The People’s Critic Earns Some Credibility

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What better way to close the Oscar season than to have The People’s Critic’s name in print!  In a local Oscar contest sponsored by MJR Cinemas and the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, The People’s Critic emerged victorious landing the top prize!  The story can be read here.

Additionally, not only did The People’s Critic correctly predict all six of the major awards, but the popular four-part series of predictions posted weekly throughout February correctly named the winner in 16 of the 24 total categories!  2012 was certainly a terrific year for movies and has set high expectations for 2013.

However, before we close the door on the Oscars for another year, a word about the telecast of the awards.  Regardless of some surprisingly harsh criticism towards Seth MacFarlane, I found the Academy Award ceremony to be one of the most entertaining telecasts in recent years.  The skits were clever, the musical numbers were top notch, the awards were given out swiftly even with the show going long, and at the end of the night – movies were celebrated.  MacFarlane proved to be a very poised, prepared, and talented host.  His brand of humor has always been antagonistic, but he tempered it down just enough to be acceptable while not seeming unauthentic.  I would go as far as to say MacFarlane shows the potential to be today’s Bob Hope or Johnny Carson!  He took on one of the most speculated jobs in entertainment and hit a home run.

With that being said, stay tuned for more great reviews as we move into the Spring movie season!  Thanks for reading and continue to spread the word about The People’s Critic!

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Oscar Predictions: Part 4 – The Big Ones

OscarsOscar Predictions: Part4 – The Big Ones

The final installment of The People’s Critic’s Oscar prediction series lists my picks for the six major film awards: Directing, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Actor, Actress, and Picture.  These are the categories decided by the largest blocks of voters and, thus reveal the academy’s consensus feelings on the great films of the year.  Readers are invited to continue to weigh in with their own opinions by submitting to the public polls following each category’s predictions.

Best Director:

Nominated directors are Michael Haneke for Amour, Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ang Lee for Life of Pi, Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, and David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.

The Best Director Oscar is basically the Cinematography Oscar crown jewel.  The director oversees every chosen element on set to ensure his/her vision is secure and successful.  In the Classic Hollywood Cinema days, this award was a bit easier to come by as directors like William Wyler, John Ford, and Frank Capra were nominated often and won more than any other directors in history.  Over the years, the award has become much more aloof; very few directors earn more than one Best Directing Oscar.  The award is closely associated with the Best Picture winner as well, however these awards are becoming more independent of one another now that the Best Picture field of nominees has been increased to up to ten films.  This year will be an upset year no matter which way it goes.  Not since the 1930s has it been more likely that the Best Picture will go to a film who’s director was not nominated.  Additionally, it is quite likely that the Best Director will go to a film that does not win Best Picture.  Therefore, it is critical to look at each of the nominated films for director’s merit alone. Haneke and Zeitlin turned out two emotionally charged human dramas that are deserving of immense appreciation.  In terms of directing, Zeitlin is the better choice between the two, but these small films rarely make a dent in the voting pool.  Spielberg does not deserve to be nominated for this award this year.  Russell has once again made a great film that would have won last year, but he will find himself beaten this year.  The award is between Russell and Lee.  The Peoples Critic Selection: Ang Lee for Life of Pi


Best Supporting Actor:

Nominees are Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln, Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained, Robert DeNiro for Silver Linings Playbook, Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master, and Alan Arkin for Argo.

Best Supporting Actress:

Nominees are Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables, Helen Hunt for The Sessions, Sally Field for Lincoln, Amy Adams for The Master, and Jackie Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook.

Acting categories need the least amount of explanation.  The supporting role awards are traditionally a bit more exciting.  These Oscars have gone to some surprising upsets over the years and is more likely to go to an edgier or younger performer than the awards for Best Actor/Actress.  On the men’s side, this year’s field has two performances that are practically lead roles (Waltz and Hoffman), and this will most likely work in one of their favors.  On the ladies’ side, there is a clear winner, so I’ll simply explain why she wins.  Much has been made of the fact that Anne Hathaway is only in Les Misérables for a short period of time.  However, this award has gone to many recipients whose screen-time is limited.  The Oscar for Supporting Role is designed to recognize superior support, regardless of screen time.  What Anne Hathaway does with her segment of an otherwise dull film is give a Hugh Jackman quality performance and then leave you wanting more.  What worked for her will unfortunately not work for Jackman since his Best Actor field also has a clear winner who accomplishes a similar feat in that category.  The People’s Critic Selection for Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz for Django UnchainedThe People’s Critic Selection for Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables.  

 

Best Actor:

Nominees are Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln, Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables, Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook, Joaquin Phoenix for The Master, and Denzel Washington for Flight.

Best Actress

Nominees are Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook, Emmanuelle Riva for Amour, Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty, Naomi Watts for The Impossible, and Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Hugh Jackman picked the wrong year to turn out his best performance of his career.  What he does as Jean Val Jean in Les Misérables is raw and spectacular.  However, it will be the one-two punch of excellent writing by Kushner and flawless delivery by Day-Lewis that will allow him to make history as the first to win three Best Actor Academy Awards.  Meanwhile, the Best Actress category has already made history by nominating both the youngest and oldest nominees ever considered for the Best Actress Oscar with Riva and Wallis.  Unlike the men’s race, no clear winner exists here.  Riva has enjoyed a surge as of late given her heart wrenching performance in Amour along with the fact that Oscar night just happens to be her 86th birthday.  However, it seems that the “girl on fire” this year will come away with her first trophy, solidifying what will likely be a long and dynamic career.   The People’s Critic Selection for Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln.  The People’s Critic Selection for Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook. 


 Best Picture:

Nominated Films are Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.

Nine films were deemed worthy of Best Picture honors this year.  The jury is still out on this callback to the olden days where ten (even twelve!) films could be nominated for this award.  In 2009, the Academy expanded the limit of nominees from five to ten, but finding that there are not always ten worth-while nominees, the rule currently allows the list to vary between five and ten nominees.  This year’s collection of nominees would all have beaten last year’s winner, The Artist substantiating what an excellent year at the movies 2012 was.  As stated earlier, this award is often tied closely together with the winner for Best Director; however, no year in recent history has provided a lower likelihood of this happening than this year.  Therefore, how does one judge a film on its merits alone without necessarily taking the director’s choices into strong consideration?  How much does one weigh the writing, the cinematography, the set design, the acting, etc.?  These are tough questions.  One major element is to examine the editing.  Best Picture is more about conveying a message, entertainment, structure, and overall effect than anything else.  Editing (along with direction) is the key to all of those characteristics that make a movie great.  Therefore, if direction becomes a lowered value in the equation for determining greatness, the vacuum will be filled with editing.  The result is an upset that has only happened three times in history and not at all since 1989 – a Best Picture winner where the director was not even nominated.  The People’s Critic Selection: Argo

A Good Day to Die Hard

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I wasn’t going to review A Good Day to Die Hard. Then I thought some people might try and see it, and if I could have stopped them, I could never forgive myself as a critic.

I recently stated that Safe Haven is a lazy film. That may be true, but it is Beasts of the Southern Wild compared to this weak fifth entry to the Die Hard franchise. The wheels fall off of this film almost immediately, and the audience is asked a question worthy of Simon from the immensely superior, Die Hard With a Vengeance: “Do I ride this out to its predictable, inevitable, and unsatisfying conclusion or do I admit that I wasted $10, walk out, and get a sandwich?” Simon says, “Get the sandwich.”

A Good Day to Die Hard sends John McClane (Bruce Willis) on vacation and he chooses to spend it in Russia checking up on his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who has recently found himself in some major international trouble. Within five minutes, we’re in the middle of a sloppy car chase where it is revealed that Jack is an undercover CIA operative attempting to derail a major nuclear weapons heist. Thus, Jack and John must team up against a Russian gang…

So what went wrong? I will not admit that Die Hard is done; one bad film does not a franchise ruin. So let’s look at this constructively. First of all, no more catch phrases or cliches. “Yippee Ki-Yay” is grandfathered in, but now we’re reminded that John McClane is “old” and “on vacation” at least ten times. This repetition serves no purpose except to go for a cheap laugh, but you’ll never hear the laughter over most of the theater slapping their hands to their foreheads in disgust. Furthermore, this installment takes place in Russia. In one scene, John is handed a tour book by his daughter, Idiot’s Guide to Russia. Clearly, it was the same book Skip Woods used to write the screenplay because the film exposes Russia’s traffic issues, introduces characters named Viktor, Yuri, and Anton, and its climax seals the cliche deal by taking place at Chernobyl. Oh, did I mention Yuri is introduced playing chess, so we know he’s a smart Russian? Disappointing stuff.

