Who To Root For In Sunday’s Academy Awards

•February 28, 2014 • 1 Comment

My hiatus from extended review writing sadly continues, but with the Academy Awards coming up, I wanted to reveal who I’ll be rooting for during the ceremony. These are not my predictions of who WILL win (which can be found right here, if you need to win your Oscar pool), these are ranked lists of my personal preferences. 1 is what will send me leaping from my seat and overflowing my champagne flute in celebration; the higher the number, however, the less I want it to win. Without further ado:

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

Best Director:
1. Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
2. Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
3. Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
4. Alexander Payne, Nebraska
5. David O. Russell, American Hustle

Best Actor:
1. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
2. Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
3. Bruce Dern, Nebraska
4. Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
5. Christian Bale, American Hustle

Best Actress:
1. Sandra Bullock, Gravity
2. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
3. Judi Dench, Philomena
4. Amy Adams, American Hustle
5. Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Best Supporting Actor:
1. Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
2. Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
3. Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
4. Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
5. Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress:
1. Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
2. Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
3. June Squibb, Nebraska
4. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
5. Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

Best Original Screenplay:
1. Her
2. Nebraska
3. Blue Jasmine
4. American Hustle
5. Dallas Buyers Club

Best Adapted Screenplay:
1. Before Midnight
2. The Wolf of Wall Street
3. Captain Phillips
4. 12 Years a Slave
5. Philomena

Best Animated Feature:
1. The Wind Rises
2. Frozen
3. The Croods

Best Documentary Feature:
1. The Act of Killing
2. 20 Feet From Stardom

Best Score:
1. Gravity
2. Her
3. Philomena
4. Saving Mr. Banks

Best Song:
1. “Let It Go,” Frozen
2. “Happy,” Despicable Me 2
3. “The Moon Song,” Her
4. “Ordinary Love,” Mandela

Best Production Design:
1. Her
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. Gravity
4. The Great Gatsby
5. American Hustle

Best Cinematography:
1. Prisoners
2. Gravity
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
4. The Grandmaster
5. Nebraska

Best Makeup & Hairstyling:
1. The Lone Ranger
2. Bad Grandpa
3. Dallas Buyers Club

Best Costume Design:
1. The Grandmaster
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. The Great Gatsby
4. American Hustle

Best Editing:
1. Gravity
2. Captain Phillips
3. 12 Years a Slave
4. Dallas Buyers Club
5. American Hustle

Best Sound Editing:
1. Gravity
2. All Is Lost
3. Captain Phillips
4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Sound Mixing:
1. Gravity
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. Captain Phillips
4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Visual Effects:
1. Gravity
2. Iron Man 3
3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
4. The Lone Ranger
5. Star Trek Into Darkness

Until I return full-time, please follow the following:
1. On Letterboxd, I briefly review every movie I see, even movies that aren’t new releases.
2. On Twitter, I tweet during nearly every work break I have.
3. On iTunes, I host a podcast called The Long and Late Movie Show, in which weekly we review all the new releases.
4. On Instagram, I post pictures of my dog and, on occasion, my own wacky hijinks.
5. Unrelated to cinema, I love college basketball and also take part in a weekly podcast called 2.1 Seconds to Madness, reviewing the previous week in NCAA hoops.

Thanks again for reading, everyone. I hope to be back very soon.

Russell

An Update With Good News, Reviews, and Apologies

•December 13, 2013 • 2 Comments

To my delightful readers,

Thanks to everyone who continues to check the site. As many of you know, I moved last year to Los Angeles to pursue a career writing for film. Within the last month or so, things have escalated here, momentum is in my favor, and I am aiming for shooting some of my own work in the spring. As exciting as that is, it means this blog has taken a backseat, and those who read it have gone without my recommendations.

