Tonight a good man passed away leaving behind a legacy that few could equal. There are many books about him and for the next week or so there will be the covers of magazines and wall to wall coverage of his funeral. This year the biography of his life is one of the most anticipated films of the year: Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom.
If you are wondering about the “don’t miss” films of the year, the first of the awards are starting to appear.
The New York Film Critics Circle leads the parade with the following awards:
Best Picture: American Hustle
Best Actor: Robert Redford, All Is Lost
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Director: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Best Screenplay: Eric Singer & David O. Russell, American Hustle
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Best Animated Film: The Wind Rises
Best Cinematographer: Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Best First Film: Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station
Best Foreign Film: Blue Is the Warmest Color
Best Nonfiction Film (Documentary): Stories We Tell
Special Award: Frederick Wiseman
The National Board of Review weighs in:
Best Film: HER
Best Director: Spike Jonze, HER
Best Actor: Bruce Dern, NEBRASKA
Best Actress: Emma Thompson, SAVING MR. BANKS
Best Supporting Actor: Will Forte, NEBRASKA
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, FRUITVALE STATION
Best Original Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Best Animated Feature: THE WIND RISES
Breakthrough Performance: Michael B. Jordan, FRUITVALE STATION
Breakthrough Performance: Adele Exarchopoulos, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
Best Directorial Debut: Ryan Coogler, FRUITVALE STATION
Best Foreign Language Film: THE PAST
Best Documentary: STORIES WE TELL
William K. Everson Film History Award: George Stevens, Jr.
Best Ensemble: PRISONERS
Spotlight Award: Career Collaboration of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: WADJDA
Creative Innovation in Filmmaking Award: GRAVITY
Top Films of 2013 (in alphabetical order)
12 YEARS A SLAVE
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
SAVING MR. BANKS
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
By David Blank
Captain Phillips is a great action movie, even if it doesn’t stay completely true to what really happened off the coast of Somalia in March, 2009. The story is about modern-day pirates attacking an American ship, and the heroism of the ship’s captain (Tom Hanks). Hanks is impressive, as always, in the lead role, and Barkhad Abdi (pictured) is most believable as the head thug. The experience is well-paced and fun.
The story diverts from reality when the captain does everything right, acting with bravery and wisdom. In real life, the captain ignored warnings to avoid the dangerous Somali coast, in a quest to get a bonus for quick delivery of the cargo; the real-life crew is suing. An engineer on the ship is said by some to be the true hero.
I’m guessing Oscar nominations for special effects, but it could get a few for acting or directing or even best film. One major minus: the script takes a cheap shot at a union worker on the ship, portraying him as uncooperative.
Bonus for me: You find out what really happened to everyone involved at the end of the movie. I saw it with four friends, and we all liked it. And one of them had even gone begrudgingly, due to the failure to stay true to what really happened!
by David Blank
“Closed Circuit,” starring Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall, isn’t all bad. There’s action and intrigue. But this spy movie set in London just doesn’t bring it home. I saw it with three friends, and we had all sorts of questions when it was over. Not the “How did you interpret it?” kind…more like, “Huh?” We tried to figure out what we’d just seen, but only got the main gist.
It was part “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and part John Grisham and part freshman filmmaker trying to decide if he should change his major. There is a bomb that goes off in London, and one of the suspects – the accused mastermind – is being charged. Because the trial involves the MI-5 and all sorts of classified information, there are two attorneys: one for the classified material (Hall) and one for the rest (Bana). In a plot-thickener, the two are not supposed to talk to each other, despite all sorts of accusations that the government had misbehaved, bigtime.
We didn’t hate it – we just felt like the script had a lot of holes. My advice: bring a fifth person. Then when you ask each other what you just saw, there can be a tie-breaker.
Let’s start with the obvious. I LOVE movies. I have loved them since growing up in Westchester and Fresno in the 1950s when studio first run theaters and klieg lights were the norm on a Friday night. If you don’t know what Klieg lights are, well you missed out on Hollywood glamor of a bygone age. I met the older stars of that era and absorbed the zeitgeist of “smile and ignore … only the tourists ask for autographs”. Now I watch and read all the movie bloggers.
Right now, they are all attending the festivals at Venice, Telluride, Toronto, and New York in preparation for the Golden Globe and Oscar season. To say that I am reading the reviews as if they were coming as dicta from on high would be an understatement. so how is it shaping up so far:
Inside Llewyn Davis
12 Years A Slave
All Is Lost
The Wind Rises
And that doesn’t include anything about to hit theaters next. This is going to be a great season and I’m sad that I am not in Colorado, Canada or New York. So who am I rooting for?
Inside Llewyn Davis – Because it is about an era in New York that I love starring people I want to see and music that is out of this world.
Prisoners – Because I know that anything with Hugh Jackman will have minutes I want to see and this one has lots of buzz about him finally getting the accolades he deserves.
12 Years A Slave – Because I know the principal actor and as horrific as it might be, I need to see it.
Blue Jasmine – Because Cate Blanchette is always worth watching
Gravity – Because 2001 is a favorite movie and if the special effects top that it must be seen. If the acting and story top it, so much the better.
Tracks and Tim’s Vermeer – Sometimes you have to go to a real theater for a documentary and this time it is for the expanse of Australia or the intimacy of a painting. If you don’t have an art house get it on pay per view later.
This year there seems to be something for almost everybody with a fairly good mix of light and dark fare to be sampled. Keep an eye out at your local multiplex for any of the following. At least you will be able to say you saw one or two before they start handing out certificates and statues. Pet peeve: I do wish more of these got to the general public BEFORE the nominations. The best way to determine if a film is one that will interest you is to go to IMDb and type in the title of any movie old, new, or upcoming in the box at the top of the page. This will give you the stars, story, and a trailer if one exists. For those who just like the excitement of the race and excellent commentary, I will suggest two favorite sites: Awards Circuit from Clayton Davis and Crew and Awards Daily courtesy of Sasha Stone. Tune in here for regular commentary and reviews as the films premier where real people are allowed to see them.
As of now, the films considered to be contenders for 2013 picture and acting nods:
12 Years A Slave – In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.
All Is Lost – After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face. Robert Redford is being touted for a nomination, but the Actor field is looking very very crowded.
American Hustle – The story of a con artist and his partner in crime, who were forced to work with a federal agent to turn the tables on other cons, mobsters, and politicians – namely, the volatile mayor of impoverished Camden, New Jersey.
August Osage County – A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them. This is Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep going head to head, though Roberts may go lead with Streep supporting. In addition, Benedict Cumberbatch is looking good for a Supporting Actor nomination.
Before Midnight – We meet Jesse and Celine nine years on in Greece. Almost two decades have passed since their first meeting on that train bound for Vienna. While this can be viewed as a stand alone, you might want to check out Before Sunrise and Before Sunset to see the same couple through the years. Can Delpy hang in there despite an early release?
Blue Jasmine – A life crisis causes a socialite to head to San Francisco, where she reconnects with her sister. Woody Allen directing Cate Blanchette who is considered the front runner in the actress category as of now. Rumored to be Woody’s take on a modern version of Streetcar Named Desire.
Captain Phillips – The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years. Tom Hanks starring.
Dallas buyers Club – The story of Texas electrician Ron Woodroof and his battle with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies after being diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1986, and his search for alternative treatments that helped established a way in which fellow HIV-positive people could join for access to his supplies. Matthew McConaughey did the weight loss to live the role and it looks as if he may be rewarded with a nomination. McConaughey is have a very big year with Mud and Wolf of Wall Street – This is the biggest of the three.
Diana – During the last two years of her life, Princess Diana embarks on a final rite of passage: a secret love affair with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan.
Fruitvale Station – The purportedly true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.
Grace of Monaco – The story of former Hollywood star Grace Kelly’s crisis of marriage and identity, during a political dispute between Monaco’s Prince Rainier III and France’s Charles De Gaulle, and a looming French invasion of Monaco in the early 1960s. Nicole Kidman statue shopping.
Gravity – A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. She is getting the majority of conversation but the big oohs and ahs are for the special effects and cinematography.
Her – A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly-purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need. Amazing change of pace for Joaquin Phoenix, falling for Scarlett Johansson’s voice. Amy Adams provides a standout supporting performance.
