BEST ACTRESS

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

(slight spoiler warning)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scott Foundas calls Gone Girl the movie of the year:

The Wrap’s James Rocchi:

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

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

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

He goes on:

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

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

New York Magazine’s David Edelstein:

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

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

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

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

Continue reading…

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Update: added to the documentary category.

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

Oscar Predictions

Best Picture

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

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

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

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

Best Actor

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

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

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

Best Actress

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

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

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

Supporting Actor

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

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

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

Supporting Actress

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

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

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

Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editing

Birdman
The Imitation Game
Foxcatcher
Boyhood
Mr. Turner

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

Cinematography

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

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

Production Design

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

Still to Come
Interstellar
Fury
Into the Woods
Unbroken

Sound Mixing

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

Still to Come:
Interstellar
Fury
Into the Woods

Sound Editing

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

Costume Design

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

Still to Come:
Selma
Interstellar
Fury
Unbroken

Original Score

Birdman
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner
Grand Budapest Hotel

Still to come:
Gone Girl

Foreign Language Feature

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

Documentary Feature

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

Animated Feature

How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Lego Movie

Still to Come
Big Hero 6
The Box Trolls

Visual Effects

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

Still to Come:
Interstellar

Makeup

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

Song

Mercy Is, Patti Smith, Noah

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Hitfix’s Gregory Ellwood writes:

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

Over at Screendaily:

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

Most the reviews have not yet broken.

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

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

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

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

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What do you when your presumed frontrunner is no longer in the Oscar race? It’s been announced that Focus World will not give Maps to the Stars an Oscar run (what a shame) and thus, Julianne Moore will not be a contender. I personally think the role and her overdue status give her the stuff to drive it home to a win (think: Charlize Theron in Monster). I also think it’s premature to assume the Oscar voters are too soft to handle a movie like this. Most of them came of age during Ken Russell and Robert Atlman, for chrissakes.

Anne Thompson:

Julianne Moore can kiss goodbye to any hopes she was nursing for an Oscar campaign for David Cronenberg’s Cannes Best Actress winner “Maps to the Stars,” which is set to play Toronto and New York festivals. Canadian distributor eOne was going to distribute the film stateside, but it has now sold U.S. rights not to Universal specialty distributor Focus Features–the arm that would handle an Oscar effort–but Focus World, their digital distribution arm, which plans an early 2015 release.

It’s moments like this that I feel embarrassed spending so much time investing in a race that must cater to soft-palmed, comfort-seeking upper class wimps who can’t handle the truth. How in the world can anyone be in the business of rewarding best when best must always come with a disclaimer: “When we say best we don’t really mean that. We certainly don’t mean highest achievement in film. We mean something on the order of it makes us look good. It makes us FEEL SOMETHING and it sends us out into the world feeling happy about our lives.”

While I can understand the urge to always lean towards idealizing the human condition, I can tell you that nothing scratched off the top layer of Hollywood like Maps to the Stars. Bruce Wagner’s script is easily one of the year’s best and two performers – Julianne Moore and Evan Bird are spectacular. Years from now no one will believe why Maps to the Stars was not Oscar nominated. They probably figured that Moore plays a character so unlikable her chances of winning were slim. I disagree with that assessment as it is often the darkest turns by the nicest actors that win Oscars.

Or to put it another way: Maps to the Stars is the movie Hollywood deserves.

With Julianne Moore out of the race that opens up the Best Actress race considerably. We’re still looking at the following potential nominees:

Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl – with Julianne Moore out of the race this will put Pike squarely in the spot of the darkest female anti-hero in the mix.
Amy Adams for Big Eyes – an overdue actress the pundits have much faith in winning.
Jessica Chastain for Eleanor Rigby or Miss Julie – again, very much overdue for a win and having another spectacular year of performances
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Hilary Swank now a slam dunk for The Homesman
Reese Witherspoon in her most raw and challenging performance to date.

There are several borderline actresses would could make a run in lead – Keira Knightley for The Imitation Game and Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. These are roles that could go either way.

Other names include:
Shailene Woodley for The Fault in Our Stars
Anne Hathaway for Interstellar

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Every year after Telluride there is the sense that bigger, better movies could still come along that might overtake the race. I remember this most profoundly in 2012 when Argo came, was very popular at Telluride but didn’t really pick up its major Best Picture heat until the one-two punch of Affleck and Argo winning the Golden Globes and Critics Choice just as Ben Affleck received his Best Director snub. That the movie wonlo those two significant awards could have meant the movie was destined to win no matter what. But the Globes aren’t the best or most reliable barometer to predict Best Picture, even if the Critics Choice often are. It was the Affleck snub that set up the much-needed narrative giving the film’s general likability a much-needed sense of urgency. That was also the first time the Oscar ballots for Best Director were turned in before the DGA announced. Last year and this year will also see that same scheduling shift but the Affleck snub was perhaps one of the most surprising things I’ve ever seen happen at the Oscars. It ended up having a profound effect on how the Oscar voting is conducted, because now it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to split Picture and Director. Now we can look at a movie like Birdman and comfortably say “it could win Best Director even if it doesn’t win Best Picture.” The unity of picture and director has been severed both by Affleck’s snub, and by the number of Best Picture entries compared to the smaller number of entries for Best Director.

Remember, from 1931-1943, back when the Academy had more than five Best Picture nominees, the only film that ever won Best Picture without the director at least being nominated, was Grand Hotel — a situation so strange in retrospect it looks like a slip-up. So it was highly unusual that Affleck carried his film to such a successful win without getting a director nomination, or perhaps because of the lack of the best director nomination. Either way, in 2012, after Telluride, Argo was mostly regarded as a well-liked film but not the one everyone was thinking would win Best Picture.

Now we find ourselves at the end of Telluride with a similar dynamic in play. Everyone is looking forward to the upcoming films that haven’t yet been seen — Fury, Gone Girl, Unbroken, Men, Women & Children, Interstellar, Into the Woods, Inherent Vice. Telluride, right now, feels like it always does when it ends. Somehow though, in recent years, the eventual Best Picture winner does turn out to be a film that was seen in Telluride — just not overhyped or overpraised, thus making it a target.

Even still, I can’t say there was any film I saw this week that seems like the winner. We don’t know how it will all play out. We don’t know what combination of films will barrel toward the finish line, so we can’t see which one isn’t like the others. Not yet.

The actors have to like it. Oldish people have to like it. It has to have “gravitas” to win. Directors have to respect it. You have to be able to sit anyone down in front of it and they will get it, if not love it. It has to be a movie that isn’t divisive. In an era of bravura filmmaking and risk taking that usually leaves the winning film to the most conventional, at least these days, perhaps unless they go back to five.

Still, in order for a film like The Imitation Game to win — right now the only movie that played here that seems like it has the stuff — the other movies upcoming will have to stumble. That sometimes happens when expectations are raised too high — thus backlash takes hold. It’s hard for a movie like The Imitation Game to attract backlash because no one is really expecting it to win. That gives the film a huge advantage over the films that have to carry the frontrunner albatross. It is also the one movie no one is going to hate. And that is often what defines a modern Best Picture winner in the era where everyone has a voice, a twitter, a tumblr, etc. Big Oscar Movies are often attacked simply because they seem like a movie that could win.

The Imitation Game backlash would only then come from those who perceive it as Oscar bait, an attitude I’ve seen already crop up on Twitter.

Your three best bets for Best Picture out of Telluride:
The Imitation Game
Birdman
Foxcatcher

Beyond Best Picture, though, what else took hold? In the Best Actress race, Reese Witherspoon and Hilary Swank emerged strong for Best Actress contention. They are putting themselves out there early and both came to Telluride to help promote their films.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Steve Carell and Michael Keaton are the three strongest Best Actor contenders right now.

Mommy, Leviathan, Wild Tales all came out of Cannes and all seem to be very promising in the Best Foreign Language category.

Other performances that remain standouts would include Laure Dern, a supporting contender for Wild, Channing Tatum for Foxcatcher, though Best Actor is already so crowded it’s likely only Carrel will get in. Mark Ruffalo will have a place in line for supporting for Foxcatcher. Keira Knightley is a strong bet for supporting for The Imitation Game, along with Emma Stone for Birdman.

The Imitation Game is the only film that really popped exclusively here in Telluride, being seen for the first time as Argo, 12 Years a Slave, Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech all had been. Birdman was a Venice get already and landed at Telluride with extremely high praise to live up to.

With The Imitation Game here in Telluride we have our introductory sentence to the longer piece that will be written about this year. As it always is with the Labor Day end to the festival it feels like the best is yet to come. What is coming is the unknown. We don’t know how things will shake down. We wait. We wait.

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The first day of Telluride was a rough one. Most of us were doing the big three: Wild first, after the Patron’s Brunch, then taking the gondola back down, racing over to the Werner Herzog for The Imitation Game, and then zooming back across town to catch Rosewater. That was the plan. Some of us made it, some of us didn’t. The only reason I made it was with the kind help of The Wrap/Indiewire’s Chris Willman, who had a car by some miracle and shuttled a few of us across town.

In Wild, Reese Witherspoon plays a woman who is recovering from the death of her mother, and all of the ways that unbearable grief destroyed her life when she stopped participating in the world. She decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a two-month odyssey that is mostly left in the “more capable” hands of men. The silence of the trail, the endurance of the journey, the miles of untouched wilderness begins to uncover what’s been buried as she finds herself more than capable, ultimately, of accomplishing this seemingly impossible goal. Laura Dern plays her mother in flashback, a domestic violence victim who ends up raising her two children on her own, eventually going back to school to try to better her life. We learn through the film what her presence meant to her daughter, how strong that love really is. This is the worst nightmare for a parent — to imagine the grief of your children in the event of your death. Well, let’s say it’s the second worst nightmare for a parent.

Witherspoon is rough around the edges, raw as you’d expect, given Jean Marc Vallee’s style. She plays a slightly unlikable, prickly character who doesn’t mince words. We spend nearly the whole movie with her so the key to this film is whether or not her journey moves you, whether it connects on some meaningful level. I think the film achieves the goal it set out to reach and it’s refreshing, frankly, to see a movie that’s about a woman that isn’t necessarily about her relationship to a man. It is a film that celebrates the importance of mothers as teachers and isn’t afraid of the emotions that brings us. I personally have a mental roadblock against movies about a woman (or a man’s) inner journey to self-discovery. But it’s hard to complain about a film about a woman these days since we don’t really have the luxury of complaining. Plenty of people who came out of the Chuck Jones loved this film, including a prominant Academy member. I expect Witherspoon to be a strong contender for a Best Actress nomination, and perhaps Laura Dern for supporting. But this, like many films you see at a festival, will depend somewhat on how the critics respond to it, or if it makes enough money to silence them.

The Imitation Game, from Norwegian film director Morten Tyldum, is another true story. Alan Turing was a mathematician, philosopher, logician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist, educated at Cambridge and Princeton. He led the team that reverse-engineered the German’s Enigma machine and created a computational device to crack the impossibly complex codes being used by Nazi Germany during World War II. The film is an inspiring account of Turing’s genius in building a device that allowed the Allies to know which specific targets the Germans intended to strike, as well as the deplorable story of a gay man outed, convicted of “gross-indecency,” persecuted, and publicly humiliated. Just last year, on Christmas Eve, Queen Elizabeth II issued a pardon for Turing. Any more plot details would be to ruin it for you. It is an involving, touching biopic of a man who was probably autistic or certainly on the spectrum of Asperger’s. Though the film chooses not to explicitly depict Turing’s relationships with men as an adult, it does explore his same-sex attractions in boyhood. For this, we can expect push back from some in the gay community who might have hoped to see a more frank portrayal of Turing’s sexuality to drive the point home. While that aspect of Turing’s life might be interesting in a movie focusing on that angle, The Imitation Game has other things on its mind. It was a crime to be gay back then, so much so that just looking at another man could land you in prison, as it does with this character eventually.

But Turing (and this should go without saying) was more than just his sexuality. Gay characters, like women and other minorities, are often defined by their various communities as needing that to be the only thing and the most prominent thing that defines them. They must carry the burden of their communities — to right the wrongs of the past, to educate the public on the right way to think. It’s a heavy load and a lot of responsibility. What I liked about the films depiction of Turing is the way it’s mature enough to know that being gay is but one facet of a person’s life. Yes, it’s a movie about a gay genius, but his gayness is incidental to his genius. His work and his accomplishments were far more important to him that his sexuality, and those accomplishments are rightfully the movie’s true focus. The same goes for the female character — her being a woman wasn’t the only thing that defined her — in fact, her own sexual needs come second to her passion for her work.

The critics are already throwing around those irritating catch phrases — flawed and uneven — as though this film, or any film, was not a work of art but rather a new product off an assembly line, expected to adhere to an agreed upon standard. What is that standard? It is the uniform tastes of those who call themselves critics. Film criticism has changed too much, so dramatically, one has no choice but to trust oneself anymore. Sure, long reads by great writers are always going to be welcome, but this panel of jury members waiting with their thumbs up, thumbs down? Not my favorite thing about Oscar season. Let the wine breathe for a minute before you drink it down.

What I loved about The Imitation Game was the rich development of the characters, particularly the two leads — the sublime Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, and Keira Knightley, who plays what would have been Turing’s beard, had Turing been the kind of man to live that way. But to have a male lead in a film have interest in a female character for nothing more than her mind and her friendship? Practically unheard of in 2014. There is one scene with Knightley that was like knocking down every silly stereotype women in these types of films fulfill — the nurturer, the protector, the inspiration. No, this woman is there to do good work and to uncover the part of herself capable of doing that in an environment that was not friendly to unmarried women who were brilliant in math.

Cumberbatch brings bits of Sherlock into the role here, the part of that character that also chafes against social interaction while relying on his own connection to his high intelligence. But unlike Sherlock, Turing is far more vulnerable, and thus, much more sympathetic. Heartbreaking is probably the best word. Cumberbatch anchors this film through its rough patches, though I can see the reviews coming that talk about the “flaws.” We all look for perfection heading into the Oscar race (not our jobs), and thus, we sometimes collectively crush films that deserve consideration.

Knightley seems to be enjoying a fruitful career, given that she fits nicely into so many different types. All she ever really has to do is be her pretty self and she often fulfills what’s required of her. But every so often she steps outside her comfort zone and a strength emerges. She’s often fiery, and she’s often charming – but it is rare to see her handle so many conflicting feelings at once, her big brown eyes betraying hidden fragility. But it is Cumberbatch’s show, despite the strong supporting cast. You can’t take your eyes off him. It will be counted as one of the best performances of the year. As for the rest of its Oscar placements, we will have to wait for the reviews.

Finally, Jon Stewart’s Rosewater is the third true story of this first day in Telluride. To see this film and think it not Jon Stewart-y enough is to reveal how little one knows about Jon Stewart. To say this film would be ignored if Stewart hadn’t directed it is also wrong. It will be judged more harshly because Jon Stewart directed it. He is such a dominant presence in our American culture, so beloved, so funny, so woven in to how we interpret modern political analysis — it’s hard to separate Stewart from the brilliant film he’s made. Four years in the making, Rosewater was a labor of love for Stewart, whose own participation in the imprisonment of Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) might have been part of the reason he wanted to make the movie.

It’s a film about oppression of voice, the eternal and ultimately futile quest to destroy the brave act of bearing witness against corrupt regimes. The more people see it, the more they will know what the fuck went on in Iran during this time, but really, it is less about Iran specifically as it is about the nature of oppression and torture. Torture is not, Stewart said in the Q&A after the film, hidden away in grimy, dark rooms. It is institutionalized, accepted, and it’s everywhere.

Stewart approaches the work as he approaches his own career, refusing to define it as any one thing — humor is woven throughout, with much of the film looking like news footage we’ve seen and ignored every day of our lives as it blares out in monotone on international news programs like CNN. We just tune it out, don’t we here in America? Another day, another bombing. Another day, another journalist murdered. This matters to Stewart, the telling of this story. It is bigger than his own need to be validated as a director. It is about as far from an ego project as you can get. And even still, his primary goal will be to get his own celebrity out of the way to tell this story. Inexplicably, he more than accomplishes that here. Rosewater (along with Imitation Game) is not only one of the best films I’ve seen this year but one I will keep telling people to see and you know, the last thing I might say about it is that it was directed by Jon Stewart. Funny, that.

Stewart has already given back so much, when you consider everything he has done and continues to do just by being funny and occasionally biting and sometimes angry. But his sincerity here is equally effective in helping us edge closer to what is really important about our lives here and what isn’t.

All three of these films are anchored by vivid, memorable performances by actors who will likely be recognized by the end of the year, their true stories somehow shapeshifted into the Oscar publicity tour, one that is never easy to reconcile with the inside-out emotion the films themselves convey. A reminder that each of these films — and all great films — deserve to be regarded in terms above and beyond their “Oscar potential.”

So this is the good part. The bad part will be waiting on the reviews.

I will be writing longer pieces on all three of these films but this was my first take…

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Jessica Chastain looks like she just sipped some red wine, with those bee stung lips and heavy lidded eyes. Chastain is going to have quite a year, with this, Miss Julie, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Interstellar and A Most Violent Year.

Colin Farrel also seems to be digging up some good stuff here.

Two clips from Miss Julie just turned up over at ONTD.

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Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart, the stars of the Clouds of Sils Maria, pose here for Germany’s Interview. It was just announced that the film will hit the Toronto Film Fest in September.

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David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars releases a few more details about the plot – it’s a surreal thriller that takes a bath in the concentrated desperation of Hollywood. This new trailer gives a rough outline of the plot. But believe me, there’s more. A lot more.

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In the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, director Rob Marshall confirms he has cut the new Stephen Sondheim song which was written for Meryl Streep’s Witch from the final cut of Into The Woods.

Last year, Streep revealed that Sondheim had written a new song for her character, “I have a new song that Sondheim wrote for me, so it’s all very, very. He gave me the manuscript of it and he wrote, ‘don’t f**k it up!'”

However, Marshall said the new song has ended up on the cutting room floor, saying, “We’ve been incredibly faithful to the original.” He promised people wouldn’t be disappointed and added, “I don’t think people will be remotely ready to hear her sing this material. The power from her is off the charts.”

The song would have been eligible for Best Original Song at the Oscars. It will however feature all the classic songs including “Children Will Listen,” “Giants in the Sky,” “On the Steps of the Palace,” “No One Is Alone” and “Agony,” to name a few.

Check out the latest still of Streep as The Witch.

Meryl Streep as The Witch

Do you think it matters that the song was cut or not?

1325-1326CVR-ew-gonegirl

“Blondes are like white mice, you only find them in cages. They wouldn’t last long in nature. They’re too conspicuous.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

A wonderful wedding photo of Nick and Amy in better days. But if you look closely you can see more context, waves of anxiety perhaps? This is the second Gone Girl cover for EW. The original was a sendup of John and Yoko’s famous Rolling Stone photo but this time Yoko is the corpse bride.

This cover lifts an eyebrow to the kinds of covers we see nearly every week at the supermarket check-out counter. Who’s married now? The perfect wedding, the perfect pretty illusion.

Bu7eCZoIYAADnew

Thanks to Joey for the heads up.

EW also pays tribute to Robin Williams in a separate cover issue, with tributes to his top ten performances.

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The first cover:

1294cover-EW

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