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Samuel L. Jackson (#110 of 20)

Summer of ’91 Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever

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Summer of ’91: Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever

Universal Pictures

Summer of ’91: Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever

The interracial love story that anchors Jungle Fever is the least interesting element of Spike Lee’s 1991 joint. It’s the dull circle from which more compelling plot tangents offshoot. While the director is game for a surface-level exploration of the trials and tribulations of forbidden love, his once-controversial subject matter is merely a selling point designed to get asses into theater seats. Once Lee hooks his audience with the promise of sin, he pivots his social commentary to a tragic secondary character, just as Douglas Sirk did in Imitation of Life. This is appropriate, because Jungle Fever is the equivalent of a 1950s message picture. Expertly wielding his influences, Lee throws a dash of Delbert Mann and a soupcon of Stanley Kramer into the proceedings. Though the outcome is at times woefully dated, it’s also the origin of several ideas Lee would return to in subsequent films.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

More than in any of the other categories it’s nominated in, the unreal fall from grace suffered by Zero Dark Thirty will be particularly palpable when it inevitably loses here. Though few would deny that it represents this category’s most massive undertaking, and even some of the political blogosphere’s harshest critics still gave Mark Boal’s skill backhanded praise for what they deemed flagrant ethical persuasion, the 24-hour news cycle has plainly turned what was until the nomination announcements the presumptive frontrunner for the prize into, well, something like Peter Staley up against the Academy’s petrified bureaucracies, who are evidently ignoring the film and hoping it will all go away. The Academy’s skittish unwillingness to grapple with the film’s prickly but magnanimous examination of a political situation with no easy answers is going to go down as one of their all-time NAGLs, especially given the two-pronged love letter to God and country (Hollywood and the rest of the U.S., respectively) that’s poised to take Best Picture. But as far as this specific category goes, the controversy swirling around just how much input/propaganda the C.I.A. supplied Boal with may well have killed off its chances to win original screenplay even if the issue of whether his film obliquely or outright endorses “enhanced interrogation techniques” hadn’t already hit the dependably liberal AMPAS right in the balls. Either way, Boal won’t lose this one because his movie failed to discredit Americans’ monstrous thirst for vengeance. He’ll lose it because our current climate also thirsts for clean, unfettered catharsis, something Zero Dark Thirty responsibly elides.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor

All right, all right, all right. We should’ve known. As it turned out, Matthew McConaughey’s still supple ass cheeks in Magic Mike were no match for AMPAS’s preference for saggy old balls in this category. And not just old, but used balls. As was pointed out during this year’s overproduced nominations press conference, all five nominees have already won Oscars. And so in the absence of a swimsuit competition, the narrative this go around shifts onto the question of which person do Academy members feel most deserves another trophy, and which of them is the most overdue?

Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

With all due respect to the gentlemen in contention, this year’s likely Supporting Actor crop has shaped up to be a snooze, filled with veterans who, however gifted, feel like obvious choices, and whose singling out undermines some truly vibrant male turns. It’s true that Silver Linings Playbook boasted Robert De Niro’s best performance in years, giving the actor a tender comic role that required more than just cracking wise and mugging for the camera. And frontrunner Tommy Lee Jones turned in fine, fiery work in Lincoln, bringing complex life to abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, whose character arc is arguably the movie’s most dramatic. But both industry icons still feel a tad like instant candidates, and they’re liable to be joined by Alan Arkin (Argo) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), both of whom have been lauded for performances that are neither remarkable nor surprising. As consistent and consummately professional as Meryl Streep, Hoffman is faithfully intense as L. Ron Hubbard stand-in Lancaster Dodd, but there’s nothing in the character we haven’t seen him play before. And Arkin, whose crotchety film producer is a wellspring of rib-elbowing condescension, seems to have joined this race merely for his seasoned way with one-liners.

15 Famous Movie Masters

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15 Famous Movie Masters
15 Famous Movie Masters

This weekend brings us our first big baity film of awards season, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, a supposed Scientology allegory that truly explores crises erupting from a modern man’s lack of structure and authority. The faithfully well-composed film, which includes big, beefy performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, got us thinking about other masters who’ve passed across our movie screens, be them masters of a trade, a servant, or even a universe. You thought Dolph Lundgren, Meryl Streep, and Darth Sidious couldn’t co-habitate. You were wrong, Padawan.

Critical Distance: The Avengers

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Critical Distance: <em>The Avengers</em>
Critical Distance: <em>The Avengers</em>

For 10 years, comic-book superheroes have permeated popular movies. After the mega-success of Spider-Man in 2002, costumed white fellas saving the world became multiplex staples. Once all the iconic heroes were accounted for, studios found continued success with second-tier characters, from the previously obscure (Iron Man) to the uncomfortably jingoistic (Captain America: The First Avenger). The circuit escalated into the late 2000s, spawning remakes, reboots, sequels, and prequels with a frequency that only the most ardent fans could keep up with. A few X-Men spinoffs, a Superman hybrid, and two Hulk films later, we now arrive at a moment of superhero saturation, wherein each new release affirms the general consensus that these films represent a creatively dry enterprise.