Top 5 Performances to Catch before the Oscars

In just a few weeks (24 days, 6 hours, 20 minutes and 58 seconds to be exact) the 87th Oscars will begin. That leaves you under a month, before winners are announced, to catch some of the best performances of the year. Though the Academy Awards is known for overlooking stellar performances from time to time. So while this past year held many Oscar-worthy performances you should certainly see, in addition to this pre-Oscar performance watch list I’ve gathered for you, there are a few that burned long enough in my memory after viewing that it only seemed right to include, nominated or not.

In short: You don’t want to miss these movies.

JK Simmons in Whiplash

Whiplash is essentially a psychological experience of any impassioned music student, only in somewhat of a horrific level.  Before stepping on stage to perform, most musicians experience an adrenaline that cannot always be described or easily summed up (at least for those of us who aren’t natural born prodigies). Yet this film manages to sum it all up, particularly the intense mental combat any musician faces with a professor who is set on bringing the best out of you, even if that requires pulling out your guts along with it. JK Simmons, nominated this year for Best Supporting Actor, plays the unbridled jazz Professor, Fletcher, who has seen something of a gift in the young jazz drummer, Andrew (played by Miles Teller).  Simmons, who has commonly played the supporting role of the dad you pity in a film, like Juno and Up in the Air, portrays that terrifying teacher whose expectations give you the kind of nightmares that make you wake up in a sweat imagining you will never meet up to them. Yet as frightful as Simmons is, you can’t help but love him for it.

David Oyelowo in Selma

After having the opportunity to catch this film early on, there was no doubt in my mind that the British David Oyelowo was in the run for Best Actor of the Year. No doubt you’ve heard of the shock in response to the absence of Selma in the category of Best Actor and Director (though the film is nominated for Best Picture of the Year). Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the first ever featured film of his life and delivers with such conviction and spirit, it’s unlikely we will see anyone even try to tackle this role for some time. When it comes to displaying a man (emphasis on the man, and not the icon) who’s movement boldly and righteously shaped our current culture, his simply can not be topped.

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Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game

Of course probably the most fascinating story and riveting performance was the one I didn’t even have on my radar early last fall. Cumberbatch, best known as Sherlock (if you haven’t seen it, getting Netflix solely for this reason will completely be worth it), plays Alan Turning, the British pioneer computer scientist (**spoiler alert** since many of us Americans are too busy with frivolities, such as blogs, to have learned such astonishing stories of history), whose skills and innovations inevitably broke into Germany’s Enigma machine which is believed to have shortened World War II by two or four years, saving countless lives. One of many persecuted for his homosexuality at the time in Great Britain, Turning underwent treatment from the government that no doubt deteriorated his spirit at a young age. Cumberbatch’s transformation from the impeccable brilliant man he is commonly pinned as, to a broken and complex intelligent individual just may be the performance of the year (in my book, at least.)

Jack O'Connell in Unbroken

Had Unbroken been released five years ago (when films like Crazy Heart, Up in the Air and The Hurtlocker were the frontrunners), it likely would’ve received nominations for every major category. But alas, we are in 2015, where if a film doesn’t have enough quirk or dullness in the name of being unique, they are simply overlooked. And if ever there was a film overlooked this year it was Unbroken. Having read the gripping true accounts of Louis Zamperini, in Lauren Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, I was thrilled for the film to come out simply for those of you who “don’t read much” to finally take it in. While fans of Zamperini are disappointed at the selective timeline of his life that the film covers, Jack O'Connell displays the spirit's wrestle of survival like one who has been making epics for years. O'Connell is sure to be an actor on the rise. And Unbroken was certainly a high place to start.

Christoph Waltz in Big Eyes

Big Eyes. It’s one of those films you likely overlooked this past Christmas, but another true account that is better than fiction. It is the story of artist Margaret Keane (played by Amy Adams). Waltz (Oscar winner from Inglorious Bastards) plays Walter Keane, a gregarious artist who sweeps Margaret off her feet, as well as the credits for her art work and skillfully makes Keane a household name. Watching Christoph Waltz, no matter what he’s in, is like a circus at the movies. There is something both magical and insane that he brings, and this role truly allowed the many talents of Waltz to shine all at once.

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Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night

Cotillard is the purists’ actress. It seems most anything she’s in, be it a furiously divine love in Inception or a soft-spoken stunner in Midnight in Paris, and it turns to gold. This french film is about as subtle and simple as they come, yet Cotillard's performance couldn’t be anything but. Two Days, One Night is the story of a woman who has discovers her employers have bribed her employees with a lofty bonus, so that she can be let go. In the course of two days and one night, Sandra (Cotillard) sets out to ask of her co-workers, individually, to reconsider the bonus and vote that next Monday for her to stay. It may seem underwhelming in plot, but in portrayal Cotillard touches upon such a modern human emotion, that truly stings in light of our present economy and workplace politic, it can’t be forgotten.

The Foreign Comedy & Kissing Frogs

 

 

Very few good things come out of having been in the wrong relationship; You often get a better idea of what you want, have a clearer understanding of who you are and, just maybe, have enjoyed some free dinners. It is a rather time-consuming and mentally draining cost, dating the wrong person, when really, you could easily achieve most of these things by simply reading your Bible more often. (Who are we kidding?)

But if you are lucky, sometimes in addition, you may have even been able to take away with you the pleasure of new discoveries you wouldn't have given time for otherwise. 

Nowadays, when a Friday night calls for a good comedy to clear your head, finding such a gem is more difficult than it should be. What once was an endless supply of tightly-knit, comical blockbusters has now become a tall order. The latest movies at Redbox rarely seem to suffice. Even apparently amusing films on Netflix, are found to be disappointing duds or cult classics you've already seen a dozen times. And though it never hurts to just watch Planes, Trains & Automobiles for the 13th time, sometimes you just want something fresh and new. But, from the looks of it, there doesn't seem to be any new comedy on the horizon for movie-goers. Honestly, when was the last time you saw a 2-minute trailer that was enticing enough to pay $10 dollars for?

There seems to be a shortage in comedies in the United States. (That, or my flavor for laughter is just somewhat dated and old-hat.) The current stream of comedies in American film are just not altogether as appealing and enticing as they once were. Maybe it is that most comedies crass styles have just grown predictable or their continual rehash of formulated plots are putting us to sleep. Whatever it is, it seems American films lack intriguing story lines that can't even craft a remotely entertaining trailer, let alone a feature-length film. The American comedy is losing it’s appeal. And this is  where I return to those “few good things” I was first discussing.

The first film discovery I recall through a wrong relationship was Little Miss Sunshine; a film both hilarious and original, in it’s own dark and off-kilter way.  The second,  was one I likely wouldn’t have seen otherwise because... it was foreign. Literally and figuratively. I had never heard of it. And after a few mental scars from some Japanese films I had watched with a friend (be warned: Japanese films can be horrifically depressing), a foreign film was not to my liking at the time. And a previous french foreign film, Amour - which, without giving it away, is a french foreign film and is not a comedy - just put a bad taste in my mouth for foreign films.

Of course foreign films are often known to be more gritty, more raw or even more demanding of their audience than the Americanized, formulated comedy we are so well-acquainted with. However, a discovery of the foreign comedy has certainly turned my attention to realize that maybe the American Film Industry doesn’t know everything there is to know about producing a great comedy. (Then again, it’s just sounds American to have assumed that we do.) Because, without a doubt, American’s certainly don't know all there is to know about producing a few laughs.

A few foreign films for a good laugh when American comedies are putting you to sleep:

1. Romantics Anonymous - This precious little film is set in a chocolate shop, and while it’s not necessarily the breathtaking or seductive Chocolat you may remember, it is just as charming. This sweet tale is about a painfully shy, but gifted chocolate maker and the equally sheepish chocolatier who hires her. After discovering they share the same interest in each other, in their own adorably awkward ways, both must to learn break out of their shells and embark in this new relationship. (Currently available to rent on Amazon Prime.)

 

2. The Chef - Not to be confused with Jon Favreau's Chef. (You will not find Sofia Vergara in this french picture.) The Chef is the story of an ambitious and confident underdog cook, who will do whatever he can to become a chef in the highfalutin restaurant business of France. This slap-stick satire is an extravagant feast for the eyes and heart. A film that is unexpectedly innocent and equally funny, the french were the last I expected to produce such a film.  My apologies France, I had you wrong. (Currently available to rent on Amazon Prime.)

3. Four Weddings and a Funeral - Considered a classic by many movie lovers of the 90‘s. (And yes, it is british, which I would consider foreign in the most affirmative way.) (And yes, it does star Hugh Grant.) This film has always been known as a British Cult Classic and particularly beloved in the romantic comedy genre - which makes sense, since that was the majority of what was produced that decade. It is the love story of an Englishman and American Woman, who’s circle of friends and endless occasions of weddings, and yes (*major spoiler alert*), a funeral, seem to have them fated for one another. Not only do the British do a fine job by weaving in some very sad and sacred moments into a “romantic comedy”, but their bent on what is often assumed as such a giddy and frivolous genre, produces some truly gut-wrenching laughs. (Currently streaming on Netflix.)

Hopefully you can take these suggestions and discover the beauty of the foreign comedy this weekend, without paying the cost of kissing any frogs along the way.

Craving Fall Films

Is it Fall yet?

I get very impatient this time of year. I get eager for crisp, cold weather. Eager to wear every sweater in my closet. Eager to drink pumpkin spiced coffee, bundled up in layers. Eager to pick apples and eat them. Eager to listen to Harry Connick Jr. Eager to bake pumpkin bread. Eager to put make pumpkin-anything and everything.

But who am I kidding? I live in Florida. 

I haven’t seen a real Fall in I can't remember when. (Truth be told, I may have some vague memory of  a few glorious brisk days in London, but the joys of having an actual need for a scarf pains me too much to recall.)

With all the things of autumn leaves and such I anticipate most, films may slightly outweigh others. Fall is when cinematic premieres flourish. The inflicted complex characters arrive. The greatest true tales are told, and those hidden gems everyone at Sundance got to see months before you are finally revealed. 

Essentially, you could call the lineup of Fall film premieres the real Oscar contenders. 

So here is a glimpse into the ring for, what may be, potential Academy Awards nominees for 2015. 

