a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

I was hesitant, I admit, to see “The Novitiate.’ I was named for a nun, Sister Mary Stephen, who was my aunt. But I was totally blown away and moved by “The Novitiate.” My childhood was surrounded by nuns. My aunt was a Sister of Mercy and I was taught by Sisters of Charity in Catholic school. However, “The Novitiate” is done with a great deal of respect. And it is, in its own way, devout. It’s such a closed world and this film gives a glance, albeit a partial one, into what goes on beyond those mysterious, eternally closed convent walls.

I should now take the time to point out that previous Oscar winner Melissa Leo gives one of the performances of the year(And her career) in “The Novitiate.” She’s mean Mother Superior here, and this role challenges her on every level imaginable and she meets every one with a ferocity and power that is staggering.

She is in a nun’s habit for the whole film. Her wimple is similar to my late aunt’s, but my aunt had a severely starched head band and collar and bib, plus the black trailing veil that Melissa Leo wears in the film. However, Leo’s collar is not starched. It moves when she moves her face and neck, and therefore allows much greater freedom of expression in close-up. And for most of the film, we see all is the faces of the actresses in tight close-ups.

“Novitiate” is profound and enthralling because it takes its holy subject, women and their relationship with God, so seriously. I was not surprised to find out that “Novitiate” was directed AND written by a young first-time director, Maggie Betts, who must’ve been a former nun. Right? Wrong! She was a socialiate. Her family a close one to the Bushs, and my god does this make “Novitiate” an even more powerful debut.

Not particularly religious herself, Betts claims that she found the truth of her subject matter through research. It is the 1960s and the Cathoic Church is be-set with all kinds of changes initiated by Pope John Paul XXIII and Vatican II.

Melissa Leo’s Mother Superior wants none of this and her (Fictional, I guess) religious order and the nuns in it are known for their strictness.

My cheerful, lovely Aunt Anna, was not subjected to the various forms of “punishment” that Leo’s Mother Superior “Just call me Mother” meets out. But the silence and the prayers and the discipline were similar if no the same. My Aunt felt she was married to Christ, and it was a happy marriage for her.

When Vatican II hit and all these restrictions on the female religious were lifted, 90,000 nuns, according to the devastating end credits of the movie. left their orders. My aunt did not. She was happy where she was. And you’ll be happy to if you see Melissa Leo’s incredible, unforgettable performance in “Novitiate.”

It’s a leading role, but she’ll be considered in Supporting, because Best Actress is so jammed this year. It’s just unbelievable. And that a woman director, directed and wrote this her first feature is truly impressive.

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Oscar Nominees, potential Oscar Nominees, Begin to Emerge as the New York Film Festival reaches its’ much touted half-way point.

Last Flaf Flying 1
The biggest winner so far seems to me to be Steve Carell, who has two strong possibilities in two films, one in the Festival, one outside it. The hilarious “Battle of the Sexes” and the somber “Last Flag Flying”.Steve Carell

I would say that his hysterical turn as blow-hard Tennis Pro Bobby Riggs is almost sure to be nominated in the Supporting category for Carell. I would’ve said that his MUCH more serious turn as the grieving father in “Last Flag Flying” was also a Supporting performance, but some are saying he’s lead.

It would be just like the mercurial Carell to end up in both categories. He’s well-liked and clearly at a career high, so it’s entirely possible.

I’m SURE they are going to nominate Emma Stone, last year’s winner for “Battle of the Sexes.” That would be in the Best Actress category for her portryal of closeted lesbian Tennis Pro Billy Jean King. Best Actress is now more jammed than ever with potential nominees clamoring to get in. Saoirse Ronan is pitch perfect at the rebellious teen in “Lady Bird.” She’s definitely an “In”. As is Laurie Metcalfe, also on a roll, after winning the Tony this year for “Doll’s House, Part 2.” Her put-upon hard-working mom to Ronan’s rambunctious teen daughter is as maddening as she is sympathetic. She’s “In” in Supporting, never having even been nominated for an Oscar before.

Another surefire “in” is Willem Dafoe in the magnificently original “Florida Project.” He could win in this category, Supporting Actor, but he’ll be up against Carell, or even Bryan Cranston AND Laurence Fishburne for “Last Flag Flying”. Though I would say Cranston and Fishburne are BOTH leading roles.”Florida Project” also has a secret weapon in six-year-old Brooklynn Kimberly Prince. Florida Project 1They nominated another six-year-old and quite recently, too. Quevezhane Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern WIld.” Hey, even in a crowded year for Best Actress , like this one, powerhouse charmer Brooklynn( that’s with two “n”s thank you very much.)could surprise.

A complete unknown still is Kate  Winslet’s performance  in the still unseen “Wonder Wheel” of Woody Allen. It closes the Festival and absolutely no one has seen it yet. But the buzz is deafening and the production photos look awesome.

