WBEZ | best picture http://www.wbez.org/tags/best-picture Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Best Picture breakdowns: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' review http://www.wbez.org/blogs/louisa-chu/2013-01/best-picture-breakdowns-beasts-southern-wild-review-104889 <p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/beastshushpuppyauroch.jpg" style="height: 349px; width: 620px;" title="Hushpuppy meets the Auroch in Beasts of the Southern Wild (Fox Searchlight Pictures)" /></p><div class="image-insert-image "><p>&quot;It&rsquo;s hard to explain,&quot; said director Benh Zeitlin on the plot of his Oscar nominated film&nbsp;<a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008220ALC?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=lklchu-20&amp;creativeASIN=B008220ALC"><em>Beasts of the Southern Wild</em></a>, during a <a href="https://soundcloud.com/vocalo/beastsofthesouthernwild">visit with Vocalo <em>Morning AMp</em></a> hosts Molly Adams and&nbsp;Brian Babylon last summer.</p><p><em>Beasts</em> was nominated last Thursday&nbsp;for four Academy Awards: Best Picture,&nbsp;Best Directing, Best Actress (<a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/01/10/quvenzhan_wallis_pronunciation_how_to_pronounce_the_name_of_youngest_ever.html">Quvenzhané</a> Wallis), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Zeitlin and&nbsp;Lucy Alibar). This is Zeitlin&#39;s first feature film, but it&#39;s already won the coveted Caméra d&#39;Or at Cannes and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Wallis was only five years-old when she auditioned and is the youngest ever Best Actress nominee, now at 9 years-old. The screenplay is an original story, based on a one-act play by Alibar, notable in an era dominated by Hollywood blockbuster franchises.</p><p>But what&#39;s the film about?</p><p>&quot;When we had to talk about our film to Hollywood fatcats we would just pitch <em>A League of Their Own</em>, because there was just no reason to pitch our movie. It just didn&rsquo;t work,&quot;&nbsp;joked Zeitlin on Vocalo, &quot;<em>A League of Their Own</em> you could pitch, it&rsquo;s real snappy.&quot;</p><p>But seriously.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s kind of a folktale about this tiny little hero, who&rsquo;s this little girl named Hushpuppy, who lives with her father on the wrong side of a giant worldwide water protection system and their town has basically been cut off and they&rsquo;re dealing with a series of environmental catastrophes and kind of mythological beasts charging at their town,&quot; he said.</p><p>&quot;It&rsquo;s basically a story about survival and how to maintain your hope and your joy in the face of a series of disasters.&rdquo;</p><p>Thankfully Zeitlin is a far better filmmaker than pitchman, but yes, it&#39;s hard to explain.</p><p><em>Beasts</em> is a magical modern myth.&nbsp;Fearless six year-old Hushpuppy lives with her tough but loving father Wink&nbsp;on a mysterious bayou island known as The Bathtub. The community is isolated but tight-knit and happy, thanks in part to free-flowing booze. Together they weather Wink&#39;s illness and the apocalyptic&nbsp;storm, but in the end Hushpuppy alone faces the beasts, literal and looming.</p><p>Wink is played by&nbsp;Dwight Henry, not an professional actor but of all things, a professional baker. Known as Mister Henry to regulars at his bakery and café,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.buttermilkdrop.com/?page_id=109">The Buttermilk Drop</a>&nbsp;in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, the&nbsp;Katrina survivor and father of five, delivers a fiery, intense performance born of&nbsp;vérité.</p><p>Wallis as Hushpuppy however, quietly enchants us into her fairytale, a world filled with animal friends and adventures. She wears not delicate wings, but dirty white undershirt, orange underpants, and oversized <a href="http://www.servusproducts.com/Pages/product.aspx?category=Non-Insulated&amp;cat=HLS-SERVUS&amp;pid=74928%20White">white shrimp boots</a>. Hushpuppy does occasionally punctuate her wonderland with screams and burps.</p><p>&quot;Get your pants on man!&quot; shouts father to daughter matter-of-factly, right before he spears a whole raw chicken, head and feet on, from a chest cooler half-filled with ice and bottled beer. He throws the bird on an ingenious windowsill wood-burning grill. When done, he rings a bell and calls &quot;Meat up time! Meat up!&quot; Hushpuppy calls back happily, &quot;Meat up time!&quot; &mdash; followed with yelps and barks.</p><p>Hushpuppy tears into the tender carcass with bare hands, throwing a scrap to her dogs, just as Wink says, &quot;Share with the dogs.&quot;</p><p>Their breakfast routine displays a compassionate, practiced, primal ballet,&nbsp;reminiscent of a Disney princess movie, but far more beautifully brutal.</p><p>One of the most heartbreaking scenes follows Wink&#39;s temporary disappearance. Hushpuppy walks slowly up the steps to his house and calls &quot;Daddy? Meat up time.&quot; There&#39;s no reply.</p><p>But our tiny hero is a survivor, and independent survivalist. She declines a boat ride and food from her teacher. Instead, Hushpuppy pulls down her surrogate &quot;Mama&quot; &mdash; a Michael Jordan jersey that once belonged to her real mother who &quot;swam away&quot;&mdash; from its place of honor on the wall of her house. She hangs it on a kitchen chair to carry on an imaginary conversation while making herself a canned gravy and cat food stew, after lighting the gas stove from across the room with a flame thrower. Don&#39;t worry: our little hero wore a football helmet for safety.</p><p>Her father reappears but their reunion is briefly violent. Hushpuppy lands a physical and emotional punch that sends Wink into a seizure and, she believes, releases the storm and beasts known as the aurochs from their icy suspension.</p><p>After Katrina, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/louisa-chu/2012-02-02/field-dreams-and-swans-sendai-japan-96073">Tōhoku</a>, Sandy, the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2013/01/13/169243113/army-corps-options-dwindle-along-with-mississippi-river">drying of the Mississippi</a>,&nbsp;and the <a href="http://www.npr.org/2013/01/11/169172194/roads-melt-gas-evaporates-in-australias-unprecedented-heat-wave">searing of Australia</a>, <em>Beasts</em> is the childlike folktale we tell ourselves, but with more hope and joy.</p><p>Also of note, <a href="http://www.welcometothebathtub.com/">Welcome to the Bathtub</a> is the film&#39;s lovely interactive immersive website, <a href="http://www.watsondg.com/work/beasts-southern-wild">designed by Watson DG</a>, with dynamic illustrations and quotations, live Twitter stream, and mesmerizing soundtrack composed by Zeitlin and&nbsp;Dan Romer.</p><p>Watch <em>Beasts</em> <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/beasts-of-the-southern-wild/id557700186">now in iTunes</a>, or in its return to <a href="http://content.foxsearchlight.com/inside/node/5326">theaters, starting January 18</a> at the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.landmarktheatres.com/Films/films_frameset.asp?id=115611">Century Centre Cinema</a> in Lakeview.</p><p>Last week Mister Henry announced the opening of a&nbsp;<a href="http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2013/01/beasts-of-the-southern-wild-bakery-dwight-henry-harlem-plans.html?mid=twitter_grubst">Mr. Henry&#39;s bakery and&nbsp;</a><a href="http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2013/01/beasts-of-the-southern-wild-bakery-dwight-henry-harlem-plans.html?mid=twitter_grubst">café</a>&nbsp;<a href="http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2013/01/beasts-of-the-southern-wild-bakery-dwight-henry-harlem-plans.html?mid=twitter_grubst">in Harlem this spring</a>. Working with the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.noburestaurants.com/">Nobu Restaurants</a>&nbsp;managing partner, he mentioned a Chicago location may be in our future too. In the meantime, The Buttermilk Drop is taking orders for his signature buttermilk drop biscuits, plain donuts, and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nola.com/food/index.ssf/2013/01/buttermilk_drop_bakery_king_ca.html">king cakes</a>&nbsp;online now. Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, is February 12 this year.&nbsp;</p></div><p>The <a href="http://www.oscars.org/index.html">Oscars air&nbsp;February 24</a> at 6 p.m. CT <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/wls/index">on ABC7</a>.