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Wednesday
Dec032014

A Year with Kate: The Man Upstairs (1992)

Episode 49 of 52: In which Katharine Hepburn, octogenarian and Academy Award-winning legend, wrestles a convict and wins.

“You’re too old not to be interesting,” Ryan O’Neal tells Katharine Hepburn midway through The Man Upstairs. As the 1980s rolled into the 1990s, that certainly turned out to be the case for Kate. The formerly private star was now the subject of documentaries, interviews, and the 1990 Kennedy Centers Honors. When she released her autobiography Me: Stories of My Life in 1992, it would have been fair to say that Kate was the busiest recluse in the business.

By this time, there had been so many biographies, interviews, and fictionalizations of her life--of which The Man Upstairs would prove to be another example--so Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography was her chance to set her life in stone once and for all. Told in Hepburn’s typical forthright, conversational style, Me: Stories From My Life may not be the most linear (or truthful) autobiography, but it is a fascinating character study nonetheless.

With all of this energy being put into the performance of being Katharine Hepburn (in book form and the accompanying TV special All About Me), Kate had precious little to devote to actual film projects, which may explain the underwhelming quality of The Man Upstairs. Our own Kate plays Victoria, a misanthrope living alone with only her maid and relations for company. Her life is shaken when an inept escaped convict named Mooney (Ryan O’Neal) takes up not-so-secret residence in her attic.

Kate takes great joy throughout the movie in alternately snapping and smiling at her costars. (She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her efforts.) O’Neal matches her in energy, but his oily charms slide into a whine too often. Because this is a holiday TV movie, the convict and the hermit become bosom friends, and he teaches her the true meaning of Christmas. The film is overall pretty formulaic, but it does give 85-year-old Kate the opportunity to smack 51-year-old Ryan O’Neal with her cane and wrestle a gun away from him. It’s the little things that make these movies, y'know?

And stay down!

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Dec032014

Team FYC: Carrie Coon for Best Supporting Actress

Editor's Note: We're featuring individually chosen FYC's for various longshots in the Oscar race. We'll never repeat a film or a category so we hope you enjoy the variety of picks. And if you're lucky enough to be an AMPAS, HFPA, SAG, Critics Group voter, take note! Here's Margaret on Gone Girl. 

David Fincher's Gone Girl has been praised, and deservedly so, for excellence in casting its leads. Certainly Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck are immensely successful in their chilling game of spousal one-upmanship, both turning in career-best performances. But looking a little further down the call sheet, some of the best work is being done by arguably the least known in the cast. Carrie Coon, Chicago-based stage actress and recent Tony nominee (for playing Honey in the revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), made her film debut in Gone Girl, but blends in so seamlessly you'd never guess.

Carrie Coon plays Margo Dunne, twin sister of Ben Affleck's Nick. Frank, wry, and loyal to a fault, she quickly becomes the heart of the movie as the central couple reveal themselves to be less and less reliable. Margo functions effectively as an audience stand-in, but she's much more than that. Coon's lived-in, effortless rapport with Affleck creates a believable and affectionate sibling relationship that emphasizes the ambiguity, and keeps Nick from being too easy a villain. Her pointed observations and bluntness are a steady source of humor, welcome in Fincher's grim universe, and essential in keeping the movie from tipping too far into the unpleasant. Not even the source novel's pickiest devotees could find anything wanting in her performance. She's perfect. 

Carrie Coon's Margo Dunne has neither the narrative heft of near co-leads like Rene Russo in Nightcrawler or Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year, nor the scene-grabbing outre of Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer, but her contributions to Gone Girl are no less potent. She makes everyone with whom she shares a scene better, and she makes the movie as a whole better; it's a true supporting performance.

Previously in Team FYC
Visual FX, Under the Skin
Cinematography, The Homesman

Wednesday
Dec032014

Red Carpet Lineup: Gotham's Revenge of the Nineties

NATHANIEL: Hello dear readers. I'm pleased to announce the return of the Red Carpet Lineup series for awards season kicking off with The Gotham Awards. It's the fashion series for people who don't care who people are wearing so much as who be doing the wearing. This season I'm happy to say that two ladies who could walk the red carpet themselves are joining me: TFE's Los Angeles Branch divas Anne Marie & Margaret.