Inside Llewyn Davis – A Coen Brothers film depicting A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Based loosely on the life of Dave Van Ronk, if you want hit You Tube or ITunes for some great music of the era.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler – As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect this man’s life, family, and American society. Debuts this weekend. #1 at the box office this week with a major performance from Forrest Whitaker.
Nebraska – An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize. Bruce Dern considered a sure nomination for acting.
Philomena – A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent. Judi Dench in the lead.
Prisoners – A Boston man kidnaps the person he suspects is behind the disappearance of his young daughter and her best friend. Jake Gyllenhaal (Detective) and Hugh Jackman (distraught father). This one has more twists and turns than a slinky and a multi nominated and award winning cast. Scheduled to debut at Toronto Film Festival next month.
Rush – A biography of Austrian Formula 1 champion driver Niki Lauda and the 1976 crash that almost claimed his life. Mere weeks after the accident, he got behind the wheel to challenge his British rival, James Hunt. Ron Howard at the helm, so you can expect some great crowd pleasing scenes.
Saving Mr. Banks – Author P. L. Travers reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney during production for the adaptation of her Mary Poppins novel. Tom Hanks plays Disney but word is out that this is Emma Thompson’s movie in the Travers role.
The Counselor – A lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking.
The Fifth Estate – A dramatic thriller based on real events, THE FIFTH ESTATE reveals the quest to expose the deceptions and corruptions of power that turned an Internet upstart into the 21st century’s most fiercely debated organization. Benedict Cumberbatch in his other big movie of the year as Julian Assange.
The Monuments Men – In a race against time, a crew of art historians and museum curators unite to recover renowned works of art stolen by Nazis before Hitler destroys them. Directed by and starring George Clooney.
The Railway Man – A victim from World War II’s “Death Railway” sets out to find those responsible for his torture. A true story. Powerful cast with Colin Firth, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Nicole Kidman.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – An office worker who lives inside fantasy worlds where he gets to live an adventurous life while romancing his co-worker sets off a global journey to fix things when both of their jobs are threatened. Ben Stiller as Thurber’s hapless dreamer.
Short Term 12 – A 20-something supervising staff member of a foster care facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend. Brie Larson delivers what may be the spoiler in the Best Actress race.
The Wolf of Wall Street – Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government. Martin Scorsese directing Leo DiCaprio.
In our living rooms or How Hollywood is destroying Hollywood.
There was a time when families regularly went to the movies once a week. This was usually on Saturday night though it was often “Ladies Night Out” on Wednesdays. This old habit can still be seen in television programming for Saturday night where the biggest complaint is often heard in the form of the “There’s Nothing On” whine. There is nothing there because the corporate conglomerates think no one except the incapacitated elderly are home and they go to bed early. Unfortunately, those same corporate powers that be have stopped giving those families anywhere else to go unless it is the golden period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
If it isn’t November or December and if you have cable and are willing to pay extra over and above the monthly fee, Pay Per View will provide last year’s Oscar nominees and winners plus, depending on service, some of the better art house movies that have moved out of the theaters. What you won’t find at your local multiplex before the end of the year is anything other than a few giddy if brainless date movies, things that go boom, and garbage that is fit viewing only for anyone under the age of 14 possessed of a toilet bowl sense of humor. On top of that should you actually want to drag the crowd to the mall, the prices will guarantee you had better save the popcorn because the grocery budget just got wiped out by admission and the concession stand. Box office receipts may be barely ahead from year to year, but it is only thanks to prices and population increasing. As a percentage of the available audience, the people going to the movies has taken a massive nose dive and it is this statistic that studios choose to ignore. They place their profit margin hopes on a tent pole summer blockbuster or hitting the jackpot with one or two year end must see movies. The rest of the year is a cinematic desert.
This year nothing has changed. Most people will not get to see more than one film later nominated for an Academy Award or Golden Globe. All of the arguments about quality will take place among critics and film bloggers with the movie viewing public picking up crumbs and clues about what they will later watch at home. As a result the theaters are dying except of the ones now becoming dinner theaters with added luxuries.
I love the actual experience of going to the movies and while I appreciate the original programming of the cable studios and internet outlets such as Netflix, they just aren’t the same as being surrounded by an audience (as long as they turn off their cell phones). Would it kill the studios to at least push back the “awards season” to September when school starts to give the adults somewhere to go for four months not to mention something to root for on Oscar night?