Sunday, December 8, 2013

Oscar Bait: Best Actress in a Leading Role

A Ranking of the Year's Most Enticing Awards Bait

In this installment of my new Oscar Bait feature, I’m covering the Best Actress race for this year’s Oscars, which is as hammy as ever.  If you missed Part I, in which I covered the Best Picture race as it stood at the end of October, I hope you’ll check it out here. 

The Best Actress race is always interesting for a few reasons.  For one thing, the Academy has a sordid history when it comes to diversity in this award – only one actress of color has ever won the award (Halle Barry, as I think we all recall), and it is also not often given to older actresses – for evidence of this confirmation, check out the below age distribution of the four Oscars for acting:

Those statistics make this year’s race pretty interesting, since 4 of my top 5 on the list are over 50 and the other is knocking at the door at age 49.  So maybe that statistic will be thrown out the window this year? Or maybe it means that I am overlooking the possibilities of a couple of younger ingĂ©nues, such as Amy Adams in American Hustle or Adele Exarchopoulos in foreign sensation Blue is the Warmest Color.

The other factor that makes my below-predicted list interesting and questionable is that it consists of all former Oscar winners.  That had never happened in any category in Oscar history until last year’s Best Supporting Actor lineup, making it quite anomalous if it were to happen again.  Yet when pressed, none of the fringe candidates for that 5th slot seem formidable enough to knock out Ms. Streep.  This is an ongoing situation I’ll have to monitor. 

For the time being, here are the official Oscar Bait rankings for Best Actress as of November, 2013:

(1) Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

This is really one of the baitiest performances in recent memory by an actress, and you know what? It’s an excellent one that deserves every bit of praise and awards it will get.  Woody Allen has directed 16 performances to an Oscar nomination, and 6 of those to a win.  5 of the 6 Oscar-winning performances in his films have been women.  Gotta give it up to the Woodster, the man knows how to direct crazy female characters. 

(2) Sandra Bullock, Gravity

A physical and emotional performance in one of the year’s most acclaimed and financially successful films, Bullock digs deeper than she ever has in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity without sacrificing too many of her quintessential “Bullock-isms.”  That last factor is important.  The Oscars love it when stars that have an established film-persona break character, without losing the things that make them a star in the first place.  I could cite numerous examples here, but Exhibit A is Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich.  The fact that this film will be vying to win the whole damn thing on Oscar night (unlike Ms. Blanchett’s Blue Jasmine) certainly gives SaBu an outside shot at stealing her 2nd leading actress Oscar. 
(3)  Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Don’t count out this Brit veteran who has been around the Oscar block a few times, with a win both in acting and writing. Remarkably, it’s been 17 years since she was last a nominee, but Ms. Thompson has still been as prolific as ever during that period, so it was only a matter of time before she would end up there again.   Her role as the persnickety P.L. Travers, writer of Mary Poppins, is sure to be entertaining and received well commercially.  I doubt she will win many critics awards for this role but she promises to rack up enough precursor nominations and perhaps wins to make her a viable contender on Oscar night.

(4) Judi Dench, Philomena

Ah, Ms. Dench.  The other Brit veteran in this year’s race.  Playing the amazingly baity role of a woman trying to locate her son that she gave up for adoption, Dench will still probably have a mountain to climb to beat the three contenders ahead of her. However, she is solidly in in place for a nomination at this point and with Oscar guru Harvey Weinstein backing her campaign, I’m not ready to count her out for the win, either.

(5) Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

I have no idea if Meryl Streep will be able to snag a nom this year or not.  Usually when she looks at a camera Oscar will shower her with praise, but her last few roles have been mightily hammy, and I’m wondering this will begin to show its wear with the Oscar voters this year.  I really have little interest in seeing the not-well-reviewed August: Osage County but I am curious to decide for myself whether this is a performance that will be worthy of a nomination, should she get one.    

