Anna Karenina is quite possibly my favorite book, so I was both excited and nervous to see how a 2-hour film would condense this epic story. What director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) did was innovative, astonishing, and about 90% successful. Instead of going for the typical period scope and bombast, he brought the action in, staging most of the action in an old theater. This gives the movie a theatricality similar to Moulin Rogue that will probably work better for some viewers than others. Keira Knightley certainly puts her own spin on Anna, and Jude Law is a terrific and sympathetic Karenin. As in the book, much of the emotional pull comes from the love story of Kitty and Lenin, and I do wish they had a bit more screen time. The movie didn't conform to my impressions of the novel, but it did something a bit more important, gave me a good spin on the novel.
I Am His Mistress
In my mind, Les Miserables is kind of the definition of a mixed bag, with moments of incredible beauty and power mixed in with some really clunky mistakes. First the good. Anne Hathaway is as amazing as you've heard as the doomed Fantine, and she will be winning the Supporting Actress Oscar. Her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" is a highlight of the film. Hugh Jackman is good as well, but the revelation to me was Eddie Redmayne, who has a beautiful voice as well as strong acting skills. I can't believe he hasn't been more in the Supporting Actor conversation. Now for my qualms.... Director Tom Hooper shoots everything in close-up, which becomes a bit tiring after a while and loses a sense of sweep and scope in the movie. Russell Crowe is actually a better singer than I feared, but he seemed to be concentrating so hard on his notes that he forgot to work on the acting skills of Javert. His scenes and songs are big momentum-stoppers in the movie. My other issues I think have to do with the source material itself. Condensing a 1000 page book into a musical certainly causes emotional shortcuts that can seem almost laughable, such as when Valjean goes from seeing Marius once to singing "He's like the son I might have known." In the end, I didn't cry once during the movie, and a Les Mis that doesn't make me cry can't be counted as wholly successful. Definitely worth seeing to see if it moves you, and to see some great performances, but I'm praying very hard it isn't crowned Best Picture on Oscar night.
Life of Pi
I'll start with a flat-out rave. The middle section of Ang Lee's Life of Pi, where a young man and a tiger struggle for survival on a lifeboat, is among the best adventure stories ever told on film. The cinematic artistry and special effects are astonishing, and we are with the characters every step of the way. It's a great thing that this section is about 70% (?) of the movie, because what bookends this section is certainly not up to its level. Lee decides to surround the whole magical story with a clunky framing device involving a writer interviewing the older Pi. While it exists in the book, I think this is a case where some parts of the book should have been discarded, as they don't quite work on the screen and cause the movie to lose a bit of the magic. But when it comes to that middle section, thinking back on it weeks later I'm still amazed and moved.
Throughout the summer and fall, I've seen so many movies I've really really liked that haven't tripped that "masterpiece" button for me. Immediately after Lincoln, I knew I had seen a "masterpiece," the best movie I've seen in 2012. Steven Spielberg makes one of his best movies ever in this depiction of Lincoln's passing of the 13th Amendment. I'm a big fan of biopics that don't try to cram in a whole life, and this one stays tight and focused, and thus in the end actually says more about Lincoln's life. Playwright Tony Kushner write a remarkable screenplay that manages to be profound, suspenseful, and delightfully talky all at the same time. The enormous, accomplished ensemble is amazing, particularly Daniel Day-Lewis (my vote for our greatest working actor) as Lincoln and an incredible Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist firebrand Thaddeus Stevens. An great movie that has a strong possibility of becoming a true American classic.
Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook is an off-kilter, goofy, rambling, and completely delightful romantic comedy with great performances by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. It took me a few minutes to figure out the rhythm of the movie, but once I fell into its sway I was won over. Cooper and Lawrence play two mentally-damaged characters who connect to find some happiness in their life. Just as he turned a sports movie into something much quirkier and interesting in The Fighter, here director David O. Russell turns a movie full of indie-comedy elements into something really fresh and refreshing. I would love to watch it again now.
What Meds Are You On?
Silver Linings Playbook
Not being a huge James Bond fan (I'm more of a Bourne man myself when it comes to action movies), I wasn't chomping at the bit to see Skyfall, but the close-to-ecstatic reviews and huge pedigree (director Sam Mendes, Javier Bardem) made me see it and I'm glad I did. While I still think some of the James Bond tropes are more laughable than entertaining (I'm thinking of you, scene with Asian villains and a lethal komodo dragon), this movie is chock full of great set-pieces, including an amazing opening and a highly stylized chase in a modern tower. Daniel Craig and Judi Dench also make a terrific pair, since in this movie M is just about as important as Bond. While the movie is probably about 20 minutes too long, it's undeniably entertaining and a worthy addition to the franchise.
Take the Shot