REVIEW: Joy

16 01 2016

“Hands, give me the hands,” Bradley Cooper’s Neil Walker vehemently instructs a cameraman filming Jennifer Lawrence’s Joy Mangano as she sells her Miracle Mop on QVC. For Walker, the consummate showman (and perhaps the stand-in for writer/director David O. Russell), these appendages are the attribute that sets stars apart from the average person. Hands are important because, in his words, “that’s what people use.”

Russell uses hands as a motif running throughout “Joy,” a hymn to ingenuity and perseverance inspired by true stories of daring women. To him, hands mean physical labor, the kind of work traditionally delegated to men. But that traditional division of duties never stopped Joy, who built kingdoms out of paper as a child, dog collars as a teenager, and finally a self-wringing mop as an adult. Her knack for creation, when coupled with her practicality and pragmatism, means she has real potential for success.

Indicative of just how overextended Joy is among her large family, her hands spend most of their time at home doing household repairs like plumbing which would normally be left to the male authority figure. (Her ex-husband, Edgar Ramirez’s failed singer Tony, spends most of his day crooning in the basement.) On top of all the emotional labor of caring for the physical and emotional well-being of her two young children, she has virtually no time to pursue a path that could bring fulfillment and fortune. Yet another mess Joy must clean up enables her to dream up the revolutionary mop after shards of glass lead to gashes all over her hands.

In order to turn her flailing life around, Joy has to compete in the man’s world of business to get her product in front of customers. She has virtually no cues as to how to operate in this sphere; repeated asides from a fictional soap opera show the kind of cues from which Joy can draw. Boys get “The Godfather.” Girls get puffed-up camp like “The Joyful Storm.”

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LISTFUL THINKING: Top 10 of 2015 (Individuals and Institutions)

31 12 2015

The end of the year has arrived once again in its typical fashion – surprising, jarring yet oddly welcome. On this occasion, per usual, it is time to celebrate 2015 in cinema. Thanks to a number of festivals as well as generous assistance from studio and regional publicists, I was able to see more movies than ever before. This year, the tally of 2015 releases alone soared to over 200. (I came so close to reviewing them all … but would rather provide well-considered commentary instead of rushing to meet an arbitrarily imposed deadline.)

When I sat down to pen my first top 10 list back in 2009, I doubt I had even seen 100 films, so the list represented roughly the top 10% of my year. With 2015’s edition showcasing less than 5%, I feel obliged to at least mention 10 other films that left an indelible mark on me this year but, for whatever reason, fell outside the upper echelon. These, too, are worthy of your time and attention. In alphabetical order, they are:

But the ten films that stood out above the rest this year all had one thing in common: they looked beyond their characters and plots towards larger, more difficult concepts to capture. Each in their own way spotlighted (pun fully intended) an institution or a system that guides, influences and even inhibits the actions that take place. I make no secret that my two fields of study in college were film studies and sociology, and to have such an exciting slate of movies that evinces how the former can shed light on the latter was a source of great joy (again, pun fully intended) throughout 2015.

Remarkably, each work never lost sight of the individual personalities that power our emotional engagement. The human element never detracts from the issues at hand, instead providing an entry point to ponder impersonal or intangible forces. In an era where television provides a depth of coverage that has become tough to rival, these films found power in a concentrated bursts of content where every second was carefully and wonderfully calibrated.

So, without further ado, here are my ten favorite films of 2015 along with the individuals and institutions featured within them.

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LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Films of 2015

2 01 2015

Well, time to usher in 2015.  It certainly looks to be another good year of movies with plenty of great actors and directors gearing up with compelling new projects.  And, if you’re a franchise lover, this year ought to be nirvana.

So, here’s a year-beginning top 10 list.  Normally, these do not even come close to lining up with my year end list.  In both 2013 and 2014, only two films from the list were in my final top 10.

It is entirely likely that one or more of these films will not be finished in time for release in 2015 – I mainly worry about “Silence,” which has yet to begin production and will likely be a massive endeavor – so I’ll offer up a few honorable mentions and some 2014 festival holdovers that have yet to be released.

2014 HOLDOVERS: I’m not quite sure what year to file “Maps to the Stars” under given that Julianne Moore was nominated for a Golden Globe this year, but I’ll certainly be glad to see it on VOD (February 27). “While We’re Young” (March 27) looks like an incredibly promising follow-up to “Frances Ha” for Noah Baumbach.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Just outside the list is Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between Oceans” (TBD), which teams the director of “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines” with perhaps the most exciting working actor, Michael Fassbender.  The McConaissance looks to continue in “Sea of Trees” (TBD), a collaboration with Gus Van Sant.

I am sure in a year with two Pixar movies, “Inside Out” (June 19) and “The Good Dinosaur” (November 25), one of them will be decent. And ok, fine, I guess I’ll get somewhat excited for “Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (December 18).

That's What I'm Talking About

#10
“That’s What I’m Talking About” (TBD)
Written and directed by Richard Linklater

Despite all the adoration being heaped upon Richard Linklater after “Boyhood,” the director churns out a “Me & Orson Welles” about as often as he churns out a “Before Midnight.”  I remain cautiously optimistic about his next film, a spiritual cousin to “Dazed and Confused,” which is set in a Texas college in the 1980s and somehow involves a baseball team.  I’m not the biggest fan of “Dazed,” but I’ll definitely be awaiting this one.

Knight of Cups

#9
“Knight of Cups” (TBD)
Written and directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman

How can any film lover not eagerly anticipate whatever Terrence Malick has cooked up next?  The trailer for “Knight of Cups” was certainly … interesting.  This could be a profound meditation on fame or a Sofia Coppola film made on quaaludes.  Either way, I’m excited to see him work with Oscar winners like Bale, Blanchett, and Portman.  (No offense, Olga Kurylenko.)

The Intern

#8
“The Intern” (September 25)
Written and directed by Nancy Meyers
Starring Anne Hathaway, Robert DeNiro, and Rene Russo

Make fun of me all you want, but I absolutely adore all of Nancy Meyers’ movies.  My family stops to watch “Father of the Bride” and “The Parent Trap” each time they are on TV, and I thought “It’s Complicated” was a laugh riot.  That was six years ago, so it’s time for her to make a new movie.  The concept of an adult intern seems a little beneath her (not to mention kind of taken by “The Internship“), but I have faith that she’ll provide a potent blend of humor and heart like always.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler acting during film of their new movie The Nest

#7
“Sisters” (December 18)
Directed by Jason Moore
Written by Paula Pell
Starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph

TINA FEY AND AMY POEHLER IN A MOVIE TOGETHER AGAIN.  This is not a drill, people!  Sure, they’ve hosted the Golden Globes and both cameoed in “Anchorman 2.”  But this is them co-starring in a movie together.  I’m just going to have to watch “Baby Mama” ten times this year to mentally prepare myself.

Revenant

#6
“The Revenant” (December 25)
Written and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson

I did not drink the “Birdman” Kool-Aid quite as much as others, but there is no denying that Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu is making bold, risky cinema.  His next film, shot this fall, brings together Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.  That pairing just needed to happen, first of all.  Iñárritu also requested additional funding so he could shoot the film in sequence, a somewhat odd insistence that has me wondering why it was necessary.  Perhaps to procure that first Oscar for DiCaprio?

Macbeth

#5
“Macbeth” (TBD)
Directed by Justin Kurzel
Written by Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and David Thewlis

I am not necessarily a big Shakespeare dork, but Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are two of the meatiest characters in all of fiction.  Watching Fassbender and Cotillard inhabit them should be nothing short of thrilling.  (They are also directed by Justin Kurzel, whose last feature, “The Snowtown Murders,” needs to be placed at the top of your Netflix queue immediately.)

Midnight Special

#4
“Midnight Special” (November 25)
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and Adam Driver

A big-budget studio sci-fi film directed by the guy who gave us 2013’s indie smash “Mud.”  Hmmm.  I think this could establish Jeff Nichols as the next Christopher Nolan or Steven Spielberg if all goes well.

FFN_IMAGE_51471858|FFN_SET_60081353

#3
“Untitled Woody Allen Project” (TBD)
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, and Parker Posey

A new Woody Allen film is always reason to rejoice.  But this year’s installment features an odd yet intriguing pairing: Joaquin Phoenix and  Emma Stone, Allen’s new female muse.  There is some kind of teacher-student relationship at the heart of the film, which does sound a little clichéd.  Still, to watch those two act opposite each other ought to be a show.

Silence

#2
“Silence” (November)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Jay Cocks
Starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver

For decades, Scorsese’s work has dealt both directly and indirectly with his Catholic heritage.  With his passion project, “Silence,” religion takes center stage with a story about Jesuit priests in Japan.  Shockingly, Scorsese had to come beg for funds at Cannes for the film; you would think by this point, he could just get a check to make whatever he wants.  It has still yet to shoot, so hopefully the final project is not so rushed that it turns out as sloppily self-indulgent as “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Joy

#1
“Joy” (December 25)
Directed by David O. Russell
Written by Annie Mumolo
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert DeNiro

At this point, David O. Russell could direct Jennifer Lawrence reading a calculus textbook, and I would still buy a ticket.  (And it would probably get her an Oscar nomination.)  I’m not quite sure what they see in the story of the inventor of the Miracle Mop, but I am excited to see how they simultaneously find laughter and drama in it.

What movies are YOU excited to see in 2015?  Any of these?!  If you’re just dying to see “Avengers 2,” I guess we can still be friends…