Connect with us

Blog

The Mystery of Screen Acting: An Interview with Author Dan Callahan

Most film critics have a pretty good handle on what it is a director does, what a cinematographer does, what an editor does. Acting, however, remains a little bit mysterious.

Published

on

The Mystery of Screen Acting: An Interview with Author Dan Callahan

Most film critics have a pretty good handle on what it is a director does, what a cinematographer does, what an editor does. Acting, however, remains a little bit mysterious. That’s why writers who know enough about the craft of acting to not just describe what they see in a performance but break down how the actor is doing it can be counted on only a couple of hands. The trick is to translate acting technique in a non-academic vocabulary, making it comprehensible to an audience of non-actors. You have to train your eye. You have to know what to look for, the “tells” of falsity or indicating, how to perceive a sketched-in performance as opposed to a full one.

It’s difficult to write about acting well. If it were easy, more people would do it. The rare writer who writes about acting really well, longtime theater and film critic Dan Callahan can home in on why and how a performance lands, or doesn’t. He pays attention to the actor’s technique, the actor’s tension, the prosody of the actor’s voice, all of these being “tells” as to whether or not the actor is truly engaged, or pumping up something artificial to fill in the blanks. This is tough stuff, but reading Callahan is an object lesson on how to do it.

Callahan’s first two books were biographies, the first on Barbara Stanwyck (Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman), the second on Vanessa Redgrave (Vanessa: The Life of Vanessa Redgrave). In both, Callahan moves behind the confines of traditional biographies. Traditional biographies often lead us through the events in an artist’s life, giving us backstage stories, maybe a couple of anecdotes, maybe some description of how the artist’s work was received. Callahan gives us all that, but also gives us his analysis of the performances, leading us to an understanding of Stanwyck and Redgrave not just as subjects, but as artists. Why is Vanessa Redgrave so good? That’s not as simple a question as it might seem. One of the great gifts of Callahan’s writing is that he makes you want to re-watch movies you’ve already seen, hoping to pick up on all the things he’s illuminated.

Callahan’s latest book, The Art of American Screen Acting: 1912-1960, is made up of profile pieces and artistic analysis of the major figures from the silent era up until the moment before the collapse of the studio system. With chapters on Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, Bette Davis, Louise Brooks, Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, James Cagney, Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, to name a few, it’s a lush and complex look at the art of acting, and how it developed alongside the development of cinema itself. Callahan looks at the rupture represented by Marlon Brando, adding some necessary shadings to the almost universally accepted simplistic reading of Brando as an “improvement.” The earlier, more heightened style is still seen as “lesser” in many circles, or “over the top,” “heightened,” “phony.” In the book, and in our talk about it, it’s clear that Callahan is determined to set the record straight.

It’s perfect that Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn are on the cover of The Art of American Screen Acting. She was one of my early favorites. There was something about her that resonated with me. Maybe it was her tomboy thing. Maybe it’s the immaturity of some of her persona.

But she wants maturity, and Holiday is the perfect example of that. That’s why I put them on the cover, because I saw Bringing Up Baby and Holiday when I was eight, and I saw these two people who weren’t conventional. They were offering something other than the clichéd manly guy and feminine woman. Grant and Hepburn on screen together—no, they’re not going to have children, and whatever the sexual arrangement is, it isn’t going to be a conventional one, and it’s going to be friendship-based, by choice. They’re going to go see some shows, go to the nightclubs, have fun. This is what I was drawn to. And part of the appeal—as I say in the book—is their bisexuality. It’s impossible to say whether or not they were entirely gay, whatever that means. But this is why, on screen, they have such a very rich dynamic. They’re not putting themselves into a box. That’s what Holiday is about.

Advertisement


Tell me why you wanted to write the book.

The seed of the book came years ago when I was at acting school at NYU. If I would bring up a name from the classic Hollywood period, one of my teachers would dismiss them and say they were “pre-Brando,” that they’re artificial, they’re phony. And I would get very annoyed. When I was writing this book, I actually had a publisher who was interested in it, but then there was an editor who didn’t like the negative things I was saying about the Method actors, like Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. I was very close to getting a contract, and she rejected it. That was a good thing, in a way, because it showed how necessary a subject this is to discuss, if someone is getting so upset about it. But also, I was a little too negative, and so I trimmed and cut and improved the argument because of it.

What I wanted to do was highlight the positive aspects of the great Hollywood stars of the studio era. James Cagney, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn. Those four people really stand for what I’m trying to talk about. And then I wanted to talk about the change that came with Brando, Clift, James Dean, and Kim Stanley. There were good things about that change and also bad things. I prefer the classic Hollywood actors, even though I make very clear what’s negative about them. I’m just as critical of them as I am of the Method actors. I wanted to upend this idea that was being propagated while I was in school, and everyone still accepts now: that Brando was an earthquake and that it was progress, that it was an improvement. It wasn’t progress. It was something different. It was a reaction and it was necessary at the time, but you need to understand what he was reacting against.

