Oscar 2013: Best Picture Nominee – Zero Dark Thirty

 

Juls Nicholl-Stimpson on Zero Dark Thirty’s hunt for Oscar.

Zero Dark Thirty poetically portrays the trauma spanning over two decades of the American-Iraqi war. It tells the horrific story of the war, the loss of loved ones and the inevitable capture of Osama Bin-Laden; the most sought after war criminal in the world.

Directed by Kateryn Bigelow, this is 157 minutes of pure action – we all knew the ending but this depiction of the S.E.A.L teams journey towards the ultimate capture of the world’s most notorious terrorist is intensely captivating. The film centres around CIA operative Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, who provides a chilling insight into this high-profile undercover work style through her persistence and intellect.

The concept for the film was realised over a decade ago with the bombing of the twin towers in 2001 following the journey towards Bin Laden’s apprehension. The film has created wide spread controversy due to the portrayal of suspects subjected to torture. It has also raised the question, whether or not there was a false representation of the use of torture as a key method in obtaining information on Bin Laden’s whereabouts and acquaintances.

Zero Dark Thirty has received nominations for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress – Jessica Chastain and Best Original Screenplay; four Golden Globe nominations, Best Picture, Actress -Jessica Chastain (She won), Original Screenplay, Film Editing and Sound Editing.

 

 Juls Nicholl-Stimpson

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Oscar 2013: Best Picture Nominee – Lincoln

 

Anthony Kirby stands by Lincoln as part of our Oscar 2013 Best Film countdown…

Daniel Day-Lewis gives a modulated, textured, deeply felt performance as the 16th President of the United States. Focusing on the last four months of the martyred president’s life the film shows a man old before his time, yet deeply conscious that he has made a pact with the indentured slaves of his country, fought a war on their behalf, and as yet has failed to get the Constitutional Amendment freeing them into law.
The President has a good, yet adversarial, marriage to Mary Todd (Sally Field). Unfortunately. Mrs Lincoln is in depression. ‘I mourn the loss of our son too, Mother’ says Lincoln at one point. ‘However, we must go on and continue our lives.’ Lincoln derives comfort from the time he spends reading to his youngest son Tad (Gulliver McGrath). Yet he is ultimately alone.
In contrast to Young Mr. Lincoln and earlier epics, the film presents the President ‘warts and all’.
Director Speilberg and writer Kushner attempt to show the events of January through April 1865 as emblematic of the man. We see Lincoln’s humanity, determination, and resolve in those supremely trying months. We can register the imprint of the ordeal through Day-Lewis’s portrayal. (Through the clever use of makeup the actor resembles the Lincoln of Matthew Brady’s Civil War portraits).
However, Day Lewis is far too skilled an actor to simply give the viewer a stooped, troubled Lincoln and leave it at that. He uses a high, wavering mid-western voice (apparently authentic) as a subtle wheedling instrument. Lincoln’s Shakespeare-quoting country lawyer act , involving the spinning of country yarns, is just a rouse. He is capable of rage, but he parcels it out opportunely when no other option will work.
Lincoln’s hopes for passage of the amendment rely on the support of Republican Party Founder Francis Preston Blair (Hal Holbrooke), the only person who can ensure that all members of the conservative faction of the party will back the legislation. However, with Union victory in the War seeming likely, Blair is keen to end hostilities as quickly as possible. In return for his support Blair insists that Lincoln immediately allow him to engage the Confederates in peace negotiations. Lincoln reluctantly agrees to Blair’s mission. This slows matters down by almost a week.
Knowing that his legislation won’t pass without the support of some disaffected Democrats, Lincoln is not above using strategies bordering on the devious to get his amendment through. In one very strong scene he urges his Secretary of State William H. Seward (David Strthairn) to use the promise of positions in his new administration to procure Democratic votes. The fore-mentioned deputies are ‘lame duck’ politicians. They will be out of work once the new congress meets. Lincoln feels they have nothing to lose and much to gain by voting their consciences.

High ranking members of the Confederate Administration are ready to meet Lincoln to discuss peace terms. He instructs that they be kept out of Washington as the amendment approaches a vote on the House floor. The returned Blair and Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) a charismatic abolitionist Republican husband the bill through Congress . Finally after incendiary debate the Amendment passes by just two votes.
Lincoln’s complicated views on slavery and the emancipation of blacks are sanitised for public consumption. However , one scene near the end of the film highlights his personal position. Asked by his wife’s maid ,Elizabeth Keckley (Gloria Rubin) whether he accepts blacks as equals, he vacillates by saying that he does not know her or her people, but that since they are ‘bare forked animals’ (a reference to Shakespeare ) he will get used to them. This tarnish on his reputation de-sanctifies him.
Given the object of the film there is only one war sequence. It is of the President visiting a battlefield following a brief meeting with General Ulysses Grant (Jared Harris).
Producer Kathleen Kennedy described Day Lewis’s performance as ‘remarkable’. She added, ‘every day you get chills thinking Lincoln is sitting there right in front of you . Daniel is very much deeply invested and immersed throughout the day when he’s in character, but he’s very accessible at the end of the day. He’s given huge scenes with massive amounts of dialogue and he needs to stay in character. It’s a very performance driven film.’

 

Nominated for twelve Academy Awards including best actor, Lincoln  recently won a Golden Globe for Day-Lewis’s mesmerizing performance. Paying tribute to Tony Kushner Day Lewis said, ‘The beauty of your language shows the impoverishment of my own.’ He called Spielberg ‘a gentle and sure-handed master and added . I shall treasure the gift of working with you to the end of my days.

 

Anthony Kirby

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Oscar 2013: Best Picture Nominee – Silver Linings Playbook

 

Ciara O’Brien heralds Silver Linings Playbook as part of our Oscar 2013 Best Film countdown…

There are often two types of film we find nestled in the category of Best Feature Film each year during Oscar season. Firstly there are the massive heavy hitters we hear about consistently over the course of the year. These are the movies that are hot-tipped for award-season success before they even hit our screens. Then there are the other films, those that seem to have slipped through the radar almost unnoticed until they are read out as nominations and we take notice. It might be the wallflower in me emerging, but this is often where I find my all-time favorites and this year’s Silver Linings Playbook falls into the latter category. This movie may be smaller in scale than the others but it is no less an incredible cinematic experience than the other films in the Best Picture line-up for this year’s Oscars.

 

Based upon Matthew Quick’s novel of the same name, the story follows Pat (Bradley Cooper) who, having just been released from a mental institution remains curiously upbeat about his life. Pat believes that his happiness depends his own ability to repair his relationships with his estranged wife and his somewhat overbearing family. From the outset we realize that Pat’s family’s eccentricities are enough to drive anyone insane, but luckily for Pat he is nothing if not strong-willed and single-minded in his desire to do anything necessary (even exercising) to win back the affections of his wife. Pat eventually and somewhat unwillingly befriends fellow socially awkward outcast Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), but her support comes at a price that will hurtle him into an unexpected hobby.

 

Both Lawrence and Cooper are incredible here and earn their Oscar nominations within the first few seconds they share on screen. Somehow both actors turn what is ordinarily a tough and awkward topic into a charming story charged with chemistry and- dare I say it- fun. Here we have the perfect romantic mix, with Cooper appearing to be the tough guy, but hiding a fractured softening core and Lawrence looking as soft and pretty as ever hiding a character who is all hard edges and toughness. They create the perfect balance and manage to keep the audience guessing- no small feat giving the onslaught of obvious rom-com drama that appears on our screens each year.

 

Naturally, Quick’s excellent novel provides the skeleton around which the story moves but this is one example of how something extraordinary can occur in the translation from page to screen as David O. Russell structures the entire narrative around the two main loves of our protagonists: The Philadelphia Eagles and dance. It is in this way that the story manages to hold its pace throughout and never fades away into that drawn out agony that so often destroys the world of the movie.

 

What, on paper would seem like a screwball comedy caper meeting between two individuals on the cusp of desperation is transformed into Oscar-worthy fare that leaves its mark on the audience long after they leave the theatre. I must admit that any movie that boasts Robert Di Niro in a supporting role is destined to inexplicably win my vote, but thankfully this movie had me sold long before he was introduced, and I defy anyone not to be equally immediately charmed.

 

There are plenty of films that deal with mental illness, and still more that deal with burgeoning friendships and the possibility of rediscovering lost love, but it is incredibly rare that it be done so well. Silver Linings Playbook could equally be named ‘love in the age of mental illness’ and is essential viewing, regardless of the name pulled out of that infamous golden envelope on 24th February.

Ciara O’Brien

 

 

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