Friday Music Focus: 3/31/17

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Today we look at six songs connected to cinema and the power of storytelling. Dramatist and composer Neil Brand once described the effect of hearing music in films, which can be a thrilling experience from the moment the lights go down in a theater: “The darkness, the strangers, the anticipation, the warm comfortable embrace of the cinema seat. We’re ready to experience some big emotions, and the minute the music booms out, we are on board for the ride. Human beings are very good at interpreting sound. Right back to when our prehistoric selves will have heard a twig snap in a forest and thought ‘that’s it, I’m dead.’ We have a very deep understanding of what music is doing, and it’s very physical. We can feel it going into our ears via sound waves and it can produce all sorts of physical responses, including in the right circumstances an actual thud to the stomach.”

Francis Monkman, “Main Title” (from the score for the film The Long Good Friday, 1980, dir. John Mackenzie; subsequent scene from same film). Bob Hoskins’ breakout big-screen role was as Harold Shand, the kingpin of the London underworld in The Long Good Friday, director John Mackenzie’s cinematic retelling of Macbeth updated for the gritty early 80s. Regardless of whether you’re keen on the dated musical stylings of composer Francis Monkman, there is no denying that Harold’s introductory scene is the embodiment of cool. Bob Hoskins walks through the airport as though Harold’s theme music were playing in his head.

Jools Holland, “Morse Code” (appears on the album Jools Holland Meets Rock “A” Boogie Billy, 1984; subsequent scene from the film Near Dark, 1987, dir. Kathryn Bigelow). From an essay published by Bloody Disgusting: “Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark is something of a companion piece to James Cameron’s Aliens, released one year prior. Granted, the films have nothing to do with one another, but what they do share is a few key cast members – Cameron and Bigelow were dating at the time, and when Aliens wrapped, three actors leapt from outer space to the southwest. Lance Henriksen and Jenette Goldstein, who played Bishop and Vasquez in Aliens, star in the horror-western, but the real star of the show was Bill Paxton, who absolutely stole said show as the vampire Severen.

“…In what is easily one of the horror genre’s very best scenes, our band of villainous antiheroes arrive at a local watering hole; Severen leads the charge as they proceed to make the establishment their own and lay waste to anyone who’s not down with that. Cracking wise, walking across the bar top and kicking ass, Paxton is at his scenery-chewing best in the infamous Near Dark bar sequence, displaying every bit of the screen presence that made him such a beloved entertainer.

“Revisiting the scene today, I realized that it sums up why Bill Paxton has always been one of my favorite actors. Whether he was playing a good guy or a bad guy, making you laugh, cry, or fear for your life, Paxton was always the most likable and charismatic actor in the room; Severen entering the bar and completely taking over is not unlike Paxton’s own screen dominance in the films he was in. In both Aliens and Near Dark, the ensemble casts are stacked from top to bottom with incredible actors, but it was Paxton who managed to shine the brightest – there’s a reason you remember his lines above all else. His was the best character in nearly every single movie he was in, bringing unmatched confidence, charm and personality to each of those roles.”

P.S. Fun fact: the last line in the scene above, which is one of the most famous quotes from Near Dark, was improvised by Bill Paxton.

The Cramps, “Fever” (appears on the album Songs the Lord Taught Us, 1980; subsequent scene from the film Near Dark, 1987, dir. Kathryn Bigelow). From an essay published by Digital Spy: “’Finger-lickin’ good!’ howls Severen as he struts and gluts, with [Bill] Paxton’s mesmerising energy perhaps explained by the B12 injection he took prior to shooting in an effort to quash a migraine. We might not see any elongated incisors in Near Dark, but the cast sure sink their teeth into the furniture during this boisterous scene.” (More on that migraine at the beginning of this video interview with Bill Paxton.)

