Oscar Predictions

January 29, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Posted in 2013 | 2 Comments
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In my Oscar predictions last year, I proved two things.  First: that I am just as capable as anyone of following the Hollywood buzz in guessing who will win for what (I got 9 of my 11 predictions correct).  Second: what I think should win an award is almost never the same as what Hollywood thinks.  This year, the outcomes seem a little more up in the air and I’m doing a bit more hedging in my predictions.  There is a sense that several categories could go one of 2 or 3 different ways.  Also, while I am not thrilled with who was left off the nominations, of those there, are am a bit more likely to agree with the way I think things are going than I was last year.  With that in mind, my thoughts for the 2014 Oscars:

Best Picture

Should be:  Her.  Not as great a film as last year’s “Amour” but deeply moving and beautifully acted, none-the-less.

Will be:  Dallas Buyer’s Club or 12 Year’s a Slave.  This could go either way.  Either of these would be okay.  They are both good films but I think there is still as chance American Hustle actually takes the win, which would be a crime.  Frankly, neither American Hustle nor Wolf of Wall Street should have even been nominated.  Rather, it should have been Fruitvale Station and Inside Llewyn Davis.

Best Director

Should be:  Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity.  Of those choices, he’s really the best pick.  His innovative techniques and stark cinematography are what made that film worth watching.  And, frankly, he should have won Best Original Screenplay for “Y Tu Mama Tambien.”  So, he’s overdue.

Will be:  Alfonso Cuarón.  David O. Russell may steal it from him but I don’t think so.

Lead Actress

Should be:  Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine.  Far and away, the best choice in this category.  She was stunning in her portrayal of Jasmine in a film that was otherwise pretty mediocre.

Will be:  Cate Blanchett.  This is one of the easiest predictions of the night.

Lead Actor

Should be:  Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyer’s Club.  This is the best performance of his career and would be a well earned Oscar.  Though it bothers me that Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) weren’t nominated, I still think McConaughey would have a slight edge over them.  though if Joaquin Phoenix were nominated, he would definitely be my choice.

Will be:  Probably Matthew McConaughey.   Chiwetel Ejiofor might steal it.  It depends on the momentum 12 Years A Slave manages to build between now and voting time.

Supporting Actress

Should be:  Lupita Nyong’o in The 12 Years A Slave.  Without a doubt.  For a first film, this performance was astonishing.  She was the most powerful thing in that movie.  If she weren’t nominated, I might be tempted to say June Squibb for her hysterical performance in Nebraska.  I know Hollywood is desperate for Jennifer Lawrence to be her generation’s Meryl Streep and, god knows, every generation needs one (I think Cate Blanchet is my generation’s Meryl Streep) but be patient; she’s won before and she’ll win again.

Will be:  Lupita Nyong’o.  Without a doubt.  The easiest call of the night.

Supporting Actor

Should be:  Jared Leto in Dallas Buyer’s Club.  This is a much stronger category than it was last year.  I loved Leto’s performance but I also really loved Fassbender’s in 12 Years A Slave and Bradley Cooper was the best thing about American Hustle.

Will be:  Jared Leto or Michael Fassbender.  It depends on which film has the momentum.  Both deserve to win but Fassbender will likely have the chance again; I am much less convinced Leto will.

Adapted Screenplay

Should be:  John Ridley for 12 Years A Slave.  Again, some of my favorites aren’t even up for consideration.  Of these choices, Ridley’s powerful use of language and the depth of his characters makes him my choice.

Will be: Terence Winter for Wolf of Wall Street.  I just have a sneaky suspicion that this will be their one nod for the night.  I hope I’m wrong.

Original Screenplay

Should be:  Spike Jonze for Her.  Quirky brilliance at it’s best.  He absolutely won’t win but really should.

Will be:  Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack for Dallas Buyer’s Club. Safe.  Easy.  Feel-goody.  I think it’s a shoo-in.

Best Animated Film

Should be:  I don’t care.  I only saw one of them.

Will be:  Frozen.  Why?  Because they tend to award the big blockbusters, though I’m sure Ernest & Celestine was probably much more interesting.

Best Foreign Language Film

Should be:  The Great Beauty.  This is such a frustrating category for me.  It’s missing all of my favorite foreign films this year: Blancanieves (which should win by far), the beautifully acted and nuanced The Attack, the creepy & effective German noir film, The Silence, and the modest but effective My Brother The Devil.  All of these deserved nominations and didn’t get them.

Will be:  The Great Beauty.  The Broken Circle Breakdown is the only other one with any momentum at all.

Best Documentary

Should be:  The Act of Killing.  This was a crazy, indescribable and unnerving film and I am unlikely to forget it for a long time.  It is also just as unlikely to win.  It is far too weird to win anyone over.

Will be:  20 Feet from Stardom.  This is my fear.  It’s such a feel good, family friendly movie full of lots of great music.  It also lacks insight and originality.  And it’s boring.  I can always hold out hope that Dirty Wars steals it.  That’s a great documentary that, frankly, could use the exposure.

2013 – The Year in Review

January 26, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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While not quite as good a year as last year, I think, I still saw my fair share of some amazing films.  I saw 71 films this year (almost all of them in the theater).  That is exactly the same number I saw last year and 1 less than in 2011 (I seem to have found a pattern).  Rather than rank a top 10 this year, I decided to list all of the films I gave 4 or more lozenges to.  I still agree with my ranking for almost all of them.  Here they are, roughly in order from my favorite film of the year on down:

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her

Fruitvale Station

The Act of Killing

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

Inside Llewyn Davis

Dallas Buyer’s Club

Blancanieves

Kill Your Darlings

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12 Years A Slave

Nebraska

Dirty Wars

Short Term 12

All is Lost

Interior. Leather Bar.

Gravity

Before Midnight

The Gatekeepers

American Hustle

Much Ado About Nothing

Mud

Still Mine

You can check out any of my above reviews by clicking on the film title.  I would strongly encourage you to check them all out, if you haven’t already.  And see them — they are all really really good.

Philomena

January 26, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

I had not intended to see this film.  By the previews, it struck me as cloying, manipulative and predictable.  However, with all the Oscar buzz, I changed my mind and decided to check it out.  I’m glad I did.  That isn’t to say the film is not manipulative (it really is a bit) but it wasn’t cloying nor nearly as predictable as I would have thought; funny how true life doesn’t always work out the way a Hollywood story would have.  This was a story with true depth; it took twists I had not seen and I felt those twists more deeply than I had expected.  The film was funny but I had expected that and, in the end, it was not as funny as I had thought.  It was also a bit heart-wrenching and I had not been prepared for that.  By the end of the movie, Steve Coogan’s character (the British journalist Martin Sixsmith) is brimming with rage and I can’t say I blame him.  That particular Irish convent (and it’s Magdalene Laundries) is infamous and watching them in action here was infuriating.  There is a good deal of indignation to be felt in this movie by everyone, it seems, except Philomena herself.  For all of her naiveté and blind faith, she is also a model of compassion and forgiveness.  I left that theater not with the same sense of superiority I felt toward her at first but, rather, wondering if I could ever be like her.

August: Osage County

January 18, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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“August: Osage County” is based on the Pulitzer prize winning play by Tracy Letts.  Letts had another play (“Killer Joe”) turned into a film last year and had a recurring role as Andrew Lockhart on this past season of “Homeland.” So, the man’s been busy. Here he maintains the grand tradition of American theatre, following in the footsteps of Albee, Williams and Shepard (who plays a small role in this film). In fact, this movie reminds me of nothing so much as O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night:” trap a bunch of family members in a house together and watch them rupture all over each other and the audience. Nobody remains unscathed; as the temperatures rise (it’s August, remember) so do the tempers and, soon enough (too soon really), all manner of ugliness comes out. By the end of the film, everyone has been eviscerated; no egos are left intact and all relationships are in ruins. If you are up for that sort of journey, the writing is rapier sharp and the acting suburb. I could watch Streep brush her teeth and here she is in glorious form. She brings depth and heart to the monsterous Violet (as in “violent,” get it?  Playwrights are never subtle) and I loved every minute of watching her on screen. Others can pale in comparison but this is a fantastic cast, including under-appreciated actors like Julianne Nicholson and the brilliant Margo Martindale.  If you don’t mind an over-heated melodrama, see this film; the acting along is worth the ticket.

The Wolf of Wall Street

January 18, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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½

Thanks to “The Wolf of Wall Street,” I have learned something new about black humor.  A film can be dripping with the blackest of humors and still not be a dark film.  “Wolf” is bright, colorful, high energy and cheerful even (this is no “Fargo”).  It trades darkness for something far more disturbing: soul wrenching, bone deep cynicism.  Here is something else I learned: I don’t like it.  I love a good black comedy but I found three hours of hedonism just too much for me.  I did not like these people (not a single one of them) and I was worn down by three hours of them snorting cocaine, popping pills, fucking, and fucking over everyone.  Scorsese is a genius filmmaker but this feels like a miss.  I understand that there is commentary in the excess but it was all just too much for me.  I was worn down by the end and truly just did not care.  The world (and Scorsese especially) loves DiCaprio but I still remain unconvinced he is capable of a subtle, truly masterful performance.  Sometimes I think I see it in brief moments of some films (“Revolutionary Road” was the last time) but it certainly wasn’t on display here.  If called upon to be “intense” in some form or another, DiCaprio can do that in spades.  It has gotten him an Oscar nod here.  But there’s no humanity behind this caricature.  The same can be said of Jonah Hill, who’s character here seemed like a variation on playing himself in “This Is The End.”  For a film that, ultimately, appeared to want to be a cautionary tale, it also wanted us to have fun with it’s characters.  Well, you can’t have it both ways.  Any moral lesson is lost in the glitz and I didn’t like any of them enough to have any fun at all.  In fact, I feel vaguely guilty that any portion of my $10 may end up in the real Jordan Belfort’s pocket.  In the end, this man made millions stealing from average Americans, got a slap on the wrist because he ratted out all his friends, then wrote a book and made a movie.  How does that chant go? Oh, yeah: “USA, USA, USA!”

her

January 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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I had wondered if anything was going to top “Fruitvale Station” as my favorite film of the year and I may have just found it.  Spike Jonze (“Adaptation,” “Where the Wild Things Are”) has made his best film in almost 15 years, since the unspeakably brilliant “Being John Malkovich.” With an eye for the smallest details, Jonze has managed to create the most plausible near-future world I have seen on film; the digitally enhanced cityscape, the cars, the computer screens/interfaces, the video games all seemed to make perfect sense. I was even willing to go along with the grandpa style pants; though they were a tad distracting, they seemed a plausible reaction to the sagging fashions of the past 2 decades.  Of course, the film hinges on the believability of the OS technology at its center. Do you think that in 20 or 30 years we could have Siri-type technology capable of seeming completely human? I certainly do and this film makes it seem entirely plausible. As such, watching the relationship between Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) develop was a joy. Phoenix is a brilliant actor whose performances have only become more nuanced. Here he brings Theodore to life by capturing his range of emotions so naturally: he is melancholy and romantic and kind and a bit self-involved and hopeful and guarded and it all shows in him almost all the time. This is the most layered performance I have ever seen from Phoenix. Johansson is equally brilliant, especially given that she never appears on screen. In fact, the voice of the OS was initially played by Samantha Morton (“In America,” “Sweet and Lowdown,” “Minority Report”) and this is whose voice Phoenix was playing against.  So, it is all the more impressive the Johansson can come in after the film is fully wrapped and add a voice that seems so naturally to be communicating with Phoenix. Without ever seeing her on film, the audience is able to get a clear sense of the richness of her character just from Johansson’s voice. The film works at all because these two actors are able to make their love believable.  The story is quirky, laugh-out-loud funny in parts and also deeply sentimental, romantic and moving. Even in this strange sci-fi story, there are real truths about love, loss and the human condition. And, while it is sad in moments, it is ultimately a film that is incredibly kind and loving to its characters. This is reflected in Jonze’s color palate. The film is inundated with warm colors (reds, yellows, browns, and lots of warm woods everywhere), with the most prominent being orange; I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie so dominated by one color, from most of Theodore’s clothing, to his office furniture to the color of the OS set-up screen. I’m not sure what Jonze was saying but it’s clear he was saying something– perhaps simply linking Theodore to the OS through color (I cannot remember if orange was present at the very beginning of the movie before the OS was activated. If anyone knows, please share). This is a movie trying to say a lot about what it means to be human and, with the help of an artificial voice, is succeeds gloriously.

Inside Llewyn Davis

January 2, 2014 at 11:49 am | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

When discussing the Brothers Coen, expectations are understandably high.  With an impressive list of almost impossibly good films (“Fargo,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “No Country for Old Men,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Miller’s Crossing,”: and on and on…), I would be hard pressed to call this one of their best works, yet it still remains one of the best films this year.  The Coens have a jaundiced view of human nature and most of their films portray hapless sad-sacks struggling (and usually failing) in the face of the universe’s utter disinterest. Here, we follow the eponymous folk singer through a meandering journey that ends right where it starts. In this sense, this film most closely resembles “O Brother” and even has a cat named Ulysses to drive home the point: Llewyn Davis is on an epic Odyssian journey.  Like “O Brother” (and “The Odyssey”), we meet various characters along the way; in this case, they all appear to represent various forms of the apathy and cynicism that Davis struggles with internally. Also, like “O Brother,” the music of an era is at the soul of this film and we are treated to some stunning, doleful and haunting folks song, arranged for us by T-Bone Burnett. Oscar Isaac’s fantastic performance manages to wring as much sympathy as possible out of the audience for the morose, hang-dogged and completely self-involved Davis.  Isaac has been building his career over the past 5 years doing mostly background work but proves his mettle as a lead actor here.  The rest of the crew bring in strong performances as well. Carey Mulligen is bitingly funny as the snide Jean and Justin Timberlake nails the wide-eyed naivety and oh-gosh silliness at the heart of some early 60s folk singers. John Goodman shines, as he always does for the Coens, during his too brief time on screen.  I will also mention (with some degree of bragging) that I was able to recognize Max Casella, who long ago played best friend Vinny on “Doogie Howser;” it was nice to see that he has kept very busy over the years.  Moody, haunting, silly, touching, biting, inexplicable… sounds like the Coens to me.

American Hustle

December 30, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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“Some of this actually happened.”  Thus states the disclaimer at the beginning of “American Hustle,” David O. Russell’s new film about the Abscam scandal of the late 1970s. That statement not only gives fair warning for any artistic license taken but also sets the tone for the film; for all the seriousness of the subject matter, it is also wryly funny. I knew little about Abscam prior to this film but it was, apparently, even wackier and further reaching than the movie portrays, ultimately bringing down a US senator, 6 representatives, a mayor and couple of other smaller elected officials.  Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook,” “The Fighter,” “Three Kings”) brings together several of his previous partners-in-crime to fill out an all star cast including Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, and Jeremy Renner. Russell captures the mood of the 70s with lavish costumes (especially on Amy Adams), outrageous hair and a score filled with the likes of Elton John, ELO, & Donna Summer. Russell also manages to get top notch performances from his actors, particularly from Cooper, whose coked-out maniac FBI agent steals most of the scenes he is in. All of the characters in this film are wacky enough and complex enough to be interesting and there are a couple of fun cameos to boot. The story mostly moves along at an entertaining pace, though it drags a bit in the middle and felt a tad over long. Those small quibbles aside, this is a clever movie about a story that could have only happened in the 70s with it’s strange mix of excess and naiveté.  This was a moment in history that would have otherwise been completely forgotten.

Pacific Rim

December 26, 2013 at 8:51 am | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ½

DVD.  All I can really say about this film is that I enjoyed the hell out of watching it, which isn’t quite the same it’s a great film. I never bothered to see it in the theater because it looked like another dumb action film in the “The Transformers” vein. However, unlike that insufferable series, this film does not take itself seriously. Gone is the heavy handed moral dialogue and deeper message. Instead, we have simple, over-the-top fun. Director Guillermo del Torro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) knows how to play up the absurdity so that the audience is laughing with the movie and not at it.  Likewise, the actors don’t take themselves too seriously here (fortunately, we have no Shia LaBeouf or Megan Fox in the cast). Don’t expect great acting range, even from solid performers like Idris Elba (star of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”) and Charlie Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy”). These guys are not being paid to show complex emotions; they’re being paid to show us a good time and, for the most part, they do. The action scenes are ridiculously fun and the dialogue is laugh-out-loud heavy handed. The same line that made me groan in the previews (“We are cancelling the Apocalypse!”) became hysterical within the context of the rest of the film’s silliness. I’m glad I didn’t see it in the theater; I don’t think it’s worth $12 and I don’t know that I would have had the same experience in a theater full of strangers.  But, sitting on the coach, surrounded by friends or family, with a few drinks in you… how could you not have a good time?

Frozen

December 26, 2013 at 8:22 am | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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◊ ½

I may not be the best person to review this movie.  It isn’t the type of film I typically see but I’m staying with family, it’s the holidays, kids… you get the picture.  I knew nothing about the film and was a bit dismayed to discover, 5 minutes in, that it was a musical.  I have a particular intolerance for singing in films because the songs are almost always sappy, the movies are typically one-dimensional & feel-goody goody, and it destroys the fourth wall as people don’t generally break into song in their day to day lives (there are, of course, exceptions to these rules, like “Moulin Rouge,” or “Once” and I do like those films).  However, I found that none of that mattered here because I had no expectations for anything other than sappy, feel good and formulaic.  And, I certainly got plenty of that.  Nothing stood out here: the animation, songs and story line were all absolutely run-of-the-mill.  The only thing that rose above the mediocre was the snowman character that showed up about 20 minutes in.  Played by comedian Josh Gad (best known for the dreadful and short-lived TV show “1600 Penn”), the snowman is the only character with any character at all; every laugh line was his.  While he was on the screen, I was generally enjoying the film; while he wasn’t, I was generally bored.  But, like I said, I may not be the best person to review this film.  The kids I was with loved it and there seemed to be plenty of enjoyment in the theater. And, as my sister pointed out, this is another in a line of Disney films with strong heroines who don’t need men to save the day. That’s something.  I just don’t know if it’s enough for me to really recommend it.

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