Best Supporting Actress


This year is marked by an odd phenomenon of masterful leading performances that will have to be put in the supporting categories because there isn’t enough room for them in the leading categories. If the Academy had the flexibility to expand the lead categories we would not have this problem, but as it is, even the supporting categories will be extremely competitive, in ways the leading categories usually are.

In the past, there have a few times when actors were put in the lead category for the Screen Actors Guild awards but the Academy voters chose to put them in supporting.

In 2008, the SAG put Kate Winslet in Lead for Revolutionary Road but in Supporting for The Reader. She was nominated for both and won both at the Golden Globes. At the SAG she won for The Reader. Meryl Streep won in the lead category. But there was no way Winslet was going to lose that year. It was finally her time — and she was working the circuit hard core. The Academy put her in lead for The Reader, and ended up also including The Reader for Best Picture they liked it so much (thus, famously snubbing The Dark Knight and forever changing the Oscar rules for Best Picture).

In 2000, Benicio Del Toro was put in, and won for lead at the SAGs for Traffic. He was then up for and won supporting at the Oscars. Russell Crowe, who was up for Gladiator, ended up winning the Oscar, and Gladiator went on to win Best Picture while Traffic took Best Director.

In 2001, Jennifer Connelly was put in lead at the SAGs but did not win because Halle Berry won for Monster’s Ball. At the Oscars, Connelly, who was clearly lead, was put in the supporting category at the Oscars and DID win. Helen Mirren, who won supporting at the SAGs, lost to Connelly because hers was the far bigger part. Also that same year, Jim Broadbent won for Supporting against Ian McKellen because Broadbent’s was really a lead performance, not a supporting one like McKellen’s.

Therein lies the rub. The problem with putting lead performances in supporting categories is that it sets up an unfair advantage for the bigger and better part opposite a genuinely supporting part, like Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained, like Marcia Gay Harden for Pollock.

This year, the limits of this practice are really going to be put to the test and will likely set up Best Supporting Actress and maybe Supporting Actor to be a different variation on lead.

For Supporting Actress right now we have:

1. Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl – I think she wins this because it is, without question, a leading role. How do you compare it with other supporting performances?
2. Rooney Mara, Carol – Vikander’s main competition. No one really knows how lead actress will go, or how well the Academy will like Carol but Mara won Best Actress in Cannes, which sets her up for a potential win here.
3. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs – Again, it’s practically a lead actress performance as she’s in almost every scene! But it can sort of be thought of as supporting at least (even though it’s lead).
4. Jane Fonda for Youth – It’s a tiny part that would have a hard time competing with these leading roles, but Fonda is so good in those few minutes it’s hard to imagine them denying her.
5. Elizabeth Banks for Love & Mercy – Still among the most memorable turns of the year. It’s a substantial part but again, the bigger roles have a better advantage.
6. Joan Allen for Room – Will compete with Banks for the fifth slot, or might bump Fonda.
7. Jessica Chastain for The Martian – Waiting in case any of the three leads accidentally pop into the lead category.
8. Mya Taylor for Tangerine – Would be the first transgender supporting actress nominee. It’s a big question mark where actors will go on this.
8. Kristen Stewart for Clouds of Sils Maria – It’s a long shot at this point because the competition is just too intense.

For Supporting Actor right now we have:

1. Paul Dano for Love & Mercy – It’s debatable whether he is lead or not since he and John Cusack together make up one lead performance. I don’t think I saw a better supporting performance than Dano’s this year and he’s really overdue for an Oscar nomination.
2. Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies – Rylance’s is without question a supporting turn. He holds up Bridge of Spies beautifully against Tom Hanks’ performance. The two together work so sweetly together.
3. Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight – This is an ensemble piece with no clear leading roles, which makes it tough to single any one out. Ruffalo COULD win for Spotlight.
4. Harvey Keitel for Youth – This is another leading performance put in supporting because Michael Caine has to be lead. Keitel’s success or failure will have to do with how they view the movie overall.
5. Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation – This is a disturbing but nonetheless brilliant turn by Elba, an actor Hollywood has not yet figured out what to do with. Hopefully they will have the stomach for this masterpiece and will reward Elba with a nomination for it.
6. Benicio Del Toro for Sicario (updated to add) he will probably bump one of the five above.
7. Jason Segel for The End of Tour – Though Jessie Eisenberg is technically lead, it feels like the film is about David Foster Wallace.
8. Jeff Daniels for Steve Jobs – he’s also in The Martian will helps push him to the top of the pile. He’s better in Steve Jobs and is beloved. Working with Sorkin might finally be his ticket to the big show.
9. Michael Keaton for Spotlight – it’s a tough one, though, because his is so beautifully subtle that among the more bombastic performances it’s tough to rise to the top of the pile.

Finally, there is still Tom Hardy in The Revenant that we may have to make room for, Robert Deniro in Joy, Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell in The Big Short. But for now, this is how it seems to be looking.

Either way, it’s possible we could see four Oscars won for lead and supporting where they are all in fact lead roles.

SANTA BARBARA, CA - OCTOBER 03:  Jane Fonda accepts award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's 10th Annual Kirk Douglas Awards Honoring Jane Fonda at Bacara Resort and Spa on October 3, 2015 in Santa Barbara, California.  (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for Santa Barbara International Film Festival)

Jane Fonda’s career played before a crowd of around 300 hundred or so at the Baraca Resort in Santa Barbara. She was being honored last night by the Santa Barbara Film Festival with the Kirk Douglas award. The clips showed an always engaged Fonda who had the ability to keep her emotions just under the first layer, always threatening to burst through but never quite getting there. The beautiful Fonda over many decades of career highs and lows expands upwards and looms large like the greatest of redwoods. How do they stay so long? How do they remain so beautiful? Fonda, it’s worth mentioning, has never looked better than she did last night. Like the redwood she is all the more beautiful because she has settled into herself by no one’s definition of what she should be and how she should look.


When the montage finally arrived at her most recent performance in Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, a stupefying career moment of sheer genius, it was apparent that this was also among Fonda’s very best incarnations. There is a permanent flame, like the one that peeks up from the mountain range on the drive back from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. It burns there inexplicably, hot and dangerous. This actress who tells Harvey Keitel the god’s honest truth about his career, her career and the future of Hollywood threatens to burn everything that comes near it. It stood out among the many permanent fixtures of Fonda we fans carry around with us.

Before the ceremony began, a few of us were invited to meet Jane Fonda. My date was my old friend Michael Grei who knows everything about the Oscars, movies and especially Jane Fonda. She politely shook our hands. I did not ask to take Michael’s picture with her but I regret that now. After all, she would not have cared. We blew the moment. I also blathered on about a podcast I remember hearing Jane Fonda interviewed for. I told her it was called “Death, Sex and Taxes.” She said she didn’t remember it. “Death and sex I know,” she said. “But taxes? I know nothing about taxes.” It took me a few hours of restless sleep to remember it was actually called “Death, Sex and Money.” Oh, how my inferior brain disappoints me at crucial moments like that one.

SANTA BARBARA, CA - OCTOBER 03: Diane Lane speaks onstage at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's 10th Annual Kirk Douglas Awards Honoring Jane Fonda at Bacara Resort and Spa on October 3, 2015 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for Santa Barbara International Film Festival)
SANTA BARBARA, CA – OCTOBER 03: Diane Lane speaks onstage at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s 10th Annual Kirk Douglas Awards Honoring Jane Fonda at Bacara Resort and Spa on October 3, 2015 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for Santa Barbara International Film Festival)

She then talked warmly with Jeff Wells, whom she really seems to genuinely like talking to. Jeff asked her if she went back to Vietnam ever and for a second, a brief flicker of fear washed over her until she realized he was just speaking generally about the country and the people. He wasn’t going to go “there.”

What I noticed about her was that she was sturdy. She knew who she was and she suffered no fools. She was direct and honest. Before long, Michael and I scurried away and back to our table where there was probably too much wine.

SANTA BARBARA, CA - OCTOBER 03: Elizabeth Banks and Jane Fonda attend Santa Barbara International Film Festival's 10th Annual Kirk Douglas Awards Honoring Jane Fonda at Bacara Resort and Spa on October 3, 2015 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for Santa Barbara International Film Festival)
SANTA BARBARA, CA – OCTOBER 03: Elizabeth Banks and Jane Fonda attend Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s 10th Annual Kirk Douglas Awards Honoring Jane Fonda at Bacara Resort and Spa on October 3, 2015 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for Santa Barbara International Film Festival)

Two women were there to pay tribute to Fonda. Diane Lane and Elizabeth Banks, both of whom had witty, inspirational words. Sure, they were kids or not even born for much of her career but the thing about Fonda — and we know this because of Grace and Jackie where she makes fun of herself by saying things like “I look pretty when I cry” — she redefines herself each year. She is not left behind but is very present in the lives of actresses today who battle the kind of shit Fonda and her gang help kick down way back when. Those walls were built back up and this time with bricks. Fonda’s presence will teach Banks and Lane to help teach others to find the right strategy to tear them down again.

Fonda’s speech was appropriately humble and to the point. She thanked Kirk Douglas and paid tribute to Santa Barbara, not to mention Lane and Banks. Throughout Fonda’s life people have always referred to her in terms of how she looks. That’s the first question everyone asks and the first way people describe women, especially older women. The next question is how old she is.  Fonda has worked hard to look that good and she’s always been honest about it, guiding women into physical fitness for decades. Here, she was dressed up for the glamorous world of gods and goddesses. I suddenly remembered back a year or two prior when I’d been flying back from Cannes and there was Jane Fonda waiting to board the plane. She wore big glasses and street clothes. She stood quietly unadorned and unnoticed in the corner. I remembered that podcast where she talked about how much she loved being alone.

SANTA BARBARA, CA - OCTOBER 03: Jane Fonda accepts award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's 10th Annual Kirk Douglas Awards Honoring Jane Fonda at Bacara Resort and Spa on October 3, 2015 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for Santa Barbara International Film Festival)
SANTA BARBARA, CA – OCTOBER 03: Jane Fonda accepts award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s 10th Annual Kirk Douglas Awards Honoring Jane Fonda at Bacara Resort and Spa on October 3, 2015 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for Santa Barbara International Film Festival)

As I watched her last night, I was reminded of how divided she is as a person between wanting to be alone, high up in the mountains, and wanting to be vibrantly social:

“Well, the mother that I remember is very different than the mother I researched. I remember her as a hypochondriac, febrile, nervous, scared, insecure person. And she was all of those things. But then I also discovered that other people’s impressions of her were: vibrant, like, men were attracted to her like moths to a flame. She was very social. I have her and my father in me, I’m like a bear. I hibernate and like to be alone, and that’s my father. That’s the bigger part of me. But then when I come out of hibernation I like to party real hard and that’s my mother.”

Hollywood hasn’t made room for someone like Jane Fonda. She’s full of vitality. She refuses to snuff out her sexuality and in so doing, she’s making room for herself and anyone else who follows gracefully, forcefully, and willingly behind her.


Photo by Jeffrey Wells
Photo by Jeffrey Wells
Photo by Jeffrey Wells
Photo by Jeffrey Wells
Photo by Jeffrey Wells
Photo by Jeffrey Wells
Photo by Jeffrey Wells
Photo by Jeffrey Wells


The year began with a film that was pushed into this year from the previous year, The Clouds of Sils Maria, still one of the best two-handers to feature women. Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart wandering through the world of aging, fame, the art of acting and relationships between women. It goes without saying that they don’t really make them like this very often. When they do, they tend to get buried, as this film has been. Buried because there isn’t much of an audience for this kind of film anymore except if it figures somehow into the film awards circuit. Otherwise, it’s VOD forever.


Kristen Stewart became the first American actress ever to win the Cesar. Her fans definitely noticed. We in the pundit world also took notice; would this mean Stewart could actually maintain enough momentum to earn a nod by year’s end? It seemed highly unlikely then. As the year progressed and more performances presented themselves, Stewart — as expected — might have faded into the background as other more immediate names came to mind. Is that really true yet? It’s hard to say, but it’s something to think about.

One thing to remember about the supporting categories — they are anchors affixed to films the Academy likes best. They are either anchored to a Best Picture contender or a film that was close to being a Best Picture contender. Or they are anchored b a strong leading performance that will be nominated regardless — think: Denzel Washington in Training Day and Ethan Hawke’s performance anchored to it.

They are less inclined to cherry pick exceptional performances from films that don’t have buzz, or “best picture heat,” and they are more likely to pick performances that figure in somehow to those movies they already love so much. Sometimes a performer can overcome that, if they’re well known enough or the performance is exceptional enough (Robert Duvall in The Judge last year is a good example of this). But usually, the people who get the nominations are the people who work the game and the people who work the game are working it because the movie is already in the game. In other words, they don’t often just go out and campaign on their own — usually they’re attached to a movie that is being talked about already. Make sense?

That means a performer like Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs or Jessica Chastain in The Martian or Joan Allen in Room will have a better chance than names who are dangling randomly without a film that’s headed into the race somehow, like Clouds of Sils Maria. This is an unfortunate aspect to the race but an inevitable one. That’s the first thing to remember. And the biggest reason why Kristen Stewart might miss.

The second thing to remember is that Hollywood has collectively decided that most actresses are to be supporting characters. Even those fashioned as leads are often supporting because their entire reason for existing at all is to “help” the main male character somehow. Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, or last year’s Felicity Jones. Sure, you say, the movies were about them — but were they really? They were more about the women in relation to the more important male character. Without these women the men were nothing, or something along those lines. But it’s always appreciated when the story at least tries to tell it from the woman’s POV. Usually you can tell when a female character is badly written if her storyline is just one channel — the punishing mother, the supportive girlfriend, the reluctant finance. If she’s nodding her head with reaction shots as the only thing she gets to do in the whole movie? Yeah, badly written. Sometimes these kinds of parts can squeeze in but not often.

Whatever has happened to actresses over the past 30 years has brought us to this moment. Whether it was the decline of star power overall for both men and women, or the endless focus on what 13 year old boys might like, or the Julia Roberts model of vibrant young woman which must be consumed quickly or else it perishes on the shelf pretty quickly — women in Hollywood are not made to last. We know that they are, of course, in reality. Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Blythe Danner, Charlotte Rampling, Lily Tomlin, Cicely Tyson, Helen Mirren. But for some reason, despite that these women are all still at the top of their game, the game that we play, here in Oscar land, is mostly aimed at the young ones.

At the top of the list right now are Rooney Mara in Carol and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl. Both are anchored to lead performances, both are in Best Picture contenders and both are beautiful young actresses whose stars are on the rise. Mara stars opposite Cate Blanchett (in another great performance) but she ends up being the more noticeable of the two because she’s rarely been seen in any role like this one. You could say it was “next level” for Mara if you wanted to be obnoxious about it (Dragon Tattoo was “next level”). It does solidify her as a versatile, promising, thoughtful actress. She plays a woman on the verge of finally expressing who she really is — a lesbian living at a time when lesbian women hid in marriages (like Blanchett’s character). She is drawn out by Carol and ultimately comes of age by wanting to live out in the open. Vikander is getting all of the rave reviews out of the Danish Girl and this is all the more surprising considering she’s playing opposite Eddie Redmayne, who won last year for The Theory of Everything. Will Vikander “go lead” is the real question and if she does that frees up a space in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Right behind them, and another example of a really well-written character is Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy. While her role is there in support of the main character we find out a lot about her. We find out who she was before, what she’s doing with her life, whether or not she’s good at what’s she’s doing with her life. She is a whole person who matters whether or not she is an appendage to the male character and she’s complicated. After Love & Mercy I feel like I could watch Elizabeth Banks read the phone book and I don’t remember ever feeling that way about her before this role. This is such a good part for her that it hearkens back to the days when women were treated like actual people in Hollywood.

Another really well-written part is Kate Winslet‘s Joanna Hoffman in Steve Jobs, which is arguably lead. This is what a really good supporting part looks like. While we don’t find out that much about who she is, we know she’s a force of nature in her own right, one who doesn’t necessarily exist just to prop up the male lead. Another great one is Jane Fonda in Youth. She has a really small part but packs it full of so much energy, spit and vinegar that it remains one of the most memorable cinematic portraits of the year.

