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Links for the Day: Mike Nichols R.I.P., Assassin’s Creed and the Power of Representation, Babysitting the Bomb, What’s Missing from Foxcatcher, & More

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Links for the Day: Mike Nichols R.I.P., Assassin’s Creed and the Power of Representation, Babysitting the Bomb, What’s Missing from Foxcatcher, & More

1. “Mike Nichols R.I.P.” The acclaimed director of The Graduate dies at 83.

“Mike Nichols, one of America’s most celebrated directors, whose long, protean résumé of critic- and crowd-pleasing work earned him adulation both on Broadway and in Hollywood, died on Wednesday. He was 83. His death was announced in a statement by the president of ABC News, James Goldston. Dryly urbane, Mr. Nichols had a gift for communicating with actors and a keen comic timing, which he honed early in his career as half of the popular sketch-comedy team Nichols and May. He accomplished what Orson Welles and Elia Kazan, but few if any other directors have: He achieved popular and artistic success in both theater and film. He was among the most decorated people in the history of show business, one of only a handful to have won an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy and a Grammy.”

2. “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.” Our own Justin Clark on Assassin’s Creed and the power of representation.

“Needless to say, heroes—the real and imagined figures who set the bar on all that is good in the world—have always been short in supply if I wanted to see someone who looked like me. Sounding like me was even more impossible. I have a caramel complexion, a basketball player’s height, a football player’s build, and a writer’s vocabulary. I am a stereotypical giant black guy, until I speak. I’m generally considered physically black, but vocally white, which is a whole other can of worms, really. I am a mysteriously scarce anomaly in pop culture. If we go all Crisis On Infinite Earths with it, where every TV show, every film, every book’s universe is mashed together to exist in the same space, I am a rarity. If I do exist outside of fringes and subcultures, I am a punchline. I am a sellout. I am a magical solution machine. Or, I’m Morgan Freeman.”

3. “Babysitting the Bomb.” The missileers of Global Strike Command watch over our aging, oft-forgotten, frequently persnickety, and potentially world-destroying nuclear arsenal.

“I pipe up with my questions about what it feels like to put so much work into something that we’ll likely never use, but the airmen just smile. ’People mistakenly think that we show up every day and keep nukes on alert because we anticipate launching them,’ says Senior Master Sergeant Brandon Otten, who runs the maintenance—team training program. His boots are propped on a steel cross section of the missile body stenciled with DOWNRANGE and a little arrow pointing upward. ’These are doing their job,’ he says, pointing to the missile nose. ’Us keeping them ready to go—it’s not that we don’t ever get to use them. We use them every day.’ The mission is the show of readiness. And the show of readiness is the mission.”

4. “What’s Missing from Foxcatcher.” Richard Brody on the Bennett Miller film.

“What’s missing from Foxcatcher is sex. Mark Schultz has no girlfriend, and no boyfriend, either; the other young wrestlers who live on du Pont’s property and train with Mark are also devoid of romantic entanglements. As for du Pont—who was, in real life, sued in 1988 by a college wrestler for sexual harassment—he has no attachments either. The movie offers no grounds to speculate on sexual tensions between du Pont and Mark Schultz—it offers virtually nothing sexual at all, once the early scene with Mark and Dave is done. But this lack of sexuality is never treated as an absence. (By contrast, the sexual desire of a fighter in training is a crucial theme of Raging Bull.) If the movie is about asexual or sexually repressed men, that itself would itself be a salient aspect of this (or any) story.”

5. “Where the Fuck Is Princess Leia?” Help me, multi-gazillion dollar toy industry, you’re my only hope.

“And I’m not just talking Hillary Clinton, or even Malala, though I am talking about them, too. My sister is raising three children on her own and still manages to get up in the morning, dress the kids, load the car, run the house, feed the kids, fix the toys, take charge of every single one of the encounters they witness every day, read bedtime stories, be kind, be a disciplinarian and brush her hair and look nice (which is a helluva lot more than I managed in the two weeks I was responsible for breakfast and school runs). She is one of many women doing this. Where is the princess that embodies all that? I know where she’s not! She’s not in the toy store and she’s not in my niece’s underwear drawer. And she should be. Don’t we want kids — and it’s worth noting that by the time I left my nephew was nearly as devoted to Princess Leia as my niece — to have female figures (literally in this case) to idolize who have even tenuous connections to the amazing, strong, complicated women they will grow up to be, and/or work with and for, and/or maybe marry?”

Video of the Day: The final scene from The Graduate:

Links for the Day: A collection of links to items that we hope will spark discussion. We encourage our readers to submit candidates for consideration to ed@slantmagazine.com and to converse in the comments section.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.

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BlacKkKlansman
Photo: Focus Features

Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.

Will Win: BlacKkKlansman

Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.

On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)

Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.

As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: The Favourite

Should Win: First Reformed

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Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer

Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.

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A24
Photo: A24

British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:

A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.

And below is the film’s first trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9Al2nC0vzY

A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.

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