F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 27, 2013)

27 12 2013

The year 2014 is fast approaching, which portends a myriad of things for people.  For many, it is a fresh start, a chance to renew lapsed goals and resolve to become a better person.  Yet for all of us, it is an inescapable marker of time slipping through our fingers.  For what is a year but just two signposts of elapsed time, a set of brackets to contain our ups and downs?

Mike Leigh’s “Another Year,” my pick for the final “F.I.L.M. of the Week” in 2013, looks at this widely-recognized span of time from a refreshingly realistic angle.  It’s not a tale that escalates dramatically like a conventional fictional plot.  Rather, Leigh presents four chapters – one for each season – in the lives of ordinary people going about their business.  There is not necessarily any grand significance to their trials and triumphs, but in simply recognizing these normally unrecognized moments, Leigh grants them a beautiful dignity.

To detail the occurrences of “Another Year” in any great detail would be to spoil the flow of the picture.  Like many films by Mike Leigh, it involves a large ensemble cast who are more than just actors in the movie – they are true collaborators.  Their characters drop in and out of the story with the exception of the two anchors of the film, the old married couple Tom and Gerri Hepple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, respectively).  They are a solid bedrock for their many friends, steady and resolute from their many years of experience weathering whatever is thrown at them.

There’s no indication that the year chronicled in “Another Year” is one of any particular challenge for Tom and Gerri.  Both continue to work their jobs, tend their house, care for their grown son, and love each other.  They even manage to stay relatively unfazed by their erratic friend Mary, played by Lesley Manville in what should have been an Oscar-nominated performance. (Sadly, confusion over whether she was a leading or a supporting actress may have cost her a shot at a trophy she deserved to win.)

As she endures a particularly biting mid-life crisis with an accompanying lack of direction and self-worth, Mary provides the tension that makes “Another Year” more than just pure naturalism.  Manville is nothing short of stunning in the role, providing just about every emotion one can feel over the course of a year within the film.  Leigh closes with a long-held shot of her face, and it is truly devastating.  Not unlike the final shot of “Zero Dark Thirty,” all the action and events of the film are ultimately reflected in the face.  And in “Another Year,” the events are life itself, in all its small victories and tough disappointments.

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“Another Year” Poll Results

24 01 2011

There was a time when “Another Year” seemed like not only a sure-fire Best Picture and Director nominee, but a legitimate threat to win them both.  That was back in the summer after the Cannes Film Festival when it had all the buzz.

Fast forward two seasons and Mike Leigh’s movie is on life support, barely breathing in an awards season that has given the movie little love other than for Lesley Manville from the BAFTAs and National Board of Review.  Mike Leigh’s direction and writing have gone basically unnoticed.

Now, the movie hopes to draw enough support from the Mike Leigh-loving Academy voters to get a nomination and salvage itself.  I can’t say whether or not the movie merits a nomination as it has yet to open in Houston.  But I can tell you that its prospects are slim.

Back in September when the Oscar race looked entirely different, I wrote an Oscar Moment piece covering “Another Year.”  In it, I pointed out that the deserving factor could work to Mike Leigh’s advantage:

“… at 67, Leigh may be the beneficiary of ‘let’s-give-it-to-him-before-he-leaves-us’ syndrome in the Best Director category.  If he’s nominated, he’ll be a big threat because he’s been there twice before and many will feel that he finally deserves it.  Plus, according to Kris Tapley of In Contention, ‘to say the least, it’s Leigh’s finest hour in years.'”

The poll voters were split back then with half thinking it would be Leigh’s time and half thinking it wouldn’t be.  Four months later, it seems almost certain that it will NOT be Leigh’s time.

I enjoy looking back and seeing what the race could have been.





What To Look Forward To in … December 2010

15 11 2010

Hard to believe we are rapidly approaching the last month of 2010!  Enjoy the movies now, because soon Hollywood will be offering us its scraps.  We have an interesting December slate peppered with Oscar contenders and blockbusters, so it makes for an interesting mix.  Let’s get started at our look!

December 3

I’ve already seen “Black Swan” (mwahaha), and you need to see it.  Not for the faint at heart, I must warn.

