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Post-Oscar Thoughts

Written by: Daniel Fox - Vidette reporter, blogger, & ISU student

All in all, the 85th annual Academy Awards was a success. Well – as far as awards handed out. The actual show hosted by Seth MacFarlane was rather dull. MacFarlane’s tame jokes and so-so song and dance numbers were a step up from the James Franco/Anne Hathaway disaster a couple of years ago, but a far cry away from classic hosts like Billy Crystal. The lackluster awards shows of late don’t bother me, because the actual awards are what matters most.

There weren’t any big surprises. I think for the most part the winners were right on. The award for Lead Actor went to Daniel Day Lewis for his role as Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln. If ever there was a shoe-in it was this. In my honest opinion, Lewis is the gold standard for other actors to follow. When he takes on a roll he is possessed by it. When I am watching him act I forget who the actor is and I am completely entranced by the performance itself. If anything, he makes me realize how hard it is to be a great actor. Most of the most iconic actors of our age are simply typecast. It’s like with most actors, especially some of the biggest names, the studios don’t want its multi-million/billion stars to be unrecognizable. If the audience forgets who the actor is, the movie won’t make as much – so they make sure to keep the stars likeness and mannerisms intact. Which is why I was pleased that crowd favorite Robert DeNiro didn’t get his first Oscar in over 20 years for Supporting Actor.

It’s not that I don’t like Bobby D, I like his actor persona and usually like the movies he is in. Especially his earlier roles like in “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver”… But, that doesn’t mean that he is a great actor. It means that he has mastered the role of DeNiro, and knows how to make different versions of DeNiro pop on screen. His role in Silver Linings Playbook, was good but all I could see was DeNiro playing a superstitious, overly obsessed Philadelphia Eagles fan, not a real one. I haven’t seen enough of Christopher Waltz, Best Supporting Actor winner for Django Unchained, to know if he has typecast himself yet, but maybe that is a good thing, because he isn’t overly recognizable to me. In other words, his acting is priority over his actor persona. DeNiro’s co-star Jennifer Lawrence made me forget she was Katniss from the Hunger Games, and made me believe her as a mentally unstable match with Bradley Cooper’s equally unstable character. She didn’t remind me of her earlier roles, but she did remind me of one of her co-stars, Jennifer Stiles. It wasn’t the best performance I’ve ever seen, but comparatively speaking, she deserved her first Lead Actress Oscar.

Argo won Best Picture, and I am not entirely disappointed. Though, I would rather have seen Life of Pi win, it is hard to argue that right now Argo was the best choice. Ben Affleck is shedding the thought that he is the inferior to buddy Matt Damon. With his direction of The Town and now Argo (he was snubbed for a Best Director nod), he has cemented his reputation as one of the big players in Hollywood. The only question I have is, how the film will be viewed ten years from now? I think it will be a kind-of afterthought, while Pi will still be in the discussions. But, we don’t have a time machine so kudos, for now, to Affleck and Argo.

Pi might not have taken home the top-prize, but director Ang Lee did take home his second award for Best Director. Some said that the movie looked too fake, but I beg to differ. I knew that the tiger and much (most) of the movie was done digitally, but the CGI wasn’t a distraction – it melded the piece together nicely. Just look at some of the atrocities of cinema that have occurred over the last 15-plus-years of digital filmmaking. Remember Attack of the Clones, Van Helsing, The Brothers Grimm and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? I try to forget. Compared to those disasters and too many others to mention here, Pi is an elegant work of art.  

Rounding out the top awards is Anne Hathaway for Best Actress. I tried to watch all of the movies this year, but never got to Les Miserables or Amour. From the clips I did see of the movie, it seems Hathaway deserved the award.

No big surprises or disappointments this year. I would have liked to see Beasts of the Southern Wild win something, but the young star and director have their whole careers ahead of them, and just to be nominated was probably a victory in itself. The actors of The Master, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams were all great but drew goose-eggs. Finally, I was pleased to see propaganda film Zero Dark Thirty go home relatively empty handed Other than those examples, all of the biggest movies got a piece of the pie. Unlike many years when one film takes away most of the awards, this year was pretty even.


