With award season drawing to a close, there were a few notable snubs from the academy and a couple of performances that were seemingly custom-made for them.
There was Woody Allen, Ron Howard, Joel & Ethan Coen and Tom Hanks, just to name a few, who did great work in 2013 but were left off the Academy’s list because of so many other good movies last year. But also because they were all competing against their past work. And maybe because their films didn’t deal with politically charged subjects.
Here are reviews of three movies that are, in my opinion, better than at least two of the films on the Best Picture list… and also reviews of those two movie. Here are the amazing performances, some of them honored, some of them not, that I feel are some of the best of the year. My other picks for Best Picture that actually have a chance to win are HERE.
And I know that not every film can be Gravity. And not every performance can be nominated. But when one or two of the spots go to make a political statement or to increase box office, you leave some of the best work unrecognized.
I would like to recognize them now… but who am I?
I’m just a homeless guy on a public computer blogging about movies he just happened to see while trying to get out the cold, rushing to get it all down before the library closes.
No. That’s not true anymore. But just between you and me, that’s kinda how I feel.
To the reviews…
Blue Jasmine (Sony Pictures Classics)
Written & Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay, Sally Hawkins, Peter Sarsgaard & Michael Stuhlbarg
Blue Jasmine is the latest sensational cinematic sob story from the great Woody Allen. It is the story of a woman, played wonderfully by Cate Blanchett, a woman who is losing her mind after the financial betrayal of her husband, played masterfully by Alec Baldwin.
As in most of Woody’s latter films, there is more than a touch of misogyny here but it is a fantastic story none-the-less. I’ve noticed that since Mr. Allen started on this, one film per year string of, not very good, not very well-made, not very well-thought-out yearly films, he still seems to knock it out of the park every three or four years. (about 1 out of every 4 films is a masterpiece). Blue Jasmine is that one (the last was Vicky Cristina Barcelona).
Woody Allen is in fine form here but the film benefits greatly from Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the title character. She is a woman in the middle of a nervous breakdown. In full denial of her life spinning out of control. And it is wonderful to watch.
Cate Blanchett is a master at her craft and should easily win the Oscar. (I love you Amy Adams but Cate carries this movie and you had a lot of help)
The main character of a Woody Allen film, male or female, is usually just a poorly disguised version of the director. Even when he doesn’t play the part himself, they all sound like him, they all act like him. Or at least most of the actors who don’t bring anything else to the role, who play it as written, play it like him. It takes an actor with a strong sense of self, and ideas of their own, to not just sound like Woody in a Woody Allen film.
Cate brings so much more to the role. She is the singular reason this is not just another Woody Allen yearly offering but a great performance and a great film from a great director, who will go back to giving us another mediocre one next year.
There was a time when Woody Allen was my favorite director but that was a long time ago. Yet, it’s good to know that he still has flashes of greatness. Blue jasmine is a flash of greatness.
Rent it (If you haven’t been turned off by Woody as a person, realize that he is still a great artist and try to separate the two)
Next… I feel the need… the need for speed.
Rush (Exclusive Media, Universal Pictures, Studio Canal, Pathé Productions)
Directed by Ron Howard
Written by Peter Morgan
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara & Pierfrancesco Favino
Ron Howard has consistently made good films throughout his career. Rush is only the most recent. Ron Howard has become one of the greatest American filmmakers.
Rush is one of my favorite films from 2013. A true story of the competitive spirit with real-life strong characters played by two actors who bring a lot to their roles. Chris Hemsworth is fantastic as James Hunt but Daniel Brühl as Formula One superstar Niki Lauda steals the film from the pole position… from the start. He is magnificent. One of the best performances of the year.
Rush is a movie about a sports rivalry. Well-acted and well-written and very well directed by professionals. I’ve never put Ron Howard on any of my lists. But I’ve enjoyed all of his movies and I like that he takes on epic stories and epic challenges.
I love racing. Well… racing video games anyway. Rush was really cool to watch for me because I recognized the tracks from the games I play. I’m a regular speed freak… in my living room. Gran Turismo has been one of my favorite games since the first one.
But there hasn’t been that many good pro racing films. The Fast & Furious movies are a fantasy. Speed Racer had some unbelievable racing scenes but it was based on a cartoon. So in my opinion Rush is the best movie about professional racing ever made. If you know of a better one, let me know about it. I love a good racing movie.
The racing and the competition are the true stars. The drivers take a back seat because the story is real. I remember the era. I remember the commercials. It was a golden age. But the performance by Daniel Brühl is off the chain. I hated the character. You’re meant to hate the character. But he makes you love him at the same time. It’s masterful work.
Rent it. (Rush is one of the best movies of the year. Pure adrenaline)
Next… a good movie about another awful person.
Inside Llewyn Davis (CBS Films, StudioCanal)
Written & Directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund & Justin Timberlake
Inside Llewyn Davis is the story of a folk singer who is an asshole. I loved this movie. I think the Coen Brothers are the greatest artists in film right now. But how much I hated this character is hard to express. Oscar Isaac is so good in the role. Yet another actor creating an awful awful character and doing it extremely well.
The movie opens with our hero (and I use the term loosely) getting his ass kicked in an alley and then it proceeds to show us why he deserves the beatdown. And it does. And he does. The man is a train wreck. Destroying everything he touches.
Sadly, I identified with him a little too much. And because of it, I wanted someone to punch him in the face so very badly every time he expressed his ego and belittled his friends. I spent most of the movie thinking, “why doesn’t that guy just hit him?” or “Why won’t anyone slap him?” He is annoyingly anti-social and obnoxiously unaware. Oblivious to the disastrous impact he has on every other character in the film.
By the way, every other character in the movie, with little but hilarious exception (the incredible John Goodman), is a motherfucking saint for putting up with this guy. And the cat… Even THAT cat owed him a beat down or a claw in the face. Oh my god, the cat.
I love the Coen Brothers but this film annoyed me. Inside Llewyn Davis is not their best by a long shot. First, it’s a drama, while I still think they are at their best with light dramedy and not this heavy stuff. And definitely not their more zany comedies, those can be hard to stomach.
Don’t get me wrong, I think everything they do is insanely good and I’m just comparing this to previous films. Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the best films of 2013.
Inside Llewyn Davis is an extremely well-made cinematic look at the folk music scene in the time before Dylan. I was not a fan. Folk music was too religious. Too many major keys. Too (forgive me) white. Llewyn to his credit was trying to add some blues. Bob Dylan, to all of our benefit, did so successfully.
It’s just the character reminded me so much of myself I wanted to punch him. A homeless musician with an ego and an attitude, treating his friends like doormats and making bad decision after bad decision after bad decision.
Rent it. (But there just wasn’t enough violence in it for me. I’m kidding the movie is marvelous and the beatdown is satisfying enough)
Next up… A true story gets dressed up for Hollywood…
Captain Phillips (Columbia Pictures)
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Written by Billy Ray Based on A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips & Stephan Talty
Starring Tom Hanks & Barkhad Abdi
Captain Phillips is intense. This movie is crazy intense. I loved the first part of the movie, a thrilling high seas pirate adventure. Tom Hanks is one of the greatest living actors and he shows off his talent once again. Based on a true story, it feels real and authentic… at first.
The first half of the movie makes this one of the best movies of the year. But where Paul Greengrass loses me is on the backend. When the movie turns into a hostage drama, he tries too hard to pump up the jeopardy. In fact, I wished he would have calmed it down.
We know what happens in the end. We read it in the papers. We know the seal team super hero kick-ass American Cavalry comes and takes care of business. All bad-ass and shit. But he makes us wait for it.
During the wait Tom Hanks cranks up his acting to eleven. Paul Greengrass pumps up the volume to eleven and then my heart starts pumping at eleven. Everything is cranked up so high for so long that it loses my interest. It stops being entertaining and becomes annoying.
The claustrophobic life boat. The arguing pirates. The waiting for the kill shot. It was all too much.
The first half is all emotion and characters and some really cool stuff with Tom Hanks matching wits with Barkhad Abdi. You meet the pirates; The impoverished fishermen that have been screwed over by commercial fishing and are at the mercy of organized criminal billionaires that force them to try and seize large vessels with only a few men, tiny boats, a couple of guns and little else for huge multi-million dollar ransoms; of which they get very little. It’s a great story where the good guys are good but the bad guys are sad and scary.
And If not for an overly drawn out third act, I would say Captain Phillips was the movie of the year. I just wanted off that lifeboat so badly. I just wanted the movie to end so badly. And the one thing I can always say about a great film, and the same with a great book, is that I never want it to end. I wanted Captain Phillips to end a half hour earlier than it did.
Rent it. (It has a great first half and the second half goes on for far too long. But it has two colossal performances from Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi)
Next up… a movie that’s a few decades too late.
Dallas Buyers Club (Focus Features)
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner & Jared Leto
Dallas Buyers Club is a decent movie. This is another true story. The uplifting tale of a man given only 30 days to live and how he uses his last days to help other people with AIDS to live longer. It takes place at the height of the plague, right after Rock Hudson dies.
The performances are the stand out thing in this one because of the transformations that both Jared Leto & Matthew McConaughey go through for the movie. They are unbelievable. Neither actor is recognizable in their role. And both kick serious ass. Oscars all around.
Jared Leto is extraordinary from the first moment he walks on-screen. And I was all set to see Matthew McConaughey deteriorate on camera but when you see him for the first time he is already sick and has been for some time without knowing it. He is a shadow of the buff and brawny former McConaughey. “Alright, alright, alright.”
I was already amazed. But then McConaughey just takes that to a whole ‘nother level. He is sensational. This is the best he will ever do. And you know how the academy loves to reward the pretty people who get ugly for the part. So, to not give the Academy Award to Matt would be a crime against nature, for the body transformation alone. But he brings the goods. He is so good in this and then you add the mess he made of that gorgeous body for the role and -Best Actor. Throw your panties on the stage.
Jared Leto’s transformation is of a different sort. He becomes this transgendered drug addict with a heart of gold that rips your heart out of your chest and shows it to you. And while Matt is obviously Matt in a role. Jared Leto disappears completely. Jared Leto wins going away as well. Both Matt and Jared get Oscars. Game Over. Panties.
The movie itself, however, is a statement against the American medical system. The for-profit, treating of symptoms, and pushing of drugs, without caring about the lives of the people. It is a condemnation of our system. A system that has killed thousands upon thousands and still does (by the way, we need to do something about that).
The amount of money the Pharmaceutical companies make off of dying desperate people is obscene. There is a special place in hell for these people. Lower than the circle of traitors. To benefit off the misery of others is the greatest sin. May they burn in hell forever.
Rent it. (The movie is nothing special. It’s just a straightforward biography with crazy good performances, but you get to be creeped-out by how gaunt and emaciated Matthew McConaughey gets. It’s no Best Picture of the year but it’s worth a rental)
So to recap…
There were two movies about awful homeless people who wear-out their welcome: Blue Jasmine and Inside Llewyn Davis with performances by Sally Hawkins and Oscar Isaac snubbed by the Academy.
There were two movies about real life heroes who when their lives are threatened, rise to the occasion: Captain Phillips and Dallas Buyers Club that weren’t quite good enough to be Best Picture nominees but got it anyway.
And one movie about two men who go really fast but never fast enough; Rush that was one of the best films of 2013 and included one of the best performances by Daniel Brühl.
That’s all for my Oscar posts. Didn’t see Philomena or Nebraska. But I felt that their nominations were more about increasing their box office numbers. Every year a couple of spots go to good little movies that didn’t make a bunch of money but never go to good big movies that did. The Academy, it seems, hates box office success. Anyway…
My DVD folder is about to burst so plain old DVD reviews coming next.
See you guys at the movies,