Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Favorite Performances '13 - Lea Seydoux Blue is the Warmest Color

In this space I will pay homage to the actors who gave performances in 2013 that moved and stunned me. These are the performances that I responded to the most and will remember, I think, for years to come.

This is the sexiest performance of the year. For us to believe in the love story at the heart of Blue is the Warmest Color, we must believe that Lea's character, Emma, has sexual magnetism to spare. Enough for Adele to fall hopelessly under her spell and never recover. She delivers in spades; in her walk, her looks, the way she speaks. She is why the term "sex on a stick" was coined.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Her or All about the High Waist Pants

Phoenix with all those pants behind him

Spike Jonze's Her is unique. It is unlike any other movie I've seen this year - or any year for that matter. It is aesthetically beautiful, succeeding in building a complete "new" world. Architecture, clothes and above all how people communicate with each other. And it doesn't feel the need to fill you in on this world with tiring exposition. The viewer just discovers it as the movie goes along.

Set in Los Angeles sometime in the near future, it tells  the story of a lonely divorced man, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his "computer" or as it's called in the movie operating system that calls itself Samantha, played by the disembodied voice of Scarlett Johannson. The story features Theodore's interactions with his best friend Amy (Amy Adams), his ex wife (Rooney Mara) and one disastrous date with a unhinged woman (Olivia Wilde).

The movie is funny, sad, lyrical, honest, gorgeous, all at once. It works on so many levels and is compulsively watchable and enchanting at all times. What I loved about it is that it worked as a reflection of dating in this age where we interact online and meet people virtually first. Online chemistry doesn't always translate to real life, to state the obvious. We project huge fantasies into others, setting ourselves up for huge disappointments. Her riffs brilliantly on this theme. From the phone sex encounter that goes wrong - "Choke me with the dead cat" must be the funniest line in a 2013 movie - to the date with Wilde's character to the love story Theodore and Samantha .
Phoenix and Mara in happier times

The film also flashes back brilliantly to Theodore's past marriage. In a few very economical scenes it gives us that relationship and what it means to fall in love young and grow up together but grow apart as a result of growing up. It illuminates how every time you fall in love you carry baggage from previous relationships and that that is not a bad thing. The juxtaposition between the old relationship and the new one with Samantha is what I loved most. Theodore is able to understand what happened in the past and his ex - played brilliantly by Mara in an obvious homage to Jonze's ex Sofia Coppola - has a strong reaction to the implausible love between a man and his OS. She is angry, hurt and of course bewildered but mostly understands why Theodore loves Samantha. While it's very brief this is most realistic relationship in the movie. Theodore talks about it so eloquently and I couldn't help but wonder if this is an olive branch from Jonze to Coppola.

All the actors are impeccable. I wasn't a huge fan of Phoenix's "look at me" big acting in The Master despite admiring the commitment. He's very different here, introspective, quite, funny and definitely more affecting. Adams is lovely as a woman discovering more about herself and Mara is giving possibly her most recognizably honest performance. Johansson does all she can to create a character with her voice and succeeds. Although part of me wishes we didn't get such a recognizable voice to play this part.

Production design, cinematography and costumes are all top notch. I particularly liked the costumes, very beautiful and fit the world the movie was trying to create. All hail high waist pants!

While I think it's a beautiful unique world and story that I know I will visit many more times, I don't think it's an unqualified success. While part of the resolution is fantastic I couldn't relate to some aspects of the sci-fi love story. I admired Jonze's attempt to create Theodore and Samantha on equal footing but didn't entirely relate to the latter's arc. It works best as a story about growing up and discovering more about ourselves and what that does to our relationships. Theodore, his ex, Samantha and Amy all grow up resulting in them reevaluating their relationships.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Is it Hair or American Hustle

American Hustle is big and shiny and has enough interesting elements that it made me think it was a good movie. But after two days of rumination I now think it doesn't quite jell together as a fully formed piece despite a few interesting vignettes.

As for the performances they are a mixed bag. Bradley Cooper is plain bad despite having a full and interesting character arc. Although he has one great bit - a moment of indignant triumph. Amy Adams can't make sense of a terribly underwritten part, it might possibly be the worst she's ever been on screen. I was hugely disappointed in Adams as I usually like her. Where's the fire from her previous collaboration with Russell in The Fighter? Christian Bale was all accent, gut and hair (or lack there of), exterior and surprisingly thin non-affecting performance.

Faring better are Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner. Lawrence's magnetism rises above the meandering script to provide a couple of very entertaining scenes. She is bombastic and blows off even the usually intense Bale in their scenes together. Renner underplays to success and his scenes with Elizabeth Rohm, who plays his wife, have an endearing casual warmth.

