by Coop Cooper
Here are reviews of seven more films that created a buzz in 2014…
“Cake” – Jennifer Aniston stars as Claire Bennett, a grieving woman suffering through long-term physical therapy after a car accident claimed the life of her child, spirals into substance abuse and self destruction. When her ‘chronic pain’ support group partner (Anna Kendrick) commits suicide, Claire drags her loyal, yet exasperated housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barazza) around the city to discover why and to finally begin on her own road to recovery. Aniston’s performance is like nothing she has ever done before and keeps things light with deadpan humor despite the grim subject matter. Many believe she was snubbed for a ‘Best Actress’ nomination and sadly, they may be right. Barazza likewise deserved some recognition for her breakout performance as Silvana. 3 and ½ out of 5 stars.
“Foxcatcher” – Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) receives an offer he can’t refuse from eccentric millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) to coach du Pont’s privately funded Olympic wrestling team on du Pont’s sprawling estate. As du Pont’s bad influence and excesses send Schultz onto a path of self destruction, Mark’s brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) arrives to take over the program and get Mark back on track. However, du Pont’s own paranoia and derangement eventually sets the stage for a shocking murder. This real-life, headline-grabbing tragedy relies heavily on Carell’s frightening performance as a childlike man who treats his wrestlers like toy action figures, but no one can say no to him due to his wealth. All of the performances are top notch, especially Carell and Ruffalo who are up for Oscars, but the slow pace and minimalist style to the film will be off-putting to some. 3 and ½ out of 5 stars.
“Big Eyes” – In the 1950’s, talented painter Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) sets the art world on fire with her bizarre, pop-art paintings of children with oversized eyes. The success of her paintings were credited to her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) who bullied Margaret into letting the world think he painted them since men were more marketable artists than women. This lie was perpetuated until the 1970’s when Margaret divorced Walter and took him to court to sue for profits made off of the paintings. Tim Burton’s fantasy style of filmmaking stands out like a sore thumb, especially when he decides to show Margaret’s ‘Big Eye’ hallucinations she sees in other people when stressed. Waltz is great as always, but Adams’s ‘Best Actress’ nomination may have been overestimated. 3 out of 5 stars.
“Wild” – Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) makes a rash decision to hike the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail alone after tragedies and substance abuse leave her feeling empty and unaccomplished. Without experience or the proper equipment, Cheryl struggles to complete a journey which will lead to her own personal healing and an experience upon which to write her inspiring memoir. Although she earned a ‘Best Actress’ nomination for this film, Witherspoon isn’t favored for it although her performance is quite exceptional and her journey is very cathartic for an audience to watch. Laura Dern, who plays her mother briefly in the film, simply didn’t get enough screen time to warrant her ‘Best Supporting Actress’ nomination. 3 and ½ out of 5 stars.
“A Most Violent Year” – An honest, NYC entrepreneur (Oscar Isaac) and heating oil distributor must resist becoming a gangster when competitors begin hijacking his shipments. However, his mob-connected wife (Jessica Chastain) takes actions behind his back making that path difficult to avoid. This slow and dull thriller showcases some great talent from Isaac and Chastain, but thankfully did not receive any Oscar nominations. Isaac and Chastain have far more interesting performances and projects ahead of them. 2 and ½ out of 5 stars.
“Two Days, One Night” – Marion Cotillard plays a struggling Belgian mother who learns she will be laid off from her factory job unless she can convince sixteen of her coworkers over the weekend to give up a $1000 euro bonus. Cotillard has some wonderful moments in the drama (and is up for ‘Best Actress’), but although each of her coworker’s reactions to her request are fascinating, having to listen to her constantly pitching it to them becomes tedious in the extreme. 2 and ½ out of 5 stars.
“Selma” – After winning the Nobel Peach Prize for helping to end segregation in America, Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) launches his campaign to eliminate voter intimidation and voter suppression in the Southern states. After an unsuccessful meeting with President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), King takes his fight to Selma, Alabama which was touted as a hotspot for this type of discrimination. Since it was only nominated for ‘Best Picture’ by the Academy, some vocal critics and organizations blamed racism for the snubs, yet it performed very well at other awards presentations. There are some horrific, riveting scenes and the acting, especially Oyelowo, is fantastic, and his lack of of an Oscar nomination (along with director Ava DuVernay) was unfortunate but it should be obvious to Hollywood insiders that race isn’t the cause of the oversight. LBJ’s antagonistic, sometimes villainous, portrayal might have seemed disingenuous, but the film is important and worthy of a ‘Best Picture’ nomination. 4 out of 5 stars.