Oscar predictions — the final frontier

My final predictions, and I haven’t even entered a betting pool.


Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

WILL WIN: Bryan Cranston’s here because Hollywood prefers shrill self-mythologizing to truth telling about its cravenness when HUAC went after the industry. Eddie Redmayne’s here because the Academy will take a pretty boy turning himself into a woman who suffers rather than transgender women playing themselves who laugh (and the sick part is he’d be the contender had he not won last year). Matt Damon is here because why not. Leonardo DiCaprio will win because the Academy thinks he’s overdue and he works hard.

SHOULD WIN: Of course Steve Jobs serves as an excuse for Aaron Sorkin to scribble more malicious, polysyllabic bon mots; Academy voters thought Paddy Chayevsky was a smart writer too. But Michael Fassbender, a man with as much talent for vulnerability as Katherine Hepburn did for playing Asian matrons, finally found a snug vehicle for his crisp, malicious, polysyllabic talents. Anyway he’s not my pick in a normal race. Obviously the Academy needed to nominate Cranston over Creed‘s Michael B. Jordan.


Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

WILL WIN: Brie Larson’s momentum looks unstoppable. As a young mother adjusting to life after years locked in a basement, she makes no mistakes. Often she gave the impression of looking for a fiercer movie than the one for which she’s nominated.

SHOULD WIN: If Brooklyn were better realized, I’d select Saoirse Ronan’s lovely work as an Irish immigrant on whom nothing is lost. My colleagues adored Cate Blanchett’s work in Carol, and I found her lubricious kittycat expression as alluring as she thought it was, but the mix of affectation and vulnerability was like creamed spinach over poached eggs. Gimme Charlotte Rampling’s scrupulous control as a wife unsettled by her husband’s unseemly attachment to a memory in 45 Years (I’ll ask again: why the hell wasn’t Tom Courtenay nominated?).


The Big Short, dir. Adam McKay.
Mad Max: Fury Road, dir. George Miller.
The Revenant, dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
Room, dir. Lenny Abrahamson
Spotlight , dir. Tom McCarthy.

WILL WIN: Whatever, people: in 1994 you were saying Tom Hanks couldn’t possibly win two consecutive Oscars. Alejandro González Iñárritu, Hollywood’s favorite concocter of harrowing films about the difficulty of being male and angling for Oscar nominations, will make a second acceptance speech.

SHOULD WIN: I’m not as high on George Miller as everybody else (watched Lorenzo’s Oil lately? Harrowing!), but his reinvention of the action film is the kind of prodigious achievement immune to Oscar validation.


The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

WILL WIN: The award group salad into which this contest has been tossed has advanced three plausible finalists, but its surprising box office strength and the unwelcome and ridiculous assumption that Leonardo DiCaprio needs an Oscar now has turned The Revenant into the prohibitive favorite over The Big Short and Spotlight.

SHOULD WIN: When the night’s over and Scrunchy Face returns to wenching with Toby Maguire, voters are going to feel silly that they ignored a solid and often excellent early bird dinner fare like Spotlight, as obvious a choice in 1985 as it is in 2016 even if Mad Max: Fury Road remains my choice of the bunch.

Screenings #16: ‘Grandma’ and ‘Truth’

The February doldrums dictate I write a couple shorter things on 2015 movies I’m catching up on. This should change with the Miami International Film Festival.

Grandma, dir. Paul Weitz. 2015.

“I cut up my credit card into wind chimes,” Elle says. “I’m transmogrifying my art.” No actress can have delivered those lines with the correct po-faced vinegary wit but Lily Tomlin. As a once famous second tier poet whose granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) shows up needing $632 for an abortion, Tomlin get her best role since Robert Altman asked her to pretend to be Meryl Streep’s sister in A Prairie Home Companion. Of course Elle has no money. This requires a road trip. In the spirit of indie film predecessors like Flirting With Disaster, the duo meet characters as kooky as themselves and, as they say, “in the process” learn Deep Values and About Themselves. Writer-director Paul Weitz’s imagination isn’t up to the task of winding up even an eighty-two minute comedy. When in doubt, which is often, he urges the players to act to fit the scenarios. “I’ll fuck you up,” Sage’s boyfriend growls. Whereupon she whacks him with a hockey puck. After an argument in a restaurant between Elle and her ex girlfriend, a customer gets the lame exit line (“Can I at least have the hot sauce, please?”). But Weitz scores a small triumph: a sequence between Tomlin and Sam Elliot, playing an old beau. Elliot’s courtly baritone so deepens with rage that he’s like the God of Male Menopause hurling a thunderbolt.

