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Entries in Team Experience (66)

Tuesday
Dec092014

Team FYC: Gugu Mbatha-Raw in "Belle" for Best 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, or Critics Group voter, take note! Here's abstew on "Belle".

As a graduate of Great Britain's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Gugu Mbatha-Raw was trained in the classics of British theatre. She began her career treading the boards in productions of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet with Andrew Garfield and Hamlet on Broadway with Jude Law. Like most classically trained British thespians making the leap to the big screen, a Merchant Ivory-type period piece would naturally lend itself to her Shakespearean background. But despite her pedigree, Mbatha-Raw probably wouldn't traditionally be cast as Queen Elizabeth I or Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennett on film. Which is why her breakout performance as Dido Elizabeth Belle in the real-life story about a biracial heiress in 18th Century England that defied the conventions of the day, couldn't have been a better fit for Mbatha-Raw, tailor-made for her talents and utilizing her classical training.

In most corset dramas, the greatest concerns seem to be about finding a husband to secure financial stability. But Belle, while still maintaining a romance we come to expect from the genre (with Sam Reid's law apprentice, a man as noble and just as he is handsome), is concerned with loftier issues. Race, class, and social injustice are all part of the bigger picture and at its center is the remarkable Mbatha-Raw, giving a face and humanity to what could very easily turn into a film about ideas.

Raised alongside her cousin as if they were sisters, yet at the same time not allowed to dine with her own family, Dido is caught in-between worlds. Mbatha-Raw's expressive face, at turns inquisitive and knowing, effortlessly conveys the internal and emotional struggle Dido confronts everyday. In one heart-breaking scene, she rubs and beats at her skin, its color a constant reminder of her difference. Tears stream down her face as her frustration overwhelms her. And in that moment Mbatha-Raw allows us viscerally to feel Dido's plight, communicating this woman's important and fascinating story with intelligence and compassion.

And if that wasn't enough, Mbatha-Raw showed her range and versatility by delivering an equally compelling performance in a completely different role about identity as a modern-day pop star in Beyond the Lights. But as Dido in Belle, Mbatha-Raw gives the kind of performance that heralds the arrival of a new star, a signature role that will become synonymous with the actress. Hopefully the Academy takes notice as well, rewarding this young thespian with a nomination for her efforts and crowning 2014's best new cinematic discovery. 

 Other FYCs 
Costume Design The Boxtrolls | Production Design Enemy | Editing Citizenfour Makeup and Hair, Only Lovers Left Alive | Best Actor, Locke | Supporting Actress, Gone Girl | Visual FX, Under the Skin | Cinematography, The Homesman | Outstanding Ensembles | Screenplay, The Babadook |  Original ScoreThe Immigrant 

Friday
Dec052014

Team FYC: The Babadook for Original Screenplay

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, or Critics Group voter, take note! Here's Michael on The Babadook

Years of horror films have trained audiences how to guard against all the tricks of the genre, but Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook gets around those defenses and needles us in ways for which we aren't prepared. Kent understands that all great horror touches on some form of primal terror. Something deeper than the surface shocks. The Shining had our fear of isolation. Jaws had our helplessness in the face of nature's power. The Babadook taps into our dread of our own offspring. The fear that they might destroy our life and the fear that we may hate them. Kent’s film burrows so far under the skin you can practically hear it scrape against bone.

The Babadook's screenplay does so many things so effortlessly it’s easy to miss the scope of her achievement. Part of the reason the scares are so effective is that the film has been so convincingly grounded in reality before the horror elements creep in. If the haunting had never materialized the story could continue quite well as an affecting portrait of a struggling single mom. Kent also lands a killer ending, one that manages to leave the audience both satisfied and thoroughly unsettled. Count on your fingers how many other modern horror films pull off that trick and you will have enough digits left over to cover your eyes when The Babadook gets too terrifying.

The Babadook has been widely heralded as one of the best horror films of the new century, if not the best, yet it is all but certain to be ignored by the Academy. It deserves to join the slim ranks of Best Picture nominated horror titles alongside The Exorcist, Jaws and Silence of the Lambs, but since that is not going to happen, the least they can do is recognize Kent’s achievement in conceiving of Mr. Babadook in the first place. And after all, wouldn’t it be fitting if the story of a monster who lurks on the printed page found its recognition in the writing category?

Related
We talked to Jennifer Kent about her brilliant debut

Other FYCs 
Original Score, The Immigrant
Supporting Actress, Carrie Coon in Gone Girl
Visual FX, Under the Skin
Cinematography, The Homesman
Outstanding Ensembles

Thursday
Dec042014

Team FYC: "The Immigrant" for Original Score

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, or Critics Group voter, take note! Here's Jose on The Immmigrant

Director James Gray has stated on many occasions that he owes his inspiration for The Immigrant to music, to be more specific: opera. How it was when he was watching Puccini’s Il Trittico at the LA Opera, with tears streaming down his face, that he realized he needed to tell this story. Inspired by Puccini’s sinful sister Angelica, he created the character of Ewa (Marion Cotillard) a Polish immigrant forced into prostitution by the conniving pimp Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) who in a way is perversely in love with her. Gray wanted to tell a grand story about a woman in the vein of the Barbara Stanwyck films he loved, all of which were snootily referred to as “melodramas”.

And it’s precisely in this marriage of music and drama where The Immigrant proves to be absolutely sublime, Gray understood that to make an “operatic” film he needed not to exaggerate but to seek a depth of emotion heightened by the work of composer Christopher Spelman. The two have worked together in the past (going all the way back to Gray’s first film Little Odessa) and specifically they have used Puccini before, with Spelman arranging the orchestrations for the pieces used in Two Lovers.

In The Immigrant Spelman not only arranged the pre-existing opera pieces we hear throughout the film, he also composed a series of haunting melodies which both pay homage and carve their own way from where the Puccini ends. Spelman’s melancholy pieces are infused with a sense of longing that will have you humming them inexplicably days, months even, after you watch the film, making for an experience that’s quite operatic indeed.

Other FYCs 
Original Screenplay, The Babadook
Original Score, The Immigrant
Supporting Actress, Carrie Coon in Gone Girl
Visual FX, Under the Skin
Cinematography, The Homesman
Outstanding Ensembles

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

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