Alright guys, it's time to talk 2013. We're nearing the end of 4 Ways a Best Picture (just one more week), and we've got some great film discussion in store for you this week and next (hopefully next, but that all lies in the hands of CITIZENFOUR's availability). Until then, though, let's get into the disagreements, debates, rants and relishing praise of the Oscar year that was 2013!
Before we begin, reacquaint yourself with our panel:
Britt from Rambling Film
Drew (me, duh) from A Fistful of Films
Jeffery from jdbrecords
Kevin from Speaks in Movie Lines
Wendell from Dell on Movies
Drew: Um...let's talk background singers!
Kevin: For the third year in a row, Oscar awarded a crowd-pleasing, beautiful, human story. I couldn't be happier about this film being an Oscar winner. I mean this is the work of a pro in writer-director Morgan Neville. It is beautifully shot. The way he filmed the interviews with these women was perfect. He allowed for pauses and reflection. He held on their faces to great emotional impact for the audience. The scene where they isolated Merry Clayton's vocal track on The Rolling Stones'"Gimme Shelter" sent a wave of emotions through me. Chills. Tears. That is one of the best moments I've experienced as a movie lover. The only criticism I have of this film is that in its sort of cyclical nature it feels repetitive at times. I felt like it kept going back to talking points we'd already heard multiple times by the end. But the end is beautiful. And I love how much love and respect these women.
Jeffery: I agree with Kevin that the "Gimme Shelter" scene is dynamite.
Drew: My bitterness over the Sarah Polley snub hurt this film for me...a lot.
Kevin: Oh, I still need to see that. It's on my list. I heard a lot of great things about that one. I also heard nothing but great things about The Act of Killing.
Wendell: This is a very fun, and important doc. I enjoyed it all the way through.
Kevin: Same, Wendell. Fun and enjoyable all the way through.
Wendell: The Act of Killing should've been the winner. That's just a devastating piece of film.
Kevin: I need to see it. I pass it up on Netflix all the time. Just need to finally do it.
Wendell: Just make sure you're prepared to be kicked in the gut when you sit down to it (Killing). 20 Feet was a bit repetitive, but that didn't bother me too much. I was just soaking up the stories and vibing with the music.
Kevin: I definitely wasn't bothered by the repetition. Just noticed it is all. And did anybody else fall head over heels in love with Lisa Fischer watching this thing? I seriously find her to be one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen. And that voice!
Wendell: Yes to Lisa Fischer. Her story is both amazing and enigmatic. And she certainly has a magnetic quality to her. The voice is ridiculously good.
Kevin: I was just so drawn to her. I was drawn to this movie. It was made for me. I love Springsteen, The Stones, Bowie, Sting and The Police. I love how seriously this movie trashed the music industry for screwing these ladies over after all those years. I HATE what popular music is today. HATE IT! If a band has backup singers and/or a horn section, I am immediately a fan.
Wendell: Until they said it in the doc, I really didn't realize how much less backup singers were used these days. Just wasn't something I paid close enough attention to. Then I started cycling through recent popular songs in my head and I was "Damn, there isn't that much work for backups these days.” The saga of Darlene Love was crazy, too. I came away thinking Phil Spector was even more of a dick than I already did.
Kevin: Yeah. Like none. It's become a sterilized, auto-tuned mockery of real musicianship. Definitely. Love that they finally inducted her into the Hall of Fame. She deserves it.
Drew: Ok, so I liked this one. It's engaging and fun, and like you mentioned, it's somewhat like a breath of fresh air. It's a message film that doesn't feel like a 'message film', and so it isn't pulled down by this stigma of importance. That, in some ways, hurts the film a bit because it plods along for nearly half the film with seemingly no point at all. Like, halfway through I was literally grasping for a point, but it got there, and it establishes it well in the long run. I did feel like the constant shifts from one artist to the other gave the film a lack of focus in parts and made it feel almost too scattered. The interviews used, while interesting, felt uneven...and then there is the repetition issue, which is a big deal, to be honest. I also feel like the way in which the film is crafted almost feels self-indulgent, which is a shame because it paints these women (Mary Clayton in particular) as conceited and self-absorbed, and it slices through any humility there (except with regards to Lisa, who feels by far the most humble and talented), which makes the film hard to connect with in some ways. Now, that isn't to say that the film doesn't make an impact, because it does. You begin to feel for these voices without a 'voice' and you can see the evils holding them back, and so it was a truly informative film and one I'm glad was made. Although, when you have someone like Lisa Fischer actively working against being famous, I wonder why this documentary seems so focused on telling me that she should be. If Judith Hill gets a record deal though, then I'll be happy.
Wendell: Yeah, like I said, Fischer is enigmatic. She is a compelling figure, though.
Kevin: Yeah. I didn't feel any conceit really. But supremely talented musicians, true artists, are not known for being the most humble people. Plus they're all pissed off about how it didn't work out for them. Some of that is their fault for sure. But I feel they have an obvious right to sadness and anger, especially the older ones.
