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Entries in Year in Review (126)

Friday
Dec262014

Entertainers of the Year, An Alternate Take

Year in Review. Two yummy lists each day. Here's Matthew Eng on "Entertainers of the Year"

Let’s face it: Jimmy Fallon is an okay if utterly predictable choice for Entertainment Weekly’s annual “Entertainer of the Year” title, which can occasionally become more of an honor for being widely-known and well-liked than, you know, being consistently entertaining. (Have they made a truly interesting choice since that three-year, Oscar-certified run of Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and Denzel Washington from 2000-02?)

Rather than continue to pat the backs of those like Ben Affleck, Taylor Swift, Robert Downey, Jr., and J.K. Rowling – i.e. prominent pop culture presences and former “Entertainers of the Year” whose dominance over their respective industries is already deep and durable – let’s take a moment to honor some of our favorite hard-working actors and actresses who zig-zagged across mediums this year, making crucial contributions to the entertainment landscape, but who likely won’t be collecting any golden statues for their unique and indispensable achievements in 2014.

 

Alan Cumming, who lent his impish, adventurous energy to two wildly disparate roles this year, reprising his bawdily iconic take as the Emcee in Roundabout’s Cabaretrevival, while continuing to play his most unusual role as the sardonic and perpetually stressed-out campaign manager Eli Gold on The Good Wife, which is still the best thing on television. It’s a testament to Cumming’s versatility that he seems equally at home warbling in an evening gown and defiling chorus boys, as he does striding around an office and barking into a cellphone. In between suiting-up on screen and dressing down on stage, Cumming also penned a moving and well-reviewed memoir about his troubled childhood in Scotland entitled Not My Father’s Son.


Viola Davis, who continues to be better than any of the material she’s given, but still acts the hell out of everything she appears in, all the same. I’ve already written about how gorgeously she improves the standard mother-son arc of Get On Up, but let’s also give Davis her due for surpassing such esteemed company as Jessica Chastain and Isabelle Huppert to present the only credible human being in that weirdly noncommittal triptych The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, in which she plays Chastain’s professor and newfound confidante to weary, seen-it-all perfection. And finally, I still have my fingers crossed that How to Get Away with Murder will work some Scandal-like magic and pick up as it goes, but Davis is unqualifiedly great and effortlessly magnetic even amid mediocrity. We can never stop beating the drum for this gloriously gifted woman.

Lindsay Duncan, who, yes, played an indelible cobra as Birdman’s venomous voice of theatrical critique, but who also single-handedly dispels the lazy claims that 2014 was a weak year for lead actressing. I wish enough “pundits” would take it upon themselves to journey past their Wilds and Gone Girls and take a well-deserved look at Roger Michell’s marital dramedy Le Week-end, in which Duncan and a never-better Jim Broadbent work through the poignantly personal travails of ripened couplehood while celebrating their anniversary in Paris. Proudly reckless, boldly tetchy, and gleefully tongue-in-cheek, Week-end’s Meg is a marvel of deliciously detailed characterization and one of the acting achievements of the year, thanks to Duncan’s slyly sublime sorcery. (I mean, that voice alone!) Duncan’s also currently on the boards as Glenn Close’s acerbic, alcoholic sister in the revival of Albee’s A Delicate Balance and she’s still a staple on British television, having made appearances this year on SherlockBlack Mirror’s jaw-dropper of a first episode “The National Anthem” (only recently made available on Netflix), and The Honorable Woman, providing the latter with a quietly memorable take on the exasperated ex-wife, which leads us to…


Maggie Gyllenhaal, who never really reached the summits of critic-stamped screen stardom that surely seemed attainable during the Secretary and Sherrybaby days, but who has nonetheless continued to offer terrific and thoughtful work across a variety of mediums. New Yorkers have a little more than a week to catch her in the current revival of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing (closing January 4th), in which Gyllenhaal pairs her usual flair for emphatic (if often unstable) eroticism with an intriguingly assured intelligence as an impassioned actress who throws herself heart-first into a relationship with a married playwright. She’s hilariously and cuttingly unhinged as the only reason worth watching Frank, playing the bitter, Bening-ish bandmate/protector of Michael Fassbender’s bobble-headed lead singer. Gyllenhaal’s great in both projects, but she’s downright fantastic in The Honorable Woman, the BBC miniseries that is equal parts timely political thriller and trenchant character study, and which has given Gyllenhaal her juiciest role in years as an unraveling Anglo-Israeli arms heiress urgently trying to bring peace to the Middle East. Gyllenhaal’s elegant and emotionally daring performance is just another compelling reason to keep this weirdly underappreciated actress in play.

Gaby Hoffmann, who is a national treasure. Besides providing such selfless, straight-shooting support to Obvious Child, ensuring that the film remain a warm and witty sketch of a circle of intimates rather than a lopsided vanity project, and giving Girls’ third season a welcome dose of droll derangement as Adam Driver’s loopy sister, Hoffmann is fully deserving of the praise and prizes that Jeffrey Tambor has received for Jill Soloway’s miraculous series Transparent. The entire familial ensemble (to include Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, and Judith Light) clicks like crazy, with each performer projecting a whole host of complex and authentically-layered affinities, histories, and antipathies around one another, but it’s Hoffmann’s work as impetuous, indecisive baby sister Ali that has somehow lingered the most in my mind. It’s one thing to take the role of the caustic, cash-strapped family fuck-up and make her funny, charming, and inappropriate. It’s another thing entirely to invest so much extra ruefulness, wistfulness, selfishness, self-righteousness, sexiness, continually shifting sensibleness, and totally committed weirdness into a single character that she becomes someone we not only know, but someone we are unable to remember not knowing.

John Lithgow, who has had quite an enviable hot streak this year, the crowning achievement of which is his beautifully loose and lived-in performance as one half of 2014’s most believable onscreen couple, gay or otherwise, in Ira Sachs’ Love is Strange. In addition to his affecting and attentive leading man work, Lithgow also made his mark in two other noteworthy releases, imbuing bit parts in both The Homesman and Interstellar with muted, offhanded conviction. And that’s just on screen! Lithgow also gave good Lear in the Public’s August Shakespeare in the Park production, nailing the punchy imperiousness while adding an ungainliness to the declining King that in its plaintive way was just as tragic as any of the Bard’s plot turns. He’s also currently co-starring with Duncan in that same production of A Delicate Balance, closing out a banner year with yet another reminder that our most abiding and admired talents have endless shades to show us.

Elisabeth Moss, who, on the basis of her sterling work on the Sundance circuit, proves once again that she will be just fine when Don Draper lights up for the last time. She earned raves this year as Jason Schwartzman’s straying, sympathetic girlfriend in Listen Up Philip and rejuvenated some run-of-the-mill themes about marital devotion inThe One I Love with such a persuasive mix of pep and precision that I hardly noticed their familiarity. I’m excited by the prospect of Moss becoming a full-time film presence, but I hope she gets handed at least half as dynamic a role as Peggy Olson, whose professional rise and personal stalling-out Moss continued to chart with instinctive emotionality and endless empathy on the first half of Mad Men’s final season, which began with Peggy collapsing in tears on her apartment floor and ended with her officially taking the reigns from her former boss-turned-humbled colleague. Even if Emmy, SAG, and Golden Globe voters failed to appreciate the magnificence of Moss’ work this year, those of us still watching can take pride in seeing this superbly skillful actress finish off her work as one of TV’s most beloved heroines before heading off into the promising future that awaits her.

Friday
Dec262014

The Less Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Or, "Try Harder Next Time You Talented So & Sos!"

Our Worst of the Year feature "Cinematic Shame" has shrunk in size. This is not because movies are better. This is because your host (Nathaniel R) has somehow become less jaded and more appreciative of the cinema over the years. In fact, he often can be seen crinkling his brow when faced with reminders that a lot of people who write about the movies don't like very many of them. Even more casually evident: lots of people who write about awards season don't like awards season. (A solemn promise to the disgruntled: there are plenty of other topics worth writing about - pitch those to your editor and TRUST that this topic will be amply covered, and all over the place, in your absence!)

But let's not distract ourselves.

 In the lists that follow as we gently spank famous people on their virtual bottoms we remember that they can turn right around the following year and wow us, thereby humbling us for doubting them. History is full of examples. We all have our "off" years or... um...decades. 

Uncomfortable segueway to Tim Burton...  [*cough*]

But look how cute this Big Eyes sketch he drew is! [Tomato stained lists are after the jump]

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Dec232014

"Extra" FYCs? Your Last Chance

OPEN THREAD
We hope you're the Year in Review thus far.  We've already suggested stocking stuffers, gawked at great fashion, stroked furry friends, and named the year's MVP. I'm still madly cramming movies into my eyeballs but have begun drafting the FiLM BiTCH AWARDS this site's long running Oscar alternative. I'm willing to listen to FYCs for any of the special categories and aiming for Monday December 29th to kick things off.

Any 2014 "Best" suggestions for... Line Reading? Action Sequence? Cameo? Kiss? Musical Sequence in a Non-Musical?  Sex Scene? Credits/Title? Scene of the Year? 

P.S. If you're heading out early for Christmas festivities have a happy holiday. There wlll be many blog post presents under this tree to catch up with when you get back. 

Tuesday
Dec232014

Crazy Cat Lady Yearbook

Year in review. Two yummy look backs each day.

People often get my name wrong in the comments. I do not answer to "Nate" or "Nathan". "Nat" or "Nathaniel" will do.  I also answer to "Crazy Cat Lady".

Cats do not get enough screen time if you ask me but they're not pack animals so there's no cat union to promote their representation in the movies. I actually felt a bit betrayed this summer when Toothless, one of my all time favorite screen cats suddenly seemed almost doggish in How To Train Your Dragon 2. If Dreamworks wants to know why they struggled a bit at the box office there I can only point to Toothless. There was  A) Not nearly enough of him in the movie and B) He seemed to have gone to the dog side. 

So herewith the four cats from the film year I couldn't love more...

BEST SCREEN CATS 2014

04 Hairy Baby (Big Hero Six)
If Baymax weren't already off-the-charts adorable, it turns out he's also a cat person robot? (Though he probably shouldn't be petting a happy kitty who might well start kneading him since he's already sprung a leak at this point in the movie. 

03 Ghibli Cat (The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness)
From my review of the Studio Ghibli documentary... 

Particularly wonderful are the many shots of a black and white short tailed cat that wanders freely around Studio Ghibli demanding doors be open for it. This cat, who almost seems like an animated character, strangely never ventures into Miyazaki's workspace as if blocked, staring, by some invisible wall. Still, Miya-san likes him. They share a brief funny moment at a picnic table outside late in the film, the cat sleeping, the filmmaker looking on with envy; Miyazaki has since retired 

02 Felix (St. Vincent)
A veritable cloud of comfort in a sea of smelly clutter, cantankarous moods, and unhappy peoples. Felix is so fluffy, docile, well fed and people-loving that even the most misanthropic or lonely of film characters -- that'd be Bill Murray, natch -- can't remotely pretend to not worship him. (Vulture also couldn't pretend indifference, devoting a whole photo spread to him.)

01 The Cat (Gone Girl)
Every single shot of the orange tabby* in Gone Girl is perfection. He's the perfectly detached observer of all things Mr & Mrs Dunne. Even when he's allowing Nick to be comforted by him, not desperately waiting for food, or staring at the throngs of police and press circling his home, he never seems less than cool and in control. His allegiances also beautifully shift with the opposing chapters. For so long he seems to be Nick's man, until suddenly he's not. Note the way, in the film's best shot (yeah, I couldn't wait) he stares Nick down, a perfect unknowable mirror of Amy, standing just behind him, once they're all back in the kitchen. Is this tabby an "emotional marker" for Gone Girl as some claim or is he something more? An omniscient observer, perhaps? Or David Fincher in feline form, prowling around his own movie preternaturally aware of every shadowy corner, shared space, hiding place, and neutral ground. 

*the cat is never explicitly named in Gone Girl though Nick calls him "Buddy." In the novel I understand his name is "Bleecker".

Tuesday
Dec232014

Scarlett Johansson, 2014's MVP

Year in Review. Two yummy look backs each day

Tim here. Among its many charms and disappointments, 2014 was an extraordinarily good year to be a fan of Scarlett Johansson.

No, I can go bigger than that: 2014 was a year that could make somebody a fan of Scarlett Johansson in the first place, or in my case, knock the dust off a fandom that had been growing stale over the last several years.

What makes it such a particularly interesting year to have watched the actress is the way that three of her four performances released in the United States in ’14 are variations on each other (the outlier is what amounts to cameo in Chef, more of a favor done for director Jon Favreau than a real part). Let’s take a quick look at each of them:

Under the Skin
In a holdover from the 2013 festival season Johansson played a non-human being in the human form of a gorgeous woman under the guiding hand of director Jonathan Glazer. Icy good looks married to a deliberately unknowable inner life pretty neatly describes the opinion that tends to be held on Johansson’s acting skills by people who don’t like her, which makes this, on the one hand, an easy casting decision. [More...]

Click to read more ...

Monday
Dec222014

Stocking Stuffers (of Our Dreams)

Year in Review: Two yummy lists per day. Alexa is off for the holiday so I'm subverting her her arts & crafts "Curio" column for a gift list - Nathaniel

 I can't imagine that the wee moviegoers of the world won't be getting all the Big Hero 6, LEGO and Groot goodies their hearts desire over Christmas but here are ten stocking stuffers we wish we could play with on Thursday morning.

Listen, nobody is ever going to serve the niche within the niche within the niche markets -- I 've accepted that fact that I'll never own Vera Drake action figures or, to quote Waiting for Guffman, a Remains of the Day lunchbox. But that shouldn't stop the dreaming. Some of the following prezzies inspired by 2014 movies, would surely put huge smiles on the face of your cinephile loved ones. Some of these you can actually stuff in stockings. Others do not exist. But we're in the list-making mood. Tis the season.

11 Last Minute Gift Ideas From Real to Imaginary

11. Snowpiercer original graphic novel for sale here
10. Mendl's Bakery Memorabilia all over the place at Etsy 
9. Amazing Amy books for download... or Carrie Coon's "Protect Your Nuts" tee for order but if you're going with any Gone Girl inspired gifts make sure create your own scavenger hunt series of clues for your victim... excuse me, beloved. I meant beloved!

8 more ideas after the jump

Click to read more ...