On Thursday, Jan. 16, the highfalutin Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences will announce the nominations for its 86th annual event. Oscar prognosticators have spent the last six months solidifying their predictions from gallons of studio hype and awards campaigning that, in the digital age, has made the entire process anticlimactic.
Instead of feeding my time and energy into this meat grinder, especially so late in the game, let me shine a light on two great performances of 2013 that will most likely not be recognized by Hollywood's official voting body. Take this as an opportunity to celebrate the subtly of their performances.
First up is Aussie Paul Eenhoorn, who gives a reserved and humble performance in This is Martin Bonner as the titular nonprofit-group employee mentoring a recently released prisoner (the also superb Richmond Arquette). Eenhoorn instills Martin with the kind of pragmatism and sincerity one rarely sees in movies these days. Melodramatic flare is nonexistent, replaced by a range of emotional and philosophical gradations leaked quietly to the world through something as simple as a smile.
Another brilliant example of an actor doing more with less is Andrea Riseborough's defiant turn as an IRA operative caught between a British intelligence agent (Clive Owen) and her plotting compatriots in James Marsh's Shadow Dancer. As the twisty narrative involving blackmail and murder tightens the vice, Riseborough's Collette works tirelessly to hide the knot of tension that's tearing her apart from the inside. Like Eenhoorn, Riseborough resists grandstanding but is much more keen on hiding her character's emotions simply because her dangerous environment calls for it.
Both This is Martin Bonner and Shadow Dancer are available on DVD. Check them out and marvel at the power of a little nuance.
Devil’s Due: Newlyweds experience a lost night on their honeymoon thanks to good ol’ Lucifer, resulting in an unplanned pregnancy and a potential Antichrist scenario. Call in Father Merrin!
The Great Beauty: A disillusioned, wealthy novelist traverses modern Rome looking for epiphany in Paolo Sorrentino’s gorgeous and surreal art film, which is a testament to physical surfaces and emotional depth. Screens through Jan. 23 at the Ken Cinema.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit: Tom Clancy’s favorite CIA analyst turned action hero gets his very own origin story, which involves a Russian plot to take down the U.S. economy. Chris Pine assumes the role made famous by Harrison Ford and denigrated by Ben Affleck.
The Nut Job: No nuts, no glory. So goes the tagline for this animated film about an outcast park rodent who must survive the harsh realities of the city after being banished from the park. It was only a matter of time before the squirrel population was properly represented in Hollywood.
Ride Along: Has Kevin Hart fatigue set in yet? The pervasive comedian stars in this action comedy with Ice Cube playing an angry cop and his future brother-in-law out to test his masculinity.
Valentino’s Ghost: Documentary examining the ways American foreign policy in the Middle East solidifies the mainstream media’s portrayal of Arabs and Muslims. It focuses specifically on the power behind cultural images. Screens through Jan. 22 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Wajma, an Afghan Love Story: A young couple’s relationship and cultural beliefs are tested when an unplanned pregnancy threatens their happiness. Screens through Jan. 23 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
One time only
John Adams: This HBO mini-series examines the life of the second president of the United States (Paul Giamatti). Episode 2 Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, Episode 3 on Wednesday Jan. 22, at the Lemon Grove Library.
Take Me Home: This magical road romance is about a New York City cab driver who decides to take an attractive woman across the country in order to get her back to California. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, at the Scripps Ranch Public Library.
Old School: In an attempt to recapture the debauchery of their college days, three grown friends (Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn) open up a new fraternity. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Army of Darkness: Enjoy a delicious beer and revisit Sam Raimi’s final film in his Evil Dead trilogy with Bruce Campbell traveling back in time to battle medieval demons. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at the Modern Times Beer tasting room in Midway.
Diego Star: ArtPower! presents this social drama about a mechanic from the Ivory Coast who’s accused of causing a nautical accident on the Canadian Saint Lawrence River. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at The Loft at UCSD. Come early for a delicious meal, to be served at 7 p.m.
20 Feet from Stardom: Backup singers for some major stars finally get their due in this award-winning documentary. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, at the Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
The Spectacular Now: Miles Teller plays a drunken high-school senior who romances a sweet classmate (Shailene Woodley) as he comes to grips with his uncertain future and tainted family history. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, at the Mission Valley Public Library.
Pretty Woman: Julia Roberts’ prostitute with a heart of gold gives Richard Gere’s snobby corporate viper more than he bargained for, and the rest is romantic-comedy history. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
August: Osage County: A dysfunctional Texas family reunites when its troubled patriarch (Sam Shepard) goes missing, uncovering a barrage of dark secrets and regrets. It’s based on the play by Tracy Letts and stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Chris Cooper.
Beyond Outrage: Japanese director Takeshi Kitano returns to his genre of choice with this bloody Yakuza tale of hardboiled gangsters and corrupt cops battling for control of organized crime in Tokyo. Ends Jan. 16 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Her: A lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his new operating system (voiced by Scarlet Johansson) in Spike Jonze’s tender and moving sci-fi romance.
The Legend of Hercules: Action director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2: Die Harder) brings the origin story of Hercules (Kellan Lutz) to the big screen in not-so-glorious post-conversion 3-D.
Lone Survivor: Four Navy SEALs are behind enemy lines in the mountains of Afghanistan, fighting an army of Taliban insurgents. It’s based on the failed Operation Red Wings of June 2005 and stars Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster.
The Past: An Iranian man (Tahar Rahim) returns to Paris to finalize his divorce from his French wife (Bérénice Bejo), only to uncover a series of hidden secrets. Master dramatist Asghar Farhadi once again focuses on the devastating ramifications of past trauma.
Reaching for the Moon: Legendary American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) travels to Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s, hoping to cure a case of writer’s block. There, she meets an architect (Glória Pires) and begins a volatile relationship that changes her life. Ends Jan. 16 at the Ken Cinema.
The Suspect: A Korean intelligence agent (Gong Yoo) is abandoned during a black-ops mission, then discovers his wife and daughter have been kidnapped, setting him on a mission of revenge. Screens at AMC Mission Valley Cinemas.
The Truth About Emanuel: Emanuel (Yaya Scodelario), a volatile young woman with a troubled past, becomes obsessed with her mysterious new neighbor (Jessica Biel), who bears an uncanny resemblance to her dead mother. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones: A young man (Andrew Jacobs) begins experiencing strange phenomenon before realizing he’s been marked by an evil spirit. It’s the latest entry in the popular found-footage horror series.
47 Ronin: After their master is killed by a ruthless shogun, a band of samurai set out for revenge. Why they asked Keanu Reeves for help is still a mystery.
Grudge Match: Two aged boxers (Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro) are coaxed back into the ring in order to capitalize on their longtime rivalry. Call us crazy, but we don’t think this film will live up to Rocky or Raging Bull.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Ben Stiller revamps the 1947 Danny Kaye classic with a bigger budget and a bigger emphasis on the healing power of corporate products.
The Wolf of Wall Street: Martin Scorsese’s sprawling comedic look at the rise and fall of Wall Street huckster Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who became an infamous figure in New York City in the 1990s.
American Hustle: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in David O’Russell’s retelling of the infamous Abscam sting established by the FBI in order to capture corrupt politicians and gangsters in the late 1970s.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: Infamous San Diego newscaster and lothario Ron Burgundy (Will Farrell) brings his motley crew of wacky colleagues to New York City in hopes of making it big on a national television channel.
Inside Llewyn Davis: Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest odyssey is set in 1961 Greenwich Village, where a struggling folk singer (Oscar Isaac) comes to grips with his failure as an artist and a human being.
Saving Mr. Banks: Marry Poppins scribe P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) travels to Los Angeles to discuss a potential film adaptation by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) in this whimsical biopic about two artists struggling to compromise.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Bilbo (Martin Freeman), please meet Smaug, fire-breathing dragon and protector of all things gold. Have a nice three hours together.
Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas: Filmmaker Tyler Perry’s wildly popular fictional creation, the titular massive and sassy grandma, wreaks havoc on a small rural town during the holiday season.
Nebraska: Aged retiree Woody (Bruce Dern) is determined to collect his winnings after receiving a phony sweepstakes letter, eventually dragging his reluctant son (Will Forte) on a road trip that’ll change both of their lives. Alexander Payne’s latest is a melancholic ode to family and the Midwest.
Philomena: Comedian Steve Coogan takes on a more serious role as a cynical journalist who ends up helping an elderly woman (Judi Dench) search for her long lost son. Oscar nominations are a certainty.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself once again fighting to survive the titular death match that has become a necessary evil in the dystopic future.
Dallas Buyers Club: In 1985, a drunken rodeo clown Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughy) learns he has HIV. Seeing an opportunity to stave off his own death and make some money, he begins smuggling unapproved drugs in from Mexico.
Thor: The Dark World: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) once again brings the hammer down on Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in order to save the human race and sustain the fragile balance of his own kingdom.
Ender’s Game: Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel about a young pilot fending off an alien threat finally gets adapted for the big screen, surely angering fans everywhere. Harrison Ford co-stars as a growling general.
Captain Phillips: Based on actual events, this thriller by director Paul Greengrass tells the story of the container ship Maersk Alabama and its leader, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks), who was kidnapped by Somali pirates during a voyage in 2009.
Adventures in Wild California: Get crazy with this sports documentary that showcases snowboarders, skydivers and skateboarders doing extreme tricks in various regions around California. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Coral Reef Adventure: Local filmmakers Howard and Michele Hall directed this lush documentary that takes viewers to the world’s most beautiful coral reefs, from Tahiti to Rangirora atoll. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Country Music: The Spirit of America: Narrated by legendary actor Hal Halbrook, this music documentary contains performances by more than 50 country stars. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Rolling Stones: The iconic band performs live during their “Steel Wheels / Urban Jungle” tour in glorious IMAX. Some musical satisfaction is guaranteed. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Mysteries of the Unseen World: This amazing documentary uses high-speed and time-lapse photography to focus on things that are either too fast or two slow for the eye to see. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Cosmic Collisions: So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.