Variety Studio ACTORS ON ACTORS Online Series Debuts For 2016 Awards Season (VIDEOS)

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It’s Oscar time again, and Hollywood trade publication Variety has another season of their Actors on Actors series to go with it. Better and more interesting than the fluff you get on late night, these conversations are artists talking about their art as well as the life of working in the business.

The setup is simple but the discussions are deep, with no host moderating, and most last anywhere between just shy of a half-hour or just beyond that. In each one, Variety brings two actors together who have gained Awards buzz traction in 2016 (including some previous Academy Award winners). Their conversations are free form but they remain focused on the art, the craft, and the business.

The first six full length episodes are linked below. Actors on Actors will continue to debut new conversations throughout the Awards season.

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Tom Hanks and Viola Davis – 36:16
Awards contenders for Sully (Hanks) and Fences (Davis)

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Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams – 23:11
Awards contenders for Jackie (Portman) and Manchester by the Sea (Williams)

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Emma Stone and Molly Shannon – 29:53
Awards contenders for La La Land (Stone) and Other People (Shannon)

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Amy Adams and Andrew Garfield – 32:57
Awards contenders for Arrival and Nocturnal Animals (Adams) and Hacksaw Ridge and Silence (Garfield)

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Matthew McConaughey and Jeff Bridges – 31:47
Awards contenders for Gold (McConaughey) and Hell or High Water (Bridges)

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Annette Bening and Naomie Harris – 19:16
Awards contenders for 20th Century Women (Bening) and Moonlight (Harris)

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MANCHESTER BY THE SEA Named Best Film Of The Year by National Board Of Review (AWARDS 2016)

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The 2016 Awards Season has begun.

The National Board of Review has announced its choices for the best achievements in filmmaking for the past year, coming out of the gate just ahead of the New York Film Critics Circle (the two orgs have been fighting for pole position the past few years). Along with their picks for the best films of the year, awards were given for Best Actor, Actress, and many more of the usual suspects. (Complete list below.)

Per usual, this eclectic group mixes expected citations with surprising snubs, ignoring some artier fair for more mainstream offerings. Still, many of the year’s most critically-acclaimed films have made the cut, including their Best Film choice Manchester by the Sea, which is an Academy Award frontrunner. The NBR also chose that indie drama’s star Casey Affleck for Best Actor. He’ll likely be duking it out for that honor on Oscar night with Denzel Washington (for the upcoming Fences, absent from this list).

Absent are likely contenders Jackie, Loving, and the Weinstein Company’s one hope Lion.

NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW
Best of 2016

Best Film:  Manchester by the Sea

Other Top Films (listed alphabetically)
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hail, Caesar!
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Moonlight
Patriot’s Day
Silence
Sully

Best Director:  Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Best Actor:  Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Best Actress: Amy Adams, Arrival
Best Supporting Actor: Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Best Supporting Actress:  Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Best Original Screenplay:  Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Best Adapted Screenplay:  Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese, Silence
Best Animated Feature:  Kubo and the Two Strings
Breakthrough Performance (Male): Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Breakthrough Performance (Female): Royalty Hightower, The Fits
Best Directorial Debut:  Trey Edward Shults, Krisha
Best Foreign Language Film:  The Salesman
Best Documentary:  O.J.: Made in America
Best Ensemble:  Hidden Figures
Spotlight Award: Creative Collaboration of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg
NBR Freedom of Expression Award:  Cameraperson

Top 5 Foreign Language Films
Elle
The Handmaiden
Julieta
Land of Mine
Neruda

Top 5 Documentaries
De Palma
The Eagle Huntress
Gleason
Life, Animated
Miss Sharon Jones! 

Top 10 Independent Films
20th Century Women
Captain Fantastic
Creative Control
Eye in the Sky
The Fits
Green Room
Hello, My Name is Doris
Krisha
Morris from America
Sing Street

Honoring annual achievements in film since 1929, the National Board of Review is a “select group of film enthusiasts, filmmakers, professionals, academics, and students of varying ages and backgrounds” who watch over 250 films and participate in discussions with directors, actors, producers, and screenwriters before making and announcing their selections.

Click on links below for other Critics Group Awards and Guild Nominees that have been announced so far this season:

Academy Award Nominees
Golden Globe Winners
Screen Actors Guild Winners
Directors Guild of America Nominees
Producers Guild of America Winners
Writers Guild of America Nominees
National Society of Film Critics
New York Film Critics Circle
Los Angeles Film Critics Association
Boston Society of Film Critics
Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association
Critics’ Choice Awards Winners

Wes Anderson Made A Christmas Movie, and It’s Under 4 Minutes (VIDEO)

Oh Christmas twee, oh Christmas twee.

If any cinematic auteur should add a feature length Christmas movie to his canon, it should be (without question or debate!) that singular stylist Wes Anderson. Until that blessed day comes, retailer H&M has gifted us the next best thing: a Wes Anderson Christmas Short.

Although it ends up being nothing more than a Holiday tease, “Come Together” – starring Wes alum Adrien Brody – hints at the possibilities of what could be.

Santa, two hours of this will be at the top of 2017 Christmas list.

RULES DON’T APPLY (Movie Review)

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**1/2 out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for sexual material, brief strong language, thematic elements, and drug references)
Released: November 23, 2016
Runtime: 126 minutes
Director: Warren Beatty
Starring: Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Warren Beatty, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen

Available to rent through Amazon Video or buy on Blu-ray and DVD. Proceeds from purchases made through these links go to support this blog.

Sometimes, rules still do apply.

Warren Beatty, onscreen for the first time in 15 years and in the director’s chair again after 18, adheres to the laws of cinema as often as he doesn’t in Rules Don’t Apply. The result is an entertaining but frustrating mixed bag of classic Studio Era moviemaking.

The Hollywood icon has toiled unsuccessfully for decades to bring his Howard Hughes passion project to the screen, and Martin Scorsese eventually beat him to it with The Aviator. Indefatigable, Beatty never let the passion die. Eventually, he morphed that project with another, and a more personal one; a tale of exploring Hollywood as he first discovered it when storming the studio gates in the late 1950s.

Rules Don’t Apply is two entirely different movies awkwardly crammed together. One is really good while the other is a mess, and perhaps unsurprisingly the good one happens to be the story that Beatty can relate to (young love in Old Hollywood), not the one he stars in (the Hughes character study).

For the first hour, the love story takes precedence while Hughes plays a supporting role. Then at the halfway mark, the script flips; Hughes is suddenly front-and-center while the romance takes a back seat (and the ingénue all but disappears).

Beatty directs that first half with confidence and class, telling a sweet, funny, and endearing Tinseltown fable of star-crossed lovers in the city of angels (he’s Methodist, she’s Baptist), with Hughes as a lively comic foil. It’s a real charmer, and recalls the sophisticated comedy of early Blake Edwards. But when it becomes Beatty’s long-awaited Hughes biopic, the filmmaking falls apart according to the same pitfalls of its bizarre billionaire subject: erratic, eccentric, and simultaneously obsessive compulsive while also being deranged and confused.

The reason is simple: while the aesthetic craft remains impeccable, the narrative collapses when Beatty (who also wrote the screenplay) stops applying basic rules of storytelling.

The romance follows a clear and intriguing path, with compelling character arcs and interesting themes. This love story, after all, isn’t just set in Hollywood but it’s between two young conservative Christians who find themselves thrust into a permissive culture on the front end of the sexual revolution. In other words, Hour One follows tried and true rules, and succeeds in doing so.

The film’s title is thematically implicit on multiple levels, too: the young starlet not fitting the mold, evolving sexual mores, and a wealthy recluse who defies every convention, whether personal, professional, or political.

But Hour Two? It’s sloppy and formless, with Beatty shoving in every Hughes myth and anecdote he found interesting but to no rhyme or reason, failing to weave them into the romance narrative he established in Hour One (or even making the disparate peculiarities and paranoia connective in-and-of themselves). It all starts to unravel in a centerpiece scene between Lily Collins’ Marla Mabrey, the young starlet, and Hughes (who has her under contract) that meanders on for way too long.

It’s a real shame how it all falls apart, because it begins with such promise, including auteur strokes of ambition rarely seen today, such as a simple but impressive lengthy conversation on a nighttime wharf between Beatty’s Hughes and Alden Ehrenreich’s Frank Forbes, the romantic lead (and young Beatty clone), that goes on in a single uncut take lasting nearly five minutes.

The climactic scene, set in 1964, also recaptures the nostalgia that the entire film was going for, and its legitimately effective. Its pathos is magnified by realizing this is what the whole movie could’ve been, but wasn’t. Equally poignant is the titular song “The Rules Don’t Apply” (the film’s one legitimate Oscar hopeful), sung with a plaintive melancholy by Lily Collins (daughter of Phil) as part of an overall strong, assertive, yet bubbly and charismatic performance that should have Disney banging down her down to star in a future live action princess movie (unsurprisingly, she’s already played Show White in the little seen Mirror Mirror).

Beatty calls in a lot of favors, too, as a Parade of Stars fills out the deep ensemble; Mrs. Beatty Annette Bening is an early standout as the chipper but proper mother of Collins’ Marla. There’s a lot to enjoy here, particularly for classic movie fans, but Beatty’s scattershot storytelling makes one suspect that his performance as the impulsive and volatile Hughes, predicated on following whims over reason, bled over into a rare (and detrimental) case of Method directing.

ALLIED (Movie Review)

allied
** out of ****
Rated R
(for violence, sexuality/nudity, strong language, and brief drug use)
Released: November 23, 2016
Runtime: 124 minutes
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Lizzy Caplan

Available to rent through Amazon Video or buy on Blu-rayDVD, and 4K. Proceeds from purchases made through these links go to support this blog.

What a waste of gorgeous Old Hollywood filmmaking.

Allied is a love letter to how studios used to make ‘em (albeit with some contemporary R-rated language and sex), and there’s even an intriguing character hook at the story’s core, though hardly an original one. But when a film so utterly dependent on romantic heat between its leads fails to even ignite a spark, well, a lush cinematic palette only takes you so far.

Opening in 1942 Casablanca at another part of town from Rick’s Café, Allied sets up a tale of love and espionage set against the backdrop of World War II. Unfortunately it has little of either love or espionage, offering merely their affectations, and the end result doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

There’s much more talking about spycraft than actual field work between Brad Pitt’s Canadian agent and Marion Cotillard’s French counterpart, humoring the audience through stale bits of protecting their cover from Nazis, but creating zero tension. The first major action doesn’t explode onscreen until about forty minutes in, and then only briefly.

The things you put in a trailer to sell a movie end up being on the periphery as these two gorgeous leads toil, and fail, at making us believe they’re falling in love. There are actual scenes, played at length, that are clearly designed to stir sexual chemistry, but this bubbly has no fizzle.

The fault lands at the feet of Brad Pitt, a character actor of limited range who just so happened to win the genetic jackpot of matinee idol looks. There’s no chemistry here because he lacks the requisite charisma.

Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Back To The Future) doesn’t seem particularly comfortable either. It feels like he’s directing this homage according to how he thinks he’s supposed to rather than how he wants to. He’s especially out of his element when staging sex scenes, which are awkward, including the first carnal go-round in the middle of a swirling desert sandstorm. The metaphor is laughable.

Of course there comes a point when one of these two may not be trustworthy (and it takes too long to get there, quite frankly, as we know it’s coming). Do both genuinely love each other? Is one just playing the other? Does anyone watching actually care? Did anyone on set? Pointless questions that don’t beg answers, only a quicker ending.

Scorsese’s SILENCE Trailer Screams Oscar Front-Runner (VIDEO/POSTER)

For the second December in a row, Adam Driver co-stars in the movie I want to see the most.

Based on the novel about two 17th Century Jesuit missionaries that go on a search for their mentor who’s gone missing in Japan (where Christianity is outlawed and persecuted), Silence is the realization of director Martin Scorsese‘s decades-long passion project. By the riveting tone set in this first look, it appears he’s poured every last ounce of himself into it.

Starring Andrew Garfield and featuring Liam Neeson, Silence is schedule to open in limited release on December 23, 2016 before going wide in January.

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LOVING (Movie Review)

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**** out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for thematic elements involving racism)
Released: November 4, 2016 limited; November 23 wide
Runtime: 123 minutes
Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, Terri Abney, Alano Miller, Sharon Blackwood, Michael Shannon

Available to rent through Amazon Video or buy on Blu-ray and DVD. Proceeds from purchases made through these links go to support this blog.