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Review: "12 Years a Slave"

Roll Jordan
Roll, roll Jordan, roll
I want to go to heaven when I die
To hear Jordan roll (roll, roll, roll)
The camera lingers on Solomon Northup’s face as plantation slaves repeat the refrain of the Negro spiritual at a gravesite, after one of their fellow slaves dies suddenly in the cotton fields.  For him, he has only been a slave for a handful of years at this point in the film and appears hesitant, but for the others present you get the feeling that it’s an accepted part of their world – not that it ever gets any easier when someone passes away – but more in a way that suggests they’ve sung that hymn so many times that a callous is beginning to form.  As intensity builds in the song, Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) closes his eyes and begins to sing loudly about the idea of a better place, and at that point his prayer becomes our prayer.
The chorus suggests the dual-meaning of those singing it: first, a prayer that the departed slave will make it to Heaven, and secondly, hoping that they themselves will cross a river into a promised land of sorts, much like the Israelites of the book of Joshua.  Unlike the Israelites, Northup has tasted the milk and honey of the promised land already, having built a life as a distinguished free man, an occupational violinist with a wife and family in Saratoga Springs New York.  Tragically, it is stripped away at the hands of swindling white opportunists who captured him and quite literally sold him down the river to Louisiana slave traffickers.
As the memoir of the true story tells, Northup is sold to a man named Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), who can only cynically be described as one of the more “benevolent” plantation owners. He recognizes Northup’s exceptional qualities, but after a period of time, circumstances force Ford to sell Northup to a much harder slave owner named Epps (played by an animalistic Michael Fassbender).  At Epps’s plantation, Northup spends the balance of his 12 years as a cotton-picker, spent and withered.

*      *      *
Director Steve McQueen was maybe the perfect artist to direct this film - his first two features, Hunger and Shame, laid the basis for the stripping away of human dignity that this film so eloquently portrays.  Hunger involves political hunger-strike movement in a Northern Irish prison, while Shame explores the evils of a spiraling debilitative sex addiction. 
Aware of the collateral damage that such moral calamity produces, McQueen intelligently not only focuses his attention on the many abuses of slavery, but also extends it to its far-reaching purview.  Epps has an eye for Patsy, a young black woman, a fact which haunts his wife (played coldly by an empty-eyed Sarah Paulson). Epps’s simultaneous sexual covetousness of Patsy along with his complete disregard for her well-being concludes with one of the more horrifying scenes in the film.  Similarly, a down-on-his-luck unassuming white man who is friendly to Northup is not all that he seems.  It affects intra-racial relationships as well – an older middle-aged black woman has shrewdly played her hand and become a housemaid for a neighboring plantation owner, and although you cannot fault her for doing so, the film makes you feel oddly uncomfortable about her elevated position as she sips her afternoon tea on the porch in white gloves. 
In essence, every angle is explored here, and not a single interaction between or among characters in the film is less than substantially affected by the horrors of human trafficking. 
This is precisely the thing that makes this film so interesting to discuss and share with others. As both literal and figurative descendants of participants to slavery, whether black, white, male, female, young or old, we have all inherited this monstrosity instituted by our forefathers. 
We would be remiss not to recognize and rectify the shortcomings of those who came before us.  Indeed, our own historical standing is at stake if we do not accept this undertaking. It should unify us all in pursuit of common goals. It should change us.

*      *      *
With a story so moving, it would be easy to gloss over the cinematic accomplishment of this film. Acting of the highest order is on display, with Ejiofor giving the performance of the year, one that forces the viewer to empathize without ever crossing the line into a eliciting a Forrest Gump-like sense of pity.  McQueen’s direction, something I admired artistically without quite enjoying in his first two films, was a wonder to behold.  Here, he shows an impressive amount of restraint yet does not back down from the violence that transpires.  He reminded me of all the things cinema is capable of accomplishing that television cannot.

One scene in particular showcases the dance McQueen is doing between brutality and gentility.  After a bout with one of the white field supervisors, Northup is hung from a low-hanging branch, just low enough that his feet can barely reach the ground, keeping his neck from snapping.  Kept off center from the camera, Northup is an afterthought.  Children play around him and other slaves go about their business.  No music plays, and the breeze gently whispers through the trees.

It is understandable to walk out of this film feeling negatively about the world. However, I do not take the film as a cinematic guilt trip, but rather an admonishment for our current times.  In all, it is the most powerful artistic expression that I can recall of what it means to be a human and the shared suffering we must face. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Oscar Bait: October 29, 2013

A Ranking of the Year's Most Enticing Awards Bait

When you’ve been married or in a relationship for any considerable length of time, you begin to see patterns in your significant other, and if you pay attention it’s not very difficult to learn tricks and rules to either (1) make the other person feel better when they are down in the dumps, or (2) get yourself out of a jam (e.g., they are just plain pissed off at you).

