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Entries in Helen Hunt (16)

Friday
Oct192012

Interview: On Casting and Politics of Sex with the Director of "The Sessions"

Amir here. TIFF has been over for more than a month but I still have one interview left to share with you. With The Sessions opening in theaters today, it was the perfect time to share my chat with Ben Lewin, the film's director. We touched upon everything from the politics of sex and nudity in Hollywood to the influence of his own experience with polio on building the character of Mark O'Brien. It's a film I encourage everyone to see because it's surprisingly funny and incredibly heartfelt, and features two of the strongest lead performances of the year. (In case you missed these back in September, here's my review of the film and my interview with one of its stars, William H. Macy.)

 

Amir for TFE: I can’t think of a better place to start the interview than nudity.

Ben Lewin: Neither can I!

Amir: Because, in general I’ve been accustomed to seeing certain types of people have sex on screen in Hollywood films and everyone else’s sex life is barely ever shown, as if, you know, people in their 40s or black people don’t have sex. It’s unbelievable and I really appreciate that we get to see something very different here. Was the film always so explicit since the idea was conceived in your head?

Ben: I think if you read Mark O’Brien’s article, there’s no other way. The essence of it was that he was learning the ABCs, what goes where, what do you do, and I think the explicitness is part of revealing his naiveté and how childlike he was when it came to sex. I was only keeping faithful to his original work, which was really what inspired me. Every time I felt like I was losing my way in the script, I’d go back to his text and rediscover what turned me on in the first place. The first thing that struck me when I read it was the frankness. The explicitness doesn’t make it sexier, it just makes it more ordinary.

My point exactly! Everybody at every age does it. You don’t have to look like a star.

I’d never imagined myself going there though...[MORE]

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Oct142012

Podcast: Lincoln, Pitch Perfect, and the Supporting Actress Oscar

Weeeeee're ba-aaack.

Katey and Joe attended the sneak Lincoln preview at the NYFF and lived to tell the cel-phone free tale. Nick forces yours truly, Nathaniel, into an aca-awkward confession and the only movie that everyone has seen is Pitch Perfect which is clearly 100% appropriate for an Oscar-focused podcast. Certain to sweep!

Topics include but are not limited to:

  • Anna Kendrick being so over it in Pitch Perfect.
  • Sally Field being over the top of it in Lincoln.
  • Helen Hunt being on top of it (John Hawkes) in The Sessions.
  • Nicole Kidman killing it in The Paperboy.
  • Supporting Actress doubling up on it.
  • Elle Fanning giggling through it for Ginger & Rosa
  • Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Molly Ringwald (???) and More!

You can download the podcast on iTunes or listen to it right here. The more the merrier in this conversation so join in in the comments.

Pitch Perfect, Lincoln, Supporting Actress

Friday
Oct052012

Predictions in Actressing: Few Locks, Many New Variables

It's entirely redundant to tell you that Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress are The Film Experience's favorite Oscar categories. This year's field continues to feel slippery, amorphous, unknowable which is... great. It should be hard to pin down the Oscar race before films have been widely seen and release dates have fully settled. The charts this month are quite shuffled so I hope you'll devour them.

ACTRESS Most pundits have assumed since the very beginning that Cotillard and Wallis were locked up done deals but I'm actually still not comfortable inking either of them in. They could happen, sure, but there are so many contenders and no one beyond Jennifer Lawrence (having one of those mega years that's impossible to deny) has cemented a position here. Especially with all the movement. Even one of these smaller films with rising stars (Olsen, Winstead, Fanning) could happen theoretically or at least siphon key votes if audiences and critics are kind and their campaign is strong.

We should note that little Quvenzhané Wallis has a new problem beyond her very young age in that SAG won't be nominating her (declaring the cast ineligible). Cotillard also has a significant problem in that she isn't the only reknowned actress killing it in a subtitled drama. Emmanuelle Riva anyone? The Hiroshima Mon Amour star is a powerhouse in a very difficult role in Amour. I've just seen the movie so perhaps it's wishful thinking but this is very moving work.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS The big new question mark for me is whether biopic mimicry -- Scarlett Johansson doing Janet Leigh's arched brow Psycho tics -- will finally win her Oscar attention after her breakthrough early misses nine years ago (Girl with the Pearl Earring and Lost in Translation... and to a lesser extent her Woody Allen hussy in Match Point). She stopped being an actress for awhile moving straight to über celebrity but after her Tony-winning run on Broadway and renewed vigor in her filmography, this could be the year. Or will various Psycho co-stars steal the spotlight. It's worth noting that Toni Collette can steal spotlights from anyone anywhere... and if her Hitchcock assistant role has a key scene or two that she can wow in, watch out! (That's a mighty big "if" of course in a film with stars this big playing famous Hollywood icons.)

I should also note that though I'm on the record as no fan of Helen Hunt's 90s Oscar win, I found her work in The Sessions to be very strong. To me it's unquestionably a leading role (it wouldn't be if we didn't spend time with her outside of the titular sessions but we do, making this a lopsided duet) and I'm a bit curious as to why Fox Searchlight so adamantly settled on a supporting campaign so early given that a lead Actress nod still doesn't seem unattainable for this previous winner.

Tuesday
Sep112012

TIFF: "The Sessions"

Amir reporting from the Toronto International Film Festival

It's hard to think that a film about a man living in an iron lung could be labelled “the feel good movie of the festival.” But The Sessions beats the odds. For director Ben Lewin, who himself struggled with polio as a child, and his stellar cast, sex, disability, Catholicism and humour blend together to shape the unlikeliest of crowd pleasers.

The Sessions centres of Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a poet who fell victim to polio in his childhood and lost all his muscle strength from the neck down. His body retains its sensitivity, hence the narratively critical ability to achieve erections, but is unable to move and requires an iron lung to breathe. At the age of 38 and faced with the prospect that his days might be numbered before he ever gets to “meet” a woman, O’Brien decides to lose his virginity; and to do that, he’ll have to overcome two obstacles: an overwhelming sense of anxiety caused by his physical disability, and a fear of being sinful resulted from his devout belief in the Catholic church.

The second obstacle is easier for him to clear as he consults Father Brendan (a hilarious and poignant William H. Macy), an unconventionally forgiving priest who tells O’Brien that in his heart he knows Jesus will give him a pass. With that green light, O’Brien goes on to find Cheryl Cohen Greene (a top-form Helen Hunt), a sex therapist who is willing to take him through the mechanics of sex in six sessions.

The Sessions isn’t exactly a biopic...

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Aug112012

MIFF 2: Will "The Sessions" Make Oscar Feel Good?

[Editor's note: Glenn of Stale Popcorn fame is back to report from Melbourne Iwith a look at an Oscar hopeful that's been working the festival circuit all year - Nathaniel]

I suspect it will be easy for cynical audiences to look upon Ben Lewin’s The Sessions as merely a hurdle to get over this upcoming awards season. Yes, it’s about a man with a disability and, yes, it co-stars Helen Hunt, but the mere fact that it got made at all makes it an important film whether you consider it good or not. Given Hollywood’s fussy attitude towards sex (particularly the sex that makes us feel good), it’s strange to see so much talk about The Sessions (nee Six Sessions, nee The Surrogate) in regards to the Academy Awards. That the film is about sex and disabilities and religion, and examines it with maturity and gentle pathos, just makes Lewin’s film that much more of an anomaly worth exploring.

John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, Martha Marcy May Marlene) stars as Mark O’Brien, a real life figure who lived with Polio into his 40s who has already been the subject of one Oscar-winning movie already. If the rest of the plot – O’Brien hires a “sex surrogate” to lose his virginity – elicits giggles from the viewer then that’s a-okay since the film and the man have a sense of humour. Yes, you know where it’s going, but it's so refreshing to see this topic played out openly that it’s almost hard to care.

The Sessions, for me, most resembled Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids are All Right. [more after the jump]

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jul032012

Yes/No/Maybe So: The Sessions

Michael C here.

