American Hustle

The Skeleton Twins

In the middle of all the drama and intense suicidal issues that make up The Skeleton Twins, Bill Hader’s Milo breaks into song, but it is not Hader’s voice ringing out, it is Starship’s Mickey Thomas explaining that “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” It’s an excellent moment, delivering a greater impact than it would have had the song simply played over the scene. From musicals to pop montages, we frequently see the lyrics of a song say things a character cannot (or will not) say, which allows each film to get a character’s internal emotion across without direct action. But when a character embraces a song by lip-synching to it, it lets the characters play along. What’s more, a character’s awareness of a song typically heightens a song’s impact because it seems (at least) to come from the character instead of the production team. It can be a powerful illusion. There are a bunch of great songs featured in The Skeleton Twins (Blondie‘s “Denis,” Randy & The Rainbows “Denise,” and John Grant‘s “Outter Space), but Starship’s tune stands out because it is a song Milo chose to not only play, but perform to. He could have launched into a funny or serious or moving monologue directed at his sister Maggie (Kristen Wiig), but all he really wants to do is cheer her up. Cue the 1980s pop hit.

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Joseph Gordon Levitt in MYSTERIOUS SKIN

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. Mysterious Skin Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbet) played Little League together when they were kids, but they were never really friends. They drifted even further apart as they grew up, and a decade later they’re complete strangers. The two do share a secret though, one that has shaped them into the troubled young men they’ve become. I’ve meant to watch Gregg Araki‘s acclaimed film for years now, and now that I finally have I’m happy to say my expectations have been exceeded. It’s a haunting tale of innocence lost that delivers a powerful emotional punch as their two stories unfold. It’s not a matter of mystery as to what exactly transpires, but seeing the two deal with their past in such varied and self-damaging ways is frequently heartbreaking. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, gallery, commentary, deleted scenes, audition tapes, trailer]

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Oscar Predictions 2014: Best Picture

This is it. The big one. The most coveted award in Hollywood. The one only the greatest of the great win. You know the ones I mean. The Artist, The King’s Speech, Crash, Chicago, Million Dollar Baby. Classics, all of them. It reads like a list of the best films of the 2000s don’t you think? Right? Yeah? This year sees nine nominees up for Best Picture, and a whopping two thirds are films based on true stories. Perception is such that a basis in fact would be an advantage, but while playing real people helps actors win awards, only five films based on true stories have taken home Best Picture in the past two decades. I’m guessing this year will make six. As has been the case since the Academy opened this category to more than five nominees, we once again have a field of players stuffed with titles well out of their depths (sorry Nebraska), so while there are nine titles listed, there are realistically only three contenders. Keep reading for a look at all of this year’s nominees for Best Picture along with my predicted winner in red…

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Oscar Predictions 2014: Editing

Sydney Pollack once likened film editing to sculpting, and he’s (of course) right. The Invisible Art is also like having a 10,000-piece puzzle to solve without knowing exactly what the final image is supposed to look like. You’re creating the puzzle while solving it. It’s a remarkable skill that blends technical prowess with creative ability and gut-level instinct. This year, the Oscar nominees in this field were able to successfully submerge us into the world of antebellum slavery, 1970s swagger, modern-day violence, 1980s epidemic rebellion and futuristic-feeling isolation. Read on to learn more about the nominees with my predicted winner in red…

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Oscar Predictions 2014: Production Design

When pundits begin to go on about the look of a film, most often the person they name drop is the director, or maybe the cinematographer. But one should never overlook the importance of the production designer. They’re probably the most hands-on when it comes to dealing with the collaboration of all the costumes, hair, and makeup, dressing locations and building sets, finding or fabricating props, and basically ensuring that everything you see on the screen fits into a unified vision of how the movie is supposed to look. One might even say that these are the people who create the worlds that movies exist in. Because of that, the further away a film can get, visually, from our everyday reality, the more likely it is to be recognized for its production design come awards season. It’s much easier to notice the work that went into creating a fantasy world or bringing back a lost era than it is to notice the work that went into making Vancouver look like New York, after all. In keeping with that trend, this year the Academy has chosen for the category’s nominees a movie that takes place in the swinging 70s, a movie that takes place in the vacuum of space, a movie that takes place in the roaring 20s, a movie that takes place in a future version of LA, and one that takes place in the plantation-era of the southern United States. Nothing from either the here or the now. Here’s […]

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Oscar Predictions 2014: Original Screenplay

The Best Original Screenplay Oscar is one category that, despite all the issues with the Academy Awards, seems to make at least some gestures in terms of actually honoring the craft recognized: in this case, the artistry of character-building, dialogue, and storytelling. This is the award that beloved smaller films tend to win, while their more trumpeting competitors take home The Big One. These are the films that defy the screenplay’s almost uniform use as a blueprint, and treat film writing as a form of literature on its own. It would seem at first glance that this year’s Best Original Screenplay award is a particularly competitive category. After all, it hosts quite a pedigree specific to this award, where movies by Spike Jonze, Alexander Payne, and Woody Allen have all enjoyed successful recognition before. But make no mistake: this is American Hustle’s to lose. An upset isn’t impossible, but this is perhaps one of the most locked categories this year. But let’s take a look at how the five nominees shake out, with my surprise winner predicted in red…

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gv-fp-0127r

It’s not definite that this year’s Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director will go to different movies. But it is very likely that Alfonso Cuaron is going to win the latter and that his movie, Gravity, is not going to be crowned the former. Odds in favor of Gravity for the top Academy Award are increasing of late, but I still see us having the first back-to-back split since 1953. Last year, of course, Picture went to Argo while Director went to Ang Lee (Argo‘s director, Ben Affleck, wasn’t nominated for the latter). This year the film that may trump Gravity for Best Picture is itself split between two contenders, American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave. Both of those movies won their respective Best Picture categories at the Golden Globes earlier this year. Hustle for comedy/musical and Slave for drama. Not that this means either has to follow with the Oscar (only 4 of the past 10 Oscar BPs were Globe BPs). Hustle also won the top award at the SAG Awards, that honor being for Outstanding Performance By a Cast in a Motion Picture. Not that this really means anything either (only 6 of the past 10 Oscar BPs were SAG Best Casts). Slave, meanwhile, tied for the top award at the PGA Awards — with Gravity. This is where it might mean something. The Producers Guild is currently six for six in predicting the Oscar BP, and in its history they’re 17 for 24. If they go […]

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Christian Bale;Jeremy Renner;Bradley Cooper

What makes a great director? Is it more about the technical visual achievement that we can see on screen? Is it about getting exceptional performances from the actors? For a great director, it’s both. For a Best Director of any given year, as so named by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, one or the other might do. This year, for instance, Alfonso Cuaron is the frontrunner for the Oscar, and his recognition is mostly based on the film being “an absolute technical marvel in every possible way,” as our own review from Kate Erbland puts it. Like James Cameron before him, Cuaron will be honored for work where the performances from the cast weren’t as much a priority as the performances from the camera and special effects. Yet also like Cameron, Cuaron has been paired with a Best Actress nomination for his leading lady. Sandra Bullock has won an Oscar in the past for her acting, but she still surprised many with her performance in Gravity. Do we have Cuaron to thank for that? It’s hard to tell. He’s never really gotten bad work from his actors before, but he’s certainly not thought of as an actor’s director in the way his four companions in the category are. This is his first instance of directing an Oscar nominated performance. Including this year’s additions, Martin Scorsese has 22 under his belt, David O. Russell has 11, Alexander Payne has 7 and Steve McQueen has 3 — of course, […]

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The King

A few weeks ago, I saw and greatly enjoyed American Hustle. It’s all surface and doesn’t really add up to anything profound, but I was at a mall on Cape Cod with my mom, whom I was visiting for Christmas. We didn’t need, nor were we expecting, any great masterpiece, and I wasn’t on the hook to review the movie for anyone, so we went to the movies and had a grand old time. This reaction was by no means universal. A whole lot of people don’t like the movie, and a number of critics found it infuriatingly insubstantial and sloppy. It was ever thus. But, when I’m not serving as the model of critical equanimity, I spend my days in a state of nervous terror, brought on by an acute fear of “being wrong” whose scale is frankly silly in its enormity, which is why it may be a very long time, if ever, until I can rewatch American Hustle. Here are 5 more films that induce that same state:

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Oscars 2014

Hopefully you’re all wearing your tuxedos and evening gowns because, as we all know, Thursday morning before sunrise is the best time to get fancy. Feel no shame about that 5am martini. Unless it’s your fourth. Because you’re behind. And you might need something strong for the announcement of the nominees for the 86th annual Academy Awards.

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golden-globes-statutes-1

The 71st Golden Globe Awards are happening now, and we’ve got all the winners for your reference. Don’t worry, no spoilers. We’re only finding out everything as it happens, and we’ll be updating this post throughout the big night. Keep checking in, especially if you’re not watching. But why aren’t you watching? It should be an entertaining show, not just because of hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but because of the booze (ours and theirs). Also, nobody is sure what will win the Best Picture – Drama trophy, Gravity or 12 Years a Slave. It’s vital that we find out and we’ll be here for the ride towards finding out. Okay, let’s get to the winners. They’re the ones in bold below. Congrats to all, unless Breaking Bad wins. Nobody even likes that show, right? Just kidding, it better win this time.

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jonah hill wolf of wall street

If there’s one thing I’ll feel is missing in tonight’s Golden Globes ceremony (even more than an award for best documentary), it’s Jonah Hill‘s name in the supporting actor category. I’ve still not seen a few of the movies represented in that group so I can’t say Hill deserves it more than those nominees, but he is my pick for the best supporting actor of last year and he certainly belongs in the bunch more than Bradley Cooper. The question is whether Hill might earn an Oscar nomination in place of Cooper, or perhaps they’d both be excluded in place of, say, James Gandolfini. Both Cooper and Hill are actors who started out in comedy who have been recognized once each for their moves into dramatic work and who now are basically back with comedic performances in contention for the Academy Award. And that’s a tough nut to crack. Comedy has always been a tough nut with the Oscars in general. It’s not ignored, not at all, definitely not as much as some would think, but it is true that what slips through is mostly hybrid movies, dramas with a good helping of comedy or drier comedies that have some dramatic elements. More common, actually, is comedic performances, especially in the supporting acting categories. That’s where we tend to find traditionally comedic talents earning nominations and often awards for providing the comic relief in a drama. Think Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, Octavia Spencer in The Help and Alan Arkin in […]

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Gravity

Last year I took on the Golden Globes for the first time, did my research and made my assumptions, and my predictions wound up with only 9 out of 14 winners chosen correctly. This year I’m going more with my gut. I’m also going to have a try with the TV categories since we’ve been covering more and more of that stuff here at FSR. We’ll find out how well I do in my sophomore effort when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association holds its 71st Golden Globe Awards tomorrow night with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting. You should join me then for as-it-happens updated coverage on this site. I’m not calling it a “live blog.” It’ll be more like a concurring review of the show and results. I can’t guarantee that my predictions are going to help you win any bets or pools, but I’ll offer a friendly wager with anyone who thinks they can beat my score. Gimme your best shot in the comments.

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2013review_trailers

What were the best trailers of the year trying to sell? Movies and moods and ideas and awards and stars and sexiness and just a lot of great music. And maybe, just maybe, something more (read: more movie tickets). Not every great trailer advertises a great film, but sometimes even the most lackluster productions can gift movie fans with two minutes of cinematic glory (all the better if said trailer can include Kanye West screaming or Nicole Kidman redefining “cold” or even the glories of street dancing) worth lauding all on their own. This year saw a vast batch of standout trailers, and while our listing of best trailers of the year is nothing if not varied, all of the videos contained within share one key element – they effectively conveyed tone and feeling without revealing too much about plot and characters. As mini mood pieces, these thirteen trailers nailed it, as bits of marketing, they made us want to buy and buy big time.  What were the best trailers of the year trying to sell? Oh, it doesn’t matter – we were ready to buy.

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2013review_critics

Before Midnight! Gravity! The Wolf of Wall Street! Fruitvale Station! The Great Beauty! Philomena! Frances Ha! Blue Jasmine! Spring Breakers! Nebraska! Dallas Buyers Club! The Wind Rises! Saving Mr. Banks! None of the thirteen critically acclaimed films above are on my list of the thirteen best films of 2013 below. Make of that what you will, but of the whopping 241 new releases I watched this year these are the thirteen that have stuck with me the strongest. That said, I did make a conscious effort to focus on U.S. releases for the list since I have a separate Top 13 for Best Foreign Language films. It’s been a fantastic year in cinema all around, and I could just as easily offered a list twice as long. Keep reading to see what I feel are the thirteen best movies of 2013.

