Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” stands as possibly the year’s most entertaining film as well as the most harrowing. Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a slave enlisted by the German dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Once Django helps his employer terminate three murderers, Schultz aids his manservant-turned-partner in rescuing the now-freed man’s enslaved wife (Kerry Washington), held captivity by the brutal plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). The film boasts top-notch acting across the board. “Django’s” powerful treatment of the horrors of slavery on a level not seen in recent years and cements the film’s status as a grand achievement in 2012 cinema. Tarantino’s self-authored screenplay sports hilarious and crisp dialogue, warranting his nomination and possible win in the Best Original Screenplay category. In the end, “Django Unchained’s” bloody whirlwind of a plot is one you can be sure you’ll never forget.
Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables” proves a highly overrated and flawed film that fails to bring anything new to its long celebrated source material. Based on Claude-Michel Schönberg’s musical and for the most part preserving its “sung-through” format, the film stars a brilliant Hugh Jackman as Jean Valijean, a French convict who breaks parole and transforms himself into a highly respected citizen. He seeks to fulfill Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of dying prostitute Fantine’s last wish while evading capture by the vengeful and suspecting policeman Javert (a miscast Russell Crowe). “Les Misérables” suffers from the inadequate singing of its cast; the fact that actors’ vocals were recorded live on set results in a far less pleasant viewing experience. The film proves even more unsuccessful, however, with the staging of its theatrical set pieces. A thousand close-ups and cuts do not make for an effectively produced musical. In the end, “Les Misérables” serves as the biggest cinematic disappointment of the holiday season and one that surely does not qualify as essential viewing.
“Zero Dark Thirty”
Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” written by her “Hurt Locker” collaborator Mark Boal, stands as perhaps the most suspenseful political thriller released not only in this year, but also in this decade so far. Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, a CIA operative tasked over the course of a decade with accurately locating al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. While the outcome of the climactic raid sequence is predictable, the Navy SEALs’ trek into the pitch black compound remains all the more tension filled through the sheer power of Bigelow’s filmmaking. The fact she was not nominated for a Best Director Oscar stands as a reprehensible travesty on the part of the Academy. In the end, “Zero Dark Thirty” proves itself to be the awards season’s most essential viewing, and one that stands far superior to all the other nominees for Best Motion Picture.