If you were a fan of John Carney’s indie hit Once, chances are you will love his latest release Begin Again. The story follows a very similar formula with new characters, but the heart of the film stays true to Carney’s vision. Music has the power to destroy us, and also the power to put us back together.
The film stars Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley (actual actors this time) as a formerly great A&R man and a sweet but shy singer-songwriter. They meet at an open mic one night and Ruffalo’s character heard something in her song that brings him a feeling he hasn’t had in some time-joy. He tries smooth talk her into letting him record her music, but gets rebuffed. We then go back in time to see how both of them came to be at that bar.
Both are sad stories of heartbreak and the harsh reality that life isn’t fair. We get a good but thankless performance from Catherine Keener as Ruffalo’s estranged wife, Adam Levine as a douchebag musician (typecasting!), and two great roles for Hailee Steinfeld and James Corden as Ruffalo’s daughter and Knightley’s best friend.
Like Once, a lot of the story is told through the songs. They act as both a love letter to New York City and a mechanism for our two main characters to get back on their feet. Writer-director Carney had a hand in writing some of the tunes, including sole credit on a great soulcrusher called “Like A Fool.” Others have credits for Glen Hansard, music supervisor Gregg Alexander, Cee-Lo Green, and Nick Lashley. They did a great job of weaving the songs into the film so that even if there were no dialogue in the movie you’d still know where the characters are based on the music.
As Ruffalo and Knightley spend more and more time together, it becomes a bit too “will they-won’t they” for a while. The relationship they forge, and all the relationships throughout the film, is much more interesting than a simple rom-com cliche.
Carney’s direction is a little less cinema verite than Once, but he keeps the characters in interesting locations and never lets the camera rest in one spot for too long. It’s a great movie for music lovers and film lovers alike. I hope it finds an audience beyond its small-ish release.
Last night I walked into the tiny Facets Cinemateque theater to see Mistaken For Strangers. I thought it was just going to be a run-of-the-mill doc following the band around with a bunch of concert footage and some silly behind the scenes antics. Instead I saw a real movie about a man (director Tom Berninger) searching for his place in life and coming to terms with his older brother’s success. There are enough great shots of the band and big laughs to please fans of The National and otherwise, but I think all film lovers will be surprised with how well it works as an interesting narrative feature and documentary.
The story kicks off with Matt Berninger, lead singer of The National, asking his brother Tom to join them on a tour of Europe as a roadie. Tom thinks this is great-he doesn’t get to see his brother that often and he wants to document the tour for a movie. Throughout the movie he’s constantly being told to put the camera down and help with other things. He’s a lifelong screw-up, and it’s interesting to watch him take this great opportunity and continuously make poor decisions about pretty much everything.
He does set each member of the band down for a little Q&A, but these generally end up being silly because Tom has a real Chris Farley complex when he’s asking questions. He stumbles his way through questions about how famous they are, what it’s like playing in front of five thousand people, and the creative process of making a record. Then there are times when he asks things thing, “Who can play guitar faster, you or your brother?,” or “Has my brother ever lost his temper with you?” Errol Morris he is not, but these short sessions usually reveal more about Tom than they do about the band.
Over the course of a few tour stops the film changes from a movie about The National to a film about brothers. The band is made up of two sets of brothers and Matt, so it’s cool that the familial dynamic is something they explored with this movie. Tom and Matt love each other, and get along for the most part. You can see Matt struggle to not yell at Tom when he screws up, and the couple times Matt does lose his temper a bit it seems more out of disappointment than anger.
It’s hard to explain the film, really, because it’s so short it feels like describing any scene is giving too much away. At a brisk 75 minutes, I definitely wanted it to be longer, but Tom Berninger does a great job of carving out a story that comes to a satisfying conclusion. He does get some amazing footage of the band, including a performance of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” that completely changed the way I feel about the song. He also gets Matt doing his usual stage move, and I’ve seen this myself, where he leaves the stage and walks as far back into the audience as he can. Of course, at the filmed show he got all the way out to the lobby of the venue, so that’s new.