(In no particular order - except for what I'm most eager to see.)

 image from Entertainment Weekly

image from Entertainment Weekly

Whiplash (October 16)

For anyone who has pursued a degree in Music Performance, watching a journey that begins with a such spirited love and vivacious pursuit only to be contrived into a manic compulsion that requires blood, sweat and tears for the sake of perfecting one’s skill, this story may ring somewhat true. Damien Chavez’s Whiplash is about a student drummer (Miles Teller) attending a jazz conservatory and his jazz professor (J.K. Simmons) who's determined to draw out the best from him. This is Chavez's, director and writer, also Harvard Grad, first full length feature film. Whiplash has been reviewed as so intense, it's apparently a jazz ensemble replica of Full Metal Jacket.

The first I saw of Miles Teller (The Rabbit Hole) you could tell this guy was just beginning to bring something fresh to the screen. After receiving the much deserved Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival for The Spectacular Now, it appears he doesn’t miss a beat in this next film.

Many have questioned and to their surprise, Miles does indeed play the drums throughout the film. (Though I’m not sure why one would question that, and why one would hire an actor to play a drummer only to hire a stunt drummer.) I guess this just goes to show how many films focused on the craft of music are actually out there. 

 

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Unbroken  (December 25)

Based on the Lauren Hillenbrand book, Unbroken is the biography of Olympic runner (whom Hitler once called “the boy with the fast finish”) and P.O.W. survivor, Louis Zamperini. Books to film are always a gamble. And so are former actors turned director. Angelina Jolie directed this film and considering her first gutsy feature, In the Land of Blood and Honey, is based on the recent Bosnian War, she was well prepared for the monstrosity of this true tale. Seriously, read the book. Monstrosity.

In an interview with Jolie and Zamperini, Jolie described the difficult months before taking on the film, struggling with "What am I suppose to be doing with my life? I need some guidance. I need some help. And it was right outside my window." Turns out Jolie and Zamperini have been neighbors for years.

 If you can read the book before December, this story has so many climactic moments you’ll be wondering how the accounts of this man’s life isn’t fiction and how one could bear all this in one lifetime. Jolie notes in the interview, “The resilience and the strength of the human spirit is an extraordinary thing.” And if this film follows the life of Zamperini as does his biography, it’s unlikely to be anything short of that. Zamperini just passed away July 2nd at the age of 97.

 

  image via Entertainment Weekly

image via Entertainment Weekly

Gone Girl (October 3)

Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel is a rip-roaring dark place to venture. Centered around the events of a couple fifth year anniversary, and love-hate relationship, Flynn’s fierce internal dialogue rings so true to the minds of men and women, it will be yet another gamble to bring this book to the screen. 

On the day of his anniversary, a husband comes home to find his wife missing, blood covering the floors and setting him up as his wife’s murderer - at least that’s what the book would have you believe. 

The plot is simple, but ingenious. The characters are familiar, but erratic. Gone Girl is a force of nature as a novel, chock full of uncanny daggers and wit that just oozes from page to page. Bringing this psycho thriller concoction to life will either sink or soar. It is hard to say. David Fincher, a director known to envelop viewers in a deeply dark climate, will no doubt bring that out of Flynn's novel. Thankfully Flynn wrote the screenplay as well, so hopefully her gutsy banter on the pages will be effortlessly rendered. It's just hard to say whether it can maintain Flynn's sharp pointed edges in between Ben Affleck, Tyler Perry (yep, you read that right) and Neal Patrick Harris (and yes, again.)

Once more, read the book.

 

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Interstellar (November 7)

By now likely every guy is fully aware of Interstellar's existence, while many girls are hear this title and likely wonder if this picture is about some futuristic rock band. Given the little the previews expose, some may be a little as this trailer could look like Signs meets Gravity. But given the stellar (literally) cast and director we have no idea what we will be in for. But we do know Nolan is more clever than that. (At least, I certainly hope so...)

 

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This Is Where I Leave You (September 19)

Because after all this heavy stuff this fall we're all going to need a breather in between. And because... well, just look at that cast.

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Films to Look Forward to

After a summer of sequels, familiar futuristic fantasies and every genre’s depiction of the world’s demise, finally there is a season of films coming that may be worth your $12.50. Fall tends to be the time when most Oscar-contending films debut.

While there is nothing to look forward to see this weekend, technically the first day of Fall is upon us tomorrow. So along with pumpkin lattes and falling leaves (for some of us at least),  some fresh and enticing films await us just around the corner... (five days to be exact.)

 

Rush

September 27

 

Ron Howard (director of Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind and a familiar voice you may recognize from Arrested Development) presents the story of the famous British race car  driver rivals, James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Whether a story is familiar, or sounds remotely  interesting, Howard finds a way to portray every man’s individual story of overcoming life's obstacles in a way that is both compelling and fully baked. Returning with the screenwriter of Frost/Nixon, Peter Morgan, ( also screenwriter of The Last King of Scotland) Rush is sure to be an Oscar contender.

 

Gravity

October 4

 

No one knows quite where this story will go, outside of following Sandra Bullock adrift in space.  Yet most everyone who has seen this trailer is equally duped and terrified at the concept of such a plot; a freakish déja vu of your worst reoccurring nightmare. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, spanish filmmaker of Children of Men and Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban (talk about a breadth of work), who knows what audiences will be in for. If all else fails, anything with George Clooney’s name on it is likely worth a watch.

 

Captain Phillips

October 11

Tom Hanks.

(Could we just leave it at that?) This is reason enough to see a film.

Leading in, yet another, seaside thriller, this story may be a bit more terrifying with the company of pirates rather than a faithful companion named Wilson. Captain Phillips is the true story of a merchant mariner who’s ship was raided by Somali pirates, who take Phillips hostage on a lifeboat for days. It’s been some time since Hanks has lead in a thrilling, character-driven story (sorry, Cloud Atlas just didn’t do it for me.) Along with  director Paul Greengrass, of the Bourne  films, it will can only add an edge for a guarenteed nail-bitting watch.

 

12 Years a Slave

October 17

Based on the memoir of a free man, husband, father and musician in New York City, 12 Years a Slave  is the story of a man who accepts what he thinks is a business venture that misleads into slavery for the next 12 years of his life. 

This riveting cast includes Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt (also a producer for the film), Paul Giamatti and is directed by Steve McQueen (best known for The Last King of Scotland.)

 

The Monuments Men 

December 18

 

George Clooney brings yet another star-studded entourage to tell the true story a group of art historians and museum curators during WWII, who risk their lives to save famous works of art before the Nazi’s destroy them. Directed and written by George Clooney, it may not be as quirky as Leatherheads or Men Who Stare at Goats, but this dramedy may still carry a comic-Clooney flair.


 

Blue Jasmine: A Rare Blossom from a Director Always in Rare Form

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If you mention Woody Allen, you are likely to get either one of the two responses: a clearly disgusted “Ugh,” with a roll of the eyes, or, the more rare, overwhelming “Ahhh!” of delight, eyes glistened with glee. I tend to fall in the latter, which may explain why it took over a month after it’s theatrical release to find a showing of his latest film.

I understand this director is a unique character with flaws not everyone can overlook to  expereince the wonder of his films, still Woody Allen is an acquired taste. Because when watching a Woody Allen film, the one thing you do know is you never know what you’re in for.  

Woody Allen’s films are like a variety of distinct espresso drinks. One may be strong but topped with delightful frothiness, another flighty and too sweet for some to consume, while others are so dark and grimy you’re chewing bitter coffee grinds in the last sip. Whichever concotion it is, Allen packs a punch in each film. Regardless of preference, Woody Allen’s creations are, without a doubt, as broad as espresso is versatile.

His most recent film, Blue Jasmine, would probably fall into the category of bitter and acidic, the one full of earthy grinds at the bottom of the cup, or more like that last cup from a french press that is half full of grinds. (Is it weird that I like that?) Somehow Blue Jasmine is still an invigorating production, that leaves you thinking, “Whoah. I don’t know if I could take all that in again.”, just to later recall it as surprisingly palatable, just different. I had no idea what to expect, except for some amusement ( thanks to Alec Baldwin) and a for sure stellar performance from Cate Blanchett, regardless of where the film would go. And, amusement and sublime entertainment I did discover. 

Blue Jasmine, the story of a modern day Park Ave, pretentious woman who’s dependency on wealthy men leaves her a year short of a degree and a head short of any horse sense. The film opens after Jasmine’s husband has left her for another, younger woman, her son has disowned her and financial wrecked, she’s drags herself, all packed up in her Louis Vuitton bags, to her penniless sister’s cramped apartment (who’s she’s neglected in times of financial hardships in the past.) Set in San Fransico, Jasmine has made the plunge, ready to start a new life on a clean slate, ready to find herself.

It is a gritty, idle and delusioned journey for what some modern woman’s expecations and depiction of life should be. Following Jasmine, now in her 40’s, without a degree, a man and much common sense (she spends her last measly dollars to upgrade to first class on her flight) is at times painful to watch. She struggles looking for a bearable desk job, going to computer classes just to work that job, facing an unwanted dating life, and again searching down another man to be the provider that will sweep her away from a life of reality, responsibility or financial independance, fulfilling all her dreams and desires. ( I guess she didn’t learn the first time.)

Jasmine (though apparently inspired by the Tennessee Williams “Streetcar Named Desire”) is such a brass, pale and tight-laced woman, with such an impractical expectation of what life owes her, it would be surprising if this is an interpretation of some version of the New York prudish women the director may have previously encountered. Through a turn of, somewhat gradual, events Blue Jasmine displays the danger of idleness, entitlement and wayward thinking that can send a woman to her grave. (No spoilers here, don’t worry.) It’s presented in the most cynical, gritty Allen-esque way some may find this one hard to swallow. But if you appreciate variety, a little spice (ok, a lot of spice) and reflecting on the real dangers that a detached, dreamy and delusional mind create for itself , “Blue Jasmine” is well worth your consumption.

 

Mud : The Stuff Summer Films Should Be Made Of

As a kid summers equaled two things for me: Beach days and movies. Today, summers equal two things for me: Work and movies. Maybe I’m juvenile , but the wide-eyed girl in me still correlates summer days with classic coming-of-age films (think of cult classics like The Sandlot, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or the more recent Super 8). They’re the stories that deal with both the mundane and adventure of living life day in and day out. They’re the films that, instead of making you wish you were someone else, somewhere else, help you see the magic of life right where you are.

Coming upon 2013 one would’ve expected to be viewing the greatest summer blockbusters of all time. After all America has lead the way in this great storytelling innovation, we call film, for years now, making mammoth leaps in cinematography, sound editing and visual aesthetics. So, it’s fair to say we should expect to be watching some seriously stellar dramas this summer. But alas, as I pull up my Flixter App to find the hottest films out this weekend to be The Internship and Fast & Furious 6, I am slightly underwhelmed. While the quality of movies has withered down to lean on tried and true directors such as Spielberg, Ron Howard and the more recently recognized contenders like Ang Lee and Kathryn Bigelow, up and coming great film-makers (and thus great films) seem fewer and far between. But creating a great movie nowadays that can meet the demands of American audiences is no small endeavor. 

The industry has heightened our senses to the max, to which point I question, am I paying $10.50 for amusement or a story? Now summer blockbusters ride on preconceived adventures, Marvel Comic sequels and flat plot lines that bank on dynamic duos (The Internship) to flood the screen. Though I realize not all of us are movie-goer to be challenged, changed or to even uncover some sliver of truth. And while these are the very things that make a perfect picture (for me, at least), what was originally sought after to make a great movie is a great story, and an original one at that.

Mud is such a film. 

Opening on the wide, murky waters of the Mississipi River the story begins with two young Arkansas boys who’ve taken off down stream to a desolate island. They find an infamous boat that’s been rumored to have been lifted and hurled up into the trees by a hurricane. The boys, Ellis and Neckbone, who carry a adventurous and equally mischievous chemistry like that of Stand By Me or Goonies, find the boat has already been claimed. 

A fugitive, who goes by the name “Mud,” has been occupying the boat and the island to escape the current mess he’s made of his life. Running from a recent murder, Mud’s head is in the clouds and sights are set on reuniting with his on-again off-again lady, Juniper. Sharing his fearless romantic mission with the Ellis and Neck, Mud is clearly lost and starry-eyed for this “blonde, long-legged… dream you don’t want to wake up from.” 

Ellis is sold on Mud’s heart for Juniper. Living among parents who’s broken love have brought them to a recent separation, Ellis catches hold of these dreams of true love like a disease, wiling to do anything to see Mud’s fantasy of a life with Juniper become a reality. Both boys take off to help Mud get the boat down and in the water. As they run and steal to supply this out-law with every means to sail off, they’re more sold on the mission, more convinced of Mud’s stories and myths and more hopeful that true love will make it all right end. While Mud has been running after the same girl his whole life, he has been running after the same mirage that he’s painted for these boys, and fully convinced himself of as well. But when Juniper’s cycle of wavering commitment and love surfaces, the happy-ending picture begins to fade, revealing the stories and lies that were the very force driving both these boys and Mud. Faced with the honest complexity of “love” is where this coming-of-age story calls all 3 boys to grow up.

Mud has no no crazy twists or turns. There’s no unbelievable visuals or imaginative world on that island off the Mississipi River, and in fact we never even see Juniper and Mud touch, let alone share a kiss. More is spoken of than seen and more hoped for than found. While some might find such a plot that runs so true to real life a disappointment (as life often can be), writer and director Jeff Nichol’s has brought us back to the stuff original films are made of, leaving you feeling like you’ve just watched a present-day adventure that was made in another decade.

While many movies might be your explosive, heart-pounding, steamy-love-making, blood-drenched summer blockbuster fix, you will find few films carry out such a clear story of the adventures of life and love as Mud does. Most movies today reach so far to fill so many of our expectations, they lack the depth that movies originally were made for.

If only more movies could drive a story as clear as Mud… 

Film Review for Relevant - The Place Beyond The Pines

Today Relevant Magazine online posted a review I had the opportunity to write after seeing The Place Beyond The Pines.

With my rather contrary views to the majority, many may not love what I have to say. But alas,  at times I’m known to speak my mind.

One could say this post is two little dreams come true today….

1. I wrote for RELEVANT.

2. I wrote a film critique for an actual established website! 

"Ben Affleck Got Robbed"

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“Ben Affleck got robbed.” Those are Bradley Cooper’s words, not mine. Though after finally seeing “Argo,” directed by Ben Affleck, I couldn’t agree more. 

The film “Argo” is based on on a true story better known as the “Canadian Caper.” During the 1979 Iran hostage, CIA operative Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck) led the rescue of six U.S. dipolmats from Tehran, through the unlikely cover of a film crew. The actual fake film, was called “Argo.” The film follows the process for the CIA in determining the best route to bring our U.S. dipolmats back home, but throughout it’s clear that America was not so much the hero in this story, which seems to be a film trend as of late. Let’s just say, “Thank you Canada.”

After his directorial debut of “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town”, “Argo” seems to be a new caliber of  direction for Afflect. Clearly, judging from recent award shows, few would differ in opinion. Ben Affleck has won Best Director for “Argo” at nearly every award show this year. Yet upon receiving Best Director for “Critic’s Choice”, the “Golden Globes”, the “Screen Actor’s Guild”, the “Director’s Guild of America” and even last night’s “British Academy and Television Arts Award Show” it seems illogical that the one nomination he would not receive is at the “Academy Awards.” (For those of you out of the loop, think of the Oscar’s as the créme de la créme of film awards, or for those of youplainly not interested, the World Series of film awards.)

"Argo" is as crisp and poignant a story as they come, based on our neglected history, it unravels swiftly and sharply even with some much-needed comic relief amidst truly horrific events. Directors that bring to life the history that we’ve been kept shut from, or components we are simply ignorant to, are to be applauded.This brings up the question, how was it that Kathryn Bigelow was also snubbed from a nomination from the Academy as well? Without diving into some conspiracy theory that I may or may not have ( which I would have so little knowledge of to even convey, let alone make sense trying to post at this time of night) I can’t help but wonder how politics plays into these nominations. How directors, who’s films captured thrilling American events, will show up at the Oscars without so much as a run at Best Director is beyond me. But at the young age that Affleck is at in his directing career, I’m sure the opportunity for a(nother) Academy Award in his lifetime is highly likely. And at the end of the day when the Foreign Film Press, the Screen Actor’s Guild and the British Academy all award you with Best Director of the Year, you’ve got to feel like you’ve done something right, huh? Well Oscar, how ‘bout them apples?

Why You Should See 'Zero Dark Thirty' & Why Congress Doesn't Want You To

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In a recent interview for her role in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, Jessica Chastain described the opportunity that the film had, like many others, to gain support from the government. When a production decides to work hand-in-hand with the government, it gains access to federal equipment that would otherwise cost a fortune, supplying helicopters, airplanes and congressional support, which certainly sounds like it wouldn’t hurt. Yet in turn, a film also gives the government complete access to the script. For Zero Dark Thirty the production decided against this opportunity. And by the tail end of the film, it’s clear their reasons why.  

Kathryn Bigelow, Oscar-winning director of The Hurt Locker, was more focused on doing more than just make a movie. Bigelow’s only clear political agenda was starting a conversation of specific aspects of how our government and CIA has handled the war on terrorism. And more than just make a movie she has certainly done, now that she and  screenwriter Mark Boal are the subject of congressional inquiry. The depiction of CIA tactics and, more specifically, the idea that torture aided the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has the government in an uproar.Just months before the Premiere of the film, Senate Intelligence Committee, California Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein, had publicly said that coercive interrogations had played no role in how bin Laden was found. Not only is Feinstein and much of congress not too happy with the film, but they are likely to bring Director Bigelow and her co-producer and screen writer Mark Boal into question, who they feel gained “unusual access to senior officials at the Pentagon and CIA who were deeply involved in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.” The film who’s title card read “first hand accounts of actual events” and presents itself as journalistic account of the hunt for bin Laden, certainly has our government’s attention and now it has ours, which in turn likely heightens congressional inquiry over the sources for the movie. (But it’s just a movie, right Congress.)  

We all know how this story ends, to an extent (and likely much less than we care to discover.) So why should you go see it? It’s a story we’ve all lived through, but few have explored. The film explores torture in the tactics of the CIA, both the torture they’re expected to place on others and, the torture they’re expected to endure. I could go ahead and save you $10.50 if you so desire, (SPOILER ALERT: there is no spoiler alert, since we know what happens in the end) - this is no feel good movie and has been described as “dispassionate and matter-of-fact.” For many the film might not even be entertaining, for the same reason many didn’t find ‘The Hurt Locker’ entertaining, but rather grueling or hitting too close to home. It’s subject may be too real, if not present, to the questions we are living at, but not necessarily asking. 

Whether or not you agree that torture is a necessary component to win the war on terrorism, isn’t necessarily the point. Whatever your political party may be, or may not be, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ will get you to start thinking and talking. It meets where we are at and begs to ask, “Where do you want to go now?”

Jay-Z Set to Write The Great Gatsby Score and Some Other Biggie News ( I Got a New Job!)

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If you’re any fan of Leonardo Dicaprio, or just really great films for that matter, you were probably as disappointed as I was when you found out The Great Gatsby wasn’t going to be contending up against Les Miserables Christmas Day.  Now set to come out May of 2013, such set back only heighten one’s anticipation. Aside from the basic plot, this remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic will be completely unlike the Robert Redford version we all watched in high school, now under the direction of Baz Luhrmann. But when a film is being pushed back months, a production company is smart to use the time wisely. Every American literary nerd (I’ll just pretend like I’m not one of them) and every Leo-feening girl (woman, what have you…) is a shoe-in when it’s coming from the same director who created Moulin Rouge and really gave Leo his (initial) shining moment in Romeo & Juliet, but still the production company must have felt the film was lacking. Even you guys who swear your girlfriends are dragging you to this film, we know you’re secretly already as excited as we are to see it, though now you are really going to have no shame in seeing it.

With Jay-Z set to write the score for film, it will no doubt draw in an entire new crowd to the film. If you’re at all aware of music while watching a movie, this will surely effect the film. For some of us a score can easily make or break a story. It either sweeps you up or sets you off. It does for me at least. Which it will do for The Great Gatsby we won’t really know until May, but one can already see an escalation in the second trailer that came out just before Christmas. This Great Gatsby may be in genre of film all it’s own.  So unless you were hoping for Leo to gently swoon the screen like Robert Redford did, Dicaprio’s style on screen is already a tad more demanding than the likes of Redford. (What I mean to say is - Leonardo Dicaprio is never boring.) It may be Jay-Z is actally the perfect match for Dicaprio.

