Inside Llewyn Davis (Art Theater Co-Op): Inside Llewyn Davis tells the story of a musician struggling through the music scene of Greenwich Village in 1961.
Why to Watch: First and most importantly, this a Coen brothers feature about how to make it in life when music is everything and you have little to nothing. Oscar Issac (as Davis) is remarkable to watch as he goes through some intensely difficult and happy moments. He comes out of the other side of these bad situations because he believes in himself and he believes in the music he is asking the audience to be entertained by. Isaac has to sing in this movie as well as act, and he does both astonishingly well. Carey Mulligan is excellent as well, and the set and costume design make this specific week in 1961 plausible as an actual event. This isn’t another Coen genre exploration film; it’s about the journey of life and where it takes one man in a week and how that affects the people who support him and the music that provides the soundtrack for where he travels. See it.
Her (Savoy 16 IMAX and Carmike 13): A film about a man named Theodore Twamly who purchases a new operating system for his computer. A system that also learns while it works with you and has thoughts and feelings of its own.
Why to Watch: I know a lot of people define this film as “that movie where the guy falls in love with his computer.” This is not a film about love; it’s about what it means to feel when you’ve spent months ignoring the world around you. Spike Jonze has always been a very visual filmmaker. Take a look at his directing filmography for reference, and you’ll understand why I say this. Jonze is especially adept at creating worlds that seem like they could be a parallel version of or a commentary on our own society. Joaquin Phoenix does a terrific job as Theodore in this near future version of earth, showcasing all of what he doesn’t feel and how his OS Samantha makes him come alive and be adventurous. While Scarlett Johansson voices Samantha in the film and does a fantastic job acting without any of the film’s footage to guide her, the real credit should go to actress Samantha Morton (who was originally chosen to voice Samantha). Though she was replaced in post-production by Johansson, Morton was on set with Phoenix every day of shooting and acted as Samantha during the film. This simple act by Morton has provided Phoenix with his most honest and accessible performance to date, and he excels in a film that could have easily been cliché. Ultimately, this film is attempting to show the audience where our constant consumerism-related actions and dependency on technology for companionship can lead us. While I would never want to live in the future presented in this film, I have happily revisited its environment several times attempting to learn not only from Theodore Twamly but also Samantha.
Grudge Match (Carmike 13): Two elderly boxers get together to have one last fight to prove they still have what it takes in the boxing world.
Why to Watch: Wait! Didn’t this plot already occur in 2006’s Rocky Balboa? Why, yes, it did. But that doesn’t matter at all. We’re talking about Rocky Balboa vs. Raging Bull here! A class of two boxing (movie) icons is worth a look. Standup comedian Kevin Hart is in the film to provide humor and has a solid friendship with Stallone’s character, but the fight is all that matters. The only shame of this film is the fact that it takes forever to get to the film’s climax. When the film does get there, though, Grudge Match becomes my first guilty pleasure of 2014.
The Wolf of Wall Street (Savoy 16 IMAX and Carmike 13): This film is directed by Martin Scorsese and tells the story of Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). Belfort was a key player on Wall Street, and this movie chronicles his rise to power and eventual fall from grace.
Why to Watch: As Martin Scorsese gets older, I wonder with each film he whether he will continue to move from strength to strength. At age 71, Scorsese shows no signs that his storytelling prowess is weakening. DiCaprio gives the best performance of his career as Belfort, and the level of enigmatic energy that he displays throughout the film baffles me. DiCaprio gets these moments to be subtle, and they are just as powerful as his moments of drug-fuelled anger and obsession with wealth. The thing that makes this movie so compelling is the way Belfort explains why his wealth is necessary and what it means to control the wealth he has. How DiCaprio as Belfort slickly motivates the team to be workhorses for profit astounds me; at a few points, it even made me eager to join in the chaos. I should mention some outstanding cameos by actors like Matthew McConaughey and Iron Man director Jon Favreau, as well as brilliant supporting work by Jonah Hill and relative newcomer Margot Robbie as the ultimate trophy wife. Scorsese is wise enough to let these actors act and build the story of why Jordan’s cockiness will be his downfall. This film is three hours long, and it feels like two. And you’ll wish it were four.
Nebraska (Savoy 16): Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) was told he won a sweepstakes and has to go from Montana to Nebraska to collect his winnings. Woody’s son (Will Forte) agrees to drive his aging father to collect the winnings even though he supsects there isn’t money to receive.
Why to Watch: Nebraska is a film that is funny in an awkward way. Characters in this Alexander Payne feature feel very natural. The relationship between a father who made mistakes in the past and his son who is desperately trying not to repeat them is some of the most heartwarming film writing I have witnessed in the past year. Dern’s Woody is a marvel. Not only is he a cantankerous old coot who only wants things to go his way, but he’s also a man with a lot of regrets and pain that are clarified as the film moves along on its deliberately slow pace. I found myself completely engrossed in the lives of these people. I love the melancholy nature of this film, which isn’t about how relationships define a person’s life but rather about building a relationship where it hadn’t existed in someone’s life.
Saving Mr. Banks (Savoy 16 and Carmike 13): The story of the tug of war between famed author P.L. Travers and Walt Disney in regards to Disney adapting Mary Poppins for the big screen.
Why to Watch: The story of why author P.L. Travers wouldn’t let Walt Disney adapt her book is truly heartbreaking. I loved watching the relationship between Disney and Travers evolve as the film progressed. I think the film is aided by having Colin Farrell provide one of the best performances of his career. It is incredibly moving to watch Travers experience flashbacks of her father and their time together. Tom Hanks does a serviceable job as Walt Disney, though I still believe he looks nothing like he icon people celebrate. I have no such photographic memory for P.L. Travers, but I will say Emma Thompson gives a brilliant performance that I sadly believe the Academy will neglect. I love the film nonetheless, and think this film is just my spoon full of sugar.
Anchorman 2 The Legend Continues (Savoy 16 IMAX and Carmike 13): Ron Burgundy triumphantly returns to the big screen.
Why to Watch: All joking aside, the first Anchorman is kind of a classic. The second film takes the comedy forward to the 24-hour news cycle and has some pretty funny things to say about why its existence is necessary in the 70s and what it means to those people who report the news. Expect a lot of jokes that will have you gasping for air. Is this a first-rate sequel? … No. But it’s a solid comedy when audiences are in desperate need of one. Go see it. Also, the appearance by Kanye West is phenomenal.
Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit: A reboot of the Jack Ryan spy franchise starring Chris Pine. After a promising beginning with Alec Baldwin as Ryan and two solid dramatic turns with Harrison Ford in the role, I love the idea that the studio is making Jack Ryan more of an action star with Pine. Time will tell if the story in this film matches the strength of the stunts. Directed by (and co-starring) Kenneth Branagh, with supporting turns by Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner.
A Clockwork Orange: Hands down one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen. This Stanley Kubrick classic is coming to The Art Theater Co-op's late night series this week. You'll have the distinctly uncomfortable privilege of seeing Malcolm McDowell’s masterful performance as Alex, after which you can ask yourself how our society can be so desensitized to sex and brutal violence.