Category Archives: Discussion

Guide to the 86th Academy Awards

The 86th Oscars, awarding the best films of 2013, are almost upon us! I’ve seen all of the films and performances nominated for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay (Original and Adapted), Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Production Design, and Editing; almost all of the films nominated for Best Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography and Makeup; and a smattering of nominees in the other categories (excluding the short film categories, because who cares, right?). So, without further ado, let’s go through my hopes and predictions, category by category:

* Note: an asterisk indicates a film I haven’t seen yet.

Best Picture


Should win: Gravity

Will win: 12 Years a Slave

My reviews of all nine nominees are reproduced in full at the bottom of this article in order from best to worst.

Personally, I’d love to see Gravity or Her win this; to my mind Gravity is the best film of 2013, and Her not far behind it. However, all signs seem to be pointing to a victory for 12 Years a Slave. It took home the Golden Globe for Best Drama (though really, that’s no great indicator; over the past decade, only 3 of the 10 winners of Golden Globes for Best Drama have gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars), and since then has won several other Oscar-predicting awards, including the BAFTA for Best Picture.

That isn’t to say Gravity‘s entirely out of the race; it’s also done fairly well at other award ceremonies in recent weeks, tying with 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture at the Producers Guild Awards and (somewhat bizarrely) taking home Best British Film at the BAFTAs. There’s also the interesting fact that 12 Years a Slave has lost quite a few awards in the season so far; at the Golden Globes, for example, it lost everything (Best Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay and Score) it was nominated for except Best Drama, and similarly at the BAFTAs it lost in 9 of the 11 categories in which it was nominated. Still, I’ll be pretty surprised if it doesn’t take home the Best Picture Oscar, and I won’t begrudge it the win; it’s a truly excellent film and entirely deserving of the accolades it’s received thus far.

Best Director


Should win: Alfonso Cuarón

Will win: Alfonso Cuarón

With Alfonso Cuarón firming as favourite, it’s looking likely this will be one of those years that the director of the film winning Best Picture won’t win Best Director. In the history of the Oscars that’s happened about 25% of the time, and in the past decade it’s only happened twice (both times involving Ang Lee, who’s suspiciously absent from the field this year).

Given my love of Gravity and appreciation for its incredible direction (remember the thirteen-minute opening tracking shot?), I’ll be pleased with this outcome. My second choice would be Alexander Payne, who’s been nominated twice before (for Sideways and The Descendants) and directed Nebraska just as well as – if not better than – his past efforts.

Best Actor


Should win: Matthew McConaughey

Will win: Matthew McConaughey

I rank the performances thusly: McConaughey, Ejiofor, Dern, Bale, DiCaprio. At this point McConaughey’s an unbackable favourite and I couldn’t be happier. His transformation into a serious actor over the last few years (dubbed the McConaissance) has been so impressive, and I’d regard this victory as rewarding him for all of it. And I hope the win draws more eyeballs to Dallas Buyers Club and some of his other recent work (e.g. Mud). It’s a shame Joaquin Phoenix and Oscar Isaac didn’t score nominations for their wonderful performances in Her and Inside Llewyn Davis respectively.

Best Actress


Should win: Amy Adams

Will win: Cate Blanchett

These are all really strong performances. Amy Adams is my preference because I really like her (not to mention the fact that she was really good in American Hustle!). Of the other four nominees, I’d prefer Blanchett or Dench over Bullock or Streep, since Bullock’s performance is great-but-perhaps-not-Oscar-worthy and Streep’s struck me as too Oscar-baity and scenery-chewing (in other words, despite being excellent, I think she overdid it a touch). Blanchett is looking very likely to win it, and if she doesn’t it will surely be blamed on the Woody Allen controversy.

Best Supporting Actor


Should win: Jared Leto

Will win: Jared Leto

Neither Barkhad Abdi nor Bradley Cooper deserved to be nominated, in my opinion (I would have preferred to see Will Forte nominated for Nebraska, James Gandolfini posthumously nominated for Enough Said, or Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K. or Andrew Dice Clay nominated for Blue Jasmine). Of the other three, it’s difficult to go past Jared Leto; he’s about as impressive in Dallas Buyers Club as McConaughey himself. Jonah Hill winning would be kind of fun though.

Best Supporting Actress


Should win: Lupita Nyong’o or June Squibb

Will win: Lupita Nyong’o or Jennifer Lawrence

This category is too close to call! I want June Squibb to win but will be satisfied with Lupita Nyong’o (who’s best placed to steal it from Jennifer Lawrence) or Sally Hawkins. I’d be shocked if Julia Roberts wins, though her performance in August: Osage County was certainly a return to form. I really hope Lawrence doesn’t win; she was amusing in American Hustle, but it wasn’t an Oscar-worthy performance by any means.

Best Original Screenplay


Should win: Spike Jonze, Her

Will win: Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell, American Hustle

I really really hope Spike Jonze wins this, and my prediction that Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell will win is really just me being pessimistic. Jonze won the Writers Guild Award and the Golden Globe (competing with adapted screenplays for the latter), which are great signs, but Singer and Russell won the BAFTA (Jonze wasn’t even nominated!) and many experts are still tipping them to win the Oscar too.

Best Adapted Screenplay


Should win: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave

Will win: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave

When the winner of this category is announced, if somehow it isn’t John Ridley, suddenly all predictions for Best Picture will need to be revised. Ridley’s an absolute lock. While he’s certainly deserving of the win, I’d love to see Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke get up for their third entry in the Before series. It would also be funny to see Steve Coogan (and associate) get up for Philomena, and I even wouldn’t mind seeing Terry Winter – of The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire fame – win for The Wolf of Wall Street, despite my reservations about that film. Sorry, Billy Ray.

Best Animated Feature Film


  • *The Croods
  • *Despicable Me 2
  • *Ernest & Celestine
  • Frozen
  • *The Wind Rises

Should win: Frozen

Will win: Frozen

I’m at a slight disadvantage in this category, having only seen one of the nominees. I’ll pick it anyway, since all predictions seem to point to it and it was pretty damned good (and was both popular and critically acclaimed). There’s a slight chance The Wind Rises could win as a kind of lifetime achievement award for Hayao Miyazaki, given this is apparently going to be his final film; personally, I’m not enough of a Miyazaki film to give it a go.

Best Foreign Film


  • *The Broken Circle Breakdown
  • The Great Beauty
  • *The Hunt
  • *The Missing Picture
  • *Omar

Should win: The Great Beauty

Will win: The Great Beauty

Once again, I’ve only seen one of the nominees, and it’s the one with all the buzz behind it, so I’m tipping it. I have a few criticisms (which I’ll outline in my upcoming review), but it’s a very impressive film and I’m not surprised to see it in this position.

Best Documentary


  • *20 Feet from Stardom
  • The Act of Killing
  • *Cutie and the Boxer
  • Dirty Wars
  • *The Square

Should win: The Act of Killing

Will win: 20 Feet from Stardom

I’ve seen only two of the nominees, and of those, I clearly prefer one (The Act of Killing; review forthcoming) over the other (Dirty Wars), but I have serious reservations about both. Still, The Act of Killing is ambitious and innovative enough that I’d like to see it win, despite not having seen the remaining three nominees. Experts seem to be pointing to 20 Feet from Stardom, and if it wins I’ll be sure to seek it out despite my lack of interest to date.

Best Original Score


  • *John Williams, The Book Thief
  • Steven Price, Gravity
  • William Butler & Owen Pallett, Her
  • Alexandre Desplat, Philomena
  • Thomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks

Should win: William Butler & Owen Pallett, Her

Will win: Steven Price, Gravity

To be perfectly honest, none of these films had especially memorable scores, but I’ll predict a win for Gravity (which won’t bother me in the slightest) and hope for a win for Her. It’s interesting that Alex Ebert (of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros fame), who won the Golden Globe for Best Score for his minimalist work on the Robert Redford vehicle All Is Lost, wasn’t even nominated here.

Best Original Song


  • *”Happy” from Despicable Me 2
  • “Let It Go” from Frozen
  • “The Moon Song” from Her
  • “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Should win: “The Moon Song” from Her

Will win: “Let It Go” from Frozen

“The Moon Song” deserves to win not just because it’s simple and beautiful, but also because of the way it was used in Her; first being performed by Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix in a memorably lovely montage sequence, and then having the Karen O version play over the credits. Still, “Let It Go” – the likely winner – is a pretty great song and one of the highlights of Frozen. “Ordinary Love” could easily win, given it’s by U2. And if you don’t already know about it, it’s worth reading up on the controversy surrounding the disqualified nominee.

Apart from the possibility of Bono taking home the gong, the real shame in this category is that none of the songs from Inside Llewyn Davis were even eligible to be nominated, since they’re mostly traditional folk songs (or, in the case of the hilarious “Please Mr. Kennedy”, a pastiche of some previous novelty songs). Bah humbug, Academy!

Best Sound Editing


Should win: Gravity

Will win: Gravity

This is the first of several technical categories that Gravity should deservedly win hands down.

Best Sound Mixing


Should win: Gravity

Will win: Gravity

Another well-deserved lock for Gravity. Remind me of the difference between this and Sound Editing again?

Best Production Design


Should win: Her

Will win: The Great Gatsby

I admit the production design was one of the rare highlights of the disappointing Great Gatsby, but Her‘s was even better! It was the perfect mix of amusing, frightening and real, creating the perfect backdrop for Spike Jonze’s technological love story.

Best Cinematography


Should win: Nebraska (traditional) or Gravity (high-tech)

Will win: Gravity

I’m a big fan of Emmanuel Lubezki, Terrence Malick and Alfonso Cuaron’s cinematographer of choice, and there’s no doubt he fully deserves to win for Gravity (if for no other reason than that he’s somehow never won before!). He’s the unbackable favourite, which is fine by me. Still, if you want more traditional cinematography (in black-and-white, no less), it’s hard to fault Phedon Papamichael’s work on Nebraska.

Interestingly, should Lubezki win for Gravity, and the film also win for Visual Effects (which is extremely likely), it will be the fifth year running that both categories have been won by the same film (and all 3D films!), suggesting there may be a failure on the Academy’s part to sufficiently distinguish between the craft of cinematography and what goes on inside computers.

Adding some much-needed comedic value to proceedings, Bruce Deakins, nominated for Prisoners, is on track for his eleventh loss from eleven nominations.

I also would have liked to see Ain’t Them Bodies Saints nominated in this category.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling


Should win: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Will win: Dallas Buyers Club

Crazily, I’m hoping for a Jackass movie to win an Oscar! Seriously, the makeup to transform Johnny Knoxville into 86-year-old Irving Zisman – believably enough that he could consistently fool the real-life people with whom he interacted – was extremely impressive. Strange that there are only three nominees; American Hustle deserved to be nominated here for its wigs alone.

Best Costume Design


Should win: American Hustle

Will win: The Great Gatsby

Another likely win for The Great Gatsby, and one again I’d prefer to see go to Her (the high pants!), though this time it’s not even nominated. Of the three nominees I’ve seen, I’d most like to see American Hustle win, but I can’t say I’m hugely invested in the contest.

Best Editing


Should win: Gravity

Will win: Gravity

The action sequences in Captain Phillips are edited well, but it’s hard to go past Gravity. The Academy almost certainly won’t.

Best Visual Effects


  • Gravity
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • *Iron Man 3
  • *The Lone Ranger
  • *Star Trek Into Darkness

Should win: Gravity

Will win: Gravity

If Gravity doesn’t win this one, I’ll eat my hat.

Best Documentary (Short); Best Live Action Short; Best Animated Short

Apart from the nominees, who cares?

Reviews of Best Picture nominees:

(1) Gravity

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Score: 9.5/10

It's good to occasionally see the world through someone else's eyes - or in this case, through their eye, face, brain and skull.

It’s good to occasionally see the world through someone else’s eyes – or in this case, through their eye, face, brain and skull.

The best space movie I’ve ever seen and a gripping experience from start to finish. The opening tracking shot, lasting an incredible thirteen minutes, establishes right from the start the technical wizardry on show and director/co-writer Alfonso Cuarón’s refusal to allow viewers to shift from the edges of their seats or peel their eyes from the screen for even a moment. Better yet, nothing – not even the teardrop that floats toward the camera in vivid 3D – is used for its own sake or just to wow us with beauty or how-did-they-do-that wonder; instead, all that wizardry is actually in service of a finely crafted survival story and a moving tale of a woman in crisis. I don’t normally like Sandra Bullock (and from talking to others about this movie, it seems I’m not alone in that) but she’s really great in this, somehow avoiding whatever it is that usually repels me and allowing me to (silently) cheer for her the whole way through. George Clooney is good too, though it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for him as the character he plays is basically just Astronaut George Clooney. It’s quite short, a taut 90 minutes, but that length seems perfect and allows for a concentrated burst of tension and drama that might have been too much if stretched over two or more hours. The ending is quite beautiful. I saw it in 3D at IMAX, the way it demands and deserves to be seen. I imagine its impressiveness would be slightly reduced with every reduction in screen size, so much so that it would feel cramped and stifled on a television, though it should still work. If it’s somehow still playing at an IMAX near you, or it gets rereleased there, do yourself a favour and go check it out.

(2) Her

Director: Spike Jonze
Score: 9/10

Joaquin's impression of his dead brother.

Joaquin’s impression of his dead brother.

Wow, what a remarkable piece of cinema! Spike Jonze has such an inventive, creative mind, and it’s a pleasure to experience a slice of it. Though I loved his three other feature films (Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, both written by Charlie Kaufman, and Where the Wild Things Are, written by Jonze and Dave Eggers, adapting Maurice Sendak’s book), this is the one that made me appreciate him most, since not only did he direct it perfectly, but it’s an original screenplay (never was the term so apt) he wrote alone.

On the surface it’s an exploration of love in the digital future and the question of what it means to be human and to love, but beneath that it’s basically a movie about a man coming to terms with the collapse of his marriage. There are loads of wonderful ideas and it all hangs together into a solid dramatic whole. It’s also frequently very, very funny.

Joaquin Phoenix is memorable and entirely committed to his role; it may be his best performance to date, though to be fair I haven’t seen I’m Not There yet. Amy Adams continues her recent string of strong work; she’s a real talent. Scarlett Johansson is great too in a voice-only part, helping to create ‘Samantha’ as a fully realised character in our minds, which is crucial to the movie succeeding.

The production design is ingenious and the costuming is hilarious (especially the ubiquitous high pants) without being implausible in the least. I also love that the film never bothers to tell us precisely when in the future it’s set, since it’s too busy being awesome. I can’t recommend this highly enough; even if you don’t end up loving it as I did, you’re bound to find plenty to like.

(3) 12 Years a Slave

Director: Steve McQueen
Score: 9/10

Spoiler alert much?

Spoiler alert much?

There were a lot of reasons I was looking forward to this, but two are worth mentioning: the trailer used some of my favourite music from The Thin Red Line (my second favourite movie ever), and David Simon raved about it. Thankfully I wasn’t disappointed. It truly is one of the very best films of 2013, and looking likely to take home the Best Picture Oscar; though personally I preferred Gravity and Her, I’ll be fine with this outcome.

A singular, visceral experience, it’s immensely powerful, particularly towards the end. Steve McQueen shows great precision, pathos and nuance in his direction. It’s one of the best cinematic explorations of injustice and suffering I’ve seen. Telling the story of a kidnap victim rather than one of the countless other slaves he finds himself amongst is an interesting and ultimately fruitful window into the broader issue of the immorality of slavery; we focus on the personal hardship and tragedy of this one man, but in doing so cannot help but recognise the wider injustice around him.

The supporting performances from Michael Fassbender (who performed so well for McQueen in Shame) and Lupita Nyong’o are excellent, and Paul Giamatti does well in a small role requiring him to be a racist arsehole, but it’s Chiwetel Ejiofor who shines brightest in a powerhouse lead performance. Indeed, were it not for Matthew McConaughey’s sterling work in Dallas Buyers Club, I’d hand the Best Actor Oscar to Ejiofor in a flash. Also look for Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire) in a role that basically amounts to a cameo.

This is the kind of movie that I imagine many prospective viewers are apprehensive about watching; it looks like it will be unpleasant, perhaps the cinematic experience of eating one’s greens. I’d say this: it certainly is unpleasant at times, but it’s also deeply moving, uplifting, and full of meat to go with the greens.

(4) Dallas Buyers Club

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Score: 8.5/10

Matthew McConaughey in... The Butterfly Effect II: They Can Give You AIDS.

Matthew McConaughey in… The Butterfly Effect II: They Can Give You AIDS.

Remarkable and moving true story of Ron Woodroof, a homophobic electrician-cum-cowboy diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 who not only survives past the 30 days his doctors predict he has left, but goes on to start the titular club, supplying non-FDA-approved medication to other AIDS patients in the area. He quickly becomes our unlikely hero as we follow him through his own AIDS journey and into uncharted territory, and in doing so, discover what the AIDS epidemic was like at its peak.

The acting from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto is truly sublime: both physically transform themselves for the movie, and both completely inhabit their respective characters, bringing them to life in wholly believable, sensitive, nuanced ways. It’s wonderful to see the brilliant actor McConaughey has shown himself to be in his last few roles; who would have predicted this 5 or 10 years ago? Lots of other recognisable faces round out a strong cast; the only exception is Jennifer Garner, who seems slightly miscast.

The direction is stark but precise, giving the actors room to conjure up their characters and giving the story due dignity and respect. It’s very serious subject matter, and there are moments of great sadness, but our central character is also so charismatic and appealing (in his own way) that there are doses of levity – at times almost fun – too.

Impressively, despite the inevitable conclusion to some of these characters’ stories (they do have AIDS, after all), and the emotional toll it takes on the audience, the movie manages to be life-affirming and even optimistic. Indeed, at one point Woodroof says, “You enjoy your life, little lady. You only got one”; few movies have conveyed this message more powerfully.

(5) Nebraska

Director: Alexander Payne
Score: 8/10

This gave me an idea for a photography exhibition: a collection of photos of families sitting around watching TV, taken by placing a camera on top of each family's TV set, hiding, and waiting for just the right moment.

This gave me an idea for a photography exhibition: a collection of photos of families sitting around watching TV, taken by placing a camera on top of each family’s TV set, hiding, and waiting for just the right moment.

I’ve become such a big fan of Alexander Payne; his movies always have real warmth, humanity and truth to them. Nebraska is no exception, and in fact is one of his very best. It’s the bittersweet story of an old man, played wonderfully by Bruce Dern, and his quest to travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect the million dollars he thinks he’s won. More than that, it’s the story of how his son, Will Forte in a long-overdue serious role, finally gets to know his father by accompanying him on his quest and meeting the denizens of his home town. As good as Dern is, I was even more impressed with June Squibb’s scene-stealing performance as his wife. The film is populated by a ragtag collection of small town folk, most of them getting on in age and all of them ringing true. There’s some great humour which might seem mean since it’s often at the expense of these characters, but it’s coupled with enough wryness and affection that it never feels spiteful or sneery. A surprising amount of the humour involves old people talking about sex, which has its charms. It’s beautifully photographed in black and white, with plenty of lovely landscape shots of rural Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. The wistful score, heavy on violin and accordion, fits well too. Recommended.

(6) Philomena

Director: Stephen Frears
Score: 8/10

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in... Law & Order: Irish Adoption Unit.

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in… Law & Order: Irish Adoption Unit.

Dramatisation of real-life events as a washed up journalist (Steve Coogan) pursues a ‘human interest’ story by helping an old Irish woman (Judi Dench) search for the son that was taken from her fifty years ago. It could so easily have been saccharine or exploitative or depressing or effectively the kind of mundane story Coogan’s character initially maligns. Instead, scriptwriters Coogan and Jeff Pope and director Stephen Frears nimbly weave between all of these and create a thoughtful, engaging, respectful film that tells its story in a straightforward but effective way. With Coogan co-writing, there are welcome regular doses of light humour, most from his character but some from Dench’s too. Having a son close to the same age as Dench’s character’s son at the time of the separation – which we see in flashbacks – added an extra level of emotional resonance for me. Even without that though, there are several heartfelt moments that are enough to warrant tears, all hinging on Dench and her outstanding performance in the title role. It’s not a perfect movie by any means (one gripe, for example, is that Michelle Fairley as Coogan’s character’s editor is a bit one-dimensional, never missing a chance to play into the ‘unscrupulously exploitative editor’ stereotype), but it’s very nicely done and well worth a watch – even if just to see Dench do her thing.

(7) Captain Phillips

Director: Paul Greengrass
Score: 7.5/10

It's such a stereotypical depiction of pirates. All that's missing are the laptops and torrent files.

It’s such a stereotypical depiction of pirates. All that’s missing are the laptops and torrent files.

Taut action thriller on the high seas, dramatising real-life events that took place in 2009. It’s an inherently exciting story and Paul Greengrass – a director known for bringing real-life stories to the screen in films such as Bloody Sunday and United 93, as well as slightly-less-real-life stories in two Bourne sequels – tells it well, consistently maintaining tension and a palpable sense of the gravity and actuality of the situation. Tom Hanks is solid in the title role, though he doesn’t fully shine until his moving final scene. His co-star Barkhad Abdi is also very good, remarkably earning an Oscar nomination for this debut performance. The music is sufficiently pumping when it needs to be without ever being distracting or jarring. It’s worth noting that the movie’s been called inaccurate by some crew members unhappy about Phillips being portrayed as a hero. Putting that aside, the only two criticisms I’d level at it are (a) that it really is just a well-told dramatisation; it doesn’t have much thematic depth beyond an exploration of how we perform under stress or pressure; and (b) that the attempt to lay the blame on the pirates’ bosses back home, so as to be able to sometimes paint the pirates themselves in a more sympathetic light, doesn’t always ring true.

(8) The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese
Score: 7.5/10

Nice period detail: it's true, back in the early '90s people WERE constantly doing impressions of Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone!

Nice period detail: it’s true, back in the early ’90s people WERE constantly doing impressions of Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone!

This is Scorsese’s best film since The Departed, but that’s not saying much since it only had to beat the mediocre Shutter Island and the terrible Hugo. It’s a largely enjoyable romp about a despicable stockbroker’s rise, debauched antics, and inevitable fall. The acting is hard to fault: Leonardo DiCaprio’s at the very top of his game and it’s difficult to recall a better performance from him (if pressed I might point to Revolutionary Road or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape); Jonah Hill continues to surprise me, showing that Moneyball was no fluke and he’s actually an actor of considerable skill; Matthew McConaughey appears quite briefly but adds yet another sterling performance to his recent body of work (Dallas Buyers Club and Mud were enough to put him into my list of all-time greats, and this is just icing); and even Margot Robbie, in the few scenes in which she wears clothes, is good enough to make you forget she’s best known for being on Neighbours.

Marty certainly knows his craft and the entertainment value is pretty high, but it’s held back from greatness because it’s too lightweight to succeed as a drama in the tradition of Goodfellas (one of his very best films, and the one this resembles most closely in terms of its storyline), and too Goodfellasish – or, perhaps, insufficiently committed to making the audience laugh – to succeed as a comedy, despite a few solid gags (mostly involving drug use, which is never not funny, right?). By the end of the three hours, I’d seen a lot of crazy things and my interest had never flagged, but I was left wondering if there was anything beneath the decadent veneer. In that sense, it felt like the perfect companion piece to American Hustle.

(9) American Hustle

Director: David O. Russell
Score: 7/10

So, Batman gets fat and suddenly Lois Lane is into him. I predict this will also be the plot of Zack Snyder's Batman vs. Superman movie.

So, Batman gets fat and suddenly Lois Lane is into him. I predict this will also be the plot of Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman movie.

There’s a lot to like in this; as a piece of fluffy entertainment, it succeeds quite well. However, there’s not actually much depth to it and the plot – despite its various twists and turns – doesn’t satisfy. David O. Russell has assembled a very good cast (as usual) and the production design, costumes and wigs are all nicely distracting, but they can’t quite disguise the fact that it’s basically just a caper with nothing much to say. The acting is strong, especially from Amy Adams and Christian Bale (more like Christian Whale, amiright?? Boom, roasted! Seriously though, he got himself quite fat for this role). I’ve always liked Adams and it’s great to see her landing – and absolutely devouring – meaty parts like this. The only misfire in terms of casting is Jeremy Renner; don’t get me wrong, he’s a talented actor, but I didn’t buy him for a minute as an Italian-American community leader (perhaps he lacks range?). There are some memorable moments, such as the early romantic scenes between Bale and Adams, Louis CK’s ice fishing story, and Jennifer Lawrence’s use of the “science oven”. I would have preferred more consistent use of voice-over; it’s used quite effectively at the start, sounding almost like retrospective interviews with the characters, but at a certain point it gets dropped and is only picked up briefly towards the end. Overall, it’s definitely still worth watching, but make sure you manage your expectations; if you go in looking for a stylish popcorn flick, you’ll probably enjoy it.