The Oscars may be behind us, but some of us can’t let the 2012 movie year go. (Maybe because some of are so far behind on movies that we’re still watching last year’s awards contenders.)
Which means that we still need to talk about Les Miserables, its successes and its (mostly) failures.
So let’s countdown the most and least valuable players involved with bringing this adaptation of Les Mis to the Silver Screen and to the Best Picture nominee list.
I’m not even going to hold it against the actor here, because Gavroche is a horrible character by design and is horrible in every version of Les Miserables on stage and screen. He’s an insipid little imp who exists only to pander to a certain segment of the audience that enjoys having its heart strings tugged on by “adorable” little rugrats. But Les Mis already has young Cosette, making Gavroche redundant and expendable. Gavroche appears during the most exciting part of the film — the battles at the barricade — and bring the action to a dead halt with some cutesy singing about what little people can do. Go away forever, Gavroche. If only The Onion had tweeted that Gavroche is a cunt instead.
10. Tom Hooper
The critics are right: Tom Hooper doesn’t know where the fuck to put the camera, how long to keep it there, and when to move it. Sorry, make that OSCAR WINNING DIRECTOR TOM HOOPER. Les Miserables has exactly the right look and scope for a film of its kind — the sets are lush and the costumes impress. But Hooper takes what should be a ’60s-style epic and butchers it by shoving the camera into the pores of his stars, or jerking around like he has Tourette’s during ensemble numbers.
9. Russell Crowe (Javert)
Russell Crowe’s singing in Les Mis is so bad that the other members of 30 Odd Foot of Grunts are embarrassed to be in a band with him. Russell Crowe’s singing in Les Mis is so bad that the dude who he assaulted with a telephone actually felt sorry for him. Russell Crowe’s singing in Les Mis is so bad that Robin Hood is no longer the low point of his career. Russell Crowe’s singing in Les Mis is so bad that he makes Anne Hathaway sound like a virtuoso.
8. Anne Hathaway (Fantine)
Hathaway’s Best Supporting Actress nomination and win should immediately go on any list of historic Oscar travesties. As Fantine, Hathaway channels her inner junior high drama queen to try to give the role more weight than it deserves given its limited screen time. She does this by contorting her face a lot when she sings, pretending to hyperventilate, and treating her songs’ melodies like her enemies when they get in the way of an opportunity for drama. Also, there was that whole thing where she talked about “the misfortunes of Fantine” in her acceptance speech.
7. Helena Bonham Carter (Mme. Thernadier)
I know that Les Miserables originated on the London stage, but that doesn’t explain why a good number of the actors in the film chose to speak and sing in exaggerated British accents, given that the action purports to occur in 19th century France. Tim Burton’s muse is the worst offender, singing her songs in a mumbled Cockney that make the lyrics indecipherable more often than not.
6. Sacha Baron Cohen (Thernadier)
The self-satisfaction evident on Borat’s face in every frame of his character’s existence is repugnant. Several Les Mis characters serve as huge crowd-pleasers for the unwashed masses even as they detract from the overall show — this is true of the stage production as well as the film. The Thernadiers, Gavroche, Young Cosette…all are needless or should see their roles reduced. But dummies love them, so…
5. Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean)
Hugh Jackman is fine. He’s a fine singer and a fine actor and gives a fine performance. Totally fine. Unfortunately, whoever plays Jean Valjean has to carry the lion’s weight of Les Miserables, with gravitas and a powerful voice to match. Jackman spends too much of his time talk-singing rather than truly belting out songs like “Who Am I?” and “The Confrontation” (although the latter never had any hope, since Russell Crowe’s involvement robs it of any drama or import). Jackman would have probably made a fine Javert, but who is he? Who is he? Not 24601.
4. Eddie Redmayne (Marius)
Here’s where David Simon Cowell and I disagree. DSC had a visceral, violent reaction to Redmayne, whereas I thought he was, again, fine. Marius is a flip-flopping wisp of a character, so Redmayne basically repeats his performance from My Week With Marilyn — soft, needy, safe. So even if he makes some truly ridiculous facial expressions when he sings, Redmayne suits Marius well.
3. Amanda Seyfried (Cosette)
Seyfried’s singing voice is almost unrealistically high-pitched, to the point where when she hits the highest notes and it quavers, there are seconds when you can’t even hear sound emanating from her mouth. She’s a credible Cosette, though little more. Which brings us to the most important point about Les Miserables — the Hollywood actors cast in the film range from credible at best (Seyfried, Jackman) to disgraceful at worst (Crowe, Hathaway). Meanwhile, the stage veterans in the film (mostly relegated to bit parts like pimps and students) sang their most famous peers out of their hats. We all know that the movie wouldn’t have gotten made if it didn’t have 5 recognizable names in the cast. But that might have been a better option than what we got.
2. Colm Wilkinson (Bishop)
Case in point. Wilkinson originated the role of Jean Valjean both in London and on Broadway, and he’s the standard by which all other Valjeans are judged. He brought a physical and emotional presence to Valjean that Jackman can’t possibly much. Here, in a show of good will, he’s cast in a small role as the Bishop who forgives Valjean for stealing his silver and sets him on the path to righteousness. In the scenes he shares with Jackman, it’s clear that Wilkinson is ten times the singer that Wolverine is, even as he’s toning down his famous tenor to suit his more subtle new role. Colm Wilkinson 4eva, you guys.
1. Samantha Barks (Eponine)
Happily, the one major role that Hooper and the producers allowed to be filled by a non-celebrity was Eponine, my favorite character in Les Miserables, and one of the two (with Valjean) most requiring a professional singer at the helm. If played right, Eponine is the sad soul of this story, and Barks has played Eponine in multiple productions. This is the one character that the film truly got right, even if they unnecessarily shortened her screen time.