Let me fill in the gaps of the last month or so of moviegoing with this: my Letterboxd diary. There, I update after every movie I see with some brief thoughts and a ranking on a 5-star system. No, it’s not the wonderful 4-kernel rating I’d perfected over the years… but until I get to update the blog, it will have to do. In a pinch, if you’re looking for my thoughts on new releases, please go there.

Also, rest easy: I shall hopefully update this blog with a slew of reviews very soon, including my usual list of Top Tens that I post at the end of every film calendar year. But if you were wondering where I’d disappeared to, and you were jonesing for some of my thoughts on film– now you know.

Please feel free to follow me on Twitter– http://twitter.com/russellhfilm– and ask me any questions on any recent film you may have. I’d be delighted to talk to you.

Thanks again for reading. I can’t believe I’ve had this blog for nearly five years. In all likelihood, I wouldn’t care nearly as much if I hadn’t gotten such generous feedback and donations over the course of the last year or so. I love you all.

Yours,

Russell Hainline

Mini-Reviews: Nebraska, The Wind Rises

•November 29, 2013 • 1 Comment

Nebraska:

Some of Alexander Payne’s post-Election work has struggled to find the balance between loving satire and outright mockery. About Schmidt, Sideways, and to a lesser degree The Descendants, have some lovely character work and keenly observed human behavior… only to then be undone by cartoonish moments and mean-hearted characterization. However, with Nebraska, Payne’s newest work, he finally figures out a way to satirize the world of his characters while never losing his affection for them. Perhaps the color film was holding him back, as the crisp black-and-white cinematography perfectly fits his tone. We meet Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an old man in Montana with a nagging wife (June Squibb), an underachieving son (Will Forte), and a dreary existence. Suddenly, he finds hope– he receives a letter from Publishers Clearinghouse that says he may have won a million dollars. Instead of replying in kind (he doesn’t trust the mail), he sets off to Nebraska to collect his money. After failing to convince Woody it isn’t real, his son decides to take him there himself, stopping briefly in Woody’s hometown. There, they see family, explore his roots, and his son grows to learn and respect more about his father. I’ve some familiarity with the Midwest, and I know these people: the men drinking beer and watching football, the women who know the business of everyone in town, the way that small news becomes big news. While it’s easy to poke fun at, it’s even easier to feel Payne’s love for this world, and the final five-to-ten minutes are a joy. This film has a small scale, but it feels big– it’s Payne’s best in a decade, easily.

Continue reading ‘Mini-Reviews: Nebraska, The Wind Rises’

Thor: The Dark World: Far From Dark, This Sequel Is Heavenly

•November 7, 2013 • 8 Comments

Marvel has figured it out. They know precisely the tone they want their films to have, and they strike their chord with masterful precision time and again. For those who like their comic book movies breezy, action packed, and, y’know, FUN (i.e. fans of The Avengers and Iron Man 3), I’m overjoyed to report that Thor: The Dark World is cut from the same cloth. New director Alan Taylor must have been like a child in a sandbox full of toys, as he fleshes out Asgard, Thor’s family and friends, and the Nine Realms with zeal and humor. This may in fact have more jokes per minute than any Marvel film to date, something fans of the first may be surprised to hear. Yet despite all the laughs and the big-time action sequences, the characters shine through. Hemsworth and Hiddleston continue to be terrific as Thor and Loki; they’re the beating heart of this extravaganza. Marvel hit a grand slam with The Avengers and nailed Iron Man 3, so I expect that there will inevitably be a film that drops in quality. This isn’t it: Thor: The Dark World is great fun.

Continue reading ‘Thor: The Dark World: Far From Dark, This Sequel Is Heavenly’

Mini-Reviews: Dallas Buyers Club, Ender’s Game, About Time

•November 6, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Dallas Buyers Club:

Dallas Buyers Club is a classic example of great performances happening to a good movie. Outside of the inspiring story itself and the main three performances, there’s not a great deal to praise, as Jean-Marc Vallee’s film suffers from a number of shortcomings often found in biopics. When we meet Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), he’s a boozehound, sexhound– every type of hound. He discovers from his doctor (Jennifer Garner), that he has AIDS and is given thirty days to live. Woodroof views it as “that homo disease” and doesn’t believe it.. until he remembers having unprotected sex with a heroin user. Upon realizing the current medicines approved by the FDA will not fix him, he travels to Mexico and stashes a ton of unapproved drugs that help extend his life. With the help of a transsexual named Rayon (Jared Leto), they attempt to give these legal drugs to those who need them… but the FDA interferes. It goes without saying the story itself is remarkable, but the film spends too much time focusing on the events and not enough on the characters. The few character-focused scenes we get are deeply moving, largely because McConaughey and Leto are remarkable. When they’re allowed to engage in actual conversation, the film soars, but too often the script reduces them to odd-couple banter. It’s a must-see for the caliber of acting work being done– it’s just a shame that Dallas Buyers Club teases you with the brilliant character-building scenes and gives you so relatively few of them.

Ender’s Game:

As someone who has never read Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel Ender’s Game, I can’t vouch for the the faithfulness of Gavin Hood’s film adaptation. I can vouch that, while the movie feels very watered-down and “studio-ized,” it made me want to pick up the book. The story is the real star of Ender’s Game, which contains plenty of cliched sci-fi genre proclamation dialogue (“The fate of the world rests in your hands!” etc.) and sleepwalking veteran adult actors, yet it never really sinks. Credit Asa Butterfield for being a likable main presence in the film, as Ender, the smart young lad and born leader in the coming conflict against an alien race who attacked Earth and plans to return shortly. His training ground, a kind of intergalactic paintball arena with floating geometric shapes, is compellingly realized, and the other child soldiers around him (including Academy Award nominee Hailee Steinfeld) are all charming if simple supporting characters. The story itself is heady, full of interesting moral quandaries and ethical dilemmas about soldiers, war, and self-preservation. It may be delivered in the safest and most palatable genre package possible, but it’s overall a surprisingly diverting experience. I’m unlikely to remember much, but I remember enjoying it– and when the writer/director’s last project was the abominable X-Men Origins: Wolverine, “forgettable yet enjoyable” is a better compliment than I was expecting to give.

About Time:

There are two Richard Curtis camps: there’s the camp that finds his brand of gooey sentimentality and foppish British wit utterly charming, and there’s the camp that finds it to be abhorrent manipulative junk. Put me in the former camp, as a proud owner of Love Actually on DVD, so I was excited for About Time, his newest venture with romcom-staple (and my personal celebrity crush) Rachel McAdams. We follow a young man (Dohmnall Gleeson) who discovers from his father (Bill Nighy, ever wonderful) that he has the ability to travel back in time. He can’t travel to the future, just backward– to relive days, or perhaps to correct small errors without causing too much of a butterfly effect. As one would expect in a Curtis film, he uses it for love, finding a way to win the heart of the girl of his dreams (Rachel McAdams) and make every moment of his life count. It’s all very life-affirming and charming and British, though I was rather surprised how plotless and sprawling it is. It’s Curtis’ messiest film, full of non-stop voiceover narration and very little sense of overarching forward narrative momentum. Do Gleeson and McAdams have chemistry? Of course. Are there plenty of one-liners to make you chuckle and plenty of achingly earnest sentimental moments to make you cry? Naturally. Will Curtis’ target audience (my girlfriend included) absolutely adore every frame of this? Undeniably. I was less taken by this than by previous Curtis entries, and obviously those who hate this brand of romcom would find this film akin to having root canals on all of your teeth simultaneously, but I can’t deny that it gets the genre work done, warts and all.

