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Rocky Flag

United Artists

This post is in partnership with Cadillac

This summer, Cadillac and the Producers Guild of America launched Make Your Mark, a short film competition that challenged producers to create compelling content with limited resources. Contestants made a short film over a single weekend in late June, and you can watch the semi-finalists’ films at the Make Your Mark website. The 30-second Cadillac spot featuring the grand prize winner’s film will air during the 2015 Academy Awards.

We’ll be speaking with a co-lead for one of the semi-finalist teams, Tim Wen, whose short film Unexpected Arrival earned one of the top spots and a chance to compete for the grand prize. He’ll talk about the challenge of making something quick without a budget and how to aim the camera in a way that hides your flaws.

Plus, while Geoff is sleeping off an egg nog bender, I’ll offer three ingredients for a successful boxing movie and challenge you to correct me without your fists.

You should follow the show (@brokenprojector), Geoff (@drgmlatulippe) and Scott (@scottmbeggs) on Twitter for more on a daily basis.

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Fox Searchlight

Fox Searchlight

Because we like every single one of you (even you, anonymous commenters), we hope this posting doesn’t find you until later. We hope that you’re celebrating the holidays with family, friends and even a few enemies. We hope that whether you’re relaxing on the couch surrounded by relatives or heading to the movies with other Christmas orphans, you are having a safe, healthy and happy holiday season. In the spirit of the holiday, the Film School Rejects team will be taking some time off. We will resume publishing in January with our massive 2015 Movie Preview. We’ve got a lot of great plans for the next year and we can’t wait to share it all with you.

Until then, be safe out there and don’t forget to read our 2014 Year in Review.

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Fox searchlight

Fox searchlight

Film acting is a difficult craft to judge. Actually, most film crafts are difficult to judge because they’re not usually very transparent. When you go to see live theater acting, you are certain you’re watching the extent of an actor’s performance. You’re directly witnessing their abilities. When you’re watching a film, however, you’re seeing the compilation of selected takes and a chopped-up performance. It’s more likely that a film director can get a good performance from an actor by perfecting every brief segment given in each brief shot and then constructing one out of those building blocks.

Typically I look at a film’s editing when judging its acting merits. Choppier films can seem an overcompensation for weaker acting talent, while long shots are more akin to theater and require strong actors to hold those uninterrupted scenes. A perfect example of the latter this year is Birdman, which is made to look like it’s almost entirely done in a single take. A perfect example of the former, one would think, should be Wild, as it seems to feature the most cuts in a Hollywood release this year outside of Transformers: Age of Extinction. Yet both the editing and acting in Wild are excellent, the first even better than the second. So why is Reese Witherspoon garnering all of the attention and buzz while editors Martin Pensa and “John Mac McMurphy” (director Jean-Marc Vallee‘s pseudonym) are going ignored?

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A24 Films

A24 Films

At first glance, it may look like J.C. Chandor is hopping from one genre to the next, but the versatile writer/director has in fact built a rather unyielding trio of thematically cohesive stories, sharing the common denominator of characters facing extreme, in-the-moment crisis. Margin Call navigated the troubled waters of 2008’s financial collapse and coolly examined the reactions of its anti-architects over the course of an eventful night. All Is Lost dived into literally troubled waters, in telling the tale of a man lost at sea for a number of hostile days.

His latest, the deliciously slow-burning A Most Violent Year –which was recently named the Best Film of 2014 by National Board of Review- follows a hardworking immigrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac, winner of this year’s Best Actor accolade from NBR) with a growing oil business in New York City circa 1981; statistically, when the city’s infamous crime rates were at an all-time high. Abel seeks to secure a loan, so he can buy a key lot crucial for the growth of his business, against an unforgiving 30-day clock, while his increasingly complex marriage and business partnership with Anna (Jessica Chastain, winner of Best Supporting Actress from NBR, and a Golden Globe nominee in the same category), faces the risk of collapsing on shaky grounds amid dangerous negotiations.

Chandor’s signature in-the-moment approach to storytelling, which he says he tackles and thinks about first and foremost as a writer as opposed to a director, curiously leaves out many background elements, and helps feed the peculiar undercurrent evident in his films. For instance, in All Is Lost, many of us wondered why Robert Redford’s character was out there and what kind of trouble he was running away or taking a break from. The kind of man he might be and the metaphors his survival fight represents created much of the talk around the film in 2013. Similarly in Margin Call, the backgrounds of executives –who were never overtly vilified- were curiously kept at bay while the portrayals of each were human and felt complete.