The movie was still watchable despite being more bad than good. Best would be to find Lawrence's couple of scenes - including the lip lock with Adams and her over the top rendition of "Live and Let Die" - on youtube. Or just look at pictures; the hair is the most interesting element after all.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why Frances Ha Bothers Me

I loved Frances Ha, saw it twice and enjoyed it immensely both times. It's delightful and an excellent portrait of contemporary New York City.It gets so much right about the rhythm of the city and its people. Greta Gerwig proves herself a wining screen personality, it's a star making performance that gets me excited to see her in more movies.

But here's the big "but". How come there are hardly any people of color at all in this movie. I think one of Frances' friends in San Francisco  - whose face we don't see and who doesn't utter a word - and the woman she rents the theater space from at the end are of color. Both very insignificant in the film's story and characters. This rings extremely false for me for a movie set in contemporary New York City. Particularly in the milieu this movie depicts of young cultured artists and hanger-ons. Has Gerwig and Baumbach walked around the city lately? Have they been anywhere in the city ? Offices, theaters, parks, subway? Where is this lily white vision coming from ?

And I know that because I'm a person of color I'm of course predisposed to notice this and be bothered by it. And because of who I am, there is more probability for me to mix with people of color. However in my decade of living in this city; everywhere I've been - work, buildings I lived in, circle of friends, acquaintances, gym, just walking down the street it's never been monolithic.Greta, aren't we not speaking of the same city?

You might say other filmmakers present similar versions of NYC. Yes Scorsese And Woody Allen do it all the time - to name just two quintessentially New York directors. But their version of the city is very specific to certain neighborhoods and cultural milieu.

Maybe it bothers me more with this movie because I loved the world it depicts and found it so familiar. But I felt I was being told I do not exist, we do not see you in this world that you claim is yours. You are a visitor and an invisible one at that. I'm hurting, Greta. Why oh why?

Greta and Noah were telling me - yeah you might live in this city too but we don't see you. You don't matter. I couldn't get lost in the charms of the movies. This kept nagging at me.

Ultimately I'm very disappointed. Disappointed that such vital vibrant artists see the world with this very limited lens. And disappointed to have to write this rant about a movie I love.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Few Thoughts on August : Osage County

Nicholson, Streep and Martindale 

Here are a few thoughts I had about August:Osage County which I saw last night at a preview screening at MoMA :

- it is a very entertaining movie but not exactly a good one. Continues Meryl Streep's strategy of never being in a great movie but giving a great performance.

- Meryl is without a doubt the MVP. It is a very showy role - a drug addict with cancer and life of regret. And she goes BIG. I enjoyed her immensely and I think her fans will too. But I can see why there are dissenters. And yes she will definitely get that 18th nomination.

- I'm not a fan of Julia Roberts but she is excellent here.

- Ewan McGregor in rubbish. He perfects an American accent but that's it. He doesn't register at all. The friend I saw it with suggested that the character is supposed to be recessive and not register. Maybe... I wasn't feeling him.

- Benedict Cumberbatch is miscast. He's not bad but utterly unbelievable as this sad sack.

- Chris Cooper gets a fantastic speech towards the end that had some audience members cheering. Don't know if that's enough to get him recognized.

- The movie really sags in the second half after the big dinner set piece. Plus it has a tagged on ending. Realistically the story ends with Meryl alone and despondent then we get Julia ...um just driving around for seemed to me like an eternity. Why is that? We get it she will be alright. It was apparent by the few scenes before that that she is not turning into her mother. We didn't need this stupid tag-on.

- Margo Martindale got the biggest applause - even a few whoops - as the credits rolled. It really surprised me. Not that she's not good; on the contrary she's great. But she only has a couple of scenes. I think her role suffered the most from cutting the 3 hour play into 2 hours for the movie.

- Wish I could see more of Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis as the the two sisters. They are excellent in limited roles.

- So the acting's great but the movie is nothing special. Still I had a great time.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sondheim Saturday - Send in the Clowns

This is from A Little Night Music and has become a very popular standard. I thought since Philomena is opening soon we sould celebrate Dame Judi Dench. This live performance is from the BBC celebration of Sondheim's 80th birthday and Judi aces it. She of course famously played the part of Desiree in a celebrated 1995 revival in London for which she won the Olivier. 

Sondheim fans is this one of your fave songs? It is absolutely a fave of mine.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Oscar Season Chat : Best Supporting Actress

Jose and I talk about Best Supporting Actress, as we do at this time of the year.

Oprah in The Butler
Murtada: So Jose our favorite time of the year, Awards Season is almost here. Can’t wait to see all the couture gowns but let’s start with who we think is going to be invited. I think most prognosticators agree on Oprah Winfrey (The Butler) and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) for best supporting actress. I loved Oprah and thought she was the best thing in her movie. She was surprisingly subtle and gave a fun flirty – dare I say it – even sexy performance. While it’s hard to suppress her larger than life persona and the baggage that brings with, I thought she was convincing as an everyday woman. She even gets a big Oscar clip moment – you know the slap heard around all the movie screens “everything you are and everything you have is because of that butler”. Lee Daniels is really a fantastic actress director – Monique, Gabby, Nicole and now Oprah, who knew?
As for Lupita a she is what everybody wants to talk about the minute her movie ends. It’s a great part – sympathetic, soulful and very touching – but her performance is fantastic too. And let’s not forget the Cinderella factor – everybody loves a newcomer who just hits it out of the park. I think she can go all the way, and if she starts winning early there is no stopping her.
So what are your thoughts on Oprah and Lupita? Who else do you think will be nominated?
Jose: Unlike the rest of the world I simply don’t get Oprah. I never got her as a celebrity and I certainly don’t get her as an actress. Other than respecting her for being a powerful woman, I don’t see what’s so special about her and I was once again scratching my head about what was so special about her in this movie. My major problem is that to me she never stopped being Oprah (it didn’t help that at one point a woman screamed “show that ratchet bitch, Oprah!” to the screen while everyone else cheered) and therefore, if everyone in the theater was thinking the same, I can’t consider it good acting. She distracted me from the story more than anything.

Lupita is perfect and there’s nothing more I can say about her without gushing.  I guess the most surprising thing about her performance is that it’s her first film! Apparently Yale trains great actors…I have never liked predicting who will be nominated, there are people who do this much better (and care more about it too) so I’ll have to plead the fifth for that one. Now if you asked me who were my favorites that would be a game I’d like even more…

Nyong'o and Woodard in 12 Years a Slave

Murtada: I like predicting so I’ll predict one more: June Squibb in Nebraska. I personally didn’t care much for the performance and found it one note. However she gets the best lines and wrings genuine hearty laughs out of them so she’s in. And another Cinderella story albeit a different one – the veteran toiling away on the sidelines for too long until she finally gets a big part.
But let’s talk favorites; we both loved Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine – her “curtsie” moment when introduced to Alec Baldwin is an example of a gem of a performance full of such quirky, lovely moments. She managed to be noticed against the full force of Cate’s dominating Jasmine. Lea Seydoux – sex on a stick in Blue is the Warmest Color and Alfre Woodard providing the only bit of levity in 12 Years and nailing her one scene with a funny and lived in performance. 12 Years is chock full of fantastic performances including Adepero Oduye who I thought was a bit too hysterical the first time I saw it. However by my second viewing I was impressed by the honesty she brought to her deep despair. Also Julianne Moore finally waking up from her long nap of a decade of uninspiring performances to bring heart and soul to Don Jon. Clearly JGL inspires her.
Your turn to gush about some lovely ladies……..

Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

Jose: I’ve yet to see Nebraska so I’ll hold my thoughts on June for now. I see your Alfre and raise you a Sarah Paulson. Her performance was absolutely chilling and she’s been on such a roll lately with Game Change and all those awful American Horror Story-s where she’s the only one worried in seeing beyond camp and delivering performances with any real human traits.
In terms of awards, I don’t think any of my favorites in anything (other than Queen Cate) will be nominated for anything this year, so indulge me as I stray from awards specific talk, into favorites of the year talk...I loved, loved, loved Kristin Scott Thomas in Only God Forgives (the scene in the restaurant!), Jennifer Garner in Dallas Buyers Club (the only one who wasn’t “ACTING!” in that movie), Amy Adams in Her, Joanna Scanlan in The Invisible Woman (weeks later I can’t stop thinking about her character), Michaela Watkins in In a World..., Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring (my go-to exorcist from now on), Janet McTeer in Hannah Arendt, Emma Watson in The Bling Ring and Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station (talk about someone who can do a lot with a small part) with my absolute favorite so far this year being Cameron Diaz in The Counselor.
But yeah, the number of nominees coming out of that pool will be minus all of them, except for Octavia maybe...Granted, I’ve yet to see Julia and J.Law in their movies and I’m expecting them to impress me as usual.
Murtada : I'm excited for American Hustle and August Osage County too. Although I’m more about Margo Martindale maybe finally finding a fantastic big screen role. Also Naomie Harris got a lot of raves in Toronto but I can’t say I’m looking forward to Mandela as that trailer is dullsville but I hope it leads to bigger things for her.  And how could you not mention your girl Rooney Mara in Her , her Sofia Coppola was dead on. I think it’s a great year for this category.
Any final thoughts?
Jose: I love Rooney but even I am objective sometimes. I did forget to mention how impressed I was by Eva Mendes in “The Place Beyond the Pines” though.  I can’t think of anything other than that...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

An Ode to Chiwetel's Eyes

It has been almost 2 days and I still can't shake off 12 Years A Slave. Chiwetel's huge emotive eyes haunt me wherever I go. McQueen knew the power of those eyes. A lot of this magnificent performance is told through these eloquent eyes.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Review of "Adore"

Xavier Samuel in Adore

Xavier Samuel is gorgeous. And he has it. That star magnetism that draws you to him on screen and won't let your eyes go anywhere else.Can't say he is a good actor. But there's time, he can learn. Brad Pitt did.

