The 2013-2014 End of Season Awards: Worst Acting

I may have disappeared again since my last post but I was presented with a plethora of shows heading into finale week and found myself desperately trying to catch up on all my favorite shows before their inevitable conclusion, some of which were more permanent than others. But that is besides the point. I decided to do what I did last year and put my obsessive television watching to good use as I have put together my Annual End of Season Awards. So without anything else left to say here is the first of five posts about this years TV season and all the great (and terrible) things that happened.

 

Part 1: Bad Acting

 

While most reading will want to know my favorite actors and actresses this year I also had plenty of performers to list whose performances were more than lackluster and while people in my life have taught me its never nice to be mean I find myself thinking where is the fun in that. Here are my choices for the worst TV performers of the season.

 

Worst Supporting Actor

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While I have felt that this actor has been coasting on his good looks for the multiple seasons he has been on our screens as part of the sprawling cast of The CW’s The Vampire Diaries its his work in the shows current 5th season that highlights his severe inadequacies when it comes to portraying his supernatural character. As Tyler Lockwood, Michael Trevino was pushed to provide more than his usual type of brooding rich kid charisma when his character was taken over by villainous traveller Julian, forcing him to do unspeakable acts without knowing it. However Trevino’s attempts to bring Julian to life felt forced and he never really convinced as the impatient and vindictive Julian highlighting the weak link in TVD’s usually outstanding cast.

 

Worst Supporting Actress

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While I found it harder to find an actress who had failed to deliver this season I found myself wondering what the purpose of certain characters were in various new shows this season. One of these characters, Agent Mira Malick on NBC’s The Blacklist was one such example but what made this character different from the rest was her portrayer, Parminder Nagra. Not only did Nagra provide little detail to Mira but she also never quite meshed with the rest of the cast leaving Mira out of place and, more importantly, an annoying addition to a show that would struggle to keep people invested in its later episodes. While people may have loved her as Neela in ER there was no such adoration for the paper thin CIA agent, making her removal from the series almost laughable instead of tragic.

 

Worst Actor

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Beauty and the Beast has always been a show you can only really enjoy if you’re part of the joke, the joke being that this rehash of the 1980s series is filled with more cheddar than a grilled cheese sandwich. The problem is that lead actor Jay Ryan doesn’t seem to have picked up on it and it makes his hyper serious Vincent a bit of a buzz kill and a character that doesn’t mesh tonally from the fast paced, fun silliness that we have come to expect. Ryan is still trying to turn the show into high art but when it comes down to it he should really just be enjoying himself.

 

Worst Actress

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Back in 2011 people were elated that everyone’s favorite quirky girl was coming to television after having starred in cult classics like Almost Famous and Elf on the big screen. However it wasn’t long before peoples opinion shifted on the once popular actress. This season New Girl has dropped dramatically in the ratings and peoples opinion of the show has dropped even further. While a fan from the beginning, season 3 put too much pressure on Zooey Deschanel to deliver the dramatic goods as well as the comedic ones and it ultimately proved there is little to Deschanel’s interpretation of Jess. Her performance hinges on what she thinks will be seen as cute instead of what action is right for the character and while you can put this at the writers feet it would be foolish to not mention Deschanel as well considering she acts as one of the shows producers as well. While watching Schmidt and Nick get up to god knows what is still a treat, its the titular New Girl that I can’t stand.

 

What Actors and Actresses can you not stand? Let me know your least favorite performers in the comments.

 

The Long Road to Turn Turn Turn and the Joy of [SPOILER]

When September came nobody could be happier to welcome Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD to screens but when people watched the pilot and the first half of the shows inaugural season they were left disappointed with the shows overall tone. Little did fans know that by the 17th episode of Shield’s first season creators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen had created the show we had all expected but it might just be a little too late for it to matter.

 

The following Contains SPOILERS relating to the entire of Agents of SHIELD up to the April 29th episode ‘Nothing Personal’ as well as the plot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Most of the complaints that permeated AoS’ first 15 episodes weren’t about the stories although there didn’t seem to be much going on in terms of serialised storytelling, it was the fact that the show really didn’t understand the world it was building and for Marvel fans that was disappointing considering how much time and money was spent establishing the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only did it lack a link to the world outside the show but it didn’t take advantage of Marvel’s rich back catalogue of comics and stories.

Thats not to say there weren’t some entertaining moments within the first half of the season as the show took a case of the week approach to storytelling. It did however mean that the shows central mysteries moved forward at a glacial pace, irritating fans. Episodes like ‘0-8-4’ and ‘Repairs’ were little more than placeholders, episodes that did little to add to the central mythology but bought creators time. The show seemed to be a cash grab, a way for Marvel to squeeze a little more blood from the stone and viewers understandably got angry.

