The 19th Century is so hot right now.
Seriously, though, 3 of the films on my list all take place in the 19th Century. It took me a while to catch on to the trend because not only are these films vastly different in style, but they also take place in 3 very different places. Not to mention, I had a very different opinion of all of them.
People sometimes get annoyed when certain actors get attention with what feels like every role they perform. Granted, I think sometimes the Academy tends to get "stuck" on certain actors from time to time without considering the quality of the actual role or performance. This is not true for Daniel Day Lewis. He literally disappears into the role, and it's magnificent. The man is a genius, and anyone who didn't believe that already will once they see Lincoln.
I also can't believe that I've managed to forget just how good Stephen Spielberg is. He too is a genius. Happily, he is joined yet again by Cinematographer extraordinaire, Janusz Kaminski. When you put these three together, it's the perfect storm of filmmaking.
I'm going to say it again: it is a beautiful film. The cinematography is the real star here. Although Spielberg is known for making big budget blockbusters, it should not be forgotten that he also knows how to make truly magnificent movies. The shots Kaminski and Spielberg deliver are true art.
While the story itself is complicated, long, and slightly arduous, the sheer quality of acting makes it much easier to bear. Lewis, Jones, and Field are joined by a cast of incredibly talented actors who make this film even more magnificent. Joseph Gordon Levitt, James Spader, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, and David Strathairn are just a few of the names that immediately come to mind.
If you have two and a half hours to spare, you must see this film. It is one of Spielberg's greatest, along with Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan; a triumph of filmmaking.
While I am a huge fan of musical theatre, somehow I have gone 25 years without seeing or even knowing much about Les Mis. I know, I know: how is that possible? But I went in with very little knowledge of the source material (novel or musical), and I think that allowed me a clearer picture of the film overall.
First, if Lincoln felt long, Les Mis felt like an absolute eternity. The entire time I was thinking "dear God, if I was watching this live my ass would be three blocks south of numb". Even so, I really did enjoy it. I just didn't have the stamina for it.
For those who were in the dark like me, Les Mis takes place during the French Revolution. Spanning over about a decade, it's main character is Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a criminal who was sentenced to a lifetime of hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. Tired of this life as a slave, Valjean flees to a convent where a priests generosity and forgiveness lead him to the decision to change his life for the better. He lets go of his hatred and malice, and vows to be a better person.
Valjean later finds her dying in the street, and vows to keep her daughter Cossette safe for her in order to right the wrong of what was done to her. 9 years later, he has adopted Cossette (Amanda Seyfried) as his own and changed his name yet again. The Revolution continues to bubble in France while the living conditions do not improve.
The entire time, Valjean is hunted by the obsessed gen d'arme Javert (Russell Crowe), who is often helped by a family of gypsies (Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, and Samantha Barks) in locating Valjean's whereabouts.
There are moments of sheer brilliance in the film, including the comedic relief offered by Cohen and Bonham Carter, as well as several beautiful numbers from Samantha Barks as Eponine (she is also a former Les Mis cast member from Broadway, and it shows). None is more moving than Anne Hathaway, however. Her short time in the film is more memorable than any other cast members (even Jackman as Valjean), and her moving rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" carries the same Oscar winning power that "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" did for Jennifer Hudson. She will definitely win. I would bet actual money on it, and I don't have any.
At the end of the day the film may be a little imperfect, but that doesn't mean it won't satisfy fans and average movie goers. While some of the cast are absolutely atrocious singers (namely Crowe), they must be commended for singing live, and for bringing to life this incredible cast of characters. The set is one of intricate detail, yet which still reminds one of the stage that made it famous. Although I would have cut a good 25-30 minutes from the film (including the lack-luster and unnecessary new song "Suddenly"), I still left feeling moved by it. After all, that's really all that matters.
We travel from Revolutionary France to Russian high society, where women wear frilly dresses, fake grins, and who's sexuality is apparently so stifled that they believe they love a man because he has pretty eyes and smiled at you in a train station.
There are other "love" stories that speckle the film as well. Anna's brother, Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) is a philandering ass who devastates his wife with his transgressions. In fact, the only real love story in this film is that of Kitty (Alicia Vikander) and Levin (Domhnall Gleeson), who are also the only one's who benefit from Anna's dumb affair.
The film itself is a little dumb, too. With one of the greatest novels ever written as it's source material, director Joe Wright opted for a surrealist, pretentious style in which (rather than doing a traditional set or scene transitions), involves the characters all performing on different areas of an old theatre stage. Not only does it detract from the naturally amazing setting that 19th Century Russia would offer, but it also further disconnects the audience from the subject matter. The superficial characters are not driven by love, as they say, but by lust and boredom. They are cold and distant, showing little in the way of legitimate feeling for one another (again, with the exception of Gleeson and Vikander).
The costumes, the only category I would deem worthy of nominating Anna Karenina for (despite it's 4 other nomination), are quite superb. Sadly, they are overshadowed by the unpleasantness of the rest of the cast, and this directors strange choices in filmmaking.