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Oscar Prospects The Great Gatsby, Young, Beautiful, and All Dressed Up for Eye-Candy Wins

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Oscar Prospects: The Great Gatsby, Young, Beautiful, and All Dressed Up for Eye-Candy Wins
Oscar Prospects: The Great Gatsby, Young, Beautiful, and All Dressed Up for Eye-Candy Wins

Even more than Foreign Language Film, the category of Original Song is Oscar’s most fickle, rewarding Three 6 Mafia over Dolly Parton one year (2005), crowning a track from a documentary the next (2006), and, just two years ago, screwing over songs from every film save Rio and The Muppets. Last year, Adele’s titular, crossover ballad from Skyfall scored a somewhat sanity-restoring win, becoming the first James Bond theme to ever claim the trophy, and standing as the most popular victor in the field since Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” from 2002’s 8 Mile. While no one will ever be able to explain away the stupidity of 2011’s two-tune lineup, one of the things that makes this category so tricky, particularly in the guessing-game stages, are the many stringent nuances of song eligibility. Does the track start early enough during its movie’s closing credits? Does it have a sliver of previously released material that might taint its “originality?” So layered are these oft-excessive provisos that many Oscar pundits won’t even bother making their predictions until the Academy announces its official list of potential candidates (you’ll notice Original Song is one of the few categories not yet accounted for over at tracker site Gold Derby). But if there’s a single song that stands out with anything close to the in-the-bag ubiquity of Adele’s triumph, it’s Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful,” the wistful love theme from Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

Oscar Prospects Inside Llewyn Davis, a Coen Brothers Musical Bound for Aural and Visual Nods

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Oscar Prospects: Inside Llewyn Davis, a Coen Brothers Musical Bound for Aural and Visual Nods
Oscar Prospects: Inside Llewyn Davis, a Coen Brothers Musical Bound for Aural and Visual Nods

Okay, so it may only be a “musical” in the eyes of the Hollywood Foreign Press, but even the “bad” music is great in Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen Brothers’ tuneful, bittersweet study of a deeply talented failure amid the 1960s folk scene. As is their wont, the Coens lay on the dry satire as they turn the likes of Hedy West’s “Five Hundred Miles” into an impossibly earnest sham, set in stark contrast to the rich and raw poetry of the titular artist’s (Oscar Isaac) soul-bearers. But, as arranged by incomparable music producer T Bone Burnett, and as performed by co-stars Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and Stark Sands, the West cover still sounds gorgeous in all its tongue-in-cheek squareness, and it’s one of many songs that could humble Les Misérables in regard to the “novelty” of singing live on film. Isaac’s tracks, which are each flawlessly sung in scenes that operate as sober, angelic interludes to the film’s irony, are, unfortunately, all covers as well, leaving them ineligible for Original Song consideration (it would have been swell to hear Isaac croon traditional ballads like “Dink’s Song” or “The Death of Queen Jane” on the Oscar stage, but that won’t be the case). The only eligible track appears to be “Please Please Mr. Kennedy,” a political parody song penned by Burnett, Timberlake, the Coens, Ed Rush, and George Cromarty, and performed by Timberlake, Isaac, and a quasi-beatboxing Adam Driver. The song is deliberately un-soulful, but it’s an absolute hoot, and it has a good shot here if only because voters will want to squeeze in some music from the film.

New York Film Festival 2013: Inside Llewyn Davis Review

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New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Inside Llewyn Davis</em> Review
New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Inside Llewyn Davis</em> Review

“An odyssey where the main character doesn’t go anywhere,” as Ethan Coen put it in the Q&A after the New York Film Festival press screening of the film, Inside Llewyn Davis begins at the Gaslight Café, a fictional Greenwich Village coffeehouse, in 1961. After watching the title character (a mesmerizing Oscar Isaac) perform a soulful interpretation of an old folk song and then get beaten up in an inky back alley, we circle back in time to follow him as he couch-surfs his way around New York, hitches rides to Chicago and back, and visits, you suspect, just about everyone he loves or needs something from: his enraged ex-lover, Jean (Carey Mulligan); his sister (Jeanine Serralles), whose patience is fraying fast; his impossible-to-please father (Stan Carp), who’s wasting away in a nursing home; his deceptively abusive, apparently avuncular agent, Mel (Jerry Grayson); and the kind, middle-aged couple (Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett) whose comfortably bohemian-ish apartment is the closest thing Llewyn has to a home base.

Cannes Film Festival 2013: Inside Llewyn Davis Review

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Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>Inside Llewyn Davis</em> Review
Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>Inside Llewyn Davis</em> Review

The Coen brothers switch gears so often and with such gleeful finesse that their restlessness can no longer qualify as genre-hopping pastiche, if it ever did. At this point they’re simply a style unto themselves, a self-sufficient duo with a built in audience, art-house cred, and, when they want to indulge, box-office potential. Inside Llewyn Davis, then, isn’t a curveball so much as another stopover on a now-two-decade-plus journey that’s taken on noir, slapstick, thriller, western, and everything in between. It’s also one of their strongest recent efforts, an alternately world-weary and hilarious ode to a period of relatively recent vintage that’s nonetheless cherished as an era of new ideas, free-thinking, and artistic progression.

Arms Outstretched Too Far: Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby

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Arms Outstretched Too Far: Baz Luhrmann’s <em>The Great Gatsby</em>
Arms Outstretched Too Far: Baz Luhrmann’s <em>The Great Gatsby</em>

If there’s a single scene that speaks volumes in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, it’s the one that unfolds just before Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) finally reunites with Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) at the home of Daisy’s cousin, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire). In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, the prep for this reunion, which has been five years coming, is as modest as Nick’s digs, with Gatsby, the man next door with the castle-like manse, simply insisting that Nick cut his unkempt grass. In Luhrmann’s incarnation, Gatsby pulls out all the stops, not just having his neighbor’s lawn mowed, but planting gardens, installing fountains, and packing Nick’s parlor with so many flowers and pastries there’s barely room to sit down. On a comedic level, the scene works beautifully, reflecting the lovestruck unease that’s as outsized as everything else in Gatsby’s life, and it’s followed by a wistful glance between Daisy and Gatsby that hits you just as it should—like a firm, shocking punch of yearning and rehashed memories. But it’s also plainly indicative of Luhrmann’s bombastic technique, which involves taking Gatsby’s famed grandiloquence and spinning it into a stylistic hurricane. Surely everyone knew that Luhrmann would go all carnivalesque in playing up Fitzgerald’s decadent party scenes, but not even those glitzy trailers can prepare you for just how loud and large this vision is—a frantic spectacle that tosses off restraint as heedlessly as Gatsby hurls his shirts over a balcony at Daisy, showering her with an expensive cascade of pastels.

Poster Lab: The Great Gatsby

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Poster Lab: The Great Gatsby
Poster Lab: The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann really dropped the boomerang with 2008’s Australia, an ill-fated attempt to resurrect and pay homage to sweeping Hollywood epics of old. Yet, the maestro’s latest effort, a glistening, 3D adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus, The Great Gatsby, looks plenty poised to right Luhrmann’s wrongs.

The movie seems to be both class act and sensory smorgasbord, given the early stills, which depict a more-handsome-then-ever Leo DiCaprio as the lead, and the latest champagne soiree of a trailer, which, beyond glamor and intrigue, teases three exclusive new tracks from Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey, and Florence and the Machine. (Even the initial news of Carey Mulligan’s casting as Daisy Buchanan, as reported three years ago by Deadline.com, was deliriously chic and enticing: “Mulligan was on the reception line for The Fashion Council Awards in New York when she got the call on her cellphone from Luhrmann. She burst into tears on the red carpet in front of Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour.”) Yes, everything about the project emits pizazz and panache—everything, that is, except its movie poster campaign.

New York Film Festival 2011: Shame

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New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Shame</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Shame</em>

In the opening sequence of Shame, director Steve McQueen sets out to immediately establish the two sides of Brandon’s (Michael Fassbender) sexual addiction: the clinical side, expressed through crotch-level shots of Brandon nakedly strutting around his sterile apartment routinely opening the blinds and checking his voicemail, and the potentially hazardous side, conveyed in an exchange of disturbingly long, lustful gazes between the sex addict and a flattered married woman on the New York City subway. Despite being visibly pleased between her thighs, the weight of her wedding ring eventually guilts the young lady into ceasing her nonverbal flirtation and bolting at the next stop, with Brandon giving chase until the woman disappears in the throng of people. The scene would be unbearably silly in its attempt to communicate Brandon’s unbridled sexuality if not for Fassbender’s nearly imperceptible yet remarkably emotive fluctuations in demeanor. Without resorting to overt facial expressions or body language, Fassbender astutely and subtly exudes Brandon’s thought progression and conflict of emotions. The actor’s performance singlehandedly saves Shame from complete flaccidity.

Cliffs Notes Bergman: The Atlantic Theater Company’s Through a Glass Darkly

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Cliffs Notes Bergman: The Atlantic Theater Company’s <em>Through a Glass Darkly</em>
Cliffs Notes Bergman: The Atlantic Theater Company’s <em>Through a Glass Darkly</em>

If you’ve never seen the film Through a Glass Darkly, then there’s a fighting chance you might like Jenny Worton’s stage adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic masterpiece, the great director’s starting point in a trilogy of soul-wrenching 1960s films that tackle God’s relationship—or lack thereof—to humanity. But if you have set eyes and ears on Bergman’s carefully crafted images and words, then experiencing Worton’s ham-fisted take on the original is as emotionally satisfying as reading a Cliffs Notes version of Moby Dick.

Which is not to say that adapting Through a Glass Darkly for the stage was a bad idea; in bringing to the screen what was essentially a psychologically fraught chamber play, Bergman, who also wrote the film, always acknowledged a creative debt to the Swedish dramatist August Strindberg. Certainly, taking Bergman’s minimal characters and haunting island setting from celluloid to three dimensions was not a ready-made feat, but with some clever tweaking it could have been a worthwhile effort. Unfortunately, however, Worton and director David Leveaux fall far short of worthwhile, instead achieving an undesirable sort of artistic alchemy, where they turn movie gold into theatrical straw.

Cannes Film Festival 2011: Drive, The Day He Arrives, & This Must Be the Place

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Cannes Film Festival 2011: <em>Drive</em>, <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, & <em>This Must Be the Place</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2011: <em>Drive</em>, <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, & <em>This Must Be the Place</em>

The Driver (Ryan Gosling) with no name is a shark. Coldblooded, precise, and silent at the wheel, his hauntingly dead eyes scan the horizon predicting avenues of direction and escape. While physical movement is subtle, represented by the squeeze of a fist or a thrust of the gear stick, intense mental concentration is his way of the gun. Piercing through the Los Angeles concrete jungle of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive means existing within a closed-door genre universe ripe with references and cues, and Driver moves like a dorsal fin cutting through the water. The man is a perfect working machine (résumé: Hollywood stunt driver, mechanic, and getaway driver), and getting from point A to B is his only motivation.

But there’s always a girl. After a kinetic, nearly dialogue-less opening, Drive momentarily relaxes into a sunny groove—the first of many more juxtapositions between light and dark. Driver’s cold existence starts to melt when he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son who live next door. The hope for romantic and familial connection unhinges his rigid professional code one smile at a time. Deep longing is replaced with a glimmer of light, and the twinkles in each character’s eyes speak volumes. Gosling and Mulligan in particular look like they were born to be in a two shot together.