From Cannes to Telluride
I saw three or four films in Cannes back in May that count as tectonic shifts where the performances are concerned. One of the most surprising moments in Mad Max: Fury Road comes from the scene where Tom Hardy trudges through the sand towards the war rig. Up to now, we’ve only seen Charlize Theron as the driver of the rig, but once Hardy rounds the corner there emerges the women, the “breeders,” barely clothed in white gauzy material, washing themselves with fresh water. What a sight for Hardy’s character who can’t quite figure out what he’s seeing. But it is how Theron approaches him in this scene, attacking with one arm, then pulling back, then attacking again – clearly this isn’t a woman who will be beaten. After all, she knows the code that will make the war rig run. Theron owns Mad Max – both the film and the character, a power swap that caused a shift in how people regarded Mad Max the icon. Theron’s focus hold on Max as she battles him for the gun, all in defense of nothing so big as saving whatever humanity is left of the human race. When Max bests her and tries to leave (he can’t, she has the codes) her toughness flickers and fades briefly – but never overtakes her tough facade. It is a masterful, steady and ultimately brilliant performance by Theron.
No one in my business has a crystal ball. No one really knows what they’re talking about even if we pretend we do. There are a few things worth noting, however, from today’s Film Independent nominations. The Spirits gave a big boost to two films that really could use it – Cary Fukunaga’s uncompromising, brilliant masterpiece Beasts of No Nation, and Charlie Kaufman/Duke Johnson’s equally brilliant, uncompromising masterpiece Anomalisa. Both films represent the very best in independent film because they represent the true independent spirit. Both were put together on a wing and a prayer – with Anomalisa raising much of its funds through Kickstarter and Beasts of No Nation finally getting picked up by Netflix after every studio in town passed on it.
The Spirit Awards have leaked or simply are on their website prior to their announcement this morning. They have really redefined what film awards mean with these, honoring films that are experimental, trying different rollouts and all but helping the film industry thrive and adapt. Tangerine, Beasts of No Nation, along with Carol (two Best Actress performance nominations!).
Beasts of No Nation
Sean Baker, Tangerine
Cary Joji Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation
Todd Haynes, Carol
Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, Anomalisa
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
David Roger Mitchell, It Follows
The Oscar race hasn’t really changed now that The Revenant’s been seen. It has confirmed its place, especially if you were thinking of it as a nominee for Best Picture, but perhaps not the winner. For a film to win Best Picture usually means you can sit anyone down in front of it – cashier, stripper, teacher, princess, president, security guard, nanny – and they will get it if not love it. That’s because thousands of people vote to call it the best. How can you get thousands of people to agree your movie is good? What Alejandro G. Inarritu is going for with The Revenant is to make a piece of art more than a general crowdpleaser. And while the review embargo has not yet been lifted, there are a few things that can be discussed.
You can check all of the boxes for nominations — especially in the tech categories. The cinematography is beyond anything I’ve ever seen because I don’t know if any crew has attempted anything like this, ever. You might have to go back to the 1970s, when filmmakers were still kind of, sort of allowed to experiment on this scale. The score is also breathtaking. The art direction (Jack Fisk) is subtle because nature is really the art director here but it is nonetheless authentic, very McCabe & Mrs. Miller looking. Tom Hardy is as strong as expected for a supporting nomination. The sound design of the film is probably going to be one of the hardest contenders for Star Wars to beat. But really, more than anything, The Revenant is two things – a love letter to the natural world that we have all but destroyed in our thirst for more “things” and the bravest, hardest thing Leonardo DiCaprio has ever done.
Ian McKellen performed a one man show recently here in Los Angeles wherein the actor spoke about the many actresses he’s worked with over the years. McKellen is such a great storyteller, which is why rare appearances like these are so memorable. Here he is on Maggie Smith.
The Big Short is so worth seeing. If you ever find out the real life character Christian Bale plays in this film you will marvel at his brilliant portrayal. You’ll think he’s great anyway, but in this case the more you know, the impressive it gets. By the way, the stripper used as an example of someone who was sold bad loans at falsely lowered interest rates is nothing compared to what those guys really did – selling the same loans to immigrant nannies, for instance. That’s left out of the movie but it is one of the most insidious things they did.