“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.

gone girl

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.


Man, this is so great. Dissecting the work of David Fincher by Tony Zhou who assembles these wonderful videos for Every Frame a Painting about the craft of filmmaking.

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“Those aren’t mountains. Those are waves.” Breathtaking. Terrifying!


“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” – Shakespeare and Willy Wonka

I have been online for twenty years. I didn’t start this website, then Oscarwatch, until 1999. I’d spent most of my time chattering with people from all over the world about movies on a usenet listserv. Back then there really wasn’t a web to speak but once the internet turned into the “World Wide Web” suddenly a whole new dimension opened up. Anyone could start a site as long as they had a modem, a computer and the willingness to learn HTML. You could compete with the established magazines because they were slow getting online and as long as your site looked professional and kind of, sort of, sounded professional you could be taken as a legitimate “source.” That aspect of online “journalism” has not changed. Anyone with a site, anyone who calls themselves a film critic can be one. They can get themselves on Rotten Tomatoes. They can join the Broadcast Film Critics (or they used to be able to). They can define themselves as professionals and no one really cares whether they are legit or not, ethical or not. They have no editors who do the hiring and require credentials. That has been great and it has been devastating.

Since I came in through the backdoor, I have never seen myself as a journalist or a film critic. Sure, I write reviews but I’m not a critic. I am what Harry Knowles would call a “film advocate.” I don’t tend to write negative reviews (I don’t feel qualified to speak with authority in that regard) and I believe film criticism, like art and architecture criticism should be limited to those who really have the insight, the talent and the experience to be qualified to judge people who actually have their boots on the ground and are putting their careers on the line to make movies.

I also have never thought of myself as a journalist. The closest I’ve come to that is being part of the Women Journalists Online. That’s because journalism is, as George Orwell would say, writing what no one wants you to write. The rest is just public relations. Journalists have to care about the story over all things. I do not. I cannot.

This year, Anne Thompson — who really is a journalist — and one of the best in the Oscar blogging world (what she does can’t be confined to simply Oscar blogging) decided to buck the current trend of predicting films no one has seen. Thompson is on the Gurus of Gold and Movie City News but she is the only one swimming against the tide, refusing to predict films she hasn’t seen. You might look at her list and think, huh? Where is Unbroken? Where is Interstellar? But you see, they have not yet been seen and she is refusing to play that game anymore. I think it’s quite remarkable.

My contender tracker to the right side of my page has always only tracked films that have been seen. When I first started there was only my site and Tom O’Neil’s Gold Derby. The idea of predicting films that hadn’t been seen was simply not done. That was because, firstly there were hardly any “Oscar bloggers.” Blogging, as such, barely existed. Film critics would put out their Oscar predictions towards the end of the year but there was no industry for that as there is now. As new sites began to launch, a new movement was afoot to predict films that hadn’t opened and in some cases that hadn’t even been filmed. Oscar watchers in forums and on some websites liked projecting way into the future, gambling on the future success of some films. It mostly, I have to say, didn’t pay off. Every so often the “on the page” Oscar contender would live up to expectations and actually get nominated. Those who predicted them “sight unseen,” as we called it, would then have bragging rights, even though it was just a guess based on “pedigree,” subject matter and the people involved.

Well that whole practice has turned the industry completely around. Now, sight unseen predictions are used by publicists to drum up Oscar buzz for films no one has any idea whether they will fly or not. Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention can tell you what might win based on subject matter and filmmakers. It’s much harder to predict once people have seen the films. Only then can you tell the pros from the amateurs. Anne Thompson, this year, is playing the game the way it should be played, the only way you can really be A) fair to the productions by keeping the door open to other possibilities than “the list,” and B) really know what the fuck you’re doing when you say this film might get nominated for Best Picture but it depends on what’s coming next.

I refused for many years to participate in “sight unseen” predictions but I had to if I wanted to be included on Gold Derby and Gurus of Gold. That’s how the game was played. It never occurred to me to do it the way Anne Thompson is doing it. She is just that ballsy. And frankly has earned that right.

Now, it must be said that there is no indication whether sight unseen is better or worse than what’s been seen. In fact, in some cases, it can be blinding. Scott Feinberg has seen David Fincher’s Gone Girl and as a result has decided not to predict it for a nomination for Best Picture or Best Director. Anne Thompson did just the opposite. She saw the film and is now predicting it for a nomination for Best Picture and Best Director. But, she says, it could be knocked out by what’s coming next. Feinberg, by contrast, is betting already that whatever unknown thing coming next is going to be more beloved than what has already been seen.

It is much harder to predict the Oscars after having seen the films because then you have to factor in your own opinion and like it or not it does always come back to what “they” will think, not what YOU think. And what they think doesn’t always have to do with how good a film is. I know that my own opinion would have had so many films up for Best Picture that never got near the Kodak (Dolby). But I also have seen the opposite. I’ve heard people — very good Oscar predictors — say things like “No Country for Old Men will never win Best Picture” or “The Departed will never win Best Picture.” We make these grand proclamations based on our own opinion because we second guess what “they” will do, what “they” can handle and by the looks of it, this is what most people think about the Academy:

They are pansy-ass wimps who can’t tolerate 1) a tragic, dark ending, 2) a movie not about a good person. And they only like 1) movies about redemptive (usually male these days) hero and 2) preferably set in a time not our own, preferably WW2 but the 1930s will suffice, or even the 1970s, 1980s. They are old and so they like nostalgia, representations of what life used to be like. These voters, though, picked No Country for Old Men, The Departed and the Hurt Locker — a phase in their recent history I myself cannot get over because it was so unexpected, so startlingly refreshing and really seemed to knock down those preconceived notions of what and who “they” were. But enter The King’s Speech, The Artist and Argo and things rubber-banded back to the old way. Thus, when Scott Feinberg predicts a Gone Girl shut-out he is doing so based on that recent history.

The other reason for doing that is that voters only have five slots for Best Picture now. When they had ten slots (2009, 2010) they had the freedom to pick animated films, genre films, films directed by women. With five they are more inclined towards the sappy, the feel good, the films about heroic people. With five, can you imagine any grown man (and they’re all basically men) choosing an animated film as one of their top five of the year? Or even a genre film? Or any film with unlikable characters? This is how one of the best films last year, Inside Llewyn Davis, was shut out. With five, the heart gets involved. Thus, Feinberg’s forecast about Gone Girl could prove true.

The Producers Guild has ten slots, not five, and thus their list often throws people off a bit. They have a preferential ballot with ten slots. The Academy has a preferential ballot with five slots and then they also include the extra movies that were close to getting in. But we’re still basically talking about five choices.

On the other hand, a good movie is a good movie is a good movie and Gone Girl is a great fucking movie, whether the 6,000 voters in the Academy realize that or not. Sometimes they do recognize it. Anne Thompson, at this point, is betting they do, and so am I.

I will be watching Anne Thompson’s predictions (but no pressure!) throughout the season and compare them to other predictions to see whether it really does many you a better predictor or not. But one thing I know for sure: whether it makes her a better predictor or not it makes the world safer for movies overall. It expands rather than limits the list of possibilities. It returns the Oscar race back to its former state when every film had a chance, when these films weren’t dependent upon the lowered expectations of film bloggers who, like film critics, are really only as good as their imagination allows. Anne Thompson has always taken bold chances as a predictor — she was among the first to predict Ang Lee to win Best Director in 2012 and this year among the first to mention Whiplash’s possibilities. The more people who play it safe, prejudging what “they” will do, the more the field gets limited to the few sheep remaining in the pen once the bloggers decide what “they” will and what “they” won’t go for.

Here’s to hoping she starts a trend.

When Kenneth Turan recently decided not to include his negative review of Boyhood, allowing the film to enjoy the rare 100% on Metacritic it stopped me in my tracks. I thought, wow, really? Turan knew that Boyhood was a great film that a lot of people were enjoying. He didn’t count his ego and his reputation and his opinion as being greater than the ultimate success of this film that so many put their blood, sweat and tears into. What a classy move.

When I started my website the first thing I did when a movie came out what check to see what Todd McCarthy at Variety (then) and Kirk Honeycutt at the Hollywood Reporter (then) thought. Theirs were always the first reviews to be released. They would sometimes come out on a Friday. We would all work together to gather the reviews — there was no Rotten Tomatoes then, nor Metacritic. Kenneth Turan would be next over at the LA Times. But remember, these reviews would just start to show up online the day before, or sometimes the week before, the film opened. It was unheard of to have critics ringing in a couple of weeks before a film opened.

The next important voice to ring in were the New York Times critics — I believe A.O. Scott was at the Times, though I think Manohla Dargis was still at the LA Weekly. Elvis Mitchell and, I think, Janet Maslin were at the New York Times. Glenn Kenny was at Premiere, I do believe, or Anne Thompson. We would then hear from Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly. And of course, there was Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel in Chicago. Of all of these critics the only one who really engaged with the online world was Ebert, who was an early adopter. Such made up the sum total of the majority of important film critics back in 1999. The only thing that mattered was what they thought of the films.

If McCarthy and Honeycutt had negative things to say it didn’t matter that much because further down the road were the bigger outlets that could easily undo those reviews. People often remembered the reviews that came after — they didn’t collect them on a chart and measure a film’s worth against that score. There was no Twitter where a mob can form and the cool kids decide what people should like, what’s uncool to like, and how you will be ridiculed for liking a film — or even disliking a film because you go against the tide. Film critics are under assault, especially women, if they go against a fanboy pic — god help any of them who write a negative review of Interstellar.

On the other hand, on a much smaller scale, there is a deforestation happening in American film. It isn’t such a big problem internationally, as we can see from the diverse offerings at the Cannes film festival. But here in America, the indie scene might be thriving but the movies in theaters that are about anything other than a remake or a sequel? They’re migrating to television. The international filmmakers are taking over because in those countries they do not have the fluffer machine in place here, they don’t have opening box office obsession and they do not raise branded generations.

Perhaps that explains why there hasn’t been an American film director to win Best Director at the Oscars since Kathryn Bigelow did it in 2009. Five years ago. Of course, Ben Affleck might have broken that trend had he been nominated. At any rate, if you don’t see the deforestation here you’re not paying attention. Sure, the indie scene will always thrive, and thus, the Independent Spirit awards is really where American film finds its support net.

Films are nearly impossible to get made, especially expensive films. They always have been, they always will be. In my world, however, critic reviews can often make the difference between a film being rewarded both at the box office and in the awards race. So, who cares, right? The average e-pinion of someone is deemed more important than anything else in a time frame of the five minutes it takes to read a review. It is that fast, the dismissal. If you have universal acclaim for a film that still doesn’t mean audiences will agree with the critics. In fact, these days, it usually means the opposite — they can’t believe why the critics were so over the moon for such a terrible film.

The opposite is proving even more true — the correlation between box office sales and film reviews tells you that the majority of people out there don’t even bother with film reviews anymore. Any good the film critics might have on impacting the future of film has long since vanished. But they do have an impact in the awards race, and the small segment of the public that does still care about original and vital film, both American and international, not just the branded fast food $200 million hits. There is still a community of people out there in the dark who care about film, the future of film, the freedom for great artists to flourish in such a despairing, depressing market where opening box office counts.

There is room for all kinds of art in film. There is room for entertainment on a massive scale, for comedies and romance. There is room for happy endings and period pieces that win Oscars. There is room for biopics and sci-fi. I wish there were more original works than sequels but hey, you can’t have everything.

What Kenneth Turan saw when he took a look around at the praise for Boyhood was a community supporting the efforts of a dedicated, grass roots filmmaker who took 12 years to make a film. He didn’t step into the room and act like Ned in Shakespeare in Love – like HIS OPINION was the ONLY THING THAT MATTERED and that the bigger picture did not. He recognized that maybe it was just him. Maybe his own peculiarities did not allow him in to a film that so many people loved. And so he wrote about that. He didn’t put his review into the score machine that can sink movies now. He didn’t play the gotcha game and didn’t open himself up to all of the anger from Boyhood fans. He had done it back in 1997 by being one of the few dissenters of Titanic but again, look at that how that one turned out: it became the highest grossing film of all time (until Avatar knocked it out) and won Best Picture. Turan’s review would have had no impact on that film. But it would have significant impact on Boyhood and he knew that.

That, to me, is balls. What I see from other critics is that their opinion seems to matter above all other things and the last thing they’re going to do is take a look at themselves and think, you know, maybe it’s just me.

Even Bosley Crowther, who famously wrote that negative review of Psycho added a caveat — the royal “we.” He made his point by saying — here is the film. This is what we thought of the film.

That’s the way it is with Mr. Hitchcock’s picture — slow buildups to sudden shocks that are old-fashioned melodramatics, however effective and sure, until a couple of people have been gruesomely punctured and the mystery of the haunted house has been revealed. Then it may be a matter of question whether Mr. Hitchcock’s points of psychology, the sort highly favored by Krafft-Ebing, are as reliable as his melodramatic stunts.

Frankly, we feel his explanations are a bit of leg-pulling by a man who has been known to resort to such tactics in his former films.

The consequence in his denouement falls quite flat for us. But the acting is fair. Mr. Perkins and Miss Leigh perform with verve, and Vera Miles, John Gavin, and Martin Balsam do well enough in other roles.

The one thing we would note with disappointment is that, among the stuffed birds that adorn the motel office of Mr. Perkins, there are no significant bats.

He did no so such thing, however, for Bonnie and Clyde, where he (again famously) wrote:

It is a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy that treats the hideous depredations of that sleazy, moronic pair as though they were as full of fun and frolic as the jazz-age cutups in Thoroughly Modern Millie. And it puts forth Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the leading roles, and Michael J. Pollard as their sidekick, a simpering, nose-picking rube, as though they were striving mightily to be the Beverly Hillbillies of next year.

It has Mr. Beatty clowning broadly as the killer who fondles various types of guns with as much nonchalance and dispassion as he airily twirls a big cigar, and it has Miss Dunaway squirming grossly as his thrill-seeking, sex-starved moll. It is loaded with farcical holdups, screaming chases in stolen getaway cars that have the antique appearance and speeded-up movement of the clumsy vehicles of the Keystone Kops, and indications of the impotence of Barrow, until Bonnie writes a poem about him to extol his prowess, that are as ludicrous as they are crude.

Such ridiculous, camp-tinctured travesties of the kind of people these desperados were and of the way people lived in the dusty Southwest back in those barren years might be passed off as candidly commercial movie comedy, nothing more, if the film weren’t reddened with blotches of violence of the most grisly sort.

Arthur Penn, the aggressive director, has evidently gone out of his way to splash the comedy holdups with smears of vivid blood as astonished people are machine-gunned. And he has staged the terminal scene of the ambuscading and killing of Barrow and Bonnie by a posse of policemen with as much noise and gore as is in the climax of The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

This blending of farce with brutal killings is as pointless as it is lacking in taste, since it makes no valid commentary upon the already travestied truth. And it leaves an astonished critic wondering just what purpose Mr. Penn and Mr. Beatty think they serve with this strangely antique, sentimental claptrap, which opened yesterday at the Forum and the Murray Hill.

He ended his career after that review but he might have saved it, or softened the blow somewhat by admitting — just maybe — it was him? I mean, just maybe? Critics today write with such authority because they think that’s how you’re supposed to write a review. But the truth is, the good ones write subjectively so that you know full well that it is their opinion. The bad ones write as though they’re speaking for everyone when they casually dismiss a movie.

This way of writing film reviews has become so irritating to me that I have limited the amount of reviews I read — if it isn’t a subjective take, I do not give a damn. I’m not reading a review as though it’s on Yelp or Amazon. I want to know who you are and why you thought this. I know a lot of these critics personally and knowing them helps me understand why they evaluate films the way they do. There isn’t a single one of them whose opinion I would value over my own. Not anymore. Perhaps as a young woman of 34, which is how old I was when I started, but not now, as a woman almost 50 years old. Now I know what makes a movie good and I can plainly see when the riches of a film, even with so many bad reviews, far outweighs the massive amounts of e-pinions ringing in on that movie.

In the end, one has to come back to trust. Know the critic before you trust the critic. Do not take their advice until you’ve measured it against what you know to be true. Their opinion comes from a combination of life experience, education, expectations, a little narcissism and whatever mood they carry in with them the day they see the film. Just because someone is published on a website does not make their opinion necessarily more valuable than yours. Trust me, getting published on a website now is a lot easier than it used to be.

Michael Page ruminated on this topic, built a spreadsheet and came out deciding that audiences, not film critics, are better at predicting what he would like. I myself have never found the be all, end all of what I would like. I find we are all so peculiar and our moods are so easily influenced, there isn’t a single person I could look to for helping me decide. But over time, audiences do tend to unearth the best films. From Vertigo to Shawshank Redemption, somehow time sorts it all out.

I have always admired Kenneth Turan. I count him as among the few critics whose opinion I have always trusted but after he bucked the system, bucked the trend, by refusing to play the game as it’s defined now — he measured his opinion against the success of a fledgling. That showed me that he really does get the bigger picture of what is happening to film right now.

Thus, Anne Thompson and Kenneth Turan are changing the game, bit by bit, tiny move by tiny move. There were here when I started and they’re still here. My hat goes off to the two of them — if no one else noticed what they’ve done, I most certainly have.


“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, 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.


We will finally get a look at JC Chandor’s cloaked in mystery crime thriller, A Most Violent Year. Fest director Jacqueline Lyanga says about A Most Violent Year, “J.C. Chandor has put together a remarkable crime drama, which is also an immersive period piece and morality tale that resonates on an emotional level. Chandor is a talented director who takes risks with every film that he makes and A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is no exception. It is a great film with which to open the festival and begin the audience’s eight-day journey through a landscape of extraordinary contemporary cinema.”

Fairly excited by this news, I’m not gonna lie. Though it is late in the game to be entering the Oscar race, but not too late. It will be the flip side of how he rolled out All Is Lost, a film that was sadly hindered by its one and only star, Robert Redford, refusing to show up at any major publicity events. As we all know, the Oscar race these days means you have to get there and “kiss babies” or else you will soon be eclipsed. The diminishing of the star factors into this a bit – as very few can earn a nod without showing up. I suppose Judi Dench is one of these, and perhaps Max Von Sydow. At any rate, no one campaigned harder than the team behind All is Lost. It was a classy campaign with the hardest working team in town. But there is only so much you can do when your MVP is MIA.

Such will not be the case with A Most violent Year. The affable Oscar Isaac and the charming Jessica Chastain will show up, no doubt. So far, for me, Chandor is 2/2 – a dedicated and talented auteur still interested in making good films from the ground up – with good writing, acting and directing.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, LOS ANGELES, CA, September 24, 2014 – The American Film Institute (AFI) announced today that A24’s A MOST VIOLENT YEAR will have its World Premiere on Thursday, November 6, as the Opening Night Gala of AFI FEST 2014 presented by Audi. The film is written and directed by Academy Award® nominee J.C. Chandor and stars Oscar Isaac, Academy Award® nominees Jessica Chastain and Albert Brooks as well as David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Elyes Gabel and Catalina Sandino Moreno.

