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Michael Fassbender (#110 of 29)

Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions Actor

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Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions: Actor

20th Century Fox

Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions: Actor

The spectacular flame-out of Steve Jobs from this year’s Oscar race was depressing for once again illuminating the media complicity, mainly among those particularly susceptible full-time pundits who are perversely unaware of just how much their groupthink influences the industry’s own, that goes into turning this dog-and-pony show, year in and year out, into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once the frontrunner for best picture, the Danny Boyle film saw its Oscar ambitions stymied not so much by its underperformance at the box office, but instead by the million unnecessary think pieces debating the potential costs of said underperformance.

Rather than run with the narrative that Steve Jobs, like the Apple brand in its nascent years, was an underappreciated commodity, that it would not be hurt by its box-office failure any more than, say, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker was, pundits stopped cheerleading for the film because they convinced themselves it was no longer fashionable to do so. (Being right, after all, is the modus operandi of the average pundit’s investment in any given year’s Oscar race.) And because the hearts and minds of the industry, at least its ears, are privy to how films go up like stocks on the countless charts published on sites like GoldDerby, a challenger quickly became an also-ran.

Manaki Brothers Film Festival 2015 Pepi & Muto, Macbeth, Land and Shade, & More

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Manaki Brothers Film Festival 2015: Pepi & Muto, Macbeth, Land and Shade, & More

The Weinstein Company

Manaki Brothers Film Festival 2015: Pepi & Muto, Macbeth, Land and Shade, & More

The most rapturous applause at the 37th Manaki Brothers International Cinematographers’ Film Festival in Bitola, Macedonia was for Pepi & Muto, a 15-minute short film by Macedonian director Georgi M. Unkovski. Forced into an early retirement, veteran Skopje-based detective Pepi (Pepi Mircevski) is burdened with showing his younger replacement, Muto (Sasko Kocev), the ropes. Muto, however, is exasperatingly clumsy. If he isn’t stapling paperwork to his own finger, he’s throwing up at the routine sight of a dead body. Pushed to the brim of patience by both his bumbling replacement and callous boss, Pepi throws in the towel, aggrieved by his predicament. When Muto persuades his mentor back into action, however, the two are brought together by a comically violent accident: Muto, apprehending a suspect, falls flat onto a somehow upward-pointing knife. The older cop allows his dormant sympathy to kick in, and after Muto’s brief convalescence in hospital, the duo starts up its own two-man detective agency.

Tribeca Review: Slow West

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Tribeca Review: <em>Slow West</em>
Tribeca Review: <em>Slow West</em>

Slow West is a photogenic trifle about a Scottish teen traveling through the rugged, dangerous terrain of frontier America in 1870 looking for his runaway love and her father. It begins with a “once upon a time,” which instantly gives writer-director John Maclean’s western the secret air of a fairy tale. Indeed, as Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) lies on his back and stares at the stars, which twinkle as he pretends to shoot them with his gun, there’s a sense of him as a little prince who’s left the safety of some far-off land in search of adventure, or to fulfill some fabulously preordained destiny. Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), who narrates Jay’s conventional story with the sort of regard that suggests he thinks it will be of value to someone in the future other than himself, meets him deep in Colorado and becomes the young man’s protector against the elements and wolves who appear to them in sheep’s clothing—literally so in the case of one particularly colorful bounty hunter, Payne (Ben Mendelsohn). It’s a fable that makes the unexceptional appear slightly off-kilter through fussy artifice, and programmatically marches toward a bloody climax whose only true, if scarcely resplendent, surprise is its denial of a conventional happily ever after.

Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

Let’s pretend, for a second, that Jared Leto, a vain campaigner who can’t even be bothered to remember the names of critics groups that honor him, won’t be the Supporting Actor strutting to the podium on Oscar night, and making some jokey, offensive gesture like daintily tossing his hair back. Who, then, is next in line to overtake Leto for his turn as a trans woman—or, as Katie Couric would call her, a “transgender”—in Dallas Buyers Club? Methinks it won’t be fellow lock Michael Fassbender from 12 Years a Slave, who’s fine but unexciting as a pathetic slave owner, but one of two damn-near-locks who represent foreign underdogs: Daniel Brühl in Rush and Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips.

Oscar Prospects American Hustle, David O. Russell’s Thick Slice of Voter-Friendly Trash

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Oscar Prospects: American Hustle, David O. Russell’s Thick Slice of Voter-Friendly Trash
Oscar Prospects: American Hustle, David O. Russell’s Thick Slice of Voter-Friendly Trash

I think the scene that finally secured American Hustle a place on my Top 10 list was the one in which conman Irving’s (Christian Bale) wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), goes on and on about her fingernail topcoat at a dinner. Chatting up Dolly (Elizabeth Röhm), the wife of soon-to-be-swindled Camden mayor Carmine (Jeremy Renner), Rosalyn raves about the topcoat’s contradictory virtues, saying it’s “sweet and sour, rotten and delicious—like flowers, but with garbage.” She “can’t get enough of it.” To watch this scene is to witness David O. Russell not only reclaim his former, gonzo glory, but wholeheartedly own the superficial tackiness of his vision. Sure, this is a film about countless layers of fakery, and the notion of a topcoat—a mask—being both vile and alluring has definite thematic implications. But American Hustle, marvelously, isn’t hung up on such sobering ideas. The topcoat speech is more a megaphone announcement of tone, and of a director finally ditching the safety net of Oscar pandering, which he used to entrance voters with the falsely offbeat The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. And still, he’s going to net those votes nonetheless, as there’s just enough delicious here to make the rotten palatable for traditionalists.

Box Office Rap The Counselor and the Prestige-Film Fallacy

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Box Office Rap: The Counselor and the Prestige-Film Fallacy
Box Office Rap: The Counselor and the Prestige-Film Fallacy

This Friday sees the release of The Counselor, a film that, by all conventional accounts, should be a lock for a $20-million opening at the box office this weekend, and yet the film is unlikely to crack double digits, even with a mega-wide 3,000 theater release. Certainly, as many have been doing, we could point to Gravity as a reason why The Counselor is likely to stumble; earning over $30 million in its third frame last weekend, I’m inclined to think it will finish on top yet again, besting primo contender Bad Grandpa by a few million, and making it the first film since The Hunger Games in April 2012 to top the box office for four consecutive weekends. However, its highly impressive run cannot fully explain why The Counselor is going to fail. Rather, we would be better served to examine how Fox has been marketing the film and, beyond that, question precisely why Ridley Scott’s production company, Scott Free, and Fox believed this to be a financially viable project to begin with.

The entirety of the marketing for The Counselor suffers from what I’m calling “prestige-film fallacy” (PFF). The PFF relies on the prior prestige of those involved, rather than ingenuity, to convince prospective viewers of the new film’s worth. Everything about a PFF campaign reeks of derivative, outmoded notions of “quality” cinema and often hitches its wagon to the premise that sexy, rich characters played by sexy, rich stars equal big bucks. The Counselor is an epitome of these tendencies and, for those attuned to these developments, will serve to test our fundamental question: Can you sell a film based purely on prior pedigree?

Oscar Prospects 12 Years a Slave, The Overhyped, Feel-Bad "Frontrunner"

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Oscar Prospects: 12 Years a Slave, The Overhyped, Feel-Bad “Frontrunner”
Oscar Prospects: 12 Years a Slave, The Overhyped, Feel-Bad “Frontrunner”

When I assess my feelings about supposed Best Picture frontrunner 12 Years a Slave, a film I ultimately disliked save the knockout performances and select unshakable parts, there’s a voice in my head telling me, “You’re kinda eating your own words.” I’ve been very vocal about my adoration for Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and a lot of that love springs from the appreciation and acknowledgment that we’ve been gifted an epic film about black history, from a black director, that unflinchingly and unapologetically depicts the racist atrocities that have stained our country’s past. Fast-forward (or, rather, wind the clock back) to Steve McQueen’s 1800s-set slavery horror show, and you’re ostensibly looking at the same thing. So, the objective now is to point out the differences.

Toronto International Film Festival 2013 Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave

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Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave
Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave

The opening scene of 12 Years a Slave is startlingly tragic for both the viewer and its protagonist, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), renamed Platt upon being sold into slavery, but it’s also effective in its smallness and intimacy. Shown supine on the hard, wooden surfaces sleeping with fellow slaves, Platt is awakened by a young woman who forces his hand on her breast and pushes it down her body so that he will finger her. He relents, at least momentarily; she watches him with an unimaginable despair that turns into temporary pleasure, and he watches her back with a similarly unknowable sadness. This is the first of many scenes in the film in which director Steve McQueen masterfully articulates the necessity of a character demanding a level of control and power when forced into contexts as depraved as slavery. The woman doesn’t look to Platt for physical intimacy; she just needs to be touched, and knows she can simultaneously trust him and exploit his humane temperament to do it without him hurting her.