They walk out of the embassy and into history: Argo (2012).

They walk out of the embassy and into history: Argo (2012).

The 85th annual Academy Awards, for the film year 2012.  The nominations were announced on 10 January 2013 and the awards were held on 24 February 2013.

Best Picture:  Argo

  • Lincoln
  • Les Misérables
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • Django Unchained
  • Amour
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Life of Pi
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild

Most Surprising Omission:  Moonrise Kingdom

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  Anna Karenina

Rank (out of 85) Among Best Picture Years:  #16

The Race:

3 December  –  The New York Film Critics really begin the Oscar season, awarding Best Picture and Director to Zero Dark Thirty.

5 December  –  The National Board of Review concurs, also giving Best Picture and Director to Zero Dark Thirty, an interesting move, since the NBR was the only group that didn’t give Best Picture and Director to Hurt Locker.

9 December  –  More critics groups chiming in.  The LA Film Critics either shape up the race or decide to make themselves irrelevant by giving Best Picture to Amour.  But their love for The Master shows strongly – it wins Director, Actor, Supporting Actress and Production Design, while coming in 2nd for Picture, Cinematography and Score.  But the Boston Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online both give their Picture and Director to Zero Dark Thirty.

11 December  –  The Broadcast Film Critics, the single most reliable indicator of an Oscar nomination releases their nominations.  Since the BFCA started having 10 nominees in 1996, only six films have received Best Picture nominations at the Oscars without a BFCA nomination, and in 2011 all 9 films had earned BFCA noms first.  So, the 10 films with the best chance of earning Oscar noms are: Lincoln, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty (all six of which are also nominated for Director), The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, Django Unchained (all nominated for Screenplay) and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

12 December  –  The SAG nominations aren’t a great indicator of Best Picture since they don’t have an actual Best Picture category.  But, since every Best Picture winner since 1995 has been nominated and since at least 4 nominees have earned BP Oscar noms, it is a good indicator.  So, this is bad news for a Best Picture win for Zero Dark Thirty (not nominated), and while Lincoln, Argo, Les Mis and Silver Linings were already well established in the Oscar race, this is a big boost for Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

13 December  –  The Golden Globes are announced and the big winner is Django Unchained.  Lincoln ends up with the most nominations (7), but Django, with Picture, Director and Screenplay noms is the one that needed the help the most.  Also in the Picture, Director and Screenplay races are Argo and Zero Dark Thirty while Life of Pi earns Picture and Director noms.  None of the Best Picture – Comedy / Musical films earn Director nominations, but with 4 noms each, Les Mis and Silver Linings (which also got Screenplay) are still in good shape.  Moonrise Kingdom and Best Exotic also earn Picture – Comedy noms, which helps them.  Films that are not helped are The Master (having only earned one SAG nom and getting nothing but acting here) and Beasts of the Southern Wild (no noms at all).

State of the Race – 16 December  –  From here, there is a long gap before there are any more awards or nominations.  So, at this points, it looks to me like Lincoln, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are locks for Picture, Director and Screenplay.  Les Misérables, Silver Linings Playbook and Life of Pi are solid for Picture, with a bit more of a question for Director, and Les Mis probably out of Screenplay.  That leaves the other films still in solid contention as Django Unchained and Moonrise Kingdom with Best Exotic Marigold Hotel moving up and The Master and Beasts of the Southern Wild in more questionable shape.  And all five of those films will hinge on how many nominees there are.

1 January  –  Now box office might come into play.  Argo and Lincoln have both made well over $100 million with Les Mis headed there.  But Zero isn’t coming out nationwide until the day after the nominations, so we’ll have to see what happens there.

2 January  –  Some interesting stuff.  First, come the PGA noms, and it’s a familiar bunch.  The only difference between the PGA and the BFCA is that Skyfall is in and The Master is out.  This could be a killer for The Master, with little guild support and not enough from the Globes.  But this might not mean too much for SkyfallStar Trek got in with the PGA in 2009 to no avail.  Also, Zero Dark Thirty will apparently open early, at least in Chicago and Boston, coming this Friday.

State of the Race  –  3 January  –  The day before the WGA noms, which might not alter things much.  Beasts and Django aren’t eligible.  My guess right now is that if the Academy goes with 7, Beasts and Moonrise are both out, if they go with 8, Moonrise will be in and if they go with 9, Beasts will be in.  I’ll be pretty surprised next Thursday if any other film makes it in.

4 January  –  Well, The Master got a much needed boost with a WGA nom.  Other than that, it doesn’t change much.  The major players are in (Argo, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Silver Linings, Zero Dark Thirty, Moonrise Kingdom).  There are no big contenders who were eligible and failed to be nominated.

5 January  –  The National Society of Film Critics, the last of the major film critics and the most eccentric, go.  They go with Amour for Best Picture and Best Director.  Could this give Amour enough to get into the race?  If so, would it displace something or make it a 10 film ballot?

8 January  –  The Directors Guild gives out their nominations.  There’s not much in the way of surprises – Ben Affleck (Argo), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and Tom Hooper (Les Miserables).  That Affleck is the only nominee who hasn’t already won the award in the past is part of my trivia here.  This makes it now quite difficult for Tarantino or Russell to earn a Best Director nomination.

9 January  –  With one day left to the nominations the BAFTAs have their turn.  They give Best Picture nominations to the five strongest contenders – Lincoln (10 noms), Les Mis (9), Zero Dark Thirty (5), Argo (7) and Life of Pi (9).  But in a very odd choice they leave out not only Hooper, but also Spielberg.  But with no earlier longlist, its doubtful if this impacts the Oscar nominations themselves.

The Results:  With 12 nominations, Lincoln is the expected leader in noms.  And we have pretty much my expected lineup (with a lot of trivia here).  Amour gets into the race and with only 9 films it is in fact Moonrise Kingdom that is out of the race.  But the big news isn’t the nominees for Picture, which are pretty much what many expected.  It’s in the Best Director race, where Hooper, surprisingly, Affleck, and even more surprisingly Bigelow are out.  And Tarantino isn’t replacing one of them.  It’s Russell who is, followed by Michael Haneke (Amour), and an even bigger shocker, Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).  The bouncing of Bigelow for Zeitlin is certainly the biggest Best Director shock since at least 1995 if not the biggest in my lifetime.  It means that in spite of 8 nominations for Les Mis and 7 for Argo that Lincoln seems like an unstoppable juggernaut.  But, things are very different this year since the nominations were before most awards have been given out, unlike in previous years.  Tonight, 10 Jan, also has the BFCA and we’ll see what Lincoln, which set a new record for nominations, manages to do.  But Life of Pi (11 noms) and Silver Linings Playbook, which earned 8 noms and is the first film in 31 years to earn nominations in the big 7 categories, seem to be the main competition for Lincoln now.

10 January (late)  –  So how did the BFCA react?  By voting Argo Best Picture and Best Director.  And since the votes were due before the Oscar announcement it clearly can’t be a reaction to the nominations.  But it leaves it a bit more up in the air as to what might actually happen.  Could a film without a Best Director nomination win Best Picture for only the second time in the last 80 years?

13 January  –  And the Golden Globes?  Well, they went with Les Misérables, as could have been predicted.  But they followed the BFCA lead and gave Argo Best Picture and Best Director.  They didn’t even throw Lincoln the bone of Best Screenplay, instead handing that to Tarantino for Django.

20 January  –  Will box office matter in this period when there are no other awards to come into play?  The next big thing isn’t until the PGA announces their winner next Saturday.  Lincoln has slowed up at the box office while Django and Les Misérables are still going strong.  Also, Zero Dark Thirty opened wide the day after the nominations and was #1 the first week and is #2 this week (with it being replaced this week by Mama, the new other Jessica Chastain film).  And Silver Linings Playbook expanded and had a big weekend.

26 January  –  And, the PGA makes it official that this year will be very different.  Argo wins.  Which means, for Lincoln to win, it either wins with no precursor Best Picture awards or it wins the BAFTA without a Director nomination.  It looks more and more like Argo will win and it will make the director’s branch look like idiots.

2 February  –  And the DGA goes for Affleck.  Good God, the Oscars look like idiots right now.

10 February  –  And the BAFTA’s agree.  So what the hell will happen on Oscar night?  With the top three Consensus directors (Bigelow, Affleck, PT Anderson) out of the race, who will win?  And how much will it mean to them?

24 February  –  And now the Oscars.  And the winner of Best Director is Ang Lee.  Argo, as seems obvious by this point, wins Best Picture, the first to do so without director since 1989 and only the second since 1932.

note:  A quick note on these reviews.  Unlike the other years, I didn’t get a chance to rewatch all these films before reviewing them and six of the nine I saw before the nominations were announced.  So these are my reviews based on one viewing of the film.  The box office numbers (and ranks) are accurate as of the original post date.

"Ben made his new film in Tehran because he wanted to work in a city that was more friendly to outsiders."  How true, Tina.

“Ben made his new film in Tehran because he wanted to work in a city that was more friendly to outsiders.” How true, Tina.


  • Director:  Ben Affleck
  • Writer:  Chris Terrio  (adapted from a selection from Master of Disguise by Tony Mendez and the article “Escape from Tehran” by Joshuah Bearman)
  • Producer:  Grant Heslov  /  Ben Affleck  /  George Clooney
  • Stars:  Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston
  • Studio:  Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Arkin), Editing, Original Score, Sound, Sound Editing
  • Oscar Points:  325
  • Length:  120 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Historical)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  12 October 2012
  • Box Office Gross:  $132.80 mil  (#22  –  2012)
  • Metacritic Rating:  86
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #2  (year)  /  #104  (nominees)  /  #31  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Sound Editing
  • Nighthawk Points:  230

The Film:  It is a measure of how good Argo is that I knew exactly what the outcome of the opening scenes was going to be and I was still riveted to my seat.  In fact, as Veronica said, “I don’t think I could have watched the film and dealt with it if I hadn’t known that all those people came out of there alive.”  When asked about it after immediately seeing it, my response was “That first 15 minutes is as riveting a 15 minutes in the history of film, even though we know what the end result is going to be.”

Argo does what all great films do.  It takes our disbelief and it suspends it.  But it makes it do it in more ways than one.  Because we’re not the only ones who have to suspend our disbelief.  Here we have one of the defining political moments of our lifetime – the attack on the American embassy in Iran, the culmination of a long series of events that could have been prevented.  And we have six people who have the make a choice, an instant choice and one that might lead to life or to death, because they don’t what’s waiting for them out there.  And so they make that snap decision and they go out the door and into the streets of what, for them, is the most dangerous city in the world (it was both gut-wrenching and heart-warming to watch the decision they make first – to make certain that all those Iranians waiting to hopefully get visas to go to the United States get out of the room first, because they are in the most danger).  And now these six have suspended their own disbelief in order to find a safe harbor.  And then it’s up to more people to suspend their disbelief.

This time it’s the American government and they’re not so good at suspending their disbelief, partly because they can’t get their beliefs straight in the first place.  They bring in Tony Mendez because this what Mendez does – get people out of tight spots (his full book, Master of Disguise, is worth reading).  Only Tehran is now, as one character puts it, “the most watched city in the world” and no one seems to have any sort of plan for how to get them out – at least one that can’t get Mendez to suspend his disbelief long enough to accept them.  And so, by a set of circumstances he comes up with his own plan and it gets put into motion – to fly in as a Canadian filmmaker and to fly out with the six of them as his crew.

This film combines all sorts of things into one.  It is a gut-wrenching political drama of events that most of us lived through and in some ways we are all living through.  It is a spy thriller, in which the spy doesn’t get any gadgets like James Bond, but rather a desperate plan, his wits and a good bit of luck.  It is a comedy, a satire on the Hollywood world and on the political bureaucracy of Washington (it has several of the best lines of the year, including “Argo fuck yourself”, “This is the very best bad idea we have, sir.  By far.” and “Carter called you a great American.”  “A great American what?”  “He didn’t say.”).  And every minute of it is thrilling and fascinating and keeps us riveted to our seats.

At the end, the action is heightened and we get an almost chase scene and a climax that stretches the truth of what happens.  And I really don’t give a shit and I don’t think anyone else who was watching the movie did either.  Because it all fit so well with what had come before.  They heightened the tension a bit, but it fit with everything else – with the desperation when you see the riot coming over the walls, with the prayer that you can make it out alive when your only crime is being there, with the hostages brought downstairs for an execution that doesn’t actually happen.  It fits because it, like everything else in the film, is done so incredibly well, with expert precision from the writing, the editing, the acting, and of course, the directing.

In the spring of 1998, when working on a short story and I needed a couple of actors who could fit into the story of several friends making a film, I inserted Ben and Matt, having been so impressed with them fresh off their Oscar win.  And when the story became part of the novel and the character was asked about his own story, he replied that the story was written before Affleck had become synonymous with over-acting.  Well, I’m a Boston guy, and during 2007 I watched all those neighborhood people coming into the bookstore because Gone Baby Gone was being filmed on their streets and I was damn impressed by his directorial debut.  And in 2010 I was hoping his The Town would earn a Best Picture nomination because he had done it again – proved he was a real director to be reckoned with, and this time he had done the double duty of starring as well.  And then came Argo.  And it might be only my #2 film of a very good year.  But I’m glad as hell for Ben and his Oscar win because it’s one hell of a film and the Academy made one of their worst choices ever by not nominating him.  So good for him.  And good for the film.  It might not have been my first choice, but it is a very good choice.

Note:  I turned to Veronica at the end of the film, as it panned across all the Star Wars toys and said “It looks Affleck raided our apartment.”  And then it occurred to me – Affleck is only a couple of years older than me.  Those could very well be his Star Wars toys that he has saved since childhood.  Good for him if they are.  If not, that’s a hell of a detail to get perfect.

And Steven Spielberg wins his 7th Nighthawk Award for Best Director.

And Steven Spielberg wins his 7th Nighthawk Award for Best Director.


  • Director:  Steven Spielberg
  • Writer:  Tony Kushner  (adapted in part from Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin)
  • Producer:  Steven Spielberg  /  Kathleen Kennedy
  • Stars:  Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader
  • Studio:  Touchstone Pictures
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Day-Lewis), Supporting Actor (Jones), Supporting Actress (Field), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Production Design, Costume Design
  • Oscar Points:  415
  • Length:  150 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Historical)
  • MPAA Rating:  PG-13
  • Release Date:  9 November 2012
  • Box Office Gross:  $180.14 mil  (#13  –  2012)
  • Metacritic Rating:  86
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #1  (year)  /  #54  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Day-Lewis), Supporting Actor (Jones), Supporting Actress (Field), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup
  • Nighthawk Points:  565

The Film:  Daniel Day-Lewis is certainly one of the finest actors to ever grace movie screens.  That he doesn’t have the kind of nominations that Spencer Tracy piled up says more about the Academy and its idiocy and that Day-Lewis doesn’t make that many films than it does about his acting ability.  But Sally Field, well, that’s a different matter.  Sally has two Oscars but I think both of them were bad choices.  She’s been a solid enough actress, but to me, never a great actress.  She had never really given a performance that wowed me.  And then I saw Lincoln.

Sally Field is incredible from the first time she appears (she is a very close second in the Nighthawk Awards) as Mary Lincoln.  She embodies everything that we have come to be taught about our of most enigmatic first ladies.  She has the fierce determination to face off against Thaddeus Stevens when he dares step across the line of her porch and dress him down with a long line waiting to be greeted.  She has the quiet desperation to face off against her husband and make it clear that she will not lose another child while they are in this house, that this war, which has turned family against family, will not take her son, the one who carries her maiden name.  And we can see the edges of the insanity there, the overwhelming melancholy that struck her down after the death of Willie.  We can only imagine that someone might make the next film – the one in which we watch her complete descent into insanity brought about by the climactic scenes of the film and which pitted her, this time not against her husband, but against that beloved son and brought about a rupture that would never heal.  They could even cast Field and Gordon-Leavitt again and already be set.

But there is more, of course, going on in this film.  In fact, there is not only another truly magnificent Day-Lewis performance, one that seems to so completely embody the sixteenth president that we need never have anyone else ever play him again; there is a complete ensemble of great acting in this film.  We have Tommy Lee Jones, rightfully nominated for an Oscar for his bombastic portrayal of that man who would almost manage to take down the next president.  We have James Spader, so sly and cunning, doing whatever work has to be done to ensure the bill that his President needs, especially since he’s paying the bills.  There is Gordon-Leavitt, who has probably the most thankless role in the film and pulls it off with ease.  We have such great character actors as Hal Holbrook, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson and John Hawkes, all doing solid work.  And yet, hidden behind all of it, helping behind the scenes, making certain that everything is getting done that has to be done, always in support, is David Strathairn.  Strathairn did such good work for John Sayles for so many years and got almost no notice for it.  After his Oscar nomination for playing Edward R. Murrow I hoped that he would finally start getting the appreciation he deserves.  Yet, here, he seems to be the one who gets continually looked over when people talk about all the great work in the ensemble cast and his might be the best supporting male performance in the film.

