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Monthly Report: May + June 2013

I didn’t do a Monthly Report last month. The reason why is that the number of new movies I saw in May was a less-than-impressive 1, and making a blog post on just that seemed silly. Fortunately, June proved a bit more fruitful. My movie interest is perking up again, it would seem. It’s just a shame that these two months didn’t have more really great films to offer than they did, but what can you do.

Breakdown (Jonathan Mostow, 1997)
Solid thriller, albeit with no real stand-out quality. Nothing worth going out of your way to check out.
3/5

Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg, 2012)
Zzzzzzzzz…
1/5

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End of Watch (David Ayer, 2012)
The story is barely there. Just two cops doing their thing, presented partially found footage style that adds little to the proceedings. What makes the movie work is the convincing performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, as well as the many brief yet poignant insights into what it’s like to be a police. The movie manages to take familiar situations and tropes and show them in a way that make the implications of them really sink in for the first time. If that makes sense. This one’s worth checking out.
4/5

Kung Fu Dunk (Yen-ping Chu, 2008)
I was hoping for something similar to Shaolin Soccer. This one kind of was, only not as good. One problem was that the martial arts stuff felt shoehorned in and not played to full comedic effect. Even worse was the way too mushy and overly long ending. The early goings of the film did offer some giggles, but not enough to outweigh the bad.
2/5

Descent (Talia Lugacy, 2007)
Not to be confused with spelunking horror film The Descent. This is one of those movies that’s more interesting to think about afterwards than it is to actually watch. In its effort to keep the effects of rape “real”, it internalizes everything to too high a degree. The result is a viewing experience that keeps the viewer at too much of a distance. There are some interesting directorial choices here, and Rosario Dawson‘s performance is a strong one – that her character’s motives are kept somewhat in the dark seems to be the director’s choice – but once you realize what the movie is going for, you realize that it’s not enough to sustain its running time.
2/5

For a Good Time, Call… (Jamie Travis, 2012)
Not all chick flicks are bad. This one kind of is though, or at the very least “meh.” It’s generally a bad sign that when the end credits start rolling, you realize that nothing has really happened. Nothing has changed, there has been no real character growth, and there have been no laughs either – although some of the cameos are smirk-worthy. This film is also proof that dirty language alone is not enough to spice up a film.
2/5

incendies

Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010)
A movie very much about its story. It’s full of intrigue and is told well – dual timelines can be tricky, but are pulled off without a hitch here – and I found myself more and more hooked as it went along. Sprinkled in are scenes of stark emotions and shocking violence, almost like interpunctuation. Check this one out if you’re in the mood for a tale with plenty of unexpected turns.
4/5

Hit and Run (David Palmer & Dax Shepard, 2012)
I really liked the dialogue here. The conversations and arguements, particularly the ones between Shepard and Kristen Bell – fiances in real life – had a way of drifting from the personal to the general that I dug like hell. Like, they’d start talking about who’s right, then it becomes about what’s right, then they take themselves out of it completely and try to see everything from the outside looking in. It’s hard to describe properly, but it stood out to me as something movies rarely do. The fact that it’s the same kind of conversations I often end up in myself might have something to do with my fondness for it here. Anyway, the rest of the film was cool too, with a story that hasn’t been done to death and fun characters. Could have done with tighter action scenes, perhaps.
4/5

The Dictator (Larry Charles, 2012)
Nowhere near as good as Borat or Bruno. Felt more like an excuse for Sacha Baron Cohen to try out a new accent for 80 minutes. I did like the helicopter scene and the climax, though.
2/5

A Beautiful Mind (Ron Howard, 2001)
I’m not convinced the movie need to go on for as long as it did; the ending did drag a bit. Overall, though, this was a fascinating story, helped along by two great performances by Russell Crowe (never better) and Jennifer Connelly.
4/5

Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010)
This was fine. The acting is decent enough – I was particularly impressed by Andrew Garfield – and the story is a cool and unique one. I would highly recommend reading the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro instead, though. That one is superb.
3/5

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Kiss Me (Alexandra-Therese Keining, 2011)
Not as good as that other Swedish movie about lesbians, but still fairly decent. As much of an infidelity drama as a gay romance, this one struggles a bit with an occasionally flat story – remove the homosexuality and marvel at how humdrum the whole thing would seem – but the two leads (Ruth Vega Fernandez and Liv Mjönes) have good enough chemistry and put in strong enough performances to carry the film to a passing grade.
3/5

eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999)
I don’t get it.
2/5

Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011)
Just four talented actors doing what they do best, with Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly in particular providing stand-out turns. The end felt a bit abrupt, but then it always seemed to be headed that way, so it’s not a huge drawback.
4/5

Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh, 2012)
Cool and clever film through which I was never sure what was going to happen next. Strong cast too. After In Bruges and this one, McDonagh is certainly a director to keep a close eye on.
4/5

The Campaign (Jay Roach, 2012)
Not the most subtle of satires I’ve seen, to say the least. There are some funny scenes here and there, but a lot of the humor just feels forced and hamfisted. I’m a fan of both Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, but neither manages to do much with what they’re given here. The ending is really damn weak, too.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 16
Average score: 2.9 / 5
Best film of the months: Seven Psychopaths
Worst film of the months: Cosmopolis

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Posted by on 1 July, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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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.

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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.

 
8 Comments

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

 

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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.

reg_1024.10lesmis.ls.12212

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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