“J.C. Chandor has put together a remarkable crime drama, which is also an immersive period piece and morality tale that resonates on an emotional level. Chandor is a talented director who takes risks with every film that he makes and A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is no exception. It is a great film with which to open the festival and begin the audience’s eight-day journey through a landscape of extraordinary contemporary cinema,” said Jacqueline Lyanga, Director, AFI FEST.

To attend the World Premiere and Opening Night Gala of A MOST VIOLENT YEAR with reserved seats, guests must purchase a festival package at the Star Patron or Marquee Patronlevel. These and other AFI FEST Patron Packages and Express Passes – which can include access to sold-out Galas and other high-demand films and events – are on sale now at AFI members at the Two-Star level and above receive a 10% discount on all AFI FEST Patron Packages and Express Passes. AFI Members will be given access to regular screenings with a Cinepass for this year’s festival. Information about AFI Membership is available at The American Film Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational and cultural organization, and Patron Packages are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.

Free individual tickets to AFI FEST screenings and Galas will be available to the general public online at beginning Friday, October 24.

AFI FEST will take place November 6 through 13 in Hollywood, California, at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre, the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres, the Egyptian Theatre and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. As previously announced, Sophia Loren will be honored with a Tribute on Wednesday, November 12 and her memoir “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life” will be published by Artia Books on Tuesday, December 2, 2014. The full festival lineup will be unveiled in October.

For the 11th year, Audi is the festival’s presenting sponsor. Additional top sponsors include AT&T; Coca-Cola; Vizio; American Airlines, the official airline of AFI; and Stella Artois. The festival’s venue sponsors include the TCL Chinese Theatres, the Hollywood & Highland Center, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and the Egyptian Theatre.

Set in 1981, during one of the most crime-ridden winters in New York City’s history, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR follows the lives of Abel and Anna Morales (Isaac and Chastain) as they attempt to capitalize on the American Dream, while the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built.

About the American Film Institute
AFI is America’s promise to preserve the history of the motion picture, to honor the artists and their work and to educate the next generation of storytellers. AFI programs include the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and AFI Archive, which preserve film heritage for future generations; the AFI Life Achievement Award – the highest honor for a career in film – now in its 42nd year; AFI Awards, honoring the most outstanding motion pictures and television programs of the year; AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies television events and movie reference lists, which have introduced and reintroduced classic American movies to millions of film lovers; year-round and special event exhibition through AFI FEST presented by Audi, AFI DOCS and the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center; and educating the next generation of storytellers at the world-renowned AFI Conservatory. For more information about AFI, visit or connect with AFI at, and

About AFI FEST presented by Audi
A program of the American Film Institute, AFI FEST presented by Audi is a celebration of global cinema and today’s Hollywood – an opportunity for master filmmakers and emerging artists to come together with audiences in the movie capital of the world. AFI FEST is the only festival of its stature that is free to the public. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes AFI FEST as a qualifying festival for both Short Film categories for the annual Academy Awards®. This year’s edition takes place November 6-13, 2014. Additional information about AFI FEST is available at Connect with AFI FEST at, and

About Audi
Audi of America Inc. and its U.S. dealers offer a full line of German-engineered luxury vehicles. AUDI AG is among the most successful luxury automotive brands globally. The Audi Group delivered 1,575,500 vehicles to customers globally in 2013, and broke all-time company sales records for the fourth straight year in the U.S. Through 2018, AUDI AG will invest about $30 billion in new products, facilities and technologies. Visit or for more information regarding Audi vehicles and business topics.

gone girl 2

In what can only be ranked as a flat-out, unconditional rave, Justin Chang reviews David Fincher’s Gone Girl for Variety.

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A small gathering of folks were invited to see five minutes of Selma, the Martin Luther King film directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David Oyelowo. The chatter after the preview was that it seemed very good. But the the real take away was how strong Oyelowo was as King. The standout actor was a scene stealer in Lincoln, and was one of the best things about the underrated The Butler. DuVernay is focusing not on King’s entire life but on a specific snapshot in time. Below is an accounting of that time but you will better recognize it for Bloody Sunday and the March to Selma. What it will make you think of now is Ferguson. It will also serve as a reminder of how many states still entrust power to a white minority when its citizens are a black majority. Voter suppression goes on to this day and remains an going struggle every election year.

Blackfilm’s Wilson Morales covered the event and posted some clips (thanks to for the link):


On 25 March 1965, Martin Luther King led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, after a 5-day, 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama, where local African Americans, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had been campaigning for voting rights. King told the assembled crowd: ‘‘There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger at the side of its embattled Negroes’’ (King, ‘‘Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March,’’ 121).

On 2 January 1965 King and SCLC joined the SNCC, the Dallas County Voters League, and other local African American activists in a voting rights campaign in Selma where, in spite of repeated registration attempts by local blacks, only two percent were on the voting rolls. SCLC had chosen to focus its efforts in Selma because they anticipated that the notorious brutality of local law enforcement under Sheriff Jim Clark would attract national attention and pressure President Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress to enact new national voting rights legislation.

The campaign in Selma and nearby Marion, Alabama, progressed with mass arrests but little violence for the first month. That changed in February, however, when police attacks against nonviolent demonstrators increased. On the night of 18 February, Alabama state troopers joined local police breaking up an evening march in Marion. In the ensuing melee, a state trooper shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old church deacon from Marion, as he attempted to protect his mother from the trooper’s nightstick. Jackson died eight days later in a Selma hospital.

In response to Jackson’s death, activists in Selma and Marion set out on 7 March, to march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery. While King was in Atlanta, his SCLC colleague Hosea Williams, and SNCC leader John Lewis led the march. The marchers made their way through Selma across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they faced a blockade of state troopers and local lawmen commanded by Clark and Major John Cloud who ordered the marchers to disperse. When they did not, Cloud ordered his men to advance. Cheered on by white onlookers, the troopers attacked the crowd with clubs and tear gas. Mounted police chased retreating marchers and continued to beat them.

Television coverage of ‘‘Bloody Sunday,’’ as the event became known, triggered national outrage. Lewis, who was severely beaten on the head, said: ‘‘I don’t see how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam—I don’t see how he can send troops to the Congo—I don’t see how he can send troops to Africa and can’t send troops to Selma,’’ (Reed, ‘‘Alabama Police Use Gas’’).

That evening King began a blitz of telegrams and public statements, ‘‘calling on religious leaders from all over the nation to join us on Tuesday in our peaceful, nonviolent march for freedom’’ (King, 7 March 1965). While King and Selma activists made plans to retry the march again two days later, Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. notified the movement attorney Fred Gray that he intended to issue a restraining order prohibiting the march until at least 11 March, and President Johnson pressured King to call off the march until the federal court order could provide protection to the marchers.

Forced to consider whether to disobey the pending court order, after consulting late into the night and early morning with other civil rights leaders and John Doar, the deputy chief of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, King proceeded to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the afternoon of 9 March. He led more than 2,000 marchers, including hundreds of clergy who had answered King’s call on short notice, to the site of Sunday’s attack, then stopped and asked them to kneel and pray. After prayers they rose and turned the march back to Selma, avoiding another confrontation with state troopers and skirting the issue of whether to obey Judge Johnson’s court order. Many marchers were critical of King’s unexpected decision not to push on to Montgomery, but the restraint gained support from President Johnson, who issued a public statement: ‘‘Americans everywhere join in deploring the brutality with which a number of Negro citizens of Alabama were treated when they sought to dramatize their deep and sincere interest in attaining the precious right to vote’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Statement by the President,’’ 272). Johnson promised to introduce a voting rights bill to Congress within a few days.

That evening, several local whites attacked James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister who had come from Massachusetts to join the protest. His death two days later contributed to the rising national concern over the situation in Alabama. Johnson personally telephoned his condolences to Reeb’s widow and met with Alabama Governor George Wallace, pressuring him to protect marchers and support universal suffrage.

On 15 March Johnson addressed the Congress, identifying himself with the demonstrators in Selma in a televised address: ‘‘Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Special Message’’). The following day Selma demonstrators submitted a detailed march plan to federal Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., who approved the demonstration and enjoined Governor Wallace and local law enforcement from harassing or threatening marchers. On 17 March President Johnson submitted voting rights legislation to Congress.

The federally sanctioned march left Selma on 21 March. Protected by hundreds of federalized Alabama National Guardsmen and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, the demonstrators covered between 7 to 17 miles per day. Camping at night in supporters’ yards, they were entertained by celebrities such as Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. Limited by Judge Johnson’s order to 300 marchers over a stretch of two-lane highway, the number of demonstrators swelled on the last day to 25,000, accompanied by Assistant Attorneys General John Doar and Ramsey Clark, and former Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall, among others.

During the final rally, held on the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, King proclaimed: ‘‘The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man’’ (King, ‘‘Address,’’ 130). Afterward a delegation of march leaders attempted to deliver a petition to Governor Wallace, but were rebuffed. That night, while ferrying Selma demonstrators back home from Montgomery, Viola Liuzzo, a housewife from Michigan who had come to Alabama to volunteer, was shot and killed by four members of the Ku Klux Klan. Doar later prosecuted three Klansmen conspiring to violate her civil rights.

On 6 August, in the presence of King and other civil rights leaders, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Recalling ‘‘the outrage of Selma,’’ Johnson
called the right to vote ‘‘the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Remarks’’). In his annual address to SCLC a few days later, King noted that ‘‘Montgomery led to the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1960; Birmingham inspired the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Selma produced the voting rights legislation of 1965’’ (King, 11 August 1965).


Relieved to see someone decided there might be a better way to promote Interstellar than showing us what a guy in a spacesuit looks like. 3 more posters feature actual things happening. Creatively cool and unusual things.

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MVY_Final Kissing Teaser

A new teaser for JC Chandor’s A Most Violent Year has just been sent out. Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain star.  The movie, judging from the trailer, looks top notch, in keeping with the dramatically diverse palate of the young Mr. Chandor, who had already made Margin Call and All is Lost.   The film will be given a limited release date of December 31 (hopefully screening before that) and then opening in 2015, a press release just announced.

TWITTER: @mostviolentyear


Set during the winter of 1981 — statistically one of the most crime-ridden of New York City’s history — A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a drama following the lives of an immigrant and his family as they attempt to capitalize on the American Dream, while the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built. Running time: 110 minutes. MPAA Rating: TBD.

MVY_Final Kissing Teaser

Here is the trailer.


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
American Sniper

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


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


The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner

Still to Come:
Gone Girl
American Sniper


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

Still to Come:
Gone Girl
Into the Woods
American Sniper

Production Design

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

Still to Come
Into the Woods

Sound Mixing

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

Still to Come:
Into the Woods

Sound Editing

Transformers 4
Guardians of the Galaxy
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow

Costume Design

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

Still to Come:

Original Score

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
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
Edge of Tomorrow

Still to Come:


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


Mercy Is, Patti Smith, Noah

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



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

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.


“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”
― Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman will go down as one of the best films of 2014. It will be written in ink, because the people who define these things already think so. What their reviews will tell you is that it is an astonishing feat of cinematic achievement and they will be right. Their reviews will say no one has attempted anything like this since Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, and they will be (almost) right. They will say it unpeels the many rotten layers of the crazy cultural shift we’ve witnessed since celebrity obsession and the internet merged. And they will be right.

Another conversation that is about to happen is the same conversation that will swirl around Foxcatcher, Gone Girl, Inherent Vice and Maps to the Stars (if Maps is even being released this year). The conversation will be about whether these films will be “too much” or “too dark” for the Academy and industry voters. I will circle back to this in a bit.

All of this has to do with the precise sort of analysis Birdman so cleverly skewers.
We are asked to look at our culture mirrored onscreen. For underneath all of the camera tricks, the many inside jokes, the brilliant performances, the extreme emotional outbursts, the snark, the despair, the ugly moments, the thrilling moments lies an influential short story by Raymond Carver called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” It is Carver’s most famous short story but it is also the current that runs through this magnificent film. An alternate title might be What Do We Not Do If We’re Too Busy Talking About Love? We do all sorts of things that add up to not looking after those who need and deserve our love. The very definition of the word is different from how we talk about it.

There is a great sign in Michael Keaton’s dressing room that says something to this effect: “A thing is a thing not what is said of that thing.” Raymond Carver provides the impetus for “washed up” superhero Birdman to adapt, direct and star in the Carver short story. Carver is a well-regarded writer but Birdman has been erased. He does not exist anymore because what he was — a Birdman — has been replaced and replaced and replaced. An endless cycle of superheroes for the consumption and discarding of forever young branded audiences. It turns out it’s easy to sell a brand to human beings. Follow the model of Coke and McDonald’s? You can become a billionaire by giving people fewer choices but always exactly what they expect. You can be a billionaire by convincing people that you have what they really want rather than what they think they want.

Keaton’s character somehow misses what’s right in front of him in a mostly futile attempt to bring the essence of his art — acting — back from the dead. Watching a man driven and then destroyed by his ego, we are confronted with this notion of what it is exactly that we want from celebrities. In an era where getting an erection on stage or running through Times Square in your underwear goes viral and gives you untold power on a different level? What’s really left? What happens if you don’t want to play that game. Or live in that world. What happens if you can’t erase who you are in public to live a “normal” life in private? You’re always that guy. You’re always the guy who used to be a superhero.

Keaton’s character parallels the abusive boyfriend in Carver’s short story, another guy who has run out of options and rounds out his life to mean mostly nothing. We get the sense that he’s a man rounding down in the same way, limiting his own options, losing any kind of hope. You might find yourself wondering how anyone could be that depressed when they’re luckier than most — until you remember men like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams face demons beyond our comprehension.

The destruction in Birdman comes from within Keaton’s character but he was also set up to fail from the outset. In another story, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” an angel gets trapped in the yard of a farmer. He’s a wounded angel. The townspeople come to see him and they fear him. That story, like this story, isn’t really about the angel at all but rather about the people looking at him. And so it goes with Birdman.

The beauty of Iñárritu’s film is not, as it turns out, just the camera trickery, though that alone would surely be enough to make it great. It is the way tendrils from Carver’s story are woven like vines through Birdman’s life that makes this film truly worthwhile.

What does it mean to be a hero? What is it to be a superhero? What does it mean to be a father? A husband? A boyfriend? An actor? An Artist? Let’s get back to the quote: “A thing is a thing not what is said of that thing.” Birdman is loved by people who matter and that is so much bigger than being loved by people who don’t.

What do we talk about when we talk about Birdman? Many will be talking about Oscars, starting with Michael Keaton’s fully realized, emotionally bare performance which will put him squarely in the eye of the storm to win Best Actor. Edward Norton and Emma Stone will likely round out the supporting nominations. Stone, because she has never been this icy. Norton because he has rarely been this funny (“You gonna get another actor for this part? Ryan Gosling?”).

Iñárritu has knocked it out of the park, and not just with his virtuoso feat of the extended long shot. Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing – you get the drift.

What do we talk about when we talk about Oscars? We talk about what “they” will think. But Birdman is, more than anything, an actors movie. It’s a shoo-in for a SAG ensemble nod, a WGA nod, a PGA nod — A Best Picture nomination is the natural culmination. It doesn’t need all of the Academy members to like it, only a portion of them.

Birdman is a risky, messy, raw, beautiful triumph. Those are just words and they pale in comparison to the thing itself.


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…


Debuted exclusively on This might be the one that best represents this film. Best Actor is so far looking like a showdown between Steve Carell and Michael Keaton.


Todd McCarthy has posted his review of Birdman from Venice and it looks to be a solid Oscar contender in the major categories, picture, acting, directing, writing, as well as the techs, like cinematography.

Birdman flies very, very high. Intense emotional currents and the jagged feelings of volatile actors are turned loose to raucous dramatic and darkly comedic effect in one of the most sustained examples of visually fluid tour de force cinema anyone’s ever seen, all in the service of a story that examines the changing nature of celebrity and the popular regard for fame over creative achievement. An exemplary cast, led by Michael Keaton in the highly self-referential title role of a former super-hero film star in desperate need of a legitimizing comeback, fully meets the considerable demands placed upon it by director Alejandro G. Inarritu, as he now signs his name.

The film’s exhilarating originality, black comedy and tone that is at once empathetic and acidic will surely strike a strong chord with audiences looking for something fresh that will take them somewhere they haven’t been before.


Birdman, which bears the rather enigmatic subtitle “Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” is not only centered on the world of the theater but takes place almost entirely within or very near the venerable St. James Theater on West 44th Street. This is where faded big screen luminary Riggan Thomson (Keaton) is about to begin previews for what he hopes will bring him renewed acclaim and respectability, ego boosters that have eluded him in the two decades since he decamped from the Hollywood mountaintop upon saying no to Birdman 4.

Of course, Riggan knows he’s fated to always be Birdman; he still keeps a poster from the franchise on his dressing room wall and the character’s voice sometimes squawks at him like a challenging alter ego. But he’s now put everything on the line, including his own money, to mount a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which he’s written, is directing and is co-starring in with Lesley (Naomi Watts), another film star making her Broadway debut, and Laura (Andrea Riseborough), a sometime lover who’s more keen on him than vice versa.

When the other male actor in the piece startlingly becomes incapacitated, Lesley’s boyfriend Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a major film name, immediately volunteers to step into the breach. This is a godsend for the box office but a wild card in terms of the quartet’s dynamics, as the quicksilver Mike is a fiendish manipulator (quite the jerk, actually). After unsettling Riggan at his first rehearsal by having already memorized his part and then demanding rewrites, Mike detonates the initial public preview by drinking real gin (this is Carver country, after all) instead of water onstage.

More raw nerves are supplied by Riggan’s straight-from-rehab daughter Sam (Emma Stone), whom Dad has perhaps misguidedly engaged as his personal assistant. Riggan has to listen to Sam’s tirades about how his resistance to Twitter and blogging make him even more a has-been than he was already, this on top of Laura’s news that she’s pregnant and his concerns over what outrage Mike might provoke at the second preview.


Next we have Variety’s Peter Debruge:

In a year overloaded with self-aware showbiz satires, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s fifth and best feature provides the delirious coup de grace — a triumph on every creative level, from casting to execution, that will electrify the industry, captivate arthouse and megaplex crowds alike, send awards pundits into orbit and give fresh wings to Keaton’s career.


Circling shark-like around Keaton, then darting off to stalk other actors, Lubezki’s camera is alert and engaged at all times, an active participant in the nervous backstage drama. Taking a cue from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope,” the meticulously blocked shoot cleverly finds ways to mask cuts, using invisible visual effects to stitch together various scenes so it appears that the entire film is one continuous take, even though the events take place over several weeks and in various uptown Gotham locations — primarily Broadway’s St. James Theater, but venturing out anywhere that Riggan can walk or Birdman can fly.

In addition to being a virtuoso stunt in its own right, this single-shot illusion serves to address the critique that screen acting is somehow less demanding than stage acting, since there are no conventional editing tricks in place to shape the performances. The cast has no choice but to ante up, which everyone does in spades, and the film is built generously enough that everyone gets ample time to impress (although it should be noted that none of the background sexual intrigues amount to anything).

Inarritu’s approach is mind-boggling in its complexity, nearly as demanding on Lubezki as “Gravity” must have been, such that even seemingly minor jokes, as when the camera spies the drummer responsible for the pic’s restless jazz score (by Antonio Sanchez) lurking on the edge of the frame, had to be perfectly timed. It’s all one big magic trick, one designed to remind how much actors give to their art even as it disguises the layers of work that go into it.


I love the Oscar race. I hate the Oscar race. And yet, the season is upon us.

We have to start the year by remembering what the Oscar race is and what it isn’t. What it isn’t: a reliable barometer for the greatness or quality of high artistic achievement. The Oscars themselves are supposed to be that. But there is way too emotion involved for that to be the case. Greatness does not always rely on emotion. Sometimes greatness is in the absence of emotion. Sometimes greatness is a way of seeing ourselves as we really are. Greatness, sometimes, is truth.

What the Oscar race is? A competition to woo a consensus. The critics, though they really chafe against this notion, are themselves a consensus. They get together and they vote on the year’s best. Much of the time they will never admit to wanting to influence the Oscar race. But somehow, it is impossible to completely opt out of the process when you yourself are a voting consensus pitting films and performances against one another. There isn’t that much of a difference between the critics awards and the Oscars except the number of people that make up that consensus.

The Oscar race can do great things for movies. And it can do horrible things to movies. It can completely transform careers. It can make you and it can break you. It can sully a perfectly fine film so that by the end the poor thing is limping along with a broken heel, a torn and tattered dress, mascara smeared under the eyes — wrecked, ruined until time wipes away the dirt and tears and remembers how good it all really was before it was pummeled by the awards machine.

It is therefore necessary to always have two conversations simultaneously. “What is going to happen at this year’s Oscars” and “Have you seen this really great film?” In a perfect world those two conversations merge and the awards race backs the best films and people flock to those films because they have been given the golden seal of approval by the industry and the critics.  In a perfect world no one is sullied. There are no losers and the winners are just happy to be there.

Already I’m thrilled with some of the films I have seen so far this year — one I can’t really admit to having seen (I’ll never tell), a few I saw in Cannes (Foxcatcher, Mr. Turner, The Homesman) and one I’ve just seen that came out of Sundance, Boyhood.  So many great films are on the horizon. The New York Film Fest, Venice, Telluride, Toronto — by the time those festivals close Best Picture will likely be mostly sewn up.

Why, you might wonder, is that so? Around 2003 the Academy decided to shift its date back one month. In so doing, and eventually, the Oscar race would change in dramatic ways.  The biggest change was that the public was effectively shut out of the awards race. Where the Oscars used to see their biggest contenders released at the end of the year, now releasing a film that late means you likely don’t get in at all. The Oscar race is mostly finished by the time many of these films ever even hit theaters. It turns out that a lot of the Oscar movies are popular with audiences, like Gravity, like Argo, like Inception, like The Social Network, like The King’s Speech, like the Wolf of Wall Street, like American Hustle.  Sometimes they aren’t popular with audiences. Sometimes audiences never see them at all until they arrive on VOD. It doesn’t matter what the public thinks because the awards are mostly decided behind closed doors, with industry voters picking their favorites almost at the exact same time, give or take a week or two.

What do we look for in determining what movies will go all the way, even if we haven’t seen them?  We go by filmmakers and subject matter, mostly. But we also go by which publicist is handling the film. They tend to know if they have a strong contender — that is what makes them good at their jobs. So if one of them says “you need to see this movie” chances are it’s going to be a strong player in the race. Also, these strategists and publicists will work tirelessly to make sure their films are seen and paid attention to. The team behind Boyhood, for instance, is one of the best in the business. Ditto for The Theory of Everything, American Sniper, The Homesman, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, Birdman, Into the Woods, etc.  Nothing is ever 100% certain, of course.

That brings us to the snake eating its own tail process of predicting films that haven’t been seen.  These films are essentially herded into a smaller group that the voters then decide from. The bloggers and critics do the early separating — so in a way it is a self-fulfilling prophecy: we predict the films that then end up in the race because we predicted them to be in the race.  Either way, the two biggest groups are Tom O’Neil’s Gold Derby and David Poland’s Gurus of Gold.

The Gurus of Gold has changed slightly over the past few years, with two or three members shifting positions.  To that end, comparing years prior is not an exact science. But there are some things we know for sure.  First, let’s look backwards in time.

In 2012, the early Gurus had all nine of the ultimate nominees on their preliminary list, without rankings:

1. Zero Dark Thirty 
2. Les Miserables 
3. Lincoln
4. Moonrise Kingdom
5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
6. Argo
7. Anna Karenina
8. The Master
9. Life of Pi
10. Django Unchained
11. Amour
12. Silver Linings Playbook
13. Cloud Atlas
14. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
15. Flight

The year previously, 2011, the gurus chart around this time was:

1. War Horse (sight unseen)
2. The Ides of March (sight unseen)
3. The Artist (seen at Cannes.)
4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (sight unseen)
5. The Descendants (not yet seen? Telluride.) 
6. Midnight in Paris (seen)
7. J. Edgar (sight unseen)
8. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (maybe seen in the UK?)
9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (not seen)
10. Tree of Life (seen at Cannes) 

Missing: The Help, Hugo, Moneyball

The Help was one of those underestimated films that must fly under and over the radar of bloggers and critics because it’s never going be their kind of movie. Hugo was a New York Film fest entry and Moneyball also came kind of late and seemed to need some advocating to get off the ground.


1. Inception (seen)
2. The King’s Speech (seen)
3. Toy Story 3 (seen)
4. The Kids Are All Right (seen, Sundance)
5. The Social Network (seen)
6. Black Swan (not seen)
7. True Grit (not seen)
8. Another Year (seen, Cannes)
9. 127 Hours (not seen)
10. Winter’s Bone (seen, Sundance) 

Missing from this, The Fighter.  


The Hurt Locker (seen)
Invictus (not seen)
Nine (not seen)
Up (seen)
Up in the Air (not seen)
Precious (seen)
An Education (seen)
The Lovely Bones (not seen)
Bright Star (I actually did add this to my list but too late perhaps)
A Serious Man (seen, I think)
The Road (not seen)
Amelia (not seen)
Capitalism: A Love Story (seen)
Avatar (not seen)
The Informant! (seen)
Inglourious Basterds (not seen I think)
Julie & Julia (seen)
District 9 (seen)
Where the Wild Things Are (seen)
Star Trek (seen)
The Tree of Life (seen at Cannes)
500 Days of Summer (seen)
The Fantastic Mr. Fox (seen)

Missing: The Blind Side

That was an “under the radar” movie.

