Open Letter to Personal Shopper Loyalists

HE to Guy Lodge, Richard Lawson, Eric Kohn, Stephanie Zacharek, Peter Bradshaw, Robbie Collin, Tim Grierson, Jake Howell and others who were hugely impressed by Olivier AssayasPersonal Shopper: We were all knocked back when it played in Cannes five weeks ago, but a few too many critic friends have since told me “nope, not for me, didn’t care for it,” etc. And yet some of these same naysayers liked or even loved The Conjuring 2, which operates way, way below the level of Assayas’ film. And that, to me, is appalling.

All I can figure is that Personal Shopper is too antsy and schizo for some people. It’s too teasing and darting and inconclusive. It doesn’t behave like other ghost stories, and some just don’t know what to do with it. So they toss it and wash their hands.

Have any of you thought about the schism between admirers and dissers? What are your thoughts? What’s going on here?

There’s not the slightest doubt in my mind about how uniquely chilling and riveting this film is — it’s my second favorite film of the year after Manchester by the Sea — and how stunningly good Stewart’s performance is. And yet two or three days ago Tom Luddy and Julie Huntsinger of the Telluride Film Festival were both telling me how they didn’t care for it. C’mon!

I posted a short “Friends of Personal Shopper” piece in Cannes on 5.17, but here’s a more comprehensive rundown of the best raves:

Personal Shopper is strange, frightening, and possessed of a dark ribbon of sadness that no champagne gulped down at a post-screening beach party could drown out. There are certain scenes — scored by ominous thuds and whispering wind — that are so frightening that they were, for this wimp, extraordinarily hard to watch. A horror movie with a matte, flat-faced demeanor [and] a grief drama with a shiver of sylphic humor, Personal Shopper is as cathartic as it is terrifying, as knowing and wise about the weirder mechanics of the grieving process as it is utterly confusing.” — Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair. (more…)

Friends of Personal Shopper

“[A] captivating, bizarre, tense, fervently preposterous and almost unclassifiable scary movie from Olivier Assayas…a film which delivers the bat-squeak of pure craziness that we long for at Cannes, although at the first screening some very tiresome people continued the festival’s tradition of booing very good films.

“It is actually Assayas’s best film for a long time, and Stewart’s best performance to date — she stars in a supernatural fashionista-stalker nightmare where the villain could yet be the heroine’s own spiteful id. Is it The Devil Wears Prada meets The Handmaiden (also in Cannes) with a touch of Single White Female?” — The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw.

“How the hell did this movie get made? We pose this question in genuine awe, with absolutely no hint of back-biting consternation. Occasionally it’s a genre movie, then it’s a study of grief, then a satire, then a murder mystery and then a Hitchcockian thriller, and sometimes it manages to be all that and more in the very same moment.

“Assayas taps a wellspring of thought on forms of communication [while drawing] parallels between 19th century drawing room seances and Skype calls. In Personal Shopper, death is just another form of alienation, a physical remove from a person we once knew. Words themselves come under close scrutiny, and Assayas asks if we can ever truly connect with another person if we’re not standing right in front of them and communing fully with the senses. The incessant buzz of a smartphone becomes an attention-grabbing scream from out of the ether.” — Little White Lies’ David Jenkins. (more…)

Ready To Inject Fresh 2017 Serum, But There’s Not Much Happening Until 3.10

The 2017 Sundance and Santa Barbara film festivals are history, the Spirits and the Oscars are less than two weeks away and all but concluded in the minds of most, and I for one am ready to jump into the 2017 batting cage and start swinging. But not until the next three weekends are past us. Okay, one or two might pass muster. This Friday’s (2.17) top openers are Gore Verbinski‘s A Cure For Wellness (already dismissed as a shortfaller) and Zhang Yimou‘s The Great Wall (Chinese monster epic, Matt Damon)…nothing. The 2.24 toppers are Eran Creevy‘s Collide (blah) and Jordan Peele‘s Get Out….wait, this might be something. The three big openers on 2.28 are Ry Russo Young‘s Before I Fall, James Mangold‘s Logan (might be decent) and Stuart Hazeldine‘s The Shack (faith movie with HE’s own Octavia Spencer as God). As far as I’m concerned the first two rip-snorters are opening on 3.10 — Jordan Vogt-RobertsKong: Skull Island and Oliver AssayasPersonal Shopper. Don’t listen to the naysayers — anyone who dismisses this film needs to refresh their browser and/or upload new software. Here’s my coverage going back to last May’s Cannes Film Festival.

A Film About A Fashion Maven?

IFC Films is seemingly determined to diminish the potential box-office of Olivier Assayas‘s Personal Shopper (3.10). First they decide to open it ten months after a bravura debut at last May’s Cannes Film Festival, and over five months after it played at last September’s Toronto and New York film festivals, thus ensuring that the buzz will be dissipated if not forgotten by opening day. Now they’ve come up with a poster that doesn’t even vaguely suggest in visual terms that Personal Shopper is a ghost story. (Yes, there’s a critic blurb that uses the term but good posters always deliver the message in visceral terms.) A fan poster that I found on a Kristen Stewart site does a far better job of conveying the mood and feel of it.


(l.) IFC Films’ recently posted one-sheet for Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper, which will open on 3.10; (r.) a far superior fan poster — one that suggets weird spookery on some level, but at the same doesn’t promise a conventional horror flick.

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Odd, Minimalist, Engagingly Trippy Ghost Story

David Lowery‘s A Ghost Story (A24) lives on the opposite side of the canyon from Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart‘s Personal Shopper, a ghost tale which is all kinds of different and original but seriously scary from time to time. It has to be said upfront that Lowery’s film isn’t all that scary. Okay, two or three moments put the chill in but this isn’t the game plan, and that’s what’s so cool about it. Really. Either you get that or you don’t.


Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck in David Lowery’s A Ghost Story.

For this is basically a story about a broken-hearted male ghost (or formerly male) who doesn’t know what to do with himself, and so he mopes around and says to himself “Jesus, I feel kind of fucked…where am I?…what’s happening?…am I gonna stand around watching humans for decades or even centuries? I don’t know what the hell to do.”

In life Mr. Confused was a married musician (Casey Affleck), and now, post-mortem, he’s returned to the home he shared with his wife (Rooney Mara). I guess all ghosts are unsettled spirits who just can’t surrender to the infinite, right? And so they hang out, looking or waiting for God-knows-what. 

Affleck’s ghost watches his sad, suffering widow for a while (there’s a great extended scene in which Mara eats almost an entire pie while sitting in the kitchen floor), and then he gets pissed off when he sees that Mara has gone out with some guy, and then he gets even angrier when she leaves and a Latino family moves in.

And then the film moves on in all kinds of trippy (not to mention time-trippy) ways. I love that it’s more of a metaphysical meditation flick than one trying to give you jolts. A Ghost Story even goes into the relatively distant past (the mid 1800s) at one point until it finally circles back to the present and in fact the very beginning, if that’s not too confusing. (more…)

2017 Roster Is Now 80

Updated on 1.1.17: The following is an update of a piece I originally posted on 12.9: With the addition of Alfonso Cuaron‘s Roma and a few others, Hollywood Elsewhere’s grand tally of high-end 2017 releases now comes to 80.

Of these I’ve listed 6 likely Best Picture contenders, a trio of high-end galactic thrillers, 23 pick-of-the-litter films from brand-name directors, 26 films of alternate interest plus 22 others of somewhat lesser distinction for a total of 79.

At least five of these have the traditional earmarks of Best Picture contenders — Kathryn Bigelow‘s Untitled Detroit Riots Drama, Chris Nolan‘s Dunkirk, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Charles James ’50s period drama, Alexander Payne‘s Downsizing and Joe Wright‘s Darkest Hour, a Winston Churchill vs. Nazi war machine drama.

I would add Cuaron’s film, a Spanish-language Mexican family drama set in the ’70s, for a total of six, but the Academy will most likely consign it to the Best Foreign Language category.


Alfonso Cuaron during the Mexico City-shooting of Roma.

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Yesterday’s Bang-Around


Fat Baby (112 Rivington, Wed. thru Sunday, 7 pm to 4 am) “is a multi-level bar/lounge…both a rock and roll venue as well as a unique version of downtown NYC nightlife set in an LA-inspired lounge setting.”

Snapped ten minutes before last night’s 9 pm New York Film Festival screening of Personal Shopper. Maybe 10% occupancy, and then suddenly everyone began streaming in between 8:55 and 9:05 pm. They’d all been schmoozing in the lobby. Every seat was taken when the lights went down. The film actually began a bit after 9:15 pm. The room loved it (you could feel it) but the projectionist deserves a spanking for initially failing to frame the image so the occasional subtitles could be read.

Babeland (94 Rivington St.) is a casual, relaxing, feminized atmosphere. (For the most part the days of dudes working in sex shops are long gone.) Their paraphernalia is viewable & purchasable on their site but for some reason one of the staffers told me “no photos.”

(l . to r.) Personal Shopper director Olivier Assayas, Kristen Stewart, NY Film Festival honcho Kent Jones during post-screening q & a.

Finally Waking Up To This

Olivier AssayasPersonal Shopper had its NYFF press screening this morning, and will screen for public festivalgoers tomorrow night. By which time I’ll be in the city and hobbling around. Critical and public acclaim for one of the coolest and most unusual films of the year, five months after debuting in Cannes and five months before it finally opens next March.

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“Coming Soon” = Over Five Months From Now

You can take the following three statements about Olivier AssayasPersonal Shopper (IFC Films, 3.10.17) to the bank: (1) It’s one of the coolest, creepiest and most unusual ghost stories ever made, although it’s definitely not for easily seduced fans of typical moron-level horror flicks; (2) It didn’t get booed in Cannes — I was in the audience and I’m telling you the truth — the ending is what got booed; and (3) It contains Kristen Stewart‘s finest performance ever — nobody can match her antsy, anxiety-ridden behavior and vocal-fry delivery here. The whole jittery undercurrent of urban, upscale life in 2016, that “okay but what’s gonna happen next?” feeling tugs at her manner, throws shade upon her features.

Here are three more: (4) This new trailer is suggesting that Personal Shopper is a lot more “oh my God!” and emotionally on-the-nose than it actually is — very little of it actually goes “boo!”; (5) Some of the most perceptive, clear-light critics of our time — Guy Lodge, Richard Lawson, Eric Kohn, Stephanie Zacharek, Peter Bradshaw, Robbie Collin, Tim Grierson, Jake Howell — are Personal Shopper loyalists; and (6) IFC Films execs intend to repeat their Clouds of Sils Maria strategy by releasing this film, which was shot in ’15 and exploded at last May’s Cannes Film Festival, over five months hence, or two months into Hillary Clinton‘s first term.

The “Coming Soon” at the end of the trailer is therefore…what, a typo? Personal Shopper had a full tank of gas after debuting last May — it reflected the under-zeitgeist and vice versa in spades; that tank will be all but empty by the time 3.10.17 rolls around. Pic is opening in France and Belgium on 12.14.16.

Different Business Attitudes

Reaction among execs running A24, the distributor of Andrea Arnold’s American Honey (opening on 9.30.16): “It’s so great when this kind of buzz gets around. This is why we love this business because when a movie has the right kind of chemistry and the right kind of chops, something magical happens and it just takes off with ticket buyers…it becomes this mystical, unstoppable act of art and nature that people feel they just have to see.”

Reaction among execs running IFC Films, the distributor of Olivier Assayas‘s Personal Shopper (no U.S. release date): “Why don’t guys like Lawson leave us alone? We’re letting the Toronto and New York film festivals show Personal Shopper, fine, but we’re not sure how we feel about it. Some people in Cannes weren’t fans and that gives us the willies. The concept of releasing Personal Shopper intimidates us financially, if you want to know the truth, and so we’re almost sorry we acquired it and we’re not sure we even want to release it any time soon. Okay, maybe sometime next spring. But please, just stop it. We hate tweets like this. They just make things worse.”

Getting Tiresome

Ten days ago I complained about IFC Films not having decided on a release date for Oliver AssayasPersonal Shopper. Today I wrote the following to IFC Films honcho Jonathan Sehring plus their publicity staff:

“If you ask me Personal Shopper is a knockout — an artful, unusual, arguably groundbreaking Kristen Stewart spooker.  Unless there’s something wrong with me it seems (and please tell me if you think I’m wrong) like an obvious Halloween attraction. You guys have had it since Cannes, where Assayas won the Best Director trophy (shared with Cristian Mungiu). It’s won rave reviews from key critics, has landed a NYFF berth, and is opening in England and other European territories (UK, France, Belgium) at the end of ’16. And you still haven’t given it a U.S. release date.

“This is the first Kristen Stewart film with a supernatural atmosphere since the Twilight saga, and it’s at least five times better than all the Twilight films put together, and yet you seem unsure about its potential. If you were going to release Personal Shopper in late October you surely would have announced that by now. Halloween is only ten weeks away so I guess we know the answer.

“You’re presumably uncertain because it drew a divided critical response in Cannes. For me this is one of the best films of the year so far (it’s my second favorite after Manchester by the Sea), and yet you haven’t settled on a damn release date. Two months ago I was told that you were thinking of bumping it into the late winter or spring of ’17. If you’re going to bail on a fall release, would you at least confirm this? (more…)

Jordan Poker

Yesterday afternoon I asked occasional Awards Daily contributor Jordan Ruimy, who mainly files for The Playlist while writing his own online column, to join me for an Oscar Poker session. Jordan, who will soon move with his wife from Montreal to Boston, attended Sundance last January (he shared my condo) and also did Cannes, and he’ll be in Toronto. Plus he knows his stuff. We talked about the fall season in general, but the two hottest conversational topics were (a) why has IFC Films refused to firm a release date for Olivier AssayasPersonal Shopper? and (b) will Paramount even release Martin Scorsese‘s Silence this year? Again, the mp3.

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Conscience Explodes


Taken eons ago on Daytona Beach. I don’t feel good about the white loafers. I can’t explain the motive.

The Poor Cow clips that Steven Soderbergh used in The Limey were (a) desaturated, (b) fragmented, (c) sparse and (d) mostly soundless. Tonight, for the first time in my life, I get to see the full-color, all-in version of Ken Loach’s 1967 film. Along with the latest episode of The Night Of, of course.

Those are my blurry hands taking iPhone shots of Kristen Stewart during the May 2016 Personal Shopper. press conference in Cannes. I knew for sure because of the brown leather wristband.

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Wowsers

“By all that is right, fair and profound, a film that wins the Best Picture Oscar should pass the ‘wow!’ test. Agreed, many past winners haven’t lived up to this standard. Time and again Academy voters have rewarded films that comfort or affirm basic truths or remind us, movingly, how things are. Or how we’d like them to be. But Best Picture winners should do more. They should turn heads, open doors, make history, raise a few eyebrows and rock the rafters on some level or another. They should make you say ‘Wow, I just saw something!’ And they should at least make you want to watch them a second time, if not a third or fourth.” — from one of my 2014 Birdman essays.

I’ve experienced four serious head-turners so far this year — Kenneth Lonergan‘s Manchester by the Sea, Cristian Mungiu‘s Graduation, Asghar Farhadi‘s The Salesman and Olivier AssayasPersonal Shopper. I’ve been delighted by or have otherwise greatly admired David Mackenzie‘s Hell or High Water, Luca Guadagnino‘s A Bigger Splash, Robert EggersThe Witch and Gavin Hood‘s Eye in the Sky. But there’s a difference between high and peak voltage levels.

What unseen fall or holiday films seem to be generating that special anticipatory aroma? Answer: Ang Lee‘s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Barry JenkinsMoonlight and Denzel Washington‘s Fences. Maybe. And that’s it. (more…)

Forgot To Add Captain Fantastic to Best-Of-’16 Roster

Apologies to the Captain Fantastic crew for failing to include it in HE’s Best of 2016 roster (posted on 8.12). It deserves to be there (“Intriguing, admirable, thoughtful, nicely crafted”) and now it is.

Repeating 2016’s top 15, in this order: Kenneth Lonergan‘s Manchester by the Sea, David Mackenzie‘s Hell or High Water, Olivier AssayasPersonal Shopper, Luca Guadagnino‘s A Bigger Splash, Robert EggersThe Witch, Gavin Hood‘s Eye in the Sky, Paddy Breathnach and Mark O’Halloran‘s Viva, Karyn Kusama‘s The Invitation, Bob Nelson‘s The Confirmation, Ben Wheatley‘s High-Rise, Sausage Party, Matt Ross‘s Captain Fantastic, John Carney’s Sing Street, Jacques Audiard‘s Dheepan, the first 50 minutes of Captain America: Civil War.

Get The Lead Out

Trailers for noteworthy early-fall films are starting to appear here and there, or will be soon. So why hasn’t IFC Films posted a fresh trailer for Olivier AssayasPersonal Shopper? I’m tired of watching that subtitled one that popped during the Cannes Film Festival. The Paris-based ghost story will, as noted, be playing at the Toronto and New York film festivals, and looks like an opportune release for Halloween or thereabouts, and yet IFC Films hasn’t even announced a release date.

Remember what Variety critic Guy Lodge said two months ago about the Personal Shopper naysayers:

“Like you, I’m disappointed by the number of dismissive reviews out there for Personal Shopper, though pleased it has a distinguished core of champions — a group I’m sure is going to grow over time. Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria (of which I wasn’t actually a big fan) also played Cannes to mixed reviews, though by the time its U.S. release rolled around, there had definitely been an uptick in its reception.

“I’m not surprised, however, by the Cannes dissenters. Within the opening minutes of the film, I had a strong instinct that (a) I would really be into it, and (b) that it would receive boos.

“The ectoplasm in the possibly haunted house was the giveaway for me: many Cannes critics like genre [material] when it’s postmodern or symbolically self-aware or otherwise above convention, but when Assayas starts engaging directly and sincerely with ghost-story tropes, those critics sneer. (more…)

HE’s Revised Best of ’16 Roster (At Nearly The Two-Thirds Mark)

Here’s a re-blending of HE’s Best of 2016 tally, including the not-yet-released festival films that really bonged my gong. There are a few I still haven’t seen, but this more or less represents my assessment of the first two-thirds of 2016 — ten biggies in all. Okay, make it eleven if you count Sausage Party. I’m presuming War Dogs (which I won’t see until next week) isn’t going to rank as a top-tenner.

Kenneth Lonergan‘s Manchester by the Sea (Sundance, Telluride, Toronto, NYFF) is still the king, and will definitely be among the top ten by year’s end, no matter what. The new #2 is David Mackenzie‘s Hell or High Water, which opens today. Olivier AssayasPersonal Shopper is #3, baby, and I don’t what some of the mainstreamers have said. This thing drilled right down and got me like no other film this year except for Manchester.

HE’s fourth best of 2016 is Luca Guadagnino‘s A Bigger Splash, followed by Robert EggersThe Witch (#5) and Gavin Hood‘s Eye in the Sky (#6).

The third group includes Paddy Breathnach and Mark O’Halloran‘s Viva (#7), Karyn Kusama‘s The Invitation (#8), Bob Nelson‘s The Confirmation (#9) and Ben Wheatley‘s High-Rise (#10), which I saw 11 months ago in Toronto. (more…)

54th N.Y. Film Festival Is Its Own Game

For those who didn’t attend the 2016 Sundance and Cannes festivals and who don’t plan on hitting Telluride or Toronto, the just-announced slate for the 54th New York Film Festival (9.30 to 10.16) will be full of the usual excitement and nutrition shots. The NYFF is always a great thing to settle into. To attend this annual gathering is to sense that you’re alive and attuned and a reveller in a very rich Manhattan scene, a celebration and meditation about movies that matter most, just as those who attended this festival in 1963 or ’78 or ’99 were also plugged into the films and currents that were essential back then. For two weeks in early October it’s the ultimate well, the place to be.

But for festival veterans like myself it’ll mostly be a “greatest festival hits of 2016” recap. Not entirely but mostly.

If I were attending I’d be focusing on a combination of unseen curiosities and special faves: Barry Jenkins‘ buzzed-about Moonlight, Paul Verhoeven‘s Elle (which I missed at Cannes, partly due to my schedule but also because Sony Classics refused to screen it before the official debut), Kenneth Lonergan‘s Manchester by the Sea, Olivier AssayasPersonal Shopper (one of a handful of 2016 films that I consider to be truly riveting and extra-level), Ava Duvernay‘s The 13th (not a study of the 13th amendment but “an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality”), Mike Mills20th Century Women (I’ve heard good things but also a meh comment), Pablo Larrain‘s Neruda and James Gray‘s The Lost City of Z (the Charlie Hunnam factor gives me concern).

There may also be a special sneak preview (a highlight that NYFF director Kent Jones hasn’t included for the past couple of years) and perhaps an extra sidebar attraction or two. (more…)

NYFF Headliners Feel Underwhelming

I was scratching my head this morning about three big New York Film festival picks that have recently been announced — Ava Duvernay‘s The 13th to open, Mike Mills20th Century Women as the centerpiece, and now James Gray‘s The Lost City of Z to close.

My honest gut reaction was “these films don’t seem to radiate the upscale pot-stirring pedigree that NYFF selections have in the past. So what’s going on here?”

Ever since the 2010 NYFF launched with The Social Network people like me have been looking to NYFF films to provoke, get people talking and occasionally figure in awards-season discussions.

I’m sorry but The 13th, 20th Century Women (which I’ve heard stuff about) and The Lost City of Z just don’t strike me as rock ‘n’ roll. They certainly don’t match anyone’s concept of upscale, dweeb-curated, Amy Taubin or Dennis Lim-approved, possible-award-conversation-level movies that the NYFF has tended to favor in the past.

They seem to me like the kind of films that respectable second-tier festivals (Seattle, Savannah, Key Key West) would highlight and make a big hoo-hah about. (more…)