Posts Tagged ‘Boyhood’

everybody-wants-some-ping-pong.jpg

Director Richard Linklater has made a career out of under-spoken, meandering films that beautifully capture a romanticized version of normal people and their normal lives. The easy examples are Boyhood, Linklater’s painstaking 2014 opus that chronicled the slow aging of its protagonist and his family, and it’s sister project, the truly perfect Before trilogy, which checks in on lovers Jesse and Celine once each decade.

But even Linklater’s more commercial films hew to this theme. School of Rock, still Linklater’s most – and perhaps only – mainstream project, dials up the silly with Jack Black at its center, but gives equal time to an ensemble of unknown child actor-musicians. And Dazed and Confused, the 70’s-set godfather of the One Epic Night genre, is a sprawling mediation of young adulthood populated by a cast that has since matured to A-list status (chief among them a pre-fame Matthew McConaughey, waxing philosophical about life, man, and coining his “Alright, alright, alright” catchprase).

Which brings us to Everybody Wants Some!!, (yes, *two* exclamation points) the “spiritual sequel” to Dazed that easily delivers on the promise and expectations of its predecessor. Set at a Texas university and following the campus baseball team over a single weekend — that magical  Shangri-La after students have arrived for the fall but before classes have actually begun — Everybody riffs on brotherhood, identity, love, competition, and like, *life*, man, all while the surface motivations of the characters are to get druk, laid, and win baseball games.

While centered on Blake Jenner’s Jake, a wide-eyed freshman pitcher in awe of college living, the film is carried by its ensemble, with clear standouts in Willoughby  (Wyatt Russell in the McConaughey  role) and Finnegan (Glen Powell) a fast-talking, self-determined Adonis whose name is likely a reference to his role as a sympathetic Fagin to Jake’s Oliver Twist.

Everybody is happy to take its time, slowly pulling in more characters and ideas as the team makes its way from party to party, stopping for a discussion over a round of beers before making a wardrobe change and heading out again. At all points the plot is in no hurry to get anywhere, and once those stakes are set Linklater is able to breath his usual tricks into the script, coming at you sideways with poignant and effortless ruminations.

And perhaps the film’s greatest trick is the way its captures its period setting, not with flashy and obvious callbacks to days gone but by removing preoccupations. The effect is bolstered by a roving attention to 80s music — disco, punk and country make key appearances — and the film’s reliance on lesser-known talent, making it all the more believable that this story was set aside for three decades and only recently plucked from a shelf.

It’s a continuation of a great streak by Linklater, who has made a movie that anybody would want. I, for one, want some more.

Grade: A-

*Everybody Wants Some opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 22.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

oscars

I don’t normally make Oscar predictions because I’m terrible at it. I’ve learned that my flaw is an inability to vote with my brain over my heart. So every year I watch my more level-headed friends do the victory dance after being crowned champion of our annual Oscar ballot contest.

But the Oscars are tomorrow, and I’ve been neglecting this blog since Sundance, so I thought I’d cobble together some thoughts on the big six races (because let’s be honest, that all we really care about).

Best Supporting Actor

Ever since I saw Whiplash at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival last January, I’ve been waiting for the well-deserved furor to build around J.K. Simmons. His turn as a megalomaniacal music instructor is explosive, fascinating and terrifying and despite excellent competition from Edward Norton and Ethan Hawke, the statue is his to lose.

Will win: J.K. Simmons

Should win: J.K. Simmons

Whiplash-Simmons-shouting

Best Supporting Actress

I’ve written in the past about my love for Boyhood, and I’ll certainly continue to do so in the future. But while that story centers on a child, it is really the adult characters that ground and sustain the 12-year journey and particularly Patricia Arquette.

As a single mother raising her raising her children and fighting through a string of lousy boyfriends, Arquette is raw, natural and heartbreaking. The story ends with the titular boy headed off to college with the whole world and his future at his feet, but the real emotional punch is Arquette, alone in a drab apartment with the better years of her life behind her.

Laura Dern and Emma Stone are both terrific in Wild and Birdman, respectively. And any time Academy-favorite Meryl Streep is in the running it complicates things, but Arquette has swept every award show so far and I can’t imagine her streak ending at the big show.

Will win: Patricia Arquette

Should win: Patricia Arquette

boyhood_hires_3

Best Actor

To me, 2014 was the year of Boyhood and Birdman, and since the lead actor in Boyhood was an untested child actor who was far from consistent over the 12-year shoot, that means 2014 was the year of Michael Keaton. He was already a good actor, but in Birdman we saw just how great he can be when handed the right material and director.

But, this is the Academy, and they can do some strange things sometimes. The Oscars love real people, like the characters played by every actor in the category BUT Keaton. They love physical transformations, like the nose Steve Carell hides behind in Foxcatcher or the ALS cocoon that slowly envelops Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. It also never hurts when a movie is both critically acclaimed and commercially successful, like the gangbusters business that American Sniper is doing.

I still think Keaton has the edge, if nothing else than because he’s a veteran actor who’s never been recognized before. But if Redmayne ends up on the stage tomorrow night I’ll be disappointed but not surprised.

Will win: Michael Keaton

Could win: Eddie Redmayne

michael-keaton-birdman

Best Actress

A lot has been said about how there’s not enough good roles for women in Hollywood, and this year’s Best Actress crop would certainly suggest that. Try as I might, I just can’t get excited about this year’s race. Still Alice? Two Days, One Night? I would imagine most people have neither seen those films nor even heard about them.

The smart money is on Julianne Moore, but if it were me I would give the statuette to Rosamund Pike for her work in Gone Girl. It’s not easy to steal the spotlight on a David Fincher film, but Pike (who has swam just beneath the surface of fame for a decade) delivers an Amy Dunne who is aggressive and vulnerable, sexy and repulsive. She also delivers the most memorable sex scene of Hollywood’s modern era.

Will win: Julianne Moore

Should win: Rosamund Pike

gone-girl

Best Director

Again, Birdman and Boyhood. Boyhood and Birdman. Either one could win either this category and/or Best Picture. But Best Director goes beyond making a great movie and what Richard Linklater accomplished with his 12-year passion project simply must be recognized. This is the category to do it in.

Will win: Richard Linklater

Should win: Richard Linklater

boyhood-richard-linklater2

Best Picture

I already picked Birdman as my choice for best film of 2014. It’s unique, inventive, daring and filled with star-caliber performances. It’s the kind of film that captures the magic of the movies and reminds you why you want to spend your time in a dark room in front of a glowing screen.

Boyhood is incredible, don’t get me wrong, but its power comes from its ability to capture the quiet simplicity of everyday life and its slow evolution over time. It’s normalcy, on the big screen, in a way that few other narrative features have displayed. But Birdman is fantasy, it’s jazz, and as I’ve said before, it’s darned fun to watch.

But that’s my heart talking. My head knows that Boyhood has so far earned more awards from the other guilds and that its somewhat rare for Director and Picture to split. I give the edge to Birdman, but that might mean another year of someone else’s victory dance.

Will win: Birdman

Should win: Birdman

birdman101514_1024

Read Full Post »

I’ve put this off long enough.

I love movies — I assume that much is clear. And I love recognizing good movies. There are few things that warm my heart like a friend telling me that my recommendations prompted them to seek out a new film.

Ranking movies, however, is torture, and especially this year was tortuous. But as Shakespeare said, brevity is the soul of wit, and a list of 10 films is much more digestible than an incessant profusion of cinephile fandom.

So here are my Top 10 films of the year, beginning with number 10. And bear in mind that almost every day I’ve changed my mind about the ordering of the top 3 and will likely continue to do so after I push “publish.”

rs_1204x744-140710123024-1024.reese-witherspoon-wild-trailer-071014

10. Wild

A good character study is hard to come by these days, but Wild paints an engaging and at times hypnotic portrait of a woman putting the pieces of her life back together after being shattered by grief. The movie, set in the isolated, wandering expanse of the Pacific Crest Trail, tracks Cheryl Strayed as she battles the elements and her inner demons through California and Oregon. Wild jumps between beautiful vistas and moments of tense menace as Cheryl encounters both man and nature on her quest, while giving us a glimpse into our heroine’s mind through scattered glimpses at her past.

fnd_mc_nightcrawler

9. Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler is, in a word, intense. As a morally ambiguous video-journalist capturing the nocturnal evils of Los Angeles, Jake Gyllenhaal creates a character that is a volcanic cluster of manic energy barely contained by a smiling, steel-eyed shell. But Gyllenhaal’s performance, incredible as it is, is only one of the many triumphs on which Nightcrawler can hang its hat. Director Dan Gilroy fashions a pulpy, lacerating examination of our blood-soaked craving for carnage media, making the audience complicit in morally ambiguous attempts to get that perfect shot of a crime scene or traffic accident’s aftermath. The movie starts on edge, stays there, and culminates in one of the most thrilling car chases ever captured on film, underlined by a pervasive sense of unease, and curiosity.

life-itself7

 

8. Life Itself

It’s hard to love movies without loving Roger Ebert, the celebrated entertainment journalist who approached film criticism from the perspective of the American public rather than the self-aggrandizing intelligentsia. His reviews were sharp, witty and thoughtful, offering constructive criticism when needed and effusive praise when deserved. And in Life Itself, we get more than some two-dimensional portrait. We see the fight against alcoholism, the petty squabbles with his on-screen partner Gene Siskel and the moments of depression as he battled the illness that took his voice and ultimately his life. But throughout his life, he remained a champion of film as an art, or as he described it — in one of my favorite quotes — as an empathy machine.

And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

gone-girl-DF-01826cc_rgb.jpg

7. Gone Girl

Can you ever really know another person? That’s the question at the heart of Gone Girl, David Fincher’s twisty, and twisted, adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller. At the heart of the story is the failed marriage of Amy and Nic Dunne, a pair of New York City journalists turned Southern suburbanites whose professional and emotional resentments toward each other reach a critical, and deadly breaking point. Fincher’s moody pallete, showcased in films like Se7en, Zodiak and The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo, proves perfect for Flynn’s tale. It’s a seedy tale of heroes and villains where every character is a little of both. If you haven’t seen the movie you’ve probably read the book, and if you haven’t done either then you’re just doing it wrong.

interstellar_holy_shit_shot.0

6. Interstellar

There’s only a handful of American directors with the industry chops to attempt a movie like Interstellar — a mega-budgeted original work of science fiction that would rather play with space-time equations than laser guns and explosions — and thankfully Christopher Nolan is one of them. Having earned his keep with the Dark Knight franchise, Nolan was given the keys to the kingdom to make his 3-hour epic about love, family, wormholes and 4th-dimensional extra-terrestrial beings.

For some, it was a little long in the tooth. For me, it was a hypnotic roller coaster ride, beautifully shot and elegantly constructed, that I never wanted to end.

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-580

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson only knows how to make films one way, and that either works for you or it doesn’t. The director’s hyper-stylized whimsy and dollhouse set design exists in a world that is pseudo-fantasy and often surreal. With Budapest, Anderson created one of his most expansive worlds, largely centered in a luxury hotel but more broadly in fictional pre-WWII Europe, and populated it with some of his most colorful and winning characters, none more so than Ralph Fiennes’ dedicated concierge Mr. Gustave H. It’s a film filled with humor, thrills and a fair amount of melancholy sadness, all placed within a visual masterpiece.

hero_Snowpiercer-2014-1

4. Snowpiercer

American cinema has long been fascinated with the end of the world, but few post-apocalyptic stories have created a vision of the end as simultaneously bleak, bizarre and fascinating as Snowpiercer, the graphic novel adaptation directed by Bong Joon-ho. In a world covered in ice, the last remnants of the human race inhabit a train perpetually circulating the globe, divided into a very literal caste system with the affluent and comfortable occupying the front — near the engine — and the huddled, starving masses populating the back — or “foot” as the deranged villain played by Tilda Swinton explains. The conditions lead to revolt and a slow and steady push to the front of the train, with each new car providing Bong Joon-Ho with an opportunity to create a fully encapsulated micro-world for our heroes to explore and fight through.

Put simply, there’s just nothing like Snowpiercer, which avoids stereotypicality at every turn, subverting expectations and leaning, full-tilt, into bonkers banana land. It may not be the best movie made this year, but I would say it’s the first thing you should make sure to see.

feature2

3. Whiplash

“There are no two words in the English language more hamful than ‘good job’.”

So goes the mantra of Terence Fletcher, the sadistic music instructor played to perfection by J.K. Simmons who berates his students into excellence in Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash.” Fletcher’s latest target is Andrew (Miles Teller) a drummer who just might have it in him to be one of the greats if he can push himself hard enough, or be pushed hard enough without breaking.

In Whiplash, first time director Chazelle creates a haunting story of master and pupil that vibrates with crashing intensity. Under his direction, Teller’s drum solos have more energy than even the most expensive Michael Bay action sequence. It’s an incredible feet for a young filmmaker, that suggests very interesting things to come and all but certain Oscar nomination for J.K. Simmons.

boyhood

2. Boyhood

Filmed over the course of 12 years, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a triumph of filmmaking that sees a family age and evolve literally before your eyes. Setting aside the technical achievement of the film’s existence, which can’t be ignored, Boyhood is more than just a gimmick. The story told, through the eyes of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is a beautiful, natural, soft-spoken thesis on life, from childhood fears to first crushes to the precipitous approach of adulthood. It’s a bold, daring project, that highlights what film is capable of as a storytelling medium.

birdman101514_1024

1. Birdman

You could talk a lot about the incredible performances in Birdman, from A-list stars like Edward Norton and Emma Stone to against-type casting like Zach Galifianakis to the central role of Riggan Thomson played to droll perfection by Michael Keaton. You could talk about the meta-commentary on fame, with a former superhero franchise actor making an artistic comeback by playing a former superhero franchise actor attempting an artistic comeback.

You could talk about the technical wizardry of the film, edited to look as though it was filmed in one continuous sequence, or the way it uses visual tricks to play with its surrealist elements, tip-toeing between what is real and what is imagined in the delirium of Thomson’s decaying mental state.