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review american hustle

It’s 1978 in New York City, and Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is working hard to perfect the mother of all comb-overs. It’s an elaborate and time-intensive endeavor, but if he’s going to do it he wants it done right. He treats his businesses the same way, both the dry cleaning front and the illegal scams he runs on the side, and he’s a success because he works hard, does the job right, and never gets greedy. Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), his partner both in crime and in the bedroom, is a fan of v-necks and faux British accents, but she’s not too hot on Rosenfeld’s wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Trouble arises in the tightly-coiffed form of F.B.I. agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who busts one half of the criminal duo with the intention of coercing them into helping him take down some far bigger fish. Target number one is the easily corruptible Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) from the nearby New Jersey shore, but as DiMaso’s eyes grow at the thought of nabbing even higher profile targets the entire operation threatens to spiral out of control. It doesn’t bode well for Irving’s tenuously-constructed combover either.

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david-o-russell1

When assessing what present and future filmmakers can learn from David O. Russell’s ideas and practices, it really depends on which David O. Russell we’re talking about. Is it David O. Russell the mad genius auteur, who was as notorious for insisting on his vision as he was for getting in much-publicized spats with actors on set? Or is it David O. Russell the comeback king who, with this weekend’s American Hustle, seems all but guaranteed a third critically lauded and commercially successful film in a row? In several notable ways, the themes of David O. Russell’s films haven’t changed all that much – he’s still as preoccupied as ever with depicting various types of dysfunctional, untraditional, and ultimately affirming oddball “families” – but his filmmaking has changed greatly, a switch that he chalks up to lessons learned from the troubled shoot and reception of (the still-underrated) I Heart Huckabees as well as his unfinished film Nailed. Whatever you think of Russell’s films, he’s found himself in a position to speak about filmmaking from an encyclopedia of experiences (good and bad) and attitudes (egotistical to humble). So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the guy who got Bruce Wayne and Katniss Everdeen their first Oscars.

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goodfellastable

This week’s list of movies to watch is not inspired by a single new release, because there isn’t anything big enough out this weekend to warrant such a focus. Instead, I’ve got a year-end feature for you inspired by the entirety of 2013 in film. I can’t sum up every title released this year with only ten recommendations, but the movies I’ve selected are, I believe, the best representatives of the more notable titles and trends seen in the past dozen months. Most of the selections are familiar. Chances are you’ve seen more than a few. But obviously this edition has to involve more popular fare because they have to be influential movies to have informed so much of this year’s crop, even if unintentionally. Just take it as a call to watch them again, along with whatever you haven’t seen before, as a special sort of year in review of the most important movies of 2013 released before 2013.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

After years of anticipation, the wait is nearly over. Worry no longer: 47 Ronin is finally coming to theaters. The Keanu Reeves vs. CG monsters movie somehow wound up with a Christmas release, and it’s one of the most bizarre Christmas releases in recent history. Universal either has immense confidence in the film or is blatantly dumping the mega-expensive picture into a snow-covered grave. Thankfully, 47 Ronin isn’t the only movie you can see this wonderful Holiday season. If it turns out to be a dud, you can watch 47 Ronin director Carl Rinsch‘s collection of fantastic commercials and short films online for free instead, and if that still doesn’t do it for you, then there are nine other films for your must-see list this month.

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american hustle poster bradley cooper

During the production of David O. Russell‘s American Hustle, the public was been concerned with one thing, and one thing only: Bradley Cooper‘s perm. And rightfully so. Though the trailer and some stills have shown it off in context of the film, new character sheets are letting us get a look at the thing up close and personal, along with rest of the cast in all their seventies glory. American Hustle focuses on the infamous ABSCAM operation, in which a con artist (Christian Bale) and his mistress/partner in the scam (Amy Adams) are forced to team up with a federal agent (Cooper) to catch other criminals. But because this is the seventies, there is a whole lot of debauchery and side-boob going on to distract them from their goals.

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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