Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 12 – Philomena

Philomena - BP

Philomena is a film directed by Stephen Frears, with a screenplay written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope.  This film tells the true story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an Irish woman who had her son taken from her while she was a teenager working at a Catholic convent.  For fifty years, Philomena kept this part of her life a secret, but after her daughter happens upon Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a recently fired journalist formerly with the BBC, he agrees to write a human-interest story about Lee’s desperate attempt to locate the whereabouts of her long lost son.  During the course of their search, Philomena and Martin endure moments of heartbreak and exhilaration, and in the process, they learn from each other about the true meaning of life.

Philomena is a wonderfully inspiring film, and it succeeds on more than one plane.  For starters, it is directed by Stephen Frears, a popular British filmmaker with an established repertoire of films, including High Fidelity (2000) and one of my personal favorites, The Queen (2006).  The movie looks similar to a lot of well-produced British films in terms of overt elegance and stylistic subtlety, and Philomena benefits from Frears’s graceful treatment.  Also, the screenplay, adapted by Coogan and Pope from Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, is witty, sad, exuberant, and tear-jerking in ALL of the right places, and this story is given justice on the screen because of its terrific script.

Philomena 2Notwithstanding the well-crafted filmmaking and scriptwriting, the film features two gifted acting performances: a stellar display by Dame Judi Dench and a striking performance by Steve Coogan.  Judi Dench has one of cinema’s most distinguished filmographies, and in Philomena, she gives another award-worthy performance in the titular role.  The story is about a woman that is tormented for fifty years about where her son might be, and Dench elucidates the character in an unbelievably powerful way.  She allows the viewers to see and feel each of her emotions, and this connection makes your heart break for Philomena in more ways than you could ever think possible.  Also, Coogan’s role as Sixsmith is not to be overlooked one bit.  I have only come across Coogan in the past in comedic roles, but in this film, his dramatic acting helps make the movie a success.  It probably helps that Coogan co-wrote the film, but his careful construction of the character’s on-screen mannerisms is certainly superb.

Philomena 1I greatly enjoyed this film, and as an independent production from England, it has not received its deserved attention; however, I was undoubtedly pleased with the number of Academy Award-nominations it received.  It is most definitely a hidden gem, but it is one that affected me emotionally while watching it in the theater.  Philomena is one of the most moving films I have seen in quite some time, and if you have not seen it yet, it will definitely be worth every minute of your time.   Philomena is rated R for some language.

Philomena trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG3QP8foCvg

Academy Award nominations for Philomena:

Best Picture (Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan, and Tracey Seaward, Producers)

Best Actress (Judi Dench)

Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope)

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

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

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Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 4 – Skyfall

Skyfall

Skyfall is a film directed by Sam Mendes, with a screenplay written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan.  This is the 23rd James Bond film and the third in the Daniel Craig era, preceded by Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008).  In the newest addition to the 007 series, Bond begins the film with an intense fighting scene as he is chasing a mercenary.  He ends up falling over a bridge and is presumed dead by all of MI6; however, when MI6 comes under attack by a major terrorist, Bond must reemerge from his hiding and help Britain’s intelligence agency hunt this rebel down.  As more details of the terrorist and his plot are revealed, dark secrets about M are uncovered, and 007’s loyalty to his superior is greatly tested.

In the third of Craig’s Bond movies, he and Mendes have created one of the greater films in this storied franchise’s history.  After Quantum of Solace, I began to think Craig would never make another 007 film as great as Casino Royale and would end up fading into history as another average Bond that could never measure up to the greatness of Sean Connery’s original portrayal.  That was until I saw Skyfall.  Daniel Craig clearly made a statement in this film that he is the best James Bond since Connery.  Mendes and Craig have included much more dramatic elements than previous Bond films, not to mention some dazzling special effects that make the terror and destruction in the movie feel real to the viewers.  I rank Skyfall as the second-best film in the franchise, ahead of Casino Royale (2006), From Russia with Love (1963), and Dr. No (1962), but I have put it behind Goldfinger (1964), which I still consider to be the top Bond movie of all time.

The cast that was assembled for Skyfall only adds to the sensation of the film.  Dame Judi Dench reprises her role as M, giving a stellar performance as a character she has played in each consecutive film since 1995, beginning with GoldenEye.  Another strong performance in the film is provided by Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem.  He plays the film’s villain, Raoul Silva, and portrays the character in such a creepy, disturbing way that it makes Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men (2007) look like the nicest guy in the world.  The film features some other great supporting performances by Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny, and Bérénice Marlohe as the newest Bond girl, Sévérine.

As this blog has proved, I am always excited for the Academy Awards, but this year, I have an extra layer of anticipation because the Academy plans to honor the 50-year anniversary of the first James Bond movie with a tribute to the legendary franchise, including Adele performing “Skyfall,” the newest film’s theme song, which is nominated for Best Original Song.  Skyfall is rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language, and smoking.

Skyfall trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kw1UVovByw

Academy Award nominations for Skyfall:

Cinematography (Roger Deakins)

Best Original Score (Thomas Newman)

Best Original Song (“Skyfall,” music and lyrics by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth)

Sound Editing (Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers)

Sound Mixing (Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, and Stuart Wilson)

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

5. Django Unchained

6. Life of Pi

7. Amour

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo