The Emmys made the historic, unprecedented move of awarding the well deserving Viola Davis the first black actress to win in lead in their history. The audience didn’t seem to notice. Only Louis CK stood up as Davis left the stage.  Viola Davis once again gave a memorable speech which said the opportunities aren’t there for black women to get into the awards conversation in the first place. That has never more true than it will be for Oscars 2016. Not one of the frontrunners for Best Actress right now are black, let alone any other non-white ethnic group.

There is a reason Halle Berry is still the only black woman to win Best Actress in what will be 88 years of Oscar history. It’s hard enough to get someone like Sandra Bullock in a gender swap for Our Brand is Crisis.  Swapping ethnicities is equally difficult. Bullock in that role meant she drags with her “female baggage” that men may or may not take to. An actress of color put into a white actresses role without explanation brings in that same baggage.  We celebrate these suddenly powerful roles for actresses this year, of which there are many, but we must also acknowledge the start contrast between the Emmys and what will be the Oscars.  There will be no black women nominees, at least not in the lead category.

We know that the market drives the inequality. Those who make the deals put their faith in men. The only films that are within even a hair’s breath of the Best Picture race to feature a black star or a black cast would include: Beasts of No Nation, Straight Outta Compton, Creed and Concussion. They’re all black male characters almost entirely.

It comes down to a lack of opportunities and perhaps a lack of interest with the Wall of White that dominates the Oscar race. That includes the mostly white, mostly male critics and bloggers. The mostly male and mostly white industry voters. The mostly male and mostly white Academy voters. You know who isn’t mostly male and mostly white though? The ticket buyers. Only there do you see a broad spectrum of every ethnic group.

In the Best Actress race we don’t even have any alternatives at this point. Those opportunities are flat-out not there. They are on television. Even with versatile talent like Gugu Mbatha Raw, Kiki Palmer, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and yes, Halle Berry — to name a few — it’s almost impossible to get them starring roles in films that plan on the Oscar market. This is not one of those years.

Still, there is no point in condemning the films, the filmakers or the actors for being “too white.” Writers tend to write what interests them, or what they know. Since men get one deal after another, the films that get made tend to be about what interests them. It doesn’t necessarily follow that an Oscar win can guarantee real change either. Selma was a successful, profitable culture quake last year, even with the Team White Guy grumblings about it. That should be enough to get more deals made about black history — lord knows there are enough stories about it. I think I heard someone was making an LBJ movie instead.

The thing is, the times they are a-changing. Social networking has completely upended the game. Movies, and the Oscar race, are all part of an ongoing, general conversation. Young people aren’t going to be as willing to give over their attention to an industry and its awards that focus on a singule group =- a shrinking majority, in fact — that seeks to recall the history of white Americans only. Even the transgender subject matter present in the early stage of this race — with The Danish Girl and Ray are already having problems with LGBTQ groups who say they are more about straight people than trans people. But at least those doors are cracking open even a little.

Teenagers and those coming up fast behind them are going to be hungry for more than what’s being served up which means the people making decisions in Hollywood are going to have to think outside the box, like Mad Max: Fury Road already did, and the upcoming Star Wars movies does. Improvise, adapt, overcome. But you can’t do that if you’re stuck on the same channel.

So far, it’s a good year for women (albeit white women only)

The Best Picture race is so far down to these movies – Spotlight, Steve Jobs, Brooklyn, Carol and Room. Mad Max: Fury Road could be another strong contender, if the pundits like Anne Thompson turn out to be right.  Ridley Scott’s The Martian is another big, popular movie that might be one of the strongest early contenders. But already, if these movies are in, that’s four films ABOUT women with strong female leads. Nearly half.

The balloting process will hurt films that star women the most, which is why the best opportunities for women behind the camera and in front of it were the two years when voters had ten nomination slots and not five:

The Hurt Locker – directed by a woman, won Best Picture/Director
An Education – written, directed by and starring women
Precious – starring black women
The Blind Side – starring a woman
Winter’s Bone – written, directed by and starring women
Black Swan – starring a woman
The Kids are All Right – written, directed by and starring women
The following year, the Academy shrunk the nominating ballots down to five. And the results were interesting.

The Help – starring black women

2012 *
Beasts of the Southern Wild – starring a young black girl


Philomena – starring a woman
Gravity – starring a woman

No films starring women at all except The Theory of Everything, but it was really about Stephen Hawking, let’s face it.

*When I say “starring” I don’t mean co-starring. I mean the central story revolves around a woman and a woman only, not a couple.

With five nomination slots, voters may elect, even this year with an unprecedented number of films driven by women, not to include them in their top five, which may instead reflect their own preferences — generally speaking, stories about men specifically, white men usually.

The films that might withstand the 5 choice litmus test starring women could include: Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road. I would be nervous about Carol, Room, Suffragette, etc.

The rest of the films hover in circles outside the main circle but are being considered, films like 45 Years, The Danish Girl, Suffragette, Truth, Trumbo, Black Mass, and Beasts of No Nation. All of these and the aforementioned movies are threatened by what’s coming next — the Big Oscar Movies that are set to be screened next week at the New York Film Festival and then launch into the Oscar race later in the year.

Those movies in anticipation are:

Bridge of Spies
The Walk
The Revenant
By the Sea
The Hateful Eight

The Whitest Oscars Again?

If there is any possibility for Beasts of No Nation, Creed, Straight Outta Compton or Concussion to get in, no one will be able to accuse the Oscars of being the “whitest ever.” The only category that will be all white most likely will be Best Actress. 

The Oscars can only reward what is there in the first place, as Viola Davis said. Without imagination and a fair amount of courage those opportunities will never be there.

One thing is clear from last night, however — the film industry and the Oscars that feed off of it are the ones lagging way, way behind. The generations coming up behind this one aren’t as color blind as the previous generations. They aren’t as unwilling to see black women as vital, interesting people who make great subjects for films.

The country is almost ready for the first woman president in its history. Maybe it happens, maybe it doesn’t but it’s hard not to feel the seeds of change humming from the foundation. Everyone wants to see Hollywood and the Oscars evolve. Last night’s Emmys showed us that an audience watched the first black woman in history win Best Actress. They voted for her because she deserved it. They barely noticed that they were a part of history. Only a few of them even stood up at all. But the rest of us at home were shouting from the rooftops. Social media was lit up in a frenzy. The audience would later find out what they’d just been a part of. And so it goes with progress. You barely notice it’s happening until it’s blown past you.


Cate Blanchett began the year, along with her co-star Rooney Mara, as the strongest contender for Best Actress in Todd Haynes’ Carol. Unbelievably, she bested herself in Truth, giving maybe her best ever performance. Putting both Carol and Truth together you have the strongest double hitter we’ve seen in a while. But unfortunately, Truth will be hit pretty hard by journalists who have come forward to side with the Bush administration and CBS to say that Mary Mapes was in the wrong. The film Truth does not say she wasn’t. It isn’t about that as much as how the original Bush story was buried, and the unusually strong punishment Mapes received. It was, to my mind, a sad day for freedom of the press and freedom of speech. But it doesn’t really matter what I think. When a woman is involved people run like scared rabbits, as they did with Zero Dark Thirty, Selma and now Truth. This is one of those faux scandals that will simply damage an Oscar contender but then slither quietly back from whence it came. There is something about a woman being in charge that makes people nervous. Dollars to donuts if Mapes had been male none of this would have happened in quite the same way. CBS might have done what Ben Bradlee had done and stood by his reporters who really were on the side of the truth. But they didn’t. They collapsed under pressure. Period. The end.

So if the faux scandal gives Blanchett’s nod to Carol instead, which it may do, where does that leave us? Well, since Blanchett won recently for Blue Jasmine, it it could mean Brie Larson, whose film Room just won the Audience Award at Toronto, right at the top of the list for the Best Actress win. While it is too early to talk about winners, I suspect Larson, who was already a top contender anyway, could become the early frontrunner.

Helping Larson is that she’s never won before. She’s young and she has nothing but good buzz around her work so far. She exploded onto the scene with Short Term 12 and almost earned an Oscar nod for it. She made enough of a ripple effect that the residue goodwill for that performance will help getting recognition for this performance. Furthermore, Room is now a formidable Best Picture contender. That only helps Larson to win. While Best Actor is more closely aligned with Best Picture, it never hurts to be the star of one. Having beaten every other film at Toronto, Room’s chances are now greater. It had great word of mouth at Telluride and will likely continue to depend on word of mouth to get people to see it who might be reluctant because of the subject matter.

Brie Larson’s performance in Room is astonishing. The different ways her character expresses the complex feelings of being a carefree teenager, then sexual predator’s victim, then a mother, then a kidnap victim who escaped after being confined is why she will likely shine brighter than her competition. She doesn’t just play one note and isn’t afraid to sometimes be unlikable, blank-eyed, angry.

What moved me most was the close relationship Larson clearly had with her co-star, Jacob Tremblay. Never once did I doubt she wasn’t his mother. They never seemed like they were acting even. Larson, who has never been a mother herself, inherently knows what it means to be simultaneously irritated and resisting the urge to feel irritated at one’s own child. It is a performance that deeply embeds. It will be hard to beat.

Finally, as all of these things usually do, it will come down to Larson’s own personality and willingness to do publicity. The easygoing, accessible Larson is a charmer. True, she will be going up against the Queen of Charm, Jennifer Lawrence herself, and Blanchett, who’s no slouch in that department either, but Larson can hold her own as one of the most promising up and coming young actresses who’s nearly being wasted by Big Hollywood at the moment.

This also helps the supporting actress contender Joan Allen, and screenwriter Emma Donoghue, and of course, director Lenny Abrahmson.

Best Actress is shaping up like this:
Brie Larson, Room
Cate Blanchett, Truth or Carol
Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Lily Tomlin, Grandma
Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
Marion Cotillard, Macbeth

Coming Soon:
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Jennifer Lawrence will have to be factored in somewhere.

Either way, the team working on Room will be having a very happy day today. They now know they have the goods to go all the way, certainly to Best Actress but no one can rule out winning Best Picture or Best Director either. Just saying.


It was a bit of a surprise that Lenny Abrahamson’s tearjerker, Room, took the audience prize at Toronto. Then again, it did receive a standing ovation. Room was extremely well received at Telluride as well, even with all of the competition there. It was the one film, other than Spotlight, that virtually everyone seemed able to agree upon. One of the things A24 has done really well with Room is keep what it’s really about on the down low. Everyone already knows it’s about a young woman being held captive by a rapist and trying to be a mother and raising a young son. But that is really just the premise. Room is about a lot of things that I won’t spoil for you here except to say that ultimately I think it’s about parenting and what a child can call home. It’s a heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting film and easily one of the best of the year so far. Big congratulations to all involved.  Six out of the last seven winners of the audience award at TIFF have gone on to be nominated for Best Picture.  The last one to win was 12 Years a Slave.


How do I think the year is shaping up so far? We have two big influential festivals left — the New York Film Fest (beginning next week) and the AFI fest, which takes shape later in the year. Both festivals are very good ways to launch films into the Oscar race, the main difference being you have much grouchier critics in New York than you do at AFI. There tends to be a trend of mostly going negative on films out of NYFF — especially when they are being held up to the light to examine whether they will be Best Picture contenders or not. Probably nothing new has happened in the awards cycle in recent years other than the notion of having people like me go to see films and evaluate their Oscar prospects. This is wrong in many ways. Movies should be evaluated on the basis of whether they are good or not, not whether the consensus in Hollywood will reward them.

Either way, I’m not going to stick to films I have seen to predict because that did not serve me well last year. I find I am much better at predicting consensus picks if I haven’t yet seen them. So here we go — following Anne Thompson’s basic model for grouping the contenders.

Right now, I feel as though there is no consensus. Of course, there can’t be. There are only two that form. The first is comprised of film critics. The second is comprised of industry voters. Rarely the twain shall meet. We don’t know what is going to land where at the moment but this is how I see things here in late September of 2015.

I feel like I had a better grasp on things last year. You can see those predictions here.

Best Picture

Frontrunners seen by me: 
1. Spotlight
2. Steve Jobs
3. Beasts of No Nation
4. Carol
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Love & Mercy
7. Youth
8. Inside Out
9. Black Mass
10. Room
11. Sicario

Seen by others, likely bets:
The Martian
Son of Saul
The Danish Girl

Still to come:
The Hateful Eight
Bridge of Spies
Star Wars
In the Heart of the Sea
The Walk

1. Spotlight
2. The Revenant
3. Steve Jobs
4. Beasts of No Nation
5. Carol
6. Brooklyn
7. The Hateful Eight
8. Joy
9. Bridge of Spies
10. Youth

Strong Contenders:
45 Years
Mad Max: Fury Road
Love & Mercy

Best Director

Frontrunners seen by me:
1. Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
2. Cary Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation
3. Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs
4. Todd Haynes, Carol
5. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Paolo Sorrentino, Youth
7. Lenny Abrahmson, Room
8. Scott Cooper, Black Mass

Seen by others, strong bets:
Tom Hooper, The Danish Girl
John Crowley, Brooklyn
Lazlo Nemes, Son of Saul

Still to come

Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies
David O. Russell, Joy
JJ Abrams, Star Wars
Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight
Ron Howard, In the Heart of the Sea
Robert Zemeckis, The Walk

1. Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
2. Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
3. Cary Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation
4. Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs
5. Todd Haynes, Carol
alt. Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies or David O. Russell, Joy or Quentin Tarantino, Hateful Eight

Best Actor
Frontrunners I’ve seen:
1. Johnny Depp, Black Mass
2 Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
3. Michael Caine, Youth
4. Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation
5. Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
6. John Cusack, Love & Mercy
7. Tobey Maguire, Pawn Sacrifice
8. Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes
9. Jacob Tremblay, Room
10. Jesse Eisenberg, The End of the Tour

Others have seen, strong contenders:
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Tom Hardy, Legend
Jake Gyllenhaal, Demolition and Southpaw
Michael Fassbender, Macbeth

Still to come:
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Walk
Michael B. Jordan, Creed

1. Johnny Depp, Black Mass
2. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
3. Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
4. Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
5. Michael Caine, Youth

Supporting Actor
Frontrunners I’ve seen:
1. Harvey Keitel, Youth
2. Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
3. Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
4. Michael Keaton, Spotlight
5. Robert Redford, Truth
6  Jason Segel, The End of the Tour
7. Tom Courtenay, 45 Years
8. Joel Edgerton, Black Mass
9. Jason Segel, The End of the Tour
10. Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina

Still to come:
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Robert De Niro, Joy
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

1. Harvey Keitel, Youth
2. Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
3. Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
4. Michael Keaton, Spotlight
5. Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Best Actress

Frontrunners I’ve seen:
1. Cate Blanchett, Truth
2. Brie Larson, Room
3. Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
4. Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
5. Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Lily Tomlin, Grandma
7. Juliette Binoche, The Clouds of Sils Maria
8. Blythe Danner, I’ll See you in my Dreams

Others have seen/Strong contenders
Maggie Smith, The Lady in the Van
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Marion Cotillard, Macbeth

Still to come:
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

1. Cate Blanchett, Truth or Carol
2. Brie Larson, Room
3. Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
4. Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
5. Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Supporting Actress

Frontrunners I’ve seen:
1. Rooney Mara, Carol
2. Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy
3. Jane Fonda, Youth
4. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
5. Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria
6. Ann-Marie Duff, Suffragette
7. Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Still to come
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Jessica Chastain, The Martian
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Amy Ryan, Bridge of Spies


1. Rooney Mara, Carol
2. Jane Fonda, Youth
3. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
4. Jessica Chastain, The Martian
5. Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl; Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy or Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria

Adapted screenplay

Frontrunners I’ve seen:
1. Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs
2. Phyllis Nagy, Carol
3. Cary Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation
4. Andrew Haigh, 45 Years
5. Emma O’Donoghue, Room

Still to come:
Nick Hornby, Brooklyn
Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen, Bridge of Spies

1. Steve Jobs
2. Carol
3. Beast of No Nation
4. Brooklyn
5. Bridge of Spies

Original screenplay

Frontrunners I’ve seen:
1. Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight
2. Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Inside Out
3. Abi Morgan, Suffragette
4. Paul Weitz, Grandma
5. Oren Movermen, Michael A. Lerner, Love & Mercy
6. Alex Garland, Ex Machina

Still to come:
Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson, Anomalisa
Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight

1. Spotlight
2. Inside Out
3. Anomalisa
4. The Hateful Eight
5. Grandma

Random predictions

Best animated feature film of the year
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
The Good Dinosaur

Achievement in cinematography
1. The Revenant
2. The Hateful Eight
3. In the Heart of the Sea
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
5. The Danish Girl

Achievement in costume design
1. Carol
2. Suffragette
3. Cinderella
4. The Danish Girl
5. The Hateful Eight

Best documentary feature
1. Time to Choose
2. Going Clear
3. What Happened, Miss Simone?
4. Winter on Fire
5. The Look of Silence

Achievement in film editing
1. The Revenant
2. Spotlight
3. Mad Max
4. Steve Jobs
5. Bridge of Spies

Best foreign language film of the year
The Assassin (Taiwan)
The Second Mother (Brazil)
Son of Saul (Hungary)
Dheepan (France)
Labyrinth of Lies (Germany

Achievement in production design
The Revenant
Bridge of Spies
The Martian
Star Wars

Achievement in sound editing
The Revenant
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
Inside Out
Star Wars

Achievement in sound mixing
Star Wars
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
Son of Saul
The Hateful Eight

Achievement in visual effects

Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars
Jurassic World*
In the Heart of the Sea

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The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg has been busy covering the awards race, the Toronto Film Festival and the Emmys. But he’s taken time out to cast aspersions on the new James Vanderbilt film, Truth.

Feinberg says he feels an affection and allegiance toward 60 Minutes because he once toured the studio when he was in Junior High, thanks to a family connection. This is part of his explanation for why he felt it necessary, before Truth has even opened, to launch the first of what is sure to be many assaults on the film from the right — and apparently from the left as well.

This is how it goes now. Too many people covering this race, too many people trying to claim a slice of the pie, and before long every daring and provocative movie is savaged and attacked until there is nothing left but the most blandly inoffensive films — because no one can complain about them. Usually, though, this sort of thing happens a little later in the game. Truth, after all, hasn’t even been reviewed by any major outlets. But apparently it is not too soon for the Hollywood Reporter.

Truth tells Mary Mapes’ own first-hand account of events — thus, it is obviously told from her point of view. Feinberg appears to be objecting to the (deserved) skewering 60 Minutes got by not even remotely standing by its reporter. Choosing instead to kowtow to extreme right-wing bloggers who claimed that Mapes was using falsified documents to try to smear Dubya Bush on the eve of his re-election. It should be noted, the story of Bush’s cushy play-date assignment in Texas during the Vietnam war is a fact that remains a fact, even if one piece of evidence cannot be substantiated.

The truth of it is that Mapes had been working on this story for five years prior to the airing of the 60 Minutes segment, which is proof in itself that the story existed with or without the questionable documents. She had two sources do an about face when the shit came down because they were — say it with me now — pressured to do so. Yes, this was a mistake. CBS should probably not have run with the story. But what happened afterward, how Mary Mapes was subsequently treated, how 60 Minutes reacted and made her the scapegoat, is what Truth is ultimately about.

Imagine if Ben Bradlee had bowed to the pressure coming down from the White House while The Washington Post was investigating and reporting on Watergate. Imagine if when Woodward and Bernstein made one mistake (which they do in the film) Bradlee had listened to hysterical extremist bloggers and shut the whole thing down. Worse, what if the Post had assembled a conservative panel to “investigate” the reporters? Imagine if Bradlee has been as weak-willed as the producers at 60 Minutes and fired everyone involved to cover their asses? Yeah, imagine that.

When we see Carl Bernstein verifying names, he needs to have one person he’s calling simply hang up before he finishes counting. That is how he vets the story. Bob Woodward is relying on information from a guy who won’t go on record and calls himself Deep Throat. They were being stalked by thugs from the Nixon administration. Their phones were being tapped. But they had two things on their side: the truth and Ben Bradlee. Mapes had only one thing on her side, the truth. What did she have against her? The internet and all that it has done to help kill journalism in every way imaginable. This story of Mapes and Rather can, in fact, be seen as the final death rattle.

Now imagine 60 Minutes standing behind Mapes and Rather. Imagine them taking a brave stand and working with their reporters to find out if the story really was true or not — let’s say, giving Mapes the benefit of the doubt. Who knows what they might have uncovered. You see, mistakes are made in investigative journalism. The question that needed to be asked was: is the story true? That is what Woodstein believed and why they kept searching for more. If you cut the story off at the first mistake? Well, how can you ever get to the truth?

Or, as this piece in New York Magazine says better:

Unfortunately, in the new world of media, they might have to. Unlike other recent media scandals—Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, USA Today’s Jack Kelly—in which star reporters spent years weaving fake narratives out of whole cloth, the CBS document mess rests ultimately on a mistake, a source who lied, danger signs that were foolishly ignored. Thanks, however, in no small part to CBS’s uniquely favored position as conservatives’ most-hated network, and Dan Rather’s even more distinctive claim to being the right’s most-hated newscaster and unquestionably the oddest duck of the three network anchors, the fact that it is a mistake at the root of the scandal has given CBS not an ounce of reprieve. Which is too bad for Rather and CBS, but maybe worse for investigative reporting. If it has taught the public anything, it might be that the new standard for the media is one in which mistakes are as bad as lies. It is a standard that investigative reporting might find ever harder to live up to, until it is finally swept off the field by the ever-rising tide of commentary, risk-free and mistake-proof.

We’re all about noise these days. Outrage is consumed like Starbucks, then tossed the next day in favor of another outrage. It all becomes so much noise that the original story gets lost in the details. And people who seek to manipulate the media narrative know this all too well.

Mapes eventually endured the modern day equivalent of a witch being burned — cast her out and you cast out all evil in the village! It was a savage witch burning that needed to obliterate her good reputation and all the fine stories she’d already done, and guaranteed that she would never work in network news again.

No one, including Feinberg, bothers to ask: were the memos real? More importantly, is the underlying story still true, even if some of the memos could not be substantiated

That’s the question people should be asking. Mary Mapes vetted the story with two different people, both of whom later reversed their original statements — under duress. Everything else was just wild speculation. She was a good enough reporter to make sure the story was right before it went on the air.

Scott Feinberg says if you go at the King you can’t miss. He says Mapes missed. I say, bullshit. The deceptions spun by the Bush administration and the people who surrounded him make what Nixon did seem like child’s play. This was a coordinated attack. The message then becomes don’t go after the King if his name is Bush because he will go after you. And they have the power to make sure you lose everything.

We see in Truth a precarious situation that became too big to ignore. Once doubt was cast on the documents, and Mapes by association, there was no putting the toothpaste back in the tube even though they DID prove both by logical common sense (who would have forged these documents at that level of detail only to then type them up on a computer), and then by discovering that a superscript “th” was a typical peculiarity frequently found on typewritten documents at the time.

Scott tries to explain why he feels CBS is treated unfairly in the film. I hope we can agree, 60 Minutes doesn’t come across too well in The Insider either, but isn’t it good that Michael Mann made that movie? It’s been 11 years since “Rather-gate.” There’s no new Bush who can interfere with our conversation now. So let’s have one.

60 Minutes had already long ago tarnished its reputation with the Big Tobacco story. Once you cross that line — that line that says profit matters over everything else? There’s really no going back.

“None of this is the fault of the actors,” Feinberg reassures us at the end of his piece. No kidding. In fact, it’s to the credit of the actors, the director, and to Mary Mapes herself that they have tackled the task of telling the other side of this story, a story they knew would get their integrity targeted all over again.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 9.21.13 AM

Steven Spielberg is one of those directors whose thumbprint is immediately recognizable. Always such beautiful work. Second trailer!

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 9.19.56 AM

Just hearing Fassbender talking in this trailer makes me want to see this movie again. In fact, the writing is so good it’s the kind of movie one commits to memory.  Trailer #2!

They asked me how I knew
My true love was true
I of course replied
Something here inside cannot be denied
They said “someday you’ll find all who love are blind”
When your heart’s on fire,
You must realize, smoke gets in your eyes
So I chaffed them and I gaily laughed
To think they could doubt my love
Yet today my love has flown away,
I am without my love (without my love)
Now laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide
So I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes
Smoke gets in your eyes

Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years is one of those films that tells the truth about the human experience. It does it in such a pointed yet subtle way, you might find yourself unprepared for how moving it ultimately is. 45 Years is like perfume that clings to a scarf locked away in a drawer, and when pulled out the again the scent is so familiar, so uncomfortably captivating you can do nothing but surrender to all that it recalls. What we keep from our past tells us who we are as we age. What meant enough to us for us to record, photograph, store in boxes is all we have, really, when the door begins to close on our lives.

The role of Kate Mercer seems to have been written for the film’s star, Charlotte Rampling, whose emotional journey as she discovers more about her husband Geoff (an excellent Tom Courtenay) than she really ever needed to know. It’s written on her face — a legendary face now worn with age and time.  This is not a woman who lived out loud. This is a woman who came to her marriage with very limited experience. She was young, she was beautiful and she loved only one man who took her from her father’s house and spent the next 45 years as her husband.


As the couple head for their 45th anniversary party, a long buried secret is revealed. The body of the husband’s former girlfriend, or perhaps wife, “Katya” has been found. She’d fallen into an icy crevasse while the couple was hiking and died there. Whatever dreams Geoff once had with her died there too. He went on with his life as best he could; then met and married Kate. That we’re dealing with a “Katya” and a “Kate” probably tells you more than you should know walking into this fine, fine film.  It was based on a short story by David Constantine which laid down the framework for what would become a much bigger — yet still somehow quite “small” — story.

The suspense in the movie is wrapped up in the expressions on the couple’s faces as they work through their daily routine — the quiet of their childless lives, with only dogs and each other for comfort. He goes to work. She takes walks. They see friends. They eat dinner together. They brush their teeth and make a good attempt at making love. It is a perfectly fine life.  Most of us don’t sign up for perfectly fine lives, though, do we? We are aching for true love, if it exists.

Watching Rampling go through the business of living, all the while pondering what might be going on with her husband once the news of “Katya” emerges. After the news, he seems almost like a different person. She suddenly notices that there aren’t any photographs of them around, and none of her. She talks of wishing they’d captured more memories. He talks about rhow beautiful she once was. But with no photographs to remember those times, they are stuck with the present and all that it brings in the too quiet late, late nights in the countryside.

Rampling is exquisite in the part of Kate. Funnily enough, it might be the performance of the year for any actress. Is it showy enough? Is it too subtle? Those will be the questions people ask when it comes to the Oscar race.  None of that means anything, of course. Not in the real world of how art can move us so powerfully we leave the film changed. As beautiful as the past images Rampling conjures in our mind’s eye, this somehow seems the exact right moment when she is at her most beautiful. Her kindness and generosity towards her husband, her sudden realization of how he sees her — are astonishing.

That is what is most heartbreaking  about 45 Years. We all throw ourselves into love to be seen. We aren’t really the sum total of our memories, or photographs of who we once were. Kate is a knockout still, 45 years after her husband said she was one. How can we ever know we are really being seen? We hope that when the time comes to pay tribute — when they ask us how we knew our true love was true? We will get the answer.



Two years ago, Kyle Buchanan saw 12 Years a Slave and declared it the Oscar frontrunner. From that point on, the film mostly had a target on its back but more from the critics than anyone else. Most who saw Spotlight in Telluride agreed that it was the one movie no one had anything negative to say about (The Artist, Argo, The King’s Speech) and really seemed to have the solid stuff a nominee needs to get into the major categories. But I’d say Buchanan is the first to declare it the actual “frontrunner,” a label I’m sure the film would rather not have if they actually want to win. The second it gets proclaimed as such, the rumblings begin. Is it really that good? It’s not that good. Really? That’s going to win Best Picture? The thing about 12 Years is that it almost didn’t win. It wouldn’t have been Buchanan’s fault then, nor would it be his fault now, for proclaiming it in the position many already thought it was anyway. It’s just the nature of the Oscar race. Buchanan is too smart to declare a movie no one has seen the “frontrunner.” It can’t be, not logically. You’ll see people predicting movies like that to win – last year and this year but truly there is no THERE there until people have seen the movie. That’s why Buchanan’s declaration holds water.

Says Buchanan:

Well, today we got a Best Picture front-runner, but it’s the furthest thing from noisy — in fact, this modest drama is probably the quietest film to lead the Oscar pack since The Artist. The stealth pacesetter I’m talking about is Spotlight (starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams), which debuted at the Toronto Film Festival today after acclaimed bows at Venice and Telluride. There are still a handful of movies left to screen this season that could make a convincing case for Best Picture, but they’ll now have to steal the spotlight from … well, you know.

I think he’s referring to The Revenant here.  He goes on to say:

More prizes will surely be bestowed once Spotlight comes out in November. Boy, is this movie good. It’s not a showy, bombastic picture — it has that in common with the journalists it portrays, who are mostly concerned with ducking their heads down and doing the work — but it’s so assured, so deft, and so satisfying that I think it’s destined to go far with Oscar voters of just about every demographic. The Academy has made daring picks for Best Picture over the past two years, anointing the tough, arty 12 Years a Slave and the wordy Birdman, but I think voters are yearning to return to something conventional, and Spotlight’s got a down-the-middle, perfectly executed pitch they’ll find hard to resist. It also has the sort of social significance that Oscar voters like from their Best Picture winner: You can pat your back for putting it on your ballot.

As a riveting procedural story, I’ve seen Spotlight compared to films like Zodiac and All the President’s Men, but the more instructive example for Oscar voters will be Argo, another well-engineered, fact-based drama that eventually became the Academy’s consensus pick for Best Picture. Plenty of Oscar voters will give Spotlight their No. 1 spot, but this audience-pleaser is sure to collect just about everybody else’s No. 2 votes, and that may be crucial in a year where several of the biggest movies yet to screen, like Joy and The Revenant, come from some of our most polarizing auteurs.

A couple of things worth noting. 1) procedurals don’t win Best Picture, hardly ever. Even the best of them, All the President’s Men lost to Rocky. Zodiac was snubbed completely. 2) Argo didn’t win because of the Iran stuff. It won because of the combination of Ben Affleck’s star on the rise and the funny Hollywood stuff. Let’s face it, the Iran stuff was awkward and clumsy.  Spotlight is not funny. It is not insider Hollywood and it doesn’t have Ben Affleck at the helm. It is similar to Argo in that it is understated and the film “everyone liked” at Telluride. Argo, though, is uplifting and positive at the end. Spotlight is more subtle, more contemplative and certainly not formidable, I don’t think, enough to withstand Oscar season hype if it goes in as the frontrunner.

The reason is simple. People saw Spotlight at Telluride and Toronto with a limited amount of buzz. It was the underdog going in, not the top heavy frontrunner. Once it takes that position, people almost immediately start looking for flaws and alternatives. Just look at Hillary Clinton.

12 Years a Slave became almost the enemy of film critics and didn’t win a single award from them. The film’s director, Steve McQueen, was routinely losing to Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity. They tied for the Producers Guild. Cuaron won the Directors Guild and American Hustle won the SAG. 12 Years became the rare film to take Best Picture by only winning 1/2 of the PGA heading into the race. Has that ever happened? No. The last time a film won Best Picture without taking the DGA or the SAG?  Braveheart did it after onlly winning the Eddie and the WGA. Crash had only won the SAG. That made 12 Years winning a long shot. Some of the best predictors in the Oscar business were predicting Gravity by the end.

Michael Rezendes, Ben Bradlee Jr., Sacha Pfeiffer, Walter Robinson, Martin Baron and Matt Carroll seen at Open Road Films 'Spotlight' Premiere at 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on Monday, September 14, 2015, in Toronto, CAN. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Open Road Films/AP Images)
Michael Rezendes, Ben Bradlee Jr., Sacha Pfeiffer, Walter Robinson, Martin Baron and Matt Carroll seen at Open Road Films ‘Spotlight’ Premiere at 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on Monday, September 14, 2015, in Toronto, CAN. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Open Road Films/AP Images)

No one can say for sure whether naming 12 Years the frontrunner in September made it take such a hard fall with resentful critics. After all, despite it coming in as the best reviewed film of the year there was the whole “white guilt” factor involved. Such is not the case with Spotlight. Still, that’s a lot of pressure. The film could be like The Artist and just slide on in home, winning critics awards and the major guilds and Oscar. It could have no competition, like The Artist. But remember, there is a big difference between those two movies. The Artist was that quirky charmer that could melt anyone’s heart. Spotlight is a very very good film along the lines of Michael Mann’s The Insider but it’s not the kind of film that makes someone turn on their heart light like The Artist. And there is no little dog running around doing tricks either.

It’s hard to disagree with Buchanan right now, though. There was no better received film at Telluride or Toronto as Spotlight, which emerged as almost everyone’s favorite. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Still, the old timer in me puckers a little when I hear that word so early. It always makes me worry. There are many movies still to come. History tells us that they won’t have enough time to develop that kind of consensus. The consensus for Spotlight is already building. It started at Telluride and continued at Toronto and is building as we speak. Even if people are thinking The Revenant might steal the prize at the last minute, a consensus vote accumulates over months and months of word of mouth, discussions at parties, and that unnamable magic that happens between people when one idea starts to spread.

Pictures from the premiere of Spotlight.


And it’s a good one. Can Netflix break into the Oscar game?



Becoming a Best Picture frontrunner means fighting off continual attacks that will either sink it (Boyhood) or fail to sink it (12 Years a Slave). The season is currently enjoying the exceptional brief moment of talking about how good the movies are as opposed to whether or not they can or will win an Oscar. Those outside the normative circle include Son of Saul, a Hungarian film; Anomalisa, a puppet sex movie; Beasts of No Nation; distributed by Netflix. Just because they don’t fit the Oscar norm isn’t stopping people talking about them and that’s pretty great.

Coming out of Cannes, there was no frontrunner. Coming out of Venice, still no frontrunner. Coming out of Telluride it looks like maybe two to beat launched there: Spotlight and Steve Jobs. But calling either of them frontrunners is premature. Spotlight has the advantage of being the film nobody hated and everyone liked. Steve Jobs was the one people reacted to more ecstatically. Beasts of No Nation hit big among those of us who love it, but not in the consensus building “everybody loved it” kind of way. Truth is the new highlight launched out of Toronto. If it wins, it will be the first time since The Hurt Locker that a Toronto Fest film won Best Picture. Most are saying, though, that the frontrunner, if there is one, has not yet been seen.

The 2016 Oscars already seem more competitive and livelier than last year’s, with films coming from wide and far, encompassing diverse subjects, from a woman saving mankind from extinction during the apocalypse, gay rights in the 1950s, the Catholic Church covering up sex abuse in the 1990s, a man who changed the way Americans used computers and phones, a child soldier somewhere in Africa trying to cling to what remains of his humanity, a young girl entering adulthood in Brooklyn, women risking everything to fight for the right to vote, a madman in the Irish mob in Boston who evades the authorities for decades, and the way our very own government silenced our press, and our freedom of speech.

All of this before we even get to the Big Oscar Movies in a matter of weeks. A major one is about to drop when the New York Film Festival rolls out its selections on September 25th. After that, we’ll await the characters and subjects we have coming — which include a man fighting for survival in the deep snow-choked woods, a woman inventing the Miracle Mop, a crew of lost souls with guns fighting it out in a cabin in a blizzard, an unlikely hero caught up in machinations to free an American pilot during the Cold War, a couple who may or may not have lost their love for each other.

When looking at Best Director, this year is driven by some well-known names and some who aren’t well known. The best directors this year are visionaries, no doubt about it. Some have the good fortune to be able to make the kind of films they want every year. Some are just breaking through. A well-known director can often be the difference between which film eventually becomes the frontrunner. It isn’t just a matter of whether they “like” the movie or not. They have to admire, like and in some cases, remain in awe of the director.

Let’s take a look at this year’s slate of directors and their films and/or Oscar backgrounds. These names may very well be among those strongly considered for Best Director. (A word on women and other minorities — of course, breaking through is near impossible. In the case of a film like Suffragette, the name of the director isn’t going to mean as much, at least not yet.) Other directors will share the same problem. Room’s Lenny Abrahamson, Black Mass’ Scott Cooper, Truth’s James Vanderbilt, Spotlight’s Tom McCarthy, Brooklyn’s John Crowley. They are building a name for themselves and, with the help of the best publicists in the business, will be quite well known by the end of the season. Women are going to have it much harder, always. That goes without saying.

Still, here are the directors we think have the most heat heading into the season.


Alejandro G. Inarritu for The Revenant. No pressure, just the most highly-anticipated film of the year. Inarritu had The Revenant in mind before making Birdman and just happened to win Best Picture in the interim, much to his complete surprise. Whatever is behind his drive to make this film translates to an artist whose Oscar win certainly didn’t quell his desire to reach higher and farther. Inarritu won three Oscars last year for Birdman — for writing, producing and directing. He was previously nominated for Picture and Director for Babel. He set the world on fire with his debut, Amores Perros. He’s not a director who seems to care about commercial success. He’s an artist, all the way. He’s been given a lot of money to make The Revenant. The pressure is unbelievably high this time around. The expectations are off the charts. The buzz is already palpable. The only question that remains is whether the film can manage to live up to those heightened expectations. It’s coming in under the wire and will have to be that good to catch up to whatever the winning film already is heading into the Producers Guild awards. If it hits, it hits big.


Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies. You can’t ignore a man who has been nominated seven times for Best Director, and Best Picture eight times. Both of his last two films were nominated for Best Picture using the current system for balloting in that category. Spielberg is an American treasure who shows no signs of slowing down. His enthusiasm for film has a wide reach. He makes art films, general audience films, children’s films, war films — he loves making movies and his love is contagious. Spielberg has less to prove now in the autumn of his career and is enjoying himself more. His films always make money and he always brings them in under budget. If he wins one more Oscar for directing, he will join the very elite group of film directors to win more than two — John Ford, William Wyler and Frank Capra. The pressure on Spielberg is less than others on this list because he has such a strong fan base even if the film isn’t a typical “Oscar movie” we know it’s going to be a fine film anyway because he just flat out knows how to direct. He’s been doing it long enough and well enough that he is just a master at the top of his game.


Cary Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation. If an auteur has emerged this season it has to be Fukanaga who has surprised everyone with his fearsome war epic. Seen by some as a tough sit, passed over by every studio until Netflix picked it up, Beasts is the kind of exceptional cinema that comes along once in a decade maybe. Whether Hollywood is going to put him on top of the A List or not is still a question mark. There should be little doubt of what he can do after True Detective and now, Beasts of No Nation. They should be throwing money and contracts at the guy. Either way, from where I sit, Beasts towers over every other film I’ve seen this year, though I haven’t seen many and certainly not the films coming up. The degree of Beasts popularity will rest entirely on Fukunaga’s growing cred. He’s good. Really good.


Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs. Boyle has only won a single Oscar for directing Slumdog Millionaire, and it took him a while to get there. He’s always been known for dazzling and bizarrely dark films like Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. He does not limit himself to a genre, however, and is a nimble director who took on 127 Hours, Millions, Sunshine and even Trance. It’s always interesting to see what he’s chosen to do with each new project he takes on. With Steve Jobs, it’s high theater of the Sorkin kind. Primarily taking place in surreal backstage setups, Boyle pins Fassbender down for every flicker of the eyebrow. He seems more willing in this film to give his actors free reign over the territory in service of that off-the-charts mind-blowing Aaron Sorkin screenplay. The challenge for Steve Jobs will be getting Boyle’s style to stand out amid all of that dialogue. It’s hard to watch the film and not think: Sorkin. But if you look close enough you’ll see the Boyle flourishes throughout.


Todd Haynes, Carol – Haynes is the best director working in Hollywood who has so far gone completely unrecognized by the Academy. They did not acknowledge him for I’m Not There — his impressionist’s take on Bob Dylan; nor for Far From Heaven, the story of a woman married to a gay man who finds true love with a black man; nor for Safe, starring Julianne Moore as a woman physically and emotionally overwhelmed by modern life. With Carol, he has probably made his most Academy friendly film to date, one that will reach beyond “queer cinema” to general audiences. Carol involves two women falling in love at a time when they were forbidden from living openly as lesbians. It is more than that, though. It is a coming-of-age film for both characters for different reasons. Haynes is at his best working with strong, complicated, broken heroines. His work with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara gracefully illustrates that.


Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight – Tarantino has invented his own film language by drawing upon his own love and immersion in genre films throughout his life and his ever-growing talent behind the camera. Tarantino’s writing is one thing. It is the dead giveaway to whose film you’re watching. But where he really soars is as a director. Therefore, a reading of the script for The Hateful Eight simply won’t do. Why we return to Tarantino again and again are those beautiful shots, the building of suspense, the unpredictable twists and turns of the characters involved. There is a reason why Tarantino’s films get nominated for Best Picture. He’s been to the big show only twice as a director but three times as a writer, and winning two out of three of those. Tarantino and Kurt Russell though? What a match made in heaven. Whatever people think they’re going to see with The Hateful Eight, history tells us two thing. 1) it’s more likely to get nominated than not, and 2) it’s going to be better than anyone expects it to be.


David O. Russell, Joy – here is probably the director most overdue for a win of the bunch. David O. Russell has been nominated for directing three times and writing twice from 2011 to 2014. He has yet to win a single Oscar. He has found his good luck charm in Jennifer Lawrence, who starred in two of those films. Now, she’s finally earned enough clout to have the whole movie be about her. With a long and expansive career behind him, Russell has keyed in to the thing he does best with Lawrence as his muse: working with actresses like her who can be funny and tragic all at once. He’s due for a win and Joy could be the movie that at last that puts him over.


Tom McCarthy, Spotlight – McCarthy is one of those hard working indie directors who emerge without much fanfare. His films, like The Visitor and Win Win, have been appreciated but not widely seen nor Oscar nominated. Spotlight should put him on the map.


George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature with Happy Feet. He was also nominated for writing and producing Babe. Before that, he was nominated for writing Lorenzo’s Oil. That tells us the Academy likes Miller best when he’s softer, not as hard core as he is with Mad Max. On the other hand, everyone loves a comeback and no one expected this film to become one of the best films of the year. Miller’s name lends the cred to get both him and the film nominated. It will just depend on what’s coming next.


Tom Hooper, The Danish Girl. Hooper has only made a handful of features but his last two have been Best Picture nominated and one of them beat The Social Network. Clearly, this is a guy the Academy and the industry really like. The reviews for the Danish Girl have been mixed out of Venice and Toronto, with the film inspiring a love it/hate it reaction. But Hooper’ stature is enough to get the film seen and could be enough to get it in for Best Picture, no matter what the critics think of it. Time will tell how the film plays with industry voters, but one thing we know for sure — they aren’t critics.

Other directors to watch out for include Laszlo Nemes
Son of Saul, Lenny Abramson for Room, Angelina Jolie for Beyond the Sea, Paolo Sorrentino for Youth, Sarah Gavron for Suffragette, Robert Zemeckis for The Walk, Ridley Scott for The Martian, Scott Cooper for Black Mass.

We know that, all things considered, Best Picture is still director driven, whether that leads to a win or not. Because there are more than five Best Picture nominees, films that aren’t director-driven can make it into the race because of the actors branch, for instance, or the producers or whomever it was that rammed Selma through last year with less apparent support from the major core branches. Still, when we talk about Best Picture we are still talking about Best Director, Ben Affleck not withstanding.


It’s hard to suss out what is real and what isn’t if you’re sitting at home reading the tweets and reviews coming out of the Toronto film festival. The Oscar word is getting thrown around a lot. That happens every year. Whether or not any of it will hold water won’t be known until those titles start showing up in other places, like other awards shows. Given that, what films and performances are doing well in Toronto that didn’t play Cannes, Venice or Telluride?

  1. Truth – somehow this movie headed for TIFF with muted buzz, or no buzz. Actually, that’s the best way to go to any festival. You really don’t want the opposite. There is genuine buzz for Truth, whether it’s “Oscar buzz” or not matters less (who can really say for sure what is and isn’t) than just plain old fashioned buzz: is it a good movie? YES. Cate Blanchett’s performance is noteworthy – on par with her work in Carol. Robert Redford eyes a potential Supporting Actor win (his first ever acting Oscar).  All of this is very good news for Truth, even if it will be competing with another film about journalism that has done even better, Spotlight.
  2. The Martian – Like Truth, it isn’t “Oscar bait” but it is well liked and people are kind of raving about it. I listen less when people say “it’s not an Oscar movie” than I do when they say how much they liked the film. That is always the thing to listen to. Believe it or not most people aren’t really Oscar experts. Even the best Oscar experts can be wrong. One thing that is never wrong, though, is a lot of people liking a movie. That gets you love from all of the branches. It’s hard to say whether Matt Damon himself could be in contention but if enough people like the movie that’s all it takes, really.
  3. Bryan Cranston in Trumbo has hit its target and puts Cranston squarely in the Best Actor race. Even if people were kind of negative on the film overall – some saying they were “underwhelmed” — my least favorite film criticism 2.0 term next to “overrated” — Cranston gives the right performance needed to be in the conversation, as they say. His spot was being held already and this just confirms it.
  4. Michael Moore enters the race big time with Where to Invade Next. There isn’t another documentarian like Moore. He is almost a performance artist in the way he rolls out a movie, how he inserts himself into the narrative and how the movie ultimately plays. He is one of a kind in this respect. He’s also quite popular in the doc branch at the Academy. All in all, he took Toronto by storm.
  5. Sandra Bullock in Our Brand is Crisis – again, kind of a mixed reaction to negative on the film itself but high marks all around for Bullock, who enters the Best Actress race. It was probably met with the curse of high  expectations — which might have been the problem but nevertheless, Bullock can carry a movie and her movies make money. With George Clooney by her side in the producer’s chair and the gender switch, Bullock is one of the performances out of TIFF that has popped.


  1. Emily Blunt better than expected in Sicario –  Sicario played Cannes, but it’s worth noting that her performance seems to have popped up in Toronto where it didn’t as much in Cannes, for whatever reason.  Blunt’s biggest problem is that hers is not a big enough part because it’s kind of overshadowed by Benicio Del Toro. Were that not the case, she would be among the strongest contenders for Best Actress right now. Still, I think her TIFF buzz has caught fire.
  2. Anomalisa – the reason being it won in Venice and is now wowing in TIFF. It did well at Telluride, no doubt about it but it wasn’t seen by enough people. Now it is getting lots of attention up in Toronto. Still has no distributor as of yet but someone should snatch it up immediately.  It will do really well, based on the graphic puppet sex alone.
  3. Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl – while more intel is needed on the film overall, one thing seems certain: everyone is wowed by Ex Machina star Alicia Vikander aka the most perfect woman god ever created.  It’s hard to say where the film will land. Not cool enough for the cool kids, already burdened with the term “Oscar bait” but it’s like Anne Thompson always says. How do you build Best Picture? Branch by branch. Looks to me like the Danish Girl has the branches sewn up from the top down.

More Intel Needed

Tom Hiddleston in the Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light seemed to draw a kind of tepid response. In a different year his performance might be one to reckon with — in a competitive year like this it seems like he has no shot.

Holding Steady

TIFF confirms that the Telluride or Venice hits like Beasts of No Nation, The Danish Girl, Youth, Black Mass, are also playing well, at least so far, to the more populist crowds Toronto. Will report back on that once the fest comes to a close.



Boy Soldier

What a smile! One large lamp for a face,
smaller lanterns where skin stretches over
bones waiting for muscle, body all angles.
His Kalashnikov fires at each moving
thing before he knows what he drags
down. He halts movement of every
kind and fails to weigh whom he stops
dead or maims, his bullets
like jabs thrown before the thought
to throw them, involuntary shudders
when someone, somewhere, steps over
his shallow, unmarked, mass grave.
But his smile remains undimmed,
inviting, not knowing what hit him,
what snuffs out the wicks in his eyes.
Except that he moves and a face just like
his figures like him to stop all action
with a flick of finger on the trigger. —Fred D’Aguiar

The violence in Cary Fukunaga’s exquisite Beasts of No Nation is graphic. But so is its purity of heart. In America, young white boys are told that the world owes them something just by virtue of their being born. Once they become teenagers it starts to dawn on them that this plan isn’t going to work out. Their lives haven’t lived up to the promise of the American dream, of all of the animated and live action films aimed at them that reinforce the idea that they are special, that they matter. Most of them just go on to live their unadorned lives anyway. Some of them pick up a weapon and shoot people before taking their own lives. Contrast that bizarre, aberrant phenomena with child soldiers in Africa and other places where boys are given no other choice but to pick up a weapon and start shooting people. That’s if they’re lucky. That’s if they aren’t killed first.

Written, directed and filmed by wunderkind Cary Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation lasts 133 minutes and throughout its duration it depicts one horror after another, with fleeting moments of humanity. Appearing like unintentional daisies in a landfill, our young soldier clings to those moments as they are taken away one at a time, his own existence proof of the absence of God.  This is the childhood of an ordinary boy soldier raised to further some war lord’s cause. Poverty and corruption go hand in hand in places most Americans pretend not to know exist.  This brilliantly made, wholly original war epic belongs on the same shelf as Apocalypse Now and yet was rejected by every studio until Netflix came to the rescue.

Now the film can have a chance to play in a small number of theaters for those lucky enough to live in major cities; now it can be seen at the same time online by serious film lovers who search in vain for great cinema at multiplexes in thousands of small towns; and it will eventually become a film that continues to stun anyone who scrolls past bland options on a Saturday night, anyone who comes across it deliberately or chance discovery, a great movie made widely available for anyone who has the curiosity to find it and the guts to stick with it.

Anyone who watched the first season of True Detective knows what this director can do. That alone should have motivated the studios to have faith in him.  But fear set in and no one wanted touch it because they thought no one would watch it. Studio execs think we’re too busy wasting time on Facebook or watching The Biggest Loser to care. It’s all about money and where is the money in this?

There might not be money, but there is beauty.  Beauty in watching a seriously talented artist deliver an uncompromising work of art. This film, in fact, is a moving poem.  One scene to the next immerses us more deeply into the jungle, as we get to know the faces and the unwritten rules of this kind of warfare.  Are we asked to care? Does it even matter? We have angry young white men in America who walk into churches and theaters to shoot innocent people in Bible study and on date night, and yet it’s these guys 5000 miles away that we cal barbarians? The truth about Americans is that they don’t care to look at the truth most of the time.

Idris Elba is the big name attached. He plays the commandant who “adopts” young Agu (the incredibly talented Abraham Atta). Fukunaga never lets you forget you are watching a child whose life was ripped apart when his family fled his village as rebels rode into town. The book the film is based on, and the press packet synopsis, calls the rebel army “unnamed,” meaning, there are so many of them cropping up out of poverty and desperation that naming them is almost pointless. Their crimes follow a familiar pattern. Young boys are forced to join armies, women and girls are routinely raped, all in the name of grabbing power in places crippled by progress, where many first-world corporate giants have robbed all the natural resources, leaving destitute people to fend for themselves, chasing scraps and getting what they can, while they can.

What is so remarkable about this film is how Fukunaga holds it all together so that, even at its two-hour plus running time, the film never drags. Each moment in young Agu’s life matters because he is evolving from an ordinary child into a monster.  Because Atta is the right actor chosen to play the part, we feel a connection to young Agu.  We never forget he’s a child because his eyes remain vulnerable, even as he’s aiming his weapon, even as he’s shooting bullets through a woman’s head, even as he’s made to bring the machete down on an innocent man’s skull. He’s made to do these things because that is what you do or else you’re one of the dead. He makes a friend and the two of them comfort each other after sexual assaults by the commandant (hinted at but never graphically shown). That relationship, though, like all good things in Agu’s life, is just another casualty.

So much of the film drifts by like a surreal dream — even though the narration is that of a child, we would not need to hear that narration to know we are witnessing the unthinkable from a child’s point of view.  As director and cinematographer, Fukunaga does not need to translate or have his ideas interpreted through another collaborator. He films what he sees in his head. That somehow makes Beasts of No Nation feel wholly original, unlike anything that will play in a movie theater this year or the next ten years. It might not be right to call it entertainment, but it is art.

There was a time back in the 1980s and 1990s when Americans cared about child soldiers in Africa. The occasional celebrity cracks our distracted bubble and mentions it as some distant event where photos are taken and put on fan sites. Art can do more than that. It can rip away protective covers and embed itself in ways you can’t shake off. There is no website at the end of this film to tell us where to donate to help. There is no petition we can sign so that we can click a button and go on with our day. There is no invitation for us to care about anything beyond whether or not we can sync our iPhones with our new computers.  It asks nothing from you except to look and see.

A great filmmaker builds worlds with their own language.  They are so skillful you never doubt where they’re taking you even if it is so painful to watch it turns your stomach and makes you flinch. This film does not draw from anyone else’s playbook.  It is a wholly original masterpiece that no person who claims to love film should pass up. Don’t not watch it because you think there is no way you can help young boys who are violated in so many different ways. We here in the first world have the luxury of getting depressed about it.

When the film at last comes to its closing moments, after we’ve seen what life is like from a child soldier’s point of view, Fukunaga hits us with the film’s true meaning. Agu asks himself whether he’ll ever be able to return to the world of children. Of playtime and ice cream cones, of teasing each other with flashlights, of finding love and friendship in places where something as basic as good drinking water is hard to get. Can he ever regain that purity of heart, that goodness each child inherits at birth? The truth is that he doesn’t yet know if he can after what he’s seen, after what he’s done, after all of the death that has become his everyday reality. What does he know? He once had a mother, a father, sisters and brothers. They loved him. All he knows is that he was once something closer to a real human being, kissed and carried, and maybe never forgotten.

Photo by Jeffrey Wells

I used to think that the reason there weren’t films like Bonnie and Clyde or Midnight Cowboy or A Clockwork Orange or Taxi Driver or Apocalypse Now in the Oscar race was because the Oscar voters were too old to go there anymore. They’re facing the twilight of their years. They eat prozac and hip replacement meds for breakfast. I used to think it was their fault. Now I know that’s only partly true. There is a concerted effort made, and it starts right here, to exclude those kinds of movies because “they” won’t like them or vote for them. It starts here and then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that feeds into all of the early awards and eventually the bigger voting blocks like the PGA, the DGA and finally the Oscars.

Sure, we’ve all had our years where we stood firmly behind daring works like Inside Llewyn Davis, All is Lost and Gone Girl and had them come up totally and shockingly empty at the Oscars.  There is a reality to dumbing the whole thing down to a palatable level. It isn’t made up by Oscar pundits. It is perpetuated by them, way too early on, just so that they (we) can be “right” at the end of the year. Everyone who works in this business knows that’s true.

When Cary Fukunaga’s extraordinary Beasts of No Nation hit Telluride that is exactly what the conversation swirled around: whether it was “too much” for Academy voters. Could they sit through it, would it bother them too much – would it make them reach for something light and easy, something inoffensive, something entirely forgettable? We know the answer to that one. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and sometimes the movies that play here deserve every bit of the praise that swells to greater heights once it’s clear “they” will like it.

This is a film that could not get an independent studio to stand behind it because it was too “rough” or “problematic.” They couldn’t sell it because it was thought no one would watch it. Netflix — a newly formed “studio” that is rewriting the rules that are holding Hollywood back — said not only will we buy it but we’ll finance a major theatrical release before making it available on Netflix. Here at Telluride, the 9pm crowd sat through this difficult two-hour uncompromising epic and did not wildly applaud at the end, not even when Cary Fukunaga and his lead actor, Abraham Atta, came back to the mic afterwards. There were a few people shouting “Bravo” but it was pretty clear from that reception how this movie might “play” with “them.”

How an audience responds to a film like this does tell you how it will do with consensus voters and overall white upper-middle-class audience members. The reason Telluride is so good at predicting Oscar movies is that the attendees are mostly well-to-do liberals heading towards retirement. They don’t look away from social justice but they do seem ill-equipped to handle a film like this. Thus, if there were no Oscar blogs and if there were no precursors and if there were no fixed game, an influential critic like Pauline Kael would take this movie and write the kind of review that would launch it into the stratosphere. Why, because sometimes people have to be told what is great and what isn’t. That was certainly the case with Bonnie and Clyde. Kael’s advocacy turned perception for that film completely around. Roger Ebert did the same thing with Martin Scorsese early on his career.

When the same people who write those reviews start playing the Oscar game, however? What they’re looking for is what “they” will like, rather than looking for greatness and then trying to convince “them” to like it. We know we can’t convince them. We know what our job is. We know mostly what will sell. And we know that all of the breathless advocacy in the world can’t make “them” like it or vote for it.

Still, knowing all this, and given the many years I’ve been Oscar watching — almost 17 now — I was still disappointed and surprised by the way many of my fellow colleagues were talking about this film. They will be “right” because they will have helped perpetuate a “muted” response to a film that can really only be described as a masterpiece. It won’t have a chance, not anywhere, because “they” won’t like it.

This narrative is increasingly dangerous. That downside is exiling films that are worthy of attention simply because they don’t fit that awards narrative. That is bad for movies, and bad for the Oscars. If you watch a film as good as Beasts and conclude the movie is not good enough — fine. That’s fair. But if you watch this film and reject it because “they” won’t go for it? You’re really not qualified to be writing about film at all.

History will eventually declare this film one of the best of all time. It might take twenty years. It might take thirty years but sooner or later that conclusion will be reached. Does that mean it has any chance of getting nominated?  No. You know it and I know it. Unless Pauline Kael comes back from the dead.

This kind of audacity ought to be applauded and supported. Cary Fukanaga directed the first season of HBO’s True Detective, one of the best things ever seen on television. Cary Fukanaga wrote, directed and shot Beasts of No Nation. A talent like this ought to be given better treatment than to find no studio picking up this film. Sorry, but shame on them. I know it’s a money issue. I know it’s a selling issue. But wow, really?

