Directed by Ron Howard
When the Academy Award nominations were announced the movie excellence in 1995, I was stunned that Ron Howard was not nominated for Best Director for his stunning work in Apollo 13 (1995) which had been nominated for nine Oscars in all, including Best Picture. The critically acclaimed work would earn Howard the Directors Guild of America Award as Best Director, which made the exclusion from the Academy Awards all the more stinging and frankly, ridiculous. Mel Gibson and Braveheart (1995) would win the Oscars for film and director, shocking more a few of the members of the audience on Oscar night because it was so clearly not the years best film.
Six years later when Howard finally won his Best Director Oscar for A Beautiful Mind (2001) it was clear that the award was for his previous work, because A Beaufitul Mind (2001) is one of those bizarre choices for Best Film and Best Director. HOward’s work as a director is almost always studio friendly, an easy fit within the mainstream, though from time to time he has stepped away from what must now come easy to him and really challenged himself and his audiences. Certainly Apollo 13 (1995) was the first time he attempted to do this and found enormous success. The second time, with The Missing (2003) he directed a masterful film with powerhouse performances from Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones, but nobody went to see the work. Most recently he gave audiences Frost-Nixon (2008), a brilliant adaptation of the play earning another Best Director nomination as well as a Best Picture nod, both richly deserved.
Read more on Historical Circuit: Apollo 13 (****)…
Young actresses with the potential to have an extraordinary career are a rare find. Emma Stone is one of those actresses. With a strong beginning to a career, it only makes sense it will get bigger and better.
Emily Stone was born November 6th, 1988 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Growing up she was a member of the Valley Youth Theater where at 11, she made her debut starring in The Wind in the Willows. After appearing in that play she went on to star in over a dozen more productions. At the age of 15, she convinced her parents to let her drop out of school and move to California to pursue a career in film. Her parents picked up and moved to California where she was then home schooled so she could attend auditions during the day.
Stone got her start on the VH1 reality TV show, In Search of the Partridge Family in 2004. The show was a nationwide search for actors to star in the sitcom remake of The Partridge Family. Stone won the role of Laurie Partridge, but the show was cancelled right after the pilot debuted. Winning the role served as a stepping stone for her career. Following the failed pilot she went on to appear in various TV shows such as Medium, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Malcolm in the Middle, Lucky Louie, and Drive.
Read more on Women In Cinema: Emma Stone…
In 2001, a young actress broke into the business displaying an overwhelming amount of talent at 7 years old that many actors spend their careers working to achieve. That actress is Dakota Fanning. At a young age, Fanning has displayed talent and maturity well beyond her years.
Last week when I was discussing the “Oscarettes” of the year it got me thinking about all the young actors out there, like Hailee Steinfeld who began their career out with a bang. This inspired me to look into the acting careers of up and comers and observe the direction their career has taken. So, this week Dakota Fanning is the first young actress I will focus on.
Read more on Women In Cinema: Dakota Fanning…
The Big Boys
By Robert Hamer
And so the summer flies by, and we Oscar prognosticators can steel ourselves for the “real” contenders to roll out over the fall and winter months. But as we look forward to how this season shapes up, what can we take from this year’s summer slate? What interesting events happened the last three months as far as the big, massive blockbusters go?
One trend that is not unusual or noteworthy is the number of sequels and remakes that hit us in that time. It does amaze me how seemingly every August some pundit will declare “The Summer of Sequels” or some such nonsense as if franchise pictures haven’t plagued the multiplexes at this time every year for the past decade. True, seven of the ten highest-grossing films of the year domestically were part of franchises (nine of you count The Avengers preludes), but that’s commonplace in this era of shareholder cinema. Read more on Sayonara, Summer!…
Tags: Another Earth
, Attack The Block
, Beautiful Boy
, Captain America: The First Avenger
, Cars 2
, Cave of Forgotten Dreams
, collaborative article
, Crazy Stupid Love
, Everything Must Go
, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
, Independent Spirit Awards
, Mel Gibson
, Midnight in Paris
, Oscar hopefuls
, Passion Play
, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
, Project Nim
, Sarah's Key
, Super 8
, Sympathy for Delicious
, The Beaver
, The Future
, The Guard
, The Help
, The Tree of Life
, Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Most Americans have had to start last Friday going through an ungodly amount of paperwork, W-2 forms, and financial documents (if not just pay an accountant to do it for them) to get through the jagged little pill that is Tax Day.
