Sunday
Jan182015

Lionsgate Unveils New INSURGENT Sneak Peak!

The courageous Tris is ready to get in on the action in this year’s must-see film, THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT. We now have an inside look at her major transformation in a BRAND NEW FEATURETTE.The story of Tris and Four continues as they race against time in order to protect the future of their world from the Erudite elite. Go behind-the-scenes now to get a deeper look at the new Amity, Factionless, and Candor settings, and explore some of the mind-bending visual effects for the first time. Now’s your chance to hear what your favorite stars and writer Veronica Roth have to say about the exciting scenes and amazing stunts in INSURGENT, including one-on-one time with stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Academy Award® Winner Octavia Spencer, Zoë Kravitz, Ansel Elgort, Mekhi Phifer, Naomi Watts, and Academy Award® Winner Kate Winslet.

Be sure to catch this action-packed sequel when it hits the silver screen nationwide in 2D, RealD, and Digital 3D on MARCH 20, 2015! 

Wednesday
Dec312014

KICKING THE SEAT's Top 14 Films of 2014!

If you've read Kicking the Seat for any length of time, you know that my tastes often don't align with majority critical consensus. My contarianism is a consequence of coincidence, and not a master plan to gain popularity through outrageous opinions. That's particularly true in my list of 2014's top films (presented here in semi-particular order).

As a critic with a family and a day-job, there are tons of movies I didn't get to see,* and some that I saw but didn't get a chance to review. This explains why A) some of the films have hyperlinks to lengthier write-ups, while others do not, and B) why a picture you might have loved is absent from the list (it's also possible that we simply don't agree--which is fine, too, and I welcome your feedback in the Comments section).

Below are the movies that moved me--through laughter, through tears, and/or through the delightfully unexpected expansion of consciousness that only this amazing art form can deliver.

14. Noah Yes, it's Russell Crowe as Noah, palling around with tree-monster angels. It's also Darren Aronofsky taking an agnostic look at the Biblical story of Earth's destruction and rebirth. Whether it tests your faith or your patience, this epic fantasy is a visual marvel with a lot on its mind.

13. The Raid 2: Berandal If nothing else, The Raid 2 gave me a solid argument against those who accuse critics of not being able to see films objectively through their own biases. I hated The Raid, and couldn't imagine sitting through a longer version of the same thing without digging my brains out through my eyes. Fortunately, Gareth Evans built upon his original's paper-thin premise to deliver the most viscerally satisfying and imaginative action film I saw this year.**

12. Wish I Was Here I would love to visit the parallel dimension in which Zach Braff's follow-up to Garden State hadn't been funded by Kickstarter donations. Not because I have a problem with Kickstarter, but because that became the lens through which nearly everyone viewed the movie. Accusations that the film is saccharine, calculated, and soft make for great copy--but there's simply no evidence that Braff's goofy yet moving story of a struggling actor dealing with one family crisis after another was anything but sincere.

11. The Theory of Everything By now, you're probably sick of hearing about Eddie Redmayne's incredible transformation into Stephen Hawking. The hype is more than warranted, but The Theory of Everything isn't a one-trick pony. James Marsh's biopic isn't really about who you think it is, and Felicity Jones sneaks in one of 2014's great understated performances.

10. They Came Together I've taken more heat this year for my recommendation of David Wain's rom-com spoof than for just about any picture I can recall (and that includes the fucking Ninja Turtles remake). No matter. Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter's loving yet viciously acute dissection of chick flicks brought the house down at the Chicago Critics Film Festival, and I literally hurt from laughing so hard.

9. Begin Again It's a damned shame that John Carney's follow-up to Once got lost in the shuffle this year. Mark Ruffalo shines as the alcoholic music producer who loses his faith, marriage, and career in one fell swoop. Keira Knightley helps him get his groove back. No, it doesn't end like you think it will. And I challenge you to shake "Lost Stars" from your head afterwards.

8. Calvary Brendan Gleeson is a widowed priest with an estranged daughter and seven days to live. Sold. That writer/director John Michael McDonagh uses a small Irish village as a microcosm for a fallen planet (indeed, the playground for an absentee God) is icing on the cake for one of the year's darkest, smartest, and most heartfelt films of the year.

7. Whiplash Damien Chazelle's mad jazz pic brings us the year's greatest clash of personalities in J.K. Simmons' perfectionist-asshole music teacher and Miles Teller's ambitious, not-quite-driven-enough student. Despite some minor story problems, Whiplash effectively conveys the lunatic power of creative obsession and doesn't let the audience go without getting its blood on the cymbals.

6. Under the Skin Scarlett Johansson's turn as an alien studying what makes us tick is one of the headiest, creepiest, and most seductive things I saw all year. Jonathan Glazer's surreal, sexy, and unflinching look at what makes us tick will unnerve you and change the way you look at Black Widow forever. A note to parents: nothing can prepare you for the beach scene. Nothing.

5. Only Lovers Left Alive It's an existentialism double-whammy on the Top 14 list. Only Lovers Left Alive looks at mortal love through the eyes of bored, ageless vampires living on the outskirts of Detroit. Leave it to Jim Jarmusch to turn a mopey undead duo into the catalyst for a life-affirming sensory overload of music, production design, and mesmerizing performances by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston.

4. Chef Jon Favreau's movie about a gourmet chef reinventing his career with a food truck works as an honest look at the imperfect balance between creative drive and, well, everything else. The fact that it's also a metaphor for the writer/director's soul-crushing-yet-ultimately-redemptive journey through Hollywood makes it more delicious and layered than one the main character's signature Cubanos. Watch it a second time to get past the seemingly rushed, Disney ending (note, I said "seemingly").

3. Life Itself Steve James' exquisitely honest, all-access documentary follows late film critic Roger Ebert and his powerhouse wife, Chaz, through the final stages of cancer. There is sadness here, but Life Itself isn't a sad movie. It's the capper to a rich life of art appreciation, political activism, and personal demon-slaying that may change not only the way you look at movies but also life itself.

2. Boyhood To create Boyhood, writer/director Richard Linklater followed the same actors for twelve years as they navigated a fictional story about a kid growing up in Texas. Ambition in filmmaking is nice, but history tends to favor outcomes instead of notions. Fortunately, Boyhood delivers on every conceivable level. We watch a family fall apart and re-assemble in various, unexpected configurations; we see a boy become a man; we wonder at an insightful auteur whose ability to wrangle, shape, and distill makes conventional filmmaking look downright primitive.

1. Birdman It's easy to dismiss Birdman as this year's awards-season "gimmick movie": Alejandro Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki want us to believe that their story of Broadway dysfunction and midlife crisis was all shot in a continuous, two-hour take. They succeed spectacularly, in service of a story that cuts to the heart of every artist's journey--with detours into the nature of criticism and man's quest of relevance in a cosmos that has no idea what Twitter is. Michael Keaton leads a top-notch cast of performers who give it their all in a film bursting with ideas, insight, and visual and aural splendor. Even after seeing the film three times in two months, I still can't forgive Iñárritu for that final shot. But I suppose so thoroughly committed to examining life is allowed a smidgen of imperfection.

*Perhaps if I hadn't watched Birdman so many times, I could have made room for more worthy contenders. Sloppy, sloppy.

**In fairness, I still haven't seen John Wick, but I hear great things. 

Monday
Dec222014

CFCA Announce 2014's Top Films and Filmmakers

"Boyhood," Richard Linklater's intimate epic charting the growth and maturation of a boy from the age of 7 to 18 that was filmed over a period of 12 years was the winner of the Chicago Film Critics Association award for the Best Picture of 2014 in a ceremony held Monday, December 15th. In addition to the top prize, the film won two other key awards with Linklater being named Best Director and Patricia Arquette voted Best Supporting Actress for her performance as the boy's mother, who undergoes her own set of changes over that time.

Two other films tied "Boyhood" for the number of awards received. "The Grand Budapest Hotel," Wes Anderson's whimsical comedy-drama about a concierge in a posh European hotel who becomes involved in intrigue while the world teeters on the brink of war earned Anderson the Original Screenplay prize and also won for Art Direction and tied for Best Cinematography. "Whiplash," the acclaimed indie drama charting the battle of wills between a highly ambitious musical prodigy and his teacher, both obsessed with perfection at all costs, saw its writer-director, Damien Chazelle, named Most Promising Filmmaker, co-star J.K. Simmons named Best Supporting Actor for his terrifying turn as the teacher and Tom Cross cited for Editing. The other title with multiple wins, the hallucinatory black comedy "Birdman," earned Michael Keaton the Best Actor award and also shared in the tie for the Cinematography prize.

Among the other winners from the group, now in its 25th year, Julianne Moore was named Best Actress for her heartbreaking performance as a woman stricken with early-onset Alzheimer's in "Still Alice," author Gillian Flynn won the Adapted Screenplay award for the adaptation of her best-seller "Gone Girl," rising star Jack O'Connell was named Most Promising Performer for his performances in the dramas "Starred Up" and "Unbroken" and Mica Levi won Best Original Score for the trippy soundscapes of "Under the Skin." The Foreign-Language Film award went to the dark comedy "Force Majeure" and "The Lego Movie" took the prize for Animated Feature. Finally, "Life Itself," Steve James's celebration of the life and work of the late Roger Ebert, was named Best Documentary.

All winners are listed below, and all films nominated in 2014 can be found here.

Follow @ChicagoCritics on Twitter for organization and member news, as well as updates on the 2015 Chicago Critics Film Festival.

The third annual Chicago Critics Film Festival will run May 1-7, 2015, at the Music Box Theatre. Screening information and special guest appearances will be announced as they are confirmed on both Twitter and ChicagoCriticsFilmFestival.com.

For further information on the awards or the Chicago Film Critics Association in general, please contact either CFCA president Dann Gire or board member Erik Childress at the following:

Dann Gire
Phone #: (847) 650-4229
dgire@dailyherald.com

Erik Childress
Phone #: (847) 439-5750
kgouda@aol.com

THE 2014 CHICAGO FILM CRITICS AWARDS WINNERS

(For all films nominated for 2014 awards consideration, click here.)

BEST PICTURE: Boyhood

BEST DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater -- Boyhood

BEST ACTOR: Michael Keaton -- Birdman

BEST ACTRESS: Julianne Moore -- Still Alice

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: J.K. Simmons -- Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Patricia Arquette -- Boyhood

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Wes Anderson -- The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Gillian Flynn -- Gone Girl

BEST ART DIRECTION: The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY (TIE): Birdman -- Emmanuel Lubezki and The Grand Budapest Hotel -- Robert Yeoman

BEST EDITING: Whiplash -- Tom Cross

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Under the Skin -- Mica Levi

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: The Lego Movie

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Life Itself

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM: Force Majeure

MOST PROMISING PERFORMER: Jack O'Connell -- Starred Up/Unbroken

MOST PROMISING FILMMAKER: Damien Chazelle -- Whiplash

Friday
Dec122014

CFCA Announce 2014 Award Nominees

From The Chicago Film Critics Association:

Although an especially nasty and vituperative critic was one of the many characters on display in the film "Birdman," the Chicago Film Critics Association apparently held no grudges, if the nominations for the group's 2014 film awards are any indication. The hallucinatory black comedy about a washed-up movie star desperately trying to restart his flagging career with a turn on Broadway led all comers with nine nominations, including Best Picture, nods for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, Michael Keaton for Best Actor, Edward Norton for Best Supporting Actor, Emma Stone for Best Supporting Actress and additional nominations for Cinematography, Editing and Original Score.

In second place with eight nominations was "The Grand Budapest Hotel," Wes Anderson's whimsical comedy-drama about a concierge in a posh European hotel who becomes involved in intrigue while the world teeters on the brink of war. In addition to Best Picture and nominations for Anderson for Director and Original Screenplay, it was also cited for Art Direction/Set Production Design, Cinematography, Editing, Original Score and newcomer Tony Revolori landed in the Most Promising Performer category. Following up with seven nominations was "Boyhood," Richard Linklater's intimate epic charting the growth and maturation of a boy over the course of a 12-year shooting period. In addition to Best Picture and Director/Original Screenplay slots for Linklater, there were nominations for Ethan Hawke for Supporting Actor, Patricia Arquette for Supporting Actress, Ellar Coltrane, the boy at the center of it all, for Most Promising Performer and a nod for Best Editing.

The acclaimed indie drama "Whiplash," charting the battle of wills between a highly ambitious musical prodigy and his teacher, both obsessed with perfection at all costs, came up with five nominations, including Best Picture, Original Screenplay for writer-director Damien Chazelle, Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons's terrifying turn as the teacher and Best Editing. In a surprise, the fifth Best Picture slot was filled by "Under the Skin," Jonathan Glazer's alternately creepy and erotic sci-fi drama about an alien in human form wandering through the streets of Scotland looking for. . . something--the film also earned Scarlett Johannson a Best Actress nod for her performance as the alien as well as slots in the Adapted Screenplay and Original Score categories. The year's other mind-bending sci-fi film, "Interstellar," earned Christopher Nolan a Best Director nomination and additional citations for Art Direction/Production Design, Cinematography and Original Score.

Among the other notable standouts in this year's crop of nominees, British actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne find themselves going head-to-head in the Best Actor category for playing troubled geniuses in, respectively, "The Imitation Game" and "The Theory of Everything," the controversial "Gone Girl" received nominations for David Fincher for Director, Rosamund Pike for Actress, author Gillian Flynn for Adapted Screenplay and Editing and the adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's screw-loose detective novel "Inherent Vice" earned nominations for celebrated filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson for Adapted Screenplay, Josh Brolin for Supporting Actor and Cinematography. Foreign titles were also represented in several key categories as well--beside being cited in the Foreign-Language Film category, "Ida" earned nods for Supporting Actress (Agata Kulesza), Promising Performer (Agata Trzebuchowska) and Cinematography while the wrenching Belgian drama "Two Days, One Night" earned Marion Cotillard a Best Actress nomination. "Life Itself," Steve James's celebration of the life and work of the late Roger Ebert, was nominated for Best Documentary alongside such equally acclaimed titles as "Citizenfour," "Jodorowsky's Dune," "Last Days in Vietnam" and "The Overnighters."

Now in its 25th year, the CFCA will announce its winners during our year-end awards dinner to be held on the evening of December 15, 2014. Follow @ChicagoCritics on Twitter for the real-time announcement. 

BEST PICTURE

Birdman

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Under the Skin

Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR

Wes Anderson--The Grand Budapest Hotel

David Fincher--Gone Girl

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu--Birdman

Richard Linklater--Boyhood

Christopher Nolan--Interstellar

BEST ACTOR

Benedict Cumberbatch--The Imitation Game

Jake Gyllenhaal--Nightcrawler

Michael Keaton--Birdman

David Oyelowo--Selma

Eddie Redmayne--The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS

Marion Cotillard--Two Days, One Night

Scarlett Johannson--Under the Skin

Julianne Moore--Still Alice

Rosamund Pike--Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon--Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Josh Brolin--Inherent Vice

Ethan Hawke--Boyhood

Edward Norton--Birdman

Mark Ruffalo--Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons--Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS  

