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The Films I Watched In 2013 Awards

It’s that time of the year again, folks! Time for me to take a look at the movies I watched this past year and determine which ones were the very best in a variety of silly categories. Other bloggers do Best of 2013 lists and accolades. Me, I’m as always way behind on my viewing of 2013’s movies, so I focus instead on what I actually saw this year, regardless of when it was released.

Not counting rewatches, I saw a total of 145 films during these past 12 months. A sharp drop-off from last year’s 209, but an expected one. Work and budding interests in other hobbies took some time away from the movies, something that has also contributed to a lower update rate on this here blog. To quote Vonnegut: So it goes.

But 145 movies are still quite a bit, and most of what I saw was good. It has been a fine movie year indeed. One well worth commemorating with these highly prestigeous awards of mine.

If you want to go back and see the awards for 2011 and 2012, the links are right here and here.

On that note: on with the show!

2011_jiro_dreams_of_sushi_003Most Explicit Food Porn Award
Winner: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

I’m not much of a fish eater, and I’ve never had sushi in my life. This movie could easily change that, because it makes the food looks absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious. And it’s all shot in intense tantalizing close-ups, too! Mmm…

Skärmavbild 2014-01-08 kl. 13.48.51Most Surprising Director Award
Winner: Compliance

A seriously creepy based-on-a-true-story thriller featuring dark manipulation and sexual abuse, directed by… Craig Zobel, co-creator of kid-friendly web series Homestar Runner?

CA.1205.top.shots.Alpha Award for Best Opening
Winner: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Runner-up: Les Misérables

Certain opening shots in movies just have a way of hooking you right from the start. They make you wonder what it is you’re seeing, then why it’s there, and finally what you’re about to see next. Tilda Swinton floating around in a sea of people all drenched in tomato sauce certainly manages to do all that.

Skärmavbild 2014-01-08 kl. 13.51.12Omega Award for Best Ending
Winner: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Runner-up: Martha Marcy May Marlene

You might think that a romcom set during the last days before the end of the world can only end in one conceivable way, and perhaps you’d be right. What I didn’t expect from this film, however, was the emotional reaction I had to its conclusion. When I sat down to watch the movie, I was looking for something easy to go along with my hangover. What I got was something far more impressive. Martha Marcy May Marlene earns the silver medal by initially making me go “What!? This is where you end it? Just like that?”, but then making me question what the film was really trying to tell me, and subsequently sticking with me for days afterward.

Skärmavbild 2014-01-08 kl. 13.51.54Best Worst WTF-est Use Of Fried Chicken Award
Winner: Killer Joe

Scenes that leave you dumbfoundedly staring at the screen wondering just what the hell you’re seeing are rare. Even rarer is when they do this in a good way. William Friedkin‘s Killer Joe certainly manages this with its most infamous scene, featuring Matthew McConaughey, Gina Gershon, and some fried chicken.

scarlett_johansson_1179511561Award for Excellence In Sexiness
Winner: Scarlett Johansson – Match Point

While not as overt or smoldering as previous winners in this category (the entire cast of Nine, and Clooney + J-Lo in Out of Sight), Scarlett Johansson’s turn in Woody Allen‘s infidelity thriller Match Point still has a ton of fire to it. Her pulling Jonathan Rhys Meyers into an affair with her certainly seems believable.

Skärmavbild 2014-01-08 kl. 13.53.51“What’s The Big Deal?” Award for A Beloved Film That Left Me Underwhelmed
Winner: Animal House
Runner-up: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Animal House is hailed as a comedy classic in most American writing I find online. I rarely if ever hear much reverence for it from Swedish writers. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. I didn’t find much to like about the movie, other than a few John Belushi moments. But if I want Belushi, I’ll just stick to The Blues Brothers, thank you very much.

Skärmavbild 2014-01-08 kl. 13.58.28Masticating The Environs Award for Most Acting
Winner: Keira Knightley – A Dangerous Method

Nobody tried harder on a screen I found myself in front of in 2013 than Keira Knightley in David Cronenberg‘s psychosexual drama slash biopic. Whether her chin-jutting and high-strung performance fully works is most definitely up for debate, but she certainly gave it her all.

