Monday, January 30, 2012

18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Award Winners


"The Help" dominated last night's 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, and doesn't it make perfect sense? It was a film domineered by great actresses giving deservedly great performances. It ended up taking home three SAG awards including the top prize of Best Ensemble. Though it may seem like it, this last win for "The Help" doesn't bolster its Best Picture win chances at the Oscars.

All of the acting categories are locks now except one. Viola Davis for "The Help" won for Best Actress, Octavia Spencer also for "The Help" won Best Supporting Actress and Christopher Plummer took home Best Supporting Actor for "Beginners." All of these will be repeated at the Oscars.

The only one that's up in the air now is whether Jean Dujardin for "The Artist" or George Clooney for "The Descendants" will take home the Best Actor prize. With Dujardin's SAG win last night, it looks to be the latter because these awards truly are the best predictor for the acting categories. I could see the Academy showing their love of "The Artist" by giving the win to Dujardin although Clooney seems to be the current front-runner.

Check here for a full list of winners from the 18th Annual SAG Awards.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

84th Annual Academy Award Nominations


It's as if the Academy knew we became tired of being able to predict all the nominations because this year things are definitely shaken up. The announcement this morning for the 84th Annual Academy Award nominations provided a hefty number of surprises most notably when the Best Picture nominee title cards flipped over to show a symmetrical eight...and then a ninth. So there you have it: the first year not five, not ten, but nine films have been nominated for Best Picture.

The only thing not surprising was "Hugo" leading the nominations with 11 closely followed by "The Artist" with ten, then "Moneyball" and "War Horse" tied at six, "The Descendants" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" tied at five and finally "The Help" with four.

The biggest surprise of the morning goes to "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" which was originally thought to be left out of the race. Instead, it was the ninth nominee to be included for Best Picture along with "The Artist," "The Descendants," "The Help," "Midnight in Paris," "Hugo," "War Horse," and yes, "The Tree of Life" got recognized.

Best Director paired these nominees down to which ones really matter and included Martin Scorsese for "Hugo," Michel Hazanavicius for "The Artist," Alexander Payne for "The Descendants," Woody Allen for "Midnight in Paris" and Terrence Malick for "The Tree of Life" who clearly won over Steven Spielberg for "War Horse."

The renewed love for "Tree of Life" should come as no surprise, but it did seem like it might had been forgotten considering previous award show proceedings.

Every acting category but one provided a surprise. Let's start with the not-surprise of Best Supporting Actress which went to Janet McTeer for "Albert Nobbs," Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer for "The Help," Berenice Bejo for "The Artist" and yes, Melissa McCarthy for "Bridesmaids." I'm ecstatic about McCarthy's nod but equally upset over the snub for Shailene Woodley in "The Descendants."

Now for the surprises. In Best Actress, Rooney Mara for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" managed to edge out Tilda Swinton for "We Need to Talk About Kevin," a switch that I'm absolutely thrilled with. With Mara were the expected nominees of Viola Davis for "The Help," Glenn Close for "Albert Nobbs," Michelle Williams for "My Week with Marilyn" and Meryl Streep for "The Iron Lady." It's between Streep and Davis for taking this win.

The Best Actor category included not Leonardo DiCaprio for "J. Edgar" nor Michael Fassbender for "Shame" but instead accompanying the expected George Clooney for "The Descendants," Jean Dujardin for "The Artist" and Brad Pitt for "Moneyball" were the surprises of Gary Oldman for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and Demian Bichir for "A Better Life."

The Best Supporting Actor category gave "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" its second nomination, this time for veteran Max von Sydow. Joining him were the front-runner Christopher Plummer for "Beginners," Jonah Hill for "Moneyball," Kenneth Branagh for "My Week with Marilyn" and Nick Nolte for "Warrior." The fact that trailers can now proclaim Academy Award-nominated Jonah Hill still baffles me.

What about Albert Brooks for "Drive," you ask? Well, much like the rest of the film he got snubbed. "Drive" walked away with only one nomination -- for Sound Editing. It's a shame it couldn't even land a Best Cinematography nod.

The Animated Feature category made absolutely no sense to probably everybody. With nominees like "A Cat in Paris" and "Chico & Rita," it left people scratching their heads. No "Adventures of Tintin" to be found. "Kung Fu Panda 2" made it in along with "Puss in Boots" next to the front-runner "Rango." Except perhaps "Rango" is no longer the front-runner maybe replaced by one of the unknowns from abroad. "Cars 2" getting shut out marks the first time a Pixar movie has not been nominated. That's what you get for selling out.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" got ignored over Best Score nominees "The Adventures of Tintin," "The Artist," "Hugo," "Tinker Tailor Solder Spy" and "War Horse."

"Dragon Tattoo" made up for it in other technical categories, however, including Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Film Editing and Cinematography.

Although it deserved much more, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" made its appearance in the usual "Harry Potter"-nominated categories including Best Makeup, Art Direction and Visual Effects.

And what of the Best Original Song nominees? Only two? And the song nominated from the "Muppets" was "Man or Muppet?" The other nominee went to "Real in Rio" from the not-nominated animated feature "Rio." At least it could supposedly make for a shorter ceremony without as many performances.

The Best Adapted Screenplay nominees included "The Descendants," "Hugo," "Moneyball" and the surprises of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and even "The Ides of March."

"Bridesmaids" represented comedy at the nominations this year with its Best Original Screenplay nod alongside "Margin Call," "The Artist," "Midnight in Paris," and finally, the foreign language "A Separation" which leads in its Best Foreign Language Film category.

So what can we take away from all of this? The Academy decided to sufficiently surprise us this year without really throwing a wrench in the whole thing. Yes, the "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" Best Picture nomination will cause an uproar if it hasn't already (I, for one, am over the moon about it). And yes, the re-emerged love for "The Tree of Life" is welcome to many. Still, though, "The Artist" will be the prize winner of the night come time for Oscar Sunday. The nominations may be switched up, but the winners remain the same.

It's the last stop, everybody! Tune in for the 84th Annual Academy Award ceremony on Sunday, February 26 at 8 p.m. on ABC. And check here for a full list of the Oscar nominations.

Monday, January 23, 2012

84th Annual Academy Award Nomination Predictions


Here I'll be predicting all the major categories for the 84th Annual Academy Award nominations which get announced tomorrow morning!


Best Picture
1. The Artist
2. The Descendants
3. Hugo
4. The Help
5. Midnight in Paris
6. War Horse
7. Moneyball

I predict there will be seven nominees, but here's the rest if it gets expanded to ten:

8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
9. Bridesmaids
10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Best Director
1. Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"
2. Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"
3. Alexander Payne, "The Descendants"
4. Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"
5. Steven Spielberg, "War Horse"

Best Actor
1. Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
2. George Clooney, "The Descendants"
3. Brad Pitt, "Moneyball"
4. Leonardo DiCaprio, "J. Edgar"
5. Michael Fassbender, "Shame"

Best Actress
1. Viola Davis, "The Help"
2. Michelle Williams, "My Week with Marilyn"
3. Tilda Swinton, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
4. Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"
5. Glenn Close, "Albert Nobbs"

Best Supporting Actress
1. Berenice Bejo, "The Artist"
2. Octavia Spencer, "The Help"
3. Jessica Chastain, "The Help
4. Melissa McCarthy, "Bridesmaids"
5. Shailene Woodley, "The Descendants"

Best Supporting Actor
1. Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"
2. Albert Brooks, "Drive"
3. Kenneth Branagh, "My Week with Marilyn"
4. Nick Nolte, "Warrior"
5. Jonah Hill, "Moneyball"

Best Original Screenplay
1. 50/50
2. Midnight in Paris
3. The Artist
4. Bridesmaids
5. Beginners

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. Moneyball
2. The Descendants
3. Hugo
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
5. The Help

EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE Review


I don't understand all the criticism toward Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." We need to get past it being another movie about 9/11. Yes, it takes place directly after what young Oskar calls "the worst day," but the movie is about much more than that specific tragedy in our history. It's about how people cope with tragedy in general, how to deal with loss and grief -- and yes, in this example, how to view a city after such devastation. In that, Daldry succeeds in crafting something memorable. Through tricks in cinematography and vibrant art direction, he creates an original portrait of New York City. From the sights and sounds that disturb the rapid senses of Oskar to a miniature photography technique that makes the city look like a toyland, the movie is bravely quirky. This doesn't serve as a hindrance to the very human story at its center but instead wonderfully matches the quirkiness of Jonathan Safran Foer's 2005 bestselling novel upon which the movie is based.