Lincoln does so many things and it does them all so well that it is reminiscent of Schindler’s List.  It takes a subject that really isn’t a big box office draw – the bureaucracy that surrounds the ending of slavery and the Civil War – and makes it one of the biggest box-office hits of the year.  It provides absolute technical perfection in every minute – from the best John Williams score in over a decade, to wonderful shots from Janusz Kaminski (beginning with the way we first see Lincoln from behind as the soldiers talk to him of his own address – it is already perfectly set up for the way the country will instantly mythologize him once the bullet entered his head), to Oscar-winning sets (the muddy streets of Washington, the 1860’s White House, from bedroom to offices to basement, the War Department, Congress).  And Spielberg hovers over it all with ease, never doing too much.  He lets the actors ease into the roles, lets the scenes develop, cuts away when he needs to and not before and doesn’t linger too long.

But of all the triumphs of the film, aside from Day-Lewis, perhaps the most heralded should go to Tony Kushner.  What Kushner does, allowing us to see inside the political process, but also allowing us to glimpse the last vestiges of the war and the peace process surrounding it is incredible.  It is true that the germination for the script comes from Goodwin’s book, one of the best non-fiction books written in the last decade (or last century, come to think of it).  But the actions of the film really only take up 20 pages in the book.  The construction, the development, the very feel of this film come from what Kushner gives us.  It is a reminder that he is a writer to be reckoned with, the Pulitzer Prize winner behind the most daring, amazing play to be published in my lifetime.  If there was one negative thing to come out of the groundswell for Argo it’s that Kushner didn’t receive the Oscar he so richly deserved for truly making this story come to life.

The dream comes alive.

The dream comes alive.

Les Misérables

  • Director:  Tom Hooper
  • Writer:  William Nicholson  / Alain Boublil  /  Claude-Michel Schönberg  /  Herbert Kretzmer  (from the musical by Boublil, Schönberg and Kretzmer, adapted from the novel by Victor Hugo)
  • Producer:  Tim Bevan  /  Eric Fellner  /  Debra Hayward  /  Cameron Mackintosh
  • Stars:  Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks
  • Studio:  Universal Pictures
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Actor (Jackman), Supporting Actress (Hathaway), Sound, Production Design, Costume Design, Makeup, Original Song (“Suddenly”)
  • Oscar Points:  250
  • Length:  158 min
  • Genre:  Musical
  • MPAA Rating:  PG-13
  • Release Date:  25 December 2012
  • Box Office Gross:  $147.67 mil  (#19  –  2012)
  • Metacritic Rating:  63
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #3  (year)  /  #142  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress (Hathaway), Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, Original Song (“Suddenly”)
  • Nighthawk Points:  240

The Film:  There were three moments that I was very concerned about.  I had seen Les Mis on stage, both in Portland and in London, and I had loved every minute.  I have listened to it at a rough guess, at least a couple of hundred times.  I own three different recordings of it (the original French, the Broadway, the Complete Symphonic).  And as I said, there were three specific scenes that I was worried about.  They had to get these scenes right or the whole thing would just collapse for me.

And let’s get this out of the way before you want to fill up the comments field with complaints about Russell Crowe.  The film nailed it.  The three key pieces to the greatest musical to ever appear on stage and They.  Nailed.  It.

Here are my three key scenes:  1 –  The end of “Who Am I”, when Valjean turns his back on the past.  2  –  The start of “Look Down” as we transition from the Valjean story into the story of what is going on in Paris.  3  –  The finale, where we have to find a way to incorporate all these dead characters into a magnificent show-ending number.

How would the film handle the early transition.  By this time we were already in pretty good hands.  Yes, Russell Crowe seemed to be singing at a completely different pitch than anyone else in the film (I don’t think he gave a bad performance – he gave a perfectly good performance of a character that is rather humorless, which is perfect for Crowe, but his singing seemed to be oddly pitched and that was a distraction).  But the sets looked great, the costumes and makeup looked even better, and thus of us in the know were so pleasantly surprised by the appearance of Colm Wilkinson, the man who became the voice of Valjean to so many millions, as the Bishop.  And we were already getting a really good performance from Hugh Jackman, the best of a very under-rated career (just look at The Prestige or The Fountain).  And so, we build to this moment, when Valjean turns his back on the life he has known in the desperate hope that he can build himself another one.  And as he tears up that yellow ticket, the camera pulls back, and there we are, in the small little town on the mountaintop and we watch those scraps of the ticket float away and Valjean’s life with it, along with an absolutely magnificent shot that gives us the idea of the scale with which Hooper is approaching the film.  It was a spectacle on stage.  On film it becomes an epic.  (And a quick word about the cinematography – Hooper does indeed have some strange angles at times, but so much of the film is very well shot, with the right mixture of close-up and wide, giving the intimacy for the right songs and the magnificent shots of Paris for others).

Before we get to that second big moment we must get through the story of Fantine.  And here we have the heart of the musical, from “At the End of the Day” (which, leading off the tape of the Broadway production, was the first song from this musical that I ever heard and for a long time I never got much farther because I kept rewinding and listening to it again – it is still one of my favorite songs in the show) to “I Dreamed a Dream.”  If you get the right Fantine (first instance, on stage, there was Lea Salonga, Kim from Miss Saigon who came into the show as an Eponine and years later returned as Fantine) than you are set from the start.  And boy did Hooper ever get this right.  When I first saw Anne Hathaway in Nicholas Nickleby I didn’t think too long about her.  She seemed almost too good-looking as the love interest.  It wasn’t until Ella Enchanted, when I saw how charming she could be, how talented she was (she kills it when she sings “Somebody to Love”) and yes, how beautiful, I realized this was a real star.  And that was followed by Brokeback Mountain which showed how much she could hit the right dramatic notes as well in a role that was almost the complete opposite, borrowing on her carnality and bitchiness and showing that she had range.  And here we have a magnificent performance, the best in a good year, better than the career-peaking opus from Sally Field, better than the dark side of Amy Adams.

And we also see the advantage of casting Hugh Jackman.  Look at the expression in his eyes and on his lips when he matches wits with the Thénardiers.  He knows what they’re up to and knows how to react.  If there was one downside to Wilkinson is that he came off a little too saintly.  Jackman seems more the man who has been beaten down by society until he does whatever he has to.

