Review: Mr. Turner

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J.M.W. Turner was an artist ahead of his time. He painted mostly landscapes and seascapes, but though he was painting in the early 1800s, he prefigured impressionism, and toward the end of his life, when he saw the advent of photography, he took a step toward what me might consider modern art.

He was also quite a character, a grunting bear of a man, eccentric and roguish. This is explore in Mike Leigh’s film Mr. Turner, with Timothy Spall playing the artist.

A film about a painter is a tricky thing. Like films about writers, you just can’t show a man doing the job, because that gets a little boring. We do see Spall using the brush occasionally (I found it interesting that he holds the brush near its end, away from the bristles–when I painted, I held it much closer to the bristles to get better control) but mostly we follow him through his life outside the studio. At least the filmmakers, due to time more than anything else, are able to use his actual works, unlike the 2000 film Pollock.

The story picks up at Turner’s height of fame. His beloved father (Paul Jesson) works for him, as does a devoted maid (Dorothy Atkinson), whom he uses for sex every now and then. He seems to have no lack of money, and he’s even recognized, necessitating him to take false names when he travels. He has two adult daughters from a previous liaison, and the mother of those girls visits him to upbraid him.

After his father dies, he starts an emotional slide. He cohabitates with a lovely widow who runs a boarding house in Margate (Marion Bailey) and deals with the various members of the Royal Academy, as well as a painter (Martin Savage) who is not in the Academy but rails against them for not spotting his genius. When his paintings become more and more abstract, he finds himself mocked, and even Queen Victoria piles on, calling one painting “vile.”

This is all very well and good, but I found something missing in Mr. Turner. It’s not the photography-Dick Pope was deservedly Oscar-nominated, as he uses his camera much as Turner used his brush. The scenes that show Turner standing in a field, making sketches, are astonishingly beautiful. Turner went to great lengths to get the right view–he even had himself lashed to a mast so he could see a storm at sea.

I think what’s missing is a general sense of purpose. The plot of Mr. Turner is very episodic, and judging by what I’ve read, very faithful to history. Spall creates a very vivid character, what with the grunts and tics of the man, and his showing charm when he is really feeling contempt, but I couldn’t quite grasp what Leigh was trying to say. The conflict doesn’t amount to much–Turner was accepted into the Academy as a teenager, and until the very end no one doubted his genius. We see a young John Ruskin, one of the great art critics of the period, but he was a Turner supporter. When Turner applies a blob of red paint to one of his paintings hanging at the Academy, it turns out to be something of a ruse.

The film also has a problem of time. No dates are given. The film, based on my research, runs from 1829 to his death in 1851, but we do not get a good sense of time passing. This means that the love that Atkinson feels for him (along with her ever expanding psoriasis) doesn’t have the full effect.

I will also admit to nodding off a few times. The film is well over two hours long as is not exactly bristling with activity.

I do give the films a thumbs up do to Spall’s performance and Pope’s photography. It’s also a wonderful education on art, which we don’t often see at the movie theater.

My grade for Mr. Turner: B-.

Opening in Las Vegas, February 27, 2015

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A very quiet weekend. Only two films opening here.

Focus (56) is Will Smith’s latest, but it might be Margot Robbie that gets all the attention. It has also gotten the attention of the lunatic fringe, who are taking to the Internet to despair about the interracial romance. Wake up, white people! Nick de Semlyen: “This is maximum-gloss entertainment with its fair share of tricksy rug-pulls. But, like one of the neon-coloured cocktails Smith drinks in it, it’s more of an immediate rush than something you’ll remember in a year.”

The Lazarus Effect (33) is about medical students who bring the dead back to life. They’ve also brought dead movies back to life. This was probably better when it was called Flatliners. Mick LaSalle: “The Lazarus Effect is not the usual mindless thriller, but it’s as flat as an open soda from last week, with dull characters and virtually every scene taking place in a single location. It looks as if it cost about 12 bucks to make — and somebody got robbed.”

I guess this weekend is a good one to watch TV or  catch up on your reading!

Review: Still Alice

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I managed to see Still Alice before Julianne Moore won the Oscar for the role. She very much deserved it. In fact, she elevated a standard disease-of-the-week film into something more special.

Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, based on a novel by Lisa Genova, Moore stars as Alice Howland, a Columbia linguistics professor who, as the film begins, is starting to feel not herself. She has trouble finding words in her brain, and gets lost on familiar territory.

She seeks the help of a neurologist, who rules out a brain tumor, but instead finds she has early-onset Alzheimer’s, rare for someone her age (50). She breaks the news to her family–her husband (Alec Baldwin) is a successful doctor, her eldest daughter is a lawyer (Kate Bosworth) and a son is also a medical student (Hunter Parish).

It is her youngest daughter (Kristen Stewart) that reacts differently. This relationship is the heart of the film. Stewart plays a wayward soul, who has gone to Los Angeles to be an actress, despite her mother’s wish that she go to college. While Bosworth, notably, dances around the issue of her mother’s illness, Stewart approaches it without sentiment and head on, asking her pointedly how it feels.

Baldwin, meanwhile, while outwardly concerned, is subtly shown as putting his career ahead of Moore’s difficulties. Late in the film, in one of Moore’s crowning scenes in the film, she gives a speech to the Alzheimer’s Association, talking about living with the disease. Baldwin can’t make it because he has “business in Minnesota,” which we will later learn is an offer from the Mayo Clinic that will cause problems in the marriage.

The film is very smart about how a devastating disease can roil a family, especially one like this, which is genetic. But I was kind of annoyed by one thing–did it have to be another film about an absurdly rich family, who has a beach house and a Manhattan townhouse? Moore, even as a professor of linguistics, wouldn’t make that much money. At no time is finance or health insurance an issue.

I’d also like to comment on Kristen Stewart. This is a nice role for her as she seeks to put Twilight behind her. But she still acts like she is holding something back, with that little catch in her voice and her lower lip thrust forward. In the film she acts a scene for Chekhov’s Three Sisters and she still has that pouty approach. She needs to play a part in which nothing is held back. I suggest she’d play Puck.

But this is Moore’s show. Of course, as we see in Oscar history, playing someone with a disease or disability gets you awards. This year we had Alzheimer’s and ALS take the top prizes. But she does give the role a shading that is missing in most films of this sort. In one scene she looks at a video of her lucid self, and I’d swear it was two different women. In a sense, it was.

My grade for Still Alice: B.

Oscar 2014: Tightie-Whities

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The 87th annual Academy Awards telecast is now history, and it may be remembered for a few things: a writer thanked his dog, Lady Gaga showed old people than she has a great set of pipes, and tightie-whities got lots of mention and exposure.

What it will not be remembered for is a good show. Everyone had high hopes for Neil Patrick Harris, who had hosted just about everything and now was after the brass ring of the Oscars. He bombed almost completely. He’s a great song and dance man, and full of charm, but he was given some very bad jokes and had some exquisitely bad timing. After a woman dedicated an award to her son, who had committed suicide, he made a crass joke about her dress. Bah-dum-bum.

When a man has to resort to coming on stage in his underwear to get laughs, we know things are desperate. He did this in tribute to a scene in Birdman in which Michael Keaton did the same thing, but it’s funnier for a man out of shape to have to jog through Times Square in his underwear than a buff guy backstage at the Dolby Theater. This wasn’t the only joke made about that Birdman scene–Alejandro G. Innaritu, during one of his three Oscar acceptance speeches, made a joke about wearing Keaton’s underwear. Those Jockeys may end up in some movie costume museum.

It was a Birdman night. It won only four awards, but three of them were big: Picture, Director, and Screenplay. It did not win Best Actor for Keaton, my major disappointment of the night, instead honoring the puppyish Eddie Redmayne, another actor playing a disability to win. The other acting winners–Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette, and J.K. Simmons, were all overwhelming favorites.

There were some surprises. That Boyhood, which was the favorite for Best Picture a month ago, walked away with only win (Arquette’s) seems kind of stunning. I knew it was doomed when it didn’t win Best Editing. I mean, taking twelve years of footage and putting it together in a film seemed a natural, but instead it went to Whiplash, which won three awards. The Grand Budapest Hotel also won four awards, and Wes Anderson got many thanks, but he didn’t win anything personally.

In an amazing bit of fair play, each one of the eight nominated Best Pictures won at least one award. The Imitation Game got Adapted Screenplay, allowing Graham Moore to give my favorite speech (“Stay weird”), Selma got Best Song, Common and John Legend were favorites if only because the Academy were desperate for some black people to win. And American Sniper got a Sound Editing Award, prompting the usual indignation from Sean Hannity.

As for the speeches, they were a mixed bag. There were some politics–Patricia Arquette came out for equal pay for women, which seems a safe platform, even if it isn’t in effect, and Common and John Legend gave a fiery speech about black incarceration. J.K. Simmons was more sedate–“Call your mother” he said. I do think that the screenwriter for Birdman–I’m sorry for not knowing which one–thanked his dog Larry. This has to be the first canine that was thanked at an Academy Awards, at least since Lassie.

But the evening overall seemed sour and ugly. Sean Penn made an inside joke about Innaritu’s immigration status that was certainly okay between them–Penn made 21 Grams for him–but sounded like a xenophobic rant. Idina Menzel and John Travolta made up, but did he have to fondle her like a bubbe fondles her grandson? And what was Terrence Howard on?

Some of the musical performances made the evening for me. I loved Tegan and Sara and Lonely Island doing “Everything Is Awesome,” including cameos by Questlove and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, and the performance of “Glory” was epic. It was almost outdone by Tim McGraw’s simple and heartfelt rendering of Glen Campbell’s song.

But I think I will most remember Lady Gaga paying musical tribute to The Sound of Music. On paper this sounds horrible. The Sound of Music is one of those phony classics, a movie that nobody under 50 likes except when they mock it at live sing-alongs. And Lady Gaga, a woman known most to some for wearing a dress made of meat (and appeared on the red carpet in red gloves that looked ready to perform a prostate exam) cleaned up, wearing a stunning white dress, flowing blonde hair, and a fabulous voice. Then, when Julie Andrews strode out and the two hugged, well, somebody must have been cutting onions.

I think NPH will be one and done, as ratings took a nose dive. Of course, this is always based on the movies nominated, but he will take the fall. They should probably go back to a comic, because its the approaching-vicious monologues that people remember the next day, not Jack Black singing about tentpoles (but Anna Kendrick can do anything in my book). I would lobby for one of the Jimmys–Fallon or Kimmel–or maybe Stephen Colbert will be ready by then. Let’s keep trying until they figure it out.

Oscar 2014: Best Picture, Director

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Wow, we’ve got a year, a rarity, when Best Picture is actually a nail-biter. It’s between Boyhood, which won all the critics awards, and Birdman, which won all of the guilds. We’ve also got an example of a year when you can actually sense the shift in momentum. For a few months, as Boyhood was wracking up critics awards, it seemed like the film to beat. But I think Birdman will win.

Why? Remember, there are no critics in the Academy. No film has swept the guild awards (PGA, SAG, and DGA) and not won Best Picture since Apollo 13. And Birdman, like The Artist and Argo, is about the movie business. I’ve heard people that I know who have hated the film, and it’s understandable, since there are no sympathetic characters–it’s a calvacade of narcissists. Well, that pretty much describes Hollywood.

The only catch about Birdman is that it did not get a Best Editing nomination. No film has won Best Picture without it since Ordinary People. But Birdman has a caveat–the film appears to be one long take. That it is not would suggest to me that the editing is quite brilliant, but since it appears to have no edits, maybe that’s why the Editing Branch (which should no better) left it out.