My own prediction of how last year was going to go looked like this:

American Hustle
Monuments Men
Wolf of Wall Street
Captain Phillips
Saving Mr. Banks
12 Years a Slave
Inside Llewyn Davis

I personally had six out of nine predicted.  I also added the following titles as maybes:

Osage County
The Butler
Before Midnight
Fruitvale Station
Labor Day
Dallas Buyers Club
All is Lost

Sum total of seven out of nine predicted heading into the season.

The Gurus 15 from last year looked like this:


That’s seven out of nine predicted. If you drill down a little further on their list you find Dallas Buyers Club on there as well, with myself, Nathaniel Rogers and Pete Hammond all putting our faith in it.

That brings us to today, pre-Telluride, as all of these aforementioned lists were. David Fincher’s Gone Girl which has been seen by a few people and already has a vibrating hum of buzz — not for being an “Oscar movie” necessarily but for being a really great fucking movie. Sometimes that is enough to overcome the softies in the industry looking for feel good fare, sometimes it isn’t. Either way, Gone Girl topping the list shows that expectations are high.

Gone Girl (seen by some, priority placement at NYFF, like Social Network)
Birdman (seen by some, early buzz)
Boyhood (seen, the highest reviewed film of the year)
Unbroken (unseen)
Foxcatcher (seen at Cannes)
Selma (unseen)
Interstellar (unseen)
Wild (unseen)
Fury (unseen, test screened)
Inherent Vice (seen by some, high placement at NYFF)
The Theory of Everything (not seen)
The Imitation Game (seen by some, smattering of good buzz)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (seen)
Into the Woods (not seen)
American Sniper (not seen)
Big eyes (seen by some)
A Most Violent Year (not seen)




Mr Turner (seen at Cannes)
Exodus (not seen)
Men, Women & Children (not seen)
St. Vincent (not seen)
Rosewater (not seen, I don’t think)
Trash (seen by some)


It annoys me slightly that Gone Girl has to be the film with its ass hanging out this early on.   That means expectations are going to shoot up and that makes it ripe for attacks. The idea with the Oscar race is to sneak past the alien mom without her seeing you — you tiptoe gingerly by — because once she spots you it’s time to bring out Ripley’s pulse rifle and flame thrower.

But that genie can’t be put back into the bottle once the wheels are set in motion.  And a great film can’t be made ungreat because it awakened the monster. The film is still the film. The perceptions around it are the only things that change as fast as ripples on the water’s surface once the wind picks up.

Tomorrow I pack up the car and drive two days to Telluride, Colorado. And thus, the adventure begins.


Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children will skip Telluride, head to Toronto and open to the public shortly thereafter. Jeff Wells off Tapley’s exclusive:

Paramount will pop Jason Reitman‘s Men, Women & Children limited on10.3 or about…what, three weeks after it plays at the Toronto Film Festival? Wide break on 10.17. The news was broken by In Contention‘s Kris Tapley. Teens, oddball parents, infidelity, online porn, icky impulsives, maybe a stray predator or two. Directed, produced by Rietman. Based on a darkish book by the somewhat libidinal-minded Chad Kultgen. Cowritten by Reitman and Erin Cressida WilsonAdam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ansel Elgort, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, J.K. Simmons, Dennis Haysbert. I’ll be watching for comparisons to Henry Alex Rubin‘s Disconnect, which dealt with similar material.

You can’t really blame them for both skipping Telluride and opening the film early, considering Labor Day was shown in Telluride last year in September, then had to wait until the following January to open to the public, skipping Oscar season entirely after film critics gave it their united thumbs down. That was particularly a bummer for me — since New York mag used that movie as an example of Yours Truly being too effusive at Telluride for what would turn out to be a bad film.  It was taken as common knowledge that Labor Day was a “bad movie.” In typical critic/blogger fashion, it becomes cool to be on a certain side and in this case it was on the side that thoroughly trashed Reitman’s sentimental fantasy about an unlikely, magically surreal love affair.

Here’s the thing about movies and I want you all to remember this because lord knows the critics, for the most part, are not going to teach you. You read? Here it is. Most of the time, you have to bring something with you when you see a film. That something is your own imagination.  Sometimes you have to lean into art, all art but film especially. The critics are supposed to evaluate it to the best of their ability – I mean, I guess? But you should always know that when you read a review you are, to a degree, reading that person. It just so happens that I know a lot of the people who reviewed Labor Day – I know them personally and I look at their reviews and I think, “well of course.” But a person who didn’t know them would assume that their reviews are to be taken at face value, that they aren’t a subjective reading of something that is highly personal.

So long after I’m gone please remember these two things: Think for yourself, take all reviews of film (and any art) with a grain of salt.

It wasn’t just that Labor Day got bad reviews. It was one of those movies that inspires reviews as though it was the asshole who just broke up with the film critics — male and female. It was one of those they had to harpoon — not just harpoon but stab in the jugular — and then stomp on its corpse as blood sprayed out from all sides.

Reading those reviews and remembering the movie I saw is one of those moments throughout the year that makes no sense, both looking back on it now and what it will look like to look back on it ten years from now. These critics took it PERSONALLY. Why? I have no idea.  This is one of the many reasons I could never and would never call myself a FILM CRITIC. It seems to me they spend their time trying to find something wrong with the car they were asked to test drive.   People say it’s necessary, okay fine. So it’s necessary.  I find very little value in a negative review. All it seems to do is tell me a lot about the person writing it. I hope that you, dear readers, always think for yourself or don’t think at all.

I genuinely liked Labor Day, and found it to be a wonderfully brave move for the normally sardonic Reitman.  It was a fantasy, sure, but what’s wrong with that? I ‘ll tell you what’s wrong with it: it  highlighted just how slanted film coverage is towards the male perspective.

Being released in January, with no awards hype, nothing but a cold slap in the face for Reitman and crew, the film earned just $13 mil. I hope that it was worth it. I hope that the critics feel that they slayed the dragon that was threatening the delicate sensibilities of movie goers everywhere.  Here’s hoping Reitman’s new film puts him back on track and motivates him to make more movies about women.

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