Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Oscar Predictions: Best Actor in a Leading Role

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16th. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.

Last year’s nominees: Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix, Denzel Washington

This year’s locks: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey

Very likely: Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Bruce Dern

Possible: Michael B. Jordan, Forest Whitaker, Leonardo DiCaprio

Unlikely: Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale, Joaquin Phoenix, Idris Elba

The rundown: Last year, this was a six-person race. This year, it’s essentially locked up for the top five, but there are a handful of other actors who are fighting to bump into that slate. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), both of whom have never been nominated before, are both locks. It’s hard to imagine either Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) or Bruce Dern (Nebraska) not being nominated if some other aspect of their film is, but, sadly, that may be the case since they might not be considered essential (far from the truth, of course). Robert Redford (All is Lost) suffered a miserable SAG snub which suggests his acting chances (one total previous nomination) pale to his behind-the-scenes abilities (an Oscar win for directing “Ordinary People” in 1980). Nipping at their heels are SAG nominee Forest Whitaker (The Butler) and Golden Globe nominees Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Christian Bale (American Hustle), Joaquin Phoenix (Her), and Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom). I’m still rooting for Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) to be rewarded for his astounding performance, but I think his movie is going to be ignored.

One possible crazy scenario: A posthumous nomination for James Gandolfini (Enough Said) happens in this category instead of the supporting race.

Forecasted winner: If he gets nominated, Redford.

Oscar Predictions: Best Actress in a Leading Role

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16th. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.

Last year’s nominees: Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Emmanuelle Riva, Quvenzhané Wallis, Naomi Watts

This year’s locks: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett

Very likely: Judi Dench, Emma Thompson

Possible: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Brie Larson

Unlikely: Julia Louis-Dreyfus

The rundown: Last year, I wrote about how two highly acclaimed contenders who didn’t earn either Globe or SAG nods – one a foreign octogenarian and the other an unknown child – would have to defy historical odds to merit a nomination. And, though one of the would-be nominees I was rooting for was displaced, two of the Globe- and SAG-cited actresses were left off in favor of those two underdogs. Now, I’m not sure that can happen this year, but let me take a reverse approach to why two acclaimed lesser-known actresses, one of whose performances I’ve seen and once whose I haven’t, might make the cut. Sandra Bullock (Gravity) is a sure thing, there’s no getting around that, and that’s fine since she was pretty terrific. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) isn’t my cup of tea, but she managed to be nominated for a sequel no one liked because she’s usually great. Judi Dench (Philomena) is an awards magnet (this would be nomination number seven), but it’s possible that her film could falter in favor of something more serious. That’s doubly true for Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), whose film has been underperforming consistently when it should have been gobbling up awards. Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), whose nomination total exceeds any other performer’s and will continue to do so as she racks up more and more mentions, is in danger of putting off voters with an over-the-top performance, and I think she’ll be snubbed, especially since most didn’t love the film. Now, Amy Adams (American Hustle) is vying for a spot, but she’s only ever been nominated in the supporting race, and her film can be easily recognized elsewhere. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said) would need a huge push to join her posthumous costar as a nominee. It’s been noted by Nathaniel of The Film Experience that a Best Actress list has never been composed of all previous winners, as the combo of Bullock, Blanchett, Dench, Thompson, and Streep would. Last year, the SAG list included all previous Oscar nominees. When the Oscar nods were announced, the two who had won Oscars before weren’t included, while the three who hadn’t were, and the other two slots went to first-timers. Statistics and records only mean something until they don’t. But, what if the people who recognized Riva and Wallis last year were open to two other possibilities who were completely fresh Oscar faces: Adèle Exarchupoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color) and Brie Larson (Short Term 12)? I won’t have the opportunity to screen the latter until just before nominations are announced, so my enthusiasm will be understandably directed more at the former performance. But there is something wholly worthwhile about honoring new and innovative turns, rather than familiar faces - Thompson and Streep especially – delivering far from their strongest performances. Both getting in after last year would be something, so I’ll be cautiously overoptimistic and say that maybe Exarchupoulos can pull it off.

One possible crazy scenario: Despite just a Golden Globe nod and the fact that her film hasn’t even been released yet, Kate Winslet (Labor Day) earns her seventh nomination.

Forecasted winner: I think enthusiasm for the film will give it to Bullock no matter who’s ahead in the precursors.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actor

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16th. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.

Last year’s nominees: Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, Christoph Waltz

This year’s locks: Jared Leto, Michael Fassbender

Very likely: Barkhad Abdi

Possible: Bradley Cooper, James Gandolfini, Daniel Bruhl, Tom Hanks

Unlikely: Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Will Forte

The rundown: Like last year, there are six contenders vying for five slots, made up of the Golden Globe and SAG lists. At the forefront are two contenders who will definitely make the cut: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) and Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave). The latter will have the full support of his film behind him while the former likely will not. Next up is Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), who seems to be a sure thing despite his nonprofessional background, and he is even likely to make it if his costar Tom Hanks and the film don’t score points in other races. Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) has the momentum of his film behind him, as well as the boost of being nominated last year for a collaboration with the same director. The late James Gandolfini (Enough Said) doesn’t have that same prominence at the moment, but being a respected actor lost too soon in an endearing role should enable him to earn a posthumous nomination. Golden Globe and SAG bids mean that Daniel Bruhl (Rush) should be taken more seriously than most are predicting, but I’d like to see the film rewarded in a handful of technical categories instead, and I assume voters will agree. Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks) was supposed to be a safe bet for this race and another nomination in the lead acting category, but lack of precursor support suggests it just won’t happen. Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) also hasn’t been as present as he would need to be to merit a nod unless voters go nuts for the film. Matthew McConaughey (Mud) could also be a double nominee, but I doubt his better performance and better film will be recognized at all. Potentially sneaking in for an upset is Will Forte (Nebraska), a likeable enough actor who, in my opinion, is far from the best aspect of his film and does not deserve a spot in this race.

One possible crazy scenario: Earning his second-ever nomination, and his first since 1985, Harrison Ford (42) is nominated.

Forecasted winner: Probably Leto.

Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actress

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16th. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.