Truth, dir. James Vanderbilt. 2015.

At the height of the 2004 presidential election hysteria, “60 Minutes II” aired a story anchored by Dan Rather (Robert Redford) alleging that the Texas Air National Guard pulled strings on behalf of President George W. Bush. The conservative blogosphere, a new phenomenon, pounced, concentrating on the authenticity of the documents. Rather is forced to retire; producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) is fired. As Mapes, the producer whose story months earlier on torture at Abu Ghraib exposed the administration’s lawlessness, Cate Blanchett serves up one of her neurotic specialties; when she’s reduced to slugging white wine and pills, I wondered what took her so long. Director James Vanderbilt has a point of view and an axe in search of a grinder, none of which would be demerits in a movie less interested in presenting perfunctory examples of bureaucratic cowardice and political malfeasance (watching Truth after Spotlight is especially grim). Watching Topher Grace get dewey-eyed in Rather’s presence and deliver sententious third rate Oliver Stone monologues should’ve provoked mass protests against the studio.

Best films of 2015 – complete list

Here’s the full list with links. Goodbye, 2015.

Girlhood, dir. Céline Sciamma.

em>Mistress America, dir. Noah Baumbach.

45 Years, dir. Andrew Haigh.

Magic Mike XXL, dir. Gregory Jacobs.

Creed, dir. Ryan Coogler.

Heart of a Dog, dir. Laurie Anderson.

The New Girlfriend, dir. François Ozon.

Appropriate Behavior, dir. Desiree Akhavan.

Results, dir. Andrew Bujalski.

In the Name of My Daughter, dir. André Téchiné.

Timbuktu, dir. Abderrahmane Sissako.

Mad Max: Fury Road, dir. George Miller.


Tangerine, dir. Sean S. Baker.

Amour Fou, dir. Jessica Hausner.

Aurora, dir. Rodrigo Sepulveda.

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, dir. Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz.

Horse Money, dir. Pedro Costa.

Listen to Me Marlon, dir. Stevan Riley.

Maps to the Stars, dir. David Cronenberg.


Mommy, dir. Xavier Dolan.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, dir. Roy Andersson.

It Follows, dir. David Robert Mitchell.

Clouds of Sils Maria, dir. Olivier Assayas.

The Assassin, dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien.

Spotlight, dir. Tom McCarthy.

Best films of 2015, part five

45 Years, dir. Andrew Haigh.

From my original review: With the drawn exaggerated lines around her mouth – a caricaturist’s dream – Charlotte Rampling’s face lends itself to collapse. From her early fame in The Night Porter and American directors’ penchant for casting her as a neurasthenic with mysterious powers to attract screwball guys to later art house successes like François Ozon’s Under the Sane, Rampling has triumphed by standing as the still point of a turning world. In 45 Years she plays a woman reeling after a revelation made in the first five minutes of the picture sends seismic shocks for its duration. Based on a short story by David Constantine, 45 Years wonders how a woman in her sixties would respond when the discovery of the corpse of her husband’s first sweetheart affects him more than he (and she) thinks possible.

Mistress America, dir. Noah Baumbach.

From my original review: Greta Gerwig has a talent for being in the moment yet behaving as if she were watching herself perform. In her good movies, she’s self-sufficient, requiring an audience but suggesting that they just happen to be there while she’s doing her thing. Her collaborations with partner Noah Baumbach have created women I haven’t seen in movies too often. Dizzy, intoxicated with words and Manhattan, Mistress America is her best vehicle to date.

Girlhood, dir. Céline Sciamma.

From my original review: From the opening credits, during which arena-loud synth pop accompanies images of a football game, Girlhood moves to the rhythm of its own gait. It used to be a truism among male critics that women wrote “impressionistic” novels and films while men thought in narrative — a preposterous remark considering what comes out of Sundance and Toronto these days. As she demonstrated in Tomboy, Céline Sciamma lives for shooting characters engorged on life: music, friends, bad jokes.

Best movies of 2015, part three

* Appropriate Behavior, dir. Desiree Akhavan.

Desiree Akhavan, working from her own script, plays a young woman of Persian descent who hasn’t explained to her family that she’s bisexual, despite having broken up with a girlfriend. This whirling comedy of embarrassment displays a healthy sense of self-parody, and after years of lugubrious gay coming out pictures Appropriate Behavior, from its title on down, is a rebuke.

* Results, dir. Andrew Bujalski.

From my June review: Filmmakers approach the world of fitness and health as if it were a poisonous snake in the road. Think Perfect, the John Travolta-Jamie Lee Curtis stinker from 1985. Results works. Andrew Bujalski, who helmed Computer Chess, is so low key about setting up jokes and situations that in the first hour Results plays like a mid nineties comedy: 40-watt Nicole Holofcener. Then it clicks in a thirty-minute denouement, a miracle of possibilities going from missed to realized, a series of cues picked up.

* In the Name of My Daughter, dir. André Téchiné.

Releasing in the last decade with little fanfare the best films of his career, André Téchiné has such a light, darting touch that on first viewing his themes don’t connect; it’s as if he doesn’t give a damn whether you get them. This movie based on a true story about a Riviera casino mogul (Catherine Deneuve) outmaneuvered by her daughter and the daughter’s lover pushes nothing but suggests much. As usual with Téchiné sunlight, hills, air, and beaches aren’t setting — they’re characters.

* Timbuktu, dir. Abderrahmane Sissako.

In the Timbuktu depicted in Abderrahamne Sissako’s film, dogmatism comes in the form of neighbors, the people whom you once trusted. Petty rivalries turn rancorous when poverty, guns, and religion mix.The centerpiece is a confrontation between Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) and the fisherman who speared one of Kidane’s cows to death. As Kidane and the assailant wrestle in the river a rifle report crackles. For a few seconds it’s unclear who’s been shot – if anyone’s been shot. Sissako observes the happenings in extreme long shot, the characters captured amid the immensity of Mali’s desert. A bravura piece of filmmaking, evoking Kiarostami and Paul Bowles, and typical of Sissako’s approach.

Best films of 2015, part two

* Mad Max: Fury Road, dir. George Miller.


The claque was boisterous enough for me to consider omitting it, but rewatching it over the holiday break I marveled over its mad inventions, expert pace, and determination to treat Tom Hardy as if he weren’t human.

* Tangerine, dir. Sean S. Baker.

Not as uproarious as reviews suggested, this debut shot on smart phone gets by on its uproarious performances, especially ‎Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as the transgender hooker out for vengeance.

* Amour Fou, dir. Jessica Hausner.

The author of The Marquise of O couldn’t persuade women to become accomplices in suicide until he meets Henriette. This droll study of the post-Werther sensibility benefits from Jessica Hausner’s precise compositions. When a woman is supposed to complement floral arrangements and latticework, following a young drip into an early grave sounds fabulous.

* Aurora, dir. Rodrigo Sepulveda.

A middle-aged teacher finds a dead baby in a trash heap. Shaken, she petitions for the authority to bury the body before deciding it’s easier to adopt her. As of this writing, this fine Chilean drama, which made its domestic debut at the Miami International Film Festival last spring, has no American distributor.

Best films of 2015

I saw more than a hundred new movies in 2015, fifty-seven of which I reviewed. Access to a cornucopia of screeners and screenings thanks to my new membership in the Florida Film Critics Circle helped. Spending December dealing with music-related retrospectives soured me on ranked lists; for a while I considered saying the hell with any list. But should this blog pop up in a Google search and point a kid towards Horse Money and the others I’ll get that warm feeling in my toes.

This list doesn’t aspire to completeness – how can it? A friend suggested I wait till March when I’ve put away the rose-tinted glasses I used to study the previous year.

Here are the first four, in no order, including hyperlinks to original reviews:

* Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, dir. Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz.

The title character wants a divorce. Her husband won’t give it. Both exhaust the patience of the Israeli court system. “By the time the proceedings crawl into their fifth year, the case starts to look like Bleak House‘s Jarndyce vs Jarndyce,” I wrote at the time.

* Horse Money, dir. Pedro Costa.

An exploration of the mystery of a performer called Ventura, shaking with a neurological condition, wracked by memories of a full life. Leaping across space and time, Pedro Costa’s film is often inscrutable in places but never less than compelling; it’s one of the most fruitful director-actor collaborations in recent film.

* Listen to Me Marlon, dir. Stevan Riley.

A compilation of interviews and home movies rather than a linear documentary, Listen to Me Marlon adduces the actor’s self-regard and lucidity. For Marlon Brando, intelligence is inseparable from contempt. He couldn’t shake the idea that acting was, if not for sissies, beneath him. What’s clear in Listen to Me Marlon is the degree to which the contempt drove him to be the most influential actor of the late twentieth century, as if he had something to prove, to himself mostly.

* Maps to the Stars, dir. David Cronenberg.

Recent movies about the film industry are redundancies – what satire can measure up to the release of a terrible Marvel adaptation? Starring Julianne Moore and John Cusack, this Bruce Wagner-written picture about Hollywood freaks piles on the grotesqueries with verve. When California finally tumbles into the sea, as Walter Becker and Donald Fagen predict, maybe Maps to the Stars will look like the cuneiform detailing the death throes of a doomed civilization.

Secrets and lies: ’45 Years’

With the drawn exaggerated lines around her mouth – a caricaturist’s dream – Charlotte Rampling’s face lends itself to collapse. From her early fame in The Night Porter and American directors’ penchant for casting her as a neurasthenic with mysterious powers to attract screwball guys to later art house successes like François Ozon’s Under the Sane, Rampling has triumphed by standing as the still point of a turning world. In 45 Years she plays a woman reeling after a revelation made in the first five minutes of the picture sends seismic shocks for its duration. Based on a short story by David Constantine, 45 Years wonders how a woman in her sixties would respond when the discovery of the corpse of her husband’s first sweetheart affects him more than he (and she) thinks possible.

The title refers to the Mercers’ anniversary, which they can finally celebrate after heart trouble forced them to cancel an earlier date. Overseeing place settings and shopping for a dress present themselves as problems that need solving, and Kate (Rampling) handles them with the aplomb of a woman who has lived as she’s pleased and without undue stress because she and husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay) chose never to have children. But they have owned several dogs – they discuss whether to put their photos up. Then Geoff reads the news about Katya. Kate shows curiosity and is patient as Geoff, thinking aloud, wonders if the temperatures were responsible for her body’s perfect preservation. To support his speculation, he adduces documentaries he’s watched, the way we might say “I read somewhere that squirrels live in trees.” Over the next few days the depth of Geoff’s attachment to Katya spooks the hell out of Kate (the similarity of their names doesn’t help). After a slightly boozy night of dancing to “Stagger Lee” around the living room culminating in sex, she hears a rumble in the hall. Geoff has clambered up the loft stairs to find a yellowed photo of Katya. For the first and only time in the movie Kate’s voice cracks.

A director interested in how men and women in crisis navigate tight spaces, Andrew Haigh (Weekend) keeps Rampling in constant movement or isolated in long shot: drawing a glass of water from the kitchen sink, wandering the ballroom she wants to rent for the party, gracing Geoff with a repertoire of tolerant smiles that grow as sinister as Setsuko Hara’s in her films for Yasujiro Ozu. Rampling’s implosive performance, honoring the quietest of gestures, might’ve impressed him. Before the bloodless civil war begins Haigh catches Rampling as she washes a plate that Geoff has left on the counter. She flashes the faintest of smiles, a private joke; we get a sense that she’s been doing this wifely nonsense for forty years.

Premised on shared embarrassment, 45 Years must peak with a public one. At their party, hugged and kissed by friends, Geoff and Kate have the bearing of foreign ministers; harboring a secret love can feel like a pilgrim looking for his home embassy. Overcome by sentiment and booze, Geoff delivers the keynote speech. He rambles, is maudlin, a little embarrassing in the manner of a fellow who doesn’t do much public speaking (he prefers documentaries and reading Kierkegaard). Courtenay, who hasn’t garnered as much acclaim as Rampling, gives a lovely impersonation of a dodderer, a decent mediocre sort perhaps a year shy of senility. Haigh returns to the Rampling Face, a mask of affected tolerance. Has Geoff ever loved her? He says he does. He acts as if he does. The hand on her shoulder feels warm. The fiction is enough.

Stories for girls: Mustang

The first fifteen minutes of Mustang contain one of the year’s loveliest sequences: four sisters, united in love and shared jokes, roughhouse with boys in the Black Sea. No euphemism intended: what we see is nothing more than games of chicken, tousling, and diving off shoulders. But in the eyes of their grandmother (Nihal Koldaş) boys are boys, and unless they’re married girls have no business messing around with them in any capacity. Furious, she forbids them from leaving the house. Their uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan), who wears the expression of a man who hasn’t giggled in centuries, is the muscle. As punishment they must wear what one sister calls “shit-colored clothes. Their grandmother forces them to participate in proper womanly activities like baking and sewing.

Sensual and fleet of foot, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s film catches the foursome as they test the limits of their culture. Mustang isn’t an indictment either. The grandmother and Erol have their reasons, and Ergüven patiently delineates the cakes and clothes that are part of the former’s world. But Mustang can’t help but play differently to non-Turkish audiences, who will watch the deprivations inflicted on the girls and shake their heads, reassured that West is best. As pleasurable as it is to watch four young women mixing without men and self-sufficient, the film doesn’t present enough sides to the characters; after a while Mustang settles into a familiar pattern of rebellion followed by punishment.

In the northern Turkish village where the girls live, parents place a premium on virginity. A woman with a broken hymen needs the okay from a physician that it wasn’t caused by someone or something else. Before marriage the women submit to a kind of virginity report. Even on the wedding night the psychological health of a generation of elders depends on the groom’s showing a dowager the bloody sheets. Youngest daughter Lale, who resisted her grandmother and uncle at the beginning, buckles most fiercely against restrictions. Siblings Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan), Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu), Ece (Elit Iscan) and Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu) are less likely to chafe. The men to whom the elder sisters are betrothed seem like decent sorts who look as dazed as the sisters. In the film’s most sustained sequence, the sisters lock Erol and a would-be groom out of the house, going so far as to block windows and doors. The laughing grandmother fumbling through explanations to the horrified groom’s family lends her poignancy. She’s trapped too and doesn’t know it (Erguven frames her in overhead shots).

Indebted to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides but without the gauze, Mustang could use some Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl, A Real Young Girl), who has also forged a career out of showing young women in sexual crises that don’t preclude enjoyment. Showing rebellion onscreen is easier than the struggle to follow convention. Also, at times it’s hard to distinguish the sisters. Maybe that’s Ergüven’s point: the quartet functions as a single organism, balking at the conventions imposed by well-meaning elders (which is why I appreciate Güneş Şensoyas as Lale). Also, at times it’s hard to distinguish the sisters. After the art house success of Girlhood, though, Mustang might find its audience. Contexts change, the story’s the same.

‘Güeros’ in love with Mexico, movies, music

Watching a filmmaker assemble an identity can be a trial but not when the result are as promising as Güeros. This Mexican film directed and co-written by Alonso Ruizpalacios, shot in black and white as if to capture the smoggy haze of the capital and showcasing every camera trick made fashionable by the French nouvelle vague, sometimes dawdles but at no point does it betray uncertainty on the part of its maker. Ruizpalacios’ experiments and aspect ratio are apposite to this story about the two brothers and roommate who get mixed up in the student demonstrations of 1999. Wry and delighted with the possibilities of film, Güeros is a promising debut.

Often directors abjure color to signal their seriousness of intent. Ruizpalacios disavows this notion. The movie opens with an abused wife and her child fleeing her husband. Then a water balloon falls on them — talk about irreverence. The perpetrator is Tomas (Sebastian Aguirre), a puckish brat whose own mother is washing her hands of. Sending him to live with older brother Sombra (Tenoch Huerta) in Mexico City is her way of doing it, but I wonder if she’s gotten a look at the hovel in which Sombra and roommate Santos (Leonardo Ortizgris) live, an apartment so disgusting and basic that the teens steal the electricity from the apartment below to watch their horrible TV (the telenovelas air the kind of melodramatic situations that Tomas’ water balloons are made for). Bad food and peeling dead skin from their bare feet consume the rest of their time. Meanwhile a strike is tearing apart Sombra’s Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, for a while an irritant to him, about people and ideas he wants no part. “He’s striking the strike,” a character says. Of greater importance to the trio’s is the health of folk singer Epigmenio Cruz, whose music, Tomas learns, “once made Bob Dylan cry.” Visiting him in the hospital gives them purpose. Aware that what made Bob Dylan cry might make the audience cry in another way, Ruizpalacios focuses on how Cruz works his spell on the young men. He captures them listening through oversized headphones, Sombra in the center, comrades on either end ears pressed against them.

