Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
Endless Love has awakened something in me. Not a long dormant passion for an introverted high school classmate, or a sudden desire to break into the zoo after dark. A question about movies — more accurately, about movie criticism. The same question you would ask yourself if you fell drowsy in the middle of Citizen Kane, or welled up during the emotional climax of Just Friends. The question I ask myself now, as I recount the 103 straight minutes of asphyxiating laughter that I endured during a screening of Shana Feste’s would-be romantic drama: What makes a good movie?
We assign deference to some films, disgust to others — a lucky few of us make a living this way. But what, precisely, are we reviewing? A film’s mission or its execution? The product onscreen or the experience of watching it? All factors come into play when considering whether or not a movie “works.” But on rare occasions you’ll get a film that offers no common ground in its meeting of these standards. You’ll get Endless Love, which strives for dramatic sincerity, winds up with underwritten idiocy, and provokes in its viewers an unrestrained, absurdist revelry — the kind of joy you’d otherwise be forced to seek in a third viewing of The Lego Movie. Laughter at the ill-conceived antics and befuddling dialectical patterns of our central teen couple — a Mars native Gabrielle Wilde and her gaping mouthed beau Alex Pettyfer. Elated bemusement at the younger generation’s propensity for chaotic disrobing and didactically organized dance parties. Unprecedented ecstasy at the Mafia movie intimidation tactics of an overprotective dad (Bruce Greenwood) and the brain-dead disregard of a supportive one (Robert Patrick). As a comedy, Endless Love is unstoppable.
I can only hypothesize that it was not Feste’s intention to roll us in the aisles. I have no cold proof that her resolution in paving every nook in her Georgia-set remake with another farcical stone — Wilde’s instantaneous evolution from wordless ingénue to sexually aggressive spirit walker, Patrick’s loving caution-to-the-wind attitude regarding any situation that has to do with a girl, Rhys Wakefield’s “black sheep” character forming an odd amalgamation of Pauly Shore and Charlie St. Cloud — was not one of Wolf of Wall Street-like satire, or reappropriation in the vein of Spring Breakers. Here are two movies that earned scorn from viewers who read them literally, and in turn vehement defense from those who peered through the exaltation of cocaine and firearms into the filmmakers’ ironic intentions.
Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
To the latter community, one to which I subscribe, I ask: if we’re readily willing to dive deeper for Martin Scorsese and Harmony Korine, shouldn’t we grant Feste this benefit? If we’d defend the authenticity of the splendor we recognized in their movies, why am I inclined to write off the very same when present in this year’s Valentine’s Day cannonball? Why do I eagerly laud the merit in Leonardo DiCaprio directing Quaalude-charged tribal chants and relinquishing subhuman treatment upon anyone short a Y-chromosome, while instinctively shafting the invaluable merriment in Pettyfer’s goofily deliberate declaration that he likes to read into the category of happy accident?
But an even more precise question (one I was challenged to entertain by a friend and film critic far wiser than I am), and this time to the former community: does it matter? Did it matter to all those offended by gunplay and intrusive nudity that Korine set out to demonize youth culture and its omnipresent hedonism? Did considering his intentions make the endgame any less a visceral nightmare? If not, does it matter if Feste poured her soul into the machination of a timeless love story, only to produce a riotous cinematic episode that treads genre parody as expertly as anything from the golden age of the Zucker brothers? Does it matter that she didn’t intend for Wilde and Pettyfer’s sex scene to come off as super-hoke, for every mention of cancer to feel like soap opera send-up, or for Robert Patrick’s vindication of his son’s passion for menagerie trespassing to elicit the biggest laugh of a movie yet in 2014?
So long as I consider the power of cinema, I’ll never be sure if it matters. I’ll never be sure of the answers to any of these questions. But no matter where I find myself standing on this issue down the line, I had far too much fun at Endless Love — and entertained far too many questions on the nature of cinema and the way we react to it — to call it a movie that people shouldn’t see.
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Considering that every award show leading up to the Academy Awards helps predict who will take home the Oscar in each category, it's quite a good sign for both American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave that each film received 13 nominations for the 19th Critics' Choice Movie Awards.
American Hustle grabbed nods for Best Picture, Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Acting Ensemble, Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Comedy, Best Actor in a Comedy (Christian Bale), and Best Actress in a Comedy (Amy Adams). And 12 years a Slave nabbed nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o), Best Acting Ensemble, Best Director (Steve McQueen), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, and Best Score.
Not far behind in the nominations race is Gravity with 10 nods and Captain Phillips, Her, Nebraska, and The Wolf of Wall Street with six each.
The Critics Choice Awards ceremony will be hosted by Aisha Tyler on The CW Jan. 16 at 8 PM.
Best PictureAmerican HustleCaptain PhillipsDallas Buyers ClubGravityHerInside Llewyn DavisNebraskaSaving Mr. Banks12 Years a SlaveThe Wolf of Wall Street
Best ActorChristian Bale – American HustleBruce Dern – NebraskaChiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a SlaveTom Hanks – Captain PhillipsMatthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers ClubRobert Redford – All Is Lost
Best ActressCate Blanchett – Blue JasmineSandra Bullock – GravityJudi Dench – PhilomenaBrie Larson – Short Term 12Meryl Streep – August: Osage CountyEmma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks
Best Supporting ActorBarkhad Abdi – Captain PhillipsDaniel Bruhl – RushBradley Cooper – American HustleMichael Fassbender – 12 Years a SlaveJames Gandolfini – Enough SaidJared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting ActressScarlett Johansson – HerJennifer Lawrence – American HustleLupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a SlaveJulia Roberts – August: Osage CountyJune Squibb – NebraskaOprah Winfrey – Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Best Young Actor/ActressAsa Butterfield – Ender’s GameAdele Exarchopoulos – Blue Is the Warmest ColorLiam James – The Way Way BackSophie Nelisse – The Book ThiefTye Sheridan – Mud
Best Acting EnsembleAmerican HustleAugust: Osage CountyLee Daniels’ The ButlerNebraska12 Years a SlaveThe Wolf of Wall Street
Best DirectorAlfonso Cuaron – GravityPaul Greengrass – Captain PhillipsSpike Jonze – HerSteve McQueen – 12 Years a SlaveDavid O. Russell – American HustleMartin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Original ScreenplayEric Singer and David O. Russell – American HustleWoody Allen – Blue JasmineSpike Jonze – HerJoel Coen & Ethan Coen – Inside Llewyn DavisBob Nelson – Nebraska
Best Adapted ScreenplayTracy Letts – August: Osage CountyRichard Linklater & Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke – Before MidnightBilly Ray – Captain PhillipsSteve Coogan and Jeff Pope – PhilomenaJohn Ridley – 12 Years a SlaveTerence Winter – The Wolf of Wall Street
Best CinematographyEmmanuel Lubezki – GravityBruno Delbonnel – Inside Llewyn DavisPhedon Papamichael – NebraskaRoger Deakins – PrisonersSean Bobbitt – 12 Years a Slave
Best Art DirectionAndy Nicholson (Production Designer), Rosie Goodwin (Set Decorator) – GravityCatherine Martin (Production Designer), Beverley Dunn (Set Decorator) – The Great GatsbyK.K. Barrett (Production Designer), Gene Serdena (Set Decorator) – HerDan Hennah (Production Designer), Ra Vincent (Set Decorator) – The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugAdam Stockhausen (Production Designer), Alice Baker (Set Decorator) – 12 Years a Slave
Best EditingAlan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers – American HustleChristopher Rouse – Captain PhillipsAlfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger – GravityDaniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill – RushJoe Walker – 12 Years a SlaveThelma Schoonmaker – The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Costume DesignMichael Wilkinson – American HustleCatherine Martin – The Great GatsbyBob Buck, Lesley Burkes-Harding, Ann Maskrey, Richard Taylor – The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugDaniel Orlandi – Saving Mr. BanksPatricia Norris – 12 Years a Slave
Best MakeupAmerican HustleThe Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugLee Daniels’ The ButlerRush12 Years a Slave
Best Visual EffectsGravityThe Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugIron Man 3Pacific RimStar Trek into Darkness
Best Animated FeatureThe CroodsDespicable Me 2FrozenMonsters UniversityThe Wind Rises
Best Action MovieThe Hunger Games: Catching FireIron Man 3Lone SurvivorRushStar Trek into Darkness
Best Actor in an Action MovieHenry Cavill – Man of SteelRobert Downey Jr. – Iron Man 3Brad Pitt – World War ZMark Wahlberg – Lone Survivor
Best Actress in an Action MovieSandra Bullock – GravityJennifer Lawrence – The Hunger Games: Catching FireEvangeline Lilly – The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugGwyneth Paltrow – Iron Man 3
Best ComedyAmerican HustleEnough SaidThe HeatThis Is the EndThe Way Way BackThe World’s End
Best Actor in a ComedyChristian Bale – American HustleLeonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall StreetJames Gandolfini – Enough SaidSimon Pegg – The World’s EndSam Rockwell – The Way Way Back
Best Actress in a ComedyAmy Adams – American HustleSandra Bullock – The HeatGreta Gerwig – Frances HaJulia Louis-Dreyfus – Enough SaidMelissa McCarthy – The Heat
Best Sci-fi/Horror MovieThe ConjuringGravityStar Trek into DarknessWorld War Z
Best Foreign Language FilmBlue Is the Warmest ColorThe Great BeautyThe HuntThe PastWadjda
Best Documentary FeatureThe Act of KillingBlackfishStories We TellTim’s Vermeer20 Feet from Stardom
Best Song"Atlas" – Coldplay – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"Happy" – Pharrell Williams – Despicable Me 2"Let It Go" – Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez – Frozen"Ordinary Love" – U2 – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"Please Mr. Kennedy" – Justin Timberlake/Oscar Isaac/Adam Driver – Inside Llewyn Davis"Young and Beautiful" – Lana Del Rey – The Great Gatsby
Best ScoreSteven Price – GravityArcade Fire – HerThomas Newman – Saving Mr. BanksHans Zimmer – 12 Years a Slave
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.