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PopMatters Film Preview: December 2014

This is it, the final push for the 2014 Awards Season, which includes some big names, some Academy almosts, and subjects as diverse as snipers, orphans, civil rights, and paintings of children with big, sad eyes.

This is it, the final push for the 2014 Awards Season, which includes some big names, some Academy almosts, and subjects as diverse as snipers, orphans, civil rights, and paintings of children with big, sad eyes.

 

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Film: Wild

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Gabby Hoffman, Charles Baker

MPAA rating: R

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5 December
Wild

They call it “dressing down”. There’s also several far more unflattering terms used for when actors and actresses remove the “glamour” element from their onscreen persona. Think Charlize Theron in Monster or Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder and you get the idea. In this case, Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon looks for a little more Academy love playing the real life Cheryl Strayed, a woman who decided to reclaim her downwardly spiraling life via a thousand-mile hike through the Pacific Crest trail alone. Part personal reflection (with accompanying flashbacks) and spiritual road movie, the end result proves Witherspoon’s award season worthiness if nothing else.

 

Director: Grégory Levasseur

Film: The Pyramid

Cast: Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O’Hare, James Buckley, Daniel Amerman

MPAA rating: R

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5 December
The Pyramid

A horror movie? Three weeks before Christmas? I guess Hollywood has to counterprogram to someone, right? Anyway, this latest effort from the French filmmaking team of Alexandre Aja (producer) and his screenwriter collaborator Grégory Levasseur (only directing here) wants to reinvigorate the age old ancient Egyptian curse narrative with some postmodern quirk (found footage, contemporary politics). The only problem: neither man (responsible for such excellent frightmares as Haute Tension and The Hills Have Eyes remake) has anything creative to add here. The script comes from a pair of novices and the cast contains a bunch of no names. Now that’s scary.

 

Director: Erik Skjoldbjærg

Film: Pioneer

Cast: Aksel Hennie, Wes Bentley, Stephen Lang, Jonathan LaPaglia

MPAA rating: R

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5 December
Pioneer

At first, this seems to be another horror film. A group of divers in the ’70s are competing to see who can go deeper as part of a plan to lay petroleum pipe at the bottom of the North Sea. Soon, however, a tragic accident leaves several lives in the balance, with a major oil company and complicit government eager to cover things up. This 2013 thriller, made by Norwegian filmmaker Erik Skjoldbjærg (best known for the original version of Insomnia) is already being westernized by Hollywood with producing partners Grant Heslov and George Clooney working on a possible remake.

 

Director: Sam Esmail

Film: Comet

Cast: Emmy Rossum, Justin Long, Eric Winter

MPAA rating: R

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5 December
Comet

Now this sounds insane. Supposedly set in a “parallel universe not unlike ours”, we meet a less-than-happy couple, Dell (Justin Long) and Kimberley (Emmy Rossum) as their relationship slowly crumbles. We then jump back and forth in time to see how things started, and how the little moments of misunderstanding and misery build up until everything comes crashing down. Early word argues that the sci-fi aspect of the approach is minimal at best while others site Annie Hall as obvious inspiration. Who knows? The RomCom has been left for dead before. One doubts this concept could revive it.

 

Director: Paul Schrader

Film: Dying of the Light

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin, Irène Jacob

MPAA rating: R

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5 December
Dying of the Light

A few months back, writer/director Paul Schrader (of Taxi Driver fame) got together with his stars Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin to protest the handling of his latest film, CIA thriller The Dying of the Light, by its producing studio (Grindstone, a division of Lionsgate). Seems that after it was completed, producers took it away from him and more or less “remade” his vision. Long available (and dismissed) on Pay Per View, the film is now getting a minor theatrical release before becoming yet another example (The Canyons, his Exorcist prequel) of Schrader being disrespected by the mainstream establishment.

 

Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland

Film: Still Alice

Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, Shane McRae, Stephen Kunken

MPAA rating: R

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5 December
Still Alice

Julianne Moore stars as a linguistics professor coming to terms with the fact that she has early onset Alzheimers. Alec Baldwin plays her husband, with Kristen Stewart her defiant daughter. Made by the directing duo Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, responsible for the less than impressive The Last of Robin Hood, there’s not much here that’s new and a lot of this ground has been covered by dozens of documentaries. Still, with all the actors giving their best performances in quite a while, what should be stale ends up rather engaging. Indeed, Moore alone makes the movie.

 

Director: Susanna Fogel

Film: Life Partners

Cast: Leighton Meester, Gillian Jacobs, Adam Brody, Greer Grammer, Gabourey Sidibe, Julie White

MPAA rating: R

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5 December
Life Partners

Paige (Gillian Jacobs) and her lesbian slacker pal (Leighton Meister) have the perfect platonic relationship. That is, until a guy walks into their life. Tim (Adam Brody) is a doctor and he comes between these BFFs, forcing the ladies to figure out how he will fit into their already established bond. Written by Joni Lefkowitz and Susanna Fogel and directed by the latter, it’s based on a successful play from the pair about their own experiences as friends. They were also the stars of a popular web series in 2008, another bit of autobiography entitled, oddly enough, Joni and Susanna.

12 December

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Film: Inherent Vice

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short

MPAA rating: R

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12 December
Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson and Thomas Pynchon. Mr. Boogie Nights/There Will Be Blood and the author ofV., The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow. Talk about a potent pair. Earning an amazing amount of buzz based on announcement alone, fans now have a chance to see how one of the world’s most reclusive authors (he rivals the late J.D. Salinger in hermitical lifestyle) is treated by one of our most gifted filmmakers. Considering the cast, and the early ’70s setting, this is either going to be a pre-post modern noir or another example of Anderson’s undeniable quirk. Or maybe, it’s both.

 

Director: Ridley Scott

Film: Exodus: Gods and Kings

Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley

MPAA rating: R

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12 December
Exodus: Gods and Kings

Did we really need another Ten Commandments? Especially one that’s been whitewashed in order to meet the demands of the modern domestic marketplace? Granted, Yul Brenner and Charleton Heston weren’t exactly “ethnically correct” when they starred in Cecil B. DeMille’s Bible blockbuster, but this is 2014, not 1956. Was it really necessary to cast Christen Bale as Moses, and Joel Edgerton as the Pharaoh Ramses? Early reviews take director Ridley Scott to task for his otherwise redundant retelling of the famed Old Testament tale (even the CG F/X have come under scrutiny) while lambasting his overtly European cast. Only purists — and Rupert Murdoch — need apply.

 

Director: Chris Rock

Film: Top Five

Cast: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, Hayley Marie Norman, Rachel Feinstein, Dan Naturman, Kevin Hart, JB Smoove

MPAA rating: R

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12 December
Top Five

Chris Rock has been burning up the social media pages this past week, riffing on everything from political correctness, college campuses, the controversy in Ferguson, and his own career calling. Of course, it’s all part of a prolonged publicity tour, the famed comedian readying his latest effort for movie audiences everywhere. This time out, he plays a famous funnyman who wants to be taken seriously as an actor. He’s also about to commit to a famous reality star via marriage. Apparently, a return home to his family and an interview with Rosario Dawson changes his life. Makes sense. Rock is almost always hilarious. Here’s hoping his latest film is, as well.

 

Director: Greg Barker

Film: We are the Giant

Cast: Various

MPAA rating: R

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12 December
We Are the Giant

From boycotting products to marching in the streets, standing up for oneself and a particular cause, civil disobedience addresses issues both social and personal. Thus we have this documentary, a chance to see how one’s beliefs (and the defense of same) can lead to such complex struggles. Greg Barker’s film focuses on the Arab Spring and countries like Libya, Syria, and Bahrain. It’s an eye opening experience, to say the least.

19 December

Director: Peter Jackson

Film: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom

MPAA rating: R

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17 December
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

That’s it. It’s over. Nearly 20 years ago, way back in 1997, Peter Jackson was given a chance to remake King Kong. When that fell through, his next idea was to adapt The Hobbit and/or The Lord of the Rings for the big screen. Now, six films, almost $1 billion in budgets and nearly $5 billion in box office receipts, we come to the last leg of our journey through Middle Earth. Jackson has made it very clear that rights issues with the Tolkien estate will prevent any more movies set in the magical realm, but for now, we have this, the final installment, containing a rumored hour long final battle. We can’t wait.

 

Director: Will Gluck

Film: Annie

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Cameron Diaz

MPAA rating: R

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19 December
Annie

It’s a feel good musical that’s both cloying and unexpectedly old fashioned. It features a character created nearly 100 years ago with a Jazz Age subtext and a not so restrained political commentary slant. So what better material to remake into a modern toe-tapper? Indeed, philanthropist Daddy Warbucks is now a politician named Will Stacks, while many of the famous sounds have been revamped for a more contemporary feel. We even get the standard “new for the film” material that should (or in this case, won’t) lead to some coveted Oscar nominations. Somewhere, American auteur John Huston is rolling over in his grave.

 

Director: Shawn Levy

Film: A Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb

Cast: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Dan Stevens, Ben Kingsley, Steven Coogan, Rebel Wilson

MPAA rating: R

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19 December
A Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb

With his legacy constantly complimented both inside and outside the industry, it’s slightly surreal that Robin Williams’ final film will (more than likely) be this threequel to the Shawn Levy family film franchise that no one was asking for. Once again, Ben Stiller will put on security guard garb and watch as the various installations at the requisite museum come to life. The menacing monkey will be back. Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan will lower themselves for a paycheck. Apparently, the storyline sees the “magic” dying out, and it’s up to Stiller’s character to get it back. Wake us when it’s over.

 

Director: Mike Leigh

Film: Mr. Turner

Cast: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage

MPAA rating: R

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19 December
Mr. Turner

Mike Leigh remains one of the more intriguing directors working today. He’s unflinching in his eye and experimental in his approach. Often working without a script, he sets up scenarios, past or present, and lets his expertly cast actors show off their improvisational talents. In this case, Cannes winner Timothy Spall is British painter J. M. W. Turner. Notorious in his time, he’s now a footnote among those who follow the art world. But his impact, and his private life, remain the stuff of legend and this sensational film leaves no scandalous stone unturned. Among the director’s very best.

 

Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Film: Winter Sleep

Cast: Haluk Bilginer, Demet Akbag, Melisa Sözen, Tamer Levent, Nejat Isler

MPAA rating: R

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19 December
Winter Sleep

Mr. Aydin used to be an actor. Now he runs a mountaintop hotel in Turkey and treats the locals with a level of measured disdain. HIs wife hates him. So does his sister. When the snow comes and the guests leave, Aydin is forced to deal with everyone around him, leading to long conversations, which uncover class issues and power struggles among the various villagers. Winter Sleep won the 2014 Cannes Palme D’Or, which, sadly, can be the death knell of a foreign film for American audiences. In this case, we believe the arthouse crowd will be far more interested in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s political pronouncements.

25 December

Director: Rob Marshall

Film: Into the Woods

Cast: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp

MPAA rating: R

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25 December
Into the Woods

With the myriad of musicals available for adaptation, it seems slightly surreal that Disney would pick this late period Sondheim work as its 2014 prestige picture. Granted, the fairytale theme is right up the House of Mouse’s alley, but those who know the work also know that the Broadway legend was taking the piss out of our favorite fictional characters, not celebrating them. Still, Rob Marshall was hired, an all star cast was collected, and the composer himself was given say over anything editorial. After numerous reports of Walt’s workers demanding cuts and changes, those who’ve seen it suggest Disney was more hands-off than expected.

 

Director: Tim Burton

Film: Big Eyes

Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp

MPAA rating: R

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25 December
Big EyesWhen he’s not adding undeniable edge to his goofy Goth vision, Tim Burton can make exhilaratingly straight forward films. Ed Wood is a perfect example of this, so it makes sense that the filmmaker would return to the screenwriter pair of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski for another bizarre biopic. This time around, the subjects are artists Walter and Margaret Keane, creators of the famous “big eye” portraits of kids and animals. Under tags such as “Pity Puppy” and “Pity Kitty”, the style became a ’50s suburban sensation. Then the truth came out: Walter was nothing more than a conman. It was Margaret who was the painter all along. Perfect Burton material.

 

Director: Clint Eastwood

Film: American Sniper

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict, Sam Jaeger, Max Charles

MPAA rating: R

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25 December
American Sniper

The production history on this film may be as interesting as the story being told. Originally, David O. Russell sought to reteam with his Silver Linings Playbook star Bradley Cooper. Then Steven Spielberg was eyeing this as his next project. He bailed and turned things over to Clint Eastwood, who finally got the movie made. Based on a book by the same name, the story finds Cooper playing Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in US military history. His skill set saves countless lives, but also makes him a wanted man among terrorists and insurgents. Seems like a no-brainer for the Oscar winning octogenarian.

 

Director: Ava DuVernay

Film: Selma

Cast: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Lorraine Toussaint, Common, Giovanni Ribisi, Omar Dorsey, Andre Holland, Colman Domingo, Wendell Pierce

MPAA rating: R

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25 December
SelmaLast year, it was 12 Years a Slave. This year, we have the events that began the Civil Rights Movement depicted on the big screen. Featuring David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and centering on the famous marches in Alabama, we get history again, but this time via modern storytelling methods. Many in our current generation barely remember a time of “Colored Only” segregation, but in light of recent headlines, we need a movie like Selma now.