Mini-Reviews: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, The Counselor

•November 6, 2013 • 1 Comment

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa:

Bad Grandpa, the newest outing by Jackass star Johnny Knoxville, is about as surreal a movie experience as I’ve had and am likely to have this year. The film is a series of pranks played on passers-by in which Knoxville is a grandfather behaving poorly in public. It’s an 80-minute episode of Candid Camera with far more farts and scrotums. Whether you find it funny or not is ultimately wildly subjective (I found most of it unfunny, though the grandson made me laugh intermittently)… but its “funniness” has nothing to do with the surreal nature of my experience. I couldn’t get past the following: the key to these jokes is the audience never once getting lost in the “characters,” but rather remaining hyper-aware that that is Johnny Knoxville in makeup and we’re watching pranks being played. Yet the film every few minutes or so contains scenes of private dialogue, as if they’re encouraging us to get lost in these characters. The final ten minutes or so actually gets sentimental for its characters, complete with a montage of their fond memories. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why it works so damn hard to tell us a story when the humor requires us to remain removed. Would you ever watch a prank show in which the guys playing the pranks go off and have scenes by themselves, building their characters, tied in no way whatsoever to the pranks at hand? It’s a truly bizarre choice that I still can’t quite wrap my mind around. You likely know if Bad Grandpa will make you laugh or not, and a review won’t sway you one way or the other. I don’t remember laughing much… but I do remember feeling puzzled.

The Counselor:

I believe The Counselor is precisely the movie Cormac McCarthy set out to make, a faithfully realized rendition of his script. McCarthy’s outlook is bleak, his dialogue is novelistic and philosophical, and his tone is frigidly cold. Cold, novelistic, and philosophical are usually my bread and butter (see: my review of last year’s Cosmopolis), but excepting a couple of choice scenes and performances, I found The Counselor to be a tough sit– not just due to subject matter, but also execution. With the exception of Brad Pitt, who shines, I felt the actors had trouble balancing the need to find a character with the mouthfuls of dialogue they were sporting. Fassbender as the leading man is, strangely, a blank; intentionally so, yet when all we’re given from our main character is a bad accent and an absence of emotion until twenty minutes before the end, I strained to even remotely engage. Many of the individual monologues are quite lovely, yet when strung together, pacing became an issue, so the film wasn’t just cold, talky, and unpleasant, but also needlessly slow in its unfolding. There is undoubtedly an audience for this movie, particularly those who would simply love to hear McCarthy’s uncompromisingly dark philosophizing read aloud, and that alone makes me tempted to revisit it one day. However, chalk me up as someone who, despite generally digging McCarthy on page, can’t get with The Counselor on screen. Individual elements may shine, but the whole doesn’t add up.

Mini-Reviews: Sound City, Blackfish, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

•November 3, 2013 • 1 Comment

Sound City:

Sound City sits at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Not to say that this is the best film of the year (it’s not), or that it’s the best film of the year (it’s not); however, I can say this is one of the safest bets for enjoyment the year has to offer. Dave Grohl has created a loving portrait of the legendary music studio, which gives us an encyclopedic history without sacrificing character; the personalities are as important as the music, the why as essential as the what. It’s easy to make a documentary enjoyable by lacing it with sensational music from the 70s and 80s, but Grohl’s execution is crisp and his storytelling eye is sound– it feels like it was crafted by a veteran documentary filmmaker. Anyone with a passing interest in music is likely to find a favorite in the mix: Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Rick Springfield, and Nirvana are among the dozens who recorded there and are interviewed and featured in archival footage for Sound City. The final thirty minutes or so amounts to little more than Dave Grohl massaging his own ego; he buys an important piece of Sound City and invites most of the artists back to record music with him at his home. Not that this is a problem– a collaboration between Paul McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana is likely to delight nearly all who watch it– it just strays from the singular focus the doc had maintained up to that point. Regardless, Sound City is a must-watch for any music lover, and it’s one hell of a feature doc debut for Grohl. 100% well-earned.

Continue reading ‘Mini-Reviews: Sound City, Blackfish, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks’

 
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