The Actor and Supporting Actor categories are an embarrassment of riches. There has never been a better time to be a white dude in Hollywood than right now — in front of or behind the camera. They rule Hollywood and they call the shots. That makes it all the more remarkable when directors are excited about investing in women. Doesn’t happen often but it happened this year a few times.

A slightly less significant example would be Dakota Johnson in Black Mass. She does what she can with the part but ultimately it’s just a “now, honey” part, no matter how good she in it. Better written is the Julianne Nicholson character, the wife of Joel Edgerton. She’s slightly better written but neither part is big enough to compete for a Best Supporting Actress nomination, certainly not when compared to Stewart or Banks, where their characters really are whole and thought through. These are all great actresses but some get better material and that makes the difference.

There are still many film to come so we can’t really close out the discussion on any category yet, least of all Best Supporting Actress. We do, however, have a vague guideline of where it might be headed. Suffice it to say, it is far more spare than either of the male acting categories.

Here are the films and the supporting contenders anchored to them:

Carol – Rooney Mara is actually a co-lead for this and you will likely not find a more well-rounded character in this category than hers.
Spotlight – Rachel McAdams is probable but the role might not be emotionally explosive enough to get her in there.
Steve Jobs – Kate Winslet – probable, Katherine Waterston is good but it’s not big enough to eclipse Winslet
Room – Joan Allen seems a sure bet for a nomination because of the popularity of Room and the likelihood of Brie Larson’s nomination.
The Danish Girl – Alicia Vikander
Love & Mercy – Elizabeth Banks
The Martian – Jessica Chastain is great in this but the likability of the film overall greatly improves her chances. Kristen Wiig is also in contention here but hers is, despite how funny and great she is usually, has her standing around and nodding a lot.
Youth – Jane Fonda
Suffragette – maybe Helena Bonham Carter (but the role is probably not big enough, ditto Streep),
Trumbo – maybe Helen Mirren
Black Mass – Julianne Nicholson

Coming soon:
Bridge of Spies – maybe Amy Ryan
Joy – maybe Virginia Madsen
The Hateful Eight
– maybe Jennifer Jason Leigh; star comeback story, lots of press
Concussion – maybe Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Outside the Best Picture circle:

Clouds of Sils Maria – Kristen Stewart (anchored to Juliette Binoche)
Diary of a Teenage Girl – Kristin Wiig (anchored to Bel Polowy)
Freeheld – Ellen Page (anchored to Julianne Moore)
Mr. Holmes – Laura Linney (anchored to Ian McKellen)

If I had to predict the 10 most likely, I’d probably have to narrow it down to something like this:

  1. Rooney Mara, Carol
  2. Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
  3. Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy
  4. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
  5. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hateful Eight
  6. Jane Fonda, Youth
  7. Joan Allen, Room
  8. Jessica Chastain, The Martian
  9. Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
  10. Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria

Obviously, this is crushing to have to narrow it down to ten like that. If Alicia Vikander or Rooney Mara “go lead” that opens up a space. It’s really hard to tell how it will go.  I keep re-ordering it and then switching names out. Things will become more clear in the coming weeks.  But one thing is abundantly clear — the more Best Picture heat the film has, the better the chance of an acting nomination.



Olivier Assayes’ Clouds of Sils Maria was the best movie about women you never saw last year. The story centers on two women in the middle of a publicity blitz as the older and established actress, Juliette Binoche, contemplates taking on a part in a play she made her name on as an emerging actress at 19. Back then, though, she played the young ingenue. Now they want her to play the opposite character, the matron, who generates a simmering sexual dynamic with the younger actress. This time around, Chloe Grace Moretz, a Lindsay Lohan type public figure is taking on the younger part. Kristen Stewart plays Binoche’s assistant who manages her life, keeps her updated on the changing world around her, and runs lines with her. The play within a play begins to bleed into the actual story so that, at some point, the lines become so blurred you can’t really tell what’s real and what isn’t.

Kristen Stewart more than holds her own with Binoche, and very nearly steals the movie. It’s a performance that won her the prestigious Cesar — the first American actress in 67 years to accomplish such a feat. Stewart’s assistant, she tells me in an interview last week, is many things to the Binoche character, including a mother figure. She also says there was sexual tension there, something I detected but wasn’t sure was intentional. Of course it would be intentional, given that the play within a play is about an older woman and a younger woman involved in an affair.  As they read lines to each other, the plays seems to sometimes say what they themselves can’t because of various barriers, like Stewart is Binoche’s employee.  Stewart’s character is also involved with a younger male character, but that world is kept off screen, something the film hints at but never directly confronts.

There are three women in this story — Moretz, Stewart and Binoche — each at different stages of their lives and careers.  Moretz recalls (almost but not quite) a younger Stewart, whose private life behavior took on a life of its own in the press.  As such, we see Moretz portrayed one way by the press, then we encounter someone who is not like that at all.  Each woman dwells in the visible and the invisible, with Binoche being the one who matters in the earlier part of the film, with the Stewart character receding. When Moretz shows up, Binoche — and all of her fame and glory — seems to then disappear.

I loved this movie so much. It is so rare to see a filmmaker sink in and invest in women as though they are actual people with their own thoughts, careers, whole lives. I spoke very briefly to Stewart about this film. I was given a very strict 10 minute window, though honestly I could have talked to her for hours. She’s a smart and focused young woman whose choices in the films she stars in are careful, intelligent, and deliberate. I didn’t get nearly enough time to cover everything — and I wasted WAY TOO MUCH TIME telling her stuff about myself, which is embarrassing. So, sorry about that.

Still, I thought you all might like to hear the interview instead of my transcribing it. But you have to make a deal with me that you will disregard all of the dumb things I say, of which there are many.  I am terrible at interviews which is why I hardly ever do them.

[mp3j track=”″]

Writer-director Richard Linklater’s latest and unique cinematic achievement is less about a 12-year production and more because of his almost seamless blend of the melodramatic and the quotidian. One doesn’t need a context to appreciate Boyhood, but the film does need a little defense against some younger twitterers whose reactions can be summarized as “What’s the big deal?” When Gravity came out a bit more than a year ago, a thousand science-fiction-loving bloggers leapt to their keyboards to explain why the film was a “game changer”; Boyhood doesn’t have a constituency that’s quite so…naturally vocal, so this post is here for the next time someone shrugs at the marvels of Boyhood.

First, when have you ever seen a bildungsroman (a.k.a. coming-of-age story) where the plot hinged on nothing but the coming of age? No one does that! There’s always something else – Huck Finn helping Jim down the river, Pip unlocking the secret of his fortune, Narnia to be saved, Traveling Pants to be secured, the Stand By Me kids looking for the body, Pi trying to survive the raft with the tiger – authors never trust you to “only” experience a child’s maturing without some kind of larger artifice. If every other growing-up story is a symphony, Boyhood is the same song “unplugged” with no more than an acoustic guitar. And suddenly, you’re hearing the beauty of the notes in a way you never before understood.

Ever since Georges Méliès put his fantastical dreams on screen more than a century ago – dramatized by Martin Scorsese in Hugo three years ago – people have been trying to strip film narratives of their artifice. A laudable impulse against grandiosity and “unrealism” has inspired everything from the first documentaries to John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) to the Italian neo-realists to the anti-“cinema de papa” films of the French New Wave to the “gutsy” movies of the Hollywood Renaissance to the 1980s indie films by people like Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderbergh to the Dogme 95 manifesto. That said, the exact tension between the demands of narrative and the desire for “lifelike” conditions was never expressed better, or funnier, than in Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s Adaptation (2002), in an exchange between “Charlie Kaufman,” played by Nicolas Cage, and screenwriting guru Robert McKee (who is still religiously followed by Pixar and half of Hollywood today), played by Brian Cox:

Sir, what if a writer is attempting to create a story where nothing much happens, where people don’t change, they don’t have any epiphanies. They struggle and are frustrated and nothing is resolved. More a reflection of the real world —

The real world?

Yes, sir.

The real f—ing world? First of all, you write a screenplay without conflict or crisis, you’ll bore your audience to tears. Secondly: nothing happens in the world? Are you out of your f—ing mind? People are murdered every day! There’s genocide, war, corruption! Every f—ing day somewhere in the world somebody sacrifices his life to save someone else! Every f—ing day someone somewhere makes a conscious decision to destroy someone else! People find love! People lose it! A child watches her mother beaten to death on the steps of a church! Someone goes hungry! Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman! If you can’t find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don’t know CRAP about life! And WHY THE F— are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie? I don’t have any use for it! I don’t have any bloody use for it!

Okay, thanks.

The truth is that McKee has a point: the ineffable feeling of the everyday has always taxed the patience of movie audiences. John Cassavetes and Andy Warhol well knew it while doing their 1960s experiments; today’s mumblecore artists know it as well. It’s very, very difficult to get audiences to invest in something with the veracity of a surveillance video for 90 minutes. When a filmmaker tries to produce that feeling of unrehearsed spontaneity, s/he almost always has to resort to certain tricks. Understated lighting and soft-speaking actors can help, as in films like The Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Celebration (1998). But all too often, narrative asserts its priorities, and the final thirds of such films tend to favor melodrama. Rarely, filmmakers can be boldly stylish even as they seek to highlight the everyday-ness of things, as Warhol was, and as Terrence Malick has lately been doing with films like The Tree of Life – not that everyone appreciates his efforts.

Malick’s fellow filmmaking Texan Richard Linklater, in his quarter-century of a career, has proved that he can be as bold and experimental as anyone – if you’re not sure about that, re-watch Waking Life (2001). Roger Ebert wrote that it’s not what a film’s about but how it’s about what it’s about, and Linklater found a deceptively terrific tone for Boyhood that’s all the more right for how it makes some people go “meh.” The trick is that the melodramatic moments and the “normal” moments feel all of a piece; they complement each other perfectly.

The big moments include one stepfather throwing things at the dinner table, another stepfather stopping Mason as he comes home late, the actual father at the bowling alley learning what his daughter remembers, Mom’s final scene about the shortness of life, Mason’s breakup on the bleacher seats, and Mom grabbing her kids and moving them out of the bad stepfather’s house. The more quotidian moments include video-game-playing, chore-doing, camping, shooting, politics-talking, and walking and biking around small-town Texas. This is a film where time marches on even as it seems like anything could occur. Thanks to some strong performances and Linklater’s clever mise-en-scène, which echoes the better filmmaking realists, Boyhood’s big moments feel as though they just happened to happen, and the little moments feel like tiny shards from some larger symbolic mosaic. When we arrive at the final half-hour, and Mason’s graduation party, we’re in a sort of giddy state between realism and melodrama that very few films have achieved. As the friends congratulate Mason, as Mom and Dad confer for one of the only times in the film, as Dad confides in Mason that he never liked his beautiful girlfriend, we almost don’t know how to feel – should we expect a big melodramatic culmination? Should we expect this to be as prosaic as pissing on a campfire? It feels like a little bit of both, and that feels almost unprecedented for a film’s final act…almost a brand-new type of imitation of life.

