Two more films by women filmmakers have broken through this year. Their best hope for Oscar nods would be the screenplay categories. It is near impossible to crack any major category with good intentions. The buzz machine starts early and snowballs – or perhaps more appropriately, it’s like the Titanic, gaining speed and momentum as it barrels towards the iceberg and by the time you want to turn it around it is already too late.

Still, with a little push there could be SOME movement in these categories. Let it be known that both Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights and Jenny Slate in Obvious Child delivered strong leading performances this year. With a little help from the crisis, ANY CRITIC, they could have been launched into the race – though even then, Best Actress is already too full, with most slots reserved early by high-profile roles and veteran performers.

Not saying it’s impossible – it’s just unlikely, as these contenders are being pushed hardcore early in year by powerful publicity companies that know how to get nominations. That’s WHY they get the big bucks. I’m not going to address whether they are deserving or not – Mark Harris already plugged them in his column a while back. My own feeling that is actresses get the short shrift in Hollywood after the age of 30. When Julia Roberts came along in the 1980s, that became the model for a successful actress in Hollywood: versatile, breathlessly beautiful, charismatic. We wouldn’t really see another Julia Roberts until Jennifer Lawrence. But aiming at someone that young and fresh-faced resulted in older actresses being sidelined, continually and tragically, resulting in one of the worst years for actresses since I’ve been blogging. Do I think these vets should be sidelined for the youngers? No, I don’t. Does that mean we’re talking about better performances? I’m talking about how hard it is to find good roles if you’re over the age of 35. They just aren’t offered up in mainstream film. Getting awards for them backs the notion that women don’t expire after the age of 35. All of them will get there – all of the young ones will be used up and spit out by the time they get there – wouldn’t they rather empower career success later rather than earlier?

It’s up for debate, I know. I’m not saying definitely one way or the other – I’m just examining the tragic state of how women are treated in Hollywood, black women especially.

The original screenplay category is once again packed with men. If Gillian Flynn represents the sole female in either of the writing categories, original looks to be 5/5 men. Flynn might be joined in Adapted by Gillian Robespierre, Elisabeth Holm, Karen Maine for Obvious Child. It isn’t as packed as Original and there could be some wiggle room there.

Gina Prince Bythewood’s Beyond the Lights is original and that category is already too crowded. Sure, Beyond the Lights and Obvious Child are filled with woman-y stuff, icky love story stuff, not taken seriously stuff – usually that isn’t sexy enough, or enough at all, to get Oscar attention. As we know from the treatment of Gone Girl by both genders in the media, it’s a tall order to satisfy the requirements of male audiences and critics, female audiences and critics. The list is too long, the requirements too hard to fill. Or to put it another way, not even Mean Girls, arguably one of the best screenplays of the last two decades, couldn’t even manage an Oscar nod and it wasn’t even about romance, as Beyond the Lights and Obvious Child kind of are, with other important elements threaded throughout.

The synopsis for Beyond the Lights is, as follows:

The pressures of fame have superstar singer Noni on the edge, until she meets Kaz, a young cop who works to help her find the courage to develop her own voice and break free to become the artist she was meant to be.

I have not yet seen the film but I am going to seek it out in the coming days on the recommendation of Dargis and Kris Tapley and others. I’m sure it’s a lot better than that synopsis suggests. But I’m also sure that “relationship movies” can’t build the same kind of steam or gravitas than “important” stories, usually about Great Men. If the gender balance in the guilds ever equalizes, there might be some wiggle room in that area. But mostly “relationship movies” suffer, unless they’re made by men, about men, like Silver Linings Playbook (another Dargis favorite, where the female lead is really just there to enforce the male protagonist). The more critics talk about Beyond the Lights, the better.

In taking another swipe at Gone Girl, the NY Times’ Manohla Dargis made a big thing about Beyond the Lights in her Best of list:

The movie’s writer and director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, is defiantly sincere about its romantic tropes, a rarity in American mainstream cinema. That sincerity may be too alien for audiences or perhaps years of Katherine Heigl flicks have made them skittish about heterosexual romance. That’s too bad, because watching people fall in love is surely as interesting as watching them kill one another. As of early December, though, the only title in the Top 20 grossing movies featuring a straight couple is “Gone Girl,” a nihilistic cartoon in which a woman gets away with murder by crying rape. As edgy metaphors for modern relationships go, I prefer “Edge of Tomorrow,” in which Emily Blunt’s character keeps killing Tom Cruise’s, à la “Groundhog Day,” as he struggles to become the hero he’s meant to be.

I’m not sure why “Beyond the Lights” hasn’t found its audience. I like to think it isn’t racism. In typical fashion, the trailers reduce the movie to its most obvious terms, including a frolic on a beach and images of a male torso so sculptured it would make Michelangelo sigh. Yet that body and beach are crucial to the movie’s method and meaning, and its exploration of a woman’s right to pleasure and self-determination. It doesn’t broadcast those ideas, but folds them into a story that’s also a maternal melodrama about a poor white mother (Minnie Driver) and a black daughter (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who’s as talented as she is haunted by her place in the world. It squeezes tears as cannily as that old Hollywood weepie “Stella Dallas,” except that here Mommy Dearest exploits her daughter.

So, Dargis likes Edge of Tomorrow where Tom Cruise is the lead and Blunt, while great, is yet again sidelined. She also likes Beyond the Lights because it offers traditional romance. But can’t bring herself to support, and feels the need to again criticize, the one movie that lets women out of those traditional cages of “backseat babe” and someone to whom love matters more than anything. I think there is room for all of these kinds of stories, not just the ones that paint women in a positive light. It’s important to allow for us to continue to be dark and dirty, to explore the myths about women, to upend stereotypes.Sadly, because Dargis can’t see past her own inherent bias about what women should be, she’s unable to celebrate Gillian Flynn’s success. The more freedom women have as writers and storytellers the more stories there will be about women, not just ONE KIND of woman. This is not criticize Beyond the Lights in any way – it ought to be championed as hard. I just don’t get why, to do that, Dargis felt the need to harpoon – yet again – Gone Girl.

I’m not thinking Beyond the Lights has a shot at screenplay, not with a 73 over at Metacritic. Then again, Theory of Everything also has that a score just as low and it is “in the conversation.” But that’s because it’s “important” as it’s about Stephen Hawking. Still, why shouldn’t Beyond the Lights be considered a contender? At least for writing. Gina Prince-Bythewood has been an established filmmaker for years now. What she needs, what all women in the field need, are strong advocates.

The brilliant writing by Gillian Robespierre, Elisabeth Holm, Karen Maine for Obvious Child, if nominated in the less-crowded adapted category, would put two Gillians in the adapted screenplay race, for a total of FOUR women writers. That, along with the addition of history-making Ava DuVernay, potentially in the Best Picture/Best Director race? Now you’re talking about “movement.”

Obvious Child is really funny throughout – with vulgarity woven through likable and admirable young women who face wrenching dilemmas like having an abortion. It is handled very well, and indeed, the lead character Jenny Slate does not find her strength through a male character but rather with women like her mother and her best friend. The women I know out there in the world who aren’t plugged into the 90% male-driven Oscar narrative would find enriching value in both Beyond the Lights and Obvious Child. They would see themselves in their stories. Still, how many men can relate?

When you’re talking Oscar that’s what you’re talking about. The sad evolution of film critics has resulted in a similar dynamic. Movies that get into the race have to have the male stamp of approval. Where women are concerned, if the story is more about men then women they can roll with it. But if it’s about women, written by women, driven by what women care about? Forget it. We see in film a reflection of ourselves. And in this case “ourselves” is majority male, majority straight white male.

I’m going to put both of these on the contender tracker with my fingers crossed. After 16 years of this, though, I know that rave reviews drive these awards. Neither of these films got the kind of raves a contender really needs, despite Dargis’ push. As an Oscar blogger, I know what can and can’t be done. I know that sometimes no amount of advocacy can push a contender in. At best, you can put them in front of the thing to watch it. That doesn’t mean it will get their vote when they’re deciding what is best.

They’re on the radar. They’re definitely on the radar.


The Help, Tree of Life, Zero Dark Thirty, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, and now A Most Violent Year, Jessica Chastain is a hard working actress. Jazz Tangcay sat down with the actress to talk about her role as Anna Morales in A Most Violent Year, , J.C. Chandor’s ’80s-set thriller in which she plays an embattled immigrant’s wife trying to make it in a rough-and-tumble New York.

Awards Daily : What inspired you to get into acting?

Jessica Chastain: I’d always been a very imaginative child. I didn’t do so well in school, I didn’t think I was very smart. I had difficulty in connecting with teachers and didn’t have a way of expressing myself, until my grandmother took me to see a play, I saw a little girl on stage, it was a professional theater company, I was told this was their job. I thought, “This is my job.” I was probably 7 at the time.

AD: How did you come across this role?

JC: I met JC when The Help came out, it was the same time as Margin Call. We were at the New York Film Critics Awards dinner when we first met. I really liked Margin Call a lot. Then I went to Cannes and I saw All Is Lost, I was very impressed with that. This director, who’s first film was all about a lot of dialogue and relationships, then his second film with no dialogue, and no relationship. He’s brave also, he’s taking a risk, he’s saying, instead of staying in that world, I’m going to try something different. I just really believed in him.

AD: You penned a three page email to JC about Oscar, What inspired you to do this and what was it like working with him?

JC: JC likes to say it was a three page email, that’s a slight exaggeration. I did send an email to JC about Oscar and I very rarely do that with directors. I don’t want to invade on their process. I have so much respect for film makers, I knew he considering Oscar, and I just wanted to express my experience of working with him and knowing him for 12 years.
I love going to the movies, I love being an audience member, and I love championing other people’s work, and it came very naturally to do to champion Oscars work because he’ sos tlaented. He’s an actor that’s under appreciated for the work he does.

AD: Can you tell us about Anna?

JC: What I love so much about Anna, is that you underestimate her. JC (Chandor) wanted to do that deliberately. When you first meet her, she’s putting make up on in the mirror, a stereotype of the wife of a crime boss. You expect her to follow the tropes of the genre, when in fact as the film goes on, when she shoots the deer, she starts to become intoxicated with the power that she’s feeling, the action she starts to take in her life. In her mind, if her husband isn’t going to be the most powerful man in the room, then she will. By the end of the film you realize she’s actually the boss of the company and that’s very excting to me, to do something that surprises the audience and who underestimates a female character and defies the stereotype.

AD: What was your biggest challenge in making the film?

JC: Probably the biggest challenge was the cold, it was very very cold in New York. It’s all real snow and we were freezing our butts off. We were shooting very quickly.
That and doing two films at once, because I was flying back and forth from New York to Toronto, I was working on Crimson Peak and they were very different characters, so those were the challenges for me.

AD: You’ve made four films this year, how easy was the transition from one mindset of a film to the next?

JC: Actually, I made two films, but I have four films. Disappearance was made years ago. A Most Violent Year was this year, some films take a while before they find their release date.
As an actor, I’m interested in playing characters that are different than me, characters that I get to learn more about myself, learn more about who we are as human beings. The way you do that is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see a point of view that you never thought of yourself.

AD: Would you like to direct one day?

JC: I have no interest right now in directing, but I do have an interest in teaching , maybe I’ll go to Julliard at some point and teach or some other school. I like the idea of helping someone free themselves artistically creatively or emotionally. That is so inspiring to me.

AD: You’ve said in a recent interview, that there are two types of women roles, the slut or the girlfriend. With your career, Zero Dark Thirty and A Most Violent Year, you’re doing your part, what do you think Hollywood and other actresses could do to help the situation?

JC: I wouldn’t blame it on actresses at all. I do not think it’s the problem of the actresses. I’m very vocal about speaking about diversity and cinema. When I speak in terms of female roles and that there are so few roles for women, I’m not speaking for myself and I’m not speaking from a selfish place, because I’m a very lucky person and I understand that I get sent things most people don’t. I’m speaking as an audience member who wants to see Asian-American actresses up there. I want to see more African-Americans in leads, I want to see women in their sixties or seventies up there as leads in films. I’m speaking from that place, trying to help the industry, because as an industry we all want the same thing.
Chris Rock wrote this amazing essay for The Hollywood Reporter recently, and it’s a fantastic essay, and it’s honest. So much of us are saying the same thing. The more we talk about it, we don’t need to feel shame, or point fingers and judge. We’re a community.Everyone wants the same thing. I believe that because it’s such an important topic of conversation right now, that it will change.

AD: Who else would you like to work with?

JC: I’d love to work with a female DP. There are so many people I’d like to work with. I can’t talk about it right now because there’s a probability that I will be working with this person… this space (Giggles).


A Most Violent Year opens December 31.


Last May, Marion Cotillard and the Dardennes brothers brought the exquisite Two Days, One Night to the Cannes Film Festival. The film received rave reviews from those who published them. Heading into the prize ceremony, everyone thought Cotillard had to win. What a role it was. Cotillard carried the film completely. She wasn’t defined by her sexuality nor was she was a little lost lamb sadly wandering through the film. She was a desperate HUMAN BEING trying to save her family from financial ruin. Wow, she was doing something that didn’t depend in any way on her relationship with a male protagonist. The beloved French actress had never won a Cannes prize. Here is what Hitfix’s Guy Lodge wrote about her odds and the film itself:

The odds: No filmmaker has ever won three Palmes d’Or, and the Dardennes seem as likely as anyone to get their first — their restrained humanism is the kind of filmmaking which could unite jurors otherwise divided on the merits of flashier works. Still, however good the film is, it’d be deemed a safe choice for top honors; Jane Campion’s eclectic jury may prefer to look a little further afield. Jigsaw Lounge places it squarely midfield with odds of 16-1; my instinct is that if the film is rewarded at all, it’ll be for Cotillard, who could be considered unlucky after missing out on Best Actress for fine work in “Rust and Bone” and “The Immigrant.” She’s the on-paper favorite at this point.

And sure enough, Lodge was right about the film. It didn’t stand a chance against Leviathan and the Palme winner, Winter Sleep. But Cotillard? Julianne Moore won instead for Maps to the Stars. Naturally, the Oscar pundits simply followed Moore and dropped Cotillard. Perhaps this was because her performance in Rust and Bone was mostly ignored, despite how great it was and despite how hard she publicized it. Perhaps this was looking like another Rust and Bone.

I did not sense, despite the great reviews, much buzz around Cotillard and the Dardennes film. I remember hearing “lesser Dardennes” from a few but I can’t recall the exact tweets. My perception of it heading away from Cannes was that it would be mostly ignored in the awards race.

The loss by Cotillard for Best Actress when it was expected she would win, when she’d never won before, simply deflated the buzz balloon. The film then went to Telluride but also was having trouble standing out there. No one was really talking about the film or Cotillard at all. She had no advocates from that point on. People like me shifted our attention elsewhere, to Julianne Moore, to Hilary Swank, to Reese Witherspoon and Rosamund Pike — and finally, to Felicity Jones.

The awards race does tend to lean in the direction of American or British actors. It is difficult for any French actress, or Spanish actress, to get in and win. It happens but the Academy are ruled by actors and actors here tend to like to fortify the homebase rather than invest outwardly. It happens but it’s rare. So pundits like myself and others know that history, see that potential, and say, okay, Cotillard’s out. Had she won in Cannes she would have been at least being considered for an award. She was a contender but considered a dark horse.

But something funny happened on the way to the critics awards. First, it’s very likely Cotillard’s performance never left many of their collective hearts. Several of the voters in both New York and LA have raves on record for the film and her performance. Second, they got to drag out the awards race villain, Harvey Weinstein. The idea was MEAN OLD HARVEY WEINSTEIN had “buried” The Immigrant and along with it, yet another mesmerizing performance by the great Cotillard.

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Suddenly, Cotillard went right to the top of the lists as an easy call for a Best Actress win. No one can say she isn’t deserving. She gives a fantastic performance and once again sets herself up as a competitor with a beloved veteran, in this case, Julianne Moore. Being a frontrunner is no easy feat. Boredom, resentment and sometimes even hatred starts to bubble up because those watching the race are looking for drama.

But it was also clear that there was an urgency to vote for Cotillard because of how badly The Immigrant was treated, supposedly, by Harvey Weinstein. This notion was subsequently debunked by Mark Harris in a Twitter exchange after the Boston Film Critics or the New York Film Critics.


That urgency to pick Cotillard comes from the best place. It also was a great example of how the critics, in 2014, have mostly rejected the narrative put in place by the Oscar bloggers — many of whom simply do not wait for the critics to ring before deciding whether a film is worthy or not. I always say critics matter – but to tell you the truth, they used to matter a lot more than they do now.

They seem to be taking a stand against the consensus, going their own way without the need or the desire to agree with the growing consensus. I have to believe this is ultimately a good thing for film overall and a good thing for the Oscar race. After all, the Oscars were never meant to gaze up the anal cavity of the film critics’ groups. They honor films that supposedly are made for audiences, not critics. It’s nearly impossible to get a Best Picture win now without a really good Metacritic score. You can’t have anyone hating your movie, that’s for sure. But as you can see from this year, it’s quite easy to simply skip the critics entirely, as Unbroken, Into the Woods, American Sniper are all doing. Wait as long as possible for those reviews – because reviews can color how people watch your movie.

I’ll never forget the story that Robert Redford told in Telluride last year about the first play he did. He said afterwards the audience was applauding, they had a party and everyone was so happy with how it went, thought it was going to be a major hit. Then the New York Times review came out. It was a pan. Everyone got quiet, completely forgetting how much they loved the play. It was dead. It closed and that was the end of that. Redford said he learned then everything you need to know about how perception works.

Like it or not, even the critics roll on perception. As Glenn Kenny told me on Twitter, no one really can say for sure if a film is a failure until many years later. They think they know, but they don’t really know. So you float on perception. By nature, human beings like to be on the winning side. Testosterone actually drops when a man stands next to a loser and rises when he stands next to a winner. It is easier to love a winner and harder to hate a loser.

And that is how Marion Cotillard mostly got forgotten in the awards race of 2014. It is also why critics can get films wrong, why the Oscars can get films wrong — if it’s all about perception and not about the film itself, time exposes the truth eventually.

Think about how it works. When people start loving up a movie it suddenly becomes a shared experience. You are then defined by what you like and the people who like it with you. Some films that have built up those kinds of admiration camps this year include Under the Skin, Ida, Locke, and in its own way and to a larger degree Birdman. Under the Skin is really the one that has grown in stature as the months have worn on. It’s really a great movie, despite the lackluster reception in Cannes this year. It’s original, strange, and ultimately quite moving.

What happened, essentially, was that we pundits got it in our heads that the Best Actress race for the Oscar was headed in a certain direction and that direction was the long overdue Julianne Moore, who, like Cotillard gave two masterful performances this year. The first in Maps to the Stars and the second in Still Alice. The second was deemed the kind of movie “they,” the Oscar voters, go for, while Maps to the Stars was deemed “too much” for the Oscar voters. But one thing everyone agreed upon was that Julianne Moore was so ridiculously overdue for an Oscar win that all she really had to do was ask for it and with the right role and the right timing she could eventually and finally win. She’s always come so close and yet, like Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep, has always been too humble to really ever try for the Oscar. But she is trying this year and it would appear that everyone in the awards community so far wants to her to win.

But not the critics.

They not only preferred Cotillard’s fine work, but they also don’t care about extraneous things like how hard it is for older American actresses to get any substantial roles in films, like how few films about women overall there are in American film. The critics look at the movie and the performance. They don’t care about anything else. Believe me if they cared about leveling the playing field between men and women or white filmmakers and black filmmakers – things would look a lot different in their history. They like what they like and that’s that.

Usually, the Oscars don’t work exactly that way. They do take into account their 87 year history. They do take into account previous wins. They do take into account stature within the industry. That’s really why the pundits leaned the way they did.

Groupthink is always a dangerous thing. It limits choices. On the other hand, that is really how a massive consensus is built. Critics, with such small memberships, have the option to choose outside the box contenders. But those contenders then need aggressive publicity to become popular enough to crack the consensus.

But I would say, overall, pundits either dropped the ball on Cotillard or greatly underestimating her chances in this race. Part of that was the unpredictability of the last minute movement to BEAT DOWN MEAN OL’ HARVEY WEINSTEIN and part of it was critics remembering back how great Cotillard was. And still, another part of it is sometimes the need to resist the urge to go with the consensus — because how boring is that?



In a series of Best Of posts, we’ll be taking a look at a few categories worth singling out as we move towards our ten best films of the year.  More and more, ensemble driven films are popular because big-name actors prefer to take smaller, more interesting parts rather than put on a superhero costume or not work at all. A strong ensemble cast is always noticeable from the outset, especially if there is a good relationship between the actors and a better relationship between actors and their director.  Where 2014 had some brilliant showcase pieces with one or two strong actors standing out, like The Imitation Game with the brilliant Benedict Cumberbach and Keira Knightley, American Sniper, which is mostly about Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, Whiplash, which is JK Simmons and Miles Teller mostly, or The Theory of Everything which is Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, it was also a year with great ensemble work worth noting.

So herewith, our top eleven Best Ensembles of 2014

1) Birdman
Birdman is really nothing without its ensemble cast. These actors had to prepare long in advance to have this kind of humming symmetry and perfect rhythm with each theory and Inarritu’s roaming camera. Though the lead, Michael Keaton, is the standout performance, the character who shows the most vulnerability and depth, he is matched well by the supporting players, chief among them Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan and Zach Galifianakis. If you want to watch a master class in acting, watch Birdman. How fun it must have been for these actors to tear into this work and their exuberance shows in every frame of this film. That makes it one hell of a contender for the SAG ensemble award and probably its winner. Birdman is about many things. It’s about art and it’s about love. It’s about the collapse of our culture and about hope for its future. It is funny, crazy, moving and a celebration of the hopelessness of existence. But it’s nothing without its actors and it might be the only film on this list you can say that about. That, my friends, is ensemble acting at its best.



2) Selma
Ava DuVernay is one of the few directors working today who invests in really good African American actors at every level of renown, not just the big names. But to bring the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the march to Selma to life she needed a powerhouse and she got one in David Oyelowo, who manages to do what many actors have never been able to – capture both King’s majestic gift for giving speeches and his more human side, the man who was also a husband. Some of Oyelowo’s best scenes take place with Lyndon Johnson (an understated Tom Wilkinson) where he’s quietly trying to convince the President of the United States how important voting rights are to communities in the South, communities like Ferguson, Missouri. But Selma isn’t just Oyelowo’s performance. Supporting players include Tim Roth, Giovanni Ribisi, Oprah Winfrey, the wonderful Lorraine Toussaint. Another standout is Carmen Ejogo as Correta Scott King, who does more than just stare lovingly at her powerful husband but rather keeps her own internal world close to the surface of her skin. Selma had to be an ensemble work because that is the whole point of this most excellent film – to show power in numbers, what communities can do when they come together for a common cause. Selma is not a film that simply teaches you about civil rights – it is vibrant piece of work from one of America’s most promising directors. It is also one of the best films of 2014.


3) Gone Girl
Director David Fincher has never done this kind of satire before with such a large cast. While all of his films have humor in them, and he’s generally comfortable with large casts, like in Benjamin Button, the Social Network, Zodiac and Fight Club, here he has cast a hive of women surrounding one man, Ben Affleck character who must make his way out of the sticky web unscathed. Striking a note somewhere between hilarious and creepy, half the cast slithers in and out of Fincher’s world like hidden monsters, while the other half bumble through it like normal people. The biggest box-office hit so far in the race, of Fincher’s career and nearly everyone involved in the film except for Affleck, Gone Girl turns out to be the biggest surprise of 2014. The standouts are the marvelous Carrie Coon as Affleck’s sister, Kim Dickens as the wisecracking gumshoe, funny Emily Ratajkowski as the mistress, Sela Ward, Missy Pile, and the one, the only Tyler Perry are all adept at handling Gillian Flynn’s wry humor. Neil Patrick Harris steps in as Desi, a strange kind of mix of Cary Grant and Liberace, while Ben Affleck has never been better as the puppy dog husband getting in way over his head. But Gone Girl belongs, ultimately, to its titular star – Rosamund Pike who finally got the chance to show people what she’s capable of as an actress. Sweet, vulnerable, vicious, bitter, scary, mean – Pike knocks it way out of the park in one of 2014’s best performances by a man or a woman. Gone Girl works because every element of it is in the same groove, humming along at a similar frequency. The actors work with the director who works with the composers, the cinematographer and the editor. Fincher proved with Gone Girl that stories absent brilliantly written parts for women are less interesting, less entertaining, and ultimately less successful than projects like these that invest full in what women are capable of – in darkness and in light.


4) Boyhood – Linklater, like the other directors on this list, is also someone comfortable with an ensemble but maybe never as interesting as it is here,  in Boyhood, where the actors he’s working with are aging 12 years in the process. Talk about your true ensemble. They are living their real lives while making the film.  While Patricia Arquette is the heart and soul of the film, the other actors hold their own, especially Ethan Hawke as the good-time Charly dad who grows up, too, to become a real father by the end. Lorelei Linklater, Papa Linklater’s daughter who also grows up and comes of age, really, while making the film.  If you follow her on Facebook you’ll see what a fascinating individual she is, in addition to her talent as an artist.  And of course, Ellar Coltrane, the star of the film who acts as a little boy, then a young teen and finally a grown man.   All the while, these actors are communicating with each other as their characters. Though we know Hawke and Arquette really well from their acting history, there is not an inauthentic moment in the film where they stop being the characters they play.  Boyhood is one of the best films of the year that features some of the best acting in any film of any year.


5) Into the Woods
This singing cast under the careful hand of Rob Marshall brings the musical back to movie theaters in a great way. It’s the thing that’s been missing from his other films (except Chicago) — a tight, complete ensemble as this. A lot of that is Marshall but some of it was Meryl Streep, by most accounts, who kept the actors in this (and in Osage County) working together like family. The standouts are Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine and Streep, of course, but wait, there’s more – there’s Tracy Ullman, Emily Blunt, Christine Baranski, James Corden, Tammy Blanchard, Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone. They can sing and act and do both so well that it almost feels like you’re watching it live, on stage. Thing is, this is a less funny version of the play. Marshall did not back off of how sad the story turns by the end, and maybe that is the thing that ultimately makes this film great.


6) Foxcatcher
You’d be hard pressed to find a better triangle of performances than you do here, with Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. You can throw in Vanessa Redgrave who has some small but key roles as the mother who could turn daisy to a stone with one look. The volleying between Tatum and Ruffalo and Carell is exciting to watch, subtle though it is sometimes. One of the best scenes in the movie involves the moment (spoiler alert) when Ruffalo realizes just who and what Steve Carell is. It’s such a subtle but powerful shift and it all happens with one look. That is how Foxcatcher moves, slowly, deliberately towards its tragic end.

Filmpremiere / The Grand Budapest Hotel

7) The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson is also a director who likes to work with large ensembles. Though Ralph Fiennes is the lead here, he is joined by a wonderful cast of character actors at their absolute most colorful, including Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Lea Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson, Saoirse Ronan – really, can you get a bigger and better ensemble cast than that? A Wes Anderson movie is really like stepping into a Wes Anderson world where the acting is all very stylized. I’m sure that there is nothing more fun for an actor than to stretch themselves that way.


8) Mr. Turner
I was remiss in my earlier director piece ignoring the brilliant Mike Leigh for his masterwork, Mr. Turner. Leigh goes deep once again with a fine team of actors, probably many of them not known in the US but all of whom are masters of the craft of acting. Starting with the magnificent Cannes and New York Film Critics winner Timothy Spall, along with Dorothy Atkinson as his skin afflicted maid, Ruth Sheen of course, Lesley Manville — both from Another Year, Marion Bailey and more. This is such an ensemble piece that you don’t get much dialogue from Mr. Turner himself, but rather a lot of grunting. But you could go to school on these actors, indeed.


9) Inherent Vice
You can’t lose when you put Josh Brolin in an ensemble. He almost always makes it better – he’s like a younger, leaner John Goodman in that way. Brolin is the standout in a film full of funny, vibrant, surreal, memorable performances in this Paul Thomas Anderson existential comedy. Other standouts include Martin Short, Jenna Malone, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson and of course, the star Joaquin Phoenix. Newcomer Katherine Waterston is a true find, slinking in and out of the scenes as this film’s romantic muse. Anderson is adept with ensembles, often using a large cast to springboard his ideas off of – he believes in the actor to tell the stories and delights in turning their faces into canvases, pulling out extreme and bizarre performances from them sometimes. Most appreciative from Anderson this year is the sensuality he brings to the big screen, something sorely missing from many of the other films this year.


10) A Most Violent Year
The JC Chandor crime film about the oil scandal of the 1970s is really worth seeing because of its actors. Like Margin Call and All is Lost, Chandor often invests much in his actors while keeping the thrust of his stories a bit opaque. He writes plots that have actors reacting to their circumstances, which almost always leads to the best kind of acting. To do that, you need great performances and he gets them from Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, David Oyelowo, Catalina Morena Sandino and others. While Chastain (as usual) steals the show, Oscar Isaac shows his unending range here again as a husband and father trying to hold together a family life under shady circumstances. The film feels to me like a tribute to Chandor’s own father, which makes it kind of autobiographical but it really is a study of a time and place, that is strong on acting more than anything else.


11) Still Alice

Julianne Moore plays a woman afflicted with early onset Alzheimer’s. It becomes a story of a mother doing everything she can to hold on for the sake of her daughters and their lives to come. Alec Baldwin is excellent as Moore’s supportive husband, along with Kate Bosworth as the elder daughter. But it is really Kristen Stewart alongside Julianne Moore who makes Still Alice so exceptional of a cinematic experience. Stewart’s raw vulnerability and eagerness to both care for, relate to and help her mother is one of the most moving supporting performances I’ve seen this year. The way Stewart looks at her mother who is fast fading before her eyes is real and powerful. Moore responds to this and the two of them take this film where it needs to go. Moore has been giving standout performances for years, and gave another one this year in Maps to the Stars, which would be on this list if it were coming out this year. But here, she adopts little affectation in bringing Alice from an alive spark to a vanishing imprint of who she used to be. This is some of the best acting you’ll see this year not because it is showy or funny but because it is so organic and real – they are communicating clearly to each other, through their characters, through themselves.

Honorable mentions:

The Homesman
The critics didn’t seem to respond to this very actor-driven film but here is the power of ensemble work at its best, probably because it is directed by an actor.  It’s another cast of women, all of them brilliant in their roles as mentally ill wives discarded by their husbands. Naturally, the brilliant Ms. Swank is the standout here, alongside the always present Tommy Lee Jones.  Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer and Sonja Richter play the women, with character actors like William Fichtner, Tim Blake Nelson, John Lithgow, Hailee Steinfeld and James Spader. Meryl Streep pops in towards the end but her real work this year is in Into the Woods.  Still, The Homesman is an actors movie all the way, with Jones giving Swank much room to showcase her performance as Mary Bee Cutty, a woman born out of her time.

Angelina Jolie is another actor’s director, being an actor herself.  Though the film feels a bit like she’s in over her head – even the best of them would have a hard time telling this epic tale — she is very good with her key ensemble, including Jack O’Connell as Louis Zamperini, Miyavi and Garrett Heldund. She never gives them the short shrift and spends a lot of time on their faces as their emotions change.

Christopher Nolan’s giant space epic is also strong on ensemble work, with Nolan investing a great deal of his time and energy on the actors, which include Jessica Chastain, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine and more. The visual effects maybe overshadow them a bit but the emotional impact of the film is due primarily to the actors, particularly McConaughey and Chastain.

Xavier Dolan’s film is about three characters. It is also about three brilliant actors willing to turn themselves inside out. Anne Dorval is especially good as Mommy, a strangely complex bad mother trying to be a good mother under the circumstances. I love what Dolan does here, with this impossible relationship between mother and son, not to mention the neighbor who becomes like a surrogate mommy for the main character. Antoine-Olivier Pilon is fantastic as the manic depressive son, as is Suzanne Clement as the neighbor. 

As far as SAG ensemble goes, I would not be surprised if their list was:

Into the Woods
The Imitation Game

I also think The Grand Budapest Hotel and Gone Girl are possible choices there.  But we shall see next week.



There are always complaints about the Oscar race – the choices are too narrow, the pundits don’t do a good enough job of keeping the options as open as possible, the movies are too boring, the movies are too independent, the movies are bad. But this year, in the wake of the New York Film Critics, it seems like it’s open season on the five frontrunners for Best Actress. This is disheartening to me because of all of the categories in the Oscar race why pick on actress — the one category that has so few contenders? I suppose that was supposed to be the point of broadening the outlook, as Mark Harris does in his excellent piece examining why the New York Film Critics’ choice of Marion Cotillard was, to him, so exciting. What it inevitably turns into, however, is the idea that the chosen five aren’t good enough and should be replaced.

Here’s a great paragraph by Harris:

Best Actress is another story. The bench isn’t deep; it never seems to be. But it should shock even the cynical that the state of high-quality, challenging leading roles for women in Hollywood movies is now so dire that this year, the Best Actress conversation — what there’s been of it — has taken place in a way that has almost no correlation to movies that 99.9 percent of moviegoers have even had the opportunity to see. We’ve been talking about the Best Actress race as if actresses— adult women who are given central, movie-carrying roles of depth and range — are actually permitted to participate in Hollywood’s current economy outside of YA and genre movies. They aren’t. This has become an award for Best Exception To The Rule.

He goes on to describe the way the Best Actress race gets filled this way:

You can say that this consensus reflects weary realism, but I think it’s actually peer-driven; nobody wants to deviate too much from the predictor mainstream, and the aggregated result creates the illusion that the concrete of the race is hardening — an illusion that becomes a reality when distributor campaign teams (which have positioned many of these candidates as favorites with predictors and media folk in the first place) start to believe it and apportion their resources accordingly. It’s a vicious circle of self-reinforcing complacency that only becomes more maddening when it eventually, inevitably trickles down to voters.

Then his piece starts to get problematic for me:

So let’s break those six “favorites” down. Adams sat on several of those lists for months before anyone saw the Tim Burton movie in which she stars, purely on the principle that she’s a five-time nominee and the Weinstein Company is opening the movie in December and, well, Jesus, they have to nominate something, right? Her movie hasn’t opened yet. Neither has Julianne Moore’s or Reese Witherspoon’s, but both have been considered likely nominations since September, when their movies showed at the Toronto Film Festival, because they give very fine performances and also because, well, see rationale for Amy Adams, above. Jones is fine in one of the most depressing niches a Best Actress candidate can ever fill, namely The Genius’s Long-Suffering Wife. (If you don’t believe that’s a problem, take a look at the history of Best Actor nominees and see how many decades backward you have to scroll before getting to a character you’d describe primarily as somebody’s husband rather than as the central agent of the narrative.) And Swank is terrific in a very good, thoughtful, thematically complex Western that almost nobody has seen. That leaves Pike, the only contender this year who holds the center of a big, mainstream, Hollywood studio hit.

You see where he’s going with this? The consensus is WRONG. The actresses chosen are only being chosen because they think they have no other options. I don’t know about Amy Adams in Big Eyes – I am not predicting her to get a nomination but these names are not here because they are necessity picks. They are here because these are strong and interesting characters coming into the world of acting and movies in a time when audiences (and critics, mind you) only want young, hot and fuckable actresses in movies.  Mark Harris will go on to name a bunch of those in a minute.

But first, the five as they stand right now–

Julianne Moore in Still Alice – that she’s in the number one spot has put a big target on her bag. Rejoicing on Twitter when she was supplanted by Marion Cotillard in The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night.
Reese Witherspoon – who carries Wild, produced it, starred in two other movies, produced a whole other movie.
Rosamund Pike – a brilliant transformative performance that dares to be delightfully unlikable.
Hilary Swank – true, she’s won twice but her plain spoken hard woman on the prairie is not just a great performance but a great character overall.
Felicity Jones – she plays the wife to Stephen Hawking who is probably the reason he’s still alive.

And Mark’s choices to replace them?

Scarlett Johannson in Under the Skin
Jenny Slate in Obvious Child
Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights (which I have not seen)
Agata Trzebuchowska in Ida

He closes his piece hoping that others take the lead from New York Film Critics with this paragraph:

It’s too easy to dismiss work like this as “not Academy-friendly”; the truth is that there’s a long history of Academy-unfriendly work being nominated when enough noise is made so that voters feel they have to pay attention. Thanks to the New York Film Critics Circle for choosing to make that noise. May the rest of us spend the five weeks before Academy voting closes following their lead.

While Cotillard is brilliant in both films, only the Dardennes’ film is a performance worthy of being nominated to replace any of the names predicted in the consensus. As good as she is in James Gray’s The Immigrant — and she is great, to be sure — it is another frustratingly familiar role women often play in period films – lost, helpless, turning to prostitution.   How much more startlingly original is she in Two Days, One Night where she plays a distraught employee (and wife and mother) who must convince her co-workers to turn down a bonus so she can keep her job. That is the kind of complex role in keeping with the five frontrunners as we recognize them now.

What a shame for these veteran actresses who have built careers around the opportunity to showcase these kinds of complex parts that are diminishing by the day here in Hollywood.  It is not easy to get any work after the age of 35 now, harder still to get an Oscar worthy performance without having to produce it yourself. The Oscar race is about many things, popularity chief among them. But women in the business are fighting for a foothold, for any power to give them the same kinds of choices men have.  There is power in winning awards, power in taking a film to $160 million as Rosamund Pike has done. Power in having a chance to play a woman who pioneered a wagon train across the country to help rescue mentally ill women. These are interesting characters, not just charming likable women. They’re not even role models in the traditional sense but they represent for actresses doors being opened.

One thing that is great about the actresses in the race is that they are complicated. Three of them are downright unlikable, challenging and definitely suffer no fools – that Hilary Swank in The Homesman, Reese Witherspoon in Wild and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl.    When looking for these roles starting at the beginning of the year it isn’t as Mark suggests, totally publicist driven. It is much more about finding the best roles that women must fight for. It’s about finding roles that aren’t supporting characters staring adoringly at their menfolk – or period films that depict yet another helpless lost stray cat of a woman. These are meaty, substantial roles any actress would want to play. Why target them? Surely there are three times as many men who could stand to be taken down.

At any rate, here are the best actress winners from NYFCC’s past, with an asterisk* if they also received an Oscar nod and a + if they won:

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine +
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Julie Christie, Away from Her*
Helen Mirren, The Queen+
Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line+
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake*
Hope Davis, American Splendor, The Secret Lives of Dentists
Diane Lane, Unfaithful*
Sissy Spacek, In the Bedroom*
Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me*
Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry+
Cameron Diaz, There’s Something About Mary
Emily Watson, Breaking the Waves*
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Georgia
Linda Fiorentino The Last Seduction
Holly Hunter, The Piano+
Emma Thompson, Howards End+
Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs+
Joanne Woodward, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge

That’s a strong track record, though none of these are French actresses.  What do you think, does Cotillard stand a chance of breaking through and if so, for which role?

moore witherspoon

Julianne Moore. There, I said it. That’s a name you’re likely going to be hearing a lot in the coming weeks, hell, probably months. She is the surest thing to come out of this year’s awards race. Ever since I saw her incredibly moving performance in “Still Alice”, back in September, it seemed like a no-brainer. Based on Lisa Genova’s 2007 best-selling novel, the film is a striking look at the nastiness and brutality that falls upon an American family when one of their loved ones is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Moore is ever so brilliant in the movie, encompassing the way a person can lose track of herself and her own identity even when she tries ever so hard to retain it.

Just through Moore’s eyes you can witness the slow detachment Alice is going through from society, friends, family, and herself. It’s a devastating film because, just like Alice, her ever deteriorating brain keeps getting erased of its precious memories without you even noticing the effects – it isn’t until the last few scenes that the devastation this disease has caused hits you. “Still Alice” has some of the hardest scenes to watch of any movie this year, but it’s all so worth it for the humbling journey that is involved with it.

Indie filmmakers Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer don’t try to pull at the heartstrings, they just tell their story in the simplest way possible, and why wouldn’t they? They have Julianne Moore at their disposal, one of the great actresses of our time (“Short Cuts”, “The Kids Are All Right”, “Boogie Nights”, “Far From Heaven”, “Safe”, “Magnolia”, “Children of Men”, “The Hours” and even next year’s “Maps to the Stars” directed by David Cronenberg, in which she plays a down-and-out actress, desperate for her next big shot). Every time she’s on screen, Cronenberg’s film ignites with excitement and his pitch black Hollywood satire gets even darker.

If Moore is the surest thing to come out of this year’s race, it doesn’t mean that the other nominees should pack it up and call it a night. For example, if Reese Witherspoon hadn’t won back in 2006 for “Walk the Line” we’d be talking about a close race to the finish. Witherspoon’s work in Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Wild” is astounding, equaling her Best Actress work as June Carter Cash. Coming out next week, the same week “Still Alice” is released, Vallée’s film is a stirring portrait of love, despair and hope. You can call it “Eat, Pray, Hike”, but that’s where comparisons should end with that Julia Roberts vehicle.

Vallée, who directed last year’s “Dallas Buyers Club”, is an artist through and through. Ever since his beginnings in Quebec cinema I’ve kept a watchful eye on him. Just check out “Café de Flore” or “C.R.A.Z.Y” to see how great of a filmmaker he can truly be. “Wild” has a more conventional storyline than those aforementioned films but he and Witherspoon make up for it with sheer artistry. It also helps that gifted writer/novelist Nick Hornby and Cheryl Strayed – on whose book this is based – wrote the screenplay. After a brutal divorce and losing her mom to cancer, Strayed went on an 1100 mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself to try to bring meaning to a life that was crumbling. It sounds like the kind of stuff the Hallmark channel would dig, but don’t kid yourself, Vallée knows better than to stoop down to that level.

Apart from Witherspoon’s emotionally resonant performance, the other major thing you notice in the film is how incredibly well edited it is. Going back and forth between present day, flashbacks, flash forwards and dream-like imagery can be a tricky business, but Vallée and his longtime editing partner Martin Pensa (“Dallas Buyers Club”) nail every detail. And Witherspoon, what more can be said about an actress who had me at hello ever since the day I first saw her in Alexander Payne’s “Election” (still the best performance she’s ever given). It wasn’t just that movie – her enormous talent has shone through over the years in films such as “Pleasantville”, “American Psycho”, “Cruel Intentions”, “I Walk the Line” and last year’s underrated “Mud”.

How refreshing it is to have not one but two top notch female performances coming out in the same week. These two actresses are on par with the incredible work Felicity Jones has done in the recently released “Theory of Everything”, Rosamund Pike’s harrowingly hypnotic femme fatale in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl”, Anne Dorval in “Mommy”, Scarlett Johansson in “Under the Skin” and my dark horse favorite Marion Cotillard and the mesmerizing performance she gives in “Two Days, One Night”. The latter three might not get the nominations they deserve, but I advise you to seek these performances out because they will absolutely blow you away.


The Imitation Game had a huge opening with $482K in just four theaters, making it the year’s second best debut. This isn’t that surprising considering the very motivated fanbase for Benedict Cumberbatch, especially since he’s got such strong buzz in the Best Actor race. But it’s worth noting that the reviews did not prevent anyone from seeing the film.

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What a run for Gone Girl, though I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who seems to be noticing this or caring about it in the world of Oscar punditry. I guess because I’ve been here long enough to see how Hollywood has changed. For a rated R movie that isn’t a remake or a sequel to finish a 9 week run at $160 domestic is rare indeed.  It has zoomed past all of the past Best Picture winners of the last ten years, second only to Return of the King. It is extremely rare for a rated R film to make that kind of coin here in uptight, child-oriented America.   Gone Girl done proved you don’t have to be 22 Jump Street to make lots of money. You can stir debate, challenge audiences, deliver uncomfortable endings and still make lots of money.  Huh. This is also what happens when you put women in movies and give them something to do other than smile and talk pretty. Bridesmaids earned $169 million in its release but was too much of a genre comedy to get a Best Pic nod, despite the noble efforts of the studio.  Gone Girl, which wasn’t too much for American audiences, could prove too much for the Academy.



Suzanne used to say that you’re not really anybody in America…unless you’re on Tv. ‘Cause what’s the point of doing anything worth while…if there’s nobody watching? So when people are watching, it makes you a better person. So if everybody was on TV all the time…everybody would be better people. But if everybody was on TV all the time…there wouldn’t be anybody left to watch. That’s where I get confused.

– Joyce Maynard/Buck Henry, To Die For

For several years, I had been bored. Not a whining, restless child’s boredom (although I was not above that) but a dense, blanketing malaise. It seemed to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word derivative as a criticism is itself derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can’t recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn’t immediately reference to a movie or TV show. A fucking commercial. You know the awful singsong of the blasé: Seeeen it. I’ve literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can’t anymore. I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.

– Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl

We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.

– Pablo Picasso

We are living in the age of narcissism where our celebration of self is a minute-by-minute obsession. By nature, human beings are drawn to their own image, like Narcissus himself, doomed to stare until we perish.

Rosamund Pike floats through the first half of Gone Girl like the coming of a storm churns the surfaces of still waters, then gusts of winds that hint at the chaos and destruction to follow.

Film noir femmes fatales might not survive today’s gauntlet of social justice bloggers, who are right to fight the good fight when it comes to sexist tropes in video games and in Hollywood films. But what would cinema be without them? Is art required to give all women positive role models, to tell an even bigger lie that all of us are pure of heart and altruistic?

There are so many truths to femmes fatales in the lives of women and so much truth in Amy that it’s caused so much debate among women – is she a feminist hero (no), is she a misogynist fantasy (no)? She is that rare creature born out of art who can’t be explained by any sort of type. She isn’t supposed to be a role model nor is she meant to be an invention of the male gaze. She is created by a woman — a woman who knows women.

There is no male equivalent to the kind of power women on screen can unleash when in the hands of a capable director, a willing audience, and critics who can buckle up and hold on for the ride. Once the nitpicking starts, however, all is mostly lost. Some things you just can’t overthink.

Back in 1995, we didn’t yet have a working internet. It was a tool used to communicate. I know because I was on it. We talked about movies on my group but we didn’t really use the “world wide web.” We had to wait as Mosaic became Firefox, for Netscape to actually work well but a few years later it would deb like the wild wild west – a wide open new frontier with start-ups bursting like planets from the big bang.

Back in 1995, when Gus Van Sant’s To Die For came out, everybody was indeed becoming famous in all of the wrong ways. Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes stretched out over lifetimes. An American Idol runner-up would win an Oscar. Another is now the most famous country western singer in America. Fame was tossed back in the bowl then refashioned for those of you watching at home. The line between being watched and being the watcher was blurred.


To Die For was seen as indictment of the media more so than a true crime version of the Pamela Smart case (watch Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart). But it was more than that, even more than the insta-fame ordinary citizens now had at their fingertips, provided they would be willing to sacrifice everything.  It was the birth ofIt was a femme fatale for the celebrity age.

Kidman’s Suzanne Stone roped three teenagers into killing her husband but that was really only because he stood in the way of her pursuing her career goals. Every good femme fatale needs a chump and she had three willing participants. But To Die For is very much about Suzanne and the camera — Suzanne and TV — us watching the people who matter.

As the years went on, and the internet exploded, people from all over the world began their exodus to their online avatar lives. It took a while but now it feels like we’ve reached full saturation point where it is acceptable behavior to portray yourself in a dimension that doesn’t exist.

Amazing Amy, as carefully cultivated by post-90s/therapy/mood enhancing drugs, is meant to be the sum total of everything done “right.” Back in the ’90s women started their march towards perfectionism born out of the 1980s when the yuppie women went back to “work” then reflexively started staying home to be better mothers. That perfectionism of self was transferred to perfectionism of offspring because maybe if you did everything right the child would be raised with high self-esteem, the trait deemed most important by middle-class families in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s.

Pike’s version of Amy seems to have sprung off the pages of Facebook where we have flipped our real lives onto a magic mirror, or a moving diorama that tells everyone who knows us how happy we are, how much we love the holidays, how great our marriage is.

The movie version of the book has some women mad that Amy isn’t likable anymore. That’s because a visually inclined director alters the opportunity for interpretation our imagination gives us. You see, many readers of the book found that they liked Amy. They liked her even when she tricked them into thinking she was a victim of an abusive, cheating husband. She showed them how easy it is to play up the tropes women trapped in novels often find themselves tangled in. The beauty of Flynn’s narrative is that she had no problem upending that in her adaptation, and no problem delving into the darker side of this insane sociopath also known as Amazing Amy.

How a person relates to the first half of Gone Girl says much about how they view women, marriage and adult life. Do they think women like that exist and more importantly, do they desire those women and that life? Do they feel betrayed when they figure out that they were fooled so completely?

Fincher’s reimagining of Flynn’s Amy explores this notion that appearances are everything. The only directive Fincher gave Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whose score for the film acts as Amy’s own inner voice, was to find that annoying music they use in spas and salons to make you feel relaxed when most of the time it does anything but. We women know that vibe all too well – the serene yoga face that tells the world we are okay. Everything is fine in here. Nothing to worry about – see, here’s a happy selfie. See how happy and content I am? I have to be happy and content because otherwise I’m a bitch. I’m a complainer. I’m nothing that you want, believe me.

Pike’s Amy is a combination of Kim Novak in Vertigo and Natasha Henstridge in Species. That beautiful face, that blonde hair, those patrician features. So familiar to the big screen both in her talent for transformation and in the clarity of her mission. Many female characters in films wander around not knowing what they want or need. Their empty holes are to be filled and then they will be complete. But Amy has no such self doubts. She is clear, precise, ruthless.

The femme fatale of the 1940s drew the male protagonist into a tragic situation that rendered him lost, helpless, broke or dead. The girl in peril whose objectives are well hidden is often measured by how sexy she was in the part, how bad she was and how much we loved her for it. Gloria Graham, Lana Turner, Barbra Stanwyck and even up to Kathleen Turner – all heels and blood red lipstick.

But Amy is a femme fatale for the narcissistic age, a vessel built on purpose for our collective projections to serve an end goal, one she never even really even wanted for herself but one that her parents already decided she was supposed to want. In the second half of the film Amy uncoils. She stuffs her face with junk food, tosses her pink fuzzy pen out of the window and carefully carries out her best laid plan. Pike’s expression relaxes from perked-up happy perfect Amy to pissed off Amy who doesn’t care anymore what anyone thinks she looks like. That uncoiling is what most women feel when they peel off their Spanx after a party or walk around their apartment without their bra on, no makeup, unbrushed hair. It’s ourselves with our on switch turned off.

The brilliance of Pike’s Amy is that she is unlike anyone’s picture of who Amy would be, probably a little like Reese Witherspoon or Rachel MacAdams. They saw her as the girl next door turned mean girl. But Pike is a cool automaton – able to switch from sweet and trusting to blank-eyed and vicious. Her best scene is when she’s all bloodied up and seated in the wheelchair. She is being questioned by the detective (Kim Dickens) who is about to nail her on an inconsistency. Pike barely flinches but just enough for us to see the flicker in one of her flawless eyes. She switches gears instantly and says exactly what she needs to say to shift focus and lay blame.

Pike’s femme fatale is less a good girl turned bad as she is one who didn’t fit in this world from birth. The complete absence of stereotypical female emotions toys with viewers expecting to see a woman they need to like. A similar dynamic is played out in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin with Scarlett Johansson playing an alien playing a woman. She is acting the way she thinks people think women are supposed to act. She is the sum total of her body parts – lips, tits, ass — but like Pike’s Amy, she doesn’t act on intellect but rather, on instinct.


While Under the Skin is a deliberately opaque sci-fi film, and Gone Girl is an entertaining, if a bit unsettling, thriller, both depict a female character whose internal self does not match the external. Beauty is then the definition of a mask. The iconic status beautiful women enjoy is, here, a construct.

It takes a while for the full impact of what Glazer is trying to do with Under the Skin and to do it he needed the infamous body of one of the most famous bodies in the world – Johansson’s. Because what the film ultimately says is that there is so much more under the skin, so much we don’t see and couldn’t imagine. Under the Skin is not an easy story to figure out – it is open to interpretation, no doubt, but I saw it as a woman who wants to be a woman people want. Like Amy, this too is a false portrait of the male gaze upended.

Another wonderful rumination on the notion of the other self, the idealized woman is Robin Wright’s character in The Congress, where she plays an aging actress playing herself who signs over her life to her younger avatar. In the imagined animated world people can assign themselves completely alternative selves, or avatars, while real life is revealed to be a place of pain and suffering. But she loses everything that matters in doing this, her image being the only thing that survives in the end. Like Under the Skin, The Congress is open to interpretation and not an easily digested film in the least bit. But Van Sant, Glazer, Folman and Fincher are getting at something few filmmakers do – circling around the changing times, the images of ourselves as we’d like to be, and revealing what we still want from those beautiful faces on the big screen.


In a very weak year for lead actress performances, Jennifer Aniston seeks notice for her work in the character piece Cake. Though mostly met with mixed to negative reviews, Aniston has something her competitors on the fringe mostly don’t have: major star power. I guess it doesn’t need saying that bringing Aniston in a race where Angelina Jolie is front and center could prove too delicious for gossip sites to ignore. It could turn into a big thing, like a Kathryn Bigelow vs. Jim Cameron thing and no one is really bringing it up. The reason they don’t bring it up is a good one: who cares? It isn’t that anyone cares, nor should they – a silly tabloid contrivance built to sell magazines that women inclined towards fantasy and taking sides fell way too easily into – Gone Girl anyone? Yet, it’s still out there, this presence of a presumed conflict that could rear its ugly head.

Bringing herself out front and center during Oscar season is the way to publicize a movie, especially if critics aren’t going to do it for you.  It also helps Aniston earn, potentially, a Golden Globe nod for role, maybe a Spirit Award. To get an Oscar nod she doesn’t need to appeal to critics. She needs to appeal to actors and they might be appreciative of a Big TV actress dressing herself down and stretching her acting abilities on a smaller scale.

Aniston has been quietly delivering challenging performances for a while now but hasn’t ever really put her star power front and center like she is doing now and that could make all of the difference. It WILL certainly make the difference for the Golden Globes where we will have our dress rehearsal for the potential media frenzy around the Brad/Jen/Angelina love triangle. It’s just like Debbie Reynolds/Eddie Fisher/Elizabeth Taylor!  Like that this story, this one has been hard to let go of because women don’t want to let it go. They cast Aniston as the good girl and Angelina as the bad girl, which was absurd. Every once in a while they drag it out and there they are – a fake story on the cover of Us Weekly, which has done more harm to the evolution of women than just about anything else in mainstream media.

While the gossip sites might make a big deal over it, I’m sure it’s water under the bridge for Aniston and certainly for Jolie and Pitt, who have gone on to grow their family and finally get married. Meanwhile, the ongoing fake drama spoon fed to desperate women who “identify” with Aniston has obsessed on whether Aniston will get pregnant, whether she’s married – her love life an ongoing distraction. Oh, the humanity.

But all of that aside, can Aniston break into the top five? The bored pundits keep creating scenarios that swap out one or two but I’m not sure the five is shakable. Let’s go through them.

1. Julianne Moore for Still Alice – Moore is so overdue that all she really needed was a double year like this one where she plays an aging actress resorting to desperate measures in Maps to the Stars, and a professor facing Alzheimer’s in Still Alice, the latter will likely win her award. Moore is showing up, meaning she’s already appeared in pivotal spots so far and is likely prepared to do what even Meryl Streep had to do during the Iron Lady – shake hands, talk to people, in it to win it.  She’s in the number one spot and because of her overdue status doesn’t really have any competitors except…

2. Reese Witherspoon is also very much in it to win it and has been appearing everywhere. The MVP for women filmmaking has produced two films this year, Gone Girl and Wild, for which she will likely receive an acting nomination. Witherspoon carries the entire film, turns herself inside out emotionally and if she hadn’t won already for Walk the Line she’d be the one who beat Moore. But therein lies the rub. She HAS won before. To beat a beloved overdue actress with a second win is near impossible in the Oscar race. Nonetheless, Witherspoon’s appearances are as  both producer and actress. If Wild managed a Best Picture nomination, Witherspoon could enter the race with three Oscar nominations, two for producing and one for acting – has that even happened ever?

3. Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl – Among the best performances of the year, Gone Girl is about to make $160 million. Pike’s never had the chance to show her range, always cast as the “pretty girl” or the “cool blonde.” In Fincher’s film she upends that stereotype, naturally, as that’s some of what the film is about. Pike is being honored at the Palm Spring’s Film Festival with the Best Actress award. She will also be making appearances but she is either about to give birth or has given birth so it’s going to be a tricky season for her, publicity wise. In Pike’s case, she will likely be in a strong Best Picture contender, which helps her but she’s up against Moore, which is really insurmountable.

4. Hilary Swank in The Homesman – here is where pundits will likely see vulnerability because Swank (spoiler alert) gives such a strong performance that when she leaves the film she leaves a giant hole, or so some have said. Swank is always good and is a two-time winner already. That either helps her or hurts her, I can’t tell, but either way if you’re talking about who deserves to be nominated you simply can’t overlook Swank.

5. Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything – here is the second actress from a potential Best Picture contender, which always helps. Jones is kind of young to be a frontrunner in the category but she’s just magnificent in The Theory of Everything. I suspect that if you love this movie you can’t  help but love her performance. The film is almost more about her life than about Stephen Hawking’s but both actors reach such a magnetic symbiosis it’s probably going to be one of those situations where they both keep getting nominated.

Therefore, I’m not seeing any wiggle room here for Aniston, although I remember saying the same thing last year only to be horrified when Amy Adams bumped Emma Thompson from the race.  It can happen. Robert Redford also got bumped for Bradley Cooper.  Late breaking films can sometimes do that. Indeed, David Oyelowo in Selma will break through, maybe even Jack O’Connell from Unbroken.

Adams, I suspect, broke through because she appeared in a popular Best Picture contender that worked overall for the industry and the critics. If they love the movie they’re going to reward the actors, especially if those actors worked with David O. Russell, a favorite of the actors.

For Aniston to break through there will have to be an extraordinary reason for that and from what I’ve been reading about Cake I’m not seeing it in the way people are responding to the film. But if Angelina Jolie can push her film through, at least so far, on star power alone, it’s certainly possible star power alone can also propel Aniston into the race, giving tabloids a big piece of meat to stew on all season.


Julie & Julia was the 2009 film starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. Directed by Nora Ephron, the film intertwined two stories, Julia Child, the famous culinary chef and how she came to be, Streep played Child in the film. Adams played Julie Powell, an office worker who decided to start a blog where she vowed to cook her way through Julia Child’s cookbook, Mastering the Art Of French Cooking. She wanted to cook all 524 recipes in a year.

Both actresses won rave reviews for their respective roles, however, an editor has decided to to chop all the Amy Adams scenes out of the film, leaving in just the Streep scenes. That’s right, Adam Goldman has reduced the film to an hour long, that’s how long Streep appears in the movie for. The film is reduced to a brand new cut, all about Julia Child cooking her way through France.

Enjoy the cut below.

What do you think of the new edit, yay or nay?

Jenny Slate

Author, Stand-up comedian, voice-over actor, actress and Gotham Award nominee. Jenny Slate is a woman of many talents. This past Summer she starred in Obvious Child, a film which won her rave reviews for her performance of Donna, a young woman who gets pregnant after a one -night stand and decides to have an abortion.

Awards Daily sat down with the wonderfully funny actress to discuss the abortion issue, fart jokes, and her reaction to being nominated for a Gotham Award.

Jazz Tangcay: Can I just say it’s good to see a romantic comedy again, and you were fantastic in it.

Jenny Slate: Thank you.

JT:  You’re based in LA now, did you feel the need to move here for the best roles/opportunities?

JS: I moved to New York when I was 18 and lived there for a while, but yes, this is where all the auditions are, and it was time for me to make the move. It’s kinda funny to me that the role that ended up being my dream role was back in New York.

JT:  Obvious Child is set in NYC, what was it like being back?

JS: It was nice, because when I moved out here, I felt excited, but also a lot like a stranger, but if i had to make it out here, i’d have to focus and be kind to myself, but also focus on developing myself as a performer and i felt that in many ways, I put that work in, and it was exciting that the first time I got to use it and see if I could make the grade, was by returning to New York and work on this really exciting story.

JT:  Donna comes across as funny, struggling with life, vulnerable and relatable, what did you relate to most as Donna?

JS: There are some things that felt technical, Donna is a stand up comedian and I started my career doing stand up. The real touchstone, emotionally was the creation of this woman who is strong enough to reveal imperfect parts of herself to large groups of people, but actually and functionally is very vulnerable and aware that she is imperfect, and is still trying to know all of that, and metaphorically walk without a limp. She knows there is a lot that is different about her when it comes to the stereotypical adult, she’s like, “I don’t really know that I’m there yet.” I felt that way a lot, in the world of adults, that I can’t really tell if I am.

JT:  Were you surprised by the success of the film?

JS: I think yes and no. I think I was surprised and not surprised, I stand by the work and by how focused we were and how original I feel that our comedic voice was.
I really was so excited by the combination of yes, we are dealing with a subject that is complex and that people are prickly about, but also saying that you know humans are prickly and complex and funny and sad themselves too, so let’s just make this a thing and talk about it. I stood by that, but when you make a movie in 18 days with mostly unknown actors, you never know if anybody will see it. That’s just the nature of the business, so, for it to hit home and find a place in people’s heart and that find a nice place in the theaters in this country, I was shocked and thrilled, and felt that was great.

JT : I find fart jokes hilarious, how easy was it for you to deliver those fart jokes in the movie?

JS:  It’s really easy to mess up, and it’s very hard to get right. It really has to be timed perfectly, it has to be good. There is an art to it. A good fart joke is great, a bad fart joke is cheap and annoying. I think we got the good ones in there. We were pretty careful about making sure the fart jokes were on point.

JT:  I have to say, the issue of abortion was really well handled in the film.

JS: I’m glad you think so, we were very thoughtful about how to portray this issue of a woman getting pregnant and then deciding to have this procedure. We didn’t want to be didactic.We didn’t want this to be an agenda film. We did want to say, look the modern human experience, not even just the modern female experience, the experience is complex, it’s not one thing. There are so many different things that are interesting, why would we ever focus on an issue, when we could actually focus on a person.

JT: How did you and Gillian Robespierre meet?

JS : Gillian and her friend had written the short film of Obvious Child, but the character was new to me and it was at the starting stages. We had a friend in common – at the time I was doing my stand up show, they came and saw me performing, and Gillian thought I’d be a good fit for the part. Gillian got my contact details and sent me an email saying, “I’m doing a short film. It’s about this. Is this something you’d be interested in?” I was like, “I’m really interested in doing something honest and funny, but if this is going to be shocking, just to be shocking or saccharine about it, I’m not interested.” She sent me the script and I said, “Oh, this is something I’ve never seen before. I’m definitely in.”


Jenny Slate and Director Gillian Robespierre
Jenny Slate and Director Gillian Robespierre

JT :  You won rave reviews for the role, do you ever read your reviews?

JS: No, not really. I learned very quickly, when I was on Saturday Night Live, it would not benefit me as a person to read the reviews, because if they’re good, then I feel like, I don’t want that to define me, and then if they’re bad, I know they’ll hurt my feelings. So, what usually happens. When there’s one that’s good, my husband will usually scan for me and he’ll be like, “This one is well written and I think you should read this.”  That’s how they come to me, I have a very nice group of friends who will skim for me. Sometimes, they just tell me which is even better. If it’s coming through the voice of someone you know, it means a lot. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate that there’s been a positive reaction because I really do. As a person and performer, I am at my best when I am encouraged. I do so much better when I get a positive reinforcement. Which is why stand up comedy has been good for me. I understood the joy of developing my voice.
Social media is great too. It’s people saying, “I’m glad you told this story. I love you.” I really appreciate that too.

JT : Marcel the Shell was extremely popular, the video went viral, and now there are books. How surprised were you by its popularity?

Marcel The ShellJS: I was 100% shocked just because we truly made it for ourselves to show at a small arts show in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. You know, Dean (my husband) was like, “I showed it, and people were asking if we could put it online because people want to see it again. Can we put it online?” I didn’t have a problem with it, because I know so little about how the internet works and even today, I tweet out into the darkness. I type with two fingers and can’t even use Dropbox. I was so surprised. I’m the last person I would expect to have a viral hit.
It feels really good to have something that is really a unique expression of what it’s like to be an individual and have that be something that people wanna see. It’s nice to have contributed to something that people like and often say makes their day go better, if that’s my contribution and something that’s happening to my work, I couldn’t ask for more.
We will see more, it’s definitely out there in the future.

JT:  You’re not afraid of calling yourself a feminist, why do you think other actresses are afraid of admitting it?

JS:  It’s really weird to me to see these phrases that say, “So and so comes out.” or “So and so admits that she’s a feminist.” I think it’s a bummer, I’m loud and proud. I don’t know why you wouldn’t be, but I do understand there’s a stigma on the word and that people have stereotyped feminism and the movement and that it’s about aggression or like some strange fierce reciprocity, when it’s really about equality. Equality between the sexes and it’s an honorary and worthwhile pursuit, I think everybody should be a feminist, I think it’s an awesome word if you define it correctly.

JT :  Do you keep in touch with the SNL gang?

JS:  For sure. I was really lucky to be in with a great group of cast members, I see them every now and again and I love them.

JT:  What was your reaction when you found out you were nominated for a Gotham award?

JS: I’m so excited. I was in the bathroom about to brush my teeth and I was checking my phone. I saw the Gotham Awards had been announced, I started to get nervous. I told my husband, we did a little dance and it was really nice.

JT: What’s next for you?

JS: I finished filming Season 3 of Kroll Show on Comedy Central and House of Lies. I’m doing some Parks and Recs, and recording Bob’s Burgers. The new book is out. I’m not sure what my next film project is going to be. I want to something I really enjoy, that’s the requirement.

Obvious Child is out now on DVD


Reese Witherspoon continues her reign as Most Valuable Player in the Oscar race this year, having produced two films (Wild and Gone Girl) and starred in two, all the while challenging herself in unexpected ways. In Wild, we follow her journey as Cheryl Strayed, who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and lived to tell about it. Witherspoon’s Strayed carries the entire film – just her, the food, her fears and her grief. It’s a spectacular performance. Also in the picture, another lost woman – Hilary Swank who stars in the feminist take on the western, The Homesman. Swank has never been better in a film that is not an easy sit. Swank, like Witherspoon, plays that rare breed of female who is smart and capable yet unwittingly undone by having no opportunities.

Three more leads fill the frame, including the frontrunner, Julianne Moore whose performance in Still Alice is reportedly heartbreaking.  Amy Adams in Big Eyes, a standout in Burton’s film, and Felicity Jones, who plays Jane Hawking, the woman who is almost responsible for saving Stephen Hawking’s life and thus, changing the way we view the universe and ourselves within it.

Two supporting actresses in the mix, including the frontrunner, Patricia Arquette – her complicated young mother in Boyhood who evolves as her children grow. Arquette held this character in her mind and heart for 12 years, delivering not just the best supporting turn of the year but one of the best performances overall. And finally, Laura Dern who is partnered with Witherspoon in Wild, as her free spirited mother whose death inspires Witherspoon’s character to something, anything to ease the pain of her loss.

These are varied, interesting and complex roles for women in this photo here.


Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 7.16.22 PM

A daunting task to bring Stephen and Jane Hawking to life. Jones and Redmayne talk about wanting to earn their respect.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 1.45.50 PM

Scott Feinberg hosted a roundtable with actors and filmmakers for Oscars 2014 – but honestly? Tilda Swinton’s hair for the win.

Each of the eight panelists were associated with top-notch 2014 indies: writer-director J.C. Chandor (AFI Fest opener A Most Violent Year); writer-director Damien Chazelle (Sundance grand jury and audience award winner Whiplash); Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard (Belgian Oscar submission Two Days, One Night, as well as 2013 Cannes selection The Immigrant); Oscar-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal (Toronto selections Nightcrawler and, from 2013, Enemy); actor Bill Hader (a best actor Gotham Award nominee for Sundance selection The Skeleton Twins); actress Michelle Monaghan (Fort Bliss); actress Kristen Stewart (Toronto selection Still Alice, as well as Sundance selection Camp X-Ray and Cannes selection The Clouds of Sils Maria); and Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer, as well as 2013 Cannes selection Only Lovers Left Alive and Berlin selection The Grand Budapest Hotel).

Read the full piece at Hollywood Reporter.


Despite my reputation online, in the Oscar race and on message boards around the internet, I didn’t start my site to be a “feminist” blogger or a “civil rights” blogger. It just turned out that way. I use quotes because nothing riles people up more than these two topics vis-à-vis the Oscar race.  Or any subject really. You want to see any angry mob anywhere on the internet, bring up these two topics in a piece. Thing is, sixteen years at my job and I started to notice things that disturbed me. Where Hollywood movies are concerned, Oscar movies, the ones critics pay attention to, there seems to be a bizarre kind of obsession with male-driven, sexless, PG-13 dramas that are rarely about women or other minorities. I don’t know the reason why but as I watch this go down every year I find myself unable to hold my tongue, for better or worse, usually worse.

While we have a record number of women behind the camera – Ava DuVernay’s wild breakout film, Selma, and Angelina Jolie’s upcoming Unbroken, not to mention Gillian Flynn making history as the first female novelist who adapted her own work headed for the Adapted Screenplay race.  But.

Now that the Oscar race is coming closer to the end, it’s beginning to dawn on the film community that, indeed, 2014 was a terrible year for lead actresses. Not just regular terrible, like a Blue Jasmine here or a Black Swan there – but terrible terrible, like Silver Linings Playbook terrible where the best alternative to what should have been a supporting part – as Jennifer Lawrence was – turned into the best option for the lead Oscar.  She was great – but it was a supporting part. God help us if that defines leading roles for an actresses.

The global film community doesn’t have a problem telling women’s stories. Poland’s Ida, Canada’s breathtaking Mommy, France’s Two Days, One Night tell unique stories of women – some flattering, some not. These are adult women, of course, who have actual internal lives written about on screen and here’s the kicker – all by male filmmakers. Imagine that.

The documentary and animated branches do not have trouble telling stories about women. Frozen is still a worldwide phenomenon and is helping to change things. Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, and most of his films, revolve around a female protagonist. The documentary filmmakers this year, like Rory Kennedy and Laura Poitras are women, but there are also plenty of real life stories about women -because yeah, we’re kind of here aren’t we? We’re everywhere.

Comedies and action films can have women in them – like Tammy, like Lucy. Sure, critics are harsh but the people love it, box office proves this.

It is only in one area where Oscar matters that women are invisible. The dominant films this year are about male protagonists. Women are there merely to serve the character arc of the male lead.

I was recently approached on Twitter by Guy Lodge who said he thought I advocated for critics to support films merely because they starred or were made by women or other minorities. I told him that wasn’t at all what I said – just that it seems to me overall “taste” is defined by a singular demographic. That appears to be the only explanation when films that are really actually quite good (Eleanor Rigby, for instance) are chewed up and spit out.  If a film is bad, it’s bad. But you see more allowances, excuses and forgiving hearts for Interstellar than you’d ever see for any film starring a woman.  I’m not sure whether anyone is really interested in films about women anymore. I am worried that we are headed in that direction.

First, let’s look at the Best Actress possibilities as decided by the pundits:
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Hilary Swank, The Homesman
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Anne Dorval, Mommy
Shailene Woodley, The Fault in our Stars
Jessica Chastain, Eleanor Rigby
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle
Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Juliet Binoche, Clouds of Sils Maria

Next, the Best Picture contenders.  *Indicates that it’s most likely to be nominated for Best Picture (supporting actress contenders in bold).
*Whiplash (a girlfriend, fleeting shot of a female musician)
*The Imitation Game (points for a slightly more interesting supporting turn, of course supporting, by Keira Knightley)
*Boyhood (again, strong supporting females, perhaps the best of this year)
*Interstellar (again, props for positive role models in its supporting characters)
*Birdman (great supporting characters but supporting nonetheless)
*Selma – (the women matter and not just vis-à-vis the men but they are supporting).
The Gambler (typical supporting characters, old-fashioned and dated)
A Most Violent Year (the best thing about the movie is the supporting female who is barely in it)
Foxcatcher (hardly any women but great turns by what little remain)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (great supporting characters but supporting nonetheless)
American Sniper (great supporting characters but supporting nonetheless)
Mr. Turner (great supporting characters but supporting nonetheless)

Here are the Best Picture contenders with Best Actress contenders in them:
*The Theory of Everything
*Gone Girl
The Homesman

And to be perfectly frank, only one of these is being SERIOUSLY considered by the majority of pundits. That means, unless Into the Woods becomes a major player, you’re looking at ONE film in the entire race for Best Picture that has a lead actress contender at all (Felicity Jones).

Several bloggers have tried to say that there are plenty of women but that the pundits don’t know where to look. They point to less-buzzed performances, like Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Belle, Jenny Slate in Obvious Child, Mia Wasikowska in Tracks, Elisabeth Moss in Listen Up, Philip or The One I love, both leads in Laggies, even Angelina Jolie in Maleficent, or Scarlett Johannson in Lucy. But none of these movies have the reviews to push any of these contenders into the race, no matter if they made money or not, no matter if any of the major critics groups gives them a prize or not.  Sure, they can sometimes push forward someone like Emmanuelle Riva in Amour but even that ended up with a Best Picture nomination.  Pushing one singular performance without everything that goes along with it – usually a bravura director like Michael Haneke – is tough.  Women do not have that kind of clout in Hollywood anymore, not for a long time. They don’t get nominated just for bringing a film past $100 million. They have to have given one of the best performances of the year. None of those above mentioned films have any Best Picture heat whatsoever, not even close.

Why does it work that way? I don’t know. It just does. Perhaps because it’s tough to build a giant consensus when there are so many “little” choices. The consensus builds around the big choices and those usually are built around movies people want to watch. One performance from an actress like Jenny Slate isn’t necessarily going to draw many eyeballs, particularly middle-aged white dudes. So think about what builds a consensus because with the Oscar race that’s mostly what we’re talking about.

And indeed, look outside the Hollywood system and you’ll find plenty: Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Anne Dorval (Mommy), Agata Trzebuchowska (Ida) to name a few. It’s incredibly difficult to break through as a non-American or British actress but it is not impossible. It just takes a lot of buzz and a lot of publicity.  Right now, I’m not seeing any rallying opinions around any of these because, once again, the critics were “meh” on the Dardennes’ Two Days and they’re even kind of surprisingly, freakishly meh on Mommy. At some point you have to start to wonder — do they just not like stories about women?

I suspect it might have to do with a couple of theories.  They are probably unpopular theories by now but theories nonetheless.

1) Political correctness has shaped how many films about American women are reviewed. Their sex undermines their ability to be judged as human because they are considered an under-served, oppressed minority first and a human last. The Homesman and Gone Girl are two films about women, with women in the leads but women who are not particularly good role models, to say the least. These are flawed women, you know, kind of like human beings? This is also the case with other minorities – gay characters, black and Asian characters. They have to be “good” or else they ripped apart by the collective. That makes storytellers have to think twice about what they decide to focus on. And what does that leave us with, my friends? Say it with me now. You should know this by heart if you follow my site: stories about white straight men because they are unassailable.  They can be old, young, ugly, smart, stupid, mean, evil, kind, romantic, corrupt, sexist, superheroes, victims, murderers, employees, bosses, husbands, fathers, mob bosses, movie moguls, presidents, cowboys, naked, dead, happy, sad, frustrated, oppressed, suicidal, drug addicted…

Women have to be … positive role models and that leads to the most bland portrayals imaginable. Trust me. That was why Gone Girl was — and Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before it, so goddamned refreshing. Give me more than just a good role model. I don’t need movies to tell me what kind of person I need to be. I don’t need movies to define who women are – I need artists to tell stories about women period.

We are ignited by great storytelling like Black Swan, All About Eve, Gone with the Wind, A Streetcar Named Desire, Bonnie and Clyde, Terms of Endearment, The Last Picture Show, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and other films that feature real people who just so happen to be women. Take a look at your own life – what do you see? Do you see only men doing the things that matter?

2) Critics, bloggers and industry voters have to give a shit. Here’s the dirty little secret I’ve come to discover after watching films roll out and the way people I know who cover movies respond to those films. For every Devin Faraci who really does give a shit there are dozens more who don’t. Not only don’t they care but they it isn’t even a consideration. Women and men both respond similarly. We’ve been conditioned to respond to the best films whether they star women or men and the best films right now are films about men. No one really cares much if stories of women are being told. It isn’t a consideration. Moreover, I suspect that there’s a low hum of people who would really prefer to not have to see stories about women – that’s why they’re ghettoized as “chick flicks.” When a movie starring a woman does well at the box office that’s because certain demographics responded. With The Hunger Games, Twilight and Divergent it was the tweener girls.  With Gone Girl it’s the sad airport moms who like to read “trash” because they have nothing better to do with their time.   It’s never just taken as an unqualified success.

I grew up in the 1970s when women demanded to be treated equally, at the very least, where people complained of stereotypical women as supporting characters. What I see now are filmmakers who think that a spunky, spicy supporting girlfriend who tells it like it is counts as a good female character. It doesn’t.  I’m not saying they have to be good characters or positive role models, or that they should always be stereotypes – I’m saying they should count as people and not just tools to help the protagonist evolve. Hell, they should BE protagonists.

Alfonso Cuaron did it with Gravity and Christopher Nolan did it with Interstellar – swapped out male roles for female. I’m gonna bet that Gravity would have made more money if it starred a man and that Interstellar would not be criticized as much for all that “emotion” if that part were a boy crying. Hell, did anyone complain when Elliot balled his eyes out in E.T.? The status quo wants the men in the leading roles. But these filmmakers made a conscious choice to take a big risk to TELL A BETTER STORY. It adds dimension and depth simply by choosing a different kind of player.

In the great film Casting By there is the story of how Danny Glover got cast in Lethal Weapon. The studio wanted a white male but Marion Dougherty was thinking outside the box. Not only did it bring success to the film overall but added unexpected dimension to the film. Why do more filmmakers not think this why?

We have to ask ourselves the harder questions now about whether women really matter or not, whether anyone cares about them or their stories in film. There is no problem with women on television it is only where the raising of money is concerned, the collateral, that this kind of rigid thinking takes hold.

Recently, as I mentioned in an earlier column today, I was watching Olive Kitteridge with fascination at Frances McDormand’s brilliant performance. I was thinking, here I am about to enter middle age and I have no stories that are being told in American film about where I’m headed. Worse, actresses are shamed into making themselves look younger because younger is all Hollywood wants now. The economics have dictated that biology rules – men of all ages desire younger women and thus, in order to ensure maximum ticket revenue women have to be young or else sidelined. But women like me – what choice do we have? We can watch TV. We can move out of the country. We can give up on Hollywood. Here’s the even darker truth: we’re the majority of the ticket buyers. 52% of ticket buyers are women, presumably buying tickets for their dumb adolescents who will cut their teeth on movies that have obliterated all traces of older women except in supporting parts as mothers or teachers or judges.

Hollywood has written itself into a corner.  And it’s only getting worse.

Bravo to those who try anyway, even if they fail. Jason Reitman’s Young Adult featured a fantastic, bizarre, mean lead character. Maybe it was a failure overall but what a risk he took.

There, I ranted and now I can enjoy the rest of my day. Goodnight, thanks for playing.


Hilary Swank gives one of the best performances of the year in Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman. During the festival circuit it couldn’t quite catch a break. It screened opposite the first Birdman screening in Telluride and against the Selma/American Sniper screening at the AFI Fest. Despite that, reviews are beginning to trickle in. The ending, as expected, have given some critics pause, especially those who call it a feminist western. I’m not sure what that means as I could think of five different ways this movie might have become a feminist western. Those looking for that kind of correctional uplift are going to be in for a surprise. This film, as entertaining as it is, makes a stark statement about women and their worth then, and in many ways where Hollywood is concerned, now.

Anthony Lane of the New Yorker on The Homespun:

And yet what matters most about “The Homesman,” which Jones co-wrote and directed, is how willingly, and movingly, he cedes the stage to Hilary Swank, as Clint Eastwood did in “Million Dollar Baby.” She cuts the kind of figure who used to make Gary Cooper take off his hat, fiddle with the brim, and gaze in confusion at his boots. First rule of a tough guy: know when you’ve met your match.

Marshall Fine:

Swank makes Mary Bee a tough spinster who knows how to handle herself. But Swank also captures the character’s longing for a man to swoop in and take care of her for once. Jones could play this role – the crusty, resourceful old miscreant – in his sleep but, to his credit, gives George Briggs a soul as well, one that reacts in moving ways to the intense vulnerability Swank allows to bubble to a boil.

Beautiful in a sparse, desolate way, “The Homesman” is a film that would seem to be anathema to a young audience: slow-moving, thought-provoking and studied in its pace. Its action is minimal because it focuses on the journey and its toll on those making it. Have patience, however, and you’ll be rewarded by a moving, thoughtful experience.


Reese Witherspoon is having a hell of a year. She’s produced two films, Gone Girl (about to make $160 mil) and Wild and also stars in Wild and Inherent Vice. Here she is with Supporting actress Laura Dern and the woman who took on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed.


It’s Oscar season, which means lots of funny things start happening and no one can really pinpoint their source just that, well, it is easier than ever to float a negative idea about a film because social networking picks it up so fast, runs with it, burns the house down before things settle down. One can only hope this happens long before ballots are in hand. Late breaking films, though, have to do damage control and fast. Remember Lincoln and that congressman debacle? Who can forget Zero Dark Thirty and Glenn Greenwald’s unwarranted (as we now know) protests about said film. That destroyed a movie that could have been the frontrunner. Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln were hit hard, leaving Argo to walk home easily with the gold, splitting with Life of Pi.

These stories exist up one side and down the other – they happen with frequency — usually as we barrel towards the voting period. There merely has to be a whiff of scandal to send voters fleeing, unless the story reflexes backwards and voters feel inclined to defend the film against attackers. That didn’t happen with either Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty. It’s only now as we look back that we can see how little it all mattered.

Michael Cieply has written a story about Jessica Chastain being prevented by Christopher Nolan and the Interstellar crew to campaign for another film besides Interstellar through Oscar season.

In a behind-the-scenes scuffle that pits a very big movie, Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” against a very small one, “A Most Violent Year,” Ms. Chastain, a co-star in both, is being blocked from promoting her eye-catching performance as a mob princess in the smaller film.

That is because Mr. Nolan and others, for the most part, are enforcing an agreement that says she cannot campaign for any film but Mr. Nolan’s from early October through early December, with the exception of her appearance at the premiere on Thursday, according to people briefed on the dispute. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject for both sides.

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Chastain defends Nolan, though, later:

Speaking on Wednesday from Washington, where she is on a press tour for “Interstellar,” Ms. Chastain declined to talk specifically about the blackout. “I never comment about my contracts or my salary,” she said.

But she noted that Mr. Nolan had personally helped her get out of an appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman” so she could attend the premiere for “A Most Violent Year.”

Actors and filmmakers occasionally must face conflicts created by overlapping films, and this year Ms. Chastain has also been juggling “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” “Salomé” and “Miss Julie.”

“We all put our heads together and do what we can,” she said.

Apparently, the producers of A Most Violent Year decided to release the film for Oscar consideration very late in the game based on the assumption that the film’s biggest star, Chastain, would be allowed to attend parties (like wooing the HFPA for a Golden Globe nod, for instance) to help the film rally in the last minutes before ballots are in hand:

But Mr. Nolan and his backers have insisted that Ms. Chastain’s contract forbids even those semiprivate encounters and have not given in to pleas from Mr. Chandor, A24 and others for a waiver. Next week, however, she will be permitted to attend a private tastemakers’ screening at the Creative Artists Agency here.

It gets worse:

“A Most Violent Year” cost about $20 million to make. And, like Mr. Chandor’s earlier films, “Margin Call” and “All Is Lost,” its promotion will depend more heavily on publicity than on advertising. By contrast, “Interstellar” cost about $165 million and will be backed by a large ad budget.

And the money shot:

She is expected to help promote “A Most Violent Year” in mid-January, after a European film shoot. By then, however, deadlines for nominations for key film awards — including the Oscars, for which nominating ballots must be cast by Jan. 8 — will have passed.

The weird thing about this is that Chastain would be lead for A Most Violent Year and Supporting for Interstellar. I haven’t seen the former but she’s great in Interstellar – the best thing in it, actually, the best thing about it, actually – she is always the best thing about every movie she’s in. That’s why she’s a big star.

So I’m not really getting why Nolan and his backers would not permit Chastain to campaign. Moreover, why the Chandor crew had to literally beg them to let her do SOME press. It’s kind of strange since the two films really aren’t competing against each other for anything other than Best Picture at the moment.

But no one knows anything yet. No one knows how A Most Violent Year will land and no one knows whether Chastain will knock it out of the park as she always does. It would be a shame, though, if she missed out on an Oscar nod for any of her lead performances. She’s fantastic in Eleanor Rigby and Miss Julie. I bet she’ll be great in A Most Violent Year.

How do you get publicity when you can’t do publicity? You tell the story about not being able to get publicity and that will more than do the job of getting people to pay close attention to Miss Chastain.



There has never been a more scarce lineup for Best Actress than there is right now in 2014. While there might be plenty of opportunities for women to stand behind, prop up and otherwise be there to make sure the “great man” succeeds, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for women to stand on their own.

It isn’t that there aren’t people out there in the world who want to see movies about women – there are. Why, just look at the top twenty box office hits of 2014 so far.

No, sadly, there is something far more sinister going on, probably something that most people won’t admit, and worse, they get hotly defensive at the accusation: the people who drive the buzz, the gatekeepers, the fanboys and even fangirls are less interested in stories about women. The alternative is that movies about women are ALL BAD while movies about men are ALL BETTER. I don’t think that’s the case. Perhaps it just gets down to what kinds of characters people can relate to.

Imagine Whiplash, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything or even Boyhood with a woman at the center. Just close your eyes and think about it before you start caterwauling. Really think about it. Do you think there’s any chance in hell those movies would be as strong as Best Picture contenders? Be honest with yourself before you immediately write it off. When I think about these films being about women I get excited at the prospect. But I also know that there are only a small handful of films that do consider women to be interesting enough to allow them complexity. Of that group only one is even marginally being discussed as a Best Picture contender: Gone Girl. But Wild, The Homesman, Maps to the Stars, The Clouds of Sils Maria are the other films that center on women but they are, as of now, nowhere near the Best Picture race.

Let it be known that in the two years the Academy had ten slots for nominations it was much much easier for films about women to get in; perhaps they wouldn’t make the majority of voters’ top five, they could at least crack their top ten. Look at 2010 alone: Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right (also directed by women), Black Swan, True Grit. Now look at 2009 – An Education, The Hurt Locker (2 films directed by women), Precious and The Blind Side.

Very soon thereafter, in 2011, 2012, 2013 – things went back to “normal” and we have The Help, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Zero Dark Thirty and Gravity. In three years, four films in total that center on a female character versus seven in two years. Kind of weird, right?

Now, we have another year where theoretically and quite probably 100% of the films in the Best Picture race will center solely on a male protagonist and that protagonist will be surrounded by strong supporting female characters who are now being called leads. Remember, you don’t measure it by screen time but rather how the plot turns and on whom.

Over at Indiewire, Wloszczyna’s Big O column is entitled “Stand by Your Man and Grab That Oscar Nomination.” Indeed, this is a familiar trope in Oscar Best Picture lately, and certainly was the case when Lawrence won for Silver Linings Playbook. That role – the supporting wife or love interest – has been traditionally put in the supporting category, like Marcia Gay Harden in Pollock or Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind – but because there are SO FEW films headed into the Oscar race that even have females in them at all let alone LEAD females, it has become necessary to turn supporting parts into leads.

To Felicity Jones’ and The Theory of Everything’s credit, the movie is almost more Jane’s story than it is Stephen’s. It passes the Bechdel test with flying colors and it more than explores her own experience being married to a man who changed the world. But. Still. We’re talking about a woman being famous for being married to a famous man.

Is it any wonder journalists and op-ed writers are exploding with commentary about Gone Girl? Is it any wonder I am? The scarcity of a major motion picture aimed at adults – and adult women that isn’t a romantic comedy or a YA film – is astonishing to those of us old enough to remember that it wasn’t always this way. Gone Girl will shatter expectations at the box office and, god willing, be nominated for many Oscars – but hey, it is the only film written by a woman, produced by and starring women – give the collective time to obliterate it from the race. That’s what’s coming next.

You have to go outside the Best Picture race to find the best performances and usually deep into the independent scene. Tommy Lee Jones is the rare director who chose to cast his entire film with women. While it’s called “The Homesman” and it’s about a man who encounters a woman, the film is really about Hilary Swank’s character. It is propelled by one of Swank’s most vivid performances. Her best gift as an actress is when she is cast as a woman who tries hard to be tougher than she really is. She makes us root for her because we admire her true grit.

The Homesman flips the traditional and modern narrative that the woman is there to help turn the man. While Swank’s Mary B. Cuddy does turn Tommy Lee Jones’ character from an indifferent man to a man who gives a damn (sort of – it’s more ambiguous than that) this is a story about what the settling of the West did to women, not what it did to men. Swank’s character, and the film overall, works in opposition to what we’re constantly being told about what kinds of women are popular in film today: hot, young and able to slip in and out of superhero costumes to continue to draw that PG-13 appeal (translation: tween boys can pop a bone looking a them). Hard-edged, unlikable, courageous and imperfect, Swank’s Cuddy is easily one of the most compelling and remarkable characters of the year. And yet – find me one other writer or critic talking about the film? You know what you hear? The sound of dumbed down Oscar prognostication that only cares if it’s going to go or not go.

Reese Witherspoon is the MVP of this year by having her name on two films as producer – Gone Girl and Wild, two films that are based on source material by women. While Wild may not be a perfect movie and does dwell in that irritating genre of women needing to find themselves, it is nonetheless a richly-told tale of the difficult challenge of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Witherspoon delivers one of her most honest performances – raw, vulnerable and occasionally funny. She carries the entire film and much of the time does so with no dialogue. This film says this woman mattered – what she did mattered. Some writers are talking about the film because they know both Witherspoon and Laura Dern are going to go to the big show.

Two of the best female performances of the year are in Xavier Dolan’s brilliant, expressive Mommy. Indeed, I have been remiss in not including Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clément. Anne Dorval’s portrayal of the titular character hails from a tradition of focusing on complex women by Dolan. He gave thanks to Jane Campion at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and said how much she inspired him. Her influence is profoundly felt throughout Mommy. Dolan is one of the brightest young lights in film, long may he reign.

And there is Agata Trzebuchowska in the beautiful Ida, Poland’s entry for the Oscars.

Shailene Woodley is having a profitable year and could find herself in the Best Actress race for The Fault in Our Stars, about a young woman dying of cancer. The Fault in Our Stars has decent reviews – look, you’re not going to find any film this year that stars women burning up the male-driven critics polls. You just aren’t. But 80% on Rotten Tomatoes for this is a pretty good.

Jessica Chastain in Eleanor Rigby may or may not have a shot, but the reviews are (of course) not good so far. Chastain is such a good actress she steals almost any movie she’s in – and with Eleanor Rigby there is an entire film dedicated to her side of the relationship. The buzz for the film feels like it flatlined – of course.

Finally, one of the bigger questions of this year is Amy Adams in Big Eyes. Unfortunately the early word on it wasn’t great but that was from the always unreliable “test screening.” Several pundits have earmarked Amy Adams for a nod, which brings the generally accepted five over at Gold Derby to be:

1. Julianne Moore in Still Alice (a performance I have not yet seen but buzz from Toronto says it’s “the one.”)
2. Amy Adams in Big Eyes a performance most of them have not seen.
3. Reese Witherspoon in Wild – carries the film, produced the film – feels like a cake walk
4. Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl – crazy good work from an actress no one thought capable of going that dark.
5. Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything – surely worthy of a nomination, and a performance that does more than it had to since it is about the woman behind the man.

After that, you have:
6. Jessica Chastain in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
7. Shailene Woodley in The Fault in our Stars
8. Hilary Swank for The Homesman (one of the best performances of the year dumped way down at number 8 – for shame)
9. Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year (not yet seen)
10. Anne Hathaway in Interstellar

Only Anne Thompson, who like me and a few other pundits, only predict what already has been seen has Mia Wasikowska in Tracks.

No one appears to have Emily Blunt on their radar for Into the Woods, not yet anyway. Into the Woods will be full of women but everyone is holding their breath because no one knows how it will turn out.

Predicting films that haven’t yet been seen blocks the potential for films and performances that have been seen. It is a silly practice but one that is accepted across the board (for god knows what reason). It also sets up unrealistic expectations for films and performances overall and suffocates the life out of them if they don’t live up to those expectations.

Nominations are built on buzz and hype. Much of it is leftover buzz from the men in the race or the directors who are “hot” right now, or the popular people (high school all over again). The buzz machine can sometimes predict how the races will go but not always. Some of the time – some magical moments in Oscar history – the most deserving performances get in. Amy Adams in American Hustle besting Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks is not one of those times.

We can hold out hope that things – perception, taste, “relatability” – change. I’m not suggesting critics need to like films that are bad simply because they star women. The best female characters are, of course, on television and tend to be in films made anywhere but here in America. But perhaps if they didn’t get immediately dismissed by critics, perhaps if the newly formed mob of self-made critics didn’t lean so heavily in the direction of boy-friendly fare, of stories that mirror themselves, perhaps they could start seeing women as human beings worthy of being the subject of films.

Kudos this year to David Fincher for holding fast to Gillian Flynn to adapt her own novel and to Christopher Nolan who chose to make Murph a female and not a male in Interstellar. It was a bold choice but when you see Jessica Chastain in the role, one that makes sense. Imagination is the only thing that limits us in terms of how we choose to see women in film.

It’s unfortunate that an article about Best Actress has to turn into yet another rant about the lack of women’s roles but there are so few out there it makes it hard to write about anything else. On the upside, last year’s slate was quite promising in terms of complex and interesting female leads. Perhaps it’s just the luck of the draw this year and not a sign of things to come.

My own predictions:

1. Julianne Moore, Still Alice
2. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
3. Reese Witherspoon, Wild
4. Hilary Swank, The Homesman
5. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

My instincts tell me to:
watch out for Anne Dorval
Keep a close watch on Emily Blunt and Amy Adams.

How about you readers? What are your five predicted nominees of the films that have been seen versus the ones that haven’t?

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