Sony Pictures Classics is distributing the two finest films I saw during last May’s Cannes Film Festival — Damian Szifron‘s Wild Tales (a.k.a., Relatos salvajes) and Andrey Zvyagintsev‘s Leviathan. They’ll surely be among the hottest contenders for the 2014 Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar. As per custom, SPC will almost certainly not release either this year as it’s wiser and cheaper to open them early next year, which is when Oscar deliberations in this vein are at their peak. I’d really like to see both play at Telluride or Toronto or at the New York Film Festival or all three. I’m sure they will but I’m mentioning it anyway. Both deliver — one humorously, one darkly.
Snap Quiz: Which Stanley Kubrick characters seem to have a greater sense of humanity, exude a fuller emotional undercurrent and have been given more interesting or flavorful dialogue in their scenes — Tom Cruise‘s Dr. William Harford in Eyes Wide Shut or HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Answer: HAL 9000. The Swedish-born Marie Richardson is fascinating — no other performance she gave before or has given since will live as long in the public mind. But Cruise is a bloodless robot. He walks into a room and anesthetizes like an assassin, spouting tedious cliches and homilies. On the other hand EWS was obviously shot with an expectation that a fair-sized percentage of the audience would watch it within a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.
I was delighted with New York, I Love You (’08) and Paris, je’taime (’06) so I can’t imagine there’d be any kind of problem with Rio, Eu Te Amo…right? You can tell it’ll be first-rate. Anthology segments from Jose Padilha (Police Squad), Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty), Fernando Meirelles (City of God), Im Sang-soo (The Housemaid), Stephan Elliott (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), John Turturro, etc. Costarring Emily Mortimer, Vincent Cassel, Jason Isaacs, Rodrigo Santoro, Harvey Keitel (who needs new dentures), Nadine Labaki, Ryan Kwanten and Vanessa Paradis. No current U.S. date but it’ll open in Brazil in September.
Trust me — Craig Johnson‘s The Skelton Twins (Roadside, 9.19), one of the big breakout hits of last January’s Sundance Film Festival, is a much smarter, cooler, more exciting film than what’s indicated by this lazy-ass poster. It looks like a Hader fan Photoshopped this together on his lunch hour. It’s almost as if the distributor said to the artist, “I want you to create a poster that dampens down the enthusiasm for this film…a poster that says ‘meh, no biggie’…a poster that screams Netflix and VOD when there’s nothing else to watch.”
A couple of friends were kicking around the Best Actor field yesterday, and they came up with 17 feasible Best Actor contenders. My revised list goes to 19. But after you boil it down, there are closer to eight or nine performances that will probably make the grade in most people’s minds and therefore go the distance. Obviously nobody knows very much at this stage (i.e., the ass wind is our trade wind) but the discussion right now boils down to “we’ve heard things about this and that Venice/Telluride/Toronto film, and it seems as if these names and performances in these apparent award-season films might possibly connect and combust and lift off the ground, especially if favoring moods and winds of the Movie Godz prevail.” But come down to earth: To really break through a performance has to deliver something strong and different and curiously penetrating, and this kind of performance doesn’t grow on trees or happen that often.
Looking More Favorable Than Most: 1. Michael Keaton, Birdman — an allegedly crackling presence + career redemption + the former Batman star who kind of blackballed himself and then finally came in from the cold with a dark satire about same; 2. Eddie Redmayne, Theory of Everything — depends on the film (duhhh) but something about this being Redmayne’s time plus the standard Oscar-bait lure of struggling with a disability plus a Beautiful Mind-ization of Stephen Hawking seems somehow right and fated to ignite IF there’s a mesmerizing musical score; 3. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher — it is written in a subsection of the Dead Sea Scrolls that he who ups his indie-actor cred in a first-rate melodrama by adopting a spazzy vocal style and making himself grotesque by wearing a prosthetic nose will be Oscar-nominated; 4. Kevin Costner, Black and White — easily among the best Costner performances ever (the flip side of Field of Dreams) and arguably his best ever in this child-custody film, which advance-peekers are calling the most honest, intelligent and revelatory drama about racial relations in this country since Do The Right Thing, and directed and written by a white man at that (i.e., Mike Binder); 5. Bill Murray as himself in Theodore Melfi‘s St. Vincent — a role that reportedly fits him like a glove; 6. Mark Wahlberg, The Gambler — a good role (i.e., self-destructive, well-born college professor), possibly a breakthrough for Wahlberg; 7. David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King in Selma — who knows but if it’s a half-decent film with three great scenes Oyelowo could hit it out of the park (remember he’s also in A Most Violent Year); 8. Chadwick Boseman, Get On Up — a much more authentic, indeed transformative performance than the trailer indicates; Boseman clearly immersed himself thoroughly to become the Godfather of Soul; 9. Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner — the only problem being that I found it difficult to understand what Spall was saying half the time, a possible remedy being subtitles on Academy screeners; 10. Ben Affleck, Gone Girl — Rosamund Pike is said to be the big knockout but Affleck, too, is said to be standing on very firm melodramatic ground (although he may be punished down the road for putting on the Warner Bros. cowl); 11. Miles Teller, Whiplash — you need a token Millenial among Best Actor nominees to persuade under-35s to watch the Oscar telecast, on top of which Teller is manic and sweaty and flat-out electrifying as an aspiring world-class drummer.
“The Twee Revolution,” a month-old Atlantic piece by Jonathan Parker, was sent to me this morning by Sasha Stone. She said that the tone of Parker’s writing reminded her of my stuff on some level. Parker has some fun with his own feelings of twee repulsion but he’s essentially reviewing Mark Spitz‘s “Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film.” My favorite Parker passage:
“Is Twee the right word for it, for the strangely persistent modern sensibility that fructifies in the props departments of Wes Anderson movies, tapers into the waxed mustache-ends of young Brooklynites on bicycles, and detonates in a yeasty whiff every time someone pops open a microbrewed beer? Well, it is now. If [Spitz’s] book is a little all over the place—well, so is Twee. Spitz hails it as ‘the most powerful youth movement since Punk and Hip-Hop.’ He doesn’t even put an arguably in there, bless him.
“You’re Twee if you like artisanal hot sauce. You’re Twee if you hate bullies. Indeed, it’s Spitz’s contention that we’re all a bit Twee: the culture has turned. Twee’s core values include ‘a healthy suspicion of adulthood’; ‘a steadfast focus on our essential goodness’; ‘the cultivation of a passion project’ (T-shirt company, organic food truck); and ‘the utter dispensing with of cool as it’s conventionally known, often in favor of a kind of fetishization of the nerd, the geek, the dork, the virgin.”
Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Bob Dylan…what happened? I’ll tell you what happened. Harrelson had met Dylan once, and figured that on the strength of that plus Harrelson’s fame and reputation as a cool guy and a cannabis-appreciating alt.culture type that Dylan would automatically open his doors on the spur of the moment….”amigo!” This is the myopia of celebrity. They don’t all assume that their fame will open pretty much any door, but 95% of them do.