AMC Best Picture Showcase Weekend 2014

For the past four years my sister and I have attended AMC Theatre's Best Picture Showcase. Don't know what it is? Well, it's the best place for movie geeks to catch up on all of the films nominated for Best Picture. One huge marathon split over two weekends of the best films recognized for the Academy Awards - to take in all highly honored performances, cinematography, directors, and movies in one huge swoop. Also a great chance to win some trivia questions, be generally lazy for a whole weekend, and meet other movie nerds.)

Having survived the first weekend of the 2014 marathon, where four of the nine nominees screened PhilomenaThe Dallas Buyers ClubWolf of Wall Street, and 12 Years A Slave. Below are my personal rankings for the Best Picture nominees. Enjoy!

Film Summary: A religious weary journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is approached to investigate a human interest story about Philomena (Judi Dench) - an elderly Catholic woman who was forced to give up her baby boy fifty years ago at an Irish nunnery.

Brief Review: Philomena's faith and forgiveness are challenged by Martin's inability to do so. The dynamics between them treads from London to the United States, and back again, makes for a heartfelt road trip shared between two different generations. Both Dench and Coogan, individually and as a pair, are thoroughly endearing. Especially Dench, who is absolutely in top form. Compared to the other Best Picture nominees, Philomena is a not a showy nominee. It's not laden in what we consider austere cinema like physically transformational performances or over-the-top debauchery. Under the surface of the British humor and the relatively simple story, the film strikes a heavy chord.

In recent years at Best Picture Showcase, films that I had seen previously to the marathon remain hardcore favorites long after the Oscar hype. For this year that position will probably go to Gravity and The Dallas Buyers Club. Similarly, there are movies I hadn't seen before the marathon which has also joined the ranks. Philomena earnestly has won this title and my heartstrings.

Best Picks of the Day: Best Actress Judi Dench

The Dallas Buyers Club
Film Summary: Set in the 1980s, homophobic electrician Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is a hotheaded combative Texan diagnosed with HIV (the onset virus of AIDS). Confronting his 30-day expiration date and the constraints of the trial cocktails, Woodroof imports and sells homeopathic cures against the FDAs disapproval.

Brief Review: With half hour breaks in-between each movie to refresh from what you've seen to what you're going to see, there's a time in movie marathons where everything blurs together. No matter the differences in genre, storytelling or performances, they all morph into a kaleidoscope of scenes that entertain, trip you up, make you laugh and induce tears. Having enjoyed The Dallas Buyers Club previously, I tried to re-enter Ron Woodroof's world without any expectations or favoritism. It didn't work.

The Dallas Buyers Club from music, story, and performances just sticks out. Its tone about a homophobic man facing his ignorance and growing a family out of his transformed beliefs is incredible. His defiance against doctors, the hospital, and FDA is to keep on living - his body, his rules - and it's all right, all right, all right.

Best Picks of the Day: Best Actor Matthew McConaughey, Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto, Best Picture

The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Summary: Set in the 1990s, Jordon Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads an army of wolves on wall street taking the audience nose deep in cocaine, money, and sex.

Brief Review: Director Martin Scorcese and Leonardo DiCaprio's intention with The Wolf of Wall Street was to portray this world as a cautionary tale. In many regards compared to my first viewing, the greedy warnings of money and power substantially still exist. However, seeing the film for the second time, the drugs, sex, and debauchery didn't shock me to exhaustion like it first did. I was just tired of boobs, money, white powder, and the f-word.

On a side note, many reviewers have commented on Kyle Chandler's weak performance as Detective Denham, the lead FBI investigator who tries to nail Belfort for his crimes. Keeping this in mind for my second viewing, I disagree. Coming into the second half of the film with an appearance here and there, the story and the script actually does itself a disservice by not portraying Denham's investigation further. Had the film focused a tiny bit less on Belfort's crazy attempts to elude the law, and more on Denham's inquiry into hunting him down, the third half of the film would be far more interesting and far less a repetitive sea of drug-induced chaos.

Performance wise, it is absolutely driven by its cast of Leonardo, Jonah, Jon Berthnal, Margot Robbie, and many others who exhaust themselves as rapacious wildebeests. Yet at the end of the day, and by the ending of the film, there is an imbalance of story and sensationalism.

Best Pick of the Day: Best Supporting Actress Margot Robbie

12 Years A Slave
Film Summary: Based on the 1853 autobiography, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a New York State-born free negro who is abducted to Washington D.C. and sold into slavery surviving through several plantations for more than a decade.

Brief Review: For almost a decade, World War II has been an era of historical study for me. Countless eyewitness accounts told in autobiographies, documentaries, photographs - you name it. Visually stunning and a vicious depiction of the 19th century with 12 Years A Slave, I was reminded of something that I learned during my time studying Hitler's regime: one person's story is drastically different from his or her neighbors.

While Solomon Northup is the central focus of the film, he collides with a variety of slaves and plantation owners; each with their own interpretation of surviving the hand humanity has dealt them. For as much story exploration we experience witnessing the criminal acts delivered by the Epps plantation owners (Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson), we are equally shown how they survive this brutal world of the south through religion, power, wealth, and obligation. Yet I never felt like we really saw enough of Northup, except what he is forced to live through.

On the one hand, director Steve McQueen delivers displaying the atrocious inhuman acts committed against Solomon and countless other slaves as well as depicting the psychosis of their owners. Bringing together an extraordinary cast and beautiful cinematography, he elevated the storytelling of a time period Hollywood often ignores or utilizes for their own gain. Without McQueen at the helm, this could've been a disastrous movie. On the other hand, I felt the film was atmospherically detached. It showed us history on a cold platter distancing us from what happened rather than us encountering history and all its deplorable strife through film. My feelings had difficulty settling on cinematic brilliance or detached storytelling.

Best Picks of the Day: Best Director Steve McQueen

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