And that's all I have to say about Adore.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sondheim Saturday - Losing My Mind from Follies

Follies is my favorite of all Sondheim's plays. I consider seeing the 2011 Broadway revival with Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell one of the best , if not outright best, theatrical experiences I've had.

It's such a beautiful, sad, haunting piece. Who else but the genius Sondheim could write such an exquisite and poignant piece about disappointment. His characters are all haunted by their past, mired in memories and in an emotional free fall. Yet they are transfixing and above all distinctly human.

The play has so many songs that became standards from "Broadway Baby" to "Too Many Mornings" to "I'm Still Here". Yet the one I feel deep in my heart is "Losing My Mind'. Someone's whole life story is told beautifully and emphatically in a few minutes. Here's Peters' haunting version from that revival I witnessed.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Jane Eyre - Fassbender and Wasikowska Edition

Fassy and Mia in love

With news coming that Michael Fassbender is getting Marion Cotillard as his Lady Macbeth and Cary Fukunaga directing a movie with Idris Elba let's revisit their 2011 masterpiece.

How is the 2011 Jane Eyre not a bigger film in the culture? It received good reviews but seems to have vanished after a short run in theaters despite the presence of rising stars (at the time) and megawatt talents Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska.

I can't claim that it's the best version of Jane Eyre because I haven't seen them all. But it stands on its own as a beautiful, lyrical, emotional cinematic telling of a great love story with 2 very compelling lead characters. And those 2 characters are vividly brought to life by 2 fantastic actors.

I will share 3 scenes here. Needless to say major spoilers coming your way:

How was she able to let go? Fassbender at his sexiest and most intense.

While Fassbender, of course, smolders this scene is all Mia's. Watch her find her strength through her broken heart and go from desperate to happy. All through the spirit in the character shines through and you understand why Rochester fell for her.

And now the finale :

Tell me you are not shaking from all this intensity!!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Sexpot - Matthias Schoenaerts

Matthias Schoenaerts

Have you seen Rust and Bone? Sex on a stick. And he's going to be in a lot of movies soon. He seems to have cornered the market on the smoldering dangerous guy that will romance the "great actress". In addition to Marion Cotillard he will be seen next year playing with Michelle Williams and Carey Mulligan. Sounds great to me!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sondheim Saturday : Side by Side from Company

The Master himself

Every Saturday I'll feature the genius of musical heater Steven Sondheim. For our first edition here is "Side by Side" the opening song from the 2nd act from 1971 masterpiece "Company". It won the Tony for Best Musical and was revived several times including most recently an acclaimed production in 2006.

Adrian Lester as Bobby

This version of the song is from 1996 Donmar Theater production in London staged by Sam Mendes. It features the first Bobby of color, Adrian Lester. At the time it was both hailed and reviled as a "modern" interpretation. Not for casting a black man but for the other florishes that Mendes added. It doesn't look so revolutionary 17 years later but still works. Unfortunately I could not embed so head over to youtube to watch. It's very good.

What is your favorite production of Company? Tell all in the comments.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Nicole Kidman : Back on Botox

Look at these pictures. She's back on it. Look at the mirror, Nicole. You don't look like yourself. Stop it. Other actresses your age are making it work. Find out what they are doing and do it. We want you looking your best on screen, and this is not it.

More on Blue Jasmine

Cate, Sally and Andrew

Now that we've got how great Cate is out of the way, here are a few other thoughts on Blue Jasmine :

- The movie is zippy and fast and at just over an hour and half reaches its conclusion quickly. A definite advantage in this age of the over-long movie.

- This is a fantastic ensemble. Sally Hawkins shines brightly all earthiness and brittle edges. Andrew Dice Clay is a revelation and carries the heart of the movie, his is arguably the only "good" character. Bobby Cannavale does his usual shouty Pacino thing but then surprises in a very raw and emotional scene. Even Peter Sarsgaard does the best he can with an underwritten part.

- Yes it's n obvious riff on Streetcar Named Desire, but it's also much more. Only takes the premise and builds other layers and tell what I thought was an original story. Cate's performance is certainly different than her Blanche; more modern and on full throttle from beginning to end as opposed to the crescendo building emotional breakdown that was her Blanche.

- Question to Woody; who says "make love" in 2013? OK maybe Jasmine since she puts on airs but then Sarsgaard's character says it too. It sounds so fake.

- Also what is up with the learning the computer sub-plot? What is Jasmine exactly learning? It looks like she has a laptop and I assume she has at least used it a couple of times. So confusing Woody.

- Sally Hawkins has a very cute and endearing moment early on : she courtesies when she meets Alec Baldwin.

- Also cute Alden Ehrenreich. More of him please, Hollywood.

Alden not in character but still cute

- The scene with Jasmine babysitting her nephews at Chuck e Cheese and dolling out life lessons while sipping her wine is fantastic. It is without a doubt Cate's Oscar clip. The most quoted bit is "There's only so much trauma a person can withstand before they take to the streets and start screaming". I really like the bit where she advises them to be kind to the service industry ending with "Tip big, boys".
"Tip big, boys"
Along with Stories We Tell, Before Midnight and The Spectacular Now Cate and Woody made summer movie going bearable.

The Color Purple - It's All About Sofia

The Color Purple has always been about Sofia for me. She was the character who hit me the most and who stayed very vivid in my memory. If the movie is about the 2 biggest "-isms" of our time; racism and sexism, then Celie's story is all sexism and Sofia's most heartbreaking arc is about racism.

I love this shot from Sofia's first scene and introduction to the audience. Look at her. She's so full of life, love, hope, joy and most of all undeniable spirit. You know instantly that this is someone who's ready to take on the world. Even Mister's complete contempt doesn't bring her down. All of this will be chipped away from Sofia, little by little through the system, circumstances, and just because she was born who she is at the time and place she lived. Makes you want to scream at the injustice of it all. But first we get to savour the promise that lies in this shot.

"You told Harpo to beat me??!!"

Oprah Winfrey - as if there is another -is everything in this role. Watch her confront Celie in the famous "You told Harpo to beat me? " scene. In less than 2 minutes she tells her life story which is the story of all the Purple women including Miss Celie. But she also shows us her resilience and determination. It's the opposite of Celie's " I don't know how to fight, I know how to survive". Here she does what people like her do all the time; she opens Celie's eyes and leads to realize that she doesn't have to accept what's coming her way. If only knowing how to fight is enough.

And here it is; Sofia's ultimate defeat. Her giving in to Miss Millie which goes against everything we know about her. I still remember the first time I watched this, at home, on video. I broke down at Sofia's first encounter with Miss Millie's. Oh my how her spirit - the most beautiful thing about her - was broken. I cried and cried and couldn't stop even after the movie was over. Some 25 years later this memory is so vivid and alive with me. I still want to scream at the world; at that injustice.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Love Letter to Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett is my favorite actor. I can't get enough of watching her.So you can imagine my joy when I heard that not only is she in Woody Allen's latest but in fact gives a performance for the ages and completely dominates the movie. She has been away for a long time and small parts in The Hobbit and Hanna do not count. I'm glad she's back full throttle in this and upcoming movies with Todd Haynes, David Mamet and George Clooney. She's even playing the evil stepmother in the new Cinderella and might pop up in Terrence Malick's next.

I've seen Blue Jasmine 3 times now. And each time I've watched with my jaw dropped to the floor the whole time at the beautiful and precise marvel that is Cate's performance. I couldn't have it said better myself so I am quoting Mick LaSalle's review for the San Francisco Chronicle.

"But when we're talking about "Blue Jasmine," we're really talking about Blanchett, who - and this is no exaggeration - gives one of the greatest screen performances of the past 10 years. To say that she is Oscar worthy would not do her justice, not when we remember what actually wins Oscars. Blanchett's performance is one for the books.
First of all, there's the technical precision of it. Aided immeasurably by Gretchen Davis' makeup and Suzy Benziger's costume design, she is often playing some degree of chemical impairment - the nature and degree of which are always perfectly clear.
In terms of emotion, it's best to keep in mind that Jasmine's story, though told out of sequence, has a sequence nonetheless, one inhabited by Blanchett with preternatural intuition and nuance. We see that Jasmine was weak to begin with. And later, we see the guilt, the disgrace, the pain, the self-delusion, not as emotions in sequence, but as elements ever-present and threatening to bubble to the surface, threatening the magnificent facade. The facade itself is a splendid creation, paper-thin and yet seductive, the manners and references suggestive of all the good things money can buy - and has bought.
Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine" is beyond brilliant, beyond analysis. This is jaw-dropping work, what we go to the movies hoping to see, and we do. Every few years."

It's not a review, its a love letter. I whole heartedly agree. I'll leave with the fashion girl Cate, she was a vision in Balenciaga at the New York premiere.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Spectacular "Spectacular Now"

It's been a dearth of good movies this summer. Last year while sitting through The Dark Knight Rises and being completely bored, I vowed never to see another superhero movie. I know I'm not going to miss anything, it's always the same story. I kept to that vow all summer which unfortunately meant that I didn't get to see much. However I'm grateful for Stories We Tell, Before Midnight, Blue Jasmine and now The Spectacular Now.

What a breath of fresh air this movie is. It is not groundbreaking or terribly original. It's just a really well told story with real human beings who have interesting emotional lives. The movie tells the story of  ne'er do well high schooler (Miles Teller) with serious alcohol abuse problems and major daddy issues and his unexpected romance with a shy, earnest and very smart classmate (Shailene Woodley). It's smart enough to build a world of interesting characters around these two that include their families, friends, exes and co-workers. every last character is not a cliche.

Teller is fantastic as he guides the audience to knowing his character from the party boy to the destructive angry guy that lurks beneath. Woodley gives such an endearing performance, very lived in and honest that made me think of a few people I know, it seemed like she wasn't acting at all . In fact both are natural and unaffected. The ensemble is almost uniformly good, from Jennifer Jason Leigh to Mary Elizabeth Winstead to Brie Larson to Andre Royo ( hi Bubbles from The Wire) to Bob Odenkirk. The only one who didn't convince me was Kyle Chandler. I don't want to give away why because it's a plot point.

A lot of references have been made about how this movie to a throwback to good teenage movies like Say Anything and John Hughes' oeuvre. However what I liked about the script is its concentration on character - yes these two are teenagers about the script, by 500 Days of Summer's Michael H Weber and Scott Neustadter, doesn't want to make any points about being young. It just tells this particular story. Kudos also to the director James Ponsoldt for keeping this unhurried and open with a lot of long takes that allow the viewer to appreciate the natural performances.

Go see it. Now.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Toni Collette Refreshed!

It looks like Toni Colette has done something to her face now that she's coming back to TV. Here's the evidence.

I wish she'd make more movies. She is so fantastic in the just released The Way, Way Back. Nobody needs to see this CBS show she's making. But girl's gotta work and unless Blanchett, Winslet, Kidman, Weisz turn it down she's not getting it.

I prefer to remember that master acting class scene she had with Julianne Moore in The Hours. Here's a taste and hope to see you in something great soon, Toni.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

12 Years A Slave - Chiwetel Please Become Uibiqutous

The Internet is abuzz with reactions to the trailer to 12 Years A Slave (2013) that dropped yesterday. I wanted to join the party celebrating one of my most anticipated movies of the year. My enthusiasm has much to do with Chiwetel Ejiofor. 

I have loved him for years. I don't know when it started, probably around Dirty Pretty Things (2002) where he was so understated yet powerfully emotional. He seemed to be be on the brink for breaking out forever. Not Woody Allen, not Ridley Scott, not Alfonso Cuaron quite did it for Chewitel. Hopefully this collaboration with Steve McQueen will be just the ticket.

And of course this movie being the 3rd attempt by McQueen and Fassy to prove they are the best contemporary actor/director combo s another reason to celebrate. May they continue to try ruling our cinematic world.

The trailer itself looks good despite being completely cut to sell the movie as the most Oscar bait of the Oscar season i.e. obvious and we seen it before. Still it showcases both Ejiofor and Fassbender in a couple of good moments. I've always thought that Brad Pitt is a mediocre actor but can be magnetic onscreen when given the "right" star turn. Think Thelma and Louise (1991) or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)Here's hoping he doesn't pull us out of this harrowing story with his amateurish attempts at emoting. The movie looks to be giving a lot of actors of color opportunities at meaty moments, which is always something to celebrate.

Here's hoping the movie is as good as it promises and that Chiwetel finally becomes the major actor we've all been waiting for.

Friday, July 5, 2013

She demands our attention! Elizabeth Debicki in The Great Gatsby

Debicki in The Great Gatsby

So far in 2013 there have been a few performances that I liked. But there has only been one that made me sit up straight in my seat almost shouting "Who's that?” That is Elizabeth Debicki in The Great Gatsby. It is a combination of having not seen her in anything before plus a certain screen magnetism that heralded in my mind that a star was born. 

She gallops across the screen as Jordan Baker and authoritatively demands our attention. She whole heartedly got mine. In fact I missed her a lot when Jordan was off screen. She reminded me of Cate Blanchett in The Talented Mr. Ripley – that same haughty confidence. And if you know the high regard I have for the great Cate, you know that is no faint praise. Coincidently she is now on stage in Sydney co-starring with Blanchett in The Maids.

I expect great things soon.

Debicki as herself at Gatsby premiere in Cannes

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Happy Oscars

It's my fave day of the year. And this year there's even more to love about it. For the first time in a long time we actually have a nail biter. Yes Argo will win best pic but there are several top categories that are hard to pin down. Here's hoping to surprises in Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay and Director. I think the shorter time before nominations worked and the longer time aftermight produce surprising winners.

Here are my final predictions :

Picture : Argo
Director : Ang Lee
Actor : Daniel Day Lewis - Lincoln
Actress : Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook
Supp Actor : Tommy Lee Jones - Lincoln
Supp actress : Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables
Org Screenplay : Django Unchained
Adapted Screenplay : Ago
Foreign Language Film : Amour
Animated Feature : Wreck It Ralph
Original Score : Life of Pi
Original Song : Skyfall
Art Direction : Les Miserables
Cinematography : Life of Pi
Costume Design : Anna Karenina
Makeup : Les Miserables
Documentary Feature : Searching for Sugarman
Sound Mixing : Les Miserables
Sound Editing : Life of Pi
Visual Effects : Life of Pi
Editing : Argo
Animated Short : Paperman
Live Action Short : Curfew
Doc Short : Open Heart

And if I was an Academy member these would be my votes :

Picture : Amour
Director : Ang Lee - Life of Pi
Actor : Joaquin Phoenix - The Master
Actress : Emmanuelle Riva - Amour
Supp Actor : Phillip Seymour Hoffman - The Master
Supp actress : Helen Hunt - The Sessions
Org Screenplay : Amour
Adapted Screenplay : Beasts of the Southern Wild
Foreign Language Film : Amour
Animated Feature : Paranorman
Original Score : Life of Pi
Original Song : Skyfall
Art Direction : Anna Karenina
Cinematography : Life of Pi
Costume Design : Anna Karenina
Documentary Feature : The Gatekeepers

And here's my Oscar gift : The best opening in recent memory, Jackman in 2009.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Anne Hathaway really wants an Oscar

For some reason Anne Hathaway's public persona rubs a lot of people - including me - the wrong way. There's something disingenuous about her earnest theatre kid proclamations. Her speeches and interviews make me cringe. She is probably a really nice person.

I like a lot of her performances. She was charming in Prada, revelatory in Rachel Getting Married and the best thing in Les Miserables. Still every time I see her accept an award she just bugs me. Someone has poured these feelings into a genius video. Really well done and so so right. Watch and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Best of 2012 - Supporting Actor

Jason Clarke in Zero Dark Thirty
For being as matter of fact about his character as the movie is.
For  fastidiously driving the plot forward while giving us his character's struggle, ambition and determination,
For the most un-showy performance of the year.

Samuel L Jackson in Django Unchained
For boldly taking on the most un-PC movie character in recent movie history.
For a lively full throttle performance that kept viewers guessing.
For being best in show.

Jude Law in Anna Karenina
For giving us a haunting portrait of weary resignation and dogged duty that cannot abide.
For embracing Karenin's passionless ordinariness while making him sympathetic.

Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike
For being the warmest mot lived in performance in a movie full of them.
For finally melding his public persona into a memorable "star" performance.

Ezra Miller in Perks of Being a Wallflower
For taking on  the stock eccentric sidekick role and making it so much more
For an open honest portrait of first love with all its hope, confusion and despair.

In addition to these performances, I thought Tommy Lee Jones was terrific in Lincoln and Phillip Seymour Hoffman subtle and affecting in The Master.

What are your favorite supporting actors of the year? Did you enjoy any of these performances?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Best of 2012 - Supporting Actress

Conventional wisdom and major award bodies see this as Anne Hathaway's year. However while I think she's the best thing about that movie I still found another 5 performances that I liked more. Here are my top 5 in alphabetical order:

Emily Blunt in Looper
For grounding a most fanciful premise in a simple story about a mother's love for her child.
For showing that love to be scary, tender and fierce all at the same time.

Lizzy Caplan in Bachelorette
For being both new and familiar as the not-ready-to-grow up party girl.
For showing us the hurt and hidden vulnerability behind the smug and awful.
For portraying the hurt of first love so eloquently.

Jennifer Ehle in Zero Dark Thirty
For having lots of spark and personality behind the dogged devotion to her job.
For showing the excitement of the hunt when the prey is near.

Helen Hunt in The Sessions
For shedding all pretense along with her clothes. 
For showing us honesty that love can be conflicting and emotionally dangerous. 

Lorraine Toussaint in Middle of Nowhere
For the most realistic portrait of a mother's simultaneous disappointment and hope in her children.
 For showing years of weariness and knowing-it-all in a simple look.

Thoughts? What were some of your favorites? Did any of these ladies blow you away as they did me?

Thursday, January 17, 2013


For some reason I'm excited by the trailer for Mud, the new movie from Take Shelter's Jeff Nichols and starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon. Maybe its the buzz from last May's Cannes where the film was warmly received, maybe because it continues McConaughey's stellar year into 2013. Maybe I'm just hoping Witherspoon finally made another good movie.Can't really say why.

 Check it out below. Will you be in line April 26?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Amour is my # 1 movie of 2012. Over the next few days I will announce my superlatives for acting, writing and direction. Both Emmanuelle Riva and Jean Louis Trintignant will be included. In the meantime enjoy this lovely picture

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations

Oldest and Youngest Best Actress Nominees in Oscar History

Hurray for the shorter voting period. It produced many surprises, worthy nominees and less reliance on precursors. I am happier than I usually am on nomination morning. While I was sad to see some of my favorites (Hawkes, Cotillard, Perks of Being a Wallflower) miss out, so many favorites made it.

