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A formidable actress, Laura Dern has been working in Hollywood since age 5. At 13 years old, the daughter of icons Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern became the youngest Miss Golden Globe and soon thereafter earned critical acclaim with her breakout role in Blue Velvet. The 1986 film also marked the first time Dern and director David Lynch would work together throughout her career, a pairing that continues with Twin Peaks’ celebrated return on Showtime.
Known for her highly emotive face, »
We all like to root for the underdog, especially if it is someone we, the audience, feel is being unjustly treated by a cruel, uncaring world. So, sitting down to Wilson, the film adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel, we’re predisposed to cheer for the title character, especially as portrayed by Woody Harrelson.
Unfortunately, we get a soft, gooey portrayal of a misanthrope who brings much of the misery upon himself, surrounding himself with ill-defined characters. The 94 minute experience is at times uncomfortable and other times you shake your head at the missed opportunities.
The 2010 graphic novel is comprised of 70 single page gag strips about Wilson, inspired in part by his own father’s death as well as the relationship between Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and his father. Days and years pass in Wilson’s life between these vignettes forcing you to guess what has happened. In some ways, the film works in the same frustrating manner.
The film, out now from 20th Century Home Entertainment, focuses on Wilson, a down on his luck guy who loses his father to cancer then goes in search of his past by tracking his ex-wife where he learns the abortion that ended their marriage never happened. Instead, she gave away the child, now a teen, and they go in search of her.
Laura Dern looks appropriately strung out as Pippi, his ex, who is variously described as a crack whore and lunatic. She left Wilson, gave up her daughter, and tried to stay straight as a waitress. When Wilson finds her, she crumbles around whatever she originally found in him to love. As a result, she gives in all too readily and all too often, when he wants to love her or find their daughter and then pursue a relationship with her. Later, time passes and her situation changes with no real explanation, undercutting our appreciation for her struggles.
Harrelson gives the part his all, but is ill served by Clowes script. The story is fine but there’s little to like about Wilson, who is rude, arrogant, befuddled, and stressed out depending upon the scene. After being arrested for allegedly kidnapping Claire (Isabella Amara), he transitions to a three year stint at prison. There, he seems to find God or bond with every sub-culture in the prison population, softening his edges at last, so in the final act, he can find some solace. There’s a better story hidden under all this but Clowes won’t show us. His adaptations of Ghost World and Art School Confidential are far superior.
Had this been in the hands of a surer director, such as the originally-planned Alexander Payne, we might have been given that better movie. Instead, we get relative novice Craig Johnson, making just his third feature. Therefore, performances by Judy Greer, Cheryl Hines, and Margo Martindale are wasted.
We veer from slapstick to sentimental and the entire final portion of the film shifts tone into something sappy. The entire production lacks focus, direction, and even a point. As a portrait of a middle-aged man lost in the world, it has more promise than actual delivery.
Given that the film was a box office and critical disappointment, it’s no surprise that there is a paucity of special features. We do get 15 Deleted Scenes, some of which would have helped the overall story but none are entirely missed. There are also a photo gallery and trailers. »
- Robert Greenberger
The year is half over and Oscar voters need to catch up on their homework. There have been many worthwhile films in the first six months of 2017, including “Get Out” from writer-director Jordan Peele (Universal, Blumhouse); “Logan,” the dark, tender neo-Western from director James Mangold (Fox); and the sumptuous mega-hit “Beauty and the Beast” (director Bill Condon, Disney).
A few years ago, these would have been extreme longshots, at best. But there have been changes in Academy voters and their tastes. Recent winners including “Moonlight,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Ex Machina” prove that voters are redefining what is considered “Oscar bait.” The blurred definition is a challenge to awards strategists, but good news for hopefuls.
Oscars: 13 Deserving Contenders From 2017 So Far
The January-June period has seen many other films with Oscar potential in various categories; see the accompanying reminders by Variety colleagues Kris Tapley and Jenelle Riley. And, needless to say, other contenders will be covered a lot before the March 4, 2018, Oscar ceremony.
Diversity has been a key theme. This year, several films directed by women could be in the mix, including Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” (Focus Features), Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” (Warner Bros.), and Aisling Walsh’s “Maudie” (Sony Pictures Classics). Still to come are works from Kathryn Bigelow (Annapurna’s much-buzzed “Detroit”), Dee Rees (Netflix’s “Mudbound”); Margaret Betts (Sony Classics’ “Novitiate”) and Angelina Jolie (Netflix’s “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers”).
There are also upcoming works from international filmmakers like Sebastian Lelio, Alfonso Gomez-Rijon, Michael Gracey, Yorgos Lanthimos and Taika Waititi. They will join veterans including Guillermo del Toro, Alexander Payne, Stephen Frears, Richard Linklater, Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Thomas Anderson.
Here are month-by-month opening dates, followed by a list of films that made a splash at the year’s film festivals so far. And the upcoming festivals will also add a few twists to the Oscar race.
The director and stars are listed for purpose of jogging readers’ memories; it’s not a matter of handicapping, since it’s pointless to make predictions about films that have not been widely seen.
August: “Detroit” (Kathryn Bigelow; John Boyega; Annapurna); “Logan Lucky” (Steven Soderbergh; Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig; Bleecker Street); “Patty Cake$” (Geremy Jasper; Danielle Macdonald; Searchlight); “Wind River” (Taylor Sheridan; Elizabeth Olsen; The Weinstein Co.).
September: “American Made” (Doug Liman; Tom Cruise; Universal); “Battle of the Sexes” (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris; Emma Stone, Steve Carell; Fox Searchlight); “First They Killed My Father” (Angelina Jolie; Netflix); “Victoria and Abdul” (Stephen Frears; Judi Dench; Focus).
The Best Films of 2017 (So Far)
October: “Blade Runner 2049” (Denis Villeneuve; Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford; WB); “Breathe” (Andy Serkis; Andrew Garfield; Bleecker Street, Participant); “Goodbye Christopher Robin” (Simon Curtis; Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie; Searchlight); “Marshall” (Reginald Hudlin; with Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall; Open Road); “Mother!” (Darren Aronofsky; Jennifer Lawrence; Paramount); “The Mountain Between Us” (Hany Abu-Assad; Idris Elba, Kate Winslet; Fox); “Thank You for Your Service” (Jason Hall; Miles Teller; Universal)
November: “Darkest Hour” (Joe Wright; Gary Oldman; Focus); “Last Flag Flying” (Richard Linklater; Bryan Cranston; Amazon); “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (Bharat Nalluri; Dan Stevens; Bleecker Street); “Mary Magdalene” (Garth Davis; Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix; TWC); “Murder on the Orient Express” (Kenneth Branagh; Johnny Depp; Fox); “Suburbicon” (George Clooney; Matt Damon; Paramount); “Thor: Ragnarok” (Taika Waititi; Chris Hemsworth; Disney, Marvel Studios); “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Martin McDonagh; Frances McDormand; Searchlight).
December: “The Greatest Showman” (Michael Gracey; Hugh Jackman; Fox); “The Current War” (Alfonso Gomez-Rijon; Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon; TWC); “Downsizing” (Alexander Payne; Matt Damon, Laura Dern; Paramount); “The Papers” (Steven Spielberg; Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep; Fox, Amblin); “The Shape of Water” (Guillermo del Toro; Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer; Searchlight); “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (Rian Johnson; Disney, Lucasfilm); “Phantom Thread” (Paul Thomas Anderson; Daniel Day-Lewis; Focus); “Wonder Wheel” (Woody Allen; James Belushi, Kate Winslet; Amazon).
And some of the festival hits so far this year:
Sundance: “The Big Sick,” (Michael Showalter; Kumail Nanjiani, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter; Amazon, Lionsgate); “Call Me By Your Name” (Luca Guadagnino; Armie Hammer (Sony Pictures Classics); “The Hero” (Brett Haley; Sam Elliott; The Orchard); Also: “Mudbound” and “Wind River.”
Berlin: “The Lost City of Z” (James Gray; Charlie Hunnam; Amazon, Bleecker Street); “Final Portrait” (Stanley Tucci; Geoffrey Rush; Sony Classics); “Maudie” (Aisling Walsh; Sally Hawkins; Sony Classics).
Cannes: “Good Time” (Safdie brothers; Robert Pattinson; A24); “You Were Never Really Here” (Lynne Ramsay; Joaquin Phoenix; Amazon); “Okja” (Bong Joon Ho; Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal; Netflix); “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” (Noah Baumbach; Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller; Netflix); “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (Yorgos Lanthimos; Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell; A24); “The Florida Project” (Sean Baker; Willem Dafoe; A24); “Happy End” (Michael Haneke; Isabelle Huppert; Sony Classics); “Wonderstruck” (Todd Haynes; Julianne Moore; Amazon, Roadside Attractions).