Little did they know that the unfortunate first half was a by product of Marvel getting its ducks in a row. Not only was AoS planning to intersect with the MCU in a major way, it was also going to completely redefine the series as a whole, something that unfortunately couldn’t be planned towards in case of spoilers leaking out.

Marvel had unintentionally damaged its first ever TV series by forcing it to stick to the plot of Captain America. In The Winter Soldier, SHIELD finds itself infected by Hydra agents and the global crime fighting organisation is forced to shutter its doors as their top agents find work elsewhere and head off on their own adventures. Understandably this development crippled AoS at first but it also gave them a great jumping off point, a twist so powerful it could completely reinvent the show and benefit the characters the show desperately needed to make likable.

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The twist ramped up the paranoia factor as Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team struggled to figure out who to turn to and who to trust, including their traitorous friend Ward (Brett Dalton) who has corrupted the team and is working towards their ultimate failure.

The most noticeable part of this change of pace however is the way it has improved the comedic moments of the show. Not only do the funny moments work better but they feel stronger. This may be because the show needs levity to cut the heightened stakes or the fact that the writing has improved but regardless the show has found a way to mesh comedy into its action in the same way that Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer managed. The results speak for themselves.

However its pointless to talk of the improvement of AoS without mentioning some of the episodes that came before. While AoS kicked things off with an action packed and entertaining opening episode it never really developed its characters, instead presenting us with cutouts that we were forced to fill in. The follow up episode ‘0-8-4’, the code the team uses to refer to objects of unknown origin, avoided the team also, choosing to concentrate on the one character audiences understood, Coulson.

The show was so busy living up to the idea of the Coulson from the movies that they never really built a world for him to survive and thrive in. The addition of Skye (Chloe Bennet) as a kind of daughter figure would play out by midseason but until then the show spun its wheels waiting for Cap and his destructive shield. While the rest of the team made for good comic relief or proved useful in an action scene they didn’t really add to the universe Marvel were so praised for creating.

Be it the duo of FitzSimmons, two scientists who didn’t really have characters outside of how they related to each other or Ward, a closed off and utterly boring G-Man striving for attention more than anything. The only really rewarding addition proved to be Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), a closed off yet deeply emotional ex field agent with more than a few moves to show off. Her connection to Coulson would be the one gripping story arc that viewers could hold onto but it wasn’t enough.

If the first half of SHIELD’s first season was designed to bring the team together it did so in a way that failed to explain why any of these characters mesh in the first place. The tenuous link the teams members had were through poorly conceived bonding moments, from Ward and Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) going on a dangerous mission together in ‘The Hub’ to May and Ward’s illogical hookup in ‘The Well’, they all felt too simple to be effective.

However by the Midseason break the show had introduced some much needed questions and had deepened the mythology so that there was more to AoS than merely fighting the good fight against devices and people stronger than the average human. The reveal that Skye was herself an 0-8-4 and had a dark connection to SHIELD made her instantly more interesting and Bennet sunk her teeth into the new reveal. The reveal of how Coulson came to be among the living after his heroic death in The Avengers proved to be just as twisted as fans expected and yet the show would struggle to maintain its viewership.

Many of the shows loyal followers believed the only way was a major reboot of the series, a new direction and the removal of some of the least effective characters, most specifically Ward. Little did fans know that they were about to get exactly what they were asking for. It wasn’t until ‘Turn Turn Turn’, AoS’ 17th episode that things would really hit the fan storywise but the writing was on the wall earlier than that as the episodes building up to the monumental twist started skewing towards more serialized storytelling as Coulson began getting closer to his mysterious nemesis The Clairvoyant and Marvel started using its back catalogue of villains to enrich the narrative. The addition of Deathlok (J August Richards) gave the Clairvoyant a valuable weapon while also creating some much needed conflict for Skye and Coulson.

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The two parter of ‘TRACKS’ and ‘TAHITI’ informed viewers that although this was seen as family programming, the writers weren’t afraid to spill blood if it justified the story as Skye took two bullets to the chest. The double bill introduced viewers to a new version of AoS as well as a duo of new characters who would drastically impact the final episodes of the first season. The introduction of Agent John Garrett (Bill Paxton) and Antoine Triplett (B.J Britt) as two highly skilled SHIELD agents would prepare the show for the violent new era it was entering into.

The issues that viewers had had with AoS, the lack of chemistry, the poor storytelling and the unfortunate use of weak Case of the Week elements had been overcome in a few episodes but the team still didn’t really mesh in the way it should. Creators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen ultimately used this complaint to their benefit, not only by turning the team against each other but by highlighting it using the plot of The Winter Soldier. The reveal of Hydra and Garrett’s status as The Clairvoyant proved to be the kick up the arse AoS needed to firmly place itself as quality television as heroes became villains and death became a very real possibility for the team.

‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ used the team’s sense of trust to completely reinvent their dynamic from the way May and Coulson’s close friendship has completely crumbled in the face of her betrayal to how FitzSimmons are beginning to question their need to be as close as they are as Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) begins to think for herself, make her own interpretations. The idea that ‘you’ve got to trust someone’ has also added new depth to Skye and Coulson’s already rich dynamic with the shows latest episode ‘Nothing Personal’ heavily featuring the duo.

Thats not to say its been a flawless transition to this new Hydra era of the show, there are still a few unintended setbacks to be dealt with. For instance the high stakes of this Hydra manhunt, with Coulsons team on the run from both the government and Garrett, were effectively muted in ‘The Only Light in the Darkness’ as Coulson went to go ensure the safety of the much talked about but never seen Cellist (Amy Acker) Coulson had had a relationship with. While viewers were clamouring for her appearance ever since The Avengers it proved a dalliance, a waste of time as it avoided the Hydra threat at large and proved a convenient way of getting Coulson and the rest of the team away from Ward and Skye. The creators needed time to plot their next move within the story and this proved a decent way to fill an episode while also giving Coulson a goal to aim towards when his vendetta is over. While it works on paper the episode slowed down the Hydra threat and that proved unfortunate.

The reveal of Ward as a double agent however has proved nothing but revelatory as Dalton has used the twist to create an entirely different character, one more designed to highlight the actors talents making Ward not just a more interesting element of the show but a much more likable character, even despite the various evil and devastating things he has done to those he once called friends.

Only time will tell what the rest of Agents of SHIELD will bring about this season and if there will even be a second season of the newly discovered show but I suggest people sit back and enjoy the final two episodes, the first of which airs tonight, because judging by the way the show has turned out I now trust in the creative vision behind the show and their understanding of the world Marvel has thrust them into.

What did you think of AoS’ first season, did it satisfy you in those early episodes or did you give up? Let me know in the comments.

The Ones I Missed: Reign Over Me

It’s to be expected that out of all the films that get released a year some might pass you by but every now and then I dip into the Netflix catalogue and my DVD collection to watch a film I didn’t previously know about or consider. This time around it was Mike Binder’s Reign Over Me, a triumph of a movie by any means as it justifies Adam Sandler’s career and features one of the finest bromances devoted to screen in quite some time.

 

So here is my review.

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Reign Over Me (2007)

 

Written & Directed by Mike Binder

 

The first thing to say about Reign Over Me is that it’s not a film about 9/11 but most of the film’s characters are structured by it, they lead their life by what happened that day. Both of the films main characters have learnt to live their lives through fear because of it, be it avoiding the truth by slipping away into a world you can control or hiding behind the desires of others, never once contemplating what you want. The day has a power over them that is hard to shake and while its easy to see this film as a tale of overcoming past events, it’s more about finding solace and comfort living with them through togetherness and honesty.

 

Reign Over Me follows Alan (Don Cheadle), a dentist with a seemingly perfect life. He has a loving wife, two great kids and he lives in the middle of it all in New York City. However Alan is a man afraid of his own shadow, a unwitting victim of the new world that his old college roommate Charlie (Adam Sandler) understands all too well. When Alan sees Charlie on the street he tries to reconnect with him after hearing about Charlie’s tragedy and loss on that fateful day in 2001. While Charlie welcomes Alan into his new life it isn’t without its problems as these two try to help each other reach something better than the lives they inhabit now.

 

While Charlie has moved into a world of fantasy to hide from his own reality, Alan has just shut down, he has become defensive of the life he has which has removed him from his own families life. He serves the role of breadwinner but not much else. His wife Janeane (Jada Pinkett Smith) is distant from him but not for the reasons you would think. However all this changes with their seemingly innocuous meeting. The film deals with heavy themes but in a very human way. Charlie and Alan’s problems aren’t something that can be solved in one film but the film appreciates the value in a small push, a subtle move towards togetherness and Binder makes this glacial progression intriguing and deeply moving.

 

However the film really relies upon Charlie and Sandler delivers in spades. His Charlie is not only a tragic figure formed by heartbreak but he is also a funny, intelligent and loyal man, a real friend one would be proud to have. Sandler never pushes Charlie to emote he just lets it all flow out naturally with one of the film’s final scenes being a heartfelt dedication to a life he can barely recognise anymore. The speech is cleverly written from the perspective of a man who doesn’t quite know how to connect to it anymore and Sandler understands this wholeheartedly. Cheadle is equally as impressive. His version of Alan is a man full of rage and bitterness, stuck in his routine with no visible way of escape. His connection to Charlie is his way of battling the loneliness that this life brings him. While Charlie wants to be alone, Alan needs him more than he thinks.