Wendell: Very glad for Ms. Love. I didn't think they came off as conceited, either. I thought they were expressing emotions based on what happened to them over the years.
Drew: It's about the presentation, and the waiting for it to evolve. Like I said, it made them 'appear' to be...not that they are...and the transformation for me in watching Clayton go from this woman who appeared so self-absorbed and tortured into this real human was a highlight for me. Maybe I read into those expressions too much, but they just rubbed me wrong in many places. And I do blame editing for that, because where you place comments can skew intent a great deal.
Kevin: Oh yeah. I love Clayton's story. She worked hard and got breaks and it just didn't work out.
Drew: This was, in my eyes, better than The Act of Killing...which was just gross and pointless and makes me angry. Cutie and the Boxer and The Square were better than this, though. And of course, Stories We Tell is one of the best documentaries ever made ever and it should have won here, but of course AMPAS couldn't even nominate it.
Kevin: Why couldn't they nominate it? Was there some "official" reason? I remember Stories We Tell being highly praised and talked about all year.
Drew: They could have, they just didn't. That and Blackfish (which I actually didn't care for) were considered locks and they just...didn't happen.
Kevin: That's crazy. I have to see that movie.
Drew: It's BRILLIANT...so original and clever and blindsiding in the way it shapes itself into a universal story. LOVE!
Wendell: I also loved Cutie and the Boxer. They were such an interesting couple. I also like/hate Blackfish like The Cove. Haven't seen Stories We Tell.
Jeffery: 20 Feet is uplifting but it also has an edge (how the industry spits out talent). I think it's a nice winner overall. I gave it my personal award for Sound Editing. I thought it was crafted really well. I'm also in the Stories We Tell camp. One of the best most interesting docs (and use of the doc format) I've seen. Loved Polley's direction and vision. It was a bad snub.
Britt: I hate being late because you guys covered all the points already! I was really behind Blackfish this year, so when it didn't get a nomination I was really bummed out. That being said, I liked 20 Feet. I was worried it would be really sad for some reason, and while some parts were, it was mostly uplifting and that was nice. Dell's right on how it makes you think of background singers more. And it was shot very well. The only thing that bothers me in the end is the message. While I applaud the win for being different, I can't help but be a little bit bitter over Blackfish not even securing a nom when it nearly single handled turned a lot of people off SeaWorld. That's a big deal. And I'm definitely not trying to minimize the efforts of the talented singers in this doc. I was just fully behind another, like Drew was with Stories We Tell. That aside, I'm okay with this winning since Blackfish didn't even secure a nom (and I get why it didn't).
Kevin: The noticeable repetition was the only flaw for me with 20 Feet from Stardom. I loved this movie. I fell in love with these stories. They made me realize why I love the music I love all over again. I'm a solid A.
Wendell: Really like 20 Feet, but it wasn't the best doc. B+
Drew: I'm at a solid B. I feel like the subject is a really important one, I just wish that the doc were better made.
Jeffery: I give 20 Feet a solid B+. I agree that it gets a little repetitive / drags a bit to the end.
FINAL SCORE: 74/100
Drew: So how beautiful did you find The Great Beauty?
Britt: This film started off so strong. It was fun, beautiful to look at, but God did it drag. It felt 6 hours long.
Kevin: Yeah. It's beautiful and funny and cool as shit and then it goes on and on and on and on. I liken it to visiting a museum. Good for an hour or so. Then, you start checking your watch. That first 15-20 minutes though. That dance party scene. It's in the running for greatest things I've ever seen in a movie. That is exciting filmmaking. I stuck with it for a while after that as it meanders around Rome, this dude's life and regrets (or lack of) and whatnot. After a long while, I just wanted it to be over and make a little bit clearer sense as a whole.
Britt: Yes! The dance party was great, but I think I zoned out until that little girl started crying and throwing paint, that's what caught my interest again. Walking through a museum is a good analogy.
Drew: For me, the reason this film works so well is that there is a real depth at the core. It's a film that says something quite profound about who we are and how we look at life and does so from a very detached, almost observational way, which allows us to fully absorb it without feeling talked at. There is a lingering 'beauty' about every moment here...and really the film is a series of moments that come together in a striking way, exemplifying the film's title in such a complex way. It's a visual marvel and yet it's more than that, for the exploitations of the ugly in life lead way to the purest depictions of real beauty. I think that's what got me the most here. It is a film that, on the outset feels so self-indulgent, and really, it is about the self-indulgent, and yet it's a film that is anything but that. This is a film about a man who appears to have everything and who is consumed and surrounded by people who pretentiously find 'meaning' in everything and yet, through his own obvious 'loss of self' he cuts right through the ridiculousness and the absurdity and finds the heart of his own emotional turmoil. He finds the beauty that was void in his life for so long. It's that feeling of calm in knowing that you are ‘above all of that’. I like the museum analogy, but like a well-constructed museum, there is something so profoundly telling about 'The Great Beauty'. It feels enriched by an honesty and an understanding that many films lack. It's about everything and nothing at the same time, which is so stunning to come to terms with. This film has such rich balance of themes, content and delivery. And it's SO LANGUID. It just floats from one scene to the next. So lush and vibrant and deeply personal, this film just feels so rich with personality and meaning. I also wanted to mention how this film really does a great job of confronting the assumptions that can build because of other's perceptions of us. We have the story of man who did something well once and was considered to be something that, at his core, he wasn't sure he was, and because of this, it caused him to almost lose himself in the process. I liked this because I know that feeling of finding oneself backed into a corner of what everyone thinks you are or proposes you to be to the point where you almost begin to lose grip on your own identity.
Kevin: I certainly understand what you're saying, Drew. I actually feel a little more enlightened on this film. You seem to have a better grasp on it than I ever did. I love they languid feel of this movie...to an extent. And some of his recurring encounters, I absolutely adored. His visits to the husband of the "one who got away" and his takedown of that woman at his party, how he just started letting all that pent up emotion out. Great writing! I loved the way this movie dealt with Jep's memories and experiences in such a free-flowing way. And this is an exquisite film to look at. There is so much to admire about this film and about the way The Great Beauty forces us to admire just that, that beauty that surrounds us all at all times, that beauty we don't always see. In the end, though, and by the time the Mother Teresa-type character showed up, I was lost. It got me back just a bit in the very final frames. But I just can't say I enjoyed this film fully. Like Britt, I just got tired of it. I don't have a problem with self-indulgence. Some of my favorite movies are built on show-offy tricks and flashy camera work. But this movie was too long, felt long, and I got bored. Plain and simple. It didn't keep me entertained.
Britt: I just never imagined when I started this film, with how fun it was that I would be looking forward to the ending so badly. Everything you said makes sense, but it was just too much. Too much self-indulgence. I know some like to say the Lord of the Rings trilogy is like a New Zealand tourism video. This is an Italian art tourism video. They almost should've stuck "Visit Italy" on the credits. I would've rather seen this win go to The Hunt.
Drew: I do go back and forth between this and The Hunt as which was the most deserving. The Hunt is a total gut-punch, but this film feels more universal in a way, more profound...but both, while stellar, are several notches below the two best foreign films of the year, neither nominated; Blue is the Warmest Colour and Laurence Anyways.
Kevin: Oh, man. Blue is the Warmest Color blows this movie out of the water. Now, that's a three hour movie that could've been five and I wouldn't have even noticed. I was totally engrossed the whole way with that story.
Kevin: Will I ever fully enjoy watching an Italian film? It has yet to happen. I can do French all day. Italian just hasn't worked, especially the classic stuff from Fellini. And I hate that because I have some Italian heritage. Not a speck of French.
Drew: I'll be working up a list of suggestions for you shortly, my friend.
Kevin: Thanks, bro.
Wendell: Looks like It's my turn to be 'that dude' again. I hated this movie. I never knew how long 2 hrs & 20 minutes could take. To say it dragged it's an understatement akin to saying the sun is kinda warm. It just drones on and on and on and...you get the idea. And it feels sooooo pointless, pretentious, and just plain painful. And I really hate that this whole movie could have been avoided if he just took one night off from partying 'til the break of dawn and smooth-talkin' some chick half his age into bed and wrote something...anything. Hell, a good half hour brain-storming could've given him an idea for a new book and I wouldn't have been stuck watching this crap. I like the museum analogy, but to me it was more like watching a prequel to The Great Gatsby. Gatsby was having all of these great parties every night, but was hardly an enthusiastic reveler. He was just kinda making the scene and was bored with the life until Nick and Daisy showed up. I feel like that's where Jep is. He is so tired of doing the same old shit, yet he can't stop going to the party. Instead of enjoying himself, he finds some ridiculous and pretentious conversation to join in on and then mopes whenever he has a moment to himself. I thought he at least found his Daisy when he started hanging out with Ramona, but nnnooooooo, since this movie hates me too, it had to kill any hope that something halfway fun might happen. To be honest, a much more interesting movie could've been made about her. Drew, all that stuff you said makes sense and sounds like a beautiful movie, but like you said to me for Tsotsi, that's not the movie I saw. The movie I watched was completely self-indulgent, vapid, and um...pretentious. Have I said it was pretentious, yet? On top of that it was paced like a turtle with two broken legs climbing a steep hill with a strong wind blowing in its face. Damn 6 hours, Britt. This felt like it took 6 days. I'll admit to loving Jep putting that one lady in her place after she kept bragging how much social vocation she had. Puh-lease. She was an even bigger ass than he was, which is saying something. This movie has absolutely nothing on Blue is the Warmest Color. I didn't see any of the other nominees, but they had to be better than this. Droppin' an F-bomb on The Great Beauty.
Drew: Like, oh my god no and yet, oh my god yes cuz that takedown was viciously awesome.
Kevin: It really was, Dell. I'm truly halfway between you and Drew. Your takedown was great, but I sense you really don't like Jep. I really do. I felt for him. He made bad choices. He didn't meet his potential. It's sad. And this movie conveys that well...in its way. I had some extreme highs watching this movie. I got bored with it. But those highs make it more than mediocre for me. And way more than straight up F. But you owned this one, bro, for sure.
Wendell: No, I do not like Jep. It had nothing to do with the choices he made or not meeting his potential. It was the combination of him being a know-it-all, yet still being all "woe is me," about not having reached that potential. Almost forgot to mention The Corpse Nun, omg. She was proof that this movie was trying way too hard. I get all the symbolism of her climbing the steps on her knees, but would it have hurt to have one of her sycophants standing nearby in case she started to fall or something. Seriously, no one was even in the frame with her. I was like, I know she's The Saint or whatever, but the chick is 104, can we be at least a little mindful of that fact?
Kevin: Dude. I can't compete with that. Haha! You're killing me. And you're right about the old nun stuff. Worst part of the movie.
Drew: Lol, I want to just throw my hands up and yell, "You just don't get it"...but I hate those people.
Wendell: It's cool. I freely admit that I just don't get it when it comes to this movie.
Britt: OMG Dell, killing it as always. I forgot this was the year Blue is the Warmest Color wasn't allowed to compete. That film is near perfect and even though it was longer than The Great Beauty, it certainly didn't feel it.
Jeffery: I see what the filmmaker was prob. going for with the Fellini-esque atmosphere. I wish I had seen it in a theater, I don't feel like it works so well on the small screen. It certainly is a visual, aural experience. The editing is very flashy and fun.
Britt: I'm going C here. I give props for it being so visually pleasing. And it makes me want to #VisitItaly
Drew: Easy A
Kevin: I probably should be a C on this one, but I'm going with a B.
Wendell: F (see above)
TOTAL SCORE: 52/100
Drew: Alright...I want you all to separate yourself from the absolute chaos that is Frozen-Mania and just judge this film for the finished product that it is and not the annoyance that it causes whenever you set foot into a mall. Because, we should all agree that Frozen is a modern Disney classic.
Britt: lol. I'm glad you mentioned that because it's hard to do that. You have no idea how many times my kid has made me watch this movie. And listen to the soundtrack in the car.
Drew: For real. Like, my eldest FINALLY got tired of this movie, but my 5 year old still asks to watch it EVERY DAY.
Britt: Frozen was surprising to me. I never expected Kristen Bell to have such a lovely singing voice. I didn't really expect Hans to be a villain either (Though upon my many re-watches, I probably should have) and it had its clever moments, like with the character names Hans, Kristoph, Anna, Sven (Hans Christian Andersen)
Drew: Well, I've talked a lot about this one on the blog, and I still feel the same. Insane hype aside, this film is perfect. It's a modern classic that will be remembered alongside Beauty and the Beast and Snow White as Disney staples, and for good reason. Here is a film that actually encourages female empowerment and gives our little girls heroines who can handle themselves BUT who are not above help, and the message here regarding love and family is just beautiful.
Kevin: I have no argument whatsoever. I came into this movie knowing nothing, despite the hype. I brushed it off while it was in theaters as just another kids movie that I won't care anything about. My first time actually seeing it was on DVD in an auditorium full of 7th graders at my school. It was the spring incentive day for good behavior. Too cold to go to the park still, so we put this on. I was glued to it. These 12-13 year old girls knew every word of every song, every line of dialogue. They sang along. They laughed, the clapped, they cheered. It seriously moved me. I had to choke back tears during "Do You Wanna Build a Snowmnan?" It is literally one of my favorite movie-watching experiences ever. Frozen is a perfect movie for kids. For adults. Even for me, a guy who didn't even love animated movies that much as a kid himself. It is truly a beautiful cinematic achievement. The "Let It Go" sequence is pure eye candy. And man can Idina Menzel sing! O MG! That afternoon, I admitted to my wife I had been a jerk about this one. Not even willing to give it a chance. After it was over, I immediately put it on par with Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid as Classic Disney Musical for the ages. We bought the Blu-Ray that afternoon. I'm a Frozen fan. I totally agree with you, Britt, about the cleverness. And with you, Drew, about this movie's strong empowerment of its female characters. And I adore Josh Gad's voice work in this film. Perfection. Olaf is one of my all-time favorite movie characters...period. He's "worth melting for." Boom! I don't have kids and haven't had to watch this movie hundreds of times. I've only seen it three or four times. It's never been as good as the first time on subsequent viewings. But it's a great movie. If this is what my future kids want to watch over and over, I won't be upset.
Drew: My heart is bursting right now!!!
Kevin: See. I'm not a cold-hearted animated movie hater, after all. I just hate Spirited Away.
Drew: Lol! I love that you mention 'Do You Wanna Build a Snowman'...that's remarkable storytelling right there and shows the power of music. It conveyed so much without really showing us much at all. My heart...ugh! When I turned to my daughter, who...at six years old was literally bawling during the 'Let it Go' scene, I knew this was special. "She just wants to be with her sister", is what she says to me and I realized that she got this...it sunk in...it reached her. This is why movies are so important.
Kevin: It's hard to pull off both profound and understandable sometimes. This movie nails that. I never found it pandering but find it lovely in its simplicity.
Drew: Omg I'm so happy right now.
Kevin: And what you said about "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?" being good storytelling is right on, Drew. That is a brilliant way to show the passage of time without any real verbal exposition. Just perfect.
Britt: I can't argue with any of this. I agree with it all. But don't even talk to me about Do You Want To Build a Snowman. I had ugly cry face during that. I agree it will go down as one of the classics. The fact that it's more about sister than prince charming is strong. It did remind me of the praise for Brave. This is in good company with that.
Wendell: Sorry guys, I'm just not feeling all the greatness on this one. I liked it, but this didn't shoot to the top of any lists for me. I get that the overall girl power message is still much needed, but I didn't think it was so much better than Brave, a girl-centric flick from a year earlier. Most of the story was comprised the same old Disney tropes and archetypes they've been giving us for decades. Some worked, some didn't. In particular, I couldn't stand that talking snowman. I so wanted him to melt. I didn't find him at all funny, just annoying. It was all very average for me, except the "true love's kiss." Even though I expected it because they spent the whole dang movie setting it up, it was still heartwarming to see. Having two daughters of my own helped me appreciate, even love, this part of the movie. Nothing leading up to that blew my skirt up.
Kevin: This hurts, Dell. Olaf, "that talking snowman", is my boy. Love the guy. Seriously one of the best Disney characters in ages as far as I'm concerned. The "Summer" song is the cutest, cleverest thing ever.
Wendell: I might feel a bit different had Disney really put the petal to the metal on that lesbian subtext by having the two girls NOT be sisters. And never had Olaf. Sorry, Kev. I barely remember that song. Unfortunately, I do remember "Let it Go." Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad song. I just thought "Happy" was the better, more resonant tune. I know we're all sick of hearing it, but that's kinda my point. Everyone in the whole damn world was singing "Happy". I could hear it on any radio station regardless of format and I'm pretty sure every elementary school in the country made their own YouTube video using it. "Let it Go" has a nice message and is all well and sweet, but "Happy" actually made us all happy. I will say that I'm okay with the win for Frozen over the other nominees. Still, I don't think it’s any better or worse than Despicable Me 2. I actually liked the un-nominated Monsters University quite a bit better than both.
Drew: No. Nothing you said. Nothing at all, actually. First, Olaf is boss. He's genuinely hilarious, and Gadd is ON IT. All the clever touches (the villager screams in the distance) make him so worth being there. Second, I'm so tired of this 'lesbian subtext' thing. Why does every 'independent woman' have to be a lesbian? No. No. No. Putting it in that box negates all the good from empowering woman here. Oh, you're single and strong willed? Must be a lesbian. Not having that. The sisterly angle was beautiful and SO touching, and the way they used it to define what love means in all its shades was brilliant. The selflessness...ugh! This was far more clever and memorable than Brave...and Happy is borderline annoying...and I love Pharell (including his N.E.R.D. days) AND Despicable Me 2! Let it Go may be played out, but it's an anthem and a stunning one and sends chills. THAT is a Disney ballad! Oh, and speaking to the cleverness Britt spoke of, Frozen exploits those 'tropes' and turns them on their heads. In ten years, five people will still talk about Monster's University, but AFI will probably rank Frozen as one of the best animated films... OF ALL TIME!
Wendell: People aren't talking lesbian subtext just because this movie features girls, at least I'm not. It's actually there. Elsa's entire story is very similar to one of someone coming out to their family. I'm not saying it was intentionally done, but the fit is perfect. Again, I don't hate the movie. Just don't love it.
Drew: I just remember the same "she must be a lesbian" comments about Brave and I find them irritating.
Wendell: Really? I don't remember that at all. It's unfortunate because it doesn't apply to Brave.
Drew: Exactly! Sorry if I seemed testy about it. I can see how Frozen's storyline could skew in that direction, and if it empowers, then great, but I'd rather it be a film with layers of application then some singularly defined thing, so I'm glad they didn't 'go there' with Elsa, but kept it all open to interpretation.
Kevin: I see the "lesbian subtext" Dell is talking about. But I've never heard anything like that in conversation about this movie. It wouldn't change my opinion of the movie anyway. Frozen worked for me in amazing ways. I cherish my initial viewing of it. Such a rewarding experience to watch this with young people and see them just IN LOVE with it. It's a fine Oscar winner.
Jeffery: I wasn't a big fan when I finally saw it (it was just SO overhyped). I also found myself comparing it to the early 90s Disney musicals I grew up with which were far superior and hard to beat. Then I watched this again on Christmas Eve while wrapping presents. It's a good movie to watch while wrapping presents.
Drew: A+, easy. Disney’s modern masterpiece!
Britt: I'm at an A- for this one. Having to watch it over and over so many times does wear a bit on me. Actually now that I think about it, A- is probably higher than what I initially gave it. I guess the many rewatches helped there.
Drew: LOL, yay for obsessive children!
Britt: No joke, I watched this so many times I even found the hidden Mickey without going online first. lol
FINAL SCORE: 76/100
Drew: So...this could get interesting. It's time to talk 12 Years a Slave.
Britt: I'm fine with this film's win even though it wasn't my favorite film of the year, but it's so well made and the cast was spectacular. I can't rave about the cast enough. Ejiofor, Nyong'o, Fassbender, Cumberbatch, Dano, Paulson, Pitt, Woodard. Even the small parts from Michael Kenneth Williams and Adepero Oduye were perfect. This is A+ casting. I also like that it made Solomon's story more widely known. Before the film was in production I hadn't heard of it, and I felt kind of embarrassed after I watched it because I felt like that was something I should've been familiar with first.
Drew: I, to, hadn't heard of this story until the film was announced. I'm with you in that this was a fine Oscar winner and it even 'feels' like an Oscar winner, if you know what I mean. Still, there are many moments where the film feels awfully clinical to me and because of that I found it hard to wholly invest myself in. I had this same problem with Schindler's List. It's almost too perfect for its own good. I thought that Ejiofor and OSCAR WINNER NYONG'O were perfect here, so honest and emotional and heartfelt...but for me, as rich as the rest of the cast was, they were almost too authentic for me. Their performances felt too calculated and so it lost the fire and depth that I saw in Ejiofor and Nyong'o...and that's really my main issue with the film as a whole. McQueen is a really inspired director, but his almost detached nature of filmmaking felt detrimental to the film's impact. I wanted to FEEL this, but outside of some well-constructed moments, I didn’t.
Britt: Oh man, I felt it the whole way through. It was just brutal. That final scene left me a sobbing mess. The only thing that threw me off at times was Zimmer's score. It felt too big for a film like this. (If that makes sense) It just needed to be more subtle. On the authenticity part, I don't really have a complaint there. It makes me wonder if this is a film high schools are going to show students when we talk about this time in our history. I'm sure that's how everyone saw Roots. Will this go along with it?
Drew: Yeah, Zimmer's score was unfortunate...as was the whole Brad Pitt subplot.
Britt: I didn't mind that because Pitt was using his Aldo Raine accent again.
Kevin: My wife is an American history buff and teacher. She knows the story of Solomon Northup well and made me aware of it before we went to the theater for 12 Years a Slave, which at the time we went was easily the Best Picture front runner. I will complain to no end about this film winning Best Picture. This win was Oscar and Hollywood patting itself on the back. Now, I'll admit that this is a perfectly made film. It is beautifully shot. Perfectly cast and powerfully performed, especially by Ejiofor, Nyong'o, and Fassbender. Oh my God! Is Fassbender killer here! Like Drew, though, I didn't feel very much other than gut-wrenching shock at how far McQueen went with the violence. I applaud that as well by the way. But real emotion was not there for me. I knew how it would end and I feel like this movie just sort of built and built and built and then dropped off. It didn't even give me a chance to cry. That last scene should've been more powerful that it was. Brad Pitt's role didn't bother me at all. I liked his brief part here. He is totally a necessary character. And provided yet another element of that time period's white Southerner, which is another thing this movie does well. It offers a wide array of character parts that show us all sides of the attitudes on Slavery from the white perspective. I can't remember the score that much at all. I don't know what that means. But it was no deal for me. I also don't find McQueen's work here overly "clinical", though it is obvious that every shot was meticulously considered before shooting. I'm okay with that here and in Schindler's List. But, Kev, you said you were going to complain! Ok. Here. For me, 12 Years a Slave is exactly Oscar bait. Historical period piece, recounting a devastating era of American history that, I have to say, has been done before. Maybe not better but before. You have on the ballot that year a balls-to-the-wall, 3-hour tragicomedy, featuring the best Leo DiCaprio there has ever been in The Wolf of Wall Street. Yes. My vote would've gone Leo over McConaughey, despite his brilliance in Dallas Buyers Club, which happens to be another BP nominee that I liked better. I would've given Best Picture and Director to Nebraska and Alexander Payne. My wife would agree. Our experience with that film is one of the happiest moments of our nearly 6-year relationship. We were the only ones in the theater and laughed our asses off the whole time. Such a beautiful, touching comedy. My wife, the history buff, liked 12 Years a Slave even more than I did. And I did. She yells at me when I say Leo should've won Best Actor. But we both agree that, for us, Nebraska was the winner. And it would've been a ballsier pick as well. And as far as authenticity goes, my wife reminded me just now that the single most authentic character and scene in this film was the slave auction scene featuring Paul Giammati as the auctioneer. She says that scene is 100% historically accurate.
Drew: I've gotten into the '12 Years a Slave won based on fear of racism' discussion too many times, so I won't step into that other than to say that I do still stand by that statement...to a degree. 12 Years a Slave HAD the pedigree, the critics and the reviews to legitimately earn that Oscar, and so because of that, despite my personal reservations with it, I don't hate this win. It actually feels right, in a way. Did I want Gravity to pull out a win? HELL YES, and I was even predicting it to surprise ala Birdman (more on that next week), but I'm ok with this one. I don't agree on Fassy. I love him as an actor, but this was so 'Bad Guy 101' and it just felt so calculated to me. Next to Ejiofor and Nyong'o, who were POURING OUT THEIR SOULS...Fassbender felt very stiff and uneven, to me. In fact, everyone did. Like, great cast that didn't quite hit the mark for me, overall.
Kevin: I'm sort of torn between the fact that this is a great movie, and probably a worthy Best Picture winner, and the fact that it just wasn't close to my favorite of the nominees. Its win was a bummer to me. And the obvious, safe choice. I don't know about it winning because of a "fear of racism" but it certainly felt like a big "look how great we are" moment for Oscar and Hollywood. Fassbender maybe was playing "bad guy" but he sure was a convincing one. He gave it his all just the same. At least, that's how I felt.
Drew: 12 Years a Slave is a film that I wholly respect and appreciate and even admire, but I just don't love. I don't think it's as grand as it aspires to be, but it does make a statement and is a film that SHOULD be seen, for sure.
Jeffery: This was one of the strongest films I've ever seen in an initial theatrical release. Just breathtakingly good. The script (which won) I think is one of the more underrated aspects. That final line of the wife: "there's nothing to be sorry for" burns with indignation and surrender. Ejiofor is incredibly good and makes the story very intimate. I also appreciate McQueen's staging and direction--his slightly ironic eye. The beautiful sounds of nature mixed with the horror. I agree with Brittani that the cast is amazing. I was happy in particular for Nyongo's win. She was a breath of fresh air. Loved her speech. I recommend reading the book too (I read before seeing the film; I too hadn't known about Solomon)--it shows how amazing Ridley's adaptation was.
Wendell: As a standalone movie, I love 12 Years a Slave. It tells a personal story that not many people knew about against the backdrop of a part of American history everyone knows about, but most people, I think, wish never happened. The story-telling is mercilessly unflinching and the cast is flat out superb. I found nearly every performance perfect. I loved Ejiofor and Nyong'o, as well as Fassbender, Cumberbatch, Giamatti, the list goes on. I actually think Fassbender is a great villain, here. Nyong'o hogged the spotlight during awards, and rightfully so, but it overshadowed a great turn by Sarah Poulson. She's an even bigger villain than Fassbender because she's the impetus for a lot of his actions and she totally owns it.
Drew: The dancing/sudden smash to the face moment was chilling...but I just felt like so much of those performances, outside of scattered 'moments' were too precise.
Wendell: I also felt this movie all the way through. I'll come back to that. I'm seeing terms like too precise, and too authentic, to describe this film's performances and I struggle to understand what that means. When I think of great movies and the great portrayals within them, it's often because they are completely authentic, 100% believable. This makes us buy in to what we're watching. No matter what I'm watching I want the actors within it to be as real as possible. So I'm having a hard time seeing 'too authentic' as a bad thing. If that's to mean rigid, then maybe, but the only performance I found to be remotely that was Brad Pitt's.
Drew: I think I also used the word calculated, and because of that it lost emotion for me. I like flaws because flaws are human. Sometimes a performance can be so 'authentic' or 'perfect' that it feels like a shell. I got that here, sadly.
Wendell: Sounds like the disconnect is in how we're defining authentic and perfect. To me, those words mean that everything was done right. There is as much emotion as necessary to make it work, to get us fully invested in the people on the screen. This movie did that for me.
Drew: For me at least, much of the acting here felt like actors studying and portraying a historically defined persona and not living within a character. In that way, it was 'perfect' as in, without technical flaw, but it also lacked the emotional connect that comes from sinking into a role.
Wendell: Okay, that makes sense. However, I think they managed to get the technical aspects correct without sacrificing emotion. At least Ejiofor, and Nyong'o did. Lupita was all emotion. She got a very well deserved Oscar win. Judging the movie as a whole on its Oscar win is a bit trickier. As a black person, I want to see movies telling black stories do well, but I don't want the Academy to condescend and give it an award just because it's a black story, and/or as some sort of defense against potential charges of racism. I want it to win because it's legitimately good. Given their record of almost always going with the 'statement' movie and the backlash they often face over the lack of diversity in the films they nominate, it's hard not to see it as some of you do, as AMPAS grandstanding to show they are on the side of what's right and to make themselves appear to still be in touch with reality. Ultimately, I have to look within myself to decide how I feel about the movie and why I feel that way. Just like I don't want a pity award from the Academy, I don't want to be 'the black guy who loves it just because it's a black movie.' Some might say that because of this I scrutinize black movies a little more closely than non-black ones, but I try to be fair regardless of what it is I'm watching. With all that said, when I compare it to the field I have it as the second best of the bunch. I place it behind The Wolf of Wall Street, but only by a narrow margin. And I agree, Leo should definitely have beaten MM for Best Actor. The irony of everything that I've said is that I chose another black movie as my #1 film, Fruitvale Station. Ultimately, I'm really good with this win even if it's not my absolute top choice. It's close enough in quality to The Wolf of Wall Street for me not to be upset if either had won.
