Sunday, December 28, 2014

Holiday Releases Part 1

Directed by Rob Marshall

A baker and his wife encounter a witch, who tells them she'll grant them a wish to have a child if they can bring her four ingredients for a spell that will undo a curse put upon their family:  "the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold."  So the couple venture into the dreaded woods to find these items and, in the process we meet several characters from the Grimm Fairy Tales.  Each has its own story that intertwine in the woods.

Having not seen the Tony-award-winning Stephen Sondheim play this is based on, I was free from such worries as which songs were kept or which interpretation of the characters I might prefer.  A fresh perspective directly to the film.  It is mostly an enchanted affair, with an engaging cast and gorgeous production design.

James Corden and Emily Blunt are fantastic as the baker and his wife, who rekindle their passion while on this fateful journey through the woods.  Meryl Streep proves she is capable of playing just about any role, as the witch, which may not come as a surprise to most.  
I wasn't sure, after the over-hyped "August: Osage County" that this would be a worthy performance, but she performs in impressive and deliciously entertaining fashion.  Chris Pine gives an hilarious send-up of a conceited Prince Charming.  However, it is not without flaws.  Some of the musical numbers slightly overstay their welcome and the film drags a bit in spots as a result.  Yet when it soars, it really sings, and Rob Marshall's staging works quite well.  It may not reach the spectacular heights of Marshall's "Chicago," but it is nonetheless his best big-screen work since then.

Directed by Bennett Miller

An Olympic Gold Medalist, Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum) is approached by multi-millionaire John Dupont (Steve Carell) to help him form a wrestling team for the 1988 Olympics.  Grateful for an opportunity to do do more than make speeches at elementary schools, Mark takes the offer.  A friendship starts to form between the emotionally needy Shultz and the awkward Dupont.  It becomes apparent after several months that Dupont's real goal is to recruit Mark's accomplished brother - Olympic Gold Medal winner Dave - leading to friction between Mark and John, as well as between the brothers.  Eventually Dave does join the team as an assistant coach, although he is without question the true wrestling trainer, and this unusual arrangement leads to an unexpected tragedy.

A true-to-life story, "Foxcatcher" is a unique sports-driven drama in which the resentments simmering beneath the surface lead to events that are not overtly foreshadowed.  Yet we know something will happen, because of the uneasy imbalance of the personalities involved.  The cast is uniformly superb, although little is done with the appearance of Vanessa Redgrave as Dupont's scoffing mother, whose affection is greatly desired but never granted.  Steve Carell is very good here, as a kind of creepy, just-this-side of sane.  However, even though his character is a dominating figure, he story really belongs to Mark.  Mark is the person we witness this unfolding tragedy through.  His dilemma in trying to come out from under his brother's shadow, despite his own successes, blinds him to the kind of personality Dupont truly is, until it's too late.  And while it is mainly about Mark, the heart of the film is the brother, Dave, played by Mark Ruffalo.  He wants to give his brother space, but hates what is happening to him once he joins Dupnt's team.  It is through Dave that we see the bond the brothers share.  Yet even he gets snared into Dupont's world, and ultimately his efforts to save his younger brother do not end well.  A fine film.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

*NEW* Romance Through the Ages

Elsa & Fred (Michael Radford, 2014) * * ½
Widowed Fred Barcroft (Academy Award-winner Christopher Plummer) is a grumpy, anti-social old man.  Elsa Hayes (Academy Award-winner Shirley MacLaine) is an unpredictable, energetic woman with a penchant for embellishing the truth and dreaming of being Anita Eckberg in Fellini's "La Dolce Vita."  Of course, this turns out to be a match made in Heaven.  After a bit of prying and thawing, Fred is bouncing around happily in love, but comes to wonder how much he can trust his new flame.  With a veteran supporting cast that includes Academy Award-winner Marcia Gay Harden, Oscar-nominee George Segal, and Emmy Award-winner Scott Bakula, you'd think this might be something special.  Alas, even in the capable hands of another Oscar-nominee, director Michael Radford, this is a 
pleasant-but-unremarkable diversion.  It may have been better to release this as a cable TV movie.

The Way He Looks (Daniel Ribeiro, 2014) * * * ½
Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) and his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim) spend their afternoons wondering if and when they will ever be kissed by a special someone. Leo worries especially, because he is blind and doesn't know if that would hurt his chance at a normal relationship. When a new kid named Gabriel (Fabio Audi) arrives at school, he joins the two friends and takes over some of the help with walking Leo home in the afternoons. One night, after a drinking party, Gabriel swiftly kisses Leo, and he's not sure if it was a true kiss or just the drinking. Soon the three friends are at odds with one another, until they can resolve their feelings.
This is a sweet coming-of-age tale, based on a 2011 short entitled "I Don't Want to Go Back Alone (Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho)." While they both center on the changing nature of the trio's friendship, this expansion revises much of Leo's personal struggles. In the short, he was more dependent, while here he defiantly wants to explore a life without so many restraints, particularly from his protective parents. The performances are warm and the characters likable. A really solid tale about growing up and finding love. [Official Selection of Brazil for entry in the Academy Awards Foreign Language category this year, it is in Portuguese with subtitles]

Saturday, November 22, 2014

*NEW* The Theory of Everything

Directed by James Marsh

Films dealing with physical disabilities are not new.  Going back to dramas like "The Winning Team" (1952, about baseball star Grover Cleveland Alexander who had epilepsy) and "The Elephant Man" (1980, about Joseph, but called John, Merrick who may have suffered from a deformity known as neurofibromatosis type 1). These, and countless other films through the years, attempt to show how such illnesses have tested the will of talented or decent people.  Often these are derided as Oscar-bait and overly sentimental heart-tuggers.  Stephen Hawking's story is no different in this regard.  No doubt plenty of observers will have similar complaints about the new James Marsh drama "The Theory of Everything," which begins expanding from its limited release this week.

The film tells the story of Hawking's courtship and relationship with Jane Wilde, whom he meets at Cambridge University in the 1960's.  Based on her memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, we see how the brilliant cosmologist Hawking suffers his fate by slowly succumbing to the physical degenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.  Focusing on how the couple finds ways to maintain a sense of normalcy in their life together while battling this debilitating illness, Jane and Stephen share a loving home, have children and continue to encourage Hawkings' scientific studies.