Hollywood’s version of supporting a brilliant talent like Fukanaga is to say “here’s a superhero movie – lock yourself into our system and make us lots of money.”  I don’t know if that’s Fukunaga’s fate yet. But I do know someone let him walk away from Stephen King’s It, and it looks like he’ll be doing what the best of them are — heading to television. When it’s this difficult to make movies like this, movies like this will not get made.

So what you likely want to know is what are this film’s Oscar chances? I’ll give you two answers to that one. The first one, it’s too “rough” for many of “them.” Many of them won’t be able to sit through it and many of them will either not put the screener in or they’ll stop it halfway through during the film’s more graphic moments. They will want to see something else, something that will remind them that they are still valuable in the world and that horrors like this do not exist. They might give Fukunaga a well deserved screenplay nomination. The directors branch might get their shit together to nominate Fukunaga (I’m not holding my breath on that one).

The second answer I would give you is this: imagine there were no names of studios that had influence, and that having your film distributed by Netflix didn’t make you were an outsider. Imagine if the Best Picture race was really about picking the truly best films of the year. Imagine a world where people still believed that was true. In that imagined world, Beasts of No Nation is getting nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Abraham Atta, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography.

You can go read the rest of the Telluride reports to find out what kind of world we actually live in. Either way, make it your objective to see this movie – and many of the other great films that have come out of here (or played elsewhere), especially Spotlight, Steve Jobs, Room, Carol, 45 Years, Son of Saul, Black Mass, Suffragette. Some of them aren’t perfect. Some of them are greatly flawed even. But all of them involve people who are committed to perpetuating the idea that film is still in the realm of art. We in the Oscar game often undermine their efforts, becoming part of the system that often rejects audacity.

Quentin Tarantino recently asked why there aren’t great movies like The Godfather anymore. I just saw one last night. You can figure out the rest of the story from here.


“I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all” – Joni Mitchell

With Steve Jobs, Aaron Sorkin adds another chapter to his hopefully ongoing saga of American tech. First, Mark Zuckerberg went from quirky Harvard nerd to friendless billionaire, changing the way people connected for better and worse. Now, Steve Jobs goes from Apple inventor, to Apple reject, to Apple savior. We all know the story of Apple, those of us who grip our iPhones, type on our MacBooks, listen to our iTunes, tap on our iPads. We know these beautiful items are credited as the milestones Jobs introduced to reinvigorate Apple when he was brought back to save it from bankruptcy. We also know the withered cancer victim who fought back death until it finally carried him under. This film isn’t about those stories. It isn’t about how nature casually discards even the most valued among us. As Bob Marley was quoted as having said, “all the money in the world can’t buy you a minute more of life.”

Sorkin’s Steve Jobs is about how we measure success and failure. Jobs could not really achieve greatness without recognizing the most important thing in his life: his biological daughter Lisa Brennan. His success could not be measured by the pretty toys alone. His success had to come from his willingness to connect with his own flesh and blood. Much is made in the film of Jobs’ adoption as one of the main reasons he’s having so much trouble with his own daughter. This damaged relationship is played out alongside Jobs’ career highs and lows. None of his successes will matter in the end if he can’t do the right thing, which means more than just writing a check. That is probably the most surprising thing of all — how Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin launched an excavation to find Steve Jobs’ heart.

Danny Boyle’s version of Steve Jobs looks very different from what David Fincher’s would have looked like. It’s impossible to say whether one is better than the other would have been. Boyle gives the film over to the writing and to the film’s lead performance, a stunning knockout by Michael Fassbender as Jobs. Boyle gives us breathtaking shots of Jobs in various stages of his professional life. He filmed nearly the whole thing in three different theaters in San Francisco and much of the action is confined to those spaces.

Boyle is strong on humanity in his work, which helps explain why this telling of Jobs life is rooted so deeply in the women he’s surrounded himself with — chief among them, Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, a key figure in helping Jobs hold his business together. She is more here — work wife, mother figure, teacher. Winslet has one of the film’s best scenes where she can’t watch this man mistreat his daughter for one more minute. Either fix it, she says, or I’ll go work … “anywhere I want.”

Fassbender spits out Sorkin’s dialogue like an ice cube maker — each withering insult sticking its landing. Jobs suffered no fools. This is not a story that sugarcoats his past. He is, in many ways, a monster who feeds on ego and builds machines that do not cooperate with other machines but are closed systems unto themselves. Fassbender’s Jobs is focused on one thing: making his work a success. What friendships he has are mostly about his work. He isn’t freed from the theater to go live his life, not ever. What life? Jobs has nothing but Apple. That is, until he eventually figures out that there is one thing he helped bring into the world. He has to change to access that primal human relationship.

Steve Jobs has the look and feel of a three-act play with a stage, a backstage, an adoring crowd and lots and lots and lots and LOTS of dialogue. Sorkin and Boyle have found a way to tell this familiar story as a kind of talk opera. Dramatic speech and monologues take up so much room there isn’t much left for anything else. It’s a high wire act that might leave some feeling left behind. Somehow, though, Boyle pulls it off not by backing off the speechifying but by leaning into it and allowing it to sing.

Boyle brings out memorable turns from the supporting actors, Seth Rogan and Jeff Daniels among them. As is almost always the case with Sorkin’s work they are all speaking the same language drawn from the same rhythm and vocabulary. To some this is Sorkin overkill but the same could be said for the best of them — David Mamet, Edward Albee, Paddy Chayefsky and even William Shakespeare. Sorkin is not trying to do anything but write in his own style, thus the film’s exceptional dialogue leaves its mark as profoundly as Jobs himself left his.

With propulsive score by Daniel Pemberton, and cinematography by Alwin H. Küchler, Boyle is not working with his usual team on Steve Jobs. Boyle is trying something new here in making a film built almost entirely on dialogue. This is a film made up of what Danny Boyle called “gestures” to the real people involved. They aren’t trying to make a biopic here but rather depict a kind of symbolic, ongoing conflict between the icon and the man. There are playful moments in the film and emotional highs that catch you off guard. Boyle’s enthusiasm and zest for life combined with Sorkin’s energy and verbal swordplay make Steve Jobs breathtaking and relentless at the same time.

In America we want our heroes to shimmer. We want them to emerge as gods, not monsters. We want them to tell their story of success that celebrates the tenants of the American dream. We need that dream to come true. A film like this one is a reminder that you can’t pick and choose the builders of this country or that dream. They sometimes emerge as broken people, whose humanity is buried underneath layers of ambition. When the spark of genius does emerge, however, one can do nothing but stand back and applaud with admiration a man who could do that much with his imagination.


It is an astonishing thing, to know there was a time when women weren’t valued enough to be allowed governance of their own rights. It took us so long, and the struggle is never-ending, because to fight requires sacrifices that are near impossible to make. Fighting and protesting means being exiled, alienated, belittled, resented, hated. You see it today on the internet where misogyny reigns supreme. You see it coming from both men and women, always with the message: shut up and sit down. In the face of all that, it would have been easy for Suffragette to turn into an angry screed, but Gavron isn’t much interested in focusing on the anger. Women in the twilight of the 19th Century did not have the luxury of indulging in anger because they were in enough trouble as it was.

Mulligan plays a good wife and mother who works in a laundry, suffers sexual harassment, long hours and much less pay than her male counterparts. She is reluctant to join the movement until its cause becomes too urgent — and the injustices too egregious to ignore.  She joins a group of women who are fighting for the vote — and with it, the right to declare that they are worth “no more and no less” than men. This is a film about what Mulligan’s character endures on the treacherous path to equality.

Gavron holds Mulligan’s face in tight closeup through the film, rarely pulling back for long shots. No director has ever done that with this actress, so that avid quality that might once have projected vulnerability throughout her work is transformed here into tenacious inner strength, a keen resolve that the camera can only catch when it pulls in close. With her half smile, her heavy lidded sad eyes, Mulligan’s Maud Watts is her best performance to date.  Carey Mulligan is the number one reason to see this film and she’s the thing that will make this film impossible to ignore come awards time. She carries it the way actresses used to do back when more women were given this kind of opportunity.

The supporting cast are all top notch, including Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai, and Anne-Marie Duff. Each one of them more than capable of having better parts and better roles written for them. With so much talent packed into two hours, it is a reminder of how few films like this exist anywhere. Telluride is unleashing the full force of the feminine this season, with this film, He Named Me Malala, and Carol. These are films about the sort of empowerment that means more than finding oneself on a spiritual journey. These films confront some of the forces that have oppressed and continue to oppress women the world over, including Hollywood itself.

Meryl Streep — who was in attendance the premiere, received a standing ovation. She had maybe five minutes of screen time but Streep knows full well what a movie like this means. Produced, written, directed by and starring women, this isn’t one the Oscars can pass by and sleep easy at night. The direction is unpredictable, moody and never goes for the easy emotional cheat. That one big crescendo is absent here, and in its place what is meant to be read as an ongoing struggle for women’s rights. One need only look at the presidential election to see how women are both on the precipice of equality and at the same time judged by a different standard, still measured by what they look like and whether or not they smile.

The costume design by Jane Petrie recalls an authentic, grimy London lifestyle that goes well with the no-makeup look of the film’s stars and the gritty cinematography by Eduard Grau. Once again, Alexandre Desplat outdoes himself with one of the film’s best assets — it’s suspenseful score.

Indeed, Suffragette will be recognized as one of the year’s best films not because it makes you beat your chest and celebrate women having won a hard-fought battle but because it may be one of the few films on the subject that makes it point by showing what individual women had to go through on a person level. It is Mulligan’s story but how many more women like her were punished for even thinking about wanting more.

Gavron is a relative newcomer with feature films but finds in Mulligan the perfect focal point. She could have told this story with any actress in the lead and it would have been good. With Mulligan in the lead the film becomes great. It becomes great because Gavron immerses us fully in this world — we can smell it, we can taste it, we can feel it wrap tightly around our necks until we want to scream. Suffragette is a master work.

Telluride 2012

Kris Tapley over at Variety has posted the lineup for the Telluride Film Fest. So far it’s mostly in keeping with what most have been circulating. What I’m wondering is, where is our Best Picture for 2016? The list:

Telluride’s main program slate for 2015:

“Amazing Grace” (d. Sydney Pollack, U.S., 1972/2015)
“Anomalisa” (d. Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson, 2015)
“Beasts of No Nation” (d. Cary Fukunaga, U.S., 2015)
“Bitter Lake” (d. Adam Curtis, U.K., 2015)
“Black Mass” (d. Scott Cooper, U.S., 2015)
“Carol” (d. Todd Haynes, U.S., 2015)
“45 Years” (d. Andrew Haigh, England, 2015)
“He Named Me Malala” (d. Davis Guggenheim, U.S., 2015)
“Heart of a Dog” (d. Laurie Anderson, U.S., 2014)
“Hitchcock/Truffaut” (d. Kent Jones, U.S., 2015)
“Ixcanul” (d. Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala, 2015)
“Marguerite” (d. Xavier Giannoli, France, 2015)
“Mom and Me” (d. Ken Wardrop, Ireland, 2015)
“Only the Dead See the End of War” (d. Michael War, Bill Guttentag, U.S.-Australia, 2015)
“Rams” (d. Grímur Hákonarson, Iceland, 2015)
“Room” (d. Lenny Abrahamson, England, 2015)
“Siti” (d. Eddie Cahyono, Singapore, 2015)
“Son of Saul” (d. Lázló Nemes, Hungary, 2015)
“Spotlight” (d. Tom McCarthy, U.S., 2015)
“Steve Jobs” (d. Danny Boyle, U.S., 2015)
“Suffragette” (d. Sarah Gavron, U.K., 2015)
“Taj Mahal” (d. Nicolas Saada, France-India, 2015)
“Taxi” (d. Jafar Panahi, Iran, 2015)
“Tikkun” (d. Avishai Sivan, Israel, 2015)
“Time to Choose” (d. Charles Ferguson, U.S., 2015)
“Viva” (d. Paddy Breathnach, Ireland, 2015)
“Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” (d. Evgeny Afineevsky, Russia-Ukraine, 2015)

Actress Rooney Mara who stars in Carol will be honored at the festival along with Adam Curtis (Bitter Lake), and director Danny Boyle (Steve Jobs).

If you look at recent past Best Picture winners, most were seen either at Telluride or at Venice and Cannes prior. All except The Departed, if you go back ten years to 2006.

Birdman – Venice/Telluride
12 Years a Slave – Telluride
Argo – Telluride
The Artist – Cannes/Telluride
The King’s Speech – Telluride
The Hurt Locker (year prior, Toronto)
Slumdog Millionaire (Telluride)
No Country for Old Men (Cannes)
The Departed (October release)
Brokeback Mountain – Telluride
Million Dollar Baby – late release

The closer you are to the way the Oscars used to be — held in March with plenty of time to rally at the end of the year — the later the winners. Now, the winners come earlier. Could this be the game changing year? It’s possible. If not, that really leaves us with any film seen before now — Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out…and/or Steve Jobs, Spotlight, Carol, Black Mass, Room, 45 Years, Suffragette and Beasts of No Nation as our potential most likely winners.


Though All the Presidents Men and Zodiac are two of the greatest American films without a doubt, they really only have the newsroom in common. What they are about and how they tell their stories are vastly different. Zodiac, you could say, is All the President’s Men jacked up to 11. And even then that doesn’t cover it. Where they are similar is that they are both about men who were secretive. They are both about a trail of clues. They both take place amid typewriters and news briefs, reporters, ledes and headlines. It stops there because Zodiac is a horror film both because it’s about a violent, vicious sociopathic killer and because it is ultimately about the horror of unending deep diving obsession. All the President’s Men is much less complicated. It is about a story and two reporters who relentlessly uncover that story thus bringing down a president. There is a clear line between good and evil. There isn’t a whole lot of soul-searching to be done because there is only the right side and the story of deception. Think of them like World War II vs. Vietnam. Whenever a film comes out about a newsroom comparisons are made to both films — probably it’s inevitable. Spotlight is the latest such movie.  The thing about these comparisons, though, is they are nearly impossible to surmount; how can any film stand up to being measured against All the President’s Men and Zodiac? Last year’s Nightcrawler suffered the same fate — critics drag out those tired old cliches like they are in a pitch meeting: it’s Network meets Taxi Driver. Okay but how in the hell is any movie ever going to compare to those films? Either way, Spotlight is dividing critics in early reviews — with Variety giving it a thumbs up and calling it McCarthy’s best film, and Peter Bradshaw and Todd McCarthy a little more iffy.

A rave by Variety’s Justin Chang touches on that and notes the obvious differences:

Even without the onscreen presence of Globe deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), whose father famously steered the Washington Post through Watergate, “All the President’s Men” would be the obvious touchstone here. Like so many films consumed with the minutiae of daily journalism, “Spotlight” is a magnificently nerdy process movie — a tour de force of filing-cabinet cinema, made with absolute assurance that we’ll be held by scene after scene of people talking, taking notes, following tips, hounding sources, poring over records, filling out spreadsheets, and having one door after another slammed in their faces. When the Spotlight investigation is temporarily halted in the wake of 9/11, we’re reminded that the film is also a period piece, set during a time when print journalism had not yet entered its death throes. Like the American remake of “State of Play” (in which McAdams also played a journalist), McCarthy’s film includes a loving montage of a printing press, busily churning out the next morning’s edition — a valedictory sequence that may move old-school journalists in the audience to tears.

The story’s newsgathering focus ultimately creates a level of distance from its subject that works both for the film and against it. As information-system dramas go, “Spotlight” doesn’t have the haunting thematic layers of “Zodiac,” and it never summons the emotional force of the 1991 miniseries “The Boys of St. Vincent,” still the most devastating docudrama ever made about child abuse within the Catholic Church. Many of the victims depicted here — like Phil Saviano (Neal Huff), head of a local survivors’ group, and Joe Crowley (Michael Cyril Creighton), who movingly recalls his treatment at the hands of a priest named Paul Shanley — function in a mostly expository manner, offering up vital but fleeting insights into the psychology of the abusers and the abused, but without taking pride of place in their own story.

Here is where you see the film depart from those that came before it:

Where the film proves extraordinarily perceptive is in its sense of how inextricably the Church has woven itself into the very fabric of Boston life, and how it concealed its corruption for so long by exerting pressure and influence on the city’s legal, political and journalistic institutions. Given the blurrier-than-usual separation of church and state, and the fact that the newspaper’s own readership includes a high percentage of Irish Catholics, it’s no surprise that it falls to an outsider like Baron — a Florida native and the first Jewish editor to take the helm at the Globe — to play hardball with the Archdiocese. If there’s anything that keeps “Spotlight” from devolving into a simplistic heroic-crusaders movie, it’s the filmmakers’ refusal to let the Globe itself off the hook, pointing out the numerous times the paper’s leaders glossed over reports of abuse that landed on their doorstep.

That’s clearly the real story of Spotlight that illuminates the much bigger problem — still an ongoing problem — the story of how this travesty has been covered up and forgotten.

Spotlight plays in Telluride over the weekend. Can’t wait.


Senior critic for one of the two trade papers, THR’s Todd McCarthy, has seen Cary Fukunaga’s eagerly anticipated Beasts of No Nation. McCarthy gives it a great review, writing:

One of the most impressive things about Beasts is that it was able to be made at all, and with such verisimilitude. Shot mostly outdoors in Ghana, the action moves around a great deal and there are several large-scale scenes of troops moving into ever-bigger towns, skirmishes, battles and mass evacuations that obviously presented major logistical challenges. Given the country’s lack of much filmmaking infrastructure or a history of hosting big international productions, what’s ended up onscreen is very impressive, and Fukunaga’s camerawork is — as in his earlier films — lustrous and alert without falling back onto mere hand-held exigencies.

Central to the film’s power and success are the two lead performances. How a child actor could be coached to reveal and project the enormous range of reactions and emotions required for the role of Agu is practically unimaginable, but Attah is persuasive and true and constantly interesting to watch as a boy forced to endure extremes of experience to be wished on no one. The film would not have been worth making without a capable kid at its center, and the director found him.

Starting out with what could have been a cliched figure of a charismatic egotist lording over a bunch of helpless youngsters, Elba keeps revealing more and more layers of his troubled character, to the point where the Commandant begins to assume Shakespearean proportions as a Macbeth-like figure who may not really have what it takes to be a completely successful and enduring despot. The actor keeps pushing his characterization further and further to the rather surprising end, never taking the easy way.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw gives the film four out of five stars:

Director Cary Fukunaga has handled projects as diverse as the migrant drama Sin Nombre, a Jane Eyre adaptation with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, and episodes of TV’s True Detective. This film, premiering at the Venice film festival, is his best film yet.

Fukunaga brings flair, muscular storytelling, directness and a persuasively epic sweep to this brutal, heartrending movie about child soldiers and a civil war in an imaginary West African country, based on the 2005 novel by Nigerian-American author Uzodinma Iweala.

It is a tale of fear, degradation and abusive dysfunction – a violent and disorientating nightmare with a shiver of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Idris Elba gives an outstanding performance as a charismatic and sinister warlord who finds that military power, however intoxicating, is subject to the fickle imperatives of politics, and the suit-wearing opportunists in the cities far from the country badlands he has come to rule.

AwardsDaily will be catching Beasts of No Nation when it screens here at Telluride in the coming days.

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