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Monday
Nov172014

Beauty vs Beast: I'm Not That Innocence

Howdy folks, Jason from MNPP here with Monday's weekly dose of "Beauty vs Beast" -- you might be forgiven for having mistaken this series for an episode of G.L.O.W. as of late (please tell me that some of y'all are my age and know and love that reference) - it seems like it's been a lot of lady match-ups, I mean. So when I saw that today is Martin Scorsese's 72nd birthday, at first I was all, "Finally I can inject some testosterone in here! Pesci! De Niro! Guns and phalluses and junk!"

But then I looked at Marty's filmography I saw the first thing I always regrettably see these days - namely his last movie, The Wolf of Wall Street. And I haaaaaaated WoWS. And my stomach tumbled. And so in my indignation I turned against the testoterone, and where did that leave me? Lady fight!

 

I know aksing The Film Experience community to even consider a vote against Michelle Pfeiffer is akin to blasphemy, but know this: my vote is for May, May all the way, May got her man and didn't slink away without a fight. All the prime years of Daniel Day-Lewis were hers; nyah nyah nyah Countess Loser.

PREVIOUSLY And speaking of hauling ass to the ladies, last week we trained our eyes on the cutthroat world of high school girls, which also involves a lot of whispers in hallways and note-passing - in the battle for the Queen of Clueless, it's Cher Horowitz who gets the seat at the center of the lunch table. Said Ben:

"Have to go with Cher, due to our shared love of Beavis & Butthead and Snickers. And can you believe they still haven't put R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty? As if!"

Monday
Nov172014

Oscar Prediction Updates. 10 Questions

It's a participatory round! The Oscar Charts are updated in every category but here are ten questions that are on my mind. Try to answer them (or at least some of them) in the comments. 

01. Why am I the only pundit that has faith in Jake Gyllenhaal as a Best Actor nominee?
Many many people were more than wow'ed by his work. I realize that as a non-recovering Gyllenhaalic for many years now my wildcard prediction will be thought of as Wishful Thinking but I've heard so much negativity about Foxcatcher that I'm starting to think only Ruffalo makes it. That makes room for other leading contenders to rise if Carell and Channing are weaker than expected.

02. Can Ava DuVernay and Damien Chazelle both really score Best Director nods? 
The Academy has been notoriously standoffish about female directors. But has the tide turned with all the attention that's been paid to that factoid? Will they admire her grasp of a large canvas or is she still too much of an outsider? Is passion for Whiplash growing or levelling off? I hear it brought up at every industry party like "oh, I LOVED that movie." Or will a Screenplay nomination have to do for 2nd time young director Damian Chazelle? If you think they're missing who do you think would be there instead?

03. Is it insane that I have Birdman leading the nomination tally with 9? 
Divisive formally ingeniuous showbiz meta pictures aren't exactly the norm for the Academy but neither are there all that many of them made. For nominations, passion counts for a lot with #1 placements.  If you don't think it's Birdman, what do you think will lead the pack on Nomination Morning?

04. If Whiplash is not the 5 nomination Best Picture threat that I think it is, does that mean Supporting Actor is an actual race?
Or do you think J.K. Simmons' name engrave on a statue is going to happen regardless? Confession: So rooting for either Ruffalo or Norton to finally win.

Selma's cinematography. Most of it isn't this showy.

05. Can Bradford Young finally get an Oscar nod for Cinematography?
Or will his work on Selma and A Most Violent Year split his support within that branch? 

06. What do you think of TFE's predictions for the Foreign Film 9-wide Finalist List?
Too strong? Too weak? Just right? Which country do you think absolutely shouldn't be underestimated right now?

06. Will anyone remember Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?
That was such a big critical and audience deal this summer and it seems like a likely contender in several categories. But is anyone talking about it? Or will it end up like its predecessor with only a Visual Effects nomination despite its incredible Production Design and so on.

08. Who do you want to see performing our Original Song nominees?
I'm just throwing darts at this category because god only knows with the music branch. Is even "Lost Stars" safe since they regularly shun presumed powerhouses in the category? 

09. Interstellar's Reviews Mean...?
We know that some major directors admire it but Nolan has still not been nominated for Best Director. Does the mixed response mean this is closer to The Dark Knights Rises Oscar nomination tally (0) or Inception's (8)

10. Which movie do you think lands the most Oscar nods without a corresponding Best Picture placement?
I suspect that's going to be either Into the Woods, Interstellar or Grand Budapest Hotel depending of course on which doesn't make the list and how many Best Picture nominees we actually get. It can't really be 9 films every year! 

every Oscar chart 

Monday
Nov172014

Review: Rosewater

Michael C. with your weekly new release review...

A key part of Jon Stewart’s appeal is that no matter how maddening the news is he doesn’t lapse into ironic detachment. His isn’t someone throwing up his hands in surrender, but the guy who can’t help but marvel at the variety of ways government finds to sabotage our best intentions and allow stupidity to win out over rationality. So it should be no surprise to anyone familiar with Stewart that Rosewater, his directorial debut, is marked by the same earnest intellectual curiosity.

As director and screenwriter Stewart brings a sly complexity to material that could have been one note or overwrought in other hands. His trademark wit is not absent from the film but it has been restrained and left to simmer under the surface as Maziar Bahari’s months long imprisonment and torture at the hands of Iranian government steadily edges into the realm of absurdity. “Why would a spy have his own TV show?” Bahari protests when his interrogator presents a Daily Show appearance during which he is jokingly referred to as a spy as evidence. It’s a moment of indisputable logic that gets him nowhere, oppressive regimes not being famous for their sense of humor.

Of course, Bahari’s arrest, torture, and solitary confinement for over 100 days was not simply the matter of a joke gone awry. [More...]

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Nov162014

AFI Fest's Gala Premieres: 'The Gambler' and 'The Homesman'

Margaret here, reporting from the LA festival beat with short takes on some would-be Oscar contenders.


The Gambler
Screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed), director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and star Mark Wahlberg joined forces on this remake of the 1974 James Caan movie of the same name, and the result is certainly stylish. It's well-shot, coolly assured, and smartly paced. Wahlberg leads the movie capably as Jim Bennett, a man from a rich family with a solid career who has nonetheless dug himself to rock bottom with extravagant compulsive gambling. 

The film is at its best when it engages with the question of why someone whose life is granted so much privilege so systematically pisses it all away. John Goodman, typically scene-stealing as a dangerous loan shark, makes many salient points about Jim's decisions, which are either self-destructive or indefensibly stupid.  To its detriment, the film ultimately succumbs to the impulse to romanticize its protagonist, asking the audience to cheer and respect him when he  finally makes his first sound decision.

The supporting cast is largely excellent; it will surprise no one that Jessica Lange wrings every ounce of personality, pathos, and curdled maternal affection from her few minutes of screentime. Even so, she makes little impact on the movie because, like the protagonist, it brushes her away. The Gambler can claim the dubious achievement of completing the Stock Female Character hat trick: (1) a maternal figure who exists to thanklessly prop up the male lead, (2) a pretty young thing (Brie Larson) who we're told is a stone-cold genius, but is given no development arc and has inexplicable romantic interest in the lead, and (3) a passel of nameless and faceless strippers. Slow clap. 

These are not deal-breakers for every moviegoer, but they're emblematic of the film's general reliance on familiar beats instead of showing us something new.

 

The Homesman
BREAKING NEWS: Tommy Lee Jones smiled upwards of twice when introducing his newest film at AFI Fest. He had glowing things to say about the whole cast, particularly  "the miraculous Hilary Swank", who more than earned her praise. The Homesman is a stubbornly unromantic and prickly western, but Swank anchors it with a very fine, emotionally vivid performance.

The Homesman's portrait of life in the Nebraska Territory is bleak; life is hard, and heroism a luxury. When a town meeting is called to order the transport of three mentally ill women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter) back to family in Iowa, their husbands shrink from the task. The staunchly moralistic Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank) takes on the assignment, knowing it will be a miserable and dangerous enterprise, because no one else will do it and she knows it must be done. Upon acquiring a traveling companion in a self-interested claim jumper who may be named George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), she sets off with her dead-eyed charges.

