The New York Film Festival lands a high-wire opening act

Posted by · 9:22 am · June 4th, 2015

Robert Zemeckis' “The Walk,” which tells the story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit, has been selected as the opening night presentation of this year's New York Film Festival. Petit's 1974 walk between the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center was fodder for the 2008 documentary “Man on Wire,” which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Petit in Zemeckis' film.

Given that the setting of Petit's walk, NYFF is an understandable place to make the bow, particularly given Sony's recent experiences there with films like “The Social Network” and “Captain Phillips.” Indeed, said Zemeckis, “'The Walk' is a New York story, so I am delighted to be presenting the film to New York audiences first. My hope is that Festival audiences will be immersed in the spectacle, but also be enraptured by the celebration of a passionate artist who helped give the wonderful towers a soul.”

Zemeckis' last film, “Flight,” premiered at NYFF in 2012 as well.

The opening night spot at the fest has been a hopeful launching pad for films looking to play the awards game in recent years. In addition to the aforementioned “Social Network” and “Captain Phillips,” other openers have included “Gone Girl” and “Life of Pi.” Throughout the fest, centerpiece, special presentation and closing night spots have also been prime real estate for films like “Hugo,” “Lincoln,” “Inherent Vice,” “Birdman” and more. This year could see everything from Danny Boyle's “Steve Jobs” (which I honestly expected to land the opening night spot) to Steven Spielberg's “Bridge of Spies” find their way to the slate.

Will “The Walk” be a player? Perhaps. Gordon-Levitt also has Oliver Stone's “Snowden” on the way this year, which finds the “Inception” star taking on the role of Edward Snowden. Some footage of Zemeckis' film was shown at CinemaCon this year, which HitFix's Greg Ellwood found “breathtaking visually,” but he noted that the actor's French accent was troublesome. We'll see how it all pans out, but landing placement like this is a pretty bold statement that you plan to be in the game.

“The Walk” opens in theaters Oct. 2.

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'Birdman' director lashes out at 'corporate' cinema and 'the cruel emperor of profit'

Posted by · 10:59 am · June 3rd, 2015

Alejandro González Iñárritu is still picking up awards in the wake of the Oscar-winning “Birdman.” Tuesday night he was on hand in Los Angeles for the Sundance Institute Celebration, honoring him with the Vanguard Leadership Award, and his comments on the state of film and entertainment were as pointed as they were in the text of last year's Best Picture winner.

“Some people are now calling films 'content,' or even 'the pipeline,'” he said after accepting the award from “Selma” director Ava DuVernay. “Yes, like the ones used for the conveyance of gas or petroleum for its mass consumption. A great amount of films produced every year are considered that: content to fill the corporate pipelines.”

His and his co-writers' Oscar-winning original screenplay for “Birdman” took Hollywood to task in its own way with a portrait of ego and the drive to create something of value. The story of a movie star famous for playing a superhero who is struggling to put on a substantive Broadway production, the film took its share of swipes at the status quo of corporate-driven cinema.

“Only humans are the ones who see themselves in the mirror,” González Iñárritu said. “We do it because we need it. The mirror of our species, that is cinema, or that was. And that's unique. When someone pours their uniqueness out, it creates the real content, the fire that only humans know how to ignite. That's a miracle. That fire can come from the freedom of one single human being brave enough to reveal themselves without shame and most importantly without fear of not being 'entertaining' or being measured by the cruel emperor of profit.”

“Everything has to be fast, spectacular,” he continued. “Do not disturb me. Do not make me think or feel or take me from my comfort zone. Just heal my pain, loneliness or frustration with an anesthetic: entertain me. We perceive the increasing devaluation of this beautiful language every day.”

Currently the director is wrapping up production on “The Revenant,” which is set to hit theaters later this year and will potentially be a part of the awards conversation like “Birdman.”

You can view González Iñárritu's full speech in the video above.

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Carey Mulligan rocks the vote in the trailer for 'Suffragette'

Posted by · 8:46 am · June 3rd, 2015

Focus Features will certainly have a timely player in the race later this year in Tom Hooper's “The Danish Girl,” starring Eddie Redmayne. But the studio, which has seen great Oscar luck in recent years with films like “Dallas Buyers Club” and “The Theory of Everything,” will also be looking to find some room for Sara Gavron's drama “Suffragette,” centered on early members of the British women's suffrage movement of the turn of the 20th Century.

This one could also be seen as timely, given the current landscape of income inequality. The film was written (Abi Morgan), produced (Aloson Owen, Faye Ward) and directed by women as well, it should be noted. Meanwhile, it has also been tapped to open the BFI London Film Festival.

The way I hear it from someone who saw the movie back when it was being shopped around for a buyer, Carey Mulligan is the big play here as far as potential awards is concerned. (She's also in the hunt for early year release “Far from the Madding Crowd.”) And anyone holding out hope for this to be a “Meryl Streep movie”: she's barely in the film. Stick to “Ricki and the Flash” where her prospects are concerned.

Focus has released a trailer which you can read in the video embedded at the top of this post.  The official synopsis is below.

“The stirring story centers on Maud (Mulligan), a working wife and mother whose life is forever changed when she is secretly recruited to join the U.K.'s growing suffragette movement. Galvanized by the outlaw fugitive Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Maud becomes an activist for the cause alongside women from all walks of life. When increasingly aggressive police action forces Maud and her dedicated fellow suffragettes underground, they engage in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the authorities, who are shocked as the women”s civil disobedience escalates and sparks debate across the nation.”

“Suffragette” opens in theaters Oct. 23.

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After career-high 'American Sniper,' Clint Eastwood announces his next film

Posted by · 12:03 pm · June 2nd, 2015

Whatever you might think of “American Sniper,” it was a landmark moment for Clint Eastwood in a career already filled with landmark moments. The film was the biggest domestic moneymaker of 2014, raking in over $350 million, good for more than double Eastwood's previous high mark ($148 million for 2008's “Gran Torino”). So how is he following it up? By bringing another real-life persona to the screen.