There are also plenty of great documentaries, animated movies and foreign-language films, but those are for later columns.
- Tim Gray
'120 Beats per Minute' trailer: Robin Campillo's AIDS movie features plenty of drama and a clear sociopolitical message. AIDS drama makes Pedro Almodóvar cry – but will Academy members tear up? (See previous post re: Cannes-Oscar connection.) In case France submits it to the 2018 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, screenwriter-director Robin Campillo's AIDS drama 120 Beats per Minute / 120 battements par minute, about the Paris Act Up chapter in the early 1990s, could quite possibly land a nomination. The Grand Prix (Cannes' second prize), international film critics' Fipresci prize, and Queer Palm winner offers a couple of key ingredients that, despite its gay sex scenes, should please a not insignificant segment of the Academy membership: emotionalism and a clear sociopolitical message. When discussing the film after the presentation of the Palme d'Or, Pedro Almodóvar (and, reportedly, jury member Jessica Chastain) broke into tears. Some believed, in fact, that 120 Beats per Minute »
- Steph Mont.
Oppenheimer received two Academy Award nominations for best documentary for his 2012 film “The Act of Killing” and 2014’s “The Look of Silence” — both which screened at Telluride. He will select a series of films to be presented at the festival.
“The guest director program is one of the most essential and wonderful parts of our festival,” said executive director Julie Huntsinger. “Joshua has been a part of the show with several of the incredible films he has made in the past, and now as our guest director. His rare combination of intelligence and down-to-earth understanding of humanity will make for a remarkable presentation of films our audience will not want to miss.”
“The Look of Silence” premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it »
- Dave McNary
As temperatures rise, it may seem a bit silly to be thinking about what the Academy could do in the middle of the winter. Still, that’s what I do, so with the New York Film Festival announcing their Opening Night Selection, now feels like a good point to check in on Oscar. We’re still another month or so away from really having any sense of what the first half of the year has to offer, in terms of Oscars. Honestly, the only thing that so far seems like it could last the rest of the season is Brett Haley’s The Hero, specifically for Sam Elliott’s lead performance. He could certainly score a nomination in Best Actor. Aside from that, it’s looking like 2017 will be a second half sort of year. This time around, there’s some upward movement for Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, the inclusion »
- Joey Magidson
Rome – 20th Century Fox Film Intl. and Paramount Pictures Intl. have forged a unique distribution partnership in Italy under which Fox will release Paramount titles in the country starting in September.
The unusual deal makes Italy the only territory in the world where Fox releases Paramount product. Paramount titles previously went out in Italy via Universal.
When he was at Fox, Gianopulous was known to have a close rapport with former Fox Italia chief Osvaldo De Santis, who built a formidable distribution machine in the country. De Santis stepped down last year after more than 30 years at the helm and was replaced in November by Paul Zonderland (pictured), a former head of Disney in Italy.
“We are happy to have been chosen as partners in Italy by Paramount Pictures, »
- Nick Vivarelli
“Amerika Square” won the Orpheus Award for best feature at the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival Sunday evening. “Son of Sofia” received the runner-up Special Jury Prize for features. The films were, respectively, the opening and closing night pictures at the fest.
As part of the ceremony in front of a full house at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater, Paramount CEO/President Jim Gianopulos (above, left) presented Oscar-winning writer/producer/director Alexander Payne (right) with the 2017 Honorary Orpheus. Payne screened an extended clip from his upcoming social satire “Downsizing,” set for distribution by Paramount in December.
Joked Gianopulos: “I love Alexander so much I went to Paramount just to be with him again.”
“Square,” directed by Yannis Sakarides, is a hard-hitting intertwining ensemble drama set amid the crisis atmosphere of contemporary Greece. “Sofia,” from Elina Psykou, while contrasting in style, is also rooted in the country’s immigrant predicament.
Constantinos Farmakas »
- Peter Caranicas
Author: Linda Marric
With American primaries and presidential elections lasting sometimes up to 18 months, it’s no wonder Hollywood cannot seem to get enough of campaign-trail dramas. From quirky comedies, to serious thrillers based on real events, there seems to be an infinite amount of scripts and stories to tell, each offering a different angle on the subject of electoral shenanigans and political intrigue.
The UK may not do elections on the same mammoth scale as its American cousins, but like it or not, right now we do not seem to go more than a year without one major political race or another. With a surprise general election taking place today what better time for us to take a look at some of the most memorable films about elections ever made?
This Philip K Dick inspired sci-fi B movie delivers way more than is expected from it, »
- Linda Marric
This week is all about female heroes. Here’s Jorge with a cupcake early in the morning…
One of the (many) beautiful things about Alexander Payne’s Election is that, by immersing the audience into the different points of view the main characters, there’s never really anyone who’s unequivocally right or wrong. There are no heroes or villains; the truth lies somewhere in the murky puddle of ethics, ambition, and torn down posters. Everyone had their part on the catastrophic school election events. It’s just that some came out better off than others.
But Tracey Flick would not hesitate one second in calling herself a heroine.
- Jorge Molina
A gambling-addicted private eye spies on his ex-wife in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s drama, which, despite its grubby setting, is understated and delicate
The title of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s new movie is ironic. The TV weather forecast says a typhoon is imminent, and the characters are subtly influenced by its inexorable approach. Situations are intensified and complicated. The drama is actually taking place before the storm, during the storm – or maybe instead of the storm. The period of rest the title appears to conjure up happens very late, if it happens at all. Yet there is no climactic storminess in the action.
After the Storm is a family drama, a 21st-century variation on the classic Japanese style of which this film-maker is now the international standard-bearer. The director has said he models himself on Mikio Naruse, rather than Yasujirō Ozu, although he is dissatisfied with both comparisons. It is a story »
- Peter Bradshaw
The Los Angeles Greek Film Festival will open with the West Coast premiere of “Amerika Square” (pictured above), Yannis Sakaridis’ tragic story set in modern Greece as the country copes with dual crises of financial collapse and overwhelming immigration.
The fest takes place June 7-11 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. It will showcase 13 features, 22 shorts, and 15 documentaries from the U.S., France, the U.K., Germany, Cyprus and Greece. This year’s program includes a record 40 premieres: 19 U.S., 10 West Coast, seven Los Angeles – and four world premieres.
“We carefully selected a program that embodies the 2017 festival theme, Building Bridges,” says Lagff head Aris Katopodis. “Each title represents creating a bridge – whether it is between relationships, races or countries, and the problems and triumphs encountered in reaching the goal.”
“Amerika Square,” which won the Fipresci award at the 2016 Thessaloniki Film Festival, centers on an ensemble of characters: Nakos, a »
- Peter Caranicas
The worst of the Cannes slate is often characterized by self-importance mixed with complete wrong-headedness. That’s certainly true of Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Loveless and reportedly even truer of Kornél Mundruczó’s Jupiter’s Moon, both of which are competing for the Palme d’Or this year. But that goes a long way to explaining why unpretentious genre fare can be such a refreshing prospect amidst the arthouse torpor. That’s a slot that, in the competition slate at least, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja should have filled—and for a while, it looks like it may fulfill that promise. Opening ca. 2007 New York with a garish infomercial for the Miranda Corporation, headed by CEO Lucy Mirando (a blonde-wigged Tilda Swinton with bright silver braces), the sequence is a fluid mix of exposition and sprightly satire. World hunger is the problem and Lucy Miranda has the solution: a 10-year competition where »
As the Cannes Film Festival begins this week in earnest, it seems like a solid enough time to check in with some new Academy Award predictions. The festival may very well change the game, so as per the usual around this time, consider these predictions little more than a temporary placeholder. June will potentially look rather different than May, and so on, so simply keep that in mind. As for the specifics, you’ll be able to find that out shortly, but keep an eye on what Cannes has going on. They’re the belle of the ball currently, as it were. As the weather gets hotter, the potential contenders will start to reveal themselves, though as you know, it isn’t until the cold air returns that we really know what’s what. That’s just how it goes. What you’ll see below is a very slightly tinkered with update for this month. »
- Joey Magidson
After “The Artist” and “The Search,” French director Michel Hazanavicius is back at the Cannes Film Festival with “Redoubtable,” a comedy-laced romantic film chronicling the tumultuous relationship between iconic French director Jean-Luc Godard and Anne Wiazemsky, his wife from 1967-79, set against the backdrop of May 1968 riots in France.
