While Her is a film about a guy falling in love with his computer’s operating system, there is more to the story than meets the eye. Director and writer Spike Jonze (Adaptation and Where The Wild Things Are) created his most mature film by bringing us into this unique love story of a man falling in love with his highly adaptable operating system. Her is Jonze’s first original screenplay, which could win an Oscar for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) this March.
With the story taking place in the near future, we meet Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), who writes letters for people who can’t express their feelings. At first, Theodore seems like an average guy, but he’s lonely. His wife (Rooney Mara) left him and his best friend (Amy Adams) is distracted by her work. Theodore decides to buy a new operating system with artificial intelligence, designed to meet his every need and to adapt like a human being. Theodore decides for his operating system to have a female identity and the operating system names herself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Phoenix brings a soulful and heartbreaking performance to the film, reaching new highs in his career. You only hear Johansson’s voice, but this voice is sweet, tender and draws you deeper into the film. Johansson and Phoenix’s chemistry is powerful and well executed. Jonze gives them the right amount of time to grow their relationship on screen.
The deeply developed story, vibrant colors and production design add more character and depth to the film. Jonze takes gentle care with his love story and does not rush it. We see Theodore and Samantha’s relationship go through the highs and lows throughout the film. Jonze digs deep and shows us a different perspective on modern human relationships, causing viewers to reflect on their own relationships. Gazing through Theodore’s lonely eyes makes you examine your own life. We connect and experience Theodore and Samantha’s story of adventure, love and heartbreak. In the end, Samantha is more than an operating system — Samantha is real and Her encourages viewers to reflect on their own lives.
The film succeeds thanks to the terrific performances from the lead duo of Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. Set in the ’60s, the plot is about Walt Disney (Hanks) trying to persuade P.L. Travers (Thompson) to give him the rights to turn her loveable Mary Poppins books into a big screen adaption. Yes, Saving Mr. Banks is undoubtedly likeable and sentimental to a fault, but it works. Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) carefully shares this charming story of Disney’s beloved icon. Hanks not only looks and sounds like Disney, he captures the personality and spirit of the imaginative businessman.
Throughout the film, Hanks puts heart into his character and shows us that there is more to Disney than just his creative cartoon drawings. Thompson is marvelous as Mrs. Travers and shows everyone in Hollywood who is boss. Even though the Academy snubbed Thompson from a nomination, her performance is worthy of an Oscar. When Travers leaves her charming English cottage for the strange and sunny world of Hollywood, she continues struggling with the thought of her beloved Mary Poppins being turned into a musical. While she allows her treasured nanny to sing, she is firm that her story must not contain animation. There are many conflicts in the film with Travers and Disney’s team trying to agree on how to translate Mary Poppins to film.
Script writers Kelly Marcel (Terra Nova) and first-timer Sue Smith carefully place the flashbacks of Travers’ childhood to show us why she is so concerned about Mary Poppins and Mr. Banks. In Travers’ flashbacks, we see her being raised in Australia with her mom, sister and beloved workaholic father, played by an outstanding Colin Farrell. Sadly, Farrell’s character battles against alcoholism, but he still makes an effort to not let it affect him and his family. Farrell’s charm helps the film reach new highs and charisma. We later find out that much of Travers’ work on Poppins came from her beloved childhood. Other great performances in the film come from the wonderful Paul Giamatti and the musically talented Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak. Also, some of the original musical numbers make a special appearance in the film, including Chim Chim Cher-ee, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and Let’s Go Fly a Kite.
Overall, Saving Mr. Banks is the feel-good movie of the year thanks to Hanks and Thompson’s performances. Their chemistry is executed perfectly and helps uphold the film. If you were a fan of the classic Mary Poppins, then I would advise you to go see this film. “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.” – Mary Poppins.
American Hustle moves fast, talks loud and is explosively entertaining. This is one of David Russell’s most ambitious films to date. This could not have been done without his powerhouse team consisting of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner. Russell has been known for his fast-moving camera shots and his in-depth character development. These two aspects are used frequently throughout American Hustle.
The plot is loosely based on the Abscam, from the late 1970s, where the FBI set up an elaborate sting operation on corrupt politicians. This operation resulted in the convictions of a U.S. senator and six congressmen. First-timer Eric Warren Singer wrote the script and originally titled it, American Bullshit. This screenplay listed at No. 8 on the 2010 Black List of unproduced screenplays. Russell picked up the script and rewrote the entire screenplay. Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a con artist who likes playing on the edge and living life to its fullest by gaining others’ wealth. Bale, who delivers a stellar performance and even gained 40 pounds for this role, did his own hilarious comb-over and ended up herniating two discs in his back from slouching his posture. Adams, who plays Rosenfeld’s mistress, Sydney Prosser, is dynamite and gets out of her comfort zone by taking on a much more daring role.
In the past, Adams has been nominated for four Supporting-Oscars in Junebug, Doubt, The Fighter and The Master. Adams finally earns her spotlight here as a lead actor in a film. The wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Cooper) does not take no for an answer and will do anything to bring down corrupt politicians. Cooper’s performance, as DiMaso, is brilliant but his character can be disturbing in regards to his treatment toward women. Lawrence, who plays Rosenfeld’s wife, Rosalyn, is a knockout and gives a comedic performance that adds to this film. Her interpretation of Live and let Die is outstanding. Personally, this is the best and funniest scene in the movie. Renner, who plays Mayor Carmine Polito, does a grand job of taking on a Russell film for the first time.
Apart from the cast, the soundtrack is killer. The elaborate costumes, hair and makeup also add more depth to the film. To no surprise, American Hustle has been nominated for 10 Oscars, including: Best Actor – in a Leading Role (Bale); Best Actress – in a Leading Role (Adams); Best Actor – in a Supporting Role (Cooper); Best Actress – in a Supporting Role (Lawrence), and Best Achievement in Directing (Russell). What Russell does best is show the raw emotion of these characters who are trying to reinvent themselves. Russell really cares for these characters and gives them the right amount of screen time to share their story. A common theme in Russell’s movies is embracing the darkness and showing our true human nature. That is why American Hustle ranks as one of 2013’s best films. I had a blast seeing it on the big screen.
British Director Steven Rodney “Steve” McQueen (Hunger and Shame) paints us a raw and brutal picture of American slavery in 12 Years a Slave, which in my opinion is the best film of 2013. There are a lot of captivating films, but few can be called masterpieces. For instance, one masterpiece, Schindler’s List, went where no other film dared to go before — into the true horrors of the Holocaust. McQueen continues the legacy by showing the true horrors of slavery through the eyes of Solomon Northup’s extraordinary life story.
Set in the early 1840s, Northup (British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man who plays the violin and lives with his family in New York. One day he is offered a job in Washington, D.C., but ends up being tricked, kidnapped and is thrown into the human slave trade in the Deep South. Ejiofor delivers the title role perfectly. His performance is electrifying and award-worthy. In fact, he has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor — in a Leading Role. I’ll be rooting for him this March. Screenwriter John Ridley (Red Tails and Undercover Brother) gives us a powerful and emotional story told through the eyes of Northup. The story is also based on a part of Northup’s own memoir, which was published in 1853.
Once Northup is kidnapped and thrown into the slave trade his name is changed to Platt Hamilton. Hamilton is quickly sold to plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Ford may be a slave owner, but he still shows sympathy toward Hamilton. Cumberbatch’s part is small but he gives a humble performance as Ford and treats his slaves like people, not property. Sadly, Hamilton is sold again to the vicious Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Fassbender nails his performance as the cruel and wicked slave owner who treats everyone around him like dirt. Epps is a drunk who twists Scripture to make him justify his use of the whip on slaves. Fassbender is the Amon Goeth (Schindler’s List) of antagonist in movies. He has also been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor — in a Supporting Role.
Finally, Hamilton meets Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt), a carpenter, who helps him set up an escape to get him back home to his family. There are other noteworthy performances in this film by a stern Paul Giamatti, a sadistic Paul Dano and the incredible Lupita Nyong’o. Nyong’o’s performance is so powerful that it will shake you. She has also been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress — in a Supporting Role. This is McQueen’s third feature film but he is already proving himself to be a world-class director. McQueen’s two previous films, Hunger, about IRS prisoners starving themselves to protest, and Shame, about sex addiction, show the realism and horror of our world. McQueen delivers difficult and challenging films but that is what is captivating about his work. You don’t just watch 12 Years a Slave, but you live and breathe it. With every single whip lashed, you feel the excruciating pain in your bones and get knots in your stomach.
This is what makes McQueen’s films so mesmerizing, and that is why I’m placing 12 Years a Slave as the No. 1 film of the year. This film will win many awards and deserves them all. It won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture — Drama, and also won three Critics’ Choice Awards. It has also been nominated for nine Oscars, 11 British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA), seven Independent Spirit Awards and 11 awards from the Chicago Film Critics Association. On top of that, 12 Years a Slave has another 95 wins and 104 nominations. If you want to see a grand film that will challenge your mind, heart and soul, then I would advise you to go see this film.
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Next Best Picture
The Movie Oracle
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