Meanwhile, MSN Movies had the rather clever idea of writing short essays of the most “taxing” people (actors, directors, whatever) in film to commemorate this stressful event. It’s not really a “worst of” list, rather a collection of otherwise talented people who – either through laziness, over-hype, and/or poor career decisions – have become wearisome and debilitating to watch. It’s an interesting and diverse selection of opinions that you’re encouraged to check out.
A variety of choices on an exciting question got us at The Awards Circuit to wonder who we would have written about. Who is someone that we don’t necessarily hate, but find SO difficult to like? Read more on The Most “Taxing” People in Film Today…
There isn’t much that I can say about Tate Taylor’s hit social message drama The Help from a pure critical standpoint that hasn’t already been said. My own reaction is south of my colleague Mike’s review, but the film is not quite “bad.” I can’t exactly champion a film with such an overlong running time and spurious plotting, but Viola Davis is the real deal, no question about it. In fact, the whole cast is fine.
Read more on On Racism and The Help…
To commemorate the 235th Independence Day of the United States, I decided to celebrate the films that have done the most to invoke feelings of pride in our country. Patriotism, to me, is not defined within the confines of a partisan philosophy or simplistic nationalism. True patriots are loyal not to an individual or political party, but a set of ideas that have come to define us as a nation. The best films reflect those in exciting ways unique to cinema. It’s not enough for a movie to simply say that it loves America; it has to uphold the principles that make America great to make my list. Its artistic quality apart from that played only a small part in formulating this list, though I should note that (if you make allowances for my #9 pick) the movies are all great in of themselves. So without further delay…
10. 25th Hour
How in the world could a depressing drama about a man going to prison possibly bring out feelings of patriotism? Because, as 9/11 demonstrated, our shared tragedies can unite us just as much as our triumphs. 25th Hour is not directly about that fateful day, but it forms the undercurrent of the entire story and uses Monty’s final day of freedom to reflect New York’s – and really the entire country’s – collective grief. And yet, in its affecting conclusion, Spike Lee also shows us that we as Americans have the strength to face such an unthinkable tragedy, overcome it…and keep going.
9. Fahrenheit 9/11
Before the conservatives among you form an angry mob, I should make it clear that I understand some of your gripes with Michael Moore’s anti-Bush documentary. Its accuracy is disputable at times, and I was personally disappointed at how he opted for cheap shots instead of something more genuinely inquisitive. However, I am proud to be part of a nation that allows this kind of film to be created. In the wake of Iran’s inhuman sentence imposed on Jafar Panahi, it’s inspiring to know that we fight for the right for artists to call our then-President a war criminal, and invites debate on polemic filmmaking instead of trying to suppress it.
8. Yankee Doodle Dandy
Even more than Patton, the beauty of Yankee Doodle Dandy owes itself almost entirely to a single performance. The film itself is decent enough; a by-the-numbers biopic with implausible flashbacks, historical inaccuracies, etc. But James Cagney, in one of the greatest performances ever to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, personifies the exuberance of the American spirit. In doing so, he uplifts an otherwise passable picture into becoming a stirring anthem to unapologetic patriotism and old-fashioned sentiment. As Cohan himself said best, “Where else in the world could a plain guy like me come and talk things over with the head man?” Read more on Top Ten Patriotic Films…
Born: October 5, 1967
Place: Cambridgeshire, England
Major Awards and Citations:
Gotham Award for Best Ensemble Cast of 2008 (The Hurt Locker)
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor of 2001 (Memento)
San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor of 2001 (Memento)
SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture of 2010 (The King’s Speech)
Oscar Snubs: Memento
For someone who has been personally ignored by the Oscars his whole career, Australian actor Guy Pearce has become somewhat of a recent ubiquitous presence at the Academy Awards. Rarely taking on lead roles (but usually succeeding brilliantly when he does), Pearce seems more at home making an impression on audiences with smaller parts. Despite his talent and appearing in several award-winning films, mainstream stardom and Academy recognition have eluded him so far.
While the man is typically referred to as Australian, he was actually born in Cambridgeshire, England and moved down under when he was three years old. It wasn’t until his teen years when he pursued acting, along with competitive bodybuilding (!). His debut as a screen actor began in the mid-80s as a young heartthrob in the long-running Australian soap opera Neighbours. Read more on Under the Circuit: Guy Pearce…
It must be hell to adapt a comic book superhero franchise into a movie. It’s not enough that they are attempting to create a fresh and original take on a story that has basically been told dozens of times in other films. In the case of longstanding canon, a writer also has to navigate through decades of stories and try to fuse it as best as possible to a two-hour film. Oh, they obviously have to condense quite a bit in order to fuse it to that kind of medium, but heaven help you if you invoke the dreaded artistic license or have a genuinely different take on the material, for internet fanboys know no mercy. We thought fans of famed novels were hard to please…
All kidding aside, there is an unfortunate trend I’ve been seeing in film discussions among people my age as well as other critics over the last few years…and it’s reaching disturbing levels. It is the valuing of our pet memories and loyalties to novels, TV shows, older films, video games and comic books so much that we judge film adaptations in service to those rather than on their own terms. This attitude has probably always existed in some degree, but not to this point, where it now appears to be at the center of mainstream film discussion.
Today, when I talk about a movie based on something else to nearly anyone, the discussion invariably turns to how it is or isn’t “accurate enough” to the book/show/comic/video game/classic movie: “Who cares about the scope and vision of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring? Tom Bombadil was cut out!” “How dare Steve Kloves make changes to the script for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, even if it resulted in a tighter, more interesting film than the first two installments!” “Robert Pattinson is a TERRIBLE Edward Cullen, because he’s not the most beautiful man in the world and that’s how he’s described in the book!” These are all conversations I’ve had with people (with less sarcasm, of course), and the value of those conversations has always amounted to zero. Don’t think I’m being hyperbolic and just screeching about a few minor chat rooms or my film ignorant friends. Major entertainment websites like IGN and Ain’t It Cool News have adopted this exact mindset in their movie reviews for years. Read more on The Folly of Source Loyalty…
It’s no secret by now that I am very excited for Bridesmaids. Not just because of its great reviews or my not-so-secret crush on Kristen Wiig, but also because the film stands for something you rarely see in Hollywood: the great comedic film actress. Not that women haven’t given funny performances in the past, far from it. Throughout the history of cinema, many talented actresses have made us laugh time and time again, but sadly aren’t often recognized for it. In honor of the release of Bridesmaids, I’ve put together a list of the ten funniest female film performances ever given. This all about the laugh factor; you will find no serio-comic or dramedy work here (otherwise Diane Keaton’s performance in Annie Hall would have been a shoo-in). So without further adieu…
Read more on Top Ten Funniest Female Performances of All Time…
So the most prestigious film festival in the world is over, the prizes have been handed out, and all of the pundits are abuzz about how this ties into the Oscar season. So to repeat a question that some readers have posited on this very site: is The Tree of Life the new Oscar frontrunner?
In my opinion, no. Before everyone gets excited about the prospect of the legendary auteur finally getting an Academy Award, keep in mind that Palme d’Or winners rarely translate into Best Picture nominees, and almost never become winners. In the seventy-two years that the Palme has officially existed, the only recipients to have made it to BP nods were The Lost Weekend, Marty, Friendly Persuasion, M*A*S*H, The Conversation, Taxi Driver, All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, Missing, The Mission, The Piano, Pulp Fiction, Secrets & Lies, and The Pianist. Several of those films would have made it even if they hadn’t won the highest honor at Cannes, and only two were actually awarded the Oscar. Yes, the slate has expanded to ten, which increases its chances of making it there considerably. But Best Director – which as we all know has become the more valued category ever since that stupid pandering decision two years ago (but that’s an editorial for another week) – is still doubtful. Read more on Cannes Post-Mortem…
This weekend is the release of X-Men: First Class, a prequel of sorts to the original X-Men trilogy most of us grew up with the past decade. Reviews have been surprisingly positive considering the hole dug by X-Men: The Last Stand and Cumbersome Franchise Title: Wolverine, but praise has especially been heaped on its star Michael Fassbender’s “breakout” performance. General moviegoers will probably be surprised by the man’s ubiquity this year (he has five films scheduled for release in 2011 alone!), but it comes as no surprise to me. Moreover, I’m absolutely delighted by it.
Though most of them probably don’t realize it, mainstream audiences have most likely seen him before. Remember the trailer for 300, where one of Xerxes’ cronies warns that the Persian army’s arrows will “blot out the sun,” and a Spartan replies, “Then we will fight in the shade”? Yep, that’s him. Tiny part, I know; just one of the dozens of hilariously ripped dudes hacking and slashing for the GLORY OF SPARTAAAAA!!! Ahem, excuse me…obviously he had been working long before that, mostly on television shows like “Band of Brothers,” “Murphy’s Law” and “Hex,” but 300 was likely the first time he was exposed to a widespread audience…albeit briefly. Read more on Michael Fassbender: A Star Is Born…
Another summer, another Michael Bay movie. Or perhaps vice versa is more appropriate? After all, he appears to have marketed himself successfully as the King of the Summer; indeed, I can’t name anyone else compacting all of the elements of the typical “turn off your brain” summer flick into a single 2+ hour experience more consistently than him. These days, no one expects layered, thought-provoking cinema from a Michael Bay film, but they can sit back and rest assured that he’ll provide big explosions, relentless action sequences and buxom young women in implausible professions.
Read more on The Curious Case of Michael Bay…
So now the five-part Mildred Pierce saga is over, and after its utterly fantastic conclusion had settled for me, I have to admit a slight tinge of disappointment at the series as a whole. Now, clearly a three-star miniseries (borderline three-and-a-half) is nothing to sneer at, and I am still glad I took this journey. But my nagging question of why one of the most creative and intelligent minds in cinema today would tackle this project remains unanswered.
Simply put, this was not the TV EVENT OF THE YEAR that I was anticipating. And no, I do not think it’s because I wasn’t a huge fan of the original film, either. For one thing, the original Mildred Pierce is a wholly different product; a shameless melodrama to this version’s slow-burn elegance. Secondly, I would not call myself a die-hard fan of glam rock, Douglas Sirk melodramas (well, except Imitation of Life) or Bob Dylan, yet Haynes crafted intellectually bold and visually exhilarating masterpieces out of those subjects. No, I think it’s because – for the first time ever for me – Todd Haynes put his obsessions with the textures of his story seemingly at arm’s length from his audience. Or as my colleague Joey Magidson might say, I felt like that extra bit was missing. Read more on TV Review: Mildred Pierce (***)…
I’m guessing – based on its box office take – that at least some of you saw The Hangover: Part II. Which means that you also saw the teaser trailer for David Fincher’s highly anticipated remake of the hit Swedish film based on the megahit crime novel series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (or you just saw the “bootleg” online). Wasn’t it awesome? That dark, foreboding atmosphere? The almost alien-looking Rooney Mara, widely tipped as a serious Best Actress contender? And holy cow, who could forget that killer version of “Immigrant Song” from Karen O and Trent Reznor? Plus, you have to give some credit to any major studio release that advertises itself as “THE FEEL BAD MOVIE OF CHRISTMAS,” though I suppose selling a depressing blockbuster isn’t quite as ballsy anymore in the wake of The Dark Knight. Not only that, but word has gotten around that the version that had “leaked” on YouTube last Saturday was actually a marketing stunt to contribute to the grunginess of the trailer. Now THAT is cool!
However, I’m here to warn you all: don’t be fooled. Underneath all of the style, the talent involved, the hype, it still has the framework of the original Swedish film. Because of that, I am still confident in predicting that it is going to suck. Actually, I’m more confident than before. Read more on Don’t Be Fooled…
What will the summer bring?
Ah, summer. The season when school is out, sun tan is in, and cinephiles like us can look forward to massive studio-produced blockbusters that rake in the big bucks. These movies don’t usually have a strong presence during the awards season, but that’s slowly changing with the recent expansion of the Best Picture nominees to ten (spurred in part by the snubbing of a big-budget superhero film, I might add) and more ambitious treatments of what we used to call “summer flicks.” So what major releases for the months of May to August could be seen again at the Oscars, or *gasp* might actually be great movies?
In previous years, the easy answer to that question was almost always Pixar. They have earned by far more Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature than any other studio, and since the expansion to ten have produced two consecutive Best Picture nominees. So you would think that once again they’re a sure bet to dominate – both financially and critically – the summer slate of family entertainment…unless of course we’re talking about a sequel to their worst film yet. For reasons unknown to me, the illustrious studio has decided that their upcoming films should include a sequel to Cars and, for 2013, a prequel to Monsters, Inc., despite neither film being that good in the first place. But maybe I’m being presumptuous. After all, both of the Toy Story sequels were outstanding and I don’t even know what Cars 2 is about. Let’s check the official synopsis… Read more on The Summer and the Oscars…
Tags: Another Earth
, Captain America: The First Avenger
, Cars 2
, Conan the Barbarian
, Cowboys and Aliens
, Green Lantern
, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
, Higher Ground
, One Day
, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
, Project Nim
, Rise of the Planet of the Apes
, Super 8
, The Beaver
, The Future
, The Guard
, The Hangover: Part II
, The Tree of Life
, Transformers: Dark of the Moon
, upcoming films
, Winnie the Pooh
, X-Men: First Class
This weekend, Woody Allen released his 41st full-length feature in select Los Angeles and New York theaters. Sadly, the anticipation that greets his releases is not the same as it was fifteen or twenty years ago. From 1977 to roughly 1994, he was one of cinema’s most important auteurs, and one of the America’s greatest writers in any medium. Most moviegoers think of him and automatically think of Annie Hall, which is a perfectly fair association, but how many of you have seen his follow-up? If Allen’s Oscar-winning romantic comedy was his artistic evolution, then his tale of infidelity and human flaws set in a romantic New York City signaled that a great filmmaker had truly arrived and was here to stay.
Manhattan boasts perhaps the most perfect opening of any Allen film. A beautifully constructed montage of the city itself, shot with The Godfather-lenser Gordon Willis’ 70 mm Panavision black-and-white cinematography and accompanied by George Gershwin’s masterpiece “Rhapsody in Blue.” The effect is sublime, with image and sound working perfectly to capture the look and feel of the Big Apple like no other film I’ve seen. There are just too many indelible moments in those first minutes alone to single out, though seeing the night fireworks seemingly explode to the rhythm of the music comes close to being my favorite. During all of this, the neurotic writer Isaac Davis (played by Allen, of course) is wracking his brain for even a decent opening to his book. “Chapter One: He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin. Uh, no, let me start this over…” Sure enough he starts over, with an opening that he finds too corny, then too preachy, and then too angry, before hilariously settling on comparing the city to himself as “the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat.” After that intro, you don’t just feel you’re in New York City; you live and breathe it for the next 90 minutes.
Read more on Historical Circuit: Manhattan (****)…
In preparation for the HBO miniseries, I decided to take a look at the original Mildred Pierce, about an independent and successful divorcée desperate to win the approval of her ungrateful daughter. The film is widely remembered today for Joan Crawford’s Oscar-winning performance, though it was nominated for several others and was a major box office success in its day.
Having never seen this film before, and to sate my appetite for Todd Haynes’ newest project, I was curious to see what attracted him to this film in the first place. Far from being satisfied, I am now more curious than ever, for Mildred Pierce is not an elegant tragedy or a cutting indictment of its era like I thought it would be (like the Douglas Sirk films that served as inspiration for Haynes’ Far from Heaven) but a very uneven, borderline trashy melodrama.
Warning signs popped up right from the start, when the film opens with the murder of who we later discover is Mildred Pierce’s second husband, which is wholly inappropriate for the story it’s trying to tell. At first I didn’t mind opening the film as such, but as the story went on I realized that the screenplay’s effort to refashion this film as a noir mystery made it far less coherent than it should have. The fact that multiple uncredited screenwriters had a hand in this mess of a script is no surprise to me.
Read more on Historical Circuit: Mildred Pierce (***)…
A strange feeling rose up in me while I was watching the latest trailer for Priest. No, it was not the feeling that this was going to be a banal, humorless rehash of countless other films, blatantly ripping off the same dark noir future as Blade Runner, though that certainly crossed my mind. But seeing Paul Bettany go into a cyberpunk confession booth, starting off with “Forgive me father,” before cutting to non-stop action and carnage, along with shurikens shaped like crucifixes and stoic, leather clad warriors with a cross tattooed on their foreheads made me uneasy.
For those who are unaware, Priest is the new pseudo-western thriller opening this week from director Scott Stewart. The story takes place in a future where mankind has just finished a centuries-long war with vampires. The last remaining humans reside in a walled-off city run by the Church and protected by a cabal of super warriors called priests…and this is where I started to feel uncomfortable. Yes, this is an alternate world, and yes it’s pretty obvious that the Church serves as an antagonist and will probably have some redundant lesson on the Dangers Of Blind Faith. But Stewart is still drawing parallels and invoking imagery to modern-day Christianity in its eponymous hero to make him more “badass,” is he not? Is this…okay with Christians?
I should confess, in the interest of full disclosure, that I do not personally subscribe to Christianity or any religion for that matter. I have been an atheist for almost eight years, and in that time I have understood the appeal of organized religion less and less. But that doesn’t mean that I am totally ignorant of what it’s supposed to advocate. All that stuff about “love thy neighbor” and “all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” still apply, right?
Priest certainly isn’t the first film to refashion the Christian religion as a theme for action vehicles. But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, many of the older religious films were either cheesy-fun harmless epics like The Ten Commandments or highly reverent classics like The Gospel According to St. Matthew. Especially in the case of the latter, these films seemed to take the positive aspects of Christian faith and applied them not only in their stories, but in their technique. Read more on Kicking Ass for Christ…
Born: April 18, 1967
Place: Norristown, Pennsylvania
Major Awards and Citations:
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series of 1998 (“ER”)
Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture of 2003 (The Cooler)
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Performance of 2005 (A History of Violence)
Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress of 2005 (A History of Violence)
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress of 2005 (A History of Violence)
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress of 2005 (A History of Violence)
Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actress of 2005 (A History of Violence)
Village Voice Film Poll – Best Supporting Performance of 2005 (A History of Violence)
Oscar Snubs: A History of Violence
Beautiful Boy has been received warmly by most critics, and even the negative reviews have praised the raw, heartrending performances from its leads Michael Sheen and Maria Bello as the grieving parents of a school shooter. Though it has so far not made waves at the box office and the film’s Oscar chances are currently slim, it’s worth noting that both of its stars were considered in the past to be major threats for nominations. Though there are many fans of Sheen’s portrayal of the then-popular Prime Minister Tony Blair in The Queen, I decided instead to reminisce on the, in my opinion, more egregious snub of Bello for her 2005 performance in the provocative thriller A History of Violence.
Just looking at the vast majority of her awards at the top there shows that I am not alone in calling it an egregious snub. David Cronenberg’s cerebral deconstruction of violence, identity and Western notions of absolution centers on the reawakening of peaceful everyman Tom Stall to psychotic killer Joey Cusack, played in one of his best performances by Viggo Mortensen. There is an almost-too skillful way in which Cronenberg reveals his implications; giving the audience just enough to consider every option before making us reconcile the dual identities of Tom/Joey. At the end, as he’s sitting across from his now-aware family, the audience confronts the true reality of forgiveness. How could he and his family just go back to their small town life after knowing what he has done? Is it really that easy to wash blood from one’s hands and move on? How much are we truly defined by past sins that we strive to forget? Read more on Under the Circuit: Maria Bello…
Born: May 27, 1971
Place: London, England
Major Awards and Citations:
London Critics Circle Film Award for British Supporting Actor of the Year 2001 (A Knight’s Tale)
Evening Standard British Film Awards for Best Actor of 2003 (The Heart of Me and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World)
London Critics Circle Film Award for British Actor of the Year 2003 (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World)
Oscar Snubs: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Dogville
What happened to this guy? He started the decade as one of Hollywood’s most exciting new actors, but now has been relegated to flat supporting characters or in some cases starring in outright duds. Someone give this guy a comeback role, stat!
Born to a theater family, it’s no surprise that he got his start on the stage. His debut was in Stephen Daldry’s An Inspector Calls, and also had credits with Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar. He simultaneously took on small roles in television shows and films throughout the 90s and built up a name for himself.
It was not until the year 2000 that he enjoyed breakout success in the United Kingdom with Gangster No. 1. The film itself is, for my money, too disjointed and derivative to stand toe-to-toe with the great Brit crime thrillers. However, Bettany gives his first of many subtly menacing performances as the titular button man obsessed with his boss. Oddly enough, his older self in the same film was played by a very over-the-top Malcolm McDowell, whose breakout performance in A Clockwork Orange recalls the same creepiness. Bettany was nominated for Best Actor at the British Independent Film Awards and British Newcomer of the Year from the London Film Critics Circle Awards, firmly establishing himself as one to watch.
It was only a matter of time before Hollywood came knocking. Specifically, L.A. Confidential scribe Brian Helgeland came knocking with offers for two films he was working on at the time. Luckily, Bettany did not end up doing The Order (though, sadly, it sucked in Heath Ledger). But Helgeland lobbied hard for him to be cast in the period action-comedy A Knight’s Tale, eventually writing the part of Geoffrey Chaucer just for him. A Knight’s Tale is characterized by its odd anachronistic humor, and frankly it was surprising to see audiences embrace the film as much as they did. Yet it works, in no small part due to Bettany’s high-energy comedic performance as the English poet – beginning with his hilarious nude introduction on to acting as Ledger’s hype-man (“Thank you, I’ll be here all week!”). His performance was not only entertaining to audiences, but acclaimed by critics as well, winning the London Critics Circle Film Award for British Supporting Actor of the Year.
Such good reviews did not materialize into an Oscar nomination, but he was no stranger to the Academy Awards that year. Helgeland believed that Bettany was poised to be a star, so he showed his audition tape to a number of his associates during production of A Knight’s Tale, including a director named Ron Howard just as he was preparing A Beautiful Mind. That film ended up with several Academy Awards including Best Picture, and although his performance as John Nash’s imaginary friend Charles was not among those honored, he did win the heart of Best Supporting Actress Jennifer Connelly.
2003 would end up being his peak year, as he not only married the beautiful Connelly but also acted in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Dogville, the two best performances of his career. Read more on Under the Circuit: Paul Bettany…
Born: February 19, 1955
Place: Athens, Georgia
Major Awards and Citations:
Saturn Award for Best Actor of 1990 (Arachnophobia)
International Fantasy Film Award for Best Actor of 1992 (Timescape)
Chlotrudis Award for Best Supporting Actor of 2005 (The Squid and the Whale)
Gotham Award for Best Ensemble Cast of 2005 (The Squid and the Whale)
Oscar Snubs: Terms of Endearment, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Something Wild, The Squid and the Whale
Joey Magidson has recently postulated that Gary Oldman – frequently cited as the Greatest Actor Never Nominated for An Oscar – as possibly receiving a long-overdue nod for the upcoming Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. While the reality of that has yet to play out, it made me wonder who would take that title if the Academy really did honor Oldman. Try as I could to come up with a list of names, the one that kept sticking with me was a man who’s had a longer career, a lower profile, and (arguably) more unjustly ignored individual work: Jeff Daniels.
His debut in Hollywood was Miloš Forman’s Ragtime, the film that, in a strange twist of fate, ended up being James Cagney’s final performance. He moved on from there to his breakout role as Debra Winger’s philandering husband in the Best Picture-winning Terms of Endearment. Although Jack Nicholson received the lion’s share of praise (and awards) for his excellent supporting performance, I’ve always found Daniels to be the unsung hero of that ensemble.
Luckily, his acting caught the attention of none other than Woody Allen himself, who offered Daniels his first starring role after realizing that Michael Keaton just wasn’t right for his next film’s reality-bending dual role. This role became one of Daniels’ most iconic in The Purple Rose of Cairo. Playing both naïve movie character Tom Baxter and his arrogant actor Gil Shepherd, Daniels created a hilarious, utterly winning character(s) and one of the most fully realized creations of Woody Allen’s filmography. It was a role so near and dear to his heart that Daniels would eventually establish the non-profit Purple Rose Theatre Company as homage. The Academy made a huge blunder in not only ignoring him for Best Actor, but also failing to nominate the film itself for anything other than Best Original Screenplay. Read more on Under the Circuit: Jeff Daniels…
The summer draws to a close, but before we wave goodbye to the sunny season, there are a few more new releases left:
First up in wide release, the gorgeous Zoe Saldana stars in the revenge thriller Colombiana. Witnessing her parents’ murder as a child, Cataleya Restrepo grows up to be a Hot Skinny Damaged Chick Who Kicks Ass, working as an assassin to find those responsible for killing them. Just about every critic out there says the film’s plot is as stupid as it sounds, with many claiming its preposterous story and sequences make it destined for camp classic status. Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on which review you read, but Saldana’s charisma and physically dexterous performance is being praised as a crowd-pleaser. Female-led actioners have experienced mixed results at the box office, but this film could turn Saldana into a star the way Tomb Raider did for Angelina Jolie. I expect a modest $6-11 million opening before finding new life on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Guillermo del Toro is not directing Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a horror remake of the 1973 ABC made-for-TV movie. While he’s carved out quite a niche in the supernatural spookfest department, critics aren’t going for this one like they did with The Orphanage and Pan’s Labyrinth. Troy Nixey’s (the real director) command of atmosphere is widely-praised, but its clichés and shallowness are not. Horror junkies who found Final Destination 5 too campy may find something more foreboding to their liking. Then again, the buzz hasn’t really picked up for this, so I’m thinking maybe an $8-13 million take is what we’re looking at.
Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer must deal with Paul Rudd as Our Idiot Brother. Not a comedy classic according to most critics, but well-acted all around and very much lauded for its genuine sweetness following a tidal wave of mean-spirited comedies this summer. August comedies have been disappointing left and right, from The Change-Up to 30 Minutes or Less. It’s possible that audiences are just waiting for something to come along that doesn’t look anti-competent, or maybe they’re just burned out on the genre. Methinks $7-12 million will be its opening gross. Read more on Weekend Openings (August 26-28)…
This weekend – I’m not gonna lie – looks rough, both in terms of quality and box office (none of them are likely to topple The Help). Here goes…
Conan the Barbarian is the first of two new remakes this week. Starring Jason Momoa in the role that Arnold Schwarzenegger immortalized, everyone’s favorite barbarian undertakes a quest for revenge against the warlord responsible for murdering his father. Critics have thrashed this film as hard as Marcus Nispel’s horror remakes, complaining of its mind-numbing violence, unimaginative action sequences and non-existent plot. This film looks to be the strongest newcomer of the bunch at the box office, if for no other reason than the Conan fanbase, which should give it a nice $15-20 million front-loaded opening.
The second retread of an older movie this weekend is Fright Night, and luckily critics have been kinder on this one. Not raves, exactly, but most reviews express delight at its blend of cheekiness and creepiness. Unfortunately, horror-comedies are a mixed bag to audiences, and modern vampires have been so tainted by The Twilight Saga that its target audience of young males may be turned off by it. I have a feeling that $12-17 million is a good as it will get.
There was some early speculation of Lone Scherfig’s One Day being a major Oscar player…but that evaporated pretty quickly when the trailer hit, and now it appears that the reviews have hammered the final nail in its coffin. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that the same people who fell for the drippy mediocrity of An Education and the exact same gimmick in the ridiculous Same Time, Next Year are tearing this film apart, but à chacun son gout, I suppose. Between bad reviews and competition from The Help, and I’d be shocked if it reaches double digits by Sunday.
And finally…oh Christ, this is a tough one…uh, okay, so…Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D. So…Jessica Alba is in this film, and she plays a retired (huh?) secret agent married to a nincompoop with two bratty children. But then Ari Gold hatches a plot to take over the world, and then the kids get involved and stuff. Not that different from the previous installments, but this one is in, uh, 4D! What’s the fourth dimension, you may ask? Why, Smell-O-Vision, of course! *sigh*…anyway, reviews have predictably been horrified by scratching and sniffing dirty diaper odors and seeing Robert Rodriguez’s trademark rushed histrionic style bombard their senses. But hey, kids don’t pay attention to reviews, so maybe there’ll be enough to put the film at…$10-15 million? Read more on Weekend Openings (August 19-21)…