Tuesday, December 2, 2014

At the Movies – December 2014 – Part 1: Independent Films

Art-House Dramas:

Wild – Biographical Drama – Dec 5
Plot Summary: Cheryl Strayed has struggled to keep things together in her life. After a recent catastrophe, she sets out on a 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail to try and recover and get her mind right. This is based on a true story. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Jean-Marc Vallee, writer Nick Hornby and producer Reese Witherspoon. Actors Involved: Reese Witherspoon, Gaby Hoffman, Laura Dern, Michiel Huisman, Kevin Rankin, and Thomas Sadoski. Quality Potential: High/Medium. Director Jean-Marc Vallee seems to have found a good niche for himself, making character/performance oriented films (I really enjoyed The Young Victoria and Dallas Buyers Club won Matthew McConaughey an Oscar). Writer Nick Hornby’s stuff is usually good too (highlighted by An Education; he also wrote the novels High Fidelity and About a Boy). Reese Witherspoon has quietly been putting together a comeback, taking roles in smaller, but good, films like Mud and Inherent Vice (she has a small supporting role in each), as well as producing Gone Girl and Wild this year. Wild is her first substantial leading role in a while, one that very well could see her nominated for another Oscar. It is good to have her back making good movies. This is worth checking out for fans of character dramas as it looks to be a good one. Trailer: Here.

Mr. Turner – Biographical Drama – Dec 19 (LA/NYC)
Plot Summary: J.M.W. Turner was a great British romantic landscape painter (the painter of light) during the 19th century. This drama looks at the last twenty-five years of his eccentric life. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director Mike Leigh and cinematographer Dick Pope. Actors Involved: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, and Lesley Manville. Quality Potential: High/Medium. Mike Leigh is regarded as one of the great English auteurs working today. He makes little reserved films that have appeal for indie audiences, usually ripe with strong performances and writing (films like Naked, Secrets & Lies and Vera Drake). Mr. Turner looks no different and should appeal to fans of Leigh. It is certainly in the hunt for nominations in the Best Picture and Best Actor (for Timothy Spall) categories. This should be a very good character drama. Trailer: Here.

Two Days, One Night – Drama – Dec 24
Plot Summary: Sandra is a young Belgian mother faced with a difficult task. Her co-workers have opted for a significant pay bonus, but it means her dismissal. Now she has only one weekend to convince them to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-directors Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne. Actors Involved: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione and Catherine Salee. Quality Potential: High. The Dardenne Brothers are Belgium’s greatest working auteurs. Their films have garnered critical acclaim in Europe for years but they are relatively unknown in the States. Actress Marion Cotillard’s profile in America gives their new film a perceived bigger audience and thus distribution in America. Two of their recent better known, critically acclaimed films are L’enfant and The Kid with a Bike. Speaking of Cotillard, she has been producing excellent work since winning an Oscar. She is fantastic in the recent films Public Enemies, Inception, Little White Lies, Midnight in Paris, Contagion, Rust and Bone, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Immigrant. Two Days, One Night will be a great character drama (it competed for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival) and I would not be surprised to see Cotillard with a nomination or two. Trailer: Here.

Selma – Biographical Drama – Dec 25 (limited – wide Jan 9)
Plot Summary: Selma, Alabama, the early 1960s, civil rights tensions have come to a boil. This drama focuses on Martin Luther King, President Lyndon B. Johnson and the marches that changed America. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Ava DuVernay and producer Oprah Winfrey. Actors Involved: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi, Tim Roth, Cuba Gooding Jr., Common, Oprah Winfrey, and Dylan Baker. Quality Potential: Medium. Selma is likely to be a powerful social drama, much like last year’s 12 Years a Slave and (to a much lesser extent) The Butler. This is a story that needs to be remembered and told for many in America. Relative newcomer Ava DuVernay has put together a solid cast lead by David Oyelowo and Tom Wilkinson. Oyelowo is looking to have a breakthrough year in 2014 with the lead in this, which very well could see him garner some awards season nominations, and supporting roles in Interstellar and A Most Violent Year. I have not seen anything DuVernay has directed, but her first two features played to mixed reviews. Hopefully she will do this drama its due justice. The film does have strong buzz. Trailer: Here.

Leviathan – Drama – Dec 31
Plot Summary: Nikolai lives with his family in a small house in a Russian coastal town. The corrupt mayor, one day, informs Nikolai that his house is to be demolished to make way for a new project the mayor is working on. Nikolai is forced to fight or lose his home. He calls in a lawyer friend to help, but the mayor escalates things to a dangerous level. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director Andrey Zvyagintsev. Actors Involved: Aleksey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, and Roman Madyanov. Quality Potential: High. Leviathan looks to be a very good drama. It competed for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and won the Best Screenplay award. It is likely to be nominated as one of the five Best Foreign Language Films at the 2015 Oscars. Trailer: Here.

A Most Violent Year – Crime Drama – Dec 31
Plot Summary: Set during the 1981 winter in New York City, this crime drama tells the story of statistically one of the city’s most violent years. It is centered on the lives of Abel Morales and his wife Anna, an immigrant businessman looking to expand in a city rampant with violence, decay and corruption. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director J.C. Chandor. Actors Involved: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks, and Catalina Sandino Moreno. Quality Potential: High/Medium. J.C. Chandor is a much buzzed about filmmaker after the critical success of his first two features (Margin Call and All Is Lost, although I did not find either particularly enthralling). Many are predicting A Most Violent Year to be his best yet and it is in many Oscar conversations. But to be fair, so was All Is Lost, and that received zero nominations in major categories. The film does look like a good crime drama and Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain are both excellent actors. Trailer: Here.

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