11168823_800High Concept Award for Best Premise
Winner: Timer
Runner-up: Grabbers

Irish horror comedy Grabbers features invading monsters averse to alcohol, necessitating that the protagonist townsfolk stay drunk all the time. This is such a brilliant and obvious idea for the genre that I’m surprised I haven’t come across it before. But the best idea I saw this year was in Timer, a sci-fi romance set in the future where someone has invented a timer that counts down the seconds until you first meet your soul mate – but it only starts counting once they too get a timer. It might sound gimmicky, but to its further credit, the movie plays the premise for all its worth, exploring different angles of it right up to its logical yet surprising conclusion.

MORNING GLORYGrumpiest Old Man Award
Winner: Harrison Ford – Morning Glory

Veteran TV journalist Mike Pomeroy used to cover wars, politics and other high prestige stories. In Morning Glory, he finds himself having to host a breezy morning news show. This does not exactly sit well with him. Harrison Ford plays him almost like a parody of Clint Eastwood‘s Gran Torino character, where every word is delivered like a raspy grunt. “Are you drunk?” Rachel McAdams‘ distraught character asks him before a broadcast. “Insufficiently”, he replies.

the-50-greatest-movie-fights-ever--46-420-75Brains Over Brawns Award for Smartest Fighter
Winner: Paul Newman – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Sometimes, all you need to win a knife fight is some swift thinking and an even swifter kick to the groin.

catacombsShannyn Sossamon Award for Best Shannyn Sossamon Performance
Winner: Shannyn Sossamon – Catacombs

Shannyn Sossamon continues to dominate this category, taking home the award for the third year straight. Her work in humdrum horror flick Catacombs is hardly career-best stuff from her, obviously, but she does make for a fairly effective state of distress protagonist. It’s just a shame that the movie is still terrible.

pi_a_jeho_zivot_foto_01Best 3D Eye Candy Award
Winner: Life of Pi
Runner-up: Gravity

In 2013, Life of Pi became the first movie I ever paid to see more than once in theater. Part of the return trip was to watch the story unfold while knowing where it’s ultimately going, but the chief reason was simple: a film as gorgeous as this deserved to be seen on the big screen more than once.

ddb7e022b292016cf2b46f33ce5d609cBest Underwear Award
Winner: Sightseers

Because hasn’t everyone always wanted to type the phrase “knitted crotchless panties” at some point in their life?

sleepwalk-with-me-e1361469729824Most Forgettable Award
Winner: Sleepwalk With Me
Runner-up: Employee of the Month

The only thing I remember about Employee of the Month is that it had a bunch of twists near the end. This is more than what I recall about Sleepwalk With Me, which was one of those movies that showed up on Netflix and a lot of bloggers ended up watching for some reason. My scorecard tells me I gave it a decent score after watching it almost a year ago, but I remember nothing about it today.

les_miserable-people-singA Swede Loves This Movie Award
Winner: Les Misérables

As you may recall, I crushed pretty hard on this movie when it arrived in theaters here back in the early parts of 2013. My love for it hasn’t diminished since then, and I still rewatch it on Blu-ray every other month or so. It’s not the best movie I saw last year, but there is no movie that spawned such an obsession in me in a way that honestly no other movie has ever done. For that, it deserves a special award.

gravity-movie-review-sandra-bullock-shiopBest 2013 Film So Far Award
Winner: Gravity
Runner-up: Before Midnight

For sheer visceral power and physicality, no 2013 film seen by me could top Gravity this year. It has left nearby theaters by now, and I’m kicking myself for not rewatching it while I had the chance. It’s that kind of movie. I’m not ruling out the possibility that runner-up Before Midnight could surpass it when revisited on home media, though.

texte-fff13-03-04Worst 2013 Film So Far Award
Winner: Upstream Color
Runner-up: The Purge

The Purge squandered an intriguing idea by employing it in a repetitive and tired home invasion horror flick. It wasn’t very good. That said, Upstream Color takes the prize here for being a film that I just couldn’t wait for to be over. I know there are plenty who like the film, but it just wasn’t for me.