Last year’s nominees: Amy Adams, Sally Field, Anne Hathaway, Helen Hunt, Jacki Weaver

This year’s locks: Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyongo

Very likely: June Squibb, Oprah Winfrey

Possible: Sally Hawkins, Julia Roberts, Léa Seydoux, Margo Martindale

Unlikely: Octavia Spencer

The rundown: This category seemed like it was completely locked up before Oprah Winfrey (The Butler) got snubbed by the Golden Globes, an organization that was expected to adore her. She’ll still likely get in, but that might also be true of her Globe replacement, Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine). Much of this category can be looked at in comparison to its films’ leading actors. Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) is safe even if none of her costars get nominated, while Lupita Nyongo (12 Years a Slave) and all her costars are sure things. June Squibb (Nebraska) is likelier than costar Bruce Dern, since he could get squeezed out of a tight field. Ditto Winfrey and Forest Whitaker, whose SAG nomination won’t likely translate to an Oscar nom. Unless voters really like “Blue Jasmine,” Cate Blanchett and Hawkins will be the only ones representing it. That leaves a few others whose chances are highly dependent on their costars. I’m not so sure that Meryl Streep will make the cut, which dampens the chances of Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) and her less famous but showier costar Margo Martindale (August: Osage County). If only Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station), a winner in this race three years ago, was nominated, it would be a shame, considering how excellent Michael B. Jordan was and how good the film was. I’m pulling for someone else, Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color), who I can’t imagine would be nominated without her costar Adèle Exarchupoulos, but unfortunately I don’t think either of them will make it. Last year, this race got rid of bizarre contender Nicole Kidman and the esteemed Maggie Smith to bring in a great actress in a nothing role, Jacki Weaver, so let’s hope this year does the exact opposite and brings someone truly interesting to the table.

One possible crazy scenario: Both Roberts and Martindale get nominated, proving that someone loves that movie.

Forecasted winner: If she’s nominated, Winfrey.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Movie with Abe: Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers
Directed by Harmony Korine
Released March 15, 2013 / DVD July 9, 2013

There are some movies that don’t even show up on my radar. This film, with Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens headlining, was one I hadn’t even heard of until James Franco starting winning awards for his supporting performance as Alien. I found it hard to believe that critics’ groups would have bothered to see this enough to notice Franco. I decided that I had to judge for myself, but my expectations were not high. “Spring Breakers” took a very different direction than I had anticipated, but its quality level was as I had assumed: awful.

“Spring Breakers” has a certain style that’s hard not to find appealing, in theory at least. Opening with shots of people partying, many topless, on the beach set to thumping music suggests that this will not a film of high intellectual caliber. Yet it also perfectly sets up the feel of the lifestyle that this film’s characters so desperately yearn to have. The central protagonists – four college girls – fantasize about getting away for spring break during class and study breaks, yet their bubbles are burst when they realize that they cannot possibly afford to get to this magical utopia.

Once reality sets in, the film shifts abruptly from a grungy half-lucid fantasy to something altogether more frightening. The girls don masks and bring toy guns to a restaurant and rob all its customers in order to procure money for their trip. From that moment on, no one is innocent, and it’s especially disturbing to see the girls reenact their prized robbery to others later in the film and express such passion for the crime they have committed. Landing in jail for drug use links them with Franco’s Alien, whose impossibly slick style and attitude seems too good to be true.

The reason that Franco likely won award mentions for his performance is that he is a respected actor who is capable of floating between worlds, doing serious acting work in films like “Milk” and “127 Hours” and then starring in a bottom-of-the-barrel mess like this. Franco certainly commits, but it’s only award-worthy in comparison to the rest of the film. Everything else about “Spring Breakers” is equally unfortunate and off-putting, and the film’s use of repeated lines to drive point the disconnected nature of its characters’ relationship with reality becomes extremely irritating shortly after the film begins and unbearable by its end.


Movie with Abe: Prisoners

Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Released September 20, 2013 / DVD December 17, 2013

There are few things more upsetting than the thought of a child disappearing and his or her parents not knowing what happened or where they are. This dark thriller isn’t meant to appease though who shudder at the idea, and those who aren’t in the mood for a grim, brooding drama should steer clear of this film. “Prisoners” is a multi-faceted exploration of guilt, suspicion, determination, and law enforcement that seeks to deliver a resounding and affecting experience. While that doesn’t quite happen, there are elements of “Prisoners” that make it worthwhile and intriguing.

Hugh Jackman stars as Keller, a father of two who walks his wife (Maria Bello), son, and daughter over to the home of their neighbors Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis) down the street. The mood is foreboding and eerie from the start, and it doesn’t take too long to realize, as if the title wasn’t enough, that the young daughters of both families will be taken by the unknown occupant of a mysterious RV parked outside Franklin and Nancy’s house. After they are taken, a suspect, the childlike Alex (Paul Dano) is brought in, and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is on the case, trying desperately to find the girls while managing an uncooperative suspect and Keller, the fervent father who would do anything to find his daughter.

“Prisoners” starts out bleakly and never manages to overcome its moody nature. While the film isn’t meant to be likeable, it’s hard to connect with such a depressing situation portrayed in this manner. Keller in particular demonstrates few commendable qualities other than his dedication to his family, and it becomes even more difficult to consider him a sympathetic protagonist when he abducts Alex and begins to try to beat the truth out of him. Loki is similarly unendearing, and having such prickly so-called “good guys” makes Alex one of the film’s most likeable characters. That dimension of the film is somewhat effective, though it wouldn’t have hurt to see Keller evolve from a genuinely nice person into a hammer-wielding interrogator.

The cast of “Prisoners” leaves something to be desired. Jackman can sing, dance, and use mutant claws with gusto, but here he plays Keller too energetically, drowning in his forced American accent and barely pausing to take a breath. Bello and Oscar winner Melissa Leo, who plays Alex’s guardian, have been much better in other similar roles, as has Davis. Dano is a good fit for Alex, completely capable of isolating himself into a world that seems far removed from this film, and Gyllenhaal delivers an unexpectedly brash performance that has deservedly earned him accolades, showing that he is open to playing new kinds of characters. There are few positive things to remember about the film, and the negative moments are not as fulfilling as they should be in this well-intentioned, mildly-executed film.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD. I’ll also aim to comment on those films I have not yet had the chance to see, and I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing in NYC

August: Osage County (mixed bag): This adaptation of the popular play features an astounding cast, led by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, but it’s not nearly as satisfying or even as it should be. Margo Martindale is the standout player, and it’s the subtler background performances in this loud film that make it most worthwhile. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square and Regal Union Square. Read my review from yesterday.

New to DVD

Nothing to report this week, look for more in January!

Now Available on Demand

Blackfish (recommended): This finalist for the Oscar Best Documentary field, which arrived on DVD last month, is a strong and powerful look at how killer whales are brought in from their natural habitats and what happens as a result of their captivity. It’s far from idyllic or pleasant, but it’s an important and very good exposé.

Food, Inc. (recommended): Watching a handful of the documentary finalists from this year is a fitting tribute to a great film like this, one of the 2008 Oscar nominees in that race. This inside look at the food industry is heavily compelling and disturbing, but presented in an upbeat way that makes it hard not to enjoy, even if what it’s showcasing is far from appetizing.

Stand Up Guys (mixed bag): This aging gangster movie unites three Oscar winners – Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin – and follows their adventures on one action-packed night in an uncreative, unmotivated film that is generally endearing but unexciting. For more about the film, read about the Q & A I participated in with director Fisher Stevens.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Movie with Abe: August: Osage County

August: Osage County
Directed by John Wells
Released December 27, 2013

It’s often the case with plays adapted for the big screen that they just don’t translate, and the film feels too much like a play performed in front of a camera (“Sleuth” is a particularly potent example). Re-envisioning an acclaimed play can be dangerous because expectations are too high and a new take on the same story just isn’t necessary. In this case, a stacked cast with three Oscar winners and over twenty past Oscar nominations among the whole of them means this adaptation has a lot going for it. Parts of the film work, and others don’t.

Meryl Streep stars as Violet, the foulmouthed matriarch of the Weston family, whose mouth cancer has turned her into a vile, cruel person. Her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) hires her a caretaker and then disappears. When it is revealed that he has taken his own life, his family gradually returns to their quiet Oklahoma home, and, with each new arrival, there is plenty of noise and baggage to be sorted out and miserable arguments to be had between strongly opinionated family members with a good deal of complicated family history.

There are many prickly moments and uncomfortable discussions in “August: Osage County,” some of which are darkly comical in nature, while others are less amusing. At their best, they are powerful and involving, and at other times they are merely awkward and off-putting. The balance is far from even, and, as a result, this is a splintered film that manages to be moving only occasionally throughout its runtime.

Leading the cast is Streep, who doesn’t have to try much to garner universal acclaim. Here, she overdoes it considerably, and it’s in her subtler moments that she’s more effective. The opposite is true of Julia Roberts, who is best in passionate fits of sarcasm and fury as Violet’s daughter Barbara. Julianne Nicholson and Benedict Cumberbatch are strong members of the ensemble, as are Abigail Breslin and Juliette Lewis, and the best in show award goes to the terrific Margo Martindale as Violet’s sister Mattie Fae. The Best Ensemble prizes this show has been nominated for are somewhat deserved, though the cast isn’t always as cohesive as it could be. This is a fiery story with plenty of potential, and while the big screen didn’t offer any particular advantages that the stage wouldn’t, it could and should have been a more well-rounded experience.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Movie with Abe: Dirty Wars

Dirty Wars
Directed by Rick Rowley
Released June 7, 2013 / DVD October 15, 2013

Several years ago, the Oscar Best Documentary field was filled with films about present-day wars. “No End in Sight” was a self-explanatory look at the questionable goals of war, “Operating Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience” was a reflective look at war and its lingering effects on soldiers, and “Taxi to the Dark Side” was a brutal critique of unlawful detainment and torture on the part of U.S. forces, all in 2007 alone. Last year, “The Invisible War” investigated sexual assault in the military, while “5 Broken Cameras” and “The Gatekeepers” took on a non-American army. “Dirty Wars,” a finalist for the Best Documentary Oscar category this year, is an expected successor to all those, examining the practices of covert operations and unpublicized civilian casualties in Afghanistan and other countries.

The title of the film says a lot, and it has many meanings. One could be that American forces play dirty, using the oft-perceived notion of America as world peacekeeper as a free pass for unprovoked questioning and presumption of guilt as well as the acceptability of collateral damage. Another could be the implied corruption within the military infrastructure, that everyone knows that certain things need to be done because of the ends with the means disregarded, and no one stands up for what happens in the space in between. “Dirty Wars” doesn’t go as far as “Zero Dark Thirty,” showcasing the lengths to which torture and other methods of interrogation occur, but instead pauses to look more closely at the fact that military raids and operations are happening in countries with which the U.S. is most definitely not at war.

The ultimate question when it comes to any documentary about a country’s government or defense program is what it seeks to achieve. Much like Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, journalist Jeremy Scahill seems most concerned with outright transparency and a reasonable explanation for each major (or minor) move that the U.S. military makes which causes inexorable harm to innocents. Whether what he reveals is more damaging to the war on terror, a phrase which Scahill certainly does not appreciate or like, than not is up for debate, but this film is sure to make a lot of people unhappy, which Scahill hopes will translate into action and organizational change. As a narrator, Scahill demonstrates that he knows what he is talking about, but his endless nodding and accusatory attitude makes him harder to like despite the seeming veracity of his claims. Political feelings will contribute greatly to how enjoyable this film is, but it is definitely informative and thorough, and its glossy cinematography makes it stand out all that much more.


Movie with Abe: Blackfish

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Released July 19, 2013 / DVD November 12, 2013

If there’s one topic that can truly ignite passion among a wide audience, it’s animals. Pets are beloved by many, and those animals not quite as domestically manageable also have the rights they themselves can’t stand up for trumpeted by ardent activists and even those with just a passing interest in treating animals as compassionately as humans. “Blackfish,” the story of killer whale Tilikium, a killer whale at SeaWorld who has been involved in the deaths of multiple trainers, is a scathing investigation into the ethically questionable journey of Tilikium to his current residence and the factors that contributed to his role in the unfortunate deaths of those working with him.

“Blackfish,” a finalist for the Best Documentary Oscar category, is best analyzed alongside “The Cove,” the controversial Oscar winner for that same category in 2009. That film probed into a subject not often spotlighted and presented startling revelations, serving as a stirring call to action to change the way the world turns a blind eye to how precious, adorable animals are treated. “Blackfish” takes a similar approach, profiling Tilikium and outlining the timeline of how he got to where he is. Expectedly, SeaWorld and others are far from pleased, and that’s exactly the point of this exposé.

There are many layers to “Blackfish,” and all take care to demonize the practices and institutions that led to the deaths of human beings during their interactions with Tilikium. Former coworkers of one of the deceased trainers share her dedication to her job, and the horrific nature of the organizational response to her death, which consisted mainly of a party line about her being blamed for getting herself killed due to a mistake she made. Simultaneously, animal experts describe a call made by a whale in captivity that they had never heard before that demonstrated just how much the animal wished to be reunited with its child. Juggling both dimensions of a complicated situation is not an easy task, and this film does so commendably.

Like many such films, “Blackfish” succeeds most by the sheer strength of its arguments and the unwillingness of the offending organization to comment when asked. Archive footage proves damning enough, and this is the kind of film where the experience continues, with SeaWorld now publicly responding following the film’s DVD release to deny many of its claims. This is an excellent companion piece to the narrative film “Rust and Bone” from last year, which tracks one possible consequence of the situation in which whales in captivity are currently in, presenting a heart-wrenching and blood-boiling story too unbelievable to ignore.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Oscar Predictions: Best Visual Effects

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16th. As a result, most of the corresponding guilds won’t have announced their picks by then, so I’m making predictions in advance without being able to take those into consideration. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.

Last year’s nominees: The Avengers, The Hobbit, Life of Pi, Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman

This year’s locks: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Star Trek Into Darkness, Gravity

Very likely: Iron Man 3

Possible: Elysium, Thor: The Dark World, World War Z

Unlikely: Pacific Rim, Oblivion, The Lone Ranger

The rundown: This category contains less suspense than other races since ten finalists have already been established, five of which will be nominated. Three films have the previous films in their series as positive indicators of their chances: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Iron Man 3. is all but guaranteed as the only Best Picture contender in the race. After that, it’s anyone’s game. I’m betting on Elysium over Thor: The Dark World and World War Z. It’s also possible that Pacific Rim, Oblivion, or The Lone Ranger could secure a spot.

