Category Archives: 2014 Oscar Nominees

American Hustle (2013)

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American Hustle follows the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The two work as con artists until they are caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso makes a deal with Irving and Sydney that involves them helping him arrest corrupt politicians and possibly members of the mafia.

David O. Russell’s film features an impressive amount of talent which is not limited to Bale, Cooper, and Adams. Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Peña, and even Louis C.K. make an appearance. Being a very character driven movie, input to each actor’s role was necessary. Having gained about 40 pounds,  Christian Bale once again surprised the audience with one of his famous body transformations. The performances that Russell managed to get from each actor were good for the most part and some of them are going to be memorable for a while. Who is seriously going to forget seeing Jennifer Lawrence as a Jersey housewife or Michael Peña as Mexican playing an Arab? One of the things about the film that did end up bothering me was that there was more than one scene in the movie that seemed to drag on too long. I understand that some scenes were completely improvised which in turn showcased each actor but there were times when characters were on screen long after they had played their part in the story.

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Christian Bale gained weight for the role as Irving

The movie is definitely a character driven movie. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with the story which is solid and even gives the audience a few surprises and pieces of comedy here and there. Russell also gives us a clear look at styles and cultures in the 70’s and constantly reminds the audience of this.

Despite the showcase of talent from the cast of American Hustle, there are lots of things that I found wrong with it. The main culprit is the pacing of the film. Russell had a decent plot to start off with and talented actors but overindulging them with improv seemed to slow down and kill some of the story. Despite the problems that the characters got themselves into, there seemed to be very little suspense within the film itself. The other thing about Hustle was the fact that there were more than a few characters that seemed one dimensional and the fact that they got a lot of screen time made it seem as if the director was forcing the audience to like them.

American Hustle is by no means a bad movie but it did lose my attention multiple times throughout. By the time I finished watching it, it felt like the movie had no real pay off. David O. Russell certainly made the movie seem interesting but at the end of the day, it seemed to lack substance.  The best way to describe this movie would be to compare it to a bag of chips. Everything about the packaging seems as if it’ll be a good buy but once you open it you realize that there’s more air inside than actual food. Slow pacing and scenes that dragged on robbed the story of the potential suspense that every crime movie should have. American Hustle has its moments of brilliance but without the actors attached, it might have been just another bust.

TL;DR: Unless you’re a fan of an “actor’s” movie, just wait for the DVD release to watch it.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

IMDB: 7.7/10

Metascore: 90/100

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Philomena (2013)

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Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) is a woman who’s been keeping a secret for about 50 years. When she was younger she had a child out of wedlock, something that was looked down upon by her catholic community. She was forced by the church to put up her son for adoption and was never able to see him again. Years later Philomena is introduced to political journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) who is not too eager to find out what happened to Philomena’s son. Despite his reluctance, Sixsmith agrees to help Philomena because he needs to find a job.

This movie was packed full of charm and enough tragedy to make it a solid movie. Philomena never shows bitterness or resentment toward the nuns that mistreated her and I think that this triumph over evil is something that makes the movie unique. All too often we see the tale of the wronged punishing the person that wronged them but Philomena chooses to forgive. The fact that this movie didn’t tell the woman’s life story is a thing that I appreciated. This film stuck to the point and mainly stayed in the present to show us Phil’s reactions as she discovered more and more about her lost son. Of course I don’t think this was one of the most moving stories I’ve seen but it truly is a memorable one due to how endearing Philomena is.

Judi Dench’s performance as the lovable Philomena combined with Coogan’s portrayal of the relunctant (and weary) Sixsmith made them one of the most likeable onscreen duos in recent years. Strangely enough, I was surprised to find that this film was a lot funnier than I initially thought it would be. This is, I think, has to do with the excellent chemistry between Dench and Coogan. Of course, the audience would not have felt as bad for Philomena if it weren’t for Sophie Kennedy Clark who did a superb job as a younger version of Phil. All of this excellent acting was of course complemented by a superb soundtrack from Alexandre Desplat.

The only thing that really bothered me about this movie was that there was a couple times were product placement was blatantly obvious. To the credit of the director, Stephen Frears, or whoever was responsible, this actually tied into the story pretty well. Other than that there wasn’t any glaring mistakes or plot holes that would ruin this movie for anyone.

Philomena is an extremely enjoyable movie. Judi Dench’s performance will instantly draw you in while the sporadic comedy and story development will keep you interested. Having said this, the comedy in this movie isn’t completely overwhelming because this is still a story of discovery, not only for Philomena but also for Sixsmith.

TL;DR: Great movie with a great performance by both Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

IMDB: 7.9/10

Metascore: 76/100

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Her (2014)

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Spike Jonze’s return to the big screen was nothing less than spectacular. The story takes place in what seems to be the near future where people’s computers are able to talk to them through the use of an earpiece. Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely man who works for a company that specializes in writing letters for couples. After splitting up with his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore becomes terribly withdrawn from other people. The only thing that Theodore seems to have in his life is his Operating System, which he decides to upgrade after seeing an ad on the street. This is when he meets Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), the voice of his new OS, a computer with the ability to learn and think. After spending some time with Samantha, through the use of a headpiece and handset, he slowly begins falling in love with her. This is where the story really begins.

One thing that really made this movie shine had to be Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. He barely shares the screen with any other character and although he talks to Samantha, the camera is usually resting on Joaquin’s face and reactions to what he is listening to. On the other side of that argument, Johansson also did a great job with her voice acting. Her part as Samantha really did seem natural and made everyone watching it care about her character. The dialogue between Samantha and Theodore seemed extremely effortless and will make you forget that the budding romance is between a computer and a human. Of course this also had to do with how Spike Jonze wrote out everyone’s lines.

On top of the characters is the fact that there is a lot of depth within the story.  Her raised several questions about relationships, artificial intelligence, and humanity itself. Despite how strange the premise is, you can’t help but sympathize or even relate to Theodore’s situation in life. But then again, is it really so farfetched to think that someone would fall in love with a computer when there’s people today that get married to non-living and even non-thinking objects? The movie really pushes some interesting thoughts and is a refreshing take on the romance genre of movies.

Also worth a mention is the fact that Arcade Fire composed most, if not all, of the music in the film. The tracks that are being played are spot on to each scene and serve as an interesting gateway to lead into some montages of the characters. Music plays a small and significant role in this movie and Arcade Fire really hit the nail on the head with each and every one of their tracks. The fact that the music worked so in sync with the movie is a testament to how well composed each track is.

Easily one of the best movies to have been released in the last 5 years, Spike Jonze triumphs once again. Her has the charm that every movie should have and will make you feel a range of emotions from humor to sadness. The acting is fantastic and the story itself has a lot of heart. Although it is categorized as a movie about romance, I think it’s more than that. Jonze is instead showing us his own interpretation of our age of technology and how deeply this tech has been integrated into each of our lives. This being said, there were also a few things about the plot itself that bothered me but regardless of this, Her will remain a must watch movie for years to come.

TL;DR: An amazing movie by Spike Jonze with a lot of heart. Oscar nominations are undeniable to this movie.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 9.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

IMDB: 8.7/10

Metascore: 91/100

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The Wind Rises (2013)

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Hayao Miyazaki’s final movie before his dreaded retirement is none other than The Wind Rises. The film takes us into the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man responsible for designing Japanese Fighter planes during World War II. Amazingly enough, Miyazaki finds a way to dance all over the subject of war without being too obvious. Jiro’s story begins when he was a young boy, his obsession: aircraft. He gets his hands on the latest aviation magazines and goes through them no matter what language its in. This fascination with aircraft follows him into adulthood where he finally achieves his dream of designing aircraft but at a cost.

The animation in this movie is almost impeccable which has been customary of Miyazaki but the heart of the story doesn’t rely on the character’s surroundings like it does in some of his other works. Apart from a few dream sequences that Miyazaki uses to transition through Jiro’s life, the bulk of the story takes place in an ordinary Japan. Jiro and the company he works with are presented as normal people with no ill intentions which is something refreshing to see when it comes to WW II stories. Throughout the film, the audience not only gets to experience Jiro’s struggle, they also get a glimpse at Japan’s work ethic during the time. This isn’t just the story of a aircraft designer, it’s the story of an artist who is bound to meet the demands of his government.

The Wind Rises is a great conclusion for an artist like Miyazaki. It is not one of his most imaginative stories, but it’s definitely one of his most emotional ones. Joe Hisaishi’s score was a little familiar but had a special place in this movie. All of the characters were memorable and despite not understanding Japanese, the voice acting was moving enough to stir the audience’s emotions. The only thing that bothered me about this particular film was the fact that Miyazaki would jump from one scene to a dream sequence too often in the beginning. I know this was done to move the story forward (since it’s a chronicle of Jiro’s entire life), but it felt jarring at times. Hayao Miyazaki has left a legacy of stories for everyone to watch and despite his retirement from films, I feel as this isn’t the last story we’ll hear from this talented artisan.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 8.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 83% (as of Nov. 30, 2013)

IMDB: 8.0/10

Metascore: 84/100

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Gravity

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For months, the only images that were available of Gravity were that of Sandra Bullock hurtling through space. The amount of hype this movie received seemed unreal and it looked like Gravity would not be able to deliver. Once Alfonso Cuaron’s movie debuted however, it quickly climbed to be the #1 Box Office movie.

The plot to Gravity is not too strong. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are two astronauts that become stranded in space after flying debris destroys their shuttle. The two astronauts are not only cut off from communication to and from Earth, but they are left stranded in space with very limited oxygen and even more limited options. So right away this becomes a mash up of Cast Away (2000) and Apollo 13 (1995). Despite the weak plot, Cuaron does an excellent job of using great cinematic elements to complement the themes in the movie. Sandra Bullock also did a phenomenal job of portraying her character’s emotions throughout the film. Clooney also played to his strengths and actually fit into his character perfectly. This film being very character driven, having these actors play their parts well was important.

The visual elements of Gravity were breathtaking and I don’t think anyone can deny that. I had the privilege of watching it in IMAX 3D and I was not disappointed. I’m personally not fond of any movie that uses 3D but Gravity did not rely on it. The 3D element did not overpower the movie but rather, complemented it. The film would have been just as great if it had been in 2D.

Themes were the most important part of Gravity. If it weren’t for these themes that were placed across the movie, the visual effects and acting would not have saved this film. The main themes that caught my attention were that of survival and birth.

The opening line of the movie, if I recall correctly, was “Life in Space is Impossible.” This little line tells the viewer how much the odds are going to stack against the characters. Once the debris sets events in motion, the ordeals that the astronauts face seem unlikely and even impossible to overcome. But despite how impossible it may have seemed, life persisted to existed. This was not just a character’s journey to survive, it also seemed to parallel how mankind struggled to survive despite all odds placed against it.

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The next theme in the movie was that of (re)birth. This was probably the most prevalent of all themes in the movie. Ryan Stone (Sandara Bullock) has to deal with some inner demons throughout the plot. Eventually she begins to “let go” of her past and overcomes her struggles. This may not seem like such a deep theme but the way it’s presented is overwhelmingly beautiful. It begins with a shot of Sandra Bullock in a position that can no doubt be a comparison to a womb. After that there is a sort of growing phase where our character is faced with the choice of fighting for survival or facing death. This theme of birth, just like the theme of survival, beautifully continues until the end.

Gravity did not fail to live up to the hype that it got. It was not the most impressive plot but it was a great example of what can happen when there is a unison between themes and cinematography. Alfonso Cuaron did not just create a story of survival, he orchestrated an ode to mankind.

Rockit Raccoon Rating : 9

Rotten Tomatoes: 97 %

IMDB: 8.6/10

Metascore: 96/100

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