Tag Archives: Oscars

Trials & Triumph

Terrific cast, searing true story in Oscar-winning ‘Slave’

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12 Years a Slave

Blu-ray $39.99, DVD $29.98 (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

 

With its Oscar for Best Picture capping off a run as one of the most celebrated films of 2013, director Steve McQueen’s epic adaptation of a true American slave’s odyssey is often difficult to watch, but becomes something triumphant to behold. The all-star cast (which includes Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti) is anchored by the riveting powerhouse performances of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery, and Lupita Nyong’o, who received the Academy Award for Supporting Actress as Patsy, a fellow captive. Extras include several behind-the-scene features, including Ejiofor reading passages from Northup’s autobiography, on which the movie was based.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Con-Fabulous

Swirling scandal saga based on real events from the 1970s

American Hustle

Blu-ray $40.99, DVD $30.99 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

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Director David O. Russell’s sprawling, swirling ‘70s saga, nominated for 10 Academy Awards, is a tale of con artists, FBI agents, a fake oil sheik, real gangsters, crooked politicians and others hustling to make it or break it against the backdrop of a real-life American scandal. The fabulous ensemble cast of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner keeps the show rolling; the colorful clothes and disco-era hairstyles are dy-no-mite; and the soundtrack rocks with tuneful tracks of the era. Extras include a making-of documentary with the filmmakers and cast, plus deleted and extended scenes.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Live Like You Were Dying

McConaughey, Leto lead Oscar nominees in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’  

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

Blu-ray $34.99 / DVD $29.98 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

Matthew McConaughey stars as a high-living, homophobic Texas cowboy whose life is turned inside out when he’s diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live. Taking matters into his own hands, he seeks alternative treatments—legal and illegal—and begins his own “buyer’s club” for the life-extending drugs he can’t obtain through conventional channels, eventually uniting an eclectic group of fellow social outcasts. Based on a true story from the 1980s, this powerful, inspiring tale resulted in six Oscar nominations, including Picture, Lead Actor for McConaughey, and Supporting Actor for Jared Leto, whose wrenching performance as the transgendered Rayon has already raked in dozens of awards, including trophies from the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Far Out

Sandra Bullock is a knockout in thrilling outer-space drama 

Gravity

Gravity

Blu-ray +DVD + Digital Bonus Pack $35.99 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Sandra Bullock stars in this technically dazzling Oscar-nominated thriller as a NASA medical engineer thrown into a terrifying struggle to survive after her first space shuttle mission suddenly erupts in catastrophe. George Clooney’s also along for some of the ride, but this is Bullock’s show all the way as her character stares down the blackness of the cold, indifferent, infinite void of the cosmos—and wonders how she can possibly get home.  Bonus content includes behind-the-scenes features, a short film by director Jonás Cuarón, and a look at the groundbreaking special effects, which create the most realistic, believable scenes of bodies and other “weightless” objects bobbing, bouncing, twirling, hurtling, and colliding ever depicted on screen.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Winter Break

Will ‘Nebraska’ finally crack the Oscar ice for Bruce Dern?

NEBRASKA

Nebraska

Starring Bruce Dern & Will Forte

Directed by Alexander Payne

R, 115 min.

Bruce Dern has only been up for two Academy Awards. Back in 1979, he was nominated for his supporting role as a stressed-out Vietnam-vet husband in Coming Home. (He lost to Christopher Walken, who played another, even more stressed-out Vietnam vet, in The Deer Hunter.)

Now, 25 years later, he’s back in the running again, this time for a Best Actor trophy, for what might well be the crowning performance of his entire career—as a cantankerous Montana senior citizen on a crazy quest to claim a sweepstakes jackpot across the state line in Nebraska.

Dern plays Woody Grant, who mistakenly thinks that the Publishers Clearing House-style notification/solicitation he’s received means he’s won a million dollars. Woody may have a touch of dementia, might have a drinking problem, and he certainly “believes stuff that people tell him,” according to his adult son, David (Will Forte of Saturday Night Live fame).

NEBRASKAThis “little” film shuffles along at a leisurely pace, without a lot of the frills, thrills or spills that usually mark box-office champs. Yet it’s up for five other 2014 Oscars: Best Picture, plus nominations for June Squibb (Supporting Actress), who plays Woody’s tart-tongued war horse of a wife; veteran cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, whose black-and-white vistas often look like fine-art photographic prints; writer Bob Nelson, who provided the wit, warmth and humanity of the screenplay; and director Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), a native of Omaha, whose affinity for the empty, wide-open spaces and deadpan social cadences of the Midwest shows in the authenticity of every scene, every conversation, and every character, and in the way he gradually reveals the details, wrinkles and folds of the story.

It’s a story of a simple road trip that becomes something much bigger, much broader, and much deeper—a tale of fathers and sons and families, of generosity and grudges, of old memories and youthful frolics, of the many shades of grey in the wide spectrum of love.

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“He doesn’t need a nursing home,” David tells his brother (Bob Odenkirk, of TV’s Breaking Bad). “He just needs something to live for.”

It’s got six shots at taking home an Oscar this year. But even if doesn’t, this wonderful, warmhearted winter gem of a film is already a big winner, especially for anyone fortunate enough to see it.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Guy Meets Gigabyte

A surprisingly sweet, audaciously witty, somewhat weird and ultimately warmhearted ‘what if’ about love in the not-so-far future

HER

Her

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and the voice of Scarlett Johansson

Directed by Spike Jonze

R, 126 min.

Can you love someone who isn’t really anyone? That’s one of the questions at the heart of Her, in which a lonely writer in the not-so-distant future develops a romantic relationship with the operating system of his computer.

Think of Siri, the speech-recognition software that comes with an iPhone, or the “voice” that narrates routes mapped out by your vehicle’s GPS navigational device.

Only Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), the first of an advanced new operating system (OS) product line, is much more than just a voice. She has personality and a powerful “artificial intelligence,” and she immediately begins to wow her new owner Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) with attention to his every need. She proofreads his work, composes music for their moments together, helps him play his favorite holographic videogame and sends him dirty-minded doodles that make him laugh.

HERSamantha “gets” Theo—understands him, relates to him—like no flesh-and-blood woman ever got him before. Soon enough, he begins to develop feelings for “her.”

Written and directed by Spike Jonze (Where The Wild Things Are, Being John Malcovich, Adaptation) Her takes an old-fashioned romantic convention—guy meets girl—and runs it through an innovative wavelength of sci-fi wi-fi that at the same time doesn’t seem all that out of sync with today. We never know when it takes place—presumably, it’s only a couple of decades from now—but its scenes of people walking around with ear buds, constantly speaking commands for their portable devices to check email or play songs, look oddly contemporary.

Jonze’s movie—nominated for four upcoming Academy Awards, including Best Picture—raises issues about relationships, intimacy, isolation, jealousy, sensory experience, and our connections to the technologies on which our lives have increasingly come to rely. Phoenix gives his usual standout, immersive performance in a very tricky role, playing to a co-star who isn’t really “there” in a physical sense.

As for Samantha, heard but never seen, Johansson is mesmerizing, a warm, sensual, palpable “presence” that moves from Theo’s head into his heart, re-awakening him in every way

_DSC2097.tifAmy Adams frumps down her recent firecracker role in American Hustle to play Theo’s old college friend with love problems of her own, and Rooney Mara portrays his soon-to-be ex-wife, scoffing at his inability to find and date a “real woman.” Theo’s co-worker (Chris Pratt from TV’s Parks and Recreation), however, doesn’t bat an eye when he finds out his girlfriend is an OS. Olivia Wilde has one scene as a date with doubts about Theo’s abilities to commit.

At one point, Theodore plays a ukulele and plunks out a song for Samantha. It’s a charming little tune about being “a million miles away” with the one you love. The very idea of a guy head-over-heels with a female voice coming out of a device in his shirt pocket may seem, indeed, w-a-a-ay out there. But Spike Jonze’s surprisingly sweet, audaciously witty, somewhat weird and ultimately warmhearted “what if” makes you wonder if it’s not so far off, after all.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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