The biggest gamble was deciding who to cast as the precocious young boy, Oskar Schell. It's an unusual role that must carry the whole movie, and thankfully Thomas Horn absolutely does the job. The 14-year-old newcomer is a powerhouse getting inside the whirling head of Oskar with ease. He's perhaps autistic, could have Asperger's syndrome, but he's crazy intelligent and knows facts on just about anything. He's inspired by his inventive father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), who fuels his son's imagination with what they call reconnaissance expeditions. He urges Oskar out of his comfort zone, out of his phobia of going into the world to talk to people. The remarkable young actor dominates every scene showing Oskar as insufferable, erratic, eccentric and tiresome spouting off crazed rants.

After his father is killed in 9/11, Oskar comes across a key in his untouched closet and immediately becomes obsessed with it. He believes his father left the key for him so he could find the lock that it opens. The key came in an envelope with the name "Black" scribbled on it, and so Oskar concocts his own expedition to journey all across the city finding every person with that last name. While Oskar goes out every day on his venture, there's a rift between him and his mother (Sandra Bullock) because it's clear who he was closer with. This makes it increasingly difficult for his mother, and the explosive fights between them are gut-wrenching.

Oskar's first stop on his journey ends up leaving the most lasting impression. He knocks on the door of Abby Black (Viola Davis) who lets him inside and hears his story. She tries her best to help him but doesn't know what to do. Oskar's social skills don't even allow him to realize he's witnessing a marital crisis between Abby and her husband (Jeffrey Wright). Davis and Wright are superb here in subtle implication.

Oskar soon makes a friend, a mysterious old man referred to only as the Renter (Max von Sydow). He has moved in with Oskar's grandmother, cannot or will not speak, communicates only through the words "yes" and "no" tattooed on his palms or through written notes and has agreed to help Oskar find the lock. He is a reassuring companion for Oskar much like his father was. Von Sydow is brilliant even while wordless with soulful gazes and sly gestures that bring a wealth of meaning.

If Oskar's journey sounds preposterous, that's because it probably is. In that sense it plays a bit like a fairy tale, and maybe that's not the whimsical approach people want to the 9/11 tragedy. For me, it wins by wearing symbolism on its sleeve finding the key to unlocking the answer as to why anything cruel or irrational happens in the world. Best of all, among all the heartbreaking and intimate exchanges, it ends on an uplifting spirit, one of hope and rejuvenation. That's a fine message for over a decade later.

Monday, January 16, 2012

69th Annual Golden Globe Award Winners


I guess when Ricky Gervais was surprisingly invited back to host the Golden Globes, it was under the condition that he would do his opening monologue and then disappear for the rest of the evening -- because that's exactly what happened. His opening zingers were actually great and not too harsh or cynical like last year. Bashes toward Kim Kardashian were a must, and Gervais was smart about knocking the HFPA itself as opposed to his celebrity spectators.

A quick hit on first presenter Johnny Depp was perfect allowing Gervais to pick up right where he left off last year. "Have you seen 'The Tourist' yet?" he asked Depp.

And then he jabbed, "The Golden Globes are just like the Oscars but without all the esteem." It also was two-and-a-half hours before he got bleeped, and that was right around the time Meryl Streep warranted herself a bleep. Penis jokes were aplenty most notably during George Clooney's speech when he gave a shout out to Michael Fassbender's full nudity in "Shame."

It was nice that the evening didn't feel entirely all about "The Artist," although it's still the one to beat at the Oscars. Instead, Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" closed out the night with a win for Best Picture Drama. "The Artist," however, still led a total number of wins at three followed by "The Descendants" with two.

"The Artist" took home awards for Best Score, Best Picture Comedy or Musical and Best Actor Comedy or Musical for Jean Dujardin. It only made sense for Dujardin to win in his category because all of his actor competition landed their nominations under Drama. This included George Clooney who won Best Actor Drama for "The Descendants." He's now the one to beat at the Oscars, and Dujardin is his closest competition.

