Ralph Fiennes lives it up while he can in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (Fox Searchlight)
Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was nominated for nine (count ‘em) Academy Awards. There’s no guessing exactly how it will fare up against the competition from Birdman and Boyhood, but it’s easy to say that whatever awards those films don’t get, should be sent Budapest‘s way.
My article about the film is at Short Ends & Leader:
Wes Anderson isn’t our greatest living filmmaker; his style is too narrowly defined for such a grand title. We tend to think of our greatest directors as both having a signature style but also being flexible enough to tackle many styles: Howard Hawks could move from urbane comedies to Westerns and epics, Martin Scorsese from urban grit to musicals and children’s’ fantasias, and so on. By contrast Anderson has one style, and each of his films simply refine it. All those twee little trinkets and fussy outfits could drive you mad, were one to watch too many in a row. But as perfectly Andersonian a spectacle as The Grand Budapest Hotel is, it also expands his reach in surprising ways. Being one of the year’s most unique spectacles, it’s also the first Anderson film made up of tragedy as much as it is comedy…
Here’s the trailer:
Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain plot in ‘A Most Violent Year’ (A24)
Sneaking into theaters after the great Christmas rush is J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year. A low-key drama about warring heating-oil firms set in 1981 New York, when murders and violent crime had the city on the verge of collapse, the film and its characters are as controlled and tightly-wound as its setting is chaotic.
A Most Violent Year is playing now in limited release, with some hopes for Oscar nominations to give it more play around the country. My review is at PopMatters:
J.C. Chandor’s return to land-based storytelling shares some of the predilections of last year’s Robert Redford vehicle All Is Lost. Both that film and A Most Violent Year are deliberately paced, refusing to rush their stories for the purposes of juicing the drama. This is not a bad tendency. It shows Chandor to be an unusually disciplined filmmaker in a landscape increasingly populated by the work of the eager-to-please. But not all subject matter supports the slow-and-steady approach, and that’s the case with A Most Violent Year…
You can see the trailer here:
(cinema image by Sailko)
Now that 2014 has drawn to a close, the theaters are full of all the films that opened in November and December that nobody has had any chance to get to. It’s not a bad thing, given the too-crowded flurry of awards-scrapping releases trying to make it in before the end of the year, mixed in with the occasional counter-programming piece of dross. But it’s also a useful time to think about how the year shaped up, film-wise.
My essay, “2014: A Most Mediocre Year,” ran this week at PopMatters:
The Interview was almost certainly not going to be in contention for anything in 2014, whether awards or places in people’s funny bones. As my colleague Rebecca Pahle over at Film Journal International put it, the movie is probably best skipped by people who “have a visceral hatred of jokes about things going into and coming out of butts.” Nevertheless, there was something about the entire hacking contretemps (on a non-geopolitical level, at least) that feels representative of where the film industry is today. Sony acted initially with brazen attitude, signing on to a comedy that never would have been contemplated, let alone released, by a major studio 15 years ago. They then folded so swiftly you could almost feel the breeze. Desperation mixed with an overabundance of caution is not a good combination for any industry. You can see both of those attributes everywhere in this year’s mostly pallid offerings…
Jack O’Connell faces down a sadistic prison guard in ‘Unbroken’ (Universal Pictures)
Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken has been sitting atop the bestseller lists for close to 200 weeks now, which is no surprise, given its incredible true story of Louis Zamperini, who went from a record-breaking performance running in the 1936 Berlin Olympics to being a brutalized Japanese prisoner of war. Angelina Jolie’s (yes, she directed) take on the book is respectful and professionally done, but never quite gets at what made Zamperini such a survivor.
Unbroken opened wide on Christmas Day. My review is at Film Racket:
If one learns anything from a handsomely-told World War II survival fable like Unbroken, it’s that if you are marooned at sea for weeks and then tossed into a brutal prison camp, it’s best to do so with an Olympic runner by your side…
Here’s the trailer:
Mark Wahlberg educates the youth in ‘The Gambler’ (Paramount Pictures)
In the newest film from William Monaghan, writer of The Departed, Mark Wahlberg plays a professor who’s burning the candle at both ends, what with all the late-night gambling, fooling around with students, and those loan sharks who keep dropping by.
The Gambler opened wide on Christmas Day as a curious piece of award-film counter-programming. My review is at Film Journal International:
In the world of The Gambler, a hyperactive head-scratcher of an addle-brained disaster, many things are possible. Compulsive gamblers can play hand after hand of blackjack where the cards magically fall their way. Mobsters freely dispense philosophical koans like beads thrown from a Mardi Gras float. Level-headed, beautiful blondes get weak at the knees at the approach of self-centered boors. Mark Wahlberg can play a novelist and professor of literature. The film’s sense of realism is, to put it mildly, elastic. Not that this would necessarily matter were the material at hand more compelling. But this is a pulp confection that never manages to commit to the ludicrousness of its central conceit and ends up shortchanging the entire enterprise…
Here’s the trailer:
Bradley Cooper (right) as Chris Kyle in ‘American Sniper’ (Warner Bros.)
Before Chris Kyle was murdered at the age of 38, he had amassed a legendary kill record as an army sniper; possibly the most lethal one in American military history. His bestselling memoir, American Sniper, was originally planned as a Steven Spielberg project, but the film was ultimately directed by Clint Eastwood, no stranger to squint-eyed dramas of force and will.
American Sniper hit theaters today. My review is at Film Racket:
Bradley Cooper is rarely the sort to grab one’s attention at center stage; he only truly lights up films like American Hustle or The Hangover series when there’s a co-star for him to bounce his nervy patter and blue eyes off of. But Cooper’s performance as Kyle delivers the proper mix of humility and bottled-up frustration called for in a soldier from whom so much is expected. The film starts off with Kyle on a rooftop in Iraq, covering a column of Marines advancing through a city. He sees a woman hand a grenade to a young boy, who runs with the weapon towards the Marines. No other soldiers have eyes on the pair. His spotter reminds him that if he gets it wrong, “they’ll burn you”…
Here’s the trailer:
‘Two Days, One Night’ (IFC Films)
In the latest film from the Dardennes brothers, Marion Cotillard deglams to play a factory worker who has to fight for her job in a particularly grueling way. Hopefully, it’ll be the odds-on favorite for the Oscars next year.
Two Days, One Night opens on Christmas Eve in limited release and should expand around the country in the new year. My review is at Film Racket:
In the nervy pressure cooker Two Days, One Night, a hollow-eyed Belgian factory worker tries to convince her co-workers to keep her on at the company instead of getting a raise. The narrative is similar to those gladiator entertainments — see who wins and who goes home — but it’s structured around a different impulse. Here the protagonist is trying to succeed by convincing the other characters to listen to their altruistic instincts. It’s not the sort of thing people normally bet on…
The trailer is here: