Thursday, October 02, 2014

Theater Review - Angels in America: Millennium Approaches

Angels in America: Millennium Approaches
Written by Tony Kushner
Directed by Steve Tague
Where: Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Sunday, September 28, 2pm
Image by the REP

I remember watching Philadelphia shortly after its release on home video in 1994.  I would've been just into my teen years and I recall being excited about being able to watch this Academy Award-nominated film because it was rated PG-13 (as R-rated dramas weren't necessarily a regular occurrence still at that age).  I'm thinking that this was probably my first exposure to anything remotely related to homosexuality and I found myself quite moved by the plight of Tom Hanks' character.

As I sat and watched the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Player's first production of their 2014-15 season Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, I had to wonder whether it would've impacted me in a similar way as Philadelphia had I seen in upon its first presentation in the early 1990s...because as it stands now, Angels in America feels like a not-too-successful snapshot of the initial impact of AIDS.  Maybe Philadelphia doesn't work now either...but Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play feels like a piece that won that coveted award simply because its judges felt like they needed to dole it out to something that "felt" important two decades ago.  Don't misunderstand -- I'm sure this play made an impact simply due to its desire to bring to the masses a depiction of the disease that initially found itself ravaging the homosexual community.  Overall, however, I just don't think the play's all that good -- its importance seemingly stems from its initial "exposé"-style feeling as opposed to anything artistically brilliant.
Photo by Paul Cerro

I'm sure there's purported deep meaning in many of the vignette-like pieces on display in Angels in America, but on an initial viewing, I didn't grasp any depth.  Instead, I saw a play that focuses on three men all dealing with AIDS and homosexuality in various ways, but whose stories seemed very "surface," lacking emotional depth and a powerful through-line with which to connect.  Perhaps the center of the piece is REP member Michael Gotch taking on the character of Prior Walker who, in his very first scene, reveals to his boyfriend Louis (guest artist Paul Hurley) that he has contracted AIDS.  Second, there's Roy Cohn (REP member Stephen Pelinski), a closeted gay lawyer whose brash personality is tested when he also contracts the newly discovered AIDS.  Lastly, Joe Pitt (REP member Mic Matarrese) is a Mormon lawyer who finds himself questioning his sexuality as his marriage to Harper (REP member Carine Montbertrand) begins to fall apart thanks to her pill-popping attempts to escape her own unhappiness.

Here's the thing about Angels in America -- these three characters have potential to tell a good story.  You can see it from the outskirts of all of their tales.  Admittedly, I was intrigued to discover where their story leads them in Part Two: Perestroika, so I did look up a summary of the continuation upon my return home from this production.  That said, nothing that writer Tony Kushner does here with any of these men feels anything other than formulaic.  Attempts at deep thought feel silly, dream sequences seem out-of-place and unnecessary, and I never once felt any type of connection with anyone onstage.  After the wonderment of last season's Wit which similarly dealt with how health and the health care system affects us all, this was a huge letdown from a dramatic point of view.

That said, the play once again proves that the Resident Ensemble Players are a fine group of actors.  This time around I found myself impressed with Michael Gotch who made the most of his character Prior's storyline as he not only has to deal with his deteriorating body but also his deteriorating relationship.  The standout in the ensemble, however, was Stephen Pelinski whose gruff, fast-talking Roy Cohn breathed a much needed vigor and vibrance into the production.  (Pelinski also takes on another small role as one of Prior's ancestors and he does a great job there as well.)  Also, once again, Kathleen Pirkl Tague brings great realism to a very small role as Joe's conflicted mother who finds it difficult to deal with the notion that her son may be gay.

I hardly ever quote other reviewers when I complete reviews, but I was very curious about any negativity flung this play's way considering for years I'd heard nothing but avid fawning over it.  I came across a review by Lee Seigel in the very liberal New Republic magazine that states, "Angels in America is a second-rate play written by a second-rate playwright who happens to be gay, and because he has written a play about being gay, and about AIDS, no one -- and I mean no one -- is going to call Angels in America the overwrought, coarse, posturing, formulaic mess that it is."  Of course, I agree.  There's no bite here -- attempts at politicizing things by crassly calling out Reagan-era politics aren't fleshed out, the Mormon angle of the character of Joe is an afterthought failing to tackle "religion" with any substance, Jewish characters spout biblical references that fail to have any impact.  The play lacks a punch as it limply meanders to its three hour conclusion and while it may be politically incorrect to say so, that's this critic's opinion.  "Masterpiece" as it's previously been called, Angels in America isn't.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Disney Discussion - The Jungle Book

Over the course of the year, we'll be spending our Wednesdays with Walt, having a discussion about each of Disney's animated films...

Movie #19 of The Disney Discussion
The Jungle Book (1967)
Featuring the voice talents of Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Louis Prima, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, J. Pat O'Malley, Verna Felton, and Bruce Reitherman
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
Summary (in 150 words or less):
A young boy named Mowgli is raised in the jungles of India by a pack of wolves.  However, as Mowgli grows older, the wolves worry for his safety with the reappearance of the tiger Shere Khan who hates man.  In order to protect Mowgli, the wolves enlist panther Bagheera to take the human boy back to the man village where he can live in less fear.  Along the way to the village, the reluctant Mowgli meets a series of animals that remind him how much he loves jungle life.

Facts and Figures
The Jungle Book is the Walt Disney Company's nineteenth full-length animated feature films and was released on October 18, 1967.

The film was the fourth highest grossing picture of the year and worldwide has grossed over $205 million to date.  Adjusted for inflation, The Jungle Book is the 29th highest-grossing film in the US.

The song "The Bare Necessities" was nominated for Best Song at the 1968 Academy Awards, but it did not win.

This was the last film to which Walt Disney lent his personal touch as Mr. Disney passed away ten months prior to its release.  Interestingly enough, the film had a bit of a rough road to the screen as the Disney crew's first crack at it with director Bill Peet at the helm felt a little too intense and serious for Walt's tastes.  Director Wolfgang Reitherman came onboard and Walt told much of the film's crew to not read the book as he didn't want the novel's serious tone to impede on the more comic creativity he wanted to display.

Let the Discussion Begin...
The Jungle Book is perhaps the most episodic animated film we've seen to date in this discussion (although Alice in Wonderland still may take the cake there).  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does cause the film to lack a bit of forward momentum.  As Mowgli moves from character to character on his journey to the man village, excitement fails to be generated despite the fact that each character he meets brings a unique personality and perspective to the proceedings.

Beyond the lush, colorful landscape created by the animators which is absolutely beautiful and some of their best work yet, it's the characters in The Jungle Book that really make the film come alive.  While Mowgli himself is a bit of an emotional blank, the clever friends (and enemies) he meets along the way -- all accompanied by a song that suits their demeanors -- are fun additions.
For the first time, Disney's team chose some well-known names to voice their characters whom the animators claim helped shape their animated images.  Perhaps most familiar and most entertainingly infectious is comedian Phil Harris' voicing of Baloo, an affable, lovable, carefree bear whose easygoing nature doesn't sit too well with the uptight panther Bagheera who is tasked with delivering Mowgli to the man village.  (Bagheera is voiced by Sebastian Cabot, perhaps best known for his role on Family Affair.)  Aided by the delightful song "The Bare Necessities" (by Terry Gilkyson), Baloo jumps right off the screen and into our hearts as he befriends Mowgli with his lackadaisical style of living.
Also quite fun in band leader Louis Prima's take on the jazz riffing orangutan King Louie.  When Louie's fellow simians steal Mowgli from Baloo and take the boy back to their lair, they press the human for the secret behind "man's red flower" -- AKA "fire" -- in the swinging tune "I Wan'na Be Like You."  Unable to help him, Louie and his crew start to get a little manic with Mowgli in one of the film's most creative and exciting set pieces.
We also meet a Beatles-esque quartet of vultures and a military pack of elephants along the way, but of the remaining characters, the stand-outs are villains Kaa the snake and Shere Khan the tiger.  Voiced by Disney regular Sterling Holloway, Kaa's soothing demeanor oftentimes lulls Mowgli into a false sense of security as the constrictor attempts to have Mowgli for breakfast.  However, Kaa is played for humor, whereas Shere Khan is strictly all evil business.  Not even making an appearance until about two-thirds of the way through the film, we'd heretofore only heard about his voracious hatred of man only through the fearful words of others.  However, his menacing walk and mellifluous talk by George Sanders brings just the right tone to the villain.

