If this movie doesn’t win Best Picture, it will prove that the Oscars don’t mean shit. I mean, since "Crash" won, we knew this, but this will be even more of a shame. "12 Years" is the movie about slavery that Americans have been waiting for. So many have come and gone, but they never fully captured the horror that they needed to. They glossed over torture, or they focused on how nice a few white people were, or they made it seem too psychologically simple. 12 Years, although it does have a white savior (in a minor part), trumps all previous attempts at telling this general story with the new-to-film story of Solomon Northup. A free-born black musician living in the north with his wife and kids, Northup was kidnapped by slave traders and sold into slavery for 12 years. Even though the title tells you that there is an end to his suffering, it's hard to have hope for him. Chiwetel Ejiofor is even more brilliant as Solomon than he was in "Kinky Boots", and Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, and Michael Fassbender are impressively horrifying in different ways as Solomon's various masters. But the real star to come out of this is Lupita Nyong'o, in her first real role as a young slave who is the unfortunate object of Fassbender's terrifying master's obsession. This movie is hard to watch, but it's necessary.
This movie, man alive. When I meet others who feel the same way I do, I feel an undeniable kinship and breathe a sigh of relief that not everyone was duped. It seems that this movie has tricked most people like The Emperor’s New Clothes. Seriously, this movie is The Emperor’s New Clothes, except instead of social pressures to conform, everyone is being tricked by great performances into ignoring the subpar writing. Yes, the performances were excellent, especially by the always great Amy Adams. However, the story blows. It builds and builds and promises some great clever payoff, but it just fizzles and dies. It’s perhaps the most disappointing movie of the year for me, yet so many think it’s the greatest of the year! It's not a terrible movie, but movies that could have been amazing but blow it upset me more than actually terrible movies. It's like how in "Love & Basketball", Sanaa Lathan asks her coach why she always yells at her, and the coach says, "You think I'd go hoarse over a player with no potential?" EXACTLY.
The movie is about a couple’s deep commitment to conning good people, and the story focuses on a really immoral con, and they bring down people on the way who are much more decent than they are. I’m always glad when people enjoy movies, even if I dislike them, but don’t let this ‘quirky’ pick win Oscars, please! The thing is, this movie struck me as being so meta: It’s about a con pulled over on good people, yet the movie itself is a con pulled on good people – us. Christian Bale even says in the film repeatedly "We gotta do this from the feet up" (apparently meaning, like, do it well and fully and account for all details), but this movie wasn't made from the feet up (if that's even a reasonable thing to say. Seriously they are f-ing with us).
August: Osage County
Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play about a wondrously dysfunctional family was never going to be as magical onscreen, but this adaptation did a pretty great job. With Meryl Streep as the overbearing matriarch of the disintegrating family, the movie keeps your attention and makes you alternately depressed at how messed up this family is and happy that yours isn’t as messed up (there’s just no way). All the actors involved give impressive performances, but while the loudest ones (Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts) are getting well-deserved attention, the subtler ones went sadly unnoticed. Julianne Nicholson quietly provides the heartbreaking center and soul, the only one you might kind of root for, despite some shocking revelations that you just don’t know how to handle. I might feel too kindly about how difficult this must have been to translate to the screen, but I’m pleased with the results. I don’t understand why more people aren’t. If you have the ability to go back in time and see this on Broadway, I highly suggest you do.
Holy crap, was this depressing. This movie, as its predecessors "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" did, perfectly and honestly displays a modern relationship, with all of its problems and raw emotion. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are not even actors when they embody the lovers Jesse and Celine, and their unbelievable authenticity makes their fighting even more heartbreaking. It's so interesting to watch how disagreements build; we can see how one misunderstanding escalates and becomes a huge rift between the two. The talkiest movie I may have ever seen, "Before Midnight" somehow isn't weighed down by all the important and telling things being said. I don't know how they memorized so much dialogue and made it all seem improvised and natural. This is some impressive and depressing shit.
