The Open Book

47th Pillsbury Bake-Off Names Grand Prize Winner

Four finalists on stage for the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off. 

Wednesday (December 3, 2014) and live from New York City, the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off® Contest awarded Beth Royals of Richmond, Virginia, its grand prize for her original recipe Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters. Beth will take home $1 million along with $10,000 in GE kitchen appliances. The announcement was revealed by celebrity chef and host of the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off® Contest Carla Hall on ABC's "The Chew," which she co-hosts.

"Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters have something for everyone – they are sweet, salty and have a great crunchy texture. We thought Beth's idea, to use Pillsbury's refrigerated pie crust in a candy-like recipe, was both unique and creative," says Jann Atkins, Bake-Off® kitchens manager. "This dish is easy to make and it stores very well making it a great contribution to holiday parties and potlucks."

Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters 

Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters, the grand prize winning recipe from Beth Royals in the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Beth's million-dollar winning recipe requires only six ingredients including Pillsbury™ Pie Crust, Crisco® Baking Sticks and Jif® Creamy Peanut Butter. Her dish takes 30 minutes to prepare and uses Reynold® Cut-Rite® Wax Paper.

In early 2014, Pillsbury invited home cooks to submit original recipes in one of four contest categories: Amazing Doable Dinners, Savory Snacks and Sides, Simply Sweet Treats, and Weekend Breakfast Wows. Beth's recipe was selected by the Bake-Off® Kitchens as one of the top 100 recipes among all eligible submissions.

Beth Royals, Richmond, Virginia, won the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off with her Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters, which also won the Simply Sweet Treats category. Megan Beimer, Alexandria, Virginia, won in the Weekend Breakfast Wows category with her Chocolate Doughnut Poppers.

Beth Royals; right, Megan Beimer

Courtney Sawyer, Bellingham, Washington, won the Amazing Doable Dinners category with her Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets.  Jody Walker, Madison, Mississippi, won the Savory Snacks and Sides category with her Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers.

Courtney Sawyer; right, Jody Walker

The 100 finalists met in Nashville on November 3 to prepare their dishes for a judging panel of 12 leading food experts. There, the judges evaluated and selected the best recipe in each of the four Contest categories. In addition to Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters, which won the Simply Sweet Treats category, the other recipes chosen by the judges to advance to the online vote included:

Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets 

Amazing Doable Dinners: Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets by Courtney Sawyer of Bellingham, Washington

Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers

Savory Snacks and Sides: Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers by Jody Walker of Madison, Mississippi

Chocolate Doughnut Poppers 

Weekend Breakfast Wows: Chocolate Doughnut Poppers by Megan Beimer of Alexandria, Virginia

Following the event in Nashville, the public was invited to vote online for their favorite of the four recipes. The results of the online vote were combined with the judges' scores to determine the grand prize winner. The three runners-up will each receive $10,000 and $3,000 in GE kitchen appliances.

Sponsors of the 47thPillsbury Bake-Off® Contest included The J.M. Smucker Co., GE Appliances, Green Giant, The J.R. Watkins Co., Reynolds Consumer Products and Pyrex.

Visit www.BakeOff.com to find all of the recipes that competed in the contest finals as well as hundreds of other delicious recipes to try at home. The site also holds full contest rules.

ABOUT CARLA HALL: Carla Hall is a co-host of ABC's popular lifestyle series "The Chew," seated alongside restaurateurs and "Iron Chef America" stars Mario Batali and Michael Symon, entertaining expert Clinton Kelly and health and wellness enthusiast Daphne Oz. Hall is best known as a competitor on Bravo's "Top Chef," where she won over audiences with her fun catch phrase, "Hootie Hoo" and her philosophy to always cook with love. Hall is the owner of Carla Hall Petite Cookies, an artisan cookie company that specializes in creating sweet and savory "petite bites of love." Her approach to cooking blends her classic French training and Southern upbringing for a twist on traditional favorites. She is committed to health and balance in everyday living. Her newest cookbook, Carla's Comfort Food: Favorite Dishes from Around the World was published in March 2014, and her first cookbook, Cooking with Love: Comfort Food That Hugs You, was published in November 2012 and recently re-released in paperback.

A native of Nashville, Hall received a degree in accounting from Howard University, but traveling through Europe awakened her passion for food and inspired a new career path. She attended L'Academie de Cuisine in Maryland where she completed her culinary training, going on to work as a sous chef at the Henley Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. She also served as executive chef at both The State Plaza Hotel and The Washington Club, and has taught classes at CulinAerie, Sur la Table and her alma mater, L'Academie de Cuisine. Hall is a true believer that, "If you're not in a good mood, the only thing you should make is a reservation." She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Matthew Lyons, and stepson Noah.

ABOUT 'THE CHEW': Celebrating and exploring life through food, "The Chew," is an innovative and groundbreaking daytime series co-hosted by a dynamic group of engaging, fun, relatable experts in food, lifestyle, and entertaining. Produced by Gordon Elliott's Chew Productions for the ABC Television Network, "The Chew" serves up everything food – from cooking and home entertaining to food trends, restaurants, holidays and more – all aimed at making life better, fuller and more fun. Follow "The Chew" (@thechew) and hosts Mario Batali (@mariobatali); Michael Symon (@chefsymon); Clinton Kelly (@clinton_kelly); Carla Hall (@carlahall); and Daphne Oz (@DaphneOz) on Twitter ™

ABOUT THE PILLSBURY BAKE-OFF CONTEST SPONSORS: General Mills is one of the world's leading food companies, operating in more than 100 countries around the world. Its brands include Cheerios, Fiber One, Haagen-Dazs, Nature Valley, Yoplait, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Green Giant, Old El Paso, Wanchai Ferry, Yoki, and more. Headquartered in Minneapolis, General Mills had fiscal 2014 worldwide sales of $17.9 billion. Pillsbury products have been trusted by families to make meal times special times for more than 130 years. Favorite Pillsbury products include refrigerated cookies, crescent dinner rolls, breads, biscuits, pie crusts and sweet rolls as well as frozen biscuits, pie crusts and breakfast items. For product information and great-tasting recipes, visit www.Pillsbury.com. Log on to www.GeneralMills.com for company information.

Few companies enjoy a heritage as rich as that of Green Giant. It all started more than 110 years ago, in 1903, when the Crosby family created the first cannery in the rich valley of Le Sueur, Minnesota, where glaciers carved out some of the richest soil in the world. For generations, Green Giant farmers have been growing the best quality vegetables and freezing them quickly to lock in the freshness. That's how they've made their vegetables deliciously unforgettable for years, and made Green Giant a trusted household brand. For more information and delicious recipes, please visit www.GreenGiant.com.

For more than 115 years, The J.M. Smucker Co. has been committed to offering consumers quality products that bring families together to share memorable meals and moments. Today, Smucker's is a leading marketer and manufacturer of fruit spreads, retail packaged coffee, peanut butter, shortening and oils, ice cream toppings, sweetened condensed milk, and health and natural foods beverages in North America. The company's wide variety of iconic brands and products include such trusted favorites as Smucker's® jams, jellies, preserves, fruit spreads and ice cream toppings; Jif® peanut butter; Crisco® oils, shortening and no-stick cooking sprays; Eagle Brand® sweetened condensed milk; and Pillsbury® baking mixes, ready-to-spread frosting and flour. For more information and delicious recipes, please visit www.Smuckers.com, www.Jif.com, www.Crisco.com, www.EagleBrand.com and www.PillsburyBaking.com.

GE Appliances is at the forefront of building innovative, energy-efficient appliances that improve people's lives. GE Appliances' products include refrigerators, freezers, cooking products, dishwashers, washers, dryers, air conditioners, water filtration systems and water heaters. General Electric works on things that matter to build a world that works better. For more information on GE Appliances, visit www.GE.com/appliances.

Reynolds Consumer Products is a leading provider of quality household essentials that have been trusted for generations. The Reynolds® and Hefty® brand products help with preparation, cooking, cleanup, and storage, making mealtime easier. Namesake Reynolds® products include the iconic Reynolds Wrap® Aluminum Foil; Reynolds® Parchment Paper, Oven Bags, Slow Cooker Liners, and Baking Cups; and Cut-Rite® Wax Paper. The Hefty® brand is best known for strong, dependable waste bags, but it's also a leader in slider bags, foam plates and plastic cups. Products are available in the U.S. at mass merchants, grocers, and other retail stores, and in approximately 90 countries throughout the world. For more information, visit www.ReynoldsKitchens.com and www.Hefty.com.

For more than 145 years, The J.R. Watkins Co. has been creating superior products, utilizing only the finest ingredients. Generations of families have grown up on Watkins products, like their pure vanilla, which has been a baking mainstay for more than 100 years. Watkins products include gourmet spices and extracts, personal care and home care. The company is headquartered in Winona, Minnesota, and manufactures all of its products in the U.S. To learn more about Watkins products, visit www.JRWatkins.com.

Loved for generations, experienced cooks and beginners alike have reached for Pyrex® glassware products because they're durable, reliable, easy to use and affordable. The company values their made-in-the-USA heritage and are working hard to ensure the company remains a mainstay in American kitchens for generations to come by dedicating efforts to designing new favorites that help cooks feel successful and confident.  For more information, visit the website at www.WorldKitchen.com/en/pyrex.

Try GRIT’s Food Garden Planner!

Your garden looks fantastic, and the bountiful harvest has kept you busy these last few weeks. But the goodness is winding down, and you’re looking to the future. Those fall crops are many, and they thrive in the brisk fall temperatures. So as you plan your fall crops – and start thinking about next year’s efforts – take a look at Grit’s Food Garden Planner (http://gardenplanner.grit.com/gardenplanner/gardenplanner.html).

GRIT's Food Garden Planner.

A unique interactive tool for gardeners everywhere, the Garden Planner offers you the digital means to plan that plot of plenty, for this fall, for next year and for years to come. You draw a plot, place the plants where you want them and the program automatically gives each plant the space it needs. All it takes is a click of a mouse or a few key strokes. You save your plans for later reference, rearrange your plots or raised beds as the whim strikes, and you can build on each year’s plans by using the “Follow-on Plan” feature to make your next garden the best it’s ever been. It even indicates the best plan for crop rotation, a feature that helps keep your soil in the best shape possible.

The program gives you planting information based on your location, provides the best plants for your region and details when to plant and when you can expect to harvest. It offers you a choice of a wide variety of plants – vegetables, flowers, bushes, trees – as well as objects found in gardens – fences, greenhouses, cold frames, raised beds and more. You can personalize your plans, just like you personalize your garden space.

Garden Gallery

Share your garden plans or check other plans with the Garden Plans gallery (http://gardenplanner.grit.com/garden-plans.aspx), brush up on skills with the video tutorial series (http://www.youtube.com/user/GrowVeg?feature=watch), and log in for more information on gardens and gardening (http://gardenplanner.grit.com/gardenplanner/gardenplanner.html).

You can try out the Garden Planner for free for 30 days. The subscription after that is only $25 a year. Go to the information page for everything you need to know (http://gardenplanner.grit.com/gardenplanner/gardenplanner.html).

Garden Planner User Guide

We even offer gift certificates so you can surprise your favorite gardener with the Food Garden Planner. She’ll love the gift and the planner for years to come. If you have questions or suggestions about the Food Garden Planner website or the services we offer, we’d love to hear from you. Just use our Contact Form (http://www.grit.com/garden-planner/inquiry.aspx), or use the comment section below.

We’ll do everything we can to help you plant the cream of the crop!

The Oscar Fun Begins

Jean TellerAward shows really aren’t my favorite; I find them too long, too embarrassing and too egotistical. The one I often make an exception for is the Academy Awards, though I usually record it and then fast-forward through the icky parts.

The 85th Academy Awards will be on your television beginning at 6 central Sunday, February 24. Hosted by Seth MacFarlane, the show promises to be everything Hollywood. So tune in early for the red-carpet extravaganza, and stay for the top (and last) Oscar of the night, the Best Picture.

This year, nine films are vying for Best Picture: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty.

 Argo stars and is directed by Ben Affleck.
 

 Les Miserables, a musical, stars Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe.
 

I’ve seen three so far (Argo, Les Miserables and Lincoln), and hope to see Beasts of the Southern Wild before the 24th. Friends have given good reviews to Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty.

 Lincoln, nominated for a number of Academy Awards, stars Daniel Day Lewis as the 16th president.
 

The directors of only five of those films are up for an Oscar: Ang Lee for Life of Pi, Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild, Michael Haneke for Amour, Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, and David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.

 Silver Linings Playbook stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
For both awards, my vote is on Lincoln and Steven Spielberg.

For Best Actor and Best Actress, the nominees are: Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Denzel Washington (Flight), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).

Two of the Best Actor nominees are nominated for the first time: Cooper and Jackman. While Phoenix has been nominated twice (Supporting Actor for Gladiator and Best Actor for Walk the Line), he has never won. Day-Lewis has been nominated five times and has two Oscars: for My Left Foot and There Will Be Blood. Washington is the history maker this go-round; this is his sixth nomination – a first for an African American actor – and he has won twice (Supporting Actor for Glory and Best Actor for Training Day).

 Flight stars Denzel Washington as a hero pilot. Or is he?
 

The ages for the five Best Actress nominees range from 85 (Riva) to 9 (Wallis). While three of the five have been nominated before, none of them have won. Chastain was nominated for a Supporting Actress award for her role in The Help; Lawrence was nominated for Best Actress for Winter’s Bone; and Watts was nominated for Best Actress for 21 Grams.

Riva and Wallis are the oldest and the youngest nominees in the history of the Academy Awards.

My votes go to Day-Lewis for Lincoln and Watts for The Impossible.

 The Impossible is based on a true story, and it stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor.
 

  The 85th Academy Awards are set for February 24, 2013. In the supporting categories, the nominees are Alan Arkin for Argo, Robert de Niro for Silver Linings Playbook, Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master, Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln, Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained, Amy Adams for The Master, Sally Field for Lincoln, Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables, Helen Hunt for The Sessions and Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook.

All five of the veteran actors have been nominated: de Niro seven times (winning Supporting Actor for The Godfather Part II and Best Actor for Raging Bull); Arkin, a three-time nominee, won for his supporting role in Little Miss Sunshine; Hoffman, nominated three times, has one Best Actor for Capote; Jones, another three-time nominee, won Supporting Actor for The Fugitive; and Waltz won after his first nomination as Supporting Actor for his role in Inglourious Basterds.

For the actresses, again all veterans, Field has been nominated twice and won both times, for Norma Rae and Places in the Heart; and Hunt won for her lead role in As Good As It Gets. For the other three, Adams has been nominated three times (Junebug, Doubt, The Fighter), and both Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married) and Weaver (Animal Kingdom) have one nomination.

My votes go to Jones and Field. (Can you tell I’m slightly prejudiced in favor of Lincoln?)

You can join in the voting fun through Facebook or by printing out the ballot from the Academy Awards website. And throw a party while you’re at it.

Whatever you do, have fun!

See ya at the movies!

 

A Few Movies in February

Jean Teller November and December found me at the movie theater for Skyfall, Lincoln, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and Les Misérables. And I would recommend any of them. A friend also recommends The Impossible, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty. Another friend says that Hansel and Gretel isn’t that great, so it might go on the to-rent list.

 Lincoln, nominated for a number of Academy Awards, stars Daniel Day Lewis as the 16th president. 

A few others currently in the theater that you might be interested in: Django Unchained, Gangster Squad, Quartet, Broken City. Oh, and The Last Stand. No, wait, forget that one. Arnold did not do well in his return to the box office. We’ll see how his contemporary Sylvester fares with his new release this weekend.

From my rental list, here are a couple of recommendations: Hugo, Brave, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

 The Impossible is based on a true story, and it stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. 

 Quartet stars Pauline Collins and Maggie Smith as retired musicians. 

On to February’s list!

February 1: Look for a zombie comedy romance (yep, all three) in Warm Bodies (PG-13) starring Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer and John Malkovich. We also have Sylvester Stallone as a New Orleans hitman in Bullet to the Head ( R) teaming with Sung Kang (as a D.C. cop) to take down the person who killed their respective partners – it also stars Jason Momoa and Christian Slater. And in limited release, Stand Up Guys ( R) comes to the big screen with Al Pacino, Alad Arkin and Christopher Walken as old-school con men out for one last hurrah.

 Bullet to the Head is another shoot-em-up starring Sylvester Stallone. 

February 8: Identity Thief ( R) stars Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, but I have to ask myself why these two actors would stoop so low? McCarthy steals Bateman’s identity, and he tracks her down on his own. A few laughs, but not one I’ll go see. Side Effects ( R) looks a bit more promising for my tastes: Jude Law as a psychiatrist who’s patient (Rooney Mara) starts exhibiting some strange side effects from prescribed medication. It also stars Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones. I do like a psychological thriller.

 Identify Thief is a comedy starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. 

February 15: Bruce Willis returns as John McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard ( R) as the always-in-the-middle-of-things cop travels to Russia, assuming he’s going to help his wayward son (Jai Courtney) only to discover that Junior is CIA. Is this the series hand-off to a younger generation?

 A Good Day to Die Hard is the latest of the John McClane adventures starring Bruce Willis, this time with Jai Courtney as his son, Jack. 

This weekend’s busy. Look for Beautiful Creatures (PG-13), a supernatural thriller (the TV promos look interesting) with an intriguing turn by Emma Thompson as an evildoer. Also stars Alice Englert, Viola Davis, Alden Ehrenreich, Jeremy Irons and Emmy Rossum; based on the books by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Safe Haven (PG-13) is the latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks’ novel, and it stars Julianne Hough, Cobie Smulders and Josh Duhamel – tearjerker, I’m sure. Escape From Planet Earth (not yet rated) is sure to pull in the younger crowd; the animated comedy stars the voices of Brendan Fraser, Rob Corddry, Jane Lynch, Jessica Alba, Sofia Vergara and William Shatner, among many.

 Beautiful Creatures is a supernatural thriller, starring Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons and Alice Englert. 

 Safe Haven, adapted from a book by Nicholas Sparks, stars Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel. 

February 22: Only two movies are scheduled to be released the last weekend of the month. Snitch (PG-13: really?) stars Dwayne Johnson as a father going undercover to save his son from a set-up drug charge. It also stars Jon Bernthal, Susan Sarandon and Rafi Gavron. Dark Skies (not yet rated) is another supernatural thriller (I’ll probably skip this one) about a family faced with a deadly force, starring Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo and J.K Simmons.

A couple of titles caught my eye for March: Oz the Great and Powerful, The Call, Admission, and The Place Beyond the Pines. The first one is probably a must for me, being a native Kansan; The Call stars Halle Berry and the trailers look kind of scary; Admission stars Tina Fey and Paul Rudd and it looks pretty good, but it might be more drama than comedy; and the last one looks a mite depressing but it’s getting good buzz. Stay tuned!

Don’t forget the telecast of the 85th Academy Awards at 6 central Sunday, February 24, on ABC. We’ll talk about the Oscars next week.

In the meantime, see ya at the movies!

Lots to See at the Movies

Jean TellerA friend asked yesterday what movies I had seen recently. I had to answer, “Not many,” and then she asked what I was looking forward to seeing in the next couple of months. Well, that prompted me to do some movie research for November and December. And I thought I’d share what I found.

First, some of the movies currently in theaters that you might want to check out: Cloud Atlas and Argo. I’m hoping to see both over the next two weekends. I may rent Chasing Mavericks, although the surfing action may need to be seen on the big screen, and Looper. Not much else I want to see at the moment, tho my to-rent list has definitely grown.

So what’s coming in November and December, you ask impatiently. Too many movies, that’s for sure. But it is the holiday season, after all, and studios want to get their films into the theater before the end of the year for Oscar consideration. So we movie-goers are left with a plethora of choices. Sigh. I already have the problem of too many books and not enough time. Now it’s too movies and not enough time.

  Cloud Atlas stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Jim Sturgess in a number of roles. 

One thing to share: A friend was recently wearing a T-shirt with a great saying. “Don’t judge a book by its movie.” I laughed, hope you did too.

  Argo stars and is directed by Ben Affleck. 

OK, on to November movies:

  Flight stars Denzel Washington as a hero pilot. Or is he? 

November 2: Flight (R) stars Denzel Washington as a pilot who lands a jetliner after an in-air crisis only to face more questions on the ground. It also stars Don Cheadle and John Goodman. Might be a good one to see in the theater, but it also may put me off flying for a very long time. A Late Quartet (R) is about a well-known string quartet with more problems than the audience can see; stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Wallace Shawn and Mark Ivanir.

  Skyfall is the latest James Bond adventure starring Daniel Craig as 007. 

November 9: Skyfall (PG-13), the latest James Bond adventure, brings Daniel Craig back as the suave spy, supported by Judi Dench as M, and Javier Bardem as the latest villain. I just finished watching Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace in preparation. Lincoln (PG-13) also opens this weekend. From director Steven Spielberg, the film stars Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president during his Civil War dominated years in office. The movie also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Hawkes, Walton Goggins, Tommy Lee Jones, Jackie Earle Haley, Sally Field, James Spader, among many.

 Anna Karenina stars Kiera Knightley and Jude Law.November 16: Anna Karenina (R) stars Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Matthew Macfadyen in another sweeping adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel of 19th-century Russia. The latest Twilight offering also opens this weekend, but I’m trying to ignore that fact.

November 23: Silver Linings Playbook (R) brings to the screen the novel by Matthew Quick, and the movie stars Bradley Cooper as down-but-not-out Pat who tries to rebuild his life, Jennifer Lawrence as the enigmatic Tiffany, Robert de Niro and Jacki Weaver as Pat’s parents. I think I need to find the book and soon. Ang Lee’s latest, The Life of Pi, also brings a book to life, as this great director takes on the task of translating the best-selling novel by Yann Martel to the big screen. After a shipwreck, a boy is stranded in a boat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger – all residents of the zoo run by the boy’s father. Hitchcock (PG-13) stars Anthony Hopkins as the famous director, with Helen Mirren as his wife, and the movie looks at their love story during the filming of the 1959 classic, Psycho. P.S. Scarlett Johansson plays Janet Leigh. Animated superheroes team up to save children’s innocence in Rise of the Guardians (PG) with voices ny Hugh Jackman, Alcec Baldwin, Chris Pine, Isla Fisher, Jude Law and others.

November 30: Killing Them Softly (R) is the latest starring Brad Pitt as a professional enforcer investigating what happened during a mob-protected poker game, and it also stars Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy, James Gandolfini and Sam Shepard. The only reason I would see California Solo (unrated) is for star Robert Carlyle who was so great in The Full Monty and is terrific in the ABC show Once Upon a Time. The reviews are lackluster so far, so it’ll probably find its way to my to-rent list.

December films:

December 7: Hyde Park on Hudson (R) is the story of Franklin D. Roosevelt, his wife, his mistress, and the King and Queen of England. Not very good reviews at the moment, but the thought of Bill Murray as FDR is intriguing. The film also stars Laura Linney as FDR’s mistress, Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt, Samuel West as King George VI “Bertie” and Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth. Playing for Keeps (PG-13) is another starring role for Gerard Butler (he also stars in Chasing Mavericks) as he takes on the role of coaching his son’s soccer team as a way to get his life together.

 The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, and is the first in a trilogy again helmed by Peter Jackson.December 14: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (unrated). Do I need to say anything else? The Peter Jackson-helmed first-in-a-trilogy film stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, Ian McKellan returns as Gandalf and 13 dwarves take on the challenge of traveling through Middle Earth.

December 21: Zero Dark Thirty (unrated) is based on the true story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and it stars Chris Pratt, Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Taylor Kinney, Mark Strong and Kyle Chandler. Jack Reacher (PG-13) is based on a book from one of my favorite authors, Lee Child, and while I am looking forward to the movie, I am not thrilled with the casting of Tom Cruise as Reacher. Not thrilled at all. So I’m torn on this one, folks.

December 28: Django Unchained (R) from Director Quentin Tarantino stars Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz. Might not be for everyone – a lot of violence is a prerequisite for a Tarantino flick. Les Miserables (unrated) is the latest film version of a cinema and stage classic. This musical version (not all of the previous versions were musicals) stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe. This one is a must-see in the theaters.

There are others to keep an eye on too, folks. Wreck-It Ralph, The Man With the Iron Fists, The Impossible, Promised Land, among others. Hold on to your seats, movie-goers! It’s going to be a wild ride until the end of the year!

See ya at the movies!

Hollywood Spectacle Focuses on Oscars

Jean TellerFebruary is Oscar Time, as Hollywood celebrates everything Hollywood, and the movie-goers have the chance to view the spectacle as it unfolds. Get your Oscar-watching parties planned as the 84th Academy Awards begin at 6 p.m. CT February 26 on ABC.

The 2011 nominees were announced January 24. Of course, there are a lot of categories, but most of us are only concerned with six: Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Achievement in Directing, and Best Motion Picture of the Year.

Now I enjoy hearing about the Oscars, although I usually don’t watch the entire broadcast. I often record it and then fast-forward through all the boring bits, and the overly embarrassing parts. I do like the opening numbers, the musical numbers, and hearing which film won Best Picture, and I enjoy fast-forwarding through the red carpet arrivals, just for the dresses.

So what’s all the hullabaloo?

  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close looks at events after 9/11, and the film is a Best Picture nominee for 2011. 

  The Help stars Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. 

  Hugo stars Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christopher Lee. 

There are nine movies nominated for Best Picture: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse.

  Moneyball stars Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. 

 Midnight in Paris was written and directed by Woody Allen, who is nominated in both categories for the 2011 Academy Awards, and the film is a Best Picture nominee.  War Horse is a 2011 Best Picture nominee for an Academy Award. 

  Tree of Life is nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and director Terrence Malick and star Brad Pitt are also nominated. 

I’ve seen three of the nine. What about you? While I enjoyed The Descendants, I don’t think it’s Best Picture worthy; likewise with Midnight in Paris and Moneyball. A friend tells me The Help was very good, and I’ve heard good things about Extremely Loud and Hugo. The Artist is a new/old concept for Hollywood: a silent picture shot in black and white, so I’m not sure how that will fare in today’s world of more-is-better attitude. A movie about a horse in World War I seems to be out of the running even before it gets out of the gate, though with Steven Spielberg behind War Horse, it might have a shot, albeit that it’s a dark horse. That leaves The Tree of Life, which by all accounts is too long, more than a bit confusing and depressing. Sounds like a perfect Oscar match, doesn’t it?

Just kidding. I have absolutely no clue as to which film will win the golden statue.

As for Best Director, well, that’s up in the air too. Michel Hazanavicius was nominated for The Artist (he also wrote the original screenplay and is nominated for that as well); Alexander Payne is up for The Descendants; Martin Scorsese for Hugo; Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris (another nominee for original screenplay, as well); and Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life. It’s usually a case of Best Director matching Best Picture, but that’s not necessarily true. My guess, again, just a guess, is Terrence Malick – or maybe Martin Scorsese.

The acting awards are probably the public’s favorite categories. So who’s vying for an Oscar?

   The Iron Lady  stars Meryl Streep as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher. 

 

In the Best Actress category, Glenn Close was nominated for Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis for The Help; Rooney Mara for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady; and Michelle Williams for My Week With Marilyn.

  The cast of Bridesmaids includes Melissa McCarthy, far left, who is nominated for a 2011 Oscar. 

  Michelle Williams, star of My Week With Marilyn, is nominated for a 2011 Academy Award as Best Actress. 

For Best Supporting Actress, we have Berenice Bejo nominated for her role in The Artist; Jessica Chastain for The Help; Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids; Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs; and Octavia Spencer for The Help.

It would be great if one of the new nominees were to take the prize. I’m rooting for Viola Davis or Michelle Williams, and for Octavia Spencer.

For Best Actor, the nominees are Demian Bichir for A Better Life; George Clooney for The Descendants, Jean Dujardin for The Artist; Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; and Brad Pitt for Moneyball.

 A Better Life stars Demian Bichir who is nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award. 

  Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is a thriller set during the Cold War, and star Gary Oldman is nominated for a Best Actor Acdemy Award for the 2011 movie. 

For Best Supporting Actor, Kenneth Branagh was nominated for his role in My Week With Marilyn; Jonah Hill for Moneyball; Nick Nolte for Warrior, Christopher Plummer for Beginners; and Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

 Nick Nolte is nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for his best supporting role in Warrior. 

I’d vote for Gary Oldman and Christopher Plummer. I’ve seen Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and can attest that Oldman gives a top performance, and I have it on good authority that Plummer is excellent in Beginners.

Always of interest for me are the categories for Cinematography and Costume Design, and I enjoy the music selections too. And while there are five nominees for Original Score, only two Original Songs made the list: Man or Muppet from The Muppets, with music and lyrics by Bret McKenzie; and Real in Rio from Rio, music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown and lyrics by Siedah Garrett. It’ll be fun seeing these two numbers performed, although I’ll probably see them either in YouTube the next day or as I fast forward through the entire, probably too-long broadcast.

However you watch the 84th Academy Awards – whether it’s live or on the DVR or on the computer – remember to add a few new titles to your to-rent list, and enjoy the Hollywood spectacle.

See ya at the movies!

November Warms Up at the Theater

Jean Teller While fall has not been a good season for movies for me, I’m hoping early winter brings better news.

I decided to wait and rent Real Steel, hope to see The Three Musketeers this weekend, and I’m not sure when I’ll get to Anonymous. I did see Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary on the cave drawings on the walls of Chauvet Cave in southern France. It’s a fascinating look (and the first time a documentary team has been allowed in the cave) at the well-preserved drawings, created at least 32,000 years ago and discovered in 1994 by a group of scientists.  

Shot in 3D, the documentary is slow but visually stunning in its scope. The filmmakers were limited to a three-person crew, only four hours a day for only six days and a battery-operated camera and lights. Visitors are kept to a narrow walkway, must wear sterile clothing over their street clothes, and are not allowed to touch anything. Despite the limitations, Werner Herzog and his crew produced an excellent foray into our past that helps preserve our history and allows us to connect with these long-ago artists.

Unfortunately, I also saw rentals of Going the Distance and Limitless. I will never get those four hours back. Darn.

So what does November hold at the box office?

 A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas stars Kal Penn, John Cho and Neil Patrick Harris in another excellent adventure. 

As I mentioned last time, there are a few movies I’m looking forward to this month and in December. Opening November 4, Tower Heist, rated PG 13, stars Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda, Casey Affleck and Matthew Broderick (looks fun, and I could a good laugh); A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, rated R, stars Kal Penn, John Cho and Neil Patrick Harris in another excellent adventure (which I will avoid at all costs); The Son of No One, rated R, stars Channing Tatum, Al Pacino and Juliette Binoche in a cop drama (looks interesting, tho I have my doubts); and Killing Bono, rated R, a limited release starring Ben Barns and Robert Sheehan as brothers out to make a name for themselves (not on my radar).

Opening November 11, Immortals, rated R, starring Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke and John Hurt (don’t bother); J. Edgar, rated R, starring Leonardo DiCaprico, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts and Jeffrey Donovan (may be a rental in the far distant future); Jack and Jill, rated PG, starring Adam Sandler as both an advertising executive and his identical twin sister, and Katie Holmes as his wife (no way); London Boulevard, rated R in limited release and also on Video on Demand, starring Colin Farrell, Kiera Knightley and Ray Winstone (a probable rental in the near future).

 Happy Feet Two features the voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams and Pink, among many. 

Arriving in theaters the weekend of November 18 are The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, rated PG-13 (no, just no); Happy Feet Two,  rated PG, starring the voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams and Pink, among others (a very definite maybe – and I really need to add some laughter to my life); The Descendants, rated R and in limited release, starring George Clooney and Judy Greer (it’s a new role for Clooney, that of a father with two daughters; might be worth the look).

Hugo stars Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christopher Lee. 

The Muppets stars all the usual Muppets and humans Amy Adams and Jason Segel. 

For the holiday weekend, opening November 23 are Hugo, rated PG, starring Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christopher Lee (looks intriguing and fun); The Muppets, rated PG, starring all the Muppets and humans Amy Adams and Jason Segel (nope, not for me); A Dangerous Method, rated R, starring Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud and Kiera Knightley in a based-on-true-events telling of a case involving both psychology pioneers (this one is a definite must-see for me); Arthur Christmas, rated PG, starring the voices of James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent and Bill Nighy (I don’t think so); and The Artist, rated PG-13, starring John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo (a look at 1927 Hollywood; I’ll keep this one in mind).

 Arthur Christmas features the voices of James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent and Bill Nighy. 

A Dangerous Method stars Michael Fassbender, left, as Carl Jung and Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud. 

My Week with Marilyn, rated R, opens in limited release on November 25 and stars Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne and Kenneth Branagh (I may rent this one at some point).

The Adventures of Tintin is an animated version of the classic book series. 

The Iron Lady  stars Meryl Streep as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher. 

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher and Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher.
Photo Credit: Alex Bailey / Courtesy Pathe Productions Ltd.

Please indulge me while I repeat a few movies I’m looking forward to in December: Ticker Tailor Soldier Spy (a remake starring Gary Oldman with great buzz); Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (highly anticipated sequel to the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law classic detective tale); The Iron Lady (Meryl Streep as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher); The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (an American adaptation of the bestselling Swedish novel); Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (could Tom Cruise be turning the reins of this franchise over to Jeremy Renner?); The Adventures of Tintin (an animated version of the classic book series); We Bought a Zoo (Matt Damon as a dad who moves his young family to the country); and In the Land of Blood and Honey (a look at romance during the Bosnian War, directed by Angelina Jolie).

Anything on your movie radar for November and December?

Have a great holiday season, at home and at the movies!