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: 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.

Ethan

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.

Ethan

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.

Ethan

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.

Ethan