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Wednesday
Apr172019

CAN SPIELBERG'S WEST SIDE STORY KIDS RUMBLE WITH THE ORIGINAL CAST ?

Steven Spielberg’s reimagining of West Side Story carries with it a degree of expectation few films ever experience. The 1961 adaptation of lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway smash, co-directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, is cinematic perfection; winner of 11 Academy Awards (including an honorary trophy for Robbins’ ‘brilliant achievement in the art of choreography’), it was a box office blockbuster and remains arguably the greatest musical ever made. Spielberg has sought the rights to the original stage production for close to two decades; scripting is Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize (Drama) winner for Angels in America and past Spielberg collaborator on Munich (2005) and Lincoln (2012). Of course, that’s all grist for the critical mill if those before the camera fail to spark like the iconic stars of the original…

MARIA: In her late teens, Maria has immigrated to New York hoping to start a new life with her brother, Sharks gang leader Bernardo. She soon meets and falls for Tony, a boy from a rival gang, setting in motion an increasingly desperate and dangerous romance…
1961: One of the most sought after roles at the time, the original stage ‘Maria’, Carol Lawrence, as well as actresses as diverse as Jill St John, Audrey Hepburn, Jane Fonda and Suzanne Pleshette, all tested for the part. The producers sought Warren Beatty for the lead role of ‘Tony’ and requested a show reel from his latest production, Splendour in The Grass, but it would be Beatty’s co-star, Natalie Wood, who impressed. Broadway star Marni Nixon would be used to redub Wood’s singing voice (a task she reprised, uncredited, for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Marilyn Monroe in Gentleman Prefer Blondes and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady).
2019: Chosen from a casting call that saw 30,000 hopefuls tested across the U.S., 17 year-old Rachel Zegler is a singer/songwriter of Colombian descent hailing from New Jersey. Maria will be her debut film role. Zegler submitted a recording of her singing ‘Tonight and ‘Me Siento Hermosa’ before being screentested in July 2018. She is an experienced stage actress, having played ‘Maria’ in a production at the Bergen Performing Arts Centre in her home state. A YouTube star with over 150,000 followers, Zegler’s rendition of Lady Gaga’s ‘Shallow’ was a viral hit in 2018.

TONY: A former member of the Jets gang, Tony has moved on from the street tough’s life, though remains close to gang leader Riff. He is coerced into rejoining his former life by Riff for a clash with the Sharks, a decision that leads to a fateful meeting with Maria… 
1961: Former child actor Richard Beymer found breakout success in 1959, earning acclaim for his role in George Steven’s The Diary of Anne Frank opposite Millie Perkins and a comedic support turn in Blake Edwards’ High Time (1960). In addition to Beatty, many of Hollywood’s leading men were considered and tested for the part of ‘Tony’, including Tab Hunter, Robert Redford, Richard Chamberlain and Burt Reynolds before Beymer was cast. He remained under contract with 20th Century Fox but never found A-list stardom after West Side Story, despite working with such directors as Martin Ritt (Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man, 1962) and Daniel Mann (Five Fingers Exercise, 1962). He has worked steadily for four decades, recently reprising his role as ‘Ben Horne’ for David Lynch in the revival of the TV series Twin Peaks.     
2019: One of the hottest young actors in Hollywood off the back of director Edgar Wright’s smash action film Baby Driver, Ansel Elgort is the sole box office name in Spielberg’s principal cast. Having debuted opposite Chloe Grace Moretz in Carrie (2013), he was teamed with Shailene Woodley to break hearts in The Fault in Our Stars (2014) and resist dystopian fascism in the YA-literary adaptions Divergent (2014), Insurgent (2015) and Allegiant (2016). He took on the prestige pic Billionaire Boys Club (2018) with fellow next-big-thing Taren Edgerton for director James Cox, only to have the film buried when the deeds of co-star Kevin Spacey became public.

RIFF: Leader of the Jets gang, Riff and Tony have been as close as brothers since Riff moved in with Tony’s family in tough times. A seasoned street brawler, having protected the Jet’s turf from the Emeralds and Hawks ahead of the threat posed by Bernardo’s Puerto Rican outfit, the Sharks…
1961: Russ Tamblyn was the most experienced of all the West Side Story cast members. A child actor since his debut as Rusty Tamblyn in The Kid from Cleveland in 1949 (with two uncredited roles already under his belt), Tamblyn would become one of Hollywood’s most likable screen actors in films like Gun Crazy (1950), Father of The Bride (1950), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), The Fastest Gun Alive (1956), Peyton Place (1957, for which he earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination), High School Confidential! (1958) and Cimarron (1960). Post West Side Story, he eschewed stardom and embraced the counter-culture movement, starring in B-shockers with titles like War of the Gargantuas (1966) and Dennis Hopper’s infamous The Last Movie (1971).
2019: Bridging the worlds of live theatre and feature films largely sums up the short but spectacular career momentum of Mike Faist. Having earned a Tony nomination for his role as ‘Connor Murphy’ in the hit musical comedy Dear Evan Hansen, Faist solidified his stage rep with standout performances in Days of Rage, A Month in the Country, Appropriate and Newsies. His movie moments include such indie notables as Dan Sallitt’s The Unspeakable Act (2012), Patrick Wang’s The Grief of Others (2015), Marc Lucas’ Our Time (2016) and Fritz Bohm’s Wildling (2018), opposite Liv Tyler.

BERNARDO: Attacked by the Jets on his first day in his new homeland, Bernardo becomes resentful of Americans and surrounds himself with countrymen who feel the same. Embracing his role as protector of Maria, he is destined for soul-crushing realisation when he learns of his sister’s love for his sworn enemy…
1961: The journey of West Side Story from its stage roots to the bigscreen would not be complete without George Chakiris, for whom the musical became an all-consuming, career-defining odyssey. Arriving in New York a year into the Broadway run of the musical, director Jerome Robbins auditioned Chakiris and rewarded him with the role of Jets leader ‘Riff’ in the London leg of the production. By the time the film was in pre-production, Chakiris had convinced the producers that he was better suited to ‘Bernardo’; he was proven right when he earned the Best Supporting Acting Oscar.
2019: Born in Montreal, David Alvarez made a very high profile debut on Broadway when he was cast as one of three ‘Billys’ in the stage adaptation of the film, Billy Elliot; the role would earn him and co-stars Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish a rare joint Tony Award for Best Actor. The young patriot then put his career on hold in 2010 to serve with the US Army’s 25th Infantry Division. Graduating from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre having attained a full merit scholarship, Steven Spielberg’s film will be his feature debut. 

ANITA: Girlfriend of Sharks gang leader Bernardo, Anita is like a sister to Maria and loves her new life in America. When it becomes clear to her that Maria and Tony are in love, Anita hides her resentment towards the former Jet and is persuaded by Maria to help keep the secret from Bernardo…
1961: Emerging as the breakout star from the 1961 film’s huge success, Rita Moreno has since become an iconic figure in the American entertainment industry. Born in Humacao, Puerto Rico in 1931, she was five when her mother emigrated to New York City. By 11, she had found work dubbing American films into her native Spanish; by 13, she had been cast in her first Broadway production, Skydrift. From that point she would build a career that has led to her rare status as an ‘E.G.O.T Honouree’ – the winner of an Emmy (Variety and Music Performance, 1977; Guest Actress – Drama, 1978); Grammy (The Electric Company Album, 1972); Oscar (Supporting Actress for West Side Story); and, Tony (Best Actress for The Ritz, 1975). In 2004, she was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honour for an American civilian, by President Bush. Spielberg has cast her in his remake as ‘Valentina’, a role created especially for the actress.
2019: To be asked to step into the shoes of Rita Moreno must be the most daunting task a young actress could face, so for Spielberg to anoint Ariana DeBose as his ‘Anita’ represents a seismic shift in the Tony-nominated actress’ career. Co-star of Broadway hit Summer and an original cast member of the phenomenon Hamilton, DeBose has scant film experience (a bit part in Lonny Price’s filmed stageplay Company, 2011; the lead in the little-seen indie, Seaside, 2018), but her stakes will soar if her ‘Anita’ is played with the same cinematic gusto as Ms Moreno.

Steven Spielberg’s WEST SIDE STORY begins shooting in June 2019 for release via 20th Century Fox.

(PHOTO CREDITS: United Artists / Ilya S Savenok, Dia Dipasupil - Getty Images / Instagram)

Sunday
Feb242019

SHERLOCK HOLMES, DONALD TRUMP DOMINATE 2019 RAZZIES 

The ghost of Sherlock Holmes loomed large over the 2019 Golden Raspberry ceremony, with not one but two modern reworkings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary sleuth emerging as the worst films of the year.

Holmes & Watson, the miserable comedy that reteamed the usually reliable Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, was the cause célèbre at this year’s ‘Razzies’, scoring four trophies, including Worst Picture, Worst Director for Etan Cohen, Worst Supporting Actor for Reilly and the competitive Worst Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel.

Also amongst the nominees was the dire animated pic Sherlock Gnomes, with Johnny Depp’s voice enough to qualify him for Worst Actor contention and his career free-fall sufficient for a Worst Screen Combo nomination. As with most other award shows he’s ever attended, Depp left empty-handed. (Pictured, right; Sherlock Gnomes, left, with Depp)

Despite the worst reviews of his career, Ferrell’s Sherlock could not wrestle the Worst Actor trophy from the grasp of one Donald J. Trump. The Commander-in-Chief was singled out for his unconvincing portrayal of a U.S. President in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9 and Dinesh D’Souza’s Death of a Nation; he also earned the Worst Screen Combo honour, starring alongside ‘His Self Perpetuating Pettiness’. Trump harpie Kellyanne Conway won the Worst Supporting Actress gong for her work in both films.

Worst Actress went to Melissa McCarthy, whose Oscar-nominated turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me? was over-compensated for with two other 2018 performances. Whether as the grizzled cop in Brian Henson’s The Happytime Murders or the sorority house senior in Ben Falcone’s Life of the Party, McCarthy’s undeniable talent could not overcome her choice of material. (Pictured, left; McCarthy in Life of the Party)

Neither President Trump nor Ms. McCarthy were present to collect their Golden Raspberry trophys.

Despite four Razzie nominations, Australian siblings Peter and Michael Spierig’s haunted house claptrap Winchester escaped the Razzie wrath.

The full list of 2019 Golden Raspberry honorees are:

Worst Picture: Holmes & Watson
Nominees – Gotti; The Happytime Murders; Robin Hood; Winchester

Worst Actor: Donald J. Trump (As Himself), Death of a Nation and Fahrenheit 11/9
Nominees - Johnny Depp (Voice Only), Sherlock Gnomes; Will Ferrell, Holmes & Watson; John Travolta, Gotti; Bruce Willis, Death Wish

Worst Actress: Melissa McCarthy, The Happytime Murders and Life of the Party
Nominees - Jennifer Garner, Peppermint; Amber Heard, London Fields; Helen Mirren, Winchester; Amanda Seyfried, The Clapper

Worst Supporting Actor: John C. Reilly, Holmes & Watson
Nominees - Jamie Foxx, Robin Hood; Ludacris (Voice Only), Show Dogs; Joel McHale, The Happytime Murders; Justice Smith, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Worst Supporting Actress: Kellyanne Conway (As Herself), Fahrenheit 11/9
Nominees - Marcia Gay Harden, Fifty Shades Freed; Kelly Preston, Gotti; Jaz Sinclair, Slender Man; Melania Trump (As Herself), Fahrenheit 11/9

Worst Screen Combo: Donald J. Trump & His Self Perpetuating Pettiness, Death of a Nation & Fahrenheit 11/9
Nominees - Any Two Actors or Puppets, The Happytime Murders; Johnny Depp & His Fast-Fading Film Career, Sherlock Gnomes; Will Ferrell & John C. Reilly, Holmes & Watson; Kelly Preston & John Travolta, Gotti

Worst Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel: Holmes & Watson
Death of a Nation (remake of Hillary's America...); Death Wish; The Meg (rip-off of Jaws); Robin Hood

Worst Director: Etan Cohen, Holmes & Watson
Nominees - Kevin Connolly, Gotti; James Foley, Fifty Shades Freed; Brian Henson, The Happytime Murders; The Spierig Brothers, Winchester

Worst Screenplay: Fifty Shades Freed, Screenplay by Niall Leonard, from the Novel by E.L. James
Nominees - Death of a Nation, Written by Dinesh D'Souza & Bruce Schooley; Gotti, Screenplay by Leo Rossi and Lem Dobbs; The Happytime Murders, Screenplay by Todd Berger, Story by Berger and Dee Austin Robinson; Winchester, Written by Tom Vaughan and The Spierig Brothers

Barry L. Bumstead Award (for a movie that cost a lot and lost a lot): The Billionaire Boys Club

Razzie Redeemer Award: Melissa McCarthy "for following up her dual Razzie winning appearances with her more complex role in Can You Ever Forgive Me?"

