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Last Minute Not-So-Fearless Oscars Forecast

<> on October 19, 2009 in Santa Clarita, California.

Hollywood loves movies about showbiz, and Alejandro Inarritu‘s funny, visually novel and quite original “Birdman” is justifiably lauded for its excellence in direction/tech and acting. So look to see that film win for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and possibly for Best Actor (for Michael Keaton’s brilliant performance AND his body of work).

Still, I’m thinking it’s more likely that Eddie Redmayne will win for his impressive feat as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.” Because, you know, it’s a “serious” biopic and Hawking is played by a Brit. And Brits win many of the big acting Oscars.

The cumulative effect of Richard Linklater‘s beautiful, unusual “Boyhood” — seeing a boy played by the same actor grow from child to adult, and his family members age, too, in what feels like real time over the course of a few hours — indeed was emotionally engaging, and it was the first feature film to notch that accomplishment. So it COULD take Best Picture and Best Director, but my guess is that Patricia Arquette‘s naturalistic turn as the protagonist’s long-suffering mom will result in the movie’s only major win, for Best Supporting Actress.

Best Actress: Julianne Moore, as an Alzheimer’s patient in the moving but not entirely satisfying “Still Alice,” deserves the win, and will get it, in part for a career’s worth of great work.

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons will win for his towering performance in “Whiplash” as the scariest band director in history.

Best Original Screenplay: Wes Anderson’s quirky, wildly inventive screenplay for his “The Grand Budapest Hotel” deserves it and will win it, I think. The film will win for Production Design, too, and probably Costume Design.

Adapted Screenplay: “The Imitation Game” deserves/gets the win.

Editing: What feat could beat the artfully-stitching-together-12-years-of-footage accomplishment of “Boyhood”?

Visual Effects: “Interstellar” deserves it and, I think, will win.

Foreign film: Probably “Ida.”

Documentary: Probably “Citizenfour”

Score: Probably Johann Johannsson, for “The Theory of Everything”; AMPAS wrongly denied Antonio Sanchez a nom for “Birdman,” IMO.

Upset potential: If anything, the commercial juggernaut “American Sniper” could force a surprise or two.

Stay tuned.


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The Year in Film: My Top 10

My favorite films of the year (in alphabetical order):



Force Majeure


The Grand Budapest Hotel


Life Itself

A Most Violent Year



Others I liked: Still Alice, Wild, CitizenFour, Inherent Vice, Nightcrawler, The One I Love, Under the Skin, American Sniper, Unbroken, Ida, Keep On Keepin’ On, The Skeleton Twins

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Florida Film Critics Circle: “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Birdman” and “Boyhood” Take Top Honors

“Birdman” was named best picture, and the theater-world satire’s star Michael Keaton was named best actor in this year’s Florida Film Critics Circle Awards.

Richard Linklater’s innovative “Boyhood,” 12 years in the making, also took top honors, winning for best director and supporting actress (Patricia Arquette).

Wes Anderson’s quirky, gorgeously composed “The Grand Budapest Hotel” grabbed the most FFCC honors, with awards for best original screenplay, best ensemble, and best art direction/production design.

More than 20 critics from around Florida voted in this year’s awards. For the complete list of winners and runners-up, visit the FFCC site, or see below:

Best Picture:


Runner-up: Boyhood

Best Director:

Richard Linklater – Boyhood

Runner-up: Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman

Best Actress:

Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl

Runner-up: Julianne Moore – Still Alice

Best Actor:

Michael Keaton – Birdman

Runner-up: Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler

Best Supporting Actor:

J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

Runner-up: Edward Norton – Birdman

Best Supporting Actress:

Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

Runner-up: Emma Stone – Birdman

Best Ensemble:

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Runner-up: Boyhood

Best Original Screenplay:

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

Runner-up: Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo)

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)

Runner-up: Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Best Cinematography:

Interstellar (Hoyte Van Hoytema)

Runner-up: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Robert D. Yeoman)

Best Visual Effects:


Runner-up: Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Art Direction/Production Design:

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Runner-up: Interstellar

Best Score:

Under the Skin (Micah Levi, aka Micachu)

Runner-up: Gone Girl (Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross)

Best Documentary:

Life Itself

Runner-up: Citizenfour

Best Foreign-Language Film:

The Raid 2

Runner-up: Force Majeure

Best Animated Film:

The Lego Movie

Runner-up: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Pauline Kael Breakout Award:

Damien Chazelle (writer/director: Whiplash)

Runner-up: Gugu Mbatha-Raw (actress: Belle, Beyond the Lights)

Golden Orange:

The Borscht Corp.

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“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” — Serious Popcorn Fare (review)

As a ’70s kid, once obsessed with the “Planet of the Apes” movies, I’m a sucker for anything related to that five-film series. Who could resist those films’ mix of sci-fi, adventure, and grad-school philosophizing?

I’m happy to report that Matt Reeves’ “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” a sequel to Rupert Wyatt’s excellent “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), is every bit as good as its predecessor, if not better.

As ape leader Caesar, Andy Serkis (AKA Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” movies) is terrific, using motion-capture technology to effectively reveal a wide range of emotions as the simian whose loyalties are divided between his own tribe and the humans. Is it a metaphor for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? Maybe.

The acting/CGI by the others “playing” apes is also impressive, particularly the work of Toby Kebbell as chief villain Koba, a warrior type, his psyche damaged by the pain and indignities he suffered during his early years in a medical laboratory. He’d rather fight than switch to a more peaceful strategy for getting along with the humans.

There are strong performances, too, by Jason Clarke as the human with a conscience, Gary Oldman as the unelected head of colony of human survivors (most folks on earth were wiped out by a plague), and Keri Russell, as Clarke’s love interest.

The visuals — post-disaster San Francisco, the humans’ settlement, the apes’ mountainside camp, the forest treks, the battle scene — are first rate, too.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is definitely one of the great “popcorn” flicks of the summer (along with “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Godzilla”), and the film offers some interesting messages about co-existence, resource depletion, and the fog of war.

I saw it in 3-D, and would recommend seeing it that way. I’ll add that it’s a lot more fun than movies about guys in tights and capes saving the world, and giant robots battling giant robots.

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“12 Years a Slave” Dominates FFCC Awards

12 yearsBritish filmmaker Steve McQueen’s searing, emotionally moving and often brutal “12 Years a Slave” is the big winner in this year’s Florida Film Critics Circle (FFCC) Awards, taking home honors in the categories of best picture, best director, best actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor, supporting actress for Lupita Nyong’o, adapted screenplay for John Ridley, and breakout award for Nyong’o.

(Results are also posted at

Here’s the official announcement, provided by FFCC chairman Bill Gibron:

FFCC Winners Announcement – 2013

December 18 – With five major wins, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, Steve McQueen’s riveting “12 Years a Slave” swept the 2013 Florida Film Critic Circle Awards, beating out such highly touted contenders as “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Alfonso Cuoron’s “Gravity” was the only other multiple winner, earning top marks for its cinematography and special effects.

McQueen, himself a winner for director, helped Chiwetel Ejiofor earn the group’s top honor as Best Actor for his stirring work as former freeman turned plantation “property” Solomon Northup, while Jared Leto stepped away from his rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars to win the Best Supporting Actor award for his touching turn as an AIDS patient in “The Dallas Buyers Club.”

Woody Allen again proved his skill with actresses, as Cate Blanchett won Best Actress for “Blue Jasmine” while newcomer Lupita Nyong’o walked away with the prize for Best Supporting Actress for her devastating work as Patsey in “Slave “. She was additionally acknowledged by the group, winning the prestigious Pauline Kael Breakout Award.

As stated before, Cuaron’s hit sci-fi thriller brought a Best Cinematography win for Emmanuel Lubezki as well as for its mind blowing F/X. Spike Jonze’s whimsical meditation on life, love and technology, “Her,” earned him the Best Original Screenplay award while John Ridley was honored with Best Adapted Screenplay for his efforts in bringing “Slave” to the screen.

In other awards, Cannes favorite “Blue is the Warmest Color” won a close race over “The Hunt” for Foreign Language Film, while “Frozen” narrowly defeated Hayao Miyazaki’s final effort, “The Wind Rises” for Animated Film. “The Act of Killing” edged out “Blackfish” for Best Documentary, while “The Great Gatsby” was touted for its Art Direction and Production Design.

The Golden Orange Award, given for outstanding contribution to film, went to Miami Beach Cinematheque director Dana Keith, a tireless champion of foreign, independent and alternative film for more than 20 years. He has consistently programmed some of the most daring films to make the art house circuit and has played host to a variety of film festivals, big and small.

Founded in 1996, the Florida Film Critics Circle is comprised of 21 writers from state publications. Bill Gibron of and has served as chairman since March 2013. For more information on the FFCC, visit

Complete list of winners:

Picture: 12 Years a Slave

Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, The Dallas Buyers Club

Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Director: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave

Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze, Her

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity

Visual Effects: Gravity

Art Direction/Production Design: Damien Drew and Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby

Foreign Language: Blue is the Warmest Color

Animated: Frozen

Documentary: The Act of Killing

Breakout: Lupita Nyong’O, 12 Years a Slave

Golden Orange: Dana Keith

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Tampa Movie Weekend: The Dead Will Rise — “World War Z” + “The Bling Ring” + “The East” + “Much Ado About Nothing” + “Monsters University”

world war z pittThe zombies in Marc Forster‘s “World War Z,” adapted from the clever Max Brooks book and said to have a budget of as much as $250 million, move fast.

Maybe the same will be said about moviegoers, who bought $3.6 million worth of tickets for the Thursday evening showings of the film. That despite the relatively bad buzz on the movie, which was originally slated for release last December but was pushed back for rewrites and additional shooting. Paramount has fingers crossed — hard — for a $50 million opening weekend. It’s entirely possible given the Thursday numbers, according to Forbes writer Scott Mendelson.

Forster’s film, while not in the same league as the likes of “28 Days Later” and “Shaun of the Dead,” functions as sort of a mix of horror flick, scientific-discovery mystery and international thriller. Brad Pitt and the supporting players are watchable, and several sequences are genuinely suspenseful. There’s a good deal of fast-moving action, but the PG-13 flick offers little gore and even less emotional resonance. My review is here.

For anyone interested in the back story on “World War Z” and its, uh, complicated, production history, check out the Vanity Fair piece by Laura M. Holson.

Also opening:

“The Bling Ring,Sofia Coppola‘s based-on-a-true-story look at the lifestyles of the rich and famous, er, the lifestyles of a group of teens preying on the rich and famous. These girls and one guy enjoy nothing so much as a little B&E and long visits to the clothes closets of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Stars Emma Watson. Rated R.

“The East,” in which a gang of pretty young hippie-ish eco-terrorists, including Alexander Skarsgard and Ellen Page, is infiltrated by a young woman (Brit Marling) working for corporations seeking to head off environmental protests. Marling co-wrote the film with with director Zal Batmanglij. Which side occupies the moral high ground, or the not-so-low ground? Rated PG-13.

“Much Ado About Nothing,” “Avengers” director Joss Whedon‘s contemporary remix of the Shakespeare comic romance, set at the director’s own luxe California mansion.  The language’s the thing — the dialogue is straight from the Bard’s original. Stars Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, and Fran Kranz. Rated PG-13.

“Monsters University,” a sequel to the seriously funny 2001 animated comedy “Monsters, Inc.,” is an origins story, with pal Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) enjoying their college days, long before they began their career scaring little kids. Also stars the voice of the reliable Helen Mirren as a college dean. Good stuff. Rated G.

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“World War Z” (review)

world war z

Stars Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Daniella Kertesz, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Fana Mokoena. Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, and J. Michael Straczynski; adapted from the Max Brooks book. 115 minutes. Rated PG-13. Critic’s grade: B

Click, click, click go the choppers. Run, run, run, goes the movie star.

That’s about the extent of what happens in “World War Z,” the highly anticipated mega-budget ($250 million) adaptation of Max Brooks‘ clever “oral history” of a zombie apocalypse that very nearly wiped out the human race.

Rather than relate the dozens of individual stories of mayhem and heroism presented in the book, director Marc Forster (“Quantum of Solace,” “Finding Neverland,” “Monster’s Ball”) focuses on one man’s story. It’s all Brad Pitt, all the time, as Gerry Lane, a retired United Nations investigator — or something — is called back into action to travel the globe in search of a cure for what ails the freshly undead. In the film, the UN is positioned as the agency most capable of saving the planet; in real life, the organization is, like, the P.T.A.

Forster’s film, credited to four screenwriters, is kind of a combo horror flick, scientific-discovery mystery and international thriller, as Gerry’s travels take him from Philadelphia to South Korea to Jerusalem to Wales and finally to a refugee camp in Nova Scotia.

In this version, a zombie bite leads to a convulsing, eyes-bugging transformation into zombiedom in just a few minutes flat. As in Danny Boyle‘s “28 Days Later” and its sequel, but not in television’s “The Walking Dead” or in the George A. Romero films, these flesh eaters are fast, scary fast.

Both of those characteristics are fully displayed near the start of “World War Z,” as Gerry, his wife (Mireille Enos) and their two girls drive through Philadelphia, off to run errands after a warm and fuzzy prelude at a comfortable home in a leafy suburb. First, they’re ensnared in a traffic jam, then motorcyle cops and others start fleeing from some distant trouble spot; the flow of human traffic and suggestions of a terrible urban disaster will remind some of the streets of Manhattan, during the 9/11 terror attacks.

This time, though, the enemy is us, or, rather, a version of us as infected by a disease that turns humans into teeming masses of nasty looking people looking to satisfy their chomping urges as soon and as often as possible. The snippets of news clips during the opening credits hint at what’s to come, with the animal kingdom askew, CO2 emissions rising fast, and routine nature images — ants swarming, birds flocking — coming off as ominous. “Mother nature is a serial killer,” one scientist type says later.

A quick flight, a melee at a Newark, N.J., grocery store and a helicopter rescue later, and Gerry and Co. are on an aircraft carrier, where mom, the kids and a tag-along child will reside while dad is on his mission to save the world.

Technically, “World War Z” isn’t really frightening, and it’s hardly gory at all — far more blood and guts are spilled in “The Walking Dead” and in the terrific new BBC zombie series “In the Flesh.”

And, while there is one scene of apocalyptic, zombie-caused destruction in Jerusalem — historically, end-of-days scenarios play out in the Middle East —  Forster’s film doesn’t dwell on an endless series of scenes of large-scale devastation and stuff blowing up. That’s a positive, I think.

Instead, he downsizes and, in some respects, personalizes, the horror, with several sequences that are darn suspenseful, including that early rooftop escape, a mad dash from a military base to a cargo plane, an unexpected zombie attack on a moving airliner, and, in particular, a surprise getaway inside a World Health Organization lab teeming with the nasties.

Does Gerry discover a long-lasting solution to the zombie problem? No spoilers here.

But, if “World War Z” somehow manages to recoup its sky-high budget, real answers may reside in follow-up films: “This isn’t the end, not even close,” we hear in a voiceover. “Our war has just begun.”