Our Favorite Performances of 2015

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara Carol

1. Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara- CarolThis year, the top spot on the list is also an act of protest.  It’s ridiculous to debate who gives the leading performance in Carol, and it’s ridiculous to campaign Rooney Mara for Best Supporting Actress awards when most of the film is told from her point of view.  Lost in the debate are two performances destined to be iconic; Mara as the young store clerk Therese and Cate Blanchett as Carol, the regal housewife she falls in love with.  Todd Haynes’ sublime 1950s melodrama is a superb showcase for both of them; never has a director better understood the distinct power of Blanchett’s slow-burning gaze, or the quietly devastating power of Mara’s wide, wondrous eyes.  Together the two actresses sketch a bond as intimate and ravishing as any screen romance in recent memory.

Maps to the Stars

2.  Julianne Moore- Maps to the Stars- Julianne Moore gives a brutal, merciless performance in Maps to the Stars, playing a woman who is gradually unraveling at the thought of no longer getting movie roles as she reaches 50.  Her Havana Sagrand is Valerie Cherish of HBO’s The Comeback stripped of any sympathy and dignity.  She is ruthlessly mean and unhinged, the kind of character you’d want to keep your distance from in case she spontaneously combusts.  Like Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method or Jeff Goldbloom in The Fly, this is exactly the kind of performance that director David Cronenberg loves to lavish with close-ups.  It’s among the most terrifying and memorable performances from one of the greatest living actresses.

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Matt’s 2015 Oscar Picks

Best-Boyhood

Best Picture: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash 

  • Will Win: Boyhood.  Maybe I’m being overly optimistic that the Academy will choose this over the stale, one-note satire that is Birdman, but I have a feeling Boyhood’s marketing campaign (“It was 12 years in the making,” and “Nostalgia”) will be irresistible to voters.   It also helps that the movie is pretty great too.  
  • Should Win: Boyhood or Selma.  The only winners that would make me visibly upset are Birdman and The Theory of Everything, though.  
  • Left out: My personal favorite movie of last year, Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language, would never, ever be nominated for Best Picture.  Neither would many of my other favorites, like Only Lovers Left Alive, Abuse of Weakness, Thou Wast Mild and Lovely or John Wick.  However, many of my others could have reasonably been nominated here, including Inherent Vice, Gone Girl and The Immigrant. 

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Our Favorite Movies of 2014

under the skin

1. Under the SkinMusic video veteran Jonathan Glazer proved to be 2014’s most indelible image-maker. The director’s follow-up to 2004’s underrated Birth proved to be even more audacious a statement, a cult classic in the making. Teaming with wiz-kid multi-instrumentalist Mica Levi and DP Daniel Lantin, Glazer’s masterpiece is about being outside one’s own environment, prowling through a nocturnal cityscape trying to feign connection. Seen through the eyes of Scarlett Johansson’s stalking, seductive alien, the everyday feels extraordinary. Familiar environments (the beach, a shopping mall, a nightclub) appear ominous; sounds, such as a baby’s distressed cries, or a group of excited women on their way to party, seem strange and terrifying. The first half, especially, is an ambitious depiction of a de-realization experience; the world is three-steps ahead, everything is out of touch, the body and mind forever trapped in an inexplicable waking dream.

It’s easy to get caught up in the score and visuals of Under the Skin, but there is a story that emerges here with any number of ostensible interpretations. Glazer’s film forgoes the didacticism often associated with science fiction, though, preferring to keep his images impressionistic and the story shrouded in ambiguity. In turn, his movie is one of the most moving and deeply empathetic works to come from the genre. Although unquestionably feminist, it has numerous pervasive ideas: systemic dehumanization, the effects of loneliness, the futility of attempting to understand the external world and the self. And for a guy who has only made three features, all of this is handled with remarkable assurance—taking pages from the handbooks of Kubrick, Grandrieux, and Roeg, Under the Skin somehow remains entirely its own beast. One can only imagine where a talent as formidable and evolving as Glazer will go next. But if his latest ends up being a career-best, his one major contribution to cinema, it’s surely enough to label him one of the greats.

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Our Favorite Performances of 2014

Abuse of Weakness Isabelle Huppert

1. Isabelle Huppert- Abuse of Weakness- To stare into the deep recesses of Isabelle Huppert’s face as her character tries to regain control of her life and body after a stroke is to watch screen acting of the highest order.  Huppert’s intensely physical performance as Maud captures the minutiae of her character’s physical affliction while also creating a portrait of a frustrated director whose inspiration is sparked by a known con man.  In realizing Catherine Breillat’s semi-autobiographical vision, Huppert nearly swallows the movie whole.

Gone Girl

2. Rosamund Pike- Gone Girl-  Gone Girl spends a large chunk of its run-time cruelly answering the opening and closing questions posed by Amy Dunne’s husband Nick: “What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?” Amy is the year’s most sinister enigma, and the calculated chill that Rosamund Pike brings to the role jolts David Fincher and Gillian Flynn’s vision to intoxicating, grotesque life.  Whether she’s rolling her eyes through one of her parents’ book release parties or [REDACTED] Neil Patrick Harris’ character, Pike tears through the role, the movie and Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) with menacing precision. This was the most on-the-button casting choice of the year.

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2014 Oscars: Matt’s Predictions

There are a lot of worthy contenders at this year’s Oscars, and even more oversights (Also, water is wet).  Few of the best nominees are front-runners or sure-fire bets, so during Hollywood’s annual night of back-patting I’ll mostly be tuning in for potential upsets and also pretty excited that Seth MacFarlane isn’t hosting.

Christian Bale;Jeremy Renner;Bradley Cooper

Best Picture: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street

  • Will Win: American Hustle.  Like last year’s winner, Argo, this is an un-upsetting ’70s period drama that plays at prestige and doesn’t feel the need to really deliver it.  To its credit, it is much less self-serious. Of the nominees, though, this one and Dallas Buyers Club are probably the least deserving. I’m holding out for an upset from 12 Years a Slave.
  • Should Win: The Wolf of Wall Street.  The year’s best movie was nominated for Best Picture, but has little to no chance of winning.  My second favorite in the category, 12 Years a Slave, actually does and I’d be more than happy with that.  
  • Left out: Where do I even start? Spring Breakers never had a chance but I think I would have respected the Academy forever if they’d had the nerve to give it some recognition either here or for Best Cinematography or Editing.  I’d also throw in Frances Ha, The Bling Ring, Inside Llewyn Davis, Computer Chess and Rush.  That’s just sticking with the Academy’s English-language fixation.  Foreign language picks: A Touch of Sin, Blue is the Warmest Color and Like Someone In Love.

Alfonso Cuaron

Best Director: David O. Russell (American Hustle), Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
  • Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón pulled off a lot of impressive tricks with a skilled crew in Gravity, and the Academy will give him the directing trophy even as it hands away Best Picture to Hustle.
  • Should Win: It’s only natural that if I picked Wolf for Best Picture, Scorsese should take home Best Director.  However, I think Steve McQueen would be just as deserving a winner.
  • Left out: Harmony Korine for Spring Breakers, Jia Zhangke for A Touch of Sin, Sofia Coppola for The Bling Ring, Shane Carruth for Upstream Color, Noah Baumbach for Frances Ha, James Wan for The Conjuring.  I could go on and on.

TORONTO

Best Actor: Christian Bale (American Hustle), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

  • Will Win: The McConaissance will culminate with an Oscar win in this category.  He was good in Dallas Buyers Club, but everyone else, even Bale, is more deserving of the trophy.
  • Should Win: DiCaprio gave the performance of the year and of his career (so far) in The Wolf of Wall Street.  I’m starting to feel like a broken record giving it top honors in every category.  Ejiofor’s performance was so crucial to anchoring 12 Years a Slave in humanity, and if he somehow pulls off an upset in this category you won’t hear any complaints from me.  Same goes for Bruce Dern.
  • Left out: Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, Ethan Hawke in Before Midnight, Joaquin Phoenix in Her and Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station.

Blue-Jasmine

Best Actress: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

  • Will Win: Cate Blanchett is pretty much a lock in this category.
  • Should Win: Blue Jasmine is the last Woody Allen film I plan on watching. That being said, when it came out, I praised Blanchett’s performance and even listed it in the top 5 performances of the year, and I still stand by that praise.
  • Left out: The biggest omissions in the acting categories this year are here. Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha and Adele Exachopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color both deserved slots over pretty much all of these people.  I’d also throw in Julie Delpy for Before Midnight.

Jared Leto

Best Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

  • Will Win: Jared Leto. Sigh.
  • Should Win: Jonah Hill. Sigh.
  • Left out: James Franco in Spring Breakers. Simon Pegg in The World’s End. James Gandolfini in Enough Said. Sigh.

12 Years a Slave Lupita Nyong'o

Best Supporting Actress: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), June Squibb (Nebraska)

  • Will Win: I’m going to call this one for Lupita Nyong’o. I still have hope that the Academy won’t throw another trophy at Lawrence just because she yelled “SCIENCE OVEN!” with conviction.
  • Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o gave the most heart-wrenching performance of 2013. Overall this is a fairly weak category, though I’m also not going to deny how much June Squibb’s turn in Nebraska grew on me the second time through.
  • Left out: Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street, Lea Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Color andJulianne Moore in Don Jon.

Her-Screenplay

Best Original Screenplay: American Hustle (Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell), Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen), Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack), Her (Spike Jonze), Nebraska (Bob Nelson)

  • Will Win: Spike Jonze, unless Hustle ends up pulling a sweep.
  • Should Win: Of these nominees, Bob Nelson for Nebraska.
  • Left out: Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay for The Counselor is far and away the most original and misunderstood work from last year. I’d also nominate Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig for their collaborative effort on Frances Ha.

12 Years a Slave script

Best Adapted Screenplay: Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke), Captain Phillips (Billy Ray), Philomena (Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope), 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley), The Wolf of Wall Street (Terrence Winter)

  • Will Win: John Ridley.
  • Should Win: Ridley is a fine choice, but so is Terrence Winter and the collaborative team from Before Midnight (although how the hell is that adapted? Adapted from two previous movies by the same people? The Oscars are dumb).
  • Left out: Sofia Coppola for The Bling Ring.

Gravity_SBullock

My predictions in the remaining categories (Will Win, Should Win):

Cinematography: Gravity, The Grandmaster

Animated Feature:  (I didn’t see any of these)

Costume Design: American Hustle,The Grandmaster

Production Design: Her, Her

Editing: Gravity, 12 Years a Slave

Foreign Language Film: (I only saw The Hunt and I didn’t like it. They need to change the rules for this dumb category).

Documentary: The Act of Killing, The Act of Killing

Makeup: Bad Grandpa, Bad Grandpa

Original Score: Gravity, Her

Original Song: “Ordinary Love”- Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, “The Moon Song”- Her

Visual Effects: Gravity, Gravity

Sound Editing: Gravity, Gravity

Sound Mixing: Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis

Our Favorite Movies of 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street movie

1. The Wolf of Wall Street- The funniest film of the year was made by one of the world’s greatest directors, Martin Scorsese, who is now into his 70s and nearing the very end of his career. You wouldn’t know it watching The Wolf of Wall Street, an impossibly energetic riff on the true-life exploits of Wall Street crook Jordan Belfort. The film depicts behavior most would find irrefutably lewd, misogynist, or downright amoral; most of which is played for uproarious laughs. The men in Wolf act out of humanity’s basest impulses; snorting drugs and screwing prostitutes in the office just because they have no one there to tell them “no.” Scorsese, much like the protagonist, never slows down to moralize anything on the screen, keeping the focus on the excessively sexual and drug-fueled life of Belfort and all of his brokers. It is in these outrageous slapstick moments and revolting conversations that the director becomes a sly satirist, allowing us to laugh at and observe this lifestyle from the self-aggrandizing narrator’s point of view. The uniformly great supporting cast, paired with DiCaprio’s career-best performance, carry out exhilarating, even visceral, comedy scenes that keep the film bouncing through its three-hour run-time.  Scorsese’s damning portrait of greed has a well-secured place in the canon of America’s great black comedies.

spring breakers

2. Spring Breakers- The perverse pleasures of cinema were mined and radicalized in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, an apocalyptic beach party and an unforgettable deconstruction of modern America’s excesses and wastelands. Aesthetically, it mirrors the sex-and-drug infused paradise of an MTV spring break, filmed under bright pink skylines and seedy red nightclubs. Malevolence has always been a way of coping with marginality for Korine’s characters, but for Brit, Candy, Faith and Cotty, it is a way to reach the ultimate high; attaining a transcendent euphoria, not through debauched revelries but through dominance and power. Big Arch and the indelible Alien are the walking, boasting incarnations of this ever-lasting Dream, and the girls’ eventual foray into criminal warfare is all an inevitable part of their quest for insatiable pleasure. As a major release in 2013, Spring Breakers is purposefully indefinable, and so nonplussed reactions from Gen-Y are unsurprising (strangely, our drug-obsessed culture doesn’t seem too interested in art inspired by drugs?). But not working directly as an obvious critique of anything is exactly why the film will endure; by evading a definite “purpose,” it is a piece of art that can be observed from a multitude of angles. If anything, the year’s masterpiece will serve as an important corrective: it’s not style over substance, style is the substance.

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Our Favorite Performances of 2013

DiCaprio Wolf of Wall Street

1. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street- A career-best performance for DiCaprio in his thrilling latest collaboration with Martin Scorsese.  He gives off machine-gun bursts of energy as Wall Street crook Jordan Belfort and shows an amazing knack for both physical and verbal comedy that his often-serious portrayals don’t let him bring out.  It’s both loud and rambunctious and deeply nuanced.  (Added Dec. 30) 

Frances Ha

2. Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha- This fantastic turn is the stunning result of Greta Gerwig’s New Wave collaboration with director Noah Baumbach.  While also serving as co-writer of the movie, Gerwig captures a rocky period of this 27-year-old dancer wannabe’s life with a contagious charm.  The movie is very much built around her unpredictability, and she captures the pain and anxiety of post-college youth without overplaying her hand.  She is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl whose dreams are her own.

blue-jasmine-trailer

3. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen’s latest simply wouldn’t have been as good without this thunderous performance from Cate Blanchett.  She manages the difficult task of creating a loathsome woman that also elicits pity.  After a long string of privileged existence, Jasmine is finally forced to confront the depths of her mental instability when her Madoff-esque husband is caught.  Blanchett gazes unflinchingly into the abyss of depression with raw feeling and crucial sympathy.

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