Oscar History

The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R. Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. All material herein is written and copyrighted by Nathaniel or a member of our team as noted.

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Three Billboards... Trailer

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La Strada

We close out our 1954 celebration with Amir on one of Federico Fellini's classic from the year...

Writing about canonical classics can be as difficult as it is rewarding. The larger amount of existing texts and the time that has been afforded to an artwork to cement its place in our cultural psyche allow for deeper familiarity and reflection in a way that is impossible with more recent films.  On the other hand, well, fresh angles are harder to find. What is there left to say about a film like Federico Fellini’s La Strada? Not much, but in truth, you can never talk too much about one of the best films ever made.

Growing up as an Iranian cinephile, and gradually getting into more serious films as a teenager, Italian cinema is the most natural foray outside of the local arthouse. Iranian cinema is not as indebted to any Western filmic culture as it is to the films of Italian masters; those films strike a particularly strong resonance. (Consider that the latest poll of the greatest films of all time voted on by Iranian film critics includes The Bicycle Thieves, La Strada and Cinema Paradiso all in the top ten.)

Fellini’s films are of a different breed than the neorealism of Zavattini, De Sica and Rossellini whose influence loomed heavily over the arthouse I was voraciously consuming at the time. To the dismay of some of his contemporaries, Fellini veered off quite drastically from his roots in neorealist cinema. [More...]

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What did you see this weekend?

August 28th-30th estimates

01 Straight Outta Compton $13.2 (cum. $134.1) Podcast
02 War Room $11 new
03 Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation  $8.3 (cum. $170.3) Tim's Review
04 No Escape $8.3 new (cum. $26.8)
05 Sinister 2 $4.6 (cum. $18.5) Interview 

While it was a semi-drowsy weekend for new releases, Straight Outta Compton and Mission: Impossible continued to hold well. Just outside this list was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. which, though it had a rough opening and is now losing theaters, is holding its per screen average better than should probably have been expected. Perhaps enough people have heard that it's actually G.O.O.D.?

BOX OFFICE LIMITED (excluding prev. wide releases)
August 28th-30th estimates

01 Mistress America $.4 (cum. $.9) 150 screens
02 Diary of a Teenage Girl $.4 (cum. $.9) 795 screens Review
03 Phoenix $.3 (cum. $1.4) 142 screens Interview
04 End of the Tour $.3 (cum. $2.3) 256 screens
05 Grandma $.3 (cum. $.4) on 19 screens Nathaniel's ReviewJoe's ReviewPosterized

While it's always thrilling to see a distributor get ballsy and expand tiny movies to the number of theaters that they deserve to play in, rather than cautiously hope people will stumble upon hidden gems, it doesn't always pay off. Sony Pictures Classics added over 700 screens for Diary of a Teenage Girl , perhaps sensing now or never given their full upcoming slate, but the per screen average was not pretty. Will they be as bold with Grandma in two weeks? That has a chance of paying off better if they can stoke Oscar buzz and make Lily Tomlin's career-capper into a leave your house event for adult moviegoers.

Just outside this list sits the modest Learning to Drive, which is a highly pleasant watch starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley and Life Metaphors. Improbably 2015 has become a strong year for women of a certain age with star vehicles for Patty (who is 55), Blythe (72), and Lily (75), with Charlotte Rampling (69) still to come in 45 Years. That's in addition to the four who regularly get them: Meryl (Ricki), Helen (Woman in Gold), Judi & Maggie (Best Exotic 2). So we talked about that on last week's podcast.

Finally, when I figure out why I didn't love Mistress America, considering that TFE was madly in love with the last Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig duet Frances Ha, I'll tell you but I haven't figured it out. If you've seen it perhaps you can help in the comments. What did you see this weekend?



Autumn Sonata: Ingrid's Swan Song 

Happy Ingrid Bergman Centennial! The great movie star was born 100 years ago on this very day in Stockholm, Sweden. Jose closes out our 10 film retrospective with a look at her final feature film - Editor

Jose here. True story: there was a time when I thought Ingrid Bergman and Ingmar Bergman were the same person. Not because I had seen Persona and dreamt of metaphysical unions between both great Swedes, but merely because I was a child.

I first laid eyes on Ingrid on the box of my grandma’s tape of Casablanca, when I was 6, and there was something about those eyes filled with longing and sorrow that one day drew me to insert the tape into the player. Bewitched by the earthy qualities and the warmth she exuded, I devoured as many of her films as I could get my hands on, until one day I heard someone talk of Ingmar. Convinced that it was merely a mispronounced version of Ingrid’s name I remained oblivious until the day I saw The Seventh Seal at age 12. The more I learned of Ingmar’s work in the following years, the less I thought there would be room for Ingrid in his world of damaged, oft cold human beings.

Then I watched Autumn Sonata and not only did she make sense in Ingmar’s universe, it seemed to be the place she was born to be in. Playing world famous pianist Charlotte Andergast, the director allowed her beautiful features to reflect a severity she had merely suggested in earlier roles during her career, as if she chose not to be breathtaking. The film has Liv Ullmann play Charlotte’s daughter Eva, who resents her mother for not having been around much when she was a child. To say that their exchanges are unkind would be an understatement, when every word seems like a dagger aimed for the ultimate kill.

Cinema's Legendary Bergmans. No relation.

Ingmar’s kind of existentialism often drew from his own life, but in Autumn Sonata he seems to have made a film all about Ingrid. For starters, the very notion of a mother abandoning her children was something that allegedly tormented Ingrid who left her own child in America to pursue a relationship with director Roberto Rossellini in the 1950s, in traditional Bergman fashion though, Charlotte isn’t entirely filled with regret though, and she seems pleased with having Eva’s contempt, rather than having spent her life pretending she wanted to be with her children. It’s a bold performance that breaks from the nurturing qualities Ingrid had shown all throughout her career.

Charlotte turned out to be the Oscar winner’s big screen swan song, she would then go into semi-retirement only to act in a Golda Meir biopic that would win her an Emmy and a Golden Globe, but her work in Autumn Sonata makes for a beautiful bookend when juxtaposed with her first big role in Intermezzo. In fact, we could propose a theory that Charlotte is another version of Intermezzo’s Anita Hoffman, in fact she could even be the same woman, a professional musician who realizes her art is more important than anything else in the world, after being subjected to endless heartbreak at the hand of the man she loves. It’s a thing of beauty to realize that she had been showing us shades of Charlotte more than 40 years before. Could it be that Ingmar had seen Intermezzo as a young man and dreamed this part for his leading lady before he began his own career? Even though Ingrid and Ingmar weren't the same person after all, they were meant to do transcendental art together all along.

previouslyIntermezzo (1939), Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (1941), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1942), Notorious, (1946), Joan of Arc (1948), Journey to Italy (1954), Indiscreet (1958), The Inn of Sixth Happiness (1958), Cactus Flower (1969) and 10 Best Ingrid Bergman Kisses (1935 through 1970)


Tim's Toons: Three Animated Oddities of 1954

Tim returning to duty.

August has been 1954 Month here at the Film Experience, and it now falls upon me to share with you the animation of that year. And man, it was a weird 'un. The important place to start is noting that in '54, Walt Disney - the man, not the multinational entertainment corporation - was massively obsessed with the creation of his brand-new theme park out in California, and the brand-new television show on ABC that shared its name and served as the new funnel for all his creative and commercial instincts.

With Disney - the multinational entertainment corporation, not the man - thus a bit rudderless, there was a void in American animation like there hadn't been since Mickey Mouse's 1928 debut, basically. Disney itself was beginning to experiment with form in ways that Walt did not approve of, since Walt wasn't paying attention anymore, and the result was things like the Oscar-nominated short Pigs Is Pigs, one of the very weirdest shorts in the studio's history.


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Michael Fassbender X 2

Here's Murtada on two Michael Fassbender Fall movies that have released posters.

First we have Steve Jobs. The poster’s in the same vein as Apple’s minimalist ads. We approve, it does the job, recalls the subject matter and let us know who is involved. The movie is the centerpiece at the New York Film Festival and everyone suspects it will hit Telluride as well. And October 9 isn’t that far away.

When you have huge photogenic movie stars all you need is their faces. Even from behind the veil Marion Cotillard's face is telling a story. Intensity thy name is Fassbender. Sold.

But what is happening with this movie? The posters as well as all the marketing materials are coming from UK distributor StudioCanal. They took the movie to Cannes and released clips, posters and a teaser trailer. The movie is scheduled for release in UK on October 2 and in France on November 18. By the end of December everyone who lives in Europe will probably have had a chance to see it.

So far there is no US release date. The Weinstein Company has announced a deal with Amazon that vaguely states the movie will be available online “relatively quickly” after theatrical release. That release will be through their VOD arm, TWC-Radius. What is happening?

Is this movie the latest victim of TWC’s erratic release plans? And so soon after The Immigrant. Remember that? What does Cotillard have to do to get her performances in theaters in the US? There’s turmoil at TWC so who knows what will happen. But come on, you have 2 major movie stars, a well known story that doesn’t need much explaining and a director, Justin Kurzel, on the rise. Reviews at Cannes have been mostly positive. Release it.

Are you worried for Macbeth? Do we need to start an online petition for its release?

Update : Looks like TWC heard us! A couple of hours after publication they announced a December 4 limited release for Macbeth.


Murder on the Orient Express: Ingrid Bergman steals the show - or does she?

We're near the end of Ingrid Bergman's career so here's the penultimate episode in our retrospective. Happy 100th to the superstar on August 29th. Here's Lynn Lee...


By 1974, Ingrid Bergman was a grande dame of film in the twilight of her career, with two Best Actress Oscar wins under her belt, and nothing left to prove.  Perhaps that’s why she deliberately opted for such a small part in the star-studded Murder on the Orient Express, despite director Sidney Lumet’s attempts to coax her into taking a bigger one.  And yet, despite her own efforts to stay out of the spotlight, it found her anyway, with her tiny role as a mousy, middle-aged Swedish missionary netting her an unlikely third Oscar.

We don’t see too many movies like Orient Express these days – A-list extravaganzas where most of the stars end up with little more than glorified cameos but just seem to be in it for fun.  And to be fair, the movie is fun and directed with flair, even as it plays up the absurd theatricality of the whodunit setup – something that doesn’t register as strongly when you’re reading Agatha Christie’s plummy prose.  It’s a bit much at times...

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Open Thread (feat. The Gurus of Gold.)

How are you feeling about the forthcoming Oscar race? Do you think we've seen several prime contenders or mostly none at all? When will you feel it's truly begun?

David Poland at Movie City News just asked the Gurus of Gold (including yours truly) to rank the forthcoming Oscar races in three different categories: widely seen already / playing the festivals / opening late in the year. You can see the charts here. If you trust "the wisdom of crowds" as it were, Carol, Inside Out, and Mad Max Fury Road are in the best positions thus far of movies that have already screened. This confuses me a bit as Carol's reviews in Cannes felt more admiring than deeply in love which can be but is not always a problem with the Academy. Plus it'll have to survive the current turmoil at the Weinstein CompanyInside Out, while a true return to form, still has to deal with the fact that it's an animated movie from a studio that has been terrifically well rewarded already that they won't feel they owe a single thing to, in a time frame in which "wow, animated movies can be just as good as live action movies!" is no longer a revelatory angle but just a "duh!" part of the landscape, and whose future slate does not suggest that it's a return to form for good since the upcoming slate is largely sequels. And though I love Mad Max: Fury Road as much as anyone -- I'll be very surprised if it doesn't make my top ten -- I'm still having trouble imagining it as a true player. The fourth film in a long dead franchise that they never cared about before (zero nominations) in a genre they don't care about (apocalyptic sci-fi) from a director who has remained an outsider by choice (George Miller) starring actors they probably like but are inarguably not obsessed with, whose pleasures often focus on practical effects and stunts (for which Oscar has no category). I'm trying to find the Oscar hook beyond ecstatic reviews (which several other movies will also have by years end as that's how the season always goes) but if there is one it's invisible!  I'm more bullish on Youth and Brooklyn, largely because they seem more traditional in terms of Oscar appeal for reasons involving both topics and tone. 

P.S. #1 Toronto is less than two weeks away. Eep!

P.S. #2 Are you joining us for Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Mad Max: Fury Road? That's Monday night, September 7th! I'll try not to choose the shot above which filled me with wild shameless feminist glee in the movie theater... but I might. We'll see.

P.S. #3 More on Oscar's Foreign Language Film race very soon but watch out for Germany. They've just selected Labyrinth of Lies and, as you may recall from last year's TIFF write-ups, it's quite good. And Oscar friendly, too. It's a Holocaust movie that doesn't feel like 'just another Holocaust movie' because it's coming at the topic from a far less overworked angle, as its about a lawyer investigating unpunished war crimes in the 1960s.