First, praise be to the brave Oscar pundits who have Bradley Cooper in their crosshairs. Indeed, given how close this race probably is between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton, it’s easy to see how Cooper could benefit from a vote split, not unlike, some have argued, Adrien Brody did back in 2003 when this award was anticipated to go to either Jack Nicholson or Daniel Day-Lewis. But we don’t have the courage to rally behind Cooper, terrific as he is in American Sniper, as this and adapted screenplay seem like the two categories where the contentiousness surrounding the Clint Eastwood film’s ostensibly mythmaking depiction of Chris Kyle is most likely to hurt. Which is to say nothing of the fact that, unlike Brody, Cooper enters this race without SAG, BAFTA, and Golden Globe nominations.
Benedict Cumberbatch (#1–10 of 8)
1. “The Lost Interviews.” Todd VanDerWerff interviews Damon Lindelof about 10 episodes from the show’s first season.
“A decade after its debut, Lost seems ever more like a weird, collective dream we all had. A complicated, character-driven sci-fi/fantasy hybrid with heavy elements of horror? And we all watched it? And it was on broadcast network television? When looking at the modern TV landscape, it’s hard to find anything quite so ambitious, especially on the broadcast networks, which increasingly manage toward the margins in a dying business model. ’Even if you fail, people will appreciate you having attempted the harder trick and crashed than just kind of doing the easy stuff,’ said co-creator Damon Lindelof during a 90-minute interview about the show’s first season. He said this wisdom was instilled in him by his fellow co-creator, J.J. Abrams. Abrams would leave the show seven episodes in, but leave an indelible mark upon it: the mark of going for broke, of trying anything, of never settling for the routine.”
1. ”The Imitation Game wins Toronto top prize.” The Alan Turing biopic has won the People’s Choice award at the Toronto Film Festival.
“Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch stars in the drama about the British code breaker who helped decrypt the Enigma machine during World War Two. In a message, director Morten Tyldum said it was ’an amazing honour’ to win the prize. ’For film fans to support The Imitation Game means so much to me, the entire cast and film-making team,’ he said. Turing was credited with bringing about the end of the war and saving hundreds of thousands of lives after decoding German Naval messages. He is also considered to be the founding father of the modern-day computer. However his later life was overshadowed after a conviction in 1952 for gross indecency when homosexuality was illegal in Britain. He was chemically castrated and committed suicide in 1954. Earlier this week Tyldum described the film as ’a tribute to being different’.”
1. “James Garner Dead at 86.” Gene Seymour remember the film and television legend.
“He was the logical synthesis of John Wayne and Jack Benny. Interlace the Duke’s measured drawl and virile swagger with Benny’s comic timing and shrewd use of wordless exasperation, and you have James Garner, who died Saturday night in Los Angeles at 86. His persona: Laid-back pragmatist…or, if you needed to be a tad more provocative about it, coolly principled coward. It endeared him to generations of moviegoers and television viewers. Garner’s most cherished roles shared, to varying degrees, a bent gallantry that saw little need to advertise or flaunt itself before others. In his entry on The Rockford Files—the 1974-80 TV series in which Garner played a perennially, often unjustly besieged private detective living in a trailer—Gene Sculatti’s The Catalog of Cool summed up ’Gentleman Jim’s beat message: Very few expenditures of energy are worth the effort. Like Zen, man.’”
The process of adapting the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning August: Osage County, Tracy Letts’s vitriolic epic of familial dysfunction, poses, to borrow a phrase from one of its characters, quite a Gordian knot. With its icky revelations, not to mention the fact that nearly every character in the large ensemble is either a naïve nitwit or an aggressive asshole, the material isn’t exactly audience-friendly. Summer Stock with a score, the film gets to the meat of the play while slightly compromising its darker, murkier undertones. Instead of transcending the source material, John Wells, whose only previous feature is The Company Men, toys with packaging the material in a way that maintains the play’s themes while remaining cautious of its vituperative vigor.
The opening scene of 12 Years a Slave is startlingly tragic for both the viewer and its protagonist, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), renamed Platt upon being sold into slavery, but it’s also effective in its smallness and intimacy. Shown supine on the hard, wooden surfaces sleeping with fellow slaves, Platt is awakened by a young woman who forces his hand on her breast and pushes it down her body so that he will finger her. He relents, at least momentarily; she watches him with an unimaginable despair that turns into temporary pleasure, and he watches her back with a similarly unknowable sadness. This is the first of many scenes in the film in which director Steve McQueen masterfully articulates the necessity of a character demanding a level of control and power when forced into contexts as depraved as slavery. The woman doesn’t look to Platt for physical intimacy; she just needs to be touched, and knows she can simultaneously trust him and exploit his humane temperament to do it without him hurting her.
Since the film is so anticipated as both adaptation and buzzy ensemble piece, the poster for August: Osage County would have been an event no matter what it looked like. Directed by TV vet John Wells, who made his feature film debut with The Company Men, this dark comedy marks the first-ever onscreen pairing of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, who play Violet and Barbara Watson, the mother and daughter who lead the clan in Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning tale. All who know the play know the importance of the work’s vast cast, and such is the major selling point here.
Stacked high like an actorly steeple are names both established and up-and-coming: Streep, Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, (the great) Margo Martindale, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Misty Upham, and more. It’s a very tempting mix, and despite the overly genial, all’s-well-that-end’s-well nature of the trailer, it helps to know that Letts has penned the screenplay too, and hopefully hasn’t watered his work down to Hollywoodized dysfunction (lord knows no one needs another The Family Stone). Presumably, Letts’s script also holds the promise of avoiding the trap of multi-character dramedies, which serially fail to develop individual personalities amid the crowd. It’s a grating trend that couldn’t be better visualized here, and let’s hope the packed-house symbolism reflects the film’s ability to overcome it.
Coming Up In This Column: Side Effects, Like Someone in Love, Point Blank, Downton Abbey, Parade’s End, Smash, but first…
Fan mail: David Ehrenstein, reacting to my comments on Cat Ballou, thought that all the things I liked about the writing and acting came together “thanks to efforts of that controversial new-fangled invention known as the Director.” I didn’t get around to mentioning the director, Elliot Silverstein, because this is one of those films, like M*A*S*H (1970), Chariots of Fire (1981), and Thelma & Louise (1991), that succeeds in spite of its director rather than because of him. Silverstein is very sloppy about where he puts the camera and the acting is all over the place. This was his only truly successful film, and he soon went back to television, where he started.
Side Effects (2013. Written by Scott Z. Burns. 106 minutes.)
Better than Hitchcock. Both Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick were interested in psychiatry. In the mid-’40s, Hitchcock persuaded Selznick to buy a novel that was, according to Hitchcock’s biographer, Donald Spoto, “a bizarre tale of witchcraft, satanic cults, psychopathology, murder, and mistaken identities.” (The background material here is from Spoto’s The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock.) Hitchcock presented some ideas on how a movie could be made out of the material to Ben Hecht, who wrote the screenplay for Spellbound (1945). Hecht’s version deals with an amnesiac who replaces a man scheduled to become the head of a mental hospital. The amnesiac is accused of murder and with a helpful female psychiatrist works out his problems. Since she’s played in the film by Ingrid Bergman, he falls in love with her as well. The film was a commercial success, but it’s rather clunky, like many ’40s films about psychiatry. And like many Hitchcock films, it’s less about character than about giving the director a chance to show off. As befits Selznick, the film is a slick production with stars (Gregory Peck as the amnesiac) in a romantic mode.
- Abbas Kiarostami
- alexander jacobs
- Alfred Hitchcock
- ben hecht
- benedict cumberbatch
- brief encounter
- cat ballou
- christian borle
- dan stevens
- david ehrenstein
- david newhouse
- david o. selznick
- donald spoto
- downton abbey
- ford madox ford
- ingrid bergman
- john boorman
- julian fellowes
- lee marvin
- leslie halliwell
- Like Someone in Love
- maggie smith
- Marilyn Monroe
- marshall mcluhan
- noelle valdivia
- paradess end
- point plank