Musically, The Jungle Book is the best thing we've seen in a while from the Disney company.  Walt Disney brought back the Sherman Brothers after their first attempt at animation in The Sword in the Stone and their work here is charmingly successful.  All of their songs -- from the swinging "I Wan'na Be Like You" to the lullaby-esque "My Own Home" to the barbershop vulture quartet's "That's What Friends Are For" to the hypnotic "Trust in Me" -- fit perfectly with the characters singing them.  Oddly enough, as I mentioned above, the film's most memorable number -- "The Bare Necessities" -- was not written by the Shermans, but instead by Terry Gilkyson who had written a large number of songs for the film prior to it being overhauled which left the majority of his work on the cutting room floor.
The film utilizes a beautiful, lush color palette to tell its tale and the animation is successful.  Unfortunately, the story can't match everything else that's brought to the screen.  Perhaps Walt's hand at trying to make things lighter and more airy caused the story to lose any sense of purpose.  Comedic bits outside of the songs fall flat -- and are even repeated despite being unsuccessful the first time around -- and I found myself itching for a serious moment or two to connect me to Mowgli's plight.  Yes, that's maybe a bit harsh, but it really does lack a momentum to push us through its 75 minutes.  

Random Thoughts
  • The film's opening credits feature some strong orchestral scoring by George Bruns.  While the score during the actual movie itself doesn't quite match its overture, this is one of the more unique scores we've heard so far.
  • Also, in regards to the opening credits -- back to that good ole standby of a book opening to start the film!  This despite the fact that I've heard Disney's version bastardizes Rudyard Kipling's tome.
  • "My Own Home" would/could never be written today with the lines "'Til the day that I am grown / I will have a handsome husband / And a daughter of my own / And I'll send her to fetch the water / I'll be cooking in the home."

Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
While I'd love to say that Walt's last personalized animated film allowed him to go out with a bang, I can't and there's part of me that thinks he's at fault for requesting the lighter mood for the flick.  Granted, I have no idea how the first attempt at a script panned out and perhaps it truly was awful, but the episodic nature of the film as presented here isn't successful.  Now, the film certainly isn't bad.  It contains some of the best songs we've seen yet in a Disney film sung by strong characters (in turn voiced by great performers) and some beautiful animation, all of which certainly works in The Jungle Book's favor, but the lack of a solid story brings this film to a screeching halt.  This one ends up being a borderline Pantheon film -- arguments for inclusion and exclusion could be made and I wouldn't be disappointed with either decision.

The RyMickey Rating: C+

Join us next Wednesday for The Aristocats, the twentieth film in The Disney Discussion.
***The Aristocats is currently streaming on Netflix, so watch it and join in on the discussion!***

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Movie Review - Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
Starring Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, and Kenneth Branagh
Directed by Kenneth Branagh

I was hoping for some success for the reboot of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan character -- previously played onscreen by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck.  In Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, we see the title character in his infancy in the CIA.  Chris Pine, who previously successfully spearheaded the "rebirth" of the Star Trek franchise, heads the "begin again" here and while I still find him a surprisingly charismatic action star, this flick isn't quite as successful as his journeys with Captain Kirk and Spock.

The biggest issue with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is that the story isn't all that interesting for a movie that attempts to market itself as an action picture.  In the film's prologue, Ryan's Army helicopter is shot down over Afghanistan and after receiving therapy (and meeting his doctor wife played by Keira Knightley in the process) goes on to work at a prestigious stock brokerage on Wall Street.  Little does anyone else know that upon returning home from the war, Ryan was recruited by the CIA to work undercover in the banking industry to uncover crooked dealings from overseas bigwigs.  Ryan uncovers a big red flag concerning Russia and his boss Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) sends him to Moscow to investigate Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) to figure out just what he's planning on doing with his shady financing.

And that's it.  An action movie about finances.  There are a few moments of tension and there's a long chase scene at the film's end that works but just feels out of place amidst everything else.  Kenneth Branagh proves once again (after the original Thor) that he's a solid director of action pics and I hope that the disappointing returns on this flick don't shy studios away from hiring him in the future.  Chris Pine and the rest of the cast all bring what they can to the table and they certainly keep the audience interested in the goings-on...the problem is that the goings-on just aren't that interesting in the first place.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, September 29, 2014

Movie Review - Non-Stop

Non-Stop (2014)
Starring Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stall, Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker, and Lupita Nyong'o
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

As loyal readers are well aware, it took me quite a while to get through 2013 movies this year which admittedly put a crimp in my 2014 movie-watching.  "Let me hold off on 2014 movies until I finish 2013," I'd say.  In the back of my mind, however, I'd look forward to watching things like Non-Stop for the shear inanity of it -- I wanted something without substance to sink my teeth into.  Whether that set up unrealistic expectations for Non-Stop, I don't know, but this Liam Neeson actioner felt like a rehash and conglomeration of every other Liam Neeson picture since his star turn in Taken.

This time, though, Neeson's character federal air marshal Bill Marks is not saving his family, but an entire plane's worth of people as some crazy nutcase attempts to blow up an aircraft over the Atlantic on a non-stop flight from New York to London.  Or is Bill the one who's actually doing the terrorizing?  Someone appears to be setting him up as the terrorist, but is that just a clever cover for Bill to extort money from the US government while holding a plane's worth of people hostage?

The film's twists and turns ultimately just feel like a screenwriting team attempting to contort things just for the sake of movie-making and I found myself growing tired of the script's attempts to pull the rug out from under me.  Neeson's character is interchangeable with any one of his other characters from Taken or Unknown or Taken 2 or even The Grey -- his problem is all his roles as of late simply have "gruff" as a defining characteristic.  It's not that he's ever bad, it's just that he's become so predictable even in better films.

Non-Stop throws in some "I know that person" faces in the form of Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery, House of Cards' Corey Stall, and Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o (who has about three lines and obviously completed this film before 12 Years a Slave was on anyone's radar) as well as the bigger name of Julianne Moore, but none of these people or their characters really add depth to the script -- they just add to a seemingly unending list of red herrings that are thrown our way.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Movie Review - Grand Piano

Grand Piano (2014)
Starring Elijah Wood, John Cusack, and Kerry Bishé
Directed by Eugenio Mira
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I must say that as someone who plays the piano, the concept of Grand Piano is a little bit frightening.  A concert pianist named Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood), who abandoned performing for several years, is making a return to the stage in a tribute concert to his recently deceased mentor.  As he sits down to play the show, he discovers as he turns the pages of his music that someone has left threatening remarks all over his piece.  When the red dot of a sniper's gun then shows up on his hand, panic sets in as Tom plays a cat and mouse game with this crazed classical music fan who says if he plays a wrong note he'll not only kill Tom, but also his wife (Kelly Bishé) in front of a packed house.

Grand Piano is quite the Hitchcockian piece -- a descriptor that I don't like to throw around too much out of reverence for the great director.  With very little blood, gore, or language, director Eugenio Mira and writer Damien Chazelle have created a nifty little thriller that takes place mostly on one set and mostly in real time.  (Speaking of time, after four minutes of opening and twelve (!!) minutes of closing credits, Grand Piano really only runs a brisk 74 minutes long.)  While there are surely moments of overly exaggerated tension (and also some moments of implausibility), I couldn't help but be swept into the menacing tone.  Elijah Wood is quite good as the virtuoso pianist -- although I found myself saying that there was no way someone could talk and play such complicated pieces at the same time.  Still, the director builds enough good will throughout that I pushed that aside quite quickly.

