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Understanding Screenwriting #111: 42, The Company You Keep, Renoir, In the House, To the Wonder, & More



Understanding Screenwriting #111: 42, The Company You Keep, Renoir, In the House, To the Wonder, & More

Coming Up In This Column: 42, The Company You Keep, Renoir, In the House, To the Wonder, Billy & Ray, Looper, The Barbarian, but first…

Fan Mail: I was delighted to see David Ehrenstein back in the comments section and not just because he more or less agreed with me about On the Road. In the past several years I’ve come to feel that my column isn’t complete until David weighs in on it. The other three comments were on Evil Dead. “Syvology” is obviously a genre fan and gave up thinking I could teach him anything when I used the terms “horror movie” and “scary movie” interchangeably. “Buck Theorem” thought the script was worse than I did, especially the exposition, which I thought at least established the characters. The most perceptive comments were from “Dersu DeLarge,” who felt that since I liked some of the humor in this Evil Dead, I might appreciate the humor in the others. I may have to look into that.

42 (2013; written by Brian Helgeland; 128 minutes.)

Almost worthy. Many reviews have pointed out that this is a very conventional screen biography of Jackie Robinson. It is. In the film, he and his wife pretty much say and do what we expect they said and did. But Brian Helgeland is a pretty good screenwriter, and he’s done some nice work here. To keep his focus tight, he’s smart to limit himself to just two years in Robinson’s life, 1945 to ’47, starting with Dodger owner Branch Rickey deciding he’ll make Robinson the first black major-league baseball player. We watch Robinson in the minor leagues learning how to deal with all the small shit that comes down on him there, and then we see him putting that experience to work on the big shit when he’s called up to The Show.

Helgeland gives us some nice scenes to fill out the structure. The best is an extended sequence showing Robinson playing for the Dodgers. While at bat, he’s harassed by Ben Chapman, the manager of the Phillies. Chapman is using all the racial epithets he knows, which are many. Helgeland lets this scene run long enough so we can feel what it was like to be Robinson. The scene also runs long because Helgeland is giving us a lot of reactions, particularly among Robinson’s Dodger teammates. Many of those teammates did not want him on the team, but the overt racism obviously bothers them, and we can see them change their minds as the scene progresses. At the end of his at-bat, Robinson goes into the tunnel from the dugout and explodes in rage, smashing his bat against the wall. Rickey comes to the tunnel, reminding Robinson that he chose him because he wanted someone “who has the guts not to fight back.” This scene gets two great payoffs later, one with Chapman having to do a make-nice photo shoot with Robinson, the other with a title at the end that tells us what happened to him.

While that scene is a justifiably obvious one, there are some nice subtle ones as well. In the press box, one reporter says that Robinson is as fast as he is because blacks have an extra long bone in their feet. Whereupon Robinson hits a home run, and another reporter asks the first one if Robinson can hit like that because of the bone. We see the reactions of the other reporters as they realize how stupid the first man’s comment was.

Late in the film, Rickey (some people love Harrison Ford’s performance; I think it’s too over the top) finally tells Robinson why he wanted to be the first owner to bring up a black player. It’s not exactly what you might expect. In another scene, after Robinson has begun to turn fans around, Rickey tells him that he saw a little white boy on a sandlot park trying to play like Robinson. Many of the script’s high points are those subtle moments, which keep us from feeling that 42 is hitting us over the head like an old Stanley Kramer message picture.

The Company You Keep (2013; screenplay by Lem Dobbs; based on the novel by Neil Gordon; 121 minutes.)

The Company You Keep

Actors at half throttle. This has one of the best casts recently assembled for a film: Robert Redford (who also directed), Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte—and that’s just half of the stars. But without good writing, the actors aren’t going to be as effective as they can be. This is another one of those cases.

Sharon Solarz (Sarandon), a ‘60s-era radical who’s been on the lamb for 30 years (the chronology is a bit off, probably because the novel was written 10 years ago), turns herself in. Ben (LaBeouf), a young local newspaper reporter, gets a jailhouse interview with her. Sharon explains her situation and defends her actions. Okay, but where’s the drama? There’s no real tension in the scene. Jim Grant (Redford) learns about the case, drops his daughter at his brother’s, and lights out for the territories. Ben figures out Jim is really a former revolutionary and goes to see various former revolutionaries. We first we get scenes of Jim and Donal (Nolte) talking about the past. Again, not much dramatic tension. The same with Jim’s other scenes with other former friends. Dobbs simply hasn’t given the actors enough to play.

We also have no idea why Jim is trying to track down Mimi (Julie Christie). We know it’s important to him, but it’s a very long time before we have any idea why, and there’s not a lot of drama during the wait. And the payoff scene when they finally meet is more of the general discussion. All the actors are as good as the script lets them be, which isn’t that good.

Renoir (2012; screenplay by Gilles Bourdos and Jérôme Tonnerre, with the collaboration of Michel Spinoza; based on the book Le Tableau Amoureux by Jacques Renoir; 111 minutes.)


Flesh. In the spring of 2010, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) had a stunning exhibition of French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s late work. Most of the paintings were of young female nudes, and what struck me about them was there lack of lecherousness. Their tone seemed nostalgic toward women in Renoir’s past, both real and imagined. Renoir is the film equivalent of a coffee-table volume accompanying the exhibition.

The film begins with Andrée Heuschling, riding her bicycle through the countryside at Côte d’Azur, photographed like a series of Impressionist paintings. Andrée, soon nicknamed Dedee, walks through the house in a very straightforward, unseductive way. She gets to Renoir’s studio and tells him his late wife had suggested she pose for him. We can see why: Christa Theret, who plays her, has the coloring of a Renoir painting. Soon they’re at work, and it’s very clearly work for both of them. He’s driven, arthritic hands and all, to paint. Okay, but that’s just a situation. What makes it a movie? Shortly Renoir’s middle son, Jean (yes, that Jean Renoir), comes home from World War I (it’s 1915) on convalescent leave. Jean and Dedee hit it off: She says his father always paints her fatter than she is (and he does), and Jean says Dad always painted him to look like a girl (and he did). Not only is Theret good as Dedee, but Vincent Rottiers looks and acts very much like the young Jean, and Michel Bouquet is great as the painter. The casting of those three is perfect, given the way the script draws the characters.

Jean and Dedee begin a romance and she interests him in the new-fangled toy: the movies. (The one historical howler in the film is that it has them watching D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance a year before it was released.) Both are enchanted with the movies; years after this film takes place, she acted in several of Jean’s early films. There’s tension between Dedee, Jean, and other members of the household, some of whom are women who’ve modeled for Renoir before, and Dedee throws a hissy fit and leaves. The film is more of an incident than a full story, but then Renoir’s paintings were as well, so it’s a scriptwriting approach that fits the material.

The Jacques Renoir in the writing credits is the great grandson of Pierre-Auguste and the grand nephew of Jean. His book was a novelized version of family life chez Renoir, so presumably the script is as authentic as it feels.

In the House (2012; screenplay by François Ozon; based on the play El Chico de la Última Fila by Juan Mayorga; 105 minutes.)

In the House

“Cinematographic.” Juan Mayorga is Spanish playwright who wrote the 2006 play this is based on. It was subsequently produced in France, and François Ozon, who also directed, adapted it for the screen. You might not necessarily realize it’s based on a play because it feels so film-like. A review of the published version of the play that you can read here will show you how much the film is like the play. The reviewer says near the end of the piece: “There is a continuum of reading, with cinematographic effects that I hadn’t understood when I watched the play.” The film and play follow three storylines. One is about Germain, a high school English teacher, and his wife Jeanne. The second is about a family that Claude, one of Germain’s students, is writing about in his papers for class. The third is about Jeanne trying to save her art gallery. Germain, who’s very disdainful of his students, gets caught up in Claude’s accounts of him insinuating himself into the Rapha household. Germain and, later, Jeanne eagerly await the next episode like soap-opera fans. Germain instructs Claude on how to write and rewrite, even changing details of what happened.

You can see how this could go wrong as a film, but it doesn’t. Watching Germain and Jeanne devour each paper is interesting because they’re beautifully developed characters and we love watching their reactions, and on film Orzon can cut away to what Claude is telling us. As the film progresses, we can see the different versions of Claude’s papers. Generally in film, if we see something we assume it actually happens, but here we never quite know. The film is very self-reflexive, providing its own commentary on the story and how it’s created. Eventually the situation collapses on Germain, who’s left with nothing, leading to a great closing scene where he and Claude sit on a park bench across the street from an apartment building with all kinds of potential stories being acted out. Yes, it’s yet another homage to Rear Window, but a very smart and even moving one.

To the Wonder (2012; written by Terrence Malick; 112 minutes.)

To the Wonder

Terry, would showing Ben Affleck’s face kill you? I have some of the same problems with this film as I had with The Tree of Life (see US #76), only more so. There’s very little narrative drive and virtually no characterization. Neil and Marina are obviously in love and visit Mont Saint-Michel, then go to live in Oklahoma, where Neil sort of takes up with an old friend, Jane. They seem to be in love as well, but then Neil is back with Marina, then Marina leaves, comes back, gets a divorce, doesn’t, end of movie. We learn virtually nothing about the characters, particularly Neil. He seems to work in something related to the oil business, but that’s about it. Malick uses very little dialogue, assuming that, like silent movies, the faces will carry it. Olga Kurylenko as Marina gets most of the close-ups, in which she’s mainly directed to look rapturous. She does, but everything she does is repetitive. Rachel McAdams as Jane gets the same treatment. Ben Affleck as Neil doesn’t even get that much. We never get a close-up of his face; he’s usually seen from an angle. But Affleck has nothing to play. Given the great performance he gave in Argo last year, it’s very frustrating to see Terrence Malick’s script give him nothing to do. But at least he doesn’t have to dance around in the tall grass as Kuryulenko does over and over again. I think Malick should be banned from showing women dancing in the grass for at least his next two movies. Insert your own Renoir joke here.

Billy & Ray (2013; stage play by Mike Bencivenga; approximately 129 minutes.)

Billy & Ray

Billy and Ray who? Over the last 10 years or so, Ron Hutchinson’s play Moonlight and Magnolias has been floating around professional theatres in the United States. It played in New York in 2005, and the New York Times didn’t like it much. Charles Isherwood thought it was “silly,” but that may have been because the production he saw was overripe. The one we saw at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles was much better. I had been hesitant to see the play because I knew how inaccurate it was, but it was still very entertaining. It’s based on Ben Hecht’s 1954 memoir A Child of the Century, which relates at one point Hecht’s version of how, at David O. Selznick’s request, he came in and rewrote the screenplay for Gone with the Wind in a week. Hecht was a great storyteller, and in dark ages of 1954 neither he nor anybody else cared about the facts of screenwriting. Hecht was only one of 17 writers on the film and the more recent books on Gone with the Wind make it clear very little of his work survived in the film.

Time passes, things change. Bencivenga’s play is about Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler’s attempt at collaborating on the screenplay for Double Indemnity. Almost 60 years after Hecht’s book, people, and not just me, pay more attention to the reality of screenwriting. Bencivenga has done his research, more than just reading Ed Sikov’s great 1998 biography of Wilder, On Sunset Boulevard. His play is a much more accurate view of the total mismatch of Wilder and Chandler, and we get a great look at the creation of a screenplay by two top talents constantly butting heads. Bencivenga appears to have looked at the Hays Office papers on the film at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, since one element of the plot is how Billy and Ray outfoxed the censors of the time. The play is also very funny, and not all the jokes go to Wilder. The play had its world premiere at the small Falcon Theatre in Burbank in April, and if the four-character, one-set play comes around where you live, see it. Unless the producers screw up the production like the New Yorkers did with Moonlight and Magnolias, it will have you rolling in the aisles. And it will also help you understand screenwriting.

Looper (2012; written by Rian Johnson; 119 minutes.)


Having its moments, past, present and future. The opening is about as bad as you can get, but writer-director Rian Johnson may have been smart to do it this way. We begin with a lot, and I mean a lot, of voiceover narration setting up the rules of the film. This is the bane of nearly all science-fiction films: How do you establish the world the film is going to live in? If we see a man with a gun on a horse riding over a hill, we pretty much know we’re in a Western until you tell us differently. With sci-fi movies, it’s more complicated. Here Johnson lays out the ideas of a system of hired killers who often have to end up killing themselves as older guys when the older versions are sent via time travel to the present. I suspect he does it so quickly so we won’t have time to think how preposterous the setup is. This is a classic example of Johnny Carson’s line, “You buy the premise, you buy the bit.” Get the silly setup out of the way as soon as possible. But then Johnson spends more time with the killers moping around in settings and situations that are film nourish in extremis. And they aren’t very nice people. As with way too many science-fiction films, this one is almost totally humorless. One of the reasons Back to the Future worked so well was that it had a great deal of fun with its time-travel premise.

The killer we’re following is Joe, and the first big twist is that Old Joe from 30 years later is dumped in Joe’s spot. They have a scene together in a diner, which could have been wonderful. After all, there are great diner scenes in the collected works of Quentin Tarantino, as well as between Al Pacino and Rober De Niro in Heat and Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow in Se7en. But Johnson shuts down his own scene when Old Joe refuses to talk to Joe about the mechanics of time travel. Without getting into too much techno-babble, you could write a nice scene with Joe wanting to learn the mechanics and Old Joe having another objective that he’s more concerned about.

Then, alas, Johnson sends the two Joes off on their separate ways, and we don’t get enough of them together. Old Joe has come back voluntarily to find the “Rainmaker,” the younger version of the boss who wants him dead. It turns out the younger version is a kid, one of three kids. So we’re going to get into the business of killing children, which really creates a couple of eeewww moments. Joe ends up at a farm with Sara and a young boy, whom we guess long before the film tells is the future Rainmaker. The farm scenes are tonally different from the earlier part of the film, but they’re more interesting. Sara turns out to be a tough cookie who knows more about the looper program than you might think. We get a nicely written and directed suspense scene when one of the other loopers comes to Sara’s farmhouse and the kid and Joe manage to avoid being caught.

Johnson has written himself into a corner. How can you end this story in a satisfying way? Does either of the Joes kill the other? Does either of them kill the kid? If they get sentimental and decide not to kill the kid, he will grow up to be not a nice person. Johnson comes up with a slightly if not completely satisfying ending, which I’m not going to give away, even at this late date.

The Barbarian (1933; screenplay by Elmer Harris and Anita Loss; based on the play The Arab by Edgar Selwyn; 83 minutes.)

The Barbarian

Anita Loos rewrites The Sheik. Well, not exactly. Edgar Selwyn’s play The Arab appeared on Broadway in 1911, with Selwyn playing the lead. That’s 10 years before The Sheik was a big hit and confirmed Rudolph Valentino’s stardom. The Broadway Database doesn’t give any plot details of the play, but it was made twice before as a film, once in 1915 by Cecil B. De Mille, and in 1924 by Rex Ingram. The plot synopsis of the 1915 film and the cast lists for both the earlier films suggests they stuck more closely to the play than The Barbarian does. In the 1915 film, Jamil robs a caravan, and his father makes his son give the robbed merchant the son’s horse. The horse is sold to a Turkish general, who gives it to Mary, a Christian missionary, whom Jamil falls in love with after trying to steal the horse back. The lovers part when Jamil’s father dies and Jamil must become the new sheik. Now that doesn’t sound like anything Anita Loos would be involved with, does it?

In the Loos-Harris version (Harris was a playwright and occasional screenwriter), the horse is dropped, as is the Turkish general, and the heroine is no missionary, Christian or otherwise. She’s Diana Standing, half-American, half-Egyptian, who’s come to Cairo to be married to an English twit. The script starts with what can only be an Anita Loos scene. Jamil, now a gigolo, is bidding a passionate farewell to an American tourist he’s obviously seduced (she’s played by Hedda Hopper, later a famous gossip columnist). He gives her a ring, which he deftly steals from her finger before leaving her compartment on the train. He then goes to another compartment and plays the same scene, this time in German, with a German tourist. Look at Elmer Harris’s credits and tell me if you can find anything in there like this. While at the train station, Jamil spies Diana and is instantly enchanted; well, she’s Myrna Loy, who’s playing a version of the exotic women she played before marrying Nick Charles. Jamil muscles his way into being her tour guide while her fiancé is off building an aqueduct. He promises to take her to the aqueduct, but instead delivers her to Achmed Pasha, who thinks he’s buying her. When he tries to have his way with her, she cries out Jamil’s name and he rescues her. Great fellow, except that he takes her to an oasis and…rapes her. In The Sheik, it’s seduction with a hint of rape, and here it’s rape with only a hint of seduction. What was anybody thinking at MGM? Maybe that they needed to go further than The Shiek did. Diana, in a virtual coma, agrees to marry Jamil. At the wedding, she throws a glass of water in Jamil’s face, runs away, and is about to marry her fiancé when Jamil shows up and he and Diana run off together. Well, why do you think the studio made her half-Egyptian? Since Harris’s big hit as a playwright was Johnny Belinda, which involves a rape, the second half of the film may have come from him. Whoever it came from, it’s creepy and kills the picture.

Tom Stempel is the author of several books on film. His most recent is Understanding Screenwriting: Learning From Good, Not-Quite-So Good, and Bad Screenplays.



Through the Years: Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” at 30

To celebrate this sacred anniversary, we’re taking a look back at the single’s evolution over the last three decades.



Through the Years: Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” at 25

This week Madonna’s iconic hit “Like a Prayer” turns 30. The song is, by all accounts, her most broadly beloved contribution to the pop-music canon, landing at #7 on our list of the Best Singles of the 1980s. Even the singer’s most ardent critics can’t help but bow at the altar of this gospel-infused conflation of spiritual and sexual ecstasy, a song that helped transform Madge from ‘80s pop tart to bona fide icon. To celebrate this sacred anniversary, we’re taking a look back at the single’s evolution over the last three decades.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 3, 2014.

Pepsi Commercial

Following a teaser that aired during the 31st Annual Grammy Awards in January of 1989, Madonna premiered “Like a Prayer” in a Pepsi commercial during The Cosby Show, the #1 rated series on U.S. television at the time. Part of a $5 million sponsorship deal with the soft-drink company, the ad, titled “Make a Wish,” was an innocuous bit of nostalgia that would soon be eclipsed by the scandal surrounding the single’s forthcoming music video.

Music Video

Madonna dances in front of burning crosses and kisses a black saint in a church pew in this modern morality tale about racial profiling and pious guilt, prompting both the religious right and cultural critics, like bell hooks, to cry foul. Eventually, the mounting outrage caused Pepsi to pull out of their multi-million dollar deal with the Queen of Pop. The singer’s response was coyly defiant.

Blond Ambition Tour

Madonna’s first live incarnation of “Like a Prayer” was also her best. Sure, her voice was raw and unrefined (“Life is a misstaree, eve’one mus stan alone,” she heaves), but her 1990 tour performances of the song displayed a rapturous, almost possessed quality that she’s never been able to recapture.

Mad’House Cover

Dutch Eurotrash group Mad’House’s claim to fame is their blasphemous take on “Like a Prayer” from 2002. The glorified Madonna cover band’s version is stripped of the original’s nuance and soul, a tacky, mechanical shell of a dance track. Regrettably, this is the version you’re most likely to hear on Top 40 radio today. (Only slightly less heretical, the cast of Glee’s rendition of the song peaked at #27 in 2010.)

MTV On Stage & On the Record

Then notorious for forsaking her older material, Madonna dusted off “Like a Prayer” in 2003 during the promotion of her album American Life. Thirteen years after her last live performance of the song, even Madonna’s comparatively reedier voice and noticeably more limited range couldn’t diminish its enduring magic.

Sticky & Sweet Tour

After performing crowd-pleasing but relatively anemic versions of “Like a Prayer” during her Re-Invention Tour in 2004 and Live 8 in 2005, Madonna reinvented the song for her Sticky & Sweet Tour in 2008, using elements of Mack’s “Feels Like Home” for an amped-up techno mash-up.

Super Bowl XLVI

Madonna closed her record-breaking Super Bowl XLVI halftime show in 2012 with “Like a Prayer,” and though she wasn’t singing live, it was the closest she’s ever gotten to her ecstatic Blond Ambition performances. (For those lamenting the lip-synching, she would go on to reprise this version of the song, completely live, during her MDNA Tour later that year.) And if there were any doubt, a stadium of nearly 70,000 football fans waving flashlights and singing along is a testament to the song’s transcendent, all-encompassing appeal. The performance’s final message of “World Peace” seemed attainable, if only for a brief moment.

Met Gala 2018

Last year, Madonna dusted off her old chestnut for an epic performance at Vogue magazine’s annual Met Gala. The event’s theme was “Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” which seemed tailor-made for both the Queen of Pop and “Like a Prayer.” Madonna slowly descended the steps of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in a shroud, flanked on both sides by a choir of monks, as she sang a Gregorian-inspired rendition of the pop classic. The performance also featured a portion of a new song, “Beautiful Game,” and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

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Oscars 2019: Complete Winners List

The 91st Academy Awards are now behind us, and the telecast told us just about nothing that we don’t already know about AMPAS.



Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

The 91st Academy Awards are now behind us, and the telecast told us just about nothing that we don’t already know about AMPAS. Which isn’t to say that the ceremony wasn’t without its surprises. For one, whoever decided to capture Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s performance of “Shallow” from A Star Is Born in one single take that would end with the pair sitting side by side, rapt in each other and framed in Bergman-esque repose, should hereby be responsible for every Oscar ceremony moving forward.

For some, though not us, Green Book’s victory for best picture came as surprise. As our own Eric Henderson put it in his prediction: “Those attacking the film from every conceivable angle have also ignored the one that matters to most people: the pleasure principle. Can anyone blame Hollywood for getting its back up on behalf of a laughably old-fashioned but seamlessly mounted road movie-cum-buddy pic that reassures people that the world they’re leaving is better than the one they found? That’s, as they say, the future that liberals and Oscar want.”

In the end, the awards went down more or less as expected, with the only real shock of the evening being Oliva Colman’s stunning upset over Glenn Close in the best actress race. (Glenn, we hope you are on the phone right now trying to get that Sunset Boulevard remake to finally happen.) Black Panther proved more indomitable than expected, winning in three categories (none of which we predicted), and Free Solo pulling a victory over RBG that was the first big sign of the evening that, then and now, AMPAS members vote above all else with their guts.

See below for the full list of winners from the 2019 Oscars.

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book (WINNER)
A Star Is Born

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Documentary Feature
Free Solo, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (WINNER)
Hale County This Morning, This Evening, RaMell Ross
Minding the Gap, Bing Liu
Of Fathers and Sons, Talal Derki
RBG, Betsy West and Julie Cohen

Animated Feature
Incredibles 2, Brad Bird
Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson
Mirai, Mamoru Hosoda
Ralph Breaks the Internet, Rich Moore and Phil Johnston
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman (WINNER)

Cold War, Lukasz Zal
The Favourite, Robbie Ryan
Never Look Away, Caleb Deschanel
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón (WINNER)
A Star Is Born, Matthew Libatique

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

Production Design
Black Panther, Hannah Beachler (WINNER)
First Man, Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas
The Favourite, Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton
Mary Poppins Returns, John Myhre and Gordon Sim
Roma, Eugenio Caballero and Bárbara Enrı́quez

Original Score
BlacKkKlansman, Terence Blanchard
Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson (WINNER)
If Beale Street Could Talk, Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs, Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppins Returns, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman

Original Song
All The Stars from Black Panther by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
I’ll Fight from RBG by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
The Place Where Lost Things Go from Mary Poppins Returns by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
Shallow from A Star Is Born by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice (WINNER)
When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

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

Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War, Dan DeLeeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl, and Daniel Sudick
Christopher Robin, Chris Lawrence, Mike Eames, Theo Jones, and Chris Corbould
First Man, Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles, and J.D. Schwalm (WINNER)
Ready Player One, Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer, Matthew E. Butler, and David Shirk
Solo: A Star Wars Story, Rob Bredow, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan, and Dominic Tuohy

Sound Mixing
Black Panther, Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor, and Peter Devlin
Bohemian Rhapsody, Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin, and John Casali (WINNER)
First Man, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee, and Mary H. Ellis
Roma, Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan, and José Antonio García
A Star Is Born, Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder, and Steve Morrow

Sound Editing
Black Panther, Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Warhurst (WINNER)
First Man, Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
A Quiet Place, Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
Roma, Sergio Diaz and Skip Lievsay

Makeup and Hairstyling
Border, Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer
Mary Queen of Scots, Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher, and Jessica Brooks
Vice, Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney (WINNER)

Live Action Short Film
Detainment, Vincent Lambe
Fauve, Jeremy Comte
Marguerite, Marianne Farley
Mother, Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Skin, Guy Nattiv (WINNER)

Documentary Short Subject
Black Sheep, Ed Perkins
End Game, Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Lifeboat, Skye Fitzgerald
A Night at the Garden, Marshall Curry
Period. End of Sentence., Rayka Zehtabchi (WINNER)

Animated Short
Animal Behaviour, Alison Snowden and David Fine
Bao, Domee Shi (WINNER)
Late Afternoon, Louise Bagnall
One Small Step, Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas
Weekends, Trevor Jimenez

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Review: Someone Is in My House Showcases the Reach of David Lynch’s Obsessions

Lynch’s paintings are beautiful yet macabre, mysterious and rich in the tactility of the methods of their creation.



Someone Is in My House

Though famous for being a filmmaker and co-creator of the TV series Twin Peaks, David Lynch works in many other mediums, including music, sculpture, photography, furniture-making, and painting, the last of which is the wellspring of his creativity. Lynch has painted since the 1960s, finding his voice among the ruinous squalor of a once-rough Philadelphia. Inspired by artists such as Francis Bacon, Lynch developed a style that’s rich in the irreconcilable contradictions that would drive his cinema. His paintings are beautiful yet macabre, mysterious and rich in the tactility of the methods of their creation.

At times, Lynch has been dismissed as a “celebrity painter” who nets prestigious exhibitions based on his fame as a filmmaker, as well as on the urge to utilize his other art as a kind of decoder ring for his films. These claims may be partially true, but this doesn’t mean that the art itself isn’t extraordinary, and there’s a concentrated effort underway to recalibrate Lynch’s reputation within pop culture. The documentary David Lynch: The Art Life featured hypnotic footage of Lynch in the studio of his Los Angeles home, smoking and creating new canvases. Last year, the book David Lynch: Nudes collected his empathetic, erotic, and astonishingly subjective photography of nude women. Now there’s David Lynch: Someone Is in My House, a gorgeous volume of Lynch’s painting, photography, sculpture, and short-film stills.

Someone Is in My House impresses one with the reach of Lynch’s ambitions and obsessions, affirming yet another contradiction of his art: that it’s vast yet repetitive and insular. Across the spectrum of over 250 stills, this volume spotlights the many techniques that Lynch utilizes. After perceptive essays by Lynch biographer Kristine McKenna, who places Lynch’s work in the context of legendary art at large, and Michael Chabon, who emphasizes Lynch’s grasp of the uncanny truth of the everyday, among others, Someone Is in My House offers a tour of Lynch’s work that’s divided by medium, starting with “Works on Paper” and continuing with “Painting/Mixed Media,” “Photography,” “Lamps,” and “Film and Video Stills.”

Each section is structured in chronological order, spanning five decades, so as to subtly assert Lynch’s ongoing evolution as an artist. The book ends with a brief biography, which will probably be well-known by anyone driven to buy it, and a list of Lynch’s exhibitions. If Someone Is in My House has one disappointment, it pertains to this structure, as a straightforward chronological organization of Lynch’s art might’ve more vividly emphasized the wild multi-pronged simultaneousness of his imagination. But this is a small issue, as this volume offers the gift of relative accessibility, allowing cinephiles and other aesthetes the opportunity to access a major and generally rarefied mine of Lynch’s workload.

To open Someone Is in My House is to plunge into landscapes of darkness inhabited by deformed humans and other creatures, who have distended, shrunken, or extended appendages, heads that are animalistic or brutalized, and bodies that are often either a collection of tumorous protuberances or are merely composed of a few lines like primitive stick figures. Among this darkness is bright color, usually red, which offers beautiful illumination that’s understood to exist at the cost of atrocity. Among darkness there’s a light of injury in other words, as Lynch is obsessed by the idea of people coming in contact with nightmarish entities and being destroyed or severely hurt in a manner that suggests enlightenment to be a kind of state of higher confusion.

Someone Is in My House

Photo: Prestel

In Lynch’s art, blood and other substances gush out of heads like geysers, and people’s faces are often twisted in knots of anxiety. As in his films, Lynch’s paintings are obsessed by the home as a symbol of our illusions of stability and how easily they can be violated. This art is surreal, in that it conforms to no requirements of literal representation, but it’s also overwhelmingly docudramatic in its emphasis on its own DNA. The lithographs on Japanese paper, for instance, which are some of the most starkly memorable of this book’s many unforgettable images, are driven in part by their sense of fragility. The ink appears to have been applied to the canvases in a frenzy, and seems as if it could quite easily be wiped away. Lynch’s multimedia work, particularly his mixtures of sculptures and paintings, are populated by lumpy figures that show the imprint of the artist’s fingerprints and are built from globs of materials, suggesting how easily they could be morphed again by another god. (Or by us, who could in turn by victimized by other gods such as Mr. Redman, a quasi-corporeal explosion of carnage that haunts Lynch’s oil and mixed media canvas of the same name.)

Lynch’s art is also driven by the preludes and aftermaths of events. In This Man Was Shot 0.9502 Seconds Ago, a phallic string of guts explodes out of a man with a characteristically vague and misshapen face—a Bacon-ish image that occurs against a symmetrical interior backdrop that would be at home in an Edward Hopper canvas. Acknowledging these influences, McKenna goes on to write one of the most profound things I’ve read about Lynch’s paintings: “They have a clumsy, accidental quality and come across as thwarted attempts to make oneself understood; they feel wrought rather than painted.” Rendering characters in the face of impending or concluding cataclysm, Lynch adapts techniques that mirror their awkwardness and alienation, and this chameleonic—at once assertive and self-effacing—style has probably been part of the reason for Lynch being taken somewhat for granted as an artist.

However, Lynch’s primitivism communicates robust emotional quandaries, especially an earnest yearning for a return to a normalcy that’s been shattered—a normalcy that never existed and which is embodied by houses that are composed of only a few skewed lines. These houses might be harbingers of nostalgia for Lynch’s characters, but they’re hollow or—in the case of Lynch’s lonely and forbiddingly poignant black-and-white photographs of snowmen—closed off and ridden with secrets that are impossible to know. Many Lynch characters also face their brutal reckonings with a becoming and majestic dignity, such as the nose-headed subject of an untitled 1971 pencil sketch.

Though Someone Is in My House is adamant that we take Lynch’s artwork on its own terms, without always connecting it to his films and TV, such an exercise isn’t entirely resistible. Lynch’s art clarifies to an extent what his films are also doing: valuing moments of privatized emotional experience, and often suspending plots in time so as to show how individual epiphanies can knock us off the course of our own “narrative”—that is to say, our lives.

Twin Peaks: The Return, which is clearly on Lynch’s mind in the art that’s included in this book from 2010 forward, is a collection of scenes and images that bind the existential cosmic with the domestic rituals of our lives. For most of us, finally connecting with a lost love at a coffee shop means more than considerations of the unknowable evil that may or may not pull the strings behind the curtains of eternity. Kyle MacLachlan’s Agent Cooper became unstuck in time because he took for granted the heaven of his kinship with the townsfolk of the hellish yet pastoral Twin Peaks. He failed to recognize what the subjects of many of Lynch’s paintings discover: that, to quote McKenna again, “Life happens through us, not because of us.” Throughout his career, Lynch has mined a vein of ecstatic powerlessness.

David Lynch: Someone Is in My House is now available from Prestel.

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