Oscar Review Round-up

In light of the upcoming Oscars I’ve been attempting a review marathon of each “Best Picture” nominee, ’cause no one’s doing that right now!?, as well as a couple on the side that took my interest. Sadly due to my own heroic levels of procrastination, mainly centered around angry birds and googling my own name, along with having the typing skills of a hook handed OAP it looks like I’m going to fail in my endeavors to produce full length reviews of each of the nine films up for the award. But never one to miss a band wagon jumping opportunity heres a speed round up of the nominees with some predications thrown in because why the fuck not! Let’s jump right in, shall we.

Twelve Years a Slave

I’ve been waiting to review a movie considered one of the greatest cinematic projects of recent times, if not of all times, for a while now. A pinnacle of filmic achievement and the collective career highpoint of all those involved. Sadly, Grown Ups 2 is long gone, and After Earth was inexplicably snubbed. But believe me when I say, without a trace of sarcasm, all of the above and more is true in the case of 12 Years A Slave, a film that is so much more than the mother of all colour based guilt trips.

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Chiwetel hated getting papped during dinner

It is an hypnotic, nightmarish ride with moments that could only have been more traumatizing if the audience themselves had been tied to a log and whipped by Michael Fassbender for half an hour, although I dare say that’s many a female movie goers fantasy. I joke, I joke. But while we’re on the subject of Fassbender he is phenomenal as Solomon’s second slave master Epps, a tornado of self-loathing, drunken, ginger bearded rage being at moments unsettlingly friendly and at others explosively violent, all the while terrifying to behold. The acting of the rest of the cast is uniformly great, Lupita Nyong’o is another standout, as the object of Epp’s affections, as is of course the silently suffering man at the movie’s heart Chiwetel Ejiofor. Steve McQueen has crafted a brave, unflinching movie on a subject all too avoided and it is near flawless, deserving of every award it’s received and been nominated for so far. 9/10 stars

Captain Phillips

Thank the lord Paul Greengrass left Rush for Captain Phillips as it’s difficult to imagine another film-maker handling the non-stop action, gritty realism and crucial, modern day message as well as the former Bourne director and while the camera work did occasionally approach twerking washing machine levels of shake it never made me feel nauseous or confused like it has in some of his previous films.

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The site of Ann Widdecombe sunbathing was too much for Tom

Tom Hanks convinces in another “most likable man on the planet” role and his scenes with the pirate captain Muse played by the electrifying Barkhad Abdi are the films nail-biting highlights. The pace is non-stop with the extended pirates vs Navy stand-off, especially, tenser than an inmates butt cheeks during shower hour. Captain Phillips is an adrenalin fueled thriller prioritizing brains over brawn, giving both perspectives on a conflict more complex than it appears and delivering a crucial message more than simply ‘Murica! F**k yeah! as is the case with so many actions movies involving the US military. 7/10stars.

Dallas Buyers Club

There’s an old proverb “Actors win their weight lost in gold” and while this cynical saying (completely made up by me just now – my grasp on what I proverb is, is loose at best) may hold some truth it is not simply the ridiculous number of pounds shed by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, one looking like a vulture with insomnia the other a strangely attractive human spoon, that should earn them Oscar glory but the performances beneath their spindly frames.

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“Gimme the meds and I’ll teach you how to grow a mustache like mine”

All loquacious bullshit aside both McConaughey and Leto, the most sickeningly talented man on the planet, are incredible to watch in their respective roles as the aggressively homophobic redneck with a heart and hard on for money and his drug addicted, transsexual partner – hey, not that kinda “partner” as Woodruff is quick to assure everyone. It is a stunning, subtly developed, emotional movie throughout and while it may seem at times a little implausible or filmed through a Hollywood tinted lens, here’s looking at you Jennifer Gardner’s eye candy, entirely fictitious doctor character, there’s no denying the power of Dallas Buyers Clubs. 8/10 stars.

Gravity

Alfonso Cuaron step forward and take a bow.  The Mexico born silver fox has created something that is entirely unique; a spectacle unlike anything you’ll see all year or any year for that matter. Gravity is a phenomenal achievement of technical brilliance, like playing Mozart on half a violin or recreating the Taj Mahal out of celebrations.

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To her horror she realized, the space station coffee supply had run dry

It’s so stunningly beautiful, when the action returns to earth there’s almost nothing to distinguish the real world from it’s CGI space counterpart, that the clumsy character development, subplots that feel entirely pointless and the at times face chewingly irritating dialogue, don’t even matter. But sadly this is a film, and those things do matter. However despite a number of fundamental drawbacks in character and story Gravity for the most part is a gripping, sensory assault and bold experiment in film making that marks a new level of cinematic possibility. Christ I’m a knob. 7/10 stars.

Her

It took me a while to get into Spike Jonze’s latest movie but once I had gotten over my initial fury at Pheonix’s failure to let me live vicariously through him by getting it on with Olivia Wilde I began to appreciate how great a film “Her” really is. It is a funny, poignant, thought provoking movie that leaves you with dozens of questions by the time the perfectly judged ending arrives: Is this really what the future holds? Is a human-machine relationship ethically right and even possible? And most puzzling of all, how did Joaquin Pheonix get so many beautiful woman despite sporting the kind of mustache only seen on serial sex offenders and cops from the 80’s?

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He’d timed the horse tranquilizers perfectly for the commute home

Poorly chosen facial hair aside Pheonix is fantastic as ever as the depressed, self-absorbed but highly relatable Theodore Thrombley as is the rest of the supporting cast. However it is Scarlett Johansson who steals the show as the AI woman of his dreams managing to be the sexiest actor in the movie without actually being in the movie. Jonze has created a film for our times set an unspecified number of years in the future in which the ever increasing dependency of man on machine is epitomized in a single relationship that is depicted in a far more tender and realistic way than almost any film before it. 8/10 stars

Nebraska

The clear underdog of the nine films entered in the “best picture” race, and by far my personal favorite. Yes the acting is sometimes wooden enough to give you eye splinters, an odd line of dialogue surfaces here and there and the occasional unnecessary exposition dumps are undeniably present. But it is also an utterly charming, beautifully shot work of genius with some of the funniest characters in any film this year.

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Bruce on the loose!

It focuses on Woody, a booze addled pensioner with unspecified levels of dementia on the fruitless trail of a million dollar hoax. If you think it sounds like just another black and white, art house depress fest you’d be seriously wrong. Nebraska is wryly comical throughout and genuinely hilarious at points thanks in part to the fantastically judged direction and brilliantly observed characters, a personal favorite being the two hillbilly brothers with the size of their white trash BS matched only by their gargantuan bellies. Will Forte is hugely likable as the reluctant but kind hearted son helping his abusive father on his quest for treasure while Jane Squibb as Woody’s wife is a belligerent, monstrous joy to watch whose the subject of some truly brilliant character development.

Nebraska is more perfectly formed than Jessica Ennis’ beh-urdling technique. Yes that – and should be seen by all/win every award it’s nominated for. 8/10 stars.

Philomena

I’m afraid to say I’ve yet to see Philomen what with its short stay in British cinemas and my unrivaled incompetence but from the trailer I can deduce that it’s almost certainly an emotional, life affirming tale of love and the power of family with some desert dry Coogan humor and Judi Dench sex jokes thrown in. So really, what’s there not to love?

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My only prediction – a loss for Leo

It’s a fantastic crop of Oscar movies this year and as I’m sure you can tell I was running seriously low on superlatives to describe them towards the end, so apologies for any repetition.

Please feel free to give your own thoughts and feelings on the upcoming Oscars i.e. predictions, hopes, weird Ellen fantasies or really anything that springs to mind, in the comments.

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American Hustle: Everyday I’m Russellin’

The stratospheric success of David O’Russell’s latest film has made it a must review, if not necessarily a must see, movie. With a nomination haul outstripping Kim Kardashian’s nose job count, the notches on Charlie Sheen’s bedpost and my own gratuitous pop-culutre references combined, taking places in every conceivable category from best animated short to most hypnotic onscreen combover, the academy’s love for this convoluted rom-con truly knows no bounds. The story follows a con artist power couple busted by the police and forced into increasingly elaborate and dangerous deceptions by an overly ambitious, utterly clueless FBI agent for reasons that aren’t wholly explained. Throw in a mafia boss cameo by one of the greats and an incendiary nutcase of a wife and you’ve got yourself one incessant, highly entertaining but surprisingly forgettable cinematic experience.

American Hustle is great in a number of areas. The soundtrack is a combination of irony laced period funk reinforcing the genre and decade of the movie’s setting while enhancing the comedy in much of the narrative. The direction is stylish and assured as Russell, clearly relaxed working with a core cast of old faces, uses a point and shoot approach towards filming, adding an almost voyeuristic element to the character interaction making it all the more engrossing.

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Retirement had not been kind to Batman

However, it is the dialogue and the actors delivering it that the films success is truly owed to. Christian Bale, sporting the world’s most intricate hair piece and the physique of a middle aged trucker, is a brilliant leading man giving a performance on par with his Oscar winning turn in The Fighter. Bradley Cooper is equally great as the springy haired, loose canon FBI agent with many of their scenes together making up the movies best moments. Amy Adams despite putting on an English accent that makes her sound like a drunken Nigella Lawson impersonator for much of the film, is sizzling as the object of both of their joint affections while Jennifer Lawrence as Bales ultra-manipulative adopted baby momma is hilarious in each and every one of her scenes, even if at times they feel slightly unnecessary. Jeremy Renner, with the hair of a young Elvis, the enthusiasm of a golden retriever and the social policies of Mahatma Ghandi, is hugely likable as the everyman mayor of New Jersey, who the rest of the cast are looking to con the shit out of. Although even his boy scout pure persona starts to show cracks as the movie goes on, reinforcing the central theme that appearance is everything but means nothing.
American Hustle’s story, however, is where Russell goes wrong. As confusing as a multi-story car park masterminded by M. Night Shyamalan the various narrative strands become more tangled than the tentacles of an Octopus in the midst of frantic Bop-it marathon. The movie and the actions of its characters become progressively more ridiculous and non-sensical to the point where you almost cease to care about the endless web of elaborate cons unfolding before your eyes as the film loses what little discernible direction it had at the start.

Like an out-house made of Picasso originals American Hustle, while fun and functional, is ultimately worth less than the sum of its parts, no matter how well written or beautifully purmed those parts may be. 6/10 stars

Wolf of Wall Street: Leo does all the coke

The Wolf of Wall Street focuses on Jordan Belfort, a charismatic amoral stock-broking machine with a career more turbulent then a hang glider in a thunderstorm. The films twisting narrative details his rise from promising young upstart, working on the lowest rung of the stockbroking ladder, to the head of a Wall Street empire complete with nudist marching bands and staff that inhale cocaine like a fleet of drug addled hoovers.

Scorsese quickly establishes the tone and pace of his latest movie monster with a series of opening scenes depicting the surreal, excess of the stockbroking wizard’s world. From midget darts to anal coke snorting it is made rapidly apparent that a low key, subtly observed modern fable about the devastating effects of financial corruption this is not. On the contrary, this movie seems to celebrate the dastardly individuals it depicts as well as the world of debauchery they live and thrive in.

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Leo couldn’t say he enjoyed the spontaneous game of footsie

In the wrong hands it could have turned into a deeply offensive, charmless, suffocatingly excessive mess or worse still, a generic cautionary tale desperately repeating the shopworn mantra of “crime doesn’t pay”. Luckily close to every aspect of the movie, from the score to the script, is fantastic while each of the actors are at the top of their respective games as is the legendary director at the helm.
DiCaprio gives the most memorable performance of his career in the leading role, delivering epic, inspirational speech after speech, depicting Belfort as some sort of nymphomaniac, tourettes ridden Gordon Gecko and Scrooge McDuck hybrid, while consuming enough drugs on an hourly basis to sedate a herd of wooly mammoth. It is an iconic character, equal parts charming, hilarious and utterly repellent. Frequently breaking the fourth wall and narrating directly to the audience, I couldn’t help but be a little entranced by Belfort’s life of drug fueled debauchery and millionaire extravagance, however exaggerated it may be.

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The “epileptic jellyfish” was a D-floor classic

Everyone from Jonah Hill as DiCaprio’s fluorescent toothed, sexually deviant side kick Donnie to McConaugheys chest beating, nut busting mentor is memorable, convincing and for the most part hilarious, aided by the brilliant dialogue and character interaction that feels spontaneous and genuine. It is a relentlessly entertaining showcase of acting talent and directing skill as Scorsese combines rapid fire editing with single take scenes unfolding, almost theatrically, in front of the audience. But more than this, it may also be the funniest film of the year; a particular comedy highlight being a crazed DiCaprio determined not to die sober as his 177 foot yacht is caught in the mother of all storms at sea.

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The DiCaprio appreciation hour had begun

Wolf of Wall Street is by no means perfect, however. There are frequent instances of awkward editing and clunky scene transitions, a potential result of the movie’s rushed post-production. Some of the cast also have the tendency to over do it, with a number of scenes descending into “act-offs” losing what little believability they had. Ultimately however the films main drawback is also the reason it stands out from similar movies made over the years. It lacks any true kind of final, over-arching message or meaning. In a world that invites moral scrutiny and a life that has more peaks and troughs than a Haitian earthquake monitor Belfort seems almost completely devoid of any remorse, other than slight annoyance at being caught and the inconvenience of a few years in a minimum security jail.

There’s no denying The Wolf of Wall Street is a hugely entertaining time and it may well be Scorsese’s most enjoyable film since Goodfellas. It is a coke fueled, pill popping, debauchery filled 3 hour roller-coaster with a single pace that never lets up for an instant. However much like a roller-coaster the thrill, for the most part is fleeting, and if you don’t go in prepared you could end up feeling pretty emptying by the time the credits start rolling. Ok so that last metaphor didn’t really make sense but you get the idea… Essentially if you’re looking for nothing more than a seriously good time you won’t be disappointed. The most ludicrously entertaining film of the year and proof that greed is really f**king good.
7 stars out of 10.

Inside Llewyn Davis: A Folky Misfire

The most recent film from the Coen brothers since their tobacco chewing, gunslinging gem True Grit is an eery folk backed, hipster, road trip odyssey that left me with one overriding emotion. Anger. While yes it’s beautiful to look at, every other shot worthy of an indie album cover, and to listen to, for more or less the same reason, the film really got on my tits due to a number of things, common in much of the C-bros recent output, which had me disoriented by the half way point and fuming when it abruptly cut to black.

The story, set in the supremely bleak 1960’s Greenwich Village, New York, a mix between Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and Northern Siberia, follows the folky shenanigans of Davis himself, a talented yet troubled musician, (big emphasis on the second one) and his aimless wanderings from Gaslight gig to strangers sofa with all the urgency and direction of a stoned koala. He is a tragic character, played well by the multi-talented Oscar Isaac, with his knack for self-sabotage, far outstripping his singing and beard pruning abilities, demonstrated on an almost minute by minute basis. From losing cats to ruining dinner parties to fathering scores of illegitimate bastard children he seems almost unerringly compelled, as Carrey Mulligan’s incensed baby momma put it, to “fuck everything up”.
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                                                                                 “Bowl cut” was not an insult he took lightly 
The cyclical narrative structure mirrors the life of it’s central protagonist reinforcing further the sense that his personal failure is self-inflicted as it becomes rapidly apparent that Llewyn alone is responsible for his career inertia as he rejects opportunity after opportunity under the guise of “artistic integrity”. But it doesn’t half make the film dull, unrelentingly downbeat and feel wholly pointless as a result.
For the most part the movie sticks to a single pace, dragging more than a dachshunds manhood, with a collection of characters that stay almost uniformly bitter and depressing throughout, with the exception of the kindly Gorfein’s determinedly taking Davis in after his frequent wild nights on the town. The total lack of character development wouldn’t be so bad however if Llewyn and much of the supporting cast, while well written, were less unpleasant. I mean, you know there’s a problem when your far and away most likable and engaging protagonist is a fucking cat/furry metaphor for Davis’ guilt and regret.
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                                                        Matching jumpers, the key to one directions comeback tour success
“Inside Llewyn Davis” does have a number of good points however, primarily in the form of the superb, ear-drum massaging sound track curated and produced by the brilliant (and hilariously named) T Bone Burnett. The overall look of the film is stunning as well, each frame filled with a sense of melancholic nostalgia, as it more than earns its Best Cinematography Oscar nod. While it may be more straightforward in terms of narrative than previous works the Brothers retain their unique, signature style whether it’s the visual comedy, the odd line of hilarious dialogue – “Where’s it’s scrotum, Llewyn?!” being a particular fave, or random object POV shots.
I guess my own sense of anger isn’t a result of watching Llewyn squander his potential and talent, the movies central theme, but ironically at witnessing the Coens waste theirs. The pair have been more hit and miss over the last few years than the North Korean nuclear program and their brief flashes of genius make it all the more frustrating to watch. While aesthetically please – like a celery eating contest on a rainy tuesday “Inside Llewyn Davis” left me feeling cold, empty and wishing I’d made better use of the previous few hours.
4/10 Stars