Sunday, January 27, 2013

Alexis's 2012 Movie Round-Up!

It’s about that time! 2012 is over and with it the results are in! I’ve been working on this as the year progressed. This was my most difficult yearly round-up in a long time. I was so emotionally torn by my decisions *haha* but alas, here it they are!

*Disclaimer: Let it be known that my system for awarding and choosing favorites is based on my own personal taste, mood, appeal, and knowledge of film. Although I do judge films based on the standard criticisms, I do not cater to Hollywood’s opinion or anyone else’s. To argue or dispute my statements would be futile, as I am not forcing anyone to accept my choices but me. I choose people based on the proficiency and uniqueness of their work and productions for the same reasons.


Oh wow, this is the first time in a while that I’ve been truly torn about this. It was down to two for me and I think they deserve it for different reasons. The one thing they did have in common was that both films had unbelievable performances by their actors and truly remarkable characters…

LES MISERABLES – Morally and thematically I preferred this film most, but it did have some technical deficiencies that I will go into in my next blog after I see the film again. I think those deficiencies were the only reason it didn’t get the raving reviews it was hoping for. But beyond that, this movie was acted to perfection and so emotionally draining, but in the best sense. I also am surprised that the moral and overarching themes and lessons were even accepted by Hollywood’s elite, but then again it was directed by British filmmaker Tom Hooper who captured our hearts in 2010 with the lovely The King’s Speech. Les Miserables is impressive for so many reasons, the live recording of vocals, the stirring performances, and the shining light of God’s love and grace throughout.

DJANGO UNCHAINED – Oh Quentin, here you go again changing history! Haha but this time he did it with a dash of legendary fairy-tale and love story thrown in, which for him is a new territory. I applaud him for trying something different and succeeding with flying colors. I already posted a blog about why this film was amazing, so I won’t rant again, but per usual it dazzled with another knock-out script from its creator.

BEST DIRECTOR: I judge a director not only by being able to tell an amazing story, but especially by how he shapes his characters through the counseling and nurturing of his actors and actresses. So for the same reasons I chose the best pictures, I give it to both Tarantino and Hooper for excellence in getting the most out of their cast and crew. 

BEST SCREENPLAY: This was the hardest category for me personally because I was impressed by several, but I think it has to go once again to Tarantino. He's just too good! 

BEST ANIMATED FILM: Wreck-It Ralph, there were some cute films this year but Ralph was king by far. This had a better script than a lot of the live-action films. The characters were well established and lovable, the art direction was superb. It was a unique idea that remains memorable.

BEST ACTOR: Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables. I know, I know… how dare I not give it to DDL for Lincoln… And I have said this before, but while DDL is amazing, always, and he was Lincoln in perfection, I didn’t get the emotional draw or understanding from him the way I felt when I watched Jackman as Jean ValJean. Not only did he sing live the entire film, which is difficult, he breathed life in a character played by hundreds actors over the ages and made him new and refreshing. I empathized with him because he was so human and a person you can’t help but fall in love with.

BEST ACTRESS: Naomi Watts, The Impossible. This role will surely get overlooked, but after watching this film I’m still stumped by just how real everything was and how they were able to pull off recreating a tsunami. She had to do incredibly difficult physical stunt work as an actress and be tremendously uncomfortable while still giving a great performance. Based on that alone, I think she deserves it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Leonardo Dicaprio, Django Unchained. I am so angry he didn’t get this nomination. While everyone in that movie should have gotten nominations, Leo had a stirring performance. He was silly, even stupid at points, but underneath a creepy, crafty, and temperamental serpent. He was unpredictable in every scene, and that takes a lot of talent and effort from an actor. So Leo, in my book, it’s yours!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Hands down, this one’s going to Anne Hathaway for her performance in Les Miserables. I don’t really think an explanation is necessary.  

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey by Howard Shore. As far as I’m concerned he’s the only choice this year. He’s in the top five of greatest film composers of all time.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: 3-way tie on this one: “Song of the Lonely Mountain” from The Hobbit, “Skyfall” from Skyfall of course, and “Safe and Sound” from The Hunger Games.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins, Skyfall, absolutely stunning.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: The team of Prometheus. Not the best film, but a complete wonder in the realm of visual effects.

BEST EDITING: William Goldenberg, Argo. Raw, gripping, on-the-edge-of-your-seat brilliance.

BEST MAKEUP:  The team of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Nobody can touch Weta Workshop!

BEST COSTUME DESIGN:  Joanna Johnston, Lincoln. This lady definitely studied her wardrobe, it was history come to life!

BEST ART DIRECTION: Ian Gooding, Wreck-It Ralph. All you have to do is watch any scene that takes place in Sugar Rush and you’ll understand why. The attention to detail and cleverness are astonishing. The entire design of every video game world was breathtaking.



1. FLIGHT – Beyond Denzel and Kelly Reilly’s excellent performances it was just sort of meh, and the first five minutes were ridiculously uncalled for. You would think as a Christian I would like the themes but I found them to be really typical and over-the-top.

2. PROMETHEUS – Absolutely stunning in the visual department, and the first half was very engaging, but the second half got sloppy and disjointed. I definitely expected more from a favorite director of mine.


1. INTOUCHABLES – I’ve heard from about a billion people this movie was amazing. I  can’t believe I missed it!
2. WUTHERING HEIGHTS – A gritty retelling that looked amazing.

