In the spirit of the season…

…here is a list of 2012’s best movies (IMHO). It’s the end of another year and it wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve without umpteen lists everywhere you look, reviewing and recapping the year’s news, politics, mindless gaffes by D-list celebrities etc. So here is my list of my top 5 movies of 2012! Happy New Year’s Eve.

#5 – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – a thematic choice, considering the world was supposed to end in 2012 (but I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t end after all).

#4 – Anna Karenina – I didn’t like Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Anna but this movie deserves to win awards for its beautiful costume design and spectacular jewels.

#3 – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – humorous and ultimately very moving. And the cast of actors is fantastic: talent personified.

#2 – Silver Linings Playbook – Talking of talent, this movie isn’t running low on it either. I went to see it a week ago (you can read my review of it here) and it is one of the best movies I have seen all year. It is so much better than the trailer makes it look. In fact, if you haven’t seen the trailer yet, don’t! Just go see the movie. Silver Linings Playbook is a beautifully directed piece of cinema and it deserves to win all four of its Golden Globe nominations.

#1 – The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games official theatrical poster - all rights remain with original owner(s).

The Hunger Games official theatrical poster – all rights remain with original owner(s).


I am a fan of the books and, for the most part, the movie did not disappoint. For a detailed critique, see my review of it here.

Silver Linings Playbook: a movie review

Silver Linings Playbook movie poster -- all rights remain with the originator(s)

Silver Linings Playbook movie poster — all intellectual property rights remain with the originator(s)

A few nights ago, I headed off to see Silver Linings Playbook (2012), based on the début novel (2008) by Matthew Quick. For the IMDb page for the movie, click here. I watched the trailer and a few publicity clips on YouTube a few weeks ago and it caught my interest, specifically because of the cast. Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a former teacher who lost his job after problems caused by undiagnosed bipolar disorder. At the beginning of the movie, we see him move back in with his parents after leaving a psychiatric hospital in Baltimore. The move back home does not come without its problems as Pat attempts to rebuild his life and return to his wife, who has cut off their relationship. The complications increase when he meets young widow, Tiffany Maxwell, played by Jennifer Lawrence, at a friend’s dinner party.

Silver Linings Playbook is punctuated with sharp outbursts and flare-ups between characters; the sudden ups and downs of the drama reflect Pat’s bipolar swings. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence proficiently portray their characters with performances that keep viewers gripped. I had a few doubts about whether Lawrence would be too young to succeed in a competent performance opposite the much older Cooper (she was twenty-one when the movie was filmed and he was more than a decade older) but my doubt dissolved when I watched it. Both actors deliver performances which are believable and emotional to watch.

The IMDb keywords for the genre of the film are “comedy”, “drama” and “romance”. Although it is true that it contains all of these to a certain extent, I am very hesitant to label it as a rom-com, as I have seen many other reviews describe. It is a drama containing many complexities and “rom-com” is too sappy a word to describe it. There are a few laughs in between the bittersweet moments but if you are looking for a movie which is a 100% fluffy feel-good film (as I would personally expect a rom-com to be), this is not it.

It is sensitively directed by David O. Russell and does not exploit the subject matter of bipolar disorder and mental health issues. Although the ending was perhaps not as realistic as I would have liked, that did not detract one bit from my opinion or enjoyment. If you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.

The Hunger Games movie review

At long last here is my Hunger Games movie review! And I would like to prefix it with the following Spoiler Warning: this review contains spoilers from The Hunger Games book and film, including the ending, so if you don’t want to know what happens I suggest you avert your eyes. You have been warned!

Where to begin? With the main character would be a logical starting point, I suppose.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is superb. I had my doubts initially but after seeing the film, I agree with the praise of the critics. Her performance is so nuanced and faithful to the book character that I found lines from the book running through my head at times during the movie. When she rode in the chariot with Peeta and caught sight of herself on the screen, her surprise at her appearance showed on-screen: ‘I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun’ (quote copyright Suzanne Collins, 2008, The Hunger Games). You can tell how many times I’ve read the book, being able to quote lines ad lib!

Lawrence outshines the other actors in the movie and Liam Hemsworth (Gale) in particular does not have any real long-lasting presence in my opinion. It is a shame that Gale’s character in the movie is nothing more than the hunky best friend. In the books he is a leader of the rebellion, a strong character who takes a stand against the Capitol. I hope that he will become less a part of the background scenery in the movie adaptation of Catching Fire and that his character will be better-developed and more involved. But admittedly, the first book focuses mainly on Katniss so I can forgive this, although more back story on Gale’s character wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

I think Josh Hutcherson is good as Peeta but the movie makers cut far too many of his lines, resulting in a more wooden character on-screen than the one in the book. But there is plenty of room for character development in the next film and if I seem a little harsh here, I do actually like Hutcherson’s portrayal of Peeta very much. Regarding the other actors, Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) are perfect on-screen representations of how I imagined them in the book. Overall, I have no particular criticisms with the performances of the rest of the cast.

Effie and Katniss: the juxtaposition of obscene wealth and hopeless poverty
Photo by Murray Close – © 2011 Lions Gate Films Inc.
No copyright infringement intended

The photo above shows what The Hunger Games is really all about: wealth and poverty and the ability of dictators to manipulate whole countries into submission. In a world where people buy $20,000 couture while children are starving, some points that The Hunger Games makes are not very unrealistic at all. The Hunger Games is a pop culture phenomenon which comments, in part, on pop culture phenomenons (reality TV etc) and I think the film makers succeeded in balancing the political messages of the book without letting them override everything else in the movie.

The cinematography of the movie is very well done. A lot of people have commented and criticized the shaky hand-held camera during action scenes but I didn’t have a problem with the shaky camera work in the violent parts of the movie. It wasn’t distracting at all, in my opinion, and it allowed the film makers to achieve a fine balance between emphasizing the chaotic free-for-all at the Cornucopia during the fight scenes and avoiding too much violence.

Regarding the music, James Newton Howard’s score is beautiful but is under used in the film. There is remarkably little music in the movie but this is a good thing, in a way, because it avoids manipulating the audience’s emotions and instead means that more emphasis is placed on the abilities of the actors. The agonizing silence in the reaping scene after Prim’s name is picked is especially effective.

My main criticisms are as follows:

1. I would have liked to see how Katniss and Gale first met, with an emphasis on the fact that Gale is Katniss’s hunting partner and friend, because I think that viewers who haven’t read the book probably jump to the incorrect assumption that Katniss is in love with Gale. Nothing especially crucial to the plot was lost but I preferred the added details in the book.

2. Rue and Katniss’s relationship was not sufficiently developed. The main problem I have with the movie is the lack of development, e.g. as mentioned above in terms of Gale. Some scenes were simply too short but I appreciate the difficulty of condensing a whole novel down into movie length. Nevertheless, Rue’s death scene is as heartbreaking and tragic on-screen as it is in the book.

3. The cave scene with Katniss and Peeta was cut far too short. They missed out Katniss telling the story about how she got Prim’s goat and a lot of other lines from the book, especially Peeta’s lines, were cut. It made a difference to me because, having read the book a few times, I know exactly how I wanted it to be and it didn’t match my expectations.

4. President Snow. I just don’t think that President Snow (in the movie) is evil enough. When reading the book, I imagine him to be completely different from his on-screen appearance; a snake-like man with small features which is how the book describes him. Donald Sutherland doesn’t resemble book Snow. But then again, Donald Sutherland also played Mr Bennet in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film so I kept half expecting him to declare that ‘Mr Darcy has arrived, Elizabeth’ and make a few witty jokes. The on-screen President Snow doesn’t display enough menace and isn’t cold enough to realistically make the audience believe that here is a man who is happy to command the bombing and torture of innocent civilians, not to mention overseeing the barbaric Hunger Games.

5. The scene on the train when Katniss tells Peeta that she was just acting and that she wasn’t really in love with him didn’t have enough impact. In the book the atmosphere feels a lot more strained and tense at the end, especially with the fact that Katniss has defied the rules of the Capitol.

All in all, I wanted more detail, especially in the areas I mentioned above. I don’t think enough emphasis is placed on the fact that Katniss has laid the foundations for a rebellion against the totalitarian regime of the Capitol and I think the ending is also too rushed. It should be more menacing and sinister. But then again, it was never going to match up to the depth of the book. On the whole it is a faithful adaptation and is better than most book-to-movie adaptations. I am eagerly anticipating Catching Fire!

What do you think of the movie?

‘The Burning Plain’ movie review

The Burning Plain is an independent movie directed by Guillermo Arriaga, who also directed Amores Perros, Babel and 21 Grams, and starring Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger.

Because of the non-sequential narrative, it is very difficult to summarize The Burning Plain without giving anything away but the official website (http://www.burningplainmovie.com) has a synopsis which begins: “THE BURNING PLAIN is a romantic mystery about a woman on the edge who takes an emotional journey back to the defining moment of her life”. However, if I were you, I would avoid reading the full website synopsis before watching the movie because part of the enjoyment of the movie is putting together the different segments until they form a continuous whole.

At first, I was unsure about the movie and the way in which the story is told but the lack of a sequential format does make it incredibly gripping. Initially, it seems as if the bunch of people in the movie are characters who are completely disconnected from each other but as it progresses, the story of each character unfolds and their relationships with each other are slowly revealed. 30 minutes into the movie and I was hooked on finding out what happens. It is a powerfully told indie gem which is well worth seeking out.