The love was pretty widespread including a Best Director win for Martin Scorsese ("Hugo") over Michel Hazanavicius for "The Artist." Meanwhile Woody Allen took home the award for Best Adapted Screenplay ("Midnight In Paris"). For whatever reason, "The Adventures of Tintin" won over "Rango" for Best Animated Feature perhaps to get Steven Spielberg up on the stage.

The other surprise of the night was Meryl Streep for "The Iron Lady" winning Best Actress Drama over Viola Davis for "The Help." I still believe Davis is the front-runner for the Oscar, however. Streep gave a blind speech having lost her glasses. George Clooney made an attempt to pass them up, and they made it to David Fincher...and stayed there. Perhaps it was his anger toward Streep for winning over Rooney Mara.

Wins for Octavia Spencer for "The Help" and Christopher Plummer for "Beginners" further cemented them as the clear front-runners in their respective Best Supporting categories at the Oscars. Spencer's speech was exceptionally moving and timely touching on the MLK holiday.

Morgan Freeman received his tribute with the Cecil B. DeMille award, and everyone was disappointed when he didn't do the voiceover for his own career montage. Helen Mirren also managed to make a drunken fool of herself introducing him.

So it comes down to "The Artist" and "The Descendants" over what's going to nab the top prize at the Oscars. The former is still the clear leader, but last night's wins for the latter pushes up its potential.

Check here for a full list of the 69th Annual Golden Globe Award winners, and stay tuned for the announcement of the 84th Annual Academy Award nominations on Tuesday, January 24.

Friday, January 13, 2012

17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Award Winners


While the award show itself was painful to sit through to say the least, the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards did a fine job of attempting to exactly mirror who we'll see winning at the Oscars come February. This year they'll probably do an even better job than the Golden Globes this Sunday which gets a hindrance due to its, for once, distracting Drama/Comedy division of awards.

Although "The Artist" began its fast track to Oscar gold with wins for Best Director and Picture, in my opinion the big winner of the night was definitely "The Help" with wins for Octavia Spencer in Best Supporting Actress, Viola Davis in Best Actress and the entire cast for Best Ensemble. And speaking of Viola Davis, her eloquent and beautiful speech single-handedly revived an otherwise stale evening. Her speech alone makes her worthy of an Oscar acceptance.

In terms of acting, the surest lock of them all is the Best Supporting Actor category which went to Christopher Plummer for "Beginners." It is, however, a safe bet to say Davis and Spencer could pave the way to Oscar with their respective wins, as well. Best Actor went to George Clooney for "The Descendants." His win is definitely still up in the air as he could get overshadowed by Brad Pitt for "Moneyball," his highest competition.

Aaron Sorkin proved unstoppable with his win for "Moneyball" in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. Likewise, for having not made an award-worthy movie in years, it only made sense that Woody Allen took home the award for his "Midnight in Paris" in the category of Best Original Screenplay. It's interesting to note both of these writing wins over "The Descendants" in adapted and "The Artist" in original.

And while "The Artist" didn't show at all for acting or writing, it still nabbed the two top prizes. With these wins tonight, it's on the fast track to taking the same top awards at the Oscars.

Now let's see how things turn out at the 69th Annual Golden Globes this Sunday.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Best Films of 2011








It was a year that started out slow but gained last-minute momentum come time for December. Before that, though, was summer which gave us welcome surprise hits such as "Crazy, Stupid, Love." and "The Help" along with the best comedy of the year, "Bridesmaids."

It was also a year reflecting on the magic of cinema. J.J. Abrams' "Super 8" reminisced about the old Amblin films of Steven Spielberg, and then the year closed out with a reverie to old-fashioned filmmaking from the director himself with "War Horse." Martin Scorsese directed his first children's film, "Hugo," but it was really only under the guise of a children's film. More a reflection on cinema's early history, his film merely skirted the surface of what Michel Hazanivicius' glorious black and white silent film achieved with "The Artist." A gimmick gone right.

And then there's Alexander Payne who, after seven years, gave us a rare treat starring George Clooney. It was certainly his and Ryan Gosling's year with Gosling's turns in "Drive," "Crazy, Stupid, Love." and the Clooney-directed "Ides of March." It was also a year of girl power with strong female casts in both "Bridesmaids" and "The Help" not to mention an American reincarnation of power hacker Lisbeth Salander from Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."


