Sunday, August 31, 2014

Foxcatcher (NEW) and Rosewater Trailers

The suspense is killing me! It feels as though I've been waiting my whole life for the release of Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher, a story that's both local and iconic from my childhood, and all the studio continues to release are short teaser trailers. Steve Carell stars as John du Pont, a wealthy sponsor driven to recapture American glory in the sport of wresting. After he builds a first-class training facility and recruits a pair of gifted brothers, Mark and Dave Schultz (played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, respectively), du Pont begins to display unusual behavior that leads to a shocking finale. Foxcatcher received rave reviews at the Cannes Festival earlier this year and reaches theatres on November 14th.

Both Foxcatcher and The Daily Show's Jon Stewart's directorial debut, Rosewater, were outlined in my Fall Oscar Preview. While little has been known about Stewart's passion project until the release of Rosewater's first official trailer, we can now see that he's going for Oscar gold. Gael Garcia Bernal stars as Maziar Bahari in the adapted autobiographical account of the journalist's 100+ days of brutal interrogation in an Irani prison. There's no shortage of dramatics here and if the film can manage to tell a well thought-out harrowing story, then Rosewater may end up being a legitimate Oscar contender.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Maze Runner

Film: The Maze Runner

Starring: Dylan O'Brien (The Internship), Will Poulter (We're the Millers) and Patricia Clarkson (Easy A)

Director: Wes Ball

U.S. Release: September 19th, 2014 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 113 minutes

You can run, but you can't hide. The young adult novel craze has taken over mainstream film and, after staring far over the horizon, it's clear to see that there's no ending in sight. The latest adapted film from the genre, Wes Ball's The Maze Runner, serves as an unfortunate example of just how deeply entrenched our culture is in this teenage-driven phenomenon. In a dog-eat-dog world it's shocking to see just how open these money-hoarding studios are to forking over the funds to develop a blockbuster franchise such as this. Well, I guess money really does talk.

After Thomas (played by Dylan O'Brien) awakes with a severe case of memory-loss only to discover a trapped community of boys facing the same set of circumstances, he begins learn about their developed society where an ever-changing maze appears to be the only hope of escape. However, spider-like creatures known as Grievers terrorize the maze throughout the nighttime where no one has ever lived to tell about an encounter. Therefore, a brave and courageous Thomas goes against the rules of the society in order to search the maze for answers and free themselves from this mysterious set of circumstances.

With a Lost-like approach more inclined to create questions than answering them, The Maze Runner attempts to entertain solely on intrigue and action alone. Utilizing a large cast of characters, each of which has no useful backstory due to a weakly supported memory-loss premise, debut director Wes Ball demonstrates no desire to establish an emotional connection with the audience. Rather, nearly two hours are spent focusing on thrilling chase sequences throughout the maze where nothing helps progress the story forward. All of which lead to a less-than revelatory finale that paves the way for multiple sequels to this newly established franchise.

Despite the feature's fundamentally flawed agenda of sacrificing content and story for suspense and visuals, The Maze Runner has many edge-of-your-seat moments. The up-tempo sequences inevitably make for entertaining viewing experiences until they begin to run their course. Eventually, the intensity loses its spark and a flimsy storyline emerges from the background destroying everything the film has built to that point, much like the Grievers to the boys' community. After wading through a myriad of action-packed and visually pleasing moments, The Maze Runner is unmasked for what it truly is, a money-printing piece of fluff.

Furthermore, I'd like to take this opportunity to address the family member of young actor Dexter Darden who sat near me during the screening and continually ruined the entire experience for many of the viewing audience. By adding your own soundtrack and dialogue to the film, filled with vulgarities and shrieking screams that were by no means necessary, you alienated a large number of people who will most-likely spread negativity about The Maze Runner. All of Dexter and the rest of the young cast's hard work becomes overshadowed by your inexplicable lack of respect and disregard for proper social behavior. If a grown woman such as yourself is unable to control your own personal actions, much like a toddler, than please refrain from ever leaving the house.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nightcrawler and White Bird in a Blizzard Trailers

This Halloween screenwriter Dan Gilroy delivers his first directorial effort with the highly anticipated Nightcrawler. Appearing as a sadistic blend of American Psycho meets Drive, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a young man who discovers the brutal realities of freelance crime journalism in Los Angeles and begins to do anything it takes to capture a great story. At first glance, Nightcrawler has all the makings of an anti-Oscar crowd-pleaser.

Another Sundance selection arriving in theatres this Fall is Gregg Araki's adapted drama, White Bird in a Blizzard. Rising star Shailene Woodley stars as a small town 17 year old girl facing all sorts of changes in her life, when her depressed and emotionless mother (Eva Green) mysteriously goes missing one day. Playing to generally positive reviews and creatively combining the coming-of-age and thriller genres, White Bird in a Blizzard reaches theatres on September 25th.

Monday, August 18, 2014

St. Vincent and Rudderless Trailers

At the beginning of the month I chronicled the Fall Oscar Preview and one of the films I highlighted was Theodore Melfi's indie comedy St. Vincent. Bill Murray stars in the title role as a grumpy old war veteran who convinces his new single-mother neighbor (Melissa McCarthy) to let him babysit her young boy after he finds out he's broke. With hearty laughs and a potential drama-filled mentor story at its core, St. Vincent could be Bill Murray's chance to return to the Oscar spotlight.

Yet another film out of this year's Sundance class due for an October release is actor William H. Macy's directorial debut, Rudderless. This tender drama tells the story of Sam Manning (Almost Famous' Billy Crudup), a grieving father whose life spirals out of control after the loss of his son, Josh. But when Sam discovers some of Josh's original music, he decides to start up a rock band and play his son's songs. Critics and audiences alike raved about the charming nature of William H. Macy's Rudderless.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Giver

Film: The Giver

Starring: Brenton Thwaites (Oculus) and Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)

Director: Phillip Noyce (Salt)

Genre: Sci-Fi/Drama

Runtime: 94 minutes

For all of the many passion projects floating around Hollywood, it's amazing to imagine that Jeff Bridges has spent nearly 20 years begging and pleading for an opportunity to play the title role in an adaptation of Lois Lowry's 1993 futuristic novel, The Giver. Finally, after decades of struggle and perseverance, the Acadamy Award Winning actor's wish has been granted. Yet, director Phillip Noyce's visually compelling finished product proves that good things don't always come to those who wait.

Following a world filled with war and pain mankind adopts the idea of communities, seemingly perfect places where extreme "sameness" and "likeness" leave no room for envy or jealousy. With happiness and conflict no longer in existence a young boy named Jonas (played by Brenton Thwaites) is given his future assignment, to meet with "The Giver" (Jeff Bridges) and become the Receiver of Memory. It's here where Jonas learns about the old world and discovers a wide range of emotions that he never knew existed. These revelations force the boy to question the entire foundation of his upbringing.

There are many issues circling around the latest sci-fi drama, The Giver. First, the film lands in an enormous line of young adult novels adapted into major motion pictures, which forms a natural comparison against blockbuster franchises that include The Hunger Games and Divergent. And while The Giver isn't a far cry from the newly popularized genre's finest offerings, it struggles to earn a respectable place in the crowded collection. Another blemish resides in the film's superficial approach to the story. For a novel filled with controversial and stimulating ideas about societal issues, The Giver's screenplay barely scratches the surface with properly addressing such topics. Therefore, the feature concludes as a cheapened adaptation focused more on appearance and style than delivering a mindful interpretation of Lois Lowry's novel.

To be perfectly honest, there aren't many glowing attributes to this summer's newest blockbuster. Outside of a tasteful filming style with its clever use of colors and state-of-the-art camerawork that captures some fantastic shots, The Giver is a rather bland feature. Jeff Bridges gives a fully committed performance but the rest of the cast is serviceable at best. Even fans of second hand stars such as the great Meryl Streep and music sensation Taylor Swift should harness their expectations, because neither character or performance adds much soul to the film. And despite leading man Brenton Thwaites' valiant efforts, he never feels like the right fit for the role of Jonas.

The Giver helped spawn the young adult novel movement over two decades ago and, ironically, kept getting skipped over during the recent cinematic surge. Now that audiences and fans of Lois Lowry's work are given the opportunity to visualize her words, it feels like a huge disservice. Perhaps the thought-provoking themes surrounding The Giver were never meant to be translated to the big screen.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Let's Be Cops

Film: Let's Be Cops

Starring: Jake Johnson (Safety Not Guaranteed), Damon Wayans Jr. and Rob Riggle (21 Jump Street)

Director: Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door)

U.S. Release: August 13th, 2014 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 104 minutes

Back in April when I ran a Summer Preview series, one of the films I outlined was Luke Greenfield's law enforcement comedy, Let's Be Cops. Considering Greenfield was at the helm for a guilty pleasure of mine, 2004's The Girl Next Door, and I've always admired Jake Johnson's work, I figured that if Damon Wayans Jr. was even half as funny as his father, we could have the surprise comedy of the summer on our hands. Unfortunately, my initial thoughts were misguided and Let's Be Cops remains mired in mediocrity for a multitude of reasons.

Ryan (played by Johnson) and Justin (Wayans Jr.) are Ohio transplants struggling to find success in Los Angeles. And while Justin's passion project gets rejected by his boss at work and Ryan continues to dwell on his glory days as a college quarterback before he sustained a career-ending injury, the duo contemplate a return to their home state. However, a dim-witted mistake on Ryan's part finds the pair of friends dressed authentically as police officers, where they quickly discover an insatiable appetite for the power and respect that comes along with being a cop.

There are quite a few flaws peppered throughout the latest summer comedy, Let's Be Cops. Outside of its leading stars who deliver respectable performances given the circumstances, the feature is dowsed with ineffective secondary characters that offer nothing to the film. Rob Riggle leaps from the 21 Jump Street franchise to this easily comparable counterpart and fails to shine. The same can be said for Andy Garcia, Nina Dobrev, James D'Arcy and Comedy Central's Keegan-Michael Key. Then there's youngster Joshua Ormond, a worthless inclusion who manages to conveniently appear and disappear at any given moment. Also, for an R-rated comedy the jokes are merely molded out of vulgarity and male nudity, which mix together to form an almost laugh-less affair. And although the film begins with a playful examination circling the leading pair's seemingly harmless, yet punishable, offense, in the blink of an eye Let's Be Cops spins right off the realistic-meter and lands in the realm of unbelievable.

