Friday, July 6, 2012

A Fisti Finish...

So, 2007 has officially been wrapped up here (yup, way behind) and 'Atonement' made history by sweeping the Fistis and NOT winning Best Picture.  Yes, we're weird here, but 'Atonement' managed to wrack up ten nominations and won seven of them including Film Editing and Director and yet it still lost out on the big prize to an underseen gem of a film; '4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days'.  Truth be told, films like '4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days' (which only managed one other win, in Original Screenplay) aren't technical marvels and so when it comes to comparing it with a film like 'Atonement', it is always going to lose except where it really counts.  For the record, 'Atonement' is my runner up in Best Picture,  so it isn't like it won a slew of awards and then came in fifth place or something, and I do adore it in such a LARGE way, but at the end of the day it is the emotional whallop that I recieve from that controversal abortion film that ruled the night.

So, in keeping with the purpose of this blog, I dug in the files on my comp and found my initial reviews written for these two films back before the birth of this blog (I really should just start dumping all my reviews here; right?) and then I dug some more and pulled up my reviews for my entire Best Picture ballot...

So, here you go:

In a beautifully honest look at the intimate enticement of Nazi comradeship, ‘This is England’ tells the true story of young twelve year old Shaun; an impressionable ‘fatherless boy’ being raised by his mother in 1980’s England.  Shaun is a pudgy, oft teased young boy who craves the attention his deceased father cannot give him.  In the film’s opening scenes we see this young kid thrash out at those who verbally aggravate him with a faux sense of confidence. 
Inside, Shaun is living in loneliness. 
That is, until he meets Woody.  Woody and his friends are a certain breed of skinhead; nothing too abrasive but more embracive of their new young friend.  Shaun is instantly drawn to the idea of friends and the thought that he could have something special and form bonds with these young people.  Woody takes young Shaun under his wing, and all is good and swell until Woody’s friend Combo is released from prison.  Combo is abrasive and aggressive and hypnotically manipulative.  He comes home with a ravenous new agenda, one corrupted by racism and a neo-political viewpoint.  This permeates his every word, seething from his lips with an estranging quality.  Instead of being repulsed, like Woody and his friends (which include Milky, who is black), young Shaun is entranced.  Praying on his innate need to please his dead father, Shaun firmly believes that Combo can bring him closer to an intimate understanding of his father, but Combo doesn’t even understand his own beliefs.  Combo is just as confused as everyone else, hanging firmly to a conviction he doesn’t quite understand.  As their relationship grows, Combo and Shaun both begin to see a clearer reality that explodes in a sequence that is emotionally unsettling yet ultimately inevitable. 
With a sharp eye for realism, director/writer Shane Meadows uses his own life lessons to script a film that bleeds with a sense of purpose.  Every frame rests comfortably in an air of discomfort, using the awkward layers of honesty to flesh out a very raw and believable depiction of the devastatingly mental, emotional and physical effects of hatred and misplaced loyalties. 
Shane’s brilliant direction is accompanied by a stellar ensemble that truly understands every nuance of emotional complexity within their relatable characters.  Young Thomas Turgoose gives a marvelous performance as Shaun.  The way he absorbs the charismatic presence of his cohorts is intensely believable.  You can see the little boy trying to fake being a ‘big man’ in order to fit in with a crowd he doesn’t fully understand.  Better yet is Stephen Graham.  His electrifying performance as Combo is breathtaking.  The way he gets the little things (fully fleshing out Combo’s own naivety within his sharp outbursts and manipulated convictions is fantastic) just helps layer his every moment on screen. 
This man isn’t evil, he’s just confused.
In the end, ‘This is England’ is a powerful statement piece that plays out like so much more.  It is an intimate drama that unfolds like a personal love story to adolescence, a time of mistakes and misfortunes by most of all, a time of growing up, wising up and eventually becoming a man; your own man.

There's something pure about `Once'. Instead of taking the route of most films in this genre it steers away from the drugs and immoral clichés of musician pieces and focuses on the passion behind the music, the experiences and emotions that drive these two individuals to create beautiful music together. `Once' is truly a one of a kid film, a beautiful and mesmerizing musical journey that comes only once in a great while.

The story told is that of your classic boy meets girl story (or `guy' meets girl story) where we are introduced to a young man who plays music on the streets for money and fixes vacuums in his fathers shop, as well as a young girl who has a broken vacuum and a love for music. They meet by chance but share a connection that no words can put into perspective for the audience. It's through their music though that their connection is made manifest. They are drawn to each other and we are drawn to them. They fall in love, but a love that is not like most experienced in the cinema today, this is a pure love, a love of character and emotion, a love of human beings and not carnal desire. This guy falls for this girl and she likewise falls for him because they share a common bond you don't share with just anyone.

The film takes place over the course of a week where are two companions decide to make a record together. They buy the studio time, they rehearse and then ultimately they record their album. That is your story, but the story runs so much deeper than that. When I watched `Dreamgirls' last year I was fortified in my belief that singing can be the purest for of acting, but `Once' takes the feeling of `Dreamgirls' and carries it much further. When we watch actors (and real life musicians) Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova sing their songs (songs they themselves have written) we feel every ounce of emotion. We feel compelled to respond to their calls, they pleads; their desires. We are taken deep into their souls.

One thing to notice when watching `Once' is that neither our main actor or our main actress is given a name. This to me makes it all the more relatable. These two could be anyone in the world, they could be you or I or our friends. By not giving them a title other than `guy' and `girl' they become even more understandable and accessible. I truly adore this aspect of the film.

As a longstanding fan of the Irish pub music made popular by the amazingly talented Damien Rice I was thrilled to see Glen Hansard do this film. His musical style is breathtaking and warm and he delivers a very strong performance for someone who is not a quote-unquote `actor'. Marketa Irglova also delivers beautifully. Both are very natural and convincing, portraying real people, no gimmicks or dramatized emotions. They add to the pure quality I mentioned on the outset. This movie feels real; it feels natural and graceful and in the end attains all my respect and admiration. One of the best films of the year, most definitely.

There comes a point when even a great film can be over-hyped; when even a marvel of cinema, a masterpiece if you will, will get so much attention and accolades that it becomes `that movie that failed to live up'. On the outset, while watching `There Will Be Blood' you could come to believe that to be true of this film. Heralded as PT Anderson's finest film to date and regarded as one of the two cinematic masterpieces of this year past, `There Will Be Blood' has an obligation to deliver. What is sad is that many people are not aware of exactly what it plans to deliver. I can see now how backlash can begin, but I'm here to say that `backlash' in this case is undoubtedly undeserved.

Paul Thomas Anderson's epic masterpiece (there, I said it) `There Will Be Blood' is not the movie many may believe it to be. It is a slow and conflicted journey through the desperations and frustrations placed upon us by greed and selfishness. It exposes the similarities between materialism and religious self-righteousness and it proves that nothing good can come of evil.

`There Will Be Blood' is loosely based of off Upton Sinclair's novel `Oil!' but truly it serves as Anderson's very own vision. Anderson pits oilman Daniel Plainview against religious preacher Eli Sunday in a small town of Little Boston during the turn of the century. Plainview is a greedy man, a selfish man who will do anything he can to get what he wants, but Sunday is not much different. Sunday is a man consumed with a fire that matches the determination of Plainview himself. They are a perfect match; thus they are perfect enemies.

The film moves at a slow pace, taking it's time to build and flesh out these characters. Aside from Plainview and Sunday you have Daniel's son, H.W., a young yet oddly mature boy who takes in much more than one would expect. As his fathers `business partner', young H.W. stands comfortably at his father's side; a sight that is often as chilling as it is heartbreaking.

`There Will Be Blood' is a film that opens with such a savage calm, a feeling of unsettled tranquility. The score blazing in the distance, Plainview mining for gold; not a word spoken and yet so much is being said. It ends on a completely different note; one of tranquil savagery; a burst of manic violence that leaves the viewer feeling oddly subdued. It's such a masterful way to open and close a film; opening in such a way that keeps us on edge and closing in such a way that puts us at ease.

Yet another reason why PT Anderson should have won that directing Oscar.

The film is masterfully crafted; a film that just fits so beautifully together, each facet connecting nicely with the next. It's beautifully shot; the Oscar winning cinematography is spellbinding to say the least. The score is also a huge plus here, lending a helping hand in creating the perfect mood for this piece. I remember falling in love with Greenwood's score when I first heard it, but hearing it within the confines of this film adds a whole new light to its grace and beauty.

And then there is the acting...

Much credit has been given to Daniel Day-Lewis for his performance as Daniel Plainview. He's won just about every award imaginable and has received countless amounts of praise and admiration, for which he has received it with the utmost sincerity and gratitude. I am here to acknowledge once again his magnificence here. Day-Lewis completely becomes Daniel Plainview. He doesn't look like Daniel Day-Lewis; he doesn't sound like Daniel Day-Lewis; he doesn't act like Daniel Day-Lewis. Daniel Day-Lewis does not exist within this character; only Daniel Plainview is present. He flawlessly boils to the surface this mans flaws and transgressions, his bolstering greed and domination. There are moments when you know that this man is thinking the worst and yet all we see is that sly grin and his eyes, those eyes that speak volumes. This is not just one of the finest performances of the year, but perhaps in the history of cinema.

Daniel is not without good company though. There are two other performers here that steal scenes and command attention. Young Dillon Freasier, who plays H.W., delivers a brilliant performance. He masterfully creates and otherworldly maturity that chills the bones while speaking barely a word. Pay close attention to the relationship between father and son; there are volumes to be told. Of course we have Paul Dano who plays the eccentric Eli Sunday. His performance is mind-bogglingly good. There is a scene where he proceeds to expel the arthritis from the hands of one of the members of his church. It's the first scene where we really get a glimpse into this very complex character. It's brilliant to say the least and it serves as a masterful building block for what is to come.

`There Will Be Blood' is a film that everyone should see. Everyone should know what they are about to witness first; that way they can really embrace it for what it is. This is not an action film, nor a thriller in your most conventional sense. `There Will Be Blood' is quite frankly one of the best character studies I've seen in recent years. It's a film that flawlessly exposes the inhumanity within humanity and forces the audience to accept the `ugly' within our souls. As many have noted; this is not a film that wants to be liked. It will not leave you feeling warm and fuzzy on the inside, but it will leave you with much to ponder, much to think about and contemplate and will thus leave you with much to remember.

At the very beginning of 2007 I was introduced to this film. I was surfing the web looking at upcoming `Oscar fare' and I stumbled upon a still of James McAvoy from this movie I had never heard of called `Atonement'. At the time I was too wrapped up in another buzzed about film (one that eventually turned into disappointment) to really give this one all that much attention, but as the year progressed forward and the buzz for `Atonement' kept growing I decided to give it a look. That's when I got my hands on Ian McEwan's novel; the source inspiration for this film. A few days later I was in tears as I turned the final page of the novel and I just knew that this movie was going to be something special. I just knew that if it was done right then it would be, quite possibly, the best epic romance ever filmed. Then I got the opportunity to see the movie and I must say it was everything I dreamed it would be.

The film (as well as the novel) follows a certain lie that destroys the lives of three people. Young Briony Tallis is a very imaginative child. At thirteen she possesses a maturity that is beyond her years, but it is also a false sense of maturity. This is to say that Briony only thinks she is mature. Briony and her sister Cecilia come from a very wealthy family and live in a beautiful home in England. Robbie Turner, the family housekeeper's son, has pretty much grown up with them like a brother and has been taken under the wing of their parents. While on the outset one might sense a sort of distain between Cecilia and Robbie it soon becomes apparent that that distain is in all actuality a grounded yet unexpected love.

Briony doesn't understand this love.

Through a series of events that are misinterpreted by Briony she draws some very unhealthy and inaccurate conclusions about Robbie and when a horrible act of violence is committed against Briony's visiting cousin Lola, Robbie is the first person to whom the finger points. This false accusation stakes the base or foundation for `Atonement'. As Robbie is imprisoned and then shipped off to war; as Cecilia writes off her family and begins working as a nurse awaiting Robbie's return; as Briony, stricken with guilt, forsakes her higher education to nurse wounded soldiers, we are always left with this impetuous lie hanging over our heads and lingering in the air.

The acting on the parts of the entire cast is flawless, but like many of the critics have already noted, there are three performances that stand out above the rest. James McAvoy turns in his finest performance to date as the accused; Robbie Turner. What I love about this performance is the fact that the emotions seem to peel away from him to reveal a man raked by pain and suffering yet determined to find his way back to the arms of his one true love. Keira Knightley once again proves that she is more than a pretty face (and what a pretty face) with her flawless portrayal of Cecilia. Her performance is delicate and precise; a very mature turn for which is a stark contrast to her other lauded performance in `Pride and Prejudice'. Both characters are drastically different yet similar in perplexity. She wears both very well. The character of Briony Tallis is separated among three actresses, one of which stands out among the rest. Young Saoirse Ronan plays Briony at age thirteen, the Briony who starts this downward spiral. Her performance is in a word `flawless'. She brilliantly captures the danger that rests inside innocent wonderment and displays an almost cold demeanor that, when analyzed closely, gives way to the immaturity within her character that she cannot accept. It's a marvelous performance.

The other two actresses that portray Briony are Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave. Both of them do a fine job but neither have the power that Ronan has. This may have to do with the fact that Ronan's part is lengthier and much baitier. Garai does a fine job in getting under Briony's guilt but she at times appears a tad lost, as if she's not sure what she should do next. This could throw some off but once Redgrave comes on the screen she answers a few questions we may have and sheds some light on Garai's seemingly odd behavior. Redgrave is miraculous in her very short scene but I feel that I can't really speak of it without giving too much away so I'll refrain from saying anything more.

The rest of the supporting cast is on point throughout. Young Juno Temple is memorable as the victimized Lola Quincey and brothers Felix and Charlie von Simson capture the innocence of Jackson and Pierrot beautifully. Patrick Kennedy portrays Leon Tallis with great brotherly attention and Harriet Walter and Brenda Blethyn portray opposite spectrums of motherhood memorably. Benedict Cumberbatch is noteworthy for his intense performance as Paul Marshall.

The real star here though, is none other than director Joe Wright. His attention to detail is miraculous. What I love about his approach here is that it is epic in its broad scope and flashy visual grace but delicate in that it never overlooks the little things. Sure, it's beautiful but it's also very intricate and cautious. Wright works very hard to do his source material justice and manages to do so with flying colors. Just look at the lauded Dunkirk tracking sequence; orgasmic to say the least; but more so, the library love scene is in my opinion the single best sequence in film this year. The way that Wright was able to create such raw lusty emotions without shedding an article of clothing; the way Knightley's head, stiff and tense, arches to stare McAvoy in the eyes and whisper "I love you"; every single detail just creates this flawless experience. Combine this with 2005's `Pride and Prejudice' and one can see that Joe Wright is setting himself up for a marvelous career.

`Atonement' is truly a very beautiful film, visually as well as emotionally. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey superbly captures the beauty that surrounds this masterpiece while Wright and his cast drip such flawless emotional detail. One can't help but absorb this films magnificence. Truly one of the best films to be released this year; a complete and memorable masterpiece; `Atonement' has a place alongside films like `Titanic' as one of the grandest and greatest epics ever filmed.

It's taken a while for me to get comfortable with the idea of writing a review for this film, namely because the film has effected me to such an extreme that it's almost too painful to put into words. I have always had an emotional reaction to anything dealing with the death and or mistreatment of a child and I am extremely pro-life and highly against the act of abortion, so I knew going into this movie that I was going to be an emotional wreck. I actually expected to despise to film and or find immense fault with it.

I can't do that because there are no faults to be found.

`4 Luni, 3 Saptamani si 2 Zile' follows the efforts of two women to secure an illegal abortion in Romania during the 1980's. Our main focal point is Otilia, roommate to the pregnant Gabriela, as she finds Bebe, the man willing to perform the abortion; and thus begins their very long evening.

The film is marvelously shot in a manner that draws you into the lives of these two women. The camera slowly lags behind, allowing us to follow them as if we were an outsider peering into their world without their knowledge; allowing us to know them from a distance, seeing their true colors and not the façade they throw up in front of the ones they know and love. The rawness and grittiness of the film carries with it a sense of reality. What is so painful about `4 Luni, 3 Saptamani si 2 Zile' is that it feels as it this is a home video and this situation is not a fictional movie but real life. The script is expertly written to come across real and believable. The dialog is conversational, awkward and sincere. Director/screenwriter Cristian Mungiu must be singled out and praised for his beautiful and honest handling of this material, for had he mishandled the film in any way it would have lost its presence and depth.

The acting is triumphant and really procures this film's brilliance. Anamaria Marinca is flawless as Otilia. What I love so much about her performance is that she really made this movie all about her. She is not the pregnant woman undergoing the strenuous abortion yet Otilia is just as devastatingly effected by the procedure and the outcome and thus we are able to experience what she is experiencing because we too are just an outsider peering in. As the film progresses we can witness the layers of protection pealing away from Otilia's guard until she is finally exposed in all her rawness as human and deeply conflicted. Laura Vasiliu is also extremely impressive as Gabriela. Her panicky mannerisms and paranoid tendencies ring so true for her situation, and like Marinca, Vasiliu allows her characters guard to slowly drop so that we are gradually shown who she really is. Vlad Ivanov has a small but very crucial part in the film as Bebe. His performance is uncanny, truly gut-wrenching as we see the selfishness and heartlessness that comes from having a power over weaker ones. His character is easy to hate but his performance is even easier to adore.

With all that said, there is much more to `4 Luni, 3 Saptamani si 2 Zile' than a great script, superb acting and flawless direction.

`4 Luni, 3 Saptamani si 2 Zile' is the only film, and I mean only film, that was able to unlock something within me that has been caged for a long time. I remember literally shaking throughout the duration of the film, my hands clenching my sofa cushions tightly and my skin shivering over my bones. I remember my breath left me a few times and I had to fight to focus on the screen; my eyes blurred by the sting of tears. Like I said at the outset of my review, the life of a child is something very near and dear to me. Being a father (a new father at that) I have very strong opinions on the matter and so this film was very hard for me to watch. There are many disturbing scenes, not necessarily graphic (although there are some) but disturbing in the sense that what you are witnessing goes against every you have ever truly believed in (that is if you believe as I do); but I think even if you are pro-choice and have no quarrels with the idea of abortion, this film will strike you at your very core.

This is the only, and I mean only, film that has ever made me weep.

What is so amazing about `4 Luni, 3 Saptamani si 2 Zile' is that by its end you are forced to really sympathize with both sides of the spectrum and that final scene, with Otilia and Gabriela at the table really explains in full the feelings of the audience at that very moment. As they are obviously thinking `what have we just done' we as the audience are thinking `what did we just witness'. The film is very neutral which works to its advantage. This is not a film about pro-choice or pro-life; it is merely a film about a choice made to take a life and the emotional distress it causes the ones involved. `4 Luni, 3 Saptamani si 2 Zile' bleeds dry with honesty, and honesty that is haunting because it strikes so close to home.

I don't know if I'll ever be able to watch `4 Luni, 3 Saptamani si 2 Zile' again. Like I mentioned, the film made me weep. I literally finished the film and then walked straight into my daughter's room and curled into the fetal position on her floor and wept. I felt emotionally drained; empty so-to-speak. Since seeing this film (about three or four months ago now) I have been able to think of nothing else. It's because of this that I must admit `4 Luni, 3 Saptamani si 2 Zile' to be one of the greatest films I've ever seen. No, it was not a desired `experience' but honestly the film is the very definition of what a film should be. It is a very difficult film to get through and it brings to the table feelings of hate, misery, regret and guilt, but in the end it will leave with you a part of its soul, and only a masterpiece can do something like that.


So, please check out my awards page to see how all the awards were handed out and who was nominated, and feel free to comment and let me know where I messed up (or you can praise me for my selection if you want!) :-D

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