Dallas Buyers Club and Gravity were the toast of the 2014 Oscars on Sunday (02Mar14), but it was 12 Years A Slave which was named Best Picture on Hollywood's biggest night. The Steve McQueen slave drama was a triple threat, also scoring Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong'o and Best Adapted Screenplay for John Ridley.
AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club served up a double win in the male acting categories with Matthew McConaughey earning his first Oscar for Best Actor and Jared Leto claiming Best Supporting Actor, while Cate Blanchett took home the Best Actress title for her star turn in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.
However, it was Gravity which scored the most wins of the night with seven, including Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron and a string of technical awards.
The 86th annual ceremony was presented by Ellen DeGeneres and she opened the prestigious event by joking about the heavy rain which has lashed the usually-sunny state of California in the past few days, and poking fun at Jennifer Lawrence for her clumsy nature after she stumbled and fell to her knees on the red carpet as she arrived at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood - a year after she tripped up the stairs on the way to pick up her 2013 Best Actress Oscar.
Each of the nominations for Best Original Song were performed, but it was Frozen star Idina Menzel's rendition of Let It Go which earned husband and wife songwriting team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez the award.
Pop star Pink helped to celebrate the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz by belting out Somewhere Over the Rainbow in front of Judy Garland's children Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft, who were among the guests in the audience, and Bette Midler made her performance debut at the awards by singing Wind Beneath My Wings following the annual In Memoriam segment, which featured tributes to the likes of James Gandolfini, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Karen Black, Paul Walker, Annette Funicello, Peter O'Toole, Richard Griffiths, Sid Caesar, Shirley Temple Black, Harold Ramis, film critic Roger Ebert and former Academy president Tom Sherak.
The full list of winners at the 2014 Oscars is:
Best Motion Picture of the Year:
12 Years A Slave
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role:
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role:
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role:
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years A Slave
Best Achievement in Directing:
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Writing, Original Screenplay:
Spike Jonze, Her
Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay:
John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave
Best Animated Feature Film:
Frozen - Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee & Peter Del Vecho
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year:
The Great Beauty (Italy)
Best Achievement in Cinematography:
Gravity - Emmanuel Lubezki
Best Achievement in Film Editing:
Gravity - Alfonso Cuaron & Mark Sanger
Best Achievement in Production Design:
The Great Gatsby - Catherine Martin & Beverley Dunn
Best Achievement in Costume Design:
The Great Gatsby - Catherine Martin
Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling:
Dallas Buyers Club - Adruitha Lee & Robin Mathews
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score:
Gravity - Steven Price
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song:
Let It Go from Frozen - Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing:
Gravity - Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead & Chris Munro
Best Achievement in Sound Editing:
Gravity - Glenn Freemantle
Best Achievement in Visual Effects:
Gravity - Timothy Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk & Neil Corbould
Best Documentary, Feature:
Twenty Feet From Stardom - Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen & Caitrin Rogers
Best Documentary, Short Subject:
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Best Short Film, Animated:
Mr Hublot - Laurent Witz & Alexandre Espigares
Best Short Film, Live Action:
Helium - Anders Walter & Kim Magnusson
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award:
Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
Seventeen years ago, Harrison Ford grumbled four simple words that defined a genre, a demographic, and a country: "Get off my plane." In a pre-9/11 world, there was no shortage of jingoistic glee in a movie like Air Force One, in which a man's man American president doled out justice to a militia of Russian loyalist terrorists who made the silly mistake of attempting to hijack his flight home from Moscow. In 2014, we don't have the luxury of facing a plotline like this with reckless merriment. There's a damp gravity to the premise behind movies like Non-Stop, which in another time would have been nothing more than Taken on a Plane. But rigidly conscious of the connotations that attach to a story about a hijacking of a civilian international flight into John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, Non-Stop doesn't play too fast and loose. It still plays, and has some good fun doing so, but carefully.
From the getgo, we're anchored into the grim narrative of Liam Neeson's U.S. Air Marshall Bill Marks, who settles his demons with a healthy spoonful of whiskey. A dutiful officer even when liquored up, Marks eyeballs every nameless face in London's Heathrow Airport, silently introducing the bevvy of characters who'll come into play later on. After takeoff, Marks finds himself on the unwitting prowl for the anonymous party who's attempting to take down the red-eye through a series of manipulative text messages, well-timed threats, and clandestine killings. Chatty passenger Julianne Moore and flight attendant Michelle Dockery join Marks in his efforts to identify the mysterious criminal before the entire aircraft falls to his or her whims. So less Taken, more Murder, She Wrote.
Our roundup of suspects challenges our (and their) preconceived notions, and quite laughably — most vocal among Neeson's fellow passengers are a white beta-male school teacher (Scoot McNairy), a black computer engineer with an attitude of entitlement (Nate Parker), a softspoken Middle Eastern surgeon whose headwear gets more than a few focal shots (Omar Metwally), a middle-aged white businessman whose latest account landed him more than your house is worth (Frank Deal), an irate black youngster draped in irreverence (Corey Hawkins), and a white, bald, machismo-howling New York cop who secretly accepts his gay brother (Corey Stoll). Just a few talking heads short of Do the Right Thing, Non-Stop manages to goof on each man's (notice that they're all men — Moore, Dockery, and a barely-in-the-movie Lupita Nyong’o are kept shy of the action for most of the film) distaste for and distrust of one another as they each try to sidle up to, or undermine the harried Marks.
Non-Stop plays an interesting game with its characters and its audience, simultaneously painting the ignorance of its characters with a thick coat of comedy while pointing its finger straight out at us with accusations that we, too, thought it was whoever we just learned it wasn't, and for all the wrong reasons. "Shame on you!" Non-Stop chides, adding, "But let's keep going, this is fun!"
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It is fun — that's the miraculous thing. Without any "Get off my plane"s or "Yippee ki yay"s, Non-Stop keeps its action genre silliness in check (okay, there is a moment involving an airborne gun that'll institute some serious laugh-cheers), investing all of its good time in the game of claustrophobic Clue that we can't help but enjoy. It sacrifices some of its charm in a heavy-handed third act, tipping to one side of what was a pretty impressive balancing act up until that point. But its falter is not one that drags down the movie entirely. Fun and excitement are restored, sincerity is maintained, and even a few moments of sensitivity creep their way through. We might not live in a world of President Harrison Fords any longer, but Air Marshall Liam Neesons could actually be a step up.
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Actor Neil Patrick Harris was honoured by his peers at The Drama League's 30th annual all-star gala in New York City on Monday night (03Feb14). The TV and stage performer's career was celebrated at the organisation's Musical Celebration of Broadway event at the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan.
Stars including Zachary Levi, Kal Penn, Audra McDonald and Harris' TV reporter partner David Burtka were in attendance at the bash, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg.
Drama League Executive Director Gabriel Shanks says, "We are overjoyed to add Neil Patrick Harris to the legendary roster of artists who have been honoured at the Musical Celebration of Broadway during the last 30 years. After distinguishing himself in film, television, theatre, web series, music, and as a staunch advocate for youth and arts education like that provided by The Drama League, Neil's return to Broadway this season is cause for celebration."
Harris is returning to the Great White Way in a new production of Hedwig And The Angry Inch which opens in April (14).
Other stars to be honoured over the last 30 years include Dame Angela Lansbury, Liza Minnelli and Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber.
David Bowie is at the centre of a bidding war to persuade him to make a return to the stage after eight years. Bosses at promoters Live Nation have tabled a multi-million dollar bid for the 66-year-old icon to play a huge concert at London's Olympic Park next year (14).
Now their rivals at AEG are reportedly considering a similar offer for the British star to headline at London's Hyde Park, according to Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper.
However, a spokesman for the star has poured cold water on the rumour, telling NME.com, "There are currently no plans for any live dates."
Next year (14) marks the 50th anniversary of Bowie's first single, Liza Jane.
How many times has pillow-lipped actress Jennifer Coolidge saved an otherwise awful movie? And she's built a career saving scenes in American Pie, Legally Blonde, and every David Gest — no, wait, that's Liza Minnelli's ex-husband — every Christopher Gest mockumentary. She does it yet again in Austenland, which debuted Friday afternoon at the Sundance Film Festival.
Director and co-writer Jerusha Hess (who also co-wrote Napoleon Dynamite) joked before the movie that everyone had come to see Bret McKenzie's abs, but not only did the flying Concorde not take off his shirt in the movie (sadly), it was Coolidge who got just about every laugh from the reluctant audience. The movie stars Keri Russell, her Felicity mane tamed and mousey, as Jane, a nerdy, lonely woman obsessed the Jane Austen who travels to England to spend two weeks at Austenland, a resort where all attendees must dress and behave like their in one of the Regency Era literary heroine's novels. Love awaits each female traveler thanks to the amorous attention of an actor.
But it's not Jane's story we care about, it's Miss Charming's, a fellow traveler who has more money than sense. Like just about every Coolidge character, has no idea what is appropriate in any given situation. Coolidge tries on different accents, different mannerisms, and all sorts of outlandish fabulosity to play the most charmingly self-unaware woman you would ever meet.
Don't we want a whole movie of this? Melissa McCarthy, another scene-stealer, got an Oscar nomination for Bridesmaids and is now popping up everywhere, including a lead role in Identity Theft with Jason Bateman. What will it take for Coolidge to get the same treatment? Maybe something with her and Anna Faris as a dim but enthusiastic mother/daughter team who travel to a tropical resort looking for love? (That's a free idea for all you development executives out there.) Or even just a simple comedy where she gets to be the star of the show rather than being second banana. Let's make that happen already.
As for Austenland, it's as much of a beautiful looking trifle as the resort itself. The production is astounding in terms of period dress and the performances by Russell, Coolidge, McKenzie, the dreamy JJ Feild (as Russell's love interest), and an astounding Jane Seymour – well-preserved and underused on whatever back shelf Hollywood has placed her since her medical days as Dr. Quinn – as Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the owner of Austenland. The trouble isn't with the people, but the story, which sort of goes in all directions at once and makes what should be a quick and sweet movie into something of an ambling slog. It starts out with good intentions, showing women that being obsessed with fictional romance at the expense of living their real lives is dangerous, but ends with the sort of tired rom-com tropes that it purports to be smarter and better than. We have only Coolidge to thank for it's best gags, a comment on her stunning ability to turn even the lightest line into a comedic explosion. Can't we get that for 90 minutes? Pretty please, already?
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Forget that the latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's sweeping romance novel comes from the man who brought us the slick-but-stuffy Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. Every frame of director Joe Wright's Anna Karenina is a wonder to behold overflowing with visual spectacle and roaring performances. Keira Knightley Jude Law Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the rest of the cast fit perfectly in the high drama epic but it's really Wright's playground. Following Hanna an artful spin on the action movie Wright returns to the period drama but injects it with dazzling daring choices. A book like Anna Karenina could once fit in reality but its larger-than-life legacy precedes it. Wright acknowledges that from frame one approaching the film like a grand ballet or opera where grand gestures broad emotions and overt theatrics are commonplace. That vision clicks transforming Anna Karenina into an exhilarating moviegoing experience.
The storyline of Anna Karenina isn't far off from a daytime soap: It's 1874 and Anna (Knightley) is floating through existence as the wife of influential government player Karenin (Law). But when her brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) summons her to Moscow to save his marriage Anna's entire world is shaken up. She meets Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson) a cavalry hunk who finds himself smitten with the taken lady. She's in the same boat: The two strike up a flirtatious relationship that evolves into one of sexual passion. A scandalous affair would incite trouble in the preset day but in the 19th century it's the ultimate crime. Quickly Anna's life comes crumbling down.
The intertwining melodrama of Anna Karenina earned the novel its classic status but Wright uses the material as a launching pad for imagination rather than a tome to translate to screen. Many of the scenes are staged in a theater creating an instant awareness of the production. Sets shift and are reconstructed into new rooms; actors costume change in the span of single shots; action sequences like a thrilling horse race are conducted on stage with special effects you might see on Broadway. Wright works this sort of stylization in the other direction too; a character could walk an empty stage open a door and suddenly be on a snow-covered hill. Anna Karenina isn't the first film to use the effect but in Wright's hands it's exhilarating.
The movie is Wright's third collaboration with Knightley and easily their most successful. Knightley never struggles to stay on the same page as the heightened material whether she's nailing a dance sequence or breaking down in a flood of tears. Casting an ensemble around Knightley is no easy task but Taylor-Johnson gives his best work yet as the debonair love interest and Macfadyen steals the show with moments of physical comedy.
We have expectations of the texture and structure of period romances. Anna Karenina defies them. Masterpiece Theater it is not.
At the moment there are few greater clichés in the media than the freaking out single woman on the cusp of 30. Of course clichés are clichés for a reason worth exploring even through the lens of just one or two women as in Lola Versus. Unfortunately while the intention behind Lola Versus isn't that we should all be happily married by the age of 30 it still fits into the same rubric of all those "Why You're Not Married" books.
Lola (Greta Gerwig) has a gorgeous fiancé Luke (Joel Kinnaman) and they live in a giant loft together the kind of dreamy NYC real estate that seems to exist primarily in the movies. Just as they're planning their gluten-free wedding cake with a non-GMO rice milk-based frosting Luke dumps her. It's cruelly sudden — although Luke isn't a cruel man. Lola finds little comfort in the acerbic wit of her best friend the eternally single Alice (Zoe Lister-Jones) who is probably delighted to see her perfectly blonde best friend taken down a peg and into the murky world of New York coupling. Lola and Luke share a best friend Henry (Hamish Linklater) a messy-haired rumpled sweetheart who is kind and safe and the inevitable shelter for Lola's fallout. Her parents well-meaning and well-to-do hippie types feed her kombucha and try to figure out their iPads and give her irrelevant advice.
Lola Versus is slippery. Its tone careens between broad TV comedy and earnest dramedy almost as if Alice is in charge of the dirty zingers and Lola's job is to make supposedly introspective statements. Alice's vulgar non-sequiturs are tossed off without much relish and Lola's dialogue comes off too often as expository and plaintive. We don't need Lola to tell Henry "I'm vulnerable I'm not myself I'm easily persuaded" or "I'm slutty but I'm a good person!" (Which is by the way an asinine statement to make. One might even say she's not even that "slutty " she's just making dumb decisions that hurt those around her just as much as she's hurting herself.)
We know that she's a mess — that's the point of the story! It's not so much that a particularly acerbic woman wouldn't say to her best friend "Find your spirit animal and ride it until its d**k falls off " but that she wouldn't say it in the context of this movie. It's from some other movie over there one where everyone is as snarky and bitter as Alice. You can't have your black-hearted comedy and your introspective yoga classes. Is it really a stride forward for feminism that the clueless single woman has taken the place of the stoner man-child in media today? When Lola tells Luke "I'm taken by myself. I've gotta just do me for a while " it's true. But it doesn't sound true and it doesn't feel true.
In one scene Lola stumbles on the sidewalk and falls to the ground. No one asks her if she's okay or needs help; she simply gets up on her own and goes on her way. It's a moment that has happened to so many people. It's humiliating and so very public but of course you just gotta pick yourself up and get where you're going. In this movie it's a head-smackingly obvious metaphor. In one of the biggest missteps of the movie Jay Pharoah plays a bartender that makes the occasional joke while Lola is waiting tables at her mom's restaurant. His big line at the end is "And I'm your friend who's black!" It would have been better to leave his entire character on the cutting room floor than attempt such a half-hearted wink at the audience.
Lister-Jones and director Daryl Wein co-wrote the screenplay for Lola Versus as they did with 2009's Breaking Upwards. Both films deal with the ins and outs of their own romantic relationship in one way or another. Breaking Upwards a micro-budget indie about a rough patch in their relationship was much more successful in tone and direction. Lola Versus has its seeds in Lister-Jones' experience as a single woman in New York and is a little bit farther removed from their experiences. Lola Versus feels like a wasted opportunity. Relatively speaking there are so few movies getting made with a female writer or co-writer that it almost feels like a betrayal to see such a tone-deaf portrayal of women onscreen. What makes it even more disappointing is how smart and likable everyone involved is and knowing that they could have made a better movie.
There's probably still someone somewhere that would fall for one of Sacha Baron Cohen's weird and wooly scenarios but let's face the facts: the days when Ali G. could snag an interview with Pat Buchanan or Gore Vidal are long gone. 2009's Bruno definitely let some steam out of Borat's tires not to mention the ensuing lawsuits. But it's refreshing to see Cohen and his Borat/Bruno cohort director Larry Charles flex their muscles in the fictional universe of The Dictator a vehicle that doesn't skimp on their signature cringe-worthy humor.
The world of The Dictator gives them the leeway to create crazy spectacles — at one point Cohen's General Aladeen rides down Fifth Avenue on a camel surrounded by a giant motorcade. Having a plot helps too; although part of the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen's schtick is how the viewer is made culpable by proxy by our amusement and horror at how he tricks and torments people who aren't in on the joke The Dictator continues the self-reflexive satirical bite. We're certainly not off the hook. Aladeen says and does truly outrageous things but they're also exaggerations of the world we live in. It might be a stretch to call Sacha Baron Cohen the British Lenny Bruce or George Carlin in a face merkin but rest assured that no topic is off limits. If you are offended by jokes about abortion rape feminists body hair race religion politics STDs war crimes ethnic cleansing necrophilia and/or bestiality don't even bother. However if you like the kind of comedy that makes you hide your face in your hands feeling like each laugh is being pried from you against your will you're in business.
Cohen eats up the screen as both General Aladeen and his incredibly dumb body double; the latter prefers the intimate company of one of his goats to a human while the former is a fairly stupid ruthless dictator whose own people are so disloyal to him that they actually ignore his commands to execute people. (He really likes to execute people.) When he arrives in New York City to attend a summit at the UN his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has the two switched so he can easily manipulate the "General" into signing a treaty to make Wadiya a democracy and reap the financial benefits. Aladeen finds refuge with Zoe a hairy-pitted activist who thinks he's a political dissident and is excited to be able to give him a safe haven in her touchy-feely Brooklyn grocery co-op. Instead of being typecast as another blonde dummy Anna Faris is finally given room to play as the wide-eyed naïf who takes Aladeen's very serious statements as jokes or simple miscommunications. She's a great foil to Baron Cohen who is easily half a foot taller than she is and has a wolfish grin. Their banter is often the most politically incorrect of the bunch but also the funniest.
Alas the plot. It's a bare bones situation to get a very broad character from A to B. Aladeen is obviously an outlandish mishmash of modern dictators; he spouts racist misogynist rhetoric endlessly and after a while...yeah we get it. However like all of Sacha Baron Cohen's humor The Dictator also takes a direct shot at Western countries (specifically the United States) which would be all fine and dandy if he didn't wedge an expository speech in about it as well. The problem with making a traditional narrative movie is that with some exceptions you've got to play within the guidelines. The Dictator isn't trying to do anything fancy; all it needs a few big beats and a neat ending to wrap it all up. It doesn't quite manage to tie it all together in a way that makes The Dictator more than an hour and a half or so of laughing and cringing.
Besides Faris and Kingsley there are a number of cameos by a very wide variety of comics and actors. Megan Fox plays herself Kevin Corrigan appears as a creepy dude who works at the co-op John C. Reilly is a racist security guard and Fred Armisen runs an anti-Aladeen café in New York's Little Wadiya district. The very funny Jason Mantzoukas has a large role as Nadal the former head of rocket science who was supposedly executed for not making Aladeen's nuclear warhead pointy. It's a good ensemble and hopefully Sacha Baron Cohen's next feature-length film will build on The Dictator's weaknesses.
The nautical heist thriller Contraband is a remake of Reykjavik-Rotterdam an Icelandic film from 2008 which admittedly I’ve yet to see. (It’s curiously difficult to find stateside.) Presumably there must have been something about it that was compelling enough to warrant the effort and expense of an American adaptation. Whatever it was it didn’t survive the no doubt complicated process of translating it into a proper Mark Wahlberg vehicle.
Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday once a legendary New Orleans smuggler but now happily law-abiding as a home-security contractor. The same however cannot be said of his punk brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) who runs illegal shipments for a tattooed hoodlum named Tim Riggs (Giovanni Ribisi). When Andy makes the unwise decision to dump his valuable narcotics cargo in advance of a Customs raid earning the dreaded pay-up-or-die ultimatum from his unsavory boss Chris tries in vain to intervene on his behalf only to be rudely rebuffed. Which leaves him with only one option to save Andy’s skin: One Last Job.
The director of Contraband Baltasar Kormakur actually starred in Reykjavik-Rotterdam – a piece of trivia which unfortunately proves far more interesting than anything found in his remake. It seems his familiarity with the material bred banality if not necessarily contempt. His approach is a kind of Bourne-lite: the shaky-cam is restrained enough to minimize audience headaches but the ultimate result is stultifyingly generic.
Essential to any successful Mark Wahlberg film from Boogie Nights to The Fighter has been to surround Wahlberg with more accomplished and versatile actors thereby allowing him to focus on his core competencies of scowling cursing and otherwise radiating his unique brand of low-watt charisma. Kormakur assembled capable-enough performers for Contraband only to saddle them with uniformly bland characters.
Having grown accustomed to Kate Beckinsale as the leather-clad heroine of the Underworld films I found it odd – and a bit disappointing – to see her reduced to the role of the protagonist’s fretful wife. Ribisi’s novel strategy for transcending his miscasting as a clichéd white-trash villain is to adopt a bizarre high-pitched accent presumably Southern in origin but unlike any Southern accent I’ve ever witnessed. Ben Foster plays Wahlberg’s best friend an ex-con and recovering alcoholic who seems doomed to relapse on both fronts if only because he’s being played by Ben Foster. Diego Luna J.K. Simmons Lukas Haas are underutilized in one-note roles.
I confess to be unfamiliar with the vagaries of illicit foreign-goods transport but I have to think it’s more exciting than what unfolds in Contraband. No one expects it to rival the glamour and of say casino robbery but Kormakur depicts smuggling with all the verve and panache of a tax audit. The film’s lone fireworks occur on land during a stop-off in Panama City when Wahlberg’s character is forced by the local crime boss (Luna) in an armored-car hold-up. A heist-within-a-heist if you will. But soon it’s back on the boat where the momentum ceases and the movie sinks.
Each episode the television audience will enter the home of Liza and David as they prepare to host a a social gathering of their friends at their New York Penthouse. Afterwards Liza and David will give a commentary of the evening including comment about their guests.