thoughts//TOP TEN JAKE GYLLENHAAL FILMS

TOP TEN

For over 20 years Jake Gyllenhaal has built an impressive filmography while quietly storming the box office. In this weekend's Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal is at his best playing an elusive freelance journalist in a seedy, dark Los Angeles. Critics are raving the film's raw energy and Gyllenhaal's stark performance. Since his early days as a child actor to his recent tenure as a critical and commercial favorite, Gyllenhaal has collected a nice assortment of awards and nominations, including an Academy Award nod for his work in Brokeback Mountain. Gyllenhaal comes from a Hollywood family rich in projects on both the big and small screen. In celebration of his newest endeavor and the Oscar buzz he's generating, here's a look at his best work:

10. OCTOBER SKY (1999)
Directed by Joe Johnston
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern

Set in West Virginia, October Sky is a feel-good coming-of-age tale following Homer, a teenager (Gyllenhaal) growing up in a coal mining town in the late 1950s. While most boys grow up to follow in their fathers' footsteps and enter the cola mining workforce, Homer is inspired by the Sputnik to build his own, homemade rockets. The story is as sappy as an inspiring drama can be, but the Hollywood classiness in the way the story is delivered sets it apart from its made-for-TV counterparts.

9. PROOF (2005)
Directed by John Madden
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal

Based on the play of the same name by David Auburn, Proof is a heartbreaking drama. Paltrow's Catherine is the daughter of a mathematician (Hopkins) who has recently passed away. With the help of one of his former students (Gyllenhaal), she begins to unravel who her father really was before his death. Riddled with painfully honest performances by the entire cast, Proof is the rare small scale drama that translates amazingly from stage to screen. Each word of the script is masterfully portrayed. The film is one of those underdogs worth catching.

8. END OF WATCH (2012)
Directed by David Ayer
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick

Gyllenhaal and Pena star as young LA cops who uncover a secret so perplexing they end up on the run from one of the world's most powerful drug cartels. The film is gritty and intense, taking the audience on a front seat ride through some of the greatest action sequences in recent cinema. Director David Ayer works wonders with the relatively honest portrayal of LA's drug society and that of the cops. Kendrick shows up in a brief, but great, supporting role. It's Gyllenhaal and Pena's chemistry, though, that brings the entire film home.

7. THE GOOD GIRL (2002)
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly

A darling of the festival circuit, The Good Girl tapped into a different side of "Friends" star Aniston and gave Gyllenhaal a more mainstream notoriety, despite the film being a small, indie project. Aniston starred as a woman reinventing herself by having a fling with a young coworker (Gyllenhaal). The movie was a hit at Sundance and gave rise to the fad of big-budget celebrities tackling smaller scale films with great results. There's also a great cameo by a then-not-so-known Zooey Deschanel.

6. BROTHERS (2009)
Directed by Jim Sheridan
Starring Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman

This, like Proof, is another great film that seemed to slip through the cracks a bit. 2009 was a great year for movies, so perhaps that's why this particular film was mostly skipped over come award season. Maguire stars as Sam Cahill, a Marine heading off to a tour in Afghanistan. Before he leaves, he picks up his brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal) from prison and lets him stay with his wife Grace (Portman) and their two daughters. After Sam's aircraft is shot down, and Sam is presumed dead, Tommy vows to help Grace in taking Sam's place. The two become emotionally close before Sam reappears. The ensuing drama is dark, intense, and offers some of the best performances by all three cast members. It's a tour de force film not to be missed.

5. ZODIAC (2007)
Directed by David Fincher
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr.

Before Fincher became the Academy Award favorite that he is now, thanks to The Social Network, his dark, static thrillers were understated and violent in the best way. His style is still apparent, but it's his no-hold-barred approach to stories like Zodiac that really seemed to set him apart. Gyllenhaal plays one of four men bent on finding the Zodiac Killer, an infamous mass murderer wreaking havoc around San Francisco. The true story, based on the book by Robert Graysmith (who Gyllenhaal plays), is all things edge-of-your-seat and classic Fincherian fun. If you like Fincher's earlier works Se7en and Fight Club, Zodiac is a must see.

4. JARHEAD (2005)
Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard

The mid-aughts were a great time for Gyllenhaal's career as best seen in this military movie by acclaimed director Mendes. Gyllenhaal plays the somewhat naïve rookie Marine as he navigates from boot camp into active duty in the midst of war. The film had its own set of hardships as it was released in the midst of the real war in Iraq, but any misconceived notions put in place were actually just food for thought. Gyllenhaal knocked his portrayal of the emotionally disturbed and heavily influenced Swoff out of the park. Equally, Jamie Foxx capitalized on an already impressive few years by bringing a certain humanity to role of the masterfully tough drill sergeant. The film also features some incredible cinematography by the master Roger Deakins. When ranking war films, this one will find its place among the best.

3. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005)
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams

The subject matter of Brokeback Mountain has been the topic of plenty of controversy, but despite that, the film itself is actually a pretty incredible tale of the loss and loneliness that life puts in our paths. Ledger and Gyllenhaal each received Oscar nominations for their work as a ranch-hand and rodeo cowboy who fall in love after meeting while driving cattle through Wyoming. Director Lee tackled the story by providing the perfect mixture of sweeping visuals and beautiful scoring that translates into a great tale of the American spirit. The film often gets pushed to the side, but is deserving of a watch, if not for the performances of Ledger and Gyllenhaal, then for the masterful filmmaking on display.

2. DONNIE DARKO (2001)
Directed by Richard Kelly
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Patrick Swayze

Perhaps Gyllenhaal's truest breakthrough performance was as the deeply disturbed Donnie Darko in this twisting and turning cult favorite. The story of the film's journey to the big screen is almost as interesting as the film itself. Darko is a teenager who goes back and forth between moments of sincerity and disillusion. Gyllenhaal is the perfect mix of charm and rebellion. Each layer of the story is so carefully placed that it practically begs for repeat viewings. There are some great supporting turns that pop up by the likes of Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, Beth Grant, Maggie Gyllenhaal (Jake's sister), and an unknown Seth Rogen. In the years since Donnie Darko's release the film has grown into a highly-praised and widely-loved must-see cult classic. The sequel that followed was not so much.

1. PRISONERS (2013)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano

Featuring the incredibly precise cinematography of Roger Deakins, Prisoners is a edge-of-your-seat thrill ride like none other. Gyllenhaal stars as a detective bent on uncovering the truth behind two missing girls. Jackman plays the father of one of these girls who will stop at nothing to find his daughter, even if that means getting arrested himself. Dano enters the mix as a strange man who is both creepy and innocently peculiar. The twists and turns on display here are top notch. Director Villeneuve masterfully weaves a tale of suspense so rich in quality that it's impossible to watch this and not be moved in some way. It's one of Gyllenhaal's strongest performances. He doesn't let down in any sense of the word. There are clear character choices being made that take this above and beyond your average action thriller.

review//BIRDMAN

Grade: A-

BIRDMAN
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan

This year has already contained a full helping of innovative and unique filmmaking. Inarritu's Birdman is quite the feat. His star, Michael Keaton, is perfectly crafted for this rebirthing of a role and the story, a dark and dramatic comedy, is intriguing enough to keep us watching. But, neither of those pieces are strong enough to stand on there own. What Birdman lacks in the form of brilliance, it makes up for as a display of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's remarkable talents.

Keaton stars as Riggan, a washed up has-been actor whose career peaked after starring in a handful of hugely popular superhero flicks as Birdman. As he's gotten older, and after passing on a fourth sequel to the Birdman franchise, he's struggling with staying relevant. He chalks it up to his drive to leave a legacy, especially for his daughter Sam (a biting turn towards the dramatic for Emma Stone). This ambition leads him to trying to put up a play on Broadway. He is the director and star. But, it's hard to separate blockbuster actor from respected artist. Zach Galifianakis shows up as Riggan's best friend and compatriot through the playmaking process. Naomi Watts is the star-hungry actress whose own insecurities get the best of her. Edward Norton enters as the egotistical douche actor who, in essence, saves the play. And, the interactions between these people lay the groundwork for Riggan's fight or flight survival.

The whole film takes place in the span of a couple of days. When thinking back on the story, a lot goes on in that short span of time. But, it's understandable, assuming Riggan's emotional state has been on the brink for a while. When we first meet him he is meditating, in his underwear, while floating in midair. There are quite a few of these metaphysical moments that occur throughout that are left to the viewer to make sense of. It's an allegory that can be discussed over and over. Riggan also wrestles the muffled, tough-guy sound of his Birdman character's voice invading his thoughts while he's at his lowest. The voice serves as a loud, abrasive conscience motivating him to do what he's always done and just give up on these people and this project and focus on what makes him happy. This, too, is a throwback to the life he must've led before we met him.

His relationships are key, even if he doesn't realize that at first. He isn't close to his daughter, which could be the reason she gravitated towards drugs and the "wrong crowd." His ex-wife (Amy Ryan) is fully supportive of him, but also weary of the man he's become. His new lover Laura, an actress in the play (played to Hollywood ingénue perfection by Andrea Roseborough), is struggling to find her own dignity through him. He's relied upon by many, but forgets how to handle that.

While wrestling with what is reality and what is fantasy, Riggan, in essence, earns some relevance. It's not in the form he wants, but what exactly is it that he wants? He doesn't seem too sure of how to fix his problems. The film's full title is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). It's a pinpoint on the realm of Riggan and his abundant lack of regard for self or others. He feels like the victim when he's not quite there.

The story has so many facets that are left unopened that repeat viewings may be necessary. Inarritu is clever at laying the foundation of a story so thick that you have nothing to do but talk about one of his films after you've seen it. Unfortunately, this piece isn't quite as moving or gripping as his other films. Babel is a great example of a layered tale rich with pieces of a puzzle that are more alarming the more you watch. The difference here is Inarritu's choice of how we see and experience the film. Lubezki's camerawork is front and center. The entire film is, in essence, one long take. This talking point saw similar discussions as last year's opening shot from Gravity. Birdman is on a masterpiece level during the majority of the film, as far as how everything looks, but there is a point when less would have been more. It's impressive filmmaking, don't get me wrong. I think that it may have become too important that the story happened to suffer just a bit because of it.

The film takes aim at pop culture and the seemingly lack in the art of performance in today's society. There's an interesting moment between Riggan and Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), a highly-respected theater critic who's planning on killing his play. He has quite mouthful of thoughts on the idea of criticism and how it hurts the art world, especially for artists like him. Her rebuttal is equally as poignant. At the end of it all, art is for the viewer just as much as it for the artist. Sometimes those two views collide beautifully and sometimes the meaning gets lost in the work. Inarritu's Birdman fluctuates too much around that middle to live up to the masterpiece I was expecting.

Rating: R
Runtime: 119 minutes

news//'OUIJA' SCARES UP THE NUMBER ONE SPOT OF A QUIET WEEKEND

BOX OFFICE



It was a quiet weekend at the box office when compared to previous weekends. With only two wide releases to tout, studios were hoping for heavy returns to previous weekend winners like Fury and Gone Girl. Newcomers Ouija and John Wick may have come out on top, but neither opened to numbers seen in previous weeks. This weekend is typically a big fall festival weekend around the country and, with great weather in most of the states, there was even more of a reason to stay outside. 

Scary flick Ouija was the victor with a $20 million opening. It was a great number based on the small budget (studio estimates put production at around $5 million) and no-name cast. The film follows a group of young people who open the spirit world after playing with a Ouija board. Following the low-budget scary movie path and the movies-based-on-board-games path, Ouija could be written off as a surprise winner.

Even more of a surprise was the $14 million brought by the Keanu Reeves actioner John Wick. Reeves has a poor track record as of late. Just look at last year's 47 Ronin for proof. Going into the weekend, however, John Wick received mostly positive reviews across the board. The praise definitely helped drive more of an audience. The film could see a nice return by the end of its run.

In holdovers from previous weeks, Fury didn't hold up as much as people thought it would. The Brad Pitt starrer fell 45% in its second week. Gone Girl will become director David Fincher's highest-grossing film sometime this week, having reached $124 million over the weekend.

St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy, jumped from 68 screens to over 2,000. The comedy brought in just over $8 million and is receiving some Oscar buzz, especially for Murray.

At the smaller level, documentary Citizenfour earned $125,172 from five theaters. Birdman, starring Michael Keaton, expanded to 50 theaters, bringing in $1.5 million. That number barely beat Dear White People. The social commentary comedy earned $1.3 million.

Here's a look at the Top Ten:

1. Ouija, $20 million (NEW)

2. John Wick, $14 million (NEW)

3. Fury, $13.5 million (Total: $46.5m)

4. Gone Girl, $11 million (Total: $124m)

5. The Book of Life, $9 million (Total: $29m)

6. St. Vincent, $8.2 million (Total: $9.3m)

7. Alexander...Very Bad Day, $7.1 million (Total: $45.6m)

8. The Best of Me, $4.8 million (Total: $17.7m)

9. The Judge, $4.2 million (Total: $34m)

10. Dracula Untold, $4.2 million (Total: $48m)


nominees//2014 GOTHAM AWARDS

AWARDS COVERAGE



Traditionally the first award nominations announced each year, the Gotham Independent Film Awards celebrate independent film and directors. As independent film has grown in popularity in the last decade or so, several nominees end up joining the list of potential Oscar nominees, such as last year's 12 Years a Slave.