So, now that he Valjean has Cosette, now that he has arrived in Paris, we get the second big moment.  “Look Down” is a brilliant song, especially the way it is used throughout the musical.  One of the advantages of having the Complete Symphonic recording is that it’s the only place on CD that has the moment where Valjean exits the sewers and faces off against Javert for the last time: “Look down, Javert  /  He’s standing in his grave  /  Give way, Javert  /  There is a life to save.”  That moment brings the song full circle and if you hadn’t seen the musical on stage and didn’t have this recording you didn’t know it existed.  But here it is our introduction to Paris, especially as sung by those in the slums.  And the way Hooper allows us to follow Gavroche, to watch him interact with the rich, to run back to the poor, is brilliant camerawork, brilliant direction, just brilliant cinema.

And before we get to the end, we have the performances.  Jackman is fantastic and Hathaway is brilliant.  But we also have the very talented Samantha Barks and the solid support from Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne (in two films now, Redmayne has turned down Emma Watson and Samantha Barks – in the first at least he was literally turning her down for Marilyn Monroe, but if there is one problem with the casting it is the possibility that anyone could turn down Samantha Barks for Amanda Seyfried).  We also have Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, both of whom are very good.  Hooper, probably wisely, minimizes their roles, cutting a song, cutting lines, cutting massively short their exit.  They provide some necessary humor in a musical that is often pretty dark but Hooper wants to maintain the tone and he doesn’t keep it light for very long (though, by cutting “Dog Eat Dog” he cuts the most malevolent Thénardier song – in fact he really lets Cohen hit the humor notes without the overall tone of malevolence).

Then we get the end.  This is what I was most concerned about.  I have seen a lot of plays on stage, including 12 different Shakespeare plays and a considerable number of musicals.  I have never seen anything on stage that rivals the finale of Les Mis, when those who have died come back with the final rendition of “Do You Hear the People Sing”.  When I saw it on stage in London and they finished you could tell that the whole theater was crying in spite of the fact that this was an afternoon matinee of a musical that had been playing for over a decade.  It works so well on stage because it is perfectly designed for the stage.  I had no idea what they were planning to do on film and how well it would work.

So, after Valjean dies and the music begins and we suddenly find ourselves out on the barricade, with all those who have died living again, singing in unison, in full glory and sunlight, with magnificent overhead shots, with the music swelling, I knew that they had found a perfect cinematic version of what had been so perfect on stage.  They managed to imbue the scene with all the emotion and passion that it had on stage and brilliantly transform its mechanism from something that was designed to be intimate and make it epic in scope.  They.  Nailed.  It.

Now, I am going to add one thing.  If you get a chance to see Les Mis on stage, see it.  Not because the movie isn’t an adequate substitution.  This film is fantastic, bringing the musical to life with talented performers, first rate production and opening up it in ways that you can’t do on stage (“They really don’t romanticize the Parisian sewers,” I warned one co-worker before she saw it.  After she saw it, she said to me “It no longer seems odd that he dies so quickly after that.”).  And the film-makers can be very proud of the work that they did and their Oscars were earned (I give it the same eight nominations and it came close in several other categories, like Director, Supporting Actress (Barks) and Cinematography and it only doesn’t win the same three Oscars because I give my award for Makeup to The Hobbit).  But this is a musical that was designed to be on the stage and you shouldn’t miss a chance to see it.  But until you get a chance to see it on stage, you still have the film to keep you company.

Bigelow amazes again.  Not that the Academy noticed her.

Bigelow amazes again. Not that the Academy noticed her.

Zero Dark Thirty

  • Director:  Kathryn Bigelow
  • Writer:  Mark Boal
  • Producer:  Mark Boal  /  Kathryn Bigelow  /  Megan Ellison
  • Stars:  Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler
  • Studio:  Columbia Pictures
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Original Screenplay, Actress (Chastain), Editing, Sound Editing
  • Oscar Points:  190
  • Length:  157 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Historical)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  19 December 2012
  • Box Office Gross:  $93.66 mil  (#33  –  2012)
  • Metacritic Rating:  95
  • Ebert Rating:  ***
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #4  (year)  /  #147  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress (Chastain), Editing, Sound, Sound Editing
  • Nighthawk Points:  290

The Film:  There is, at the heart of the discussion about this film, the question of torture.  And to focus on that question gets at the heart of two different things about films and how people react to them.  The first is the reality of the film and what we should take away from that.  The second is the reality created when we watch the film and how much we take away from that.

I’ll deal with the second part first.  There has been a lot of talk about the accuracy of this film.  But this film is not a documentary.  This film was created as a work of art (and, I suppose, as a work of entertainment).  You could say that as art is has an underlying truth to it.  But it is not a sworn statement, it is not journalism.  It is a film that tells a story and that story is not always exactly as it happened in real life.  The film is allowed to express things for dramatic purposes.

And then we must deal with the first part.  The film doesn’t say that torture is what brought us the knowledge of where Osama Bin Laden was.  The reality of the film is this – when torturing detainees, the CIA keeps getting information that may or may not be reliable.  They get different answers to the same questions and they aren’t quite certain what they can believe.  But they have a bit of information that they are trying to determine.  So, to that end, they tell one of the detainees that he told them what they wanted to know during one of the torture sessions.  They then move forward from there.  To that end, they don’t actually get the information that is useful during one of those sessions – they simply tell him that they did and know that he is under so much mental strain that he won’t know the difference anymore if he told them or not.  No key bit of information in the film actually comes to them in a torture session.

And now that I have that out of the way I can talk about the film itself.  Which is first rate, from start to finish.  For the second straight film, Kathryn Bigelow has directed a performance that should have won the Oscar.  And Bigelow’s direction absolutely should have been nominated.  The film never blinks, never shies away from the difficult aspects of the story that it tells.  With a large cast of characters coming in and out, it focuses on just one character and it uses that character to bring a human side to this story.  It helps that Jessica Chastain plays the part with a singular intensity that makes all six of her performances from 2011 look like a warmup.

