“The body, she says, is subject to the force of gravity. But the soul is ruled by levity, pure.” – Saul Bellow

Gravity is a film worthy of being in the same room as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 in that the visual effects are as groundbreaking as the message is deep. In truth, so many films I’ve seen here in Telluride have been an answer to what ails Hollywood. If the Academy had a category for effects-driven films (and they really should by now) Gravity would win hands down. Effects-driven films don’t have to be mindless and shallow. They don’t have to be what’s expected. Instead, they can reach you from a distance and pull you into them. They can expand the minds of audiences, challenge them intellectually as well as visually. Gravity accomplishes this.

Gravity is a film that feels like it’s almost holding you under water for 90 minutes. You don’t really breathe while you’re watching it — you kind of sip air, like wine, until it comes to a close. It is a spectacular feat of filmmaking, that doesn’t let up nor show you any mercy. The truth about this film is that it should be seen without you knowing anything about it. I already knew a major spoiler going in but it didn’t ruin the experience, still, not knowing in this case is better than knowing.

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Steve McQueen’s unflinching, almost surreal look at the evils of slavery inevitably pulls us flush up against today. You can change a lot of things about yourself if you’re a black man. You can be a well-dressed educated family man. You can even be a millionaire or a film director or a famous actor. But the color of your skin remains the same. On some streets in America, in some eyes, that’s what very nearly defines you.

In his third collaboration with Michael Fassbender, after the triumphs of Hunger and Shame, Steve McQueen once again takes his film in his own direction, following no preset formula, no well-traveled path. 12 Years a Slave is in no way Hollywood’s typical rendition of slavery. It is not told from the point of view of the white men in power, nor is it told from a white director’s point of view. There is no magical imaginary savior who rides in with a gun to slay the perpetrators, thereby absolving our collective cultural heritage of guilt in these crimes against humanity, or what Spike Lee has called his holocaust.

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“I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all.”
― Richard Wright, Black Boy

It’s unsettling to watch the critics weigh in on Lee Daniels’ The Butler. It’s been clear from the outset that The Butler isn’t a movie meant to cater to critics. In fact, whenever a film strays too far from whatever an insular group of people expect, they tend to dismiss the movies that don’t fit their preconceptions. A lot established critics want to impose demands on filmmakers and to punish those who don’t tow the line. Worse, when they can’t make a filmmaker meet their expectations, there’s an impulse to whip any mustang who can’t be indoctrinated. It’s a strict ritual of processing that begins to resemble a cult. Some critics seem to want to direct the movie themselves and start suggesting ways they would improve it. They want get out of their chairs and go sit in the director’s seat. I always think of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, “But you ARE in that chair, Blanche. You ARE.” They are forever in the dark, the watchers, the observers, the inactive tastemakers. It’s the filmmakers out there putting themselves and their reputations on the line to raise money for projects and then direct the hell out of them. Sometimes they succeed, other times they don’t. But we must never lose sight that directors are the doers and we’re the ones confined to the chair.

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994873_10151647727306406_181404145_nFor the first time ever, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences has elected an African American woman as their President. Before they did so, Cheryl Boone Isaacs already stood out as a member of the Board of Governors.

Part of the reason the Academy has been so utterly and completely white for the past 86 years is that their demographic matches their tastes. There have been years where diversity broke through — 1985, for instance, when Steven Spielberg used his box office clout to bring The Color Purple to the big screen. He was shamed for it and the film went 11/0 at the Oscars. There wouldn’t be another Best Picture contender with an all-black cast until Precious, nearly twenty years later.

The other significant moment in recent Academy history was Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing being overlooked the same year Driving Miss Daisy made Academy history and now joins Argo as one of the few films to win without a director’s nomination. But the Academy has had its moments of redemption. Halle Berry and Denzel Washington winning the same year seemed, at the time, like maybe things had really and finally changed for black actors at the Oscars. But to date, Berry is still the only black actress who has ever won in lead. In 86 years.  Viola Davis came close two years ago by winning the SAG, among others, but lost to Meryl Streep, who collected her long overdue third Oscar.  To date, there have been ten black actresses nominated for lead, compared to 19 for black actors.  The supporting categories, especially for women, feature the most wins (5/15).