There are many well-conceived notes in the movie. A knife fight over a disinterested captive, Mary Bee silently playing an embroidered set of piano keys for lack of a real instrument, a flashback to a passenger's slow break from sanity-- each hints at a poignancy that never feels realized in the film as a whole. The tone occasionally veers into incongruous places-- Tommy Lee Jones' introduction is oddly slapstick, and there's a vengeful sequence in the third act that would have been more at home in Django Unchained-- and while the story doesn't conform to any expected trajectory, neither does it end as strongly as it began. 

The movie didn't leave me sure exactly what story its makers wanted to tell, or at least, it never convinced me of why they were telling it. Even so, it's at times both moving and starkly beautiful, and will not be easy to forget. 

Sunday
Nov162014

Stockholm: Wrapping Up with Uma, Ingmar Bergman and ABBA!

Glenn's last report from the Stockholm Film Festival...

The Stockholm International Film Festival is now over and as I try and drain the last remaining symptoms of jetlag out of my body (not to mention any recurring dependence on restaurant food, great wine, and luxurious European comfort that such a trip offers) it’s time to take one last look back. I will miss seeing the image of Uma Thurman lording over her loyal subjects as I walk down Drottningattan every day.

The FIPRESCI jury – combined of myself, Quirijn Foeken of The Netherlands, and Dieter Wieczorek of France – awarded our price to Hungry Hearts from Italian director Saverio Costanzo. The film stars Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher (you may remember her from I Am Love) as a couple whose impending child brings about an avalanche of potentially fatal paranoia. It was the first film that we saw at the festival and despite some rallying by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s Tales, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, and Dietrich Brüggemann’s Stations of the Cross, it just felt right.

For what it’s worth, this was my top ten, hastily scribbled on a napkin...

(ABBA, Bergman’s chair, drinks with Debra, Force Majeure, and more after the jump…)

 

Now that the winner of #sff14 has been announced, I can share this list of my top ten from the festival and what I voted for.

A photo posted by Glenn Dunks (@glennwithaniphonecamera) on Nov 11, 2014 at 6:20am PST

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Nov162014

Box Office: America Loves... Dumb Things?

Amir here, reporting to box office duty. Dumb and Dumber To came out on top this weekend, beating Big Hero 6 to the number one spot. It’s curious that my anticipation for this sequel which had been building up and gradually increasing over two decades completely deflated the minute it was released, but that tends to happen when reviews, commercials and even the film’s stars seem unenthused about their work.

Meanwhile, the weekend’s other wide opening, Beyond the Lights, finished fourth. I want Gugu Mbatha-Raw to be a star so badly, so here’s hoping it sticks around in the top ten for while. And speaking of sticking around, Gone Girl remained the top 5 for the seventh week in a row, a bigger success than most had imagined and now the second biggest success of David Fincher's career (after Se7en) if you adjust for inflation.

TOP DOZEN
01 DUMB & DUMBER TO $38 NEW
02 BIG HERO 6 $36 (cum. $111.6) Tim's Review / Nathaniel's Take
03 INTERSTELLAR $29.1 NEW Michael's Review
04 BEYOND THE LIGHTS $6.5 NEW 
05 GONE GIRL $4.6 (cum. $152.6) The Podcast /  Jason's Review
06 ST. VINCENT $4 (cum. $33.2) Michael's Review
07 FURY $3.8 (cum. $75.9) Michael's Review
08 NIGHTCRAWLER $3 (cum. $25) The PodcastNathaniel's Review 
09 OUIJA $3 (cum. $48.1) 
10 BIRDMAN $2.4 (cum. $11.5) The Podcast Nathaniel's Review
11 JOHN WICK $2.2 (cum. $38.9) Michael's Review
12 ALEXANDER... VERY BAD DAY $1.5 (cum. $62.3) 

PLATFORM / LIMITED
excluding wide openers losing theaters
01 ROSEWATER $1.2 371 locations NEW
02 KIRK CAMERON'S SAVING CHRISTMAS $1 410 locations NEW 
03 WHIPLASH $.8 419 locations (cum. $2.4) The Podcast / Michael's Review
04 THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING $.7 41 locations (cum. $1) Nathaniel's Review
05 FOXCATCHER $.2 NEW 6 locations Nathaniel's Review / Michael's Review

I saw Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, and while I have you here in our intimate little corner of the internet at The Film Experience, away from the wrath of Nolan fanboys, let me vent for a minute about how awful it is. Seriously, do any of you want to stop Nolan, pull him to the side and whisper in his ear: “your films are too long; your plots are convoluted; several of your characters are redundant; your dialogue is atrocious; your spirituality is plastic; get a screenwriter”? Those are the same problems comings up in every one of his films since… The Prestige? Anyway, Matthew McConaughey was the saving grace, making his earthy, warm presence felt through Hans Zimmer's loud screeching in the sound mix.

High profile openers were happening in limited release: Jon Stewart’s story of political imprisonment in Iran, Rosewater, didn’t do great business but you’ll hear more on that one soon right here. Doing exactly 40 times the business per screen was Bennett Miller’s Oscar hopeful, Foxcatcher. It’s going the same route that most of Sony Pictures Classics’ awards contenders go and it’s probably the correct strategy for this film. Finally, there was Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman, which won far better reviews than its Cannes reception predicted, doing decent business on only 4 screens.

Have any of you seen of those yet? If not what did you see this weekend?

Sunday
Nov162014

A Multitude of Links

Some of these links (which I collect until I have a moment to share) are a few days old and some are brand new. But it's time to clear out the cache!

We Are Movie Geeks recounts highlights of AFI and the fest winners including Ukraine's The Tribe and the Olympic documentary about Russia's Red Army hockey team which has major Oscar dreams and might achieve them since it's quite entertaining!
Pajiba a fun look at Jessica Chastain's career before she broke out in movies: L&O and E.R. and so on
Vulture interviews Bill Irwin, one of our favorites, on his work as "Tars" in Interstellar 
In Contention moderates a SAG Q & A for The Grand Budapest Hotel. I've been meaning to watch that one again 


Dissolve First look at Bryan Cranston as Trumbo in the 2015 feature. (Sad that there's not much in the way of costume here because I had lunch with the designer Daniel Orlandi when I was in LA. Will this HBO blacklist drama be up for Emmys in 2015? What'cha think?)
Interview Magazine Stanley Tucci interviews his pal Patricia Clarkson, looking better than ever 
In Contention Stephen Hawking weighs in on Eddie Redmayne's performance of him in The Theory of Everything
Speakeasy Finn Wittrock on his breakout year via American Horror Story 

Friends & Collaborators of TFE
The Atlantic Joe thinks the Oscar race for Animated Feature is between Big Hero 6 and The LEGO Movie. I disagree. Has everyone noticed how hard Dragon 2 is pushing? 
Antagony & Ecstacy Tim discovers Gloria (remember how wild I was about that one last year?) 
My New Plaid Pants Jason has a great (mixed) take on A Most Violent Year 

 

Must Reads
LA Times great piece on how social media has affected awards season
Grantland Wesley Morris pays homage to America's Bitter-Sweetheart Reese Witherspoon (Wild).
AV Club An instant classic article on "fake deaths and cheap resurrections" in entertainment. This is a month old piece which maybe I've shared before (?) but if you haven't read it you simply must. I can't get over it. This has long been something I've struggled with in movies and TV and it's beautifully put to words here by William Hughes.
Slate interesting essay about the decline of the serial killer in real life and its 'golden age' (blech!) in film and television  

Today's Watch
Got an hour? Here's Bennett Miller giving a "Master Class" talk on directing to promote Foxcatcher. This is from the NYFF but it's just available now in its full form.

 

Finally...
You may be wondering why I didn't watch, tweet, or blog about The Hollywood Film Awards. 

It isn't a competition so much as a publicity arrangement.

Let's just say I agree with Sasha Stone's quote about it (<--- and look, I finally met her in L.A. after 10+ years of knowing each other online!). Since that is true, and since it's a fake awards show and we already have enough of real ones, why give it any space? If you need further evidence of how disinterested people are read these bitchy quotes from Tim Gray's article in Variety