</p></p> Sun, 13 Jan 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/louisa-chu/2013-01/best-picture-breakdowns-beasts-southern-wild-review-104889 Best Picture breakdowns: Will 'Amour' take Oscar gold? http://www.wbez.org/blogs/leah-pickett/2013-01/best-picture-breakdowns-will-amour-take-oscar-gold-104872 <p><p><br class="Apple-interchange-newline" /><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Amour.jpg" style="float: right; height: 400px; width: 300px; " title="The international poster for 'Amour.' (Google Plus/Commons)" />As I sat in a nearly empty theater and watched<i>&nbsp;Amour</i>, the French language film that could win Best Picture at this year&#39;s Academy Awards,&nbsp;I felt like crawling out of my skin. After all, how could I find any possible enjoyment in watching an elderly couple struggle and then eventually accept their inevitable road to death?</p><p>The emotions were so raw and their outcomes so exquisitely painful that I considered bolting halfway through, yet somehow lost the ability to move from my seat. I held on until the end, by which time my intial horror had numbed into something slightly more tolerable: a necessary pain that I was ultimately grateful to have experienced.</p><p><em>Amour</em> is&nbsp;the dark horse of the 2013 Oscar race, unexpectedly nominated for five of the night&#39;s most coveted awards: Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture.&nbsp;But perhaps American audiences shouldn&#39;t be so surprised.&nbsp;Last year, <em>Amour</em> won the Palme d&#39;Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the highest honor given to the best film in the competition.&nbsp;</p><p>Now, this critically acclaimed drama has scored another rare feat: a double nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture.&nbsp;If <em>Amour&nbsp;</em>wins both categories, it will be the first film to so do. Only three others have managed the Best Foreign Language/Best Picture double before: <em>Z</em> in 1969, <em>Life is Beautiful&nbsp;</em>in 1998 and <em>Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon</em> in 2000. None of them won Best Picture, but all of them ended up winning Best Foreign Language Film in their respective years.</p><p><em>Amour</em>&nbsp;probably won&#39;t take the top prize, but all five nominations are well-deserved. This harrowing feature from Austrian director Michael Haneke (<em>Funny Games</em>, <em>Cach</em><em>é</em>) explores the disintigration of a marriage in painstaking detail, and never flinches from a subject matter that most films don&#39;t dare touch: what really happens to a person dying of old age.&nbsp;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Amour%202.jpg" style="float: left; " title="Director Michael Haneke, left, directs Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant on the set of 'Amour,' a film about an aging couple facing physical decline. (Sony Pictures Classics/Denis Manin)" /></p><p>Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) fears that his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) will never recover from a stroke that renders her weaker and more senile by the day. Still, they share tender moments together that easily recall memories of their younger selves: sexual, passionate and carefree. When adult daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) says that she used to listen at their door as a child and be reassured by the sounds of them making love, the sadness in the air is palpable.&nbsp;</p><p>At age 85, Riva is the oldest nominee for Best Actress in Oscar history. Her performance is riveting from start to finish, and certainly deserving of the award. Although her name might be unfamiliar to American audiences, both she and co-star Trintignant are cinematic legends in their native France. Riva is best known for her role in the 1959 French New Wave classic <em>Hiroshima, Mon Amour</em>, while Trintignant&#39;s equally illustrious career includes the sexy art house film <em>A Man and a Woman</em>&nbsp;and Truffaut&#39;s final picture <em>Vivement dimanche</em>.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Amour&nbsp;</em>is currently playing in only a handful of theaters across the United States, with Century Centre on Clark Street and Century 12 in Evanston among them. I suggest going to see it<em>&nbsp;</em>before the Oscar broadcast on February 24, as this vitally important work<em>&nbsp;</em>is sure to win at least one of the night&#39;s biggest honors (my prediction: Best Foreign Language Film, by a landslide).&nbsp;</p><p>Follow Leah on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/leahkpickett">@leahkpickett</a></p></p> Sat, 12 Jan 2013 12:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/leah-pickett/2013-01/best-picture-breakdowns-will-amour-take-oscar-gold-104872 Best Picture breakdown: 'Lincoln' http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-01/best-picture-breakdown-lincoln-104878 <p><p>Abraham Lincoln is a filmmaker&rsquo;s favorite. He&rsquo;s been the subject of almost as many movies as Al Capone.</p><p>The reason for this is clear. Honest Abe is America&rsquo;s secular saint. Everybody wants a piece of him. Republicans have used the Spielberg film to remind the public that their party ended slavery. The Democrats&rsquo; response has been, &ldquo;What have you done for us lately?&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/1-12--Lincoln%20and%20Tad%20%28LofC%29.jpg" style="width: 270px; height: 242px; float: right;" title="Abraham Lincoln and son Tad, Brady photo (Library of Congress)" /><em>Lincoln</em> (the movie) takes place during a few weeks in January 1865. Lincoln (the president) has just been re-elected to a second term. The rebels are on their last legs, and the Civil War will soon be over. Now is the time to end slavery, once and for all.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Lincoln had already issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This said that all slaves in the rebel states would become free, as soon as the Union reconquered those states. Since he was commander-in-chief of the army, Lincoln felt he had authority to do this.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">But once the fighting ended, maybe some court would throw out this executive order. The only way to guarantee emancipation was to put it in the Constitution. The Senate has already passed the proposed 13<sup>th</sup> Amendment.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The&nbsp;screenplay tells the story of how Lincoln worked to round-up the needed two-thirds of the House. He had to keep all his Republicans on board, and he had to get some Democrats as well. I was reminded of the movie <em>1776</em>, where John Adams is trying to gather enough votes to pass the Declaration of Independence.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Here we see a master politician at work. Lincoln will persuade by evoking eloquent altruism. He will also persuade by telling half-truths and lies. Meanwhile, he has agents working among the wavering Democrats, basically offering bribes for their support.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">There are other complications. The rebels are sending a delegation to talk peace, which will end the war immediately and spoil everything. The president&rsquo;s son wants to leave Harvard and join the army. The First Lady is being a pain, too.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">We know how it will all end. So let&rsquo;s look at a few other aspects of the movie.</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/1-12--13th%20%28FL-2-18-65%29.jpg" title="The House celebrates passage of the 13th Amendment ('Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper'--February 18, 1865)" /></div></div><p>As a historian, I&rsquo;ve seen many actors portray Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis is as good as any of them, and maybe the best. He captures all the complexities of his subject. But better you watch him do it than have me try to explain it.</p><p>(Much comment has been made about DD-L&rsquo;s voice. Because he&rsquo;s such a commanding figure in our history&mdash;and because he was as tall as a basketball player&mdash;we assume Lincoln sounded like James Earl Jones. However, contemporary reports say the real Lincoln&rsquo;s voice was high, thin, and sometimes shrill. DD-L has nailed it.) &nbsp;</p><p>Like DD-L, Sally Field is up&nbsp;for an Oscar, though in a supporting role. For my money, she&rsquo;s a bit over the top in her playing of Mary Lincoln. Or maybe Mary Lincoln is just a disagreeable character.</p><p>Tommy Lee Jones is a nominee for Best Supporting Actor. As radical Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens, he has the kind of flashy role an actor can really sink his teeth into. Personally, I preferred David Strathairn&rsquo;s restrained, un-nominated performance as Secretary of State Seward.</p><p>John Williams again does the music for a Spielberg project. Williams made his name with swashbuckling scores. But here, befitting the movie, he&rsquo;s more Copland than Korngold.</p><p>Though the subject matter is serious, the movie has humor. Many of the chuckles come courtesy of Honest Abe&rsquo;s funny stories. The tale of Ethan Allen and the British privy is alone worth the price of admission.</p><p>In the hands of a lesser director than Spielberg, a 150-minute movie about high-level political maneuvering might be a disaster. I&#39;m thinking here of another &ldquo;President&rdquo; film from 1944, <em>Wilson</em>. I love watching that movie because it recreates historic events I&rsquo;ve read about, dreamed about, and taught in class. I also recognized that <em>Wilson</em> is overlong and boring. &nbsp;</p><p>I can&rsquo;t say whether <em>Lincoln</em> deserves the Best Picture Oscar. I haven&rsquo;t seen all the other nominees. All I can say is that&nbsp;this movie is&nbsp;one of the best history lessons you&rsquo;ll ever enjoy. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Sat, 12 Jan 2013 11:24:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-01/best-picture-breakdown-lincoln-104878 Best Picture breakdown: Les Miserables http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2013-01/best-picture-breakdown-les-miserables-104874 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/lesmiz.jpg" style="float: right; height: 370px; width: 250px;" title="Les Miserables" />Based on its vivid colors and exaggerated gestures, one is tempted to dismiss Academy Award Best Picture nominee <em>Les Miserables</em> as a cartoon. But cartoons have clarity of line and a sense of direction, not to mention momentum from frame to frame. This movie is more like the result of dropping the Sunday funnies in a mud-puddle: smeared with detritus and coming apart at the seams.</p><p>Start with the source. The musical itself, though much beloved by aficionados of <em>Glee</em> and <em>Smash</em>, takes Victor Hugo&rsquo;s outraged critique of post-revolutionary France and turns it into a parade. While purporting to address the depredations and degradations of poverty, Cameron Mackintosh&rsquo;s production was staged so elaborately that it depended on $150 tickets to keep it running. Thus there was the awkward matter of cheering gaunt poor people on the barricades from plush seats in the orchestra.</p><p>Happily even overpriced movies like this one cost only $10 or so to see, reducing the contradiction between medium and message. But director Tom Hooper (<em>The King&rsquo;s Speech</em>) and his collaborators have replaced that one difficulty with a raft of their own: frying pan, meet fire.</p><p>First, Hooper is too enamored of his genuine French scenery to shoot an opera&ndash;&ndash;necessarily a stylized event&ndash;&ndash;in an appropriately artificial fashion. (The <em>Anna Karenina</em> device of placing the movie within a stage set would have worked brilliantly here.) But he won&rsquo;t shoot these realistic scenes in natural light, or anything resembling it, because he&rsquo;s also too enamored of all the stars he&rsquo;s cast. So instead we get blinding illuminations of the dying face of Fantine (Anne Hathaway), of the three days&rsquo; growth of beard chronically sported by Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and of the moles which make stern Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) look like an ogre instead of a complicated man too wrapped up in doing his duty as he sees it to recognize its impact on the world.</p><p>Many reviewers have blamed Crowe for everything wrong with <em>Les Miz</em>, making particular fun of his 30 Odd Foot of Grunts-level singing. In fact his work is perfectly adequate, and it&rsquo;s not his fault either that Javert&rsquo;s songs are humdrum or that he&rsquo;s required to perform them perched ludicrously atop a horse at the edge of a storm-tossed battlement, a setting that reveals nothing about this pivotal character except that he doesn&rsquo;t know enough to come in out of the rain.</p><p>What&rsquo;s wrong with <em>Les Miz</em> goes much deeper. This is famously the story of a man (Valjean) imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread whose jailer (Javert) becomes obsessed with him. (Remember Lieutenant Girard&rsquo;s dogged search for Richard Kimble? Ever wonder who was handling his other cases while he relentlessly pursued this single <em>Fugitive</em>? The same thought strikes here.) While on the run Valjean encounters numerous others trying to make a life on the margins of late-Napoleonic France, including a saintly priest and the piteous Fantine, a woman whose out-of-wedlock child makes her first a pariah and then a prostitute. (Now we&rsquo;re on <em>Route 66</em>, with its inexhaustible supply of characters having interesting problems adjacent to the famous highway. But episodic television is supposed to consist of episodes; full-length movies are supposed to have developing plots and characters.)</p><p>By the time Valjean and Fantine cross paths she&rsquo;s got time only for a dying wish: that this near-stranger protect her daughter from Fantine&rsquo;s own fate. Another series of episodes: Valjean looks for Cosette, finds Cosette, springs Cosette from street thugs (played with excess relish by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), rears Cosette and finally turns Cosette (by now a young woman) over to Marius, the Paris communard with whom she&rsquo;s fallen in love.</p><p>Somewhere in all this Valjean is also supposed to go beyond proper guardianship and fall in love with Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). Hugo&rsquo;s work includes a strong whiff of forbidden love; Hooper&rsquo;s does not, as Jackman never appears anything beyond avuncular. And without that element, the second half of <em>Les Miz</em> is nearly pointless. If Valjean never allows himself to be emotionally vulnerable, his life is no more interesting than a game of Pac-Man; we watch indifferently as he scuttles barely ahead of the open jaws of the law.</p><p>(Sure, our proposed romantic hero is a lot older than either Seyfried or Eddie Redmayne, who plays her age-appropriate lover. But between Redmayne and Hugh Jackman, one-time People Magazine &ldquo;Sexiest Man in the World,&rdquo; there&rsquo;s no contest. Sure, Jackman isn&rsquo;t as young as he used to be&ndash;&ndash;but given the way he looks I wouldn&rsquo;t care if rigor had set in.)</p><p>I raced to this movie based on the moment in the previews when Anne Hathaway unfurls an amazing voice and the acting chops to match for &ldquo;I Dreamed A Dream.&rdquo; And that scene is truly wonderful; but it&rsquo;s a long, hard slog from there to the end, with neither absorbing plot nor moving performance nor distinguished score to alleviate the monotony. So see that big scene <a href="http://www.lesmiserablesfilm.com/videos.html" title="Les Miz teaser">here</a> or when it appears (as it&rsquo;s bound to) on Oscar night. Then gaze into the mirror like so many of the characters in the film, and warble yourself congratulations on the time and money you just saved.</p></p> Fri, 11 Jan 2013 23:10:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2013-01/best-picture-breakdown-les-miserables-104874 Best Picture breakdowns: Zero Dark Thirty is the best film of the year http://www.wbez.org/blogs/nico-lang/2013-01/best-picture-breakdowns-zero-dark-thirty-best-film-year-104855 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ht_katheryn_bigelow_nt_121212_wblog.jpg" style="height: 169px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Kathryn Bigelow (Dan Steinberg/AP)" />After <em>The Hurt Locker</em>&rsquo;s dethroning of <em>Avatar</em> for Best Picture in 2010, the stakes were high for Kathryn Bigelow to deliver with <em>Zero Dark Thirty</em>, a film that is as ambitious in scope and grand as The Hurt Locker was small and claustrophobic. <em>Zero Dark Thirty</em> was so big it had to fail. However, with her follow-up to her Oscar-winning classic, Bigelow has delivered what will be remembered as her masterpiece, a decade-spanning look into the black heart of the CIA and the dark subconscious of the American psyche. More than any film that&rsquo;s gotten the moniker, <em>Zero Dark Thirty</em> is a film about the Way We Live Now, a revenge epic less about torture than America&rsquo;s struggle to maintain its sense of itself as the major power in a shifting global landscape.</div><p>In giving us the definitive masterwork of the year, Bigelow opens with a bang, showing us the waterboarding and torture of detainees, in a way so matter-of-fact that many have mistaken the film for an endorsement of torture. However, the film is less about torture itself than how normative the culture of torture has become for the CIA and the people that the experience changes. The scene introduces us to Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA officer recruited straight out of high school who is part of the film&rsquo;s mission to nab Osama Bin Laden. She will become the lead agent in his capture. We initially see Maya as conflicted and hesitant to witness the brutality casually enacted in front of her, but as the movie progresses, we see Maya slowly becoming like the men she&rsquo;s after&mdash;a stone cold killer who will do anything to complete the mission.