Well folks that's all! Until next time...  

Monday, January 7, 2013

“The ‘D’ is silent, hillbilly.” ~ Django Unchained!

I love when I wait anxiously for a movie for over a year and it does not disappoint. Ah… such a rare and wonderful feeling! Thank you, Django.

Amongst film students it’s almost a given that you’re a Quentin Tarantino fan. I’m not a big fan of his earliest work, but his later films have greatly influenced me as a viewer and an artist. Frankly, there is not one out there who can write a screenplay like he can. With mere dialogue and blocking he can keep you on the edge of your seat. Although his films are known for their violence and other "edginess," its his writing that makes him a master. The intensity of his scenes lasts through their breadth. The characters may be in one room for twenty minutes of film-time just talking and you feel like you’re watching some climactic action sequence. I don’t know how he does it, but dang it, I’m envious. 

But it is not just in writing that he bests, it’s also in direction. In every one of his films he finds actors perfectly suited for their roles and knows how to get the very best performance out of each of them. A director doesn't merely boss everyone around and call the shots; he must be able to draw out of all cast and crew the excellence necessary for masterful art. It’s leadership AND management in harmony. You can tell, if you look for it, when a film has been made by a person who knows their characters and how to direct actors, and also more unfortunately when they do not. 

The performances in this film are exemplary, even the straight-man characters like hero and heroine Django and Broomhilda shine. I was most anxious to see Leonardo DiCaprio have a little fun playing the despicable slave master Calvin Candie and he met my every expectation, as did my beloved Chrisoph Waltz. He was even more alluring and charismatic than ever as the strangely na├»ve bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz. Everyone was as splendid and the biggest surprise was Samuel L. Jackson. He was incredibly creepy and his unexpectedly large role in the film gave him space to really show what he can do. He felt to me as if he jumped out of an old photograph and came to life, his mannerisms, his speech, the way he walked, everything. His character was as interesting as he was disturbing (and hi-larious too). I haven’t seen a performance like this from him since Unbreakable. Good job Sammy J!

The entire film is a masterpiece but my absolute favorite part of this film is the allusion to the Nordic/Bavarian epic fairy tale legend of Broomhilda and Siegfried. As an avid lover of just about anything resembling a fairy tale, I obviously appreciate it. However not just in my personal taste, but in this case I also appreciate it because it beautifully ties the entire film together.

There is a scene where King tells Django the legend, and since Django’s wife shares the same unusual name he sits listening like an eager school child. This is the true beginning of the plot. In legend, Broomhilda was punished for disobeying her father. In most versions she takes up arms and fights on their “enemy’s” side. Her punishment is banishment atop a large mountain where a dragon guards her surrounded by a ring of hell-fire  There she will remain until a hero arises to rescue her and marry her. This hero is Siegfried, naturally.

Tarantino took this tale and made it his own sort of savage fairy tale. Instead of Broomhilda angering her father, she angers her former master by marrying Django and attempting to run away. He brutally punishes the two of them with whipping and humiliating branding, then sells them separately. Django ends up in the hands of two brother hicks, symbolically, at the foot of the mountain, and Broomhilda is given over to the fire breathing dragon, Calvin Candie. Django scales his mountain when he comes under the wing of his new partner King Schultz. During this time he trains himself up to be ready to face the fire and dragons that lie ahead in the journey to reclaim his love. Django has many visions of Broomhilda or "Hilde" and sometimes she is in a gorgeous yellow dress with flowers in her hair, very princess like. I love this and thought it was adorable how he sees her versus the reality of her being in the bondage of one of the worst men in the South. 

There is also lovely "bromance" also throughout the film between King and Django. King’s heart allows to him to care for Django almost instantly and feeling a responsibility for his safety and his future as a freeman. It’s like the relationship of an older brother leading and teaching his  younger brother until he is eventually more than ready to stand on his own.

The analogies are quite obvious, the mountain, the hell-fire being all the hell they have to endure to be together, and the dragon Calvin Candie. However, it wasn't until my second viewing that the genius of this symbolism became fully apparent. Tarantino truly makes Monseigneur Candie into a dragon by subtle visuals. His costumes consist primarily of deep burgundies and gold, like the stereotypical dragon scales in fairy tales. Also, this character smokes almost the entirety of the film. He is followed by a cloud of wispy smoke that pours from his mouth when smoking his long, elegant cigarettes. The cigarette sometimes seems like an extension of his slippery tongue. His demeanor and mannerisms were very serpentine. At first when you meet Calvin, you think he’s kind of a silly dandy, but then you realize he is truly dangerous and spiteful not to be antagonized. This of course must also be credited to DiCaprio's spot-on performance and his own way of breathing life into Calvin Candie. 

I don’t want to toot the horn of any one film artist, but I gotta say only Tarantino could make a western, fairy tale, slave epic drama and have it not only work but be a cinematic achievement. This film and Inglorious Basterds are two of a trilogy and I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next. My personal vote is that he would make 1001 Arabian Nights in the same way he made Django with Scheherazade as the heroine saving other women from a horrible fate by telling epic stories. Hey, it could happen! Either way I am sure he will cap off this trilogy with another brilliantly unforgettable film.

*Next blog: My best of 2012 and most anticipated of 2013, stay tuned!