Les Miserables (2012)

★★★★

 

When Victor Hugo first published his debut novel Les Miserables in 1862, there is no possible way he could have known the impact that his words would have on the world 150 years later. His story has proven to be timeless, as audiences haveLes Miserables (2012) flocked to see the musical countless times since 1980, and are now making the musical film adaptation of “Les Miserables” from director Tom Hooper one of the most popular films of the year.

The plot of the film centers on the central character of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and the story of his life, beginning in 1815. He has spent 19 years in prison for stealing bread to feed his nephew. As he is released he is warned by the guard, Javert (Russell Crowe), to avoid any kind of trouble or he will surely spend the rest of his life in chains.

Valjean breaks his parole and begins a new life under a false identity, Les Miserables (2012)becoming a prominent citizen and a respected businessman. He meets a young woman named Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and he attempts to help her because she used to work in one of his factories. The sick Fantine has a young child named Cosette and Valjean promises to care for her. Unfortunately, Valjean is forced to admit his true identity, sending him on the run from Javert once again. Now Valjean must raise Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) while hiding from Javert, all during one of the pivotal moments of revolution in France’s history.Les Miserables (2012)

It is hard to even attempt to describe such an immense and complex plot in so few words without spoiling too much. The movie world has been trying to make a film version of this historic musical for decades. Finally everything fell into place and they were able to get filming underway. After Tom Hooper won an Academy Award for “The King’s Speech” (2010) he became an ideal candidate to finally get this film made, and he was more than happy to be on board. Hooper has done a wonderful job keeping the spirit of the musical and transferring it to film. The story is so large that it becomes hard to include every scene in the film without it dragging, but he was able to Les Miserables (2012)accomplish this difficult task without too much trouble.

Of course a lot of the credit for “Les Miserables” belongs to the absolutely incredible cast. It is easy to overlook all of the sensational performances in this film because Anne Hathaway, in a relatively small role, is so phenomenal that everyone else is sitting in her incredibly large shadow. This year’s Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress isn’t much of a competitive race because Anne Hathaway has done everything that she needed to do to ensure that she take the award home. In her four and a half minute singing of “I Dreamed a Dream” she engraved her own name on this year’s statue. Her acting ability has come so far and she is absolutely inspiring in a role that she seems born to play. It is obvious thatLes Miserables (2012) her performance is so commanding and dominate because she is the most memorable part of the film, despite the fact she is only on the screen for a fraction of the film. There is no confusion why she has won almost every award possible for this portrayal.

Although overshadowed, there should be much credit for Hugh Jackman. When Jackman burst onto the movie scene in “X-Men” (2000) I never would have guessed that he would one day be able to pull off a role of this magnitude. Before this film, whenever I thought of the film versions of “Les Miserables” and the role of Valjean Les Miserablesspecifically, I pictured Fredric March (1935), Jean Gabin (1958) or even Liam Neeson (1998), but I can honestly say that Jackman and his performance have gone beyond what any of these other film legends accomplished. With Daniel Day-Lewis and his magnificent role of Abraham Lincoln this year, Hugh Jackman has a difficult task ahead of him in trying to win, but he is a much deserved nominee and could very well be the only person capable of making a run at taking the award away from Day-Lewis.

Russell Crowe was an interesting choice for Javert. One might not expect him to have the musical ability to hold his own in this film, but he actually does an extremely nice job. His acting is incredibly strongLes Miserables (2012) and his singing is competent, but where he seems to be lacking is in his own confidence. It is understandable that he should question his talents, considering everyone else in this cast, but he made an excellent Javert and I’m thrilled to see him expanding his repertoire out of his comfort zone.

Making a quick pass of the long list of supporting players in this film, Eddie Redmayne takes on the extremely difficult singing role of Marius with the perfect amount of confidence. When I saw him in “My Week with Marilyn” (2011), I didn’t really know what to expect in his future, but after “Les Miserables” I am sure that he will Les Miserables (2012)continue to excel on the screen for many years. His singing is inspiring and he holds some of the film’s most poignant moments. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen add their musical abilities and comedic talents to the film, continuously reminding the audience to smile despite the seriousness that surrounds them. Daniel Huttlestone and Aaron Tveit add a bit of immensely passion supporting drama and both of them are worthy of praise for their ability to shine even though their screen time is limited. And then we come to Samantha Barks. Prior to walking into this film I had never heard the name Samantha Banks, but I promise, based on this film alone, I will never forget her. She absolutely blew me away with her Les Miserables (2012)particularly stirring rendition of “On My Own”, and it has made a perfect film debut for her.

So with all of these complimentary things to say, why isn’t this film the best movie of the year?  Shouldn’t “Les Miserables” have been the film to beat? Instead it has become a minor story in this year’s Best Picture race. Musicals have a long tradition of excellence at the Academy Awards, but even though the story of Les Miserables is enormously epic, this film lacks an epic feeling. Where are the extensive sweeping shots that make the film seem bigger than life? So many people have already seen Les Miserables as a play, in a confined space. One of the greatest things about turning a stage musical into a film is that the filmmakers don’t work with the same constraints and limitations. “Les Miserables” almost feels like the filming of a musical on stage, with endless Les Miserables (2012)close-ups and long takes that seem as if the individual characters are sitting on a sound stage instead of running through the streets of Paris.

It is easy to get swept away by the glorious music in “Les Miserables”, and unfortunately the filmmakers can’t take credit for the music because they only wrote one new song, and it isn’t one of the highlights of the film. The actors can take credit for their own renditions of the songs, but it is hard to factor the brilliant song writing into the making of the film. It was the filmmaker’s job to take the already unparalleled music and improve it withLes Miserables (2012) their aesthetics and production abilities. On the stage the audience members only get one view of the action in front of them. A film can show everything, and this is where “Les Miserables” falls short.

In many ways, “Les Miserables” seems as if it was rushed through production. I don’t like to put the blame of a film solely on the director, but they do seem to get the majority of the credit when things go well, so it’s only fair. Tom Hooper did a GOOD job directing this film, but it might have been more than he was ready to handle. We needed Robert Wise, Vincente Minnelli, or even Bob Fosse. Less is more doesn’t apply to this story; more is more, and this film version lacks in the end because everything seems to try to keep things small.

Jessica Chastain: Academy Award Best Actress Profile #5

In her career, Jessica Chastain has taken on a diversified group of roles. After an extremely busy year her choice to participate in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012) may have seemed like a bit of a surprise considering theJessica Chastain subject matter, but after seeing the film everyone seems to be in agreement that Jessica Chastain is capable of anything. In the film Chastain plays CIA agent Maya, as she relentlessly pursues Osama bin Laden. Her character is driven and focused, making it difficult to believe we are watching the same actress who played the loving mother in Terrance Malick’s “Tree of Life” (2011). Chastain’s Academy Award nomination this year doesn’t come as a surprise because she literally carries the entire film on her shoulders, and does a beautiful job of it too.

Jessica Chastain earned acclaim for her film debut in “Jolene” (2008). Although the plot and structure of the film had some flaws, her performance grabbed her some much deserved attention, leading to plenty of other offers. The year of 2011 proved to be Jessica Chastainan enormous year for Chastain, starring in seven films. Two of the films, “Tree of Life” and “The Help” (2011), were both nominated for Best Picture, and “The Help” earned her the first Academy Award nomination of her career for Best Supporting Actress. In 2012, she slowed down a bit, starring in only four films, including the gangster drama “Lawless” (2012), the animated feature, “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (2012), and of course, “Zero Dark Thirty”.

Due to the controversy that has surrounded “Zero Dark Thirty”, Jessica Chastain’s chances of winning the Oscar seem to have dwindled a bit. With all the bad publicity and boycotting of the film, it is a true testament of Chastain’s performanceJessica Chastain that she is even still in the conversation. Personally I don’t buy into the controversy, as I firmly believe the award should go to the best PERFORMANCE, regardless of the garbage that surrounds a film.

For 2013, Jessica Chastain has gotten things off to a good start already with her horror film “Mama” (2013), that despite negative reviews, has performed well at the box office. Later this year Chastain is involved with a project that is a little different. “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” (2013) is an interesting film, well technically I should say two interesting films, since they will be releasing it in two parts: “His” and “Hers”. Both films tell the same story of a married couple, each being from a different person’s perspective. The films are also said to star James McAvoy, Viola Davis and William Hurt.

You can learn more about this year’s Best Actress nominees here:

Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012)

Emmanuelle Riva for “Amour” (2012)

Quvenzhane Wallis for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012)

Naomi Watts for “The Impossible” (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence: Academy Award Best Actress Profile #4

In just the last three years Jennifer Lawrence has gone from a relatively unknown actress to the top of the heap. When she starred in the Best Picture nominee“Winter’s Bone” (2010), everyone was blown away by her raw talent and naturalJennifer Lawrence ability. Earning her first Academy Award, Lawrence carried the emotional drama on her shoulders and left a lasting impression with audiences around the world. Since then she has starred in films like “X-Men: First Class” (2011), “The House at the End of the Street” (2012), “The Hunger Games” (2012), and of course, one of our Best Picture nominees from this year, “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012).

Earning her second Best Actress nomination in the last three years is rather incredible considering she has no professional training and is only 22 years old, but it is obvious that this Jennifer Lawrenceimmensely talented young lady has what it takes to stay one of Hollywood’s biggest stars for many years to come. This year’s Oscar race for Best Actress seems to be down to either Lawrence or Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty”, although with all the extremely talented nominees it is hard to count anyone out of the race completely. Most of the early indicators point in Lawrence’s favor, which would make her the second youngest Best Actress winner in history, behind Marlee Matlin who was 21 when she won for “Children of a Lesser God” (1986).

Her character in “Silver Linings Playbook” is one of those career making parts. It is a dramatic role that’s overflowing with comedic moments. Everyone who sees the film instantly falls in love with her because she is so extremely sweet and Jennifer Lawrence venerable. It is also the first role of her career where she plays a woman and not a teenager. It seems to be such a hard adjustment for so many teenage stars, but Lawrence chose the perfect role for the transition, and the perfect point in her career to be able to show everyone her versatility as well as her ability to completely take over a film.

Jennifer Lawrence can be seen later this year in the second installment of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013), as well as “The Falling” (2013), based on the novel Serena by Ron Rash.

You can learn more about this year’s Best Actress nominees here:

Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)

Emmanuelle Riva for “Amour” (2012)

Quvenzhane Wallis for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012)

Naomi Watts for The Impossible” (2012)

Naomi Watts: Academy Award Best Actress Profile #3

In “The Impossible” (2012) Naomi Watts gives an emotional roller coaster of a performance that has completely captivated audiences around the world. In the film, her family travels to Thailand for their Christmas holiday and they are Naomi Watts (2012)forced to overcome some of the worst odds possible when a tsunami hits, sending the entire family in different directions. Watts’ performance is so touching and consuming that it is exhausting to even sit through the film. One can’t even imagine how overwhelming it must have been to actually be the one acting in these scenes. Although all of the actors in this film do an outstanding job, Naomi Watts is so stirring and unbelievably powerful that long after the credits have rolled you can lay in bed just thinking about her performance, and what a remarkable actress Naomi has become.

Naomi Watts has quietly turned into one of the greatest actresses working today. Her rise to stardom wasn’t an overnight Naomi Watts success, but slowly and carefully Naomi worked her way through about a dozen small parts before she was received her breakthrough role in David Lynch’s neo-noir “Mulholland Drive” (2001). In the eleven years since, Naomi has proven to be a much desired actress, especially when it comes to the most innovative directors. She worked with Gore Verbinski on his psychological horror film “The Ring” (2002), and she co-starred alongside Kate Hudson in James Ivory’s comedic “Le Divorce” (2003). Also in 2003, Naomi starred in the brilliant Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu film “21 Grams”. It was the first of three films she has made with Sean Penn, and her unbelievably moving performance earned her the first Academy Award nomination of her career. After earning so much critical acclaim for that role, Naomi found the biggest co-star in Hollywood history, starring in the Peter Jackson epic update of “King Kong”Naomi Watts (2005). After her successful turn in that blockbuster movie, she returned to the smaller films where her uncompromising acting continued to thrive. She starred in David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises” (2007), Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” (2010), Doug Liman’s political drama “Fair Game” and Clint Eastwood’s bio-pic “J. Edgar” (2011).

Her continued excellence in acting seems to have no limits, and in her pursuit of finding the most challenging roles possible, we will be able to see her later this year in the bio-pic “Diane” (2013), starring as the Princess of Wales. Based on her acting ability, there’s a good chance we will be seeing more of Naomi Watts at next year’s Academy Awards as well.

You can learn more about this year’s Best Actress nominees here:

Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012)

Emmanuelle Riva for “Amour” (2012)

Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012)

Quvenzhane Wallis: Academy Award Best Actress Profile #2

There is so little to say about Quvenzhane Wallis and her career because she is just getting started, but because of her overwhelmingly brilliant performance in this year’s Best Picture nominee, “The Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012), thereQuvenzhane Wallis seems to be no end to the conversation about her talents. Much has been said about the fact that at the age of nine she has become the youngest Best Actress nominee ever, but her dramatic performance becomes even more impressive when you consider that at the time of filming she was even younger.

When she was five, Quvenzhane (or Nazie for short) was one of 4,000 young girls who auditioned for the now famous role of Hushpuppy, who in the aftermath of a ferocious storm, watches as her island town called the “Bathtub” is pushed beneath the ocean. Hushpuppy is forced to survive with the remaining people of the “Bathtub”, including her sickly father, Wink (Dwight Henry), and a group of prehistoric creatures defrosted from the ice age, Quvenzhane WalliscalledAurochs.

Nazie lied about her age because they were only looking at girls between the age of six and nine, but director Benh Zeitlin was blown away by her passion, enthusiasm, screaming ability and her talent of burping on cue. Once Nazie had the role, she completely threw herself into the character of Hushpuppy, making a lasting impression on everyone who has seen the film. There has been plenty of Oscar conversations for both Nazie and “The Beasts of the Southern Wild” ever since the film’s premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, but the fact that they were nominated for Academy Awards just short of a year later is a true testament of the impact that NazieQuvenzhane Wallis has had on us all.

You can see Quvenzhane Wallis later this year alongside Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt in “Twleve Years a Slave” (2013), directed by Steve McQueen.

You can learn more about this year’s Best Actress nominees here:

Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012)

Emmanuelle Riva for “Amour” (2012)

Naomi Watts for “The Impossible” (2012)

Emmanuelle Riva: Academy Award Best Actress Profile #1

French actress Emmanuelle Riva might not be a name that everyone knows, but after her stunning performance in thisEmmanuelle Riva year’s Best Picture nominated film,“Amour”, she has solidified herself a place in Oscar history. On February 24th, when the Academy Awards are being announced, Riva will also be having a celebration on her own; it will be her 86th birthday. As the oldest Best Actress nominee in history, Riva was two years old at the celebration of the first ever Academy Award ceremony.

In “Amour”, Riva plays Anne Laurent, a retired music teacher who suffers a stroke that paralyses one side of her body. Her husband ( Emmanuelle RivaJean-Louis Trintignant) takes care of her to the best of his ability, but Anne tells him that she doesn’t want to go back to the hospital or to a nursing home, no matter what.

Emmanuelle Riva has achieved world-wide acclaim for her performance in this film; as she has been nominated for so many awards this year it is hard to even keep track of them all. Throughout her career she has not enjoyed an overwhelmingly large amount of attention, but staring with her breakthrough role in “Hiroshima mon amour” (1959), her acting talents began to turn some heads. ManyEmmanuelle Riva years later she published a book of photographs that she had taken of Hiroshima during filming. Over the next eight years Riva continued to work in films such as “Leon Morin, Priest” (1961), directed by Jean-Pierre. At that point she took a 26 year break before returning in

1993, as the mother of Juliette Binoche in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors: Blue” (1993). Since that time, Riva has continued to appear in a film every couple of years, including a small role in “A Man and His Dog”(2009), which is a remake of Vittorio De Sica’s “Umberto D.” (1952).

Emmanuelle RivaAlthough “Amour” still isn’t widely available do to its limited release,everyone who has had the opportunity to see this film has been mesmerized by the acting on Riva’s part. I don’t think she has a substantial chance of winning come Oscar night, but she has certainly proven to be one of the most memorable performances of the year.

 

You can learn more about this year’s Best Actress nominees here:

Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012)

Quvenzhane Wallis for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012)

Naomi Watts for “The Impossible” (2012)

 

 

The Quiet Man (1952)

 ★★★★★

&

My Hall Of Fame

 

John Ford and John Wayne made 24 movies together, a lot of which are westerns. When you look back on their collaborations there are many films that standout as landmark films, but perhaps the most unusual (and one of the mostThe Quiet Man (1952) brilliant ) of these films is “The Quiet Man” (1952). It’s not a western or a war film, but rather the most underused genre in Ford’s career, the romance.

Retired boxer Sean Thornton (John Wayne) has left America for the town of Innisfree, Ireland. Although he was raised by his mother in America, Sean was born in this small town, just like his father and his father before. Looking to make a new life, Sean quickly reconnects with an old and humorous man named Michaeleen Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), who serves as his guide and friend. While visiting his childhood home Sean catches a glimpse of the feisty and beautiful Mary Kate Danagher (Maureen O’Hara), and he is instantly swept away by her presence.

Sean decides to buy back his family’s old home, but Mary Kate’s older brother, Will (Victor McLaglen), also wants the The Quiet Man (1952)land. Sean outbids Will, but Will remains bitter and resentful towards Sean and refuses to allow Sean to marry Mary Kate. Michaeleen conspirers with Father Peter Lonergan (Ward Bond) and they come up with a way to trick Will into giving his sister away, but once Will finds out he has been fooled he refuses to give Mary Kate her dowry.

Mary Kate wants Sean to fight for her birthright, but Sean has his own reasons for remaining a quiet, peaceful man; at least for a brief time, anyway.

I know that there are lots of people out there who don’t love John Wayne. I might not understand what you have against the man, but I have stopped trying to convince everyone that they should love him and his films. With that being said, this is the film where EVERYONE should love John Wayne. He’s comical, dashing, passionate and an all together delight to watch as his entire focus in the film is earning the love and respect of his wife.The Quiet Man (1952)

Maureen O’Hara was born for this film, as she is able to sweep through the hills of Ireland as if that’s what she really did every day. Obviously O’Hara and Wayne worked brilliantly together because they were so close personally. Naturally their chemistry is undeniable, and of their films together, this one is by far the most fun.

Victor McLaglen earned an Academy Award nomination for his “bad guy” role in this film. He had to be one of the most difficult characters to cast because you needed someone who could pull off the mean spirited Irish brother, but he also had to be a mountain of a man to be able to square off against the six foot four inch Wayne. Their encounters in this film are perfect, and when they finally meet in the last reel for their confrontation, the payoff is completely worth the wait.

Barry Fitzgerald supplies endless amounts of comic relief and is at his absolute best. He always seems to have a good The Quiet Man (1952)sense of humor in his films, but “The Quiet Man” goes beyond all his previous roles and allows him to act how I always imagined he would in his real life. Fitzgerald is particularly great in the scenes that take place during Sean and Mary Kate’s courtship. (Ward Bond has a good little comic role as well.)

John Ford was nominated for an Academy Award for best director five times in his career, winning four of them, including one for “The Quiet Man”. Ford was always a talented director, but it seems today he is only remembered for his westerns. Perhaps this is because that is how he always seemed to remember himself. Four Academy Awards for Best Director is something that seems unobtainable today. He is the only director to ever win the award four times, and there are only two directors thus far who have three directing Oscars (William Wyler & Frank Capra). What is most interesting about John Ford’s four awards is that the films, “The Informer” (1935), “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940), “How Green Was My Valley” (1941) and “The Quiet Man” The Quiet Man (1952)(1952) are not westerns. The films that we most associate with him are the ones that obtained recognition in later years.

“The Quiet Man” also won an Oscar for Winton C. Hoch and Archie Smith for their unbelievably breathtaking cinematography. In total, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and still stands out as one of Ford and Wayne’s best collaborations. “The Quiet Man” has recently been released on blu-ray in a 60th Anniversary Edition.