The newest Woody “I’m a terrible human being but I make good movies” Allen flick was the film equivalent of seeing ‘Grey Gardens’ the musical but with less tears. Cate Blanchett deserves to win the Oscar, and last year’s Oscar, and next year’s Oscar, for her role because it was the best acting ever acted since Christine Ebersole’s turn in the aforementioned Gardens musical. As a woman left hopeless and directionless and more than a little mentally screwed up after her Madoff-like husband is imprisoned, Cate talks to people who aren’t there, jumps around time frames in her very clouded brain, and gives decent people terrible advice because she can’t see straight anymore. It’s all quite sad. Andrew Dice Clay is in it, which is a fun fact. More importantly, Bobby Cannavale is in it, and he’s great in everything. (Especially in his role as actor-just-leaving-a-play-on-Broadway-who-gives-me-a-hug-instead-of-calling-the-cops.) As is Sally Hawkins and um Louis CK, who also shows up as the best part about ‘American Hustle’. Dude’s on a roll. But this movie is really Cate’s showcase for how to act mentally damaged but not full-on cray. Cate’s complete vulnerability and lack of ego lets us see her character can still function but damn, you just don’t see a reason to.
The Book Thief
This was a sad movie.
Paul Greengrass's seasick camerawork finally finds a movie set on a boat. Piracy is updated for modern times, but Barkhad Abdi preserves their timeless dental hygiene. No, seriously, this is a great movie, with fantastic acting from Tom Hanks and Abdi, but the premise pisses me off. If we know that pirates roam the high seas and often kill many many people, why can't captains like Phillips have guns onboard? Seriously give me a good reason. I'm all for taking all of the guns away from Americans (because OBVIOUSLY WE CANNOT HANDLE THEM), but like ships should have as much artillery and weaponry as they can store without sinking. So, in conclusion, I don't accept the reality of this movie because people making rules are stupid.
Dallas Buyers Club
What starts out as an almost revoltingly vulgar film quickly morphs into a heavy emotional tale, following one man’s efforts to make a difference before he dies. Matthew McConaughey is captivating as a homophobic, racist, rodeo-clowning, drug-doing, casual-sex-having jerk who finds out he’s in the late-stages of HIV/AIDS, and is given 30 days to live. Slowly, he struggles to figure out the truth surrounding mysterious new drugs when facts are concealed by the FDA and the drug companies seeking to turn an enormous profit. Knowing what we now know about the horrendous treatment of AIDS patients in the 1980s and 1990s, and all of the unnecessary bureaucratic concealment that occurred to the detriment of so many sick people, this movie was more powerful than it would have been without historical background. The early years of AIDS were a disgusting embarrassment for this country’s leaders, and this movie shows how hard individuals had to fight for their lives. It’s much better than I would have guessed after the first 10 minutes (bull riding, yeesh). Jared Leto is mesmerizing as a kindhearted transvestite (is there any other kind in movies?) and will deservedly continue his winning streak all the way to the Oscars. I’m so glad he’s back doing stuff. Also, Jennibop Garner is in it. The story isn’t as affecting as, say, “The Normal Heart”, but the performances make it as heartbreaking as the subject matter should be.
My favorite movie of last year and one of my favorites of all time, Frances Ha just gets my demographic. It’s uncanny. Greta Gerwig is for women several years out of college and a little lost as to what to do with this life what Adam Sandler/now Seth Rogen/sort of Jason Segel is to manchildren. She just gets it. But the portrayal of this stage in life is handled with such class and verve and respect that it doesn’t feel mocking, it just feels authentic. I don’t want to explain this movie because the act of doing so will automatically ruin it a little bit for you, so just go watch it. I know it's not up for any Oscars, but it's all over the Independent Spirit Awards, and if it were up to me it would trump "The Highlander" for the Academy Award for Best Movie Ever Made.
