Monday, December 31, 2012

Most Memorable Movie Scenes of 2012

What makes a movie scene memorable? A recognized reflection; an image that moves you; a witty and smart line of dialogue. Sometimes you get all in one scene. Sometimes a scene encapsulates the movie or it can stand out separately and still be memorable.Sometimes it can be a performance or a piece of music that sticks in the mind. Here are few of my most memorable scenes from 2012 movies in no particular order.


Setup: A mother, two daughters and a grandson sit down to have dinner. The mother tries to start a conversation. The daughters would rather not reveal anything honest. Years of resentment, avoidance, unhappiness, disappointment come crashing down.

Why: In one very economic scene the dynamics and history of this family are revealed. You understand tons about these characters. The scene reflects eloquently any family that sometimes is unable to connect.


Setup : It doesn't matter. There's a man, there's an accordion. Several other men with accordions appear. It becomes a parade.

Why : It's a jolting haunting beautiful scene in a movie full of very eccentric scenes. Even if you don't care much for the movie, this one sticks with you. Fanfuckingtastic!


Setup : A woman recovering from losing her legs in a horrific accident tries to remember and heal. Katy Perry starts blaring.

Why : Because of the emotional punch Marion Cotillard throws at you. You feel it in your gut.


Setup : A few male strippers gather in a gym to workout. A seasoned stripper teaches the new kid a few moves.

Why : Because Matthew McConaughey looks fantastic and acts the hell out of the scene. Years of his sometimes charming, sometimes puzzling public persona has lead to this moment. He emerges a great character actor and a star for the ages.


Setup : A few members of the Russian aristocracy gather at the races. A horse falls down. A woman screams with concern for her lover. Her husband watches.

Why : It is unlike anything else we've seen at the movies this year. Joe Wright's choice to film the whole movie inside a theater comes to bright vivid life in this scene. He builds the tension; is Vronsky OK? What will Anna do? How will Karenin react? The visuals are sumptuous and the emotions heightened.


Setup: Mission accomplished, time to leave the mission site. A lonely hunter boards a plane. Tears stream down her face.

Why : We don't know why Maya is crying. Is it relief? Is it sadness? Does she feel lost? Not knowing what to do next with her life? We don't know and the questions are what makes the scene moving and memorable.


Setup : The sex therapist and her patient finish a session. As they are saying goodbye they both discover the emotional bond that grew between them. They decide to end the sessions. The therapist has a breakdown in her car.

Why : The emotional honesty of the scene. The way Helen Hunt plays it is moving and cathartic. You see all these feelings on her face as she starts crying alone in her car. She is at once happy, sad and grateful. Happy for her patient's breakthrough, sad because she will miss him in her life, grateful to have had the experience.

What were some of your most memorable scenes? Do you agree with these choices? I would love to hear from you.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Review - Les Miserables

Let's just get it out of the way, Anne Hathaway is the main reason to see Les Miserables. More importantly she is the only reason to love the movie. Her performance is emotional, pierces your heart deeply and might well up the tears. She doesn't shy away from going big with the emotion ; it is a musical after all. It's exactly the kind of performance people who love musicals are looking for. She delivers.

Now I wish the rest the movie delivered as well as Hathaway did. It had all the elements : the beloved musical full of big numbers known the world over, an acclaimed director (Tom Hooper) coming off a big Oscar win; fantastic cast led by musical theater vet Hugh Jackman. The movie has a lot of virtues but it is not the fantastic musical it promised to be.

The movie starts strong, bringing chills and flutters as you hear that bombastic store and the camera pans over the huge shipyard and comes to pinpoint Jean Valjean (Jackman) and Javert (Russell Crowe) the hero and antagonist of the piece. Brilliant set up from Hooper, and he carries these panoramic views that open the action to some of the set pieces giving them epic grandeur. Curiously the only songs he shoots this way are Crowe's. All the others are shot in extreme close up. I get that he wanted to differentiate the movie from the play by highlighting the actors emotional work, but it doesn't work for every number. It works with Hathaway's ''I Dreamed A Dream'' since that song is about Fantine being at the end of the rope and feeling hopeless, trapped and alone so the the claustrophobia works. But why shoot Eddie Redmayne's ''Empty Chairs at Empty Tables'' this way when it's a song about Marius looking at where he and his friends used to sit and argue? Literally why not show the empty chairs and empty tables instead of just Redmayne's bee stung lips?