Perhaps I'm giving this one a little bit of leeway since I'm a pianist myself and the nightmarish concept is a bit thrilling because of my connection with the instrument.  However, I don't think that's the case.  I go back to the notion that this is the kind of movie Hitchcock would be making were the director still around today and the fact that it's executed so well is a breath of fresh air.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Movie Review - Stage Fright

Stage Fright (2014)
Starring Allie MacDonald, Douglas Smith, Brandon Uranowitz, Kent Nolan, Minnie Driver, and Meat Loaf
Directed by Jerome Sable
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The world was asking for a horror-musical mash-up, right?  We've longed to see a serial killer sing as he (or she) slashes up victims, haven't we?  If you've been eagerly waiting for this new genre of film...Stage Fright won't help quench your desire.  I think it's possible that this weird conglomeration of genres might work in better hands, but writer-director Jerome Sable's not the guy to make it succeed.  Obviously, Stage Fright was completed on a low budget, but it's simply not very good, reeking of a recent film school student's attempt at making a movie.

The film opens following the Broadway debut of The Haunting of the Opera as Broadway diva Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) is murdered in her dressing room by a phantom-masked assailant.  Cut to ten years later and Kylie's daughter and son Camilla and Buddy (Allie MacDonald and Douglas Smith) are working in the kitchen at a camp for blossoming stage kids run by Roger McCall (Meat Loaf), the producer of their mom's musical that brought about her demise.  As the young kids arrive at the camp, someone doesn't want people to forget about the tenth anniversary of Kylie's death.

Not much about Stage Fright is good.  The musical numbers are poorly written and staged.  The acting is lukewarm at best.  The motive behind the killer's actions is much too obvious to be interesting.  The whole thing falls flat quite frankly, making me wonder if this mash-up could ever be a success.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Disney Discussion Is Back!

I'm very excited to announce the return of the Disney Discussion which went on hiatus back in February as awards season movie watching kicked into high gear.  We'll be starting back next Wednesday, October 1, with movie #19 -- The Jungle Book which is the last movie that Uncle Walt himself oversaw before his death.

In preparation for the Disney Discussion's return, feel free to peruse the former posts.  Be sure to join in the discussion -- we've all seen these classic films, so lend your voice!

Week 18 - The Sword in the Stone - D+
Week 17 - 101 Dalmatians - B-
Week 16 - Sleeping Beauty - B+
Week 15 - Lady and the Tramp - B-
Week 14 - Peter Pan - A-
Week 13 - Alice in Wonderland - C+
Week 12 - Cinderella - B
Week 10 - Melody Time - C
Week 9 - Fun and Fancy Free - D
Week 8 - Make Mine Music - C
Week 7 - The Three Caballeros - D+
Week 6 - Saludos Amigos - D
Week 5 - Bambi - A
Week 4 - Dumbo - B-
Week 3 - Fantasia - C-
Week 2 - Pinocchio - B+

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Best Picture

Here's the problem with 2013 -- there weren't very many "little films that could" that punctuated things for me (there were still a few, for sure).  Instead, genre films -- horror, sci-fi -- dominated, while heavy-hitting dramas were pushed aside.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing -- my #1 film of the year is a genre film that epitomizes what "cinema" can bring to our society from both an entertainment and emotional perspective.  Yet, despite many B+ and B ranked film this year (which makes me wonder if I'm softening in my old age), I wasn't head-over-heels in love with a lot of what I saw.  I had a good time with movies in 2013, but I missed those emotional moments that I've experienced in years past.

Best Picture of 2013

(SoN = Streaming on Netflix)

# 50 - Oldboy (SoN) - - - - - #49 - The Hunt (SoN)
#48 Lovelace (SoN) - - - - - #47 - Her
#46 - Escape from Tomorrow (SoN) - - - - - #45 - This Is the End
#44 - Prisoners - - - - - #43 - The Place Beyond the Pines
#42 - White House Down - - - - - #41 - Iron Man 3
#40 - The Way Way Back - - - - - #39 - Closed Circuit
#38 - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - - - - - #37 - The Past
#36 - All Is Lost (SoN) - - - - - #35 - The Summit (SoN)
#34 - Much Ado About Nothing (SoN) - - - - - #33 - August: Osage County
#32 - Blood (SoN) - - - - - #31 - 20 Feet from Stardom (SoN)
#30 - Philomena - - - - - #29 - Blue Is the Warmest Color (SoN)
#28 - Black Rock (SoN) - - - - - #27 - Side Effects (SoN)
#26 - Unfinished Song (SoN) - - - - - #25 - Simon Killer (SoN)
#24 - We're the Millers 
#23 - Before Midnight
#22 - Fruitvale Station - - - - - #21 - Wish You Were Here (SoN)

And the Top Twenty are...

#20 - In a World... - B+
Written, directed by, and starring Lake Bell, In a World... is a pleasant little indie comedy with some nice performances.  It's helped along by the fact that it takes us "behind the scenes" of the voiceover industry -- something we definitely don't get to glimpse on a routine basis.

#19 - Rush - B+
While the film itself story-wise may be a little generic, Ron Howard's direction in Rush is stellar.  Nice performances by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl help make this one better than it probably should be.

#18 - Oblivion - B+
2013 was a great year for science fiction films (at least in my opinion).  Oblivion started things off strongly.  While reviews talked about how "complicated" it was, I found it smart and nicely acted by Mr. Cruise.

#17 - Evil Dead - B+
Having never made it through the original (which may negate my opinion to all Evil Dead fans), I found this 2013 remake to succeed at keeping me a bit on edge and nervous as its characters bit the dust one by one.

#16 - The Conjuring - B+
Rounding out the one-two punch of horror, The Conjuring manages to scare without any blood and gore.  Instead, James Wan crafted an old-school-style ghost tale that succeeds on building tension throughout.

Be sure to click on the "Read More" on the lower left for the remainder of the Best Films of 2013.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Best Scene

Always my favorite category, this year I found a few less scenes that really wowed me (not particularly surprising seeing as how this was a down year in movies for me).  Still, there were some moments that really stood out.  The best fifteen are detailed below.

Note: There will be spoilers ahead!

Best Scenes of 2013

Honorable Mentions
(in alphabetical order)
  • Austenland - "Hot in Herre" credits sequence
  • Bad Grandpa - Beauty pageant scene
  • The Counselor - Cameron Diaz humping a car - so bad, I loved it!
  • Rush - Germany Race (for its anticipatory outcome) / Japan Race (for visual aesthetics)
  • Saving Mr. Banks - "Let's Go Fly a Kite" - P.L. Travers begins to be won over as she taps her feet while the Sherman Brothers play their tunes
  • This Is the End - "Cum scene"
  • Trance - Opening sequence - "How to prevent an art theft"
And the Top Fifteen...

#15 - Escape from Tomorrow - Trapped in Spaceship Earth
Kidnapped and brought inside the giant golf ball-like Spaceship Earth at Disney's Epcot Center, our main character finds himself in dire need of escape from his weirdly demonic captor.  Escape from Tomorrow is streaming on Netflix...enjoy its weirdness if you dare.

#14 - Stoker - Uncle Charlie's True Self Revealed
We know from the get-go that something isn't quite right with Uncle Charlie.  When his past is revealed to us, it's not only surprising, but it's also shocking how nonchalantly everyone reacts to this secret.

#13 - Pacific Rim - Mako's Nightmare
Part II:  here
A visually (and emotionally) arresting moment in the midst of chaos.

#12 - Blood - Game Changer
About twenty minutes in, Blood spins us around and takes us down an unexpected path.  Paul Bettany's cop may not be as innocent as he'd like to believe he is.  Blood is streaming on Netflix...enjoy.

#11 - About Time - Love "at First Sight"
Charming and a unique spin on the concept of a first date.  Made me smile watching the clip again.  And perhaps you'll learn some Asian language by watching the scene above!

Check out the remaining scenes after the jump...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Best Actress

A strong crop of contenders this year for the Best Leading Actress of 2013.  In fact, as you go down the list, you'll notice that only one of the Academy's contenders makes my top five (although three others find their way into the Honorable Mentions section).  It was a very good year for women in film.

Best Actress of 2013

Also in the running...
(in alphabetical order)
Gemma Arterton - Byzantium
Lake Bell - In a World...
Amanda Seyfried - Lovelace
Naomi Watts - Diana

Honorable Mentions
#10 - Shailene Woodley - The Spectacular Now
"Woodley's performance is subtle and gentle, lacking a showiness that we so often see."
#9  -Meryl Streep - August: Osage County
"Meryl Streep is quite good, playing the incredibly off-putting and sharp-tongued no-nonsense Violet."
#8 - Sandra Bullock - Gravity
"Bullock brings her character's desperate longing for companionship, courage, and will to survive front and center in what is probably the best work I've seen from her."
#7 - Brie Larson - Short Term 12
"Brie Larson is fantastic as Grace, perfectly balancing the somewhat tricky aspects of a character that asks her to console others despite the fact that she can't do the same for herself.  Her Grace has a quiet strength that makes it all the more difficult to watch as we long for her to reconcile with her past and come to peace with whatever demons may have crossed her path."
#6 - Judi Dench - Philomena
"While we certainly feel sorry for her, Philomena is a strong woman and Dench never makes us pity her -- something that easily could've happened."
And the Top Five...

#5 - Julia Roberts - August: Osage County
It's not easy to upstage Meryl Streep, but Julia Roberts does just that in August: Osage County.  Roberts was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards, but her role as Barbara is undoubtedly a co-lead with Streep (if not the true sole lead of the film).  While I think the character of Barbara is a smidge flawed (just one of the many issues I have with the award-winning play by Tracy Letts), Roberts brings a quiet resilience to Barbara that centers the crazy clan at the film's core.

#4 - Adele Exarchopoulos - Blue Is the Warmest Color
Adele Exarchopoulos (who is in every scene) delivers a brave performance as Adele in Blue Is the Warmest Color, a role that requires her to bare all -- literally and figuratively.  As a young girl coming to terms with her sexuality, her uncomfortable naivety and vulnerability as she discovers she may be falling in love with a woman is fascinating to watch.

#3 - Emma Thompson - Saving Mr. Banks
Meryl Streep famously dissed Saving Mr. Banks at some awards luncheon and I think her bashing of the film ruined its Oscar chances.  It's a shame, really, because Emma Thompson turns in a great performance as Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers.  Starting off uppity, with clipped words and precise movements, we gradually see a little bit of loosening up as Travers' ice queen exterior melts away.  Granted, she never quite finds herself satisfied with the final product, but in one of the film's last scenes, we get a long shot of Travers as she watches the Mary Poppins film play out on the screen at the premiere.  In Thompson's face, we see someone both moved by the lovely depiction of family displayed on the screen, but also someone disgraced for feeling like she sold out -- an interesting paradox that Emma Thompson succeeds at selling.

#2 - Julia Louis-Dreyfus - Enough Said
Comedy is certainly difficult and is absolutely under-appreciated by the Academy.  If they respected the craft, Julia Louis-Dreyfus would've been nominated and a contender for the win.  We embrace her less-than-perfect mom Eva mainly because she doesn't ever claim to be without flaws.  This relatable quality not only elevates the character, but also elevates the comedy, with Louis-Dreyfuss proving that she's a fantastic comedic actress (as if we didn't already know that) who should really garner some more leading movie roles after this one.

#1 - Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine
When I first saw Blue Jasmine in the summer of 2013, I knew right then and there that Cate Blanchett was the hands-down favorite for the Oscar.  At that point in time, the field was wide open, but I knew I was watching something pretty darn good.  Having just watched A Streetcar Named Desire prior to Blue Jasmine, I found myself underwhelmed with the character of Blanche Dubois, but through Woody Allen's script, Blanchett rounds Jasmine, Allen's extrapolation of that Tennessee Williams character.  Blanchett is electric, carrying the film from the opening scene, allowing simple changes in the timbre of her voice to convey all that the audience needs to know.

Previous RyMickey Award Winners