To that end, it means that the most riveting parts of the film are in a sense the most anti-climactic.  That’s not only because we know what will happen during the raid, but because Chastain, who has been so well-developed throughout the film, who has been such a vital force of the film itself, is barely in that last half-hour, stuck back in the base as the key dramatic moments of this decade long hunt finally play out on the ground.

Every part of this film is well-made.  It wins a Nighthawk Awards in one technical category, earns two other nominations and was just off the list in Cinematography (it’s really a magnificent year for Cinematography and this would have been nominated in any normal year) and Original Score.  Bigelow does a fantastic job of finding an approach to the hunt for Bin Laden (better than the books I have read on the same events).  It’s just too bad that the Academy let us all down by failing to nominate her.

Bloody good fun.  And good bloody fun.

Bloody good fun. And good bloody fun.

Django Unchained

  • Director:  Quentin Tarantino
  • Writer:  Quentin Tarantino
  • Producer:  Stacey Sher  /  Reginald Hudlin  /  Pilar Savone
  • Stars:  Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
  • Studio:  The Weinstein Company
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Waltz), Cinematography, Sound Editing
  • Oscar Points:  235
  • Length:  165 min
  • Genre:  Western
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  25 December 2012
  • Box Office Gross:   $160.36 mil  (#16  –  2012)
  • Metacritic Rating:  81
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #7  (year)  /  #191  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Waltz), Supporting Actor (DiCaprio), Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Costume Design, Makeup, Original Song (“Who Did That to You”)
  • Nighthawk Points:  230

The Film:  I was asked by a co-worker if I had seen Django Unchained and I replied that I had.  When he asked me what I thought of it, I replied “Bloody good fun.  And also good bloody fun.”  And that, as much as anything sums up Django.

Oh, I could tell you more.  I could tell you something about the plot – a bounty hunter who needs the help of a slave, Django, so he buys him and liberates him and then makes him a partner.  After achieving their goal, they become a team and county bounty hunting through a long winter before heading south to try and free Django’s wife, who had been separated from him after they had both tried to escape.  This involves a complicated scheme to trick the dandy plantation owner who owns her, Calvin Candie (whose plantation is Candieland).  That this will all end up in bloodshed, that many of the major players in the film will end up dead is pretty much a given.

Or maybe you want me to tell you something about the talent involved.  That this film is directed and written by Quentin Tarantino, the man-child who burst onto the scene with sheer talent in Reservoir Dogs, and with a couple of mis-steps that still at least showed his love of film (4 Rooms and Grindhouse) has proven time and time again that he is one of the most talented directors (and writers) to ever come into the industry.  His script is my #2 Original Screenplay of the year (just behind Moonrise Kingdom) and his direction was in my top 5 until I saw Anna Karenina and it got bumped just into sixth place.  But Tarantino is hardly the only talent involved.  There is the first-rate cinematography from Robert Richardson.  There are the sumptuous sets and costumes (neither nominated for an Oscar but both, in my opinion, among the best of the year).  There is the music, brilliantly used throughout, with the first rate-song “Who Did That to You”, a better song than nearly all the Oscar nominees.

And of course there is the acting.  Jamie Foxx finally gets a role again that is worthy of the talent he showed back in 2004 with Ray and Collateral.  Christoph Waltz ends up the winner in my I-can’t-decide race of the year while Leonardo DiCaprio was more deserving of an Oscar nomination than actual nominees Alan Arkin and Robert De Niro.  And there is Samuel L. Jackson, so sly and dangerous in this film, always lurking around the background, but always seeming to know more than anyone else.  There is even a fun little role for yet another actor who seemed washed up, only to be resurrected by Tarantino, this time Don Johnson as a Kentucky colonel.

Or maybe you want me to make some sort of critical judgment about the film?  Maybe you want me to talk about how brilliantly made it is, but that there are things to pull back from.  That this may be one of the bloodiest films I have ever seen.  That this is Quentin’s revenge fantasy on those who dared to own slaves and believe that they had to right to own another human being.  That Quentin has once again made a daring, yet incredibly fun, revenge fantasy from the point of view of an oppressed people that he is not a member of.  Or that the language in the film goes over-the-top, that the racial epithet used so many, many, many times in the film could have easily been cut back (a number of times I think they could have used the word “boy” with the same inflection and it would have worked just as well, so yes, it started to grate on me).

But all of that, from start to finish, is just nit-picking.  Django Unchained is bloody good fun.  And it’s good bloody fun.  And that’s really all I have to say about it.

Well, that was depressing.

Well, that was depressing.


  • Director:  Michael Haneke
  • Writer:  Michael Haneke
  • Producer:  Stefan Arndt  /  Margaret Ménégoz  /  Veit Heiduschka  /  Michael Katz
  • Stars:  Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintigant, Isabelle Huppert
  • Studio:  Sony Pictures Classics
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress (Riva), Foreign Film
  • Oscar Points:  210
  • Length:  127 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • MPAA Rating:  PG-13
  • Release Date:  19 December 2012
  • Box Office Gross:  $5.86 mil  (#150  –  2012)
  • Metacritic Rating:  94
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #8  (year)  /  #200  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Original Screenplay, Actor (Trintigant), Actress (Riva), Foreign Film
  • Nighthawk Points:  150

The Film:  There is a spector of death that hangs over this film from the first minute.  And there is an aura of mystery to go along with it.  We know from before the main action of the film begins that the main female character (Anne – as it is in almost every Michael Haneke film) will be found dead on her bed.  But, the odd thing, is that she is found in an abandoned apartment.  So what happened to her husband (Georges – again, a recurring name in Haneke’s films)?  It doesn’t take long to ascertain what has happened to her and how she progressed to this point.  But what will happen to him and how will we react when we finally reach the moment of understanding what has gone on?