If you have a sibling, I think the movie can be a bit more dramatic than if you’re an only child. We always want what’s best for our brothers and sisters, and you can see Tom and Matt are always rooting for each other. I don’t know if Tom has plans to keep making documentaries or do features, but he’s definitely got the passion for it. He’s just one of those lovable goofballs you always want around, so I hope he finds something a little better than the other movies he’s directed (there are a couple of hilarious scenes depicting his prior work).
The movie is only in a very limited number of theaters, so I’m glad I live somewhere that I could see it on the big screen. If you aren’t so lucky you can download Mistaken For Strangers on iTunes or check your video-on-demand listings.
Were you a fan of Rob Thomas’s short-lived series “Veronica Mars” when it was on? I know I was. Our cable provider back then didn’t carry the CW, so we would download the episodes in bunches and watch until all hours of the night. We even checked out a projector from the university so we could have the biggest screen possible. The fan base for the show was a small but loyal one, and now almost a decade after it went off the air we get a new look at the characters we grew to love.
The movie kicks off with about two minutes of montage and narration. It serves as a quick reminder of where we left things for the fans, and a quick way to catch up the uninitiated. Thomas and co-writer Diane Ruggiero do a great job of giving the fans what they want while making a movie that anyone can enjoy.
It doesn’t take long to feel like you’re right back in the middle of these characters lives. Veronica is meeting with a group of lawyers about a potential job, Piz works for WBEZ (great Chicago shoutout), and not even ten minutes into the movie Veronica’s old love interest Logan Echolls is wanted for murder in her hometown of Neptune, CA.
What follows is ostensibly a really long episode of the show with more cursing. Veronica goes to help Logan and meets up with her old friends Wallace and Mac. During her first scene with Logan he says somethjng like “we’re falling right back into our old rhythms,” and that is exactly what it feels like. The way it is written you’d think Thomas started right after the series ended knowing that one day they’d be able to return (they almost made a continuation series about Veronica going to the FBI, but it was never picked up).
I’m sure some people that see this movie will complain that it looks too much like a TV show. I’d argue that some fans had the same argument about Avengers when it came out. With a modest budget, director Thomas has crafted a slicker, more polished version of familiar settings. And as always he gets great performances.
The chemistry between the actors is as great as it ever was, particularly the dynamic between Veronica and her father Keith (Enrico Colantoni). Their back and forths was a big part of the original series, and here they hit all the right notes, so from their very first interaction it feels just like old times. The rest of the cast, filled with other Neptune High alum is like a who’s who of great role players: Krysten Ritter, Martin Starr, Ken Marino, Jerry O’Connell, Ryan Hansen. Hell, even James Franco makes a couple appearances. And Gaby Hoffman continues to reign as the queen of weird characters that make all her movies just a little more interesting.
I won’t give away anymore of what happens. If you like detective movies or mysteries, but have never seen the show, I’d definitely still recommend Veronica Mars. If you did watch the show, it just feels like getting the old gang back together for one last hurrah. I hope that they make enough money off this movie to warrant a sequel, but if they don’t they picked a great way to end it for good.
For years I watched “Siskel & Ebert” on television, and some of my favorite episodes were their annual Academy Awards show. They didn’t so much predict the winners, or say what they thought would win. Rather they stated what they thought SHOULD win. They often disagreed with the Academy’s choices, and more than not they would disagree with each other. I remember those episodes well. So here is my attempt. I won’t tell you who I think will win-it’s pretty much a horse race between Gravity and 12 Years A Slave in a lot of categories. I’ll just be highlighting who I think should win. Those will be italicized in each category.
Feel free to play along and announce your own thoughts in the comments section.
Best Motion Picture of the Year
American Hustle (2013)
Captain Phillips (2013)
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
12 Years a Slave (2013)
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
12 Years A Slave is slightly ahead right now according to the oddsmakers, with Gravity in second. I found 12 Years A Slave an ok film, if a bit heavyhanded. Good performances throughout, but when Brad Pitt showed up toward the end I was tempted to just turn it off. Gravity is an amazing technical feat, but the final 20 minutes or so was almost laughable. Cuaron is a brilliant director, maybe not so much as a writer.
