Mini Oscar fodder reviews: American Hustle and Walter Mitty

mittySo everyone else in the country is now focused on another awards show (go Lorde!), but I have my eyes on the main film related prize – the Oscars. Sure, they may not have as many kooky outfits, talked about musical performances or Kardashians, but they bring the best of the best of the film world together. And that is my kind of party. Two more reviews for you then, one of the front runners (American Hustle) and one of the ‘would have got a nomination if the year wasn’t so stacked with incredible films’ choices (Walter Mitty). Read on!

AMERICAN HUSTLE

I think I knew from the opening (written) sentence that I was going to enjoy this flick. ‘Some of this stuff actually happened’. Way to be honest about the creative license you have taken with some true events. Love it. For those who don’t know, the film is the story of two con-artists – Christian Bale (with a beer belly and TERRIBLE – and I do mean TERRIBLE – comb over) and Amy Adams. They get caught up with an overly zealous (and overly permed) FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) who wants to use them to take down some bigger fish. But he didn’t factor in wild card Jennifer Lawrence – playing Bale’s wife.

At the heart of it this is a con movie – and not an overly original one. We have seen cons before. We have sat there wondering who is conning who and who is going to come out on top. But the things that lift this above others of its ilk – a sensational script (c0-written by director David O Russell) and a cast that are, with no exclusions, all knocking it out of the park. Russell has pulled together his regulars here – Bale and Adams from The Fighter and Cooper and Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook – and he clearly (given the awards love for those two films) knows how to get the best from his people. It is hard to single out who was the best in this film – they are all literally firing on all cylinders. I was probably the most surprised by Bradley Cooper – who didn’t win me over in Silver Linings and who I still thought of as a little bit too pretty to be a good actor. This film well and truly proved me wrong – and some of his comedic moments (especially scenes with his boss – Louis CK) just brought the house down.

So great as well to see meaty female roles for both Adams and Lawrence. Although they were exposing quite a bit of flesh in the process, they played feisty, real, rounded characters – who well and truly drove the plot forward. Lawrence is understandably the It Girl in Hollywood at present – and coming off the back of this and the second Hunger Games – she really can do no wrong. Adams as well steps up here, proving she can bring zing and pizazz with the best of them. Bale and Jeremy Renner also put in great turns – and I do indeed wonder whether that was Renner’s actual hair. I feel like it might of been…

At the end of the day though – some have questioned whether the film itself is worthy of being an Oscar front runner for Best Picture. All I can say is it was a thoroughly enjoyable time at the movies, and if a cast like this don’t get some kind of credit then all is not right with the world. 4 and a half M&Ms from me.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

I should confess something up front – I am a sucker for movies where the main character goes on a real journey. Not necessarily a literal journey (though there was one here) but where you see them transform before your eyes into a better version of themselves. Of course – that happens a lot, but it is the main focus of the The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – hence may be part of the reason why I loved it while others were left a little ‘meh’ about it.

The story is based on a short story – about an insecure, introverted guy who fantasises about amazing experiences but never has them (something I can well and truly relate to). In this adaptation Mitty – played by director Ben Stiller, in a surprisingly low key and nuanced performance – plays a Negative Asset Manager for Life Magazine (basically he looks after the photos submitted by globe trotting photo-journalists). When he learns that Life Magazine is about to publish its final issue – he is entrusted with the task of tracking down the one photo that experienced journo and sort of friend – Sean Penn – wants for the cover. And when Mitty can’t find it, he is forced to step out of his comfort zone. Well and truly.

Add to that Mitty’s massive and unrequited crush on co-worker Kristen Wiig – and you have a journey just waiting to happen. And happen it does – or does it? The fantastical elements of this film – which are superbly realised by the cinematographer Stuart Dryberg – mean you well and truly go on a journey with Mitty – and are rooting for him to win, whatever winning might look like.

With Stiller on exceptional form (even for those who normally find him annoying), he is ably supported by the excellent and slightly kooky Kristen Wiig, the arseholly (here but not in general) Adam Scott – and Penn as the enigmatic journo. The locations also play a role themselves – with Iceland in particular getting some lovely screen time. One irksome thing though – which my friend Kathryn picked up – they sub in Iceland for Greenland at one point, which anyone who has ever been to Reykjavik (like me) will recognise. However, they are counting on the fact that not many people have – so you will probably be ok with it (except now I told you…oops!). That aside though, the locations are used to excellent effect and just jump off the screen.

I will admit this can be a little twee and trite at times, and anyone of a cynical nature will be left unmoved, but if you allow yourself to go on this journey with Walter you will be well and truly rewarded. Four M&Ms from me.

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