Disney’s latest animated princess film should and will win the Best Animated Feature Oscar, along with one for Best Song, “Let It Go”. This film is amazing. It’s perfection. It's the first feminist Disney movie ever made (the people claiming that "Brave" was don't really know what feminism is.) The songs are catchy and smart, with big booming melodies when appropriate and smaller recitatives throughout. Kristen Bell makes a very impressive animated debut as Princess Anna, the younger sister of a new queen. Her simple, clean, and very lovely voice makes a great counterpart to the unstoppable, soul-shaking belt of her sister, Queen Elsa, voiced by the great Idina Menzel. It’s like almost every single Disney princess was put to shame in her brilliant, powerful, ‘Defying Gravity’-esque solo of “Let It Go”, a superb song by the better-be-soon-to-be EGOT Bobby Lopez. Such beautiful drama was balanced by several funny components, like the always hilarious Josh Gad’s snowman named Olaf. Olaf is one of the best sidekicks ever. He is a snowman who dreams about summer, not really realizing that summer would mean his demise. But it’s adorable. He also provides one of the most heartbreakingly sweet lines in recent memory. He’s joined in adorable-land by Sven, the most loyal reindeer in the world. Screw Rudolph; Sven is where it’s at. Also, I can’t describe how relieved and happy I was when the ending took a more feminist twist instead of the usual male-as-savior ending. This twist (hopefully a permanent change in the canon) improved an already stellar movie experience.
Talk about upsetting. Whereas "12 Years A Slave" shows how disgustingly black Americans were treated a few hundred years ago, "Fruitvale Station" depressingly and heartbreakingly shows how disgustingly blacks are still treated in this country. The true story tells how a young black man named Oscar Grant was killed for absolutely no good reason by a BART police officer in Oakland, California just a few years ago. Yes, BART officers apparently need to be armed. What the hell. Stop giving racists guns! This movie should have been a major player in the awards season, especially considering the even more recent unnecessary killings of so many young black men by scared/racist white men. Jesus STOP KILLING PEOPLE, PEOPLE.
When I first saw footage of "Gravity" at CinemaCon 2013, I had to put my head in my lap to stop the overwhelming nausea. I hate space, so watching someone float aimlessly around in space, in 3D no less, in the dark, on a huge screen, was like a stress test administered by Putin after finding out someone on his staff is gay. So, with this terrible first impression, I never wanted to see the movie. I figured it would be just a big budget action film, not a serious awards-contender, so it didn’t matter. But I saw it, and it was spectacular. Looking, at least.
Alfonso Cuaron has broken through a barrier in filmmaking with his portrayal of outer space. "Gravity" is visually stunning, if still a bit stomach-churning (which I guess is a big accomplishment in authenticity). Despite it seriously being about Sandra Bullock lost in space, it never gets boring and it's well-paced. With George Clooney out early on, it becomes a showcase for Bullock as an individual performer, and she is riveting. It’s too bad this didn’t come out instead of "The Blind Side" the year she won all the awards. Sure, the story is hard to believe, but that shouldn’t take away from the visual marvels and the somewhat moving story of determination, growth, and rebirth. I say somewhat because the story itself is no marvel, but the film is made marvelously. It’s even more interesting when taken in conjunction with the short film "Aningaaq” made by Cuaron’s son Jonas. During a pivotal scene in Gravity, Sandra’s character Ryan finds a functioning radio and reaches an Eskimo in Alaska. They try to converse but they don’t understand each other. It’s heartbreaking that this miraculous opportunity to call for help can’t help her. However, her conversation with the Eskimo turns into a conversation with herself, and she pushes herself to confront difficult thoughts. We see what’s happening on the other end of that call in "Aningaaq”, and it’s pretty upsetting too. The man is alone in the frozen Alaskan wilderness, save for a few animals. He’s just as happy as Ryan is to hear another human voice. This short deepens the loneliness of the story as a whole. On its own, "Gravity" is dire, desperate, and beautifully made, the best movie about being lost in space that almost made me sick but didn’t.
I’m not ashamed to admit that, along with "Saving Mr. Banks", "Her" was my favorite of all of these awards caliber movies. The only one to look forward, and not back, "Her" tells a new take on the classic love story. Except in looking to the future, it looks to humans’ everchanging and adapting relationship with everchanging technology. Yes, the main character falls in love with his operating system (voiced magnificently by Scarlett Johansson, who should have been nominated for awards), and that seems weird, but the movie so expertly and simply portrays how this could happen that it’s soon not weird at all. Joaquin Phoenix is at his absolute best (and also really should have been nominated) as a mild-mannered, sensitive guy who just wants to love and be loved without any stupid shit weighing it down. Their relationship seems lovely, when you forget that one side is not a person, and when it all goes to shit (as it must when one ‘person’ is a brilliant computer with all the knowledge ever known who realizes how unsustainable a relationship with a mere puny human is) it’s truly heartbreaking. Poor Joaquin. He’s vegan, you know. Also, Olivia Wilde is in it. So many vegans! And while Amy Adams, also in it, is not vegan, she is channeling Cameron Diaz in "Being John Malkovitch", which just seems vegan. Also ScarJo is a vegetarian. ("Scarry Joooooooo she’s a vegetarian, Jo Scarry Jo, Scarry Jo." You know that song.)
Inside Llewyn Davis
Two things. First, it’s not Llewellyn, it’s Llewyn, but you really want to say Llewellyn. Second, Adam Driver plays a guy with my same last name. awesome. Ok three things. Third, this movie is the kind where you really appreciate it after you see it and have a chance to read really insightful reviews about it, and how there was all this Greek mythology woven into it and all kinds of folk tales and what not. But you shouldn't have to do research post-film to deem a movie decent. And appreciation is not the same as recognizing a great movie. This was not a great movie. It had the makings of one, which all the post-film research I did showed me, but all these components were not executed as well as they could have been to make a truly entertaining film.
The movie is about a down-on-his-luck folk singer who makes terrible decisions. Now, usually you want the main character to be someone you care about. But this guy blows. He makes really bad decisions and doesn’t seem that great. The only thing he had going for him was that he looked like Nick from "New Girl", if Nick were dared to live in a cave for 8 months. So that made it hard to emotionally connect, because you didn’t really care about it. I really liked learning afterwards that the movie is framed just like a folk song. You see a beginning section, then you get the full chorus of the movie, and then the end is the beginning section again but shown a little differently, a little more full-bodied. Just like a folk song! And then there was this cat that Llewellyn lost, and when he called a doorman or something to report that he had the cat (which was his friends’, what a prick), the woman repeated back “Llewyn is the cat” instead of "Llewyn has the cat" and all these critics think that means the cat’s story mirrors the actual guy’s, like this Odyssey through all kinds of shit. But see stuff like that is interesting but does not make the stuff they are playing around with a good movie.
We had a screener of it, and about halfway through, my sister-in-law said to the family, "So…this is terrible, right?" While I wouldn't go that far...well I might.
I quite enjoyed this little film, before realizing that I was supposed to hate it like all the critics did. Sigh. I think it took place in the 1960s, and it featured Kate Winslet as a sad lonely mother whose little town life is turned upside down when an escaped convict (Josh Brolin, scary and brooding) forces her and her son to hide him from the searching police. Then they fall in love and make a plan to escape all together. Ok it sounds bad, I hear it now. But the acting was nice! You always feel bad for Kate Winslet characters, right? She just pulls you right in! And then there was this scene where Josh taught Kate and son how to make pie and it was like ten minutes long and they’re all kneading and peeling apples and using their hands to toss the filling….Ok I hear it. I get it. Not great movie.
The main plot point of Nebraska was ostensibly taken from every person’s Thanksgiving dinner with an older relative. Bruce Dern, in a much lauded performance of quiet suckiness, gets one of those ‘you won an million dollars!’ sweepstakes pieces of tard in the mail, and believes it. Why wouldn’t you believe it? What does it say about our culture that we are supposed to know that these things are pure lies? Hell just the other day the phone rang and then I heard my mom say ‘Hey I won a cruise to the Bahamas!’ true story. So, this movie puts on black-and-white film this all too familiar story of people who aren’t yet completely cynical bags of meat who actually believe that not everything in life would be a lie and then become sad cynical bags of meat. Which we all are. Obviously the main character is proven wrong, and it’s sad. It successfully made me feel bad for 90% of the world. I think its message was life sucks, everything is depressing. The black and white film really drove the message home. Dammit.
