Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Movie with Abe: Citizenfour

Citizenfour
Directed by Laura Poitras
Released October 24, 2014

There’s always at least one movie that, for some reason or another, I don’t end up seeing for a while even though I know I should. That film this year is “Citizenfour,” a frontrunner for the Best Documentary Oscar that premiered at the New York Film Festival in October and has been in theatrical release in New York City for two months. I finally made time to see it, and I can report that its subject matter – Edward Snowden – is undeniably interesting, but the way in which these facts are presented and the story is told isn’t nearly as compelling as the information itself.

“Citizenfour,” which refers to the codename that Snowden used when he began communications with filmmaker Laura Poitras, actually involves journalists quite heavily as a part of its narrative. Poitras, who is rarely shown on camera, speaks via intertitles in the first person, explaining how she was first contacted by Snowden and every move she took over the course of the interview and publishing process as a vital participant in the story. Glenn Greenwald, first introduced as a columnist for Salon and then in his position as a reporter for the Guardian, is perhaps the biggest player, seen debriefing Snowden in the comfort a Hong Kong hotel room and then defending what he has leaked on national newscasts.

The best opportunity provided by “Citizenfour” is the chance to see Snowden and how he operates. His secretive tendencies make him seem almost mythical as the film introduces its documentary content in a thriller style reminiscent of “Man on Wire,” and then he seems much more normal and human in person. Yet there’s still an intense intellectual paranoia present, as Snowden details the many ways that the government might be spying on them or listening to them. He’s a fascinating protagonist in a nonfiction story, committed to what he believes is right above all else and ready to unapologetically share what he knows. What the film offers in content it lacks in style, as the editing feels very amateurish and sudden, with scenes ending on an abrupt and unpolished note before leading into the next set of interviews or other footage. Journalistic integrity is not in question here, since the journalists being part of the story only makes it more worthwhile, but a hot-button topic doesn’t translate to a slam-dunk film in this case.

B-

Movie with Abe: Selma

Selma
Directed by Ava DuVernay
Released December 25, 2014

There’s nothing more relevant than a film about events in the past whose message rings far too true today. “Selma” takes place in 1965 when Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) organized a march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama to get voting restrictions lifted and legislation passed to ensure that African-Americans would not be prevented from exercising their new legal rights. Watching mobs and police officers beat and even kill defenseless black people with only King to act as a surrogate conscience for the audience makes this a powerful and extremely important film that is most definitely of the moment.

This film is wisely not called “Martin” or “King,” instead referencing an isolated location and event that was one of the focal points of King’s illustrious career as a civil rights champion and crusader. Like “Lincoln,” this is not a comprehensive biography but rather a snapshot of a short period of time, a defining act that serves as one of the things for which he is most remembered. Though many know Selma and what happened there, it is still jarring and stirring to see the unchecked brutality with which the law in Selma and Alabama responded to a nonviolent protest and the failure of the state or national administration to do anything to protect them.

King is introduced as an established figure, needing no back story or offscreen hardship to make him into a complex character. Instead, he wears his struggle on his face and his passion comes out when he takes the stage to deliver an energizing sermon about what he believes in. This film depicts a personal adversarial relationship between King and United States President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) where King repeatedly asked Johnson for help with the causes he supported and was told rather directly that it was not the White House’s priority. That dynamic may be accurate, but framing the film with the two as players in such close contact makes its universe seem a bit too narrow.

Fortunately, the film has a number of searing scenes that starkly and unforgettably depict the horrific violence exacted upon those united in protest in the South, including white supporters, and the apathy of those without a vested interest in the situation. These images will remind audiences of recent occurrences throughout the country that seem like they had to have happened in a more ignorant time. In the cast, Wilkinson and Tim Roth, as Alabama Governor George Wallace, portray people depicted as unapologetically political and determined to see their priorities achieved. Carmen Egojo, Lorraine Toussaint, Common, Alessandro Nivola, and Wendell Pierce all add to a strong ensemble, and this film is carried firmly by Oyelowo, a talented British actor who has been working for years and is finally starting to get mainstream international roles. This may not be the whole Martin Luther King, Jr. story, but, for now, it certainly is the definitive one, and an effective one at that.

B+

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Movie with Abe: Big Eyes


Big Eyes
Directed by Tim Burton
Released December 25, 2014

Tim Burton doesn’t make normal movies. His projects usually involve fantasy or science fiction and involve outrageous characters that seem cartoonish even if they aren’t actually cartoons. It’s something he fully embraces, and the world has seen “Edward Scissorhands,” “Mars Attacks,” “Big Fish,” and more as a result. What Burton’s resume means, however, is that when he takes on a subject that is much more realistic, the resulting film is still going to be extraordinarily fantastical and strange. The story of a female painter in the 1950s and 1960s whose husband took credit for all of her paintings is just that subject, which makes for the odd and eccentric “Big Eyes.”

Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams) is first shown leaving her unseen husband with her young daughter to head for San Francisco, where she makes her best effort to sell her paintings, which feature young children with big, sad eyes. While doing portraits in the park, Margaret is approached by the suave Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), who effortlessly seduces her and tells her just how incredible he thinks she is as an artist. Walter’s business acumen leads to galleries of their artwork together, though jealous instinct kicks in when the initially kindhearted husband realizes that most prefer his wife’s art to his. Walter wastes no time in usurping all the glory and taking the credit, leaving Margaret behind closed doors producing painting after painting in solitude each day.

This story isn’t all that outlandish, but its scope certainly is. Money and fame drive Walter’s ego, and he begins demanding bigger and better things from an exasperated Margaret, who grows less and less enamored with her manipulative husband’s controlling ways as time goes on. It’s hard to believe that this actually happened, but I’m sure similar injustices have occurred and still do when one party demeans the other and convinces them that this is the smartest and soundest plan.

Burton gives the film some of his own touches, presenting everything in bright, pastel colors and framing the story within this exaggerated universe. Both Margaret and Walter pop out of the screen, each hidden behind makeup and wigs designed to make them look different than the two quality actors, who have been better elsewhere, usually do. It’s effective to a degree but also just too bizarre, and the film’s general trajectory mirrors that, initially interesting but ultimately just a bit too weird. It’s been hard to get the show’s Golden Globe-nominated melancholy theme song “Big Eyes,” out of my head, and it perfectly captures the experience. This film was classified a comedy by the Golden Globes, and in some ways, it is, but it’s also plainly just a strange experience, one that is difficult to connect to and just as difficult to forget.

B-

Movie with Abe: American Sniper


American Sniper
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Released December 25, 2014

Two words that don’t typically go together are “American” and “sniper.” The nationality descriptor often comes first in two-word movie titles, usually followed by something lighter like “Beauty” or “Hustle.” Sniper has a negative connotation, one that associates with violence and a hunter of some sort targeting prey that cannot see him or her. In the case of Clint Eastwood’s latest film, there is no judgment cast on his central character, who is described as the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, a badge of honor whose merits are up for debate in this sober and intense look at one driven American’s commitment to his country.

Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is introduced in the first scene on a rooftop in a war zone, and it’s only moments before he has to make a choice to shoot a young boy whose mother has just handed him a grenade, something that only Chris can confirm. Chris’ backstory is then shown, from his upbringing in a traditional household to his days as a cowboy in his home state of Texas. Watching news reports of terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies abroad instills such a sense of patriotism and anger in Chris that he immediately signs up for the military. His hunting training with his father makes him the ideal sniper, and Chris, newly married with a baby on the way, leaves to go defend his country against all who wish to repress freedom.