U2190P28T3D3314520F329DT20110522234015Best Swedish Film Seen By Me In 2013 Award
Winner: The Girl
Runner-up: Winter Light

With Winter Light, Ingmar Bergman came close to repeating the victory in this category that Persona brought him last year, but ultimately, I was more moved by Fredrik Edfeldt‘s story of a girl trying live by herself for a summer. The Girl is a touching and thoughtful movie, and one deserving to be seen by more people outside my country.

limousineWorst Film Seen By Me In 2013 Award
Winner: Cosmopolis
Runner-up: Valhalla Rising

I’ve described Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising as a Bergman film without any of the things that make Bergman films interesting, but it does at least have some striking cinematography going for it. What does Cosmopolis have? Nothing.

shame-2011-movie

Best Film Seen By Me In 2013 Award
Winner: Shame
Runner-up: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I think I died a couple of times while watching Shame, and I didn’t even care. A spellbinding movie with amazing acting, fully deserving of all the praise it got upon its release. Could Steve McQueen take home this award again next year through 12 Years a Slave? Time will tell.

What’s the best film you saw in 2013? And what did you think of my picks here?

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Posted by on 8 January, 2014 in Year End Awards

 

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Flickcharting

I’ve mentioned the website Flickchart a few times here on the blog, most notably in this post where I explained what it’s all about. In short, it’s a site that presents you with endless pairs of movies and has you pick which one of the two you like better. With over 26,000 such choices so far, it’s fair to say that I’m a big fan.

I figured it might be fun to do 10 random match-ups and talk about my selections here. Hopefully it will give some idea of what qualities I value in films.

Skärmavbild 2013-08-13 kl. 13.50.41

Summer of Sam vs Rosemary’s Baby

I’ve seen eight movies by Spike Lee. I’ve liked all of them to some degree, except for one: Summer of Sam (okay, maybe Crooklyn wasn’t too hot either.) While Summer of Sam is a finely styled period piece, it doesn’t have much new to say that Lee hadn’t already said, and the characters failed to grip me. Rosemary’s Baby, on the other hand, earns its reputation as a horror classic. I got fully invested in the fate of Mia Farrow‘s character when I sat down to watch it, and the sense of paranoia is potent throughout. Repulsion may be my favorite of Roman Polanski‘s Apartment Trilogy, but Rosemary’s Baby isn’t far behind.
Winner: Rosemary’s Baby

Skärmavbild 2013-08-13 kl. 14.26.52

Equilibrium vs Mrs. Doubtfire

One dystopian sci-fi action flick versus one crossdressing family comedy. It’s not an entirely easy choice, actually. Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire delivers the kind of high-energy performance that he’s so good at, and the story is sweet and effective. Equilibrium’s story isn’t particularly original, borrowing heavily from both 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, but the action scenes are really damn cool – even if the whole gun kata thing doesn’t make much logical sense. It’s also a film that grew on me quite a bit on a rewatch, whereas Mrs. Doubtfire is more a case of what you see is what you get. Dystopia wins the day.
Winner: Equilibrium

Skärmavbild 2013-08-13 kl. 14.29.06

Les Misérables vs Borat

Sacha Baron Cohen showdown! These are two great movies, both 5/5 in my book. Borat is hilarious with a lot of thought behind it, and Les Mis… well, faithful readers know how that one floored me earlier this year. I can watch Tom Hooper‘s musical over and over and seemingly never get tired of it. If anything, it just keeps getting better. What a wonderful story it is. Even Cohen’s most iconic character can’t trump it.
Winner: Les Misérables

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Posted by on 13 August, 2013 in Misc.

 

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How I filled out an awards ballot

Flickchart: The Blog is right in the middle of the 2nd Annual Flickcharters’ Choice Awards. I took part last year for the inaugural installment and wrote a post about my experience as a nominator. This year, things were done a bit differently: the nomination voting was open to the public and not just to the contributors to the Flickchart blog.

The nominees were announced last night, and with that, the voting for the eventual winners has begun (go here to cast your votes). I won’t say too much about the nominations; a lot of it is for things I haven’t seen yet, so while I am disappointed that so many of my nomination votes didn’t go through, I can’t rightfully say with certainty that they deserve to be in over stuff that did make it.

Instead of talking about what did get nominated, I thought I’d share my ballot for the nomination phase. Voting was done with a point distribution system that allowed you to give extra push to certain nominees, but I’m keeping it simple here and just sharing my five picks for each category in alphabetical order.

Entries in blue are ones that ended up making the cut for nominations.

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5 Broken Cameras

Best Documentary Film
5 Broken Cameras
How to Survive a Plague
Indie Game: The Movie
The Invisible War
The Queen of Versailles

I didn’t see a whole lot of 2012 documentaries, to be perfectly honest. The only ones I saw and didn’t nominate were Mansome and Jiro Dreams of Sushi. That said, these five films are all interesting in their own rights. Three of them are Oscar nominees, one should have been, and the last is one of those narrow interest pieces that just happens to be within my field of interests.

