If you’re looking to get into the Christmas spirit early you should at the very least like “Love the Coopers,” a dysfunctional family comedy that avoids the trappings of the genre as it winds down to a predictable yet very sweet conclusion.
Diane Keaton and John Goodman star as Charlotte and Sam Cooper, whose marriage has soured after 40 years together. Wanting to gather their family together for one last Christmas before they split, the Coopers struggle to hold it together as their children and extended family each make their respective treks to the family household.
“Love the Coopers” plays out in five individual stories before the family gathering, as we follow the complicated lives of Cooper children Hank (Ed Helms) and Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), grandpa Bucky (Alan Arkin), Charlotte’s sister, Emma (Marisa Tomei), and of course, Charlotte and Sam.
Hank is going through a divorce and is in search of a job, while Eleanor has a mess of a love life until she meets a soldier (Jake Lacy) on leave. Bucky, a lonesome widower, is distraught that his good friend, Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) is moving away; while Emma struggles to come to terms with her longtime sibling rivalry with Charlotte. Also involved wrapped up in the family trials are a taciturn police officer (Anthony Mackie), an eccentric aunt (June Squibb) and Hank’s estranged wife (Alex Borstein) and their lovelorn teenage son, Charlie (Timothee Chalamet).
“Love the Coopers” feels like a number of different films, from “Home for the Holidays” to “A Christmas Story,” because the story is aided with a wise, introspective narration. It also feels a lot like “Love, Actually,” because it starts out with separate stories that eventually intertwine.
Despite its shortcomings, “Love the Coopers” works because it could have easily gone the way of a screwball comedy, yet instead relies on its gifted cast’s talents as actors whom possess natural gifts for both drama and comedy. It has a surprising blend of humor and poignancy, all while telling us a story we all know too well: Families are complicated. But since the Coopers are loaded with family members you can relate to, don’t be surprised if you leave the film with a big smile on your face.
“Spotlight” (R) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams head up an all-star cast in writer-director Thomas McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” a compelling film about the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team’s investigation into the Boston Archdiocese child sex abuse scandal – a report that led to a falling out in the Catholic Church and exposure of hundreds more scandals in parishes nationwide.
Set largely in 2001 – in the days before the Wild West journalism of the Internet (and a sad reminder of how investigative journalism is currently on life support) – “Spotlight” follows editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), reporters Michael Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) as the team digs into allegations of child molestation against defrocked priest John Geoghan. As it turns out, Geoghan is only the tip of a very large iceberg, leading the reporters to groundbreaking investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-ups of child sex abuse by defrocked, and in some cases, reassigned, priests.
“Spotlight” runs the gamut of emotions. You’ll feel sadness hearing the tragic revelations of abuse survivors in interviews conducted by reporters; and anger when you see the thinly-veiled threats by the church’s powerful supporters as Spotlight is urged to back off its investigation. There’s also frustration as journalists desperately try to get sensitive court documents unsealed, and disbelief as the reporters uncover a coded system in the church’s records to detect how priests accused of abuse were dealt with in a very large and convoluted system.
In the end, “Spotlight” is a very difficult film to watch, but an important film to watch nonetheless. It’s easily one of the best films of the year.
The 87th annual Oscars are Sunday night, bringing to an end another controversial awards season. At this point with all the guild awards decided, it’s pr
etty clear who and what film will win the big prize, although I personally hope for some big upsets just to keep the perennial overlong night interesting.
As usual, my predictions aren’t a reflection of who and what I hope will win, but educated guesses based on voting trends throughout the awards season. Of course, no one — no one — is a sure thing (remember Juliette Binoche upsetting Lauren Bacall?), so included in the picks is a wild card in each major category.
Best Supporting Actress nominees: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”; Laura Dern, “Wild”; Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”; Emma Stone, “Birdman”; Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods.”
Analysis: This category will likely signal the overrated “Boyhood’s” only big win for the night, but if any categories have upsets, it’s the supporting acting ones. Perennial nominee Streep generally bulldozes everyone she’s up against, and this year is no different. Arquette’s performance is the best of all those in “Boyhood,” but all the awards love for the movie is still mystifying.
Count Arquette’s win as the Academy’s tip of the cap to the year’s most gimmicky movie. A Dern win would be a salute to not one, but three Hollywood acting stalwarts: Dern and her parents Bruce Dern (who should have won for “Nebraska” last year) and Diane Ladd, but don’t hold your breath.
Will Win: Arquette.
Should Win: Streep.
Potential Upset: Dern.
Best Supporting Actor nominees: Robert Duvall, “The Judge”; Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”; Edward Norton, “Birdman”; Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”; J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash.”
Analysis: Not only has Simmons proven to be a great actor who has consistently delivered in his roles over the years, his turn as the vitriolic jazz conservatory conductor in “Whiplash” is hands-down the best nominated performance across all of the categories.
“Birdman” is shaping up to be this year’s awards juggernaut, and Norton — who is brilliant in the movie — could be a benefactor of that. Duvall, who is terrific as usual in “The Judge,” would be a shoo-in as a sentimental winner, but he already has an Oscar thanks to “Tender Mercies.”
Will Win: Simmons
Should Win: Simmons.
Potential Upset: Norton.
Best Actress nominees: Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”; Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”; Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”; Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”; Reese Witherspoon, “Wild.”
Analysis: With five Oscar nominations (including this year) to her credit, Moore is long-overdue. But this award isn’t being earned by Moore for sentimental purposes: Her turn as an early-onset Alzheimer’s disease patient is heartbreaking and emotionally exhausting, and one that stays with you long after the credits roll.
Cotillard (who previously upset Julie Christie, oddly enough, in Christie’s Alzheimer’s-themed movie “Away From Her”) and Witherspoon don’t have a chance because they’re won in the category before and it’s hard to repeat, and Jones, while great, is simply over-matched in the category. An upset for Pike’s ultimate ice queen role in “Gone Girl” would be a way to rectify the Academy huge oversights in several categories — including Best Picture and Best Director (for David Fincher) — in what is easily one of the best films of the year.
Will Win: Moore.
Should Win: Moore.
Potential Upset: Pike.
Best Actor nominees: Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”; Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”; Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”; Michael Keaton, “Birdman”; Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything.”
Analysis: Keaton’s career performance in “Birdman” has dominated most of this year’s awards season, and since he’s sidestepped personal controversy (i.e., he’s said all the right things in his acceptance speeches and has been genuinely gracious) the award has been his to lose. Keaton is brilliant in the role with a fine mix of comedy and drama, but Cooper took the biggest risk with his moving, understated turn as late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.
It’s not a flashy role, but yet somehow you can sense the inner-turmoil of Kyle as deals with the stress of the battlefield and suppressing his emotions on the home front. It’s an amazingly subtle role and a gutsy move for an Cooper since it flies in the face of Hollywood’s political ideas.
As much as Cooper deserves to win, the only possible person capable of upsetting Keaton is Redmayne, who gives a “My Left Foot” Daniel Day-Lewis-caliber performance as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.” His unlikely Screen Actors Guild upset opened the door for a possible upset at the Oscars, but don’t bet on it. Carell’s and Cumberbatch’s nominations are well deserved, so don’t be surprised to see future noms, especially for the latter.
Will Win: Keaton.
Should Win: Cooper.
Potential Upset: Redmayne.
Best Picture nominees: “American Sniper”; “Birdman”; “Boyhood”; “The Grand Budapest Hotel”; “The Imitation Game”; “Selma”; “The Theory of Everything”; “Whiplash.”
Analysis: The race all along this awards season has appeared to be an even match between “Birdman” and “Boyhood,” but then a surprising surge with “American Sniper” (and a $300 million North American box office) with a strong showing in the nominations suddenly made the race that much more interesting.
Conventional thinking at the moment points to a big night for “Birdman,” since it has taken top honors with the Producers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America (for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – who will also win the Best Director Oscar) and the Screen Actors Guild Best Ensemble Award (the equivalent for a Best Picture prize) — so don’t be shocked when it when it wins the Best Picture Oscar.
As refreshing and inventive as “Birdman” is, remember 2015 as the year the chickens come home to roost on Hollywood. The Academy will appear completely out of touch with Middle America for not naming “American Sniper” its Best Picture; even more so if it goes the upset route and names the low-budget, gimmicky “Boyhood” as “the best.”
A film that rightfully puts the focus squarely on the American soldier and his or her families (and avoids the politics of war), “American Sniper” has had a profound emotional experience on viewers, and it will no doubt enrage them when it is passed over (watch out, Twitter!). Ultimately, if one film is going to make Hollywood stand up and listen to its audiences, this is the one, but they’re too afraid to honor a movie with ties to the right wing by default.
It takes no more than a matter of seconds of watching “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” to draw the conclusion that Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu wrote his dizzying opus solely for veteran “Batman” actor Michael Keaton.
But wishing someone like Keaton would star in his film, Iñárritu said, and having him actually committing to it, are two different things — especially for a man whose career path mirrors the film’s narrative so closely in real life.
“I think Michael was always in my mind, that Michael was always the best for the part, and I don’t think it would be nearly what it is without him,” Iñárritu told me in a recent interview. “I never try to write a script for anybody specifically because it could be very traumatic for me if for some reason the person would not do it. But once I finished the script, I knew that he would be the best choice.”
Expanding into more theaters Friday, “Birdman” stars Keaton as Riggan Thompson, struggling former film star whose life is in the dumps after starring in three blockbuster “Birdman” movies more than two decades before. His apparent salvation lies in a Broadway play, an all-or-nothing comeback piece in which he stars, directs and produces.
Before he launches into the critical preview period, however, Riggan has to confront a nasty nest full of problems, including the personal issues of a grown-up daughter (Emma Stone) he never really knew; a cast of helplessly neurotic actors including an arrogant Broadway star (Ed Norton) who does his best to sabotage the play at every turn; and a vicious theater critic whose all-powerful reviews can either give life to or quickly kill every production that dares to tread the boards on the Great White Way.
Hovering above the potential disaster-in-the-making, though, is Riggan’s Birdman alter-ego, which has become such a part of his life that he appears to take on the character’s mystical powers at times, and is often haunted by the superhero’s gravelly voice. Fending off interviewers who really only care if there will be a fourth “Birdman” film, Riggan knows he will only truly be set free if he can stage a performance to kill off his blue feathered character once and for all.
Iñárritu, whose previous films include the Oscar-nominated “Babel” and the heartbreaking drama “21 Grams,” says the idea, while mirroring the travails of a former superhero star, actually comes from the voices he hears while struggling with his ego.
“There’s a voice that we all have that judges us and punishes us,” Iñárritu said. “The voice that I hear especially during the creative process, that is full of doubts and is never satisfied. Perfection can always drive you crazy. I can be very cruel with myself sometimes. The ego works in a very tyrannical, data ship mode.”
Iñárritu said once he became aware of that “inner voice” concept, he thought it would be a great theme for somebody in a movie. But translating those complex thoughts isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do, as he found out.
“It took me a long time to come up with that abstract of having a presence like that which is so intense,” Iñárritu said. “It’s in all of us, but at the same time it’s very silent. Still it manipulates all of us. It’s important that it awakens you and you see it clearly, because if not, you are f—-d.”
During the long creative process of “Birdman,” Iñárritu said he had lunch in Mexico one day with Tim Burton, who prior to 1989’s “Batman” and 1992’s “Batman Returns” worked with Keaton on the classic supernatural comedy “Beetlejuice” in 1988. Iñárritu said Burton’s insights into Keaton were invaluable.
“He told me that Michael, beside his funny side, has a very, very dark side to him, and it’s true,” Iñárritu said. “He said that Michael is a very complex person, a beautiful human being and a very self-assured guy who can really navigate through drama and comedy. That’s why I wanted him, beyond the fact that he was Batman and the reality he could bring to the film. There are few actors that can bring the complex nature that this character needed. The fact that he can navigate through both genres is unique.”
While Keaton is naturally the focus of “Birdman,” the fragile states of Riggan’s fellow actors – Norton, Naomi Watts and Andrew Riseborough — are also examined in the film. And having worked with many different performers over the years, Iñárritu says actors can be very vulnerable due to the nature of the profession, if not a bit bat-s–t crazy at times, as demonstrated in “Birdman.”
“The nature of acting is very complex, because in order to be good, they can’t be themselves. It’s a very strange job to pretend to be others,” the filmmaker said. “It’s very difficult and puts them in a very vulnerable position, and they so much on others, the material and the applause. It’s a lone wolf way of living, yet at the same time fantastic. It’s a journey through their own kind of consciousness and knowledge. They have to be very perceptive, very sensitive and they have to look very deeply into life and reabsorb it. It’s complex and a little cuckoo, I guess.”
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers