Of the 87th Academy Award Nominations for the 2015 Oscars, these are the films I’ve watched so far, shown in order of preference—along with my collaborative filtering film suggestions. Collaborative filtering is that jazzy bit where technology offers up ever so helpful suggestions based on your preferences. “If you liked this film, you might also enjoy…”
Adaptations are always the most interesting to me because I find it fascinating to see which scenes make it off the page and onto the screen, what liberties are taken, what’s left on the editing floor? And how much does the main story or character reflect those found in the pages of biographies or memoirs?
Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children, is a renowned linguistics professor who starts to forget words. At age 50, when she receives a devastating diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Alice and her family find their bonds tested.
My favorite film of the season, so far, is Still Alice (adapted from the novel of the same name, written by Lisa Genova) with Julianne Moore, who won the Golden Globe and has been nominated for the Oscar for best “Actress in a Leading Role.” This film ought to have gotten more attention for film adaptation because the writing is fresh and unpredictable. And they take a very internal struggle and show, without voice over, the very real conflicts, both internal and external without relying on our anticipated after-school special scenes. No one leaves a stove on or almost burns down the house. Thank you! Even if it’s true, we’ve seen it too often in these films, and I was so relieved not to see these types of things in Still Alice. Mind you, this was based off a novel, not a memoir. Or maybe this film resonated with me so much because the lead was a woman… who feared her memory loss was attributed to menopause.
Co-director Richard Glatzer suffers from ALS and can’t speak. He directed the film using a text to speech app on an iPad. Both Moore and Stewart dedicated their “Ice Bucket Challenge” to Glatzer. I scraped this tidbit off IMDB along with these:
Julianne Moore suggested the role of Dr. John Howland to Alec Baldwin because they wanted to work together again.
According to author Lisa Genova, before Julianne Moore was cast, the part was offered to Michelle Pfeiffer, Julia Roberts, Diane Lane and Nicole Kidman, but they all turned it down.
The topic of Alzheimer’s Disease reminded me of these films: Away from Her, Fred Won’t Move Out, The Notebook. And the Julianne Moore factor coupled with the tone and mood of the film had me circle back specifically to The Hours (you’ll know more if you’ve seen both. I refuse to read reviews before I see films for this reason).
The Imitation Game
During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing tries to crack the enigma code with help from fellow mathematicians.
First, before I get into what this film was, for those who have or haven’t seen it, I’ll say this: it reminded me of Good Will Hunting. Not just the “wicked smart” main character bit, but the “Break Her Heart to Save Her” trope. In Good Will Hunting, there’s a scene where Will emotionally shuts Skylar out, distancing himself, breaking her heart to save her… from him. In The Imitation Game, I’ll say only that this same trope exists between Alan Turing and Joan, only he’s trying to save her from more than himself…
Himself. Hmm. Himself? Who is this “Alan Turing” portrayed in The Imitation Game? The man we see, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is depicted as a man who takes everything literally, incapable of understanding jokes or subtle humor. As if to say, he might be different, but that’s part of what makes him a genius.
“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine,” Alan’s boyhood friend tells him, in a line that’s repeated throughout the movie. They really make quite a show and give a lot of real estate to just how socially awkward Alan Turing was. And hit us again and again with that line. And it might work, if in fact, Alan Turing were a man with Asperger’s in real life (whether or not you give it a name). But in, Andrew Hodges‘s biography—Alan Turing: The Enigma: The Book That Inspired the Film “The Imitation Game”—Turing is depicted as warm and funny, and especially humorous. The film belabored how awkward Alan was, and how painfully unsociable—how affection and connection in general was torturous—then jumped forward in time with a line about his having several affairs with men over the years, but showed us none of these tender moments. It didn’t add up. I did enjoy this review of the film.
Other similar films about exceptionally gifted (if not also beautifully different) people: A Beautiful Mind, The Theory of Everything, Finding Forrester, Rain Man. If you liked The Imitation Game, you might enjoy Sherlock, which also stars Benedict Cumberbatch, playing a wicked smart guy. It’s the BBC version of our US TV Series “Elementary.” Also, unlike the rest, which are all about main characters who are good with numbers, Finding Forrester is about a gifted writer.
Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle’s pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and turns him into a legend. Back home to his wife and kids after four tours of duty, however, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind.
If you’ve turned on a television, even in passing, and clicked your way through morning TV, you’ve certainly heard or read something about this film, mostly about its accuracy, or lack thereof. Obviously many of the events in the film are made up; it doesn’t claim to be a documentary. It’s a Clint Eastwood directed film. While it’s up for Best Picture, it’s also up for best Writing (Adapted Screenplay), Written by Jason Hall. At its core, American Sniper is about the effects of war on those who’ve served, and by extension, the effects on their families.
I enjoyed reminding myself to breathe, hearing myself gasp, and losing myself in the story, which is what I knew it was, a Hollywood story designed to open our minds and mouths, which is what good art does. Stirs an emotion and reaction worthy of discussion.
Alternatives? Black Hawk Down
The Theory of Everything
The relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.
(Golden Globes Winner: Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama, Eddie Redmayne)
For some reason that’s without any reason at all, this film reminds me of Ray. The extraordinary life story of Ray Charles. A man who fought harder and went farther than anyone thought possible. Maybe it’s to do with the diagnosis Hawking received 51 years ago, when he was told he had approximately two years to live. Perseverance as a theme in movies is certainly nothing new. Any underdog, anyone told they can’t fight history, and we know they will. But fighting science is different. It’s a new hope, it’s living with, managing, figuring and finding a way. This reminds me of My Left Foot, the true story of Irish writer Christy Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy and learned to write using just his left foot.
The life of a young man, Mason, from age 5 to age 18.
(3 Golden Globes Winner: Best Motion Picture, Drama; Best Director, Richard Linklater; Best Supporting Actress, Patricia Arquette)
I found the novelty of the storytelling over years to be just that, a novel breakthrough, in storytelling, especially in editing. I wasn’t particularly blown away by the story itself, but I value its simplicity and honesty. I walked away liking it, but not raving about it. There were good moments that I enjoyed and which lingered, moments of a great dad, connecting with his kids. But, in the end, aside from the novelty of the storytelling through the years, I wasn’t moved beyond that. Though I did like some of the Austinesque stuff, obviously.
I actually, much preferred the film Chef, which also explored the dynamic of marriage and relationships, parenthood and boyhood, though through the eyes of the father, who might just prove that he’s no longer a boy, by teaching his son to be a chef. Though does he?
When Lou Bloom, a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. Aiding him in his effort is Nina, a TV-news veteran.
(Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler Golden Globes nomination for Best Actor)
Appropriately creepy and interesting. This part seemed like a role a young William H. Macy or Philip Seymour Hoffman were born to play, yet Jake Gyllenhaal made it his own. A surprising role for Rene Russo. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but I really enjoyed this Vulture interview with Russo.
A washed up actor, who once played an iconic superhero, battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of a Broadway play.
(2 Golden Globes Winner: Best Screenplay; Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical, Michael Keaton)
I’ve always been obsessed with Ed Norton and believe that he is the very best actor ever. Everything he chooses is pure genius, yes, including his roles in Rounders and Keeping The Faith. But this movie was some weird shit. And I LOVE me some weird shit. I especially love me some Galifianakis shit piled onto a scoop of Norton shit. That’s like a birdshit crazy sundae. But the twists in this bat cave were too batty for this bird. Yes, it explored plenty of themes, youth vs. aging, criticism vs. creation, and my my, weren’t rooftops the new 40. Maybe this film will grow on me if I watch it again.
The most appropriate alternative to this film that comes to mind? A Long Way Down.
Based on true events, the greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher, led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul – a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.
This film was disturbing and awkward and not my cup of tea. Why were there so many of these dark movies this year? Where are all the feel good “Seabiscuit” films? Where are the “Something’s Gotta Give” films? I’m just not a lover of these films, in general. If you’re going to see a Mark Raffalo movie this year, see Begin Again instead! If you’re into wrestling films, I adored “Win Win” a few years back at SXSW.
With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.
I read the book, so I was eager to see how its pages would translate onto the screen. Several times throughout the film, I stopped and thought, wait, did this even happen in the book? It did, right? Wait, did it? Is this how it ended, really? I don’t think so. I definitely enjoyed the movie though. I love this type of movie, a psychological thriller. There are too many to name. A Perfect Murder, Hush, Unfaithful, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle… wait, how long ago was that? Sorry, but does anyone have any recent recommendations? While Divergent was original and all, it was hardly a psychological thriller.
Into The Woods
A witch tasks a childless baker and his wife with procuring magical items from classic fairy tales to reverse the curse put on their family tree.
I took Abigail to see this. When we left, she turned to me and said, “Mama, what kind of movie did you take me to? That entire thing was about death.” What do you mean? “Oh, come on!” she said. “I’m eight years old now. Even if it is a Disney movie. Into the woods. Ah, hello. The woods are death. You see?” I saw; I just thought she’d see it as a fanciful musical. “Everyone was dying. Wives and mothers. And all the songs were about death!” Well, yes, so they are. The sooner you learn what happens to the Charmings now that they’re married the better, my dear. What a bold bold move, to remake this musical! There was certainly much to explain about adultery to my curious eight year old who’s not into glossing over such things. “But the baker was married. What was she doing kissing someone else? That’s why she dies? Are people punished if they do something wrong like that?” If Disney makes a movie like this, the least they can do is offer it up with a double feature, pair it with a nice film on Karma?
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.
(Golden Globes Winner: Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy)
This does not count in my 10 list because I am about to watch the screener. I haven’t watched it yet. I will add to this as I can, but right now, I’m exhausted and just wanted to get something up before the week gets away from me. I realize much of this is incomplete, but it takes a long time to write about all of this!
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An aged and addled actor has his world turned upside down after he embarks upon an affair with a lesbian, in this acidulous adaptation of the Philip Roth novel.
Not nominated for an Oscar, but I am looking forward to seeing this, mostly because it’s directed by Barry Levinson (Liberty Heights, Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, Diner) and Dianne Wiest is in it. Also, Philip Roth novels or short stories turned into films never really work, but who knows.