Leading the nominees is Richard Linklater's Boyhood, with four nominations. A special jury prize has been announced for the stars of Foxcatcher: Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo. Special tributes will be given to actress Tilda Swinton, director Bennett Miller, and Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

The awards will be handed out December 1 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York.

Here's a complete look at the nominees.

BEST FEATURE
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Love Is Strange
Under the Skin

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Actress
CITIZENFOUR
Life Itself
Manakamana
Point and Shoot

BINGHAM RAY BREAKTHROUGH DIRECTOR AWARD
Ana Lily Amirpour, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
James Ward Byrkit, Coherence
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
Eliza Hittman, It Felt Like Love
Justin Simien, Dear White People

BEST ACTOR
Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year
Michael Keaton, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Miles Teller, Whiplash

BEST ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Beyond the Lights
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin
Mia Wasikowska, Tracks

BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR
Riz Ahmed, Nightcrawler
Macon Blair, Blue Ruin
Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood
Joey King, Wish I Was Here
Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
Tessa Thompson, Dear White People

 

review//FURY

Grade: A+

FURY
Directed by David Ayer
Starring Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal

Movies set in WWII are a dime a dozen when looking at the war genre. It's a time that has become romanticized in every aspect of the word. American troops are gleamingly the heroes and concentration camps are the one constant that will have everyone choking back tears. As far as movies go, films set in WWII are possibly the most overdone, but welcome, of any other type of movie. There's something inspiring, emotionally, about seeing what the world went through together, even in the most direct or exact moment. David Ayer's Fury is one of those stories. Minute in its scope compared to the rest of the war, but spectacular in its visage of heroism and sacrifice.

Pitt stars as Don 'Wardaddy' Collier, a sort of antihero, at first. He's a rough and tough army sergeant bent on taking out any and every enemy he finds in Nazi-controlled Germany. He leads a ragtag crew of soldiers armed with the same mission. There's Boyd 'Bible' Swan, a charming Christian who reads last rites to dying enemy soldiers and tries to be an inspiring voice, played with fervor by Shia LaBeouf. Trini 'Gordo' Garcia, played by Michael Pena, is a Mexican-American always up for a good time. And, Grady 'Coon-Ass' Travis is an irreverent, white-blooded American who isn't afraid to push the buttons, played by Jon Bernthal. War has jaded their minds and nothing seems bad enough to make them falter. The team has been together for four years and you can tell by the way the respect each other and know each other's ticks. When a rookie army clerk is assigned to the frontlines and placed in their tank crew, the fight for survival becomes a little shaky. Logan Lerman becomes the star as Norman Ellis, a bewildered soldier whose fresh mind is quickly put to the test. Riding around in a tank called Fury, the crew develops a certain ability to masterfully take on any battlefield in which they are placed. When they find themselves at a crossroads alone with hundreds of enemy soldiers approaching, the ultimate sacrifice begins.

First and foremost, this is a war movie. There is plenty of violence and gory sights that'll make you squirm in your seat, very similar to Saving Private Ryan's opening beach scene. Director Ayer has a knack for creating interesting and realistic worlds in each of features, no matter how gritty they might be. The Germany we're introduced to here is very believable and the terrifying WWII images are subtle, but haunting. It's a vision of Nazi Germany we're familiar with, but a version we've not quite endured before.

Pitt is at the helm of the ensemble cast, who works wonders with the great script, also written by Ayer. While, at first, it may feel like a new rendition of Pitt's role in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, it is in fact a more sincere turn that the scalp-hungry Nazi fighter we've already seen. His Wardaddy can still be mean, though. A scene where he forces Ellis to shoot an enemy solider at close range is all things startling and intense. Lerman, as the inexperienced Ellis, quickly reminds why he's one of Hollywood's best young talents. He portrays Ellis with a brutal honesty that makes the final chapter all the more emotional. LaBeouf is the other standout. He's almost unrecognizable with his bushy mustache and focused accent. His personal life may have overshadowed his talents in recent years, but there's no denying the guy is hugely brilliant when given a meaty role like Bible. Like Lerman, the final act is his true moment to shine. Trust me, he's incredible.

The film works on every level. The effects are great. I especially liked the Stars Wars-like green and red chasers following the bullets. It was a nice touch that could've been distracting, but wasn't at all. There was so much meat in the script and the flow was just right that the entire two hours felt like nothing.

The final act, which I won't say too much more about, is so cleverly done that it is a great example of how giving a good director this type of material means you'll get the best version it can be. I could easily see a run-of-the-mill director take this film into ultra-action movie mode. It wouldn't work. Sure, it'd be exciting to see all of those explosions. But, what holds Fury together is its heart.

Rating: R
Runtime: 134 minutes