Posts Tagged ‘Amy Adams’

You know its a good year for cinema when we have not one, but *two* musicals in the Top 10. And not one, or even two, but *three* exclamation points in the Top 10 titles. But even if you don’t share my love for the powers of song of punctuation, there’s a depth and range to the roster of 2016 films that can not be denied, and that made for an excellent 12 in front of screens big and small (but preferably big).

Without further ado, the Top 10 movies released this year were:

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10. Nocturnal Animals

There’s just something about a classic tale of revenge, and in “Nocturnal Animals” we get two, simultaneously. In the more traditional sense there is the story of Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) who suffers an unspeakable tragedy and, with the help of a local lawman (the indispensable Michael Shannon), goes after those responsible. But Tony is actually is the main character in a novel by Edward Sheffield (also Jake Gyllenhaal) who has sent a manuscript of his work to his estranged ex-wife (Amy Adams).

“Animals” is easier to follow than that description suggests, but it is far from uncomplicated. Director Tom Ford is in no hurray to reveal the emotional manipulations at play, or to reveal explicitly the degree to which the two narratives should be viewed as connected. It’s a dark, violent and tragic story that leaves much to interpretation, with much to digest long after the credits roll.

 

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9. Hail, Caesar!

Whether it be “True Grit,” “No Country for Old Men” or “Raising Arizona,” you can always tell when you’re watching a Coen Brothers film, and it’s never *not* enjoyable.

Still, the brothers have made something special with “Hail, Caesar!” a winking tribute-slash-mockery of the golden age of Hollywood, when dames were dames and everyone was looking over their shoulders for the communists lurking among them.

It may not be the same high-drama awards bait of the directing duo’s filmography, but good luck stopping yourself from rewinding whole scenes to watch them again, be it Channing Tatum leading a  tap dancing send-up of “South Pacific” or the exquisite wordplay of the “Would that it were so simple” sequence between Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes (whose character name is, brilliantly “Laurence Laurentz”).

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8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Part coming-of-age story and part Odd-couple comedy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the quirky and endearing New Zealand-set comedy adventure you had no idea you so desperately needed this year.

Foster child and misunderstood “bad egg” Ricky is taken in by warm-hearted Bella and her rough-around-the-edges husband Hec. And after a series of unfortunate events and misunderstandings, Ricky and Hec find themselves the target of a national manhunt as they take to living in “the bush” and working to evade discovery by the authorities.

The chemistry between Ricky (Julian Dennison) and a delightfully crotchety Sam Neil is what makes the film work, as the hunt for the two runaways swells to surprising surreal levels. Keep an eye on director Taika Waititi, whose next project is the upcoming  superhero flick “Thor: Ragnarok.”

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7. Weiner

“Weiner” is the best political documentary ever made. Period. And it owes its alchemy to a fortuitous union of skill and circumstance, as a capable team of storytellers are given unprecedented access to their subject, who in turn manages to torpedo his entire life in front of the camera’s staring gaze.

Anthony Weiner clearly expected a different outcome when he granted the documentarians access, and for the first third you see the story that might have been: a down-but-not-out politician licks his wounds, gets back in the ring and defies expectations to become mayor of New York. But then another shoe drops, and another, and of course the audience knows that there are more waiting even after Weiner is forced to concede defeat.

But what really makes “Weiner” (the movie) something almost Shakespearean is the presence of long-suffering (and now ex-) wife Huma Abedin. An infamous introvert, she hovers at the edge of frame, her jaw set, tense, watching. When the inevitable occurs, it’s Abadin that keeps “Weiner” from being a punch line about a serial screw-up,  and instead a stinging portrait of a political family destroyed by poor judgement.

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6. Everybody Wants Some!!

In 1993, Richard Linklater made “Dazed and Confused,” an American Graffiti-esque film set in 1976 and following a sprawling cast of students celebrating the first night of summer.

Two decades later, Linklater has made his so-called “spiritual sequel,” which is set in 1980 and follows a college basketball team over the last weekend before fall semester starts.

Fans of Dazed will get exactly what they’re looking for, while newcomers will find an endearing and optimistic slice-of-life story about young adults in 1980s America. Like Linklater’s “Boyhood,” EWS is filled with small moments that find the dramatic beauty in humanity and average, everyday lives.

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5. The Lobster

And now for something completely different…”The Lobster” posits a world in which adults are not allowed to be single, to the extent that after losing his wife, David (Colin Farrell) is compelled to reside at a hotel and given 45 days to find a new partner or be turned into an animal of his choosing – in David’s case, the titular crustacean.

Split into two parts, The Lobster first looks at life within the hotel, with its bizarre customs, restrictions and pressures to find a soulmate at any cost. Then, after David flees, we see the other half of Lobster’s world, as our hero joins up with a nomadic gang of woods-dwelling fugitives who have one iron-clad rule: no coupling.

It’s bizarre, to say the least, and wonderful. With a cast of completely game actors (including Rachel Weisz and John C. Reilly)  fully committed to the absurdities of the premise and its execution, Lobster builds on its dry, often dark, humor to an ending that is perfect and disturbingly outlandish.

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4. Moonlight

*The* Roger Ebert often described film as an “empathy machine,” and of all of this year’s movies that role of the cinema is best captured in “Moonlight,” which uses three actors in three time periods to tell the story of a man’s life.  As a child, Little is a soft-spoken boy neglected and demeaned by his substance-addicted mother and taken under the wing of the neighborhood dealer. As a teenager, Chiron is bullied and beaten by his peers and strains to find his place. And finally as a man, Black has adopted the career of his childhood mentor, but seeks out an old friend from his younger years.

It’s a moving, and at times haunting, portrait, and a showcase of diversity. But it’s also understated, and confident. It doesn’t shout “look at me!”  but still results in a film that is impossible to look away from.

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3. Hell or High Water

Too few films are set outside of America’s coastal cities, and fewer still depict the people who reside in America’s heartland as actual people and not flat caricatures.

In Hell or High Water, brothers Tanner and Toby are pressured into desperate measures by desperate times. Their family’s ranch, despite sitting atop an ocean of oil, has fallen into the clutches of predatory banking. To save it, they launch a scheme to rob the money to pay the mortgage from the same banking institutions that have left them in dire straits. On their heels is Marcus Hamilton, a beyond his years law enforcement man circling the drain before he’s shown the door.

The relationship between the brothers is rich, owing no small feat to the capabilities of Chris Pine and Ben Foster (one of the most underrated actors of his generation). They wear their reluctance on their tired faces, and brace themselves against a gathering storm closing in around them.

And while there’s an element of cat-and-mouse as they get closer to their coal, the story never dips into fantasy. It feels real at every turn: real people, pressured into real decisions by the all-too-familiar realities of American economics.

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2. Manchester by the Sea

“Manchester by the Sea” is a heartbreaking, profoundly sad story about loss and grief. It’s also beautiful and inspiring. After his brother dies, Lee (a phenomenal Casey Affleck) is called back to his childhood home and tasked with looking after his nephew Patrick (an also phenomenal Lucas Hedges). But returning home means confronting old demons, and Lee struggles to reconcile his loyalty to his family and his own compulsion to put distance between himself and his past.

Manchester is a master-class of “show don’t tell,” with Affleck in particularly conveying more with his gestures and expression than even the lengthiest monologue could manage. Many sequences are practically wordless, and the mood hangs heavy, despite being punctuated by frequent instances of warming humor.

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester is the type of film where the seems of movie-making disappear, and you forget for a moment that you’re watching fiction.

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1. La La Land

Through three films together, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have crafted a level of creative chemistry unparalleled in modern Hollywood. It helps that both actors are independently charming, but their combined effect is something akin to fireworks.

Take that element, and add it to the showmanship of a well-made musical production and what you have is cinematic magic.

Stone plays Mia, an aspiring but as-yet-unsuccessful actress whose day job is serving coffee on a studio backlot. Gosling plays Sebastian, or “Seb” for short, a jazz pianist and musical idealist who rejects the dilution of pop. They meet, over and over again under circumstances that are delightful,  before a romance eventually blossoms, and in each other they find creative inspirations and motivations that position them at the precipice of either realizing their dreams or falling in defeat.

All of which is set against a backdrop of song and dance numbers that  embrace the old-Hollywood legacy of “Singing in the Rain” and “West Side Story” albeit with a concertedly modern setting and style. But this is not simply a light and breezy affair, concerned only with vibrant colors and Joie de Vivre (both of which, it has in spades). “La La Land” climaxes on a forceful musical number by Stone, singing a tribute to “the ones who dream” and then, in its final moments, the film presents one last pièce de résistance sequence that dazzles you before punching you in the stomach, leaving you wide-eyed, out of breath, and looking to find where your jaw landed on the floor.

