BEST ACTRESS

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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
Wild

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

actresses

actresses

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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Kristen Stewart is having a breakthrough year, with two strong supporting roles in films about women – the first, The Clouds of Sils Maria (with Binoche) and the second, Still Alice (with Julianne Moore). Stewart also carries the film Camp X-Ray. Working closely with Binoche the two actresses at different ends of the age and experience spectrum was partly a mentor/student relationship, says Binoche in an interview with Indiewire:

In “Clouds of Sils Maria,” you play an aging actress who sort of gets threatened by a younger actress. I’m assuming you aren’t actually threatened by Kristen Stewart or Chloe Moretz. Did you take on a mentor or teaching role during filming?

It’s interesting, because I read in an interview — and I don’t really read interviews — that Olivier said that there were moments when I was showing up Kristen, showing her how to act. For me it’s never been like that. Sometimes I push her, because I know her potential. When you see that, it’s very exciting as an actor to go and push someone. I think deep down I would like to teach one day. It’s about mothering, about giving birth, a midwife kind of situation, and there’s something very rewarding in a very hidden place. When you see somebody transforming and growing, it’s such a reward because it gives hope to everybody. With Kristen, in the films she’s done, I don’t think she ever really experienced how amazing she is. Actually, when I saw her in interviews, the way she listens and the way she answers, I said, “This is a great actress.” Just the way of receiving and giving back. I think she has an amazing career in front of her, and she’s gonna surprise us.

She will work again with Binoche in the upcoming The Big Shoe. In keeping with typical film critic groupthink were films starring women are concerned (except Gravity of course), Camp X-Ray got a roughing up. Like clockwork.

Either way, Stewart’s growing as an actress and looks to have a bright future ahead of her.

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A while back I got the chance to interview Patricia Arquette, an actress I’ve been following for thirty years (yes, thirty). Her work has been quietly impressing me all along, though no one else seemed to really be paying attention to it. The wildly different characters she’d portrayed in films like Beyond Rangoon, Flirting with Disaster, Lost Highway and True Romance revealed an artist who was not only fearless in her choices but much more than the sex siren she was most remembered for.

Arquette mostly resides in the collective unconsciousness as the sexual muse from Tony Scott/Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch’s fantasy worlds. When men talk about her they’ll always lead with those arresting, unstoppable images of Arquette from iconic films, when Arquette’s incarnation of sexuality entered the pantheon. She wore leopard print bras, lipstick and tasted like peaches in True Romance and captured the wistful longing of unrequited lust, bathed in white light and This Mortal Coil in Lost Highway.

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What was Arquette to the movie fandom but luscious lips, a snaggle tooth and those infamous curves? To most of them, until Boyhood, she resided in the past, like Monroe or Veronica Lake – to remind us of what was. Not what is or what can be. That was until Boyhood. Now Arquette is free to emerge, finally, as the versatile actress she’s always been.

And indeed, it isn’t often blonde meets screen like Arquette has these many years, emerging in her own right from her famous siblings. Rather than clinging to that which made her famous, though, what has surprised me most about her, and continues to surprise, me is how willing she is to change as time changes her, as age continues to sculpt who she will become in the next thirty years.

I drove out of the valley, down the 101 towards Kanan Pass, a winding road that eventually crests, giving way to the wide blue expanse of the Pacific. I was meeting Arquette at a coffee shop called Coogie’s in the one strip mall in Malibu.

When I met her she was taking a call from her sister, she said, who had left something at her house. It had rained a few scarce drops and she was concerned her sister’s stuff would get wet.

“We need rain so badly,” she said as we took our seat outside. Just coffee with milk was what we ordered. Some people notice things, some people don’t. Arquette is one who does – she pays attention to everything and everyone that’s around her, focusing on a dog hungry for affection at the next table who kept diving at us as his owner tugged him back on his leash. “Aw, what a cutie.” She said. Her eyes glance around at people who walk by, the clouds billowing in the sky and occasionally down at her coffee.

Arquette, it must be said, is a stunner. She was a stunner when she started the business as kid and she’s a stunner now, even with her face still untouched by plastic surgery. Her face is a visible record of her experiences, kind and open. She’s admitted to never being comfortable being so pretty, and indeed, if you spend enough time with her you start listening to what she’s saying rather than thinking about how she looks.

Her eyes flicked up briefly to look at something behind me — she pointed out there was a chubby cheeked baby hanging in a sling. She smiled warmly, wistfully. I thought about an interview with her I’d read where she was joking with her now grown son about the potential for a grand-baby.

Arquette’s love for babies and children came young. When her sister Alexis was born she went around saying “my baby.” Mothering, she said, came naturally. Arquette is a passionate advocate, fiercely independent, rebellious by nature, a true badass in all respects — she’s one of the few that really gets how motherhood is a strength and not a weakness.

Even still, the mothers Arquette has played — in Flirting with Disaster, Beyond Rangoon and now, the most accomplished performance of her career, Boyhood, she is still playing characters outside herself. For instance, when her son went off to college she put on a brave face and sent him on his way – only after he left did she sob for two weeks. Her Boyhood character is a little more yearning for independence than that, probably because she finds a life during the twelve years the film takes place. Arquette is so strong willed, her evolution has been slightly different, but I suspect she would have no problem having her children stick around a while longer.

Arquette is the beating heart of Boyhood, the film’s center – so much so that with a few adjustments in editing it could be called Motherhood. Linklater being one of the few directors out there with enough reverence for mothers and women that he didn’t need to build a saintly version of one. He built a real one, with the help of an actress who was willing to do the work, dutifully, carrying that character with her for twelve years.

boyhood family

Arquette is active and political on Twitter, spent time in Haiti and helped out after Hurricane Sandy (see videos below), not to mention her involvement in charity work. She hails from volcano parents who loomed large and raised a big family. She talked about her mother dying of cancer and all of these people showing up who knew her. Arquette says she had no idea who they were but realized suddenly how many people her mother had impacted.

It was far from an easy childhood but that’s not something Arquette dwells on. She recognizes that there was pain. But she values the important things her parents left her with – creativity, vitality, courage, concern for your fellow man (or woman).

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But I’d been following Arquette’s career since the 1980s. It wasn’t about True Romance (maybe a little about Lost Highway) but rather, the uncelebrated roles where she simply did not get the recognition she deserved. I always suspected this was because audiences refused to relinquish their definition of her as the blonde bombshell. No easy feat when someone embeds like that but if you’ve been paying attention these past thirty years you will discover a versatile actress who is not afraid to embrace her own evolution, hard to come by these days.

In Beyond Rangoon, Arquette plays a doctor whose husband and son were murdered. She journeys to Burma where she witnesses atrocious at the hands of a dictator. It not only eases her grief, which is immeasurable, but it ends up changing the course of her life. Unlike most “a woman finds herself” movies that came after Beyond Rangoon, this is the rare film that depicts a woman doing something valuable for the world, not just herself.

If you return to the film, take note of the scene where Arquette must rush back to the village to get medicine to save the life of U Aung Ko, the leader she is traveling with. In order to do that, though, she pretty much has to offer herself up for sexual favors. This is a brilliant, maddening scene where the trauma plays out on Arquette’s face – at once to convey to us what she is feeling at the time but also to keep that hidden so as not to betray it to her attacker.

I could not find the scene specifically but it takes place at 57:34 of this cap of the whole film.

In Flirting with Disaster, Arquette plays a grouchy mom/wife whose husband is seeking out his birth mother. She patiently waits around for him to actually grow up, all the while caring for their newborn, which doesn’t have a name yet. She anchors the film, becoming very much its center, much the way she does in Boyhood, while the other characters bob helplessly around her like disconnected satellites.

Another moment like this takes place during the James Gandolfini epic battle in True Romance. She’s just come into the hotel room and is wearing sunglasses. She is scared but has to hide her fear because she knows bluffing is her only hope. But once he removes the glasses, the truth is revealed in her eyes. It is a brilliant scene by a very talented, underrated actress.

And Arquette is both the lightness and the dark in David Lynch’s Lost Highway, a role she says she is probably the furthest from. Cast as a Lynch heroine, Arquette is both the blonde and the brunette (a repeating theme in the director’s work). The differences between the two are dramatic, even if the narrative is tough to follow. Back then reporters asked Arquette how comfortable she felt doing full frontal nudity after having children (or something to that effect) and I’ve never forgotten her answer – she said that this man was obsessed WITH HER, not an idealized version of her so she had nothing to hide from him, being the object of his desire. Looking back on those scenes it’s funny to think anyone would ask her such a question.

Despite her two most famous roles, Arquette doesn’t “lead” with her sexuality. She leads with thoughtfulness. On her mind is, well, everything imaginable from climate change to recent gang rape of two teenage girls in India who then hung themselves, the babies blown to bits in Gaza. She tells me that she’s had to have a news blackout for a few days because it was overwhelming her. A week or so later I did the same thing.

“Just for a little while,” she says. We sit with the silence of everything we know about the world in 2014. The future looks bleak. As mothers we are in charge of fixing things for our kids but how do we do that? All of this remains unspoken between us. There isn’t any need to state the obvious.

Boyhood is a film that is really about motherhood, or parenthood, more than it is about growing up. It’s a film about teachers – those who catch you in the middle of your swiftly forward motion, stop you, turn you in a different direction and set you off again. For twelve years Arquette reunited with the film crew to catch back up with her character, her single mother of two young kids trying to better her life – a fighter, a learner, a teacher and her own person on top of that. What we rarely see anymore: mothers who have actual feelings beyond those that are defined by their kids. Mothers in films now are support nets and nothing more. How easy for Linklater and Arquette to have gone in that direction but they didn’t. She’s a woman who had bad relationships, made mistakes, struggled financially, resented then ultimately forgave her husband.

The film could have been more critical of her for her choice in men, but in real life single mothers do things because they think it’s in the best interest of their children. I myself remember how great it felt when my mom hooked up with a man who bought us a lovely house out in Malibu when we were kids. What we went through, what he did her, how bad things got was in no way worth that, but I can see it from her point of view.

When you’re dead broke with a kid looking to you for the answers, for food and clothing and a decent house you can bring your friends home to your perspective can sometimes be skewed. I remember doing this to my own daughter — the good news was we finally lived in a house we could have her 1st grade birthday party in. The bad news was he was an abusive alcoholic. This is one of the things about Boyhood that rang so true to me and many who grew up in our generation, Linklater and Arquette’s generation. These were the days before helicopter parenting, more than a few lifetimes ago.

Arquette and Linklater were killing themselves doing Q&As all over town, knowing that a movie like this is best to see in a theater because it requires your full attention to feel its impact. After our interview, Arquette would be driving out to Hollywood to do a few more.

After all of that time working together, Arquette says they were like a family, with babies, marriages, divorces happening throughout. Their real lives running their course while their fictional lives were waiting to put on record what was happening in theirs.

Arquette’s work in Boyhood allows us the rare glimpse of what being a really good actress is about, being so good at it you start to believe she is that character. But spending time with her in person it’s clear that the real Patricia Arquette dwells in real life, not in fiction. “There are little pieces of each of them that stay with me,” she says. “I could pull them out if I wanted to.”

There are too few actresses with the kind of longevity Arquette has managed to sustain. She’s done it finding the good parts wherever they might be – on network television and in independent film. Twelve years captured on film, twelve years of character focus, of emotional work, and all the while making it seem as though it’s all happening in real time. It requires the skill and the focus of one of the best in the business.

Boyhood:

Volunteer video

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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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