Asghar Farhadi has another Oscar contender on his hands...

Oscar History

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Oscar Horrors: Kathy Bates in Misery

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What Link Gets Wrong About Blog

AV Club deep screen capture to reveal how well constructed shots in Divergent dont make for a good film
BuzzFeed great essay on the current relevancy of Before Sunrise (1995) and instant nostalgia
Heat Vision Tyrese Gibson obsessed with playing Green Lantern in a film that's at least 5 years away based on a character already ruined by the movies 
Decider 10 essential movies about nuns from our beloved Black Narcissus to less impressive but famous offerings like Doubt

HuffPo Adam Scott and Jason Schwarzmann discuss their prosthetic penises in The Overnight. (Takeaway: no actor will ever truly be naked again onscreen. That's only for actresses) 
THR talks to the director of Book of Life - though disappointed by the lack of an Oscar nomination, he cherishes stories from fans about how it effected their families
Towleroad arts teacher in Texas does "Uptown Funk" with students. Cute. But I only share it because I love Uptown Funk because you know why (first verse) 
Playlist Paul Thomas Anderson loves Edge of Tomorrow and The Grand Budapest Hotel
THR Why Me and Earl and the Dying Girl did not choose the highest bidder at Sundance 

This Week's Must Read
You undoubtedly know already that Mark Harris is one of the best writers on movie culture and the awards beat in general (if for some insane reason you haven't read his first book Pictures at a Revolution, it's the most invaluable Oscar book since "Inside Oscar") but I think his latest column for Grantland is one of his all time finest. He goes deep on "How Selma Got Smeared: Historical Fiction And Its Malcontents" I only wish this essay had broken sooner before Oscar nomination voting.  Now you may be thinking 'please, Nathaniel, I have read enoug about Selma's LBJ problem' and you may even be thinking (as I have been) that complaints about Selma's "Oscar snub" are starting to feel weirder and weirder as the season progresses. Fact: Selma will now go down in movie history as a Best Picture nominee, something only 8 movies from hundreds and hundreds released in 2014 can claim.  But trust me you need to read this anyway.

Here's a part I particularly love (bold is mine) that is really illuminating about historical fiction:

About a third of the way into Selma, Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo) has a private meeting with Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch) in an Alabama church (this is not an invention of the movie; the two met in Selma on February 5, 1965, two weeks before Malcolm X was assassinated). The scene is introduced with a shrewd recurring device — an onscreen teletype legend that tells moviegoers what’s happening, but only through the warping prism of FBI surveillance. “C. King in Selma to meet with Negro militant Malcolm X. 03:46 p.m. LOGGED.” The description denotes the assumption of white law enforcement that a conspiracy of one kind is taking place — a clandestine meeting in which King may be moving closer to throwing in with a more militant, potentially violent faction of the movement. In reality, the “conspiracy” that’s unfolding is exactly the opposite; Malcolm tells the wary Coretta that he is not in Selma to impede her husband’s work, but to allow himself to be used, even to be misrepresented, to further King’s goals.


DuVernay’s view of the uses of history and of (mis)representation is not careless in this scene or in the movie; it’s clearly thought through. The onscreen typed summary is a perfectly deployed example of how something can be factually correct (meeting with a “Negro militant” is, literally, what Coretta King is doing) without being true; the movie, by contrast, finds many ways of being true without being strictly factual. That is exactly what good historical drama must sometimes do, and must be given permission to do, including in this scene itself, in which DuVernay has a character express an understanding that his presence and his motives may have to be slightly distorted in order to achieve a greater truth and justice.

And Harris illuminates it, strategically, in a scene not even involving LBJ.


Sundance: Fassbender Wanders The Frontier In The Unsatisfying "Slow West"

Michael C here reporting from an unseasonably warm Park City

John Maclean's Slow West is an ambitious western that falls short of its lofty aspirations because of its thin execution and its dud of a protagonist. The protagonist is 16-year-old Jay Cavendish played by Kodi Smit-McPhee as a naif spectacularly ill-equipped to deal with the dangers of frontier travel in 1870. The voice over from Michael Fassbender's tough guy bounty hunter opens the film with the observation that it's a miracle Cavendish made it as far he did without getting murdered. We in the audience size him up with his innocent doe eyes and his still-waiting-for-puberty physique and we quite agree. He would surely have been doomed had Fassbender's Silas not taken him under his wing as a travel companion. 

This all would be a fine dynamic for a film, the weathered cowboy dropping a cold dose of reality on the young fool with his romantic ideas about true love and the West. Unfortunately, Slow West tries to push the idea that Jay is some kind of pure soul with poetry in his heart who can impart a lesson to the brutes like Fassbender about aspiring to something higher. Actually I thought the kid came off like a dope...

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Yes, No, Maybe So: 'Spy'

Margaret here with an update on upcoming projects from Paul Feig, the bannerman for blockbuster female-driven comedy. He's following up the roaring success of Bridesmaids and The Heat with two more big-budget Melissa McCarthy projects due over the next couple summers. 

The buzzier of the projects is a female-led Ghostbusters reboot, whose main cast has just been announced. It's a wonderful lineup: Feig muse Melissa McCarthy, post-Bridesmaids movie star Kristen Wiig, the hilarious rubber-faced Saturday Night Live MVP Kate McKinnon, and comedy vet Leslie Jones, a recent addition to SNL as both a writer and a featured player. These choices, exciting on their own, are all the more gratifying when one considers all those rumors circa the Sony leak that they were looking at gamine young A-listers like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone.

 While we bask in the casting news (and speculate wildly on the movie's plot), let's take a look at the Feig/McCarthy project coming to us mere months from now: the espionage thriller parody Spy...

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Sundance: Redford and Nolte go on a breezy "Walk in the Woods"

Based on the best seller by Bill BrysonMichael C reporting from Sundance to review a film starring the Sundance Kid himself.

Ken Kwapis's A Walk in the Woods has the misfortune of following not one, but two movies about the restorative spiritual powers of hiking, Tracks and Wild. Taken on its own the story of two estranged buddies hiking the Appalachian trail despite everyone saying they are way too old would probably be taken as a bit too broad, a bit too slight. Following hot on the heels of those high quality titles it feels positively featherweight. A Walk in the Woods is a lark, just an opportunity to take a low stakes tromp through the wilderness in the company of two beloved actors, Redford and Nolte. Some of it is amusing, most of it is agreeable, and if it occasional touches on an undercurrent of loss and regret, it is only in a minor way.

Redford plays semi-retired travel writer Bill Bryson as he has reached the age where every conversation is about ailments and funerals. Despite being semi-retired it all becomes too much for him until he announces out of the blue his intention to hike the Appalachian Trail, a plan his wife takes as tantamount to a suicide attempt. She insists he not go alone, but every friend laughs off the idea of an epic senior citizen trek across the East Coast...

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Best Supporting Actress: The Poll & My Ballot.

Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut."

Rene Russo is so hardshell intoxicating in Nightcrawler. I understand the potshot I've heard a couple of times that she's cribbing from Faye Dunaway in Network (one of the all time best performances of any kind) but if you're going to steal, steal from the best. My favorite thing about her work is the way she both recoils from and recalibrates to Jake Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom constantly. She's repulsed by him (witness that amazing date scene) but recognizes a soul mate... or rather, a mate in soullessness, and the financial worth of that. 

Anyway, I jumped ahead. While the world prepares to celebrate Patty, Emma, Meryl, Laura, and Keira on Oscar night, we take a brief time out to continue the Film Bitch Awards. Though I enjoyed all of those Oscar nominated performance only two made my own correlative list: the steamrolling Patricia Arquette and Keira Knightley. Knightley has really been pushing herself in the last few years and her commitment is showing in more relaxed, more interesting, and more successful performances. While The Imitation Game isn't her most challenging role, there's something to be said for perfection. She nails her every scene and very nearly saves the film from itself on a couple of occasions.

Keira, surprised to see her name again.It's always a difficult thing to extract five performances from the hundreds available in the supporting realm and say "these five. right here" but it must be done. My "was considering" list was about 24 women long but in the end I went with the aforementioned British beauty, two semi-forgotten actresses who vividly reminded us of their gifts, our most versatile new chameleon, and a singular icon who had a rather amazing multi-headed year of memorable new characters. 

Check out my ballot for why I voted this way. And make sure to vote on the Oscar poll in this category, too!


From Sils Maria to Timbuktu, France Celebrates the César Awards

Glenn here while Nathaniel is travelling back from the wonders of Sundance. I do so enjoy looking at national awards since they paint such a gloriously global view of the film world that most of the American award bodies simply do not even attempt. They're always a good way of finding out about films that may otherwise go unnoticed in the ever-expanding world of film festivals (increasingly the only way to see many of these films, anyway) and a great way of finding the next big thing to which you can tell your friends and colleagues, "I saw them first in that tiny foreign film."

This year's César Awards from France have announced their nominations and it's a handsome looking bunch, even if I've only seen a few of the actual nominees (again, blame those tricky new age distribution methods and diminishing foreign indie market). I was super happy to see Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent, France's unsuccessful 2014 Oscar submission, in the mix across the board since I flipped for it at NYFF last August. I certainly enjoyed it more than Nathaniel, and when it finally gets a release across the oceans I'll be more than pleased to beg people to go and see it. Curiously, it will compete against last year's second biopic of the famed fashion designer, Jalil Lespert's less well-received Yves Saint Laurent, in several acting and technical categories.

Elsewhere Abderrahmane Sissako's exceptional France-Mauritania copro Timbuktu adds a collection of César nods to its net of successes including that historic Oscar nomination. Another Oscar nominee, Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night, also snagged a nomination, which is hardly surprising, but the acclaimed Dardennes brothers' film missed out in every other category except foreign film, so I suspect there's some eligibility tango being played there. Is she eligible because she's French, but the film isn't because it's Belgian? If anybody can enlighten us that would be fabulous. Wim Wenders' The Salt of the Earth, his Oscar-nominated documentary about anthropological photographer Sebastião Salgado, also made the César list and we'll have a discussion on that film and the other doc nominees soon.

The last film I need to mention is one that American audiences will finally get the chance to see in April. Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria - simply Sils Maria in France - which had a very successful day despite leaving last year's Cannes Film Festival with no prizes and some questionable buzz. I'm going to assume the César embrace of a French film performed predominantly in English is rare, but don't want to claim it as fact. What I do know is that it's excellent and I'm worried about some of the write-ups it will get when released in America. Nevertheless, the nomination for Kristen Stewart is particularly sweet given how easy it would be for a French organisation to push her to the side and focus on Juliette Binoche. She's the best thing in it after all. Who needs a sequel to Snow White and The Huntsman, am I right?

Following is the entire list of nominees. Which ones have you been lucky enough to see?

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Sundance: Strangerland, an Incoherent Sexual Mirage

Nathaniel reporting from Park City

Weaving, Fiennes, and Kidman on the set of "Strangerland"There are a lot of things that are unclear in Strangerland, secrets covered as they are in beautifully dangerous sandstorms, the warped image shimmer brought on by desert heat, and the nightmare visions of Catherine Parker (Nicole Kidman) a bored sexless wife and mother who can't sleep well since her new home lacks air conditioning. Soon her lack of sleep and her indifferent husband Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) will be the least of her worries as her children vanish into the night in the unfamiliar desert town her family's just moved to due to ____  [insert withholding of family secrets here].

What's also unclear is the poetic narration that begins the film and repeats throughout it.

Touch me in the night. No one can see"

Is it the daughter's voice? And why does it keep repeating throughout the film? And what kind of sexual touch are we talking about? That's actually important given the specifics of this narrative. [More...]

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