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Entries in film festivals (283)


AFI Fest Closing Night - The Big Short

Anne Marie here, wiping the glitter from my eyes after another year of AFI Fest.

The closing night party of AFI Fest presented by Audi was the premiere of The Big Short, the star-studded story of the 2007 financial crisis. Director Adam McKay is best known for comedies like Anchorman, but in defiance of genre expectations, McKay has adapted a book by Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame. Nearly the entire cast walked the red carpet: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale were in attendance (minus Brad Pitt), along with the lesser-used-but-no-lesser-in-our-minds Melissa Leo, Finn Wittrock, Adepero Oduye, and Academy Award Winner Marisa Tomei.

The Big Short is a tough sell as Wall Street movies go. If it had been made 2 or 3 years ago, McKay's comedy drama might have been considered on point, but after the Occupy Movement, Wolf of Wall Street, and an economy finally limping back towards recovery, The Big Short may have trouble motivating an audience. Part of its challenge is that McKay's protagonists are the traders who profited off of the collapse of the economy. Three groups of traders - Christian Bale's glass-eyed genius, Carell's angry Chicken Little, and Brad Pitt's charismatic "retired" trader, all corralled by Ryan Gosling's slick Wall Street insider - see the housing market bubble about to explode, and decide to bet against the house. McKay attempts to portray them as prophetic, or at least clear-eyed in the face of systematic stupidity, but a third act shift towards righteous indignation does away with any good will that may have been built.

Tone is a struggle overall for McKay, and the weakest point of a film with a lot of balls in the air. How exactly do you make a movie about the financial market that is entertaining, informative, and accessible? Drawing from his comedy roots, McKay keeps the build up to 2007 fairly light, adding fantastical inserts in order to explain financial concepts. (The audience favorite was Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining subprime loans.) However, these stylistic risks, along with random intertitles and quick montages, as often as not obscure rather than enlighten. Once the financial crisis hits, McKay pulls an abrupt about-face, and righteous indignation takes hold. Whether audiences take to the film's message may depend on how redundant this righteous indignation feels 2 hours into the movie and 7 years after the fact.

At the afterparty, crowds swarmed around the major stars who made a fairly hasty exit. However, we stuck around and got to meet Adepero Oduye, who plays a small role as Steve Carell's advisor in The Big Short, but is better known as the star of Dee Rees's lauded 2011 film Pariah. Nathaniel snagged a picture with Oduye and chatted with her about Meryl Streep's shoutout at the 2012 Golden Globes (all roads do lead to Meryl).

Later, we got into a brief conversation with Oduye about Pariah's influence. She was extremely gracious as she gushed over the film's personal signficance for her, and its importance in LGBTQ representation of people of color. Then we chatted about passion projects. We ended the conversation with a hug. That was hands down the warmest way I've ever ended a film festival.


AFI Fest: James White

Kieran, here reporting from AFI Fest in Hollywood.

James White (played by Christopher Abbott) is a 21-year-old whose life is in a kind of disarray that's sometimes indistinguishable, at least from the outset, from typical millenial aimlessness. He spends his evenings binge drinking, getting high and instigating bar fights all while harboring vague notions of becoming a writer. His estranged father has recently passed away and he sleeps on the sofa of his ailing mother, insisting that he's only there to take care of her. There's a lot in that plot description to suggest something trite and indie-by-numbers. My own antennae were up for yet another indie about a disaffected, yet ambiguously wealthy young white man. Thankfully, writer-director Josh Mond's directorial debut (he was previously a producer on Martha Marcy May Marlene whose director, Sean Durkin is a producer here) opts for something more specific and lived-in here.

The film's saving grace, at least on the script level, is that it manages to be kind to its lead character without co-signing his worldview or behavior. Yes, James is "a mess" as a family friend played by Ron Livingston tells him during a job interview that's going terribly in every possible way. [More...]

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AFI Fest: Lady in the Van

Anne Marie here reporting from Hollywood & Highland.

Let's be honest: there's probably only one reason you (or anyone) is interested in The Lady in the Van. If you own a copy of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, if you kept watching Downton Abbey even after Julian Fellowes killed two main characters and the series lost focus, then I have good news for you: you will love The Lady in the Van. Dame Maggie Smith is in top form, and the movie is devoted to giving her a variety of small acting moments that pop up in awards show montages and internet gifsets. Even if the rest of Nicholas Hytner's movie is unrelentingly average, Dame Maggie Smith is a delight.