“Guero” is Mexican slang to denote people of light complexion or red hair. “He must be foreign. He looks undercooked, man,” Santos says about Tomas. Although the politics of race shimmer in the background and come to unpleasant relief when an asshole would-be intellectual at a party boasts about casting non-actors in his amateur films, Ruizpalacios shows more interest in how teenage kicks dovetail with student protest, with which his formal experiments merge. A lovely sequence in which our heroes amble through the university in twilight while Sombra and ex-girlfriend Ana (Ilse Salas) flirt and the brothers call each other names has the kind of caught-in-amber freshness that many films about youth miss. “TO BE YOUNG AND NOT A REVOLUTIONARY IS NOT A CONTRADICTION!” admonishes one poster, an ironic callback to Godard films like La Chinoise in which sex and Mao commingle. But Ruizpalacios doesn’t have reaction in mind: he’s juxtaposing his anomic wannabes against a heady moment when testing their values sounds like too much work. Not when there’s Epigmenio Cruz to listen to.

Shot with a smog-grey look that honors Mexico City and cinematic forebears like Jarmusch and Buñuel (Sombra and Ana reenact a scene from the great Los Olvidados), Güeros wants to be Janus-faced: it looks forward and backward, creating the impression when it ends that sometimes it locks into place. Ruizpalacios’ drollness might curdle into cynicism in his next feature the way Jarmusch for many years made movies that approximated a vision of cool affectless modern photography that no one but he had realized. Veremos.

Oscar nominations — extra gin bottle edition


A holdout on posting a top twenty list, I feel guilty posting this sports-type twaddle when many of these films were made for the purpose of collecting Oscar nominations or worse — do you think The Danish Girl has aesthetic merit? On the other hand the idea that Charlotte Rampling as an nominee alongside Sylvester Stallone suggests why I posted my predictions this year (the year’s best will come soon, by the way; I must watch a couple more films).

Some points:

(a) For all the chatter about what a remarkable year for female lead performances, I’m struck by the same four names dominating chatter since November. I doubt AMPAS members worry about category fraud as much as critics do. I’m calling Jennifer Lawrence in the fifth slot because she’s the biggest star and the execrable The Big Short did well against Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

(b) Even the Spotlight buzz depends on critics groups who think it’s good without anyone claiming it’s great. Will any critic look back and say Spotlight was the best film of 2015? Its enthusiasm stems from journalists and former journalists who comprise group membership.

(c) I’m calling Todd Haynes instead of Adam McKay.

(d) Jane Fonda for Youth, a farrago in which she’s used as a voice of wisdom but made up like a drag queen in a strip mall gay club, is my leap because what’s life without risk?

(e) Join me in buying an extra bottle of gin, for The Revenant will do better in a month than we thought possible. I can imagine — but not predict — its director, whom I will not name, winning another trophy.


Bridge of Spies
The Martian
The Big Shorty
Max Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

SHOULD BE NOMINATED: Max Max: Fury Road; Magic Mike XXL; Mistress America; Timbuktu; Girlhood; Creed; Heart of a Dog.


Todd Haynes – Carol
Alejandro González Iñárritu – The Revenant
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Ridley Scott – The Martian

SHOULD BE NOMINATED: George Miller, Max Max: Fury Road; Abderrahmane Sissako, Timbuktu; Hou Hsiao-Hsien, The Assassin; Laurie Anderson, Heart of a Dog; Ryan Coogler, Creed; Desiree Akhavan, Appropriate Behavior.


Cate Blanchett – Carol
Brie Larson – Room
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn

SHOULD BE NOMINATED: Blythe Danner, I’ll See You In My Dreams; Elisabeth Moss, Queen of Earth; Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years; Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn; Nina Hoss, Phoenix; Karidja Touré, Girlhood.


Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
Matt Damon – The Martian
Scrunchy Face – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

SHOULD BE NOMINATED: Romain Duris, The New Girlfriend; Michael B. Jordan, Creed; Tom Courtenay, 45 Years; Paul Dano, Love and Mercy; Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs.