Despite the fact that driving on sidewalks appears to go unnoticed and the wanna-be cop tag-team are able to obtain expensive surveillance equipment from local law enforcement without raising suspicion, Let's Be Cops still manages to offer a handful of redeeming qualities. Jake Johnson is a bright spot who constantly demonstrates an innate ability to make a fluid transition between comedy and drama, to the point where it feels shockingly effortless. Furthermore, his chemistry with onscreen sidekick Damon Wayans Jr. is evident as The New Girl co-stars work undeniably well together.  Yet, as the minutes begin to mount and the film requires the audience to constantly suspend their disbelief, Let's Be Cops falls further and further into the class of forgettable buddy comedies.

Desperate to stack up against the recent successful 21 Jump Street franchise, this latest comedic effort lacks the creative humor and slick storytelling to stay in contention. Relying solely on f-bombs and other vulgar improv to muster up the laughs, Let's Be Cops marks another run-of-the-mill summer blockbuster that swings and misses. You're better off holding on to your hard earned money or looking elsewhere for a more reliable source of entertainment.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Remembering Robin Williams

By now we've all heard the shocking news surrounding Academy Award Winner Robin Williams. After battling multiple forms of addiction since the 1980s along with a recent bout of severe depression, Williams has allegedly taken his own life at the age of 63.

As a lifelong admirer of his work, I've chosen to devote August's Movie List of the Month to fondly remembering one of Hollywood's greatest performers (click here for July's list). And although we've lost a true artist, Robin Williams will never be forgotten. Here's a look back at my favorite Robin Williams roles throughout his illustrious career (please note that I've never seen the well regarded film The Fisher King).

Honorable Mention: Dr. Malcom Sayer - Awakenings, Peter Banning - Hook, Rainbow Randolph - Death to Smoochy and Armand Goldman - The Birdcage.

#5. Jack Powell - Jack

Like many other films listed in this article, the 1996 comedy Jack is representative of my childhood. While the film was critically panned and never truly embraced by the masses, Robin Williams gave a golden performance as a youth with an aging disorder that forces his body to mature four-times as fast as the average person. In many ways Jack represented Robin Williams in a role that he was born to play, simply a big kid. 

#4. Adrian Cronauer - Good Morning, Vietnam

Released well before my time, Good Morning, Vietnam was a film I sought out solely because of my respect for Robin Williams. I had always heard such amazing praises for his Oscar-Nominated role as Adrian Cronauer, an irreverent and insubordinate disc jockey for the Armed Forced Radio Services during the Vietnam War, where his on-air antics bring joy and comfort to soldiers during the most difficult time in their lives. Williams will always be remembered most for his comedic flair, yet Good Morning, Vietnam represented the gifted performer's successful transition to dramatic acting as well.

#3. Daniel Hillard - Mrs. Doubtfire

One of the most iconic films in Robin Williams' career was the 1993 hit Mrs. Doubtfire. Extremely quotable and the highest grossing film of his career (even more than Aladdin) touching just shy of $220 million in domestic box office revenue, Williams stars as Daniel Hillard, an immature and divorcing father of three who is forced to use his talent for impersonations in order to live under the alter-ego Mrs. Doubtfire so that he can spend unsupervised time with his children. It was through this role that Robin Williams officially captured the hearts of an entire nation.

#2. John Keating - Dead Poets Society

Another Academy Award Nominated performance came from Peter Weir's 1989 inspirational drama, Dead Poets Society. Williams starred as English Teacher John Keating, a remarkable leader who pushes his impressionable students to seize the day and create their own paths in life. As an educator generating inspiration and drawing motivation are key factors to success, and ones that Williams displayed brilliantly in the film. So much, in fact, that his performance became an influential component in my desire to teach mathematics. Therefore, in more ways than one, I owe a large bit of gratitude to the phenomenal work of Robin Williams.

#1. Sean Maguire - Good Will Hunting

Before this remembrance comes to a close, it's important to understand that the late Robin Williams will never be forgotten. His energy and zest for humor were so inspirational and transcending in millions of people's lives. But for me, my lasting memories of Robin Williams will be his emotionally charged performance in one of the greatest dramas I've ever encountered, Good Will Hunting. Williams won an Oscar for his supporting role (and deservedly so) as a former mathematics standout turned psychiatrist who takes one of the most brilliant minds the world has ever known under his careful guidance. It was through the role of Sean Maguire that Williams altered my views on feelings such as love, pain and remembrance. And although we all lost a fantastic artist yesterday, his creative genius will last for many, many lifetimes. I feel honored to have witnessed his legacy.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

DVD Outlook: August 2014

As we steadily make our way through the final summer month and into the fall Oscar season, August appears to take a hit with the quality of its DVD releases. July proved to be a "down" month and August unfortunately follows suit. Here are my top 3 selections for the month as well as a brief list of other titles arriving to DVD and Video-On-Demand, but remember that none of these picks are of the "must-see" variety.

Oculus - 3 stars out of 4 - (No review available)

My most recommended title of the month was an early-year horror release that actually hit the festival circuit in late 2013 to what were mostly positive reviews, and I definitely agree. Oculus tells the original story of two children who survive a traumatic event and reconnect years later to prove that a supernatural force living inside of a mirror is responsible for the past tragedy. With an impressively clever script and minimal key horror elements such as gore and staged scares, Oculus plays more like a mind-bending thriller that makes you question what is real and what isn't. Fans of horror should certainly give the film a try and if gore is the reason you avoid scary movies, then Oculus is the one you'll want to see. (August 5th)

Filth - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (No review available)

Based on a novel by Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, director Jon S. Baird offers Filth, a Scottish dark comedy about a corrupt police officer willing to do whatever it takes for a promotion. James McAvoy gives a whole-hearted performance as Bruce, a sex-crazed and drug-fueled cop who attempts to mask his crumbling personal life with the false perception that everything will be better if he moves up in rank. The laughs are constant and a shaky mid-section is resurrected by a strong finale. If you can tolerate the heavy accents, Filth is a solid feature that's entertaining to say the least. (August 12th)

Muppets Most Wanted - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

I mean, come on! Who didn't love Jason Segel's meticulously crafted 2011 re-introduction to The Muppets? And with a respectable 3 year gap until its follow-up, Muppets Most Wanted, expectations were understandably elevated. However, this sequel didn't come close to the genius of its predecessor and ultimately left a sour taste in many viewers' mouths. But on the flip side, I still felt that Muppets Most Wanted had a reasonable amount of laughs, a few catchy tunes and enough spark to ease me through the finish line. If you allow yourself to accept the fact that there isn't the same magic from Segel's effort, perhaps you'll find a little room in your heart for Muppets Most Wanted. (August 12th)

Honorable Mention: Although I haven't seen either of them, action lovers will be pleased to hear that the teen-novel turned blockbuster, Divergent (8/5), reaches DVD this month as well as the video-game adaptation Need For Speed (8/5). Also, the sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (8/19) reaches shelves as well. Furthermore, August delivers a few lauded Sundance selections such as The Double (8/26), Locke (8/12) and the vampire drama Only Lovers Left Alive (8/19). And finally, the Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman drama The Railway Man (8/12) closes out the bunch.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Kill the Messenger and The Theory of Everything Trailers

Earlier this week I previewed the upcoming Michael Cuesta film, Kill the Messenger, in the second part of my 2014 Oscar Preview. Jeremy Renner stars as Gary Webb, a reporter set on exposing the U.S. government as a known participant in the crack-cocaine epidemic that swept through the nation during the 1980s. However, the CIA retaliated against Webb with a smear campaign that shattered his career and destroyed his life. While conspiracy-theories aren't such a shocking story nowadays, the end result of Webb's investigating journalism is truly fascinating.

Academy Award Winner (Man on Wire) James Marsh teams up Eddie Redmayne  and Felicity Jones in the upcoming biopic The Theory of Everything. The film examines the life of famed physicist Stephen Hawking (played by Redmayne) and the impactful relationship with his first wife, Jane (Felicity Jones), as his work helped shape the science community all while battling a crippling motor neuron disease that left him almost entirely paralyzed. Redmayne and Jones have both delivered vastly overlooked performances in their past and The Theory of Everything could very well be an awards season dark-horse.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Film: Guardians of the Galaxy

Starring: Chris Pratt (Her) and Zoe Saldana (Out of the Furnace)

Director: James Gunn (Super)

U.S. Release: August 1st, 2014 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 121 minutes

Prepare to hold onto your seats for one of 2014's finest summer blockbusters. As Marvel continues to expand its universe and bring these stories to the big screen, its latest adaptation, Guardian's of the Galaxy, is funnier than 22 Jump Street and more action-packed than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. For many moviegoers, Guardians will represent the quintessential blockbuster experience. Yet, even for the non action-lovers like myself, the film is one hell of a good time.

After losing his mother to cancer and being abducted by a space ship full of outlaws as a boy, a much older Peter Quill (played by Chris Pratt) ventures throughout the galaxy listening to an old mix tape on a walk-man and stealing anything he can get his hands on. Yet, when he stumbles across a powerful orb on an abandoned planet, Peter (aka "Star-Lord") becomes the target of an evil villain named Ronan. And once Ronan gains possession of the orb and intends to use its powers to destroy the entire galaxy, Peter must band together with a group of misfits to save everyone from annihilation.

As someone who laughed-off the trailers and buzz surrounding James Gunn's latest effort, Guardians of the Galaxy, I'm here to admit that I was wrong. Gunn delivers a triumphant feature that surpasses even the overly-adored 2012 cash-cow, Marvel's The Avengers. Leading star Chris Pratt has always been a comical genius and someone I've admired for quite some time. Stealing the spotlight in past works such as Delivery Man and 10 Years afforded Pratt the opportunity to seize a money-printing franchise such as this, and he does so with ease. The humor is legitimate and Pratt isn't the only one cracking jokes. Bradley Cooper, who offers his voice for the cunning raccoon, Rocket, does a fantastic job of infusing comedy into the film as well. But in addition to a multitude of laugh-out-scenes, Guardians of the Galaxy conjures up a cohesive and entertaining story that isn't bogged down by an action-overdose. Unlike other recent over-the-top blockbusters such as Man of Steel and Iron Man 3, who attempted to replace substance with artificial action, the chase scenes and special effects are very tasteful and properly placed, making Guardians of the Galaxy a fine summer blockbuster for all types of audiences.

Although I give James Gunn's superhero flick a validated endorsement, it fails to begin and end without the occasional hiccup. Zoe Saldana's character, Gamora, is clearly the weakest link. Yet, she becomes a necessary evil that we'll gladly take in order to enjoy the rest of the experience. Furthermore, Guardians of the Galaxy constantly employs an unforgivable trait in movies, Gunn and the rest of his writers make up the rules as they go along. Without any prior explanation or understanding of the characters and their situations, important plot elements are sprung onto the audience in order to provide a smooth transition to the next scene. This is a sign of lazy writing and development that's hard to overlook. Therefore, Guardians is a winning effort that definitely has its flaws.

If you're still seeking out a successful summer blockbuster, look no further than James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy. As the Marvel universe continues its expansion, I become more and more impressed with what they have to offer. A commitment to an engaging story through the use of comedy and appropriately measured amounts of action feel like a recipe for success, and one that's clearly evident with Guardians of the Galaxy.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

2014 Oscar Preview: December Releases

As we conclude our Oscar preview segment today with Greg Rouleau's (Reel True) insight into the Oscar-caliber films scheduled for release in December, here's a chance to look back on the months of September, October and November. With all the makings of a formidable awards season, these anticipated releases will close out the road to the Oscars.


Release Date: December 25th, 2014

Starring: Jack O'Connell and Domhnall Gleeson

The Scoop: Unbroken is the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track star whose plane was shot down during World War II.  After 47 days stranded at sea, he then spent two and a half years in Japanese POW camps.  Angelina Jolie helms this biopic and it wouldn’t be surprising if we see her name in the Best Director conversation, too.  Despite having only a couple of features to her directorial credit, she’s wisely employed some of the top craft talent in the game with Roger Deakins as DP, Alexandre Desplat scoring, and a screenplay written by the Coen Brothers.  Sadly, real-life Louie Zamperini passed away in early July of this year, but from the looks of it we have a potentially great film to honor his legacy.

Potential Nominations: Assumed as one of the powerhouses this season, it's reasonable to anticipated recognition in the Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Score and Cinematography.


Release Date: December 5th, 2014

Starring: Reese Witherspoon and Gaby Hoffman

The Scoop: Last year, Jean-Marc Vallée directed not one, but two actors to their first Oscar nominations and wins when his Dallas Buyers Club duo of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto took home gold on the big night.  This year he returns with another character driven piece called Wild, which stars Reese Witherspoon as a woman who uses a 1,100-mile hike to recover from a recent tragedy.  Witherspoon already won a Best Actress for 2005’s Walk the Line but another win would make her only the 13th woman ever to win more than 1 Best Actress award.

Potential Nominations: Vallée has shown he can elicit great performances so there's a strong chance we see an Oscar nod in the Best Actress (Witherspoon) race, as well as a possibility with its Adapted Screenplay.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Release Date: December 12th, 2014

Starring: Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton

The Scoop: When the director of Gladiator decides to return to the world of swords and sandals, it should be cause for jubilation, right? Well after a string of recent misfires, the anticipation for Ridley Scott’s biblical epic is accompanied by some trepidation.  The talent is surely there, with Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton in the leading roles, and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul in support.  The big question is, will the storytelling be strong enough? With Steve Zailian penning the screenplay, it’s one reason to remain optimistic.  Exodus should at least be a fantastic display of production values.

Potential Nominations: Recognition for Costume Design and Production Design seem like safe bets this early on, but perhaps it could sneak into another technical race or two like Visual Effects. 

Inherent Vice

Release Date: December 12th, 2014 (Limited Release)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and Reese Witherspoon

The Scoop: It was recently announced that one of the major gala spots at the New York Film Festival this year will be the premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest, Inherent Vice.  Adapted from a novel by Thomas Pynchon, Joaquin Phoenix stars as Doc Sportello, a quirky detective that investigates the disappearance of an ex-girlfriend in 1970s Los Angeles.  Anderson was able to elicit a great performance out of Phoenix in his previous film, The Master, and there’s no reason not to expect the same here.  The cast also includes Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Benecio Del Toro, and Martin Short.  Early word is that you can expect Vice to be a little zany, in a Big Lebowski sort of way, which could possibly make it a tough sell with the Academy. Even if Vice is a little too eccentric for the Academy it has the makings to be one of the best films of 2014.

Potential Nominations: If Anderson's film plays as many expect it will, it could be in for at least Best Picture, Director, Actor (Phoenix), Adapted Screenplay and Score.

Mr. Turner

Release Date: December 19th, 2014 (Limited Release)

Starring: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson and Dorothy Atkinson

The Scoop: Another film that debuted at Cannes earlier this summer was Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner.  Leigh is no stranger to awards season, with 7 nominations to his credit, he returns with what appears to be major Oscar bait.  This period biopic about the life of eccentric painter, JMW Turner is exactly the kind of film that registers with the older members of the Academy.  Turner received strong reviews at the Cannes festival, and Timothy Spall took home the Best Actor prize.

Potential Nominations: It has a fighting chance in Best Picture and Actor (Spall), but more likely a contender in Original Screenplay, both Costume and Production Design as well as Cinematography.

Big Eyes

Release Date: December 25th, 2014

Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz and Krysten Ritter

The Scoop: Tim Burton hasn’t made a live-action film that wasn’t a remake or adaptation of a play since 2003’s Big Fish It’s a shame because the visionary director has really shown some skill when focusing on character-driven dramas.   This year he finally returns to that genre with Big Eyes; the story of successful painter, Margaret Keane and the battle that ensues with her husband over the ownership of her works.  The couple is being portrayed by five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams, and two-time Oscar winner, Christoph Waltz.  Despite the talented cast and backing of Harvey Weinstein, who has proven to be very influential come awards season, it’ll most likely be an underdog throughout the winter, unless early reception is incredibly strong.   All in all, it’ll be nice to see Burton back in this territory and Big Eyes could be a welcome holiday addition. 

Potential Nominations: It's reasonable to expect a Best Actress nod for Amy Adams along with Best Score, Production Design and Costume Design.

*** That concludes our 2014 Oscar Preview. A big thank you to Greg Rouleau for all of his help

Monday, August 4, 2014

2014 Oscar Preview: November Releases

With September and October in the books, friend and co-writer Greg Rouleau (Reel True) dissects the most Oscar-worthy titles coming to the big screen in November. And if all goes according to plan, November could give us plenty of films to be thankful for.


Release Date: November 7th, 2014

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain

The Scoop: The latest trailer for Christopher Nolan’s latest feature finally revealed some of the spectacle behind the sci-fi blockbuster, as well as a touching look at the emotion behind the plot which, at its core, is a story of a father and daughter.  Matthew McConaughey - who could take home an Emmy in the same year in which he won an Oscar, by the time Interstellar hits theaters – leads this fine ensemble.  Some technical nominations should be a given, but the big question is whether or not it’ll get Nolan that elusive first Best Director nomination.  If reception is strong, it could be a big player in the top categories.

Potential Nominations: Best Picture and Director are possibilities, along with Cinematography, Score, Visual Effects and Sound


Release Date: November 7th, 2014

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal

The Scoop: Little is known about Rosewater at this time, other than Jon Stewart was moved enough by the story to take a hiatus from his duties behind the desk at the Daily Show last summer in order to direct the political thriller.  The only available description of the plot states it’s about a journalist who is detained and tortured in an Iranian prison for 100 days.  It’ll be very interesting to see how the typically comedic Stewart handles such a serious subject matter.  Gael Garcia Bernal tackles the starring role of the journalist, and Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo is also on board.  The film will debut at the Toronto Film Festival this September with a November release date for the US. 

Potential Nominations: If the dramatics are just right, Best Picture and Director have an outside chance of being in the cards.


Release Date: November 14th, 2014

Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo

The Scoop: The long-awaited third feature from Bennett Miller will finally hit US theaters in November after being pushed out of the 2013 calendar to allow Miller time to perfect the final product.  It debuted at Cannes earlier this year, where it received rave reviews as well as the Best Director prize.   Early word has it pegged as a showcase for some revelatory performances including typical funnyman, Steve Carell, playing the dark, twisted Jon du Pont, and superstar on the rise, Channing Tatum, who could make everyone a believer - if he hasn’t yet, with his dedicated turn as Mark Schultz.

Potential Nominations: It's reasonable to expect nods in the Best Picture, Director, Actor (Carell and Tatum), Supporting Actor (Ruffalo), Screenplay and even Editing

The Imitation Game

Release Date: November 21st, 2014

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley

The Scoop: Biopics can be a tricky game.  While a subject may seem fascinating on paper, it doesn’t always translate to the big screen.  Take for instance, last year’s The Fifth Estate, which was DOA after some early negative critical reception.  The star of that film, Benedict Cumberbatch, returns to the biography genre again this year in The Imitation Game, which chronicles the life of British mathematician and codebreaker, Alan Turing during World War II. 

Potential Nominations: While I reserve some skepticism, Best Picture and Director are within question and the most possible recognition will be for Cumberbatch (Best Actor). Knightley also has an outside chance in the Supporting Actress race


Release Date: November 14th, 2014

Starring: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman and Shia LaBeouf

The Scoop: It seems World War II is a popular setting for the fall movie season.  One of the major war films to keep an eye on is David Ayer’s Fury.  Brad Pitt plays Wardaddy, the leader of a young crew, which includes Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman, that he must lead behind enemy lines with their Sherman Tank, Fury.  Ayer, the director of End of Watch, has displayed a deft hand at directing action and violence and he could find himself as a dark horse in the Best Director category.  Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman look to be the ones in the conversation for acting nominations. 

Potential Nominations: Fury appears to hold a strong chance in the Best Picture, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing and Sound categories, while the acting races are a more distant possibility. 

A Most Violent Year

Release Date: November 18th, 2014

Starring: Oscar Issac, Jessica Chastain and David Oyelowo

The Scoop: JC Chandor is certainly a director to keep an eye on.  His first feature, Margin Call, earned him an original screenplay Oscar nomination and his sophomore effort, All is Lost, received rave reviews, despite only earning one sound Oscar nomination.  The one-man show with Robert Redford proved that Chandor has some serious skill behind the camera and for his next project he’s lined up some impressive talent once again.  Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain star as an immigrant couple attempting to navigate the chaotic world of 1981 New York City, which is statistically one of the most violent years on record.  There’s a chance the film could be pushed back to 2015, however, as there’s still been no trailer or press releases yet.  With Telluride and the AFI festival still looming it could possibly snag a spot at one of those, but if not, we can definitely put this in the Oscar contenders for next year.

Potential Nominations: The film has a chance in almost every major category if it makes it out in 2014. Best Picture, Director, Actor (Issac), Supporting Actress (Chastain) and Original Screenplay seem feasible

*** Stay tuned tomorrow for a look at December's potential Oscar releases

Sunday, August 3, 2014

2014 Oscar Preview: October Releases

Yesterday, I took a look at the best possible Oscar contenders arriving to theatres in September. Now, I'm going to shift gears to the month of October. With a much stronger crop of titles in play, you can expect to hear a few of these names called at the Academy Awards. Let's take a look at the most notable films slated for an October release.

Gone Girl

Release Date: October 3rd, 2014

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike and Carrie Coon

The Scoop: One of the most anticipated releases of the year, David Fincher's Gone Girl, hits theatres early enough to set the bar for this year's awards season. While contemporary wisdom has most Oscar-caliber features holding off until December, this adapted mystery is displaying an aura of confidence. Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a husband who becomes the lead suspect in his wife's disappearance and is forced to face the court of public opinion. Fincher's one of the best filmmakers in Hollywood and the early trailers have looked fantastic. 

Potential Nominations: The possibilities are endless for Gone Girl. It wouldn't be far-fetched to expect Oscar love for Affleck (Best Actor), Rosamund Pike (Best Actress), as well as recognition in the Best Picture, Best Director and Adapted Screenplay categories.


Release Date: October 10th, 2014

Starring: Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons

The Scoop: The two most-raved about films out of this year's Sundance class were Richard Linklater's groundbreaking coming-of-age film, Boyhood, and the Grand Jury Prize Winner, Whiplash (full review here). Damien Chazzelle's gut-wrenching tale of a young music-school drummer (Miles Teller) who develops an obsession with greatness as a result of his instructor's (J.K. Simmons) demanding psyche is both gripping and intense. Transforming a story about Jazz drumming into a well-crafted character study is an impressive feat, thanks largely in part to a pair of amazing actors.

Possible Nominations: While Whiplash doesn't carry the prototypical Oscar bravado, J.K. Simmons (Supporting Actor) is truly remarkable and I sense an outside chance at an Original Screenplay Nomination.


Release Date: October 17th, 2014

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone

The Scoop: Definitely a little unorthodox, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu's dark comedy, Birdman, has become a popular Best Picture prediction from many insiders. Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a once-famous actor forced to overcome his ego and family issues in order to put on a Broadway play that will resurrect his career. The cast is crowded with A-list performers and Innaritu has certainly impressed the Academy many times before, making Birdman a legitimate Oscar contender.

Potential Nominations: It's feasible that Michael Keaton (Best Actor) and Edward Norton (Supporting Actor) earn triumphant returns to the final five, as well as Nominations for Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay.

Kill the Messenger

Release Date: October 10th, 2014

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Michael Sheen and Mary Elizabeth Winstead

The Scoop: One of the more interesting titles set for release in October is Michael Cuesta's Kill the Messenger which tells the real life story of investigative journalist Gary Webb. In the mid-90s Webb (played by Renner) wrote a three part series for the San Jose Mercury News alleging that the Reagan administration and the CIA were aware of a Nicaraguan crack-cocaine smuggling ring that fueled a wide-spread drug epidemic throughout the United States during the 1980s. But it's the government's retaliation to Webb's fierce journalism that would forever taint his legacy and destroy his life. 

Potential Nominations: If Kill the Messenger can pull it off, there's a chance it could be a major player during awards season (Best Picture, Director, Actor - Renner). But it's safest bet, either way, is a final spot in the Best Adapted Screenplay race.

The Judge

Release Date: October 10th, 2014

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall and Vera Farmiga

The Scoop: David Dobkin is best-known for directing the 2005 comedy sensation, Wedding Crashers. Yet, this year he throws his hat in the proverbial Oscar-ring and attempts to stand toe-to-toe with many big-named contenders. His latest work, The Judge, follows a big-shot city lawyer named Hank Palmer who returns to his small town home after his mother passes away. While there, he discovers that his father (Robert Duvall), a retired local judge whom he hasn't spoken to in years, has become the center of a hit-and-run murder investigation. Dobkin hopes his courtroom backdrop to a bigger and more emotional father-son story will be his "golden ticket" the the Academy Awards.

Potential Nominations: If everything clicks with critics and audiences, The Judge has a high ceiling that could score a number of Oscar nods in the major categories (Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay). However, it's the performances from Robert Downey Jr. (Best Actor) and Robert Duvall (Supporting Actor) that have the best chance at recognition.

St. Vincent

Release Date: October 24th, 2014

Starring: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts

The Scoop: The major motion picture debut from writer/director Theodore Melfi, St. Vincent, has become a dark horse comedy-centered contender in this year's awards season discussion. After the divorce of his parents, Oliver and his mother (Melissa McCarthy) move in next door to a miserable old curmudgeon named Vincent (Bill Murray). Desperate for money, Vincent agrees to help the struggling single mother by watching Oliver after school every day for a nominal fee. She agrees and the grumpy old war veteran forms an unlikely bond with the young boy. I'd expect plenty of laughs from St. Vincent, but if the dramatics can resonate with moviegoers, the possibilities could be endless. 

Potential Nominations: Bill Murray (Best Actor) is still waiting on his first Oscar win and maybe this is the role to finally get him there.

*** Stay tuned tomorrow for a look at November's potential Oscar releases

Friday, August 1, 2014

2014 Oscar Preview: September Releases

As we all know, the brunt of awards season releases are more likely to reach the big screen in November, December and sometimes even January (damn you qualifying releases!). However, the months of September and October tend to boast a few powerhouse contenders of there own. I'll be spending the next four days examining the most-likely films to make a splash on the road to the Oscars. Here's look at the potential Oscar-caliber releases arriving in theatres this September.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

Release Date: September 12th, 2014

Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Viola Davis

The Scoop: Ned Benson's collection of three films, the Him, Her and Them versions, have separately  played the festival circuit at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and this year's Cannes Festival. The Them version, which is expected to be a formidable Oscar contender in the fall, tells the story of a couple desperate to recapture the love they once knew. It blends together pieces of the Him and Her versions which each tell the story of the couple's relationship from separate points of view. 

Potential Nominations: Jessica Chastain is always a name thrown around the Best Actress category.

The Equalizer

Release Date: September 26th, 2014

Starring: Denzel Washington and Chloe Grace Moretz

The Scoop: From the collaborative team that delivered 2001's Training Day, which landed Denzel Washington a Best Actor statue at the Oscars, director Antoine Fuqua returns with The Equalizer. Washington stars as a former black ops commando who fakes his own death to escape the service and live a normal life. However, when a robbery at his work and the abuse of a young girl he's befriended (Moretz) force him to come out of retirement, he finds himself pitted against the Russian mafia. 

Potential Nominations: While The Equalizer feels like one of September's long-shots at an Oscar run, history says you can never overlook the Denzel Washington/Antoine Fuqua combo.

The Skeleton Twins

Release Date: September 29th, 2014

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader and Luke Wilson

The Scoop: Fresh out of this year's Sundance class, The Skeleton Twins marks a smooth transition from comedy to drama for its leading co-stars, Saturday Night Live alum Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. The pair star as estranged twins who reconnect after an unfortunate event, and the reunion prompts them to examine the current state of their lives. I was very impressed with The Skeleton Twins at Sundance and you can read my full review here.

Potential Nominations: While it proves difficult for comedy actors to score an Oscar Nomination with their first dramatic go-around, The Skeleton Twins will find its best chance at recognition coming in the Best Original Screenplay race.

Dark Places

Release Date: September 1st, 2014

Starring: Charlize Theron and Chloe Grace Moretz

The Scoop: Although little is known concerning the upcoming fall release, Dark Places, this adapted film has prognosticators anxious enough to warrant a mention. The mystery-thriller follows a woman who survived the brutal murder of her family as a child as is forced to relive the harrowing events of that day by a secret society fixed on solving the crime. I'd expect a trailer to be released fairly soon so we can finally catch a glimpse into this wild-card feature.

Potential Nominations: Charlize Theron is a perennial Best Actress contender for just about any role she takes on, so keep an eye out for her.

The Drop

Release Date: September 12th, 2014

Starring: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini and Noomi Rapace

The Scoop: Everyone's aware of the terrible loss last year when James Gandolfini unexpectedly passed away. Michael R. Roskam's upcoming crime-drama marks the final performance from Gandolfini as he and Hardy star as a bar owner and bartender, respectively, who collect financial drop-offs for local gangsters. Yet, when the bar is robbed and the criminals demand the "real" money, the pair of cousins find themselves caught in the middle of a serious situation that puts their lives at risk.

Potential Nominations: Despite high hopes, the only realistic chance at a nomination comes in the form of a posthumous Supporting Actor nod to Gandolfini for a lifetime of achievements.

This is Where I Leave You

Release Date: September 19th, 2014

Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda

The Scoop: Much like her SNL counterparts mentioned above, Tina Fey continues her pursuit of a reputation as a legitimate actress. In Shawn Levy's comedy, This is Where I Leave You, Fey and Jason Bateman star as two of many siblings who reunite after the passing of their father, only to discover from their mother (Jane Fonda) that their dad's final wish was for the whole family to spend a whole week together living under the same roof. 

Potential Nominations: While Fey and Bateman seem unlikely to get recognized, an old veteran such as Jane Fonda could find her way to a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

*** Stay tuned tomorrow for a look at October's potential Oscar releases.