I tend to take stories too much to heart, whether they are in film, on television, or on the news, so it’s no surprise that "Philomena" made me sick with anger and frustration. This actually lovely true story tells of Philomena Lee, a Judi-Dench-aged lady searching for her long-lost son after fifty years. Philomena became pregnant as a teenager, was sent to her local Ireland nunnery to hatch, and her beloved son was sold by the bitch nuns to unsuspecting Americans. Through Steve Coogan’s great script, we learn that these bitch ass Irish nuns did this for years and years to thousands of young mothers, making tons of money and ruining thousands of lives, in god’s name apparently. Despite the heavy, exceedingly heartbreaking facts, "Philomena" leaves you feeling light and satisfied instead of bereft, mostly due to Judi Dench's adorbs smile. Despite giving me agita at several moments, the film is so well made and so well acted that it really is, somehow, pleasant. You don’t get too much of a cathartic release regarding the bitch nuns, but Philomena’s model forgiveness and true-believer attitude suffice.
Saving Mr. Banks
I can’t think of another recent movie where I cried so much, and not just at the end, but all through it. "Saving Mr. Banks" tells the incredibly interesting and touching tale of Walt Disney’s true-life, 20-year struggle to secure the rights to “Mary Poppins” from author P.L. Travers. As Travers, the always amazing Emma Thompson is stern, strict, and understandably none too eager to give away the characters she considers family. Frequent well-blended flashbacks to Travers’s childhood in the Australian outback show us why she does so seriously consider her characters to be her family. In the movie’s present day, Tom Hanks as Disney shows us the behind-the-scenes process of making the beloved classic film. We see the Sherman brothers (the ridiculously brilliantly cast B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) play the classic songs, including “Feed the Birds” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” for Disney and Travers for the first time, as the studio team doggedly tries to break Travers’s harsh exterior (and refusal to sell the rights). Paul Giamatti, whom I usually can’t stand, is at his most vulnerable and likable as Travers’s (or just “Mrs.”, as he calls her) Hollywood chauffeur. Their slowly burgeoning friendship is one of the most enjoyable parts of the immensely enjoyable and clever movie. It’ll make you want to watch both “Mary Poppins” and this movie again and again. That it was so totally snubbed from the Oscar nominations shows that the Oscars, much as I enjoy watching and hyping them, mean absolutely nothing. NOTHING! YOU ARE NOTHING!
The Way Way Back
Another of my favorites that was snubbed by the Oscars. As things written by the great Jim Rash and Nat Faxon tend to do, this movie showed an authentic slice of life, with realistic conversations and relationships. In this case, the life shown was of a young teenage boy who is forced to spend a summer at the beach with his mom, her asshole boyfriend, and crazy awful adult friends of theirs who, to put it mildly, do not set good examples. The child here obviously knows better than the adults he’s around. He finds a summer job at a nearby water park, and meets mentor/friend/magical white man character played expertly by Sam Rockwell. Now, I’m not a huge Sam Rockwell fan, of the actual person at least, because he wouldn’t sign my Playbill or talk to anyone after “A Behanding in Spokane" on Broadway. But as an actor, he rocks well. He was so good in this. I wish that every tormented and lonely teenage boy had an older and wiser male friend like him, in the least pervy way possible. The really impressive thing about this movie is, like I said, the conversations. It’s amazing when dialogue comes across as natural and not as written and rewritten a thousand times. Obviously to get to that point, it probably took a thousand rewrites and a lot of hard work, but the result is just natural and amazing. Best movie ever. Except for Frances Ha. Tied.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Three hours of douche porn. Yes, it's directed by the great Martin Scorsese with hilarious and electric performances by Leo & Jonah Hill, but it's douche porn. The movie shows the excesses of the stock market and the crazy ways the corrupt billionaires spend their money, or steal others'. To be a more responsible film, it should have done at least a tiny bit to say, hey, you know, this looks fun, but don't be a corrupt money-grubbing asshole that ruins many lives. But instead it puts forth the idea that greed hasn't been this good since that term was coined by Liberace in "Wall Street" in 1987. It should have been a cautionary tale, but instead it's going to inspire lots of douches to go into this kind of work so they too can wipe their tushes with hundred-dollar bills or something equally stupid and shitty.