As with all such situations, the burden is high for Jane.  She takes on the difficult task of caring for her husband while he eventually cannot move at all.  Her mother Beryl (played by Emily Watson, in a brief appearance) suggests she join the local church choir.  When she does so she meets the handsome widower Jonathan Jones (Charlie Cox), who becomes part of the family as a friend who helps Jane with Stephen's care.  There is an instant connection between Jonathan and Jane, which leads to speculation that something more is going on.  Eventually the talk sends Jonathan away. though the stage has been set for the Hawking marriage to dissolve, despite the love shared by the couple.  Understanding this dynamic, Stephen early on tells Jane he would not blame her if she were to stray, but her Christian background seems to have held her back from acting on this idea.  She later would marry Jonathan.  So, too, would Stephen marry his caretaker in later years.  Yet the two remained great friends.

The decision to focus on the marriage, rather than solely on Stephen Hawking's scientific theories may prompt some to criticize the structure as old-fashioned romanticism.  The theories about time and man's place among the stars is not ignored in the film.  In fact, it is given its due throughout the film, but the heart of the film is in the unyielding love that allows that mind to thrive.  Indeed, it is perhaps cliche to note that "love conquers all."  After all, though, Hawking was given only two years to live by doctors, and he is still with us at age 72. 

I suspect critics who hated Ron Howard's unabashedly sentimental "A Beautiful Mind" are bound to dislike "The Theory of Everything," but the acting in this film is impressive.  Eddie Redmayne, who broke out two years ago with a strong interpretation of Marius in the musical "Les Miserables," not only conveys the physical hardships but also the formidably disarming twinkle in Hawking's eye, the sense that this is a special man.  Felicity Jones, whose star rose with the film "Like Crazy" a few years ago, is tender and determined as Jane.  She projects Jane's love for Stephen with a sparkle, and is affecting as she attempts to grapple with the reality that she may not be in love with him anymore.  Their performances, and chemistry, is what you'll remember long after seeing the film.

Monday, November 17, 2014

*NEW* Birdman

BIRDMAN or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) * * * *
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

 A former movie star from a popular superhero franchise wants to make a comeback through the legitimate theater, but he is haunted by the decision to leave that lucrative career. The star's name is Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), and for this task he has chosen to adapt Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," a tribute to the author who once encouraged him.  As each day progresses closer to opening night, Riggan becomes more insecure about his ability to realize his goal and descends into a kind of madness where he battles his alter ego Birdman.

Meanwhile, the world around Riggan is also a wreck.  An injured co-star is replaced by Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a respected stage actor who appears intent on sabotaging the show.  Every time they have a preview, Shiner causes mischief by breaking character and questioning the direction of the production.  Shiner got the part due to his connection to the show's leading lady Lesley (Naomi Watts), and eventually trains his eye on Riggan's daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who is a recovering drug addict.  Riggan considers firing Mike, but his producer-lawyer and friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis) persuades him that this would be a terrible idea.

 Another area of discontent for Riggan is the growing realization that he hasn't been a particularly good father.  We come to suspect that one reason for Sam being part of the crew is to try to re-connect.  But he is still consumed by his need to prove himself as a true artist, a notion that is raised in a conversation he has with a theater critic at a bar one night.  She assures him that he is a mere celebrity, not an actor, and that nothing he says will persuade her to give his play a fair shake.  All of this distracts him from prioritizing, leading him further into a depressive state of wondering if his existence matters anymore.  To him, this play is his last chance at redemption for his mistakes.

Despite its downbeat themes, "Birdman" has an energetic style.  Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's camera swoops around corners and over buildings, helping to give the illusion, along with Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione's editing, of a long continuous shot.  This gives the film a feeling of freedom that more noticeable cutting wouldn't, creating an intimacy with the events unfolding.

The cast is uniformly impressive.  Emma Stone has a scene where she assesses her father's situation quite accurately, but seems to regret saying it immediately after.  Then another where she invites Norton to play an intensified game of "Truth or Dare" while perched on the roof of the theater above the city streets.  Edward Norton shows us a fairly complex character, outwardly mean-spirited but internally uncertain.  His interactions with both Keaton and Stone are compelling.

Then there is Michael Keaton himself.  The character he plays is fascinating, as it plays with our knowledge of Keaton's own career, but it also allows the actor to explore a range of emotions.  Riggan Thomson wants to prove he is more than what people expect of him, but is not sure if he can be.  Part of the reason the film works so well is that we actually care whether he succeeds or whether he succumbs to his demons.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

*NEW* Nightcrawler Review

Directed by Dan Gilroy.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Louis "Lou" Bloom, who has a great ambition to be a success, but is first seen pushing stolen construction merchandise.  He doesn't get much traction when looking for a job, until one day he discovers the world of freelance video journalism while stopped at the scene of a car accident.  So he gets himself a camcorder and a police radio scanner.

Lou learns that this works a bit like storm chasing.  In order to get the best footage of a crime scene, you have to race against not only police, but also rival freelancers.  A fast learner, Lou advances in this medium by selling his videos to a local news station director named Nina (Rene Russo).  Despite the more cautious attitudes of her crew, Nina senses a ratings opportunity in Lou's increasingly aggressive tactics, which include attempting to get the most graphic close-up images of crime and accident victims.  
Hiring an assistant, naive and money-desperate Rick (Riz Ahmed), Lou is in business.  As Lou and Nina enter into a dangerous pact, he profiting from her eagerness for better ratings, we begin to wonder just how far Lou is willing to go with his scheme.

Sensationalism in news has long been a topic of concern for people.  "Nightcrawler" uses this to its advantage by giving us a scenario where amoral people are willing to cross certain lines to get the most attention-grabbing headlines, no matter the consequence.  Gyllenhaal is superb at presenting Lou as a borderline psychotic without ever seeming to have evil motives.  It's quite a trick.  Rene Russo has her best role in years, playing a woman who is nearly as amoral as Lou but for different reasons.  They need each other to survive this seedy underworld of nightcrawling journalism.  This is one of the best films of the year.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


Directed by Theodore Melfi.

Bill Murray is a great actor. Today, many would agree with this statement, but when he started making movies, this was not the case. Misfires, such as "Razor's Edge" (1984) and "Where the Buffalo Roam" (1980) were offset by popular comedies like "Ghostbusters" (1984) and "Meatballs" (1981). Critics of that time would not have imagined the heights he has achieved since then in "Lost in Translation" and "St. Vincent."

Vincent MacKenna (Murray) is a cantankerous, anti-social person who comes across as kind of an even grouchier Mr. Wilson, of "Dennis the Menace" fame. Fortunately, we learn that this is not to be a one-note character as Vincent's new neighbors, a 12 year old boy named Oliver Bronstein (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher) and his mother Maggie (a very good Melissa McCarthy) force him -- through circumstance -- to gradually reveal his true nature. This story works well, but the film isn't perfect.

A subplot involving Terrence Howard as a loan shark, to whom Vincent owes a gambling debt, doesn't go anywhere. However, this side story is neatly disposed of in a well-handled seen later in the picture. Another part of the story that doesn't always seem to fit is the Naomi Watts character, a pregnant stripper/prostitute who has developed a close bond with Vincent. She sports an obvious Russian accent and seems entirely too nice at times, but Watts has fun with the role.

There is a really nicely done scene when Oliver's mom is confronted with his recent misbehavior at the religious school he attends. She begins very formally, but the meeting devolves into a sort of cathartic moment for her as she relates how difficult it has been to keep things together amid a contentious divorce. McCarthy earns the audience's sympathy in a real and affecting way here.

It's Murray's film, though, and his work here is as good as anything he's done. He straddles that line between likable and unlikable like an expert trapeze artist. This helps us to not only accept, but embrace, the final scenes when things all come together and Oliver uses a school project to show Vincent what his life's worth really is. Really a wonderful delight to watch such a pro at the top of his form.

Friday, August 1, 2014




This is a film that starts out as a meditation on existentialism and perceptions of who we are as people. Slowly, it focuses on a screenwriter struggling to write about these themes. In the beginning this is interesting, although one begins to wonder if it really belongs in the category of documentary.

Questions like "Are dreams real while we dream them?" and "What are you?" are placed before us as a precursor to a long, self-indulgent look at a man becoming unhinged by the search for the meaning of his own existence, trying to look at the world in a new way. The first section prompts us to think about how we measure our lives in terms of success, rather than on how we live. We ask ourselves if that should matter. People seek fame, fortune and power because they want to influence events, to shape our reality. Thus the question becomes, "what is reality?" The film touches on this theme of perception, and then largely abandons it to use the writer as a means of exploring the search for its meaning.

The rest of the movie uses optical illusions and heavy-handed dramatic measures, which reminded me of Terrence Malick. One of the things that frustrates me about films using existentialism as a theme is that they necessarily divert attention away from concrete thought and indulge in pretty imagery when there is no way to satisfactorily answer the many questions posed. Similarly, director-writer Gert de Graaff uses diversions like these to try and make sense out of his premise, which ends up being more frustrating than illuminating. Like a lot of Malick movies, when it ended I found myself with a sentiment of relief rather than catharsis.

 [Dutch with Subtitles]

* Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival Award 2000:  Best Documentary

* Rhode Island International Film Festival 2001:  Best Experimental Film

Sunday, July 6, 2014

NEW REVIEW: Life Itself


Many people knew Roger Ebert from his show with Gene Siskel, "At the Movies," which ran in various forms for 24 years.  When Mr. Siskel passed away in 1999, from complications following surgery for a brain tumor, Mr. Ebert continued the show with various other critics (finally settling on fellow Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper).  I can remember looking forward to seeing "Siskel & Ebert" every week.  They always had something interesting to say, often reviewed at least one movie you wouldn't hear about otherwise and, of course, the two of them just might get into a heated argument over their opinions on something they were reviewing.

Those days are long gone now.  Ebert tried to keep the show going as long as he could, even after he could no longer fully participate in the on-air presentation himself.  Siskel and Ebert remain the only film critics who successfully used the medium of television to bring their brand of criticism to national prominence.

The documentary Life Itself is a film begun by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) with the collaboration of Roger Ebert, and his wife Chaz, all of them understanding that Mr. Ebert might not be around when the final product was completed.  It covers a lot of ground, telling his story of growing up and becoming a journalist.

We learn where he gained his outlook on the world (dad was a hard worker and a Democrat; Mom was a housewife).  There are accounts of how his professional relationship with Gene Siskel evolved over the years.  Friends and colleagues tell us how deeply entrenched his alcoholism was, and how he could sometimes be arrogant or egotistical.  What's refreshing is that we see and hear Ebert, himself, on these subjects.  

There are funny and insightful stories, like the time he was doing a seminar on film and a student asked him why people should listen to him.  He simply stated he was appointed film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, and turned the question on the student by asking "would you want to listen to you?" Or his unlikely friendship and work with controversial film maker Russ Meyer, for whom Mr. Ebert wrote "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls."

Director James covers a lot of material, and weaves it all together with interviews.  What makes this film so moving, and even fascinating, is witnessing Roger Ebert in his final days after his own battle with cancer.  It is clear how loving and inter-dependent his relationship with his wife Chaz was.  How apparent it is that he struggled to make every day count, and mean something after all he'd been through, is very touching.  Life Itself shows us how one man led a full life and how valuable Roger Ebert was to the world of film.

NEW REVIEW: Snowpiercer


In the near future, a botched attempt to avert the effects of Climate Change leads to a frozen age where everyone but a select few survive.  These people live on a constantly moving train built like an ecosystem, with the 1% at the front and the poorest relegated to the rear.  (Yes, it's got a political message)

An eccentric buck-toothed woman (Tilda Swinton, The Grand Budapest Hotel), backed by uniformed guards, keeps order in this totalitarian system, assuring the people that "everyone has his place" in the society as determined by the designer of the train that runs on a global track through icy mountain sides and snow-covered land.   The people in the back of the train are beaten down by the guards, made to eat strange "protein blocks" and their children are routinely taken away for unknown reasons.  A band of self-appointed warriors, led by Curtis Everett (Chris Evans, Captain America), are planning a rebellion against these oppressors.

The plan is a risky dream, until it is discovered that the guards' ammunition seemingly ran out years ago.  This opens the opportunity for a fight to reach the engine in the front and take over the train. Enlisting the drug-addicted train security designer, Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho, The Host) and his daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung, After the Banquet) to help them open the various gates throughout the train. As they implement this plan and start moving forward, they find that each compartment is increasingly cleaner and richer.   We see train cars with pools, aquariums, clubs, and an especially odd one where children are taught that the people in the rear are terrorists.  Not subtle, true, but beautifully rendered imagery nonetheless.

The film does sometimes get a bit lost during its action sequences, which slow down the story a bit.  Every moment, every move, every intruding snowflake is lingered on for maximum effect.

One could question the purpose of certain characters, like a seemingly unstoppable killer who comes at Curtis and his crew along the way, or whether the ending featuring Ed Harris (The Truman Show) as the train's founder makes much sense.  But there's no denying that the production design, most of the acting and the unusual setting are imaginative and interesting.

NOAH: Available on DVD and Blu-Ray July 29, 2014


Darren Aronofsky is best known for smaller scale fare, like "Requiem for a Dream" (2000) or "Black Swan" (2010).  Now he's taken on an epic movie, based on a fairly brief Biblical story. 

Some will debate whether the film's approach is sufficiently respectful of its origins.  Aside from the odd appearance of rock people who were fallen angels banished to earth, the film does take on a spiritual tone.  However, Aronofksy seems surprisingly more interested in creating an action picture than in getting too deep into the meaning of the story.

A young Noah (Dakota Goyo, Real Steel) witnesses his father Lamech's (Marton Csokas, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) death at the hands of Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone, The Proposition).  Flash forward years later, Noah is married to Naameh (Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind), with three sons.  They are Shem (Douglas Booth, 2013's Romeo and Juliet), Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll, Fred Claus) and Ham (Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower).  The family also adopts a little girl whose village has been destroyed. 

One day Noah sees a flower bloom in an instant out of the ground.  He begins to experience harrowing nightmares of the world's destruction, and goes to his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs) for advice.  He is given a seed from Eden, which grows a forest within mere seconds, providing the material for the fabled Ark.  When discovered by Tubal-Cain, a stand-off occurs where a vow of revenge is made against Noah for refusing his men passage to the Ark.

As the time draws near to the flooding from his visions, Noah's family begins to breakdown in a series of arguments over whether they are meant to survive.  Ham wants a wife, but Noah sees the nearby camp settlement as a swarm of sin and forbids it.  Nevertheless, the son goes and finds a woman only to arrive at the same time as an attack by Tubal-Cain is in progress.  When the girl is killed, Ham blames his father, thus setting up a scheme by Tubal-Cain later in the film to take down Noah.  Meanwhile, Naameh pleads with Methuselah for help.  Her plea leads to the once barren Ila (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), their adopted daughter, to become pregnant by Shem.  When Noah learns of this he is furious, convinced that it is not part of The Creator's plan for mankind, and vows to kill the baby should it be a girl.  Thus sets up the finale, where a final conflict between Noah and his offspring stand-off, with Tubal-Cain attempting to use that as a weapon against him.

Noah is an ambitious action film, rather than a Bible story that happens to have action in it.  I think this is an important distinction, because the goal here seems to be to tell a fable with lots of special effects.  It is not, apparently, to tell the story faithfully. And you know what? That's okay.  Noah succeeds in being an entertaining movie.  There is a sense of spirituality in parts of the film, such as when Noah explains the creation of the universe to his children, but it's mainly in the service of action and effects.  As an entertainment, this is sufficient.  Chances are, you will enjoy the movie.  But it doesn't reach greatness, because it hedges its bets in order to reach the largest possible audience by toning down its religious origins, thereby losing some of the passion it might have displayed.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


NEW FILM REVIEW:  Jersey Boys ***

At first glance Clint Eastwood, director of Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004), would seem an unusual choice to make an adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical about the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons during the 1960s.  Yet, one looks at his resume to find he is also the same person who directed Forest Whitaker in the excellent Charlie Parker biopic Bird in 1988.  Movie fans also recognize that Eastwood is an accomplished pianist and composer, as well, often writing scores for his own films.  So, taking that into consideration, it's not so far-fetched to find this particular film maker behind the camera on this project.

The big-screen version takes its cues from its stage origins, complete with characters speaking directly to the audience to tell its story.  This gimmick shouldn't work, but somehow it does.  We are shown the story in flashback to the days when Frankie Valli went by his given name Francesco Stephen Castelluccio.  Like many singers of the era, Castelluccio was inspired by the success of Frank Sinatra, whom his mother took to see as a child at the Paramount Theater in NYC.  Along with his friend, small time hood and fellow musician Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) they form a band, but struggle to hit it big.  After a series of band names, and the addition of songwriter Bob Guadino (Erich Bergen), they become The Four Seasons and begin to have success with hits like "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man." 

In spite of this upward trend, the band begins to unravel, as Tommy jeopardizes the group's financial stability by secretly going back to his criminal tendencies and other personality clashes occur.  Some of these disputes are moderated, at Frankie's request, by local mob man and uncle figure Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken).  Added to this mix is Frankie's increasing neglect of his familial responsibilities, which weighs heavily on Valli when tragedy strikes.

None of these story elements are particularly new, as countless rags-to-riches musical biographies attest to, but there is much to be entertained by.  The film is colorful without being overly flashy, and touching without being overly sentimental.  Director Eastwood finds the right balance between musical enthusiasm and dramatic restraint.  It works.  The cast, many from the original award-winning stage production, offer convincing portraits of eager and ambitious musicians who meet that inevitable break up moment.  While some of that is cliche, the reason for the film's existence is the music.  Here the film offers plenty of toe-tapping sequences, and will likely leave the viewer wanting more.

Friday, May 23, 2014


Released January 28, 1958 in France; June 10, 1961 in the United States
starring Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Yori Bertin and Georges Poujouly.

Strong directorial debut from Louis Malle centers on a couple who have plotted to kill the woman's husband.  The act is carried out with precision by the woman's lover.  However, a loose end and a moment of panic leads to a series of events to unravel their scheme. 

The central characters, Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau) and Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) find themseves separated by these events.  Tavernier, having completed his deadly task, has found himself stuck in an elevator overnight while trying to retrieve an item from the scene of the crime.  His lover, Florence, is wandering the streets desperately trying to find him once their arranged meeting fails to occur. 

Meanwhile, a younger couple take the opportunity to steal a joyride in Tavernier's car.  Flower girl Véronique (Yori Bertin) and her trouble-making boyfriend Louis (Georges Poujouly) wind up on a strange adventure of their own, when they meet a pair of German tourists.  Having stolen the car, these adventures wind up piling on the deadly consequences.  In the end, that one moment of panic that began it all comes full circle as the police close in on the case of not one, but two murders. 

This is a fine film.  Mr. Malle creates tension, and Miles Davis lends a mournful trumpet to the proceedings.  I would recommend it to anyone looking for a twisty noir.

(In French, with subtitles)

Monday, April 21, 2014


FLASHBACK REVIEW:  Star Trek:  Nemesis (2002) **½

Despite the critical failure of "Insurrection," fairly strong box-office allowed for one more attempt at a Next Generation movie. It had been four years since the release of the previous entry, however, and Paramount execs had to have been nervous about what would happen to one of their biggest franchises.

The plot involves a coup in the Romulan hierarchy by a Reman called Shinzon (Tom Hardy), a military slave, who falsely offers peace with the Federation. It is revealed that Shinzon is actually a clone of Captain Picard, abandoned amidst a political shift in the Romulan society. He needs Picard's blood to survive, and will use any means to attain it.

This basic story could have made an interesting movie, I suppose, but the overall feeling is again of an extended TV episode. It lacks the personality and freshness of their triumphant "First Contact" adventure. Perhaps the constraints of the character story arches and the fact that so much was explored on the 7 season run of the crew's TV incarnation combined to make it difficult to expand on its themes for the big screen. In spite of a potentially intriguing villain and a major character's ultimate sacrifice near the end of the film, very little in this entry resonates for the audience. Thus it was the final Next Generation film. Another seven years would pass before the franchise would continue in the movies.

FLASHBACK REVIEW:  Star Trek (2009) ***½

Seven long years of speculation and waiting. Was "Star Trek" a dead franchise? Would the Next Generation crew get a chance to redeem itself? Would a new crew be introduced? Would one of the other numerous TV crews get their shot at the big-screen?

Well, the answer is this reboot by director J. J. Abrams ("Super 8"). The film seems to take us back to the story of the original crew, but we learn that time travel by the film's main villain Nero (Eric Bana) as well Ambassador Spock (once again portrayed by Leonard Nimoy) has created an alternate time-line. So while we see the beginnings of Star Trek unfold, there are fresh and new possibilities to explore. In this way, Abrams and the writers have fashioned a tribute and a reboot that also works on its own. For die-hard fans, this is like revisiting reliable old characters, but for new fans it is a great entry point into the franchise.

Certainly it helps to be familiar with the interactions of the characters in previous incarnations, but the structure of film does not require that a viewer be overly acquainted with them.
The cast is well-placed, and the actors give spot-on interpretations without going into all-out imitation. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban are absolutely Kirk, Spock and McCoy, while Zoe Zaldana, Anton Yelchin and John Cho are superbly cast as Uhura, Chekov and Sulu. Simon Pegg may not look quite like James Doohan, but he is instantly recognizable as everyone's favorite Starfleet engineer Scotty.

Then there is the villain, the Romulan Nero (Eric Bana), who seeks revenge on Spock for his participation in a failed rescue attempt that went haywire. He blames him for the death of his family, and in return wishes to have the Ambassador experience the same. He is a worthwhile bad-guy-with-a-sympathetic motivation for the story.

Another thing that works in this film are the action scenes, which were filmed with relatively little in the way of blue or green screen effects. Abrams insisted on using as many real sets and locations as he could, which adds to the feeling of reality. The music by Michael Giacchino is also well-suited, enhanced by a rousing arrangement of Alexander Courage's original Star Trek theme used during the closing credits. The film's makeup won the first-ever Academy Award for the franchise, while it also received nominations for sound, sound-effects editing and visual effects. Criddic also gave the film a win for makeup, while nominating it for Best Supporting Actor (Quinto), Film Editing, Sound and Visual Effects.  Let's hope this version of the series lives long and prospers.

FLASHBACK REVIEW:  Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) ***

Expectations were high after the wildly entertaining and satisfying 2009 reboot, one of the few Star Trek movies to ever flirt with being nominated for a Best Picture Oscar nomination (and maybe the first to be talked about seriously as a contender). It didn't make it, but it was one of the biggest box-office draws of the year and generally successful among the critics. I liked it a lot, too.

With an established cast and character relationships set-up for a sequel, returning director J. J. Abrams could just dive into the action in a prologue where we encounter Kirk and crew on a primitive planet where a mission sort of goes off script and Kirk violates protocol. Although mostly unrelated to the rest of the film, the scene does create a situation based on the personality differences between Kirk and Spock that informs much of what follows.

A Starfleet member is said to be behind a series of terror attacks and the Enterprise crew is ordered to take him out. Certain events make Kirk suspicious of the motivations behind the ordered mission and it is revealed that things are not quite as they seem.

This sequel is best experienced if you have little to no knowledge of plot details. Admittedly, that is tough to do with so much information out there, but I like to do my best to avoid knowing everything about a movie before I see it. In this case, it adds suspense and interest to several plot twists.

The film is, yes, darker than the first "alternate time-line" crew film. Having solidified character relationships in the first film, it frees the film makers up to take them in intriguing directions. The fact that this is almost as enjoyable as the first leaves me a bit concerned that J. J. Abrams is vacating the director's chair to helm the next "Star Wars" installment. Hopefully, whoever takes over can continue the momentum gained by this revitalized franchise.  "Star Trek Into Darkness" received Academy Award and Criddic nominations for Best Visual Effects.


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Star Trek: Generations (1994) ***

The Original Star Trek crew ended its run as a film series in 1991 with the surprisingly upbeat and entertaining "Undiscovered Country." Now the plan was to move the franchise into a new phase. A successful "Next Generation" continuation/sequel series had aired on television since 1987, and it was seen as logical that any new movie would include the characters from that show. Also inevitable was the expectation that the series would be passed on to the new crew in some way by combining elements of both the old and new series. The result was "Generations."

This film is a mixture of big-screen special-effects and small-screen story concepts. It utilizes the directing services of David Carson, who had done episodes of the "Next Generation" TV show, while three members of the original crew (Kirk, Scotty and Chekov) make appearances.

A mysterious energy ribbon causes an under-equipped USS Enterprise-B to go into a rescue mission, barely escaping the ribbon's power source. Unfortunately, Captain Kirk had gone to a lower deck to help with a technical problem when the ribbon breaches the ship's hull and it is assumed he could not have survived. Many years later, USS Enterprise-D rescues people from a solar observatory, among them Doctor Soran (Malcolm McDowell) who is revealed to be obsessed with getting back to the ribbon energy source, to a place known as the Nexus. Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), the ship's bartender and a "listener" tells Captain Picard the story of how the Nexus is a place of total peace that keeps you trapped by giving you the ability to be in any time or place for as long as you wish. They become aware that Soran poses a threat to thousands of lives through a plan to use a weapon to destroy stars and planets in altering the trajectory of the energy ribbon. Unable to stop Soran's first attempt, Picard decides to use the Nexus to stop Soran from succeeding in this plan, but realizes he needs help. So he enlists Captain Kirk, who has become trapped in the Nexus, to do battle one last time.

While this story-line is interesting enough, there are subplots like Data's quest to experience human emotions. This gets a little silly at times, with awkward jokes thrown into several scenes. The whole film feels like an extended TV episode, though the Nexus scenes have a nice dreamy quality and the Kirk/Picard meeting is fun. This marks the final appearance of William Shatner as Kirk.

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Star Trek: First Contact (1996) ***½

Now that the franchise had been handed over completely to the new crew, the expectations were high. Like series actors Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner before him, Jonathan Frakes (who plays Commander Riker) took the directing reigns.

The Borg, a half-machine/half-alien race encountered in the "Next Generation" TV series, have returned to take over the Earth using time travel. So the Enterprise crew must do the same in order to prevent the Borg from altering history by making sure that "first contact" occurs. With humor, exciting action set-pieces and good supporting characters, this entry is easily the best of the four "Next Generation" films. As in "Wrath of Khan" and "Undiscovered Country," it is clear that a compelling villain helps to make a good Star Trek film. This time, it is the Borg Queen (Alice Krige), a repulsive creature who controls the "Borg collective" and is eager to persuade Data (Brent Spiner) to join her in taking over Earth. Cunning and ruthless, but oddly seductive, she is among the best adversaries in the film series.

Jerry Goldsmith, working with his son Joel, wrote the score (as he did for "The Motion Picture" and "The Final Frontier"). The sets and costumes are diverse and interesting, and the effects are top-notch. Makeup team received an Oscar-nomination and a Criddic Award.  The film also received a Criddic Award for Best Visual Effects.

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) *½

Picard and crew discover that some factions of the Federation are planning an unethical violation of the rules in order to acquire a special radiation protecting the planet where a people called Bak'u live. This element effectively gives its people immortality. Corrupt members of the Federation have teamed up with the Son'a, a race of beings that require constant cosmetic surgery to keep from falling apart. The principle members of the Enterprise crew decide that the ethical questions raised by these actions outweigh any benefit the planet's elements might present, and seek to save the Bak'u from destruction.

After achieving great success with their second outing in "First Contact," the Next Generation crew faltered. For reasons unknown, the series under this crew never regained its footing. Much of the action in this film is ho-hum, the humor flat and it contains two romantic subplots that don't really work. One is between Commander Riker and Counselor Troi that is played mostly for laughs, and the other between Captain Picard and Anij (Donna Murphy), a Bak'u woman. Their relationship is sweet, but underdeveloped and ultimately doesn't go anywhere. The villians, played by F. Murray Abraham and Anthony Zerbe respectively, are pretty unmemorable compared with the Borg Queen or Khan. Overall, the film feels unnecessary and little more than a middling extended TV episode.


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) ***½

After the dark themes of death and revenge were explored in the second and third Star Trek adventures, the screenwriters decided to have a little fun with the next one.

The story this time deals with a gravitational crisis brought on by the extinction of humpback whales in the 24th century, threatening all life on Earth. So the crew of the Enterprise find a way to take a trip back through time to the modern-day (1986) San Francisco to try to rescue a pair of humpback whales to repopulate the species in their time. What results is one of the zaniest, lightest and most enjoyable of the entire franchise stories.

Having proven the doubters wrong with his work on "The Search for Spock," Leonard Nimoy again directs. The entire cast appears to be having a lot of fun with this goofy plot and the more humorous atmosphere. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Cinematography, Score, Sound and Sound-Effects Editing.

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) **

Okay, we know this one of the worst entries in the series. We know that, given the success of "The Voyage Home" with one its stars (Nimoy) as director, the producers went ahead and let William Shatner try his hand at the helm. Is it as bad as its reputation or has it been underrated? Well, a little of both actually.

The movie begins with a sequence showing Kirk (Shatner), Spock (Nimoy) and Dr. 'Bones' McCoy (DeForest Kelly) on vacation in Yosemite. It's a pleasant enough start, and thankfully brief as they are all called back to duty on board the Enterprise.

It turns out that a renegade Vulcan has lured the Enterprise crew into a hostage rescue mission under false pretenses and plans to hijack their ship to seek out the creator of the universe at a mythical planet called Sha Ka Ree. This Vulcan is called Synok (Laurence Kuckinbill), a half-brother of Spock. He has an ability to use the mind-meld to manipulate people's emotions to get what he wants, but has to compromise with Kirk and Spock when they refuse his propositions. Much of the plot hinges on discussion of what the meaning of this mission is and whether they would find what Sybok believes exists there. Once there, his elation turns to shock as he finds something more sinister than he'd imagined.

