And the Nominees Are 2015: Round 7

I’ve gotten to the point now where I’ve seen most of the “big” movies so I’m making my way through those ones that have later releases/are in my Netflix DVD Queue (yes I still have one). Also I’m back into the swing of school so that means less time for going to the movies, but I did get around to these 3:

A Most Violent Year

Maybe it was just the week of viewing I had last week, but I expected to be cringing and covering my eyes throughout the whole of this – but I was willing to go because Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac are two of my favorite actors working today. (And I didn’t even know I would be getting bonus Albert Brooks & Alessandro Nivola, whom I’ve loved since Junebug.) But despite its name I only had to cover my eyes twice in this movie. Instead of a bloodbath, it’s a real time capsule of a New York City that doesn’t exist anymore, and it captures the feeling of living in a violent place, with the barely audible news reports of daily murders, even when it isn’t directly affecting your life.

I never knew that the heating oil business was so cut throat, but writer/director J.C. Chandor does an amazing job of setting up the stakes and letting things unravel. At its heart this is (yet) another portrait of American masculinity in crisis, asking the questions; can someone in a dirty business stay clean? And when is violence ‘worth it?’ But what saves it from fading into all the other movies about what it means to be a good man this awards season is Jessica Chastain. She’s strong and vulnerable and scary as Hell as that clean man’s wife with a dangerous back story.

It’s also incredibly dark, somewhat in subject matter, but I mean visually. I’m sure Chandor was going for grit and ‘realism’ but sunny days aren’t that dark even when you’re dealing with gangsters.

Unimportant but the coat game in this movie is strong.

Cake

I read this review that made me think I was going to hate this movie and then about 20 minutes in I realized I was being completely unfair. Is this the best movie I’ve seen recently? No. Is Jennifer Aniston‘s performance as a grieving woman who suffers from chronic pain and definitely abuses opiates a shameless Oscar grab? Maybe. But honestly, who cares? Plenty of good art is made every year with that little golden man in mind. In fact, its role as a motivating force for creation of movies that aren’t about superheroes or sequels is the real reason I think the Oscars are still relevant. (Well that, and I like tradition, especially traditions that involve ball gowns.)

But awards aside (since Aniston’s grab was ultimately unsuccessful), this movie tackles a sensitive subject with sensitivity and balance. And thanks to Adriana Barraza as Claire (Aniston)’s long suffering house keeper it also has real warmth and humanity. That review I alluded to, calls this a glorified Lifetime movie, but I think that’s just straight up sexism. If a man’s physical deterioration is a worthy subject for art then so is a woman’s. Another assumption to debunk – people are saying Aniston is the only remarkable thing here, but nope. The supporting cast – Chris Messina, Mamie Gummer, Anna Kendrick, and particularly surprisingly to me Sam Worthington – are all deeply engaged in this really emotional story. It’s not perfect, certain scenes are painfully contrived, but it will make you feel.

The Lunchbox

It’s movies like this that make me really glad that I added the BAFTAs to me list a few years ago, because without its Foreign Language nomination, I’m sure I wouldn’t have heard of it, and it’s the best romantic comedy (sort of) that I’ve seen in a long time. The premise – a woman, played by Nimrat Kaur, cooks delicious meals for her indifferent husband in order to win him back but they get mistakenly delivered to a cold, lonely widower who’s about to retire – is unique and charming (and made me hungry. Why are all romantic comedies this year about food?)

I think I’d seen the man (Irrfan Khan) in something before (note: it was Life of Pi), and his gradual warming up is beautiful. (He’s not really mean, you see he’s just lonely.) But the real delight for me was discovering Kaur; at least half of the story is told by her expression shifting from despair to hope.

Award Show Round Up: SAG Awards 2015

I had a little trouble getting my live stream of last night’s SAG Awards so I initially missed the cheesy “I’m an Actor” opening (but it’s worth clicking that link and watching just for Robert Duvall and Zach Galifiniakis). Overall the show was the love fest it always is complete with tearful monologues about the art of acting.

In general I was really happy with the winners, including the early in the night wins for Uza Aduba and the ensemble of Orange is the New Black

And look at all 40(!) of them! I love how they included everyone in the nomination submission that’s rare and wonderful, and totally in keeping with the lovefest that show seems to be behind the scenes.

And speaking of things that make me happy – Shameless finally won an award:

My mom and I joke that we are the only people who are still watching Downton Abbey, but apparently it’s us and the membership of SAG-AFTRA:

(I had to include Rashida and Andy’s intro because it’s ridiculous…and I loved her glasses.)

I was really sure that Michael Keaton was just going to win every Best Actor award from here until the Oscars, but then this:

It looks like it might actually be a race!

Viola! Viola! Viola!

I just want to chant her name again: Viola! Viola! Viola!

Despite my previously stated feelings on both Boyhood and Birdman I’m actually not mad that the cast of Birdman took home the big prize last night. I think Boyhood is a better/more interesting film, but the acting in Birdman is really spectacular so I’m glad to see the whole cast recognized (though I could do without the round robin speeches in the future. Elect a representative, have them talk.)

Also watching Naomi Watts trip on Emma’s dress was the funniest moment of the night. (And Zach’s joke is a reference to the great Julianne Moore’s speech.)

And now the reason half of you are here – dresses! It was a really fun fashion night, lots of color and risks taken – so the list is a little long, but I couldn’t whittle anyone else out:

Julianne Moore in Givenchy Haute Couture (Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty)

Emma Stone in Dior Haute Couture (Photo Credit: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Lupita Nyong’o in Elie Saab (Photo Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Reese Witherspoon in Giorgio Armani (Photo Credit: Wenn/Kevork Djansezian/Christopher Polk/Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Keira Knightly in Erdem (Photo Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Rashida Jones in Ungaro (Photo Credit: Getty)

Felicity Jones in Balenciaga

Viola Davis in Max Mara (Photo Credit: Lester Cohen/Getty Images)

Emmy Rossum in Armani Privé (Photo Credit: AP Photo)

Andrea Riseborough in Escada (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Weekly Adventure: Romeo & Juliet from Austin Opera

I had never been to the opera before last night. In fact, I had completely convinced myself that I didn’t like opera, because…well it was never a coherent line of reasoning. It was based mainly on the fact that most pop culture depictions of opera are of the climactic death scenes where there’s always a soprano trilling away (which just isn’t my favorite type of vocal to listen to frankly), but even I knew that didn’t actually make any sense. So now that I live in a city where tickets aren’t Lyric expensive, I was excited to finally get over my strange prejudice against the art form.

And I totally did. The Austin Opera‘s production of Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet, was beautiful and moving and visually compelling. Miró and I had cheap seats, this was our pre-show view:

photo (77)Which meant that the principals (including my favorites Joyce El-Khoury as Juliet, Stephen Costello – who apparently is kind of a big deal – as Romeo and Luis Alejandro Orcozo as Mercutio) were all sort of little blurs, but what’s wonderful about opera is that really didn’t make much of a difference. In fact I loved being able to take in the whole scope of the stage and action (and read the subtitles. I know the story obviously but it was still helpful). The set and costumes were spectacular and I think the panorama would have been overwhelming if I was in the orchestra section. Plus we could see the musicians which was wonderful.

I don’t feel like I know enough about opera to really write a review of the production, but I know about Shakespeare so I can talk a bit about the adaptation. The Stage Director Douglas Scholz-Carlson mentioned in his program note that the story, which we all think of as a grand romance, is actually “more about the adults. Teens will be teens, but the adults need to grow up and guide the children to maturity.” And I completely agree. Lady Capulet (the most prominent parent character in my memory of the play) isn’t included in the score, but her husband is cast in a role in the first Act of jovial host, which in contrast to the bloody feud happening outside that is slightly jarring.

