20th Century Fox via Everett Collection
It may be hard to believe, but Michael Fassbender was actually in a movie other than 12 Years a Slave this year. The Oscar race has the tendency to eclipse everything else an actor has done that year, and many of the Academy Award-nominated actors have appeared in other film projects that haven't been pelted with awards this season. Some are more obscure than others. Some drew big crowds at the box-office, and others had us struggling to remember their titles. We're gonna take you on a tour through each actor's 2013 filmography, and pay special attention to the more obscure films they appeared in.
CHRISTIAN BALE, NOMINATED FOR AMERICAN HUSTLE, WAS ALSO IN...
Out of the Furnace, alongside Bat-brother-in-law Casey Affleck.
BRUCE DERN, NOMINATED FOR NEBRASKA, WAS ALSO IN...
Coffin Baby: The oddly titled Coffin Baby is actually a shortened version of the even odder title: Coffin Baby - The Toolbox Killer Is Back. The film is a low budget horror movie that follows a prolific serial killer, and features Bruce Dern in the role of Vance Henrickson.
Fighting for Freedom: Fighting for Freedom tells the story of two families struggling to prevent the deportation of a three year old Mexican girl in the face of fierce legal opposition.
Northern Borders: Northern Borders is a coming-of-age story that features the actor playing the grandfather of a young boy who is sent to live on his grandparents' farm.
Pete’s Christmas: Dern played grandpa again in a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie, which is about as far away from something like Nebraska as an actor can conceivably get. The film centered around a teen who is doomed to repeat his family's awful Christmas over and over a la Groundhog Day.
Unicorn Plan-It: This is an ongoing web series that featured the Oscar nominated actor in an episode of its second season.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO, NOMINATED FOR THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, WAS ALSO IN...
The Great Gatsby, but you already knew that.
CHIWETEL EJIOFOR, NOMINATED FOR 12 YEARS A SLAVE, WAS ALSO IN...
Half of a Yellow Sun: This drama about the life of a Nigerian revolutionary premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and was well recieved by critics, but fell off of most radars.
Savannah: Surprisingly, Ejiofor was involved in another film centering around cotton plantations in the Deep South. In Savannah, Ejiofor plays a free plantation worker named Ward Allen who struggles to break free of his plantation heritage.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, NOMINATED FOR DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, WAS ALSO IN...
Mud: Before Dallas Buyers Club was even released, awards talk was already being whispered around McConaughey and his work in Mud, a coming-of-age story that features the actor playing a drifter who is trying to outrun his past in this Goonies-esque adventure.
The Wolf of Wall Street, as the mentally askew business mogul who shapes young Jordan Belfort's future.
"Synthesizers": Alright alright alright! McConaughey dresses up in familiar duds in a video for the band Butch Walker and the Black Widow's song "Synthesizers," which is an ode to letting your freak flag fly and not being a slave to newest passing trend. The actor wearing his signature outfit from the Linklater classic Dazed and Confused, the film that originally put the actor on the map.
AMY ADAMS, NOMINATED FOR AMERICAN HUSTLE , WAS ALSO IN...
Her, as a human.
Man of Steel, as a journalist.
CATE BLANCHETT, NOMINATED FOR BLUE JASMINE, WAS ALSO IN...
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but not the barrel-rolling scene, so we kind of forgot about her.
The Turning: The actress took part in The Turning, a film made up of a collection of short films based on the stories by Tim Winton, with directors as diverse as Mia Wasikowska and Jonathan auf der Heide. Blanchett originally planned to direct a short herself, but switched to solely an acting role.
SANDRA BULLOCK, NOMINATED FOR GRAVITY, WAS ALSO IN...
The Heat, which, for our money, was really her best performance of the year.
JUDI DENCH, NOMINATED FOR PHILOMENA, WAS ALSO IN...
A National Theatre Live episode, as Cleopatra!
BRADLEY COOPER, NOMINATED FOR AMERICAN HUSTLE, WAS ALSO IN...
The Hangover Part III, sorry to remind you.
MICHAEL FASSBENDER, NOMINATED FOR 12 YEARS A SLAVE, WAS ALSO IN...
The Counselor, which was about... uh... wait, we know this one...
JONAH HILL, NOMINATED FOR THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, WAS ALSO IN...
This Is the End, in which he kind of plays the same role, if you think about it.
SALLY HAWKINS, NOMINATED FOR BLUE JASMINE, WAS ALSO IN...
The Double, that Sundance flick about Jesse Eisenberg's big coat.
JENNIFER LAWRENCE, NOMINATED FOR BLUE JASMINE, WAS ALSO IN...
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, duh.
The Devil You Know: This soapy thriller from all the way back in 2007 was stuck in distibution limbo for years, but after Lawrence catapulted to stardom and Oscar glory, the film was released on VOD this past July. Just to show how much times have changed, Lawrence was barely in the film's original trailer, something that would never happen today, given her new found success.
JUNE SQUIBB, NOMINATED FOR NEBRASKA, WAS ALSO IN...
Getting On: Squibb appeared in an episode of HBO's very funny hospital dramedy Getting On, which is a remake of a BBC show of the same name. The actress appears in the second episode of the series titled "If You're Going to San Francisco."
The Millers, but you don't have to watch that.
It was the trickle of pee heard around the world. Cannes attendees were aghast and/or amused an infamous scene from The Paperboy that shows Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron; this is apparently a great salve for jellyfish burns which were covering our Ken Doll-like protagonist. (In fact the term protagonist should be used very loosely for Efron's character Jack who is mostly acted upon than active throughout.)
Lurid! Sexy! Perverse! Trashy! Whether or not it's actually effective is overshadowed by all the hubbub that's attached itself to the movie for better or worse. In fact the movie is all of these things — but that's actually not a compliment. What could have become somethingmemorable is jaw-droppingly bad (when it's not hilarious). Director Lee Daniels uses a few different visual styles throughout from a stark black and white palette for a crime scene recreation at the beginning to a '70s porno aesthetic that oscillates between psychedelic and straight-up sweaty with an emphasis on Efron's tighty-whiteys. This only enhances the sloppiness of the script which uses lines like narrator/housekeeper/nanny Anita's (Macy Gray) "You ain't tired enough to be retired " to conjure up the down-home wisdom of the South. Despite Gray's musical talents she is not a good choice for a narrator or an actor for that matter. In a way — insofar as they're perhaps the only female characters given a chunk of screen time — her foil is Charlotte Bless Nicole Kidman's character. Anita is the mother figure who wears as we see in an early scene control-top pantyhose whereas Charlotte is all clam diggers and Barbie doll make-up. Or as Anita puts it "an oversexed Barbie doll."
The slapdash plot is that Jack's older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) comes back to town with his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) to investigate the case of a death row criminal named Hillary Van Wetter. Yardley is black and British which seems to confuse many of the people he meets in this backwoods town. Hillary (John Cusack) hidden under a mop of greasy black hair) is a slack-jawed yokel who could care less if he's going to be killed for a crime he might or might not have committed. He is way more interested in his bride-to-be Charlotte who has fallen in love with him through letters — this is her thing apparently writing letters and falling in love with inmates — and has rushed to help Ward and Yardley free her man. In the meantime we're subjected to at least one simulated sex scene that will haunt your dreams forever. Besides Hillary's shortcomings as a character that could rustle up any sort of empathy the case itself is so boring it begs the question why a respected journalist would be interested enough to pursue it.
The rest of the movie is filled with longing an attempt to place any the story in some sort of social context via class and race even more Zac Efron's underwear sexual violence alligator innards swamp people in comically ramshackle homes and a glimpse of one glistening McConaughey 'tock. Harmony Korine called and he wants his Gummo back.