The film, which toplines Louis Garrel (“Saint Laurent”), Stacy Martin (“Nymphomaniac: Vol. I”), Berenice Bejo (“The Past”) and Gregory Gadebois (“Angel & Tony”), is produced by Hazanavicius’ newly launched Paris-based production banner Les Compagnons du Cinema. StudioCanal will release the movie in France on Sept. 13 while Wild Bunch will be shopping the film in Cannes.
Rolling off a pair of successful spy comedies, “Oss 117: Lost in Rio” and “Oss 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies,” Hazanavicius broke through on the international scene with “The Artist,” a crowd-pleasing silent film, shot in black-and-white, about a struggling 1920s Hollywood star. The movie earned Jean Dujardin, »
- Elsa Keslassy
The film “Rotterdam, I Love You”, like the previous entries in the ‘Cities of Love’ series, will be a kaleidoscope of stories about love in all kinds of interpretations. Every single segment has its own perspective and its own personal style, woven into the rhythm of this unique city by 11 different directors.
The creative team consists of 11 directors, 20 to 30 wonderful actors in main roles, top producers and screenwriters. The 11 directors will range from Dutch up-and-coming talents to internationally acclaimed directors from all over the world, including Koen Mortier, Paula van der Oest (“Zeus and Zo”), Barry Atsma, Shariff Nasr (“Oblivion”) and Atom Egoyan (“The Sweet Hereafter”). The Cities of Love family of directors already includes people like The Coen Brothers, Brett Ratner, Wes Craven, Guillermo Arriaga, Alexander Payne, as well as Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and more.
“Rotterdam, I Love You” will show the real Rotterdam, in all its rough beauty, »
- Sydney Levine
Back in 1991, a young Reese Witherspoon made a remarkably assured dramatic debut in the nostalgic The Man in the Moon. She made a memorable mark in Alexander Payne's Election, but she really broke into the mainstream with her bright and sunny performance as Elle Woods in the broad comedy Legally Blonde. A few years later, she earned an Academy Award for her sterling performance in Walk the Line and since then has continued to impress with her dramatic abilities in movies like Mud and, especially Wild, the latter of which earned her another Oscar nomination. Recently she again turned heads as part of the talented ensemble cast in HBO's Big Little Lies. Having all those roles in mind, the first trailer for the romantic comedy Home Again almost feels like a cold splash of...
- Peter Martin
Back in 1991, a young Reese Witherspoon made a remarkably assured dramatic debut in the nostalgic The Man in the Moon. She made a memorable mark in Alexander Payne's Election, but she really broke into the mainstream with her bright and sunny performance as Elle Woods in the broad comedy Legally Blonde. A few years later, she earned an Academy Award for her sterling performance in Walk the Line and since then has continued to impress with her dramatic abilities in movies like Mud and...
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Some years, it feels like all of the Academy Award contenders are fresh faces. The hopefuls for Oscar nominations and wins are on the scene for the first time and vying to join the club. Other times, it’s a mix between old and new. Still other times, it seems like a disproportionately large amount of would be nominees and prospective winners have been there before. 2017 seems like it’s going to be one of those years. We don’t fully know how it’s going to shape up just yet, but there’s a whole host of golden statue owners who might end up thinking about making room on their mantle for more this time around. If nothing else, this is just a primer to keep in mind when the fall and winter months come calling. Here is the list of all former winners who have something in contention this year. »
- Joey Magidson
First time filmmakers often struggle to assemble a noteworthy cast, especially if they’re working with a limited budget and a small-concept, character-driven script.
Not so for Judy Greer, whose directorial debut, “A Happening of Monumental Proportions,” which premieres at the Bentonville Film Festival Friday in Arkansas, features an enviable roster of high-profile names, from Allison Janney and Jennifer Garner to Common and Bradley Whitford.
“I had never worked with Bradley, I’d never met him, and he’d always been someone as an actor I’d wanted to work with my entire career,” says Greer, who stars in the Fxx series “Archer” and in the upcoming summer release, “War for the Planet of the Apes.” “I was like, f**k it, I’m putting him in my movie because if I can’t work with him as an actor I’m putting him in as a director.”
Greer also »
- Malina Saval
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