You probably remember the saga of Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, who in January of 2009 forced an emergency landing/ditching in the Hudson River after engines on a New York-Charlotte flight were taken out by a large flock of birds. Dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson,” t's the kind of story that plays havoc on a fear of flying – that a flock of birds can take you down in an instant. Nevertheless, Sully's story garnered him a national spotlight, and now Eastwood is planning to bring that story to the big screen.

Allyn Stewart and Frank Marshall, who optioned the rights to Sullenberger's life story and memoir “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters,” will produce alongside Eastwood.

Eastwood softly retired from starring in his own movies after “Gran Torino,” but this might be reason enough to step back in front of the camera of one of his productions. If not him, though, perhaps Harrison Ford could take on the role. According to the Hollywood Reporter story that broke the news, he first introduced Sullenberger to Marshall. And he knows a thing or two about ditch landings.

Anyway, what are your thoughts?

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Last year's Best Picture winner sets an Oscar season release date for 'Youth'

Posted by · 11:06 am · June 2nd, 2015

Fox Searchlight made a big splash at Cannes with Paolo Sorrentino's “Youth.” On the heels of the director's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner “The Great Beauty,” it's a film that could be right up the Academy's alley, with performances from Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel leading the way. And now, the distributor has given it – predictably – a release date right in the thick of things.

“Youth” will hit select theaters on December 4, it was announced today. Presumably Searchlight will then platform it throughout the month and into the new year, just as awards will be flying fast and furious in the heat of the season.

Elsewhere Searchlight will also have a pair of Sundance darlings, John Crowley's “Brooklyn” and Grand Jury and Audience Award winner “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” I caught up with the latter recently and can't say I share much of the enthusiasm that emanated from Park City, but it could certainly be a screenplay player. And it will undoubtedly be all over the Independent Spirit Awards nominations. But Crowley's drama, from a Nick Hornby script, looks like it will be a better play overall. It hits theaters November 6.

All that said – and Searchlight loves all its babies, of course – but “Youth” really does feel like the big dog in the stable for last year's Best Picture victor. We'll see if the Academy responds in due time.

Check out the HitFix review of “Youth” from Cannes here.

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Top 10 disaster movie money shots

Posted by · 3:15 pm · May 31st, 2015

Currently “San Andreas” is rumbling in theaters nationwide, and it's chock-full of its share of jaw-dropping (some might say numbing) images of destruction. It's a tradition, really, the disaster movie money shot. From tidal waves to rivers of lava and all points in between, Hollywood knows these movies are sold on that one image that dictates scale, scope and wonder.

With that in mind, I thought I'd round up some favorites. You'll find that in one or two examples, I define “disaster movie” just a bit broadly. But when directors “blow stuff up good,” who needs labels?

Check out my picks below and feel free to offer up your own in the comments section. And if you saw “San Andreas,” tell us what you thought. I'd actually like to see it in 4DX myself.

“San Andreas” is now playing in theaters.

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'Grace of Monaco' screenwriter dismantles the film in live Tweet session

Posted by · 9:11 am · May 28th, 2015

You might remember “Grace of Monaco.” A Grace Kelly biopic directed by Olivier Dahan (“La Vie en Rose”) with Nicole Kidman in the lead and Tim Roth as her Prince Rainier, the film was picked up for distribution by The Weinstein Company and landed an opening night slot at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. It seemed like a perfect combination of material and talent, and a possible awards player. But it ended up panned on the Croisette and destined for a premiere on the Lifetime television channel here in the US.

Earlier this week, the film's screenwriter, Arash Amel, took to Twitter to live-Tweet the Lifetime airing and, well, he had a lot to say. “The purpose of this live Tweet is to correct the record, an explanation, an apology and most of all a bit of lighthearted fun,” he wrote, tagging each of his Tweets with the #GOMFacts hashtag.

If anyone didn't grasp the “lighthearted fun” element, it had to have been Dahan, whose creative vision of the project was apparently at drastic odds with Amel's. It seems Dahan was after something approaching Alfred Hitchcock's “Vertigo” (which, Amel notes, did not feature Kelly). But ultimately he ended up with something that falls off that thin line into the gaudy.

In one Tweet, Amels claims that after he saw the finished film, he complained to Harvey Weinstein about this direction. “He heard me,” Amel wrote, “but under French law, director say is final…I fought the good fight. But the law is the law. Sometimes you get Truffaut. Sometimes you get this.”


If there's any news to be gleaned from all of this, it might be that the version that aired on Lifetime was in fact a third edit of the movie, according to Amel. There was the French edit, the unfinished Weinstein Company edit and this one. Amel seemed to think it was better, perhaps because it was mercifully swift in pace, clocking in somewhere around 75 minutes plus commercial breaks.

I've pulled a few choice Tweets below for you to sample this unique dissection. And a dissection it is. After all, Amel wanted the live-Tweet session to be “a valuable lesson in how a script becomes a film. Coppola made 'Heart of Darkness.' I lived it.”

To be clear, Amel experienced nothing like what Mr. Coppola did filming “Apocalypse Now' in the wilds of the Philippines (watch the documentary “Hearts of Darkness” for a taste of that madness), but his story is his own “filmmaking Vietnam,” and everything is relative after all. This is valuable reading for anyone interested in a screenwriting career, to say the least, so enjoy…if that's the word.















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After 'Mad Max': Should these directors revisit their original visions, too?

Posted by · 4:00 pm · May 26th, 2015

George Miller's “Mad Max: Fury Road” is tearing through theaters right now. If you haven't seen it, rectify that over the holiday weekend. It's a bold revisitation of an original vision (an original vision that itself already had plenty to offer in the way of a unique, seminal cinematic experience). So it got me thinking…

This whole premise is more or less rhetorical. Let's start by noting as much. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a special case, not least of which because Miller himself – not some random studio hire – took the reins on dragging the material into the 21st Century. And not every stunning piece of world-building should get the same treatment. Sometimes it just doesn't work. We saw that already when Ridley Scott went back to his “Alien” roots with “Prometheus.”

But nevertheless, there are a number of other original visions from fascinating filmmakers that I wouldn't mind seeing them (and only them) usher to the screen once more. I'm sure a great many in the industry will feel emboldened by what Miller has accomplished at 70 years of age. Maybe some of these directors will feel like they have something else to say in these worlds, maybe not. I'm just saying I would be willing to watch.

Check out six examples below, and offer up one or more in the comments if anything comes to mind. More importantly, enjoy the holiday.

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'Carol,' 'Inside Out' and 10 other Cannes 2015 films ready for Oscar's closeup

Posted by · 8:27 am · May 25th, 2015

CANNES – Awards season is no stranger to Cannes. From “Amour” to “The Tree of Life” to “No Country For Old Men” to “The Pianist” to “The Piano,” every year there seems to be a player or two that pokes its head out from the crowded Croisette and into Oscar's waiting arms. This year's potential players may not include a true Best Picture contender, but they are evidence enough that the festival's presence will be felt throughout the upcoming campaign.

Before you start second guessing which films have a shot and which don't, remember the actions of this year's Hollywood-influenced competition jury. The Coen brothers, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sienna Miller and the Guillermo Del Toro, among others, awarded some interesting prizes that will absolutely affect the race. The critical kudos are important, too (as are those of us who cover the beat on a regular basis and took in this year's slate), but the remarks from those key industry players were very telling indeed (more on that later).  

That said, let's run down the movies that saw their Oscar fate affected by debuting at Cannes over the past 14 days and reflect on their realistic chances to earn a nomination or two.  

Potential nods:

Best Picture
Director – Todd Haynes
Actress – Rooney Mara
Actress or Best Supporting Actress – Cate Blanchett
Supporting Actress – Sarah Paulson
Adapted Screenplay – Phyllis Nagy
Original Score – Carter Burwell
Cinematography – Edward Lachman
Costumes – Sandy Powell
Production Design – Judy Decker
Editing – Affonso Gonclaves
Lowdown: One of The Weinstein Company's major players this upcoming season, “Carol” earned almost universal rave reviews and was a potential Palme d'Or winner. That being said, a Best Picture nomination isn't necessarily a given and will require some serious campaigning by the studio. In theory, the film's absolute best shots at nods are Mara and Blanchett, but do you really run them both in the lead actress category? Even if it turns out to be a weak year we find it hard to believe both ladies will be able to make a five-nominee field. Could TWC run Blanchett in supporting even though her character is the title of the movie? Something to ponder.

Potential nods:

Best Picture
Director – Paolo Sorrentino
Actor – Michael Caine
Supporting Actor – Harvey Keitel
Supporting Actress – Rachel Weisz
Supporting Actress – Jane Fonda
Original Screenplay – Paolo Sorrentino
Cinematography – Luca Bigazzi
Production Design – Ludovica Ferrario
Lowdown:  Sorrentino's follow-up to Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner “The Great Beauty” will be an absolute Academy player. The question is whether both Weisz and Fonda can get nominated in the supporting category or if Fonda's appeal will be so impactful she pushes her fellow Academy Award winner out of the top five.

Potential nods:

Best Director – Denis Villeneuve
Best Actress – Emily Blunt
Best Supporting Actor – Benicio Del Toro
Best Original Screenplay – Taylor Sheridan
Best Cinematography – Roger Deakins
Best Editing – Joe Walker
Best Sound
Lowdown: Like “Youth,” Denis Villeneuve's thriller centered on the the U.S. government's neverending drug war will play much better Stateside than on la Croisette. Its best chances for Oscar nods are Del Toro and Deakins. Blunt and Villeneuve have a shot as well.

Potential nods:
Animated Feature Film
Original Screenplay – Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Original Score – Michael Giacchino
Lowdown: Pixar's latest creation is already the prohibitive favorite to win the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar and it's still three weeks from opening. The film received an incredibly warm critical reception, but most seem to believe it's just a step below the creative heights of “Up” or “WALL-E.” Does that mean a general Best Picture nod isn't in the cards? Not necessarily, but it may be more difficult to land than Walt Disney Studios wants to believe. That being said, an Original Screenplay nomination seems very, very likely.

Potential nods:

Best Picture
Foreign Langage Film
Director – Laslo Nemes
Original Screenplay – Laslo Nemes and Clara Royer
Cinematography – Matyas Erdely
Lowdown: Nemes looked genuinely stunned when he took home the Grand Prix (second place) at Cannes this year. He shouldn't have been. “Saul” was an impressive accomplishment for a first-time filmmaker, even though many believed it could take home the Palme d'Or. More telling was the praise Miller, Dolan and Del Toro gave the picture during the post-awards press conference. Yes, there are a few dissenters (the New York Times' Manohla Dargis quizzically being one of them), but this one is going to strike a chord with many filmmakers and Academy members. Sony Classics, which picked “Saul” up before its premiere, may have something more than the Foreign Language Film frontrunner on their hands.

Potential nods:
Foreign Language Film
Lowdown: This year's Palme d'Or winner has effectively passed “Mon roi” to represent France in the Foreign Language Film race. It would be blasphemous for the selection committee to choose another picture over a French film that took home Cannes' biggest prize. Will it make the top five? Possibly, but it's not a given.

Potential nods:
Actor – Tim Roth
Original Screenplay – Michael Franco
Lowdown: Michael Franco's Los Angeles-set drama is a tough one to sit through and it's hard to imagine the general Academy embracing this picture. However, if they can prove U.S. investment, it's likely the recipient of multiple Independent Spirit Award nominations. It also has an outside shot for a screenplay nod based on the Cannes honor, but we think most of the movie industry will give more credit to Franco's direction than his script.

Potential nods:
Original Screenplay – Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
Cinematography – Thimios Bakatakis
Lowdown: Yorgos Lanthimos's film won a special jury prize, but its best shot for awards season love is in the original screenplay race. The film falters a bit in the second half, but you can see the Writers Branch wanting to reward Lanthimos and his co-writer and Efthymis Filippou for their unique world view.

Potential nods:
Foreign Language Film
Cinematography – Ping Bin Lee
Lowdown: Hsiao-hsien Hou took Cannes' best director prize, but it's unclear whether “The Assassin” will even be Taiwan's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar. It may simply be too esoteric. That means its best chance at a nomination may be for Cinematography. Maybe.

Potential Nods:
Animated Feature Film
Original Score – Hans Zimmer
Lowdown: Director Mark Osborne (“Kung Fu Panda”) found a creative way to work the classic children's book “The Little Prince” into a 90-minute movie. “Prince” may not earn the overall kudos “Inside Out” will, but it's hard to not see it being one of the top five nominees if Paramount releases it this year.

Potential nods:

Actor – Michael Fassbender
Actress or Supporting Actress – Marion Cotillard
Cinematography – Adam Arkapaw
Lowdown: Despite some rave reviews from the British press, Justin Kurzel's “Macbeth” came and went with a whimper. With weak commercial prospects outside the art house circuit the question is whether The Weinstein Company will even give Cotillard or Fassbender the push they need to land nominations. Considering Fassbender also has Danny Boyle's “Steve Jobs” on deck, we think that's highly unlikely.

Potential nods:

Best Picture
Director – George Miller
Screenplay – George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Actress – Charlize Theron
Editing – Margaret Sixel
Cinematography – John Seale
Costume Design – Jenny Beavan
Original Score – Junkie XL
Production Design – Colin Gibson
Visual Effects
Lowdown: The reaction from Cannes was so strong that the festival received serious blowback from media and attendees wondering why “Fury Road” wasn't in competition  Miller's long-awaited return to live action has already received rapturous reviews in the States (raves from the NYT and LAT, no less) and should eventually break even thanks to international returns (always important if you're a “genre movie” trying to crash Oscar). Technically, “Fury Road” already appears to have editing and cinematography nominations locked up (cue the backlash if it doesn't happen), but a Directing nod for Miller isn't out of the question. Filmmakers are going bonkers over it and, like Wes Anderson's “Grand Budapest Hotel” this past season, we don't think they'll forget come January.

Additionally, Asif Kapadia's “Amy” has an outside chance at landing a documentary nomination, but we're slightly concerned that it won't speak to enough members of that branch.

Which Cannes movies do you think have the best shot to make an impact this Oscar season? Share your thoughts below.

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Best and Worst of Cannes 2015: Why wasn't 'Mad Max: Fury Road' in competition?

Posted by · 4:59 pm · May 24th, 2015

CANNES – We finally have a Palme d'Or winner (Jacques Audiard's “Dheepan”), but what are our major takeaways from the entire 2015 Cannes Film Festival?

Overall, the competition slate was slightly mediocre, with festival programmers really finding only three stellar films. There were a number of major disappointments (“The Sea of Trees”) and true surprises (“Son of Saul,” “Amy”). The Un Certain Regard and Critics” Week selections didn”t generate much buzz and we missed the textbook over-the-top publicity stunts for Hollywood releases looking to make a mark with the 4,000+ members of the global media credentialed for the festival.    

The biggest buzz actually came from a Midnight screening (“Love”), a ladies' shoe controversy and attendees questioning why “Mad Max: Fury Road” or “Inside Out” weren't in competition. The question remains, however: Should either film been eligible for a jury prize? We”ll dive into that in our Best and Worst story gallery that you can view at the bottom of this post.  

Before you take a swing at the “Best” and “Worst,” however, here”s a list of some of the films that are already quickly fading from memory: Woody Allen”s “Irrational Man,” “Tale of Tales,” “Marguerite and Juliene,” “Louder than Bombs” and the opening night feature, “Standing Tall.” As for the rest…check out the story gallery.

.What were your biggest takeaways from this year”s festival? Share your thoughts below.

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John and Alicia Nash, subjects of 2001's 'A Beautiful Mind,' killed in auto accident

Posted by · 10:49 am · May 24th, 2015

Mathematician John Nash and his wife Alicia, subjects of the Oscar-winning 2001 film “A Beautiful Mind,” were killed in a New Jersey automobile accident Sunday. They were 86 and 82 respectively.

The car reportedly crashed into the guard rail, and the couple was ejected from the vehicle. They were pronounced dead at the scene.


The Nashes were portrayed by Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in Ron Howard's film. Connelly won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar while the film also won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

“This is a great loss,” Connelly said in a statement. “John and Alicia Nash were an inspiration and I have deep admiration for all that they accomplished in their lives. My thoughts are with their family.”

Nash is renowned for his work in game theory. He won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994. He also struggled with schizophrenia, which became the focus of the largely dramatized film.



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'Dheepan' takes Palme d'Or, and all the other 2015 Cannes Film Festival winners

Posted by · 8:40 am · May 24th, 2015

CANNES – The 2015 Cannes Film Festival has officially come to an end and, in something of a surprise, the winner of the Palme d'Or went to Jacques Audiard's “Dheepan.”  The presidents of the jury, Ethan and Joel Coen, reminded the media during the final press conference these honors weren't determined by critics.  Instead, they were chosen by a nine-member jury which included notable names such as Guillermo Del Toro, Jake Gyllenhaal, Xavier Dolan, Sienna Miller and Sophie Marceau.

Other major winners included “Son of Saul,” which took the Grand Prix, “The Assassin,” which took Best Director for Hsiao-hsien Hou; “The Lobster,” which won the Jury Prize; and “Chronic,” which won Best Screenplay.

Veteran French actor Vincent Lindon was a mile surprise picking up the Best Actor prize for “La Loi Du Marche,” but the bigger story was Best Actress. There was a split in the category amongst Rooney Mara (“Carol”) and Emmanuelle Bercot (“Mon Roi”). Many would have predicted Mara's co-star, Cate Blanchett, taking home the honor, sharing it with Mara or another actress. The jury was asked about Blanchett's absence during the press conference and skirted around the issue.

Here is a list of all of this year's winners and some immediate reactions as they were announced.

SHORT FILM – Waves '98 by Ely Dagher

CAMERA D'OR – Cesar Augusto Acevedo for “La Tierra Y La Sombre” 
Reaction: Didn't see this Critics' Week selection, but only heard good things.

PRIX DU SCENARIO – Michael Franco for “Chronic”
Reaction: Stunned. Just saw the film and thought Roth and the actors were great, but it was Franco's commitment to his direction which was the strongest part of the film artistically. There were much better screenplays passed over here.

BEST ACTRESS (TIE) – Rooney Mara for “Carol” and Emmanuelle Bercot for “Mon Roi”
Reaction: Buzz was jury member Xavier Dolan wanted “Mon Roi” to get rewarded and it looks like he got it (he appeared to tear up at the speech). This is a very nice and deserving win for Mara, but most would have picked her co-star Cate Blanchett instead. This makes me wonder whether The Weinstein Company may push Blanchett to supporting during awards season. Both ladies are co-leads, but tough to imagine both of them getting nominated for most honors.

PRIX du JURY – Yorgos Lanthimos for “The Lobster”
Reaction: Great recognition for a film that created a tremendous amount of buzz the first few days of the festival. Nice to see Lanthimos take a prize home for trying to create something really, really different, insightful and entertaining at the same time.

BEST ACTOR – Vincent Lindon for “La Loi Du Marche”
Reaction: One of the few competition films I missed this year so I can't speak to it, but the French actor got a major standing ovation from the audience and delivered a very emotional speech.

BEST DIRECTOR – Hou Hsiau-Hsien for “The Assassin”
Reaction: I do not get the love for this one, but the jury decided to reward the longtime Cannes attendee for his commitment to…whatever. It's beautiful for sure, but I stand by my thoughts that there is truly nothing that special there.

GRAND PRIX – Lazlo Nemes for “Son of Saul”
Reaction: This is arguably one of my top three films of the year so far. It's a tremendous achievement that I would have given the Palme d'Or to. In any case, it's worth noting the Berlin Film Festival turned this picture down earlier this year. To say they have egg on their face is an understatement. Also, it's your leading candidate for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.

Palme d'Or – Jacques Audiard for “Dheepan”
Reaction: Huge Audiard fan, but this is a surprise. Caught this film today on the final day of screenings and thought it was very good, but missing something at the end. This is Audiard's first Palme d'Or after previously winning the Grand Prix for “A Prophet” and the Screenwriting prize for “A Self-Made Hero.” Needless to say, most of the press covering the festival are stunned. One thing is for sure, it will be hard for “Mon Roi” to surpass “Dheepan” as France's submission for the 2015 Foreign Language Oscar race.

What do you think of this year's winners? Share your thoughts below.

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Review: Michael Fassbender descends into a fog of madness in ‘Macbeth’

Posted by · 9:55 am · May 23rd, 2015

CANNES – This Scottish General is a mad warrior. He takes down one victim after another, seemingly fueled by an endless stream of rage. He applies war paint to the faces of his teenage soldiers and throws them onto the battlefield, eventually haunted by their wasted deaths. Constant war has made Macbeth a man on the edge of madness, and that”s exactly what director Justin Kurzel wants to exploit in his stylistic new adaptation of William Shakespeare”s classic play.   

One of Shakespeare”s most acclaimed creations, “Macbeth” has been adapted as a film or TV film at least 15 times in some form or another, with the most notable interpretations coming from Orson Wells, Roman Polanski and Akira Kurosawa (“Throne of Blood”). Kurzel differentiates his predecessors by incorporating a striking and gritty aesthetic to the proceedings while also abridging the story to allow for a shorter movie-going experience. (Polanski”s 1971 version clocks in 25 minutes longer comparatively.)

This new incarnation, credited to screenwriters Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie and Todd Louiso, tries to cut the excess fat without disturbing the narrative trajectory of the original material or changing the context of a scene to make it more cinematic. In one instance, the death of Lady Macduff and her children is staged differently by setting it in a forest, where the mad king”s soldiers chase them down on horseback (in the play it occurs in her bedroom). The slightly shorter script allows Kurzel to spend more time staging the battle scenes, which bookend the film and are his primary opportunity to break the material free of its theatrical constraints.

The result, however, is that it all feels a bit thin. Macbeth”s rise and fall seems to occur so quickly in real time that you begin to wonder whether most of it has taken place over the course of just a week. But notably, this “Macbeth” lives and dies on the performances of its two leads, Michael Fassbender, as the title character, and Marion Cotillard, as his infamous Lady and future Queen. They do not disappoint.

In a press conference after the film”s Cannes Film Festival debut, Fassbender revealed that his performance began with Kurzel”s idea that Macbeth would be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after so many years at war. You can argue whether that would be contextually accurate for a Shakespearean construct, but it clearly inspired him to depict a Macbeth that is less insane and slightly more off-kilter. This take especially works when Macbeth celebrates his coronation with a dinner and he believes he keeps seeing the ghost of a fallen comrade in the crowd.

As for Cotillard, apologies for stating the obvious, but her performance here once again demonstrates why she is one of the world”s greatest actors. The French-born Oscar winner delivers Shakespeare”s prose flawlessly and her Lady Macbeth has a shadow of grief that humanizes her more traditional interpretations of the role. One of Kurzel”s most interesting decisions is to diminish the scheming aspect of the character. This Lady is intent on protecting her husband, but she is horrified and distraught over his actions consistently throughout the film. But somehow, despite Cotillard”s strong work, it feels like there is less of the Lady in the film than there ought to be. It may simply be a cumulative effect of the time spent allocated to the action scenes, but something feels slightly amiss.

One theatrical conceit Kurzel cannot completely solve is making the play”s soliloquies less pronounced. There seem to be too many moments of Fassbender delivering a discourse (or two, or three) without interacting with anyone or anything around him. Cotillard has her own moment that lingers a bit longer than necessary, but it pays off thanks to a memorable reverse shot from Kurzel.

Beyond the performances, this new “Macbeth” benefits from Kurzel”s inspired eye, the increasingly impressive talents of cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (“True Detective”) and Fiona Crombie”s period-loving production design. The world they have created for this tragedy may overwhelm, but it's certainly impossible to forget.

“Macbeth” is set to open in the U.S. sometime this Fall.

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Michael Fassbender says his 'Macbeth' is suffering from PTSD

Posted by · 3:20 am · May 23rd, 2015

CANNES – The last film in competition has debuted at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, and that meant it was time for two of the world's most respected and photogenic stars to get their moment in the spotlight. So, yes, the global media were quite excited about Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender taking the podium for “Macbeth's” official press conference.

Justin Kurzel's new adaptation is a stylish, gritty and intense depiction of William Shakespeare's classic play. Fassbender plays the title role passionately and Cotillard takes on his Lady. Kurzel expands on the material by including some beautiful and gruesome war sequences that frame the story in a slightly different light.  

Fassbender said he experienced the play when he was 15 and later when he was in grad school, but was taking on the iconic role for the first time. It was a conversation with the Aussie director, however, that provided him some modern context to the role. Macbeth begins the film as King Duncan's top general and has likely spent years on the bloody battlefields of the Dark Ages.

“Never did it occurred to me that this character was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder,” Fassbender said. “Justin had said that to me during one of our first conversations and that changed everything for me.”

The “12 Years a Slave” star says the cumulative effect isn't just about a soldier who is engaged in war day after day, month after month, “but the fact the battle takes place with his bare hands. What it takes to pierce someone's skin. To drive the sword through somebody's muscle. And then take the sword out again [and] smash someone's skull. Those kind of images, definitely, I tried to dig up and explore and try to find that fractured character right at the beginning, the idea that he's seeing hallucinations.”

He continued: “We know soldiers today coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan that, despite post traumatic stress disorder, they can have these hallucinations. They can be working down the Croisette here and the next thing it's a real time battle. So that makes so sense for the character. The fact that he's seeing things there, and his sort of unhinged behavior.”

Considering how intense his performance appears, Fassbender was asked if it's difficult for him to leave the set without being affected personally by the experience.

“It's inevitable that some residue is there, but I have worked hard to try and leave everything on the floor on the day,” Fassbender replied candidly. “So a lot of the time I spend in preparation when it comes to the day's filming I can really just sort of leave everything there and explore everything on the day as much as possible. Of course, on the drive home, all the good ideas come. But I try to meet friends at the end of the day and I wouldn't have many left if [it was], 'Oh, here he goes again with one of those characters.'”

That response brought some much needed laughter to the day's proceedings. Cotillard, on the other hand, already spoke to HitFix in November about the unpleasantness of her experience noting, “I lost control of everything.” On Saturday she told the assembled media that she'd always dreamed about playing the role of Lady Macbeth, but thought it would be on the stage and in French. She'd never even considered taking part in a Shakespearean English production. Even though it took a personal toll she still described it as a “marvelous opportunity.”

“For me this is the first time in a film I found it difficult to slip into the character,” Cotillard said. “I've often played dramatic characters but never perhaps to this extent. Most of the characters I've played so far were full of light or held out some hope. I this case it's all gloom. The character loses control of the situation. I found it difficult to prepare for the film and let myself be swept away by the character.”

Fassbender will likely get a majority of the critical kudos between the two stars, but he could not praise Cotillard enough for bringing more “humanity” to Lady Macbeth.

“I think Marion is the best in the business,” he said. “She brings a grace to everything that she does, which is just in her I think. But at the same time she is very human and I think when she portrays a character the audience has something of a mirror in front of them and see much of themselves in her.”

Later on he remarked, “Just to be standing opposite her and to see just the most engaged partner and somebody who is listening seems like such a simple thing, but the best actors are great listeners. She listens so brilliantly and responds to whatever is happening in the moment and is very generous in return. She'll take something, use it, form it and give it back to you. So it's very easy. We worked comprehensively in rehearsal, but once we started filming we didn't discuss things and just presented them when the camera was rolling. I really enjoy that way of working.”

“Macbeth” is currently slated to open in the UK in October and is expected to hit American shores sometime this Fall.

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Rick Ross and Jay Z meet Whitey Bulger in new 'Black Mass' trailer

Posted by · 8:47 pm · May 22nd, 2015

We already got one taste of Scott Cooper's upcoming Whitey Bulger gangster saga “Black Mass” on the heels of CinemaCon. That teaser trailer, framed by an unsettling moment over a dinner table, introduced us to just what Johnny Depp is doing in the lead role. A new taste, courtesy of the UK trailer for the film, adds some style to the equation.

Anachronism be damned, they just went ahead and dropped Rick Ross and Jay Z's “The Devil is a Lie” over flashy images of Bulger's life of crime in and around Boston, talking to little old ladies in the neighborhood, smashing his foot into some dude's face, etc. Awesome. And the sell continues to do exactly what you'd expect it to: play up Depp's transformation. But obviously this cast is stacked: Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson, Corey Stoll, Juno Temple, etc. I can't wait to see how the ensemble plays, and particularly how cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi captures it all in his lens.

Check out the new trailer above and tell us what you think.

“Black Mass” is currently set for release on Sept. 18.

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An early look at the Best and Worst of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival

Posted by · 11:36 am · May 22nd, 2015

CANNES – The 68th Festival de Cannes is almost at an end. There is only one more competition film to screen, Justin Kurzel's “Macbeth,” and then the Coen brothers-led jury will begin deliberations over what entry will win the prestigious Palme d'Or. The favorites are still “Son of Saul” and “Carol,” but two relatively new entries, “Youth” and “Mountains May Depart,” may steal their thunder. Tomorrow night's awards ceremony is going to be very intriguing. But more on that later…

On Wednesday, the lovely and talented Alison Willmore of Buzzfeed and I took some time to chat about the films we liked and, of course, the films we didn't. We agreed on both one “best” and one “worst” so if you've been waiting to see someone physically express their feelings about Gus Van Sant's latest as opposed to just reading about it, this is your chance.

Note: This was recorded before either of us had seen Gaspar Noe's “Love.” Read my review about the festival's most controversial film, so far, here.

To check out our lively (and winding) conversation watch the video embedded at the top of this post.

Alison co-hosts the always entertaining Filmspotting: SVU podcast and you can follow her on twitter @AlisonWillmore. For more from Cannes follow me @HitFixGregory.

Which movies are you most excited to see after the Cannes reactions? Share your thoughts below.

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'The Lobster,' 'The Assassin' and 4 other mini-reviews from Cannes

Posted by · 5:13 am · May 22nd, 2015

CANNES – Even at a more civilized festival such as Cannes, it can be hard to catch every single movie in competition. There are always a few that will slip through the cracks and you can always count on the inevitable life drama moment to rear its ugly head. Unlike other festivals, Cannes has less repeat screenings across the board. That also makes things tough for one person to chronicle it all.

With less than 24 hours left in the festival we”re happy to say we've been able to cover 10 Cannes selections in depth. Here are capsule reviews for another six selections you may still be curious about.

[Expect full reviews of “Macbeth,” “The Little Prince” and “Chronic” by the end of the weekend as well as some thoughts on whether Oscar stepped out on la Croisette this year.]

“Louder Than Bombs”
Director: Joachim Trier
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne, Amy Ryan, Isabelle Huppert, David Strathairn, David Druid
Reaction: Trier”s first English language film is sort of a mixed bag. On the one hand, he often has creative and new ideas on how to stage scenes. He”s talented enough to pull you in with technique alone. The problem is the story and tone of “Bombs” feel like a Sundance drama from five years ago. The movie is about a father (Byrne) trying to foster relationships with his two sons (Eisenberg and relative newcomer Druid) a few years after their mother (Huppert) commits suicide. Eisenberg is almost too on-the-nose casting for the uptight brother and Druid just doesn”t bring enough to a typical troubled teenager role. Trier is far too talented for there not to be some good things here, but it just doesn”t add up to much.
Grade: B-  

“The Lobster”
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw
Reaction: The first half of Lanthimos' sharp critique on society's need to conform is wickedly funny. After Farrell”s wife leaves him, he”s sent to a countryside hotel where he has just 45 days to find a new mate or find himself turned into the animal of his choosing (this element of the film is only explored for comic and not horrific effect). Along with the other single guests at the hotel, he spends most of his days heading into the nearby woods to shoot and capture single people known as “loners” on the, um, lamb (for each loner they catch, the guests are awarded an extra day at the hotel). The Loner faction is run by Seydoux”s character and they turn out to be just as dangerously strident in their beliefs as the couple-filled “normal” world. The film really loses some steam when Farrell escapes to the “Loners,” but he and Weisz conjure up genuine tenderness between their characters to make you care about their fate. Lanthimos presents a fully formed original vision that hits a perfect tone even when the narrative begins to get away from him a bit.
Grade: B+

“Maryland (Disorder)”
Alice Winocour
Cast: Diane Kruger, Matthias Schoenaerts
Reaction: Vincent (Schoenaerts) is a French soldier with PTSD waiting to find out whether he'll be shipped out on another tour. He ends up being recruited as private security for a rich Lebanese businessman, his English-speaking wife Jessie (Kruger) and their kid. Before you know it the arms-dealing husband has been taken into custody and his enemies (we never find out who they are exactly) are trying to take out his unsuspecting family. A considerable amount of time is spent depicting Vincent's symptoms and throwing around a number of political red herrings, but it all takes a back seat in the second half of the movie where our hero has to protect Jessie and her son from a home invasion. It's good stuff and, in a perfect world, will prompt Hollywood execs to take Winocour's directing skills very seriously.
Grade: B-

“Marguerite & Julien”
Director: Valérie Donzelli
Cast: Anaïs Demoustier, Jérémie Elkaïm
Reaction: This pseudo-period drama about a brother and sister persecuted for their incestuous love affair is something of a mess. Donzelli wants to bring a contemporary energy to the proceedings and her directing style references everything from French New Wave to Wes Anderson (himself inspired by New Wave) to Baz Luhrmann. Demoustier is charismatic enough to almost help Donzelli pull it off, but Elkaïm is so stiff as Julien you never understand why Marguerite is willing to risk her life in the first place. It”s not good, but Donzelli will surprise with a captivating cinematic moment here and there.
Grade: C+

“Mountains May Depart”
Director: Zhangke Jia
Cast: Tao Zhao
Reaction: Jia”s epic tale follows Shen Tao (Zhao) and the men who come in and out of her life over two decades. The first part of the film takes place in 1999, where Tao finds herself pursued by two young men, one of which has embraced China”s new liberal economy and another who is still able to find happiness working in the local coal mine. The second part jumps to 2014, where Tao is a divorcee and trying to come to make peace with the fact that her young son may be better off with his rich father, who intends to leave the country. The last segment ends in 2025 and mostly occurs in Australia, centering on Tao”s now college-age son. Zhao is simply phenomenal portraying a woman who is able to find happiness in unexpected solitude. Jia probably made a mistake directing the 1999 sequence in such an over-the-top and stilted tone (it also feels more like 1989 than the turn of the century), but the rest of the film is incredibly well done. Oh, and it”s the best use of the Pet Shop Boys” “Go West” in any movie ever.
Grade: B+

“The Assassin”
Director: Hsiao-hsien Hou
Cast: Qi Shu, Chen Chang
Reaction: Hou should be congratulated for making the most boring martial arts movie ever. The plot becomes strangely confusing thanks to his tediously long takes where the characters seem almost as sleepy as the audience. Hou and cinematographer Ping Bin Lee (“Renoir”) produce some stunning images on location (one conversation takes place as a fog beautifully emits from the bottom of a valley), but it”s hard to find a thematic connection between the directing style Hou has chosen and the story. All film is art in some context, but this is some pretty vapid art. And as for the few critics who have raved about it? I”ll have what they”re having, thank you.
Grade: C-

More reviews from Cannes:

“Inside Out”
“The Sea of Trees”
“Son of Saul”
“Irrational Man”
“Tale of Tales”
“Standing Tall”

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Review: Caine, Keitel and Weisz are at their best in Sorrentino's glorious 'Youth'

Posted by · 1:49 am · May 22nd, 2015

CANNES – Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino has already dipped his toe into the familiar genre of characters of a certain age reminiscing about the good old days with 2013's “The Great Beauty.” He even won an Oscar for it. Two years later he returns to the Cannes Film Festival with “Youth,” a follow-up that stands besides “Great Beauty” thematically while also presenting a decidedly different point of view.

“Youth” starts off with The Retrosettes Sister Band performing a cover of “You Got the Love,” interpreted in a retro style and a twist on the old adage “everything old is new again.” In this case, everything new is old again, a theme that may or may not apply to the central characters in Sorrentino”s cinematic opera.  

The movie centers on Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), a legendary British composer and conductor, and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), a famous American film director. Friends for 60 years, the duo often end up spending their summers together in an elegant resort in the Swiss Alps. They both are quietly aware, however, that these excursions will soon be coming to an end.

The secluded hotel and spa is a destination for the rich and famous looking to relax and get away from it all. There is an Italian Opera singer who is so large he can barely breathe after going for a lap in the pool. There is the Hollywood actor (Paul Dano) who is researching a role, but can't escape being constantly reminded of his last favorite work. And yes, even the reigning Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea) stops by to embarrass her fellow guests for assuming she doesn't have any semblance of a brain. All intriguing characters, but in many ways they mostly serve to inform Fred and Mick's journeys, each man dealing with problems of his own, which offer no clear solutions.

Fred is being pressured by an Emissary for the Queen of England (Alex Macqueen) to perform his signature composition at a concert for Prince Phillip, but much to her majesty's disappointment, continues to turn them down. Mick has brought along four thirtysomething screenwriters to help him finish the script for his next picture, a drama he expects will reunite him with legendary actress Brenda Morel (a glorious Jane Fonda), who he discovered decades ago.

Each of their worlds is thrown for a loop when Fred's daughter Leda (Rachel Weisz) is dumped by her husband, who – surprise – also just happens to be Mick's son. You might expect this to cause conflict between the old friends, but it's the first of many moments where Sorrentino pointedly directs the truth. Mick chews out his son for being a [expletive] (he already has a new girlfriend) and for leaving Leda just because she's supposedly bad in bed. This is just one example of the sharp knife Sorrentino provides his characters to poke each other with. The resort almost acts as a cathartic refuge where the guests drop their normally polite demeanors and let their true feelings bluntly fly.

Sorrentino's visual talents and operatic tendencies also transform a scenario that could be prime Working Title material into a true piece of art. Each frame seems to tell a story. The movie may be almost two hours, but Sorrentino insists that not one moment is wasted. What's even more masterful about his work here is how he builds Mick and Fred's emotional journeys without it coming across as manipulative or predictable. There are many moments of true surprise in “Youth” and that's not what many would expect in a movie about two eighty-something men in deep reflection.

Michael Caine, still looking spry at the grand old age of 82, gives a performance that ranks up there among the best of his distinguished career. In different hands Fred could have an aura of melancholy around him. Caine has no interest in giving Fred a pity party and that makes his reaction to a key dramatic moment towards the end of the film strikingly poignant.

It goes without saying that Harvey Keitel hasn”t landed a leading role this rich this century. Keitel portrays Mick with the vitality of a man who has no interest in slowing down, even if everyone around him thinks he”s past his prime.

Rachel Weisz, who hasn”t appeared on screen since 2013, has had something of a mini-comeback this festival with her performance here and in Yorgos Lanthimos” “The Lobster.” She”s particularly strong during a scene where Lena gives her father a reading he”s probably deserved for decades.

No review of “Youth” can be written without touching upon on the bolt of energy that hits the screen upon Fonda's arrival. Sorrentino has created a character in Morel that she brings to life with a fireball of hatred. Morel”s garish makeup and a wig that looks like it was bought straight off of Hollywood Boulevard immediately communicate how toxic this “legend” is, but it's Fonda who transforms her scathing takedown of the narrow-minded movie industry into one of the film”s most memorable moments.

As always, Sorrentino”s vision is a gorgeous one. Ludovica Ferrario's production design accentuates the movie's iconic locale while giving the film its own style and Luca Bigazzi's cinematography is so beautiful you wonder why he hasn't been plucked by more English-speaking filmmakers. Noted composer David Lang makes his feature film debut with “Youth” and finds a nice balance alongside the other music elements Sorrentino has weaved into the picture.

“Youth” has some significant points on frustration of fame, ageism and our natural inclination to lose perspective, but it”s primarily about finding peace and happiness in your life. That may sound painfully obvious. It may even sound cliché. But somehow Sorrentino is able to fashion the film's diverse elements into an emotional narrative that makes it all feel fresh and new. And that”s truly worth celebrating.

“Youth” was acquired by Fox Searchlight before its premiere and should be released sometime this Fall.

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