Pixar Post - Inside Out Madness TV Spot2

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 mansplains writes:

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.

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Paul Dano, Brian Wilson, and John Cusack pose for a portrait during press day for "Love & Mercy" at The Four Seasons on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Casey Curry/Invision/AP)

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.

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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 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



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.

NY Times photo of Cusack and Wilson
NY Times photo of Cusack and Wilson

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 9.05.51 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 7.36.24 AM

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.

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“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

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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.

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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.


The Oscar race could be flipped this year to feature films about important women doing important things, which would be highly significant in that it could mirror what’s happening, or might soon happen, in the Oval Office. Pixar’s Inside Out is here to represent on the animation side. Charlize Theron and her gang of feminist fugitives could dominate the effects genre films for the year, eclipsing Age of Ultron quite handily. Perhaps The Force Awakens will indeed feature a female at its center (not counting on it just yet). Finally, we have two films headed for the Best Picture race, Carol and Joy. Not to mention Suffragette, Freehold, Crimson Peak, and Brooklyn.

But let’s get real, shall we? You know as well as I do that Best Picture is dominated by male-driven movies MOST OF THE TIME. That’s why when looking over the upcoming slate of films it is easy to see the ones that scream Oscar versus the ones that don’t:

“Important men doing important things.”


“Failed men attempting to do important things and failing.”


“Men doing things.”

While there is a whole year of choices to come, film festivals and breakthrough movies no one has yet heard about, there is also the game of Oscar watching wherein people like me will start to make their list of hopefuls. It might be based on “prestige” or it might be based on highly praised films. But if you asked me right now to list ten movies I pick for Best Picture sight unseen I’d probably go with:

Steve Jobs
The Revenant
The Walk
Crimson Peak
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road

The Oscar voters don’t pick ten, though. They pick five. The Academy then counts the votes and the accountants end up with between five and ten nominees. But you’re still talking about five choices for each voting member. That is when shit starts to get real and films are quickly dropped that might have had a shot with ten blanks to fill. With five you mostly land on “important/failed men doing/failing at important things.”

In other words, you might be looking at something more like this:

Steve Jobs
The Revenant
The Walk
Crimson Peak
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road

In a year that America saw its first black president the Oscars saw its first Best Picture winner as a story about slavery as told from the black perspective, directed by a black man (though British, not African American).   We’re on the verge of potentially the first female president in America’s history. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t. Maybe it will impact the Oscar race. Maybe it won’t.  There is no reason to be hopeless about it all just yet, but keep in mind when pundits are making their lists of films that will get in you’re going to always be chasing the male-centric drama. Man in crisis. Man makes good.

Here is a list of upcoming films in the months ahead.

Ricki and the Flash (Meryl Streep)

A Walk in the Woods (Robert Redford, Nick Nolte)
Time out of Mind (Richard Gere)
Black Mass (Johnny Depp)
Pawn Sacrifice (Tobey Maguire)
Everest (Jake Gyllenhaal)
Sicario (Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro)

Freeheld (Ellen Page, Julianne Moore)
The Keeping Room (Sam Worthington, Olivia Wilde, Nicole Beharie, Hailee Steinfeld)
Legend (Tom Hardy)
The Walk (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender)
Crimson Peak (Jessica Chastain)
Bridge of Spies (Tom Hanks)
Suffragette (Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter, Meryl Streep, etc)

Trumbo (Bryan Cranston)
Brooklyn (Saoirse Ronan)
Midnight Special (Kirsten Dunst, Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton)
The Danish Girl (Eddie Redmayne)
The Martian (Matt Damon)
By the Sea (Brad and Angie)

In the Heart of the Sea (Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Cillian Murphy, Chris Hemsworth, Jordi Molla, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland)
The Lady in the Van (Maggie Smith)
Carol (Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara)
The Force Awakens
Concussion (Alec Baldwin, Will Smith)
The Revenant (Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Lukas Haas, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson)
Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
Escobar (Benicio Del Toro)
Joy (Jennifer Lawrence)

Additionally, here are some other titles that don’t yet have release dates to keep in mind:

Money Monster  (dir. Jodie Foster) (written by son of Elia Kazan)
The Whole Truth  (dir. Courtney Hunt)
Diary of a Teenage Girl (dir. Marielle Heller)
The Second Mother (dir. Anna Muylaert)
Fresno (dir. Jamie Babbitt)
Hello, My Name Is Doris (Michael Showalter)

One thing to remember is that your Best Picture winner will ordinarily have to show up before October, preferably at Telluride or Toronto, most likely Telluride.  When last checked, passes to T Ride fest were sold out, faster than ever before. That’s mainly due to the fact that Best Picture has visited Telluride in the past four years.

12 Years a Slave
The Artist

While two of these were seen BEFORE Telluride, no film seen after Telluride has won Best Picture since 2006’s The Departed, almost ten years ago.  Though it never FEELS like we’ve seen the winner by the time the fest closes, it simply turns out that way.

Fasten your seatbelts, Oscarwatchers.


Macbeth screened on the last day in Cannes and earned raves both for Cotillard and Fassbender. That should launch them into the race for Actor and Actress, as expected. Guy Lodge’s elegantly written review has this wonderful paragraph about Cotillard:

A plum role for any actress, Lady Macbeth proves an exhilaratingly testing one for Cotillard, whose gifts as both a technician and an emotional conduit apparently know no linguistic barrier. Streaked with unearthly blue eye shadow — Jenny Shircore’s daring makeup designs are a constant marvel — and working in a cultivated Anglo-Continental accent that positions the character even more pointedly as a stranger in her own court, Cotillard electrically conveys misdirected sexual magnetism, but also a poignantly defeated sense of decency. It’s a performance that contains both the woman’s abandoned self and her worst-case incarnation, often in the space of a single scene. Her deathless sleepwalking scene, staged in minimalist fashion under a gauze of snowflakes in a bare chapel, is played with tender, desolate exhaustion; it deserves to be viewed as near-definitive.

And the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw:

As Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are a dream-team pairing, actors who radiate charisma, perhaps more charisma than can be entirely absorbed into the fabric of the film. As ever, Cotillard is able to convey enormous amounts with her face without saying a word. Fassbender is arguably less good with Macbeth’s introverted vulnerability and self-questioning, but always effortlessly virile and watchable, responding to Macbeth’s outbursts of anger and imperious paranoia. When he dismisses the witches: “Infected be the air whereon they ride/And damned all those that trust them!” he tops it off with a whooping rebel yell. Paddy Considine is a frowningly vigilant Banquo and David Thewlis is Duncan, the sacrificial victim King smilingly presiding over the nation which sometimes looks focused on a pagan court and sometimes in a vast Christian cathedral from a later age.

This is what it needs to keep moving forward and should play well with ticket buyers drawn in for both leads and of course the Bard himself.

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In 1970s South Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly persuades Irish mobster James “Whitey” Bulger to collaborate with the FBI and eliminate a common enemy: the Italian mob. The drama tells the true story of this unholy alliance, which spiraled out of control, allowing Whitey to evade law enforcement, consolidate power, and become one of the most ruthless and powerful gangsters in Boston history.

Black Mass stars Oscar® nominee Johnny Depp (“Public Enemies”, “Donnie Brasco”, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films) as Whitey Bulger and Joel Edgerton (“The Great Gatsby,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) as FBI Agent John Connolly. Filming began in Boston under the direction of Scott Cooper (“Out of the Furnace,” “Crazy Heart”).

The film also stars Benedict Cumberbatch (“Twelve Years a Slave”) as Whitey’s brother, Billy Bulger, who is a Massachusetts State Senator; Jesse Plemons (AMC’s “Breaking Bad”) as Whitey’s longtime partner in crime, Kevin Weeks; Dakota Johnson (“Fifty Shades of Grey”) as Lindsey Cyr, Whitey’s former girlfriend and mother of his only child; Rory Cochrane (“Argo”) as Steve Flemmi, another member of the Irish mob; Julianne Nicholson (“August: Osage County”) as John Connolly’s wife, Marianne; and Adam Scott (ABC’s “Parks and Recreation”) as FBI Agent Robert Fitzpatrick. Rounding out the main cast are David Harbour (“End of Watch”), Jeremy Strong (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Brad Carter (HBO’s “True Detective”), W. Earl Brown (“Draft Day”) and Corey Stoll (“The Bourne Legacy”).

Brian Oliver, Tyler Thompson, John Lesher, Patrick McCormick and Scott Cooper are producing the film, with Peter Mallouk, Lauren Selig, Brett Granstaff and Gary Granstaff serving as executive producers. The screenplay is adapted from the book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob, by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill.


The Cannes Film Festival is about as far from the Oscar race as you can get and in some way, at least internationally, it eclipses it.  There is a curious mix here of general distaste for American film and the masses falling all over themselves from the celebrities it produces.

Right now, the odds are good for three films to compete for the top prize, unless I’m missing something. The Assassin (which I had a hard time with, not gonna lie), Son of Saul (which I did not see), Carol (which I hope wins), Youth (ditto).

Beyond the prizes here, Cannes does influence the Oscar race in some respects. Buzz can start or end here. Foxcatcher was the only movie to survive from last year’s selection. Why did voters go for that but not Inside Llewyn Davis from the year before? Tree of Life was booed here in Cannes but then went on to get a Best Picture nomination.

The films I think that will have the most impact by the time Telluride hits on Labor Day weekend would probably be getting that hit with or without Cannes. That’s the truth of it. But let’s go through them anyway, shall we? This includes films that are in the main competition for the Palme and films that premiered here out of the main competition or in other categories.

As of this writing, no one has yet seen MacBeth because it plays on the last day. The other film that will screen tomorrow (while I’ll be on a plane to the states) is Chronic.

As far as the main competition goes, here are the films that stand out:

Carol – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress, Costumes, Cinematography, Production Design, Score
Youth – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Production Design
Mad Max: Fury Road – Actress, Visual Effects, Production Design, Cinematography, Editing, Sound, Sound Effects Editing
Inside Out – Animated Feature, Screenplay, Sound Editing, Score
Son of Saul – a slam dunk for Foreign Language if it’s submitted and nominated.

From my perspective, as far as the Oscar race goes, Carol and Youth are the two game changers. One is going to be a slightly more difficult sell than the other. Youth is right up the street of Oscar voters, will play extremely well at festivals (if chosen) like Telluride, the Hampton’s, etc. With Fox Searchlight behind it you know it’s going to be a major player.

On the flipside is the equally adept Weinstein Co. that will be pushing Carol. Pity the fool that underestimates this film with Weinstein in charge of it.  You might say, well, the Academy is too homophobic to go there with Todd Haynes but you’d be wrong for a couple of reasons. The first is that the demographics and the mindset in the Hollywood industry has changed a lot since 2005 when Brokeback Mountain lost Best Picture.  Carol is about exposing a lie and living the truth. It is about the very thing the industry has been accused of: hide your sexuality because it might hurt your career. In Carol, the message is – don’t hide who you are no matter what the consequences.

Carol is also jaw-droppingly beautiful. Every frame a masterpiece.  Appreciation for Todd Haynes has been too long coming and if there is one person who knows how to exploit that angle best it’s Weinstein. This is the guy who vowed to win Martin Scorsese an Oscar way back when. Okay so maybe it didn’t work then.  We’re not talking about winning here. We’re talking about being nominated and that should be a cakewalk with Carol. The only slight snag might come in where the hype is risen to epic proportions so that when Academy voters finally do see it they will be expecting something bigger than the subtly perfect thing it is.  We’ll have to wait that one out, though. There isn’t much to be done about it.  The hype machine can’t be stopped.

Youth is like a valentine to Oscar voters. What Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are experiencing is like Birdman ramped up to 11.  It is the kind of film many directors in Hollywood used to want to make. It examines modern life while reaching back to the past. I think if you get enough voters in front of it they’re going to love it. I don’t think either Caine or Keitel has ever been better.  Jane Fonda and Rachel Weisz also have great, unforgettable moments where they tell off the two male leads.  Fonda is particularly grand in her vanity free, explosive monologue. What Fonda says in that scene also confronts the truth about how Hollywood itself is changing, how television is taking over as the artistic promised land, and how compromises often end up consuming out life as we get old.

Youth might not be a film for young people — not yet anyway. But it most definitely is a film for those over the age of 50 who are discovering wisdom that only comes from a life lived amid successes and failures.  You know it when you get there.

The second tier after that would be:
Irrational Man – Screenplay
Tale of Tales – Production Design
Sicario – Cinematography, Supporting Actor
Amy – Documentary Feature
The Lobster – Screenplay

Foreign Language contenders could get their start here as well but it always depends upon which film a country submits. The films with the most buzz that would get no major category Oscar play (at least, that’s how it seems to go; there’s always the chance). These are the ones I’ve heard about or seen but there may be others, of course, that I’m missing. Full disclosure: I’m just guessing at country of submission here.

Mia Madre (Italy)
La Tete Haute, La Loi du Marche, Dheepan (France)
Umimachi Diary, An (Japan)
The Assassin (Taiwan/China)
Mountains May Depart (China)
Mustang (Turkey)

Still to come:
MacBeth – possible actor/actress, costumes, etc.

The jury for the main competition is comprised of a different group of people each year, thus making predicting which film will win the Palme d’or that much more difficult. It also doesn’t follow that what wins here will start the ball rolling to win everywhere else. It is only the massive consensus votes that do that and they start when the Producers Guild announces their winner. There is little surprise left anymore as to what film will win Best Picture because the Producers Guild has at last cracked the code. The same amount of voters, roughly, with a preferential ballot has predicted Best Picture since they expanded from five to ten, and then from ten to an unknown number between five and ten.

2009-The Hurt Locker
2010-The King’s Speech
2011-The Artist
2013-12 Years and Gravity (the only surprise)

Cannes has so little to do with this consensus building because here it is not about what thousands think. It’s about what about what a handful of people think, and the broader conversation that happens among critics who view the films as well. The critics can sometimes shape what wins the Palme because buzz has a way of spreading like a virus. But what wins here will have no impact on what wins the Oscar. It carries its own prestige which is probably a bigger deal globally than winning over thousands of industry voters in Hollywood.

In other words, don’t you care more what Joel and Ethan Coen and Guillermo del Toro think about your movie than what a whole bunch of people you’ve never heard of think?

Either way, it’s often unpredictable how this festival will influence the upcoming Oscar race because we still don’t know what movies will be in play. As with most things Oscar related you follow the publicists/studios/strategists because they usually know what will fly and what won’t. Weinstein Co., Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics, A24, Focus, Brigade, Summit, Lisa Taback, Cynthia Schwarz, Lea Yardum, R. Jeff Hill, David Pollick, etc.  Really, they shape the Oscar race more than any other influencer because they tend to already know what the voters will go for.  And then the festival directors who choose films that will go to Telluride, Venice, Toronto and AFI.

Gun to my head, if I had to predict which movies above all others would be headed for Oscar from Cannes without breaking a sweat I’d go with Carol and Youth.  The others can get there but they will need a push.


Paolo Sorrentino just hit it out of the park here at Cannes, delivering what has to be the most compelling screening of everything I’ve seen here thus far with the possible exception of Carol.  When it finally came to an end, the audience sat in stunned silence until at last the screen went totally dark. After that, an even number of “bravos!” and “boos” filled the house as audience members slowly left the theater. Why did the film divide the house so sharply? Probably because the film is both daring and traditional, realistic and absurd.

Youth is a melancholy look at aging and love. It tells its story with epic sweep, even though it takes place in a singular location — a spa in the hills of Switzerland. The canvas is the internal world of the actors who move through emotional ups and downs while the camera catches them at their best and worst moments. A tall, leggy, busty woman fills the frame as she struts down a slope towards the horizon. Images like that are juxtaposed with an old woman sitting in a spa, or an overweight man hitting a tennis ball high in the air with just his foot.  Youth exists somewhere between the surreal Italian film school of Federico Fellini and the romantic one of Bertolucci.

Michael Caine plays a composer who is best friends with a legendary film director played by Harvey Keitel. They ruminate on life, love, sex, aging and youth as they move among the various characters who join them at the hotel.  In Caine’s case it’s his daughter, Rachel Weisz, and in Keitel’s case its the film writers he has along to help finish his latest movie.

The relationship between Weisz and Caine is so surprising, so moving, both in terms of how deep these actors go with each other and in the things the characters learn about themselves during the film. She has two jobs, she says: being his daughter and being his assistant. All the while she’s heartbroken that her mother is not with them. Caine’s character spends the whole movie obsessed with sounds, inventing his own music by twisting a piece of plastic wrap, or listening to cowbells and birds.  Somewhere behind him a young actor played by Paul Dano studies him as he listens.

Somewhere on the hotel grounds a monk meditates. Somewhere else the hotel’s young masseuse is dancing to a video about dancing. Somewhere else a husband and wife are not speaking to each other in the same way every night. These moments are dispassionately observed by Sorrentino, silently commented upon, like eye-witness testimony told in great detail so we are can be allowed draw our own conclusions.

Every shot is a thing of beauty. I spend most of time here in Cannes finding beautiful/ugly/interesting things to photograph.  For most of this film I had the impulse to hoist my camera and take a snapshot of it. It is just one dizzying image after another.

Films like this hardly get made anymore. Probably no American director could get a movie like this made, no matter how big the name.  American actors certainly don’t get many chances like this to deliver fully realized performances. Birdman’s indictment of Hollywood is nothing compared to what gets said about it in Youth, the good, the bad and the ugly, but mostly the ugly.

Films used to have somewhere in mind to go beyond opening weekend box office numbers or the chase for awards. They had somewhere to go because smart people made them and smart people wanted to see them get made.  We can mostly declare the death of this kind of cinema in the American studio system as of 2015. It will be left to filmmakers in other countries where artistic freedom is less restricted.

Both Caine and Keitel give career-best performances. One or the other is headed for the Best Actor race. Jane Fonda has a powerhouse few minutes on screen that could earn her an Oscar nomination as well, but with Fox Searchlight in the driver’s seat expect this film — catnip for Academy voters — to be represented in all of the major categories and perhaps to become a frontrunner to win.

This is a film of big ideas of the human experience, certainly among the most profound.  Why are people so afraid of human touch? is one of the questions it examines.  Is love meant to last? is another. It’s about show business, creativity, inspiration, but mostly about the eternal conflict between aging and youth. We have such power of attraction when we’re young but we often don’t learn how to properly wield that power till we’re old.  The film is emphatic about its realization that we’re alive until we aren’t. It doesn’t matter whether that existence is important or insignificant, this universal truth remains.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 6.10.12 PM

The writing is of course fantastic. The directing will be good. All that’s left is Fassbender as Steve Jobs. That should be interesting. Here’s the trailer.

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