The Best of 2012 Awards: Top 20 Films of 2012 (20-11)

This has been one extraordinary year for film.  Similar to the 2010 season but definitely superior, there have been plenty of offerings that send a strong consideration for the end of the year Top Ten list.  Considering there were so many good films, I decided to extend my list from 10 to 15, and then from 15 to 20.  I know, it’s a complete wussy move, but honestly, you all would’ve done the same in my position.  So screw you.  Anyways, let’s get to the best films of 2012 starting from #20 to #11.

20.  Prometheus

I know, I know, I know.  Prometheus is a film that is truly flawed, filled with plot hole after plot hole, and really a film that asks a ton of questions but answers none of them.  And not completely being certain what state my mind was in when I saw Prometheus, it’s a good enough excuse for me to state my appreciation for Prometheus.  It’s a beautiful film to look at, especially in IMAX 3D.  The questions they do ask in the film are genuinely important, and though the execution of its purpose and the involvement of all the characters are questionable at best, I appreciated a director’s big epic push to revive a dying genre.  It’s obviously not a perfect film, but it’s one of the most entertaining films of the year, and I’ll stick to my opinion, though this blog may not continue after the backlash.

19.  Bully (Documentary)

As is almost every year, this was a great season for documentaries.  There are some that I haven’t seen including Central Park Five and West of Memphis, but the documentaries I’ve seen are all incredibly powerful, but also devastating.  Bully (also known as The Bully Project), is a film that I think we all can relate to as the title should be quite self-explanatory.  Following certain students in high school and their difficulties making friends and being accepted, it’s a dark and cruel experience watching these young kids suffer from a place that should be safe and protected.  Some of these stories are truly heartbreaking, and the effects of bullying has an unfortunately strong impact on kids, forcing them to make unfortunate decisions affecting not only themselves and their future, but everyone else around them.  It’s an emotional watch, creating an urgency in our systems to protect students, especially those constantly being violated and psychologically tortured.  Bully is an exceptional film.

18.  Chronicle

Another film that is relatable to bullying, Chronicle is one of those early in the year surprises that just stick with you.  It’s a small budget super hero, high school, troubled kid…type of movie, that is done well and executed to its strongest potential.  There have been plenty of films trying to do more and outspends exponentially, but like any teacher of film will explain to you, you must create characters that we care about.  In Chronicle, we have a story of three friends given an extraordinary gift, and we witness what happens when these powers can be misused and taken advantage of.  It’s one of the found-footage type films, and though I’m getting extremely tired of this beaten “creativity” that’s constantly being used in Hollywood, this is one of those rare exceptions.  Chronicle is fun and exciting, and it grabs your attention and refuses to let go until the credits roll.

17.  The Invisible War (Documentary)

The Invisible War, another powerful documentary, is surrounded on the issue of rape in the U.S. Army, uncovering a major issue that has been around ever since the inclusion of women in our country’s fighting regime.  I’m not going to lie, just like Bully, it’s a difficult film to watch.  Though much more hidden and secluded than bullying, this is as disturbing but necessary, understanding that these individuals who fall victim to sexual violence need as much support and help it can get in revealing a cruel problem.  The thing about documentaries is that these are (well most of the time) real people and real situations.  You can feel their pain and sorrow, and the stories and experiences these victims have are one to be known all across this country.  The Invisible War is very important.  And just like Bully, it can instill support for a movement that needs awareness and progress.

16.  Safety Not Guaranteed

I love indie films, mainly because we get stories that most studios will deem too risky and ambitious, staying with the safe and usual crap they send our way each year.  But that’s why we all love indie films, because they are adventurous, willing to take us on a journey that we’ve never seen before.  Safety Not Guaranteed is one of those films, as it’s based of a premise somewhat ridiculous, but reaching an achievement that somewhat cannot be explained.  The story of an intern finding a potential story about man who can travel back in time but is in of assistance..yes I know, sounds crazy indeed.  But there’s so much more heart and soul to this film than you would’ve originally thought.  It’s borderline heart breaking, extending its invitation longer and longer.  The films cuts off at a moment where you wish it would continue, but that’s what all good films do: it makes you want more.  Safety Not Guaranteed is a great indie film, and also one of the better films of 2012.

15.  Compliance

Compliance, another strong indie film, is one of those real-life situational horror films that’s slowly excruciating to watch as these characters are put into worse and worse predicaments.  Based on real events, it follows a fast food restaurant and some of the workers, as an individual who calls the manager as a police officer, pushing her to keep one of their workers in isolation as she is being accused of stealing money from a customer.  This whole problematic situation goes from haunting to flat out terrifying, struggling with the idea that this actually did happen.  Ann Dowd, who plays the manager and is in consideration for an Oscar nomination, is the heartbeat of this film, playing the difficult role of pursuer but with innocence.  There needs to a balance in her performance, giving the audience belief and understanding of her actions without giving away the identity of a sell-out.  Compliance works, and just like Safety Not Guaranteed, is a film someone wanted to take a chance on.

14.  Flight

Robert Zemeckis’ Flight, starring Denzel Washington, is an extraordinary film solely based on a man’s life hinging on substance abuse.  He has no family, barely any friends and his inner demons control almost everything about him.  Through an unforeseeable situation that provides him heroic status, those demons come out in ways no man wishes their inner secrets would, and it’s the struggle between letting our worst define our individuality and character that dominates Flight.  It’s not necessarily the film we might’ve expected, but it’s definitely the best product, using the strength of your star and the script as the main components.  Washington has never been better, and his performance really moves us, as he’s manipulated our feelings with remorse and pity.  Flight takes off an unreal sequence, but it never fades away, soaring higher and higher and feeling completely safe that this film is going to reach its final destination.

13.  The Raid: Redemption

Simply put, The Raid: Redemption is the best action film of 2012.  Though I am a complete amateur in the genre, I can easily say that this is the best martial arts film I’ve ever seen.  Working with a very simple plot (extremely similar to Dredd 3D), it’s a nonstop thrill of a movie, never slowing down.  The fight scenes are truly mesmerizing to see, and it has got some of the most brutal choreography I’ve ever witnessed.  It’s a film that constantly gives and gives, pleasing the audience to a degree no martial arts film of recent knowledge has provided.  The final fight between three characters is one for the ages, and is the final touch to a film placing its legacy on notice.  Thank you The Raid: Redemption.

12.  The Perks of Being A Wallflower

The Perks of Being A Wallflower is as honest of a film as it gets.  Especially in dealing with the life of a high schooler, it’s complete devotion to its material is refreshing and original.  Adapted by the author of the book with the same title, it makes a seamless transition, focusing on the three friends and their struggles, relying on their needed relationships to get them through the year.  Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller are all great in their title roles, having us believe in their chemistry and personalities.  It’s a warm film at times and it’s also a heartbreaking film at times, but it all works together, relating the themes and ideas it provides in a working equation.  The Perks of Being A Wallflower is an underrated film, and hopefully it will get its recognition years down the road.

11.  Argo

Argo is just pure filmmaking at its best.  It doesn’t do anything out of the blue, or does it try to be something it’s not.  Based of the true story of five Americans trapped in Iran, it’s a movie that can only be based off a true story.  It’s ridiculous and unreal, but the direction of Ben Affleck and its wonderful cast take us on this extraordinary journey.  Everything in this movie works well, and it delivers a great and entertaining punch right from the get-go.  I appreciate its honesty and its neutral position in the political matter, only focusing on the plot and the characters at hand.  It’s also a tribute to classic films and movie making, truly relying on its writing and direction and nothing more.  It’s one of the most intense films of the year, really making you sit on the edge of your seat, though you know what’s going to happen in the end.  One of the best films of the year and definitely going to make its mark during the Awards season, Argo deserves all the recognition it receives.

Come back tomorrow to see my top ten films of 2012.

The Best of 2012 Awards: Top Ten Performances of 2012

This was a year full of memorable performances from a wide range of actors.  From the veterans where we expect great work to those who are up and coming and launched their careers in fast forward mode.  Especially this year, it was hard to limit to ten performances, especially in some films where there were multiple great performances, and unlike my Top 10 (top 15 this year), there are no ties.  So without further ado, here are my top ten performances of 2012.

Denzel Washington – Flight
Denzel Washington’s career has become somewhat of a type cast.  Honestly, if you look back at his career, he plays that same role over and over again.  The intense and innovative cop is his bread and butter, and unfortunately, he’s gone that route way too many times.  But in Flight, he takes on a new role where he widens his acting abilities, pushing his skills away from the usual screaming and yelling to the subtle and inner struggle of a character.  As Whip Whitaker, a seasoned commercial pilot, he encounters his inner demons through an extraordinary experience where his initial heroism turns against him.  In this film, we see Washington portray a man where his strongest characteristics are not through his verbal and outward personalities, but in the heart and the soul.  His problems with drugs and alcohol has ruined almost everything in his life, and this is his final chance to before it all comes to a crashing halt.  Washington has never been better, and one may even say his performance in Flight is stronger and more profound than his Oscar winning role in Training Day.  Nonetheless, he deserves an Oscar nomination here and brought out his A game in Flight.

Anne Hatheway – Les Miserables
The best thing about Les Miserables is Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine.  Though her role is short, her presence is important and strongly felt as the mother of Cosette.  Her rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” is by far the most emotionally engaging number in the film, showcasing Hathaway’s ability to act and sing at the same time.  Her Fantine is the best I’ve seen in any Les Mis production, and her performance will definitely garner her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting, most likely a win.

Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
It was tough to choose between all the amazing performances in The Master, specifically Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s, who will definitely be in the hunt for Best Supporting Actor, but Joaquin Phoenix’s role as Freddie Quell is mesmerizing, difficult and completely unadulterated as he consumes his character, leaving no trace of Phoenix and all of Quell.  This is a extremely challenging individual, and you can see from not by his words, but by his movement, his facial expressions and by his body language that Quell is full of hurt and pain.  His relationship with Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) is truly beautiful to watch, and Phoenix pushes this film towards masterpiece status.  Though some may disagree considering it’s material and subject matter, we can all agree this film relies on the performances, especially Phoenix’s.

Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook isn’t a perfect movie, or is a great one.  But it’s entertaining, and the best thing to watch is Jennifer Lawrence.  She plays the personality disorder very well, and I might’ve rather watched her character and her struggles more than the eventual plot.  But this film truly relies on Bradley Cooper and Lawrence, and though I disagree with some of the film’s decisions or it’s characters, it’s great to watch Lawrence, a young and upcoming actress, get her second Oscar nomination.  Her career has already been very successful, but we haven’t even seen the best of Lawrence.  She’s one of few young actors that will be the future of Hollywood, and her role in Silver Linings Playbook is evidence of this.

Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Just like The Master, it was a tough choice between Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones.  Two key supporting roles in Lincoln, but I had to choose Jones (I’m not sexist), mainly basing it off the importance of his character in passing the 13th Amendment.  I know, that’s not fair to Field or Mary Todd, but whenever Jones speaks throughout the film, that’s when I’m most engaged.  I care for every word he speaks, and his performance is crucial to the success of Lincoln.  Just like many other performances throughout this list, Jones is going to get nominated for Supporting, and it’s very possible he’ll win.

Ezra Miller – The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Ezra Miller wasn’t even originally on my list, but I just recently watched The Perks of Being A Wallflower, and I couldn’t help but include him in.  Miller, who introduced himself to the film industry through his masterful work in We Need To Talk About Kevin (who was slightly overshadowed by Tilda Swinton’s powerful performance), he revolves himself in a completely new character, who similarly is an outcast in school, but is much more alive and active in his interactions with friends and colleagues.  But his performance is so important to the film because it is energy and the lifeblood.  Miller’s character is what brings everyone together, as his lively personality and the perky individual he is connects all the major characters through friendship and love.  He’s a rebel because he has to be, and that’s the only way to deal with his pain and suffering, and he hides his true self without acknowledging it to the world, until at the right moment, he has nothing else except to show his true self.  It’s a wonderful performance that most likely will get overlooked, and what a shame it will be.

Quvenzhane Wallis – Beasts of The Southern Wild
This is a film that I haven’t talked about at all, mainly because I saw this extremely late, and it already passed it’s buzz.  But there was a reason why it had such strong potential through the awards circuit this season when it was released at Sundance.  This is one powerful film.  Set in the slums of New Orleans where the potential of storms threaten their livelihood, we’ve got a seven year-old girl who puts in one of the best performances of the year.  Her on screen presence is what makes this film move, and it’s a magical ride.  It’s one of the most moving films of the year, and the last 30 minutes is all you need to see to validate her seat at the Academy Awards.  This an indie film that needs to be recognized in all categories, but if there’s one that needs to be put on the forefront, it’s Wallis’ defying and transcending portrayal of Hushpuppy.

Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained
I’m, of course, being biased because Christoph Waltz is one of my favorite actors today, and I’ve only seen him in two films.  That says a lot about those two performances, but no one can deny the magnitude of his work in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained.  It’s unfortunate because I only had room to fit one performance from this masterful film, and though I was tempted to go with Leonardo DiCaprio, it was Waltz that eventually won the spot.  His Dr. King Schultz is the pulse, and the character is too memorable to ignore this year.  He is truly one of the most charismatic and charming actors today, and I truly believe Tarantino has many more roles he wants to write for this gifted German actor.  Nomination must be in the book for Christoph Waltz.

Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
Zero Dark Thirty is one of the most controversial films of the year, and it unfortunately took a toll of its potential Oscar run.  But what it didn’t take away is Jessica Chastain’s harrowing and powerful performance as Maya, the mother***** who was responsible for finding Osama Bin Laden.  You see her progress and growth throughout the film, realizing that her change is necessary not for her own life’s work, but for the satisfaction of this country.  Her change resembles the similar change this country went through after 9/11, and from her strongest and most powerful lines to the final tears of completion, this is an important piece of work delivered by an actress who has career path that’s full of potential and success.  Even though she’s one of the greats right now, she’s still underrated, and when she gets more dominating work, she’s in line for more nominations and wins.  Expect her to win for Best Actress at the Academy Awards.

Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
It’s clear that there is no other performance that tops Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of our 16th President.  Though I have issues when films are purely fulfilled by one actor’s work, in this situation, it’s perfectly fitting, considering that Lincoln is the life and soul of this film, being the main proprietor and motivator for the 13th Amendment.  Lewis, easily the best working actor of our generation, knocks it out of the park, and without any hesitation, provides us with one of the great performances of all time.  I truly thought he would never top his Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, which is also one of the all time greats, but in the end, this is his career defining role.  I can’t think of any other actor who could play Lincoln, and when you have a role where only one actor can play, you know you have an individual who’s been given his own place in Hollywood.  From Lincoln’s voice, body language and just his overall persona as a father, husband and leader, we don’t just witness an Oscar-winning performance, we witness true art and masterpiece on screen that will last for ages.  Standing ovation indeed.

Honorable Mentions:
Sally Field – Lincoln
Phillip Seymour Hoffman & Amy Adams – The Master
Leonardo DiCaprio & Samuel L. Jackson – Django Unchained
Javier Bardem – Skyfall
Ann Dowd – Compliance
Suraj Sharma – Life of Pi

The Best of 2012 Awards: Top 5 Biggest Disappointments

Well, this is not necessarily a good thing to win, but I’m sure no one really cares about a blogger labeling their film as a disappointing.  Though this year has by far been one of the best years in film, it still contains a number of flops, failures and fixating mistakes.  And considering I’m not a film critic so I’m not responsible or obliged to watch every movie out there (that sounds horrible…), I still see the occasional fail of a movie, mostly leading to my strong disappointment.  So here is my Top 5 Biggest Disappointments of 2012.

5.  Snow White & The Huntsman

(Kristen Stewart’s most successful scene as an actor)

The main reason why I was disappointment with this film is solely on the shoulders of the trailer.  It was an unreal trailer, setting up for a highly anticipated release that never met my expectations.  You can put much of the blame solely on the shoulders of the first time director Rupert Sanders, who seemed like he wanted execute his main star than the film.  Shot more appropriately as multiple music videos and then a connected film, it really needed more substance and better direction.  Not the worst film of the year, but definitely one of the most disappointing.

4.  Ted

                                                          (This is my exact reaction while watching Ted)

Sometimes people think I go into every film with the same attitude and angle.  This is obviously not true.  I don’t expect the same things from an Oscar film as I would with Ted.  It would foolish and distasteful to do that, but even then, Ted was a fail of a comedy.  There were times where I felt awkward watching this film.  A lack of music here, a lack of direction there, and a whole lot of mess everywhere.  There were bright moments in Ted, but overall, the trailer took all the best pieces and robbed this film of any humorous experience.  Seth McFarlene is a talented an individual, and I hope he gets further work in Hollywood, and I’ll give him a pass on this one, but as for Ted, it’s etched as one of the biggest disappointments of 2012.

3.  Brave

                                                    (“Follow me as I lead this movie into much stupidity”)

Every Pixar movie is an event, and from Toy Story to Toy Story 3 (not only referring the Toy Story franchise, but that was the first Pixar film and the last successful Pixar film until Cars 2…sorry for the long explanation) it was an amazing journey watching Pixar release movie after movie with such emphasis on story and development.  And with Brave, they were literally taking a risky story putting a female lead as their main protagonist.  And for the first half of the film, it was as enjoyable as any other Pixar film I’ve watched.  And then they did a complete 180, ruining all the momentum and excitement the first half brought, bringing Brave down to the level of all other stupid animated films.  I’m bitter and frustrated with Brave, as it could’ve been something amazing, but for some reason, it wasn’t.  Disappointment indeed.

2.  Les Miserables

                                               (Exactly how I felt listening to Russell Crowe sing non-stop)

Just recently reviewing this film, I don’t need to go into much depth on why I was disappointed with this film.  I actually did like the film somewhat, but overall, it’s just unfortunate how much potential this film had, and how flat it felt afterwards.  The movie hits its highest notes in the beginning, and slowly wrestles us back, not giving us the fulfilling experience the stage production provided, but a false hope, giving us glimpses of eventual return, but never providing it.  I loved aspects, but overall, it was one of the biggest disappointments of 2012.  And while were on the topic of false hope…

1.  The Dark Knight Rises

                                     (“Gotham City is stupid, very stupid.  So I can only give them stupid.”)

Instead of going on 1,000 word rant, here’s a great video that sums up everything that sucked with The Dark Knight Rises, by far the most disappointing film of 2012 and of this short decade.

The Best of 2012 Awards: Top Ten Trailers of 2012!

As the end of 2012 is quickly approaching, I thought it was appropriate to begin the best of 2012 Awards.  Each day will have a list of awards as today will introduce the Top Ten Trailers of 2012 (not ranked).

December 28th – Top 5 Most Disappointing Films of 2012
December 29th – Top 10 Performances of 2012
December 30th – Top 15 Films of 2012 (15-6)
December 31st – Top 15 Films of 2012 (5-1)

If you follow this blog, you’ll know that we post plenty of trailers, mainly because no one hates trailers.  Honestly, trailers are amazing, and I hate being late to a movie just because I don’t want to miss any of the trailers.  Now most trailers show too much of the film or take the best and juiciest parts, but there are times where trailers just work perfectly.  They show just enough to get us excited but wanting more.

Here are my ten favorite trailers of 2012 (rules are the trailer must’ve come out during the calendar year, even if the film has not been released yet).

Prometheus (Trailer #1)
Listen, this is the one film that I loved from 2012 that I’ll always get crap for.  I don’t care.  But save that criticism for my Top Films of 2012.  Though the film is polarizing in opinion, I think we all can agree that this trailer created the intense hype of what Prometheus (or hoped) was going to be.  This trailer made us anticipate for one of the bigger science fiction films that has come out in a while.

Man Of Steel (Trailer #1)
The teaser for Man of Steel that played in front of The Dark Knight Rises was amazing, but I had to choose the full length trailer over the teaser, mainly because we get everything we loved about the teaser with more beautiful shots, exciting action scenes and a potential epic Superman film we’ve never seen before.  This trailer gives us hope that Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan knows exactly what they’re doing.  Keep us hoping!

Skyfall (Teaser)
I didn’t fall in love with the movie, but the teaser made me fall in love with the potential of Skyfall.  It gives us a glimpse of the new direction this new Bond film was headed, and though we don’t really see the best part of this film (Javier Bardem), his presence is clearly felt.  But besides the amazing techno-like Bond theme song, it’s a prime example of how to tease the mass audiences waiting anxiously for a film to arrive.

Zero Dark Thirty (Trailer #2)
This trailer should be used to all trailer makers of how to set the tone, intensity and the premise of the film without giving away too much of pretty much anything.  We see bold images that really give us nothing of hard substance, but mixed with the music, we understand what we’re going to experience.  It works perfectly.  Every time I see this trailer it gives me chills, as it continually pushed my eagerness to watch this film, but also the genius of this trailer.

The Dark Knight Rises (Trailer #1)
Honestly, I thought all the trailers were more enjoyable then the film, but I won’t go on my rants…  But though the film will DEFINITELY make my Biggest Disappointment List of 2012, the trailers added to this disappointment only because it increased my excitement by tenfold.  My goodness, I can remember my initial reaction of seeing the football field exploding.  My jaw literally dropped.  This and the other trailers of TDKR created a cloud of anticipation and excitement that was never fully reached, but it did what a trailer was suppose to do.

Project X (Official Trailer)
I could watch this trailer in place of the film.  The movie is pretty much a full length feature of this trailer, and the trailer is much cooler.  Seeing everything unfold in the movie was a downer, but that can’t go against the success of the trailer.  The music, the editing, the invitation.  It all works well.  I’m pretty sure this trailer is the main reason why all those dumb teenagers went to go see this dumb movie.  Good job.

Snow White & The Huntsman (Trailer #2)
This was one of my most anticipated films of the summer mainly because of these extremely successful and addicting trailers.  The trailer gives us a plot that’s very interesting and engaging, and literally took all the best visuals of the film into one 3 minute highlight.  Unfortunately, these are the downfalls of a trailer like this as the film can’t match the intensity or the potential we all witnessed, but nonetheless, what a trailer!

The Master (Official Trailer #1)
You can just tell from the trailer that we’re about to experience the oddity and quirkiness of Paul Thomas Anderson.  His films are from another world, and his art is astounding.  What this trailer does so well is not hide away from it, but embrace it.  Sometimes trailers sell the movie in a way that’s not true to its identity because it wants to sell tickets, but instead, this trailer is selling the actual movie.  And though some may not enjoy The Master, I for one, loved this trailer and loved the film.

Les Miserables (Trailer #1)
I still get chills watching this trailer.  I mean, it makes sense considering it takes the most emotional song of the film from its best performance and integrates emotional scenes that capture what Les Miserables is all about, but if it was on the big screen.  Though the film doesn’t work in this way (NO MORE RUSSELL CROWE), this first official trailer of Les Miserables truly started the wave of fire anticipating this Broadway favorite.

The Avengers (Official Assemble Trailer)
I think after watching this official Assemble trailer, we all knew that The Avengers was in good hands.  We we’re given glimpses and short previews of the film, but this trailer officially gave us our first in-depth look of what to expect, and wow, was it ever exciting.  We got all the major super heroes packed into one trailer but also a glimpse of their struggle and eventual teamwork.  Plus, we finally saw the villains and their crazy flying monsters destroying New York City.  It was the first time we got to see a wide glimpse and scale of the film, and though it was only a few months away, it made the wait seem like an eternity.

And now the worst trailer of 2012.  Don’t know what’s worse, that someone actually thought this movie was a good idea, or that Norm McDormand agreed to this.  Any movie can have a great trailer, even if the movie sucks.  But my goodness, this trailer is so awful, it probably did the movie justice.  I’ll pay someone $5 to watch this movie in its entirety.

The Attack of The Singing Face: My Love/Hate Review of Les Miserables

There are some things that are best left alone, and it’s very possible that Les Miserables should’ve been one of them.  From the Oscar winning director of The King’s Speech comes Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Les Miserables, the ever popular and musical sensation that is as ever polarizing and difficult to rate as any other film I’ve witness.  This review will be broken up into two parts, why I loved it, and why I hated.  Hopefully by the end of this review, I’ve reached my conclusion and rating of Les Mis.  I am truly “On My Own”….

Why I loved Les Miserables.

Well, if you know me personally, I proclaim Les Miserables as the greatest musical of all time.  The plot is complex, confusing and very assumptive, but the music is gorgeous, beautiful and completely unmatched.  I have absolutely no connection to the French Revolution or with the characters, but when I hear them sing, it’s an emotional experience that cannot be compared with any other production I’ve seen on screen.  This biased opinion of the stage production is the main reason why I love the film.  Okay, I’m being overdramatic when I say love and hate (haven’t gotten to the hate portion yet).  I didn’t really love the film, but I really wanted to, mainly because I love the Broadway musical.

And just because I loved the stage version so much, I can say I like this film too.  It has way too many failures and mistakes to even put it near the stage version, but it’s good enough.  I loved witnessing the grand scope of the film, setting us in a believable atmosphere that compares to the French Revolution.  The opening scene where we are introduced to Jean Valjean, Javert and the ever so talented group of prisoners pulling in a damaged ship is the beauty of transitioning a musical to the big screen.  Big sets, special effects and an actual legitimate budget allows for our imagination to be put in actuality, allowing us to fully dive into the world of the musical.  This is where the film truly succeeds.  The world fits, and the set design is at its best.  The world Tom Hooper and his crew created is top-notch quality work.  As you can see, I’m trying to find things to praise…

In all honesty, the cast here is mostly good if not great.  Hugh Jackman, though I have my issues, was perfect for Jean Valjean.  I can’t think of any actor working today that can carry this role.  The vocal range and talent, the physique, the Broadway background.  Hugh Jackman was born to play Valjean, and we witness this on screen through song after song.  The rest of the cast does its part, especially Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Samantha Barks as Eponine and Aaron Tveit as Enjolras.  But who really shines is Anne Hatheway.  Completely deserving of Oscar praise, Hatheway plays Fantine the way it’s supposed to and more so.  Her version of “I Dreamed A Dream” is as good as it gets, and her emotional pull in her performance was the ultimate climax.  Unfortunately, “I Dreamed A Dream” is sung in the first 45 minutes…

Why I Hated Les Miserables.

Yes, I’m being overdramatic (just like Hugh Jackman’s acting), but there are just some aspects of this film I just couldn’t forgive or let go.  Much of it is the impossibility of transferring Les Mis from stage to screen.  There’s a reason why there’s never been a film adaptation of the musical.  It’s too difficult, as what works for Les Mis on stage doesn’t work on film.  The audience needs a break.  Heck, even the theater audience gets an intermission.  We get 2 hours and 30 minutes of non-stop sing and song, where the rare dialogue is like needed oxygen for a drowning man.

Why it works on Broadway is mainly because we witness the music live.  There’s a huge difference experiencing an actor singing “On My Own” or “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables” live on stage than seeing it on screen.  And instead of trying to find a solution for this, Hooper decides to connect the audience emotionally by delivering close up after close up on the musical numbers, giving us this trapped and suffocating experience where I feel like the movie theater has increased my fear of claustrophobia (I don’t suffer from claustrophobia…).

I don’t think Tom Hooper understood what you can get away with on stage and what you can get away with on screen.  The plot of Les Miserables is ridiculous and extremely ignorant.  Characters fall in love for no reason, Jean Valjean keeps escaping Javert point blank and individuals are stupid at best.  But it works on stage.  We give them the benefit of the doubt because we’re not there to criticize or not-pick at these flaws or shortcomings because we go to a musical to witness the music.  The problem with film is that though the music is the most important aspect, it’s not the only one.  You need a working plot, you need some sort of character development, you need actual substance.  Great singing just isn’t enough to save a film.

There’s the other problem with Les Miserables (the film version).  Tom Hooper did something revolutionary.  He created the first film to ever record the actors singing live while being shot on film.  The actors wore an earpiece with just a piano accompaniment, giving them the freedom to sing live with change of pace, emotion, and variation.  Sounds great right?  But here’s the problem: you’ve created an editing nightmare.

The main reason why we’re given so many damn close up performances is because you cannot integrate multiple angles because the actor or actress changed the song in his or her preference each take.  They had the freedom to do something different every time, so there’s no possibility of recording the same performance or getting anywhere near the consistency of one version when you’re doing it live.  That means we’re stuck with this three-minute song watching Russell Crowe sing one continuous note.  Instead of giving the audience a change of scenery or angle, we’re completely stuck, and though that works on stage, it is miserable (no pun intended) for film.  The character development, the struggle and difficulties of these characters are shared in song, but instead of connecting with their musical processing, we’re focused on this giant face.  When I truly fell in love with the film is when the ensemble is singing together and Hooper is allowed the freedom to gracefully cut and interact multiple scenes together.  It’s wonderful and gives us that “grand” scope musicals cannot.  But if you know Les Mis, there are not many of those.

90% of the film’s flaws fall under a predicament that can’t be solved, and I don’t necessarily blame Hooper for this.  You can’t do the traditional lip-synching other film musicals have done with Les Miserables.  The story isn’t good enough for that.  The heart is in the music.  But when they decided to do live recording, it ultimately decided and unfortunately limited the film to what it was: a masterful effort with mediocre result.

There are some things that Hooper could’ve done like the overacting, the laughable cuts of Jackman’s sudden singing or the confusing use of real dialogue and singing dialogue, but in the end, the choice to adapt Les Miserables on screen was the biggest mistake.  This film, though succeeds in some aspects, is tiring, enduring and eventually exhausting to watch.  Unlike my standing ovation for the theater production, I needed a blanket and a nap as the credits rolled.  The music will live on, but the film will unfortunately be forgotten.

Les Miserables gets 2 ½ stars (out of 5).

This Is Why We Go To The Movies: Django Unchained Review

It’s time to finally place Quentin Tarantino as one of the great American filmmakers.  After witnessing Django Unchained, it’s with certainty that he deserves to belong as not only has he created his own genre, but also a style and quality only Tarantino can reach.

I promise you, Django Unchained is a film you’ve never really seen before.  Granted, no one really makes a movie about slavery.  Anything that makes America look bad in the eyes of history is practically untouchable in the film industry.  I can list out many amazing film ideas where America looks awful and terrible, but I’ll save that lesson for another article.  But slavery, easily the most disgraceful and unfortunate period of this country’s short lifetime, is too difficult and too dark to depict for any writer/director.  But obviously, Quentin Tarantino does it successfully with ease, as his natural comedic, violent and charming tones bring an entertaining equation to screen.

The film follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a once enslaved African-American in Texas, and a German dentist named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).  Following a “business transaction”, these two partner up in the bounty business, as Dr. Schultz needs Django to point out specific criminals, and in return, will help DJango find his estranged wife.  After a cold winter of white people killing, they eventually get their eventful destination, Candie Land, owned by the ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Though the film is set during slavery, the film is primarily focused on the relationship between Django and Dr. Schultz, and their goal in finding and rescuing DJango’s wife, Broomhilda.  Though we see the harshness and violent era of slavery, we aren’t left alone in this dark era without any escape.  The journey that we take with Django is what reminds us that we aren’t in this adventure about escaping slavery, but about a man finding the love of his life, and what he must do to retrieve and rescue his wife.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t witness the extreme racism of which was the pro-slave South.  When I watched this film the first time, I would say about 40-50% of the film made me uncomfortable and unsettling.  No movie uses the N word more, and that kind of exploitation made this experience difficult.  We are constantly thrown into troubling situations where the white male constantly disrespects and disowns African-Americans, and no film has ever dared to go this far.

And without question, Tarantino wanted it this way.  I’m not going to lie, my opinions of the film were confused and discombobulated, wondering if Tarantino crossed the line and went too far (who knew I would get offended…).  But after a second viewing and fully being aware of what to expect, it was obvious to me that this racist world needed to be spotlighted in full frontal.  Besides showing the insane atmosphere our country was in during the 1800’s, it’s also necessary for our protagonist.  When Django lashes out in revenge, we are completely satisfied.  We have no remorse for the increasing body count, and we root for our hero to not just find his gal, but to also take vengeance to those who supported this heinous crime to human life.

This film is one big tight rope act.  There are so many possibilities of doing wrong, from being offensive, being too serious or too light hearted.  But if there’s one director that can succeed making a comedy through slavery, it’s Quentin Tarantino.  He’s in complete control, and his style and quality of filmmaking is showcased through his quirky uses of music to the way the body responds to a gunshot wound (wow was there a lot of blood).  What’s most impressive however with Tarantino is how aware he is with his characters.

He knows exactly who to cast, and it all starts with Django.  Originally rumored to attach Will Smith (I can’t imagine Will Smith playing this role), Jamie Foxx kills it in by far his best role yet.  He’s not overpowering nor underwhelming.  Foxx perfectly balances the hatred of those who done wrong and the motivation to find his love.  But the film relies on the performance of Christoph Waltz.  My goodness, besides Tarantino’s films, we should be ever so grateful for his introduction of Waltz to the world.  One of the more gifted and charming actors of our time, is there anyone else we would’ve wanted to play Dr. Schultz?  This isn’t Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds (ironic that a German witnesses the worst part of American history), but this is a character filled with grace and responsibility.  Devoted to his promise, we see a man who hates slavery, and finds purpose in helping a once enslaved man begin his new life of freedom.  I have no doubt that Waltz was the only choice for this role for Tarantino, and I hope these two work together for years to come.

But we cannot forget Leonardo DiCaprio’s work as Calvin Candie.  It was refreshing to see him play a villain, and though he falls back to his tendency of over-emotional reactions, we welcome this because we aren’t rooting for him.  We are afraid and intimidated.  This is not what we’re used to nor expect from DiCaprio, and it was a pleasing experience watching him have a blast with this character, as was Samuel L. Jackson.  A black household completely devoted to his owner, Jackson is also best when paired with Tarantino.  Waltz, DiCaprio and Jackson all deserve Oscar nominations.

This is a film worth waiting for.  It’s worth paying the overpriced ticket, the overpriced popcorn and the overpriced soda for.  This is why we go to the movies.  Quentin Tarantino is fully aware that the art of the theater is slowly dying, and his way of fighting back is by making movies like Django Unchained.  We should all be thankful, as he’s made one of his best films, and easily one of the best films of 2012.

Django Unchained receives 4 stars (out of 5).

Journalistic Filmmaking At Its Best: Zero Dark Thirty Review

I’ll always remember where I was on the morning of September 11th, 2001.  And if you ask anyone who can remember that date, they will also remember where they exactly where when tragedy struck our country.  It was a horrible event unmatched by any other day in American history.  But September 11th ringed a new age in American society.  Our country changed forever, and there was no looking back.  Homeland security would be on its highest priority.  Our presence in the Middle East would be stamped forever.  Traveling would be more difficult and complicated as its ever been.  But anything is worth the price of our safety?  Right?  Zero Dark Thirty rings in this new American obsession against the war on terror, and focusing on the one man responsible for much of the Islamic jihad throughout the world, Osama Bin Laden, and another responsible for chasing him down.

Zero Dark Thirty is a journalistic experience.  What does that mean?  Well it means that it’s not your typical Hollywood film, where its bleeding cliches and predictability.  It’s completely devoted to its material.  It has absolutely no intentions on stretching the truth, and doesn’t go on tangents or spend any moments discussing anything else other than finding Osama Bin Laden.  At a running time around 2 hours and 30 minutes, one would think it must get tedious and overwhelming.  At if one may feel that way, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but this is the journey we take on with Maya (Jessica Chastain).  Ruthless and a “killer”, her life’s work is summed up to one name, and I think you can guess which name that is.  She has no love life.  She has no interaction with her family.  Her friends are those she meets in the field.  We aren’t introduced to another world that Maya belongs to, but follow her commitment in Pakistan.  We don’t know why she’s so into her work, and why finding Bin Laden is such an importance for her.  But considering we all have inner motivation and desire to see Osama Bin Laden taken down, there’s no need to have an additional emotional connection with Maya, as that’s already been established: we all know where we were during the attacks.

Zero Dark Thirty moves at a pace that’s unsettling but necessary.  At first, I felt that it focused too much on Maya’s initial lead, focusing on a potential message carrier named Abu Ahmed.  Maya is certain that if the CIA finds Ahmed, he will lead to Bin Laden.  Much of this film, I’d say at least a third, is focused on Ahmed and his whereabouts.  Those who are unwilling and unready for this experience shouldn’t expect any apologies as this film is unforgiving for those who want things to slow down or go in ways they felt it should’ve.  This is Maya’s evolution.  This is the way she’s revealed to Bin Laden’s exact location.  And Kathyrn Bigelow (director) and Mark Boal (writer), who worked together on The Hurt Locker, wants to tell the story they envisioned it.

There’s some sort of controversy over how much inside confidentiality they received from the CIA and the American government, but I think we can all safely assume that they’ve been given access, which means that much of the experience is truthful and honest.  Maya is most likely an unlikely actual individual, but she’s so important because of what she symbolizes.  She is the new America.  She is the changed culture and societal presence that now exists in our homeland.  Her resilience and persistence in fulfilling her life’s work and finding Bin Laden is all that’s she ever dreamed of, and she’s willing to go as far as possible to find her leads and information.

One of the obvious tactics used in finding the information she needs is through the use of torture, specifically water boarding.  And I must say, that was difficult to watch.  I’m not going to go into this nonsensical debate about ZDT being pro-torture, but I will say, the film is just as relentless and unforgiving on its subject as Maya is on finding the most wanted man in the world.  ZDT is not going to ignore a large part of American interrogation against possible assailants and terrorists.

This is where the film ultimately succeeds.  It’s not forgiving on what America has done to the middle east.  It’s not ignorant on the fact that we’ve made our mistakes.  It completely understands that this whole journey of finding Osama Bin Laden includes skeletons, and no matter if it was successful or if it was needed, it happened.  ZDT doesn’t take sides nor does it send a political message.  Any individual who screams political motive against ZDT is foolish and is completely misunderstanding the film.  Though Maya isn’t real, the journey is.  There are many moments in this film where Bigelow and Boal could’ve driven this film another direction.  Used some character development here, or discussed other themes and focuses, but it they stayed true to the identity of this film.  We can interpret the film which ever way we’d like, that’s the privilege we receive for being a paying customer.  But we shouldn’t infiltrate one’s work to fulfill our own personal ideas or beliefs, especially in the manner they’ve handled it.

This is a film experience that you’ve most likely never had before.  Big words coming out of a film that didn’t come in with much hype as it did speculation.  It’s grueling and enduring.  It’s a pure film, only relying on its main subject matter.  There are not subplots, no outside interaction, no breaks.  And when you think there is one, brace yourself.  This is as intense of a film you’ll ever witness (the last 45 minutes still left marks on me).  And this is exactly the way it should’ve been done.  Bigelow and Boal succeed in a way that I cannot imagine another director-writer tandem would.  The cast succeeds in all counts, especially Chastain (who deserves the Oscar for Best Actress).  Everything in this film works.

I cannot guarantee a positive film experience for everyone.  Some may love the intensity, and some may stray away, but you cannot ignore the achievement in what is Zero Dark Thirty.

Zero Dark Thirty receives 4 stars (out of 5).