Oscar Preview pt. 5 Argo & Beasts of the Southern Wild

Written by: Daniel Fox - Vidette reporter, blogger, & ISU student

This year many thought Ben Affleck would get a long-awaited nomination for an Oscar for Best Director. He will have to wait – he was snubbed again.  But the movie he directed and co-produced, “Argo” is a top candidate to take home Best Picture.

The real-life dramatization of events that took place during the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, focuses on six American diplomats who were in-hiding from Iranian militants, in the home of the Canadian Ambassador. The militants are on the heels of the diplomats and it is only a matter of time before they catch them. Having considered all possible solutions, the CIA along with the Canadian and U.S. governments decide on what Ben Affleck’s character CIA agent Tony Mendez says “is the best bad plan we have, sir.” They decide to stage a fake movie production, and sneak the diplomats out of the country under the guise of a production team scouting locations for their “fake” movie.

Some of the best scenes of the movie are the cuts from the Iranian Revolution to the extravagant goings-on of 1970’s Hollywood, and back again. It really puts the seriousness of the situation into perspective. It makes you think about how different the two worlds really are, and the ludicrousness of the proposed plan. How can a fake-movie-production-plot to enter a hostile area and extract the most wanted people in the country be overlooked by the entire Iranian military?

Well, the answer to that is what makes “Argo” such a good movie. Real-life is often stranger than fiction, and the fictitious accounts of real events are even better. While anything that is reported to have happened by the CIA must be taken with a grain of salt, just to say the event is based on real events adds a certain amount of wonder and intrigue to the story.

The film is nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actor, Alan Arkin. He relieves some of the tension of the film with his gritty-horse-voiced quips. “If I’m going to make a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit,” he says to Affleck’s Tony. “Argo fuck yourself,” Arkin repeats whenever asked about the movie. He really adds a dimension to an already multi-faceted story.

I think “Argo” has a good chance of taking home the top prize this year. I give it a 3 to 1 chance.

 

Usually independently produced films that are primarily character driven, are stuck in the doldrums of the under-advertised and under-seen world of limited theatrical and straight-to-DVD releases.

People who are really into film might see it eventually – it might gain critical praise and receive an award at the Cannes, Toronto, Sundance or other film festival – but they are generally ignored by a wide-audience. The thrust of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” nomination for Best Picture, at this year’s Oscars, will force the public to pay it its due respect, for the marvelously raw work of art it is.

The lead is played by the youngest ever Oscar nominee for Lead in a Female Role, nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis. Her depiction of Hushpuppy, a tough nine-year-old girl who holds it together in the face of adversity better than most adults, is as poignant as it is unsettling. Her poverty stricken Delta life is unraveling too fast for her young mind can handle. While Hushpuppy’s demeanor is always strong, her mind (in my opinion) compensates for the trauma by imagining pre-historic aurochs are being unleashed due to the melting icecaps. She is trying to imagine her reunification with her mother while dealing with her abusive, alcoholic father Wink (Dwight Henry), who is quickly dying of a mysterious disease. As Hushpuppies home and what’s left of her family unravels, she remains composed as she searches for her lost mother.

While Wallis’s Hushpuppy is getting a lot of the attention for her role, she isn’t the only one who deserves it. Henry’s Wink is disturbing and tragically sympathetic. And, Benh Zeitlin gained a nomination for Best Director in his first full-length motion picture. Zeitland began making movies at a young age and prior to “Beasts” he worked as a teacher. His nomination is sure to draw attention for the young director.

Overall, the metaphors melded into fantasy, and the end-result is a highly emotional, entertaining and beautiful take on poverty, family and the deterioration of our world’s both physical and emotional landscape.

Beasts probably won’t beat studio giants like Lincoln and Argo, but I still give it a reasonable chance at 6 to 1.


2013 Oscar’s Pt. 3 – Silver Lining’s Playbook

Written by: Daniel Fox - Vidette blogger & ISU student

 

 

The first thing I thought when I sat down to watch “Silver Lining’s Playbook” was — I hope I can stay awake for another stereotypical rom-com about quirky model-like characters, as they despite their  inadequacies, conquer their imperfections – yawn – and fall in love and live  happily ever after. Well that’s Hollywood; take a formula that works and beat it to death.

Although most of what I said in the first paragraph is true – quirkiness check, model-like characters check, inadequacies and imperfections check, happily ever after check – “Playbook” somehow manages to rise above the obvious stereotypes and become an authentic original.

The story follows Pat Solitano (Bradely Cooper), a recently released mental patient, who is trying to deal with his break-up of his ex-wife. He is released into the custody of his overly obsessed Philadelphia Eagles fan father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), who lets superstitions about football direct his life, and his aloof mother, who enables Pat Sr.’s ridiculousness. While hesitantly adjusting to his new life as a single man, he meets a girl with rather unique mental problems of her own, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). The rest of the story is somewhat obvious, but it is put together in a way that accomplishes enough spontaneity and creativity to do what few rom-coms do — it stays with you for a while after you leave the theater.

“Playbook” has received numerous Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Actor (Cooper), Actress (Jennifer Lawrence) and Supporting Actor (De Niro). With nine Best Picture nominees this year, I think it deserves a nomination. It might be one of the top nine or ten movies of the year, but I give it virtually zero chance of winning.

As for the acting awards, Lawrence is the only one who deserves the nomination. She steals the screen with her bi-polar-mood-swing un-predictableness.  Cooper was good, but not transcendent in any way, shape or form. De Niro, in his obsessed football fan version of himself, was OK, but I do get annoyed by his lack of versatility. To me, all of his characters are too alike — he has turned into a caricature of himself.

I give “Playbook” a 1 in 25 chance of taking home Best Picture.


Oscar Preview Pt. 2 - Django Unchained & Life of Pi

Written by: Daniel Fox - Vidette blogger & ISU student

“Django: The D is silent,” is what the title character (Jamie Foxx) said when asked what his name was in Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar nominated film “Django Unchained.”

The story follows Django, a recently freed slave, as he seeks to find and rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from a sinister plantation owner (Leonardo Dicaprio). Django is freed and assisted by German bounty hunter Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz).

Shultz (who is the only non-repulsive white person in the entire movie) is a wide-grinnin, quik-witted German with a strong disregard for slavery, and a high regard for bagging bounties. He takes Django on as a partner and after a successful year bagging WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE criminals, he agrees to assist Django in finding his love.

The movie is a strange mix of old-western, comedy, exploitation-film, action, romance and drama. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise. All Tarantino films are unique to say the least. While I’m not always his biggest fan, his way of mashing genres and styles is original, even if his core ideas usually aren’t. Even this film’s name is taken from an old western and the ultraviolent-revenge-porn idea is stolen from his 2009 film “Inglorious Bastards.” Insert group of people from history that people want to see shattered here – execute — repeat.

It was still a very stylish and entertaining movie, highlighted by strong performances by Foxx, Dicaprio and Waltz who is nominated for supporting actor. Waltz was good, but he isn’t the one who deserved the nomination. It was Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of conniving house slave Stephen who really stole the screen. I think the controversial and rather taboo nature of the role ultimately led to the snub. In my opinion, this will go down as one of, if not THE defining role of Jackson’s career. I mean for a while I was thinking – who is that – that is a completely possessed performance.

“Django” is a good movie, but I feel it was helped by the widening of the Best Picture category to include up-to 10 films. Its box-office success and popularity might give it a small chance, but ultimately I don’t believe this is the year for a Tarantino film to take home the grand prize. I give it a one-in-eight chance of pulling an upset.

