a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

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At the Gotham Awards held here in New York tonight. “Call Me By Your Name” was named Best Picture and Timothee Calamet was named Best Breakthrough Actor. Saiorse Ronan was named Best Actress for “Lady Bird.”

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For complete list see awardsdaily.com

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We might as well close this category down. Gary Oldman will definitely win Best Actor Oscar for his stirring portrayal of Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s new biopic drama “The Darkest Hour.” America’s going through its own Darkest Hour right now and we really need the inspiration, and hope, that this great film displays. One of the best of the year, by any stretch of the imagination, filmmaker Joe Wright has directed it like a champ. I’ve always been an admirer of his since “Atonement” and his controversial “Anna Karenina”. “Darkest Hour” is kind of non-traditional choice for this wild young talent, but he aces it. Keeping his camera, and us, focused on the ground-shaking, soul-shattering performance of British actor Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.Oldman has always been considered one of Britain’s finest  actors, but here he reaches his absolute zenith as the garrulous, cigar chomping hero of WWII, Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Oldman is so convincing you feel like you are witnessing the real man in an all-color documentary. But it’s acting, my friends, great acting, and we rarely see great, bombastic, almost theatrical performances of this kind on film anymore. His Churchill  is almost is too big for the screen. But just the right size for Oscar. And all the awards Oldman is sure to reap as we reach the end of the year and Awards season, which is upon us, NOW.

Wily director Wright’s always moving camera manages  to capture Oldman’s close-up portrait to a fare-thee-well. At the Q&A after the film Wright was actually there himself.

Wright told us Gary Oldman( see above ^) spent four hours in the make-up chair every morning getting into the massive Churchill’s  face, and an hour at night to take it off! It’s amazing he had any skin left!

When asked why there were so few exterior scenes, Wright said he wanted to keep the focus relentlessly on Churchill. And he does.

His Winston is always playing to the galleries, realizing all he has is his words and his great voice to rouse a nation. I get chills just thinking about it. You come out of “Darkest Hour” wishing Oldman’s Churchill was our president NOW. We really need him. And you really need to see “Darkest Hour” to remind you of how great statesmen really behave facing war.

We see Winston warts and all, as he combines bacon, eggs and whiskey for breakfast, then continues drinking throughout the grueling day.

“The Darkest Hour” covers roughly the same brief time period of British history that “Dunkirk,” from earlier this year, covers. They are companion pieces, really. And complement each other magnificently. “Dunkirk” shows you the spectacle of the 400,000 British troops as they are cornered by the Nazis in and around the small French beach town of Dunkirk. “The Darkest Hour” barely goes outside the walls and halls of Parliament and Churchill’s various layers of lairs, all filled with smoke, not from war, but from the voluminous cigars that he is constantly chomping

He stomps about in his boxer shorts and open robe in front of his embarrassed British Rose of a secretary, played by Lily Rose of “Downtown Abbey,” who is really a stand-in for the audience here as she and Churchill are confined in close-quarters, often underground, all through the film. Dunkirk and what they are trying to do is a map on the wall with dots on it and tiny pins representing thousands and thousands of British soldiers. Their whole army, really.

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King George V, with his famous speech impediment (See “The King’s Speech”) is done very well here by Ben Mendolsohn, who has to be slowly talked into the war by Churchill. In “Darkest Hour”, we see, as unbelievable as it sounds today, many, many proponents of a peace of appeasing Hitler. Ronald Pickup as Neville Chamberlin and Steven Dillane as the vulpine Count Fairfax are the appropriately oily villains. They try to block Churchill’s crusade to a righteous war with Hitler at every turn. And this is all true.

“The Darkest Hour” is very, very dramatic at every step. The safety of the entire world and all our futures are in his hands. When Churchill finally gets to his resounding “We will fight on the Beaches!” speech, the audience nearly leapt to its feet in agreement. The applause that was in the theater, will be heard down centuries, and will continue all the way to the Dolby pavilion in March on Oscar night.

Greta Gerwig is a genius! There are no ifs and or buts about it, she just IS! Her new film “Lady Bird” is so brilliant, you can’t believe it. And she wrote it and directed it, too! Superbly! We’ve all known her as an actress. She emerged in her early 20s to become the Queen of Mumblecore. But she’s the Queen of Mumblecore no more! In her 2O’s, she seemed to be in every single Indie film that was happening during “The Mumblecore Period”. I never thought she was mumbling. Her light as a quirkily original young actress, always outshone most of her films. One notable exception was Whit Stillman’s witty,wicked take on college sororities,”Damsels in Distress.” Stillman and Gerwig seemed a perfect match. Later she began to turn up in more adult roles, like Mike Mills’ “20th Century Woman” and last year’s “Jackie.”

Indeed her style and wit seems the most similar to Stillman’s fizzy blend of champagne and real pain.

“Lady Bird”s big shocker and also its redemption is that is based in HIGH SCHOOL! Yes, it’s a coming of age story. That old trope which seems as ancient as time immemorial. A young teenage age girl struggles to find herself and to come to terms with her harassed embarrassment of a nagging mother. How cliché is that? But in Gerwig’s amazing young hands she turns this time-worn epic into something quite wonderful and new. In that alone, it’s amazing. It transcends genre, time and place.

She seems to have invented teen-ager-dum, or rather re-invented it. Set in the mid-1980s, we see Lady Bird fighting with her frazzled Mom. Sairose Ronan plays Lady Bird and Laurie Metcalf her Mom, and BOTH are going to the Oscars this year  with a ton of other nominations. Including, yes, Gerwig herself, breaking in to the male-only best directing category as well for sure the Best Original Screenplay category.And young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, who plays Lady Bird so convincingly at the same time, she seems to be channeling Gerwig herself. As is we’re seeing a halo-gram projection of Gerwig’s inner life. As she desperately tries to escape her ho-hum life in Sacramento “the mid-west of California” and go to a college in the East where it seems everything is “more exciting in a place like, y’know, Connecticut.’

In the first amazing scene in the film, we see her fighting with her mother about this who is adamant that she go to a Community College in Sacramento. Lady Bird screams and jumps out of the moving vehicle. And that’s just the first scene of the movie!

We’re with Lady Bird every step of the way, as she continues her fight in every aspect of her life in Sacramento. Especially the hide-bound Catholic school she attends where all the students have to wear the traditional uniform of the blue  plaid skirt and ugly, flat-chested navy blue jumper.

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How did Gerwig pull off this amazing double hat trick of writing & directing a major motion picture? At the press conference at the NYFF last month, she told a room of spell-bound press (pictured above ^) that being ”a film director is what I always wanted to be” And that as a much-employed actress, she was always studying just how all the great directors she was working with were doing it. An apt student, very much like Lady Bird herself, she clearly didn’t miss a trick.

And it has to be said that young(21) Saiorse Ronan is something of a genius herself. She plays the title role so that you love her AND hate her. She’s died her hair nearly every color of the rainbow, but it’s not becoming.

Lady Bird 11And she’s the first potential Best Actress nominee that has every played the leading role in a film with a full face of realistic teenaged acne. Ronan at her early age has been nominated TWICE already. For Best Actress just last year in “Brooklyn,” and for playing the villainous child Bryony Tallis in “Atonement.” And she’s really quite a good-looking young lady. Ingenue! Oscar can’t resist that word. Ingenue! She might be the one that takes the Oscar home this year. AND she’s Irish playing a convincing Californian….

And now that the film “Lady Bird” itself is such a success on every level, I don’t think we’ll be seeing much of Gerwig herself in front of the camera. She’s going to continue on with writing and directing and I hope she never stops! Her talent seems unfathomable and endless. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Happy Thanksgiving 2017!

Happy Thanksgiving 1To all my Facebook friends And Twitter followers! @haveafabulous

Call Me By your Name 2“Call Me By Your Name” tops this year’s announcement of the Indie Spirit Awards nominations with six nods. For Best Picture, Best Director ~ Luca Guadagnino, Best Actor~ Timothee Chalamet, Best Supporting Actor ~ Armie Hammer, Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing. Expect all six nominees to be also called out by their own names on Oscar morning. I can’t stop raving about this superb film. It’s my Best of the Year, so far, and is opening after its boffo turn at the New York Film Festival. This Thanksgiving, it’s a film so beautiful that one must truly be thankful  for.

Also, congratulations are in order for the fabulous debut directing film of the remarkable, multi-talented Greta Gerwig. It was honored with four nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress ~Saoirse Ronan, Best Supporting Actress ~ Laurie Metcalfe and Best Screenplay for Gerwig.

Her first film as a solo director, I can’t understand how Gerwig didn’t also score here for her delightful directing. She’s so pretty, brainy, and beautifully original. Must be jealousy. Yes, it exists. Even at the Indie Spirit Awards. Nothing else explains it. And I thought she’d break through to the Oscars in directing. Always considered an all male domain. Not getting a nomination here at the Indies is troubling. And maybe hurts her chances at the Oscars.

Lady Bird 1Also MIA was the wonderful Willem Dafoe for his outstanding turn as a slum motel landlord in “The Florida Project.” It is certainly a career-capping performance for Dafoe in this terrific Indie film which scored two nominations, Best Picture and Best Director for Sean Baker. Baker who broke into prominence last year with “Tangerine,” a film shot entirely on an iPhone.Willem Dafoe 1You can read my complete review of “The Florida Project” under the title, “The Underside of the Rainbow” at http://www.awardsdaily.comFlorida Project 1

The Spirits are given out the day before the Oscars in March this year. They are supposed to honor films made for less than $20,000.

For a complete list of all the nominees in all the many categories go to http://www.gold derby.com

 


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.

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.

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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.

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