Chris earns his reputation as a legend due to his expert marksmanship, though it’s a distinction that comes with a caveat, since some see Chris as too trigger-happy, and a readiness to shoot people means that Chris will have a tough time adjusting back to civilian life. Every time Chris returns home, his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) can’t home to communicate with him, since Chris is stuck in the mentality of being at war and fails to recognize any problem with reacclimating to being with his family. It’s interesting to see Eastwood make a film like this, one which questions the effect of war and violence on those directly involved and invested in it. Cooper is a brave choice for this role and one who pays off tremendously, delivering a serious and affecting performance as the dedicated sniper. The film resonates, though there’s something about this particular true story and how it’s told that doesn’t feel as powerful or vital as other recent films about war and people coming home from it.

B

Monday, December 29, 2014

Movie with Abe: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer
Directed by Joon-ho Bong
Released July 11, 2014

Dystopias have a certain quality to them, and the most effective ones are those that seem like they could actually exist in the not-so-distant future. “Snowpiercer” creates its reality by starting with an extremely current and relevant theme, global warming, and demonstrating how one presumed solution to the problem led to the unexpected and irreversible freezing of the planet. Those members of the human race that remain live aboard a train that races around the globe through the ice and snow, and it stands to reason that those herded into the steerage class would be itching for the opportunity to take revenge on those who have long oppressed them at the front of the train.

“Snowpiercer” takes the concept of class inequality and realizes it in a very literal and linear way. The front of the train is seen as a mythological utopia, one where passengers want for nothing and know equally little of the suffering and misery that goes on at the back of the train. The vehicle itself is used to astonishing effect, as those who have never known anything other than the back car charge forward to overtake the front, passing through car after car filled with laboratories, prisons, sushi bars, classrooms, and plenty more. There is tremendous subtext to be found in this story, but its physical setting is just as impactful.

“Snowpiercer” is a dark film, one which sheds little physical light on its characters aside from when a welcome burst of sunshine peeks in from windows passengers have never laid eyes on and which presents a grim vision of what this future looks like. The state of law and order is purely totalitarian, and crime, however minor, is met with the most severe of punishments. As a result, it can only be expected that the revenge those wronged seek is bloodthirsty and brutal, and few passengers if any will survive this revolt unscathed.

This is a strange film in many ways, taking advantage of its dystopian nature to portray truly depraved characters. The eccentric Mason (Tilda Swinton), who metes out justice excitedly and talks down to the rear passengers with pleasure, is the best example of this, giddily fancying herself at the top of this very peculiar world. Swinton is just the right person for this odd role, and she’s the standout of a cast that includes a few other solid turns, including dependable performers Chris Evans, John Hurt, and Jamie Bell in the kind of roles they usually play. The film as a whole is memorable but often hard to latch on to, moving at such a fast but unsteady pace and often prone to stylistic tangents that distract from its storytelling. There are many great ideas presented throughout, and not all of them lead to a coherent and compelling resolution, but those that do are hard to forget.

B

Movie with Abe: A Most Violent Year


A Most Violent Year
Directed by J.C. Chandor
Released December 31, 2014

It’s hard to start a review without talking about a film’s title, something I’ve been doing a lot lately. The last film technically released in 2014 is “A Most Violent Year,” director J.C. Chandor’s follow-up to his acclaimed first two features, “All is Lost” and “Margin Call.” The title conjures up images of grotesque mob violence and many deaths, and is sure to scare away many potential moviegoers who don’t want to see brutality. The violence presented in this film is of a far more subtle and foreboding sort, representing a continually unstable and volatile environment in which unrest is omnipresent. That concept drives this strong, brooding thriller, which represents Chandor’s best film yet.

The way in which “A Most Violent Year” opens is indicative of what the rest of the film has to offer. Julian (Elyes Gabel) is sitting in the cab of his oil truck about to go through a toll. As soon as he does, he sees a car stopped in front of him and men getting out of the car in front of it. Before he knows what has happened, he has been beaten and thrown from the truck, which is driven off into the distance. This becomes a regular occurrence for the fleet of trucks owned by Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), a businessman desperately trying to close on a new property while preparing for the onslaught of an FBI investigation led by a determined lawman (David Oyelowo). The worst thing for him is that he has no idea who is robbing his trucks and sabotaging his business.

Abel is a fascinating main character, someone who worked his way up from the bottom to buy his own business and marry an heiress who grew up in luxury (Jessica Chastain). He believes firmly that he is a good man and that his business practices are honest, even if his wife and main counsel (Albert Brooks) are aware that sometimes things need to be done in order to succeed. One particularly terrific scene shows Abel teaching new hires how to make a sale and explaining why they should choose his company, another mesmerizing example of Abel’s confidence in hard work and its earned consequences.

Set in 1981, this film has a distinct historical feel created by a combination of its gritty and stylized art direction and set design, intentional, lingering cinematography, and slow-paced editing to effectively capture the intensity and uncertainty of each moment. Every element of the film works to support its tone and tell its story. Chandor has managed to merge the grandeur and scope of the business world with the personal humanity of individual suffering to create a finessed and career-topping third film. Chastain is the one being recognized by many awards groups for her performance, and while she’s typically good, this film belongs to Isaac, who pivots entirely from Llewyn Davis to portray a character whose situation is reminiscent of another Coen brothers films, “A Serious Man,” but who responds in an entirely different and fully determined fashion.

A-

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Oscar Predictions: Best Visual Effects

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 15th. 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: Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Star Trek Into Darkness

This year’s locks: Interstellar, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Very likely: Transformers: Age of Extinction, Guardians of the Galaxy

Possible: Godzilla, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Unlikely: Maleficent, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

The rundown: I’m making my predictions for this category based almost entirely on historical data since a remarkable six of the ten finalists are entries in series that have had other installments made in the past decade.Interstellar is the undisputed frontrunner, and it would be unwise to bet against The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies since the first two films have been nominated the past two years. Next up is Transformers: Age of Extinction, which is the fourth film in its series in eight years and would be the third of them to be nominated. Guardians of the Galaxy, one of the few standalone films in this category, should have enough support to be nominated given its strong critical reception. Godzilla is my best for the fifth slot, but it could easily be overtaken by one of four films whose series have earned a grand total of zero nominations for their previous installments: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. Who knows, maybe Maleficent could even take a spot.

Forecasted winner: How could it not be Interstellar?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Oscar Predictions: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 15th. 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: Bad Grandpa, Dallas Buyers Club, The Lone Ranger

This year’s locks: None

Very likely: Foxcatcher

Possible: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Theory of Everything, Maleficent, Noah, The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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,” “Lincoln,” and “American Hustle” snubbed in the past. A film I would have thought to be a sure thing here, “Into the Woods,” didn’t make the list of finalists, so it’s really anybody’s guess. I think that disguising Steve Carell should earn Foxcatcher the frontrunner spot, and the only other film that falls somewhat into the same category is The Theory of Everything, which gets to age Eddie Redmayne and change his character’s condition. Honoring the eclectically-decorated ensemble of The Grand Budapest Hotel would be nice, and I feel like the creativity of costuming in Guardians of the Galaxy will earn it a place. I’m not too sold on the three genres pics in this category - Maleficent, Noah, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - which I think could all come up empty-handed on nominations morning.

