Last week saw the first screening and reviews of Clint Eastwood‘s J. Edgar as well as a weekend screening in Los Angeles of Martin Scorsese‘s Hugo. The responses differ quite dramatically with one appearing to be universally praised despite a few flaws while the other is earning some kudos with particular attention paid to its shortcomings.
We’ll begin with J. Edgar where the majority of early reviews seemed unable to commit to any kind of specific opinion, as those commenting did their best to find ways to say nice things and sneak in a few bad all while focusing more on its Oscar prospects, or aspects of the film that may earn a nomination, rather than focusing on the film itself. As such it’s a little difficult to get an exact bead on how good the film is, but as far as being an Oscar contender, it has certainly slipped.
The largest praise went to Leonardo DiCaprio as the title star. Peter Debruge of Variety writes, “The opening reel establishes both the scope of the story, which ranges from Hoover’s 20s to his final days overseeing the FBI at age 77, and DiCaprio’s remarkable ability to play the character at any point along that timeline.”
However, while Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter declares DiCaprio’s performance as “vigorous [and] capable” he takes aim at the use of makeup in the film, which has been a sore spot for many since the first trailer debuted. McCarthy writes, “DiCaprio’s changing looks across the decades also takes some getting used to; while his old-age makeup seems jarring at first, one gradually looks beyond it, and the actor is actually most effective in the middle and late-age scenes.”
Also chiming in at The Hollywood Reporter is Scott Feinberg — with what is probably the most favorable opinion of the film out there — and while praising DiCaprio, he also praises the makeup which McCarthy dismissed. Feinberg writes, “[DiCaprio] gives a performance of great nuance, portraying Hoover as a spry 24-year-old and a fading 77-year-old — to say nothing of the 53 years in-between — with equal aplomb. His physical transformation is remarkable (and not only because of the outstanding makeup work), as are the ways in which he conveys his character’s mental hardening as he witnesses, learns, and fears more and more.”
Meanwhile, HitFix‘s Kris Tapley seems mixed on the film, but after getting out of the screening he posted a tweet saying, “I say Leo wins the Oscar.” He also discusses Armie Hammer‘s turn as Hoover’s colleague and rumored lover (an aspect of Hoover’s life that is addressed in the film) saying he “is pretty solid, particularly in later scenes following Tolson’s stroke that allow him to take the character in a whole new direction. It could bring him Best Supporting Actor recognition.”
There is definitely an overall cooling on the film as a Best Picture contender along with Dustin Lance Black‘s script, Eastwood as director and neither Judi Dench nor Naomi Watts appear to have much of a chance in the Supporting Actress category. I am seeing the film tonight, November 7, as it makes way to theaters this Wednesday, so I will obviously have more of an opinion in just a few short hours.
Moving to Hugo, we’re looking at a slightly different response. Hugo first played at the New York Film Festival as a work-in-progress print and received acclaim as an “ode to silent films” and a movie for film lovers. The screening this weekend (which yours truly was invited to but unfortunately lives two states away *ugh*) was also still not entirely finished as Pete Hammond at Deadline says “one special effects shot was missing and the end credits are far from complete.” But as far as the opinions go, there are some definite fans and a few mixed reactions declaring it “flawed,” “rote and boilerplate,” but the general consensus is that it’s one to see and one to look out for come Oscar time.
The first quote comes not from a critic or blogger, but from Avatar helmer James Cameron who hosted a screening at the Directors Guild and declared it a “masterpiece” and added, “[F]inally there is a Scorsese film I can take my kids to.” This is certainly the highest praise the film has received so far and certainly is something worth listening to as Scorsese’s ode to cinema may play particularly well to the industry types that will be left to vote on it. Additionally, it sounds like it’s a film that will have those industry types leaving the cinema in high spirits.
Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere has particular approval for the film’s finale writing, “It’s a fanciful, heavily CG-ed, 3D storybook film that plays like a ‘family entertainment’ flick during the first two thirds to 75%, which is to say with much familiarity. But the final act, roughly the last 25 minutes, is another story.”
Wells continues, “For Hugo concludes with a great excursion into filmmaking history and the first dreammakers (particularly George Meiles, director of the 1902 A Trip to the Moon and dozens of other shorts) and film preservation and all that good movie-Catholic stuff. This finale, aimed squarely at film dweebs and sure to sail right over the heads of most tykes and tweeners, is by far the best portion of the film, and easily worth the price of admission in itself.”
Over at The Wrap, Steve Pond is extremely effusive writing, “If Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist is a charming salute to and return to the days of silent film, Hugo looks at the same era in a way that is fresh and joyous and, for much of its running time, the most magical moviegoing experience I’ve had in a very long time.”
However, even Pond doesn’t leave out comments such as saying the film has “slow stretches and clunky moments.” Kris Tapley at HitFix seems to be in the same boat, though before noting any complaints he calls it “fiercely romantic and inspiringly passionate,” “immaculately crafted” and that it “creates a world and transports you there effortlessly.”
Tapley, though, leads his commentary off with a headline declaring Hugo a “flawed but passionate ode to romance and the cinema. He then says John Logan‘s “screenplay isn’t all that organic and seemed to be at odds with itself.” More importantly, however, he’s able to overlook these aspects, saying he “so enjoyed Scorsese’s mingling of character with his own passion for filmmaking that I couldn’t be bothered with the film’s drawbacks.”
At AwardsDaily, Sasha Stone says it’s “[easily] one of 2011’s best films,” which is really not saying much, but then she continues describing it as “a lyrical dream, a film that pays homage to what is so transformative about cinema — its possibilities, its power, and its magic.” Sounds like something filmmakers and lovers will certainly appreciate and she’s praising it in all below-the-line categories saying, “Hugo has it all — art direction, score, cinematography, costume design, sound — and of course, editing by the great Thelma Schoonmaker.”
Sounds like we have a new Best Picture contender… but before we get into the updating of predictions, there is one tiny bit of house-keeping to note.
Last night the Weinstein Co. tweeted a note saying The Iron Lady would now open on December 30 with a limited release before expanding wide on January 13, 2012. This is two weeks later than the studio had previously set for the film, which I guess you could look at them wanting to simply have the last word on the Oscar season, but it seems like such an odd move for a presumptive major contender starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher.
Over at Deadline they are reporting the film is playing to test audiences with the “highest test numbers Harvey Weinstein has ever seen,” but that hardly says anything about its award prospects and since no industry types have seen the film there is nothing more to go by… speculate as you will.
As for the Best Picture race, once again I’ve had to add a newcomer to the list of contenders as my Best Picture predictions now include 23 films with Hugo added to the ranks, debuting at #13, just ahead of The Iron Lady and just behind Jason Reitman‘s Young Adult, which we discussed last week after its knockout Los Angeles debut.
I have also given Shame a slight bump in the race, but other than that movement is minimal. I am still predicting there will be seven nominees (though eight is looking more and more likely) with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close still as my #1 and Steven Spielberg‘s War Horse at #2, followed by five films that have already been seen by the majority of critics, including “already seen” frontrunners The Artist and The Descendants.
I don’t see the buzz from J. Edgar changing much in my Best Actor, Actress, Supporting or Director categories as I only had DiCaprio in for Best Actor where he’s currently ranked #4. I did, however, updated my Original Screenplay category where I previously had Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay getting the final spot over Diablo Cody‘s Young Adult and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Well, that’s changed as Young Adult is now in the top five. You can take a look at those predictions right here.
Just below I have included my current Best Picture predictions and you can browse the full chart right here. And be sure to stay tuned as I will be updating my Best Animated category soon as I have to add Wrinkles as a contender and update those predictions following Friday’s announcement.
And with one final note, I will be seeing The Artist for a second time tomorrow in preparation to hopefully have a chat with writer/director Michel Hazanavicius. If you’d like to join me in preparing for the interview, I will be making sure to watch the director’s previous two films OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117 – Lost in Rio as both are available on Netflix Instant Play.