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Paul Giamatti (#110 of 13)

Tribeca Film Festival 2016 The Phenom

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Tribeca Film Festival 2016: The Phenom

RLJ Entertainment

Tribeca Film Festival 2016: The Phenom

Noah Buschel’s The Phenom may be about a struggling young pitcher’s attempt to overcome his mental block after a bad baseball game has him sent down to the minors, but the film is by no means a standard sports movie. Outside of an opening scene of baseball action that turns out to be archival footage two people are watching on a TV set, there’s none of the big-game action and sentimental triumph-over-adversity arcs that are usually de rigueur for these types of films. Instead, The Phenom is mostly made up of a series of conversations: therapy sessions and confrontations, the film diving into the past in order to understand the present, the way pitching wunderkind Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons) explores his own personal history under the guidance of his psychologist, Dr. Mobley (Paul Giamatti).

Toronto International Film Festival 2013 Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave

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Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave
Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave

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.

15 Famous Oscar Snubs

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15 Famous Oscar Snubs
15 Famous Oscar Snubs

No Kathryn Bigelow?! No Ben Affleck?! Yesterday’s Oscar nominations brought their fair share of shocking snubs, but it certainly wasn’t the first time the Academy stuck it to likely contenders. Looking back over Academy Awards history, there are many dumbfounding, surprising omissions to be found—realizations that underscore the belief that Oscar nods hardly indicate long-term quality. Be them unforgivable or just bewildering, we’ve selected 15 snubs that no doubt had people talking…heatedly.

Cannes Film Festival 2012: Cosmopolis

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Cannes Film Festival 2012: <em>Cosmopolis</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2012: <em>Cosmopolis</em>

David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s postmodern, Ulysses-like novel Cosmopolis plays like a profoundly perverse, darkly comic successor to Videodrome. Taking on another “unfilmable” novel, Cronenberg again accomplishes something remarkable: hewing closely to the source material in letter and spirit, yet still stamping it as a distinctly Cronenbergian endeavor, albeit one lacking much in the way of his trademark body horror (with one notable, bloody exception). Diamond-hard and dazzlingly brilliant, Cosmopolis alternates between mannered repression and cold frenzy, one of the ways in which it most closely resembles Cronenberg’s prior A Dangerous Method.

Poster Lab: Cosmopolis

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Poster Lab: <em>Cosmopolis</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Cosmopolis</em>

Compared to the film’s teaser, the poster for David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is markedly demure, a tame puppy to the preview’s rabid dog. What it first exudes is the high-society life that’s lived by Robert Pattinson’s finance superstar, Eric Packer, a 28-year-old billionaire created by novelist Don DeLillo. The movie, like the book, sees Packer trek across Manhattan for a haircut, and on the way damage his fortune and encounter all sorts of crazy, Cronenbergian shit. By all evidence (material, maestro, and frantic first glimpse), this chic one-sheet is your invitation to jump off the cliff, to leave crisp and shiny decorum behind and tumble down the hole at which Pattinson seems to be staring. Like the poster for Eastern Promises, it presents crossed hands as the ultimate depiction of a man at a crossroads, where the tick of time (hence the watch) is decibels louder. Whereas the cover of DeLillo’s book shows the pivotal limo from an external distance, this poster brings you inside, promising a ride that’s as intimate as it is untamed.

The Conversations: Alexander Payne

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The Conversations: Alexander Payne
The Conversations: Alexander Payne

Jason Bellamy: Alexander Payne films don’t have the distinct visual styles of movies by Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, to name two other filmmakers of his generation, but they are quickly recognizable just the same. Payne’s five feature films are quasi-tragic comedies with hopeful but not fully redemptive conclusions about people struggling with significant life changes. Protagonists in Payne’s movies are always flawed. Relationships are usually difficult, distant, damaging, or all of the above. And deception is commonplace. On the face of that description, Payne’s movies mustn’t seem distinct at all. In fact, I think I just described every crappy romantic comedy from the past decade or more. But what sets Payne apart is the way he applies these themes—unflinchingly exposing his characters’ worst tendencies before ultimately regarding them with great sympathy—and, even more so, who he applies them to. If Payne’s films are known for anything, it’s for being about average Americans, emphasis on the “average.”

Of course, at the movies, where Jimmy Stewart can be considered an “everyman” and Kathrine Heigl can be cast as the proverbial “girl next door,” “average” is never ordinary, which is precisely why Payne’s characters generate so much attention, because they’re often ruthlessly unexceptional. Ruth in Citizen Ruth (1996) is a promiscuous glue-huffer who becomes a pawn in an abortion debate. Jim in Election (1999) is an awarded high school teacher who can’t outsmart his students or pull off an extramarital affair. Warren in About Schmidt (2002) is a retiree with no interests or usefulness. Miles in Sideways (2004) is a writer who can’t get published, a wine snob who can’t control his drinking and an introverted romantic who can’t move on from his divorce. Matt in The Descendants (2011) is a husband who doesn’t know his wife and a father who doesn’t know his kids. And those are just the main characters.

Because Payne’s characters tend to live modest lives (some of them in modest Middle America), and because Payne is so fearless in his examination of their faults, and often uses his characters’ shortcomings as mechanisms for humor, his films have often been attacked as condescending. In this conversation we’ll go into each of the five films mentioned above, as well as Payne’s memorable vignette from 2006’s Paris, Je T’Aime, which does little to deflect the accusations of condescension. But let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. Ed, does Alexander Payne look down his nose at his characters, or ask us to mock his characters, for being unremarkable? Is his humor mean-spirited and class-conscious? In short, is he condescending?

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: A Dangerous Method, The Ides of March, & Le Havre

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>A Dangerous Method</em>, <em>The Ides of March</em>, & <em>Le Havre</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>A Dangerous Method</em>, <em>The Ides of March</em>, & <em>Le Havre</em>

A Dangerous Method: The most classical film yet of David Cronenberg’s classical period, this portrait of the struggle between mind and body elegantly suggests a plethora of urges, addictions, and neuroses continuously churning under its fastidious period-piece veneer. The cerebral side is the relationship between earnest fuddy-duddy Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and sardonic silver fox Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) in the early 1900s; the visceral side comes in the contorted, seductive form of Sabine Spielrein (Keira Knightley), the young masochist whose initial hysteria grows even more provocative to the men of science around her as she comes to match their intellects and challenge the limits of their rationality. Working from Christopher Hampton’s play, Cronenberg outlines the archetypal bonds (mentor and pupil, doctor and patient, husband and wife) that comprise what one character describes as “the smooth workings of society,” and then proceeds to examine—not with Dead Ringers microscopes but with Age of Innocence opera binoculars—the itchy irregularities emerging in the creamy white skin of the characters. If it has a tendency to explicitly state its own themes, the film nevertheless unsettles with its lucid visions of release and repression: One can imagine the director putting the ruthlessly composed final image here side by side with the raucous abandon that closes Shivers, and daring us to tell which one is more horrific.

[Review Subtitle You Will Laugh At]: Cold Souls, Take 2

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[Review Subtitle You Will Laugh At]: Cold Souls, Take 2
[Review Subtitle You Will Laugh At]: Cold Souls, Take 2

According to a second-hand story, Sophie Barthes would routinely listen to round after round of advice during her Sundance fellowship on changing her script for Cold Souls. And, like clockwork, she would repeat the same mantra: “I have the money. I have Paul Giamatti. I do not have to change a thing.”

I heard this anecdote after watching Souls at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and there’s a definite confidence in Barthes’ work that borders on megalomania. Rather than taking advice or using the program to improve her script, the confidence in her abilities to wrangle a Name leading actor and funding led to an uncompromised vision. But in a year when other Sundance fellows are the consistent darlings of the film festival circuit (i.e. Bob Byington’s Harmony and Me) that have obviously and beneficially metamorphosed from draft to shooting script, Souls manages to prove its title right: It is cold, dead and has no chance of coming back to life.