Best Picture Profile: Dallas Buyers Club

dallas buyers club

 

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee
Written by: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Produced by: Robbie Brenner, Rachel Winter
Runtime: 117 minutes

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Dallas Buyers Club is about Ron Woodroof, a homophobic electrician-rodeo during the 1980s, who was diagnosed with AIDS after having unprotected sex with a prostitute. Because the cure for the said illness is not yet available to the public, Woodroof teams up with HIV-positive trans woman Rayon, a fellow patient that he met in the hospital. Together, they deliver unapproved drugs from Mexico to the United States that Woodroof himself has proven to improve his health. Though hesitant at first, their doctor, Eve Saks, eventually cooperates with them to be able to help more AIDS-stricken patients.

I remember not immediately trusting this film to get the Best Picture nomination just because there were other films that had more buzz (Saving Mr. Banks and Inside Llewyn Davis, to be exact) and it was as if the buzz for the film is concentrated on the performances of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. True enough, the film heavily relies on the performance of its actors. Comparison with the 2000 Best Picture nominee Erin Brockovich was made and it is definitely understandable. Once in a while, there comes a film that is above average but is lifted by its strong performances. This is true with the case of this film.

While I am not seeing anything completely remarkable about the execution, one must notice the visible control and sincere treatment of the material. Having a topic of sensitive nature, the film was able to smartly shift focus from the nonacceptance and denial of the main character to the very believable change in the character and how it reflects through the orchestration of the film elements, resulting into a film that is chiseled so well, you can clearly see the story in Woodroof’s point of view. The power of the film to replicate his experience, physically and emotionally, and then transfer the perspective to the audience signifies the intelligence and earnestness invested in the over-all vision of the film.

The screenplay sustains the character arcs of the three main characters that are very important in the narrative because the flow of the story is heavily reliant on the characters, especially Woodroof’s interactions with Rayon and Dr. Saks. This is a very much a character-driven story, and there is a smooth flow in how the events are laced together to anchor a whole character transformation of the central character. The screenplay vividly places details to these characters that were ultimately used by the actors to reach the maximum potential of the narrative, it being a real character piece whose life relies on the emotional and psychological journey of the characters.

dallas buyers clubThe film is also technically sound, having a cinematography that prefers visual engagement over picturesque images, film editing that absorbs the viewers into the images, as well as the sparsity of the musical score that helps in creating the atmosphere of rawness in the film. Non-diegetic music only plays in specific scenes, to great effect. Effective sound design is also present to further evoke the deteriorating health condition of Woodroof. The film has also been noted for its effective makeup and hairstyling, and rightfully so. They were able to highlight the realistic physical process of decay Woodroof and Rayon experiences.

As stated earlier, the film heavily relies on the strength of the performances of the actors, and the ensemble does not let the film down.

Jennifer Garner fares well as Dr. Eve Saks, the initially hesitant doctor of Woodroof and Rayon that ultimately becomes a passive supporter of their actions. While the two other actors definitely grabs the attention for the most of the film, Garner has the responsibility to thread together the key points of the narrative without trying to compete with McConaughey and Leto. She silently puts together a cohesive portrayal of a change of heart that is not as evident as Woodroof’s but one that is also significant to propel the orientation of the other characters.

Jared Leto, despite getting a very showy role of Rayon, a transgendered woman, surprises with his vulnerability to portray the looming tragedy of Rayon by utilizing well-timed acting choices without succumbing to self-pity. Here is a performance that has little screentime, but whose presence in the narrative provides the trajectory in the story as well as the impact of the story aside from Woodroof’s own journey. Leto highlights Rayon as a person whose resilience can only do so much because of his ailing health, and the struggle is visible. By painting a very distinct canvas of a person in the story, Leto is able to create an intriguing and devastating human being out of a very short amount of time.

Much has been said about Mathew McConaughey’s performance as Ron Woodroof, and I would not say anything but it is really an exceptional work. His capacity to carry his character’s dimensions without clouding the film with excessive showing off provides for a very strong, controlled, and powerful portrayal of survival and will to live amid challenges. Being able to throw in potent dramatic punches in well placed scenes in the film, McCounaughey gets the vulnerability of Woodroof’s condition and the hostility he uses to mask the inner turmoil in the character. The result is a textured, captivating, and spirited portrait of Ron Woodroof, together with all the likable and unlikable characteristics of the character that provides for a multi-dimensional character.

The performances, especially McCounaughey’s, are unquestionably fantastic, and the film gives the cast the ample amount of opportunities for them to actually deliver the different layers that are present both in the characters they play and in the narrative they belong to. The film itself fares well, with a clean-cut narrative that is able to engage the audience throughout the entire time. This is an intelligently made film that is built around the performances, and it is not a wrong move.

For this, the film gets:

4

Agree or disagree?

Best Picture Profile: Philomena

philomena

Directed by: Stephen Frears
Written by: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Produced by: Steve Coogan, Tracy Seaward, Gabrielle Tana
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Philomena is about Martin Sixsmith, a journalist who has just been fired by his employer. Hoping to redeem himself, he takes on the story of the titular character, an old woman separated from her child for several decades after she was taken away from her when she was still inside a Catholic convent. As they go on with their search, they are led to go to America. Along the way, Martin and Philomena go together to look for her son as they challenge each other’s beliefs.

Before the nominations were announced, I was admittedly skeptical about the chances of the film getting nominated for Best Picture not because it looks bad to me (I haven’t seen the film yet during the time), but because it feels like a story that’s too small and intimated to feel Best Picture-material. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the Oscars have a tendency to go with films that are not necessarily small. So it was my surprise that this film got in the nominees for Best Picture. And after watching the film, I’m retaining my perception of the film: it’s a film that feels really small yet intimate. It is not a critique, but rather a mere observation.

I appreciate the fact that it remained as sincere to the core of the material as possible. While the film as a semi-glossy visual feel, the film did not try to sugarcoat the story. It felt sincere and heartwarming despite the film’s attempt to sprinkle some scenes with humor. That, I owe the director for skilfully planting humor and drama in an alternating manner that is not disruptive or annoying. I have seen films that both succeeded in drama and in humor, but fails to properly put transition between the two. Luckily, the film has found a way of smoothly weaving these two elements. I know some find the mix of the two detrimental to the film; I was fine with that.

However, I find some scenes a bit awkward. I am not much of a fan of the flashback scenes as well as the reliance of the film on archival/home video footage style shots. While I see the flashback scenes as a necessary part of the film, the archival footage-type shots feels like an attempt to make the film close to realty so that audience can easily empathize to the story, but in the end fails because it was the one that is disruptive to me, not the humor in the script. It may seem that I am defending the humor of the script, but for me, it helped define the character of Philomena as a character that can charm and at the same time create a sense of warmheartedness and a down-to-earth attitude. Philomena’s humor as a character establishes a person with more dimensions, and I appreciate that.

PhilomenaThe film is also has intelligently mounted visuals, giving the film a distinct visual appeal through its interesting cinematography, providing strong colors to highlight the tension despite the calm, and smooth editing. The music by Alexandre Desplat is also exquisite, delivering an enchanting feel to every scene, elevating the film’s emotional power by highlighting scenes with subtlety and control.

However, I felt that the film is not really best picture-material, but more of a good vehicle for the actors to act and for the film to tug hearts. I do not deny that the story has a strong emotional punch, but one strong qualifying factor for me to say that a film is best picture-material if it actually works as a film in itself and not just reliant on a specific aspect.

I cannot see the reason to mention Philomena as a great film aside from Dench’s performance which is quite great. The role might seem easy, and Dench surely charms her way in the film, giving a relaxed dramatic performance that occasionally hints on comedy. There are scenes of brutal honesty, though, that brings her performance on a higher level. She delivers both the drama and the comedy that the performance requires. The result is a beautifully delivered portrayal of a mother longing to see her long lost son. I do think it is not much of a stretch for Dench given her more challenging roles before, but what we have here is still a strong dramatic performance from this great actress. 

Coogan does fine as the eager journalist who questions Philomena’s faith the same time he questions his. It is not really a demanding role, given that much emotional weight is given to Dench’s titular role, but he provides a sturdy control of a restrained character. There is underlying doubt to himself, and Coogan shows it well by giving subtle hints to this emotional turmoil.

Again, as much as I have warmed with his film, and while I do think it is a really exciting character study, I am not seeing the film’s higher value outside its central performance. The film makes for an interesting journey, and it does have its emotional impact that is quite visible and felt, but it lacks significance that makes a film fit to be called ‘best picture-material’. I kind of loved it, but not enough to make me scream “best picture!” for it.

For this, the film gets:

4

Agree or disagree?

INTRODUCTION – Best Motion Picture: 2013

Without further ado, the next yer will be 2013.

Something must be said about this year. Not only this had one of the tightest race for the Best Picture in recent memory (three frontrunners – 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle, and Gravity), but also one of the most unpredictable set of nominees (this was the year when Saving Mr. Banks, Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue Jasmine, among many other films, almost made it as a Best Picture nominee).

Aside from the frontrunners, the rest of the nominees include an action thriller about a pirate attack, a biopic about a homophobic man-turned-drug dealer for AIDS cure, a sci-fi romance drama about a man’s relationship with an OS, a black comedy about an old man thinking he won a million dollars, another biopic about a devout Catholic woman in search for her son, and probably one of Martin Scorsese’s most polarizing work – a comedy about money, drugs, and sex.

There you go. So, here are the nominees:

slate

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

The Wolf of Wall Street

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Which film would win this one?

The arrangement of the profiles will be by lottery, then the last profile would be the Best Picture winner, 12 Years A Slave.

Would I go with the Academy’s choice? Or would I go with an another nominee? Make your predictions now!