Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
There is a certain level of enjoyment you are guaranteed when signing on for a movie that boasts a cast of George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, and Bill Murray. And that's the precise level of enjoyment you'll get from The Monuments Men — that bare minimum smirk factor inherent the idea that your favorite stars are getting to play together. In FDR-era army helmets, no less. But what we also get from the film is an aura of smug self-confidence from project captain Clooney, who seems all too ready to take for granted that we're perfectly satisfied peering into his backyard clubhouse.
So assured is the director/co-writer that we're happy to be in on the game that there doesn't seem to be any effort taken to refine the product for the benefit of a viewing audience. An introductory speech from art historian Frank Stokes (Clooney) sets up the premise straight away: the Nazis are stealing and destroying all of Europe's paintings and sculptures, and by gum we need to stop them! The concept doesn't complicate from there, save for a batting back and forth of the throughline question about whether the preservation of these pieces is "really worth it." Stokes rallies his own Ocean's Seven on a fine arts rescue mission, instigating an old fashioned go-get-'em-boys montage where we learn everything we need to know about the band mates in question: Damon has a wife, Goodman has gumption, Murray doesn't smile, Bob Balaban is uppity, and Jean Dujardin is French.
The closest thing to a character in The Monuments Men comes in the form of Hugh Bonneville, a recovering alcoholic whose motivation to take on the dangerous mission is planted in a festering desire to absolve himself of a lifetime of f**king up. When we're away from Bonneville, the weight disspears, as does most of the joy. Without identifiable characters, even master funnymen like Goodman, Murray, and Balaban don't have much to offer... especially since the movie's jokes feel like first draft placeholders born on a tired night.
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
But wait a minute, is this even supposed to be a comedy? After all, it's about World War II. And no matter what Alexandre Desplat's impossibly merry score would have you believe (coupled with The Lego Movie, this opening weekend might be responsible for more musical jubilance than any other since the days of "Make 'Em Laugh!"), warfare, genocide, and desecration of international culture all make for some pretty heavy material. But The Monuments Men's drama is just as fatigued as its humor, clumsily piecing together a collection of mini missions wherein the stakes, somehow, never seem to jump. We're dragged through military bases, battered towns, and salt mines by Clooney and the gang — occasionally jumping over to France to watch Damon work his least effective magic in years on an uptight Cate Blanchett, who holds the key to the scruffy American's mission but doesn't quite trust him... until, for no apparent reason, she suddenly does. We never feel like any of these people matter, not even to each other, so we never really feel like their adventures do.
The Monuments Men doesn't have much of a challenge ahead of it. Its heroes are movie stars, its bad guys are Nazis, and its message is one that nobody's going to refute: art is important — a maxim it pounds home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, through countless scenes of men staring in awe at the works of Michelangelo and Rembrandt. And in this easy endeavor, Clooney decides to coast. How could it possibly go wrong? Just grab hold of the fellas, toss 'em in the trenches, and let the laughs and danger write themselves. "This is what they came to see," Monuments Men insists. "Just us guys havin' a ball." But we never feel in on the game, and it isn't one that looks like that much fun anyhow.
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The nominations for the 85th Academy Awards are out. But while Denzel Washington is laughing for having fooled the Academy into thinking Flight is an Oscar-worthy movie, Anne Hathaway is crying into her celebratory mimosa, and Kathryn Bigelow is trying hard not to cry for a completely different reason, we are scratching our heads. Thursday morning's announcement has left us with myriad ponderables. Here are 10 burning questions that have us yelling, "We want answers!" and running to Google faster than a cheetah on a treadmill.
The Best Supporting Actor category has a reputation for being dominated by Hollywood's veteran gentlemen. But, before this year, has there ever been an acting category filled with actors who already have an Oscar in their trophy case?
Nope. This would be the first time. Christoph Waltz won for Inglorious Basterds in 2010, Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote in 2006, Robert De Niro for The Godfather: Part II (1975) and Raging Bull (1981), Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine in 2007, Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive in 1994.
This could be the third Oscar for Robert De Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis. Who else has three? And who has the most wins?
Actors Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, and Walter Brennan all have three Oscars. But Katherine Hepburn beats them all with four Best Actress wins. Competitors in non-acting categories, however, rake in even more awards. Composer Alan Menken has eight, costume designer Edith Head has eight, visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren has nine, and Walt Disney has the distinction of winning the most Academy Awards — he has 22.
In addition to his hosting duties, Seth MacFarlane was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song category. Is this the first time a host has also been up for an award?
Nope! Just two years ago, James Franco co-hosted with Anne Hathaway while he was also nominated for Best Actor for 127 Hours. And before Franco, six other hosts played dual roles on the big night: Frank Capra (1938), Bob Hope (1952), David Niven (1958), Michael Caine (1972), Walter Matthau (1975), and Paul Hogan (1986). Capra, Hope, and Niven also walked away with trophies their respective years.
Austrian tear-jerker Amour has five chances to take home a trophy this year. How many times has the same movie been nominated for Best Picture as well as Best Foreign Language Film? And has the same movie ever won the Oscar in both categories?
There have only been nine foreign language films nominated for Best Picture: Grand Illusion, 1938; Z, 1969; The Emigrants, 1972; Cries and Whispers, 1973; Il Postino, 1995; Life Is Beautiful, 1998; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000; Letters from Iwo Jima, 2006; and Amour, 2012. Of those movies Z, Life Is Beautiful, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won Best Foreign Language Film rather than Best Picture. The Emigrants is the only film to lose both. Grand Illusion was nominated before Best Foreign Language Film was created, Letters from Iwo Jima was ineligible because it was an American production, and Cries and Whispers and Il Postino were not nominated. No movie has ever won both categories.
Silver Linings Playbook has nominations in the five biggest categories (Best Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, Screenwriting). Has a film ever swept all five?
In Oscar history there have been three films to sweep the major acting categories as well as take directing, screenwriting, and Best Picture awards: It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
While Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are considered frontrunners for the Best Picture win, their directors (Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow, respectively) weren't nominated for Best Director. Is it rare for a film to take home Best Picture and not Best Director?
In a word, yes. Of the 85 films that have been awarded Best Picture, 65 of them have also taken home the award for Best Director. And in only three instances have the directors of Best Picture-winning films not been nominated themselves — Wings (1928), Grand Hotel (1932), and Driving Miss Daisy (1989).
Eiko Ishioka, who passed away this year, is nominated for Best Achievement in Costume Design for her work on Mirror, Mirror. How many Oscars have been awarded posthumously?
There have been 15 posthumous awards won in the competitive categories out of 73 nominations for people who were also in the "In Memoriam" reel that year. The most recent winner was Heath Ledger in 2008 for Best Supporting Actor in The Dark Knight. Composer Howard Ashman has the most posthumous nominations (he has four). Art director William A. Horning has the most wins: he won two awards in two consecutive years, for Gigi in 1958 and Ben-Hur in 1959. In 1959 he was also nominated for art direction of North by Northwest. That's one busy corpse! In Ishioka's Best Costume Design category there have been four posthumous nominations (three for the same person) and zero wins.
Lincoln, which has so far raked in over $145 million at the box office, is the only Best Picture contender this year you could really call a "blockbuster." What was the lowest grossing film to ever take the Best Picture category?
The lowest grossing Best Picture winner was The Hurt Locker in 2010, which only grossed $50 million. Four of this year's nine Best Picture nominees have currently grossed even less than that. Silver Linings Playbook has only made $35 million, Beasts of the Southern Wild has only made $11 million, Zero Dark Thirty has only made $5 million, and Amour $340,798. That makes The Hurt Locker look like Titanic.
Is Quvenzhane Wallis the youngest person to be nominated for an Oscar? And who's the oldest?
Nine-year-old Wallis is not the youngest person ever to be nominated; that distinction belongs to Kramer vs. Kramer's Justin Henry, who was eight at the time of his nomination. Wallis is also tied with Skippy's Jackie Cooper. Wallis is, however, the youngest actress to ever be nominated in the Best Actress category, beating out former youngster Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider). If she wins, Wallis will be the youngest person to ever win an Oscar. On the flip side, Amour's Emmanuella Riva is, at 85-years-old, the oldest woman to be nominated for Best Actress. And she is the second oldest person to ever be nominated for an acting Oscar — Gloira Stuart, who was 87 when she was nominated for Titanic, holds that title.
Quvenzhane Wallis was nominated for her first-ever film. Has an actor or director ever won the award for his or her debut project?
This happens a lot more often than you would think — 23 times, to be precise. Five actresses have won the Best Actress Oscar for their debut films: Shirley Booth, Come Back, Little Sheba (1952); Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday (1953); Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins (1964); Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl (1968); Marlee Matlin, Children of a Lesser God (1986).
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Not to be confused with the 1979 ghost story The Changeling this Changeling is a horror story of a very different stripe. Based on a long forgotten case buried deep in the L.A. crime files this true tale revolves around the mysterious 1928 disappearance of 9-year-old Walter Collins. Set in an election year and with heavy political pressure on city officials and a corrupt LAPD they find a child five months later who they claim is Walter and arrange to reunite him with his mother Christine (Angelina Jolie). Only problem is she says this is not her kid. When she asks the police to continue trying to find her son she finds herself victimized and accused of being insane and unfit for not going along with the PR campaign informing the public that the police have solved the case. With the help of a community activist Reverend Briegleb (John Malkovich) she begins to fight the city and the police who try in every way to silence her even committing her to a mental institution. The film details not only her valiant quest to right a wrong and find her real son but serves as a probing indictment of the police state 1920’s Los Angeles had become. As in her searing portrayal of the pregnant Marianne Pearl in last year’s A Mighty Heart Angelina Jolie once again connects with her maternal side. In another challenging role she must exhibit a wide emotional range going from fear to anguish to anger to pure resolve in an effort to uncover the mystery of her son’s abduction. Splendidly outfitted in ‘20s garb Jolie delves deep into the soul of a woman who dared to go against the grain and challenge a corrupt police department in Prohibition-era L.A. She’s simply remarkable in the most intense determined and heartbreaking role of her career. As the man who helps out in her cause Malkovich is perfectly matched to Jolie. As the merciless Captain Jones who heads the investigation to find Walter Jeffrey Donovan (TV’s Burn Notice) is properly frustrating and imposing while Colm Feore gets the evil side of his LAPD police chief down pat. Nailing her few scenes Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) plays a fellow psycho-ward inmate who helps Christine when she is institutionalized. Particularly impressive is Eddie Alderson as the 15-year-old nephew of the serial killer who leads police to a grisly crime scene and his uncle played a bit over the top by Jason Butler Harner. And filling out their juvenile roles nicely are Gattlin Griffith as Walter and eerie Devon Conti as the young man impersonating him. Clint Eastwood knows his way around ominous foreboding material so it’s no wonder he was instantly attracted to J. Michael Stracynski’s immaculately researched script. After Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River Eastwood exhibits a strong understanding of the dark side of human nature. Changeling fits right in with his oeuvre and he delivers yet another superbly crafted and acted film -- one that exists on two separate levels as a look at the corruption that crept into the LAPD of the era and as an impassioned journey of a woman trying to find a happy ending for herself and her son. Shot with the director’s usual ease Eastwood seems comfortable letting the almost unbelievable facts of the story speak for themselves and remarkably didn’t change a word of Stracynski’s fascinating screenplay. He doesn’t have to. The fact that it’s a true story that all really happened is simply incredible by itself. This is an unforgettable triumph for everyone involved.
September 07, 2004 12:11pm EST
In Paparazzi celebrity photographers are an affliction that torment tens if not dozens of residents of Brentwood the Hollywood Hills and Malibu. Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) is one such denizen. As Hollywood's brightest new action star Laramie along with his wife Abby (Robin Tunney) is set to enjoy the sweet ride of success until paparazzo Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore) and his marauding band of slimy shutterbugs turn his life into a living hell. Or at least a fairly large inconvenience. With a blatant nod to Princess Di the pesky paparazzi cause a high-speed car wreck which sends Bo's son Zach (Blake Bryan) into a coma of convenient duration and results in the loss of Abby's spleen. Which is fitting as the movie has no discernible spleen of its own. And so our hero who has obviously not received the standard studio briefing on the joys of contract killers takes matters (and a baseball bat) into his own hands. The model for Paparazzi is the vigilante movie: Death Wish Billy Jack Walking Tall and the like. But whereas Bronson's Paul Kersey devolved from architect to cold-blooded killer only when faced with impossibly high stakes (the murder of his wife and rape of his daughter) Laramie by contrast turns into a serial killer and a sloppy one at that over a little retinal glare. And doing it all by himself? One imagines the Anthony Pellicanos of the world dispatching guys like Harper during a Pilates break.
It's problematic asking non-movie stars to play huge movie stars for obvious reasons. Bo Laramie is supposed to be the biggest thing since Ah-nuld held his day job but as Hauser plays him he comes off more like Michael Dudikoff. Even as he's beating paparazzi to death with his own hands there is no sense of a human being or even a movie star being pushed to his limits. Tunney who was terrific in Niagara Niagara has nothing to do and neither does Dennis Farina as the cop conflicted by the A-list avenger. Sizemore of course steals every scene he's in effortlessly and ruthlessly. In spite of his recent legal troubles (or perhaps because of them) he brings just the right dosage of dangerous persona and edgy charisma to his growing roster of manic miscreants. Ultimately though even his involvement is disappointing: When he's on screen he fools you into thinking a real movie is about to start.
First-time director Paul Abascal is but a pawn in Mel Gibson's dogmatic production slate. Screenwriter Forrest Smith had a small role with Gibson in We Were Soldiers and reportedly leveraged the moment to pitch Paparazzi to the actor/producer/Catholic poster boy. Gibson has had issues with his privacy before and has already proved himself shameless in using the movies to promote an agenda. So as with The Passion of the Christ a movie that wouldn't have gotten so much as a sniff at any other studio found itself with a green light. And Bo Laramie became family man/action hero Gibson's violent alter ego. Or maybe just ego. (Gibson also has a brief cameo and the one sheet for Laramie's "movie" Adrenaline Force 2 is a dead ringer for the poster art for Lethal Weapon 2). With Gibson's personal profits alone surpassing the $400 million mark with this week's Passion DVD sales and Paparazzi's budget listed at $20 million Gibson could make 20 sequels to Paparazzi. Or he could use the producer's pulpit to speak out against other vexations in his life. Somewhere at Icon world headquarters Leaf Blower: The Movie just went into pre-production.