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, the 31-year-old (!!!) phenom behind 2014’s “Whiplash,” “La La Land” exudes the confidence of a veteran filmmaker. But think on this, Chazelle has directly exactly 2 feature films, and it’s all-but-assured that both will have been nominated for Best Picture Oscars when this year’s list is announced (and it’s looking entirely likely that La La Land will score the statuette come ceremony night). If I were to have a complaint about the otherwise perfect film, it would be the nagging knowledge that its director is two years older than myself, which has the unfortunately side effect of making you feel inferior before greatness.

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The top 10 is finished. I have the films selected, ranked and ready to go. In fact, I was about to skip the Number 11 post entirely and go straight to the business when I was struck by the sentimentality of tradition and the memory that my finacêe made me insist that I acknowledge *her* favorite movie of the 2016 at some point during my year-end posting.

Luckilly for her (and me, let’s be honest) is that her favorite movie also happened to be the 11th best movie of 2016. And that movie is…

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Arrival

Director Denis Villeneuve is on a pretty impressive streak, with this year’s “Arrival” coming after last year’s “Sicario,” and both “Enemy” and “Prisoners” in 2013. I haven’t seen his earlier work, but if what I hear about “Incendies” is true, then the streak continues.

His film are difficult to categorize, and none more so than Arrival, which is ostensibly a science-fiction film about aliens visiting Earth but doubles as an examination of hope and the binding power of communication.

It’s also a showcase for actress Amy Adams, whose linguist and interpreter Louise Banks is the heart and soul of the plot. After a number of disk-shaped, hovering craft appear, Banks is scooped up by the U.S. government — along with Jeremy Renner’s mathematician Ian Donnelly — and given the task with communicating with the beings inside, a pair of tentacled forms that employ a written language of circular ink blots.

Beautifully shot and scored, Arrival is heavy on atmosphere, which hums in harmony with the largely abstract themes on screen. And in a year as divisive and rhetorically toxic as this one has been, it’s poetic — maybe fated? — and cathartic to watch a film that champions a rejection of competition and isolation in service of a greater good.

Optimistic and movingly heart-breaking, with an arthouse-quality production and craftsmanship, “Arrival” is the 11th-best movie of the year.

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Director David O. Russell has been enjoying an impressive run over the last few years. In 2010 he gave us The Fighter, which saw Christian Bale and Melissa Leo picking up Oscar statuettes and nominations for Amy Adams, his direction and the film itself.

He followed up The Fighter with last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, which not only made everyone stop and say “Wait, Bradley Cooper can act?” but also saw the impressive feat of landing a nomination in each of the 6 major Oscar categories (picture, director, actor, actress, sup. actor, sup. actress) and a win for Jennifer Lawrence, which subsequently led to one of the best acceptance speeches in Oscar history. (I should also point out that SLP was picked number 2 in that year’s Wood’s Stock Top 10).

And now we have American Hustle, which serves as a sort of dream team-up of Russell’s last two projects, uniting SLP’s Cooper and Lawrence (and a scattering of supporting players) with Fighter’s Bale and Adams and a side dish of Jeremy Renner and Louis C.K. It’s a late 70s/early 80s tale of corruption and con men that hooks you in its opening moments by passing from vintage studio title cards to a declaration of “Some of this actually happened” before landing on a bald and potbellied Bale who is laboring to arrange a comb-over that is, in the words of Adam’s character, “elaborate.”

Bale plays hustler Irving Rosenfeld who, along with his partner in crime/mistress Sydney (Adams), shakes down men desperate for a loan on false promises of financial assistance. “My fee is non-refundable,” he tells them, “just like my time.”

After the pair get pinched by an over-zealous and excitable FBI agent (Cooper) they’re given the choice of either doing time or helping take down other scum like themselves. Sydney wants to run, but Irving is held in place by the manipulations of his off-kilter wife (a hypnotizing Lawrence, clearly having the most fun of anyone in the cast) who uses their son as a bargaining chip.

So our Bonnie and Clyde reluctantly agree to help out, but Cooper’s wide-eyed agent has ideas bigger than his reach, and pretty soon the hustle expands to include a few politicians, a wealthy Sheik and a shadowy crew of knuckle-cracking casino mobsters.

American Hustle runs like a folk tale of bad people thriving and failing in the moral ambiguity of days gone by. No single character is completely hero, victim or villain, and throughout the two-hour running time allegiances shift and expectations are twisted.