For the other “Biggie news” my delay in posting is due to a recent transition for me. I got a new job! Just before Christmas I was offered a position at Relevant Magazine in Winter Park, FL as the Project Coordinator. For those of you unfamiliar with Relevant, an entertainment and culture magazine I’ve followed and dreamed of working for since my freshman year of college, it’s coming into it’s 10th year now with an ever-evolving website, podcast and iPad magazine. While its not quite a writing the score for The Great Gatsby, it was no doubt the best Christmas gift. I’m thrilled to be apart of this creative team and influential magazine.

Films To See Now That The Golden Globe Nods Are Out

In a day when a movie ticket costs me twice what it did when I was in high school, and even makes me debate whether or not to skip dinner in lieu of a $12 ticket, I’m a bit pickier about what movies to pay up for. Around this time of year, and February when the Oscars are a month away, I’m all of the sudden on an agenda in my movie watching as well as weekend planning. There are some obvious directors and actors who’s films used to be a shoe-in. You hear their name, you see the movie. Frankly the dough doesn’t roll in as heavy as I’d like it to for me to be so frivolous with my spending (well, for most actors - there’s always an exception.) So now that the Golden Globes nods are out, or now that all the smart films have premiered in time for the nods, I’ve narrowed down my top (film) priorities for the remainder of the year, and in this very specific order….

1. Lincoln

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This movie, though having been out for weeks now, clearly has winner screaming all over it. First, Daniel Day Lewis. Second, Steven Spielberg. And thirdly a historic drama with one of the most admired Presidents of all time and you have a match made in screenplay heaven. That, and Daniel Day Lewis can do no wrong.

More than just some iconic actors and historic figures, this film has been years in the making, based of the best-selling book “Team of Rival” by historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Goodwin. Apparently after Spielberg had bought the film rights Lewis was his first pick, though it took 10 years and ultimately a call from Leonardo Dicaprio to get Daniel Day Lewis on board. Even then Lewis requested a year to prepare for the role, reading over 100 books on the life of Lincoln. Do I hear Best Actor of the Year? This may just be the film to sweep house at most award show this year. If anyone knows how to do that it’s Lewis and Spielberg. Together they just might be dynamite.

2. Argo 

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Since The Town I’ve been waiting for Ben Affleck’s next film. Many may have felt that the typical Bostonian bad boy falling for the good girl plot (a reason I love previous Affleck/Damon projects - along with their discovery of Shia Lebouff) and a predictable heist scenario was not worthy enough for an Oscar nod. (Say what you want but I loved it.)

Argo, Ben Affleck’s latest creation, loosely based on a CIA’s rescue of U.S. diplomats from Tehran, Iran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, has been sparking up Oscar talk since it’s first week out. Promoted as a thriller, this nail-bitter has been reviewed as a dark comedy, typically a perfect marriage in a film, which is inevitable to emerge when casting Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin. The combination may be just the thrill and release that the Oscars raves over. For me this is a tie with #1.

3. Zero Dark Thirty

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Since watching The Debt, Jessica Chastain is just one of those “She’s in it? I’ll see it.” kind of actors. She brings something classic and yet fresh to the screen no matter what kind of film it is. Pair her strikingly glamours presence, whose pretty much pinned down the most character-driven female lead these days, in my opinion, with the dominating female Oscar winning director of The Hurt Locker, whose films seem a far cry from a female-driven film, and a female-driven film you have indeed. And driven well, no doubt. Any who’ve seen Hurt Locker knows that Katheryn Bigelow will give you a ride that’s as unpredictable as it is unformulated, even comparing it to the most recent raw, cutting-edge military dramas in it’s genre.

The film is centered around the ultimate man-hunt, one that feels so fresh to our Nation it may be disconcerting watching it on the big screen. After The Hurt Locker Bigelow’s style is clearly anything but comforting for her viewers. Bigelow has seemed to unveiled something for the audience and they all (the audience) seem to like what they see. Already raved as a “Power house thriller” & “Groundbreaking”, Bigelow’s newest piece of work is a must-see for sure, at least on my list.

4. Les Miserables

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It’s considered one of the greatest stories of all time. It’s the longest-running musical in history. It’s a movie that’s already been made. Although Liam Neeson, Geoffery Rush and Claire Daines already have done this film justice, the musical force of this story has yet to be seen on the big screen.

Victor Hugo’s classic novel of the French Revolutionary War and ultimately enduring tale of love and mercy is a story that has withstood the ages. With such a stellar cast ( I may exhaust my any reader by listing it) it is sure to be entertaining whether or not it will meet all the expectations it’s aroused. And unlike most musicals, this is the first to be filmed in real time; that is, the actors are actually singing while filming. It may seem like no big deal but this is no small feat for an actor. It is truly a test of an actors chops and with the immediate nods and nominations, it will certainly, and no doubt already has paved a new path for Broadway and film-making.

5. Django Unchained 

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Leonardo Dicaprio in a Quentin Tarantino film. I don’t think there’s anything left to say.

Film: Russell Crowe as "Noah"

There’s nothing like a cheesy “Jesus” movie to diminish your childhood imagination of Bible stories, until… you hear that Russell Crowe is starring as Noah in a film adaption of the biblical epic.

