Ready for the Oscars

The 85h Academy Awards are set for tonight.

The 85h Academy Awards are set for tonight.

After last month’s post giving my quick take on five Oscar-nominated movies, I’m back with my thoughts on three more.

Not gonna pick any winners.That’s too tough. Just sharing my perspective FWIW.

Theory_of_Everything“The Theory of Everything.” Superb. I went in wondering how could a biographical movie about a world-renowned scientist confined to a wheelchair possibly be of great cinematic interest? Boy, was I 100 percent wrong. Eddie Redmayne is amazing in the role of Stephen Hawking, the brilliant British physicist and best-selling author.

I hadn’t seen or even heard of Redmayne,* but now I see why he ran off with the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for Best Actor. More than any of the other Best Actor nominees in this year’s field, it seems to me, he had to convey so much emotional intelligence and subtleties in mood with his face and eyes, all the while being in a semi-contorted position as a result of a motor neuron disease. It’s an understated but powerhouse performance that honors the work and determination of the real-life Hawking.

Equally surprising and delightful is Felicity Jones, who plays Jane Wilde, Hawking’s wife and the author of the book on which the movie is based. Jones is one of the Best Actress nominees and she’s very deserving too. Through her, we too are attracted to the young, awkward Hawking; we appreciate her commitment to him and admire her strength and steadfastness when the disease becomes a physical and emotional challenge.

It may not win Best Picture but it’s an excellent film.

* Turns out I had seen Remayne previously. He played opposite Michelle Williams in the 2011 movie “My Life With Marilyn.”

Selma_poster“Selma.” It’s timely. It’s important. It’s got its moments. But, honestly, I walked away from this film mildly disappointed.

I think it was one of those films where the buzz is so strong that it’s hard to match the expectations. The film was widely praised for its depiction of the behind-the-scenes drama during key events of the U.S. civil rights movement in 1964 and 1965. Unquestionably,. David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. and Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King are both outstanding, and the story is compelling.


It felt like I’d already seen this movie. It was as if I were seeing yet another PBS documentary on the topic, except with better cinematography, greater production values and several identifiable faces among the cast.

Thanks to history books and at least three television specials in recent years that have dealt with this topic, I’m pretty  familiar with this period in American history. And I’m well aware of the significance of the Selma to Montgomery marches that led to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. So for me it wasn’t a matter of learning something new, as I did with “The Imitation Game” and the story of British mathematicians cracking the Nazis’ secret code during World Wat II/

I knew what was coming in “Selma.” I knew going in who the bad guys were — Gov. George Wallace and the Alabama state troopers. And I knew who the good guys were — King, Abernathy, John Lewis, Hosea Williams and others. As a result, there wasn’t the tension associated with not knowing what happens next.

Much has been made about director Ana DuVernay and her portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson and his relationship with King. I’m one of those who thinks LBJ was misrepresented as a reluctant supporter of civil rights, but I also recognize directors have artistic license to tell the story (or piece of the story) that they tell.

All in all, a good film. Even a very good film. But it’s not one I’d rank in the top handful of the year.

foxcatcher-poster-channing-tatum-900“Foxcatcher.” Steve Carell in a dramatic lead role in yet another movie based on true events? Better believe it. And you’d better believe Carell was a revelation as an eccentric multimillioniare, John E. duPont. Carell plays a creepy, emotionally stunted — and ultimately unstable — character who seeks gratification as the benefactor and “coach” of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team during the run-up to the 1988 Games in South Korea.

It’s quite a switch from the lovable loser and pretentious boss we know him from previous roles in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “The Office.”

Without giving away too much of the plot, duPont sees himself as a super-patriot and would-be molder of young men who wants nothing more than to lead the U.S. wrestling team to gold in Seoul. As a ridiculously wealthy man, he owns an estate and wrestling compound near Valley Forge, Pa., to which he invites many of the top U.S. wrestlers so they can train together.

Central to his dreams of glory is recruiting brothers Dave and Mark Schultz, both gold medal winners in the 1984 Games. Mark Ruffalo is outstanding as older brother Dave and Channing Tatum is quite good as Mark, who sees the opportunity to train at duPont’s Foxcatcher facility as a chance to move out of his brother’s shadow. The bond between the brothers is real and touching.

Meanwhile, duPont deals with a domineering mother (Vanessa Redgrave) who disapproves of wrestling as “a low sport.” He’s delusional about his role as a mentor and a serious control freak with the wrestlers. Things build to a climax as duPont becomes more irrational after the death of his mother. Predictably, things end badly.

Given all the flak that Ana DuVernay has received for taking liberties in “Selma,” it’s more than fair to point out a long list of inconsistencies and outright fictions about “Foxcatcher” compiled by Time magazine.

My triple bottom line: All three movies are worth seeing.

Photograph: The Independent

Bonus: Esquire’s feature interview with Channing Tatum


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