Sunday, January 25, 2015

Final SAG Winner Predictions

There isn’t much to anticipate here that won’t be reflected by the Oscars, as opposed to last year, since just three of the nominees – Jake Gyllenhaal, Jennifer Aniston, and Naomi Watts – won’t be contending there. The real question is whether Eddie Redmayne can defeat Michael Keaton, who could easily win with this branch, and if “Birdman” can eclipse its competition, mainly “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” in the Best Ensemble race. If Moore, Simmons, or Arquette loses, that’s a bigger deal, but I don’t see that happening in any of the three cases.

I may or may not tune in to part of the broadcast online before an evening screening at Sundance. Enjoy final predictions below (TV here), and offer your thoughts in the comments!

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

Saturday, January 24, 2015

New York Jewish Film Festival Spotlight: Felix and Meira

I’m excited to cover a few selections from the 24th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival, which runs from January 14th-29th.

Felix and Meira
Directed by Maxime Giroux
Screening January 29 at 3:30pm and 9pm

Films like “Fill the Void” and “Gett” that have recently presented observance in a way that doesn’t find its characters grappling with it are hardly the model for the closing night selection for this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival. “Felix and Meira” is a movie that embraces running from the trappings of what feels hopelessly familiar and permanent, as a Hasidic wife, Meira, played by Hadas Yaron, star of “Fill the Void,” struggles with the banality of her life. Félix, who comes from a wholly different world, meets her at just the right time to help her escape, though it’s hardly that easy. This exploration of two people desperately seeking for a change from the universes in which they exist is an engaging and involving journey featuring strong performances form Yaron and Martin Dubreuil in a love story that ultimately isn’t sure where it wants to go but has plenty of interesting places to stop along the way.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Movie with Abe: Cake

Directed by Daniel Barnz
Released January 23, 2015

Now here’s a film that many will hear about and few will actually see. Jennifer Aniston has transformed herself from “Friends” star to true actress with a performance that earned her Golden Globe and SAG nominations and the right to be taken seriously. The film surrounding her, on the other hand, is a far less decisively great film, one that includes elements of a much stronger movie and ultimately can’t quite decide where it wants to go. While it lasts, it’s interesting, but it’s hard to know what the sum total of the experience is supposed to indicate about human interaction.

Aniston stars as Claire, a woman afflicted with chronic pain who has clearly had some physically and figuratively scarring life event that has drained whatever happiness she might have been able to feel completely out of her system. Claire is gruff and impolite, and wears the experience of her unending enormous discomfort on her face, which sits there just as presently and consistently as her scars. She chews out members of her support group for feeling too much emotion, and her closest relationship is with her housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barraza), who gives much of herself to ensure the well-being of her employer.

Claire opens up after the suicide of her friend Nina (Anna Kendrick), which inexplicably prompts Claire to meet her husband Roy (Sam Worthington) and begin to connect with him on a deeply personal level. Humanizing Claire is no small feat, and Aniston manages to do so while still staying committed to her crude and brutal outlook on life. Worthington, who usually stars in action movies, is an odd but relatively effective choice to play Roy, purposely designed with little personality and an open attitude to this strange woman suddenly present in his life. It’s Kendrick whose performance is truly unforgettable as a cruel and haunting hallucinated version of Nina who torments Claire in solitary moments and unsubtly pushes her to consider ending her life too. Felicity Huffman, Chris Messina, and Britt Robertson shine in small roles as well.

The overall experience of “Cake” is a discombobulated one, an eager attempt at showing what true constant pain is like and the effect that it has on a person. Claire works as a central figure because she is stubborn and unflinching, and having Aniston play the part only makes it more effective. Images of a teary Aniston paired with articles about her being snubbed by Oscar voters are cheaply chosen and don’t do the performance justice. Aniston is obviously destined for more than poorly-reviewed romantic comedies, and as a showcase for her work, this is a decent vehicle, but otherwise it’s an unfinished product that isn’t nearly as strong as its main part.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

New York Jewish Film Festival Spotlight: Natan

I’m excited to cover a few selections from the 24th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival, which runs from January 14th-29th.

Directed by David Cairns
Screening January 28 at 3:15pm and 8:45pm

This incisive documentary shines a light on the life of Bernard Natan, the man behind Pathé studios, whose rich film history continues to be an influence on cinema today. What is revealed is a story of influence akin to many other film greats who have gone on to be remembered positively warped by efforts of those motivated by anti-Semitism and industry competition to malign Natan, a soldier in the French army in World War I, exposing an alleged resumé of pornography and a whole slew of other attacks. This is an important tribute to Natan’s legacy and his career, but it’s far from an inspirational or uplifting showcase of any of his successes.

New York Jewish Film Festival Spotlight: Forbidden Films

I’m excited to cover a few selections from the 24th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival, which runs from January 14th-29th.