Next, is the action. In a high profile action film, it is expected that the action scenes are first rate, exciting, and innovative. Watch the opening car chase in A Good Day to Die Hard; next, watch the masterful opening scene of Sam Mendes’s Skyfall. Every confusing, flawed, elemental choice that John Moore makes in A Good Day to Die Hard is exposed when comparing the two. More attention needs to be paid to making sure the action is not as over-produced, compartmentalized, and hilariously slowed down as it is. There is a scene in A Good Day to Die Hard where the characters walk into a ballroom with multiple chandeliers hanging in different stages of preparation for some event that will be happening that evening. Audiences are immediately forced to think, “Well, looks like we’ll be in this scene until all of these chandeliers are destroyed”, and of course, they’d be right. This type of blatant predictability serves no purpose except to immediately signal a good time to hit the restroom. Action confined in one setting for ten minutes with no real danger becomes dull in 30 seconds. The previous four films did not feel so confined to sound-stages as this one does (even though the first two had McClane trapped in a building and an airport respectively), and it ruins any tension or fun.

Finally, if one wants to make a sequel, then make a sequel. What happened to Bonnie Bedelia as McClane’s now ex-wife, Holly? Where’s good ole’ Reginald VelJohnson as Sgt. Powell? Why introduce all of those fun tech-geeks in Live Free or Die Hard only to strand them in that film? Screenwriters, listen up; these character actors will sign up if the story is there!

At one point, it appeared that we were in for a slightly uplifting February movie season heading into the Spring, but it turns out it is still a dumping ground. A Good Day to Die Hard made $30 million regardless of its being terrible, so the audience is still there, and this film could have been a game changer that could show studios that good movies can be released all year long. Guess we’ll have to wait for a better day, not just a “good” one. D-

Safe Haven

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“There is more than one way to skin a cat” has got to be humorously posted on a some wall somewhere within the offices of Nicholas Sparks Productions.  The latest proof of this has arrived in the form of Safe Haven

In Safe Haven, Katie (Julianne Hough) is introduced frantically attempting to escape being chased down by a Boston Police Officer (David Lyons).  The mystery of the film revolves around why this chase is taking place, but of course the point of this film revolves around her somehow ending up in North Carolina with a handsome man.  “Write about where you know” has got to be humorously posted on some wall in Nicholas Sparks’s North Carolina home.    

Katie does end up in the aforementioned state in the tiny town of Sea Port.  Sea Port offers all of the necessities for Sparks to work his magic: quiet streams for canoeing, beaches with virtually no one around, general stores, rusticity, no technology, one big event (that apparently draws over 100,000 people in for a day), and a laissez faire attitude.  Predictability ensues, but not to an offensive degree. 

This is the eighth Sparks novel to get the cinematic treatment, but it may as well be the eightieth.  It rarely rises above standard TV movie production quality and offers nothing unexpected to the viewers.  What it can cash in on is the likability and chemistry between its main co-stars Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel.  I suspect that this is the main reason the film got green-lit at all.  An attempt, albeit a failed one, at adding some edge accomplishes little more than The Lucky One was able to accomplish last year.  What is surprising is that the novel does have some edgy back-story, but director Lasse Hallström and screenwriter Dana Stevens chose to downplay, simplify, and blatantly avoid these opportunities preventing this film from elevating itself above the standard warmed over genre-film that it became.  Formulas exist because they provide the framework for pleasing an audience, but unfortunately they grow tremendously stale and unsatisfying if they are not tweaked and modified from time to time.  This is a lazy movie from start to finish, and it is an apparent Valentine’s Day cash-grab at a movie hungry audience looking for a romantic film during a barren movie season.  Like most films that receive reviews like this, it will be very comforting to those who go in knowing what to expect and unappealing to everyone else.  How do you grade a film like this?  Skin the off the cat.

Oscar Predictions: Part 3 – Cinematographer? Damn Near Killed Her!

Oscar Predictions: Part 3 – Cinematographer?  Damn Near Killed Her!

Week three of The People’s Critic’s Oscar predictions begins the major film awards.  This week’s predictions will be for six very different categories: Documentary Feature, Animated Film, Foreign Language Film, Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay, and everybody’s favorite – Cinematography.  Readers are invited to continue to weigh in with their own opinions by submitting to the public polls following each category’s predictions.

