Unless something goes terribly amiss Julianne Moore will finally win an Oscar this year, and that’s simply good news. She probably should have won one for Savage Grace, Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Far From Heaven, Safe and maybe half a dozen other films. Moore is among the most versatile and talented performers of her generation, and Still Alice represents that talent well. Too bad it’s just not that great a film.
Moore plays Alice Howland, a psychology professor at Columbia University who suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s.
Perhaps the best film on Alzheimer’s is Michael Haneke’s brilliant and devastating Amour, a breathtaking journey into one couple’s struggle with the disease. By comparison, Still Alice feels under developed and tidy, particularly as the disease affects the minor characters in the piece. Alec Baldwin, in particular, is hamstrung with an underwritten role as Alice’s husband. Only Kristin Stewart manages to uncover a real character arc as Alice’s daughter, much thanks to an intriguing chemistry with Moore.
The film too often feels like a made for television tragedy, with the only really interesting choice being the decision to make the victim of the disease the point of view character. In Amour as well as Away From Her and other films treading similar ground, our vehicle into the medical tragedy is a loved one. Still Alice wants to give us the first hand sense of what it is like to watch yourself disappear.
It’s a risky choice, but thanks to Moore’s impeccable, understated handling of the role, Still Alice avoids a maudlin, self-congratulatory or sentimental fate. She’s more than up to the challenge.
Moore establishes a character that is more than the irony and heart tugging on the page. Characteristically nuanced and honest, it’s a performance that makes up for many of the weaknesses in the rest of the film.
Moore’s understatement keeps the film from melodrama, but unfortunately, everything else about the movie needed a bit more drama. It’s a superficial tale with contrived bits of tension that end in uninspired resolutions. The lack of insight into the marriage itself is probably the film’s most noticeable failing, but aside from Moore’s ability to show us how the disease ravages a once sharp mind, we don’t get to know Alice – her relationships, her past, her passions – well enough to really understand what she’s losing.
It’s almost Valentines’ Day! For the love of God, don’t watch The Notebook again. Maybe instead of the same old rom coms and smooch fests, check out some different but nevertheless great onscreen romances. We recommend ten of our favorite silver screen couples.
Carl & Ellie, Up
Perhaps the most beautiful and most heartbreaking opening to any animated film, the relationship arc between Carl and Ellie promises to bring you to tears because of its excruciating tenderness. It’s a remarkably uncommon way to open a child’s film, but without this strong a sense of where Carl has been you simply can’t understand or accept where he thinks he’s going or fully appreciate where he winds up.
Annie Savoy & Crash Davis, Bull Durham
Sexy, grown up, fun and funny, Bull Durham is both the best baseball movie and best romantic comedy ever made – a fact due almost entirely to the easy chemistry and combustible energy between its stars. Kevin Costner is the dreamiest minor league catcher in history, and he only has eyes for Southern eccentric Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon at her absolute sultriest). Whip smart dialog has rarely fallen into such capable hands.
Lloyd Dobbler, Diane Court, Say Anything
He gave her his heart, she gave him a pen. Everyone rooted for Lloyd Dobbler (John Cusack) as he voyaged toward manhood (don’t be a guy!) and to love with untouchable, brainy Diane Court (Ione Skye). This may be the best high school romance film ever made.
Lula & Sailor, Wild at Heart
Overheated and on the run from the law and whatever Mamma can dish up, nothing can break the bond between Sailor (Nicolas Cage, before he sucked) and Lula (Laura Dern, who never sucks). Violent and nuts in the way that only a David Lynch film can be, with as colorful a cast of characters as any film you’ll ever find, this is a love story unlike any other.
Clarence & Alabama Worly, True Romance
The world gave up on Clarence and Alabama (Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette), but nothing will dent their love – not a silver toothed pimp or a sweaty hit man or a pot smoking roommate or any other thing screenwriter Quentin Tarantino can throw at them. And we love them for that.
Pat & Tiffany, Silver Linings Playbook
Sparks and dysfunction fly as one man (Bradley Cooper) plots to woo back his wife, restraining order be damned. Lawrence introduces layers and layers as cynical misanthropic dance lover Tiffany and Cooper perfectly balances JLaw’s manic negativity with his own positive energy mania.
Harold & Maude in same
Everyone’s favorite May/December romance upends every expectation, filling the screen with joy and pain, love and heartbreak. It’s a hilarious black comedy, but a true love story as well, and Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort made us believe.
Seth & Evan, Superbad
In our favorite bromance, BFFs Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) have to face an adult world where they may never again know the comfortable, intimate, familiar relationship they’ve had their whole lives together.
Jack Foley & Karen Sisco, Out of Sight
Elmore Leonard wrote a kick ass romance that lit up the screen thanks to the natural chemistry between George Clooney as ex-con Foley trying to evade and yet seduce Jennifer Lopez’s Sisco.
Buck & Jessie St. Vincent, Boogie Nights
In a film about damaged and damaging couplings, one true love bloomed. Buck and Jessie St. Vincent (Don Cheadle, Melora Walters) fell in love as the freewheeling Seventies turned to the judgmental Eighties. Sweet hearted sweethearts, their tenderness in the midst of all the ugliness and turmoil gave the film its heart.
They come into our lives quickly, yearning for a state football title that never was, yelling “put that coffee down,” or jamming to Sister Christian on an awesome mix tape.
Then they’re gone..but never forgotten.
Here are ten supporting characters we’d love to see come back and take the lead:
Megan (Melissa McCarthy), Bridesmaids
Yes, please. Melissa McCarthy crafted a fully realized person with Megan, someone we kind of recognized, someone we’d like to see in almost any situation.
Carl Spackler (Bill Murray), Caddyshack
Drop us into Carl Spackler’s life at any point at all, and just leave us there for a couple hours. That’s really all we ask.
Blake (Alec Baldwin), Glengarry Glen Ross
We must have more! Alec Baldwin seared right through the celluloid with his one big speech, leaving us wanting more from this ball buster.
Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence), American Hustle
Jennifer Lawrence so fully developed this relatively minor character that we were mesmerized, and we want to see more. Maybe show us her courtship with Irving, maybe take us to her new life with mafioso Pete. Hell, just leave us at home with Rosalyn, her son and her “science oven” – that would probably be entertaining enough.
Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), Barton Fink
Few filmmakers can pack a screenplay with more fascinating supporting characters than the Coens, and John Goodman’s had the great fortune of playing many of them. Walter? He could get a movie. Roland Turner, junky bluesman from Inside Llewyn Davis could probably shoulder a full film. But Goodman’s most mysterious and complex performance came as Barton Fink‘s unusual neighbor Charlie Meadows, and we’d like to know what made him tick.
Rahad Jackson (Alfred Molina), Boogie Nights
Indeed, almost every character in Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant Boogie Nights could hold our attention in a film of their own, but it’s Rahad Jackson, Night Ranger lover, who really piqued our interest.
Margie Hendricks (Regina King), Ray
Certainly Hendricks, longtime backup singer and secret girlfriend to Ray Charles, led a life fascinating enough to merit a film, but it was Regina King’s performance in Ray as the saucy, troubled chanteuse that compels her inclusion on this list. King ranks among the most underappreciated and versatile talents working today, but her turn in this biopic is her best.
Uncle Rico (John Gries), Napoleon Dynamite
What was high school like for Uncle Rico? Why is he living currently in that RV? What will his next business venture bring? Honestly, anything Uncle Rico does would entertain us.
Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe), Wild at Heart
The David Lynch universe is populated by dozens of fascinating characters, including, of course, Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth. But Bobby Peru is the one we just didn’t get quite enough time with. The most exciting item to hit Big Tuna since the ’86 cyclone, Bobby needs a full backstory movie.
Quint (Robert Shaw), Jaws
Here’s a guy who lived a life, workin’ for a livin’ and sharkin‘…right up until a shark ate him. We want to see some of his other adventures. You know, the ones he survived.
The world of acting felt a profound loss this weekend with the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, among the most versatile and gifted actors of this or any generation.
He began his career playing variations on the theme of whining rich boy, but an artistic partnership with the brilliant filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson highlights Hoffman’s magnificent range. From lonely and misguided Scotty in Boogie Nights, to Punch Drunk Love’s volatile Alpha dog Dean, to the deeply decent and compassionate nurse Phil in Magnolia, Hoffman’s ability to bring a character’s humanity to the surface is evident.
