It was almost a Fincher/Sorkin/Rudin joint with a different actor (Leo, Christian) but now it’s here – Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs with Michael Fassbender as the man who invented then reinvented Apple. Kate Winslet looks to be supporting. Here is a trailer and our first glimpse of Fassbender as Jobs, who enters the Oscar race against the Weinstein Co’s MacBeth. May the best Fassy win.
We might have our Best Actor frontrunner (sight unseen anyway) in Tom Hardy’s double performance in Legend. Hardy is one of those transformative actors who can be barely recognizable. He’s been working his way away from being a heartthrob and towards being a versatile chameleon. Hardy also stars in one of the year’s biggest hits with Fury Road. Here is the trailer for Legend, written and directed by Brian Helgeland, who won an Oscar for co-writing LA Confidential, and was nominated for his adaptation of Mystic River:
You can see how quickly the Best Actor category is about to fill up.
One film directed by a woman has entered the talk for Best Picture all because Anne Thompson has put herself behind it. She’s going it alone, as far as I can tell, but she did the very same thing last year with the Grand Budapest Hotel. Virtually everyone in the Oscar punditry world did not think it had the stuff to last through to the end of the year. She did and it did. Now she has Diary of a Teenage Girl listed not just for frontrunner status but for Best Actress as well.
Thompson does not predict films she hasn’t seen but instead puts them in the contender categories. That’s why Jennifer Lawrence, a near slam dunk for Joy, is listed as a contender and not a frontrunner. She does this in opposition to the majority of pundits online. Here is her Best Picture frontrunner list at the moment:
Best motion picture of the year
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
“Love & Mercy”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“Bridge of Spies”
“Clouds of Sils Maria”
“The Danish Girl”
“The Hateful Eight”
“Son of Saul”
And for directing she has:
Achievement in directing
Olivier Assayas (“Clouds of Sils Maria”)
Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen (“Inside Out”)
Todd Haynes (“Carol”)
Marielle Heller (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”)
George Miller (“Mad Max: Fury Road”)
Danny Boyle (“Steve Jobs”)
John Crowley (“Brooklyn”)
Sarah Gavron (“Suffragette”)
Tom Hooper (“The Danish Girl”)
Jay Roach (“Trumbo”)
David O. Russell (“Joy”)
Ridley Scott (“The Martian”)
Steven Spielberg (“Bridge of Spies”)
Quentin Tarantino (“The Hard Eight”)
Bob Zemeckis (“The Walk”)
Probably none of her frontrunners in this category will get in. I’d be willing to bet money on it. But nonetheless, it’s heartening to see two names popping up here from the female side — Marielle Heller for Diary of a Teenage Girl and Sarah Gavron for Suffragette.
Diary of a Teenage Girl has six positive reviews on Metacritic, though none of them, at least so far, hit the 100 mark. There is still hope for it, particularly with Thompson putting her chips behind it this early.
These days, when looking for Best Actor, follow Best Picture. Or rather, when looking for Best Picture, follow Best Actor. For most of the past twenty years, but mostly since Oscar changed up to more than five nominees for Best Picture, Best Actor has been tied to Best Picture. Even when the lead actor from the Best Picture nominee hasn’t been nominated, they still anchor the Best Picture contender. This is the New Normal where Best Pic is concerned but for the odd year here or there.
The first half of the year has produced at least five notable performances that may or may not make it by year’s end, but the majority of performances have not yet been seen and could wipe the slate clean. How do we know this? For the past few years, maybe decade, films in the Oscar race have been driven by a singular male performance. This trend has not slowed, even if you count this year where there are so many female driven films packing the first half of the year. It’s funny that you will find more women this time of year in contention than men but that’s because the Oscar-bound performances are going to be found in the Big Oscar Movies coming to a film festival near you.
1. The race as it stands now, however, has one performance out front and that’s Paul Dano‘s in Love & Mercy. It helps that the film has already opened in theaters. The other four best actor contenders so far star in films that have only been seen at Cannes or Sundance.
Although Dano shares the spotlight with John Cusack in Love & Mercy, his is the more fully realized performance where Cusack’s might be seen as a supporting turn. Both could be considered Best Actor but if voters go down that road neither will be nominated.
Dano plays the young Brian Wilson who is is discovering his own ability to emerge as an artist in a band that seems committed as a hit machine. There is no denying the power of the Beach Boys and their catchy, unforgettable tunes but there was more to Brian Wilson’s composing. Dano is brilliant at conveying someone who was simply too gentle and passive to withstand the forces mounted against him — and those forces include controlling and abusive people and the progression of his own eventual mental illness. Dano takes us down each road with compassion. Cusack, too, approaches his role with compassion and neither of them makes too much or too little of the demons that overtaken Wilson’s internal world. Dano has showed us so many different sides of his acting ability, which is often way over the top. But here, he illustrates that all of that talent can be harnessed more specifically. It’s a marvel to watch and deeply moving. Paul Dano has never been nominated for an Oscar, unbelievably.
2. Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw takes the number 2 spot even though I’ve not yet seen him in the film. He’s supposed to be great in it, though, and has Harvey Weinstein ushering him through Oscar season. Gyllenhaal is another one of Oscar’s forgotten talents, having received only one nomination for his brilliant work in Brokeback Mountain. He almost made last year’s race with Nightcrawler. His transformative work here, becoming a beefed-up fighter, will most certainly be enough to push him through.
3. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel for Youth – where you have Dano and Cusack needing to split, you can’t really split up Caine and Keitel, mostly because they are just too damned famous. Caine is already a two-time Oscar winner with six nominations. To say they love him would be an understatement. Keitel has only been nominated once, as supporting actor for Bugsy. Does that mean they don’t like him? I don’t know. Either way, both have fully realized, deeply meaningful career-topping performances in Youth, Paolo Sorrentino’s film backed by Fox Searchlight. Unless the film is destroyed by critics (currently it’s mixed to positive on Metacritic), it should emerge as a strong Oscar contender in all aspects. I say “if” because there is no way of telling how a movie will land. This is a film about Hollywood but more than that, it’s about artists working in Hollywood — old-school vets who make up the majority of Oscar voters. Youth, like Birdman, is a lament of things past. It’s a condemnation of and celebration of “the new” while also a condemnation of and celebration of the gone and forgotten. If all goes well, both actors should have an equal shot at landing a lead nomination. Jane Fonda and Rachel Weisz will be strong contenders for supporting. Paul Dano makes an appearance here in a supporting role — the one thing to note about this performance of his vis-à-vis Love & Mercy is just what a better actor he is becoming as he evolves.
5. Michael Fassbender for MacBeth – this is another one I did not see in Cannes but by all accounts the reviews were good enough to put Fassbender in contention for lead actor. Macbeth is faring slightly higher than Youth in aggregate scores but critics these days tend to be a younger bunch, not so much interested in the same things that interest Oscar voters (85 on Metacritic so far). That it’s Shakespeare, that Fassbender is a respected actor, make him at the very least a contender, at least for now. Once things start to roll his might be the one that gets the chop.
Which actors are waiting at the gates to threaten these? They are mostly actors playing real-life people (highlighted in red). Hollywood seems to never tire of true stories about great or famous men — they celebrate and reinforce the patriarchy while doing so. How long will this trend last? It’s hard to say.
1. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
2. Michael Fassbender competing against himself in Steve Jobs as Steve Jobs.
3. Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies
4. Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl
5. Will Smith in Concussion
6. Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass.
7. Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong in The Program.
8. Bryan Cranston as Trumbo in Trumbo.
9. Tobey Maguire in Pawn Sacrifice, as Bobby Fischer
10. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit in The Walk.
11. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden in Snowden.
12. Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes. The great McKellen has been all too often overlooked by the Academy.
13. Benicio Del Toro in Escobar. Del Toro is also in Sicario but probably will go as supporting, giving the chance of a double nomination year.
14. Bradley Cooper in Adam Jones.
15. Michael Shannon in Midnight Special.
16. Richard Gere, Time Out of Mind.
17. Jason Siegel, End of Tour as David Foster Wallace.
There will no doubt be other names added to this list, and names removed from it as we barrel towards the end of the year. It will be the most competitive of the acting categories, with Best Actress coming up a close second. We’ll be covering Best Actress later today.
As usual, it will be difficult to know this early whether the films already seen will have any chance as the race surges forward. Because Best Actor is so closely tied with Best Picture, the nominees from last year (all except Steve Carell in Foxcatcher) were from films that were nominated for Best Picture.
Coming up next, Best Actress.
