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Oscar Isaac (#110 of 10)

Toronto Film Review George Clooney’s Suburbicon

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Toronto Film Review: George Clooney’s Suburbicon

Paramount Pictures

Toronto Film Review: George Clooney’s Suburbicon

A truly nasty piece of work, Suburbicon sees a bunch of candidly left-leaning movie stars doing their best to out-awful each other throughout. George Clooney, working behind the scenes as director and co-screenwriter, dusted off an old Joel and Ethan Coen screenplay set in a 1950s suburban tract community and detailing a murderous insurance scam gone wrong. Then, with writing and producing partner Grant Heslov, he grafted on a slow-burn racism subplot meant to resonate with contemporary U.S. anxieties. Yet the result is a hysterical and simplistic—if still in-the-moment compelling—parody of bourgeois American greed and ignorance.

Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Actor

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

While basking (or is it wallowing?) in the afterglow of last night’s Golden Globes, which hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler admitted was—and I’m paraphrasing—the mess they hoped it would be, it’s tempting to discuss potential Oscar ripple effects for the winners, like cocksure Matthew McConaughey, who, in preaching his glee in reaping the benefits of Dallas Buyers Club’s serial shelving, implied he might be akin to the Southern-fried pricks he’s recently been playing. But Oscar nomination ballots have already been submitted, and despite news outlets’ annual insistence that the Globes are an Oscar indicator, the Hollywood Foreign Press has nothing to do with the Academy. Still, if there’s any prescience to be taken away from last night’s proceedings, it’s that the industry at large isn’t afraid of the big, bad Wolf of Wall Street, and that McConaughey’s fellow Best Actor victor, Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s been charmingly campaigning arm in arm with Martin Scorsese, is a bona fide threat this year. It seemed virtually impossible that All Is Lost star Robert Redford would go from presumed frontrunner to the season’s biggest snubbee, but after being passed over by both BAFTA and SAG, the living legend may indeed be out, with DiCaprio stepping in to fill the void.

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.

Watch the Official Trailer for Inside Llewyn Davis

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Watch the Official Trailer for <em>Inside Llewyn Davis</em>
Watch the Official Trailer for <em>Inside Llewyn Davis</em>

“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.”

To read the rest of Jordan Cronk’s review, click here.

Below is the official trailer for the film, which CBS Films will release on December 6, in addition to one of two new stills also released today (the other is at the top of this post):

On the Rise Oscar Isaac

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On the Rise: Oscar Isaac

CBS Films

On the Rise: Oscar Isaac

You know Oscar Isaac’s face. You’ve seen him in one film or another over the last 10 years (including 2012’s high-school-reunion dramedy 10 Years). He’s the guy with the forceful presence and dark, gruffly handsome features, who always makes a memorable impact on the sidelines. Maybe he’s your favorite actor to tell your friends about. Born in Guatemala and raised in Miami, this 33-year-old Juilliard grad has an early filmography that’s fairly stereotypical, listing a single-episode arc on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and bit parts in the Ice Cube actioner All About the Benjamins and something called Pu-239, directed by Scott Z. Burns. That Isaac had never emerged from the supporting-actor ranks before this year is what had some viewers gobsmacked at Cannes, where he knocked them flat with his title role in the Palme d’Or frontrunner Inside Llewyn Davis. Gifted the part by the film’s directors, Joel and Ethan Coen, after sending in a highly convincing audition tape, the actor is suddenly gaining the most press of his career, and if the Oscar buzz is legit, it’s not likely to stop soon. As noted in a piece in The Guardian that ran amid the festival, even journalists were stumped after the movie made its debut. “Where have you come from?” a press-conference attendee reportedly asked. But fans who’ve been watching Isaac already know the answer to that.

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.

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.

Sucker Punch and the Fetishized Image

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<em>Sucker Punch</em> and the Fetishized Image
<em>Sucker Punch</em> and the Fetishized Image

Sucker Punch has received widespread dismissal from film critics, many of whom have used their reviews as opportunities to crack jokes about teenage boys, masturbation, or masturbating teenage boys—or to make puns about the film’s title. A.O. Scott at The New York Times slammed the film’s “pretense that this fantasia of misogyny is really a feminist fable of empowerment,” while Sady Doyle at The Atlantic declared that director “Zack Snyder’s gooey mix of fetish gear, rape fantasies, and girls-with-guns action sequences represents the nadir of a long, slow, steady decline in action films starring women.”

This critical paroxysm against Sucker Punch is quite possibly the most colossal collective misreading of satire since Paul Verhoeven was accused of being a fascist for Starship Troopers. With this film, critics are making the same mistake of confusing depiction for endorsement, but more importantly, they seem continually befuddled by Snyder’s manipulation of one of the most powerful cornerstones of mainstream cinema—the fetishized image.

Caught Without a Pass: Catherine Hardwicke’s The Nativity Story

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Caught Without a Pass: Catherine Hardwicke’s <em>The Nativity Story</em>
Caught Without a Pass: Catherine Hardwicke’s <em>The Nativity Story</em>

In The Nativity Story, punk-styled director Catherine Hardwicke (13, Lords of Dogtown) tries to find a way into the straight story of Jesus’s birth via the transformation of child bride Mary into the resolute mother of Christ. Trouble is, from the jump-off, this film’s Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) doesn’t seem the least bit scared, defiant or adolescently-awkward. Even when a creepy angel materializes to break the news that she’s to be impregnated with the Son of God, she appears only mildly rattled, as if caught in the hallway without a pass.

And when her mother later asks if she’s terrified about her impending arranged marriage to Joseph, I was almost shocked to hear Mary say, “yes.” Her expression is more like, “I guess so, whatever, Joseph’s kind of gross.” Until seeing Hughes’s epic close-ups in The Nativity Story, I had never noticed her uncanny resemblance to actress Chloë Sevigny. Whenever Hughes wears a sedate, blasé expression, she evokes Sevigny yawning through Kids, Trees Lounge, etc. Except that Sevigny’s languor is kittenish and seductive. Hughes just comes off as the last person to grasp the gravity of her situation. Of all the film’s weaknesses (Hans Zimmer-style inspirational/mystical/martial adventure muzak; a Mel Gibson leaden glove on the slo-mo dial and mixing board) Hughes’s first-act aloofness is its near-fatal one.