Friday, December 31, 2010

Interview: The Return of Kirsten Dunst (A Very Good Thing)

at the NYC premiere
of All Good Things.
It might sound silly to say, but seeing her in the flesh is something of a shock. Kirsten Dunst has been in the movies for many years, and she's made such indelible mark in them, whether as a child vampire, an unknowable teen dream, a disciplined cheerleader, a superhero's better half and so on; one half expects her to flicker when one meets her,as if she's being projected still. But there she was earlier this month at a New York City luncheon honoring her heartbreaking work in All Good Things. Her image did not fade or dissolve but remained steady in medium shot. She ate, she sipped, she walked around the room talking with reporters, friends and peers.

There was, however, a close-up. We shook hands and exchanged a few pleasantries. Then she was whisked off, not by a sharp edit, jump cut or a quick pan, but by her people taking her to the next reporter. Imagine it!

I remind her of the busy luncheon a few days later over the phone. She's already thousands of miles away.  This time, she's a disembodied voice which is surprisingly more familiar, like a movie image. "You were so in demand," I say, reminding her of the crowd and well-wishers.

"You know...," she says, and I do having been there, "A lot of babies to kiss. A lot of hands to shake."

Katie (Kirsten) fixes her husband's bow tie in All Good Things.

It's good to hear the smile in her voice and remember her amiable presence in the room that day. Especially considering the sadness that lingers from her fine work in All Good Things. People have won Oscar nominations for giving much less to their films than she does here, in one of her finest performances. She starts out sunny and delightful, the girlish woman we sort of recognize from numerous other films but she's soon torn apart by her husband's (Ryan Gosling) dark almost alien soul.  The film is based on a true story, the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of Katie Marks (Kirsten), the bride of the heir to a wealthy New York family.  I've followed her career enthusiastically for many years, once even referring to her as "the future of the movies" but naturally we start with the present and the subject at hand.

It's not the first time she's played a real life character but how did she tackle someone who isn't easy to research, someone who went missing? Here Kirsten cedes most of the credit to her director, who knew the case inside and out.

Kirsten: Everything that we knew about [Katie] is in the script. She's not a public figure. Yes, she's a real person but not someone that we know her mannerisms. It was really about making her feel like a whole person that was unravelling, as he was in a way, someone with her own strong motives so it wouldn't just be The Victim of this crime.

Doomed Love
Nathaniel: You have to have the full range of their romance.

Kirsten: That was so important. You have to believe these people were completely in love with each other in order for her to stay and to excuse the behavior.

Nathaniel: Did anything change a lot from filming to the finished movie?  You're acting piecemeal and the movie takes place over a really long span. Did anything surprise you about the finished product?

Kirsten: With every movie you kind of never know how exactly it's going to come together. I had an idea but obviously I wasn't there for the last half of the movie. [She pauses briefly, considering] ...I only saw Ryan in drag once on the set so I wasn't sure how all that was going to come together.

While we were working we played things very differently; we improvised a lot. The scene where he asked me to marry him was very different in the script. We got to play around a lot which was exciting. But you never know what it's going to end up being.

Nathaniel: I thought it was interesting that this movie  opened so close to Blue Valentine, another unravelling Ryan Gosling marriage, and then I remembered that you've worked with Michelle Williams before on Dick. Hollywood is a small world.

[more on All Good Things, Eternal Sunshine, and her favorite films after the jump]

Ryan's Disastrous Screen Marriages

Kirsten: It is a small world. I'm friendly with Michelle. That's funny. [Pauses considering the two movies]  Ryan... he loves a good love story, that one! [laughs]

Nathaniel: With some movie stars chemistry is a hit-and-miss thing but I've always felt from your films that you have a dependable connection to your co-stars and scene partners. What do you attribute that to?

Kirsten: That's nice of you to say but it isn't always as organic as it can be. You get lucky sometimes. With Ryan, it felt very natural. The way he works as an actor is similar to me. We don't stay in a box like 'We did it this way so that's how we're going to do it for the rest of the scene.' We're both very open to change and were very perceptive of each other. With Ryan it was really easy. You do have to fall in love with them a little [your co-stars]. In this movie it was especially important because otherwise, why does this woman stay?

It's not always easy to have that chemistry but you find things in the person you can connect with.

Nathaniel:  When it's harder with actors -- I'm not going to ask you to name names of course -- is it because the processes are different or is it just a lack of a personal connection?

Kirsten: I think it's -- I do think it has to do with the the process. When you work with someone who you can be inspired by, it elevates it. When you don't have that it kind of dies in a way and then you have to put more effort into it. You're lucky if you work with actors that it feels truthful to respond to, not forced.

And I've definitely felt that way in the past. But I think that certain directors are better at choosing actors that match well with each other. And I have feelings about actors and who I think I'd work well with better moreso than others.

Nathaniel: So who would you love to work with?

Kirsten: [Amused, like she's been caught] And then you ask me that question!!! I can think of directors more. [Curiously, she pauses and doesn't offer up any names.]

I'd like to work with Leonardo DiCaprio. I've known him throughout the years and I feel like we'd be good together. Even as brother and sister. I feel like I'd work well with him.

Nathaniel: I have a silly question for you. I'm going to name my three favorite single moments from your filmography. You tell me which one you would reshoot right this second if you had to.

Kirsten: Ummmm... okay.