You could talk about the soundtrack, an at-times cacophonous jazz riff of percussion instruments that perfectly captures the frantic not-quite-right mood of the film.

You could even talk about the story, which revolves around the staging of a Broadway play and which gives you a peak into the interworking of the NYC theater world.

But really the only thing you need to talk about, and what ultimately makes Birdman the best movie of 2014, is how it’s just so much darned fun to watch.

 

Read Full Post »

First things first, this is not a comprehensive summer movie preview. If you’re looking for a full list of the upcoming releases I, for one, would recommend picking up a copy of last week’s Entertainment Weekly (look for the one with XMen on the cover).

Instead, here’s a short list of lesser-known films that may otherwise slip through the cracks of the big-budget action tentpoles that make up the majority of the summer season. And to be clear, we here at Wood’s Stock love big-budget action tentpoles and are giddy with excitement over Guardians of the Galaxy, pleasantly curious about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, anxiously optimistic about The Edge of Tomorrow and are really, really, hoping we don’t get burned again by Godzilla.

But a cinematic diet that consists entirely of popcorn is unhealthy, so here’s some pallette cleansing comedies and independent films to keep an eye on over the next four months. *Note* unlike last year, the summer indie films have been slow to put out their theatrical trailers. Throw me a frickin bone, amirite?

Boyhood

In the latest film from Richard Linklater, the director of the ‘Before’ trilogy, we see the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he ages from a young boy to a young man. This isn’t achieved by clever casting or digital trickery a la Benjamin Button, it’s the result of an ambitious strategy that saw the cast and crew of Boyhood reunite intermittently  to film the movie over the space of 12 years, literally capturing the passage of time.

It’s a gimmick, to be sure, but one that by most accounts has been combined with a thoughtful, emotional script to pay of large dividends as a singularly unique cinematic experience. And if anyone can pull it off it’s Linklater, who has proved with the Before films a penchant for storytelling that appears effortlessly natural, mining the seeming mundanities of everyday relationships for dramatic gold.

Also, bonus points for using Family of the Year’s “Hero” for the trailer track (hey, didn’t One Wood Uke cover that once?)

Boyhood opens in limited release on July 11

17

Magic in the Moonlight

In keeping with director Woody Allen’s style, relatively little is known about Magic in the Moonlight, which is set in 1920’s France and stars Emma Stone and Colin Firth and oh, who am I kidding, I’m already sold.

The latest scandal notwithstanding, Allen has been on fire the last few years. Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine were phenomenal and the relatively meh reception toward To Rome With Love seems, in hindsight, to have been a classic case of too-high expectations. Also remember when I said Emma Stone and Colin Firth? and Woody Allen? AND FRANCE?

Magic in the Moonlight opens on July 25.

The Fault in our Stars

You’ve probably already read the book, and if you haven’t then you’ve probably been told innumerable times by your YA-reading friends that OMG YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK OMG SO SAD SO GOOD I JUST CAN’T RIGHT NOW!

Frankly, I didn’t love it, but I recognize the appeal and I’ve said many times before that while I’m not personally drawn to YA literature I nonetheless appreciate the film adaptations it inspires (see: Nick and Norah, Perks, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Spectacular Now, etc.).

‘Fault’ stars it-girl Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as two cancer-stricken teens who meet in a support group, fall helplessly into young love and then, well you can probably guess but it’s all about the journey or something, right? The script and the book it’s based on were both written by John Green, who is something of a deity among YA circles, so fans shouldn’t have much to worry about and newcomers should bring tissues.

‘Fault’ opens on June 6.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

I’ve always had a soft spot for the humor of Seth McFarlane, which bounces between high-brow and low-brow gags that trade crass vulgarity and dry wit in equal measure (the horrendous CBS sitcom ‘Dads’ being the exception that proves the rule). Take, for example, the much-discussed “We Saw Your Boobs” number during last year’s Oscars. It either perpetuated Hollywood sexism and male gaze or it actually subverted Hollywood sexism by criticizing male gaze, but still delivered an impressively-staged piece of musical theater that benefited from McFarlane’s natural aptitude for showtunes.

And now there’s ‘West,’ McFarlane’s live-action follow-up to the funnier-than-it-had-any-right-to-be ‘Ted.’ Only this time, instead of inhabiting a stuffed animal, McFarlane’s actual face will appear on the big screen as Albert, a wise guy ahead of his time living in the American West circa 1882. The plot has something to do with Albert being challenged by a gunslinger (Liam Neeson, natch!) and wooing Charlie Theron, but it’s safe to assume that “plot” will be frequently set aside in service of comedic vignettes that largely revolve around accidental and unnecessary death.

A Million Ways to Die in the West opens on May 30.

Read Full Post »