Kon-Tiki

Kon-Tiki

Best Foreign Language Film
5 Broken Cameras
Eat Sleep Die
Kon-Tiki
Oslo, August 31st
A Royal Affair

Four of these films are from Scandinavia, so maybe I’m biased here. I knew that Eat Sleep Die would have a hard time gaining traction with anyone else, considering how very Sweden-centric it is and its limited international distribution, but it’s a great film that deserved a spot here on my ballot. This isn’t the last category it shows up in.

Best Animated Film
This is the one category I had to abstain in. I’ve seen zero animated films from last year, and I don’t have much desire to either apart from Wreck-It Ralph and Frankenweenie.

Mansome

Mansome

Biggest Disappointment of 2012
John Dies at the End
Mansome
Moonrise Kingdom
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D
Take This Waltz

A hard category for me to fill out. I even had to put Moonrise Kingdom in here, a film that I for all intents and purposes liked. Most of what I’ve seen from 2012 has lived up to most of the expectations I had for it.

21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street

Biggest Surprise Film of 2012
21 Jump Street
Chronicle
Dark Shadows
Goon
The Grey

The counterpoint to  the previous category, these were all films that ended up being better than I expected. Granted, a few here were ones that the hidden good word had gotten around about by the time I saw them, like 21 Jump Street and Chronicle. Even so, judging by the expectations I initially had, they still fit in nicely here.

The Queen of Versailles

The Queen of Versailles

Best Underranked Film
Eat Sleep Die
The Invisible War
Killer Joe
Oslo, August 31st
The Queen of Versailles

This is a Flickchart specific category that ties into the site’s core mechanic of comparing and ranking films. You can think of it as Best Film Not Seen By Many. So here we have a motley crew of documentaries, foreign language films, and one “totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story”. If you’re looking for some hidden gems of last year, you’d do well to check out these five.

Before Midnight

Before Midnight

Most Anticipated Film of 2013
Before Midnight
Oldboy
Only God Forgives
The Place Beyond the Pines
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Make no mistake: this category is all about Before Midnight for me. The rest is filler.

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages

Most Underrated Film
The Grey
Kon-Tiki
On the Road
The Queen of Versailles
Rock of Ages

The words “underrated” and “overrated” are ones I rarely use. Just who is it that’s rating it higher or lower than me? Here, I latched onto the further guideline supplied by awards supervisor Ross Bonaime: “film you thought didn’t get the audience it deserved”. Loosely interpreted, this can go for all five of these films.

hr_moonrise_kingdom_19

Moonrise Kingdom

Most Overrated Film
American Reunion
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Lockout
Moonrise Kingdom
Take This Waltz

Or “film you thought received more attention than it deserved”. Like Biggest Disappointment, I had to nominate a number of films here that I actually liked: American Reunion, The Hobbit, and Moonrise Kingdom. These all got more attention than what I felt their quality warranted. Then we have the terrible Lockout, which, bafflingly, some people thought was okay, and Take This Waltz, which of the five is probably the closest to the usual interpretation of “overrated.”

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Worst Film of 2012
Bad Ass
Get the Gringo
Killing Them Softly
Lockout
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

I didn’t like any of these films, but the first three mentions on the list are at least not terrible. I suppose I should be quite happy with the movie year of 2012 based on that.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Best Scene in a 2012 Film
The chicken scene – Killer Joe
“I Dreamed a Dream” – Les Misérables
“Valjean’s Soliloquy” – Les Misérables
Pi wanting to show God to the tiger – Life of Pi
“Wanted Dead or Alive” – Rock of Ages

This is a new category for this year, and a fun one it is. There was a lot of scenes I regretfully had to leave off, and some that I just forgot outright – the surgery scene in Prometheus should probably have gotten a mention from me, for instance. Still, this is a cool list. I could have put more Les Mis on it, perhaps.