He had a particular gift for supporting roles. Ensemble work seemed a joy to him, and his small roles in The Big Lebowski, Along Came Polly, Hard Eight, Moneyball, Strangers with Candy, Cold Mountain, Almost Famous, and The Ides of March contributed immeasurably to the artistic success of the films. In fact, he’s the only thing about Polly worth remembering, and he is hilarious. There is truly not a single film or performance that doesn’t deserve a mention. His few onscreen minutes in Catching Fire elevated the entire Hunger Games series, giving its underlying conspiracies and machination a chess match brilliance. He was even great in the teen zombie comedy My Boyfriend’s Back. The guy was a genius.
Hoffman was the definition of an actor. His talent was breathtaking. He breathed the rarified air shared only with Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep, and his skill and presence will be deeply, sorely missed.
Here, in chronological order, is our list of essential Philip Seymour Hoffman viewing.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Here’s where we fell in love with Philip Seymour Hoffman. He plays Scotty, the overweight and underappreciated camera grip in Paul Thomas Anderson’s porn–industry-as-dysfunctional-family-comedy-drama. A heartbreakingly awkward punching bag for the good looking talent, Scotty’s limited screen time is acting perfection.
Todd Solondz’s unforgettable black comedy benefits from a subversively brilliant screenplay and an ensemble who relished the outrageous opportunities that piece of writing held. Every performance in the film is a thing of beauty, including Hoffman’s creepy obscene phone caller Allen. The climactic scene with the object of his twisted adoration, played by Lara Flynn Boyle, is a work of dark comic genius.
Another true ensemble piece, the film’s steadiest heartbeat is the down-to-earth home health care nurse played by Hoffman. He approached the role with understatement and unveiled a level of compassion that not only characterized this man’s calling, but allowed the audience to find a way to empathize with the rest of the less likeable characters. It’s a beautifully nuanced and deeply authentic performance.
Almost Famous (2000)
As legendary rock critic Lester Bangs, Hoffman gives Almost Famous its critical reference point, as the middle ground between the two worlds the young William (Patrick Fugit) is juggling. Even with limited screen time, Hoffman conveys a funny, heartfelt, and deceptively sad persona that is essential to the film’s success.
Hoffman received his first Oscar nomination for the 2005 biopic, which makes you wonder where the Academy’s heads had been the previous ten years. He won for his unerring turn in this beautifully observed film about the writing of Capote’s masterpiece In Cold Blood. Never one to shy away from a character’s faults, Hoffman unveiled an equally sympathetic and mercenary soul as the writer befriends inmate Perry Smith.
Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
The year 2007 was a big one for Hoffman. He garnered an Oscar nomination for his supporting turn as Gus Avrakotos, government agent working with senator and playboy Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) to assist Afghanistan rebels in their war with Russia. It was one of three performances that year that could easily have earned Hoffman his second Oscar, each as different from the other as performances could be. He gives needed edge and weight, as well as biting humor, to a film that could have been too sentimental otherwise.
The Savages (2007)
Also that year, dream team Hoffman and Laura Linney play a brother and sister faced with caring for their aged, abusive father. Full of brilliant, darkly funny insights on correcting old wounds, responsibility versus irresponsibility, inevitability and family, the film is queasyingly realistic and relevant but the performances are a laugh riot, uncomfortable as they are.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
In his third award-worthy turn in 2007 Hoffman finds himself with a character that a great actor would dream of and the lesser of the world could only screw up. An older brother (Hoffman) hiding dark, addictive behavior, talks his sad-sack younger brother (Ethan Hawke) into something unthinkable. Desperate for approval, sensitive in the weirdest moments, black hearted the next, Andy is a fascinating character thanks to Hoffman’s effortless genius.
Hoffman and Meryl Streep – one of his only true peers – face off as a priest who may have molested a student and the nun who will doggedly pursue the case. Hoffman never judges his character, bringing a self righteousness and grace to the part that allows the audience to doubt his guilt. Without that, the film bottoms out into just another finger pointing diatribe on the Catholic Church. But because Hoffman could walk the line perfectly – and because Streep and co-stars Viola Davis and Amy Adams are so goddamn talented – the film is a brilliantly ambiguous conundrum.
The Master (2012)
Hoffman is a gravitational force as Lancaster Dodd, the charismatic leader of a Scientology-esque group. Pairing Hoffman with Joaquin Phoenix may have been director Paul Thomas Anderson’s greatest moment of casting genius. Phoenix’s disheveled, unhinged veteran vagabond balances Hoffman’s egomaniacal Master so perfectly that every moment the pair shares onscreen is theatrical magic. It’s a flawless film boasting two epic performances.