Patricia Arquette--Boyhood

Jessica Chastain--A Most Violent Year

Laura Dern--Wild

Agata Kulesza--Ida

Emma Stone--Birdman 

BEST ORIGNAL SCREENPLAY 

Birdman--Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo

Boyhood--Richard Linklater

Calvary--John Michael McDonagh

The Grand Budapest Hotel--Wes Anderson

Whiplash--Damien Chazelle

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Gone Girl--Gillian Flynn

The Imitation Game--Graham Moore

Inherent Vice--Paul Thomas Anderson

Under the Skin--Walter Campbell

Wild--Nick Hornby

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

Force Majeure

Ida

Mommy

The Raid 2

Two Days, One Night

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Citizenfour

Jodorowsky's Dune

Last Days in Vietnam

Life Itself

The Overnighters

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Big Hero 6

The Boxtrolls

How to Train Your Dragon 2

The Lego Movie

Tales of the Princess Kaguya

BEST ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Interstellar

Into The Woods

Only Lovers Left Alive

Snowpiercer

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Birdman--Emmanuel Lubezki

The Grand Budapest Hotel--Robert Yeoman

Ida--Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal

Inherent Vice--Robert Elswit

Interstellar--Hoyte Van Hoytema 

BEST EDITING 

Birdman--Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrion

Boyhood--Sandra Adair

Gone Girl--Kirk Baxter

The Grand Budapest Hotel--Barney Pilling

Whiplash--Tom Cross

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Birdman--Antonio Sanchez

The Grand Budapest Hotel--Alexandre Desplat

The Imitation Game--Alexandre Desplat

Interstellar--Hans Zimmer

Under the Skin--Mica Levi

MOST PROMISING PERFORMER

Ellar Coltrane--Boyhood

Gugu Mbatha-Raw--Belle/Beyond the Lights

Jack O'Connell--Starred Up/Unbroken

Tony Revolori--The Grand Budapest Hotel

Jenny Slate--Obvious Child

Agata Trzebuchowska--Ida

MOST PROMISING FILMMAKER

Damien Chazelle--Whiplash

Dan Gilroy--Nightcrawler

Jennifer Kent--The Babadook

Jeremy Saulnier--Blue Ruin

Justin Simien--Dear White People

Nominations By The Numbers

9--Birdman

8--The Grand Budapest Hotel

7--Boyhood

5--Whiplash

4--Gone Girl, Ida, Interstellar, Under the Skin

3--The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, Wild

2--Nightcrawler, Two Days, One Night

1--The Babadook, Belle, Beyond the Lights, Big Hero 6, Blue Ruin, The Boxtrolls, Calvary, Citizenfour, Dear White People, Force Majeure, Foxcatcher, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Into the Woods, Jodorowsky's Dune, Last Days in Vietnam, The Lego Movie, Life Itself, Mommy, A Most Violent Year, Obvious Child, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Overnighters, The Raid 2, Selma, Snowpiercer, Starred Up, Still Alice, Tale of the Princess Kaguya, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken

Wednesday
Oct152014

A Night with THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING's Eddie Redmayne

Sometimes, harsh weather is awesome. Case in point: I attended a private reception for the upcoming Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything last night--which coincided with some nasty Chicago rain. After ten minutes of waiting in the Showplace ICON theatre's empty VIP lounge, I wondered if I'd made a horrible scheduling mistake.

Fortunately, I was soon joined by fellow critics/new friends Erika Olson from Redblog, and Jeanne and David Kaplan of Kaplan vs. Kaplan. We snacked, sipped, and collectively wondered where the hell everyone was. Twenty minutes into the event, star Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn, Les Miserables) strolled up to our group and plopped down in a black wooden chair (refusing to let anyone surrender one of our comfy white leather seats).

In total, Redmayne held court with six people for forty minutes--and not in a "ninetieth-stop-on-the-press-junket" way. He was casual, humble, open, and inquisitive, asking the group as much about our craft as film critics as we asked him about his amazing acting career. We also talked about the weather, and he marveled at The Windy City's eerie, rolling storm clouds (which, he remarked, are different than the ones back home in London).

I was recorder-free at the time, and can't offer up any quotes--but a few anecdotes stand out:

  • Both Hawking and Redmayne attended the University of Cambridge. The actor once saw Hawking in person, from afar, but never imagined playing him in a movie.
  •  Redmayne's interest in science peaked at age thirteen. He was drawn to The Theory of Everything both by Hawking's genius and by an extraordinary life story he felt deserved wider appreciation.
  • In preparation for filming, Redmayne spent over four months studying with doctors and patients at ALS treatment centers in the UK. The degenerative disease, he said, affects each person uniquely. He worked with a specialist to map out the particulars of Hawkings' movements, based solely on photographs taken at different phases of his life.
  • Due to scheduling conflicts, Redmayne and Hawking couldn't meet in person until five days before shooting began.
  • While on a break during filming of The Other Boleyn Girl, co-star Scarlett Johansson made a reference to The Big Lebowski--which Redmayne didn't understand. The theatre geek had spent his formative years not engrossed in classic cinema (he'd hadn't seen The Godfather, either). Johannson made a project out of asking everyone on set for their top five favorite films. She compiled a list that remains part of Redmayne's ongoing movie homework.*

A little after 7pm, Redmayne headed downstairs to introduce an advance screening of The Theory of Everything, and to participate in a Q&A hosted by The Chicago Sun-Times' Bill Zwecker. He posed for some quick pictures beforehand and warmly wished us a great evening. I didn't get to tell him what I thought of his performance afterwards (you'll have to wait 'til November 14th to read my review of the film).

Suffice it to say, the Oscar drum beat isn't just awards-season noise. Eddie Redmayne is the real deal, a bona fide force of nature.

Special thanks to Focus Features and Allied Integrated Marketing for this intimate and entertaining evening.

* Turns out this is not a new story, but Redmayne's delivery was as fresh as if it had happened last week.