Oscar History

The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R. Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. All material herein is written and copyrighted by Nathaniel or a member of our team as noted.

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What did you see this weekend?

"Colossal - has a great hook but doesn't live up to that promise. Kind of likable, but no part of it really excels" - Dave

"A Quiet Passion! I did not expect such piercing wit and laugh-out-loud humor from Terence Davies. "- Jonathan

"The Zookeeper's Wife, Jessica Chastain looking glamorous while resisting the nazis, not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon" -Choog


Betty Buckley (Split)
Michael O'Shea (The Transfiguration)
Filmmakers (Cézanne and I)
Melissa Leo (Most Hated Woman in America)
Ritesh Batra (Sense of an Ending)

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Entries in interview (193)


Christina Hendricks on "Drive", Acting During Car Chases and That Scene

Michael C. here. I missed Margo Martindale's work on Justified, but judging by the response to her Emmy win, and by the consistently stellar level of her work, the award was no doubt well-deserved. All the same, it was hard not to mutter a curse under your breath when a name other than Christina Hendricks was called out. For four seasons on Mad Men Hendricks has been the epitome of a what a great supporting performance can accomplish. Her nuanced, deeply felt performance as Joan Holloway prevented the character from being the period caricature it could have been in lesser hands, and raised the bar for the rest of the show.

Christina Hendricks as "Blanche" in DRIVE (2011)

Now with Drive, in the small but crucial role of Blanche, Hendricks is taking that skill for finding the heart underneath flashy surfaces to the big screen. I got to chat with Hendricks recently at a press event where she arrived bright and enthusiastic fresh from the set of Mad Men. Here are some of the highlights from the event where I was able to get a few questions in:

On her confrontation with Ryan Gosling…

Christina Hendricks: We shot that very intense scene the very first day of shooting. None of really knew each other, and we were in this hundred degree creepy little hotel room. And so Nicolas came up to us and said, “I’m the kind of director - I will shoot and shoot and shoot until you tell me not to shoot. So be vocal with me and let me know if you feel comfortable with what we’ve already got” No director ever does this. It’s really a nice thing to hear.

He was just very collaborative and very understanding; because it was really intense stuff we were shooting. And because I really didn’t know Ryan yet, it was this very real feeling of fear in this very uncomfortable hot room. So it was intense to shoot, but I think it lead to a successful scene. We all got to know each other by the end of the day [laughs] All sweating together.

Michael: How much of that intensity were you ready for and how much did you experience for the first time on the day?

Christina Hendricks: I think the night before we rehearsed it so we could get the blocking down but we didn’t rehearse it emotionally. We knew where we were going to be standing. Cause we knew it was going to be a long day and we knew it was going to be hard with the entire crew in there. So we all got together the night before and said, “We’ll walk here and here and then you’ll go down and the money bag will be here.” So I wasn’t quite ready for this strong leather glove on my face and I remember my heart being like “Ba-boom! Ba-boom!” He [Gosling] is such an extraordinary actor it felt real and very much in the moment. We did that scene over and over and over, so I was an emotional wreck by the end of the day. I was crying for twelve hours straight.

Michael: It comes across. Just watching it is draining.

Christina Hendricks: It was heavy. Nicolas would be like, “Can you do one more?” and I would be like “[gasping sobs] Hold on.” And Ryan was like, “Who are you? How can you keep doing this?”

 On choosing Drive...

Christina Hendricks: I choose a project based on who’s involved and my faith in them and the script and the rest you just let go. I’d seen Nicolas’s film Bronson before we met and I was so impressed by it and so excited by it that I was like, “This guy’s going to do something cool." The end result was kind of what I imagined he would do. It was stylish and rich in color and scary and heartfelt and all these different things that I knew that he would do. I had a lot of confidence in him.

(From this point forward we could not avoid getting into SPOILERS -so read on if you've seen the movie)

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INTERVIEW: Ludivine Sagnier on "Love Crime", Her Star Persona and Catherine Deneuve

If you first discovered Ludivine Sagnier, as many movie lovers did in the early 00s through the films of François Ozon, the sensation was something like wide-eyed whiplash. One moment she was the exuberant tomboyish daughter of Catherine Deneuve in the musical 8 Women and the next she was anything but as a lusty bikini-clad (or unclad) vixen causing trouble for Charlotte Rampling in the thriller Swimming Pool. Both films were international hits and her turn as "Tinker Bell" in the UK/USA/Australia production of Peter Pan further upped her profile.  Sagnier has been a movie star in France ever since. 

 Ludivine Sagnier in Alain Courbet's Love Crime

Currently both The Devil's Double in which she plays leading lady to a Dominic Cooper double-act and the thriller Love Crime  in which she plays headgames with Kristin Scott Thomas are now in theaters and  Beloved with Catherine Deneuve will undoubtedly follow; consider her international profile revived. 

I sat down to talk with one of my favorite French actresses earlier this year during New York City's annual Rendezvous with French Cinema event. After introductions and a bit of small talk about French cinema and The Film Experience's actressy nature, we got down to business. 

NATHANIEL: You started so young Cyrano de Bergerac (1990). You were all of 9 or 10! 

LUDIVINE: People always ask me how I got started. My story is so common that it's a bit tiring. I went to an audition with my sister who wanted to be an actress and they asked me if I wanted to do an audition and they picked me and didn't take her. It happens so many times in the industry. I've talked to a lot of actresses...

Deneuve and Sagnier in Cannes in MayNATHANIEL: So when you were first coming up as an actor in France were you conscious of this great legacy. Like you're next in line after Huppert and Deneuve and well, so many actresses... France makes great ones.

LUDIVINE: NO! I Didn't see myself that concretely... I didn't like myself that much in the beginning. But it's funny because I just shot a movie where I was playing Catherine Deneuve in the 1960s and she is playing me older. It's Beloved from Christophe Honoré who I did Love Songs with. Maybe this time I had the feeling that we are part of the same family, that we have a common story. First she was my mom in 8 Women. Then I was Chiara's sister in Love Songs and Chiara is her daughter. And now Chiara is my daughter in Beloved. Everything is so mixed up!!!

And now I dare think we share the same history. When I started... NO.

Continue For Ludivine's Feelings on Star Persona, International Careers and Genre Hopping 

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Interview: Vera & Dagmara in "Higher Ground"

You may expect, when sitting down to discuss a serious and deeply felt indie with two award-winning actresses that the air would be heavy with purpose or self-reflection. The film in question is the provocative HIGHER GROUND, a drama about a born-again woman named Corrine (Vera Farmiga) struggling with her faith in a tight knit religious community. But the initial conversation proves more sartorial than spiritual.

Dagmara & Vera on the day of this interview

Vera Farmiga, who has walked her share of red carpets (especially two years back with that well deserved Oscar nomination for Up in the Air) has forgotten the shoes she intended to bring for the next stop on the publicity circuit. Dagmara Dominczyk, her friend and co-star, is immediately sympathetic. Dagmara, you see, has just been shopping. Since she's arrived to the interview first, her contagious sense of humor is already familiar.

"Between the dressing room and my house it changed from 'Awesome!' to 'what was I thinking?'," Dagmara confesses, laughing, about the dress she's just purchased. 

Higher Ground, Deepest Chemistry

The actresses have such an easy warm rapport -- they quite literally finish two of each other's sentences and speak in unison twice during our time together -- that their mesmerizing chemistry onscreen as two Jesus-loving housewives with a physically intimate and spiritually edifying friendship is suddenly right there all palpable in three dimensions. Not the kind you have to wear glasses to see.

Dagmara & Vera in HIGHER GROUND (2011) © Sony Pictures Classics

"Chemistry is a funny thing. It's either there or it's not. And if it's not it's a bitch ...but it is possible." Vera says with Dagmara instantly agreeing that it was just there for them; they can't even remember how they met. "I personally think it's incredibly difficult to not have chemistry with Dagmara." Vera adds with a smile, and explains the very obvious: the moment one meets Dagmara one feels close to her.

"My first girl crush!" Dagmara interjects about Vera. "I've never had a girl crush before. I'm just putting it out there!"


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ISHTAR. Are There Second Winds in the Desert?

Elaine May at the 92Y

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to see Ishtar (1987) at a special event with writer/director/actress/funnywoman Elaine May. She's been out of the spotlight for some time. The last major hurrah was her hilarious supporting role in Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks (2000). Ishtar, for those that are unfamiliar, is an infamous big budget flop in which Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman star as a talentless musical duo who get mixed up with middle eastern politics via "terrorist" Isabelle Adjani and CIA agent Charles Grodin during a gig in Morrocco.

Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman and Isabelle Adjani in ISHTAR (1987). © Sony Pictures

If you lived through the 1980s you probably feel like you saw Ishtar even if you didn't it because it became an easy-target for comedians and the basis of a lot of schaudenfreude fun (look how the mighty fall!). The strange thing about seeing Ishtar two decades later is that it's actually really funny and it's hard to see exactly how it inspired such pop-culture hatred. Other than, perhaps, its prophetic satire about how fucked up the USA is whenever they're dealing with Middle Eastern dictators. In the movie the CIA sides with the dictator who wants to snuff out the apolitical singing Americans, before they accidentally inspire his overthrow by "left wing terrorists" (aka those who want democratic reform and human rights.)

The movie clues you in to its satirical naughtiness early on when Beatty & Hoffman try to write a song "Telling the truth can be dangerous business". May repeatedly praised Paul Williams for the song score of the movie -- 'even the crummiest songs had perfect music!' -- but she wrote "Leaving Some Love In Your Will" which is one of the movie's funniest bits as Dustin Hoffman sings a totally inappropriate song about death to two senior citizens on their wedding anniversary.

The movie was born in the imagination of Elaine May and Warren Beatty. They wanted to do a Bing Crosby Bob Hope "Road to" type of movies and US 1980s politics determined the setting. "We were of course in Afghanistan as we always are. We were all over the Middle East," Elaine May explained when she came out for a sit-down interview to talk about the rarely screened film.

She seemed quite pleased with the response to her director's cut.

Either you liked the movie or i'm very sick...

I thought it was funny which is a terrible thing to admit about your own movie. I think of those people who try out for American Idol and how sure they are of their own talent.

She wasn't very sick. The audience clearly liked the movie; there was consistent and at times raucous laughter. Sure, it was a self-selecting crowd. Chances are if you're showing up to see an infamous flop from a famous comedian you're probably either a member of the movie's cult following or a curious cinephile and either way you're a better audience for the movie than the audience it originally received. Or didn't as the case may be.

May shared a bizarre story about the movie's internal sabotage. There was a change at the top of the studio before the movie's release. The new head of Columbia Pictures was David Puttnam. He'd previously competed against Warren Beatty for the Best Picture Oscar (He won with Chariots of Fire beating Beatty's  Reds) and he was no fan of Beatty's. He badmouthed both Beatty and Dustin Hoffman publicly, equating them with spoiled brats, but didn't stop there.

Hoffman and Beatty have very real comic chemistry

May explained how they went from future hit to press target right before the movie opened.

We had three previews and they went really well. Thumbs up. On the day the press came an article came out in the LA Times in which Puttman wiped us out. 'We should be spanked. There was too much money.' He was going to reform Hollywood. It was really sort of unforgivable what he did. He attacked his own movie. Mike Nichols said it was like watching an entire studio committing suicide.

After that article in the Times nearly every press piece about the movie focused on how much it cost and attacked the movie for being grossly expensive, rather than focusing on the movie itself.

May was very funny in person, telling stories about her career (I'll share a few more quotes soon) and discussing this movie which killed her directing career (she hasn't helmed a feature since). The studio has told her that they will be releasing Ishtar on Blu-Ray in the near future. Perhaps it'll be rediscovered?

Earlier today someone said that they had read on the net that the impending DVD release of Ishtar had been delayed by 'my people'.  I was so thrilled to think that I had people! They're going to release this on blu-ray! If they don't you'll be the last people to have seen this movie.

If half the people who had made cracks about Ishtar had seen it, I'd be a rich woman today.

The Blind Camel is the film's comedic MVPThough much of the film's humor feels loose, character-oriented and improvised (it reminded me a smidgeon of Bridesmaids actually -- but maybe because I'd just seen the latter -- in the way it allowed its jokes to roam around and spring from the nuances of the performers and their chemistry) May says it wasn't and that great actors always appear to be spontaneous on the screen. She did note that much of the humor with Beatty's blind camel was improvised because there's no way to tell what a camel will do in a scene.

May joked that the camel was very hard to cast. He wasn't really blind. He just acted like he was. They chose well. They say you should never act with animals but two running gags about camels and vultures pay off big in the movie when the movie stars interact with them.

Given the movie's terrible reputation did the director just think Ishtar was a victim of itself, a movie that was too far ahead of its time? Elaine May had the last laugh at this special event in her honor.

I've never said that a movie of mine is ahead of its time. How is that even possible? Even with string theory.


Manuel Muñoz on Psycho, Nashville, and Movies as Inspiration

The Film Experience doesn't often push books upon you, but it's time for an exception. Manuel Muñoz's debut novel "What You See in the Dark" hits bookstores, virtual and otherwise, this week. While it is a work of fiction, it borrows from reality for its backdrop. The pre-production and eventual release of Alfred Hitchcock's immortal Psycho (1960) figure into the narrative in crucial and evocative ways and both The Actress and The Director in question are characters.

Consider this amazing "double feature"

Full Disclosure (as I always believe in such things): I met Manuel Muñoz at a poetry event about four years  ago and he introduced himself as a reader of The Film Experience. Though predisposed to rooting for him as a result (I'm only human!) we hadn't really kept in good touch. In the intervening years, I bought a copy of his second short story collection. Two months ago his first novel arrived in galley form and I ate it right up.  I think it's quite an amazing read.

Nathaniel: Before your beautiful novel, which we'll get to in a moment, you had two short story collections published. The first piece of yours I ever read was "Skyshot" which had an amazing Robert Altman thread. That really won me over. How did that story come about and has the cinema always inspired you creatively as a writer?

Manuel Muñoz: I was lucky enough to see Nashville on the big screen at the Brattle in Cambridge when I was in college. I was stunned by it, and it remains my favorite film (with The Piano a close second.) Altman's command of multiple character arcs enthralled me--it was the closest I'd seen a film parallel the possibilities of words on the page. He could shift magnificently and I loved that he could suggest interiority with camera movement: I was stunned when I realized the camera had crept up on Lily Tomlin as she listened to "I'm Easy." (He did the same to Ronee when she sings "Dues.")

At the time, I was coming to terms with identity and subject matter, so it confused me to be so attracted to a film like Nashville, which is far outside my experience.

Manuel Muñoz by © Stuart Bernstein

But I eventually thought of how often we use films to narrate our own lives. I've never sat at the back of a bar while in love with a performer on stage, but I've worn that look that Lily has on her face. Know what I mean?

Nathaniel: I think so.  But to the point on identity. I've always believed that specificity -- be it in sharply drawn characterizations or carefully observed milieus -- has a way of inverting itself so it's suddenly universal. I see that in your writing too as you're often dealing with the Chicano experience, which I have little connection to and yet it's totally alive for me.

I'm guessing this has a lot to do with an assured storytelling voice, one that's relaxed about the audience feeling whatever it is they're going to feel without forcing it upon them.

Read the full interview for more on Great Actressing, casting dreams, Psycho and unlikely inspirations.

