Tag Archive: Jennifer Lawrence


Best of Year 3

So… oops. I should have put this article up 15 days ago. My blog, Hot Saas’s Pop Culture Safari, turned 3 years old on February 7th. That’s crazy. Of course, I haven’t been updating this blog with any sort of regularity these last 2-3 months because I’ve been working pretty intensely on a screenplay. I only today realized that my three year anniversary happened two weeks ago. So, yeah, my bad. And, once again, it’s time to do my yearly list of the best movies, directors, and performances from the past year. I hope readers find something worth watching in this list.

Best Picture: Drama

Chinatown2

1. Chinatown

2. The Bicycle Thief

3. Ingmar Bergman’s “Trilogy of Faith” (Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence)

4. The Godfather: Part II

5. Glengarry Glen Ross

 

Best Picture: Comedy

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1. Annie Hall

2. Silver Linings Playbook

3. (500) Days of Summer

4. Bringing Up Baby

5. Duck Soup

 

Best Director:

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1. Ingmar Bergman: His “Trilogy of Faith

2. Terrence Malick: To the Wonder

3. Roman Polanski: Chinatown

4. Francis Ford Coppola: The Godfather: Part II

5. Werner Herzog: Encounters at the End of the World

 

Best Actor in a Dramatic Role:

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1. Bruno Ganz: Downfall

2. Jack Lemmon: Glengarry Glen Ross

3. Al Pacino: The Godfather: Part II

4. Leonardo DiCaprio: The Departed

5. Joaquin Phoenix: The Master

 

Best Actress in a Dramatic Role:

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1. Glenn Close: Fatal Attraction

2. Glenda Jackson: Sunday Bloody Sunday

3. Emmanuelle Riva: Amour

4. Harriet Andersson: Through a Glass Darkly

5. Faye Dunaway: Chinatown

 

Best Actor in a Comedic Role:

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1. Bradley Cooper: Silver Linings Playbook

2. Billy Bob Thornton: Bad Santa

3. Joseph Gordon-Levitt: (500) Days of Summer

4. Cary Grant: Bringing Up Baby

5. Woody Allen: Annie Hall

 

Best Actress in a Comedic Role:

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1. Jennifer Lawrence: Silver Linings Playbook

2. Diane Keaton: Annie Hall

3. Katharine Hepburn: Bringing Up Baby

4. Zooey Deschanel: (500) Days of Summer

5. Holly Hunter: Raising Arizona

 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

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1. Dustin Hoffman: Rain Man

2. Al Pacino: Glengarry Glen Ross

3. Philip Seymour Hoffman: The Master

4. Robert De Niro: Silver Linings Playbook

5. Robin Williams: Good Will Hunting

 

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

GunnelLindblom

1. Gunnel Lindblom: The Silence

2. Sally Field: Lincoln

3. Natalie Portman: Leon: The Professional

4. Diane Keaton: The Godfather: Part II

5. Judi Dench: Skyfall

 

Alright, everybody. That’s what I think was the best movies, directors, and performances that I’ve watched in the last year (and two weeks). I hope you all find something you like, and keep reading. I promise that I’ll be updating the blog with more regularity soon. Enjoy!

 

 

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Hello, everyone. I will have two of my traditional reviews up at some point tomorrow (it’s been finals week and I just haven’t had time to do any reviews and I’ve also been doing a lot of work on one of my screenplays) but my cousin and I recorded the second episode of the Saas Perspective today where we discuss 2011’s Coriolanus and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (as well as the Heisman trophy winner and Silver Linings Playbook). We had some consistent technical problems that dragged the experience down a bit, but other than that, it’s still a great listen. Thanks again to Stenders for letting use their song “21 Cm Line” as our opening and closing tune and to Matt Janas for being a great producer.

You can find the direct link to the podcast here (and the embed below): https://soundcloud.com/don-saas/the-saas-perspective-episode-2

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Have you ever encountered a sequel in a franchise where it’s clear that overall the product is significantly better but because fundamental structural issues haven’t been addressed, it’s hard to appreciate the improvements? It’s a common phenomenon in video games with yearly sequels where significant mechanical tweaks are made but the formula starts to feel stale and basic problems are never really solved. It’s never something I’ve encountered with a film franchise before The Hunger Games though. Long time readers will know that I consider the book to be a considerable improvement over its predecessor, but maybe because the first Hunger Games film was already an improvement over the source material, it’s hard to appreciate the strides this entry made.

Suzanne Collins is a good storyteller but her prose is woefully deficient and it makes reading the books a slog. And one of the wonderful benefits of the film version was that I wasn’t forced to wade through her amateurish mastery of the English language (not to mention Gary Ross’s compelling direction and conception of what Panem would look like). And since the book of Catching Fire improved her storytelling ten fold (by truly fleshing out the world that Katniss and company inhabited), I assumed that the movie would be even better. But, perhaps it was not having the poor prose to distract me, this time I was forced to acknowledge even deeper problems in the Hunger Games universe.

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Before this review takes on an overly negative turn, let there be no misunderstanding that I thoroughly enjoyed Catching Fire and it joins Star Trek Into Darkness and Iron Man 3 as one of this year’s blockbusters with actual brains. As far as modern dystopian science fiction for teenagers go, I’m hard-pressed to name a franchise with wider reach than The Hunger Games that also deserves said fandom. The action set-pieces during the film’s third act eclipse those even in the first, and the number of stars that director Francis Lawrence gathered for this entry is almost mind-boggling. But, and I’ll elaborate on this more shortly, one glaring problem with the film kept me from totally immersing myself this time around.

For those who haven’t seen the first one (or read the book), stop now because I’m about to spoil the ending for you. After finding a way to keep herself and fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) alive during the 74th annual Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Winter’s Bone‘s Jennifer Lawrence) quickly discovers that surviving the Hunger Games was the easy part. Forced on a circus publicity tour around the 12 districts of PanEm, Katniss learns that she has become the symbol of an uprising against the totalitarian Capital. But if she wants to keep her and her family alive, she’s going to have to prove to President Snow (Don’t Look Now‘s Donald Sutherland) that her fake love with Peeta which got her through the Hunger Games is real and it’s real enough to subdue the uprising.

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But, the film would be really boring if it was just Jennifer Lawrence pretending to love the emotionally reserved (and supremely dull) Josh Hutcherson, and in order to ensure that Katniss can’t become the face of the revolution, President Snow and the new Gamemaker for the 75th Annual Hunger Games, Plutarch Heavensbee (Synecdoche, New York‘s Phillip Seymour Hoffman), devise a wrinkle to this year’s game. Known as the Quarter Quell, every 25 years the Hunger Games rules are changed dramatically and this year, the tributes are chosen from a pool of past winners and both Katniss and Peeta inevitably have their names drawn.

In my review of the book, I talked about how Catching Fire‘s lengthy prelude (the action doesn’t really begin until the film’s final act) added context to the Hunger Games universe. Not only did we learn more about the different districts and why revolution has been so effectively suppressed (but also why Katniss is the spark needed to make it… catch fire), but by spending time getting to know the other tributes, it allowed their to be more characters with depth beyond Katniss and Peeta. Of course, the introduction of great supporting characters like Finnick (Sam Claflin), Johanna (Donnie Darko‘s Jena Malone), and Beete (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close‘s Jeffrey Wright) is that it subjects Katniss to the film’s biggest problem: boring protagonist syndrome.

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Katniss is one of the great female heroines of the modern age alongside Harry Potter‘s Hermione and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo‘s Lisbeth Salander. She’s a total bad-ass and her life isn’t primarily devoted to her romantic interests (unlike a certain resident of Forks, Washington) though she’s allowed to have a romance. But, Katniss is also something of a blank slate and a cipher for readers to project themselves onto and while she’s usually defined by her bad-ass feat of heroics, if she’s not killing something with a bow, you realize there isn’t any depth to this girl (at least until Mockingjay).

And the first film solved this problem by having Katniss constantly doing something cool. There’s more exposition and universe-building in Catching Fire and, thus, more time to see Katniss interacting with others, and except when she’s playing across the wooden and entirely one-dimensional Peeta, everyone in the film is more compelling than her. Woody Harrelson (Rampart) is particularly magnificent as the drunken Haymitch as he continues to be (despite all conventional wisdom) one of the most compelling actors of the last fifteen years (when he’s given the right roles).

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New-comer to the franchise Jena Malone also steals every second she’s on screen as the deliciously bitchy Johanna who quickly reveals her own hidden depths, but anyone who’s seen Donnie Darko or Saved! knows how talented she is. And Sam Claflin is charming with enough of an edge of “is he good or bad” to make him interesting despite the ultimate conclusion. And of course, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Donald Sutherland all turn in great roles for a series they are probably too talented to be a part of.

That’s not to discount Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. After Silver Linings Playbook and Winter’s Bone, she’s secured her title as her generation’s most promising actress, but Katniss was a particularly thin role to begin with and it feels like she has even little do this time around. Katniss is particularly “ethos”-less in this entry compared to her comrades and that makes it even harder to care for her. Her saving grace as a character this time around is that she’s usually not too far from Peeta and he can make anyone look like a character from a Kenneth Lonergan film (which is so weird cause he’s not that boring in the books).

