For Jewish actors, Oscar nominations a mixed bag
Chosen films

For Jewish actors, Oscar nominations a mixed bag

Also, while our film critic boosts the Jewish population of Utah by 400% at Sundance, here's an early candidate for 2014's worst movie

Jonah Hill from 'Wolf of Wall Street' (photo credit: courtesy Paramount Pictures)
Jonah Hill from 'Wolf of Wall Street' (photo credit: courtesy Paramount Pictures)

PARK CITY, Utah — Hollywood set the alarm early Thursday morning (or maybe just took some extra stimulants Wednesday night) to deliver the names of the nominees for its annual group hug, the Academy Awards.

For the rumored players of the Hebraic faith, it was a mixed bag.

To my delight, Jonah Hill was, indeed, recognized for his remarkable work in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Too often people who are funny get overlooked.

Spike Jonze (ne Adam Spiegel) was nominated for the original script of “Her,” which is also nominated for best picture. Jonze is up against Woody Allen in the writing category for “Blue Jasmine” (whose lead actress and supporting actress, Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins, were nominated, as well).

David O. Russell was nominated as best director for “American Hustle,” which is represented in almost every category and likely to win everything.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus got “robbed” for lack of recognition for best actress, but the giant shonda of the nominations is the paucity of nods for the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Only the cinematography and sound mixing were nominated, when anyone with any sense will tell you it is the best movie of the year.

In the foreign language category “Omar” from the Palestinian Authority was nominated. It must be said it has some big competition: Cambodia’s “The Missing Picture,” Italy’s “The Great Beauty” and Belgium’s “Broken Circle Breakdown” are top notch.

In other news, this week Michael Douglas (also known as Michael Ben Spartacus) announced he’s been cast in the Jewiest superhero movie ever — “Ant-Man.”

Young Michael Douglas in 'The China Syndrome' (photo credit: courtesy Columbia Pictures)
Young Michael Douglas in ‘The China Syndrome’ (photo credit: courtesy Columbia Pictures)

We’ve already discussed how Jewish-American heartthrob Paul Rudd has been cast as Scott Lang in British director Edgar Wright’s highly anticipated Marvel comics adaptation. Michael Douglas, the son of Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas who is very active in Jewish causes, will play the originator of the “Pym Particles” that can shrink or grow living tissue. Oh, if only science could somehow grow back the awesome beard he wore in “The China Syndrome!”

Will Edgar Wright continue to cast notable Jews to round out the cast? In the comics, behind Hank Pym was a great woman – Janet Van Dyne. Ironically, her superhero moniker is The Wasp!

New From Hollywood

Oh, another rough week here, folks. January and February have few new offerings worth mentioning. However, this week the entire movie business (yours truly included) is headed to the Sundance Film Festival to a) scope out what’s best in independent cinema and b) increase the Jewish population of Utah by 400%. We’ll have news from atop Mount Goyim later in the week.

I, Frankenstein: I’d call this an early contender for worst film of 2014, but that would be unfair. I haven’t seen the film, as the studio is hiding it from critics as best they can. I will say that, based on the almost unwatchable trailer, this movie makes the mistake that most children do – confusing the character of Doctor Frankenstein with “Frankenstein’s Monster.” When you consider that Mary Shelly’s original work is, in some way, a variant on the stories of Jewish Prague, this new creature (from producer Tom Rosenberg) is something of a shonda for the Golem.

'Big Bad Wolves' (photo credit: Magnolia Pictures)
‘Big Bad Wolves’ (photo credit: Magnolia Pictures)

Big Bad Wolves: After playing in Israel for months, this film is finally hitting a few theaters in major American markets and is available via VOD. The directing team of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado follow up “Rabies” with an even more chilling and uncomfortable film. “Big Bad Wolves” is the type of movie that begs for symbolic interpretation, but also works on its own terms.

A man is suspected of being a child serial killer, but there is no hard proof. A convinced detective and the father of a recent victim independently decide to take the law into their own hands. When the three end up in the basement of a remote house the most unexpected thing happens: the movie is actually a little… funny? A true experiment in tone (and testing audiences’ boundaries), “Big Bad Wolves” was named the best movie of 2013 by Quentin Tarantino.

Currently Playing


'Enough Said' (photo credit: Fox Searchlight)
‘Enough Said’ (photo credit: Fox Searchlight)

Enough Said: Jewish-American comedienne Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in this touching, grown-up romantic dramedy opposite the late James Gandolfini. The “hook” is that she falls for this new guy just as she makes a new friend (Catherine Keener) – a woman she greatly admires. After about 20 minutes of screentime she discovers that, whoopsie!, the ex-husband Keener’s been kvetching about is, in fact, her new beau Gandolfini. That Preston Sturges-like set up, however, is just a clothesline on which to pin a number of finely observed character moments in this touching and realistic film.

American Hustle: Half-Jewish director David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”) delivers his slickest picture yet, a Scorsese-like treatment of the “Abscam” FBI sting of the early 1980s. Christian Bale stars as a sympathetic crook named Irving Rosenfeld. He wears a Star of David necklace, a fair amount of belly fat and an absurd toupee. After he and his cohort (Amy Adams) are nabbed for making fake bank loans, they are pressed into service by the FBI to take down corrupt politicians. This is a fun movie that’s also just smart enough — focusing on themes of identity and the allure of theft — to make it a must-see.

'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' (photo credit: 20th Century Fox)
‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ (photo credit: 20th Century Fox)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Ben Stiller stars and directs himself in this loose adaptation of Danny Kaye’s loose adaptation of James Thurber’s short story. While eye-popping in its location photography, the film is eye-rolling in its ham-fisted philosophy to stop dreaming and just be, man. It’s a good message… from your therapist, maybe. From Ben Stiller, who when last I checked was funny, it’s a little annoying.

With its Arcade Fire soundtrack at full-blast and product placement written into the script, “Mitty” may leave you daydreaming about another movie. It’s all well and good for comedians to try more serious films, but this one seems to be trying too hard.

Six Acts: Israeli director Jonathan Gurfinkel, a recent TOI interview subject, delivers a top notch conversation piece in this sexually frank, but never needlessly vulgar exploration of teenagers and technology. In addition to its ambiguous and unsettling scene work, “Six Acts” (marketed as “S#x Acts” in the United States) is a terrific platform for young Israeli actress Sivan Levy. Worth checking out.

'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' (photo credit: Warner Bros.)
‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ (photo credit: Warner Bros.)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Sometimes a “filmed play” is a warning to stay away, but this adaptation of Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work by Jewish-American writer/producer Ernest Lehman and Jewish-American director Mike Nichols is as much of a powerhouse now as it was in 1966.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor duke it out verbally as George and Martha, the beleaguered history professor and his alcoholic wife. A young George Segal and Sandy Denny round out the cast in this classic that, if you’ve never had a chance to see, will play at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Thursday January 23 at 2:45 pm.

Venus in Furs: Speaking of filmed plays, Roman Polanski’s new one, which played 2013’s Cannes Film Festival and has yet to announce its United States release schedule, is playing Friday, Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Rosh Pina Cinematheque. Starring Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner opposite Mathieu Amalric (the spitting image of Polanski), the film is about the psycho-sexual verbal power games an actress and a playwright run through during the casting of a new production. Yeah, there are times when this strange film feels very, very personal.

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