BEST ACTRESS

(thanks again to Paddy at ScreenOnScreen)

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Now that Blue Jasmine has opened with the best premiere numbers of Woody Allen’s career, the film will be seriously considered for several Oscar nominations – Best Actress for sure, if not Best Picture. But there have been some rumblings in reviews and out of the mouths of well-placed New York film critics that it’s a modern-day update of A Streetcar Named Desire.  If Woody Allen had wanted to do a spin on that movie, he could have done so; after all, he made A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.  But to draw a closer parallel and one that better suits the brilliance of this film we need only look at Stardust Memories to see how it corresponds so beautifully to Fellini’s 8 1/2. At the time, Woody was accused of being a Fellini (or Bergman) imitator. It was well known that Woody admired both directors so when Stardust Memories came out, in black and white, the same rumblings were heard: it’s Woody riffing on Fellini. But after all of these years, Stardust Memories shines as one of the director’s best and most accomplished films; the framework may resemble 8 1/2, to be sure, but the themes, the characters, the ruminations bear Woody Allen’s own unique imprint.

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Rumors abound about The Canyons, Paul Schrader’s pic funded by Kickstarter and notoriously starring the notorious Lindsay Lohan. Thing is, if you’re troubled long enough, if you can just hold out past the bad patches, you will eventually be respected just for being someone who can’t hold it together. By the time society is done throwing stones, redemption can’t be much farther behind. And there isn’t anything the hungry beast likes more than a redemption story following a fall from a high place.

Nonetheless, writing for Variety, Scott Foundas says about Lohan:

The first in the new wave of Kickstarter-funded features instigated by established old-media types, Schrader’s ultra-low-budget (reportedly $250,000) but handsomely made study of low-level Hollywood hangers-on has earned much prerelease attention for the casting of real-life porn star James Deen and the troubled Lindsay Lohan (also one of the pic’s co-producers). But the end result is hardly a joke, not least for Lohan’s fascinating presence, far closer to self-revelation than self-parody. Between VOD curiosity seekers and adventurous arthouse-goers, “The Canyons” is sure to see solid returns on its modest investment, while pushing Schrader back into the zeitgeist after a long fallow period.

“The Canyons” doesn’t engender much sympathy for its characters — even nice-guy Ryan (convincingly played by Funk as just another pretty, none-too-bright face in the crowd) ultimately comes across as a cipher, to say nothing of Gina, who seems less concerned about her boyfriend’s infidelities than about the possibility of losing her credit on Christian’s movie. The major exception is Lohan, who gives one of those performances, like Marlon Brando’s in “Last Tango in Paris,” that comes across as some uncanny conflagration of drama and autobiography. Lohan may not go as deep or as far as Brando, but with her puffy skin, gaudy hoop earrings and thick eye makeup, there’s a little-girl-lost quality to the onetime Disney teen princess that’s very affecting. Whenever she’s onscreen, she projects a sense of just barely holding on to that precarious slide area in the shadow of the Hollywood sign.

Lohan, in and out of rehab, is happy and relieved that her narrative might become a redemption story that gives her a place in Hollywood as someone who can still act.   As part of her redemptive rise Lohan will be interviewed and perhaps mentored by Oprah.

That, and more treatments at a New Jersey alcohol addiction rehab or wherever it is that Lohan has her next major relapse.

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The map of Woody’s New York tracked his own meandering transformation from outsider to insider. The finest of his east coast films rise as landmarks that climb ever higher on the city’s skyline marking his own ascent to Manhattan’s best addresses. He reached the peak of that exclusive plateau where he wanted to be — and then, after finally arriving, he left it. Now in Blue Jasmine he looks back and condemns the club he so badly wanted to join and in so doing has made his best film since Crimes and Misdemeanors. Blue Jasmine is the first of Allen’s late-career films to revisit potent themes of conscience, money and morality — his trademark obsessive questioning which got diluted after more mundane personal anxieties consumed his loftier philosophic ones.

Many fans of Woody Allen’s films were shocked to find a man of seemingly high moral character take such a dramatic fall when he fell in love with, and married, the sister of his own son (Soon-Yi Previn the adopted daughter of his 12-year paramour, Mia Farrow). After that, Allen’s films ceased to seek such stringent moral probing. Perhaps he felt like a hypocrite. After that, Allen’s films ceased to seek such stringent moral probing. Perhaps he felt like a hypocrite. Perhaps he was trying to rationalize and resolve his own behavior with his sense of right and wrong. Either way, he seems to have finally reconciled it in his own mind and has returned, with Blue Jasmine, to the much-needed moral high ground, but this time there is no fuzzy ambiguity, no internal debate about whether murder is still a crime if no one ever catches you. What Bernie Madoff and the other banksters of Wall Street did to the working class was wrong. Period. Wrong when measured against the law, wrong when measured against our collective sense of justice.

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One of the most anticipated films this year has to be Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which became part of the unending hype machine that is Comic-Con over the weekend. The film’s star, Sandra Bullock, came out to Hall H for the first time, along with Alfonso Cuaron and the film’s producer David Heyman. What’s clear from the outset is that Gravity is going to be about two things – the internal journey of the film’s main character – Bullock, whose part is going to be that rare creature in Hollywood that won’t have her sleeping with someone to justify her existence. Gravity is going to be about what happens as she become unattached to anything that can safely bring her back to earth, to the people she knows and loves, to the life she has built so far.
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Emma Thompson plays P.L. Travers, the woman who penned what would ultimately become Disney’s Mary Poppins. Read the New Yorker article about her here.



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Although I really hate promoting anything to do with Bret Easton Ellis, Paul Schrader and Lindsay Lohan are worth the time to check out this trailer for The Canyons. Of course, Lohan’s breasts are on display but what the hell, right? If she wants to spin the narrative that she is a tragic love doll one step away from a glamorous demise, that’s her choice. I predict it will become a camp classic.

The synopsis: While calculating young movie producer Christian (Deen) makes films to keep his trust fund intact, his actress girlfriend, Tara (Lohan), hides an affair with an actor from her past. But Christian becomes aware which thrusts the young Angelenos into a violent, sexually-charged tour through the dark side of human nature.

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On our podcast over the weekend, we were discussing some of the best performances … ever. In 1982 Dustin Hoffman did Tootsie, Paul Newman did The Verdict, Ben Kingsley did Gandhi and Meryl Streep did Sophie’s Choice. While Streep’s stratospheric rise happened just before she reached the apex with Sophie’s Choice, journalists weren’t quite ready to surrender to the force that was and is Meryl Streep.

I personally think that Streep’s performance in Sophie’s Choice is the best performance by any actor ever, male or female. But that got me thinking and wondering what others I would add to the list. Off the top of my head I would say, in no particular order (but with an eye on transformation, becoming someone other than the actor) – obviously my own personal choices, this list of names:

[Note: a few of of these performance missed out on an Oscar nomination but we’re making up for the omission and including them anyway — Ryan].

Meryl Streep, Sophie’s Choice
Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire/On the Waterfront
Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor/Sandy Dennis/George Segal, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Mary Tyler Moore/Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People
Bette Davis, All About Eve/Now Voyager/The Letter
Jack Nicholson Carnal Knowledge/Five Easy Pieces/One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Louise Fletcher, Cuckoo’s Nest
Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter
Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia/The Stuntman
Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind/A Streetcar Named Desire
Robert De Niro, Raging Bull
Judy Garland, A Star is Born
Frances McDormand/Steve Buscemi/William H. Macy, Fargo
Ben Kingsley, Sexy Beast

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The summer movie season heats up with two great performances in two very solid indies. Greta Gerwig in ‘Frances Ha’ and Matthew McConaughey in “Mud’. Finally, something to cheer about in a summer movie season lacking in ambitious thought.

In Noah Baumbach’s ‘Frances Ha” Greta Gerwig gives a performance that will surely be remembered by critics at years end. She’s so damn good as Frances, a 27 year old yuppie New York girl looking to find herself and refusing to let go of her dream as a professional dancer. This is a far cry from the “Sex And The City” females and more like the ones portrayed in Lena Dunham’s brilliant HBO series “Girls”. In fact, comparisons will be made just by the casting of “Girls” regular Adam Driver. It’s more than just that. Just like Dunham’s show, Frances Ha is the about the coming of age of women that have a hard time embarking in adulthood and just like that series’ best episodes there is an episodic uncomfortableness to Frances’ every day situations. At times you just cringe at the situations she puts herself in.

Gerwig -with her long wavy blonde hair and a clumsy posture- is spectacular in more ways than one. She brings realness to a character that could have easily delved deep into caricature. It doesn’t happen here. Instead Baumbach, in his best film since “The Squid And The Whale”, launches the career of a new star. Gerwig’s gestures, movements, facial expressions are spot on and make you fall for Frances – flaws and all. Her life is a confusing mess, while her best friend/roommate finds love and moves out. She is down on cash, single, awkward and in search of herself. She acts younger than her age, takes things one day at a time and doesn’t think much about the future. At some point living this way catches up to you. It caught up to me in my life and it caught up to many other late twenty somethings that I knew of. Baumbach’s character study doesn’t cozy up to any conventions. He speaks the truth for my generation and creates a sort of wake up call. Shot in beautiful black and white he proves that “The Squid And The Whale” was no fluke. With all that being said “Frances Ha” is the Greta Gerwig show, Oscar pay attention.

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Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is sublime. If you haven’t yet seen it, do take the time to catch up with Jesse and Celine.  It is such a thoughtful rendering of the evolution of human relationships, not just for the two lovers we’ve seen over the past twenty years work it out in passion and domesticity but in the peripheral characters as well. What the film reminded me most of was the lost art of conversation.

The film easily took the number one spot on the critics poll, along with the other two that really deserve to be there, like Frances Ha and Stories we Tell (which should be much higher).  When I look at this list I am mostly struck by how many of these movies are led by strong female performances, with Julie Delpy as Celine topping the list.

Delpy gives such a fully realized performance as this evolving character who started out so idealistic about love, then discovered, in the second movie, that she wasn’t so great at relationships and finally, in the third movie, is suffocating under the ties that bind – she never wanted to be the housewife, never wanted her life to grind to such a halt. Does love mean less to her now that it did in Before Sunrise? Or does it mean more, now that it’s been stripped of the gloss of idealism? Delpy manages all of this in one performance, and is well matched by the brilliant Ethan Hawke, who never drops the ball as Jesse. He seems to have remembered every detail of the Jesse we knew and brought him back, fully, to the present – now, a man who also believed in the ideal version of love, or maybe just endless amounts of hot sex – or any sex at all. He’s hanging in there though he too seems to want to leave.  The smart way way the three of them came to the writing in Before Midnight ought to earn them an Oscar nomination – how they weave in the last ten years without coming right out and saying it.

Before Midnight is the best film of the year so far and will likely retain its luster through Oscar season. It doesn’t need to be oversold. It will be a tough sit for anyone who hasn’t seen the first two movies. When I went to see it, there was an elderly couple sitting next to us. They were perplexed and confused about a movie that seemed to start in the middle of conversation they knew nothing about. “When’s the movie going to start,” said the husband. He repeated the question throughout the movie. And at the end, the wife said “Well, I guess that was it.” Neither of them could tolerate Julie Delpy because they had no idea why she was so angry.  That means the studio will have to work hard making sure Academy and industry voters see all three movies.  They should see them anyway because they are great, great movies – especially altogether.

The Criticwire Network’s Top 10 Movies of 2013 (So Far)

1. “Before Midnight”
2. “Upstream Color”
3. “Spring Breakers”
4. “Frances Ha”
5. “Stories We Tell”
6. “Mud”
7. “Leviathan”
8. “The Place Beyond the Pines”
9. “Side Effects”
10. “Like Someone in Love”

Is it wrong for me to think Robin Wright has the most interesting role in House of Cards, not Kevin Spacey? Wrong for me to feel Naomi Watts is more compelling in Eastern Promises than Viggo Mortensen? These two women don’t need to slather on the accents to rivet my attention.

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Looks to me to be Woody Allen’s most promising premise in years.

thanks, Bryce!

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I was remiss in the first two Oscar columns of the year in that I neglected to mention Kate Winslet (for Best Actress), Josh Brolin (Best Actor) and perhaps Best Picture and Director.  Now we must add Winslet’s name to the growing list of potential powerhouse performances in what is shaping to be a hell of a year in the Best Actress category.  Josh Brolin, too, should have a clear shot.  Labor Day is a more serious film from Reitman, and is based on the Joyce Maynard book.  This is the synopsis from GoodReads:

With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry—lonely, friendless, not too good at sports—spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele—a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly’s with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his “Husband for a Day” coupon, he still can’t make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.

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The race for Best Actress has not yet gotten started but looking over the year’s slate, finding five nominees should be easier than it’s been in a while. It already looks like a competitive season, with most of the big performances yet to be seen.  Already, Rooney Mara in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Julie Delpy in Before Midnight and Berenice Bejo in The Past have made an impression, but the year ahead will also bring us leading roles by Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Emma Thompson, Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett, to name a few.

The race for Supporting Actress also looks strong so far, with performances by Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station, June Squibb in Nebraska, Kristin Scott-Thomas in Only God Forgives, and Shailene Woodley in The Spectacular Now already having been seen, and Catherine Keener in Captain Phillips, Julianne Moore in Carrie, Amy Adams or Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle,  Carrie Mulligan in Inside Llewyn Davis, Oprah Winfrey in The Butler, Naomie Harris in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (again, might be campaigned as lead) still to come.

All in all, that makes 2013 a better than decent year for actresses, but particularly for those older than 40.  Is there a winner yet or even a frontrunner? Most would probably say Meryl Streep for August: Osage County, and indeed, Streep is the best there is. With two lead Actress Oscars and one Supporting, Streep could very well win her third lead Oscar as she approaches Katharine Hepburn territory.  But Cate Blanchett has never won lead, and neither has Annette Bening, and either of them could lean toward achieving that honor this year, theoretically. All of the other major names that might be in the race have already won at least one Oscar — Roberts, Kidman, etc.

Usually the two most exciting Oscar categories are Best Picture or Best Actress. There isn’t usually enough oxygen in the room for both to burn with equal passion. This year, Best Actress might be where all the heat is. But let’s go through the contenders that rise to the top so far, bearing in mind that other names and other performance could break through.

The Powerhouses

Meryl Streep, August: Osage County, who should bring the roof down in August: Osage County, might be looking at her 18th Oscar nomination and potential 4th win. Streep, who is probably the best actor who ever worked in Hollywood, male or female, doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.   Her win for the Iron Lady was recent, and who knows how the critics will respond to Osage County (not to mention theater purists).  Those factors could be potential obstacles. But first and foremost, Streep always fills up the screen and never turns in a lazy or uninteresting performance.

Julia Roberts, August: Osage County, who might be campaigned in supporting to give more room for Streep. But the trailer indicates that Roberts is the lead, and those who’ve seen the play all say Roberts and Streep are both co-leads.  So it will just depend on how the film’s received, how well Roberts stands up to Ms. Streep, and how well the film is liked overall.  Is Roberts getting better as she gets older? She seems to be more comfortable in her own skin and this young Southern woman is close to home for her (though Roberts is from Georgia).

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The film is adapted and directed by Liv Ullman, slated for release in 2014.

Thanks to JustJared:

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Welp, it looks like there will be yet another record-breaking nomination for Ms. Streep as the August: Osage County drops. Two words: Benedict Cumberbatch. Thanks to Tero. Continue reading…

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New stills of the fated love story starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck.

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This pic turned up on Facebook with Ms. Blanchett and Woody Allen – word has it this is a good one, along the lines of Match Point.  We’ll have to wait and see when the pic is released in June.

In other Woody Allen news, a quick scan through the truly great website Woody Allen Pages alerted us to The Unbelievers trailer. It’s a pic about science vs. religion but since it revolves around ultra hottie Richard Dawkins (and perhaps equally hot Lawrence Krauss) it is also about atheism.  I’m so there.

Pic also features people like Bill Pullman and notorious atheist (and Twitter genius) Ricky Gervais, Eddie Izzard, Cameron Diaz and more.

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The last film Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij collaborated on was Sound of My Voice. Now they have reteamed for The East. Marling stars and co-writes, Batmanglij co-writes and directs. Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgard also star.

For once, with most of the key players, including the lead, are female.

Early RT reviews show promise. But, as with all things, we must wait for the big guns to weight in.
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