Friday, July 15, 2016

Image = Kate the Great McKinnon

I have a major pet peeve.  I hate when people say that Saturday Night Live hasn’t been funny since the original cast.  This is a bandwagon people jump on just to sound cool even if they haven’t watched the show in years.  To them I say, first of all – watch the first episode ever.  It’s not that funny.  It’s slow and actually very weird.  SNL was a crazy experiment and it is an inimitable accomplishment that it’s been on the air for pver 40 years.  Second – yes, every single sketch is not a home run, but every single cast (after the original) has had brilliant members with indelible characters and sketches.

Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Nora Dunn, Jan Hooks, Cheri Oteri, Molly Shannon, Phil Hartman, Martin Short, Will Ferrell, Bill Hader, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, just to name a few…

I am a devotee of SNL and as such, I slog through the inferior sketches for those moments of gold - and there are many.  In the past 2 seasons this current class has delivered some of the most clever and salient work on the show in years.  (Honorable mention goes to the music videos and Weekend Update with Michael Che & Colin Jost skewering Trump last season after he hosted).  SNL provides scathing social satire on the American condition and is a barometer on current events.  Even though SNL has an ensemble cast, there are always cast members who stand out.  Right now, the “stars” of the show are Taran Killam and Kate McKinnon.  And although they are not household names, they are kicking ass on SNL and I predict that Kate is going to be a huge star after this weekend.  Ghostbusters opens today and it is going to be gi-normous and make her a huge star.

I knew McKinnon was special since The Big Gay Sketch Show (2006-2010).  She played an aristocratic British boy named Fitzwilliam who could have anything in the world but all he wanted was a vagina.  This was at a time before there was a transgender character on every other show on television.  It was brave and bold and a little heartbreaking.  Watch here to see a taste of Fitzwilliam and other characters Kate did on TBGSS.  

On SNL, Kate moves seamlessly from a dead on Hillary Clinton to Justin Beiber to Ellen Degeneres.  Her character last season who was abducted by aliens was so funny that every other cast member in the scene broke into laughter, including host Ryan Gosling.  She also, with Kumail Nanjiani, was a better host of the Independent Spirits than Chris Rock was of the Oscars.  McKinnon is fearless in her work and that’s what makes her so engaging.  I’m guessing that comes from how she lives her life, being the first openly gay cast member in SNL history.  Like I said, if you don’t know her name right now, you will after this weekend.  Whether this Ghostbusters is a good movie is beside the point.  It's a watershed moment that a big summer blockbuster stars 4 women with 2 relatively unknown.  Thanks to Paul Feig for that.  I hope this is the beginning of a trend - in casting, in the world and whatever it takes to get many more Kate McKinnon projects made. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Image = Awards Season 2016

Tonight’s Golden Globes marks the official start of Awards Season and I’d like to talk a little about that.  I am not going to discuss every single nomination so far, but just some that I feel require discussion…

The nominations for the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and Independent Spirits are ALL over the place and this is VERY unusual.  It’s crazy and disconcerting but it’s also exciting.  There is no one big favorite movie this year and so… anything can happen.  As I said in my last blogpost, I am championing Spotlight for many reasons.  I have to have a favorite and there it is.  Room and The Big Short are my silver and bronze winners, and actually I would be happy if any of them won Best Picture because they are all so damn good.  

Even though the Academy Award nominations have not been announced yet, I am going to make some very early Oscar predictions.
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

Because it is such a wide open field this year and he already has noms for every award… I am predicting that Eddie Redmayne may very well win back to back Oscars.  The movie The Danish Girl is flawed but his performance (and how AMAZING he looks in drag) is NOT!

I had to literally watch it through my fingers because it is riddled with graphic violence but I think Johnny Depp deserves a nom for Black Mass and Will Smith is back to his serious acting roots in Concussion and merits major consideration.  Bryan Cranston is also spot-on in Trumbo and has been on a roll of late winning Emmys and a Tony and everyone in the industry loves him, so he could steal the Oscar this year.  I am not going to see The Revenant and as much as I think he is way overdue, I would hate to see Leo win his Oscar for it because he almost died in the treacherous terrain and sub zero temps where they were shooting.  I also hate when the Academy gives people owed awards.  Matt Damon does not exactly re-invent the art of acting in The Martian but he expertly displays his mastery at being a charismatic movie star, reminiscent of Cary Grant and Clark Gable.

The real truth is that the finest performance of the year came from young Jacob Tremblay in Room and if he doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, there is no justice in the world.  I don’t understand both why The Globes overlooked him completely and why The SAGs think he is a supporting actor.  He is in every shot of Room and utterly captivating in every moment.

One side note about Best Supporting Actor – since the world is enamored with Amy Schumer and Trainwreck has garnered many noms so far, let’s also recognize Colin Quinn.  It’s a GREAT performance.   
Lily Tomlin
I think Grandma is a perfect film and that Lily Tomlin was pitch perfect helming it.  It’s great that she got a Globe nom but I am totally shocked that she is not nominated for an Indie Spirit.  I thought that was a lock – and not even a nomination!  This makes no sense to me at all.  At 75 and having one of the greatest years of her career, I think it’s time Lily became an EGOT.

I’ve already said that I was underwhelmed by Carol and that I think Cate Blanchett should be nominated for Truth instead. 

There was a ton of Oscar buzz for Blythe Danner early in the year for her first starring role of her career for I’ll See you in My Dreams and so far – nothing.

Saoirse Ronan, Charlotte Rampling and Alicia Vikander all deserve recognition but I don’t agree with all the praise for Brie Larson.  She is a very natural actress and Room is a sensational film, but her performance was a bit one-note to be THE best of the year.

Since The Globes honor both film and television, let’s talk about TV.  An unfortunate side-effect of what critics have dubbed “too much television” is that many actors get snubbed.  Here are a few actors who are doing amazing work but never get acknowledged: 
Danielle Brooks
Hayden Panettiere on Nashville
Wendy McLendon-Covey on The Goldbergs
Danielle Brooks and Kate Mulgrew from Orange is the New Black
Anna Faris on Mom 
Tim Robbins on The Brink 
Will Chase on Nashville

There is also a big problem tonight with categorizing many shows that are quite un-categorizable.  Is Orange is the New Black a comedy or drama?  What about Transparent?  And - The Martian – about an astronaut left on Mars is not exactly a laugh riot but it’s in the Musical/Comedy category.  I think that we need a Dramedy category.  We can name it The Wonder Years Award.

Maybe since there is “too much TV” we need more nominations.  Or, split the nominations between network and cable & streaming.  I’m not sure what the answer is, but in the words of the legendary Nancy Meyers - something’s gotta give.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Image = Best of 2015

Me Earl & the Dying Girl
The Big Short

Star Wars
Bridge of Spies
Learning to Drive
Love & Mercy

Honorable Mention: 
The End of the Tour
Ricki & the Flash
Inside Out
The Intern

2015 was not the behemoth for the annals of cinema history that 2014 was – not by a long shot.  But there was still a lot to enjoy this year.  From groundbreaking films like Room to guilty pleasures like Entourage and WAY underrated movies like Ricki and the Flash, there was enough to appease even this film maven.

Strangely, we are at the end of the year and there is still not a clear Best Picture.  I am choosing Spotlight as my best of the year for many reasons: the subject, the exceptional ensemble cast, the writing AND the fact that it is great in an understated way.  

While 2014 was 'The Year of the Actor', this year WOMEN ruled!  Lily Tomlin triumphed in both film and TV (Grandma and Grace & Frankie), Blythe Danner had her first starring role in her 5 decade career (I’ll See You in My Dreams), Charlotte Rampling was masterfully devastating in 45 Years, Brie Larson was heartbreaking in Room, Patricia Clarkson was self-effacingly wonderful in Learning to Drive, Saoirse Ronan came of age (both in the business and onscreen) in Brooklyn, Taraji P. Henson continued to wow us in Empire and on the red carpet, Viola Davis made history with her Emmy win for How to Get Away with Murder, no one on earth had a bigger year than Amy Schumer (Trainwreck, Inside Amy Schumer, hosting SNL, opening for Madonna, etc.) and Jennifer Lawrence continues her reign as the biggest thing in Hollywood (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 and Joy) which completely baffles me, but that’s another story.

{NOTE: I realize that a few of the projects mentioned above are on TV but I feel they are worth including since we are in the second golden age of television when A LOT of high quality stuff is being produced in TV and the streaming space and the line between television and film is becoming more and more blurry}.

On the subject of women and 'women’s movies', I just have to say this.  I don’t understand all the fuss about Carol.  Cate Blanchett is always amazing, but the movie is incredibly slow and borderline melodramatic.  I am a bleeding heart liberal and I felt very little for these women struggling with their taboo lesbian romance because I was so BORED.  And Rooney Mara is incredibly blah to me as an actress.  She doesn’t hold a candle to or the space onscreen with Blanchett the Great.  I enjoyed the movie Truth and Cate’s affecting performance much more in that.

In my next blogpost, I will discuss the upcoming awards season. The nominations so far are all over the place, with very few through lines among the Indie Spirits, SAGs and Golden Globes.  This is both exciting and disconcerting, but may make for a very exciting Oscar race…

Happy New Year everyone!


Friday, May 29, 2015

Image = Summer 2015 Indie Film Rundown

Now that Memorial Day has come and gone, we can officially talk about the summer.  In the past, summer has been strictly about Hollywood blockbusters.  For this reason there have been entire summers in recent years when I didn’t go to the movies at all.  But the tide has turned and I am very excited for this summer of film which includes A LOT of great indies starring A LOT of great women.

I have already seen the very poignant 5 Flights Up starring Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman.  It is far from the greatest movie ever made, but for me it’s all about the love of Keaton.  I am the type of devoted cinephile who will watch anything that an icon like Diane Keaton does, especially at this point in her career.  Seeing her on film in anything is a treat because she is one of the most unique talents we have ever had.  Even in an inferior movie (like last summer’s And So It Goes) Keaton is captivating. And did I mention Morgan Freeman’s in it too?

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Me & Earl and the Dying Girl is one of the most funny, sincere and inventive films I’ve seen in years.  All 3 young leads give breakout performances, enhanced by brilliantly quirky turns by stalwart veterans like Nick Offerman, Jon Bernthal and Molly Shannon.  
And here is the LONG list of what I will be seeing this summer, with release dates in NY & LA:
The D Train (May 8) This movie came and went in theaters(!) but I intend to track it down because 1 - Jack Black is back! and 2 - I do not understand why James Marsden is not an ginormous movie star already.

I’ll See You in My Dreams (May 15) It is about time to see the glorious Blythe Danner in a starring role!  I hope she continues to get showered with acclaim and win a bunch of awards.

Aloha (TODAY!) Cameron Crowe has made his first movie in years and I cannot wait because I think there is much more to it than the trailers suggest... 

Love & Mercy (June 5) Two incredibly talented and underrated actors John Cusack & Paul Dano both play the legendary Brian Wilson.

Manglehorn (June 19) Al Pacino is making indies these days and I am in! I loved the affecting Danny Collins and admire him for doing interesting smaller projects when he could be sitting on a beach somewhere. This film also brings the phenomenal Holly Hunter back to the big screen, for which I am incredibly grateful. 

Irrational Man (July 17) A new Woody Allen film is the highlight of every summer for me and I am intrigued to see what two idiosyncratic talents like Woody & Joaquin Phoenix have done together.  I have never been a big fan of Joaquin's but this film may change my tune about him. 

Learning to Drive (August 24) This is the film that inspired this entire blogpost.  Patricia Clarkson is one of the greatest character & supporting actors ever and she is actually starring in a movie this time, opposite the always astonishing Sir Ben Kingsley. 

Paper Towns (July 24) After last summer's wonderful The Fault in Our Stars (and my favorite film of 2014!) I am eager to see the lighter side of writer (and now executive producer) John Green with his new muse, the irrepressible Nat Wolff.   

Ricki & the Flash (August 7) Penned by Diablo Cody, with Meryl Streep as a rock star (yes please!) and co-starring Rick Springfield.  That's my idea of summer fun!

And yes - I have to admit that there are a few non-indies (which interestingly star mostly men) that I am looking forward to as well: 

Entourage (June 3) I am not expecting greatness, but I am from Queens and I love the boys!  This movie is probably the equivalent of a guilty pleasure beach read.

Spy (June 5) So far, Melissa McCarthy & writer/director Paul Feig are 2 for 2 (Bridesmaids & The Heat) and 3's a charm.
Ted 2 (June 26) I laughed my face off watching Ted so if this sequel is even half as funny, I will be satisfied.
Magic Mike XXL (July 1) I am a red-blooded heterosexual woman. Enough said.
And last but definitely not least...  

Trainwreck (July 17) Amy Schumer is one of the most distinctive & groundbreaking talents around right now and the combination of her & Judd Apatow is a match made in film comedy heaven. I predict that Schumer will be a household name by the end of the summer...



Friday, February 20, 2015

Image = And the Nominees Are... But Why?

As we approach the final weekend of Awards Season, I want to say a few things about the nominees.  It was an exceptional year for film and many nominees deserve all the praise that has been showered upon them.  Michael Keaton, Eddie Redmayne, JK Simmons and Julianne Moore, to name a few...  However - I feel that many nominations this year are more about hype than substance – and it begins with Boyhood. 

I admire Richard Linklater as a filmmaker and am in awe of the process and ground breaking nature of Boyhood, but I do not like the finished product.  To me, the movie Boyhood is not engaging in any way.  That is really the point of a great film, isn’t it? Boyhood is long & tedious, nothing much actually happens and the acting (especially by Ellar Coltrane & Patricia Arquette) is quite lackluster.  So, why all the acclaim?  And - is Patricia Arquette winning every award as part of the groundswell for Boyhood or because she has been around for close to 30 years and it is a nice acknowledgment of her tenure?  

In this current climate, awards are too much about campaigning.  Some actors go to everything because they are truly proud of the work they have done and truly honored to be acknowledged.  A good example this year is Benedict Cumberbatch.  He must know that his chances to win anything are slim, but he has said over & over how proud he is of The Imitation Game and how important the story of Alan Turing is to history.  Conversely, some actors (who shall remain nameless) go because they are required to by their contracts.     

Nominations and awards really should be about the work and not about politics or campaigning.  Katharine Hepburn won 4 Best Actress Oscars and did not attend one ceremony!  A story broke yesterday about Mo’Nique winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Precious without campaigning and then not landing future roles because she didn’t campaign.  This is ludicrous!  Often an actor’s performance is so head and shoulders above everyone else, there is no real competition.  When I saw Mo’Nique’s performance I said, “There will be riots in the streets if she doesn’t win.”  It is the kind of visceral, raw, daring performance that you never forget.  And that’s what awards should reward.      
In my not so humble opinion - these are some great performances that were entirely overlooked this year...

Best Actress 
Shailene Woodley - The Fault in Our Stars
Jenny Slate - Obvious Child
Best Actor
Ansel Elgort - The Fault in Our Stars
Colin Firth - Magic in the Moonlight
Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Supporting Actor
Miles Teller - Whiplash
Mark Strong - The Imitation Game
Ben Schnetzer - Pride
Bill Hader - The Skeleton Twins
Best Supporting Actress
Imelda Staunton - Pride
Naomi Watts - St. Vincent
Best Original Screenplay
Woody Allen - Magic in the Moonlight
Zach Braff - Wish I Was Here
Best Adapted Screenplay
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber -  
The Fault in Our Stars

And - why is Steve Carell in the Best Actor category? Foxcatcher had an ensemble cast shared among 3 actors.  BAFTA nominated Carell as Best Supporting Actor and that is where his performance belongs.

One final thing.  Very occasionally in Academy Awards history there have been ties.  In 1968, Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter) & Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl) shared the award for Best Actress.  The last time I prayed for a tie was in 1999 between Kevin Spacey (who won for American Beauty) and Denzel Washington (The Hurricane).  They were both so great, I couldn't choose but somehow The Academy did.  All season I have said that Eddie Redmayne is THE Best Actor, but on the eve of the Oscars, I am secretly hoping for another tie.  I want them to give awards to both Redmayne and Michael Keaton for his extraordinary job in Birdman - which I am also praying wins Best Picture, as it deserves. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Image = Academy Award Winner Julianne Moore

For months I have been saying that Julianne Moore will win the Oscar for Best Actress for the movie Still Alice, opening today.  I finally saw the film this week at an advanced screening and I am indeed correct.  I have never been so certain of a win by an actor for a relatively unknown film.

Still Alice is a beautiful, heartbreaking and incredibly compassionate portrait of a 50 year old woman who gets a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s.  It’s not just a film about Alzheimer’s – it’s a very well made film about Alzheimer’s. 

It is a tiny little indie made in a month and it is amazing that it got made at all.  The universe aligned for it to happen in a short time.  It was financed by a small group of mostly women investors, including Maria Shriver & Trudie Styler; and the studio gave Julianne a month off from Mockingjay, which is usually unheard of in big budget land.  The other remarkable fact is that one of the directors has ALS and now has very limited mobility from the waist up and no access to speech.  So, the director couple (Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland) were experiencing a similar degeneration while making a film about a woman losing her memory.  It is no wonder that the film feels so empathetic.

In addition to Still Alice being a wonderful film – here are all the other reasons why Julianne Moore is going to win the Academy Award this year:


1 – She is due.  She has done consistently great work for 20 years and has been nominated four times already for both Best Actress & Best Supporting Actress.

2 – There is not a lot of female competition this year.  As I said previously, it’s all about the boys.  Moore's closest contender is Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything but I don’t think Jones is popular enough yet to be a real threat.

3 – The film is about early onset Alzheimer’s, a devastating subject and as usual, Moore does a great job in the title role.

4 – She’s an actor’s actor. Everyone in the business loves her and that’s who votes for Oscars.

For many years, I took Julianne Moore for granted.  I loved everything about Boogie Nights and then simply assumed she’d be excellent whenever I saw her show up in a movie.  She was so dependable that I didn’t really take notice of her.  But in the last few years she has grown on me and absolutely knocked me out in A Single Man.  I finally woke up to her talent and the world will next month as well when they say, “And the Oscar goes to… Julianne Moore.”