Thursday, January 30, 2014

The LAMB Devours the Oscars: Best Supporting Actress

Ah, awards season. That time in every cinephile's year that they love to hate. And no award is "loved" more than the Academy Awards. Of course, many movie bloggers can't help but make their predictions once nominations are announced. And that's what the folks over at LAMB are doing again this year.

Last year, I chipped in my two cents on the Best Actor race (and my prediction came true). This year, I decided to changed things up a bit. I decided to tackle the Best Supporting Actress race, mainly because this is the first time in a long, long time where the lineup for this category is solid. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the Best Supporting Actress nominees for the 86th Academy Awards.

Our first actress is Sally Hawkins, earning her first Academy award nomination for Blue Jasmine. In keeping up with the film's A Streetcar Named Desire allusions, Hawkins' Ginger fills the role of Stella while Cate Blanchett's Jasmine is very tellingly Blanche. Indeed the film is Blanchett's but Hawkins holds her own. Not only does Ginger have to deal with her own personal problems, she now has to deal with her sister dumping her problems onto her. (Certainly a far cry from Happy-Go-Lucky, don't you think?) You can always rely on Woody Allen to write a great role for an actress.

Garnering her third Academy Award nomination (her first for Supporting Actress) is Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle. You know, it's funny how backlash works. One minute everyone loves something, then the next minute they deeply despise it. This can easily sum up the reaction to Lawrence's role of Rosalyn Rosenfeld (and American Hustle in general). Sure, I liked Lawrence's work (though Bradley Cooper's performance was my favorite amongst the quintet), but do I think she'll get the Oscar like everyone was predicting pre-backlash? I highly doubt it'll happen.

Also new to the Oscar race is Lupita Nyong'o, nominated for 12 Years A Slave. Every year there's always that one nominee that no one had heard of prior to their nominated work and blows everyone away. This year, that honor is bestowed on Nyong'o as Patsey. In a film where a majority of the spotlight is on Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender (both dynamic, both phenomenal), Nyong'o depicts a woman living a brutalized life. Like what's shown in Steve McQueen's two earlier films, what Patsey endures is as unflinching as it is horrifying. It's without a doubt one of the most emotionally charged performances I've seen.

Earning her fourth Academy Award nomination (her second for Supporting Actress) is Julia Roberts for August: Osage County. Roberts is known as "America's sweetheart" but when she gets a vicious role, fear her fury. (Seriously, go watch Closer if you don't believe me.) And her role of Barbara Weston-Fordham is no exception. Barbara is a very angry woman, and her mother Violet (an equally vicious Meryl Streep) isn't making her life any easier. Personally, Roberts should do more roles like this instead of her usual rom-com fare.

And finally we have June Squibb, earning her first Academy Award nomination for Nebraska. Like most characters in Alexander Payne's films, Squibb's Kate Grant isn't afraid to speak her mind. She's frustrated with the eccentric behavior of her husband Woody (an excellent Bruce Dern) and other various relatives, and she's willing to say so. She's clearly the voice of reason even though nobody outside of her son David (Will Forte, also great) actually listens to her. (She does, however, have one of the best uses of the word "fuck" I've ever heard.) Just goes to show that roles like this one aren't strictly for women in their forties.

So among these five women, my vote's going to Nyong'o easily. Her performance convinced me that not only does she have a very strong chance at winning the Oscar, she'll have a long, successful career because of that performance. (Whether she wins or not, she'll still be an actress I'm keeping an eye on.)

Which actress do you think will take home the coveted award?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I'll Cry Tomorrow

"My life was never my own -- it was charted before I was born." This quote of Lillian Roth's opens Daniel Mann's I'll Cry Tomorrow, and the opening scenes show a young Lillian is under the control of her stage mother Katie (Jo Van Fleet). Years later, Katie sees the errors of her ways, but it's too late for Lillian (Susan Hayward).

The thing about I'll Cry Tomorrow is that it was released in a time when films about addiction were still risky to make. (A contrast to such films nowadays, huh?) The Lost Weekend was released in the previous decade while The Man with the Golden Arm (released the same year as I'll Cry Tomorrow) brought all sorts of controversy. In addition to those two films, I'll Cry Tomorrow showed how addiction could heavily damage one's life rather than today's depiction of it being an unfortunate part of life. (Oh, how the times have changed.)

As with any film about addiction, it's all in the performances. All of the actors featured hold their own, but there's only two that really last. The first is Van Fleet, who effectively steals every scene she's in. (She should have won the Oscar for this instead of East of Eden.) The second is, of course, Hayward. Look at her eyes. Look at them.

There are other aspects of I'll Cry Tomorrow that make the film effective. As well as the performances and Mann's direction, there's also Alex North's score which works really well in particular scenes. (I honestly think North is a rather underrated composer.)

Although not as effective as The Lost Weekend, I'll Cry Tomorrow still has some bite to it. Also, you can't help but think of the later tragedies in Hayward's life when you watch this. (Not exactly life imitating art, but pretty damn close to it.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, January 13, 2014


The problem with modern romance films is that everything's been done already. It's the same formula for every one. How do you do a romance film that follows the formula but is still a fresh concept?

Spike Jonze answers that question in the form of his new film Her. The film follows the familiar formula but Jonze throws in a little twist. What is it? One half of the main couple is the voice for an OS.

It sounds like an odd concept, certainly, but Jonze provides perhaps one of the most honest films in God knows how long. We've seen so many films that feature backstabbing and lying to the point where when romance gets brought up, it's practically impossible. (Or it feels artificial, depending on the film.) But with Her, it's practically a relief to see characters being truthful and open with one another.

And the performances are great. Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt and Olivia Wilde make the most of their limited screentime. Amy Adams plays the role of the quiet, understanding friend beautifully. And now we get to the true stars of Her: Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. Johansson plays her role wonderfully, proof that she's very capable of giving a great performance with just her voice. And I absolutely love the complete 180 Phoenix did from this and The Master. Such a lovely, vulnerable performance here.

There have only been two films I've seen that I can easily sum up in one word. The films in question are The Apartment and Her. And the word? Perfect.

My Rating: *****

Inside Llewyn Davis

The films of Joel and Ethan Coen frequently feature characters whose lives go from bad to worse and, quite frankly, they deserve it. This is why their new film Inside Llewyn Davis feels so different from the likes of The Big Lebowski and A Serious Man.

How so? The lead character, excellently played by Oscar Isaac, is actually sympathetic amid all of his bad luck. (Then again, Llewyn doesn't complain about his problems every other scene like the protagonists in other Coens films.)

But like other Coens films, there is a wide array of supporting characters throughout Inside Llewyn Davis. They're all have screen time for only a short amount of time but it's what they do during that time that makes their performances last. (Sort of like what Steve McQueen did with 12 Years A Slave.) However, this film is easily Isaac's.

There are other aspects of Inside Llewyn Davis that simply must be mentioned. Along with the Coens' direction and the many performances, there's Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography which makes the film look like photography of the era. And the music. Oh, it will get stuck in your head.

Inside Llewyn Davis is the most human film the Coens have ever done and it's simply phenomenal. All of its elements came together to make a film that just resonates. I know I'll get some controversy for stating this, but Inside Llewyn Davis is easily the Coens' best film to date.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, January 12, 2014


We've all seen films revolving around the young couples in the early stages of their relationships, ranging from minor domestic dramas to full-fledged breakups. But what happens after those rocky early years? Do they stay the same or move on?

Michael Haneke's Amour depicts Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), an elderly couple with many years behind them and not much more ahead. The film shows the slow, quiet decline of Anne and the emotional toll it takes on Georges. (Cheerful stuff, isn't it?)

This is the thing about Haneke. Usually his films are of the disturbing variety. (Seriously, The Piano Teacher gets creepy every five minutes.) So seeing a film of his that's actually human is a shock. A very, very depressing shock.

But like many of Haneke's other films, it's the performances that make the film last. Trintignant and Riva, both acclaimed veterans of French cinema, are simply brilliant here. Riva showcases talent that clearly shows her longevity as an actress. Trintignant in turn displays a silent understanding throughout the film as Georges witnesses the mental decay of Anne. Heavy performances from a heavy film.

Amour is not an easy film to watch. (Then again, considering who the director is...) The sheer fact that you might have witnessed similar events in your own life makes the film even more devastating. It's simply heartbreaking.

My Rating: *****

Friday, January 3, 2014

Film Project 2014

Right, so my life is an absolute bore and I'm fairly certain that by the end of this year I'll be taking full advantage of the fact that I'll be 21 in September. (I had hit a rather low point in my life frequently throughout last year.) What better time to announce plans of a film project for the whole year? (Seriously, I need something to do so I don't go crazy.)

Anyway, my goal for the year is to watch more films directed by women. I mean, I have seen several notable films, but I need more. And this is where you guys come in. I need suggestions! I have no set limit for number of films I plan to see (though that might change later on).

These are the films I've seen thus far:

  • American Psycho
  • The Ballad of Jack and Rose
  • Big
  • The Bling Ring
  • Boys Don't Cry
  • Bridget Jones' Diary
  • Bright Star
  • Dance, Girl, Dance
  • An Education
  • Enough Said
  • Fish Tank
  • The Holiday
  • The Hurt Locker
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • Last Night
  • Lost in Translation
  • Meek's Cutoff
  • Monster
  • Near Dark
  • North Country
  • Orlando
  • Pariah
  • The Piano
  • The Savages
  • Seven Beauties
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • Strange Days
  • Thirteen
  • The Virgin Suicides
  • Waitress
  • Wendy and Lucy
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin
  • Winter's Bone
  • Zero Dark Thirty
Yeah, that's only thirty-three films right there. I really need to ratify that. Anyway, chime in with suggestions!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Pennies From Heaven

Period pieces are always fascinating to watch, especially if they're set within the last century. Maybe because it's interesting to see a modern perspective on subjects that were very inappropriate to talk about openly in the past. (See Mad Men as an example.)

For a film heavily influenced by musicals from the 1930s, Herbert Ross' Pennies From Heaven is rather...candid in the matter of sex and infidelity. (Certainly not something you'd normally see in a musical regardless of era.) But it's not a film simply about those themes.

Pennies From Heaven focuses on themes of desires and dreams. Bear in mind it's set during the Great Depression, a time in history where people regularly saw their hopes and dreams shatter like glass. Suffice to say it's rather dark for a musical.

Speaking of which, Pennies From Heaven also doesn't follow the standard musical formula. The actors lip-sync the songs rather than actually singing them. (Their tap-dancing is authentic however.) It's certainly a different concept. (Doesn't make the rendition of the title song any less dazzling.)

Anyway, Pennies From Heaven is quite good but it's nothing too spectacular. (Well, okay, there's that sequence.) It's entertaining, yes, but it's really dark for a musical. But all in all, it's not half bad.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Often times we get films that would make any true cinephile proud. Sometimes it's the aspects of the films, other times it's the allusions to notable films or directors. They're usually small things but they can warrant a smile from some.

One such film that could easily fit this category is Park Chan-wook's Stoker. The concept is a relatively simple one, but Park makes a complex and disturbing yet absolutely gorgeous film. It's arty yet twisted, poetic yet ethereal.

In regards to the aspects of Stoker, there are many elements that make the film just sing. Park's direction, Wentworth Miller's script, Chung-hoon Chung's cinematography, Clint Mansell's score, the performances from Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman...everything just works. By themselves, they're great; together, they're phenomenal.

In regards to the allusions, the most obvious ones are those pertaining to Alfred Hitchcock, Shadow of a Doubt and Psycho the more distinct references. (In fact, Goode's role of Uncle Charlie is a nice mesh of Charlie Oakley and Norman Bates.) The color scheme of muted pastels make Stoker look like a depraved Douglas Sirk film. And if it wasn't for certain objects and settings, the film could have easily been set in the 50s or 60s.

Stoker is very different from most other films. It doesn't fit into one specific category, which certainly adds to its appeal. It's simply one of those films that'll leave a different impression on each viewer but the initial reaction will always be the same. What's the reaction? Well, see the film and find out yourself.

My Rating: *****