it’s a heartfelt drama disguised as a tween movie, and it is the best of it’s kind. Four stars.

And finally, this year’s first Grand Jury Prize appropriately goes to Steve James’ documented biography Life Itself. Following Roger Ebert’s life and career from him growing up in Chicago, to when he got his first reporting job, to when he won the Nobel Prize for film criticism, to when he lost his best friend, to when he got Thyroid cancer, this film is everything that Roger Ebert is: funny, honest, heartfelt, unabashed, unflinching, and real. It doesn’t give you a peppered-up look at his life: it’s whole and accurate, as genuine as any of the reviews he’s written. I’m probably biased towards this subject, but the subject doesn’t count as long as it is handled well. James’ handles this story with respect and humility, and ends up telling a story about life itself rather than just limiting it to Roger’s story. It’s my favorite documentary of the year, and it brings me great pleasure to award my first Grand Jury Prize to this wonderful film tribute.

Honorable mentions include the creepy and morally ambiguous Nightcrawler, the funny yet stylish Guardians of the Galaxy, the humorously innovative The Lego Movie, and the quietly thrilling The Imitation Game, featuring the year’s best performance from actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Not all films can be honored at the end of the year compilations, but this year I was glad to have seen so many films and give each of them a chance to shine in their own way.

All the same, if you feel differently about some of the films on my list, or you have seen another film that deserves to be recognized, please comment about it. Or make your own list. Movies are deemed as great films not from individuals, but from the masses, and the only way you can tell if a movie has truly accomplished something is if it has the same effect on all its viewers.

On that note, my fellow moviegoers, I end with a classic line from my favorite film critic: “I’ll see you at the movies.”

– David Dunn

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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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“12 YEARS A SLAVE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Over a decade of injustice and cruelty.

12 Years A Slave is quite possibly the best film of the year.

It is also the most disturbing.

Based off the 1853 autobiography of the same name, 12 Years A Slave follows the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who lives with his family and plays the violin in Saratoga, New York.

One evening, he becomes acquainted with two young gentlemen who claim to be circus performers looking to hire him for a one-night gig. When he wakes up the next morning, he is in chains, and realizes that he was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery by his captors. During his years as a slave, Northup goes from one owner to the next, from a kindhearted owner named William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) to a cruel, racist and mean-spirited pig named Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who presents the greatest trials he must face if he is ever to survive.

12 Years A Slave is a film that not only lives up to all of its built-up hype and expectations: in many ways, it exceeds them.

Its quality as a work of art is so striking and powerful that it can be compared to other historical tragedies, including The Pianistand Schindler’s List.

Director Steve McQueen, who made the morally reprehensible and eerily bleak film Shame back in 2011, redeems himself here as a filmmaker. McQueen, in collaboration with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, is not only masterful with framing his articulate, beautiful shots with 12 Years A Slave, but also brilliant with orchestrating scenes between his actors, showing us the bleak realism and truth of the slavery years in America.

Ejiofor, who portrays Northup in 12 Years A Slave is endlessly captivating. In moments where you think he might just be phoning it in, or just going along with the motions, he surprises you and releases an emotional intensity in ways no other actor has this year, not even Forest Whitaker in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o plays a young female slave in this movie so passionately that you forget she’s an actress and slip into her character’s tragedy as a human being more than you do as a movie character.

Most noticeable perhaps is Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps, who is so hateful and so spiteful in this role that all of the audience’s energy, anger and frustration is focused on him and his sadistic acts. Fassbender was brilliant in his portrayal, and I sincerely hope that he at least gets an Academy Award nomination for his performance.

Every other aspect of this film can be praised endlessly. The script by John Ridley, who wrote Three Kings in 1999, was endlessly emotional and captivating. The score by Hans Zimmer was quiet, humble and breathtakingly beautiful, encompassing both the truth and tragedy of Northup’s heartbreaking story.

However, let there be a strong word of caution: 12 Years A Slave will elicit violent reactions from its audiences. You will laugh. You will weep. You will grind your teeth in anger and frustration, maddened by the many years of cruelty, prejudice and barbarism that no human being should ever have to experience. But it compels you to care for the character, to reach deep down in your heart to feel what he is feeling, to experience compassion and sympathy in ways almost no other film can do, not even with Schindler’s List. 

And let this be a testament to the film’s quality: at the end of the showing, there was a white man who could be heard weeping in the back of the theater. In between his hiccups, tears and hysterical reactions, he turned toward the black viewer sitting next to him, shook her hand and after introducing himself said to her, “I’m so sorry for what my race did to your ancestors.”

That man felt a powerful feeling of guilt and shame for the things that he saw in 12 Years A Slave.

That man was me.

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