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Letterboxd Reviews

So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Best Actor

While I wasn't all that impressed by the Supporting Actor crop of 2013, the leading actor category fared a little better.  In fact, I think my #1 choice is the best performance by either gender in 2013.  While four out of the five Academy Award-nominated performances land in my Top Eight, you'll notice that the winner of that award is actually ranked lowest in my opinion.

Best Actor of 2013

Also in the running...
(in alphabetical order)
Paul Bettany - Blood
Domnhall Gleeson - About Time
Peter Sarsgaard - Lovelace
Miles Teller - The Spectacular Now

Honorable Mentions
#8 - Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club
"Rather nicely, the film slowly allows Woodruff to come to the realization that his predisposed ideas about the gay community in Texas were perhaps wrongly skewed and I enjoyed McConaughey's quiet transformation he has Woodruff undergo as the film progresses."
#7 - James Gandolfini - Enough Said
"Gandolfini is the complete opposite of Tony Soprano here, abandoning any sense of that "tough guy" persona for which he's so well known and fully embodying the softy that is Albert."
#6 - Bruce Dern - Nebraska
"Yet despite the slow-paced gait and the mumbled words, Woody's certainly "all there" -- yes, he may not be thinking quite as clearly as in his youth, but Dern shows us Woody hasn't forgotten the pain of his past and the hope for his future (however false that hope may be). "
And the Top Five...

#5 - Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave
Behind the eyes of Chiwetel Ejiofor's portrayal of Solomon Northrup, you can see the pain of his present situation mixed with the undying hope that he will return to his freedom.  Despite Northrup's repression, Ejiofor injects a commanding strength that we can't help but rally behind.

#4 - Brady Corbet - Simon Killer
While he starts out seemingly like a depressed twenty-something, Brady Corbet's Simon becomes fascinatingly creepy as the film progresses as he slowly peels back the layers of his character.  He's really quite menacing by the film's end.

#3 - Matthew Goode - Stoker
Matthew Goode in Stoker seems like he was plucked right out of a Hitchcock film -- suave, debonair, yet frighteningly sly.  His creepy performance is a near perfect union of character and actor.

#2 - Tom Hanks - Captain Phillips
While I wasn't a huge fan of the film, Tom Hanks's portrayal of the title character was worth the price of admission.  Phillips is a quiet hero and Hanks's ability to show what it takes to make this normal man whip up the courage to survive and save his crew is the best part of the flick.  The film's final scene -- simply a fantastic piece of acting by Mr. Hanks.

#1 - Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street
I've never seen Leonardo DiCaprio take on a role with such vigor and joie de vivre as he does with Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street.  Slick, sly, charming, self-absorbed, overly confident, with sex appeal, DiCaprio's performance is loose, hilarious, and captivating.  Quite frankly, to take such a slimy guy and hold my interest for nearly three hours is an undertaking, but DiCaprio succeeds and gives what I think if the best performance of 2013 across both genders.

Previous RyMickey Award Winners

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Best Supporting Actress

Best Supporting Actress of 2013

Also in the running...
(in alphabetical order)
Elizabeth Debicki - The Great Gatsby
Margot Robbie - The Wolf of Wall Street
Michaela Watkins - In a World

Honorable Mentions
#10 - Jennifer Lawrence - American Hustle
"Her character's brashness was at least a breath of fresh air in this story, and her scenes, despite not having much to do in terms of advancing the film, were some of the disappointing film's best."
#9 - Sarah Paulson - 12 Years a Slave
"Paulson's bitterness is spot-on (albeit incredibly nasty)." 
#8 - Melonie Diaz - Fruitvale Station
"Melonie Diaz takes a small, seemingly throwaway-type role as the beleaguered girlfriend and gives us a well-rounded picture of a young woman who sees potential in Oscar, but also feels the tiniest bit trapped because of the fact that she has a daughter with him."
#7 - Annette Bening - Girl Most Likely
"The introduction of Annette Bening's Zelda is almost too stereotypical of the Jersey Shore persona that we've come to know in recent years thanks to Snookie and The Situation, but Bening milks it for all its worth and, despite the over-the-top nature of the character, quite honestly delivers a really strong comedic performance."
#6 - Kaitlyn Dever - Short Term 12
"Young Ms. Dever's Jayden isn't afraid to get rambunctious, yet eschews that bellowing personality at times in order to show that she's really just a young girl unable to cope with what the adults around her have put her through."  

And the Top Five...

#5 - Lea Seydoux - Blue is the Warmest Color
Although her co-star has more of a story arc that allows her to shine a bit more, Lea Seydoux imbues a strength into her character of Emma which plays very nicely off of the innocence of Adele Exarchopoulos's Adele.  Although a lover, Lea's Emma is also a bit of a parental figure as she attempts to help Adele cope/deal with her newfound sexual awakening.

#4 - June Squibb - Nebraska
Sometimes old people are funny...it's as simple as that.  June Squibb is old.  June Squibb is funny.  In Nebraska, there's a realism to her character that brings believability to her quirks and one-liners.  She certainly has some of the movie's best jokes, but there's also some nice moments of genuine heart particularly towards the film's end.

#3 - Allison Janney - The Way Way Back
Kooky drunk neighbor.  There's not a lot of depth to Allison Janney's character in The Way Way Back, but she made me laugh at every single line.  Kudos.

#2 - Annika Wedderkopp - The Hunt
I still find myself thinking about this performance months later.  There's such an innocence in Wedderkopp's Klara who falsely accuses her teacher of molestation, but what elevates the performance is the young actress's repressed guilt that is so present behind the five year-old's eyes.  You sometimes wonder whether great children's performances are merely the director telling kids what to do or how to act.  Here, the palpable emotions displayed by Wedderkopp are proof that this wasn't simply directorial influence.

#1 - Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave
I've mentioned before that I wasn't as taken with Lupita Nyong'o's performance in 12 Years a Slave, but that was no fault of Nyongo's.  Instead, I wish the script gave her a smidge more to do -- in the end, though, it's not her story, so my qualms may not be so warranted.  Running a spectrum of emotion, Nyong'o excels at all of them and earned her Oscar.

Previous RyMickey Award Winners

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Best Supporting Actor

I'm quite pleased to note that in 2013, I felt like roles for women far outshone the roles for men.  The Best Supporting Actor Award, for instance, left me with very few choices I could rally behind.  (Interestingly enough, I wasn't really blown away by 2012's crop of contenders either.)  All of the Oscar nominees -- Abdi, Fassbender, Cooper, and Hill -- were good, but not mind-blowing, and the Oscar winner -- Jared Leto -- doesn't even make it onto my radar for this list as I thought it was a poorly underwritten role that never allowed the actor to shine.

With that being said, here are my thoughts on the Best Supporting Actor of 2013.

Best Supporting Actor 2013

Honorable Mentions
#6 - Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave
"Fassbender is at his best in scenes involving Sarah Paulson as his wife and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o as his lover.  Fassbender excels at radiating jealousy and he's near perfect at playing such a nasty guy. "
[It should be noted, that I can't help but think I've under-appreciated Fassbender's role.  That quote above from my original review calls him "near perfect" even.  However, as I look back on the year, I don't really remember why I loved it so much.  He was certainly good, but a repeat viewing may be necessary to fully appreciate his work.]

And the Top Five...

#5 - Jonah Hill - The Wolf of Wall Street
Playing a Long Island nobody whom the film's main character grooms into his right hand man, Jonah Hill gives us his best work yet.  Fortunately, he still gets to utilize his comedic chops, but in a much more sophisticated (though still raucous) way.

#4 - Tom Hanks - Saving Mr. Banks
Sure, Tom Hanks was playing a movie industry studio head and that same studio was making the film, so people couldn't help but say that Hanks' portrayal of Walt Disney was a bit of an overly nice whitewash of the iconic figure.  However, Disney isn't a perfect guy here.  He's headstrong and not entirely willing to budge, but he's also kind and considerate with a difficult past that (although not delved into greatly in the film) rises to the surface every now and then creating a more nuanced performance than it appears.

#3 - Paul Dano - Prisoners
There's a creepiness exuding from Paul Dano in Prisoners that always has you questioning his character's guilt or innocence.  It's a very tricky role that has the audience sympathizing with and despising him during the same moments.

#2 - Matthew McConaughey - The Wolf of Wall Street
I'm not even sure if McConaughey is in this movie for more than ten minutes, but he steals the show in the flick's initial moments, creating such an extremely braggadocian character that he'd be almost abhorrent if it weren't for the actor's ability to wryly smirk his way out of obnoxiousness.  For all the buzz he got for Dallas Buyer's Club (and an accompanying Oscar win), this was McConaughey's best role in 2013.

#1 - Keith Stanfield - Short Term 12
Battered, beaten down, and essentially told he was worthless, Keith Stanfield's Marcus touches us with his upsetting sense of deflated worth.  Feeling as if he was left behind, he doesn't really know how to react when people show him any modicum of respect and care.  Stanfield just gripped me here emotionally, making me angry for Marcus's struggle, but hopeful for his potential success.  His rap scene -- wow.  The young actor easily -- there was really no competition -- takes the top spot here.

Previous RyMickey Award Winners

Friday, September 19, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Best Director

An interesting note -- my Best Director award has matched up with the Academy's every year but 2012 -- I'd like to think that makes me sophisticated, but that's giving the Academy too much credit.

Best Director 2013

Honorable Mentions
#7 - John Lee Hancock - Saving Mr. Banks
#6 - Alexander Payne - Nebraska

And the Top Five...

#5 - Scott McGehee and David Seigel - What Maisie Knew
While What Maisie Knew may not be a fantastic film in terms of story, what directors McGehee and Seigel do by telling the tale almost entirely as if from the perspective of the six year-old title character is a bit ingenious.  The film may not be technically groundbreaking, but kudos to the directors for keeping the concept throughout the film.  It gives things a unique spin as we see these adults looming over Maisie's life.

#4 - Martin Scorsese - The Wolf of Wall Street
When I think of Martin Scorsese, I don't necessarily think about humor.  I will admit I'm not a Scorsese connoisseur -- in fact, I'm really not all that familiar with his repertoire prior to the aughts -- but his ability to create comedy from the miserably extravagant existence of the film's main character was admirable.  Considering the film's length, Scorsese keeps things moving along at a pretty breathless pace with a vivacious, full-of-life vibe throughout.

#3 - Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave
I respect this film for Steve McQueen's direction more than anything else as he refuses to shy away from the atrocities of slavery moreso than in most other Hollywood films on the subject.  Through the use of several long takes, McQueen's technique forces the viewer to "stay with" these rough scenes, filling us with dread and heartache.  I'm not quite sure this is McQueen's best directorial work -- Shame may take the cake on that front -- but he's one of the few directors whom I will look forward to his future endeavors.

#2 - Ron Howard - Rush
There's a palpable excitement that runs throughout Rush and that's due to Ron Howard's direction.  Although he directed the special effects-heavy Apollo 13, Howard's never been a director whom I'd turn to for action and thrills.  Here, Howard certainly does well with what he's best known for -- those more intimate character-driven moments -- but he also elevates his game by lensing the auto racing scenes with retro-looking designs mixed with modern sensibilities.  By mixing up the vantage points, the viewer never gets tired of seeing a car go around a track.