And more than anything, I have a lot of questions for Friar Lawrence. Maybe don’t secret marry a 14-year-old girl to a 17- year-old-boy. Maybe don’t giver her poison. Maybe just smuggle her out of to where her husband is. Maybe just tell her parents she’s already married. I don’t know these are just suggestions.

And to end on a serious suggestion – the show has 2 more performances at the Long Center and if you’re in Austin, you should go.

And the Nominees Are 2015: Round 6

There was a lot of shooting in the things I watched this week, with the (I hope obvious) exception of the first thing on the list. It was pretty upsetting, and I have at least one rant below, but generally they were well made upsetting things.

Paddington

I was so happy to go see something where no one gets shot or beaten and it was legit good. Not just cute, which I knew it was going to be, but actually great. Mostly because Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, and the lovely voice of Ben Whishaw as the titular bear, but also the story was actually a well thought out and nicely crafted tale of immigration and a gentle (it’s for kids after all) fable about the importance of getting over our fear of the unknown and welcoming the stranger. A delightfully English breath of fresh air.

American Sniper

I have a lot of very strong feelings about this movie, but they’ve been hard to summarize down into blog-sized portions, because I try not to be too political here. (At least in a partisan, addressing the “hot button issues way” – I’m never going to stop being personally political aka unequivocally feminist, pro Civil Rights for all, etc.) And this is particularly tricky because despite being a pacifist I try very hard to support individuals who choose to sacrifice their lives to serve our country. But this movie made me actually distrust that respect. It felt like an attempt to canonize Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), and instead I spent the whole time wondering what was really separating him from the Syrian sniper that is killing “our guys.” The way this movie tells the story of the Iraq War made me physically sick; portraying an entire race of people as “savages” feels dangerous and backward. I’m not saying terrorists are misunderstood. There’s evil in the world, but refusing to acknowledge that people on the other side also have loyalties and motivations beyond simple blood lust is not an interesting way to approach this story.

That being said it’s a well made movie, and Bradley Cooper is great (though frankly not Best Actor nomination great) & Sienna Miller was good in the woman who tells the man not to do the brave thing role (see the great Emma Thompson explain hat that means at the 11:40 mark in this video.)

The Honorable Woman

This miniseries probably shortened my life by a couple of hours given the amount of times it literally made my amount of times it literally made my heart race. An in-depth look at various nodes in the web of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (two sides doesn’t even begin to cover it) through the eyes of an idealistic business woman, Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is (as Gyllenhaal pointed out in her Golden Globes acceptance speech) at times powerful & at times vulnerable and at times honorable and at time vain. There are a lot of people to keep track of here (but don’t get too attached to any of them, chances are they will die in one horrific twist or another) yet they all feel like real people with stated goals and complex inner lives. (Though I really don’t understand why Nessa ever leaves her panic room.) It’s not for the faint of heart. but it’s brilliant.

True Detective

Another on my long list of brilliant things it took me forever to watch because I convinced myself it couldn’t be as good as everyone said it was… Well – it was that good, of course, a perfectly crafted blend of the pulp novels the name is stolen from and a philosophy class – somehow not ridiculous because Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are doing not only the best acting of their careers but possibly the best acting on TV ever (or up there anyway).

The mystery itself is both emotionally affecting and hard to follow and not as central to my enjoyment of the show as I initially expected. By the end I was quite content to watch Rust and Marty talk about the stars.

And the Nominees Are 2015: Round 5

I had a cold this week so I only watched a few things this week, but the last 2 were the most moving that I’ve seen this awards season so I’m glad they won’t lost in a long list of a post.

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Has Helen Mirren entered that Meryl Streep category where she just gets nominated every year she makes a movie? Because while there’s nothing wrong with this movie there’s nothing especially interesting or remarkable about it (or her nominated performance, except her French accent I suppose.)

I don’t want to seem too negative, it’s a beautifully shot, feel-good immigrant tale with a culinary bent and two charming couples, but I saw it six days ago and I couldn’t tell you any of the characters’ names…

Inherent Vice

For the most part this movie was the topsy-turvy strange combination of drug trip and hippie mystery that I expected based on the trailer. And Joaquin Phoenix, Joanna Newsom, and the previously unknown to me Hong Chau were all delightfully weird and at times even charming. But there’s one scene towards the end with Doc (Phoenix) and his “ex old lady” Shasta (played by Katherine Waterston) that frankly made me sick. The whole movie borders on vulgar, and nudity doesn’t bother me, but their reunion scene, where she nakedly provokes him to punish her for bringing him into her mess, felt misogynistic and violent in a way that was completely out of step with the rest of the film. It was very jarring and honestly the way the film asked me to continue to look at Doc as a goofy drugged out likable guy seemed to send the message that Shasta’s straying had provoked the brutality. I’m choosing to blame this on Thomas Pynchon, mostly because I tend to hate his fiction and I really don’t want to have to hate Paul Thomas Anderson – not just because I’ve never thought of him as a misogynist before, but also because it would break my heart to think of Maya Rudolph married to one.

Virunga

Hands down this is the most important movie I have seen in a long time. Before watching this I knew vaguely that there was unrest in Eastern Congo, but this film puts an excruciating human face on what is at stake there. Following the incredibly brave park rangers at Virunga National Park and the animals (especially gorillas) that they care for as they try to protect against poachers and rebel groups and the oil company (British company Soco) that is backing them to gain entry to the UNESCO World Heritage site to exploit its natural resources. At times, the hypocrisy and complete lack of human empathy that the filmmakers and Mélanie Gouby, a French journalist also investigating Soco’s actions in the Congo, capture on hidden camera from company officials and those they hire seem like they can’t possibly exist. (Seriously, at one point she catches their top man suggesting unironically that the only way to being stability to the region is to recolonize it, because Africans aren’t mature enough to rule themselves.) But of course this ugliness does exist and thanks to this movie it’s now impossible for me to ignore.

I’m inspired now to help Virunga in any way that I can and I encourage you all to watch this movie or educate yourself about the situation in another way. It’s on Netflix, it’ll wreak you, but it’ll hopefully inspire you too.

Selma

 It took an hour for me to stop shaking after I walked out of this theater. The Academy are incredibly wrong and frankly I’m angry that they didn’t nominate Ava DuVernay. She created a film that is emotional and heart-wrenching and makes the story of the march from Selma to Montgomery and MLK & others’ community organizing feel immediate and awe-inspiring. The performances are great and go so far beyond biopic aping, especially the also grossly overlooked David Oyelowo as MLK and Stephan James as a young John Lewis.

The “controversy” surrounding this movie is, in my opinion, completely inflated. LBJ signed important legislation, which this movie gives him full credit for, but it was the incredibly brave people on the ground, like Annie Lee Cooper (played by Oprah) and Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield), who was murdered by a state trooper, fighting for their rights in the face of violent, virulent hatred who deserve to be remembered for provoking progress.

This movie made me think about how prejudice and hatred work, about what motivates people on both sides of the line, and about how we can move forward now. We may lack a charismatic leader like King, but I know so many people who passionately care about justice, which is both heartening and sad in the face of the obstacles we as a society still face.

In other words this movie is difficult and galvanizing and really, really worth seeing.

 

Break Books

One of the lovely things about being in grad school is getting a winter break again. And UT in particular has a really long one (maybe a little too long honestly.) But it gave me plenty of time to read, which I didn’t do enough of during the fall semester. (When most of your work is reading it’s hard to relax with a good book.) Here’s what I got through:

photo (75) Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen

 I bought this at the Texas Book Festival and its bright yellow cover was calling to me from the shelf ever since. Part backstage gossip and part academic history Petersen expertly twines dishy details about, for example Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor’s friendship or James Dean’s obsession with Marlon Brando, with insights into the societal fascination with and condemnation of female sexuality or the power we give to the Hollywood system to shape what is “acceptable.”

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Image from White Paper Quotes. Click picture to check out their amazing Tumblr

Doesn’t that sort of hit you like a ton of bricks? Well that’s how so much of this book is. So beautifully crafted and lyrical that I had to stop to catch my breath at multiple points. It’s also heartbreaking and beautiful. Krauss deftly connects multiple narratives of love and loss and creation through literature and the energy of urban community. (If it weren’t for this post, this one would have been a Five Star Book. It deserves a longer write up.) Thanks to Victoria for the recommendation!

The Forage House by Tess Taylor

photo I wrote before (also in my Texas Book Fest post) about how moved I was to see Taylor talk about this book of poems, which are about her family and the frustration and sadness she felt as a white descendant of Thomas Jefferson that the archival record ignored his black descendants. We talk a lot about archival silence in my grad program, and I am so inspired by her act of creation rather than the despair I so often feel facing questions like this. This isn’t an easy book, but it’s a brilliant one.

The New Testament by Jericho Brown  

photo (76)I saw Brown read along with Taylor, and I highly recommend reading their books together too, because in a lot of ways they are addressing the same questions about race and oppression and what the Hell we (good people who are trying to make things better) are supposed to do now. Brown’s book is steeped in the violence he has witnessed/experienced as an African-American gay man in America and so it at times gets pretty bleak, but it’s also full of love. And that love made me cry, because he, aside from anything else, is a genius of a poet. (This also would have been and deserves to have a Five Star Book post all its own.)

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Aneurin Bayard as Richard III in The White Queen

On a much lighter and far less important note, this is a 1950s detective novel about a cop who after being injured in a previous book decides to investigate the case of whether or not Richard III killed The Princes in the Tower. Based completely on a very shallow understanding of history, and a slightly more developed sense of the political climate that Shakespeare wrote his Richard III in, I’ve always been inclined to believe that Richard gets a bad rap. This may have something to do with the way Bayard portrayed him in The White Queen, and the fact that in that ridiculous (and fun) miniseries he is part of one of the more likable couples, but Tey – through her injured, prejudiced against Irish, Scotch, and Welsh people detective – lays out a pretty good case that he was framed by Tudor era historians trying to prop up their patron monarch. Also it’s a quick read.

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

 This book combines a few things I love: voyeuristic glimpses into the lives of famous people, a look at how people work, and snark filled commentary from celebrities about how other celebrities live. It’s probably best read in quick bits, each entry at a time, because even though it was interesting after a while they started to run together, but if you like this from the nuts and bolts – how did they get started/through rough patches – parts I also recommend Meg Biram’s “GSD” series with female entrepreneurs and Lifehacker’s “How I Work” series.

Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit 

Julia sent this to me for my birthday in August, and I read bits of it all through the term, but once break started I sat down and plowed through. Those of you who know me know that I don’t drive, and I choose walking as my main mode of transportation, but before reading this book I always thought of it more of a choice not to drive rather than a positive. In other words I didn’t feel like I was actively choosing to be a walker rather than a passenger, but this book made me rethink a lot of things. It also made me want to go walking. Like across the country. Or across another country. It’s part history, part manifesto, part feminist lament, part environmental and civic planning outcry, part appreciation for the pleasure of a well-kept garden path. Should be required reading for all walkers.

I’m still working on Yeats’s anthology of Fairy and Folktales, a gift from my Dad, and hopefully I’ll get through at least a book this semester…but if not I always have the next break.

(For my thoughts on Henry V see my earlier post.)

Award Show Round Up: Critics’ Choice Awards 2015

I’ve never watched the Critics Choice Awards before, but last year it suddenly seemed to be on the awards season radar in a way I hadn’t seen before, so I added it to my list. In some ways I’m glad I did, there were some wonderful winners and speeches, but it’s also still pretty low-budget compared to the bigger shows. And I try not to be mean on this blog, but Michael Strahan was really uncomfortable to watch as the host. (And I’m not just talking about the strange male striptease opening.) I’m also talking about this:

 And this:

 Every time he came on stage I started to cringe. It just proves that it takes more than being charming to host a show well. Show hosting is its own skill. You’d think we would have learned this by now.

But there were some delightful highlights:

1. In a year when the Academy has apparently decided to double down on white men and their stories, I was very heartened by the feminist speeches, both last night and at the Globes on Sunday. And the show was worth watching because they gave Best Actress in a Comedy to Jenny Slate from Obvious Child!!! 

2. They invented an award called MVP for the person that was everywhere/made everything they were in better this year. They gave it (of course) to Jessica Chastain, who frankly could have won it any of the past 7 years in my opinion. Also her speech was (unsurprisingly) amazing:

3. Boyhood’s streak continues:

And Ellar Coltrane won Best Young Actor!

(Bonus from this clip you get a little taste of how awkward Michael Strahan was at hosting.)

4. Michael Keaton was great in Birdman, I can admit that despite my feelings towards the film. But I really don’t think he needed to win two Best Actor trophies in one night…That being said I did really like his second speech:

(That drumming you here was the Best Original Score winner also for Birdman, and it annoyed me last night as much as it did in the film.)

5. Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are giving Chris Pratt and Anna Farris a run for their “Cutest Couple in Hollywood” title:

And now dresses! There was a lot of weird bridal/gothic lace happening that I didn’t love, but there were a few standouts:

Reese Witherspoon in Lanvin (Photo Credit: Reuters)

Diane Kruger in Naeem Khan (Photo Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Jamie Chung in Yanina Couture (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Angelina Jolie in Versace (Photo Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Leslie Mann in Reem Acra (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Cover Chain vol. 1

I had this weird idea a couple months ago to make a playlist out of people covering each other’s songs in a chain. I was hoping to eventually connect back to who I started with (shocking to no one – I started with Hozier). I didn’t quite make it back around within 10 songs (even with the help of the amazing Covers Project) so instead I’ve decided I’ll just post lists of 10 until I make it back around. Enjoy!

So we’re starting here…

“We Are Young” by Fun. covered by Hozier 

“We Owned the Night” by Lady Antebellum covered by Fun. 

“Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons covered by Lady Antebellum 

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana covered by Imagine Dragons 

“Across the Universe” by The Beatles covered by Nirvana

“I Forgot to Remember to Forget” by Elvis Presley covered by The Beatles

“I Got a Woman” by Ray Charles covered by Elvis Presley

“Busted” by Johnny Cash covered by Ray Charles

“I’m On Fire” by Bruce Springsteen covered by Johnny Cash

“Fire” by Robert Gordon covered by Bruce Springsteen

And we end here (for now)

 

Award Show Round Up: Golden Globes 2015

Is it just me or was the crowd in the ballroom at Hilton last night really quiet? I know it wasn’t the most entertaining award show that has ever happened but it was strange to me, especially because there were some genuinely wonderful surprise winners and a lot of good speeches. My highlights were:

1. Amy and Tina’s opening monologue:

They held nothing back, and I was as slack-jawed as Jessica Chastain in this picture. I don’t know why they aren’t going to do it again. No one is ever going to be better at hosting this show than them. (Especially loved the Clooney and Joaquin jabs…and of course their refusal to soften their take on Cosby. They are my heroes.)

2. It was like they were giving awards away based on my picks!! Just a few examples (and yes a couple of these speeches might have made me cry while I rewatched them this morning…):

3. George Clooney has got this being a movie star thing perfected:

(And it seems he might not suck at being a husband either.)

4. I guess I need to start watching “Transparent” now:

(Also Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are my favorite – I can’t wait for their new show!!)

5. Boyhood! Boyhood! Boyhood!!!!!!!!!

And of course…people wore pretty clothes:

Emma Stone in Lanvin (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Lupita Nyong’o in Giambattista Valli Haute Couture (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

George and Amal Almuddin Clooney in Armani and Dior (Photo Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Joanne Froggat in Marchesa (Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBC via Getty Images)

Anna Kendrick in Monique Lhuillier (Photo Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Felicity Jones in Dior (Photo Credit: Splash/Getty)

Leslie Mann in Kaufmanfranco (Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBC via Getty Images)

Alison Williams in Armani Privé

Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan-Tatum in Carolina Herrera (Photo Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Also: Chris Pratt and Anna Farris win best couple ever:

She’s wearing Reem Acra and he’s in Tom Ford (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

And the Nominees Are 2015: Round 4

I can’t believe it’s already Globes night! And thanks to my inordinate amount of free time at the moment I’ve actually made really good progress on my list already this year (though of course it did grow with the BAFTA noms this week…) And thankfully some of the movies I saw this week were actually about women. (See last week’s post for my brief moment of despair at the masculine-centric film season we seem to be having.)

Chef

This is a feel good movie done right. Although the storylines are different when I got to the end of this I thought of St. Vincent, mainly because Chef succeeded where that movie failed in showing someone grow from a distant man to a warm loving one without feeling jarring. I think this works because you believe (or at least I did) that these are real people. Even Sophia Vergara who I often think acts like a cartoon, was delightfully relatable as a worrying mom.

I also really appreciated this take on technology and social media. We all experience it as both a positive and negative in our lives and it is shown here as potentially limiting and dangerous or a force for communication and community. Overall the movie just made me happy (and hungry).

Fun fact: this scene was filmed on South Congress across from the Homeslice 🙂

Big Eyes

This was a really unbelievable story, based on the truly remarkably weird marriage of painter Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and con man extraordinaire Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) who stole all the credit for his wife’s work for the decade of their marriage. Her collusion in the scheme can be hard to take at first, except that Adams plays her vulnerability amazingly well and I at least empathized with how trapped she seemed to feel.

Perhaps because it’s written by someone else, the movie didn’t feel too Tim Burton-y (which I was worried about), but it also doesn’t really feel as distinctive as he could have made it. It’s an ably done and at times heart warming biopic (and it does take on the struggles of being a woman in a patriarchical society) but it doesn’t rise about that genre for me.

Ida

I admit that at first I did not give this foreign language nominee the attention it deserves. It just felt so stark and bleak and foreign and I didn’t know quite what was going on, but then watching a scene between Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska), a young woman about to take her vows to become a nun, talking to Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik) a young jazz musician, outside of a club framed in the shot like they were on a vintage postcard I was literally taken aback by how beautiful the image was. The story is dark (and best discovered along with Ida so I won’t summarize it here), but the shots – particularly of Trzebuchowska’s face – are arresting and by the last frame I felt so connected to her. It was everything you could want from a foreign language nominee: complex, soulful, and wholly original.

Unbroken

Full disclosure: I haven’t read this book yet despite both of my parents (and a million book blogs) having told me that I should. So this is very much a review of the movie, which frankly, felt very old-timey. Not because it was set in the past, but because it reminded me of an old American myth making 1950s movie about good triumphing over evil. And, well, that narrative isn’t very interesting to me.

But you what is? Jack O’Connell’s face. I read this Reese Witherspoon quote recently about Matthew McConaughey having the kind of face you want to look at for two hours (or maybe 6) and it’s all I could think about throughout Unbroken. That boy has a Two-Hour Face and it gets literally starved, bloodied, and covered in coal in the course of Zamperini‘s horrible ordeal but it never stops being compelling.

The Imitation Game

 I can’t quite figure out how I feel about this one. Alan Turing‘s story is important and compelling and needs to be told more often. And it was told here in a moving way by a wonderful group of artists, but I wasn’t as blown away by it as others (including my parents) seem to have been. Maybe I’ve just reached biopic saturation, because seriously it is very well done. We all know by now that Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent, and it’s always a joy to watch him play the eccentric thinker. And I adored Keira Knightley’s take on Joan Clarke, the brilliant mathematician who had to pretend to be a secretary to appease her parents. But somehow I just connected more to the Radiolab piece on Turing from a few years ago, more than this full length movie…