Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sometimes an Unimaginable Nomination

Today, the screenplay for The Imitation Game has reaped a Golden Globe nomination—one of five for the film, bestowed by the same taste-makers who famously yukked all the way through Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and The Tourist.  On this auspicious occasion, I set aside the The Imitation Game's revisions of history, its pedestrian style, its confusing structure, its weakly differentiated supporting characters, its indiscernible grasp of the machineries and thought processes at its core, its patently improbable Eurekas (what if they're all talking about Hitler??!), and its obnoxious re-closeting of Alan Turing, and I celebrate instead its poetry.  Sometimes it is the screenplays that nobody could imagine that produce the most unimaginable lines, and repeat them unimaginably often, eliciting levels of praise that were never to be imagined.

Since this already-indelible locution is apparently but one gleaming face of a multi-karat screenplay, an example to hold up to the rest of the industry, I thought I would convince any doubters out there by proving just how deftly that unimaginable line speaks for or summarizes some of the other films that just received their own invites to the Golden Globe derby.  Surely their own screenwriters couldn't have put things better themselves...

Gone Girl: "Dear Diary, Sometimes it's the husband you imagined a little more of who's got something coming he never could have imagined."

Force Majeure: "Sometimes it's the husbands you imagined more of who do the thing you never could have imagined but no, I didn't imagine it!"

Foxcatcher: "Sometimes it's the philatelist Mommy imagined nothing of who's the only one who imagined anything of you, you ungrateful ape."

Birdman, or Sometimes It's the Celebrities of Whom One Imagines Nothing Who Do the Play that No One Can Imagine and that Might Be Imaginary.

Whiplash: "Sometimes it's the jazz drummers no one imagines anything of who just POUND AWAY! and forget that art is also about imagination."

Interstellar: "Sometimes the things we can barely imagine, Murph, are more real than we imagined. But a ghost? You're imagining that. D'oh!"

Boyhood: "Sometimes the kid whom no one imagines anything in particular of grows up and just, I dunno, just wait and see what happens, man?"

Big Hero 6: "Sometimes you have to imagine a distant future to see things you've never imagined, like convenient, personalized health care."

... and of course ...
"Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine." – Joan Clarke. And Cheryl Strayed.

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Monday, December 01, 2014

Prepping for the Final Sprint

Fall festival furor meant that I missed my annual fall-preview post where I rank my enthusiasms for upcoming film releases with the help of some noted diva.  Too bad, because I really had an inspired choice in mind this year.  He'll still be with us in 2015.  But, as December bows and awards season commences (way to go, Marion, Darius, and Jennifer!!), maybe it's not too late to forecast what I still have left to see before I wrap up the year and fail miserably to post a Top Ten list.  A few of the remaining big-ticket releases I saw earlier this fall, like Still Alice, Mommy, Wild, and Two Days, One Night, but since I'm only a minor-league player, most of it will be news to me when it's also news to you. Unless you're major.

Inherent Vice - Idea of adapting Pynchon puts a smile on my face. So does trailer.
American Sniper - Hot on Cooper lately (hush!), and seems like good fit for Clint.
Into the Woods - Not expecting sublimity, don't love the show, but pipped for cast.
   C+ - Fine, meat-and-potatoes staging. Cast is game. Garish look. Effort shows.
Unbroken - Smells weirdly programmatic: "Please, sir, may I inspire you today?"
Big Eyes - Burton and Waltz both seem to be running in place lately. Is Amy, too?
Exodus: Gods and Kings - Would have been lower but critics I trust don't mind it.
Annie - Y'all know me well enough to know it's Quvenzhané 4-Ever around here.
Top Five - In theory, I'd be more jazzed about this, but TIFF crowds seemed cool.
Big Hero 6 - Already out for weeks now, but I don't feel flooded with incentive.
   B+ - For the second year in a row, Disney exceeds my expectations. Delightful.
The Gambler - If it weren't for Jessica Lange, this would be easier to dismiss.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Sorry, but Smaug's still in Time Out.
The Interview - I'll have to see this because a student is writing about it. Pity me.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb - Some secrets are meant to be kept.

Leviathan - Won't open in Chicago until Jan 9, but Zvyagintsev's so up my alley.
Selma - I loved DuVernay's Middle of Nowhere. Advance audiences are beaming.
The Strange Little Cat - No film this year elated more friends. On DVD Jan 13.
A Most Violent Year - I really admired All Is Lost. All the signs look good here.
Mr. Turner - Should I be even more enthused? A little Spall goes a long way.
Goodbye to All That - Junebug was such a transformative experience for me.
   B/B+ - Oddly broad at moments, but so behaviorally and observationally rich.
Tales of the Grim Sleeper - Broomfield inspires ambivalence, but is this a peak?
The Two Faces of January - Admirers really admire. Viggo's had a banner year.
   D - Not easy to adapt Highsmith with zero psychological pull or erotic charge.
Bad Hair - People love this Venezuelan import, arriving at Facets on Friday.
   B+ - Acute characterizations, observant of its city, mature on sex and gender.
Beloved Sisters - I've heard interesting things. Apt companion to Amour fou?
The Tale of Princess Kaguya - I'm no animation nut, but one hears good things.
   B/B+ - Some tightening wouldn't hurt, but loveliness and feeling only deepen.
Happy Valley - Is it bad hosting to take brother to sex-abuse doc when he visits?
Red Army - Festival crowd-pleaser and likely Oscar nominee. But still. Meh.
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles - What's new to say?

Maps to the Stars - So brilliant to kill off Cannes buzz and hide the release date!
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night - If they'd build it in Chicago, I would come.
Cake - Good way to get Aniston an Oscar is to obscure whether this has opened.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks - If Gena wants to dance, she needn't ask twice.
Black or White - What a perfect time to release a tone-deaf race-relations drama.
The Pyramid - Seriously! It turns out a movie with this title opens in four days!

Fury - Must-see factor never got very high, but Ayer, Pitt, Lerman, Peña appeal.
   C+ - Overproduced, highly uneven, but has some mad, Steel Helmet conviction.
The Boxtrolls - Liked Coraline, ParaNorman fine, but I'm missing something.
   C - Dense with visual detail, but expended labor exceeds storytelling dexterity.
Men, Women, and Children - Just fucking with you! Though I do love moralizing.

Archipelago - I've stumped for Unrelated for six years. Thrilled about follow-up.
   B - Hogg repeats aspects of style and subject from debut; good, but feels forced.
Listen Up Philip - The Schwartzman film for folks with Schwartzman allergies?
   C - Moss, Pryce impress. Still, even more purgatorial experience than intended?
Oculus - 40% the admiring reviews, 40% the ambitious premise, 20% Starbuck.
   C+ - Too many rules? Too few? Adds up only vaguely but has a weird elegance.
The Drop - Tim Robey fired me right up, but I just couldn't get there. Out soon.
Locke - In fact, managed to drop a ball on Tom Hardy twice. Foolish both times?
   C+ - Worthy stab at something different. Comes close to working. Good cast.
The Good Lie - Blinked during CIFF and missed its brief release back in October.
Manuscripts Don't Burn - Not Rasoulof's best-reviewed movie, but I'm intrigued.
Venus in Fur - Very clever play. Sounds like Polanski, Seigner surprised people.
   B - Fruity, sleek, and tricksy at the same time. Even its mustier ideas have juice.
Camp X-Ray - Gutsy. Stewart's had a good year, and I've admired her many times.
   B - Credible enough on Gitmo, richer as character drama. Very smartly acted.
Starred Up - Jack O'Connell hubbub started here. Seems like right place to begin.
   B - Adds welcome layers as it goes, and well-acted. Just didn't feel all that new.
Fishing Without Nets - Somali-pirate documentary promises to be eye-opening.
Horses of God - Has sounded enticing since two Cannes ago when it premiered.
Exhibition - Not as warmly received as Archipelago or Unrelated, but still Hogg.
   A– - Inventive, quietly gutsy meditation on human coldness that isn't a critique.
Burning Bush - Critics all admire this prohibitively long Agnieszka Holland epic.
Omar - What the eff is wrong with me? An Oscar nominee by a good filmmaker!
   B - Sturdy melodrama places plot over style, but it sure thickens. Tense, bold.
Bad Words - Nobody I know was enraptured, but I giggle at every clip I've seen.
   C– - Such a nasty pall. So besmirching of Bateman; amazing he's responsible.
Hateship Loveship - Notices were hardly fawning but I admire Wiig for reaching.
Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian - Even if it's a botch, likely indelible.
Finding Vivian Maier - Getting the impression I flubbed, but it seemed so trendy.
   B - Intriguing, but "investigative" framework too often looks right past the art.
Muppets Most Wanted - Because Kermit. Because Rowlf. Because Beeker. Becau
The Fault in Our Stars - Not excited, but since I've twice been taken for Green...
   B - The performances and the lucid emotional through-lines really disarmed me.
Particle Fever - Near-universal raves. Pertinent to some (non-lab) work I'm doing.
About Last Night - I like many members of its cast and want to support Headland.
   B - Zippy script, inspired cast. Nicely balanced between the earnest and profane.
Manakamana - Iron Ministry recently reminded me how much I admire this style.
A Good Marriage - Once more, got hopes up Joan was Back. Then it got dumped.
   C+ - Adroit audience manipulation. Nervy themes. Allen! And still it feels flat?
Vic + Flo Saw a Bear - Boy did this polarize people when it premiered at Berlin.
Jimi: All Is By My Side - Seems like an idiosyncratic biopic. I'm curious, anyway.
Miss Lovely - Hard to predict if it's got a hold on its luridness or just revels in it.
Frank - "Fassbender as DeadMau5" could technically go well or be The Worst.
   C - Eccentric enough I can see it lingering, but it's both arch and sentimental.
Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas - For my Cannes completism.
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors - The Indie Spirit nomination intrigues me.
Cheap Thrills - My site may not make this obvious but I'm game for dicey horror.
Devil's Knot - Just how far am I willing to take the Reesurgence? Nobody bit...
Chef - ...whereas, in this case, everybody bit, but I can't stop feeling suspicious.
Moebius - I tried with Kim again on Pietà and it wasn't bad but also wasn't great.
Breathe In - A fully improv'd drama gives pause. But there are jewels in the cast.
300: Rise of an Empire - I have a right to know just how fun Eva Green is in this.
   D+ - Green's fun, but stuck in a cauldron of Tarsem-ish, Cheney-ish jingo-kitsch.
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me - Keep being promised I'll like it even if I didn't like her.
   B– - Both a valentine and something more pointed and rounded. Chilly breezes.
Divergent - Look, they filmed parts on my block, and Roth's an alum of my Dept.
   C - Unimaginative filmmaking works against the speculative pull of the story.
Dormant Beauty - Huppert is an ineluctable draw, but even she's made lame films.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Not a Marvel fan. But, Mackie in uniform.
Ivory Tower - Given my vocation, I ought to make this a priority. But is it hacky?
Blood Glacier - You guys, this movie is called Blood Glacier. It's Blood Glacier.
Rob the Mob - Nina Arianda is the kind of actress worth following into tiny films.
G.B.F. - Joe Reid and other friends imply that I'll be charmed at the very least.
In Secret - Watching Lange hate a movie she's in is a rare, succulent pleasure.
White Bird in a Blizzard - Araki's never been my cuppa. Shailene's more the draw.
Palo Alto - "A Coppola picked up a book by James Franco" is not an enticing start.
   B/B+ - Another Coppola proves me wrong! Familiar ideas, insinuating direction.
God's Pocket - Worth tracking Hoffman wherever he went, but I'm still too sad.
Cesar Chavez - I've sat through many biopics with less stirring subjects. Peña!
The Double - I've had over a year to make good on this, and nothing's working.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - So stoked for Keira these days, I'll try anything.

And now, please do your part by saving me from myself! Let me know where I'm investing too much optimism or, even better, clue me in to a diamond I've overlooked. And keep checking back here and on my U.S. Releases of 2014 page for updates as I cross titles off these lists.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Happy 50th, Chicago Film Festival!

I've known since I moved here that I shared a spiritual link with the Chicago International Film Festival, and this year the case only gets stronger. On October 9, the festival will turn 50 on the same day I turn 37, and as happens every year, the programmers will whup even my relatives and loved ones in the competition for Best Gift.  Tickets go on sale to the public today, though one of the perks of joining Cinema/Chicago and supporting the organization is getting a two-day head start on those purchases.  I suspect I won't be the only patron who feels I am being showered with presents.

For their golden anniversary, the leadership has curated a selection that, according to Programming Director Mimi Plauché,"ties back to the history of the festival and also looks forward in so many ways." That commitment to its own heritage begins with the Opening Night selection of Liv Ullmann's Miss Julie, extending CIFF's streak of programming all of Ullmann's directorial efforts since her first in 1992 (including a new personal favorite of mine, Private Confessions, which won Pernilla August a richly deserved Best Actress award here in 1996).  Ullmann will be back to introduce the film and take questions, as will Hollywood directors and CIFF loyalists Oliver Stone and Taylor Hackford, who will screen some favorites among their own work: Natural Born Killers and the extended cut of Alexander in Stone's case, The Idolmaker and White Nights in Hackford's.  CIFF will also host the North American premiere of the newly restored Why Be Good?, released simultaneously as a silent and a talkie in 1929 and previously thought lost.  The star, Colleen Moore, plays a character named "Pert," which is all I need to know. She will be familiar to CIFF audiences as the inspiration for the Franju-esque graphic that CIFF has used as its logo since its inception, since she helped to found the whole institution.  Archival pleasures extend as well to a four-film cycle of Isabelle Huppert's greatest post-2000 hits, selected by the actress herself and screening all in 35mm at the Music Box: The Piano Teacher (blistering), Comedy of Power (diabolical), Copacabana (atypically comic), and White Material (unmissable).  Whether Huppert herself will alight for the occasion was not clear, but a girl can dream.

Miss Julie, despite being an Irish-set and substantially Irish-funded production, also commences in its way CIFF 2014's spotlight on Scandinavian cinema, which encompasses among many other films Ruben Östlund's festival smash Force Majeure, which I couldn't get into in Toronto; Norway's 1001 Grams, already submitted for Oscar consideration; Sweden's The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, which at least gave Roy Andersson some competition in the race for memorable film titling; encore screenings of Breaking the Waves and Fanny and Alexander; a portmanteau of recent Nordic short films; and Iceland's Of Horses and Men, already a cult favorite, with an indelible poster and this IMDb logline: A country romance about the human streak in the horse and the horse in the human. Love and death become interlaced and with immense consequences. The fortunes of the people in the country through the horses' perception. You can bet I'm skipping the one-night-only screening of Birdman to be there.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Welcome, Class of 2018!

Northwestern University, where I teach, runs on the quarter system (elsewhere called the trimester system), so classes don't start here until next week.  Admittedly, this timely welcome I'm offering to our incoming first-years will be belated for students on most other campuses, though I wish everyone in school, at any level, a fantastic year.

I was so happy to score the gig giving the opening-day address to all 1150 first-years in our Arts and Sciences college.  My remarks were inspired equally by questions and worries I've heard from my own freshman advisees over the years, and by my own memories of excitement and uncertainty my first year in college, and by things I never stop thinking about.  For example, Project Runway.  And the Oscars.  Frequent readers of this site or listeners of Nathaniel's podcasts won't be surprised by any of that.

I wish I could give this advice to many more college students, and maybe other students as well, about controlling stress, admitting vulnerabilities, cultivating patience, and prioritizing happiness, even amidst hard work.  In hopes of doing that, I'm posting the text here, complete with what every campus address needs: a full-scale FYC for Secrets & Lies and a couple sung bars of "Let It Go."  Make the most of the coming year, everybody, or the coming four years!

Wildcat Welcome Address – September 17, 2014 – Nick Davis

If you have further or different advice you'd offer to entering undergraduates, please share it in the Comments.  And feel free to circulate, with attribution.  (Don't just lift it, or I'll be all up in your business like a Wendy interview.)

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

The Fifties 2014: Actor, Actress, Director, Picture



Macon Blair, Blue Ruin: Communicates the everyman quality of the character without condescending to him. Never turns into a killing machine.

Jim Broadbent, Le Week-end: Just as he was nearing Maggie Smith levels of typecasting, he plays someone angrier, sadder, hornier, more fun.

Pierre Deladonchamps, Stranger by the Lake: Not a wallflower or an idiot but shows us the character's nerves and his unreliable conscience.

Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel: Distinctive enough he isn't just doing "a Wes Anderson character," and he's dapper, funny, and sad.

Sergio Hernández, Gloria: We sense his desire for Gloria and the certainty that he will disappoint her. You resent him but still sympathize.

Runners Up: Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow; Jake Gyllenhaal, Enemy; Archie Alemania, Norte, the End of History
On the Radar: Tom Hiddleston, Only Lovers Left Alive

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Friday, August 01, 2014

The Fifties 2014: Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Original Screenplay, Art Direction



Patricia Arquette, Boyhood: Because shouldering an entire alternate perspective isn't easy, and she sells her big moments.

Jillian Bell, 22 Jump Street: For going all Rebel Wilson on this shit, stealing the entire movie, and probably booking herself about six further gigs.

Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow: For handling the tricky balance of both subject and object at once. Parcels herself out incredibly smartly.

Gaby Hoffmann, Obvious Child: For continuing the Hoffmannassaince with a whole bunch of new colors and a quiet confidence of someone who can steal scenes without really trying to steal scenes.

Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer: For getting on a tricky wavelength and going for it, like she always does, and succeeding, like she pretty much always does. And some spillover goodwill for Only Lovers Left Alive, sure, yes.

Runners Up: Krysten Ritter, Veronica Mars; Mia Wasikowska, Only Lovers Left Alive; Melanie Lynskey, Happy Christmas; Kathy Bates, Tammy

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Best Supporting Actress 1973: Nominees and Outside Possibilties

This is a picture of me sitting on a hilltop in a fetching blonde bowl cut, while Nathaniel, not unusually dressed as Madeline Kahn, warily approaches. Despite my years of conscientious service, he's actually asking me to bow out from this month's installment of the Supporting Actress Smackdown, dedicated to the roster of 1973, and to let five interlopers sit up front with their big tits.

I guess when the new passengers are extraordinary film critics Bill Chambers and Karina Longworth, peerless popular film historian Mark Harris, sickeningly young movie smarty-smart Kyle Turner, and multiple-Emmy-winning actress Dana Delany, I might see the logic of moving to the back seat. Hell, for that crowd, I'd ride in the trunk.  Just like you, I cannot wait for this episode of the Smackdown and its associated podcast, both because I so admire all the panelists and because—in a major reversal from last month—I think the Academy did an absolutely splendid job filling out this field.  If there'd been room for me on this varsity squad, I'd have said the following... and in 73 words apiece, because you know I don't play:

Linda Blair, The Exorcist
★ ★ ★ ★
I get it: Blair’s performance encompasses major assists from makeup, effects, and a pissed-off Mercedes McCambridge. Awarding her may not be the appropriate channel for recognizing the impact of the characterization. But when the impact is that astounding… Plus, I like her muted, underplayed chipperness and frightening fatigue in the opening acts. You feel that an already-recessive personality is being further endangered, which is more interesting than a precocious dynamo coming under attack.

Candy Clark, American Graffiti
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Nobody's bad in Graffiti but many are boring. Dreyfuss begs to get noticed; others could stand being more noticeable. Oscar's singling out of Clark makes sense: she famously campaigned, but she's also got a peculiar, genuinely comic presence. From the start, foggily contemplating which celebrity she most resembles, she looks perpetually like she's entertaining other, weirder thoughts than the script's, without detaching from scene partners, getting too broad, or leaning into kooky-blonde caricature.

Madeline Kahn, Paper Moon
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Kahn can unmask Trixie's core and animate a whole scene simply by belting "Son of a bitch!" with impressive vulgarity. She gets aroused just hearing about hotel rooms, daddy. Silencing her seditious, over-sharing traveling companion with one look, she gets her laugh while disclosing how terrified Trixie is of blowing even this shoddy chance for—money? companionship? adulation? Still, she sometimes settles for surface. Often more involved in her performances than her films.

Tatum O'Neal, Paper Moon
★ ★ ★ ★
Yes, she's a lead, from first shot to last. More caveats: like Blair, she benefits as much from savvy typecasting as from inspired technique; huge swaths of her performance unfold in isolated close-ups, enlivened as much by editing as by anything Tatum is doing. But? She's sweet, sad, conniving, funny, and ill-tempered without being insufferable. She radiates constantly how unhappy she'd be living in some nice lady's house. She makes the movie work.

Sylvia Sidney, Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams
★ ★ ★ ★
It's one thing to establish a lasting impression in the first 20 minutes. It's another to convey such steely self-absorption within that narrow window that we believe you'd inspire the biggest chip Joanne Woodward ever had on her shoulder... and she's had a lot of big ones. And to be funny, but not comic, while doing it! And to render a memorably upsetting death scene. Extra points for eye-rolling at that baby’s picture.

Clearly no complaints this time around, even though I'm still not sure whom I'd have voted for—probably Sidney, since hers is the most obvious display of proficiency without editing or effects boosting her along in any way. But really, this category couldn't have gone too wrong.

That said, I always love seizing Nathaniel's monthly focus on a given year to (re)visit as many movies as I can. This month I watched over two dozen releases from 1973 I'd never seen before and re-watched several others, plus some slightly older films that qualified for Oscar in 1973. For the purposes of today, here's what I learned about 18 eligible members of the competitive field from which Oscar culled Blair, Clark, Kahn, O'Neal, and Sidney. Many of these performances, including those nominated for other major awards, might have given those gals a run for their spots (though honestly, consensus seemed pretty strong that these would be The Five). No longer promising 73 words a piece, though. Take what you can get...

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Fifties 2014: Ensemble, Foreign Film, Costumes, Sound



Gloria: A star vehicle and beguiling two-hander that expands gracefully to include relatives and background players of real color and depth.

Hide Your Smiling Faces: The movie I wanted the best parts of Mud to be, with an eye for child actors and adults who do a lot with a little.

Ilo Ilo: Where the kid, the parents, and the nanny all feel intimate with each other and strange to each other. Everyone nails the dramedy.

Only Lovers Left Alive: Another smallish ensemble, but drawing dissimilar actors so fully in line with Jarmusch's peculiar idiom is a feat.

Unrelated: Where almost every actor has at least two roles to play, except the lead, who has no role to play. Gives and takes all marvelous.

Honorable Mentions: Boyhood (missed my cutoff)
Runners Up: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, Begin Again, Borgman, Neighbors, Obvious Child, Young & Beautiful, Cold in July
On the Radar: Non-Stop, The Grand Budapest Hotel, It Felt Like Love

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Friday, July 25, 2014

The Fifties 2014: Supporting Actor, Original Score, Adapted Screenplay



Carlo Cecchi, Honey (Miele): Because even if the film hints what he might be up to, the actor keeps you guessing, not just about what but about why.

Patrick d'Assumçao, Stranger by the Lake: Because he doesn't pity his character and pulls focus from all those penises, deepening the movie.

Jeff Goldblum, Le Week-end: Because even if we've seen this acerbic maybe-asshole from Goldblum before, he's especially spry and funny here.

Tom Hiddleston, Unrelated: For keeping within a limited spectrum, never getting fully attached to Anna but leaning toward and away from her.

Jake Lacy, Obvious Child: For playing a more vanilla guy than the genre or the lead usually invite but convincing us he's a happy accident.

Honorable Mentions: Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart, made for cable; Ethan Hawke, Boyhood, missed my cutoff
Runners Up: Àlex Brendemühl, The German Doctor; Ronen Rubinstein, It Felt Like Love; Johan Leysen, Young & Beautiful; James Corden, Begin Again

On the Radar: Sam Shepard, Cold in July; Don Johnson, Cold in July; Adam Levine, Begin Again

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Fifties 2014: Editing and Visual Effects



Boyhood (Sandra Adair): The ambition of the project puts a spotlight on the editing process, but making three hours feel so tantalizingly quick is more than just a gimmick.

Edge of Tomorrow
(James Herbert)
: The editing is kind of front and center on this one too, and the whole enterprise would pretty much crash and burn without a sure hand. A few extra thumbs up for the comedy elements in the middle section, almost entirely editing-based.

Hide Your Smiling Faces (Daniel Patrick Carbone): Letting this story unfold at its own pace, with the vagaries and languidness of a childhood summer vacation.

Stranger by the Lake
(Jean-Christophe Hym)
: Suspense born of long- and close-shots, cut together with dreamy precision.

Under the Skin
(Paul Watts)
: Making juuuust enough sense of the plot without spelling it out for the audience. Working in tandem with Johansson to portion out her increasing empathy as deliberately as possible.

Read more »

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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Fifties Eligibility Lists, 2014

It's all happening... Joe Reid, whom you know and love from The Wire and from the Film Experience podcasts, will join me again for The Fifties, my annual tradition of listing the best achievements in major Oscar categories in the year by around mid-summer, once I've hit the milestone of seeing 50 U.S. commercial releases from the calendar year. Beyond sharing ridiculous list-mania, Joe and I have a knack for reaching that goalpost at almost exactly the same time without even trying. We don't, however, see all the same movies—this year we only overlap on 26 titles—so you can't draw a one-to-one comparison between our choices.  Happily, the discrepancies increase the overall eligibility pool and make consensus all the more striking when it does emerge.

We are very aware of not finishing our announcements last year. To prevent that happening again, we've already filled out our individual ballots and are planning shorter conversations about our choices. The first categories will be posted soon. For now, here are the lists of films we're each working from, with shared titles in bold. File your favorites and FYC's in the Comments! And use that space to fight over whether Emily Blunt is a lead or a supporting player in Edge of Tomorrow.

P.S. Now that The Fifties are finished, I've included final nomination tallies for each movie in parentheses.

(25 got nominations)
22 Jump Street
Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq
Before You Know It
Begin Again (3)
Belle (1)
Blue Ruin (2)
Child's Pose
Closed Curtain
Cold in July
Edge of Tomorrow (9)
The Final Member
Frankie & Alice
The German Doctor (1)
Gloria (4)
Godzilla (2)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (4)
Heli (2)
Hide Your Smiling Faces (1)
Honey (2)
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Ida (5)
Ilo Ilo (4)
The Immigrant (8)
It Felt Like Love
The Last of the Unjust (3)
The LEGO Movie (1)
Like Father, Like Son
Maleficent (1)
The Missing Picture (5)
Night Moves
Norte, the End of History (5)
Nymphomaniac, Vol. 1
Nymphomaniac, Vol. 2
Obvious Child (4)
Only Lovers Left Alive (8)
The Rover
Stranger by the Lake (2)
They Came Together
Under the Skin (7)
Unrelated (8)
Le Week-end (3)
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
Young & Beautiful
(29 got nominations)
22 Jump Street (1)
Adult World
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Blue Ruin (3)
Borgman (2)
Boyhood (6)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2)
Chef (1)
The Congress (6)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2)
Devil's Knot
Edge of Tomorrow (8)
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
The German Doctor
Gloria (3)
Godzilla (4)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (3)
Happy Christmas
Hide Your Smiling Faces (3)
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (1)
The Immigrant (2)
The LEGO Movie
Locke (2)
Lucky Them
Neighbors (1)
Night Moves
Noah (1)
Obvious Child (6)
Omar (1)
Only Lovers Left Alive (6)
The Pretty One
Raze (1)
The Sacrament
Snowpiercer (6)
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Stranger by the Lake (8)
They Came Together
Trust Me
Under the Skin (8)
Veronica Mars (1)
Le Week-end (1)
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (1)
Winter's Tale
X-Men: Days of Future Past (1)

We both elected to disqualify The Normal Heart and other movies that premiered on U.S. television, as well as films scheduled for U.S. release later this year that haven't technically bowed yet (which for me knocks out Child of God, The Dog, and Tracks). Joe got to Boyhood and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes before the 50-film cutoff but I didn't.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Best Supporting Actress 1964: Oscar Noms & Better Ideas

Nathaniel has just posted this month's Supporting Actress Smackdown, dedicated to the nominated ladies of 1964. I'm not going to say this is Oscar's worst lineup in this category, but it's the only one I could think of where I don't like any of the five movies and don't love any of the five performances. I had one heck of a grouchy ballot, though I have to say, even more than usual, reading my fellow panelists' comments and participating in the first-ever post-Smackdown podcast gave me so many new ideas about the films, the nominated turns, and entire ways to think about acting. So, huzzah to Joe Reid, StinkyLulu, beloved actress Melanie Lynskey, and hat-wearing, chalk-gardening, iguana-taming, beach-dancing, Charlotte-hushing hostess Nathaniel Rogers, whom I love not only for his website and his insights into actressing but for the scrupulous eight-point agendas he sends before these conversations. (Just like he loves me for writing five 64-word capsules about these performances. I am amazing.)

Still, this doesn't change my opinion that AMPAS needed help picking better Supporting Actress alternatives in 1964. Given that the year's big hits and nomination leaders included Becket, Dr. Strangelove, The Best Man, Fail-Safe, Seven Days in May, Zulu, and A Hard Day's Night, I understand why they didn't feel surfeited with distaff contenders. But look—they didn't need to abandon the eligibility list or even move out of their favored genres and character types to produce a richer field:

Nominated: Gladys Cooper, as Henry Higgins's acerbic high-society mother in My Fair Lady

What I Thought: On the evidence of this film, Cooper's aged more gracefully than Cukor. She seems to be giving a tart but unostentatious reading of Mrs. Higgins, but like many of the actors, she is stymied by her director's distant, stagebound camera. We don't spend much time with her and barely see her when we do, making a capable if unchallenging performance seem even more minor.

Why Not Instead: Glynis Johns's dizzy suffragette in Mary Poppins, if Oscar insisted on short-listing a vivid peripheral player in one of the year’s big musical juggernauts, rendered by an irresistible character actress whose previous nominations had yielded no wins?

Nominated: Edith Evans, as the haughty, intractable guardian of a tiny pyromaniac in The Chalk Garden

What I Thought: If more people knew this movie, I would say, "Ask about me, Olivia, ask about me!" to narcissists at parties, and my intimates could all chortle. So GIF-able, Edith! Otherwise, this feels like a Dench-in-Chocolat nod. I know she's a Dame but it's hardly a peak role, and her emphasis on imperiousness clogs other possibilities in it. Moment to moment, her choices feel obvious.

Why Not Instead: Future Dame Maggie Smith, who's so saucy and insouciant as Anne Bancroft's torpid yet chatty frenemy in The Pumpkin Eater, the kind of movie that pedigreed English actresses should be making instead of odd Disney-Du Maurier mashups like The Chalk Garden. The many, gangly ways Smith finds of disrespectfully inhabiting Bancroft's kitchen are nod-worthy enough. Yootha Joyce is also pretty remarkable as a psychotic in normal-woman's clothing in the scene at the hair salon.

Nominated: Grayson Hall, as the self-hating Sapphic chaperone and geyser of anger in The Night of the Iguana

What I Thought: Hall is even more transfixing than the iguana, and almost more than Ava Gardner caressing shirtless houseboys in the moonlit surf. She's the first coming of Grace Zabriskie. I'm impressed her presence didn't get staler, given how the script keeps on forcing her through the same scene: approach neurotically, throw tantrum, swear revenge, repeat. Sadly, she short-changes the semi-repressed cravings that define the character.

Why Not Instead: Louise Latham in Marnie, who gives a master class in how to telegraph asphyxiated desires and make an instantly perverse impression while still flipping nimbly through every page of the character's highly compromised biography. She's as drily, tensely, indelibly quasi-maternal as Hall is, only she actually is the mother in question. Bonus points: equally bad hair!

Nominated: Lila Kedrova, the deserving winner, as the nostalgic hotelier, voluptuous but tremulous, in Zorba the Greek

What I Thought: I object to the role, which forces its interpreter through serial stereotypes: the delusional coquette, the gaudy epicurean, the whimpering toddler in an aging courtesan's body. Kedrova leans into some of these clichés, mugging with her face and body, limiting the impact of her sorry fate when it (inevitably) comes. But she works with what she's got, livening up this weirdly self-serious travelogue picture.

Why Not Instead: Irina Demick in The Visit, who's got a tough row to hoe in this allegory of mercenary money-hunger and human brutishness, another European movie with a motley cast. She anchors her own B–plot as a somewhat self-deceiving adulteress while busily crossing and re-crossing the film's vision of Moral Lines. She, too, has a funny ak-sahnt but she acts with greater candor and less forcing of effect.

Nominated: National treasure Agnes Moorehead, entering the Kitsch Hall of Fame as the servant in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

What I Thought: Charlotte should be delicious but instead it tars everyone involved, giving them too little (Astor) or goading them to vandalize their talents (Davis). De Havilland proves you can enjoy yourself without sacrificing dignity. Hopefully Moorehead at least had fun. She’s a kick to watch, appears to recognize what claptrap she's in, and overacts as only a great actor could. But an Oscar, for cartooning?

Why Not Instead: Anna Ciepielewska, that household name, who keeps the audience guessing throughout the classic demon-possession drama Mother Joan of the Angels, a 1961 film that appeared on Oscar's eligibility list for 1964. Is Sister Małgorzata, forever running errands for the convent, the only nun who has resisted Satan's call? Or is she baiting the locals into trusting her, all the better to seduce and snare them? It's a carefully balanced turn even in an equally gonzo but more earnest high-Gothic environment than Charlotte's.

What's that, Oscar? Still not biting? That's weird, but I'll give you one more shot to mend your ways. With less pressure to ape your own wonky template, what about this ballot?

Julie Christie, who's not exactly breaking the mold of the opaque, bewitching Mystery Girl in Billy Liar (another film belatedly eligible for Oscar in 1964) but who makes a remarkable impression given the limits of the role, suggesting for the first time in her glorious career how gifted she'll be at implying a lot but specifying little beneath her characters' pearlescent surfaces. She even manages to imply that Liz is just eccentric enough, or maybe just sympathetic enough, to be an appealing partner for Tom Courtenay's Billy, without implying they're likely to wind up together. Certainly, Supporting Actress nods have gone to bigger ciphers, less deftly and appealingly etched than this one.

Gloria Foster, future Oracle of the first Matrix movie, who blows pretty much everyone on this page out of the water in a few sequences of the groundbreaking African-American drama Nothing But a Man, playing the steel-spined wife of the protagonist's distant and morbidly alcoholic father. Is Lee an enabler, or a voice of hard truth to both father and son? In Foster's wizardly hands, with incredible, unfussy directness, the answer is both. What are her feelings, exactly, for Ivan Dixon's Duff? Everything Foster does, every way she is, seems to inform Duff's revised approach to his own bond with Abbey Lincoln's Josie (wondeful), but the actress is enigmatic enough that we're not quite sure what Duff is learning from Lee. I craved a sequel, though in truth I would have followed any of these characters into their own movie. Rent it.

Ava Gardner, who twice over seemed within striking distance of her second career nomination in 1964. She's a famously relaxed and effectively sensual presence in The Night of the Iguana, where she might have confused voters by straddling the lead-supporting line. Hall got nominated instead, as did Edmond O'Brien for John Frankenheimer's paranoid military thriller Seven Days in May, where Gardner effectively has the Kim Basinger part: the serene but plot-crucial female role in a big manly ensemble. She aces it, particularly in an extended rencontre with Kirk Douglas. He's in her apartment on false pretenses, but Gardner adds so much poignancy and layering to the sequence beyond its narrative import. What a year.

Speaking of people who barely missed, Irene Papas, who's at least as striking a presence as Kedrova in Zorba the Greek and figured importantly in several films AMPAS and critics' groups recognized across a decade, from Electra to Z to The Trojan Women, without ever scoring an Oscar nod for herself. I tend to dislike parts like the Widow in Zorba, a sort of unexplored placard for The Suffering of Women in Foreign Cultures, but Papas individualizes this nameless character. Cacoyannis and Lassally often get lured into filming Papas's face, dress, and body for graphic impact rather than character-revealing detail, but she still cuts through their aestheticizing visual schemes. (And if we're fishing around for international talents, borderline-lead Gunnel Lindblom in Bergman's The Silence was also eligible in 1964.)

Ann Sothern, who scored a Golden Globe mention for her busybody lobbyist in Gore Vidal's political pressure-cooker The Best Man. Sothern mostly recedes after making a big early impression, and maybe she goes with the slightly misogynist vein of the part, which understands women and women's investments in politics in a pretty narrow way. But Sothern gives Sue Ellen Gamadge potency, ferocity, and a gift for turn-on-a-dime public pretense, which is more than was asked of her in her belated nomination for 1987's The Whales of August. Note: this part was assayed recently on Broadway by Supporting Actress perennial Angela Lansbury and in an earlier Broadway production by Elizabeth Ashley. Along with Sothern, Ashley was the other 1964 Golden Globe nominee dropped for Oscar's ballot. She's not one of The Carpetbaggers's many, many problems, but I think my work here is done... beyond exhorting you to contribute your own suggestions below!

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Saturday, March 01, 2014

Oscar 2013: Predictions, Preferences

All feature-film categories now complete!

Look how distressed Sandra Bullock is, trying to glance into her crystal ball, straining to quantify how many Oscars her movie Gravity will win tomorrow.  I'm sporting the same look on my face as I publicly prognosticate winners for the first time since Jennifer Lawrence was in the Brownies.  But why not take a stab at it?  I've been spouting off on every other angle of the Academy Awards this year: diagnosing the narrowing field of "top" competitors for The Advocate; debunking popular myths about the Oscars and their biases in The Washington Post; and discussing some favorites among this year's nominees and some formative Oscar moments with Der Spiegel, though if Sie kein Deutsche sprechen, you won't be able to read it.  What I have not done anywhere, in any language, is forecast who is winning or fess up to my own choices.  So many of my favorite people are sticking their necks out.  So, as Charles Busch belts out in Die, Mommie, Die! - widely regarded as a near-miss for a Best Picture nod in 2003 - "Why not me?"

Best Visual Effects
Gravity will stomp all over its competitors, making it the sixth Best Picture nominee in a row to cop the prize (after Benjamin Button, Avatar, Inception, Hugo, and Life of Pi, just so you don't have to look it up).  You may take this streak as proof of the Academy's growth over the years—since even within my lifetime as an Oscar queen "effects movies" were often persona non grata in Best Picture—or all you may see is an industry increasingly compelled toward digital extravaganzas. Either way, Gravity would probably mop the floor even with the five past winners I just named, much less with the competitors it has to vanquish here... which in a way is too bad, because there's a lot to say for the invigorating spectacles and sleek execution of several sequences in Star Trek and Iron Man 3.  I was less taken with the effects work in The Lone Ranger (yes, even as regards that train crash), and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was one of a handful of Oscar nominees I missed in theaters. Will: Gravity  Should: Gravity  Hey, Where's The Great Gatsby, which owes the bulk of its locations, color schemes, camera movements, and memorably debauched extras to digital intervention

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
From an impressively strong field we slide over to an annoyingly weak one. Dallas Buyers Club will probably win on default, since voters tend to gravitate to Best Picture nominees unless there's a stirring reason not to.  Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is many things, but not that.  (Actually, Bad Grandpa on its best day is only a couple of things, which disappointed me, since I thought the first Jackass movie was a hoot.  Especially seeing it in a Detroit shopping mall, with people flashing laser sights on the screen midfilm.)  The Lone Ranger has the more-is-more thing nailed down, and a lot of graphically arresting cosmetics have been lovingly applied to actors like Barry Pepper and Helena Bonham Carter.  Still, AMPAS has recently rejected some ostentatious contenders who would have been shoo-ins in the Rick Baker era (The Time Machine, Norbit, Hellboy II) when a more broadly admired film presents itself as an option (Frida, La Vie en rose, and Benjamin Button in those cases).  I think it might have been nice if more of the Buyers Club's subscribers had looked visibly ill.  I would love to see a bruising throwdown between those who insist that Johnny Depp's bird-stapled-to-his-head "Native American" is the year's most horrifying faux-archetype and those who proffer Jared Leto's eyebrowless transwoman for the same distinction.  But failing that battle, and following the canny publicizing of Dallas's breathtakingly low budget, Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews ought to get own their chance to say "All right, all right, all right!" or possibly even speak about Neptune. Will: Dallas Buyers Club  Should: Lone Ranger  Hey, Where's American Hustle, obviously, but also the lightly greyed hair of Llewyn Davis and the wax-museum quality of so many of his acquaintances.  Also, Cate Blanchett's Park Avenue blonde tresses in Blue Jasmine, which are turning into dark roots before her eyes, or ours at least.

Best Supporting Actor
On the subject of Dallas Buyers Club, I thought the movie was fantastic and Jared Leto pretty good the first time I saw them.  Upon revisiting a week or so ago, Dallas betrayed more stress marks, and Leto—by now vaulted from Casting Stunt That Paid Off to Prohibitive Favorite for the Oscar—still seems ...pretty good, without quite explaining what Rayon's doing in this script.  There are some pearl-clutching gestures and other frou-fra in the performance that make it seem stale, conceived more for an audience than from a character who's been built feet up, as they say in American Hustle.  And speaking of Hustle, Bradley Cooper has a large enough part in that movie that he's drawn fire for being a lead falsely slumming in this category.  Yet there are lots of ways to confront the question of who's really "supporting" in a film.  Leto's scenes are more limited, but every single one is handed to the character to be charismatic, or tragic, or funny, or all three, just like Angelina Jolie's and Jennifer Hudson's scenes were in their Oscar-winning vehicles. The movie arguably supports him more than the reverse. Cooper is on screen bunches but, like most of his Hustle castmates, acts an over-the-top character in a strong way and still doesn't seem like he's showboating, or depriving his co-stars of the cues they need to enrich their work.  He and Abdi are the Bests in Show in their movies without ever looking like they realize it.  Fassbender, like Leto, is cleverly playing a thesis that's been posited in the script in place of a real character: in one case, the AIDS patient with a wavering commitment to living, in the other, a slave-owner as one-man multiplex of grimy perversions.  Hill is ...uh, very good in 21 Jump Street and Moneyball.  I have no idea who he's playing in Wolf of Wall Street, no matter how hard he's working to keep the badminton birdie from landing. Will: Leto  Should: Cooper  Hey, Where's James Gandolfini, who didn't need an iota of gratuitous sentiment to merit a nod for his middle-aged romantic, so tentative yet brave, so relaxed yet staunchly principled.  Plus the usual surfeit of guys who got no promotion (Ben Mendelsohn in Place Beyond the Pines, David Oyelowo in The Butler) or who indulged in the sin of acting in non-American films (Yiftach Klein in Fill the Void, Peter Kazungu in Paradise: Love).

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscar Nomination Predictions 2013

I'm demented with fever and fatigue, so forgive the lack of commentary, but here are my best guesses and, in some cases, my willfully reckless counter-intuitions regarding tomorrow's Oscar nominations:

Picture: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, The Wolf of Wall Street
runners-up: Philomena, Her

Director: Coens (Llewyn), Cuaron (Gravity), Greengrass (Captain), McQueen (12 Years), Russell (Hustle)
runners-up: Payne, Scorsese, Vallée, Jonze

Actress: Adams (Hustle), Blanchett (Jasmine), Bullock (Gravity), Dench (Philomena), Thompson (Banks)
runners-up: Streep, Exarchopoulos
toyed with: dropping Bullock for Streep, but couldn't commit

Actor: Dern (Nebraska), DiCaprio (Wolf), Ejiofor (12 Years), Isaac (Llewyn), McConaughey (Dallas)
runners-up: Hanks, Redford
toyed with: being less optimistic about Isaac, but I can't help it
how 'bout that: Bale (Hustle)

Supporting Actress: Hawkins (Jasmine), Lawrence (Hustle), Nyong'o (12 Years), Squibb (Nebraska), Winfrey (Butler)
runners-up: Roberts

Supporting Actor: Abdi (Captain), Brühl (Rush), Cooper (Hustle), Fassbender (12 Years), Leto (Dallas)
runners-up: Gandolfini, Hill, Forte
toyed with: promoting my beloved Gandolfini, but I don't want to jinx it

Original Screenplay: American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska
runners-up: Blue Jasmine, Enough Said

Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave, Before Midnight, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Captain Phillips, Philomena
runners-up: August: Osage County, The Wolf of Wall Street

Foreign Film: The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium), The Grandmaster (Hong Kong), The Great Beauty (Italy), The Hunt (Denmark), Omar (Palestine)
runners-up: The Notebook, Two Lives, The Missing Picture, Iron Picker

Animated Feature: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celestine, Frozen, The Wind Rises
runners-up: Monsters University

Documentary: Blackfish, Dirty Wars, God Loves Uganda, The Square, Stories We Tell
runners-up: Which Way..., The Act of Killing, 20 Feet from Stardom, Tim's Vermeer
how 'bout that: Cutie and the Boxer

Cinematography: 12 Years a Slave !!!, The Grandmaster, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Prisoners
runners-up: Nebraska, The Great Beauty, Captain Phillips, The Great Gatsby

Film Editing: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Rush, The Wolf of Wall Street
runners-up: 12 Years a Slave
toyed with: including the obvious front-runner, but I suspect Slave will stumble in a few races
how 'bout that: Dallas Buyers Club

Production Design: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
runners-up: The Invisible Woman, The Grandmaster, Inside Llewyn Davis
how 'bout that: Her

Costume Design: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, The Great Gatsby, The Invisible Woman, Saving Mr. Banks
runners-up: The Lone Ranger, The Grandmaster, The Great Beauty, Inside Llewyn Davis

Makeup & Hairstyling: American Hustle !!!, Dallas Buyers Club, The Lone Ranger
runners-up: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, The Great Gatsby

Original Score: 12 Years a Slave, All Is Lost, The Book Thief, Gravity, Saving Mr. Banks
runners-up: Captain Phillips, Philomena, The Great Gatsby, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
how 'bout that: Her

Original Song: "Let It Go" (Frozen), "The Moon Song" (Her), "Ordinary Love" (Mandela), "So You Know What It's Like" (Short Term 12), "Young and Beautiful" (Gatsby)
runners-up: "Amen" (All Is Lost), "In the Middle of the Night" (Butler), "Sweeter Than Fiction" (One Chance), "Last Mile Home" (Osage), "My Lord Sunshine (Sunrise)" (12 Years), "Atlas" (Hunger Games), "Stay Alive" (Mitty), "Rise Up" (Epic)
how 'bout that: "Alone Yet Not Alone" (Alone), "Happy" (Despicable)

Sound Mixing: 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Rush
runners-up: Frozen, Inside Llewyn Davis, All Is Lost, World War Z, The Wolf of Wall Street, Iron Man 3, The Hobbit
how 'bout that: Lone Survivor

Sound Editing: All is Lost, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Lone Survivor, Rush
runners-up: World War Z, Iron Man 3, The Hobbit, 12 Years a Slave, The Great Gatsby

Visual Effects: Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim, Star Trek Into Darkness
runners-up: The Lone Ranger, Oblivion, World War Z

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My "Team Experience Awards" Ballot

The Oscar nominations drop this Thursday morning, and people are almost as excited about those as they are about the Team Experience Awards, for which all the regular contributors to Nathaniel R's cinephiliac smorgasbord The Film Experience have been polled for their ranked favorites in 18 categories. The industrious and debonair Amir Soltani, whose tastes I can never pigeonhole and whose recommendations I always take seriously, has crunched all the numbers into a winner's list, which ought to go live on Tuesday night. But we've also been invited (read: encouraged) to post our individual ballots on our own sites.

I'm sort of going to do that. Bear in mind what many of you will already know: awards ballots are often unreliable as pure indicators of a voter's taste, distorted either by lingering indecisions, bothersome omissions in viewing, or a tactic of suppressing total outliers in favor of promoting your favorite underdogs among more probable contenders. I suppressed my urge to vote the latter way, even when a Best Picture vote for Southwest is a strategic waste that a Bling Ring or Touch of Sin might have parlayed to better advantage. Still, I'm noodling a bit with my finalized acting ballots and with my actual Top Ten of 2013 (though maybe you noticed that Top Tens for 2012 are now posted??).  So, in those cases and a couple others I have decided to post my drafted longlists of contenders, keeping you in slightly longer suspense about my definitive favorites.

I'm under contract to post a series of Best of 2013 features for another site, so I can't get lost in my usual wormhole of unfulfilled promises, if that's any consolation. None of this is to say that I'm perfectly confident I didn't blow something major in one of the other categories. In fact, I'm sure I'd have generated different rankings and even different films on different days. But this is more or less what I submitted, culled from the best lists I could find of films that opened commercially in the U.S. during 2013. Thanks to Amir for some clarifications as far as release dates, and to Mike D'Angelo for his wonderfully comprehensive index of movies that played commercially in New York City.

1. At Berkeley
2. The Act of Killing
3. The Missing Picture
4. Brave Miss World
5. Leviathan
(with apologies to close sixth-placer Let the Fire Burn)

1. Gravity
2. The Great Gatsby
3. World War Z
4. Post Tenebras Lux
5. Man of Steel
(with Oblivion the only other film I seriously weighed)

(an alphabetical longlist)
-. Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
-. F. Murray Abraham, Inside Llewyn Davis
-. Alec Baldwin, Blue Jasmine
-. Alfredo Castro, No
-. David Dastmalchian, Prisoners
-. James Franco, Spring Breakers
-. James Gandolfini, Enough Said
-. Sean Gilder, The Selfish Giant
-. John Henshaw, The Angels' Share
-. Peter Kazungu, Paradise: Love
-. Stacy Keach, Nebraska
-. Yiftach Klein, Fill the Void
-. Fran Kranz, Much Ado About Nothing
-. Lance LeGault, Prince Avalanche
-. Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
-. Joseph Lorenz, Paradise: Hope
-. Louis CK, American Hustle
-. Ben Mendelsohn, The Place Beyond the Pines
-. David Oyelowo, Lee Daniels' The Butler
-. Gary Skjoldmose Porter, A Hijacking
-. Keith Stanfield, Short Term 12

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Live-Blogging the 2013 Golden Globes

10:00 Good night, everybody!  Fey and Poehler called their ceremony "the beautiful mess they hoped it would be."  It didn't feel that beautiful to me, and I'm curious if it's quite what they wanted; they sure do make themselves scarce as the ceremonies wear on.  On top of what I just wrote, I'm most happy for Alfonso Cuarón, Spike Jonze, Amy Adams, and the Frozen filmmakers. And, sight unseen, for Cranston, Wright, Moss, and Poehler.

9:59 A barely-awake Johnny Depp did what needed to be done and bestowed upon 12 Years a Slave its rightful prize.  I know I just said how much I love another nominee and how much I like a third one (Philomena and Rush feel like non-entities, especially the latter, and not only in awards terms.) Still, Slave feels to me like their unambiguous superior, even if you're treating creative achievement separately from thematic and contextual importance.  I'm delighted for the team who got to accept the top prize, and thank goodness for Onstage MVP Sarah Paulson, feeding a nervous McQueen some necessary names, particularly Sean Bobbitt's and Dede Gardner's.