Looper

Looper

Best Writing in a 2012 Film
Rian Johnson – Looper
Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley – Kill List
Tracy Letts – Killer Joe
David Magee – Life of Pi
Gabriela Pichler – Eat Sleep Die

Ever since watching the great screenwriting documentary Tales from the Script, I’ve been reluctant to praise or complain about screenwriters, because you never know if that great line of dialogue was theirs or an ad-lib, or whether that weird story turn was something they wanted or if it was due to executive meddling. I also don’t really know anything about screenplays, so what this category really reflect for me is well-crafted dialogue and/or interesting stories. Looper, Kill List and Killer Joe are ones I admire for their sheer ambition and out-there-ness. Life of Pi is a unique tale that must have been a real challenge to adapt. Eat Sleep Die is a marvel in Swedish film in that it actually reflects how people talk in real life, rather than the “theater on film” way of speech so common in movies in this country.

Oslo, August 31st

Oslo, August 31st

Best Directing in a 2012 Film
Joe Carnahan – The Grey
Tom Hooper – Les Misérables
Ang Lee – Life of Pi
Ridley Scott – Prometheus
Joachim Trier – Oslo, August 31st

Like writing, directing is hard to judge, and easy to confuse with cinematography, editing and so much more. What these five films have in common is that they’re presented with a clear vision of what they want accomplished. A unified view, if you will. They’re all films I admire, too.

Kristen Stewart - On the Road

Kristen Stewart – On the Road

Best Supporting Actress in a 2012 Film
Samantha Barks – Les Misérables
Emily Blunt – Looper
Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables
Alison Pill – Goon
Kristen Stewart – On the Road

A relatively weak slate of nominees from me, admittedly. The performances are all good, but apart from the amazing Hathaway and the novelty factor of Barks – who inside word says was very close to getting nominated – none of these are likely to be ones I remember five years from now. I should probably have put Gina Gershon and/or Juno Temple from Killer Joe in here in retrospect. Sometimes I forget things.

Matthew McConaughey - Killer Joe

Matthew McConaughey – Killer Joe

Best Supporting Actor in a 2012 Film
Tom Cruise – Rock of Ages
Michael Fassbender – Prometheus
Garrett Hedlund – On the Road
Matthew McConaughey – Killer Joe
Andy Serkis – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I wasn’t sure whether McConaughey should be here or in Best Actor for the title part of Killer Joe, but ultimately, I figured that a case could be made for either, and it was easier to slot him in here. I’m a bit surprised that my fellow Flickcharters didn’t spring for Fassbender here, but hey, I guess Django Unchained needed its three spots.

Noomi Rapace - Prometheus

Noomi Rapace – Prometheus

Best Actress in a 2012 Film
Kara Hayward – Moonrise Kingdom
Nermina Lukac – Eat Sleep Die
Noomi Rapace – Prometheus
Alicia Vikander – A Royal Affair
Michelle Williams – Take This Waltz

I did not notice this until I submitted my ballot, but there are three Swedes represented here: Lukac, Rapace, and Vikander. Cool stuff. Still, this category is proof that I really need to see more female-centric stuff from 2012. I very reluctantly put Williams here: it’s a fine enough performance, but I had serious trouble buying into the character – something I ultimately attribute more to the writing.

Hugh Jackman - Les Misérables

Hugh Jackman – Les Misérables

Best Actor in a 2012 Film
Anders Danielsen Lie – Oslo, August 31st
Hugh Jackman – Les Misérables
Liam Neeson – The Grey
Seann William Scott – Goon
Suraj Sharma – Life of Pi

If you had told me just a year ago that I would put Stiffler on a ballot for Best Actor, I might have laughed at you. Still, he knocked it out of the park in Goon, so good for him.

A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair

Best Overall Cast in a 2012 Film
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Killer Joe
Les Misérables
On the Road
A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair earned Vikander a mention in Best Actress, but I had her two co-stars Mads Mikkelsen and Mikkel Følsgaard in Actor and Supporting Actor in my initial draft of the ballot. Les Mis got in in spite of Russell Crowe. If there’s one shining example here though, it’s Killer Joe. Everyone in that film was at the top of their game.

Gabriela Pichler

Gabriela Pichler

2012 Outstanding Achievement in Film
Joe Carnahan
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Matthew McConaughey
Gabriela Pichler
Channing Tatum

This is a very loosely defined category. Generally, nominees tend to be actors who have been in multiple films, or writer/directors. I had three of the former, two of the latter. I did make one big omission here: Anne Hathaway. She did strong work in The Dark Knight Rises and breaks my heart over and over in Les Mis. She should definitely have been here instead of one of the male actors. Oh well.

The Grey

The Grey

Best Picture of 2012
The Dark Knight Rises
The Grey
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
The Queen of Versailles

Here’s another thing I didn’t realize until just now: this is the only category I nominated The Dark Knight Rises for. It sounds weird, but I’m fine with that. That film just worked as a whole, and was a fitting end to the trilogy. It, and the rest of the films here, represent the best of what I’ve seen from 2012 so far.

 
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Posted by on 6 February, 2013 in Lists, Misc.

 

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Monthly Report: January 2013

I have no idea how this happened. I thought December was very movie-intense at 30 new films seen. Well, in January, I saw 42. Plenty of good stuff was at hand, including two terrific Best Picture Oscar nominees that stuck in my head for days and required multiple trips to the cinema. I did quite a bit of last minute catching up on documentaries and foreign language films of 2012 for award nominating purposes, too. Gotta love Netflix. February will have more work on its plate for me, so I expect there to be less time for movies. Then again, you never know…

13 Assassins (Takashi Miike, 2010)
Fitting choice to open 2013 with, don’t you think? This is a more accessible and to me far more enjoyable film than what Miike tends to put forth. The first half is decent enough talky set-up; it’s nothing mind-blowing, but it does what it’s supposed to. The second half is the real gem here though, featuring some of the most badass samurai action I’ve ever seen. Just tremendous stuff, and a great way to kick off movie year 2013.
4/5

All Good Things (Andrew Jarecki, 2010)
I’m not sure why this film has to exist, or why anyone should have to see it. It’s not bad or anything; in fact, there are scenes that are quite impressive, especially the ones focusing on the central characters’ relationships towards each other, which are more complex than what one first suspects. The actors all put in solid efforts, too. It’s just that the story as a whole, despite being based on true events, doesn’t really feel like it’s anything special. There is some awkwardness to the way it jumps around in its timeline. It’s a watchable movie, but by no means a must-see.
3/5

ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, THE SECRET OF THE UNICORNThe Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg, 2011)
Oh, this was a joy to watch. I grew up with the Tintin comics, so this had a lot of nostalgia value for me. It’s way more than just that, though. It’s a hilarious movie, with Captain Haddock providing the lion’s share of laughs, but pretty much all the humor is right on the mark. The animation is teriffic and offers such beauty that it made me wish I had seen it in theater. The action is cool and imaginative, with the astounding “long take” chase scene being just the crown jewel of a big old pile of gold. What I found most impressive was how well Spielberg utilizes the animation format, smartly employing angles, shots and effects in cool ways that would have been tricky to pull off in live action. All in all, this is a teriffic film. The 2015 sequel can’t get here soon enough.
5/5

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Posted by on 31 January, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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Top 5 favorite song numbers from the Les Mis film

tumblr_mg3f84AIqR1qfywlmo1_500

5 – Look Down

No, not the opening number that’s also known as “Work Song”. I’m talking about the film’s second usage of the tune. Though the stage musical has other ideas, to me, Act 2 of the film starts with the 9 year time skip after Valjean adopts Cosette. “Look Down” begins this part, and it accomplishes two major things: it shows the revolution element that governs the plot of most of the film’s second half, and it introduces new important characters Marius, Enjolras, and Gavroche, the last who handles most of the singing in this song. It’s a dynamically staged number with the young orphan and his friends running around and stealing food from the rich, and with the kid hitching a ride on a stage coach for the second verse. Daniel Huttlestone in his film debut does nice work, showing the anger that resides among all the poor. I’m also fond of how the chorus chanting is used here compared to the film’s opening number. At the start of the movie, it’s the lowly prisoners reminding themselves to not dare meet the eyes of their guards who rule them. Now, it’s a call by the people at the bottom of society towards the rich, urging them to notice the inequalities in Paris. The difference encapsulates the new themes of the film: the weak is rising up.

Skärmavbild 2013-01-29 kl. 14.45.28

4 – Master of the House

I’m not a big fan of the singing of either Sacha Baron Cohen or Helena Bonham Carter in this film – both did much better vocally in Sweeney Todd – but their big signature number “Master of the House” is still a highlight of the movie. You might think it’s just a case of standing out in a crowd, as it’s a comic relief number surrounded by serious drama acts, but there’s more to it than that. It’s a very funny number, for one, and with so much going on, I keep discovering new things every time I see it. There is an impressive array of swindling and stealing going on by the Thénardiers, much of which you’re likely to miss on the first go. It’s also a great way to introduce us to the two characters and the dynamic between them, with Cohen bragging and playing the big boss, and Carter dryly berating him from the sidelines. Cool stuff, and after the emotional Fantine arc of the story, a bit of up-tempo fun is just what the doctor ordered. Every time I see the film, I find myself looking forward to this one more and more.

SAMANTHA-BARKS-Les-Miserables

3 – On My Own

I don’t know much about the technical aspects of singing, so maybe I’m way off-base here, but in my ears, Samantha Barks is the best pure singer in the whole cast. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her character Eponine’s one big solo number, an ode about her unrequited love for Marius. The staging of it is simple, with Barks just walking down a street in the rain and singing her heart out, but that’s arguably all the song calls for. A proper tearjerker.

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2 – Valjean’s Soliloquy (What Have I Done?)

The first instance of Tom Hooper keeping the camera close to the actor during the intimate song numbers. “Valjean’s Soliloquy” is the climax of the film’s prologue, and it lays the foundation for everything that is to come. Valjean has been shown kindness by the bishop, betrayed his trust, and seen the other cheek turned. Now he wrestles with himself over his very nature, and it signals a turning point for him. He paces back and forth in the church, marvels at the bishop’s selflessness, and decides that he needs to become an honest man. Hugh Jackman is great here in the film’s first big acting scene, going through confusion, doubt, anger, and determination, before storming out into the world and declaring that “another story must begin”. Cue swelling orchestral score, panning up to the sky, and the start of the film proper. Epic.

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1 – I Dreamed a Dream

Yeah, you knew this was coming. “On My Own” is powerful and all, but for the film’s true emotional highpoint, nothing tops Anne Hathaway crying her eyes out while letting us know just how miserable her life has become. A key difference between the two performances is that while Barks is a great singer, Hathaway is a great actor, and she acts the hell out of this song in one long unbroken close-up take. Even after seeing the film four times, this part still gives me goosebumps.

What were your favorites?

 
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Posted by on 29 January, 2013 in Lists

 

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Crazy about Les Mis

Crazy about Les Mis

I’m obsessed with Les Misérables. I had no experience with the story in any form until this past Friday, when I saw the new movie by Tom Hooper. Since then, I’ve seen the film again, Youtubed live performances, listened to various cast recordings on Spotify, and read about various differences between novel, stage musical and film.

I would not have gotten into the whole Les Mis thing if not for the movie. That doesn’t mean that the movie is amazing or anything, nor that it should be fully credited for my new-found fascination.

The Les Mis story is like the most beautiful thing ever. It’s about redemption, self-sacrifice, love, romance, morality, the harshness of life and the hope for tomorrow, garnished with comic relief and action. The more I think about the story, the more I love it.

The other major strong point is the songs, obviously. The melodies are catchy and powerful, and the lyrics have hidden complexities beneath the simple surface of their words. There are heart-breakers like “I Dream a Dream” and “A Little Fall of Rain”, powerful songs of soul-searching like “Valjean’s Soliloquy”, the funny “Master of the House”, the dramatic “Confrontation”, the morale-raising “Do You Hear the People Sing”, the awesome “One Day More”, and tons more. I won’t say it’s all great stuff, but it’s not too far off, and it all gels together perfectly.

Neither the story nor the songs were created by the people who made the movie. The songs I have now experienced in other – generally superior – versions. The story itself I’ve still only taken in through Hooper’s vision.

Do I love the movie? I don’t know. I reckon I’ll always be thankful to it for introducing me to the whole Les Mis thing, but there are certainly things I don’t like about it very much. Russell Crowe has the physical presence required, but he does not have the singing voice to pull off the antagonist Javert character, with both his big solo numbers in the film coming off really flat and unmemorable. Comic relief duo Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter bring the funny for sure, but both have a tendency to mumble and Carter seems to mostly be reprising her Mrs. Lovett character from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The new song “Suddenly” which was written specifically for the film version is the dullest of the whole movie and despite being brief still grinds the movie to a halt.

Overall, however, the film is a major success. Hooper’s decision to have the singing done live on set is not as revolutionary as has been suggested – Across the Universe did the same thing back in 2007, for instance – but it does work wonders here in allowing more free form performances. “Valjean’s Soliloquy” is a great example, with Hugh Jackman pacing back and forth, into and out of light, battling with doubt with it the struggle clearly present in his face and his voice. It seems unlikely that lip-syncing to prerecorded singing would have the same effect. The other much debated style decision by Hooper is to use close-ups for many of the song numbers. Some call this suffocating; I call this intimate and effective. It’s not like it’s everywhere, as some suggest. Mostly, it’s kept to the more personal songs. There is a tune or two where a wider scope would have been preferrable, but as a whole, Hooper did a fine job here. He had a clear vision, and he followed through with it. Les Misérables is a stronger film overall than The King’s Speech, and certainly directing-wise.

Apart from the actors already I’ve already criticized, the cast ranges from good to great. The two clear standouts are Jackman and Anne Hathaway. The former pulls off a career-best transformative performance as Valjean, having me fully invested in the character’s journey while never making me think “Oh, it’s Wolverine singing.” Hathaway, of course, has the best scene of the film – and most likely of all of 2012 – with her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream”. The first time I saw the film, I was stunned and had goosebumps alll the way through her song. It’s such a heart-wrencher. She sings very well indeed, but even more impressive is the sheer power-acting involved. Her Fantine is truly a woman broken by all that life has thrown at her, and it’s expressed devastatingly here. It’s a major tear jerker. On my rewatch, I kind of steeled myself against it a bit, thinking I knew what I was in for. Then that penultimate verse hits, where Fantine first sings how she hopes her love will come back to her, but then she goes “But there are dreams that can not be”, and Hathaway throws her head back a bit and there’s a tear racing down her cheek, and fuck! Raw, powerful, amazing, and heart-breaking.

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But this wasn’t meant to be a review of the film. The point I want to make is that while the movie is very good, my love for it is smaller than my love for Les Mis as a whole. Or so I assume. What is it that I like better, really? I haven’t seen any full stage performance in person – though I now desperately want to – and what clips I’ve seen on Youtube are just singled out songs. The albums I’ve listened to are great, but is an album better than a film? It’s apples and oranges, no?

I can’t seem to find enough of an outlet for this new-found obsession. The film isn’t the kind of thing I can call all my friends and tell them that they just have to go see it. It’s not a film that can be discussed that much on an analytical level. I could read the novel, but past experiences have told me that me and old books don’t mix well. There are no live performances of the musical anywhere near here. I can – and will – listen to the songs again and again, but this is not enough, I fear. I feel like I’ve tweeted about Les Mis more than I should have already, and yet it’s all I can think of. My head is full of Valjeans and Fantines and Eponines and Thénardiers, all swimming around in an intermixing ocean of songs. I’m overwhelmed by it all.

Les Misérables is not the best movie of 2012. It’s no The Grey. It’s no Life of Pi. I’m not sure it’s even a The Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers. And yet it has done something that no other film from last year has been able to.

For better or for worse.

 
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Posted by on 23 January, 2013 in Misc.

 

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Wishful thinking and surprise predictions for the Oscar noms

I haven’t done any real blogging on this current awards season we’re in, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping an eye on the race. This year’s is more interesting than most, since a lot of the major categories lack a clear front-runner. Sure, everyone knows Anne Hathaway is taking Best Supporitng Actress for Les Misérables, and Best Actor is Lincoln‘s Daniel Day-Lewis‘ to lose, but everything else is still refreshingly open. There are at least four films I could see win Best Picture at this point that wouldn’t cause me to bat an eyelid.

As I’ve said before, awards season to me is an event for the brain and not for the heart. By that I mean that it’s fun to think about and predict the Oscars, but to invest hopes and emotions in the process is a fool’s game. The Oscars are determined by a large number of voters, who all fill out their ballots according to their own opinions – at least in theory. They are as entitled to like what they like as I am, so you won’t hear any cries of “so-and-so should have been/didn’t deserve to be nominated!” when the nominations are announced this Thursday.

That said, if I had a ballot, there are some things I would put on there that the Academy members may or may not be likely to spring for. Here are a few of them.

Wishful thinking

Skärmavbild 2013-01-07 kl. 13.52.34Best Supporting Actor: Tom Cruise – Rock of Ages & Garrett Hedlund – On the Road
Tom Cruise for showing that an old dog can still learn new “sex drugs & rock n roll”-fuelled tricks. Garrett Hedlund for announcing the emphatic arrival of a new young powerhouse actor. Both for giving some of the year’s best performances.

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Posted by on 7 January, 2013 in Oscars

 

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