A Most Violent Year2

One thing that threads throughout JC Chandor’s work, with three films under his belt now, is that he devotes his time to organic filmmaking, the way movies used to be made and sometimes still are in the independent world. He has somehow bypassed the tsunami of showmanship or style over storytelling and takes his cues not from Tarantino and Cronenberg and Lynch but rather from Lumet and Cimino and Pakula. A Most Violent Year feels straight out of the time during which it takes place, the early 80s, and that makes it a bit of a salve for weary film critics who remember the days when movies were really movies and not the endless exploration into the boundaries of visual effects.

Visual effects are cool and all, but there’s something to be said for the need for storytelling – it is a vital human requirement, in fact, so that we can shape our past, present and future without always giving way to fantasy. Some of us go to the movies to be carried away to a different place but some of us go for somber reflection on who we are, what we’ve been through and what we fight for.

A Most Violent Year is about a man holding his business together when it is being threatened by competing thieves. Honestly, it isn’t the most exciting plot – but it isn’t so much the plot that matters. It’s the way Chandor slowly unravels the story, much the way he did in Margin Call, building scene upon scene until it all finally comes together at the end without giving any satisfyingly easy answers.

It is moody, quiet and contemplative, sometimes just letting the sound of breathing fill the frame. There’s a deep sadness to it, as though the main characters really don’t have much to hold onto at all because what they’re holding onto is slipping through their fingers. If Wolf of Wall Street was a story about success, A Most Violent Year is a story about success seeping out of its container. It doesn’t quite become a story of failure but these are not winners here. These are survivors doing what they have to do.

Naturally stealing the show is Jessica Chastain who indeed competes against herself, and frontrunner Patricia Arquette, for Best Supporting Actress. She’s ferocious in A Most Violent Year and that ferociousness becomes a bit of a problem for the film. One yearns to have the story be more about her – but once again, she is supporting. She’s great and no male writer out there is going to point this out because we’ve become accustomed and comfortable with great supporting turns by Chastain but isn’t it time she demanded and commanded more screen time? I think it is. But I’m not the one making movies and making decisions about those movies.

That doesn’t detract necessarily from the film overall, and no one reading this now is even going to notice because Chastain makes the most of her screen time. She is an actress who always makes a decision about where she is in a given scene, who she is and what her objective is. She is far more accomplished and talented than the younger women in the business for whom whole films are built around because they bring in the box office. Chastain isn’t quite there – she isn’t that tweener box office draw or the “it” girl. But she’ll be where Meryl Streep is one day. She will bring people to the movies just to see her in a film.

The versatile and talented Oscar Isaac holds the movie down with his singular performance. It is the polar opposite of his Llewyn Davis – you might not even recognize him as the same actor if you didn’t already know. The supporting cast are fine as well, including Albert Brooks in an understated cameo.

Chandor is such an unpredictable artist – when given the opportunity to write and direct he always takes us somewhere new and he does with deliberation and thoughtfulness. I always feel as though I’m in good hands with him because I know he knows where he’s headed. A Most Violent Year is, as all critics are deeming it, a “slow burn.” It falls in line, in that regard, with Foxcatcher, which is another slow burn of a film. Foxcatcher, though, leaves you with a chill at the end. A Most Violent Year leaves you with melancholy, the same kind of melancholy we’re all feeling a bit as our middle class collapses around us.

I think it’s too early to declare A Most Violent Year’s Oscar prospects, though I expect it will be among the best reviewed films of the year. I think Original Screenplay, Supporting Actress are most assured. Best Actor would be too except for Oscar Isaac is entering the most competitive category at the Oscars – which makes it a tough road.

Depending on what directors think, Chandor could be looking at a Best Director nod as well. We’ll have to wait and see how the film settles with critics awards and early precursors. For now, it goes on the list.


“So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste” – The Rolling Stones

(slight spoiler warning)

When the economy began to collapse in 2008, a lot of Americans at last began to realize who was really running this country. That debacle left a lot of unfinished business in the trajectory of middle-class Americans on their way to fulfilling the promise of the lives they’d just barely started. Where at one time a young couple living in New York City with hopes of becoming famous writers felt confidence about the future, now they’ve left the city, moved to the country where there isn’t much to do but become clichés of the middle class, living out the failed dreams of their parents.

This was not going to be the fate of Amazing Amy – that type A bombshell women envied and men worshipped. Not the same Amazing Amy from the children’s books that set the bar for perfection parents in the post-Oprah, post-therapy, post-boomer generation strived for. Amazing Amy was a success in school and in life. Amy Dunne lived somewhere in her shadow, an asterisked footnote of the perfect child her parents really wanted. Self-esteem, that’s what counts in modern American child rearing. Only too much self-esteem can build monsters.

In a career making turn, Rosamund Pike is Amy Dunne in David Fincher’s new film, Gone Girl, Like last year’s Wolf of Wall Street, Gone Girl chokes on the American dream. That dream is usually afforded only to men. We don’t think about what women want out of it, do we. Women are bred to want to be rescued by a handsome prince, and then live happily ever after. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck in a pitch perfect performance) arrives just time to rescue poor Amy from under the shadow of Amazing Amy. And aren’t they so happy together. Perfect man, perfect wife. Perfect life.

But as these things go, perfection has no place in the dirty job that is reality. Who can survive the pressure of perfection? What child raised today with parents hovering, with self-esteem injections hourly, sometimes medication to be perfect in every way.

Fincher introduced the notion of the double life in Fight Club, then manifested that outward illusion with The Social Network, which changed the way we presented ourselves to the world.

Fincher’s Gone Girl takes up where his Social Network left off. Both films are a meditation on getting those things we believe we’re all entitled to, by any means necessary. With Mark Zuckerberg that gold ring was success and a circle of friends. With Amy Dunne, it’s the perfect life she feels is owed to her. The Big Lie promises women that they will never be cheated on, that their husband will love them with unfaltering devotion and want to fuck them every night for the next 50 years. They want their husband to listen to their problems, appreciate their talents, admire their fashion sense, crave their cooking, and pose for happy photos they can post on social networks. It almost doesn’t even matter who that guy is, which is how Nick almost inadvertently fits into the picture. He’s Joe Anybody – a pretty dumbass Amy can plug in to her pretty little puzzle. The last essential piece.

The power of projection and manipulation of image is the new normal. One need look no further than how Kim Kardashian spent hours organizing the floral arrangement for the Instagram photo of her marriage to Kanye West, which broke the Instagram record for :most-liked.” Does anyone even care anymore if any of it was real? It doesn’t matter. Give the people what they want. Gone Girl eviscerates this disgusting new dimension of American culture.

We women live under the cloak of inadequacy every day of our lives. We eat that shit for breakfast (low carb please), and stuff our faces with it during daylight hours as we dutifully count our calories, contort ourselves in yoga class, shave our pussies, wax our legs, pluck our eyebrows, wear sunscreen, stuff our swollen feet into high heels and then vomit it all up before we go to bed at night. Some of us are driven to the brink of insanity, but none of us can ever really talk about it because to merely confess that it’s a struggle is to admit we’ve failed at being what society expects us to be.

And everywhere we look there are always prettier, younger girls. A monster is born in Gone Girl, a monster built from the cries of frustration from a hundreds million women. And that monster is prowling the quiet countryside operating from a handmade rulebook, a catalogue of justifications and entitlements, the end result of ranking high self-esteem as the utmost character trait.

Gone Girl continues a recurring theme in Fincher’s work that explores dual worlds: the world the characters show us and the one the director shows us. He gives us two versions of the truth. It’s our choice, in the end, which one to believe. His team of collaborators is right there with him on the same page, as always. This time around, the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross echoes the duality of the film’s central theme, alternating between swoony romantic mood music and a disturbing thrum of psychosis. Once again Reznor and Ross create sounds so distinct from the industry norm, it’s almost a different language. Fincher gives away much of the movie’s rhythm and mood up to Reznor/Ross, trusting the composers to avoid manipulation – in fact, their manipulation in this instance is ironic.

Fincher’s film is a time piece wound to perfection, with each scene building to the next. Even if you know where it’s going, you’re still surprised where it goes. Every shot is a breathtaking example of how talented this director is with the camera, how well he knows the language of film. What makes Fincher exceptional as a director is his camera’s eye – and his ability to know people. Not since Hitchcock has there been a director who is so good at betraying who people really are as we watch them on screen. We see Amy’s parents, staring out at the camera vacantly. We see Nick’s twin sister, hovering somewhere between love and hate — an excellent Carrie Coon slinging out zingers and acting as the film’s conscience for the audience. We see Nick’s young hot fuck, an innocent ripe peach in the wrong place at the wrong time (the beautiful Emily Ratajkowski) – a subtle way Nick helps her get dressed recalls a parent dressing a child.

All the while what you’re seeing here is a world of people who don’t really know themselves very well. If Nick is our film’s heart, we find ourselves at conflict with that – this is not really a couple any of us can understand because what brings them together is what most of us would reject when confronted with it. Only Tyler Perry – very nearly stealing the show – gives the audience some comic relief in admitting how fucked up they really are.

But the film really belongs to Amy – as this is as much about this odd character invented and made famous by Gillian Flynn — as it is another masterpiece in the Fincher canon. Pike is glorious in the twists and turns Fincher and Flynn put her through. The film, and the book, are really about Amy – the worst than American self-esteem parenting has wrought upon society. Amy’s parents are glassy eyed culture puppets. Their daughter is merely inspiration for their books and even when she goes missing, they try to help find her by setting up a website, Even when faced with losing her her life is still churned into PR for the books.

It is here that we sympathize with the devil — a modern American girl suffocated under the mask of the SuperChild in the post therapy, post Oprah America where parents don’t punish their children nor risk shaking their self-esteem because self-esteem is what it’s all about. We’re taught that feeling good about ourselves is the key to going out there and getting what we deserve.

Amy Dunne is not just the fears and anxieties of the American male embodied in a female, she is the sum total of women’s collective female fears too — that ideal we are all taught to strive for but can never attain. We women know what is expected of us by men and by ourselves. We wake up every day knowing it.

With her “cool girl” monologue Flynn busted open the dirty secret we women have always known about what it takes to “land a man.” Sure, there are always exceptions but for every exception of the perfect happy marriage there is that “here’s my dream man” Facebook status update that makes some of us think, “Yeah right. There’s a cool girl.”

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)

Fincher uses the Cool Girl monologue as one of the film’s most exciting moments, though it’s impossible to discuss without giving away spoilers. Suffice it to say, he knew it had to be in there and boy is it in there. For me, that scene in Gone Girl is like Alex Kitner getting attacked in Jaws – a mini masterclass in what film directing is all about. You know when you’re watching a Fincher film you are watching a master at work, a master at the top of his game.

Gone Girl is about creating the perfect illusion because maybe then there can be the happiness the American dream promises. It is also a dumb world full of dumb people who fall for dumb stories. Don’t we just want the glossy story? We don’t care if it’s true. We need our villains and another pregnant missing white woman. We need to hate those who done us wrong and elevate the victim. We avenge justice with our remote control, our Twitter, our Facebook. We rise and fall on the daily hysteria the networks are more than happy to deliver. We do this almost every day on the internet and it plays out weekly on television. Gone Girl reflects that back at us, with haunting reminders of an America that once was and a lifestyle that might have to be experienced not on Main Street but on a dot com.

Can we, in the end, have sympathy for the devil? Can we forgive ourselves if our hopes and dreams are nothing more than a shimmer off on the horizon, too far away to reach, not far enough away to unsee. And so instead we crawl towards it, arms open, eyes closed, propelled by illusion.