13.  Best Documentary Feature:

Nominated films are 5 Broken Cameras, The Gatekeepers, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, and Searching for Sugar Man

Generally, the winning documentary has more than spunk and spirit.  Many documentaries are made yearly since they are easy to produce and cheap to make.  The key is content, pacing, accuracy, and perspective.  The swift and breezy Searching for Sugar Man was an early favorite.  However, it will most likely collapse under the weight of provocative films like the charged up history of the AIDS crisis, How to Survive a Plague or the bleak and honest The Gatekeepers, which shines never before seen light on the historic conflicts in Israel.  A dark horse candidate for Oscar is the creepy exposé The Invisible War about rape in the US military.    The Peoples Critic Selection: How to Survive a Plague

14.  Best Animated Feature Film:

Nominated Films are Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and Wreck-It Ralph

If you’ve read The People’s Critic’s review on Brave, you may find this pick hypocritical.  First given in 2001, Best Animated Feature Film is the newest of all 24 categories in the modern Academy Awards.  During these eleven years, a Pixar Studio film has won this Oscar six times.  In fact, the studio has only lost once when one if its films was nominated (2006’s Cars lost out to Happy Feet)Cars is probably a better film than Brave, however much was made of Brave’s decision to finally feature a female lead and a more feminine story focus, something Cars obviously did not have going for it.  Therefore, while the nostalgic, personal, and enjoyable horror throwback Frankenweenie has the win in my heart, it won’t have the win in the votes. The People’s Critic Selection: Brave

15.  Best Foreign Language Film:

Nominated films are Amour (Austria), Kon-Tiki (Norway), No (Chile), A Royal Affair (Denmark), War Witch (Canada)

What, Norway, Chile, Denmark, and Canada?  You want to win?  Well you will lose to one of the biggest conundrums of the nomination process – those pesky well-made foreign films that worm their way into the Best Picture category.  This has only happened eight times, and only one has ever lost this category, go figure.  The People’s Critic Selection: Amour


16.  Best Original Screenplay:

Nominated films are Amour Written by Michael Haneke, Django Unchained Written by Quentin Tarantino. Flight Written by John Gatins, Moonrise Kingdom Written by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, and Zero Dark Thirty Written by Mark Boal

As a writer (or to put it more modestly, one who appreciates writing), the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay has a special significance.  Four of the five films nominated here are actually mentioned on The People’s Critic’s List of the Top Ten Films of 2012 (although one is listed for adverse reasons).  Nonetheless, the number one choice on that list earns its place because of its writing.  Quentin Tarantino is an auteur like none before him and Django Unchained will be recognized for its reverent and consummate writing.  The People’s Critic Selection: Django Unchained


17.  Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominated films are Argo Screenplay by Chris Terrio, Beasts of the Southern Wild Screenplay by Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin, Life of Pi Screenplay by David Magee, Lincoln Screenplay by Tony Kushner, and Silver Linings Playbook Screenplay by David O. Russell

This is the award that combats the old adage, “the book was way better than the movie.”  Generally, these films are the rare few who challenge and overcome that too often reality.  A screenplay of note is certainly Kushner’s Lincoln.  Spielberg deserves far less credit than Kushner does for why this film is deserving of its accolades.  Often Shakespearean at times, the screenplay is adapted in such a way that the film is elevated to what earned it 12 nominations.  Kushner’s only real competition here is David O. Russell.  Silver Linings Playbook is enjoying a tremendous spike in momentum heading into Oscar weekend.  With it being the first film in 31 years to be nominated in all four acting categories, Russell’s screenplay cannot be ignored as unrelated to that achievement.  My gut tells me that just might be the tipping point.  The People’s Critic’s Selection: Silver Linings Playbook


18.   Best Cinematography:

Nominated Films are Anna Karenina, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln, and Skyfall

If you’ve ever wanted to be scorned or looked at in utter disgust, then comment on the cinematography of a film in front of a group of people.  Eyebrows will raise, hair will stand on end, under-the-breath comments will abound. It’s the fastest way to claim your role as a “know-it-all,” and yet, it is so worth it.  Cinematographers are the directors of photography who oversee decisions on camera and lighting concerns.  To excel at this requires the talent of an artist and the technical knowledge of a director.  This year’s group makes for a tough category.  Deakins’s latest film, Skyfall marks his 10th nomination without a win.  This should certainly be a consideration in choosing a winner since repetitive nominations in this category are not easy to get, but well earned when they happen.  Tarantino’s go-to guy, Robert Richardson is nominated again, but he did win last year for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  However, resident know-it-all The People’s Critic is going to go in a different direction.  Ang Lee has the perspective to make great films, but the pure visual delight and majesty that was achieved by Life of Pi is equally a result of Claudio Miranda’s cinematography.  The People’s Critic Selection: Life of Pi


Oscar Predictions: Part 2 – Songs, Styles, and Sets!

