Sunday, February 10, 2013

Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy in "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Quvenzhané Wallis 
as Hushpuppy in
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"

First off, I think Beasts is the best film of the year, by far, and I think it's massive heart, soul, and independence has been grossly misunderstood by far too many people.  I can understand why this film is divisive, but most of the negativity about the film has been about things I don't really think are true to the film. But that's what you get when you make an incredibly ambiguous film, eh?  There are bound to be many different interpretations, but I am glad that many people have gotten the emotional impact that I got while watching the film.

Wallis plays Hushpuppy, a little girl living in a dirt poor Louisiana bayou community called "The Bathtub".  Despite the squalor and questionable living situations, the residents of The Bathtub are happy, united, and fiercely detached from civilization.  Hushpuppy has a naive, innocent, and optimistic perspective on life, and a close relationship with animals.  Despite her and her fathers constant arguing, he is Hushpuppy's life.  She looks up to him and tries desperately to impress him at every turn.  We learn early on that her mother has left, and even though she has never met her, Hushpuppy has a connection with her, often talking to her although she's not there.  After having a fight with her dad, a massive storm erupts that floods The Bathtub.  Her father, Wink, and the residents resort to living on a floating barge in the water, and search for a solution.

Throughout all of this, Wink's health is slowly going down hill, and he tries to teach his daughter how to survive on her own, in case something happens to him.  Throughout her and her father's many fights and arguments, it's clear the entire way how much Hushpuppy loves, and needs her father.  She tries to find someone to help him and goes in search of her mother.  After meeting her "mother", things become clear and she realizes she needs to be with her dad.  Eventually, all the lessons her father taught her are put to the ultimate test.  Hushpuppy, finally, is able to show her father the strength and Independence he has passed down to her.

I know I'm probably one of the few people out there, but I think this performance is absolutely outstanding.  I don't agree with any of the massively negative opinions many of the people on the forums I post at have with her.  I think this is nomination is one of the most inspired decisions the Academy has EVER made.

People have a lot of issues with child performances, battling with how much is the actor's performance, and how much is the product of the director.  I don't really care how this performance came about honestly, the end result is what matters to me.  And the end result is the most beautiful, emotional, and complex performance given by a child, period.

Wallis' body language, and emotions are the reason Beasts is successful.  She becomes Hushpuppy and feels every emotion she is supposed to feel, it's a lived in performance that becomes more captivating as the film progresses.  In the beginning her performance is really scattered and obnoxious, but that is exactly who Hushpuppy is at the start of the film.  After the storm Hushpuppy, and Wallis become much more observant and focused.  Her connection with Dwight Henry, her on screen father, is beyond touching, and the love and understanding they have for each other makes everything hit closer to home as their relationship is constantly put to the test.

The final 2 scenes, the scene with her "mother" and the "no crying" scene are enough for her to be nominated.  Child performances are mostly built on being over the top because it's easier for children to understand broad emotions, but Wallis' performance is incredibly subtle, and she absorbs everything and exudes the hopeful, sad nature of Hushpuppy every second she's on screen.

Whether or not this performance is the result of Benh Zeitlin's excellent direction escapes me, but I do know that no matter how much direction he gave, only one person was able to feel and execute the complex character of Hushpuppy, and that is Wallis.

Verdict: 5 Stars
I think this performance, like the film, is a masterpiece.  People have a hard time accepting the ability of a child actor, but I think Wallis really delivers a performance that, over time, will become iconic, and will become a new standard for child actors.  She carries an entire film on her small shoulders and deserves a lot more attention than she's recieved.

Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany Maxwell in "Silver Linings Playbook"

Jennifer Lawrence 
as Tiffany Maxwell in 
"Silver Linings Playbook"

First off let me say this, I LOVE Lawrence.  I remember traveling about an hour away to see "Winter's Bone" and was mesmerized by her performance, and I knew she would become incredibly successful.  After being cast as Katniss in "The Hunger Games" I started to fall off the love train for her though, I didn't see her as right for the role, even though I wasn't a huge fan of the book.  Then "Silver Linings Playbook" took off and the trailer and clips I saw horrified me, I thought they were HORRIBLE and could not fathom how the film was becoming such an important figure in the Oscar race.

Well, I thought Lawrence was wonderful in THG, and it seems like SLP choose really odd clips that don't really work outside their respected scenes because I really enjoyed the film.  Is it my favorite film of the year?  No, far from it, but I thought for a "dark" romantic comedy it had some tremendous acting and the chemistry between Lawrence and Cooper propelled the film.

Now, onto the actual performance.  Lawrence plays Tiffany, a recent widow who is using sex to try to fix her immense emotional wounds.  She meets Pat, the main character of the film, at a dinner party thrown by her sister and her husband.  Although her and Pat don't fully connect at this point, Tiffany has an attraction to him and sets off to use him during this rough phase of her life.  He turns down her advances, something she isn't use to, and she becomes obsessed with him, forcing a friendship between them.

She soon starts to fall in love with Pat, but because of his own emotional and mental issues, he is unable to fully express, or realize, his feelings towards Tiffany.  There are several trials and tribulations between Tiffany and Pat, and their relationship is put to the ultimate test at a dance competition they both train for.

Before I say anything, I'd like to say that this performance is truly a SUPPORTING performance.  The entire film is about Pat's character and Bradley Cooper is really the shining star of the film.  I'm not sure why Lawrence, or Watts, are in the Lead category since I personally feel both their performances are clearly supporting, but hey, I'm not going to hold it against them!

While I don't think Lawrence's performance is perfect, I actually really enjoyed it.  I feel the script has some pretty glaring flaws, there are some awkward moments that don't come across as "real" to me, but I feel the cast it, for the most part, able to mask the flaws.  Her chemistry with Cooper really helps elevate the entire film, and I feel her longing for him comes across really strong and helped me connect and empathize with Tiffany.  I feel her best acted moments are the scenes where she's angry with Cooper, particularly towards the end.

My main problem with Silver Linings Playbook was that it fell into the realm of "Oh my god, look how emotionally scarred and damaged they are, listen to all the horrible stories they tell", without actually really showing how much it really affected them.  However, this no longer became an issue when late in the film Lawrence has an angry, emotional breakdown which truly shows the cracks and flaws her character has talked about, and subtly shown throughout the film.  It was a tough, yet touching moment seeing how much Pat's inability to show his feelings affected Tiffany.  Lawrence handled this scene perfectly and, for the first time in the film, it gave me chills and took me off guard with how real it was.  Kudos Jennifer!

Verdict - 3 ½ Stars.
A good performance.  Oscar worthy?  In my opinion, no.  However, I think she is a great girl and will not be upset with her winning.  I personally think she can, and has done, much better work and that this being her "Oscar Winning Performance" will seem odd in comparison to her performance in Winter's Bone, and her future performances, but at least she will have an Oscar!  I know it's not official, but I really cannot see how she will not win the Oscar at this point.

2012 Best Actress Oscar Nominees

I would like to start making my own rankings of the Best Actress nominees.  While I don't always agree with the Academy's decisions, this year however showed me their bold decision making.  While I don't agree with all their decisions, some of their inclusions were just a major breath of fresh air, straying very far away from most of the critic awards, and other major awards.

One of my major qualms about doing rankings long term is the fact that I'm not sure how I will get people to read this.  I'm following a ton of people and while not many still post, there are a ton of commenters.  While my main purpose in doing "Best Actress" rankings is to provide an outlet for me to express my feelings.  My friends have no interest in watching movies the way I do, and have no attachment or understanding as to why watching films is so important to me, and message boards, while fun, provide more arguments than anything else.

But alas, I guess I'll accomplish nothing if I don't try to write something!  So I've decided for my first year, why not the most recent?  I'll start off by saying this, I've seen many blogs where the lowest ranking is "3", and that is certainly not the case with me.  I think there have been a lot of nominees that are way below "average", so my star rating will be different.  I will be doing a 1-5 rankings (halves included).

So starting off my 2012 Best Actress Nominees we have:

Jessica Chastain
"Zero Dark Thirty"

Jennifer Lawrence
"Silver Linings Playbook"

Emmanuelle Riva

Quvenzhané Wallis
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Naomi Watts
"The Impossible"

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Oscar Predictions

With the nominations less than a week away, and the only major nominations left being BAFTA, I feel pretty confident with these decisions.  I've tried to keep my own personal opinions out of it and just predict what I THINK is going to happen.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Ben Affleck, "Argo"
Kathryn Bigelow, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Tom Hooper, "Les Misérables"
Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"
Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"

Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"
Hugh Jackman, "Les Misérables"
Joaquin Pheonix, "The Master"
Denzel Washington, "Flight"

Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Marion Cotillard, "Rust & Bone"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Helen Mirren, "Hitchcock"
Naomi Watts, "The Impossible"

Alan Arkin, "Argo"
Robert Di Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"
Christopher Waltz, "Django Unchained"

Amy Adams, "The Master"
Sally Field, "Lincoln"
Anne Hathaway, "Les Misérables""
Nicole Kidman, "The Paperboy"
Maggie Smith, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"

Best Adapted Screenplay
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Perks of Being A Wallflower
Silver Linings Playbook

Best Original Screenplay
Django Unchained
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom
Zero Dark Thirty

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Back in January, this little film was the hilight of Sundance, winning the Grand Jury Prize in the dramatic category, and it then went on to win 3 awards at Cannes.  Along the way it's won quite a few other awards, and is somewhat of a lingering favorite to be a big competitor come award season.  Ever since it's acclaim at Sundance I've been anticipating it's release, and when it was finally released somewhere in my area, I drove an hour to see it.  Luckily for me and my car, it did not disappoint, and was much better than I could have ever anticipated. 

