Tag Archives: American Sniper

Best Pic Nominees Are So Fabulous, Choosing a Winner Hurts a Little

The task of sitting through each of the movies nominated for the best picture Oscar can sometimes feel like just that — a task, a chore, a tedious homework assignment.

That wasn’t the way I felt this year. For once, I enjoyed and admired all eight selections vying for Oscar’s top prize. They truly are the best Hollywood had to offer in 2014.

(If I have one complaint, it’s that the Academy failed to use one of its extra best picture slots to nominate the year’s most entertaining movie, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” I know, it’s a — gasp! — comic book movie, but it’s every bit as deserving as the more “serious” films on the list.)

Of course, the universal excellence of this year’s best picture bunch makes deciding which film deserves the coveted gold statuette all the more difficult. It’s made the race more unpredictable as well.

Despite the added challenge, I’m willing to take a stab at which picture will emerge victorious on Sunday night (the Academy Awards air at 5:30 p.m. on ABC). And while we’re at it, let’s discuss the best director race.

For predictions in the acting categories, click here.

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Best Picture

There isn’t a weak or overrated film among the nine nominees for best picture, but if I had to pick my least favorite, it would be “The Imitation Game.”

The story of British mathematician Alan Turing’s heroic code-breaking exploits during World War II, and subsequent persecution for his sexuality, showcases a powerful performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. However, some aspects of the drama feel sensationalized, more so when you realize how many elements of this biopic are actually fictional.

When it comes to dramas about eccentric British geniuses, “The Theory of Everything” tells the life story of physicist Stephen Hawking in a way that rings truer — it plays out, unexpectedly, as a messy love quadrangle — and with far more style. The fact that “Theory” is not a by-the-numbers romance, told from the point of view of Hawking’s long-suffering first wife, is its biggest strength. It also contains a couple of powerhouse performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, whose chemistry evolves from tender to heartbreaking.

“Selma,” another biopic vying for best picture, has been roundly snubbed this awards season. The Academy failed to nominate director Ava DuVernay — she would have been the first African-American woman to receive the honor — and lead actor David Oyelowo, who is a marvel as Martin Luther King Jr., radiating the civil rights legend’s charisma and expertly mimicking his rousing oratory style. It’s a shame because “Selma” is a compelling and necessary reminder of the power of protest in a divisive and confusing year for American race relations. I love the way DuVernay juxtaposes seemingly mediocre moments with great ones to elegantly humanize King.

The young upstart in the best picture category is “Whiplash,” debut director Damien Chazelle’s electrifying cat-and-mouse game between a sadistic music instructor (a terrifying J.K. Simmons) and the ambitious drummer (Miles Teller) he pushes to the edge. The audience is pushed to the edge, too, with an intensity few films achieve. There’s a precision, an originality and a dark side to this movie that is a whole lot of twisted fun. Like Teller’s drummer, however, Chazelle’s gotta pay his dues before he can win Oscar fame.

The most widely seen of the nominees is “American Sniper,” director Clint Eastwood’s account of the life of sharp-shooting Navy Seal Chris Kyle. Despite its popularity, “Sniper” is far too controversial to win the Oscar. Conservatives embrace Kyle as a hero. Liberals denounce the film for failing to condemn America’s messy Middle Eastern wars. This disparity is evidence that both groups have oversimplified what is actually a work of surprising complexity, a film that confronts the domestic consequences of war, something we tend to ignore.

As much as I admire the aforementioned films, there were three movies in 2014 that captured my heart and took my breath away with their technical innovation and artistry.

Director Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is undoubtedly his masterpiece. The filmmaker has reached the pinnacle of his talent for delightfully rococo pop-up book production design. The movie’s pulse is found in a hilarious, oddly touching performance by Ray Fiennes as a poetic, scheming gentleman concierge, presiding over a faded hotel in a fictional, war-ravaged Eastern European country. With all the visual flair of “The Royal Tenenbaums” and the bittersweetness of “A Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” the movie is a genuine charmer.

Sadly, “Grand Budapest” doesn’t have much of a shot against the two front-runners in the best picture race, even after winning the Golden Globe for comedy.

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” took the Golden Globe for drama, as well as the top prize from the British Academy of Film and Television and dozens of critics’ groups. The film is neck-and-neck with “Birdman,” which captured the best picture prize from the producers and screen actors guilds. I find myself torn between these two remarkable films and I think Academy voters will be too.

Both films are exceptionally innovative. Director Gabriel Gonzalez Inarritu created the illusion that “Birdman” was shot in one single, exhilarating take, inspiring raw and captivating performances from a stellar ensemble cast. Michael Keaton’s turn as an insecure, aging actor trying desperately to build a last-minute legacy for himself is astoundingly funny and full of ugly, bleeding emotion.

Linklater filmed “Boyhood” a little at a time, over a period of 12 years, which lends the story of a boy’s ordinary but amazing childhood a rare and lovely verisimilitude. Armed with naturalistic acting by young star Ellar Coltrane — who becomes a young man before the audience’s very eyes — and a fine ensemble cast, subtle but transporting pop culture references and a killer soundtrack, the movie inspires intensely personal reflections on memory, wonder, mortality, family and the passing of time.

It’s a tough call, but I’m betting Academy voters will be seduced by the hopeful optimism and sweetness of “Boyhood.”

Don’t rule Inarritu out, though. (See my best director prediction, below.)

What Will Win: “Boyhood.”

What Should Win: “Boyhood.”

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Best Director

“Who is Morten Tyldum?” you might ask.

He’s the Norwegian director of “Foxcatcher,” whose thriller “Headhunters” was previously nominated by the Academy for best foreign language film. And he’s got a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this year’s best director Oscar.

Bennett Miller is a more established Hollywood presence, earning a director nod for “Capote” in 2006. Sadly for him, the race comes down to three veteran filmmakers finally getting their due from the Academy: Anderson, Linklater and Inarritu.

Inarritu recently took home the Directors Guild Award, a big predictor of who will win on Oscar night, while Linklater scooped up the Golden Globe and the BAFTA.

The contest is so close between these two, I’m betting the Academy will make the rare but not unprecedented decision to split the best picture and director prizes. Inarritu will win the gold for the edgy and awe-inspiring technical achievements showcased in “Birdman,” while Linklater’s “Boyhood” takes the best picture trophy.

I’m usually not a fan of such splits — logically, the year’s best director is the director who made the best picture — but I’m so torn between “Birdman” and “Boyhood,” I’d be happy to see them both triumph.

Who Will Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Who Should Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Photos: ca.complex.com, http://www.selmamovie.com.

 

 

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This Weekend, See ‘Sniper,’ Skip ‘Blackhat’

My fellow moviegoers, is there anything more depressing than the fourth weekend in January when Hollywood inflicts its questionable choices upon us in a three-day period we’ll spend the rest of the year trying to forget?

Yes, this Friday brings us a disconcerting assortment of future Razzie nominees, including “Mortdecai,” “The Boy Next Door,” “Strange Magic” and “Spare Parts.”

My advice? Forget this weekend ever happened. Or take the opportunity to catch up on films you may have missed.

If you’re brave enough to venture forth on this, the worst moviegoing weekend of the year, I salute you and offer one film to avoid like the plague and another to warmly embrace.

Godspeed, my friends.

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Blackhat
One and a half stars (out of four)
R (violence, language, and apparently the MPAA fell asleep during this movie because there’s a pretty obvious sexual situation, too)
133 minutes

You probably don’t need me to tell you not to bother with “Blackhat,” director Michael Mann’s cyberterrorism thriller.

According to Box Office Mojo, the film earned a paltry $3.8 million over opening weekend, making it the worst showing for Mann since 1986’s “Manhunter.” That’s also the one of the worst debuts of all time for a movie playing in more than 2,500 theaters.

Still, lest you be tempted to give it a shot …

Let’s start with the film’s star, Chris Hemsworth. The strapping, young lead of “Thor” and “The Avengers” is certainly an arresting presence, and 2013’s “Rush” proved he’s more than just a pretty face, capable of radiating cocky intelligence.

But I draw the line at “Blackhat’s” depiction of Hemsworth as Nick Hathaway, a rogue hacker doing hard time in a maximum security prison for past crimes. It’s beyond laughable that a dude who spends his waking hours in front of a computer screen would ever look as smolderingly sexy as Hathaway. It’s also highly unlikely he’d display the range of Jason Bourne-like skills he demonstrates throughout the film, including expertly firing a handgun in an insane shootout and infiltrating the site of a nuclear meltdown.

Sadly, the blatant miscasting of Hemsworth and the increasingly ridiculous situations he finds himself in are just two of the movie’s flaws. The film gets off to an excruciatingly slow start and its stakes are too vaguely defined for us to care much whether Hathaway succeeds in stopping a presumed cyberterrorist before he strikes again, creating international havoc.

Mann spends too much time on a completely unconvincing romance between Hathaway and the sister (Wei Tang) of a Chinese security expert (Leehom Wang) who happens to be the hacker’s former roommate. Meanwhile, more interesting characters languish in the background, like Viola Davis’ tenacious FBI agent.

As is his trademark, the director crafts several brutally kinetic action sequences, but on a visual level, “Blackhat” doesn’t rise to the gritty style befitting the helmer of “Collateral” and “Heat.” The movie is a letdown in almost every way possible.

AmericanSniper

American Sniper
Three stars (out of four)
R (strong and disturbing war violence, sexual references)
132 minutes

You probably don’t need me to tell you to see “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood’s biopic of Navy Seal and deadliest-sniper-in-history Chris Kyle.

The drama struck a chord with moviegoers nationwide, topping last weekend’s box office with a record-breaking $89.5 million. When I went to see it Monday, the house was packed, the audience remained in their seats through most of the end credits and a respectful hush fell over the crowd when they left the theater. Such a reverent response is a rare thing to witness at the local cineplex.

Perhaps the movie resonates because there have been few heroes celebrated in more than a decade of murky Middle Eastern wars. Eastwood’s take on Kyle’s life, deeds and philosophy has stirred controversy but the film is surprisingly complex, a celebration of heroism, yes, but one that acknowledges the shattered minds and bodies war leaves in its wake.

At the heart of the film’s success is a modest, truly magnificent performance by Bradley Cooper, portraying Kyle as a man of simple but strong convictions, a walking contradiction — a warrior ruthless and tender. Eastwood’s very first shot of Cooper isn’t subtle — he’s wearing a white cowboy hat — but it firmly establishes the character, a proud Texan who views the good and evil in this world in stark black and white.

There have been complaints that “American Sniper” glorifies an “unrepentant killer,” but Cooper has never been softer or more vulnerable than he is here, even as his burlier, hairier appearance makes him physically imposing in a way that’s startling. With his slick, shark-like charm, the actor isn’t known for disappearing into a role, but he does this time, powerfully channeling Kyle’s anguish at the disconnect between deployment and domesticity. This is by far the best performance in the career of an actor who has just begun to find his way, judging by his recent turns in “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.”

Some critics have faulted the film, and Eastwood, for declining to make a political statement about America’s messy involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, but perhaps they’re missing the point. The director has always been adept at painting gripping portraits of men of violence. In “Sniper,” he delivers a series of graphic, suspenseful missions — some fictionalized — with considerable grit and technical prowess.

More compellingly, he engages in an unexpectedly bold and sensitive discussion of topics that remain largely out of sight and out of mind — things like PTSD and the suffering and neglect of wounded vets.

Is “American Sniper” a perfect film? No, but it is an important one.

Photos: wqyk.com, zdnet.com

Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood Set Sights on ‘Sniper’

Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood set their sights on Acton, California, as a location for the movie “American Sniper.”

Cooper stars in the film as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, a record-setting sniper who served four tours in Iraq, only to be shot and killed in 2013 at a gun range in Texas. Eastwood is directing the film, which features combat scenes lensed at Blue Cloud Ranch in Santa Clarita.

Cooper and co-star Sienna Miller have been spotted on set at several Los Angeles locations over the last few weeks.

Eastwood arrived about 3:30 p.m. Monday at a shopping center on Santiago Road in Acton, where an empty unit had been dressed as a Navy recruitment center. Cooper, star of “The Hangover” and “American Hustle,” showed up shortly after the director, wearing a plaid shirt and jeans. The actor was looking husky, having bulked up considerably for the role, but didn’t have the bushy beard he sported for much of the movie’s production. He spent most of Monday’s shoot inside the building.

The production involved a small film crew and a large crane to light the exterior of the building, located between the Dancin’ in Acton dance studio and the Rustic Cafe & Bakery. Several 1970s or ’80s era picture cars were parked outside the faux recruitment center, including a weathered brown pickup truck and a Dodge Magnum with a license plate reading “MGNUMPI.”

The shoot drew a small crowd of onlookers from neighboring businesses, which remained open for the day. They gathered to try to get a look at Cooper, but were disappointed when much of the filming revolved around several denim and cowboy boot-clad extras walking in and out of the recruitment office.

Eastwood is no stranger to the Antelope Valley. He shot a scene for his 2002 thriller, “Blood Work,” and footage for 2008’s “Changeling” in the area. Cooper recently spent time in Tehachapi, filming scenes for “The Hangover Part III.”

Based on Kyle’s memoir, “American Sniper” is among the modestly budgeted productions taking advantage of California’s film tax credit, according to the Los Angeles Times. Eastwood also shot his last project, the upcoming Broadway musical adaptation “Jersey Boys,” in L.A.

“Sniper” is set to be released next year.

Scroll down for more photos.

Melissa Medialdea contributed to this post.

photo (11)Clint Eastwood takes a look at the monitor on the set of “American Sniper” in Acton.

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