Department of Awards: ‘Boyhood’ the Best Film of 2014

Dreaming of greatness, or just dreaming, in 'Boyhood' (IFC Films)

Dreaming of greatness, or just dreaming, in ‘Boyhood’ (IFC Films)

Earlier today, New York Film Critics Online—a group that quite generously includes yours truly in its membership—met to hash out the most notable films, filmmakers, and performers in various categories during 2014.

In short, Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood won for best picture and in two other categories, with Alejandro Inarritu’s meta-fictional satire Birdman tied at three wins. Other films like The Imitation Game and particularly The Grand Budapest Hotel received many votes in particular categories but ultimately couldn’t pull out a win. (Note that last year, NYFCO chose 12 Years a Slave as best film, and it went on to win the Oscar … just saying.)

The Hollywood Reporter noted the proceedings, as did award news mavens GoldDerby and The Wrap.

Here’s the full reckoning of what we as a group liked best from 2014, broken down first by category and then our annual Top 10 list; note that several of them (Unbroken, A Most Violent Year, Selma, and Two Days, One Night) won’t get released until Christmas or later this year:

  • Best Picture — Boyhood
  • Best Director — Richard Linklater, Boyhood
  • Best Actor — Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
  • Best Actress — Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
  • Best Supporting Actor — J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
  • Best Supporting Actress — Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  • Best Screenplay — Birdman
  • Best Cinematography — Birdman
  • Best Breakthrough Performance — Jack O’Connell, Starred Up and Unbroken
  • Best Use of Music — Get On Up
  • Best Debut Director — Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
  • Best Ensemble Cast — Birdman
  • Best Foreign Language Film — Two Days, One Night
  • Best Documentary — Life Itself
  • Best Animated Film — The Lego Movie

The Top 10 Films of 2014

  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Imitation Game
  • A Most Violent Year
  • Mr. Turner
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Under the Skin
  • Whiplash

New in Theaters: ‘Wild’

Reese Witherspoon explores the great outdoors and finds herself in 'Wild' (Fox Searchlight)

Reese Witherspoon explores the great outdoors and finds herself in ‘Wild’ (Fox Searchlight)

wild-bookCheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir Wild—about her brave and highly foolish decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with no training as a way of exorcising her painful past—was many things that a bestseller and Oprah often aren’t: emotionally lacerating, unexpected, vulnerable, and clear-eyed about people’s weaknesses and dark sides. For the inevitable and surprisingly spot-on film adaptation, Reese Witherspoon plays Strayed in what could be an Oscar-worthy performance. That’s Nick Hornby of High Fidelity behind the keyboard.

Wild hits theaters this week. My review is at Film Racket:

Strayed is first spotted on the side of a mountain, pulling a bloody toenail out after days of grueling walking in too-small boots under a groaning pack one could fit the possessions of a small nation-state into. Dropping one boot down the side of the mountain by mistake, she impulsively throws the other boot after it, screaming in rage. Director Jean-Marc Vallee shoots it in all the wrong ways, with slow-motion and elongated vocals, trying to create a drama that the story hasn’t earned yet. It’s a rough start to what is mostly a solidly-crafted and cathartic drama of discovery about a woman who nearly kills herself in order to learn how to live again…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Foxcatcher’

Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in 'Foxcatcher' (Sony Pictures Classics)

Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in ‘Foxcatcher’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

One of the first films that the smart money says will be a 2014 Oscar contender, Foxcatcher is a stranger-than-fiction true story about a potentially insane man of wealth and his obsession with wrestling in general and a pair of Olympic wrestlers in specific. Given its solid performances from all involved (Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell, Channing Tatum) and the pedigree of director of Capote and Moneyball, it certainly has a shot at the Oscars; whether or not that’s deserved is another story.

Foxcatcher is opening this week. I reviewed it for Film Racket:

There’s an old joke about how poor people are crazy but the rich are merely eccentric. Bennett Miller’s based-on-a-true-story Foxcatcher vividly illustrates that joke. After all, how many poor people are allowed to own an armored personnel carrier with a .50 caliber machine gun, openly snort cocaine, wave revolvers around, and make documentaries about their pretend achievements, and not be called crazy? John du Pont was the scion of an industrial dynasty with an 800-acre estate and bank vaults full of money. Because of that, he is allowed to follow every controlling desire, even though anybody can see it will end in tragedy. The tautly acted but dramatically deficient Foxcatcher is the story of how a pair of brothers from humble means were pulled into du Pont’s orbit of pathology by the promise of greatness and kept there by the lure of money…

Here’s the trailer:

Department of Shameless Self-Promotion: Academy Awards Edition

MERYL STREEP and JULIA ROBERTS star in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

The Oscar-nominated ‘August: Osage County’ – #13 of the year’s top 25 films covered in ‘Eyes Wide Open: 2013′

The best approach to take to tonight’s blitzkrieg of hype, blather, nonsense, tears, bad jokes, and long strange stretches of awkward silences—we’re speaking, of course, of the 86th Academy Awards—might be that proffered by Anthony Lane:

Whether Leonardo DiCaprio or Matthew McConaughey, or neither of them, will be crowned Best Actor is a matter of such brazen unimportance that we have gone crazy trying to call it.

Brazen unimportance, indeed. That being said, it was a fantastic year for film. And if it takes a gargantuan mediapocalypse like tonight’s Oscars broadcast to bring attention to some of those films, if sending actors strutting down a red carpet and answering the same questions they’ve been answering for six months now will get another few thousand people to seek out August: Osage County, then so be it.

Eyes_Wide_Open_2013-_Cover_for_KindleI covered many of the Oscar-nominated films in this year’s edition of my annual film guide, Eyes Wide Open — it’s available in paperback or more instantaneously in ebook from. Here’s a quick rundown of the Oscar-nominated films included in the book and where they ranked in my lists:

  • 12 Years a Slave (Best Picture, Actor, Actor-supporting, Actress-supporting, Costume Design, Director, Editing, Production Design, Adapted Screenplay) — #2:Steve McQueen’s blistering adaptation of Solomon Northup’s pre-Civil War memoir about being kidnapped into slavery in Louisiana is memorably horrific and heroic in equal measures.
  • Gravity (Best Picture, Actress, Cinematography, Editing, Director, Original Score, Sound Editing Production Design, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects) — #3: “Alfonso Cuaron’s stunning outer-orbit thriller hinges on the parallel between a character’s personal isolation and the terrifying physical isolation of space.”
  • The Wolf of Wall Street (Best Picture / Actor / Actor-Supporting / Director / Adapted Screenplay) — “An overly slick comedy with painted-on cynicism.”
  • Inside Llewyn Davis (Best Cinematography / Sound Mixing) — #9: “The Coen brothers are caught between their Barton Fink and O Brother, Where Art Thou? modes in this wintry dream-odyssey of a deadpan comedy swaddled in gorgeous music.”
  • August: Osage County (Actor, Actress) — #13: “A saga of family and dysfunction—cleanly truncated by Tracey Letts from his 3-hour-plus Pulitzer Prize-winning play—whose dark, acid humor never undercuts the recurring tragedy glowering underneath.”
  • Frozen (Best Animated Feature) — Honorable Mention: “Disney’s impeccably animated return-to-form is both Broadway-ready musical and sweetly inspirational sibling melodrama where for once the choice for the heroine isn’t which man to choose.”
'Much Ado About Nothing' -

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ – No Oscar nominations but #18 of the year’s top 25 films covered in ‘Eyes Wide Open: 2013′

Lastly, here’s a few of the films most deserving of gold statuettes that were most egregiously overlooked but made it into Eyes Wide Open:

  • Stories We Tell — #1: “Sarah Polley’s fractured family history is a beautiful and thoughtful story about how our pasts don’t just happen, they’re created.”
  • Upstream Color — #8: “A metaphysical love story that baffles and excites in almost equal measures.”
  • Much Ado About Nothing — #18: “Joss Whedon’s minty-fresh adaptation turns his team of quick-witted TV actors on Shakespeare’s most durable comedy and comes up a winner.”

