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The first few minutes from Son of Saul more than set the stage/tone of the entire film – a fairly close camera that never strays too far from the protagonist; a sea of voice surrounding him and then a cacophony of screams from hundreds of people.  Then, the film immediately cuts to its title card and follows the titular character back to cleaning the very cell where those screams came from.  Son of Saul does not waver too far from this introduction and only works to build upon it a very memorable and eerie reminder of a time period that may seem all too familiar as a film property yet unique in its perspective.

Son of Saul follows its titular character, Saul (Géza Röhrig), who is a Jewish worker-prisoner in one of the Nazi concentration camps.  One day, he comes upon a small boy during his work which sets off a journey to bury the boy properly while still trying to maintain his cover in his workplace.

The biggest strengths of the film lie in its cinematography, its unflinching emotional energy and its interesting take on a protagonist.  The first bold aspect of the film is the camera which rarely strays far from Saul.  It hovers close enough for us to usually see his upper body and face while the rest of the action around him becomes a slight blur or a mess of sights/sounds (purposely).  This perspective, the long takes and the intense scrutiny of the propelling plot serve to capture a number of emotions from the shady backroom deals these prisoner-workers must work with to the various politics at hand between the prisoner-worker factions.

In addition, along with the acting debut of Röhrig, all of the mise-en-scene work to really capture the plight of Saul himself.  Although the true question of Saul’s intention never fully comes into fruition, the character’s interactions with his captors and peers along with his unrelenting goals to put his son to rest make for quite the perspective to view both his own spirit and the plight of the prisoners in the concentration camps.  The result is simply a raw amount of emotion as we, the audience, view the atrocities in such graphic detail while balancing the perils of this poor ‘father’ of sorts who is trying to bring the only sense of light back into the world. Perhaps the only faults to find with the film is in some of the scenes which veer almost too closely to action hero tropes and break the immersion that the film presents to the audience.

Son of Saul is a claustrophobic, emotionally raw and disturbing look back at the World War II concentration camps in Hungary.  The approach by Nemes is unique in it’s close proximity to the protagonist in many ways throughout the film and thematically hitting upon both it’s chaotic time period and the character’s internal struggles.  Son of Saul is a sad triumph for its titular character and the time period it represents – a somber and poignant reminder of the struggles that still resonate to this day.

The Wie muses: **** out of ******

 

Director: László Nemes

Running Time: 1 Hour; 47 Minutes

Rated: R

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The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.A busy year equated to a late Oscar Predictions list for the year.  Additionally, I was challenged with creating a predictions list that was interesting in it’s own right and wasn’t able to come up with anything too revolutionary before the Oscars.  Therefore, moving forward, I’m hoping to create an interesting predictions list that is easy-to-read and still uniquely insightful.  Stay tuned.

Until then, enjoy my usual (albeit late and a bit rushed) predictions for this year:

 

Writing – Original Screenplay

American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
Her
Nebraska

Wie’s Choice: Her
Although my two other close favorites, ‘American Hustle’ and ‘Blue Jasmine’ are each fascinating in their own respects, ‘Her’ is my personal favorite out of all the choices here – successfully encapsulating both a sci-fi premise into a romantic comedy.  The unique blend created a touching and alarming film that showcases both our love with ourselves and technology.

Most Likely to Win: Her
‘Her’ has been on a fairly good winning streak with only a ‘loss’ at the BAFTAs to ‘American Hustle’ in which ‘Her’ was not nominated at all.  The momentum could shift to ‘American Hustle’ however if wins starts to shift in all other categories although that has looked less and less likely in the last few weeks.

Writing – Adapted Screenplay

Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Wie’s Choice: 12 Years a Slave
My favorites here are between ’12 Years a Slave’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ – the latter being so flagrant in it’s excess that it oddly becomes admirable.  However, my choice has to come to ’12 Years a Slave’ which also feels excessive but to highlight the plight Solomon’s plight and the other slaves around him without feeling overly melodramatic or preachy.   Few other films this year reached the emotional beats that ’12 Years’ managed to conjure.

Most Likely to Win: 12 Years a Slave
With only a loss to ‘Philomena’ at the BAFTA’s and ‘Her’ at the Golden Globes (in which both were competing with one another), ’12 Years a Slave’ seems to be a fairly sure fit for the win in the Original Screenplay category.  It remains to be seen, however, if this will be one of only a few wins that ’12 Years’ will receive throughout the night.

Visual Effects

Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness

Wie’s Choice: Gravity
Visual effects have obviously come a long way with this year being no different.  However, my personal favorite seems fairly simple with ‘Gravity’ being one of the best looking films of the year.  With Cuaron working on the film for years just to get the tech up to snuff, the results show easily on screen with a surprising amount of CG that never seems out of place.  ‘Gravity’ is a technical dream that deserves all the praise it gets in this regards.

Most Likely to Win: Gravity
In a category that always seems to leave out some beautiful films, this year – the answer seems pretty agreeable with ‘Gravity’ and has all the momentum from wins at other award ceremonies as well as recognition both critically and financially.

Music – Original Score

The Book Thief
Gravity
Her
Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks

Wie’s Choice: Her
‘Gravity’ may have such an important role for it’s soundtrack without much sound elsewhere other than dialogue; however, I am of the opinion it felt too heavy and overbearing.  My vote would go to ‘Her’ which has a subtle and soothing soundtrack that complements the film well.  Much respect has to also go out to the Arcade Fire collaboration which worked for the film rather than to it’s detriment.

Most Likely to Win: Gravity
‘Gravity’ has most of the wins here from past contests and with a lot of momentum for the film in most of it’s categories, the Academy seems sure to vote for it again here as well.  The only other winner, ‘All is Lost’, at the Golden Globes is not even nominated here.

Film Editing

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
12 Years a Slave

Wie’s Choice: Gravity
The fairly surefire answer, personally, is ‘Gravity’ for the Oscar Editing Award.  Space has rarely seemed so dark, isolating and fascinating and although the editing is only one cog in a complicated frame, it was such an integral part in making scenes tense at one moment and lonely in the next – it’s a terrific accomplishment.

Most Likely to Win: Gravity
‘Gravity’ has lost to ‘Rush’ at the BAFTA’s but with ‘Rush’ not nominated here, ‘Gravity’ (again) has the momentum going for it as a critical favorite and a win at the Critic’s Choice Awards.

Cinematography

The Grandmaster
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska
Prisoners

Wie’s Choice: Gravity
‘Gravity’ once again seems like a clear victor here on a personal front.  With Cuaron’s signature long take style and the film having a myriad of crazy shots all over, the cinematography is absolutely top-notch as always.  The first fifteen minutes of the film, which includes perhaps the most quiet moments throughout, is an absolute treat for any film lover looking for great camerawork.

Most Likely to Win: Gravity
With a near sweep at the major awards, ‘Gravity’ once again looks to take the award easily here.

Animated Feature Film

The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
Frozen
The Wind Rises

Wie’s Choice: N/A
Unfortunately, I have yet to watch the Wind Rises which (from word of mouth) is a very strong film.  Therefore, I’d rather leave this blank.

Most Likely to Win: Frozen
Although critically, there has been talk of the respect for ‘The Wind Rises’ as Miyazaki’s ‘final’ film, ‘Frozen’ has swept the critical awards and looks to take the award fairly easily.  Disney has had an absolute critical and financial hit with ‘Frozen’ and with its unique stake in Disney history, it looks to land the Oscar as well.

Oscars_Best_Supporting Actors_Best_Supporting Actresses copyActress in a Supporting Role

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska

Wie’s Choice: Jennifer Lawrence
There are some absolutely fantastic performances here – some of my other favorites being Roberts, Nyong’o and Squibb (and Roberts having nearly a role that could have stood in the main actress category).  However, my personal favorite has to go to Lawrence who brought out such a fun and wacky role in ‘American Hustle’ and is one of the most memorable from the film as a whole.  A shame that she was not in the movie even more, but when she was on screen, it was hard to not pay attention.

Most Likely to Win: Lupita Nyong’o
Here is one of the more hotly contested awards of the night with Nyong’o and Lawrence both landing nearly equal awards throughout the season.  Nyong’o does have the slight edge some more recent wins such as at the Critic’s Choice Award, although as some critics have mentioned, ’12 Years’ may have some problems with many in the voting body possibly thinking of the movie as too heavy while ‘American Hustle’ has gotten a lot of early love from critics which may translate to rewarding the film here.

Actor in A Supporting Role

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Wie’s Choice: Jared Leto
The actors category continue to have such a strong amount of great competitors this year with the supporting roles.  Although Hill and Cooper may land in my favorites (while Abdi, like Roberts, having a role that could have stood as a main actor role), Leto has the most fascinating character as a transgender woman suffering from AIDs.  Much like his co-star, McConaughey, the role goes far beyond just the physical transformation but also the lighthearted and heartfelt emotions that runs through the role.  Cheers to Leto for such a terrific performance.

Most Likely to Win: Jared Leto
Although Leto lost to Abdi at the BAFTA’s, Leto has won all other critical awards and is looking to go into the Oscar’s with the most momentum here.  There is also a lot of love for the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ project and the knowledge about it’s long campaign to become a film may reward the film with acting wins.

Oscars_Best_Actors_Best_Actresses copyActress in a Leading Role

Amy Adams – American Hustle
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judi Dench – Philomena
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

Wie’s Choice: Cate Blanchett
Another strong group of actors here – some of my personal favorites come from Dench (who technically did feel like a supporting role), Adams and Blanchett.  However, the best overall performance has to be Blanchett – a depressing character in a film that just continues to grow depressing with each act.  Blanchett plays Jasmine with such conviction in her lies and insanity that the character almost grows to be pitiful until the final few acts – one of Blanchett’s best roles to date.

Most Likely to Win: Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett has pretty much won most of the awards coming into the Oscars here with only Adams and Bullock winning one or two awards in separate categories.  However, the voting body seems to want to reward ‘Blue Jasmine’, if not in the screenplay category, they will most likely do so here.

Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale – American Hustle
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Wie’s Choice: Leonardo DiCaprio
This category was tough to narrow down to one.  My favorite roles here probably could be narrowed down to Ejiofor, McConaughey and DiCaprio.  However, DiCaprio wins out for my personal favorite.  Even though the role and film itself could be hated as excessive and gluttonous, DiCaprio simply shines as the villainous Belfort and pushes himself to encapsulate a man who simply love his wealth and himself all too much.  I argue that it’s one DiCaprio’s best characters with such conviction in his delivery and emotions.

Most Likely to Win: Matthew McConaughey
Here comes another interesting contentious category.  Ejiofor and McConaughey are the favorites here (with DiCaprio only winning a few awards – mostly in separate categories).  McCounaughey has the slight edge over Ejiofor, however, both in awards count and, once again, the heavy-hearted talk about ’12 Years’ in general may work against Ejiofor.

Directing

American Hustle – David O. Russell
Gravity – Alfonso Cuarón
Nebraska – Alexander Payne
12 Years a Slave – Steve McQueen
The Wolf of Wall Street – Martin Scorsese

Wie’s Choice: Alfonso Cuaron
I personally have a lot of love for McQueen, O. Russell and Scorsese – all for unique reasons and for terrific films.  If these were the only directors in the race, Scorsese would have probably gotten my vote.  However, Cuaron, in the end, feels like he most deserves the award here.  ‘Gravity’ really is the lovechild of Cuaron from start to finish – from it’s pre-production  to the editing room.  Characteristics of Cuaron are also highly present throughout the film such as long shots, tough/tense shots and themes of humanity.  ‘Gravity’ is a labor of love and Cuaron is the heart.

Most Likely to Win: Alfonso Cuaron
Fascinatingly, even though ‘Gravity’ most likely will not win the Best Picture Award, Cuaron has swept every award for Best Director.  Much like my comments above, the long-in-development narrative behind ‘Gravity’ and the final product have proven to be critically viable and will most likely garner a win.  Only McQueen has a small chance to upset here if the voting body feels like ’12 Years’ is getting neglected.

390-oballot-0116Best Picture

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Wie’s Choice: 12 Years a Slave
Much like my top 10 film list for 2013, ’12 Years a Slave’ also tops the list here as well.  A powerful film that is unrelenting in it’s punishment and visceral in it’s vision, ’12 Years’ may be hard to watch but is such a solid film overall and is thematically important for it’s time.

Most Likely to Win: 12 Years a Slave
The final award of the night looks like it will most likely go to ’12 Years a Slave’ as it grabbed most of the past critical awards.  ‘American Hustle’ and ‘Gravity’ may have the best chances to upset with either past wins in separate categories or just love for the film overall.  However, the bigger story will be if the Academy voting body (much like at the aforementioned award shows) mostly ignores ’12 Years’ except for a few awards like the ‘Best Picture’ category.

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Those that have talked to me about this past summer of movies can easily retell you – I was extremely disappointed.  Whether it was a gluttony of bad scripts or a lousy sequel, there were simply too many depressing moments.  Hollywood is blaming the gluttony of blockbusters amongst the shrinking audience or the increasing competition of other media – both of which are true, but in my opinion – very few of the films this summer resonated or were well made overall, thus creating bad word of mouth and a general lack of disinterest.  I don’t believe this will be my last summer film recap forever as summers likes 2012 showed that the medium can still be both profitable and high in quality, but I sure hope Hollywood studios understand the reasoning behind the faulty exterior.  

The films below are a grab-bag of both my good/bad opinions of this past film summer season (especially since I fell behind reviewing) and of course, I haven’t watched all the films of the summer so do keep that in mind.  Check them out:

Favorite Blockbuster/Guilty Pleasure: Pacific Rim 2013-movie-preview-pacific-rim
Dumb but fun – Del Toro’s Pacific Rim encapsulates the exact opposite of what I find so lacking in the Transformers series from Bay.  Del Toro pays respect to his inspirations while knowing to never be overly serious with his crazy subject matter.  Although the film could have taken a few more steps to be a truly great films for the ages (whether it was some really awkwardly acted scenes or some lackluster sub plots), the film threw some great surprises and understood the nature of pacing and showmanship.  Pacific Rim was the most fun I had this summer and even though it may have been oddly marketed in the US or perhaps overly geeky – it still makes for a really great ride that deserves to be seen on the big screen.  

Runner-Up: This is the End
Not a big fan of the ending and almost goes into the territory of being too in-jokey but hey, This is the End was probably the funniest movie of the summer with some surprisingly candid, funny laughs and great cameos.  

Overall Favorite Film: Fruitvale Station fruitvale-station-main
Although it was overly simplistic and lacked a bigger picture perspective, Fruitvale Station is one of the most touching and well-acted films of the summer and perhaps the year thus far.  Although the whole cast deserves much credit for brining both candidness and gravitas to this up-and-down story, Michael B. Jordan deserves the best nod here as a young man who is quick on his feet and seemingly bright with a shady, conflicted past that continues to haunt him.  It’s a film about family; a film about racial profiling; and perhaps most importantly, a film about the gravity choices, however big or small.  A terrific film all-around.  

Runner-Up: Blue Jasmine
Blue Jasmine lacks the charm and love of the film’s location, San Francisco, as other Allen films and starts out so depressing and never really gets any brighter.  Still, Blancett’s acting is absolutely terrific and the script helps dive the characters into a myriad of mistakes, lies and misery – Allen is as insightful as ever.  

Matt Damon (left) and Sharlto Copley in Columbia Pictures' ELYSIUM.Most Disappointing Summer Movie: Elysium
With so many sequels and remakes this summer, it was surprising to see that an original film from one of my past favorite film’s directors, District 9’s Blomkamp,  earn the distinction of being my most disappointing summer movie.  Although Elysium is beautiful in it’s vision and gives off an initially fascinating world, the film devolves into poor writing and strange plot points.  What we are ultimately left with is a rote, mindless action film added with one-note characters, unnecessary repetitive scenes and one of the weakest endings this summer – a mighty shame given the fascinating backdrop Blomkamp and team created.  

Runner-Up: Man of Steel
Love-it-or-hate-it, unfortunately, Snyder’s Superman interpretation falls for me as a ‘hate it’.  A number of aspects push the film down from it’s schizophrenic story to poor plot beats that end up with characters that I never emphasized much with.  Add on top of all this a second half that has grand action scenes without much care for the surroundings and a lack of emotional pull equates to one of the most disappointing superhero films of the summer.     

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the-oscars-and-social-media-by-the-numbers-630dfbfb1c2012 was a terrific year for film.  Of course, the general box office might not think so and many fans of specific movies might be unhappy with the Oscar picks as they are nearly every year – but really, believe me when I state that this year’s Oscar candidates really reflects the high caliber of film that hasn’t been seen for a few years if not more.  Because of this, a lot of categories are interestingly going up in the air in terms of who has the better expectation in terms of winning.  We’ll find out tomorrow the results.  Here are my predictions for 2013: [And a good quick note, like every year, I miss a few categories simply because I lack the expertise in the specific category or I haven’t been able to watch most of the films in that category, such as Best Animated.] 

Original Screenplay:
Amour
Django Unchained
Flight
Moonrise Kingdom
Zero Dark Thirty

du-ac-000125_lg_620x350Most Likely to Win: Django Unchained
Django Unchained has been riding a huge tidal wave of success starting from it’s Golden Globe win to the BAFTA. The WGA was it’s only major loss (since it wasn’t nominated) and so going into the big Oscar week, it seems that many in the film community would like to honor Tarantino’s latest with a few awards, especially in two of it’s strongest areas starting with it’s witty and fascinating screenplay.  The only other two that could usurp it could be Zero Dark Thirty or Amour – one for it’s win at the WGA and the other because of rising emotional momentum.

Wie’s Choice: Moonrise Kingdom
It’s an utter shame that this category is the only nomination for Moonrise Kingdom which is hindered by both it’s summer release and quirky output. It also most likely has little chance of winning, but in my mind, Wes Anderson’s screenplay actually has a lot in common with the most likely winner, Django.  Both harken back to a specific nostalgic genre and play with those aesthetics to create it’s world and emotions.  However, I do feel that Moonrise is the more genuine out of the two and takes more risks that payoff in building it’s child-to-adulthood storybook plot, written with as much intelligence and fun as any other contender this year.

Adapted Screenplay:
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook

argoMost Likely to Win: Argo
Much like the majority of this predictions list, Argo has the biggest momentum moving into the Oscar night.  The film really capitalized on it’s early Oscar buzz more than any other film and with both wide exposure and a film that doesn’t do too much to offend and enough to excite – it looks like the clear frontrunner to beat.  Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook seem to be the next films that could have a chance, the latter with a BAFTA win.

Wie’s Choice: Silver Linings Playbook
However, personally, the best screenplay goes to Silver Linings Playbook with Lincoln close behind.  Silver Linings lives and dies by it’s writing and character interplay – an element that is clearly a big help thanks to the well-written screenplay that could have left the fairly typical under trappings into mediocrity.  With such a huge element of success and love put into it’s screenplay, there’s no denying that Silver Linings Playbook is one of the most heartfelt screenplays on the list.

Visual Effects:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Marvel’s The Avengers
Prometheus
Snow White and the Huntsman

121121_MOV_LifeofPi.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeMost Likely to Win: Life of Pi
Life of Pi seems to be the clear frontrunner here, winning the most awards and most critical praise.  Sure there are some spectacular visual set pieces and some clear work done with the effects.  It most likely is the tiger, however, that really distinguishes the work above it’s competition – a feat that is all the more impressive when most audience members cannot distinguish between the real and the fake.

Wie’s Choice: Prometheus
However, admittedly, one of my most disappointing films of the year was still quite a pretty choice indeed.  Prometheus was both artistically beautiful and visually strong with consistently large and gorgeous set pieces and constant effects that never seemed to run out of steam.  The film itself may be quite weaker in comparison but the work done on the effects here should be recognized as some of the industry’s best of the previous year.

Music – Original Score:
Anna Karenina
Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

argo1Most Likely to Win: Argo
Music has been a bit all over the place this awards season with various winners from Skyfall’s BAFTA win to Life of Pi’s win at the Golden Globes.  Call it strange but I believe because of Argo’s lack of nominations or surefire wins in most other categories I believe the Academy will award Argo and it’s fairly interesting score a prize here.

Wie’s Choice: Life of Pi
However, I do believe Life of Pi, although the dominant winner in my eyes, is one of the more unique soundtracks of the year.  Both Eastern and mystical in it’s musical trappings, in a film where the players do not change as much on screen, an important component became the musical backdrop to truly push the film along with it’s beautiful visuals – something that the soundtrack has done.

Film Editing:
Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

121011_MOV_Argo.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeMost Likely to Win: Argo
The editing category here has gone to quite a few different movies this season.  However, much like the reasoning with the Music Score, I believe the Academy will go similarly here with editing and award it to Argo, both creating consistency with it’s eventual lead-up to bigger awards and because it does have some momentum in terms of other wins as well.  Zero Dark Thirty and Life of Pi are the most likely other choices.

Wie’s Choice: Silver Linings Playbook
My choice falls alongside an interesting choice – Silver Linings Playbook.  I believe the film was at it’s strongest with it’s pacing and frenetic energy helped by a tremendous job in the editing room.  The film was quick and all over the place yet still had a foundation and weight that kept it all level – something that the editing here really succeeded at I believe more than the other film contenders.  However, Silver Linings doesn’t look to be the top choice here in the final night.

Cinematography:
Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

life-of-pi02Most Likely to Win: Life of Pi
Life of Pi is the clear frontrunner with both the critical acclaim and the awards lead thus far – a not too surprising choice given some of the beautiful camera moments that really push the wow factor of the film’s big set pieces.  With little to slow it down other than a surprise upset from Skyfall or Anna Karenina, two of the artier cinematography films nominated, Life of Pi has little to lose here.

Wie’s Choice: Skyfall
However, I was more impressed with the beauty and grandeur of Skyfall.  Although it lacks some of the more abstract moments of Life of Pi, this latest Bond flick encompasses some beautiful camera decisions that result in one of the best looking Bond films yet that really take advantages of the locales Bond visits.  From a beautiful pan out fight to the death under the ice to a Shanghai fight against the neon lights, Skyfall is my pick amongst these candidates for Best Cinematography.

Actress in a Supporting Role:
Amy Adams (The Master)
Sally Field (Lincoln)
Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

1500_les_miserables_anne_hathawayMost Likely to Win: Anne Hathaway
Anne Hathaway is the easiest acting role nomination to pick because she has swept every single category she has been in.  From the Golden Globes to the SAGs, there hasn’t been a major award that Hathaway hasn’t won.  Hunt’s role is probably too miniscule in comparison to Hathaway along with Weaver.  Adams had a terrific performance that played against her usual roles but still was not as dominating and Field, although an Oscars favorite, may have tried to dominate in Lincoln but still clearly overshadowed by her bigger-than-life Day-Lewis/Lincoln husband.

Wie’s Choice: Anne Hathaway
But that being said, Hathaway really dominates in her role all-around, as short of a period as she is in the movie for.  With ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ as her big solo moment and the story of Fantine making up the big transition to the halfway point in the movie, Hathaway’s role was really either a take-it-or-leave-it moment and Hathaway did the role justice.  It helped that Director Hooper chose to really be intimate during the songs and hone in on the characters, giving them a musical-like moment to be judged and reviewed.

Actor in a Supporting Role:
Alan Arkin (Argo)
Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

christoph-waltz-django-unchained-1Most Likely to Win: Christoph Waltz
Here’s a category that initially seemed like an easier category to predict but has gotten a bit unsteady throughout the weeks.  Waltz was the frontrunner at first with a win at the Globes and another at the BAFTA.  However, Jones and Hoffman have also each received an award for their equally powerful performance in their movies and some pundits believe that De Niro and Arkin are both deserving of an award as well.  However, Waltz seems like the most likely winner amongst the group simply due to the stats.  We’ll see.
Wie’s Choice: Christoph Waltz
This category is also filled with heavy hitters in nearly every spot.  Jones and Hoffman are very much deserving of the award – the former for his earnest candor that really focused on working his acting chops and the latter really being a bombastic middleman that kept the Master together.  However, it really is Waltz that stole the Django show with a performance that shone as witty and dramatic.  How does a German cowboy work in an exploitation Western?  Simply watch Waltz work his magic.

Actress in a Leading Role:
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

amour-riva_2448292bMost Likely to Win: Emmanuelle Riva
What was once a clear-shot win for Lawrence has started swaying in the other direction for Amour’s Emmanuelle Riva since her win at the BAFTA’s.  Pundits are predicting that the stars are aligning correctly for the actress along with appealing to the majority of the Academy’s older voters.  Furthermore, it’s her 86th birthday during the Oscar’s – a great birthday present and story that the Oscar’s would seemingly love (and her role in Amour itself is critically acclaimed and a nomination well-deserved).

Wie’s Choice: Jennifer Lawrence
As much as I cherish and respect Riva’s role though, my favorite performance of the year is still Lawrence.  Silver Linings Playbook is heavily reliant on it’s actors to convey the quick-paced, nearly-schizophrenic plot and Lawrence has been the biggest force to lead the charge in the film.  Continuing to diversify her roles and showcase, her role here is one that is very stalwart yet emotionally frail – confident yet filled with holes.  Her chemistry on screen and her ups and downs throughout the film was a thrill to watch and my pick for the Best Actress of 2012.

Actor in a Leading Role:
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)
Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
Denzel Washington (Flight)

daniel-day-lewis-lincoln4Most Likely to Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Here is probably the easiest category to choose of the night unless there’s some sort of hard upset that – Mr. Day-Lewis has been picking up pretty much every major award up to the Oscar’s with little momentum shifting away from him.  Hugh Jackman is probably the only one with a bit of hype on his side with his Golden Globe win but little else in their other confrontations.

Wie’s Choice: Daniel Day-Lewis
The choice though is fairly sound, even amongst such heavy competition.  Day-Lewis truly embodies Lincoln both as a fantastic storyteller and a strong but flawed leader.  Spielberg’s style throughout the film leaned heavily on Day-Lewis as well for nearly the entire film with quiet moments telling an intimate story to an emotional fight with his wife that again, Day-Lewis perfectly balanced.

Directing:
Michael Haneke (Amour)
Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

2088_life-of-pi-ang-lee-640Most Likely to Win: Ang Lee
Here comes the strangest award of the night as three heavy-weight directors that were nominated in Best Picture are not here including heavy favorite Argo.  So what in the world happens then?  Pundits seem all over the place here with the fight being a three-way match between Spielberg, whose film is leading in terms of nominations, Russell, who has swept the nominations for the acting categories, and Lee who has been a late favorite among many.  Without any clear award indicator from before other than the critical rumblings, I would have to agree with Lee in this case – a film that truly blossomed into a fascinating contender later in the game.

Wie’s Choice: David O. Russell
Again, however, the nominated directors here showcases the strength of this past year’s films.  Nearly all of them deserve some kind of recognition but my personal favorites come down between Haneke and Russell, the latter of which I will tip my hat to.  As I’ve described previously in other choices, Silver Linings Playbook was an achievement thanks to many moving cogs – a film that could have easily slipped into a typical rom-com and held together to become something much more significant thanks to Russell and his great work in building his characters – an achievement that out of this list I believe he accomplished best.

Best Picture:
Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Argo-1Most Likely To Win: Argo
And so comes the big last award of the night, which will most likely go to Argo.  How come?  The momentum behind this film is huge since it’s release.  It has been a Hollywood darling, winning nearly every major award since the awards season started and really scratching the backs of making Hollywood feel like it’s a hero.  Additionally, with no nomination for Best Director oddly, that should solidify it’s Best Picture win all the more unless a crazy upset happens from Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, or Lincoln.

Wie’s Choice: Zero Dark Thirty
It really was a great year for film as this list encompasses, with nearly every film on here really deserving it’s spot.  However, my favorite of the year is Zero Dark Thirty – what I thought to be a much more focused and emotionally nuanced political/historical thriller than Argo.  As I described in my favorite films of 2012 post, Zero Dark Thirty pushes a fascinating and grueling tale about the capture of Osama Bin Laden from the perspective of a lone wolf agent.  Unafraid to explore touchy subject matter such as torture and intelligence, Zero Dark Thirty is a great film all-around and my choice for my personal Best Picture Oscar.

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[Note: If you want to skip ahead and just see the list without the explanations, they’re on the bottom.]

There were two major themes apparent to me in the 2012 film library.  One was obviously the resurgence of the auteur as many old (and new) branded directors were able to show off their works all at once this year, resulting in quite a strong line-up throughout the year and one of the best years for film releases in a while.  The other theme was a bit less apparent but an intriguing one – the notion of the unlikely protagonist and his or her representation within a community.  Whether it was President Lincoln as the unlikely catalyst in pushing forth the 13th Amendment or M’s surprise turnaround as the quintessential Bond Girl, the year made for some terrific and memorable characters that any writer and director would love to have.  And so, without further ado, here is my Top 10 (and a few others):

(What did I Miss This Year: Unfortunately, I missed a majority of animated films and as always, I had trouble watching a majority of foreign films as well. I will note any changes in future blog posts if there are any when I do catch these other films.)

10. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Levo_League_Beasts_Southern_WildBeasts of the Southern Wild is a film that really explored the notion of community and diaspora in fascinating ways, right in the center of the United States but in an unlikely setting of the New Orleans bayou.  The film definitely has it’s abstract moments that may confuse more than enlighten but really, it’s the central relationship between Hushpuppy and Wink and the outstanding performance of young newcomer, Wallis, that anchors the film. Oddly enough, Beasts probably ends up being the most reflective film of 2012 that showcases the trials and tribulations of the community in the U.S., much like many cities were facing themselves through financial hardships and the forces of nature.

9. Django Unchained
django-unchained-christoph-and-jamie-waltz-foxx

Quentin Tarantino is, no doubt, very proud of his work in Django Unchained, which has led to the majority of my complaints lodged against the film.  Nevertheless, the film is a fantastic romp through Tarantino’s twisted homage of the Western and his continued love for the exploitation genre.  Helped by a fantastic cast and two strong performances from Di Caprio’s crazed villain and Waltz’s whimsical German cowboy, Django ends up not only being an entertaining ride but also one that smartly twists and turns Western tropes and stereotypes into fascinating commentary and ideas that feel fresh and inspired.

8. The Cabin in the Woods
Cabin2The Cabin in the Woods is a strange Top 10 entry on a superficial level – the film lacks any major big acting force (save for one fun cameo) and the film’s budget works against the big aspirations that potentially the film could have reached.  Moreso, the film requires a viewer to ‘get’ the jokes and the gimmicks behind it before fully understanding it’s purpose.  Luckily, I feel that I got what Whedon and Goddard were going for and was pleasantly surprised by the results of this deconstruction of the modern horror film.  Witty, self-aware and compelling, The Cabin in the Woods is a terrific example of how smart script writing and careful balance can create quite a memorable experience amongst any genre.

7. Bernie
120427_MOV_bernieJackBlack.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeBernie was one of my biggest and most welcome surprises of the year as one of the best biopics of the year, not a small feat given it’s competition.  School of Rock director Linklater and Jack Black team up once again for this more subdued but fascinating look at a murder case involving a possibly gay mortician and his older mistress in a small Texan town.  It’s a bizarre, real-life story only made stranger thanks to it’s strange cast of characters and the fact that the town loves the main character.  Propped by the mockumentary style and a controlled yet eccentric performance as Bernie from Black, the film is seemingly unbelievable for some of it’s ridiculousness yet believable because of the presentation and performances.  Bernie is interesting to see how the story run it’s course and even more intriguing in looking at the polarizing forces of the justice system and town politics.

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
628x471I still have not read the book of The Perks of Being a Wallflower but many that have are happy to report that the movie sticks pretty faithfully to it’s source material.  I preface with this statement since some may wonder if this placement is simply due to the faithfulness of book’s author and movie’s director, Chbosky’s, adaptation.  Sure, it would have been part of my list of pros, but the movie proudly stands on it’s own as an emotional and well-produced look into a freshman’s life at high school.  Although Perks still includes familiar stereotypes of freshman troubles, the way they are approached not only feel fresh but authentic thanks to the careful dialogue beats that try to convey the many confused emotions of a growing teenager and the complicated lives they lead amongst others that are having the same troubles.  Although most of the young cast gives off solid performances, it really is Ezra Miller that shines the brightest here as an openly gay senior and the difficulties he has to face.  All-in-all, Perks feels grounded in it’s perception of teenage life and presents students not as tropes but as actual emotional beings.

5. Samsara
samsara1I love Koyaanisqatsi, one of the first films I’ve watched that really embodies the dialogue-free movie that tries to tell it’s narrative through the natural sights and sounds of the world.  Then it shouldn’t come as too much surprise that I also fell in love with Samsara, which definitely has many interesting similarities to Koyannisqatsi.  Mostly dialogue-free and making most of it’s scenery shots, Samsara makes interesting commentary on a number of themes ranging from materialism to the cycle of life.  Although, at times, the film falls too much on direct messaging of it’s commentary and feels heavy-handed, the majority of Samsara’s messaging feels fascinating and insightful alongside some beautiful cinematography and locations.  In an age in which special effects continue to improve, it’s a testament to state that Samsara showcases how beautiful the world can naturally be while still including interesting thematic value to it all.

4. Cloud Atlas
CloudAtlas1Cloud Atlas is this year’s quintessential love-it-or-hate-it movie and for good reason.  The very ambitious film tries to adapt a post-modern novel that flashes back-and-forth between six different time periods and also are connected.  There are definite missteps within the film adaptation such as bad prosthetic makeup and a heavy-handed script that tries to make the themes too apparent.  However, if one can get past such misgivings, there is a lot to take in with Cloud Atlas both as an adaptation and as a film.  The Wachowski siblings and Tykwer create a fascinating universe to play around with with an almost theater-like approach with the same actors reprising multiple roles and a multitude of genres.  The end result is a fascinating homage to media as a medium while still holding true to the themes of the book of destiny and connection.  Again, the film is far from perfect and will definitely not please everyone, but Cloud Atlas is one of the most ambitious ones of the year with an earnest heart and six different tales worth listening to.

3. Silver Linings Playbook
"Silver Linings Playbook"Silver Linings Playbook is the most audience-friendly movie on this list I believe.  I say that because it’s general narrative structure and plot points are typical of any romantic comedy and on their own, are unsurprising and fairly blase.  However, as Director Russell has shown time and time again, his directorial expertise comes within his rich characters and energy behind them.  Silver Linings Playbook contains some of my favorite characters of the year and what I believe are some of the strongest performances all-around.  The main two protagonists, Pat and Tiffany, are individuals with heavy problems both in their life and their minds, setting up not only their characters’ journeys but the film’s frenetic style.  Silver Linings is fierce in really perpetuating the speed and back-and-forth actions of Pat’s bipolar disorder and although at times, it seems like you’re having to catch up, the energy and frenzy create a unique experience that bends the typical narrative structure.  Alongside the camera and pacing are Lawrence and Cooper.  Both put in such unique interpretations and feed off of each other that they create not only an undeniable chemistry but deep characters that audience members feel like they want to get to know better and connect with.  The end product is possibly the strongest emotional film of the year that sticks too close to it’s guns narratively but is so enchanting and enlightening in terms of it’s characters.

2. Moonrise Kingdom
movie_-_Moonrise-KingdomIn between my third and first choice is what I believe to be the most well-realized vision of the year with a balance of great characters and terrific story.  On one level, Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s fascinating homage to both television in the mid-20th century and children’s novels with it’s whimsical narration, stylized narrative sequences and colorful atmosphere.  Anderson holds true to his vision and creates a fascinating world with lively characters that are both mesmerizing and consistent, helped much by his colorful cast of both veterans and newcomers from Murray to Hayward.  Furthermore, the film goes one step further and utilizes it’s unique style to propel an engaging plot about childhood stereotypes and the pains of growing up, all with their unique Anderson quirks.  It isn’t necessarily complex at first glance and Anderson has been keen to these types of films throughout his career, yet Moonrise Kingdom accomplishes a terrific feat as a whole – a unique vision that is skillfully insightful and colorfully entertaining.

1. Zero Dark Thirty
SUB-24ZERO-articleLargeOn the other side of the spectrum of my top three is my pick for the most technical and well-executed film of the year – Zero Dark Thirty.  I do believe the film lacks the character and intimate pull that Moonrise and Silver Linings pull together.  However, for what the film foregoes in it’s characterizations, it makes up for in sheer narrative bravado and intricacy in this sprawling dramatic thriller in the search for Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks.  Director Bigelow and her team create a massive, complicated timeline and then presents it in such an engaging yet consumable manner that, although oversimplifies certain narrative elements, leads audiences through the dangers of intelligence gathering and it’s political webs.  It lets the audience decide as to what is morally right and wrong while continuing to utilize it’s main character, Maya, as the sole connection back to the audience of any possible empathy.  The film ends up being one of my favorites of the year because of Bigelow’s successes in capturing the audience’s’ attention nearly every moment of it’s running time and constantly raising interesting questions of the successes and casualties on the war on terror.

Honorable Mentions:
-The Master
-Lincoln
-Argo
-Celeste and Jesse Forever
-Seven Psychopaths

Top 10 Movies:
10. Beasts of the Southern Wild
9. Django Unchained
8. The Cabin in the Woods
7. Bernie
6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
5. Samsara
4. Cloud Atlas
3. Silver Linings Playbook
2. Moonrise Kingdom
1. Zero Dark Thirty

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11167541_detThis year has culminated in a series of fascinating historical and political dramas that shows the different sides of war and intelligence.  Each has brought a different facet, style and tone to each of their proceedings and interestingly, we end with the most modern historical tale of all – the hunt for Osama Bin Laden with Zero Dark Thirty.  The question becomes where this film will stand amongst the heavy proceedings of all the others.  The answer, luckily, is that Zero Dark Thirty is a meticulous and well-thought out film that is not only a great historical mystery thriller but thoughtful in it’s themes of the costs of modern warfare and solitary confinement, even with some emotional holes.

Zero Dark Thirty follows the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. What ensues is a decade long search with the film mainly focusing on one task group based in Pakistan.  Several members of this group are introduced including Dan (Jason Clarke) and Joseph (Kyle Chandler) who are capturing suspected members and using various psychological and torture tactics to try and get more information before more attacks happen.  Soon, Maya (Jessica Chastain) is added to the team, for her extensive knowledge and relentless attitude.  The chase will take Maya and the rest of the team around the Middle East until the final debate on Bin Laden’s final location.

The weakest sections of Zero Dark Thirty deal with character complexity and emotional depth along with some glossed over narrative elements.  The film is definitely heavy with lots of names, locations and proceedings.  However, because of the depth of the narrative, the characters are mostly not given much room to grow for the most part and are fairly simplistic.  Unfortunately, some of these simpler characterizations also lead to moments within the story that feel not genuine or emotionally weaker.  Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) is one good example of this problem and her character arc.  This situation bleeds a bit into some of the lack of depth in terms of the logic of how these situations proceed.  Because of the high nature importance of the mission, seeing how these politics go through sometimes seem a bit too amplified to be logical such as an argument with Maya versus her superiors.  Again, much of this seems due to the amount of plot material the film has to get through but are still apparent points to make.  Some of the music as well seems inconsistent – although some of the more Middle Eastern soundtracks are intriguing to see, when it changes to a more Western, traditional orchestra, the transition seems a bit too jarring and out-of-place.

However, these problems definitely do not outweigh the terrific pace and thoughtfulness put into creating a complex but comprehensible and exciting narrative arc.  The film is definitely very dense, as previously mentioned, with lots of names and movement, yet it is presented in a fashion in which audience members will remember and understand each step of the proceeding without feeling bored or overwhelmed. It’s a well-paced script that feeds information out without dumbing down the proceedings too much.  This narrative is also given some depth as well in terms of presenting a fairly unfiltered view of interrogation techniques and intelligence gathering methods and letting the audience make the ultimate judgement on what is morally right and not.  This thinking is extended onto Maya’s character who benefits the most from the script (at the expense of other characters) who is actually given some interesting characterizations both as a parallel to audience reaction and her own persona growth thanks both again to the script and Chastain herself.  All of this is wrapped in a weighty atmosphere that always feels on the cusp of another explosion or suicide bomber and does not shy away from darker moments from both the opposition and the US forces. It becomes a fascinating look at the pros and cons of the intelligence process and more or less, just a great piece of storytelling.

Zero Dark Thirty is an intense dramatic thriller that may be short on emotional depth but intricate and engaging in the rest of it’s package.  Yes, there are some simple characterizations that seemingly ‘dumb down’ some of the plot proceedings and little complexity in terms of the sides that people stand on.  However, this lack of complexity and depth luckily does not apply to the core plot and narrative movement as Bigelow and her team weave an intricate narrative of mysteries, red herrings and politics mixed in the search for Osama Bin Laden.  People may rightly question how many of the details are accurate and what ultimately yielded the final results.  However, as a film, Zero Dark Thirty is not only well-told and well-executed but also a thoughtful piece on the war against terror and the heavy toll it brings.  

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Rated: R
Running Time: 157 Minutes

The Wie muses: **** out of *****

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Time travel films fall into an interesting and ironic dilemma fairly unique (although not completely) to their genre – they must figure out how to explain and rationalize the concept in an efficient method while maintaining sense and flow.  It’s a difficult proposition and has been tackled in various ways throughout the years whether as a mere plot device that is used sparingly (ala Men in Black III) or in zany ways that is explained along the way (ala Back to the Future).  In the end, the best of these films try not to be bogged down too heavily with the concept and surround it with other strong fundamentals.  In many ways, then, Looper does a fascinating job at maintaining sense and intrigue by not worrying too heavily on the origins and semantics of time travel and turns out a solid film about morality and justice although unfortunately, it does not do enough to satisfy with some loose and unpolished parts and potential that isn’t reached.

Looper follows Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is a Looper, a person who has been hired to kill captured prisoners of gangs from the future who are sent back via time travel, which has been invented thirty years later.  Doing this allows Joe to obtain wealth and power in a dystopian world with only the rich and the poor.  However, loopers have on condition in which due to the nature of the work, they must at the end of their tenure kill their future self who is sent back in a similar way.  Unfortunately for Joe, he meets his future self (Bruce Willis) sooner than expected but is outsmarted by him.  Now, the younger Joe needs to clear his name while on the run from his employer, run by Abe (Jeff Daniels), while figuring out how Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon) play into his older self’s plan.

Looper is at it’s best when it focuses on it’s atmosphere and builds an intriguing background behind it’s characters.  The film has a beautiful look about it that is grounded in the present day yet feels free to mix itself a bit with sci-fi elements here and there such as hoverbikes and mutant abilities.  It also creates a world that lacks a middle class – simply a very impoverished world versus a rich and powerful one.  Utilizing mostly dark and gritty overtones while sprinkling in actual urban and suburban (and rural) neighborhoods, the dynamic is immediately set as an interesting one, especially mixing in the loopers and their role within the world.  Much like it’s world, the main characters, Levitt and Gagnon, are quite noticeably well-rounded and well-acted.  The characters may seem well far and apart but there is an interesting dynamic not only between the two but also within each of their own arcs.  Gordon-Levitt continues his march as a steady lead with a role a bit darker and focusing less on his charisma and more on his gritty attitude.  Personally, the prosthetic make-up wasn’t much of a distraction and his mannerisms to Willis are pretty spot-on to make the case that the two are one and same but even further, he pulls off a character that audiences will both stand behind yet still double-back on as his motivations aren’t exactly pure.  The other surprise standout is Gagnon as well who shows off a mature and smart child set in the middle of several disputes – it is a fine performance that holds up against other veterans actors on set.  Finally, the plot as well is fairly well-written and well-paced to match.  It’s noir styling mixed in with both a sci-fi and gangster setting makes for a good mix that doesn’t rely too heavily on one genre yet does not forget it’s elements as well and to it’s credit, doesn’t worry about having to explain the mechanics of it’s world such as how time travel came to be since the plot needed no such explanation.  The culmination to it’s climax also deserves a good mention as it comes off as very solid.  One final mention needs to go to the cinematography work that (at least early on) is frenetic and fascinating to watch unfold.

The disappointing foils to these positive, however, come within the film’s devaluation of it’s other characters, some underwhelming special effects and all-too-convenient plot devices and arcs.  On one level is the simplistic characters.  Other than the main characters mentioned prior, many of the other characters’ motivations are fairly simplistic and one-dimensional.  The villain for instance (Jeff Daniels) is created to be a very hardened, no-nonsense character yet never really is touched on other than supposedly frightful moments of anger.  Even Willis is relegated to his usual gruff action role and is only given some context thanks to the time travel mechanic (along with one terrible transition shot that tries to establish a connection with Gordon-Levitt and Willis that is almost laughable).  Just as strange is the special effects which unfortunately is in stark contrast to the beautiful atmosphere.  Futuristic elements like the hover bike seem poorly thought out and it’s the film’s benefit that there isn’t too many special effects heavy scenes.  Finally, much like the side characters, although the ideas are clever along with the plot direction, some of the plot devices seem too obvious and out in the limelight that most audience members should notice before the actual reveal – more of a shame as some of the interesting back-and-forth moments are dulled by these revelations that come too early and too plainly.

Looper is a solid and fairly clever sci-fi time travel film that still felt like it didn’t live up to it’s full potential.  The Blade Runner-esque noir world created here is fascinating in it’s creation surrounded with a good dichotomy between Levitt and Willis along with some clever twists along the way.  However, there are noticeably cracks in terms of fairly one-note characters, some underwhelming special effects and plot devices that are too evident.  Make no doubt about it – it was a pleasure watching Looper from start to finish topped off with a satisfying ending, but when the concept of a film is so strong, it’s disappointing to see it not go even further and tighten up the loose cogs that made the film merely good rather than great.

Director: Rian Johnson
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

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