Someone who is NOT getting in to the crowded Best Actress race is octogenarian Dame Judi Dench, who I’ve admired and loved all my life. But “Victoria and Abdul” is the worst thing she’s ever done. Sad to say. Long, slow, and although she’s her usual great self in the funny first half, in the second more serious half, she had sooooo many death scenes, I couldn’t WAIT for her to die. Which is an awful feeling for a potential Best Actress nominee. She’s been to the Queen Victoria well one too many times now. She’s been there, done that, and quite frankly her failure to carry this film through to the end, just sickened me. Yes, even Judi Dench is human. She just doesn’t know when to stop.

Can’t wait for “Wonder Wheel” this Friday and for “Wonder Struck” by Todd Haynes tonight at the NYFF. Their Opening Night film was “Last Flag Flying” and “Wonder Struck” is their Centerpiece and “Wonder Wheel” closes it.

A superb film that is none of those things but “Call Me By Your Name” is Luca Guadagnino’s masterpiece and a gay love story to end all gay love stories. Timothee Chalament, is the teen in THIS coming of age story. He’s also playing a bad boy rock musician in “Lady Bird. ”

Army Hammer is the other half of this lovely gay love duo, and BOTH performances are so powerful, they could BOTH get nominated. Chalamet in lead and Hammer in Supporting.

As bizarre as it sounds all these films could get nominated for Best Picture. That’s how good the New York Film Festival has been this year.Call Me By your Name 1

http://www.awardsdaily.com/2017/10/01/florida-project-underside-rainbow-nyff/

The hits just keep coming at this year New York Film Festival! I can’t stop raving about them! This link will take you to the beautiful layout of this astounding/disturbing movie. The NYFF is at an all time high this year, so proud and happy to be covering it for the great Oscar site, Awardsdaily! Sasha and Ryan, thank you!

Everything is so up at the NYFF 55, it makes my heart sing! Not the least of which is their big tribute to the tiniest of French Grande Dames du Cinema, Agnes Varda. My latest review at Awardsdaily.com on the great French icon. I called it “Hot at 89” And it was published within minutes! Beautiful lay-out by Sasha Stone and her gifted editor Ryan Adams! Merci a tous, as Agnes would say.

http://www.awardsdaily.com/2017/10/01/hot-89-agnes-varda-nyff-french-cinema-Agnes Varda truck 1icon-honored/

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A belated and hearty congratulations to the great New York character actress Ann Dowd for winning her first(but I’m sure not her last) Emmy on Sunday night for “A Handmaiden’s Tale.”

I worked with Ann trying to get her an Oscar for “Compliance” a few years back. What it actually takes, besides having immense talent, which Ann certainly has, is MONEY. Money spent on Oscar campaigns, and Oscar strategists, who make in the six figures.

Well, I’m not that, but it was an eye-opener. To me. And to Ann, too. I remember her saying “I can’t believe that after all these years(acting) I’m still naïve as to how this all works.”

She did win a National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress that year, so I did help get her that.

Well, she’s where she should be now. Best Supporting Actress in a TV Drama Series. Congratulations, Ann! You’ll just keep on winning…I’m so sure…

Ann appeared  on my show at that time. See above ^ My lovely interview with her shot and edited by the great Kevin Teller is on my You Tube channel.

http://www.youtube.com/Stephenholtshow

Search under Ann Dowd

 

 


“Battle of the Sexes” is one of the Best Films of the year. It contains the best ever filmed Tennis Match, and last year’s Oscar Winner Emma Stone is just GLORIOUS in it! She’s in her prime here and proves that yea, she CAN act up there with the Big Ones in Hollywood Heaven.. And will for sure garner her second Oscar nomination for her charming, conflicted Tennis Queen Billie Jean King.

“Battle of the Sexes” while it purports to elucidate the Tennis Match to end all Tennis Matches of the 1970s (And I don’t even like Tennis!)between feminist heroine Billie Jean King and self-proclaimed Male chauvinist Pig Bobby Riggs (an excellent Steve Carrell), it really is Billie Jean’s surprising coming out love story between her and her devoted hair dresser (in more ways than one)(Andrea Riseborough). Their extended, erotic, lesbian love scenes are something to cheer about. They’ll leave you as breathless as the participants. Tender, beautiful, moving.

I can’t ever remember this many completely shown Sapphic sex scenes in a mainstream American film, and that really is just a joy to behold. Not over-the-top, not overdone, Stone & Riseborough really hit the mark as two lovers who must hide in the shadows and sneak around even though it’s the supposedly enlightened 1970s.

Actually, Emma Stone has never been better. She is growing before our delighted eyes in to one of the Best Screen Actreses Maybe Ever. And Steve Carrell is at the top of his game here, too, as the buffoon-ish Bobby Riggs. “The Battle of the Sexes” is a Match Set. Love All.
“The Battle of the Sexes” is that rare thing, and truly refreshing movie.

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