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 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | instagram | letterboxd | deviantart 


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Nicole Kidman on Stage

"Any chance this transfers to broadway I wonder?" - Joseph

"As a long term Kidmaniac, this is just the type of comeback I was hoping for." - allaboutmymovies


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Entries in Hilary Swank (16)


Q&A Pt. 2: Rain Men, Paperboys, Oscar Greats

We had too many good questions last week to keep it all confined to one post. So now that you're read part one, so here's part two of the week's reader question roundup. I saved all the Oscar questions for this round to motivate me to update those Oscar chart this weekend. Ready? 

SONJA: Why do we mourn/rage about "undeserved" wins so often? In reality it doesn't change anything....

It's as useless as making your bed in the morning but we still make our beds, right? Or in my case throw the comforter haphazardly across the sheets - close enough! Listen, I consider it a sign of good character to mourn poor choices from awards bodies as long as one does so pointedly and briefly and doesn't allow it to become part of one's whole character like hating an actr- OH WAIT OOPS.  

People like to be dismissive about awards and say 'they don't matter!'  but it's simply not true. THEY DO. Awards permanently influence resumes and entire careers by way of their temporary affect on opportunities and, yes, praise (once considered a "great" it takes decades for the petals to fall off that rose... it took decades for people to start getting snippy about Al Pacino & Robert DeNiro's work!

Plus it goes in the history books. Baby cinephiles decades later still look these things up and watch the movies that were awarded to teach themselves movie history. I speak from experience. I know this to be true.

CASH: Dustin Hoffman's win for "Rain Man" baffles me...

more after the jump...

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Q&A: TV Queens, Musical Divas, and Bad Work by Great Actors

Time for more Reader Questions. Thanks for asking them. Only six this time and they're nearly all actressy (next week something differentd) but the answers are lengthy.

TROY: A performance by an actress in television -- either episodic, movie, or miniseries -- that could stand alongside the best of the best work of Oscar-winning divas.

NATHANIEL: This is an unfair question since the reason people have such affection for television performances from the miraculously good ones to the just competents ones is that the actor in question has had literally hours and hours of time to develop that character and the viewer has had hours, months and sometimes even years in which to fall in love with the role itself (and sometimes the actor, too). Different mediums, agendas, ways of becoming iconic. Apples / Oranges. But of TV-centric actresses that repeatedly deliver A grade awards-quality work no matter the show or character they're working with (an important distinction) my vote for the best television actresses ever are Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Edie Falco... Claire Danes for the bronze should she add a third performance as impressive as Angela Chase and Carrie Mathison to her series-ography (wait what do you call a television resume?).

Three final notes on this TV actress question. Movies no longer really have an equivalent to the kind of broad near slapstick comedy that TV often specializes in but literally no one makes me laugh harder than Jane Krakowski (Ally McBeal / 30 Rock / Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and I have a rage stroke every time I remember that she's Emmy-less. Three recent singular TV performances I think of all the time for hitting every possible pleasure spot in terms of delivering both great actressing and nuanced TV characterizations without ever starting to feel stale (the danger of long term work) are Connie Britton in Friday Night Lights, and Elisabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks from Mad Men.

Finally, though I know it's not a popular opinion critically speaking (even though the show is historically very popular) I absolutely proclaim Sarah Jessica Parker a true genius for her work on Sex & the City. Gee-nee-us. Like Meg Ryan / Julia Roberts / Sandra Bullock / Goldie Hawn at their peaks rom-com perfection but for the small screen.  'Your girl is lovely, Hubble Sarah.' 

BENJI: What is your favorite silent movie/star+performance?

Diary of a Lost Girl (1929)

NATHANIEL: Maria Falconetti is unforgettable in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) which I'd also call the best of the silents. But... Best is different than Favorite. And that masterpiece has a kind of fetishized suffering, like a Von Trier without the childish pranking, that you really have to be in the right mood for. So the truer answer to your question is Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box (1929). That's my favorite silent ever (which is saying a lot because I love so many of the ones I've seen) and I also think she's great in Diary of a Lost Girl... though that movie isn't quite at her level the way her best known film is. I love all the usual stars (Gish, Garbo, Valentino) but it's Brooks that does it for me the most.

Laika: Hollywood is calling. They NEED YOUR ADVICE. They are making an Avengers -style superhero-teamup film about the divas of musical theatre, but they are having difficulty casting key roles: Liza Minnelli. Carol Channing. Elaine Stritch. Ethel Merman. BARBRA. Some people are pushing to cast Blake Lively as Bernadette Peters! Who could they cast as these inimitable women?!


Only the originals will do. So think Expendables instead but with the budget and the quality of a Marvel Studios film like The Avengers. I've mocked up a dream cast list but perhaps you have different ideas?

Half of the budget is for the lawyers because trying to decide who gets top billing would be A NIGHTMARE. Maybe you can try to decide who gets top billing in the comments, but I fear the wrath of all of them if I place them in order.

TD: Least favorite performances by favorite actors?

NATHANIEL: This topic probably deserves a whole big post but then we'd have to dwell in disappointment and who needs that? So let's just throw a quick list out there. Let's start with a few actors that are actressy according to Nathaniel (i.e. great / obsession worthy). I don't really get what Fassbender in Dangerous Method or Jude in Contagion were going for or I do but I don't like it. Jeff Bridges has been phoning it in since the Oscar win which is a shame. Okay enough men. The women.

Hathaway is bad in Eyesore in Wonderland (but, then, who isn't? I mean, besides HBC). Streep is terrible in The Manchurian Candidate, overplaying everything. Chastain in Miss Julie, same thing. Too much too much. Modulate girl, you're so good at that in other films. I didn't understand what the hell was going on with La Pfeiffer in Up Close and Personal, did you? In regards to my idol, I praised her at the time as an obsessed fan, but I must accept in retrospect that her double 1999 star turn in The Deep End of the Ocean and The Story of Us (which I always think of together) are, like Streep's in Doubt, a strange mix of irritatingly off key and really great. Whenever that happens I wonder if the star is distracted by something we'll never know about on set or at home or in their heads... or if it's director or production problems that have worked their way into the editing bay.

Julianne Moore? Hmmm. Well, actually take a look at this image.

I meant to share this chart a few months ago when I first looked at it. This is a table of the biggest box office hits of Julianne Moore's career. Looking at it I suddenly realized why non-fans have sometimes had bizarre notions about the level of her talent. If all someone had seen was a handful of these and that handful didn't include both The Hours & Boogie Nights the casual moviegoer may have regarded either as flukes and been reasonably been misled into thinking that she wasn't that special and not understood the fuss. Not that she's bad in these movies but Julianne is a Kidman in the way that her best work is almost always in the most complicated and weirdest movies. i.e. the ones people have to be convinced to see either by nominations for awards or critics never shutting up about them. I've only thought Julianne was actively bad a few times. Let us never speak of Freedomland or Evolution or that scene in Laws of Attraction where she eats junk food again. Don't Speak! 

BRIAN: How do you feel about the word pretentious when used by film critics?

NATHANIEL: I hate it. Charitably it only means 'I don't like this person's ambitions,' whatever they may be. Uncharitably it can mean "I didn't understand this movie." It's as useless as the word "unforgettable" in film reviews. Real talk, film critics: We know you JUST walked out of that movie and are writing this for publication deadline tonight or tomorrow. Half the movies in existence are unforgettable for at least a good half hour after watching them. Save that word for a few months later at least so that it means something.

DANIEL: Did the work of Hilary Swank in The Homesman make you appreciate her more as an actress, or is she still hand in hand with Renée Zelwegger in your nemesis path? In terms of career which do you prefer ? Love from Brazil...

NATHANIEL: Big love right back at Brazil. The site has always had a big following in Brazil -- not sure why that is apart from Brazilians being awesome.

I made kind of a big deal about these two as my nemeses (I know some people think it's childish but it's like an internal barometer corrector since I'm The Man Who Loved Actresses Too Much.) but I don't deny their gifts. There are actresses I think are far less talented than either Hilary or Renee that are famous but they don't annoy me as much, largely I think because they don't appear in the type of films I am otherwise drawn to. I was actually a huge fan of Renée's from Jerry Maguire (1996) through Bridget Jones (2001) but irreconciliable differences; we had a brutal divorce soon thereafter.

I've never been a "fan" of Swank but I think she's just great in Boys Don't Cry (I have eyes) and she really is very good in The Homesman (2014), which I'd easily call her second best. Even in scenes that don't directly address it, unlike that touching faux-piano scene which does, she just comes across as ineffably sad but determined to march on. I think she could have made a real run for a nomination if the reviews had been better and if it had been a more straightforward film about her character rather than the shapeshifter movie that it was. 

Please chime in on my responses or with your own in the comments. 


Screener Adventures From Big Hero to Budapest (Pt. 1)

Herewith a collection of fractured thoughts to along with my fractured toe (a piece of advice: never stub your toe so violently that your toe is swollen and purple by the end of the night and you have trouble walking for a week afterwards). I'd never have time for full articles on any of these so let's race through.

The Homesman 
Contrary to popular belief I am more than willing to praise the Swankster when she deserves it. While it's true that I was very hostile ten years ago during the Million Dollar Baby year (I struggle with hostility in any category in any year wherein the least of the five seems to have a free ride to gold... even if they've already won!) I supported her first Oscar win and you can't ever take Boys Don't Cry away from her. What we have here in  Tommy Lee Jones peculiar feminist western is her second best performance. I found her unflinching stillness whenever menfolk dismissed her as "plain" to be quite moving and she plays the saddest piano of all time, a cloth fascimile she drapes in front of her. That said, though I loved several elements of the film and found the concept and even the difficult structure intriguing, I don't think the film manages to come together well. Its parts are greater than their sum. No spoilers here but I'm a wee bit surprised that Swank has garnered as much Oscar buzz as she has - despite still being a longshot - given that her role is not as large or as fulfilling as you assume it will be in the first act.

The Skeleton Twins 
Not quite sure how I missed this one earlier in the year but it was a huge success with my friends when we finally screend it. And that "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" musical number slays - just perfection. The comedy, though, is surprisingly dark and the tone a mite unstable so it's easy to see why the movie never quite broke out despite gathering some devout fans and a lone Gotham Award nomination. It hesitates at the edge of its drama sequences as if to say 'for your consideration: serious acting from funny people' and teeters near its comic sequences like 'do we really want to do this?' before caving; you can't not let Wiig and Hader be funny. Still that "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" musical number just slays. Is anything funnier than slow burn Kristen Wiig silliness? 

Big Hero 6
While the adults talked in the other room on Thanksgiving I played this one for my friends's kids to keep them occupied. I was pushing for The Boxtrolls but, I don't know if you know this, kids turn out to be kind of stubborn; they like what they like. They were already obsessed with Baymax and rather than watching something new, they wanted the inflatable super-nurse again. I watched a few scenes again but remain only a mild fan of it. It wouldn't be on my final ballot in this competitive Animated Feature year. Nevertheless turns out it's hilarious and endearing to say goodbye to little kids after they've watched this movie. They all want to do a fist bump and will giggle like little maniacs if you play along and do Baymax's robotic jazz finger trill as their parents button them up for the cold outside. 

The Babadook
At the risk of turning this blog into The Babadook Experience (What? We like it). I'll be brief. This movie is really good. It's one of the very few movies this year that my best friend, who it might surprise you to hear does not much like movies, was willing to see and he loved it. He's been whispering at me randomly in a croaky voice "ba-ba-doooooook" without warning. The movie was just as creepy the second time but way more fun since I wasn't watching it alone. But Thanksgiving was a really really weird and, let's face it, unfortunate time to release it since a) it's probably not Oscar eligible given the Direct TV premiere and b) it could have used October's creepy crawly box office friendly trends. It makes no sense to me at all. It's not like it would have been forgotten for top ten season with a debut that was simply one month earlier? 

Grand Budapest Hotel
My friends all wanted to see this one so we rented it from Netflix before I even got the FYC screener. I can't quite figure why I was so stand-offish about it back in March when I named it Wes Anderson's second worst (just slightly better than The Life Aquatic). While I still wouldn't call it his best as so many critics did during the initial Budapest love-in (The Royal Tenenbaums remains untouchable IMO) it's so much better than I had understood. So I stand corrected, which is not something I'll admit to every day when it comes to the movies -- for example I'm totally right about Inherent Vice. I don't care how many top ten lists it makes: Blech!. On second viewing of Budapest the manic energy no longer grates or feels oppressive but intermittently flavorful and in service to its idiosyncratic comedy. And the pieces which always struck me as glorious: Ralph Fiennes out-of-time elegance and superbly pitched performance (it's a real pity he's not locked up in that Best Actor race; he should be) and the exquisitely scrumptuous production design and costumes are even better on repeat viewings.

Normally eye candy movies are better on the big screen but this one played much better for me at home. Go figure. 

Have you changed your mind about a movie recently or been surprised by one you thought you'd be cooler to? 


Thoughts I Had... While staring at THR's Actress Issue Cover

Yesterday morning, while running out to a screening and party for Al Pacino's awards run with The Humbling (more on that soon), what did I find on my doorstep but the new issue of The Hollywood Reporter, just casually dropped there. "Close call," I thought, imagining greedy scruple-free actressexual neighbors I haven't met, stealing it before I even knew it was there.

I threw it back in the apartment and dashed off and now I return to it, staring at its cover.You know how this works, herewith my immediate thoughts uncensored as they come. 

Is it weird that I don't read the article (essentially clips from the roundtable) but just wait for the full video so I can hear it all?

I don't understand the set and art direction of this photo. Why is Reese behind a gold bar? Why isn't God herself reclined on that uncomfortably stiff chaise lounge chair while the other actresses fan and feed her? (Let the coronation begin!)

Is Amy Adams a silent partner in THR? Will she impale me with that crazy stiletto for spreading that rumor.

She's like Terminator Adams here. So severe! "Don't fuck with me fellas" Or rather "I'LL BE BACK" because you know she will next year (sigh)

This is her 4th roundtable in 5 years suggesting that someone at THR is either obsessed with her, has dirt on her, has zero imagination, or is weak-willed when it comes to standing up to Amy's formidable publicists/management.