Last word on the Oscars, as often makes sense, to Anthony Lane:

We are already looking forward to looking back in anger at the awards that confounded our hunches, at our loss of the office sweepstake, at the stop-start tears, the sagging jokes, and the normally rational women who choose, for one night only, to dress like exploded cupcakes.

New on DVD: ‘The Grandmaster’

Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung compare styles in 'The Grandmaster'

Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung compare styles in ‘The Grandmaster’

dvd-grandmaster-cvr-200The great Hong Kong romantic Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love) hadn’t completed a feature film since 2007’s misfire My Blueberry Nights. So it was pretty good news to hear that his latest film was going to be a classic martial-arts extravaganza, reuniting Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi with The Matrix choreographer Yuen Wo Ping.

The Grandmaster, which received well-deserved Oscar nominations for cinematography and costume design, will be released on DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday. My review is at PopMatters:

“Don’t tell me about your teacher,” says Ip Man (Tony Leung) at the start of Wong Kar Wai’s dreamlike heartbreak of a kung fu film, The Grandmaster, “or brag about your style.” Using that same steady humility flecked with a hint of the sardonic that’s made Leung such a crucial counterweight to the Hong Kong school of overkill filmmaking, he preemptively bleeds the hot air out of what’s to follow. This is a good thing, because that scene is intercut with the already-legendary scene in which Ip Man faces down a dozen or so adversaries in pouring rain. He dispatches them all with practiced ease but not a whiff of arrogance, just as the real Ip Man’s student Bruce Lee would do on film decades later…

grandmaster2

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Omar’

Training to kill in 'Omar'

‘Omar': Terrorists or freedom fighters?

Omar-posterIn the Oscar-nominated thriller Omar, a young Palestinian man in the West Bank is faced with two challenges: First, how to convince his friend that he’d be a good bet to marry the friend’s little sister? Second, and more importantly, how does he escape the law after helping to murder an Israeli soldier?

Omar opens this week. My review is at Film Racket:

For such a razor-sharp thriller, the West Bank-set Omar smuggles a dense packet of ambiguity into its compact running time. This shouldn’t be a rarity, given how many stories there are about the conflict between occupiers and occupied, the dueling taxonomy of “freedom fighters” and “terrorists.” But too often these clashes are related in absolutes, where one narrative is bought into more than another. Hany Abu-Assad’s skillful story wrestles with those grey moralities without spoon-feeding one or the other to the audience. It’s a story about people, not ideologies, but it knows how inextricably the former intertwine with the latter…

Between a rock and a hard place.

Between a rock and a hard place.

Here is the trailer:

Now Playing: ‘Gloria’

The sublime daffiness of Paulina García in 'Gloria'

The sublime daffiness of Paulina García in ‘Gloria’

gloria-poster1Chile’s submission for this year’s Foreign Film Academy Award, Gloria, doesn’t have the most instantly engaging of storylines: single woman tries to find love. But with deftly rambunctious storytelling and one of the greatest, most soulful performances you’re likely to see all year, it achieves tragicomic greatness.

Gloria is playing around the country right now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

…[The film] is shaded with both a dark melancholy and a bright, getting-on-with-it playfulness. Gloria endures more than her share of spirit-crushing moments, but these appear in between glimmers of joy that buffet her relentless persistence, her will not to sink into a sinkhole of near-retirement surrender. There’s no certainty that she will find any kind of new love again, or forge some new kind of bond with children. If she’s going to carve out a happy life, it will be in her hands, not dependent on approvals from her family, friends or lover…

Here’s the trailer: