Another year almost in the can, dear readers, and some of you have actually been with me since the beginning. We’ve grown up or grown old together in a way. How weird, right? But also it’s just the greatest thing to me that you come here and read this site. Of course, other than my own loud mouth, there is much going on behind the scenes. Ryan Adams who has been with the site since 2006 is the main reason things run at all. He is a great editor and writer, and a lifesaving proofreader. Each and every time I make a career ending typo or mistake, Ryan will be there to help fix it. That has lessened the 3am freakouts. He’s a great friend and essential contributor. We’ve also gotten lucky to take on a few new contributors, like the awesome and hard working Jazz Tangcay who does interviews, records interviews, attends press events and parties like a pro. I wish I had half of her get up and go. We love you, Jazz! Thanks for the great work. And Jordan Ruimy who is also motivated to write reviews and film pieces – he works faster than Ryan and I can keep up with. So thank you, Jordan!
Of course, thanks to the always happening Paddy Mulholland for his London reports, Dr. Rob Y for his fun and instructive Simulated Oscar Ballots, intermittent OscarPodcast pal Craig Kennedy, and the prolific gang at ADTV, Clarence Moye, Joey Moser, Megan McLachlan, Robin Write, and Ryan C Showers and Kevin Klawitter. Special thanks to Marshall Flores for his Statsgasm series as well as his reliable expertise in helping us analyze facts and figures throughout the year.
The incredibly talented Dora Kappou has once again made our FYC gallery. I don’t know why she does us this favor every year. We can never repay her for her kindness. But we’re grateful. We are so grateful.
To you readers and commenters – we’ve all become kind of a family and it’s far reaching. Some of you who comment now I know and some I don’t. But we’re always grateful to have you, even when you’re riding our ass about something.
To my own blogger friends who have been there through thick and thin – who I see at every party and shoot the shit with. Jeff Wells – a better man than most people realize. David Poland, Pete Hammond, Anne Thompson, Kris and April Tapley, Scott Feinberg, Tomris Laffly, Alex Billington, Greg Ellwood, Kyle Buchanan, Ryan Lattanzio, and probably five million other people I’ve forgotten.
Anyway, wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving.
Creed is really the biggest surprise of Oscar season, 2015. Even though we wrote about it being as much back in September, still it’s surprising to see how many critics are praising Ryan Coogler’s entertaining, moving film. Why Creed works so well? It could be a film on its own without any dependence on or attachment to the Rocky myth. Creed landed an A Cinemascore, which was expected — there are two bonafide crowdpleasers released so far this year — The Martian and Creed. Both films might bridge the gap between the ever-increasing insular world of Oscar voters and the ticket buying public. The end to that story is still waiting to be told. Either way, Ryan Coogler will be having a happy Thanksgiving, without a doubt.
Ryan Coogler’s film has an unexpected grace that makes it much more than just a Rocky reboot
Sometimes when a movie does everything right, you don’t even think about how wrong it could have gone until after it’s over. Creed, out Nov. 25, could have gone wrong in so many ways.
Directed by Ryan Coogler—whose deft 2013 debut, Fruitvale Station, chronicled the last day of Oscar Grant III before he was fatally shot by a BART police officer in Oakland—Creed introduces us to the illegitimate son of heavyweight champ Apollo Creed, who first bounded into the ring in the 1976 underdog hit Rocky. In a movie landscape littered with resuscitated franchises, this runs the risk of being just more of the same. Like Rocky, a smash that spawned 1,000 sequels (or so it seems), Creed mingles go-for-broke romance with bloody pugilist thrills—but instead of feeling like a rehash, it works like gangbusters. Coogler honors and builds upon the Rocky formula so that it feels both comfortingly old-fashioned and bracingly new. Audiences instantly adored Rocky, for good reason—it’s a great date movie, and Creed is too. You won’t have to be a lover-not-a-fighter to love it.
And the New York Times’ AO Scott writes:
A boxing movie without clichés is like a political campaign without lies. “Creed,” directed by Ryan Coogler from a script he wrote with Aaron Covington, is self-aware without being cute about it. In the movie as in the world beyond it, Rocky is part of the cultural tapestry. Everyone in Philadelphia knows him. There’s even a statue! But Mr. Coogler, a 29-year-old filmmaker whose debut was “Fruitvale Station” (also starring Mr. Jordan), looks at the Rocky story and the tradition of Hollywood pugilism through a fresh prism.
“Rocky” was the story of a Great White Hope, and also a fable for an era of racial backlash. Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers, was the heavy in that movie, and Rocky was the noble underdog. Later, they set aside their differences and faced a common Soviet enemy as the series turned its attention to Cold War geopolitics. By then, Apollo was the sidekick and the sacrificial friend, an injustice that “Creed,” by its very title, seeks to redress.
And the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern on Sly:
Mr. Stallone is affecting not only as Rocky, but as Sylvester Stallone taking on, yet again, the Rocky character. I’d love to quote from his long meditation on mortality, but the scene is too good to spoil with so much as an excerpted sentence. And if ever you were moved by the series, in spite of or indeed because of its manipulativeness, you’ll be moved yet again by the moment when the young boxer and his venerable trainer climb those 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one man moving briskly and the other very slowly, but with a determination that doesn’t need, and doesn’t get, a triumphalist anthem.
From Cannes to Telluride
I saw three or four films in Cannes back in May that count as tectonic shifts where this year’s movie performances are concerned. One of the most surprising moments in Mad Max: Fury Road comes from the scene where Tom Hardy trudges through the sand towards the war rig. Up to now, we’ve only seen Charlize Theron as the driver of the rig, but once Hardy rounds the corner there emerge the women, the “breeders,” barely clothed in white gauzy material, washing themselves with fresh water. What a sight for Hardy’s Max, who can’t quite figure out what he’s seeing. But even more of a jolt is the way Furiosa approaches Max in this scene, attacking with one arm, then pulling back, then attacking again. Clearly this isn’t a woman who will be beaten. After all, she knows the passcode that enables the war rig to run. Theron as Furiosa owns Mad Max – both the film and the character, a power swap that caused a shift in how people regarded Mad Max the icon. Theron’s focuses her hold on Hardy as she battles him for the gun, all in defense of nothing any bigger than saving whatever humanity is left of the human race. When Max momentarily bests her and tries to leave (he can’t, she has the codes) her toughness flickers and briefly fades – but never much shakes her tough facade. It is a masterful, steady and ultimately brilliant performance by Theron.
No one in my business has a crystal ball. No one really knows what they’re talking about even if we pretend we do. There are a few things worth noting, however, from today’s Film Independent nominations. The Spirits gave a big boost to two films that really could use it – Cary Fukunaga’s uncompromising, brilliant masterpiece Beasts of No Nation, and Charlie Kaufman/Duke Johnson’s equally brilliant, uncompromising masterpiece Anomalisa. Both films represent the very best in independent film because they represent the true independent spirit. Both were put together on a wing and a prayer – with Anomalisa raising much of its funds through Kickstarter and Beasts of No Nation finally getting picked up by Netflix after every studio in town passed on it.
The Spirit Awards have leaked or simply are on their website prior to their announcement this morning. They have really redefined what film awards mean with these, honoring films that are experimental, trying different rollouts and all but helping the film industry thrive and adapt. Tangerine, Beasts of No Nation, along with Carol (two Best Actress performance nominations!).
Beasts of No Nation
Sean Baker, Tangerine
Cary Joji Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation
Todd Haynes, Carol
Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, Anomalisa
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
David Roger Mitchell, It Follows
The Oscar race hasn’t really changed now that The Revenant’s been seen. It has confirmed its place, especially if you were thinking of it as a nominee for Best Picture, but perhaps not the winner. For a film to win Best Picture usually means you can sit anyone down in front of it – cashier, stripper, teacher, princess, president, security guard, nanny – and they will get it if not love it. That’s because thousands of people vote to call it the best. How can you get thousands of people to agree your movie is good? What Alejandro G. Inarritu is going for with The Revenant is to make a piece of art more than a general crowdpleaser. And while the review embargo has not yet been lifted, there are a few things that can be discussed.
You can check all of the boxes for nominations — especially in the tech categories. The cinematography is beyond anything I’ve ever seen because I don’t know if any crew has attempted anything like this, ever. You might have to go back to the 1970s, when filmmakers were still kind of, sort of allowed to experiment on this scale. The score is also breathtaking. The art direction (Jack Fisk) is subtle because nature is really the art director here but it is nonetheless authentic, very McCabe & Mrs. Miller looking. Tom Hardy is as strong as expected for a supporting nomination. The sound design of the film is probably going to be one of the hardest contenders for Star Wars to beat. But really, more than anything, The Revenant is two things – a love letter to the natural world that we have all but destroyed in our thirst for more “things” and the bravest, hardest thing Leonardo DiCaprio has ever done.