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By focusing so much on the flatness of Katniss’s character in this entry (and a general sense that the early exposition and world-building didn’t work nearly as well on screen as it did in the book), I should reiterate that I really enjoyed Catching Fire. And, in many meaningful ways, it is a significant improvement over the first film. But, I also couldn’t stop thinking about those things the entire time the film was running. If you’re on the edge about whether or not you should see the film after this review, don’t be. You should. It’s one of the best “event” films of the year. I just wish Katniss was a more well-rounded heroine for our modern age.

Final Score: B+

 

Best of Movies: 301-350

Well, it’s been three and a half months since we’ve been down this path, but I can’t be any happier that we finally made it here. As long time readers know, every 50 films that I review, I do a superlative list of the best films in specific categories that I watched (I also make one at the end of every year). It’s a chance for me to conveniently place in one spot a post where readers can get links to all of the best movies that I’ve reviewed over this particular time period. And more than any single other 4 film block in the blog’s existence, the competition to make these lists (except for the comedy section because I watched a surprisingly low number of comedies) was absurdly intense. Because of my film studies class this semester, I watched a crazy number of “classics” these last couple of months and it will most certainly show. Also, I gave a whopping 5 “A+”s this time around. And on that note, I want to give a special mention to Undefeated, one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, which doesn’t qualify for any of the awards I give out on this list, but it was still one of the 5 best films I’ve watched during this particular period on my blog. Anyways, I hope you enjoy the list and find something worth watching therein.

Best Picture – Drama:

Chinatown2

1. Chinatown

2. The Godfather: Part II

3. Glengarry Glenn Ross

4. The Master

5. Gangs of New York

Best Picture – Comedy:

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1. Silver Linings Playbook

2. Catch-22

3. Clerks II

4. The Great McGinty

5. Brave

Best Director:

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1. Roman Polanski: Chinatown

2. Francis Ford Coppola: The Godfather: Part II

3. Ange Lee: Life of Pi

4. Paul Thomas Anderson: The Master

5. Joel Coen: The Man Who Wasn’t There

Best Actor in a Dramatic Role:

JackLemmon1

1. Jack Lemmon: Glengarry Glen Ross

2. Al Pacino: The Godfather: Part II

3. Leonardo DiCaprio: The Departed

4. Joaquin Phoenix: The Master

5. Daniel Day-Lewis: Gangs of New York

Best Actress in a Dramatic Role:

FatalAttraction3

1. Glenn Close: Fatal Attraction

2. Glenda Jackson: Sunday Bloody Sunday

3. Faye Dunaway: Chinatown

4. Jessica Chastain: Zero Dark Thirty

5. Natalie Wood: Rebel Without a Cause

Best Actor in a Comedic Role:

SilverLiningsPLaybook4

1. Bradley Cooper: Silver Linings Playbook

2. Jack Lemmon: How to Murder Your Wife

3. Alan Arkin: Catch-22

4. Brian O’Halloran: Clerks II

5. Jimmy Durante: Billy Rose’s Jumbo

Best Actress in a Comedic Role:

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1. Jennifer Lawrence: Silver Linings Playbook

2. Rosario Dawson: Clerks II

3. Kelly MacDonald: Brave

4. Doris Day: Billy Rose’s Jumbo

Best Supporting Actor:

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1. Al Pacino: Glengarry Glen Ross

2. Philip Seymour Hoffman: The Master

3. Robert De Niro: Silver Linings Playbook

4. James Gandolfini: The Man Who Wasn’t There

5. Alec Baldwin: Glengarry Glen Ross

Best Supporting Actress:

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1. Sally Field: Lincoln

2. Diane Keaton: The Godfather: Part II

3. Judi Dench: Skyfall

4. Samantha Barks: Les Miserables (2012)

5. Frances McDormand: The Man Who Wasn’t There

Alright people, that’s it. Come back in another three months and hopefully I will have reached the 400 movies reviewed mark. If you’re looking for movies to watch, I just recommended plenty of great ones (except for the acting categories where me loving a performance should obviously not necessarily mean I loved the film. *cough* Les Mis *cough*).

Back in January, before I moved to NYC, I finally got around to reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. My sister had gotten the entire trilogy for Christmas from our dad, and after she had devoured the book and couldn’t stop yammering about it like nearly every single other young person I knew, I figured it was time for me to explore this current facet of popular culture that had completely captured the public imagination. While I was less than impressed with Suzanne Collins’s prose (in fact, I found it to be so distractingly awful that it nearly ruined any pleasure I could gain from the book) and I recognized that the story was essentially just a poor man’s Battle Royale, I had to admit that Collins was an excellent storyteller (at least by young adult novel standards) and her world-building was very compelling. When I saw that Jennifer Lawrence had been cast in the film version, I allowed myself to get excited because I believed that free from Collins’s prose, her quick-paced plotting would be allowed to shine. And I was right. The film adaptation of The Hunger Games, directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville), is a visually stunning triumph that allows the story at the heart of the novel to finally shine the way it was meant to.