#1 - Alfonso Cuarón - Gravity
I'm not quite sure what to say here except that from a directing standpoint, Gravity is a masterpiece to me.  Long takes (I care not if they were computer generated) help depict the vastness and openness of space which, in Cuarón's hands, has never felt so claustrophobic and lonely.  In tandem with the stunning cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuarón's camera is constantly spinning, creating tension simply via his lens.  A master class in directing a science fiction film...a master class in directing any film, period.

Previous RyMickey Award winners

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Best Screenplay

As I'm sure I'll state again as these awards come to a close, 2013 contained many films I actually liked (my list of "B"-ranked films is rather huge this year), but very few that I loved.  Because of this, I'm finding it difficult to sometimes flesh out these more rigid, "typical" categories.  (You'll notice that Best Cinematography is conspicuously absent this year as no more than two or three films really stood out to me as in years past.)  Needless to say, there are several good screenplays listed below of certainly worthy films.

Note:  I follow the Academy's guidelines in terms of what's adapted and what's original.  While I think original stories based on pre-existing characters (ex. Monsters University, Before Midnight, sequels) should be original screenplays, they are adapted for the purposes of this award.

Best Adapted Screenplay 2013

Honorable Mentions
#7 - Blue Is the Warmest Color - Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lecroix
#6 - August: Osage County - Tracy Letts
#5 - Monsters University - Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, and Dan Scanlon
#4 - 12 Years a Slave - John Ridley

And the Top Three...

#3 - Terence Winter -  The Wolf of Wall Street
Considering the film's runtime, I'm surprised I'm not scolding Terence Winter for forcing me to stay in a seat for nearly three hours.  Instead, I find myself wanting to revisit this crazy world he adapted.

#2 - Scott Neustadster, Micael C. Weber - The Spectacular Now
Believable teenage angst is a difficult task to try and bring to the screen.  These two screenwriters did just that and should be commended.

#1 - Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater - Before Midnight
Before Midnight is not without its faults.  In my review, I even mention that possibly a third of the film doesn't really work and meanders on without a focus.  However, there are three scenes (including the film's conclusion) that are just so damn powerful that I can't help but not place this at the top of the admittedly weaker Best Adapted Screenplay category.

Best Original Screenplay 2013

Honorable Mentions
#8 - Prisoners - Aaron Guzikowski
#7 - In a World... - Lake Bell
#6 - Saving Mr. Banks - Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith

And the Top Five...

#5 - Bob Nelson - Nebraska 
Oddly enough, all of my Top Five Original Screenplay Award recipients deal with either aging or moving on with your life in some aspect.  Nebraska certainly tackles the aging aspect with heart, humor, and well-rounded characters who feel natural to the story and setting unfolding onscreen.

#4 - Woody Allen - Blue Jasmine 
Essentially an updating of A Streetcar Named Desire (and the Academy's rules are tested again in terms of "original"/"adapted"), prolific screenwriter Woody Allen crafts an indelible character in Jasmine (of course buoyed by a wonderful performance by Cate Blanchett) while also pondering the real-life issues surrounding corporate greed/stock manipulation.

#3 - Destin Cretton - Short Term 12 
Yet another weird Academy ruling seeing as how the feature film was adapted from a short film also by Destin Cretton -- I'll never pretend to understand the Academy's rules here.  Nevertheless, Cretton gives us a variety of characters all of whom must put the past behind them in order to attempt at having a rosier future.  Some fare better than others.

#2 - Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón - Gravity 
The script for Gravity really didn't get any love this past awards season, but I think what Pop and Son Cuarón did was not only provide a visual feast, but a character who has much more background and emotional baggage than we typically ever get in a sci-fi extravaganza.  At the center of the film is not the "survival in space" aspect, but the "survival in life" aspect that we all must face when we lose someone we love.

