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Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler

While you were sleeping, Jake Gyllenhaal was out
there being creepy

dir: Dan Gilroy

2014

For me at least, after watching this film, it’s been confirmed, as if these things really matter anyway, that the Academy has yet again dropped the ball when it comes to nominations for Best Actor. Nothing I’ve seen thus far from last year was as great as what Jake Gyllenhaal achieves in this film. For my money, Nightcrawler has the performance of the year.

It’s also an incredibly strong film in its own right, but, man, that performance is breathtaking.

Gyllenhaal, who’s generally never been a slouch in the acting department, really pulls out all the stops and gives this creepy, monstrous character his all. That should not imply that there is overacting all over the place. Nothing of the sort. Au contraire, to be accurate.

Well, mostly.

This is a performance up there with Lord Anthony Hopkins for Hannibal or Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, or Anyone as Richard Nixon, only this character is probably even more of a monster than those three jerks, and yet he is far more polite and courteous. His manner, however, barely hides the cold alien nature that lurks below his feverish eyes and gaunt cheeks.

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Boyhood

Boyhood

Boy in the hood, but who or what will he grow up to be?

dir: Richard Linklater

2014

Twelve years a slave to Richard Linklater’s ambitions. What a terrible fate for any set of actors.

Boyhood is a fairly unique film in how it was put together, but not in its subject matter. Its subject could not be any more mundane if it tried.

The reason is, the subject is Life. And Life, itself, at least other people’s lives, can be pretty mundane. That’s not a criticism. Most films except biopics aren’t really about people’s (or character’s) lives, broad swathes of their lives. They’re usually only about a certain period of time in which really exciting stuff happens to them, and then when they return to normality, crushing mundane normality, the credits are usually rolling.

Boyhood transpires over twelve years in the lives of a bunch of characters and the actors who play them. That doesn’t mean it only covers a twelve year time period in terms of its scope. They were filmed for a few days at a time over the course of twelve actual years. Now that’s commitment to an idea. We literally watch the actors, especially the kids, grow right in front of our eyes. The film is nearly three hours long, so there’s a lot of growing up to do.

Since it’s called Boyhood, you can pretty much guess that it’s the story of a particular boy growing up in Texas. Richard Linklater is from Texas, and he was a boy at some point. Are there autobiographical aspects to the story?

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Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

What some guys will do for some ginger pussycat

dir: Coens

2013

I love Coen Brother films. They’ve made about 16 of them, and I can honestly say I love perhaps most of them. That fandom doesn’t always predispose me towards loving anything they do (the films of theirs that I don’t like I downright hate), but it does make me cautious.

That caution was probably at play when I avoided watching Inside Llewyn Davis for as long as I could manage. In the end my curiosity won out, and I’m the better for it, surely.

Even critics who like the flick referred to it back in the day as a ‘lesser Coen Brothers’ flick, as more of a curio than anything else. I’d like to dispute that retarded judgement right here, right now, right here, right now. It’s certainly not a crowdpleaser on the level of an O Brother Where Art Thou? or a viscerally brutal thriller like No Country for Old Men, but it’s certainly coming from the same place that they come from when they make their quieter, more philosophical efforts like A Serious Man and Barton Fink.

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Chef

Chef

And remember, always tip your wait staff and
other service industry types so that they don't
spit in your food too often

dir: Jon Favreau

2014

With some flicks, when there’s a clod/visionary at the centre of them who seems to have performed every job on the film (star/direct/produce/screenplay/edit) I often joke that they did the catering, too. In this, Jon Favreau’s tribute to Jon Favreau, it’s more than likely that he did the food as well.

There are people in this life who must feel very lucky to have gotten where they have. Other people work and strive damn hard and get nowhere for decades. For others, it just seems to fall in their lap. There’s no point getting angry about it: no-one except the delusional should expect a random and chaotic universe to allocate outcomes to people based on merit. It only happens in fantasy stories. Still, when that success comes to you, it’d be nice if you could acknowledge that you’ve risen to a station you otherwise don’t deserve.

On some level, it’s hard not to feel like Jon Favreau’s career as the director of some pretty big budget films is some kind of cosmic fluke. A man who has shown little ability as an actor or as a comedian ends up directing two of Marvel’s biggest recent movies? How? Why? Who does he have photos of in compromising positions that haven’t been leaked to the internets yet?

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Calvary

Calvary

Big Irish priest, you take upon you the sins of the world,
go have a drink instead

dir: John Michael McDonagh

2014

We all know how awful the Catholic Church’s legacy of abuse and corrupted silence is. At least, those of us who aren’t apologists for the Church realise that. And it’s also uncomfortably part of the present, because many of the Church’s victims are still alive, some of the abusers still live, and many of those whose job it was to threaten, cajole, or bribe people into silence still reign, and are in wonderfully lofty positions still in the Church’s hierarchy.

But going over that is a very different story from the story Calvary wants to tell. It’s impossible to tell the story of a Catholic priest in Ireland without that awful legacy looming over everything, but the point of Calvary is very different. Its central character is a good priest (Brendon Gleeson). He doesn’t apologise for or deny what went on before; he strives to minister to the people of his tiny village in County Sligo despite their seeming complete indifference to the religion they purport to be a part of.

He, doggedly, refuses no-one, no matter how outright contemptuous they are of him or his faith, or how awful their crimes.

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Skate or Die is Walter's new motto, not this Choose Life bullshit!

dir: Ben Stiller

2013

Us lowly shmos. Workaday slobs and Joe Twelve-Packs, people whose dreams died so long ago that the only way we can keep living is through endless material consumption and the magic of cinema, temporarily at least energising us and convincing us that our existence is not entirely futile. One day we could break out of our routines and obligations, and live the lives we once fantasised about.

One day, but not today. Got too much on. Too old to change. Too many people relying on us for us to change and live the way we really want to live.

Who better to remind us great unwashed masses that we should really be living life to the fullest, travelling to far flung places and carpei deim-ing all over the place than a multi-millionaire comedian from Hollywood? Who knows more about pursuing and achieving your dreams than a very successful actor?

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Philomena

Philomena

Where's me shoe? Ken ye see me shoe anywheres, Martin?
Martin, ken ye see me shoe?

dir: Stephen Frears

Look, I admit that a film about a woman in her 70s - 80s trying to find the son she was forced to give up for adoption 50 years ago doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs.

It sounds like a barrel of misery, in fact, filled up to the brim with bitterness and spite.

Philomena is based on a true story, however, and the fascinating aspects about it, and the parts of the flick that are the most enjoyable, don't really have to do with that singular act of Irish Catholic bastardry.

Philomena (Dame Judi Dench) is a lovely old woman who remembers, quite clearly, quite painfully, that when she was fairly young she committed the mortal sin of getting knocked up. For her crimes she was imprisoned by nuns for four years, and, to add brutal insult to agonising injury, the child fruit of her evil was whisked away by these penguins and sold to Americans for a hefty chunk of change.

They took the boy away and just gave him over, specifically without telling her.

They didn't and wouldn't tell her where he went, or give her any information, even decades later, as to where he ended up, with whom and where. Fifty years later the lies continue.

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August: Osage County

August: Osage County

The only way to stop her is to kill her. But then you become the new her.

dir: John Wells

Some families… some families are so toxic that they shouldn’t exist.

Some characters are so toxic that they’ll either make you cringe in horror, or you’ll feel compelled to give them awards, to make them stay away.

Perhaps that is, in part, the theory here, with August: Osage County. Rarely have I seen an ensemble cast in such desperate need of awards, all of them swinging for the bleachers, as an American abusing a sports metaphor would aver. Almost every single one of them gets their special scene that should have For Your Consideration underneath them as they’re intoning their cumbersome, purple dialogue.

It's overstuffed with good actors, and they all want their chance, but perhaps there's too many of them, and too many of those awards-grubbing scenes for this to be anything but an actor's showcase.

Still, it's no surprise that Meryl Streep was nominated, playing the monstrous matriarch of this toxic clan. So, sure, she 'acts' the most, flexing her acting muscles in every single scene, but that's what you hire Meryl to do. At this stage of her career, it's almost impossible for her to not receive Oscars just for showing up. If she went to the opening of a carwash and cut the ribbon, she'd probably earn herself an Oscar or a BAFTA or a Gold Logie just for saying, "It is an honour to be here."

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Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

What a cute couple.

dir: Jean Marc Vallée

Another flick set in the 1980s. Something has happened, some perfect amount of time has elapsed which means the 80s are now what the 60s used to be as far as movies are concerned. Maybe there's sufficient distance for perspective, maybe it's an excuse for 'period' pictures that are mostly dependent on clichés and lazy visuals and themes. Maybe it's just an excuse to look ever backwards, to ignore how little we've progressed.

Dallas Buyers Club, of all the films up for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards, is probably the least Oscarbait-y, despite its subject matter. It's the one that panders the least, again, despite the fact that it's about AIDS during the peak of the AIDS epidemic, or at least about a bunch of people struggling with AIDS during the Ronald "let's collectively stick out fingers in our ears and ignore their pleas for help because they're degenerates" Reagan era.

Matthew McConaughey of course has been nominated, because whenever any actor loses a dangerous amount of weight it's considered the pinnacle of acting. I don't know about that (it strikes me as the height of idiocy), but I guess I can assert at least that it indicates a level of commitment to a role. It shows that they're willing to sacrifice their health and their long term survivability just for the applause of their peers.

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Before Midnight

Before Midnight

Run away before midnight, because you'll both turn into nagging pumpkins

dir: Richard Linklater

For many of us, at least those of us who have seen and loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the prospect of a third instalment is both thrilling and terrifying.

To see what has become of Jesse and Celine is both too intriguing and almost too daunting, because there’s a good reason why romantic stories, romantic movies at least, end where they end. They end after the grand gesture at the end of the movie, the great declarations of love, and just at the beginning of the presumed Happily Ever After begins. Which will last forever, don’t you know.

They don’t show us what happens afterwards, as the two people brought together by lust and amazement start getting bogged down by the mundanity of the every day, as they argue about money, about who caused the scratch on the car and who pissed on the toilet seat.

That would kind of kill the fantasy for us, since all romance is a fantasy. And the two lovebirds would cease, immediately, being these embodiments of love, youth, beauty, and would become earthbound clay and muck just like the rest of us.

Before Midnight gives us Jesse and Celine in their forties, eighteen years after they first met in Prague, nine years after they reunited in Paris, nine years after their lives together began in earnest.

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