ALL THINGS OSCAR / 2014 BROADCAST, THIS SUNDAY March 2nd, 7 ET / 4 PT on ABC !
It’s that time again! The creative team at SML offers its Oscar Menu for your consideration…..let us know what you think and feel free to add other ideas in the comments. Get those Ballots out! And let’s hope for a few surprises in there….
American Hustle “Science Kitchen” Jersey-style Meatballs with Red Sauce
Captain Phillips Chowdah with Pirate’s Booty Popcorn
Dallas Buyers Club Sandwiches
Gravity Gin and Tang
Her -batious Pesto with Feta
Nebraska’s Finest Corn Muffins
Philomena’s Guinness (with a splash of holy water)
12 Years a Slave to Fashion-able Appetizers (viewer’s choice)
The Wolf of Wall Street Over-the-Top Lobster Mac and Cheese
It’s only been out for a week now but confess–have you already watched all 13 episodes? I have! The series starts with a bang in Episode 1 (no spoilers here) and rolls along pretty briskly to its end. This time we have as the centerpiece a “mano-a-mano” battle between Frank Underwood (perfectly portrayed by Kevin Spacey), scheming and ruthless as ever, and his nemesis Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney), the equally ruthless and power hungry businessman who cost Frank that Secretary of State job last season. They duke it out over matters like trade with China, power plants and energy shortages, bridge building, Native American casinos and tribes, tabloid level smear campaigns, and of course, always over their ability to control and influence wishy-washy President Garrett Walker (Michael Gill). Maybe not quite as much fun as manipulating the poor alcoholic, sex-obsessesed Representative Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), like last year….but politically tense and riveting nonetheless. Back again is Frank’s right hand man, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), himself a recovered and recovering alcoholic.
Also back and bigger than ever is Frank’s wife Claire (Robin Wright, who shows us definitively why she got that Golden Globe last month). And a few new players, most notably Jaqueline Sharp (Molly Parker), the take no prisoners House Whip championed by Frank, who finds herself in an affair with the handsome and super smooth Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) – whoops! I promised no spoilers. Better stop now before I get too far ahead. If you haven’t started Season Two yet, get going. And there’s good news. Season Three is coming our way in 2015. Can’t wait.
Grade: A for “Addicting”
PHILOMENA (2013/IN THEATERS) This true story of Philomena Lee’s search for her son, who was sold for adoption at the age of 3 by Irish nuns to an American family in the 1950s, is up for no less than four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actress (Judi Dench as Philomena), Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope). But, in my eyes, it’s already a big winner in real life. Philomena Lee, who appeared in person on stage at the Golden Globes with Steve Coogan, has inspired the Catholic Church, thanks to the book about her life and now the movie version of it, to make changes in its policies regarding what information it will now make available to other mothers whose infants were given away or sold. In fact, the Vatican screened the film and the Pope himself met with both Philomena and Coogan (see The Guardian’s account of the meeting here). A major victory for a modest woman who never stopped searching for her child. The story is poignant and the film, directed by Stephen Frears, does a great job of telling it, moving along at a steady pace. Judi Dench is, of course, marvelous as Philomena, who retained her faith in the church despite their mistreatment of her and their attempts to make her feel guilty about her life. Steve Coogan, who I have loved for years in his wonderful comedies and various impersonations, here plays it straight as the journalist Martin Sixsmith who agrees to take on the telling of Philomena’s story for all the world to read. The two begin by traveling to the convent where Philomena, a young, unmarried and pregnant mother, gave birth to her son and spent four years in hard labor to “repay” the nuns for her room and board. Of course, the officials at the convent are not helpful. They tell the two that all the records concerning the adoptions have been burned and are lost. But Sixsmith is a real journalist and he doesn’t let go easily. Eventually, the pair travel to the U.S. to track down Philomena’s son. I won’t spoil the movie for you, if you’ve yet to see it. By the end, you’ll either be siding with Philomena who shows forgiveness or with Sixsmith, whose anger at the nuns is more difficult to overcome. I know where I stand. Though the film is unlikely to win in any of its Oscar categories, I’m hope all who worked on it are already celebrating their achievements.
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (2007/DVD/AMAZON STREAMING) Among the many tributes out there for Philip Seymour Hoffman, in the wake of his sad and early demise, one film that is seldom mentioned is this one—the last movie directed by Sidney Lumet (when he was 83) which features a great cast and plot in a twisted family tale. Hoffman is Andy, the older brother to Ethan Hawke’s Hank. Both brothers are in trouble as the film opens–money trouble, that is. Andy has stolen funds from his employer and is about to be found out; Hank is failing with child care payments and now is pressed for more money to send his kid to private school. Andy’s got other problems as well–his beautiful, cold wife Gina (Marisa Tomei) is never satisfied and indeed, is having an affair with Hank. And that’s not all—Andy is also a heroin user and has to raise money to cover his habit. But Andy has a plan—he knows a little jewelry store in a strip mall which would be easy to rob. He knows the value of the jewels held there and where to fence them. All he needs is for Hank to rob the little old lady who will be handling the store on Saturday and both brothers will be on the road to redemption. So…how does Andy know this store so well? It belongs to their mother and father (played by Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris). Andy’s pitch to Hank says, hey…we’ll rob them, the insurance will cover it and all will be well. Too good to be true, and for sure, it is not. The movie plays out in multiple replays of scenes, from different points of view, showing off Lumet’s ability to build a story to its conclusion. It’s safe to say that there’s a general downward spiral to the film and the ending is grim but it would be worth watching now, particularly for Philip Seymour Hoffman, of course.
STATE AND MAIN (2000/DVD) Looking for a PSH film that’s a little lighter? One more to add to your list is this fun and classic David Mamet film. Featuring an all star cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Julia Stiles, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Rebecca Pidgeon, the film focuses on the trials and tribulations of a film production crew in a small and beautiful New England town trying their best to overcome the usual obstacles. These include the wandering eye of their leading man (Baldwin) for young lovely ladies and the sudden unwillingness of their female lead (Parker) to show her breasts. PSH is the writer of the piece, thrilled to have his book “The Old Mill” being made into a movie, but perhaps not ready for all that entails. It’s a sweet, funny movie with lots to enjoy. So, if you’ve somehow missed it, add it to the list and enjoy a young and happy Hoffman.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013/IN THEATERS) Considered a “black comedy,” this star studded film is based on the Pulitzer winning stage play of the same name by Tracy Letts, who also wrote the screenplay. Filmed in Pawhuska, Oklahoma (in the real Osage County), the movie opens with Sam Shepard as Beverly Weston, a poet, sitting in what is clearly his favorite room in a big rambling country house and quoting from T.S. Eliot. Beverly is in the midst of hiring a Native American woman (Misty Upham) to care for his challenging wife Violet—the centerpiece of the film—portrayed in a bravura performance by Meryl Streep. Vi is the wife and mother from hell, with a drug habit (pain pills mostly) and cancer of the mouth, which has failed to slow down one of the sharpest tongues you’ll ever encounter. Days later, Beverly goes missing and Vi summons her three daughters home. Oldest daughter Barb (Julia Roberts) has long ago left for Denver but returns with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and their teenage daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is the quiet one who has been in Oklahoma the entire time caring for her parents. Making a late appearance is Karen (Juliette Lewis), coming from Florida with her current boyfriend Steve (Dermot Mulroney), a sleazy business type. Added to the gathering are Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), Vi’s sister, along with her husband Charles (Chris Cooper) and later their son “Little Charles” (Benedict Cumberbatch). An incredible cast, for sure. And one of the questions is whether there is room for all the big performances to come. The original play premiered at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago during the summer of 2007 and enjoyed a two-month run. It moved from there to Broadway and on to London, as well as on a national tour. People who have seen the play LOVED it despite its three-hour length but have mixed feelings about this two-hour film version. This reaction may relate less to the performances—which are BIG, as they were on stage—and more to the spatial differences between the two performance arenas. Some have noted that the film director John Wells, best known for his work in television as a writer/producer (West Wing, ER, Mildred Pierce, Shameless), has a hard time avoiding the “closeness” of the big screen which gives a claustrophobic air to the piece. Who knows? I found the film somewhat long, with funny lines, but overall a tough slog. While Streep and Roberts have taken most of the acting honors (including Oscar noms for Actress and Supporting Actress, respectively), my favorite performances came from Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper and Juliette Lewis. Maybe just a matter of taste. If you like big theater, go see it. If not, maybe wait for an even smaller screen—thanks to NetFlix.
HER (IN THEATERS/2013) Like most people, I expected “Her” to be clever and thought provoking but probably kind of weird—which it is. But I didn’t expect it to be visually beautiful and emotionally engaging. Credit goes to Jonze and the screenplay that just won him a Golden Globe. But even more credit goes to Joaquin Phoenix in another standout performance and to his muse/friend/lover Samantha, the computer operating system voiced so perfectly by Scarlett Johansson. Kudos also to the film’s designers who set it in a gorgeously realized near-future world that looks familiar yet sleeker, colder and even more dominated by electronic devices. For example, the main character, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix), lives in a stunning modern apartment with views to die for but he occupies his time competing with life-sized electronic figures that challenge him to escape from various traps. In the daytime, he writes heart-felt letters on behalf of real people who hire him (and his firm) to say presumably what they cannot. Ironically the letters appear in long hand, though of course they are written and produced on the computer. Theo is eloquent but lonely thanks to his recent divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). His one friend is Amy (Amy Adams) who lives in his apartment building and creates video games as well as strange films. On a whim, Theo purchases a new operating system for his computer. The system is called OS1 and is embodied by the sexy/friendly voice of Scarlett Johansson who chooses as her name Samantha. If you’ve seen the previews for the film, you know that Theo falls in love with Samantha. What you may not realize is that she also falls for him—a fascinating scenario and one that is played out beautifully and surprisingly. Big thumbs up for this movie which has been nominated for 5 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Music/Original Score, Best Song (“The Moon Song” by Karen O and Spike Jonze) and Best Production Design. Here’s hoping it wins at least one!
P.S. Please forgive the long silence here at Serious Movie Lover. We’re back! And ready for Awards season. Thanks for reading us again.
If you are a fan of Alexander Payne—the writer/director of Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, Sideways and The Descendants– you’re in for a big treat. Shot in B&W and filmed of course on location by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, Payne’s latest movie begins with Bruce Dern (as Woody Grant), walking down the highway in Billings, Montana on his way to Nebraska to collect the “million dollars” that has been promised to him by Publishers Clearinghouse. His son, David (Will Forte of SNL and MacGruber fame) collects him at the police station and tries to talk sense into his father. The other son Ross, played by Bob Odenkirk (Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad), is convinced his father is senile and ready for the home. But David sees an opportunity to reconnect and decides to drive his Dad to Nebraska. Thus starts a classic road trip movie which will take Woody back to his childhood small town and also give David the chance he’s looking for to understand his father. We’ll also get the treat of seeing Woody’s entire extended family in action—or better said, in their lounge chairs watching TV. Payne, in an interview this week with NPR’s Terry Gross, says he always thinks of his films as comedies. While he didn’t write this one (the script is a first-time effort by Bob Nelson), there is plenty of humor for every viewer, though it takes a while to get to it. A warning: the pacing of the film is slow and understated, but hang in because it builds to a conclusion that is more than worth the wait. A don’t miss in my book, not least of all to see Bruce Dern deliver his career high award-winning performance—he has already won best actor at Cannes and is up for the Independent Spirit Award as well. Will Forte is equally good as are the cast of real local farmers and others that Payne and his team found. Stacy Keach is wonderful as Woody’s hometown nemesis Ed Pegram, and of course everyone will enjoy June Squibb as Woody’s long suffering wife Kate. Squibb, you may remember, was similarly cast as Jack Nicholson’s wife in About Schmidt, but her character died early in the film. Not this time! Awards may be heading her way as well—and they’ll be well deserved.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013/IN THEATERS) The true story of an aggressively heterosexual Dallas man diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, this film has a compelling premise and cast. Matthew McConaughey famously lost 47 pounds to play Ron Woodroof, the homophobic, drug abusing, womanizing electrician and bull rider who finds himself diagnosed with what was then thought of as a gay disease. Jared Leto is Rayon, a transsexual AIDS patient who becomes Woodroof’s unlikely business partner, selling FDA-unapproved AIDS remedies smuggled in from Mexico and other global locations. Jennifer Garner is a sympathetic doctor trying to fight against the AIDS epidemic. McConaughey has been on a nice roll in recent years, taking on challenging and surprising roles and turning in subtle and moving performances, and this looks like his Oscar bait. For me, all of this promise didn’t translate into any emotional connection at all. I wasn’t moved by any of the characters or their actions. Leto’s character is by far the most interesting, and his performance lives up to the buzz, but his sexuality is too often played for laughs and the supposed chemistry and friendship between Rayon and Woodroof felt too unlikely. Their relationship, however, did at least have some spark, unlike the supposed flirtation and affection between Woodroof and Garner’s doctor character–an unnecessary and boring plot point that brought nothing to the story. The most notable positive detail of the film (aside from Leto’s performance) is the portrayal of AIDS patients as flawed and, in the case of McConaughey’s character, unattractive. Extremely unattractive, I cannot stress this enough. It’s a refreshing perspective, when terminal illness on television and in movies so often is synonymous with sainthood. That laudable detail, however, wasn’t enough to make this a movie that lives up to its promise. I say skip it and rent Mud instead.
ALL IS LOST (2013/IN THEATERS) There is only one character in this film and he is credited simply as “Our Man.” It’s a brilliant performance by Robert Redford, who at 77 carries the entire movie with a precious few lines of dialogue (most at the very beginning) but no shortage of expression and even pathos. The plot is one of survival–an “action” film of sorts–in which what appears to have been an idyllic solo sailing exercise across the Indian Ocean is turned into a series of greater and greater man vs. nature challenges. This is the second film from writer/director J.C. Chandor whose previous “Margin Call” garnered plenty of praise. It’s been said that the screenplay is only 30 pages long — and I can definitely believe that. The movie opens as “Our Man” is basically saying good-bye—to the world, to his loved ones, and to his life—before we’re taken back 8 days in time to a random event that sets the stage. He’s rudely awakened by a “clunk” and the sound of water gushing into the hull of his 39 foot sailboat. What has happened? A shipping container (full of children’s tennis shoes) floating in the open water has somehow managed to crash into his boat in the middle of the sea, gashing the fiber glass and creating a hole. Random and bad. The water destroys the boat’s electrical systems and most critically its communications and navigations devices. Our Man is left to his own ingenuity and he’s doing pretty well until he encounters a serious storm. I won’t say more about how things develop—go see the movie—but will say that we watch closely as he tries his best to solve one problem after another. Individuals who know more about sailing and boating than I do say that there is much in this movie that is not true to fact—as in, the absence of basic small radio devices which would be normal on vessels of this level and size. But it doesn’t matter. The story is a simple one and it will suck you in and hold you until the end. And more than anything, it is Redford’s steady performance that will stay with you long after the film has ended. Here’s hoping he gets the recognition he deserves for this effort.
BTW: Be sure to stay for the credits if you’re interested in learning about where this film was shot and the exact model of sailing ship Our Man was enjoying before things went to hell.
RUSH (2013/IN THEATERS) I had good intentions–maybe you did too—of catching Rush the first weekend it opened. But busy fall schedules make movie-viewing hard, so I finally saw it just yesterday. Thankfully, it’s still running on a few big screens because I think this is a movie that will lose something as it moves to the small one. Obviously I’m not the only one who has put the movie down the “must see” list–it has taken in only a little above $25 million at the U.S. box office. Nonetheless, it’s good and if you enjoy Formula One racing movies (think of “Grand Prix”), you’re in for a treat. The story focuses on a famous true life rivalry in the 1970s between two very different drivers: James Hunt, handsome British playboy (played here by uber handsome Chris Hemsworth), and Niki Lauda, the Austrian blunk speaking racing technician (played by Daniel Brühl). Hunt’s famously beautiful wife (at least briefly) Suzy Miller is portrayed by the equally gorgeous Olivia Wilde, so there’s eye candy for viewers of all sexes here!
The film is directed by Ron Howard from a script by Peter Morgan (who also penned “The Queen”). The story is pretty straight-forward and certainly will get your attention with driving and racing shots that are tense and beautifully filmed, and a pounding soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. And I think the film does present these two characters as equally likeable and definitely unlikeable–showing them as talented but certainly flawed. The closing credits reveal photos of the real life characters (who are strikingly close to their acting counterparts) and fills us in on their later lives—which go in completely predicatable directions. A good, solid movie. But I think worth catching on the big screen, just for those heart-stopping race scenes.