Danny Boyle’s most recent picture represents a deviation from his stint of making uplifting Oscar flicks in the form of a slick, edgy noir crime film. Starring James MacAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson as art thieves and a hypnotherapist, respectively, the film does a remarkable job of recontextualizing the tropes and aesthetics of the classic noir into a modern mold without turning into a work of meta fiction, homage or pastiche like Brick or Sin City. Instead it takes the recurring themes of the noir and simply adapts them to a modern setting. You have the Unreliable narrator in the form of an art thief (MacAvoy) who has repressed the memory of where he stashed the painting, as well as being a morally ambiguous character rather than the straight hero of the story. Vincent Cassel initially comes off as a villainous gangster, but gradually becomes more of a heroic figure as the MacAvoy’s true self is peeled back layer by layer through hypnotherapy (the role reversal being a brilliant showcase of the moral complexities of the classic noir stories). Roasario Dawson initially comes off as the femme fatale figure, but eventually is revealed as a victim, and eventually revealed further to be the mastermind. Visually, instead of the standard noir contrast of black and white, Boyle brings Noir into the world of technicolor film making with stunning compositions of color and lighting (I absolutely love the cinematography in this movie, as I often do with most of Danny Boyle’s movies). The way the film visually represents the workings of the human psyche is gripping and stunning to behold. All in all, while this movie may not have been a big pop cultural event, it’s still enormously entertaining and thrilling and is truly one of the most underrated gems of the year.
5. American Hustle
This critically lauded comedy has been making its rounds at the award shows and unfortunately I simply do not have the energy to be Contrarian Jones and hate on it for being “Oscar bait.” To be perfectly honest I loved this movie. Yes, it’s very obvious in the fact that it’s trying to emulate 80’s Scorsese movies like Goodfellas. For example many are citing it’s use of a pop soundtrack, as well as it’s unconventional take on the crime film genre. What I liked about this movie was that it WAS very much like Goodfellas, albeit from a different perspective. Whereas Goodfellas was an unconventional look at gangster culture and the corrupting force of the power it yields, American Hustle approaches it from an opposite position. The criminals, the grifters and the corrupt politicians (played by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Jeremy Renner), are essentially the good guys of the story, to put it in simplistic terms. Yes, they do questionable things, but they’re portrayed as inherently good people. This is NOT a violent movie. None of these people are ever seen killing anybody or arranging for somebody to get wacked. In fact, the only violent one is the cop. The FBI agent, played by Bradley Cooper, is the one who becomes corrupted by the power in his position as a figure of law-enforcement. He becomes increasingly ambitious in nailing corrupt politicians by exploiting con artists, but not for any love of justice but rather for the purpose of making a name for himself. Throughout the film he unravels and becomes violent not only toward the grifters but even towards his own boss, played hilariously deadpan and restrained by Louis C.K. Cooper’s character becomes so arrogant and addicted to glory that you want nothing more than to see the con artists pull a fast one and turn the tables on him. Aside from the fun twist on crime film conventions, the true strong point of the film is it’s stellar cast. Everybody is giving it their all and are absolutely electric to watch. Christian Bale is refreshingly emasculated throughout the movie as a frumpy but charming con man. Jennifer Lawrence is lively and a blast to watch as his possibly unstable wife. As I already mentioned, Bradley Cooper turns in a fantastic performance as the FBI agent corrupted by ambition and hubris while Renner is infinitely likable as a Machiavellian but well meaning New Jersey Mayor. In terms of sheer dramatic acting, however, I think Amy Adams steals the show with her reserved subtlety in contrast with that of her female co star Jennifer Lawrence’s more attention grabbing performance. While it may seem like an obvious Oscar grabber prestige movie, I had a blast watching it. A fun, well acted and scripted comedy has been long due for a few Oscar, in my opinion…plus it’s got a great fucking soundtrack.
Aside from being the best animated movie I’ve seen this year (I haven’t seen Monsters University or Turbo, the latter of which I’ve made a conscious effort to NOT see), Frozen may very be the best Disney movie I’ve seen in years. Princess and the Frog was fun with New Orleans setting and a cool villain but I found the music underwhelming, while Tangled was certainly a nice step towards breaking Disney conventions with it’s “prince” character, while for whatever reason never truly grabbing me. But Frozen is the Disney movie I’ve been waiting for, and I almost didn’t go see it. Can I just say that the trailers did a DREADFUL job of selling this movie? Because this movie is charming, subversive, and progressive in so many ways that are not indicated in any way by it’s advertising. The sister princesses are strong, independent characters with personalities who save themselves and are ultimately not driven by their love of a man but their love for each other, one becoming Queen, and the other learns that marrying a guy you just met is an insane idea (HOW IS IT THAT IT’S TAKEN THIS LONG FOR DISNEY TO REALIZE THIS?). The Prince winds up being the villain in a rather well executed twist while the goofy ice salesman in the woods winds up being the main love interest. This movie is so clever and charming in it’s writing that even the talking snowman voiced by Josh Gad does NOT come off as gratingly annoying, but likable and sweet. One thing I noticed about this movie after watching it is that EVERY character has a clearly defined motivation. Granted this also reminded me how rare of an occurrence that is which was saddening, but it’s still a great feat of the writers. The music is great, particularly when Indina Menzel gets to do what she does best (Let It Go is sure to become a classic, as is this whole movie), and The animation is absolutely stunning. To be honest I don’t think I can praise this movie enough. Aside from an arguably extraneous musical number by some Rock Trolls (which didn’t even bother me that much), I don’t think I have a single criticism for this movie. I’ll leave the review at this: between Frozen and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, things are looking very hopeful in regards to Hollywood presenting young girls with strong female role models. I severely hope we’re on the cusp of a new age.
Stay tuned for part four, the final three!