Yes, I am doing this again last minute, or last day. I don’t have Wifi on my current place so I’m posting this on a public lobby. This is a rushed post and I didn’t have time to properly edit. I apologize in advance to the gibberish you’re about to read. We do have another great group of Best Picture nominees. I enjoyed most, while a few were frustrating. I don’t know if I’ll do this again next year. But my blog is dying and this annual tradition is my way of keeping in touch with great movies. Now, let’s go the countdown.
9 – Amour
“Amour” is difficult to watch for two reasons. One – it was so tedious and boring. If there’s a struggle keep the eyes open at the start, no matter how extraordinary it might turn out, then that’s a fail in my book. Nap in some parts of the movie and I doubt if you miss anything. It was basically following an old French couple in their apartment. Then when the movie slowly takes a formidable shape, you come upon reason two – watching an old woman (Oscar nominee Emmanuelle Riva) become helpless as her health worsens. It’s one heck of a brave performance, with actress Riva ridding herself of vanity to demonstrate the frailty and ugliness of old age. She’s the good thing about the movie. The film’s style, on the other hand, I found to be so snobbishly minimal and lazy. Was this film catered to old people? Would a slight pick up of pace or action give someone a heart attack? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think “Amour” means a bore in French.
8 – Beasts of the Southern Wild
I have mixed reactions on watching “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” And I want to say that I am a bit stumped by my reaction too. The hype did not seem to lie, because this great indie picture is indeed fantastical and at the center of it all is a strong, diminutive girl named Hush Puppy. But all this confirmation seem to exist only on the visual level. I arrived at some scenes and think silently – “I am supposed to feel amazed here and not yawning.” Ugh, I expected the film to flood me with emotions. Quvenzhane Wallis, as Hush Puppy, has screen presence and looks so picture-perfect in the role. But sometimes, nothing is coming across and it loses the impact of her performance. She’s understandably young and it does feel like she’s being coached off screen. I actually think Dwight Henry, as her father, should have gotten a nomination. He works hard to make her look good; he’s the raw force in inciting emotions out of the child. Ultimately, the film remained a curiosity. While the finale had a wonderful momentum, it was too late. I’ve already hushed Hush Puppy in my head.
7 – Les Miserables
“Les Miserables” was wildly uneven for me. But in some ways, that’s a plus, because, unlike the last two films, it was far from a snoozefest. Having seen the Broadway musical and being familiar with the songs, I stayed alert as to how the movie would deviate. Yes, it’s more visually expansive and cooked up its own version of live singing. But adhering to a Hollywood recipe of featuring celebrities dilutes the whole thing with sub par talents. The lasting impression is that it could have been so much better. One can dream, but this movie killed it. Nonetheless, you have to give it to Hugh Jackman for being a work horse in the lead role. But Colm Wilkinson will always be Jean Valjean to me. Anne Hathaway puts in a battered and raw performance, although I think her unfiltered acting overpowered her singing. Stage veterans Tveit, Redmayne, and Barks are great in their supporting roles. The others are better left unmentioned. Anyway, the movie sang its heart out for more than two hours. So why not? I gave it a little slack and accept it for what it is. Besides, I still hear the people sing long after the movie dramatically exhaled its last dying note.
6 – Lincoln
Daniel Day-Lewis is so superb as Lincoln that I unfortunately forgot about the actor behind the character. In a way, that’s a huge and even the best compliment. On the other hand, I am not dropping my jaw in amazement since his performance is invisible to me. You get what I’m saying? Even Spielberg is sometimes invisible in his direction. And that’s fine, the movie is neither about Spielberg nor Day-Lewis anyway. It’s about Lincoln, or rather, the political landscape at the time. Well, that’s what pulled me into the movie anyway. I was more interested of the politics, rather than the iconic president and his family (a bit boring). I was surprised at the awakening of my Polisci nerdity, because it rarely comes out. How the hell did Lincoln managed to pull off the 13th amendment anyway? It was actually fascinating. Oh, the audacity of a man to abolish slavery! And you can’t help but compare the events to what’s happening in our political system now. It’s amazing how the Radical Republicans then are so far off from the radical Republicans now. Despite the shifts, American politics has been a vitriolic and nasty game for centuries. It’s a wonder that Lincoln, ever the consummate and loquacious politician, still managed to be known as Honest Abe.
5 – Argo
Argo is one great, solid movie. Ben Affleck has crafted a true-to-life thriller which oddly marries the artistic goofiness of Hollywood and the gravity of politics in the international stage. This is difficult to pull off and I don’t mind the praise and accolades the film has gotten. But then, that’s about it! Argo, to me, on a technical level, has a high-level of execution. As much as I like, the movie does not break an emotional ceiling. While I have a certain worry for certain characters, my emotional involvement is not as clingy as compared to the other movies on the list. But the sly intrigue, the heightened suspense, and the retro 1970s are well and alive and pulsating on the screen. As superior as the movie is, I find Affleck’s earlier work “Gone Baby Gone” more memorable (Amy Ryan’s acting, and the plot’s very dark turns). Look, he deserved the director nod. But his omission should make him more humble and more focused on improving his already-award-worthy talent. If “Argo” takes the Best Picture as predicted, it will be three years in a row where I felt “meh” about the grand prize winner. But I’d concede this movie is better than “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist.”
4 – Django Unchained
Ever since the 1990s, Quentin Tarantino has been shackled by greatness. He is an unparalleled cinematic auteur. He is a master of dialogue and great builder of suspense. His talents are so awesome to behold as he tackles retro-style slavery in “Django Unchained.” Love the movie! But I wouldn’t claim this as one of his best. Tarantino is usually on point on casting but Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t totally deliver for me. Foxx could have been awfully terrific in a character-actor role, but as Django, it seems like he’s only fully convincing towards the end. DiCaprio was excellent in the climactic scenes, but he lacks a certain ickiness that gives his role more color. Furthermore, these two gifted actors pale in comparison to the Tarantino veterans. I love the way Christoph Waltz relishes his dialogue and the way Samuel L. Jackson intensely unnerves the whole picture. There is no denying the movie is still great, but I’m left wondering if Tarantino can ever top the promise of “Pulp Fiction.” A new film will always bring him in a cinematic duel against his glorified former self.
3 – The Silver Linings Playbook
Initially, my interest was waning on this movie. Maybe because Jennifer Lawrence did not show up until after the 20-minute mark. And then, you get pulled in as you try to predict her character and as to where the story seems to be heading. The movie has a knack for a burst of chaos but the way it fits back together in a remodeled fashion is just so awesome. While the movie appears to have a streak of punk-ish mental freshness, it has familiar beats and comforting surge in its stride. Of all the movies on the list, this one gives me an aching smile. The movie works so well because of its cast and its director. David O. Russell, bless him, brings his skills of orchestrating scenes in a surreal yet raw manner. He brings the same energy and talent here as “The Fighter.” And actors should be seeking him out immensely. Not surprising that the ensemble is the best among the Best Picture nominees. We already know Jennifer Lawrence is a force to be reckoned with. And the girl steps it up flawlessly, giving a ring of audacity and comedy that neither her Hunger Games nor Winter’s Bone characters might achieve. While she is considered a front-runner as Best Actress, the ingenue has yet to reach her peak.
2 – Life of Pi
Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” is the most visually stunning movie of the year. At times, I felt a little seasick, because it’s uncanny in the way it places you in the middle of the ocean. Water, water, water everywhere. Its clarity, its reflection of the sky, and the dance of its mountainous waves. It’s a cinematic achievement and yet this is only the backdrop. I have read Yann Martel’s novel and the movie even surpasses what I had imagined. The logistics of being trapped with a tiger in a boat is so mind boggling. And for the movie to convincingly depict this is kind of crazy. Of all the movies I’ve seen all year, this is the most ambitious and Ang Lee (who I’m rooting for to win for Best director) is a genius for pulling this off spectacularly. His tendency to be so polished might have done him a bit of disservice. “Life of Pi” is a harsh tale of survival and the filming could have been more effectively jarred and shaken. I also have a quibble of the Indian accent, which doesn’t sometimes come across clear. It slightly marred a vital section towards the end, where it entirely depends upon narration. But that’s a drop of criticism against a deluge of wonder that the film puts forth.
1 – Zero Dark Thirty
A gripping and simmering motion picture about the CIA’s efforts to hunt Osama Bin Laden. Just like the Social Network a few years back, here’s an excellent movie that defines our times now but it will lose because most Oscar voters are living in the past. While the film may feature a considerable amount of talking, Mark Boal’s well-researched screenplay is quite refreshing since it has none of the glamor or spectacle of modern action flicks nor the twists and emotional flares of the top-tier TV drama Homeland. Sure, it was, by all means, a Hollywood movie, but I found myself giving in. The film is in business to not only pull some punches but to throw us into the tediousness and frustration of doing intelligence. Jessica Chastain, who burst into the scene last year with “The Help” and “The Tree of Life,” is compelling as the CIA analyst Maya. Her tenacity and mental acuity glows in a subtle and sometimes wonderfully bottled up performance. Not quite what I expect from a big contender in the Best Actress race. Except for a few scenes, her scenes aren’t showy, but she arrests your attention nonetheless. What boggles me is how our intelligence works. Maybe in the film, it seems like we are hanging and chasing loose threads. And with technologies we have now, it’s incredible how Bin Laden has been elusive. Even though I know how the film ends, harrowing doubt courses palpably through the screen. While this is less action than Bigelow’s intense “The Hurt Locker,” this movie is more ambitious and cuts deeper into our current consciousness.