#1 - Nicole Holofcener - Enough Said 
The romantic comedy is a genre I adore, but it's one that is so easy to succumb to the typical, standard tropes.  Nicole Holofcener doesn't necessarily reinvent the wheel with Enough Said, but she gives us two characters longing for love -- who just so happen to be in their forties/fifties and just so happen to have been involved in disappointing marriages.  The sly humor is so natural -- in part due to some fantastically effortless performances -- that you never felt like jokes were being lobbed at the audience simply to get laughs.  Instead, the humor is borne from the situation.  Light and airy, but also with a lot of heart -- as the film's final ten minutes can attest -- Enough Said is a treat thanks in part to its wonderful screenplay.

Previous RyMickey Award Winners
2009 (Adapted and Original)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Movie Review - Delivery Man

Delivery Man (2013)
Starring Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, and Cobie Smulders 
Directed by Ken Scott

In order to make money in his younger days, David (Vince Vaughn) donated anonymously to a fertility clinic over the course of two years.  Twenty years later, David discovers that the clinic utilized his sperm to father 533 children, over a quarter of whom have filed a lawsuit to find out who their biological father really is.

Therein lies the story of Delivery Man and the simplicity of it is both welcoming and a detriment.  Unfortunately, in order to flesh out the tale, writer-director Ken Scott has David go on a mission to try and secretly meet each of the teenage kids named in the lawsuit and this episodic nature of the film's middle act wears thin after a while.  After he meets Kid #3, you can't help but to find yourself waiting for this never-ending meet-and-greet to conclude.

Delivery Man does have a surprising amount of heart and that's due in large part to Vince Vaughn's performance.  Although I grew tired of David's insistence on meeting his spawn, I never disliked Vaughn's ability to show a bit of heart -- a quality I typically haven't seen before from the comedic actor.  Unfortunately, Vaughn's success with the role isn't enough to elevate Delivery Man beyond something simply average.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Best Ensemble

Although a few of my best ensembles below are from Best Picture-nominated films, what I like about my choices below is the variety of genres represented.  You've got horror, comedy, action, drama -- they're all represented below.  Sometimes you need to look past the obvious (I'm looking at you Screen Actors Guild Best Ensemble Award) to find some interesting choices for a well-rounded cast.

Best Ensembles of 2013

Honorable Mentions
#10 - Red 2
(Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, and Catherine Zeta-Jones)

(Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, and Ron Livingston)

(Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Ken Marino, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Alexandra Holden, and Nick Offerman)

(Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Annie Rose Buckley, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzmann, and Rachel Griffiths)

(Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Ben Falcone, Tracey Faraway, and Tavi Gevinson)

And the Top Five...

(Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, and Kathryn Hahn)
Comedy is never easy.  The entire cast of We're the Millers brought much (raunchy) humor to their scenes, with nary a weak actor in the bunch.

#4 - Nebraska
(Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach)
While the above five actors were the main quartet, Nebraska also showcases many other less "well-known" actors who I hope to represent with this award as well.  Scenes around the dinner table with various brothers or sisters play as real as any scenes with the more "seasoned" actors above.

(Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Cristin Milioti, and Joanna Lumley)
The cast list for The Wolf of Wall Street ensemble could probably be two more lines at least.  I had to draw the line somewhere.  Needless to say, Scorsese got great performances from everyone -- from those who were in the film for just one scene (a la McConaughey) to those who were in nearly every frame (Mr. DiCaprio).

(Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Misty Upham, and Sam Shepard)
I'm very surprised I enjoyed this flick as much as I did seeing as how I hated the play.  I thought for sure that this fantastic cast would simply trample all over one another, but despite the gravity of such a strong ensemble, each member always was willing to take a back seat to let someone else have their "moment."  Scenes like the dinner table sequence above -- in which every cast member is onscreen -- are perfect examples of the cast's ability to never grandstand one another.

(Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Keith Stanfield, Kaitlyn Dever, Alex Calloway, and Rami Malek)
A cast of relative unknowns, Short Term 12 showcases a talented cast of up-and-coming Hollywood actors.  For the entire ensemble to elicit so many emotional moments for an audience at such a young age is a testament to their talent.  I look forward to seeing all of them in the future.

Previous Best Ensemble Winners