For Your Consideration: Sep. 12, 2014

This weekend marks something of a sad landmark: with the release of Michael Roskam’s “The Drop,” we’ve hit the last opportunity to see the late, great James Gandolfini on the big screen. It’s perhaps fitting that the man made immortal by playing Tony Soprano will go out with another mob drama; with Scorsese moving on to white-collar crime and De Niro reduced to this, Gandolfini might be the last great gangster (if you’re listening to A.O. Scott, he was certainly one of the last patriarchs). So in honor of Gandolfini and “The Drop,” a selection of classic gangster films, for your consideration.


Tokyo Drifter” (1966)

Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Tamio Kawaji, Hideaki Nitani, Eiji Gô

Available streaming on Hulu Plus, for rent or purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Time Out famously referred to Seijun Suzuki’s fantasia of crime and color as “inspired lunacy,” and I’m hard-pressed to find a more fitting description. After cranking out yakuza films for about a decade, Suzuki grew tired of the B-movie fare continually handed to him by his studio, and it started to show. The director could not be less interested in the genre conventions of “Tokyo Drifter:” action sequences cut off halfway through, the villain’s scheme is barely comprehensible, and our hero seems more concerned with matching his outfit to the wallpaper than with gunplay. It’s a phenomenally bonkers, gorgeously shot art-pop deconstruction of gangster flicks, just as likely to end with a musical number as with a murder.


The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (1973)

Cast: Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Steven Keats, Alex Rocco, Joe Santos, Mitchell Ryan

Available streaming on Hulu Plus, for rent or purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

A gritty, grimy antidote to the glamorized crime films of Hollywood’s Golden Age, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” is a clear forerunner (along with its contemporary “The Godfather,” of course) to the fatalism of Scorsese and “The Sopranos.” Lead Robert Mitchum serves as a link to the genre’s noir history, playing schlubby, overmatched Eddie Coyle, a small-time gun runner trying to avoid jail time and get on the straight and narrow. As you might imagine, the title is something of a red herring: Coyle has no real friends, and Peter Yates’ film (adapted from a George V. Higgins novel) holds no illusions of redemption or even dignity where crime is concerned.


Gomorrah” (2008)

Cast: Salvatore Abruzzese, Simone Sacchetino, Salvatore Ruocco, Vincenzo Fabricino, Vincenzo Altamura, Italo Renda, Francesco Pirozzi, Antonio Aiello, Vincenzo Caso

Available streaming on Hulu Plus, for rent or purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

A broad, tangled portrait of corruption and violence in modern Naples, so on-the-nose that the author of the film’s source novel (Roberto Saviano) was forced into hiding to avoid retribution from the Camorra, the city’s leading crime family. Telling five parallel stories of individuals, each in their own way swallowed by the mob’s financial (and often physical) stranglehold on the populace, Matteo Garrone’s masterwork is both ferocious and despairing. The Camorra is all-encompassing, more an invisible, malevolent force than a tangible group, and no one, from dressmakers to bureaucrats to wayward adolescents, can escape its influence. It’s rare for a film this large in scope to feel so claustrophobic.


Some Campaigns Start to SAG

It’s not strictly necessary to get a Screen Actors Guild nomination to be in the race for to win an acting Oscar. Just last year, Christoph Waltz ultimately snuck in for the win despite not being nominated for “Django Unchained.” But these nominations are the first read we have of how people inside the industry (and for that matter, inside the Academy) are responding to the season. And to that end, Tuesday’s nominations brought a few surprising inclusions and snubs.

Probably the most shocking, and debated, omission was Robert Redford for “All Is Lost.” He’s the kind of incredibly respected, hard-working industry vet that SAG usually adores, but he somehow missed out here. It’s hard to say if there’s something going wrong with Redford’s campaign (not enough people seeing the film, perhaps?) or whether they just really, really liked Forest Whitaker and “The Butler” (also a distinct possibility). Nearly as surprising, to me anyway, is no inclusion of Tom Hanks for his supporting turn as the legendary Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks” – in fact, the film also missed a Best Ensemble nod, which I had thought a sure thing considering its Hollywood-deifying subject matter.

Instead of Hanks, we got a very intriguing Supporting Actor lineup, with non-professional Barkhad Abdi proving that he’s made a huge impression from his fierce turn in “Captain Phillips,” Daniel Brühl making an unexpected comeback for his role in “Rush” (critically acclaimed at the time, but it had seemed like everyone had already forgotten about Ron Howard’s racing film), and SAG seizing perhaps the last opportunity to honor the tragically late James Gandolfini. I still haven’t seen “Enough Said,” but I am not one to argue with paying tribute to a terrific actor gone far sooner than he should’ve been (and if it means throwing some love to a comedy for once, so much the better).

The other major story here is probably “Dallas Buyers Club,” sneaking into the top Ensemble field despite being painted as a two-man show in most press. I’ve had a suspicion for a long time that the film would register strongly with actors and Hollywood at large; this would seem to confirm that it’s a major contender for a Best Picture nod come Oscar time. I’d also bet that “The Wolf of Wall Street” simply arrived too late to get traction with this particular group (it didn’t start screening until halfway through the voting period), so like “Django” last year, its exclusion doesn’t mean much.

By the way, expect that Best Actress field to stay pretty much the same all season. Not much that can crack that list, unless Amy Adams can get a big push behind her for “American Hustle.”

2014 Screen Actors Guild Award nominations

Best Ensemble:

  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • August: Osage County
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Best Actor:

  • Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
  • Tom Hanks, “Captain Phillips”
  • Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
  • Forest Whitaker, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”

Best Actress:

  • Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
  • Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
  • Judi Dench, “Philomena”
  • Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”
  • Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks”

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”
  • Daniel Brühl, “Rush”
  • Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
  • James Gandolfini, “Enough Said”
  • Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
  • Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
  • Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
  • June Squibb, “Nebraska”
  • Oprah Winfrey, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”