Friday, February 28, 2014

Oscar 2014 Predictions: The Major Categories

I've made my guesses in the smaller categories: Now, I offer up my predictions in the Big Eight Oscar categories. So does my good friend Will Leitch and, as you'll see, we're in complete agreement, which is frightening. Adjust your Oscar ballots accordingly.

And, in case you missed it, here's my quick overview of 2013's actual best movies.

Joy Division - "Dead Souls"

Joy Division never did much for me as a kid. (Maybe I just wasn't angst-y enough.) But now, well, this song is a constant companion.

True/False 2014: 'Actress' Review

Actress is a documentary about Brandy Burre, an actress whose claim to fame was a recurring role on The Wire. Since then, though, she abandoned her career to focus on being a mother. The film follows her as she tries to reignite that career, but it's about more than just that. Director Robert Greene examines gender roles, ageism and why none of us (not just women) can have it all. My review is up at Screen International.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

My Interview With James Wolk

I had a really nice time talking to the perfectly amiable James Wolk, one of the stars of Mad Men and The Crazy Ones. For Backstage, we chatted about how his high school and college theater training prepared him for life as an actor. You can read all about it here. (And if you're looking for an extra excerpt from our talk, proceed here at once.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Oscar 2014 Predictions: The Technical Categories

You know those Oscar categories that nobody understands? Like Best Sound Mixing? For Deadspin, I took my best guesses about which movies will win those technical prizes. You can check 'em out here.

'Non-Stop' Review

Die Hard on a plane. Ten Little Indians in the sky. That's Non-Stop, which is just OK enough to make you wish it was lots better. My review is up at Screen International.

(By the way, I'm sure there's some joke to be made about, "Raise your hand if you're disappointed in this movie," but I'm too tired to come up with it at the moment.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Greats: Randy Newman

God bless Randy Newman. For my latest installment of "The Greats" for Paste, I turn my attention to the superb songwriter and film composer. How many folks can make a serious claim to being major artists in both movies and music? Not a bunch. Here's my essay.

My Best Picture Ballot for the 2014 Oscars

The Academy Awards are on Sunday. You know that. But what you might not know is that, for Best Picture, the Academy uses a "preferential process" for balloting. With that in my mind, here's how I would fill out my Oscar ballot if I was an AMPAS member. And, just so we're clear, these aren't predictions -- just my personal preferences among the nominees...

1. American Hustle    
2. Captain Phillips    
3. Gravity
4. 12 Years a Slave 
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
6. Her     
7. Nebraska
8. Dallas Buyers Club            
9. Philomena        

And, in case you missed it, here's my quick overview of 2013's actual best movies.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Harold Ramis, 1944-2014

“One of my favorite Bill Murray stories is one about when he went to Bali. I’d spent three weeks there, mostly in the south, where the tourists are. But Bill rode a motorcycle into the interior until the sun went down and got totally lost. He goes into a village store, where they are very surprised to see an American tourist, and starts talking to them in English, going ‘Wow! Nice hat! Hey, gimme that hat!’ ” Ramis’s eyes were lighting up. “And he took the guy’s hat and started imitating people, entertaining. Word gets around this hamlet that there’s some crazy guy at the grocery, and he ended up doing a dumb show with the whole village sitting around laughing as he grabbed the women and tickled the kids. No worry about getting back to a hotel, no need for language, just his presence, and his charisma, and his courage. When you meet the hero, you sure know it.” 

He smiled. “Bill loves to get lost, to throw the map out the window and drive till you have no idea where you are, just to experience something new.” And you? “Oh, I’d be the one with the map. I’m the map guy. I’m the one saying to Bill, ‘You know, we should get back now. They’re going to be looking for us.’” 

-- from Tad Friend's quite fine profile of Harold Ramis from 2004 in The New Yorker

I confess that I never considered Groundhog Day to be the masterpiece a lot of people did. That doesn't matter: Ramis, who directed and co-wrote that 1993 film, is a major influence on comedy. And not just in film: His smart/silly/sincere style can be felt in the early years of The Simpsons and Conan O'Brien's Late Night stint. And as an actor, he was one hell of a great wise-ass nerd. Rest in peace, Egon Spengler.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Dandy Warhols - "We Used to Be Friends"

In case you're wondering what I'm doing these days when I'm not writing reviews or watching movies, I'm catching up on the Veronica Mars series in preparation for the forthcoming motion picture. I never watched it at the time, so the whole thing feels like a long I Love the Aughts! special. Especially the theme song.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

'3 Days to Kill' Review

Even if you have two hours to kill, don't bother seeing 3 Days to Kill.

Har har har har har har har.

Seriously, it's not a good movie.

My review is up at Screen International.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Eric Church, 'The Outsiders' and Country's Rock 'n' Roll Attitude

Eric Church's The Outsiders came out last week, and today for Playboy I discuss the album in the wider context of how country music has transformed into the new rock 'n' roll. Rock is becoming more and more dull, while country actually seems more engaged in the wider world. How did that shift happen? Here's my column.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

'Child's Pose' Review

Who's got Romanian cinema fever?!? It remains my favorite national movement of the last decade, and the latest release, Child's Pose, is a fine addition. The winner of the Golden Bear at last year's Berlin Film Festival, this drama from director Calin Peter Netzer involves a mother trying to keep her son out of prison after he kills someone with his car. Certainly not cheery, but endlessly intriguing. My review of Child's Pose is up at Paste.

Monday, February 17, 2014

'Omar' Review

Omar is one of the five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at next month's Academy Awards. The movie opens this weekend in select cities and is the latest drama from Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad, who previously was nominated in this category for Paradise Now. To my mind, his films are ones you respect rather than completely love. I explain why in my Paste review of Omar.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Janelle Monáe (featuring Miguel) - "PrimeTime"

She's awesome, he's awesome, they're awesome together. Happy Valentine's Day, y'all.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cold as Ice: Sex and 'House of Cards'

For my weekly Playboy column, I turn my attention to House of Cards, which is back on Friday. Specifically, I dig into how the show depicts sex and love. It's a cold, cold world out there, people. Here's my column.

The Greats: Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese received his 11th and 12th Oscar nominations for The Wolf of Wall Street. (He's up for Best Director and Best Picture, neither of which I imagine he's going to win.) For Paste, I look back at the man's considerable career. But rather than focusing on his established masterpieces, I decided to spotlight some of his films that aren't as beloved, but should be. (Yes, this gave me another chance to rave about Shutter Island.) Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

'RoboCop' Review

At one point, Darren Aronofsky was going to direct the RoboCop remake. We can only wonder what that would have been like. I feel confident it would have been better than the one we got. My review is up at Deadspin.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Kanye West - "Through the Wire"

Next week is the 10th anniversary of The College Dropout, Kanye West's dynamic debut album. I still think it's his best record, which I argued here, but right now I want us to remember what it was like to hear its opening single, "Through the Wire," for the first time. Not knowing any better, I thought that's how his voice sounded, all garbled and mumbly. (Nope: It was the result of a near-fatal car accident, which he sings about in the song.) The playful cockiness, the ego, the clever wordplay, the killer hook: "Through the Wire" had it all, setting the stage for everything he's done since.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Defending 'Adore' and 'Labor Day'

Every year, there are movies that everybody else loves that leave you cold -- and there are movies that you quite like that everybody else thinks are terrible. My new piece for The Dissolve is about the latter phenomenon.

In 2013, I was a fan of both Adore (a.k.a. Two Mothers) and Labor Day, which puts me in a small minority. The other day, I started wondering what it was about those two movies that spoke to me in a way it didn't for lots of other critics. I think it has to do with their willingness to risk being mocked in order to tell heartfelt stories about intentionally inexplicable scenarios. Adore is about two middle-aged women who have affairs with each other's son. Labor Day is about an escaped convict who takes a mother and son hostage -- and ends up falling in love with the mom. Hokey, preposterous, melodramatic -- and yet, they worked for me. I explore my response to these derided films here.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

On 'Mitt' and Being a Loser

One of my favorite stories of this year's Sundance Film Festival happened the day before the festival. A few colleagues were in Park City on Wednesday, January 21, getting set for all the craziness that would kick off the following day. They went to the one major grocery store in the town to get supplies when they stumbled upon a guy shopping all by himself: Mitt Romney. Apparently, it was like spotting a unicorn: He was just there looking at bananas and going about his business like an ordinary guy. He was in town (I assume) because the documentary about him, Mitt, was premiering at the festival, but still there was something cheering and sweet about the image of Romney being normal. It was the one impression we never got of him from the campaign.

I thought about that a lot while watching Mitt, which isn't a great film but is an interesting one, particularly in how it examines the unpleasant phenomenon of failing. Americans aren't comfortable with losers: Mitt addresses the topic head-on. I wrote about that for Playboy.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman, 1967-2014

Whenever a performer I love dies too early because of what appears to be a drug overdose, I'm reminded of the final lines of Mike Royko's tribute to John Belushi: "I learned a long time ago that life isn't always fair. But it shouldn't cheat that much."

Philip Seymour Hoffman's death yesterday made me sad and angry. For Deadspin, I wrote about his enormous legacy.

Sundance 2014: 'Hits' Review

Somehow, I forgot to mention that I reviewed Hits while I was at Sundance. Actually, I'm not entirely surprised: It's a depressingly forgettable satire from writer-director David Cross. It's about the fact that we're all celebrity-obsessed morons. Nothing insightful there, which I detail in my Paste review.