Her (2013)

After a long break, I’ve acquired some free time and am happy to be back to writing reviews. Due to the appropriateness of the season, the next reviews will be on the nominees for Best Picture. Starting with Her…

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Her

Written and Directed by: Spike Jonze

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Amy AdamsScarlett Johansson

All the greatest filmmakers are those that craft their films as though the film is their child. Spike Jonze has the potential to go down as one of the top filmmakers of his generation, and Her was a step in that direction. The concept of love is something that is explored far too often in movies and television, which makes the basic concept of Her appear to be a drag on paper. It just took one look at the trailer to make me see the concept in a whole new light. Jonze showed a stunning ability to work with his actors, and got performances that fit the tone of the film. He showed his true leadership by making the decision to cut the original voice of Samantha (recorded by Samantha Morton) and replace it with Scarlett Johanson’s voice. Also, cutting a big name actor like Chirs Cooper shows that he will not allow anyone to get in the way of his vision (IMDb trivia)

MV5BMTYxMTEwODk5OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDkwNjM3MDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Joaquin Phoenix, coming off of his game-changing performance in The Master, proves once again how lucky the film industry was to get him back as an actor. This performance, one of the best of his career, came with an extra level of difficulty due to the fact that half of the films scenes were filmed with him talking to someone that does not actually exist. The film would not have worked without an incredible performance out of Joaquin. The other actors feed off of the tone that Joaquin sets, which leads to stunning performances from everyone involved.

Her is the best love story to hit the screens in a long time. I dare anyone that is put off by the premise to go see the film and tell me that you still don’t understand how a man can fall in love with an operating system.

Best Picture Reviews: 87/100

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Mud (2013)

Mud Banner Poster

Directed and Written By: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon

Well that was a hell of a lot more than just a coming of age story…

Taking place just off the Mississippi river in Arkansas, Mud is a story told through the eyes of two 14-year-old boys (Sheridan and Lofland). One day when they are exploring an island that is conveniently only inhabited by one man that is oddly known by everybody as Mud (McConaughey). Even the man that raised him (Shepard) only knows him as Mud.. strange. Well then again one of the main characters is named Neckbone, so I guess that’s just what they do in Arkansas. Mud is a wanted murderer that is being hunted by both the police and a group of bounty hunters. Mud follows his plans of pursuing his love, Juniper (Witherspoon), and sends the boys to deliver messages for him. I’ll stop myself there to prevent from giving away too much of the film, but Mud is one hell of an Indie.

Coming from the director of Take Shelter, I was anticipating quite a lot out of Mud. The story sounded great, it was accepted into Cannes, and it starred one of todays’ biggest actors: Mud had everything going for it. Jeff Nichols wrote a powerful script. From what I’ve heard, there was hardly any modifications from the rough draft to the script used during filming. This shows a director with a vision, which is something that viewers should always appreciate. A writer/director with his confidence is a beautiful thing. While there are plot holes that can be found inside Mud, the writing is fantastic for it being only his 3rd directoral effort. We saw it with Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild last year, and we are seeing with Jeff Nichols’ Mud this year. Sundance has gotten two of the best young filmmakers the last two years, and if this is things are going then we have a bright future for cinema. Nichols’ writing/directing shows confidence, but whether or not it pays off is a matter of opinion. Personally I loved the way he went with Mud.

The Brains Behind 'Mud' in order from left to right: Jacob Lofland, Jeff Nichols, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey, and Tye Sheridan

The Brains Behind ‘Mud’ in order from left to right: Jacob Lofland, Jeff Nichols, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey, and Tye Sheridan

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have jumped on the McConaughey bandwagon. His acting is great, and I appreciate that he now takes roles that speak to him instead of roles that will make him money. He has identified that his Rom-Com days are over, and he will now do the dramatic acting that he always wanted to do. After all, he’s pretty damn good at it. His performance in Mud makes me appreciate him even more. After seeing the film, I would not want anyone else to play Mud.

Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland are both performances worthy of sharing screen time with McConaughey. Similar to Nichols and Zeilin in directing: Quvenzhane Wallis and these two boys show tremendous potential in front of the camera.

When I got word of Reese Witherspoon’s involvement, I was skeptical to say the least. I don’t like her as a person after reading about her arrest last month, and I think her acting is mediocre at best. She does not have enough screen time to have much effect on the movie, but for her minor role she gives an above average performance. It’s also a flaw in the script that such a major part of the story receives not attention at all. The viewer struggles to care about Juniper, and the girl that is being fought for just comes across as a hot mess.

The writing had a few too many loose ends for my taste, and the ending felt rushed and ultimately underwhelming. I commend Jeff Nichols for his ambition, but his writing could have been a bit better. The script is incredible for almost all of the film, but the ending does get scrappy. The good thing is that the movie fails to give you the Hollywood treatment, and leaves the viewer with a satisfying, but believable conclusion.

Overall, Mud is the best 2013 release so far, and it will not waste viewers time. Mud is a beautifully crafted film, and it is the first movie this year that sparks any Oscar hopes. While an April release is unlikely to receive recognition, I would not be surprised to see something for McConaughey and maybe, just maybe, a Best Picture nod. It’s a long shot, but expect to hear Mud’s name thrown around come January 2014. It’s a coming of age film that goes far beyond what the genre suggests. Mud has something for everyone, and should be seen by everyone.

IMDb: 7.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 98/100 😀

Metactic: 76/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 82/100

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

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Directed By: Derek Cianfrance 

Written By: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ryan Gosling, Emory Cohen, Dane DeHaan, and Ray Liotta

My hopes were very high when I went to see The Place Beyond the Pines. In fact, I was so excited about this film that I went to a matinee showing just hours after returning to Los Angeles from vacation. Let’s just say that I was disappointed…

Do not be fooled by the trailer.. it is very misleading. The film is divided into 3 acts. The trailer gives the viewer the premise for the first act and part of the second act; however, there is no hint of the third act seen in the trailer. There is no problem with a trailer not wanting to give away too much of the plot, but there needs to be some evidence of what you will get when you watch the whole movie (not just the first half). The movies starts out just as the trailer suggests with Luke (Ryan Gosling) as a motorcycle stunt driver that finds out he has a son with a woman that he previously had a fling with (Eva Mendes). In order to provide for his newly discovered son, Luke begins robbing banks, which ultimately leads him to a rookie police officer named Avery (Bradley Cooper). That’s the prologue for the first two acts.  The third and final act takes place fifteen years later. This act is basically about Luke and Avery’s sons when they go to high school, and how their paths intertwine.

The first problem I encountered with The Place Beyond the Pines was the lack of character development. There is no climax in the film because every character is seen in their climax, but characters are not shown at any other time. While this can be entertaining, it also leaves you sitting there watching the action without caring about any of the characters.  This happens with the first character, Luke, and continues as a pattern throughout the whole film.

The key issue that arises is the amount of content.. there is way too much. The story is actually very strong, but with this amount of quality content, filmmakers should not try to cram it into a 2 hour and 30 minute film. It would have been much better suited as a 6-8 episode miniseries. This would have allowed for character development as well as more detail and better dialogue in each scene. Instead the film feels rushed and overly rich with content. The story is so all over the place that by the time you get to the third act, you begin to check your watch to see when the madness will end.

Don’t take the negativity too harshly as ‘Pines’ definitely has its strengths. The performances are strong by everyone with Ryan Gosling being especially strong just as he was in Drive. Ray Liotta is convincingly intimidating in his role as a corrupt high-powered police official. Bradley Cooper is not at his strongest, but still manages to prove that he is a legitimate actor both dramatically and comedically. Eva Mendes is surprisingly convincing in her role, and does a great job as the only leading female. Dane DeHaan is full of talent, and expect to start seeing him more and more.

Overall, the story is highly entertaining and starts out very strong, but ultimately ends up way too off track for its own good. Don’t allow the deceptive trailer to fool you. For those of us that thought we were getting a Best Picture caliber film at the beginning of April were wrong, but if you rent this on a Wednesday night, I’m sure that you won’t be disappointed. It’s not a disaster, but it’s not the masterpiece that it was expected to be.

IMDb: 7.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 75/100

Metacritic: 64/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 75/100 (expectation 90/100)

United 93 (2006)

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Directed and Written by: Paul Greengrass

Starring: Many Various Actors

Nominated for 2 Academy Awards (Direction and Film Editing)

United 93

On September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked. The first two planes hit each of the World Trade Center’s. The next plane hit the Pentagon. United 93 tells the heroic story of the fourth plane, which crashed in a field 170 miles away from Washington DC. Passengers on this flight discovered their fate through phone calls to their families that told them details about the fate of the other 3 planes. United 93 does more than just tell the story of the fourth plane, but also takes you inside the control center’s and shows you how chaotic this day really was for everyone involved.

Of course with any film like this, there is a lot of hate surrounding the story. I took the time to find some negative reviews, and the points that these reviewers make are extremely insensible and moronic. The details that they point out are minor and do not present any evidence to disprove what the film discusses. 9/11 is a very difficult topic because no one really knows what happend inside the planes; therefore, forcing film makers to improvise on the events that occurred. United 93 does a great job of keeping the story understated and believable. The main negative comments that I see are, “too soon” and, “no one wants to watch heros die right after performing a life saving act”. Have we as humans become too caught up in the fiction that runs our world? Can we not face the bitter reality of the world that we live in?

Best Director nominee Paul Greengrass

Best Director nominee Paul Greengrass

Congratulations to Paul Greengrass for taking a VERY sensitive topic, and doing it in a way that was muted and, in a sense, relatable. The viewer finds it easy to put himself in the shoes of the passengers, which is very difficult seeming most of us have never been on a hijacked plane before. The academy did a great job of giving Greengrass his nomination, but not nominating the film itself (wasn’t deserving that year).

Greengrass’ use of unknown actors is done so that the film is not full of all the Hollywood crap that we see far too frequently. Just imagine if we had Brad Pitt rebelling against terrorists on United Airlines Flight 93, it simply would not seem right. The performances given by generally unknown actors are a highlight of the film. Every actor has a limited amount of screen time and the characters do a great job of making all 111 minutes count.

While the understatement of the film was necessary due to the time that this film was made (less than 5 years after 9/11), it is the flaw of the movie. You miss out on seeing the true tragedy of 9/11. 9/11 is simply too alive in peoples’ minds for a real film to be made about the subject.

Overall, United 93 was a very difficult film to make, and Paul Greengrass does a very good job of doing so.

IMDb: 7.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 91/100

Metacritic: 90/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 77/100

Good Will Hunting (1997)

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Directed By: Gus Van Sant

Written By: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon

Starring: Matt Damon (lead), Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgard, Ben Affleck, and Minnie Driver

Winner of 2 Academy Awards (Original Screenplay and Supporting Actor)

Nominated for 9 Academy Awards (Picture, Original Song, Original Dramatic Score, Editing, Director, Supporting Actress, Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, and Original Screenplay)

Good Will Hunting

After Ben Affleck won at the this years Oscars for Argo, I figured I would go back 16 years and watch the film that he won his first Oscar for…

Good Will Hunting tells the story of a man who was orphaned at a young age, named Will Hunting (Matt Damon). He is intellectually gifted in the sense that he remembers just about everything that he reads. He lives his life in secret, and hangs out in southern Boston with his friends. The story begins when Will Hunting is sought out by a professor (Skarsgard) for his mathematical abilities. The professor forces him to see a therapist (Williams), and in return Will does not have to go to prison for a crime that he committed earlier.

Robin Williams after winning Best Supporting Actor at the 70th Academy Awards.

