In Robert Zemeckis’s Flight, Denzel Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a pilot with an addiction problem who guides a jetliner to the ground after a sudden failure sends the plane into freefall. Nearly everyone aboard survives and Whitaker is branded a national hero. Soon after, the pilot’s union discovers that he had alcohol and cocaine in his system, which sends Whitaker’s life into a tailspin. Believing that the crash had nothing to do with his consumption, Whitaker frantically navigates the shambles of his personal life to avoid dealing with his own problems. He’s assisted by a longtime union friend (Bruce Greenwood) and lawyer (Don Cheadle) for the airline, both of whom compromise ethical lines for their friend. He also meets a fellow addict, Nicole (Kelly Reilly), who’s more realistic about the state of her life and tries to help Whitaker recognize his.
As a character study and a somber portrait of addiction, Flight works nicely within its commercial framework, thanks largely to one of Washington’s best performances, as well as John Gatins’s rhythmic dialogue. The extent of Whitaker’s addiction is a gradual revelation the filmmakers don’t overtly tease out, and Washington strikes a balance somewhere between the disparate sensibilities of manipulation and benevolence. As Whitaker becomes more complicit with the large-scale corruption seeking to preserve his status, he steeps further into rage-infused depression, which allows Washington to carve out his character’s increasingly unbalanced behavior and self-loathing.
Zemeckis’s spotty direction, though, is illustrative of the filmmaker’s varying levels of success in different storytelling modes throughout his career. For example, the film’s centerpiece is the effects-laden plane crash, which unto itself is almost like a short film in how it builds and releases tension in a swift-moving, precisely cut package. The staggering formal detail of the sequence forges a hyper-realistic experience that stands along some of Zemeckis’s finest moments of moviemaking spectacle. But the film also exhibits some of his more heavy-handed tendencies, such as imbuing overt symbolic significance to “small” things (think of the bell in The Polar Express), which in this case is a small bottle of liquor. He also resorts to tired and gratuitous visual devices such as slow-motion and protracted close-ups for dramatic effect. The premise is already rich with allegorical and otherwise dramatic possibility, and is aided by several stellar performances, so when Zemeckis resorts to worn-out conceits, the film’s impact is significantly softened.
That Flight happily dwells within conventional boundaries can be frustrating given the raw and affecting potential of the material. But in its most effective passages, those in which Zemeckis is less self-conscious about making sure we are grasping his allusions (to God, fate, etc.), Flight conjures stirring images that cut into the relationship of technological destruction and “human brokenness,” as the filmmaker put in a post-screening press conference. For a director that has spent much of his career fashioning new uses of technology in film, sometimes with disastrous results, it’s perhaps no surprise that when he worries less about communicating big ideas, a beautiful thing can happen on the screen.
The 50th New York Film festival runs from September 28 to October 14. For a complete schedule, including ticketing information, click here.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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:
A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.