By Jennifer Merin
WeNews film critic
Monday, December 16, 2013
The year ends with a handful of strong must-see performances by women, including Emma Thompson in the biopic "Saving Mr. Banks" and Scarlett Johansson's voiced performance in Spike Jonze's "Her."
Credit: Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
(WOMENSENEWS)--The good news is that this December's crop of newly released films does feature a number of ultra-strong, must-see performances by women.
This is a welcome change. The movie industry usually goes into semi-hibernation during December. There's always new holiday fare, along with late entry Oscars contenders, but, unfortunately, as a rule too few of these new releases really reflect women's perspectives or concerns, and even fewer are made by women.
Let's start with the work of the wonderful Emma Thompson in "Saving Mr. Banks," a biopic about writer P. L. Travers, the creator of the beloved literary icon Mary Poppins. The film focuses on the period when Travers, strapped for cash, was imported from her home in the United Kingdom to Hollywood by Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks), who promised his daughters that he'd produce a film version of "Mary Poppins." Travers is a lonely, neurotic, stubborn spinster whose irritability makes her hard to work with, but Disney and his crew gradually engage her in the making of what turns out to be a cinema classic. "Saving Mr. Banks" is a charming film and Thompson's turn as Travers is simply supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The film's opening last Friday turned Dec. 13 into a lucky day.
Also opening on that day in limited release is Lucy Walker's "The Crash Reel," a documentary that premiered on HBO in July and has been included in this year's Oscars short list. Walker follows snowboard champion Kevin Pearce as he recovers from a near death accident while in training for the Olympics. With his family's constant care and support, Pearce learns to walk again, but has difficulty coming to grips with the fact that he can no longer participate in his sport. Walker's compassionate coverage reveals the risks of extreme sports and prescribes greater caution to guard against the dangers. While Pearce is a snowboarder, all kids who play contact sports are also at risk. So this heart wrenching documentary is a must for concerned parents.
"Her," opening in New York and Los Angeles with wider release on the horizon, features Scarlett Johansson as a digital companion-personal assistant to a lonely guy (Joaquin Phoenix) who ghost writes love letters for other people. He falls for her and thoroughly integrates her into his life as his significant other. Their relationship takes sexting to a whole other level. This charming film has a happy ending, but no spoilers here--you'll have find out for yourself how co-writer/director Spike Jonze works things out. Johansson never appears on the screen, but her voiced performance is a must-see!
"American Hustle" is David O. Russell's gritty and gripping film of con artists set into motion by a radically brilliant ensemble cast. Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams have both attracted Oscars buzz for their performances as rival lowlife fatales. There are lots of plot twists to draw you deeper into this super sting story, as well as superb cinematography, editing and music. Don't miss this film!
"The Past," Iran's official entry for the Oscars' foreign film category, stars Berenice Bejo as the French wife of an Iranian expat who's moved back to his homeland. But he comes back to France after she asks him for a divorce. She has a new man on the scene and he is domineering. There are children involved. A tense and intimate drama unfolds as they struggle to work things out. Directed by Oscar-winner Ashgar Farhadi, this femme-centric drama is a must-see. In French with English subtitles.
"August: Osage County" lights up the screen with gripping performances by Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margo Martindale, Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson, Abigail Breslin and Misty Upham. All play strong-willed women who are reunited by a family crisis. Expect high drama and some wickedly dysfunctional and disturbingly funny behavior. It's not exactly a ho-ho-ho Christmas diversion, but it is worth seeing.
In addition to covering film for Women's eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for About.com and is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, a nonprofit organization of the leading female film journalists in the U.S. and Canada. She is also a member of the prestigious Broadcast Film Critics Association.
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