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

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)

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 15 – Argo

Argo 15

Argo is a film directed by Ben Affleck, with a screenplay written by Chris Terrio.  The movie is based on true events during the Iran Hostage Crisis that were previously unknown to the general public for many decades.  On November 4, 1979, Iranian revolutionaries famously raided the U.S. embassy in Tehran, holding 52 Americans hostage.  During the attack, six Americans snuck out of the embassy and made their way into the home of the Canadian ambassador to Iran.  CIA operative Tony Mendez, knowing the agency must act quickly in order to protect the six Americans from being found out and assassinated by the revolutionaries, develops an ingenious, but hazardous plan to retrieve them and return them to the United States safely.  His plan was to create a fictional movie and act, along with the six Americans, as a film crew visiting Iran to find filming locations before heading back to the states.

After this movie was released, it quickly garnered critical acclaim in every category imaginable.  This praise led to the film winning numerous pre-Oscars film awards, including Best Motion Picture (Drama) and Best Director (Ben Affleck) at the Golden Globes, and being nominated for seven Academy Awards.  Even though I found the movie to be quite interesting and entertaining, in my own opinion it was not as amazing as everyone was making it out to be.

For starters, I was surprised to see this film nominated for Best Picture.  I personally rank this film as the third best out of the three Affleck-directed movies in his filmography.  Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010) were both much more complicated, enthralling films and yet neither was nominated for Best Picture.  The general consensus is also that Ben Affleck was robbed this year by the Academy for not being nominated for Best Director.  After hearing all of the universal acclaim his directorial efforts were receiving, I felt bad for him, too, but then I saw the film.  And after sitting in the theater for two hours watching this movie, I left completely and utterly un-blown away.  Do not get me wrong, it was a great movie, which is why it is featured on this countdown of the year’s best films, but it did not do enough for me to show Affleck’s growth as a director.

Also, the film features some great acting performances that carry this story through until the end.  The obvious bright stars were Ben Affleck himself, portraying the real-life Tony Mendez, and Alan Arkin, playing Lester Siegel, a fictitious film producer.  Even though these performances were definitely worth watching, the most impressive performance, in my opinion, was by Bryan Cranston (from Breaking Bad).  He depicts Jack O’Donnell, Affleck’s character’s supervisor at the CIA.  Throughout the nerve-racking covert operation, Cranston illustrates the overwhelming tension involved with the mission, and he does so in a way that makes you feel his real-life anxiety pulsing through your own veins.  Argo is rated R for language and some violent images.

Academy Award nominations for Argo:

Best Picture (Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, and George Clooney, Producers)

Actor in a Supporting Role (Alan Arkin)

Film Editing (William Goldenberg)

Original Score (Alexandre Desplat)

Sound Editing (Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn)

Sound Mixing (John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and Jose Antonio Garcia)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Chris Terrio)

Argo trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w918Eh3fij0

And the Oscar goes to…

83rd Academy Awards, Oscar Envelope

Hey everyone!  The Oscars are only 19 days away, and this blog is about to heat up starting tomorrow.  Over the next 16 days, I will be updating this page with posts nearly every singe day.  Below I have provided a schedule of dates when I will post and the content that will be included each day.  This way, you can make sure to visit this page on any day that provides a topic that you are interested in.  These topics will include categories from my Oscars ballot and a countdown of my “Top 15 Films of the Year.”  After my Oscars ballot and list of “Top 15 Films of the Year” have been revealed, I will provide additional commentary leading up to the actual ceremony.  Feel free to comment and leave me any of your thoughts or suggestions.  Check out the schedule and make sure to follow all of the updates.

SCHEDULE OF POSTS:

2/6: #15 on the list of Top Films, Best Supporting Actress

2/7: #14 on the list of Top Films, Best Supporting Actor

2/8: #13 on the list of Top Films

2/9: #12 on the list of Top Films, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

2/10: #11 on the list of Top Films, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

2/11: #10 on the list of Top Films

2/12: #9 on the list of Top Films, Best Adapted Screenplay

2/13: #8 on the list of Top Films, Best Original Screenplay

2/14: NO POSTS

2/15: #7 on the list of Top Films, Best Original Score

2/16: #6 on the list of Top Films, Best Actress

2/17: #5 on the list of Top Films, Best Actor

2/18: #4 on the list of Top Films

2/19: #3 on the list of Top Films

2/20: #2 on the list of Top Films, Best Director

2/21: #1 on the list of Top Films, Best Picture

Rolling out the red carpet!

academy-awards

Welcome to my blog: “Countdown to the Oscars…from the mind of a film aficionado.” I’m Gaylan, the aforementioned film enthusiast whose mind serves as the basis for all of the cinematic content that will be included on this site for the next few weeks. For those of you that know me, I am a huge fan of the film-award season, specifically the Oscars.

I have always been into movies, but my true obsession with the silver screen developed during the spring semester of my freshman year at Oklahoma State when I took an “Introduction to Film Theory” course. Ever since then, I have viewed films in a completely different light and have learned to appreciate these moving pictures as a compelling form of art.

Subsequently, over the past four years, I have tried to see as many Oscar-nominated movies as possible before the broadcast so that I can feel more connected and engaged while watching the Academy Awards. In fact, of the past four Oscar ceremonies, I have watched 33 of the 34 total films that have been nominated for Best Picture (the only one I missed was District 9, which I still haven’t even attempted to see).

Each year when the Oscar nominations come out, I print off the nominees and essentially cast my own (unofficial) ballot. This has been a ritual I have always kept within the boundaries of my own home, but this year I have decided to create this blog and share my ballot with each of you.

Over the next few weeks leading up to the awards, I will be posting categories from my Academy Awards ballot on this blog with commentary on my winner choices, and I will be releasing a list of my “Top 15 Films of the Year.” I will only vote on categories in which I have seen every film or performance that is nominated in that respective category.

My goal for this blog is to provide as much detailed information about the Oscar-nominated films and performances this year as possible and to provide you with my own opinions and commentary about these movies. I look forward to any comments you might have about my ballot and my “Top 15 Films of the Year” list. Enjoy, and make sure to watch the 85th Academy Awards on Sunday, February 24, 2013, live from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, CA.