Forecasted winner: If it gets nominated, Foxcatcher.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Oscar Predictions: Best Film Editing

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 15th. 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: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave

This year’s locks: Birdman, Boyhood, The Imitation Game

Very likely: Gone Girl

Possible: Interstellar, The Theory of Everything, Selma

Unlikely: Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Into the Woods

The rundown: This category usually likes Best Picture nominees, but not all the time, as evidenced by memorable snubs of “Inception” and “Brokeback Mountain.” Birdman, Boyhood, and The Imitation Game feel like sure things, but I think that The Theory of Everything and Selma will be edged out by Gone Girl, which is hardly a sure thing for Best Picture but should be here thanks to David Fincher directing it, since “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” won here without a Best Picture nomination, and Interstellar, though the snub of “Inception” does give me some pause. Whiplash and The Grand Budapest Hotel would be cool inclusions here.

One possible crazy scenario: Wild manages to be recognized for a very deserving if underpraised element.

Forecasted winner: It all depends on who the frontrunner is, but I think it will be Birdman over “Boyhood.”

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Movie with Abe: Two Days, One Night


Two Days, One Night
Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Released December 25, 2014

Films that reference time in their titles usually fall into one of three categories: science-fiction tales actually involving time travel of some sort, thrillers involving a ticking clock, and stories that use time strictly as a measure of possibility and are in no rush to race through it. The first category includes examples like “Edge of Tomorrow” and “About Time,” the second brings to mind “Out of Time” and “Nick of Time,” and the third is best illustrated by the acclaimed Romanian film “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.” The Dardenne brothers’ latest film, “Two Days, One Night,” falls distinctly into that third category.

The film opens with Sandra (Marion Cotillard) laying at home in bed, far from eager or ready to get up. A few phone calls and conversations reveal that, after a medical leave, Sandra returned to work to a vote forced upon her coworkers by their boss: to lay her off or to receive their bonuses. Unsurprisingly, the allure of 1000 euros has resulted in her losing the vote. The determination of her friend and coworker Juliette (Catherine Salée) earns her a new vote on Monday morning just moments before the end of the work day on Friday, which gives her the weekend to find each of her coworkers and convince them that her job is worth giving up their bonuses.

What transpires over the next two days is a repetitive sequence of events. Sandra tracks down each coworker, most of whom she does not have a personal relationship with outside of work. Each are surprised at first to see her but immediately realize why she has come. They ask how many have decided to support her and tell her it’s difficult for them to let the bonus go. She tells them that she was not the one who made them choose and that she deserves to have a job just like they deserve to have their bonus. Some respond more optimistically and ultimately opt to vote in her favor, while others are outright angry that she would even come by, but the conversations are largely the same.

Watching the nuanced differences in how each person reacts to Sandra approaching them in their natural habitats and seeing how human instinct kicks in in this kind of scenario is what makes this film and its story worthwhile. It’s difficult to watch Sandra put herself out there, especially because her situation has caused her to lose considerable confidence. Her supportive husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), who works in the kitchen at a chain restaurant, is her biggest cheerleader, but it often seems that he should be the one advocating on her behalf rather than her. Cotillard delivers a strong performance that anchors the film, and the film ends on a note that gives all its events, which play out unextraordinarily as they might in real life, added significance, revealing the more complex layers of a seemingly simple and uncomplicated story.

B+

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Oscar Predictions: Best Costume Design

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 15th. 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: American Hustle, The Grandmaster, The Great Gatsby, The Invisible Woman, 12 Years a Slave

This year’s locks: Into the Woods

Very likely: Belle, The Imitation Game

Possible: Fury, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Mr. Turner, Noah, Selma, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Unlikely: Maleficent

The rundown: This category tends to reward a good mix of Best Picture nominees and films not nominated in any other race. This year, that would be Belle for sure, and maybe Exodus: Gods and Kings and Noah, which could also be rewarded elsewhere. Into the Woods is the only real sure thing, though I think The Imitation Game has a solid shot. This is hardly my area of expertise, so most of this is guesswork in a film without too many regal or period pieces.

One possible crazy scenario: Guardians of the Galaxy earns some fun recognition.

Forecasted winner: My money is on Into the Woods.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Oscar Predictions: Best Art Direction

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 15th. 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: American Hustle, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Her, 12 Years a Slave

This year’s locks: Into the Woods, Interstellar

Very likely: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Possible: Fury, Mr. Turner, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Birdman

Unlikely: Boyhood, A Most Violent Year, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The rundown: This category is usually friendly to epics and fantasy films, but the second Hobbit film didn’t make the cut last year after the first did the year before. Into the Woods seems like a no-brainer, and Interstellar should be recognized here as well. The Grand Budapest Hotel is an obvious choice, and let’s just hope that since the film is closer to a Best Picture nomination than a Wes Anderson film has ever been before, this will finally be the one to do it (“Her” getting in last year is inspiring at least). After that, I’m betting on Fury and Mr. Turner to be recognized here over a whole host of Best Picture contenders.

One possible crazy scenario: Something like Guardians of the Galaxy manages a mention.

Forecasted winner: Isn’t this (along with the next category) the place to reward Into the Woods?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Oscar Predictions: Best Cinematography

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 15th. 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 Grandmaster, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Prisoners

This year’s locks: Interstellar, Birdman

Very likely: The Theory of Everything

Possible: Ida, The Imitation Game, Mr. Turner, Wild, A Most Violent Year, Boyhood, Gone Girl, Unbroken, Into the Woods

Unlikely: Under the Skin, Selma, Fury, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel

The rundown: Sometimes, this category matches 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. Two years ago, “Anna Karenina” and “Skyfall” were here but not in the top field, and last year, three that were barely recognized elsewhere – “The Grandmaster,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and “Prisoners” showed up here. I would think that Interstellar begins what may be a domination of the technical categories only here, and Birdman, which should show up everywhere, is sure to place as well. I’m not as confident about Boyhood, though it certainly could if voters think about those shots of a young Ellar Coltrane looking up at the sky from the grass. What I’m betting on in terms of non-Best Picture contenders is Ida since “The White Ribbon” got nominated in 2009 and this seems to be this year’s big foreign film (and “Nebraska” was nominated last year, demonstrating an affinity for black-and-white cinematography), and I’m not as confident about two films I’ve seen mentioned here and in other categories, Mr. Turner, which hasn’t done too much in stateside awards races so far but pundits seem to think will make a showing later, and Wild, which deserves to be here but doesn’t seem to be going over well aside from Reese Witherspoon’s performance. I would love to see A Most Violent Year here since it won me over with its deliberate and fantastic cinematography, but I’m not confident about its chances. Aside from all that, I’m betting on Best Picture bigwigs The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game to score the other spots.

One possible crazy scenario: Last year I put “Nebraska” here and it got nominated. I think that Nightcrawler could be this year’s out-of-the-box choice.

Forecasted winner: This should be Interstellar.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Movie with Abe: Song of the Sea


Song of the Sea
Directed by Tomm Moore
Released December 19, 2014

There’s a certain feel that Irish films have that can’t quite be duplicated. This year has seen “Life’s a Breeze,” a comedy about an older woman whose family unwittingly throws away her life savings, and “Calvary,” a drama about a priest threatened by an unknown member of his church, make it over to U.S. audiences. But the one likeliest to be remembered is director Tomm Moore’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated animated feature “The Secret of Kells,” a haunting, inviting look at Irish folklore brought to life with creative animation.

“Song of the Sea” chooses as its focus the mythical selkie, a sea creature which was the subject of another memorable Irish film, “Ondine,” which saw Colin Farrell’s fisherman meet one such legendary creature. In this film, dependable Irish actors Brendan Gleeson and Fionnula Flangan provide voices for a story of a widower who lives with his two young children by the sea. The film introduces his son, Ben, eagerly awaiting the birth of his baby sister, but the death of his mother in the process of her birth results in his hatred and resentment of his matricidal sibling. Irresponsible antics bring their grandmother, who rips them from their seaside life and drives them through the city to the country, where a four o’clock bedtime is just the beginning of a magical adventure.

“Song of the Sea,” like “The Secret of Kells” before it, uses animation as a launching pad for telling stories that couldn’t be told to the same degree using live action. Drawings help landscapes and creatures come alive, and overcome obstacles that a truer-to-life format might present. Though he detests his sister, Saiorse, Ben embraces the wonder of the situation when he realizes that she is a selkie, and that their late mother was a selkie too. The spirit of curiosity and air of enchantment in this film is infectious, and it helps its truly extraordinary events and characters feel like they could well exist. A strong combination of inventive animation and a good old Irish fairy tale converge in this GKIDS film that is probably more effective for adults than for kids, if only due to the depth of its content. It’s nice to see a reliably Irish film that demonstrates that one country has a knack for animation and for sharing its folklore on the big screen.

B+

Saturday, December 20, 2014

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 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 Theatres

Mr. Turner (recommended): Mike Leigh’s latest film doesn’t much feel like one of his movies, but it’s still a relatively engaging if slow-moving story featuring a strong central performance from an actor not accustomed to lead roles, Timothy Spall. Now playing at Angelika, City Cinemas 123, and Lincoln Plaza. Read my review from yesterday.

Song of the Sea (highly recommended): Director Tomm Moore’s follow-up to “The Secret of Kells” is a typical Irish film that creatively uses animation to tell a folk tale in the most enthralling and visually appealing manner. Now playing at IFC Center. My review will be up tomorrow.


New to DVD

Nothing to report this week, but more to come soon, surely!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Movie with Abe: Mr. Turner


Mr. Turner
Directed by Mike Leigh
Released December 19, 2014

Though the truly famous ones existed long before film did as a medium, it’s hard to deny that painters often lived quite interesting lives. They create works of art that will live on long after they do, and, most of the time, achieve much greater success after death than in life. British painter J.M.W. Turner is a terrific example of this, appreciated but relentlessly mocked in his time for a style as peculiar and difficult to analyze as he was as a person.

Director Mike Leigh, known for his improvised scripts and his dedication to his subject matter, is an intriguing choice to capture Turner’s life on screen. Leigh’s last two films – “Another Year” and “Happy-Go-Lucky,” have been relatively modern looks at everyday people and their interactions with one another. His previous film, which earned him serious Oscar attention, was “Vera Drake,” which followed Imelda Staunton’s British abortionist in her quest to “help young girls out” in 1950s England. His latest project feels a lot more like that film, as Leigh finds himself and his characters firmly rooted in the past, the 1800s to be specific. As usual, Leigh devotes himself to creating an authentic and believable environment populated with characters whose realistic and human conversations define the experience.

Timothy Spall stars as Turner, who retreats from society more than he already has following the death of his father. He spends most of his time at home working with loyal caretaker Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson) by his side, and takes long vacations under a pseudonym to a small inn on the water run by the kindly Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey). Turner hears what those around him say about his energetic and distinctive way of painting, one which earns as much insulting scorn as it does praise. One particularly affecting scene finds Turner in the audience at a play where he is the butt of its main joke.

Spall is an actor who is not often cast in the lead role, and, as presented by Leigh, here he finds a role perfectly suited for him, defining Turner by grunts and long looks mixed with sparse and only truly vital conversation. Turner is not an inviting character but his story certainly impresses. Atkinson and Bailey both enhance a film about a man with few connections as two of those only ties to the rest of society. The film’s lengthy 150-runtime means that it isn’t always completely engaging, though it does cover a considerably amount of time and ground. Ultimately, Turner’s impact is felt most by the end of the film as his life approaches its end, and this intriguing, often melancholy story demonstrates how, as expected, Turner achieved far more success in death than in life.

B

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Movie with Abe: Force Majeure

Force Majeure
Directed by Ruben Östlund
Released October 24, 2014

Vacation is often seen as a place where anything can happen without consequences. The saying “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is the ultimate example of having something not count or not apply when you return to the real world. When the vacation doesn’t end, however, it’s hard to see how things might go back to normal. In “Force Majeure,” Sweden’s submission for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, one family holiday drags on as the snowy setting of a French Alps resort, threatening to unravel its members with no hope of returning to the time before an irreversible split-second decision has changed everything.

The construction of “Force Majeure” is actually quite simple, as Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) spend their first day of vacation skiing on the blanketed slopes of their peaceful resort with their children Vera and Harry. All is well and quiet until, in the middle of an outdoor lunch, a controlled avalanche suddenly appears to be headed straight for the unsuspecting family and everyone else at the resort. All proves to be well, save for the fact that Ebba immediately shields her children while Tomas grabs his phone and his gloves and bolts. When he returns to the table, nothing can be as it was before, though that’s not something he immediately realizes.

From that point, the film shifts back and forth from being an uncomfortable comedy to a light drama, as Ebba cannot shake the feeling of abandonment that came with Tomas’ instinct to run rather than to stay and protect his family. Tomas refuses to acknowledge what he did, and that just makes things worse. When friends Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and Fanny (Fanni Metelius) are brought into it by Ebba’s inability to let it go, it threatens to unravel their own relationship when they consider what they might each do in the same circumstances. It’s certainly not a pleasant or enviable process.

There are many moments of reflection in “Force Majeure,” as its characters remain silent for a while, skiing, eating, or sitting, and then converse with great intensity before returning to a period of tranquility. In theory, there is subtext to be read in each interval, and the film’s major scenes after its death-defying impetus seem to be most meaningful for what they signify rather than what they actually recount. For couples who find the decay of marital bliss entertaining, this film might prove enjoyable, but while it presents opportunity for introspection and meaning to be drawn out of white landscapes, this film isn’t moving fast to tell a particularly interesting story.

C+

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Movie with Abe: Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler
Directed by Dan Gilroy
Released October 31, 2014

There’s a line between creepy and scary that often defines thrillers. There are no ghosts jumping out of the darkness to make you scream, but there’s definitely something uneasy going on that merits fear of a certain kind. That feeling can be just as effective in dramas, where a protagonist is far from likeable because of his despicable behavior, yet he or she remains a magnetic central figure. That’s exactly the case with “Nightcrawler,” the story of an asocial man who takes an interest in taking video for television news and isn’t prepared to let emotion or humanity get in the way of being tremendously successful.

Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is first seen cutting away at a fence, clearly somewhere he is not supposed to be. He plays dumb when a security guard arrives, chatting with him in a way that feels all too friendly, and, before long, he gains the upper hand and is seen in the next scene driving away while wearing the guard’s watch. Lou arrives with a car full of stolen goods and makes a sale to a construction site foreman. He then pitches himself as the ideal employee, listing a number of reasons that his qualifications and excitement for the field recommend him. When he is dismissed as a thief, Lou sets his sights on a new profession entirely, and begins learning how to become the best in that field, selling his first footage to a bloodthirsty producer (Rene Russo) and then hiring an assistant (Riz Ahmed) immediately thereafter, applauding himself for his meteoric rise to the top.

There is something off about Lou that Gyllenhaal captures in his performance: a sense of awe and admiration when he sees a catastrophe and his interpretation of that moment into something marketable and claimable as a product. Lou delivers many speeches in which he rattles off supporting arguments that sound inherently logical and well-rehearsed, and he is convinced each time that what he says might as well be law. Those with whom he interacts most – Nina, a producer desperate for gory, eye-catching content to help her keep her job, and Rick, who applied to a position with no job description because he needed the money in order to stay off the streets – are hardly discerning, and therefore Lou’s behavior isn’t flagged by a surrogate stand-in for the audience as not okay.

Gyllenhaal, who delivered another strong and unnerving turn earlier this year in “Enemy,” has deservedly been earning accolades for his performance, making Lou fascinating and seem like he could actually list. The film, on the other hand, is so dark and unoptimistic that it’s difficult to decide whether to take its events at face value, to decide whether or not Lou could manage to go around as he does without any scrutiny, combing the underbelly of Los Angeles for its most horrifying, shocking events. “Nightcrawler” is a perplexing but captivating experience, one worthy of examination but one that cannot be easily catalogued.

B

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Movie with Abe: Inherent Vice


Inherent Vice
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Released December 12, 2014

It’s rare to find a movie so utterly perplexing that it’s impossible to figure out where to start a review. Yet such is the case with “Inherent Vice,” the latest extremely long film from auteur Paul Thomas Anderson which reunites him with the star of his last film, “The Master.” Joaquin Phoenix was a lost soul easily influenced by others in that film, and here he plays someone perpetually under the influence, getting high throughout the entire movie as his private investigator stumbles his way through a convoluted crime story riddled with sex and drugs that, in spite of itself, may just make sense.

Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, whose wild adventure begins when his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) shows up to tempt him with a crazy story, one that involves sex, betrayal, corruption, maybe even murder. This mystery doesn’t play out like a typical one might, since there are considerable obstacles to Doc finding the truth but mainly because it’s hard to know whether what he’s seeing is actually happening because of the intense amount of hallucinogenic material being put into his body. He takes short, humorous notes on the case in his little notebook, the most frequent of which is “paranoia alert.” Characters are dressed in full 70s period garb and there’s a distinct and effective dated feel to the film.

There’s no denying that there’s an interesting if ridiculously irreverent tale to be told here. Anderson, as usual, has assembled a fine cast to portray his many zany characters, taking care to give even the smallest part appropriate consideration. After three features with smaller casts, Anderson has made a film worthy of comparison to “Magnolia” in more ways than one. Phoenix is a great choice for the lead role, having come back from what appeared to be a staged break with sanity to break through with “The Master,” and he has just the right commitment and balance of seriousness and playfulness to play Doc. In the supporting cast, Waterston is a particularly remarkable find as the alluring but absent Shasta, and Josh Brolin is terrific and hilarious as hard-nosed cop Bigfoot Bjornsen. Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph, Hong Chau, Michael Kenneth Williams, Sam Jaeger, Timothy Simons, Jena Malone, Owen Wilson, and Reese Witherspoon all contribute to a stacked ensemble whose minimal individual appearances make for a loaded if disjointed whole. It’s anyone’s guess where the film and its overeager plot are headed at any moment, and what clarity might have been achieved in a satisfying finish is avoided entirely. It’s fair to assess this film as bold and creative, but that doesn’t classify it as a resounding success.

B-

Monday, December 15, 2014

Movie with Abe: Citizen Koch


Citizen Koch
Directed by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin
Released June 6, 2014

It’s always important to pronounce the title of a film to have some clue about its content. I thought for a moment when I heard about this film that I had already seen it, but I was thinking of “Koch,” last year’s documentary about former New York City Mayor Ed Koch (sounds like “kotch”). This film, which is a finalist for the Oscar for Best Documentary this year, refers to the Koch brothers (pronounced “coke”), billionaires who are seen by the filmmakers to have exerted undue monetary and political influence in the campaigns of certain conservative politicians and legislation. It’s a catchy title but it’s not actually the most accurate descriptor.

This is a very good film, and there’s no denying the effectiveness of the title, which juxtaposes the notion of an average American with the recognizable name of brothers who belong distinctly to the “one percent.” But this film isn’t really about them. It begins as an apparent indictment of the Tea Party, demonstrating the way in which the ultra-conservative party rose to power. It shifts midway through to show how campaign contributions have been changed in a problematic and worrisome way so that those with money can give as much as they want without much accountability to advocacy organizations which in turn support those running for office and trying to pass new laws. The film is consistently interesting, to be sure, but its title doesn’t quite capture the themes it addresses.

Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, becomes a central figure in this film and its demonstration both of the influence of the Tea Party and the way in which politicians are backed by those seeking to see their interests fulfilled. Walker ignites fury in his constituents when he changes his views after being elected and seeks to essentially disband unions, and a recall is even initiated. One of the film’s two focuses is highlighted by the interviews with those Republicans who say that they’re voting for the first time – and they can’t believe that they’re voting for a Democrat. Hearing Republicans respond to criticism that they’re voting against Republicans only underlines the fact that there seems to be a crucial difference between the Republican Party and the Tea Party.

This examination of what’s happening in American politics today is laced with reflective humor and a true feeling of inevitability in terms of the changes in the way elections and lawmaking work. Though this film does double duty and doesn’t stick to just one agenda, it’s a worthwhile and extremely educational documentary. It’s sure to become increasingly relevant as Walker is solidified as a strong contender for the next presidential election, and questions of financial backing come up, as do his own political allegiances.

B+

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Movie with Abe: Jodorowsky’s Dune


Jodorowsky’s Dune
Directed by Frank Povich
Released March 21, 2014

On occasion, the making of a film can be as interesting as the film itself, and in some cases, even more so. The story of a film that never got made is a more intriguing matter since there’s inherently some reason that it never came to fruition. One of this year’s top contenders for the Oscar for Best Documentary is “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” the fantastical, mesmerizing account of how eclectic director Alejandro Jodorowsky conceived of an impossibly ambitious adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” in the early 1970s. Believing that it wouldn’t ever get made is hardly a stretch, but hearing and seeing Jodorowsky describe his astonishing vision is an extremely entertaining and worthwhile adventure.

Jodorowsky is introduced with a monologue that demonstrates the scope of what he wants to do with his film – to replicate the experience of being on LSD without actually taking the drug. After an early career highlighted by bizarre films embraced by cult audiences featuring him in the lead role, Jodorowsky jumps at the chance to collaborate with famed French producer Michel Seydoux. When asked what project he would like to do, Jodorowsky immediately suggests bringing “Dune” to the big screen because of his themes and everything he has heard about the book, which he hadn’t even read at the time.

With each new detail and addition of talent, Jodorowsky’s “Dune” becomes more outrageous and unlikely. Yet the director has such a commitment to his ideas and to realizing them with spectacular energy that it makes them seem almost possible for a moment. The top visual effects designer, when approached by Jodorowsky, explains his mechanical approach to his craft, and is dismissed by Jodorowsky as not being a spiritual warrior, therefore unfit to collaborate with him. Jodorowsky fires off his ideas – Orson Welles! Salvador Dali! – and expresses his intent to see his vision realized to tremendous and incomparable effect.

After hearing his grand plan and seeing some of the wild storyboards created for the film, it’s obviously a disappointment to come to the conclusion that the director, now 85 years old, never managed to get the film made, though a filmmaker often thought of as just as eccentric and cult-friendly, David Lynch, ultimately did. This film and its unusual sort of exposé may in fact have attracted an auteur, Ari Folman of “Waltz with Bashir” and “The Congress,” with an interest in seeing Jodorowsky’s version made into an animated film. There may not be some social cause highlighted or some wrong righted in this documentary, but experiencing the craziest film never made and possibly inspiring it to be made is definitely worth the price of admission (or home viewing).