But I mentioned Atonement before, and as befell that so-called front-runner after the Globes, I'm worried that 12 Years comes out of the evening feeling like a loser even though it won.  Oh, well. Makes the Oscar predicting game more interesting, I guess!  And the prize will still sit on the right mantel.

I'm Rooting For: 12 Years a Slave, but Gravity is nearly as superb. Captain Phillips, while not on the same level as those two, is an easy contender to feel good about.
I'm Predicting: 12 Years a Slave, in an Atonement-esque situation of taking the top prize even after looking quite weak all night.

9:53 Anyway (sorry, for the see-sawing), I really liked Dallas Buyers Club and haven't felt too persuaded by any of the recent takedowns and ideological critiques of its standpoint and historical revisionism.  But McConaughey and Leto have made it harder tonight to feel settled in my affection for the film, through their discomfiting representations of the movie and of themselves. Again, they weren't awful, exactly. But they whiffed on the opportunity to be more ambassadorial for the film, or to reassure anyone who feels uneasy with their involvements and perspectives, or the politics of the film. Didn't help that neither said "AIDS," "HIV," or anything less euphemistic than "all the Rayons"; I'm sure they spoke from the heart, but they seemed a little trapped in the kinds of cautious euphemisms and silences that their characters explicitly suffered under.

9:52 Okay, so Blanchett.  I mean, don't get me wrong, she was totally poised and everything, and took inspiration from the HFPA and blended Comedy and Drama in a barely distinguishable combo.  That was cool, but also made me a little dizzy; I might have preferred a speech that was more obviously silly or sincere.  Anyway, it was definitely a post-vodka, late-in-the-evening toss-off.  We have more to look forward to from future speeches.  But she did say that Dianne Wiest was her all-time inspiration as an actress, and that is Everything.  Please, newspaper editors, make that your headline.

9:50 Matthew McConaughey's speech isn't landing that well, partly because of McConaughey'isms, and partly because he's pitching it a little too hard.  And he's sounding a little... unreconstructed.  The 12 Years a Slave table is having an awfully hard time not looking dismayed by their total shutout so far.

I'm Rooting For: McConaughey, but much like Wilson Phillips, you won't see me cry (cry... cry...) if Ejiofor or maybe Redford pops up there.
I'm Predicting: And I'm thinking Redford might. I was thinking that even before 12 Years started striking out all night.

9:46 Cate extemporizes quite well. Pretty well.  Honestly, it gets a little weird at times.  But hold on, before I can say more.

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Anticipations of NicksFlickPicks

Every January, I re-invest in two myths, no matter how often they've been disproved.  First, someone reports that Lauryn Hill's eternally-postponed CD is finally coming out in the new year, and I believe it. Second, I truly think I will update my site more often, write more reviews, resolve unfinished projects, or at least keep up with annual features.  Usually I'm at least reliable to post a Fall Preview in September or early October, with a ranked list of the movies I'm most anticipating, divided into echelons furnished to me by some favorite pop star: Janet Jackson in 2012, when Holy Motors was a "Throb" and Atlas Shrugged a "Black Cat"; Mariah Carey in 2011, when We Need To Talk About Kevin was a "Touch My Body" and Jack & Jill was an "Up Out My Face"; and noted in-cinema texter Madonna in 2010, when White Material was "Erotica" for me and The Owls of Ga'Hoole prompted shouts of "Rescue Me."

I badly missed my start time this year: I've been too busy teaching, advising, bungling other important site features, and hitting every film festival in North America, to a degree that even the programmers find remarkable.  But late is better than never, as I can only hope Lauryn agrees. So, here goes.  I've of course already seen several of these titles, but I did a handy System Restore on my own brain and remembered how I felt Before as well as how I responded After...

Gravity - Even small steps for Cuarón are often giant leaps for popular cinema
A– - Sure, the emotional allegory feels kind of shoehoOH MY GOD! THE CAMERA! Maybe a bit maudJESUS! DID YOU SEE AND HEAR THAT?!
12 Years a Slave - Hollywood finally taps major vein of U.S. lit and life. McQueen!
A - Solomon as open book and opaque protagonist, caught in a heightened nightmare and in yes-it-was-that-bad history.
Bastards - Even at her most opaque, Denis commands loyalty like few other auteurs
B+ - Sort of Denis' Skin I Live In, a handsome, tensile take on a story bound to repel. Semi-illuminating, fiercely confident.
Blue Is the Warmest Color - Eager for any Kechiche, but especially a Palme winner
B - Two very compelling characterizations in engaging but oddly proportioned film with few interesting images
Faust - Two-year delay of release augurs poorly. But I'm still a Sokurov devotee.
A– - Intoxicating, even if, like a lot of intoxicants, it puts you to sleep a little. Painterly, imaginative, and sells the myth.
Her - Sure, premise could tilt into precious self-pity, but I have confidence it won't.
B - Toggles between blunt and subtle approaches to its themes. Generous in spirit. Actors really lift it. Adams a standout for me.
The Past - After Elly, Separation, I'd follow Farhadi anywhere. Breakout for Bejo?
C - Turgid, sporadically wise wallow in exposition, with few stakes for viewers. Stale visuals. Farhadi's rhythmic gift fails.

American Hustle - I'm cool on Silver Linings but so far I dig this one's splashy vibe
B - American cons, America as con. Film's a con at times, though Cooper, Adams never are. Uneven, for better and worse.
The Square - Urgent topic for documentaries, especially from reliable Noujaim
At Berkeley - I'm not a Wiseman completist, but great subject for him and for me
A - Prodigious in every sense. Typically lucid institutional survey, comprising many views of what ideas and politics mean.
Inside Llewyn Davis - Tuneful blend of Coens' comic charm and scabrousness?
B+ - Aloof, icy, yet almost secretly tender. Steel, sadness, and spook knitted together. Funny-ish. Isaac amazes.
Captain Phillips - Even "lesser" Greengrass like Green Zone lands well with me
B - US drama of Somali pirates, rendered as seasick immersion in a military precision strike. Uneven but ends strong.
Blue Caprice - Shootings sure got to me in '02. Tour-de-force for a new director?
B+ - Backstory of 10 murders that remain inexplicable. A grotty national and psychological moodpiece. Bracingly assembled.
Carrie - Peirce a great choice to give high school rough textures, moral complexity
C– - Halves of Carrie seem further apart than ever. Direction most invested in the Mom, production in the Prom. Ensemble flails.
Mother of George - In Notting Hill, I'd be Hugh and d.p. Bradford Young my Julia
B+ - Lustrous images heighten emotions of a rich, bold script; odd angles, sound mix keep it from feeling on-the-nose.
Dallas Buyers Club - Felt stunty on paper but trailer and buzz for Leto encourage
B+ - Moving, funny, excitingly angry. McConaughey hits Brockovich levels of typecasting, type-busting, and charisma.
Fire in the Blood - Doc sounds very probing; a good companion to Dallas Buyers
A Touch of Sin - Jia always merits attention. Intriguing swerves in tone, content.
B+ - Hard work, which I'm not against. Sharp images, knotty plotting both entice. A Chinese Amores perros, but glassier.

August: Osage County - Uneven play has high peaks. Eager for Roberts, Lewis.
C - Enjoyable but rarely admirable beyond MVP actors. Script has great moments but smug calculations still rankle.
American Promise - I hope it's more Love & Diane than Waiting for Superman
B - Affecting, but director-parents may not have distance necessary to make a Hoop Dreams about their kids' schooling.
Let the Fire Burn - Crucial but obscure U.S. tale has already inspired good films
B - Less penetrating or contextualized but possibly more harrowing than other films on 1985 bombing of MOVE compound.
Museum Hours - Not on my radar till many friends ranked it among year's best
B - Elegant, involving, aloof by design; strong sense of the past within the present. Something a tad calculated about it.
God Loves Uganda - Another promising doc; bookend to spring's Call Me Kuchu
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete - Buzzy at Sundance. New sides of Hudson?
C - Fitfully affecting but rarely adroit. Soderbergh's King of the Hill from synthetic fabric.
Enough Said - I'm still seeking a Holofcener vehicle that's as strong as her debut
B– - After ace debut, Holofcener's follow-ups all have execution problems. Still, rich ideas for starved demos. Gandolfini!
We Are What We Are - Notably strong reviews for a horror film and for a remake
Saving Mr. Banks - For Emma, I'll accept anything, even from John Lee Hancock
D+ -  Markedly unsubtle for an explicit defense of subtlety. Broad, repetitive, untrusting. Nails a moving end, though.
The Invisible Woman - Wasn't too jazzed till every review cited a pleasant surprise
Camille Claudel 1915 - I tend to like Dumont, even if I always feel guilty about it
D+ - Never connects with Camille. Casting stunt sullies and disjoints the film. Alienating; next day, feels worse.
Computer Chess - Beeswax was incomparably winning. Will I react that way again?
B– - Seemed funnier during my first, more fatigued screening. A great premise with gold moments, but execution is muddy.
Wadjda - Dramas with Noble Themes can break any which way, but I'm optimistic.
Prisoners - Sharp-looking Villeneuve pic drew both hoots and cheers in Toronto
B– - Lots of craft on display. Gutsy script. Real steel from Jackman. Virtually all of it poisoned by escalating absurdities.
Black Nativity - Trailer looks a bit off to me. Still: Lemmons? That cast? Sure.
C– - Earnest but perfunctory. Reads as if producer TD Jakes literally called more shots than snazzy helmer Kasi Lemmons..
Concussion - Nifty premise for lesbian drama. Weigert in lead is a cool prospect.
B– - Story, chic images feel affected throughout, which only makes sharp script and Weigert's candid acting more impressive.
After Tiller - Risk-taking profile of doctors who offer third-trimester abortions
Touchy Feely - Things got awfully quiet after Sundance, but ensemble entices
Here Comes the Devil - Just read the setup and tell me you're not a bit intrigued

The Immigrant - Every still looks transfixing, but the Weinsteins seem ambivalent
B+ - Operatic conception, playing romantic hope against inexorable forces of grief and myth. Cotillard, Khondji astonish.
Foxcatcher - Such an odd tale, but you won't catch me betting against Miller
Grace of Monaco - I liked La Vie en rose but let's kindly call Dahan a big variable
The Monuments Men - Your $11 can help these rich pals take a European vacay!

All Is Lost - Sounds like awards-baiting stunt for Redford, yet I hear otherwise
B+ - Water, water everywhere, and not a bad or boring shot in sight. Exercisey but absorbing. Boy is Redford in good shape.
Out of the Furnace - For those who wish Crazy Heart had featured more hitting
C - Winter's Boner: characters, filmmakers treat grotty vision of rough, hophead Appalachia as macho proving-ground.
Adore - A good movie seems too much to ask, but possibly deliciously bad?
D+ - Unquestionably misdirected, stifling scenario's capacity to indicate more than tawdry melodrama. Wright saves what she can.
Oldboy - I found Park's film both tedious and repellent, but at least I'm curious
Kill Your Darlings - Seems likely to glorify yet render dull a minor anecdote
D+ - Early sparks gutter completely. Climactic montage ties anal sex to drug injection and murder. Opaque and inert.
The Face of Love - Bening's lowest-profile work in years. Harris a good match?
Philomena - Festival audiences sure love it. Dench inspires hope. Frears doesn't.
C+ - Pro or con to keep mixing tones and to avoid overstating analogies at the cost of vague, fitful storytelling? Your call.
As I Lay Dying - It's my favorite novel, maybe. I think I just don't want to know.
The Summit - Climbing docs have gone wrong before. Still, a whopper of a tale.
Great Expectations - A year after its debut, smelling like moldy wedding cake.
The Pervert's Guide to Ideology - Little Žižek goes a long way. Maybe too long.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom - Evidently even Elba, Harris can't animate it?
Lone Survivor - Late add to season. Beefy cast. Berg a mixed bag. Trustworthy?
C+ - Actors very committed; moving as soldier tribute. Still, Berg wobbly director of action, dialogue. Ending feels off.
All Is Bright - Director Phil Junebug Morrison is only draw here. But a big one.
Machete Kills - Good, bad, or good/bad? Hoping for a Planet Terror groove.
A.C.O.D. - Love the topic, but maybe just charming comedians farting around?
Metallica: Through the Never - Good or bad, I can't even work out what this is
Insidious: Chapter 2 - Never got it up to rent the first, but ample for a rainy day
Dracula 3D - Even with tepid reviews, dashing Kretschmann is hard to resist
C - Two D's are for Dumb and Dumber. The other's for Delirium, which at least has its pleasures. Garishly but gamely stupid.
Escape from Tomorrow - Trailer has some kick, but strains hard for cult status
Nebraska - Hated Descendants. Not that wild about earlier Payne, either. So...
D+ - Payne still loves: banal images, banal music, using one character as bellwether of Reason and ranking others in relation.
Sal - Film-star bio from the Franco factory that's sat around for two years? Sure!
Mr. Nobody - A Venice prize-winner that's sat around for four years? Why not?
Inequality for All - These films vary widely in quality but Reich's a good hook
The Best Man Holiday - Statute of limitations on credit for Undercover Brother?
Instructions Not Included - I lamely keep skipping Spanish-language breakouts

About Time - Gleeson's my hope. Curtis, McAdams have exhausted good will.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - The title begs non-converts to stay home.
The Wolf of Wall Street - Is latter-day Scorsese right guy to critique wild excess?
D+ - One-hand tally of interesting shots. Wonky edits abound. Flatly plotted in story and style. Elephantiasis.
Labor Day - I hear it's safe for Kate, risky for Reitman, triumphant for neither
Finding Mr. Right - I'd go anywhere with Tang Wei after Lust, Caution. I think?
Diana - Can we now agree that Watts has Swank-ish range and batting average?
The Armstrong Lie - Gibney should slow down. Armstrong should hide in a hole.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - Anyone else getting a big Majestic hit off this?
Don Jon - I'm glad Juli & Scarlett get along with Gordon-Levitt. I usually don't.
B– - Flat technique; hashed final act seems more annoying with time. But funny. Moore is good, and Johansson deliciously great.
Out in the Dark - Gay cinema can't cast enough bland hotties in familiar plots
C - Scene by scene, the Serious Drama you'd expect about a handsome Palestinian guy and a handsome Israeli guy in love.
Rush - Feels like an aging producer-director pair's idea of Youthful Excitement
D+ - Tritely conceived, stylistically ragged. A dispiriting pile-up of shots and entire scenes that only pad or coarsen the movie.
Salinger - At last! A venue for John Cusack's ideas about The Catcher in the Rye!
Runner Runner - Excited me for six minutes as IMDb news item. Never since.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Director's a trade up. Still not persuaded.
C– - Talk about death that never feels deadly and whispers of revolution that never feel revolutionary.
The Counselor - Sorta thing that seduces stars on paper, then explodes on them
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues - Not if I missed the first part, it doesn't
Ender's Game - The only things I'm boycotting are iffy casting, awful preview
Winnie Mandela - Virtually laughed out of existence two years ago. A zombie.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa - Uninspiring, but I never count this crew out.
Homefront - Franco in a Statham film written by Stallone? Is this an installation?
The Fifth Estate - Wan thrillers keen on trumpeting their Importance are the pits
The Family - Best show in town is watching Tommy Lee Jones hide involvement
Shepard and Dark - So there's this famous guy and this less famous guy, and... ?
Baggage Claim - As a title, that's a half-notch above Sack Lunch, but not funny.
Frozen - Disney hasn't hit for me since Lilo. Images and cast list leave me cold.
B - Charm, belly laughs, sweetness, and story momentum. Songs, character designs, backgrounds not on same level, but I liked it.
Thor: The Dark World - I'm even less interested than Natalie Portman seems to be.

One Chance - Clears path for Salt, Pepper, and Success: The Taylor Hicks Story
The Book Thief - Those Pyjamas are looking awfully Striped, if you ask me
How I Live Now - Why aren't Saoirse's agents scared to piss her off? See: Hanna.
Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas - Perhaps unwisely, I stick to just his dramas
Romeo and Juliet - While we're at it, how 'bout Twelfth Night with Chloë Moretz?
Last Vegas - If we were talking Sally Kirkland, Diane Ladd, and Diahann Carroll...
C - AARP Hangover is funnier and better acted than Hangover. Looks awful and has unwell ideas about young women. Semi-sweet.
47 Ronin - The nobility of the samurai, minus authenticity or production values
Riddick - Vin Diesel still trapped in the cl projects no one wants. A tax write-off?
Haute cuisine - Some people see any film about food. But some people ain't me!
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 - Probably not a sequel to see first, or at all
Free Birds - Tagline: "The greatest turkey movie of all time." I'm not kidding.
Walking with Dinosaurs 3D - A feature? An IMAX Experience? No, don't answer.

Parkland - We've all wondered how JFK's murder went down for hospital staff
Escape Plan - Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte for straight guys, except not amazing
Grudge Match - What Ever Happened to Raging Bull? with laffs, mo-cap suits
Delivery Man - A horror film where Vince Vaughn fathers a town's worth of kids

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