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A small gathering of folks were invited to see five minutes of Selma, the Martin Luther King film directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David Oyelowo. The chatter after the preview was that it seemed very good. But the the real take away was how strong Oyelowo was as King. The standout actor was a scene stealer in Lincoln, and was one of the best things about the underrated The Butler. DuVernay is focusing not on King’s entire life but on a specific snapshot in time. Below is an accounting of that time but you will better recognize it for Bloody Sunday and the March to Selma. What it will make you think of now is Ferguson. It will also serve as a reminder of how many states still entrust power to a white minority when its citizens are a black majority. Voter suppression goes on to this day and remains an going struggle every election year.

Blackfilm’s Wilson Morales covered the event and posted some clips (thanks to for the link):


On 25 March 1965, Martin Luther King led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, after a 5-day, 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama, where local African Americans, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had been campaigning for voting rights. King told the assembled crowd: ‘‘There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger at the side of its embattled Negroes’’ (King, ‘‘Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March,’’ 121).

On 2 January 1965 King and SCLC joined the SNCC, the Dallas County Voters League, and other local African American activists in a voting rights campaign in Selma where, in spite of repeated registration attempts by local blacks, only two percent were on the voting rolls. SCLC had chosen to focus its efforts in Selma because they anticipated that the notorious brutality of local law enforcement under Sheriff Jim Clark would attract national attention and pressure President Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress to enact new national voting rights legislation.

The campaign in Selma and nearby Marion, Alabama, progressed with mass arrests but little violence for the first month. That changed in February, however, when police attacks against nonviolent demonstrators increased. On the night of 18 February, Alabama state troopers joined local police breaking up an evening march in Marion. In the ensuing melee, a state trooper shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old church deacon from Marion, as he attempted to protect his mother from the trooper’s nightstick. Jackson died eight days later in a Selma hospital.

In response to Jackson’s death, activists in Selma and Marion set out on 7 March, to march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery. While King was in Atlanta, his SCLC colleague Hosea Williams, and SNCC leader John Lewis led the march. The marchers made their way through Selma across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they faced a blockade of state troopers and local lawmen commanded by Clark and Major John Cloud who ordered the marchers to disperse. When they did not, Cloud ordered his men to advance. Cheered on by white onlookers, the troopers attacked the crowd with clubs and tear gas. Mounted police chased retreating marchers and continued to beat them.

Television coverage of ‘‘Bloody Sunday,’’ as the event became known, triggered national outrage. Lewis, who was severely beaten on the head, said: ‘‘I don’t see how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam—I don’t see how he can send troops to the Congo—I don’t see how he can send troops to Africa and can’t send troops to Selma,’’ (Reed, ‘‘Alabama Police Use Gas’’).

That evening King began a blitz of telegrams and public statements, ‘‘calling on religious leaders from all over the nation to join us on Tuesday in our peaceful, nonviolent march for freedom’’ (King, 7 March 1965). While King and Selma activists made plans to retry the march again two days later, Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. notified the movement attorney Fred Gray that he intended to issue a restraining order prohibiting the march until at least 11 March, and President Johnson pressured King to call off the march until the federal court order could provide protection to the marchers.

Forced to consider whether to disobey the pending court order, after consulting late into the night and early morning with other civil rights leaders and John Doar, the deputy chief of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, King proceeded to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the afternoon of 9 March. He led more than 2,000 marchers, including hundreds of clergy who had answered King’s call on short notice, to the site of Sunday’s attack, then stopped and asked them to kneel and pray. After prayers they rose and turned the march back to Selma, avoiding another confrontation with state troopers and skirting the issue of whether to obey Judge Johnson’s court order. Many marchers were critical of King’s unexpected decision not to push on to Montgomery, but the restraint gained support from President Johnson, who issued a public statement: ‘‘Americans everywhere join in deploring the brutality with which a number of Negro citizens of Alabama were treated when they sought to dramatize their deep and sincere interest in attaining the precious right to vote’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Statement by the President,’’ 272). Johnson promised to introduce a voting rights bill to Congress within a few days.

That evening, several local whites attacked James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister who had come from Massachusetts to join the protest. His death two days later contributed to the rising national concern over the situation in Alabama. Johnson personally telephoned his condolences to Reeb’s widow and met with Alabama Governor George Wallace, pressuring him to protect marchers and support universal suffrage.

On 15 March Johnson addressed the Congress, identifying himself with the demonstrators in Selma in a televised address: ‘‘Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Special Message’’). The following day Selma demonstrators submitted a detailed march plan to federal Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., who approved the demonstration and enjoined Governor Wallace and local law enforcement from harassing or threatening marchers. On 17 March President Johnson submitted voting rights legislation to Congress.

The federally sanctioned march left Selma on 21 March. Protected by hundreds of federalized Alabama National Guardsmen and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, the demonstrators covered between 7 to 17 miles per day. Camping at night in supporters’ yards, they were entertained by celebrities such as Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. Limited by Judge Johnson’s order to 300 marchers over a stretch of two-lane highway, the number of demonstrators swelled on the last day to 25,000, accompanied by Assistant Attorneys General John Doar and Ramsey Clark, and former Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall, among others.

During the final rally, held on the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, King proclaimed: ‘‘The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man’’ (King, ‘‘Address,’’ 130). Afterward a delegation of march leaders attempted to deliver a petition to Governor Wallace, but were rebuffed. That night, while ferrying Selma demonstrators back home from Montgomery, Viola Liuzzo, a housewife from Michigan who had come to Alabama to volunteer, was shot and killed by four members of the Ku Klux Klan. Doar later prosecuted three Klansmen conspiring to violate her civil rights.

On 6 August, in the presence of King and other civil rights leaders, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Recalling ‘‘the outrage of Selma,’’ Johnson
called the right to vote ‘‘the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Remarks’’). In his annual address to SCLC a few days later, King noted that ‘‘Montgomery led to the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1960; Birmingham inspired the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Selma produced the voting rights legislation of 1965’’ (King, 11 August 1965).

MVY_Final Kissing Teaser

A new teaser for JC Chandor’s A Most Violent Year has just been sent out. Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain star.  The movie, judging from the trailer, looks top notch, in keeping with the dramatically diverse palate of the young Mr. Chandor, who had already made Margin Call and All is Lost.   The film will be given a limited release date of December 31 (hopefully screening before that) and then opening in 2015, a press release just announced.

TWITTER: @mostviolentyear


Set during the winter of 1981 — statistically one of the most crime-ridden of New York City’s history — A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a drama following the lives of an immigrant and his family as they attempt to capitalize on the American Dream, while the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built. Running time: 110 minutes. MPAA Rating: TBD.

MVY_Final Kissing Teaser

Here is the trailer.


Update: added to the documentary category.

This is where I see the Oscar race right now, before the New York Film fest and before the Big Oscar Movies begin to roll out. I thought it might be nice to put it down for the record. Following Anne Thompson’s lead I am not predicting movies I have not yet seen or that have not yet been seen by many. Though I do that over at Gold Derby and Movie City News that’s spitballing. This is actual guess work.  There are still some films that I’m not sure will be released this year or not, like JC Chandor’s A Most Violent Year.  But this is what I know, or what I think I know.

Oscar Predictions

Best Picture

Although this race is far from settled, if the Oscars were held today the film that would likely win would be Richard Linklater’s monumental film about life as we know it, Boyhood. Made for just $4 million, and a box office take so far of $20 million, it can’t be called anything but a success. More than that, it has captured the zeitgeist. People are talking about it, feeling it woven into their DNA.  There is something about watching time fly by, Linklater style, with no pomp and circumstance, no dramatic shockers – and yet, by the end of it what is the most shocking is how fast time goes, how quickly our lives go, how so many things can go really wrong on the road to adulthood but that most of us — the lucky ones – scramble ahead anyway, make something of ourselves anyway, find love and happiness and maybe a family anyway. Does it turn out the way we all thought it would? Probably surpasses expectations for 1% of us. The rest of us are like George Baileys, our dreams of a life that might have been long since tucked between the pages of a memory book while our real lives, extraordinary in their ordinariness, bloom before our eyes. Boyhood is a magnificent meditation on life and is the most remarkable film of 2014 so far.  Yes, The Imitation Game, Birdman, the Theory of Everything, Foxcatcher — and more films have made their mark on the festival crowd. But they will have to catch up to how Boyhood has seeped into the collective unconscious so far.  People keep saying to me “I just don’t see that movie winning Best Picture.” And, indeed. It’s early yet. Very probably Boyhood will not win.  But if you’re asking me to take a snapshot of the Oscar race on the eve of the New York Film Festival, this is your top pick.

1. Boyhood
2. The Imitation Game
3. Birdman
4. The Theory of Everything
5. Foxcatcher
6. Mr. Turner

In the running:
7. Wild
8. The Homesman
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Still to be Seen:
Gone Girl
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
American Sniper

Best Actor

This is a three-way race right now between Michael Keaton in Birdman, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. Lord help anyone trying to make that choice.  To me, Keaton’s is one of a handful of the performances of the year. The layers, the sadness, the complexities he delivers as an actor are breathtaking.  On the other hand, Cumberbatch as the Asperger’s afflicted, repressed homosexual mad genius? Who can top that? And finally, Redmayne disappears into Stephen Hawking…I have heard anyway. So that’s going to be a tough race and a tough category.

1. Michael Keaton, Birdman
2. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
3. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
4. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
5. Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner
6. Bill Murray St. Vincent
7. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
8. Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
9. Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman
10. Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood

Still to come:
Ben Affleck, Gone Girl
Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar
Brad Pitt, Fury
Jack O’Connell, Unbroken
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
David Oyelowo, Selma
Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice

Best Actress

Gregory Ellwood called it in Toronto and this is probably Julianne Moore’s Oscar to win. She will have to ask for it, campaign for it, let voters know she wants it. And we know from Kate Winslet, all the lady need do is ask. The Oscar is hers.  She has some stiff competition in Reese Witherspoon’s unbelievably brave and raw turn in Wild and Hilary Swank in The Homesman, to say nothing of the mad wunderkind Jessica Chastain giving among the performances of the year in Eleanor Rigby.  They will go up against Rosamund Pike, said to be off the charts good in Gone Girl, and Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. But no one has the industry clout, the career behind them, the overdue status that Ms. Moore has. As I said, all the lady need do is ask.

1. Julianne Moore, Still Alice
2. Reese Witherspoon, Wild
3. Hilary Swank, The Homesman
4. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
5. Jessica Chastain, Eleanor Rigby
6. Shailene Woodley, The Fault in our Stars

Still to come:
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Amy Adams, Big Eyes

Supporting Actor

This is a confounding category right now. It feels so vacant to me, with no frontrunner and no way to really rank these performances.  In a coin toss I might choose Ethan Hawke for Boyhood but I don’t know if he or anyone can beat Edward Norton in Birdman. This is a backburner category I’ll have to return to later.

Edward Norton, Birdman
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman
William Hurt, Eleanor Rigby

Still to Come:
Neil Patrick Harris, Gone Girl
Lots and lots of other names I can’t think of right now.

Supporting Actress

If there is one performance people are talking about so far more than any other it’s the magnificent Patricia Arquette in Boyhood. Her transformation is the most dramatic and she didn’t even go through puberty. She does it all internally. We watch her “grow up.” We see the most surprising reactions to situations, even if they don’t fit the mold of the saintly, put upon mother. She is a whole human being – and Linklater would not have it any other way. This is not a man who wants to put women in a box. This is a man who has always, throughout his career, celebrated strong, complex female characters.  Arquette feels like the lead to me but since she is a supporting character they have made the decision to run her in that category.  Arquette gets some competition from the sweet, vibrant mother in Wild, and the equally vibrant, unexpectedly captivating Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game. Kristen Stewart is said to have given two of her best performances this year, in The Clouds of Sils Maria and in Still Alice.  Viola Davis gets a chance to actually be a real person in Eleanor Rigby. The movie doesn’t seem able to catch a break but David ought to be noticed, along with Chastain.  Again, this category also feels like it’s kind of up in the air, all save the person in the number spot, the very deserving Arquette.

1. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
2. Laure Dern, Wild
3. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
4. Emma Stone, Birdman
5. Kristen Stewart, Still Alice
6. Viola Davis, Eleanor Rigby
7. Melissa McCarthy, St. Vincent
8. Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow

Still to come:
Jessica Chastain, Interstellar
Anne Hathaway, Interstellar
Reese Witherspoon, Inherent Vice
Anna Kendrick, Into the Woods


This will be another extremely tough category. If there is one more competitive category than Best Actor this year it will be Best Director. First off, how do you do what Richard Linklater did in 12 years? Who has that kind of dedication, other than Michael Apted, who really did just sort of record life. Linklater did more than record life – he sustained an entire story over a 12 year period with characters and through-lines and motivations. It’s just astonishing.  On the other hand, look at what Inarritu does with Birdman! How is it even possible that someone could do that with a camera.  I have my own personal favorite director (right up there with Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg) releasing Gone Girl — Fincher’s work will likely tower over the competition but with a dark subject voters might not be ready to shimmy up that pole.  Two women in the Oscar conversation – Angelina Jolie and Ava DuVernay. Pause to reflect on how cool that is.  Mr. Clint is coming — stand back. It’s a category I’m going to delight in writing about for the next few months.

1. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
2. Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
3. Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
4. Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
5. Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner

Still to come:
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Christopher Nolan, Interstellar
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken
David Ayer, Fury
Clint Eastwood, American Sniper
Ava DuVernay, Selma
Rob Marshall, Into the Woods

Original Screenplay
1. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
2. Alejandro Inarritu et al, Birdman
3. E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher
4. Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner
5. Jon Stewart, Rosewater
6. Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
7. Ned Benson, Eleanor Rigby
8. Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler

Still to Come:
Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, Interstellar
David Ayer, Fury
Paul Webb, Selma
Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski , Big Eyes

Adapted Screenplay
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Nick Hornby, Wild
Anthony McCarten, The Thoery of Everything
Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel
Kieran Fitzgerald, Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman
Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilson, Men, Women & Children

Still to Come:
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Jason Dean Hall, American Sniper
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice


The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner

Still to Come:
Gone Girl
American Sniper


Mr. Turner
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Grand Budapest Hotel

Still to Come:
Gone Girl
Into the Woods
American Sniper

Production Design

The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Grand Budapest Hotel
Mr. Turner

Still to Come
Into the Woods

Sound Mixing

Get on Up
Guardians of the Galaxy
Transformers 4
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow

Still to Come:
Into the Woods

Sound Editing

Transformers 4
Guardians of the Galaxy
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow

Costume Design

The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner
Get on Up
Guardians of the Galaxy
Grand Budapest Hotel

Still to Come:

Original Score

The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner
Grand Budapest Hotel

Still to come:
Gone Girl

Foreign Language Feature

Ida (Poland)
Mommy (Canada)
Leviathan (Russia)
Wild Tales (Argentina)

Documentary Feature

Look of Silence
Red Army
The Salt of the Earth
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles
Keep on Keepin’ On

Animated Feature

How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Lego Movie

Still to Come
Big Hero 6
The Box Trolls

Visual Effects

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Transformers 4
Edge of Tomorrow

Still to Come:


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Mr. Turner


Mercy Is, Patti Smith, Noah

Your thoughts, Oscar watchers?  Best Original Song contenders I’m forgetting?



There isn’t a lot of noise out there on the upcoming third collaboration with David Fincher and Reznor/Ross, the composers who won the Oscar for The Social Network. Their second collaboration, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is even more ambitious than their Oscar-winning score though just as great. The Academy, as we know, gets a little nervous when you step too far outside the box. Composers nominate composers and it’s a fairly incestuous little group, like many of the other crafts categories. They have their own superstars, like John Williams. This is one of the categories where you can look at the name and know they’re mostly headed for a nomination. The popular ones are of late include the king, John Williams, with 5 wins and 44 nominations. But also Hans Zimmer, Gustavo Sataolalla, James Horner, Thomas Newman, Alexandre Desplat, James Newton Howard, Danny Elfman, etc. That Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross not only crashed that exclusive club but also won with The Social Network is unusual. That they couldn’t quite cozy up to Dragon Tattoo is not surprising, if you’ve ever listened to that unbelievable score, one that ought to be considered among the greatest. It is so memorable, so strange, so unique – no one makes music like that in film.

The score to the Social Network, like the film itself, is a perfect thing. I spend many afternoons listening to it start to finish. I find it’s the best music to put on for inspiration if you have to write something or finish something. You can listen to the score and know exactly what scene, sometimes what lines are being said during a particular point. It is the hum, the drumbeat, the essential throughline to a perfect film.

The score for Dragon Tattoo is, to me, a masterpiece. It is as disturbing and unpredictable as the film and wildly different from The Social Network. To me, the score has captured Lisbeth’s complex inner world – her wildness, her self-control, her occasional craziness and the way she sort of weaves in and out of society, half-noticed, half-ignored.

When Trent Reznor took the stage at the Hollywood Bowl a while back with Nine Inch Nails it was an opportunity to see Reznor as the rock star — okay, Rock God — he is known as “out there” in the world. His work with Nine Inch Nails isn’t as far off from his composing as one might think. He moves fluidly through both forms, a musician through and through. As the frontman for Nine Inch Nails more is expected of him and he more than delivers. Under the warm Hollywood night sky Nine Inch Nails electrified the crowd that leapt to its feet and didn’t stop standing until the lights came up and the show was over.

Reznor took the stage before the crowd figured out what was going on for Copy of A (I did not record this video fwiw)

At first, it’s been said, Trent Reznor was not sure about whether or not to do Gone Girl — it didn’t really speak to him until he saw a screening of the film. Whatever Fincher delivers on screen was disturbing enough that he felt a connection. Why they are so good together, in my opinion, is that they do not shy away from darkness. If you have not yet gotten a copy of Hesitation Marks you should. The way Reznor is evolving as a rock musician is different from his work as a composer but each are, in my humble opinion, fascinating.

Music in film generally aids or enhance the emotional experience. Usually. It is put there to fill up empty spaces or to help the viewer indulge or luxuriate in the moment. But sometimes it is itself a character in film, as it is with John Williams’ score for Jaws, or Peter Gabriel’s score for The Last Temptation of Christ. Or certainly Phillip Glass. I would also have to add Bob Dylan on Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. I guess it’s because these composers, with the exception of Williams, also work in other arenas than composing. Their work in film stands apart. John Williams is such a great composer that any time he’s on a film you know it. Immediately. The same could now be said, quite easily, of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. They were always an outside the box choice for an outside the box director. No matter what becomes of Gone Girl, that music, which I haven’t yet heard, I know will endure.

I feel lucky to be alive at a time when Reznor is making music with Nine Inch Nails and composing film. In decades to come some might be envious of those of us who lived through it. Gone Girl opens to the NY Film Fest in a couple of weeks and we’ll get our first taste of what the new Reznor/Ross score is going to be like. I’m sure, like the other two, it will be part of my permanent collection.


The official US one sheet poster for Interstellar has been revealed. The poster prominently features Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey in a spacesuit. The film is about a group of space travellers who uncover a wormhole and stars Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, Mackenzie Foy and John Lithgow.

Director Chris Nolan has kept tight lipped about the film, all we know from the trailer is “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Have a look at the poster and mark your calendars. The film is out on November 7.



Disney has unveiled the first poster for Into The Woods. Based on the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical, the upcoming film adaptation stars Meryl Streep as The Witch, Johnny Depp as The Wolf and Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife. Rob Marshall directs the all star cast in the musical adaptation which is set to open on Christmas Day.

The poster features Streep as The Witch looking out from the trees, with the tag “Be Careful What You Wish For.”



Although the films that have won Best Picture out of Toronto after winning the People’s Choice award played first to critical acclaim at the Telluride film festival it is no doubt a big deal to win that prize from one of the larger voting groups ahead of the industry votes. The critics offer up their own awards next but they are a much smaller group of voters, roughly 100 to 200 at the most. Thousands vote at the Oscars, and the DGA, PGA and SAG. Thus, the People’s Choice can sometimes be a good harbinger for a majority vote. But that’s usually only a reliable indicator if the film that is going to be its main competition is there also, as was the case last year when 12 Years a Slave surprised everyone by beating Gravity. It went on to do the same at the Oscars.

First, a quick history of the People’s Choice awards. Oscar winners in red. Nominees in blue.

2014 The Imitation Game (2014)
2013 12 Years a Slave (2013)
2012 Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
2011 Where Do We Go Now? (2011)
2010 The King’s Speech (2010)
2009 Precious (2009)
2008 Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

2007 Eastern Promises (2007)
2006 Bella (2006)
2005 Tsotsi (2005)
2004 Hotel Rwanda (2004)
2003 Zatôichi (2003)
2002 Whale Rider (2002)
2001 Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001)
2000 Wo hu cang long (2000)
1999 American Beauty (1999)
1998 La vita è bella (1997)
1997 The Hanging Garden (1997)
1996 Shine (1996)
1995 Antonia (1995)
1994 Priest (1994)
1993 The Snapper (1993) (TV)
1992 Strictly Ballroom (1992)
1991 The Fisher King (1991)
1990 Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
1989 Roger & Me (1989)
1988 Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (1988)
1987 The Princess Bride (1987)
1986 Le déclin de l’empire américain (1986)
1985 La historia oficial (1985)
1984 Places in the Heart (1984)
1983 The Big Chill (1983)
1982 Tempest (1982)
1981 Chariots of Fire (1981)
1980 Bad Timing (1980)
1979 Best Boy (1979)
1978 Girlfriends (1978)

You can look at the win for Imitation Game and conclude that this makes it the frontrunner to win Best Picture and you might not be wrong. But I’d say it wasn’t up against Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and it wasn’t up against Birdman, a competition that would surely shift the dynamics of the race.  It also wasn’t up against the films we’ve yet to see.

But to put the film in your number one spot, as many pundits will now do, is not a bad move particularly. The Imitation Game has much going for it, not only because it’s a crowd pleasing film but also because it features what will be among the best performances of the year from Benedict Cumberbatch.

The Imitation Game comes at the race with two big issues sitting behind it. One, the horror of a society criminalizing homosexuality.  The second, a rumination on what it is to be an adult with Asperger’s or Autism.  The film makes that plainly clear, even if the words are never spoken out loud. Those in the spectrum community will surely recognize it and those who aren’t yet schooled on spectrum disorders will surely learn something. These two factors greatly improve the film’s chances to be important enough to win.

It is also an easier plot to fall into than Richard Linklater’s profoundly moving Boyhood.  One must really be invested with Boyhood or it will never have the same impact. With Imitation Game, it is likely the movie that anyone can be moved by.

But Imitation Game will come up against (so far, at least) two visionary directors in Linklater and in Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman. Both have advanced the craft of filmmaking to a significant degree. Both are going to be remembered for drawing audiences into the theater to check out the wonder of cinema without the use of CGI (for the most part). They will both be in contention to snatch the director prize away from the Imitation Game’s fairly unknown director Morten Tyldum. Get used to saying that name out loud.

The People’s Choice award in this case gives The Imitation Game a ticket to the Big Show (which it already had) but its eventual landing point remains a mystery. There are simply too many unanswered questions.  At the top of that list of questions is this — is the industry really going to watch a film like Boyhood, which took 12 years to make, pass by unnoticed? I doubt it. Is the industry really going to reward something so traditional in the face of films like Birdman and any other visionary work upcoming? That is certainly possible, given their recent history.

The Imitation Game and Boyhood are both already beloved films.  I would have to say that they are positioned as the top two to win at this point, with Boyhood slightly ahead.



Tommy Lee Jones’ bleak expression of our land rape out west is one of the best films of 2014. No, it doesn’t fit into any category, particularly, and it didn’t light the critics on fire at Cannes but it is, to me, as vital a piece in our American story as John Huston’s The Misfits and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. All three of these films show how the women were used, abused, misused and discarded while the menfolk sought to conquer a land already owned by others.

Unlike many directors in Hollywood, Jones isn’t afraid of being someone with a point of view on western expansion. Though he prefers, at least he did in Cannes, to let the movie speak for itself he certainly isn’t going to dodge responsibility for the comfort of others. This movie makes it quite clear that where we settled, how we did it, what we did to Native Americans was flat out wrong. If you build a civilization over the ruin you can expect tragedy to come back to haunt you.

Like 12 Years a Slave last year cleared a path to American history — to show how our American foundation, even our White House, was built on the backs of slaves — The Homesman, too, shows the rotten underbelly of what we all too often celebrate about our proliferation out west.

What is remarkable about The Homesman is that it focuses on a woman, the brilliant Hilary Swank in what has to be my own favorite performance of hers, who isn’t the right kind of livestock for marrying but has strength, wisdom and ambition.  Still, there is no future for her in that definition of America, not without a man’s love or at least his desire to marry her.  Swank’s character sets out to deliver women who have lost their minds on the homesteads back to people who will look after them. To their husbands, they are livestock gone wrong. They stopped being the right kinds of wives — dead babies, emotional outbursts, mental illness with no hope of treatment. So back they go — their husbands then on the hunt for another.

The Homesman isn’t a film for everybody — and it certainly isn’t what today’s critics would call “perfect.” I don’t know what its Oscar prospects will be because those depend on perception and perception often depends on what critics think.  Its best shot for the Oscar race is that its a strong ensemble piece.  The actors might push the film through.

It’s frustrating to watch how every year stories about women get the shaft. The latest is the Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, one of the few films with a story revolving around women. Now, The Homesman with Hilary Swank and a strong cast of women will likely not get ushered through.  Critics seem up for films where women don’t do a lot of talking, like in Gravity, or where their own emotional trajectory is fairly simplistic — but when things get complicated the critics back way off, as though stories of women on their own aren’t enough, or aren’t good enough.

Performances might burst through, like Swank in The Homesman or Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart in Still Alice, or Reese Witherspoon in Wild – but we never seem to be talking about Best Picture where women are concerned.  Sure, David Fincher’s Gone Girl could change all of that.  Perhaps Into the Woods might as well.  But for now, such is the modern lament of Oscar season.



The Best Picture lineup of 2014 has one more pit stop before it reveals itself. That moment has, for the past ten years, felt obvious. Like George Bailey with hopes of traveling the world and perhaps marrying someone mysterious and exotic, at some point he realizes that the girl of his dreams has been living right there in Bedford Falls the whole time. And so it goes with Best Picture these days.

If you’ve been following along with AwardsDaily you’ll know we talk about the date change a lot and how it’s shaped the Best Picture race. Around 2003 the Academy pushed the date back one month from late March to late February — apparently it was a decision to cash in on ratings for their TV show. Little did they know how it would ultimately shape the Oscar race and probably shape how studios roll out movies overall. That caused a domino effect that ultimately would mean the Oscar race is decided by critics and industry voters long before the public has a chance to see many of the films — their opinion of those films has little to do with the outcome of the race.

The most dramatic change, though, has been that the Best Picture winner has not come from any film seen after October since Million Dollar Baby in 2004. Clint Eastwood was one of the few filmmakers who really could just show up and win the whole game without a lot of kowtowing to tastemakers and critics. But since then, the films that have won have been Mary Baileys — right in front of your eyes the whole time, seen either before Telluride/Toronto or during.

Titanic – no festival, open to public
Shakespeare in Love – no festival, open to public
American Beauty – no festival, open to public
Gladiator – no festival, open to public
A Beautiful Mind – no festival, open to public
Chicago – no festival, open to public
Return of the King – no festival, open to public
Million Dollar Baby – no festival, open to public
Crash – (Toronto)
The Departed – no festival, open to public
No Country for Old Men (Cannes)
Slumdog Millionaire (Telluride)
The Hurt Locker (Toronto)
The King’s Speech (Telluride)
The Artist (Cannes)
Argo (Telluride)
12 Years a Slave (Telluride)

The old way: films were rolled out during what we used to think of as Oscar season — from September to December. By year’s end, the box office take was recorded, as were the reviews, and THEN the voters made their decisions. What films were popular with the public (Gladiator, Titanic) mattered more than what the critics and tastemakers thought.

I’ve been here to watch the transformation, and have been part of it, and I remember how it used to be. There didn’t used to be an entire industry devoted to awards watching. Back then, everybody wasn’t an expert. You actually had to have some qualifications to be a film critic (journalist, educated, experienced) and not just anyone could ‘publish.’ But the internet leveled the playing field and, suddenly, anyone could cook. And they did. That has impacted the race, taking it mostly out of the hands of the studios — who were really trying to give the public what it wanted, make money and maintain the status quo, and into the hands of people who think the Oscars should matter more than that — that they should reward the best films.

Voters have resisted the change, especially lately. They do not want things to evolve so fast and, thus, they continue to lean towards those traditional crowdpleasing nuts and bolts films driven by the Big Three: Acting, Directing, Writing. In that order. They are less inclined towards effects-driven films, which explains why they have a single category to honor that genre: Best Visual Effects. Occasionally they crowd into the other tech categories like Sound, Art Direction, Cinematography. But to voters that is mostly where they belong. Alfonso Cuaron winning for Gravity and Ang Lee winning for Life of Pi, signal a tiny shift in that direction. In ten years you might see effects-driven films dominating the Oscar race.

That brings us to this year. Now that Toronto is mostly over, it seems to have delivered one Best Picture contender and maybe firmed up another. Films so far this year seem to be divided into a few key categories. The first, Great British Men Doing Great Things: The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game and Mr. Turner. The second will be the dark reveal of the ugly side of American culture: Foxcatcher, Birdman, and soon to be Gone Girl.

Then there will be true stories of American heroes: Selma (Martin Luther King, Jr.), Unbroken (Louie Zamperini), American Sniper (Chris Kyle), and Fury, a fictional account of the last push to defeat Nazi Germany.

And finally, fantasy — with Interstellar and Into the Woods.

Toronto has delivered The Theory of Everything, which appears headed straight for the major categories, and Whiplash, which Indiewire’s Anne Thompson had on her radar since Sundance. If that film wins Tiff’s Audience Award that gives it even more heft heading into the race.

There is one more game-changer this year, or there could be, and that’s the New York Film Festival unfurling at the end of this month. The two films that will be introduced into the race there will be David Fincher’s Gone Girl and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. Neither of these directors make movies for Oscar voters. They just don’t think: how can I make a movie that’s going to win Best Picture? The first reason, they don’t need to. Neither of their legacies are going to be defined by the 6 thousand or so Oscar voters whose lives are so comfortable they resent being made Uncomfortable.

Being that Oscar voters tend to be softies, especially lately, you can pretty much count on turning on your heart-light once again as we look towards what will dominate the Best Picture race and why.

Right now, as September comes to a close, one film continues to define 2014 and that’s Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. If you’re looking for a film right now that has the best chance to WIN Best Picture, this is it. Just making that statement, of course, puts it in a vulnerable spot. But the thing about this film, and most recent Best Picture winners, it can take the heat because it isn’t divisive. Right now it’s quietly hovering in the background with the nicest people in Hollywood representing it. If you are underestimating Boyhood right now you are not paying attention.

Its position could shift dramatically as films we have seen roll out — Interstellar, Into the Woods, Unbroken, Fury, and Clint Eastwood showing up once again at the last minute with American Sniper — they are all gambling on end of the year releases to cinch Best Picture, which hasn’t been achieved since 2004. BUT that doesn’t mean this won’t be the year all of that changes.

Again, the public has nothing to do with the race right now except for those who keep coming out to see Boyhood, sometimes twice. In the real world the movie people are talking about is Boyhood. Its challengers so far are films that have become the most talked about at the various festivals so far.

For the record: One thing In Contention’s Kris Tapley said on Twitter was a funny comment that could only have been made by an old school Oscarwatcher. He said that Clint Eastwood could just show up and clear the room with American Sniper. He did it with Unforgiven and did it again with Million Dollar Baby and very nearly did it again with Letters from Iwo Jima.

Top Tier

1. Birdman. Talking about this film is how the whole process gets dumbed down. No one should come out of Telluride saying the film won’t win because it will be too divisive. That might true but they say that like it’s a bad thing. That it’s divisive means it’s doing SOMETHING RIGHT. It’s pushing buttons, challenging its audience. In short: delivering brilliant, groundbreaking, unforgettable CINEMA. Remember cinema? Remember when movies were judged on how great they were rather than their so-called “Oscar potential?” Think about what James Rocchi always says about how little he cares about the Oscar race because of WHO THEY ARE. Remember who the Oscar voters are. Remember how little what they think actually matters. If they huddle up to a film like Birdman (or if they had for Inside Llewyn Davis last year) that makes THEM look GOOD, not the other way around. They need to catch up to the artists, have their own realities shaken a bit, be given something other than a warm blanket and a cuddle and a goodnight kiss from mommy saying it will all be all right. Guess what? It isn’t all right. Nothing about our culture right now is all right. We can continue to look backwards in time and vote for films that reflect those moments we understand OR we can celebrate those sensitive writers and directors who are getting at truths that aren’t so comfortable. Life is a bucket of shit with the handle on the insides. The Oscars aren’t about rewarding that which denies this basic truth about life in 2014. It’s a mixed bag of beauty and shit. Let’s keep our aperture as wide open as possible, shall we?

2. The Imitation Game. Though it isn’t setting the critics on fire yet, critics can’t be measured the same way they used to be. Who they are has shifted too dramatically. Thus, one can’t count on them to give you an accurate reading of films that might appeal to voters since many critics these days get a whiff of “Oscar” and recoil in horror. They judge the film as “Oscar bait” rather than a film meant for actual audiences. And yes, perception is everything in the Oscar race. When the HFPA can make a difference you know perception is everything. The Imitation Game would fare far better if it had the critics on its side the way they’re on Boyhood’s side but it was still the most or the second most talked about film at Telluride. It is a moving, entertaining, heartbreaking crowd pleaser. It’s socially relevant and most importantly, it is backed by Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Co.

3. Foxcatcher. See number 1. Add to that: Bennett Miller has made a quiet, disturbing meditation on the secluded, padded, protected life of the 1% — a group of people who think the rules do not apply to them. This movie is about one person but it could be about the Koch brothers or Donald Trump. Sure, the real life guy was psychotic, truly mentally ill. And yes, much of the true story is not included in Miller’s film. It isn’t required to be. This is a film that operates on a gloriously metaphorical level. It is our American story as much as Fitzgerald’s Gatsby is. It is brilliant, expert filmmaking that simply tops almost anything anyone else brought to Cannes. So if you want to dumb things down and worry about what “they” will think, go ahead. In the end all that will mean is that you a mind reader of a group of very predictable people for whom life has become altogether too easy. That isn’t the real world and there is no room for such limited thinking in the vibrant world of American film.

4. The Theory of Everything. Though I’ve not seen the film, it is clear that this was one of the films that moved people attending the Toronto Film Festival. It is about one of the great thinkers of our time who was stricken with ALS. From the looks of it the film is headed for the major categories.

On the Edge

5. Mr Turner
6. Whiplash
6. Wild

Hovering on the Fringe

7. The Grand Budapest Hotel
8. Rosewater
9. The Homesman
10. The Judge

Films that should be considered for Best Picture but won’t:

1. Mommy
2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
3. Leviathan

The heavy hitters still to come

Gone Girl
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
American Sniper

Either way, we are still in the morning fog of Oscar season. We don’t know the outcome yet because we don’t know what’s coming.  And so we wait, and we wait.

Inherent Vice 2

Entertainment Weekly has released some footage from the New York Film Festival with clips from films like Gone Girl, Inherent Vice, Birdman and others. In the meantime, Cigarettes & Red Vines posted some stills.


The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg just put it this way,

“The eventual best picture Oscar winner has played at the Toronto International Film Festival in each of the last seven years. The fest’s 2014 edition gets underway tonight. Will the streak continue?”

In other words, the last film not to play at TIFF was the Coens’ No Country for Old Men, which had opened already so no festival screening necessary, ditto the year’s prior winner, The Departed. Crash came the year before and that also didn’t need the festivals. Million Dollar Baby was the year before that and it, too, didn’t play the fest circuit.

The only film to play Toronto but not Telluride in the last seven years was The Hurt Locker, which went to Toronto the year before it won Best Picture. Every other film played Telluride first.

What’s the main difference? It looks like films that are headed for the Oscar race do not open to general audiences until after they have a festival launch pad. Even the films that screen in Cannes have a long road before they’re open in theaters — like 2011’s winner, The Artist.  Do distributors need the festivals to build the necessary hype for awards to boost opening box office?

Running the gauntlet during the festivals is a great way to get the negative hype out of the way. If a film can withstand all of the high praise, backlash to the high praise, sudden controversies that come from a need to find filler and draw traffic, patching up those controversies — then it can pretty much find solid footing in the Oscar race.  That is why all of the films that have won over the past seven years have had plenty of lead time heading into the race.

If you skip all of that, you can swoop in at the last minute, make a lot of money, earn many nominations but might find the backlash and the controversies hitting right about the time people start voting for winners, at which time they seem to go for the more reliable success rather than the one they’re not that sure about. Argo vs. Zero Dark Thirty, for instance.

All of these theories are just theories, of course. Any rule we build up is destined to get shot down the following year. The funny thing about the Oscar race is that is always feel wide open until suddenly, it doesn’t.  With Telluride behind us and Toronto starting now, the Best Picture winner should theoretically have been seen already.  But which movie could that be?

If Telluride/Toronto doesn’t produce a Best Picture winner could New York?  Or might the winner fall outside the fest circuit entirely?  Let’s break them down, shall we?

Best Picture contenders so far

Before festivals Cannes Telluride Toronto New York After festivals
Budapest Hotel
Foxcatcher (11/14) Foxcatcher Foxcatcher Foxcatcher
Mr. Turner (12/19) Mr. Turner Mr. Turner Mr. Turner
The Homesman The Homesman
Clouds of Sils Maria Clouds of Sils Maria Clouds of Sils Maria
Birdman (10/17) Birdman
The Imitation Game (11/21) The Imitation Game
Rosewater (11/7) Rosewater
Wild (12/5) Wild
99 Homes 99 Homes
71 71 71
The Judge (10/10)
Men, Women and Children (10/1)
St. Vincent (10/24)
Theory of Everything (11/7)
The Good Lie (10/3)
The Equalizer
The Keeping Room
Miss Julie
The Riot Club
Still Alice
Time Out of Mind Time out of Mind
Whiplash (10/10) Whiplash
Gone Girl (10/3)
Inherent Vice (12/12)
Fury (10/17)
Interstellar (11/7)
American Sniper (12/25)
Big Eyes (12/25)
Into the Woods (12/25)
Selma (12/25)
Unbroken (12/25)

Last year 12 Years a Slave and Gravity came out of the festivals. American Hustle did not. Looking at all nine of the Best Pic nominees from last year it went like this:

12 Years a Slave (Telluride)
Gravity (Venice)
Wolf of Wall Street (out of festival competition)
American Hustle (out of festival competition)
Nebraska (Cannes)
Captain Phillips (NYFF)
Philomena (Toronto)
Dallas Buyers Club (Toronto)
Her (New York)

Argo (Telluride)
Amour (Cannes)
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Sundance)
Django Unchained (out of festival competition)
Les Mis (out of festival competition)
Life of Pi (New York)
Lincoln (out of festival competition)
Silver Linings Playbook (Toronto)
Zero Dark Thirty (out of festival competition)

The Artist (Cannes)
Tree of Life (Cannes)
The Descendants (Telluride)
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (out of festival competition)
The Help (out of festival competition)
Hugo (New York)
Midnight in Paris (out of festival competition)
Moneyball (Toronto)
War Horse (out of festival competition)

The King’s Speech (Telluride)
The Social Network (New York)
127 Hours (Telluride)
Black Swan (Venice)
The Fighter (out of festival competition)
Inception (out of festival competition)
The Kids Are All Right (Sundance)
Toy Story 3 (out of festival competition)
True Grit (out of festival competition)
Winter’s Bone (Sundance)

The Hurt Locker (Toronto, the year prior)
Avatar (out of festival competition)
A Serious Man (Toronto)
An Education (Sundance)
District 9 (out of festival competition)
Inglourious Basterds (Cannes)
Precious (Sundance)
The Blind Side (out of festival competition)
Up (out of festival competition)
Up in the Air (Telluride)

The conclusion: a film has an equal chance of a nomination if it shows out of competition, at Sundance or any other film festival. The winners, though, going back to at least 2008, have all come from films seen at festivals.

The only possible explanation I can think of for this is that when a film is underestimated it has a lot better shot at winning than when it’s overestimated.  Moreover, the tried and true contender has run the gauntlet and come out unscathed. A late comer would need more time, unless it was an unequivocal winner, to have enough time to deflect the backlash, live down the hype, and prove itself to be “the one.”

As far as this year goes, we have a few bankable titles already for Best Picture nomination at least:

The Imitation Game

Those are the BIG THREE I would take to the bank for a nod, even though several pundits like David Poland and Jeff Wells have their doubts about Foxcatcher because it is so ice cold. Think: Great film. That’s what you have with Foxcatcher and any voters with a pair of real balls hanging between his legs is above the whole “sentimental weepy” nonsense.

Similarly, there is much silly chatter about whether Birdman will be “too divisive” for a nod. Again, idle talk from people who are doing too much psychoanalyzing. Birdman is, more than anything, an ACTORS movie. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  It’s way in and one of the three RIGHT NOW that can win, the other two being Boyhood and The Imitation Game.

That’s four out of a probable nine.

If I had to spitball the other five right now, sight unseen, I’d go with:

Gone Girl
The Theory of Everything
Into the Woods
American Sniper

Less sure about how “they” will vote, given that they have ONLY FIVE slots to nominate a Best Picture
Big Hero 6
Big Eyes
The Homesman
The Clouds of Sils Maria
Inherent Vice
99 Homes

If voters still had ten options to nominate for Best Picture this would be an easy call but you have to predict Best Picture like you’re actually picking five, not nine.  Think five and then work with spillover.  Would you choose Interstellar with five? Nolan got in with Inception when voters had 10. Ditto Big Hero 6 or any animated film. When voters had ten slots they nominated Up and Toy Story 3. When they had five slots they stopped nominating animated films for Best Picture.

Thinking five, shit starts to get real.

The same theory could be made for Gone Girl, Birdman and Foxcatcher — will voters pick the film with five if it isn’t “feel good” enough? It’s possible they will do as expected of them and vote with their hearts, not with that thing that got them into filmmaking in the first place: the reach for great cinema no matter what form it comes in.

Already I am feeling the familiar dynamic begin to form, like a full blown hurricane off the coast of Mexico: heroic people doing heroic things vs. dark characters doing terrible things.  This always reminds me of that exchange from A Few Good Men, “I want the truth!” “You can’t handle the truth.” And so it goes, with Oscar as with so many other things, voters reach for that idealized human condition where we do good things and make the world a better place.  The flip side of that, of course, is that the human condition is formed out of light AND darkness.  At its best, art does not sacrifice one for the sake of our eternal comfort but instead dives headlong into that struggle to confront who we really are.


The Toronto Film Festival always brings the big names. Maybe that’s the problem and the reason why many in the industry are starting to skip it in favor of Telluride. I know quite a few people doing both this year, and at Telluride last week, almost all of them were cringing at the thought of going to Toronto. That’s just the way it’s been the last few years with Telluride being the more intimate and friendly festival with less of the glitz and glamour of TIFF.

2013 was a landmark year for movies, which translated into one hell of a festival season. I remember Sasha raving about the dynamic duo of “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” at Telluride and yours truly following suit not too long after at TIFF. It doesn’t look like there will be such intense, invigorating movie-going experiences this year until the New York Film Festival when “Gone Girl” and “Inherent Vice” screen in October.

Want to know how strong 2013 was? Some of last year’s fest films can already count as some of the best released of this year: “Under the Skin”, “Only Lovers Left Alive”, “Stray Dogs”, “Ida”, “Enemy”, “Snowpiercer”, “Stranger By the Lake”, “The Double”, “Abuse of Weakness” and “The Immigrant” all had their debuts at various films fests last year, the majority of them at TIFF. So with that in mind, can the 2014 festival season actually live up to 2013? Of course not – it’s not possible to maintain that kind of high quality year after year. Think of 1999, a year that many – including myself – believe to be one of the greatest cinematic years in movie history. It was followed by one of the worst the following year – a year that pitted “Gladiator” vs. “Erin Brokovich” vs. “Traffic” in the Oscar Race, the first two aforementioned movies coincidentally released in

March and May. Those ain’t Oscar months, but 2000 was so weak that that year they were.

And so we come to 2014, where we already have three strong – although bewildering – contenders emerging from Telluride: “Foxatcher”, “Birdman” and “The Imitation Game”. Two of those three will be at Toronto and it will be interesting to see the reception they both get. “The Imitation Game” looks to be a crowd pleaser that might sneak out with a bigger high once the fest ends at the end of the next week, or it might not and another contender will emerge instead. With that in mind, here are the burning questions I have about the festival, which will start tomorrow morning with its first batch of screenings.

1) “The Imitation Game”

Telluride loved it but the critics have so far been safe and cautious about their enthusiasm for this movie. If you take a look at Metacritic, its 9 reviews and score of 70 will tell you this won’t be a critic’s darling like “Foxcatcher” or “Birdman”, but it will have something more powerful on its side: word of mouth. “The Imitation Game” looks like it will be THE crowd pleaser to beat once its first screenings start this week. Will it sustain what it built up at Telluride? I’m on the fence about it but I sure hope Sash, Kris and Co. are right about this one – which also features an unproven filmmaker at its helm. From what I’ve been hearing, Benedict Cumberbatch is emerging as a force to be reckoned with in
the Best Actor category, but that the film itself is routinely pleasing.

2) “Foxcatcher”

The momentum will most likely not stop for this Benneth Miller film. Miller has become a real fixture of the Oscar race with “Capote” and “Moneyball”, but more importantly has become one of the genuinely brilliant American filmmakers out there. His classical style of filmmaking is done so well and with such genuine passion that I can just picture “Foxcatcher” coming out of TIFF with its profile skyrocketing. Especially when it comes to Steve Carrell, who’s been carrying a wave of praise ever since Cannes.

3) Witherspoon in “Wild” and “The Good Lie”

Reese Witherspoon is loved, we all know that. Her performance in “Wild” seems to be the real deal as well. She went all out to nail this role and I have no doubt that her buzz will continue onwards at TIFF. However, don’t discount this movie as just a strong central performance kind-of-movie. I reside in Montreal and have seen the staggering rise of Quebecois filmmakers in Hollywood the last few years. Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”, “Enemy”) is just one of many French-Canadian filmmakers trying to make art out of commerce in Tinseltown, and Xavier Dolan – who’s “Mommy” is also screening at the fest – is on his way to big things.

Jean-Marc Vallée is clearly another good example. I met Vallée 4 years ago at the premiere of his then new film “Café de Flore”. He seemed happy with what he was doing – making homegrown, personal movies – but I have a feeling he likes the freedom Hollywood is giving him at the moment. With “Dallas Buyers Club” he proved his worth and with “Wild” he will likely continue his rise among the best mainstream filmmakers working today.

Another Quebecois filmmaker at the fest? Philippe Falardeau, Oscar nominated for “Monsieur Lazhar” a few years ago and making his American film debut directing – again – Witherspoon in “The Good Lie”, a film that is getting its fair share of buzz as well and might make it a banner year for the incredibly talented actress.

4) “The Theory of Everything”

Oh, boy. Here’s a film that no one really knows what to make of. This is the story of Stephen Hawking’s life as told by James Marsh, who made the brilliant documentary “Man on Wire”. He might just break through with this film, or it might be one of many films that have come out of Toronto down, out and defeated. The potential is there. They will be screening the film in Los Angeles at the same time as TIFF. It’s about time someone made a movie about the brilliant Hawking, a man whose life was filled with so many ups and downs that I’m surprised Hollywood didn’t come knocking at his door sooner. We’re going to have to just wait and see with this film, but since the comparisons I’ve been hearing and seeing to “The Imitation Game” are dumb and unfounded, I’m not sure what people are thinking comparing these two genuinely different movies. They are looking at them from an Oscar campaigning perspective (because everyone is an expert) and assuming that both men are geniuses, both men are struggling with disabilities. But there is a huge difference between contracting a body debilitating illness and being gay at a time when it was illegal, not to mention these being two different time periods and two different countries. But hey, they look like Oscar movies!

5) Two Adam Sandler movies? “Men, Women and Children” & “The Cobbler”

Yea, you heard me right: Sandler has two films premiering here, and not just by any directors. I remember a time when Sandler had a small teeny weeny phase where he decided to make more mature, serious fare with well renowned filmmakers such as Judd Apatow, James L. Brooks and Paul Thomas Anderson. Remember “Punch-Drunk Love”? Still Sandler’s best movie and performance.

The Sandler film most people are talking about is “Men, Women and Children”, which is directed by Jason Reitman, who really needs another well received film after last year’s decent but average “Labor Day” walked out of Toronto with practically nobody talking about it. His new movie looks more socially relevant and seems to harken back to the style of his older more mature efforts like “Thank You for Smoking” and “Up in the Air”. This new film tackles the internet age and our communication breakdown in the age of the internet.

Although I am looking forward to seeing “Men, Women and Children”, the Sandler film I am most looking forward to see also closely resembles “Punch-Drunk Love” in terms of its magical realist style, or at least that’s what I gathered when reading the synopsis for Tom McCarthy’s new film “The Cobbler”. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t McCarthy one of the singular, most underrated American directors around today?

“The Station Agent”, “The Vistor” and “Win Win” are all movies that get better with age, and his minimalist approach to filmmaking is really a breath of fresh air. Having Sandler star in one of his movies is as big a what-the-fuck as Paul Thomas Anderson casting him in 2002. It worked then and I hope it works now. Can’t wait.

6) Richard Gere and Jennifer Aniston for an Oscar? “Time Out of Mind” and “Cake”

So here’s the deal, Gere and Aniston have never been nominated for an Oscar. In fact, the year we thought Gere had a shot at winning a supporting actor trophy he ended up not even getting a nomination for “Chicago”. He’s continued giving us stellar work over the years, most notably a few years ago in “Arbitrage” which was a strong performance, but sadly that year was one of the strongest Best Actor lineups in years. Sucks, bad luck. Not even a nomination over the years for far ranging work like “American Gigolo” or “Primal Fear”. In “Time Out of Mind” he is directed by Oren Overman, an Israeli born filmmaker who now resides in New York. Overman has turned some heads over the last few years, directing “The Messenger” and “Rampart” back to back. No matter what happens in this year’s Oscar race, Gere is and always will be an underrated talent.

On the other end of the spectrum is Jennifer Aniston. Her new film is “Cake” and it looks to be the darkest role she’s ever tackled. She’s proven her worth as a serious actress in the past, most notably in Miguel Arteta’s “The Good Girl”, but never has she fully been taken seriously on the big screen. Some actors just can’t get past their iconic small screen roles, and Aniston’s Rachel is and always will be her legacy, and so her most successful big screen endeavors have all been in comedies. However, “Cake” is her chance. It really is. She is surrounded by a top notch cast of talents which include Anna Kendrick, William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman, and the role seems to dig into some of the darkest territory the actress has ever pursued. I think she can pull through and hit this out of the park.

7) “Cannes” they do it? “Leviathan”, “Timbuktu”, “Mommy”, “Winter Sleep”, “Goodbye to Language”, “Two Days, One Night”, “Wild Tales”

This year’s Best Foreign Film race kick-started at Cannes and continues over at TIFF. These are not films that are “Oscar material” and that’s sometimes a good thing. They don’t follow anything about formula and they go by their own furious beat. Here are films by filmmakers trying to reinvent the language of cinema and tell their stories in ways that have never been attempted before. “Wild Tales” had such an impressive showing at Telluride last week that people were demanding another screening at a bigger location and they got it. Word of mouth is building and this could be our next Foreign Language winner.

8) What to make of “The Judge”

I have my reservations about this courtroom drama starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. For starters, the director is David Dobkin, who’s more known for his work in comedy (Wedding Crashers) than drama. However, I wouldn’t bet against the cast. Downey Jr. especially. He’s proven to us time and time again what a great actor he can be – just take a look at “Chaplin”, “Tropic Thunder” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” for proof. The guy has talent. He’s never won an Oscar and this is major Oscar bait. If he hits it out of the park he can become a major player in the race. As for Robert Duvall, well…it’s Robert Duvall.

9) Will American indies have a surprise up their sleeves?

Remember when the Oscars was just five nominees for Best Picture? And usually one of those spots was reserved for a small indie gem”? “Juno”, “Little Miss Sunshine”, “In the Bedroom” and in later years “Precious”, “Winter’s Bone”, “An Education”, “The Kids Are All Right” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. It happens. Most of the time these movies start off at Sundance and only grow in momentum as the year goes. This year the only film that can possibly do that is also a film that won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance: “Whiplash”. I have already seen Damien Chazelle’s film and it really is an amazing watch. Miles Teller and J.K Simmons are both phenomenal and would most likely garner an instant Oscar nomination if we didn’t live in such a cruel world. Reality is that there will be a struggle for “Whiplash” to even nab one Oscar nom, but I’m betting that if it garners the reception that I think it deserves in Toronto, then watch out, because this is a movie that deserves everything that might be coming its way.

10) The fate of “Mr. Turner”

Ever since its triumph at Cannes, Mike Leigh’s newest film hasn’t kept up with the momentum that it built at La Croisette. TIFF is most likely the make or break moment for the film and will tell us a little more of what to expect come awards season. I just want it to be a great movie, awards or not. That’s why I’m here watching 3-4 movies a day – I want to watch stuff that’ll knock me out, put me on a high and have me talking about it for days on end. That is why most of us are here in the first place.

11) Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young”

This finally leads me to Noah Baumbach’s newest film. Here’s a director I greatly admire who has never gotten the awards recognition he deserved. Well, that’s too bad. That means people have missed out on such Baumbach gems as “The Squid and The Whale” and “Frances Ha”. Not surprisingly, this Brooklyn born filmmaker started out as a writer for another Oscarless but brilliant filmmaker: Wes Anderson. “While We’re Young” is one of my most hotly anticipated films of the fest, yet I doubt it will get recognized in any categories. Consider that a good thing. It means he doesn’t play by the rules and has a unique vision all his own, and I wouldn’t want it another way. Word of mouth is building and this could be our next Foreign Language winner.


Every year after Telluride there is the sense that bigger, better movies could still come along that might overtake the race. I remember this most profoundly in 2012 when Argo came, was very popular at Telluride but didn’t really pick up its major Best Picture heat until the one-two punch of Affleck and Argo winning the Golden Globes and Critics Choice just as Ben Affleck received his Best Director snub. That the movie wonlo those two significant awards could have meant the movie was destined to win no matter what. But the Globes aren’t the best or most reliable barometer to predict Best Picture, even if the Critics Choice often are. It was the Affleck snub that set up the much-needed narrative giving the film’s general likability a much-needed sense of urgency. That was also the first time the Oscar ballots for Best Director were turned in before the DGA announced. Last year and this year will also see that same scheduling shift but the Affleck snub was perhaps one of the most surprising things I’ve ever seen happen at the Oscars. It ended up having a profound effect on how the Oscar voting is conducted, because now it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to split Picture and Director. Now we can look at a movie like Birdman and comfortably say “it could win Best Director even if it doesn’t win Best Picture.” The unity of picture and director has been severed both by Affleck’s snub, and by the number of Best Picture entries compared to the smaller number of entries for Best Director.

Remember, from 1931-1943, back when the Academy had more than five Best Picture nominees, the only film that ever won Best Picture without the director at least being nominated, was Grand Hotel — a situation so strange in retrospect it looks like a slip-up. So it was highly unusual that Affleck carried his film to such a successful win without getting a director nomination, or perhaps because of the lack of the best director nomination. Either way, in 2012, after Telluride, Argo was mostly regarded as a well-liked film but not the one everyone was thinking would win Best Picture.

Now we find ourselves at the end of Telluride with a similar dynamic in play. Everyone is looking forward to the upcoming films that haven’t yet been seen — Fury, Gone Girl, Unbroken, Men, Women & Children, Interstellar, Into the Woods, Inherent Vice. Telluride, right now, feels like it always does when it ends. Somehow though, in recent years, the eventual Best Picture winner does turn out to be a film that was seen in Telluride — just not overhyped or overpraised, thus making it a target.

Even still, I can’t say there was any film I saw this week that seems like the winner. We don’t know how it will all play out. We don’t know what combination of films will barrel toward the finish line, so we can’t see which one isn’t like the others. Not yet.

The actors have to like it. Oldish people have to like it. It has to have “gravitas” to win. Directors have to respect it. You have to be able to sit anyone down in front of it and they will get it, if not love it. It has to be a movie that isn’t divisive. In an era of bravura filmmaking and risk taking that usually leaves the winning film to the most conventional, at least these days, perhaps unless they go back to five.

Still, in order for a film like The Imitation Game to win — right now the only movie that played here that seems like it has the stuff — the other movies upcoming will have to stumble. That sometimes happens when expectations are raised too high — thus backlash takes hold. It’s hard for a movie like The Imitation Game to attract backlash because no one is really expecting it to win. That gives the film a huge advantage over the films that have to carry the frontrunner albatross. It is also the one movie no one is going to hate. And that is often what defines a modern Best Picture winner in the era where everyone has a voice, a twitter, a tumblr, etc. Big Oscar Movies are often attacked simply because they seem like a movie that could win.

The Imitation Game backlash would only then come from those who perceive it as Oscar bait, an attitude I’ve seen already crop up on Twitter.

Your three best bets for Best Picture out of Telluride:
The Imitation Game

Beyond Best Picture, though, what else took hold? In the Best Actress race, Reese Witherspoon and Hilary Swank emerged strong for Best Actress contention. They are putting themselves out there early and both came to Telluride to help promote their films.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Steve Carell and Michael Keaton are the three strongest Best Actor contenders right now.

