I decided to include the Critics Choice Awards to my list this year (mostly because I no longer have a job to go to during the day and it gives me an excuse to spend even more of my time watching movies.) Anyway, that means I have a few new catch up movies this week as well as some ones I saw in the last two weeks – my family was in town for Christmas this week (post to come tomorrow) so that isn’t as long of a list as it could be.
Anyway onto the nominees:
You all know that I love this story, and this was a remarkably faithful adaptation, and I cried and cried and cried. So much that the teenage girls sitting next to me and all my girlfriend’s in Chicago were questioning our sanity. (It also may have had something to do with the fact that we smuggled some beers in with us…) Anyway, Shailene Woodley is taking over the world, and, despite her disappointing views on feminism, I’m pretty happy to watch her perform in anything. And she does a great job of capturing Hazel’s sardonic, hopeful despair. Ansel Elgort seems a little slimy to me in real life, but he was adequately charming as Augustus. The scenes in Amsterdam were delightfully shot (and gave me total wanderlust), and the soundtrack is great – but the book is better.
This was hard to watch, I think especially if you have a sibling…but Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader have wonderful chemistry and are so comfortable with each other that you believe they might have grown up together. Hader especially surprised and impressed me, I don’t think I’d ever seen him playing anything other than a variation on a clown and he has a heavy story to tell here and he remains believable throughout. Luke Wilson, as Wiig’s unassuming husband, is perfectly cast as the blandest of ‘nice’ men, and it was nice to see him again (am I wrong that he had seemed to disappear for a while there). The other standout performance was definitely from Joanna Gleason as their flighty mother, she’s in one scene but she so perfectly conveyed everything about her character in five minutes. What I loved about Skeleton Twins was the way it resisted clichéd answers to difficult questions. Sure, they include a sing-a-long bonding session between the siblings, but it’s not like their problems go away the second it ends; they just have moments of happiness interspersed with the tough stuff and that was realistically portrayed.
I resisted seeing this for a while, but I’m not completely sure why. I love Inception and all the actors on this cast list, but something was nagging at me that I wasn’t going to like it. And I guess that it might have something to do with the fact that I’m not the world’s biggest sci-fi fan in general, because I think that stories tend to get a bit bogged down in world-building. Stop explaining how worm holes look to people who are supposed to be an aerospace engineer and tell your fucking story. Because this is a good story, and you have some of the best actors alive and you’re wasting their talents.
That being said, the characters all felt wonderfully human (even the robot playfully voiced by Bill Irwin) and the best moments of this movie are the parts about family and the importance and sadness of being parents and children. I especially loved Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck as the earth-bound children of a man on a mission to the stars. (But then again I love those 2 actors as much as I love any actors that are working today, so I would watch them do anything. And I mean anything.) Overall it was visually stunning, and emotionally affecting, but too damn long.
I can’t shut up about this movie. (Like I’ve literally tried to describe this briefly to 3 different people and ended up recounting the entire plot.) So I will try to avoid doing that, but I seriously loved this film – though it will make you want to avoid ever going on vacation with your partner or children ever in your lives. The basic premise: workaholic father goes on ski vacation with his wife and children, there is a controlled avalanche that seems like it may be uncontrolled, he panics and runs off leaving the wife to hold the kids. Then they deal with the fact that he did that. It seems at first that it is going to be about the varied ways that people can remember the same thing, but it’s actually more interesting than that. It’s about masculinity and partnership and family. In a lot of ways it’s a look at how we tell men to be one way until they are fathers and then suddenly there’s another set of rules (which is obviously also true of women, but I’m not sure if we talk about it in the same way when it comes to men.) The whole cast is really lovely the lead actor Johannes Kuhnke and the supporting couple (their friend and his much younger new girlfriend played wonderfully by Kristofer Hivju and Fanni Metelius) are completely compelling.
Also the Alps are gorgeous…
I don’t know why I never get around to seeing Wes Anderson movies in the theater (not counting the time my mom and I went to see The Royal Tenenbaums and walked out), but for some reason I always end up watching them months after the fact. So I’m sure that I missed some of the visual detail was lost on my tiny TV screen, but I still got the general dollhouse effect that I’ve come to expect from him. The cast was perfectly in Anderson rhythm – how had he not worked with Ralph Feinnes before? Overall, I had the same issue with this as I do with most Anderson films (other than Moonrise Kingdom of course) that it just never seemed to rise above feeling like a group of friends putting on a show as a lark. Which generally would be fine with me, except in this particular story is about rise of European fascism in the lead up to WWII so the confectionery atmosphere felt forced and mismatched. It is a fun movie on its own though, and it made me feel like Anderson should design a hipster theme park, his world is very inviting.
This one wasn’t great. I can’t exactly pin down why, the cast is good; the little boy (Jaeden Lieberher) is precocious, but not so much that you want to slap him; and Bill Murray dances strangely yet wonderfully to a jukebox playing “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane; and Chris O’Dowd plays an adorable priest/teacher…but it never really comes together into anything. I suppose it’s meant to be a “feel good story” but instead it feels like a cliché about how even jerks have hearts of gold. But sometimes old angry men who frequent race tracks and underpay their pregnant sex workers (played by the funny but trying too hard Naomi Watts) are just jerks not the “saints” hidden among us.
I haven’t read Cheryl Stayed’s book that this movie is based on, but seeing this made me really, really want to, so I guess that’s a plus. Strayed (as played by Reese Witherspoon) seems like a truly inspirational woman without feeling like she’s out of a Hallmark card, which is refreshing. The cast all does a good job, though the jumping timeline doesn’t do them any favors. I especially loved Laura Dern and Thomas Sadoski in the flashbacks. But I’m not sure that film is the best medium for this story. It feels like it’s the kind of things best told directly and though the mountains were pretty, her struggle got lost in them a bit.
I love the play Into the Woods, it’s one of my all time favorites from my favorite genius, so I had to release expectations for the movie. It was never going to be the same as the play, because movies and theater do different things. (I know they may seem similar but the liveness of theater really can’t be replicated in any other medium. Theater audiences are a part of the performance in a way movie audiences can’t be. But that’s a post for another time…) And I understand that they needed to condense some things, but I was sad that we had to lose “Ever After” and “Agony (reprise)” and the endings for some of the characters. That being said the parts that are in the film are very well done (the Agony sequence was hilarious) and Meryl Streep is a goddess. And I do think that overall the spirit and philosophy of the show was captured here, though it wasn’t quite as bleak feeling as the stage show. But the music is still some of the best I’ve ever heard and I’m glad that it’s being shared more widely with this adaptation.