I'm calling this post "Revenge of the Nineties" because look at all these Nineties A-Listers? or at least B+ Listers (hi Heather Graham!) lighting up the room again.

UMA, ROLLERGIRL, RENE, FAMKE, and KEENER

MARGARET: I love the variety. Whatever else you can say about these outfits, they all should have felt pretty confident they weren't going to see anyone else showing up in the same thing.

NATHANIEL: I have a 100% certainty about which of these outfits Anne Marie would wear (The Russo - ding ding ding) but Margaret? If you were a 90s superstar trying to get your groove back what would we see you in?

ANNE MARIE:  I'm actually wearing Rene Russo's jacket right now. How awkward...

NATHANIEL: ...But Margaret? If you were a 90s superstar trying to get your groove back what would we see you in?

MARGARET: I think I'd go with Ms. Janssen's ensemble. All of these outfits are A Lot of Look, but that kicky little mini-dress looks easiest to pull off without mega-star-wattage, plus it provides a welcome dash of color in a neutral-heavy lineup.

NATHANIEL: Awww, "kicky" is my favorite underused adjective and Famke is one of my favorite underused stars

ANNE MARIE: Speaking of A Lot Of Look, what exactly is going on with Catherine Keener? Is that a dress? A coat? I like it in concept, but in execution it looks like a boxy reject from AHS: Coven

Broken toes, Alien haircuts, and secrets to luscious movie star hair after the jump... 

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Dec032014

Finding a Waitress in Paris: Hollywood Takes Over Broadway 

Manuel here to bring some Hollywood-tinged stage-bound news to give us a brief respite from the fun that is Hollywood awards season.

Cindy Lauper and Kinky Boots, Elton John and Billy Elliot, Alan Menken and Sister Act, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bring it On, Marc Shaiman and Catch Me if You Can. It seems as if Broadway is on a movie-adaptation streak, no? Movie based adaptations have won seven of the past fourteen Tony Awards for Best Musical! This season alone will see Honeymoon in Vegas (based on the 1992 film of the same name), musicals based on Oscar-winning films Dr Zhivago (which recently announced its star) and Gigi (for what it's worth, its pre-Broadway engagement stars Vanessa Hudgens), as well as Bull Durham. Down the line we’re still expecting First Wives Club, Amelie, American Psycho, The Bodyguard and Ever After to make it to New York in the near future. Time to add some other titles to that growing list.

Jessie Mueller, who just won a Tony award for her performance as Carole King in Beautiful is attached to a musical being developed based on Waitress, the 2007 Adrienne Shelly film starring Keri Russell about an unhappy diner server who makes delicious pies (and falls for dashing Nathan Fillion in the process). I loved that film, which features a great ensemble, and the show is being developed by Sarah Bareilles (below performing a lovely number from the musical starting at 2:20) so color me intrigued.

Speaking of Russell, another one of her films has been developed for the stage. August Rush is hoping for a Broadway-bound run. The production will be directed by John Doyle (whose minimalist Sweeney Todd was fantastic and rightly earned him a Tony Award for directing). The Academy Award nominated film (Best Original Song) starred Freddie Highmore as a talented orphan prodigy in search of his parents in New York City.

Another of Highmore’s films is coming to Broadway a bit sooner. Finding Neverland, begins performances March 15 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater and will open on April 15, after a rather high-profile casting change (those of us eager to see Jeremy Jordan return to the stage will have to wait as the role of Barrie will now be played by Broadway vet Matthew Morrison)

That said, the film-to-stage adaptation I’m most excited for is An American Paris, based on the Vincent Minnelli film of the same name. Anyone who’s seen the film knows this property is overdue for a stage adaptation (that eponymous Gene Kelly/Leslie Caron dance sequence is to die for!) so I’m eager to see how it works on stage. The show opens on Broadway in March 2015. 

Any of these upcoming productions strike your fancy? Do you have a film you’re dying to see reimagined for the stage by a particular musician?

Tuesday
Dec022014

Team FYC: Under the Skin for Visual Effects

Editor's Note: For the next ten days, we'll be featuring individual Team Experience FYC's for various longshots in the Oscar race. We'll never repeat a film or category so we hope you enjoy the variety. And if you're lucky enough to be an AMPAS, HFPA, SAG, Critics Group voter, take note! Here's Amir on Under the Skin.

Generally speaking, if you drop the adjective Best and replace it with Most, you come to a better understanding of what the Academy Awards are often about.”

That statement is taken from Nick Davis’ review of The Lives of Others written several years ago, but it’s a sentiment I have not only shared, but have come to recognize as the defining element of my relationship with the Oscars, responsible for the bulk of my disagreements with their choices. Nick called the application of his theory to the visual effects category “self-explanatory” and it’s hard to disagree with him. How often do we find nominees in this category that subtly work their visual effects into the narrative? Filmmakers who employ effects as a storytelling device rather than a show-stopping juggernaut of colors and flying objects? This isn’t to say that some worthy work hasn’t been rewarded in the process. No one can argue with the impressive quality of what is on display in Gravity, but the emphasis is on “on display.” Visual effects in Cuaron’s films are equivalent to an oiled up body in a tight thong, flexing muscles in your face, and that type of “most” visual effects is what the Academy has come to reward repeatedly, even when the results aren’t quite as impressive or innovative, which brings me to this year.

None of the films that are bound to be nominated in this category will have imagery that is as iconic or memorable as the understated work in Under the Skin.  Yet, Jonathan Glazer’s masterpiece – his third from three tries – faces two very big hurdles on its road to nomination. First, the film isn’t in the Academy’s wheelhouse or likely to get any other nominations. Second, that the visual effects aren’t showy. In the words of its VFX supervisor, Dominic Parker, the techniques “are supporting the film, not the main event.”  

Technically, Under the Skin isn’t doing anything that Kubrick didn’t do fifty years ago; one particular sequence – the disintegration of one of Alien’s preys, which is the only colourful segment in the film – unmistakably mirrors the colored vortex sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the application, completely at the service of the story and actively designed to go unnoticed, is what makes the experience memorable.

The plain black void in which the alien’s victims, lit in blue hues, float endlessly until their moment of implosion is the year’s most terrifying, unshakable imagery. The sense of inescapable horror that these sequences create is precisely due to their sleek emptiness. Similarly, the emotional gravity of the final moment, a literal stripping to bare the soul, or lack thereof, is conveyed with such weight because of the simplicity of the non-obstructive effects. Still, one need not look further than the film’s opening "creation" scene to see the genius of the effects. Glazer and his team trimmed down the concept of this scene from the formation of a full human body to just the eye and ended up with sheer minimalist brilliance. The gradual, shocking revelation of what it is we’re witnessing is the most wondrous sensation in the film, a moment of genuinely awe-inspiring quality. Here’s hoping Academy voters take note.



Previously on Team FYC
The Homesman for Cinematography

Tuesday
Dec022014

Fairie Dust Placeholder

I'm very sorry to inform you that I, Nathaniel, will have to watch "Peter Pan Live!" less than "live". If you're watching tonight from the West Coast, please note that Anne Marie and Margaret will be live-blogging right here as it airs in Los Angeles, 8 PM PST/11 PM EST

Tuesday
Dec022014

National Board of Review's Most Violent Awards

Glenn here with the NBR results as they come to hand. They used to be the first awards of the season to announce their winners, but now the National Board of Review are trumped annually by the Gotham Awards and the NYFCC in the merry-go-round that is award season. I maintain that unless you're a guild, your absence is more or less moot. However, it can definitely help get your name and face out there to be acknowledged early and often. The NBR is where the likes of Moulin Rouge! and Amy Ryan made it known that they would be forces to be reckoned with. What did this 105-year-old group select this year? Let's find out...

NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW WINNERS

  • Best Film: A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
  • Best Director: Clint Eastwood, AMERICAN SNIPER
  • Best Actor: (tie!) Oscar Isaac, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR and Michael Keaton, BIRDMAN
  • Best Actress: Julianne Moore, STILL ALICE
  • Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton, BIRDMAN
  • Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
  • Best Original Screenplay: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, THE LEGO MOVIE
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, INHERENT VICE
  • Best Animated Feature: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
  • Special Achievement in Filmmaking: Appears to not exist this year?
  • Breakthrough Performance: Jack O'Connell, STARRED UP and UNBROKEN
  • Best Directorial Debut: Gillian Robespierre, OBVIOUS CHILD
  • Best Foreign Language Film: WILD TALES (Argentina)
  • Best Documentary: LIFE ITSELF
  • William K. Everson Film History Award: Scott Eyman
  • Best Ensemble: FURY
  • Spotlight Award: Chris Rock for writing, directing, producing and starring in TOP FIVE
  • NBR Freedom of Expression Award: SELMA and ROSEWATER

What exactly does Clint Eastwood have on these people that they give him an award for almost every single movie he makes? Best director for American Sniper and a placement on their top ten (below) seems... extravagant.

 

 

Anyway, it was a big day for A Most Violent Year winning three big prizes including best film. Will this film fall alongside the likes of Quills as a NBR best picture winner without a corresponding Oscar nomination in the same category? That super, ultra, very-very late release date still makes me worried. Whatever the case may be, the NBR loved it and good on A24. Ever the wealth-spreader, the mysterious organization liked The Lego Movie enough to give it a rather shocking (although not entirely undeserved) screenplay win and top ten placement, yet Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon 2 took out the animated film prize. They consolidated their breakthrough prizes into one award for handsome Jack O'Connell. Fair enough, I suppose. Meanwhile, after Jennifer Kent's win at the NYFFF and now Gillian Robespierre's win at the NBR, women directors are staking a claim to breakthrough director awards in 2014!

TOP FILMS
(alphabetical)

  • AMERICAN SNIPER
  • BIRDMAN
  • BOYHOOD
  • FURY
  • GONE GIRL
  • THE IMITATION GAME
  • INHERENT VICE
  • THE LEGO MOVIE
  • NIGHTCRAWLER
  • UNBROKEN

Remember, this is basically places 2-11 hence A Most Violent Year's omission. I don't claim to know how that works, but let's just roll with it. Very happy to see Nightcrawler here as now that the flurry of indie nominations have surpassed, citations for the Jake Gyllenhaal movie may be hard to come by. The rest of the list is pretty standard, although the people behind The Theory of Everything, Big Eyes, Foxcatcher, Into the Woods, Grand Budapest Hotel, Wild and Whiplash will all be a bit miffed that they didn't receive a single token nomination anywhere amidst the NBR's field. Selma, too, being stuck with that kiddie-table "Freedom of Expression" award feels like a disappointment for that team, too.

Top 5 Foreign Language Films
(In Alphabetical Order)

  • FORCE MAJEURE (Sweden)
  • GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIAN AMSALAM (Israel)
  • LEVIATHAN (Russia)
  • TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (Belgium)
  • WE ARE THE BEST! (Sweden)

I think the recognition of Lukas Moodysson's ace teen movie We Are the Best! is my favourite of the NBR's choices. Way to go, NBR! Y'all should go watch it immediately. Three of these films (plus Wild Tales, their actual foreign film winner - again, confusingly) are eligible for Oscar, with the Dardennes' Two Days, One Night now appearing on multiple award lists after the NYFCC yesterday.

Top 5 Documentaries
(In Alphabetical Order)

  • ART AND CRAFT
  • JODOROWSKY'S DUNE
  • KEEP ON KEEPIN' ON
  • THE KILL TEAM
  • LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM

All six documentaries cited - Life Itself won the big prize as noted up top - are on Oscar's 15-wide doc shortlist. That's some good dart-throwing, NBR!

Top 10 Independent Films
(In Alphabetical Order) 

  • BLUE RUIN
  • LOCKE
  • A MOST WANTED MAN
  • MR. TURNER
  • OBVIOUS CHILD
  • THE SKELETON TWINS
  • SNOWPIERCER
  • STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS
  • STARRED UP
  • STILL ALICE

Ignoring the pure idiocy of a list like this that makes no sense (are independent films not eligible elsewhere?), this is a good batch of flicks. Blue Ruin! I was ecstatic to see Stand Clear of the Closing Doors get an acting nomination at the Indie Spirits the other day, and now this little mention. That film is so good and I suggest y'all check it out if you can. It's small, but beautiful. Beautiful can't be used to describe Starred Up starring Ben Mendelsohn and breakthrough winner Jack O'Connell, but I'm glad it showed up, too. Likewise The Skeleton Twins and Obvious Child, two of the best comedies this year that I'm sure the Globes will ignore almost entirely.

What do you make of this year's NBR awards? I'm sure we'll have more to say about them later when Nathaniel returns from hobnobbing with Angelina Jolie and I am salivating at the thought of another hilarious podcast as they discuss Clint Eastwood's magnetic hold over the NBR, but for now did they get it right? Embarassingly wrong? Let us know!

Tuesday
Dec022014

Ebert, Snowden and Wim Wenders on High-Profile Documentary Shortlist

The Academy has announced the 15-wide documentary shortlist and apart from one title, it's is a very high-profile group of names. At least they are if you follow the world of documentary. I had discussed with a friend recently that last year's field may go down as the greatest in the category's history, but depending on how the branch votes this year they may just surpass it. I have already seen nine of the 15 and can vouch for almost all of them. Let's take a look.

  • Art and Craft
  • The Case Against 8 (review)
  • Citizen Koch
  • Citizenfour (podcast | Glenn's review)
  • Finding Vivian Maier
  • The Internet's Own Boy
  • Jodorowsky's Dune
  • Keep On Keepin' On
  • The Kill Team
  • Last Days in Vietnam (review)
  • Life Itself
  • The Overnighters
  • The Salt of the Earth
  • Tales of the Grim Sleeper (NYFF review | AFI review)
  • Virunga

There are some big names in here. Apart from the likes of Edward Snowden Roger Ebert, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Clark Terry who are the subjects of the shortlist's most recognisable titles, there's also Wim Wenders (co-directed with Juliano Ribeiro Salgado) who is contending for his third documentary Oscar citation (after Beuna Vista Social Club and Pina) and first win with The Salt of the Earth, while Nick Broomfield is angling for his first ever nomination with Tales of the Grim Sleeper despite a big career. It appears the new documentary rules are finally working in his favor! Carl Deal and Tia Lesson are back with Citizen Koch after Trouble the Water was a nominee in 2008. While, most famously, Steve James, the director of Life Itself, is no stranger to Oscar controversies (but we'll talk about that in a couple of days!)

Since we all enjoy a spot of prognasticating, I'd be looking most heavily at Citizenfour, Keep on Keepin' On, Last Days in Vietnam (they love docs about Vietnam!) Life Itself, The Overnighters, although it would be sweet to see Broomfield finally nominated for an Oscar, especially since his pair of Aileen Wournos docs so heavily influenced another Oscar-winner: Monster. Finding Vivian Maier, the blockbuster of the field (until Citizenfour overtakes it this week) shouldn't be discounted either. I'd assume Virunga a threat for a nomination but between Project Nim and Blackfish, animal documentaries appear to be out of favor at the moment.

Left out of the field? Well, considering there were 134 semi-finalists, that's a long list! However, some of the more high-profile titles that didn't make the shortlist cut include The Dog, 20,000 Days on Earth, Rich Hill, Happy Valley, Particle Fever, National Gallery, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, Antarctica: A Year on Ice, Manakamana, Nas: Time is Illmatic, Finding Fela and Whitey: United States of America vs James J Bulger. Just quietly, I know it was popular and was assumed a shortlist placing, but I'm kind of glad Red Army isn't on here. I wouldn't be surprised if a few of those - The Dog, Manakamana and the Nick Cave-centric 20,000 Days on Earth especially - popped up on critic organisation lists though. As far as Oscar goes, however, they're sadly done.

Do you follow the documentary category now that bigger films and bigger names are finding themselves on the list? What are you doc hunches?