B+

Movie with Abe: The Hundred-Foot Journey


The Hundred-Foot Journey
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Released August 8, 2014

Some movies are about epic adventures, and the dramatic lengths to which a person or group must go to overcome a major obstacle. There is a feeling of anticipation that builds as transcending that barrier continues to be a challenge, and at times it seems unclear if the main character or characters will be able to do it. And then there are those times where the journey is far less physical or burdensome, yet its accomplishment still remains an unlikely feat. As its title indicates, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is not a typical film about barriers to success, yet its story arc is inherently familiar and relatively inviting.

Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is introduced as an eager young man confident in his culinary abilities, first seen speaking to an immigrations officer and trying to make a case for why he is certain that he can find gainful employment in his new country of residence. He explains that his family moved from India to London, where they literally lived right next to Heathrow Airport to the point that planes would fly to directly overhead, just narrowly missing the top of the house. From there, the family relocated to France, where their food service history permitted them the opportunity to bring a new kind of cuisine for locals, though they had the misfortune of opening up shop across the street from a popular restaurant owned by the determined Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).

What comprises much of “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a war of culture and food between Madame Mallory and Hassan’s father (Om Puri). The two buy out the entire supply of a given food on the other’s menu from the market when they know an esteemed guest is on his way and tattle on each other to the mayor for minor code violations. As those less blinded by their own histories tend to do, Hassan and Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), who works in Madame Mallory’s kitchen, begin a romance but have trouble turning it into something due to their battling institutions.

The kind of conflict that exists in “The Hundred-Foot Journey” doesn’t involve people actually being hurt or any lives being threatened. Instead, it’s a cultural comedy, one that uses a love for food and for creative cooking to fuel its story and the passion of its characters. Mirren, as she often does, is having a blast playing Madame Mallory, making her stuffy and endearing at the same time, and Puri is delightful as well. Dayal and Le Bon make a good couple, but ultimately this enjoyable film is an ensemble treat, one that may not be remembered in a hundred years or even a hundred years but is plenty of fun while it lasts.

B

Saturday, December 13, 2014

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 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 Theatres

Nothing to report this week, though I do have an exciting triple-feature planned for tomorrow, starting with new release Inherent Vice and catching up with two other Golden Globe nominees, Nightcrawler and Force Majeure. Reviews coming this week. I'll also have plenty of reviews of movies out on DVD as well as releases for next Friday and beyond.


New to DVD

Calvary (recommended): Director John Michael McDonagh’s follow-up to “The Guard” is a very different film, one less laced with humor, but still features Brendan Gleeson in a strong and memorable role as a priest threatened by an unknown parishioner in small Irish town.

Frank (recommended) :This truly bizarre film features a rock star who wears a giant fake head all the time and the people who follow him without question and with amazement. Great performances from Michael Fassbender, Domnhall Gleeson, Scoot McNairy, and Maggie Gyllenhaal in this peculiar but very worthwhile movie.


Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

The Wolf of Wall Street (mixed bag): This widely talked-about Oscar-nominated film is an undeniably entertaining if enormously excessive portrait of one man’s obsession with money. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are good, but this isn’t the masterpiece that many say it is, nor is it DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese’s best collaboration.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Movie with Abe: Still Alice


Still Alice
Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
Released December 7, 2014

Mental deterioration as a result of aging is a frequent subject in film, and almost always a heartbreaking one. Those who undertake the role of a person suffering from the gradually worsening effects of Alzheimer’s disease usually do so with a great seriousness and are often rewarded with accolades for their efforts. It’s no surprise that Julianne Moore is a frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Dr. Alice Howland, a woman diagnosed with the disease whose situation is made exponentially more tragic by its early manifestation at the relatively young age of fifty.

“Still Alice” begins by introducing its protagonist as an intellectual linguistics professor, one who uses words ending in “J” while playing Words with Friends and talks circles around most of the people in her life. In nearly every conversation or solitary moment, however, there is something off, a forgotten word or loss of focus that clues Alice into the fact that all is not right. Facing the problem head on, Alice goes to see a neurologist and undertakes every effort possible to keep her memory sharp. This is not a glossy or glorified portrayal of Alzheimer’s, and therefore Alice cannot hope to fight the progression of her disease.

What makes this story extraordinary is Alice herself. She learns from her doctor that, despite all that she has been doing to maintain her memory, someone as intelligent as her is more susceptible to worsening conditions because she has built ways to prolong its effects into her natural routine. The film’s most powerful and unforgettable scene finds Alice delivering a speech at an Alzheimer’s Association event, describing her best efforts to hold onto who she is and to her memories while being all too keenly aware of what is happening to her faculties. Alice’s condition is a brutal reminder that knowing what you’re facing isn’t a foolproof defense.

Moore is a strong choice to play Alice, capable of communicating great emotions with minute facial expressions and adept at showing Alice’s gradual transformation from a fully functional intellectual to someone unable to recognize her surroundings. It’s a deeply involved and affecting performance, and few will argue that she isn’t deserving of the recognition she is sure to earn. Kristen Stewart, Hunter Parrish, and Kate Bosworth portray her three children, each representative of a different way of dealing with seeing a parent in this situation, and Alec Baldwin is her loyal husband whose actions don’t always feel entirely supportive. Stewart demonstrates growth and range in her performance, but aside from that, this is purely Moore’ show, as she anchors this devastating and affecting film about holding on to something that’s slipping away.

B+

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


My predictions: 4/5, missing “St. Vincent” Who’s missing? Inherent Vice, Big Eyes

I mentioned already in the supporting actress category that it’s somewhat illogical but historically unsurprising that St. Vincent makes the cut here with actor Bill Murray nominated, but SAG nominee Naomi Watts isn’t recognized. Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel are the films to beat, while Into the Woods didn’t have as big a showing as I expected, with just two acting bids to go along with this mention. And then there’s Pride, which missed out on a SAG bid yesterday but made it in here as this year’s most endearing nominee. I have seen all but “Into the Woods” at this point.

Who will win? Give it to Birdman.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Motion Picture – Drama


My predictions: 2/5, picking only “Boyhood” and “The Imitation Game”
Who’s missing? Gone Girl, Interstellar, Rosewater, American Sniper

I’m not sure what I was thinking here, betting against The Theory of Everything and Selma. Foxcatcher getting in over “Gone Girl” is a mild surprise, but I didn’t love either film, so it doesn’t particularly excite me. The Imitation Game and Boyhood are the films to beat, but, interestingly this year, only two of these films – “Boyhood” and “Selma” – are nominated for Best Director. Usually there’s a higher correlation. I’m still missing too many movies to determine if these five are really the best of the year, but I’d be sure to include “Interstellar” and “A Most Violent Year” on my list already, two films that earned just one bid apiece today.

Who will win? Probably Boyhood.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Foreign Film


My predictions: 1/5, picking only “Ida”
Who’s missing? Mommy, Saint Laurent, Two Days One Night

Here it is, my worst category of the day. I picked what everyone else knew would be here, Ida (Poland), the only one of these that I’ve seen. Interestingly and unusually, all five of these films are eligible for the Oscar, though I think that “Mommy” and “Two Days, One Night” will give them a run for their money. Force Majeure (Sweden) is currently playing in NYC theatres, and Leviathan (Russia) will be released at the end of December. I’m surprised about Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Israel) since Israeli films tend to be more popular with Oscar voters than here, but great for director-star Ronit Elkabetz (looking forward to the film!). Rounding out the list is Tangerines (Estonia). More on all these once I’ve had a chance to see them!

Who will win? My guess is Ida.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Animated Film


My predictions: 4/5, missing “The Boxtrolls”
Who’s missing? The Tale of Princess Kaguya, The Song of the Sea

Though I’ve only seen two of these films - How to Train Your Dragon 2 and The Lego Movie - I managed to do a lot better than last year. Honestly, I was being overly optimistic about “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” and therefore seeing The Boxtrolls join The Book of Life and Big Hero 6 is no surprise. The two films I listed above and “Rocks in My Pockets” will surely complicate the Oscar race, but later for that.

Who will win? I’ll bet on The Lego Movie.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Original Song


My predictions: 3/5, missing songs from “Annie” and “Big Eyes”
Who’s missing? “Everything is Awesome”

This was a difficult category to predict without an Oscar eligibility list, and the only surprise as a result is that “The Lego Movie” didn’t earn a bid for its catchy tune. The five songs I’ll be listening to on repeat for the next few days are:

Opportunity (Annie)
Big Eyes (Big Eyes)
Mercy Is (Noah)
Glory (Selma)
Yellow Flicker Beat (The Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 1)

Who will win? My bet is Mercy Is.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Original Score


My predictions: 4/5, missing “The Theory of Everything”
Who’s missing? Fury, many more

I’ll have much more to say when I have the opportunity to sit down and actually listen to these scores over and over for the next few days, though I have seen all the nominated films. It’s sad to think that all people liked about Interstellar was its music, but I’ll take it. The other four films recognized - Birdman, Gone Girl, The Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everything - add to impressive nomination hauls this morning. More detailed reactions coming soon.

Who will win? Probably Birdman.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Screenplay – Motion Picture


My predictions: 4/5, missing “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Who’s missing? Foxcatcher, Selma, The Theory of Everything

I thought this category was my best bet, and I was close to right. What we end up having is Gone Girl earning the bizarre distinction of being recognizing for writing and directing but not in the top race, while “Foxcatcher” ends up only in Best Motion Picture – Drama. The surprise here was The Grand Budapest Hotel, which Globe voters clearly loved, giving it a directing nomination too. The other three are the films we’ll be hearing about all awards season: Birdman, Boyhood, and The Imitation Game.

Who will win? I’ll go out on a limb and say Gone Girl.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Director – Motion Picture


My predictions: 3/5, missing Anderson and Duvernay
Who’s missing? Angelina Jolie (Unbroken), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), James Marsh (The Thoery of Everything), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Clint Eastwood (American Sniper), Christopher Nolan (Interstellar)

Last year, I started this analysis with “So much for big names helping you get into this race.” That’s true again for Angelina Jolie and, to a lesser extent, Clint Eastwood, who missed out in favor of new contenders like Richard Linklater (Boyhood) and Ava Duvernay (Selma). There are some puzzling inconsistencies about this category, firstly that David Fincher (Gone Girl) scored a bid but his film missed out on a nomination in the top race, whereas “Foxcatcher” was recognized there but not here, and, more crucially, “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything” seem destined for greatness without their directors along for the ride. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman) was an expected nominee, but the fifth director is a much bigger surprise. I think I’d be a lot more excited for Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel) if I loved the film as much I as did “Moonrise Kingdom” or “The Darjeeling Limited,” but that’s just not the case. Either way, it is commendable and makes that film a much more serious threat for a Best Picture nomination.

Who will win? Probably Linklater, but maybe Duvernay

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture


My predictions: 4/5, missing Streep
Who’s missing? Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods), Naomi Watts (St. Vincent)

Here go the Golden Globes again – a few years ago they snubbed Melissa McCarthy for “Bridesmaids” after she got a SAG nomination and her film earned other Globe mentions. McCarthy’s latest film “St. Vincent” earned two other Globe nominations, but surprise SAG nominee Naomi Watts isn’t here. Oh well. In her place, we get Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year). I just saw the film last night – Chastain is good, but the film is even better, and it’s a shame it didn’t show up anywhere else. Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) looks like she may well be headed towards an Oscar nomination, accompanied by sure things Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), and Emma Stone (Birdman), all of whom saw excellent showings from their films this morning.

Who will win? I think Arquette will take this.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture


My predictions: 4/5, missing Duvall
Who’s missing? Johnny Depp (Into the Woods)

So much for this being an open race – it seems like Robert Duvall (The Judge) is the bona fide fifth contender for the Oscars, and now I wish I had seen the movie when it was in theatres. Globe voters embraced “Into the Woods” but not quite so warmly as to welcome Depp into this field. The other four nominees are Oscar locks: Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), and J.K. Simmons (Whiplash). Not much to say about this category; I’m just still curious who will be the winner and whether one person – probably Simmons – will win the prize from every organization.

Who will win? Betting on Simmons.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


My predictions: 4/5, missing Wallis
Who’s missing? Angelina Jolie (Maleficent)

This is a fun category, and I’m glad that Jolie isn’t here since I was never really behind the classification of her role in this race. Last year’s winner Amy Adams (Big Eyes) is back despite not appearing to be an Oscar contender this year. It should be noted that this is the first Globe nomination for Quvenzhané Wallis (Annie) despite her Oscar nod for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and it could well be appropriate for her to earn recognition without her film being nominated since it really doesn’t look good. I’ve actually seen just one nominee in this category, Helen Mirren (The Hundred-Foot Journey), and my review of that will be up soon. Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars) is a double nominee this year, but neither of her films have played in theatres for more than a week each so far. Emily Blunt (Into the Woods) was the only actor in her film besides Meryl Streep to earn a mention. More thoughts once three of these films open on Christmas and I have the chance to see them!

Who will win? I’ll go with Adams for now.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


My predictions: 4/5, missing Waltz
Who’s missing? James Corden (Into the Woods), Chris Rock (Top Five)

This category doesn’t bring too many surprises other than the inclusion of Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes), who many thought would be considered supporting despite the fact that his two Golden Globe wins were in the supporting race while many perceive them to have been lead performances. Michael Keaton (Birdman) is the only likely crossover to the Oscars in this category, though I’d watch out for Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), whose film showed up in more places than expected today. Bill Murray (St. Vincent) and Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice) round out the field.

Who will win? Definitely Keaton.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama


My predictions: 5/5, mainly because I changed my predictions yesterday
Who’s missing? Hilary Swank (The Homesman), Jessica Chastain (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby)

Who needs comedy when these five may well be your eventual Oscar nominees? I swapped out Chastain yesterday for Jennifer Aniston (Cake), though I had planned to do that even before her SAG nomination. I thought it would be a one-off Globe mention, but now I’m thinking it may lead to an Oscar nomination. The other four are pretty solid, and Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) is the only one among them whose film scored a Best Motion Picture – Drama nomination. Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild), and Julianne Moore (Still Alice), who is a double nominee this year, round out the list.

Who will win? Probably Moore.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama


My predictions: 4/5, missing Gyllenhaal
Who’s missing? Miles Teller (Whiplash), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)

When this category was announced, I was racking my brain to think who Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) had replaced, but then I realized that Michael Keaton was the fifth SAG nominee yesterday, and so David Oyelowo (Selma) was actually the one taking his spot as that entirely absent film made a decent showing today with four nominations. Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) made the list, and his film even managed a Best Motion Picture – Drama bid, and he joined Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), whose films did very well today.

