Paramount via Everett Collection
With so many different awards organizations announcing their nominations one after the other, it's difficult to remember how heavily to weigh each one's picks when filling out your Oscar pool sheet. Generally speaking, the BAFTAs are a fairly safe guide when it comes to the Best Picture category. Since 2008, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts has accurately predicted the Academy's top winners, with (even more impressively) only two discrepancies in Best Picture nominations throughout those five years (both in 2012, interestingly enough). Looking at this latest batch of BAFTA's chief nominees — which includes...
American Hustle,Captain Phillips,Gravity,Philomena,and 12 Years a Slave
— we're not especially surprised by any of the films included in as much as we are a bit displaced over the absence of one of this past year's biggest titles: The Wolf of Wall Street. By now, everyone with his ear close to the conversation is predicting that Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave is a lock for the Best Picture Oscar, but the consideration rarely comes without honorable mention of Martin Scorsese's Wolf. Still, the satirical picture is far from awards fodder. Called far too "extreme" for the Academy's liking, the 3-hour tour de force of mortifying hedonism would be a far cry from an Oscar even without the competition of 12 Years. Instead, as suggested by BAFTA's list of Best Picture nods, organizations are leaning towards the safer, sweeter, more palatable, less controversial, and effectively less good spiritual counterpart to Wolf of Wall Street: American Hustle.
Hustle is a fine movie all its own — it's fun, dynamic, well-acted, and does indeed feel "lived in." But it falls shy of the artistic reach represented by fellow con man epic Wolf, to which comparisons are inevitable (you can hear a terrific discussion on the matter on the latest episode of Fighting in the War Room). While we'd be hard pressed to deny David O. Russell's funny, campy, emotionally charged picture its due recognition of quality, the choice to nominate it for Best Picture over Wolf of Wall Street seems like a statement of fear: "We don't want to nominate that large, messy, outrageous picture that's got everybody all in a huff," mutters a nervous BAFTA. "But what about the one with the hair? That's sorta like Wolf of Wall Street, but cleaner. Jolly good!"
The choice is a scary one, if only that it suggests the possibility that BAFTA has veered away from Wolf of Wall Street due to the volatility associated with the movie rather than due to the quality therein. By this token, would a few more Armond Whites have robbed 12 Years a Slave of its nomination? How about a few more Neil deGrasse Tysons stealing the nod from Gravity?
Hopefully, the Academy will not emulate this aversion to Scorsese's movie — one that more than deserves mention, and would even take home a few trophies in a just system. Peruse the rest of BAFTA's nominations below (which also, obscenely, omit Her in the Original Screenplay category) and share your thoughts on the matter.
BEST FILM12 YEARS A SLAVE Anthony Katagas, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueenAMERICAN HUSTLE Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison, Jonathan GordonCAPTAIN PHILLIPS Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De LucaGRAVITY Alfonso Cuarón, David HeymanPHILOMENA Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan, Tracey Seaward
DIRECTOR12 YEARS A SLAVE Steve McQueenAMERICAN HUSTLE David O. RussellCAPTAIN PHILLIPS Paul GreengrassGRAVITY Alfonso CuarónTHE WOLF OF WALL STREET Martin Scorsese
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAYAMERICAN HUSTLE Eric Warren Singer, David O. RussellBLUE JASMINE Woody AllenGRAVITY Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás CuarónINSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS Joel Coen, Ethan CoenNEBRASKA Bob Nelson
