Millions of people visit the box office as part of their annual holiday tradition. As families celebrate their time off, it is no surprise that filmmakers gun for the coveted Christmas release date. Moreover, the holiday season is typically a springboard for many contenders at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. Below is my take on three films that I saw over the break.
American Hustle ★★★★ (4/4)
American Hustle is an invigorating film that blends the nostalgia of Goodfellas with the frenetic excitement of Pulp Fiction. Based on a true story, the film depicts the FBI’s ABSCAM operation of the late 1970s, which sought to mitigate government corruption. Two veteran con artists (played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams) are coerced by an ambitious FBI agent (played by Bradley Cooper) into assisting with the sting operation. Despite the rather complex plot, the movie dazzles the audience with an array of stellar performances that ultimately culminates in a hysterical and unexpected ending.
American Hustle will undoubtedly be a formidable force at the upcoming Academy Awards in March. In addition to accumulating nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, the film will be strongly represented in all four acting categories. Unfortunately, Jeremy Renner’s exceptional portrayal of the mayor of Atlantic City has been snubbed by the Oscars in favor of Bradley Cooper’s performance.
American Hustle reminds us all that at its core, the United States is a vast land of opportunity where individualistic drives and expertise are the determinants of success – regardless of their chosen field. Watch the trailer here!
The Wolf of Wall Street ★★★ (3/4)
On paper this film is a surefire classic that fulfills the criteria for a cinematic triple crown. It has a top tier lead actor in Leonardo DiCaprio, a world-class director in Martin Scorsese, and an exceptional screenwriter in Terence Winter (writer for The Sopranos & Boardwalk Empire). What should be a front-runner at the Academy Awards is nothing more than a vivid biopic of Wall Street bad boy Jordan Belfort. The abundance of graphic sexual material and drug use might offend some audiences and prevent many from taking the film seriously. Regardless, DiCaprio and his costar with Jonah Hill make the film worthwhile with their exceptional performances (both have earned Oscar nominations).
While I can appreciate that the film stays relatively true to the book of the same name, I wish Scorsese would have utilized his creative license as director. There is no overarching message regarding the temptations of greed or the dangers of corruption. The film unfortunately becomes a little too predictable and is essentially just a raucous, obscene remake of the 1987 classic Wall Street. Having said that, it is refreshing to see a Hollywood film that is unafraid to baffle the audience with endless jaw-dropping moments. While certainly the antithesis of a holiday film, The Wolf of Wall Street is a visually stunning concoction of sheer chaos that is sinfully enjoyable. Watch the trailer here!
Lone Survivor ★★★★ (4/4)
Lone Survivor is a raw, uncensored film that depicts a 2005 Navy SEAL mission known as Operation Red Wings. Based on the book of the same name by former SEAL Marcus Luttrell, the movie provides a harrowing account of one of the deadliest days in SEAL history. Luttrell (portrayed by Mark Wahlberg) and his team (consisting of three fellow SEALs) are sent to the mountainous Hindu Kush of northern Afghanistan to track down a ruthless Taliban leader responsible for the deaths of numerous U.S. Marines.
After encountering a group of goat herders, the SEALs are faced with an ethical dilemma: kill the herders and proceed with the mission, or release them and almost certainly have their positions exposed. Luttrell, along with team leader Michael Murphy (who received the Medal of Honor for his heroism), cast the deciding votes for the latter. As expected, the SEALs’ positions are compromised and they are immediately outnumbered by Taliban forces. Luttrell is the sole survivor of the firefight, only after being sheltered by a local Pashtun tribesman who protects him as part of a centuries-old tradition that mandates hospitality.
While Lone Survivor portrays war in an unrelenting, graphic manner reminiscent of the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, it also reflects considerably upon the brotherhood shared among soldiers, an element also found in Black Hawk Down. Some in the liberal media have unfortunately slammed this film as inflammatory and advocating the killing of civilians. The movie indeed delivers a rather damning, yet seemingly justified, condemnation of the rules of engagement, which Luttrell identifies in his book as the unequivocal cause of his teammates’ deaths. At its core, Lone Survivor is a heart-wrenching tribute to the SEALs who died that day, reminding us all of the immense sacrifice that our veterans make to preserve our freedoms. Watch the trailer here!