Oscar Nominations 2015: The Fallout

Oscars, nominations, Academy Awards, AMPAS, poster, Neil Patrick Harris

This morning, Thursday January 15, 2015, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (along with a somnambulant Chris Pine, J.J. Abrams, and Alfonso Cuarón) stood on a mountain top (okay a stage) to hand down that august body’s nominations for the 87th annual Academy Awards. Given the complete hodge-podge and mishmash of this year’s list of nominees, seemingly culled together by blind monkeys banging away at keyboards, I can understand why they do it at the arse-crack of dawn (at least for those on the West Coast). They’re hiding under the cover of darkness.

I have to say I’m not really all that shocked by who was nominated, but rather surprised, puzzled and, yes, a little pissed-off, by who wasn’t.

One step forward and two steps back: last year I fantasized about more than one person of color being nominated for Best Actor. This pipe-dream was unfullfilled, but at least one black actor not named Denzel managed to slip past the color barrier (Chiwetel Ejiorfor), even if they did ultimately hand the prize to the middle-aged white guy. I was left with the thought that perhaps a corner had been turned and that in subsequent years we would begin to see nominees more reflective of the culture. This year is not one of those years.

Despite a mesmorizing performance by David Oyelowo as the man known as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (rather than a two-dimensional bold-faced type legend) in Selma, for which he received nothing but glowing reviews, the actor did not receive an Academy Award nomination. Neither did the film’s director Ava DuVernay, who until a week ago when the Director’s Guild also snubbed her, had been favorited to become the first African-American female director nominated.

Back when I began ruminating on the subject, I had thought that Oyelowo might just snatch the Oscar most were then already giving to Benedict Cumberbatch, the way I so desperately wanted Ejiofor to get the Oscar he so richly deserved, instead of the anointed Matthew McConaughey. (Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of both Ben and Matty, as you well know, but the award is for Best Performance, not body of work or for being an all-around brilliant actor/charming human.) Now of course, Oyelowo was ignored and Cumberbatch will almost certainly lose to either Eddie Redmayne or (more likely in this arena) Michael Keaton.

If Oyelowo was too dark for them or they couldn’t pronounce his name (O-yellow-o, and he’s been around long enough for people to get it right), the Academy could have opted for the equally deserving Guatemalan/Cuban actor, Oscar Isaac. When are they going to recognize this man? Bradley Cooper has been nominated three years in a row! After the egregious omission of Isaac’s name on last year’s list for Inside Llewyn Davis, I should have been prepared. A Most Violent Year (which incidentally included David Oyelowo in a fantastic supporting performance) probably wasn’t seen by enough voting members. I know the National Board of Review doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but the film’s win should at least have put it on the radar. Maybe Isaac is just too good…like his costar Jessica Chastain (also denied after a year that also included The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Miss Julie and Interstellar). When we expect greatness, perhaps it’s not as likely to be rewarded? No, that can’t be right. Otherwise how the hell does one explain Meryl Streep? She made a movie? BAM! here’s a nomination!

Even if the Academy can only see white, I’m puzzled by the representatives it chose. As I mentioned on Facebook, I am a fan of both Steve Carrell and Bradley Cooper, but fake noses and weight gain/loss need to stop being reasons for nominations, let alone wins (Nicole Kidman and Matty again, respectively). I love you both, I do, but neither of you were better than Oyelowo or Isaac or Ralph Fiennes or Tom Hardy or Timothy Spall or Jake Gyllenhaal, all of whom are more deserving. JMHO.

So, moving on to Best Actress, the race boils down to Julianne Moore and four other white women. Doesn’t matter which ones. Moore, an exceptionally talented actress who has never won, has already been chosen for her role in Still Alice, a film 99.9% of the country has not had a chance to see yet. Another weird and mystical Oscar phenomenon, this one has plucked Moore’s name from the magic hat, while leaving two other actresses, Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Chastain, both in similar situations, in the lurch.  (Cake, like Still Alice has not opened yet here in Boston, a city which is usually on the 2nd rollout tier right behind NY & LA. A Most Violent Year, which I was lucky enough to see last summer, opens this weekend) Then there’s Golden Globe winner Amy Adams. Adams was, up until this morning, thought to be in a horserace with Moore. Like Moore she’s been nominated many times before, but has never won. Not even nominated. Some pundits are putting it down to the fact that reviews for Tim Burton‘s Big Eyes were decidedly mixed, even while Adams was praised, and that “it wouldn’t be worth nominating her again if she wasn’t going to take the prize”*.  Adams might disagree.

It is nice that Rosamund Pike got a nod for Gone Girl, though she’s apparently meant to carry the banner for the entire film which failed to get recognition for director David Fincher, screenwriter Gillian Flynn, or costar Ben Affleck. (Hell, I thought they’d at least nominate the Oscars’ telecast host, Neil Patrick Harris for Best Supporting Actor. He was worthy and that would have made good tv.) I adore Marion Cotillard, but her nomination was a surprise, especially for a French film that while it’s received a lot of critical praise, no one not on a list for Academy screeners has seen. However, she could have been nominated for The Immigrant and I’d have been happy, so I won’t quibble here. The category is rounded out by Reese Witherspoon and Felicity Jones, to absolutely no one’s surprise.

Best Supporting Actor does happen to include some truly great performances, including Edward Norton in Birdman and J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, but as much as I love Mark Ruffalo, I think Channing Tatum gave the better supporting performance in Foxcatcher. And anyone who knows me, knows that it is no small thing for me to praise Tatum-tot.  And don’t get me started on Robert Duvall. Another nomination for longevity.

On the distaff side, Laura Dern came out of left field to pick up her first nomination since 1992 (for Rambling Rose), after being forgotten by the Golden Globes and SAG. Keira Knightley, Emma Stone and Meryl Streep were all Globe nominated, as was Patricia Arquette, the Globe winner receiving her first Academy nomination for a film in which she gets to age twelve years on camera. Nice choices, but what a nice surprise it would have been if Tilda Swinton‘s name had been called this morning for Snowpiercer. (Although why her performance in Only Lovers Left Alive has not been part of the conversation is beyond me. Same reason Tom Hardy hasn’t been, I guess.)

There is so much head-scratching to be done over today’s announcement that I’m making myself dizzy.  Where’s JC Chandor for Best Screenplay, let alone director or Best Picture? And where’s Christopher Nolan? Remember when the interwebz declared the race over before it had even begun and Interstellar would be the winner? I don’t care what the science means and whether or not it’s realistic, it wasn’t nearly as confusing as Inception and it had the heart missing from most cold and earnest sci-fi extravaganzas.

For some odd reason, there are only eight Best Picture nods this year, when there can be as many as ten. As you can probably guess, I’m very pleasantly surprised that The Grand Budapest Hotel is among them, but the question is begged, how then, did Selma wind up as one of them?“ It’s only the fourth movie to be so nominated without first having been nominated by any of the major guilds:  the Producers Guild, the Writers Guild (for which it was ineligible), the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild. The only other bone the film received was Best Original Song, a surprise to no one. This is a film that not only directed itself (like fellow Best Pic nominee American Sniper), but it also wrote itself and was acted by holograms. And then there’s Bennett Miller, who got a Director nomination, but what does that mean if his film, Foxcatcher, did not? What, exactly, is his achievement other than directing Carrell and Ruffalo to nominations of their own?

Ironically, I’m watching as I type this, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the writer/directors of The Lego Movie, accept the Critics Choice Award for Best Animated Feature. It’s ironic because while this movie has been hailed audiences and critics alike and was widely expected to take the Oscar, was not even nominated for one! (Admittedly, I will root for How to Train Your Dragon 2 for sentimental reasons as well as the fact that it’s a damn fine film.)

Another bit of irony, the above mentioned group just handed the aforementioned un-nominated Jessica Chastain its first ever “MVP Award” because of the four extraordinary performances she gave this year.  She is the epitome of class and grace, something the Academy could use some more of.

Of course, none of the above grousing means I won’t be eagerly awaiting my high holy day and preparing by watching with bated breath the SAG and BAFTA awards shows.  I’ll be back before February 22 with my predictions. (I went 23 for 24 last year, so I have a lot to live up to, even if only in my own mind LOL) We all need time to see all of those live action and animated shorts.

Here’s the complete list of nominees:


American Sniper

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)


The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game


The Theory of Everything



Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game


Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything


Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild


Robert Duvall, The Judge

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Edward Norton, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash


Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Laura Dern, Wild

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Emma Stone, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Meryl Streep, Into the Woods


American Sniper, Jason Hall

The Imitation Game, Graham Moore

Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson

The Theory of Everything, Anthony McCarten

Whiplash, Damien Chazelle


Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo

Boyhood, Richard Linklater

Foxcatcher, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guiness

Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy


Birdman (The Unexpected Virute of Ignorance), Emmanuel Lubezki

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Robert D. Yeoman

Ida, (Ryszard Lenczweski and Lukasz Zal

Mr. Turner, Dick Pope

Unbroken, Roger Deakins


The Grand Budapest Hotel, Milena Canonero

Inherent Vice, Mark Bridges

Into the Woods, Colleen Atwood

Mr. Turner, Jacqueline Durran

Maleficent, Anna B. Sheppard


American Sniper, Joel Cox and Gary Roach

Boyhood, Sandra Adair

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Barney Pilling

The Imitation Game, William Goldenberg

Whiplash, Tom Cross



The Grand Budapest Hotel

Guardians of the Galaxy


The Grand Budapest Hotel (Alexandre Desplat)

The Imitation Game (Alexandre Desplat)

Interstellar (Hans Zimmer)

Mr. Turner (Gary Yershon)

The Theory of Everything (Jóhann Jóhannsson)


“Lost Stars” from Begin Again

“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

“Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie

“Glory” from Selma

“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights


The Grand Budapest Hotel (Adam Stockhausen; Anna Pinnock)

The Imitation Game (Maria Djurkovic; Tatiana Macdonald)

Interstellar (Nathan Crowley; Gary Fettis, Paul Healy)

Into the Woods (Dennis Gassner; Anna Pinnock)

Mr. Turner (Suzie Davies; Charlotte Watts)


American Sniper

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies




American Sniper

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)





Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Guardians of the Galaxy


X-Men: Days of Future Past


Big Hero 6

The Boxtrolls

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Song of the Sea

The Tale of Princess Kaguya


Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón; Argentina)

Tangerines (Zaza Urushadze; Estonia)

Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako; Mauritania)

Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski; Poland)

Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev; Russia)



Finding Vivian Maier

Last Days in Vietnam

The Salt of the Earth



Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1


Our Curse

The Reaper

White Earth


The Bigger Picture

The Dam Keeper


Me and My Moulton

A Single Life



Boogaloo and Graham

Butter Lamp


The Phone Call

* Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh

Another Visit to the JMHO Trailer Park

Frank, movie, still, Michael Fassbender, papier-mache head

Welcome to another edition of JMHO Trailer Park, wherein I attempt to bring you the best of (what I consider to be) the best trailers for upcoming films.

First up, to celebrate Michael Fassbender‘s much deserved win for Best Supporting Actor (for 12 Years a Slave) at Sunday night’s Jameson Empire Film Awards, as well as his 37th birthday tomorrow, I bring you the trailer for Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank. which I had mentioned briefly back in July.

Frank is the story of Jon (Domnhall Gleason), a would-be musician, who discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an avant-garde  pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank (Fassbender), and the very scary Clara, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.  Frank is mysterious and enigmatic mostly because he never appears in public (or anywhere else really) without his giant papier-mache head.  The film is a fictional story loosely inspired by Frank Sidebottom, the persona of cult musician and comedian Chris Sievey, as well as other outsider musicians like Daniel Johnston and Captain Beefheart.  The screenplay was written by Jon Ronson (based on his memoir) and Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and the flick’s cast also includes Scoot McNairy, and Tess Harper.

In the world of alternative music, The Soronprfbs are the ne plus ultra of outsiders. A brilliant, ramshackle, barely functioning band, they are built around the eponymous Frank (Michael Fassbender), an unstable yet charismatic musical savant, who at all times wears a large, round fake head with crudely paintedOon features O like Daniel Johnston hidden behind a cartoon smile. His closest musical collaborator is the forbidding Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal); part caretaker, part jailer, Clara is the antithesis of all things mainstream. The band is completed by Nana (Carla Azar), a Moe TuckerOlike drummer, and Baraque (Francois Civil), a beautiful Frenchman who plays bass. Into this mix comes replacement keyboard player, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), after the band’s original keyboardist is hospitalized following an attempt at drowning himself. In his head, Jon’s is a true creative, a maverick musical force; in reality he’s a very ordinary young man trying to escape his humOdrum, smallOtown life. For Jon, this is the break he’s been waiting for, his chance to climb through the looking glass and into the world of artistic collaboration, real musicOmaking, and rock ‘n’ roll adventure that he’s always dreamed of. But he discovers (and perhaps has always suspected) that he lacks the one thing he needs to make his dream come true – genuine talent.

While most of us wonder why anyone would hire Michael Fassbender and then stick a giant fake head on him, I can also imagine that for Fassbender, the reluctant movie star who can probably sympathize with Frank quite a bit, it would be freeing. Having filmed 12 Years a Slave then The Counselor, both requiring a lot of intensity, throwing himself into something so completely different, a comedy of sorts, would almost be a vacation.

Frank premiered at Sundance in January, played South by Southwest last week and will play Sundance London in April before opening in the UK on May 2. No US date yet, but I have no doubt one will be forthcoming, for NY and LA at least. Unless I miss my guess, it’ll be VOD for the rest of us.

Devil's Knot, movie, poster, Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth

It would appear that Michael Fassbender (not to mention James Brown) has some serious competition for the title of “the hardest working man in show business”. Colin Firth has four titles that will be released in 2014. In addition to Railway Man, Before I Go To Sleep and Paddington (all featuring Nicole Kidman), there’s a project called Devil’s Knot, directed by Atom Egoyan and costarring Reese Witherspoon, and is based on the story of the “West Memphis Three”. It played the Toronto International Film Festival last year, but I don’t remember hearing a thing about it.

The story is probably at least a little familiar. In 1993, three teen boys (here played by James Hamrick, Seth Meriwether and Kristopher Higgins)  were convicted of the murder of three eight-year-olds, in what was widely reported at the time to have been a satanic ritual. Subsequently, private investigators were able to pull apart the original prosecution case, but the presiding judge in their appeal, who freed them after 17 years in prison, did not overturn their convictions (so they are not entitled to any form of compensation).

There have been four documentaries made about this case: Joe Berlinger’s Paradise Lost series of three films, and Amy BergWest of Memphis, but this is the first dramatization. Witherspoon plays the mother of one of the victims, and Firth a private investigator trying to discern fact from fiction in a scared and angry community.

“The savage murders of three young children sparks a controversial trial of three teenagers accused of killing the kids as part of a satanic ritual.”

Take a look at the trailer:

This one may not have been on my radar before, but it certainly is now. Also starring Alessandro Nivola, Amy Ryan, Mireille Enos, Elias Koteas, Stephen Moyer, Kevin Durand, Martin Henderson, Bruce Greenwood and Dane DeHaan, Devil’s Knot has been given a US release date of May 9. It’s already played Egoyan’s native Canada. The UK will get it 13 June.

Under the Skin , poster, movie, Scarlett Johansson

Under the Skin has gotten a lot of attention because Scarlett Johansson walks around Glasgow  (and into the wet-dreams of a million fanboys) stark naked.  It’s also garnering director Jonathan Glazer comparisons to less a master than Stanley Kubrick. I enjoyed Glazer’s first two films, the gangster flick Sexy Beast with Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley and the under-rated (at least at the time) Birth with Nicole Kidman and Danny Huston, I’ll have to see Under the Skin before I can endorse that kudo. (Not that anyone’s holding their breath for my endorsement lol).  Birth, about a woman’s husband who may or may not have been reincarnated in the form of a young boy who is determined to convince her,  would seem to have more in common with Under the Skin at least visually, with it’s scenes of a stark New York in winter filled with gray half-light and chilly fog.

The premise is simple: “An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland. ” But from the accounts of people who’ve seen it at festivals, that’s only the beginning and it is pretty damn scary. Sounds good to me! Check out the the ethereal posters by artist Neil Kellerhouse (via TotalFilm) below.

Under the Skin doesn’t have a big name cast. In fact you probably won’t recognize anyone other than Johansson. It opens here this Friday, April 4. Counter-programming for Captain America?

Only Lovers Left Alive, movie, poster, vampires, Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton

And in the third and final Michael Fassbender reference in this post, we have the trailer to Jim Jarmusch‘s imagined lives of vampires,  Only Lovers Left Alive. The vampire love story which would seem to ooze even more cool than blood (and it won’t be short of that I’m sure), pairs Tilda Swinton with Tom Hiddleston. What’s that got to do with Fassbender? Michael Fassbender dropped out,  making way for Hiddleston. I have no problem with that whatsoever. It would undoubtedly have been great fun watching Fassbender with Swinton, but  it would definitely appear that T.H. OWNS the role of Adam, a vampire who has been in love with Swinton’s Eve for eons, drifting in and out of each other’s “lives” and the centuries, searching for meaning.

Much like Anne Rice’s vampire prince, Lestat, Adam is a musician – in this century a rock musician. Unlike Lestat, it appears that Adam does not crave the spotlight. The movie begins when Adam’s  depression over the direction human society has taken sparks a reunion with his lover Eve.  Their romantic interlude is interrupted by the appearance of her little “sister” Ava, played by Mia Wasikowska. (Every time I see the trailer I have to remind myself that it is Wasikowska, and not Juno Temple.)

“Set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangiers, an underground musician, deeply depressed by the direction of human activities, reunites with his resilient and enigmatic lover. Their love story has already endured several centuries at least, but their debauched idyll is soon disrupted by her wild and uncontrollable younger sister. Can these wise but fragile outsiders continue to survive as the modern world collapses around them?”

Jarmusch uses his usual light, sly touch with an emphasis on the humor of the situation and the intelligence of his characters… and his actors. Despite the fact that it’s a movie about vampires, this might be the director’s most accessible film yet. Watch the trailer and then watch the clip below it as these two impossibly and preternaturally beautiful people discuss the merits of Mary Wollstonecraft (mother of Mary Shelley and an author in her own right) and suck blood…on a stick.

I have an admitted vampire fetish and I have been waiting for this one for a long time. Also featuring Anton Yelchin, John Hurt, and Jeffrey Wright, Only Lovers Left Alive opens here in the US on April 11

The Drop, movie, Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, poster

And finally, “Tom Hardy Week” rolls on with the very first trailer for Michaël Roskam’s The Drop (formerly known as Animal Rescue) that we told you about a few days ago.

The story, once again centers on Bob (Hardy) and Marv (James Gandolfini), the bar where they both work and the mob:

THE DROP is a new crime drama from Michaël R. Roskam, the Academy Award-nominated director of BULLHEAD. Based on a screenplay from Dennis Lehane (MYSTIC RIVER, GONE BABY GONE), THE DROP follows lonely bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) through a covert scheme of funneling cash to local gangsters – “money drops” – in the underworld of Brooklyn bars. Under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), Bob finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living – no matter the cost.

The action has been moved from Boston to Brooklyn, but The Drop still feels very “Lehane” to me.  (And while I think Hardy’s Brooklyn-ese is pretty good, it would kill me if he butchered a Boston accent.) Matthias Schoenaerts is obviously a heavy (since he’s seen menacing the doll, played by Noomi Rapace) but judging from the synopsis, it sounds like the real villains will be the Russian mob and there may be more to his story.

In yet another WAY TOO EARLY Oscar prediction, if The Drop is as good as it looks from this first trailer,  James Gandolfini might just have one more shot at a posthumous Oscar.

It’s going to be a long wait until September. At least it looks like it’s shaping up to be a pretty good spring, at the multi-plex anyway.


Mud: Huck Finn for the New Millennium and the Re-Birth of McConaughey

Mud, poster, movie, Matthew McConaughey

poster via Lionsgate and imdb

Walking out of the theater in which I saw my first viewing of Mud, I was reminded of star Matthew McConaughey’s performance in John Sayles’ Lonestar, a film which, thematically, has little in common with Mud. Specifically, I remember thinking that McConaughey hadn’t been this good since that earlier film. What makes that really interesting to me is that 1. I just read that it was Lone Star that Mud director Jeff Nichols had in mind when he cast his star and 2. That movie came out in 1996. Seventeen years ago. “What the hell happened in between?” you may well ask.

Frankly, there have been some damn fine performances in between. I have to admit to being a Matty fan, but if all you know of him is  his breakthrough role as skirt-chasing stoner Wooderson in the cult classic Dazed and Confused, or lame pseudo romantic comedies like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch or Ghosts of Girlfriends past, you’re missing out on some very good performances in some very fine films like A Time to Kill that came out the same year as Lonestar, Contact, directed by Robert Zemeckis and costarring Jodie Foster, (One of my favorites from the 90s.) and Steven Spielberg’s Amistad. In fact, even while making the aforementioned dismal comedies, there were movies like Frailty (Bill Paxton’s directorial debut. Seek it out if you’re not familiar) and We Are Marshall. Of course, I even liked Reign of Fire. (Christian Bale, Gerard Butler and dragons. C’mon!)

The real problem was that overshadowing the good performances in either iffy movies or good movies no one saw, Matty became a certified movie-star and  his private life (including liaisons with ATTK costars Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd, as well as naked bongo playing) began to get more ink than his performances. He became a punch line more famous for his physique than his acting chops. (Remind you of anyone? – read that with Craig Ferguson’s voice and side-eye)

The real ‘why’ of it is anyone’s guess. It could have been the lure of the lifestyle and big paychecks or believing one’s own hype and publicity, you name it, it’s as big a mystery as what sparked the turn-around.

Was it the fact that he started wearing a shirt when he settled down and started having kids? Who knows, but the fact is that beginning with The Lincoln Lawyer, perceptions about the actor Matthew McConaughey began to change.  When that movie became a surprise hit in the spring of 2011, McConaughey was suddenly part of the conversation again, in a good way.

His extraordinary run has continued with impressive work  in four wildly different films in 2012: Bernie a black comedy based on real events involving a small-town Texas funeral director, costarring Jack Black and Shirley McLaine (it’s available on Netflix instant and definitely worth a look);  Steven Soderbergh’s penultimate film (so he says) Magic Mike, Lee Daniels’ follow-up to Precious, the divisive The Paperboy with Nicole Kidman, John Cusack and Zac Efron that anyone who saw it either really loved or really, really hated, and William Friedkin’s screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’ award winning play, Killer Joe.  Another black comedy (the blackest), this one is not for everybody. It’s violent, bloody and very twisted. (It may put you right off fried chicken.) Matty plays a lawman who moonlights as a hitman and his performance was nominated for an Independent Spirit award as Best Male Lead.  In 2013, we’ll see the actor so famous as an ideal of male pulchritude minus  more than 45 pounds, the weight dropped from his already lean frame in order to play a drug treatment crusader dying of AIDS, in the upcoming drama Dallas Buyers Club, slated for an awards-friendly fall release.  2013 will also bring Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Matty will be vying against Matty at the box office and possibly on the trophy circuit.

With Mud, which went to the Cannes Film Festival in 2012 and Sundance in 2013, the career make-over, deliberate or otherwise, continues.  McConaughey plays the title character, a drifter, a fugitive from the law risking his life and freedom for love, in a film that, to me, is nothing short of a “Huck Finn” for the new millennium.  Jeff Nichols’s subtly sweet coming-of-age tale, set on the Mississippi River, in southern Arkansas, is about an adolescent boy’s search for love and it is filled with indelible characters played by an exceptional ensemble cast that includes Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, and Reese Witherspoon.

Here’s the (somewhat spoiler-y) synopsis from Roadside Attractions:

14 year-old Ellis(Tye Sheridan) lives on a houseboat on the banks of a river in Arkansas with his parents, Mary Lee (Paulson) and Senior (McKinnon). His best friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), also 14, lives with his uncle, Galen (Shannon), who makes a hardscrabble living diving for oysters. The two boys set out to an island on the Mississippi River, where Neckbone has discovered an unusual sight-a boat, suspended high in the trees, a remnant of an extreme flood sometime in the past. They climb the tree and into the boat only to find fresh bread and fresh footprints.Leaving, they find footprints near their boat and that’s when they meet Mud, a gritty, superstitious character with dirty clothes, a cracked tooth, and in need of help. He tells the boys he will give them the treehouse boat, his current hideout, in exchange for food. Neckbone is reluctant, but Ellis brings food to Mud, and they develop a tentative friendship.

Ellis learns that Mud has killed a man in Texas, and police and bounty hunters are looking for him, but Mud is more concerned about reuniting with his longtime love, Juniper (Witherspoon). Ellis, who has recently developed his own crush, agrees to help Mud escape with Juniper. Ellis and Neckbone carry out bold schemes in an effort to protect Mud and relay messages to Juniper, who is holed up in a fleabag motel, under constant surveillance by a Texas bounty hunter taking orders from the cold-blooded King (Joe Don Baker). As the boys risk everything to reunite the lovers, Ellis’s own ideas about love and romance are challenged by the strains in the relationships closest to him: his parents’ marriage is dissolving while he himself falters in his efforts to impress May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant). Through it all, Ellis struggles to look for an example of love that he can believe in, learning about the unspoken rules and risks of love and the reality of heartbreak.

McConaughey, is definitely a version of Mark Twain’s Jim, but defies Southern caricature. He’s a combination of both Boo Radley and Boyd Crowder— the “unknown” who can strangle as easily as save, rather than say, Max Cady (either the Robert Mitchum or Robert DeNiro versions) or Long Hair (Bruce Dern in the Cowboys).

As eye-catching as McConaughey’s performance is — thanks, in large part, to a leathery suntan, body-wrapping tattoo and snaggly prosthetic teeth — Mud belongs to the two boys who cross Mud’s path, with memorably fateful results. Without the extraordinarily performances from Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life) and Jacob Lofland, there’d be no movie. Sheridan in particular, is in nearly every scene and you can’t take your eyes off of him.  If Sheridan’s Ellis represents youthful wonder, Lofland’s Neckbone represents a more clear-eyed reality.

Mud, Tye Sheridan, Jacon Lofland, movie

photo courtesy Facebook for Mud The Movie

Nichols uses close-ups of Sheridan’s and Lofland’s open, expressive faces to strike a balance between naturalism and more fantastical elements in telling a story in which menace and tenderness coexist,  often in the same scene, sometimes in the same sentence.

Ellis’s reality is a dilapidated houseboat, in which his parents are constantly skirmishing over his mother’s desire for something more, particularly  to move into town.  Neck, ostensibly an orphan, lives with  his well-meaning if ill-equipped, uncle Galen (Shannon).   But as we go with the boys out to the golden, sun-dappled river and to the island where that improbable boat suspended in a tree awaits, Mud shrugs off reality and becomes something more mythic and fairy-tale like.  The movie is more than half over before anyone other than the boys has any contact with Mud. Until then, he may has well have been the boys’ invisible playmate, albeit one not designed to prolong their childhoods but rather take them by the hand and lead them toward adulthood.

Mud extols the basic virtues of honesty, hard work and most of all, trust. The film’s only misstep is a preposterous, in my humble opinion, climax that not only goes on way too long, but the outcome of which is utterly predictable.  Fortunately, by the fade to black, it’s the outcome we’ve all  hoped for anyway.

Here’s the trailer from Lionsgate:

Dance of the Demented Poodle

Seriously, I can’t remember the last time that there were four films opening on the same weekend that I actually want to see!

The first, of course, is Jane Eyre. I would like to be able to punish Focus Features for yanking my chain and only opening it in two markets last weekend, you know the date on all of the promotional material that’s been peppering the web for months. I can’t, however, do it to Michael Fassbender. He had nothing to do with the shenanigans of the distributor and he deserves my support. (Yes, I do realize that I would only be punishing myself. I’m not totally delusional. And frankly, I’ve been too good to be punished… well maybe…nevermind…)  Anyway, I’m going. 
Much to my surprise given the numbers it posted in two cities last week, it is only playing in two theaters in this artsy, academic, cultural mecca.  I saw the last Fassbender opus at the cool, eco-friendly art house so I think this time I’ll venture out to the old-fashioned, bohemian independent theater with the gigantic screen and red velvet drapes that dramatically part as the auditorium darkens. Seems fitting.

Next is The Lincoln Lawyer. I have not read any of Michael Connolly’s novels, although they have been recommended to me by friends. I keep meaning to. (I’d probably have gotten to them already if Ken Bruen weren’t so prolific…but I digress.) In any case, I have a soft spot for legal thrillers and an unashamed weakness for Matthew McConaughey. The finely chiseled actor Matthew McConaughey, with the piercing and intelligent blue eyes, at the height of his powers in Lone Star and another legal thriller, A Time to Kill, both from ’96. He was still there in ’97’s Contact with Jodie Foster and even up to  Frailty (a superb and too-little seen creep fest from 2001.) There were even glimpses of him in 2002’s Reign of Fire, but then came the rom coms and the pointless action adventure movies wherein Actor McConaughey was subsumed by Shirtless Himbo McConaughey, the hunk whose roles often seemed a parody of his off-screen personality.  Well, it’s 2011 and the Himbo has, if not a wife, at least a long term partner (with whom he did NOT co-star) and two small children. It’s time for an image make-over. It’s time for Actor McConaughey to take back his career. Enter The Lincoln Lawyer.  We’ll see.

I want to see Paul because I think hearing Seth Rogan’s voice coming out of that little alien is enough to warrant the price of a ticket on its own, but I absolutely adored Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Both of those films starred Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and although Paul does not have Edgar Wright at the helm, it does reteam this impeccable comic duo. While they’ve achieved some success separately, most notably Pegg played Scottie in the recent Star Trek reboot and Frost was hilarious as Dr. Dave in Pirate Radio, they are brilliant together. After Paul, they’ll next appear onscreen in Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin…  (Written by Edgar Wright and "Dr. Who" showrunner, Steven Moffat.) It also must be said that Paul director Greg Mottola comes with his own pedigree, having directed Adventureland and the waaaaay better than it had any right to be, Superbad. (His first film was The Daytrippers from ’96 with Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, Campbell Scott and Hope Davis. It’s got to be on Netflix Instant by now. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend this well-written, well acted and very funny little gem.) Along with Pegg and Frost, Mottola has filled Paul with a dream cast of familiar comic actors, like Jeffrey Tambor and Jason Bateman (that he worked with on "Arrested Development".) Oh and Sigourney Weaver, too. I certainly hope her comedic skills are put to better use than in last year’s You Again. (The trailer was enough to make my eyes bleed.)

Last, but not least, is Limitless. One of its stars is in danger of forever toiling in McConahunk territory, where all that’s required of him is appearing tanned and shirtless, and occasionally strutting while being filmed in slo-mo. His co-star is hopefully using this film as a ladder with which to crawl out of the Pit of Dismal Comedies with Bad Puns for Titles. The female lead is a wonderful actress who needs to make people forget that she broke up America’s Sweetheart’s marriage to an Uber-Douche who apparently knocked up some "model" either just before or just after THEY broke up. So I have high hopes for this one. It has a great premise. What would happen if there was a pill that let us use all of our brain instead of the small fraction we actually do? Kind of like a "Flowers for Algernon" for the new millennium. I don’t yet know if they end in the same or rather, a similar way, but I’m guessing there will be consequences.

And just to prove that all roads lead to

this film contains FOUR former co-stars. There are no prizes if you can tell me who they are, (other than cyber-noogies) but you’ll have my complete admiration.