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The Interviews, Goddesses and Craftsmen Alike

A big "thank you" to readers who commented on the recent spate of interviews here at The Film Experience. We don't do too many of them but you've been quite complimentary about the ones you do get. If time allows and other variables improve this year we'll do more for 2011. But in case you missed any of the interviews covering the 2010 film year, here's the rundown:


Jenny Beavan, Costume Designer, (The King's Speech)
Roger Deakins
, Cinematographer (True Grit)
Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, Editors (The Social Network)
Eve Stewart, Production Designer (The King's Speech)
Jacki Weaver, Actress (Animal Kingdom)

...FROM THE OLD BLOG: Four of Nathaniel's 100 favorite actresses in one calendar year? Too rich! And a couple of talented men for good measure.

Kirsten Dunst, Actress (All Good Things)
Alexander Desplat, Composer (The Ghost Writer, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
Javier Fuentes-Leon, Director (Contracorriente aka Undertow)
Juliette Lewis, Actress (Conviction)
Patricia Clarkson, Actress (Cairo Time)
Julianne Moore, Actress (The Kids Are All Right)

Beloveds: Juliette, Patty, God and Kiki

Who should we pursue relentlessly in 2011 until they're on the phone or grabbing a cup of joe?

Which Old Hollywood legend would you like to hear from?


Costuming Helena, Finding Sherlock, Winning Oscar

As one half of the first costuming team I ever noticed as a young movie fanatic, interviewing JENNY BEAVAN was a special treat. She's currently enjoying her ninth Oscar nomination for her work on The King's Speech. This is her third solo nomination. She and her former partner John Bright costumed the Ishmael Merchant & James Ivory period dramas that I grew up obsessing over: A Room With A View, Howard's End, Maurice and the like. When Jenny and I spoke to discuss her current Oscar run for The King's Speech, however, it was less period drama and more modern comedy. "I'm guessing as to what you're saying" she told me while technical difficulties had us both comically shouting into our phones / computers until the situation was resolved.

We began at the beginning.

Merchant/Ivory is after all, a very good place to start, both for a young film buff in the 80s and a costume designer embarking on a huge career in the movies.  "That was my start in the whole thing," Beavan recalled, noting that the films were great fun to do.

The Merchant & Ivory Days
John Bright's name was peppered throughout her conversation. In fact, she had just seen him earlier that day. I had long wondered why they stopped working together. "We were known as Jenny Bright and John Beavan," she says about their close partnership. "I mean, he is just one of my absolutely best friends and also my most important collaborator. Believe me we're still collaborating. Just not so officially."

As it turns out Bright owns and runs Cosprop, a hugely important costume house which specializes in period wear,  an enormous job in and of itself though he still does the odd film. I mention how much I love his work on the ravishing The White Countess (2005) with elicits a barrage of superlatives from Beavan. "Absolutely brilliant!" 

Howards End (1992), a masterpiece.

We discuss a particular moment in Howards End that I'm very fond of. The Schlegel sisters (Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham-Carter) walking home one evening run into Mr Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins). One can't get enough of the beauty of that movie. The clothes are so modest but there's such sensuality to them and something so resonant and bohemian about the sisters. Beavan credits the screenplay with the specificity that makes character costuming easier and the actresses with the film's modernity.

Beavan, having logged a lot of time in costume dramas, thinks there's real power with staying utterly within period. If you step away from the period, she explains "it looks wrong and then you get a sort of worry in the audience."  Producers, particularly the America ones, she shares, don't like to see hats in the movies. And sometimes you just have to use hats. "Everybody wore hats up until the 1950s in England!" she says with feigned exasperation.

My grandmother would never go out without a hat on. She wouldn't have felt dressed.

After the golden period of the Merchant/Ivory films, Beavan's official partnership with John Bright ended and  the designer got a chance to "fly a bit more my own." That's what one might call an understatement.

READ THE REST for thoughts on Helena Bonham Carter's style, "finding" Sherlock Holmes and more.


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