Ranked #10 on My Top 10 List For 2016

For a movie that goes out of its way to not be emotionally manipulative, it speaks volumes that in its final moments I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, and tears welling up in my eyes.

Loving is based on the true story of an interracial couple in the late 1950s American South. Under Jim Crow laws, they were sentenced to prison for co-habitating as man and wife, despite having been legally married in Washington D.C. The movie derives its title from their last name, Richard and Mildred Loving. It’s the story of their legal battle, but also their romance.

Director Jeff Nichols strikes an understated tone from the opening scene. It’s imbued with such simple but sincere poignancy that, by the end of the first minute, our hearts feel deeply for these two star-crossed innocents.

Nichols is an indie filmmaker known primarily for pulpier but character-rich genre endeavors that have ranged from Southern Gothic (Matthew McConaughey’s Mud) to Sci-Fi (Midnight Special from Spring 2016). Loving is more reserved and tender, finding its power in intimate moments, never grand ones.

It recalls John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath in its pastoral portrait of simple unassuming common folk (with painterly frames of Americana to match, by cinematographer Adam Stone). The Lovings and their extended families are Joads for the Civil Rights Era; people of the earth, with some driven from their home, who live by a quiet nobility.

Indeed, this is the kind of issue-oriented movie that Hollywood loves to tell (and award) but far from how it traditionally tells it. Loving eschews heightened agitprop melodrama. In its place is an empathetic, mournful atmosphere; raw but not sensationalized, hopeless and grieving. The polar opposite of Mississippi Burning, it’s more like Virginia Lamenting.

Contrived scenes of illustrious speeches or dramatic showdowns are anathema to Nichols’ sensibility, which is hewn to a more delicate, difficult realism. No instances of Richard or Mildred giving racists a well-articulated piece of their minds; no cinematic versions of oratory mic drops. Courtroom scenes are procedural (though still tense), not theatrical. You won’t find idealized scripted catharsis here, no soaring triumphant fanfares. These are real people, vulnerable people, trying to survive an oppressive tyranny.

Loving, rather, is told through the quiet, anxious moments that play between the big Oscar-bait scenes in other movies, and land on the cutting room floor (if they were ever written or filmed to begin with). It’s more honest and truthful about how victims of bigotry feel when they’re threatened, attacked, and disempowered, particularly when the full force of the law (and corrupt enforcers) are against them. It shows the practical decisions that victims are required to make, which are tragic and tear families apart, not the organized protests.

But then, eventually, it’s about beautiful gestures of love, courage, grace, and hope. They come in small glimmers, not bold strokes. A person is not given his or her voice from behind a microphone, pulpit, or public lectern; it’s granted unexpectedly through phone calls in the middle of a normal day. At moments when the oppressed have long since resigned themselves to the fact that the whole world is against them, and against what’s right…but then maybe it’s not.

Joel Edgerton and (relative) unknown Ruth Negga give heartbreaking performances that are as humbly metered as Nichols’ filmmaking. Edgerton, an Aussie, continues to be the most underappreciated actor working today, a chameleon of Streep-like proportions. From the Boston bureaus in Black Mass to the rural south of Midnight Special and now this, Edgerton not only embodies the voice, attitudes, and psychology of people born and raised in those regions, he portrays them on instinctive levels. Negga, an Irish-Ethiopian, is equally authentic, and a true revelation of talent. There may be a handful of lead performances this year that match Edgerton and Negga, but you won’t see better ones.

You could say that, as a filmmaker, Jeff Nichols resists the temptation to go for those bigger awards-clip moments. My hunch is that such an assumption would be a grave misreading of where Nichols, and his film, is coming from. He’s not tempted in the least to go there. Instead, he’s drawn to the exact opposite; to where real life is found, wrestled with, and confronted, not in our comforting dramatizations.

It’s not that the traditional approach is always bad; Selma is a recent example of when it’s powerfully rendered. But even when the victories are considered, we still must grieve over what was stolen and can never be given back. Loving is about the people who weren’t Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and it’s a landmark elegy to them.