It doesn’t take long to find out what has happened.  After a night out watching a former student of Anne’s in a concert, they are eating breakfast the next morning when Anne goes blank.  It is a terrifying scene.  Not terror in the manner of suspense or horror, but genuine human terror.  What do you do when the person you love, the person you have spent your life with, suddenly just checks out.  After desperately trying to get Anne to respond, Georges goes to get dressed and see what he can do about getting a doctor.  He leaves the water in the sink running when he leaves the room and the first indication that things have changed again is when the sound of the running water suddenly shuts off.  It has been a shut down and then a turning back on and their lives are now altered forever on a downward trend.

The rest of the film is tragic and bleak.  Those are aspects of many of Haneke’s films.  But what makes this one so different is how much it engages us on a human level.  There is the daughter (Isabelle Huppert, a Haneke regular) who wants them to do something but can not make her father see her side of things.  There is Georges, who is watching his wife recede further and further from human communication and finds him shut off in his apartment (nearly the entire film takes place in the confines of the apartment) away from the rest of the world, only trying to hold the end for as long as he can.  And there is Anne, who is sinking away, the way so many people do, but in the kind of way that few directors would be willing to dedicate an entire film to.

Though Huppert is quite good in her few scenes, the film belongs to Riva and Trintigant.  Riva has the more showy role, the one that earned her a very well-deserved Oscar nomination, but it is Trintigant who has the harder role – trying to maintain sympathy for someone who feels so cut off from the rest of the world.  And over all of it hangs the knowledge that after the end finally comes, he will be gone.  And that Haneke does such a good job of establishing the end of the film, what really happens (or doesn’t happen) to Georges shows how much thought went into this entire film.  It is a first-rate film, through and through and since the Academy disqualified his brilliant Cache (the best Foreign film of 2005) and then when he was nominated for The White Ribbon, didn’t give the film the Oscar, it’s good that they finally acknowledged him here.

In the end, I am reminded of a song.  It’s a song by Death Cab for Cutie that I happened to first hear in an episode of “Scrubs”, where it was very appropriate.  And the refrain from it kept echoing in my brain as I watched those final minutes of the film play out:  If there’s no one beside you  /  When your soul embarks  /  Then I’ll follow you into the dark.

The first film in 31 years to get the Big 7 nominations.

The first film in 31 years to get the Big 7 nominations.

Silver Linings Playbook

  • Director:  David O. Russell
  • Writer:  David O. Russell  (from the novel by Matthew Quick)
  • Producer:  Donna Gigliotti  /  Bruce Cohen  /  Jonathan Gordon
  • Stars:  Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver
  • Studio:  The Weinstein Company
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Cooper), Actress (Lawrence), Supporting Actor (De Niro), Supporting Actress (Weaver), Editing
  • Oscar Points:  325
  • Length:  122 min
  • Genre:  Comedy  (Romantic)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  16 November 2012
  • Box Office Gross:  $115.69 mil  (#27  –  2012)
  • Metacritic Rating:  81
  • Ebert Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #13  (year)  /  #220  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Adapted Screenplay, Actress (Lawrence)
  • Nighthawk Points:  75

The Film:  There are certain films, like Casablanca or Sunset Boulevard, where a happy ending will not work, can not work, must not be used.  But there are other films, where we’re not quite sure how it’s going to end, but we are hoping desperately for a happy ending, that it is the only thing that can possibly work and not make us mad enough to stomp out of the theater.  The Artist got the happy ending it needed just as the original A Star is Born had endured with the tragedy that was appropriate.  So, at the ending of Silver Linings Playbook, when Bradley Cooper goes out on the street, you can think to yourself, what do you want to have happen here?

Part of it comes from the reality of the film as it has been established.  I’m not talking about the reality of mental illness, because this film really doesn’t address that very much.  These are characters that have been created, not real human beings.  And to the extent of these characters, of the way it has all been set up, the film has been just about as well as is possible.  It has a very good performance from Bradley Cooper, something that seemed completely out of reach when compared against every film he had made before it.  It confirms that Jennifer Lawrence is one of the most phenomenal stars rising in films today (and hot – that the star of Winter’s Bone and Hunger Games could seem so suddenly, incredibly hot, is well, a little disturbing).  It is proof that the performance from Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom was not a fluke.  And it reminds us that once upon a time Robert De Niro was the most talented actor in the film industry, doing the kind of things in almost every film that we now expect to see from Daniel Day-Lewis, except that he was doing it every year.

Now, what about the story?  Well, the story is contrived in all sorts of ways.  It sets us up for the big finale in two different ways, and it becomes the key to so much of what is going on in almost every character in the film.  It gives us some very good scenes with some really good acting in these scenes.  It gives two very strong, very messed up personalities and lets them play off each other in interesting ways.  That none of these people can really be believed as characters suffering from various sorts of mental illness isn’t really at issue – I can’t imagine we’re actually supposed to believe that.  These are movie versions of mental illness, where sudden reverses can happen, where we can suddenly make great strides with our lives and find ways to put our lives back together.  But the movie allows us to believe in the situation that we are watching and watch the unfolding human drama.

And so we come to the ending.  Everything has ended up on the line – the relationship between Cooper and his ex-wife, the relationship between Cooper and Lawrence, the very livelihood of his parents.  It will all come down to the dance competition, and of course we know what has to happen there, because how can we be expected to bear the magnitude of the tragedy if things don’t go right (that David O. Russell used to be the kind of filmmaker who absolutely would have had things go wrong is a completely different issue).  But then we have to follow Cooper out onto that street and we have to decide for ourselves what we want to happen here.  For me, there was only one way it could possibly go if they didn’t want me to come out of the theater pissed off, and thankfully that’s the direction that they go.  It’s not real life, just like this wasn’t real mental illness.  But it’s exactly what we want to see happen in that scene and it plays it all out very well.  It’s all a first rate quality production, as much a kind of old style Hollywood film-making as The King’s Speech was.  Or, come to think of it, as The Fighter was.  It’s just that this is a bit more interesting of a story than that was.

