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Non-Review Review: Joy

Joy is very much a showcase for David O. Russell’s interests, and his excesses.

Russell is a filmmaker with a particular sensibility in style. This is particularly obvious in the way that the director feels continuously drawn to the same performers and themes. As with many of Russell’s films, the cast of Joy is populated by actors who have worked with the director before. This is most apparent in the casting of Russell’s current creative ruse Jennifer Lawrence, who worked with Russell on Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. She is joined by Russell veterans like Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro.

Could the domestic cleaning industry use a shot in the arm?

Could the domestic cleaning industry use a shot in the arm?

Similarly, the film plays to Russell’s particular fascinations; Joy ties together the director’s engagement with Americana and his exploration of dysfunctional family dynamics. Joy places these two themes front-and-centre, but never quite synthesises them into a convincing whole. All too often, it feels like Joy is far more interested in the discordant home life of its female protagonist than all of the historical details it has to weave into her rags-to-riches tale. This causes problems when her journey takes her away from that home, and the film loses interest.

Joy is somewhat overstuffed, its attention wandering as the run-time goes on. For a story about a self-made millionaire whose rags-to-riches success embodies the ideal of the American Dream, Joy often feels quite rote; luxuriating in its depiction of her family life, the movie’s second half feels over extended as it clocks through all the beat expected in a story like this. Its final third is given over to a crisis that feels as obligatory as its resolution is convenient. For a movie about a woman with an ability to see innovation, Joy is trapped by its conventionality.

Talk about a mop top...

Talk about a mop top…

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My 12 for ’12: Silver Linings Playbook & Earning Your Happy Ending

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #7

The term “uplifting” is thrown around a lot these days. Happy endings are very funny things. They seem to be a given for most major Hollywood films, and so there’s a degree of predictability to them. And yet, despite that, there’s also usually a sense that they are somewhat contrived or manipulated or otherwise the result of a rigged game. In order to raise the stakes, films will generally put our characters in peril, and create a massive sense of jeopardy for our heroes to overcome in order to secure the inevitable happy ending. However, as time goes on, we become increasingly cynical and sceptical, so those stakes get higher and higher. The ending remains guaranteed, so making the threat so much more menacing means we have to suspend greater and greater levels of disbelief in order to accept that everybody involved lived happily ever after.

Your ability to accept Silver Linings Playbook will directly correspond to your ability to accept an improbably neat happy ending. However, what distinguishes David O. Russell’s latest film from the bulk of the other “uplifting” examples of modern cinema is the fact that the stakes manage to seem far more emotional and psychological than literal and tangible, and that the characters involved feel so much more real.

silverliningsplaybook1

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Stuck in the Moment: The Mood for a (Particular) Movie…

I’ve been thinking a bit, lately, about how I form an opinion about a particular film. Of course, it should be somewhat objective. I should be able to take out any possibly subjective influences and divorce a movie from any of those countless outside factors, to judge it entirely on its own merits. (Or, as the case might be, its lack of merits.) However, I am honest enough to admit that this isn’t always the case. There are any number of reasons I might feel a particular way about the movie. I find J. Edgar interesting to place in the context of Clint Eastwood’s body of work. I approached Cabin of the Woods with an admitted fondness for cheesy horror. I’ll admit that these facets colour my opinions somewhat – I am more likely to respond to a film that resonates with me on something I feel strongly about.

However, sometimes that influence factor isn’t anything to do with the movie in question at all. Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder, whether my opinion is down to something as arbitrary as the mood I was in when I watched the film.

I will not have my tastes subjected to this sort of double-guessing!

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Non-Review Review: Silver Linings Playbook

It’s very hard to find a movie that deals with mental illness in a compassionate way, let alone without descending into cheap emotionally-exploitive hokum. The story of Pat Solitano, coping with his “undiagnosed bipolar” disorder by returning home, Silver Linings Playbook manages to be sincere without being cheesy, to be warm without being soft and to be human without being melodramatic. Returning to his parent’s house, Pat stumbles across Tiffany, another “broken bird” dealing with her own personal issues. Silver Lining Playbook is the story of two extremely damaged people helping one another in the most human way possible.

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Non-Review Review: The Fighter

The Fighter comes from a long line of Oscar-friendly boxing films. From Rocky through to The Cinderella Man to Raging Bull and beyond, filmmakers seem to see something poetic in the boxer. A figure in the ring, usually from a disadvantaged background, fighting because it’s the only thing that they know what to do. There’s a noble simplicity to the sport, a brutal honest that one seldom finds in football (American or otherwise), basketball or baseball. There’s always something touching about watching a protagonist beat the odds, and boxing films thrive on the literal nature of their conflict. I can’t say that The Fighter adds anything new to the long established “Oscar boxing film”, but it does have one advantage: the sheer volume of talent in its corner.

How does it measure up?

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Are the Oscars Still a Pipe Dream for Christopher Nolan?

As I write this, the clock is counting down. The Oscar race is in full swing. And I look back, and I really haven’t written too much about it. There are two reasons for this. The most obvious is that I haven’t seen too many of the contenders. Of the headliners, I have seen both The King’s Speech and The Social Network. I have yet to see The Black Swan, 127 Hours or True Grit. Of the lower-tier Oscar films, I have really only seen Inception and The Kids Are All Right. It isn’t that I don’t want to see them, it’s just that it has been a busy January and things have gotten in the way. The other reason I haven’t been blogging about it is because – barring what the competition between The King’s Speech and The Social Network says about the Academy – it has been a pretty bland year. There are so many “locks” that the race has become almost boring. In fact, the only real question I’m at all concerned about is whether Christopher Nolan will finally get that Best Director nomination he so sorely deserves.

Could this turn the Oscars upside down?

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