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NYFF: 10 Best Things About "Carol" (First Impressions)

Todd Haynes' highly anticipated Carol screened a week ago for NYFF press and I immediately began marking time P.C. "POST CAROL". It was that impactful. For something that appears so delicate it breaks with immeasurable force. Carol recounts the relationship between a posh 40something society wife (Cate Blanchett), no stranger to lesbian affairs, and a curious 20something photographer/shopgirl (Rooney Mara) who has never been in love. Haynes's sixth feature is one of his best and thus both a marvel and a relief since he had gone AWOL from movie screens for eight years. The film which began the long drought, I'm Not There, is the only one that this longtime Haynes fanatic doesn't cherish.

Herewith 10 favorite things (in no particular order) about Carol right after meeting her. This infatuation is too potent to think clearly at this point for a traditional review. A word of caution: exciting first dates don't always lead to fullblown rewarding relationships but this one appears to be a (celluloid) romance for the long haul. 

1. Gifts & Gift-Wrapping
We like to think of final quarter movies as "gifts" since so much of awards season is centered around the holidays. This one is beautifully wrapped (the production values are breathtaking on literally every level) and even better once you start tearing the careful packaging apart to see what it's gifted you with. Carol also takes place during Christmas just like Tangerine so in one single cinematic year we've received the best Lesbian Christmas movie and the best Trans Christmas movie. How about that? More...

If only there were a great Gay Christmas movie also released this year. One of the best wordless scenes in the movie (and there are many mesmerizing images that don't require the mundanity of words) involves Carol shopping for a Christmas tree while Therese watches her.

Speaking of that scene... 


2. What Jose said... 

3. Meet the World's First Movie Blogger
Albeit without the internet. One of the smallest but not uncrucial supporting roles is a would be writer named Dannie (very well played by John Magaro, who you'll recognize as Morello's new husband on Orange is the New Black). Every time he shows up, three times I believe (?), he seems to say something totally crucial to our understanding of the movie without feeling like a screenplay construct as opposed to a real character. We first meet him in the projection room of a movie theater and he's scribbling notes while letting Therese and her friends watch Sunset Blvd through his projectionist window. This is his sixth time seeing it and this time, he tells Therese, he's writing down every instance where the characters say one thing but mean another. I can't imagine that this moment won't warm the cockles of every movie-buff's heart who chances upon it. If you've ever had feelings about a beloved movie that you just had to get out somehow, you will relate.


4. It casts an unshakeably romantic spell
And old vinyl recording that Therese knows Carol likes plays a part in the narrative and the movie definitely inspires the kind of romantic feelings that have inspired people to serenade each other, make mixed tapes, or share playlists throughout our evolving history. This will seem odd but I keep wanting to sing it that old New Wave hit from the General Public.

So hot you're cool
So cool you're hot
Show me my favourite beauty spot
Tie me up in a love knot
Boiling over bubbling up

Why? Well, much has been made of Carol's "frostiness." But that's overblown. Yes, it takes place in the dead of winter and there's a lot of ice and inhospitable temperature for gay love in the 1950s. And, yes, the emotional behavior is often chilly exactly when you wish that people would thaw but it generates remarkable heat all the same. Cate Blanchett has never ever been sexier onscreen. And when the clothes come off...

From Carol's glamourpuss trunks of 'em (with a wide color palette range depending on her moods) to Therese's repetitive (read: lowly shopgirl) looks and ever present childlike hat, to the generational differences between their respective crowds, to Abby's (Sarah Paulson) relaxed lesbian-but-not-butch chic, Sandy Powell's instincts remain remarkably strong and character-fortifying. An eleventh Oscar nomination better be on its way and a fourth Oscar might be too. It wouldn't be uncalled for. This is her 3rd collaboration with Todd Haynes after the spectacular costumes on Velvet Goldmine (Oscar nomination) and Far From Heaven (no Oscar nomination... yes, I'm still trying to get over that)

6. Gay Friendship dramatized, not just Gay Love
There is one beautiful shot in the movie featuring Abby (Sarah Paulson) & Carol that says more about LGBT friendship than I've seen onscreen in many many years, if ever. There isn't much of Paulson in the movie but she serves it every time she's called upon. Attention all filmmakers: why aren't you giving her leading or ginormous supporting roles at this point? This woman always delivers. (She's been running circles around Jessica Lange on American Horror Story for years now, if you ask me.)

Paulson's pinpoint sharp reads on her deep backstory with Carol and her soured history with Carol's husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) are a joy to watch. The only scene (that I can recall) in the movie that does not involve either Carol or Therese is between Abby & Harge and it is brutal perfection. But that's what can happen when filmmakers are smart enough to hire actors as good as Chandler and Paulson for texture even when the movie is the type that's laser focused on just two characters. 

7. Cinematography by Edward Lachmann
He's one of the greats (Erin Brockovich, Desperately Seeking Susan, The Virgin Suicides, The Limey, Far From Heaven). That he doesn't have an Oscar yet (and only one nomination at that!) is deeply annoying.

8. Even the hoary opening framing device feel fresh! 
Carol begins, subversively, with a character that is neither Carol (Cate Blanchett) or Therese (Rooney Mara). We're with a newspaper man at a bar and we expect him to be a major character but he won't remotely become one! He's talking to the bartender when he spots the lovely ladies dining. While the camera sees only Carol (Blanchett, utterly movie star radiant throughout), it's the less focus-pulling shy Therese (Rooney Mara), with her back to the camera, that this man recognizes. He's clearly interrupted something and Carol excuses herself quickly. Our POV quickly shifts from the surface to the interior as it were. The ladies are first objects and then Therese's inner feelings, however unreadable, are abruptly the subject as she stares out the window of a cab, clearly not thinking about whatever this newspaper man is thinking about. It's only at this point (just three or four minutes into the movie but without helpful time stamps) that you realize we're witnessing the most overused framing device in both movies and television. We're beginning near the end and looping back around for an hour or so to see how we got here. And determining where "here" even is in the lives of its characters.

9. Superb pacing / control.  
For the past decade media and civilians alike have been arguing that "Tv is the future/best/better than cinema" which has been a source of considerable exasperation to yours truly. Look, each medium has its titan creatives and each medium its strengths. But some directors and stories were obviously meant for the cinema. I'd toss Haynes's version of Mildred Pierce and its 5 hour running time in the recycling bin in a split second without remorse if it meant I could have 2 movies from him between 2008 and 2014 instead. Carol is 118 minutes long and never feels anything but perfectly paced. Mildred Pierce, while beautiful to look at was filled with dead spaces and it robbed Haynes of one of his best skills as a filmmaker: his merciless precision. Too many filmmakers (and definitely too many TV show runners) dilute the impact of their stories by indulging them, treading in their waters rather than controlling their currents. Carol has the kind of concentrated pacing and tight crystallization of character arcs through images that you only get in cinema when the creative team is keeping it tight and understands that they are not making visual epic novels or comic books but visual short stories. You only have these series of shots alone to tell a full satisfying story. And they're going to tell it in such a way that you give the audience abundant room to build their own extensions -- miniseries, prequels or endless franchise installents -- in their imagination from how rich the images and implications are and how deeply the characters resonate. I readily admit that I prefer my own imaginated extensions of cinematic stories to run-on serial stories or padded single stories which is probably a huge part of why I am more innately drawn to cinema than television... and why I have a sore spot for films of any kind that think they need several hours to tell a story. If that's what you need, filmmakers, you either chose the wrong medium or you just aren't willing to edit yourself!

10. It inspires great conversations and beautiful praise.
And the conversation has only begun. (The movie opens in limited release on November 20th, perfect timing for the holidays which play so beautifully into the narrative.) Here are some of my favorite tweets about Carol already from other critics and/or film lovers and/or me. 




Grade: A
Oscar Chances: All over the place. But in order of most-to-least likely it probably goes like so...

Likely: Costumes, Supporting Actress (Category Fraud); Decent Shot at It: Best Actress; Possible but they'll have to fight hard for it: Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Original Score; Longer Shots: Makeup and Hair, Picture, Director; Unlikely (which does not mean unworthy): Everything else... ; Ineligible: Best Animated Feature but it's a better movie about loneliness and intergenerational love than Anomalisa!

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Reader Comments (35)

Only six times watching Sunset Blvd? Pffft.

October 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAR

Blanchett looks reminds me of 50's Hollywood so this film is a perfect fit for her. Can't wait to see it for her performance, bit lukewarm about Rooney Mara.

October 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzy

If Cate wins then it would be a really cool stat that she wins in alphabetical order. Then, Her fourth win would be from anything that start with letter D. "Dracula"? "The Danish Mom"? "Dick in the box: the movie (playing the mom)"?

October 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGolden

Oscar Stats: I see Cate now ranks fifth in the Best Actress chart. I just love this woman. BTW, I hope Charlotte Rampling gets a nom, maybe taking JLow's or Mulligan's space. Unless, however, the Academy goes nuts and ignores Larson again!

October 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

AR -- in theaters. while it was airing. they didn't have dvds back then. I'd say 6 times (with more to come during its run) is good!

October 3, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Marcos -- Not sure which stats you're reading, but has Blanchett in 1st place, stronger than she was just two days ago.

October 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMarit

So glad you mentioned that little character of Dannie (played by John Magaro). It's only a second and a half of screentime, but what he's doing the last time we see him (in the scene right before the climax) made me so happy.

October 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJ

I was waiting for this for so long Nat, so glad you loved the movie. Now after the first impressions, considering the whole TFE team has already seen the movie, a 2 hour podcast is mandatory!

October 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJows

Marit -- he's referring to our charts here ;) I only have her at #5 here because of the self competition. and because (though it doesn't relate right now) I can't imagine her winning a 3rd Oscar for it. I think Cannes was the first place it was evident that there are considerable pockets of people who think that Rooney is better in it (they're both great why choose ;) --so annoyed that Cannes didn't just give them a shared prize) .

October 3, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathaniel - Thanks for the tip on your charts.
Cannes was so rigged toward their countrymen, they had to go with the other woman (the jury wasn't allowed to vote for three actors.) I hear that one of the French jurors vowed to stop the whole process if his selection didn't win.
Thanks for this great summary. Made my day!

October 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMarit

Blanchett is the new Streep in the academy's eyes, expect her to get nominations as easily going forward as everyone will be watching her screeners. And according to everyone who has seen them, these two performances hit the mark.

I am not buying Vikander as supporting. I think critics groups and awards bodies will put her in lead where she belongs and that she'll bump someone from the top5 here for sure.

Of the top 5 I still think Ronan is still the most in danger. It just seems like the exact type of film/star/performance to get overlooked.

I agree that Larson is in a good position right now -- I just hope she keeps the momentum, I'd be devastated if bigger and flashier stars push her out of the top 5. Speaking of which:

Worried that Jolie could push through for a less deserving turn if the film/performance is baity enough. Time will tell but I think the Academy would love to welcome her back into the fold.

October 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

I really think the reason Blanchett didn't win Cannes was because of her uber fame and recent onslaught of awards (including Oscar) for Blue Jasmine. France likes their underdogs. Hence why Isabelle Huppert has only one measly Cesar and Marion Cotillard has never one the best actress at Cannes after FOUR consecutive, highly acclaimed festival showings.

October 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Curious at the caution re Oscar predictions, with Adapted Screenplay, for instance, only 'possible' and Picture a 'longer shot'. The Weinsteins will be behind this, don't forget! Or are you suggesting it will be a tough sell to the Academy, regardless.

I guess if THE HATEFUL 8 turns out OK, TWC might push that much harder instead.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

Can you call yourself a Cate Blanchett fan now?

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Blanchett is the male Day Lewis,Academy just loves them.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

I can only see Cate chalking up one Oscar nomination after another if she continues to deliver performances like Blue Jasmine, Carol and now Truth. Someone here mentioned she's the new Streep in the eyes of the Academy and I totally agree. But unlike Streep, she's smart enough to juxtapose stage roles with screen appearances so much so that she can only get better - like one strength feeding into another. Also, unlike Streep, she has no 40's age curse - on the contrary, she seemed to be getting all the juicy roles with to-die-for directors at the helm (T Haynes, T Malick, etc.) I don't know...I just get the nagging feeling she's going to win her 3rd much faster than Meryl ever did (and hopefully not for something like The Iron Lady).

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPats

@ Pats, my thoughts exactly; I remember watching Streep documentaries, hearing how she chose to be with her family rather than do stage work. Today Blanchett really seems to be the one who has it all: a great film career, Oscars, a family, and a great career on stage; she's also topped Streep in the Directors-to-work-With department long ago.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Can we please stop with the Blanchett/Streep comparisons...... Yes, Blanchett is having a career high moment and is brilliant in her own right, but let's compare once she hits 19 nominations,(or even 12) or is nominated for a comedy...or a musical...or can open a film on name alone.

I remember when she was first nominated for Elizabeth -she was annointed as the next Streep and what followed was a long struggle of forgotten flicks until her supporting win.

For that matter- why not compare nominations from Winslet to Streep? Amy Adams? Jennifer Lawrence? I thought Jennifer was the new Streep?

Good Grief......

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjamie

@Yavor, I'm glad you share the same sentiments. Honestly, I used to enjoy watching Streep in the 80s till early 2000 but after Prada, it's been one let-down after another (except Julia/Julie). On the other hand, I'm completely riveted by Blanchett whether it's a frivolous role (Cinderella) or a heavyweight (Blue Jasmine)...I just can't seem to turn away from her each time she's on screen. You're right..she has it all: a revered stage career, family-work balance, all the accolades and awards, an equally revered film career, the chance to work with who's who of directors and yet doesn't take herself too seriously. I adore her. But I have to admit it'll be wonderful if she chooses to diversify her roles like Streep (comedy, musical, etc.). Do you know the younger actresses of today (Jlaw, etc) now look up to Blanchett as their inspiration? That's the biggest compliment of all as far as I'm concerned.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPats

I find it odd on this site that we love to compare and berate actresses on their careers and choices but rarely do that with the men.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjamie

jamie - Blanchett won an Oscar for a comedy, Blue Jasmine. It was a darkly funny performance.

You may want to check her post-Elizabeth filmography, too; I don't think most people consider the LOTR films, one of which won Best Picture, or even The Life Aquatic or The Talented Mr. Ripley to be "forgotten flicks."

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

My apologies.... Forgotten flicks was the wrong term... What I meant to say wa after her extraordinary lead performance in Elizabeth ( for which I think she should have won over Paltrow and Streep that year)... She found herself in a bunch of supporting roles that had not garnered award attention instead of booking one lead project after another like she deserved.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjamie

@Jamie, I'm not trying to berate Streep in any way by comparing her to Blanchett. I love them both. But Yavor and I were merely stating the fact that Cate has been able to sustain a vibrant stage career and yet keep her family intact, and that she was able to work with who's who of the directors. It's also a fact that Meryl did not have much of a stage career (after Deer Hunter) because she didn't want to be away from her family night after night for months on end. That doesn't mean Meryl is no stage actress or fact she had garnered much praise for her early stage work and she was fantastic in the Seagull (according to critics). I just don't know how you can be upset over a harmless discussion/post as mine...and I apologise if I've offended you but it wasn't meant to be.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPats

@ Jamie, male actors are not that interesting in the first place :P

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Jaime is a notably die hard Streep fan who is coming out swinging on every Oscar related blog that dares to mention Steep's name next to Blanchett's. Just check the comment section of this entry and see what I mean:

By the way, Cate, unlike Meryl, is more selective with her roles (even if they are supporting ones). She did not become the default nominee that lazy academy members would pick without seeing the movie, hence all these not-so-deserving nominations in the 90s for Meryl.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEthan

Cate Blanchett became my mortal enemy after what she did to The Greatest Kate There Was or Will Be in The Aviator.

And yet, after the past few years of exclusively mesmerising performances, she's even worn me down. Even in goddamn Cinderella, she pulls off a deceptively difficult trick and for every second of screentime she's electric.

I'm also really relieved she's dropped the squinty-gushy-saint persona she was working in publicity interviews for the first fifteen years of her career and these days isn't afraid to come off as downright bitchy or snarky in interviews.

In the meantime, one of the biggest differences between Streep and Blanchett might be the likelihood that 50 years from now film buffs will be able to recognise Blanchett's face but maybe not so much Streep's.

Films like Blue Jasmine, Carol, Talented Mr Ripley, and obviously the LOTR films seem way more likely to endure than (just about) anything Streep's done in the last 30+ years. And Blanchett seems way more determined to pick great projects (ie. great directors) rather than showy roles.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

@ Ethan - good point about her being selective.

@ Jamie - consider the idea that had The Missing, Veronica Guerin, Little Fish, The Man Who Cried, The Gift come out in the 80s, Blanchett would've probably gotten nominated for either most of them or in the worst case, half of them. Probably even Charlotte Gray. Heck, probably even Heaven, because everyone back then would've went:""Oh look, she doesn't just do accents, she speaks Italian in the movie, so versatile!" And to be fair I can't say I enjoyed Ironweed (the performance and the movie) anymore than I did Charlotte Gray.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Streep cannot be a living island forever. And her secret is not really a secret when other white girls can follow her foot steps: Blanchett and Chastain.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

how did this thread become about Streep. She gets plenty of her own articles. let's talk HAYNES, BLANCHETT, MARA, 50S LESBIANS, KYLE CHANDLER, SARAH PAULSON, etcetera :)

October 4, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathaniel- did not mean to hijack the thread. Sorry.

I do not apologize for being a Streep fan and yes I do defend her choices.

I love and respect Blanchett... It just angers me when all of a sudden it has to turn into a comparison event on this site and others.... I honestly do not see what we need to compare... They are both talented females who have balanced work/ career/ and family... We do not compare Day Lewis with Nicholson about who choose what director, who did stage or who managed the kids at home.

If forced to compare... Sure- Blanchett is picking up on nominations and had a good year- much like Streep in 2002 or 2006...

You want to compare Oscar nominations... Or if Blnchett can "overtake" her... I just don't think that is likely or even needs to be argued about... Math, age and statistics will do that for you...

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjamie

@ Jamie, the overtaking of Meryl Streep does express itself in earning more Oscar nominations; I no longer care as much about the fact that Kidman's Dogville, Birth, Margot at the Wedding streak is Oscar-less, what I care about is my knowing that's groundbreaking work which is better than many of Streep's Oscar nominated performances.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Yavour- it sounds like what you care about is comparing one's groundbreaking work to another's and I do not see the point or the relevance.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjamie

The Streep fans are clutching their pearls so hard against a third Blanchett win lmao. She won't win and unfortunately Carol won't appeal to the Academy, but to watch her reach career peak in her mid 40s is just sublime.

Her blue dress in Cannes is kinda iconic already. The whole movie/fashion world stopped to watch.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJows

I want Haynes to get some love from the Academy. And Nat, you are SO right about Mildred Pierce. Glad someone said it!

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Please disregard all these fanatic Streep can't even critique their goddess no matter how objective. What is so wrong about saying Blanchett is riding sky high in her 40s unlike Streep who suffered a backlash and a dearth of good roles in her 40s? And what is so wrong to say that Blanchett has a spectacular stage career compared to Streep? Good grief...why must Streep fans take everything so personally?

October 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMetagame

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