For Your Consideration: Feb. 20, 2015

It’s a very special weekend, everybody: we have finally reached the end of the season of famous people giving shiny statues to other famous people. Who will triumph at the Oscars? “Birdman?” “Boyhood?” “The Imitation Game?” We’ll find out on Sunday night. But right now, we’re combining our Academy Award celebration with this weekend’s OTHER major event: yes, I’m talking about the release of “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.” Come take a step back through Oscar history with us, won’t you?

– Ethan

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)

Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, Jane Adams, David Cross

Available to rent or purchase from iTunes, Amazon Instant and Vudu, on disc from Netflix

10 years ago, Michel Gondry’s modern masterpiece only managed two Oscar nominations – Best Actress for Kate Winslet (deserved, though she somewhat pales in comparison to Jim Carrey’s unrecognized, career-best work opposite), and Best Original Screenplay. For comparison, “Finding Neverland” got six nominations that same year. So it goes. At least, in the best victory of the night that was otherwise dominated by milquetoast offerings like “Million Dollar Baby” and “Ray,” Charlie Kaufman took that screenplay award. The writer’s branch has always been the most daring part of the Academy when it comes to nominating genuinely great, oddball work, and this time even the rest of the membership couldn’t ignore the dazzling inventiveness and melancholy of Kaufman’s sci-fi-rom-com scenario.

– Ethan

“Ed Wood” (1994)

Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, G.D. Spradlin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bill Murray, Mike Starr, Max Casella, Lisa Marie

Available to rent or purchase from iTunes, Amazon Instant and Vudu, on disc from Netflix

20 years ago, Tiny Ethan was glad to be not yet old enough to recognize cinematic injustice. But I’ve had plenty of time since to make my distaste for “Forrest Gump” known, so we won’t linger on that. One of the few categories that wasn’t taken over by Zemeckis’ saccharine juggernaut was Best Supporting Actor, where Martin Landau was deservedly recognized for his work as aging film star Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s paean to the titular “worst director of all time.” This was something of a career award, the kind the Academy so dearly loves to dole out, for Landau: he’d come up with the Actors Studio decades earlier in New York City, befriended James Dean and Steve McQueen, and had two previous nominations (“Tucker,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors”) among his many workhorse credits. But Landau is also fantastic in “Ed Wood:” an appropriately Z-movie take on Norma Desmond, delusional and fierce and sympathetic, a former great at the end of his rope. It’s quite possibly the best acting performance ever put forward in a Burton movie – challenged, I think, only by Depp in the same film.

Ethan

“The Godfather, Part II” (1974)

Cast: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin

Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant, iTunes and Vudu, on disc from Netflix

40 years ago, the first and only sequel ever to take Best Picture triumphed over one of the toughest (if a bit top-heavy) fields in Oscar history. I mean, how do you vote between “Godfather II,” Coppola’s other masterpiece “The Conversation,” and “Chinatown?” Some of the other choices might have been easier, though: Coppola’s father Carmine winning for Best Original Score was a decent way to make up for the controversy surrounding Nino Rota’s score for the original two years earlier; meanwhile, despite Fred Astaire standing as a sentimental favorite for his turn in the star-packed “The Towering Inferno,” Robert De Niro’s far superior performance won over in Best Supporting Actor – despite the actor, Hollywood royalty now but largely unknown at the time, never speaking a word of English in the film.

– Ethan

For Your Consideration: July 11, 2014

Watching childhood home movies can be a confusing experience, a mix of amusement, embarrassment, and nostalgia, as we watch our past selves—creatures so familiar and yet horrifically foreign—grow, change, and do silly things. So what would it be like to grow up in an actual movie? Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” coming to theaters this weekend, answers that question.

Filmed over the course of 12 years, “Boyhood” follows one six-year-old boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he stumbles and jumps through the years—all the way until he is 18. It’s a fictional plot acted out by actors as they aged in real time, in some ways a movie and a documentary. While we can’t wait to bring you a review of the actual film, here are three movies that also condense and play with time in the course of a film, and in so doing, paved the way for Linklater’s audacious new creation.

– Elaine

“Seven Up” series (since 1964)

Cast: Bruce Balden, Jackie Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzy Lusk, Tony Walker

All installments in the “Up” series are streaming on Netflix; “Seven Up” is free on Amazon Instant with ads, further installments available for purchase

The spiritual ancestor of “Boyhood,” Michael Apted’s extraordinary documentary series began as a social experiment and evolved into something much larger and more profound. Begun in 1964, the original intent was to test the famous Jesuit saying: “Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” To do so, Apted brought together 20 British children from all walks of life and asked them about their likes, dislikes, aspirations, and prospects. They then reconvened every seven years to follow the children as they grew up and fulfilled (or failed) those aspirations and prospects. It is a fascinating study of the British class system and social mobility, but it’s also an eerie, poignant abstract of human life—decades compressed into the space of a few hours.

Apted chooses ordinary lives and places extraordinary focus on them, and life, documented in such a way, seems both ordinary and extraordinary. There’s something extremely uncanny about watching this series, as if seeing all the possible permutations of your own life unfold upon the screen. Time passes, choices are made, and it’s only afterwards that the narrative becomes clear.

The most recent installment was “56 Up,” released in 2012. Only five more years to go until the next, for Apted, for the participants, and for us all.

– Elaine

“Slacker” (1991)

Available streaming on Netflix, Hulu, or to rent/purchase streaming on Amazon Instant or iTunes

From the one-crazy-night construction of “Dazed and Confused” to the nine-year-installment cycle of the “Before Sunrise” trilogy, Richard Linklater has always had an interest in exploring and playing with time, bending the temporal flexibility of film to suit his purposes. The ambitious production behind “Boyhood” wasn’t the first time Linklater has gone to such extremes, either: his very first feature was a similar experiment in the cinematic time-space continuum, only at the opposite end of the spectrum. Unfolding in what is meant to feel like real-time, “Slacker” seems to be following a drifter (played by Linklater himself) fresh off the bus in Austin, Texas – until that drifter collides with another aimless young man on the street, and suddenly we’ve spun off into a whole different story. Five minutes later, a wandering musician becomes our new protagonist, and then a sidewalk t-shirt salesman, then a paranoid schizophrenic, an aspiring psychic and her companion, and on and on and on, rolling through characters credited with names like “Dostoyevsky Wannabe,” “Sadistic Comb Game Player,” “Budding Capitalist Youth” and “S-T-E-V-E With a Van.” The rotating focus is not a new gimmick (Max Öphuls’ “La Ronde” tried the same structure, to similar success, about 40 years earlier), but Linklater’s unobtrusive, observational style and penchant for vivid characterization makes “Slacker” a sensational debut for a career that, even after the massive critical acclaim given the director’s way the past two years, might remain underrated.

– Ethan

“Synecdoche, New York” (2008)

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Tom Noonan, Dianne Wiest

Available for purchase on Amazon Instant or iTunes, on disc from Netflix

If “Boyhood” quite literally condenses a life in front of our eyes, Charlie Kaufman’s baffling cerebral drama opts for the more post-modern route. Are we seeing the life of playwright Caden Cotard (the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his best performances) genuinely play out, from the banality of early fatherhood to the isolation of death? Is it all part of Cotard’s elaborate, seemingly planet-encompassing theater project? Or is this the fever dream of a screenwriter desperately seeking meaning in his art, in his personal life, in his very existence? Considering this is the same man who had no trouble inserting himself (along with an imagined twin brother) as the protagonist of “Adaptation,” one might lean toward the latter. But there’s something eerily empathetic about Kaufman’s floundering, a compression of an endless array of questions and problems into this one man, representing many. It is easier to say what “Synecdoche, New York” is NOT about than what it is (hint: it’s not about transforming robots).

– Ethan