Tuesday, November 07, 2017

On & On: What's Left in the Movie Year

One interesting historical fact is that the last time I updated this blog, Louis XIV was still the King of France. In fact, the last time I reprised this once-perennial feature, his reign had not even begun!  Isn't that interesting?

Back then, when the world knew it was still run by monarchies, and when Jodie Foster had only started taking meetings about Flora Plum, I made an annual autumn ritual of compiling all the movies I hoped to see before the year's end and then publicly checking them off as they rolled around.  I usually invited a treasured songbird to hum along while I made my lists of eager dates, ambivalent prospects, and grotesque premonitions of suffering.  In 2014 I somehow forgot to recruit a singalong partner, which was probably the beginning of the trouble, after fabulous collaborations with Lauryn Hill in 2013, with Miss Jackson If You're Nasty in 2012, with feckless but forever-adored thrush Mariah Carey in 2011, and with Madonna, of whom my current students are still dimly aware, in 2010.  (The first two outings, in 2009 and 2007, were sadly sans chanteuse).

This year, noted ankh enthusiast and Golden Satellite nominee Erykah Badu is lending me her song titles so that I can distinguish the movies sure to make peace and blessings manifest from those that make you wanna call Tyrone on your way out of the theater, so he can come clear this shit away.  Even within the Badu-based echelons, the titles are loosely ranked.  I'm including titles that left the cinemas long ago, and some that were barely ever there, since those encounters loom just as prodigiously for me as the imminent holiday releases.

So, what am I overhyping or underselling?  What are you anticipating?  Here's what I've seen already.  (And please ignore the fossilized sidebar for now.  A sister isn't all the way there yet.)

Love of My Life
Feels like I've sampled true love... and I haven't even seen 'em yet!
Lady Bird - Every glowing response to every aspect makes my heart leap
  B+ Shrewd, warm, happy, sad: appealingly complex, yet clear as a bell.
Heal the Living - Quillévéré's one of the best barely-distributed directors
  B Less than the director's best but still an elegant, moving medical drama
Nocturama - Bold story about spiky subjects; of course it vanished fast
  B+ Amazingly audacious, even as I had questions about tone and style
The Untamed - I am who I am, and octopus-sex movies are part of that
  B Utterly unusual exploration of sex from alien angles; cool direction
Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Because the Force was so strong in Looper
  C– Crushingly dull disappointment: sludgy storytelling, muddy thinking
Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool - Anything Bening, but especially this
  B+ The actors are glorious and the storytelling unexpectedly layered
The Death of Louis XIV - I'm pre-converted to Serra's bizarre aesthetic
  B+ Odd, gorgeous. The usual Serra pros outweigh the usual Serra cons.

The kind of thing for which you delay your Top 10 list
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki - Reviews mostly rapturous
  B Pleasant and poignant, if not quite the chef d'oeuvre I'd heard about
Phantom Thread - PTA hasn't ended a movie well in a while, but still
  B+ Fascinating at every level of theme and construction, but still...
Free in Deed - Melanie's delight with this one in Venice sticks with me
  B+ Takes big risks in structure, story, but still hits big emotional beats
The Work - Why is Chicago, of all markets, taking forever to book this?
  A– Exceptionally strong and moving piece, more complex than it looks
Cries from Syria - The rare Syria-focused documentary to break through
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson - France has earned our trust
  B+ Boldly conceived as crime story and a systemic study of violence
For Ahkeem - Documentary about black teenage girl looks very moving
  B Moving portrait of a teen girl at risk, even if it could go a bit deeper
Casting JonBenet - Sounds like it turns a tabloid chestnut upside down?
  B+ Idea-rich, like Joshua Oppenheimer directing Waiting for Guffman
Abundant Acreage Available - Amy! Junebug guy! Even with that title...
  B– Whole cast is good, but Amy is the clear MVP. The movie is fine.
The Wound - All I needed were Guy Lodge's abundant recommendations
  B High production values and complicated discourses of sex and class
Hermia & Helena - I dig the rarity of Piñeiro's Thing, even when I'm split
  B I'm getting less patient with Piñeiro but colors and structures still entice
Song to Song - This looked like more windmill-tilting but I hear otherwise?
  B Clear improvement on the last few. Still not what I want from Malick?
Whose Streets? - Why do documentaries on this topic get so little notice?
  A– Artfully ragged, unapologetically angry capsule of antiracist activism
A Woman's Life - Measure of a Man was great so I'm not sleeping on this
  A– Surpassed my hearty expectations. Moving and creatively structured.

Hey, Sugah
I have reason to hope we'll get along well
Una - Yet another buzzy play becomes a movie with few fans. But: Rooney!
  C+ I appreciate the risk-taking but couldn't help notice tics and missteps
Your Name - Not an anime devotee, but this sounds potentially up my alley
  B+ A form and a culture where I have little fluency, and I still admired it
Harmonium - Curious since it unnerved everybody at Cannes a year ago
  B Story and characters didn't always click for but it's an engaging yarn 
Novitiate - Good Melissa Leo and Garish Melissa Leo are equally enticing
  B Often potent and sobering, but can all of a sudden turn shaky or tacky.
Molly's Game - Sorkin's not really a draw at this point but I hear Jess is fun
  B Intriguing to watch Sorkin process his fascinations, albeit unevenly
The Post - I'm not organically enthused but it's always better to have faith
  B+ I loved seeing Spielberg's camera so free, his storytelling so urgent
Birthright: A War Story - Available to academics via Women Make Movies
  B Powerful, timely documentary about linked assaults on women's health
I, Tonya - Could live to regret this ranking, but I'm up for Janney's antics
  B+ A great surprise, deftly managing a tricky tone; Stan, Robbie excel
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) - How many of 'em is Emma in?
  B+ Pleasantly surprised how smitten I was with writing and performances
M.F.A. - Contemporary rape-revenge drama that feels timelier than ever
  B– Irresponsible, then too "responsible," but its anger and daring exhilarate
Brigsby Bear - This will either be irritatingly over-conceived or sorta special
The Villainess - Not really my genre or aesthetic and still I feel curious
Our Souls at Night - At least we know it'll improve on Barefoot in the Park
One of Us - I've trusted these gals since Jesus Camp, and here it is on Netflix
Wonder - I could be making a serious miscalculation but Perks was fantastic
  B Not the subtlest or most sophisticated, but hits its marks emotionally.

Think Twice
I'll buy a ticket, but I'll be second-guessing myself the whole time
From the Land of the Moon - It's Marion, but has it rocked anyone's life?
  B– Grew on me as it unfolded, as did Marion, but that finale is wacko
Darkest Hour - Venice and Toronto were impressed; others seem not to be
  C Dubious in its glossy showmanship, its plummy tone, its political moral
Brad's Status - Many of you gave warm testimonies, but that trailer, guys!
  B– Queasy in good and bad ways; a risk for White, and the effort shows
The Disaster Artist - I mean, it looks more fun than his Steinbeck movie
  C Maybe his Steinbeck movie at least has something to say? Parlor trick
Wonder Wheel - "No Blue Jasmine," I keep hearing, and that was overrated
  D+ Mostly awful ideas. The very few good ones are stiltedly executed.
Last Flag Flying - If not for Cecily, we'd be further down in the Danger list
  C+ Some moving moments and moods; maudlin and tone-deaf elsewhere
Coco - Remember when you didn't have to worry if Pixar would deliver?
  B They did! I wasn't as moved as some but it's visually and culturally rich
Pitch Perfect 3 - The trailer makes me giggle; the first film didn't, really
On the Beach at Night Alone - The Day After set me way back on Hong
Permanent - Mostly tempted to thank Patty Arquette for Twitter badassery

Time's a Wastin'
They'll be gone fast, or I've been dragging my feet a while already
The Human Surge - I don't even know what it's about, but it's got Fans
  B I appreciate the uniqueness and ambition but sometimes felt stranded
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women - Sure aroused a lot of you
The Rehearsal - Kerry Fox and Alison Maclean, I welcome your returns
Jane - Not my kind of project, but Brett Morgen's Chicago 10 was great
My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea - And I liked high school!
It - I'm not too confident, but I put those 500 hours into reading it in 1990
My Life as a Zucchini - All the right people have recommended this one
Stronger - A Miranda Richardson movie trapped in a Jake Gyllenhaal flick
  C+ Actors do fine work and story takes smart turns; still feels middling
The Sense of an Ending - Made for people like me, and yet I've avoided it
John Wick: Chapter 2 - Atomic Blonde convinced me to pay attention
Lucky - Stanton wasn't a huge fixture for me, but I'll gladly pay respects
  B I resisted the opening acts but the film gets darker, odder, and braver
Crown Heights - Left theaters so quickly, with muted notices, but: LaKeith
  C+ A moving and still-timely story, but less imposing or urgent as a film
Paulina - I wish I'd liked The Summit even more, but this sounded better
  B+ Explores rape survivor's ambiguous response without diluting the crime
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold - Should I just read a book instead?
Logan - Look, I've heard you. I don't really believe you, but I've heard you
  B I should have trusted you! Too grisly, maybe, but full of style and ideas
Planetarium - I have basically zero Portmania, and yet I'm still intrigued
3 Generations - Trans Cinema by Cis Folks: Asking-for-Side-Eye Division
  C Not as awful as I'd heard but messy in structure, politics, and portraiture
The Assignment - Trans Cinema by Cis Folks: Likely-to-Infuriate Division
  D You'd never guess it's the work of a real auteur. Cheap, lurid nonsense.
Thor: Ragnarok - All you had to do was say, "Cate's great," but you didn't
Thank You for Your Service - When I think about Rabbit Hole, I'm swayable

"My ass might be dumb, but I ain't no dumb ass." — Ordell Robbie
All the Money in the World - "...couldn't make me," etc. But a nom might!
  D+ Spacey would have made it worse, I'm sure, but this is still an ordeal
Murder on the Orient Express - I know how it ends, and how it'll likely go
The Greatest Showman - Amazing that they've made this as circus shutters
  D Passes at some point from amiably bad to embarrassingly mishandled
Breathe - I asked Twitter about this one and was licensed to Just Say No
LBJ - Scant appeal at the best of times—which, for Reiner, feel long past
Hostiles - Scott Cooper convenes another cockfight among dour dudes
Roman J. Israel, Esq. - When they sneak it late into two different festivals...
  B/B– Definitely uneven but an interesting study of character and culture
Ferdinand - Unless reviews are Babe-like, I doubt I'm really the audience
Suburbicon - You guys, "They wrote it 30 years ago!" is not a good hook
Justice League - Our national witnessing of Affleck's free fall continues
Just Getting Started - Odd title for a movie they've already made 10 times
Beauty and the Beast - Making a point about my resistance to Downsizing
Downsizing - Good name for a documentary about Payne's gifts over time
  D+ Takes a stab at every tone and topic it can; ambitious but so misguided
Father Figures - Hi, Glenn! We're holding your Oscar bid but releasing this
Daddy's Home 2 - See, I'm not completely unreasonable about Downsizing
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle - "Oooooaah...I'm gonna watch you bleed!"

Didn't Cha Know?
Dropped off my radar, or never made it on, until you guys intervened
Catfight - How did I leave this out? Heche alone suffices, but her plus Oh?
  B– The performances both got me even as I harbored some reservations
All This Panic - Never heard of it, but sounds perfectly synced to my tastes
  B– Female adolescence deserves more film time, but POV here is vague
Strong Island - Another right-up-my-alley documentary I'd never heard of
  B Jagged, affecting chronicle of family pain, despite some formal oddities
Lovesong - Does "their relationship deepens" translate to "lesbian romance"?
  B+ Performances are all quietly terrific; observant intimacy all around
4 Days in France - Multiple endorsements below—and Nathalie Richard!
  B Pleasingly offbeat road trip. Interesting scenes ballast the flatter ones
After the Storm - I got frustrated with Kore-eda, but you're giving me faith
  B Kore-eda doesn't fully speak to me but this is still strong, sensitive drama
Thirst Street - I'd never heard of Burdge until Lace Crater. Big fan now!
  C+ Opening augurs a weird, clever movie, but it quickly seems less special
Most Beautiful Island - Sounds intense! Dovetails with some of my research
The Son of Joseph - Enticing cast, even if I've had mixed feelings on Green
Person to Person - Not my genre, really, but if John Guerin endorses it...
Ma - Sounds pretty austere and elliptical, but they can't all have octopus sex

Next Lifetime
Evanescent enticements (where'd they go?) and infinite deferrals
The Woman Who Left - I wanna know what Lav is! Why won't you show me?
Mimosas - Oliver Laxe exists, right? Because I can never find his movies
Year by the Sea - Nathaniel's great Karen Allen interview got me all excited
  C Allen does well and it's nice to see her back, but storytelling is artless
Woodshock - I know folks weren't wowed, but that was one hypnotic trailer
Signature Move - Local artist with an intriguing, prizewinning queer film
Kidnap - I'm a fan of Halle in Distress. See: The Call. See also: her career
  C Sort of suspenseful, but with no real charge, as much as I like Berry
The Mountain Between Us - Neither star means to me what they once did
Queen of the Desert - Kidman + Herzog should rouse me more. Just hasn't.
The Devil's Candy - Joe Reid says Ethan Embry looks fi-yine, albeit bloodied
  C– Can't decide on a villain or a POV; moderate style, minimal good taste
Life - Has all the makings of a listless night at the RedBox, with PopTarts
Menashe - This hung around an impressively long time. Did I miss a gem?
  B+ No wonder audiences responded! Opens up a rarefied tale and culture
Kedi - Don't care. Don't @ me, cat people You already own the whole Web.
In Dubious Battle - Whatever happened to Zeroville? That I'd actually see!
A Cure for Wellness - Heard on good authority I'd loathe this, but I'm curious
Tulip Fever - All that trouble! All those years! And what do I do? Ignore it.
A United Kingdom - The word-of-mouth really deterred me; I'm not a Piker
The Glass Castle - To different degrees, all three stars are hit-and-miss for me
The Promise - Can't afford to see Oscar in Hamlet, so if this is my chance...
Mark Felt - Why not a real Neeson movie? He could explode the White House!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Cannes '96, Expert Witness #7: Amir Soltani

I'm guessing many people reading have had the experience at least once of meeting someone in person whom you first admired and got to know over the internet.  At this point, it amazes me how many of the important friendships in my life unfolded this way.  One of these #blessed storylines in my life—though I wish we got to see each other more often, and not just while cramming in four-to-six movies per day at TIFF—led me to Amir Soltani, a film critic, festival programmer, public lecturer, and podcaster based in Toronto (none of which is even his day job!).  Everyone you meet, not just the people you knew first on the web, should turn out to be as kind and intelligent and reflective and big-hearted as Amir.  I first met him through his guest columns at The Film Experience and then started lurking at his own blog (newly relocated to this amazingly swank and impressive site).  I was really chuffed when he invited me to have a conversation with him and Tina Hassannia about Jafar Panahi at their Hello Cinema headquarters.  And I was so proud of and happy for Amir when he and some friends pulled off the first and sure-to-be-annual CineIran Film Festival at Toronto's Lightbox last November.

Like everyone I've spoken to about Cannes '96, Amir is an eager and catholic moviegoer with eclectic favorites.  Also, as with everyone else, his tastes sometimes converge with and sometimes depart from mine. This was never clearer to me than last year, when he was one of my most industrious co-conspirators in the Cannes '95 project that preceded and motivated this year's undertaking.  I miss having Amir's daily opinions about every movie we're both watching, so I couldn't help polling him about this year's roster.  Of course I wanted to know his thoughts about the one major Iranian entry in Cannes '96, but also about the other films floating around the festival.  I was curious, too, how his own latter-day experience as a festival coordinator might have changed his orientation toward the movies...

ND: One more round with my standard opening: Secrets & Lies, Fargo, and Breaking the Waves were the early and persistent favorites for the Palme in 1996. Where do your loyalties lie within this distinguished trio?

AS: It's quite rare that the definitive films from any given year's festival emerge so quickly and manage to remain the most acclaimed and widely discussed films so many years on. That this has happened with the above trio only speaks to their quality. Breaking the Waves is my least favourite of the three, though in fairness, it is also the one I haven't seen in the longest while. Perhaps my opinion of it also suffers from my hotand cold relationship with Lars von Trier, who is always making it difficult for me to go back and revisit his older works. On the other hand, Fargo is one of the most re-watchable films of all time. Is it the warm presence of Frances McDormand or the endearing naïveté of William H. Macy that makes such a cold, bloody film so inviting? The Coens have remained two of America's most singular and provocative voices in the two decades since, but they've rarely matched the narrative precision, emotional depth, and quirky humor of this masterpiece.

That being said, I think the jury made the correct call. I don't have the words to describe quite how much I treasure Secrets & Lies, a film that reduces me to a puddle of tears every time I watch it. The conceit of the story might sound too melodramatic and its characters too ordinary on paper, but the final result is a transcendent, personal experience. You can feel the bittersweet history of that photo studio, and breathe the suffocating air of that new house, and cry for all the lost time in that diner.

I can't help wondering if you, as a Torontonian, have thoughts about Cronenberg's Crash and particularly about the chilly, indelible way it frames your adopted home city.

Toronto is usually a substitute on screen for other urban American settings, so to see the city represent itself in films that cross over to the rest of the world is a delight. It also makes Crash doubly terrifying for me. Having driven on those roads at high speeds myself many times, to witness the crash and subsequent chases on the same streets is frightening. In general, a Cronenberg joint is the last place I'd like to imagine myself inhabiting. As for the film itself, I've been notoriously averse to the cinema of this Canadian giant, with the two notable exceptions of The Fly and Dead Ringers. Crash is neither as daring nor as entertaining as those films, and its air of edginess never quite feels authentic to me.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cannes '96, Expert Witness #6: Stephen Cone

Stephen Cone is an actor-writer-director I'd be dying to meet if I didn't know him already. By living in the same city, haunting the same movie spots, and now teaching at the same institution, I've been fortunate to keep crossing Stephen's path, and he's such a warm, smart, interesting guy. This is just what you'd hope from seeing his films, which maintain a fundamental empathy with their characters even as the stories take risky turns and grapple with human complexity. I marveled at this quality of Stephen's work, compassionate without being dull or soft, cognizant of merit in very different people's positions, when I saw his debut feature The Wise Kids. Still my favorite movie about young contemporary characters navigating dilemmas of faith and sexuality—sometimes separately, sometimes together—The Wise Kids is a minor miracle in a modern culture where these subjects, among others, are so hard to broach in a non-polarizing way that retains mystery and respects variety.

Several aspects of story, tone, and style link Stephen's subsequent features together, but at the same time, there's almost nothing they all have in common. The Wise Kids, Black Box, and Henry Gamble's Birthday Party handle large ensembles with impressive balance, but This Afternoon constrains its canvas to just two characters and sees quite far into both of them, especially the woman played so shrewdly by Nikki Pierce. Black Box, which stars another actor-writer-director, Josephine Decker, takes a backstage plot of theater production to some impressively stark places. I hadn't fully expected this from someone who makes decency and human fellowship as textured and interesting as Stephen does in Wise Kids and Henry Gamble. That said, those movies take their own detours into coldness, cruelty, and sorrow, which are all the more bracing because they unfold against broader, appealing backdrops of kinship and camaraderie.

Whoever you are, if you haven't seen Stephen's movies, you should. Henry Gamble, brand new on DVD and streaming, is a gorgeous place to start. Meanwhile, as we learn so often at Cannes, where David Lynch's jury fell for the narratively controlled and stylistically cool Pianist and the mad, more-is-more, midnight-movie barker George Miller stumped for the stripped-down didacticism of Ken Loach, you can't necessarily predict filmmakers' tastes from the kinds of movies they make. I asked Stephen some questions inspired by his own work and my guesses about what might interest or inspire him. I also asked some that were more open-ended and, as with all my favorite film buddies, his answers surprised me as often as not.

ND: Fairly early at Cannes '96, Secrets & Lies, Fargo, and Breaking the Waves emerged as the three films to beat for the Palme. As I've asking all my interlocutors, had you been on the jury, divvying prizes among that trio, which would you have recommended for the Palme? What do you most love or admire about it?

SC: If I were the 35-year-old filmmaker/cinephile I am now, I likely would've championed Secrets & Lies, the beautiful, humanist ending of which I think about quite often. The whole film has a special, direct, emotional power that has come to be a staple of Leigh's work. He's one of my favorite filmmakers, but I consistently underrate or even forget about him. That could have something to do with his never being in fashion.

That said, 16-year-old aspiring actor/filmmaker Stephen would've given the prize to Fargo—which I still like now, though I'm not big on the Coens' 90s work in retrospect. It's not inexhaustible to me, like much of their recent work is. The unbelievable richness of their masterful No Country-through-Llewyn Davis stretch to me makes Fargo look like a middling Disney film. And I don't like von Trier at all now; Melancholia's okay, but that's it. I find him to be cartoonishly cynical and stupid, though he very much appealed to my sense of discovery in the late 90s and early 00s.

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Cannes '96, Expert Witnesses #4 and #5: Joe Reid and Nathaniel Rogers

At this point, what's left to say to my loyal readers about Joe Reid, multi-platform pop culture profiler extraordinaire, or Nathaniel Rogers, host of the internet's giddiest, freshest, most personally stamped, and most succulent movie blog?  Nathaniel and Joe are fellow cinephiles and dear friends, frequent festival companions and podcasting partners, and easily two of my favorite people anywhere with whom to discuss any movie, any time, from any place.  We hit Skype most Sunday mornings at 9am EST to record a conversation about new releases or old favorites.  A couple weeks ago, they indulged me with an hour-long conversation synced to my #Cannes96 project, which gradually dilates out to a broader conversation about movies we love from 1996 as a whole.  Rather than transcribe the conversation, I'll just encourage you to listen to this exchange with two chaps who express themselves excitedly and unpretentiously while taking in a vast and endless spectrum of movies, from high art to superhero hash.  Along the way, more or less in order, you'll hear us confront my usual conversation starter—"Are you a Waves breaker, a Friend of Marge, or a Keeper of Secrets & Lies?"—and then move on to all of the following...

* rumored Cannes jury squabbles in 1996, especially related to Crash

* brilliant Palme also-rans like Too Late and Goodbye, South, Goodbye

* the sole indignity among the prizes conferred by Francis Ford Coppola's jury

* Nathaniel's memories of seeing Ridicule and Temptress Moon in theaters

* brief but collective enthusiasm for Irma Vep, I Shot Andy Warhol, and Girl 6

* Nathaniel's love of "Peter Greenaway," his pet name for Ewan McGregor's penis

* news of the only movie that Monty Clift, Nathaniel's cat, ever watched in full

* a comparison of snail sex in Microcosmos and abject human sex in Lars von Trier

* Joe leading the charge of praise for Trainspotting, metonymically linked to MTV

* Joe's sense that Flirting with Disaster reflects an earlier, better David O. Russell

* questions about A Self-Made Hero, which link back to Hélène's comments

* raptures about Lone Star, echoing John's, and Nathaniel's thoughts on Sayles

* my valentine to an underdog comic crowd-pleaser hiding inside the lineup

* Joe's and Nathaniel's differently vivid stories of first colliding with Crash

* our short, spontaneous lists of favorites from '96 that more folks should rent

That last conversation wends in varying degrees of detail through The Birdcage, Bound, Emma, Everyone Says I Love You, Jerry Maguire, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Nutty Professor, The Portrait of a Lady, Swingers, and William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet.  I thought I said something about Big Night, too, but maybe that got cut for time.  The last two words of the exchange are "beautiful thing," which should have been an allusion to that quietly fabulous gay teen romance from '96 but refers in context to... a quite different love story that involves total speculation on my part.

Thanks, meanwhile, to Joe and Nathaniel, those two beautiful things.  And stay tuned, readers, for a few more Expert Witness columns from other friends and comrades in cinema!

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Cannes '96, Expert Witness #3: Noah Tsika

Following my wide-ranging survey of Cannes '96 with Hélène Zylberait and my Lone Star-focused exchange with John Alba Cutler, my third Expert Witness conversation is with Noah Tsika, an Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at Queens College, CUNY, where he specializes in historical, political, economic, and representational aspects of West African film and video.  You can (and should!) get your fullest exposure to this dimension of Noah's work in his book Nollywood Stars: Media and Migration in West Africa and the Diaspora, which debuted just over a year ago from Indiana University Press.  The book is a great, accessible, multi-sided assessment of celebrity, performance, narrative, circulation, and distribution in relation to a huge, Nigeria-based film culture with a mind-boggling and under-reported global reach.

Still, to say Noah "specializes" in any one thing feels like a misnomer, given his eclectic pursuits as a media scholar and his seeming awareness of every movie ever made.  You might know his work from the short study of Gods and Monsters he published in Arsenal's Queer Film Classic series a while back, or from his contributions to anthologies about African sci-fi and genre fiction, or Brokeback Mountain, or 21st-century film criticism. I am desperately anticipating his next book, Pink 2.0, due out this October, about digital queer cinema. (Feel free to pre-order it!)  Soon, we will feature together in a collection of feminist essays on each of Todd Haynes's movies, where Noah's attentions will focus on my beloved Dottie Gets Spanked. Noah's Twitter feed is the best place to enjoy his diverse and funny reflections on new releases as they bow, on the wide-ranging classes he teaches, on the latest exploits and milestones of African films and their headliners, and on important political causes, including those that directly affect his institution and its students.

I was most eager to engage Noah about Flora Gomes's Tree of Blood, a joint production of Portugal and Guinea-Bissau and a rare West African feature to grace the Main Competition at Cannes. Gomes's name and work were new to me through this #Cannes96 exercise (and perfect evidence of why I undertake these projects) but Noah, as ever, has been tracking this filmmaker for a while.  Some of our exchange centered around this title, but in perfect tribute to my discussion partner, the talk spreads to race and racism on film, environmentalism, Robert Altman, misogynist archetypes, festival politics, places to see all-but-buried African features, and other topics far and wide...

ND: By the first week of Cannes '96, the three big stories were already Secrets & Lies, Fargo, and Breaking the Waves, and they maintained that status for the remainder.  So first, I'm polling everybody: had you been on the jury, which of those three would you have championed for the Palme? What do you most love or admire about it?

NT: In 1996, Secrets & Lies was the one for me—and I suspect that it still is. I like to think of it as a film about passing, and I've taught it alongside such works as Basil Dearden's Sapphire (1959) and Imitation of Life (both the 1934 and the 1959 versions, directed by John M. Stahl and Douglas Sirk, respectively). Secrets & Lies upends the conventions of this particular subgenre, if you can even call it that. The film is about poor white people who struggle with their proximity to Blackness—who, in various ways, have attempted to pass as isolated, even hermetic, in their whiteness—and an affluent, tremendously accomplished Black woman who is utterly unperturbed by her own "difference." The performances are gorgeous. Brenda Blethyn is, despite what detractors might say, thoroughly in character with her histrionics. It's a dazzling turn: the Cannes jury got Best Actress exactly right, and Blethyn should have won the Oscar, too. Marianne Jean-Baptiste is wonderful, as is Timothy Spall, but young Claire Rushbrook is simply astonishing. Her displays of anger and resentment always terrify me. Secrets & Lies has a truly great ending, with Blethyn's character offering a lovely little benediction. The film is hardly "cinematic" in the conventional sense, but I love its dingy, downright televisual style. It looks like a home movie, which is apt, I think.

Are you a fan of the other two in that group, or was this a pretty easy decision for you?

My parents took me to see Fargo the day it opened in Maine. I remember thrilling to its opening text; the words "true story" and "respect for the dead" so impressed me that I immediately stiffened my back, steeling myself for a Very Important Film. The austerity of the images, starting with a car approaching the screen amid all that snow, along with the urgency of Carter Burwell's remarkable score, made me believe that this would be a life-changing experience. (My mother must have had a similar response; she leaned toward me and whispered, "You'll probably want to write about this one.") But something about the film—its comic tone, its stylized acting, its repetitive linguistic play—disappointed me tremendously. It was only later, watching the film on television, that I began to enjoy it. The constant parodies must have made it less strange. In just a few months, Marge had become a pervasive object of impersonation, and I suddenly felt profoundly comfortable with Fargo. It had been transformed, for me, into a kind of collectively produced folk art.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cannes '96, Expert Witness #2: John Alba Cutler

Some of the friends I've interviewed about films that showed in Cannes 1996, like yesterday's guest Hélène Zylberait, have a pretty broad exposure to festival-circuit auteurs and their long bodies of work. Others are eager and regular moviegoers, but I was especially motivated to approach them because of contexts they could bring to a particular title.  Among this second group is my good pal John Alba Cutler, an award-winning scholar and teacher of U.S. Latino/a literature and contemporary U.S. poetry who works with me in Northwestern's English Department.  John's book Ends of Assimilation is among the best academic studies I've read in several years, in part because you don't have to be a scholar, much less one who is previously versed in the traditions of U.S. Latino/a fiction or poetry, to follow and appreciate it.  In an extremely accessible, wide-ranging, and often politically pointed way, John unfolds a substantial archive of novels, poems, journals, and other writings by Latino/a authors and uses that material, in part, to pose a complex and timely challenge to the languages and values attached to "assimilation" in U.S. public culture.  Not only does he question the pressures, internal and external, that Latinos face to assimilate (or not to assimilate) into what is perceived as "mainstream" anglophone U.S. culture but he voices considerable skepticism about what "assimilation" even means, and showcases the many ways in which novelists and poets have productively complicated these ideas.  If you don't believe me about how artistically illuminating, politically nuanced, and generally amazing this book is, maybe you'll trust this absolutely glowing review from the Los Angeles Review of Books. You can also read more about John's work here, starting on p.22.

I knew that John's scholarly interests and teaching areas made John Sayles's Lone Star a favorite of his, but we'd never had a full, proper conversation about this enduring yet somewhat under-heralded American classic (also the subject of this recent and interesting essay on Fandor).  In what follows, John is typically thoughtful and provocative about Lone Star but also extremely helpful in sketching out a whole literary tradition of Latino/a, Chicano/a, and border-related narratives that Lone Star fans should explore.  This is especially valuable given the continued failures of U.S. publishers as well as U.S. university English departments to make Latino/a cultural production central and visible in their catalogs and courses.  Lastly, having taken in several wide-ranging movies in theaters with John over the years, from the sublime to the ridiculous, I was also curious for his thoughts about a few other films that played the Croisette twenty years ago.

ND: I know you teach Lone Star sometimes, but in which classes, and with what curricular or intellectual goals?

JAC: I’ve taught Lone Star in several different classes, including classes on border literature, interracial dynamics in American culture, and a course on the long cultural history of Manifest Destiny. I generally want students to come away understanding that Mexican Americans have a long history within the United States (i.e., that we’re not just recent immigrants), that Mexican American communities are not monolithic, and that the history of the US-Mexico border demonstrates how inextricable Mexican and American culture are from one another.

Are there particular subplots that seem to resonate most for your students? Or any that tend to confound them? (Spoilers ahead here, including That One.)

Among the pleasures of teaching Lone Star are students’ reactions to the revelation that Sam and Pilar are half-siblings. Reactions generally range from nervous tittering to outright revulsion, but what the narrative so deftly points out is the thin line between animosity and desire subtending racial politics. Also, Elizabeth Peña is luminous, QDEP. I find that being shaken out of neutral helps students begin to interrogate difficult ideas, and Lone Star does nothing if not shake.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Cannes '96, Expert Witness #1: Hélène Zylberait

Film festivals are delicious even you experience them as a solo flyer, but they are also, crucially, a collective experience.  I've spent the last several weeks watching 55 movies that first screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1996 and am still in the process of posting longer thoughts about them. But as I keep drafting my own reports, I have also been polling some friends who inhabit and contribute to "film culture" broadly construed, from a purposefully eclectic series of standpoints: as critics, as teachers, as programmers, as actors, as directors, as voracious consumers, and often as several of those things. This week, I'll roll out a series of these short interviews, so you'll get more takes on these 20-year-old movies than just my own... and so I, too, have the privilege of contemplating these films from a variety of perspectives.

First up in this series is my dear friend Hélène Zylberait, a programmer, scholar, translator, critic, journalist, and film-lover who has been variously centered in Paris and Berlin the last several years. We met through my partner Derek, who befriended Hélène during graduate school at Cornell; she left the same summer I arrived, but to my great happiness, we have crossed paths many, many, many times.  I always love talking to Hélène about movies, to include helping her think of good French substitutes, for reasons that will soon be obvious, for what Samuel Fuller means when he says, for example, "I wanted to make a film that really socked it to 'em!"  I love that she happens to mention In the Mood for Love and Dancer in the Dark in these responses; I doubt she remembers this, but those were the two movies Derek and I saw in gorgeous Parisian cinemas when we visited her for New Year's Eve in 2000 and rolled in the new millennium with her.  As has been true of every friend who has answered so far, Hélène confirmed some of what I guessed about her tastes and surprised me in other ways, which is the best kind of film buddy to have. I also hope you get an impression of how catholic and rangy her aesthetic tastes are, and agree with me that it's only fitting for our first Expert Witness to be French herself, and a frequent veteran of the Croisette.

(And if I may be so gauche: if you're looking for a brilliant English-to-French translator, especially but not only for movie-related books, look no further! I'll gladly put you in touch with my talented, eloquent friend.)

ND: First, let my readers know about some of the many jobs you've had related to film, and what kind of work you've done most recently.

HZ: As a life-long cinephile, my dream was always to somehow talk about movies. So far, thanks to incredible encounters, I have been able to work in different movie-related fields. I started out as a film journalist for various publications, and more specifically on Radio Nova in Paris. After a few years I got the opportunity to work in art-house movie theatres in Paris’s Latin Quarter as an assistant programmer and projects organizer before becoming head of distribution for Cine Classic (a company specializing in revivals). While researching and putting together programs for the Paris Holocaust Memorial, I met Christa Fuller, the widow of the great Samuel Fuller. I translated his amazing autobiography A Third Face, which got published in France in 2011 by Editions Allia. Since then, I have been working as both a translator and an interpreter for publishing houses, film producers, and distributors.

Fairly early at Cannes in 1996, Secrets & LiesFargo, and Breaking the Waves emerged as the three films to beat for the Palme.  The eventual awards confirmed them as the perceived cream of that year's crop.  Had you been on the jury, divvying prizes among that trio, which would you have championed for the Palme? What do you most love or admire about it?

At the time, I would have probably championed Fargo. I remember vividly seeing it at the movie theatre and being impressed by the mix of genres that is so perfectly crafted here: thriller, comedy, gruesome yet kind of funny moments, like the foot getting forced inside the mincer or whatever it was. I also thought Frances MacDormand was at her absolute best, along with Blood Simple, which I saw around that time in a brand new print. These characters, everyday people caught in an inextricable situation, both touched and scared me. 

Do you have briefer thoughts about the other two films in that trio?  As I recall, you aren't the biggest von Trier fan....

I think Lars von Trier is probably one of the most talented directors alive. I really do. All his body of work is groundbreaking and disturbing. That being said, again, at the time, I thought Breaking the Waves was a misogynist film. In retrospect, I was maybe too young when I saw the film (I was then 20) and I probably took the whole story too literally. I was angry at all the characters, hence at the director. Although I was a huge fan of Europa and The Kingdom, this film left me with nothing but rage and sadness. Which is probably a good sign! I only recently reunited with Lars von Trier through Melancholia, which is, to me, one of the best films ever made about depression.

I remember being very moved by Secrets & Lies. I saw it again a year or two ago and I was struck by how bright and powerful it is. The performances by Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste add a layer of social consciousness to this intimate story in such a way that anyone can relate to it. Still today, it is my favorite of Leigh’s, along with Naked.

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Monday, May 09, 2016

Cannes 1996: Day 1: May 9

Patrice Leconte's Ridicule (IMDB) begins with a dolled-up and pissed-off 18th-century Frenchman striding through the gilded hallways of a fellow aristocrat's estate. Having cornered the elderly, incapacitated owner in his opulent bedroom, he pulls out his penis in close-up and pisses all over this vieux monsieur's silk vestments and ruffled shirts. That's the movie in a nutshell: extravagant finery, mounted for maximal oohs and ahhs from the art house crowd, inclined to abrupt and wicked assaults on itself and its audience. That's also the Cannes Film Festival for you, a fussy, self-fashioned pinnacle of artistry and glamour, barely concealing its lip-smacking hunger for controversy, vulgarity, grandiosity, and humiliation.  Opening Night is frequently an occasion for dire catharsis, as some lumbering commercial calculation like The Da Vinci Code or some beige flash in the middlebrow pan like Blindness gets trotted out to the global cinemarati. They, in turn, gnash their incisors on these stale appetizers before the real haute cuisine starts arriving the following morning.

By the standards of Cannes openers, Ridicule is a substantially above-average achievement. That is to say, it's a perfectly fine movie, engaging throughout, impressive in several passages, shaky in a few others. Styled as a kind of homegrown Dangerous Liaisons (Fanny Ardant's final shot owes an all-but-explicit debt to Glenn Close's indelible signoff as Merteuil), Ridicule handily seduces the wigs-and-bustles audience while baring a sharper-than-usual set of teeth. The critique of royal decadence—moral, verbal, sexual, monetary, gustatory, political—is nothing new in itself, but the stakes ramify outward from Versailles in unique and memorable ways. Beyond just vanquishing rivals and chasing tail, though he manages plenty of both, naïve protagonist Grégoire Ponceludon de Malavoy (demonlover's Charles Berling) is mastering the art of weaponized badinage for a specific purpose, which palpably fascinates the filmmakers.  He wants to rid his swampy village of mosquito-borne illness and thus needs palace financing for a complex engineering scheme that will rehabilitate public health and local ecology.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lineup Announcement: Cannes 1996

As the world absorbs the newly announced Cannes 2016 lineup, we (read: I) here at Nick's Flick Picks prepare our annual traditional of participating in all the madness by revisiting some Cannes Film Festival of the past.  This year, I've booked a trip to Cannes 1996, roundly celebrated at the time as one of the richest Competitions in then-recent history.  Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves, the Coen Brothers's Fargo, and Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies all emerged as Palme front-runners in the top half of the festival.  Not only did each reap major prizes on the Croisette, their acclaim persisted across the year, landing them on year-end Ten Best lists around the world and scoring major Oscar wins and nominations.  Revisiting these three films alone would be a worthwhile errand on their 20th anniversary, since electing on a "best" among them is as tricky now as it was then. Same goes for their three leading ladies, who eventually held down three-fifths of a notably superb Best Actress roster at that year's Academy Awards.

But Cannes 1996 offered even more than its three principal breakout titles. David Cronenberg shocked the festival so completely that Francis Ford Coppola's jury had to devise a separate prize for originality, daring, and audacity. Ewan McGregor was the where'd-he-come-from ingénue of the moment, flashing his gorgeous eight-inch ...smile in both Trainspotting and The Pillow Book. Jacques Audiard and Arnaud Desplechin took major strides toward global renown in the Main Competition, where Robert Altman, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Michael Cimino staged more elegiac bids for continued relevance. New names like Paul Thomas Anderson, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Mary Harron, and David O. Russell attracted more devotees, none of them realizing that their next movies would really make their names. Iran, Japan, Romania, Australia, Russia, Poland, Senegal, and Spain extended the glorious runs of their national cinemas, while Georgia, Lithuania, and Guinea-Bissau marshaled more meager resources to yield memorable titles.

I'll fold as many sidebar titles as I can into my Cannes 1996 screenings, but at the very least, I'll have my notepad out for all the movies selected for the Main Competition (pending the availability of one elusive title, but even 21 out of 22 wouldn't be bad).  There'll be no jury joining me this year.  I'm too busy at my day job to coordinate another mass effort this spring.  But I still hope you'll all play along as much as you can at home, especially if you notice a title that you've been thirsty to reexamine or eager to dig up for a first encounter.  Here's what I can tell you about my main itinerary. More to follow, all leading up to the main action from May 9-20, the dates of the actual 1996 Cannes Film Festival.

Main Competition

Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier, Denmark/France/Sweden): I've seen this three or four times over the years, always with astonishment at its ambition and uniqueness, but with some upward and downward swings of real affection.  How will it go down this time, especially on that recently-issued Criterion Blu-ray?

Crash (David Cronenberg, Canada): One of those movies I can't imagine my life without, and effectively the film that inspired my entire first book, despite registering only peripherally in the finished product. I'm a sucker for this one, but I noticed on my most recent return that my reactions were shifting a little.

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Supporting Actress: Jan's Out, Feb's In

We've reached the end of our first month of the yearlong Supporting Actress retrospective, honoring the 365 movies that have yielded nominations in that category's first 80 years. (This year's AMPAS voters, whatever their other foibles, at least complied with my schema and furnished nominees from five separate films, which keeps my math on track.) I hope you've had fun reading along, if you have been.  You can click the image to the left and visit the Calendar for more on each nominated movie, plus a few individual performance reviews.

So, who are your five favorite nominees from this early batch? And, separate question, what are your five favorites among the films? My own all-star team of performances from this batch probably entails Judith Anderson for Rebecca, Fay Bainter for Jezebel, Jane Darwell for The Grapes of Wrath, Agnes Moorehead for The Magnificent Ambersons, and Barbara O'Neil for All This, and Heaven Too, with apologies to close runner-up Patricia Collinge for The Little Foxes. If we're talking actual movies, my cream of the crop encompasses Dead End, Dodsworth, Gone with the Wind, The Magnificent Ambersons, and The Philadelphia Story, though it stings to leave out Grapes, Rebecca, and Stage Door, especially.

What are your thoughts, dear reader? And—one more question—are there supporting performances by women from 1936-1942 that you especially wish had appeared on Oscar's ballot?

Lastly, do consider following along with the Supporting Actress films for February, already posted. The beauty of this feature is that you can already see what film will be up for review on the site and on Twitter for any given day. I'd love to hear other voices on the same movies. I know you're out there, you opinionated queens. Four of February's performances are first-time viewings for me: Paulette Goddard in So Proudly We Hail (1943), Lucile Watson in Watch on the Rhine (1943), and two winners, Ethel Barrymore in None But the Lonely Heart (1944) and Anne Baxter in The Razor's Edge (1946). Beyond my curiosity about these four, I'm especially keen to revisit The Song of Bernadette (1943), which I saw once, ages ago. I wish I remembered Crossfire (1947) more clearly. Two famous films that I didn't love the first and only times I saw them, Mildred Pierce (1945) and Key Largo (1948), are also ripe for reassessment.  And somehow, we'll all get through the mid-40s fad for nominating ethnically inappropriate performances: Aline MacMahon's "Chinese" peasant in Dragon Seed (1944), though she at least applies a soft touch; Gale Sondergaard's member of the palace in Anna and the King of Siam (1946); and, easily worst of all, Flora Robson's blackface part in Saratoga Trunk (1945, but nominated in 1946). Jesus, keep me close to the cross.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Live-Blogging the 2016 SAG Awards

9:00pm: Demi nabs one more camera moment to send everyone home. Beneath the credits, Tom Hooper is standing way too close to Julianne Moore and trying to spread his toxic fumes onto her. Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman are borderline making out as they stand up from their chairs, so some things are still exactly as they should be.

8:59pm: Big cheers for Compton while Demi recites, but the winner is—after Demi Moore's significant struggles with the envelope—the cast of Spotlight. I sorta think Tom McCarthy just reached over and victory-patted one of his actors on the butt, but I couldn't tell if it was Crudup or McAdams. Ruffalo winds up as ambassador. The Spotlight cast looks truly surprised and truly overjoyed. Keaton, Crudup, Slattery, and Schreiber all project granite, serious manface, so the camera crew decides to frame Ruffalo against the smilier D'Arcy James and McAdams. Ruffalo passes the SAG baton to Keaton, who says, "This is really for the disenfranchised everywhere... This is for every Flint, Michigan everywhere... This is for the powerless - and you can hang me for that if you want to, I really don't care." Nobody in this room is gonna hang him for that. Certainly not Sunrise Coigney, still the partner and audience member most prone to being emotionally overcome, for which I adore her.

8:58pm: BEST ENSEMBLE (Beasts, Big Short, Spotlight, Compton, Trumbo hahaha) - I still think Spotlight will take this, but if Big Short surprises, that might be all she wrote for the Oscar race. Certainly Spotlight would get my vote, with Compton its only close competitor, and not even that close.

8:57pm: Demi. Just hilarious.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Live-Blogging the 2015 Golden Globes

10:01: "That's it. Sorry, we're out of time." That's Ricky Gervais from offscreen somewhere. Then follows it up with "From Mel Gibson and myself, 'Shalom.'" Hope you've all survived this live-blog. If you found it trying, frivolous, and repetitive, go put things in perspective. Sleep outside, inside an animal.

10:00: It's The Revenant, notwithstanding that The Revenant is terrible. So rather than focus too much on this, can we just have a moment here?  Iñárritu. Those diacritics over the letters are your best friends. They tell you just what to do. Iñ-Á-rritu. If we're going to have to go through this again in a month, which I'm not convinced will be necessary but suddenly looks more likely than it did a few hours ago, just practice!

Prediction: Spotlight. I thought so before the party started, and I still think so, since the Globes are no stranger to the Best Picture-with-no-other-wins thing. Even if The Revenant came out pretty strong tonight.
Preference: Carol, by miles, though I'd be happy with Mad Max or the Globe crowd. The Boston Globe.
Harrison Ford, who has lived another evening without offing himself  from sheer disgust at his vocation and its attendant frou-fra, is here to present it.

9:57: Seriously, though. "From The Hunger Games, Julianne Moore?" That's so messed up.

Prediction: Leonardo DiBisonLiver
Preference: A total and complete recall. I'd tick Fassbender's box (that is not a euphemism, I am not horrifying) but I'd be closing my eyes and thinking about Macbeth while I did it.
Of course Leonardo DiCaprio wins it, and everyone stands up and applauds, because he's the only nominated actor who literally died while making his movie. He does speak with eloquence, and not exactly his fault that his full-throated tribute to First Nations people and their lands doesn't sit all that well with the exoticizing and somewhat hoary depiction of them in the movie. You really get the feeling that people in that room have heard even worse stories than the rest of us have about how awful it got on that set. I assume DiCaprio's in a tricky position and he brings his speech off with class, even if I'm so over the whole thing. The only bit that amazes me is that Kate Winslet isn't crying. She's as steely and focused as Jacob Tremblay was during Brie's. Everybody must be too tired for euphoria.

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Friday, January 01, 2016

A Whole New Year of Actressing

Having just successfully completed one long-deferred project, my resolution for 2016 is to get cracking on updates to the Best Actress section of my website, which has been virtually static for five years.  The rehab will be extensive: ditching the cumbersome html frames, reformatting, editing existing prose, and adding updates from years I have not covered, including the most recent ones.  I'll also make some minimal and carefully curated expansions to cover un-nominated performances by heavy campaigners, by actresses working nowhere near Oscar's tastes, and by non-anglophone performers who too rarely catch the Academy's eye.  As you'll see in this mockup, I've already worked out some of the design issues, at least provisionally, and I'm ready to get watching, re-watching, writing, and re-writing.  For many of you, the Best Actress section was your entryway into the site, or remains your favorite wing of it, or both. I get lots of nice e-mails from you with firm but tactful suggestions that I report back for duty.  So here I am, showing up.  (The old versions will persist on Nick's Flick Picks for a few more weeks before the first new page is ready.)

As I've said before, part of the delay has involved some strategizing about how to reboot this as a website feature while simultaneously developing it as a book or series of books, which I have already discussed with one excited editor who has given me some great leads.  This part of the plan obviously means not giving away all the content for free.  Still, the response to what I've written so far and what currently remains available on the site is why there is a documentable audience for such a publishing venture anyway.  So the compromises here will be twofold: 1) updates and reboots, but rarely for full years, and requiring that portions of what's currently posted will have to come down; and 2) a focus at first on two particular decades, since these subsets of the larger project will serve as the sample material for prospective agents and presses.  My current plans are to start with 1970-79 and 2000-2009, so expect the first wave of new and revised posts to fall within those frameworks.  I hope you'll be excited about this material, and since your enthusiasm will be a huge help in making the case to publishers, please be vigorous in the Comment sections, even when you disagree with me!

Meanwhile, turning from leading ladies to their supporting sisters, this year marks the 80th birthday of the Best Supporting Actress category at the Oscars, meaning we'll soon meet our 400th nominee.  But here's a statistic I don't think you'll read anywhere else: because of multiple nominations from the same movies in many years, our existing constellation of Supporting Actress nominees hails from 360 movies.  Barring the unlikely scenario whereby Rooney Mara's transfixing lead performance in Carol gets nominated in the Supporting race, as per studio wishes, and her castmate Sarah Paulson comes from behind to reap a surprising but well-deserved mention on the same list, we'll be looking at 365 movies over time that reaped recognition in this race.

Did someone say 365?  Who am I to ignore a number as resonant as that?

Yes, I know, 2016 is a leap year. But that won't stop me from posting this handy calendar representing all the movies that have made that category such an enduring joy, if also an occasional head-scratcher or locus of frustration.  When there's time, I'll post some occasional performance reviews here, too.  One's up today for Beulah Bondi in The Gorgeous Hussy, the first name listed on the first ballot in the first year of Best Supporting Actress.  And yes, it's 365 words long.  Obviously, the Supporting Actress Smackdowns at Nathaniel R's The Film Experience, having originated at StinkyLulu's Blog, remain the best, most thorough, and most excitingly multi-voiced spots to investigate "actressing at the edges."  I'll be less of a completist in this area and don't want to horn in on their turf.  Though in fact, the idea of the Smackdowns was initially inspired by my own Best Actress section, so everything comes full circle!

I'll look forward to more posts, conversations, and hopefully publications in 2016.  No website can satisfy all your actressing needs, which I assume are substantial, and no new year ever goes exactly according to plan.  But I'll keep showing up if you do.  Cheers!

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Website that Went Up a Hill and, Ten Years Later, Came Down a Mountain

Updated, Dec. 30: And at long last... it's a wrap!

Original, Nov. 28: Wow. Even I didn't expect to be this productive.  When I decided a week ago to update the Favorites Countdown, a project that's been gestating on my site for literally ten years, I was responding to a few prompts. I've been pushing through one more essay for my job, having submitted three already in the last six months, and finding that my prose was getting more abstruse and congested. (Trust me, my editors agreed.) Writing more for the site usually coaches me back to less fussy, more avid self-expression.  I wanted more new content to show to anyone dropping in from my new gig at Film Comment, or from one I hope to start soon at Sight & Sound.  I was reluctant to show my face to Jonathan Storey, whom I'll finally meet this week, and who sent me a hand-written letter from the UK well over a year ago imploring me to wrap up this loose end. I couldn't even bear to show my face to myself if I actually let the project take more than a decade. Having written eight new entries inside of a week, I'm suddenly in striking distance of that goal.

Some time ago, I'd posted a version of the new entry on Junebug, hoping it might help me finish if I just wrote up the movies as I re-screened them, rather than honoring their order on the list. But that seemed confusing, and didn't work, anyway. Now that the revised entry is posted, the remaining 17 are all relative surprises, though I admit I'm curious: since several of you have been sweet enough to follow the site for years, how much of what's coming do you think you've deduced? I sometimes feel I talk about the same movies all the time, regardless of context, so I'm curious if I've tipped my hand more than I realize.

I'll also fess up that these last 17 films were all, at some point, in the endlessly shuffled Top 10, where any of them could still be plausible. The "ranking" aspect of this list is silly even by ranking standards, especially given the codicil that I'm omitting all the movies on my re-energized Top 100. (To keep from bewildering everybody, I'm going to pause on updates there while I finish the updates here.) There's no question that any list of my favorite-favorite movies would include The Piano, When Harry Met Sally..., Safe, Morvern Callar, Aliens, Harlan County USA, and several other movies you'll eventually find on that other roster, which pretends to disentangle aesthetic merit from personal bias.  So, probably none of the next and final 17 Favorites are the movies I name first when pressed at parties for my desert-island trove.  At the same time, I'd definitely want all of them on that desert island, #17 as much as #1.

The last thing to stipulate, given how long I've taken, is that I haven't altered the titles on the Favorites countdown to include any movies released after 2005, when I got going. A year or two into the saga, during the first Dormant Period, I shuffled a few out (still archived at the bottom of the sidebar scroll) and some new ones in, including Dave Chappelle's Block Party, Junebug, and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, all quite new at the time. There is one more Favorite of comparable vintage still to come, and one more fugitive from the former Top 100 list that moved over here when Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind migrated in the opposite direction. By all rights, several movies from my last decade of moviegoing should be here: Margaret, Prodigal Sons, Sleeping Beauty, Fish Tank, Deep Water, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and The Heat all spring to mind as likely contenders. But lest anyone wonder, I wanted to give you the feature you've been awaiting all this time, not some weird Blade Runner/New World amalgam of the original, the rough cut, and the changes I now wish I'd administered all along.

So, without further ado—but also with protracted, belabored surfeits of ado, which I thank you so much for indulging—here are the final 17 movies I hope you'll take to your hearts as I have to mine, if you haven't already... and I hope, too, that you'll keep sharing reactions and personal pets in the Comments!

1. Pola X (1999, dir. Leos Carax)
2. Velvet Goldmine (1998, dir. Todd Haynes)
3. The Way We Were (1973, dir. Sydney Pollack)
4. The Portrait of a Lady (1996, dir. Jane Campion)
5. Dog Day Afternoon (1975, dir. Sidney Lumet)
6. Frances (1982, dir. Graeme Clifford)
7. The Bridges of Madison County (1995, dir. Clint Eastwood)
8. 11'09"01 (2002, dirs. Miscellaneous)
9. Ocean's Eleven (2001, dir. Steven Soderbergh)
10. Grizzly Man (2005, dir. Werner Herzog)
11. Cape Fear (1991, dir. Martin Scorsese)
12. The China Syndrome (1979, dir. James Bridges)
13. Strange Days (1995, dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
14. Blackboards (2000, dir. Samira Makhmalbaf)
15. The Cell (2000, dir. Tarsem Singh)
16. You Can Count on Me (2000, dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
17. demonlover (2002, dir. Olivier Assayas)
18. Junebug (2005, dir. Phil Morrison)
19. Crash (1996, dir. David Cronenberg)
20. Walking and Talking (1996, dir. Nicole Holofcener)
21. Eyes Wide Shut (1999, dir. Stanley Kubrick)
22. Opening Night (1977, dir. John Cassavetes)
23. Blonde Venus (1932, dir. Josef von Sternberg)
24. Beau travail (1999, dir. Claire Denis)
25. Naked Lunch (1991, dir. David Cronenberg)

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Acting Contenders for 2015

Who am I forgetting? Who would you root for? Whose work have you not seen? Because if they're listed here, you definitely should...

Best Actress
Top Contenders
Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Cate Blanchett, Truth
Emily Blunt, Sicario
Sandra Bullock, Our Brand Is Crisis
Laia Costa, Victoria
Marion Cotillard, Macbeth
Blythe Danner, I'll See You in My Dreams
Rinko Kikuchi, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Rooney Mara, Carol 
Bel Powley, The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Honorable Mentions
Geraldine Chaplin, Sand Dollars
Golshifteh Farahani, About Elly
Michelle Hendley, Boy Meets Girl
Arielle Holmes, Heaven Knows What
Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey
Jacqueline Kim, Advantageous
Sidse Babett Knudsen, The Duke of Burgundy
Sarit Larry, The Kindergarten Teacher
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Maria Alexandra Lungu, The Wonders
Ellen Page, Freeheld
Teyonah Parris, Chi-Raq
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Sarah Silverman, I Smile Back
Cobie Smulders, Results
Sarah Snook, Predestination
Mya Taylor, Tangerine
Karidja Touré, Girlhood
Alicia Vikander, Testament of Youth
Mia Wasikowska, Madame Bovary
Kristen Wiig, Welcome to Me

Best Actor
Top Contenders
Ibrahim Ahmed, Timbuktu
Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation
Tom Courtenay, 45 Years 
John Cusack, Love & Mercy
Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
Jesse Eisenberg, The End of the Tour
Michael Fassbender, Macbeth
Michael B. Jordan, Creed
Michael Keaton, Spotlight
Frederick Lau, Victoria
Sam Louwyck, The Wonders
Josh Lucas, The Mend
Ben Mendelsohn, Mississippi Grind
Jason Mitchell, Straight Outta Compton
Olivier Rabourdin, Eastern Boys
Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul
Jason Segel, The End of the Tour
Koudous Seihon, Mediterranea
Michael Shannon, 99 Homes

Honorable Mentions
Christopher Abbott, James White
Jason Bateman, The Gift
Adam Driver, While We're Young
Bill Hader, Trainwreck
Corey Hawkins, Straight Outta Compton
Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina
O'Shea Jackson, Jr., Straight Outta Compton
Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight
Reda Kateb, Far from Men
Shameik Moore, Dope
Viggo Mortensen, Far from Men
Stephen Plunkett, The Mend
Ryan Reynolds, Mississippi Grind
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Matthias Schoenaerts, Far from the Madding Crowd

Best Supporting Actress
Top Contenders
Angela Bassett, Chi-Raq
Cate Blanchett, Cinderella
Viola Davis, Blackhat
Noni Hazlehurst, Truth
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Cynthia Nixon, James White
Jada Pinkett Smith, Magic Mike XXL
Erica Rivas, Wild Tales
Elisabeth Röhm, Joy
Isabella Rossellini, Joy
Lise Roy, Tom at the Farm
Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria
Mickey Sumner, The Mend
Tessa Thompson, Creed
Kristen Wiig, The Diary of a Teenage Girl 

Honorable Mentions
Diana Avrămuţ, When Evening Falls on Bucharest, or Metabolism
Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Nicole Kidman, Paddington
Andie MacDowell, Magic Mike XXL
Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Lucy Owen, The Mend
Sheu Fang-yi, The Assassin
Phyllis Smith, Inside Out
Tilda Swinton, Trainwreck

Best Supporting Actor
Top Contenders
Emory Cohen, Brooklyn
Michael Cyril Creighton, Spotlight
Billy Crudup, Spotlight
Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
Taron Egerton, Testament of Youth
Sam Elliott, Grandma
Sam Elliott, I'll See You in My Dreams
Keir Gilchrist, It Follows
Tim Guinee, 99 Homes
Stacy Keach, Truth
Jimmy LeBlanc, Spotlight
James Marsden, The D Train
Reynaldo Pacheco, Our Brand Is Crisis
Austin Pendleton, The Mend
Chris Sarandon, I Smile Back
Liev Schreiber, Spotlight
Michael Shannon, Freeheld
Michael Sheen, Far from the Madding Crowd
Alexander Skarsgård, The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Martin Starr, I'll See You in My Dreams
Stanley Tucci, Spotlight
Daniil Vorobyov, Eastern Boys

Honorable Mentions
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Reg E. Cathey, Nasty Baby
Kevin Corrigan, Results
John Cusack, Chi-Raq
Joaquim de Almeida, Our Brand Is Crisis
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Paul Giamatti, Straight Outta Compton
Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight
Scott Mescudi, James White
Michael Peña, Ant-Man
Bernard Pruvost, Li'l Quinquin
Édgar Ramírez, Joy
Peter Sarsgaard, Black Mass
Jamey Sheridan, Spotlight
Leonardo Sbaraglia, Wild Tales
Michael Welch, Boy Meets Girl

Best Ensemble Cast
Top Contenders
About Elly
La Jaula de oro
Mississippi Grind
Our Brand Is Crisis
The Wonders

Honorable Mentions
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
I'll See You in My Dreams
The Kindergarten Teacher
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Love & Mercy
The Mend
Nasty Baby
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
The Princess of France
Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Straight Outta Compton
Wild Tales

Still Anticipating
Animals, Appropriate Behavior, Blind, Bluebird, Buzzard, By the Sea, Concussion, Digging for Fire, Good Kill, Jimmy's Hall, Kilo Two Bravo, The Lady in the Van, Learning to Drive, Legend, Love at First Sight, Mr. Holmes, Ned Rifle, The New Girlfriend, Office, Saint Laurent, The Second Mother, Secret in Their Eyes, She's Lost Control, Spring, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Theeb, Time Out of Mind, Tu dors Nicole, What We Do in the Shadows

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