Wolf Of Wall Street hit all the right vulgar and insane notes to make 3 hours fly by in the blink of an eye. Funny that Scorsese is an old man now and he’s still running circles around most filmmakers.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Christian Bale for American Hustle (2013)
Bruce Dern for Nebraska (2013)
Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
McConaughey is gonna win this one, and I won’t argue that he doesn’t deserve it. I pick DiCaprio because this role was so wildly different from anything else he’s done. The closest is Basketball Diaries and that was 20 years ago. I don’t think Wolf would’ve worked with any other actor-he has the right balance of charm and depravity that eludes most.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Amy Adams for American Hustle (2013)
Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine (2013)
Sandra Bullock for Gravity (2013)
Judi Dench for Philomena (2013)
Meryl Streep for August: Osage County (2013)
OHH! But CATE BLANCHETT!!! I didn’t think Blue Jasmine was as good as a lot of people did, and Cate Blanchett being really good in a movie isn’t enough for me anymore. If she wanted to surprise me and do something a little less classical. Like, oh wow Woody Allen got a good performance out of an actress?? He directed Mira Sorvino to an Oscar, so don’t be so shocked.
Judi Dench, on the other hand, comes off more likable and sincere in Philomena than any role I’ve seen her play in a long time. She’s the heart of the movie AND the comic relief-a tough double duty to pull off.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips (2013)
Bradley Cooper for American Hustle (2013)
Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Honestly, I don’t have strong feelings about any of these roles. I think Leto probably should win and will. If nothing else he’s elevated his game in this one more than the other nominees. Abdi made a good debut, but half of his role is in a foreign language and the other half is barely comprehensible-I have to assume voters will be turned off by that.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine (2013)
Julia Roberts for August: Osage County (2013)
Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle (2013)
June Squibb for Nebraska (2013)
Right after I left the showing of Nebraska I saw, I thought “If June Squibb doesn’t win an Oscar for that, the system is fundamentally flawed.” Every line she delivers is hilarious and she plays it completely straight. A lesser actress would’ve gone bigger and made funny scenes irritating.
Best Achievement in Directing
Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity (2013)
Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave (2013)
David O. Russell for American Hustle (2013)
Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Alexander Payne for Nebraska (2013)
Like I said, Gravity is an amazing technical masterpiece. If nothing else, give the guy the award for not giving it to him for Children Of Men.
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
American Hustle (2013): Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell
Blue Jasmine (2013): Woody Allen
Her (2013): Spike Jonze
Nebraska (2013): Bob Nelson
Dallas Buyers Club (2013): Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
In a landslide, it’s Her. I’m not sure why they even nominated five movies for this award. Her is the smartest, most interesting script of this year or maybe the past few years (since Inception probably)
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Before Midnight (2013): Richard Linklater
Captain Phillips (2013): Billy Ray
12 Years a Slave (2013): John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013): Terence Winter
Philomena (2013): Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Terence Winter hasn’t received the acclaim he deserves for turning this story into a riotously entertaining film. Someone cut together the movie just showing all the eff-words, and it’s like 7 minutes long. One of the many reasons it won’t win an Oscar, but also one of the many reasons it’s as funny as it is.
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
The Croods (2013)
Despicable Me 2 (2013)
Ernest & Celestine (2012)
The Wind Rises (2013)
When Miyazaki decides to call it quits, he goes out on top. The Michael Jordan of animated films (but he probably won’t come back in a couple years with subpar material).
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012): Felix Van Groeningen(Belgium)
The Missing Picture (2013): Rithy Panh(Cambodia)
The Hunt (2012): Thomas Vinterberg(Denmark)
The Great Beauty (2013): Paolo Sorrentino(Italy)
Omar (2013): Hany Abu-Assad(Palestine)
Criterion has already set up a release date for The Great Beauty. They’re smart people over there.
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Gravity (2013): Emmanuel Lubezki
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): Bruno Delbonnel
Nebraska (2013): Phedon Papamichael
Prisoners (2013): Roger Deakins
The Grandmaster (2013): Philippe Le Sourd
If you saw Gravity in 3-D, you’ll probably agree that this one is a no-brainer.
Best Achievement in Editing
12 Years a Slave (2013): Joe Walker
American Hustle (2013): Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers
Gravity (2013): Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger
Captain Phillips (2013): Christopher Rouse
Dallas Buyers Club (2013): Martin Pensa, John Mac McMurphy
Sometimes editing can make or break a movie. I think in the case of Gravity, it raised the tension and pushed it over the top.
Best Achievement in Production Design
12 Years a Slave (2013): Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker
American Hustle (2013): Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler
Gravity (2013): Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woollard
The Great Gatsby (2013): Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn
Her (2013): K.K. Barrett, Gene Serdena
One of the hardest things about making a movie like this is that it’s set in the future, but the not-too-distant future. So what’s different? What stays the same? It’s a real wire-walking act, and I think the people who worked on Her deserve the award.
Best Achievement in Costume Design
American Hustle (2013): Michael Wilkinson
The Great Gatsby (2013): Catherine Martin
12 Years a Slave (2013): Patricia Norris
The Grandmaster (2013): William Chang
The Invisible Woman (2013): Michael O’Connor
I really didn’t like American Hustle, BUT, it did look like the 70’s as far as costuming goes.
Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
Dallas Buyers Club (2013): Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013): Steve Prouty
The Lone Ranger (2013): Joel Harlow, Gloria Pasqua Casny
Leto and McConaughey both look like totally different people.
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
The Book Thief (2013): John Williams
Gravity (2013): Steven Price
Her (2013): William Butler, Andy Koyama
Saving Mr. Banks (2013): Thomas Newman
Philomena (2013): Alexandre Desplat
Much like the editing, the score helps in areas like creating tension.
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
Despicable Me 2 (2013): Pharrell Williams( “Happy”)
Frozen (2013): Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez(“Let It Go”)
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013): Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., Brian Burton(“Ordinary Love”)
Her (2013): Karen O(“The Moon Song”)
“The Moon Song” is the only one here that isn’t a by-the-numbers Hollywood-type song. It works perfectly in the film.
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Gravity (2013): Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013): Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson
Captain Phillips (2013): Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munro
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland
Lone Survivor (2013): Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, David Brownlow
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
All Is Lost (2013): Steve Boeddeker, Richard Hymns
Captain Phillips (2013): Oliver Tarney
Gravity (2013): Glenn Freemantle
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013): Brent Burge
Lone Survivor (2013): Wylie Stateman
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Gravity (2013): Timothy Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013): Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, Eric Reynolds
Iron Man 3 (2013): Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, Daniel Sudick
The Lone Ranger (2013): Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, John Frazier
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013): Roger Guyett, Pat Tubach, Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton
Best Documentary, Feature
The Act of Killing (2012): Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sørensen
Cutie and the Boxer (2013): Zachary Heinzerling, Lydia Dean Pilcher
Dirty Wars (2013): Rick Rowley, Jeremy Scahill
The Square (2013): Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amer
20 Feet from Stardom (2013): Morgan Neville
All good docs. Act Of Killing is terrifyingly so.
Best Documentary, Short Subject
Cavedigger (2013): Jeffrey Karoff
Facing Fear (2013): Jason Cohen
Karama Has No Walls (2012): Sara Ishaq
The Lady In Number 6 (2013): Malcolm Clarke, Carl Freed
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall (2013): Edgar Barens
Best Short Film, Animated
Feral (2012): Daniel Sousa, Dan Golden
Get a Horse! (2013): Lauren MacMullan, Dorothy McKim
Mr Hublot (2013): Laurent Witz, Alexandre Espigares
Possessions (2012): Shuhei Morita
Room on the Broom (2012) (TV): Max Lang, Jan Lachauer
Best Short Film, Live Action
That Wasn’t Me (2012): Esteban Crespo
Just Before Losing Everything (2013): Xavier Legrand
Helium (2014): Anders Walter
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (2012): Selma Vilhunen
The Voorman Problem (2012): Mark Gill
I made an effort to see every movie I could this year. Coming-of-age indies, huge blockbusters, what have you. The one movie that eluded me this year, for whatever reason, is Dallas Buyer’s Club. Still haven’t seen it. Since today is the end of January, I’m calling it here-if I haven’t seen it yet, it’s too late. I still look forward to seeing it (and I can’t believe the streak of quality work McConaughey is on right now), but it’ll have to be for pure enjoyment and not awards consideration.
I did get to see a lot of films this year, and I think the top ten pretty well sums up the best of what I saw. I’m not considering documentaries for the list because, while I saw some good ones, there were a ton more that I didn’t see and honestly documentaries deserve their own separate awards. Here’s my top ten and awards:
9. The Kings Of Summer
8. The World’s End
3. Upstream Color
2. The Wolf Of Wall Street
1. The Place Beyond The Pines
Honorable Mentions: Maniac, Mud, Short Term 12, In A World
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity; Runner-Up Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond The Pines
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf Of Wall Street; Runner-Up Joaquin Phoenix, Her
Best Actress: Judi Dench, Philomena; Runner-Up Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Kyle Chandler, The Wolf Of Wall Street & The Spectacular Now; Runner-Up Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave
Best Supporting Actress: June Squibb, Nebraska; Runner-Up N/A
Best Screenplay: Spike Jonze, Her; Runner-Up Terence Winter, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Biggest Disappointments: Prince Avalanche, American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Pain & Gain
Best Surprises: Lone Survivor, 2 Guns, Iron Man 3
A couple days ago I found this new card game for movie lovers called Cinelinx on Kickstarter. The creators: Gabriel Barboza, Josh Dunford and Jordan Maison, are trying to raise $12,000 to produce and distribute their creation. It sounds like a lot of fun for people who can make quick connections between names and movie titles. And it looks like they’ve mostly gone with higher-profile names to make it a little easier for the more casual fan. Here’s a video that explains a lot more about the mechanics of how the game works
If you think it seems like something you might dig, contribute to their cause. Kickstarter is an “all-or-nothing” endeavour, which means if they don’t reach their goal they get zero. I went ahead and put $30 down so I can get the Red Band expansion pack. You can throw in as little as a dollar if you want, or as much as you want if you’re currently flush with cash and don’t know what to do with it. The team has already secured about 75% of their goal in just a couple days, so I think this idea is a winner!
Tomorrow night the annual Golden Globes ceremony will bestow their awards unto the films that the Hollywood Foreign Press have deemed the best of 2013. Below you will find a list of all the nominees as well as my predictions as to what will happen. The films I believe will win in every category have been italicized, while the movies I think should win are in bold. These predictions are based only on what I’ve seen this year, and will no doubt be incorrect more often than not.
Best Motion Picture – Drama
12 Years A Slave
Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Wolf Of Wall Street
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama
Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years A Slave
Idris Elba for Mandela
Tom Hanks for Captain Philips
Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford for All Is Lost
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock for Gravity
Judi Dench for Philomena
Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks
Kate Winslet for Labor Day
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Christian Bale for American Hustle
Bruce Dern for Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf Of Wall Street
Oscar Isaac for Inside Llewyn Davis
Jaoquin Phoenix for Her
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Amy Adams for American Hustle
Julie Delpy for Before Midnight
Greta Gerwig for Her
Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Enough Said
Meryl Streep for August:Osage County
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Barkhad Abdi for Captain Philips
Daniel Bruhl for Rush
Bradley Cooper for American Hustle
Michael Fassbender for 12 Years A Slave
Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years A Slave
Julia Roberts for August: Osage County
June Squibb for Nebraska
Best Director – Motion Picture
Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
Paul Greengrass for Captain Philips
Steve McQueen for 12 Years A Slave
David O. Russell for American Hustle
Alexander Payne for Nebraska
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
12 Years A Slave: John Ridley
American Hustle: Eric Singer, David O. Russell
Her: Spike Jonze
Nebraska: Bob Nelson
Philomena: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Best Original Song – Motion Picture
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Hunger Games
Best Original Score – Motion Picture
All Is Lost
The Book Thief
12 Years A Slave
Best Animated Film
Best Foreign Language Film
Blue Is The Warmest Color
The Great Beauty
The Wind Rises