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Entertainment Weekly has devoted their current issue to "Criminally Underrated" movies, TV shows, games, books and music. Here are five recent films that I would have included in their movie section (if asked). They're a handful of films I genuinely liked which, sadly, were almost completely ignored by other critics and audiences:

"Labor Day" - While Jason Reitman's latest drama isn't as good as his 2009 George Clooney Oscar nominee "Up in the Air", the story worked for me, thanks in large part to strong performances from Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. It's an intriguing and difficult film, but engaging and effective. Box Office Total: $13.4M; Rotten Tomatoes Average: 31%; LCJ Grade: B-

"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" - Director Kenneth Branagh ("Thor") delivers an exciting and seamlessly entertaining action thriller. Chris Pine ("Star Trek"), Keira Knightley, and Kevin Costner all give solid performances, but it's Branagh's showcase villain who stands out. Extremely enjoyable spy caper, which can't be said for most recent efforts in this genre. BOT: $50.3M; RTA: 56%; LCJ: B+

"Grudge Match" - Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro play ex-boxers who decide to duke it out in the ring one more time. It's pretty funny, with a little heart tossed in. Supporting work from Alan Arkin, the hilarious Kevin Hart, and Kim Basinger help elevate a somewhat lackluster script.           BOT: $29.8M; RTA: 30%; LCJ: B+

"The Family" - De Niro's second film on this list is an edgy action comedy with just as many unique and clever elements as there are violent scenes. Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones co-star, but it's "Glee"'s Dianna Agron who steals the spotlight as the tougher-than-she-looks teenage daughter.  BOT: $36.9M; RTA: 29%; LCJ: B

"Jobs" - I actually believed Ashton Kutcher was late technological pioneer Steve Jobs - his performance was that convincing. This biopic is both interesting and sophisticated (at least until the final few scenes). Josh Gad (on fire right following his voice work as Olaf in "Frozen") is also excellent as Steve Wozniack, Jobs' original Apple partner. BOT: $16.1M; RTA: 27%; LCJ: B

Hollywood, Start Your Engines! Movie Review

While the weekend's big new release, "Need for Speed", has some entertaining action sequences, it isn't a great car racing movie. However, this genre has had some high-powered entries over the past few years - some clear winners and some clunkers.

"The Fast & Furious" series has been incredibly popular and successful since it took the green flag back in 2001. Last Summer's "Fast & Furious 6" grossed a whopping $790 million worldwide. It's no wonder "Fast 7" is continuing production (in Abu Dhabi) even after star Paul Walker's death in November.

2006 was a big year for auto racing on the silver screen. Disney/Pixar's "Cars" is still the highest-grossing in the genre (and my favorite Pixar effort, as you know). With cameo voice appearances by "The King" Richard Petty and others, and with an authentic look and feel of the NASCAR scene from an animated perspective, "Cars" is a modern classic.

Also that year, Will Ferrell's hilarious "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby", which was his first collaboration with buddy John C. Reilly. It also featured breakout performances by Sacha Baron Cohen, Amy Adams, and Jane Lynch. Adjusted for inflation (according to, this is the third-biggest-moneymaker of Ferrell's career.

A quick glance in the pits: 2005's "Herbie: Fully Loaded" (with a young Lindsay Lohan), the Wachowskis' epically-long 2008 adaptation of "Speed Racer" were busts, as well as Jason Statham's R-rated "Death Race" (2008).

Pixar's decision to make "Cars 2" (2011) is still a smart one in my book, though critics blasted it, and the Lightning McQueen "World Grand Prix" plot was overshadowed by Mater's spy adventures. It's an underrated and enjoyable action-adventure. Last summer's animated "Turbo" was solid, nicely combining an far-out plot with a real-world setting (though hardly anyone saw it due to the Minion domination of "Despicable Me 2").

Most recently, director Ron Howard's "Rush", which chronicled the real-life rivalry between drivers Nicki Lauder and James Hunt, was a critical hit but not a box office success. The drama grossed only $27 million in theaters. And while Daniel Bruhl received numerous nominations for his piercing performance as Lauder, "Rush" couldn't make it onto the Academy circuit.

Along with "Fast 7", there could be other racing-related films to gear-up for in the future. There's no doubt the collaborating studios of DreamWorks, Touchstone, and Disney would love to see "Need For Speed" become a winning franchise, but I don't think this first film will have enough gas to make it to victory lane.

Disney's Silver Screen Central Movie Review

The Mouse House is on the verge of becoming the Big Cheese at theaters around the country. Four big releases from studios under the ginormous Disney umbrella are opening over the next six weeks. Yes, 4 in 6 weeks! How will they stack-up against each other and the rest of the competition?

"Need for Speed" (3/14) - DreamWorks and Touchstone partner-up for this adaptation of the popular car racing video game series. Lots of action and attempts at humor, but no laughs. The only impressive elements are the driving stunts (not a hint of CGI was used). "Breaking Bad" star Aaron Paul is the only actor draw. It's the biggest release of the weekend, but the 18-35 male crowd (who likely just saw "300: Rise of an Empire") may not get behind the wheel for this. Opening Weekend Prediction: $15M; Total Gross Prediction: $40M

"Muppets Most Wanted" (3/21) - After families flocked to "The LEGO Movie" once or twice (and "Frozen" two or three times), they didn't quite respond to DreamWorks' "Mr. Peabody & Sherman". They likely are saving their money for something they can count on - The Muppets! Still, having potential juggernaut (or disaster) "Divergent" as direct competition will make for a close-call weekend. OWP: $45M; TGP: $120M

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (4/4) - Marvel's action-packed superhero sequel to 2011's underrated, "The First Avenger" already has lots of buzz from the online community. With Chris Evans' Star-Spangled Man with a Plan joining Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, as well as newcomers Anthony Mackie and Robert Redford, I don't see how this can't be a smash hit. However, it's rare for a big blockbuster like this to open in one of the most disregarded months of the year. OWP: $85M; TGP: $225M

"Bears" (4/18) Last year Disneynature did not release an Earth Day documentary. But they're clawing back with this inspiring story of a courageous family of Alaskan bears. John C. Reilly (who voiced the character Wreck-It Ralph for Disney) is the narrator. These films don't do huge business, but this one could attract a larger crowd than usual. OWP: $12M; TGP: $30M

And, as if this wasn't enough, Disney will also be releasing two more films this Spring: the sports drama "Million Dollar Arm" starring Jon Hamm on May 16, and the eagerly anticipated "Maleficent" (w/Angelina Jolie in the title role) on May 30. Following six movies in only 11 weeks, the studio will take a break in June. But if you add the continual runs of "Frozen" and "Saving Mr. Banks", and the English-language version of the Oscar nominated animated "The Wind Rises", you get a total of 9 Disney films that have been or will be showing in theaters over the first five months of 2014. And they only released 10 movies all last year!

The Man Behind

In 1994, Rob Minkoff co-directed one of the most popular animated films of all-time, Disney's "The Lion King". Twenty years later, Minkoff returns to the animation world with DreamWorks' new comedy "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", based on the classic shorts from "The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show". In this LCJ Interview, Minkoff discusses bringing the time-travel duo to the big screen, their unique relationship, and why "Modern Family" star Ty Burrell was perfect for the role of the world's smartest dog.

Oscars Highs and Lows Movie Review

The 86th Oscars is in the books. Thoughts on the show and the results:

- While the broadcast went 3:34 it moved along pretty well. No outrageously long speeches or dragged-out presentations.

- Ellen did a nice job. The selfie that crashed Twitter will go down as her top highlight from the evening.

- The Hero montages were well done, though it's tough (and unnecessary) to try to work a "theme" into an Oscar ceremony.

- Oddities: "Gravity" wins 7 Oscars, including Best Director, but NOT Best Picture. "American Hustle" goes 0-10. Other outstanding films such as "Nebraska", "Philomena" "Captain Phillips" also shut-out. "The Great Gatsby" goes 2 for 2.

- Best speeches: Jared Leto, Lupita Nyong'o, and the "20 Feet from Stardom" and "Let It Go" winners.

- Most surprising win: "Mr. Hublot" (Animated Short Film). I've seen them all and "Get A Horse" was clearly the most creative and impressive. It seems the anti-Walt Disney campaign that kept "Saving Mr. Banks" from getting any meaningful nominations also hurt this short, which featured Disney's voice as Mickey Mouse.

- Glad that "20 Feet from Stardom" won for Best Documentary, but I will always and forever consider "Blackfish" the best doc. of 2013.

- Great moments: Bill Murray mentioning Harold Ramis and seeing Roger Ebert in the "In Memoriam".

- Worst moment BY FAR: John Travolta's totally embarrassing pronunciation of Idina Menzel's name before her performance of "Let It Go." He came out with something like - Adele Dazeem? It seemed to shake her and effect her performance, which was not sharp. But who can blame her? A moment you've been waiting for your entire life and your name gets completely butchered. What was he thinking? Ellen tried to cover after the song but the damage had been done. Feel bad for her.

- Enjoyed the other performances, especially "Happy" and Pink's version of "Over the Rainbow".

- Overall, Ellen's decision to interact with the celebs on the floor was smart (the pizza gag worked). Her scripted, on-stage intros were less effective.

- The funniest moment of the night came during ABC's Pre-Show. Jimmy Kimmel's negative Twitter skit was hilarious and perfectly executed. Hats-off to Lara Spencer for her supporting role. The Oscars should consider hiring whoever wrote that gag to work on next year's show.

- Personally, I nailed 20 of 24 predictions - a new high. My quest for the perfect Oscars ballot will resume next year.



LCJ's 2014 Oscar Predictions Movie Review

It's time for my "86th Annual Academy Awards" predictions. While there are many films nominated, only 4 of the Best Picture nominees will be recognized. Space adventure "Gravity" will take home the most Oscars, with 6, but not the Best Picture crown. "12 Years a Slave" will follow with 4 wins, followed by three for "Dallas Buyers Club". And the winners will be:

Best Picture - "12 Years a Slave"
Best Director - Alfonso Cuaron - "Gravity"
Best Actor - Matthew McConaughey - "Dallas Buyers Club"
Best Actress - Cate Blanchett - "Blue Jasmine"
Best Supporting Actor - Jared Leto - "Dallas Buyers Club"
Best Supporting Actress - Lupita Nyong'o - "12 Years a Slave"
Best Animated Feature - "Frozen"
Best Documentary Feature - "20 Feet from Stardom"
Best Foreign-Language Film - "The Great Beauty"
Best Animated Short Film - "Get a Horse!"
Best Documentary Short Film - "CaveDigger"
Best Live-Action Short Film - "Helium"
Best Original Screenplay - Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell - "American Hustle"
Best Adapted Screenplay - John Ridley - "12 Years a Slave"
Best Editing - "12 Years a Slave"
Best Cinematography - "Gravity"
Best Production Design - "The Great Gatsby"
Best Costume Design - "The Great Gatsby"
Best Makeup and Hairstyling - "Dallas Buyers Club"
Best Visual Effects - "Gravity"
Best Sound Mixing - "Gravity"
Best Sound Editing - "Gravity"
Best Original Score - Steven Price - "Gravity"
Best Original Song - "Let it Go" - music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez - "Frozen"

Ellen DeGeneres will play it safe and be very solid, and the show will end at approx. 12:11am ET.


Ranking the Best Picture Nominees
"Nebraska" - A-
"12 Years a Slave" - A-
"American Hustle" - A-
"Philomena" - B+
"Dallas Buyers Club" - B+
"Gravity" - B+
"Captain Phillips" - B
"Her" - C+
"The Wolf of Wall Street" - D+

If There are Upsets Movie Review

The 86th Annual Academy Awards feature a few good battles: Jennifer Lawrence vs. Lupita Nyong'o for Best Supporting Actress, U2 vs. Pharrell vs. "Frozen" for the Original Song title and the three-way Best Picture race between "12 Years a Slave", "American Hustle", and "Gravity" that will still be raging until the final envelope opens on Sunday. But if these Oscars are going to be remembered for surprises, here are five upsets that could happen: (Note - these are not necessarily my predictions in these categories)

Golden Globe and Critics Choice Best Actor in a Comedy recipient Leonardo DiCaprio could pull-out a surprise victory in the Best Actor category for "The Wolf of Wall Street". And maybe it'll come thanks to "Saturday Night Live". Last year, SNL hosts Lawrence, Christoph Waltz, and Anne Hathaway all took home trophies. While Leo only made his appearance on the show hosted by "Wolf" co-star Jonah Hill, his "Titanic" bit may put him over the top. Hill, however, has no shot for Supporting Actor.

There are only three Best Makeup and Hairstyling nominees. Too many people (and voters) disliked "The Lone Ranger", which is why it can't win. "Dallas Buyers Club" is the most critically acclaimed of the nominees, but is still not a traditional choice in this category. So, could voters choose "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa", simply based on the title or that younger voters liked the raunchy Johnny Knoxville comedy, or everyone just wants to hear the word "jackass" read after the phrase: "And the Oscar goes to..."? Hey, it got nominated!

Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope's emotionally charged screenplay for "Philomena" earned them an Adapted Screenplay win at the BAFTAs. However, "Captain Phillips" took the WGA, and John Ridley's script for "12 Years a Slave" earned the Critics Choice. If the Academy is going in a "12 Years" direction, it's the obvious choice here. However, they may want to give a little love to the inspiring dramedy.

A non-Best Picture nominee hasn't taken the Original Score award in over a decade. But for "Saving Mr. Banks", this is composer Thomas Newman's 12th career nomination, and he has never won. Maybe the Academy will throw the Disney drama a little love for not nominating Emma Thompson for Best Actress, and ignoring it for Best Picture.

Finally, while it's nominated for six Oscars, "Nebraska" very well could have zero wins when the night is over, except in this scenario: Since "Gravity" will undoubtedly grab several of the technical awards, maybe one could go for the beautiful black-and-white Cinematography in Alexander Payne's marvelous dramedy.


Jimmy Fallon's premiere week as new host of "The Tonight Show" is a classic case of "So Far So Good". The former "Late Night" host and SNL alum has succeeded in succeeding 22-year emcee Jay Leno (for now), moving operations back to The Big Apple for the first time in over four decades.

Jay and Jimmy's candid interviews in the weeks leading-up to the switch, including segments on "60 Minutes" and a Matt Lauer piece for "Today" and "E!" answered some of the questions America had about the historic move, and their relationship. But everyone was (and still is) wondering if NBC could pull another "Conan O'Brien stunt" and ask Leno to come back again if Fallon is unable to hold onto the network's #1 position in the late night wars.

For now, he Peacock has nothing to worry about. Fallon's first few shows have produced impressive ratings (with help from The Olympics lead-in) and Leno says he won't be hosting another Late Night show anytime soon (for NBC or anyone else).

The high-powered celebrity guests have certainly helped Jimmy get out of the gate quickly, led by Will Smith, Emma Thompson, Lady Gaga, U2, Bradley Cooper (both pushing their Oscar nominations), and a slew of major cameos on opening night.

But the key to a lasting success of the new "Tonight Show" rests squarely on Fallon. His upbeat personality and charisma are fine. But it's his inventive sketches and material geared towards a younger audience that could cause trouble. Some of it will work, but the average age of the "Tonight Show" audience is 50+. Will Fallon be forced to change up the jokes and skits to appeal to an older demo (and not scare away his true fans) or stay true to his style (and age) and remain focused on the 18-49 viewers.

There no doubt that NBC is taking a HUGE gamble with this Fallon/Leno move, which also involves Seth Meyers, who kicks-off his "Late Night" run next week. I hope Fallon pulls-it-off. He's a nice, humble guy, who's very talented and great at allowing both himself and his guests shine in just the right ways.

The next few weeks and months will be quite interesting.

The 2014 LCJ Movie Awards Movie Review

It's that time of year again: THE 2014 LCJ MOVIE AWARDS - honoring the finest work on the silver screen in 2013. For the first time, there are two double nominees in the four major acting categories (Amy Adams and Tom Hanks), as well as six Supporting Actor and Cinematography nominees. Bradley Cooper, Judi Dench, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, and David O. Russell have received nominations for the second year in a row, while Woody Allen, Cate Blanchett, and Alexander Payne are up for the second time in three years. The envelopes please:


Best Picture
"12 Years a Slave"
"American Hustle"
"Enough Said"
"Saving Mr. Banks"
"Star Trek Into Darkness"

Best Director
Alfonso Cuaron - "Gravity"
John Lee Hancock - "Saving Mr. Banks"
Steve McQueen - "12 Years a Slave"
Alexander Payne - "Nebraska"
David O. Russell - "American Hustle"

Best Actor
Christian Bale - "American Hustle"
Bruce Dern - "Nebraska"
Chiwetel Ejiofor - "12 Years a Slave"
Tom Hanks - "Captain Phillips"
Matthew McConaughey - "Dallas Buyers Club"

Best Actress
Amy Adams - "American Hustle"
Cate Blanchett - "Blue Jasmine"
Sandra Bullock - "Gravity"
Judi Dench - "Philomena"
Emma Thompson - "Saving Mr. Banks"

Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi - "Captain Phillips"
Bradley Cooper - "American Hustle"
Harrison Ford - "42"
Will Forte - "Nebraska"
Tom Hanks - "Saving Mr. Banks"
Jared Leto - "Dallas Buyers Club"

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams - "Her"
Jennifer Garner - "Dallas Buyers Club"
Jennifer Lawrence - "American Hustle"
Lupita Nyong'o - "12 Years a Slave"
June Squibb - "Nebraska"

Best Ensemble
"12 Years a Slave"
"American Hustle"
"Lee Daniels' The Butler"
"Saving Mr. Banks"

Best Younger Actor/Actress
Annie Rose Buckley - "Saving Mr. Banks"
Gattlin Griffith - "Labor Day"
Liam James - "The Way, Way Back"
Sophie Nelisse - "The Book Thief"
Tye Sheridan - "Mud"

Best Cameo
Robert De Niro - "American Hustle"
Chris Evans - "Thor: The Dark World"
Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson - "Grudge Match"
Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart - "The Wolverine"
Mark Ruffalo - "Iron Man 3"

Best Animated Feature
"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2"
"Despicable Me 2"
"Monsters University"
"The Wind Rises"

Best Director of an Animated Feature
Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee - "Frozen"
Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn - "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2"
Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud - "Despicable Me 2"
Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders - "The Croods"
Hayao Miyazaki - "The Wind Rises"

Best Action Film
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
"Lone Survivor"
"Star Trek Into Darkness"
"World War Z"

Best Comedy
"American Hustle"
"Enough Said"
"One Chance"
"The Sapphires"

Best Comedy with the Most Laughs
"Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues"
"The Family"
"Grudge Match"
"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"
"Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa"

Best Drama
"12 Years a Slave"
"Dallas Buyers Club"
"Saving Mr. Banks"

Best Documentary Feature
"20 Feet from Stardom"

Best Family Film
"Oz: The Great and Powerful"
"The Smurfs 2"

Best Animated Short Film
"Get a Horse!"
"Room on the Broom"

Best Original Screenplay
David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer - "American Hustle"
Woody Allen - "Blue Jasmine"
Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, and Shane Morris - "Frozen"
Bob Nelson - "Nebraska"
Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith - "Saving Mr. Banks"

Best Adapted Screenplay
John Ridley - "12 Years a Slave"
Billy Ray - "Captain Phillips"
Peter Berg - "Lone Survivor"
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope - "Philomena"
Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, and Robert Orci - "Star Trek Into Darkness"

Best Editing
"American Hustle"
"Lone Survivor"
"Saving Mr. Banks"

Best Visual Effects
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
"Jack the Giant Slayer"
"Star Trek Into Darkness"
"World War Z"

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
"Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa"
"Lee Daniels' The Butler"
"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"
"Oz: The Great and Powerful"

Best Costume Design
"American Hustle"
"The Great Gatsby"
"The Invisible Woman"
"Oz: The Great and Powerful"
"Saving Mr. Banks"

Best Production Design
"American Hustle"
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"
"Inside Llewyn Davis"
"Saving Mr. Banks"

Best Sound Editing/Mixing
"Captain Phillips"
"Fast & Furious 6"
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
"Lone Survivor"

Best Cinematography
"12 Years a Slave"
"Inside Llewyn Davis"
"Saving Mr. Banks"

Best Original Score
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"
"Monsters University"
"Saving Mr. Banks"
"The Wind Rises"

Best Original Song
"Happy" - "Despicable Me 2"
"Let it Go" - "Frozen"
"Please Mr. Kennedy" - "Inside Llewyn Davis"
"Roll Jordan Roll" - "12 Years a Slave"
"Sweeter Than Fiction" - "One Chance"

Best 3D
"Despicable Me 2"
"Jack the Giant Slayer"
"World War Z"

The Roger Ebert Actor of the Year Award
Steve Carell - "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues", "Despicable Me 2", "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone", "The Way, Way Back"
Benedict Cumberbatch - "12 Years a Slave", "August: Osage County", "The Fifth Estate", "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug", "Star Trek Into Darkness"
Josh Gad - "Frozen", "The Internship", "Jobs"
Paul Giamatti - "12 Years a Slave", "Saving Mr. Banks", "Turbo"
Woody Harrelson - "Free Birds", "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire", "Now You See Me", "Out of the Furnace"

Inside Sony Pictures Animation  Movie Review

While in California last month for the Critics Choice Movie Awards, I was invited to take an incredible, inside tour of the Sony Pictures Animation and Imageworks studios in Culver City. From the street you'd never know that behind some hedges and a small iron fence is the home of the talented filmmakers of such hits as "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" 1 & 2, "Hotel Transylvania" and "The Smurfs" series. During my private, all-access visit I was able to get the inside scoop on some of Sony's huge, in-the-works projects.

The SPA lobby is decorated with awards and memorablilia from each of their films, including puppets used in the "Cloudy 2" closing credits sequence, and actual working figures that starred in Aardman's "The Pirates! Band of Misfits". I was able to manipulate one of the claymation pirates, complete with its replacable mouths. (Sony Scoop #1: The studio currently has 30 projects in development, but over half of them will never see the light of day, and even fewer will eventually get made - which is typical for most animation studios).