Forecasted winner: Presumably, Gravity.

Oscar Predictions: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16th. As a result, most of the corresponding guilds won’t have announced their picks by then, so I’m making predictions in advance without being able to take those into consideration. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.

Last year’s nominees: Hitchcock, The Hobbit, Les Miserables

This year’s locks: None

Very likely: American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club

Possible: The Great Gastby, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Lone Ranger, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

The rundown: There’s less mystery to this category since the field has already been narrowed down to seven contenders, three of which will be nominated. That doesn’t mean it’s immune to surprises, with nominees like “Norbit” and “Il Divo,” and other sure things like “Hugo” and “Lincoln” snubbed in the past. The sequel to last year’s nominated “The Hobbit” isn’t one of the seven, so it’s really anyone’s game. The lavish hairstyles of American Hustle make it the best bet, and Dallas Buyers Club should benefit from its transformative use of makeup. The Great Gatsby is my prediction for the third slot, though it could also go to the very popular The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I can’t imagine any of the other three finalists being nominated, but I suppose it could happen in this race: The Lone Ranger, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Forecasted winner: Emphasizing the latter aspect of this category, American Hustle.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Oscar Predictions: Best Sound Editing

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16th. As a result, most of the corresponding guilds won’t have announced their picks by then, so I’m making predictions in advance without being able to take those into consideration. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.

Last year’s nominees: Argo, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty

This year’s locks: Gravity

Very likely: None

Possible: Star Trek Into Darkness, All is Lost, Rush, Captain Phillips, Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Great Gatsby

Unlikely: World War Z

The rundown: Unlike Best Sound, this category tends to lean more towards the technical, honoring genre films along with, on average, two Best Picture nominees. I suspect Gravity and Captain Phillips will be those two, and they may be joined by Star Trek Into Darkness, All is Lost, and Rush. Also vying for spots are Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Great Gatsby, World War Z, and I’m sure many more.

One possible crazy scenario: Best Picture contenders American Hustle and/or The Wolf of Wall Street make the cut in an unexpected field.

Forecasted winner: It has to be Gravity.

Oscar Predictions: Best Sound

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16th. As a result, most of the corresponding guilds won’t have announced their picks by then, so I’m making predictions in advance without being able to take those into consideration. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.

Last year’s nominees: Argo, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall

This year’s locks: Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis

Very likely: None

Possible: Star Trek Into Darkness, Captain Phillips, 12 Years a Slave, Man of Steel, The Great Gatsby, Rush

Unlikely: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, World War Z

The rundown: This category tends to offer a mix of Best Picture contenders that meet with other music or action and the full-on technical contenders that wouldn’t ever make an appear in the top races. Gravity is the one that transcends both, while Inside Llewyn Davis meets the first requirement. Star Trek Into Darkness should follow in the footsteps of the first film in its series. Captain Phillips and 12 Years a Slave seem like good bets, though they could be bumped by Man of Steel, The Great Gatsby, Rush, or even The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug or World War Z.

One possible crazy scenario: Pacific Rim blasts it way into this race.

Forecasted winner: I suspect that Gravity will sweep all the technical categories.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Oscar Predictions: Best Film Editing

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16th. As a result, most of the corresponding guilds won’t have announced their picks by then, so I’m making predictions in advance without being able to take those into consideration. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.

Last year’s nominees: Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

This year’s locks: Captain Phillips, 12 Years a Slave, Gravity

Very likely: American Hustle

Possible: Inside Llewyn Davis, The Wolf of Wall Street, All is Lost, The Butler

Unlikely: Nebraska, Rush

The rundown: This category usually likes Best Picture nominees, but not all the time, as evidenced by memorable snubs of “Inception” and “Brokeback Mountain.” This year, Captain Phillips, 12 Years a Slave, and Gravity all look good, and American Hustle should have no trouble getting nominated if voters are just as keen on David O. Russell as they were last year. The fifth slot should go to either Inside Llewyn Davis or The Wolf of Wall Street, though All is Lost or Nebraska might benefit from a surge of support.

One possible crazy scenario: Even if it doesn’t make it into the Best Picture race, Fruitvale Station deservedly prevails here.

Forecasted winner: I think that 12 Years a Slave could prevail here

Oscar Predictions: Best Costume Design

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16th. As a result, most of the corresponding guilds won’t have announced their picks by then, so I’m making predictions in advance without being able to take those into consideration. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.

Last year’s nominees: Anna Karenina, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman

This year’s locks: American Hustle, The Great Gatsby

Very likely: Inside Llewyn Davis, 12 Years a Slave

Possible: Saving Mr. Banks, The Butler, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Unlikely: Rush, The Wolf of Wall Street, Gravity

The rundown: This category tends to reward a good mix of Best Picture nominees and films not nominated in any other race. I’m not sure there are any cases of that this year, but The Great Gatsby and Saving Mr. Banks are most likely to do well here compared to other categories. American Hustle should have no trouble being nominated, and the same is true for Inside Llewyn Davis and 12 Years a Slave. Also in the running are The Butler, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and, if voters are thinking creatively, Rush, The Wolf of Wall Street, or even Gravity.

One possible crazy scenario: The Lone Ranger shows up here.

Forecasted winner: This should be The Great Gatsby.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Oscar Predictions: Best Art Direction

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16th. As a result, most of the corresponding guilds won’t have announced their picks by then, so I’m making predictions in advance without being able to take those into consideration. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.

Last year’s nominees: Anna Karenina, The Hobbit, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln

This year’s locks: Inside Llewyn Davis, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave

Very likely: Rush, The Great Gatsby

Possible: Saving Mr. Banks, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, American Hustle

Unlikely: All is Lost, The Grandmaster

The rundown: This category is friendly to epics and fantasy films, though I’m not sure how much that will apply this year. Inside Llewyn Davis seems like a good bet to join Gravity and 12 Years a Slave, and this is also a likely spot to recognize both Rush and The Great Gatsby. The first “Hobbit” film made the cut last year, so The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug could be nominated if voters want to continue honoring that series. Otherwise, it’s anyone’s guess, whether it’s a period film like Saving Mr. Banks or American Hustle, or a grander visual undertaking like All is Lost or The Grandmaster.

One possible crazy scenario: Something like Man of Steel manages a mention.

Forecasted winner: My guess is The Great Gatsby if it gets nominated.

Oscar Predictions: Best Cinematography

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16th. As a result, most of the corresponding guilds won’t have announced their picks by then, so I’m making predictions in advance without being able to take those into consideration. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.

