Who cares if Blue is the Warmest Color director Abdellatif Kechiche has been verbally scrapping with star Lea Seydoux, mostly recently in the form of an op-ed accusing Seydoux of having slandered him? “If my film had not been rewarded at Cannes,” Kechiche writes, “I would be a destroyed director today — a dead man, as they say.” And so what? All that matters are the performances that Kechiche got out of Seydoux and costar Adele Exarchopoulos, and the obvious fact that Blue is a touching, masterful work — an immersive film about falling in and out of love that anyone who’s ever been there can relate to in spades.
In an analysis piece called “Why Are Contenders Dropping Like Flies This Awards Season?,” The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg basically says that 2013’s Oscar competition is really tough. He!s saying that producers and filmmakers who are even a little bit uncertain about their chances are saying “eff it…let’s avoid the grief and the expense by opening next year.”
But in summarizing the Best Actress contenders with the greatest prospects, Feinberg ignores one of the absolute best female performances of the year — Berenice Bejo in Asghar Farhadi‘s The Past.
This is a bit odd given that three of Feinberg’s top ranked Best Actress contenders are on the soft side in terms of (a) having been given a really good role to work with and (b) really delivering the goods. I’m talking about Labor Day‘s Kate Winslet (forget it — not her year), Philomena‘s Judi Dench (spirited older lady behavior and dialogue — nothing that stupendous) and Saving Mr. Banks‘ Emma Thompson (a less-than-transporting portrait of a clenched, spinterish, fairly joyless British woman in a tweed suit). Osage County‘s Meryl Streep, Blue Jasmine‘s Cate Blanchett and Gravity‘s Sandra Bullock are okay, but anyone who says “there probably won’t even be room” for Blue Is The Warmest Color‘s Adele Exarchopoulos is committing a great sin in the eyes of the Movie Godz.
Right after last night’s screening of The Counselor I drove over to the Landmark Cinema plex at the Westside Pavillion for what was basically an illogical reason. (I’ll explain in a second.) I was hanging out in the lobby when I noticed Jane Fonda emerging from one of the theatres with her little white dog Tulea, a Coton de Tulear, in her arms. I figured she had just seen All Is Lost as she and Robert Redford made Barefooot in the Park and Electric Horseman together. But my first thought wasn’t “cool…Jane Fonda and her dog seeing a Redford film!” My first thought was “cool…Landmark lets people bring their dogs to movies!” Even though they probably don’t. They probably made an exception for Fonda because she’s Fonda.
I was so impressed by the profound assurance, philosophical authority and thematic clarity in Ridley Scott‘s The Counselor (20th Century Fox, 10.25), which I saw last night, that I pleaded with Fox publicists to let me say a few things despite the Thursday afternoon review embargo. They gave me permission to do so. I was also very taken by the visually seductive stylings (the dp is Dariusz Wolski with editing by Pietro Scalia) and what I would call a bold but almost reckless indifference to conventional audience expectations for a film of this type.
I recognize that my admiration for The Counselor may be a minority view, but I know a class act when I see and hear one. I love that The Counselor sticks to its thematic guns (including a very tough philosophical view of greed and frailty) and that it doesn’t back off an inch from what McCarthy and Scott are surely aware will be regarded by mainstreamers as an unpopular approach to narrative development and character fate.
The basic thematic lesson is that there are so many serpents slithering around the Mexican drug business that investing yourself in this realm to any degree is tantamount to suicide. Not exactly fresh information, perhaps, but it’s the singer, not the song. If you’ve seen No Country For Old Men, you know where Cormac McCarthy (who wrote the screenplay for The Counselor without pausing to publish a narrative book version first) is coming from as a storyteller and social forecaster and ethicist.
The Counselor is an ice-cold morality tale about a very brutal realm, and particularly about a cunning, ruthless and emotion-less character whose identity I can’t reveal but who is played very impressively by…can’t reveal that either. But I’m not talking about Michael Fassbender. Although he handles himself and his role in an appealing, engaging fashion, or as engagingly as the narrative allows.
Last night there were competing Los Angeles press screenings — one for Jeff Tremaine and Johnny Knoxville‘s obviously lowbrow Bad Grandpa (Paramount, 10.25) and Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy‘s cold but masterful morality melodrama The Counselor (ditto). I for one wouldn’t see Bad Grandpa with a gun at my back. But I’ll bet there were a lot of critics, columnists and media reporters who figured it was more important to catch Bad Grandpa than The Counselor because the Tremaine-Knoxville, a movie made by and for those treading water in the lower end of the gene pool, is going to make a lot of money and entertain the apes. I don’t know what will happen to Scott’s film, but my guess is that despite (or because of) its clear-eyed brilliance and general absence of conventional emotion it’s going to leave Joe and Jane Popcorn with a queasy feeling and/or scratching their heads. Trust me — that’s Joe and Jane’s problem and not the film’s. No matter what happens box-office-wise Ridley and Cormac are just fine, and so is their impressively cold-blooded thriller, which you do not want to bring your girlfriend to unless she’s very, very special.
The Counselor is ice-cold and hard and gleaming, and (I’m just whacking golf balls off the top of my head) philosophically clear and commanding and unyielding and even (I know how this sounds) oddly personable and compassionate in a perverse sort of way. It really, really doesn’t deliver the thing that audiences tend to go to movies for. I couldn’t figure out some of the plot particulars, but I was in awe of the mood and the tone and the resolve of it. (As well as the sheen.) I knew right away I was watching a smart, well-engineered, well-oiled, first-class thriller-cum-philosophy lecture piece that came from the pit of Hell. Having read portions of the script a few hours earlier I knew what was coming (at least during the first act), but I was delighted with Javier Bardem‘s amiable and jazzy performance as Reiner, a fair-minded entrepeneur and drug dealer; ditto Cameron Diaz‘s performance as Bardem’s predatory, cheetah-loving girlfriend. But my main impression is that The Counselor is about as strong and classy and as uncompromising as a film of this type can theoretically get.