Mommy, Leviathan, Wild Tales all came out of Cannes and all seem to be very promising in the Best Foreign Language category.

Other performances that remain standouts would include Laure Dern, a supporting contender for Wild, Channing Tatum for Foxcatcher, though Best Actor is already so crowded it’s likely only Carrel will get in. Mark Ruffalo will have a place in line for supporting for Foxcatcher. Keira Knightley is a strong bet for supporting for The Imitation Game, along with Emma Stone for Birdman.

The Imitation Game is the only film that really popped exclusively here in Telluride, being seen for the first time as Argo, 12 Years a Slave, Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech all had been. Birdman was a Venice get already and landed at Telluride with extremely high praise to live up to.

With The Imitation Game here in Telluride we have our introductory sentence to the longer piece that will be written about this year. As it always is with the Labor Day end to the festival it feels like the best is yet to come. What is coming is the unknown. We don’t know how things will shake down. We wait. We wait.


“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…


We had no way of knowing that our two day drive to Telluride would eventually take us to a gas station where, in the midst of Trader Joe’s snacks flying around the car, boy bands blaring on the stereo, the dim hum of girl talk which ranges from politics to cats to awkward sex jokes to whether or not we like the shape of our boobs, we would happen upon a dirty but affectionate puppy someone had left at a gas station in the middle of the American West, approaching the Four Corners.

Heavy immovable clouds hung on the horizon. Horses roamed freely. America is one of the prettiest places to drive through and life is too short to have it all pass by on an airplane. Still, such a long drive does take its eventual toll. Though something got us to the right place at the right time — a gas station in Navajo country where a little dog was left in hopes someone might pick him up. He was so small and vulnerable anything could have taken him, a car, a hard rain. He got lucky. We got luckier.

Usually abandoned dogs or lost dogs will run from you if you try to save them. Believe me, I’ve tried. This dog didn’t. He somehow knew on some primal level that his only hope of survival was charming any human into giving him food or taking him in. We did both. The benevolent act was enough to make the whole trip worthwhile, though the shadow that followed it was this: people leave dogs at gas stations.

The Telluride Film Festival starts today. Last night there was a gathering at the Sheridan Hotel. First Showing’s Alex Billington had kindly sent me the email chain invite to a party I wasn’t invited to. Chris Willman had also driven in and invited me to come and see Life Itself at the outdoor movie theater. That would have been something, as Telluride’s sky is nothing but deep blue and blankets of stars. But, as my teen traveling companions would say, TBH (to be honest), I was looking forward to getting into a warm bed with good wi-fi and the chance to reconnect to what was happening in the world.

Hollywood-Elsewhere’s Jeff Wells secured a whole house to rent for the fest and kindly offered me two rooms — one for me, and a whole downstairs with its own bathroom and television for the teenagers and their new pal, a scruffy puppy they named Cooper Navajo. We got lucky this time with so much space.

The puppy settled in for the night, after some burgers and a gentle cleaning. He seemed to be smiling, even though we know dogs might actually not do this. He had three overly attentive females doting on him. He slept and then he slept some more. One tiny life out on the unforgiving mesa spared.

It’s cold here in Telluride — bright, clear and cold. It’s puffy jacket weather. Coffee weather. This morning is the Patron’s Brunch where we will reconnect with many Telluride regulars — Ken Burns will probably be milling about. Ditto Alice Waters. There will be champagne, lots of good food, and a long wait for the bus to take us back down the hill. Afterwards, I will probably try to catch the first screening of Wild, the first of the Big Oscar Movies to show here. The Frances Ford Coppola Apocalypse Now tribute repeats tomorrow morning so I’ll do catch-up then. Film history is not something to miss.

Birdman has the feel of something special where the Oscar race is concerned and appears to be the strongest contender out of this festival. But it’s also possible this year will break the streak, that Best Picture won’t come from here at all but from a film released in a different way, Toronto, New York or one that bypasses the festival circuit entirely. It is only a pattern until that pattern is broken.

Day one, and we’re off.








Jon Stewart directed Rosewater, which will be screening here at Telluride. Have a look at the trailer.


Debuted exclusively on This might be the one that best represents this film. Best Actor is so far looking like a showdown between Steve Carell and Michael Keaton.


Todd McCarthy has posted his review of Birdman from Venice and it looks to be a solid Oscar contender in the major categories, picture, acting, directing, writing, as well as the techs, like cinematography.

Birdman flies very, very high. Intense emotional currents and the jagged feelings of volatile actors are turned loose to raucous dramatic and darkly comedic effect in one of the most sustained examples of visually fluid tour de force cinema anyone’s ever seen, all in the service of a story that examines the changing nature of celebrity and the popular regard for fame over creative achievement. An exemplary cast, led by Michael Keaton in the highly self-referential title role of a former super-hero film star in desperate need of a legitimizing comeback, fully meets the considerable demands placed upon it by director Alejandro G. Inarritu, as he now signs his name.

The film’s exhilarating originality, black comedy and tone that is at once empathetic and acidic will surely strike a strong chord with audiences looking for something fresh that will take them somewhere they haven’t been before.


Birdman, which bears the rather enigmatic subtitle “Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” is not only centered on the world of the theater but takes place almost entirely within or very near the venerable St. James Theater on West 44th Street. This is where faded big screen luminary Riggan Thomson (Keaton) is about to begin previews for what he hopes will bring him renewed acclaim and respectability, ego boosters that have eluded him in the two decades since he decamped from the Hollywood mountaintop upon saying no to Birdman 4.

Of course, Riggan knows he’s fated to always be Birdman; he still keeps a poster from the franchise on his dressing room wall and the character’s voice sometimes squawks at him like a challenging alter ego. But he’s now put everything on the line, including his own money, to mount a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which he’s written, is directing and is co-starring in with Lesley (Naomi Watts), another film star making her Broadway debut, and Laura (Andrea Riseborough), a sometime lover who’s more keen on him than vice versa.

When the other male actor in the piece startlingly becomes incapacitated, Lesley’s boyfriend Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a major film name, immediately volunteers to step into the breach. This is a godsend for the box office but a wild card in terms of the quartet’s dynamics, as the quicksilver Mike is a fiendish manipulator (quite the jerk, actually). After unsettling Riggan at his first rehearsal by having already memorized his part and then demanding rewrites, Mike detonates the initial public preview by drinking real gin (this is Carver country, after all) instead of water onstage.

More raw nerves are supplied by Riggan’s straight-from-rehab daughter Sam (Emma Stone), whom Dad has perhaps misguidedly engaged as his personal assistant. Riggan has to listen to Sam’s tirades about how his resistance to Twitter and blogging make him even more a has-been than he was already, this on top of Laura’s news that she’s pregnant and his concerns over what outrage Mike might provoke at the second preview.


Next we have Variety’s Peter Debruge:

In a year overloaded with self-aware showbiz satires, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s fifth and best feature provides the delirious coup de grace — a triumph on every creative level, from casting to execution, that will electrify the industry, captivate arthouse and megaplex crowds alike, send awards pundits into orbit and give fresh wings to Keaton’s career.


Circling shark-like around Keaton, then darting off to stalk other actors, Lubezki’s camera is alert and engaged at all times, an active participant in the nervous backstage drama. Taking a cue from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope,” the meticulously blocked shoot cleverly finds ways to mask cuts, using invisible visual effects to stitch together various scenes so it appears that the entire film is one continuous take, even though the events take place over several weeks and in various uptown Gotham locations — primarily Broadway’s St. James Theater, but venturing out anywhere that Riggan can walk or Birdman can fly.

In addition to being a virtuoso stunt in its own right, this single-shot illusion serves to address the critique that screen acting is somehow less demanding than stage acting, since there are no conventional editing tricks in place to shape the performances. The cast has no choice but to ante up, which everyone does in spades, and the film is built generously enough that everyone gets ample time to impress (although it should be noted that none of the background sexual intrigues amount to anything).

Inarritu’s approach is mind-boggling in its complexity, nearly as demanding on Lubezki as “Gravity” must have been, such that even seemingly minor jokes, as when the camera spies the drummer responsible for the pic’s restless jazz score (by Antonio Sanchez) lurking on the edge of the frame, had to be perfectly timed. It’s all one big magic trick, one designed to remind how much actors give to their art even as it disguises the layers of work that go into it.


The beautiful poem referenced here:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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