 

 

When I went into the theater to see “Life of Pi” I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. All I knew is it was a story about a boy on a boat with a tiger. Sure enough – it was a story about a boy on a boat with a tiger.  Not much more to it than that, but it was delivered with such vibrant imagery, near-flawless direction and engaging narrative it is one of the most visually pleasing movies of 2012.
            

The story, as told by a grown up Pi (Suraj Sharma) to writer (Rafe Spall), focuses on Pi and his epic Cast-Away-esque voyage across the ocean on a lifeboat accompanied only by an ape, hyena, zebra and  tiger.
            

Pi’s family decides to move from India to Canada in search of prosperity, and bring their animals from the family owned zoo with them to sell in North America. The sea voyage is cut short by a storm that sinks the boat mid-journey. None of the passengers survive except for Pi and the aforementioned animals. The rest of the movie is one without many words. Only the thoughts of Pi are ever heard, but the lack of dialogue is welcome.The striking cinematographic storytelling does more than fill the senses with all of the emotion and stimuli needed for a rewarding trip to the movies.

Director Ang Lee delves into the fantasy with so much gusto you forget you are in the theater, and for a few moments feel the struggle of Pi, as well as the connection between him and his carnivorous friend. Just when you think you know how the story will end, a wrench-of-sentiment is thrown into mix. And the movie ends with a twist that will make the most alpha-male fight back and compose themselves.

“Life of Pi” has received nine nominations including Best Picture and Best Director.  While I loved the movie, I do not like the chances of “Pi” winning the Best Picture Academy Award at this year’s Oscars. Going against the likes of favorite “Lincoln”, “Argo” that has been receiving Oscar-talk for months now and the controversial “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Pi” probably will not beat out this year’s top-dogs and take home the top prize.  I give it a punchers chance of 12-1 at taking home Best Picture.

Director Ang Lee is looking to win his second Academy Award for best director following his win for “Brokeback Mountain” in 2006. Lee was also nominated in for “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” in 2001.

 


2013 Oscar Preview Pt. 1

Written by: Daniel Fox - Vidette blogger & ISU student

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When I first started really paying attention to movies, I thought of the Academy Awards as way for the pretentious types to display their elitist disparagement for popular culture, and flood our minds with their ideas about what good movies are and should be.  If a movie looks pretty but puts you to sleep, there is a good chance that movie will get serious consideration for an Oscar. In retrospect, I realize I might have been a little harsh.

Over the years, I have come to realize the Academy usually isn’t too far off when deciding what the best movies and performances are.  Even though there are arguably too many movies nominated in the Best Picture category, when it comes down to picking a winner it usually does a pretty good job of selecting a film that entertains, is easy on the eyes, has good cinematography and direction, has fresh writing and sharp dialog and — what I feel separates a good movie from a classic work of art — it stands the test of time.

Of course, there are those movies that are great at the time, but after a few years they lose its zeal. They just become dated (“Gladiator” seems pretty hokey now). Or they simply turn out to be not that good (do I even need to mention “Crash”). Other times, a movie stands the test of time, is beautiful and brilliant, but it just doesn’t appeal to a mass audience, which is usually be the case.

Since the Academy expanded the Best Picture category to include up to 10 nominees, the last three winners “The Artist,” “The King’s Speech” and “The Hurt Locker,” all, were well put together movies, but failed to garner much box-office success. The expansion of the category has let in many blockbuster nominees (most don’t belong) to no success thus far. That might change at this year’s ceremony. This year’s favorite is “Lincoln,” which has demanded much critical praise, and has also been very successful at the box-office.

Challenging front-runner “Lincoln” is the CIA thriller “Argo,” voyage adventure “Life of Pi,” revenge flic “Django Unchained,” classic musical “Les Miserables,” Bin Laden quasi-biopic “Zero Dark Thirty,” rom-com-dram “Silver Linings Playbook,” fantasy “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and French drama “Amour.” This year’s list of nominees is a good mix of different genres. It mixes popular films with relative unknowns, foreign-language films with English language films, action films with romance film and so on…

Over the next few weeks, I will give my critiques, praises and opinions about this year’s Best Picture nominees.

To be continued…


 Woody Allen has got to be one of my favorite filmmakers ever. I just love the guy, but that doesn’t mean I love everything he’s done (I’m looking at you Hollywood Ending). In the last few years he’s been awfully hit and miss, so I go to his movies a bit wary. But Midnight In Paris delivered the goods, it really did.
 The first thing Allen did right with this one was not feature himself in it. I love the guy, but he’s just too old now, he can’t deliver the same caliber of performance he needs to for his movies. In his stead we get Owen Wilson, who I’m usually on the fence about, but this was a perfect a choice. I couldn’t believe it took us all this long to realize that Owen Wilson is a perfect fit for any Woody Allen movie. He’s funny in an understated way, he gets the humor fantastically. Not to mention that Wilson has a rather unique style of speech, just like Allen, and they blend in the dialogue Woody Allen’s written excellently.
 Midnight In Paris is about a successful screenwriter—Gil, played by Owen Wilson—wanting to try his hand at writing a novel. He’s on a trip to Paris with his fiancé (Rachel McAdams, killing it once again) and her family, and while there a strange thing happens. While out on a stroll one night Gil is invited into a new looking car from the 20’s. He gets whisked away to a rollicking party, from the 20’s, where he meets F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Cole Port. He finally gets the chance to explore the era he’s romanticized in his mind so much.
 It’s very clever, especially if you also love that particular time period (big Hemingway and Cole Porter fan myself). And all the performances are great, there are some really great moments—especially between Gil and Hemingway, and one scene where Adrian Brody plays Salvador Dali, very funny.
 But it isn’t just the performances, the movie looks incredible. Woody Allen has some mystical technique for filming a city that just makes you want to be there, no matter where it is. [Modern] Paris has never been as appealing to me as it was in this movie. It has the look and style of one of the great old Allen movies, but the lightness and humor of his earlier flicks, and the combination is just great.
 Anyway, if you like Woody Allen, you’ll like this a lot. And if Woody Allen isn’t your thing I still think you’ll be able to get into this one, it’s certainly not as idiosynchratic as something like Annie Hall. Midnight in Paris is a very good (very accessible) Woody Allen movie that will give you the warm fuzzies all over. Inside too. I’m getting fuzzy just thinking about it.
Written by Fil VesterDaily Vidette Blogger midnight in paris oscars owen wilson movies

Woody Allen has got to be one of my favorite filmmakers ever. I just love the guy, but that doesn’t mean I love everything he’s done (I’m looking at you Hollywood Ending). In the last few years he’s been awfully hit and miss, so I go to his movies a bit wary. But Midnight In Paris delivered the goods, it really did.

The first thing Allen did right with this one was not feature himself in it. I love the guy, but he’s just too old now, he can’t deliver the same caliber of performance he needs to for his movies. In his stead we get Owen Wilson, who I’m usually on the fence about, but this was a perfect a choice. I couldn’t believe it took us all this long to realize that Owen Wilson is a perfect fit for any Woody Allen movie. He’s funny in an understated way, he gets the humor fantastically. Not to mention that Wilson has a rather unique style of speech, just like Allen, and they blend in the dialogue Woody Allen’s written excellently.

Midnight In Paris is about a successful screenwriter—Gil, played by Owen Wilson—wanting to try his hand at writing a novel. He’s on a trip to Paris with his fiancé (Rachel McAdams, killing it once again) and her family, and while there a strange thing happens. While out on a stroll one night Gil is invited into a new looking car from the 20’s. He gets whisked away to a rollicking party, from the 20’s, where he meets F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Cole Port. He finally gets the chance to explore the era he’s romanticized in his mind so much.

It’s very clever, especially if you also love that particular time period (big Hemingway and Cole Porter fan myself). And all the performances are great, there are some really great moments—especially between Gil and Hemingway, and one scene where Adrian Brody plays Salvador Dali, very funny.

But it isn’t just the performances, the movie looks incredible. Woody Allen has some mystical technique for filming a city that just makes you want to be there, no matter where it is. [Modern] Paris has never been as appealing to me as it was in this movie. It has the look and style of one of the great old Allen movies, but the lightness and humor of his earlier flicks, and the combination is just great.

Anyway, if you like Woody Allen, you’ll like this a lot. And if Woody Allen isn’t your thing I still think you’ll be able to get into this one, it’s certainly not as idiosynchratic as something like Annie Hall. Midnight in Paris is a very good (very accessible) Woody Allen movie that will give you the warm fuzzies all over. Inside too. I’m getting fuzzy just thinking about it.

Written by Fil Vester
Daily Vidette Blogger


The Artist has been nominated for a whopping ten Academy Awards. If it doesn’t win them all there is something deeply wrong with the world. (To be fair, it would be acceptable if it lost Best Original Screenplay to Midnight in Paris).
The Artist is the kind of movie that reminds people of why they love the movies so much. It fully encompasses the majesty, the magic, all of the excitement and all of the emotion. Everything movies can do, The Artist does impeccably. 
It’s a silent movie about the movies. We follow George Valentine, a superstar in the world of silent film, as he is faced with the advent of talkies. Valentine, played by Jean Dujardin, has all the charm of a Clark Gable or Dick Van Dyke. Right from the get-go you love the man, you are in his corner and have no plans of going anywhere. Dujardin is flawless, his face is so expressive, his movements perfectly emulating the style of those classics from the black and white days of cinema. 
Berenice Bejo plays opposite Dujardin as Peppy Miller, an aspiring actress who, with the help of Valentine, gets into showbiz. Her meteoric rise with the talkies is contrasted by Valentine’s fall, and is heartbreakingly tragic at times. She’s just as charming, just as loveable a character as Valentine. It’s just difficult to reconcile the two given their world. And that’s what the movie really gets into.
It gets melodramatic in that classic Hollywood way, there’s laughter, tears, and a dog that does tricks. What’s not to love? I know this is a short review, it isn’t because I don’t have anything else to say, it’s just that I’m finding it difficult to put my love for this movie into words. I’ll just have to resort to striking orchestral music and title cards in future, it somehow seems more appropriate.
Just go see The Artist. The Artist Movies Oscars Academy Awards

The Artist has been nominated for a whopping ten Academy Awards. If it doesn’t win them all there is something deeply wrong with the world. (To be fair, it would be acceptable if it lost Best Original Screenplay to Midnight in Paris).

The Artist is the kind of movie that reminds people of why they love the movies so much. It fully encompasses the majesty, the magic, all of the excitement and all of the emotion. Everything movies can do, The Artist does impeccably. 

It’s a silent movie about the movies. We follow George Valentine, a superstar in the world of silent film, as he is faced with the advent of talkies. Valentine, played by Jean Dujardin, has all the charm of a Clark Gable or Dick Van Dyke. Right from the get-go you love the man, you are in his corner and have no plans of going anywhere. Dujardin is flawless, his face is so expressive, his movements perfectly emulating the style of those classics from the black and white days of cinema. 

Berenice Bejo plays opposite Dujardin as Peppy Miller, an aspiring actress who, with the help of Valentine, gets into showbiz. Her meteoric rise with the talkies is contrasted by Valentine’s fall, and is heartbreakingly tragic at times. She’s just as charming, just as loveable a character as Valentine. It’s just difficult to reconcile the two given their world. And that’s what the movie really gets into.

It gets melodramatic in that classic Hollywood way, there’s laughter, tears, and a dog that does tricks. What’s not to love? I know this is a short review, it isn’t because I don’t have anything else to say, it’s just that I’m finding it difficult to put my love for this movie into words. I’ll just have to resort to striking orchestral music and title cards in future, it somehow seems more appropriate.

Just go see The Artist.