Sunday, March 2, 2014

Happy Oscar Day!

I'm posting my rankings. I'm really so busy that I didn't find time to finish Best Actress, but I had a change of heart anyway. So regard that actress ranking as a draft that can change once I finish the year. It was a decent year (better than 2012) but as you'll see there was one movie that truly blew me away. The rest was OK, but nothing particularly mindblowing. The best category was easily Best Actor for me. Without further ado,

Oscar Ranking 2013:

Best Picture:
  1. Gravity (10/10)
  2. Her (9/10)
  3. American Hustle (9/10) 
  4. The Wolf of Wall Street (8.5/10) 
  5. 12 Years a Slave (8.5/10) 
  6. Philomena (8/10)
  7. Nebraska (8/10) 
  8. Dallas Buyers Club (7.5/10)
  9. Captain Philips (7/10) 
Best Director:
  1. Alfonso Cuarón - Gravity
  2. Martin Scorsese - The Wolf of Wall Street
  3. David O. Russell - American Hustle
  4. Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave
  5. Alexander Payne - Nebraska
Best Actress:
  1. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine (5/5) 
  2. Sandra Bullock in Gravity (5/5) 
  3. Meryl Streep in August: Osage County (4.5/5) 
  4. Amy Adams in American Hustle (4.5/5)
  5. Judi Dench in Philomena (4/5) 
Best Actor:
  1. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street (5/5) 
  2. Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave (5/5) 
  3. Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club (5/5) 
  4. Bruce Dern in Nebraska (4,5/5) 
  5. Christian Bale in American Hustle (4,5/5)
Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle (4,5/5)
  2. Julia Roberts in August: Osage County (4,5/5)
  3. Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine (4/5) 
  4. Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave (3,5/5) 
  5. June Squibb in Nebraska (3,5/5) 
Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club (5/5) 
  2. Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips (5/5) - I was this close to choosing him, he's amazing
  3. Bradley Cooper in American Hustle (4,5/5)
  4. Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave (4,5/5)
  5. Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street (3,5/5) 

Best Original Screenplay:
Should win: Her

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Should win: Philomena (sorry, I loved it)

Best Original Score: 
Should win: Her

Best Cinematography:
Should win: Gravity

Best Editing:
Should win: Gravity

Best Production Design: 
Should win: The Great Gatsby

Best Costume Design:
Should win: The Grandmaster

Best Make-Up & Hairstyling
Should win: American Hustle Dallas Buyers Club

Visual effects, sound categories:
Should win: Gravity

Best Song: 
Should win: Happy from Despicable Me 2 

For my predictions in the rest of the categories, take a look at my goldderby account! :) 

Yes, I'm a shameless starfucker, but I don't care. ;) 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett received her sixth Oscar nomination for playing Jasmine French, a socialite having a complete nervous breakdown in Woody Allen's latest, Blue Jasmine. At this moment, Cate Blanchett seems to have this award locked up and I believe she will win by a landslide as the only minimal threat to her is Dame Judi, whose film is simply not big enough, despite the love it received from the Academy and the backlash against American Hustle doesn't work in Amy Adams' favor, either. I'm not mentioning this new controversy because when I started to think how that might affect Cate's chances, I really became ashamed how I can analyse the impact of a family tragedy on the Best Actress race. So that's about that. 

Most people don't consider Blue Jasmine one of the best movies of Woody Allen and while I agree with that, I still view it as a more than respectable effort from a true master. It's so tastefully and carefully directed and written that I couldn't stop marvelling at the nuances in the story, which many people overlook. I love its deeply dark tone and sense of humor, its almost wicked parody of the over-the-top story of Streetcar and ultimately, its devastating ending. The cast is also stellar: while I'm actually disappointed that Oprah wasn't nominated (The Butler was guilty pleasure for me), I'm so glad that Sally Hawkins got in. a) She was brilliant in Happy-Go-Lucky (for which she easily should have won), b) she was excellent as Ginger, carefully and gradually revealing her resentment towards Jasmine.

Still, the respective achievements of Woody Allen and Sally Hawkins are clearly overshadowed by the brilliance of Cate Blanchett, who's so obviously at the peak of her career. Cate took six years of (sort of) break from movies, devoting her energy and talents to the Sydney stage and this kind of creative recharing clearly shows in every second of her breathtaking performance in Blue Jasmine. Katharine Hepburn always used to say that you win the Oscars for the wrong roles and Cate proved that by winning an Oscar for playing, ironically, Katharine Hepburn (although I love that performance immensely, it was clear that it wasn't her best). Also, if she hadn't won in 2007, she wouldn't be such a threat to win this time (that win could have taken her career into a different direction). However, the best thing about Cate Blanchett, that she constantly proves what we so often forget: great work is its own reward.

Cate could have done this role in many different ways: she could have coasted on the neurosis and the mannerisms of the character, creating an easy, delightful rich bitch character that I'm sure just as many people would have celebrated and loved. She could have just given another Blanche DuBois and ignored the rest of Jasmine, depriving her from layers that were still there. Had she only chosen to do one of these, I can assure you, she would still be the front-runner to win this Oscar. However, Cate used an amazingly written character and gave it everything she knows and is capable of as an actor as a performer. She really examines all the parts of this character, thoroughly exploring all the areas, revealing all of them to the audience. Even strictly from a technical point of view, this is a flawless turn that should be studied and observed in the years to come.

And it should be studied, because there is a new aspect of a performance that you discover every time you watch this film. I've seen it three times now and frankly, I wouldn't watch it more than once if it wasn't for her. There is this magical performance that becomes so addictive that you just have to get small doses of it regularly. As a whole, it's a lot to take and honestly quite overwhelming and devastating, but even the smallest nuances seem interesting in it.

As I said, what I love the most about Cate here is her decision to really do this character justice and not to surrender to our expectations. This is a marvelous achievement because it doesn't hit you in your face with the tragedy of the character: it's hard-hitting and devastating because she knows when to hold it back and when to let it all out, while also remaining unpredictable and surprising (I suppose that "I saw you, Erica" line will haunt many of us for a long time). There's always a necessary amount of intensity and anxiety to this character, but Cate is seemingly aware that sudden slaps hit harder than being constantly beaten up. Slaps, what slaps? :) Cate basically punches you in the stomach. That punch is, naturally, devastating and shocking but the journey which leads to that point is just as interesting. You keep marvelling at the nuances and details about the character that become subtle hints about the character's fate.

And if the 100% precision hadn't already been enough, Cate also manages to take it a step further. Not only is she able to do everything right, she also knows how to do this seemingly effortlessly, while letting the audience sink deeper and deeper into Jasmine's story. It's like watching a magician: you kind of know that there most a trick, but you just cannot spot it, no matte how much you try. Or does that lead us to the conclusion that there's real magic going on the screen? In my opinion, probably. This is one of those rare cases when you see that everything is working with this character.

Moreover, she doesn't leave you there with all the drama of this character and instead, she also emphasises the dark comedy in it. She doesn't settle for the cheap solution of letting only the craziness and the tragedy have an effect on the audience. Even when you have an actress doing miracles with a role, I cannot really appreciate the role unless there's some humor to it. It gives an extra layer of reality and color to every role, even the darkest, most tragic of all, otherwise it can easily become plain camp or at worst, self-conscious suffering.

Obviously, the stage experience of Cate helps her a great deal with this part. As I wrote about Viola Davis' performance two years ago, if a stage actress uses all the energy inside her that she brought from the stage, it can lead to the most powerful results. Neither of them is theatrical, but they brought this magical aura that draws you in and that's so missing from most of the film performances. As I said, what we see on the screen it's just plain magic.

Still, none of this can prepare you for the devastating ending of Blue Jasmine. SPOILER We get to see Jasmine's past revealed: you cannot really imagine if Cate's performance can get any better after the scene where we see Jasmine find out about Hal's plans to leave her, having a total meltdown, but as we get back to the present we see how this really has taken toll of Jasmine. Although we can see Woody's screenplay severely judging Jasmine (I wonder how much of it is a subtle hint at a previous leading lady of his), Cate avoids that path and she somehow makes us feel sorry for this lady as we see her get completely lost in her conscience and her own insanity. Eventually, she's just crazy homeless lady with wet hair talking to herself (never mind the designer outfits). And Cate does nothing to cut the edges of the brutality of the ending in order to make you feel better about Jasmine. There's no kind stranger to help her, only the Chanel clothes and stories of her vanished wealth and forgotten dinner parties. Cate doesn't give us any resolution or peace about Jasmine; her juicy diva lines fade and you don't see her as a fallen queen anymore, but as that crazy homeless lady with wet hair talking to herself. The pain of all the million promises of "I'll start again" fading away is devastatingly shown by Cate.