Jackman and Hathaway

Jackman carries this and as he goes so does the movie. He brings a tenderness and fragility to the performance that makes it endearing. However his singing came off flat. He did not accomplish full lift off with the emotion. "Bring Him Home", his big number, particularly suffers from this. I hardly noticed it. His duet with Hathaway in "Finale'' though is amazing and made me wish there was more of the two of them together.

Samantha Barks, the newcomer and only member of the cast to have played her role on stage, sings beautifully. However she does not have much screen presence making Eponine forgettable despite her screen time. Amanda Seyfried does the best she could with the thankless role of Cosette but does not have any chemistry with Redmayne. The fault is not theirs but the plot's since we are supposed to take for granted that they fall deep in love on first sight and that love is supposed to carry the second half of the movie. Redmayne on the other hand was my big revelation from the movie. He has a great voice and gives it his all , faring well particularly in his scenes with his revolutionary comrades. The less said about Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter the better. They stuck out with their very broad characterizations that didn't belong in this movie. Was this what Hooper intended? Bonham Carter is the major offender with her atrocious singing and Tim Burton make up.

Crowe and Jackman

Crowe was another major surprise. That he brings pathos and gravitas to his villain are no surprise. But who knew he could belt out with such gusto making us completely understand his conflicted righteous character. I think the dismissive chatter about his performance is because he does not do well with the sung dialogue, his voice comes out as off tune in those instances. However he completely sold his two big numbers.

If you are a fan of the musical you will love this movie version. However if you are unfamiliar with it, you might go ''huh?"' several times. There are plot gaps as they had to get the movie in under three hours. The rebellion is front and center then forgotten, the jump between the years is sometimes jarring and might confuse some. The never ending close ups might give you vertigo.  However there is enough emotion to carry you through.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Impossible - Scariest Time at the Movies

If you've been to the movies in the last couple of months chances are you've seen the trailer for The Impossible. You know pretty people on vacation, the tsunami hits, nature at its worst, tears, screaming. The most manipulative sentimental crap ever. It dared me not to tear up. Forget about that; the actual movie is very good, and while I cried many times it was not manipulative at all but rather a sobering horror story about the dark side of nature and human connection and survival.

The film tells the true story of one European family of five during the 2004 Tsunami in Thailand. They are British in the movie although Spanish in real life, as is the director J A Bayona (The Orphanage). The set up from the family plane trip to Thailand until the waves hit is intense and scary using horror genre techniques to get you on edge of your seat. Bayona builds up the tension using every trick in the book; the plane turbulence, the distant rumbling sounds of the waves - all serve as ominous signs for the horrors we are about to see. The immediate aftermath is also depicted effectively particularly the confusion, panic and disoreintation and the very horrific loneliness of separated people against nature.

Bayona has several tricks up his sleeve to keep us entertained and scared. There is a thrilling set up piece in the hospital as the separated family members search for each other. Another is a subplot about a young lost boy found by the family that pays off in a major way both emotionally and as an engrossing plot device.

Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play the parents and Tom Holland is the oldest son. All three dig deep to expose how fragile we all are in the face of nature. Watts' character suffers the most both physically and emotionally. The physical part was very hard to look at; her body is battered, bruised and purple all over. However she is magnificent at portraying pain, anguish, resilience and utter and complete fear without resorting to sentimentality. I was mesmerized whenever she was on screen.

McGregor gives a fully emotional performance;only a hardened soul would not be moved by his break down scene. It is particularly effective because men are never really given a chance to get this emotional in movies. If George Clooney almost won an Oscar for one lousy tear in The Descendants, McGregor should get some hardware for this performance too.

Holland acts the audience surrogate and we are with him every step of the way. And what a harrowing journey it is. But it's also a very human experience as we watch the young man mature and understand what's important in life.

Some people may have issue with the movie concentrating on one family's story when the devastation was all consuming. Particularly because said family is white. It's not an issue since the movie does not pretend to be anything but this one family's amazing story of survival. Yes there are millions of similar human stories that happened during the Tsunami and maybe one day we'll see some of them on screen. And if we are lucky maybe one will be from a Thai filmmaker.

The movie works because of the performances and the genre elements that keep the viewer engaged. Because this disaster was felt in every corner of the world, there might be expectations put on the movie to tell a grander story. It does not but what it tells is interesting and moving.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On The Heiress and Jessica Chastain

Chastain as Catherine Sloper

Last night I saw the Broadway revival of The Heiress starring Jessica Chastain. In it she plays Catherine Sloper a spinterish dweller of Washington Square in New York in the 1850s. The play tells the story of her courtship by a handsome drifter and her father's opposition to said courtship. The parable is about whether Catherine is being courted for love or for her inheritance.

I was very excited to see The Heiress, mostly because it stars "'actor of the moment'' Chastain. I chose it as the one play to see this season. The 1948 film with Olivia De Havilland and Monty Clift is a devastating piece that shook me with its portrayal of familial cruelty.I was expecting another emotional roller-coaster. I guess with a setup like that I was bound to be disappointed.

But boy what a disappointment. Chastain was flat and unengaging when she needed to soar.First off she was miscast as the dowdy plain Catherine Sloper - her beauty could not be hidden behind the brown wig and 19th century costumes. She overcompensated by playing the awkward Sloper as too goofy, even getting close to physical comedy in the first act. Her voice did not project at all and came off timid and hesitant even at the end when the character is supposed to have grown and found strength. It's a pity because Catherine is a great part that if played well gives the audience a huge wallop of emotion. I kept imagining what Cate Blanchett could have done with it.

Strathairn and Ivey on opening night

The rest of the cast acquitted themselves well. David Strathairn started slow but found his groove quickly as Catherine's emotionally abusive father. Dan Stevens, of Downton Abbey, was serviceable. His American accent was good but I guess he concentrated too much on getting it right sometimes he forgot he had a part to play. The MVP was without a doubt Judith Ivey as Catherine's eccentric and romantic aunt who tries to bring the lovers together. She was everything Chastain wasn't - lively, present, funny, drawing and holding the audience's attention. If there was a star on that stage it was Ivey.

Finally Virginia Kull, an actress I have never heard of before, had a tiny part as the Slopers' maid. And boy did she make the best of it. Every little moment she had she made sure we were very aware of her. Her ambition to be noticed came through loud and clear. I loved her.I joked with my friends afterwards that if she was Chastain's understudy I bet she go ''all about Eve'" one night and make sure she gets to play the lead!

Oscar Bits and Pieces - Best Actor

We've talked Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor before lets now talk Best Actor, or as its known this year The Daniel Day Lewis doesn't have enough Oscars Admiration Society. I like Day Lewis, I think he's a great actor, loved him in almost every movie he made, but is it really time to reward him again? Specially since AMPAS let Meryl wait 29 years to win a third. Come on spread the wealth.

Day Lewis

Day Lewis is great as Lincoln. It is a heartfelt, subtle performance that is commanding without demanding our attention. I don't know this for sure since I've never heard Lincoln or seen him except in photos; but I'm willing to bet he looks and sounds exactly like him. That's because I believe Day Lewis did the research and almost certainly got everything right.When I saw the movie the performance reminded me of his performance in The Age of Innocence; another subdued turn that was immensely affecting.

Can anyone beat him? For a while I thought maybe John Hawkes in The Sessions could do it. He hits all the academy's soft spots : biopic, disability, previous recent nominee. Plus he's giving a great performance in a really good movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. He could have rested on the trappings of "suffering for his art"but he added lots of humor and pathos to the performance making it a wonder to behold. Alas while he's guaranteed a nomination that movie has not struck a major chord with audiences so he's not a real threat to Day Lewis.


I was hoping Hugh Jackman would pull such a wallop of an emotional punch as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables that he'd be the one to beat. I haven't seen the movie yet so can't tell but the reviews so far are only so so for the movie. Still the movie hasn't opened yet; if it becomes a blockbuster and Jackman is all what people are talking about in January we might have a race.

Denzel Washington in Flight and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook are the other two actors that made all the important precursors including SAG. These five seem to be now the most likely nominees. I liked Washington's performance but wasn't sold on the movie. Apart from the truly amazing crash scene I thought it was pretty mediocre. Cooper's approximation of crazy grew on me. First time I saw it I found it annoying but second time I enjoyed his chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence and the manic energy he constantly brought to his character. He has a scene where he senses that he's slipping away into his head and brings it back in refusing to succumb - that sold me on the performance.


There are 3 performances in French movies this year that knocked off my socks. With Matthias Schoenaerts in Rust and Bone I finally understood what everybody's been talking about all these years when they mentioned Brando's performance in Streetcar. He has a ferocity and immediacy of emotion that is both sexy and dangerous and announces the birth of a major movie star.Jean Louis Trintignant in Amour is amazing as well although the emotion there is more reserved but not less strong. Somehow the two are overshadowed by their female co-stars, at least in the eyes of award voters.

The third great performance from a French film is Denis Levant in Holy Motors. While I recognized the artistry and mad storytelling skills that went into making the movie, it didn't really register with me. However there is no denying that Levant gives a virtuoso performance full of audacity and perverse humor. He also inhabits several characters with complete makeovers. None of the three will find traction with Oscar.


Other names in the conversation include Jake Gyllenhaal in End of Watch ( fantastic), Richard Gere in Arbitrage (haven't seen it) and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. At the beginning of the season Phoenix was a shoo-in and possibly the front runner; now he's on the periphery. He might still get in as the performance has its advocates. I for one hated it. It is is a big "LOOK AT ME I'M ACTING" performance. He contorts his body, throws himself around, stops and gestures before saying anything. Hey Joaquin are you competing in some thespian Olympics we don't know about? Give him all the gold medals now! The film itself is polarizing and was not embraced by audiences although most critics loved it. I was left very cold by it. There's stuff to admire - cinematography, music and production design are all top notch - but the sum doesn't add up.

Predicted Five : Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day Lewis, John Hawkes, Hugh Jackman, Denzel Washington.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Crazy Early Oscar Predictions

A week before Christmas here is who I think will win Oscar in the acting categories. It's crazy and early but it looks this way to me now. Although I should not predict winners before nominations.

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)

Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln)

Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Friday, December 14, 2012

I'm So Excited!

All About My Mother 

Few filmmakers make me giddy with anticipation as much as Pedro Almodovar. I came late to the Pedro party, my first was All about My Mother in 1999. But since then I went back and have watched all his movies. Still Todo Sobre Mi Madre remains my favorite. Nothing beats the combination of All About Eve & Streetcar tribute plus the huge love for women in general and actresses in particular that that movie has.

Today we celebrate the teaser trailer of his next movie I'm so excited. Its perfect. And perfectly soundtracked with the Pointer Sisters giddy 80s hit. Enjoy!

What is your favorite Almodovar? Tell all about that in the comments.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Reactions to New York Film Critics Circle Awards

Zero Dark Thirty

The first Awards body of the season announced today. The New York Film Critics Circle.   Here is what they chose and my reactions :

FILM Zero Dark Thirty 
DIRECTOR Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty
Haven't seen it yet but happy for Bigelow. The Hurt Locker is the best war movie and can't wait for the follow up. Winning Best Pic 3 years ago was the only time my favorite movie of the year won.

ACTRESS Rachel WeiszThe Deep Blue Sea

Surprise, surprise. I like that this opens up the already very open Best Actress field. Weisz was excellent in The Deep Blue Sea, and judging from my twitter feed has many fans. But come on Emmanuelle Riva is the best thing at the movies this year bar none.

ACTOR Daniel Day LewisLincoln
Lets hope this is not the start of a sweep. It would be very boring if Day Lewis just keeps wining. Although it looks inevitable. He was great in Lincoln, and understated and funny and totally uncanny so I'm not complaining.

Wowza. Another surprise although smaller. I was totally in the contingent that Anne Hathaway was going to sweep for Les Miserables. I like that they threw a wrench in that narrative. Sally was over the top I think in Lincoln. I get that she was playing crazy but I can't figure out if I like the performance or not. Her crazy to DDL's understatement I don't think entirely jelled. Obviously NYFCC doesn't agree with me.

SUPPORTING ACTOR Matthew McConaughey for Bernie and Magic Mike
My fave award. McConaughey deserves it for his landmark year and great turn in Magic Mike. Haven't seen Bernie. I hope this fires up his Oscar campaign and he gets noticed. I'm predicting him.

ANIMATED FILM Frankenweenie
Haven't seen it. Haven't seen any animated movies. I know.

DOCUMENTARY The Central Park Five

No comment, again haven't seen it. 


I'm OK with Amour sweeping a la A Separation last year. It's fantastic. First Haneke movie that I love. I can't shake it 2 months after seeing it. Masterpiece.

FIRST FILM David France for How to Survive a Plague 

SCREENPLAY Tony Kushner, Lincoln

They liked Lincoln. They really liked Lincoln.

CINEMATOGRAPHY Greig Fraser for Zero Dark Thirty 
And they liked Zero Dark Thirty. 3 awards each.