Jane Fonda – Youth
Rooney Mara – Carol
Kristen Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria
Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

SHOULD BE NOMINATED: Shu Qi, The Assassin; Elizabeth Banks, Love and Mercy; Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria; Kitani Kiki Rodriguez, Tangerine.


Christian Bale – The Big Short
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone – Creed
Jacob Tremblay – Room

SHOULD BE NOMINATED: Michael Cyril Creighton, Spotlight; O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Straight Outta Brooklyn; Emory Cohen, Brooklyn; Benicio del Toro – Sicario; Sylvester Stallone, Creed; Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina.


Bridge of Spies (Matt Charman, Ethan and Joel Coen,
The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)
Inside Out ( Pete Docter, Josh Cooley, Meg LeFauve)
Sicario (Taylor Sheridan)
Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer)


The Big Short (Adam McKay, Charles Randolph)
Brooklyn (Nick Hornby)
Carol (Phyllis Nagy)
Room (Emma Donoghue)
Steve Jobs (Aaron Sorkin)

‘Queen of Earth’ limns the limits of friendship


It begins with the tear-stained face of Elizabeth Moss filling the screen, blue mascara running and chin quivering. Offscreen the voice of a man talks with the this-is-for-your-own-good smugness familiar to millions of women: “You’re being dramatic” and “I’m not looking for you to understand me.” It’s a longtime couple breaking up. At the close of this two-minute sequence the title cards, in exaggerated cursive and colored salmon pink, appear. The influences announce themselves: Polanski, Bergman, Lynch, makers of often powerful films whose interest in women stopped at women in psychological torment. But the boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley) will interest director Alex Ross Perry less than the best friend, Virginia (Katherine Waterston), who has invited Catherine (Moss) to a lake house for what is presumably R&R but turns into another grueling exorcism.

Perry, who directed The Color Wheel and a film called Listen Up Philip in 2014 that I didn’t much like, shoots Queen of Earth as if it were a horror film. Motives are uncertain. Friends show their fangs. Moments of repose portend explosions of rage. Like many directors who want to get more “visual” after a career of being wedded to their scripts, Perry wobbles when he wants to get ineffable; the last half hour is a muddle, and I can assume that he wanted it this way. In recent interviews he has professed an admiration for Interiors, Woody Allen’s drama about three sisters, their frigid mother, and their struggles with sentences that are supposed to be written in English; it’s clear he admires the gesture of following up the Oscar-anointed Annie Hall with a slate-grey ordeal as much as the movie itself. Queen of Earth, however, is better than Interiors – as gesture and movie. Interpret this statement as you will.

Friendships can task as much as any love affair, Perry’s movie says, and never more so than when one friend has a lover and the other has to accommodate. Catherine wants sympathy, especially after her depressive father (“a prominent New York artiste“) dies soon after her breakup. Flashbacks indicate how Catherine herself was insufferable when James was stirring sugar in her own cup of coffee. “Do you realize how cripplingly codependent you are?” Virginia says, smiling falsely. She calls her Smeagol. Now it’s Virgina’s turn. She canoodles with Rich (Patrick Fugit) on sofas while Catherine watches in mute disgust; with his mocking grin, he makes no effort to be likable, and as played by Fugit, he’s like a psychopath checking out the property before a spree (I’m not sure if Perry intended this; Fugit throws the movie out of whack when he appears).

Queen of Earth builds towards two scenes: a nightmarish party at which Catherine has a fit and no one helps; and a monologue she aims at Vanessa that demonstrates Perry has studied Autumn Sonata. “You are why people betray one another…You are why depression exists,” she says, in a scene in a movie he could have titled Scenes From a Friendship. Relieved of the modishness that afflicted Listen Up Philip, Queen of Earth is better at exploring a certain kind of inchoate white privileged frustration. The best moments show Catherine at her easel while Virginia swans around in the background, admiring and resentful; it’s probable that in the twenty years they’ve known each other Virginia doesn’t get why her friend paints – an adult revelation that rings true. But Perry isn’t as adept at showing their bond. I don’t understand what draws them together. Could Perry have been so afraid of sentimentality that he excised it from the picture? This explains the tumult of the last twenty minutes; he doesn’t yet have the chops to flesh out the contradictions in Virginia and Catherine’s relationship.