Last year’s nominees: Anna Karenina, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall

This year’s locks: Gravity, 12 Years a Slave

Very likely: Rush

Possible: All is Lost, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street

Unlikely: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Prisoners, The Grandmaster

The rundown: I noted last year that this category can sometimes match up with the Best Picture nominees, like in 2010, when all the nominees were also up for Best Picture, and sometimes, like in 2006, when none of them were. Last year, two technically-acclaimed entries that weren’t up for Best Picture, “Anna Karenina” and “Skyfall” made the cut. This year, Rush has the best shot of fitting that bill, and The Great Gatsby is another good bet unless voters find it too lavish. All is Lost could be a Best Picture contender, but I think it will have better chances here. Gravity and 12 Years a Slave will add to their nominations count here, and I’m betting on Inside Llewyn Davis to grab the last spot over The Wolf of Wall Street and a whole host of other contenders not likely to nab nominations in other categories.

One possible crazy scenario: Black-and-white entries Nebraska or Frances Ha find themselves nominated.

Forecasted winner: This should be Gravity.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD. I’ll also aim to comment on those films I have not yet had the chance to see, and I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing in NYC

The Past (recommended): Director Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film “A Separation” is an extremely involving, human film. Terrific lead performances from Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, and especially Ali Mosaffa anchor an emotional and gripping story. Now playing at Lincoln Plaza and Film Forum. Read my review from yesterday.

New to DVD

The Family (mixed bag): This mobster comedy from French director Luc Besson casts Robert De Niro as a mobster in living in the Witness Protection Program in France with his family. It’s far from ambitious but does provide an entertaining if unfulfilling experience.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Movie with Abe: The Past

The Past
Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Released December 20, 2013

Two years ago, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi made “A Separation,” a magnificent and surprising look at the effects of an impending divorce in a country where civil, mutually-consented divorces are not common. Farhadi demonstrated an exceptional ability to bring out the innermost feelings and motivations of his characters, and now he’s done that again in “The Past.” Starring two French actors who broke through to American audiences in recent Oscar-lauded films, this is another mesmerizing look at the aftermath of divorce and its devastating impact on those left in its path.

Bérénice Bejo, who charmed audiences as the adorable actress in “The Artist,” has the opportunity to play an altogether different character here. Marie has two children from her first marriage, and was also married to Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), who at the start of the film arrives in France from his native country of Iran. Marie has requested a divorce from Ahmad because she is now living with Samir (Tahar Rahim, the star of “A Prophet”), whose wife is in a coma, and his young son Fouad. Ahmad’s visit turns out to be far less simple than expected, and his presence results in the revelation of some uncomfortable truths about Marie and her family.

“The Past” is an excellent and appropriate title for this film, which plays out in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, never once flashing back to that referenced time and presenting its events in a plain, stark fashion. While the past is on everyone’s mind, this film is strictly about the present, and, ultimately, the future. Farhadi has managed to make another film that truly digs deep into his characters and works to unpack their personalities over the course of its 130-minute runtime.

Bejo delivers an emotional, involving performance, demonstrating the agony she feels in not being able to piece her family together. Rahim’s turn is a melancholy, closed-off one, but like the male protagonist of “A Separation,” he’s a sympathetic character despite the absence of warmth in his personality. Most compelling, however, is Mosaffa as Ahmad. He is an exceptional father even though Marie’s children are not his own, and he is abundantly patient and kind. Watching him interact with each of Marie’s family members is extremely interesting and worthwhile, and though Bejo and Rahim get top billing, he is this film’s core. Iran’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film will go far, and it’s a worthy follow-up to Farhadi’s previous film.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Movie with Abe: The Croods

The Croods
Directed by Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders
Released March 22, 2013 / October 1, 2013

Cavemen can be a tricky subject matter. It can serve as good inspiration for comedy, as in “History of the World: Part 1.” Yet it can also become stale and unbearable if taken too far, as was the case with the brilliant idea of expanding a 30-second GEICO commercial featuring cavemen into a TV series that very quickly failed. One of this year’s biggest animated movies, “The Croods,” doesn’t belong to either category, best described as a well-intentioned but relatively uninteresting family-friendly farce.

“The Croods” opens with its narrator, Eep, voiced by Emma Stone, explaining her life as one of a family of cavemen. The opening sequence is actually quite creative and interesting, utilizing terrific visuals to illustrate the longevity of her family and their ability to survive while so many of their cavemen friends perished due to disease or, in most cases, being eaten by large animals. After that, however, it becomes a standard animated film, strong in its design elements but otherwise unremarkable. The notion of literally living in a cave becomes fodder for the film’s message about thinking outside the box and trying new things, a finish line which can be distinctly perceived and predicted from the start.

There are only so many jokes that can be made about living under a rock and not being open to any kind of change. Patriarch Grug, voiced by Nicolas Cage, constantly trumpets his view of the world, and it’s hardly surprising that Eep becomes curious about what else is out there. When she meets Guy, who is considerably more advanced and knowledgeable about what exists in the world, that only increases, and, predictably, his presence and everything he stands for is an affront to Grug and his protective instincts. Cue the familiar road to enlightenment, with plenty of caveman jokes mixed in.

“The Croods” tells a classic story through a new lens, and it’s far from the worst cinematic representation of the Neanderthal. Stone and Cage provide great voices for their characters, and Ryan Reynolds and Cloris Leachman are well-cast as Guy and, who else, the wise-cracking grandmother, respectively. Children will surely enjoy this film, which employs simplistic humor mixed with the occasional reference that only mature viewers will catch. This is not the kind of animated film that will prove satisfying to viewers of all ages, but it’s still a decent ride.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Movie with Abe: The Hunt

The Hunt
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Released July 12, 2013 / DVD December 10, 2013

Mads Mikkelsen is a talented actor who has managed a rare international crossover. Famous for his roles in Danish films such as “After the Wedding,” Mikkelsen became known to American audiences as the villain in “Casino Royale” and even currently stars on an American television show, “Hannibal.” Mikkelsen continues to do great work in his home country, and it’s no surprise that he is at the center of this year’s powerful Best Foreign Film Oscar submission from Denmark, “The Hunt.”

“The Hunt” can be described well by first introducing its layered title. In its opening moments, Lucas (Mikkelsen) can be seen enjoying time away with his friends, a group of hunters. Lucas is excited that his son will soon be able to get his hunting license, though he does not see him as often as he would like because of his recent separation from his ex-wife. Lucas also lives a happy but simple life as a school teacher, beloved by his kindergarteners. All that changes, however, when Lucas is accused of sexually abusing one of his students.

“The Hunt” tackles a very difficult and disturbing subject matter. One of Lucas’ colleagues hears her student say unexpected and inappropriate things about Lucas, and questions the legitimacy of her claims given her youthful active imagination. Yet doubting the veracity of such claims can lead to bad places, and, as a result, the girl is taken at her word. The evolution of the situation after that is staggering to watch, and, in no time, Lucas has been ostracized from and demonized by the community that days earlier considered him to be one of their most well-rounded members.

This film has a strong and compelling story, and it’s just as worthwhile as a cautionary tale about letting rumors evolve and not allowing the accused the opportunity to defend themselves. Mikkelsen is a perfect choice to play Lucas, sweet and sympathetic but not warm or aggressive enough to protest the situation in which he has been placed. Among the supporting cast, Thomas Bo Larsen stands out as Lucas’ best friend and the father of Klara, the girl who has accused him of abuse. Annika Wedderkopp is terrific as Klara, demonstrating a youthful innocence and curiosity that triggers many of the film’s events. “The Hunt” is a disconcerting yet affirming tale of the dangers of presuming guilt and the complexity of doubt.


Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe

Welcome to the latest edition of a seasonal weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe. It’s a bit early to be able to accurately predict the eventual Oscar nominees, but around this time, plenty of likely contenders are being released. I’ll be looking every Wednesday at the awards chances for all of the films released the previous week. Chime in with your thoughts on the Oscar chances for these films in the comments section.

Films released December 7th-14th, 2013

American Hustle
David O. Russell’s last two movies made big Oscar splashes, earning Best Picture nominations and a handful of other mentions. Stars Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence even took home Oscars for their performances. Lawrence is a lock for the Best Supporting Actress field, and Bradley Cooper is a likely Best Supporting Actor nominee. Christian Bale and Amy Adams will have a harder time breaking into the lead races. In addition to a Best Picture nomination, this film should earn mentions for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing mentions are probable too, and a Best Art Direction nod is a possibility. This is sure to be one of the most-nominated Oscar movies of the year.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The “Lord of the Rings” films earned plenty of Oscar nominations and wins, and the first entry of the “Hobbit” trilogy nabbed three nods – Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, and Best Visual Effects. This film get slightly better reviews than the first, and finalist lists have confirmed that it’s eligible for Best Visual Effects but not for Best Makeup. Best Art Direction is a possibility, but I wouldn’t count on it appearing many other places than that.

Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen brothers have a pretty consistent track record with Oscar voters. Their latest film is set to earn a Best Picture nomination and might factor into the directing and screenplay races. A Best Film Editing mention is probable, and it could also be nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Sound. Oscar Issac might have a shot at a Best Actor bid, but that field is very crowded.

Saving Mr. Banks
This Disney production about the making of an Oscar-winning Disney movie is perfect Oscar bait, but its precursor performance hasn’t been entirely strong. Emma Thompson is a sure thing for a Best Actress nomination, while supporting actor Tom Hanks looks like he might find himself snubbed for his portrayal of Walt Disney. A Best Picture nomination is possible, and otherwise this film should figure into the screenplay race and maybe a few technical categories.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Movie with Abe: The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty
Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Released November 15, 2013

Among this year’s crop of films eligible for the Best Foreign Film Oscar is Italy’s “The Great Beauty,” an energetic snapshot of one man living high above society and coasting along thanks to the initial success of his one novel and his journalistic career that followed. Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo)’s lavish lifestyle involves spirited parties each night that run through the morning and intellectual conversation with a select group of friends, and it’s only natural that the occasion of his 65th birthday should inspire him to start thinking about whether he’s actually accomplished happiness in his life.

“The Great Beauty” is very much like a similarly-titled film from this same year in many ways. “The Great Gatsby” was a look at excess and extravagance in America in the 1920s, with long parties into the night thrown by an elusive mystery man. The figure at the center of these festivities in the present day in Italy is not so mysterious, but he does still have a certain allure, especially when he is shown for the first time on screen about ten minutes into the film, smiling as the entire party turns to look at him. The concepts of the two characters are not all that different, since both are unable to form human connections in a normal and lasting way because of their stature and attitude towards the world.

“The Great Beauty” is prone to fits of music-laced montages, showcasing people in moments of frenzied or focused passion at many points throughout the film. It’s a dazzling introduction to these characters and this world, celebrating the city of Rome and all it has to offer. This film is as much a message about society and happiness as it is the story of one man, and its styles alternate greatly as it flows from straightforward story to intense art film in mere moments.

“The Great Beauty” certainly has some gorgeous visuals, and it’s hard not to be taken with the film’s representations of Rome and the people within it. Its themes, however, are not entirely consistent, and it changes from a dance party to a stoic film about the power of religion without much warning. Those transitions are often stirring but just as often jarring, and it makes for an equally captivating and convoluted cinematic experience, one worthy of being seen but not so easily digested.


Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Le Week-End

Welcome to a weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Tuesday's Top Trailer. One of my favorite parts about going to see movies is the series of trailers that airs beforehand and, more often than not, the trailer is far better than the actual film. Each week, I'll be sharing a trailer I've recently seen. Please chime in with comments on what you think of the trailer and how you think the movie is going to be.

Le Week-End – Opening March 7, 2014

Seeing three movies in theatres in one day really should produce the opportunity for some strong trailers, and I’m delighted to have found one that I hadn’t seen before at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas before “The Great Beauty.” This quiet little film starts a fabulous British actor, Jim Broadbent, recently wonderful in such films as “Another Year” and “The Iron Lady,” and well-known for a great start to the decade in 2001 and 2002 with an Oscar win for “Iris” and memorable performances in both “Moulin Rouge” and “Gangs of New York” around the same time. He’s not the kind of romantic lead you might expect, but this also isn’t the typical Paris love story usually seen in cinema. His costar Lindsay Duncan took home the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress last week, and it looks like they make a lovely sentimental couple reigniting their feelings for each other on a trip to Paris late into their marriage. Screenwriter Hanif Kureishi earned an Oscar nomination back in 1986 for the very unique “My Beautiful Laundrette,” and director Roger Michell is responsible for “Venus” and “Notting Hill,” among other things. This is unlikely to be a fast-paced film, but sometimes slowing down and getting to take in the subtler parts of life is just what’s needed, and I suspect this should be the perfect recipe for a March dose of fresh air.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Movie with Abe: Stories We Tell

Stories We Tell
Directed by Sarah Polley
Released May 10, 2013 / DVD September 3, 2013

There are many different types of documentaries. Some seek to expose a truth about something or bring an issue to a wide audience, while others examine straight events to tell a story. It’s rare that the documentarian includes him or herself in the film, yet that’s the case here. Canadian actress-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley, who earned an Oscar nomination for penning her first film, the narrative “Away from Her,” utilizes her family of dramatic performers and storytellers to investigate her own roots and the events that shaped her into the person that she is.

“Stories We Tell” starts out with a series of people talking, mostly family members of Polley’s, and the stage being set for a story whose purpose isn’t quite clear. As it progresses, however, its central themes become evident, and the tale of Polley’s mother and her relationship with another man becomes intricately interesting. Polley chooses to have her father utilize his theatrical British voice to read many of the lines of the screenplay for her documentary, often saying other people’s lines but sometimes reiterating his own. It’s a fascinating device that, aside from the story itself, is this film’s strongest asset.

It’s intriguing to hear what all of Polley’s family members have to say about her mother, who died of cancer when she was eleven, and to see her life reconstructed on screen via the accounts and anecdotes of her family and friends. Staying true to her film’s title, Polley even moves into interviewing her subjects about how the finished product will tell a certain story that is specific to her point of view, edited together to represent her version of the truth based on what she heard from a variety of people. It’s a thought-provoking approach that, by the end of the film, proves to be quite well-executed.

Polley seems to have developed a passion for being behind the camera, earning acclaim for her 2007 feature “Away with Her” and directing actress Julie Christie to an Oscar nomination. After another narrative effort, “Take This Waltz,” starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen, Polley returns to a more intimate, honest subject matter, one with which she is clearly comfortable. Though she is in essence her part of her film’s subject matter, she remains far removed and lets it play out all around him. Many note that she is a filmmaker to watch, and this documentary illustrates just what she can do.


Movie with Abe: Frozen

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Released November 27, 2013

Disney makes a lot of movies, and when it comes down to it, animation is the studio’s specialty. The fifty-third Walt Disney Animation Studios film is “Frozen,” a musical about a princess who can’t help but freeze whatever she touches, and whose younger sister must figure out a way to save their town when she accidentally turns winter into summer. Like the many films that came before, including recent hits “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Tangled,” and “The Princess and the Frog,” this is a stirring, wonderful success that’s fun for all ages.

As is standard for Disney animated films, everything starts idyllically with a happy family, in this case the king, the queens, and their two daughters. Young Anna excitedly wakes up her sister Anna and begs her to come play in a large ballroom of the castle and use her magical gift to create snow. When Anna takes a fall, her parents must bring her to a group of friendly trolls, who heal her but erase all of her memories of Elsa’s powers. To protect her sister from her uncontrollable powers, Elsa isolates herself, and when their parents are tragically killed at sea, the two princesses become increasingly lonely, until Elsa reaches coronation age and they are both exposed to the outside world.

This film has all the recipes of a classic animated film yet still feels marvelously fresh. As soon as the castle gates open, Anna meets a charming prince named Hans and falls instantly in love, and when she races after her sister, she is saddled with a more curmudgeonly companion, ice seller Kristoff and his loyal reindeer Sven. The standout character of the film is snowman Olaf, who dreams of experiencing being a snowman in the summer and rivals the Genie, Donkey, and Dory for the funniest animated sidekick seen on film. All of the film’s personalities are a lot of fun.

The film’s voice cast is exceptional, and a fantastic combination of acting and musical talents are used. Kristen Bell is exceptional as the excitable Anna, and Idina Menzel is a perfect choice to play Elsa, as demonstrated when she sings the film’s Golden Globe-nominated song “Let It Go.” Jonathan Groff is a great Kristoff, and Josh Gad steals the show as Olaf. The film’s songs are catchy and strong, and this ranks as a very memorable and enjoyable entry in Disney’s cannon.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Movie with Abe: American Hustle

American Hustle
Directed by David O. Russell
Released December 13, 2013

It’s not uncommon for directors to work with the same actors multiple times. Some directors cycle through different actors at different points in their careers, like Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro for three decades and Leonardo DiCaprio for the past two. After making “The Fighter” in 2010 and “Silver Linings Playbook” in 2012, director David O. Russell reunites with four of his actors, all of whom he directed to Oscar nominations and two to Oscar wins. This collaboration is a positive in many ways since they see eye to eye on tone and style, but this particular story and its contents is not nearly as solid as Russell’s previous two projects.

“American Hustle” begins by explaining the back story behind its two protagonists, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). Irving owns a chain of dry cleaners but wants to move solely into conning poor saps into paying him $5,000 in exchange for the promise of a massive return on investment. Sydney is drawn to him almost immediately after their first meeting and delights in the opportunity to put on a British accent and help Irving sell his fraudulent offers. When eccentric loose cannon FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) catches on to their schemes, Irving and Sydney are pulled into a grander effort to entrap powerful people such as Camden Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) and indict them for corruption.

The film’s opening title states that “Some of this actually happened.” Not meant to be an entirely truthful portrait of a real FBI operation, this film exists in a more over-the-top world, where all of its characters seem larger than life and a bit too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Their New Jersey accents are thick and their fashion styles are wild, and though it’s an entertaining ride, it’s far from a smooth or fully coherent one. Golden Globe voters classify it a comedy, and while there is plenty to laugh at, this is more of a greatly exaggerated drama.

As far as performances are concerned, Bale, Adams, and Cooper all fit into the world created here, but these extravagant turns are not their best work. Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, dominates the film in her small part as Irving’s nutty wife, whose blatant disregard for the consequences of her actions servers as an impetus of many of Irving’s troubles in the film. As an ensemble, these four lead a cast littered with familiar faces, like Louis C.K., Alessandro Nivola, Michael Pena, Shea Wigham, and Jack Huston, but it doesn’t gel as entirely as Russell’s previous ensembles. The film as a whole is a fun idea, but it’s not impactful enough during its lengthy runtime and all too fleeting once it’s over.


Movie with Abe: The To Do List

The To Do List
Directed by Maggie Carey
Released July 26, 2013 / DVD November 19, 2013

R-rated comedies have the potential to be a lot of fun. That’s doubly true if pretty much the entire cast is composed of TV actors who usually don’t have the opportunity the use the full extent of the English language and to discuss and do things that definitely wouldn’t fly on broadcast television. This R-rated comedy gets to make off-color jokes, tackle the topic of sex and its many variations freely, and also parody 90s movies at the same time. It may not be entirely brilliant or fulfilling, but it certainly does make for a fun ride.

Aubrey Plaza, best known as April on “Parks and Recreation,” stars as Brandy, the high school valedictorian who gets heckled during her graduation speech with cries of “virgin.” When she meets hunk Rusty Waters, played by Scott Porter, a TV vet currently starring on “Hart of Dixie,” she determines that she needs to learn and do everything related to sex, with the ultimate goal of bedding Rusty. Occasionally guided by her friends and family, Brandy sets out on a sex quest that becomes an overpowering force in her life, threatening relationships and Brandy’s overall livelihood.

What “The To Do List” does best is spot-on casting. Plaza is more energetic than usual as Brandy, but it’s a fun lead role. Rachel Bilson of “The O.C.” and “Hart of Dixie” has a blast as her sexier sister, while Clark Gregg (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and Connie Britton (“Nashville”) appear in minor amusing roles as her parents. Bill Hader (“Saturday Night Live”) is her deadbeat nice guy boss, and the likes of Donald Glover (“Community”), Adam Pally (“Happy Endings”), Andy Samberg (“Saturday Night Live”), and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Superbad”) can all be found in the cast. Most perfectly cast are Alia Shawkat (“Arrested Development”) and Sarah Steele (“The Good Wife,” “Please Give”) as Brandy’s best friends.

The film as a whole is sometimes very funny, utilizing its premise to its full potential. At other times, the jokes fall flat or fail to materialize, and it would be nice to see a more consistently edgy version of Brandy and her friends. Ultimately, this is a great instance of comedic actors having fun together, and even if not all of the humor lands or is completely hilarious, this “to do list” is relatively enjoyable and certainly an entertaining choice to watch at home.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Movie with Abe: Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Released December 13, 2013

Movies about making movies are common in Hollywood. It’s fun to look back at an established classic and learn the story behind its genesis and its production, especially if well-known current actors are portraying well-known players from the film’s era. The making of “Mary Poppins” seems like a rich topic for a film, particularly one from Walt Disney Pictures itself. This mildly entertaining movie is a hybrid of melodrama and comedy that has its moments but ultimately is far less serious and compelling than it should be considering the actors involved and its premise.

Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are two actors who took home Oscars in the 1990s and have been working steadily since, fluctuating between blockbuster roles that use them to less productive effect and more challenging roles that earn them critical praise, such as “Love Actually” and “Road to Perdition,” respectively. This year, Hanks handed in a terrific performance in “Captain Phillips,” demonstrating that he’s still doing great work. Here, he has the dream role for one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, playing Walt Disney to Thompson’s crotchety “Mary Poppins” author who can’t seem to get behind any idea that Disney’s creative team comes up with to adapt her beloved character to the big screen.

Thompson stars as Mrs. P.L. Travers, who arrives from England to California in 1961 after years of being nagged by Disney for the opportunity to make a movie out of her beloved book. Her attitude about the visit is entirely negative, and with every new person she meets and every new idea they have about how to put Mary Poppins on screen, she’s more than ready to burst someone’s bubble and express just how little she is amused by what they think. Disney, on the other hand, is just as determined to get the film made as Travers is to make sure that never happens.

Thompson and Hanks are both skilled, but these are far from the best performances they’ve given. Thompson gets the chance to be prickly and uniformly one-note, which is somewhat fun, but hardly worthy of the awards attention she’s been attracting. The same goes for Hanks, who makes an entertaining Walt Disney but doesn’t bring anything spectacular to the role. The film follows suit, telling a mildly enjoyable story of the hurdles to cross to make the film in the 1960s while Travers’ childhood story in Australia is revealed simultaneously. The two don’t jive together too well, and while the film has its moments, including ending on a positive, moving note, it’s no “Mary Poppins.”


Movie with Abe: What’s in a Name

What’s in a Name
Directed by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patellière
Released December 13, 2013

Usually, December is a time reserved for Oscar movies, and the ones that make it over from other countries are those that are eligible for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film or the one or two films that infamously didn’t get chosen by their home country. This year, filmgoers get a real treat – a box-office smash in France from 2012 that lost the César Award for Best Film to “Amour.” “What’s in a Name” is a captivating, energetic, and thoroughly enjoyable exercise in conversation and the intersection of many different clashing intellects, with fantastic performances and a truly smart script.

Setting a film in one location can be a good idea, but it can also prove tricky. Most often, such projects feel two much like plays, and, in most cases, are adapted from plays. While “What’s in a Name” is based on a play and adapted by its author, Matthieu Delaporte, it manages a seamless transition to the big screen, using its limited space to excellent effect. Recent films such as “Carnage” and “Between Us” have tried isolated multiple couples in one small apartment to mediocre success, and this one hits it out of the park.

The characters in “What’s in a Name” are all richly developed, and their attributes reveal themselves over the course of the film as they espouse their opinions about certain matters and stick to their convictions. Pierre is the excessive intellectual, his wife Élisabeth the eternal hostess. Her brother Vincent is a skilled salesman but can be too impulsive and aggressive, while his wife Anna might be thought of as standoffish and judgmental. Élisabeth’s lifelong friend Claude doesn’t take sides, and as a result it’s impossible to know how he ever truly feels about anything. Put together in the same room for almost two hours, these individuals make one mesmerizing group.

Several of the performances in this film have been recognized by the César Awards, and they’re worth mentioning here. The entire cast is terrific, but special mention should be made of actress Valérie Benguigui, who took home her César for portraying Élisabeth just six months before she died from breast cancer. It’s a spectacular final performance, and the entire ensemble deserves commendation. The script is superb, and this occasionally dramatic film is easily one of the most enjoyable and immensely watchable films of the year. Find out more about the film here.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical

My predictions: 5/5 Who’s missing? August: Osage County, Enough Said

My only perfect score of the day was for the category in which I’ve seen the fewest films since they’re not out yet. American Hustle dominated with seven nominations, while Nebraska had a pretty strong showing too. Inside Llewyn Davis and Her both fared pretty well, while The Wolf of Wall Street settled for just one nomination for its star. More on this category once I’ve had the chance to see the other three films!

Who will win? Probably American Hustle.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Motion Picture – Drama

My predictions: 3/5, missing “Philomena” and “Rush”
Who’s missing? Blue Jasmine, The Butler, Saving Mr. Banks

One of my biggest cheers this morning was for Rush, which I was so worried would be completely forgotten this awards season. It was such a great film, and definitely a good pick for the Golden Globes. I don’t quite get the hype for Philomena, which was fine but hardly worth a mention here. It did manage to bump “Saving Mr. Banks,” which may now be an Emma Thompson-only affair, and “The Butler” is also nowhere to be found. Captain Phillips did well today, as did Gravity and 12 Years a Slave, the two frontrunners. I’ve seen this whole list, and I’m pretty happy.

Who will win? Probably 12 Years a Slave.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Director – Motion Picture

My predictions: 2/5, picking only Cuaron and McQueen
Who’s missing? Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine), Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

So much for big names helping you get into this race. Instead, we get a list of respectable, recognizable talent who aren’t quite as high profile. Alexander Payne (Nebraska), earning his fourth nomination in this category, gives his film a huge boost, and I’m thrilled to see Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips) here with his first nomination. Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) are also first-time nominees, joining David O. Russell (American Hustle) for outing number two.

Who will win? Probably McQueen, but maybe Russell.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

My predictions: 2/5, picking only “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave”
Who’s missing? Blue Jasmine, The Butler, Saving Mr. Banks, The Wolf of Wall Street

This race helped to bolster three contenders: Her,Nebraska, and Philomena. I haven’t seen the first, liked the second, and thought the third was fine but need not be nominated for so many awards. They’ll likely lose to either American Hustle or 12 Years a Slave.

Who will win? I’ll go with American Hustle.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Foreign Film

My predictions: 3/5, missing “The Great Beauty” and “The Wind Rises”
Who’s missing? The Grandmaster, The Lunchbox, many others

I’ve seen two of these films, and I’m thrilled they’re here. Blue is the Warmest Color (France) won’t compete in this category at the Oscars, but hopefully it will earn other nominations. The same is true of The Wind Rises (Japan), which is sure to score a Best Animated Feature nod. The Past (Iran) is a lock (and a great film), and I guess I might now have to see The Great Beauty (Italy) this weekend since it’s currently playing at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. It’s always fun to see familiar faces in this category, and this year that would be Mads Mikkelsen, star of The Hunt (Denmark), which actually came out on DVD yesterday.

Who will win? I’m pulling for Blue is the Warmest Color.