First, let's talk about Maggie. In the last 20 years, the Dame has made a career of playing colorful, curmudgeonly women, effectively destroying - along with her Dames in Arms Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, and Angela Lansbury - the idea that older actresses aren't interesting. (There's a question to be asked about why all of these successful, terribly interesting older actresses are British, but that's a tangent for another day.) As the titular homeless woman who parks in the driveway of a put-upon playwright (Alex Jennings) for 15 years, Maggie Smith continues this fine tradition. Alternately infuriating and empathetic, crazy and charismatic, disgusting and distinguished, Smith creates a character so bizarrely contradictory that you understand why the writer allowed himself to be inconvenienced for almost two decades beginning in the 1970s. Sitting next to Nathaniel and eurocheese, I don't know that I've seen a festival audience react as gleefully to a moment so small as when Dame Maggie Smith, clad in a nightdress and a smelly rain coat, cracked a small private smile while riding a duck on a merry go round.

The rest of the movie is about what you'd expect from a BBC drama - familiar character actors, comedy stemming from British polite timidity - with one exception. The playwright Alan Bennett (who adapted his own play for the screen) splits himself into two characters: the man living the events, and the writer observing them. At first, the conceit is fun, since it gives the observing ego a chance to make the snide remarks that polite British gentlemen just won't say. However, as with many movies that rely on narration, eventually the writer gets didactic, and begins informing the audience how to think and feel about his story. But what he refuses to comment on is more interesting. While he was busy belaboring the connection between his guilt over his ailing mother and the homeless woman he allows to sleep in his yard, I was more curious about his closeted sexuality in Margaret Thatcher's England. 

Ultimately, as a showpiece for Dame Maggie Smith, The Lady in the Van delivers. As a BBC drama, it's a little more interesting than usual. Jim Broadbent, Dominic Cooper, and James Corden all make appearances, but are criminally underused. There's one reason to see The Lady in the Van. But it's a good reason in itself.

Grade: Maggie Smith A / Rest of the movie C+ Total = B

Oscar Chances: In a less competitive year, Dame Maggie Smith would be a shoe-in for a Best Actress nomination. As it is, she probably won't make the cut.


AFI Fest: "By the Sea" Premieres

Greetings from sunny Los Angeles. I've been offline so I have to thank the team for keeping us up to date in the news. In the interest of not getting too far behind, let's talk about Thursday's opening event.

A rental car misshap nearly prevented me from attending the glitzy premiere of Mr & Mrs Pitt aka By the Sea but I made it in the nick of time. Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt manage the uncommon feat of looking as beautiful as the seaside scenery onscreen and just as beautiful offscreen. They were both glammed up like it was Oscar night in full tux & perfectly groomed hair (Brad) and shimmering form fitting white gown (Angie). Their new film is a marital vacation drama that feels like an uncomfortable fusion of three film types. The first is the enigmatic 60s Italian pictures -- think Antonioni letting Monica Vitti languidly sex up the camera and drive everyone mad while everyone forgets about the plot because "plot? --  how banal!" The second is a kind of meta-interest "vanity project" like a Burton & Taylor joint and I use the term vanity project in the most flattering way possible; no one earns vanity like the great movie stars and both Brad and Angie qualify for that designation. The third is hostile vaguely unreal marital drama erotica. In all three cases the film doesn't go nearly far enough: it needs to be more enigmatic / indifferent to the audience like L'Avventura OR more terrible and superstar campy like, say, Boom!, OR more sexually charged and surreal like maybe Eyes Wide Shut.

It's tough to imagine who the film might satisfy as its mostly inert and repetitious (not a total problem if you like art films), approaches sexually charged material rather timidly (a bigger problem), and is oddly backloaded story-wise which suddenly makes the film feel ill at ease with its languid despair at the last moment "oh, there needs to be A Story" 

But for what's it's worth it's an interesting curiousity. Along with a few truly great moments, it's fun to hear Brad Pitt speaking French and he acts drunk well.

It's interesting that Jolie  keeps challenging herself with different types of films even though she doesn't seem like a "natural" at directing, truth be told. I refuse to call her "Angelina Jolie Pitt" -- women need to stop defining themselves as belonging to a man and it's even worse when celebrities do it. Nearly all instances of famous people changing their public name for marriage end in tears and it looks sloppy on filmographies. Joanne Woodward didn't change her professional name to Joanne Newman when she married Paul and look how happy they were and remained for his whole life!

Gena Rowlands at the opening night partyAt the after party, I wasn't able to get close to Angelina or Brad and didn't spot the beautiful French stars Melanie Laurent & Melvil Poupaud (though they were at the premiere as the other couple in the film) but the most famous married movie stars in the world were real troupers hanging at the party for a good long while and speaking to well wishers in their über glamorous duds. The after party did provide one moment of pure movie bliss though: I was able to congratulate Gena Rowlands on her impending Honorary Oscar. It was brief but heavenly. She was gracious and beaming. Sasha Stone snapped the picture of this blessed moment. Thanks Sasha!

More from the AFI fest soon!


AFI Fest 2015: Predicting this year's 'American Sniper'

Margaret here. The full 2015 AFI Fest lineup has been announced and it's full of must-sees, from Oscar-campaign heavyweights and indie up-and-comers alike.

Many of the season's most buzzy films have already made a splash at Cannes, TIFF and NYFF, and a few of those will be screening here, but AFI Fest will also as in years past be holding world premieres for a few late-breaking contenders. With the first end-of-the-film-year nominations out (Gotham Awards, always early but never predictable) many pundits would have you believe the shortlists are already set, but there may yet be a few wild cards in the mix.

Last year AFI Fest gave us the world-premieres of two eventual Best Picture nominees (Selma and American Sniper), a critical darling that nonetheless escaped Oscar's notice (A Most Violent Year), and an all-around non-starter (The Gambler). This year the festival will premiere By the SeaThe Big Short, and Concussion, as well as The 33 (already released in Latin America but not yet widely screened in English-language markets). Naturally we're very curious to see which of these, if any, will make the kind of impression it will take to break into the conversation and stay there.

The Big Short: a (comedic?) drama about the bursting of the housing credit bubble in the 2000s. Directed by Adam McKay; starring Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt. Oscar loves when comedic actors get serious. Might similar goodwill extend to a director like Adam McKay, who is most famous for his many absurdist collaborations with Will Ferrell? You'll note that the ensemble cast is chock-full of Oscar nominees with atrocious hairdos-- reminds one of nothing so much as American Hustle, which made a killing on nomination morning 2013.  

By the Sea: a marital drama set at the 1970s French seaside. Written and directed by Angelina Jolie, who is also starring with Brad Pitt. As buzzy as it gets: the world's most famous celebrity couple, acting together for the first time in ten years. Jolie's last directorial effort debuted to very healthy box office and decent reviews-- unspectacular, but more than enough to sustain curiousity for her third film. People seem to really want it to be good, and the below the line team (including The White Ribbon DP Christian Berger and The English Patient composer Gabriel Yared) bring a formidable arsenal of talent to the table. But will a romantic drama that's not also a biopic be able to gain traction with Oscar? 

Concussion: a dramatic thriller about the real-life Dr. Bennet Omalu's research on serious brain damage in professional football players and the NFL's efforts to keep him quiet. Written and directed by Peter Landesman, starring Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Albert Brooks. Primed to be a dramatic comeback for Smith, who used to cross back and forth between blockbusters and prestige films much more often. The true story aspect is often irresistable to awards bodies, and it seems that recent-history stories about the investigation of shady dealings by powerful people is a popular theme among this year's Oscar hopefuls (see also TruthSpotlightThe Big Short). But since the trailer dropped, Smith's accent has been the object of many a snide comment-- will we be able to take him and the movie seriously? There are also rumors that pressure from the NFL shaped some of the storytelling, which if true could impact the movie's bite and credibility.

The 33: a true-life drama based on the 2010 Chilean mining catastrophe that trapped 33 miners underground for over two months. Directed by Patricia Riggen, starring Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips. Not only does it have the true-story advantage, but the subject is an objectively impressive and cinematic human achievement. Binoche and Banderas also both have decades of critical goodwill. The response from critics in Latin America (where it has already opened) suggests that it's something of a broad melodrama, which might not win it die-hard fans among cinephiles but certainly puts it in good company with many Best Picture nominees in years past.

Which of these has the potential to go full American Sniper and sneak into 5-7 nominations? Which do you predict will go the way of The Gambler? And perhaps most importantly: which movies on the AFI Fest slate are you dying to hear more about? Nathaniel, Anne Marie, Kieran and myself will be attending and sharing our thoughts.


Queer Horror Night: You're Killing Me

Manuel here to talk about a new entry in that ever-growing queer horror genre, just in time for Halloween!

What if you were so steeped in irony that, when a random (but totally hot) stranger creeps up to you, admits to stalking you and having killed his ex-boyfriend you think it’s the funniest thing in the world, because, like, who even says things like that?

“Well, he’s not scary. He’s gorgeous! He just has a weird sense of humor…”

That’s the premise behind Jim Hansen and Jeffery Self’s You’re Killing Me, a horror comedy playing at NewFest just in time for Halloween.

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Don Cheadle x 4 in "Miles Ahead" 

Nathaniel reporting on the closing night film of the New York Film Festival

Don Cheadle has been an esteemed actor for a full twenty years now. His big reputation began with his breakout turn in The Devil with the Blue Dress (1995) and kept building. Somewhere along the way, despite a Best Actor nomination for Hotel Rwanda (2004) the leading man career didn't materialize (apart from his 4 time Emmy nominated gig on Showtime's House of Lies). The sturdy ensemble player attempts to right that wrong by producing, writing, directing and starring (whew) in a Miles Davis biopic.

Cue the trumpets!

And here we are. Miles Ahead was given the honor of closing this year's New York Film Festival. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film.

It's tough to argue that Cheadle hasn't earned a spotlight as bright as this. [More...

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