 

Reign Over Me is a love story to the importance of friendship, a film steeped in all the emotion that 9/11 brings while never using it as a plot point. The film respects the tragic loss of families and people while sympathising with them through this story. The film may tell a simple story but its the lasting effect it has after it has finished that will stick with you.

What do you think of Adam Sandler? Can one film redeem a career full of disappointment and fart jokes? Let me know in the comments section.

Looking Back #1: Hannah Arendt

I wanted my return from a hectic few weeks to be about a film I absolutely loved and while I recently watched and thoroughly enjoyed The Book Thief, a review of which will be up in the coming days, I enjoyed a film released last year far more. I could have written about Reign Over Me and the serendipitous events that pushed me to buy it in a second hand DVD store in my hometown despite knowing nothing about its wonderful story and the terrific Adam Sandler performance it contains (While that may sound like a punchline to some, I guarantee you it is not.)

 

However I chose differently. I ultimately came to the conclusion that in the past weeks I have seen just one film that made me ponder life and our role in this world in the way I should. That film is Hannah Arendt, the story of a German philosopher who escaped Nazi occupied France and came to America for protection. However the film is not about that at all, it’s about understanding the people and world that you have been presented with and how religion, despite its many blessings, can distort the concept of the truth and unbiased scientific thought.

 

Here is my review.

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Hannah Arendt (2013)

 

Directed by Margarethe Von Trotta

 

Written by Pam Katz and Margarethe Von Trotta

 

Hannah Arendt is a fascinating woman. Her writing is intelligent and well thought out, her ability to contain her own status (she is a Jewish woman writing about the nature of evil after all) for the sake of her writing is inspirational and thats where Katz and Von Trotta found inspiration for their story. The film doesn’t follow her escape from the Nazi’s, her struggle to fit in, in war bound America, it follows her and the writings that brought her fame, misery and respect in equal measure.

 

The film follows Arendt (Barbara Sukowa) as she gets wrapped up in the story of the capture of Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires 1960. When she asks to go and write for The New Yorker on the trial she is forced to face the life she had before her move to America and a shameful part of her past. However she must be more wary of the effects her unique view of the world and the trial itself has on her friends and colleagues.

 

To an atheist like myself its easier to detach yourself from the ideas of god/s and paradise but for someone with faith it must be that much harder to separate your beliefs in a higher power and your understanding of science and philosophy. While the film may follow Arendt, it’s easy to see the other side of the coin, the way her writings can feel damming to someone connected so closely to Judaism. Von Trotta manages to avoid painting anyone out to be the bad guy, even to an extent Eichmann and that is the beauty of the film, its a discussion of humanity not just through the people we meet along the way but through the ideas and debates they encourage. Katz’s delicately written screenplay makes the search for meaning a captivating one while also showing us why Arendt is such an intriguing subject for a feature film.

 

People talk about Arendt throughout the film as many different things, callous, a genius, a hypocrite and most of all, a courageous woman. The odd thing is, none of those labels truly understand the woman. Sure she is incredibly intelligent and Sukowa takes great pleasure in bringing that enthusiasm for debate and continued thought to light, but that is to be expected from an academic (at least I assume it does, thats just me). Arendt is really just a thinker, someone who has devoted her life to further understanding everything, even the little things. Her journey to Israel to watch the trial doesn’t change the woman she is at all. Her objectivity allows her to write something others simply refuse to see and while it has unforeseen side effects for her, her devotion to writing it isn’t about ridicule or picking sides, its about the truth.

 

Filled with two beautiful performances by Sukowa and Janet McTeer, who plays author Mary McCarthy, a close confidant of Arendt’s who makes up for not speaking a word of German with her own brand of sass and charm. The two make quite the pair and the scenes they share together are electric. However there is a moment halfway through the film that McTeer uses to create an unexpectedly joyous moment of levity that lighten the previously harsh proceedings, a moment of wonderful conviction as McCarthy happily rips into a group of snobbish intellectuals looking to capitalize off Arendt’s work because they appear to have nothing better to do (or write). The film however belongs to Sukowa as she attempts to get inside the mind of Arendt without imitating her in any way, a tough task.

 

While I’m not suggesting to understand the woman after reading a few of her articles in preparation for this post but her writing style is oddly compelling and easy to follow for a philosopher and that comes out in Sukowa’s performance as she marries together the charm of the woman with the fiercely determined woman willing to write anything that she thinks is true. Sukowa controls the pace of every scene as she toys with the audience as they try to understand her. It’s not however until the film’s final moments that we really do understand Arendt and thats fine by me as the film’s final moments are a breathtaking mix of excellent writing, convincing and captivating acting and a true story worth telling. Von Trotta’s story comes to life in Sukowa’s hands.

