Posts Tagged ‘Emma Stone’

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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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

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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.

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