In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, we find the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow in a drunken stupor. Washed up and officially deadbeat, even the price on Jack’s head has sunk to a paltry pound. It’s a strange parallel to Johnny Depp’s public persona of late, having slipped from the good grace of the hoi polloi after reports of his abusing wife Amber Heard made waves, followed by news of widespread financial woes and a slew of middling to poor films floundering at the box office. With Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, both Sparrow and Depp pray for a comeback. Read More
With the majority of 2013 awards winding down and the Oscars gearing up for next month, it’s time for me to reflect on the best parts about last year’s films. I’ve already published my top ten list alongside the absolute worst movies of the year but with these awards, I focus on the performances, direction, music, scene work and artistry of 2013.
At first, I tried to pigeonhole five nominees into each category but found that didn’t give me enough leeway to recognize all the talent I wanted to. When I then expanded to ten, it felt like there were times where I would be putting names down to fill up spots and didn’t really work for me either. So, instead of making an arbitrary number of nominees for each category, I opted to just recognize as many people as I saw fit in each category. So while the best actor category has 11 names of note, best foreign film only had 6 nominees and so forth. I know a lot of these may see overlap with other award nominations but I tried to recognize talent from all walks, the old to the new, and award what stood out as my personal favorites.
Look out for a short breakdown in the actors and directors sections but the other categories speak for themselves.
WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Runner Up: Christian Bale ‘Out of the Furance’ & ‘American Hustle’
Honorable Mention: Ethan Hawke ‘Before Midnight’
Matthew McConaughey ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ & ‘Mud’
Joaquin Phoenix ‘Her’
Mads Mikkelsen ‘The Hunt’
Chiwetel Elijofor ’12 Years a Slave’
Bruce Dern ‘Nebraska’
Tom Hanks ‘Captain Phillips’
Michael B. Jordan ‘Fruitvale Station’
It’s no secret that I’m a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan and it’s performances like his in The Wolf of Wall Street that earns him such a high ranking amongst my favorite working actors. With manic physicality, hypnotizing stage presence and wonderfully potent comedic timing, his take on amoral but lovin’ it Jordan Belfort is a role to remember. Christian Bale did wonders in Out of the Furnace and, even though I wasn’t head over heels for American Hustle, his performance there was nothing to balk at and one of the strongest features of the film. The most underrated performance of the year is Ethan Hawke who embodied humanity and boyish charm in my favorite film of the year Before Midnight. The film rests squarely on his and Julie Delpy‘s compotent shoulders and had their performances been any less, the impact wouldn’t have been nearly what it was.
Best Supporting Actor:
WINNER: Jared Leto ‘Dallas Buyers Club’
Runner Up: Jonah Hill ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Honorable Mention: Geoffrey Rush ‘The Book Thief’
Woody Harrelson ‘Out of the Furnace’
Michael Fassbender ’12 Years a Slave’
Barkhad Abdi ‘Captain Phillips’
Ben Foster ‘Lone Survivor’
Daniel Bruhl ‘Rush’
Matthew McConaughey ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Alexander Skaarsgard ‘What Maisie Knew’
Another crowded category, I had to go with a somewhat calculated choice, a man more than likely to win at the Academy Awards this year, Jared Leto. His performance, almost moreso than Matthew McConaughey‘s, grounds the heartbreaking tale of Dallas Buyers Club and brings humanity to those that are too often dehumanized. On the other side of the coin, Jonah Hill was a riot in The Wolf of Wall Street and between his introductory scene and subsequent cousin soliloquy and the unhinged energy he brings to the Lemmons scene, his is one of the most unforgettable performances of the year. Another under-appreciated role takes my honorable mention slot with Geoffrey Rush‘s lovely performance in the otherwise forgettable The Book Thief. Rush is an acting giant and watching him effortlessly capture our sympathy just goes to show his monumental range.
WINNER: Meryl Streep ‘August: Osage County’
Runner Up: Julie Delpy ‘Before Midnight’
Honorable Mention: Scarlett Johansson ‘Her’
Cate Blanchett ‘Blue Jasmine’
Brie Larson ‘Short Term 12’
Judi Dench ‘Philomena’
Adele Exarchopoulos ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’
Shailene Woodley ‘The Spectacular Now’
Greta Gerwig ‘Frances Ha’
Emma Thompson ‘Saving Mr. Banks’
I know Cate Blanchett is the name on everyone’s lips right now and there’s no denying that her performance is a showstopper but, for me, was not quite the most impressive of the year. Speaking of cinematic giants, I just couldn’t help but give my top award to Meryl Streep for her poisonous performance in the ensemble drama August: Osage County. Streep is a chameleon and we’re used to seeing her, for the most part, play loveable roles so seeing her transform into an utterly despicable train wreck of a pill popper showcases why she is the monolithic actress she is. Watching Julie Delpy embody the role of Celine for the third (or fourth if you consider Waking Life) time, you can see how much she has sank into this role and it’s simply a beauty to behold. Although deemed ineligible for the Oscars, Scarlett Johansson is able to achieve wonders with just her voice and deserves a pile of praise for that.
Best Supporting Actress:
WINNER: Julia Roberts “August: Osage County”
Runner Up: Margot Robbie “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Honorable Mention: Kristen Scott Thomas ‘Only God Forgives’
Octavia Spenser ‘Fruitvale Station’
Jennifer Lawrence ‘American Hustle’
June Squibb ‘Nebraska’
Lupita Nyong’o ’12 Years a Slave’
Emily Watson ‘The Book Thief’
Melissa Leo ‘Prisoners’
Easily the least impressive of the four acting categories, the best supporting actress category just didn’t have quite as much to offer as the rest did this year. Going through my nominees, it was hard to choose a top spot because all were commendable but none were absolutely unforgettable. I would hardly consider Julia Roberts as someone whose films I anticipate so was caught offguard by her fantastic work in August: Osage County. She holds her own against Streep and at times even shows her up. Color me impressed. I gave the second slot to Margot Robbie of The Wolf of Wall Street because of an unforgettable scene she shares with DiCaprio that’s sexy, tortuous and hysterical all at once and would have been nothing without the presence she brings to the scene. And for all the flak Only God Forgives caught for lacking dialogue, Kristen Scott Thomas stood out as the only character with true personality and she absolutely chewed through her deluded sanctimony. She’s menacing, repulsive and commanding and totally owns every scene she’s in. And just to preempt those offended by my lack of pedastalizing Academy darling Jennifer Lawrence, I enjoyed what she did in American Hustle but could never really take her character seriously. It was fun but not near worthy the level of praise being heaped on. And Lupita Nyong’o was certainly stunning in her 12 Years a Slave scenes but remember, this is my favorites and her performance is nothing less than a chore to watch.
WINNER: Spike Jonze ‘Her’
Runner Up: Richard Linklater ‘Before Midnight’
Honorable Mention: Steve McQueen ’12 Years a Slave’
Martin Scorsese ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Jean-Marc Valee ‘Dallas Buyers Club’
Alexander Payne ‘Nebraska’
Denis Villeneuve ‘Prisoners’
Alfonso Cuaron ‘Gravity’
Destin Cretton ’12 Years a Slave’
Coen Bros ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’
I have to give a leg up to the director/writer combos so it’s no surprise that Spike Jonze has secured the top position. The humanity he brings to this technological world and the insight he’s able to provide is simply stunning, aided by his sharp visual style and realistic futurism. Richard Linklater may not be the world’ most hands on director but the palpably freedom he affords his actors gives them the capacity to create the caliber of tender moments we see in Before Midnight. He’s no bleeding heart but he’s not quite a cynic either and I love watching the way he sees the world. On the more difficult side of things, I’ve seen all three of Steve McQueen‘s films and, though this comment may be hotly debated, think 12 Years a Slave is actually his least tortuous. At least to watch. It’s an amazing effort that drags us through hell and yet there is a string of hope that runs throughout the story. I guess that only someone from outside of the states could bring such honesty and power to a distinctly American story.
WINNER: American Hustle
Runner Up: The Wolf of Wall Street
Honorable Mention: August: Osage County
12 Years a Slave
This is the End
WINNER: Sean Bobbitt ’12 Years A Slave’
Runner Up: Emmanuel Lubezki ‘Gravity’
Honorable Mention: Roger Deakins ‘Prisoners’
Phedon Papamichael ‘Nebraska’
Hoyte Van Hoytema ‘Her’
Bruno Delbonnel ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’
John R. Leonetti ‘The Conjuring’
Yves Bélanger ‘Lawrence Anyways’
Best Foreign Film
WINNER: The Hunt
Runner Up: Laurence Anyways
Honorable Mention: Populaire
Blue is the Warmest Color
Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus
WINNER: The Act of Killing
Runner Up: Cutie and the Boxer
Honorable Mention: Dirty Wars
The Crash Reel
WINNER: “Fare Thee Well” – Inside Llewyn Davis
Runner Up: “Young and Beautiful” – Great Gatsby
Honorable Mention: “Doby” – Anchorman 2: The Journey Continues
“Please Mr. Kennedy – Inside Llewy6n Davis
“The Moon Song – Inside Llewyn Davis
“In Summer – Frozen
“Oblivion” – Oblivion
WINNER: Her ‘When it All Goes Dark’
Runner Up: The Wolf of Wall Street “Lemmons 714”
Honorable Mention: Before Midnight ‘Letter from the Future’
Captain Phillips “Check Up”
August: Osage “Family Dinner”
Nebraska “Mt. Rushmore”
This is the End “Backstreets Back”
Gravity ‘Opening Sequence’
Out of the Furnace ‘Hot Dog’
Inside Llewyn Davis ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’
The Conjuring “Basement Exorcism”
Lawrence Anyways “It’s Raining Clothes”
I’d love to hear where you guys agree and disagree and would encourage you to share your own lists in the comments section below.
“The Book Thief”
Directed by Brian Percival
Starring Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Roger Allam, Nico Liersch, Kirsten Block
It’s not the first time we’ve seen a World War II movie rife with Holocaust themes and the omnipresent horrors of war nor will it be the last, but The Book Thief manages a healthy dose of thoughtful introspection and rock solid performances amidst extraneous narration a la the Grim Reaper. This narrative tactic might have worked fine in book form but in the film only serves to interrupt the sense of immediacy inherent to the lifeblood of film. Death the narrator comes in unannounced to smooth over the rough edges, blunting the emotion impact of sequences that should have been the most shocking and gut-wrenching. Each time the film reaches an emotional apex, Death takes the stage and narrates us through what we ought to be feeling like we’re reading a storybook about pretty ponies.
There is nothing wrong with finding beauty in death (look no further than American Beauty for proof) but this heavy-handed dictation is not the way to go about it. All attempts to undercut the passing of life with this kind of silver-lining holistic circle of life BS just reaps diminishing emotional return and sours the visceral oomph that the actors have worked so duteously to illicit. Blending high-art performances with scribbling story-booking, the prospects of greatness sour like milk in the sun. It’s truly a shame because there are elements of excellence peppered throughout the film and the inherent power of WWII’s history, which is never something to balk at, is explored from an interesting internal perspective.
More than anything, the film could have used a more thorough editorial sweep to really hone in on tonal consistency as some elements, such as the grating voice over, jut out like sore thumbs. Rather than tug us deeper into the emotional climaxes, the premeditated status of “death as inevitability” only serves to only take us out of the moment and draws our attention to the bumbling, childlike side of the storytelling. When the saga should soar, it instead sags.
Based on the 2006 novel that stretches 550 pages long, The Book Thief begins with a slow pan through the billowy smoke of a train tumbling towards Germany like a black bullet. On that train rides Liesel, a shy illiterate girl, and her younger brother. Before they arrive at their destination, Liesel’s little brother dies, presumably a result of malnutrition sustained during his lengthy journey through the bowels of pre-war Germany, and sets in motion her vibrant and intuitive moral compass. On cue with her arrival to a country on the brink of a wicked social reinvention, the passing of Liesel’s younger sibling is an appropriate welcoming into this darkening realm that will soon breed sorrow and loss.
Although her adoptive mother, Rosa, is at first as stony as a Felsenbeisser, her new foster papa, Hans, is a heart barely dressed in human skin. He radiates love and understanding and quickly takes Liesel under his paternal wing, teaching her to read and cultivating her love of books and knowledge with his subterranean wall-to-wall chalkboard. Just bristling with spindles of affection, Geoffrey Rush is a fountain of warmth as Hans. His performance is perfectly balanced – a potpourri of optimism and grief, empathy and anguish. For as much eternal hope and internal goodness wells within him, he can’t help but recognize society morally melting around him.
And as cantankerous as foster mother Rosa (Emily Watson) may seem as first, her character arc is one of the most satisfying and nuanced of the film. Even young Sophie Nélisse is quietly magnetic as Liesel, transcending the label of child actress and putting in a performance well beyond her years. As 2013 ends, she ought to be positioned at the forefront of emerging young talent because her work here is nothing less than staggering. As much as we appreciate and empathize with the core supporting characters, it’s Nélisse who guides us through the visceral darkness – a beacon of light in a vacuum of hope.
As antisemitic currents sweep through Germany, Liesel intuitively picks up on the silent horror of a changing ethos. A scene where she is singing an ironically sweet, almost songbird, antisemitic anthem and then halts her warble mid-song picturesquely captures the dawning of a new understanding. All this preaching of hatred, however cloaked in the angelic voices of children, is poison.
But for every two steps forward the film takes in terms of thoughtful impact, it takes one back. Without fail, every time the story peaks, it reveals just how hard it’s trying to invoke an emotional reaction. Miscalculating more for more, the film has an unfortunate tendency to overstay its welcome and beat the dead horse black and blue. The most egregious instance of this comes in the final moment where the film pulls a Return of the King triple ending. Had it ended a scene or two earlier, sans voiceover, it would have been an extremely powerful and poignant statement. As it is, it’s overdrawn and self-defeating. Instead of going out with understated subtlety, it reminds you over and over again of its intention, as persistent as a politician.
Closing the book on this slipshod endeavor, The Book Thief is a film divided against itself. There are many elements of the film deserving of love but director Brian Percival is constantly sucking the wind from beneath his own wings. At once emotionally sound and fiercely melodramatic, the film, had it underwent a quick trip to the reel barber, could have been shaved into something truly excellent. As it stands, it’s modestly good and mildly powerful but lacking the vitality of a more tactful director.
A new international trailer for The Book Thief, a World War II drama adapted by the bestselling novel by Markus Zusak, has been released. This follows 20th Century Fox taking out two whole pages in the New York Times to fill entirely with blank space except for a URL of the film’s website wordsarelife.com in very small print at the bottom of the page. To say that sort of promotional tactic makes an impression is an understatement, and as this international trailer certainly tries to maintain the gravity from the previous trailer.
With a much less drawn-out introduction than the first released trailer, the inner world of Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse) is given a moment to establish itself alongside the circumstances of her adoption and her recent house guest, but only a moment. Following that, the trailer is all jackboots, burning piles of books, and other horrors of Nazi Germany as Kristallnacht occurs. Liesel is made aware of the devastating consequences not just for her guest, but also for herself if he should be discovered. Bookended nicely by ruminating on Liesel as the Book Thief and what the books mean to her and to her guest, the trailer ends on an even keel that makes you wonder at Liesel’s rebellion and her inner strength.
Directed by Brian Percival (“Downton Abbey”), and co-starring Geoffery Rush, Emily Watson, and Ben Schnetzer, The Book Thief is a clear gambit for the Oscars. The film has Oscars written all over it, although the real test will be to see whether or not it lives up to those clearly-present aspirations. Set to release on November 8th in the USA, it won’t be long before we see if the writing and character development throughout the rest of the film can match the tenor of the notes struck in this trailer.
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