The film is quite hard to describe.  It's incredibly poetic in it's voice over's (which rival The Tree of Life), however it's dark, realistic (minus the aurochs) portrayal of the immediate future were key in it's very direct story line.  Why it is so hard to explain to other people is beyond me, all the synopsis's I've read don't really fit the tone of the story, but while trying to explain it to people, it's  just difficult to truly capture what the film is all about, but I think that adds to the experience, it just really is an incredible film.

In short, it is a story about a little girl who lives with her father in a poverty stricken neighborhood.  Her father starts to become very sick, while at the same time the polar icecaps are melting, releasing giant mythical beasts from their frozen slumber.  Her mother left her when she was a baby, and she has an imaginary connection to her, often calling out to her and pretending she is there.  Along the way, her father tries to instill independence and self reliance into her, fearing he won't be there to take care of her for much longer.
That's all I'll give, the last half hour of the film is just an emotional journey, the end leaves you feeling genuinely empowered, it's truly life-affirming.  However, everything is done in such a simple, realistic way, and even in the darkness of tragedy, the light that shines out of Hushpuppy and the residents in The Bathtub, it's just magical and the feeling stayed with me long after I left the theater.

The main reason the film is as magical as it is is because of this little girl right here.  Quvenzhané Wallis explodes onto the screen and into your heart the very first second you see her.  I believe that PERFORMANCES are what should be judged in films, whether you like or dislike the actor, or how much of the performance is natural instincts, or the director telling you what to do, in the end the finished product is what should be judged.  Obviously this girl who is no older than 7 (I believe she was 6 during filming) is not going to understand a lot of the darkness in the film, she is going to need to be coached, but she took everything that was given to her.  Her voice overs come across as a bit fractured, but it works really well for her character.

Most child performances are either too simple, or too adult in films, but Wallis combines them and makes it into an unforgettable, believable character.  She is quite a simple child, but the hardships and trials she goes through in a short period of time help her grow.  At the start of the film she is very loud and opinionated, but as the film goes on, Hushpuppy becomes almost mute, going long periods of time without talking because she is observing and soaking in everything around her.  This is what makes or breaks a performance, the quiet scenes where the actors face can either say nothing, or speak novels.  Wallis's adorable little face does the latter, whether it being fear and anger, or heartbreak, this is where Wallis truly shows she understands her character, you can read everything on Hushpuppy's face.

The relationship between Hushpuppy and her father Wink (played by fellow untrained actor Dwight Henry who delivers an incredibly strong performance that should be considered this year as well) are the scenes that make this film so magical.  Their relationship is quite strained, there are VERY few scenes between them that are sentimental, it is mostly fighting and arguing, but there is such an uncompromising amount of love and caring in every scene because of Wallis and Henry's chemistry.  Her father comes across as a man who is not fully able to express his feelings and emotions correctly, which rub off on his daughter, but they understand each other, and their bond is unshakable, when the worst happens, they are there for each other.

Wink tries to hide his failing health from his daughter, but she is too bright and sees how much he is hurting, something she points out to him.  Right before the storm happens, Hushpuppy and Wink have an argument where she tells Wink she wished he would die and hits him on his chest which causes him to collapse, and Hushpuppy rushes to find help.  When she returns with "medicine" he is nowhere to be found, eventually finding him staggering along the road telling people that there's no reason to leave.

The next few scenes are the storm and the aftermath.  Those who stayed are forced to make the best of what is left, and the strong community try their best to thrive and wait til the water levels lower, eventually being found by the government and being forced to move into a homeless shelter.

The following scenes lead to Wink trying his best to separate himself from his daughter because he doesn't want to see her to see how sick he really is, but she refuses to leave his side because of her deep love for him.  It's obvious that Hushpuppy understands what's going on, even if she can't vocalize it, she just wants to be with her dad.

The end of the film lead to Hushpuppy finding a mother figure, which just makes her realize how much she loves her father, and her staying by her father until the very end of the film.  Once the auroch's finally come, there is an epic showdown where everyone runs for their life, but Hushpuppy refuses to, she stands her ground and shows her father that she is now a "man."

The last half hour of the film is just filled with so much power and emotions that it took me off guard a little.  The rest of the film is wonderful, but the ending ties everything together and makes everything else in the movie more powerful.  I won't spoil what happens, but in light of tragedy, there is hope, and Hushpuppy shows us that.  Everything she learned throughout the film's events are put to the test, and she passes, and her father's pride in her strength is truly heartwarming.

The film is well written, well directed, has a BEAUTIFUL score, and has some of the most imaginary cinematography (bar The Tree of Life) I've ever seen.  However, it is the little star that ties everything together, without her energy, her charisma, and her incredible instincts the film would not work on the level it does.

While it is not for everyone, there are a lot of people that were touched by the film on the level that I was, it truly is a one of a kind experience, and within time I think this film could rise on my favorite's list.  So come awards season, will this film receive the level of success it's acclaim leads people to believe?  I'm not so sure, I can hope, but the Academy rarely recognizes children, but if they do, little Quvenzhané Wallis is at the top of my list.