April 21, 2014

Tag Archives: American film directors

Transcendence – Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cole Hauser, Cillian Murphy

Directed by: Wally Pfister
Written by: Jack Paglen
Main Cast: Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cole Hauser, Cillian Murphy, and others
Past Oscar relations: Pfister won Best Cinematography for Inception and Morgan Freeman won Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby
Here now we have the next article in this series on 2014 contenders hoping to compete for Oscar attention at the Academy Award ceremony in 2015. Next up is DP turned filmmaker Wally Pfister’s directorial debut Transcendence, which hopes to more or less establish Pfister as the next Christopher Nolan (especially since he’s Nolan’s longtime cinematographer), though that may be a somewhat overly optimistic ambition. There’s clearly a bit of Nolan in Pfister though, so we’ll see. He’s got a top notch cast in place here, including Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman (a Nolan veteran), Cole Hauser, and Cillian Murphy (ditto), so that’s a big help. If Pfister can take scribe Jack Paglen’s well regarded script and make it into something special, perhaps this can be the sort of smart blockbuster that the Academy notices?
What this flick has going in its favor is mainly its pedigree. From the A list cast to the directorial debut of one of the best cinematographers in the business to the hot script that got this all start, hopes have been high from day one here. There’s also the allure of seeing Depp in a role that doesn’t require massive amounts of make up, so older fans of his may be intrigued by this more than many of his recent Disney outings. Followers of Nolan also know Pfister pretty well, so there’s some level of anticipation of him getting to helm his own movie. There’s an original premise on display as well, which is sort of rare these days. This all adds up to a film with lots of potential.
Working against Transcendence is that it appears to be caught between the worlds of heady science fiction and summer blockbuster action. The film could be too talky for the crowd who wants to see things blow up and it could be too reliant on adding spectacle for those who are looking to really get into the nitty gritty of the story here. Honestly, the release date makes me think that Warner Brothers themselves aren’t quite sure how this will all play out, so unless there are top notch [...]

The Matrix: The Top 25 (Best Film Editing)

Continuing onward with this weekly series I’m doing here on the site, we’re talking about the top 25 Oscar winners in just about every single one of the Academy Award categories out there for us to talk about. Aside from the short categories and likely something a bit harder to rank like Best Sound Editing or Best Sound Mixing as I’ve mentioned before, I’ll be hitting them all over the coming weeks, including of course the big eight categories, two of which have already received this particular treatment. I’m also potentially going to do one that doesn’t actually exist (a fictitious Best Ensemble category), but that’s just an idea I’m currently toying with. We’ll see about that one, but for now, we’ll stick to reality and the categories currently endorsed by the Academy.
Today I’ll be knocking off one more of the technical categories, with this one being the somewhat unsexy but still essential Best Film Editing field. Depending on the category in question, I may wind up discussing the individual winners I’m citing rather specifically or just giving a more broad overview of the winners. Like I’ve been saying over the past few weeks, in all honesty, you really just want to see the end result list anyway, so I have no problem obliging you there in that regard. All you have to do is just be patient over the next couple paragraphs…
This time around, I’m again just going with the overview route. Film Editing is another type of category where you sort of know it’s good by seeing it in the films themselves. There are a few different types of editing that the Academy has honored, though sometimes they can fall into the trap of going for “most” instead of best, if that makes sense. For example, you can see in certain winners that the editing is smooth and you’re almost not meant to notice it all, while other winners want to constantly impress you with their flashy approach to editing. I’m not particularly partial to either one, basically just going for what fits the movies best. Sometimes I don’t want to notice the editing at all in the flick, and sometimes I want it to be front and center. It all just depends.
I’ll discuss my top ten a bit now before getting to the list itself. The winner that I think is the best ever happens to be [...]

‘Noah’ floods the Box Office this weekend

Happy Sunday once more to you all. Here I am again with the weekly box office report I know you crave so deeply. Leading the way this weekend and leaving the competitors all wet (sorry, I couldn’t resist) was Darren Aronofsky’s take on Noah, which debuted with a pretty solid $44 million at the box office. At number two we had the second week of Divergent, which pulled in $26.5 million more. Number three was Muppets Most Wanted, which had a decent hold and took in another $11.3 million from you fine audience members. The only other new release in the top ten besides Noah was the Arnold Schwarzenegger flick Sabotage, which basically flopped with only $5.3 million. Among the independent/limited releases, we had a mediocre debut for the biopic Cesar Chavez, while The Raid 2 was one film that actually opened well in a platform release. Overall, the movies that are doing well are veering more towards the blockbusters again, so you know that spring and summer must be on their way…
Despite some controversy and less than universal praise for the film, Noah managed to be by far the biggest opening of Darren Aronofsky’s career. Personally, I found the movie pretty interesting, and I’m perhaps the least religious person out there, so that says something about the filmmaker’s talent for telling a unique story. Going forward, a lot will depend on if audiences come back for seconds, but regardless, the opening will probably help Aronofsky with whatever he decides to make next. On the flip side, I’m not sure who’s going to want to have Schwarzenegger in their flick anymore, as Sabotage basically bombed, despite being the new film from the director of the well regarded End of Watch. Much like the middling debut for Cesar Chavez, audiences just didn’t seem to be interested at all.
Among the notable holdovers in theaters, we once again have to begin by discussing Wes Anderson’s latest film. The Grand Budapest Hotel expanded to just under 1000 theaters and moved up again, this time to number six this week, taking in $8.8 million. It’s likely going to become the biggest success of Anderson’s career. Also worth mentioning besides the ones mentioned above, 300: Rise of an Empire managed to break the $100 million mark with a $4.3 million weekend, while Mr. Peabody & Sherman is next in line for that mark as they added [...]

Big and Bleak ‘Noah’ Draws Strong Reviews

The reviews are trickling in on “Noah,” director Darron Aronofsky’s Biblical epic adventure starring Russell Crowe in the title role, and the critics, so far, are suitably impressed.
“Aronofky Goes Big and Bleak,” reads the headline on the Film School Rejects website.
“A lot of Noah is so dark that you wonder how a big studio let a director get away with making it, and it’s not just specific moments I’m talking about here,” writes reviewer Nathan Adams. “There’s a tension that runs through the whole film about who you should be rooting for, or it it’s even possible to root for anyone in this situation. Noah goes to such dark places over the course of the movie that it’s impossible to keep relating to him as a protagonist (sometimes to the point of comedy, intentional or otherwise) ,and it becomes necessary for the narrative to switch its viewpoint from character to character. There are moments of mass death so casually presented that they almost feel mindless, and then they get followed up by character beats so focused that they almost chastise you for getting caught up in the spectacle and forgetting to remain compassionate.”
He goes on to write: “Noah is the sort of movie that takes multiple viewings and a little bit of time to fully digest.”

Variety’s Scott Foundas writes: “Aronofsky’s uneven but undeniably bold, personal, visually extravagant take on the Old Testament tale will surely polarize critics and audiences while riding a high sea of curiosity to strong initial worldwide B.O.”
Foundas describes the depiction of the character Noah in the film as “neither the Marvel-sized savior suggested by the poster nor the ‘environmentalist wacko’ prophesied by some test-screening Cassandras, but rather a humble servant driven to the edge of madness in his effort to do the Lord’s bidding.”
Steven D. Greydanus, whose review appears in the National Catholic Register, writes: “For a lifelong Bible geek and lover of movie-making and storytelling like me, Noah is a rare gift: a blend of epic spectacle, startling character drama and creative reworking of Scripture and other ancient Jewish and rabbinic writings. It’s a movie with much to look at, much to think about and much to feel; a movie to argue about and argue with.”
He adds: “It’s certainly not the picture-book story that most of us grow up with, all cheerful ark-building, adorable animals and a gravely pious, white-bearded protagonist.”
Todd McCarthy, reviewing the film [...]

Oscars®: Alfonso Cuaron – Which director/screenplay winner is most likely to win again?

After looking at which of the four acting winners would be the most likely to make it back to the Academy Awards telecast and emerge victorious a second time, I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the other three major Oscar winners…the Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay winners. They were all first timers, with two of the three writer-directors as well. Alfonso Cuarón parlayed his first Director citation into a win for Gravity, while filmmaker Spike Jonze (who’s been nominated in the Director category before) managed a win in Original Screenplay for Her, and scribe John Ridley saw his first ever nomination turn into an Adapted Screenplay win for 12 Years a Slave. All are now entering potentially fruitful stages of their careers, so who’s going to be back?
Most likely has got to be Cuarón, since he’s already such a highly respected figure. Part of the reason he won Best Director and caused the split between that category and Best Picture was due to the love for him, or else it’s very possible that Steve McQueen would have emerged victorious and prevented the split. Gravity on the whole might not have even been as big a contender. Whatever project that this filmmaker chooses next will almost immediately be considered an Oscar frontrunner, and more or less rightfully so. He’s definitely earned that distinction at this point in his career.
Next I’d say Jonze, who finally was able to entice voters to do more than just nominate him. They’ve long appreciated his work, but this was the first time that they really out and out loved it. Her was only ever so slightly more accessible than his prior movies, but it just hit them in the heart and got him not only a nod for his first solo screenplay, but a win too. The next stage will be to try and turn his next Director nom into a win, and while he’s a unique enough filmmaker that you can never bank on what he’s going to try next, I’d say he certainly has it in him to craft another winner in the near future.
Finally, Ridley is very much an X factor, since it just all depends on which sorts of projects he pursues next. Could a permanent move behind the camera to direct be next? He’s directed before and has a Jimi Hendrix biopic [...]

Oscars®: The Top 25 (Best Original Screenplay)

Continuing a new weekly series I’m doing…we’re talking the top 25 Oscar winners in just about every single one of the Academy Award categories. Aside from the shorts and something like Best Sound Mixing like I mentioned previously, I’ll be hitting them all over the coming weeks and months, including of course the big eight categories.
Today I’ll even knock off the first of those big ones, the ever interesting Best Original Screenplay category. Depending on the category in question, I may wind up discussing the individual winners I’m citing specifically or just giving more of a broad overview of the winners, but for now, I’ll still keeping it simple early on. Like I said last week though, in all honesty, you all mostly just want to see the list anyway, so I have no problem obliging you there in that particular regard. All you have to do is just be patient over the next few paragraphs…
Best Original Screenplay is personally one of my favorite Oscar categories, due to the absolute creativity that you can see on display here. Voters sometimes even go out of their comfort zone in honoring scripts written for projects that they’d never touch in the Best Picture category (though that’s begun to change a bit). I think you’ll be able to see a pattern emerging among my winners, as some of their more out there choices have been my favorites. Maybe that says more about me than it does about members of the Academy, but hey, we should all be thankful that some of these screenplays were able to win those Oscars, as they’ve inspired countless other writers in the years since.
This week, for this screenplay category, what I’m going to do is give you the list right now, with a few words about each of the top 25 victors that I’ve chosen. The big eight categories cater to this style nicely, so that’s likely how it’ll go for all of those. Here we go:
25. American Beauty (Alan Ball) – The film hasn’t aged well, but the script itself remains scathingly funny to me. A satire of middle class life and mid life crises, Alan Ball hit on something here, at least at the time. He hasn’t been able to get back to that level since then with his work, but man did he deserve the Oscar for this one, no question about that.
24. Pillow [...]

Oscars®: Will either of the movies about doppelgangers be up the Academy’s alley?

Today, a small movie called Enemy opened in limited release, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and, well…Jake Gyllenhaal. In May, another small flick called The Double comes out, and that one stars Jesse Eisenberg alongside, you guessed it…Jesse Eisenberg. 2014 seems to be the year of the doppelganger, in addition to biblical epics as I mentioned a week or so ago. These are acting showcases through and through, so could Oscar bite for one or both of them? Honestly, I think they’re both too offbeat and weird for Academy attention, so instead of doing specific preview pieces on them and just going through the motions of talking about a likely to be ignored pair of films, I wanted to sort of discuss both of them a bit here in this sort of an article. These could be independent contenders for other awards, so it’s important to give the pair a moment in the sun here, if nothing else.
First up we have Enemy, which is partially notable for being the other movie that Gyllenhaal shot with his Prisoners director Denis Villenueve (and actually was filmed first, though it’s coming out this year as opposed to last…both played festivals around the same time however). Written by Javier Gullón and costarring Mélanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon, this is a very dreamlike and Kafka-esque (you’ll understand why if you see it) look at identity. Gyllenhaal plays a teacher who sees a doppelganger of his when watching a movie and set out to meet the man. Things obviously don’t go as intended. This is a psychosexual thriller of sorts and about as far from mainstream as it gets. That being said, it’s impeccably made by Villenueve and expertly acted, so an open minded audience member or Oscar voter could find something to like here, particularly in terms of Gyllenhaal’s performance(s).
Now we come to The Double, which is co-written (along with Avi Korine) and directed by Richard Ayoade. Eisenberg costars here with Sally Hawkins, Wallace Shawn, Mia Wasikowska, Chris O’Dowd, and Noah Taylor, to name a few. This is a pitch black comedy about a meek office drone driven mad by the appearance of a smooth talking doppelganger who at first seems interested in helping him before attempting to take over his life. This is very much a dark comedy that almost seems uninterested in laughs, so that immediately will turn off some voters, but Eisenberg has rarely [...]

Oscars®: Which acting winner is most likely to win again, Cate Blanchett, Matthew McConaughey?

When the most recent Academy Awards were given out a few weeks ago (it both feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago already), we crowned first time winners in first time nominees Matthew McConaughey (Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club), Jared Leto (Best Supporting Actor for Dallas Buyers Club), and Lupita Nyong’o (Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years a Slave), while former winner and multiple nominee Cate Blanchett took home her second Oscar (Best Actress for Blue Jasmine). The fact that the majority of the group had never even been nominated before got me thinking…which of them is most likely to be like Blanchett and win again?
First of all, it’s possible that Blanchett could be next in line to win, giving her three Oscar victories, just like Meryl Streep. She always does phenomenal work and the Academy never hesitates to nominate her, so I wouldn’t be shocked at all if she wound up winning again. Next up for her is a film with Todd Haynes, and that could be pretty baity on its own. You never want to predict a third Academy Award for anyone, considering how rare that is, but if anyone out there can get there, it’s probably Blanchett. Especially if she ever works with Woody Allen again like she did here with Blue Jasmine…watch out.
Next in line, you have to think that McConaughey is just getting started. He came close-ish last year to a nomination for Magic Mike and this year he also had Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street in contention, so there’s no shortage of his roles under consideration. With upcoming projects uniting him with Christopher Nolan and Gus Van Sant, it’s a stretch to think that another nomination at least isn’t in his future, if not a win. We’re in the middle of the so called McConaissance, so I think he’s going to become an Academy favorite for some time.
As for Leto, it really depends on if he focuses on music or movies going forward. He’s equally talented at both, so if he makes himself available for films, I could certainly see voters citing him again. He’s proven himself previously with work like Requiem for a Dream, so Dallas Buyers Club was basically just a reminder of his skills. As long as he continues to consistently act, I can see him being on the Oscar radar. We’ll see though.
Lastly, in the case of [...]

Oscars: Get to know a Best Picture nominee: “Her”

“Her”
Directed by: Spike Jonze
Written by: Spike Jonze
Main cast members: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, and Portia Doubleday
Number of Oscar nominations in total: 5
Other nominations besides Best Picture: Best Original Screenplay (Jonze), Best Production Design, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song
Notable precursor wins: Won Best Original Screenplay at the Writers Guild of America Awards, Won Best Screenplay at the Golden Globe Awards, and Won Best Film/Best Director from the National Board of Review
Chances at winning Best Picture: It’d be an absolute shock if it managed to win Best Picture, so it’s slim to none here
Chances at other Academy Award wins: It’s the frontrunner for Best Original Screenplay, while it’s not impossible for any of its tech nominations to turn into upset wins.
ANALYSIS OF OTHER OSCAR NOMINEES: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity and HER.
Her is the six film in my “get to know a Best Picture nominee” series, and it’s another nominee that has to consider the nomination itself to be the real reward, at least in this category. That being said, the nod (along with all of its noms overall) is really something to admire. Such a singular and unique movie being nominated for more than a token Oscar or two is a nice change of pace for the Academy. Especially considering that it scored not just a Best Picture citation but a Best Original Screenplay as well, there are voters here who are very fond of this film, and that pleases me to no end. Regardless of anything else, it’s nothing like any other nominee this year, or really in history I’d argue, so kudos to Spike Jonze and company for such fine work. He may not be a serious Best Picture contender, but Jonze is likely to win the Original Screenplay Oscar, so the flick isn’t too likely to go home empty handed regardless.
Working in Her’s favor is just how different and romantic it is. The film has connected with so many people, arguably in a way that no other nominee has been able to do. Members of the Academy were taken by this movie in more than one way, honoring not just the film itself and it’s writing, but the production design and musical components as well. Multiple tech nominations are a sure sign of widespread support. Without it, you have no chance at [...]

Oscars: Get to know a Best Picture nominee: “Dallas Buyers Club”

Dallas Buyers Club
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by: Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Main cast members: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts, Griffin Dunne, Michael O’Neill
Number of Oscar nominations in total: 6
Other nominations besides Best Picture: Best Actor (McConaughey), Best Supporting Actor (Leto), Best Original Screenplay (Borten and Wallack), Best Film Editing, and Best Hairstyling & Makeup
Notable precursor wins: Won Best Actor/Supporting Actor at the Golden Globe Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards
Chances at winning Best Picture: A rather long shot contender frankly, though not the absolute longest of shots in the lineup this year
Chances at other Academy Award wins: Frontrunner in Best Actor and Supporting Actor, while also perhaps the frontrunner in Best Hairstyling & Makeup
ANALYSIS OF OTHER OSCAR NOMINEES: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity and HER.
Dallas Buyers Club is the fourth film in my “get to know a Best Picture nominee” series, and it’s another movie that’s not a major contender in this category. That being said, it could wind up being one of the biggest winners overall at the Oscars. Early on in the precursor season, this flick wasn’t thought of as a particularly big contender (outside of Jared Leto, who seemed like a lock for Supporting Actor from the start of the season), but it just kept showing up in all the right places, especially once Matthew McConaughey started to pick up the important Best Actor prizes. Now, it’s among the more highly represented titles of 2013, potentially on the verge of leaving the Academy Awards with the second most statues of any nominated film.
Working in Dallas Buyers Club’s favor is the fact that it’s highly unlikely that this movie goes home empty handed. Best Supporting Actor is almost wrapped up in a bow for Leto, while McConaughey is the odds on favorite to take Best Actor as well, and that doesn’t even take into consideration that Best Hairstyling & Makeup is a crapshoot, so there could be a trio of victories for this movie. Aside from Gravity, no other contender knows it’s going to potentially win that many. That’s an enviable spot to be in. The flick might not be nearly as likely a Best Picture winner as 12 Years a Slave or American Hustle, but it could score more wins overall.
If you’re looking for something that’s not [...]

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