It's probably tantalizing for this cast to take on "serious" "edgy" work by an Oscar-nominated director. Cusack ditched his boombox blasting "In Your Eyes" long ago and Efron's been trying to shed his squeaky clean image for so long that he finally dropped a condom on the red carpet for The Lorax so we'd know he's not smooth like a Ken doll despite how he was filmed by Daniels. On the other hand Nicole Kidman has been making interesting and varied career choices for years so it's confounding why she'd be interested in a one-dimensional character like Charlotte. McConaughey's on a roll and like the rest of the cast he's got plenty of interesting projects worth watching so this probably won't slow him down. Even Daniels is already shooting a new film The Butler as we can see from Oprah's dazzling Instagram feed. It's as if they all want to put The Paperboy behind them as soon as possible. It's hard to blame them.
In the 2006 animated blockbuster Happy Feet an alienated emperor penguin named Mumbles found empowerment through tap-dancing and in so doing managed to both attract a mate and stop the overfishing that imperiled his Antarctic habitat. Directed by George Mitchell – the same George Mitchell who gave us the post-apocalyptic Mad Max trilogy and the almost despairingly bleak Babe: Pig in the City – Happy Feet paired its broadly conventional narrative with a darker sensibility not often seen in talking-animal fare.
The film’s sequel Happy Feet Two finds Mitchell (co-directing with Gary Eck) both more jovial and more easily distracted. The story begins straightforwardly enough with Mumbles (Elijah Wood) now grown-up and by all appearances well-adjusted ceding the mantle of self-discovery to his son Erik (Ava Acres). Boogie fever has swept the once dance-averse penguin nation but in a cruelly ironic twist Erik has inherited none of his father’s nifty moves. But just as Happy Feet Two appears intent on recycling its predecessor’s basic storyline the film abruptly changes course and embarks on a series of detours that seemed geared more as fodder for throwaway gags and showy set pieces than anything else. The disparate narrative elements while enjoyable in isolation never quite coalesce into a meaningful whole leaving us entertained but unfulfilled.
As before Happy Feet Two features a variety of buoyant song-and-dance numbers with Alecia Moore (aka P!nk) lending her formidable pipes to spirited re-workings of “Rhythm Nation” and “Under Pressure ” among others. Robin Williams returns for double duty as both Ramon a diminutive oversexed Latin lover and Lovelace a fiery Southern-preacher type. (Lovelace later adopts a Rastafarian dialect allowing Williams to achieve the rare culture-caricature trifecta.) His voracious scenery-devouring is all the more impressive given the grandeur of the scenery. Not to be left out of the quasi-Vaudevillian comic shenanigans Hank Azaria lays on a thick Scandinavian shtick as Sven a charismatic Arctic émigré who presents himself as the only penguin in the world who can fly. Azaria is a hoot but the film’s best moments come courtesy of the cast’s highest-profile additions Matt Damon and Brad Pitt voicing Bill and Will (respectively) two tiny krill in search of meaning at the bottom of the food chain.
Based on the best-selling book by Mark Foster Game tells the remarkable real-life story of Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf). He was a working-class immigrant kid who in the early 1900s turned the privileged world of golf on its ear. The story begins with Francis working as a caddie at a posh country club where he masters the game by quietly practicing on his own. His French-born father (Elias Koteas) thinks he's wasting his time and should be earning an honest wage but Francis is far too smitten with the game to give it up. Francis finally gets his big break when an amateur spot opens up at the 1913 U.S. Open. With a feisty 10-year-old caddie named Eddie (Josh Flitter) by his side egging him on Francis plays the best he ever has. He eventually finds himself facing off against the sport's undisputed champion Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) a U.S. Open winner and six-time British Open champion (a record that still stands today). Their legendary battle changes the face of the sport forever--but I wouldn't necessarily call it the greatest game ever.
Game is one of those juicy little biopics actors can really sink their teeth into. Starting with our young lead LaBeouf (Holes) is sufficiently determined as the guy playing against impossible odds. His Francis with his liquid brown eyes and winning smile is full of optimism and raw talent that propels him into the majors. And he looks pretty authentic swinging a golf club too. Still it may be time for LaBeouf to move on from the Disney family fare and do something grittier sort of like what he showed in Constantine. Dillane--who was so achingly good in The Hours as Virginia Woolf's beleaguered husband--also does a fine job as the legendary Vardon a man haunted by his own demons. In a way Game is a story about both men who have more in common than they realize. Although a top professional in the sport Vardon has to fight against the elitist golfing community's prejudices. You see Vardon grew up dirt poor on the plains of Scotland and because of his background was never permitted into any "gentleman's" clubs. The cast of colorful supporting players add to the film especially Flitter as the caustic but encouraging Eddie. He may be small but he packs a wallop. The last shot of the movie features Francis and Eddie walking off the golf course at sunset evoking the classic Casablanca ending line "This is the start of a beautiful friendship"--which apparently really happened. The real-life Eddie and Francis remained friends for the rest of their lives.
The main slice against Game is that it's about golf. Besides comedies such as Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore a serious movie about the game really isn't going to stir your soul say like football or baseball. But actor-turned-director Bill Paxton--who made his directorial debut with the creepy Frailty--takes the story and keeps it convincingly affecting. Much like Seabiscuit it's the real-life historical context that makes Game even more compelling. Paxton painstakingly details how the game was played at the turn of the century--and who was allowed to play it. The whole discriminatory arrogance surrounding the game makes the stakes even higher for our heroes. Vardon had a score to settle while Ouimet simply became the game's new hero paving the way for legendary whiz kids like Tiger Woods to step up on the green. Paxton also views Game as a Western. The final golf round between Vardon and Ouimet is the ultimate shootout á la the OK Corral in which the camera angles are inventive--a bird's eye view of the ball sailing through the air or gliding on the green into the hole. Plus he keeps the tension as taut as he can considering the less than exhilarating subject matter. Oh come on who isn't a sucker for a good sports underdog story even if it is golf?
Love means never having to say you're sorry; it's a many splendored thing; it's all you need. But in tennis love means zero; it means you lose. Or does it? For Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) a British pro tennis player seeded near the bottom of the world tennis ranks love actually inspires him. After scoring a wild card to play in the prestigious Wimbledon tournament he meets and falls for the rising and highly competitive American tennis star Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst) fueling a winning streak he hasn't had since he began his career. For Lizzie however the love thing doesn't necessarily work out as well. Her feelings for Peter become a distraction throwing her off her game. Hmmm. Can these two crazy kids keep it together long enough so Peter can fulfill his lifelong dream of winning the men's singles title even if it means his muse might have to sacrifice her first Wimbledon title?
Kirsten Dunst may be what draws you in but Paul Bettany is the reason you don't walk out. The British actor who made an impression with American audiences playing the oh-so-witty Chaucer in A Knight's Tale and then wowed them in Oscar winners such as A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander doesn't disappoint in his first lead role. Bettany's Peter embodies all that charm we've come to love and expect in our British actors--although thankfully not as floppy as Hugh Grant--he stumbles about and apologizes profusely. It's so cute. And he makes a pretty darn believable tennis player to boot (one would hope so after the intense training session the actors apparently had to go through to prepare for the movie). Unfortunately Dunst does not fare as well. Her Lizzie is appealing and she adequately handles the tennis stuff--but she ultimately fails to connect with her male lead making their relationship seem forced. Their beginning sparks are fun but when there's suppose to be a real flame igniting between them you're left scratching your head wondering just when where and why they fell in love so hard so fast. Yep that's a big red flag.
I've said sports movies usually work (see the Mr. 3000 review). To clarify: That is team sports. Sport movies where the action revolves around a single competitor are harder to pull off. It's just not as exciting watching an underdog struggle with himself in order to win. Luckily director Richard Loncraine (HBO's My House in Umbria) seems to know this fact. Even though Peter takes Centre Court (that's the British way of spelling it) Loncraine tries to at least create a more complete picture giving us a glimpse into the world of tennis as well as delving into the traditions of Wimbledon and how the Brits feel about the prestigious tournament where British champions are few and far between. Loncraine also utilizes real-life tennis pros such as John McEnroe and Chris Evert who appear as announcers to liven up the proceedings. Even the action on the court with close-up shots of the ball whizzing over the net gets the blood pumping a little--wish there was a lot more of that. But then of course one could just turn on the TV and watch the real Wimbledon instead watching a silly run-of-the-mill romantic comedy set there.