Eddy Dixon, “Relentless” (appears on the soundtrack of the film The Loveless, 1981, dirs. Kathryn Bigelow and Monty Montgomery). Watching Near Dark reminded me of how much I love the theme song that plays throughout Kathryn Bigelow’s debut feature film, The Loveless. Listening to “Relentless” again right after Jools Holland and the Cramps, I realize just how much Bigelow must love rockabilly, especially since she gave one of the main acting roles in The Loveless to rockabilly icon Robert Gordon.

Sheryl Crow, “Tomorrow Never Dies” (opening credits sequence from the film Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997, dir. Roger Spottiswoode). Both the film Tomorrow Never Dies and its title theme song by Sheryl Crow have gotten flak over the years for supposedly being lesser offerings from the James Bond franchise. OK, so maybe the movie is mediocre by the series’ standards, but I quite like the tune. It more than meets the requirements for Bondian flair, although Crow’s song is closer in spirit to the laid-back vibe of Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” than to the Sturm und Drang sound of Adele’s “Skyfall.” And anyway, Tomorrow Never Dies (the film, not the song) isn’t totally without merit; I love the scene with Vincent Schiavelli as a German hitman straight out of a comic strip, and I also enjoy the creepy main villain played by Jonathan Pryce. Pryce’s media mogul, Elliot Carver, is a power-mad billionaire who thrives on the exploitation of the world’s failures, traumas and bloodshed. When the usual gory headlines aren’t enough to satisfy his thirst for tragedy, Carver has his henchmen carry out violent attacks that pit the militaries of several nations against one another. It’s not fake news; it’s real news of Carver’s own design. Do we see any current-day parallels and worrying future eventualities here?

The Passions, “I’m in Love with a German Film Star” (appears on the album Thirty Thousand Feet Over China, 1981). A great song draws you in by telling a compelling story with its lyrics and its music; a really great song hooks you by suggesting an intriguing scenario just by the title alone. Then, when you hear the song: do you muse on who the German film star is, whether he’s a real person? Does it even matter, when you can imagine up your own fantasy based on the dreamy guitar by Clive Timperley and the vocals by Barbara Gogan?

The Passions’ legacy is that of a one-hit wonder band because of “Film Star,” which was the only charting single (it hit #25) of their brief career (they released three albums in the consecutive years of 1980-1982; they disbanded in 1983). Many other post-punk and New Wave bands are better remembered, but few made songs with the timeless staying power of “I’m in Love with a German Film Star.” Listening to it is like being enveloped in the welcoming darkness of a movie theater, maybe a small one like the kind where you might find the German matinee idol’s films playing.

365 Day Movie Challenge: 2015

For the third year in a row, I gave myself the task of watching at least 365 films between January 1 and December 31. I passed the test with flying colors: 404 movies seen in 2015! Here is the complete, chronological inventory.

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1915-1919: ’49-’17; The Ocean Waif

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1920-1924: Dr. Jack; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; The Kid; The Penalty; The Sheik

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1925-1929: The Gold Rush; It’s the Old Army Game; The Son of the Sheik; So’s Your Old Man; Why Be Good?; A Woman of Affairs

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1930-1934: Ace of Aces; Baby Face; Counsellor at Law; The Count of Monte Cristo; The Devil to Pay!; Downstairs; Fast Workers; Feet First; Five and Ten; Happiness Ahead; I Am Suzanne!; Liliom; The Man with Two Faces; Penguin Pool Murder; Red-Headed Woman; The Road to Ruin; Shanghai Express; Strangers May Kiss; This Side of Heaven; Three Faces East; Topaze; Waterloo Bridge

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1935-1939: Bachelor Mother; The Big Broadcast of 1936; Bonnie Scotland; Born to Dance; Bride of Frankenstein; Bulldog Drummond Comes Back; Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge; The Crime of Monsieur Lange; Dodge City; Dracula’s Daughter; The Garden of Allah; Intermezzo; Little Miss Broadway; Love on the Run; The Lower Depths; Mad Love; Magnificent Obsession; The Man in the Iron Mask; Mysterious Mr. Moto; Never Say Die; Raffles; Show Boat; Smartest Girl in Town; The Soldier and the Lady; Son of Frankenstein; Splendor; Stage Door; Steamboat Round the Bend; Stella Dallas; Stowaway; Trade Winds

