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Melissa Mccarthy (#110 of 8)

SXSW 2015: Spy

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SXSW 2015: Spy

20th Century Fox

SXSW 2015: Spy

The inclusivity of this Melissa McCarthy showcase leaves plenty of room for the rest of the cast to stretch their comedic legs. And judging by the results, Hollywood has been doing to Miranda Hart, Jason Statham, and Jude Law pretty much what the C.I.A. is doing to McCarthy’s Agent Susan Cooper when Spy begins: typecasting them and seriously underutilizing their talents. Law is gleefully narcissistic as the slick, self-loving Bradley Fine, a cool guy prone to Bond-like moves like leaping onto the screen from the branches of a tree. Statham subverts his own image, turning up his usual scowling intensity just enough to tip over into comic petulance as a macho agent with a dangerously short fuse who tells increasingly impossible tales about the hardships he’s endured on the job, like claiming that one of his arms was ripped off and he sewed it back on with the other. And as Susan’s loyal friend and fellow agent, Linda, Hart radiates a slightly goofy sincerity and unstinting enthusiasm that makes her character laughable yet enormously likeable.

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 St. Vincent and Manglehorn

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Toronto International Film Festival 2014: St. Vincent and Manglehorn
Toronto International Film Festival 2014: St. Vincent and Manglehorn

Theodore Melfi’s debut feature, St. Vincent, is a heartwarmer that never insults—exactly the opposite of what its protagonist, Vincent (Bill Murray), is supposed to be: a disgruntled drunk who nobody likes. Trading in the quiet, aloof, melancholic persona of his Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers characters, Murray at first seems to be going full grouch. Ultimately, though, Vincent turns out to be just the kind of character who aging actors play regularly these days: a curmudgeon with a heart of gold. (Fitting, then, that Jack Nicholson was apparently interested in the part before Murray.)

15 Best Performances of 2013 So Far

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15 Best Performances of 2013 So Far

Sony Pictures Classics

15 Best Performances of 2013 So Far

Today, Cate Blanchett makes a vibrant return to capital-A acting in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, a zeitgeist-y star vehicle the Oscar winner expertly pilots. To mark the occasion, and to acknowledge that more than half of 2013 is behind us, I’ve compiled a list of the finest film performances delivered by actors this year, at least until this point. For me, the 15-wide roster grew into something eclectic and surprising, and here’s hoping you share the feeling. Ace turns that came close to making the cut include Gael García Bernal in No, Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby, Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha, and Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now, while Mud’s Matthew McConaughey and Berberian Sound Studio’s Toby Jones are among the possible contenders whose work I didn’t see before publication (and, yes, I saw Fruitvale Station). What remains is a mix of triumphs both male and female, lead and supporting, all of which set the bar high for the performances still to come this year.

Understanding Screenwriting #113: The Bling Ring, The Heat, White House Down, Monsters University, & Unfaithfully Yours

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Understanding Screenwriting #113: <em>The Bling Ring</em>, <em>The Heat</em>, <em>White House Down</em>, <em>Monsters University</em>, & <em>Unfaithfully Yours</em>
Understanding Screenwriting #113: <em>The Bling Ring</em>, <em>The Heat</em>, <em>White House Down</em>, <em>Monsters University</em>, & <em>Unfaithfully Yours</em>

Coming Up In This Column: The Bling Ring, The Heat, White House Down, Monsters University, Unfaithfully Yours, but first…

Moving on: This is going to be my last Understanding Screenwriting column for The House Next Door. Don’t worry, it’s not going away for good, just moving to a new location. Earlier this year, I got an announcement from Erik Bauer, founder, publisher, and editor of Creative Screenwriting magazine. In addition to writing for the magazine, I was on the editorial board from 1994 to 2008, when the board was dissolved. Erik had sold the magazine and the Creative Screenwriting empire (website, screenwriting expo, etc.) to another man in 2007. Unfortunately, the recession came along the next year, and the magazine closed down in 2011. This spring Erik had what he called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to buy back the Creative Screenwriting empire, and his announcement said that he’s intending to revive the magazine, beginning in 2014. In the meantime, he’s reviving the Creative Screenwriting website in August, and my Understanding Screenwriting column will be moving to it then. The new address will be www.creativescreenwriting.com, and he hopes to have the new website up the first week in August. I trust you will all come and visit and leave the kind of intelligent comments you’ve spoiled me with for the last five years. And I must finish my work here at the House with a great big “thank you” to both Keith and Ed for their support over the years.

Fan Mail: “shazwagon” raised the question in regard to the close-up of Jesse at the end of the opening scene in Before Midnight: “How do you know that it was the writer’s decision to show the close-up later?” That’s an easy case; since both the actor involved and the director were also the writers, we can pretty much be sure it came from them. In other cases, it can be a tricky question. Generally writers will make an effort to write in reactions for the characters (but not camera directions, since directors pay no attention at all to writers’ suggestions in that area). If, as in the close-up in Before Midnight, the reaction is related to everything else going on in the scene (here the counterpoint to the dramatic action with Jesse and Henry), then it almost certainly comes from the writers. If actors and directors in general are at the top of their form, you feel that the moment is happening now right in front of your eyes. Look at Jeff’s (James Stewart) reaction to the itch in an early scene in Rear Window. It seems the camera just happened to catch him when the itch did. Not so; it’s all laid out in John Michael Hayes’s great script.

David Ehrenstein is back to disagreeing with me and all’s right with the world. He thought Behind the Candelabra was better than I did. He especially liked the performances by Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. I liked the performances, but felt the script didn’t give them as much to work with as it could have.

The Bling Ring (2013; written by Sofia Coppola; based on the Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales; 90 minutes.)

Sofia Coppola, meet W.E. Burnett and John Huston. You may remember that, in US#68, I found Coppola’s Somewhere very disappointing, but I also said we shouldn’t give up on Coppola. The Bling Ring shows why, and it’s one of her best films yet. Never give up on talent. Here Coppola’s minimalist style, which was a little too minimalist in Somewhere, is perfect for the subject.

Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actor

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Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actor
Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actor

Whether the reason boils down to Oscar politics or an overall lack of enthusiasm, it certainly looks like Joaquin Phoenix is about to be snubbed for his work in The Master, despite the mind-boggling excellence of his performance as Freddie Quell. From stature to facial contortions, Phoenix startlingly became someone else while tackling the film’s lead role, in a manner beyond the typical transformative acting that annually courts hyperbole. Without looking all that different beyond considerable weight loss, Phoenix adopted a whole new aura as the spiritually starved WWII vet, and spoke his lines with barks and snarls that seemed uncannily natural, as if a pit bull just happened to don Phoenix’s skin. The actor’s now-infamous dis of the Oscar process couldn’t have helped his chances, but it seems Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie has, in general, lost steam, its lack of a PGA nod being the most recent evidence. The man most likely to benefit from Phoenix’s misfortune is Bradley Cooper, whose turn in Silver Linings Playbook is frothy by comparison, but just the sort of crowd-pleasing lead performance Oscar loves. A likable actor, Cooper’s bound to be seen as triumphant for stretching beyond Hangover territory, and with the Academy increasingly honoring flexible comic stars (think Jonah Hill and Melissa McCarthy), his nomination should in fact be an easy get.

Oscar Winner Predictions 2012 Supporting Actress

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Oscar Winner Predictions 2012: Supporting Actress
Oscar Winner Predictions 2012: Supporting Actress

It’s more than just a little politically chancy but still unavoidable to look at Octavia Spencer’s sunny Oscar odds though the filter of co-star Viola Davis’s ascendance in the Best Actress category. But if voters are capable of feeling all right with themselves for rewarding Jessica Chastain’s miracle year with what most cognizant viewers recognize as one of the least distinguished of her six or seven roles last year, then we don’t feel quite as bad regarding Spencer and Davis as a mutually beneficial tag team, a thematic (ahem) salt-and-pepper-shaker duo that makes audiences feel mighty proud about honoring both. If anything, it’s Spencer’s role as The Help’s secret ingredient-wielding Minny Jackson (the maid who knows her value and thus must remind herself “no sass” even when walking up to Chastain’s absurdly understanding heiress) that strikes the most direct hit upon the movie’s target audience. Davis’s Aibileen absorbs an unjust world’s every last dribble of shit, but Minny literally excretes it and serves it up with a smirk. In the end, both women get to dress down Bryce Dallas Howard’s microcosmic representation of Southern evil, but only one of them has the satisfaction of sending her gagging out of the room.

Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress

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Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress
Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress

Which performance will land Jessica Chastain her first Oscar nomination? Heading into awards season, that was the biggest question surrounding the Supporting Actress race, and with The Help having certainly surged ahead of films like The Tree of Life and Take Shelter, the question seems all but answered. Still, one could justifiably go to bat for each of the six supporting turns Chastain delivered last year. For instance, the otherwise mediocre spy thriller The Debt, an ensemble piece, unwittingly became a Chastain showcase, as the red-headed natural towered above everything around her while proving her wide range.