Category Archives: Movies

moonlight

2016 Movie Awards

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The Year’s Best Films

  1. Moonlight
    Beautiful, unexpected coming of age triptych
  2. Hidden Figures
    Exhilarating corrective racial history lesson
  3. The Witch
    Horrifying depiction of religious madness
  4. La La Land
    Candy-colored L.A. fantasia
  5. Tickled
    Jaw-dropping mystery documentary with an authentically juicy villain
  6. OJ: Made in America
    Titanic use of the documentary form
  7. Arrival
    A rare smart science fiction movie!
  8. The Handmaiden
    A fever-dream of sex, deception and betrayal
  9. Manchester By the Sea
    A very pure and heartfelt portrait of grief
  10. Midnight Special
    Forget Loving. THIS was the GOOD Jeff Nichols movie this year.

Honorable Mention:

The Nice Guys

The Wave [Norway]

Train to Busan

10 Cloverfield Lane

Don’t Think Twice

Eye in the Sky

Sing Street

Green Room

The Invitation

Love and Friendship

Hell or High Water

In Order of Disappearance [Norway]

Lion

Indignation

Perfectly Enjoyable

Barbershop:  The Next Cut

Edge of Seventeen

Tallulah

The Duelist [Russia]

The Meddler

Everybody Wants Some!!

Finding Dory

Ghostbusters

Don’t Breathe

The Shallows

De Palma

Women He’s Undressed

Becoming Mike Nichols

Sully

Lo and Behold:  Reveries of the Connected World

Blue Jay

Actor

Denzel Washington, Fences

Vincent Lindon, The Measure of a Man [France]

*Casey Affleck, Manchester-By-The Sea

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Honorable Mention:  John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane; Ralph Ineson, The Witch

Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Min-hee Kim, The Handmaiden

Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

*Annette Bening, 20th Century Women

Honorable Mention:  Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch; Natalie Portman, Jackie; Ruth Negga, Loving; Hailee Steinfeld, Edge of Seventeen; Sally Field, Hello My Name is Doris; Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins; Kate Beckinsale, Love and Friendship

Supporting Actor

Tracy Letts, Indignation

Sunny Pawar, Lion

Russell Hornsby, Fences

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

*Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Honorable Mention:  Tom Bennett, Love and Friendship; Gil Birmingham, Hell or High Water; Simon Helgberg, Florence Foster Jenkins; Ashton Sanders, Moonlight

Supporting Actress

Michelle Williams, Manchester-By-The-Sea

*Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Kate Dickie, The Witch

Molly Shannon, Other People

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Director

*Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Robert Eggers, The Witch

Chan-wook Park, The Handmaiden

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Documentary

City of Gold

Tickled

Presenting Princess Shaw

The Eagle Huntress

Thirteenth

*OJ: Made in America

Animated Feature

Zootopia

Kubo and the Two Strings

*The Red Turtle

Foreign language feature

*The Handmaiden (South Korea)

Train to Busan (South Korea)

The Wave (Norway)

In Order of Disappearance (Norway)

The Duelist (Russia)

Cinematography

Café Society (Vittorio Storaro)

*Nocturnal Animals (Seamus McGarvey)

La La Land (Linus Sandgren)

Moonlight (James Laxton)

The Handmaiden (Chung-hoon Chung)

Production Design

*La La Land (David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco)

Hidden Figures (Wynn Thomas)

The Witch (Craig Lathrop)

The Handmaiden (Seong-hie Ryu)

Costume Design

*La La Land (Mary Zophres)

Hidden Figures (Renee Ehrlich Kalfus)

The Handmaiden (Sang-gyeong Jo)

Funniest

Deadpool

*Office Christmas Party

Sausage Party

Neighbors 2

People who need to be a bigger deal

T.J. Miller, who was so terrific in Deadpool and Office Christmas Party

Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch)

Gil Birmingham, low-key but irresistible in Hell or High Water

Jerrod Carmichael (The Meddler, Neighbors 2)

Blake Jenner (Everybody Wants Some!!, Edge of Seventeen)

Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!, Hidden Figures)

Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, Hidden Figures)

Writer/Director Jeremy Saulnier, whose film Green Room was the thriller of the year

Writer/Director Mike Birbiglia, who showed amazing growth between his first feature (Sleepwalk With Me from 2012) to this year’s Don’t Think Twice

Jenny Slate, so good in Zootopia and My Blind Brother

Best Sly Casting Joke

Tom Everett Scott in La La Land.  Think about his resume and you’ll get it.

Best performance as a lesbian taco

Salma Hayek in Sausage Party

Best Performance by a former game of thrones actor

Kate Dickie in The Witch

Country whose movies need more viewers and awards and stuff

South Korea.  If you’re not going to South Korean movies these days, you are really missing out.

what the  actual @*^ do they have to do to win a freaking oscar?

Annette Bening

John Goodman

Guilty Pleasures

Hardcore Harry

Office Christmas Party

Best Thriller

Green Room

Best Mystery

Tickled

But At least it looked good.  right?

Warcraft

Weirdest

The Lobster

Most reprehensively deceptive trailer

The Lobster

Underrated!

Sing Street

The Nice Guys

The Witch

Midnight Special

Best Extended dialog scene

Indignation:  Logan Lerman (college student) and Tracy Letts (Dean) spar in an increasingly odd and uncomfortable exchange.

Memorable lines

Moonlight:  “Ok. Let your head rest in my hand. Relax. I got you. I promise. I won’t let you go. Hey man. I got you. There you go. Ten Seconds. Right there. You in the middle of the world.”

The Witch:  “Did ye make some unholy bond with that goat?”

Hidden Figures:  “There are no colored bathrooms in this building, or any building outside the West Campus, which is half a mile away. Did you know that? I have to walk to Timbuktu just to relieve myself! And I can’t use one of the handy bikes. Picture that, Mr. Harrison. My uniform, skirt below the knees and my heels. And simple necklace pearls. Well, I don’t own pearls. Lord knows you don’t pay the colored enough to afford pearls! And I work like a dog day and night, living on coffee from a pot none of you want to touch! So, excuse me if I have to go to the restroom a few times a day.”

Zootopia:  “Fear ALWAYS works!”

Overrated

Jungle Book (sorry, everyone)

The Feel-bad movies of 2016

Weiner Dog

Nocturnal Animals

High-Rise

Just a hot mess

The Little Prince

Worst movies of 2016

Too Late

Goat

 

 

In Memoriam

The roster of performers and other show business types we lost in 2016 is absolutely overwhelming.  Feel free to skip this portion if you’ve run out of tears.  But here goes.  The purely objective short list of the losses that particular sadden me are at the top.

Alan Rickman

Maurice White

Harper Lee

Umberto Eco

Pat Conroy

Patty Duke

Gene Wilder

Edward Albee

Florence Henderson

Carrie Fisher

Debbie Reynolds

 

 

Pat Harrington, Jr.

David Bowie

Dan Haggerty

Glen Frey

Abe Vigoda

Vanity

George Gaines

Sonny James

Tony Burton

George Kennedy

George Martin

Keith Emerson

Phife Dawg

Garry Shandling

Jim Harrison

Eric Bauersfeld

Merle Haggard

Doris Roberts

Prince

Billy Paul

Guy Clark

Alan Young

Muhammad Ali

Theresa Saldana

Ron Lester

Anton Yelchin

Ralph Stanley

Bernie Whorrell

Michael Cimino

Noel Neill

Garry Marshall

David Huddleston

Pete Fountain

Barry Jenner

Kenny Baker

Fyvush Finkel

Steven Hill

Juan Gabriel

John Polito

Alexis Arquette

W.P. Kinsella

Curtis Hanson

Bill Nunn

Tommy Ford

Leonard Cohen

Robert Vaughn

Leon Russell

Holly Dunn

Sharon Jones

Ron Glass

Grant Lake

Grant Tinker

Joseph Mascolo

E.R. Braithwaite

Alan Thicke

Zsa Zsa Gabor

George Michael

Rickey Harris

Richard Adams

Barbara Tarbuck

William Christopher

 

 

PLEASE LEAVE COMMENTS!  I look forward to arguing with you!

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F-CTB6700

Movie Review: The Hustler (1961) directed by Robert Rossen

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Fast Eddie:  How can I lose?hustler newman

This line, tossed off with Paul Newman’s deceptively casual nonchalance, contains at once the bravado and the curse of poor Eddie Felson, a pool shark riding the whirlwind in Robert Rossen’s haunting film.

Though it was released in 1961, last night was the first time I had ever seen this legendary movie.

Newman plays a pool prodigy from Oakland who’s on the prowl to match his skills against the king of the pool halls, the great Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason).  Along the way he encounters a world so dangerous and dark that even love seems to have poisoned teeth.

This is one of those films that makes you want to kiss the casting director.  The losers who hang around the bar are so incredible looking, so real, so sad, that you can’t take your eyes off of them.  Combined with Harry Horner and Gene Callahan’s production design and Eugen Schüfftan’s cinematography (both Oscar winners for the film), the scenes in seedy pool halls are elevated to a dreamy, mythic grace.

In addition to the bit players, the film is full of wonderful supporting actors like Michael Constantine, Myron McCormick, William Duell and Vincent Gardenia.

But it’s the leads who knock it out of the park.  Murray Hamilton is astonishing as an oily, creepy southern rich guy with a pool fetish, giving a performance every bit as memorable as his famous turns as Mr. Robinson in The Graduate and Mayor Vaughn in Jaws.

George C. Scott, three years before Dr. Strangelove, is scary, intimidating and perverse as rich gambler Bert Gordon.

hustler gleasonJackie Gleason, known for comedy, has barely a dozen lines as Minnesota Fats but is quietly great.  The fact that he actually was a superb pool shooter surely helped his confidence in the role.  He comes off as sort of a pool hall Godfather – he’s irresistible.

Paul Newman is, of course, superb as the doomed Fast Eddie.  Beyond his gobsmacking looks, dangerous eyes and ripped physique, he’s an actor of enormous feeling and earnestness.  Eddie is justifiably one of his most famous roles.

piperBut it’s Piper Laurie as Sarah who is the soul of the movie.  Sarah is a drinky, polio-lame aspiring writer with casual morals who gets under Eddie’s skin more than he ever suspected was possible.  Laurie had languished as a contract ingénue in the 50s, and she got offered The Hustler after being seen in an off-Broadway production of the Actor’s Studio.  With a voice like liquid amber and an almost other-worldly poise and allure, it’s easy to understand how Eddie cannot get away from her.

Curiously, after the release of the film, Piper Laurie dropped out of the film business completely, only returning fifteen years later when Brian De Palma, to his everlasting credit, coaxed her back to play Margaret White in Carrie (a character and performance that would easily make my top ten in the history of film).  As she had been for The Hustler, Laurie was again nominated for an Academy Award for her unforgettable work in Carrie.

In all, The Hustler receiver nine Oscar nominations, winning two.  If you are a film lover who, like me, had somehow managed to miss seeing it before, I heartily urge you to seek it out.  You’ll be glad you did.

 

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Ray’s 2015 Movie Awards!

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Best Films of the Year

1. Anomalisa. Such a clever movie, so moving. It made us look at the mundane realities of life with fresh eyes.
2. The Revenant. Stunning film craftsmanship.
3. Bridge of Spies. Best traditional movie of the year. A great history lesson for adults.
4. The Martian. Science wins!
5. The Hateful Eight. Lots of really really good talk by great actors.
6. Mad Max: Fury Road. More spectacular craftsmanship.
7. Brooklyn. It’s just sort of perfect.
8. Carol. Haunting and oh so beautiful.
9. Inside Out. Even Sadness can be the hero!
10. Room. Beautiful and horrifying adaptation of a beautiful and horrifying novel.
11. 99 Homes. Beautifully written and acted Faustian fable set during the housing market crisis.
Honorable Mention: Welcome to Me, The Big Short, Chi-Raq, Spotlight, The Truth, What We Do in the Shadows, Shaun the Sheep Movie, The Gift, Meet the Patels, Love and Mercy, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, While We’re Young, Far From the Madding Crowd, Predestination, Maps to the Stars, Love and Mercy, Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, 45 Years, White God, Straight Outta Compton, Creed
Won’t hurt you to watch if you’re interested in the movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Five Flights Up, Spy, Trainwreck, Ricki and the Flash, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, The Walk, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, The Final Girls, Labyrinth of Lies, Very Semi-Serious, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, People Places Things, Joy, Hitchcock/Truffaut

Actress

Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
*Brie Larson, Room
Kristin Wiig, Welcome to Me
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Honorable Mention: Teyona Parris in Chi-Raq, Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van, Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, Cate Blanchett in The Truth, Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years, Jennifer Jason Leigh in Anomalisa, Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Carey Mulligan in Far From the Madding Crowd, Lily Tomlin in Grandma

Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Matt Damon, The Martian
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies
*Ian McKellan, Mr. Holmes
Honorable Mention: Jason Segel in The End of the Tour, Taika Waititi in What We Do in the Shadows, Andrew Garfield in 99 Homes, Michael B. Jordan in Creed

Supporting Actress

*Sarah Snook, Predestination
Rooney Mara, Carol
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Honorable Mention: Elizabeth Banks in Love and Mercy

Supporting Actor

Michael Shannon, 99 Homes
*Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Jacob Tremblay, Room
Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight
Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight
Benicio Del Toro, Sicario

Director

Ridley Scott, The Martian
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
Todd Haynes, Carol
*Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, Anomalisa

Documentary Feature

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
The Wrecking Crew
An Honest Liar
The Best of Enemies
Being Evel
We Come as Friends
*Meet the Patels
Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine
Honorable Mention: Very Semi-Serious, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,

Screenplay

While We’re Young by Noah Baumbach. Really smart, wistful, and surprising.
Inside Out by Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley. One of the smartest kid movies I’ve ever seen.
The Gift by Joel Edgerton. A brilliant thriller for grownups.
Steve Jobs by Aaron Sorkin
Room by Emma Donoghue
Bridge of Spies by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers
*Anomalisa by Charlie Kaufman
99 Homes by Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi and Bahareh Azimi

Cinematography

Charlotte Bruus Christensen, Far From the Madding Crowd
John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road
Roger Deakins, Sicario
Janusz Kaminski, Bridge of Spies
*Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant
Edward Lachman, Carol
Joe Passarelli, Anomalisa

Editing

*Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road

Production Design

The Martian
*Mad Max: Fury Road
Carol
The Hateful Eight
Anomalisa

Foreign Language Feature

Theeb
*Mustang
White God
Son of Saul

Best Adaptation of a Property I Love and Assumed Hollywood Didn’t Know About

Predestination: A stunning film version of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic time travel short story “All You Zombies.”

Creative Match Made in Heaven

Creepmeister director David Cronenberg and Hollywood Babylon scribe Bruce Webber teamed up for the acidic and irresistible Maps to the Stars.

A Year of Bio-Documentaries! So Many to Enjoy!

The Wrecking Crew. The story of the amazing studio musicians behind, as Joni Mitchell’s David Geffen would put it, “the popular song.”
An Honest Liar. The indispensable debunker James Randi.
The Best of Enemies. Gore Vidal vs. William F. Buckley, Jr.
Being Evel. Easy to forget how influential Evel Knievel was.

Best Movie Ever About a Pack of Dogs Taking Over The City of Budapest

White God

Underrated

Unfriended. Clever little horror film that takes place entirely on one computer screen.
Truth. Why did people hate this movie so much? I really liked it and I thought Cate Blanchett was sensational.

Busy Actors: I saw the following actors in THREE films this year

John Cusack: Love and Mercy, Chi-Raq, Maps to the Stars
David Thewlis: Macbeth, Legend, and Anomalisa (okay, you don’t actually SEE him in that one, but still)

Busier Actors: FOUR Movies in 2015!

Tom Hardy: Mad Max Fury Road, Legend, The Revenant, Child 44
Kristen Wiig: The Martian, Nasty Baby, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Welcome to Me
Domhnall Gleeson: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ex Machina, The Revenant, Brooklyn

WOW: Five Releases in 2015!

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl, Ex Machina, Burnt, Testament of Youth, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

A Word about Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It’s fun. It didn’t change my life. It’s a fun remake of the first movie. It was nice to sit through a Star Wars movie without wanting to jab knitting needles deep into both of my eyes. That said, it IS merely a redo. And it didn’t treat Leia very well. Or her relationship with Han. And Kylo Ren is a huge bore. And that Super Weapon was the stupidest weapon ever, and that’s saying something.

Great Set Pieces

Sneaking around the opera in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
The first Indian attack and the bear attack in The Revenant
That part in Mad Max: Fury Road right between the beginning and the end
Though the movie disappointed me, the dinner table confrontation at the end of Sicario was genuinely surprising and shocking.
Stop-action cunnilingus in Anomalisa.
The escape attempt in Room.
The final Canine/Human confrontation in White God.
The first eviction in 99 Homes.
What happens when you have an insane sheep dog in Far From the Madding Crowd.
Julianne Moore has a close encounter with an acting award in Maps to the Stars.
Judy and Matthew Shepard intervene in the sentencing process of one of the men who murdered their son Matthew in Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine.

Proof That Ed Harris MUST GET A NEW AGENT

Run All Night. We love Ed Harris. Why does he appear in stuff like this?

Best Lines

“Werewolves, not Swearwolves.” Lycanthropic self-control in What We Do in the Shadows.
“Petyr’s 600 years old. He’s not coming to the breakfast meeting.” Apartment politics in What We Do in the Shadows.
“He wants more than he has. I want precisely what he already has.” The grass is always greener in The End of the Tour.
“Now, Daisy, I want us to work out a signal system of communication. When I elbow you real hard in the face, that means: shut up.” Kurt Russell gets physical in The Hateful Eight.
“Mars will come to fear my botany powers.” Matt Damon gets his agriculture on in The Martian.
“Let’s castrate.” Kristin Wiig takes her role as a source of enlightenment seriously in Welcome to Me.

Year’s Best Catch Phrase

“Would it help?” in Bridge of Spies.

The Year’s Single Greatest Cinematic Moment

Jennifer Lopez is given “a first edition” of THE ILIAD in the spectacular The Boy Next Door. This is also the film that features Kristin Chenoweth’s final transformation into E.T.

Biggest Turnarounds

Lenny Abrahamson directed one of the most obnoxious movies of 2014 (Frank) and then lo and behold made one of this year’s best: Room.
After years in Ray’s Doghouse, scrappy Jennifer Jason Leigh has finally re-arrived, valiantly doing heavy lifting in TWO of the year’s best films.

2015 MVP Goes To…

The versatile and daring Kristen Wiig, who appeared in no fewer than four 2015 releases. She gave tremendous performances in Welcome to Me and Diary of A Teenage Girl, appeared in the edgy indie Nasty Baby, and was a pillar of sense in the big budget hit The Martian. This on top of a ton of television work. Do you ever sleep, Miss Wiig?

E For Effort

Chi-Raq isn’t completely successful, but I give props to Spike Lee for attempting something challenging, literary, and timely. We need more film adaptations of the comic Greek plays.

Best Movie Villains

Mitchell Winehouse, Amy
Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), Maps to the Stars

Please Let’s See More Of…

Teyona Parris. She commanded the screen in the brash Chi-Raq.
Hamish Linklater. I keep noticing him shoring up the supporting casts of films like 42 and The Big Short. Give him more lines, already.
Donald Glover. Stopped the show with his demo of a rescue plan in The Martian.
John Magaro. Charmed in both Carol and The Big Short. Keep hiring this dude.
Finn Wittrock. Has the looks and the muscles of Taylor Kitsch but, unlike Kitsch, has charisma and talent.
Sarah Snook. Her gender-bending turn in Predestination knocked out both of us who saw it.
Emory Cohen. Utter charm and authenticity in Brooklyn.

The Year’s Worst

Most Inconsistent Polish Accent

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Most Inaccurate Title

Mad Max: Fury Road. It wasn’t about Mad Max. Mad Max is barely in it. The movie should have been called Imperator Furiosa: Fury Road.

Disappointing Documentary

Wolf Pack: Great setup, ultimately lame storytelling.

Most Disappointing Production of Macbeth Since That Tedious One I Walked Out of at A Noise Within in Glendale

Macbeth: GOD this movie was boring and terrible. You know, if you don’t want to film the “Double double, toil and trouble” scene… then you really don’t want to do Macbeth, do you?

Annoyingly Overrated

It Follows. It was just plain bad.
Ex Machina. It was good, but it wasn’t the second coming of Jesus, which you’d have thought it was from the reaction it got.
Sicario. The movie’s main character (Emily Blunt) had no agency. The main character clearly should have been Benicio Del Toro.

Jodie Foster Award For Worst Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role

Maika Monroe, It Follows

Worst Motion Pictures of 2015 by a Mile

Tomorrowland. Such promise, such a great director, such a crushing disappointment. The most incoherent major release since Prometheus.

In Memoriam

Leonard Nimoy, actor
B.B. King, musician, demigod
Maureen O’Hara, actress
Jackie Collins, author
Fred Thompson, actor
Omar Sharif, actor
Marty Ingalls, actor
Cory Wells, founding member of Three Dog Night
Joan Leslie, actress (High Sierra)
Jack Larson, played Jimmy Olsen in “The Adventures of Superman”
Wes Craven, director
Alex Rocco, actor
Gary Owens, radio announcer
James Horner, composer
Haskell Wexler, two-time Oscar winning cinematographer
John Guillermin, director (The Towering Inferno)
Bud Yorkin, producer
Jerry Weintraub, producer
Melissa Mathison (wrote E.T.)
E.L. Doctorow, author

Please feel free to comment!

And yes, the asterisks indicate the winners.
You can read my weekly column on the movies at www.theeagle.com and read my other musings at www.starkravingray.com.
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revenant

Film Review: The Revenant

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Alejandro González Iñárritu is determined to beat me into submission. After really liking his first film, Amores Perros, I REALLY disliked his next two big features, 21 Grams and Babel.

But then came last year’s Birdman, Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. Even though I walked into the movie expecting to hate it, and was annoyed by certain aspects of it (drumming so loud it drowned out 30% of the dialog), I was stunned by the craftsmanship. I was fully on board with it winning the Oscar for Best Picture.

Last night I watched, or rather endured, Iñárritu’s new picture, The Revenant. I say “endured” because it’s a grueling 156 minutes. But it’s also fascinating, horrifying, thrilling, and irresistible.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the guide for a group of fur traders on Montana in the 1820s. I don’t want to give much away plot-wise, so I’ll just say the boys have some Indian trouble, and then Leo has some VERY nasty bear trouble. The bulk of the film deals with Leo’s attempts to survive in the wilderness long enough to get revenge on them that done him wrong.

The excellent cast also features one of my favorites, Domnhall Gleeson as the leader of their expedition and Tom Hardy as the Leo’s Machiavellian nemesis. (In a refreshing change, I could understand most of Tom Hardy’s lines this time around.)

Once again Iñárritu is working with heroic genius cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who is only the second DP in Oscar history to win two years in a row (for Gravity and Birdman). After seeing his jaw-dropping work in The Revenant, I think he’s got a good chance of going three for three. In addition to Gravity, let’s remember that this is the man who shot The New World, Tree of Life, Y Tu Mamá También , Sleepy Hollow and Children of Men.

The first fifteen minutes of the movie are absolutely flabbergasting. The majesty and menacing mystery of the north woods country is almost overwhelming in the hands of Iñárritu and Lubezki. The Indian attack that opens the movie is a masterpiece of staging that reminded me of the opening of Saving Private Ryan, which is about as high praise as I can summon up regarding an action scene.

revenant vistaThe rest of the movie can’t maintain that astronomical standard, but then neither did the rest of Saving Private Ryan. It’s merely brilliant. It features shot after shot that’s either so beautiful or so crafty it literally pushed me back into my seat.

Iñárritu has revealed himself to be an absolutely take-no-prisoners filmmaker. He has that in common with his friend and fellow director from Mexico, my hero Alfonso Cuarón. Every single scene in the movie looks like it must have been brutal to shoot. Remote woods, cold weather and lots and lots of water — all elements that challenge any film team. The movie was shot in sequence for 80 days over nine months. At one point while filming in Canada, the weather warmed up a little too early and they lost the snow. Undeterred, Iñárritu packed up the entire team and relocated to southern Argentina to finish the scene. He’s a beast. But he’s OUR beast. He needs to stay healthy and make many more movies.

Special mention must be made of the remarkable bear attack scene. I assume it was accomplished with a combination of CGI and puppetry, but trust me, you’re ready for the emergency room yourself before it’s over.

There’s been a lot of talk about The Revenant being the film that could finally net veteran favorite Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar. I think it will. Though he only speaks 15 lines of dialog in English in the entire movie, his performance is the stuff Academy Award voters love. I’m not a fan of his; the last movie I liked him in was What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? But I do think he’s a terrific actor and he certainly deserves a win for this beautiful, bleak, unforgettable movie.

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legend 1

Film Review: Legend

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Why am I supposed to care about The Krays? Why do they keep making boring movies about them? Maybe I’d care about the twin gangster brothers if I was British, but good grief, Brian Helgeland’s new film “Legend” isn’t going to stir up any new passion about them.

First of all, the title. Legend. That’s so lazy. Did he ask his eight-year old to name the movie. And speaking of eight-year olds, I’m convinced the director also had a child do the song placement in the movie. On-the-nose song placement is one of my biggest pet peeves in movies. It shows extreme laziness and lack of imagination. A song, particularly a well-known song, in a movie, should ADD to the narrative, not just simple-mindedly underscore it. Here’s how bad it is in “Legend”:

When Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy, and we’ll get to him in a minute) is getting married to the film’s narrator and his wife Frances (Emily Browning), guess what song is playing? “Goin’ to the Chapel.” Yeah, it’s that bad. Earlier in the film, when the brothers are first really climbing the ladder of London’s organized crime scene, we are treated to “The In Crowd.” Good grief. My friend and I would just roll our eyes as each blindingly obvious famous pop song began underscoring an already obvious event on the screen. Sheesh.

Next, the narration. Narration is almost always a bad idea in movies, because, again, it’s lazy. You’re telling instead of showing. There are exceptions, of course, when the narration adds immeasurably to a film (All About Eve, Little Children, Network, etc.) But usually it’s a bad idea. And in Legend, Frances’s voiceover provides FAR more plot than the actual film does.

Now to current It-Boy Tom Hardy. I’ve really liked him in other things, particularly in Locke and The Drop, but he just sucks in Legend. He tries so hard in helping us distinguish between the two identical twins he’s playing that he forgets to actually act. Reggie, the “nicer” criminal maniac, is simply boring, but Ron, the batshit crazy one, is a disaster. The combination of ridiculously thick Cockney accent and slang plus a mouth full of, well, something, means you can only understand about a third of what he says. I don’t think he utters more than three consonants in the entire film. He’s not acting, he’s just showing off. There is a difference.

After his non-performance in Mad Max: Fury Road earlier this year (why was that movie even called Mad Max instead of Imperator Furiosa? He had like three lines in the movie. The movie was about Charlize Theron’s character.), and remembering how awful he was in the third “Batman” movie (his entire performance was a stupid lazy Sean Connery imitation), I’m afraid I may have to re-evaluate him as a major talent.

Legend is full of violence, which shouldn’t surprise me, considering the subject matter. But it’s depressing and upsetting violence. I spent a good portion of the film with my eyes covered.

If I’m not coming through clearly here, I hated, hated, HATED this movie.

I’m bewildered by writer/director Brian Helgeland’s misstep on this one. This is the guy who wrote “LA Confidential,” and wrote and directed one of my favorite films of recent years, 42, not to mention a movie a lot of people really like, A Knight’s Tale. Let’s hope Legend is a soon-to-be forgotten blip in an otherwise excellent body of work.

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The Secret Service review

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I was really hoping to like Kingsman: The Secret Service. First of all, it’s directed by Matthew Vaughn, who made two movies I really like: Layer Cake and Stardust. And the trailers made it look fun. And who doesn’t like Colin Firth, right?

Well.

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. The film is indeed snappy, has some visual punch, and a fun cast. It also has a few very big laughs, which is always a good thing. And it’s got Mark Strong in the cast, which of course makes any film better.

But.

kingsmanposter0002 (2)The movie has a tone problem. It’s trying to be this veddy veddy British 007 pastiche, which is fine, but that can’t hide the fact that it’s just another remake of Men in Black with Firth in the Tommy Lee Jones role and buff newcomer Taron Egerton as Will Smith. Ripping off a famously terrific movie is risky business, because if you’re not careful, we’ll just sit there and think about how much better the original was.

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Ray’s 2014 Movie Awards!

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Best Films of the Year

  1. Birdman. I don’t even like this director.  And the drum solos were too loud and obnoxious.  And I’m no fan of Michael Keaton.  However, Birdman is filmmaking of the highest order.  An extremely smart and funny script, high-octane acting from a magnificent cast, and utterly epic cinematography make this the film of the year.
  2. Boyhood. Yeah, it’s a gimmick.  But maybe the greatest gimmick in the history of fiction film.  Writer/director Richard Linklater actually filmed for a week every year for twelve years to create this tapestry of a very normal Texas boy growing up.  There’s really no other movie like it.
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Director Wes Anderson’s latest puppet-show-with-real-actors-movie is probably his best.  It’s a deliriously entertaining contraption, full of humor, humanity and sadness.  The craftsmanship is of the highest order, particularly in the acting, design, and score.  The fact that the production designers got to show us the hotel in three different time periods really pushes this one over the top.
  4. The Congress. It’s not just weird, it’s out of its mind.  And that’s why I loved it.  Robin Wright playing herself and selling her image to be used to make movies is the least weird thing that happens in this deliriously inventive fantasy.
  5. Selma. A smart and disturbing look at the Civil Rights Movement.
  6. Whiplash. An off-the-chain meditation on the artistic impulse.
  7. Nightcrawler. One of the better LA movies in a great while, anchored by a stunning lead performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.
  8. The Drop. Down and dirty crime drama, Brooklyn-style.
  9. Wild Tales.  A spectacular collection of hilarious and horrifying revenge stories from Argentina.
  10. Pride. The most fun you have at a movie about a wrenching coal miners’ strike.
  11. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The only blockbuster on the list. It gets extra credit for not being a comic book superhero movie.

Honorable Mention:  Snowpiercer, Calvary

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Ray’s 2013 Movie Awards

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The Best Films of the Year

  1. Gravity:  Alfonso Cuarón’s startling vision of a very bad day in outer space knocked my socks off.
  2. The Past:  Asghar Farhadi’s emotionally devastating look at the power of secrets and the painful struggle to overcome our own questionable decisions.
  3. Captain Phillips:  Paul Greengrass created a thrilling and harrowing sea adventure.
  4. Mud:  This unusually involving coming of age story features stunning writing and an tremendous supporting performance by Matthew McConaughey.
  5. The Way, Way Back:  This oddly nostalgic story of painful youth had tons of zip and freshness, with a knockout career highlight performance by Sam Rockwell.
  6. Blue Jasmine:  Woody Allen’s best film in years delves painfully and irresistibly into Streetcar Named Desire territory, with spectacular results.
  7. Her:  Spike Jonze film manages to be authentically weird, accessible, and romantic.
  8. Stories We Tell.  Not sure if this is a documentary or what, but it’s a weird and marvelous film about family secrets from the talented Sarah Polley
  9. Prisoners:  A story that at first seems familiar but gets stranger and stranger.  Plus Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography.
  10. Short Term 12:  Simple and sincere film about second chances.

Honorable Mention:  Fruitvale Station, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street; The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 42, Blancanieves, The Company You Keep, Dallas Buyers Club, The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug

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Ray’s 2012 Movie Awards!

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Best Films of the Year

  1.  Lincoln – Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner took a big, complicated story from history and crafted a riveting political procedural out of it.
  2. Argo – Ben Affleck successfully transported us to the late 1970s in this fictionalized but thrilling retelling of a long-classified true story.
  3. Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell reboots the movie romance with this tale of damaged people trying to work through their baggage and make a connection.
  4. Django Unchained – In his best movie since Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino fearlessly takes on slavery, using the tropes of the spaghetti western and blaxploitation films.
  5. Cloud Atlas – This dizzyingly ambitious film adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel sweeps us along through six interconnected stories about freedom, slavery, justice and human progress.
  6. Life of Pi —  Ang Lee took a tricky book and made an absolutely beautiful movie of it.  Go see it.
  7. Moonrise Kingdom – It’s been a long time since I’ve even liked a Wes Anderson movie, and I LOVED this one.  It’s quirky, dear and features production design to die for.
  8. Compliance – One of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen, particularly because it’s based on actual incidents.  Watch the movie, then go to the internet and read about it.
  9. Safety Not Guaranteed – Perhaps the first film inspired by a Craig’s List ad, and for a time traveler, yet.
  10. Sound of My Voice – An eerie, ultra-low-budget psychological time-travel thriller starring and written by the beautiful and talented Brit Marling.

 

HONORABLE MENTION:  Robot and Frank, Chronicle, The Impossible, End of Watch, Arbitrage, Not Fade Away, Les Miserables, The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey, Stand Up Guys, 21 Jump Street

 

Lead Actress

*Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Emanuelle Riva, Amour

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

 

Lead Actor

*Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Jack Black, Bernie

John Hawkes, The Sessions

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour

 

HONORABLE MENTION:  Denzel Washington, Flight;  Frank Langella in Robot and Frank; Richard Gere in Arbitrage; Tom Holland, The Impossible

 

Compliance's Ann Dowd

Supporting Actress

Susan Sarandon, Jeff Who Lives At Home

*Ann Dowd, Compliance

Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Melissa McCarthy, This is 40

 

Supporting Actor

Javier Bardem, Skyfall

Robert DeNiro, Silver Lining’s Playbook

The glorious Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Christoph Walz, Django Unchained

*Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained

 

Honorable Mention:  Jake Johnson, Safety Not Guaranteed; Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Francois Cluzet, Little White Lies; Domhnall Gleeson, Anna Karenina

 

Director

Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

*Ben Affleck, Argo

Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom

Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, Cloud Atlas

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

 

Adapted Screenplay – it’s a TIE

*Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)

*Lincoln (Tony Kushner)

 

Original Screenplay

*Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)

Safety Not Guaranteed (Derek Connolly)

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola)

Moonrise Kingdom

 

Foreign Language Film

The Intouchables  (France)

*Amour (Austria)

Snabba Cash (Sweden)

Generation P (Russia)

 

Documentary Feature

The Queen of Versailles

The Imposter

*How to Survive a Plague

The Central Park Five

 

Production Design

Moonrise Kingdom

*Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

Life of Pi

Lincoln

Cloud Atlas

 

Underrated!

Haywire

Hysteria (the vibrator movie!)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Ruby Sparks

Liberal Arts

 

Best Action Thriller

Premium Rush

 

Funniest Movie of the Year

21 Jump Street21 Jump Street

 

Okay This Has to the VERY LAST Documentary about the West Memphis Three

West of Memphis

 

I Know It Wasn’t Exactly GOOD, But That Director Tarsem Singh Can Sure Bring the Pretty

Mirror, Mirror

 

Most Misnamed Movie

Bully:  A documentary about bullying in which almost no bullies appear.

 

What a Great Career He’s Having

Mark Duplass, who’s directing films (Jeff Who Lives At Home) and acting in them (Zero Dark Thirty, Safety Not Guaranteed).  Go Mr. D.!

 

What a Great Career SHE’S Having

Not only does Jennifer Lawrence have a huge big-budget franchise going, but she’s got TWO Best Actress Academy Award nominations.  At age twenty-two.

 

Show Me Something, Spurlock

While Morgan Spurlock is still appealing and handsome, his film Mansome was shallow and inconsequential.  He still hasn’t put out a feature that fulfills the promise of his superb debut Super Size Me.

 

Ray And Tayler “Get In Shape For Your Movie” Award

Colin Farrell, Total Recall

 

Please Can We See More Of

Snabba Cash’s Joel Kinnamon

Safety Not Guaranteed’s Aubrey Plaza

Compliance’s Ann Dowd

Stand Up Guys’ Lucy Punch

Generation P’s Vladimir Epifantsev

Vladimir Epifantsev

Anna Karenina’s Domhnall Gleeson

The Impossible’s Tom Holland

 

Not Totally Sure He Can Actually Act, But He Can Sure Heat Up the Screen

Garrett Hedlund

 

Everyone Loved It But Me

The Avengers.  I’m so tired of comic book superhero movies.  They simply devolve into CGI showcases.  Yawn.

 

Special “Three Strikes, You’re Out” Award

To the hilariously named Taylor Kitsch, who brought his great looks and charisma-free presence to THREE expensive bombs in one year:  John Carter, Battleship, and Savages.  Hope you have a Plan B, handsome!

 

Further Proof that Pixar’s Best Days are Behind Them

Brave

 

Worst Theatrical Trailer for a Good Movie

Amour.  The trailer gave you no inkling of what the damn movie was about.  Except that it was about old people.

 

By a Large Margin, The Most OVERRATED Film of the Year

Beasts of the Southern Wild

 

Worst Movies I Saw This Year

 

John Carter

Seven Psychopaths

Keep the Light On

Rise of the Guardians

 

Absolutely Positively the Worst Film of the Year

Prometheus.  It was shockingly, swinishly bad.  It was stupid and virtually incoherent.  I did not enjoy it.

Boo

 

Trends That Need to Be Over

No title card at the beginning of a movie (it’s pretentious)

Unnecessarily jerky handheld camera work (also pretentious)

Too much frantic energy on the screen (I’m looking at you, Hobbit and Rise of the Guardians)

 

In Memoriam!

 

Davy Jones (66)

Marvin Hamlisch (68)

Hal David (91)

Andy Williams (84)

Dave Brubeck (91)

Ben Gazarra (81)

Kathryn Joosten (72)

Richard Dawson (79)

Ann Rutherford (94)

Ernest Borgnine (95)

Celeste Holm (95)

Sherman Hemsley (74)

Tony Martin (98)

Phyllis Diller (95)

Michael Clarke Duncan (54)

Herbert Lom (95)

Larry Hagman (81)

Jack Klugman (90)

Charles Durning (89)

Robert B. Sherman (86)

Nora Ephron (71)

Richard Zanuck (77)

Whitney Houston (48)

Tony Scott (68)

Dick Clark (582)

 

 

Comments?  Complaints?  Fawning compliments?  Leave a comment!!

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CLOUD ATLAS Film Review

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 If you’re like me (and, really, who isn’t?), then you absolutely loved David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas.  It was a dazzling, kaleidoscopic treasure-box of a novel that lingers in your memory long after you finish it.

 It’s not a book that at once struck me as remotely filmable.  First of all, it’s six different stories, told in six completely different writing styles.  Next, there’s the book’s odd, nesting, Russian-Doll-like structure.  Finally, there’s the unavoidable fact that it’s a challenging book.  The novel’s riches require a bit of patience and focus from the reader.  It’s not exactly a beach novel.

 I can’t believe anyone would put up a pile of money to film such an odd book.  But I guess when you are the creative force behind the $1.6 billion Matrix franchise, you can get the suits to cough up some dough.

 This book feels about as unfilmable as Kurt Vonnegut’s legendary time-travel odyssey Slaughter-House Five.  And that makes sense, because that’s the film that Cloud Atlas most reminds me of.  I was shocked at what a beautiful and coherent film director George Roy Hill made of Vonneguts’s book, and I am happy to report I am quite happy to report that, despite all expectations, Cloud Atlas, the film, is a splendid and worthy work.

 To tackle the six stories, Lena and Andy Wachowski have joined forces with the uber-talented German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run).  The Wachowskis directed three of the stories, and Tykwer the other three.

 The interconnected stories concern:  1) an ailing doctor trying to survive a long sea voyage back to San Francisco, 2) a disreputable young composer trying to advance his ambitions by assisting a retired legend, 3) a crusading reporter tries to uncover a scandal at a nuclear power plant, 4) a cynical publisher on the lam from thugs, 5) a Korean clone gets swept up in a violent revolution and 6) survivors of civilization’s collapse attempt to call for help from off-world colonies.

 To help reinforce what, in the novel, are subtle connections between the stories, the directors have cast familiar and not-so-familiar actors in a dizzying array of roles.  And before you raise your hand and refer to the idiotic “controversy’ regarding some Caucasian actors playing Asian roles, please note that in this ensemble piece men play women, women play men, white and  black play Asian, Asian plays white, etc.  It’s all over the map.

 The filmmakers also wisely ditched the shells-within-shells structure of the took to tell all six stories at the same time.  This, naturally, also helps you understand the resonance and connections between the stories.

 While this all may seem a bit too ambitious for their own good, the fact is, the three directors pull off something rather miraculous.  Just as when you read the book, you’re not quite sure what everything is about, but it’s never less than fascinating for a minute.  Its puzzle-like structure actually invites multiple viewings.  What is the story trying to tell us?  Is it about reincarnation?  Fate? Revolution?  Maybe it’s about all of those things.

 Just as the novel provided author David Mitchell a great showcase to show off six very different writing styles, the film allows the directors to simply go crazy with film genres.  There’s 19th century seafaring adventure, melancholy period drama, crackling 1970s thriller, modern situation comedy, high-tech futuristic action, and post-apocalypse survival.  The remarkable thing is that every sequence is effective and vivid.  Rather than getting annoyed with all the jumping around between stories, it’s thrilling to watch each develop and approach their climax at the same time. 

 It’s also a gas to watch Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon (Oscar winners all), Hugh Grant, Keith David, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Hugo Weaving, Ben Wishaw, James D’Arcy, and many others showing up in a stupifyingly diverse range of roles. 

 It’s also fun to simply sit there and connect the dots.  Watch how many times the number 6 is woven into the story, for instance.  And the concept of falling.  And slavery.

 Does it add up to a masterpiece?  Only time will tell if we consider it that, but even if it isn’t, Cloud Atlas is a gloriously entertaining heap of a movie that no one should miss.

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