Two months ago, I encouraged several people to watch this year’s crop of Oscar-nominated documentary shorts. My only instruction: have tissues handy. Hard-hitting themes ranged from Syria, to end-of-life decisions in an ICU, to Syria, to the Holocaust, to Syria.
So months before the White House fired its missiles in the direction of the Middle Eastern country this week, the Academy was providing us privileged folk sitting in soft recliners with varied perspectives on the crisis that’s happening halfway around the world—where instead of privilege there are regular shellings, and instead of soft recliners there are scared children. The nominated documentaries, “The White Helmets” (the eventual winner), “Watani: My Homeland,” and “4.1 Miles” each offer a completely different take on Syria’s civil war, and each gives us reason to care. This is essential viewing. Below I give a brief synopsis for each film, including the full version of “4.1 Miles.”
HBO has long been at the forefront of quality TV movies. Among this year’s offerings are three based on real people, two of which are based on Tony-winning plays. Each is primed for Emmy consideration.
All the Way
Following up his Oscar-nominated performance in Trumbo and four Emmy wins for portraying Walter White on Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston reprises his Tony-winning role of LBJ in this TV adaptation of the 2014 Tony-winning Best Play. I caught this Robert Schenkkan-penned play on Broadway—liked it, but didn’t love it. Schenkkan adapted his own work for HBO, so I’m curious to see how he interpreted this story for a different medium.
Logline (courtesy of IMDb): Lyndon B. Johnson becomes the President of the United States in the chaotic aftermath of JFK’s assassination and spends his first year in office fighting to pass the Civil Rights Act.
Director: Jay Roach Screenwriter: Robert Schenkkan Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anthony Mackie, Melissa Leo, Bradley Whitford, Frank Langella Runtime: 132 min.
Written and directed by actor Nate Parker in his feature directorial debut, The Birth of a Nation tells the story of former slave Nat Turner (played by Parker), who leads a liberation movement to free slaves in Virginia in 1831. The film also stars Armie Hammer, Gabrielle Union, and Oscar nominee Jackie Earle Haley.
The Birth of a Nation is this year’s big Sundance hit, winning the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, and notably shattering a sales record at the Festival by selling distribution rights to Fox Searchlight for $17.5 million. With a fall release date of October 7—and with a powerhouse indie distributor in Searchlight, which also released recent Best Picture winners Birdman (2014) and 12 Years a Slave (2013)—it’s bound to ride high through next year’s Oscars. So perhaps #OscarsSoWhite will finally be a thing of the past.
Now that all eight Best Picture Oscar-nominated films have been announced, it’s time to catch up with your screenings before the February 28 ceremony. Here’s a parade of trailers for all Best Picture nominees to get you ready. Check out a complete list of nominees for the 88th Academy Awards here.
I have to say, I’m not David O. Russell’s biggest fan, though he has made some films I admire. Lately, he’s found favor with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook). So if you’re into that quartet, you’ll want to check out Joy, opening Christmas Day. Based on a true story, Lawrence stars as Joy Mangano, the struggling Long Island entrepreneur mom who invented the Miracle Mop and launched a business empire. Russell wrote the script off a story by Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids, 2011) and Russell. The film also stars Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, and Isabella Rossellini. Check out the trailer below.
Check out the first official trailer to Sleeping with Other People, starring Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie, written and directed by Leslye Headland (Bachelorette, 2012), and produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.
Can two serial cheaters get a second chance at love? After a one-night stand in college, New Yorkers Lainey (Brie) and Jake (Sudeikis) meet by chance 12 years later and discover they each have the same problem: because of their monogamy-challenged ways, neither can maintain a relationship. Determined to stay friends despite their mutual attraction, they make a pact to keep it platonic, a deal that proves easier said than done. Fresh, funny, and full of witty insights about modern love, this hilariously heartfelt film “is the rare rom-com that reminds us why we love them so much in the first place” (Time Out New York). Amanda Peet, Adam Scott, Natasha Lyonne, and Jason Mantzoukas co-star.
Distributed by IFC Films, Sleeping with Other People will be released on September 11.
There were several notable snubs when this year’s Oscar nominations were revealed back in January. Among them was Jake Gyllenhaal, who turned in a career-high performance in the dark, gritty, and disturbing—and, oh so fantastic—Nightcrawler. The long-talented actor took his lumps, but he’s primed to take another shot with Southpaw, directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, 2001) and written by Kurt Sutter (TV’s Sons of Anarchy)
Gyllenhaal stars as Billy Hope, a boxer who struggles to keep his life together following a devastating incident. Based on the official trailer, which was released today, it appears that Gyllenhaal leaves nothing on the mat, delivering a complex and emotional interpretation of his character. And considering his physical transformation and The Weinstein Company as distributor, the film looks to be a contender come Oscar season. Southpaw also stars Rita Ora, Naomie Harris, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent, and Rachel McAdams (in a long overdue good role, though it doesn’t appear she lasts long in the film). The film will bow on July 31.
Directed by Oscar-winning Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (In a Better World, 2010), Serena reunites Silver Linings Playbook players Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.
Synopsis: North Carolina mountains at the end of the 1920s–George (Cooper) and Serena Pemberton (Lawrence), love-struck newly-weds, begin to build a timber empire. Serena soon proves herself to be equal to any man: overseeing loggers, hunting rattle snakes, even saving a man’s life in the wilderness. With power and influence now in their hands, the Pembertons refuse to let anyone stand in the way of their inflated love and ambitions. However, once Serena discovers George’s hidden past and faces an unchangeable fate of her own, the Pembertons’ passionate marriage begins to unravel, leading toward a dramatic reckoning.
Magnolia Pictures will release Serena on iTunes and VOD on February 26, and in theatres on March 27.
The fall is my favorite season for several reasons: the weather, the holidays, the foliage, the movies—oh, the movies. This is when studios release their best contenders for Oscar glory, more than four months away. Every year, I aim to watch all of the Oscar hopefuls before nominations are announced (this year on January 16, 2014).
Here is my second-annual list of this year’s major contenders in various categories, along with release dates.
I have been waiting for this film for a very long time. Originally scheduled to be released last year, Gravity will now open on October 4, 2013. Director Alfonso Cuarón is one of my go-to directors. He has an ability to capture a very real and gritty aspect of life and the “human condition” (there’s that term I hate so much). The director worked on this film with frequent collaborator, DP Emmanuel Lubezki, who just happens to be my favorite cinematographer. If only the film were pushed to a November/December release it might stand a better shot at Oscar gold. Here’s hoping it resonates with voters.
Astronauts attempt to return to earth after debris crashes into their space shuttle, leaving them drifting alone in space.