Oscar Predictions: Part 2 – Songs, Styles, and Sets!

This week’s set of predictions rounds up the lower tier categories and begins the accent to the major ones. As stated last week, The People’s Critic has decided to unveil predictions on all 24 major categories over a four week period leading up the big day on February 24th. This week’s predictions will focus on the six categories that make up the atmosphere of a film: Original Song, Original Score, Costume Design, Production Design, Makeup, and Film Editing. Readers are invited to continue to weigh in with their own opinions by submitting to the public polls following each category’s predictions.

7. Best Original Song:

Nominated songs are “Before My Time” from Chasing Ice, “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from Ted, “Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi, “Skyfall” from Skyfall, and “Suddenly” from Les Misérables

This is an interesting category in that its number of nominees varies from year to year. Current prerequisites for a nomination require that the song is originally written for a film and that the song is completely original and not partially sampled from another source (as was the case with 1995’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” from Dangerous Minds). This year there is a full set of five nominees, but that is only a formality since there is a clear and overwhelmingly obvious frontrunner, and it’s not the one that came from a musical. It is also definitely not the one that was a gift to the host of the Oscars, Seth Macfarlane. Songs from Bond movies have a storied and often kitschy past, but this year Adele’s “Skyfall” will raise that bar. The Peoples Critic Selection: “Skyfall”


8. Best Original Score:

Nominated Films are Anna Karenina, Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall

John Williams (Lincoln) may have five Oscars, but he has been nominated 48 times suggesting that he is not an Academy favorite. Additionally, the five Oscars he has are for scores much more memorable and powerful than Lincoln’s. The film with the most substantial use of music is Life of Pi.The People’s Critic Selection: Life of Pi


9. Best Costume Design:

Nominated films are Anna Karenina, Les Misérables, Lincoln, Mirror Mirror, and Snow White and the Huntsman.

The key to this category is not to get too caught up in the film itself but rather focus on the creativity, authenticity, and accuracy of the costuming. Period pieces are favorites in this category and we have three of them along with two fairy tale films. This year the period pieces have the edge. Lincoln may seem like a strong contender, but designer Joanna Johnston is rarely recognized for her work, although she has designed costumes for some of the most iconic films of all time including Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. Thus, the toss up goes to the lavish Anna Karenina. This is Karenina’s Jacqueline Durran’s third nomination and she’s yet to win. The People’s Critic Selection: Anna Karenina

10. Best Production Design:

Nominated films are Anna Karenina, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, and Lincoln

The Oscar for Production Design goes to the art director who best accomplishes the appropriate mood for an audience’s experience through visuals, movement, and other varieties of art direction. This can be a complicated job, and an A.D.’s success relies on whether or not an audience is appropriately affected psychologically by a film. From a psychological standpoint, these films all offer wildly different ways of using style and motion to affect an audience. However, performances aside production design is the only other reason Les Misérables could possibly nominated for best picture. The People’s Critic Selection: Les Misérables

11. Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

Nominated Films are Hitchcock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and Les Misérables

In a year of impressive films, it’s hard to believe that only three of them included Oscar-worthy makeup and hair. Last year, this went to the team behind the subtle transformation of Meryl Streep into Margaret Thatcher for the film The Iron Lady; but typically this award goes to wildly imaginative, over-the-top makeups and hair. Two of the three previous Rings films won the Oscar for this award, and Peter King (nominated here for Hobbit) was part of the team that won for Return of the King. The People’s Critic Selection: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

12. Best Film Editing

Nominated films are Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty

This is an impressive award to win and the Academy does not treat that lightly. The winner for Best Film Editing has often been the film that wins Best Picture, and it is no surprise that all five films nominated here are also nominated for Best Picture. The editing of a film is nearly as important as the direction since it affects the story, the pace, and the tone. Often, great editing goes unnoticed by the viewer because of how seamless the story has been woven together. The major consideration here is that William Goldenberg is nominated for his work in both Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. Argo is the better of those two films especially given its genius and flawless balance of tones throughout the film. We also have an editing legend nominated in Michael Khan for Lincoln who has won three Oscars from seven nominations. Also not to be counted out, Jay Cassidy’s avant-garde style has mostly been seen in documentary films, and it is refreshing and interesting to see that style in a feature film like Silver Linings Playbook. This is a tough one and could add to the controversy of Affleck’s snub as Director for The People’s Critic’s Selection: Argo.