Forbidden Films
Directed by Felix Moeller
Screening January 22 at 3:15pm and January 25 at 3:30pm

This documentary is all about film, specifically all of the propaganda films that made up German cinema in the 1930s and 1940s, many of which remain banned today. This is a detailed examination of what propaganda is and whether it should be shown and seen for educational and cultural purposes. The types of films, such as anti-British, anti-French, anti-Semitic, and a number of others, are featured, and brief clips of each illustrate exactly what their content was. Looking at these films is only part of this film’s greater conversation, which polls moviegoers and intellectuals alike about the dangers of showing those films that require context in order to be appreciated and not disseminate and further spread hate. The enthusiasm that Hitler and Goebbels had for film is conveyed as is the influential nature of the medium. No clear consensus emerges, but a handful of knowledgeable and man-on-the-street opinions prove very thought-provoking in this enlightening and informative documentary.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Ensemble Cast

The competition: Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything

For your information: “Birdman” has three performers nominated plus one of its stars nominated for another film. “Boyhood,” “The Imitation Game,” and “The Theory of Everything” each have two, and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” has none, which is not an impediment to winning. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” triumphed over “Birdman” for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical at the Golden Globes, and “Boyhood” beat the other two films for Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Who should win: All pretty decent choices, but it needs to be “Birdman.”

Who will win: It’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” against Birdman, which I think SAG voters will prefer.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Supporting Role

The competition: Patricia Arquette’s protective mother (Boyhood),), Keira Knightley’s bright math whiz (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone’s angst-filled daughter (Birdman), Meryl Streep’s charismatic witch (Into the Woods), and Naomi Watts’ pregnant prostitute (St. Vincent).

For your information: Meryl Streep has a formidable history here – nine previous film nominations and one previous TV bid, which she won, along with a film award for “Doubt” in 2008. Watts has two previous film nominations, for “21 Grams” and “The Impossible,” and Arquette contended three times for “Medium.” Arquette, Knightley, and Stone are all nominated as part of their ensembles, and Watts is nominated as part of the “Birdman” cast. Arquette won the Golden Globe, though Watts wasn’t nominated there.

Who should win: Stone

Who will win: It should still be Arquette.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Movie with Abe: Water and Power

Water and Power
Directed by Richard Montoya
Released January 20, 2015

There are some films that take their concepts more literally than others. Director Richard Montoya’s is a look at the inner workings of East Los Angeles and how the city itself functions from the bottom to the top. Water and power are not the most valuable and important resources, however, but actual people, one a state senator and the other an LAPD cop, brothers whose father, an employee of the city’s Department of Water and Power of Los Angeles, gave them those unique nicknames. It’s certainly a gritty look at the underbelly of the city and a dark vision of how business and justice are accomplished on the streets.

Water and Power are introduced as characters in a story told by the film’s narrator, portrayed by Emilio Rivera, who stuck around “Sons of Anarchy” for most of its lifetime as Mayan leader Marcos Alvarez. Art form and poetry are emphasized in the way that he regales the audience with this tale, which initially seems like a fable and gradually becomes more lifelike and literal, as Water and Power are referred by their monikers by all the players in their lives.

“Water and Power” beats along to a furious drum in a picture of Los Angeles in tune with “Nightcrawler,” assuming that the city lives and breathes depravity just beneath the surface. Water and Power are so deeply entrenched in their communities that nearly everyone knows them, and when things fall apart for the brothers, they’re left to fend for themselves as the city’s most dangerous enforcers on both sides of the law set their sights on holding these two accountable for the series of events they have wrought.

As characters, Water and Power are undeniably interesting. Water is best compared to Nathan Petrelli from “Heroes,” a well-dressed, smooth-talking politician who has managed to rise above his meager upbringing. Nicholas Gonzalez’s Power, on the other hand, is a hot-tempered street cop whose emotions definitely get the better of him and who doesn’t have the foresight to understand the gravity of his situation until it’s too late. The film is stolen by an actor known for chewing scenery, Clancy Brown, who delivers his most memorable turn since “Carnivale” as an influential magnate in a position to turn things around for the brothers. There’s plenty of intrigue to be found in this film, but its grim, brutal starkness doesn’t make it very accessible.


Monday, January 19, 2015

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role

The competition: Robert Duvall’s murder suspect (The Judge), Ethan Hawke’s frequent father (Boyhood), Edward Norton’s eccentric thespian (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo’s wrestling champion (Foxcatcher), and J.K. Simmons’ tyrannical teacher (Whiplash).

For your information: Duvall has been nominated for three film roles and two TV roles, and he won once, in 1998, for “A Civil Action.” Ruffalo is a double nominee this year, also contending for TV movie “The Normal Heart,” and he was previously nominated in this category in 2010 for “The Kids Are All Right.” Norton and Simmons are contending for the first time individually. Hawke and Boyhood are also nominated as part of their ensembles. This list is the exact same as the Golden Globes, where Simmons prevailed.

Who should win: I still haven’t seen Duvall, but my vote is either Norton or Simmons.

Who will win: I’ll go with frontrunner Simmons.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Leading Role

The competition: Jennifer Aniston’s pain-riddled survivor (Cake), Felicity Jones’ loyal wife (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted intellectual (Still Alice), Rosamund Pike’s missing wife (Gone Girl), and Reese Witherspoon’s hardened hiker (Wild).

For your information: Moore has been nominated five times before for film work, and won once for her TV movie portrayal of Sarah Palin in “Game Change.” Witherspoon won in 2005 for “Walk the Line” and this is her first nomination since. Aniston was nominated twice for “Friends.” This is the first nomination for both Jones and Pike. Jones is the only one also nominated as part of her ensemble. These five women were all nominated for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes, where Moore won.

Who should win: All excellent choices – probably Witherspoon or Jones if I had to pick right now.

Who will win: I think Moore has this in the bag.