Such is the case with A Most Violent Year, which captures a rare kind of tension that commendably leaves much for off-screen imagination, safely outside of the comfort zones of a traditional story arch. Chandor’s sweltering script (once again, as in his previous movies) tells the story chronologically, from start to end without flashbacks, or fill-in-the-blanks type information that would otherwise comfortably help guide the audience through characters’ reasoning and motivations.

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Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures

The Interview.

The movie that caused a geo-political crisis.

The poster child of cyberterrorism, millennial patriotism and our modern struggles to protect free speech.

Stoner comedy.

Soon you will be able to see The Interview — the comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen and journalists who are asked to use their exclusive interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un to commit an assassination. You’ll be able to see it in a movie theater or in the uniquely American tradition of sitting on your own couch, in your own living room, with no pants on. After two weeks of turmoil over the release of this otherwise innocuous farce, Sony Pictures has delivered an All-American Christmas Gift to the world (except for North Korea).

Below, we’ve rounded up all the available details for the re-re-release. We can now tell you how you can watch The Interview.*

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Union_Half_Sheet

Olive Films releases classics old and new (but mostly old) on a monthly basis, and it’s not uncommon to find pockets of a theme at times — same actors, similar genre, etc. — and their selection of titles that hit shelves this week are no different.

The seven films can be broken into two groups as four of them are film noir examples from the late ’40s and early ’50s, and the three more recent titles are all directed by Otto Preminger. My exposure to both is not nearly as deep as I’d like, so these offered up a great sampling of the noir genre and Preminger’s resume. Three of the films are genuinely fantastic, but none of the seven seem to enjoy wide popularity — this is somewhat baffling when you look at the powerhouse casts including the likes of Alan Ladd, Charlton Heston, Burt Lancaster, William Holden, Michael Caine and others.

Keep reading for a look at Appointment With Danger, Dark City, Rope In the Sand, Union Station, Hurry Sundown, Skidoo and Such Good Friends.

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Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Classic Christmas movies have never been my bag. I’ve still not seen It’s a Wonderful Life and I’m iffy on musicals, too. I don’t dislike them or anything, there’s plenty I’ve enjoyed. I just haven’t seen a lot of older ones. But hell, White Christmas is my sister-in-law’s all-time favorite, apparently, so I decided to give it a shot.

Here’s what’s weird about White Christmas: It’s oddly modern. By that, I mean it does a lot of things that people decry as the death of Hollywood ideas today. For example, it’s a remake. Specifically, it’s based on Holiday Inn (yes, like the hotel chain — they’re named after the film) which was another Irving Berlin movie and also starred Bing Crosby. That famous song, “White Christmas”? It didn’t even come from this film. It came from Holiday Inn and they just re-used it here and stole its title. And it wasn’t like a small part of that movie. It won the Oscar that year for Best Original Song. If a movie did that today, audiences would freak the hell out.

Another thing is that it’s pretty shameless spectacle. It was one of the first films in “VistaVision”, Paramount’s attempt at reintroducing widescreen films to theaters, which hadn’t been seen since before World War II. Bringing back old technology that had already been thrown on the scrap pile in decades past? Cue the eye rolls.

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Entourage Movie

Warner Bros.

As with most of my perception of the eight season run of the HBO show Entourage, I’m now convinced that its movie spin-off is going to be primarily about Ari Gold, the angry agent played by Jeremy Piven. In between sequences of bikini-littered parties and driving in expensive SUVs, there will be plenty of Ari. Also, series creator Doug Ellin (who returns to write and direct the movie) has also brought back the usual bros: Vince, Turtle, E and Drama.

Yes, they weren’t kidding. The first Entourage trailer has arrived. Soak it up, bros.

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Will Smith and Margot Robbie in Focus

Warner Bros.

Is Will Smith still a national treasure? That’s what the second trailer for Focus has me considering. Years ago it was impossible to find someone who hadn’t succumbed to the charms of Big Willie. Not only did he give us “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It”, but he quickly proved himself as a hugely bankable and likable movie star. Smith was a charismatic star, but not exactly an actor with massive range. Great actors have the capability of surprising audiences, but Smith, by and large, gave his fans what they wanted. Every once in a while he’d change things up, but we’d usually end up with the same wisecracking presence onscreen, and there’s nothing entirely wrong with that. There was a demand for his easygoing charm, at least until recently.

His last starring role was in After Earth – a major critical and box-office failure and all around bad movie. This year he did his buddy, Akiva Goldsman, a solid by appearing in Winter’s Tale and, boy, he must be one helluva friend, because he did Goldsman more than a favor by showing his face in that movie.

