Tuesday, December 11, 2012

23? You Don't Play Like a Sequel Over 2.

     Okay, so the truth is I have never really been a huge fan of the James Bond franchise and Skyfall was, at best, a second tier priority on my 2012 personal mandatory viewing list until two things happened:  1. How inspired a choice Javier Bardem seemed as a 21rst century quirky Bond villain really sank into my brain, and 2. Everyone on the planet began touting it as the "Best Bond Film Ever", and a "Dark Horse Best Picture Contender".  Did it live up to my expectations?  It pleasantly exceeded them.  Did it live up to the hype?  Well...mostly.
     Bardem was excellent as always.  He was utterly creepy yet wholly believable.  There's this homoerotic bit between him and Craig when they first meet and, the actors are both at their best and playing off each other like mad, but even I felt a little uncomfortable.  It's not his best performance and I'm not sure it can really fly as a serious candidate for this year's unusually competitive Best Supporting Actor race, but expect it to be on my rather longer list when I get around to the Best of 2012 series.
     Judi Dench is also magnificent playing off both Bardem and Craig like the seasoned pro that she is.  I'm biased.  I'm a huge fan.  Even in the most boring of films she is able to draw depth out of what would otherwise be dreadfully two dimensional characters.  She did not, thankfully, have to find satisfaction in that fashion here.  On the contrary, M is given far greater depth and a much more fully realized past than she has ever been given before.  Ms. Dench plays it for all it is worth, tough as nails and (almost) completely unapologetic.  As for her Oscar chances?  Much the same as what I said about her co-star except that I must add that if anyone takes the "venerable Master" slot in Supporting Actress, it will be either Emmanuelle Riva (never nominated), or Maggie Smith (having a HELL of a year all around, and hasn't been nominated in a WHILE.
     Daniel Craig also reaps the benefits of a more detailed backstory. The script of Skyfall focuses much more on the psychology of both Bond the persona and Bond the man, portraying James as a man at a point in his life where he is really beginning to see just how different those facets of himself have become.  I won't really say a lot more (I HATE spoilers, or else this article would have had an entirely different title, I'll drop it somewhere in my year in review lists), just this:  Craig is rapidly becoming my choice for Best Bond.  Only Sean Connery presents the slightest bit of competition.
     Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw also do commendable jobs in roles that look likely to repeat in future films.  Ben Whishaw particularly, as the new "Q", is a delight on screen.  I hope he holds onto the role longer than his last couple of predecessors did.
     Is it the best Bond film ever?  In many ways it is, as the characters are delved into more deeply than ever before.  Much of the credit for this must be given to the script, and the addition of screen writer John Logan (Hugo, The Aviator, Gladiator, Rango) to the writer's pool.  This Bond feels more grounded and believable, more of the "spy", less of the "super".  Director Sam Mendes must also be congratulated for bringing all the elements together in a package that is still slick and exciting without totally losing the campy, quirky, and wry elements that define the franchise.
     The film stands a good chance at competing in several technical categories.  Roger Deakins does his usual excellent job on cinematography, Thomas Newman delivers a memorable composition, etc.  Hopefully the Music Branch is lenient enough to let Adele's haunting "Let the Sky Fall" into the Best Song competition despite some minor sampling.  It is a beautiful, powerful, and haunting tune that could be the only real competition Les Miserables faces in the category.
     "But", I hear you asking, "Is Skyfall a Best Picture contender.  I'm going to say "No".  It is an excellent Bond film and a really solid action flick, but while it has far greater character development than one would expect, it is still a little lacking in deeper thematic elements.  It is what it is, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.  It is not quite a great film, but it is a VERY good one that I highly recommend...and this is coming from someone who has never been a huge fan of James Bond.  4 1/2 of 5 stars.

Related Articles:  Nov/Dec Oscar Buzz and Predictions: It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (preview), Musical Techs (Score and Song), Noisy Techs (Sound Mixing and Sound Editing), Pretty Picture Techs (Production Design and Cinematography), Finishing Touches Techs (Editing and Visual Effects)

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