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AFI Fest's Gala Premieres: 'The Gambler' and 'The Homesman'

Margaret here, reporting from the LA festival beat with short takes on some would-be Oscar contenders.

The Gambler
Screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed), director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and star Mark Wahlberg joined forces on this remake of the 1974 James Caan movie of the same name, and the result is certainly stylish. It's well-shot, coolly assured, and smartly paced. Wahlberg leads the movie capably as Jim Bennett, a man from a rich family with a solid career who has nonetheless dug himself to rock bottom with extravagant compulsive gambling. 

The film is at its best when it engages with the question of why someone whose life is granted so much privilege so systematically pisses it all away. John Goodman, typically scene-stealing as a dangerous loan shark, makes many salient points about Jim's decisions, which are either self-destructive or indefensibly stupid.  To its detriment, the film ultimately succumbs to the impulse to romanticize its protagonist, asking the audience to cheer and respect him when he  finally makes his first sound decision.

The supporting cast is largely excellent; it will surprise no one that Jessica Lange wrings every ounce of personality, pathos, and curdled maternal affection from her few minutes of screentime. Even so, she makes little impact on the movie because, like the protagonist, it brushes her away. The Gambler can claim the dubious achievement of completing the Stock Female Character hat trick: (1) a maternal figure who exists to thanklessly prop up the male lead, (2) a pretty young thing (Brie Larson) who we're told is a stone-cold genius, but is given no development arc and has inexplicable romantic interest in the lead, and (3) a passel of nameless and faceless strippers. Slow clap. 

These are not deal-breakers for every moviegoer, but they're emblematic of the film's general reliance on familiar beats instead of showing us something new.


The Homesman
BREAKING NEWS: Tommy Lee Jones smiled upwards of twice when introducing his newest film at AFI Fest. He had glowing things to say about the whole cast, particularly  "the miraculous Hilary Swank", who more than earned her praise. The Homesman is a stubbornly unromantic and prickly western, but Swank anchors it with a very fine, emotionally vivid performance.

The Homesman's portrait of life in the Nebraska Territory is bleak; life is hard, and heroism a luxury. When a town meeting is called to order the transport of three mentally ill women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter) back to family in Iowa, their husbands shrink from the task. The staunchly moralistic Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank) takes on the assignment, knowing it will be a miserable and dangerous enterprise, because no one else will do it and she knows it must be done. Upon acquiring a traveling companion in a self-interested claim jumper who may be named George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), she sets off with her dead-eyed charges.

There are many well-conceived notes in the movie. A knife fight over a disinterested captive, Mary Bee silently playing an embroidered set of piano keys for lack of a real instrument, a flashback to a passenger's slow break from sanity-- each hints at a poignancy that never feels realized in the film as a whole. The tone occasionally veers into incongruous places-- Tommy Lee Jones' introduction is oddly slapstick, and there's a vengeful sequence in the third act that would have been more at home in Django Unchained-- and while the story doesn't conform to any expected trajectory, neither does it end as strongly as it began. 

The movie didn't leave me sure exactly what story its makers wanted to tell, or at least, it never convinced me of why they were telling it. Even so, it's at times both moving and starkly beautiful, and will not be easy to forget. 


The 10 Most Terrifying Words You'll Read Today

[from a Telluride preview piece by Anne Thompson]


I don't remember one thing about this article (other than an underlying 'screw Toronto!' praise Telluride' tone) due to these ten words. TERRIFYING. I've already tweeted this out but for those of you without twitter, it was important that you share the nightmare. Forgive me for destroying your peaceful slumber tonight.


Cannes Diary Day ???: "The Homesman," Or How Tommy Lee Jones Failed at Feminist Storytelling

Diana Drumm is reporting from Cannes for the The Film Experience. 


Based on the award-winning novel (that Paul Newman was attached to for years) by Glendon Swarthout (“The Shootist”), The Homesman is a bizarre, unwieldy Western about 31 year-old spinster Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) and questionable character Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) who are driving three insane women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) back East for treatment, or at least respite from their literally-maddening frontier lives.  

Or for a convoluted, reference-laden way to generalize it all, think of The Homesman as an inverse of the Robert Taylor-starring not-quite-classic Westward The Women (1951) meets the Glenn Close-starring made-for-TV movie Sarah, Plain and Tall (1991) with the madness and mismatches of Quills (2000, Briggs being the less couth, toned down subversive Marquis) divided by the stunning Western cinematography of Brokeback Mountain (2005, via Oscar nominee Rodrigo Prieto). Apologies, my brain is flooded with movies. 

Scale of Tommy Lee Jones orneriness, gender politics, and star cameos after the jump...

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