I was very happy that AMPAS embraced Amour, Beasts of theSouthern Wild and particularly both Emmanuelle Riva and Quvenzhane Wallis. Look at them, this season still can become a real treat. Helen Hunt was nominated for a fantastic performance, so was Naomi Watts. And can I admit that I was very happy to see both Helen Mirren and Tom Hooper miss out? Mediocre work did not just coast through.

Not all was roses. Just look at the mostly aggravating Supporting Actor category. Waltz over Jackson from Django? Arkin for a fun but unremarkable performance? De Niro for shedding a measly tear after decades of coasting? Color me not impressed.

Let’s dig into the top 8 categories and see how I did with my predictions:

Best Picture
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Very happy that Amour made it here as the first foreign language film in this category since Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon a decade ago. This is a pretty good list, not a dud in here. Now if Amour can continue surprising and actually manage to win. I know, I know but one can dream.

My Predictions : I predicted 8 but got all 8 correct plus Amour which I had as an alternate so I think 9/9.

Best Director
Michael Haneke -  Amour
Ang Lee -  Life of Pi
Ben Zeitlin - Beasts of the Southern Wild
Steven Spielberg - Lincoln
David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook

The most surprising category with Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow missing out. I think there was an abdundance of deserving directors this year and not an intentional snub. Even the controversial Zero Dark Thirty got 5 nominations overall so I'm thinking Bigelow just missed out.

My Predictions : As with most everyone only got 3/5. But I'm happy to have predicted Russell despite DGA snub and to be surprised by Haneke and Zeitlin, directors of two movies that I loved.

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln
Hugh Jackman - Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix - The Master
Denzel Washington - Flight

Very sad to see Hawkes miss out when he gave such a beautiful and funny performance. Phoenix's thespian Olympics, look at me acting won voters' hearts. I admire but do not love any of these performances. Where are the French guys; Jean Louis Trintingnant, Matthias Schoenaerts and Denis Levant? And is AMPAS really going to give DDL a 3rd Oscar so soon after making Meryl wait almost 30 years. I guess so but I don't like it.

My Predictions : 4/5 Phoenix replaced Hawkes.

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour"
Quvenzhané Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Naomi Watts, "The Impossible"

I just love these 5 nominees. Yep Cotillard would’ve been great but she has one and her snub got us the delight that is Riva and Wallis together. And while the 8 noms that Silver Linings got implies that Lawrence is way ahead, I think we got ourselves a real competition here.

My Predictions : 4/5 So happy to be wrong about Riva.

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin - Argo
Robert De Niro - Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman - The Master
Tommy Lee Jones - Lincoln
Christoph Waltz - Django Unchained

I already dissed this category. But happy to see Jones, he had the most personal and emotional arc in Lincoln. And Hoffman was unusually subtle and as good as ever. All 5 are previous winners so all bets are off.

My Predictions : 4/5 I had Di Caprio instead of Waltz.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams - The Master
Sally Field - Lincoln
Anne Hathaway- Les Misérables
Helen Hunt - The Sessions
Jacki Weaver- Silver Linings Playbook

When I saw Silver Linings Playbook, I left loving Weaver and wishing she had more to do. Apparently it didn’t matter and she is in. Hathaway is way ahead but 6 weeks is a long time and people might tire of her specially if her acceptance speeches are as grating and high faluting as her interviews so far.

Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Argo - Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild - Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi - David Magee
Lincoln - Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook - David O. Russell

Very respectable list. I am in the minority that didn’t mind the framing subplot of Life of Pi that many blamed on Magee. Still I had hoped Perks of Being a Wallflower would’ve made it here.

My Predictions : 4/5, went with my heart for Perks.

Best Writing (Original Screenplay)
Amour - Michael Haneke
Django Unchained - Quentin Tarantino
Flight - John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom - Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty - Mark Boal

Another good list. Wll Haneke surprise or will Tarantino or Boal win their 2nd Oscar in this category?

My Predictions : 4/5. It’s a pattern. Had The Master instead of Flight.

Finally I really liked the nominations presentation. I was not very happy that they chose Emma Stone and not a recent winner/nominee as per tradition but she was funny and complemented Seth McFarlane well. I also liked doing away with the alphabetical order, that kept it flowing and surprising. While the Hitler joke was a dud Seth was charmingly off kilter and awkward which could work to his advantage at the big show.Hopefully he tested the material he wanted to and now knows what worked and what didn’t.
Are you happy with the nominations? What was your favorite nomination? Let me know in the comments or on twitter @ME_Says.