Tough Issues

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.

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.

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.

Big Flicks

A list of 2014's top 15 movies that doesn't include Boyhood
A calendar year is as arbitrary a way to recognize greatness as a numbered list is, especially in an era when so many people see movies in places other than theaters. But if nothing else, year-end list-making offers a chance for readers to revisit movies that they might have missed, or reach beyond the box-office champs to find something new for a Netflix queue.

Suds and Cinema: The Royal Tenenbaums


Body and Soul

Unbroken is a "triumph of the human spirit" story that forgets the spirit
A life story generally doesn't fit a neat dramatic arc; this much is a given. When you're telling the cinematic tale of a real-life person — as Unbroken does with the tale of Louis Zamperini — you're going to be deciding what part of a cradle-to-grave timeline is part of your narrative, and what part isn't.

Once Upon a Time

Into the Woods brings a dark set of tales to the screen
I can't recall the last time a film I enjoyed as much as this one also infuriated me. Watching it was the best part: Terrific acting and singing, Oscar-worthy costumes and production design, a wholly imaginative transformation of very familiar stories into something new. The smash stage play, written by James Lapine, and with songs by Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, took a batch of Grimm fairy tales — say hello to Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Jack (of beanstalk fame) — introduced an original story about a baker and his wife who want only to have a baby, then mashed them all up into something new.

Closing the Book

Peter Jackson bids farewell to his hobbits with one last, great movie
Peter Jackson has left Middle-earth. The series is done.

The One Who Knocks

Why an Australian indie called The Babadook became one of 2014's creepiest films
"If it's in a word, or it's in a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook," reads weary Amelia (Essie Davis) to her frightened son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) from a book that has mysteriously appeared in the young boy's bedroom. Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent makes a stunningly assured feature filmmaking debut with this unnerving thriller, which has been racking up numerous awards on the festival circuit and in year-end tallies.

Let My People Go Big

Exodus: Gods and Kings fails when it tries to humanize its spectacle
It's... big. Whatever else you might want to say about Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings, you can't deny that it's big.

Enemy of the State?

Citizenfour brings Edward Snowden's revelations back to the forefront
After watching Pulitzer Prize winner Laura Poitras' new documentary about the early-on brouhaha surrounding government whistleblower Edward Snowden, you've got to wonder why his story — and its devastating revelations — have faded into mere background murmurings in these United (kinda, sorta) States. Unlike the title of this film, which refers to the email handle Snowden first used to contact journalist Glenn Greenwald and then Poitras, Citizenfour is an intimate look at Snowden's life in the days just before his spooky treasure trove went public, then viral.


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