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Steven Soderbergh donated $10,000 to Spike Lee’s Kickstarter and he just wrote an explanation for that:

The 80s was not a great decade for American cinema; with some exceptions, the filmmakers responsible for the American New Wave that began in the latter part of the sixties had either burned out, self-destructed, or lost their way creatively, and the increasingly corporate-controlled studios weren’t really cultivating the kind of bold, idiosyncratic films that made me want to make films. It felt like the sense of what was possible had shrunk, and I worried about my future. Every so often, however, an independent film (or filmmaker) would emerge that felt connected to both those recent, great American films and to great cinema from around the world, and as I was attempting to find my own voice and place in the film world, three independent American filmmakers in particular attracted my attention and expanded my idea of what was possible; David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, and Spike Lee. These were distinctive new voices, and the freedom (and success) they represented was liberating and energizing; these were shoulders I would try to stand on, that I would be proud to stand on.

Certain filmmakers exist outside the traditional parameters of criticism; their point of view and body of work make discussions about individual films interesting but ultimately irrelevant because each project is merely a chapter in a very long book that must (and will) be acknowledged and appreciated for its breadth, ambition, and contributions to the art of cinema. For me, Spike Lee is one of those filmmakers. He is a totally unique figure in American cinema, and he’s always gone his own way and spoken his mind (even when the commercial stakes were high), qualities which are in short supply in the film business. I know Spike’s films better than I know Spike (maybe the Knicks game with help with that), but we’re friendly enough for me to say I respect him as person as well as a filmmaker.

So, in case you haven’t figured it out already, this is why I’m supporting Spike on Kickstarter:

1. Spike’s success helped make my success possible.

2. Spike has earned my attention because of his body of work and its distinct point of view.

3. You should support your friends.

Now let’s light this candle!



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Fox Searchlight has just released the unbelievable trailer for Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. The talented director reteams with Michael Fassbender for the third time.  But the heat is on  in the lead. This looks to be a career making performance. Screencaps after the jump.

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The best way to report this news is to swipe Jeff Wells’ paragraph about the dueling biopics, since he sums it up nicely.  There will be two on Martin Luther King, Jr., but one directed by the talented Ms. DuVernay:

Deadline‘s Michael Fleming is reporting that Middle of Nowhere director-writer Ava DuVernay (congrats, Ana!) has been signed by Pathe UK, Brad Pitt’s Plan B and producer Christian Colson to direct Selma, a feature drama about Martin Luther King‘s historic voting-rights campaign. The effort culminated in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the heart of which was recently undermined by a Supreme Court decision. Middle Of Nowhere‘s David Oyelowo (The Butler, Lincoln) will reportedly play King. But Selma is now up against Paul Greengrass and Scott Rudin’s long-gestating Memphis, about King’s assassination and the hunt for King’s assassin James Earl Ray. Which will come out first? Any way you slice it, the second Martin Luther King movie will have a little something extra to prove.

The difference is, I guess, that one is about the assassin and the other is about King’s voting-rights campaign, the same campaign that just got overturned by our biased Supreme Court, I’m guessing.  Can’t wait!



The lead in Gone Girl is one of those once-in-a-lifetime roles for an actress. It isn’t going to be an easy choice.  But for now, one of the actors in talks for the male lead is Ben Affleck, who was seen having lunch with David Fincher, which then led to a Deadline story. But there is no official confirmation yet.  Affleck’s kind of perfect for it – as would be Jon Hamm or Henry Cavill.  He’s supposed to be kind of a nice guy douche who is bossed around by his sister (another great part) but more importantly, was born with a face people trust because he is so good looking.

The women “in talks” for the lead, according to The Wrap, would be Natalie Portman (already been a Black Swan), Emily Blunt (was mean in Devil Wears Prada) and Charlize Theron (already been a Young Adult).

I feel like there are four actresses born to play the part: Jessica Chastain, Rachel McAdams (already been a Mean Girl), Amy Adams and Gwyneth Paltrow. Paltrow *is* Amazing Amy. I aso think the greatly underrated Jennifer Garner would have a career making role on her hands but they could never cast Affleck and Garner.  But who would watch the kids? Either which way, the negotiations continue…

Speaking of the twin sister, she would have to be a good compliment to Affleck (if he’s cast) and snarky, dark, punkish. Clea Duvall, or even Blunt would be good for that part.




Emma Thompson plays P.L. Travers, the woman who penned what would ultimately become Disney’s Mary Poppins. Read the New Yorker article about her here.


…Is a moving painting…it is as though you can take it in with all five senses. A work of art.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is extending invitations to join the organization to 276 artists and executives who have distinguished themselves by their contributions to theatrical motion pictures. Those who accept the invitations will be the only additions to the Academy’s membership in 2013.

“These individuals are among the best filmmakers working in the industry today,” said Academy President Hawk Koch. “Their talent and creativity have captured the imagination of audiences worldwide, and I am proud to welcome each of them to the Academy.”

The 2013 invitees are:


  • Jason Bateman – “Up in the Air,” “Juno”
  • Miriam Colon – “City of Hope,” “Scarface”
  • Rosario Dawson – “Rent,” “Frank Miller’s Sin City”
  • Kimberly Elise – “For Colored Girls,” “Beloved”
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt – “Lincoln,” “The Dark Knight Rises”
  • Charles Grodin – “Midnight Run,” “The Heartbreak Kid”
  • Rebecca Hall – “Iron Man 3,” “The Town”
  • Lance Henriksen – “Aliens,” “The Terminator”
  • Jack Huston – “Not Fade Away,” “Factory Girl”
  • Milla Jovovich – “Resident Evil,” “Chaplin”
  • Lucy Liu – “Kill Bill: Vol. 1,” “Chicago”
  • Jennifer Lopez – “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” “Selena”
  • Alma Martinez – “Born in East L.A.,” “Under Fire”
  • Emily Mortimer – “Hugo,” “Lars and the Real Girl”
  • Sandra Oh – “Rabbit Hole,” “Sideways”
  • Paula Patton – “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
  • Michael Peña – “End of Watch,” “Crash”
  • Emmanuelle Riva – “Amour,” “Hiroshima, Mon Amour”
  • Jason Schwartzman – “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Rushmore”
  • Geno Silva – “Mulholland Drive,” “Amistad”
  • Danny Trejo – “Machete,” “Heat”
  • Chris Tucker – “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Rush Hour”

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Argo — Telluride, early September, 2012
The Artist — Cannes, May, 2011
The King’s Speech — Toronto, September, 2010
The Hurt Locker — the previous year, Toronto Film Fest
Slumdog Millionaire — Telluride, Toronto, September 2008
No Country for Old Men — Cannes, May, 2007
The Departed — October, 2006
Crash — May, 2005
Million Dollar Baby, December, 2004

Million Dollar Baby was the last film arriving in late release to take the Best Picture Oscar. Back then, though, there wasn’t the same kind of industry monolith that there is today. There was still some disagreement between the major voting bodies. That would continue on through to 2006, when Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed split the vote among guild voters, though The Departed won the DGA and eventually Best Picture. But since Slumdog Millionaire, there has been mostly monolithic voting starting with the PGA, then onto the DGA, sometimes the SAG ensemble, and Oscar.

Now you can mostly set your watch by what the PGA decides is Best Picture and, for the most part, barring some great catastrophe, the Oscar race is over. I have no idea whether this will ever change or not. Will it change this year? Next? In ten years? Or should we be resigned to the idea that the Academy no longer stands as the singular voice for the Hollywood film industry’s awards?

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I never get tired of listening to Steven Soderbergh. I hope he writes a giant book someday about film.  He is as much a philosopher as he is an artist.  Somehow, though I’ve been following Soderbergh since he made Sex, Lies and Videotape ( a film I quickly committed to memory and can still quote line for line)  I didn’t know that one of the big quakes in his life was when he saw Jaws in 1978 (a film I also committed to memory and can still quote line for line). If you lived through that summer, if you loved movies, it would have hard to not have been changed.  On Fresh Air, Soderbergh talks to Terry Gross about Liberace, and the reasons he’s decided to spend more time in television and less time in the world of Hollywood. It’s changed, he said.  But he also said that when he saw Jaws he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker:

GROSS: When did you first become aware that there was such a thing as a director and that the director had a lot to do with why you liked a movie when you were watching it?

SODERBERGH: When I was 12.

GROSS: Through watching what?


GROSS: Really? Because of the suspense?

SODERBERGH: Yeah. That was the first that…

GROSS: Because of the way you were…

SODERBERGH: No. It was just I came out of that film in St. Petersburg, Florida, in the summer of 1975, and my relationship to movies had completely changed. I had always seen a lot of films because my father loved movies, but in that two hours and four minutes, they went from something that I used to view as entertainment and became something else. And I had two questions when I came out of that theater. One is, what does directed by mean, exactly? And who is Steven Spielberg? And luckily, there was a book that had been published around the time the movie came out called “The Jaws Log,” which was written by Carl Gottlieb, one of the co-screenwriters, and it turned out to be one of the best making-of books that anybody has ever produced and I bought a copy of that and read it over and over again and highlighted any mention of Steven Spielberg and what that job entailed. And from that point on I realized oh, this is a job, you could have this is as a job.

GROSS: Does Steven Spielberg know this story?

SODERBERGH: I have no idea.

GROSS: So you haven’t had a chance to tell it to him?





Sarah Polley Stories We Tell

Stories we Tell made a splash at last year’s Telluride. Now, the official reviews are coming up roses as the film sets to open. This is a film you should know as little about as possible before seeing it. It will no doubt be one of the best films of 2013 without breaking a sweat.

Stephanie Zacharek, now writing for the Village Voice, notices what New York Mag’s David Edelstein didn’t – she recognizes that Stories we Tell is Polley’s own:

It’s probably safe, at this point, to consider Polley a “Who knows what she’ll do next?” filmmaker, à la Michael Winterbottom. But Stories We Tell is so ingeniously constructed—and so nakedly intimate—that it may be a watershed. Polley has to execute a particularly delicate dance when it comes to dealing with the movie’s two significant father figures: Reticent, undemonstrative Michael, the man Polley has always considered her father, and the far more outgoing Harry Gulkin, a film producer who plays a pivotal role in this extremely tangled tale. Both men were dazzled by Diane in their youth, and neither has fully recovered from that love—although both failed to give her that elusive something she so desperately wanted out of life.

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An interesting video take by Ali Shirazi on some, not the usual, Scorsese films. It makes me think there will come a time when Gangs of New York is re-evaluated.

The Passion Of Martin Scorsese_ A Tribute Video from Ali Shirazi on Vimeo.


The more well known titles are in the Summer Showcase section, after the jump.

Narrative Competition:
All Together Now, Alexander Mirecki – USA – WORLD PREMIERE
Forev, Molly Green, James Leffler – USA – WORLD PREMIERE
Forty Years From Yesterday, Robert Machoian, Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck – USA – WORLD
Four Dogs, Joe Burke – USA – WORLD PREMIERE
Goodbye World, Denis Henry Hennelly – USA – WORLD PREMIERE
The House That Jack Built, Henry Barrial – USA – WORLD PREMIERE
Mother, I Love You, Janis Nords – Latvia – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
My Sisterʼs Quinceañera, Aaron Douglas Johnston – USA – NORTH AMERICAN
Pollywogs, Karl Jacob – USA – WORLD PREMIERE
Winter in the Blood, Andrew Smith, Alex Smith – USA – WORLD PREMIERE
Workers, Jose Luis Valle – Mexico/Germany – US PREMIERE

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Over at Slashfilm are several images inspired by Scorsese or his films. There will be an art show in NYC on Friday. Details here.

More pics after the jump.

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Ben Affleck will always be tied to Ebert for all eternity. Argo was the last number one movie ever named by Ebert, predicted to win the Oscar (rightly) by Ebert, and To the Wonder was the last movie reviewed by Ebert. Kind of strange, don’t you think? Either way, here is what Affleck said about Ebert at last night’s To the Wonder preem, from Variety – “last summer” would have been before the Telluride film fest – the WB already knew what they had with Argo, which one of the reasons it went to Telluride at all and now I wonder if it wasn’t Ebert who tipped them off:

“I went and visited Roger last summer,” Affleck recalled at the Pacific Design Center gala. “We talked about ‘Argo.’ I met with his wife and saw his living conditions after his surgery and I was so moved by his cheerfulness, the way that he sort of bore that burden.”

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