Con Err

Con Err

Focus mistakenly emphasizes romance over sleight of hand
If a real-world con game has to be meticulously constructed in order to work, a movie about con games — like Focus — has to be even more meticulously constructed. As Focus's professional con-man "hero" Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) informs his new would-be protégé, Jess (Margot Robbie), a successful con is all about diverting the attention of the "mark," and this is true of a movie con and its audience as well.

Seashell Secrets

Song of the Sea is a beautiful story of siblings struggling to cope and understand each other
Five years ago Irish director Tomm Moore's debut film, The Secret of Kells, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. In a déjà vu-like turn of events, the director's sophomore work, 2014's Song of the Sea, was also up for the same award, though this time arguably amidst a much deeper field that included Big Hero 6 (2015's Oscar winner), The Boxtrolls and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.

The Contenders

A look at this year's Oscar field
Even if the Academy decided not to utilize its maximum number of Best Picture nominees, this year's Oscars features one of the strongest fields in recent memory. There could easily be some upsets come Sunday, but here's how we think things will shape up.

Extreme and Compelling

Timbuktu vividly tackles the complexities of modern Islam
Given many people's tendency to think of all Muslims as the kinds of extremists willing to support religion-fueled attacks on innocents, the brilliant Timbuktu comes along at a perfect moment to elucidate the diversity of Islam, and the cultural battles happening within the religion. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars, Timbuktu combines stunning images of sub-Saharan Mali with simple but satisfying storytelling.

Hardly Gentlemanly

Kingsman is a spy movie that manages to defy its own mission
This is not a gentlemanly movie. Now, most movies are not very gentlemanly, and this isn't necessarily a problem — except, perhaps, to those of us who lament the passing of true gentlemanliness as a thing a man might aspire to.

Working for a Living

Two Days, One Night puts life on the financial precipice in the spotlight
For the past 18 years and over the course of six feature films, Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have carefully chronicled the lives of the underprivileged, the unemployed and the lost souls who invariably get discarded, as modernity and capitalism move inexorably forward in a society that neither cares for nor wants anything to do with them. These stories of abandoned children, undocumented immigrants, and people pushed to the margins of society have wowed critics (two Palme d'Ors, putting them in rare company) and influenced more than a few directors (paging Darren Aronofsky), but apart from the art-house crowd, their films have not made much of an impact here in the U.S. So does recruiting international movie star Marion Cotillard for their new film mark an attempt to break into the mainstream?

Wrung Out

Creativity dries up in The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
I imagine this is how the idea for The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water came about. Studio executive: "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004) came out before the 3-D craze, leaving money on the table.

Beyond the Matrix

The Wachowskis return to form with Jupiter Ascending
OK, so it's the beginning of February. A little early to start thinking about my Top 10 list for the films of 2015.

Short Takes

Masterful storytelling happens in a hurry for the Oscar-nominated short films
Given how brief attention spans are these days, one would think short films would be enjoying a boom in popularity and a much higher profile. As it is, shorts remain largely unseen except among the most die-hard of film geeks.

Tough Issues

Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer provide a thoughtful meditation on race in Black or White
Originally titled Black and White, then changed, with no explanation, to Black or White, this second teaming of writer-director Mike Binder and star Kevin Costner (their first was the overlooked 2005 dramady The Upside of Anger) gives us both men wearing their "game on" shoes. It also features a story made timely by the unfortunate overabundance of racially charged headlines these days.

Keep it Like a Secret

Little Accidents is an emotionally devastating look at how we handle death
We don't talk about death. Whatever we might learn about death we keep a secret.


Jennifer Aniston is excellently depressing in Cake
I sometimes wonder why people want to see movies about someone who is suffering. Like The Elephant Man, My Left Foot, The Theory of Everything.

To the Mat

Foxcatcher gives us Steve Carell in a creepy role, but not much else
A palpable sense of doom hangs over the chilling Foxcatcher, like a vulture resembling the beak-nosed billionaire John E. du Pont (a prosthetic-enhanced Steve Carell), who's at the story's twisted center. As the film slowly inches toward its inevitably tragic ending, you can't help but think: Nothing good can come from this.

Coming Home

One soldier's struggle for normalcy tells a bigger story in American Sniper
If movie-world think pieces are any indication, American Sniper is the latest fact-based movie that simply isn't going to be allowed to be a movie. We're apparently not allowed to talk about it without worrying about whether it smoothes over the rough edges of its primary subject, Navy SEAL Chief Chris Kyle, or speculating on its politics because of what we know about director Clint Eastwood and his conversations with empty chairs.

Tough Living

Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman is a Western loaded with historical realities
Tommy Lee Jones' second movie as a director is no conventional Western. Look no further than the direction traveled by the film's characters — west to east — for confirmation.

Dream Into Action

Selma captures the behind-the-scenes work needed to change the world
When we first see Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) in director Ava DuVernay's riveting drama Selma, it's in a context where we're already used to seeing him: He's delivering a speech.


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