Now, more than a year and a half after After Earth, Will Smith is back in a starring role with Focus, a film from Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. The con film, which co-stars Margot Robbie, looks real slick, pretty and charming.

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Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

Ron Howard doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s seen as a journeyman, and while maybe that’s a fair label, it’s often used to dismiss his work. It’s understandable some people undervalue the guy who directed The DilemmaThe Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, but Howard is also responsible for Apollo 13Parenthood, freaking Night ShiftThe PaperFrost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind. What’s respectable about Howard as a filmmaker is that, even this far into his career, he’s trying new things and pushing himself. Sometimes the result doesn’t always work, but a journeyman isn’t the kind of director that takes the occasional risk like Howard does.

Last year a huge gamble of his paid off: Howard made one of his best films with Rush – a movie filled with energy, passion and excitement. The movie wasn’t a hit at the box-office or at awards ceremonies, but it’s a film from last year people actually continue to talk about. Since the filmmaker doesn’t have a signature style, it’s hard to say a movie doesn’t feel like a “Ron Howard movie,” but Rush really doesn’t feel like a Ron Howard movie. The cinematography, editing choices and camera moves were like nothing he’s ever done before.

It looks like the same guy who made Rush has returned for In The Heart of the Sea, an adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick‘s novel, which follows the crew of the Essex and its beefy captain (Chris Hemsworth) as they face off against Moby Dick.

Take a look at the latest trailer for In the Heart of the Sea:

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A24

A24

Alex Ebert‘s score for A Most Violent Year ebbs and flows in a way that proves the composer is not afraid of quiet moments. “Abel’s Theme” sounds almost triumphant, but slowly strips away the brass elements to leave something much more subtle and underplayed. This near silence speaks directly to the film’s lead, Abel Morales (played with steadfast determination by Oscar Isaac). Abel is a man of action and a man who keeps the promises he makes, but it is in Abel’s more quiet moments that you start to see the cracks behind his perfectly crafted persona and life.

For a film whose title contains the word “violent,” A Most Violent Year is anything but. Both director JC Chandor and Ebert know how to use, and play into, the silences resulting is a slow burn of a film that causes the violent moments to stand out by not having them constantly fill the screen. As Jack Giroux said in his review of the film, “A Most Violent Year isn’t a brutal film because of its blood. In fact, there’s very little of it in Chandor’s story. The brutality is found in Abel’s dilemma, because it’s often uncomfortable to watch.”

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Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures

“For some, theaters were a place to shelter from the troubles of the world, but they were also where most Americans were confronted by vivid images of the troubles themselves, brought home in footage that was more immediate and overwhelming than newspapers or radio broadcasts could ever be.”

The above quote, excerpted from Mark Harris’ “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War,” is made in specific reference to theatrical newsreels in 1940, which exposed Americans to stark images of WWII while the Hollywood features that they introduced were prevented from acknowledging the war in such a direct fashion. The gap that this pre-intervention limbo period produced between fiction and non-fiction speaks to a greater paradox that has overtly and covertly determined the American experience of commercial moviegoing: the fact that, as I argued two years ago, Hollywood regularly “eschews reality just as it borrows from it.”

As far as we know, never before has a foreign power infiltrated a movie studio and directly threatened the prospective audiences of one of its properties. The specific situation around the current debacle that is The Interview is largely unprecedented. But Sony’s reaction is not, for it has deep roots in Hollywood’s treatment of relevant political topics. The Interview’s abandoned release simply brings to light what has been intrinsic to Hollywood’s self-governance: censorship as a defining practice, justified by the possibility of threat.

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The Longest Ride

Fox

Way back in August, we gleefully/somewhat confusedly broke down a then-new trailer for The Best of Me, this year’s single Nicholas Sparks offering, to determine just how “Nicholas Sparks” it actually was. Verdict: very Nicholas Sparks! So it wasn’t entirely shocking when the finished product, a sappy and soppy love story starring James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan, proved to be just as Sparksian in its delivery.

Sparks is back again with yet another feature film (since 2012, the author has averaged one film based on his novels per year, so no one should ever be surprised when a new one crops up, which is terrifying but true), one that just might mix up the brand. Kidding! It looks extremely Sparksian, but perhaps The Longest Ride will at least benefit from a slightly new-sounding backdrop: bull riding. Starring Britt Robertson and Scott Eastwood, The Longest Ride explores the fated love between an artsy young lass and a bucky young stud (who, yes, likes bull riding). Will true love find a way? Will all the bulls be okay? Who will randomly die of cancer first? Let’s take a look at the first trailer to lay some guesses.

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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