Insomnia File #22: Insomnia (dir by Christopher Nolan)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Last night, if you were up at 2 in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the atmospheric 2002 mystery, Insomnia.

I have to admit that I’m cheating a little bit by including Insomnia in a series about obscure films that you might find on cable late at night.  While Insomnia does seem to often turn up during the early morning hours, it’s hardly an obscure film.  A remake of an acclaimed Norwegian film, it not only stars three Oscar winners (Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank) but it was directed by Christopher Nolan.  Insomnia got a lot of attention when it was first released in 2002.  But, doing an insomnia file about a movie that’s actually about insomnia was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.

I should also mention that I didn’t have insomnia last night.  I was up because I currently have a cold and I watched Insomnia in a feverish and congested haze.  And yet I couldn’t help but feel that, somehow, that was actually the ideal way to watch Insomnia.  With its ominous atmosphere and Nolan’s eye for the surreal, Insomnia plays out like a semi-lucid fever dream.

A teenage girl has been murdered in a small Alaskan fishing village.  The chief of police (played by the great character actor Paul Dooley) asks his former LAPD partner, Will Dormer (Al Pacino), to come to Alaska and help with the investigation.  Accompanying Dormer is his partner and friend, Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan).

Dormer has issues that go far beyond anything happening in Alaska.  He’s burned out and he’s plagued by rumors that, in the past, he was a crooked cop.  He’s being investigated by Internal Affairs and, shortly after they arrive in Alaska, Eckhart admits that he’s been given immunity as part of a deal to testify against Dormer.  While pursuing the suspected murderer through the Alaskan fog, Dormer fires his gun.  When the fog clear, Dormer discovers that he’s killed Eckhart.  Was it an accident or did Dormer intentionally shoot  his partner?  Not even Dormer seems to know for sure.  He lies and says that the murderer shot Eckhart.

Working with a local detective (Hilary Swank), Dormer tries to solve the Alaska murder, with the knowledge that, once he does, he’ll have to return to Los Angeles and he’ll probably be indicted.  Because of the midnight sun, night never falls in Alaska and, tortured by guilt, Dormer cannot sleep.  Add to that, the murderer knows that Dormer shot Eckhart.  And now, he’s calling Dormer and cruelly taunting him.

Who is the murderer?  His name is Walter Finch.  He’s a writer and, in a stroke of brilliance, he’s played by none other than Robin Williams.  To me, Robin Williams’s screen presence always carried hints of narcissism and self-destruction.  Even in comedic roles, there was a transparent but very solid wall between Williams the audience.  When he was shouting out a thousand words a minute and rapidly switching from one character to the next, it always seemed as if it was all a technique to keep anyone from figuring out who he really was.  In Insomnia (and, that same year, in One Hour Photo), Robin Williams reveals an inner darkness that he rarely showed before or after.  Finch may possess Williams’s trademark eccentric smile and nervous voice but, underneath the surface, he’s an empty shell who views human beings as being as disposable as the characters in his paperback novels.

Christopher Nolan takes us directly into the heads of these two enemies, with shots of the desolate Alaskan landscape seeming to perfectly capture the inner desolation of two minds destroyed by guilt and paranoia.  (Neither Finch nor Dormer is capable of connecting with the world outside of his damaged psyche.)  As seen through Nolan’s lens, Alaska becomes as surreal and haunting as one of the dream landscapes from Inception.  For those of us who found both The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar to be so bombastic that they verged on self-parody, Insomnia is a nice reminder that Nolan doesn’t need a pounding Han Zimmer score to make a great movie.  With Insomnia, Nolan gives us not bombast but a deceptively low-key and atmospheric journey into the heart of darkness.

Ironically, for a film about two men who cannot sleep, Insomnia will haunt your dreams.

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Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth

What Do They Like in San Diego? Let’s Find Out…


Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

And finally, here are the San Diego Film Critics Nominations!

(Insert your own clever and snarky analysis here because I’m exhausted.  Maybe point out that they nominated Alejandro Inarritu for best director and Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone but they didn’t nominate Birdman for best film…)

(h/t to awards circuit)

Best Film

  • “Boyhood”
  • “Gone Girl”
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “Nightcrawler”
  • “Selma”
  • “The Theory of Everything”

Best Director

  • Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”
  • Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
  • David Fincher, “Gone Girl”
  • Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”

Best Actor

  • Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • Brendan Gleeson, “Calvary”
  • Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”
  • Tom Hardy, “Locke”
  • Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
  • Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

Best Actress

  • Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
  • Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
  • Hilary Swank, “The Homesman”
  • Mia Wasikowska, “Tracks”

Best Supporting Actor

  • Riz Ahmed, “Nightcrawler”
  • Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
  • Edward Norton, “Birdman”
  • J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”
  • Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”

Best Supporting Actress

  • Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
  • Carrie Coon, “Gone Girl”
  • Keira Knightly, “The Imitation Game”
  • Rene Russo, “Nightcrawler”
  • Emma Stone, “Birdman”

Best Original Screenplay

  • “Birdman”
  • “Boyhood”
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “Locke”
  • “Nightcrawler”

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • “The Fault in Our Stars”
  • “Gone Girl”
  • “The Theory of Everything”
  • “Unbroken”
  • “Wild”

Best Foreign Language Film

  • “Force Majeure”
  • “Heli”
  • “Ida”
  • “Two Days, One Night”
  • “Venus in Fur”

Best Documentary

  • “CITIZENFOUR”
  • “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me”
  • “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me”
  • “Last Days in Vietnam”
  • “Life Itself”

Best Animated Film

  • “Big Hero 6″
  • “The Boxtrolls”
  • “How to Train Your Dragon 2″
  • “The LEGO Movie”
  • “The Nut Job”

Best Cinematography

  • “Force Majeure” (Fredrik Wenzel)
  • “Interstellar” (Hoyte van Hoytema)
  • “Gone Girl” (Jeff Cronenweth)
  • “Nightcrawler” (Robert Elswit)
  • “Unbroken” (Roger Deakins)

Best Editing

  • “Boyhood” (Sandra Adair)
  • “Edge of Tomorrow” (James Herbert, Laura Jennings)
  • “Gone Girl” (Kirk Baxter)
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Barney Pilling)
  • “Nightcrawler” (John Gilroy)

Best Production Design

  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pincock)
  • “Into the Woods” (Dennis Gassner & Anna Pinnock)
  • “The Theory of Everything” (John Paul Kelly)
  • “The Imitation Game” (Maria Djurkovic)
  • “Interstellar” (Nathan Crowley)

Best Score

  • “Birdman” (Antonio Sanchez)
  • “Gone Girl” (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Alexandre Desplat)
  • “The Imitation Game” (Alexandre Desplat)
  • “Nightcrawler” (James Newton Howard)

Best Ensemble

  • “Birdman”
  • “Boyhood”
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “The Imitation Game”
  • “Selma”

The Brief Thrill Of The Phoenix Film Critics Nominations


Lego MovieI have to admit that, when I first looked at the just-released Phoenix Film Critics Nominations for 2014, I got really excited.  I saw The LEGO Movie listed among the nominees for best picture and I thought to myself, “Oh my God!  Could The LEGO Movie be set to be the fourth animated film to score a best picture nomination from the Academy!?”

Seriously, my inner movie trivia lover was so excited!

Then, of course, I remembered that critical recognition doesn’t necessarily translate into Oscar nominations.  And I was forced to admit that The LEGO Movie probably will not be nominated for best picture, though it definitely remains a front runner for best animated feature.

But, for a few moments there, I was truly an excited Oscar watcher.

Anyway, here are the Phoenix Film Critics Nominations!

(h/t to Awards Circuit)

BEST PICTURE/ TOP TEN FILMS OF 2014

  • A Most Violent Year
  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • Gone Girl
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Imitation Game
  • The Lego Movie
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
  • David Fincher, Gone Girl
  • Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
  • Richard Linklater, Boyhood

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
  • Brendon Gleeson, Calvary
  • Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman
  • Michael Keaton, Birdman
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Amy Adams, Big Eyes
  • Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
  • Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
  • Hilary Swank, The Homesman
  • Reese Witherspoon, Wild

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
  • Logan Lerman, Fury
  • Edward Norton, Birdman
  • Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
  • J. K. Simmons, Whiplash

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  • Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
  • Carrie Coon, Gone Girl
  • Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
  • Emma Stone, Birdman

BEST ENSMEBLE ACTING

  • Birdman
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Into the Woods

BEST SCREENPLAY WRITTEN DIRECTLY FOR THE SCREEN

  • A Most Violent Year
  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Whiplash

BEST SCREENPLAY ADAPTED FROM ANOTHER MEDIUM

  • American Sniper
  • Gone Girl
  • The Imitation Game
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Wild

BEST LIVE ACTION FAMILY FILM

  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Into the Woods
  • Maleficent
  • Muppets Most Wanted

BEST ANIMATED FILM

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Boxtrolls
  • The Lego Movie
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2

OVERLOOKED FILM OF THE YEAR

  • Calvary
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • Obvious Child
  • The Skeleton Twins
  • Snowpiercer

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • Force Majeure
  • IDA
  • Mood Indigo
  • The Raid 2

BEST DOCUMENTARY

  • Citizenfour
  • Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
  • Jodorowsky’s Dune
  • Life Itself
  • Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • Everything is Awesome, The Lego Movie
  • Immortals, Big Hero 6
  • Lost Stars, Begin Again
  • Miracles, Unbroken

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Birdman
  • Gone Girl
  • The Imitation Game
  • Interstellar
  • The Theory of Everything

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • A Most Violent Year
  • Birdman
  • Interstellar
  • Into the Woods
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Unbroken

BEST FILM EDITING

  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • Gone Girl
  • Interstellar
  • Into the Woods

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Interstellar
  • Snowpiercer

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Inherent Vice
  • Into the Woods
  • Maleficent
  • The Theory of Everything

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  • Interstellar

BEST STUNTS

  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • John Wick
  • Need for Speed
  • The Raid 2

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE ON CAMERA

  • Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood
  • Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
  • Jenny Slate, Obvious Child

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE BEHIND THE CAMERA

  • Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
  • Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
  • Gillian Robespierre, Obvious Child
  • Jon Stewart, Rosewater

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A YOUTH – MALE

  • Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood
  • Daniel Huttlestone, Into the Woods
  • Jaeden Lieberber, St. Vincent
  • Ed Oxenbould, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
  • Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A YOUTH – FEMALE

  • Lilla Crawford, Into the Woods
  • Mackenzie Foy, Interstellar
  • Sterling Jerins, And So It Goes

grand-budapest-hotel

The Boston Society of Film Critics Have Spoken!


marion cotillard

Earlier today the Boston Society of Film Critics (not to be confused with Boston Online Film Critics) announced their picks for the best of 2014!  Among the winners: Boyhood, Richard Linklater, Marion Cotillard (who is suddenly starting to look like she might be the new front-runner for best actress), and J.K. Simmons (who is probably about as much a sure thing as anyone or anything could be this year).

The winners are listed below!

(h/t to awardswatch.)

Best Picture
Winner: BOYHOOD
Runner up: BIRDMAN

Best Director
Winner: Richard Linklater, BOYHOOD
Runner up: Clint Eastwood, AMERICAN SNIPER

Best Actor
Winner: Michael Keaton, BIRDMAN
Runner up: Timothy Spall, MR. TURNER

Best Actress
Winner: Marion Cotillard, THE IMMIGRANT and TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
Runner up: Hilary Swank, THE HOMESMAN

Best Supporting Actor
Winner: J.K. Simmons, WHIPLASH
Runner up: Edward Norton, BIRDMAN

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Emma Stone, BIRDMAN
Runner up: Laura Dern, WILD

Best Screenplay
Winner: Armando Bo, Alexander Dinelaris, Nicolas Giabone and Alejandro G. Iñárritu, BIRDMAN and Richard Linklater, BOYHOOD (tie)
Runner up: MR. TURNER

Best Cinematography
Winner: Emmanuel Lubezki, BIRDMAN
Runner up: Dick Pope, MR. TURNER

Best Film Editing
Winner: Sandra Adair, BOYHOOD
Runner up: Joel Cox and Gary Roach, AMERICAN SNIPER

Best Animated Film
Winner: The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Runner-up: The LEGO Movie

Best Foreign Language Film
Winner: TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
Runner up:

Best Documentary
Winner: Citizenfour
Runner up: Jodorowsky’s Dune

Best Ensemble Cast
Winner: BOYHOOD
Runner up: BIRDMAN

Best Use of Music in Film
Winner: INHERENT VICE
Runner up: WHIPLASH

Best New Filmmaker
Winner: Dan Gilroy, NIGHTCRAWLER
Runner up: Gillian Robespierre, OBVIOUS CHILD

Guilty Pleasure No. 11: Terror In The Family (dir by Gregory Goodell)


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For my latest guilty pleasure, I want to take a look at Terror In The Family, a well-intentioned, out-of-control youth film from 1996.

Certain moments of Terror in the Family felt painfully familiar because, much like the film’s main character, Deena Marten (played by — yes, it’s true — Hilary Swank), I went through a period, when I was teenage, where I was seriously out-of-control.  Much like Deena, I would sneak out of the house, I would hook up with guys who were obvious trouble, I had absolutely no impulse control, and I said and did a lot of hurtful and self-destructive things that I still would do anything to take back.  I was 16 while, in the movie, Deena is portrayed as being 15.  The main difference between me and Deena is that I was out-of-control because I was having an undiagnosed manic episode.  Deena, however, is out-of-control because she comes from one of the most dysfunctional family in the history of dysfunctional families.

And that’s why, despite the fact that I can relate to the painful subject matter, Terror In The Family amuses me more than it disturbs me.  Seriously, anything that can be wrong with a family is wrong with this family.

Consider this:

Father Todd Marten (Dan Lauria) spends all of his time down in the basement, making wooden bowls and then taking pictures of them.  Usually, he avoids his family but when he’s finally forced to confront Deena, she ends up smashing his fingers with her bedroom door.  “HOW CAN I WORK NOW!?” he bellows while holding up his bandaged hand.

Mother Cynthia Marten (Joanna Kerns) is an alcoholic who spends her spare time standing in front of a mirror and rehearsing being a disciplinarian.  When Deena flees the house, Cynthia attempts to win her back by bringing her a huge, home-made pizza.  “I made your favorite!” Cynthia drunkenly cries before accidentally dropping the pizza on the floor.

Grandmother Ivy (Nan Martin) is, without a doubt, one of the most evil and unpleasant characters that I have ever seen in a movie.  When Cynthia tries to tell her about the difficulties of raising Deena, Ivy responds by literally punching her in the face.

Deena’s younger brother, Adam (Adam Hendershott), is a talented pianist who deals with his family by playing video games and literally sleeping with a bottle of vodka in his bed.

Finally, there’s Aunt Judith (Kathleen Wilhoite).  Judith seems to be the only stable person in Deena’s family.  That’s mostly because Judith left home when she was young and was apparently some sort of groupie for several years.

With this family, is it any wonder that Deena is spending all of her time with Garrett (Andy Kavovit), her 17 year-old boyfriend who, along with introducing her to drugs and sex, also speaks wistfully of killing his mother and her boyfriend?  Garrett, not surprisingly, has a band and Deena soon finds herself staying out past curfew so she can perform with him at various seedy clubs.  The film blames a lot of Deena’s bad behavior on Garrett but you know what?  Back when I was 15, I would have been totally in love with Garrett too.

Seriously, Deena, you go girl!

swank-terror-in-the-family

Anyway, with all of this going on, can we really be shocked that Deena eventually ends up swinging a landline phone at her parents and demanding that they stay away?

Terror In The Family shows up on Lifetime occasionally and recently, for reasons that I don’t quite understand, it even turned up on Showtime, playing in between showings of Dexter and The Seduction of Misty Mundae.  It’s worth watching because it really is the perfect marriage of good intentions, over-the-top melodrama, and intense cluelessness.  For the most part, future Oscar winner Hilary Swank gives a good performance as Deena but the best parts of the films are the parts where she joins the rest of the cast in going totally and completely overboard.

The mix of melodrama and hindsight combine to make Terror In The Family into a true guilty pleasure.