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY12 YEARS A SLAVE John RidleyBEHIND THE CANDELABRA Richard LaGraveneseCAPTAIN PHILLIPS Billy RayPHILOMENA Steve Coogan, Jeff PopeTHE WOLF OF WALL STREET Terence Winter
LEADING ACTORBRUCE DERN NebraskaCHIWETEL EJIOFOR 12 Years a SlaveCHRISTIAN BALE American HustleLEONARDO DICAPRIO The Wolf of Wall StreetTOM HANKS Captain Phillips
LEADING ACTRESSAMY ADAMS American HustleCATE BLANCHETT Blue JasmineEMMA THOMPSON Saving Mr. BanksJUDI DENCH PhilomenaSANDRA BULLOCK Gravity
SUPPORTING ACTORBARKHAD ABDI Captain PhillipsBRADLEY COOPER American HustleDANIEL BRÜHL RushMATT DAMON Behind the CandelabraMICHAEL FASSBENDER 12 Years a Slave
SUPPORTING ACTRESSJENNIFER LAWRENCE American HustleJULIA ROBERTS August: Osage CountyLUPITA NYONG’O 12 Years a SlaveOPRAH WINFREY The ButlerSALLY HAWKINS Blue Jasmine
OUTSTANDING BRITISH FILMGRAVITY Alfonso Cuarón, David Heyman, Jonás CuarónMANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM Justin Chadwick, Anant Singh, David M. Thompson, William NicholsonPHILOMENA Stephen Frears, Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan, Tracey Seaward, Jeff PopeRUSH Ron Howard, Andrew Eaton, Peter MorganSAVING MR. BANKS John Lee Hancock, Alison Owen, Ian Collie, Philip Steuer, Kelly Marcel, Sue SmithTHE SELFISH GIANT: Clio Barnard, Tracy O’Riordan
OUTSTANDING DEBUT BY A BRITISH WRITER, DIRECTOR OR PRODUCERCOLIN CARBERRY (Writer), GLENN PATTERSON (Writer) Good VibrationsKELLY MARCEL (Writer) Saving Mr. BanksKIERAN EVANS (Director/Writer) Kelly + VictorPAUL WRIGHT (Director/Writer), POLLY STOKES (Producer) For Those in PerilSCOTT GRAHAM (Director/Writer) Shell
FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGETHE ACT OF KILLING Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge SørensenBLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR Abdellatif Kechiche, Brahim Chioua, Vincent MaravalTHE GREAT BEAUTY Paolo Sorrentino, Nicola Giuliano, Francesca CimaMETRO MANILA Sean Ellis, Mathilde CharpentierWADJDA Haifaa Al-Mansour, Gerhard Meixner, Roman Paul
DOCUMENTARYTHE ACT OF KILLING Joshua OppenheimerTHE ARMSTRONG LIE Alex GibneyBLACKFISH Gabriela CowperthwaiteTIM’S VERMEER Teller, Penn Jillette, Farley ZieglerWE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS Alex GibneyANIMATED FILMDESPICABLE ME 2 Chris Renaud, Pierre CoffinFROZEN Chris Buck, Jennifer LeeMONSTERS UNIVERSITY Dan Scanlon
ORIGINAL MUSIC12 YEARS A SLAVE Hans ZimmerTHE BOOK THIEF John WilliamsCAPTAIN PHILLIPS Henry JackmanGRAVITY Steven PriceSAVING MR. BANKS Thomas Newman
CINEMATOGRAPHY12 YEARS A SLAVE Sean BobbittCAPTAIN PHILLIPS Barry AckroydGRAVITY Emmanuel LubezkiINSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS Bruno DelbonnelNEBRASKA Phedon Papamichael
EDITING12 YEARS A SLAVE Joe WalkerCAPTAIN PHILLIPS Christopher RouseGRAVITY Alfonso Cuarón, Mark SangerRUSH Dan Hanley, Mike HillTHE WOLF OF WALL STREET Thelma Schoonmaker
PRODUCTION DESIGN12 YEARS A SLAVE Adam Stockhausen, Alice BakerAMERICAN HUSTLE Judy Becker, Heather LoefflerBEHIND THE CANDELABRA Howard CummingsGRAVITY Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne WoodlardTHE GREAT GATSBY Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn
COSTUME DESIGNAMERICAN HUSTLE Michael WilkinsonBEHIND THE CANDELABRA Ellen MirojnickTHE GREAT GATSBY Catherine MartinTHE INVISIBLE WOMAN Michael O’ConnorSAVING MR. BANKS Daniel Orlandi
MAKE UP & HAIRAMERICAN HUSTLE Evelyne Noraz, Lori McCoy-BellBEHIND THE CANDELABRA Kate Biscoe, Marie LarkinTHE BUTLER Debra Denson, Beverly Jo Pryor, Candace NealTHE GREAT GATSBY Maurizio Silvi, Kerry WarnTHE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG Peter Swords King, Richard Taylor, Rick Findlater
SOUNDALL IS LOST Richard Hymns, Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor, Micah Bloomberg, Gillian ArthurCAPTAIN PHILLIPS Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munro, Oliver TarneyGRAVITY Glenn Freemantle, Skip Lievsay, Christopher Benstead, Niv Adiri, Chris MunroINSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS Peter F. Kurland, Skip Lievsay, Greg OrloffRUSH Danny Hambrook, Martin Steyer, Stefan Korte, Markus Stemler, Frank Kruse
SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTSGRAVITY Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould, Nikki PennyTHE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, Eric ReynoldsIRON MAN 3 Bryan Grill, Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Dan SudickPACIFIC RIM Hal Hickel, John Knoll, Lindy De Quattro, Nigel SumnerSTAR TREK INTO DARKNESS Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton, Patrick Tubach, Roger Guyett
BRITISH SHORT ANIMATIONEVERYTHING I CAN SEE FROM HERE Bjorn-Erik Aschim, Friederike Nicolaus, Sam TaylorI AM TOM MOODY Ainslie HendersonSLEEPING WITH THE FISHES James Walker, Sarah Woolner, Yousif Al-Khalifa
BRITISH SHORT FILMISLAND QUEEN Ben Mallaby, Nat LuurtsemaKEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES Megan Rubens, Michael Pearce, Selina LimORBIT EVER AFTER Chee-Lan Chan, Jamie Stone, Len RowlesROOM 8 James W. Griffiths, Sophie VennerSEA VIEW Anna Duffield, Jane Linfoot
David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
There are a few straggling TV finales left (Game of Thrones and Mad Men are sure going to keep us hanging on until the summer is really in full effect), but for all intents and purposes, we are officially in the land of Summer television. It kicks off tonight with So You Think You Can Dance and something called Duets (which I was disappointed to learn was not about the Cracker Barrel's peanut butter delicacies), but for the next few months we will find new series rolling out from May through August, and only some of it will be worth telling your friends you're allergic to barbecues so you can stay home. Some of it should not grace your screen unless you've melted to your La-Z-Boy. Lucky for you, we've figured out a handy scale to help you figure out what to watch the minute it airs, what to DVR, and what to leave running for Fido while you're at the beach.
We Would Give Up the Sun, The Ocean, and Smiling Before Giving Up These Shows
True Blood (Sunday, June 10 at 9 PM ET/PT on HBO)
Sookie may be driving us up a wall these days, but a summer without True Blood might as well be a summer without barbecues, beach days, and half-naked sexy people glistening in the sun. In other words, it would suck.
Louie (Thursday, June 28 at 10:30 PM ET/PT on FX)
This brutally honest series is one of the best “comedies” on television, though like creator/writer/star/editor Louis CK, it clearly doesn’t subscribe to any genre. It’s simply Louie, and while you should skip beers with the boys in order to watch it, you might want to keep a cold one in the fridge for a post episode wind-down.
Real Housewives of New York City (Monday, June 4 at 9 PM ET/PT on Bravo)
Ramona, Sonja, and the Countess are back and joined by three crazy new House Monkeys to make fun of. Who will we love, who will we hate, and who will be the first one Ramona throws a glass of Pinot at?
Breaking Bad (Sunday, July 15 at 10 PM ET/PT on AMC)
Walter White will be knocking off in the first half of the fifth and final season (which is really two seasons, but don't get us started). There's only eight episodes, so get your hit of that good blue meth until it disappears until next summer.
Dallas (Wednesday, June 13 at 9 PM ET/PT on TNT)
Oil, money, intrigue, lust, shirtless guys, Southfork Ranch: everything you loved about the king of prime-time soaps is back (even some of the creaky old stars) for a new generation. Please, don't let this whole thing be a dream.
Comedy Bang! Bang! (Friday, June 8 at 10 PM ET on IFC)
Host Scott Aukerman sits down with some of the funniest people in Hollywood (Amy Poehler, Zach Galifianakis) for this unconventional talk show. With comedian Reggie Watts on hand for musical accompaniment, this will be the funniest thing you'll see this summer. Well, besides your sunbathing neighbor.
The Newsroom (Sunday, June 24 at 10 pm ET on HBO)
At long last, Aaron Sorkin have an excuse to stay inside and not work on their tans. Think Sports Night meets CNN as Jeff Daniels plays Will McAvoy, an anchor setting out to change the face of cable news with his team (including Emily Mortimer, Alison Pill, and Dev Patel.) Can't miss, appointment television.
Political Animals (Sunday, July 15 at 10 PM ET on USA)
Talk about a break from mindless summer entertainment. This six-part miniseries features Sigourney Weaver as a no-nonsense politician whose personal life has seen its fair share of scandals. The drama also impressively features Ellen Burstyn, Carla Gugino, and James Wolk.
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So You Think You Can Dance (Thursday, May 24, at 8 PM ET/PT on Fox)
Nigel, Mary, and a revolving host of guest judges will be back to watch everyone pop, lock, breakdance, and fox trot their way to the top prize. This year there is only one episode per week, but that's still enough time for Cat Deely to win the hosting Emmy she totally deserves.
Weeds (Sunday, July 1 at 10 PM ET/PT on Showtime)
Nancy Botwin is the world's worst mother and now the Feds are after her. Or is it the Mexican cartel? Or is it Starbucks for cutting down on her coffee drinks? Well, someone wants her dead.
White Collar (Tuesday, July 10 at 9 PM ET/PT on USA)
I know you won't have gotten your fill of Matthew Bomer's abs in Magic Mike and you're gonna need your fix. Also, Kelly Kapowski!
Damages (Wednesday, July 11 at 10 PM ET/PT on DirecTV)
Glenn Close is back to playing women and an evil woman at that in the fifth season premiere on DirecTV, which no one gets. Oh, that means Season 4 must be out on DVD. We'll be watching that.
Falling Skies (Sunday, June 17 at 9 PM ET on TNT)
Season 2 of Dr. Carter Battles Space Aliens starts up this summer. Noah Wyle returns as Earthly survivor Tom Mason in this surprisingly good and shamefully underrated sci-fi drama.
Wilfred (Thursday, June 28 at 10 PM ET/PT on FX)
Sure, this show about a guy who thinks his dog is a guy in a dog suit fell below its high concept expectations, but watching Elijah Wood get stoned with his man-dog is still more interesting than Wipeout.
Boss (Friday, Aug. 17 at 10 PM ET/PT on Starz)
Put down War and Peace and slowly walk away. You know you’re just going to use it to check out people at the beach and look smart at the same time. Just think of this ultra political, bookish drama about Chicago’s fictional mayor (Kelsey Grammer) as your summer reading.
The Closer (Monday, July 9 at 9 PM ET on TNT)
This will be the last summer you'll get to spend with Kyra Segwick's smart, wisecracking Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson. The Golden Globe-winning series enters its seventh and final season.
Perception (Monday, July 9 at 10 PM ET on TNT)
How do you cope with coming to terms with the end of one hourlong TNT procedural (The Closer)? Why, you start watching a new hourlong TNT procedural! This one features Will and Grace's Eric McCormack as smart, wisecracking neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Pierce.
Hell on Wheels (Sunday, August 12 at 9 PM ET on AMC)
Somewhere between the brilliant Breaking Bad and the so-bad-but-we-can't-look-away Walking Dead lies Hell on Wheels, a not so wild Western featuring Anson Mount and Common. We'd have preferred Oregon Trail: the Series, but this will suffice.
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Hatfields and McCoys (Monday, May 28 at 9 PM ET/PT on History)
Kevin Costner comes to the small screen to face off with Bill Paxton as America's famous post-Civil War fueding clans. There's a Romeo and Juliet love story too, of course. And it's a mini-series. Remember those?
Pretty Little Liars (Tuesday, June 5 at 8 PM ET/PT on ABC Family)
OMG, your tween cousin is like totes psyched obvs for the season three premy (that's tween speak for premiere).
Rizzoli & Isles (Tuesday, June 5 at 9 PM ET/PT on TNT)
It's like Cagney & Lacey for the 21st century when a tough lady cop and a medical examiner team up to fight even more crimes. Your mom loves this show.
Franklin & Bash (Tuesday, June 5 at 10 PM ET/PT on TNT)
If Rizzoli & Isles were lawyers with penises they'd be Franklin & Bash.
Wipeout (Thursday, June 28 at 9 PM ET/PT on ABC)
People falling in the mud. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA…
Anger Management (Thursday, June 28 at 9 PM ET on FX)
Whether you're still shouting "winning!" at everyone or morbid curiosity will simply get the best of you, Charlie Sheen's new comedy debuts with back-to-back episode. Those tuning in will simply be dying to know: Can Sheen stay faithful to… adapting an Adam Sandler movie?!
Trust Us With Your Life (Tuesday, July 10 at 9 PM ET on ABC)
Fred Willard from Best in Show, everything, hosts this improv comedy show which will bring back Whose Line Is It Anyway? alums Wayne Brady, Greg Proops and Colin Mochrie, among others. Just remember, you can't shout suggestions from your couch.
Big Brother (Thursday, July 12 at 9 PM ET on CBS)
The guiltiest of guilty pleasures, Season 14 of televised institutionalization will put a whole new batch of attractive, certifiable people in a house together to compete and cohabitant for our enjoyment. And, of course, it features TV's best robot since Carson Daly: Zingbot.
Brand X with Russell Brand (Thursday, June 28 at 11 PM ET/PT on FX)
Russell Brand has a late night TV show. My bet is it will be very Russell Brand-y and you will either love every second of it, or you’ll go running into the ocean after a mere minute of air-time. He’s a bit of a polarizing guy.
Men at Work (Thursday, May 24 at 10 PM ET/PT on TBS)
Poor Danny Masterson just can’t find a TV show that will stick for him. The former Steven Hyde (of That ‘70s Show) now joins this mansemble comedy about four friends who work at a magazine. The main goal? Get Danny Masterson laid.
The Bachelorette (Mondays at 8 PM ET/PT on ABC)
Emily Maynard famously ditched her hunky Bachelor, so she’s giving it another try. I’m not saying it’s boring, I’m just saying if your friend wants to drink a couple of beers on his stoop at 8 PM on a Monday, you should probably accept the offer.
Married to Jonas (Sunday, Aug. 19 at 10 PM ET/PT on E!)
What is it like being married to a Jonas brother? OMG I’ve wondered about that for so long – wait, it’s about Kevin Jonas. Oh, stand down. Well, it will probably be kind of cute.
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America's Got Talent (Mondays at 8 PM ET on NBC)
Watch as shock jock Howard Stern alienates two fan bases, his own and that of America's Got Talent, by joining the popular reality competition. What will Stern say about a family that can spin plates?! Where's censorship when you need it?
Kendra On Top (Tuesday, June 5 at 10 PM ET on WEtv)
Infinitely more tolerable than yet another Kardashian spin-off, but there's only so many shows we can watch about women who are famous for being famous that are married to athletes. After all, that's what Downton Abbey is for!
Bachelor Pad (Monday, July 23 at 8 PM ET on ABC)
The television equivalent of a summer fling gone terribly awry, this Bachelor/ette spin-off puts former contestants in a house to try and find (money and) love in a hopeless place. Emphasis here on hopeless and less on love.
Duets (Thursday, May 24 at 8 PM ET/PT on ABC)
Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Robin Thicke, and Jennifer Nettles disappoint us all in this gimmicky American Idol rip-off. Instead of standing on their own merits, our contestants will duet (heh, get it?) with one of these superstars, or Jennifer Nettles, to earn their paths to fame.
Dogs in the City (Wednesday, May 30, 8 PM ET/PT on CBS)
How many hours do you spend watching dog videos on YouTube? If you’re worried you can’t get an accurate count, this reality show about… well… dogs… (wait for it) who live in the city is for you.
Hell's Kitchen (Monday, June 4 at 8 PM ET/PT on Fox)
Do you like food and yelling? Is Top Chef not on? Well order up some Chinese food and hang out with the ever-irate Chef Gordon Ramsay.
Love in the Wild (Thursday, June 7 at 8 PM ET/PT on NBC)
Jenny McCarthy. Half-naked people. Dating. In the jungle. It’s got to be worth at least one lazy viewing.
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.