Who will win? Probably Redmayne but maybe Oyelowo.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Final Golden Globe Predictions

Please find my final Golden Globe predictions for all film categories below. This morning’s SAG Awards nominations announcement featured three surprising inclusions, and rather than be reactionary, I’ve modified my predictions in only one category to reflect a change I had planning to make earlier this week, which is to include Jennifer Aniston as the fifth Best Drama Actress nominee rather than Jessica Chastain, who I would have been predicting to be a double nominee. Jake Gyllenhaal could certainly get in, though I don’t think he will, and if Naomi Watts gets in for “St. Vincent,” good for her. I know I’m taking a risk by not predicting “Selma” and opting to foresee Globe enthusiasm for “Rosewater” instead, and I’m still sticking by my predictions for “Interstellar” for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director. You can see my TV predix over at TV with Abe. Check in all day tomorrow for reactions by category!

No guts, no glory:
Naomi Watts in Best Supporting Actress – for “Birdman”
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
Patricia Arquette nominated for best actress rather than supporting

Best Motion Picture – Drama
Boyhood
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Rosewater


Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Pride


Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
David Oyelowo (Selma)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
Miles Teller (Whiplash)

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
James Corden (Into the Woods)
Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Bill Murray (St. Vincent)
Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice)

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
Amy Adams (Big Eyes)
Emily Blunt (Into the Woods)
Angelina Jolie (Maleficent)
Helen Mirren (The Hundred Foot Journey)
Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Johnny Depp (Into the Woods)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)
Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)

Best Director – Motion Picture
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
David Fincher (Gone Girl)
Christopher Nolan (Interstellar)
Angelina Jolie (Unbroken)

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
Birdman
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game


Best Animated Feature Film
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Lego Movie
Mr. Peabody and Sherman


Best Foreign Language Film
Two Days, One Night (Belgium)
Mommy (Canada)
Saint Laurent (France)
Human Capital (Italy)
Ida (Poland)

Best Original Score
Birdman
Fury
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
Interstellar


Best Original Song
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (The Last Goodbye)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Yellow Flicker Beat)
The Lego Movie (Everything Is Awesome)
Noah (Mercy Is)
Selma (Glory)

SAG Nominees: Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture


My predictions: 2/5, picking only “Birdman” and “The Imitation Game”
What’s missing? Selma, Into the Woods, Inherent Vice, Pride

This category was my worst of the film five, but the nominees actually make some sense. I’m most excited about The Grand Budapest Hotel mainly because this was the most truly ensemble effort, though I haven’t had a chance to comb through the cast list to see what deserving player isn’t recognized. “Selma” may not have been seen by SAG voters, so don’t read too much into that snub, but “Into the Woods” definitely was, and only Meryl Streep was deemed worthy. Two films without terribly large casts got a big boost here, and those are Boyhood and The Theory of Everything, both worthwhile nominees though I can’t name more than a few actors from each, and they joined the two frontrunners in this race: Birdman, my far and away pick, and The Imitation Game.

Who could win? I think Birdman, but maybe Boyhood.

SAG Nominees: Best Actress in a Supporting Role


My predictions: 3/5, missing Streep and Watts
Who’s missing? Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year), Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods)

I’ll start by saying that I haven’t seen “Into the Woods” and therefore I just presumed that Kendrick would be the favorite over Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), and I’ll have to withhold judgment until I see it, though I do suspect that her being her might be partially driven by her being Meryl Streep rather than the performance itself (statement to be revised when I see it). The biggest surprise of this entire nominations announcement is Naomi Watts (St. Vincent). Her pregnant Russian prostitute was one of the funniest parts of the film, I think voters might have been enthused about her for a performance in another film for which she deserved recognition, albeit for a smaller part, but they may have strayed away from that because they did recognize her costar Emma Stone (Birdman), who I’m thrilled to see her. Jessica Chastain, in a busy year, didn’t manage anything, but the other two frontrunners for this award, Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) and Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game).

Who could win? It depends on if there’s one solid frontrunner, and my bet is that Arquette will be just that.

SAG Nominees: Best Actor in a Supporting Role


My predictions: 5/5
Who’s missing? Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), Johnny Depp (Into the Woods), Tom Wilkinson (Selma)

This was the only film category where I scored 100%. I haven’t seen Robert Duvall (The Judge) in his film, but he’s earned SAG nominations before that haven’t translated to Oscar nods. If he gets recognized tomorrow for a Golden Globe, that might change things. The other four contenders are all terrific and pretty expected: Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), and J.K. Simmons (Whiplash). It’s particularly exciting to see Simmons here since he’s been so great in so much and now he’s finally earning recognition for it.

Who could win? I suspect Simmons will sweep much of awards season.

SAG Nominees: Best Actress in a Leading Role


My predictions: 4/5, missing Aniston
Who’s missing? Hilary Swank (The Homesman), Amy Adams (Big Eyes), Jessica Chastain (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby)

Now I was all ready to sub in Jennifer Aniston (Cake) as the fifth Golden Globe nominee in my revised predictions, and I imagine that now she won’t get nominated just to really confuse people. I am happy that Swank didn’t get recognized since I hated her movie, and I’m just hoping she doesn’t wait until Oscar nominations morning to surprise. Aniston’s inclusion is a shock, mainly because it means that, along with another former SAG nominee for television comedy, Steve Carell, she’s being recognized for transformational dramatic work. If only I had seen the film already – I did manage to catch Julianne Moore (Still Alice) in her film this past weekend, and will have a review up soon. She seems like the solid frontrunner, joined by expected nominees Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild), and Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything). Jones is the only one whose film got recognized in the Best Ensemble category.

Who could win? I think Moore is way ahead until Aniston really surprises.

SAG Nominees: Best Actor in a Leading Role


My predictions: 4/5, missing Gyllenhaal
Who’s missing: David Oyelowo (Selma), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)

I was just reading yesterday that SAG voters may not have had the opportunity to see “Selma,” which makes Oyelowo’s snub understandable. What’s much more significant, however, is who got in in his place, and that’s Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) for a film that has been creeping along throughout all the critics’ awards that have been announced to have a much bigger awards presence than I might have expected. Now I definitely need to make sure I see it this Sunday, as was already my plan! Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) made the cut, which wasn’t a sure thing, and he’s joining the three locks in this category, Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Michael Keaton (Birdman), and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), all great performances.

Who could win? Who knows? Carell, Cumberbatch, Keaton, Redmayne? My bet at the moment is Redmayne.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Final SAG Predictions

I’ve been sharing my predictions for each of the five categories of the SAG Awards over the past few days, and understandably my predictions haven’t changed since then. That said, I know exactly where I stand with these predictions. I’m least confident about Swank, Kendrick, and all of the Best Ensemble predictions. Last year, the SAG nominations were when Robert Redford first got snubbed and “The Butler” and Oprah still seemed like Oscar sure things before being omitted a day later with the Golden Globe nominations announcement. Where it used to be that eventual Oscar nominees like Demian Bichir or Richard Jenkins would first be recognized by SAG after getting no Globe love, the Oscar race has now become the first place for actors like Quvenzhane Wallis and Emmanuelle Riva, while Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, and Sally Hawkins all catapulted straight from the Globes to the Oscars, skipping SAG. On top of that, earning a Golden Globe nod and a SAG nod doesn’t guarantee an Oscar nomination more and more, as proven by Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, and Daniel Bruhl last year.

Of course, the main thing to remember is that history is just history, and anything can change in a given year. The real thing to look for here is what film will make a surprise showing – “Into the Woods,” for instance, could place in a bunch of categories, or maybe “A Most Violent Year” – and what “sure thing” contenders will be left out. Check back here tomorrow morning for reactions on the hour by category. TV predictions are up over at TV with Abe.

No guts, no glory:
“Guardians of the Galaxy” for Best Ensemble

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
David Oyelowo (Selma)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Hilary Swank (The Homesman)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)
Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)

Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture
Birdman
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Pride
Selma