FINALLY opening after being shuffled from preview post to preview post is “I Love You Phillip Morris,” the racy comedy starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as lovers.  It’s changed release dates so many times, in fact, that I’m not going to write anything about it just in case I jinx it.  Also opening is “The Warrior’s Way,” which looks to potentially play “Norbit” for Geoffrey Rush’s Oscar chances.  And “All Good Things” looks like a jumbled mess that might be worth checking out on video if for no other reason than to see Kristen Wiig’s first major dramatic turn.  If you really need a Christmas movie, check out no-name distributor Freestyle’s release of “The Nutcracker” in 3D with Dakota Fanning’s sister and Nathan Lane!

Also in limited release is a documentary on Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated former Prime Minister of Pakistan, called “Bhutto.”  I think she would be a fascinating subject, and I sure hope it comes to Houston.

December 10

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” looks to undo the disastrous effects of Disneyfication on C.S. Lewis’ classic series.  After “Prince Caspian,” the series needs a strong recovery.  Here’s to hoping the venture with Fox can do it.

As for “The Tourist,” I like anything with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.  This could be a totally formulaic thriller, but it’s Christmas and I have time to see whatever.

For all those interested in having Julia Taymor’s bad trips mess with their mind, “The Tempest” opens in limited release this Friday.  The weekend also brings us “The Company Men” with Ben Affleck, which tackles the issue of unemployment in America.  Unfortunately, the zeitgeist movie market has pretty much been cornered with “The Social Network,” so it’s going to take a backseat.  “Hemingway’s Garden of Eden” also heads your way in limited release, yet even with the big name expatriate author out in front, this still doesn’t excite me in the slightest.

Oh, and opening limited this weekend and wide December 17 is a little movie called “The Fighter.”  It just stars a few no-names like Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale.  It’s kind of got some minor buzz, so it could be worth checking out.  (Note the sarcasm.)

December 17

How Do You Know” is my top mainstream pick for December.  The combination of the light dramedy of James L. Brooks with stars like Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson is just endlessly appealing to me.

I feel like the jury is still out on what will become of “Tron: Legacy.”  It’s sure going to be a visual effects phenomenon worth my IMAX money, but is it going to be any good?  Quality doesn’t seem to shine through the numerous trailers.  Maybe it’s some ’80s child thing I don’t get.

I’ve also seen “Rabbit Hole,” and it is more than worth your time and money in the busy Oscar bait season.  Nicole Kidman is astounding.  Also in the indie spectrum, Kevin Spacey stars in the late George Hickenlooper’s “Casino Jack,” a story of big influence on Capitol Hill.  Expect the two-time Oscar winner to hit out of the park as usual.

In case your family was looking to fill the void that “Alvin and the Chipmunks” left in the holiday season, Warner Bros. has quite a treat in store for you with “Yogi Bear!”

December 22

As for big name, sure-fire Oscar bait, it doesn’t get much better than the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit.”  It’s the perfect holiday movie that is totally not for the holiday season.

For more shoddy kids’ entertainment, you could also check out “Gulliver’s Travels” if you think that a non-animated Jack Black still has the capability to be funny.  I don’t think he does, to be honest.  As for “Little Fockers,” I don’t want to ruin whatever jokes the movie has up its sleeve by watching the trailer.  Who knows, there could be few to be had.

In limited release, moody hipster Sofia Coppola has a new movie, “Somewhere,” to totally disrupt the mood of your holiday season.  There’s also Gwenyth Paltrow in “Crazy Heart” — I mean, “Country Strong.”  More on that when it opens wide in January.

I’ve been hearing good things all year about “The Illusionist,” an animated movie about a magician, NOT the Edward Norton starrer from 2006.  It obviously won’t be making Houston in 2010, but I hope I get to catch it some time before it hits Netflix.

December 29/31

The year closes with three awards-type movies: the depressing “Biutiful,” the Mike Leigh unfunny comedy “Another Year,” and the intense NC-17 “Blue Valentine.”  I’ll see all three, but the only one I’ll be rushing the box office for is the latter, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

So, what are YOU looking forward to in December?  I’m tightening up the poll this month to save some space by eliminating some of the less popular titles that never get votes.






Oscar Moment: “Another Year”

24 09 2010

I’ll close out this week chalked full of Oscar Moments with the movie that has been a favorite since it premiered at Cannes back in May, Mike Leigh’s “Another Year.”  It received adoring review after adoring review, most speculating that it would win the prestigious Palme d’Or.  And while it didn’t take home any hardware, it emerged as the movie with the most buzz from the festival.

This month, it played at Telluride and Toronto, not really gaining any more traction but rather cementing its status as a sure-fire critical favorite.  So can all that awards season heat from May last all the way until February?

I’m not a big Mike Leigh fan, although I certainly have a lot of respect for the way he makes his movies.  For those who may not be familiar with his filmmaking methods, allow me to explain.  Here’s a critical perspective from the British Council:

Instead of writing a script, Leigh works from a basic premise, however vague it may be, that will be fleshed out through months of improvisation and rehearsal. This will involve an exploration of the actor’s own experiences and people they know, things which will then inform the characters they develop; Leigh’s work then, is devised, so much of the credit must be given to those he works with. Equally significant is the way Leigh controls story: ‘You have to be free as an actor from knowing what your character wouldn’t know.’ Yet while his performers are vital to the process, it is Leigh, who moulds and shapes the work, who provides the simple instructions which allow the narrative to develop. The material is continually reshaped until the very moment the cameras role. It is then that the work is in some way ‘fixed’. After that, there is little time for improvisation.

It’s a fascinating idea, although from my experience with Leigh’s work, I’m not sure how much it works for me.  Nevertheless, the Academy loves his writing and direction.  He has been nominated four times for Best Original Screenplay, most recently in 2008 for “Happy-Go-Lucky,” and twice for Best Director, most recently for 2004’s “Vera Drake.”  As for the overall success of his movies, only one, 1996’s “Secrets & Lies,” was nominated for Best Picture.

While Leigh’s track record with the Academy is overall pretty spotty, it’s clear to see that they do really like him, especially as of late.  I think the movie’s surest bet is in the Best Original Screenplay category, Leigh’s most common stomping grounds.  Although Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly says of the script, “This time, Leigh doesn’t bother with the pretense of a story; like a more boisterous Eric Rohmer, he simply splits the movie into four seasonal chapters over the course of a year, thereby liberating it from the clank of narrative,” so we can’t be totally assured.

However, at 67, Leigh may be the beneficiary of “let’s-give-it-to-him-before-he-leaves-us” syndrome in the Best Director category.  If he’s nominated, he’ll be a big threat because he’s been there twice before and many will feel that he finally deserves it.  Plus, according to Kris Tapley of In Contention, “to say the least, it’s Leigh’s finest hour in years.”

I’d say given the critical fanfare, “Another Year” should easily slide into the Best Picture field of ten.  The real challenge for the movie will be landing acting nominations.  Given the film’s large ensemble, will anyone other than Lesley Manville have a shot at a nod?  Here’s Gleiberman again, this time on the actress’ turn:

Lesley Manville, who plays Sheen and Broadbent’s most regular, and desperate, Saturday night dinner companion, a fragile, sozzled, enthusiastically needy secretary who has been coyly girlish, and drunk, for so long that she has no idea the loneliness she’s seeking to escape is of her own devising.

Manville has been hogging the spotlight, and when anyone talks of the ensemble, they single her out.  She’s the movie’s best bet for an acting nomination, although category fraud may play a part.  Most pundits consider her a leading actress, but Sony Pictures Classics may want to sneak her into the weaker Best Supporting Actress field.

The rest of the cast, save for prior winner Jim Broadbent, has so little name recognition that it’s going to be hard for any of them to sneak in.  Ruth Sheen could have a shot at Best Supporting Actress, as could Broadbent in the Best Actor category.  But for any of them to be legitimate contenders, I think they are going to need support from critics’ groups in December to thrust them into contention.  No one really knew who Amy Ryan was in 2007, yet thanks to being named Best Supporting Actress by association after association, she wound up with an Oscar nomination.

If anyone thinks “The King’s Speech” is going to have a hard time keeping September buzz, I think “Another Year” may have it just as hard.  How can it keep riding the wave of critical success into Oscar season?  With a release of December 29, did Sony Pictures Classics wait until the last minute so the wave can die and begin anew?

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Manville), Best Original Screenplay

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Actor (Broadbent), Best Supporting Actress (Sheen)