Tag Archive: oscars 2014
Today’s post starts on a sad note as Harold Ramis passed away Monday morning. All day, a generation that includes Aaron and myself has paid tribute to a fellow Midwestern who made his mark on this business. Today’s post is about the directors; in that role alone he gave us Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Groundhog Day, and Analyze This just to name a few. The vast majority of filmmakers who do comedy would be thrilled to have just one of those on their resume when they’re done. He will be missed.
On to the task at hand. Here are the nominees for Best Director:
I’m not on Harvey’s payroll, but I tell you this: you could make a strong argument that the ‘Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role’ the past 12 months was done by Judi Dench. I can’t help but wonder how much more we’d be talking about Dame Judi if she was out here kissing the babies and shaking the hands to the same degree some of her fellow nominees are.
Philomena is based on a true story of an Irish woman who loses her son to adoption at an early age, and with the help of a reporter (played by Steve Coogan brilliantly here) tracks him to America for a possible reunion. Like probably all of you, I can’t remember movies without Judi Dench. In recent years, she’s most famous for being M in the reboot of James Bond. So carrying that ‘image’ end, it’s really incredible/enlightening to see her play funny and sensitive and charming (not that there was any doubt she could play it to be clear). But this character is a departure from how we know her in big Hollywood movies as of late.
I don’t want to ruin the several twists and turns of the story if you haven’t seen it yet, but if you just want to see a good film about ‘real people’ dealing with a situation, this is one you should check out. To borrow the phrase used by the journalists in the film, a very good ‘human interest’ film.
The Square is watching history as it unfolds. I don’t say that as a metaphor; the hook for this documentary is in viewing it, and also as a snapshot of the time we live in. With at times, unbelievable access, the audience watches the removal of Mubarak from power…only for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to fill the void at the top. (One of the best scenes in the film is watching our protagonists realize, as most history buffs know, that uprooting an entire system doesn’t just mean you removing the unpopular leader. Otherwise, all you’ve really created is a two party system where the two parties aren’t as different as you may think.)
OK, I’ll stop…
I mentioned this film represents the time we live in. The growth of YouTube and social media is represented in the film. While not impossible, it is definitely far more difficult than ever to keep any true mass movement quiet in a way that the rest of the world won’t notice. As Egypt continues to sort itself out at the end of the film, our protagonists speak proudly about the revolution’s true success in giving ‘the voice’ back to the people. Cynical as the world has become, that’s a very hopeful thought.
‘To the victor goes the spoils.’
That’s one of the hard truths to come out of The Act of Killing. This documentary is dark, and offensive (yes, even I can be offended if pushed hard enough), and chilling. Don’t look for a lot of humor here; the funniest moment to me was hearing a politician very, very weakly try to talk out of both sides of his mouth at once. And yes, even that ties into the overall cynicism that hovers over this film.
The story of this film centers around a man named Anwar, a member of an Indonesian death squad, who decades after his ‘service to his country’, gets to document his acts with some of his other ‘teammates’ in a film. The documentary alternates between Anwar and friends showing the filmmakers how and where they carried out their acts, and the fictionalized film they’re acting in (where little by little there seems to be a little more awareness, if not always remorse, over the actions they committed).
And I’m deliberately using the word action instead of crime. I’m reminded of one of my favorite lines from JFK: ‘Treason doth never prosper’ wrote an English poet. What’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.’ If it takes Anwar and his associates some 40 years to realize what they’ve done, a part of that may have something to do with their government never prosecuting them. In fact throughout the film, there’s plenty of evidence of the close relationship between the government and these men who did the dirty work.
I’ll save my domestic, militant rants for another time…
With only a general knowledge of what this film was about, it took about 5 minutes for this pop music geek to feel like a kid in a candy store.
20 Feet From Stardom is the story of the background singer. And I’m still a little amazed by how much information and how many stories they packed into a crisp 90 minutes. You get opinions from some of the stars: Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger. You hear from some of those who started as background singers and graduated to the spotlight: Sheryl Crow and (the man) Luther Vandross. And you get this really nice history on the evolution of the background singer. It started really ‘vanilla’ (pun intended), but as gospel music gave us the Arethas and the Whitneys, it also gave us this treasure trove of singers who learned in the church choir ‘where their voice most naturally fit into the song’ (I absolutely loved that line). Our earliest song memorizations are always the hooks and the chorus, and this film is a nice tribute to the people who we’re actually singing along with when we first hear a song we like.
If you can’t tell, I highly recommend this one to all music fans.
The latest film from Spike Jonze, Her, is funny, and creepy, and it’s a dead on social commentary…and it’s brilliant.
Set in the ‘very near future’, the story revolves around Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix as Spike’s on screen avatar), a shy guy who still hasn’t fully jumped back in the game after a messy divorce. He buys the latest technology, an artificially intelligent operating system for his computer that’s marketed as more ‘intuitive’ than anything we’ve had before. And as I’m sure you know, when Theodore chooses a female voice for his OS, the voice that comes back is…Scarlett Johannsen. (And let me the 10,000th guy to make the joke, ‘So…when is this OS going on the market for the rest of us?) As Theodore and ‘Samantha’ get a feel for each other’s temperament and mood, they begin to fall in love. And like with all relationships, the honeymoon stage is great (capped with one of the most clever ‘hookup/morning after’ scenes in a little bit).
Her really takes off when, naturally, Theodore has to deal with real people, especially women. Scarlett never appears on screen, but the rest of the female cast includes Amy Adams playing completely away from her looks, Rooney Mara (in the Sofia Coppola role, let’s be honest), and Olivia Wilde fairly accurately representing the L.A. dating scene. That is a geek wet dream list of actresses in any film, and they all work great here. The bulk of the film is just Joaquin onscreen reacting to something invisible though, and this role makes great use of his quirkiness.
At this point, I want to think my friends and fellow film geeks for not talking too much about this film. Even having the beats of the genre burned in my brain, when the film hit its third act ‘twist’ (which I won’t ruin here), I yelled ‘OH HELL NO!’ at my TV. The story is told well, and you feel for what the characters are going through. That’s all the audience wants, most of the time.