Alex Is On Fire

Directorial debuts are tough. Get it wrong, and you will have a much more difficult time funding and releasing your follow-up. Get it right and you’ll spend the rest of your career trying to live up to your own work. If you made a name for yourself as a writer first, that goes double.

Alex Garland began his Hollywood career when Danny Boyle directed the adaptation of Garland’s novel, The Beach. This is a fact I just learned from IMDb, and I was as shocked as I bet you are. Later the two collaborated again, on the zombie film 28 Days Later and sci-fi thriller Sunshinesunshine-movie-fresh-hd-wallpaper.jpgI confess I don’t care much for zombie movies, and therefore have only seen 28 Days Later once but I believe Sunshine remains sorely underrated. Popular criticism is that the characters were poorly developed and it took a bizarre turn in the third act that alienated audiences. Either I didn’t notice or I didn’t care, because I fondly recall enjoying this movie and being moved by its ideas about destiny and sacrifice. I know the world is kind of burnt out on space movies now, but I’m fascinated by the effect that isolation has on members of a close-quarters crew. In Sunshine, their camaraderie starts to unfurl once they realize they might not be going home and the mission to save mankind takes a backseat to their own survival.

Taking a break from original screenplays, Garland tackled a couple of dystopian adaptations: the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguru and Dredd, based on characters created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra.

Everyone knows Dredd is an amazing film and if you don’t, then I pity you. Perfect cast, incredible action sequences, and escalating stakes that barely let you breath. dredd2.jpg
What more can I say? Just do yourself a favor and watch it.

For as many years as I’ve been keeping track, the Best Original Screenplay award has been an unofficial “Best Independent Movie of the Year” award, and this year is no different. With his first feature, Ex Machina, Garland proved to be most adept at directing his own material. This movie got everyone talking about topics ranging from the nature of consciousness to Oscar Isaac’s dance moves. Most importantly, however, it introduced Alicia Vikander to Hollywood, and we’re bloody well keeping her. P.S. Ex Machina spoilers follow though if you haven’t seen it yet, you have only yourself to blame. It’s already on blu-ray, like wtf. EX-MACHINA-23.png
For what is essentially a three-hander set in a house, the film displays impressive visuals and a feeling of witnessing something extraordinary. Once all the dust settles, you’ll feel as betrayed as Caleb and as liberated as Ava. And unless you are also a robot, you’ll have a great many questions about what happens next. I wish Alex Garland the very best of luck on Oscar night and I’m eagerly awaiting his next project, the currently in production Annihilation.

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Hitting the Mark

Mark Ruffalo faced a long, hard road to the top. He has been working steadily since the late 90s and his “big break” came in 2000 at the hand of writer/director Kenneth Lonergan in the independent drama You Can Count On Me. The story, as Mark tells it, is that he had to convince his old friend to cast him in the film, for various reasons, but mostly because he didn’t look much like his on-screen sister, Laura Linney. I am exceptionally pleased he finally relented, as it remains one of my favorite films and Mark’s performance is indelible to its success.10271802_ori

It’s a lovely and simple story about two adult siblings who lost their parents very young and have been drifting apart for quite some time. Terry (Ruffalo) has been floating around, in and out of jail, and has found himself in a bit of a “situation” with a girl (he knocked her up) so he goes to visit her sister with the understanding that she’ll help him out. A couple of days turns into a week and before long, Sammy (Linney) realizes she’s not doing that much better than her brother and decides to stop worrying about him and sort out her own life. Ruffalo brings a unsettling quality to Terry that is equal parts endearing and infuriating. For that matter, so does Linney. They may not look like siblings but they were certainly cut from the same self-sabotaging cloth.

This movie is one of the reasons I chose to be a writer. I can vividly remember reading an Entertainment Weekly article about Mark Ruffalo, shortly after Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came out, wherein it instructed “if you haven’t seen You Can Count On Me, put down this magazine now and go rent it.” It was still the early 2000s, mind. I don’t know if I rented it that day, but I did soon after, and I believe I watched it at least 3 times before taking it back. Later, I found a DVD copy in the bargain bin at Superstore for $4 and made my mother buy it for me. And about five months ago, I met Mark at the Toronto International Film Festival and asked him to sign it.

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He looked at me and said, “Awh, I love this movie!”

 

Why was he at TIFF, you wonder? Why, to promote Spotlight and what would end up being his third Academy Award nominated performance for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. If you want to read more about Spotlight, google it, because I’m here to talk about my second favorite film starring both Ruffalo and Donal Logue.

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In the mid-2ooos, Mark went on a bit of a rom-rom bender. He made two perfect romantic comedies, and two that were just okay, although your mileage may vary on which is which. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, except that you should definitely make time to watch the first two/thirds of Just Like Heaven. Honestly, I love this movie so much that for a second I was like, “Should I just take a quick break and watch it right now?” It’s that good.

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Any movie where this happens can’t be missed.

As with any rom-com, there are complications between Ruffalo’s David and his lady love, Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) but in this movie, they take those complications to the next level… of consciousness. Because, you see, Elizabeth isn’t just some career-driven, don’t have time to meet a new man, working girl, she’s also IN A COMA, because life is telling her to SLOW DOWN and LOOK AT THIS CUTE GUY who moved into your apartment that your sister sub-letted… for you…? Because I guess your mortgage is her responsibility now? Look, the details don’t matter because David is here and only he can see you and true love is waiting for you both… On the other side. No, no, just kidding, he doesn’t kill himself to be with her.. that’s the plot of another movie starring next week’s subject.

At the beginning of the film, David is clearly depressed, which we understand by the fact that he’s unemployed, drinks too much, and naps all day. I have a few favorite scenes such as the apartment hunting, the first time he sees Elizabeth, and the hospital bed chase featuring the aforementioned Donal Logue. Above all of those, though, is the moment when Elizabeth realizes David’s neighbor is hardcore hitting on him and she graciously tells him to go for it. He calls after her even though the other woman (Ivana Milicevic) is standing well within earshot. He doesn’t care. He cares only for Elizabeth and if this random neighbor thinks he’s crazy and talks to himself, that’s fine. Thankfully she just thinks he forgot her name because in this movie, only one female character has any agency. I may love it, but it was made at a time when the use of “bimbos” and unnecessary slut-shaming was at an all time high. Hell, Elizabeth even slut-shames herself at one point, after a hilarious mix-up leads the two to believe she’s been having an affair, but I digress.

After his rom-com run, Ruffalo went dark and made a couple sort-of thrillers including David Fincher’s Zodiac (which I absolutely adore but Ruffalo’s involvement is minimal and his best line involves a broken lamp, so I’ll save my thoughts on that for the day I write about Jake Gyllenhaal) and Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom.

2009_the_brothers_bloom_003.jpgI love a good con-artist crime caper, and this one had three amazing performers as well as a strong director in Johnson, so I am surprised even to this day that it’s managed to slip by without acclaim. There’s nothing technically wrong with it. It’s got a decent script, some compelling characters, and a lot of style. It’s fun and light, while still maintaining an air of danger and mystery, which is a difficult tonal balance to achieve. Some count Looper as Johnson’s best work and some still point to Brick, but I found this joyous romp through Europe to be much more entertaining.

As Penelope, Rachel Weisz brought back some of the goofy charm that won me over in The Mummy and Adrien Brody sulked his way though another movie as the constantly put upon Bloom. Why he’s just called Bloom when Mark’s character is called Stephen Bloom they never explain and yes it still bothers me. As Stephen, Mark uses every bit of his good looks and charisma to con everyone watching, including the other characters in the movie. What’s fascinating here is that for the first time, he’s playing a character who is also playing a part. And Stephen is a better actor than Mark. He’s so good, I’m still not even convinced that Mark knew how the movie was supposed to end.

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Feeling disenfranchised with Hollywood and on the verge of quitting when he got the script for Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right, it took the involvement of Julianne Moore to make sure he did the film. She succeeded, as did the film, and as did he, earning his first Academy Award nomination for playing the man biologically responsible for the two children raised by Moore’s Jules and her wife, Nic, played by Annette Bening. Obviously, this was a excellent career move because he’s been flying high ever since. Landing the role of Bruce Banner/The Hulk in the astronomically popular Marvel Cinematic Universe and still making time for indie dramadies like Infinitely Polar Bear, Oscar-Bait like Foxcatcher, and magician-capers like Now You See Me, which is getting a sequel. He’s also going to be in the next Thor movie, so you know what I said to Chris Hemsworth? Still applies here.

You Don’t Know Cate

I wanted to do a series about a few of this year’s Academy Award nominees and, if there’s time, some that I feel should have been nominated.

Cate Blanchett is one of my very favorite actors and I could talk about her work and genius for years if anyone let me. She’s won two Academy Awards and is creeping into Meryl Streep territory with this, her seventh, including two in one year. So right away we can assume she’s extremely talented and also a hard worker. She has a luminous beauty and grace like no other, and yet, she is at her best when her characters are slightly unhinged. The brilliance of her craft relies on her delicate face and in her eyes, lie the secrets of the universe.

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Cate can’t believe I’m committing this much blogspace to her.

Chronologically speaking, I most likely first laid eyes on her in The Talented Mr. Ripley, but I had no idea what I was seeing and was understandably distracted by Jude Law’s eyes/lips/abs/hair, etc. I probably saw Bandits next and then The Gift, which have both become personal favorites to re-watch whenever I need that quick Blanchett fix. Again, I probably had no idea how good she actually was. In fact, it took her playing one of my idols to realize just how good she was.

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Oh.. hey, Jude.

In 2007, Todd Haynes set out to tell the story of a living legend.  His biopic I’m Not There. featured a character so chameleon-like, no one actor could take on the role; it required six. Five dudes ranging from ages 10 to 60, and one Cate, who, for my money, looked the most the part. In Haynes’ imaginative glimpse into the many lives of Bob Dylan, she played Jude, the answer to his sixties-era, Andy Warhol’s factory, west village, ‘hero of the folk scene’ phase. She was sardonic, mysterious, and wickedly funny. Despite the film being overlooked in the major races that year, Cate earned her fourth nomination that year. This was when I really sat up and started to take notice. I had watched her other work, but had I really seen it? I started to think back.

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Cate struck Oscar gold for the first time in 2005 for her portrayal of another legend, Katharine Hepburn, in The Aviator, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio. It was then, and remains, my absolute favorite collaboration between DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese. Perhaps due to my overt fascination with the golden age of Hollywood and the history of aviation,  the fact that it’s a solidly entertaining film about a few broken characters who can’t buy their own peace of mind. It is gorgeous and technically flawless and contains an emotional center that has stuck with me for the past 12 years. When Howard Hughes (Leo) is at his absolute worst, Kate (Cate) comes to visit him, pleading with him to open the door (and his heart) to her. The two former lovers have tried to remain friends, and I think there’s a level of responsibility that Kate feels for having left him when he was unwell, so she fights tears and makes jokes to the closed door, eventually sliding down to the floor. I know how hard it is to love and be loved when you are not at your best, and it’s probably one the hardest things human beings have to deal with. We find each other, we love each other, sometimes we move on, but we always leave something behind. This scene was about trying to go back and finding it’s too late.

I can’t picture the cinematic landscape without her contributions to it. Her work has already brought me so many of my favorite films and I’m eager to see which fascinating projects she chooses next. There’s a rumour she’s going to be in the next Thor movie and to that I say, move over, Chris Hemsworth. Move over and watch a master at work.

Oscars and the Women Who Predict Them

This is the first year in recent memory where the Female Best Actor race is more crowded than the Male Best Actor race. I guess there just weren’t a lot of Strong Male Roles this year, except in ensemble pieces with no definitive lead. This over-crowding of the women’s category has lead to some clever campaigning, which I do not see paying off for either studio.
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Lightletainer of the year, Alicia Vikander, is being campaigned for in the supporting category, as is Rooney Mara, however anyone who’s seen either of those films can see they were leads. Question is, how many voters actually watched them both?

My pick for the winner is in bold.

Best Actor, Female, Leading Roleroom_1

  1. Brie Larson, Room
  2. Saiorse Ronan, Brooklyn
  3. Cate Blanchett, Carol
  4. Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl or Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
  5. Jennifer Lawrence, Joy or Rooney Mara, Carol

Best Actor, Female, Supporting Role
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  1. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
  2. Rooney Mara, Carol
  3. Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
  4. Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
  5. Jane Fonda, Youth or Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl or Ex Machina

Best Actor, Male, Leading Role
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  1. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
  2. Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
  3. Matt Damon, The Martian
  4. Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
  5. Michael Caine, Youth

Best Actor, Supporting, Male
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  1. Sylvester Stallone, Creed
  2. Tom Hardy, The Revenant
  3. Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
  4. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
  5. Christian Bale, The Big Short

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. Emma Donoghue, Room
2. Phyllis Nagy, Carol
3. Nick Hornby, Brooklyn
4. Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short
5. Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs

Best Original Screenplay
1. Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen, Bridge of Spies
2. Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Inside Out
3. Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight
4. Amy Schumer, Trainwreck
5. Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight
Best Director
1. Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
2. Adam McKay, The Big Short
3. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant

5. Ridley Scott, The Martian

Best Picture

I have a weird gut feeling that there’s only going to be eight nominees this year. And if I’m right, and right about which eight, I will have finally achieved my goal of seeing every Best Picture nominee in a given year before the nominations are announced. Unless Straight Out of Compton some how magically gets in, I’ll have seen them all. Knowing my luck, that’s what will happen.

  1. Spotlight
  2. Carol
  3. The Revenant
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road
  5. The Martian
  6. Room
  7. Inside Out
  8. The Big Short
  9. Brooklyn
  10. Bridge of Spies

Join me tomorrow at 5am PT to see if I’m right!

 

 

Lightletainers of the Year

Every year, I compile a list of the people I found the most entertaining throughout the year. Sometimes, I forget to share that information with the world.

The Cast of Ex Machina

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It’s hard to say who had a bigger year between Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac. She, appearing in five equally entertaining and engrossing films and he, continuing his #Winning streak of disappearing into three diverse and increasingly high profile roles, culminating with the biggest movie of this, or any, year. Domhnall Gleeson’s no slouch either, appearing in two sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated films this year, as well as the aforementioned Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The reality is, assembling this crack cast again in the future is going to be a lot more expensive than whatever bargain prices Alex Garland got them for. Isaac just won a Golden Globe and Vikander is almost guaranteed an Academy Award Nomination come Thursday. She’s got a couple more indie projects in the works and he’s going to join the X-Men universe as the next villain. I’m not sure what Gleeson is up to but he won’t return texts at the moment, so probably very busy.

Amy Schumer

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Maybe she isn’t your favorite comedian at the moment, but it’s hard to deny she had a great year. Every week, a new clip from her Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer was trending and she still had time to write and star in Trainwreck and go on the road with the Oddball Comedy Fest (which I caught in Toronto; she was terrific) and become best friends with Academy Award Winning actor Jennifer Lawrence. The two are reportedly writing a movie together for the two to star in, presumably Judd Apatow and David O. Russell will fight to the death to see who will direct.

Bill Hader

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Speaking of Trainwreck, how about some love for its leading man? Hader was everywhere this year, playing Fear in Inside Out, a police captain in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, providing the voice for everyone’s favorite droid in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and playing everything else in the IFC series Documentary Now. HBO recently announced he’ll be writing, directing, and starring in Barry, a new series about a low-level hitman for next year, so look forward to more Bill Hader in your future.

The writers and cast of You’re The Worst

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Every week this show broke my heart just a little bit more, which is not something you expect from an FX comedy. In season one, the tone of the show was bordering on dark, but in the second season, Stephen Falk just went full darkside, and pulled us all down with him. Giving your main character a crippling depressive episode while surrounding her with people who are not equipped to deal with it doesn’t sound like a set-up for high comedy, but it weirdly worked. We kept watching because we cared so much about the characters that we were willing to forgive their every transgression. Thankfully, it’s been renewed, so we can find out next year if they are able to forgive each other.

The cast and crew of Spy

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I loved Spy. From top to bottom, inside and out, it was perfect. The cast, the plot, the action, everything. 2015 was a big year for the spy genre and for my money, this was the best one made. Even though it’s a comedy and the action was played more for laughs, it was more interesting and coherent than Spectre, had a better lead than Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, and was slightly more entertaining than The Man From U.N.C.L.E., although not quite as well dressed. Jason Statham got a lot of attention for his “comedic turn” leading me to believe everyone’s forgotten the mostly comedic work early in his career before The Transporter franchise got a hold of him.