In rainy Los Angeles, I've been able to catch up with several awards-season contenders at Oscar-consideration screenings around the city. The highlight was a raucously enjoyable screening of Into the Woods at the Writers Guild, including a spontaneous mid-film applause break after the show-stopping princely duet Agony. With an up-for-it all-star cast (Anna Kendrick is the film's soul, Chris Pine is the scene-stealer, Meryl Streep [above] gets the big numbers), the film is pure joy - then turns satisfyingly serious for the post-happy ending final act. Side note: the stage musical was my first-ever Broadway show, on a visit to New York back in the late-80s.
The other highlight was a screening of Selma at the Directors Guild, followed by a memorable Q&A with director Ava DuVernay and lead actor David Oyelowo, both of whom deserve serious awards recognition for a remarkably grounded, resonant, relevant drama about three momentous months in the life of Martin Luther King. There were at least four standing ovations! Also this week: Bradley Cooper is excellent as a real-life military marksman in Clint Eastwood's grippingly stark American Sniper, and Mark Wahlberg is solid as an irritatingly unlikable guy in Rupert Wyatt's remake of The Gambler.
This coming week, before I return to London this weekend, I am planning to catch Angelina Jolie's inspirational true drama Unbroken, Tim Burton's painting-scandal biopic Big Eyes, and Peter Jackson's final Tolkien film The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Then back in London I'll have one week to see the rest of this year's contenders before voting deadlines in the four awards I participate in: London Critics' Circle, Online Film Critics Society, Fipresci and Galeca's Dorian Awards.