The individual performances are superb, as Russell once again demonstrates his skill at creating interesting and dynamic ensemble pieces. Bale, as he does, disappears into his role while Adams and Lawrence spar as women simmering under the surface and Cooper rounds out the inner circle as an increasingly unhinged and drunk-with-ambition fed.

And Louis C.K., it should be noted, grounds the film as a jaded and practical superior to Cooper’s Agent Richie DeMaso. After his work in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, the people’s comedian is quickly establishing himself as an ace in the hole for understated supporting players.

In the hands of other directors, American Hustle could have descended into madcap comedy akin to 1986’s Ruthless People (which wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing), but Russell manages to carefully balance the tone and stakes so that the character’s actions become increasingly unbelievable while still felling 100 percent natural.

Grade: A-

*American Hustle opens in select theaters on Dec. 13 and nationwide Dec. 20.

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Despite his status as the most iconic of comic book superheroes, Superman has always been (in my opinion) a rather boring character. He is effectively indestructible and quasi-omnipotent – possessing super strength, super speed, x-ray vision, heat-ray vision and the power of flight to boot – and has been historically prone to feats that stretch the suspension of disbelief, such as reversing time by flying backwards around the earth or relocating the moon to combat a photo-sensitive foe.

He’s also a Boy Scout (in the non-political sense of the term) standing for truth, justice and the American way. That sort of metaphorical Manifest Destiny nostalgia worked in 1938 in the wake of the great depression and on through the years of the creeping Red Threat but in today’s cynical, hyper-connected, “there are no front lines” society, the Last Son of Krypton comes across as a little, well, quaint.

Enter Man of Steel, the latest attempt by director Zach Snyder to insert Superman into modern relevance. It’s a respectable offering, considerably more so than 2006’s milquetoast Superman Returns, making Clark Kent a stranger in a strange land (in this case, Earth) rather than a spotless idol. But at 143 minutes long, Snyder’s creation is both overly-long and unsatisfyingly-empty, jumping from one dramatic moment to the next without giving the viewer a reason to care before culminating in a dull, roaring bout of skyscraper-crashing fisticuffs between two seemingly immortal beings.

The plot begins on the planet Krypton during an elaborate and visually-enchanting prologue that sees a military coup led by General Zod (a fuming Michael Shannon) in response to wasteful leadership that has brought the planet to the brink of destruction. Jor-El, Krypton’s chief scientist, retrieves an item called the Kodex and ships it and his son Kal-El off to Earth to safe his race from utter extinction.

From there we meet a grown Kal-El, now the Kansas-raised Clark Kent, drifting hunter-gatherer style before finally ending up at a NORAD dig in arctic Canada where the U.S. government and Pullitzer-prize winning journalist Lois Lane are investigating a mysterious craft buried beneath the ice. Clark and Lois share a meet cute and a dose of Kryptonian exposition follows, followed by a time-consuming sequence of Lois tracking down the mystery man with the bulging biceps.

At this point you’re halfway through the movie before Superman dons the iconic red and blue suit and the villainous Zod returns, threatening Earth’s existence if Kal-El is not surrendered to him. His plan, we learn, is to rebuild Krypton from the ashes of Earth and he needs Kal-El and the Kodex to do so.

The latter third of the movie is consumed by a series of escalating skirmishes between the alien visitors, who relentlessly attack each other despite the rather apparent knowledge that no damage can be done to them.

But damage can, and is, done to the puny human ants that attempt to intervene and the structures they’ve erected. A very New York City-esque Metropolis is all but decimated in a sequence reminiscent of The Avengers, only without that film’s sense of fun or emotional tension. When the music stops and all is finally quiet, you feel more viewer relief than celebration.

Amy Adams, at 38, is an odd choice opposite the 30-year-old Cavil. Independently, each actor brings a fresh take to their respective roles but together the chemistry falls flat. Of the supporting cast, Russel Crowe’s stoic Jor-El stands out while the remaining characters have little time to do anything beside gape in wonder.

Man of Steel is burdened by the task of rebooting a familiar origin story. Snyder makes attempts at elevating the story, including a few interesting allusions to Plato’s The Republic and the just city, but much like 2005’s Batman Begins (which was directed by MOS producer and cinema-extraordinaire Christopher Nolan) the film is burdened in back-story but shows promise of future growth now that the requisite set-up is out of the way. It could very well end up being the weaker first entry in an otherwise strong franchise but for now, fans and newcomers alike will have to settle for a modern Superman that flies, but fails to soar.

Grade: B

*Man of Steel opens nationwide on Friday, June 14.

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