</p><p>This is hardly the first film to highlight the parallels between those labeled &ldquo;good&rdquo; and &ldquo;bad&rdquo; and show that sometimes each of those sides wear each other&rsquo;s masks. Although this theme will draw comparisons to The Godfather, the film Bigelow&rsquo;s epic most reminded me of was the criminally underrated 2007 film Zodiac, the movie David Fincher made before <em>The Social Network</em>. In the film, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a cartoonist who is part of the team on the hunt for the Zodiac killer, a mission that will take over his life. Like Gyllenhaal&rsquo;s Robert Graysmith, Maya has no friends or life outside of Osama Bin Laden. Like Osama, Maya is a ghost&mdash;obsessed with finishing her business. When Osama is eventually hunted down and killed, as we all know happens, Maya is less celebratory than relieved and somewhat emptied by the experience. After the mission is over, what&rsquo;s next?</p><p>To breathe life into this one-woman crusade, Bigelow gets the finest performance yet out of Jessica Chastain, an actress who has very quickly made a career out of fine performances. With this role, Chastain proves herself to be the Meryl Streep of her generation, an actress who can seem like a different person each time she&rsquo;s on screen. The intensity and dedication Chastain brings to her obsessed CIA agent is the perfect match for her direction, whose nail-bitingly intense style may give some in the audience a stress disorder. Over the film&rsquo;s almost three hours, not a second of it feels unnecessary or drags, and Osama&rsquo;s capture may be one of the most thrilling action sequences I&rsquo;ve ever seen on film. As with Maya, this scene doesn&rsquo;t provide easy resolution or answers, and after Osama&rsquo;s death, the audience is left to stare into the faces of the wives and children who had to watch it happen. What do they make of this brutality? How will their lives be shaped by this conflict?</p><p>To force America to ask these questions and face the realities of American CIA tradecraft, Bigelow creates what is quickly becoming a new trend in American cinema: the genre of the reported film. What makes <em>Zero Dark Thirty </em>both more powerful and more slippery than this year&rsquo;s <em>Argo</em> is screenwriter Mark Boal&rsquo;s adherence to an almost documentary narrative, sticking to the facts in order to show you not what should be but what is. His script shouldn&rsquo;t just win an Oscar&mdash;it should win a Pulitzer. For an America that looked to Osama Bin Laden&rsquo;s death as the end of an era and an awakening from our neo-conservative, realist nightmare, Boal shows that separating ourselves from the fever dream of conflict may not be so simple. When you become the men you want to torture, how can you ever go back? Bigelow shows that there may be no waking up. This is America now.</p><p><em>Nico Lang blogs about LGBTQ life in Chicago for WBEZ.org. Follow Nico on Twitter <a href="http://www.twitter.com/Nico_Lang" target="_hplink">@Nico_Lang</a> or on <a href="http://www.facebook.com/NicoRLang" target="_hplink">Facebook</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 11 Jan 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/nico-lang/2013-01/best-picture-breakdowns-zero-dark-thirty-best-film-year-104855 Best Picture breakdowns: ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ review http://www.wbez.org/blogs/jim-derogatis/2013-01/best-picture-breakdowns-%E2%80%98silver-linings-playbook%E2%80%99-review-104836 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/silver-linings-playbook-poster.jpg" style="float: right; height: 211px; width: 300px;" title="Silver Linings Playbook " />Brain-cell-slaughtering though these pursuits may have been, I am not too much of a movie snob to admit that I have taken some pleasure from the mindless Bradley Cooper farces <em>The Hangover </em>and <em>The Hangover Part II</em>, and more than once, albeit on evenings when there just wasn&rsquo;t anything else on cable. What&rsquo;s more, I&rsquo;ll not only confess to getting sucked in to the occasional Lifetime movie&mdash;who doesn&rsquo;t enjoy a good tale of a spouse done wrong seeking bloody revenge or a crippled skier struggling to come back to the land of the living?&mdash;but to actually looking forward to Rob Lowe starring in <em>Prosecuting Casey Anthony</em>, which premieres on that channel on Jan. 19.