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1940-1944: Blossoms in the Dust; Boom Town; Cobra Woman; Desperate Journey; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; From Mayerling to Sarajevo; How Green Was My Valley; The Ghost of Frankenstein; The Great Dictator; House of Frankenstein; June Night; Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman; Ladies in Retirement; The Little Foxes; The Long Voyage Home; Louisiana Purchase; The Mask of Dimitrios; Ministry of Fear; The Moon and Sixpence; Moontide; Mrs. Parkington; The Mummy’s Hand; The Mummy’s Tomb; No Greater Sin; The Sea Hawk; Son of Dracula; This Above All; This Land Is Mine; You Were Never Lovelier

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1945-1949: The Banquet; Berlin Express; The Big Clock; Cornered; Criss Cross; Desperate; Easy Living; The Enchanted Cottage; The Gangster; High Wall; Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar); House of Dracula; The Killers; Lady on a Train; Ma and Pa Kettle; Macbeth; Monsieur Verdoux; Nora Prentiss; Red Light; Royal Rabble; Thieves’ Highway; Too Late for Tears

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1950-1954: Ace in the Hole; The Affairs of Dobie Gillis; Bad for Each Other; The Crimson Pirate; Early Summer; Executive Suite; The Gambler and the Lady; Girl with Hyacinths; Give a Girl a Break; The Glass Wall; Gun Crazy; The I Don’t Care Girl; Ivanhoe; Kiss Me Kate; Limelight; Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town; The Men; Million Dollar Mermaid; The Narrow Margin; Pandora and the Flying Dutchman; The People Against O’Hara; Small Town Girl; So Big; Split Second; The Star; Susan Slept Here; Tomorrow Is Another Day; Too Young to Kiss; Woman on the Run

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1955-1959: Aparajito; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt; The Defiant Ones; The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing; Imitation of Life; The Journey; The Man Who Never Was; The Mummy; Party Girl; Pather Panchali; La Paura (aka Fear); La Pointe Courte; The Proud Rebel; Separate Tables; The World of Apu; Zero Hour!

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1960-1964: Band of Outsiders; Bikini Beach; Boys’ Night Out; Can-Can; A Child Is Waiting; The Connection; The Killers; Lolita; The Manchurian Candidate; Mr. Sardonicus; The Premature Burial; Requiem for a Heavyweight; The Suitor; Topkapi

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1965-1969: Another Day, Another Man; Bad Girls Go to Hell; Bonnie and Clyde; Grand Prix; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; Indecent Desires; The Ipcress File; Love Is Colder Than Death; Mississippi Mermaid; My Brother’s Wife; Paint Your Wagon; Point Blank; The Sex Perils of Paulette; A Taste of Flesh; Thunderball; Too Much Too Often; Topaz; Witchfinder General

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1970-1974: Aguirre, the Wrath of God; The Amazing Transplant; Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia; Count Dracula; Deadly Weapons; Deliverance; Double Agent 73; The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick; The Heartbreak Kid; Kelly’s Heroes; The Last House on the Left; The Last of Sheila; Ludwig; McCabe & Mrs. Miller; The Merchant of Four Seasons; The Murder of Fred Hampton; Super Fly; Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song; Two-Lane Blacktop

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1975-1979: Apocalypse Now; Autumn Sonata; The Boys from Brazil; Chinese Roulette; Every Which Way But Loose; Fox and His Friends; The Gauntlet; Girlfriends; God Told Me To; Harlan County U.S.A.; The Hills Have Eyes; In a Year with 13 Moons; The In-Laws; Killer of Sheep; Kings of the Road; The Last Wave; Men in Orbit; Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven; Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht; Prophecy; Rocky II; Time After Time

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1980-1984: Body Double; Footloose; Halloween II; The Loveless; Mrs. Soffel; My Brother’s Wedding; A Nightmare on Elm Street; Night Shift; A Night to Dismember; Paris, Texas; Private Benjamin; Risky Business; Rocky III; Stranger Than Paradise; Variety

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1985-1989: Bull Durham; Children of a Lesser God; Cookie; A Dry White Season; The Last Temptation of Christ; Mississippi Burning; Pale Rider; Planes, Trains & Automobiles; Pretty in Pink; Red Scorpion; Rocky IV; Runaway Train; Salaam Bombay!; Strapless; Tapeheads; True Love; The Unbelievable Truth; The Untouchables; Without a Clue

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1990-1994: Basic Instinct; The Bodyguard; Captives; Cliffhanger; Dead Again; Ghost; Greedy; I Come in Peace (aka Dark Angel); Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles; I.Q.; Jacob’s Ladder; JFK; Joshua Tree (aka Army of One); Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.; The Lawnmower Man; A League of Their Own; Menace II Society; Mississippi Masala; My Own Private Idaho; Peter’s Friends; Pulp Fiction; Reservoir Dogs; Rocky V; Scent of a Woman; Trust; Wayne’s World

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1995-1999: Affliction; Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me; Before Sunrise; Bulworth; La Cérémonie; The End of Violence; Eve’s Bayou; Forces of Nature; From Dusk Till Dawn; GoldenEye; Home for the Holidays; Jawbreaker; Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love; Nixon; Pleasantville; Primal Fear; Private Parts; Restoration; Rounders; Saving Private Ryan; Showgirls; The Truman Show

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2000-2004: Blood Work; Bread and Tulips; Bride & Prejudice; The Caveman’s Valentine; 8 Women; Femme Fatale; Frida; The Gift; Girl with a Pearl Earring; House of Sand and Fog; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Million Dollar Baby; Mission: Impossible II; Monsoon Wedding; My Life Without Me; Mystic River; Pootie Tang; Proof of Life; Queen of the Damned; Satan Was a Lady; Space Cowboys; Vatel; What Women Want

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2005-2009: Amelia; The Beaches of Agnès; Before Sunset; The Black Dahlia; The Devil Wears Prada; The 40 Year Virgin; Hustle & Flow; I Love You, Man; The Incredible Hulk; Mission: Impossible III; The Namesake; Notes on a Scandal; The Omen; RocknRolla; Rocky Balboa

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2010-2014: August: Osage County; Before Midnight; Birdman; Clouds of Sils Maria; The Drop; The Expendables; Footloose; Fruitvale Station; Girlhood; Gone Girl; Happy, Happy; Kingsman: The Secret Service; Learning to Drive; Love & Mercy; Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol; My Week with Marilyn; 99 Homes; Passion; Pitch Perfect; Ride; The Rover; Thanks for Sharing; That Awkward Moment; Two Days, One Night; Under the Skin; Unknown; Welcome to Me; What We Do in the Shadows; Winter’s Bone

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2015: Aloha; Amy; Ant-Man; Avengers: Age of Ultron; Bridge of Spies; Ex Machina; Fantastic Four; Jurassic World; Magic Mike XXL; The Martian; Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation; Pitch Perfect 2; Run All Night; San Andreas; Sicario; Spy; Tab Hunter Confidential; The Walk; The Wolfpack; Woman in Gold

10 Favorite Moments from the 2013 Oscars

Ten notable moments from the Oscars (sorry I didn’t get to this sooner!):

Emmanuelle Riva, who made the trip from France to be there (and elegantly so) on her 86th birthday.

Tommy Lee Jones kicking the night off with a laugh. Extra points for the woman whose head appears to be coming out of his head, somewhat reminiscent of Johnny Knoxville in Men in Black II.

Dame Shirley Bassey (“Gooooldfingah…”) looking and sounding superb at 76.

Christoph Waltz and his Oscar.

Cinematographer Claudio Miranda’s glorious hair. It is everything.

Sound editor Per Hallberg, not quite outdoing Claudio Miranda in the hair quality category but getting extra credit for the earring.

Quvenzhané Wallis as she is announced for the Best Actress category.

Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper rushing to Jennifer Lawrence’s aid when she fell.

All of Joaquin Phoenix’s faces. ALL OF THEM.

Daniel Day-Lewis with Meryl Streep’s lipstick stain on his cheek.

Bonus: Ang Lee celebrating his Oscar victory the way we would all want to, with an In-N-Out burger. I think he achieved the American dream: Oscar gold and enjoying the gift of delicious fast food.

Ranking the Films of 2012

I met my goal of seeing 25 films during the calendar year 2012. Here’s how I rank the films (with the top ten in bold):

  1. Moonrise Kingdom
  2. Skyfall
  3. Life of Pi
  4. Silver Linings Playbook
  5. Lincoln
  6. The Avengers
  7. Sister
  8. The Dark Knight Rises
  9. Les Misérables
  10. The Sessions
  11. 21 Jump Street
  12. Amour
  13. Big Miracle
  14. Safety Not Guaranteed
  15. Premium Rush
  16. Prometheus
  17. The Woman in Black
  18. Men in Black 3
  19. Farewell, My Queen
  20. Lawless
  21. Snow White and the Huntsman
  22. Safe House
  23. Ruby Sparks
  24. Lockout
  25. Lola Versus

*If I were to include Damsels in Distress (dir. Whit Stillman), Jeff, Who Lives at Home (dirs. Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass) and Return (dir. Liza Johnson), which are technically films from 2011 that were in theaters in 2012, here’s how I’d rank them: Damsels in Distress would come after Life of Pi; Return would come after Sister; Jeff, Who Lives at Home would come after Farewell, My Queen.

Does anyone agree or disagree (or have other comments) about my list? I’m going to keep seeing movies, of course, with Anna Karenina, Argo, Hitchcock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Holy Motors, The Impossible, Promised Land, Quartet, Rust and Bone and Zero Dark Thirty on my radar.

2012: Part 4

Lawless. Directed by John Hillcoat. I remember when there was a lot of buzz and anticipation surrounding the long-delayed release of this 1930s-set bootlegging story. The movie really did not deserve the hype. Maybe it’s my fault for not being a big fan of Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy. I felt zero chemistry between Hardy and leading lady Jessica Chastain (whom I have yet to love in any role, though I look forward to the new film Zero Dark Thirty). I was also disappointed by the way other good actors – Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, Noah Taylor – are wasted. Jason Clarke doesn’t have too much to do either. I was, however, impressed by a young actor named Dane DeHaan. He’s pretty good as LaBeouf’s moonshine-making friend. (DeHaan also pops up in the first scene of Lincoln as “Second White Soldier.”) I suppose Guy Pearce does a creditable job as a nutcase, the obsessive and creepy Chicago lawman Charlie Rakes, but the effect comes not from the writing but from Pearce’s physical transformation: too-wide hair part, shaved eyebrows, high-pitched voice and immaculate suits. (There’s a good review of his performance here.) Ultimately, though, the film isn’t worth your time.

Lincoln. Directed by Steven Spielberg. I must start out by saying that this is by no means a perfect film – and clocking in at two and a half hours, it demands the viewer to pay attention to dozens of characters and plot points – but it is an engrossing narrative with strong writing and heartfelt performances. Daniel Day-Lewis steps into the role of Abraham Lincoln in such a way that Lincoln is humanized, no longer held at a distance as a mythical figure. Sally Field is excellent, better than she’s been in years, as wife Mary Todd Lincoln. The most notable supporting actor is Tommy Lee Jones, who has much of the best dialogue as tireless anti-slavery activist and politician Thaddeus Stevens, but I would also like to give a shout-out to David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward. Strathairn knows how to make acting look effortless, a quality which is often lacking in thespians. The entire cast benefits from Tony Kushner’s praiseworthy screenplay; when I saw the film at the Museum of the Moving Image, Kushner was on hand to talk about his Lincoln experience alongside historian Harold Holzer, so that was cool. John Williams’ score, on the other hand, feels like stock dramatic material so I hope it doesn’t get an Oscar nomination (even though it probably will anyway).

Lockout. Directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger. Poor Guy Pearce. He tries so hard to take on a diverse array of roles, but in this case, he should have resisted the (somewhat dubious) temptation. Many reviewers have compared Lockout unfavorably to Escape from New York, but since I haven’t seen Escape, at least that does not factor into my dislike. Lockout seems to amble along without any discernible screenplay, although that seems to aid Pearce’s improv-esque dialogue and wisecracker character. Maggie Grace (aka Shannon from the show “Lost”) is likeable but bland as the damsel in distress. Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun play the main baddies, hampered by unintelligible Scottish accents. Additionally, the film suffers from being forced into a PG-13 rating, meaning that potentially more impactful – and interesting – violence was cut out. Blessedly, the film only runs for 95 minutes, so it’s over before too much damage is done.

Skyfall. Directed by Sam Mendes. The year is not yet over, but for the nonce, Skyfall is my favorite film of 2012. I saw it in IMAX and it was the most fulfilling moviegoing experience I could have asked for. The film gets at the core of how Ian Fleming wrote James Bond: a world-weary spy battling alcoholism. (That’s what I remember from reading Goldfinger, anyhow.) He’s not nearly as witty or seductively debonair as the illusion created by Sean Connery and some of his successors. Daniel Craig imbues the role with a sense of realism; you really feel Bond’s pain when he can’t complete MI6’s chin-up test. Judi Dench has her best showcase ever as M, showing the beating heart beneath her tough exterior. There’s excellent support from Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw (as the new Q) and Albert Finney. The Bond girls played by Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe don’t have the best lines to work with but they acquit themselves nicely. Finally we come to the Bond villain, Silva, portrayed by Javier Bardem. Described by one reviewer as “grotesque yet irresistible,” Bardem breathes life into what could have been just another Anton Chigurh. The first encounter between Silva and Bond is a meeting for the ages and the subsequent run-ins are just as exciting. Even if you’re not a James Bond fan, the combination of action and emotional character development, as well as Roger Deakins’ cinematography, Thomas Newman’s score and Adele’s title theme song make for amazing entertainment.

21 Jump Street. Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. In spite of what you might be led to believe, this is a fairly good comedy. Sure, it’s not high-class, but it’s still hilarious most of the time. Rebooting the popular late 80s TV show, the cops are played by Jonah Hill, who I’ve seen do respectable work in Cyrus and Moneyball, matched well with “Sexiest Man Alive” Channing Tatum, who is given some of the best lines revolving around his undercover character’s problematic interactions in chemistry class. Dave Franco, younger brother of polymath James, is somehow likeable as a jerky, eco-friendly drug-dealing high school student. Other funny people appear, including Rob Riggle, Dax Flame, Chris Parnell, Ellie Kemper, Caroline Aaron and Nick Offerman. The plot is standard stuff, including a cookie-cutter romance between Hill and Brie Larson, but it’s involving nonetheless.

For Your Consideration: The Acting Categories

This week many of the top awards societies and associations are giving out awards and nominations, making some Oscar predictions more obvious and others much more murky territory. Here’s how the scorecard is shaping up:

  • The Best Actor race has the least leeway. The top six choices are Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), John Hawkes (The Sessions), Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) and Denzel Washington (Flight). I expect Cooper, Day-Lewis and Hawkes to get Oscar nominations, but Jackman, Phoenix and Washington will all be fighting for fourth and fifth place among the nominees.
  • Best Actress will be a bit more confusing. Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) did not receive a Golden Globe nomination; additionally, she could not receive a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination because the film did not qualify. She’s still on track to receive an Oscar nomination, though. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) are sure bets for their critically acclaimed work. After those three ladies, however, the field remains open. 85-year-old French film legend Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) has received a lot of attention for her portrayal of a woman with Alzheimer’s disease, but I don’t know if she can sustain the buzz through to the Oscars. Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone) is a strong contender but she may face opposition from the other possibilities: Naomi Watts (The Impossible), Helen Mirren (Hitchcock) and Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea).
  • The Best Supporting Actor category is equally uncertain. The surest choices will be Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master). Otherwise, I’m not sure about which other men will get the nominations: Alan Arkin (Argo), Javier Bardem (Skyfall), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained) and Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) all have good chances. If the field were less crowded, I might also float Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike) and Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as possibilities.
  • Finally we come to the Best Supporting Actress category. The critics seem to have reached the general conclusion that Anne Hathaway will win for Les Misérables, so I guess that’s what’s going to happen. Her main competition will come from Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln) and Helen Hunt (The Sessions). The fifth spot is up for grabs; character actress Ann Dowd (Compliance) has been noticed by the National Board of Review and the Critics’ Choice Awards among others, while there are also opportunities for Judi Dench (Skyfall) and Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). I’d also like to mention that Emma Watson has been singled out by a few critics’ societies for her work in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, even though I don’t think she has a chance at getting an Oscar nomination.
  • Question: I know that Nicole Kidman got nominations from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards for her supporting work in The Paperboy but does anyone really expect her to get an Oscar nomination?

I Finally Saw Skyfall Today…

…and I must say I really loved it.

Prior to seeing Skyfall, I had seen four James Bond films: Dr. No (1962), Goldfinger (1964), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Casino Royale (2006). (I’m not counting the 60s spoof Casino Royale movie starring Peter Sellers, David Niven and Woody Allen, which I remember thinking was weird and not as funny as it should have been). While I can’t claim to be a Bond superfan who knows every famous quote and memorable villain, I certainly have a strong appreciation for the series. I have yet to see a Bond movie that isn’t entertaining.

I’ve noticed that quite a few moviegoers – not so much critics, most of whom give praise – have problems with Skyfall. Perhaps they did not see it in the proper venue; I saw it in an IMAX theater with a screen that made those stunning visuals all the more exciting. As far as the screenplay goes: no, it’s not exactly the script from Lawrence of Arabia, but so what? Even if some of the dialogue isn’t Oscar-worthy material, I don’t recall there being a single dull moment in Skyfall.

Besides, you couldn’t ask for a better cast. Daniel Craig is a near-perfect modern-day Bond. A lot of people don’t like his approach to the “flawed” Bond, but I think it’s much better than the old ways of sexist flippancy. Judi Dench – well, what can I say? Everyone knows how terrific an actress she is. Javier Bardem should be remembered as one of the great Bond villains, although at first I was unsure of whether I could deal with his campiness. (The moment I started to get into the character was when he touched Bond’s wounds and legs, à la José Ferrer touching Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. Sorry to mention that film again but it IS my favorite, so I sometimes like to use it for comparisons.)

The supporting cast is equally excellent. I’ve been a fan of Ralph Fiennes for years, so I love seeing him in anything. Ben Whishaw does rather well as the new (sort of “geek chic”) Q and Albert Finney puts in a nice little performance as groundskeeper/housekeeper/whatever-else-he-is Kincade. Notably, Bond girls seem to take a backseat to the action regarding Bond, M and Silva, so you don’t get a case like The Spy Who Loved Me where the Bond girl takes up far too much of the movie. Here, Naomie Harris does nicely as an intelligent field agent; on the other hand, so much more could have been done with Bérénice Marlohe’s beautiful character Sévérine. Altogether, though, the film is a success.

Am I alone in loving Skyfall or are the naysayers only a small percentage of the viewing population?