“In my heart I feel that he will give you a free pass on this one” says kindly priest William H Macy to paralyzed John Hawkes. Hawkes is looking for a greenlight from the church to use a sexual surrogate so he can finally experience the joys of intercourse. "My penis speaks to me, Father Brennan," Hawkes helpfully clarifies.

So opens the trailer of Sundance crowd pleaser The Sessions.

Yes

Come on everybody. Let’s see if we can get a chant going like the end of Rudy…'John Hawkes! John Hawkes! John Hawkes!'

After his brilliant nominated work in Winter’s Bone and his equally brilliant un-nominated work in Martha Marcy, there is every indication that Hawkes delivers another sit-up-and-take-notice performance here. Honestly, Sessions could end with Helen Hunt wheeling him out onto the field at the Super Bowl to catch the game winning pass in his teeth and I’m confident Hawkes could make it intensely subtle and believable.

A nomination for The Sessions – and sexual frankness aside it certainly looks pitched right at the Academy sweet spot – will likely be chalked up to their love of gimmick performances, but really, Hawkes is currently one of those guys like Tom Hardy or Michael Shannon knocking it out of the park every time at bat.

I also felt an unreasonable amount of pleasure seeing William H Macy turn up. He’s not exactly pushing his talent to its limits, but doesn’t it feel like forever since he’s had a really good big screen role?  Last thing that springs to mind is him insisting that Vermont would not apologize for its cheese.

Also, that bit about simultaneous orgasms? Funny.

No

Right around the time the OK Go song kicked in I felt my expectations take a hit. This preview is going out of its way to let audiences know that even though the main character is a man paralyzed by polio from a young age Sessions is still going to be fun, fun, fun. There is even the strong suggestion an unlikely yet heartwarming romance blossoms between Hawkes and Hunt.  

Hopefully, this can be chalked up to the nature of trailers to reduce any movie to two minutes of mushy comfort food, skipping over complex or tricky material in favor of punchlines and triumph over disease uplift. Hopefully.

Maybe So

For whatever reasons Helen Hunt has proved a surprisingly divisive actress. For hardcore movie folk a lot of it no doubt stems from her ’97 Oscar win over Judi Dench (a travesty to be sure) but other than that I’ve never understood why she rubs so many people the wrong way. She has never been my particular cup of tea, but that has a lot more to do with her questionable taste in material than her performances. I’ve got the feeling this performance may silence a few of her haters. Or I’m kidding myself and the mere presence of Hunt in the trailer has haters running at the movie like Spike Lee with a trash can at the end of Do the Right Thing. “HAAAATE!”

The fact that Sessions won the Audience Award at Sundance is also a positive indicator. Their track record isn’t perfect, but Sundance voters do have a knack for picking out gems like The Station Agent or Maria, Full of Grace as well as breakout hits like Hustle and Flow and Precious.   

Are you a Yes, No, or Maybe So?

So for the presence of Hawkes and for giving off the vibe of an intelligent, emotionally honest movie along the lines of 50/50, despite the trailer tricks, mark me down as a solid yes. What say you?

Sunday
Apr292012

First Best Actress Predictions of the New Oscar Year

"Are you actress psychic?" It's a question I've often asked in conjunction with prediction contests. I'm still working out details as to what we'll do for an Oscar contest this year but in the meantime I knew I had to wrap up my April Foolish predictions in April which ends... right about now.

To answer my own question I am somewhat Actress Psychic -- as long time readers know -- since my prediction ratio is pretty good early on before we've seen any films. This year I think I dropped the ball, the crystal one that is, not the "ohmygodthis postissoooolate" ball though that one as well. So many potentially interesting leading actress roles and so little in the way of sure things.

Maggie Smith in Quartet (1981) and Maggie Smith in Quartet (2012)

But let's pause for a moment to appreciate the beautiful coincidence should Maggie Smith be nominated as an opera diva in Quartet (2012). much much Oscary more after the jump.

Click to read more ...