</div><p>Keep that in mind when I ask: <em>Silver Linings Playbook </em>as the Best Picture of 2012? And the only film among this year&rsquo;s nominees to additionally garner nods for best actor (Cooper), best actress (Jennifer Lawrence), best supporting actor (Robert De Niro), best supporting actress (Jacki Weaver) and best director (David O. Russell)?</p><p>Really?</p><p>By no means is Russell&rsquo;s adaptation of Matthew Quick&rsquo;s 2008 debut novel a bad film. Like the best of those in this proudly quirky writer-director&rsquo;s canon, <em>Spanking the Monkey </em>(1994) and <em>Three Kings </em>(1999), it stays on just the right side of self-satisfied irony, avoiding the forced eccentricity and hipster smugness of his more annoying efforts, including <em>Flirting with Disaster </em>in &rsquo;96 and <em>I </em><em>&hearts; Huckabees</em> in 2004.</p><p>Yet, at its core, a slightly slicker-than-usual Lifetime movie is all that <em>Silver Linings Playbook </em>really is. And that might be exactly the reason why it&rsquo;s gotten so much love from the Academy.</p><p>I&rsquo;ve already heard two commentators on Public Radio crediting the bounty of nominations to the movie&rsquo;s generally sympathetic and not-overly-clichéd portraits of the central characters, Pat (Cooper), who suffers from bipolar disorder, and Tiffany (Lawrence), whose exact mental malady never is named, but who clearly isn&rsquo;t quite right in the head (to use an unsympathetic and clichéd description, but no offense intended).</p><p>My wife, who read and somewhat enjoyed the novel, was disappointed that Russell made so much of the ballroom dancing bringing these troubled misfits together; it played a much smaller role in their romance in the book, and seemed like an obvious bid to tap into the <em>Dancing With the Stars </em>fan base at the box office. Even more disturbing to her was that the director or the producers made the typical cast-a-hot-young-Hollywood-starlet move of tapping Lawrence, fresh off <em>The Hunger Games,</em> to play Tiffany, when the Tiffany character in the book actually is much older than Pat.</p><p>One thinks of the much more appropriate pairing of William Hurt and Geena Davis in the 1988 film <em>The Accidental Tourist. </em>The age discrepancy there was jarring to those who&rsquo;d read that book, but the two troubled characters were much better cast and much more believable as misfits who don&rsquo;t fit in anywhere else turning to one another to be alone together.</p><p>Here, Lawrence is 22 and Cooper is 38. And aside from sharing an encyclopedic knowledge of psychotropic drugs, a general disdain for the mental health profession and an abiding dislike for social conformity, it&rsquo;s hard to accept that there&rsquo;s anything that brings these two together.</p><p>Believable or not as Cooper&rsquo;s love interest, Lawrence does smart, sexy and screwed-up well. And Cooper manages to make the narcissism that&rsquo;s been so unlikable in much of his other work seem like a natural part of his character here, while he delivers his non-stop spew of dialogue (also part of his character&rsquo;s disorder) so quickly that even the most obnoxious lines fly by too fast to become grating. But that&rsquo;s hardly lavish praise.</p><p>Meanwhile, for his part, De Niro just turns up the intensity a bit from the character he plays in the <em>Meet the Fockers </em>franchise to portray Pat&rsquo;s football-obsessed, possibly OCD dad. And I cannot for the life of me remember a single thing to distinguish Weaver as the recently released mental patient&rsquo;s mom, much less mark her as a candidate for best supporting actress.</p><p>At the risk of throwing a tantrum to rival the one Pat launches into upon hearing Stevie Wonder&rsquo;s &ldquo;My Cherie Amour&rdquo; (the song was playing when he discovered his wife cheating on him, triggering the breakdown that led to his stint in the mental ward), the Academy&rsquo;s fondness for Russell&rsquo;s film not only is inexplicable based on the modest charms of the movie itself, but it&rsquo;s absolutely infuriating in context. We&rsquo;re supposed to accept all of these honors for the quirky Russell&rsquo;s <em>Silver Linings Playbook </em>when the Academy almost completely shuts out the quirky Wes Anderson&rsquo;s vastly superior <em>Moonrise Kingdom</em>? Arrggghhhh!</p><p>Ah, well: Maybe next year, <em>Prosecuting Casey Anthony </em>will get the love it deserves.</p></p> Thu, 10 Jan 2013 15:48:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/jim-derogatis/2013-01/best-picture-breakdowns-%E2%80%98silver-linings-playbook%E2%80%99-review-104836