a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

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Provincetown Film Fest Wrap-Up 2015

Lili GradmaLily Tomlin’s Grand “Grandma” Creates Oscar Buzz at Provincetown FIlm Festival 2015 

Lily Tomlin’s totally grand “Grandma” wowed the crowd and was the hottest ticket at the just wrapped Provincetown International Film Festival 2015. With lines around the block and dozens of frustrated festival-goers turned away, there was no doubt that “Grandma” had audience clout. And there was plenty of heated discussions about Tomlin’s Oscar chances as far as being nominated for her bravura turn that could finally land her in the Best Actress race, at age 75, garnering her first Best Actress nomination as Elle, the Septuagenarian Lesbian Poet From Hell. And the general conclusion was “Yes. She will be in it to win it.”
 
Which is exactly the sentiments Elle herself would express, if asked. Elle is Tomlin’s great late-in-life come-back role and she tears into it with fierce gusto, as well as sad-eyed pain. Her teenaged, blonde-afro-ed grand-daughter Sage(Julia Garner), turns up pregnant and needing money for an immediate abortion. Grandma is broke and has cut up all her credit-cards and turned them into a mobile. 
 
How Elle solves Sage’s age-old problem is the hilarious/heart-felt crux of the film, and Marcia Gay Harden, already an Oscar winner for “Pollack”, turns in an awards-baity performance as Elle’s disliked daughter and Sage’s equally disliked Mom. Tomlin was nominated once before for an Oscar in 1975’s “Nashville”, but she has never won. And that was 40 years ago!
 
The Provincetown weather this year was not the usual tourist-friendly warmth and sunshine by the sea. It was cold and it rained. Which meant everyone went to the movies. And the movies were better than ever!
 
Also a stand-out was former stand-up comedian-turned-director Bobcat Goldthwait’s “Call Me Lucky”, purporting to be about fellow stand-up Bostonian Barry Crimmins, it turns into a scathing indictment of the Catholic Church and its’ continuous cover-up of child abuse. In an abrupt, but deftly-handled 360 degree turn in the film, Crimmins reveals that he himself was an abused child. And the film keeps hauntingly returning to the subject “The Basement,” where the abuse happened, and then finally taking the film and Crimmins to the basement itself. Harrowing,”Call Me Lucky” is not to be missed. I saw it twice and feel it is one of the Year’s Ten Best. It goes into wide-release in 25 cities in August.
 
Another doc, (PIFF was really landing one great documentary after the other) that thrilled me and made me very, very proud was the stirring “The State of Marriage” which dealt with the hard-fought battle for Marriage Equality in the State of Vermont. 
 
In excruciating and amazingly detailed on-the-spot footage, this inspiring doc tells the untold story of how three women lawyers changed the world. Bostonian activist Mary Bonauto joined with small town Vermont lawyers Beth Robinson and Susan Murray in a two decade long, epic struggle and built the foundation of the laws and rights that has made so many gay couples happy today.
 
“The State of Marriage” is a thrilling call to arms that enlightened me and frightened me when I saw in vivid detail what these brave women had to go through for the happiness of us all. And that it was all so intimately, thoroughly and dramatically recorded by documentarian Jeff Kaufman is a miracle about a miracle. A dream that I thought would never come true in my life-time, but the brilliant ” The State of Marriage” confirms and records that it IS so, and moves us all as it does.
 
And watch out for the delightful “Mistress America” starring the irresistible and original comedian Greta Gerwig, who also co-authored this screwiest of screwball comedies with director Noah Baumbach, who may have the biggest hit he’s had since “The Squid and the Whale.”
 
“I live in Times Square!” proclaims the giddy Gerwig, and the response is “Who lives in Times Square?” Well, full disclosure, I, for one, do. And the glorious Gerwig had me at “Hello.” The beauteous Heather Lind also scores as Gerwig’s rich arch-enemy who has stolen not only her ideas and her boyfriend, but also her cats! Mayhem ensues.
 
Also, the much talked about, very original doc “The Wolfpack” was there at Provincetown, too, even though it is already out in general release. There’s a lot of Oscar talk about his incredible film, already seen on “60 Minutes”, “The Wolfpack” is so powerful and so positive about the good things film can bring even to the lives of the enclosed, some would say imprisoned Angulo brothers.
 
Living in absolute squalor on the 14th floor of a high-rise in the worst housing projects in New York City, the six brothers escape into a world of film, a world we all know. Quentin Tarantino movies, “The Dark Knight” etc. Could “The Wolfpack” make it all the way to the Oscars in the Best Doc category?
 
I think it’s pretty much known that this film has a happy ending and that first time filmmaker Crystal Moselle has had a kind of “Grey Gardens” story on her hands. So it’s all good. As were nearly all of the amazing docs and off-beat Indies at this year’s super-sharp Provincetown Film Festival. Sure it was raining. It was raining good films.

 

Provincetown Film Festival ’13 Wrap Up!

PROVINCETOWN FILM FESTIVAL 15th ANNIVERSARY Wrap-Up

Epstein/Friedman Triumph TWICE with Double Whammy of “Lovelace” &”The Battle of AMFAR” ~ Almodovar, “Fruitvale” and Divine also score

Oscar-winning documentary filmmakers Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman did the seemingly impossible at the 15th Anniversary of the Provincetown International Film Festival, which just wrapped. They opened this smart, exciting, essential & growing film festival with their first narrative feature film “Lovelace” about the ’70’s porn star Linda Lovelace of “Deep Throat” fame and followed it up with a terrific doc about the AIDS organization “The Battle of AMFAR.” Both were superb.

“Lovelace” was my favorite film of PIFF, boasting a surprising trio of Oscar-worthy performances from Amanda Seyfried (“Les Miz,””Mama Mia”) as Linda Lovelace herself,and Peter Sarsgaard (“An Education”) is incredibly believable in his tough-to-take role as Lovelace’s porn producer/husband Chuck Traynor. The triumvirate of great star turns is completed by an unrecognizable Sharon Stone as Lovelace’s hard-nosed Catholic mother. I never thought Seyfried had the dramatic chops, and I, like Harvey Weinstein I was told, did not realize that it was Sharon Stone as the mother, until the end credits rolled, and I nearly jumped out of my skin!

Stone has been nominated once before for “Casino”, but didn’t win, and now I think she will have another strong shot for sure, as Seyfried and Sarsgaard will, too, be up for Oscar consideration again. And this time, as a Best Supporting Actress, she could actually win. And neither Seyfried nor the worthy-as-hell, overdue Sarsgaard has ever been nominated either. Also, Radius the new Weinstein Co. off-shoot is repping this terrific film.

A biopic of a porn star? I didn’t think I’d like it, but “Lovelace” and Seyfried and Sarsgaard and filmmakers Epstein and Friedman draw you in utterly and make you CARE. And it’s funny, too, when it needs to be, and tragic as Lovelace’s story gets darker and darker. And with Harvey Weinstein in the mix behind them, look out!

“The Battle of AMFAR” is about the founders, the unlikely duo of research scientist Dr. Mathilde Krim and superstar-turned-activist Elizabeth Taylor. who joined forces to bring about a critical change in the perception of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1985. This terrific doc that sped by at a lightening pace was ALSO directed by Epstein and Friedman, who also directed “Lovelace”! Is there anything these two titans of cinema can’t do? It was definitely their time to shine at this year’s charming sea-side Festival.

The Weinstein Co. was also behind the laceratingly powerful racial drama “Fruitvale Station”, a true story about an innocent African American youth, 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who is wrongly slain by police on New Year’s Eve 2008. Unknown actor Michael B. Jordan has to carry virtually every scene of the film, and he does, but it is Oscar Winner Octavia Spenser(“The Help”) who outdoes herself here as Grant’s mother.

Grant is no plaster saint and his mother knows it. We are shown flashback scenes of Grant in prison, when his mother comes to visit and tells him she won’t be coming to see him anymore and refuses to hug him. We see her try to control her wild, pothead son, when he gets out, and she tries to keep him on the straight and narrow, and most monumentally, we see her grieving when he is shot-to-death by police. Octavia Spenser meets every challenge of this bravura, heart-breaking role that pulls out all the stops, and then some.

Having won both the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature and the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic film at 2013’s Sundance Film Festival, “Fruitvale Station”, the subway station where the tragedy occurs, seems primed to compete across the categories as last year’s Sundance favorite “Beasts of the Southern Wild” did. And with Harvey as its’ producer, you know it will be a significant player this awards season.

An enchanting Film Festival by the sea, picturesque Provincetown is surrounded on three sides by water, and boasted a particularly strong slate of docs this year, with “Casting By” about the late, great, legendary casting director Marion Dougherty. Who at one time, as Tom Donahue’s film amply illustrates, seemed to be running the film industry in the ’70s. Dougherty speaks for herself fortunately in many insightful interviews, where it is revealed that she single-handedly talked directors Peter Friedkin into casting Gene Hackman in “The French Connection” and also persuaded John Schlesinger to cast Jon Voight in “Midnight Cowboy”! Try to imagine those two films without those two great performances, both of which won Best Actor & Best Film. Dougherty became so powerful that she turned Casting which was a male-dominated field, into the female-centric one it is today, as she constantly hired women as her assistants. But Casting Director don’t get Oscars. They don’t even have their own category, even as Dougherty and others fought for accreditation. The all-powerful DGA wants to make sure the power stays with The Director and not The CASTING Director. If the public only knew! And “Casting By” at least shines a bright, benevolent light on this tricky situation.

Another doc that knocked my socks off was “I Am Divine” about the late drag performer and cult icon of John Waters’ films “Pink Flamingos”, “Female Trouble” and “Hairspray” among many others. Filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz emphasizes what a good actor Divine was underneath all the make-up and gowns and that he was poised to have a substantial character as a male character actor when he died of a massive heart attack at age 40. Too young. Too soon. And like with the unlikely heroine of “Lovelace”, Schwarz makes you care about his too-chubby protagonist, who just couldn’t stop eating. Or acting. Or acting out.

Waters was there to speak about the film and his late star. Noting that when people said that they often saw Divine walking around Provincetown in kaftans back in the Day, Waters said, “That’s a lie! Divine took cabs!”

And last but not least there is Pedro Almodovar’s HILARIOUS new comedy “I’m So Excited!” which is already one of my favorite Almodovar films. The hottest ticket in one of the smallest theaters (The Art House 2), I had to line up in a Rush Line for AN HOUR before the film started! But I got in! And what a delight it was!

I don’t remember Almodovar doing such an out-and-out comedy since “Woman on the Verge…” or “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down”. Pedro, always a scamp as well as a camp, lets the bobby pins fall where they may as he lets his hair down in the wildest situation imaginable. A plane is stalled flying over Toledo, where it circles and circle and circles. The three tres gay male flight attendants have drugged all the passengers in coach and are left to entertain the first class passengers with campy numbers like “I’m So Excited”, which is a music video-like gem. Pedro could direct musicals, too, if he wanted. I couldn’t stop laughing!

Penelope Cruz and Antonia Banderas make hilarious brief cameo appearances at the beginning of the film. And I was particularly fond of returning Almodovar regular Lola Duenas, “Sole” Penelope’s illegal hair-dresser sister in “Volver”, as a wacky psychic who predicts that she’ll lose her virginity on this flight. What do you think? Hilarity ensues! Don’t miss it!

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