Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Moore, Witherspoon and the inevitable


Julianne Moore. There, I said it. That’s a name you’re likely going to be hearing a lot in the coming weeks, hell, probably months. She is the surest thing to come out of this year’s awards race. Ever since I saw her incredibly moving performance in “Still Alice”, back in September, it seemed like a no-brainer. Based on Lisa Genova’s 2007 best-selling novel, the film is a striking look at the nastiness and brutality that falls upon an American family when one of their loved ones is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Moore is ever so brilliant in the movie, encompassing the way a person can lose track of herself and her own identity even when she tries ever so hard to retain it. Just through Moore’s eyes you can witness the slow detachment Alice is going through from society, friends, family, and herself. It’s a devastating film because, just like Alice, her ever deteriorating brain keeps getting erased of its precious memories without you even noticing the effects – it isn’t until the last few scenes that the devastation this disease has caused hits you.

“Still Alice” has some of the hardest scenes to watch of any movie this year, but it’s all so worth it for the humbling journey that is involved with it. Indie filmmakers Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer don’t try to pull at the heartstrings, they just tell their story in the simplest way possible, and why wouldn’t they? They have Julianne Moore at their disposal, one of the great actresses of our time (“Short Cuts”, “The Kids Are All Right”, “Boogie Nights”, “Far From Heaven”, “Safe”, “Magnolia”, “Children of Men”, “The Hours” and even next year’s “Maps to the Stars” directed by David Cronenberg, in which she plays a down-and-out actress, desperate for her next big shot). Every time she’s on screen, Cronenberg’s film ignites with excitement and his pitch black Hollywood satire gets even darker.

If Moore is the surest thing to come out of this year’s race, it doesn’t mean that the other nominees should pack it up and call it a night. For example, if Reese Witherspoon hadn’t won back in 2006 for “Walk the Line” we’d be talking about a close race to the finish. Witherspoon’s work in Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Wild” is astounding, equaling her Best Actress work as June Carter Cash. Coming out next week, the same week “Still Alice” is released, Vallée’s film is a stirring portrait of love, despair and hope. You can call it “Eat, Pray, Hike”, but that’s where comparisons should end with that Julia Roberts vehicle. Vallée, who directed last year’s “Dallas Buyers Club”, is an artist through and through. Ever since his beginnings in Quebec cinema I’ve kept a watchful eye on him. Just check out “Café de Flore” or “C.R.A.Z.Y” to see how great of a filmmaker he can truly be.

“Wild” has a more conventional storyline than those aforementioned films but he and Witherspoon make up for it with sheer artistry. It also helps that gifted writer/novelist Nick Hornby and Cheryl Strayed – on whose book this is based – wrote the screenplay. After a brutal divorce and losing her mom to cancer, Strayed went on an 1100 mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself to try to bring meaning to a life that was crumbling. It sounds like the kind of stuff the Hallmark channel would dig, but don’t kid yourself, Vallée knows better than to stoop down to that level. Apart from Witherspoon’s emotionally resonant performance, the other major thing you notice in the film is how incredibly well edited it is.

Going back and forth between present day, flashbacks, flash forwards and dream-like imagery can be a tricky business, but Vallée and his longtime editing partner Martin Pensa (“Dallas Buyers Club”) nail every detail. And Witherspoon, what more can be said about an actress who had me at hello ever since the day I first saw her in Alexander Payne’s “Election” (still the best performance she’s ever given). It wasn’t just that movie – her enormous talent has shone through over the years in films such as “Pleasantville”, “American Psycho”, “Cruel Intentions”, “I Walk the Line” and last year’s underrated “Mud”.

 How refreshing it is to have not one but two top notch female performances coming out in the same week. These two actresses are on par with the incredible work Felicity Jones has done in the recently released “Theory of Everything”, Rosamund Pike’s harrowingly hypnotic femme fatale in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl”, Anne Dorval in “Mommy”, Scarlett Johansson in “Under the Skin” and my dark horse favorite Marion Cotillard and the mesmerizing performance she gives in “Two Days, One Night”. The latter three might not get the nominations they deserve, but I advise you to seek these performances out because they will absolutely blow you away.

http://www.awardsdaily.com/blog/2014/11/moore-and-witherspoon-on-parallel-paths-to-the-oscars/

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Foreign language race article

My article on the foreign language race is up now at Sasha Stone's fabulous site Awardsdaily. I haven't seen Timbuktu yet but I think I've possibly set something up to get to see it in the next week or two. It's been on my radar for quite a while now and cannot wait to check it out. The race is starting to shape up as a highly competitive venture for each of its participants, the foreign language movies I checked out this past year at various film festivals were quite exceptional, so much so that I already have a solid top ten list for 2015!

Happy weekend everybody, hopefully I'll be able to post either today or tomorrow.

http://www.awardsdaily.com/blog/2014/11/7-potential-best-foreign-language-film-finalists/

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The enigma that is "Foxcatcher" (dir. Benneth Miller)



Here's a movie that doesn't pander to you. It doesn't try to manipulate to you, nor does it try to get a cheap thrill for the sake getting a cheap thrill. Benneth Miller's quiet -and I do mean quiet- new film "Foxcatcher" is so simple that it can sneak up on you way after the end credits have rolled. Based on the story of Olympic winning wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz and John Du Pont- the rich profiteer that took them in and eventually betrayed them- the film is a devastating american tragedy of the highest order but while watching the film you wouldn't even know it. All you know is that within each and every frame lies a dread that is almost indescribable- it fills you up with a feeling that cannot be shaken. I was angered, thrilled, bored, confused and stung by "Foxcatcher". The fact that Miller leaves out a lot of the story only enhances the fact that it might just be the most inaccessible studio picture in quite a bit of time -and I do mean that as a compliment.

It plays almost like a shakespearean tragedy with all three of its actors delivering on the buzz that has been building up since the film's debut this past May at Cannes. Steve Carrell -wearing a devilish prosthetic nose- is superb as Du Pont, a man that has been spoon-fed everything in his life. Getting rejected or having anybody say no to him is unacceptable, he gets his way, he always has.  Channing Tatum is Mark Schultz an aspiring wrestler that has already won Olympic gold and builds up a unique but disturbing friendship with Du Pont after the heir takes him into his Foxcatcher ranch and builds a wrestling facility all for him. Mar's brother Dave -also a gold medalist- is played by the always talented Mark Ruffalo who makes the most of his limited screen-time.

It is quite obvious that it doesn't end well for any of these tragic Shakespearian figures and chances are you already know about the tragedy that happened at the ranch back in the late 80'sFoxcatcher isn't the kind of movie you can love, it's the kind of movie you have the upmost respect for because of how courageous and bold it truly turns out to be. It's a bleak portrait of the American dream gone haywire. Miller doesn't let you go inside any of his characters' heads and leaves you out with not many questions answered. That can sometimes be very frustrating and

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Citizenfour (dir. Laura Poitras)


Let's be real, we all knew we were being watched, it's the stuff that we usually joke about with friends. "Oh shit did I say that out loud? I'm sure someone's listening in on this conversation" and so on- I don't think after watching Laura Poitras' Citizenfour you will look at that joke the same way again. Poitras is a competent filmmaker with a decent hand at making absorbing stuff out of post 9/11 america. Truth be told the reason why she's getting such rave reviews for this newest film is because she struck gold by getting an in-depth 8 day hotel room interview with former NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, in fact most of the documentary takes place as the news is about to break about the dirty little things the NSA has been doing on not just its own citizens but many foreign countries around the world. The footage is landmark, historic, jaw-dropping as you see Snowden reveal details to stunned Journalist Glenn Greenwald from the Guardian and Poitras herself in a tiny Hong Kong hotel room. The film is so fascinating because even after all is said and done you still haven't quite figured out Snowden's intentions and the exact reason why he is putting himself and -eventually- his family and 10+ year girlfriend in this absurdly chaotic situation. It's mesmerizing stuff that -to me- was just as interesting from a journalistic point of view, the role of a journalist and the lengths one may go in getting this kind of information out in public no matter the consequences.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What is coming up? pt.2 "The Babadook"


Coming out in a week or so is Jennifer Kent's The Babadook which has been building considerable buzz for a few weeks now and has been compared -for some reason- to the horror greats. I wouldn't bank on the buzz. You just wish the movie were half as great as perennial classics like The Shining, The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby and -hell- even 2015's upcoming It Follows. What's missing from Kent's films is a move away from the usual formula. Yes The Badabook is a good by-the-numbers horror flick but it is nothing more. The script is conventional but -thank goodness- Kent's direction isn't. She infuses some much needed freshness to tried and tired formula that's been done two folds. A mother trying to protect her son from some sort of demon taking over the house and so on and so on. You're going to be hearing a lot of positive things about this movie in the coming week, don't keep your hopes up, just be warned that it does the job but nothing more and nothing less. Simple as that. Kent tries her best to raise the material to something more artful but the script she works with just can't go to that level.