I met up with "Cloudy 2" co-director Kris Pearn at the Ray Harryhausen theater for an exclusive screening of the deleted scenes from the movie, which are on the newly-released Blu-ray/DVD. (Sony Scoop #2: He and co-director Cody Cameron were given exactly 85 minutes to work with for "Cloudy 2", not counting the credits.) He told me it's always hard to let go of good material, but he had a blast working on the fun food-fest film.

"Hotel Transylvania" director Genndy Tartakovsky may be the busiest person on the lot. He's in the middle of both "Transylvania 2" and a CGI, 3D update of "Popeye". (Sony Scoop #3: While the Sailor Man's return to the big screen isn't for at least two more years, I got a look at some full character sketches, set designs and even watched a 90-seconds of test footage from the movie that very few, other than SPA employees, have seen.) An incredible thrill! I'm under an oath of silence not to give out any specific details, but I can say both traditional Popeye fans and younger moviegoers will like his updated look, and the style of the film is fast, fun and has great potential.

The Imageworks division is hard at work on the visual effects for this summer's blockbuster, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2". In their private office, complete with a couch and big screen, Mickey Levy and Veronica Kablan showed me how they're bringing Jamie Foxx's evil Electro to life. (Sony Scoop #4: From the trailers that are already out we can see that he's a much different version from the comic book villian, but it's his "sparks" that will take this character to the next level). I can't divulge any of those secrets yet either (or they promised to send Electro after me). Mickey, Veronica and the rest of the Imageworks wizards are under tight, crucial deadlines with the May 2nd release date less than three months away.

I must thank SPA VP of Publicity & Communication (and great guy) Olivier Mouroux for setting-up and leading my tour, and all the artists who shared their time (and scoops). 


The 10 Movies to See before Oscar Night Movie Review

With so many movies and so little time - only 3 weeks away - which Academy Award nominees are must-sees before the big night? Here are my top picks:

1. "AMERICAN HUSTLE" - Tied with "Gravity" with the most nominations (10), including the major six categories (Picture, Director, all 4 acting), David O. Russell's fun crime dramedy could walk away with the top prize and honors for both ladies (Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence).

2. "12 YEARS A SLAVE" - The frontrunner for Best Picture after wins at the Globes and Critics Choice Awards, the emotional historical drama is also a contender for Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o) and could score Lead Actor too (Chiwetel Ejiofor) if it has a hot night. Can't count out Adapted Screenplay, either.

3. "DALLAS BUYERS CLUB" - While the HIV-AIDS drama doesn't have a shot at Best Picture, star Matthew McConaughey has been cruising through Awards Season so far with Best Actor victories, and Supporting Actor nominee Jared Leto is the closest thing to the lock of the evening.

4. "GRAVITY" - Pretty much everyone has seen the 90-minute space adventure by now, but if you're one of the few who hasn't, it's a must. Alfonso Cuaron is the likely Best Director recipient, while Best Actress nominee Sandra Bullock is still very much alive in that race.

5. "BLUE JASMINE" - Woody Allen's romantic dramedy stars Cate Blanchett, who's been sweeping the Lead Actress circuit. Woody could also score Original Screenplay honors, but this recent re-opening of scandal talk isn't helping.

6. "CAPTAIN PHILLIPS" - While Tom Hanks shockingly failed to receive a Best Actor nomination, the high-seas action/suspense/thriller from Paul Greengrass could take the Adapted Screenplay and Editing awards.

7. "FROZEN" - If all this time you've been thinking the Disney animated musical is simply a kids movie, you are sorely mistaken. The Animated Feature frontrunner is smart, funny, sophisticated, and features show-stopping original songs, including nominee and potential winner, "Let It Go".

8. "NEBRASKA" - Alexander Payne's follow-up to "The Descendants" is a raw and moving small-town portrayl with excellent work from nominees Bruce Dern and June Squibb. It's my favorite film out of these Best Picture nominees.

9. "20 FEET FROM STARDOM" - The strong contender in the Documentary Feature race tells the story of professional back-up singers, and the struggles they've faced throughout the history of music. Currently available on DVD.

10. "THE GREAT GATSBY" - Originally supposed to be an Oscar contender last year, but pushed to a summer 2013 release (a move that paid off), Baz Luhrman's adaptation of the classic novel could score two wins for its gorgeous costume and production designs.

Leno says So Long to

After 22 years, Jay Leno's incredible run as host of "The Tonight Show" is coming to an end Thursday night. I was fortunate enough to be a guest on the show twice, Feb. '11 and '12, talking movies and giving my Oscar predictions. These were two of the best nights of my career as a critic.

Before my first appearance Jay stopped by my dressing room prior to the show in his trademark denim shirt and jeans. We chatted for a little while about the year in movies, and about his animation voice work. He told me he love doing voice-overs because he gets to go to work in his PJs. I had him sign my "Jay Limo" diecast from "Cars" after the show.

Bandleader Rickey Minor also paid a visit before the show, and took me back to his office (which was also his music studio) where he played the "walk-out song" he was going to use that night for my introduction. He composed it himself - an original song - with some inspiration from the theme I was using on TV at the time. What a thrill! And while I didn't actually hear it walking out, live, when Jay introduced me (I was concentrating on not tripping over the steps that lead to the stage), I listened to it later that night and will never forget it.

Being on that famous set with Jay and the celebrities I got to meet and share the couch with was simply amazing. The delightful Emily Blunt appreciated how much I liked "Gnomeo & Juliet", and the lovely Meredith Vieria was interested in my future as a film critic. Both of them could not have been nicer.

But my greatest memories will be of Jay - how friendly and supportive he was during both of my visits. I got the "star treatment". And he's become a great friend over the past few years, along with being a true TV icon and an inspiration to all those getting into the business.

As for "The Tonight Show" - it will never be the same. Jay made sure that you never knew what to expect - from the monologues to the skits to the interviews to the musical guests. "Headlines" on Mondays became a "must-watch" event. "Jaywalking" - always a classic. Leno will certainly be missed by the viewing nation. He was #1 in late night for a reason - he was the best. New host Jimmy Fallon should do fine, but it'll be a completely different show.

Jay says he won't do another late night talk show and I believe him. But don't be surprised if he appears somewhere on our TV screens again very soon. The camera is tough to say goodbye to, and the guy simply loves to work.

All I can say is: Jay - Best wishes and thanks for the laughs and the memories.

SB48 Brings the Big Screen Ads Movie Review

The Super Bowl is watched annually by over 100 million people. So it's a prime opportunity for Hollywood to showcase previews of some of the biggest, most anticipated movies of the year.

The Silver Screen dominated the hours leading up to kick-off: Kevin Costner's football drama "Draft Day" was a natural choice and the film has great potential. Costner's other movie, the action film "3 Days to Kill" still doesn't look promising. George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" (opening Friday) has been getting mixed buzz, but I'm still holding out hope. And it was surprising to see director Seth MacFarlane and the loveable bear TED announce that a teaser for MacFarlane's upcoming "A Million Ways to Die in the West" couldn't be shown on TV because it's so adult. So they sent everyone to their website instead.

FOX's final installment of their pre-game analysis marathon was sponsored by and named the "Muppets Most Wanted" Pre-Game Show, as Disney premiered two new spots for the musical sequel, out March 21st. The gang came back later for two fun Toyota ads, including one with Terry Crews

In the 6:00 Ford Pre-Kick slot we got a look at "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and Russell Crowe's "Noah", which promises to tell "the untold story" of the flood of Biblical proportions. I still don't know how that's possible, but we'll see!

Now to the actual game, and what a way to start! The first play safety made Super Bowl history and pretty soon it was 5-0 Seahawks. Then came the Mouse House's third film push of the night - "Need for Speed", which simply looks like a "Fast & Furious" knock-off.

Quarter 2 featured the first look at Michael Bay's re-vamped "Transformers: Age of Extinction" (set for June 27 release). While the action-sequence style looks similar to the other films, Mark Wahlberg is a major upgrade over Shia LaBeouf.

Once the score became 22-0 in favor of the Seahawks (an ineviable blowout), Spidey swung into action. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" already looks 5x better than the 2012 reboot.

And that ended the night for movie promos, and for most of the viewers watching the game, switching over to "Shark Tank" and other programming. Hopefully all of these releases will have been worth the up-to $4 million spent by the studios.

My 2014 Super Bowl Predictions Movie Review

Get ready for Tyler Perry's Jackass Presents: Lee Daniels' Super Bowl XLVIII. Originally, New Jersey was expected to be Frozen on Sunday night - like a February in Nebraska. But it looks like both teams will be feeling The Heat at MetLife of Walter Mitty Stadium with a Cloudy forecast highlighted by 30-degree temps. The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks have had strong seasons since August, but only one can be crowned as the Lone Survivor.

The Great and Powerful Peyton Manning hopes his hot streak Continues as he and Seahawks QB Russell Wilson venture Into Darkness (hopefully not literally this year) for what should be a Fast & Furious game.

Forget Omaha, Manning will be yelling just about anything: "Now You See Me", "I'm the Captain Now", or even "Don't Let Go!" He'll likely be doing the American Hustle after every Broncos touchdown is scored. And Denver DT Terrance Knighton should get to prove that he's a Man Of Steel (or, at least, "Pot Roast").

Neither team will want to fall behind early, thinking that All is Lost and that they'll have to come Way, Way Back.

I'm betting some of my Wall Street fortune that This Is The End of Manning's whirlwind year. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll's team will be Rushing the ball early and Saving big pass plays for the 4th quarter. Catching Fire for his comments lately (Enough Said about that), Richard Sherman will be celebrating with a 31-24 victory over the Broncos, giving a memorable interview following the game that will blow the White House Down. And hopefully I'll be saying: "I just won 20-bucks!"

Sony Pictures Animation's "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" was one of the highest-grossing animated movies of '13, earning over $250 million worldwide. The makers of "Cloudy 2" didn't just put their heart and soul into the feature. They also created a unique closing credits sequence, which you can now watch over and over on the "Cloudy 2" DVD, along with a "Behind the Scenes" featurette. In this LCJ Interview, End Credits Production Manager Kevin Noel gives the inside scoop on the combination of hand-drawn animation, CGI and puppetry that, mixed together, make-up this monumental treat.





One thing you can say about the folks at Disney - they don't like to lose.

First, in an effort to get increased attention for "Frozen"'s Oscar nominated Best Original Song, "Let It Go", the studio has released a mashed-up version, with the song, sung by Idina Menzel, in 25 different languages. It's pretty amazing, though I'll still take the original. Do you think this could have anything to do with "Let It Go" losing at the Golden Globes (voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press)? No matter what, this version is now getting millions of hits online and will definitely attract the attention of Academy members as they start to fill-out their Oscar ballots this week.

And there's also a battle on to become the highest grossing animated film of 2013. Universal's "Despicable Me 2" built-up a huge lead on the rest of the field, but since its release in late November, "Frozen" has been steadily gaining on "DM2".

But it didn't look like the updated "Snow Queen" tale had a chance to catch the Minions - until the extraordinary news that Disney will be releasing a sing-along version of "Frozen" in over 1000 theaters nationwide - on Super Bowl Weekend. Fans will be able to join in on all the songs, as the lyrics will be displayed at the bottom of the screen, complete with a bouncing snowflake. Past Disney sing-along movies have done quite well and you can expect millions of young girls to flock to theaters to experience this one (especially on SB Sunday).

Will the bonus box office $$$ from these special screenings (combined with the money the film is still making in its regular version) allow "Frozen" to catch "Despicable Me 2" and capture the title "#1 Animated Film of 2013"? As of now "DM2" leads both domestically (by about $30M) and worldwide (by more than $150M), but "DM2"'s US total is literally frozen, opening the door for Disney, with an avalanche of sing-along fans, to steal the crown.





My Star-Studded Night at the CCMAs Movie Review

The 19th Annual Critics Choice Movie Awards featured a ratings spike, a record-setting 7 wins for the space saga "Gravity", and now Academy Award Best Picture frontrunner "12 Years a Slave" taking home the top honor. Not all of the nominees I voted for ended-up winning, but I am proud of the results in all the categories. And it was great, once again, to be in attendance for what was an incredible, celeb. fest:

The evening got off to a great start at the pre-show party. Best Actor nominee Bruce Dern and Supporting Actress nominee June Squibb ("Nebraska") posed for a photo together (Dern insisted). He loved working with director Alexander Payne, telling me, "He can make a movie". Best Actress contender Judi Dench ("Philomena") didn't attend the ceremony, the real Philomena Lee was on hand. The very sweet 80-year-old was pleased with how the film turned out, and gave one of the best lines all night, "Oh to be young again".

Inside the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, the stars were taking their seats, schmoozing with friends and critics. As I approached Amy Adams (who later won Best Actress in a Comedy for "American Hustle"), she immediately said "Have you grown a foot since the last time I saw you?" Tom Hanks, who was snubbed by the Academy earlier that day, nonetheless was in good spirits, and also remembered me from our backstage chat after his play "Lucky Guy" in NYC last June.

Two local connections: Bradley Cooper, who shot this year's "The Place Beyond the Pines" in Schenectady, NY, (not far from where I live) said it meant a lot to him to film there. And "12 Years a Slave" star Chiwetel Ejiofor shared with me his excitement that Solomon Northup's story (which begins with his capture in Saratoga, NY) is now getting out there to the world and is currently a NY Times Bestseller.

Lupita Nyong'o crossed her fingers on both at the end of our conversation, which happened to be right before we all heard her name called as Best Supporting Actress winner for "Slave". Seth Rogen, on the other hand, was less optimistic about the film he co-directed and starred in that was nominated for Best Comedy - "This Is The End". "I don't think our chances are very good", and then he gave the famous Seth Rogen laugh, which is why my smile is so wide in my photo with him.

Both Best Actress winner Cate Blanchett (who had her young son with her at her table performing  tricks) and "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuaron told me they get anxious and nervous during Awards Season, with Cuaron admitting, "I have never-ending low self-esteem". Best Actor recipient Matthew McConaughey just wants to make sure everyone pronounces his name correctly. Why did Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa call him Matthew McConaugh Hey! Hey! Hey! during each of his appearance on their show: "They said "He" once. It took some people 10 years to get my name right".

Melissa McCarthy has been incredibly fortunate for her success over these past whirlwind years. She told me she's eagerly looking forward to her next film (directed by husband Ben Falcone), "Tammy", out July 2nd. Dermot Mulroney ("August: Osage County") is also excited for his next project, the NBC TV series "Crisis" (premiering in March), which he says is going to "completely revolutionize television".

Now to some of my own Awards from the night:

Best Story Told by a Celebrity: Will Forte, who revealed that he dated one of Regis' friends' daughters about 20 years ago.

Best Unexpected Celebrity Combo: I was asked by a fellow critic to take a photo of him and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Seconds later Kevin Spacey comes-up to me and says, "I photo-bombed the picture you just took". And he did! So I then got a shot with both Oscar winning actors.

Quote of the Night: After I introduced myself to a hurried Harvey Weinstein, telling him I'm a member of the BFCA, he said, "You look to young" and dashed away. Runner-Up: "You're Kickin-A, Man!", from "The Way, Way Back" star Sam Rockwell.

Quote of the Show: When Host Aisha Tyler referred to the "8 people" who probably care about new episodes of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" coming in March of The CW, I cheered, since I do watch and enjoy the show. She spotted me from the stage, calling me the "12 year-old guy". At the post-party we laughed about it, and she said, "Thanks for playing along".

But my Favorite Celebrity Encounter of the night, without a doubt, was with Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks"). She, unfortunately, had been denied an Oscar nomination that morning for her Oscar-worthy work as Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers. But if there was any disappointment, she certainly didn't show it. She was exactly what I hoped she be like and more. She truly appreciated how much I loved the movie and her performance and introduced me to her daughter (the two look almost identical).

Thompson was very interested in how I became a film critic and where I want to go with my career, citing "So you're the next Leonard Maltin or Roger Ebert - you cover everything!". We posed for this wonderful photo, and as I was walking away, she turned and said something I simply will never forget - "I'll see you on the road".

And the Oscar Nominees Are and Aren't... Movie Review

The 86th Annual Academy Awards nominations are full of snubs and surprises:

"Gravity" and "American Hustle" lead with 10 nominations each, followed by "12 Years a Slave" with 9.

The Best Picture category features nine nominees for the third year in a row - one of them is NOT my favorite film of the year: "Saving Mr. Banks". In fact the making-of "Mary Poppins" drama from Disney got almost completely snubbed, as Emma Thompson did not receive a Best Actress nod. She was overtaken by an 18th nomination from Meryl Streep, and a 5th from Amy Adams (her first in the lead actress category). At least "Banks" received an Original Score nomination for Thomas Newman. I hope it wins that.

Not only did Tom Hanks not receive Supporting Actor recognition for "Banks", but he also didn't get one for his incredible work in "Captain Phillips". I can see this as "The Ben Affleck backlash" of 2014. Christian Bale ("American Hustle") and Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Wolf of Wall Street") also in, pushing-out Robert Redford ("All Is Lost").

In the acting categories, Jonah Hill ("Wolf") knocked-out Daniel Bruhl ("Rush") and the late James Gandolfini ("Enough Said"). Sally Hawkins' work in "Blue Jasmine" forced Oprah off the Supporting Actress ballot. And Jennifer Lawrence becomes the youngest 3-time nominee in history.

For Best Director, Alexander Payne got a nod for "Nebraska" over Paul Greengrass ("Captain Phillips") - who was one of the frontrunners going into this race. Animated Feature has some pleasant surprises, including "Despicable Me 2" (the original didn't get a nomination - this usually doesn't happen), along with the little-seen "Ernest & Celestine". And in Animated Short: the Mickey Mouse CGI/hand-drawn "Get a Horse!" is likely the frontrunner.

The Best Documentary Feature category was missing the unforgettable "Blackfish" (my favorite doc of the year), but at least the very impressive "20 Feet from Stardom" will be competing for the prize. And how about "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" up for Best Makeup & Hairstyling! If it wins, Johnny Knoxville should definitely go onstage.


The Glitz, Glam and Glory of the Globes Movie Review

The Golden Globes are always unpredictable, and this year's show was no excpetion:

"12 Years a Slave" only won one category - Best Picture/Drama, but out of the five nominees in the category it was certainly the best.

"American Hustle" started-off hot and kept going strong. Jennifer Lawrence's big Supporting Actress win makes another Oscar victory more likely. And Amy Adams pulled a major upset by beating veteran winner Meryl Streep in the Actress Comedy/Musical category. Adams has been nominated for four Oscars in the past. Could she finally win one this year and even knock Streep off the ballot? And then a Best Comedy win capped the night.

Something different: last year's Supporting Actor, Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained"), presented this year's recipient in the category, Jared Leto for his incredible work in "Dallas Buyers Club". "The Wolf of Wall Street" winner Leonardo DiCaprio never thought he'd receive a Globe for a Comedy.

And Alfonso Cuaron (Best Director - "Gravity") gave one of the best speech of the night. Actress in a Drama went to Cate Blanchett and Matthew McConaughey took Actor in a Drama. They are now the frontrunners for Critics Choice, the SAGs and the Academy Awards.

The Cecil B. DeMille Award to Woody Allen was nicely done. Diane Keaton had some very nice things to say about the visionary director - closing with a song about their lasting friendship.

On the TV side, "Breaking Bad" was appropriately honored, but the shockers of the night were victories by "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and star Andy Samberg.

As for the show itself: Amy Poehler (who finally won for "Parks & Rec") and Tina Fey's opening monologue was sharper, funnier, edgier, and much more interactive with the crowd. How about Matt Damon - "The garbage man who forgot his glasses!" Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie ("The Wolf of Wall Street") had the wrong teleprompter copy but handled it like pros. And Jacqueline Bisset's speech is now iconic.

As presenters go: Jim Carrey had one of the best lines: "Dying is Easy. Comedy is hard. I believe it was Shia LaBeouf who said that." Who knew Sean Diddy Combs was once on a boat with "All Is Lost" composer Alex Ebert? But the funniest presenter had to be Emma Thompson, who walked out with a drink in one hand and her heels in the other. After a few great one-liners, she asked where the envelope was and tossed the shoes away.

So, will any of this carry-over to Thursday's Oscar nominations and the Oscars themselves? History says "no" - but we'll see.


The Biggest Week of Awards Season Movie Review

With the Critics Choice Movie Awards, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and the Oscar nominations all coming-up next week, it's safe to say Awards Season fever is officially here. The following are some of the performances and films that should have a pretty good next 7 days:

Cate Blanchett has been the early favorite in the Best Actress category, already winning many city-based Association awards. But momentum has been building for Judi Dench, and the "based on a true story" drama that she stars in. "Philomena" is up for the Best Picture (Drama) Globe and just received a surprise BAFTA Best Film nod (and there are only 5 nominees). While the British version of the Oscars aren't until Feb. 16, watch-out for Dench and some "Philomena" love in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, where Jeff Pope and co-star Steve Coogan could take the well-deserved take the prize at the GGs and CCMAs.

My favorite film of 2013, "Saving Mr. Banks", hasn't been getting as many accolades as it should. Tom Hanks has yet to receive a Supporting Actor nomination from anyone (though this could be one of the major Oscar surprises Thurs. morning). This previously untold story of how "Mary Poppins" was brought to the screen is up for the Critics Choice Best Picture. And star Emma Thompson is a leading contender for all the Best Actress honors. Already a two-time Oscar winner, she's close to a lock for another nomination, and could win a Globe, SAG and CCMA.

Daniel Bruhl is the sole shining light from Ron Howard's "Rush", which was released in September to mixed reviews. Bruhl's performance as racercar driver Niki Lauda has a shot at beating everyone to the Best Supporting Actor finish line - though Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers Club"), Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips"), and Bradley Cooper ("American Hustle") make this the toughest competition of the year. "Rush" is also up for the Best Drama Globe, but it doesn't have a shot.

Best Picture and Best Director will likely go one of three ways: "Gravity"/Alfonso Cuaron, "12 Years a Slave"/Steve McQueen, or the film/director that seem to be getting more and more positive buzz every day: David O. Russell and "American Hustle". The film is stylish, fun, and has a phenomenal cast, which is why I'm pulling for it to win the SAG Ensemble award, along with several CCMA and Globe honors.

But as they say, "Anything can happen", and I'm convinced that this Awards Season is going to be one of the most unpredictable and surprising of all time.

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