Thursday, February 21, 2013

AMC's Best Picture Showcase Part 1 Roundup

Every year we make the one trip to an AMC theater and sit down for almost a 24 hour period to watch their Best Picture Showcase. This year since Javi has a half marathon to go to the day after the 24 hour marathon, we decided split it up the event over two weekends. We just saw part one which included AMOUR, LES MISERABLES, ARGO, AND DJANGO UNCHAINED. Below are some of our brief thoughts.


Javi: Wow. This movie hit me hard core. You know going in within the first few minutes how the movie will end, but the journey getting there is like a barbed-wire bat to the face. The movie is particularly cold in its depiction of how love (real love) is a quiet endeavor that's filled little gestures and making little unsung sacrifices. Both of the leads are magnificent in their own way. Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges is trying to do his best in an increasingly difficult situation, while Emmanuelle Riva as Anne slowly and heartbreakingly deteriorates in front of our eyes. 

I know that Haneke is known mostly for sadistic and cold movies, and I have to say that in a strange way, his direction is just that. The are nothing but hard cuts and very still shots with the camera rarely moving. And yet,  the warmth is brought out by the leads who made this the most romantic movie I have seen in years.

Jonesy: I really thought I was prepared for this film. I had heard all the talk about how realistic and emotionally taxing this film was, so I mentally prepared myself beforehand. Unfortunately, all that preparation didn't work. I still was left an emotional wreck once the credits rolled. In a world of fast-paced American films, it was a breath of fresh air to watch and enjoy a quiet and emotional piece. Haneke's film is so seamless, I felt like I was peering into this couple's world rather than watching a movie. This are films that just make you go, "Damn. So THAT'S what it means to be a real actor." It's nice to see a quaint yet raw film get some recognition.


Javi: Now that the Oscars have expanded their Best Picture nominations to up to ten movies a year, I always like to look out for the "bullshit" nomination. You know what I'm talking about. It's the movie that most people cannot believe that it was even nominated. Last year, that movie was EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE. And now this year, we have Tom "Oscar Bait" Hooper's latest, LES MIS as the bullshit nomination.

Here's the thing, the story itself is a bit bogus. I think that the characters are poorly written for the most part, and the moral of the story in the end seems to be that you need to be a rich white boy pretending to be a revolutionary and then forsake your "ideals" as long as you get to bang the blond girl at the end. There's never a really good focus as to who's story this is, is it Val Jean? Is it Cosette? I don't know.

This adaptation has the misfortune of being directed by a man that has no idea how to hold a camera except up close to people's faces, nor does he know how to edit an action sequence in a way that would actually give you a sense of place. Ironically enough, the one point that people seem to hate, Russell Crowe's singing wasn't nearly as bad as the direction of this movie. What's worse is that musically, none of the songs sounded nearly as great as I heard them from a Broadway recording. I'm not sure whether it was the cast or the composer making this movie sound so darn weak.

Jonesy: I wanted this film to be better. However, the transition from stage to screen for musicals hasn't been perfected yet. This year LES MISERABLES tried a different approach by having the actors sing live and bringing actors who have real Broadway experience to sing...well, except for Russell Crowe (don't even get me started) (Javi Edit: You should totally get her started! It's funny to see her raging). However, this film did not hold up as well the second time around. The adaptation problems were even more glaring, and the shoddy editing was jarring.

The problem with moving a stage show to the screen is not adapting the magic of the stage to fit film. On stage, when you have a group number where six different people are singing six different parts at different intervals, it's easy to line the singers on stage so they're easily understood. In this film when such a song happens, the film cuts from person to person every few seconds and the effect and power of all the voices are lost.

I'll give in that the experiment of having the actors sing live worked for the solos. I've listened to this music for years, and there were certain songs that I made me look and think about them differently. I'm not sure exactly how to make that jump from stage to screen work, but unfortunately, LES MIS didn't make that full leap.


Javi: Dayum, I was terribly surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie. It's the second movie that's all about Americans going to the Middle East and getting what's theirs (the other is ZERO DARK THIRTY). But it's interesting that ARGO seems to be the less morally ambiguous movie of the two and it seems to be the one that's going to win the Best Picture Oscar. What does that say about the Academy?

To be perfectly fair, it's a damn fine movie. This was one of the few movies where I clapped at the end. Affleck has become quite the director. He knows how to build and sustain tension until it's thick like clam chowder. This movie also gave us the great comedic duo of Alan Arkin and John Goodman. One of the thing I will say is that I don't understand why people keep on talking about ARGO like it's a commentary on Hollywood film making. I mean, it only comments on it as a way to get the plot going, but it's not about that. My one big complaint I do have about this movie is the fact that Ben Affleck's character, Tony Mendez, is most definitely a Latino. Maybe it's my own issues, but it would've been nice to see a Latino in such an amazing movie. This isn't to say that Affleck did a bad job at all, but maybe some diversity would be nice. If we're going to be perfectly honest, I think that this will be the movie to win the Oscar. It has everything that people seem to want. It has a very patriotic feel to it, is very well directed, and it's also pretty funny to boot.

Jonesy: I'm so glad this film held up for a second viewing. To take a story in which the audience knows the ending and still be able to create palpable tension is a testament to how great this film is. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but it's a travesty that Affeck wasn't nominated for this film. From the looks of it, he will win for producing ARGO because it's on the fast track for Best Picture. When we've heard and seen stories about the 444 days the hostages were taken, I loved this "other" story that was happening. As I said in my top ten films of 2012 article, I enjoyed how this captured the international scope of the situation while keeping the story intimate.


Javi: So if you guys read this blog, you know that I was not able to finish DJANGO due to some crazy circumstances. Now seeing it this time through, I have to say that out of the four movies that we saw, this was definitely the best directed one. Tarantino is a director's director, and I love him for it. But I'm not sure what it was this second time seeing it, but the weakness of the movie's plot became really apparent in the strange fourth act.

Jonesy and I had a bit of an argument as to who is a better supporting role, Christoph Waltz or Leonardo DiCaprio, and my money is still with Waltz. I say this not to belittle DiCaprio's Monsieur Candi, but just to highlight how great Waltz is. His comic delivery in this movie is better than the entire cast of SNL.

Jonesy: Tarantino is such a fantastic and smart writer. When he's on with his writing, you can't stop thinking about it. DJANGO has moments that are unforgettable, but overall, the film's weaknesses keep it from being outstanding. It's 3/4's of a great film, but the last 1/4 becomes outlandish and tonally different from first two hours and twenty minutes. The film ended up feeling like a director's cut rather than tighter theatre version.

And I am so right with the above argument about the two supporting actors. DiCaprio completely loses himself in this role, and he's absolutely terrifying and sadistic. You can't take your eyes off him. Both were great, but it's a shame that DiCaprio didn't even get recognized.

We'll be on the next The Break Room podcast talking about all things Oscars and our picks! We'll update with a link when the episode becomes available.

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