Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Delaney Raye
If you were to show somebody a painting of a Campbell’s soup can, chances are that they could identify it as the work of Andy Warhol. But show them a piece from Margaret Keane’s equally popular Big Eyes series, however, and although they’d admit their familiarity with the kitschy paintings, they’d be less likely to name the artist, let alone know the strange-but-true story behind them. That’s the subject of Tim Burton’s latest movie, his first live-action feature to not star Johnny Depp in over a decade. But while it’s a bit of a departure for the oddball director, “Big Eyes” is his best film in years, even if that comes off like a backhanded compliment considering some of the garbage (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Dark Shadows”) he’s released.
The year is 1958, a time when it was still fairly unheard of for a woman to leave her husband, but Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams) has done just that, escaping the boredom of suburbia with her daughter Jane (Delaney Raye) for a fresh start in San Francisco. It’s there that she meets smooth-talking artist Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) at a local art fair, and after hitting it off, the two don’t waste any time getting married. Though Walter hasn’t found much success with his uninspired paintings of Parisian street scenes, he notices something special in Margaret’s wide-eyed waifs and rents some space in a nightclub to show off their artwork. When a couple patrons mistakenly credit Walter with painting one of Margaret’s Big Eyes (after all, they both sign their art “Keane”), he doesn’t bother to correct them in order to close the sale. Margaret gets furious when she finds out that Walter has been passing off her work as his own, but he insists that they’re a team, and before she knows it, the lie has grown so big that she’s unable to stop it in fear that the whole Keane empire, and her life’s work, will be tarnished in the process.
Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K, Michael Peña
David O. Russell
David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” opens with a title card that playfully states: “Some of this actually happened.” But considering that the movie was originally titled “American Bullshit” and is populated with characters who are bullshit specialists, it’s meant to be taken with a fairly large grain of salt. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Russell has adapted what was an already outlandish story into a ’70s-styled farce filled with a flying circus of conmen, feds, politicians and casino mobsters. Immensely entertaining, impeccably structured and featuring excellent performances from its entire cast, “American Hustle” is one of the year’s absolute best films and a serious contender for every major award.
When we first meet Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), he’s seen carefully assembling his elaborate comb over with a combination of a toupee, glue and lots of hairspray. But what the paunchy conman lacks in good looks, he makes up for with confidence and intellect, which is what’s made him so successful at ripping people off. Everything changes when he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a former stripper who partners with Irving under the guise of a British businesswoman with royal connections named Lady Edith. Their business practically triples overnight, drawing the attention of ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who catches the pair red-handed and forces them to work undercover for the bureau. Richie wants to make a name for himself by taking down some white-collar criminals, and his first target is Camden mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a family man so desperate to revitalize the New Jersey economy that he’s willing to get his hands a little dirty in the process. It quickly turns into a game of who’s conning who, and yet the one thing that threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down isn’t their mistrust in each other, but Irving’s unpredictable wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).
Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne
Marvel and DC Comics may be viewed as equals in the publishing arena, but the latter is hopelessly losing the battle when it comes to their respective film divisions. While Marvel has released one hit after the next (culminating in last year’s mega hit “The Avengers”), DC has failed to launch a single successful franchise other than Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. 2006’s “Superman Returns” was a big disappointment, 2011’s “Green Lantern” was even worse, and Joss Whedon’s long-mooted Wonder Woman project was ultimately axed, leading him to direct the aforementioned “Avengers” for the competition.
But in trying to reboot their Superman franchise, parent company Warner Bros. did something very smart – they enlisted the aid of Nolan and Batman co-writer David S. Goyer to usher in a new era of Kyrpton’s favorite son. And if “Man of Steel” is any indication, that was a great move on the part of the studio, not only because they’ve finally managed to do Superman right, but because it shows that they’re thinking about the bigger picture, both for their flagship character and the DC movie universe as a whole.
“Man of Steel” is a giant-sized film with so much on its plate that it takes nearly 30 minutes before Clark Kent/Kal-El (Henry Cavill) even makes his first appearance. The movie opens with a prologue set on Krypton amid a military coup by General Zod (Michael Shannon) in a last-ditch attempt to save their dying planet. But scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) doesn’t agree with Zod taking such desperate measures, and instead launches his newborn son Kal-El (the first natural born Kryptonian in centuries) to Earth in the hope that he can save that planet from making the same mistakes. In the end, Zod and his cronies are captured and sentenced to the Phantom Zone, while Krypton is destroyed.
Everyone has taken that soul-sucking job in order to pay the bills. And while we proles may tease them for living the glamorous life, actors probably take that job more often than anyone, since they never know when the next job is going to come. (Case in point: Michael Madsen told us that he categorizes the movies he’s made as “good,” “bad,” and “unwatchable.”) Putting this theory to the test, we scoured the filmographies of this year’s nominees in the acting categories, looking for movie titles that screamed ‘bad idea.,’ and we were not disappointed with what we found. Jesse Eisenberg, for example, did a TV movie called “Lightning: Fire from the Sky,” which will be the main feature at our next Bad Movie night. Here are ten other films that this year’s candidates would probably prefer remained unseen.
Colin Firth (Best Actor, “The King’s Speech”)
Movie: Femme Fatale (1991) IMDb rating: 4.6 The plot: An English artist-turned park ranger falls for and marries a stranger, only for her to disappear days later. As he learns more about his wife, he gets deeper and deeper into the Los Angeles underworld looking for clues that will lead him to her. Firth’s character: Joe Prince, the aforementioned artist/ranger. How bad is it?: You may not see the ending coming, but that is about the only thing this movie has going for it. Armed with one of the most awkward love scenes we’ve seen in ages, this movie does not gel on any level, using mental illness as a means of providing psychological depth, not to mention Acting!, with that last word ideally spoken like Jon Lovitz. Firth is actually passable here, given the material, and Danny Trejo pops up as a tattoo artist. But you can bet that when someone assembles a clip show of Firth’s finest moments, this movie will not make the cut.
Jeremy Renner (Best Supporting Actor, “The Town”)
Movie: National Lampoon’s Senior Trip (1995) IMDb rating: 4.9 The plot: A group of delinquent kids takes a bus trip to Washington D.C. to tell the President first-hand what is wrong with the education system, something a couple of corrupt politicians intend to exploit. Renner’s character: Mark “Dags” D’agostino, a slacker stoner. With pierced ears. How bad is it?: Put it this way: the first actor listed in the credits is Matt “Max Headroom” Frewer, and the movie’s few laughs come from Tommy Chong as the drug-addled bus driver. On the “National Lampoon” movie scale, this one lands somewhere in between “Class Reunion” and “Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj.”