There are different kinds of acting. There’s the heightened theatrical style and there’s the more naturalistic style. What’s interesting about today’s filmmakers—particularly the ones making low-budget films—is that they’re all influenced by Robert Bresson. Bresson called his actors “models,” and that’s all anyone wants now. The young filmmakers are against acting. It’s like they’re afraid of it, they don’t want it. Let me just make clear: Bresson and what he did, Brando and what he did—they are extraordinary and valid, and their example was needed, but they were reacting to the heightened style, and if you do away with the heightened style entirely, then the naturalistic style doesn’t have anything to work against. We need both. We can’t reject one for the other. They should be in dialogue with each other.

One of the things you do so well as a writer is you teach people how to watch, especially the kind of person who thinks Marlon Brando invented “real” or “good” acting. So what you’re doing here is that you’re teaching. You’re not just telling us Lillian Gish invented the close-up. You’re teaching us how to watch her so we can learn from her discoveries.

Lillian Gish experimented. If the camera is really far back, should I go bigger? If the camera is right in my face, do I need to be different? And how? For instance, in Orphans of the Storm, when she’s calling to her blind sister and the camera is down the street, she had to throw her whole body into it so we could see it. It’s beautiful and it’s more like dance than acting. Gish couldn’t use dialogue in those silent films to communicate, and as I say in the book: If you’ve ever tried to communicate something to someone without using words, you know how big and exaggerated you have to get in order to be understood. John Barrymore in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, when he transforms into Mr. Hyde, it couldn’t be more extreme, and it’s so extreme it could get a laugh, but it doesn’t get a laugh because he doesn’t just do the surface transformation. He taps into an evil inside that animates him outwardly. And so we don’t laugh. Anyone can tell when someone is just doing the surface.

Advertisement


There’s a big problem where people think acting should only look one way, or that kitchen-sink realism is the only kind of acceptable acting.

I feel like it’s fear, in a way. Maybe it’s this American thing of “I don’t want to be phony, I want to be real.” But what is “real”? Everything is a performance. Quotation marks are around all of it, no matter what you do. If you realize that, you can go as big as you want. Now, if that’s all you’re doing, it can get boring. Like in the 1940s, when Ingrid Bergman got sick of everything being false and heightened, so she went away with Roberto Rossellini and tried out this new type of acting. That was very bold of her. She could do the big extravagant acting and then she proved she could do no-frills realism. That’s what’s so intriguing about her. I don’t think anyone else I write about in the book worked in such different styles. Put Bette Davis in a Rossellini movie and I think she would have walked off the set. Katharine Hepburn pushed herself when she got older, but she pushed herself in the opposite direction toward Shakespeare, toward the most challenging heightened way of doing it.

Define the concept of “indicating.” Actors understand this term intimately. Actors can clock indicating from a mile away. Critics, not so much.

Indicating is a kind of cheating. It’s a conventional response. What’s tricky about it is that that’s what reacting is though. An actor has to find the right look for a response. That’s what Lillian Gish did. But you can’t just have the right look for the response—like making a sad face during a sad moment—because the feeling has to be there too. For instance, yesterday I was watching Port of Seven Seas starring Wallace Beery. As I watched Beery, I thought: “He’s close to mugging here, close to indicating.” It’s a very big performance. But Beery gets away with it because it was coming from such a real source of vitality. You need to be connected to something real.

The chapter on Gloria Swanson was so much fun.

Unfortunately, so many of her films are lost. She’s very good in the movies directed by Allan Dwan. In Dwan’s Zaza, she’s very heightened, very detailed. With Sadie Thompson, she wanted to challenge herself, and she’s very good in it. It’s very different from what she’d done before, and she went through hell to get Sadie Thompson on the screen, to get it through the censorship restrictions. The movie was directed by Raoul Walsh. In writing about all of these actors, it was so clear how certain directors were very important for certain people, and one thing became very, very obvious: Walsh is the actor’s friend. He directed Swanson in Sadie Thompson and set her off beautifully.

Advertisement


Did Joan Crawford have a relationship like this?

Crawford was kind of on her own. She worked with great directors, of course. She worked with George Cukor three times and he did well with her. But when you think of Crawford, you don’t think of one director. Nicholas Ray, Otto Preminger, Robert Aldrich—they all saw her in different ways. Ingrid Bergman worked with Alfred Hitchcock, Cukor, Leo McCarey, Rossellini, Ingmar Bergman. She did it all. Of all the great stars, James Cagney is the one who doesn’t have enough great movies on his resume, unfortunately. There’s a lot of Cagney movies that aren’t worthy of him, and he knew it too.

Your observations about his curiosity about women, how engaged he was with them onscreen, were really illuminating.

Cagney is so alive. He’s so alert to possibility that when he interacts with people on screen he wants to get as much out of them as possible, and this is very sexy and very romantic if he’s dealing with an attractive woman. And with him, with an attractive woman, he soaks her up. He listens so closely.

He and Joan Blondell were a great team in all those Warner Bros. movies.

She’s so steady, she lets him be as volatile as he is. When he’s in prison at the end of Blonde Crazy and she comes to visit him, she’s got this fur jacket on, and he starts touching the jacket. I mean, you talk about Brando putting on Eva Marie Saint’s glove in On the Waterfront—Cagney was doing things like that in the 1930s and in a way that’s more all-embracing. Sexier. Cagney’s funny because, in real life, he was married and kind of a retiring, cautious guy. I think the difference between his real life and who he was on the screen was huge—especially in comparison with some of the other people I write about.

Advertisement


You also really dive into the difficult subject of Louise Brooks.

She did her best movies in Europe, but she remained very American in them. I also wanted to include her because she really came into her own as an older woman as a writer, and she wrote about a lot of the people that I write about in the rest of the book, so I was able to establish her as a character and in the later chapters I quote from her. She’s a key American actor. She herself said she never was an actress. But she’s the ultimate example of someone who is present. It’s like what I was talking about with these directors who don’t want anyone to act, they just want you to be a “model.” With her, in those three movies she made in Europe, it worked out exceptionally well.

There’s also an element of mystery about Brooks, and I tried very hard to get at what it is about her on screen, but words do fail at a certain point. You have to finally just experience it. It’s really interesting that she looks directly into the camera in Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. She looks right at us. Some of the other actors in the book will also look straight into the camera. Crawford doesn’t, because I think she was a little afraid of the camera. You’re not supposed to look at the camera. You’re supposed to pretend it isn’t there, but we all know it’s there. You know you’re being looked at. So the relationship with the camera gives us the feeling of who they are as a performer, if they can engage with it, with us. Brooks looked straight into the camera. Twice. And boldly. Those moments could not be more bold.

What is that about? Is it about charisma?

It’s about courage. It’s also about being reckless. It’s totally “I don’t give a damn.” In Dishonored, in Morocco, Marlene Dietrich kind of looks into the camera. Her whole thing was “I don’t give a damn.” And she really didn’t.

Let’s talk about Dietrich.

Advertisement


I had been working on a piece about Dietrich for many years. I wrote a draft of that essay when I lived in Chelsea after I graduated from school. I never could get it quite right, but I always kept it. For the book, I was like, okay, we have to finally address Dietrich and get this thing together finally.

I love how you call her “postmodern.”

Absolutely.

And her obedience to direction. The whole counting backward thing von Sternberg made her do.

It’s very hip. That’s the only word for it. She’s hip to the fact that the joke of the films is that the joke is on me: I’m spending my life, my whole career practically, trying to make meaning out of what she’s doing on the screen, and here’s Marlene Dietrich just counting backward from 100. If I didn’t know that, if von Sternberg hadn’t written that he made her do that in his memoir, I’d be coming up with all kinds of extravagant ideas about what she might be thinking and doing in those performances. She isn’t thinking anything, though, and it still works beautifully. This is why it took me so long to get the Dietrich piece together. She’s a hard subject in a context like this. If you see some of her early films, she was being treated as just a Berlin party girl. There’s one silent German film where she’s just getting felt up on the dance floor.

So von Sternberg “got” her because he was so obsessed with her?

Yes. He was madly in love with her. And she saw that he was madly in love. Dietrich was a very calculating person, and that’s fine. We have this thing, like, “Oh, the Artist, they put themselves out there!” Dietrich is the opposite of that. It’s all a game, it’s all artificial.

But you can’t deny the charisma.

In the movies she made before von Sternberg met her, Dietrich didn’t know what she was doing at all. There’s a silent film or two before The Blue Angel where she’s empty—an empty vessel. She has no idea what she’s doing, and she seems demoralized actually. If she hadn’t met von Sternberg, it wouldn’t have happened. She needed to meet him.

Let’s talk about Garbo. You wrote “Garbo works alone.”

That’s very true. Whereas Cagney doesn’t. Cagney needs other actors. Charles Laughton works alone, too, which is why he got screwed up later. In his worst work of the ‘40s and ‘50s, he indicates up a storm. He’s someone where it’s really true that it all has to come from inside, and the stimulus for him was a painting or a piece of music, it’s not the other actor who is working with him.

Part of the thing with Garbo is that when she came to America, she couldn’t speak English. She came with her director and mentor, Mauritz Stiller, and then he was sent back to Sweden. She still couldn’t speak English very well. Her sister died. She was isolated. She was a melancholy person, but still, she’s in a strange country, they send her mentor away, and all she had was her screenwriter friend, Salka Viertel, and she relied very heavily on her.

When you’re working in a language that’s not your own, it’s very difficult. Now think of Ingrid Bergman. What a joy it is to listen to what she does to the English language! With Garbo, though—you can see it particularly in Queen Christina, when she has a lot of long speeches. She isn’t as fluent as Bergman. Speech is an obstacle course for Garbo. Queen Christina was Garbo’s pet project and yet it has all these long speeches she has to plow through. The best moments she has in that are the silent ones. When she’s memorizing the room. Or the final close-up. Words aren’t Garbo’s thing. And that’s fine.

I hadn’t seen G.W. Pabst’s Joyless Street before, but I watched it after reading the Garbo chapter. She’s really something in it.

When I put up images for Joyless Street on Facebook, someone said that Pabst might have slowed down some of her close-ups, put them into slight slow motion, for whatever reason. Now, that’s not in any book that I’ve read, but if that’s true that might explain the strange quality of those close-ups.

It’s hard to say what exactly it is she is doing at times, but it’s similar to what Kristen Stewart does. She has a relationship to the camera that can’t really be explained. The scene in Joyless Street where Garbo tries on the fur coat and looks at herself in the mirror—it’s very natural. The moment has the same quality as Kristen Stewart looking in the mirror in Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper. But as you say, this is what’s so fascinating—in that moment in Joyless Street Garbo is by herself.

Some people are best by themselves. Cary Grant needs a partner. Katharine Hepburn needs a partner. Bette Davis doesn’t particularly need a partner, but she enjoys having one. Claude Rains, Mary Astor, Gena Rowlands—she enjoyed working with them. But Garbo was self-contained.

I rewatched Camille. It’s such an extraordinary performance.

It’s her best, I think.

The scene with Lionel Barrymore just killed me.

There’s that moment where he goes to her saying, sadly, “Oh Madame,” and she looks up at him and she looks angry. It’s such a great choice because it kills the sentimentality. There’s anger in her face and some resentment—but not too much of it. That’s great acting. To choose that? And to know just what the proportion should be? Irving Thalberg said to George Cukor, when he saw the rushes—“This is something else…she is unguarded.”

Could you talk about that great moment she has at the piano?

That scene at the piano with Henry Daniell is great partly because of the editing and pace, and partly because of the music that Daniell is playing. But it’s also because of her sense of irony. Greta Garbo uses irony a lot, just like John Barrymore uses irony to spice his work. Cary Grant has irony when he looks at a woman in that complicit way. Montgomery Clift has irony, but in a very different, campy way.

Joan Crawford has none.

Absolutely none. Bette Davis has some. Katharine Hepburn doesn’t have irony. I think she would think that irony is sick, and from her perspective she’d be right. She’d be suspicious of it. Who I want to be as a person is Katharine Hepburn as she was seen by George Cukor, I want to emulate the George Cukor-Katharine Hepburn model for living. I want to be like that.

When you were putting up all those screengrabs of Katharine Hepburn’s acting career on Facebook, the comments section was really lively. I was kind of shocked to see how many people just aren’t into her.

I was upset by the reaction to Hepburn on Facebook. If she was alive now, she’d know how to fix this perception of her. She’s not alive anymore, so we need to try to fix it for her. What needs to be done is that she needs to be recouped as a subversive figure. I feel like people are against her now because they feel like she lied to us. She was basically a lesbian, so they kind of have a point. There’s a kind of false quality to how she was promoted, particularly when she was an old lady.

This is trickier though. When I put up posts about Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando on Facebook, people went wild for them, and I feel like it’s partly because they’re so good-looking and sexy. I feel like the problem with Katharine Hepburn is a sex problem, and that was the case for her in the beginning too. People aren’t embracing her because she doesn’t care about sex on screen. And then she put together an act with Spencer Tracy where she became popular. The only movie where she plays sexual desire and sexuality in any way is Woman of the Year, and she plays it really convincingly and quite well. That’s the movie where she consolidated her comeback.

“Everything’s going to be all right.”

I end the book with that! I end the book with Hepburn saying that line in Bringing Up Baby as a kind of rebuke to Brando, Clift, Dean, and Kim Stanley. In the final section of the book, we have these three sexy men, but then we have Kim Stanley, who doesn’t fit into that at all. And so the question is: Where did the women go once the Method came along? Imogen Smith was at the book party for this book and she asked me, “Did you put the women first in your book because they were more important in that period?” I said, “That’s exactly why I did that.” And then, in the 1970s, the men take over. Clark Gable and Cary Grant and John Wayne—they enjoyed women.

This is what Molly Haskell writes about in From Reverence to Rape. In the ‘70s, women’s lib came along and suddenly—

The guys in movies just want to be with each other. They make buddy movies and women are either prostitutes or Nurse Ratched. I’m generalizing here, of course. Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty want to sleep with women on screen, but that doesn’t mean they like them or want to talk with them. The women are the most important thing in my book. James Cagney and Cary Grant and Charles Laughton are all important in my book, too, but if you notice, all three of them have a big slice of the feminine in their nature.

Bogart doesn’t.

Bogart doesn’t, which makes him a lesser figure. And Spencer Tracy doesn’t. Tracy’s a weird case. He had a big reputation, which he deserved, but then he started to coast. He didn’t stretch himself enough. Bogart was fairly easy to write about, but Tracy was a tough subject. He was interesting in that, when he was physically still, he was perfect. But when he starts moving, and tugging his ear and all that, he gets kind of false. It’s a little bit like Gary Cooper post-1936, when he got naturalistic in a very false way. He’s too aware of his own naturalism. Naturalism has become an act. It’s become a mannerism.

The thing about these figures from the studio era is that you would never mistake Davis for Stanwyck or confuse Dietrich with Hepburn. People who haven’t even seen a Dietrich movie could pick her out of a lineup. But now—every actress, talented though many of them are, looks the same. Everyone has the same hairstyle, with that long curl down the side. In what world is it okay to have Reese Witherspoon look exactly like Rachel McAdams on the red carpet? With interchangeable hairstyles? Whose bright idea was that?

I am going to say something negative that is going to get me into trouble.

I started it.

You did. It’s all your fault. If Reese Witherspoon were making movies in the 1930s, she’d be playing the “other woman.” Reese Witherspoon would be playing Gail Patrick parts. She would not be a leading woman, and the fact that she’s a leading woman today speaks to why this country is so screwed up. [laughs] Listen, this is tough talk. When Katharine Hepburn died in 2003, People magazine put her in an insert on the cover, whereas they had given Bette Davis the whole cover after she died. And who was on that People cover in 2003 after Hepburn died? It was Reese Witherspoon, and the headline was something like, “How Reese Just Had To Become A Mom!” If Katharine Hepburn hadn’t already died, she would have died all over again if she had seen that.

So let’s talk about Kim Stanley. I was so happy you wrote about her.

You’ve written about Stanley. Do you understand my ambivalence about her?

I do!

She’s kind of a cautionary tale. I love the fact that she played with Lillian Gish on stage during the tour of The Trip to Bountiful. They are polar opposites as actors. Gish is at the beginning of the book, Stanley at the end, but they did act together! I would give anything to ask Gish what it was like to work with Stanley. Stanley worked with Helen Hayes on Broadway, and Hayes said Stanley would have tried the patience of a saint, because Stanley was trying to give an opening-night level performance “even on rainy Thursdays.” But that’s Hayes, though. Gish might have understood that desire.

My thing with Stanley is: I trust the people who were there. Nobody gets reviews like she got for her live TV performances and her theater performances. She’s “lit from within,” she’s “translucent,” stuff like that.

You can see it! I mean, if you watch her in that TV film of A Young Lady of Property, you can see it. But the dark side is there in her two feature films. There’s this anecdote about her filming Seance on a Wet Afternoon. She walks through the kitchen, and she stops suddenly. The director, Bryan Forbes, had a whole shot planned, and he said, “What are you doing, Kim?” And she said, “I was relating to the oranges.” There’s too much “relating to the oranges” with Kim Stanley. If your whole performance is relating to the oranges, you’re not relating to the audience. For quite a while in the middle of the 20th century, there was some very fine work, but also some work which shuts the audience out. Lillian Gish was trying to communicate with people. Katharine Hepburn. Cary Grant. James Cagney. They’re giving it all, it isn’t about them.

I see Brando as a bridge figure, actually. There wasn’t too much excess with him. He had great technique.

I agree.

And with James Dean, we only have the three movies.

Have you seen him on TV in Something for an Empty Briefcase? That’s become my favorite Dean performance. It’s on YouTube. He’s just out of this world in it. Physically, he’s out of this world. His physicality can be too much. It’s like what I was talking about with Gish, throwing herself up with her body. He throws himself down, twists himself down. She’s healthy. He’s extravagantly unhealthy, twisted, a monster, practically. But he’s a sexy monster.

When he’s forced to play a strong objective—like in East of Eden when he takes Aron to see their mother, or when he wants to kiss Julie Harris on the Ferris wheel—he’s super engaged and active.

Those are his best scenes. He’s a sad case. What did he actually want? I don’t think even he could have told you. What I get from his body language is he shows you he’s available, but his availability is not something he can control. And he doesn’t like it too much. This is why Rebel Without a Cause is his best movie. You might think he’d be better for the Plato role that Sal Mineo did, but he doesn’t play the Plato part. He’s in a submissive position in East of Eden, he needs the father’s love. In Rebel, he’s the patriarch, but he gets to be the hip sexy patriarch, and he gets to have the girl and the boy.

And it occurs to me that this brings us back to where we started, this brings us back to Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in Holiday. You know how in Holiday they go into that upstairs room, where they play and tumble and hide out from the rest of the party? In Rebel Without a Cause, Dean and Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo go into that old mansion and they create their own world together. The James Dean version of this story ends tragically, because it’s out of the closet. Whereas with Cukor’s version, you can have your fun as long as you don’t talk about what you do in bed. Different time periods. And so there’s a similarity between Rebel and Holiday. That’s where the two acting sensibilities meet with each other in a perfect utopia.

Rebel Without a Cause

Dan Callahan’s The Art of American Screen Acting: 1912-1960 is now available from McFarland.

Advertisement
Comments

Awards

2019 Oscar Nominations: The Favourite and Roma Lead Field, Bradley Cooper Snubbed for Director, & Cold War Surprises

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced today and The Favourite and Roma led the way.

Published

on

The Favourite
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced Tuesday morning. Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma led the nomination count with 10, followed by Adam McKay’s Vice and Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born with eight, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther with seven, and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman with six.

Cold War made a strong showing, with Pawel Pawlikowski claiming his first nomination for best director. Notably snubbed in the category was Bradley Cooper and Peter Farrelly, whose Green Book is considered the favorite to win best picture after its victory at the Producers Guild Awards. Elsewhere, Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) had to make way for Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) in best supporting actor, while Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) snagged a spot in the best actor race thought to be reserved for John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman).

See below for a full list of the nominations.

Best Picture
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Adam McKay (Vice)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)

Best Actress
Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Advertisement


Best Actor
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Best Costume Design
Mary Zophres, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther
Sandy Powell, The Favourite
Sandy Powell, Mary Poppins Returns
Alexandra Byrne, Mary Queen of Scots

Best Sound Editing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

Best Sound Mixing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star Is Born

Advertisement


Best Animated Short
Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

Best Live-Action Short
Detainment
Fauve
Marguerite
Mother
Skin

Best Film Editing
Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman
John Ottman, Bohemian Rhapsody
Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite
Patrick J. Don Vito, Green Book
Hank Corwin, Vice

Best Original Score
Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther
Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman
Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs
Marc Shaiman, Mary Poppins Returns

Best Documentary Feature
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

Best Documentary Short Subject
Black Sheep
End Game
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence.

Advertisement


Best Foreign-Language Film
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Best Production Design
Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart, Black Panther
Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton, The Favourite
Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas, First Man
John Myhre and Gordon Sim, Mary Poppins Returns
Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez, Roma

Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Cinematography
Robbie Ryan, The Favourite
Caleb Deschanel, Never Look Away
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Matty Libatique, A Star Is Born
Lukasz Zal, Cold War

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Border
Mary Queen of Scots
Vice

Best Animated Feature
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Advertisement


Best Adapted Screenplay
Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, and Eric Roth, A Star Is Born
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott, BlacKkKlansman
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Original Screenplay
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Paul Schrader, First Reformed
Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, and Nick Vallelonga, Green Book
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

Best Original Song
“All the Stars,” Black Panther
“I’ll Fight, RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow,” A Star Is Born
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Continue Reading

Blog

WATCH: Stylish Queer Short Film Stay Makes Its Online Premiere

Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay debuts for free online.

Published

on

Stay
Brandon Zuck

Writer-director Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay made its premiere on the film festival circuit back in 2013, but the L.A.-based filmmaker is finally debuting it for free online. The short film, which Zuck claims is loosely based on events from his past, follows Ash (Brandon Harris) and his ex-boyfriend, Jacks (Julian Brand), on a road trip to the Florida Keys where the pair get mixed up in a fatal drug deal.

“I think maybe I was holding onto the film because it’s such a part of me,” Zuck says about his decision to release Stay on YouTube, which has been criticized by queer creators and organizations like GLAAD for ever-changing content guidelines that appear to target content made by and for LGBT people.

“YouTube started age-restricting my other LGBT films and—to be totally honest—I got furious. YouTube is this faceless behemoth and there’s nothing someone like me can do to fight any of it directly. Really the only thing I could think of was just putting more queer content out there. And Stay was sitting right there on my desktop where it’s always been. So I just hit upload. And it got age-restricted. C’est la vie. Next.”

Watch Stay below:

Continue Reading

Awards

2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways.

Published

on

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways. The hastily introduced and unceremoniously tabled (for now) “best popular film” Oscar. The impending commercial-break ghettoization of such categories as best cinematography and best film editing, but most certainly not best song and best animated feature. The abortive attempts to unveil Kevin Hart as the host not once, but twice, stymied by the online backlash over years-old anti-gay Twitter jokes and leading AMPAS to opt for George Glass as this year’s master of ceremonies. The strong-arming of its own membership to deter rank-and-file superstars from attending competing precursor award shows. If these end up being the last Oscars ever, and it’s starting to feel as though it should be, what a way to go out, right? Like the floating island of plastic in the Pacific, the cultural and political detritus of Oscar season has spread far beyond any previous rational estimates and will almost certainly outlive our functional presence on this planet. And really, when you think about it, what’s worse: The extinction of mankind or Bohemian Rhapsody winning the best picture Oscar? In that spirit, we press on.

Picture

Vice

There will be plenty of time, too much time, to go deep on the many ways Green Book reveals the flawed soul of your average, aged white liberal in America circa 2019. For now, let’s just admit that it’s as sure a nominee as The Favourite, Roma, and A Star Is Born. (There’s snackable irony in the fact that a movie called The Front Runner became very much not an Oscar front runner in a year that doesn’t appear to have a solid front runner.) And even though few seem to be predicting it for an actual win here, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman has an almost spotless precursor track record, showing up almost across the board among the guilds. Predicting this category would’ve been easy enough when Oscar limited it to five films, but it’s strangely almost as easy this year to see where the line will cut off between five and 10. Adam McKay’s Vice may be without shame, but you don’t have to strain hard to see how people could mistake it for the film of the moment. Bohemian Rhapsody is certainly lacking in merit, but, much like our comrade in chief, Oscar has never been more desperate for people to like and respect him, and a hit is a hit. Except when it’s a Marvel movie, which is why Black Panther stands precariously on the category’s line of cutoff, despite the rabid enthusiasm from certain corners that will likely be enough to push it through.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: If Beale Street Could Talk and A Quiet Place

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Burning, First Reformed, Let the Sunshine In, and Zama

Best Director

Yorgos Lanthimos

Everyone can agree that Bohemian Rhapsody will be one of the best picture contenders that doesn’t get a corresponding best director nomination, but virtually all the other nominees we’re predicting have a shot. Including Peter-flashing Farrelly, whose predictably unsubtle work on Green Book (or, Don and Dumber) netted him a widely derided DGA nomination. The outrage over Farrelly’s presence there took some of the heat off Vice’s Adam McKay, but if any DGA contender is going to swap out in favor of Yorgos Lanthimos (for BAFTA favorite The Favourite), it seems likely to be McKay. As Mark Harris has pointed out, Green Book is cruising through this awards season in a lane of its own, a persistently well-liked, well-meaning, unchallenging throwback whose defiant fans are clearly in a fighting mood.

Advertisement


Will Be Nominated: Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), Peter Farrelly (Green Book), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), and Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk), and Adam McKay (Vice)

Should Be Nominated: Lee Chang-dong (Burning), Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Lucrecia Martel (Zama), and Paul Schrader (First Reformed)

Best Actress

Yalitza Aparicio

Had Fox Searchlight reversed their category-fraud strategizing and flipped The Favourite’s Olivia Coleman into supporting and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone into lead, the five best actress slots would arguably have been locked down weeks, if not months, ago, unless Fox’s bet-hedging intuits some form of industry resistance to double female-led propositions. As it stands, there are four locks that hardly need mention and a slew of candidates on basically equal footing. Hereditary’s Toni Collette has become shrieking awards show junkies’ cause célèbre this year, though she actually has the critic awards haul to back them up, having won more of the regional prizes than anyone else. The same demographic backing Collette gave up hope long ago on Viola Davis being able to survive the Widows collapse, and yet there by the grace of BAFTA does she live on to fight another round. Elsie Fisher’s palpable awkwardness in Eighth Grade and winning awkwardness navigating the Hollywood circuit have earned her an almost protective backing. But we’re going out on a limb and calling it for the rapturously received Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio. Voters could, like us, find it not a particularly great performance and still parlay their good will for her into a nomination that’s there for the taking.

Will Be Nominated: Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Closest Runners-Up: Toni Collette (Hereditary), Viola Davis (Widows), and Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)

Advertisement


Should Be Nominated: Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), Toni Collette (Hereditary), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Regina Hall (Support the Girls), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Actor

John David Washington

Take Toni Collette’s trophies thus far in the competition and double them. And then add a few more. That’s the magnitude of endorsements backing First Reformed’s Ethan Hawke. And his trajectory has the clear markings of an almost overqualified performance that, like Naomi Watts’s in Mulholland Drive, cinephiles decades from now will wonder how Oscar snubbed. If Pastor Ernst Toller and Sasha Stone are right and God is indeed watching us all and cares what the Academy Awards do, Hawke’s nomination will come at the expense of John David Washington, whose strength in the precursors thus far (SAG and Globe-nominated) is maybe the most notable bellwether of BlacKkKlansman’s overall strength. Because, as with the best actress category, the other four slots are basically preordained. Unlike with best actress, the bench of also-rans appears to be one solitary soul. A fitting place for Paul Schrader’s man against the world.

Will Be Nominated: Christian Bale (Vice), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)

Should Be Nominated: Yoo Ah-in (Burning), Ben Foster (Leave No Trace), Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Meinhard Neumann (Western), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Supporting Actress

Emily Blunt

Every Oscar prognosticator worth their bragging rights has spent the last couple weeks conspicuously rubbing their hands together about Regina King’s chances. The all-or-nothing volley that’s seen her sweep the critics’ awards and win the Golden Globe, and at the same time not even get nominations from within the industry—she was left off the ballot by both SAG and the BAFTAs—are narrative disruptions among a class that lives for narratives and dies of incorrect predictions. But despite the kvetching, King is as safe as anyone for a nomination in this category. It doesn’t hurt that, outside the pair of lead actresses from The Favourite, almost everyone else in the running this year feels like a 7th- or 8th-place also-ran. Except maybe Widows’s Elizabeth Debicki, whose fervent fans probably number just enough to land her…in 7th or 8th place. Vice’s Amy Adams is set to reach the Glenn Close club with her sixth Oscar nomination, and if she’d only managed to sustain the same loopy energy she brings to Lynne Cheney’s campaign-trail promise to keep her bra on, she’d deserve it. Which leaves a slot for supportive housewives Claire Foy, Nicole Kidman, and Emily Blunt. Even before the collapse of Mary Poppins Returns, we preferred Blunt’s chances in A Quiet Place.

Advertisement


Will Be Nominated: Amy Adams (Vice), Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Emma Stone (The Favourite), and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Closest Runners-Up: Claire Foy (First Man), Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased), and Margot Robbie (Mary, Queen of Scots)

Should Be Nominated: Sakura Ando (Shoplifters), Zoe Kazan (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Rachel McAdams (Disobedience), and Haley Lu Richardson (Support the Girls)

Supporting Actor

Timothée Chalamet

The same people who’re curiously doubting Regina King’s nomination chances seem awfully assured that Sam Elliott’s moist-eyed, clearly canonical backing-the-truck-up scene in A Star Is Born assures him not only a nomination but probably the win. Elliott missed nominations with both the Golden Globes and BAFTA, and it was hard not to notice just how enthusiasm for A Star Is Born seemed to be cooling during the same period Oscar ballots were in circulation. Right around the same time, it started becoming apparent that BlacKkKlansman is a stronger draw than anyone thought, which means Adam Driver (who everyone was already predicting for a nod) won’t have to suffer the representationally awkward fate of being the film’s only nominee. Otherwise, the category appears to favor previously awarded actors (Mahershala Ali and Sam Rockwell) or should have been previously awarded actors (Chalamet). Leaving Michael B. Jordan to remain a should have been previously nominated actor.

Will Be Nominated: Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Closest Runners-Up: Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) and Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)

Advertisement


Should Be Nominated: Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Hugh Grant (Paddington 2); Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Steven Yeun (Burning)

Adapted Screenplay

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Get beyond the best picture hopefuls BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk, which seem deservedly locked, and A Star Is Born, which is even more deservedly iffy, and you’ll see the screenwriters’ branch deciding just how seriously to take themselves this year, and whether they’re feeling like spiritually reliving the moments that found them nominating Bridesmaids and Logan. If so, then expect Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther to factor in here. If they most definitely don’t feel frisky, then maybe the foursquare First Man has a shot at reversing its overall downward trajectory. If they’re seeking that “just right” middle ground, then Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Death of Stalin are in.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Death of Stalin, If Beale Street Could Talk, and A Star Is Born

Closest Runners-Up: Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and First Man

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, First Man, Leave No Trace, The Grief of Others, and We the Animals

Original Screenplay

First Reformed

It’s not unusual for some of the year’s most acclaimed movies whose strength isn’t necessarily in their scripts to get nominated only in the screenwriting categories. First Reformed, which even some of its fiercest defenders admit can sometimes feel a bit like Paul Schrader’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” greatest-hits package, stands to be another of them. But it’ll be a close call, given the number of other equally vanguard options they’ll be weighing it against, like Sorry to Bother You, which arguably feels more urgently in the moment in form, Eighth Grade, which is more empathetically post-#MeToo, and even Cold War, which had a surprisingly strong showing with BAFTA. Given the quartet of assured best picture contenders in the mix, First Reformed is going to have to hold off all of them.

Advertisement


Will Be Nominated: The Favourite, First Reformed, Green Book, Roma, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: Cold War, Eighth Grade, and Sorry to Bother You

Should Be Nominated: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Bodied, First Reformed, Sorry to Bother You, and Western

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Donate

Slant is reaching more readers than ever, but as online advertising continues to evolve, independently operated publications like ours have struggled to adapt. We're committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees—so if you like what we do, please consider becoming a Slant patron:

Patreon

You can also make a donation via PayPal.

Newsletter

Giveaways

Advertisement

Trending