 

Ultimately I find Hannah Arendt as a person to be a fascinating study but I also find Hannah Arendt the film an important picture regardless of the woman’s standing in history. The film makes you care about the woman, her persecution sees to that, and it also makes this seemingly unimportant, personal struggle that see endures something much more than that, it acts as a way to understand religion and the many effects it has on people and how it caused one of the worst events in history. I don’t proclaim to know everything about the woman because of one biopic but I’m excited to learn more now.

 Have you seen Hannah Arendt? If so, what did you think? Leave something in the comment section to let me know.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Review

When a real life story is being crafted plenty of sensitivity is given to those involved as not to offend or distort facts. Some films lose sight of reality along the way like Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock but with a film like Hitchcock you can expect a little leeway due to the fact people will never really quite know the very private man. With Mandela people have come to know the man better than they know themselves making Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom a film of tremendous risk. However nobody could have expected the unfortunate timing of the release as we lost the man behind the film on 5th December 2013, just under a month before the films release. Despite that the film is a loving depiction of a man that doesn’t pull any punches and does not paint him like too much of a saint despite the directors excessive devotion.

 

So without further ado here is my review.

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Mandela : Long Walk to Freedom

 

Directed by Justin Chadwick

 

Written By William Nicholson

 

When it comes to Mandela and Long Walk to Freedom it must be said that they are not perfect, not only does Mandela employ some questionable tactics to reach his goal but Chadwick has created a tale that has more than a few noticeable flaws. The films script is excellent, Nicholson has gotten to the heart of the man not only through the way he talks but how he acts. Chadwick however uses the script as a jumping off point to give him a rosy tinge, a element of the film that I would not be surprised if people, including Mandela himself, would find error with. Thats not to say that it makes a saint out of him, he regrets the acts he commits but accepts the necessary nature of them.

 

The film while following the life of the would be president of South Africa doesn’t delve into that aspect of his life as the film deals with his early revolutionary days and the years he spends under incarceration for his so called heroism. While he spends his years locked away the film switches views and delves into the dangerous world he has created for his family, specifically for his wife Winnie (Naomie Harris) who is forced to endure some heinous acts aimed at Nelson (Idris Elba).

 

The film aims to inspire but one of the hidden themes the film deals with is corruption, be it Mandela’s decision to carry out acts of civil disobedience and destruction or the corruption of a soul, specifically Winnie’s as she is turned from a loving wife into a militant revolutionary, a woman sick of being controlled not only by the government trying to keep their power and status but by Mandela himself who sees her as something to protect, something she ultimately comes to resent more than the people that turned her into a wicked woman. Harris makes it easy to sympathise with Winnie although at times its hard to find empathy for her as she brings pain and destruction to those around her.

 

The film belongs to Elba though as he does some of his best work. His Mandela is strong but wise, a justified man full of conviction but equal amounts of regret as he is forced to hear about but not see the children he left behind. The film only briefly shows the man before he took up the cause to rid South Africa of apartheid, something that leaves a lingering hole in the film as viewers are presented with one view of the man and one alone. THe opening shows a different side of him, a more cautious side and while heroism and revolution makes for good cinema I was intrigued by this duality, at how Mandela a man of action and reaction could also be a cautious man pushed to the edge. Elba crafts two sides of the man, both in perfect harmony. On the one hand he is a father and lover, an appreciator of women and the ladies in his life but the nagging desires for something more bring out the lawyer in him, the man obsessed with inequality and the unfair aspects of the law he loves so much.

 

The film never feels long, it doesn’t drag but it does miss opportunities within the films structure as moments are overly glorified or not discussed enough as massacres are given a few fleeting moments as moments of grandstanding and speechifying take centre stage. That’s not to say Elba doesn’t bring these moments to life but they don’t contrast with the films revolutionary spirit as the words don’t speak as loud as the actions.

 

Chadwick has crafted an entertaining and honest film but his devotion to the subject and the man has created a sense of tunnel vision as the film glances past the man at times, intent on portraying the myth, a mistake that can be accepted but never ignored

 

Overall Rating: 8/10

 

What did you think of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom? Was it everything you thought it would be or did it leave you wondering who Mandela really was? Let me know in the comments.

American Hustle Review

American Hustle (2013)

Before I start my review for David O Russell’s latest story I have a fairly cynical comment to make that some people might disagree with but I think is important to mention. American Hustle isn’t an Oscar movie, in fact it’s not really good enough for the Golden Globes either. While Russell has received endless praise over the last 3 years for his trifecta of films The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and Hustle itself I have trouble comprehending why. The Fighter is a terrific film don’t get me wrong but its real charm is in its top notch, emotionally raw performances. Silver Linings Playbook is a glorified romantic comedy, a good one with some interesting but not fully developed comments about mental illness, but a rom com none the less. Hustle is Russells worst out of the three, a crime caper with no real crimes, no real story worth discussing. Russell has managed to wrangle together a cast of top notch performers for a sub par tale of deception and delusion making it hard to comprehend why Hustle is on its way to the Oscars, it just doesn’t deserve it. It may be because Russell is loved in the industry or the fact that his films are distributed under the Weinstein banner, a company known for long protracted awards campaigns but I still don’t understand. Maybe someone can help me understand in the comments.

Now that thats out of the way, here is my review.

American Hustle (2014)

American-Hustle-1

Directed by David O Russell, Written by Eric Singer and David O Russell

Starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner

Much like Silver Linings Playbook, Russell’s previous feature, American Hustle has an excellent script to work with, one that makes it’s characters sparkle with moments of realism and naturalistic actions. However it also writes its many characters into a corner as it doesn’t so much encourage change or evolution for its players, it traps them in the films plot as they search for a way out, one that provides very little catharsis or interest from the viewer. While this wouldn’t be a problem if these characters were likable but Russell and Singer take great pleasure in crafting some morally reprehensible people whom you are forced to follow throughout. Be it Bradley Cooper’s irritatingly smug FBI agent or Amy Adams’ hypocritical con artist, each character is out for himself in one way or another and it’s painful to watch their machiavellian maneuvers.

The film tells the ‘fictionalization’ of the Abscam case that brought about the arrests of several US Senators and other public officials. However Hustle uses this template to pain a tale of selfish people carrying out horrific acts for purely selfish reasons. The film follows con man Irving (Christian Bale) and his partner Sydney (Amy Adams) as they are caught by FBI agent DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) and forced to help him set up an undercover operation designed to catch corrupt officials. Along the way DiMaso’s scheme becomes one of ambition and self adulation as Irving must find a way to get himself out with Sydney for the sake of her and his manipulative wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

It’s hard to find fault with almost all of the performers in the film especially considering it features some of Jeremy Renner’s best work in quite some time but Amy Adams’ infuriating Sydney is a role that doesn’t suit her and it shows. She flip flops from emotionally unstable to lovingly endearing with no real understanding of why she is doing it. Considering the fact that she is Bale’s main foil in the film it creates some unfortunately painful scenes.

The film prides itself on its semi true story, stating at the beginning of the film that ‘some of this really happened’ and Russell understands the complexities of the case and the fine line between fine police work and entrapment but when your depiction of policing is the self destructive Richie its hard to see anything but entrapment, something Russell seems to want the audience to envision despite the more clear cut nature of the real Abscam case. Russell manipulates the facts to his will in a way that nullifies the films opening statement and without that link the film is just another con movie, one with beautiful dialogue, plenty of good actors but no heart, much like many of the films unpleasant characters.

Overall Rating: 4/10

What did you think of American Hustle, did you enjoy it more than I did or did you have trouble getting behind the films leads? Let me know in the comments.

The 50 Best Films of 2013 Part 5

So here it is, the final 10 films in my top 50 of 2013 and in this batch there are two from some of my favourite directors, a feature film debut that blew me away and a English language debut that had a similar impact. However the top spot is an unconventional choice to be sure but one I hope some people will agree with. Here are numbers 10 – 1.

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10. The Broken Circle Breakdown – This Dutch film isn’t the whimsical film you might imagine, it’s a very dark family drama with a deeply religious core. The film follows the love story of Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) and Elise (Veerle Baetens), two like minded souls who only differ on their belief in god. When their daughter gets cancer they both find their beliefs shifting as they seek to find answers to a situation without any. The heart and soul of The Broken Circle Breakdown is the films ability to make viewers understand the importance or at least the benefit of belief is. The film uses bluegrass and country music as a way of conveying emotion in a very real and unusual way as Didier and Elise perform as a way to get away from their problems and stay connected to each other. However this is a dark film, one with moments of joy and levity, but a dark twisted tale that picks you up and tosses you aside, leaving you with a hopefulness about the films outcome, an outcome that relies upon the belief the film gives you.

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9.Zero Dark Thirty – Released in January this Kathryn Bigelow directed thriller is a film of constant tension, the kind that at times you want to rip your own skin off. Not only does Bigelow manage to control the action in a way that it heightens every little paranoid aspect of your mind but she also has carefully edited the film so that the film is low on answers and high on questions. The film constantly leaves you questioning what is happening around you, a byproduct of the intelligence community the film is trying to depict. Jessica Chastain gives one of her finest performances to date as Mia, a brutally honest CIA analyst whose mission to find Bin Laden consumes her until there is nothing but a husk left. The almost 3 hour film never loses itself, it’s constantly manipulating the viewer to his breaking point. A worthy follow up to The Hurt Locker.

