Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 11 – Her

Her - BP

Her is a film written and directed by Spike Jonze.  This film, set in the not-so-distant future, tells the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a soon-to-be-divorced writer, and the relationship he develops with Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), the voice of his artificially intelligent operating system.

Spike Jonze on the set of Her.Her is by far one of the oddest concepts in any film I have ever seen, but in only a way Spike Jonze can, he makes it work in such an incredibly beautiful manner.  I wrote about Her a few months ago in my fall preview, and I was very much looking forward to seeing this because I wanted Jonze to get back to making movies that I enjoy.  In my opinion, Where the Wild Things Are (2009) was a boring movie, no matter how cool it looked on screen, and I was hoping Her would put Jonze back on my cinematic map.  And indeed, he has.  The script, Jonze’s first solo effort, was far more hilarious than I was expecting, and he made it come together on the screen through stunning colors and intricate detail.  Even though a couple of scenes drag at times, Spike Jonze has created a film that is all the while memorable, refreshingly funny, and bitterly sad, and it will be exciting to see what he has in store next.

Her 1The film succeeds because of Jonze’s fantastic script and striking set decoration, but thanks to two amazing acting performances, it is one of the better movies from 2013.  I have always been a fan of Joaquin Phoenix’s work, no matter how much of a peculiarity he is as a human being, and in his role as Theodore Twombly, he has created one of the best performances of his career, and by far one of my favorites.  His character is quiet and introverted, but it was invigorating to see his transformation as a person after falling in love with Samantha; Phoenix’s innate ability as a performer makes this character thrive in every scene.  It was also entertaining to see Joaquin Phoenix in a role that mixes equal parts of drama and comedy—I never would have thought of him as a “funny” guy, but in this film, he makes it work, and he makes it work well.

Another fantastic performance was given by Scarlett Johansson as Samantha.  And before any of you that have not yet seen the film ask, yes, Johansson is only a voice actor in this film.  Before Her, I would have been in an uproar if a voice actor were nominated for any major awards; however, even though Scarlett was not nominated, I truly believe her performance was well worth that level of critical praise.  You never see Samantha, but you feel her presence every single time she speaks, and this is all because of Johansson.  Throughout the film, there are times you forget Theodore is simply falling in love with an inanimate object because of Johansson’s fluidity.  Never has there been a better performance from Johansson, and Samantha will forever be one of the greatest artificial intelligence characters in cinematic history.

This film takes such an interesting perspective on relationships and the ways in which we operate in a world dominated by technology, and even though Theodore is falling in love with his operating system, the way it is depicted on the screen is not that unfathomable given the way technology permeates our lives.  No matter what you may think of Jonze as a filmmaker or the concept of this movie, it is well worth the watch.  Her is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief graphic nudity.

Her trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzV6mXIOVl4

Academy Award nominations for Her:

Best Picture (Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, and Vincent Landay, Producers)

Best Original Score (William Butler and Owen Pallett)

Best Original Song (The Moon Song: Music by Karen O; Lyric by Karen O & Spike Jonze)

Best Production Design (Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena)

Best Original Screenplay (Spike Jonze)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

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Fall Preview 2013: No. 10 – No. 6

6-10 Fall Preview

Hey movie fans!  I hope everyone enjoyed the introductory post to my Fall Preview 2013 a couple days ago, which included five honorable mention films set to debut in theaters in the next few months.  Today’s post reveals films No. 10 through No. 6 on my list of Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season.  This batch includes some surefire, award-quality works of cinema, and if you are looking for a great movie to go see in theaters in the next few months, this post will give you some top-notch options.

No. 10 – Prisoners

Prisoners is a film about two girls that go missing and follows a detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a desperate father (Hugh Jackman) as they work to track both girls down.  Even Prisonersthough the trailer presents the film as a thriller following two families trying to track down their daughters, Gyllenhaal says it is much more than meets the eye: “What’s different about this story is the idea that revenge just begets more revenge and you become a prisoner of that need to seek revenge.”  The trailer initially caught my eye with its dark, menacing demeanor, and not only was I captivated with the idea in general, I was even more fascinated with Paul Dano’s role.  He has long been a fantastic character actor, and I expect nothing but a superb supporting performance in this film from the twenty-nine-year-old star.  Prisoners is set for a theatrical release on September 20, 2013.

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Incendies)

Starring: Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables, Wolverine), Jake Gyllenhaal (Brothers, End of Watch), Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood), Terrence Howard (Crash, Hustle & Flow)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpXfcTF6iVk

No. 9 – Rush

Rush tells the true story of Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda.  At the 1976 German Grand Prix, Lauda (Daniel Brühl) was involved in a disastrous crash that nearly took his life.  The film follows his comeback and relationship with Hunt (Chris Hemsworth).  I am always a sucker for a quality sports-themed movie, and I have been aware of Rush Rushfor quite some time.  Not only is the story emotional and uplifting, but the film also features two exceptional actors playing these infamous lead roles.  Over the past couple of years, I have become a huge fan of Hemsworth’s acting abilities, highlighted in Thor, The Avengers, and The Cabin in the Woods.  I also expect big things in this film from Daniel Brühl, whose breakout performance was in my favorite film of all time, 2009’s Inglourious Basterds.  Lastly, the film features a supporting performance by one of my favorite actresses in cinema, Alexandra Maria Lara.  Needless to say, this movie has everything going for it, and I anticipate moviegoers everywhere to “rush” to the theater to see it (pun clearly intended).  Rush is set for a theatrical release on September 13, 2013.

Director: Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon)

Starring: Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Cabin in the Woods), Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds), Olivia Wilde (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Drinking Buddies), Alexandra Maria Lara (Downfall, L’affaire Farewell)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA3XN54J8nY

No. 8 – Her

Her is a film about an introverted writer named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) who is dealing with the end of a long relationship.  He decides to buy a new computer operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), and through their conversations, Theodore begins to fall in love with “Samantha.”  The first time I saw this trailer, I thought, “wow, what an oddher phoenix premise.”  But the more I watched it, the more engrossed I became with the subject matter.  Half of my intrigue dealt directly with this unique plot, but the other half came from the people involved with the film.  No matter how odd he may be as a human being, Joaquin Phoenix is still one of the single most talented actors working in Hollywood, and his involvement with the film foreshadows an excess of award praise for the movie.  I am also looking to this movie to put Spike Jonze, the director, back on the cinematic map.  He has had success directing on the silver screen in the past, with movies like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, but his 2009 live-action adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are was clearly less than spectacular in my book.  I am hoping Her revitalizes my enjoyment of Jonze’s films.  Her is set for a theatrical release on December 18, 2013.

Director: Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, The Master), Amy Adams (The Master, American Hustle), Scarlett Johansson (Hitchcock, Don Jon)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJTU48_yghs

No. 7 – Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace is a film that follows an ex-convict (Christian Bale) as he seeks revenge on a crime boss (Woody Harrelson) that he suspects has something to do with the disappearance of his missing brother (Casey Affleck).  Obviously, with a couple of the out of the furnaceheavy hitters of Hollywood in this film, specifically the always-remarkable Christian Bale, it will definitely be one to look out for come Oscar season; however, I am most eager for the film because of the director, Scott Cooper.  Cooper has only directed a single feature film before Out of the Furnace: the 2009 drama Crazy Heart, which earned Jeff Bridges the Academy Award for Best Actor.  I immediately fell in love with Crazy Heart after seeing it for the first time, and I have been eagerly awaiting Cooper’s next film for four years.  Luckily, he has come back strong with a motion picture that is already receiving a fair amount of Oscar buzz, and I cannot wait to see how his second go-round pans out.  Out of the Furnace is set for a wide theatrical release on December 6, 2013.

Director: Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart)

Starring: Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises, American Hustle), Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games, Now You See Me)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClzRVlMhU2E

No. 6 – Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis is a film about an anti-social musician (Oscar Isaac) and the struggles he faces as he tries to salvage any success in his personal and professional lives.  The24-inside-llewyn-davis newest Coen Brothers film does not quite look like any other that they have created before, but my devotion to their work is unrelenting, and I believe this film will captivate not only myself, but also all movie fans alike.  For Mumford & Sons fans, this movie will be right up your alley—Marcus Mumford and Academy Award-winner T-Bone Burnett produced the folk-style music incorporated throughout the film.  Some gifted young performers appear in the film in addition to Isaac, including Mr. “Suit and Tie” himself, Justin Timberlake, and Carey Mulligan, one of the most popular and talented young actresses in the business today (not to mention she’s Marcus Mumford’s wife).  The film debuted at Cannes earlier this year, winning the second-most prestigious award available, the Grand Prix, and it was met with rave reviews—based on 23 critics reviews, the film has already garnered a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  With this film, expect the same amazing product the Coen Brothers have been handing out for many years, including just the precise balance of emotion and their classic satirical humor.  Inside Llewyn Davis is set for a theatrical release on December 6, 2013.

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, True Grit)

Starring: Oscar Isaac (Drive, The Bourne Legacy), Carey Mulligan (Drive, The Great Gatsby), John Goodman (Argo, Flight), Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy, Country Strong), Justin Timberlake (Trouble with the Curve, Runner, Runner)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl8DidbbTQM

Best Actor

Jackman

This year’s field of Best Actor nominees includes two newcomers to the ceremony and three other actors with a rich history at the show.  Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper have each been acting for quite a while, but with their performances this year, they have each properly earned their first Oscar nomination.  Joaquin Phoenix, Daniel-Day Lewis, and Denzel Washington are no strangers to the Academy Awards, having previously won a combined four Oscars on eleven nominations.  With the way this year’s group has rounded out, it is sure to be a dogfight to the end, and honestly, any of these actors would be worthy of the Academy’s highest acting honor.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)

In Les Misérables, Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, an ex-con on the run from Javert, the determined and relentless French policeman.  Valjean eventually meets a factory worker and agrees to raise her daughter Cosette.  In Tom Hooper’s interpretation of the infamous musical, Jackman leads a group of talented singers and actors, and even though the others provide us with some emotionally charged portrayals, Jackman stands alone as the film’s most valuable performer.  Not only is his singing on point, the dramatic and affecting dynamism he brings to the screen is nothing short of spectacular.  With strong performances from all of this year’s nominees, Jackman demonstrates why he alone gave moviegoers the best acting performance.  Jackman has never previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

2. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

In The Master, Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran with an alcohol dependency who struggles to make it in the post-war society.  He eventually comes across Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a religious movement called “The Cause.”  He joins the faction, but his complicated presence among the members of The Cause begins to create issues for everyone, and he becomes dismantled by his own doing.  In Phoenix’s return to dramatic feature films, he prevails tremendously.  After his horribly peculiar fake retirement and subsequent pseudo-documentary I’m Still Here, Joaquin Phoenix gives a tantalizing performance, which reminds us that he is very much still one of the heavy hitters in the realm of acting.  I wish I could give him the Oscar for this performance, but Jackman’s portrayal was far too strong.  Phoenix was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Gladiator (2000) and for Best Actor for his role in Walk the Line (2005).

3. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

In Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the role of the 16th president of the United States.  I was never blown away whatsoever by Spielberg’s latest endeavor, but I did respect the amazing acting performances it includes, specifically Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the title character.  Even though he is one of my favorite actors and did a superb job in this film, I truly feel like all of the hype surrounding his performance was due to the makeup department making him look identical to Abraham Lincoln.  If he wins, they should share this award with him.  Also, being that video cameras or audio-recording devices were not around back then, we do not even know what Abraham Lincoln sounded like, so I find it amusing that critics praised his portrayal for his likeness to Lincoln’s voice.  Day-Lewis was previously nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for Best Actor for his roles in My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007).

4. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a man suffering with a severe case of bipolar disease.  After leaving a mental health institution, he moves back in with his parents and becomes romantically involved with an eccentric woman with some serious mental issues of her own.  In the breakout performance of Cooper’s dramatic acting career, he succeeds in every way possible.  Most known for his roles in comedic films, Cooper provides an exhilarating portrayal of a man trying to survive mentally after a life-changing incident with his wife.  This was one of the top movies of the year, and the performance Cooper gives only adds to its triumph.  Cooper has never previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

5. Denzel Washington (Flight)

In Flight, Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, an alcoholic airline captain.  Whitaker becomes an overnight celebrity after miraculously landing his plane after it malfunctions in the air and comes to a crashing halt.  Little does anyone know, the day he flew that plane, he was drunk and high.  Washington has a way of taking on the role of complicated characters that you as a viewer want to hate but can’t help but love, such as Alonzo Harris in Training Day and Frank Lucas in American Gangster; in Flight, he has once again provided us with this complex.  Washington is most definitely one of the most incredible actors in the film industry today, and he adds to his illustrious career with this performance.  Washington was previously nominated for five Academy Awards, winning for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Glory (1989) and for Best Actor for his role in Training Day (2001).

Actors snubbed in this category: John Hawkes (The Sessions)

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