When inspired (mind you his track record of inspiration is nearly as consistent as Julia Roberts playing defiance in every role), I will collect the best Billy Eichner tweets of the past week for your reading pleasure. Let the comedic BRILLIANCE commence…
In what is fast becoming a Jimmy Fallon late at night show tradition (the first iteration featured Stephen Merchant and Joseph Gordon Levitt on Late Night), Paul Rudd and Jimmy Fallon went head to head in a lip syncing battle this week. For so long battling a tarnished legacy from Milli Vanilii fraud, Beyoncé vocal performance conservatism, and whatever this Ashlee Simpson SNL stint was (whatever happened to Ashlee Simpson, anyway?), lip synching is making a comeback. Like Full House and Saved By the Bell nostalgia, kid instrument song performances, and Justin Timberlake collaborative magic, Jimmy Fallon is at the forefront of this movement. Jimmy’s performance was impressive, but Paul Rudd literally dropped the mic. Enjoy!
With the Oscars fast approaching on Sunday night, the time has come to look back on the 2013 year in cinema. Yes, I am aware that it is the end of February, but if it is good enough for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to have the year end award celebration two months after the year’s end, it is good enough for me too! 2013’s movie year had its share of groundbreaking achievements (Gravity, 12 Years a Slave), box office and critical disasters (The Lone Ranger, Man of Steel), movies about attacks on the White House (two more than we asked for), memorable and career-defining performances (Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club), and a throwback Disney animated movie that, along with its signature song, is still sweeping the nation. Speaking of letting go, we had to concede that Oz was more bad and terrible than Great and Powerful, that in modern times Superman destroys city property and opponent necks without reservation, and that Jodie Foster’s performance in Elysium may have been as awful we originally thought. We saw Tom Hanks return to his vintage prolific acting form in Captain Phillips. We witnessed the much anticipated return of Alfonso Cuarón’s brilliant directing in Gravity after a seven year break between releases. We even lived through the return of Bruce Willis’ Die Hard franchise to unnoticeable cultural significance.
At best meaningful or magical, at worst disappointing or depressing, and at times utterly confusing (everything to do with Ridley Scott’s The Counselor), 2013’s twelve cinematic months were always memorable. First, I present fifty awards and superlatives to help put all of this into a clearer perspective. Then, I delve into my rankings and selections (if I filled out a ballot) for the six major Academy Award categories. Brace yourselves.
50 Awards and Superlatives for the 2013 year in movies
2013 motion pictures: Gravity, 12 Years a Slave
2013 movies that could be motion pictures in the future (depending on Academy Award wins): The Wolf of Wall Street
The best acting performance of 2013: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
5 most memorable sequences and scenes of 2013: the endless, opening one shot of Gravity;
the almost lynching from 12 Years a Slave;
the lunch between Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey in The Wolf of Wall Street;
that sex scene from Blue is the Warmest Color; the Tom Hanks emotional release at the end of Captain Phillips
5 movies, performances, etc. we will most remember from 2013: “Let it Go” from Frozen, DiCaprio’s transcendent performance from The Wolf of Wall Street; the wholly unique viewing experience of Gravity in an IMAX theater; the emotional roller coaster ride of 12 Years A Slave; the prophetic future of Her
Most unexpected narrative turn of events: Superman’s mode of punishment at the end of Man of Steel
The Benedict Cumberbatch casting we all saw coming: Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness
The Benedict Cumberbatch casting we least saw coming: Little Charles Aiken in August: Osage County
Age has been kind to you: Jurassic Park 3D, Sandra Bullock, Dame Judi Dench
Age has not been kind to you: most of this act of Robert DeNiro’s career, Jodie Foster character choices, any interest I might have in Woody Allen movies
Most overrated movies: American Hustle; Dallas Buyers Club
Most underrated movies: World War Z; Her
Most overrated performances: Amy Adams in American Hustle; Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
Most underrated performances: Will Forte in Nebraska; Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street
Best use of bones: Dr. “Bones” McCoy in Star Trek Into Darkness
Worst use of bones: the at times hard to watch weight loss of Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
The “a great excuse to take a nap” award: Oblivion
The “I was awake, but totally exhausted when it was over” award: 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street
Most unrealistic portrayal of a city’s population: Man of Steel
A sequel that was not as good as the first one: Star Trek Into Darkness
A sequel that was better than the first one: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The “I want my money back” award: Blue Jasmine; Oz the Great and Powerful
The “at least it was really colorful” award: The Great Gatsby; Nebraska
Best sidekick experience: Josh Gad as Olaf from Frozen; Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff in The Wolf of Wall Street
Worst sidekick experience: James Franco as The Wizard from Oz the Great and Powerful for all the other characters that followed him around
Can we please find better work for Morgan Freeman: Oblivion; Olympus Has Fallen; Last Vegas; Now You See Me
Least justifiable destruction: Man of Steel
Most justifiable destruction: World War Z
“The plot was just so hard to follow” award: Oblivion, American Hustle
“The play was better” award: August: Osage County
“The book was better” award: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Great Gatsby
Best performance by a voice: Scarlett Johannson as Samantha in Her; Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel singing in Frozen
The most peculiar accent award: Jodie Foster in Elysium
The most peculiar performance award: Jodie Foster in Elysium
The “did that really come out in 2013? It felt more like 2010” award: Iron Man 3
The screenplay that wins the figurative 2013 heavyweight fight for writing: Terence Winter’s treatment for The Wolf of Wall Street
The 2013 “The Academy forgot us” award: Saving Mr. Banks, Lee Daniel’s The Butler, Fruitvale Station
Most plausible future: Her
Least plausible future: Elysium
Favorite Amy Adams performance: Amy from Her
Most wasted use of Amy Adams: as Lois Lane in Man of Steel
The Amy Adams performance in which I wasn’t sure anyone knew what was going on: as Sydney Prosser in American Hustle
The “failed by the director” award: Man of Steel (Zack Snyder); August: Osage County (John Wells); The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann)
I just don’t know why people liked it so much: American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club
Worst use of an amazing actress: Rachel Weisz in Oz the Great and Powerful
The “I mailed in the Oscars. Why not mail in a beloved cultural institution too?” award: James Franco in Oz the Great and Powerful
The “this is f-in real” award: Gravity; 12 Years a Slave, Nebraska, Blue is the Warmest Color
My favorite movie of 2013: Gravity
The best movie of 2013: Gravity
My Oscar Ballot
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Oftentimes the Best Supporting Actor is the strongest and most stacked group of actors of any of the four major acting categories. Each nominated actor last year in this category had already won at least one Academy Award prior (Last year’s losers include all-time greats like De Niro and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman whose legacy of outstanding, brilliant work and the magnitude of his tragic loss will be a haunting reality engulfing this year’s ceremony). This year’s group of actors lack some of the same longevity, staying power, and reliability. There are three first time nominees: Native Somali Barkhad Abdi is entirely new to the scene and landed his first agent after filming Captain Phillips. Jared Leto (Jordan Catalano lives!) is just back from a five year acting hiatus and is oftentimes a little bit enigmatic (his band Thirty Seconds to Mars seems aptly titled) and a little bit inaccessible. Michael Fassbender, although delivering strong performances for sometime, may still be on the precipice of full arrival. Both Bradley Cooper (last year’s Silver Linings Playbook in the Best Actor category) and Jonah Hill (Moneyball) have been nominated before, but we are only beginning to consider them more closely as serious actors.
Although prognosticators see this category as Jared Leto’s to lose (and he may be one of the surest bets of any of the major awards), I struggled to place these performances in some kind of relative order of deserving merit. Abdi’s ruthless Somali pirate wins the “just happy to be acting, let alone nominated for an Academy Award” nomination and was effective in his dogged determination, but falls short of some of the other performances. Bradley Cooper had a great time in American Hustle and he and his hair stole a few scenes, but I am not sure his performance (nor the movie for that matter) amounted to much. Jared Leto’s portrayal of Rayon, a transgender, HIV-infected drug addict from Dallas Buyers Club is a wonderful piece of acting, but the summation of the character (and the movie as a whole) holds me back from appreciating it more. This leaves me with a choice between Michael Fassbender’s sadistic plantation owner from 12 Years a Slave and Jonah Hill’s sadistic stockbroker partner of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. Fassbender gets the nod for me because his Edwin Epps portrayal seems to have taken a more courageous and uncomfortable departure from his true self in a setting and through a subject matter that just matters more.
1) Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
2) Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
3) Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
4) Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
5) Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
I didn’t like Blue Jasmine, I don’t like Woody Allen’s writing, I don’t like Woody Allen’s direction, I don’t get what all the fuss is about Woody Allen’s women, and I didn’t connect with Sally Hawkins performance in the least bit. June Squibb was wonderful in Nebraska, but I had trouble discerning how much of her work was actual performance versus how much of her work was just playing a slightly dramatized version of herself. What she pulls off is certainly incredible at age eighty-four; a nomination stands by itself as an unbelievable accomplishment. Poor Jennifer Lawrence, fast becoming David O. Russell’s cinematic muse, was woefully miscast in American Hustle (her youthful age was painfully apparent). Notwithstanding, her performance is electric, especially when she engages jab for jab with a methodized Christian Bale, and deserves so much credit for making something so dynamic out of a casting decision so ill-conceived. Julia Roberts knocks Barbara in August: Osage County out of the screen, certainly gives one of her most fearless performances, and may even deliver one of my favorite performances of her career. Unfortunately, this less than cinematic execution of this brilliant stage play by Tracy Letts leaves so much to be desired despite creating a series of strong performances (Julianne Nicholson was most successful as Barbara’s younger sister, Ivy). The performances, especially Miss Julia’s, are sucked up into individual vacuums that should have been left as the dusty familial messiness that the stage version so successfully exploited. Lupita Nyong’o’s Patsey, a strong-willed slave and the object and victim of Michael Fassbender’s character’s lustful and abusive ownership, is a courageous and revelatory screen debut. Her poise, confidence, physicality, and subtle and personalized self awareness deliver an inspired and moving embodiment of one of the many awful human subplots of the American slavery story.
1) Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
2) Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
3) Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
4) June Squibb, Nebraska
5) Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Chiwotel Ejiofor, Christian Bale, and Bruce Dern all give outstanding performances in their respective movies. I am not even sure if Bruce Dern was acting in Nebraska, again, toeing the June Squibb line of authenticity mentioned above. He deserves a nomination and nothing further. Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld in a another high achieving performance in a career of so many, but, as was also the case with Bradley Cooper, the disjointed messiness of American Hustle does not do Christian Bale’s award deservedness any favors. Chiwotel Ejiofor carries the weight (and at times burden) of Solomon Northrup’s journey in 12 Years a Slave on his shoulders and largely delivers at a most exceptional level, but, likely out of a combination of factors (Steve McQueen’s focus and direction, the adaptation of a real person), it never reaches a transcendent level. This leaves me with a decision between what I consider to be the two best acting performances of 2013. Both are in movies that I did not particularly like, although, albeit exhausted afterward, I did totally enjoy The Wolf of Wall Street experience (the same cannot be said for the “let me check my watch/iPhone/iPad constantly” experience that was my iTunes rental of Dallas Buyers Club). It is a good time to be a viewer of Matthew McConaughey’s work as True Detective fans can attest and Interstellar excitement grows by the minute. His living with HIV/AIDS Ron Woodruff and the forty seven (painful to watch at times) pounds he lost for the role are all components of this tour de force work of acting. I just think Leo was better. Fatigued, I left the the Coolidge Corner theater on that cold, December night after The Wolf of Wall Street with the strong, guttural belief that I had just witnessed the best acting performance of the year. I have not wavered since.
1) Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “Leonardo DiCaprio is absolutely phenomenal in The Wolf of Wall Street. His performance as the morally incompetent, but toxically charismatic wolf, Jordan Belfort, is physically and emotionally fearless, breathtaking scene after scene after scene, and as naked (literally and metaphorically) as I have ever seen Leo. Here, he is the movie star he was always destined to be – free from any inhibition and constraint to cruise control (and frequently out of) his way through an unyielding barrage of the baddest behavior. His scene work and chemistry with fellow actors is the best of his career and rivals his work with Kate Winslet, his professional star-crossed lover. Although content-wise, I would not recommend The Wolf of Wall Street to many in or out of my circle, for anyone who enjoys the movies, you must see this pinnacle performance of Leo’s career.”
2) Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
3) Chiwotel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
4) Christian Bale, American Hustle
5) Bruce Dern, Nebraska
I am surprised at how dispassionate and ambivalent I am about most of this category. The performance of Amy Adams is the embodiment of the unlikeable, sloppy messiness of American Hustle (and I usually love her!). Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep. She is expectedly extraordinary in August: Osage County, just too young, to encumbered by some unwise casting and directorial decisions, and too restricted by the cinematic medium in a story best told on stage in front of an audience. Dame Judi Dench is amazing (as expected and as usual) in Philomena and the story intrigues, but it is not a performance (or a movie for that matter) that moves the needle to be something really special. As for frontrunner and likely award winner Cate Blanchett, as repeated from above, I didn’t like Blue Jasmine, I don’t like Woody Allen’s writing, I don’t like Woody Allen’s direction, and I don’t get what all the fuss is about Woody Allen’s women. Cate Blanchett plays one of these aforementioned Woody Allen women and admittedly owns her performance of Jasmine Francis (with a very high difficulty level I might add), but when a movie amounts to so little (Blue Jasmine is the antithesis of Her. Her is one step into the future, but at the same time entirely current. Blue Jasmine is several steps into the past and unintentionally dated), it’s hard for the performance to reach Best Actress heights. When I saw Gravity, I did not expect Sandra to be the last woman standing in this category and inevitably the woman to win my heart for this award, but here we are, and she deserves it.
1) Sandra Bullock, Gravity
From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “In a movie that requires the audience to face unwavering vulnerability, it is Sandra’s most human guide that so successfully grounds our own most realistic and immersive movie encounter. The level of difficulty (she spent the majority of her time in a 9×9 box, carefully and precisely marking each movement and emotion so that CGI post-production could do their thing) could not have been higher, and she nailed it.”
2) Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
3) Judi Dench, Philomena
4) Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
5) Amy Adams, American Hustle
Four of these directors made outstanding films. Scorsese, McQueen, and Cuarón are all deserving of the highest praise. Alexander Payne is an acquired taste, but for those who dig his dark humor and dull toned emotional palettes, Nebraska is your jam (Even David O. Russell’s messy narrative cannot get in the way of his ability to bring out the best in his actors). The decision in this category lands with the answers and the scaling of the following two questions: “Is this monumental and transcendent work?” and “Was the director integral to this transcendence?” In the case of Alfonso Cuarón, the answers are “without question” and “Not only integral, but central and essential.” Gravity is Gravity because of the visual, conceptual, and directorial brilliance of Alfonso Cuarón. His work is unrestrained, ambitious, and resets the ceiling of cinematic possibility.
1) Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
2) Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
3) Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
4) Alexander Payne, Nebraska
5) David O. Russell, American Hustle
From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “Gravity is a motion picture that takes the cinematic medium leaps and bounds forward, giving its audience an unforgettable ride that both touches our deepest vulnerabilities and allows our most expansive imaginations to have no limits. It is shot (the first being almost twenty minutes long) after shot of beauty, wonder, and the most pristine filmmaking execution (so worth the delayed release!). Mr. Alfonso Cuarón has created a movie masterpiece that should be considered a classic of the medium from this point forward.”
2) 12 Years a Slave
From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “12 Years a Slave is a motion picture that will sit next to Roots as one of the two definitive cinematic depictions of American slavery. Its prolific form is only matched by its unyielding, unrelenting, and unafraid delivery of this horrific stain on this nation’s history.”
From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “Her is a film set in the future that has both currency today and will have continued resonance as it ages. Although very much a byproduct of a soon to be now, its timeless relationship truths are as universal as its title.”
4) The Wolf of Wall Street
From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “The Wolf of Wall Street is a movie, unlikeable, oftentimes unwatchable, and certainly interpretable as not an indictment, but rather a glorified celebration of the filthy excess and monetary tomfoolery of the protagonist’s world, that provides an exhilarating, exhausting, awesome cinematic ride. It is not out of contention as potential motion picture in the foreseeable future as either a tentpole of DiCaprio and Scorsese’s outstanding careers or sooner, if critical momentum leads to some Academy Award success.”
5) Captain Phillips
From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “Although Captain Phillips may at first glance be well-fit in the classic “great rental, but don’t need to see it in theatres” category, such a movie of pristine competence, execution, and entertainment value, deserves a cinematic viewing. Most importantly, Captain Phillips delivers the best performance by the best modern movie actor of the last twenty-five years without the first name “Daniel” and the last name “Day-Lewis” in over a decade. With Saving Mr. Banks on the holiday season horizon, it is a pleasure to have Tom Hanks back in the conversation and Captain Phillips is a most meaningful way to start it.”
6) Dallas Buyers Club
9) American Hustle
From my 5 Things You Need to Know: “American Hustle is a movie that, despite its on paper goods, fails to connect, to entertain, and to inspire any passion. Without a full understanding of what it aims to do and be, the audience are the ones who are left feeling hustled.”
Enjoy the Oscars Sunday night and the realization that not only are U2 performing “Ordinary Love” (nominated for Best Song), but there is a strong possibility that Bono could be giving an acceptance speech. I digress. Stay tuned for a whole new year of 5 Things You Need to Know in 2014 and more movie commentary, musings, and news on Culture Challenged.
There may be many reasons to either watch tonight’s second season premiere episode of The Americans (if you were lucky enough to experience season one last winter) or to make the sound and enlightened investment to DVR tonight and catch up on season one over the next several weeks through an iTunes or an Amazon Prime purchase, but there is really only one definitive source to find out exactly why you should. Mr. Andy Greenwald, Grantland’s extraordinary television commentator, conveys his sentiments on The Americanswith such eloquence, such insightful passion, and such beautiful prose. This is a master writing about a masterful show and I can only aspire to both of their collective standards of excellence.
His summation at the end best conveys an already realized central conceit – The Americans is a great television show and deserves a look:
“Nothing else on TV can match The Americans for the dizzying highs of its suspense or the unsettling depths of its emotion. But the reason it’s become the best show on television is more simple: In spite of its radical premise and perilous plots, the most discomfiting aspect of The Americans is its familiarity. All long-term relationships, whether between nation-states or lovers, involve delicate negotiations. They all demand loyalty. And they all require sacrifice. Recognizing this doesn’t make us American. It makes us human. The glorious struggle is our own.” Amen.
To summarize: Watch The Americans. Read Andy Greenwald. You will be the better because of it.
The Americans airs Wednesday nights at 10:00 PM on FX. Andy Greenwald is a staff writer for Grantland.
Disaster has struck Manhattan and it has nothing to do with an overwrought Avengers-like movie plot device. The New York Knicks, due in part to unrealized expectations of a signature NBA franchise in the signature American city, are in a most dangerous place. The following headlines currently adorn espn.com main news section:
The horrifying thing is that this is just one day in the house that James Dolan built and things could get a whole lot worse. On a roster that features Metta “malice in palaces” World Peace (for now), Kenyon “dark alley all-time great” Martin (providing the NBA aggressive unrest for over a decade), and J.R. “I love childish behavior!” Smith, and the ensuing departure of Carmelo “there is no way I am sticking around for this” Anthony, anything is possible. I am genuinely scared. Stay tuned.
I first discovered and read this New York Magazine/vulture.com article in the wee hours of this morning. I was having trouble sleeping, so I decided to preview my Monday morning website reading rotation to pass the time. When I woke up again for real this time, my experience with this provocative part confessional, part diatribe, and part declaration felt like it had been a part of an imagined dream. Had Alec Baldwin actually retired from being a celebrity (at least in everything that comes with the artistic work)? Was this New Yorker’s New Yorker actually moving to LA out of a forced compulsion? Were his less than favorable depictions of both respected figures (Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow) and current Hollywood trainwrecks (Shia LaBouef!) based on actual truths? Culpability for the maelstrom between Alec Baldwin and the many players and layers of media coverage that have dishonored him over these past several years may be up for debate. What is abundantly clear is that Alec Baldwin has felt wronged and is just not going to take it anymore. This is a must read.
First it was Simon Cowell. Now it is Piers Morgan’s turn to be a Brit facing United States audience rejection. The former journalist turned America’s Got Talent adjudicator turned Larry King primetime replacement and the face of the mainstream media anti-gun cultural movement (and an admirable soldier he has been) will no longer be sharing his opinions on a nightly basis. CNN and Piers Morgan have decided to end Piers Morgan Live(the final show date is to be determined). For a platform and show that started with a fair amount of promise and intrigue three years ago (his first interview with Oprah set an initial ceiling that he has struggled to consistently maintain), Piers is no longer a viable ratings choice for CNN (Megyn Kelly’s Fox News conservative variety show has proved to be a tough act to go against). Some will miss his pithy banter. Some will not. I will miss his consummate and fervent advocacy for better gun control laws. There has been no louder (albeit not always effective with the people who must be reached) voice. On the plus side, Taran Killam’s (oops, a total miss) Piers Morgan impression will thankfully be retired.
Musings, News, and Commentary on Popular Culture and Sports