I try to imagine Jaws being released now and how Twitter would have responded to it. Would they complain about how fake the shark looked? Would they think Quint was a cliche? Would women like me complain that the role of Ellen Brody had been greatly diminished in the adaptation? Would animal rights activists be up in arms about the personification of the shark — sharks kill just five people a year compared to hippos that kill 2,900. Winning Twitter is no easy game these days. For every Inside Out that comes out to raves there are dozens of others that are snarked within an inch of their life.
It’s a good thing, then, that Jaws came out when so many of us hadn’t yet gotten ourselves in the clutches of social networking. Jaws resonates still because it’s a great movie. Period. Yes, the shark looks fake but that isn’t near enough to derail its prominence. This is the master Steven Spielberg at the top of his game working with a team of actors who nail their characters, to say nothing of John Williams’ score, which is so much of what makes the movie work.
I was ten years old when Jaws came out and it remains the only movie I stood in line to see roughly 14 times when it played. Since then, I probably watch it at least once a year. At least. Jaws is great because it treats the shark like a character. It’s great because its plot derives not from the visual effects but from the internal conflicts of its three main leads. All three men – Brody, Hooper and Quint are given backgrounds, pasts, demons to overcome, and most importantly, there is conflict between them when thrown together. Hooper and Quint are rivals down economic and professional lines. Brody holds the whole thing together but is inexperienced and afraid of the water. He’s an ex-New York cop coming at the shark problem like he would a common criminal on the streets. Credit for building mythology around the shark must be given to Hooper (a scientist) and Quint (a fisherman). We see beautiful symbols of this mythic shark — its jaws, its fin. The dramatic tension is driven not by seeing the shark at all but by watching the barrels shot into him bob to the surface. We know where the shark is because we can see the barrels. Our imaginations does the rest. The barrels pop up then start to move. We have to guess where they are moving and where they’re heading.
Spielberg plays with our imaginations and fears about the shark from the very first scene with Chrissie swimming at nighttime. This vicious attack we see only from the surface — we see no blood, we see no teeth ripping into flesh — we see only her reaction to the vicious mutilation happening to her from below. We connect with our own fears from swimming at night or swimming at all of what might be swimming beneath us.
So many of us came of age on Jaws and have loved it faithfully ever since. I personally know at least four or five people who have committed the film to memory. I challenge you to try to stump me with quotes on it as I know it backwards and forwards. I think of Jaws as so much of a part of my childhood it always seems strange to me when I meet so many others who felt the same way. In a sense, the popularity of Jaws is wrapped up with that — nostalgia. But in another sense, has there ever been a better movie?
Jaws and Star Wars altered the path of summer movies forever. They were the first blockbusters. Though they didn’t really get it at the time they were the first tent poles. Imagine any film made today that waited as long on the character development as it did on the suspense. That was what the greats of the 1970s did better than any of the filmmakers today making similar films — Ridley Scott’s Alien, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. The fear was rooted in worry for the characters we had come to know so well, not so much from the horrors of what computer graphics could achieve. Because of that, there is nothing dated or embarrassing about any of these films except perhaps the effects themselves which are the only elements of these films that could be improved upon.
The two best sequences in the film are the shark attacks themselves, specifically the Alex Kintner attack, but you have to add in “Michael’s in the pond.” Both are examples of why Spielberg was one of the greatest directors. The scene is first set on a typical summer’s day. Brody is on the beach with his wife. The kids are splashing around in the water. A young man plays fetch with his dog until the dog disappears. The stick turns up but the dog doesn’t. Alex Kintner is given one more chance to swim even though his fingers are beginning to prune. Brody is on edge already because he knows there was already a shark attack that the mayor told him to quash. He sees Harry’s swim cap and thinks it might be a shark. He’s watching and nervous. Once again we see things from the shark’s point of view. We see the legs and the raft. We hear the shark’s theme. Then we get our first glimpse of the big fish — just fins and blood and a screaming child. Then the famous rack zoom shot of Brody — his worst fear confirmed. As the parents rush to the shore to rescue their children we see Brody unable to put his feet in the water. Finally, poor Mrs. Kintner is the last frantic parent on the beach — looking for her son. Finally, we see evidence of a torn up raft awash in bloody seawater.
You could go to film school on that scene (and many others in this film). The second magnificent scene is the 4th of July celebration on Amity Island. It’s the one where Brody’s own son is endangered by the shark. He builds the suspense once again with Brody’s fear. He’s on the beach but this time he has the support of law enforcement who are EVERYWHERE. Michael is told to go in the pond because the pond is supposed to be safe. “The pond’s for old ladies,” his son says. “Well do it for the old man,” Brody says. Once again Brody is trying to do the right thing but forces oppose him leaving him helpless. When a family is pressured to go in the water to set an example for the beachgoers it seems as though things might go back to normal. But no, kids prank the crowd with a fake fin creating mass chaos. Next we get a glimpse of the shark swimming and we hear the young woman shout, “The shark! In the pond!” Brody brushes it off until his wife says “Michael’s in the pond.” Yes because Brody sent him there. He begins to walk to the pond, then run, then finally he gets to the shore and this time he does go in the water to help pull his frightened son out. During this attack we see the shark — the hugeness of it (watch here for an continuity blip in the shoe being off the coach’s foot then back on). What makes the scene so powerful isn’t the shot of the shark — it’s Brody’s fear of his son being killed.
One scene after another in Jaws is top-notch directing, acting and editing. They didn’t get much better then and they certainly don’t get better now. Jaws sinks into its story, not leaning only on the first hour for suspense but driving the suspense throughout the second half, when Hooper and Quint are introduced. It succeeds because it never sacrifices the people for the thrills.
Jaws taught us all about corporate greed over public welfare. 40 years later it re-emerges in theater when corporate greed has all but choked the life out of America. It innocently set aflame our collective fears about sharks, which sadly led to their slaughter. It re-emerges now with better awareness of how to allow endangered creatures to share the planet with us.
My summer the year Jaws came out was haunted. It was haunted by the paperback cover, the movie poster and then the film. We would have gone to see it no matter if it was good or not. We probably wouldn’t have gone back to see it if we hadn’t connected so personally as we all did then and as we all do now.
Jaws was only nominated for four Oscars, Picture, Sound, Score and Editing, winning all but Picture. Spielberg, of course, was shut out. It was so much — and is so much — bigger than the Oscars. It represents some of the best American filmmaking then and now.
Hope springs eternal when there are so many options for Best Picture before the Big Oscar Movies hit. A recent discussion on Twitter brought up the question as to whether or not Pixar’s sublime Inside Out (our review here) could make the cut. Variety’s Steven Gaydos said it was on his list since seeing it at Cannes.
Not so fast, Marshall Flores (Statsgasm) and I said. We know how it goes. By the time the summer is over and fall season starts, momentum is much harder to gather. That, and the Academy is mostly ruled by actors, their biggest branch by far, and actors usually like movies with real people in them saying lines. They don’t much like being replaced either by animation or by performance capture. No matter how hard they are pressured to accept these new modes of acting, their faces are their bread and butter, thus animation often gets sidelined, especially now since it has its own category; back when Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Picture there wasn’t a separate category. Since then, only during the years where voters had ten nomination slots could animated films get in and they did – Up and Toy Story 3. When the Academy switched back to five nomination slots, however, animation was once again shepherded back into its own category, which is where we are today.
Inside Out is exceptional beyond the Oscar meme of late (male in crisis), stands for originality amid a sea change of sequels, is about something worthy (loss of childhood, what goes on inside our heads as children, as adults, and other creatures), and maintains the Pixar standard of animation that goes beyond “kids stuff.” Thus, it’s fair to say that Inside Out ought to be considered the first major Best Picture contender of the year, even if we know by the end of the year it will likely be selected out.
Just look at these reviews:
There may be films that will equal Inside Out but it’s going to be tough to find one that can beat it in terms of reviews alone. As has been pointed out, its box office will be hampered by the juggernaut that is Jurassic World but it should still do well in summer season. Word of mouth will ensure it does well, even if it doesn’t have the opening numbers.
There are two other films that should also be considered seriously for Best Picture at this point and that would be Love & Mercy, the story of the Beach Boy’s Brian Wilson overcoming mental illness. Love & Mercy is one of those films that people “out there” continue to talk about. It isn’t just that many of the Oscar voters will have a personal relationship with the Beach Boys music, it’s that the film itself is stirring thanks to the performances of Paul Dano and John Cusack as Wilson. It has set the bar high for films coming out at festivals like Venice, Telluride and New York.
The third strong contender for Best Picture is George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Hurting the film is its position as an installment in the Mad Max franchise. It is also hurt by it being an effects-driven film, though the effects will likely give Star Wars a run for its money come Oscar time. Mad Max might have to settle for a nomination for Charlize Theron, but its reviews, money made and cultural impact put it in the Oscar zone.
It’s too soon to tell about the Oscar-friendly films that showed at Cannes, like Youth, which hits the sweet spot of Oscar voters as it’s about industry people in the twilight of their brilliant careers. It is being pushed by Fox Searchlight, which definitely makes it a potentially formidable contender in some respect, if not Best Picture.
The other big film from Cannes would be Todd Haynes’ Carol, handled by the Weinstein Co. and absolutely a film that could go all the way in multiple major categories. Carol has the velvety feel of an Oscar period piece but deals with 2015 issues about self-acceptance and the courage to stand behind who we really are.
Brooklyn was a potential contender out of Sundance which may or may not be remembered. Ex Machina was one of the early treasures of the year but is probably just outside the Academy’s comfort zone.
Oscar season really starts around early September. By October, your Best Picture winner will have been seen, if recent history is any indicator. It was released into theaters or seen at festivals but it will not be one that comes out of nowhere to win. It’s just not possible to rally contenders late in the game anymore, not even Clint Eastwood can do that (though he almost did last year). Voting starts so early and with the time crunch voters won’t watch all of the movies. They only watch a few. They only have to name five so picking their favorites gets kind of easy, most of the time.
Last year is a great example of how the latecomers like Unbroken, Into the Woods did not figure into the race while the films seen early like Birdman did.
Here is how it went last year–
Birdman (Venice, Telluride)
American Sniper — LATE, AFI
Imitation Game — Telluride
Grand Budapest Hotel — early release
Selma — LATE, AFI
Theory of Everything — Toronto
Whiplash — Sundance
Two of those films made it into the race, neither had a chance to win simce both were hit with controversy that, if given enough time, could have been overcome. With no time to settle, the films had no chance to really gain momentum as winners.
The same pattern might follow this year. It’s too soon to tell, really. This “early is better than late” pattern has held true for almost a decade. Not since Million Dollar Baby has a movie come in at the last minute and won Best Picture.
One thing worth noting about our first half check-in is that the three strongest contenders are all female driven stories – Inside Out, Fury Road and Carol. That’s significant. Love & Mercy and Youth are more male-driven, thus more Oscar friendly.
And here we are again. There are two films that were screened in Cannes that will very likely be named by many authorities as two of the best films of the year but are also two that don’t fit the Academy’s formula for what defines a Best Picture contender. Why? Because one is an animated film and the other a genre movie. While it’s true that Gravity and Life of Pi managed to make the cut in previous years, they are both heavy on emotion and character, while depending heavily on visual effects.
Quick primer on how Best Picture works for those who don’t know the history (it is confusing to many). In 2009, the Academy expanded their Best Picture lineup from five nomination slots and five nominees to ten nomination slots and ten nominees. In those magical years the wide array of films that were selected prove that the Academy members can expand beyond their comfort zone if given enough room.
In 2009 and 2010 voters were given ten nomination slots and ten Best Pictures. There were two films per year directed by women. There were several films nominated about women. There were animated films (Up and Toy Story 3) and genre films (District 9, Avatar, Inception). Sure, the male hero feelgood drama still dominated but there was room for more than just that.
Beginning in 2011 and up to present, the Academy has done away with the ten nomination slots and shrunk it back down to five. They still allow for more than five Best Picture nominees (an even 9 except last year). Voters had to stick to five nominating slots, making it nearly impossible for an animated film, no matter how good it is, to get a Best Picture nod.
This is the single reason that Inside Out can’t be considered a likely Best Picture nominee. The chances of it making the top five lists of enough voters is slim to none. Not only that, but it has to compete with Pixar’s other movie coming out this year, the Good Dinosaur which will feature state-of-the-art visuals as well, and will be more traditionally about your misfit male hero. Pixar against Pixar.
Once again, it would behoove the Academy to open up the Best Picture race and make it a REAL race again. While it’s true that ten sort of obliterates the unification of Best Picture and Best Director or any film ever sweeping the Oscars again, it does help address the way Hollywood has changed.
Devin Faraci wrote a nice piece about Inside Out where he says how much more meaningful the story is because the stakes are higher:
As the two emotions try to make their way back to Headquarters they are shocked to discover that Riley’s Islands of Personality – the emotional epicenters of who she is, and the things that define her as a person – are unstable. More than unstable, some of them begin to completely fail, falling away into the Memory Hole, from which nothing returns. Joy and Sadness have to get back to Riley’s Headquarters before all of the Islands collapse, changing her into someone unrecognizable.
These stakes are enormous. The world isn’t going to end, no one is going to die and the future of the human race aren’t on the line here, but the film firmly establishes that what’s going on inside Riley’s head is important. The film established that Riley is a good kid, and that Riley deserves something as basic as a smile on her face. Watching the movie – often through a film of tears – I cared more about whether Riley would keep playing hockey than I cared about whether Chris Pratt would escape the dinosaurs at my previous night’s screening.
Stakes come when we care about characters, and the biggest stakes are how things will impact those characters. We all know that Sadness and Joy will eventually make it back to Headquarters, but will they get there in time to help Riley maintain the things that make her her? And how the heck will they manage to make the journey in time? As each Island of Personality crumbled and collapsed I felt more tension and concern than I did seeing a hundred CGI cities laid waste over the last few years.
When a film cuts this deeply it’s worth considering it as one of the year’s best, whether it is animated or not.
What do you get when you pair dazzling visual effects with branding and pre-awareness? Lotsa cash. As the summer movie season launches, Jurassic World just broke the record of opening weekend box office, beating The Avengers. Oscar season will wipe summer season off the map but you’d have to be an idiot not to read the writing on the wall. One now wonders where Jurassic World will end. Star Wars is going to wipe it off the map and we’re going to see another year where branded pre-awareness paired with visual effects rules the day.
Monday Update #2: Universal is reporting that Jurassic World grossed $208.8 million this weekend, which sets a new all-time opening weekend record.
Monday Update #1: Early reports this morning have Jurassic World’s final weekend tally hitting $209 million, which tops the $207 million haul of the first Avengers.
The only question that remains is what the Oscars plan to do about the changing Hollywood. Will they expand Best Picture to an even ten to allow in the tent poles? Will they create an additional category for Best Effects Driven Picture? Will they expand that puny Visual Effects category to ten at least? They will not evolve, at least not yet, not until they have no other choice. They will continue to embrace the small indie drama that appeals to their sensibilities.
Kyle Smith of the New York Post has written a piece declaring “women don’t get GoodfFellas.” He first cites his doomed relationship as the perfect example: “Just kidding. (We split up because I was a jerk.)” That single sentence is the most illuminating part of the whole post but we’ll get to that in a minute. He then
But women don’t get “GoodFellas.” It’s not really a crime drama, like “The Godfather.” It’s more of a male fantasy picture — “Entourage” with guns instead of swimming pools, the Rat Pack minus tuxedos.
It’s not really a crime drama like The Godfather? Gee, Kyle, can you also explain to me what you’re supposed to do with those long plastic tubes they hand out with soft drinks?
He then sets about paying tribute to a movie he clearly loves, trying desperately to shove it into a box that he understands. This is the movie he wants it to be, like so many of Scorsese’s films. They work on multiple levels and often one can see in them what they want to see. Kyle Smith is choosing to see a reflection of himself. His description of the film is proof that he’s the one who really doesn’t get it. He seems only to see the obvious layer, ignoring everything else going on underneath. Or maybe he’s dumbing it WAY down for his female readers.
“Ball-busting means cheerfully insulting one another.”
That’s funny because I thought it meant laying out your scrotal sack on a pool table and then pounding each ball with the thick end of a pool cue.
“Women (except silent floozies) cannot be present for ball-busting because women are the sensitivity police: They get offended, protest that someone’s not being fair, refuse to laugh at vicious put-downs. In the male fantasy, all of this is unforgivable — too serious, too boring. Deal another hand, pour another drink.”
Da fuq? What the fuck is he talking about? Did he see Bridesmaids or Spy? Oh right, he wouldn’t get Bridesmaids. Has he watched Amy Schumer? Oh, right, no. In his world women are dumb as doorknobs.
To a woman, the “GoodFellas” are lowlifes. To guys, they’re hilarious, they’re heroes.
Pushing aside this absurd generalization, one that doesn’t reflect reality in any way, Smith is just flatout wrong here. Only a certain type of man watches Goodfellas and comes away with “these guys are heroes.” This is the same type of guy who breaks his neck watching a Burger King commercial with a big-titted model shoving a fat greasy pile of meat and cheese into her tiny mouth. The same type of guy who worships Walter White and Tony Soprano, mistaking the subtle narrative and inserting their own projections. “That’s the kind of guy I want to be.”
