Now that the Oscar nominations for 2014 film releases have been announced, there’s been some time for controversies to build over such topics as exclusions (here, there, and everywhere but primarily about Selma’s director and lead actor being left out) and red-blue clashes over content (primarily about whether American Sniper is a jingoistic pro-war diatribe—as critics such as Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore have charged—or is it an anti-war statement that shows the devastating impact that combat has on its participants, as claimed by director Clint Eastwood). There’s also been time for some of the other major awards to be bestowed so that Oscar races come more clearly into focus, especially the one for Best Actress where it would seem to take an “act of God” to prevent Julianne Moore from winning for her portrayal of an early-onset Alzheimer’s victim in Still Alice. While I won’t get into any spoiler territory in these comments (if you’re ready for or past that, I invite you to read my detailed review), I will say that she’s my pick for this honor (as she has been for many award-givers, including—in this case—the relevant Screen Actors Guild) because she manages to blend the terror, temporary coping strategies, increasing confusion, and ultimate (even if undesired) submission of her character’s fate while never sliding into the realm of overwrought dramatics that would cheapen this well-told tale. I highly recommend Still Alice to you, unless the topic just proves too painful to watch for those who’ve had family/friend experience with this horrible version of identity theft that plagues far too many.
Two others, of a considerably lesser nature, that I’d also like to call to your attention are the latest offering from Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice (based on a truly wacky novel by Thomas Pynchon), and a British production which seems to be set somewhere in continental Europe, The Duke of Burgundy, a title actually referring to a rather rare species of butterfly rather than a character in a French location. The former actually has scored Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Achievement in Costume Design, along with being a reasonable critical success (while generating some highly-divergent opinions) without much traction at the box-office despite being in release for 7 weeks. All I can say about it (even if I tried to offer spoilers here I doubt I could be successful, given how [intentionally?] convoluted the plot becomes) is that I enjoyed its consistent craziness, although it may come off as too reminiscent of The Big Lebowski in that regard. As for The Duke of Burgundy, you’ll really have to hunt to find it (only in 3 theaters nationwide on its opening weekend, including one in my San Francisco area) but even if you do you then have to decide if the story of a lesbian couple in a domination/submission scenario is really up your alley. Don’t go just for sexual titillation either because that’s not really the focus. Even more so than the others in consideration here, The Duke … is racking up strong critical numbers (based on a much smaller batch of reviews, though), but without going into any details I’ll just say that the power dynamic being explored could be summed up by an old joke (although there aren’t even attempts at humor in this film): A masochist says, “Beat me” but the sadist says, “No.”
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