House Logo
Explore categories +

Reese Witherspoon (#110 of 10)

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Actress

Comments Comments (...)

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Actress

That the only nomination for Gone Girl, a critically endorsed box-office smash that sparked a slew of think pieces and also happens to be at its core a film about a woman asserting her sense of agency, came in this category while the year’s most-nominated film forces Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough into a non-sequitur lip lock is both too perfect and sadly telling. Women just can’t catch a break. Even this year, while every observer has seemingly added an extra dash of salt to their beef against the Academy’s retrograde tastes and disinterest in multiculturalism, the argument that Oscar’s notion of excellence continues to center around phalli remains a distant runner-up to pointing out its Caucasian persuasion. At the risk of getting self-righteous, we’ve been on AMPAS’s nuts over this practically as long as we’ve been putting them through the wringer: “Does one have to be a raging feminist to suggest that Capote and Brokeback Mountain aren’t aesthetically superior to North Country and Transamerica? Or that what distinguishes your glorified Lifetime movie of the week from your serious Oscar contender is whether or not the lead character has exterior genitalia?”

Telluride Film Festival 2014: Wild

Comments Comments (...)

Telluride Film Festival 2014: <em>Wild</em>
Telluride Film Festival 2014: <em>Wild</em>

Unremarkable films propped up by exceptional lead performances are as much a certainty of the autumnal season as yellow leaves and pumpkin patches. The one-two punch of Telluride and Toronto has served as the official launching pad for many such films over the years, and the Reese Witherspoon-starring Wild is the first to throw its hat in that dubious ring this go-round. Between this and his last award-courting effort, the McConaissance-completing Dallas Buyers Club, Jean-Marc Vallée would appear to be chasing the “actor’s director” status currently enjoyed by David O. Russell. It may well work, but that doesn’t change the fact that Wild, which is based on Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling, Oprah-anointed memoir, is just as bogus as, well, Into the Wild.

Toronto International Film Festival 2013 Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot

Comments Comments (...)

Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot
Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot

Up until this year’s release of Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot, the unsolved case of the West Memphis Three—the subject of several documentaries and intense media attention—had never been fictionalized on screen. Written by Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman, and based on Mara Leveritt’s true-crime book Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, the film covers the grisly murder of three young West Memphis boys, its subsequent investigation, and the controversial trial and conviction of the teenaged Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin.

A long 17 years after the trial, the West Memphis Three were finally released after entering a rare Alford plea agreement, and it’s peculiar that it took even longer for this case to be fictionalized on screen, given the countless contradictions, theories, and developments it proffered the popular imagination. The trial’s timing makes the void even stranger: True crime had a ubiquitous presence in the early to mid 1990s, enveloping popular culture in headlines and on cable television shows like America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries. The mix of real footage and dramatized segments of that latter series helped to define a hackneyed genre of its own, the true-crime melodrama TV thriller, with its own language of clichés.

Cannes Film Festival 2012: Mud

Comments Comments (...)

Cannes Film Festival 2012: <em>Mud</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2012: <em>Mud</em>

“You can call me Mud,” says Matthew McConaughey early on in Mud, the disappointingly mainstream follow-up to filmmaker Jeff Nichols’s impressive debut, Shotgun Stories, and equally solid second feature, Take Shelter. If you thought Mud’s title signified something evocative, something riverine and elemental, clearly you thought wrong. That’s just Mateo in Sling Blade mode, as the loveable outlaw on the lam, hiding out on an island while waiting for his one true love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), to blow into the nearby burg. The story isn’t his though; it belongs to two young’uns, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and the charmingly named Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who run across ol’ Mud one day when they’re making a pilgrimage to visit a houseboat stranded up a tree (that’s Nichols taking a bark-pulp page from Werner Herzog’s Aguirre). Guess who’s squatting in the cabin? One tousle-haired, chip-toothed, vaguely avuncular outlaw…goes by the name of Mud.

The Conversations: Alexander Payne

Comments Comments (...)

The Conversations: Alexander Payne
The Conversations: Alexander Payne

Jason Bellamy: Alexander Payne films don’t have the distinct visual styles of movies by Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, to name two other filmmakers of his generation, but they are quickly recognizable just the same. Payne’s five feature films are quasi-tragic comedies with hopeful but not fully redemptive conclusions about people struggling with significant life changes. Protagonists in Payne’s movies are always flawed. Relationships are usually difficult, distant, damaging, or all of the above. And deception is commonplace. On the face of that description, Payne’s movies mustn’t seem distinct at all. In fact, I think I just described every crappy romantic comedy from the past decade or more. But what sets Payne apart is the way he applies these themes—unflinchingly exposing his characters’ worst tendencies before ultimately regarding them with great sympathy—and, even more so, who he applies them to. If Payne’s films are known for anything, it’s for being about average Americans, emphasis on the “average.”

Of course, at the movies, where Jimmy Stewart can be considered an “everyman” and Kathrine Heigl can be cast as the proverbial “girl next door,” “average” is never ordinary, which is precisely why Payne’s characters generate so much attention, because they’re often ruthlessly unexceptional. Ruth in Citizen Ruth (1996) is a promiscuous glue-huffer who becomes a pawn in an abortion debate. Jim in Election (1999) is an awarded high school teacher who can’t outsmart his students or pull off an extramarital affair. Warren in About Schmidt (2002) is a retiree with no interests or usefulness. Miles in Sideways (2004) is a writer who can’t get published, a wine snob who can’t control his drinking and an introverted romantic who can’t move on from his divorce. Matt in The Descendants (2011) is a husband who doesn’t know his wife and a father who doesn’t know his kids. And those are just the main characters.

Because Payne’s characters tend to live modest lives (some of them in modest Middle America), and because Payne is so fearless in his examination of their faults, and often uses his characters’ shortcomings as mechanisms for humor, his films have often been attacked as condescending. In this conversation we’ll go into each of the five films mentioned above, as well as Payne’s memorable vignette from 2006’s Paris, Je T’Aime, which does little to deflect the accusations of condescension. But let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. Ed, does Alexander Payne look down his nose at his characters, or ask us to mock his characters, for being unremarkable? Is his humor mean-spirited and class-conscious? In short, is he condescending?

Oscar Prospects: The Artist

Comments Comments (...)

Oscar Prospects: The Artist
Oscar Prospects: The Artist

There are still more than two months to go before 2011 closes up shop, and guys like Fincher and Spielberg deliver their latest Oscar-ready opuses, but as of now, no film this year is poised to collect more Academy Award nominations than The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius’s silent movie about the silent era that has so many great things going for it, it’s hard to organize them all in your head. In no way is this meant to imply that “great” and “Oscar” are linked, but rather that The Artist boasts an all-encompassing panache and irresistibility that, save the inevitable handful of backlashers and contrarians, is going to deeply enchant scads of people, Academy members especially. And yet, as easy as the accusation may be, the film—as some writers have already pointed out—doesn’t seem to be actively dangling the carrot. It is genuinely that good, and it unfolds in a milieu that’s bursting with an embarrassment of inherent virtues.

Set in Hollywood between the years of 1927 and 1931, when talkies began to displace silents and stars like George Valentin (Cannes Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin) found themselves dropping from A-List to extinction, The Artist offers a richly nostalgic interpretation of one of the most romanticized periods in cinema’s history, an industry smooch that’s bound to win it even more favor than its brilliant, timeless commentary on the ever-changing state of technology at large (not to mention its perfectly natural and logical inclusion of a certain stock market crash). It almost instantly drops itself into the canon of movies about making movies, and its universal accessibility—otherwise known as hater fuel—will provide voters with the characteristic reassurance that, not only would their endorsement reward something of great value, but something that, goshdarnit, people really like. It will absolutely be one of your Best Picture nominees.