LONDON - Two promises are fulfilled -- one with more time to spare than the other -- in David Mackenzie's "Starred Up," a wholly prison-set nightmare picture that careers wildly between the punchy and the plain punch-drunk, and fascinates equally in either register. For the hitherto raggedly gifted Scots filmmaker Mackenzie, it's the film that most satisfyingly stitches together his twin impulses toward grit and grace, energizing familiar genre terrain with a coarse but literate ear and violently poetic eye. For his 23-year-old leading man, Jack O'Connell, it's a gratifyingly early arrival, a seemingly bespoke vehicle that jolts his wild, woolly talent into something that looks a lot like stardom. "Starred up" is British penal jargon for the contentious promotion of a juvenile offender promoted to adult status; for a film that consolidates this much raw potential, it seems an oddly appropriate title.
Speaking with Matthew McConaughey about his work in Jean-Marc Vallée's "Dallas Buyers Club" last week, it was obvious -- as it was at Sundance when he was promoting "Mud" -- that the actor is savoring every step of his career's newfound upward trajectory. He's taken to the "McConnaissance" like a duck to water, and it's because he's clearly a guy who relishes an experience.
Best Supporting Actor 2014: Oscar contenders include George Clooney, Michael Fassbender and Tom Hanks
Welcome to the most packed acting category of 2014: Best Supporting Actor. Though that's always the case, isn't it? Well into every season hope consistently springs eternal for potential players across the spectrum, particularly in ensemble pieces of which there tend to be plenty.
It's been obvious for some time that Michael Fassbender isn't all that fond of the publicity game -- particularly when it comes to awards season. He's currently among the Best Supporting Actor favorites for his brutal turn in "12 Years a Slave," but if/when he nets that overdue first nomination, it'll be without much campaigning on his end. Speaking to GQ, Fassbender says he'll be avoiding the awards circuit to focus on work: "That's just not going to happen, because I'll be in New Zealand ... You know, I get it. Everybody's got to do their job. So you try and help and facilitate as best you can. But I won't put myself through that kind of situation again." Fair enough. Mo'Nique let her performance speak for her in 2009, and it didn't obstruct her path to the Oscar. Can Fassbender do the same? [GQ]
LONDON - Disenfranchised families, displaced by water, scouring an unaccommodating landscape for some semblance of home -- it's easy to see why the "Beasts of the Southern Wild" references surfaced when "The Rocket," a bright, appealing debut narrative feature from Australian documentarian Kim Mordaunt, blew up at Berlin and Tribeca earlier this year. As with most such loose-fitting comparisons -- useful when trying to articulate enthusiasm for something otherwise unfamiliar-looking -- they don't much describe or favor either film. Set in a post-Katrina South, "Beasts" used tragedy to immerse audiences into a state of positively unearthly social decay; set in a war-scarred Laos, "The Rocket," predicated on a bureaucratic rather than natural disaster, undercuts its exoticism with recognizable social comedy at every turn. It's a feel-good film that only momentarily pauses to feel otherwise.
We've weighed the contenders and early declarations have been made. The whisper campaigns and casual takedowns have begun with no real (comfortable) frontrunner to emerge for a while yet. But as we look out over this year's Oscar contending crop, what does it have to say about where and who we are?
The story of the weekend, as you may have heard by now, is that Spike Jonze's "Her" went down a storm at the NYFF this weekend. Critics (including HitFix's Drew McWeeny) are nuts for the oddball techno-romance. Can all that critical love translate into Academy attention, as it did with Jonze's first two features? Steve Pond belives so, declaring the film a likely bet for Best Picture and Best Original SCreenplay nominations, though he thinks acting nominations will require some adventurousness from the actors' branch -- particularly if Scarlett Johansson is to be the first actor ever nominated for a voice-only performance. [The Wrap]
We don't have to wait until the holiday season for the Oscar movies to start flowing thick and fast -- while "Gravity" is still hogging the conversation and burning up the box office, a different kind of white-knuckle survival story land in theaters today. I'll be writing more about Paul Greengrass' "Captain Phillips" later today, but having caught up with it earlier this week at the opening night of the London Film Festival, I was pleased to find the awards talk mostly justified. This is technically immaculate filmmaking, smart and tight and clean as can be: I certainly didn't feel 134 minutes passing. It boasts some of Tom Hanks' finest work, with a career-topping final scene that should clinch one of several Oscar nominations for the film, though I'll be rooting for livewire newcomer Barkhad Abdi to crack a nod too.
We're curious, however, to know what you think: is the hype justified? Is it an Oscar contender? And if you've seen the markedly similar Danish film "A Hijacking" from earlier this year, which one came out on top? Tell us in the comments, and be sure to vote in the poll below.
Mark Harris' latest Oscar column is, as usual, a good read. The first half of it deals with the already much-discussed Oscar prospects of "Gravity," but things get really interesting when he turns to the Best Actress race, which is in danger of becoming only the second acting category ever to consist wholly of past Oscar winners. (The first, of course, was last year's Supporting Actor lineup.) And that, Harris writes, is "deplorable": "I don't know what's most dispiriting, the strong suggestion the Best Actress field lacks a deep bench, the comparative paucity of opportunities for actresses that a non-deep bench implies, or the assumption that Academy voters are disinclined to look beyond people they already know can give a nice speech." Of course, it doesn't have to be this way. Delpy, Gerwig, Exarchopoulos, Garcia: think outside the box, Academy. [Grantland]