Robin Williams after winning Best Supporting Actor at the 70th Academy Awards.

A lot of the true beauty in Good Will Hunting is the performances. Matt Damon, in his breakout role, delivers a stunning performance as the title character. Not enough can be said about the fantastic supporting performances given by each individual actor; however, one man deserves to be singled out, Robin Williams. The vote for Williams must have been unanimous at the oscars because his performance could not have been matched. He delivers one of the best supporting performances that I have ever seen! The scene where his character and Will are sitting in the park was one of the moments where I completely lost myself in the film itself, and for those five minutes, I had forgotten that I was even watching a movie. I was now apart of that scene, and that is something that is rarely accomplished in cinema, but when it happens, it is really something special. Watch that scene here.

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Matt Damon and Ben Affleck after winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay at the 70th Academy Awards.

Gus Van Sant does a fair job of directing, but nothing about this film screams best director. Do not get the idea that I am taking credit away from Gus Van Sant, but there is no one who could have messed this script up. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote one of the best scripts in modern cinematic history. They filled every line of dialogue with meaning, and there is not one scene in ‘Good Will Hunting’ that would have been worth cutting. This is a script that every screenwriter should definitely look up to. In fact, after watching the film, the first question that came in my head was, “Why did Matt Damon stop writing?” Ben Affleck wrote the screenplay for the first two films he directed ‘Gone Baby Gone’ and ‘The Town’; however Matt has not written anything major (yes I know he wrote Promised Land) since the release of ‘Good Will Hunting’. He has been a major actor ever since the release of this film, so it is possible that he has simply been too busy to sit behind a computer screen and write quality material.

Being a high school student, I think that Will Hunting is a very relatable character. At my age, I often like to think that I am an expert on every topic of conversation whether it be girls, movies, tv, math, history.. or whatever else. ‘Good Will Hunting is a reminder that although you may think you have the answer to everything, everybody has their flaws even if they are hidden deep inside. It is nice to see this very common life lesson turned into a work of art that can be related to by just about all viewers. This is one reason that this screenplay only could have been written by men in their youth (Damon and Affleck were 26 and 24 at the time of release).

Overall, ‘Good Will Hunting’ is one of the best written and acted films that I have ever seen. It is one of the best “life” movies out there, and it is a movie that will stick with you for months after watching it. I have watched ‘Good Will Hunting’ a few times, and I’m sure that I’ll watch it many more times because it is simply that brilliant. 16 years may seem like a long time ago, but this film is one of the few that you can really call timeless. Basically, if you have not seen this film, what have you been doing for the last 16 years?

IMDb: 8.2/10 (#153 on the top 250)

Metacritic: 70/100

Rotten Tomatoes: 97/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 91/100

Into the Wild (2007)

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Starring: Emile Hirsch (Lead), Brian Dierker, Hal Holbrook, Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart, Vince Vaughn, William Hurt, and Marcia Gay Harden

Direction and Screenplay by: Sean Penn

Nominated for two Academy Awards in its year (Film Editing and Supporting Actor)

Based on the novel ‘Into the Wild’ by John Krakauer

Into the Wild

‘Into the Wild’ tells the true story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who feels that he has been neglected by his parents. He decides that instead of going on to continue his education, he will donate his $25,000 college fund to charity, and eventually ditch his car, in order to explore the wild. The film takes you through the adventure of the people that Chris meets and the things that he learns.

I have not read the book; therefore, giving me no prior knowledge about the story of Christopher McCandless. I will check out the book sometime, and when I do, I’ll be sure to write a follow-up. With that being said, I have heard that this film is one of the cases where the film does the book the justice that it deserves.

Hal Holbrook

Hal Holbrook at the 80th Academy Awards, where he was nominated for his performance in ‘Into the Wild’.

I have been a fan of Emile Hirsch’s work ever since seeing him in The Emperor’s Club (2002). He makes Christopher McCandless his own, and really wins you over with his character. On another acting note, why would they cast Kristen Stewart? In my opinion, she is one of the worst actors in the buisnes, and I can not understand the reasoning behind the decision to cast her. The rest of the extensive supporting cast are all very strong in their roles; however, the stand out performance was given by 82 year-old Hal Holbrook. Even at his advanced age, Holbrook manages to give arguably the best performance of his career. His character’s wisdom is visible through his amazing performance. I very rarely come to tears when watching movies, but Holbrook’s performance did make me shed a tear.

Director and Writer Sean Penn

Director and Writer Sean Penn

While I am not a fan of Sean Penn as a person, there is no denying his genius both infront and behind the camera. ‘Into the WIld’ is no exception. ‘Into the Wild’ would have been a very difficult movie to direct, and Penn does an amazing job at doing so. My one complaint with Penn’s writing was the order that the story was told. Instead of it being told chronologically, you keep getting taken back from the beginning to the end. It was unnecessary to the story, and there was no benefit for the film to be told in this order.

The greatest accomplishment of ‘Into the WIld’ is that it seems real. This is something that can only be accomplished in cinema when everyone involved is passionate about the work that they are doing. Every part of the movie from the relationships to the props seemed relatable and human. This is something that many movies struggle to accomplish, but ‘Into the Wild’ manages to do it perfectly.

Overall, ‘Into the Wild’ is one of the “must sees” in 2013, and it’s a picture that I would recommend to just about everyone.

IMDb: 8.2/10 (#160 on the top 250)

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%

Metacritic: 73/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 84

Crash (2005)

Crash poster courtesy of signis.net

Crash poster courtesy of signis.net

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Ludacris, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Terrence Howard, Michael Pena, Larenz Tate, Shaun Toub

Directed By: Paul Haggis

Written By: Robert (Bobby) Moresco and Paul Haggis

Winner of 3 Academy Awards (Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Editing)

I decided that seeming I have predicted an upset at this years Oscars (yes, Lincoln would be an upset over Argo), I should go back and review one movie that was the cause of a huge upset. When Crash beat Brokeback Mountain at the 78th Academy Awards it sparked huge controversy. People said that the only reason it won was because the academy is anti-gay (Brokeback Mountain is the story of homosexual cowboys), and that Crash was in no way deserving of winning Best Picture. This is a different argument for a different time, but I figured that readers should at least know my reasoning behind reviewing the Best Picture winner from 2006.

Crash

Well my first review, and I get the idea that I might be pissing a few people off right from the start, but I guess I’d be doing that whether I liked or disliked Crash. I loved Crash, and do not think that it is, “overrated” or, “messy” or any of the other negative adjectives that I have seen people use to describe it. Being a Los Angeles local it was beautiful to see a movie that is about all of the social classes and races that this diverse city contains. Crash was fantastically written, and was very deserving of its Best Screenplay award.

The acting in Crash is what drives the film, and ultimately is what I believe made it win its’ Best Picture (after all actors are the academy’s largest branch). Seeming there is no “lead” actor in Crash, and everyone receives roughly the same amount of screen time, it was required that every actor puts forth a strong performance. If every actor was not at the top of their game, viewers would have not felt the same level of depth that you do when watching Crash.

The direction was not done in a typical style. It has a very shaky camera at times, and you got a much more artsy feel with this movie compared to most of the nominated movies from that year. Some scenes where done with pure beauty (Westwood robbery scene) and others were brutally real (car crash scene), this created a mixture that displayed the beauty of Paul Haggis’ directing. Also, the character development in Crash was very well done. If the development was not done properly, the viewer could have been very confused by the overwhelming amount of characters in the film; however, the director gave each character a very distinct personality and it made each character memorable.

Overall, Crash is a film that will make you put yourself in the shoes of other people, and teach you the importance of appreciating the situation that you are in. It taught me that no one is immune to tragedy.

  • IMDb: 7.9/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
  • Metacritic: 69
  • Best Picture Movie Reviews: 87