An unidentified number of years into America’s future, a young girl named Katniss Everdeen (Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone) lives under the thumb of the totalitarian nation of Panem. After an unsuccessful uprising against their dictatorial government, the 12 districts of Panem are now forced to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 every year to fight in a televised battle to the death as penance for their past rebellion. Katniss, a young hunter living in the impoverished District 12, volunteers to fight in the Hunger Games when her 12 year old sister Prim is chosen by the random lottery as Tribute. Along with her District’s other tribute, the strong and friendly Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss is shipped to the Capitol, the lavishly rich and eccentric District 13, where everyone dresses like an extra in a Lady Gaga music video where she receives training and a makeover from the alcoholic Haymitch (Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson), a past winner of the Games from her District, and her stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). After two weeks of training, Katniss and the 23 other tributes are unleashed into the arena for a bloody battle of survival where only one Tribute can be left standing.

First and foremost, the casting decisions in this film were almost uniformly excellent. I only have one small complaint (Peeta, so I guess it’s not that small). Jennifer Lawrence is without question one of the most talented young actresses in Hollywood today and the only reason she shouldn’t have won the Oscar back in 2010 for Winter’s Bone was because of Natalie Portman giving arguably the greatest female performance of all time in Black Swan. Perhaps because I knew she had been cast as Katniss before I read the books, I’m not sure if I could think of a single young actress who seems better suited for the role, and while Katniss isn’t the most complex or demanding role, it’s fair to say that Jennifer Lawrence added layers to her performance that just weren’t there in the actual script. Woody Harrelson was an absolutely brilliant Haymitch, and this continues his sudden career resurgence as an actually quite talented actor (instead of being typecast as idiot characters) that really began with his role in The Messengers (one of 2009’s most underrated films). Liam Hemsworth was an appropriately swoon-worthy and brooding Gale even if he wasn’t given much to do. Elizabeth Banks was completely unrecognizable as Effie. My only complaint with casting was that Josh Hutcherson didn’t seem to have enough personality as Peeta. In the books, Katniss is sort of boring and Peeta is the really engaging character. It’s the opposite effect in the film.

For a film that runs at two hours and twenty minutes, The Hunger Games will fly by even when you take its lengthy introduction scenes into account. The direction and editing are simply spot on, and I can’t remember the last time that a film of this length felt this short. Suzanne Collins plotting was break-neck and while the film adds a lot of material, it actual improves the cohesiveness of the story by placing much of the action in greater context. I remember hearing some of the girls behind me in the theater on Saturday complaining about all of the material that was added, but I honestly felt it helped to give a bigger-picture view of Panem and that this story isn’t wholly about Katniss. I was worried that the film version would shy away from the graphic depictions of violence that has made the book so infamous among more squeamish parents, and let’s just say that isn’t a problem. It earns every ounce of its PG-13 rating (and I could go on a long rant here about how sad it is that we’re okay with exposing our kids to absurd levels of violence but not sexuality and language but that’s a rant for another day). The film is clever in how it depicts some things but when it wants to create a visceral, gut reaction (like with the death of a certain beloved Tribute that’s only a small, small child), it doesn’t pull any punches.

Free of Suzanne Collins’ actual writing, which makes Stephenie Meyer look like Neil Gaiman, the only structural problems that remain in The Hunger Games are legacy problems from the book, mainly how threadbare the character development is. Despite Jennifer Lawrence’s lovely performance, I still don’t feel like I know very much about Katniss, and other than being a sensitive, nice guy, there’s almost nothing to know about Peeta despite the very significant amount of screen time he gets. Don’t even get me started on all of the other Tributes who with one or two exceptions, are a giant army of Red Shirts. Although, the series does actually improve one characters development compared to the first book, President Snow (Academy Award nominee Donald Sutherland), by actually showing him in his true evil dictator style by having him converse with the Game Maker (American Beauty‘s Wes Bentley). Realizing that this isn’t mean to be a character drama by any stretch of the imagination, I still wish we had a little more reason to care about the fates of the people trapped inside of this battle to the death besides the designated heroine.

Everybody should go watch this film. Much like my expected feelings toward the upcoming The Avengers film (which is being made by Joss Whedon), The Hunger Games will be one of this year’s “event films” that not only lives up to its hype but provides the sort of no-holds barred visceral entertainment that even stuff film purists will have to admit to enjoying. Gary Ross brings a unique artistic vision to this series that should please not only the ravenous fans of Suzanne Collins’ books but even people who haven’t read them or who were like me and thought they were highly overrated. Will this be one of the best films of the year? I really hope not, but as the sort of film that steps across traditional viewer taste lines, its egalitarian appeal can’t be overlooked. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Final Score: B+