In 2014, we expect breakthroughs in realism to come only from television, perhaps from a show like Orange is the New Black, which is also a virtuosic modern blend of the everyday and the narrative-driven. As a movie, Boyhood has to ace the routine and stick the landing all at once. Yes, you could see a few breathless wobbles, particularly during Mason and Mom’s final scene, where Linklater shoehorned in framed photos of moments that we’d never seen, to remind us that this has been a 12-year journey – without resorting to flashbacks. (Imagine this film with flashbacks! Entirely destroying the sense of ineffable inevitability.) Mason’s spat with his photography teacher was a little too well-timed for the end of the film’s second act, just when things are meant to be bleakest (as Robert McKee teaches). But a few trembles wouldn’t stop the judges from awarding this a 10 out of 10.

Ever since someone said, “Every fiction film is partly a documentary, and every documentary is partly a fiction,” people have tried to split the difference, and if Richard Linklater didn’t quite hybridize the two classic bildungsroman franchises, 7Up and Harry Potter, into 160 elegant minutes, he came as close as anyone ever will. (As a side note, one wonders how well-received a similar movie would have been about an old man becoming 12 years older.) All this in a raw-edged, almost unsentimental film about the sensitive kids of working-class, divorced people, a film as proletarian as it is protean. Boyhood is already the film of a decade, but we’re not in bad shape if it becomes the film of this decade.

Weirdly, the most radical thing about Boyhood may be its title and the fact that it isn’t Childhood (About a Boy was taken). Deep in the red-meat heart of red-state America, even a boy named Mason is growing up painting his nails and piercing his ears, more metrosexual than his grandparents could have imagined. Brit Hume had a point when he stood up for Chris Christie: our culture is relatively feminized, but the Mason character provides compelling evidence that The Kids Are All Right with that. Because Boyhood begins in 2002 and ends in 2014, Mason naturally signifies a sort of sifter that decides what to keep and what to throw away from the previous century. And what a beautiful testament to our country and culture, that despite our divisive politics, divorce epidemic, and digital overload (Mason loudly rejects the latter), we can still raise Masons and Samanthas. That final bend in the river still leads to America, and “always right now” isn’t as bad as it sometimes seems. Boyhood skeptics, tell me: how is that “meh”?

If anything distracts from the achievement of Boyhood – notice that in 1500 words I haven’t yet mentioned this aspect – it’s the chance to see the film’s lead actor growing from age 6 to 18, which critics are fawning over perhaps a bit too much. Not that I’m not one of them: there’s something about the very actual aging that warms a rarely touched zone of the heart, like the first time you see a 30-second time-lapse video of a day in the life of a flower, extending its petals to the sun and then withdrawing. Having said that, I’d like to go out on a limb here and suggest that if Linklater had cast four different actors as Mason and shot the whole thing in one summer – like most filmmakers would have – Boyhood would have been about 85% as good. Going back to my Gravity comparison, 3-D long-take shots were to Gravity what the 12-year production was to Boyhood, the decorative frosting that masked a surprisingly meaty filling. We might express surprise that the initial premise – kids navigating divorced dating mom and absentee dad through wackadoo new century – was so durable, but we really shouldn’t be surprised that the author of the Before trilogy, given 12 years on his labor of love, was able to conjure up so many effective scenes. As expressed in the final edit, the script was nothing short of magnificent. But oh, oh…that 15% of watching them grow up is worth all the long takes in Gravity.

Just when we think we’ve seen it all, Boyhood challenges what we think is possible in film, even what we think during films, without ever being formally flashy like Linklater’s Slacker (1991), Waking Life (2001), and A Scanner Darkly (2006). Boyhood is a challenge to every future attempt at feature-length realism, but perhaps its most salient feature is that it feels nothing like a challenge. Instead it feels like a culmination of themes that ran through the Before films, Tape (2001), Dazed and Confused (1993), and even School of Rock (2003). Linklater’s patience, decency, humility, and generosity of spirit come through in every frame. His directorial signature has been to give his characters room to grow, and with Boyhood he found (created) the ideal canvas. Like John Sayles and Mike Leigh, Linklater must hurry up his actors just to stay on-budget, but you never sense that. Instead you feel life as it happens, life as it is: that gossamer-grabbing feeling of how 12 years can feel like 2 hours, that sepia-fading sensation of how one day you turn around and your kid is going to college. Boyhood will someday sit next to other films in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry, and there it will reside like a treasured photo album placed next to a group of great books.


Read more from Daniel Smith-Rowsey at his blog, Map to the Future


Clouds of Sils Maria won’t be released until next year but it looks like we have our first Oscar contender for 2016 with Kristen Stewart in the supporting category. No word yet on whether or not that will also include Juliette Binoche in lead – but if we have another year like we just had she should have no problem getting in.  Stewart has been buzzed for months now after the film showed in Cannes.


Reese Witherspoon continues her reign as Most Valuable Player in the Oscar race this year, having produced two films (Wild and Gone Girl) and starred in two, all the while challenging herself in unexpected ways. In Wild, we follow her journey as Cheryl Strayed, who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and lived to tell about it. Witherspoon’s Strayed carries the entire film – just her, the food, her fears and her grief. It’s a spectacular performance. Also in the picture, another lost woman – Hilary Swank who stars in the feminist take on the western, The Homesman. Swank has never been better in a film that is not an easy sit. Swank, like Witherspoon, plays that rare breed of female who is smart and capable yet unwittingly undone by having no opportunities.

Three more leads fill the frame, including the frontrunner, Julianne Moore whose performance in Still Alice is reportedly heartbreaking.  Amy Adams in Big Eyes, a standout in Burton’s film, and Felicity Jones, who plays Jane Hawking, the woman who is almost responsible for saving Stephen Hawking’s life and thus, changing the way we view the universe and ourselves within it.

Two supporting actresses in the mix, including the frontrunner, Patricia Arquette – her complicated young mother in Boyhood who evolves as her children grow. Arquette held this character in her mind and heart for 12 years, delivering not just the best supporting turn of the year but one of the best performances overall. And finally, Laura Dern who is partnered with Witherspoon in Wild, as her free spirited mother whose death inspires Witherspoon’s character to something, anything to ease the pain of her loss.

These are varied, interesting and complex roles for women in this photo here.



Meryl Streep will be run in Supporting, not lead, while Emily Blunt will be the lead actress contender for Into the Woods, a rep from Disney confirmed. Sometimes the “category confusion” as my friend Nat calls it can lead to odd happenings when the award nominations come down. There was Kate Winslet getting a supporting nod for The Reader but then winning for Lead in that category. There was Jennifer Connelly for supporting in A Beautiful Mind being nominated for Lead by SAG then going for and winning in Supporting at the Oscars. It happens sometimes as voters (Academy or SAG) are not required to put any actor in any category. They do what they want. But much of the time, if it’s done early enough, ducks get put in a row and things line up as expected, especially lately with so much publicity around the Oscars now.

When there are so many contenders in one film it becomes harder to decide where to put them, especially when there are kind of gray areas. For instance, Channing Tatum is actually lead for Foxcatcher, along with Steve Carell, where Mark Ruffalo is Supporting.

In this case, both Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick will be in supporting for Into the Woods, which could also be in line for a SAG ensemble nod given the talent involved.

Right now the Supporting Actress category is led by Patricia Arquette for her astonishing work in Boyhood. She is joined by Laura Dern for her heartbreaking turn in Wild, Keira Knightley who is ferocious in The Imitation Game, Emma Stone hard hitting in Birdman, Viola Davis paying against type in Eleanor Rigby, and Kristen Stewart who is said to be great in Still Alice. Melissa McCarthy for St. Vincent, and Naomi Watts for Birdman AND St. Vincent.

Kendrick and Streep, Anne Hathaway in Interstellar, yeah, it’s going to be a crowded year for Supporting Actress.


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



Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 1.34.54 PM

Posted moments ago on Indiewire, starring Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart…


Sally Field was featured on ABC Evening News tonight in a story that originally aired on Valentine’s Day.

Sally Field has been a beloved part of American pop culture for nearly a half-century. At 66, she has as many Best Actress Academy Awards as Meryl Streep. Pretty good for someone who began on the ABC sitcoms “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun.”

“When I started in the business, I started in situation-comedy, that’s kind of– those were it,” Field said. “People will say to me, ‘you made such wonderful choices in your life.’ I have? I had so few choices.”

Still, she was undaunted and unabashed in her desire to play Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”

“I’m proud of the film, I’m proud of my work in the film, I’m proud I fought to get in it,” Field said.

Proud, too, of doing it all, deep in the midst of a heartbreak she has never talked about publicly before: Her mother’s death.

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Kerry Washington (Django Unchained), Kristen Stewart (On the Road), Lorraine Toussaint (Middle of Nowhere) and Rosemary DeWitt (Promised Land) discuss their various works.

Of these, I’ve only seen Stewart and Toussant – both give great performances worthy of awards attention. We play this Oscar game to win, we pundits, so we predict those we think most likely to get in. But that doesn’t mean that we’re right and it doesn’t mean we should keep our minds open to the possibilities. While there are scant few lead female performances that portray strong, independent woman (because then what on earth would we do with them all?) but Stewart and Toussant are standouts for that reason. Have a look:


EW’s Owen Gleiberman says Speilberg’s Lincoln, scripted by Tony Kushner, “is one of the most authentic biographical dramas I’ve ever seen.”

As the title character of Steven Spielberg’s solemnly transfixing Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis is tall and elegantly stooped, with thatchy gray-black hair, sunken cheeks, and a grin that tugs at the corners of his mouth whenever he tries to win someone over by telling them a good story (which is often). Day-Lewis looks so much like the photographs of Abraham Lincoln that you don’t have to squint, even a bit, to buy that it’s him. He nails Lincoln’s thousand-yard stare — a gaze directed at once inward (at the whir of his own mental machinery) and outward (at the cosmic hum of history). Day-Lewis’ performance has a beautiful gravitas, yet there’s nothing too severe about it. He gives Lincoln a surprisingly plainspoken, reedy high voice that retains the courtly cadences of the South. That voice — from everything we know, it’s quite accurate — makes Lincoln sound like Will Rogers as a professor of human nature. This Lincoln lives deep inside his own unruly-haired head, yet he loves the people around him, even the ignorant (and racist) common folk, who repay the favor by loving him back. And that’s where he draws his political force.

Lincoln, which Spielberg has directed from a lyrical, ingeniously structured screenplay by Tony Kushner, plugs us into the final months of Lincoln’s presidency with a purity that makes us feel transported as though by time machine. (Kushner is the husband of EW columnist Mark Harris.)

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Thanks, as always, to the diligent crew at ONTD for posting this info, finding the original source on the Washingotn Post. A new clip featuring Amy Adams. Her interview with Letterman after the jump.

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In a recent article on the Oscar race by Christopher Rosen an attempt was made to figure out which actors have the best shot at an Oscar nod in The Dark Knight Rises. There is only one. And her name is Anne Hathaway. Spirited, beautiful, liked by Academy members and the only performer singled out for her work in the film. She comes in at number two on Rosen’s list but don’t believe the hype. If there is going to be one, it will most likely be her. True, everyone thinks Les Miz will be her big Oscar grab and it probably will be but — that doesn’t take away the fact that she’s still the film’s best shot at an acting nod.

It would be lovely if Michael Caine or Christian Bale or Morgan Freeman has a shot here. But the way these things go, they usually don’t.

Thelma Adams is assembling a few of us women Oscar peeps for an ongoing discussion of the Oscar race.   This is my favorite one of the bunch so far because the thing about Thelma Adams and Susan Wlosczcyna, Kim Voynar and Anne Thompson is that they’re funny.  So they make a great coffee klatch, just saying.  Here is a bit of it as we drill down McCarthy’s chance — but you might want to read the whole thing over at Thelma’s site.

As for Ms. McCarthy, I actually had no idea how versatile she was because all I’d ever seen her do was the plucky chubby best friend on Gilmore Girls. But once I saw her show her true acting ability on Bridesmaids (I can’t wait to see her host SNL next weekend) I realized that it’s not just about: let’s reward the brave fat girl. This is about acting. It really and truly is – and if those idiots in the SAG are too dense to notice because she isn’t speaking with a British accent? Well I don’t know what to say.

KIM: Sasha, I agree with you that great acting SHOULD be rewarded. But we’re talking here (I think) about whether the Academy is LIKELY to. And like it or not, I think the mostly male academy won’t see beyond the “brave fat girl in a comedy” thing. Or SAG either, for that matter. I think her best shot is in Comedy and Musical for the GGs. There are just to many other contenders in the kinds of films Oscar likes for her to have a legit shot at that.

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Probably those who greenlit The Help never imagined it would be birthed into a racially contentious time in our history.  It’s 2011 and we have our nation’s first black president – the shit has mostly hit the fan, but let’s face it – race relations have never entirely cooled down, not when Rodney King was beaten up, not when OJ was set free, not during Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, not now, when Obama and his very black family live in the very White House.  We can all pretend like it isn’t still a controversial topic,  and that we’ve moved beyond racism and all of that – but we haven’t.  The only thing, in fact, that keeps it from stirring up is the contrived political correctness we all try to adhere to.

The other thing that can sometimes help is talking about it in a realistic way.  One important voice missing in this whole debate around The Help is Oprah Winfrey.  Oprah would use her show, perhaps, to address some of these issues — her show was kind of like a town hall meeting for women (the main audience for the film) and the African American community.  But there is no Oprah so now people are taking sides. But I wondered, though, how this ends up helping or hurting people like Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, two strong black performances in an atmosphere that discourages them. Will they get flushed down the toilet with the rest of the shitstorm? Hm.

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There is much to complain about in The Help.  For one thing, the black folk cluck around like uniformly “good” hens in a hen house.  This makes us sympathize with them, of course, but it tells the story from Whitey’s perspective, which means that it’s impossible to get a more realistic impression of what it was like to be a maid in Jackson, Mississippi on the eve of the civil rights movement.   The black and white in The Help is literally black and white – so much so that it doesn’t leave a lot of room for placing film in 2011, when we already have a black President.  However, having said all of that — and it needs to be said — The Help is full of what will undoubtedly be the year’s best ensemble and supporting acting for women.  And for that, it gets a major pass.

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I was just yet again grossed out by this statement by an Academy member as quoted by the Hollywood-Reporter’s Tim Appelo. Regarding the Melissa Leo FYC ad, a member reportedly said:

“She lost my vote.”

Wow, really? So that is how you win an Oscar. Huh. Here all this time I thought it had to do with the actual performance! Silly me. Actually, of course I’ve always known that you don’t win Oscars by giving the best performance of the year – you win them by either 1) being most liked by your peers, 2) playing a character most liked by your peers. Every once in a while a deserving performer gets it.

Leo has a refreshing newbie taste on the race:

“The race, all this is sorta unfamiliar to me,” Leo told The Hollywood Reporter. “But it might mean more work, so that’s interesting. The Oscars — it’s this illustrious group, a jury of my peers, I find out. It’s also a marketing [thing]. It’s show business. I didn’t ask that this opportunity for more come to me. I’ve just done what I’ve done. I think I’m finding out why I watch those competitive cooking shows, ’cause people aren’t on about who they are or how they’re dressed. It’s about what they’re doing.”

Just to state one more time for the record: everybody campaigns for the Oscar. Only they don’t do it directly the way she did. They do it hiding behind very powerful and skilled publicists. Notice how when David Lynch does it it’s considered funny and quirky but for Leo? A 50 year old fighting to continue to get access to interesting roles? She’s an embarrassment. I’m not saying she deserves to win or not; what I am saying is that she doesn’t deserve to NOT get it because of this.

For the record? David Lynch rules. And Laura Dern was robbed.

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