12. The Help

With excellent performances from both Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis, this tale of black maids in the Deep South hit all the right notes. It stands as the year's crowd-pleaser striking a balance between light humor and poignant pathos following the heartfelt narration of a maid named Abigail. What's most impressive is the way the movie effortlessly breaks the bounds of its Oprah book club wrapping.

11. My Week with Marilyn

The film's obvious centerpiece is an Oscar-worthy lead performance from Michelle Williams as the iconic screen goddess Marilyn Monroe. She is absolutely magnetic and luminous taking the smart route of not trying to figure out who Monroe was but rather emanating everything she was about -- the way she made people feel to be around her. And the film's power is the way it makes you feel what they must've felt.

10. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher returns to gritty crime noir with his adaptation of the first entry in Stieg Larsson's international best-selling "Millenium" trilogy. And while not any better or worse than the Swedish adaptation from last year, what makes it different is Fincher putting his personal stamp on it. He infuses the dark, winding tale with his signature style that gives the film a feel all its own. And Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander? She's dynamite and reaches into complexities of the character even Noomi Rapace didn't manage.

9. Beginners

Providing the most honest screen romance this year, Ewan McGregor and Mélane Laurent are a couple trying to figure out what makes them both happy. Writer/director Mike Mills has total control over the tone of his film with the ability to introduce a talking dog without disrupting any realism set in place. And with a stand-out performance from Christopher Plummer as the main character's late-blooming gay father, the film hits you with a waft of poignancy.


8. The Muppets

The cheerful and colorful reunion of Jim Hansen's Muppets was the perfect movie for the times, the ideal pick-me-up that everybody didn't even know they needed -- that is until they went out to see it. With glowing and bubbly performances from Jason Segel and Amy Adams and an unabashed love for the Muppets from Segel who co-wrote the movie, it was the feel-good sensation of 2011. It marked a return to simplicity, the joy of watching song and dance. And with a slew of big celebrity cameos, the movie felt like a collaboration on something meaningful and inspirational -- more than you might ever imagine coming from a gang of puppets.


7. Crazy, Stupid, Love.

The chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in one titular scene in this movie is enough to make the list. This movie marked Ryan Gosling as not only a valuable actor but one with a great knack for comedy, too. He's excellent with Emma Stone, and likewise Steve Carell and Julianne Moore shine as a married couple on the outs. The movie is unassuming about the level of depth it goes into analyzing contemporary relationships, and it came off as the biggest welcome surprise of the summer.


6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Childhood ended with the finale to J.K. Rowling's epic fantasy franchise in Steve Klove's visually thrilling and emotionally satisfying conclusion. Set up nicely with the dark rolling clouds of "Part 1," Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint grew into mature actors since their humble beginnings a decade ago providing the necessary weight to say farewell to our favorite Hogwarts students. Alan Rickman also deserves recognition for his long standing role as Severus Snape whose character comes to tragic full circle in this installment. The film rightly represents the vast accomplishment of the Harry Potter series as a whole.


5. Young Adult

The re-collaboration with screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman proves their previous film "Juno" was no fluke. This pitch black comedy about a disgruntled woman returning to her high school hometown to rekindle with an old flame might be cringe-inducing, but it's also truthful and smart entertainment breaking conventions of Hollywood storytelling. Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary gives a ferocious and raw performance as a completely unlikable protagonist who, amazingly enough, earns our sympathy. Patton Oswalt gives an equally effective performance as the guy who recognizes Mavis is crazy but also knows she's just as miserable as him even if she doesn't realize it.


4. The Artist

What could've come off as merely a gimmick becomes so much more than that. Michel Hazanavicius' tribute to black and white silent cinema is also a tribute to the universality of film. It feels like something kept preserved in a time capsule with performances from French actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo that are genuine to the era. It's a rousing achievement both thematically and technically reminding audiences that there's so much value to be garnered from film no matter if it's without words or color.


3. Drive

Again defining 2011 as the year of Ryan Gosling, this slow-burning character study starring Gosling as a nameless getaway driver was powerful stuff. With a sleek and subdued European sentiment from filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, the film creeps along hauntingly with Gosling's impenetrable calm at its center and a menacing turn from Albert Brooks as a cold-blooded villain. The film is a carefully crafted beast, a moody and gradual escalation with hyper-violent and ultra-stylized eruptions fueling its engine.


2. Bridesmaids

"Bridesmaids" is hands-down the best comedy of the year. More than just the female "Hangover," the movie marked a turning point in modern comedies. The hilarious and bold comedy from director Paul Feig, actress/writer Kristen Wiig and her co-writer Annie Mumolo shows us women can be drunk, insecure, vulgar and pathetic not like men but like women. It's a triumph in equality and entertainment both sexes can easily embrace. Full of embarrassing outbursts, lavish gross-out toilet humor and a star-making turn from Melissa McCarthy, the movie is easily among the very best of the year.


1. The Descendants

It took him seven years, but writer/director Alexander Payne returned with another great piece of American filmmaking with signature Payne-ian style √† la "Sideways." It's a miracle how effortlessly Payne captures the messiness of life performing a carefully choreographed balancing act between sharp comedy and shattering drama. He uses the exotic island location of Hawaii not to promote it as a tourist hot spot but instead what it really is: just another place to live. George Clooney in the leading role gives his best performance to date. Throwing away his usual charming demeanor, he displays a father struggling to keep his family from falling apart. Shailene Woodley is a revelation as the oldest daughter sporting typical teen angst with something a little deeper and soulful. What makes this film the best of the year is its bittersweet message not only acknowledging flaws in humanity but celebrating them because we've all got them.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

WAR HORSE Review


Steven Spielberg sure knows how to lay it on thick. "War Horse" is unabashedly old-fashioned filmmaking and makes a bold announcement of being such. It's a Spielbergian film through and through with no room for understatement. John Williams' bombastic score and Janusz Kaminski's lush cinematography know exactly what they're going for. Technically speaking, the movie is the epitome of perfection. Spielberg is a master of the craft and knows how to tug on the heartstrings and jerk some tears. I, however, don't like to be yanked on for an emotional response. Spielberg and his team certainly know how to solicit those responses, but they don't disguise their technique one bit. All of the components are there, but it's too obviously manufactured and labels the film as what it might really be -- Oscar-mongering.

Adapted from the London stage play, it's the tale of a boy who raises a horse, loses him in the dawn of World War I and yearns for his return. We begin on a quaint farm where a drunkard farmer (Peter Mullan) bid on a race horse he thought could be turned into a plow horse. He brings the horse home to his infuriated wife (Emily Watson) who believes because of her husband's stupid actions they'll lose everything. Their teenage son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), however, has faith in the new horse. He raises the horse as his own, names him Joey and strives to protect him from harm. Desperate for money, Albert's father sells Joey to the war effort and so begins our episodic journey following this noble steed.

From its initial setup, the film is painterly, picturesque, and every shot is established like a fine portrait. This carries through into the war sequences which are eloquently shot against the carnage. Each sequence following Joey's departure into the war front plays out like an individual vignette giving the film a disjointed feeling with drastic tonal shifts. But two instances stand out among the rest. One is when a French farm girl (Celine Buckens) comes into possession of Joey with her elderly grandfather (Niels Arestrup), and the other is when an English and German soldier call a truce to help Joey who's entangled in barbed wire. Separate moments such as these work wonders but struggle in aiding to the cohesiveness of the picture as a whole.

A detachment occurs once Joey leaves the farm, a detachment from any central character to anchor the narrative -- no, the horse doesn't count. Even Jeremy Irvine as Albert is absent for too long to give us the emotional connection we need, the tether that keeps us rooting for Joey to find his way back to his beloved owner. But boy, Spielberg sure does try to make that connection in any way he can with overbearingly beautiful skies and landscapes, heroic angles and spot-on musical cues, all which still can't make up for a dramatic flatness.

And for all this negativity toward "War Horse," it's still fine entertainment. It's just all too obviously constructed and drenched in sentimentality using every aesthetic approach in the book. It's too bad the narrative isn't allowed to more openly and organically speak for itself instead of slamming us with trite schmaltz. The story instead lives behind a shielded coating of gloss not allowing us to become truly invested as much as Spielberg clearly thinks we should.