Video on Demand Report: Catch Up With Your Most Passionately Defended Oscar Snubs
This week’s slate of VOD releases contains one Oscar nominee (20 Feet From Stardom — see below), a few that were thought to have been contenders (no, not you, Riddick), and one snub that Slate’s Aisha Harris says “hurts the most”: Fruitvale Station.
After winning prizes from both the jury and the audience at Sundance, Fruitvale Station was released to theaters this summer to great critical acclaim, though it didn’t quite fit in with the season’s downed White Houses or threatened Pacific Rims. This feature debut from writer/director Ryan Coogler stars Michael B. Jordan in the true story of Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by transit police at an Oakland BART station in 2009.
Knowing how the story ends means it’s impossible to watch the film without a sense of foreboding and dread, but Jordan is both magnetic and heartbreaking as he takes us through the last day of Oscar’s life. Fruitvale Station can be a tough watch, but it’s one you shouldn’t pass up.
Wesley Morris: “We spend the film dreadfully aware that it must culminate on the platform with Grant on his stomach and his hands behind his back. Until the moment at the station, these scenes are looking for somewhere compelling to go without ever figuring out where that place is.”
New and Notable
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Joining Fruitvale Station on the snub list is The Butler, from Precious director Lee Daniels and Emmy-winning Game Change scribe Danny Strong, based (loosely) on the true story of a longtime White House butler who served half a dozen U.S. presidents.
Forest Whitaker plays the titular butler, Cecil Gaines, who happens to be present through several significant moments of the 20th century. Meanwhile, back at home, his wife (Oprah Winfrey!) is kind of miserable, and their son (David Oyelowo) is getting involved in radical politics. How much you like this movie probably depends on whether you wished Forrest Gump focused more on civil rights and less on pet rocks.
Wesley Morris: “Daniels is free of that urge filmmakers of all races have to lift everybody up. For him blackness is beautiful, but it’s also something to be overcome — the pathologies, self-doubts, self-loathing. There is a way of being black that’s abject and can leave you woebegone. That way of being black is called the blues, and Daniels can be a thrillingly bluesy director.”
The original film adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel was a breakout hit for director Brian De Palma and star Sissy Spacek. But that was 1976. Today’s teens need a story about telekinetic revenge that speaks to them!
From Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce, the new Carrie stars Kick-Ass‘s Chloë Grace Moretz in the title role and Julianne Moore as her pious, abusive mother. I would have a hard time watching this and not rooting for all the other kids at Carrie’s school to take the snotty Moretz down a peg or 10, but maybe that’s not an issue you share.
Wesley Morris: “Carrie is victim first, and her revenge ought to feel good. But Peirce complicates the exhilaration. She glorifies her heroine without overdoing the slaughter. It’s as if she has anticipated the evocation of various shootings, and in showing all the people whom Carrie doesn’t kill, spares her from seeming like the dangerous young men in the news.”
For those who loved 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick but felt it left too many questions unanswered, here comes Riddick!
Star Vin Diesel reteams with director David Twohy to dig back into the fascinating adventures of conflicted Necromonger Riddick. Landslides, Mud Demons, and mercenaries all conspire to take down our protagonist, but you know what? I bet he’ll be OK in the end.
Wesley Morris: “Riddick turns into … a pickoff thriller. The creatures descend on the bickering mercenaries, and guess who survives for a fourth installment? Twohy actually never gets you to care. The stakes are so low and the close-ups too close to savor the action.”
20 Feet From Stardom
If you’ve watched SNL‘s “Christmastime for the Jews” several dozen times and look forward to Darlene Love’s annual Late Show performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” as the highlight of your holiday season, consider Christmas extended this year.
Newly minted Best Documentary Feature nominee 20 Feet From Stardom features Love, and a raft of her fellow backup singers, telling the stories of their careers. As much as their performances will thrill you, they may also make you furious about the caliber of artist that gets to stand in front of them these days.
The Spectacular Now
Since the experience of watching James Ponsoldt’s previous feature, the alcoholic love story Smashed, may have left you wrung out and ravaged, you will be relieved to learn that his latest has a slightly lighter touch. But only slightly.
The Spectacular Now stars Miles Teller (soon to be co-starring with Fruitvale Station‘s Michael B. Jordan in That Awkward Moment) as Sutter, an aimless teenager whose girlfriend (Brie Larson) dumps him over his lazy shiftlessness. By chance, he falls in with Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a quiet, nerdy girl from his school, and starts to have a different vision for his life. But will he be able to reform himself enough to be worthy of her affection?
Short Term 12
Short Term 12 shares a dubious honor with this week’s Fruitvale Station: Most Passionately Defended Oscar Snubbee.
Brie Larson stars as Grace, who works at a public facility for at-risk foster kids. As we meet her, she’s grappling with the fact that one of her charges is about to age out of the system, and dealing with the arrival of a challenging new resident. It’s a little-seen film that made it onto numerous top-10 lists, and now it’s right in your house. Check it out.