Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 14 – The Master

The Master

The Master is a film written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson.  The movie follows Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a World War II veteran that returns home and struggles to establish a steady life outside of the military.  He eventually meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a philosophical movement, and Dodd, along with his wife Peggy (Amy Adams), accept Freddie into their group to help spread the word of “The Cause.”  Over time, however, the issues Freddie has with alcohol dependency and adapting to a post-war society create significant difficulties for the Dodd family’s advancement of “The Cause,” and Lancaster and Peggy attempt to use the ways of their teachings to help Freddie fix himself to become a disciple for their movement.

I have been a huge fan of P.T. Anderson’s films over the years, specifically Boogie Nights (1997) and There Will Be Blood (2007), so it was a given that I was going to go see this film in theaters shortly after its release during the summer.  Considering it took five years for Anderson to release his follow-up to There Will Be Blood, one of the most amazing movies of our time, I knew it was sure to be well thought out and intricately fascinating.  After the viewing the film, I instantly thought that Anderson had created a movie that was sure to receive some assortment of award nominations, but the over-complication of the plot made it something I, along with most viewers leaving the theater that day, was utterly confused by.

Given that the plot centers on the teachings of a post-war cult, it is no wonder that the film seemed rather disconnected and uninviting.  The beginning of the film started out strong—it truly seemed like P.T. Anderson’s latest film was going to be gloriously masterful, pun intended.  However, as the storyline fully came into focus, it only proceeded to drag on with exaggerated repetition.  Anderson created some downright complex characters, but by the end of the film, I did not feel like they had grown very much—it was like they all ended up right back where they began.

With all that being said, The Master is still a solid film.  In my opinion, the film is wholly carried by three stellar acting performances from the main characters.  In Phoenix’s first feature film since his fake retirement from acting a few years ago, he reminds us all why he has always been heralded as one of the best actors of his generation.  Philip Seymour Hoffman also turns in a fantastic performance in his role as the leader of the cult.  However, the brightest display of sheer acting ability came from Amy Adams as Peggy Dodd.  While she seems like an innocent and docile wife, the film, coupled with Adams’ amazing performance, reveals Peggy to be much more of a woman that pulls the strings from afar—I would argue that her character is the actual “master” that the title of the film implies.  If this film does not sound like it’s for you, at least give it a shot just to take in an astounding representation of acting by a stellar ensemble.  The Master is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, and language.

Academy Award nominations for The Master:

Actor in a Leading Role (Joaquin Phoenix)

Actor in a Supporting Role (Philip Seymour Hoffman)

Actress in a Supporting Role (Amy Adams)

The Master trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ1O1vb9AUU

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Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Adams

This year’s Best Supporting Actress nominees are definitely not strangers to the Academy Awards ceremony.  Not including this year’s nominations, each of the five women in this category have been previously nominated for at least one Academy Award; in fact, they have been previously nominated a total of eight times combined, including three Academy Award wins.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Amy Adams (The Master)

In The Master, Amy Adams plays Peggy Dodd, the wife of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a man who is the leader or “master” of a philosophical movement known as “The Cause.”  The Dodd family’s efforts to spread the word of “The Cause” prove difficult after they take in Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a drifter with an alcohol problem.  Although at first glance Adams’ character seems like the dutiful, obedient wife to her husband, the complexities of her character throughout the film show a completely different woman.  As illustrated in a few key scenes, Peggy Dodd truly has an unprecedented level of authority within “The Cause” and might be the true representation of the titular “master” instead of Lancaster.  After many award-nominated performances over the past few years, Adams finally hits the jackpot with this role.  It is easily one of the most deeply interesting characters that Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) has ever created, and he made an amazing casting choice in Amy Adams.  Adams was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress on three occasions: Junebug (2005), Doubt (2008), and The Fighter (2010).

2. Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)

In the latest film adaptation of the infamous novel and musical Les Misérables, Anne Hathaway takes on the role of Fantine, a woman struggling to make enough money to send to support her illegitimate child, Cosette.  Even though Hathaway only appears in the film for a very short period, she most definitely makes the most of her time on the screen.  Not only does Hathaway bring this character to life through her amazing singing abilities, she gives us one of the most truly emotional performances in recent history.  Her acting is spot-on and riveting, and you as a viewer are engrossed in each scene, feeling her pain and wanting to weep for her.  Her performance very well may result in her winning the Oscar in this category, and if she does, she is quite deserving after the masterpiece she put together in Les Misérables; however, Adams’ performance was simply too strong for me to give Hathaway the win.  Anne Hathaway was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Rachel Getting Married (2008).

3. Sally Field (Lincoln)

In Lincoln, Sally Field portrays Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln.  History depicts the First Lady as a complex, but fragile woman during her time in the White House.  According to Lincoln director Steven Spielberg, it was these characteristics of Mary Todd Lincoln that always made him want to cast Sally Field in this role.  There are a couple of scenes in the movie where Field’s character is fighting with the president (Daniel Day-Lewis), and the raw emotion and sheer vigor that Field delineates during these scenes are reason enough to nominate her for this intricate portrayal.  If it were not for stellar performances by Adams and Hathaway, Sally Field would be an easy choice for this category.  She was previously nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress in two movies: Norma Rae (1979) and Places in the Heart (1984).

4. Helen Hunt (The Sessions)

In The Sessions, a film based on a true story, Helen Hunt plays Cheryl Cohen-Greene, a professional sex surrogate that is hired to help Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a poet that is paralyzed from the neck down due to polio, lose his virginity.  In the movie, Hunt shines on the screen by guiding John Hawkes’ character through multiple sex-therapy sessions as he works towards achieving his desire to have sex despite his paralysis.  Her character develops a complex relationship with O’Brien, and it eventually leads to stresses in her own marriage.  Even though I feel Helen Hunt did a great job with this character, the moments for her to shine came on a sparing basis.  Hunt was previously nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in As Good as It Gets (1997).

5. Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

In Silver Linings Playbook, Jacki Weaver portrays Dolores Solitano, the mother of lead character Pat Solitano, Jr. (Bradley Cooper).  The matriarch of the Solitano family is faced with many complications as she moves her son back into the family home after he spent eight months in a mental health institution for his severe bipolar disorder, and it is these obstacles that make Weaver’s character such a complex figure—luckily for the viewers, Weaver plays the part to a tee.  Even though she gave such a good performance in one of the year’s top movies, I was quite surprised that she received a nomination.  She was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Animal Kingdom (2010).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Samantha Barks (Les Misérables) and Judi Dench (Skyfall)