Recently, I was able to put the knowledge gained through my seven years of marriage to good use.  My wife called me on her way home one evening, pretty upset about the way her day had gone.  After getting off the phone, I dialed up the no-fail holy triumvirate for making a wife feel better that most husbands should know about: frozen pizza, red wine, and ice cream.  It achieved the intended effect in spades, and I came out looking like some sort of wife-whisperer.  The idea is simple enough, but knowing how and when to use it is the real challenge.

The same idea can be applied to the Oscars.  The idea of “Oscar Bait” is pretty well established in the film community, and for good reason: over its extensive history, the Academy Awards have gravitated towards the same types of films over and over, year after year.  As someone who has been following the awards since as long as I can remember, I feel I’ve learned a few rules that I can apply. So in an effort to really parse out the awards season this year solely through the lens of Oscar Bait, I’m introducing this column which I hope to write periodically, hopefully around 10 times or so throughout the movie awards season.

For my first rankings, I’m going to break down the Best Picture race as it stands here at the end of October.


(1) "12 Years a Slave"

Oscar Bait Level: Schindler’s List

Steve McQueen’s Slave, which I still have one more agonizing week before getting to see, is off the charts in Oscar Bait and currently stands as an overwhelming favorite in this year’s race.  Historical drama? Check.  Based on a true story? Check.  Social Commentary? Check. White-guilt inducing? Check.  Solid cast? Check. Critically acclaimed? Check.

The only check mark that it doesn’t automatically receive is for a pedigreed director.  Although McQueen is very well-respected in the film community (having received much acclaim for his first two smaller films, Hunger and Shame), he is not exactly “in the club” as far as the Academy goes.  However, with only two black directors EVER having been nominated for Best Director at the Oscars (two! Freaking two!), and with neither winning, I think the Academy might just see this as an opportunity to remedy that. 

(2) "American Hustle"

Oscar Bait Level: L.A. Confidential

Weighing in at #2 on the current rankings is David O. Russell’s crime thriller starring former collaborators Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper (all having received Oscar noms and/or wins under Russell’s direction in the past).  The crime genre hasn’t fared extremely well with the Academy in the past, with films like Goodfellas and L.A. Confidential falling prey to historical romances Dances with Wolves and Titanic, respectively, despite the general consensus being that the former-mentioned films should have won.  What this film does have going for it over 12 Years a Slave is a director in Russell that is now comfortably in the club, having received an astounding 15 Oscar nominations and 3 wins for his prior two films. 

(3) "Gravity"

Oscar Bait Level: Life of Pi

Clocking in at the third slot on the list is this Sandra Bullock survival vehicle that dominated the box office for three straight weeks.  I don’t think the Academy is actively anti-special effects driven films, or even slow to recognize them – I simply think that they want to wait for the right film to be recognized for whatever new technology is in question.  As 3D movies go, Life of Pi, Hugo and Avatar all did very well for themselves at the Oscars, with a remarkable showing of 31 nominations and 12 wins between the three films – and arguably all three were probably the runner-up for Best Picture in their given years.  I think the Academy would be very receptive to awarding an effects-driven film, and Gravity could be that very film: it’s anchored by an emotional star-performance by Sandra Bullock (performances were something the prior three films lacked, with zero nominations in the acting categories between them), and the film itself is based more in reality than the other three.  Its path to beating out 12 Years a Slave is paved by Cuaron’s massive directorial achievement as well as Bullock’s possible lead actress win (although I really don’t think she can beat Cate Blanchett, but I’ll save that for a future installment of the column).

(4) "Saving Mr. Banks"

Oscar Bait Level: Babe

The first of two Tom Hanks films on the list, this film about the making of Mary Poppins is certainly in the mix for Best Picture as of this moment.  It doesn’t have the pedigree of the first three films on this list, but a few things give it an advantage over them; it’s the only feel-good film, it opens right in the heart of the holiday season (Dec. 20th) giving it a chance for massive box-office success, it stars one of the most recognizable names in Hollywood (Hanks) playing one of the most beloved names in film history (Walt Disney), and it is about the making of one of the most ubiquitous films of all time.  Make us feel warm and fuzzy, and keep tugging those heart strings all the way to the Kodak Theater and it could just walk away with the year’s top prize. 

