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Annette Bening’s Greatest Performance Yet in “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”

Annette Bening, one of our most enduring film stars, is better than she’s ever been  in “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” and in any other year the Oscar-less also ran would be awarded the Best Actress trophy for her astonishing portrayal of dying film star Glorida Graham.

Graham was a handful by all contemporary accounts, and was as tempestuous in real life as the characters she played in the movies. And she drank. She wasn’t Marilyn Monroe, a rival, but she did have her own Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in “The Bad and the Beautiful.”What Annette Bening does here in this straightforward biopic is to bring us into Graham’s vulnerability as well as her thwarted talent, as the chain smoking she has been doing all her life begins to take its awful toll.

It’s in her last years that she begins to take on a May-December flirtation with this young, YOUNG man, the now-hunky and all grown-up “Billy Elliot” star Jamie Bell.

The setting is Liverpool, where my father and grandparents were from, and Annette as Gloria gets more and more involved with Bell to the point where he invites her home to his humble Liverpudlian abode where he introduces her to his caring, no-nonsense parents. His mother is played by the tremendous Julie Walter, who played the ballet teacher so memorably in “Billy Elliot.”

She and Gloria develop quite a warm friendship and Graham’s twenty year plus age difference doesn’t bother either of them, as it doesn’t matter to Bell.And this is all a true story! Based on the book by the actual young actor himself. Very “My Week with Marilyn,”

And then Gloria gets lung cancer and the film turns dark. And very moving as events build to their tragic inevitable climax.

Bening is convincing in every aspect of the doomed Graham’s life. It is her greatest performance, and in any other year, she would be finally awarded the Best Actress Oscar that has eluded her all her life. She’s been nominated four times!

This year, however, has seen a plethora of brilliant actresses storming the gates of AMPAS and there’s only five slots. Which seem destined to be taken by Sairose Ronan( Lady Bird),  Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Meryl Streep (The Post).

There’s that elusive fifth slot that Bening USUALLY would slide inevitably into but this year there are great performances like Kate Winslet’s in “Wonder Wheel” that might not make it. Margot Robbie of “I, Tonya” is supposed to be the fifth nominee, but I wonder…

Manola Dargis of “The New York Times” slammed her five ways to Sunday just today, so there MAY be room for Bening if Kate Winslet doesn’t slip into Fifth Position..

But if Annette Bening does get in here, her performance as Gloria Grahame, in “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” is her best ever, she COULD win. There’s a great positive sentiment surrounding Bening. She’s made a success of her long-term marriage to Warren Beatty. That ALONE is worthy of a major award. AND she’s now President of the Academy itself. That could cut both ways. But Annette completely won me over. You’ll never be able to look at a Gloria Grahame film again without bursting into tears. As I did.

 

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AFI Announces Its TOP TEN Films of 2017

AFI (American Film Institute)s Ten Best Films just announced its Ten Best Films of 2017. And they are in no particular order, except maybe alphabetical ~ Call Me By Your Name

Dunkirk

Get Out

Lady Bird

The Big Sick

The Florida Project

The Post

The Shape of Water

Three Bill Boards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Wonder Woman

The only real shocker here, for me, is the inclusion of the GRRRRREAAT “Florida Project”, so edgy…and also of course, “Wonder Woman.” “The Darkest Hour” didn’t qualify because it was a majorly British financed production. Also MIA is Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Phantom Thread,” starring Daniel Day Lewis is what HE says his Goodbye to Acting.

Farewell Performance? I don’t think so.

The Best Picture Oscar List will be a little different but not much. The AMPAS voters are allowed to choose from 5-10 Best Picture candidates. Actually, though their ballots only contain five spots. Thereby hangs the mystery…It usually rounds out to seven or eight.

Keep tuning in as things clear up a bit as the Awards Season ploughs on.

But I’ll take a wild guess and say that as many as three and maybe four of these films won’t make it. I hope they all do, but…

 

 

 

Marvelous,Classy Remake of Agatha Christie’s Classic “Murder on the Orient Express”


Kenneth Branagh’s classy, glossy re-make of Agatha Christie’s classic mystery “Murder on the Orient Express” is great, grand fun. It’s considered perhaps second only to  her “And Then There Were None,” it keeps being brought back to us each time with more style than ever. No matter how glossy, it’s “Orient Express”s superior and unique plot and plotting that holds us all enthralled and trapped by its’ ingenuity, as Christie’s characters are trapped by a snowy landslide somewhere in Eastern Europe in the 1930s.

Kenneth Branagh has decided to have fun with it, and so we do, too. I would say David Suchet’s TV version of it was the darkest one, also great. And Sydney Lumet’s glamourous film version with Lauren Bacall, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts and Ingrid Bergman  all on board with Albert Finney at the helm as the beefiest Poirot in 1974.

Bergman seemed terribly mis-cast and under-used in the small part of the Missionary, but she was so incongruous as the plain, ex-governess who loved her “little brown babies, she won her third Oscar. This time in Supporting. And shocked everyone Oscar night that year.

I don’t know if Penelope Cruz, now cast here as a Spanish missionary, is going to repeat that hat-trick. But Michelle Pfeiffer might. Pfeiffer’s part has considerably been built up, and indeed, she has enough scene stealing and scenery chewing moments to qualify as this year’s Best Supporting Actress.

She is Mrs. Hubbard, an aging film star on the decline, who shrieks and cries and over-acts her way through “Express,” to the point where I almost thought that Branagh had re-written this adaption to make her the guilty party. She certainly ACTS, or over-acts her way to jail, if indeed she is the one who did it.

IT, being the murder of Johnny Depp’s horrible henchman, but no, Branagh didn’t touch the bed-rock of Christie’s great murderous conceit. Depp is perfectly vile as the soon to be dispensed with Ratchet. Josh Gad has a very large part, too, as Depp’s vile, scheming secretary. Branagh even get to chase Gad as he tries to escape at one point in the movie.

I’ve never seen Hercule Poirot move as much as he does in this movie, and Josh Gad, too, for that matter. Poirot has fight scenes, incongruous as they may be, and a broken heart from an ex-girl friend. Strict students of Christie and Poirot may object to these *gasp* liberties that Branagh has taken.His ridiculously gigantic moustaches that seems so heavy and overdone, he might at any moment fall face forward from its weight.

But while I noted these disparities, they did not stop my enjoyment of this very enjoyable romp.

“Wonderstruck” is Wonderful! Julianne Moore Triumphs Yet Again in Todd Haynes’ Best Film.

The great, essential New York Film Festival continues to top itself.I can’t stop talking about all the wonderful films I saw there this season.

It was an incredible year that it was having. now reveals their Centerpiece Film to be one of the best of the year, and the one film to emerge that may just end up  not only the most beloved but the most acclaimed. Haynes has had an amazing career to date with his legendary team of producer Christine Vachon and cinematographer Ed Lachman. His films are never quite embraced as they should be by the mainstream. Haynes is Out and Gay and so is Vachon, but here in “Wondersruck” the brilliant Centerpiece film of this amazing festival, they have eschewed gay themes entirely and turned to a serious subject that you would never think their twinkling talents would ever touch – deafness.

Wonderstruck 5

There has never been a film that has addressed this terrible affliction head on, and with such grace and style and heart and heart-break. “The Miracle Worker” comes to mind as the only film to really face this disease. But Helen Keller was both blind as well as deaf and both Patty Duke as Keller and Anne Bancroft as her soul saving teacher both got Oscars. “Wonderstruck” should be showered with awards in every category that it is eligible for. Julianne Moore may be heading towards her second Oscar and her sixth(or is it seventh?) nomination for sure in a duel role that is head-spinning as well as heart-breaking. Her range is tested and she proves more than equal to the daunting task. She is Haynes’ muse, and is more than up to the double challenges these two roles face her with. She is for sure one of our greatest actress. Always amazing, in “Wonderstuck” she astounded me. Julianne Moore 2

Also unforgettable is the wan, fey, first time performer, deaf actress Millicent Simmonds(pictured above). She plays the pivotal role of the non-hearing Rose, who wants to break out of her restrictive home in Hoboken, in the silent film black and white half of Haynes’ stunning cinematic coup du cinema. Just like Soirse Ronan’s “Lady Bird,” she wants to spread her wings and fly as Lady Bird does, to New York City. She is first seen as simply a lost little girl, wandering the streets of 1920s New York all by herself.

She keeps grasping articles and ads about a glamourous stage actress, Lillian Mayhew, who turns out to be her mother. So her seemingly pointless mission leads her to a theater and to Mom, here played by an almost unrecognizable Julianne Moore in the first of her two wildly divergent roles. To reveal her second would be to spoil the movie. So don’t let anyone tell you anything about it.Wonderstruck 2

Her vain diva of a mother is a parent who wants nothing to do with her deaf child. She’s ashamed that her child is deaf.  “Wonderstruck” is the name of a book about museums that brings both halves of this bifurcated film together. The other half is set  50 years later in 1977 New York (and in color, with sound) and involves another runaway child, this time a boy, Oakes Fegley. His mother, the only parent he’s ever known (played beautifully in a cameo appearance by Michelle Williams) is killed at “Wonderstruck”s outset in a car crash.  Ben has nightmares about wolves. And flees his Gunflint, Minnesota home when  lightning strikes him deaf.

So we have two deaf 12 year-old children running from what they see as  unbearable situations, to New York City, to find a new home, one that will hopefully heal them, simultaneously, one in black and white and silent in the ’20s, to one contemporary and in color with sound. This seemingly impossible to connect or reconcile story, Haynes (and cinematographer Lachman) manage to pull off in a grand manner. Culminating with both twelve year olds finding their way to the Museum of Natural History. I will reveal no more.

The sound work by a huge team under the super vision of Drew Kunin is simply astounding. Silence and foley affects and sound mixing and sound editing have never played such an integral part in a feature film. But here the sound department just shines in creating a world where there is no sound whatsoever. The deaf lead a very hard life and “Wonderstuck” reveals its’ woes and complex challenges quite beautifully with a style and grace that is unparalleled.

The dizzying editing between past and present and black and white and silent and color and sound is by the wizardly of Affonso Gonclaves. The impeccable period and modern costumes are by the great Sandy Powell and the production design is by Mark Friedberg.
“Wonderstruck” is based on Brian Selznick’s book, from which he also wrote the moving screenplay.

I hope “Wonderstruck” isn’t too sentimental for our jaded times, but audiences and families can bring their children to this and enjoy it and be educated by it. The Museum of Natural History is really a character in this film and its’ great dioramas of wildlife are shown to full and wonderful effect. “Wonderstruck” is wonderful, that’s all there is to it.

My First NYFF rave for “Awardsdaily” this year.”Last Flag Flying”

(more…)

Louise Penny’s New #13 Gamache ~ “Glass Houses”

I wonder what’s going to happen to Louise Penny’s latest novel, hot off the presses, “Glass Houses”? It’s her 13th in a row Inspector Gamache novel. And USUALLY she hits it out of the ball park every time, but this time…Well, she’s a crime/mystery writer the world has fallen in love with, even though she’s an Anglo-Canadian writing about our beloved Montreal and the province of Quebec, where she lives.

“Glass Houses” was written very fast. It seems like the last one “A Great Reckoning” only came out last week, but actually it was last year. But still, a new book, EVERY year! I mean, that’s an incredible achievement by any definition and she’s been called “the new Agatha Christie”, which is also an incredible accolade. (She’s won Agatha Award six times!) And she sells! She tends to debut at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

And it’s really difficult to write about her Chief Inspector Gamache books, because you don’t want to spoil anything. But I will say this. This is my least favorite novel of hers, so far. And I’ve read them all!

Don’t worry die-hard Gamache fans he’s very much front and center here, and Penny has created a great character in him, her lead detective. He’s retired now and living in Three Pines, the wonderful, mythical Quebec township town she’s created. It’s not real, but it’s setting is continuously beguiling and I really want to eat at the Bistro of Gabri and Olivier, right now!

Food is mentioned often, but not as much in “Glass Houses” but the Bistro Gamache fans NEED to know is where most of the action, and the eating, mais oui, happens. And Kudos to Penny for putting two very original gay Bistro/B&B owners front and center in her books. Gamache has a gaggle of sorts. What’s the French word for “Posse”? Maybe it’s posse, too, and they are all on hand, and there’s so many of them now that the ensemble tends to push the new characters almost out of the book completely.

It must sound divine to Penny fans, but — this time…
“Glass Houses” I found confusing. There. I said it. You need to know that it switches back and forth in time and seasons and locales. It’s hard to follow, until you realize that the trial that takes up half the book, is set in Montreal in the summer. Just WHAT and WHO is on trial for WHAT is also confusing. It’s made clear at the end but by then my patience with Gamache & co. was more than a little frazzled.

Then her masterpiece Ruth Zardo the crazy, foul-mouthed Octogenarian poet whose pet duck Rosa comes on. And then Gamache’s PERFECT wife Reine-Marie starts exerting her charm, and they all dine at the beautiful, homey bistro and you realize that Louise Penny is really above criticism at this point.

Especially, considering she wrote this big 400 page tome as her beloved husband, Michael, in real life, was dying.

Which kind of exemplifies the dark, threatening figure that keeps appearing on the Village Green one cold, rainy November day…Wait! How did we get to be in November? I thought it was July! Well, “Glass Houses” keeps switching back and forth, yes, confusingly.

Penny really returns to form(she really is an exquisite writer) in of all places the Author’s Note, which is at the end of the entire book. She writes feelingly about her husband’s death and ends with the lovely thought “The final thanks is to you, my friend. For your company.The world is brighter for your presence.
All shall be well.”

“Natasha, Pierre” Wins Most Drama Desks – 4! Laura Linney AND Cynthia Nixon Both Win!Bette Midler & Andy Karl score, too!

Drama Desk Awards 2917The 62nd Drama Desk Awards are now in the history books, and are they perhaps predicting the Tony winners?

Natasha, Pierre 20Natasha, Pierre Broadway Set“Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” won all four awards, the most it was eligible for, the most it could win. Since it opened several years ago at the Ars Nova theater Off Off Broadway, it’s not nominated for the ten awards it’s up for ON Broadway. But the Acting Categories it IS predicting, I think are Best Actress and Featured Actress in a Play both of which went to Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon for “Little Foxes.”  Laura gave a beautiful speech. If TONY winners saw it…She was a very popular win.lITTLE FOXES 14Laura Linney OCC 1

I guess the headline was that Bette Midler didn’t show to accept HER award for “Hello, Dolly!”Hello Dolly 11But Gavin Creel did. He claimed to be “unfunny” and that director Jerry Zaks made him “funny.”Michael Urie Tux

Certainly funny AND charming was host Michael Urie who really aced this tricky show. He even jumped up high to give towering presenter the legendary Tommy Tune a kiss! Tune shockingly quipped “the last person to kiss me at one of these things was Leonard Bernstein.”…Pause for huge laugh…”He gave me tongue,” Pause for another huge laugh. “And I LIKED IT!” Applause.

It was one of the slickest evenings in the Drama Desks chequered and long and distinguished history. It was certainly a very high point. And I am proud beyond words to be part of this organization. It enables me to see all these wonderful shows and to write about them and to bring them to you on my blog and my TV show. I’ve been a member for over twenty years, or more. But who’s counting? It’s work I love to do.

True story. I voted for most of tonight’s winners. Showing you one’s vote DOES count. I prefigured nearly every award in the design categories, and Andy Karl winning for Best Actor for “Groundhog Day.” He quipped “This is the biggest pity award I’ve ever gotten.” Referring to the fact, and he referenced it by tripping on his way up to the stage, but then making like it was a joke and he was fine. But seriously, he did tear his ACL right before the show opened and to this day, he wears a massive knee brace, which as he is in his underwear almost constantly, (11 times, but who’s counting?) in the course of the show. Andy Karl on mike

It IS “Groundhog Day” after all.

“Hello, Dolly!” in addition to winning for Midler and Creel also won Best Revival of a Musical and the Canadian musical “Come From Away,” as I predicted it might, won three awards including Best Musical. And also Best Supporting Actress for Jenn Collela.

Danny DeVito won for Best Featured Actor in a Play for “The Price.”

Here’s the list of shows by number of winners who reached more than two.

Wins by Production:

 

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