Yes, Russell Crowe is set to play Noah under the direction of Darren Aronofsky, truly to be a story hour (even 2 hopefully) of gigantic proportions. Director Darren Aronofsky was last known for his Academy Award winning film The Black Swan - a far cry away from a Bible story. And Noah, no doubt, is far cry from what most of fans would anticipate for Aronofsky’s next project. While some of his cult-followers, from previous the films like Requiem for a Dream and Pi, may be disappointed by this seemingly safe and reserved choice of a film, this is certain not to be some kind of cardboard box Noah’s Ark reenactment you may have seen in Sunday school.

Aronosky, using his twitter a board for updates and peeks into the film-making process, has been waiting on this project for sometime. "I dreamt about this since I was 13. And now it’s a reality. Genesis 6:14 #noah,” sounds like a movie that’s been in his mind for a while, one likely to rock the boat of versions we’ve read from illustrated books as kids. His tweet refers to when God told Noah to “Make thee an ark of gopher wood, rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch" and make thee an ark, Darren did, or still is. Located in Oyster Bay N.Y., the foundations of the film’s own ark had been set up weeks ago. Though the filming began in Iceland with the crew, including previous choice cast members such as Jennifer Connelly and famous faces like Emma Watson (sure to draw a crowd all on it’s own,) it’s final three weeks that were brought to Brooklyn New York were interrupted by Storm Sandy. 

Literally Sandy took the production by surprise, and washed out Noah’s ark, or at least did some serious damage, presenting the cast with more of a method approach their performance than they bargained for. Emma Watson, also keeping fans up to date through twitter, posted after the storm “I take it that the irony of a massive storm holding up the production of Noah is not lost.” But hold your breath audiences. We will not be able to see Noah and his ark until 2014.

Surely with Aronosky directing this story one can’t predict what to expect. Truth be told (and no pun intended), caution parents, this will likely not be the storybook bible version to send the kiddies off to bed with. Yes, revisiting the original story, Noah’s situation was about as much a civil disaster as it was a natural disaster.  An R rating would not be surprising. But, then again, unlike the common presumption, who ever said the Bible was a clean, family, feel-good story?


Film: War Horse

When “War Horse” came out last year I was a little hesitant, even though it is a Speilberg film. Especially when my parents continually urged me to watch it during the holidays last year, I was reluctant to pay $12 to see it. Films my parents tend to get real excited about are more often than not, good clean films with resolve (with the exception of “Message in a Bottle” and “Gladiator” and maybe a few others I’ll leave unmentioned.) If it’s a movie my parents bring my grandparents to, one can pretty much guarentee it will be rather, and I say this respectively, safe.

Renting it this weekend was somewhat of a last resort, since every other movie in Red Box looked so shady they will no doubt be on NetFlix by next week for me to peruse. So “War Horse” it was. To my assumption the film was safe, capturing real life difficulty with fragility while still presenting the common struggle of survival. This seamless story, that is like stepping into a lengthy panoramic shot of another world, where everything is green and full of vitality, makes the time to bring all to life.

Some movies are full of circles of people who are incencently angry, boiling with sarcasm or issues that leave most of us more wound up by the end of a film than captivated and transcended to another world - one of the very reasons I watch a film. Most people probably have been disinterested in giving War Horse a chance due to the lack of romance, sex, and gratuitous violence, and hardly a curse word I can account for. Instead you are carried through a clear single story, a consistently beautiful epic, a coming of age tale about a boy and his horse. Films like these are rarely made and when they are, often go unseen. I wish I would have read A.O. Scotts NY Times review of this film earlier:

You may find yourself resisting this sentimental pageant of early-20th-century rural English life, replete with verdant fields, muddy tweeds and damp turnips, but my strong advice is to surrender. Allow your sped-up, modern, movie-going metabolism, accelerated by a diet of frantic digital confections — to calm down a bit. Suppress your instinctive impatience, quiet the snarky voice in your head and allow yourself to recall, or perhaps to discover, the deep pleasures of sincerity.

While War Horse does not make my best films of all time list, and I’m still anticipating “Argo” or “Skyfall” and several others as for my Fall film fixation, watching War Horse was an opportunity to give my brain a break, and let my heart rest and simply soak up a beautiful story.


Nora Ephron, writer, director and producer, passed away this week. She may have well been one of the most significant voices to leave our world and our films, at least in my bias opinion. Each of her works intoxicatingly displayed an equally honest, witty and romantic tone that could never be replaced.

She captured the quirks and faults of femininity, that women hate to acknowledge. But did in such a vivacious way that it made women want to own up to the complex beings we are. She showed men as their single-minded and driven selves, but with the multifaceted qualities they typically keep closed off (at least more so in the 90’s.) While we’ve become familiar with some great actors of the screen through her works, the words and honest dialogue she brought were the true stars of these films that changed the genre of romantic comedies forever. Nora managed to capture many of the realities and dimensions of love; those that disappoint us, as well as the those we can only dream. Her stories were honest but tactful, raw but effervescent.  Her films brought to light the beautiful mess that occurs between a man and a woman. We will likely never see a film director or writer of her kind again.

This little montage is my ode to Nora…