Drew: I wanted Fruitvale Station to get nominated SO BADLY! For me, the best nominated film was Her, followed closely by Gravity. 12 Years is probably next in line for me, possibly Captain Philips. Dallas Buyers Club was pedestrian and American Hustle was forgettable fluff. I really like Wolf and agree DiCaprio should have won in a walk, but it is a touch too long and struggles for me with assigning proper guilt to its protagonist. I haven't seen Nebraska or Philomena.
Britt: Wolf was my favorite film too, and the one I was hoping for even though it had no chance. Leo deserved that Oscar, btw. McConaughey was good, but Leo was just better. Fruitvale Station was excellent and should've gotten more attention too. I'm okay with the win because it was it was a good film, even though I liked others better and the politics are a bit shifty.
Wendell: Her, Gravity, and Captain Phillips were all excellent. I liked American Hustle a good deal, but in the end it David O. Russell making a knock-off Scorsese flick. Didn't like Dallas Buyers Club. It failed its protagonist, miserably. I never felt that was a guy that cared about anything other than his wallet. Leto was amazing, though. Haven't seen Philomena, either, but Drew you need to see Nebraska. Bruce Dern and June Squibb are both on fire. Very bittersweet flick, too. So happy to see the love for Fruitvale Station.
Drew: Leto earned that Oscar!
Kevin: Leto. Yes. I forgot to mention American Hustle, but I have it way up on my list that year. So what if it's O. Russell doing Scorsese. It was fun. And cool as shit. And Jennifer Lawrence is a goddess. And don't give me any crap about it. Ok. LOL. And Leo was fucking badass in Wolf of Wall Street. And I don't care if it didn't "assign appropriate guilt." I would've watched Leo and Jonah blow lines off of silicon-filled boobs for two more hours. That movie is not about the character's guilt. It's about his never-ending greed. I love it! Nebraska is a beautiful little movie. Dern and Squibb own that shit. And that score and black and white cinematography. Perfection!
Britt: Nebraska's score is beautiful. That was my favorite part of it. Philomena made me want to punch a bunch of nuns…Though I want to see that film Leo was talking about at the Globes. PhiloMANIA!
Kevin: I respect 12 Years a Slave and it should be seen by everyone, and I'm glad I saw it. Just didn't think it was the best movie. That said, it's a B+
Drew: I'm right with you, grade wise. B+
Britt: I'm at an A- with this. Good film
Jeffery: A+ One of the best Best Pictures!
FINAL SCORE: 84/100
YEAR SCORE: 286/400
1) 12 Years a Slave (84 Points)
2) Frozen (76 Points)
3) 20 Feet from Stardom (74 Points)
4) The Great Beauty (52 Points)
Drew: Soul sista's, feuding sisters, aimless Italians and the struggle to overcome inhumanity...this year covered a lot of bases. It's time for closing comments!!!
Wendell: This year was all over the place for me. Best Pic was an excellent choice. Doc and Animated were good, not great. Foreign was shit. Very middle of the road group of winners.
Drew: I liked this year more than you. A Disney masterpiece, a fantastic foreign film, a very important and well-made BP and an interesting Doc. Overall, these are solid winners, even if not all were the best in their field.
Britt: Foreign brings it down overall with me. Otherwise, these are good winners, even if I liked other films in their categories better.
Drew: I just love when we have such diverse reactions to a film. Like, Wendell's F and my A for The Great Beauty.
Wendell: Variety is the spice of blogging.
Drew: My thoughts exactly!
Kevin: Nothing this year was like 100% WOW for me. Frozen is close. I also really love 20 Feet from Stardom. My appreciation for The Great Beauty's beauty helped it a bit as far as my grade went. It's a movie I want to go back to at some point. As perfect as 12 Years a Slave is, it's way down the line of my favorites in 2013. Fine year. Not the greatest.
Jeffery: 12 Years a Slave is one of the best winners in Oscar history. I do wish the love was spread around more that year in the techs. OK Foreign and Animated winner. 20 Feet is a pretty inspiring doc win.
Jeffery: 12 Years a Slave is one of the best winners in Oscar history. I do wish the love was spread around more that year in the techs. OK Foreign and Animated winner. 20 Feet is a pretty inspiring doc win.
Let's Get TRENDY!
I love when a film divides us so drastically, and no film this year did that quite like The Great Beauty. Division is great, especially when you can find a 'sort of' common ground, and I think we can all agree that we want to #VisitItaly now, and so because of that, let's hashtag it and make us trendy! Let's also leave comments, because those are awesome.