With the middle class collapsing all around us, with global warming and the next fatal epidemic quickly spreading, Amy and Nick Dunne survive as a relic of what used to be but can be no more. Butterflies trapped under glass, captured by a director and a writer who are unafraid to show them as they really are, for better or worse, richer or poorer. Maybe this film is about the death of marriage in America. Maybe it’s about the death of that pretty little lie. One thing it’s not about is what almost every film coming out in the next few months is about. It’s not about men.

Fincher had the right instinct for Gillian Flynn to transform her own novel into the best adaptation of the year so far. The hard-working Flynn is not afraid of stepping into unknown terrain as she sprints out of the gate. In Fincher she has found someone with balls big enough to present hard truths, even if they make us squirm in our seats. Here, their collaboration results in nothing less than the best film of 2014.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The first day of Telluride was a rough one. Most of us were doing the big three: Wild first, after the Patron’s Brunch, then taking the gondola back down, racing over to the Werner Herzog for The Imitation Game, and then zooming back across town to catch Rosewater. That was the plan. Some of us made it, some of us didn’t. The only reason I made it was with the kind help of The Wrap/Indiewire’s Chris Willman, who had a car by some miracle and shuttled a few of us across town.

In Wild, Reese Witherspoon plays a woman who is recovering from the death of her mother, and all of the ways that unbearable grief destroyed her life when she stopped participating in the world. She decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a two-month odyssey that is mostly left in the “more capable” hands of men. The silence of the trail, the endurance of the journey, the miles of untouched wilderness begins to uncover what’s been buried as she finds herself more than capable, ultimately, of accomplishing this seemingly impossible goal. Laura Dern plays her mother in flashback, a domestic violence victim who ends up raising her two children on her own, eventually going back to school to try to better her life. We learn through the film what her presence meant to her daughter, how strong that love really is. This is the worst nightmare for a parent — to imagine the grief of your children in the event of your death. Well, let’s say it’s the second worst nightmare for a parent.

Witherspoon is rough around the edges, raw as you’d expect, given Jean Marc Vallee’s style. She plays a slightly unlikable, prickly character who doesn’t mince words. We spend nearly the whole movie with her so the key to this film is whether or not her journey moves you, whether it connects on some meaningful level. I think the film achieves the goal it set out to reach and it’s refreshing, frankly, to see a movie that’s about a woman that isn’t necessarily about her relationship to a man. It is a film that celebrates the importance of mothers as teachers and isn’t afraid of the emotions that brings us. I personally have a mental roadblock against movies about a woman (or a man’s) inner journey to self-discovery. But it’s hard to complain about a film about a woman these days since we don’t really have the luxury of complaining. Plenty of people who came out of the Chuck Jones loved this film, including a prominant Academy member. I expect Witherspoon to be a strong contender for a Best Actress nomination, and perhaps Laura Dern for supporting. But this, like many films you see at a festival, will depend somewhat on how the critics respond to it, or if it makes enough money to silence them.

The Imitation Game, from Norwegian film director Morten Tyldum, is another true story. Alan Turing was a mathematician, philosopher, logician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist, educated at Cambridge and Princeton. He led the team that reverse-engineered the German’s Enigma machine and created a computational device to crack the impossibly complex codes being used by Nazi Germany during World War II. The film is an inspiring account of Turing’s genius in building a device that allowed the Allies to know which specific targets the Germans intended to strike, as well as the deplorable story of a gay man outed, convicted of “gross-indecency,” persecuted, and publicly humiliated. Just last year, on Christmas Eve, Queen Elizabeth II issued a pardon for Turing. Any more plot details would be to ruin it for you. It is an involving, touching biopic of a man who was probably autistic or certainly on the spectrum of Asperger’s. Though the film chooses not to explicitly depict Turing’s relationships with men as an adult, it does explore his same-sex attractions in boyhood. For this, we can expect push back from some in the gay community who might have hoped to see a more frank portrayal of Turing’s sexuality to drive the point home. While that aspect of Turing’s life might be interesting in a movie focusing on that angle, The Imitation Game has other things on its mind. It was a crime to be gay back then, so much so that just looking at another man could land you in prison, as it does with this character eventually.

But Turing (and this should go without saying) was more than just his sexuality. Gay characters, like women and other minorities, are often defined by their various communities as needing that to be the only thing and the most prominent thing that defines them. They must carry the burden of their communities — to right the wrongs of the past, to educate the public on the right way to think. It’s a heavy load and a lot of responsibility. What I liked about the films depiction of Turing is the way it’s mature enough to know that being gay is but one facet of a person’s life. Yes, it’s a movie about a gay genius, but his gayness is incidental to his genius. His work and his accomplishments were far more important to him that his sexuality, and those accomplishments are rightfully the movie’s true focus. The same goes for the female character — her being a woman wasn’t the only thing that defined her — in fact, her own sexual needs come second to her passion for her work.

The critics are already throwing around those irritating catch phrases — flawed and uneven — as though this film, or any film, was not a work of art but rather a new product off an assembly line, expected to adhere to an agreed upon standard. What is that standard? It is the uniform tastes of those who call themselves critics. Film criticism has changed too much, so dramatically, one has no choice but to trust oneself anymore. Sure, long reads by great writers are always going to be welcome, but this panel of jury members waiting with their thumbs up, thumbs down? Not my favorite thing about Oscar season. Let the wine breathe for a minute before you drink it down.

What I loved about The Imitation Game was the rich development of the characters, particularly the two leads — the sublime Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, and Keira Knightley, who plays what would have been Turing’s beard, had Turing been the kind of man to live that way. But to have a male lead in a film have interest in a female character for nothing more than her mind and her friendship? Practically unheard of in 2014. There is one scene with Knightley that was like knocking down every silly stereotype women in these types of films fulfill — the nurturer, the protector, the inspiration. No, this woman is there to do good work and to uncover the part of herself capable of doing that in an environment that was not friendly to unmarried women who were brilliant in math.

Cumberbatch brings bits of Sherlock into the role here, the part of that character that also chafes against social interaction while relying on his own connection to his high intelligence. But unlike Sherlock, Turing is far more vulnerable, and thus, much more sympathetic. Heartbreaking is probably the best word. Cumberbatch anchors this film through its rough patches, though I can see the reviews coming that talk about the “flaws.” We all look for perfection heading into the Oscar race (not our jobs), and thus, we sometimes collectively crush films that deserve consideration.

Knightley seems to be enjoying a fruitful career, given that she fits nicely into so many different types. All she ever really has to do is be her pretty self and she often fulfills what’s required of her. But every so often she steps outside her comfort zone and a strength emerges. She’s often fiery, and she’s often charming – but it is rare to see her handle so many conflicting feelings at once, her big brown eyes betraying hidden fragility. But it is Cumberbatch’s show, despite the strong supporting cast. You can’t take your eyes off him. It will be counted as one of the best performances of the year. As for the rest of its Oscar placements, we will have to wait for the reviews.

Finally, Jon Stewart’s Rosewater is the third true story of this first day in Telluride. To see this film and think it not Jon Stewart-y enough is to reveal how little one knows about Jon Stewart. To say this film would be ignored if Stewart hadn’t directed it is also wrong. It will be judged more harshly because Jon Stewart directed it. He is such a dominant presence in our American culture, so beloved, so funny, so woven in to how we interpret modern political analysis — it’s hard to separate Stewart from the brilliant film he’s made. Four years in the making, Rosewater was a labor of love for Stewart, whose own participation in the imprisonment of Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) might have been part of the reason he wanted to make the movie.

It’s a film about oppression of voice, the eternal and ultimately futile quest to destroy the brave act of bearing witness against corrupt regimes. The more people see it, the more they will know what the fuck went on in Iran during this time, but really, it is less about Iran specifically as it is about the nature of oppression and torture. Torture is not, Stewart said in the Q&A after the film, hidden away in grimy, dark rooms. It is institutionalized, accepted, and it’s everywhere.

Stewart approaches the work as he approaches his own career, refusing to define it as any one thing — humor is woven throughout, with much of the film looking like news footage we’ve seen and ignored every day of our lives as it blares out in monotone on international news programs like CNN. We just tune it out, don’t we here in America? Another day, another bombing. Another day, another journalist murdered. This matters to Stewart, the telling of this story. It is bigger than his own need to be validated as a director. It is about as far from an ego project as you can get. And even still, his primary goal will be to get his own celebrity out of the way to tell this story. Inexplicably, he more than accomplishes that here. Rosewater (along with Imitation Game) is not only one of the best films I’ve seen this year but one I will keep telling people to see and you know, the last thing I might say about it is that it was directed by Jon Stewart. Funny, that.

Stewart has already given back so much, when you consider everything he has done and continues to do just by being funny and occasionally biting and sometimes angry. But his sincerity here is equally effective in helping us edge closer to what is really important about our lives here and what isn’t.

All three of these films are anchored by vivid, memorable performances by actors who will likely be recognized by the end of the year, their true stories somehow shapeshifted into the Oscar publicity tour, one that is never easy to reconcile with the inside-out emotion the films themselves convey. A reminder that each of these films — and all great films — deserve to be regarded in terms above and beyond their “Oscar potential.”

So this is the good part. The bad part will be waiting on the reviews.

I will be writing longer pieces on all three of these films but this was my first take…



“He stood at the window of the empty cafe and watched the activites in the square and he said that it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all.”
― Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

In most Hollywood movies, memories of childhood are played in flashback. Younger actors are chosen to play older ones. History is viewed in hindsight, with writers and directors paying careful attention to what lasted, what people still talk about. But Richard Linklater chose to do the opposite. He filmed a story beginning at boyhood and filming the big changes in real time, over the course of a twelve-year period. You’ve heard all of this, of course, if you’ve been listening to interviews and reading reviews. You’ve heard everything — how great it is, how moving it is, and how ultimately life-affirming it is. This cannot be argued. It is unequivocal. This is a great film.


Boyhood is a story of a boy who comes of age before our eyes, played with spectacular depth by Ellar Coltrane. He struggles through bullies and the trauma of being a sensitive artist growing up in Texas where he’s expected to be a macho football player, at the very least. He is expected to be a “man.” The kind of man he will become is the best kind. But he won’t know that, and we can’t know that either, until he grows up and finds his way.

Despite the fact that Linklater had been filming this movie for 12 years it feels as fresh as if he’d filmed it in 12 months. He never loses command of this story, one he honed carefully over a decade. This was a deliberate telling of, well, life. You might be inclined to think it’s a stunt or some useless gimmick, like why would anyone bother with all of that trouble? But it ultimately makes such a profound imprint while watching it that it achieves what most art simply cannot — it gives you back what time has taken.

In the blink of an eye you raise a child. It feels like work at first because the car alarm is going off every five minutes — they’re crying, they’re hungry, they’re tired, they’re having a tantrum, vaccines, school clothes, lunch boxes, hurt feelings, failed tests, successes! Before you know it, your squishy helpless baby is all grown up. They pull away from hugs. They think for themselves. They fall in and out of love. Good things happen to them. Bad things happen to them. The most surprising part of it all is you realize how much you like them. You like them so much you might never want them to leave. You like them so much you want to do it all over again. All of it. All of the diaper changing and bad Halloween costumes, the cavities, the tangled hair — the lectures, the time outs. Suddenly it comes flooding back as all good memories. The thing you don’t expect is that you’ll look in the mirror when it is all over and see yourself, only much older. Much, much older.

At a time when Hollywood is body-slamming up against all that visual effects can do, Boyhood comes along and shows what kind of level of difficulty there is in simply capturing life in real time. It is more dazzling, more breathtaking than any visual effect you will see this year and that includes what’s opening against it at the box office, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which arguably shows the best visual effects ever put on screen. In the end, what Dawn seeks is the same as what Boyhood seeks — to give us realism through the imagination to do what art does best: project whole human truths.

Linklater, it must be said, depends heavily on his actors. He chooses the right people for the parts, one of his gifts as a filmmaker. Ethan Hawke is once again Linklater’s muse, doing his best work. Patricia Arquette surprises at every turn, never playing the saintly mother as is so often depicted in any Hollywood movie written by male-centric dumb people. She is someone who wants to be a whole person on her own, to educate herself, take care of her kids and do some good in the world. She is also the someone who does the hard work of parenting while the absent father gets to slip in and out, and be the “cool” parent. The mother is often stuck with the harder job, all of the things that make her children not like her as much. The fun dad gets all of the credit usually, while the unfun mother is the drag. That is, until kids become parents and then they realize. Linklater is too smart, and Arquette way too smart, to let that cliche live and breath in Boyhood. What we see here is a mother who is also a person, capable of making terrible mistakes but also of raising two really wonderful kids. Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei is plucky and vibrant as the cooler older sister, and most of the other supporting characters are also so refreshingly real. Linklater was determined to mostly cast unknowns, although sometimes a few familiar faces show up.

Linklater also infused Boyhood with a love of music, which threads itself throughout the film in various ways, from marking a time and place in history (from Coldplay to Lady Gaga), to aiding some of the characters through stages in their lives. This entire story takes place within the framework of 9/11 and the two Iraq wars. Though that plays in the background to provide context, it does mark this film in history — we are probably too close to it now to see what that will ultimately mean.

What is probably most surprising of all about Boyhood is that it doesn’t hinge on the more dramatic life events — cancer or car crashes, cutting, suicide or rape — domestic violence at the hands of terrible stepfathers is the most drama we see here. The majority of this three-hour film is filled with the things about life that break your heart the hardest: the magic, the delirious beauty in the every day.

Each of us will come at Boyhood from a different perspective. I came at it as both a mother and a child who came of age under a parade of asshole boyfriends of my hard working single mom. I came to it as a woman who did not always have the best choice of men but who decided at some point to just not parade those men into my daughter’s life after one particularly bad one. I came to it as a mom raising a child and watching her grow so fast I kept wanting to hit the pause button. Watching Ellar Coltrane grow in Boyhood I felt the same way. Each time something happened, nothing particularly dramatic, time would jump forward and they’d all be older. I wanted to pause it, to stop it, to make him stop growing before my eyes. It was too fast.

My daughter who is 16 now came at it from a decidedly girl’s perspective. She wanted the movie to be more about the daughter, like, why didn’t we know what she wanted to do with her life? Girls have so much more on their plate than boys growing up — body image, period, the male gaze, mean girls. But I had to try to tell her that it wasn’t that story. It was more about Linklater’s experience coming of age. We paused to reflect the sorry truth that when it’s a man’s story it’s universal but when it’s a woman’s story it is marginalized. It felt like a scene out of the movie. I was awash in pride at my daughter’s ability to think that way. I told her to revisit the film when she gets older, maybe after she figures out what she wants to do with her life.

At the end of Boyhood my heart stopped and the tears were pouring out of my eyes. I felt like the most embarrassing kind of mom because I wasn’t crying out of sadness — but out of pride. I was so proud to see this boy become such a formidable man. And to be sitting next to my own daughter, a person I admire so much. Despite having grown with me, a single mother broke for most of her early life, despite the bad boyfriends, she is such a smart and compassionate kid. It all feels so accidental. You stand back in awe: what did I even do?

In real life we might wonder, is that all there is to it? We grow up at the hands of everyone we brush up against. Our parents, our siblings, our friends, our stepparents, our teachers, our girlfriends and boyfriends, strangers, good people, bad people, wars and presidents, sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. We are a mosaic of those imprints. They make their mark on us and eventually we emerge as who we are. Boyhood reminds us that much of life is figuring that out. It also reminds us that once we do figure that out we eventually uncover an even bigger truth: our lives are other people.

But you know, you can’t stop time. It’s one of two truths about this world. People die and time marches forward. But I guess you kind of feel like you can get a handle on it and that at some point you will not be carried forward by it but rather at the wheel of it, making it go where you want it to go. But this film, perhaps more than any other I’ve ever seen, shows you that you don’t and can’t control that part of time. All you can do is hope for the best and reach for what matters most in the wake of that truth.



What we know about life: it lasts mere seconds by any measure. What we know about Roger Ebert: No one knew this better than he did.


Ah, the horror and the beauty of this fleeting life. Time goes by too fast. There is too much beauty. Everywhere. The film about Ebert is a fitting tribute to a man whose life was so much bigger than movies but whose legacy is nonetheless tangled up in them. He loved his work, but more than that, he recognized that the work is the thing he’d leave behind so he didn’t waste a single minute of the remaining seconds, writing constantly, publishing reviews, books – building websites, using Twitter. But no amount of praise a person can heap upon Ebert isn’t said better in the film, Life Itself.

Drawing from bits and pieces of the legacy that is now Roger Ebert, his history as a self-made reporter, his ever-expanding world view, his partnership with Gene Siskel and the love of his life, Chaz, Life Itself puts Ebert’s work into proper perspective. Yes, in a way it was everything. In another way it couldn’t buy him a minute more of life. He beat back his own mortality as his cancer and the treatment of cancer simultaneously kept him alive and killed him. He gripped tightly to what remained.

It should not be missed. I started my website in 1999 as What I would do is each time a film came out I would watch the critic reviews. There were so few then and their voices mattered so much it was easy to track them. Waiting on a Todd McCarthy or Kirk Honeycutt review was a nail-biter. What would they say? You see, back then it mattered what they thought more than it mattered what I thought. Back then, not just anyone could be a film critic, not like now. Owen Gleibermann, Lisa Schwarzbaum, Manohla Dargis, AO Scott, Glenn Kenny, Peter Travers – these were the tastemakers. So much has changed since then but Roger Ebert was always one of the major voices not just for films coming out but for the changing internet, which eventually swallowed up and destroyed film criticism as we all knew it then.

Ebert evolved as the internet evolved. That is what made him so ahead of the game. My entire experience watching Oscar for 15 years is woven with Ebert’s opinions all over it. Railing against him before he got sick, trying to not pity him after he got sick. I once got in an email fight with him about Crash vs. Brokeback. He was a supporter and advocate of Crash because he, unlike almost everyone else who writes about film, cared about the imbalance of white stories vs. stories about people of color. Only Ebert was both an activist and a film critic. Critics now do not take such things into consideration – as was witnessed last year with 12 Years a Slave vs. Gravity. Ebert would have loved both films but he would have been the only critic, and a powerful one at that, who would have really gotten the importance of 12 Years a Slave’s presence in the race at all. He got it because he watched film history for 46 years and because he cared more about the big picture than about his own limited perception of what he was seeing on the screen. Critics who see the bigger picture still exist but they are disappearing fast.

Life Itself tells Ebert’s story from Ebert’s perspective, and from the perspective of those who knew him, worked with him, were influenced by him. With a national audience at his fingertips, Ebert brought the genius of Martin Scorsese to the mainstream. Without Ebert’s early advocacy and support, who knows what might have happened to Scorsese. I watched with horror as critics spit on the brilliant work of Xavier Dolan, a very young up and coming artist, at Cannes – and I suddenly realized the impact someone like Ebert can have on film overall. Ebert saw Scorsese’s promise early on with Who’s That Knocking on My Door. He wasn’t the guy being flown out to see the fancy set of some powerful film director to help build up the fan base. He was recognizing talent and advocating for it.

At the same time the film doesn’t back off what an arrogant asshole Ebert could be – and that might be the final irony of what a fatal illness can do to a person. Petty things don’t matter anymore when you’re facing the big sleep. He found love. He found family. He found satisfaction in his work. He really had a wonderful life, too wonderful of a life that he didn’t want to let it go. Watching Life Itself is inspiring that way. In truth, we’re all just sitting around here waiting to die. But this film is like a battle cry to anyone who has the luxury of sitting around thinking about anything at all: get busy living or get busy dying.

He leaves behind him an unmatchable legacy and perhaps one that flourished because Ebert himself evolved with the changing times not by becoming part of the status quo but by defying it; he became a leader and pioneer, always, with each new phase of his ever-changing life.

If you miss Ebert, look for him. He’s everywhere. As Walt Whitman describes in Song of Myself:

I depart as air,
I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,

I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,

But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,

And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,

Missing me one place search another,

I stop somewhere waiting for you.

Life Itself is currently playing in theaters and on VOD.


As the Cannes Film Fest nears its close, one of the last major films to screen in competition is Xavier Dolan’s latest, teasingly called Mommy. Exuberant, unpredictable, and unconventional, Mommy pulls you into a corrupt relationship between mother and son which has long since ceased being a healthy one. This is not unfamiliar territory for the 25-year-old filmmaker, who seems endlessly obsessed with the oppressive, irresistible icon of Mother. Even still, much of this film moves beyond that relationship dynamic into a stylized world of human behavior as entertaining as it is revealing. Dolan’s camera springs to life, and in an instant it almost feels as though a new school of cinema is being born.

Overtly sexual, sometimes campy, bitchy and funny — Dolan’s writing has a unique thumbprint. You expect all of that from his films. But here, he takes you on a wild ride, dives and dips wildly into a claustrophobic world of almost-incest, mommy lust, mommy disgust and an exploration what happens when troubled parents raise troubled kids they then can’t control. With all of the drugged-up kids coming of age now and in the years to come, Mommy offers up a look at how some of these kids might turn out once they are forced to try their hand at life.
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bejo 2

Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius has shifted his focus from riffing on famous genres to making his most ambitious film to date, The Search. Chalk it up perhaps to him wanting to dig a little deeper than where he went with The Artist and deeper than he’s ever gone previously in his career, but this is his first real deep dive into a very serious subject — the human rights abuses and mass murders that went on in Chechnya around 1999 at the hands of the Russians.

Taking the side of the Chechens here, Hazanavicius risks criticism by many who continue to believe the Chechens are ruthless terrorists, much the way many Americans regard people from Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. In fact, the last terrorist bombing in Boston was at the hands of Chechen terrorists. But there is another side of the story to tell, one that probably not many are even aware of; after all, it took much aggressive protesting and advocacy to get the European forum on human rights abuse to acknowledge what happened to the Chechens at the hands of the Russians.

The story begins and ends with a clever and potent gimmick of sorts, but to say anymore would be too big a spoiler. We follow nine-year-old Hadji (Abdul Khalim Mamutsiev), who has been left orphaned after his mother and father are casually murdered at the hands of over-zealous Russian soldiers. While his sister is being raped, Hadji makes a fast getaway with his baby brother. After he deposits his baby brother with a family he knows will take care of him, Hadji begins a long, strange journey into some kind of safety zone. He ends up in a refugee camp and eventually under the care of Carole (Berenice Bejo).

The film, also written by Hazanvicius, cuts between three stories — Hadji’s sister who is alive and searching for her two brothers; a Russian youth picked up on the streets for possession and made to go into the Russian army; and Hadji and Bejo.

The most difficult scenes to watch are the treatment of the young man who joins the Russian army. While Hazanavicius paints the Russians as evil in almost a cartoony way, there is little point in denying what many of those Russian soldiers did to innocent women and children. Who were those people who committed those crimes against humanity? This is an attempt to explain how it could have happened. The dehumanizing of the military in certain parts of the world explains that. Surely, all Russian soldiers are not that evil but this is a film from a specific point of view and from that view only someone with an emptied-out soul could have committed the crimes we see at the very beginning.

Many of the French audience members here in Cannes booed at the end of The Search — probably because of the plot gimmicks like the bookend events, and for the heavy-handed emotion and sentimentality of the story; Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Woody Allen could get away with it, but Hazanavicius is being held to the fire over it.

But The Search ends up being so emotionally compelling because of Hazanavicius’ willingness to tell the story with sentimentality. Either you go with it or you don’t. If you do, you will forgive the film’s flaws — some stereotyping and perhaps unbelievable plot points. If you don’t go with it, you willfully overlook the importance of a story that seeks to bring our attention to just what happened to the Chechen people, much of which few people knows about. You will do this because the movie didn’t work for you, and of course, that is your prerogative. But sometimes there are things about a film that seem to matter a lot more than one viewer’s comfort level, at least to me they do.

This is the story Hazanavicius wanted to tell. To tell it, he assembled a cast made up almost entirely of women, save for the main focus of the story, the nine-year-old boy. What happens to him, who fights for his rights and the rights of other Chechen refugees, however, is left almost entirely to the women — chief among them, Berenice Bejo as Carol, a human rights advocate who takes the boy into her home and Annette Bening, who plays Helen, a weary social worker helping the orphaned Chechens.

Bejo is excellent, as usual — a woman not inclined towards mothering suddenly stuck with the care of a child. Bejo’s charm with the boy is undeniable, and as he gazes up at her with so much love and admiration in his eyes, she begins to see herself differently. Bening is also a standout as a social worker so exhausted she’s all but given up hope. Both women, in fact, are just about ready to abandon any faith they might have left that someone, somewhere will care enough about these tragedies to do something about them. Somehow this story with these orphaned Chechens helps to renew their faith that their work hasn’t been in vain.

Two decades later, not enough reparations have been made to recover what the Chechens lost — no rebuilding of utilities or towns, for instance. The Search is a hard look at a terrible war in a region so full of conflict peace may never be found. That Hazanavicius decided to tell this story after winning so big with The Artist in 2011 is an interesting choice. He’s now shown that he intends to become a serious filmmaker, whether the industry or the critics community will accept that change is a different story.

The Search is an imperfect film that ultimately succeeds because of the actors, and the director’s unflinching commitment to bring history to the forefront. It is also a solid story reminiscent of war films of the 1930s on through the 1950s and 1960s. It has echoes of the 400 Blows, Schindler’s List, even Saving Private Ryan. Here is a director, like Truffaut and Spielberg, who is pointedly not afraid of taking a sappy turn just as he’s not afraid of depicting raw and nearly unwatchable violence.

This is a film not for the critical elite but rather ticket buyers who might be looking for a little redemption, and a little uplift, and a little beauty amid the torment.


“That’s why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.” ― George Carlin

When John Steinbeck wryly observed that most Americans disdained socialism as if they were “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” whose ship had yet to come in, he had no idea just how many millions of hard working self-made millionaires the country would someday spawn — how many would actually attain that American dream. In a strange reversal, much of American disdain is now aimed at millionaires, specifically toward those who believe this world is designed for them, those who believe they have a right to take whatever they want whenever they want it. In 2014 you don’t have to look very far to find these men – they are everywhere. Our government props them up, bends over backwards to cater to them, and the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves.

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“I started making plans to kill my own kind,” Violent Femmes

David Cronenberg is an artist unafraid of the dark side. One of the wondrous things about his work is just how deep and dark he will go. The Fly is an unexpected masterpiece about the agony of love and the arrogance of man. Dead Ringers is a little closer to the territory we see now with Maps to the Stars, probably Cronenberg’s best film in at least a decade, or thereabouts. Here, working with the talented literary satirist of Hollywood culture, Bruce Wagner, Cronenberg has hit his stride in a big way, nailing our celebrity obsessed culture and sickness it breeds, right to the wall.
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The Homesman works as both an entertaining western as well as a subtle commentary on a dark moment in our American history, specifically how the West was won, when settlers stole the land outright from Native Americans and justified their cruelty with Christianity. We took what we wanted with little regard for what was there before. The immoral behavior of a supposedly moral people is a shameful part of our American story we don’t often tell. The film uses the heartless treatment of women as its backdrop, with Native Americans cast as a savage specter to be feared. The truth is that much of what the pioneers needed to fear was the brutality they brought with them.

The Homesman is an intricately designed film, unpredictable in its execution and refusing to conform to genre expectations. If anything, it comments on familiar tropes of western films with cold rebuke. Laced with sardonic humor but primarily stark and tragic, The Homesman proves Jones has become a formidable director. Exploring a topic close to his heart, the evils of our own imperialist past and the echoes of that evil which haunts our history today, Jones delivers a sensitive exploration of the plight of the downtrodden, particularly from the vantage of women — an angle most Hollywood films have all but abandoned. The Homesman is about our past, the crimes committed under the cloak of manifest, but it is also about the little told story of what those events did to the women who either tried to settle a homestead on their own, or else were taken there as young brides and meant to provide children and wifely duties for men.
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One of the more memorable films here at the Cannes film fest will have to be French/Ivory Coast director Philippe Lacôte’s Run, about a man living on the Ivory Coast who finds himself on the run from many situations and complicated relationships. He runs when things get problematic and his name is also Run. That shouldn’t be too surprising, given the poetic nature of the writing here, which shifts freely from real-time dialogue to live spoken monologue, to voice overs. Run tells his story, what shaped him in his early life to become what he ends up being — an assassin.
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The romantic comedy genre has been gang raped by small-minded fantasy pushers. There was a time, though, when the best of them could entertain both men and women, drive them into deeper thought about the complexities of human relationships, explore both people equally without the need for a fantasy ending to reinforce the outdated notion that happy endings are the only worthy ones.

Some of the best romance films haven’t even needed the label of “romantic comedy” at all. Annie Hall springs to mind. The Apartment. It Happened One Night. A Philadelphia Story. Such is the case now with the sublime The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. There are supposedly three parts to this story — the he, she and they parts. I believe what was screened here at Cannes was the “they” part of the story. Knowing nothing really about it, not having read any reviews, I came to the story fresh and what I found was something films have been sorely lacking for a few years now: women.

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How to Train Your Dragon is one of the best animated features ever to hit the Oscar race. It wasn’t going to win, of course. Toy Story 3 was destined to claim the prize in 2010 as a culmination of Pixar’s trilogy that had somehow gone Oscarless until then. Now four years later, the second installment of How to Train Your Dragon has retained much of the magic of the first but this time has shifted more emphasis to the dragons and less on the people. In this case that means the animators get to really show off what they can do. Turns out, what they can do is very impressive.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 feels like a giant leap forward with animation. It isn’t just the way the dinosaurs themselves are animated, which is otherworldly and unlike anything we’ve seen before, either in the first film or in any film like it. The diversity among the species, the array of features and color, it’s nothing short of spectacular. If you need any reason at all to see this film see it for the sheer artistry of the animation.
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I’m not really sure what the reasoning was behind accepting Atom Egoyan’s Captives into the main festival competition, especially after the hoopla around there being no female directors. There are probably twenty films directed by women, maybe some even directed by children, perhaps even some directed by chimps that are better than Captives. It only adds insult to injury to see a film like that, which has no business at all being here, taking the place of other worthy films.

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“Color is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment.”
― Claude Monet

With Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, a perfect union of film biographer and subject has landed at Cannes. In his film about J.M.W. Turner, an English Romantic painter of landscapes who caught the subtle shimmer of light on water in ways the world had never seen, the director known for capturing the subtle grace of human behavior has delivered a masterpiece of his own. After decades of signaling that he had this kind of film in him, the usually humble and introspective Leigh has at last created the kind of portrayal that works both as biopic and self-portrait. Digging into the genesis of genius, the solitude of inspiration, the madness of the muse, Leigh reveals reasons that help explain why being a great artist and a great human aren’t always compatible.

Timothy Spall plays Turner, a grumbling discombobulated artist whose only abiding interest is in looking at light and finding innovative ways to paint with it. He is compelled to sketch anything he sees that ignites his fancy, no matter where the impetus comes from or how little sense it makes to anyone else. He does what many of the masters have done for centuries but particularly his Romantic peers and pioneers in the earliest years of the Impressionist movement — chase the elusive vagaries of light and let it take us to unpredictable places. The effect with Turner’s work were landscapes imbued with grave emotion, haunting imagery and sublime beauty, much like this film — every frame of which seems touched by a painter’s hand.

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Grace of Monaco does many interesting things but one thing it won’t do is enable Nicole Kidman to win an Oscar the way Olivier Dehan’s last major film, La Vie En Rose, enabled Marion Cotillard to win for her performance as Edith Piaf. That isn’t going to happen, and neither are many other Oscar nominations, with the possible exception of costume design.  But that doesn’t mean Grace of Monaco is without its rewards. Despite eruptions of inappropriate laughter throughout this morning’s screening, there is still nothing quite like watching an actress as skilled as Nicole Kidman sink her teeth into a role.

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scarlett hunter

First, a question: Who’s Twice as Hot as Scarlett Johansson? Answer: Scarlett Johansson and her twin brother Hunter. I wish I’d known Ms. Johansson had a twin brother on National Siblings Day. But none of you mooks ever told me, so now I have no real excuse for posting these photos. Do we even need an excuse? I suppose we could pad this out with some of the best reviews of the year for the female twin who stars in Under the Skin. (Rex Reed and and Lou Lumenik HATED it, a sure sign that it’s fantastic.)

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: If I tell you that Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” is one of the strangest and most disturbing science-fiction films of recent years, it’s a true statement that points you in entirely the wrong direction. If I add that the movie also involves Scarlett Johansson taking off her clothes on several occasions, I’m leading you into a trap almost as surely as Johansson’s character leads the men she picks up on the Glasgow streets. It’s almost as if Glazer, previously the director of “Sexy Beast” and “Birth” and a bunch of music videos for Blur, Radiohead and others, has given himself an assignment: Make a visionary, haunting and utterly distinctive sci-fi picture featuring naked ScarJo, and make it unbearably frustrating for anyone who’d be drawn to that description.

More proof that advanced species exist, after the cut.

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“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” ― Carl Sagan

This year Leonardo DiCaprio starred in two films about Jay Gatsby. The first was Baz Luhrmann’s version, or perhaps rape is a better word, of Fitzgerald’s profound rundown of the empty vessel that is “the good life” in America. The second is a better telling of a Gatsby parable. Slicing through the creamy good-life niceties of surreal fairytale to expose the rot that lies beneath is The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese’s unapologetic search for the soul of a modern-day Gatsby. Emblematic of the new reality, Daisy is no longer an old-moneyed step up to first class validation. The object of desire today a leggy hot-rod whose mere appearance in your Lamborghini announces to the world that you have arrived. Vroom vroom, class be damned, validation is for valet parking. Having it all, to those who churn their cash to a froth to get more, is all about appearances. That what Jay Gatsby did to try to impress Daisy. Having it all, to those who churn money to a froth to get more, is all about appearances. That how Jay Gatsby tried to impress Daisy. What Jordan Belfort does in The Wolf of Wall Street is less about laying the world at a woman’s feet and more about a world where a woman has her feet in the air. Belfort only bothers to suck up to blue bloods if he can see a chance to suck them dry. It’s still the business of making money to spend money to make more money. But showing it off is now the mechanism — the smoke and mirrors of money magnetism.

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all is lost

JC Chandor’s Oscar-nominated screenplay, Margin Call, took him ten years to write. It is a deliberate, careful study of what it takes for a man to survive on Wall Street. He’s applied the same deceptively simple writing and directing to his new film, All Is Lost, starring just one person: Robert Redford.

The film begins with a few plain-spoken words from Redford. From that point on, the film relies only on Redford’s actions, with no other dialogue spoken. Still, we learn much about his character from watching what he does. He reveals his character through a series of tests. He isn’t Job, nor is he Pi — this isn’t a film about questioning faith in a higher power, rather, about faith in one’s resourcefulness, faith in one’s self.

After all, we are born with these giant, fancy, spectacular brains. We never know what that intelligence is capable of achieving until we’re put to the test. Redford’s character brings to his challenge to survive decades of life experience etched on his face and lighting his eyes, along with basic education, courage, and good, old-fashioned wits. All Is Lost is a film about perseverance, not survival.

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