In fact, guys like these often misinterpret Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA as a chest-beating anthem of patriotism. And the kind of guys who all too often mistake Scorsese’s form of satire. These are the guys who take Wolf of Wall Street literally, who laugh along with Joe Pesci when he’s shooting Spider.
Goodfellas, like Wolf of Wall Street is funny. It’s funny until it isn’t. If you miss this subtle distinction with all of Scorsese’s films you miss everything.
They completely miss what makes Goodfellas a masterpiece because to them it’s a funny movie they can drink beers by. If all goes well they will order a woman to suck their manhood later in the evening, their bellies full on beer and brats. Oh yeah, tastes so good, don’t it honey?
As “GoodFellas” shows us, guys hanging out together don’t really like to talk about the women in their lives because that’s too real. What we’d much rather do than discuss problems and “be supportive” is to keep the laughs coming — to endlessly bust each other’s balls.
At this point, the separation between the Goodfellas in the film and Kyle Smith is indistinguishable. He has now launched himself into the film – aka Scorsese’s worst nightmare. And here, he lays out just how profoundly confused he is about the film Scorsese tried to make:
At its core, “GoodFellas” is a story of ball-busting etiquette, which we first learn about in the improvised early scene based on a real experience of Pesci. Tommy turns his attention to a laughing Henry after telling a funny story and threateningly says, “Am I a comedian? Do I amuse you?” Tommy appears to be dangerously angry. Henry saves the day by returning the ball-busting: “Get the f - - k outta here.”
At its core? Really? I guess this shall be Scorsese’s legacy in a certain part of the country where men pat each other on the backs over the terrible things they do, where a morality tale is no more than “I should not have bought her all those drinks if she was going to bust my balls all night.” Except that Karen gets a pass from Smith because she bust Henry’s balls and therefore keeps the party going. To Smith, that’s what Goodfellas is about:
“The rule is, be a man, be tough, and always keep the party going.”
Yes, if you want to miss entirely what the film is about, by all means think of it like that.
Billy Batts (the unfortunate fellow in the trunk, and surprisingly not dead, when the movie begins) breaks ball-busting etiquette in two ways. One, he’s not really one of the guys (he belongs to another crime family), and two, in the guise of breaking Tommy’s balls, he brings up something serious, something that truly bothers Tommy: that he once worked as a shoeshine boy. Billy must die. Later, Morrie, the wig merchant, must also die for improper ball-busting.
Again, whoosh. Right over poor Kyle Smith’s head.
Of course, there’s always the chance that this article is a parody, written in the voice of one of the film’s characters where self-delusion and perpetuation of fantasy rules the day. That would make Kyle Smith one of the smartest writers on the internet. There’s also the chance that this is just clickbait to get out all of his aggression on women he really doesn’t seem to understand — he thinks people like me will write articles of outrage and point at him for 15 minutes.
He’s be right about us there. We do get mad at articles like this one even if everyone would be well advised to ignore clickbait. I am less offended as a woman (as if) than I am as a Scorsese fan, reading such a mind-numbingly bad interpretation of a film I love so much.
So yeah, good thing Smith’s girlfriend dumped him. At least he can admit he was a jerk, whether or not he’s keeping the party going. By all means, keep it going, whether it’s ruining your life or not.
There are two brilliant performances in Love & Mercy, well, four if you add in Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks in supporting roles. Paul Dano and John Cusack together make one whole complete lead performance, so says Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere, who also folded in the same kind of thing with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol. Mara ended up winning Best Actress in Cannes but it is a coin toss as to which actress stands out the most. Likewise with Dano and Cusack.
Usually partnered performances like that are divided up into lead and supporting, putting contenders either where they have the best shot at winning (or getting the nomination) or whose ever star shines brighter. In the case of both Rooney Mara and John Cusack they might have an easier road to Oscar because in Carol and Love & Mercy they are showing sides of themselves we’ve never seen before. They are too important to be “supporting” characters yet they are defined that way by star power (Blanchett) or by how much they dominate the film (Dano).
This is a pickle, no doubt about it. Both films may suffer from being seen early and won’t have the advantage of feeling “fresh” by the time the other movies roll out. My first thought with Carol was that Rooney Mara was the standout. That is, I was most impressed with her work overall because I’ve only really seen her in full wingspan display in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Now she’s been given an equally powerful role to show us what she can do and it’s quite something to behold. Cate Blanchett, on the other hand, has an entire career of these kinds of performances behind her — after playing Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, Jasmine in Blue Jasmine, Queen Elizabeth in Elizabeth, and on and on it goes – how much more surprising can Blanchett be?
Likewise, Paul Dano has pulled out the stops so many times before in films like There Will be Blood and 12 Years a Slave that my first viewing of Love & Mercy put my attention more on Cusack, whom I’ve never seen so vulnerable and exposed as he is here. So to me, on first pass, Cusack was the one I thought had the better chance at a nomination — not for lead, mind you, but for supporting. But then I saw the movie again. The second time through, Dano’s performance emerged much more. So much so that I think he could be a strong contender not just to be nominated for Best Actor but maybe to win. It’s just a masterwork from Dano who tends at times to go a bit over the top. He doesn’t do that here. Both actors capture Brian Wilson’s gentle spirit and inherent sadness. Both actors show in such a subtle way how Brian Wilson tried so hard to beat back the voices and the demons.
While it’s true both actors make one complete performance, if it were me, I’d go for Dano for lead and Cusack for supporting. I say this for two reasons, primarily. 1) the Best Actor race is going to be so crowded by Oscar nomination time and 2) it will be hard to make sure this film is remembered at all because it’s being seen so early.
For those reasons I think you have to split up the paired contenders. One has to be lead and one has to be supporting.
Let’s look at a few other films that had the same kind of thing going on and how they were ultimately divided up. When there is a man and a woman they go in different categories so we’ll take that off the table and look at films where two performers of the same gender had equally powerful roles. Usually if the actors go in for the same category one is NOT NOMINATED, like Amy Adams in Julie & Julia. You always have a much better chance if you split the categories.
Training Day: Denzel Washington lead, Ethan Hawke supporting
August: Osage County: Meryl Streep lead, Julia Roberts supporting
The Help: Viola Davis lead, Octavia Spencer supporting
Chicago: Renee Zellweger lead, Catherine Zeta-Jones supporting
Wolf of Wall Street: Leo DiCaprio lead, Jonah Hill supporting
The Master: Joaquin Phoenix lead, Phil Seymour Hoffman supporting
Moneyball: Brad Pitt lead, Jonah Hill supporting
The Social Network: Jessie Eisenberg lead, Andrew Garfield supporting
Frost/Nixon: Frank Langella lead, Michael Sheen supporting
Mystic River: Sean Penn lead, Tim Robbins supporting
Pulp Fiction: John Travolta lead, Samuel L. Jackson supporting
And by contrast:
Django Unchained: Jamie Foxx not nominated, Christoph Waltz supporting
The Kids Are All Right: Annette Bening lead, Julianne Moore not nominated (she was campaigned for lead)
The Devil Wears Prada: Meryl Streep lead, Anne Hathaway not nominated
One True Thing: Meryl Streep lead, Renee Zellweger not nominated
Foxcatcher: Steve Carell nominated, Channing Tatum not nominated
The Insider: Russell Crowe nominated, Al Pacino not nominated
Philadelphia: Tom Hanks nominated, Denzel Washington not nominated
Obviously, it’s a crapshoot how things will go down. No one yet knows if anyone from this film will get recognized. There is a whole season still to go. They have four acting contenders in this film: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks. They all did great work. That’s what matters to them. I’d still run Dano lead, Cusack supporting, along with Giamatti and Banks.
At the end of the day, Love & Mercy is one of the major standouts of the year so far and if the Oscar race defines itself by picking the best, god willing, voters will remember it.
SIFF celebrates its films and filmmakers with the Golden Space Needle Audience Awards. Selected by Festival audiences, awards are given in five categories: Best Film, Best Documentary, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Short Film. This year, nearly 90,000 ballots were submitted.
GOLDEN SPACE NEEDLE AWARD – BEST FILM
The Dark Horse, directed by James Napier Robertson (New Zealand 2014)
First runner-up: Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter (USA 2015)
Second runner-up: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (USA 2015)
Third runner-up: Shaun the Sheep, directed by Richard Starzak, Mark Burton (UK 2015)
Fourth runner-up: Good Ol’ Boy, directed by Frank Lotito (USA 2015)
GOLDEN SPACE NEEDLE AWARD – BEST DOCUMENTARY
Romeo is Bleeding, directed by Jason Zeldes (USA 2015)
First runner-up: Paper Tigers, directed by James Redford (USA 2015)
Second runner-up: The Glamour & The Squalor, directed by Marq Evans (USA 2015)
Third runner-up: The Great Alone, directed by Greg Kohs (USA 2015)
Fourth runner-up: Frame by Frame, directed by Mo Scarpelli, Alexandria Bombach (Afghanistan 2014)
GOLDEN SPACE NEEDLE AWARD – BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (USA 2015)
First runner-up: George Ovashvili, Corn Island (Georgia 2014)
Second runner-up: Peter Greenaway, Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Netherlands 2015)
Third runner-up: Susanne Bier, A Second Chance (Denmark 2014)
Fourth runner-up: Ross Partridge, Lamb (USA 2015)
GOLDEN SPACE NEEDLE AWARD – BEST ACTOR
Cliff Curtis, The Dark Horse (New Zealand 2014)
First runner-up: Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes (UK 2015)
Second runner-up: Jason Segel, End of the Tour (USA 2014)
Third runner-up: Victor Andrés Trelles Turgeon, Henri Henri (Canada (Québec) 2014)
Fourth runner-up: Jacir Eid, Theeb (Jordan 2014)
GOLDEN SPACE NEEDLE AWARD – BEST ACTRESS
Nina Hoss, Phoenix (Germany 2014)
First runner-up: Kalki Koechlin, Margarita, with a Straw (India 2014)
Second runner-up: Rebecka Josephson, My Skinny Sister (Sweden 2015)
Third runner-up: Regina Case, The Second Mother (Brazil 2015)
Fourth runner-up: Ghita Nørby, Key House Mirror (Denmark 2015)
GOLDEN SPACE NEEDLE AWARD – BEST SHORT FILM
Even the Walls, directed by Sarah Kuck, Saman Maydáni (USA 2015)
First runner-up: Submarine Sandwich, directed by PES (USA 2014)
Second runner-up: Stealth, directed by Bennett Lasseter (USA 2014)
Third runner-up: Personal Development, directed by Tom Sullivan (Ireland 2015)
Fourth runner-up: Bihttoš, directed by Elie-Máijá Tailfeathers (Canada 2014)
LENA SHARPE AWARD FOR PERSISTENCE OF VISION
Frame by Frame, directed by Mo Scarpelli, Alexandria Bombach (Afghanistan 2014)
This award is given to the female director’s film that receives the most votes in public balloting at the Festival. Lena Sharpe was co-founder and managing director of Seattle’s Festival of Films by Women Directors and a KCTS-TV associate who died in a plane crash while on assignment. As a tribute to her efforts in bringing the work of women filmmakers to prominence, SIFF created this special award and asked Women in Film Seattle to bestow it.
Sure to be on the top of the Oscar pile is Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk, just announced to open the New York Film Festival (September 25 – October 11). Official release following. The New York Film Fest has become a great way to launch an Oscar film, though last year’s big get Gone Girl proved too successful with audiences, had a female screenwriter and actually starred a woman. Naturally, the Oscar voters rejected it. It’s a man only club, don’t you know, no $150+ female driven projects need apply. But I’m not bitter.
Joseph Gordon Levitt joins the ranks of yet another year of a packed Best Actor race but lo, French accent alert. With Zemeckis behind the wheel we can be sure it will be a visual feast.
The Walk, though, is right in their wheelhouse, so to speak, and early word is it’s great.
A true story, the film is based on Philippe Petit’s memoir To Reach the Clouds and stars Golden Globe nominee Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit, the French high-wire artist who achieved the feat of walking between the Twin Towers in 1974. The Walk will be the second 3D feature selected for the Opening Night Gala since Ang Lee’s Life of Pi in 2012 and also marks Zemeckis’s return to the Festival after Flight, the 2012 Closing Night Gala selection. Today’s announcement coincides with the release of the film’s trailer, which can be viewed at movies.yahoo.com. The film will be released in 3D and IMAX 3D on October 2, 2015.
New York Film Festival Director and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones said: “The Walk is surprising in so many ways. First of all, it plays like a classic heist movie in the tradition of The Asphalt Jungle or Bob le flambeur—the planning, the rehearsing, the execution, the last-minute problems—but here it’s not money that’s stolen but access to the world’s tallest buildings. It’s also an astonishing re-creation of Lower Manhattan in the ’70s. And then, it becomes something quite rare, rich, mysterious… and throughout it all, you’re on the edge of your seat.”
Robert Zemeckis added: “I am extremely honored and grateful that our film has been selected to open the 53rd New York Film Festival. The Walk is a New York story, so I am delighted to be presenting the film to New York audiences first. My hope is that Festival audiences will be immersed in the spectacle, but also to be enraptured by the celebration of a passionate artist who helped give the wonderful towers a soul.”
Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group Chairman Tom Rothman said: “On behalf of TriStar and Sony, I want to thank Kent and the NYFF for this great honor. The Walk is a love letter to the Twin Towers, which through the unique magic of cinema, come back to vibrant, inspiring life. But it is also a universal story of the determined pursuit of impossible dreams, told by one of our greatest living filmmakers, and the NYFF has always been a place where such dreams come true.”
The film also stars Academy Award® winner Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Steve Valentine, Charlotte Le Bon, Clement Sibony, Caesar Domboy and Benedict Samuel. Directed by Zemeckis, the screenplay is by Robert Zemeckis & Christopher Browne, based on the book “To Reach the Clouds” by Philippe Petit, and produced by Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis, and Jack Rapke.
The 17-day New York Film Festival highlights the best in world cinema, featuring top films from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent. The selection committee, chaired by Jones, also includes Dennis Lim, FSLC Director of Programming; Marian Masone, FSLC Senior Programming Advisor; Gavin Smith, Editor-in-Chief, Film Comment; and Amy Taubin, Contributing Editor, Film Comment and Sight & Sound.
NYFF previously announced Luminous Intimacy: The Cinema of Nathaniel Dorsky and Jerome Hiler, the first-ever complete dual retrospective of the experimental filmmakers works that will include the world premiere of Dorsky’s Intimations, a new untitled work, and New York premieres of Summer, December, February, and Avraham.
Tickets for the 53rd New York Film Festival will go on sale in early September. Becoming a Film Society Member at the Film Buff Level or above provides early ticket access to festival screenings and events ahead of the general public, along with the exclusive member ticket discount! To find out how to become a Film Society member, visit filmlinc.com/membership.
Wouldn’t it be nice if genius came with operating instructions, protective care, and safety would be guaranteed. All too often, though, genius roars into the world with too many forces of opposition working to derail it. In the best of circumstances, it finds its way out one way or another. Such was the case with the very talented Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys when his father noticed how well he could play instruments as a small child. This abusive, controlling and task-master of a father would guide Wilson, for better or worse, towards success. Without that, there are many different ways he might have drifted but with his father’s rigid direction, Wilson, his two other brothers, Mike Love and Al Jardine became one of the major forces of pop music in the mid 1960s and 1970s.
Brian Wilson famously struggled to maintain sanity with voices echoing through his head as a young man. He suffered numerous nervous breakdowns, battled with drugs and eventually ended up in the hands of another controlling, abusive force, Dr. Gene Landy. Though Wilson was eventually wrestled from the grips of Landy, that relationship is where the new movie about Wilson begins.
In Love & Mercy, Brian Wilson is played with tender loving care by two actors, John Cusack and Paul Dano, both of whom have done their research on Wilson, in every possible way, delivering an authentic, moving portrayal of the idol who once was and the man he would later became. That gives the film, directed by Bill Pohlad and written by Oren Moverman and Michael Lerner, the chance to show us Wilson’s gifted musical evolution as a young man and member of the Beach Boys, then fast forwarding through his life to someone trapped behind his crippling mental illness and the immovable force that was Gene Landy.
Pohlad’s flourishes elevate the film from conventional biopic to an impressionist’s version of Wilson’s life. The three years Wilson spent in bed in his bathrobe are turned into a montage of memory, sound, fears, flashes of who Wilson was at certain points of his life, as often is the case when we are left with nothing but solitude and the oppressive companionship of our never-ending demons.
The film plays with sound in clever ways. Since Wilson’s world was built not just on sound but on sound loss, being specific in that department was key to portraying this subjective telling of his life. In one great and disturbing sequence, the young Wilson (Dano) is unable to listen to anyone speaking over the clang clang clanging of glasses, forks and knives on plates until it consumes him. His obsession with sound would lead him towards brilliant musical compositions we all know and love, but also towards voices in his head and other things he couldn’t unhear.
Atticus Ross composed the score, sans Trent Reznor, and it’s pure ambience – discordant at times, moody and horrifying at other times. This works beautifully in contrast to those catchy Beach Boys sounds we all associate with Brian Wilson. It’s another great work by Ross.
Watching the young Wilson create his original music, as played by Dano in yet another brilliant incarnation, is so much the thrill of Love & Mercy. Playing piano strings with bobby pins, or hearing a dog bark. It will heighten one’s appreciation of what the Beach Boys were doing once you drill down past the fun-in-the-sun surface layer. Have a listen to Brian Wilson magnificent track from Pet Sounds, Let’s Go Away for a While, and you can clearly see what kind of genius they were dealing with. Wilson, though, was pushed towards generating hits, and generate them he did.
The bullet to the heart in this film is John Cusack’s heartbreaking, unforgettable turn as the older Wilson. Disarmingly sweet and gentle, he captures Wilson to an astonishing degree. He is Wilson once the music went away, once the rights to that music were sold by his father, in the grips of Landy, convinced that he had no mind of his own. You can see glimpses in Cusack’s performance that Wilson wants out but has no ability to do it on his own. He is simply grateful to be out of bed. What he wouldn’t do for Landy who helped him do at least that much.
It isn’t until he meets the beautiful ex-model/car salesperson Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) that Wilson finds someone who will help him escape his own life. In real life there were other people involved in helping Wilson detach from Landy but this film is a deliberate love story because it is love that eventually saves Wilson’s life.
As Melinda Ledbetter, Banks has never been better. She is a formidable match for Cusack, delivering a career-best performance. So much of the work Banks is doing is internal. What she’s thinking, how she responds to Cusack says so much more than the lines she’s given to deliver, which are minimal, to make way for those powerful wordless reactions.
Finally, Paul Giamatti is appropriately menacing as Landy. There’s nothing funny at all about his monstrous performance, a nice variation in his growing canon of character work. Though the film belongs to Cusack/Dano and Banks, Giamatti is necessary to show where Wilson came from and where he is now.
Driving home from the screening I blasted The Beach Boys at full volume. I defy anyone to listen to Don’t Worry Baby, Good Vibrations, Wouldn’t it Be Nice and Don’t Worry Baby and not smile. For a man so consumed with sadness the music of The Beach Boys was a happiness factory — helping the rest of us indulge in the light and color of a simple summer afternoon. Those songs were strands of my hair that tasted like salt water falling into my mouth. They were sunburned shoulders and suntan lotion. They were bikini tans, beach towels laid out on the sand. They were towheaded surfers strolling by with their wet suits hung past their waists. They were summer. They were freedom. They were pure joy and still are.
Nonetheless, there was much more to Wilson, more that he wanted to do musically that was sacrificed in the name of the top 40 hit. His second act would give him that chance. He couldn’t have gotten there without love — those who looked out for him, found him when he was lost, and gave him what he needed all along. Mercy because Wilson doesn’t feel full of blame, even for those who committed unforgivable crimes against him. The film is a tribute to Wilson and Ledbetter’s love story, an explanation of Wilson’s triumph over mental illness, and a chance for the entire Academy theater to rise to their feet in enthusiastic appreciation of this great, great artist. Wilson, it was said, had tears in his eyes during this ovation. That he was surprised by it is what defines this humble man, ripped wide open by genius and sewn back together with love and mercy.
There were cars before women had the right to vote.
Carey Mulligan looks to leap to the top of the pack for Best Actress based on this trailer. The very very talented Ms. Mulligan finally looks to have a role that challenge her and exhibit her full range of ability. She makes us care, even if we didn’t care before. It’s important for women to know in 2015 what other women suffered for their privilege to vote.
The cover of the Stevie Nicks song Landslide is lovely.
by Jordan Ruimy
“Mad Max: Fury Road” has single-handedly redefined what an action movie can do. George Miller worked on his baby for the better part of 30 years and his vision was finally unleashed on screens nationwide a few weekends ago to the ravest of rave reviews. Where does this “Mad Max” stack up with the others? I’m pretty sure it’s on par with, if not better than, 1982’s “The Road Warrior”, a film that changed the action movie game over 30 years ago. Will “Fury Road” be as indelibly treasured a decade or two from now? Time will tell, but the feminist angle – a kickass Charlize Theron – and chaotically edited action might be a sign of things to come with the genre (could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing). When the movie was done all I could think of was how all these young, hip, new superhero movie directors coming from the indie scene just got schooled on how an action movie should be made…all this by a 70-year-old filmmaker.
“Die Hard” changed the action genre almost 30 years ago; ever since then it has evolved in numerous, interesting ways, (mind you not all successful) but it’s given us a handful of great movies. “Fury Road” is only the latest addition to this ever-evolving genre. Where do we go from here? What will be the consequences of a post-“Fury Road” action world? As A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times, “Miller has reminded us that blockbusters have the potential to not only be art, but radically visionary – even the fourth in a series. What a lovely day, indeed.”
Here are ten movies — all released within the last 30 years — that tried to change the game, succeeded and made it a lovely day for blockbusters.
1) Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
James Cameron’s blistering sequel to the 1984 classic is much more of an action movie than its predecessor. Like many of the movies on this list, it first garnered mixed reviews before being re-evaluated years later as a masterpiece. Teaming up with Ah-nuld’s Terminator, a buffed up and kickass Linda Hamilton tries to stop the viscerally frightening T-1000, sent from the future to kill her troubled son John Connor. I remember being a teenager when it first came out and I had never seen action scenes staged quite like this before, nor had I ever witnessed special effects as inventively surreal and chaotic. I still haven’t. The special effects still hold up to this day and so does the beating heart that Cameron injects into his characters. It had everything the 21st century action film would strive for, yet none have come close to replicating this 1991 movie’s triumphant achievement.
2) Die Hard (1988)
Action movies are not the Academy’s thing and for good reason. They are – most of the time – loud, abrasive, dumbed down and ultimately artless films (“The Expendables” anybody?) but sometimes a movie like “Die Hard” goes beyond genre boundaries and achieves something special through sheer perfection of the craft. John McTiernan’s “Die Hard” isn’t high art, but it got the job done in high octane fashion and set the standard for what an action film should be like in the 21st century. It spawned numerous rip-offs in the 90’s and still does today, none of which have attained the excitement of McTiernan’s original. It is in fact not overblown to say that “Die Hard” set the standard for the perfect modern action movie.
3) The Matrix (1999)
The action movie was dying in 1999, Arnold was just not Arnold anymore, and there wasn’t a new action star to come and take over the throne. “The Matrix” is where the action movie went techno. Literally, it went beyond the technological and creative limits we thought were set for action. For better or for worse, “bullet time” reinvigorated the genre and shattered the clichés for a whole bunch of new ones to come. This is where the surreal got mixed into the action and canonized a whole bunch of copycats. Imagination and originality crept into the equation and signaled a whole new generation of mainstream filmmaking built on ideas as much as action. “The Matrix” was an inspiration for up and coming filmmakers and the countless camera tricks that were to come. Hell, even music videos changed their style because of it. The film was not just built on getting your pulse pounding, but also on getting your mind blown. Its Asian cinema-inspired leaps signaled the start of something new at the movies. Of note, another triumphant female heroine was introduced in the form of Carrie Ann Moss’ Trinity. The sequels disappointed, but we’ll always have the original.
4) The Killer (1989)
If you want to know where Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and even Johnnie To learned to fabricate their over-the-top violence, look no further than this 1989 John Woo classic. Starring Chow Yun-Fat as a lethal assassin who accepts one last hit in order to restore a young girl’s vision, this Chinese action movie’s influence was felt all over cinema and is justly called an important landmark in the genre. Just a year after its release, Luc Besson basically ripped it off for the excitingly entertaining “La Femme Nikita” and a few years later for his now classic “Leon: The Professional”. Much of the borrowing from Woo’s film is superficial—two-handed gunning, doves flying, near operatic kills – but it paved the way for the possibility of making bloody violence look artistically eloquent. Woo followed up with another classic, “Hard Boiled”, but to this day nothing in his career can top “The Killer”.
5) Aliens (1986)
“Aliens” taught us to never underestimate the stupidity of man. “Get away from her you bitch” exclaimed Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley at the climax of this 1986 sequel to “Alien”, a film that epitomized female power in a male dominated society. Like many of James Cameron’s other films, this featured a strong, kickass female lead. If the original movie veered more towards the horror genre, Cameron shifted the emphasis towards a more action packed screenplay with an abundance of quotability. When Vasquez gets asked by her peers, “are you a man?” she hilariously replies “no, are you?” The feminist undertones are present, but one cannot go without mentioning the action sequences that left the viewer without a heartbeat by the end of the film’s pulse pounding 146 minutes. To this day Ripley is still the set example for what a female action heroine should be.
6) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
You can’t deny the sheer impact of Mad Max: Fury Road. Director George Miller’s Fourth installment of the film franchise is proof that not all blockbusters should be greeted with an indifferent shrug. If anything, this brutal action film is even more intense and exciting than its predecessors. With its nihilistic outlook on human nature and a nasty, in-your-face style, this is Miller’s triumph through and through. The amount of detail that he brings to every frame is as obsessively meticulous as any Wes Anderson picture I’ve seen, as is the editing by Margaret Sixel, which – as we stand – is most deserving of next year’s Film Editing Oscar. Edited at breakneck pace and staged with manic fury, Sixel is the unheralded hero here. The celebrated one is of course Miller who’s passion and vision comes through in every frame. The total control he must have had with this project to pull off what he did on screen is unheard of, which is good for him and great for us.
7) The Bourne Trilogy (2002-2007)
“The Bourne Identity” introduced movie-goers to a new type of action hero and a new style of action. Gone were the big-budget, explosion-laden, slick, special effects extravaganzas, in was a gritty template, naturalistic action sequences, and hand-held camera fight scenes. Our hero was no longer the cocky son of a gun trying to save the world; he was trying to save himself and find out who he was. Whatever you think of these movies you can’t possibly deny the impact it’s had on this decade’s action fare. Heck, even James Bond has been dubbed “James Bourne” by many. Liam Neeson was basically Jason Bourne in the “Taken” movies, ditto Keanu Reeves in last year’s “John Wick”, Angie Jolie in “Salt”, Tom Cruise in “Jack Reacher”. Hand to hand combat was replicated in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, and even Christopher Nolan used Bourne-esque moves in his “Dark Knight” trilogy.
8) The Fugitive (1993)
Another Best Picture nominee, this one stars Harrison Ford and is based on the popular 1960’s television series. Accused of a murder he did not commit, Ford’s John Kimble tries to find the one-armed man who killed his wife in order to clear his name. Fairly standard, but expertly done and a true classic of the genre. While Arnold, Stallone and JCVD were blowing stuff up and strutting their roided bodies on screen, Harrison Ford and “The Fugitive” knocked our socks off with wild stunts, Andrew Davis’ tight direction, and a believable story that had us invested in the characters. They really just don’t make them like they used to. Tommy Lee Jones won a Best Supporting Actor, besting out – huh – Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List? But that’s just a whole other story I won’t get into.
9) Predator (1987)
If there’s any genre that calls for the acceptance of guilty pleasures, it’s action. You probably have this 1987 classic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger to thank for that. Carl Weather and Jessie Ventura compliment Ah-nuld in this testosterone fuelled beast hunt in the Central American jungle. Not sold yet? At one point Bill Duke says “This shit makes Cambodia look like Kansas”. I can’t say the plot is rocket science, but there’s something incredibly exciting happening here – a feeling that we just checked our brains at the door and let this pop culture milestone whiplash us. All credit is given to director John McTiernan who, one year away from his “Die Hard” triumph, takes a B-movie level script and elevates into a classic of the genre. Not convinced yet? Just tell me a smile doesn’t appear on your face when Arnold, finally face to face with the hunter utters “You’re one ugly motherfucker.” Classic.
10) Speed (1994)
“There’s a bomb on the bus”, Dennis Hopper screams halfway through this tense 1994 action movie. No worries, a strong and determined Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves try to stop the devilish Hopper. Psychotic and scary as hell, Hopper brings real evil to the movie, determined to wipe out anything in his path. With shades of his gas-huffing Frank from “Blue Velvet”, mixed with his deranged Feck of “River’s Edge”, Hopper’s villainous Howard Payne owns every frame he’s in and leaves a mark on the film, even when not onscreen. It’s a profoundly disturbing portrait of a man gone haywire that set the bar for the audacity, insanity and level at which a mainstream movie villain can go. Just think about it, every movie villain since Payne has had the freedom to go to extremes that might not have been available without this movie.
“Everything is qualified by the fact that you don’t have a dick.” This looks pretty hard core. Interesting. It will make the fleshy parts of Oscar voters curl up though.
DIRECTED BY: Jason Banker
WRITTEN BY: Jason Banker and Amy Everson
FEATURING: Amy Everson, Kentucker Audley, Ryan Creighton, Elisabeth Ferrara, Roxanne Lauren Knouse
I’m sure this will be great, or I hope so. What I also wish is that for once it didn’t have to be about sex and men for teenage girls. You know, believe it or not they have other things on their minds. Big things. Small things. Lots of things. But hey, it’s great to have any film about a girl at all I suppose.
Here is a film I can’t wait for, being a chess fan and especially a fan of poor crazy Bobby Fischer. Finally, a trailer and first look at Maguire’s Fischer. Apple trailer here.
by guest author Nick Clement
Find Nick here
Michael Mann’s Heat represents the finest distillation of the filmmaker’s stylistic and narrative obsessions, the ultimate synthesis of plot, character, and action, all fused together in a nouveau package that still feels fresh and contemporary 20 years after its initial release. Mann, a writer/director who has often reached greatness throughout his career, appears to be most comfortable when telling stories about crime and its effects on the various people that surround his multilayered stories. A reworking of his earlier NBC movie of the week, L.A. Takedown, Heat still holds up now even in the face of stiff genre competition, and looking back on it, it’s incredible how little it has aged, and even more remarkable to notice how many other filmmakers have been lifting Mann’s striking visual aesthetic after all of these years. Critics took Heat a bit for granted when they first encountered it, as response was mostly positive and respectful, though not overly effusive, and while a solid success at the box office, it didn’t do massive numbers. However, over the years, audiences have turned the film into a cultural touchstone, as it represents the type of film that rarely gets made anymore: The introspective Hollywood drama with smarts and action that features big stars and a name director all working at the top of their games. The films that Mann had done preceding Heat (Thief and Manhunter most especially) clearly influenced numerous decisions on his magnum crime opus, and the works he’d go on to make in the future have all been fairly (or unfairly) compared to this epic 1995 crime saga.
Mann has found his obvious home in the crime genre, with his name associated on TV projects (Starsky & Hutch, Police Story, Police Woman, Miami Vice, Crime Story, and the wildly underrated Robbery Homicide Division) and on various feature films (Collateral, Miami Vice, Public Enemies, and Blackhat), all of which hum with a distinct personality and unified vision, no matter in what capacity Mann served. Part of what differentiates Mann from other filmmakers is his unique sense of habitation and dedication to realism; no matter how busy the narrative or how jargon fueled the dialogue may be, there’s always a clear sense of how every detail might fall into place, allowing the audience to follow the demands of the plot while still having the capacity to be surprised and draw conclusions on their own. And in Heat, there’s a level of streamlined perfection to the story that might have been unattainable by another, less in-control filmmaker, considering just how many moving pieces are involved in making Heat the success that it became. What I love so much about Heat is that, like James Mangold’s 1997 policier Cop Land, the film operates as a sly, contemporary Western, but Heat, unlike many other genre efforts, transcends the themes that it so dutifully explores, vaulting the picture into rarefied, existential territory that Mann always seems interested in exploring no matter the milieu. He also managed to craft the Ultimate Los Angeles Movie, but more on that later.
Not that a plot explanation should be necessary at this point, but I’ll break down the basics. Robert De Niro is a master thief. Al Pacino is a master cop. They both have dedicated crews (Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo, and Dennis Haysbert on Team De Niro; Wes Studi, Mykelti Williamson, and Ted Levine on Team Pacino), that will follow them anywhere. The city of Los Angeles is their deadly playground. The film revolves around the notion of duality, and how the De Niro and Pacino characters are essentially the same person, just on opposite sides of the law, completely consumed by their work, with a constant sense of professionalism and integrity guiding them through their perilous daily life. De Niro assembles his team to do a major score, the daring robbery of a bank, and it’s up to Pacino and his band of fellow officers to bring them down. Mixed into the main story are the various relationships that De Niro, Pacino, and their men have with the women in their lives: Wives, girlfriends, and in one instance, a step-daughter. Instead of just a nuts and bolts crime film, Mann opened up his generous narrative to include real conversations between real people that drive all of the action in a grounded, thoughtful manner. How it all ends is the stuff of cinema legend, and if you don’t know by now I’ll allow you to discover for yourself, but I will concede that Heat operates on multiple narrative tracks all at once, with side-jobs bringing along potentially fatal consequences for De Niro and his men, and the emotionally taxing rigors of having to balance your family life and your cop life for Pacino.
De Niro’s Neil McCauley is a criminal driven by and to perfection. He lives by a serious, permanent moral code: Never become attached to something that you can’t walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner. No wife, no family, a true lone wolf in a sharp gray suit (a costume obsession of Mann’s for years), McCauley is the kind of man who thinks he has everything under control, and is used to getting his way in almost every situation. Then, things change when he meets a woman who might be a reason to leave his dangerous life behind for. She gives him a new reason to live, or at least he thinks she does from time to time. Because of the way that De Niro brilliantly plays the character, all inward quiet and small glances to suggest intent and feeling, you never truly know what he’ll do at any given moment. We know he’s pulled off various high-stakes jobs with total ease and precision, but he’s not used to letting his emotional guard down, and then when coupled with the fact that he’s got a Super Cop looking for him, he understands the need to take decisive action in an effort to complete his goals. This is one of De Niro’s least flashy and totally reserved performances, bringing a masculine grace to the role of leader and friend to his teammates, and while clearly a man capable of more than just violent action and air-tight planning, he’s still a human being, capable of making emotionally misguided mistakes which could prove to be his undoing.
In Pacino’s Vincent Hanna, Mann has created an amazing dichotomy with McCauley, because while both men certainly share similar traits and attributes, the recklessness of the Hanna character is what allows him to constantly move throughout the night, never resting for a moment, constantly thinking and plotting, always trying to one up his stealth opponent. Pacino brings a live-wire spark to the role of this driven detective, hollering out orders at his underlings, busting down doors, always ready to mix it up with an opponent. While listening to the Blu-ray audio commentary with Mann, it’s revealed that he had written a casual but possibly slightly out of control cocaine habit into the Hanna character, which would help explain the sudden outbursts of physical energy and verbal profanity, as well as all of the jaw chomping and twitching that he exhibits all throughout the film. I’m not fully sure why this angle was cut out of the film (I guess it cuts down on the sympathy factor for the character), but I really do wish that Mann had kept this edgy bit of business in the final cut, as it would have further contextualized Hanna as a man of steady habits and unpredictable behavior. Pacino, no stranger to large emoting, especially during the 90’s in films such as Scent of a Woman and The Devil’s Advocate, chews the scenery when called for, but also allows small moments of stern quiet to seep in around the edges. He’s a man who is always assessing the situation, whether on the job or at home, and it’s the way that Pacino burrows deep into Hanna as a man that we come to understand the method to his madness. I also find it curious how Mann introduces his top-cop character at the start of the film, during a morning lovemaking session with his wife, as opposed to on the streets chasing down some random bad guy. Romance is another aspect that Mann’s films always deal with, and the way that Pacino balances his home life and professional life is of key consequence to his character and the story in general.
The romantic angle and the concentration on the female characters also help separate Heat from lesser genre entries. Not content to tell an all-boys story with guns and explosions, Mann, as he’s been prone to do in the past, allows for the leads to have personal relationships which amp up the narrative tension and reason for being. McCauley meets an enchanting young woman who he feels might be worth running away with (a super young Amy Brenneman), and it isn’t until the film’s final moments where you learn his ultimate decisions regarding their unique relationship. This relationship takes the normally rigorously disciplined McCauley out of his comfort zone, which allows for shards of humanity to creep in around the edges. Hanna, meanwhile, is a two time divorcee who is in the middle of an about to fail marriage (Diane Venora is his sharp witted wife); it’s clear that he can’t keep things on the up and up at home while still traversing the streets of Los Angeles looking for all of the city’s transgressors. The scenes between Pacino and Venora have a palpable tension, because while they clearly loved each other once, they are so obviously drifting away from each other, and their confrontations carry a verbal weight and sting that elevates the material from mere soap opera to fully fleshed-out human dramatics. To further complicate Hanna’s life, his mentally unstable step-daughter (played by a then emerging star Nathalie Portman) also looms over the proceedings, creating a sense of unease that becomes essential to one aspect of the script. In retrospect, Heat does sort of resemble a male soap opera of sorts, as the two lead characters are emotionally stunted and need to sort out their issues through a variety of ways, some involving words, and others involving guns and violent conflict.
Heat has action peppered all throughout the runtime, but the film’s opening set-piece, involving the robbery of an armored truck, and the unfortunate execution of the truck’s drivers, immediately grabs the viewer by the throat, never letting you up for air. De Niro and his team orchestrate the perfect smash and grab, stealing only what they need, and leaving hardly a trace of evidence. It’s a brilliant way to establish the effectiveness of De Niro and his outfit, and it allows Mann the chance to show his methodical directorial style, almost journalistic in its small details, while you watch De Niro plan and then execute what should be the perfect heist. But you can only prepare so much, and because you never truly know who you’re working with, there’s a wild card in the equation that De Niro could never have prepared for. He goes by the name Waingro (the scary Kevin Gage), and he hovers over the narrative like the Devil himself, always appearing at the proper moment to set something in motion. But the scene that everyone loves to discuss and re-watch is arguably the greatest single sequence of action fireworks ever put on film, the robbery of a downtown Los Angeles bank in broad daylight, with all manner of civilians running for their lives, and an armada of cops battling De Niro and his crew. This bravura sequence is nothing short of staggering, with very few (if any) other films from over the years capturing the same sense of immediacy and violent impact that this monumental sequence contains, no matter how hard they try, Mann included (the gun battles in Public Enemies, Miami Vice, and Blackhat are terrific and at times extraordinary, but none match the rawness of what was captured in Heat). While never overly bloody, the street rampage is filled with all sorts of deadly implications, from numerous police officers and innocent bystanders being killed in the crossfire, and various members of De Niro’s crew either getting hurt or killed. Thousands of rounds of ammunition were expended during this blistering sequence of sustained fury, with the sensational sound team capturing every single bullet strike and muzzle blast. Mann saves the bloodiest bits of violence for the moments that really count (Waingro, Van Zant, the climatic moments between McCauley and Hanna), so that when we see someone go down hard and viciously, the consequence can be felt on a stark and visceral level, rather than everything becoming a senseless blur of unending and gratuitous graphic violence. As a filmmaker, Mann knows more about what to show and when to show it than few other currently working directors.
The cinematography, editing, music, and production design are all in total harmonious synch in Heat. Dante Spinotti’s naturalistic if at times slightly heightened images, in full 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, fill the edges of the frame with visual information and precise detail, with Mann’s “always-looking-into-the-future-of-the-night” style mixing with Spinotti’s elegant use of color and depth of field. Shots are framed a tad off center, with the character’s heads filling the foreground or background or side of frame, almost so that the camera is entering the minds of the story’s inhabitants, creating a lyrical and thought provoking tone that suggests a cerebral nature as much as it does anything else. The physical locations chosen for Heat showcase Los Angeles in all of its ethnically diverse and cement-sexy splendor, with the vapors and reflections of street lamps bouncing off the flat concrete surfaces, as industrial landscapes dot the horizon, with parking garages, empty lots and fields, side-streets, and the vast expanses of the city’s various skyscrapers and office buildings suggesting endless possibilities. And then there’s the amazing musical score, which ranges from ambient to grand, sweeping to soft, always in perfect tandem with the bright daytime and dark nocturnal images on screen, with some Miami Vice-inspired guitar riffs thrown in for those paying close attention. Heat is a nearly three hour picture, but because of the crispness and the judiciously timed editing, the film never sags or allows itself to slow down; once the story kicks into gear it never lets up, with a final hour that packs various dramatic conflict and incident into the narrative yet never feels rushed or forced. The swift pace created by the seamless editing patterns goes a long way in keeping this lengthy but forceful film moving along, with Mann pulling all the elements together in a way that few could ever have when it comes to material such as this.
By its powerful and well-earned conclusion, Heat is a film that is consumed with the ideas of studied professionalism, and the costs of committing 100% to any area of life. It’s just that in this story, that area of life is the criminal vs. the cop. And during the film’s electric final moments of action at a busy LAX and in the galvanizing final scene accompanied by Moby’s epic and poetic song God Moving Over The Face of The Waters, you get the sense that Mann has crafted two characters that, while resting on opposite sides of the law, have come to mutually respect each other as men and as adversaries. It all goes back to their fantastic meeting at the coffee shop at the film’s midsection, and how the two of them look clear into each other eyes and tell one another that the life they’re living is the only life they know how to live. More than any other great piece of work from Mann, Heat is his definitive masterpiece of filmmaking, the sublime end result of all of his ticks and tendencies as a storyteller, filtered through that indelible and totally dynamic visual aesthetic that has subtly morphed over the years while still retaining its core elements. It’s a film that I remain blown away by every single time I take in a viewing, and I love how I can vividly recall the first time I experienced it on the big screen with my father back in my high school days. Years late, I had a second opportunity to see the film in theaters, this time with Mann doing live Q&A (he took a break from editing duties on Ali to run over to LACMA for the screening). Heat will always be one of my favorite films of all time, for so many reasons, not the least of which is that, simply stated, it is great, enduring cinema that stirs the soul.