(5) "Captain Phillips"

Oscar Bait Level: The Conversation

I don’t think Captain Phillips can win this year’s top prize, but I do think it will be pervasive in this year’s movie awards season.  I think Paul Greengrass, a respected filmmaker, has an outside shot at a Best Director win while Tom Hanks has a very nice shot at a Best Actor win.  Two of Greengrass’s past films have done quite well with the Oscars despite being quite a bit less “baity” than Phillips -- United 93 scored Greengrass an Oscar nomination for Best Director and Best Editing while The Bourne Ultimatum somehow won the Oscar for Best Editing in ’07 (over titans No Country For Old Men and There Will be Blood, no less) as well as the awards for Best Sound Editing AND Best Sound Mixing, an impressive haul for a mainstream action-spy film.  Take that foundation and apply it to Captain Phillips, which has current socio-political commentary, and features the best Hanks performance possibly since Cast Away, and you can see why this will be a strong contender for many awards throughout the season. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films Fall 2013: No. 5-1

As I stated in the Part I of this post, I had a very difficult time narrowing this list down this year.  So this year I thought I would list a few honorable mentions that I just couldn't fine the room for, in no particular order:

Anchorman 2
Captain Phillips
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Monuments Men
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Now, here are the top 5 films I'm anticipating for the fall season:

(5) "American Hustle"

David O. Russell follows up the success of last year’s Silver Linings Playbook with a much different film, a true story about a con-artist in the 1970’s who was forced to work with a federal agent to bring down other cons, mobsters and politicians.  Russell is teaming here with mostly former cast members of his, with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner all adding to the fun. 

Also, can we all just take this moment to stand up and give a big round of applause to Amy Adams for all that she does for us?  Her recent Man of Steel performance aside, girl’s pretty much a national treasure. 

(4) "Gravity"

I sincerely hope that by now everyone has seen this trailer or any of the clips that have been released.  This film, directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of MenY Tu Mama Tambien) follows two astronauts (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) who become suspended in space after an accident leaves them stranded.  The trailer is absolutely horrifying, and I can only imagine how amazing this will look in IMAX 3D; however, I’m most intrigued by what interesting things will be done with the film’s script after this accident occurs.  It has already popped up at a couple of festivals recently and the raves are flooding in. 

(3) "12 Years a Slave"
Chiwetel Ejiofer stars as Solomon Northup, a fee black man in pre-Civil War era U.S. who is abducted and sold into slavery.  This true story is simply amazing, and I believe director Steve McQueen (one of the most intelligent filmmakers I’ve ever listened to) was the perfect choice for this film; he has the necessary elegance as a storyteller to pull it off in a way that won’t seem indulgent or self-important. 

(2) "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Yeah yeah, I know we’re all getting a little tired at this point of Scorsese-DiCaprio team-ups.  But this one feels different, doesn’t it?  For one thing, Scorsese is returning to form a little after his last two films (not that that’s a bad thing…Hugo was my favorite film of 2011, as you might recall).  The trailer just has the look and feel of someone who just felt relaxed and confident as hell while making a film.  For another thing, the source material that this is based on is apparently a complete riot, telling the story of early-90’s Wall Street brokers and journaling various misadventures in that world.  At the very least, there’s no way this isn’t one of the most entertaining films of the year, right?

(1) "Inside Llewyn Davis"
As my favorite directors both currently and in all of film history, Joel and Ethan Coen have a lifetime pass for this list.  Oscar Isaac portrays the titular character here, a New York folk-singer in the 1960’s trying to make his way in the folk scene of that era.  The Coens have taken on the film industry in the past with Barton Fink, and I’m interested to see what their take on the music industry will be here, and whether it relates in some way to either their careers or their personal lives, as many Coen Brothers’ movies do.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of Fall 2013: No. 10-6

Even though I'm mostly morally opposed to overly sweet "coffee" beverages containing some sort of faux-Italian moniker, I do admit that the Pumpkin Spice Latte has always been a chink in my otherwise coffee-snob armor.  Ever since I worked at Starbucks for 3 years during college, I've pretty much been a walking advertisement for the coffee giant, anyway.  My soul has been sold.

