Day 1 at AMC Best Picture Showcase 2013

AMC Best Picture Showcase (as chatted about before) is something I look forward to all year. It's an awesome opportunity to watch movies over two weekends (or 24 hours in some locations). But we don't just watch any film genre: we watch the Best Picture nominees. Either released on a big scale, or only available for a limited time, whether you've seen them or most definitely didn't have the opportunity to, you get to see all the nominations before one is award as Best Picture...

Splitting this year's nine nominee list into two weekends, the first day of the event included Amour, Les Miserables, Argo, and Django Unchained. Let the reviews begin!

 Amour

Set in France, the film starts with firemen breaking into in an empty apartment. In a bedroom lies a elderly woman who has passed away, arms folded, dressed lovingly, flowers scattered around her body. We are taken through the decline of a couple's life together. In their eighties, Anne, a former music teacher suffers a stroke. Her husband, Georges, is left to care for her as her condition worsens.

With very little dialogue and edits between takes, but so much detail and attention, Amour was immediately a favorite of mine. Sadly, not many others in our theater felt the same. (I experienced the same opposition with The Tree of Life last year). Comments I heard after Amour ended was that it was overall bor-ing. I felt differently.

A great portion of the film, as the titles translates, explores love and the relationship between Anne and Georges. Amour begs the questions of what do you do when your spouse is suffering, when they propose the idea of not wanting to be kept alive anymore, how can someone who is defenseless and doesn't want to guilt their loved ones into taking care of them leave this world with dignity and grace.

As Emmanuelle Riva picked up the BAFTA recently over front-runners Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain - having now seen Amour, I'm happy she did. It's much deserved and I'm rooting for an Oscar win as well. Completely understated and gone unrecognized sadly is Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges. A master performance as Riva's husband of balancing monster and kindness.

There is no wool pulled over our eyes when it comes to Anne. We see every bit of her mental and physical health decay. And we see Georges doing the best he can with what he has to take care of her as she slowly begins to leave this world. Perhaps this is why audiences didn't like it? With the direction and writing, we can never run away from Anne's  heartbreaking and powerful decline, when so many times in Western culture we greet aging and death with denial.

 Argo

Set in the 1970s, revolutionaries in Iran are protesting the U.S. involvement in their politics. More than fifty employees of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran are taken hostage. Six escape to a hideaway in the home of the Canadian ambassador. As the hunt for the escaped staff members begins, the U.S. State Department explores its options to secretly depose the hostages out of Iran. In charge of the exfiltration, CIA Agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) devises a plan to create an exotically themed fake sci-fi blockbuster, in which the hostages pose as the filming crew.

Similar to The Hurt Locker (2009), Argo is a refreshing ensemble film earning all of the top-notch production awards it has won so far. Funny as hell and phenomenal in its delivery of tension, it's a perfect balance of world history, U.S., and International politics, as well as Hollywood shenanigans. It's an incredible once-untold story that opens your eyes to the world behind the world's governmental systems. I'm happy to see Daredevil enter the second act of his career because with The Town and now Argo, it's been a fantastic one so far!

Les Miserables

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables circles around an ensemble of individuals in the midst of the French Revolution. 

The story is centered on an ex-convict, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who breaks his life parole and creates a new identity for himself. A young woman in Valjean's factory is wrongfully thrown out onto the streets. Left to prostitution, the young mother succumbs to the devastation of this horrible life leaving a young daughter behind who Valjean cares for. Javert (Russell Crowe), a police inspector, is a man ruled by the law. With little space in his heart for compassion, he ruthlessly hunts down Valjean to send back to prison.

The first time I saw Les Miserables, I wasn't a big fan. Seeing it a second time and putting all the Oscar hype and expectations behind me, I wouldn't say I'm a bigger fan but I was more open to the viewing experience. Does the movie still have its cinematography and direction issues? Definitely. Did I my attention spanned still wean after Master of the House musical sequence? Yep. But I walked away this time with new things to reconsider.... It's definitely something to re-write and think about.

Django Unchained

Mixing the Civil Rights and antebellum South with the Western genre, a compassionate bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) builds a friendship with a freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx). Developing a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid chemistry, they team up. Django, who's naturally talented with gunmanship, helps Schultz take down his target list. In return, Schultz helps Django track down his wife who was sold to a ruthless plantation owner "Monsieur" Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

What can I say about seeing this film the second time around? It still drums up controversy and kick-assery in equal measure. Tarantino is a no holds barred master worker and so is this film. As the final one of the day, Django Unchained seemed by far to be the favorite or next favorite after Argo; hitting laughs, cringes, hoots and hollers in all the right places. Walking away I was not only surprised once again to see that Leonardo DiCaprio wasn't nominated but neither was Jamie Foxx, who really turns it out as Django.

My favorites for the day: Argo and Django Unchained. I can't really place one higher than the other because they both deliver on being forthright with political issues yet entertaining. A little winded and wary of the musical/historical epic picks for the Oscars, and though Amour was fantastic, I'm leaning towards more ensemble based films that are packed with a few comedic yet dramatic punches.

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