Ang Lee wins Director again but Picture still eludes him.

Ang Lee wins Director again but Picture still eludes him.

Life of Pi

  • Director:  Ang Lee
  • Writer:  David Magee  (from the novel by Yann Martel)
  • Producer:  Gil Netter  /  Ang Lee  /  David Womark
  • Stars:  Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall
  • Studio:  Fox 2000 Pictures
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Production Design, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Original Song (“Pi’s Lullaby)
  • Oscar Points:  415
  • Length:  127 min
  • Genre:  Fantasy
  • MPAA Rating:  PG
  • Release Date:  21 November 2012
  • Box Office Gross:  $117.18 mil  (#26  –  2012)
  • Metacritic Rating:  79
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #15  (year)  /  #251  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Director, Cinematography, Original Score, Visual Effects
  • Nighthawk Points:  135

The Film:  On the one hand, this film has Irrfan Khan, a great actor who doesn’t get used often enough.  On the other hand, he’s used in the framing device for the film, a device that is handled so carelessly, so awkwardly, that it throws off all the momentum of the film and in the end forces the allegory upon it that the film doesn’t need.

This was my big problem with the book and part of why I didn’t think very highly of it even though it’s been a massive worldwide hit.  Or perhaps that’s why it often gets marketed to young adults.  Because it wants to have all these extra issues, it wants to do so much, to be a big story about life and its meaning, about the way that God might work and how such a being would look down on us all and watch over us in whatever ways.

But the film and the book actually had a fascinating story to tell of what happens to this boy who is stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger.  Not just any tiger, but a Bengal tiger, one of the most dangerous animals known to man, and one that the boy is familiar with, this particular tiger being one of the animals from his father’s zoo that is being shipped across the ocean.  The book never managed to quite make clear how the survival could possibly happen, but the film opens it up wonderfully.  With the boy and the tiger both on screen, we never lack for any question of how he survives – every single move he makes to stay alive is made very clear.  And it’s done with such immense beauty and clarity.  The cinematography in this film is an absolute marvel to behold; the film swims alive with color.  The combination of direction, cinematography, music and visual effects are easily enough to make this an absolutely brilliant film.

Well, except for the script.  And therein is the problem.  I can accept the bizarre island that kills with a whim at night.  I can accept the bizarre ways in which the boy manages to stay alive.  And I can accept that maybe it’s all an allegory for what really happened.  But is it necessary to bang that into our heads?  Do we have to have this long drawn out tale that makes it so clear that it’s not really an allegory – that if we don’t accept that this is what happened than we are closed-minded like the officials who can’t bear the original tale?  The story that it wasn’t thought possible to put on screen has been put on screen so magically by one of the greatest directors the industry has ever known.  It’s too bad that the script couldn’t match up to the other magic in the film.

The little film that could but didn't really deserve to.

The little film that could but didn’t really deserve to.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

  • Director:  Benh Zeitlin
  • Writer:  Lucy Alibar  /  Benh Zeitlin  (from the play Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar)
  • Producer:  Dan Janvey  /  Josh Penn  /  Michael Gottwald
  • Stars:  Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry
  • Studio:  Fox Searchlight Studios
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress (Wallis)
  • Oscar Points:  170
  • Length:  93 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • MPAA Rating:  PG-13
  • Release Date:  27 June 2012
  • Box Office Gross:  $12.68 mil  (#130  –  2012)
  • Metacritic Rating:  86
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #25  (year)  /  #335  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actress (Wallis)
  • Nighthawk Points:  35

The Film:  A low budget and a surprising breakthrough performance (and a surprising breakthrough director) can wow people and make them sit up and take notice.  But it can also lead to over-rating what they have just seen.  They become so engrossed with the idea and with the rate of return over the original investment (and by that I mean, not only the budget, but also the talent involved) that they lose sight of the actual execution.  That is what has lead to the great over-rating of two critical directors: Jean-Luc Godard (my god, it’s original and different, it must be great!) and John Cassavettes (look at what he does with such low budgets and difficult conditions, it must be great!).  Now we have Beasts of the Southern Wild, a good film, bordering on being a very good film, with a wonderful performance from a little girl that no one could have expected and a solid supporting performance from someone who’s not a professional and we have the same kind of reaction (look at what they did with that budget and with that no-name amateur cast, it must be great!).

I can’t quite decide how I feel about Beasts.  Not how I feel about the beasts themselves when they show up.  I think they’re a distraction, I think they’re badly done and I think they might be what keeps the film from every quite moving up into at least the ***.5 realm.  This film, which has tried so hard to be like a documentary, to film the world that it has found, to film the true depths of poverty and desperation that these people are living with, not to hold back anything in its portrayal of this little girl and her father and their lives, now suddenly wants to be an allegory or a fantasy.  It is a step away from the world that it has been establishing and it jars the suspension of disbelief.

And that kind of brings us to the Oscar nomination for Best Director.  This is the year where the Academy’s directors branch decided to make themselves look like jackasses and pass over both Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow and instead nominate Michael Haneke (a good choice) and Benh Zeitlin (not a good choice).  The world that Zeitlin creates works as written and the acting is remarkable.  But the direction is the most problematic part of the film, not allowing the film to settle firmly into what it is.  If the Academy wanted to honor shaky camerawork for a story that bounces back and forth between tragic despair and bizarre allegory why haven’t they ever given a nomination to Lars von Trier?

But to focus too much on that is to get away from the biggest strength of the film – Quvenzhané Wallis.  What this girl does on screen is amazing, especially when you consider just the environment that she is working in.  There could easily be a case made that it is wrong to have any kind of child in this environment, even if it is being used as the set of a film.  That she is able to get beyond that and give such a performance is remarkable.  And that the film is confidant enough in her ability to do this is its best strength.  It doesn’t feel the need to focus more on her father – it is her story and it allows it to be her story.