Collective

Will Catalin Tolontan be played by Clive Owen in a narrative remake?

Opens in Australian Cinemas 8 April

* * * * 1/2

Collective is the fly-on-the-wall documentary about lethal Romanian corruption you didn’t know you needed. Alexander Nanau’s camera is in all of the right places as Catalin Tolontan, a middle-aged journalist for a sports-themed daily paper, and his small team of highly principled journalists uncover a scandal within the public health sector in the wake of a horrific fire. It is a tale of tragedy upon tragedy, and a hundred and nine of the most compelling minutes of the cinematic year.

Nanau uses no narration, no interviews, and, I think, two title cards. The rest of the story is covered by his cameras, and so thoroughly, Collective could pass itself off as a handheld, dogme-styled narrative feature. Indeed, like Honeyland from last year, Collective is nominated not only for the Best Feature Documentary Academy Award, but for Best International Film as well.

At its heart is ethical journalism. A real-life Spotlight playing out in a sort of real time, Collective is a constant reminder of how important good journalists are to every society. Without them, it seems, all those with access to any form of privilege would just pack it in for the dollar, and leave the damned to the worms.

Nomadland

She flinty.

* * * 1/2

Chloé Zhao‘s third feature, Nomadland, is an exercise in extreme compassion. What it lacks in narrative drive it makes up for in total empathy for its myriad characters. If it wins the Oscar this year for Best Film (it is currently the clear favourite) it will stand in stark contrast to last year’s winner, Parasite, which displayed masterful screenwriting and virtuosic filmmaking in every frame. Nomadland, by contrast, feels cobbled together on a wing and a prayer, written far more on set and in the edit suite than at the keyboard, and appealing entirely to the heart rather than the head.

What is virtuosic is Frances McDormand’s central performance as Fern, an itinerant American mid-western ‘nomad’, living out of her van and picking up seasonal blue-collar work. The Oscar race for Best Actress seems to be between her and Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman, giving voters a choice between apples and oranges. Mulligan’s work reflects her film’s heightened stylisation. McDormand’s is textbook naturalism. Indeed, given half of her scenes are with non-actors telling their own true stories, any deviation from a purely realistic approach would stand out like a Christmas tree on Mars and upset the film’s delicate, and rather unique, fabric.

Those non-actors are the film’s soul; around them, McDormand’s Fern is as empathetic and compassionate as Zhao. Against the professional actors, such as David Strathairn and Linda May, brought in to give the film at least some sense of narrative, she is allowed to be flintier, and ‘flinty’ may well be McDormand’s middle name. It is a perfect role for her unique essence, and, I dare say, may well end up her signature performance.

Although the film is about America’s mid-western (very white) dispossessed, it feels strangely apolitical. It’s not angry, per se, nor is it blatantly an origin story of Trump’s weirdly self-defeating voting base, although one cannot help make the connection as a viewer (a lot of the film takes place in South Dakota, now infamous for being one of the most mask-resistant, lockdown-resistant, Covid-blasé places on Earth, with infection numbers to match). What it is, relentlessly, is American. If you’re sick of hearing Americans talk about themselves, this film will be your poison. If you can stomach a few more twangy voices, they are presented here with grace, beauty, and, yes, compassion.

Minari

In Australian cinemas now.

* * *

Currently in the mix amongst the plethora of critics awards being doled out in the US, Minari, Lee Isaac Chung’s directly autobiographical film, is a slog. The acting is superb (including from young kids and an older ‘grandmother’) and the integrity of the story is not in question. It is tasteful, detailed, well crafted and honest.  But it is glacially paced, without being so stylistically or technically fascinating to generate interest when the script does not.

Chung grew up on a farm in Arkansas, and it is his childhood experience represented in painstaking detail here. It may be close to your story and have huge resonance for you; I found the milieu uninspiring. Some in my audience were vocally delighted at everything the kids did, particularly Alan Kim, who plays a version of the young Chung. He is indeed terrific, as is everyone. If only the script gave them a little more dramatic dynamite.

Another Round

Now playing in Australian cinemas.

* * * *

Conceptually, Another Round sounds like a high-concept early 2000s comedy starring Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson: four teachers decide, in order to raise their dynamism at work and in general life, to experiment with staying a little bit drunk pretty much all the time. Specifically, they intend to follow the hypothesis of a Norwegian psychiatrist named Finn Skårderud, who suggested that human beings would operate best with a consistent level of .05% blood alcohol. In the Ferrell / Black / Stiller / Wilson theoretical version, wacky inebriated hi-jinks would ensue, inevitably leading to some regretful actions and, in all likelihood, an ultimate repudiation of the experiment.

But this is not that movie; it is director Thomas Vinterberg’s (written with Tobias Lindholm, together one of the great screenwriting teams on the planet), and it stars Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang and Lars Ranthe. While there are humorous moments, the style is naturalistic realism, and the tone is mournful and often dark. It takes a high-concept, somewhat ludicrous premise, and plays it straight: what would happen?

I think we all know what would happen, and Vinterberg knows we know, so whatever delights the film will offer, it will offer in execution, and they are many. The script, despite generally heading in an inevitable direction, is surprising and complex, with sublime dialogue and fascinating character detail; the cinematography is organic but touched constantly by magic (particularly involving some seriously beautiful twilights and sunsets) and the acting is spectacular, with Mikkelsen (who is very much the lead) giving a monumental performance (in a career full of them). Framed often in very tight close-up, Mikkelsen’s Martin has a face of bruised solitude, his eyes sad, lonely, desperate and needy until they are invigorated, in strange and intriguing ways, by the booze.

This is a wonderful movie, challenging, provocative, a little subversive, and totally engaging. It is Denmark’s entry for Best International Film at this year’s Oscars, and it could win.

Sound Of Metal

Can Paul enter the Oscar ‘Raci’?

* * * 1/2

Paul Raci makes a massive impression in Sound of Metal, the debut directorial feature from screenwriter Darius Marder (The Place Beyond The Pines). The film is featuring heavily in ‘awards chatter’ for lead actor Riz Ahmed, who plays a heavy-metal drummer who rather suddenly loses his hearing, but mark my words, Raci is going to start – pardon the pun – making noise. His performance is an apt use of that critical cliché, a ‘revelation’.

The film itself mashes up two pretty conventional sub-genres – those of ‘dealing with sudden disability’ and ‘rehab’ – without subverting either nor adding anything fantastically new, except a highly specific sound design that strives mightily to give us a simulacrum of what Ahmed’s character, Ruben, is hearing and experiencing. That sound design is the other element of the film being talked about for big awards, but again, I’m laying my money on Raci to step forth and start scooping up Supporting Actor statues. He plays the cultish leader of a community for deaf addicts (Ruben’s a four-year clean junkie) with absolute authority, compassion, empathy and integrity. Since, despite having a true ‘character actor’ face, Raci is simply not that well known (and wasn’t to me), he comes across as one hundred percent the real deal, as though Marder had found this actual man and had him play himself. Raci was raised by deaf parents so his signing is unassailable, even as he himself is not deaf. It’s perfect casting resulting in a perfect performance.

An indie film with wide appeal, Sound of Metal hardly re-invents the wheel, but it’s got a lot of integrity and heart, and is well worth your two hours. Ahmed is indeed very, very good, as is Olivia Cooke in an underwritten role as his girlfriend; late in the film, a major international star makes an appearance that’ll make your eyes pop wide open.

Bombshell Review

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* * * *

Jay Roach’s portrait of the year Fox News’ Roger Ailes’ history of sexual harassment came back to bite him on his fat ass is exhilarating, furious, compelling and thoroughly entertaining. It is also essentially and thrillingly visceral: I spent the second half of the movie having to stop myself from standing up in the crowded cinema and screaming “Take that you evil fuck!” at John Lithgow’s portrayal of this awful, awful, awful human being.

Ailes and Fox News (the movie almost entirely takes place within its network of offices, elevators, hallways and cubicles) were / are so inherently toxic, so blatantly disgusting, that it could be argued that merely to present them onscreen is to guarantee a cracker show: with villains this villainous, it’s easy to rile your audience against them and cheer at their fall. But Roach and Lithgow don’t allow Ailes to be a total grotesque; the movie, as flashy as it is, is subtler than that. And it’s not Ailes’ movie, anyway.

Weirdly, but successfully, it’s Megyn Kelly’s movie. If you’re not from the US and haven’t been obsessively reading US news since Trump, you may not have heard of her; the film sketches in the version of her required to tell this story (if not her whole story, which is very complicated) and she is brilliantly played by Charlize Theron. I’m told the simulacrum of Kelly is astonishing; I’ve never seen Kelly on air, or if I have, so little that I can’t vouch for the impersonation side of the portrayal, but it’s an honest and sincere and intelligent performance. And Margot Robbie, as a young employee at Fox News who becomes a fish in Ailes’ barrel, is, as usual, astonishing. Both women are nominated for Oscars.

The only reason not to see Bombshell – and it’s a fair one – is to avoid swimming in these disgusting, rank, poisonous, filthy waters. This is not only Fox, it’s the US under Trump, and it’s grim. But as a film, this is energising, invigorating and rather essential.

PS Special points must be awarded for the ingenious casting of the Lawson brothers as the Murdoch brothers.

Oscar Nominations 2019 / 2020 Immediate Thoughts

Here are the Oscar nominations with some of my immediate thoughts below each nomination. Overall, this could tilt a lot Quentin’s way (which I’d be very happy with), a lot Bong’s way (which would be deserved, and a win for World Cinema) or 1917 could come along and hijack things like GREEN BOOK did…

Performance by an actor in a leading role nominees:

Antonio Banderas in PAIN AND GLORY

Leonardo DiCaprio in ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Adam Driver in MARRIAGE STORY

Joaquin Phoenix in JOKER

Jonathan Pryce in THE TWO POPES

Nice to see Antonio in there; total bummer Adam Sandler isn’t in there for UNCUT GEMS; race is between Joaquin and Adam Driver.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role nominees:

Tom Hanks in A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Anthony Hopkins in THE TWO POPES

Al Pacino in THE IRISHMAN

Joe Pesci in THE IRISHMAN

Brad Pitt in ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

This is Brad’s all the way.

Performance by an actress in a leading role nominees:

Cynthia Erivo in HARRIET

Scarlett Johansson in MARRIAGE STORY

Saoirse Ronan in LITTLE WOMEN

Charlize Theron in BOMBSHELL

Renée Zellweger in JUDY

I’m still assuming Renée takes it.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role nominees:

Kathy Bates in RICHARD JEWELL

Laura Dern in MARRIAGE STORY

Scarlett Johansson in JOJO RABBIT

Florence Pugh in LITTLE WOMEN

Margot Robbie in BOMBSHELL

This is definitely going to Laura Dern.

Best animated feature film of the year nominees:

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD

Dean DeBlois, Bradford Lewis and Bonnie Arnold

I LOST MY BODY

Jérémy Clapin and Marc du Pontavice

KLAUS

Sergio Pablos, Jinko Gotoh and Marisa Román

MISSING LINK

Chris Butler, Arianne Sutner and Travis Knight

TOY STORY 4

Josh Cooley, Mark Nielsen and Jonas Rivera

Let’s take a swing and say it’s going to I LOST MY BODY, since FROZEN 2 isn’t even nominated. Of course, MISSING LINK won the Globe (weirdly).

Achievement in cinematography nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Rodrigo Prieto

JOKER

Lawrence Sher

THE LIGHTHOUSE

Jarin Blaschke

1917

Roger Deakins

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Robert Richardson

This is going to Roger Deakins. The best thing about 1917 – the only thing, really – is the cinematography.

Achievement in costume design nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson

JOJO RABBIT

Mayes C. Rubeo

JOKER

Mark Bridges

LITTLE WOMEN

Jacqueline Durran

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Arianne Phillips

Wide open. Could be a sneaky win for JOJO?

Achievement in directing nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Martin Scorsese

JOKER

Todd Phillips

1917

Sam Mendes

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE

Bong Joon Ho

Quentin or Bong.

Best documentary feature nominees:

AMERICAN FACTORY

Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert and Jeff Reichert

THE CAVE

Feras Fayyad, Kirstine Barfod and Sigrid Dyekjær

THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY

Petra Costa, Joanna Natasegara, Shane Boris and Tiago Pavan

FOR SAMA

Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts

HONEYLAND

Ljubo Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska and Atanas Georgiev

It should go to FOR SAMA or THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY but could go to AMERICAN FACTORY.

Best documentary short subject nominees:

IN THE ABSENCE

Yi Seung-Jun and Gary Byung-Seok Kam

LEARNING TO SKATEBOARD IN A WARZONE (IF YOU’RE A GIRL)

Carol Dysinger and Elena Andreicheva

LIFE OVERTAKES ME

John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson

ST. LOUIS SUPERMAN

Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan

WALK RUN CHA-CHA

Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt

Haven’t seen ‘em.

Achievement in film editing nominees:

FORD V FERRARI

Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland

THE IRISHMAN

Thelma Schoonmaker

JOJO RABBIT

Tom Eagles

JOKER

Jeff Groth

PARASITE

Yang Jinmo

PARASITE? JOKER? Hard to say. THE IRISHMAN? Can a three and a half hour picture win Best Editing? It’s nuts and sad that ONCE UPON A TIME isn’t in here. They’ll probably give it to the cars (FORD V FERRARI).

Best international feature film of the year nominees:

CORPUS CHRISTI

Poland

Directed by Jan Komasa

HONEYLAND

North Macedonia

Directed by Ljubo Stefanov and Tamara Kotevksa

LES MISÉRABLES

France

Directed by Ladj Ly

PAIN AND GLORY

Spain

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

PARASITE

South Korea

Directed by Bong Joon Ho

PARASITE, obviously. This is ROMA all over again, except maybe, just maybe, this year PARASITE also takes Best Picture…

Achievement in makeup and hairstyling nominees:

BOMBSHELL

Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker

JOKER

Nicki Ledermann and Kay Georgiou

JUDY

Jeremy Woodhead

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL

Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten and David White

1917

Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis and Rebecca Cole

What is 1917 doing in there? Anyway, it has to be BOMBSHELL, right? But maybe JOKER.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score) nominees:

JOKER

Hildur Guðnadóttir

LITTLE WOMEN

Alexandre Desplat

MARRIAGE STORY

Randy Newman

1917

Thomas Newman

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

John Williams

This is going to the world’s coolest Icelander, Hildur Guðnadóttir, for JOKER.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song) nominees:

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from TOY STORY 4

Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from ROCKETMAN

Music by Elton John

Lyric by Bernie Taupin

“I’m Standing With You” from BREAKTHROUGH

Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

“Into The Unknown” from FROZEN II

Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

“Stand Up” from HARRIET

Music and Lyric by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo

They’re gonna give it to Elton and Bernie because they’re ELTON AND BERNIE.

Best motion picture of the year nominees:

FORD V FERRARI

Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and James Mangold, Producers

THE IRISHMAN

Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

JOJO RABBIT

Carthew Neal and Taika Waititi, Producers

JOKER

Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

LITTLE WOMEN

Amy Pascal, Producer

MARRIAGE STORY

Noah Baumbach and David Heyman, Producers

1917

Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren and Callum McDougall, Producers

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh and Quentin Tarantino, Producers

PARASITE

Kwak Sin Ae and Bong Joon Ho, Producers

ONCE UPON A TIME or PARASITE. I’m happy with either but as a lifelong Quentin devotee I would love him to win this. It’s his ‘personal’ film, it’s the one that everyone can enjoy, I’ve come to understand why the violence at the end is as it is… this film is brilliant and worthy and I’d love it to win.

I do believe PARASITE has a shot because of the preferential ballot. I suspect PARASITE will be up there among the 1s and 2s on a lot of voting forms while Quentin, who does have some detractors, may be down the list on some, and the preferential ballot favours generally loved films over polarising ones.

UNCUT GEMS should have been here, certainly instead of FORD V FERRARI and JOJO RABBIT and 1917 (but the latter could have a weird sweep, which would be a crying shame, because it’s empty spectacle).

If 1917 takes it, that’s “a GREEN BOOK” as far as I’m concerned.

Achievement in production design nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Production Design: Bob Shaw

Set Decoration: Regina Graves

JOJO RABBIT

Production Design: Ra Vincent

Set Decoration: Nora Sopková

1917

Production Design: Dennis Gassner

Set Decoration: Lee Sandales

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Production Design: Barbara Ling

Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

PARASITE

Production Design: Lee Ha Jun

Set Decoration: Cho Won Woo

Wow. Great category. 1917, ONCE UPON A TIME, PARASITE, THE IRISHMAN… all contenders.

Best animated short film nominees:

DCERA (DAUGHTER)

Daria Kashcheeva

HAIR LOVE

Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver

KITBULL

Rosana Sullivan and Kathryn Hendrickson

MEMORABLE

Bruno Collet and Jean-François Le Corre

SISTER

Siqi Song

Haven’t seen ‘em.

Best live action short film nominees:

BROTHERHOOD

Meryam Joobeur and Maria Gracia Turgeon

NEFTA FOOTBALL CLUB

Yves Piat and Damien Megherbi

THE NEIGHBORS’ WINDOW

Marshall Curry

SARIA

Bryan Buckley and Matt Lefebvre

A SISTER

Delphine Girard

Haven’t seen ‘em.

Achievement in sound editing nominees:

FORD V FERRARI

Donald Sylvester

JOKER

Alan Robert Murray

1917

Oliver Tarney and Rachael Tate

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Wylie Stateman

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Matthew Wood and David Acord

FORD V FERRARI, right? The cars, right?

Achievement in sound mixing nominees:

AD ASTRA

Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson and Mark Ulano

FORD V FERRARI

Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Steven A. Morrow

JOKER

Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic and Tod Maitland

1917

Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler and Mark Ulano

1917, right? Because it’s “immersive”?

Achievement in visual effects nominees:

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken and Dan Sudick

THE IRISHMAN

Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser and Stephane Grabli

THE LION KING

Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Elliot Newman

1917

Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler and Dominic Tuohy

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach and Dominic Tuohy

If they give this to THE IRISHMAN – for the “de-aging” – that’ll be a laugh. It kind of has to go to THE LION KING, right? But maybe they give it to Marvel (AVENGERS: ENDGAME).

Adapted screenplay nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Screenplay by Steven Zaillian

JOJO RABBIT

Screenplay by Taika Waititi

JOKER

Written by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver

LITTLE WOMEN

Written for the screen by Greta Gerwig

THE TWO POPES

Written by Anthony McCarten

If they give this to JOJO it’ll be a shame, but they might, because it’s got a lot of nominations. It really should go to Steven Zaillian (IRISHMAN) or Greta Gerwig (LITTLE WOMEN).

Original screenplay nominees:

KNIVES OUT

Written by Rian Johnson

MARRIAGE STORY

Written by Noah Baumbach

1917

Written by Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Written by Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE

Screenplay by Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won

Story by Bong Joon Ho

This is Quentin’s.

Feel free to comment.

CJ

Uncut Gems Review

* * * * 1/2

Adam Sandler plays a Manhattan jeweller with a fondness for gambling that gets him in some trouble. That’s all you need to know, except to see this movie, the Safdie Brothers’ fourth, and feel the incredible rush.

This film is amazing, the logical and pure synthesis of the Safdie Brothers style, distilled to perfection. All the cast are incredible. Julia Fox, in her first role, is superb. Sandler is superb. All the grimy sleazoids, the nightclub homies, and the sports stars playing themselves are superb. Eric Bogosian is superb. And, once again, the Safdies have found all manner of non-actors and trusted them with big roles (such as Fox); all are superb.

Besides being a thoroughly successful experiment in relentless suspense and tension, it represents amazing storytelling. Every character, no matter how minor, seethes with inner life (case in point: the nice guy in the casino; you’ll see what I mean when you meet him). The dialogue is original, vibrant, startling and unique. The milieu is beyond evocative and fuelled by integrity, the camerawork is energetic and artful, the score (typically for the Safdies) wondrous strange, and the pacing magnificent. One of 2019’s best. It will make you grateful you don’t want any of the things the people in the film want, unless you do, in which case it may just get you to re-evaluate your life.

PS: John Amos? What a bonkers detail.