Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Here's a complete list of winners for this year's SAG Awards...
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - Winner!
The Station Agent
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl - Winner!
Peter Dinklage, The Station Agent
Ben Kingsley, House of Sand and Fog
Bill Murray, Lost In Translation
Sean Penn, Mystic River
Film: Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Patricia Clarkson, The Station Agent
Diane Keaton, Something's Gotta Give
Charlize Theron, Monster - Winner!
Naomi Watts, 21 Grams
Evan Rachel Wood, Thirteen
TV: Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Al Pacino, Angels in America - Winner!
Justin Kirk, Angels in America
Paul Newman, Our Town
Forest Whitaker, Deacons for Defense
Jeffrey Wright, Angels in America
TV: Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
Sex and the City, HBO - Winner!
Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS
Will & Grace, NBC
TV: Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Tony Shalhoub, Monk - Winner!
Peter Boyle, Everybody Loves Raymond
Brad Garrett, Everybody Loves Raymond
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace
Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Megan Mullally, Will & Grace - Winner!
Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond
Lisa Kudrow, Friends
Debra Messing, Will & Grace
Doris Roberts, Everybody Loves Raymond
TV: Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Meryl Streep, Angels in America - Winner!
Anne Bancroft, Tennessee Williams' The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
Helen Mirren, Tennessee Williams' The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
Mary-Louise Parker, Angels in America
Emma Thompson, Angels in America
TV: Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
Six Feet Under, HBO - Winner!
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS
Law & Order, NBC
The West Wing, NBC
Without a Trace, CBS
TV: Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Frances Conroy, Six Feet Under - Winner!
Stockard Channing, The West Wing
Tyne Daly, Judging Amy
Jennifer Garner, Alias
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: SVU
Allison Janney, The West Wing
TV: Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Kiefer Sutherland, 24 - Winner!
Peter Krause, Six Feet Under
Anthony LaPaglia, Without a Trace
Martin Sheen, The West Wing
Treat Williams, Everwood
Film: Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain - Winner!
Maria Bello, The Cooler
Keisha Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider
Patricia Clarkson, Pieces of April
Holly Hunter, Thirteen
Film: Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Tim Robbins, Mystic River - Winner!
Alec Baldwin, The Cooler
Chris Cooper, Seabiscuit
Benicio Del Toro, 21 Grams
Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai
Screen Actors Guild Awards 40th Annual Life Achievement Award
Tune in to Hollywood.com next Sunday, Feb. 29, 2004, for complete Academy Awards coverage.
The awards season has officially kicked off, and "American Beauty" has its first trophy on the mantle.
The dark satire was named Best Film of the year Dec. 8 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Directed by first-timer Sam Mendes and starring Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening, "Beauty" was released in September to widespread acclaim and solid box office.
Anthony Minghella, the Oscar-winning director of "The English Patient," was named Best Director for "The Talented Mr. Ripley," starring Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow, which was reportedly shown to the board in an unfinished print.
Best Actor honors went to Russell Crowe for his portrayal of tobacco industry whistle-blower Dr. Jeffrey Wigand in "The Insider," co-starring Al Pacino, and British actress Janet McTeer was named Best Actress for the mother-daughter film "Tumbleweeds."
After "American Beauty," the rest of the group's top 10 were named in order: "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "Magnolia," "The Insider," "The Straight Story," "Cradle Will Rock," "Boys Don't Cry," "Being John Malkovich," "Tumbleweeds" and "Three Kings."
"Magnolia," directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and opening Dec. 17, won honors for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore. Hoffman was named Best Supporting Actor by the New York-based board for his performance in both "Magnolia" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley." Moore was named Best Supporting Actress for four films: "Magnolia," "A Map of the World," "An Ideal Husband" and "Cookie's Fortune." Anderson's film also won an award for its ensemble, which includes Jason Robards, William H. Macy and Tom Cruise.
"The Insider" director Michael Mann won a Freedom of Expression award, along with Joan Chen for "Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl." Tim Robbins, who wrote and directed "Cradle Will Rock," will receive an award for Special Achievement for Filmmaking in 1999.
"Boys Don't Cry" director Kimberly Peirce was named Best Debut Director, and star Hilary Swank was chosen for the Breakthrough Performance award along with Wes Bentley for "American Beauty."
Best Screenplay honors went to novelist John Irving for adapting his novel "The Cider House Rules," which stars Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron and Michael Caine. Clint Eastwood was the recipient of the group's Career Achievement Award, and director John Frankenheimer received the board's Billy Wilder Award.
Pedro Almodovar's "All About My Mother" was named Best Foreign Film. The rest of the top five was "Run Lola Run," "East-West," "The Emperor and the Assassin" and "Cabaret Balkan."
This year, the Board of Review gave special nod for outstanding independent films. They are "A Map of the World," "A Walk on the Moon," "Election," "Go," "Limbo," "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," "Man of the Century," "Stir of Echoes," "This is My Father" and "Twin Falls Idaho."
The 90-year-old board, which includes film teachers, actors, writers, critics, film production workers and others, will present the awards at its annual dinner Jan. 18 in Gotham's Tavern on the Green in New York.
Awards by film critics' groups, which also includes the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle, are deemed early indications for the Academy Awards, which take place March 26 in Los Angeles.