Apparently, the production was beset by many problems and budget cuts, leading to a reduction in available special effects and other materials. Director Shatner recalls his disappointment in his book 'Star Trek Memories' by pointing out how several planned effects sequences had to be reduced in scope to the point where he felt the scenes lacked excitement. By contrast, he also states that initial reactions to the film gave him momentary hope that the film could still be a success. Indeed, "Star Trek V" actually had the highest opening weekend of any in the series up to that point, but word of mouth and generally poor reviews hurt the film's run. He was never asked to direct again, although he has adapted his own 'TekWar' stories for TV. As it stands, this fifth entry contains some interesting ideas but never comes together as an engaging adventure.

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) ***½

After the failure of William Shatner's directorial effort on "The Final Frontier," the series went back to director Nicholas Meyer, who had directed the successful "Wrath of Khan" and helped write "The Voyage Home." All original series main cast members returned.

The Klingon empire is in crisis and a decision is made to offer peace with the United Federation of Planets. Skeptical, Kirk and crew reluctantly go along. Then the Klingon Chancellor (David Warner) is assassinated under mysterious circumstances, and Kirk is blamed. Sentenced in a trial to be banished on a prison planet, Spock and the crew must figure out what really happened and save their friend.

The mystery elements help give this sixth, and final, film to include the original Star Trek cast an atmosphere of intrigue that was lacking in the previous installment. Also, the knowledge that this would likely be their last voyage together seems to have made the cast more lively and engaged this time around. As with any good entry, though, the thing that makes this one special are the villains. In particular, a Shakespeare-reciting Klingon general named Chang, who is bent on taking the Federation to war in spite of his leader's wishes to give peace a chance. Veteran actor Christopher Plummer (who recently won an Academy Award for "Beginners") gives the role a more understated quality than might otherwise be expected (think of Lloyd's Kruge from "Star Trek III") and seems to have fun with his lines.

At the end of the film, the principle cast members' signatures are written across the screen in acknowledgment of the series' conclusion. They ended the crew's mission on a high note. The film was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories if Makeup and Sound-Effects Editing.  Criddic gave it nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Plummer), Costume Design and Sound.  It won for Makeup.


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) **½

"Star Trek" went off the air after a fan-letter inspired third season ended in 1969. There was a brief animated show featuring the voices of original cast members in 1973-74. In the following years, the series grew a loyal fanbase, prompting discussion of a new television series, to be called "Star Trek: Phase II." Due to the success of the films "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind" the project was shifted to become a feature film. The end result of a long process of luring back Leonard Nimoy to return as Spock, and endless script treatments, is this Robert Wise ("The Day the Earth Stood Still")-directed epic.

Visually stunning, with eye-popping special effects and art direction, the film offers little else. Its story centers on a mysterious mass of energy that is on a collision course with Earth. While the Enterprise tries to make contact with the alien entity, an energy source creates a probe that takes over a crew member to study the ship. After endless discussion and philosophical debating, Spock eventually decides to connect with this entity, now known to be a living machine, through the Vulcan mind-meld technique. These efforts lead to the final confrontation and resolution of the story.

Much of the fun of the original series was lost in the execution of this film, which deals with its philosophical issues of the meaning of existence and the creation of a life force with utter solemnity. It is not a bad film, but it does not really feel like a Star Trek film. Luckily, the financial success of "Star Trek-The Motion Picture" led the way for a long-running franchise that is still being produced to this day.

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982) ***½

Due to the financial success of "The Motion Picture," Paramount Studios was interested in releasing another film. However, the overall feeling was that the first story lacked real tension and pace. So there was some shifting of the power-players, resulting in creator Gene Roddenberry being replaced as a direct producer with Harve Bennett. Bennett viewed all original series episodes as research and came up with the idea to use an episode entitled "The Space Seed" as inspiration for a second installment.

In that show, a super-human being named Khan threatened the Enterprise and was banished to a deserted planet. For the new film, this character (played with relish by Ricardo Montalban) returns to seek revenge on Kirk (William Shatner) when he seizes a ship landed by unsuspecting crew members and escapes his prison.
 Much of the film's drama depends on the tension between these two characters, while a subplot involving Kirk's years-earlier romance and discovery of a son bring added emotional resonance.

In bringing this sequel to the screen, the film makers sought to improve the audiences participation by allowing the characters to acknowledge the passage of time. Kirk and his crew now openly grapple with their advancing age, leading to some nice exchanges between them. Also, there is more emphasis on battle scenes. By making these changes, and not dwelling too much on philosophical questions, the new film moves at a brisker pace. The success of "Star Trek II," though, lies in the superb portrayal of its villain. Khan is a character of great pride and a lust for revenge that Montalban makes memorable in his performance. In the course of battle with the Enterprise, this dynamic causes one major crew member to make a great sacrifice to save the ship. This will lead to the third entry in the series.

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) ***

Continuing where the "Wrath of Khan" left off, the title says it all. The crew of the Enterprise, led by Captain Kirk, attempt to retrieve Spock from where he was buried when it is discovered that he may be revived with a risky ancient Vulcan ritual. The crew runs into trouble when a cruel Klingon adversary named Kruge (a pre-"Back to the Future" Christopher Lloyd) shows up to find out about the project GENESIS, which was revealed in the previous film as a device that can change the make-up of any planet or moon. Used in the wrong hands, it can become a powerful weapon, so naturally enemies of the Federation would be eager to possess it. This conflict poses serious complications in the mission to recover Spock.

For this third entry in the series, Leonard Nimoy insisted on being hired as a director in return for reprising his role as Spock. While both then-studio chief Michael Eisner and creator Gene Roddenberry expressed doubts initially, the decision turned out to be a good one. Nimoy handled his duties well and the film is a worthy follow-up to "The Wrath of Khan." The tone of the story is mostly straight-forward, with few moments of humor, but that would be rectified in the next adventure.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mickey Rooney Tribute

(September 23, 1920 – April 6, 2014)

Born Joseph Yule, Jr., but known to movie-goers everywhere as Mickey Rooney, this mercurial talent was praised as one of the best by such luminaries as Cary Grant.  He began his career as a child in vaudeville, that fabled traveling theater form which lasted from the late 19th century through the early 1930s, and made his film debut at age six in the silent film comedy Orchids and Ermine
(1927).  He gained praise for his role of Puck in the acclaimed 1935 version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.  By the time he played his most famous role, that of the Andy Hardy in a series of popular films starting in 1937's A Family Affair, he had already appeared in numerous projects.  Among them were Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936) and Captains Courageous (1937), both starring child actor Freddie Bartholomew.

Mr. Rooney received his first Academy Award in 1938 for the Best Juvenile Performer, along with singer-actress Deanna Durbin.  The following year he was a competitive nominee for Best Actor for his role in the musical Babes in Arms (1939), which was one of several popular films in which he starred with the extraordinary Judy Garland.  Three additional nominations came for Best Actor in The Human Comedy (1943), Best Supporting Actor in The Bold and the Brave (1956) and Best Supporting Actor in The Black Stallion (1979).  In 1983, he was given an Honorary Award from the Academy "in recognition of his 50 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances."  Other accolades included a Golden Globe for Best TV Star - Male for his TV show "Mickey" in 1964 and an Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture for his portrayal of an elderly mentally handicapped man in Bill (1981).

Broadway came calling with a musical revue show called "Sugar Babies" in 1979.  The show was a surprise hit, running for three years and garnering Rooney a Tony Award nomination for Lead Actor in a Musical.  His co-stars included veteran musical star Ann Miller and TV actress Ann Jillian. 

Throughout the next few decades, Mickey Rooney kept on working.  He popped up in voice-overs for animated movies like Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989), the horror sequel Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991) and even a cameo in The Muppets (2011).  He also had major supporting parts in the family film sequel Babe: Pig in the City (1998) and the hit Ben Stiller comedy Night at the Museum (2006), which also starred veteran actor Dick Van Dyke.

Mr. Rooney's personal life was not as graceful as his film career, however.  He was married a total of 8 times, and fathered 8 children (and adopted another son from his sixth wife's previous marriage).  His final, and most lasting marriage was to singer Jan Chamberlin, from whom he was separated in 2012 over allegations of elder abuse.  He testified before a Senate Special Committee on Aging on March 2, 2011. 

Upon his death, a battle over his remains ensued.   Most of his children had been disowned in his will, leaving only his much diminished estate (estimated to worth $18,000) to a stepson.  His wife will receive his social security and some pension payments.  An agreement was reached about plans for a funeral, avoiding a nasty lawsuit.

Fans will remember Mickey Rooney as a tireless legend.  Mr. Rooney's final film, Night at the Museum 3 was released December 19, 2014.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Criddic's Winners 2013


1. Gravity
2. Captain Phillips
3. Nebraska
4. American Hustle
5. 12 Years a Slave
6. The Conjuring
7. Wadjda
8. Blue is the Warmest Color
9. Lone Survivor
10. Saving Mr. Banks


Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle

Greengrass was nominated for United 93 (2006). Russell won last year for Silver Linings Playbook. Payne and McQueen are first-timers in this category. Cuaron is also on his first as a director, and wins!


Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

DiCaprio is on his 7th nod, and won twice before for acting. Dern, Ejiofor and McConaughey are debuting. Hanks breaks his losing streak, 6 previous nominations, with a comeback performance as Captain Phillips.


Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring
Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Thompson has 3 previous acting nominations and one for writing. Blanchett has 4 prior nods. Farmiga and Gerwig appear for the first time, while fellow newcomer Bullock wins.


Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Daniel Bruhl, Rush
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Harrison Ford, 42
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

All first-time nominees! Ford narrowly missed a nomination for The Fugitive (1993) and has been on the BKM radar numerous other times, never managing a mention until now. Leto was on the "possibles list" for 2005's Lord of War, as was Fassbender for 2011's Shame. However, in his breakout movie role, Barkhad Abdi takes the prize. Interestingly, there has never been a repeat winner in this category.


Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station
June Squibb, Nebraska
Lili Taylor, The Conjuring

Lawrence won in Best Actress last year. Spencer was nominated for The Help (2011). Taylor gained a nod way back in 1991 for her lead role in Dogfight. Hawkins and Squibb, our winner, are new to my awards.


American Hustle
Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen has 3 wins in this category. Russell won last year in Adapted Screenplay. Jonze and Nichols are debuting, as is winner Bob Nelson.


Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Lone Survivor
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Winner Billy Ray had also been up for his screenplay of Shattered Glass (2003).


All is Lost
The Grandmaster
Inside Llewyn Davis


American Hustle
The Grandmaster
The Great Gatsby
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
12 Years a Slave


American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Lone Survivor


American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Lone Ranger


The Book Thief
From Up on Poppy Hill
Saving Mr. Banks
Warm Bodies

John Williams is the most honored nominee, with 24 total nominations (score and song) and 6 wins. Beltrami won for his "3:10 to Yuma" score in 2007. Newman is up for his 7th, and wins!


"Young and Beautiful" from The Great Gatsby
"Let It Go" from Frozen
"The Moon Song" from Her
"I See Fire" from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
"Please Mr. Kennedy" from Inside Llewyn Davis


American Hustle
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Oz: The Great & Powerful


All is Lost
Captain Phillips
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor


Captain Phillips
Lone Survivor
Pacific Rim


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
Star Trek Into Darkness
World War Z


The Croods
Despicable Me 2
From Up on Poppy Hill
Monsters University


Blue is the Warmest Color (Belgium)
The Grandmaster (Hong Kong)
The Great Beauty (Italy)
The Hunt (Denmark)
Wadjda (Saudi Arabia)


The Act of Killing
Room 237
The Square
Stories We Tell
20 Feet from Stardom

AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARD (Voted on by the public): Frozen


Gravity = 10 noms/ 5 wins
Captain Phillips = 8 noms/ 3 wins
Nebraska = 6 noms/ 2 wins
American Hustle = 9 noms/ 0 wins
12 Years a Slave = 6 noms/ 1 win
Frozen = 2 noms/ 2 wins plus 1 Special Award