Well, I have to say, having not watched the Grammys in ... possibly ever, I actually thought it was a great show last night. LL Cool J is a great host, and I absolutely loved most of the live performances, especially Bruno Mars performing "Locked Out of Heaven" with Sting (so I guess despite critiques of the song sounding too much like Sting, Sting himself doesn't care), and then having an ensemble sing a Bob Marley tune, with Ziggy Marley.
There were other great performances by fun., Black Keys, Jack White, an ensemble led by Zac Brown singing "The Weight" by The Band, a collaboration between LL Cool J, Tom Morello, Travis Barker, and at one point Carrie Underwood had blue lights shined on her dress that reminded me of the designs for Midna from Twilight Princess (skip to 3:00).
Hell, if you look at who I wanted to win in my last blog, I pretty much got what I wanted, aside from Of Monsters and Men getting snubbed, and a couple of my personal runner-ups being the big winners; and my personal runner ups were great, anyway!
It's still art, it's still subjective, and Grammy wins don't make something good, but hey, my tastes actually matched with theirs this year, so I'm happy.
Now, let's talk about that awards show I actually look forward to every year, by first reviewing the eighth (for me) of nine Best Picture nominees I saw last Tuesday. And no, I'm not going to see Amour on account of its not playing anywhere near me, nor being out on DVD.
Remember that guy behind you in line that thought the film 300 was a historical document?
He's gonna be there again. At least this time, it's a movie that actually tried to be factual, though.
Zero Dark Thirty is one of the quietest movies I think I've ever seen. I don't think there's a score, and if there is, I didn't notice it, aside from some death metal being blared at a guy getting tortured and held in a dirty bunker. Hell, the movie doesn't even introduce itself by way of opening title, it just starts cold with a black screen and a wall of sound made of emergency calls from 9/11, and text that says "the events in this film are based on firsthand accounts." Then bam, you're in the torture cell with two CIA agents and a beaten man they're trying to get information from.
Now, said torture scenes that mostly appear at the beginning of the movie have drawn a lot of attention, even leading one Oscar voter to say he would not vote for the movie on the grounds that it erroneously portrayed torture as more effective than it actually is. My take? It portrays torture alright, graphically so, but not in a way that promotes or condemns it.
At points it seems like they're getting a lot more out of their torture subjects when they give them fresh air and food, cause the methods they use in another scene simply led to the person getting hysterical and throwing out different days of the week they believe an attack will happen, eyes glazed. At others, it seems like just the threat of torture is an effective tool for getting their human punching bag to talk.
I genuinely think director Kathryn Bigelow, who I believe deserves Best Director for this, was simply doing the best job she could of putting the accounts of the events she got on the screen.
About those accounts: I'm not sure exactly what "firsthand" means, given that main actress Jessica Chastain, the redhead in that picture up there, is playing someone she's never even seen in real life, because the person she is playing is still on assignment in the CIA. I'm guessing most of these accounts were e-mails of some sort? So I'm not fully convinced the movie is totally accurate, especially since a proper account would involve dealing with an organization that relies on secrecy and trickery. But something must have caught the attention of our government, given that Ms. Bigelow, who was married to James Cameron for a brief period, 1989-1991, and also director of 2008 Best Picture, The Hurt Locker, had to testify before Congress about what information was put in the movie.
But enough about the accuracy of the movie, was it entertaining? Well, it was captivating, tense, drew me into its world with ease, and even managed to inject some good humor in the mix, so I'd have to say yes, definitely.
That quietness I mentioned earlier makes you feel like a fly on the wall, watching all the interrogations, meetings, and close calls with death these strung-out CIA operatives go through to catch one man. It helps keep you focused on what's going on, able to listen to the details, and one edge the whole time, leaving you open to its surprises like no recent horror movie has been able to do, a pretty damn good feat for a movie where history and political junkies already know what happens. That's the first two-thirds.
The last third of the movie is the actual raid of Osama Bin Laden's house, and if any of James Cameron's deftness at crafting action sequences rubbed off on Kathryn Bigelow in the short time they were married, it shows, only unlike her way former husband, the sequence is once again quiet as opposed to the big ol' shoot 'em up with "go get 'em" orchestra music in the background her husband usually goes for.
The way Ms. Bigelow shows the audience the action feels real: this is a professional unit that wants to get in and out as fast as possible, being as quiet about their mission as they can. Things go wrong that anyone who knows the general details about Bin Laden's death will recognize, yet those things still create tension the way Ms. Bigelow directs the sequence so slowly, and with such finesse.
Of course, this movie wouldn't work if not for the incredible acting it so heavily relies on. Jessica Chastain is amazing as CIA operative Maya, Kyle Chandler is excellent as her boss, Joseph Bradley, Jason Clarke somehow manages to be sympathetic as a torturing hardass, and Chris Pratt from The Office plays a convincing soldier.
The tension, a word I'm using quite often in this review if you haven't noticed, is so palpable between Maya and Joseph Bradley, that I found myself agreeing with Bradley's assertion that the hunt for Bin Laden be dropped, and I already knew we got him when I watched that scene!
Why Kathryn Bigelow got snubbed for a Best Directing Oscar is beyond me, cause this was a great movie.
Speaking of the Oscars, I am most looking forward to Seth McFarlane's humor and singing as host; did you know he has a couple Grammy nominated albums in the style of Frank Sinatra, as well as being the creator of raunch comedies like Ted,American Dad, and Family Guy?
I Completely Understand If You Don't Like His Cartoons,
But You Gotta Hand It To A Guy That Can Go From A Charlie Sheen Joke To That Song
I haven't been looking forward to an Oscar host this much since Jon Stewart last did the show, and ripped Hollywood a new one.
But, now that I've told you my opinion on the last Best Picture nominee I will be able to see, what do I think of them all? Well, I ranked them, just for you!
This isn't even playing at the artsy fartsy theaters, like the Angelika here in and around Dallas, TX, so it's DQ'd from my list, more or less. Should have let The Master take its place, I say.
8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Boooooorn in the USAAAAA!
I feel bad putting this so low, because it is a really well-acted, well-made movie about perseverance in the hurricane-affected south, but I was often confused what was real and what wasn't, to the point where it became a bit too hard for me to follow. That child actress that plays the main character and whoever plays her dad are great in it though, just to reiterate. I have nothing against this movie, it just didn't click with me.
7. Life of Pi
Richard Parker: Death is Boring to Him
I loved the discussion of religion and philosophy at the beginning, then they bog it down with that long ass boat ride. Ok, so both the 3D and CGI were amazing, though I could have lived without the 3D, and it is a stunning visual spectacle, but that middle part is looooooooong.
6. Django Unchained
Hey, Where the White Women At?!
For those of you offended by my caption, please note it's a Blazing Saddles reference, and send your letters to Mr. Airplane! 3 1/3 at 555 Someplace Dr., California.
This movie recaptured what Tarantino did with Inglorious Basterds, taking a horrid historical situation, dousing it in genre, humor, and a sort of magical realism, then adding a revenge plot where the good guys actually win.
I did love this movie, and all its blood splattering goofiness mixed with real, sometimes downright disturbing and poignant drama, but partly cause I was in a theater that served food and I was wondering where the hell my burger was the first hour or so, and partly cause I felt like I knew Tarantino's beats from Inglorious Basterds, I did feel the effects of the long run-time, and can't put this higher until I watch it again without distractions at least.
Still, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio are excellent as usual, and Tarantino's writing/directing is good as ever.
"Oh fuck, not vampires again. I hate glitter."
I think Tommy Lee Jones steals the show, but that's because he gets to be Tommy Lee Jones, while Daniel Day Lewis disappears into the role of the soft-spoken, story-tellin' grandpa figure of Honest Abe.
Other great actors include James Spader as a lobbyist, cause even back then, he'd be playing someone sleazy, and Joseph Gordon Levitt as Lincoln's wanna-be-Union-soldier son.
Parts of it do get a bit hoakey, but considering what a historical, emotional event the passing of the 13th Amendment was, it can be forgiven, especially when it provides such an interesting look at the strategy of politicing, while maintaining both a good humor and appropriate sense of weight about its situation.
And you gotta love that "twist" ending!
4. Les Miserables
It was the best of times, it was the ... oh, fuck it, it was just the worst of times
I had never read the book or seen the musical prior, and my expectations had been lowered by talk of the claustrophobic directing and Russel Crowe's bad singing.
Turns out, I thought the directing and Crowe's voice were fine, and I was engrossed in this tale of redemption, revenge, love and despair, complete with amazing vocal performances of great songs, and great acting as well.
I dozed in and out sometimes, and the singing literally every line did feel cheesy at times, but it was one hell of an experience, and I was invested in the characters. Favorite song: "Do You Hear the People Sing?"
Wait, I'm playing a Hispanic guy? But I'm ... I'm confused
Possibly the best mix of drama and comedy I've seen in a while, this too-absurd-to-be-fabricated story had me laughing and on-edge at the same time at various parts.
Excellent comedic performances by John Goodman and Alan Arkin, an impeccable directing hand in Ben Affleck, and a tight script that never bored, but was always able to make me laugh or feel tense, make for one of the best movies in quite some time.
2. Zero Dark Thirty
You know what I think, it's up there at the top of this blog. It's a very close call between this and Argo, but this movie is by far the greatest technical directing achievement I saw this year, so for now it gets the edge in my book.
To be fair, it might have an unfair advantage, being the only nominee I saw this year, as opposed to last year.
1. Silver Linings Playbook
Remember that movie Face/Off with Nic Cage?
Yeah, I got nothin'
I go to the movies to be entertained, and to feel something.
This is not the best movie in a technical sense from last year, but it is the one that, as someone who has been through situations like those depicted in the movie, having been in a family where finances weren't fantastic, and having bipolar relatives that snap at seemingly small things, it is the movie that most struck a chord with me last year.
You more or less know where it's going, but what mattered to me was how invested I was in the characters, and how much I could sympathize with the awful things in their life and their desire to work past it all. The comedic bits didn't hurt either, but it certainly wasn't a comedy.
What I most liked about it was that the characters really earned their ending, through very real struggles perfectly captured by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert Dinero's performances. Do I mean a happy ending? Go see it and find out.
What are your favorite movies from last year and will you be watching the Oscars? Did you watch the Grammys last night? How many of these movies have you seen, and did you like them?
Let me know your thoughts by commenting!