BEST ACTRESS

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Awards season can ruin every great thing about movies because films are set up to succeed or fail based on criteria.  Ratings and scores, rumblings from Academy members, opening weekend – we’re all a Greek chorus of judgmental experts deciding on the success or failure of a film to either be a success with audiences (at best) or an Oscar frontrunner, which is supposed to be defined as: one of the best films of the year.

But beyond that, beyond the silliness, there are real conversations to be had. Both the New York Times and especially The New Yorker are bringing those conversations to hungry film fans eager to read something beyond the thumbs up, thumbs down mentality that grew like a weed and is killing its host.  No one can really believe the amount of in depth think pieces on David Fincher’s Gone Girl except that it points to how few adult movies there are to talk about at all. How many think pieces can a person write about Guardians of the Galaxy?

Gone Girl has tapped into something – even if there are those who just don’t bother to go looking. It, like Boyhood, like Birdman, like Foxcatcher feels very right now. There is something to be said for the whir of modern life and how artists respond to what’s happening around us, as opposed to the safer reflections backwards, the comforting nostalgia of the past.

In case you missed them, the New Yorker rises to the top of the pile with in depth think pieces on Gone Girl. While their critic on record, Anthony Lane, did what Manohla Dargis and Todd McCarthy did at first — express a measure of disappointment in what they perceived as Gone Girls pop sensibility and pulp roots. You might never dig deeper and read Richard Brody’s review of the film:

Kubrick and other key directors whose careers overlapped with his (such as Hitchcock and Howard Hawks) put their sense of style to the test with violent emotions and violent actions. They found ways to expand their style to reveal what was latent in that style all along; they infused the frippery of society with the wild content that it already concealed. Fincher’s style is a strange and modern fusion of sincerity and cynicism. It’s a destylized style that arises from the movie’s subject, the style of someone who knows he’s being watched. His cinematic manner reveals an intense, almost unbearable self-consciousness, an awareness (one that’s found in the story as well) of the ubiquity of media and of life lived in perpetual performance, on a permanent stage. At a time when every image is at risk of flying out onto the Internet, attaching to a celebrity, and both gaining a life of its own and becoming a part of that celebrity’s image (a phenomenon that’s central to the story of “Gone Girl”), Fincher’s images seem to neutralize themselves, to become even colder and less expressive than the blank, voracious media gaze that they represent.

The next piece by Joshua Rothman, What Gone Girl is Really About:

As in many postmodern narratives, the heroes and villains in Fincher’s “Gone Girl” aren’t people but stories. We hope that the familiar, reassuring ones will win out (they don’t). In fact, the film is so self-aware that none of the stories it tells can be taken at face value. As my colleague Richard Brody has written, the movie’s drama and characters have been streamlined so as to reveal their “underlying mythic power.” But “Gone Girl” is also anti-myth. When Amy (Rosamund Pike) says, of her plot against her husband, Nick (Ben Affleck), “That’s marriage,” you’re not supposed to believe her. If the myth of the perfect marriage is poisonous, then so is the myth of the continual “war of the sexes.” The question the movie asks is: Are there any stories that we can tell ourselves about marriage that ring true?

If that question sounds familiar, that’s because, in some ways, with “Gone Girl,” Fincher has returned to the structures of “Fight Club,” substituting a married couple for Tyler Durden and his gaggle of disenchanted bros. In both stories, the characters rebel against the unbearable myth of attainable perfection, substituting for it an alternative one of transcendent, authentic, freedom-giving destruction. “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need,” Tyler Durden says. “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t.” Durden’s response to his disillusionment with contemporary masculinity is to embrace a seductive, violent, and supposedly more genuine idea of “real” manliness—but that alternative turns out to be a disastrous illusion. In “Gone Girl,” it’s the mythos of coupledom, not the mythos of masculinity, that’s oppressive. But the imagined solution is the same: “We’re so cute I want to punch us in the face,” Amy says.

And if two brilliant essays weren’t enough, the New Yorker brings a third piece, Marriage is an Abduction by Elif Batuman:

But perhaps “Gone Girl” ’s greatest insight is that the men aren’t mere brutish exploiters. Where a more simplistic narrative would posit that every loss for women is a gain for men, Flynn shows again and again that nobody is a winner—everyone is a dupe. Girls are set up for a horrific disappointment, but boys are set up to be horrifically disappointing. Boys are taught to protect, but how do you protect someone who has the same basic rights as you do, and from whom you are also demanding a huge sacrifice? How do you protect someone who is too good for you—not too pure or too lofty but actually better than you at day trading, running marathons, and looking like a million bucks?

Before a TV interview, Nick, the most hated man in America, is instructed, “You have to admit you’re a jerk and that everything was all your fault.” “So, like, what men are supposed to do in general,” he replies. This line got a lot of rueful laughs at the screening I attended. “Gone Girl” is as much about the near impossibility of being a good husband as it is about the anguish of being a good wife. The bat-shit preposterousness of the marital “accord” ultimately reached by Nick and Amy is an indictment of the state of marriage, and of heterosexual relations more broadly.

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Only in 2014 would the bright and talented Jessica Chastain be forced to defend a smart, gracious statement she made that was chewed up and fashioned into a faux controversy that what, was intended to go viral so that, what, they could up their traffic for one day on their otherwise pointless and insignificant website?

Chastain is one of the few major actress in Hollywood right now, other than Streep, who cares enough about the health of women in the industry to say a goddamned thing, let alone, tell it like it is. Most of them smile and look pretty because they’re afraid of putting the male-driven industry off. Either that, or worse, they deflect the word “feminism” because they’re “cool girls” and such oppression does not apply to them.

Chastain is a hero to women in film and they should not only be rallying around her but they too should be speaking out the way they did in the 1970s. That is the only way things will change. Though the industry bends towards the tastes of PG-13 audiences, almost exclusively male, that can change. Those tastes can evolve.

Either way, Chastain first said this:

“I’m really, really supportive of women in Hollywood. I love Meryl Streep. She’s such an incredible actress. But I feel like she’s the only one in her age group who gets those parts. I’d like to see Jessica Lange in a movie again, you know? Or Susan Sarandon. Why isn’t Viola Davis a lead in a film? She’s one of the greatest actresses alive. And where are the Asian actors and actresses? I’m not saying, ‘We don’t want movies about men.’ I’m just saying, ‘Come on, all the men I know love women. So let’s also have some stories about these women. Let’s write something for them, guys—and let’s make room for women writers, too.'”

Then had to issue an explanation for the stupid people in the room:

“Page Six gets it terribly wrong. The headline is upsetting and against my thinking. I would never want to take roles away from a great actress. My point has always been: Why can one great actress of a certain age get roles in film? We need MORE roles in film for the many OTHER great actresses. It speaks to the lack of diversity in our industry.”

Yes, nobody is taking away Meryl Streep’s roles. She is her own demographic, one of the few who can really drive the box office. What Chastain is saying is WHY IS SHE THE ONLY MOTHER FUCKING ONE!? Where are the other Meryl Streeps in an industry that used to be driven by women and men equally.

Streep joins a very select group of actresses who continue to work into their 60s – like Helen Mirren and Judi Dench. This is likely why so many older actresses are forced to go under the knife if they want to keep working. One reason Streep doesn’t have to is that she has amazing bone structure. Her bones keep her beautiful face held in place. Such isn’t the case with many other actresses who then distort themselves to look youthful and therefore couldn’t play the older parts anyway, certainly not without people saying, “my god, what did they do to their face?”

But the amazing thing about Ms. Chastain is that she is atop the A list right now. She is enjoying a career high right now and yet, she’s using her platform to disseminate important ideas. And she might be one of the only high profile actresses doing that. That is really a great way to use a press tour, rather than simply going over the same old, same old.

But leave it to the collective idiocy to cluck around the henhouse like worried chickens over something they misinterpreted, or something they were told to misinterpret to sell magazines or clicks.  It’s important, though, to listen to what Chastain is saying.

A few choice quotes by Chastain lately:

“The problem is, if I do a superhero movie, I don’t want to be the girlfriend. I don’t want to be the daughter. I want to wear a fucking cool costume with a scar on my face, with fight scenes. That’s what I’d love.”

 

Where is the Scarlett Johansson superhero movie? I don’t understand it, why is it taking so long for this? … This woman clearly shows that people want to go see her in the movies. Lucy, didn’t it beat Hercules by a lot opening weekend, when it was made for a lot less? She shows that she kicks ass, she’s a great actress. Under the Skin is an incredible film, and why are we still waiting for a go-ahead on a superhero movie starring Scarlett Johansson?”

 

“It’s a fact, the majority of films in Hollywood are from the male perspective…. And the female characters, very rarely do they get to speak to another female character in a movie, and when they do it’s usually about a guy, not anything else. So they’re very male-centric, Hollywood films, in general. So I think it’s incredible that Ned Benson, when I said I’d love to know where she goes, says okay, I’m going to write another film from the female perspective.”

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Gone Girl vaults to the top of David Fincher’s box-office chart with the best opening weekend of his career. $38 million; that’s 4.5 million tickets. Panic Room made $30 million selling 5.1 million tickets 12 years ago (in 2002, when Ellar Coltrane was 6 years old). In 2010, The Social Network had a $22 million debut weekend and went on to earn $96 million. Last week 20th Century Fox was cautiously estimating Gone Girl would clock in with $22-25 million. It will be interesting to take a look at the demographic breakdown of Gone Girl ticket-buyers. We’ll add those stats as soon as I find them.

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(SPOILERS)

“Kubrick is after a cool, sunlit vision of hell, born in the bosom of the nuclear family, but his imagery–with its compulsive symmetry and brightness–is too banal to sustain interest, while the incredibly slack narrative line forestalls suspense.” – from David Kehr’s review of The Shining

“The crazier Nicholson gets, the more idiotic he looks. Shelley Duvall transforms the warm sympathetic wife of the book into a simpering, semi-retarded hysteric.” – Variety’s review of The Shining

“The “Gold Room,” a clever amplification of the hotel ballroom in Mr. King’s novel, becomes the place where Jack’s rage about his fiscal and familial responsibilities is revealed. It’s also the place where the movie begins to go wrong, lapsing into bright, splashy effects reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange (though the Gold Room sequences produce the film’s closing shot, a startling photograph of Mr. Nicholson). The Shining begins, by this point, to show traces of sensationalism, and the effects don’t necessarily pay off. The film’s climactic chase virtually fizzles out before it reaches a resolution.” Janet Maslin on The Shining

“The newest film by Brian de Palma, who is often wrong but not dull, “Carrie” is billed as a horror movie. But it is sometimes funny in a puzzling kind of way, it is generally overwrought in an irritating kind of way, and once in a while it is inappropriately touching. It isn’t frightening at all until the very end, and then it is briefly and extremely frightening.” The New York Times on Carrie

As expected, David Fincher’s Gone Girl has sparked debate, some of it good, some of it intolerable. Two points often brought up seem to be wrapped up in this notion of the good girl vs. the bad girl. The novel itself toys with this notion, boy does it ever, but in bringing the story to the big screen it was inevitable that cries of misogyny would bubble up. The other accusation that the movie somehow erased perceived ambiguity about the character of Amy Dunne.

Gone Girl is full of brilliantly written, acted and directed FEMALES. A female detective, Nick’s twin sister, Amy’s mother, a “cool girl” girlfriend — dumb women, smart women, funny women, scary women — more women than any major motion picture you will see this season except for Into the Woods and what do we get? We get nitpicking, yet again, thus ensuring that this female demographic will not budge. We’d rather have no women on screen than a complicated array of them.

The best reviews of Gone Girl that I’ve read have been, thankfully, written by women. Try Linda Holmes’ two-parter on NPR, which deep dives into the film from a spoiler and a non-spoiler side. The first and the second. Try this interesting rumination on Screencruch on the strong woman, “How ‘Gone Girl’ Defies the Strong Female Character” by Britt Hayes:

We are only asked to empathize with Amy in the sense that this is a woman whose husband has been unfaithful, just as we are asked to empathize with Nick in the sense that his wife is a totally brilliant manipulator exacting an insane revenge plot, cutting into him piece by piece to make him into the shape of her ideal husband — Amazing Amy, indeed.
Those angered by a perceived bait and switch should ask themselves why: why are you so maddened that a woman should be allowed to be the villain of her own piece? Amy Dunne in ‘Gone Girl’ is a victorious moment, not for any vicarious reasoning, but because it allows women to be portrayed in all lights, just as men are, putting us on equal footing. The problem with the Strong Female Character is the same problem with the Cool Girl: she’s been constructed as an impossible, aspirational figure that no woman can or wants to live up to for the rest of her life, fictional or not.
Women, like men, are all things, and Amy Dunne thankfully shows our cinematic bad side.

And then the flip side. Words like “empty” and “hollow” keep coming up or worse, that it’s manipulative and deceptive.  In her Buzzfeed piece “The problem with Gone Girl is that there is no Cool Girl,” Anne Helen Petersen seems to want the movie to do what so many films about women unfortunately do: elevate women to ensure their inherent sainthood.

Peterson is 100% wrong about Gone Girl, Fincher’s interpretation of it, and what the films ultimately says when she writes (spoiler warning):

The Amy of Fincher’s Gone Girl isn’t Cool, or complicated, or sympathetic. She’s the “crazy fucking bitch” that Nick calls her, yet another example for the eternal argument for women’s unhingeability and hysteria.
And the film’s avoidance of an engaged interrogation of Cool Girl ideal is what makes it just as hollow, dismissible, and superficial as the version of Amy that inhabits it. It’s the major failing of the movie — and what downgrades a transgressive meditation on the politics of gender performance into a run-of-the-mill, if entertaining, thriller.

It is telling to me that Peterson sees the cinematic version of Amy, Pike’s version, as hollow, dismissible and superficial. I certainly didn’t. At best, this seems to me a case of someone wanting the movie they are seeing in their heads. At worst, it is a painful reminder that when it comes to women many of us still can’t handle the truth.  The point of Amy Dunne is that she criticizes the cool girl. She isn’t one. She could be at the snap of her fingers. She could be anything she wanted to be up to a point. But the Amy Dunne we know, the one Nick falls for, wouldn’t deign to be the kind of cool girl she’s talking about. She’s disgusted by these women, which is why she isolates herself from them. They appear throughout the film, either as Nick’s young squeeze or as girls we see in passing cars or girls who hit on Nick.  They are contrasted, however, by grounded, smart women like Go and Detective Boney — something Peterson completely overlooks.  That contrast is important here because it isn’t making any sweeping judgments about women. They are saying: here is a monster, one that could only have emerged from the twisted fantasy that is the imagined American fairy-tale life.

Peterson has revealed her own prejudices against the subject matter. She could handle the book when there was more ambiguity and still that pretty puffy little dream that Amazing Amy really WAS amazing. She could maybe dwell in the unreality of Nick and Amy as the perfect couple with their anniversary status updates on Facebook because you know, nothing holds our crumbling empire together better than a happy marriage. What she could not handle, though, is a visual and cinematic representation of the inside and out of a true monster. To see Amy any other way is a gross misread of the author’s intent. She undresses this monster, pulls away each pretty petal until she can be finally seen. Facing that Amy, facing that truth, is probably a lot harder than it seems.

The best female characters, or certainly some of them, have been bad to the bone, or at least bad because they are stand ins for symbolic moments in history — like Scarlett O’Hara representing the rotting evil of the South, or Blanche DuBois representing the aging decay of a dying breed, or Eve Harrington as the embodiment of fame whores, or Carrie White turning on the culture that bullied and rejected her. Or sometimes just pure evil — like Regina George in Mean Girls, like Maddie Walker in Body Heat, like Amy Dunne in Gone Girl.

Fincher was making and reworking the basics of the book and flipping them on their head — Peterson did not appreciate that because she could no longer see the difference between the good and the bad Amy. She couldn’t see it so she assumed it wasn’t there. The “entitled passive viewer” comes at film the way they stand in line for Starbucks. There is less open mindedness and more entitlement now than there ever has been so you often hear critics say things like “I have an issue with…” or “the problem with,” as though each and every complaint major and minor that they have somehow means the product itself, or, in this case, the film itself is “flawed.”

The problem with Peterson’s piece is the problem with all modern film criticism. It start with three words that should be stricken forever from film criticism, “the problem with.” That sounds like someone talking about new shoes or a GrubHub delivery or an Uber driver.  Assuming that your inability to understand an artist’s intent, or even the simple truth that you did not like a film, or that it’s a bad film, translates to a “problem.” No, a problem is global warming. A problem is the abundance of wild dogs on the reservations out west. A problem is Citizens United.  Hanging that overblown notion on a work of art suggests that it does society some harm, these passive film viewers who are victims of what they’re seeing on screen. I read one film critic who called it a “cynical manipulation” as though cinema itself hadn’t been built off that singular notion.

But this snuffs out art and invites what most of us are getting each and every week at the movies: that which we expect, exactly. A director like David Fincher, or even the retired David Lynch, or countless others who are working outside the accepted norms, who are challenging their viewers, opening doors, inviting discussion? There is little room for them in an orchestra of carping consumers who seem to want a one-size-fits-all movie that ticks off all the boxes and sends you home with a contented smile on your face. You know, probably not the best idea to see a movie directed by David Fincher if that’s how you plan to spend the evening.

A good comparison of Gone Girl is how Stephen King’s work has been adapted over the years.  If you read The Shining you will discover an entirely different story in every possible way than what Kubrick put on screen, much to King’s own personal disappointment. But Kubrick made it cinema where it was horror fiction before (I think literature but hey, that’s me).  Kubrick made it funny. It wasn’t funny. It was nowhere near funny. The Shining, as written by Stephen King is terrifying. Wendy is being hunted by her haunted husband and Danny has a power that makes the Overlook want to absorb him for it. Kubrick’s version did not delight critics in the least bit, and it certainly pissed off a lot of King fans. But Kubrick’s film is a cinematic masterpiece because it is about CINEMA. It’s about the color red. It’s about Jack Nicholson’s wildly off-the-wall performance. It’s that giant hotel swallowing up the skinny Wendy and tiny Danny. It’s about tracking shots and it’s about evoking terror. It’s about showing, not telling.

When Brian DePalma made King’s wonderful first book, Carrie, it was a similar kind of transformation. It was kind of funny. It is different from the book in so many ways — for one thing, in the film Carrie is not repulsive. She is pretty, though freaky as Sissy Spacek realized her. This is what we talk about when we talk about the language of cinema — showing an audience a story that is meant to give you an experience over a two hour period sitting in a dark theater — it is not about the isolated wonder of making a book come alive in your imagination.   Even films like the Shawshank Redemption or Stand by Me or Misery or Dolores Claiborne completely alter what was written on the page. They have to. They’re movies, not books. Vive la difference.

It is therefore very telling how different people interpret Amy in Fincher’s film. Here is a director like Kubrick or DePalma who has taken a familiar book with familiar characters and found a new way to tell that story using the language of cinema, not the language of fiction. He found in Gillian Flynn a writer who understands both.  So that this attempt to find the goodness in Amy, or to want to see one’s own definition of a “cool girl” is to want the movie you made in you head rather than the one these artist’s rendered.  People seem so insistent about making Amy somehow good. Perhaps, while reading the book, they were able to remake Amy as a more palatable person. But Amy, fully fleshed out on screen, is the collaboration of an actress, a director and a writer who found this cinematic Amy, quite different from the Amy as written on the page.

One of the things I love about Gone Girl is how blithely Nick Dunne, or Ben Affleck, rolls in and out of the backstage drama. It is such a brilliant comment on white male privilege, particularly in the modern age. Like Nick, many of the male responses to the film have varied from wanting to be the brave protector of Amy (“She’s not bad. She’s just drawn that way.”) to feeling protective of themselves against women. Never, though, is anyone going to start pointing the finger at Nick. He cheats on his wife for an entire year and still most of us come out of the book, and the movie, on Nick’s side. Only a few of the very embittered among us might secretly think, “oh fuck yeah.” In the end it will come down to Amy because she is the one who must carry the burden of being the “positive role model” for women and the fuckable babe for men.

Now, women are our own worst enemies. If we could unite and stop competing we could truly rule the world. We are the ones who drive the gossip industry. We are the ones who pick up tabloids at newspaper stands and carefully observe the flaws in others so that we can feel better about ourselves. We are the babysitters and teachers and nannies and wives and girlfriends who do terrible, murderous, violent things and lie about it. We have a whole universe of bad that goes mostly ignored in film, and sometimes on television because the truth about women as ticket buyers is that they “have to like” the female character. That is the big question, always. Do they like her. When Fatal Attraction was audience tested they didn’t like that Glenn Close committed suicide. They wanted to see her pay. So they had Anne Archer, the one they liked, shoot her. In Fincher’s film, the audience simply isn’t given that reprieve. Things aren’t allowed to go back to ‘normal’. We have to confront and live with this particular truth, lingering unexpectedly like Anthony Perkins’ skeleton smile at the end of Psycho.

Amy Dunne is a sociopath. Amy Dunne is a crazy bitch. Amy Dunne is unhinged hysteria unleashed upon humanity. Amy Dunne is a monster. Gillian Flynn wrote one, a female one, as a horror story. Does that mean all women are crazy bitches? No. Peterson objects to the film version, or Pike’s interpretation of Amy because, probably, she liked Amy in the book but didn’t like her in the movie. She did not take to this chilly ice-queen whose presence took the film to a completely different place.

We’re working with a pretender, but also someone unimaginable to polite society. Unlike Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, who really is a “crazy bitch” this director and screenwriter never betray their heroine. They don’t turn on her the way they did in Fatal Attraction. They don’t sweep her up with a broom and dustpan and throw her in the garbage. They stay with her until the very end. That leaves you with a bitter chill, a terrifying questioning. Amy is the monster as imagined by Flynn, but she is also a cinematic icon in the tradition of chilly blondes. The expanse of the big screen gives us no escape, not rationalizing our way out of this mess. That is, in the end, what is so terrifying about Fincher’s ADAPTATION of Gone Girl. That is the magic of cinema. That is the power of art.

If we insist that all women in film — and all black characters or Asian characters or other minorities — only be portrayed as good because the white male patriarchy has shit all over them for so many years, then we will have effectively written ourselves out of the continuing evolution of art in film. We are 50% of the population. We gave birth to the world. Yet only one aspect of our nature is depicted on screen, rendering us as essential as a doorknob, as distinct as a four door sedan. Not all of us are nice. Not all of us are pretty. Not all of us are good. Not all of us are strong. And none of us are invisible.

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Already saw Gone Girl and want to talk about it with sharp people who’ve seen it too? Here’s the place. Anyone who doesn’t want to stumble into a slithering nest of SPOILERS should stay away from this discussion till after you’ve seen the film. Awards Daily friend and fixture Bryce Forestieri has this to say:

Fincher’s ownership of this lurid myth is absolute. For several reasons we will surely be discussing during the season, I believe it to be one of the seminal pictures of the digital age, firmly predicated in the possibilities and current limitations of digital photography. The auteur intermittently and briefly flirts with a variety of critical maneuvers without ever committing to a single one and the incorporations of these is so seamless that GONE GIRL will remain elusive to classifications. Call it SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE For Dummies and as Predicted by Chayefsky in the Age of our Spineless Postures — and that my fellow readers is a compliment. Visually, his most arresting since FIGHT CLUB and the most bone-chilling sound design since ZODIAC. The transition to the medium auspiciously does away with some structural issues I had with the book, and from now on I’ll be inclined to recommend anyone to just skip the book and treat the film as the definitive version of this tale. So much more specific praise, but I’ll let you discover that on your own, just know that the casting is so genius that I have never found Ben Affleck soo hot in my entire life. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves but we might have a righteous misanthropic masterpiece in our hands.

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Though it became yet another film with strong women to get killed by the critics, the Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a moving, satisfying, wonderful love story. Nobody will ever convince me otherwise. Cinematic purists all cried about the longer version, the 200 minute double of Her and Him, that wasn’t shown, making a big drama out of the cut because god forbid someone should try to make money. Most people – people with real jobs out in the world – probably don’t have time to sit in a movie theater that long, hence the shorter version. But of course, critics killed it so there it lay. Once it hits VOD others can catch up with it and say “wow, what a great movie. How come I never heard anything about it?” And so it goes.

Eleanor Rigby Her/Him opens in Los Angeles on October 10 at the Landmark.

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While many of us were wondering where Jessica Chastain would land for A Most Violent Year, it turns out that she’ll be going lead, the studio just confirmed. The Best Actress race is not as crowded as the Best Supporting Actress race but Chastain will be competing against herself in two other parts, Miss Julie and Eleanor Rigby. She also might be up for supporting for Interstellar. It is yet another busy year for her.

The Best Actress race started the year with Julianne Moore for Maps to the Stars. Then it looked like it would not be a contender for 2014. Now it is a contender. Moore is also in the race for Still Alice, which launched her yet again into the Best Actress race. With Chastain, and Amy Adams for Big Eyes, that makes it a year for redheads!

It’s still too early to say whether A Most Violent Year, or Chastain, will be included in the race. Best Actress right now is down to:

Julianne Moore for Still Alice or Maps to the Stars
Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon for Wild
Hilary Swank for The Homesman
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Jessica Chastain for Eleanor Rigby

Still to come, Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year, Amy Adams for Big Eyes, Emily Blunt for Into the Woods and whatever might be coming that we’re not yet aware of.

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Revisionist westerns in the modern age take a much darker view of the “white man’s” participation in the migration out west than the earlier westerns did. Maureen O’Hara, who will be honored this year with an honorary Oscar starred in John Ford’s Rio Grande, How Green was My Valley and The Quiet Man. She also starred in the western Comanche Territory. What’s funny about these films is they convey what Americans used to think about Native Americans and cowboys. We had a very naive view of them, of course, because most of our took our history from Hollywood westerns.

Tommy Lee Jones, and Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner before him, sought to represent a much more truthful look at our expansion out west. Jones’ The Homesman is a haunting rumination on the treachery, the bloodshed, the misery of those who settled out west. The Homesman makes plainly clear that we took a land that wasn’t ours and destroyed a civilization.

What’s interesting about the western, though, is that both then and now they must rely on strong women, a dying breed in modern American film. Jones’ film centers around women, with Hilary Swank in the lead playing a complicated, unattractive but ambitious woman. She is a woman out of time, in fact, and would have been better served having been born in the 1960s. Women were traded and treated like livestock and if that weren’t bad enough they had to land a husband just to survive. Women were part of the homesteading and help build our pioneer frontier (for better or worse) yet often do not get any credit for it. The Homesman, though, is almost a ghost story in the way it depicts the littered bodies we left behind.

Rio Grande is the third of the John Ford western series, with Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon being the other two. Rio Grande was a film Ford agreed to make for the studio pairing John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara together so that Ford could then make The Quiet Man with the two of them. The Quiet Man became the bigger success.

Rio Grande takes the side of the settlers, telling the story of defeating the Apaches. It’s just depressing as hell to remember America that way – our country is built on slavery and mass murder. It really took years to realign our perceptions of how the west was won.

But O’Hara and Wayne had notorious sexual chemistry. The beautiful redhead was one of the most memorable things about Rio Grande – other than it being John Wayne, of course, and who could forget John Wayne.

Note how important it was, though, to have such a beautiful star in an expansive big budget western like that, as opposed to how Jones really had to try to dampen Swank’s beauty to reflect a more realistic view of women on the prairie.

The Homesman is one of the few films about women heading into the Oscar race. I’m growing weary of male bloggers and critics dismissing the scant few offerings women have now. It is as though they almost would prefer an exclusion of women entirely unless they are mothers, girlfriends, hotties or judges. But films about the inner world of women? Why is it THOSE are the films that always get sent out of the room first?

Hopefully that won’t be the case with The Homesman because it would be really great if Maureen O’Hara and Hilary Swank were both associated with the Oscars, representing strong women, the abundance of them then, and and what’s left of strong women on film now, which is scant few.

The Homesman will hit theaters November 14. The Governors awards will be held Novemeber 8th. Honorees are Harry Belafonte, Jean-Claude Carriere, Hayao Miyazaki, and Maureen O’Hara.

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“So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste” – The Rolling Stones

(slight spoiler warning)

When the economy began to collapse in 2008, a lot of Americans at last began to realize who was really running this country. That debacle left a lot of unfinished business in the trajectory of middle-class Americans on their way to fulfilling the promise of the lives they’d just barely started. Where at one time a young couple living in New York City with hopes of becoming famous writers felt confidence about the future, now they’ve left the city, moved to the country where there isn’t much to do but become clichés of the middle class, living out the failed dreams of their parents.

This was not going to be the fate of Amazing Amy – that type A bombshell women envied and men worshipped. Not the same Amazing Amy from the children’s books that set the bar for perfection parents in the post-Oprah, post-therapy, post-boomer generation strived for. Amazing Amy was a success in school and in life. Amy Dunne lived somewhere in her shadow, an asterisked footnote of the perfect child her parents really wanted. Self-esteem, that’s what counts in modern American child rearing. Only too much self-esteem can build monsters.

In a career making turn, Rosamund Pike is Amy Dunne in David Fincher’s new film, Gone Girl, Like last year’s Wolf of Wall Street, Gone Girl chokes on the American dream. That dream is usually afforded only to men. We don’t think about what women want out of it, do we. Women are bred to want to be rescued by a handsome prince, and then live happily ever after. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck in a pitch perfect performance) arrives just time to rescue poor Amy from under the shadow of Amazing Amy. And aren’t they so happy together. Perfect man, perfect wife. Perfect life.

But as these things go, perfection has no place in the dirty job that is reality. Who can survive the pressure of perfection? What child raised today with parents hovering, with self-esteem injections hourly, sometimes medication to be perfect in every way.

Fincher introduced the notion of the double life in Fight Club, then manifested that outward illusion with The Social Network, which changed the way we presented ourselves to the world.

Fincher’s Gone Girl takes up where his Social Network left off. Both films are a meditation on getting those things we believe we’re all entitled to, by any means necessary. With Mark Zuckerberg that gold ring was success and a circle of friends. With Amy Dunne, it’s the perfect life she feels is owed to her. The Big Lie promises women that they will never be cheated on, that their husband will love them with unfaltering devotion and want to fuck them every night for the next 50 years. They want their husband to listen to their problems, appreciate their talents, admire their fashion sense, crave their cooking, and pose for happy photos they can post on social networks. It almost doesn’t even matter who that guy is, which is how Nick almost inadvertently fits into the picture. He’s Joe Anybody – a pretty dumbass Amy can plug in to her pretty little puzzle. The last essential piece.

The power of projection and manipulation of image is the new normal. One need look no further than how Kim Kardashian spent hours organizing the floral arrangement for the Instagram photo of her marriage to Kanye West, which broke the Instagram record for :most-liked.” Does anyone even care anymore if any of it was real? It doesn’t matter. Give the people what they want. Gone Girl eviscerates this disgusting new dimension of American culture.

We women live under the cloak of inadequacy every day of our lives. We eat that shit for breakfast (low carb please), and stuff our faces with it during daylight hours as we dutifully count our calories, contort ourselves in yoga class, shave our pussies, wax our legs, pluck our eyebrows, wear sunscreen, stuff our swollen feet into high heels and then vomit it all up before we go to bed at night. Some of us are driven to the brink of insanity, but none of us can ever really talk about it because to merely confess that it’s a struggle is to admit we’ve failed at being what society expects us to be.

And everywhere we look there are always prettier, younger girls. A monster is born in Gone Girl, a monster built from the cries of frustration from a hundreds million women. And that monster is prowling the quiet countryside operating from a handmade rulebook, a catalogue of justifications and entitlements, the end result of ranking high self-esteem as the utmost character trait.

Gone Girl continues a recurring theme in Fincher’s work that explores dual worlds: the world the characters show us and the one the director shows us. He gives us two versions of the truth. It’s our choice, in the end, which one to believe. His team of collaborators is right there with him on the same page, as always. This time around, the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross echoes the duality of the film’s central theme, alternating between swoony romantic mood music and a disturbing thrum of psychosis. Once again Reznor and Ross create sounds so distinct from the industry norm, it’s almost a different language. Fincher gives away much of the movie’s rhythm and mood up to Reznor/Ross, trusting the composers to avoid manipulation – in fact, their manipulation in this instance is ironic.

Fincher’s film is a time piece wound to perfection, with each scene building to the next. Even if you know where it’s going, you’re still surprised where it goes. Every shot is a breathtaking example of how talented this director is with the camera, how well he knows the language of film. What makes Fincher exceptional as a director is his camera’s eye – and his ability to know people. Not since Hitchcock has there been a director who is so good at betraying who people really are as we watch them on screen. We see Amy’s parents, staring out at the camera vacantly. We see Nick’s twin sister, hovering somewhere between love and hate — an excellent Carrie Coon slinging out zingers and acting as the film’s conscience for the audience. We see Nick’s young hot fuck, an innocent ripe peach in the wrong place at the wrong time (the beautiful Emily Ratajkowski) – a subtle way Nick helps her get dressed recalls a parent dressing a child.

All the while what you’re seeing here is a world of people who don’t really know themselves very well. If Nick is our film’s heart, we find ourselves at conflict with that – this is not really a couple any of us can understand because what brings them together is what most of us would reject when confronted with it. Only Tyler Perry – very nearly stealing the show – gives the audience some comic relief in admitting how fucked up they really are.

But the film really belongs to Amy – as this is as much about this odd character invented and made famous by Gillian Flynn — as it is another masterpiece in the Fincher canon. Pike is glorious in the twists and turns Fincher and Flynn put her through. The film, and the book, are really about Amy – the worst than American self-esteem parenting has wrought upon society. Amy’s parents are glassy eyed culture puppets. Their daughter is merely inspiration for their books and even when she goes missing, they try to help find her by setting up a website, findamazingamy.com. Even when faced with losing her her life is still churned into PR for the books.

It is here that we sympathize with the devil — a modern American girl suffocated under the mask of the SuperChild in the post therapy, post Oprah America where parents don’t punish their children nor risk shaking their self-esteem because self-esteem is what it’s all about. We’re taught that feeling good about ourselves is the key to going out there and getting what we deserve.

Amy Dunne is not just the fears and anxieties of the American male embodied in a female, she is the sum total of women’s collective female fears too — that ideal we are all taught to strive for but can never attain. We women know what is expected of us by men and by ourselves. We wake up every day knowing it.

With her “cool girl” monologue Flynn busted open the dirty secret we women have always known about what it takes to “land a man.” Sure, there are always exceptions but for every exception of the perfect happy marriage there is that “here’s my dream man” Facebook status update that makes some of us think, “Yeah right. There’s a cool girl.”

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)

Fincher uses the Cool Girl monologue as one of the film’s most exciting moments, though it’s impossible to discuss without giving away spoilers. Suffice it to say, he knew it had to be in there and boy is it in there. For me, that scene in Gone Girl is like Alex Kitner getting attacked in Jaws – a mini masterclass in what film directing is all about. You know when you’re watching a Fincher film you are watching a master at work, a master at the top of his game.

Gone Girl is about creating the perfect illusion because maybe then there can be the happiness the American dream promises. It is also a dumb world full of dumb people who fall for dumb stories. Don’t we just want the glossy story? We don’t care if it’s true. We need our villains and another pregnant missing white woman. We need to hate those who done us wrong and elevate the victim. We avenge justice with our remote control, our Twitter, our Facebook. We rise and fall on the daily hysteria the networks are more than happy to deliver. We do this almost every day on the internet and it plays out weekly on television. Gone Girl reflects that back at us, with haunting reminders of an America that once was and a lifestyle that might have to be experienced not on Main Street but on a dot com.

Can we, in the end, have sympathy for the devil? Can we forgive ourselves if our hopes and dreams are nothing more than a shimmer off on the horizon, too far away to reach, not far enough away to unsee. And so instead we crawl towards it, arms open, eyes closed, propelled by illusion.

With the middle class collapsing all around us, with global warming and the next fatal epidemic quickly spreading, Amy and Nick Dunne survive as a relic of what used to be but can be no more. Butterflies trapped under glass, captured by a director and a writer who are unafraid to show them as they really are, for better or worse, richer or poorer. Maybe this film is about the death of marriage in America. Maybe it’s about the death of that pretty little lie. One thing it’s not about is what almost every film coming out in the next few months is about. It’s not about men.

Fincher had the right instinct for Gillian Flynn to transform her own novel into the best adaptation of the year so far. The hard-working Flynn is not afraid of stepping into unknown terrain as she sprints out of the gate. In Fincher she has found someone with balls big enough to present hard truths, even if they make us squirm in our seats. Here, their collaboration results in nothing less than the best film of 2014.

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A new clip from David Fincher’s Gone Girl has been released. The new clip shows Ben Affleck as Nick, meeting Rosamund Pike’s Amy for the first time at a bar.
It shows the two flirting as Nick chats Amy up, asking her, “Who are you?”. Amy replies, teasing him with a multiple choice option, “A) I’m an award-winning Scrimshander. B) I’m a moderately influential war lord. C) I write personality quizzes for magazines.”

Watch the clip below. Gone Girl is released October 3 and opens the New York Film Festival.

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Pike calls this the role of a lifetime — and also about the weight fluctuations required for the role. Her due date, incidentally, is the end of November. A lot of pressure all at once. A bigger video version here.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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NOTE: Gone Girl, novel and a movie, is thick with surprising twists. If you don’t want to stumble across hints about those twists then you should hold off reading anything about the story until after you see the movie. This article is no exception. Beware. Here be spoilers.

When was the last time anyone saw an actor transform themselves so dramatically as Rosamund Pike has done in Gone Girl? The demure, soft spoken Pike has reached down deep and uncovered one of the most mesmerizing femme fatales, one of the most memorable movie blondes, in film history. There aren’t many directors in town who give a damn about actresses anymore. If they don’t sell, if it doesn’t appeal to the mostly male bloggers and critics, forget it. It doesn’t get made. Fincher is one of the few who can and does get those movies made. And not since Hitchcock has a director been so good at transforming an under-the-radar actress into an icon.

The serene actress has always been cast as either the sweet love interest or the ice queen. No one has ever looked at Rosamund Pike and thought: there’s a versatile actress who could take on such complex, tricky material as Amy Dunne in Gone Girl. If people were paying attention, which half of them aren’t let’s face it, they would recognize Amy Dunne as one of the most notable female anti-heroes in literature and now, on film. If they were paying attention, they would also notice that casting Amy Dunne was not unlike casting the big roles in lit history, like Scarlett in Gone with the Wind and Daisy in the Great Gatsby. As it stands, critics and bloggers barely notice women at all, let alone a central figure in an American classic as written by Gillian Flynn.

Pike dives naked into this part, peeling back her mask of beauty and mannered composure to reveal the sinister truth that lies beneath many of Type A female. Without giving too much away, Pike’s Amy Dunne toys cleverly with our expectations based on her outward appearance that she immediately has the upper hand in all situations. Women, as we know, are judged mostly on their looks first. Dunne knows this is the best card she can play because her good looks are disarming, intimidating, unattainable. That gives her an immediate upper hand. All that she really is, all that she really wants, her precious bloated ego is buried underneath the serene and sparkly surface. What man, or woman, could defend against it?

What I love so much about Pike’s version of Amy Dunne is that we fall for it, too. We fall for those high cheekbones, those sweetly wide brown eyes, that Grace Kelly smile. We women fall for it each and every time we flip through a fashion magazine. We long for it when we see a celebrity wife dropping her children off at soccer practice or strolling along with a yoga mat in hand. We ache to be so perfect. What a strange gift Gillian Flynn and David Fincher have given us with Amy Dunne — a cunning genius who knows people well and can thus predict their next move. She is the best chess player in the game and, like Maddie Walker in Body Heat, if people are dumb enough to fall for it they deserve what they get.

Despite the Eve Harringtons, the Maddie Walkers and now, the Amy Dunnes, good looks are still the best decoy when looking to deceive a dumb chump. Maybe we get one movie a decade at most where the female is the smartest character in the whole movie. Women strive to be good more than anything else. Good mothers, good wives, good fucks, good kissers, good looking, good little girls. But, as the line goes, “Sometimes you have to be a high-riding bitch, Dolores. Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold on to.” You might judge her, siding with the affable puppy dog that is Nick Dunne and that’s fine. No one deserves to be nailed to the wall when they’re so accustomed to life going their way.

A serene facade shattered, a sculpted body ruined then remade, while underneath it all the quiet hum of vulnerability. Amy Dunne might be a monster. She might be the sum total of all of your worst fears about women, especially pretty women. But she has also cut up like paper dolls society’s expectations of women — the unending torture device of self-improvement, the big lie of the fairy tale wedding and the happily ever after. Amy Dunne is the end result of what our culture has done to women.

Gillian Flynn toys with our expectations in most of her writing, at least what I’ve read. She is a master at flipping what we predict is going to happen. She had me completely fooled with the book, Gone Girl. When people talk about the ending, when men groan and women complain because something about it just isn’t fair — I always give a silent salute to Ms. Flynn for sticking with the truth, both about her writing and about human nature. These characters are always betraying their best intentions. They can no more explain what they do or why do it than they can ultimately change who they are.

Women don’t often get to explore such complexities. David Fincher is practically single-handedly bringing back the complex female lead. He did it without any fanfare with Panic Room, Benjamin Button and Alien 3. He did it amid much fanfare with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and he’s outdone it here, with Amy Dunne and Gone Girl. Would that more directors had that kind of faith in what women can do and who they can be.

The brilliant Rosamund Pike joins Julianne Moore, who is currently in the number one spot for Still Alice, where she plays a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s. Also very much in the race is Hilary Swank for The Homesman, Jessica Chastain in Eleanor Rigby and Reese Witherspoon for Wild, three equally complex and well-written female leads for whom entire films were built around them. These three make up the core of the Best Actress race so far, though more performances are coming.

You can tell the state of American film when you compare the number of Best Actress contenders to Supporting Actress contenders. Since almost all of the movies in the Oscar race are about men, women exist only as a support to those men. In some instances, those supporting characters come to full, breathing life — like Patricia Arquette in Boyhood, like Viola Davis in Eleanor Rigby, like Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game. In American films, men do the important things, almost exclusively. So much so that if you have a daughter you’d be better off having her watch television where women are shown doing important things, not just helping the men do important things.

No one really saw Rosamund Pike coming [an addendum to appease readers of this site who apparently need an explanation – perhaps pundits predicted her but I don’t believe anyone ever realized how deep and dark she would be willing to go for this role – that kind of dedication is surprising in an actress who has not really yet earned her chops]. No one could have figured that this mild mannered actress could pull off such a strangely complicated, childish and monstrous character in the uniquely American tradition of unforgettable femme fatales.

Also in contention in the Best Actress category:
Shailene Woodly in The Fault in Our Stars
Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything
Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night
Mia Wasikowska in Tracks

And coming up:
Amy Adams in Big Eyes
Meryl Streep in Into the Woods

It’s a sad day in Hollywood when the list of female leads up for contention in the Best Actress is this short. I don’t even know what to say anymore except we continue to be grateful to those precious few directors, David Fincher at the top of that list, who seem to give a good goddamn.

gonegirl

Scott Foundas calls Gone Girl the movie of the year:

The Wrap’s James Rocchi:

Even with the well-established praise for director David Fincher as a master filmmaker — his movies lushly drenched in shadow, his capacity for tough stuff matched only by his care in presentation — it’s easy to forget or overlook his sense of humor, the spoonful of sugar that helps the malevolence go down in his films.

At his best, Fincher has a sense of humor that not only cuts through the darkness but actually contrasts it to significant effect. After the dour, sour, sadistic Scandanavian misfire of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” it’s a pleasure to note that Fincher’s latest adaptation, of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel of the same name, is both wicked and wickedly fun.

Not only brutal but also brutally funny, “Gone Girl” mixes top-notch suspenseful storytelling with the kind of razor-edged wit that slashes so quick and clean you’re still watching the blade go past before you notice you’re bleeding.

He goes on:

Flynn’s script is loaded with nicely-tuned observations, not just about the rules and rituals of the modern American marriage but also about a media that shrieks speculation more than it speaks the truth and worries about slogans more than facts. The author’s clever, cruel and cool work also gives Pike the role of a lifetime in the shining, secretive Amy, while still making her human and comprehensible. Affleck, who’s personally had to endure a level of media scrutiny that makes a colonoscopy look dignified, brings much of that history to Nick’s affability and desire to please. When he needs to play the part, Nick does, but he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. Both performers are brilliant.

With its shifting perspectives and timelines, its constant conflict between what’s said and what’s truly seen, “Gone Girl” is clean, clear, and perfectly constructed. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and editor Jeff Baxter, both regular Fincher collaborators, deliver the kind of work that looks easy but, assuredly and on reflection, is decidedly not. The score, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is a more mixed proposition, effective in the places it works and distracting on several occasions where it doesn’t.

New York Magazine’s David Edelstein:

Oh, what a stunning opening shot—a prelude to damnation—director ­David Fincher serves up in his elegantly wicked suburban noir Gone Girl, adapted by Gillian Flynn from her best-selling novel. It’s the back of the head of a woman (Rosamund Pike) on a pillow, her golden tresses aglow. An unseen man (Ben Affleck) narrates; he suggests that the only way to know what’s in a person’s mind would be to shatter her skull. Then the woman turns her face to the camera. It’s creamy-skinned, sleepily beautiful; her eyes open wide and she stares into ours. The look is teasingly ambiguous. Juxtaposed with the narrator’s violent words, the image poses the question: Who could want to violate a façade so exquisite? You want to pore over it, study it for clues to what’s underneath.

You get that chance for many of Gone Girl’s 148 minutes. The movie is phenomenally gripping—although it does leave you queasy, uncertain what to take away on the subject of men, women, marriage, and the possibility of intimacy from the example of such prodigiously messed-up people. Though a woman wrote the script, the male gaze dominates, and this particular male—the director of Se7en and The Social Network—doesn’t have much faith in appearances, particularly women’s. Fincher’s is a world of masks, misrepresentations, subtle and vast distortions. Truth is rarely glimpsed. Media lie. Surfaces lie.

big eyes2

Variety have posted the first trailer for the Weinstein film, Big Eyes. Based on the true story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and her husband, Walter (Christophe Waltz), the film tells the story of the artist who painted portraits of young children with big eyes.

Big Eyes is directed by Tim Burton and will be released on Christmas Day. Adams is tipped to earn a Best Actress nomination for the role.

Continue reading…

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Update: added to the documentary category.

This is where I see the Oscar race right now, before the New York Film fest and before the Big Oscar Movies begin to roll out. I thought it might be nice to put it down for the record. Following Anne Thompson’s lead I am not predicting movies I have not yet seen or that have not yet been seen by many. Though I do that over at Gold Derby and Movie City News that’s spitballing. This is actual guess work.  There are still some films that I’m not sure will be released this year or not, like JC Chandor’s A Most Violent Year.  But this is what I know, or what I think I know.

Oscar Predictions

Best Picture

Although this race is far from settled, if the Oscars were held today the film that would likely win would be Richard Linklater’s monumental film about life as we know it, Boyhood. Made for just $4 million, and a box office take so far of $20 million, it can’t be called anything but a success. More than that, it has captured the zeitgeist. People are talking about it, feeling it woven into their DNA.  There is something about watching time fly by, Linklater style, with no pomp and circumstance, no dramatic shockers – and yet, by the end of it what is the most shocking is how fast time goes, how quickly our lives go, how so many things can go really wrong on the road to adulthood but that most of us — the lucky ones – scramble ahead anyway, make something of ourselves anyway, find love and happiness and maybe a family anyway. Does it turn out the way we all thought it would? Probably surpasses expectations for 1% of us. The rest of us are like George Baileys, our dreams of a life that might have been long since tucked between the pages of a memory book while our real lives, extraordinary in their ordinariness, bloom before our eyes. Boyhood is a magnificent meditation on life and is the most remarkable film of 2014 so far.  Yes, The Imitation Game, Birdman, the Theory of Everything, Foxcatcher — and more films have made their mark on the festival crowd. But they will have to catch up to how Boyhood has seeped into the collective unconscious so far.  People keep saying to me “I just don’t see that movie winning Best Picture.” And, indeed. It’s early yet. Very probably Boyhood will not win.  But if you’re asking me to take a snapshot of the Oscar race on the eve of the New York Film Festival, this is your top pick.

1. Boyhood
2. The Imitation Game
3. Birdman
4. The Theory of Everything
5. Foxcatcher
6. Mr. Turner

In the running:
7. Wild
8. The Homesman
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Still to be Seen:
Gone Girl
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Fury
Interstellar
Unbroken
American Sniper
Selma

Best Actor

This is a three-way race right now between Michael Keaton in Birdman, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. Lord help anyone trying to make that choice.  To me, Keaton’s is one of a handful of the performances of the year. The layers, the sadness, the complexities he delivers as an actor are breathtaking.  On the other hand, Cumberbatch as the Asperger’s afflicted, repressed homosexual mad genius? Who can top that? And finally, Redmayne disappears into Stephen Hawking…I have heard anyway. So that’s going to be a tough race and a tough category.

1. Michael Keaton, Birdman
2. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
3. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
4. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
5. Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner
6. Bill Murray St. Vincent
7. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
8. Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
9. Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman
10. Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood

Still to come:
Ben Affleck, Gone Girl
Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar
Brad Pitt, Fury
Jack O’Connell, Unbroken
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
David Oyelowo, Selma
Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice

Best Actress

Gregory Ellwood called it in Toronto and this is probably Julianne Moore’s Oscar to win. She will have to ask for it, campaign for it, let voters know she wants it. And we know from Kate Winslet, all the lady need do is ask. The Oscar is hers.  She has some stiff competition in Reese Witherspoon’s unbelievably brave and raw turn in Wild and Hilary Swank in The Homesman, to say nothing of the mad wunderkind Jessica Chastain giving among the performances of the year in Eleanor Rigby.  They will go up against Rosamund Pike, said to be off the charts good in Gone Girl, and Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. But no one has the industry clout, the career behind them, the overdue status that Ms. Moore has. As I said, all the lady need do is ask.

1. Julianne Moore, Still Alice
2. Reese Witherspoon, Wild
3. Hilary Swank, The Homesman
4. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
5. Jessica Chastain, Eleanor Rigby
6. Shailene Woodley, The Fault in our Stars

Still to come:
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Amy Adams, Big Eyes

Supporting Actor

This is a confounding category right now. It feels so vacant to me, with no frontrunner and no way to really rank these performances.  In a coin toss I might choose Ethan Hawke for Boyhood but I don’t know if he or anyone can beat Edward Norton in Birdman. This is a backburner category I’ll have to return to later.

Edward Norton, Birdman
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman
William Hurt, Eleanor Rigby

Still to Come:
Neil Patrick Harris, Gone Girl
Lots and lots of other names I can’t think of right now.

Supporting Actress

If there is one performance people are talking about so far more than any other it’s the magnificent Patricia Arquette in Boyhood. Her transformation is the most dramatic and she didn’t even go through puberty. She does it all internally. We watch her “grow up.” We see the most surprising reactions to situations, even if they don’t fit the mold of the saintly, put upon mother. She is a whole human being – and Linklater would not have it any other way. This is not a man who wants to put women in a box. This is a man who has always, throughout his career, celebrated strong, complex female characters.  Arquette feels like the lead to me but since she is a supporting character they have made the decision to run her in that category.  Arquette gets some competition from the sweet, vibrant mother in Wild, and the equally vibrant, unexpectedly captivating Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game. Kristen Stewart is said to have given two of her best performances this year, in The Clouds of Sils Maria and in Still Alice.  Viola Davis gets a chance to actually be a real person in Eleanor Rigby. The movie doesn’t seem able to catch a break but David ought to be noticed, along with Chastain.  Again, this category also feels like it’s kind of up in the air, all save the person in the number spot, the very deserving Arquette.

1. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
2. Laure Dern, Wild
3. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
4. Emma Stone, Birdman
5. Kristen Stewart, Still Alice
6. Viola Davis, Eleanor Rigby
7. Melissa McCarthy, St. Vincent
8. Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow

Still to come:
Jessica Chastain, Interstellar
Anne Hathaway, Interstellar
Reese Witherspoon, Inherent Vice
Anna Kendrick, Into the Woods

Director

This will be another extremely tough category. If there is one more competitive category than Best Actor this year it will be Best Director. First off, how do you do what Richard Linklater did in 12 years? Who has that kind of dedication, other than Michael Apted, who really did just sort of record life. Linklater did more than record life – he sustained an entire story over a 12 year period with characters and through-lines and motivations. It’s just astonishing.  On the other hand, look at what Inarritu does with Birdman! How is it even possible that someone could do that with a camera.  I have my own personal favorite director (right up there with Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg) releasing Gone Girl — Fincher’s work will likely tower over the competition but with a dark subject voters might not be ready to shimmy up that pole.  Two women in the Oscar conversation – Angelina Jolie and Ava DuVernay. Pause to reflect on how cool that is.  Mr. Clint is coming — stand back. It’s a category I’m going to delight in writing about for the next few months.

1. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
2. Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
3. Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
4. Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
5. Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner

Still to come:
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Christopher Nolan, Interstellar
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken
David Ayer, Fury
Clint Eastwood, American Sniper
Ava DuVernay, Selma
Rob Marshall, Into the Woods

Original Screenplay
1. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
2. Alejandro Inarritu et al, Birdman
3. E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher
4. Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner
5. Jon Stewart, Rosewater
6. Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
7. Ned Benson, Eleanor Rigby
8. Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler

Still to Come:
Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, Interstellar
David Ayer, Fury
Paul Webb, Selma
Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski , Big Eyes

Adapted Screenplay
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Nick Hornby, Wild
Anthony McCarten, The Thoery of Everything
Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel
Kieran Fitzgerald, Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman
Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilson, Men, Women & Children

Still to Come:
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Jason Dean Hall, American Sniper
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice

Editing

Birdman
The Imitation Game
Foxcatcher
Boyhood
Mr. Turner

Still to Come:
Gone Girl
Interstellar
Fury
Selma
Unbroken
American Sniper

Cinematography

Birdman
Mr. Turner
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
Snowpiercer
Grand Budapest Hotel

Still to Come:
Unbroken
Gone Girl
Into the Woods
Interstellar
Fury
Selma
American Sniper

Production Design

Birdman
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Grand Budapest Hotel
Mr. Turner
Snowpiercer

Still to Come
Interstellar
Fury
Into the Woods
Unbroken

Sound Mixing

Get on Up
Guardians of the Galaxy
Transformers 4
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow
X-Men

Still to Come:
Interstellar
Fury
Into the Woods

Sound Editing

Birdman
Transformers 4
Guardians of the Galaxy
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow
X-Men

Costume Design

The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner
Get on Up
Guardians of the Galaxy
Grand Budapest Hotel

Still to Come:
Selma
Interstellar
Fury
Unbroken

Original Score

Birdman
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner
Grand Budapest Hotel

Still to come:
Gone Girl

Foreign Language Feature

Ida (Poland)
Mommy (Canada)
Leviathan (Russia)
Wild Tales (Argentina)

Documentary Feature

Look of Silence
Seymour
Red Army
The Salt of the Earth
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles
Keep on Keepin’ On

Animated Feature

How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Lego Movie

Still to Come
Big Hero 6
The Box Trolls

Visual Effects

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Transformers 4
Godzilla
Edge of Tomorrow
X-Men
Noah

Still to Come:
Interstellar

Makeup

Birdman
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Mr. Turner
Noah

Song

Mercy Is, Patti Smith, Noah

Your thoughts, Oscar watchers?  Best Original Song contenders I’m forgetting?

 

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Disney has unveiled the first poster for Into The Woods. Based on the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical, the upcoming film adaptation stars Meryl Streep as The Witch, Johnny Depp as The Wolf and Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife. Rob Marshall directs the all star cast in the musical adaptation which is set to open on Christmas Day.

The poster features Streep as The Witch looking out from the trees, with the tag “Be Careful What You Wish For.”

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swank

Tommy Lee Jones’ bleak expression of our land rape out west is one of the best films of 2014. No, it doesn’t fit into any category, particularly, and it didn’t light the critics on fire at Cannes but it is, to me, as vital a piece in our American story as John Huston’s The Misfits and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. All three of these films show how the women were used, abused, misused and discarded while the menfolk sought to conquer a land already owned by others.

Unlike many directors in Hollywood, Jones isn’t afraid of being someone with a point of view on western expansion. Though he prefers, at least he did in Cannes, to let the movie speak for itself he certainly isn’t going to dodge responsibility for the comfort of others. This movie makes it quite clear that where we settled, how we did it, what we did to Native Americans was flat out wrong. If you build a civilization over the ruin you can expect tragedy to come back to haunt you.

Like 12 Years a Slave last year cleared a path to American history — to show how our American foundation, even our White House, was built on the backs of slaves — The Homesman, too, shows the rotten underbelly of what we all too often celebrate about our proliferation out west.

What is remarkable about The Homesman is that it focuses on a woman, the brilliant Hilary Swank in what has to be my own favorite performance of hers, who isn’t the right kind of livestock for marrying but has strength, wisdom and ambition.  Still, there is no future for her in that definition of America, not without a man’s love or at least his desire to marry her.  Swank’s character sets out to deliver women who have lost their minds on the homesteads back to people who will look after them. To their husbands, they are livestock gone wrong. They stopped being the right kinds of wives — dead babies, emotional outbursts, mental illness with no hope of treatment. So back they go — their husbands then on the hunt for another.

The Homesman isn’t a film for everybody — and it certainly isn’t what today’s critics would call “perfect.” I don’t know what its Oscar prospects will be because those depend on perception and perception often depends on what critics think.  Its best shot for the Oscar race is that its a strong ensemble piece.  The actors might push the film through.

It’s frustrating to watch how every year stories about women get the shaft. The latest is the Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, one of the few films with a story revolving around women. Now, The Homesman with Hilary Swank and a strong cast of women will likely not get ushered through.  Critics seem up for films where women don’t do a lot of talking, like in Gravity, or where their own emotional trajectory is fairly simplistic — but when things get complicated the critics back way off, as though stories of women on their own aren’t enough, or aren’t good enough.

Performances might burst through, like Swank in The Homesman or Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart in Still Alice, or Reese Witherspoon in Wild – but we never seem to be talking about Best Picture where women are concerned.  Sure, David Fincher’s Gone Girl could change all of that.  Perhaps Into the Woods might as well.  But for now, such is the modern lament of Oscar season.

 

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When it was announced that Maps to the Stars was not going to get the preliminary distribution to make it into this year’s Oscar race, but that it was going to go for the Globes and other lesser awards, it seemed as though Julianne Moore’s shot at the prize was done. But Still Alice was waiting in the wings and now it looks like this is going to be Moore’s next Oscar nomination, at the very least.

Also getting notice is Kristen Stewart who has a better shot at a supporting nod for Still Alice than Clouds of Sils Maria, which might not get a release date in time for the Oscars.

Hitfix’s Gregory Ellwood writes:

Moore’s performance here is reminiscent of her breakthrough role in Todd Haynes’ “Safe” and her Oscar-nominated turn in Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours.” In each scene she peels a little bit more of Alice away as the emotional pain of the disease takes its toll. It is incredibly subtle work that has to have been painstakingly thought out. You only realize this, however, walking out of the theater. Moore won’t let you see her working behind the curtain.

Over at Screendaily:

As for Moore, this is one of her most complete, layered performances. Almost 20 years ago, she starred in filmmaker Todd Haynes’ Safe, a revelatory social parable-cum-psychological horror movie about a housewife seemingly allergic to the entire world. The more realistic Still Alice finds her again felled by an invisible malady — one just as frightening — and it’s interesting to note her ability in both films to elicit our sympathy so easily. Expertly modulating her facial expressions as Alice becomes more childlike as her disease advances, Moore externalises the character’s anger and fear, the sense that she can feel her mind going but can’t reverse the damage. But at the same time, it’s not an overly showy performance: There aren’t a lot of for-you-consideration grand dramatic scenes, a modesty that makes Alice’s slow descent all the more painful and human.

Most the reviews have not yet broken.

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The plot: A young woman joins the military to be part of something bigger than herself and her small town roots. But she ends up as a new guard at Guantanamo Bay instead, where her mission is far from black and white. Surrounded by hostile jihadists and aggressive squadmates, she strikes up an unusual friendship with one of the detainees. A story of two people, on opposite sides of a war, struggling to find their way through the ethical quagmire of Guantanamo Bay. And in the process, they form an unlikely bond that changes them both.

Camp X-Ray in theaters and on VOD on October 28.

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wild-reese-witherspoon

In a survey of roughly 1,000 readers, Reese Witherspoon’s Wild topped the list of most highly anticipated of the Toronto lineup. Fandango readers give a good indication of what movies are likely to make the most money, and which stars their readers prefer (usually big stars).

1. “Wild” (Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern)
2. “The Equalizer” (Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz)
3. “The Judge” (Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall)
4. “Foxcatcher” (Steve Carell, Channing Tatum)
5. “Men, Women & Children” (Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner)

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