In the end, it comes down to this: not only does Cate Blanchett give the best performance of her career on the big screen, it's also one of the most interesting, complex and richly played characters I've seen in years. You see a brilliant actress at the top of her game, completely understanding the character, handling the technical part like nobody's business, while also holding a real emotional (gut-)punch for the audience. Overwhelming, terrific, terrifying and ultimately amazing work for which Cate will deservedly walk away with the Academy Award.

Obviously. :) What do you think? 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Amy Adams in American Hustle

Amy Adams received her fifth Oscar nomination for playing Sydney Prosser, the seductive and mysterious girlfriend of a con artist who poses as a British aristocrat in David O. Russell's latest flick, American Hustle. Many people believed that there would be a fight between Meryl Streep and Amy for that fifth spot among the nominees with Meryl being weaker, but as it turned out, the weakest link was Emma Thompson, which leads me to believe that Amy is actually a dark horse for that Oscar win. If there's anyone who has a chance of pulling off an upset on Oscar night, it's her. It's her fifth nomination (with no wins), she's well liked and the actors seem to be crazy about American Hustle. Still, unless Amy wins Bafta, Cate Blanchett has this award locked up.

The overwhelming love from actors for American Hustle was surprising to many, but not really for me. Obviously, David O. Russell's movies always do well with actors. It features a terrific ensemble with some of the biggest stars at the peak of their respective careers. The story itself is well-written, although I wouldn't say it goes into such depth as 12 Years a Slave (which I also find overpraised) or especially Gravity (despite the lack of a traditionally developed story). American Hustle is nothing but very smart and occasionally stunning entertainment that can be grateful for especially Jennifer Lawrence whose performance is a hit or miss, I'm well aware, but count me in among the fans. The constant pain present behind loud, exaggerated scenes and the out-of-place sentences, the unleashed craziness that makes her performance in Silver Linings Playbook look like subtle French acting all help make her scene quite simply stunning. I'd say that out of the 10 nominations, it's the only one that it deserves to win.

And it's not really the best case scenario for a lead actress if a supporting lady steals the movie so much, especially when that leading lady herself is borderline supporting. In my opinion, one of the main reasons why Amy Adams doesn't have an Oscar is that she's always cast in the second most interesting role of the movie that rarely gets the fireworks that lets her really shine. In Doubt, Viola Davis' brief, but heartbreaking performance overshadows basically everyone, but especially Adams whose performance seems rather pale, lifeless and kind of lost compared to it. In The Fighter, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo chew the scenery to such an extent and breath the oxygen out of the movie so much that all the other actors are suffocating and are unable to have an effect. And in The Master, Amy Adams totally fell into the background thanks to the groundbreaking performances of the two male leads. I suppose the reason why she always plays this type of roles is her versatility: she's able to elevate even the most underwritten character and her charisma and star power always shines through. 

In many ways, Amy Adams always has the hardest part in the movie and she rarely screws up (although she's dangerously close to it in Doubt). In American Hustle, for the first 20 minutes or so, it seems that finally she gets the best role in a movie and boy, does she live up to it! She walks around with confidence, wraps Christian Bale's character (and us, the viewers) around her fingers with her fake British accent, her sexiness and of course, that cleavage. She wonderfully shows the tragedy behind her character and her drive for survival no matter what. She obviously becomes the emotional centre of American Hustle with the most serious role - and whenever the screenplay demands seriousness, Amy Adams just nails it. She shows the emptiness of Sydney, but also her desire for redemption and a new life and this occasionally leads to the most heartbreaking moments of the film.

Another very intriguing aspect of Amy's performance is the way she portrays the character's relationship with Bradley Cooper's and Christian Bale's respective characters in this film. In many ways, Sydney's stronger then both of these men and yet she depends on both of them. Many interpret this as the result of a shallowly written, maybe even sexist screenplay, which I personally don't believe. I'd rather say that the character herself is lost and seeks for someone she can finally rely on, but knows no other way to achieve that, but through manipulation and acting. We can actually see the dilemma of this character as she breaks down and reveals (some of) the truth to Bradley Cooper's character. However, you remain uncertain if she did this because she really wanted to tell the truth or if it's just a part of another plan. This adds to some of the most exciting, unpredictable moments of this performance. You just never know what's coming up next with Sydney and if that was Amy's main goal in this movie, she succeeded. 

However... However, (I believe, if you wanna look good, you gotta forgive everybody. It's the best beauty treatment.) no matter how well Amy pulled off this character in theory, in the context of the film, it simply doesn't work. Her performance would work extremely well in a very serious project, but not in David O. Russell's over-the-top film. Amy is unable to understand the irony in this project and reallydoesn't display a sense of humor around the character. Occasionally, it's there (like the scene at the dance club) and in many ways, it's a funny performance, but I couldn't see that bitter, crazy sense of humor. She doesn't want to coast on the silliness of the costumes, the cleavage and the whole situation. Nobody else took the film as seriously as she did and it unfortunately shows. Even if you despise Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper here, you have to admit that they seem to fit the movie better anyhow. Quite simply, if you work on a David O. Russell movie, you have to unleash the crazy beast inside you and be extremely playful with your character. Out of the place moments are just a part of how works as a director (and why I like his films so much) - you can mention the crazy dance from Silver Linings Playbook or Melissa Leo and Christian Bale singing in The Fighter or Jennifer Lawrence's insane rendition of Live and Let Die. These are the essences of these films that are serious and occasionally heartbreaking, but they never ever take themselves seriously. The tone of Amy's performance somehow doesn't fit this. And you can see this easily, because whenever she is able to unleash the beast, she's brilliant (that crazy scream on the toilet or the dance scenes with Bradley Cooper are golden). But whenever she's too serious, the whole performance seems weird (like her climatic scene with Jennifer Lawrence) because it's not weird enough. 

So, despite the moments of true greatness, I cannot conclude that this is the most outstanding performance of Amy Adams. She fails the inject the much needed irony into this character and forgets about the over-the-topness of the material. Her subtle, realistic portrayal of this character just doesn't feel right in this movie. She's not playful and yes, funny enough here but she seems to miss the whole point of the movie. If she had been able to avoid that, this would have been an amazing performance. But alas, I have to say she's only very good and for this she gets a...

What do you think?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

Meryl Streep broke her own record once again and received her 18th nomination for playing Violet Weston, a vicious, drug addict matriarch in the movie based on Tracy Letts' play, August: Osage County. While many people doubted Streep's chances of getting nominated (and I was one of them), with hindsight, it seems absurd. Not only does Meryl have a crazy Oscar bait role, but she can also never do any wrong as far as the Academy is concerned. That being said, Meryl's chances of winning haven't been as slim since Helen Mirren swept everything.

August: Osage County as a movie shows us the limits of adapting a play to the big screen. For me, the performance of the play that I saw was among the best I've ever seen and the actress playing Violet gave what I consider the greatest stage performance that I've ever seen. However, I don't think the play is not as brilliant as some make it out to be: it really does offer plenty of opportunities for its actors, but it's a story that we have seen over and over again (that being said, I wasn't that impressed by the footages of the Broadway version, but Broadway hardly does it for me, sorry). It's a story that depends hugely on its cast and how much of it they are able to deliver. The adaptation for the big screen is one of the successful ones (hell, it's better than Doubt). It feels like more of a summary but the cast is indeed outstanding, but I especially want to praise two unsung heroes, Julianne Nicholson and Margo Martindale. They didn't get all the credit that they deserved (especially Nicholson, who was just heartbreaking). Julia Roberts did a good job here though I have to say that I don't really get all the love for her (and I'm actually a fan of hers in general) - she didn't nail all the edges in this character and the adaptation let her down and contrary to the public opinion she was less of a lead than she was in the play. I didn't have the impression that she was also turning into the monster that her mother is.

And who else plays that monster than Meryl Streep? Yes, as Tina Fey said, there are still good roles... for Meryl Streeps over sixty. I carefully considered all the other alternatives for the role and I figured that Meryl was a great choice for the part. Although in my opinion, Jane Fonda (why, what did you expect :P) could have nailed this role and would have killed as this vampire slash dragon lady and she would have also shown a new side of hers, I feel like Meryl was a respectable safe choice here. She's, above all, reliable: she can, of course, nail the accent, chew the scenery (in a good way, well, for me at least) and bring all the necessary number of viewers to this film. Naturally, all the usual talk started with people from test screenings bringing the news of her certain fourth Oscar.

Somehow over the course of awards season, the Streep fatigue and the backlash started and many people started to doubt her. That being said, I feel that the backlash is created exclusively on goldderby forums and the general public and the Academy surely didn't get the memos. They still love Meryl and everything she does - and you know what, rightfully so. This backlash that I was certainly aware of, had an impact on my expectations (and to this, you have to also add the initial talk that she wasn't the right choice for the role, at all). I was prepared that this lady is unworthy of every accolade she has achieved in her career, cannot give a decent performance and is even worse here.

And guess what, this is Meryl f*cking Streep. And guess what: she's worthy of all the accolades, usually gives amazing performances and she's even better than her average self here. Within the limits of the screenplay (because this is a diet version of Violet Weston), she just kills it and there's no other way to put it. Yep, she uses her "Meryl tricks" and guess what, once again it works. Her character appears on screen, unable to speak or keep balance and Meryl just nails it: right there in that moment, we get to know everything about this woman: she's a monster with a touch of humanity inside her (and that's also where we get to my criticism of Julia Roberts' performance: we don't get to see that Barbara starts from the opposite and almost ends up there). She breaks your heart and amazes you with her unbelievable talent at the same time.

That being said, Meryl is completely aware of the insanely dark comedic tone of the material and uses to her advantage: her line deliveries are insanely sharp and punch you right in your stomach while you're laughing your head off at the same time. We get a sort of perverted joy from all the vitriol that she spits out: we enjoy it and it's easy to see that Meryl enjoys it, too. Perhaps what's most appealing about this performance is how much she loves to do this part: she doesn't take all the opportunities for granted and doesn't miss any of them. And  what's best is how she's able to make her technical virtuosity flow out of her so effortlessly (I guess this point of mine that's highly argumentative to some). There's a buzz around Meryl that I feel whenever she's amazing and not even she's able to fake that. It's funny that you can test an actress who relies so heavily on the technical part solely with your guts. But if we come to think of it, its really the tester of how natural she is: if you are captivated by her, she did her job well, if not, then it's really just faking.

Also, Meryl fearlessly points out the desperation of this woman: the way we see her crazy dance to country music when she receives a shocking piece of news, high on pills, unable to express herself. It could seem like overreacting, but most of us tend to forget about the character's whole situation: we're talking about a drug addict, who's by the way dying of mouth cancer and is in constant pain, while also being abandoned and despised by her own family. And that's what makes her breathtaking scene at the dinner table resonate with me even more: those pills are indeed Violet's best friends. The obvious bitterness and sadness present in that scene make it a hard-hitting and heartbreaking cry for help. Violet has certain aspects of a drama queen inside her.

And as Violet sinks deeper and deeper, this performance gets more and more heartbreaking and the comedy of the play simply turns into something weirdly disturbing. But that's also how we get to why I would have wished for a little bit more. In the end, as all the characters get their big moments, the screenplay forgets about Violet in a way and blocks her journey, especially with this disappointing ending. In the play, the way it showed Violet's loneliness and devastation really made up for her lack of presence, but here, these efforts were cut short by a useless scene with Julia Roberts crying. Meryl was deprived of her big scene that would have been essential to make her performance more complete and more effective.

That being said, Meryl Streep gives an amazing performance as Violet Weston and although she was cheated out of some of the great opportunities of the play, she was still able to rock on the big screen once again. Haters are gonna hate, but guess what, I'm not one of them and I can do nothing but love this outstanding piece of work by this brilliant actress.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Best Actress 2013


So the nominees are:

  • Amy Adams in American Hustle 
  • Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
  • Sandra Bullock in Gravity
  • Judi Dench in Philomena
  • Meryl Streep in August: Osage County
Since everybody's concentrating on this years' race, instead of posting my review of Angela Bassett, I decided to focus on this year's set of nominees. Will I be charmed by Cate or Meryl's pill-popping ladies or Amy and Sandra's survival stories or perhaps the softie side of mine will go for Judi Dench? 

What do you think beside the fact that I cannot commit to any year? I will finish all of them. :P Who do you think will win? What do you think my ranking will look like? :)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Next Year


So the nominees were:

  • Angela Bassett in What's Love Got to Do with It
  • Stockard Channing in Six Degrees of Separation
  • Holly Hunter in The Piano
  • Emma Thompson in Remains of the Day
  • Debra Winger in Shadowlands
One of the most interesting years of the 1990s, for sure. Will I fall under the pre-voodoo queen spell of Angela Bassett? Will my love for Emma Thompson carry her to the big win? Am I going to join the Holly Hunter fans? Or will I pick one of the other two exceptional ladies?

What do you think? (I'll get back to 1999, but I don't feel like it right now). :)