Thursday
Jan312019

DICK MILLER & HIS DIRECTORS: LIFE AS HOLLYWOOD'S MOST WANTED CHARACTER ACTOR

He was the ultimate “Oh, it’s that guy!” actor. Dick Miller, who took a handful of small but vivid character turns and forged an indelible career that will clock in at 182 credits, has passed away at age 90. He leaves behind an adoring fan base dating back nearly six decades, a period that has seen him work with most of the great American directors of his generation. For a man who never found above-the-title fame, Dick Miller was a beloved presence on-set for some of the great cinematic visionaries… 

His Career with Roger Corman: The legendary B-movie maven gave a 26-year-old Miller his first credit in the 1955 western, Apache Woman, opposite Lloyd Bridges. Low-budget oaters were staples for Corman, who would use Miller again in The Oklahoma Woman (1956), Gunslinger (1956) and A Time for Killing (1967). Miller remained a working actor in Corman’s ensemble for over a decade, the actor willing to work across all genres, including science-fiction (Not of This Earth, 1957; War of The Satellites, 1958); horror (The Undead, 1957; A Bucket of Blood,1959; The Little Shop of Horrors, 1960, pictured right; Premature Burial, 1962; The Terror, 1963; X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes,1963); rock’n’roll teen dramas  (Rock All Night, 1957; Sorority Girl, 1957; Carnival Rock, 1957); historical epics (Atlas, 1961); bad boy biker pics (the iconic The Wild Angels, 1966, opposite Peter Fonda); and the LSD-romp, The Trip (1967).

The Great American Directors of the 1970s: The gruff old master Robert Aldrich bolstered his support cast with Miller on 1968s The Legend of Lylah Clare, but the old school studio directors were making way for the ‘movie brats’ of new Hollywood. And many of those filmmakers had grown up with, and were often schooled by Roger Corman. Miller had a foot in the door with Corman-alumni Barbara Peeters, with whom he made Summer School Teachers (1974) and Starhops (1978); Paul Bartel, who cast him in Death Race 2000 (1975); Allan Arkush, who bolstered Heartbeeps (1981) and Get Crazy (1983) with Miller; and, not least, Martin Scorsese, who cast the actor in New York, New York (1977) and memorably in After Hours (1985). Miller was at the forefront of the new industry forces, and was soon finding parts in films by ‘wunderkind’ auteurs Robert Zemeckis (I Wanna Hold Your Hand, 1978; Used Cars, 1980); Steven Spielberg (1941, 1979);and,  Jonathan Demme (Swing Shift, 1984) and James Cameron (The Terminator, 1984), both trained under Corman's guidance. Ironically, Miller saw out the decade featuring in one of the final films of an old Hollywood heavyweight – Samuel Fuller’s White Dog (1982).

The Films of Jonathan Kaplan: Kaplan and Miller had grown close working at Corman’s New World Pictures. Kaplan (who would direct Jodie Foster to Oscar glory with The Accused, 1988) turned to Miller not only for his acting skills but a shared work ethic, one that had been refined on Corman’s often unrefined low-budget shoots. They would work together on such grindhouse/drive-in programmers as Night Call Nurses (1972), The Student Teachers (1973), The Slams (1973) and Truck Turner (1974; pictured, right). More mainstream fare followed, with White Line Fever (1975) and Mr Billion (1977). After a short time apart, Kaplan reconnected with Miller for his acclaimed drama Heart Like a Wheel (1983), starring Bonnie Bedelia, and they worked together well into the new decade, on Project X (1987) and Unlawful Entry, (1992). Kaplan also earned Miller his only music-video credit, on the Rod Stewart dance hit, Infatuation , in 1988.

Working with Joe Dante: Another Corman graduate, Joe Dante, like Kaplan and Allan Arkush, had worked the tough shoots with Miller through their formative years. The bond that Dante and Miller formed is one of the most prominent and profound in Hollywood history. Alongside co-director Arkush, Dante and Miller first worked together on Hollywood Boulevard (1976) and Rock’n’Roll High School (1979, on which Dante contributed uncredited). The Miller/Dante pairing would last four decades on Piranha (1978); The Howling (1981); Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983; pictured, right); Gremlins (1984), for which Miller received a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films; Explorers (1985); his 1986 episode ‘The Greibble’ of the Spielberg-produced TV anthology Amazing Stories; Innerspace (1987); The ‘Burbs (1989); Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990); Matinee (1993); The Second Civil War (1997); Small Soldiers (1998); Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003); Trapped Ashes (segment: Wraparound; 2006); The Hole (2009); and, Burying the Ex (2014). In a statement on his Facebook page, Dante said, “I’m devastated.” “We hit it off and every script thereafter I always looked for a role for Dick,” said Dante, “not just because he was my friend but because I loved watching him act.”

In 2014, the actor's life and work was celebrated in Elijah Drenner's documentary, That Guy Dick Miller.

 

Wednesday
Jan232019

ROMA, THE FAVOURITE LEAD 91ST ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS.

Alfonso Quaron’s Roma and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite lead the pack of nominees for the 91st Academy Awards, with each film to compete in 10 categories when the awards are announced on February 24. The full list of nominees were announced this morning in Los Angeles by Tracee Ellis Ross, star of the TV series black-ish, and Kumail Nanjiani, a nominee in 2018 for The Big Sick.

Roma and The Favourite are frontrunners in the Best Film category, though will not have it all their own way, with Peter Farrelly’s Green Book (5 nominations) on a roll in the wake of Golden Globe and PGA top honours. Other Best Picture nominees are Black Panther (7 nominations), BlackkKlansman (6), Bohemian Rhapsody (5), A Star is Born (8) and Vice (8).

The Academy’s embrace of Roma signifies a major turning point in the industry’s acceptance of streaming service Netflix, which has emerged as the third most nominated ‘studio’ this year. Also nominated in three categories is The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the content provider’s collaboration with Oscar favourites Joel and Ethan Coen. (Pictured, right; Quaron directs his lead actress Yalitza Aparicio on the set of Roma) 

Netflix’s nomination tally sees it behind Walt Disney Studios (16) and Fox Searchlight (15), while outpacing mini-major Annapurna Pictures (11), Universal (9), Warner Bros (9), Focus Features (8), 20th Century Fox (5) and Sony Pictures Classic (4).

Oscar’s embrace of Quaron’s stylised account of his upbringing in Mexico’s middle-class extended to the Best Actress category, where Yalitza Aparicio earned a nomination for her stoic turn as the household’s nanny/maid. Award bodies have so far largely ignored her central performance, citing the writer/director’s contribution as key to the film’s success. She will compete against Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and Lady Gaga (A Star is Born). (Pictured, left; Nominees Rachel Weisz, left, and Olivia Colman from The Favourite)

Bradley Cooper’s directing prowess on the musical remake was strangely snubbed in favour of his lead actor skills, which have largely taken a backseat to his work behind the camera in the awards season race. The other Best Actor nominees are otherwise as expected, with Cooper to face off against Christian Bale (Vice), Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book) and Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody).

Cooper’s slot in the Best Director race is likely to have been filled by Polish auteur Pawel Pawlikowski, whose tragic romance Cold War (the second monochromatic feature in contention, alongside Roma) earned three nominations. The great iconoclast Spike Lee (pictured, right; with Topher grace, centre, and Supporting Actor nominee Adam Driver) has finally been taken into Oscar’s inner sanctum with his first nomination, for BlacKkklansman; fellow nominees are Lanthimos, Cuaron and Adam Mckay (Vice).

The list of those that could not catch Oscar’s eye include lead actress Elsie Fischer and original screenplay hope Bo Burnham for Eighth Grade; SAG-nominated Emily Blunt, for either lead actress in Mary Poppins (which did earn four other nominations) or supporting actress for A Quiet Place; Ethan Hawke for his lead acting in First Reformed (although Paul Schrader’s original script was shortlisted); Damian Chazelle’s astronaut saga First Man, which earned four tech nods but missed Picture, Actor (Ryan Gosling), Supporting Actress (Claire Foy) and Score; Toni Collette for her wild lead turn in Hereditary; the year’s most acclaimed and successful documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbour?;  and, Nicole Kidman, for either Destroyer or Boy Erased, both of which had award season momentum. The absence, again, of any female Best Director nominees has been noted, with Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here), Debra Granik (Leave No Trace), Tamara Jenkins (Private Life), Karyn Kusama (Destroyer), Mimi Leder (On the Basis of Sex), Josie Rourke (Mary Queen of Scots) and Chloe Zhao (The Rider) all considered serious contenders. 

The full list of 2019 Academy award nominees are:

Best Picture: Black Panther; BlacKkKlansman; Bohemian Rhapsody; The Favourite; Green Book; Roma; A Star Is Born; Vice.

Lead Actor: Christian Bale, Vice; Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born; Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate;  Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody; Viggo Mortensen, Green Book.

Lead Actress: Yalitza Aparicio, Roma; Glenn Close, The Wife; Olivia Colman, The Favourite; Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born; Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book; Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman; Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born; Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Sam Rockwell, Vice.

Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, Vice; Marina de Tavira, Roma; Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk; Emma Stone, The Favourite; Rachel Weisz, The Favourite.

Director: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman; Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War; Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite; Alfonso Cuarón, Roma; Adam McKay, Vice.

Animated Feature: Incredibles 2; Isle of Dogs; Mirai; Ralph Breaks the Internet; Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Animated Short: Animal Behaviour; Bao; Late Afternoon; One Small Step; Weekends.

Adapted Screenplay: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman; Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk; Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, A Star Is Born.

Original Screenplay: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara, The Favourite; Paul Schrader, First Reformed;  Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly, Green Book; Alfonso Cuarón, Roma; Adam McKay, Vice.

Cinematography: Lukasz Zal, Cold War; Robbie Ryan, The Favourite; Caleb Deschanel, Never Look Away; Alfonso Cuarón, Roma; Matthew Libatique, A Star is Born

Best Documentary Feature: Free Solo; Hale County This Morning, This Evening; Minding the Gap; Of Fathers and Sons; RBG.

Best Documentary Short Subject: Black Sheep; End Game; Lifeboat; A Night at the Garden; Period. End of Sentence.

Best Live Action Short Film: Detainment; Fauve; Marguerite; Mother; Skin.

Best Foreign Language Film: Capernaum (Lebanon); Cold War (Poland); Never Look Away” (Germany); Roma (Mexico); Shoplifters (Japan).

Film Editing: Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman; John Ottman, Bohemian Rhapsody; Patrick J. Don Vito, Green Book; Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite; Hank Corwin, Vice.

Sound Editing: Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker, Black Panther; John Warhurst, Bohemian Rhapsody; Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou Morgan, First Man; Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl, A Quiet Place; Sergio Diaz, Skip Lievsay, Roma.

Sound Mixing: Black Panther; Bohemian Rhapsody; First Man; Roma; A Star Is Born.

Production Design: Black Panther; First Man; The Favourite; Mary Poppins Returns; Roma.

Original Score: Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman; Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther; Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk; Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs; Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mary Poppins Returns

Original Song: “All The Stars” from Black Panther by Kendrick Lamar, SZA; “I’ll Fight” from RBG by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson; “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman; “Shallow” from A Star Is Born by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice; “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch.

Makeup and Hair: Border; Mary Queen of Scots; Vice.

Costume Design: Mary Zophres, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther; Sandy Powell, The Favourite; Sandy Powell, Mary Poppins Returns; Alexandra Byrne, Mary Queen of Scots.

Visual Effects: Avengers: Infinity War; Christopher Robin; First Man; Ready Player One; Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Friday
Dec142018

THE SCREEN-SPACE YEAR-IN-REVIEW: THE BEST (& WORST) FILMS OF 2018

I decided late in 2017 that the New Year theme was going to be ‘change’. I was going to lose weight (didn’t happen); watch less/play more sport (got my diving licence, so that’s something); and, most importantly, turn my back on the alpha male heroic arc that has dominated film narratives since…well, forever. So I'm proud to say six of my Top 10 films headline female actors, eight if you count co-lead roles (amongst them, below, from left; Zoe Kazan in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Helena Howard in Madeline's Madeline, and Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade).