 

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Film: The Gambler

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael K. Williams, Jessica Lange

MPAA rating: R

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25 December
The Gambler

Mark Wahlberg makes his pitch for end of the year recognition with this remake of the 1974 thriller starring James Caan and Paul Sorvino. The good news is that The Departed‘s William Monaghan wrote the script, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ Rupert Wyatt is behind the lens. Add in a cast consisting of Jessica Lange, John Goodman, and Brie Larson and we should have a winner on our hands. Granted, awards contention seems limited at best, but you never know. Once this movie makes the Guild rounds, we could be hearing it mentioned come Oscar night. Or maybe not.

 

Director: Angelina Jolie

Film: Unbroken

Cast: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock

MPAA rating: R

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25 December
Unbroken

Angelina Jolie is making waves in the press, predicting that she will slowly move out of international superstar (and accompanying film acting) to concentrate more on directing and producing. So far, her picks have been unusual, from the war torn erotica of The Land of Blood and Honey to this, the true story about an Olympic athlete who’s plane ends getting shot down during World War II. Surviving for nearly 50 days at sea, Louis “Louie” Zamperini is eventually rescued by the Japanese and tortured as a prisoner of war. Early word has Jolie doing a bang-up job behind the lens. Others have found the film wanting in both the drama and intrigue department.

 

Director: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen

Film: The Interview

Cast: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, Timothy Simmons

MPAA rating: R

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26 December
The Interview

If it ends up doing nothing else, if it turns out to be a late season turkey instead of a pretty present under the Friends of Apatow tree, this movie will always be known as the “hacker” special. Even with indications that it was/is probably an inside job, Sony still thinks North Korea is getting back at them for making this oddball comedy. Seth Rogen and James Franco play a TV producer and personality, respectively, recruited by the CIA to do some dirty Black Ops during a trip to the still Communist country for a Q&A with the dour despot there. All manner of scatological hijinks ensue.

 

Director: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne

Film: Two Days, One Night

Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Olivier Gourmet, Pili Groyne

MPAA rating: R

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26 December
Two Days, One Night

We love the premise of this brash Belgian film. A worker (Oscar winner Marion Cotillard) at a small solar panel factory suffers a nervous breakdown and must take some time off. When she comes back, she discovers that her fellow employees have agreed, in principle, to make her position obsolete. In return, they will have to work slightly longer, but they will get a bonus for doing so. Given the weekend to plead for her job, our heroine learns a lesson in “office” politics. Reviews have praised its simplicity and its power. Cotillard is being considered, once again, for Academy recognition.

31 December

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev

Film: Leviathan

Cast: Aleksei Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Roman Madyanov

MPAA rating: R

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31 December
Leviathan

Nominated for Cannes prestigious Palme d’Or and winner there for its screenplay, this Russian take on the Book of Job offers up an intriguing look at modern day life in the former Soviet Union. The main narrative sees a disgruntled family man battling with local authorities to keep them from repossessing his home. He has a new wife and an angry teen son to deal with, as well. Eventually, our problem-plagued provider becomes overwrought with punishments both personal and Biblical. As a way of looking at the current situation in the once mighty superpower, this movie is amazing. Not perfect, but very perceptive.

 

Director: J. C. Chandor

Film: A Most Violent Year

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Albert Brooks

MPAA rating: R

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31 December
The Most Violent Year

After receiving a year-end vote of confidence from the National Board of Review, J. C. Chandor’s most recent film may indeed by an Oscar contender. His last two films, the Academy Award nominated Margin Call and the excellent Robert Redford solo vehicle All Is Lost, both earned significant critical attention, and this movie, with Albert Brooks, is no different. Starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, the story is set in 1981 (the title 12 months according to NYC records) and centers on an immigrant businessman and his wife using any means they can to make their fledgling enterprises more profitable.

 

Director: Kriv Stenders

Film: Kill Me Three Times

Cast: Sullivan Stapelton, Alice Braga, Teresa Palmer, Callan Mulvey, Luke Hemsworth, Bryan Brown, Simon Pegg

MPAA rating: R

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31 December
Kill Me Three Times

Ever since Spaced, Simon Pegg has struggled to be taken as anything other than a clever comedic voice who usually makes wise decisions when working with either Edgar Wright and Nick Frost, J.J. Abrams and the rest of the Star Trek cast, or Brad Bird in the Mission: Impossible series. On the other hand, he also has a list of massive flops (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Burke and Hare), especially when he tries to expand his on-screen repertoire. For this year-end entry, he’s going the semi-serious route, playing a hitman sent out to kill the wife of a wealthy man. It’s Pegg, so we’ll pay attention.

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