So, it's become a bit of a tradition of mine to grab one at the beginning of September (the earliest I can justify purchasing one) and sit down and write this column. Indeed, fall is my favorite time of year, and I get a little geeked-out at the thought of crisp fall air, football (both the real and fantasy variety), Colorado green chili, and...of course, good movies.  

In doing my research this year, I had a really hard time cutting my list down to 10.  I watched a lot of trailers, tried to read up on all the independent/foreign fare in addition to the studio offerings, and, as usual, read all the early Oscar prognostications.  I'm very happy with the way this list turned out, and can't wait to see them all.  Below are numbers 10-6, and I will release numbers 5-1 later this weekend.  Hope everyone enjoys, the way I am enjoying the pumpkin deliciousness right now.  Well, that actually might be too much enjoyment.

(10) "The Dallas Buyer’s Club"

You know, I was pretty tempted to throw Anchorman 2 in this slot, and I might have if this trailer hadn’t dropped early last week, promising one of McConaughey’s best performances to date (if not THE best).  I’m sure Google searches of the true story it is based on increased exponentially after the trailer hit: a Texas man who was diagnosed with HIV in the 1980’s begins illegally selling drugs produced in Mexico to patients in the U.S.   The trailer is full of energy which I hope is sustained throughout the film. 

(9) "Le Passé" (The Past)
Will you allow me one foreign film on my list? C’mon, just one, I promise! I swear I’m not trying to be a snob!

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi made one of my favorite films of 2011, A Separation (which won the Oscar for best foreign-language film) and he returns here with a similarly themed family drama about a divorced couple going through problems with their daughter. 

Alright, there’s my one foreign film.  Moving along…

(8) "All is Lost"
Robert Redford is already getting rave reviews out of the various film festivals this film has played so far.  A one-man show about a man lost at sea, this film is also virtually devoid of any dialogue, which makes it that much more intriguing from my standpoint.  I was a big fan of writer/director (and fellow Coloradan) J.C. Chandor’s rookie effort Margin Call, and it appears that he took a big swing here with his sophomore effort and hopefully it connects. 

(7) "Labor Day"
This is my bi-annual slot reserved in this column for whatever Jason Reitman film is coming out in that odd-numbered year.  His last two films, Young Adult (2011) and Up in the Air (2009) have each found their way inside of my year-end Top 10 list, although I was in the minority that felt that Young Adult was quite an improvement over Up in the Air.  I hope he can continue his streak of excellent films here, and with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin involved, I imagine I won’t be disappointed. 

(No trailer yet, unfortunately, so we'll have to go with this film still courtesy of Entertainment Weekly).

(6) "Her"
Director Spike Jonze teams up with Joaquin Phoenix in this hipster dramedy about a lonely writer who develops a relationship with his newly-purchased operating system that's designed to meet his every need.  It’s hard for me to believe that Phoenix could top his performance from last year’s The Master, but maybe the fact that he isn’t playing a brooding sociopath for the first time in a while will be a welcome change of pace at the very least.  I don’t know how this film will turn out, but it wouldn't surprise me if this one ends up being the best of the bunch as far as this list goes. 

Stay tuned for numbers 5-1 coming this weekend.  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

2013 in Film So Far

No one ever mentioned to me that being an attorney would involve a lot of work.  I feel like this information, if previously known to me, would have impacted my decision to enter this field.  In the law-firm set USA show Suits (my guiltiest pleasure of all guilty pleasures (seriously, please don’t judge me for watching this)) the main characters get to run around downtown Manhattan all day, swinging eight-figure deals and kicking major transactional-law ass, all while gulping $2,500 bottles of swanky champagne and delivering some of the most clever, biting one-liners in TV history.  Life should really be more like that.

It was inevitable that my recent long hours at work would eventually force some collateral damage, and thus this blog has faced some serious neglect.  I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’ve been toiling away like a depression-era sharecropper, but 90% of the time when I get home from work these days, the mental capacity required to do anything further than eat, drink, and watch The Daily Show is fairly out of the question.

Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy in the incredible Before Midnight.
The good part is that I’ve still managed to squeeze in a few flicks from this year over the past few months.   So just to catch everyone up with where I’m at so far this year, I thought it would be good to give a rundown of everything I’ve seen, as we enter the fall season which promises to be excellent (well, I always think that, but still).  I’m disappointed in the amount of films I’ve seen so far this year, especially concerning the summer blockbusters (no Pacific Rim?  No Elysium? ), but I hope to circle back around to many of these in the coming months.   

You might be thinking to yourself: “What? He’s just going to write about the films he’s seen so far this year? What a lazy-ass idea for a post.”  And I’m not even going to defend myself against those comments, because you know what? You’re probably right.  Whatever.  Soon enough it will be September, and I can really start kicking into high-gear on the blogging again.  Until then, here’s 2013 in a nutshell for me, so far:

Spring Breakers:  Not style over substance, but rather, style AS substance, is how I’d describe this latest film from Harmony Korine about a group of criminally-inclined college co-eds who end up in a trippy spring break vacation in Florida.  Its message gets a little lost in music-video aesthetic, and I think that’s sort of the point, but I can’t say I walked out of the theater knowing exactly how I felt (and again, that’s probably sort pof the point).  7.5/10.

To the Wonder: An underappreciated marvel that I wrote about here, Malick’s Wonder continues to stir my heart as I consider it, even now four months since my initial viewing.  I’ll spare you more prose, but please do check out my review here. 9/10.

The Place Beyond the Pines: The latest from Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance, Pines unfolds its sins-of-the-father-themed story like as though it were a piece of classic literature, with its multi-layered characters and ideas given ample room to develop over the course of the 140-minute runtime.  It packs an unexpected emotional punch, and contains a career-best performance from Bradley Cooper.  When the credits rolled at the theater, I leaned over to my wife and said “If you don’t think that was amazing…it’s going to be really *bleep*-ing awkward between us for the next few days.”  (For the record, she agreed with me, and that’s why she’s awesome).  8.5/10.

Upstream Color: This new sci-fi thriller from writer, director, actor, editor, composer, producer, cinematographer, and probably a host of other “-ers” Shane Carruth is absolutely gorgeous to look at, is painstakingly crafted, and is probably a way smarter film than I could ever understand in order to give it due credit.  Its insistence on distancing the audience from its characters ultimately brings it down a notch or two for me, but I should probably give it a second look at some point.  7.5/10.

Star Trek: Into Darkness: Fun, harmless, and Benedict Cumberbatch doing Benedicty-Cumberbatchy-things.  I don’t get all the hate this movie got. 6.5/10.

Behind the Candleabra: The first of two Soderbergh films from this year, this HBO movie had no right being as good as it was (which is how I feel about most Soderbergh movies), but Michael Douglas’s portrayal of Liberace and the amazing-as-always direction made this an absolutely absorbing film to watch. 7/10.

Oz: The Great and Powerful: I thought this would be a great mindless Redbox movie for one of those nights where I didn’t want to think too much.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been more wrong about anything. Terrible special effects, terrible performances, terrible script, and sadly, terrible direction from the normally-great Sam Raimi.  3/10.  

Before Midnight: At some point in the year, when it is released on DVD or something, I’m going to give this film a proper review.  I’m not quite sure I can write about it in any objective sense.  Regardless, I’m fairly certain I could make the argument that the “Before”-trilogy is one of the most unique treasures in the history of film.  This one is the best of the three. 10/10.

Side Effects: A little pharmaceutical thriller fluff containing some fun performances by Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones, this was a fun, well-made, if forgettable film by Soderbergh. 6.5/10.

This is the End: Hilarious and fun just to hang out with Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill and others for a couple of hours.  7/10.

Man of Steel: SO much wasted potential here. Henry Cavill, Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe are game, but a poor story and ineffective vision by director Zach Snyder weighs them down so much they rarely get a chance to breathe.  Awful, awful visual effects.  5/10.

Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen’s latest is also his best since Crimes & Misdemeanors in 1989 (I would know, I’m the charter member of the under-30 Woody fan club).  A career-best performance from Cate Blanchett. 8.5/10.

Mud: Finally, a little film I wish I would have caught in theaters from Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols. More than just a coming-of-age film, this story of two adolescent boys who attempt to reunite a lost man with his true love does conjure a sense of Stand By Me or other similarly-situated 80’s films.  Ty Sheridan gives one of the better child performances I can remember from anyone not named Quvenzhane Wallis.  8/10.