Boyhood amazed everyone with its back-story–filmed in patches over 12 years to show the natural aging of its characters. Richard Linklater has gotten many kudos for his dedication to such a project. But over time, the whispering has become, “Are we voting for the film or the gimmick?” Perhaps industry insiders are looking more at the film than the process. I think it’s a worthy winner but not as strong as many of the other nominees.

Could Linklater win director and Birdman Best Picture? A distinct possibility. It used to be that Picture and Director went to the same film, and a split was a rarity. That is no longer the case. Since the turn of the century, it has happened five times in 14 years, so it is no longer an outlier. But I think Birdman’s director, Alejandro G. Innaritu, will win, simply because he won the DGA, the most reliable predictor of this award.

If there is a dark horse, it might be The Grand Budapest Hotel, which looks to win several “below the line” awards. The Academy has never shown much attention to it’s director, Wes Anderson, before, but it sure embraced him this time. I think Anderson’s best chance is in the Best Original Screenplay category.

What of American Sniper, which has made more money than all of the other films combined? It’s political controversy, plus the fact that director Clint Eastwood was not nominated, would seem to spell doom for it.

The other nominees are along for the ride. The Imitation Game would seem to be a contender–it’s nominated for Best Director (Morten Tyldum) and Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as Best Actor–but it has gotten no love from any precursor. Perhaps whisper campaigns about historical inaccuracy hurt it. That may have also hurt Selma, which somehow got a Best Picture nomination but nothing else except Best Song. Whiplash is nominate for Best Adapted Screenplay (which I think it will win) but no Best Director, the same for The Theory of Everything.

Lastly, there’s Bennett Miller, who got a Best Director nomination despite the film, Foxcatcher, not getting a nomination. That hasn’t happened since the Academy expanded the number of Best Picture nominees to ten (and now five to ten). Needless to say, Miller doesn’t need to write a speech.

Opening in Las Vegas, February 20, 2015

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Great Godfrey Daniels! What did humanity do to deserve the pathetic opening week that is now?

The DUFF (55), which is neither a biography of Hillary Duff or the former MTV VJ, seems like something I might watch at 3 AM on HBO when I can’t sleep. I’m certainly not getting in my car and driving someplace and paying cash for it. An actress named Mae Whitman is getting high marks for it, though. Sheri Linden: “More a middle-of-the-road rom-com than a teen-spirit sendup, the pic weaves its lighthearted mix of silly and serious with increasingly heavy-handed spiels on self-esteem.”

Unnecessary pic of the week: Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (30). I loathed the first one, so will only see the second if tortured. Billy Goodykoontz: “Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is a movie that didn’t need to be made, and certainly doesn’t need to be seen — not when you can rent the original and still feel good about yourself afterward.”

McFarland, USA (60) is getting fair reviews, but I was totally turned off by the trailer, which has Kevin Costner once again trying to patch things up between the races, this time as a coach of a poor Latino cross-country team. Justin Chang: “A rare studio entertainment featuring a largely Latino ensemble, yet necessarily fronted by a big-name draw like Costner, McFarland, USA feels at once mildly progressive and unavoidably retrograde.”

The movie I hope to see is Mr. Turner (94), Mike Leigh’s take on British painter (and apparently unpleasant person) J.M.W. Turner, played by Timothy Spall. I’ve seen almost all of Leigh’s films for the past 25 years, and while I haven’t loved them all I’ve never been bored by one. Liam Lacey: “Performances are still the heart of Leigh’s work, and at the heart of this film is an extraordinary performance by Leigh’s frequent collaborator, the British actor Timothy Spall.”

The Seventh Annual Gone Elsewhere Oscar Challenge

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I’m a little late with this year’s Oscar Challenge. It’s simple–just pick the winner in each of the 24 categories.

I suggest you simply cut and paste the list of categories below in a comment and type your choice of winner next to it. If you change your mind, either edit your comment or post a new one. I will take your last predictions as official.

Best Picture:
Best Director:
Best Actor:
Best Actress:
Best Supporting Actor:
Best Supporting Actress:
Best Original Screenplay:
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Best Foreign Language Film:
Best Animated Film:
Best Cinematography:
Best Editing:
Best Production Design:
Best Costume Design:
Best Song:
Best Musical Score:
Best Documentary Feature:
Best Documentary Short Subject:
Best Makeup and Hairstyles:
Best Animated Short Subject:
Best Live Action Short Subject:
Best Sound Editing:
Best Sound Mixing:
Best Visual Effects:

The nominees can be found all over the web, including here.

Deadline will be six PM blog-time on Sunday February 22nd. The Oscar show is that night.

Oscar 2014: Best Actress

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My last look at the acting categories for this year’s Oscars is Best Actress, which has absolutely no drama, and I’m okay with that because it means Julianne Moore will finally win an Oscar.

This is only Moore’s fifth nomination, but it seems like she’s been nominated a lot more times and is always gracious about losing. She’s one of the few performers who have lost twice in one night–in 2002 she lost for Far From Heaven and The Hours (she was also nominated for Boogie Nights and The End of the Affair). I haven’t had a chance to see Still Alice yet, in which she plays a linguistic professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s, but by all accounts this will not be a pity Oscar.

Is there anyone else who could shock us all and win? No, not really. Reese Witherspoon, if she hadn’t won before, might have a shot with her role as the woman out to walk away her troubles in Wild. Witherspoon produced the movie and the role was an arduous one, but the movie didn’t impress as expected. Similarly, Marion Cotillard might have more of a chance if she hadn’t won before. Her role as woman on the brink of losing her job in Two Days, One Night is powerful stuff, but there’s no way she’s winning twice for a French-speaking role.

Felicity Jones plays a standard Oscar type–the dutiful wife to the great man–in The Theory of Everything. But she’s not a faithful wife. This may be the only romance I’ve seen where the couple get divorced. She’s fine, but I’m not sure it’s Oscar-worthy.

Perhaps the only actress here who has a distinct shot at beating Moore is Rosamund Pike, for her richly-layered portrait of Amy, the villainous wife in Gone, Girl. Given that this is the only thing that film got from the Academy, she is what the voters liked most about it (and they really, really hate David Fincher). If the film had about eight nominations I’d give her a decent chance, and she may finish second, but no one knows what except the Price Waterhouse guys.

Will win; Julianne Moore

Could win: Rosamund Pike

Should win: (reserving my vote until I see Still Alice)

Should have been nominated: Shailene Woodley (The Fault in Our Stars)

Opening in Las Vegas, February 13, 2015

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The weekend’s biggest opener is sure to be 50 Shades of Grey (47), the adaptation of the best seller by E.L. James. As someone who knows what good S&M porn is, from what I’ve read of the book and read about it, this is not–it’s “mommy porn.” But I’m sure it will sell tickets. Will men be dragged to the movie and then get ideas? Stephanie Merry: “In the end, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before. But there’s also nothing as agonizingly awkward as James’s prose.”

The other new film this weekend is The Kingsmen: Secret Service (59), which sounds like something I dreamed up when I was ten, but in the years that followed realized it was dumb. Really, after James Bond, where can you with British secret agents? Mick LaSalle: “It tries to get by on charm, and like a lot of movies, and people who make that attempt, “Kingsman” does have charm — just not enough.”

The film I’ll be seeing is Still Alice (72), which has finally opened here. Julianne Moore will likely win an Oscar for her role as a someone with early-onset Alzheimer’s. My girlfriend’s mother (probably) has Alzheimer’s, but she still wants to see it even though she will probably come out a wreck. Claudia Puig: “While other Alzheimer’s-related films, including “Amour,” “Iris” and “Away from Her”, delved more deeply into the subject, Alice is understated yet still moving.”

Oscar 2014: Best Actor

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Now, here’s an Oscar race to savor. Best Actor has a pair of front-runners, each with their own stories and strengths, and I’m frankly at a loss to tell you who is going to win.

Michael Keaton, in a bit of a meta role, plays an actor much like himself in Birdman, who was on top of the world playing a superhero and then disappeared from sight, only to stage a comeback by trying to write, direct, and star in a Broadway play. Keaton likewise disappeared for awhile, at least from the Hollywood scene, and his re-emergence in this work has reminded everyone who much they missed his slightly skewed take on things.

Ordinarily, this would be a slam dunk for Keaton, because the Academy has mostly actors in the membership and what actor can’t root for Keaton here? But then comes the other Oscar bait: the great man with a disability. And here is where Eddie Redmayne  comes knocking, playing the astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, the world’s most famous Lou Gehrig’s Disease sufferer aside from Lou Gehrig. If the Academy loves a comeback, they also love it when an actor changes their body, and then on top of that, plays a real person.

The other actors here are along for the ride. Bradley Cooper, as American Sniper‘s Chris Kyle, does a remarkable job of transforming his body into Texas beer-belly, but this movie has become such a controversy I don’t think anyone wants to touch it. Benedict Cumberbatch, as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, gives a finely nuanced performance, and at one point, when the film had more steam going, might have been a contender. But he and the film have been shut out in all precursors.

Finally, Steve Carell got in with the comedian-turns-sinister gambit, wearing a lot of makeup and acting creepy in Foxcatcher. I really like Carell but I thought the performance here was based on gimmickry, and he probably took the nomination away from David Oweloyo in Selma, who was far more deserving.

I’m going to go out on a slight limb and pick Keaton to pull through, since Redmayne is still young and perhaps hasn’t payed his dues yet. He has a lot more chances for a nomination, and for Keaton this is probably it. It is a nail-biter, though.

Will win: Michael Keaton

Could win: Eddie Redmayne

Should win: Michael Keaton

Should have been nominated: Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Review: Two Days, One Night

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A woman returns to work after medical leave for depression. While she was away, the company learned that sixteen could do the work of seventeen. In a gutless, heartless solution, the workers vote whether the woman is to be laid off, and they get bonuses, or kept, and they don’t get bonuses. Besides being extremely bad management, that’s the crux of Two Days, One Night.

The woman, played with alternating despair and desperation by Marion Cotillard, gets the boss to schedule a re-vote on Monday morning, a secret ballot. She has the weekend to visit her co-workers, face to face, in an attempt to change their mind. This is so gut-wrenching that at times it’s as difficult to watch as if the audience member were put in her place.

The film was written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who have made other excruciating films to watch (The Child comes to mind). This one even is brutal in its rhythm–every time she visits someone, she repeats the same speech–in another movie, it might be manipulated so she didn’t have to. She then waits for her answer, quivering, realizing she needs to do this all while being totally ashamed.

Each stop gets a variety of responses. Some, knowing what she wants, won’t speak to her. Another man breaks into tears, saying of course he will vote for her, and tells her he was ashamed that he voted against her in the first place. A father and son come to blows over it, while another woman tells her the bonus was going to be used for a patio. That woman ends up coming around, so it was good Cotillard didn’t do what I would have done, and tell her to enjoy her patio while my children starve.

There are a few missteps in an otherwise very good film. Cotillard is constantly popping Xanax, so the overdose that comes is predictable yet quickly glossed over. And why is her husband, Fabrizio Rongione, so supportive but won’t accompany her to the doors of those she wishes to speak to? It reminded me of when I had to sell cookies for Cub Scouts and my parents made me go to the door by myself, but a lot less was at stake then.

But Cotillard, who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance, holds this all together. You can see the pain etched on her face, and every once in a while a smile. As she walks away from the first “yes” vote she gets, her face beams in a kind of way that is just perfect. And the ending, when she is confronted with the same choice, is also perfect.

By the way, I would like to think I could never take a bonus at the expense of another person’s job, especially when it’s someone I know. I hope all my readers feel the same way.

My grade for Two Days, One Night: A-.

Opening in Las Vegas, February 6, 2015

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As we head into February we’re getting a few more high-profile releases, none more than Jupiter Ascending (40), directed by the Wachowskis. It got kicked out of last summer to the dead of winter, which isn’t a good sign, but it has its supporters. Kim Newman: “Like too much filmed space opera, this is wonderfully imaginative when it comes to costume, art direction, special effects, spaceships and incidental alien creatures but stuck with old-hat character types and a resolutely unspecial storyline. It’s frequently entertaining, but as much for its terrible moments as its inspired touches.”

Julianne Moore, who is about to win an Oscar, isn’t above taking a film like Seventh Son (32), which of course brings up the “Norbit” curse that may or may not have befell Eddie Murphy. It shouldn’t hurt Moore. Bilge Ebiri: “Seventh Son not only offers no new spin on its bland, by-the-numbers story, it also fails to deliver any generic pleasures; I’m not sure this movie could even keep a young child engaged.”

For children there’s The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (62). My girlfriend’s kids love SpongeBob, and they are in middle school, but I know next to nothing about him or the show. I have a feeling this will have a nice opening if every kid who watches the show wants to go. Tasha Robinson: “It’s amiable goofiness, delivered at an emphatic, feverish pitch. Inevitably, what works fine in 11-minute episodes becomes strained over 90 minutes on the big screen, especially during a grating musical number about teamwork.”

FInally, the film I’ll be seeing is Two Days, One Night, (90) directed by the Dardennes and starring Oscar-nominee Marion Cotillard as a woman trying to convince her co-workers to take a pay cut rather than let her be laid off. Sounds bleak but good. I’m just glad I’m working while I’m watching it. Josh Kopecki: “The resulting film is an exceptionally crafted drama, anchored by the brothers’ mastery of their skills and Cotillard’s breathtaking performance.”

Oscar 2014: Best Supporting Actor

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The Supporting Actor race at this year’s Oscars seems to be a fait accompli, with a journeyman character actor looking to live the dream. It reminds me of the old SNL skit, “Jeopardy 1999,” when we a clue was revealed, “Once the Tidy Bowl Man, he went on to win 8 Oscars.”

J.K. Simmons, for his ferocious turn as the sadistic music teacher in Whiplash, is the odds-on favorite. He’s won the Golden Globe and the SAG, and his story is irresistible. He’s the guy in the Farmer’s Insurance ads, he’s the voice of the Peanut M&M, and he’s about to win an Oscar. The best part of it is that he totally deserves it. His Terence Fletcher was one scary dude, the kind that live forever in nightmares.

If he shouldn’t win, I expect it would be Edward Norton, as the narcissistic actor (oxymoron?) in Birdman. Norton has a lot of fun with this role, even so far as spoofing himself a little bit, but the performance is also edgy and uncompromising. Norton is the kind of actor you would have already expected to have an Oscar, and I hope he gets one one day.

That puts Ethan Hawke, as the single dad in Boyhood, out of the running. In another year, he might have shared the spotlight with Patricia Arquette, but the competition is just too strong this year. Unlike Arquette, he doesn’t really age, looking pretty much the same, so since Arquette did show age, she may get it and not Hawke. Incidentally, counting his screenplay nominations, Hawke has been nominated five times.

The also-rans this year are two great actors. Mark Ruffalo plays one of the wrestling brothers who come under the spell of creepy John du Pont in Foxcatcher. Ruffalo underplays, and it’s nice to see that being rewarded. Ruffalo, like Norton, is one of those guys you expect will win one day. Robert Duvall, nominated as the title role in The Judge (a film I have not yet seen) can see this nomination as a testament to the respect he has earned, for if it were anyone else in this role it wouldn’t have been recognized.

Will win: J.K. Simmons

Could win: Edward Norton

Should win: J.K. Simmons

Should have been nominated: Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice