Having won three Best Supporting Actor awards (New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association) over the last week or so, Moonlight‘s Mahershala Ali clearly has the heat. Manchester By The Sea‘s Lucas Hedges and Hidden Figures‘ Kevin Costner are vying for the runner-up slot, but the real comer is Silence‘s Issey Ogata — the twitchy interrogator who all but steals Martin Scorsese‘s film from Andrew Garfield. (I’ve got Ogata in fifth place because he’s only just become a contender within the last couple of days — his candidacy needs time to build steam.) Hell or High Water‘s Jeff Bridges and Nocturnal Animals‘ Michael Shannon are also respectably contending.
John Lee Hancock‘s The Founder (a.k.a. “It Takes A Bit Of A Hard-Driving Shit To Build An Empire”) has suddenly decided to open tomorrow (Wednesday, 12.7) for a week in order to qualify for awards. But only, I gather, in New York and Los Angeles. Definitely worth seeing. My first assessment (basically an ethical riff) popped on 11.14; my second (“Ballsy Founder Treads Ethical Line With Skill Of A Mountain Goat“) appeared on 12.2.
Excerpt #1: “The Founder is basically the story of how the legendary Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) persuaded the earnest, slightly doltish, small-time-thinking McDonald brothers (Dick and Mick, respectively played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) to let him franchise their small fast-food business and turn it into a super-sized empire. But more generally it’s a nuts-and-bolts story about what a scramble it is to grow a business and then stay afloat with all the serpents snapping at your heels.”
As much as I consider Indiewire‘s David Ehrlich to be one of the most irritating, obnoxiously self-regarding and fundamentally untrustworthy critics around, I have to give him credit for this year-end summary of 2016 films + his own favorite 25. It feels more thoughtful and is much better constructed than any number of run-of-the-mill flash-cut year-end wankathons that surface every December on YouTube and Vimeo. This is the first time I’ve considered the idea that there might be a emotional, flesh-and-blood person behind Ehrlich’s fickle, ivory-tower spewings. Which reminds me: I’ll have to soon rethink and re-order my top 26 films of 2016 list, now that I’ve seen Silence but without having seen Passengers, Collateral Beauty and the almost certainly dismissable Rogue One, which I won’t see until Monday.
I’ve been wondering if I should remove The Founder‘s Michael Keaton, whose performance I admire but who hasn’t been gaining any Gold Derby or Gurus of Gold traction, and replace him with Paterson‘s Adam Driver, whose bus-driver poet is noteworthy in a quiet, meditative way. All I needed was a little push, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the critics org that loves to eat as much as vote, gave me one when they handed Driver their 2016 Best Actor trophy. Everybody has Manchester By The Sea‘s Casey Affleck and Fences‘ Denzel Washington in the top two slots. Tom Hanks and Ryan Gosling are in there just to round things out.
Ezra Edelman‘s O.J.: Made in America, the ESPN doc that award-givers have celebrating as if it’s a regular theatrical feature, is almost certainly going to win the Oscar for Best Feature Documentary. I think that needs to be understood and accepted. The Academy’s doc shortlist of 15 was announced today:
Cameraperson, Big Mouth Productions
Command and Control, American Experience Films/PBS
The Eagle Huntress, Stacey Reiss Productions, Kissiki Films and 19340 Productions
Fire at Sea, Stemal Entertainment
Gleason, Dear Rivers Productions, Exhibit A and IMG Films
Hooligan Sparrow, Little Horse Crossing the River
I Am Not Your Negro, Velvet Film
The Ivory Game, Terra Mater Film Studios and Vulcan Productions
Life, Animated, Motto Pictures and A&E IndieFilms
O.J.: Made in America, Laylow Films and ESPN Films
13th, Forward Movement
Weiner, Edgeline Films
The Witness, The Witnesses Film
Zero Days, Jigsaw Productions
While discussing Emma Stone‘s highly-touted performance in La La Land (Summit, 12.9), Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neil calls it a partial “problem” given that Stone is playing a deliberately two-dimensional role…perky and happy and dancing around…you don’t get a lot of gravitas and soulful reflection.” Not true. Mostly she’s coping with soul-crushing rejection, despair, anxiety and frustration in Damian Chazelle‘s musical, and it shows on her face in every frame. Stone’s only 100% “perky and happy” moment is when she goes out with her girlfriends to a Hollywood party in Act One; there are also a pair of romantic dance numbers but that’s not “perky,” dude.
Yesterday (12.5) a Huffpost piece by Jennifer Brucceller, titled “Bernardo Bertolucci Misses The Mark In Response To Last Tango In Paris Rape Scene Controversy” and subtitled “He doesn’t seem to understand why people are outraged,” earned special attention. Or a certain passage did, I should say:
“Regardless of whether or not [Maria] Schneider knew of the violence, it should be noted that any addition to the scene, such as the butter, which was not previously agreed upon by Schneider, can be considered assault. Bertolucci doesn’t seem to understand that.”
Bruceller’s use of the phrase “such as the butter” suggests a problem with the substance. Let’s suppose Bertolucci and Marlon Brando had decided that butter wouldn’t work as the lubricant of choice, and that it would be better to go with Johnson’s Baby Oil. Or with Crisco shortening, Mazola corn oil or mayonnaise. I don’t even know what I’m talking about, and that’s partly Bruceller’s fault.
But let’s cut her a break. What Bruceller meant, I think, was that failing to tell Schneider about the butter in advance was the essence of what she called an assault. But does a refusal to confer and consult really live up to the definition of that term?
It seems to me that the term “assault” or “assaultive” should mean something that’s actually related to an assault as opposed to not showing respect by fully conferring in advance. That, to me, was Brando and Bertolucci’s uncool, uncaring act — declining to offer Schneider a chance to collaborate, mull it over, prepare, offer suggestions, etc.
If Joe Biden had somehow become the 2016 Democratic candidate for president instead of Hillary Clinton, he almost certainly would have won. Because he’s more recognizably warm and human than Donald Trump, and the Bumblefucks who went for Trump would have said “Biden talks plain and straight and has a heart…let’s give him a shot.” But Biden is 74 now, and I don’t think people will be hugely comfortable with a 78 year-old becoming the nation’s Commander-in-chief. The cut-off is 75, or Bernie Sanders‘ age. But if Biden runs anyway, he has to take care of that awful turkey wattle. Which is nothing these days. Neck wattle surgery is less arduous than having an appendectomy, akin to having a wisdom tooth removed. Biden had hair-plug surgery back in the ’80s so he knows all about this stuff.
I called it 11 months ago at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and I don’t think I’ve put it any better since:
“Some Sundance movies are applauded and whoo-whooed, and others just sink in and melt you down. They get you in such a vulnerable place that your admiration is mixed with a kind of stunned feeling, like you’ve been hit square in the heart. Kenneth Lonergan‘s Manchester-By-The-Sea is one of the latter. It’s not an upper or a midtempo thing, but in no way is it a downer. It pushes the sad button more gently and effectively than anything I’ve seen in at least a couple of decades, and if you’ve got any buried hurt it’ll kill you.
“This is 2016’s first slam-dunk Best Picture contender, and it will definitely result, trust me, in Casey Affleck landing his first Best Actor nomination.”
But I failed to mention one important thing, and that’s the curious fact that Manchester is one of the funniest sad films I’ve ever seen. Filmmakers who’ve attempted funny-sad in the past have mostly used the age-old comic relief strategy. That’s not Lonergan’s game. He’s woven humor into sadness and vice versa like threads in a rope, and not hah-hah humor but the kind that’s laced with irritation or frustration — sardonic, testy, smartassy. Working-class New England humor. Some funny shit.
Never forget that humor is never about mirth, and always about the revealing of hurt or shame or rage. Manchester jokes never reach for outright hilarity (a grotesque concept considering the backstory of Casey Affleck‘s lead character, Lee Chandler) but they always land. Manchester might be the only film to operate on this level. There have probably been other films that have pulled off funny-sad in precisely the same way, but I can’t think of any.
A few observations along these lines:
(1) “Lonergan sidesteps sentimentality simply by treating characters with respect, as human beings with many dimensions, some of them contradictory. [The result is that] deep tragedy is shot through with some truly excellent comedic writing.” — Vox‘s Alicia Wilkinson;
(2) “Given the tragedy at the film’s heart, some will find the humor jarring. But great and constant sorrow can absolutely co-exist with belly laughs –— Lonergan knows it’s how we stay human. And humane.” — Joe Gross, Austin’s American Statesman.