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8.Breathe In – This Drake Doremus directed family drama is a story of lives not lived and inadequacies that boil to the surface when a young woman integrates herself into another family. The film follows Keith (Guy Pearce) and Sophie (Felicity Jones) as they get wrapped up in an affair of intimacies when Sophie comes to stay with Keith and his supposedly happy family. The film gives a detailed portrait of regret in each of its forms from the youngs idea of experiences not taken to Keith’s middle age view that life isn’t over but if he doesn’t act soon it will be. Featuring a tour de force performance by Pearce and an excellent if brief supporting performance by Amy Ryan as Keith’s wife Megan, Breathe In is a dark story of the corrupting force of desire and how it can ruin a good thing. Keith and Sophie’s love affair may be fleeting and complicated but boy is it good to watch.

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7.Parkland – This JFK drama tells the story of the events in and around Parkland Hospital on the day Kennedy was assassinated and the days that followed. Filled with a plethora of big name actors from Paul Giamatti to Zac Efron as one of the doctors who worked on the president the whole film is slightly overstuffed but it’s brimming with real sentiment, an idea that if the same thing happened today the same instinctive loss would be felt. Not only is Giamatti excellent as the man who filmed the shooting and helped the police and Secret Service find Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong). The side story regarding Oswald’s brother Robert (James Badge Dale) is particularly effective as he struggles to maintain his family loyalty  and balance it with his patriotism. Dale is excellent and he grounds the films more out there storylines. Well edited and shot with an admirable sensitivity to the event despite some of the more unsavory moments such as the delusional ramblings of Harvey’s mother (Jacki Weaver), the film never forgets the driving force of this tale and neither do we.

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6. Stoker – Chan-Wook Park’s first English language film is just as surreal, violent and depraved as his Vengeance trilogy but at its core this is a twisted love story, one of dark impulses, twisted visuals and a lead performance so good you might think Mia Wasikowska is actually a sociopath. The film follows India (Wasikowska) as she comes to terms with her father’s death. However when a mysterious Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) arrives to live with her and her unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) she begins to have strange feelings and urges she cannot control, ones that may consume her and her mother. Filmed in a very lavish style and working from a Black List script by Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller, Stoker is a stroke of genius, a tale of control when you don’t quite understand the difference between right and wrong. Kidman justifies India’s actions by being one of the worst movie mothers of all time, a self absorbed child in a womans body trying to put together the pieces that her husbands death threw apart. The whole film is constructed in a way that leaves you on edge, unsure of what to expect and what to understand, ultimately putting you in India’s shoes as she falls deeper into Charlie’s path and Goode makes an excellent manipulator. The film works so well because of its performances and Wasikowska has proved herself more than capable of carrying a film.

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5. Gravity – Lauded as the best film of the year by many, Gravity is a marvel of both modern technology and close, intimate storytelling, an odd mix by any standard. Gravity tells the harrowing story of Dr Ryan Stone, a first time astronaut stuck in space during a deadly debris storm, one that destroys the shuttle that should get her and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) back to Earth. Visually breathtaking with almost every scene being entirely CGI except for a few brief moments, Gravity keeps things real with a story that keeps this tale of survival deeply personal. Stone is an empathetic character, a victim of not only her surrounding but her past as she is forced to go through the Zero G ringer in the name of survival. Clooney’s charismatic persona fits nicely with Kowalsky, a career astronaut whose love of space makes him the perfect companion, especially considering the situation they find themselves in. Director Alfonso Cuarón manages to draw upon many different themes in vastly different ways to add a richness to the picture from the idea of rebirth to the grip religion or faith can have on someone in a life and death situation. Bullock is perfect and guides the viewer’s thoughts and fears through the film in a way no other actress could and the finale is without a doubt perfect. Both the films best popcorn movie and one of the best emotional dramas to boot.

