One of the great things about the holiday season is spending time with your family, and enjoying the spirit of giving and togetherness the time of year brings. Conversely, one of the worst things about the holiday season is spending time with your family, and having to deflect guilt, as well as criticisms about weight and relationship status, as if you were swatting flies in the heat of the summer.
Movies conveniently offer a respite from the ups and downs of holiday drama. Better, this is the time of year in which theaters are packed with potential Oscar nominees and other quality fare, meaning there’s a lot of good stuff to choose from when you venture out.
But what to choose? Thankfully there’s a movie out right now to suit every mood and need. When appropriate I’ve also included an indication of the film’s Oscar chances – there are some definite “must-see” movies out there for those who want to see everything prior to Oscar night, which is March 2, 2014 (it’s a week later than usual due to the Winter Olympics).
Money, drugs and hookers are a dangerous combination for anyone. When put in the hands of a hotshot young stockbroker without a conscience, they can be deadly. In the case of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” he has a mansion, yacht, private jet, six cars, a steady supply of cocaine and everything else money can buy. Debauchery isn’t a habit for him, it’s a way of life.
Jordan is not an easy person to like, but he is fun to watch. He doesn’t believe in excess, there’s no such thing as “taking it too far,” and his hedonism results in antics we enjoy watching. It’s the late ‘80s, so anything goes. He’s a terrible role model in many ways, but man does the guy know how to have a good time.
Everything about it is fun: The con artist story, the characters, the late ‘70s makeup, hair, costumes and production design, the soundtrack, the brisk editing, the wonderful script and best of all, the great performances. It’s hilarious, dramatic, suspenseful and sexy, and perfectly so in each regard. This is the kind of deliciously cinematic experience true movie lovers crave.
Christian Bale stars as con man Irving Rosenfeld, a seasoned pro who keeps a low profile and never gets too greedy. He’s fine working on his own, but after meeting and quickly falling for the sultry Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), he’s happy to make it a two-person operation. All is fine until F.B.I. Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) arrests Sydney, which forces Irving and Sydney to work with Richie in sting operations.
Hudak note: Although I am no longer the Chairman of the FFCC I remain a very proud member of the group, and am extremely happy with this year’s winners.
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 Critics Circle Awards, beating out such highly touted contenders as "American Hustle" and "The Wolf of Wall Street." Alfonso Cuaron'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 "Dallas Buyers Club."
Hudak note: I've been a proud member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association for six years now. I like the way this year's results went down.
British director Steve McQueen’s unblinking look at America’s original sin, 12 Years a Slave, is this year’s best film, according to the Southeastern Film Critics Association’s 2013 poll of its members. The organization, comprised of 51 film critics working for print and electronic media across nine Southern states, overwhelming voted for McQueen’s brutal adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir of being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Antebellum South, which was first published in 1853.
McQueen was also voted best director in the poll, while Slave screenwriter Jim Ridley won in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.
There’s a reason girls become enamored with Disney princesses, and the reason is this: Disney is better than everyone else in the world at creating heroines who get to do cool things and sing wonderful songs and save magical kingdoms. The princesses are fantasies that couldn’t possibly exist, but the idea that they can be real is too intoxicating and effervescent for little girls to know what to do with themselves.
“Frozen” now wonderfully adds to the list of Disney heroines, and this time there are two princesses your daughters will want to be next Halloween. In the kingdom of Arendelle, Princess Elsa (Idina Menzel) is born with the magical power to create snow and ice. However, when she’s unable to control it and nearly kills her sister Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa is forced to live in solitude.
Directed by Stephen Frears and co-written by actor/television writer Steve Coogan (“Our Idiot Brother”) and television writer Jeff Pope, “Philomena” is the “inspired by true events” story of an elderly woman in search of her long-lost son. Philomena (Judi Dench) gave birth to him when she was a teenager in Ireland, and he was taken from her by nuns at a convent where she had taken refuge. Early on, the filmmakers do a nice job showing the consequences of teenage lust; teen pregnancy, yes, but also growing into an adult, and then an elder, with vivid, fond, and painful memories of being an 18 year-old.
The clever humor in the script (there’s a moderate amount) is designated almost exclusively to Dench and her character’s accelerated brain. Her deadpan delivery serves the comedic elements well, and she’s phenomenally focused in Philomena’s quiet-yet-powerful scenes.
Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is known to take a nip every now and again, though his son David (Will Forte) suspects it’s more like again and again. The 77 year-old refers to his family as “you people,” and is prone to wandering the frozen sidewalks of Billings, Montana. His other son, Ross (Bob Odenkirk, “Breaking Bad”), wants to put him in a nursing home.
In acquiescing and driving Woody to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect “a million dollars in prize money,” David determines to give his father a taste of life as the end of his life grows near. On the way, he asks questions of his dad that he later wishes he hadn’t. “Why did you guys ever have me in the first place?” asks David. Woody doesn’t hesitate: “I like to screw! Your mother’s Catholic. You do the math.”