I admit to swimming against the current on Black Panther (I understand its importance, but…no, sorry) and Roma (gorgeous pictures do not a story make) and at time of writing, I’ve not seen award season frontrunners Vice and The Favourite (both out December 26 in Oz). Finally, apologies to Phantom Thread and I, Tonya, which I saw very late last year and which came out very early this year, slipping between the 'list-crack'. I only hope that the reputations of all involved with those fine films are not sullied by their careless omission from a Screen-Space list…

THE BEST FILMS OF 2018

10. BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (Dir: Bryan Singer; USA, 134 min) Detractors went after it for sugarcoating the man's homosexuality and a rather conventional structure, but Bryan Singer’s adrenalized celebration of Freddie Mercury and the music he created with Queen was finely tuned for maximum crowd pleasure – like Freddie (brought back to life by the wonderful Rami Malek). Like the great myth-building musical biopics of yore (The Glenn Miller Story, 1954; Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980; La Bamba, 1987), Singer’s exuberant song’n’dance act acknowledges the darkness but shines its spotlight on the talent. 

9. PROTECTION (Dirs: Phillip Crawford, Gemma Parsons; Australia, 91 min) Shot by kids mostly under 12 living in subsidised housing in the Illawarra/South Coast region of NSW, Protection conveys fear, hope, sadness and joy in a manner few films ever have. Directors Phillip Crawford and Gemma Parsons were on hand to assist and ultimately corral the footage, but Protection remains purely the vision of ordinary children with vivid imaginations and profound insights into the community and friendships that binds them.

8. MADELINE’S MADELINE (Dir: Josephine Decker; USA, 93 min) Josephine Decker’s coming-of-age drama takes no easy paths – Madeline (Helena Howard) lives on the razor’s edge of teen sanity, hoping a stint in experimental theatre under director Evangeline (Molly Parker), will help her deal with an increasingly erratic mom, Regina (Miranda July). The often non-linear narrative and visual histrionics will drive some to distraction; for others, it will be exhilaratingly abstract and achingly emotional. Howard may be the acting find of 2018. 

7. LETO (SUMMER; Dir: Kirill Serebrennikov; Russia, 126 min) “There is a sprawling sense of time and place to Leto…yet there is not a frame of the film one would want to see excised. The anti-establishment themes and love-conquers-all story beats inherent to the rock/pop biopic genre have been previously explored in Oliver Stone’s The Doors (1991), Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous (2000) and Anton Corbijn’s Control (2007), but rarely with such heartfelt melancholy, pained romanticism and evocative rendering of time and place.” Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review here.

6. (Dir: Johann Lurf; Austria, 99 min) A master of montage storytelling, Johann Lurf has edited celluloid visions of the night sky and galaxies stretching into deep space from 550 films, creating a record of how directors have pictured the universe since cinema began. No actors and only incidental sound and dialogue as it fits the Austrian’s constructural parameters, ★ is both a breathtaking technical marvel and deeply emotional journey for science-fiction purists. Read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with director Johann Lurf here.

5. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (Dirs: Joel & Ethan Coen; USA, 133 min) Playing like a greatest hits package of Coen Bros film styles filtered through their adoration of the western genre, …Buster Scruggs captures Joel and Ethan perfectly melding their consummate craftsmanship with their love for classical American cinema. The mid-section story, ‘The Girl Who Got Rattled’ with Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck, is the most perfect part of a near perfect movie. (Yes, it’s a Netflix film, but it played Cannes first, so watch yer mouth, stranger). 

4. PROSPECT (Dirs: Christopher Caldwell, Zeek Earl; USA, 98 min) Lo-fi tech, pulpy flavoursome dialogue, a dirt-encrusted Star Wars-like aesthetic and a complex surrogate daddy/daughter central relationship are just some of the elements that made Prospect the most engrossing sci-fi thriller of 2018. In a year peppered with breakout star performances from young actresses, Sophie Thatcher as the hard-bitten prospector’s daughter Cee is a revelation. Read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with the actress and her directors here.

3. LUZ (Dir: Tilman Singer; Germany, 70 min) It was just to be the thesis submission for film school grad Tilman Singer (hence the 70 min running time), but word soon spread that his chilling horror vision Luz was something special. Through hypnosis, a young cabbie (Luana Velis) recalls the events that led her to a stark meeting room in an undermanned police station. Shot on 16mm and skimming between realities past, present and supernatural, Luz is a bewildering, unique nightmare of a film.

2. CLIMAX (Dir: Gaspar Noé; French | Belgium, 95 min) The old high-school prom “Someone spiked the punch!” dilemma gets the Gaspar Noé spin in Climax; the punch is sangria, the prom is a dance troupe rehearsal peopled by international hotties and the spike is LSD. Frankly, everything seems on acid in this film, even before the sangria is served; the opening dance number, a single-take marvel of twisted limbs and swirling cameras that positively lifts you off your seat, sets the tone and things amp up from there. In his best film since Irreversible, Noé crafts a hallucinogenic descent into drug-induced psychosis, fuelled by the disintegration of social, sexual and moral mores. Enjoy…

1. EIGHTH GRADE (Dir: Bo Burnham; USA, 93 min) Elsie Fisher (hand her the Oscar, please) plays Kayla, a schlubby, pimply, sullen nobody/everybody who springs to life as the star of her own upbeat YouTube show. She espouses life lessons to her audience yet struggles to apply them in her own school or domestic reality. Bo Burnham’s heartbreaking, often harrowing drama has been compared to Todd Solondz’s misanthropic masterpiece Welcome to The Dollhouse, but there is a singular central hopefulness to Kayla’s journey that demands you never lose faith in her; her arc is the most real and affecting in a year of cinema.

     

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: FIRST REFORMED; TULLY; A STAR IS BORN; FIRST LIGHT; COLD WAR; ANNA’S WAR; BLACKKKLANSMAN; AMERICAN ANIMALS; JURASSIC WORLD: FINAL KINGDOM; TRAUMA; MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT; LOVE, SIMON; SUPA MODO; STUCK; MEKTOUB, MY LOVE; CARRIBERRIE; ALPHA.

AND THE WORST…:

5. UNSANE (Dir: Steven Soderbergh; USA, 98 min; pictured, right) and 4. THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB (Dir: Fede Alvarez; USA | UK, 117 min) After TV success in The Crown, Claire Foy was poised for breakout success. Soderbergh’s gimmicky B-clunker Unsane (“Shot on an iPhone!” boasted the marketing) and the DOA franchise reboot The Girl in The Spider’s Web put the brakes on that momentum. She was good in First Man, but it tanked. Tough year for the young starlet.

3. THE PREDATOR (Dir: Shane Black; USA, 107 min) Hopes were high when alumni Shane Black opted back into the Predator franchise, the studio determined to resurrect the series after one too many crappy sequels. Post-production tinkering, tonal clashes and idiotic plotting resulted…in another crappy sequel.

2. OCCUPATION (Dir: Luke Sparke; Australia, 119 min) Overlong, overwrought, overbaked local grab at ID-4 level spectacle, Luke Sparke’s alien invasion malarkey is a fatal miscalculation of the Australian sector’s ability to pull off an effects-heavy actioner. The rubber-suited alien’s attack on a country football match aside, there isn’t an original or coherent thought in the entire shrill, shrieking mess, despite more cornball subplots and clichéd characters than a season of Neighbours. 

1. THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS (Dir: Brian Henson; USA, 91 min) About 10 minutes into Brian (son of Jim) Henson’s scummy alternate-LA puppet-private-eye dirge, the audience vibe had changed. We had already moved past the “Oh, this isn’t funny at all” stage, and were beginning to realise that, with 80-odd minutes to go, this Melissa McCarthy vehicle (what was she thinking?) was actually becoming grotesquely unwatchable. And, no, not even bong-pulling fratboys will dig it; no weed is that good.

DISHONOURABLE MENTIONS: THE NUTCRACKER & THE FOUR REALMS; FIFTY SHADES FREED; ELLIPSIS; A WRINKLE IN TIME; PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING; THE MEG.