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4. Cloud Atlas – There was a time last year when I thought this would be my Number 1, in fact it lasted until at least September. In fact when I heard the film was being made with the Wachowski siblings I just had to see it. I had read the book, a sprawling narrative set in different centuries and countries, telling vastly different stories, each about love and devotion to others and the idea that souls and lives can impact people across millennia. What I finally got was a breathtakingly beautiful film that used the book at a starting point as it toyed with the central premise and reconstructed the complex tale through themes instead of stories. From 18th century Hawaii to a post apocalyptic future where every person speaks a degenerated version of English, each section of the film adds to the grand narrative, the idea that everything matters, the good, the bad and everything in between. The films cast all play multiple roles to add to this idea of effects carrying over and actors like Tom Hanks, James D’Arcy and Ben Whishaw give terrific performances with a gay love affair between D’Arcy and Whishaw proving to be one of the films most powerful sequences. However the film relies quite heavily on the performance of Doona Bae in her first English language film and she delivers in a futuristic sequence that could only come from the minds of the Wachowski’s. The film is grand yet small, expensive yet cheap and most of all its absolutely outstanding.

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3. Short Term 12 – The Top 3 all have something in common, they are all relatively cheap indie dramas that tell small but important stories about life and the effects we have on the people around us, be it a family member, a lover or a child. The first of the 3 is first time feature director Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12, a tale about a care worker who runs a short term care facility for children without homes or kids who are in transition. The film follows Grace (Brie Larson), the head of Short Term 12 as she discovers she is pregnant, something that begins to open up old wounds as she tries to help new arrival Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) as well as many of the other kids at the centre. Cretton’s tale is one of repetition but not in a bad way. He plays with the idea that abuse and abandonment breed more of the same in the generation that follows as Grace struggles to get past her own parents. Co starring John Gallagher Jr as her lover and fellow care worker Mason, a fellow abandoned yet found child, Short Term 12 is a film of understated yet devastating performances. Gallagher is terrific, especially during a scene about halfway through the film but he doesn’t hold a candle to Larson and Dever who each deliver some of the best work of the year with Larson being a dark horse choice for an Oscar nomination. Cretton conveys these dark and depressing family stories in new and realistic ways including the personalization of a rap song by Marcus (Keith Stanfield), a 17 year old whose life has been nothing but care homes, someone who is so afraid to leave because he doesn’t know anything else. The film doesn’t set out to make you bawl your eyes out but it may just be one of the side effects.

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2. Before Midnight – It’s been 9 years since we last checked in on Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) as they strolled around Paris for an afternoon as Jesse waited for his plane back to his wife and child. Before Midnight follows Jesse and Celine on a holiday in Greece as they prepare to leave and return to their idea of the real world as their personal issues start coming to the surface in a way that could ruin their once perfectly romantic union. Before Midnight is the 3rd instalment in the series but it doesn’t mean director Richard Linklater has lost what made the first two so involving. In fact chapter 3 is his best yet, a tale that isn’t just two people in playful courtship, it mixes real problems and emotions into the mix as Celine struggles with her desires to find fulfillment in her job as Jesse worries that his distance from his son makes him a bad father. Their clashes make the experience richer, more developed as we really get to see why we liked Jesse and Celine in the first place, warts and all. Both Hawke and Delpy’s ability to improvise adds realism to the story but Linklater is the real star as he brings not only the Greek countryside into the tale but he also juggles the films many themes and issues like a master. After 18 years it would be understandable that people might be bored of watching two people walk around a city discussing their lives and how they came to be where they are now but with Linklater at the helm I have no problem watching another Before film in 2022.

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1. What Maisie Knew – The best film of 2013 isn’t a big title, in fact it was barely released in cinemas over here in the UK. However that doesn’t mean it isn’t a marvel of a film with one of the best if not the best child performance in the last 5 years. What Maisie Knew is a modern day version of the novel of the same name by Henry James. The film tells the story of Maisie (Onata Aprile), a 6 year old child whose parents Beale (Steve Coogan) and Susanna (Julianne Moore) are separating and are using her against each other as the two new people in each of their lives are forced to stand by and watch it happen. Co-directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, this shocking tale of the destruction of a child’s sense of worth is a subtle story with many hidden layers with the direction perfectly hiding little hints at the films true meaning. The film relies heavily upon Aprile and she brings plenty to the table as she conveys emotion through her eyes in a unique way. However the film’s best aspect is how it messes with the idea of the conventional family, how it judges the worth of blood over devotion as it introduces two people more capable of taking care of her than her actual parents, be it Beale’s new wife Margo (Joanna Vanderham) or Susanna’s new squeeze Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard), each bring different ideas of family to the table. Surprisingly however, What Maisie Knew doesn’t make judgements, it treats its subjects fairly even if the viewer doesn’t think they deserve it, giving audiences a fuller picture. The film however is also shrouded in obscurity as everything is displayed from Maisie’s point of view as she doesn’t quite understand what is going on around her. The film is an exercise in acquiring self knowledge and Aprile makes Maisie’s self discovery exhilarating in a different kind of way making What Maisie Knew in my opinion the best film of 2013.

 

So there you have it, the top 10 films of the year. What did you think of this list? Did you enjoy reading it? Let me know in the comments.