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Carey Mulligan as Maud in SUFFRAGETTE

This year’s Best Actress race has so far been mostly dominated by performances already seen at Cannes and Sundance. At the top of that list would be Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara for Carol, Bel Polowy for Diary of a Teenage Girl, Emily Blunt for Sicario, along with Charlize Theron for Mad Max: Fury Road and Marion Cotillard for Macbeth. The entire race could be down to just these names and it would be impressive already. Except we know Oscar season doesn’t work like that. The consensus doesn’t work like that. It involves so many conflicting factors, not the least of which is which contender gets the most publicity from the early acting competitions like the Gothams or the Golden Globes or the Screen Actors Guild awards. You could be riding high with buzz and publicity only to be derailed by a mobilized faction of film critics who complain about your inclusion, as happened last year with Jennifer Aniston, who seemed to be the first person ever punished for producing her own award-worthy performance; no one was ever going to fault Matthew McConaughey for making Dallas Buyers Club happen but Aniston, wow, she got the full treatment. Marion Cotillard, the critics wailed, was the preferred choice. They rallied behind her and thus, she got the nod in the end. And so it goes for women — not only do you have to worry about getting any challenging acting role but then you have to contend with critics who launch whole movements against your backstory. THAT was not a fun thing to watch.

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At any rate, the same thing could happen this year, god knows, where the critics are concerned. They say they don’t care about awards but then they reveal themselves to care very very much. They care enough to subvert and manipulate the process whenever possible — Gravity, not 12 Years a Slave. Cotillard not Aniston. Good times.

Many prominent performances are on the horizon that could shake up the Best Actress race as it stands right now. Among those would be Emily Blunt in Sicario (Sept. 18), Elle Fanning in About Ray (Sept. 18), Ellen Page in Freeheld  (Oct. 3), Mia Wasikowska in Crimson Peak (Oct. 16), Brie Larson in Room (Oct. 16), Carey Mulligan in Suffragette (Oct. 23), Sarah Silverman in I Smile Back (Oct. 16), Sandra Bullock in Our Brand is Crisis (Oct. 30). There is also Angelina Jolie in By the Sea (which she wrote and directed) (Nov. 13), Nicole Kidman in The Secret in Their Eyes (Nov. 20), Natalie Portman in Jane Got a Gun (Dec. 31).

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The two sight-unseen frontrunners are expected to be Jennifer Lawrence in Joy versus Carey Mulligan in Suffragette. In the Best Actress race, popularity (unless you’re Jennifer Aniston) counts for a lot. Thus, pundits will have their eyes on the bigger names, like Bullock in Our Brand is Crisis, like Brie Larson in Room.  It can become difficult to jam through certain names once the five biggest are in position. It is impossible at this time to know who they’ll be, but Lawrence and Mulligan (nominated back to back in and 2009 and 2010 for An Education and Winter’s Bone) really do appear to be the names at the moment with the most heat. Since Lawrence already has an Oscar, that puts Mulligan very near the top of the list as the de facto frontrunner to win, even before anyone has seen the film. This, because she’s never won before and she’s probably got the most prestige going in, in terms of who she is playing and what the role means overall: women getting the right to vote. That alone makes her stand out from many of the other roles women are playing this year. Her movie and her role will stand for something important, especially amid the heated election cycle that looks to be on the brink of electing our first woman to the US presidency.

Emily Blunt is cast as an idealistic law enforcement agent on the trail of a leader of a drug cartel. The part was originally written for a man but the director, Denis Villeneuve, insisted on it being cast female.  Fanning will play a transgender male dealing with body issues and societal norms. Wasikowska will be launched into the horror fantasy world of Guillermo Del Toro in Crimson Peak, “When her heart is stolen by a seductive stranger, a young woman is swept away to a house atop a mountain of blood-red clay: a place filled with secrets that will haunt her forever.  Between desire and darkness, between mystery and madness, lies the truth behind Crimson Peak.”

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Sandra Bullock (and Jennifer Lawrence and Lily Tomlin) will be among the few comedy entries, thus they will do extremely well finding traction at the Golden Globes, no doubt, since the HFPA has a separate category for that. Bullock plays a political operative “Calamity” Jane Bodine, who comes out of retirement to help navigate an election.

It’s hard to tell at this stage how Best Actress is going to go. But if someone asked me how I think it MIGHT go, I see things shaping up something like this:

Near locks:
Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Emily Blunt, Sicario
Marion Cotillard, Macbeth
Sandra Bullock, Our Brand is Crisis
Lily Tomlin, Grandma
Elle Fanning, About Ray
Bel Polowy, Diary of a Teenage Girl
Mia Wasikowska in Crimson Peak

Does this list mean anything? Well, it means that women of color look to be, at least for right now, mostly shut out of the race once again. There are no leading black females, or even Asian or Hispanic females in what I see here. It is so difficult for any actress (except Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence) to get cast in anything of value. They hold on to what they have. They try, in every way that’s available to them, to get work, to get noticed, to have some power in an industry that gives them none.

We will check back in the Best Actress race once film festival season starts up again at the end of this month.

 

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In the latest update of Oscar Poker (Oscar Podcast is still ongoing), Jeff Wells and I talked about the packed Best Actor race and a strange phenomenon rising as a result.  With many films coming up that are considered “two handers,” as in, no clear lead but two co-leads, it seems as though the supporting actor slot will fill up quickly with roles that, under ordinary circumstances, might actually be leads. When a lead performance ends up in the supporting category, that performance has a great shot to win. Take Marcia Gay Harden in Pollock, for example, or Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind, Jim Broadbent in Iris and Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained.  A supporting role is traditionally along the lines of Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Jerry Maguire or Tommy Lee Jones in the Fugitive. Those kinds of roles will now be shunted to the side and bigger performances taking their place so that we will effectively have two Best Actor categories instead of lead and supporting.

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Already we’ve seen Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in Youth. That is your first two-hander, with Caine probably lead and Keitel placed in supporting, though both are leads.  Love & Mercy has Paul Dano and John Cusack sharing the co-lead but one will officially “go lead” — probably Cusack, and Dano, who is really the lead, will go supporting. The End of the Tour has Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel as co-leads but Eisenberg will go lead and Segel supporting. Spotlight, with Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton will have a similar problem, with two performances to put in the sorting hat, and Keaton most likely going supporting.

How packed is the Best Actor race?  Besides the two-handers, and starting from the top, you have Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant headed for possibly his first win, alongside his old acting pal, Johnny Depp for Black Mass, Bryan Cranston in Trumbo, Tom Hardy in Legend, Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies, Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl, Tobey Maguire in Pawn Sacrifice, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Snowden or The Walk, Bradley Cooper for Burnt (formerly Adam Jones).

We in the pundit world would make our predictions for the top five probably along these lines:

1. Leo DiCaprio, The Revenant
2. Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
3. Tom Hardy, Legend
4. Johnny Depp, Black Mass
5. Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
6. Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
7. Michael Caine, Youth
8. Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies

That’s at least 8 vying for the top five. And then, for supporting, it would likely go something like:

1. Michael Keaton, Spotlight
2. Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
3. Jason Segel, The End of the Tour
4. Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
5. Harvey Keitel, Youth
6. Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight

This is just a starting point, obviously. We have no idea what performances will crop up later. We have no idea which will be the most talked about, or whether the earlier performances will have a shot of remaining “in the conversation” by year’s end. What we do know is that Supporting Actor is likely going to be filled with leading performances, or co-leads.

Will the Academy expand the Best Actor race to match the Best Picture race? Best Actor is tied, more often than not, to Best Picture, especially nowadays when the stories about women are regarded as all but worthless. Will they address it or will they ignore it? They’ll probably ignore it. No one likes more than five in any category, and that includes Best Picture.

Venice, Telluride and Toronto will likely help carve out which names will rise to the top. Publicity will do the rest.

 

In this photo provided by the Producers Guild of America, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu accepts the Darryl F. Zanuck Award for outstanding producer of theatrical motion pictures for “Birdman” on stage at the 26th Annual Producers Guild Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision for Producers Guild of America/AP Images)

When this website first began its grand experiment of cracking the code of why some films make it into the Oscar race and why other films don’t, there were three major forces determining Best Picture: the public, film critics and the DGA. All three of these forces have faded and become far less influential than they used to be. The reasons for this have to do with the changing tide of Hollywood itself, what Lynda Obst calls “the new normal,” the tectonic shift of events that reverberated once the Academy pushed their date back one month, and the advent of the internet.  

Large sectors of public started liking movies the Academy didn’t; awards were chosen and decided upon long before the public even got involved with those films; and critics changed from a powerful lobby of high-minded opinion-shapers to a sea of indistinguishable voices that seems to matter less and less as the years wear on. One thing remains the same: the critics and the Academy still tend to be on the same side, they like the same kinds of films; and while the majority of moviegoers are often left to fend for themselves, their tastes are now reflected by populist ceremonies like the VMAs and the People’s Choice Awards.

The DGA’s story is a little different. There used to be no bigger influencer than the DGA where Best Picture (and of course, Best Director) was concerned. In the early days of the Academy, the producer was the most important player in the Oscar race. That’s why Best Picture came and comes at the end of the night.  Those were the days of Louis B. Mayer and Zanuck and the like. The directors were much like the other important players, the writers and the actors but weren’t the gods we see them as today.  I think it’s mostly safe to say that the French had the biggest impact on how we view directors because the rise of the DGA happened roughly at the same time: the end of the 50s, into the 60s and most importantly, the 70s. The concept of a film director as film author, or “auteur” was how great films were distinguished from “entertainment,” although of course the two would frequent;y and inevitably cross paths.

The DGA (founded in 1936) has been around as long or longer as any other major guild, but their influence on the Oscar race began to have significant effect around 1948. For the next several decades, DGA winners would signal which film was headed for the Best Picture win. Of course, there were always splits between Picture and Director for various reasons. Sometimes they had to split because the Academy couldn’t decide which film was best. Sometimes they split because one film was clearly more of a director’s movie than a producers movie. Sometimes they split because the Best Picture winner did not have a Best Director nomination. Either which way, the influence of the Directors Guild was profound and important.

In 2012 things began to shift dramatically. It was a simple decision, to move the ballot deadline to occur before the DGA announced their awards. For many years the DGA would announce and then the Oscar voters would have their say. While it’s true that 2012 presented the biggest difference between DGA and the Academy in Oscar history and we haven’t seen that kind of freaky mismatch since, the fact remains that we are now seeing pure Academy choices detached from the directors branch without any DGA influence at all.

Here are the deadlines for voting per the big guilds:

Ballot deadline for Producers Guild – January 4th
Nominees announced for Producers Guild January 5th
Ballot deadline for Academy – January 8th, 2016
DGA ballot deadline – January 11, 2016
DGA announces nominees – January 12, 2016
Oscar nominations – January 14, 2014

At the same time, adding to the Oscar/DGA disconnect, the Academy expanded the Best Picture slate from 5 to 10 for 2009 and 2010. From 5 to an unknown number between 5 and 10 from 2011 up to today. That means that we’re always dealing with a preferential ballot of more than 5 Best Picture nominees. Now the PGA is the only guild that matches the Academy in terms of using a preferential ballot with more than 5 nominees. The DGA, SAG, the WGA, the Golden Globes and BAFTA all use 5 nominees and none use the preferential ballot.

These two forces combined have shifted the power and influence away from the DGA. They remain the best bellwether to confirm the Best Director winner. But where Best Picture is concerned, the PGA now rules. In fact, they rule so hard that starting in 2009 producers have been the voting body that best determines where the Best Picture race is going.

2009 – Avatar won the Globe but the Hurt Locker won the PGA and then Oscar.
2010 – The Social Network won the Globe and everything else but the King’s Speech won the PGA and then Oscar.
2011 – Hugo and The Artist won the Globe, The Artist won the PGA and then Oscar (not surprising).
2012 – Argo did not seem like it was going to win Best Picture until it won the Critics Choice and the Globe. But that wouldn’t matter until it won the PGA, which it did, and then Best Picture.
2013 – Gravity and 12 years a Slave won the PGA for their first ever tie. 12 Years won Best Picture, Gravity Best Director.
2014 – Boyhood won everything until it got to the PGA where Birdman stunned everyone by winning that and then going on to win Best Picture.

While all of these wins also had a corresponding DGA win, the PGA came first and the DGA seemed to merely confirm what the PGA voted as the winner.

One of the biggest reasons for the PGA’s influence is that their membership numbers closely mirror the Academy’s and they are comprise many different types of voters — old, young, male, female; film and TV. There are roughy 6,500 members of the PGA and around 6K for the Academy. It doesn’t take a math whiz to see that roughly the same amount of people voting on a preferential ballot of more than 5 nominees are going to come out with roughly the same titles and winners.

The PGA has the luxury of a 10-slot nomination ballot, as opposed to the Academy’s, which only has 5 blanks to fill. I think this ultimately makes the PGA’s choices for Best Picture better than the Academy’s because it is more varied. Last year, for instance, three of the best dark movies – Gone Girl, Nightcrawler and Foxcatcher did not get a Best Picture nomination with the Academy.

To find your way to Best Picture you have to find your way to the PGA and figure out how some films wind up there and others don’t. This is where the date change comes into effect. Pushing the awards back from March to February meant that everything got pushed back. Thus, whereas in the old days the Christmas season would be prime time for finding “Oscar movies,” now, it all happens much, much earlier during the film festivals. That mostly takes the public out of the equation. The public figures in now as ticket buyers only. Sure, a Cinemascore rating of A always helps but for the most part the Oscars are STILL USED as a way to make more money for the movies. Thus, “Oscar buzz” can still translate to money at the box office.

Money at the box office does not impact the Oscar race because by the time the films hit the theaters most of them have already been accepted or rejected by the critics and industry voters.  Moneymakers ordinarily do not seem to impress critics nor industry voters the way they used to. Thus, a film can make NO MONEY at the box office and still win Best Picture. This argument was settled when Avatar and The Hurt Locker battled it out and continued when 12 Years a Slave beat Gravity — and Gone Girl was not even nominated. The money doesn’t matter because this part of the film business has officially become “niche.”

Grantland’s Mark Harris has never liked how the pundits decide (based on what films publicists are pushing) what will be the candidates for the Oscar race. He has long objected to the way films are corralled into the winner’s circle. The problem is that you’re dealing with a massive consensus of thousands of voters. That consensus starts building with the critics awards and the pundits predictions. They thin the herd, as it were, so that voters have a smaller screener pile to deal with. The lower level precursors evaluate the movies and help Oscar voters decide which ones are worth their while and then the elites of the industry get involved in the voting.

The size of the guilds are simply too large to overcome, thus, there can’t really be many surprises beyond that first PGA consensus decision.  After the PGA calls it, the race is mostly all over but the shouting.

Academy dates for the season

Saturday, November 14, 2015 The Governors Awards

Wednesday, December 30, 2015 Nominations voting opens 8 a.m. PT

Friday, January 8, 2016 Nominations voting closes 5 p.m. PT

Thursday, January 14, 2016 Oscar Nominations Announcement

Monday, February 8, 2016 Oscar Nominees Luncheon

Friday, February 12, 2016 Final voting opens 8 a.m. PT

Saturday, February 13, 2016 Scientific and Technical Awards

Tuesday, February 23, 2016 Final voting closes 5 p.m. PT

 

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His accent is spot on. Johnny Depp could go toe to toe with his Gilbert Grape/Basketball Diaries co-star Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor. You can’t really win an Oscar if you’re too good looking. The best looking actors have to ugly themselves up in order to get taken seriously by the Academy for some reason. Admittedly, making Johnny Depp not pretty is no easy feat but he is a chameleon and seems to have transformed himself to unrecognizable yet again. Director Scott Cooper is better with directing than he is with writing and this comes from a script by Mark Mallouk and Jez butterworth (Get on Up, Fair Game).

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The first of the Toronto Film Festival announcements just in.  If it says World or North American premiere I assume that means it’s not going to Telluride. If it says Canadian Premiere, it is.

Opening Night Film
Demolition Jean-Marc Vallée, USA World Premiere In Demolition, a successful investment banker, Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal), struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash. Despite pressure from his father-in-law (Chris Cooper) to pull it together, Davis continues to unravel. What starts as a complaint letter to a vending machine company turns into a series of letters revealing startling personal admissions. Davis’ letters catch the attention of customer service rep Karen (Naomi Watts) and, amidst emotional and financial burdens of her own, the two strangers form an unlikely connection. With the help of Karen and her son (Judah Lewis), Davis starts to rebuild, beginning with the demolition of the life he once knew.

Beeba Boys Deepa Mehta, Canada
An adrenaline-charged violent Indo-Canadian gang war mixes guns, bhangra beats, bespoke suits, cocaine, and betrayal. Gang boss Jeet Johar and his loyal, young crew are audaciously taking over the Vancouver drug and arms scene from an old-style crime syndicate. Hearts are broken and family bonds shattered when the Beeba Boys (known as the “nice boys”) do anything “to be seen and to be feared” — in a white world.

The Dressmaker Jocelyn Moorhouse, Australia World Premiere Based on the best-selling novel by Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker is a bittersweet, comedy-drama set in early 1950s Australia. After many years working as a dressmaker in exclusive Parisian fashion houses, Tilly Dunnage, a beautiful and talented misfit, returns home to the tiny middle-of-nowhere town of Dungatar to right the wrongs of the past. Not only does she reconcile with her ailing, eccentric mother Molly, and unexpectedly falls in love with the pure-hearted Teddy, but armed with her sewing machine and incredible sense of style, Tilly sets out to right the wrongs of the past and transforms the women of the town but encounters unexpected romance along the way. Starring Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Judy Davis and Hugo Weaving.

Eye in the Sky Gavin Hood, United Kingdom World Premiere
Forsaken Jon Cassar, Canada World Premiere Tormented by a dark secret, an aging gunfighter abandons a life of killing and returns home, only to discover his mother has died. He’s forced to confront his estranged father and the life he left behind. Starring Donald Sutherland, Kiefer Sutherland and Demi Moore.

Freeheld Peter Sollett, USA World Premiere Based on the Oscar-winning documentary and adapted by the writer of Philadelphia, Freeheld is the true love story of Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree and their fight for justice. A decorated New Jersey police detective, Laurel is diagnosed with cancer and wants to leave her hard-earned pension to her domestic partner, Stacie. However the county officials — the Freeholders — conspire to prevent Laurel from doing so. Hard-nosed detective Dane Wells and activist Steven Goldstein come together in Laurel and Stacie’s defense, rallying police officers and ordinary citizens to support their struggle for equality. Starring Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael
Shannon and Steve Carell.

Hyena Road (Hyena Road: Le Chemin du Combat) Paul Gross, Canada World Premiere A sniper who has never allowed himself to think of his targets as humans becomes implicated in the life of one such target. An intelligence officer who has never contemplated killing becomes the engine of a plot to kill. And a legendary Mujahideen warrior who had put war behind him is now the centre of the battle zone. Three men, three worlds, three conflicts — all stand at the intersection of modern warfare, a murky world of fluid morality in which all is not as it seems.

LEGEND Brian Helgeland, United Kingdom International Premiere The true story of the rise and fall of London’s most notorious gangsters, brothers Reggie and Ron Kray, both portrayed by Tom Hardy in an amazing double performance. LEGEND is a classic crime thriller that takes audiences into the secret history of the 1960s and
the extraordinary events that secured the infamy of the Kray twins.

Lolo Julie Delpy, France North American Premiere
London-based military intelligence officer Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is remotely commanding a top secret drone operation to capture a group of dangerous terrorists at their safe-house in Nairobi, Kenya. The mission suddenly escalates from a capture to a kill operation, when Powell realizes that the terrorists are about to embark on a deadly suicide mission. American drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is poised to destroy the safe-house when a nine-year-old-girl enters the kill zone just outside the walls of the house. With unforeseen collateral damage now entering the equation, the impossible decision of when to strike gets passed up the kill chain of politicians and lawyers as the seconds tick down. Also stars Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi and Iain Glen. While on holiday in the south of France, Parisian sophisticate Violette falls in love with carefree geek Jean-René. As their relationship blossoms, Jean-René heads to Paris to spend more time with Violette but finds himself up against her possessive teenage son Lolo who is determined to sabotage their relationship by any means necessary. A razor-sharp comedy from Julie Delpy.

The Man Who Knew Infinity Matthew Brown, United Kingdom World Premiere A true story of friendship that forever changed mathematics. In 1913, Ramanujan, a self-taught mathematics genius from India, travelled to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he forged a bond with his mentor, the eccentric professor GH Hardy, and fought to
show the world the magic of his mind. Starring Dev Patel and Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons.

The Martian Ridley Scott, USA World Premiere During a manned mission to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “the Martian” home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible rescue mission. Based on a best-selling novel, and helmed by master director Ridley Scott, The Martian features a star-studded cast that includes Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald
Glover.

The Program Stephen Frears, United Kingdom World Premiere From Academy Award-nominated director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena) and producers Working Title (The Theory of Everything), comes the true story of the meteoric rise and fall of one of the most celebrated and controversial men in recent history, Lance Armstrong. Starring Ben Foster, Dustin Hoffman, Chris O’Dowd and Guillaume Canet.

Remember Atom Egoyan, Canada North American Premiere Remember is the contemporary story of Zev, who discovers that the Nazi guard who murdered his family some 70 years ago is living in America under an assumed identity. Despite the obvious challenges, Zev sets out on a mission to deliver long-delayed justice with his own trembling hand. What follows is a remarkable cross-continent road-trip with surprising consequences. Starring Academy Award winners Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau.

Septembers of Shiraz Wayne Blair, USA World Premiere A thriller based on the New York Times bestseller, this is the true story of a secular Jewish family caught in the 1979 Iranian revolution and their heroic journey to overcome and ultimately escape from the deadly tyranny that swept their country and threatened to extinguish their lives at every turn. Starring Salma Hayek and Adrien Brody.

Stonewall Roland Emmerich, USA World Premiere This fictional drama inspired by true events follows a young man caught up during the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine) finds himself alone in Greenwich Village, homeless and destitute, until he befriends a group of street kids who introduce him to the local watering hole, The Stonewall Inn — however, this shady, mafia-run club is far from a safe haven. As Danny and his friends experience discrimination, endure atrocities and are repeatedly harassed by the police, the entire community of young gays, lesbians and drag queens who populate Stonewall erupts in a storm of anger. With the toss of a single brick, a riot ensues and a crusade for equality is born. Starring Jeremy Irvine, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ron Perlman and Joey King.

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Anomalisa Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, USA Canadian Premiere A man struggles with his inability to connect with other people. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan and David Thewlis.

Beasts of No Nation Cary Fukunaga, USA/Ghana Canadian Premiere — NETFLIX
Based on the highly acclaimed novel, director Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation brings to life the gripping tale of Agu (newcomer Abraham Attah), a child soldier torn from his family to fight in the civil war of an African country. Idris Elba dominates the screen in the role of Commandant, a warlord who takes in Agu and instructs him in the ways of war.

Black Mass Scott Cooper, USA Canadian Premiere In 1970s South Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly persuades Irish-American gangster Jimmy Bulger to act as an informant for the FBI in order to eliminate their common enemy: the Italian mob. The drama tells the story of this unholy alliance, which spiraled out of control, allowing Whitey to evade law enforcement while becoming one of the most ruthless and dangerous gangsters in Boston history. Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson, Corey Stoll and Peter Sarsgaard.

Brooklyn John Crowley, United Kingdom/Ireland/Canada Canadian Premiere Set on opposite sides of the Atlantic, this drama tells the profoundly moving story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, Eilis departs Ireland and the comfort of her mother’s home for the shores of New York City. The initial shackles of homesickness quickly diminish as a fresh romance sweeps Eilis into the intoxicating charm of love. But soon, her new vivacity is disrupted by her past, and Eilis must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters.

The Club Pablo Larraín, Chile North American Premiere Four men live in a secluded house in a seaside town. Sent to purge sins of the past, they live under a strict regime and the watchful eye of a caretaker. Their fragile stability is disrupted by the arrival of a fifth man who brings with him their darkest secrets.

Colonia Florian Gallenberger, Germany/Luxembourg/France World Premiere Colonia tells the story of Lena and Daniel, a young couple who become entangled in the Chilean military coup of 1973. Daniel is abducted by Pinochet’s secret police and Lena tracks him to a sealed off area in the south of the country called Colonia Dignidad. The Colonia presents itself as a charitable mission run by lay preacher Paul Schäfer but, in fact, is a place nobody ever escapes from. Lena decides to join the cult in order to find Daniel. Starring Emma Watson, Daniel Brühl and Michael Nyqvist.

The Danish Girl Tom Hooper, United Kingdom North American Premiere The Danish Girl is the remarkable love story inspired by the lives of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener (portrayed by Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander), directed by Academy Award winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables). Lili and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.

The Daughter Simon Stone, Australia North American Premiere A man returns to his hometown and unearths a long-buried family secret. As he tries to right the wrongs of the past, his actions threaten to shatter the lives of those he left behind years before. Starring Geoffrey Rush, Paul Schneider, Miranda Otto and Sam Neill.

Desierto Jonás Cuarón, Mexico World Premiere Moises is traveling by foot with a group of undocumented workers across a desolate strip of the border between Mexico and the United States, seeking a new life in the north. They are discovered by a lone American vigilante, Sam, and a frantic chase begins. Set against the stunningly brutal landscape, Moises and Sam engage in a lethal match of wits, each desperate to survive and escape the desert that threatens to consume them. Starring Gael García Bernal and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Dheepan Jacques Audiard, France North American Premiere To escape the civil war in Sri Lanka, a former Tamil Tiger soldier, a young woman and a little girl pose as a family. These strangers try to build a life together in a Parisian suburb.

Families (Belles Familles) Jean-Paul Rappeneau, France World Premiere When Shanghai-based businessman Jérome Varenne learns that his childhood home in the village of Ambray is at the centre of a local conflict, he heads there to straighten things out and finds himself at the centre of familial and romantic complications. Starring Mathieu Amalric.

The Family Fang Jason Bateman, USA World Premiere Annie and Baxter Fang have spent most of their adult lives trying to distance themselves from their famous artist parents. But when both siblings find themselves stalled in life, they return home for the first time in a decade where they become entangled in a dark mystery surrounding their parents’ disappearance. Jason Bateman directs and stars, along with co-stars Nicole Kidman and Christopher Walken, in this film based on the New York Times bestseller.

Guilty (Talvar) Meghna Gulzar, India World Premiere Based on true events that set off a media frenzy all over the world, Guilty follows the 2008 Noida Double Murder Case of an investigation into the deaths of 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar and 45-year-old Hemraj Banjade, a domestic employed by Aarushi’s family, in Noida, India. The controversial case lives on in the mind of the public, despite a guilty verdict that sentenced the parents of the murdered girl to life in prison. Starring Irrfan Khan.

I Smile Back Adam Salky, USA Canadian Premiere Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Amy Koppelman, I Smile Back explores the life of Laney (Sarah Silverman), a devoted wife and mother who seems to have it all — a perfect husband, pristine house and shiny SUV. However, beneath the façade lies depression and disillusionment that catapult her into a secret world of reckless compulsion. Only very real danger will force her to face the painful root of her destructiveness and its effect on those she loves.

The Idol (Ya Tayr El Tayer) Hany Abu-Assad, United Kingdom/Palestine/Qatar World Premiere A young boy in Gaza, Mohammad Assaf, dreams of one day singing in the Cairo Opera House with his sister and best friend, Nour. One day, Nour collapses and is rushed to the hospital where it is discovered that she needs a kidney transplant. Nour leaves Mohammad with a dying wish that someday, he will become a famous singer in Cairo. Escaping from Gaza to Egypt against unbelievable odds, Mohammad makes the journey of a lifetime. From two-time Academy Award nominee Hany Abu-Assad comes this inspirational drama inspired by the incredibly true story of Mohammed Assaf, winner of Arab Idol 2013.

The Lady in the Van Nicholas Hytner, USA/United Kingdom World Premiere Based on the true story of Miss Shepherd, a woman of uncertain origins who “temporarily” parked her van in writer Alan Bennett’s London driveway and proceeded to live there for 15 years. What begins as a begrudged favour becomes a relationship that will change both their lives. Filmed on the street and in the house where Bennett and Miss Shepherd lived all those years, acclaimed director Nicholas Hytner reunites with iconic writer Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George, The History Boys) to bring this rare and touching portrait to the screen. Starring Maggie Smith, Dominic Cooper and James Corden.

Len and Company Tim Godsall, USA A successful music producer shattered when both his estranged son North American Premiere quits the industry and exiles himself in upstate New York, but the solitude he seeks is and the pop-star (Juno Temple) he’s created come looking for answers. (Rhys Ifans) (Jack Kilmer)

The Lobster Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/United Kingdom/Greece/France/Netherlands North American Premiere In a dystopian near future, single people are obliged to find a matching mate in 45 days or are transformed into animals and released into the woods. Starring Colin Farrell, Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux and Ben Whishaw.

Louder than Bombs Joachim Trier, Norway/France/Denmark North American Premiere An upcoming exhibition celebrating photographer Isabelle Reed three years after her untimely death brings her eldest son Jonah back to the family house, forcing him to spend more time with his father Gene and withdrawn younger brother Conrad than he has in years. With the three men under the same roof, Gene tries desperately to connect with his two sons, but they struggle to reconcile their feelings about the woman they remember so differently. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Gabriel Byrne and Jesse Eisenberg.

Maggie’s Plan Rebecca Miller, USA World Premiere Maggie’s plan to have a baby on her own is derailed when she falls in love with John, a married man, destroying his volatile marriage to the brilliant Georgette. But one daughter and three years later, Maggie is out of love and in a quandary: what do you do when you suspect your man and his ex-wife are actually perfect for each other? Starring Julianne Moore, Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph.

Mountains May Depart (Shan He Gu Ren) Jia Zhang-ke, China/France/Japan North American Premiere
Office Johnnie To, China/Hong Kong International Premiere Billion-dollar company Jones & Sunn is going public. Chairman Ho Chung-ping has promised CEO Chang, who has been his mistress for more than 20 years, to become a major shareholder of the company. As the IPO team enters the company to audit its accounts, a series of inside stories start to be revealed. Starring Chow Yun Fat, Sylvia Chang, Tang Wei and Wang Ziyi.

Parched Leena Yadav, India/USA World Premiere Three ordinary women dare to break free from the century old patriarchal ways of their village in the desert heartland of rural India. Starring Tannishtha Chaterjee, Radhika Apte and Surveen Chawla, this unforgettable tale of friendship and triumph is called Parched.

Room Lenny Abrahamson, Ireland/Canada Canadian Premiere Told through the eyes of five-year-old-Jack, Room is a thrilling and emotional tale that celebrates the resilience and power of the human spirit. To Jack, the Room is the world… it’s where he was born, where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. But while it’s home to Jack, to Ma it’s a prison. Through her fierce love for her son, Ma has managed to create a childhood for him in their 10-by-10-foot space. But as Jack’s curiosity is building alongside Ma’s own desperation — she knows that Room cannot contain either indefinitely. Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers and William H. Macy.

Sicario Denis Villeneuve, USA North American Premiere In the lawless border area stretching between the U.S. and Mexico, an idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) is enlisted by an elite government task force official (Josh Brolin) to aid in the escalating war against drugs. Led by an enigmatic consultant with a questionable past (Benicio Del Toro), the team sets out on a clandestine journey that forces Kate to question everything that she believes.

Son of Saul (Saul Fia) László Nemes, Hungary Canadian Premiere October 1944, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Saul Ausländer is a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners isolated from the camp and forced to assist the Nazis in the machinery of large-scale extermination. While working in one of the crematoriums, Saul discovers the body of a boy he takes for his son. As the Sonderkommando plans a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task: save the child’s body from the flames, find a rabbi to recite the mourner’s Kaddish and offer the boy a proper burial.

Spotlight Tom McCarthy, USA International Premiere Spotlight tells the true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation that would rock the city and cause a crisis in one of the world’s oldest and most trusted institutions. When the newspaper’s tenacious “Spotlight” team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal, and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James and Billy Crudup.

The new film from master filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke (A Touch of Sin) jumps from the recent past to the speculative near-future as it examines how China’s economic boom has affected the bonds of family, tradition, and love.

Summertime (La Belle Saison) Catherine Corsini, France North American Premiere Delphine, the daughter of farmers, moves to Paris in 1971 to break free from the shackles of her family and to gain her financial independence. Carole is a Parisian, living with Manuel, actively involved in the stirrings of the feminist movement. The meeting of the two women changes their lives forever. Starring Cécile De France, Izia Higelin, Noémie Lvovsky and Kévin Azaïs.

Sunset Song Terence Davies, United Kingdom/Luxembourg World Premiere Terence Davies’ epic of hope, tragedy and love at the dawning of the Great War follows a young woman’s tale of endurance against the hardships of rural Scottish life. Based on the novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and told with gritty poetic realism by Britain’s greatest living auteur, Sunset Song stars Peter Mullan and Agyness Deyn.

Trumbo Jay Roach, USA World Premiere The successful career of 1940s screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) comes to a crushing end when he and other Hollywood figures are blacklisted for their political beliefs. Trumbo tells the story of his fight against the U.S. government and studio bosses in a war over words and freedom, which entangled everyone in Hollywood from Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and John Wayne to Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger.

Un plus une Claude Lelouch, France World Premiere Charming, successful, Antoine (Jean Dujardin) could be the hero of one of those films he composes the music for. When he leaves for a job in India, he meets Anna (Elsa Zylberstein), a woman who isn’t like him at all, but who attracts him more than anything. Together, they are going to experience an incredible journey.
Victoria Sebastian Schipper, Germany Canadian Premiere

Where to Invade Next Michael Moore, USA World Premiere Oscar-winning director Michael Moore returns with what may be his most provocative and hilarious movie yet. Moore tells the Pentagon to “stand down”— he will do the invading for America from now on. Discretely shot in several countries and under the radar of the global media, Moore has made a searing cinematic work that is both up-to-the-minute and timeless.

Youth Paolo Sorrentino, Italy/France/United Kingdom/Switzerland North American Premiere
Youth explores the lifelong bond between two friends vacationing in a luxury Swiss Alps lodge as they ponder retirement. While Fred (Michael Caine) has no plans to resume his musical career despite the urging of his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), Mick (Harvey Keitel) is intent on finishing the screenplay for what may be his last film for his muse Brenda (Jane Fonda). And where will inspiration lead their younger friend Jimmy (Paul Dano), an actor grasping to make sense of his next performance? From Italy’s Oscar-winning foreign language film writer and director Paolo Sorrentino, Youth asks if our most important and life-changing experiences can come at any time — even late — in life.

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The New York Times just announced that the Danny Boyle film, “Steve Jobs,” starring Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet will be the centerpiece gala for the New York Film Fest. With a crackling script by Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs will be poised to take the Oscars by storm, or certainly get invited into the room.

In a statement, the event’s director, Kent Jones, described the film as “extremely sharp,” adding, “It’s wildly entertaining, and the actors just soar — you can feel their joy as they bite into their material.”

The fest kicks off September 25th, after Telluride and Toronto, leaving me to wonder whether Steve Jobs will be headed to Telluride…

The NYFF can have a major Oscar impact and then sometimes it can do more harm than good if the critics turn on the movie. It is then in the hands of the left coast to turn that boat around, as happened with Life of Pi.

Tomorrow, we get our first taste of the Toronto Film Fest lineup. Telluride will not announce until the day before Labor Day weekend, at the end of August. Supposedly if Toronto says “international premiere” that means it could theoretically play at Telluride first.

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Jurassic World just passed The Avengers to become the third highest grossing domestic and international hit of all time. When you adjust it for inflation it drops to number 27, which is still impressive, considering. This means not only did millions of people want to see it, but once they saw it they liked it enough to not only see it again but recommend it to millions of their friends. Doesn’t that count for something in the world of naming the “Best Picture of the year”? The answer to that is, no, it doesn’t count for anything beyond the disproportionately tiny visual effects category. Sound, Sound mixing. Art direction on occasion. Titanic and Avatar hold the the number one and number two spots, but what made them Best Picture juggernauts was their serious side, their emotional effectiveness.. Still, it is getting harder and harder to ignore the “new normal” of Hollywood when it comes to the Best Picture race.

Last year was probably the most dramatic disconnect between the films real people saw vs. films the Oscar voters saw and voted on. The only movie the majority of Americans could really talk about was American Sniper because so many had already seen the film by the time the awards rolled around. How do you build a movie like American Sniper? You consider both the audience and the Oscars, meaning it’s a prestige pic made by a studio set for wide release with big name celebrities. Studios put these movies out every year but only some of them are deemed worthy by critics and then by the industry. By no means does the industry take the public into account anymore. The ticket buyers do not influence voters. At the same time, voters are still a consensus, albeit a slightly upscale consensus compared to, say, the People’s Choice Awards. These are ostensibly industry professionals who believe they are choosing the best films they saw in a given season.

As far as blockbusters go, Jurassic World is popular for a reason. Part of its appeal, no doubt, is the spectacle left over from Spielberg’s 1993 Jurassic Park. The same way the new Star Wars movie (and the Star Trek movie before it) is supposed to wipe clean the bad memories of the bad sequels, this Jurassic Park was being billed as a “return to form,” meaning, the same park, with more focus on characters. In this version, the dinos have been genetically altered to be bigger and meaner and scarier. Audiences interpret that as spectacle of the kind they have never seen before.

The other appealing things about Jurassic World include its alluring male lead, Chris Pratt, who has gained a massive following of young girls since Guardians of the Galaxy. Pre-awareness + spectacle + appealing lead would be enough for a major hit. For it rise to the top three there must be something more. That “more” is that it’s a pretty good popcorn movie with an engaging group of creatures you feel for. It also has an eco message that is clearly anti-SeaWorld, anti-animal captivity.

In one way, you can look at Jurassic World and its ilk as the ruiner of all good things, movie-wise. That it is what movies will be in the future, as George Lucas once predicted — tent poles, event movies that play everywhere in the world and make more money than anyone could ever dream of because they stick to the formula: leading male saves the day, massive previously unseen visual effects, humor. It would be easy to call the film sexist but in fact it’s actually worse than that: it’s misogynist in a casual way, meaning none of the women in the film understand anything important, and more than one woman seems to have been invited to serve the sole purpose of gory dino-bait. This is a major leap from the first film where Spielberg not only cast Laura Dern as one of the smartest scientists but he also cast a young female teen/computer whiz to save the day. In the update, the kids are made into two boys. The highly placed executive played by Bryce Dallas Howard is mansplained about the dinosaurs every step of the way. She doesn’t even know the basics of what they are and even worse, the script makes her do the world’s most stupid thing: run from a T-Rex in high heels.

Because my personal commitment to animal welfare supersedes my irritation with the film’s misogyny, I was willing to give Jurassic World a pass and even paid to see the movie twice. This formula works all over the world because misogyny thrives all over the world — in fact, it’s the default position. When you look at the top moneymakers internationally they are all male-driven visual effects movies. In other words, audiences aren’t necessarily looking for feminist heroes or stunt casting. They want the formula. If you give it to them, they will come.

Because of its inherent and obvious sexist ways, Jurassic World doesn’t deserve to be nominated as the best film of the year, although it wouldn’t be the first nor the last Best Picture nominee to be blatantly sexist. Just look at last year. The only difference is that in the prestige pics they make the supporting females a wee bit smarter than Bryce Dallas Howard.

Still, I can’t be the only one who is looking at the long game here, where it’s all headed and what might eventually be the answer. The Academy is going to have to find a way to answer to the changing landscape of film. Either they will need a separate category for effects-driven films or else they will need a separate tech category to honor the evolving visuals. A publicist friend suggested there being two categories — one for visual effects and one for special effects. I’m no expert but I would think anything to expand where they are now would be a step in the right direction for them.

Why do I think the Oscars need to evolve? They will be closing in on their 100th birthday in a decade and a half. In the year 2025 what will movies look like? What will the “Oscar movies” look like? Will they be strictly independents? Will they be films made in other countries where they value their artists over profits? Will the studios continue to care about winning Oscars — so much so that they lay those select eggs every year?

I don’t have the answer and to tell you the truth, I probably won’t be writing about the Oscars then. It does seem, however, like the film industry — at least the American film industry =– is only moving in one direction. Perhaps things will shift back as the millennials age a bit. Either way, if Jurassic World beats Titanic to become number 2, what then? Can it beat Avatar? Will any movie ever beat Avatar and if so, would it be deserving of being named Best Picture of the Year? We’ll have to wait and see.

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You’d may wonder why a man would choose to write and direct a movie like Grandma. It flies against everything we know about what sells in Hollywood, what kind of stories win awards – no central male figure who’s coming of age, coming of middle age or coming of old age? No broken hero who stands up for someone or saves humanity or suffers greatly for a cause? Just a grandmother helping her granddaughter get enough money for an abortion scheduled for that afternoon. Maybe it isn’t a big story in the lives of men but it is a drama played out every second of every day in a dramatically shifting America.

It kind of sneaks up on you. You are lulled in by Lily Tomlin’s brilliant lead performance that personifies the combination of traits that cause most conservatives to recoil in fear and outrage: feminist lesbian poet. She plays her role along the same lines as Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good as it Gets – a grouchy old woman who has no time nor patience for bullshit and often finds herself ejected from establishments for making a scene. Somehow Tomlin gets away with it without seeming shrill or even off-putting, which is a tribute to the magnificent woman she has become. It struck me how barren our film landscape has become for women like these, not just characters but human beings who have lived long lives and traveled down bumpy, jagged roads to emerge as a spectacular super novas with much to say, and, as the Talking Heads would say, a face with a view.

Tomlin plays Elle Reid whom we meet in the midst of a break-up with her younger girlfriend played by Judy Greer. The problem here is that Olivia needs to be loved and at this pint in her life Ella can’t go there. Her wife of 38 years has recently died and the loss weighs heavily, shutting down normal emotions. Adding to Elle’s turmoil, her young granddaughter Sage (the luminous Julia Garner)has shown up asking for money. Bad timing. In a fit of panic Elle has cut up all her credit cards and has only $48 cash on hand. Sage needs $630 to pay for an abortion. They try what used to be a “free” clinic for women but it has been turned into a coffee shop. Sage can’t wait another day as she’s already sick to her stomach. She’s in high school with a boyfriend who can’t even raise the money to help her.

As we follow Elle on her trek to scrape together as much money as she can from her few remaining friends, we watch her life unravel before our eyes. She’s never been a particularly easy person to know. And now that her partner has died, so much of her heart and soul seems to be lost. That partner mostly raised her own daughter, which she decided to have out of wedlock back in the 60s. The child is named Judy who becomes an equally unconventional woman played by Marcia Gay Harden. Judy in turn used a sperm donor to have Sage. And now Sage, the third generation is deciding to have an abortion.

The film is about a grandmother helping a granddaughter do something that’s not only personally difficult but long stigmatized by society until women’s right evolved. Rather than lecture her on her choice, Elle offers her granddaughter support, in keeping with the feminist ideals of her generation that were largely responsible for seeing pro-choice prevail in Roe V. Wade. That movement was hard fought, unbeknownst to so many young women today who disregard the word “feminism,” having bought into the nonsense coming from the right.

One of the nice things the film does is build a bridge between the original meaning of feminism and the new ways millennials seek to define and hopefully build upon it.; they’ve grown up in a post-feminist world thus, they really do have the luxury of discarding the “label.” To see high school girls who are unaware of Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir is to realize how little importance women’s issues have been given in the overall education of America’s youth. But hey, that’s what grandmas are for, especially grandmas who were firebrands in the 70s.

That’s not to say that Grandma is bogged down in any feminist screed, because it assuredly is not. It really is an entertaining family dramedy before it is a talky preachy lefty abortion movie. It’s funny, full of warmth and wickedness. It draws absorbing portraits of three uniquely interesting women who come from different perspectives and are just trying to make their way in the world.

Weitz for some inexplicable but admirable reason decided to tell a story that could have easily been relegated to cable or some other VOD platform. And yet, here it is. A feature film about women — lesbians, single unwed mothers. Trangender women. They’re talking about abortion, feminism, love, loss, regrets. Wait, someone actually thought women were important enough to write about?

It is a secret story passed on from friend to friend, generation to generation. A friend almost died trying to give herself an abortion after having four kids. Conservatives will tell you adoption is better, and yes, adoption can be wonderful. But it’s only wonderful for the lucky ones. How many hundreds of thousands of kids are awaiting families in foster care now? The world is overpopulated as it is — the last thing our planet needs is more people on it. Especially unplanned people whose prospects for being looked after properly often range from iffy to grim. We all have to say that you must rely on birth control and you must if you don’t want to get pregnant, but shit happens.

The times have changed where abortion is concerned. We have forces in our government actively working to undue Roe V. Wade that makes abortion legal in the United States, deep pocketed forces who are funding candidates who are running for President. This is uniformly true among all GOP contenders who know they can use this issue to fire up their right-wing evangelical base. If the Democrats continue to split and divide themselves they will not be a united force to take down the GOP, who will be within spitting distance of having a conservative president + a conservative Congress + and the power to destroy the fragile balance of the Supreme Court — a perfect storm that could wreak calamity for decades. All they have to do is beat the Democrats. To do that, they have to help knock out Hillary Clinton. Many starry-eyed progressives on the far left are doing much of the GOP’s work for them. It’s a painful thing to watch.

All three principle actresses in Grandma deliver awards-worthy performances, with Tomlin headed for lead actress consideration at the Oscars. The real discovery is the toe-headed curly top Julia Garner whose skin is the color of milk and proves she can hold her own opposite two powerhouses like Tomlin and Marcia Gay Harden. She has a bright career ahead of her.

It’s hard to say what critics will make of Grandma and to tell you the truth I’m dreading that part of it. Somehow, someway, films about women get tossed out of the race, either because they don’t make enough money or the critics don’t approve. Either way, Paul Weitz has done Hollywood and humanity a favor in making a film about not just women but older women. Lily Tomlin has never revealed so much of herself in any one performance: vitality, sexuality, vulnerability and true grit.

Leo-Shutter

I’ve spent twenty years online. I was on the internet before there was really a working web. There are things about it I understand and things I don’t. I will never snapchat and it took me a while to figure what memes were and how they figured into daily life. One thing I really never got or ever became immersed in was the internet’s obsession with Leonardo DiCaprio winning an Oscar. My teenage daughter doesn’t know much about who deserves to win Oscars but she knows “everyone” thinks Leonardo DiCaprio should have by now.

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The obsession ranges from “Leo wants an Oscar bad” to “Leo should WIN AN OSCAR NOW.” There is a parasite twin meme about Leo dying in movies. Why this sprang up, how it was birthed, how it became a “thing” is something I cannot explain. I will not pretend to understand it but I do see that it’s there. Each time Leo comes up for Oscar consideration the whole thing is whipped up again and with the Revenant the movement is going to reach a fever pitch.

Why hasn’t Leo ever won an Oscar?  Gold Derby’s Tom O’Neil would say he suffers from “pretty boy syndrome.” The middle-aged men in the Academy do not respect pretty boys. Whether there is resentment or jealousy or whether they think they are just getting by on their looks, what benefits good looking women in the Oscar race often does not benefit men.

DiCaprio did not start out his career as a pretty boy. He started out as a respected character actor earning his first nomination in the supporting category for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993.  In typical inexplicable Academy fashion, they gave Tommy Lee Jones an Oscar for phoning it in because they liked him and his character so much.

Still, DiCaprio was an instant sensation but not yet beloved as a matinee idol. That ship would sail and then crash into the iceberg with Titanic in 1997, although one could argue the seeds were most certainly planted with Romeo + Juliet (le sigh). Once he starred in Titanic that was it. He was redubbed as an icon.

That Titanic was a worldwide sensation and DiCaprio suddenly the object of every woman’s eye didn’t stop him from continuing to stretch as an actor and would, in fact, deliver sensational performances. His Oscar zone would begin in earnest  starting in 2002 when he worked with Martin Scorsese for the first time in Gangs of New York. DiCaprio was noticed for his work but he was yet to fully transform as he had done with Gilbert Grape. The Titanic bombshell put him in a different category where transformation was mostly discarded in lieu of leading man status. That would change with The Aviator, for which he received his second Oscar nomination and his first leading actor nod.

It was too early for DiCaprio to take it that year. The Aviator had entered the race (I remember because I was around and advocating for it hard back then) as the favorite before Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby strolled in at the last minute and took the Oscar. It was nominated in a staggering 11 categories and won five Oscars. Jamie Foxx won for a physically transformative performance with Ray. He was working the publicity circuit, and virtually became Ray Charles. At the end of the day, Charles was a more likable character than Howard Hughes. It was clear at that time the Academy wanted to reward Scorsese when The Aviator did so well with the Academy. They’d already given Gangs of New York ten nominations but it was ultimately poorly received.  They needed the right movie. They would get it the next time DiCaprio worked with Scorsese with The Departed.

DiCaprio is quietly the best performance in The Departed and that’s saying a lot. The reason he was not nominated for The Departed was because he WAS nominated for Blood Diamond. In both films he did two different accents. He could not have received two nominations and it’s always struck me as strange that he was nominated for Blood Diamond over The Departed. His competition was:

Forest Whitaker for Last King of Scotland – winner
Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson
Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happiness
Peter O’Toole for Venus

Nobody could have beaten Whitaker that year.  It was just one of those undeniable, too big ignore works. DiCaprio, I don’t think, was any competition for him, especially not in Blood Diamond.

And then DiCaprio would give a string of jaw-droppingly great performances, each one different from the next. He went deeper with each one. He was ignored for all of them:

Revolutionary Road – as an emptied out husband his grief was palpable. Insane wife.
Shutter Island – losing his grip on reality, seeing ghosts. Insane wife.
Inception – the scenes with Marion Cotillard were exceptional. Insane wife.
J. Edgar – he gained weight and used a lot of makeup to completely transform.
Django Unchained – a funny supporting turn unfortunately upstaged by the should-have-been-lead Christoph Waltz
The Great Gatsby – maybe the movie was a mess but DiCaprio was, as usual, beyond great.

By the time he works with Martin Scorsese again it’s for the sublime Wolf of Wall Street. After J. Edgar was ignored, DiCaprio seemed to relax as an actor and once again evolved with his masterful, iconic performance as Jordan Belfort. Finally, the Academy did recognize this work as it really was too big to ignore. Alas, he would not win for this because it was the year Matthew McConaughey lost 40 pounds to play a man dying from AIDS.

There was a bit of noise online that DiCaprio might finally pull a win for Wolf of Wall Street but the Academy was never going to turn down a hero who saved hundreds of lives for a guy who put a candlestick in his ass.

Well now we come to The Revenant. The film won’t come out until the end of the year. By then, we should have a good idea of the kind of competition we’re talking about in that category. DiCaprio, I can tell you, will be at the top of the lists — not to mention the kind of transformative work he’ll have to do for a movie about a man who barely survives in the wilderness and is attacked by bears and native Americans. It should be a showcase work, a performance for the ages – much like almost every other performance he’s ever given.

What’s it going to take? It’s going to take a year where there isn’t one they “like” better. Winning an Oscar has to be a perfect storm of events all swirling around a right here, right now moment. Popularity, publicity, likability — all of those things come into play. The mostly shy DiCaprio who is richer than fuck and busy saving the planet might not want to kiss babies, which is what you need to do to win.

We here at Awards Daily do hereby proclaim that yes, internet, you are right about one thing: Leonardo DiCaprio should have won an Oscar by now. I think you’re wrong that he gives a shit. His concerns are so much bigger than a little gold statue to put on the mantle.

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While cracking the acting categories is tough, there is some wiggle room in the screenplay category. The publicity team behind Bridesmaids helped secure that nomination for Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, even if seeing any female writers in the Oscar conversation is still far too rare. All you have to do is remember back a year when Gillian Flynn was honored with more precursor nominations than any writer in history, and to then NOT get an Oscar nomination. BAFTA, WGA, even the Globes. But the Academy? Whiplash was supposed to have gone in the original screenplay category. The Academy changed the rule and it had to then vie for adapted. There was no way they were going to bump THAT movie so of course Gone Girl got the ax. How do we know this? We follow patterns that are rarely broken, especially when it comes to nominations. Sure, it happens sometimes but has never happened in the adapted screenplay category, to get that many nominations and miss out on an Oscar nod.

But Amy Schumer has an advantage heading into this race — she doesn’t make men feel like their balls are curling back up. She actually makes them feel kind of good. More than that, though, her script is FUNNY. It’s well written. Add to that her success with the viral videos of late puts her in strong contention for a nomination at least.

Comedy, though, is traditionally left out of the Oscars — they can barely handle satire, especially black satire. We will be beating the Amy Schumer drum throughout the year and given the lack of women writers in the race overall, she should fare well.

Abi Morgan will be on the contenders for Suffragette. Early favorite in the adapted category is Phyllis Nagy for Carol. Marielle Heller could get a nod for adapting Diary of a Teenage Girl. Lucinda Coxon for The Danish Girl. Angelina Jolie for By the Sea. Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Pete Docter for Inside Out. Mistress America by Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig. Ricki & The Flash by Diablo Cody.

 Other than that, though? To find the early contenders you might have to look at the films that could be headed for Best Picture. Of course, we’ve a long way to go on that score but last year seven out of ten of the screenplay nominees were also Best Picture nominees and ALL those were written by men.

Strong Best Picture contenders on paper

Youth – Paolo Sorrentino*
Silence – Jay Cocks*
Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin*
The Revenant – Alejandro G. Inarritu, Mark L. Smith
Trumbo (November) – John McNamara
Crimson Peak -Guillermo Del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Bridge of Spies (October) Joel and Ethan Coen, Matt Charman
Joy – (December) David O. Russell*
Snowden (December) – Kieran Fitzgerald, Oliver Stone*
Black Mass – Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth
The Walk (October) – Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne
The Force Awakens (December) – JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas*
Brooklyn 
– Nick Hornby*

Also to be considered: 

Love & Mercy – Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner
Pawn Sacrifice – Steven Knight*
Legend – Brian Helgeland*
Sicario – Taylor Sheridan 
Midnight Special (November) – Jeff Nichols*
Regression – Alejandro Amenábar*
The Martian (November) – Drew Goddard
In the Heart of the Sea (December) – Charles Leavitt
Concussion  (December) – Peter Landesman
Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer

Outside the Best Picture category but might be considered for screenplay:

The End of the Tour – Donald Margulies
Dope – Rick Famuyiwa
The Lady in the Van – Alan Bennett

*potentially nominated on name recognition alone. 

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Amy Schumer became a star this year. While she had been making the word-of-mouth rounds for a while now, things kicked into high gear when she began to address the massive patriarchy that continually keeps women in show business in a tiny little box. That box says you can’t get a starring role on TV or in films unless the vast majority of males from age 13 up to age 55 find you “hot.” It also says you can’t really get much work after the age of 40 unless you have work done to try to look 30 again, at which point you’re roundly criticized for bad plastic surgery. Schumer decided she was going to poke at the very tender spots most of us just accept but never talk about. With a few video clip segments from her series Inside Amy Schumer that made the rounds online she changed the conversation.

Melissa McCarthy has been defying the odds since she first broke through in Bridesmaids. She is now landing lead roles in her films and making money hand over fist. Since Bridesmaids, McCarthy has starred in five films that grossed over $100 million. Her name alone can now “open” a movie. It’s one thing to say Julia Roberts did it back in the 80s and 90s or that Jennifer Lawrence does it now. It’s a whole other thing to say a woman who is not traditionally “hot” can “open” a movie. Hot damn, Clarisse.

McCarthy’s unlikely spy in Spy and the variety of Schumer’s incarnations have given women out there some much needed relief. We mostly have to see ourselves onscreen as long suffering wives or patient mothers to our ambitious young boys. We’re seen as the hot girlfriends. Occasionally we get to be bitches. But now we have Melissa McCarthy dismantling the notion of her being a “type.” Each time the FBI assigns her a new identity it represents another stereotype of the only way Hollywood or male audiences might ordinarily see a woman like McCarthy. And each time her character turns the tired expectation on its head. Schumer does much the same thing with Trainwreck — she presents herself against type – the woman who can’t commit who is not a manic pixie dream girl. In both films, these women appeal to male and female ticket buyers alike – maybe because they are so hard on themselves.

When Jeff Wells at Hollywood-Elsewhere saw Amy Schumer in Trainwreck he immediately thought that she deserves a Best Actress nomination.  Both Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer turned in brilliant lead performances in Spy and Trainwreck. That they both come from improvisational comedy backgrounds will greatly hurt their chances with awards groups. There would have be a rule-buster at play to make it happen.  This is not unheard of. Oscar rules are meant to be broken. Looking back through their history, however, it doesn’t look good for the women who have changed the game for women this year.

Women (and men as well) who come from comedy roots have far less chance getting awards traction Even in a serious role, women (and men as well) who come from comedy roots find it far harder to get awards traction than the usual to-do made over so-called “legitimate” actresses and actors who sign on for a funny film. Meryl Streep in the Devil Wears Prada, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, and of course, Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. Things get a bit more flexible in the supporting actress category but even there, actors identify with other actors who rise through traditional channels and they’re tougher on those who come from standup. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find any in all of Oscar history.

One of the biggest reasons there are so few Oscar contenders in the Best Actress category is the limitations the acting branch puts on itself. Part of it is just plain old tradition that is difficult to break. Part of it is the perception of “respectability.” Actors think of acting as a serious craft. The reality is that it’s much harder to do standup or comedy at all than it is to simply act in a part. Acting these days is often more about charisma and how well extremely good-looking people can “act normal” than it is any sort of true talent or ability. We know this is true, even in the Oscar race, whether it’s pretty people doing the minimum to get a nomination or kids who are really too young to exhibit any real skill. The bottom line remains – they have their stigmas and they stick to them.

What are their stigmas? The horror genre is one of them. You have to reach farther back to find your Ellen Burstyns or Sigourney Weavers. Tiny indies can be overlooked for not being “big” enough, except when they feature a well-known star working a showcase. One of the biggest stigmas by far is comedy.

While the Hollywood Foreign Press makes it much easier to reward the different types of performances – drama and comedy/musical, the performances that do well in the comedy/musical category tend to be those placed there for the wrong reasons — like Meryl Streep in August: Osage County (REALLY?), or even Amy Adams for American Hustle. Both were nominated for Oscars though they could have easily been placed in the drama category at the Golden Globes.  The category fraud at the Globes is getting a little ridiculous lately – they really should just have ten slots for Best Actress and ten for Best Actor and dispense with the arbitrary subsets.  But the Globes comedy category is likely the only place where Amy Schumer and Melissa McCarthy can get any sort of major recognition. The chances of their getting bumped for a “respectable” actress in a “dramedy” is fairly high.  For instance, Jennifer Lawrence will be in that category for Joy. Meryl Streep will likely get in for Ricki and the Flash. There will be Lily Tomlin for Grandma, Greta Gerwig for Mistress America. As you can see, it fills up fast. The comedy/musical category now being used as spillover for the drama category all in the name of finding alternative Oscar contenders.

Thus, Amy Schumer and Melissa McCarthy do face an uphill climb towards getting even a Globe nod for their superior work in changing the game this year.  Schumer gets added points for being in a Judd Apatow movie, though they are kind of prejudiced against him as well for being from comedy. She also gets points for having written the screenplay which is, to my mind, is at least as good as Silver Linings Playbook.

 

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Outstanding Drama Series

  • Better Call Saul
  • Downton Abbey
  • Game of Thrones
  • Homeland
  • House of Cards
  • Mad Men
  • Orange is the New Black

Outstanding Lead Actor, Drama

  • Kyle Chandler, Bloodline
  • Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
  • Jon Hamm, Mad Men
  • Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
  • Liev Schrieber, Ray Donovan
  • Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

Outstanding Lead Actress, Drama

  • Claire Danes, Homeland
  • Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder
  • Taraji P. Henson, Empire
  • Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
  • Elizabeth Moss, Mad Men
  • Robin Wright, House of Cards

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Drama

  • Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
  • Jim Carter, Downton Abbey
  • Alan Cumming, The Good Wife
  • Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
  • Michael Kelly, House of Cards
  • Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Drama

  • Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black
  • Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
  • Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones
  • Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey
  • Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
  • Christina Hendricks, Mad Men

Outstanding Comedy Series

  • Louie
  • Modern Family
  • Parks & Recreation
  • Silicon Valley
  • Transparent
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Veep

Outstanding Lead Actor, Comedy

  • Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
  • Louis C.K., Louie
  • Don Cheadle, House of Lies
  • Will Forte, The Last Man on Earth
  • Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
  • William H. Macy, Shameless
  • Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

Outstanding Lead Actress, Comedy

  • Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
  • Lisa Kudrow, The Comeback
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
  • Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation
  • Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer
  • Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Comedy

  • Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
  • Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Ty Burrell, Modern Family
  • Adam Driver, Girls
  • Tony Hale, Veep
  • Keegan-Michael Key, Key & Peele

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Comedy

  • Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
  • Julie Bowen, Modern Family
  • Anna Chlumsky, Veep
  • Gaby Hoffman, Transparent
  • Allison Janney, Mom
  • Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
  • Niecy Nash, Getting On

Outstanding Limited Series

  • American Crime
  • American Horror Story: Freak Show
  • The Honorable Woman
  • Olive Kitteridge
  • Wolf Hall

Outstanding TV Movie

  • Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain, Poirot’s Last Case 
  • Bessie
  • Grace of Monaco
  • Hello Ladies: The Movie
  • Killing Jesus
  • Nightingale

Outstanding Lead Actor, Mini Series or TV Movie

  • Adrian Brody, Houdini
  • Ricky Gervais: Derek: The Final Chapter
  • Richard Jenkins, Olive Kitteridge
  • Timothy Hutton, American Crime
  • David Oyelowo, Nightingale
  • Mark Rylance, Wolf Hall

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Mini Series or TV Movie

  • Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Honorable Woman
  • Felicity Huffman, American Crime
  • Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Freak Show
  • Queen Latifah, Bessie
  • Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge
  • Emma Thompson, Sweeney Todd (Lincoln Center)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Mini Series of Movie

  • Richard Cabral, American Crime
  • Damian Lewis, Wolf Hall
  • Bill Murray, Olive Kitteridge
  • Dennis O’Hare, American Horror Story: Freak Show
  • Michael Kenneth Williams, Bessie
  • Finn Wittrock, American Horror Story: Freak Show

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Mini Series or Movie

  • Angela Bassett, American Horror Story: Freak Show
  • Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Freak Show
  • Zoe Kazan, Olive Kitteridge
  • Regina King, American Crime
  • Mo’Nique, Bessie
  • Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Freak Show

Outstanding Reality Competition

  • The Amazing Race
  • Dancing with the Stars
  • Project Runway
  • So You Think You Can Dance
  • Top Chef
  • The Voice

Outstanding Reality Host

  • Tom Bergeron, Dancing with the Stars
  • Anthony Bourdain, The Taste
  • Cat Deeley, So You Think You Can Dance
  • Heidi Klum/Tim Gunn, Project Runway
  • Jane Lynch, Hollywood Game Night

Outstanding Variety Talk Series

  • The Colbert Report
  • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
  • Jimmy Kimmel Live
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
  • Late Show with David Letterman
  • Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Outstanding Variety Sketch Series

  • Comedy Bang Bang
  • Drunk History
  • Inside Amy Schumer
  • Key & Peele
  • Portlandia
  • Saturday Night Live

the-end-of-the-tour

“The truth will set you free but not before it’s finished with you.” – David Foster Wallace

To really get the depth of the performance Jason Segel delivers as David Foster Wallace in James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour you have to watch David Foster Wallace himself. Segel has perfected Wallace’s unique dialect and subtle style of speaking but if that was all it amounted to then The End of The Tour would be nothing very special. Yet another masturbational deep dive into an enigma that can neither be understood nor explained. Indeed, if you are looking for rabbit-hole like truths to emerge from The End of the Tour you will be just as lost when the journey ends as you were before it began. The quality Segel captures that is bigger and more important than the way Wallace sounded is the expression of the type of person who sees everything, hears everything, feels everything.

The level of sensitivity Wallace possessed is the kind that is often unable to survive this hideous world. It is no wonder that depression took its toll and took his life. Depression can be the result of chemical imbalance but is also, often times, the only reasonable response to the fundamental corruption inherent in the American system. It’s not a corruption you can see and touch. It’s not actionable. It is woven into the fabric of our upbringing as Americans, the raw deal we’re sold on who we are supposed to be as defined by what we are supposed to buy. Clearly, Wallace saw it all, felt it all and had trouble eliminating it from his mind when he needed to.

Segel’s portrayal of Wallace, then, isn’t so much an explanation of who this brilliant writer was but rather, an artist’s rendering, an impressionist’s take, on what kind of person could have lived like that and wrote like that.

Jesse Eisenberg plays David Lipsky, an author and Rolling Stone journalist who is tasked with interviewing the elusive Wallace as his book tour for Infinite Jest is coming to a close. The two become kind of friends in that weird way a journalist invited to take part in intimate conversations can become your friend. You know it’s mostly all on the record, even if you beg for it not to be. You know that the story will always matter more than the friendship. Always. You know that there is a good chance you’re going to feel screwed because you can’t control the way they see you and you can’t control what their editors want them to write about you. You can’t control “the story.”

Eisenberg is playing a guy whose biggest claim to fame will be that he was that close to greatness. He’s like that young writer who followed F. Scott Fitzgerald around during his last days as a drunken Hollywood screenwriter, or anyone who had occasion to party with Hunter S. Thompson, or enjoyed a brief affair with JD Salinger. Their purpose in recording what they witness is either to help build a legend, or tear it down. The point is, they were there with the sober eyes of someone who CAN live in a world that their subject (and temporary friend) cannot.

It is always a pleasure watching Eisenberg on screen and you will be hard pressed to find two actors who play so harmoniously off of each other as he and Segel do here. Like most movies we will be studying this year as it heads towards the Oscar race, the women involved don’t really count except in the ways that they prop up or help transform the men. Still, the symbiosis of these two writers is interesting enough to hold the movie together with such equitable rapport that it never feels like a lopsided telling of the human and the artistic experience.

What Segel does best with his incarnation is to illustrate the constant affliction Wallace clearly suffered by being self-conscious and feeling like a constant outsider. This passage exemplifies how he wrote:

CHAPTER ONE

YEAR OF GLAD
I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. My posture is consciously congruent to the shape of my hard chair. This is a cold room in University Administration, wood-walled, Remington-hung, double-windowed against the November heat, insulated from Administrative sounds by the reception area outside, at which Uncle Charles, Mr. deLint and I were lately received.

I am in here.

Three faces have resolved into place above summer-weight sportcoats and half-Windsors across a polished pine conference table shiny with the spidered light of an Arizona noon. These are three Deans – of Admissions, Academic Affairs, Athletic Affairs. I do not know which face belongs to whom.

I believe I appear neutral, maybe even pleasant, though I’ve been coached to err on the side of neutrality and not attempt what would feel to me like a pleasant expression or smile.

I have committed to crossing my legs I hope carefully, ankle on knee, hands together in the lap of my slacks. My fingers are mated into a mirrored series of what manifests, to me, as the letter X. The interview room’s other personnel include: the University’s Director of Composition, its varsity tennis coach, and Academy prorector Mr. A. deLint. C.T. is beside me; the others sit, stand and stand, respectively, at the periphery of my focus. The tennis coach jingles pocket-change. There is something vaguely digestive about the room’s odor. The high-traction sole of my complimentary Nike sneaker runs parallel to the wobbling loafer of my mother’s half-brother, here in his capacity as Headmaster, sitting in the chair to what I hope is my immediate right, also facing Deans.

The Dean at left, a lean yellowish man whose fixed smile nevertheless has the impermanent quality of something stamped into uncooperative material, is a personality-type I’ve come lately to appreciate, the type who delays need of any response from me by relating my side of the story for me, to me. Passed a packet of computer sheets by the shaggy lion of a Dean at center, he is peaking more or less to these pages, smiling down.

Segel embodies Wallace in ways interviews cannot. And therein lies the true genius of what Segel has achieved as a now serious actor. We know tragedy is comedy’s shadow. Thus, it should come as no surprise whenever so-called “comedic actors” try their hand at serious acting. There is never a false moment when you stop seeing David Foster Wallace, where you stop thinking about this gentle, talented, wildly brilliant man whose life ended too soon.

There is some talk that Segel will be in the supporting category because we all know how impossibly crowded the Best Actor field is going to be. Already I can see how these subtle, beautiful portrayals of Brian Wilson by Paul Dano and now Wallace by Jason Segel might be forgotten in the sheer number of Great Men Doing Great Things roles that will steal center stage in coming months. It doesn’t really matter of course whether either of them gets a gold statue. What matters is that people see the films an appreciate how these performances have preserved the vital contributions these men made to music and literature.

The premiere for The End of the Tour last night was low key, held at the tastefully renovated Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. Afterwards there was a party on the rooftop of some swanky hotel. You could only get to the top by stuffing into a small elevator that took you there. It was packed, with partiers framing an aqua pool. The flat Los Angeles skyline surrounded us in all directions, blanketed with the twinkling lights of millions of people going somewhere, leaving somewhere, saying goodnight to someone. As much as David Foster Wallace would have felt awkward and out of place there, he likely would have appreciated that we were all there to praise Segel and his co-stars, and the film’s director for taking a tale that might have been simple and transforming it into mythology.

The End of the Tour at its essence is really just two people talking, each trying to sound smarter than the other, a journalist pretending to have an actual relationship with someone he’s supposed to be writing about, a self-conscious writer pretending to have an actual conversation and trying to resist hitting his internal panic button about how he’ll come off. They both are named David. They both are writers. One destined to be remembered for his genius and the other destined to be remembered for his brief brush with that genius. The dreadful irony always comes back to the simple fact that those who can write like a dream can rarely live a normal, happy reality. Those who live normal, happy lives can never write like that. It’s a truth worth setting free, but not until it’s finished with you.

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They’re talking practical effects on the film to make it look less green screen and more old timey Star Wars.
They’re building the hype for this thing up pretty high. Will this top the year’s box office? Will it top Jurassic World which is headed for the number three spot behind Titanic?

DemocratCandidates61815

Eight years ago, progressives and liberals rallied behind an eloquent first-term senator who called himself a “skinny guy with a funny name.” Barack Obama won hearts and united the left like never before. He was to be our first black president and would succeed in rescuing the country from eight disastrous years under President George W. Bush. Bush had been selected by Florida’s Secretary of State (under the then governor, Jeb Bush, W’s brother) and a 5-4 decision from our conservative Supreme Court. Al Gore had won the popular vote but they handed it to Bush. We went to war with Iraq and Afghanistan, a catastrophic vendetta disguised as retribution for 9/11. Wall Street collapsed under the weight of greed and lack of Federal regulation. The economy tanked 5 months before Bush slipped out the back exit. Things could not have gotten much worse for Americans who had become accustomed to a well oiled empire. Obama came in to take the country in a different direction, or so the narrative went anyway. Obama’s supporters came from far and wide, from all sides of the liberal spectrum. He had the African-American vote, no question. He had the moderate liberal vote. He fired up the progressives, who seemed to believe he could single-handedly do things that no president can ever actually do in office. No one expected President Obama would have to confront the most hostile Congress in US history. That hostility created continual roadblocks to his platform of hope, change and reform. Obama had to act outside Congress on many things, thus got called a tyrant and a fascist. They called him a liar during his State of the Union Address. By the end of his second term our American government would consist of a Democrat in the White House in lone opposition to a Republican Congress and Republican-leaning Supreme Court.

With the Supreme Court finally making gay marriage legal, and trying to finally convince stubborn Republicans that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay, there is much upset on the conservative side of our country. So much so that the GOP are brewing a perfect storm for an all-out takeover of the U.S. government, with plans to take the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court. With that kind of alignment of power they could finally enact all the legislation Obama has stopped them from jamming through. That Presidential VETO vote has been gold these past few years. Historically, two consecutive terms of a Democrat in the White is usually followed by a Republican president in office. That’s largely because the eligible voters who sit out elections every year (a staggering number) begin to feel angry enough to go to the polls to unseat the powers that be.

The Democrats have a formidable frontrunner in Hillary Clinton. She would be, at last, the first female president. She is still polling with higher support than anyone else in the race, Democrat or Republican. But now come the laments of respected trendsetters like Bill Maher on HBO, and more dubious armchair quarterbacks like Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere. Publicly they claim that they just don’t feel excited about Hillary — and privately they know if her nomination at the Democratic Convention is accepted as a done deal it will never drive conversations, TV panel disputes, site traffic, heated debate or ad money. As answer to their prayers to see a dramatic hero/villain scenario set in motion, Bernie Sanders came along, a good man and self-proclaimed socialist who can boast that he isn’t taking PAC money but is raising his campaign cash the old-fashioned way, with thousands of grassroots donors. Never mind that Hillary has enormous grass-roots support of her own in addition to impressive funding from essential major players. Bernie has positioned himself as the anti-Hillary.

All at once, loud voices on left have begun to attack their own party, with eager assistance from GOP operatives who’ve been continually feeding negative stories about Hillary through leftist Twitter accounts for months, according to the New York Times. Many complacent liberals have taken the bait, hook, line and sinker. Now we not only have Bernie Sanders supporters — we have Hillary Clinton haters on the left to do finish the hatchet job Republicans have been orchestrating ever since they tried to make Benghazi stick. That accomplishes two things. It helps to disillusion less-devoted Democrats, to ensure fewer votes for Hillary Clinton come election time, and it makes the Republicans look good because they can point to wobbly Democrat pundits. The Republican saboteurs no longer have to get their hands dirty trying to ruin her chances because the Democrats are doing it for them. And there is no stopping it now. A barrage of traffic-generating thinky-pieces on Salon, Huffington Post, DailyKos, Matt Taibbi are seeding the discontent, firmly in the Sanders camp, trying to get him, and not Hillary, the nomination next summer.

But those Republicans, they are just getting started. Obama has spent two exhausting terms defending himself against accusations that he was a closet socialist. Now there is a proud self-confessed socialist actually running? This is the GOP’s wet dream. It’s manna from heaven and they know it. Bernie Sanders will need to raise taxes to pay for his elaborate raft of programs and he naturally wants to raise them on the rich. While I personally think is a beautiful thing, because who with any sense of humanity wouldn’t, we all know how most Americans respond to that kind of talk. They hear “taxes” and they assume Democrats want half of everybody’s paycheck to pay for silly things like infrastructure. So yeah, do the math. Not a pretty picture. As John Steinbeck said, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

Though, in my worst nightmares, I fear we can pretty much stick a fork in it for Democrats this election cycle — divided we fall — there is hope on the horizon. Young people are fired up for Bernie Sanders, which could mean that further down the road someone as revolutionary as Bernie, might really get elected. No one wants to put a damper the involvement of young voters or their kill their spirit, so cynics like me will have to just hide out in our dark corners and wait for it all to be over. Even though deep down I’m thinking: Please don’t risk another conservative being appointed to the Supreme Court, please don’t let a climate change denier take control of the White House. I personally will fight for whomever gets the nomination but more and more I hear fervent liberals say they will only vote for Bernie Sanders and not for Hillary Clinton. I want to believe that devotion will shift once the dust settles and sensible people weigh the Clinton Dynasty against the Bush Dynasty. But for now, it’s a discouraging and nerve-racking situation. Nicely done, GOP. Nicely done.

Meanwhile, let’s look at how all of this — human nature, voting and campaigning — resembles familiar patterns in the Oscar race.

Early campaigning, candidates announcing = Film Festivals

The same way the presidential race feeds on the manufactured drama of divisive heroes and villains, so does the Oscar race for Best Picture. In 2012, 12 Years a Slave landed with thunderous acclaim in Telluride, was heralded as the de facto Best Picture winner, preordained as it were. That set into motion a divisive awards race that pit Gravity (a billion dollar juggernaut somehow morphed into the scrappy underdog) against 12 Years a Slave (the mean ol’ frontrunner who must be defeated). The pre-nominations phase offers up many opportunities for potential winners. Each film has its own lobbyist, an awards strategist who dutifully works the press, the blogs, twitter, doing damage control. As soon a film seems like a potentially viable contender a really good strategist is attached to it.

From this point, it is a matter of how each option plays in the real world. How did Hillary Clinton play in New Hampshire? How did Bernie Sanders play in Iowa? How did Jeb! Bush play in Texas? How did The Artist play in the Toronto? How did Birdman play at that Academy screening? How did The Wolf of Wall Street play at a special DGA screening? The process is the same.

It is all sunshine and roses until one film is positioned as the winner and one film the underdog. That’s when fickle public opinion can begin to shift.

Campaigning and fundraising – you pay to play with politics and the Oscars.

One of Hillary most potent advantages, like Obama’s last two terms, is her ability to fund-raise amid corruptive forces in the era of Super-PACs. Jeb Bush racked up $100 million in donations before he even announced the official launch of his campaign, exploiting a loophole in the Citizens United decision that says money counts as speech and is therefore covered under the 1st Amendment. Meanwhile, the deep-pocketed Koch brothers are backing Scott Walker who is now polling ahead in Iowa. Needless to say, the GOP have their guys more than covered. Seems every billionaire in America is ready to adopt his very own pet Republican candidate. They won’t be outspent by anyone except maybe Hillary Clinton. With the help of Bill Clinton and perhaps Big Hollywood, Clinton is the only Democrat on the horizon who’s able to compete with those guys — except for the fact that many the left are being fed the nonsense that any big money must be “dirty money.” Obama assembled the same sources of funding, but somehow he was cheered on while Hillary is seen as a MEAN OLD CORPORATE STOOGE for raising lots of fuck-you money.

This is similar to the charges leveled against The Social Network’s ad campaign vs. The King’s Speech in 2010. Somehow, someone got it out there that Sony was spending record amounts of money on the Social Network so that it was insinuated they were trying “to buy” a Best Picture victory. The same thing happened to Lincoln in 2012. As someone who is often the recipient of FYC money I can tell you that it’s really hard to win Best Picture, or even get an Oscar nomination at all, if you don’t pay to play.

The amount of money it costs to launch either a presidential campaign or an Oscar campaign often helps clarify one’s intentions, and by any sane evaluation monetary support should be a measure of confidence. Studios and distributors have to ask themselves do they really want to spent that money? Do they want or need to demonstrate loyalty to their talent? For what reason? To what end? What is in it for them? Likewise, in politics, there is a sense that everyone has a right and a responsibility to get involved in remaking our country with candidates of our own choosing lifted aloft with our own money. Everybody raises it, everybody spends it, but it still comes down to perception. Good guys vs. bad guys (and girls).

Bernie Sanders just sent out an email that reads:

Yesterday afternoon, Jeb Bush announced that a relatively small number of wealthy donors have contributed over one hundred million dollars to his Super PAC.
This is not a democracy. This is oligarchy.
Unfortunately, Jeb Bush is not alone. Almost all of our opponents have embraced this model of fundraising — begging billionaire benefactors who have bought up the private sector to try their hand at buying a presidential election.
One of those Super PACs is already running ads against our campaign.
Let me be clear: I am more than aware our opponents will outspend us, but we are going to win this election. They have the money, but we have the people.

This, before asking for another donation. In the months and days counting down to the election, anyone who’s ever visited a political site will have his or her inbox bombarded with emails asking for money. I’ve already donated, but they will keep asking and asking and asking and begging and begging and begging. Everyone will want something in return. It’s an illusion to think that only corporations are involved. So why do they need so much money? For advertising, of course.

I learned a hard lesson last year when Gone Girl did no advertising for the Oscar race. There was maybe one ad for Rosamund Pike I saw. Without advertising you can’t get nominations. You need to show voters that you want it, and you need to remind them that you’re out there — they need to remember the movie.

In politics, ads shape the message — here is a breakdown of where the money went in 2012. Obama spent $57 million in June to Romney’s $27 million. Of that, Romney only used $39 million for media buys to Obama’s $67 million. You can see that money drives everything. In politics, as with the Oscars.

As we can see by the way liberals are positioning Clinton this year, no one wants to be on the side of corporate money. That’s perception. Maybe Bernie Sanders really is the scrappy underdog that could. He still needs to raise lots and lots of money and without PACS or billionaire patrons he simply can’t compete with Bush or Walker.

Smear Campaigns — works for politics, works for Oscars

One of Hillary Clinton’s best hands to play at this table is that there isn’t much more people can dredge up about her past that hasn’t already been laid out there. She’s still standing. The latest accusation against her was the kerfuffle over private emails, and before that the one word accusation lobbed at her by many people who probably have no idea what it even means: BENGHAZI. Note: As of May 29, 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Defense casualty website, there were 4,425 total deaths (including both killed in action and non-hostile) and 32,223 wounded in action (WIA) as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom. How many Americans were killed during the terrorist attacks in Benghazi? 4.

Conservatives are continually trying to turn liberals against Hillary. A recent example was this college photo doctored to look like she had a confederate flag in the background. (Source? Our old pal Dinesh D’Souza).

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Why try to turn the left against the left? The GOP learned the strategy from the 2012 election:

Conservative strategists and operatives say they are simply filling a vacuum on the far left, as well as applying the lesson they learned in 2012, when they watched in frustration as Mitt Romney was forced to expend time and resources in a protracted primary fight. By the time he secured his party’s nomination, President Obama hardly had to make the case that his opponent was a cold-hearted plutocrat; Republicans like Newt Gingrich had already made the argument for him in the primaries.

Few Republicans are more familiar with that nightmare than Matt Rhoades, who was Mr. Romney’s campaign manager. He founded America Rising in response to a recommendation contained in an autopsy of Romney’s failed presidential run that was ordered by the Republican National Committee. The group’s original goal was to compete with American Bridge, the Democratic opposition research group, but its focus under Mr. Rhoades has been to subject Mrs. Clinton to an ordeal similar to Mr. Romney’s.

“The idea is to make her life difficult in the primary and challenge her from the left,” said Colin Reed, America Rising’s executive director. “We don’t want her to enter the general election not having been pushed from the left, so if we have opportunities — creative ways, especially online — to push her from the left, we’ll do it just to show those folks who she needs to turn out that she’s not in line with them.”

Worked like a charm, at least so far. A similar dynamic played out when Kathryn Bigelow directed Zero Dark Thirty and last year when Ava DuVernay directed Selma. It’s apparently a lot easier to try to undermine someone’s integrity when a woman is in the driver’s seat. The idea that these female directors were irresponsible with their message orignated from the left. Martin Sheen and Ed Asner with Zero Dark Thirty and various journalists attacking Selma. The debate over torture rages on but the so-called Selma scandal was a joke. Doesn’t matter because perception is everything, at the Oscars, in politics and especially during presidential elections.

Voting for the winners – the eternal dilemma of whether to vote with your heart or vote for the winner

Academy voters are always conflicted about whether to vote for a film that has no chance of winning or whether to vote for one of the two or three films that really have a chance. Does your vote count if it’s thrown away just because you voted with your heart? Idealists would say yes. Vote how you want or else the entire system of voting is pointless. While I can’t render an opinion on what Academy members should do (though I would hope their decision goes beyond what they merely “like”), it’s a certainty that elections are always won by those who turn out to vote at all. With the Academy, that means they should at the very least see all of the films. They traditionally have a pretty high turnout when it comes to voting. Unlike many other Americans, Oscar voters know their ballot is a privilege.

Where Americans at large are concerned, things get trickier. Only a little over 50% of the voting age population even votes at all. An estimated 93 million eligible voters dfailed to show up at the ballot booth in 2012. Most of the people who do vote do so because they feel personally invested in something. They care about something. The rest of them dwell in apathy. They’ve checked out of the system because they either think the system is rigged or they don’t think their vote will count. Idealists would tell you that their votes DO count, especially if everyone was required to vote as part of their citizenship. Anyone who has watched the presidential election for several decades might tell you that you should throw your vote behind the one who can win or else risk losing.

Once the Producers Guild announces their winner, the DGA and SAG follow suit — the cumulative weight of those kinds of numbers in the thousands cannot be shaken up with one or two votes here or there. It has become a massive, unshakable consensus since the Academy expanded their Best Picture contenders from five to more than five. The PGA mostly decides Best Picture now.

We’re lucky that in America we have a choice whether or not to vote. We’re lucky we have so many wonderful films to see every year. But the Oscars, like American politics, tend to make the race towards the winner about one or two choices rather than a multitude. I fear that this year the Democrats have already lost the election before we even get started. At the same time I don’t want to disillusion potential young people who are fired up to vote, even if they are ultimately voting for someone who can’t win.

I don’t think any one president can change this country into a liberal utopia. It’s just not possible under the current structure on Capitol Hill, riddled with systemic bureaucratic malady. For me, the choice is clear and the reason why was made crystal clear last month: it’s the Supreme Court, stupid.

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Dustin Hoffman was interviewed and quoted in the Guardian with a juicy pullquote that film is the worst it’s ever been. Here is what he said:

“I think right now television is the best that it’s ever been,” he said. “And I think that it’s the worst that film has ever been – in the 50 years that I’ve been doing it, it’s the worst.”

The article continues:

The actor and director lamented changes to shooting schedules due to advances in digital technology, which mean that directors can be pressured to finish movies in three weeks or less.

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The documentary category is, once again, filling up quickly. Five slots really can’t possibly account for the abundance of documentaries, most of which are better than the feature submissions in any given year.  Look at the overwhelming number of great titles from last year alone. While it dilutes the excitement and prestige of the awards to have more than five nominees in any category, it also is not a good way of honoring the documentary movement, which has been exploding in recent years.

Nonetheless, three strong contenders for the category have been directed by women and could make this a record-breaking year for women directors nominated in that category.  Debra Granik’s critically acclaimed follow-up to Winter’s Bone, Stray Dog, Liz Garbus’ heartbreaking look at Nina Simone’s life in What Happened, Miss Simone, currently streaming on Netflix, and The Wolfpack, directed by  Crystal Moselle about a group of boys who grew up in a restricted environment where their only outlet was movies. All three films paint dramatically different stories of American life and have all received rave reviews so far.

Stray Dog looks at a Vietnam war vet who runs a trailer park in rural Missouri. His new wife emigrated from Mexico and the two caravan with other vets on an annual pilgrimage to the Vietnam memorial in DC.

Other documentaries that are garnering buzz include Davis Guggenheim’s He Named Me Malala, Alex Gibney’s Going Clear, Asif Kapadia’s Amy, Bryan Carberry & J. Clay Tweel’s Finders Keepers, Matthew Heineman’s Cartel Land, Jimmy Chin and E. Chai’s Meru, among others.

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It’s a pathetic situation in America when the queasy combination of celebrities and politics can literally result in “celebrity politicians” — carnival freakshows like Donald Trump whose name-brand recognition is enough to propel his ignorance to the top of U.S. presidential polls. There’s of course no reason why passionate celebrity activists shouldn’t use their intelligent involvement to raise awareness of social issues, as America Ferrera demonstrated so beautifully when she took part in the transformative Women’s Rights documentary, Half the Sky (along with Diane Lane, Olivia Wilde, Nicole Kidman, Eva Mendes, Gabrielle Union and Meg Ryan). That, we applaud. Today America Ferrara made news with a blistering open letter to the GOP travesty called Donald Trump, thanking him for energizing Latino voters against the repulsive attitudes that he (and a weirdly large number of the Republican electorate) represent. She thanks him “for reminding us that there remains an antiquated and endangered species of bigots in this country that we must continue to combat.” Here’s her letter in full.

* * *

Dear Donald,

You’ve said some pretty offensive things about Latino immigrants recently, and I think they’re worth addressing. Because, you know, this is the United States of America, where I have a right to speak up even if I’m not a billionaire. Isn’t that awesome?

Anyway, I heard what you said about the kind of people you think Latino immigrants are — people with problems, who bring drugs, crime and rape to America. While your comments are incredibly ignorant and racist, I don’t want to spend my time chastising you. I’ll leave that to your business partners like Univision and NBC, who have the power to scold you where it hurts. Instead, I’m writing to say thank you!

You see, what you just did with your straight talk was send more Latino voters to the polls than several registration rallies combined! Thank you for that. Here we are pounding the pavement to get American Latinos to the polls, while your tactic proves most effective. Remarks like yours will serve brilliantly to energize Latino voters and increase turnout on election day against you and any other candidate who runs on a platform of hateful rhetoric.

Do you know why that’s such a big deal, Donald? Because Latinos are the largest, youngest and fastest-growing constituency in the United States of America. That’s right! You are running for President in a country where the Latino population grew by over 49 percent from 2000-2012, while the rest of the country grew by 5.8 percent. What’s more, we are the future. The median age of the average Latino is 27 years old, compared to 42 years old for white Americans. In case you need a translation, that means there are a whole lot of Americans who are Latino and have the right to vote. And, we’re not going anywhere.

This is the America we are actually living in. I hope by now you understand that without the Latino vote, there is no chance of you ever winning this election. If you don’t believe me, you could ask President Bush or you could even ask President Obama.

You, Mr. Trump, are living in an outdated fantasy of a bigoted America. Last week, America celebrated some amazing milestones — marriage equality, universal healthcare, removing of the confederate flag — making it clear in which direction the country is moving. That is why racist remarks that play to extremists won’t change the tide, no matter how hard you try. They will only serve to rally more Latino voters to the polls. Your negativity and your poorly thought out speech ignited a fire in our community. Thank you, Mr. Trump!

Thank you for reminding us that there remains an antiquated and endangered species of bigots in this country that we must continue to combat. Thank you for reminding us to not sit complacently at home on election day, but to run to the polls and proclaim that there is no place for your brand of racial politicking in our government. Thank you for sending out the rallying cry.

You have made your thoughts on the Latino community clear and you continue to stand by them. And in return, we will do more than tweet about our indignation and beat piñatas of your likeness. We will silence you at the polls. We will vote and use our growing position in U.S. politics. Our fellow Americans who understand and value our contributions will join us. We know there is nothing that scares you more.

The truth is, Mr. Trump, that your comments mean that you fail to see that immigrants are what have made this nation. They are at the core of our ideals, and they are the foundation that keeps us afloat. No, Mr. Trump, you may not reduce us to drug dealers and rapists. We are moms and dads, sons and daughters. We are valedictorians and honor students. We are college graduates, bankers, police officers, entertainers, teachers, journalists, politicians and we are the future of America.

Thank you for helping us in our work to energize the Latino vote and to usher in our shared future! Keep it up!

Sincerely,

America

Of Honduran decent, America was born and raised in Los Angeles and received a degree in International Relations from USC. An award winning actress, she is best known for her starring role in the ABC hit Ugly Betty. America is saluted by Congress for raising the profile of Latinos in popular culture, serving as a role model for young Latinas, and working to empower the Latino community.

America Ferrera discusses her involvement in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a landmark transmedia project featuring a four-hour PBS primetime national and international broadcast event. Across the globe oppression is being confronted, and real meaningful solutions are being fashioned through health care, education, and economic empowerment for women and girls. Embedded in the linked problems of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality — which still needlessly claims one woman every 90 seconds — is the single most vital opportunity of our time — and all over the world, women are seizing it.

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“To a canary, the cat is the monster. We’re just used to being the cat.”

If all goes as expected, Jurassic World’s domestic box office is going to make it one of the top three highest grossing films of all time. We’re probably more in Avengers or Dark Knight territory than we are Avatar and Titanic territory but it’s still worth noting, and questioning, what it was about this film that hit so big with audiences. Jurassic World is already at number 7. By the end of this weekend it will likely become the number 5 highest grossing domestically. It should easily beat The Dark Knight at $534, then has to hit $623 to beat The Avengers. The film doesn’t seem to be slowing down, as least not any time soon. Someone on Twitter suggested it would hit $650, which would put it at number 3.

The film’s high box office could be down to several factors that make it stand out — one is the popularity of Chris Pratt, believe it or not. After Guardians of the Galaxy he became a box office draw, at least for young girls. Fans of the original movie, families, anyone wanting to see a big effects movie of the kind summers are made on. Finally, people will spend money to see something on screen they’ve never seen before. Sure, they’ve seen CGI dinos, but nothing like that image of the massive whale-like creature eating the Great White shark.

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I had been avoiding the film, thinking it would be as bad as films are on this massive scale, but Jurassic World wasn’t bad. It was thoroughly entertaining and more importantly had its heart and consciousness in the right place; we’re entering an era where people are starting to slowly realize that we can’t keep treating animals the way we have been, certainly not a imprisoned performers for our entertainment. One can’t not notice the parallels between Jurassic and Sea World. It’s deliberate, down to the splash guards the spectators wear. Like the first Jurassic Park, the notion that we think ourselves special and entitled enough to keep intelligent animals in captivity for our own entertainment results in our own demise, for one. This message rings loudly and clearly in Jurassic World. We’re not too far away from the day SeaWorld will have to end its barbaric practice of keeping giant, magnificent orcas in tiny pools. If Jurassic Park makes people think of SeaWorld I hope it makes more money than Avatar, though it probably won’t. Avatar, too, had a eco-message attached. Jim Cameron and his wife Suzi Amos are working day in and day out to preserve the environment. How great it would be if the number 1 and number 2 highest grossing films of all time had an ecological message attached. Maybe then we would start to get the message.

As in the first film, the dinos can’t lose. Each time they’re on screen it’s thrilling to watch. The newly mutated dinosaur, a Frankenstein’s monster built to bring in more ticket buyers, is a far more cynical approach to the animals exploiters than the first Jurassic Park. They suggest that life will work itself out if humans would not only get out of the way but also stop breeding and testing things they don’t understand.

The best part of the film by far is Chris Pratt and his symbiotic relationship to the raptors. Even though mammals tend to be more of a bonding species that whatever dinosaurs are, birds can bond with and become attached to people, so too, then, must dinosaurs.

It’s easy to look at Jurassic World and see it as the beginning of the end. After all, this is all it takes to make shitloads of money now: branding and visual effects. We knew that already. Much has been made of the sexism inherent in the depiction of Bryce Dallas Howard’s character — and those criticisms are valid, especially when compared to how carefully the first film treated its female characters. The genius in the room was John Hammond’s granddaughter, Alexis, the young girl who figured out how to hack the computer system. In contrast, Howard’s character needs to have things mansplained to her throughout the film because she’s clearly too dumb to figure anything out for herself. Worse, she spends the whole movie running for her life in high heels. Trust me, not even Kim Kardashian would do that. The heels would be the first things to go.  In the end, though, does it really matter that much? It doesn’t to me. She’s a high-powered career woman who fights to save her nephews. This isn’t an “important film” but it’s a rousing summer movie.

Finally, it’s not really necessary anymore to build suspense the way Spielberg did. For instance, this masterful scene in Jurassic Park can’t be matched by anything in Jurassic World:

Chris Pratt riding the motorcycles as alpha to the raptors comes mighty close.

The ugly, however, is that this film keeps bringing us that much closer to tent poles obliterating the kinds of films studios make that we all like to see. When films can make this kind of money why would they bother trying to make anything else. At this point, though, there may be no going back.

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The year is beginning with promise, as the years almost always do, because the movies that are released now star women. The “Oscar movies,” as such, star men. That is how we find ourselves in this crazy predicament where the Oscar race for Best Picture is often defined as:

Men doing important things (The King’s Speech).
Men failing at attempting to do important things (Birdman).
Men doing things (every other movie in the race).

Many of these early released films that feature women don’t factor in to the Best Picture race the way things are now because voters only have five slots to nominate Best Picture and those five slots usually go to male-driven films but for an occasional exception like Gravity, Philomena or Zero Dark Thirty here or there.

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First up for Best Actress are the two lead roles some of us have already seen, Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett from Carol. Mara picked up the Best Actress prize in Cannes but it seems likely both actresses could find themselves hovering within sight of a Best Actress nomination. It would be better for the chances, though, to separate them as lead and supporting. In supporting, Mara might actually have a chance at the win. One of the marvels of Carol is how much director Todd Haynes’ spends on the internal worlds of these women before cutting straight to the sex stuff. In fact, the sex isn’t the main course at all, as might be the temptation here. Other things about these partners matter so much more as we watch them fall in love. It isn’t so much an uncorking of eroticism as it is a discovery of who they are. That, of course, inadvertently makes it all the more erotic. Either way, both women are given a full range of emotional expression here.

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The third strong Best Actress contender right now has to be Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. Although not your traditional “Oscar performance,” Theron has the benefit of creating one of the most iconic females in action films along the lines of Sigourney Weaver in Alien. To my mind, Theron’s is one of the year’s standouts but we know our pesky actors branch will likely go for the more “important” or “serious” fare. Either way, she’s on the list at the moment before any of the other movies roll out.

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There are two films about women right now that could be headed for Best Actress at least if not Best Picture. One is Suffragette and the other is Joy. Joy seems the more likely, sight unseen, because David O. Russell when paired with Jennifer Lawrence have an impressive batting average — three nominations for Picture three years in a row. And still no win.

Lawrence should top any early Oscar predictions but she is already an Oscar winner. Hilary Swank and Jodie Foster are two actresses who earned lead acting wins fairly close together but for someone as young as Lawrence it would be a rare feat. Even still, you can bet with Best Picture heat driving the thing (unless it’s terrible), Lawrence will be prominent this year.

Carey Mulligan is another actress who has earned Oscar cred with so many brilliant performances already under her belt. She has Far From the Madding Crowd already this year but seems to be the real juice of Suffragette, at least in the trailer:

And look, it’s great women doing great things. Whoda thunk it? Suffragette is directed by Sarah Gavron who has directed one feature and co-directed a documentary. Hey, you have to start somewhere, right? It’s written by Abi Morgan who wrote the Invisible Woman and The Iron Lady. The best thing it has going for it, other than coming out at a time when our country might see its first female president, is what will be a significant push by Focus Features.

David O. Russell’s Joy puts a woman at the center for the first time in the director’s career. It’s no shock that it’s Jennifer Lawrence who has worked well with Russell since Silver Linings Playbook. Joy tells the story of Joy Mangano, the single mother of three who invented the Miracle Mop. It will likely be high satire, as co-written by Russell and Bridesmaids’ co-writer Annie Mumolo.

Two French actresses find themselves hovering in the Best Actress arena and both are already previous Oscar winners – Juliette Binoche for Clouds of Sils Maria and Marion Cotillard for MacBeth. It is unlikely that both will get in but both are certainly worth taking seriously.

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It could also be a year for four strong veteran actresses to launch into the race, including Helen Mirren for the box-office surprise hit Woman in Gold, Lily Tomlin in Grandma, Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years and Maggie Smith in the Lady in the Van. Of those, my gut tells me that Smith will have the advantage. But no predictions can be made until the films are seen, of course.

Meryl Streep will have a shot at her 20th Oscar nomination with the Jonathan Demme/Diablo Cody joint Ricki and the Flash where Streep will play a has-been rock n’ roller trying to have a second shot at motherhood. Streep always delivers; thus, she’s a force to be reckoned with whenever she stars in a film.

These are Anne Thompson’s current predictions for Best Actress — factoring in only films that she herself has seen:

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Frontrunners:
Cate Blanchett (“Carol”)
Rooney Mara (“Carol”)
Helen Mirren (“Woman in Gold”)
Bel Powley (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”)
Lily Tomlin (“Grandma”)

Contenders (plus films she hasn’t seen):
Juliette Binoche (“Clouds of Sils Maria”)
Marion Cotillard (“Macbeth”)
Greta Gerwig (“Mistress America”)
Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy”)
Carey Mulligan (“Far from the Madding Crowd,” “Suffragette”)
Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”)
Maggie Smith (“The Lady in the Van”)
Alicia Vikander (“Tulip Fever,” “The Danish Girl”)

Thompson is floating Bel Powley for Diary of a Teenage Girl. Viola Davis is starring in Lila & Eve alongside Jennifer Lopez about two women pursuing justice outside the law. I don’t know about you but, Oscars or not, I can’t WAIT for this one.

Other names on the fringe besides those mentioned here include Vikander also for Ex Machina, Rinko Kikuchi for Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter. Greta Gerwig stars in Mistress America, another madcap goofball performance by Gerwig which may or may not capture the attention of voters. Z for Zachariah stars Margot Robbie as “a young woman who survives on her own, fearing she may actually be the proverbial last woman on earth, until she discovers the most astonishing sight of her life: another human being.”

Mia Wasikowska stars in Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak about “an aspiring author who is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds…and remembers.” Saorse Ronan stars in Brooklyn, which was already seen at Cannes. Anne Thompson presumably saw the film but does not list Ronan on her predictions.

Patricia Clarkson will star in Learning to Drive in which she plays a woman learning to drive with teacher Ben Kingsley. Already seen is Emily Blunt in Sicario starring opposite Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. A strong performance from Blunt is likely, but we will have to wait on the reviews to see how far she can go with it.

Casualties of the year thus far (killed by the critics) include Emma Thompson for Effie Gray and Jennifer Connelly for Aloft, Kate Winslet for A Little Chaos.

Choosing five Best Actress contenders won’t be that hard as the months roll along. It is about the performance but it is also about the friendships and alliances in Hollywood, as with any other category. It is about publicity and it is about buzz and backlash. How annoying was last year’s epic fail of critics who pounced on Jennifer Aniston’s dramatic turn in Cake. They blamed her for being a successful movie star who dared to help produce a film to star in that would showcase her range. This is really what almost every actress in Hollywood must do to not only work but to get any attention whatsoever for their work.

More and more actresses from other countries are obliterating American actresses who seem to either lack the prestige factor or are discarded as the next fresh new face comes along. The critics, though, felt the need to bolster Marion Cotillard once work got out of an imaginary controversy involving Harvey Weinstein and the film The Immigrants. A mini revolution was held and the critics stubbornly pushed Cotillard and shat on Aniston. Cotillard, as you can see from this year or any other doesn’t have a hard time getting roles. She works because she’s absolutely great and deserves all of the praise and success she has coming. But. It’s harder for actresses over here in America to get the same kind of cred as Cotillard does from critics. The role in 2 Days and 1 night was better than Aniston’s role in Cake but I don’t think Cotillard’s work towered over Aniston’s. So color me unimpressed with that shit show went down last year.

If I had to pluck five names out of a hat based on what I know about how the race works and a vague sense of what some of these films might be I’d go with these five names:

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Rooney Mara, Carol (but she might go supporting)
Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Meryl Streep, Ricki and the Flash
Alts. Charlize Theron for Mad Max, Lily Tomlin in Grandma, Maggie Smith, the Lady in the Van

That’s just spitting in the wind, of course. There is no real way to tell how the race might go as there are months and months left.

Next up, the Supporting Categories.

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