“It’s hard to say if Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader give wonderful comic performances with a tragic dimension in The Skeleton Twins, or wonderful dramatic performances with a comic dimension. What’s easy to say is the key word wonderful, which applies equally to the film. This short, sweet and stirring feature, directed by Craig Johnson from a script he wrote with Mark Heyman, sweeps away any distinctions between funny and serious. It plays to the antic gifts of its stars, two Saturday Night Live luminaries reunited in the roles of troubled twins reunited by near-tragedy, yet it also turns them loose to explore deeper regions of hurt and love. Johnson’s work with his actors is impeccable, and his style is freewheeling — from the delicacy of the twins’ first tentative encounters to serial explosions that include a crazed adventure in dental hygiene and a triumphant duet, lip-synced to Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, that transports Maggie and Milo to a happier time.” — from Joe Morgenstern‘s 9.12 Wall Street Journal review.
Leaving aside Jeff Sneider‘s perplexing if not appalling admiration for Neighbors and 22 Jump Street as the two finest comedies of 2014 so far, I’m down with his view that the two best male performances have come from Locke‘s Tom Hardy and The Skeleton Twins‘ Bill Hader. Along with Miles Teller in Whiplash, Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Steve Carell in Foxcatcher and Andre Benjamin (a.k.a. Andre 3000) in Jimi — All Is By My Side.
“Bill Hader‘s angry, vulnerable, hurting-guy performance in The Skeleton Twins is a career-changer. He’s no longer the SNL smartass who delivers zingy movie performances on the side. He’s now a real-deal actor who can bore into a character as deeply as any other gifted performer.” — from 1.20.14 Sundance post.
I regard all raves of all films shown at South by Southwest as highly suspect. Way too many easy-lay geeks attend this Austin-based festival, and when they see something half-decent they all go “wheee!…we’re totally in love with the film and the filmmakers and distributors who allowed us to see it early because this makes us look necessary and important in the overall scheme!” So when Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer‘s Trainwreck (Universal, 7.17) was cheered in Austin last March, I said to myself, “Oh, yeah?…we’ll see about that.”
Last night I saw about that and all I can say is “holy shit.” Actually that’s not all I can say but it’ll do for starters. I guess I also need to say “fuck me” and “mea culpa” and all the rest of that hash. Then again I didn’t respond to the film last February — I merely shared a somewhat insensitive gut reaction to Schumer as a conceivable object of barroom desire within the prism of a trailer. But that’s all water under the bridge because Trainwreck, no lie, is dryly hilarious and smoothly brilliant and damn near perfect. It’s the finest, funniest, most confident, emotionally open-hearted and skillful film Apatow has ever made, hands down. I was feeling the chills plus a wonderful sense of comfort and assurance less than five minutes in. Wow, this is good…no, it’s better…God, what a relief…no moaning or leaning forward or covering my face with my hands…pleasure cruise.
I went to the Arclight hoping and praying that Trainwreck would at least be good enough so I could write “hey, Schumer’s not bad and the film is relatively decent.” Well, it’s much better than that, and Schumer’s performance is not only a revelation but an instant, locked-in Best Actress contender. I’m dead serious, and if the other know-it-alls don’t wake up to this they’re going to be strenuously argued with. Don’t even start in with the tiresome refrain of “oh, comedic performances never merit award-season attention.” Shut up. Great performances demand respect, applause and serious salutes…period.
I still think Schumer is a 7.5 or an 8 but it doesn’t matter because (and I know how ludicrous this is going to sound given my history) I fell in love in a sense — I saw past or through all that and the crap that’s still floating around even now. For it became more and more clear as I watched that Schumer’s personality and performance constitute a kind of cultural breakthrough — no actress has ever delivered this kind of attitude and energy before in a well-written, emotionally affecting comedy, and I really don’t see how anyone can argue that Schumer isn’t in the derby at this point. (A columnist friend doesn’t agree but said that Schumer’s Trainwreck screenplay is a surefire contender for Best Original Screenplay.)
A few days ago Hollywood Reporter columnist Scott Feinberg moderated an AFI Fest discussion with A Most Violent Year director-writer J.C. Chandor, Whiplash director-writer Damien Chazelle, Two Days and One Night star Marion Cotillard, Nightcrawler star Jake Gyllenhaal, The Skeleton Twins star Bill Hader, Fort Bliss star Michelle Monaghan, Still Alice, Camp X-Ray and Clouds of Sils Maria star Kristen Stewart and Snowpiercer, Grand Budapest Hotel and Only Lovers Left Alive star Tilda Swinton. Who among the six actors is totally deserving of award-season applause but whose performance hasn’t caught on, at least in comparison to the others? Hader. Ten months ago I went nuts for Skeleton Twins in Sundance but the buzz just wouldn’t ignite, or not the way it should have.
Tech note: The THR video is watchable on my Mac laptops but not on my iPhone 6 Plus, nor on Jett’s iPhone 6. And yet Feinberg tells me it’s viewable on his phone. What about iPads and Kindles? It’s that damn Brightcove video/media platform, which many large publishers use but which isn’t as easily viewable as videos on YouTube or Vimeo. What’s the point of posting videos that aren’t supported on all the major devices?
As usual the rankings are based on a mixture of real-world likelihood, pressure of colleagues and the eternal, rock-solid assessments of the Movie Godz.
Birdman‘s Michael Keaton has been in the top Best Actor slot since Telluride and I don’t see that changing, but who knows? Special HE shout-outs to two guys no one is mentioning but whom the Godz are insisting upon — Tom Hardy for his performances in The Drop and Locke, and to Bill Hader for his career-changing Skeleton Twins performance as a sardonic, living-in-emotional-limbo gay guy.
It’s been widely observed that the Best Actress heat afforded to Julianne Moore and her Still Alice performance is about being “owed” plus her fading histrionic actress turn in Maps to the Stars (I still haven’t seen Alice, and probably won’t until the AFI Fest showing.)
In the Best Supporting Actor realm I’m a bit more of an Edward Norton-in-Birdman guy than a cheerleader for J.K. Simmons-in-Whiplash, although I recognize that some believe that Simmons is the current front-runner . I also recognize that conventional wisdom says that Boyhood‘s Patricia Arquette is in the lead for Best Supporting Actress, which is well and good except for the fact that Emma Stone‘s Birdman performance blows Arquette’s out of the water.
Obviously I’ve included speculative support for unseen performances…and so what? You know who’s also “owed” as far as the Best Supporting Actor category is concerned? A Most Violent Year‘s Albert Brooks because he wasn’t even nominated in this category for his delicious Drive performance.
Here’s the most recent HE Best Director chart. The Best Picture chart is sitting inside the Oscar Balloon box. Disputes and admonitions are requested. All charts are fluid and malleable.
By the way: I am in awe of Jett Wells‘s ability to bang these four charts out in record time — they had been pre-designed but he did all the resizing and zig-zagging and name-tagging in about 45 minutes.
Minutes after the Gotham Independent Film Award nominations were revealed this morning, the Hollywood Elsewhere Gotham Award winners were announced.
Best Feature: Why did we have to choose between Birdman and Boyhood? Why couldn’t the HE Gothams split the difference and give a Best Soulful If Abusive Family Film With a Time-Gimmick Award to Boyhood and Best Middle-Aged Creative Anguish Floating Steadicam Dark Comedy Award to Birdman? Why does it have to be an either-or? Okay, fine….Birdman.
Best Documentary: Sorry, Steve James, but it has to go to Citizenfour. I’m not being facile because I really am sorry, hombre, but…you know. The Academy pudgheheads (some of whom, trust me, are shrugging their shoulders as some of them always do whenever a truly momentous doc comes along) have to be instructed that Citizenfour is an instant classic. I’d like to say there was a lot of anguish and deliberation involved in deciding this but there wasn’t. Honest, non-hostile question: Why wasn’t Rory Kennedy‘s Last Days in Vietnam at least nominated? Is it because she’s a West Coast gal?
Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award: Dear White People‘s Justin Simien, not because the film is anything special (I barely got through my viewing at Sundance ’14) but because every critic on the face of the globe thought it was great and because Simien is cappucino and…well, you know, we don’t want to make the wrong call. My real choice is Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy for delivering a seriously clean, sharp and malignant melodrama, and for creating the most original monster of the year in Jake Gyllenhaal‘s video-hound Lou. HE’s Runner-up award goes to Coherence‘s James Ward Byrkit, a good fellow who made a highly gripping, zero-FX horror film.
I’m updating HE’s Oscar Balloon this morning with the following. As always, disputes, corrections and beyond-the-ballpark suggestions are welcome. “HE approved” obviously means favored status, rooting factor, etc.
Best Picture Likelies (in this order, right now): 1. Birdman (HE approved); 2. Boyhood; 3. The Theory of Everything; 4. The Imitation Game; 5. Foxcatcher; 6. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Unseen Best Picture Spitballs: 1. Interstellar; 2. A Most Violent Year; 3. Gone Girl; 4. American Sniper; 5. The Gambler; 6. Into The Woods; 7. Selma; 8. Inherent Vice; 9. Unbroken; 10. Big Eyes; 11. Mr. Turner; 12. Fury.
Most Visually Ravishing, “Painterly” Best Picture Contender: Mr. Turner, although I’d like to see it with subtitles sometime down the road.
Best Director: Alejandro González Inarritu, Birdman (HE approved); 2. Richard Linklater, Boyhood; 3. James Marsh, The Theory of Everything; 4. Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game; 5. Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher; 6. Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Best Director Maybes: Christopher Nolan, Interstellar; JC Chandor, A Most Violent Year; Angelina Jolie, Unbroken; David Ayer, Fury; Clint Eastwood, American Sniper; David Fincher, Gone Girl.
Best Actor: 1. Michael Keaton, Birdman (HE approved); 2. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything; 3. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game; 4. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher; 5. Tom Hardy, The Drop/Locke. 6. Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner (despite my inability to hear half of Spall’s dialogue due to his all-but-indecipherable British working-class accent); 7. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler; 8. Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice; 9. Ben Affleck, Gone Girl; 10. Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins.
Tragic Absence of Sublime, World-Class Lead Performance due to (no offense to Roadside) an overly cautious release strategy: Paul Dano as Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy.
A couple of friends were kicking around the Best Actor field yesterday, and they came up with 17 feasible Best Actor contenders. My revised list goes to 19. But after you boil it down, there are closer to eight or nine performances that will probably make the grade in most people’s minds and therefore go the distance. Obviously nobody knows very much at this stage (i.e., the ass wind is our trade wind) but the discussion right now boils down to “we’ve heard things about this and that Venice/Telluride/Toronto film, and it seems as if these names and performances in these apparent award-season films might possibly connect and combust and lift off the ground, especially if favoring moods and winds of the Movie Godz prevail.” But come down to earth: To really break through a performance has to deliver something strong and different and curiously penetrating, and this kind of performance doesn’t grow on trees or happen that often.
Looking More Favorable Than Most: 1. Michael Keaton, Birdman — an allegedly crackling presence + career redemption + the former Batman star who kind of blackballed himself and then finally came in from the cold with a dark satire about same; 2. Eddie Redmayne, Theory of Everything — depends on the film (duhhh) but something about this being Redmayne’s time plus the standard Oscar-bait lure of struggling with a disability plus a Beautiful Mind-ization of Stephen Hawking seems somehow right and fated to ignite IF there’s a mesmerizing musical score; 3. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher — it is written in a subsection of the Dead Sea Scrolls that he who ups his indie-actor cred in a first-rate melodrama by adopting a spazzy vocal style and making himself grotesque by wearing a prosthetic nose will be Oscar-nominated; 4. Kevin Costner, Black and White — easily among the best Costner performances ever (the flip side of Field of Dreams) and arguably his best ever in this child-custody film, which advance-peekers are calling the most honest, intelligent and revelatory drama about racial relations in this country since Do The Right Thing, and directed and written by a white man at that (i.e., Mike Binder); 5. Bill Murray as himself in Theodore Melfi‘s St. Vincent — a role that reportedly fits him like a glove; 6. Mark Wahlberg, The Gambler — a good role (i.e., self-destructive, well-born college professor), possibly a breakthrough for Wahlberg; 7. David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King in Selma — who knows but if it’s a half-decent film with three great scenes Oyelowo could hit it out of the park (remember he’s also in A Most Violent Year); 8. Chadwick Boseman, Get On Up — a much more authentic, indeed transformative performance than the trailer indicates; Boseman clearly immersed himself thoroughly to become the Godfather of Soul; 9. Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner — the only problem being that I found it difficult to understand what Spall was saying half the time, a possible remedy being subtitles on Academy screeners; 10. Ben Affleck, Gone Girl — Rosamund Pike is said to be the big knockout but Affleck, too, is said to be standing on very firm melodramatic ground (although he may be punished down the road for putting on the Warner Bros. cowl); 11. Miles Teller, Whiplash — you need a token Millenial among Best Actor nominees to persuade under-35s to watch the Oscar telecast, on top of which Teller is manic and sweaty and flat-out electrifying as an aspiring world-class drummer.
Bill Hader‘s angry, vulnerable, hurting-guy performance in The Skeleton Twins is a career-changer. He’s no longer the SNL smartass who delivers zingy, colorful movie performances on the side. He’s now a real-deal actor who can bore into a character as deeply as any other gifted performer. John Michael McDonagh‘s Calvary, which I saw last night, is basically a wash — static, too dialogue-y, fatalistic, dull. Basically a meditation on the modern Irish soul that says (a) “we’re going wrong” and (b) “those boy-diddling Catholic priests need to pay for their crimes.” I tweeted about Zach Braff‘s Wish I Was Here a couple of days ago, calling it “a little too much into comforting meditations and family-embracing bromides to be comforting or illuminating.” It’s an open-hearted piece, but a little too calculated in that direction” and “pretty much the exact opposite of A Serious Man in a spiritual/philosophical sense.”
I’ve only three films on today’s schedule, which may sound lazy but is more realistic, I feel, in terms of filing and eating and getting various stuff done. If you see four films you’re constantly running and can barely breathe — it’s awfully tough to file. (It’s difficult enough to write anything with three films to cover.) 75 minutes from now (i.e., 11:15 am) I’ll be seeing Zach Braff‘s Wish I Was Here, the “Kickstarter movie” that’s basically about Braff’s underemployed 30something actor character becoming a homeschooler. Costarring Mandy Patinkin and Kate Hudson. At 2:30 I’m catching a Library screening of Craig Johnson‘s heavily hyped The Skeleton Twins. Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader giving “astonishing dramatic performances” as an estranged brother and sister, etc. Finally there’s a 6:30 pm screening of Ira Sachs‘ Love Is Strange, a relationship drama about a couple of older gay guys (John Lithgow, Alfred Molina) facing convulsive changes after they decide to get married after being together for nearly 40 years.
Five weeks ago I did a short little riff on six Sundance ’14 standouts. But the more I sift through the programs, the less excited I am. I’m not down on anything — just even-toned. The usual 25 or so films will be seen and the usual five or six (at most) will emerge as genuine standouts. The first order of business is always to decide which films look dicey, and in that effort my heartfelt thanks to the team at Total Film — experience has taught me that almost everything these guys are excited about and hoping to like, I’m probably going to find irksome or dislikable or worse. Here, in any event, are a few pre-festival spitballs — instinct, off the top, “what do I know?”
Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash appears to have heat, granted, but Miles Teller irritates me for what I freely admit are unfair and unwarranted reasons. (That “driving and not looking” scene in The Spectacular Now is one of them.) Steve James‘ Life Itself, the Roger Ebert doc, will be poignant and moving and very well crafted, I’m sure, but I wonder how nakedly honest — the more reverent the portrayal, the less interesting the subject becomes. Gareth Evans‘ The Raid 2: Bernandal is an instant must-to-avoid because (a) I hated The Raid (thanks once again to James Rocchi for recommending it two or three Torontos ago) and (b) I am, as always, fiercely committed to avoiding all Asian-based or Asian-produced action films for the rest of my life. The deadly obnoxious conceit of Michael Fassbender wearing a ceramic mask over his head throughout the entire length of Frank (according to plot descriptions) is obviously a potential catastrophe. The One I Love with Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss has to be at least decent. And the generic description of William H. Macy‘s Rudderless — “a musical drama about the power of a parent’s love” — has me scared shitless.