 Nathaniel: Here we go.
  1. Dancing in your undies with Mark Ruffalo (Eternal Sunshine)
  2. Kissing Tobey Maguire upside down in the rain. (Spider-Man)
  3. Brushing your teeth with Jesse Bradford. (Bring It On)

Kirsten: [laughs] Funny question. Definitely dancing in my underwear with Mark! That was fun. That [Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind] was such a loose set. It felt like whatever we did, wherever we went, the camera followed us. It was practical lighting, natural lighting. It felt very free, like we weren't even acting at all. When that happens, you know it's going to be good. You don't always feel that way but you get glimpses of it in certain movies. When it feels like you're just in it with someone, it's the best.

I felt that way working with Lars Von Trier, too.

Nathaniel: [Surprised] But they say he's very hard on his actresses.

Kirsten: I did not experience that with Lars. I had a great working relationship with him. I trust him.

[Thinking about it...] I think that if you close off your actors you're not going to get what you want. I don't think. I never felt that... well, I didn't have that experience. Also: he's very funny. Even if he didn't like like a take or whatever it was, he doesn't berate you. There's nothing like that. He wouldn't get the performances he gets if he did that. People usually shut down in that environment.

Nathaniel: Weren't you going to work with Michel Gondry again after Eternal Sunshine. You were going to do a Debbie Harry picture?

Kirsten: Yeah, yeah. No. That was definitely happening at one point. It's difficult. Debbie was, I think.... [trails off] It kind of went away. [Referring to Debbie again] "I don't know if i really want to tell my story." You know what I mean?

Nathaniel: So it was her hesitancy?

Kirsten: I think so. It was awhile ago. I can't really remember why. But I think that that's only natural. Usually that stuff happens, biopics, after someone has passed away. It's a weird thing. But I'd still love to do that if she wanted to do that.

Nathaniel: The reason I bring that up is that I love your singing voice. Last time i heard it was in that "Turning Japanese" video.

Kirsten: [Very animated] Oh god. That was so painfully difficult. I HATED doing that. Not the dancing around Tokyo but singing the song.  It's the hardest song. It's a cockney dude who sings the song and it's very specific to his voice and the way he speaks. It's a personality song, not an easy cover song.

I hated singing in the sound sutdio. I was singing to myself. I could hear myself. Oof that was not... it was not... [laughter]

Nathaniel: I don't know if you know this but your wikipedia page describes you as "an actress, model and singer"

Kirsten: That's hilarious.

Nathaniel: Are those the three words you'd use to describe yourself?

Kirsten: No. Not at all! [laughter] That's funny. I did some kid modelling when I was younger. I've only sung for parts; a singer is someone who puts out an album. That's a very generous description. [Sarcastically] It sounds like I've mastered it all!

Nathaniel: You've done some directing, too.

Kirsten: I did a short film. I'm playing around with a screenplay with two friends right now. Not something for me to direct but to be in. I definitely want to direct some day. I need to have -- I think when I do that I need to block out a year of just  thinking, writing, reading. You can't be focused on which role you're taking next -- I personally can't -- and then be "I want to direct. What should I do?" You know what I mean? I've had ideas but i'd have to really focus on just that. That won't be for probably a few years. We'll see what happens.

Nathaniel: So no Ben Affleck then for you; everything at once?

Kirsten: That's... I couldn't do that the first time out. That would be very stressful. I'd just want to direct.

Nathaniel: You started out as a child actress and you're next film is with Chloe Moretz, right? Hick.

Kirsten: I'm not committed to that film, actually. That's a rumor.

Nathaniel: Oh, okay. But do you ever look at these young actresses like her, Elle Fanning, and think  "that was me."

Kirsten: Yeah, I do. It's weird. Yes.

The first of many little girl vampires.

Nathaniel: You and Chloe have both played teenage vampires.

Kirsten: Even Dakota [Fanning] played a vampire in the Twilight movies.

Nathaniel: It's a running theme.

Kirsten: It is.

Nathaniel: One of things that was remarkable about meeting you -- maybe because I've seen you in movies for a long time -- I'm not sure how to phrase this. You're very womanly in persona and your screen persona is very young. When you take a part like All Good Things do you think about it as a transition role. Do you plot out your career like that?

Kirsten: I don't. I'm older now is all. I don't think I grow up in that film but what you emanate is different as you grow up. That'll continue to happen. It's more prominent because you've seen me young, as a teenager, adult. This role is pretty adult even though she starts out young. But I'm not like "Now is the time to play adults." It's just more prominent because I was a child actor.

Nathaniel: Yeah, I can see that. The scene that really impressed me the most [SPOILER] you're looking in the mirror after the abortion. You can feel Katie as a character aging. Not makeup effects. Just you as an actress conveying the weight of that. That's my favorite beat in the performance. [Recognizing Kirsten is displaying some hesitancy about this 'now you're grown up! thing...] I'm not saying that this is your coming out ball -- I mean you've been famous for a long time now -- but it felt like a transition to me.

Kirsten:  I'm older now and It'll be different from now on, for sure. This is the first movie -- well, it's hard for me because... [Reconsidering]  In The Cat's Meow I had to play someone older but she was kind of a childlike adult. I feel like [All Good Things] is definitely a transition into a different way of people looking at me. I think you're absolutely right but it's hard for me to look outside of myself in that way.

Nathaniel: I'm sure you're experience from the inside is very different than ours.

Kirsten: It is.

Nathaniel: Well, All Good Things... it's a beautiful performance. My favorite performance of yours was always Crazy/Beautiful and I just love Marie-Antoinette. It's a grossly undervalued movie.

Kirsten: You know, people who love Marie Antoinette really love it so I feel like it'll stick around.

5 Best Performances: Virgin Suicides, Crazy/Beautiful, Eternal Sunshine,
Marie-Antoinette, All Good Things
. Do you agree?

Those are the ones for me, personally, but how about you? Are there any you feel more connected to?

Kirsten: [No hesistation] The Virgin Suicides. That was a different thing for me at the time. I was allowed to not talk and not be the bubbly girl. I was allowed to show another side of myself that I was even discovering at the time. That was a really cool moment for me to look back on. [Pause]  Usually I see these things more in retrospect than when they're happening.

And I loved doing Eternal Sunshine. [Delighted voice] I'm just so proud to be in that movie. It's so many people's favorite film. To be in someone's favorite film is just -- that's what you want. You want to be in great films that are memorable. It's nice when the movie is not on your shoulders, too. It's fun to do a smaller part sometimes.

Nathaniel: Well, you've already racked up several great films. Good luck adding to that list.

At this point, we wrapped up our interview. Kirsten mentioned Melancholia  (the Lars Von Trier picture) again and amusingly we both expressed curiousity about what that final movie will be like. There is only a little bit of information about the movie out there, though Lars did famously mischievously joke that there would be "no more happy endings" (As if the rest of his filmography is rainbows and bliss!) Still, like she said, you never know what something is going to end up being. When I called her 'the future of the movies' years ago, I had no idea exactly what that future would hold, for her or Hollywood. It was a vote of confidence and faith that this gifted natural would flourish. She did. There were a few rough spots, sure, as there are in any career. But after a short break, All Good Things marks a major return to a career that's already had more dizzying heights than most 28 year-old actors could dream of.

Kirsten might not want to call All Good Things a transition, and perhaps it is the wrong word. Transition implies something unformed and her Katie Marks is a fully shaped character. It's not a comeback either since she hasn't really been away, but just stuck in that spider web. Let's call it a reminder, then. Let it serve as a reminder to Hollywood of what she's always been capable of doing. May she keep on reminding them.

The Year In Funny

year in review parts 1-7
tear-jerkers, music videos, worst films, gay characters and more... 
Four Lions

Michael C. from Serious Film here for a few good laughs.

Any future film historians examining the tail end of 2010 will likely mark this year as dark days for screen comedy. Comedy icons Woody Allen and James L Brooks rolled twin gutter balls, while mainstream audiences lined up around the block to watch the star of Taxi Driver do 98 minutes of boner jokes. As if to rub salt in the wound, the Golden Globes saw fit to nominate an inexplicable slate of comedies that were, with few exceptions, unfunny, unexceptional, or in some cases downright awful.

Still, if you managed to look beyond the large pile of high profile duds there were plenty of laughs to be had in 2010. So here for your consideration is the year in comedy. Not the best movies overall, but purely those films and performances that most moved the needle on the laugh-o-meter.

Funniest Leading Man - Most movie funny men neatly divide their comedic and dramatic work. Kevin Kline will be a goofball in A Fish Called Wanda then it's goodbye mustache and hello serious face in Grand Canyon. With his daring work in I Love You Phillip Morris, Jim Carrey managed the best of both worlds delivering one of his fullest performances to date while still scoring big laughs as the relentlessly dishonest con man Steven Russell. Bonus Points: Though his character can barely go a full minute without lying, Carrey is able to let the audience see just how sincerely smitten he is, keeping his character from becoming a one-note huckster.

Funniest Leading Lady - Easy A may have been a formulaic piece of slick Hollywood fluff but that didn't keep Emma Stone from rising above the material to show just what formidable comedic chops she's packing. Stone pulls every laugh possible from this familiar material and then adds a few of her own. Bonus Points: Stone's minute-long soliloquy on the subject of aphrodisiacs was a symphony of first date awkwardness that had me guffawing out loud. Riffing wildly on oysters and Spanish fly, Stone makes a rapid series of funny faces, giggles at her own jokes, and manages to include both the phrases "painful urination" and "bloody discharge". A star is born. [previous posts]

Funniest Supporting Performance - I'm as surprised as you are, but damned if no supporting performance of 2010 made me laugh as much as Sean Combs playing Sergio, Get Him to the Greek's egomaniacal, hard-partying, half-crazed music executive. To merely dismiss this performance as a thinly veiled version of himself is, I think, to sell short a genuinely funny comedic showcase. Combs manages to steals scenes from two of the biggest names in comedy today - no minor feat.

Funniest Animated Performance - A three-way tie. Toy Story 3's Spanish Buzz Lightyear was a bolt of comic relief in the middle of the nerve-wracking climax. His mating dance for Jessie may be the comedic high point of 2010. The Illusionist managed to resurrect the gentle comic spirit of Jacques Tati in its protagonist, and like the live action version, his animated counterpart provides a movie's worth of warm smiles. Finally, in Tangled  [previous posts] Disney gave us one of their best supporting characters in ages with Maximus, the horse worth an entire squadron of royal guards.

Funniest Stare - Perched somewhere between a barn owl and Hannibal Lecter, Jonah Hill's level gaze is enough to reduce John C Reilly to cold sweats in Cyrus. Hill's oddball performance was the best thing about a film that often felt half-baked.

Funniest Parents - There are few roles more thankless than that of the parents in a teen movie. With the pressure off, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson [interview] took Easy A as an opportunity to crank up the zany charm and transform their limited screen time into a series of self-contained comic vignettes. Name another teen comedy where the audiences is hoping for more scenes where the lead goes home to talk it over with her parents.

Funniest Movie (From a Certain Angle) - It would be hard to argue with anyone who came out of Noah Baumbach's Greenberg asking, "What the hell was so funny about that?" But if you can summon a little pity for Stiller's filter-less malcontent, then you can see the humor in unleashing this out of control man-child on the greater Los Angeles area.

Funniest Movie That Is Not A Comedy - The Social Network is a unquestionably a drama, but it also has one of the highest laugh counts of the year. One could hear the audience actually pausing for a moment to absorb the sheer cleverness of a line before bursting out laughing. Bonus points for being the most quotable movie of the year.

Most Welcome Presence - Welcome back, Michael Keaton! How we missed you. He turned up to get laughs as both The Other Guys oblivious TLC-quoting police captain and as Toy Story's totally not a girl's toy, Ken. Here's hoping Hollywood keeps right on casting this comedic MVP.

Funniest Mystery Science Theater Fodder - Attention must be paid to the lovers of unintentional comedy, and those folks received a big gift with The Last Airbender. M. Night Shyamalan's epic mess hit the sweet spot of boundless silliness told with completely stone-faced solemnity. How many years until live audience-participation showings of Airbender spring up?

Biggest Waste of a Great Cast - Date Night. How can you gather a cast that includes Carrell, Fey, Franco, Kunis, Liotta, Fichtner, Wahlberg, Wiig, Ruffalo, and Taraji P Henson and still manage only minimal laughs? Put them through the motions of an exhausted plot nobody cares about involving stolen flash drives, car chases, and mobsters, that's how.

Somebody Get This Guy a Script -  Last year Flight of the Conchord's Jemaine Clements was wasted  in the universally hated Gentlemen Broncos. This year he is wasted in Dinner for Schmucks. One of my fondest 2011 wishes is that Clement gets a vehicle worthy of his priceless comic presence.

Funniest Ensemble - Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. From Keiran Culkin's acid wit to Alison Pill's killer deadpan all the way down to the glorious appearance of the Vegan Police this cast is firing on all cylinders. And although everyone and their cousin have written about how Michael Cera needs to find a different role, Cera's comic timing in the title role was still spot on. [previous posts]

Biggest Waste of a Great Title - Hot Tub Time Machine. Surely we can use this title again? It's too good to blow it on these limp 80's jokes.

Biggest Let Down - I left all my critical faculties at the door and was ready for Robert Rodriguez's Machete to give me the guiltiest guilty pleasure ever, maybe this generation's answer to Kentucky Fried Movie. What I got was a movie that bored despite Lindsay Lohan in a nun's outfit shooting off a machine gun, all with a layer of deadly preachiness on top.

The Low Lows of High Concepts - When future generations ask what killed the romantic comedy I will sadly respond, "High concepts." Whether it was a magic wishing fountain in When In Rome, a special marriage proposal day in Leap Year, a sperm sample switcheroo in The Switch, or whatever was going on in Killers, Hollywood is so in love with their big ideas they forgot the little details like likable characters, relatable situations, or romantic chemistry.

I'll Pass - Grown Ups, Marmaduke, Little Fockers, The Bounty Hunter, Furry Vengeance...ugh... I can't go on. See you all at Wal Mart's 5.99 bin, or, more likely, the depths of the Netflix instant view selection.

The Ten Funniest Movies of 2010

One of the big surprises of the year. Despite an advertising campaign to the contrary we finally got an animated film that dropped the ironic Shrek-y pop culture references long enough to tell a sweet, straight-forward story. The result? Disney's best animated film in at least a decade and their funniest since The Emperor's New Groove.

It's getting more attention for Oscar-friendly tears than for laughs, but Lisa Cholodenko's heartfelt script was one of the most consistently entertaining and well observed of the year. We know the characters and their blind spots so well that we laugh and cringe in equal measure as they stumble directly into emotional land mines.

"Wait. Let me check your math."

Admittedly this is as hit or miss as most other McKay projects, but for my money the scale tips firmly in the favor of hits. And when the hits are as funny as Whalberg's ballet dancing, Ferrell on the subject of Tuna vs. Lions and Jackson and the Rock going out with a whimper instead of bang then you can't leave it off this list even though the odd gag lands with a thud (Ferrell's pimping past, I'm looking at you).

Again, not a perfect film but when a story barrels along with such confidence you just go along for the ride. Bouyed by Carrey's ferocious performance and strong supporting working by an endearingly dim Ewan McGregor and a sweet Leslie Mann, Phillip Morris plays like the funny, seedier cousin of Catch Me If You Can.

Russell Brand and company were right to think this one-off character had legs. This one was an example of that rare species: the solidly funny mainstream comedy that manages to be raunchy without being mean-spirited. Brand stakes his claim as a Hollywood star while Hill proves he can get laughs as the comic straight man. Plus it also gave the entertainment industry a good spoofing without stretching the material past believability.

Toy Story's tear-jerking scenes may be getting all the attention but the laughs here are just as big as ever. For starters, Mr. Tortilla Head is an instant classic, and Ken, Big Baby, and a group of method acting toys made for hilarious new additions. The opening fantasy sequence by itself would earn this a place on the list. By my estimation the "death by monkeys" gag alone was worth a half dozen cookie cutter Hollywood comedies.

While not the masterpiece it's most ardent fans are making it out to be, the films flaws are minor when compared to the film's successes. Whip smart gags, a witty visual style that pops, an ensemble with nary a weak link, and best of all, Edgar Wright's energetic direction which keeps the whole production rollicking along with a spirit of giddy invention. Any serious critical evaluation of the film should be prefaced with the acknowledgement that watching Scott Pilgrim is massive amounts of fun.

If you were lucky enough to catch this concert movie of Louis CK's stand up act as it toured the country last fall then you know what I know, which is that this is possibly the best stand-up special of its kind since Chris Rock exploded with Bring the Pain in '96. Louis CK does that thing that the greats do - actually getting us to see the world with new eyes. His riff on how the miracles of the modern age are wasted on today's whiney consumerists deserves comparison with the classic routines of George Carlin. Oh, and it's clutch-your-side-gasping, fall-out-of-your-chair funny.

More than any other comedy this year, Christopher Morris' Four Lions took big risks for its laughs. A comedy about a band of inept terrorists plotting attacks like a group of overgrown children playing in a treehouse, Lions is at once shocking and hilarious. Like the racial humor in Blazing Saddles it gets double laughs, one for the joke and a second one for getting away with what it did. In broad strokes these guys aren't much different than Waiting for Guffman's incompetent actors, in that the laughs come from the huge gap between their grandiose view of themselves and their stubborn lack of actual ability. There was infinite ways for this material to go wrong, but the infallible test of its success is whether or not we laugh, and I did. Loudly and often.

So let's hear it. What made you laugh the hardest this year, and which flicks left you sitting their stone-faced?

some tears to balance this out? Check out the Crybaby Countdown: Tearjerk-iest moments of 2010


Here Comes a New Year...

What's your biggest movie wish? (I haven't given 2011 that much thought yet but I'm hoping that the Pedro/Antonio reunion is worth the wait.)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Crybaby Countdown: The Tearjerk-iest Moments of 2010

year in review

Kurt here from Your Movie Buddy, getting honest about choking up. I live to cry at the movies, but it's so, so rare. It's like genuine belly laughs: they're great, but they just don't happen that much, especially for frequent, discerning filmgoers. My strongest recent memory of getting all sniffly would probably be during the candlelight vigil scene at the end of Milk. Such a powerful sight. I don't discriminate, though: I'm not afraid to admit I fell victim to the climax of the DeNiro weeper Everybody's Fine. Tearducts play by their own rules. Here's what gave mine a workout this year:


9. “Because it's important to you,” Date Night
It's no must-see, but Date Night scores major heartstring points as a valentine to long-term commitment. In the end, Steve Carrell and Tina Fey (let's call them “Stina”) have a lovely breakfast scene in which Steve throws in this affecting, encapsulating line about the couple's shared suburban pastimes.

8. Funeral scene, Undertow
Yes, it's another gay film stricken by tragedy. But it's a very, very moving one, especially in its closing scene, when in-denial protagonist Miguel (Cristian Mercado) at last pays tribute to the lover (Manolo Cardona) he lost too soon.

7. On the bench, Rabbit Hole
I don't have one specific scene to cite here, but rather every park scene Nicole Kidman shares with Miles Teller (who, IMO, was robbed of Supporting Actor attention). Their moments together are such wise, aching and beautiful depictions of forgiveness and mutual healing.

6. “Just read it to me, as a friend,” The King's Speech
For me, moving and plausible friendships are right up there with troop-rallying battle cries and father-son reconciliations in the lump-in-the-throat department. This moment between Firth and Rush runs deep.

5. Scrubbing the sidewalk, For Colored Girls
In the wrongly-reviled Tyler Perry melodrama, the suffering is constant, but a lot of it hits its mark. The most shattering scene is when Kimberly Elise is comforted by Kerry Washington during an unfathomable moment of post-traumatic cleansing. Then someone walks over her stain, and it's like claws to the soul.

4. Wedding, Blue Valentine
There are crushing moments aplenty in this oh-so-painful love story, but none trump that which finally shows you – in one gleaming-white, all-American flashback – all the initial hope and joy that's deteriorated through the course of this tragic couple's marriage.

3. Off to college, The Kids Are All Right
This hugely emotional au revoir is the perfect capper to everyone's new favorite family portrait. When all is said and done, family comes first, and at the end of the day, what's truly important is that the kids are...oh, you know.

2. Lantern release, Tangled
I liked the story of Tangled just fine, and Rapunzel's quest for freedom and identity is nicely developed, but what truly underscores this absolutely breathtaking peak of the Disney gem is its pure ability to transport: to childhood, to Disney's princess heyday, to movie heaven.

1. Moving on (Finale), Toy Story 3
I am not on the Toy Story 3 bandwagon by any means, but you better believe I was a puddle of mush just like everyone else during the final scene. I truly think it's one of the most emotional series finales in history. The greatness of its impact is that it's at once universal and personal: it feels like it's speaking to every viewer individually.

Need to laugh now? The YEAR IN COMEDY

Your turn, TFE readers. Spill it.  
What had you fighting back tears this year?

Let's Do the Link Warp Again

A note for  impatient readers: My top ten list is coming (I'm aiming for January 1st / 2nd) but first there's a couple year in reviews things and an interview with Kirsten Dunst. The new site will be up soon, too. Hopefully everything will be running smoothly within the next week.

Vulture Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu speaks out. Good read. I especially liked the Woody Allen bits.
/Film Remember when Buried won that surprise NBR Screenplay award. That's not the end of the film's Oscar campaign story...
Wired Patton Oswalt (The United States of Tara) asks for the death/rebirth of geek culture by ETEWAF (Everything That Ever Was... Available Forever). Really interesting piece, especially if you're feeling burnt out by the internet's constant regurgitation of past things and repurposing of newish things.
Playbill has a list of a ton of people's favorite theater moments of the year. I wish I could still afford theater. [sniffle]
Towleroad my weekly article with a teensy bit on the "depressing" double of Rabbit Hole and Blue Valentine.
Cinema Blend Casper the Friendly Ghost is coming back to the movies. In Related News: Hollywood isn't even trying anymore. True story: I saw the Christina Ricci Casper (1995) at the drive-in and my best friend cried and we all made fun of him for weeks afterwards.

Three random questions:

  1. Do you think Anne Hathaway is pissed that her Oscar co-host gets the EW cover but Natalie Portman gets what would then, symmetrically speaking, be hers? 
  2. Will there be a single day in 2011 where we aren't staring at Natalie Portman's mug?
  3. Was there a day in 2010 when we didn't see James Francos?

The Awl Call this next year twenty-eleven, please not "two thousand eleven". A compelling funny argument.

Distant Relatives: Repulsion and Black Swan

Robert here, with my series Distant Relatives, where we look at two films, (one classic, one modern) related through a common theme and ask what their similarities and differences can tell us about the evolution of cinema.  Since one of these films is still in theaters, I thought I'd mention that while certain plot elements are revealed I've done my best not to spoil any of the film's dramatic resolution.

Women well into their nervous breakdowns

We love to watch people go mad in the movies.  We watch people go mad because of fame and money.  We watch people go mad because of war or tragedy.  And we watch people go mad because of the relentless pursuit of perfection.  We're especially fascinated by beautiful people going mad.  "I hate to do this to a beautiful woman," said one of the cameramen of Catherine Deneuve on the set of Repulsion.  As if tormenting a plain looking person would be somewhat less repulsive.  We envy and idealize the beautiful.  What reason should they have to go mad, when life has dealt them such a winning hand?

But Natalie Portman's Nina and Catherine Deneuve's Carol do spiral down into madness.  Both are haunted by visions of walking nightmares.  Both see their reflections become broken and distorted.  And both are eventually brought to violence.  Each film contains moments of such fierce discomfort, we begin to expect (or fear) that the director is capable of showing us anything.  Now that is horror.  A scene of cuticle cutting in Repulsion suggests that Darren Aronofsky was probably influenced by that film's understanding of our empathy toward hangnail trauma.  But it's not fear of physical pain that's the catalyst for these beauties' insanty.

Would you fuck that girl?
They're all the same these bloody virgins, they're all teasers that's all.
Sex is dirty.  Sex is bad.  Both of these women have stilted sexuality in a world that demands they be sex objects.  Each film does a superb job of getting us into their heads, making us understand how they see sex.  As Carol lies in bed at night, hearing the animalistic moans and grunts being made by her sister and her sister's beau in the next room, we agree that they don't sound sexy at all.  They don't sound like something Carol would want to partake in.  They don't sound like something we would want to do.  For Nina, a subway encounter with a perverted old man tells us all we need to know about how sex appears before her: dirty, aggressive, a violation.  There's nothing present that suggests the comfort of love or even the enjoyment of pleasure.

For both of these women, being virginal is part of attaining or maintaining perfection.  Carol's pursuit of this ideal is subconscious.  She doesn't hope to achieve anything by accomplishing it, but being spoiled by a man would be akin to falling from grace.  For Nina, avoiding sex is part of her active pursuit of artistic perfection.  Her mother has pushed her in the direction of the pure innocent ballerina.  When company director Thomas Leroy insists that sexuality is her only path to perfection, it both contradicts and reinforces her attitudes toward sexuality and innocence.  After all, he demands she become sexual to embody the black swan, the dark character.  So sex may now be the goal, but it's still something sinister.

No way out

The activeness of Nina versus the passiveness of Carol is one of the major differences between these two films.  Yet in both cases it seemingly makes their downfall more inevitable.  Carol has no direction in life, no goals, no hobbies even.  Her descent into madness seems a natural progression of that emptiness.  For Nina, her pursuit of artistic triumph is so great, it can only lead where it eventually does - downward.  What both of these women do share is obsession, and that, however manifest, is the key to their fates.  The two women justify their darkness differently as well.  Black Swan plays with the doppleganger (echoing Swan Lake).  Nina, perhaps unable to accept any darkness within herself, creates mirror images of herself, onto whom she can project her inner evil.  Carol recedes within herself, becoming further and further the eternal victim.  She rationalizes her actions as necessary self-defense.  She has to.  By the end of her film, even the walls are attacking her.

In the over forty-five years between these two films, we notice that audiences have changed little.  Stories of beauty and obsession are still captivating.  Both films present us with a heroine who the picture empathizes with and sexualizes, almost becoming another one of the many gazing and lecherous men that surround them.  Like Nina, Black Swan the film is more active in its pursuit of our emotional distress.  The film is bombastic, swirling around, throwing a large amount of stimuli at is from all sides.  Repulsion is more passive like Carol, building slowly to a point where fantastic images truly shock.  Both methods work for their respective films, though the more modern one is maybe indicative of a time when the weight of film history and media saturation requires images be louder.  But however the times have changed, we still respond to beauty in peril.  We still are shocked at beauty embodying evil.  And like that camerman we feel terrible about it, but keep it in our gaze.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Patty Clarkson's 2010 Triple: Cairo Time, Easy A and Shutter Island

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Patty and the NYC premiere
this summer
Earlier this month I met with Patricia Clarkson to discuss another fine year in one of the most pleasurable of modern character actor filmographies. Hers. I was waiting for the right opportunity to share it with you, and since Cairo Time is out on DVD, Academy voters are busy weighing the various Best Actress options, and today is Patty's 51st birthday, it was high time.

Through an unfortunate scheduling snafu I was less prepared when I met her than I am accustomed to being. I apologized with a wee warning that I'd be winging it. I bring this up because, as many of will remember, I have closely clocked her career. She came in at #2 in my 2005 countdown "Actresses of the Aughts" (yes we should revisit that list now that the decade has wrapped) and because I just want to share the unedited transcript. She was just so delightful to talk to. The punctuations and descriptions are my own of course to convey the flavor of the conversation. Happily, she's as vivacious and fun to interview as she is to watch onscreen.

Our conversation started by chatting about the NYC premiere of Cairo Time this past summer.

Nathaniel: Really enjoyed the movie. We didn't get a chance to talk afterwards at the banquet but you seemed very buoyant and happy that evening.

Patty: Yes. It was very nice night and it had been a long journey with the film. So... just up until then my mother and sister were in town. It was just a wonderful night to share it with my friends and my family [pause] ...and strangers.


Nathaniel: Strangers like me sitting at the corner table. But it was wonderful to see you carry a whole movie for change.

Patty: It's a nice thing. It's rare. You know, I've been the female lead in a few things but it's rare to really kind of carry a film -- especially for me but it's even rare for women in general. We're always sharing top billing with somebody, you know what I mean? Or we're often the supporting people. It's beautiful that Ruba [Ruba Nadda the writer/director] wrote a film with a woman, almost 50, in the lead. That's how she wanted it. I'm very thankful to her for that always.

Patricia as Juliette.
Nathaniel: This character ["Juliette" in Cairo Time] has a really slow burn. I mean the character arc is very gradual.

Patty: Very! So gradual. It's really truly one of the most deceptively difficult parts I've ever played in my career. Not only because you're in every frame and you're shooting every day all day. But emotionally, oddly, it was... [her voice trails off thinking of the work]. It's a very, very quarter-inch by quarter-inch slow burn progression.

Nathaniel: In a situation like that do you have to have a lot of trust that the editing, for example, would bear you out since there's not that one scene? If you compare it to something like Far From Heaven where you can play a hairpin turn in the character that's just so devastating.

Patty: Right. Well that's also such a more forward character. This is... she [Ruba] wrote a very passive protagonist -- I found it very beautiful -- a very setback reluctant, for lack of a better world, woman at times. Antithetical to me and often to many characters I've played which are very forward and very gregarious and very present. This is a woman who is reserved, truly reserved. But I still think lovely and approachable in her own way.

Nathaniel: One thing I loved about the movie was the costume design.

Patty: Beautiful dresses, yes.

Nathaniel: They went along with the gradual arc so well. And the resolution of the movie -- those final scenes are just beautifully played.

Patty: Oh, thank you. It's the courage that Ruba had to really trust that those scenes would work, that they'd stay with the film and take this very, very subtle intimate --no bells and whistles! -- film and be around for the end and have the payoff. Most of the people I've seen have gotten it. They took the journey and were moved and transported. So...

Patricia & Alexander Siddig in the final scenes of Cairo Time

Nathaniel: Would you reteam with Alexander Siddig when you could let 'er rip more?

Patty: IN ANYTHING! There will be a sequel to Cairo Time. And it's just me and Alexander on a train. I've already written it. Ruba doesn't know about it but I've written it. And neither does Alexander.

[Much laughter]

Nathaniel: Speaking of actors who you don't get to get to see do leads enough...

Patty: He's such a beautiful stunning man. Ruba's next two projects are with Alexander and me. He's the lead in Ruba's next movie in Jordan, a beautiful story of a man whose daughter goes missing. And Ruba has another film for me that we'll shoot next January, a year from now. It's very exciting.

We're going to keep going with Ruba. [Laughter]

Whatever Patty Works... is magic
Nathaniel: Speaking of writer/directors... you've done two films with Woody Allen.

Patty: Yes, yes. I have high hopes for him; lovely unknown man.

Nathaniel: [laughter]

Patty: You know, it's an actor's dream to work with him and he doesn't disappoint. It was wonderful and I loved those parts that I got to play. Vicky Cristina Barcelona wasn't a large part but what was there was lovely and then Whatever Works was such a delicious divine part.

Nathaniel: You were the highlight.

Patty: Well... (giving credit away) Marietta! It's kind of a part I dreamed of playing, you know, just a big broad great southern lady.

Nathaniel: With Woody, you hear all sorts of contradictory things about him on the set. Some actors say he never speaks to them.

Patty: He's easy going but he's not chatty. This is why I really adore him. It's a very indulgent business; we are coddled and pampered so much. Woody just doesn't do that. It's all about the work. He doesn't care about your personal life. You show up. He wants you to be professional, know your lines, know what you're doing. Do your homework. He shows up and starts shooting at 9 AM, ready to go. He doesn't want drama. He doesn't want any of that. It's all about the work. I love that. I love that way of working.

Nathaniel: When you have to do a part that's heavily exposition as some supporting parts are, like in Shutter Island.

Patty: Yeah?

Nathaniel: How much of a challenge is that? It seems to me, from an outside perspective as I'm not an actor, that that would be both less rewarding and more difficult.

Patty: Well, Yes. At times it can be. But, remember, here I am. I'm working with Martin Scorsese who is divine and Leo... the two of them. They're a match made in heaven and they really make the best of an expositional circumstances. And it actually turned out to be, like, a real ride I had to take with that character and with Leo. And the cave. And my really ugly schmatte dress! And my wig!

[Much laughter]

You know it's like 'AAAAAHHH TROLL LADY!'

"People tell the world you're crazy and all your protests to the
contrary just confirm what they're saying."

It was -- it ended up being surprisingly difficult in good ways. It did challenge me. Leo is a deeply committed and passionate actor. And so is Marty. Both of them are like powerhouses coming at you. There's nothing laid back and cool and simple and easy. It's like [makes whooshing noise]... it's a conducive environment to do good and hopefully great work. It is about about the work also. With great directors, it always is.

Nathaniel:  High Art.

Patty: Great director.

Nathaniel: Lisa Cholodenko is having such a good year.

Patty: Beautiful year, yeah. I just saw her the other night at the Gothams.

Nathaniel: Her first couple movies, like High Art, were heavy and this one is really light and funny.

Patty: Although it's incredibly moving.

Nathaniel: Did you know she had that in her?

Patty: Yes, of course. She's just gifted. Great directors can just do anything. She has a marvelous sense of humor. She's very intelligent and I think she can -- because even in The Kids Are All Right there's pathos. I mean, there is. It's nuanced and hysterically funny but there is, you know,  still depth of emotion that will always be in her work.

Nathaniel: You yourself have a real gift for comedy. One of the things I would love to see you do, if they even made them anymore, is a rapid fire screwball comedy.

Patty: OHMYGOD. I  dream of that. You know,  I dream of standing in a room in a smart sexy suit or sitting on a couch with my legs crossed chatting with George Clooney... rapid fire. Yes! [laughter]

Nathaniel: You get to do little hints of that but I would love a big screwball.

Patty:  I do but I haven't done a kind of great balls-out real romantic comedy.

Tucci & Clarkson with Liza (!) at a Cairo Time event two weeks ago.

Nathaniel: You were a highlight of Easy A this year.
Patty: We had so much fun, Stanley and I.

Nathaniel: You have great chemistry.

Patty: We do. Stanley and I have known each other for so long. We're very close in a really great way. We just have a cool friendship, we do. And we're able to modify it slightly and bring it on as, like, a  married couple or whatever. We can take our friendship and mold it into what we need it to be whether that's for Blind Date or Easy A.

Nathaniel: I find in a lot of movies, a lot of times, the parent/child thing... you can't always see how the child would come from those parents.

Patty: Yes.

Nathaniel: And in that movie. You and Stanley were just -- it's like you genetically gifted all of your humor to her.

Patty: [Laughter]

Easy Mother and Grade A Daughter
Nathaniel: Because she had that same sort of lively...

Patty: Well, she is -- Emma Stone is sublime. You know, I hate this expression but she is a star. She is in the best sense. She's so beautiful and so multi-talented. She can do drama, comedy, action -- she's doing Spider-Man now. She's just really on her way and she should be. She should be. She's one of those new fabulous girls and she deserves to be.

Nathaniel: In terms of your public persona... do you get recognized a lot?

Patty: It depends on the city. If I'm in New York, oh god yes. If I'm in New Orleans oh god yes. In LA , yes. If I'm in Omaha, no. [Laughter]

Nathaniel: You've played such a wide range of roles. What do you think the perception of you is, generally?

Patty: I think it's shifted somewhat. [Reconsidering...] You know, I don't know.

Nathaniel: You don't think they come to you with any preconceived notions?

Patty: No. I think... Like in New York. It's like "oh, we love you. You're a New York actor." It's lovely. They claim me. 'Claim away, honey! As long as I keep working.'

I think people just think of me as, you know, just an actor. They're very flattering and complimentary most of the time. I'm trying to think -- I  don't think anybody has ever come up to me and said "I don't like you" but there's always tomorrow.


Nathaniel: One of my favorite parts of yours in Elegy.

Patty: Ohhhh, Isabel Coixet. Look at the extraordinary directors I've worked with! She's a stunning woman. She speaks five languages. She's a genius. She's one of the smartest people I've ever met and I have really smart friends. Like Rich Greenberg who is a genius. But she's one of a kind. I love that film. It's kind of taken on a different life, a new -- well, it doesn't have a cult following exactly but I have had a lot more people talking to me about it now than when it came out.

Nathaniel: It's one of your fullest characters I think. You were just giving us a lot of information about the character's life in a handful of scenes. Are there any other roles you wish would be rediscovered?

Patty:  You know, I wish more people would see Blind Date. I know it's not for everybody but I love that film. I don't know if you've seen it?

Nathaniel: ... that one I haven't so I'm a little embarrassed that that's the one you name-check.[Laughter]

Patty: Noooo. You'll see it at some point. You can rent it. I hope people rediscover that. That's the one I hope for.

Nathaniel: I think the first time I saw you in a lead was [forgetting...] oh god...

Patty: The Dying Gaul.

Nathaniel: The Dying Gaul!

Patty's first top billing

Patty: Beautiful film. [Craig Lucas] is a sublime man. Deeply gifted, beautiful writer, and beautiful eye. He should be writing and directing. It's a wonderful film and that's been discovered in some ways. More people have seen it and say 'I love that movie... it's got that strange title...'

Nathaniel: Yeah, you had to prompt me too.

Patty: Yeah. But oh that white bikini. oh my god. [embarrassed high voice] WHOOOOO!!!

[laughter break]

Nathaniel: What's next for you Patty?

Patty: Not a white bikini !!!

[more laughter]

Nathaniel: Oh come on, you look pretty great in that dress in Cairo Time.

Patty: Beautiful dresses. What's next for me? I just did another movie with the Easy A director. This is a movie starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake [Friends With Benefits]. And a small part in Lone Scherfig's new movie called One Day starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. I play Jim's dying mother. It's me doing British which is very intimidating in front of entire British cast and crew. I thought 'oh my god  I am going to be dying by the end of this character.' 

But it's good to be frightened at 50 and it's good that people keep upsetting the apple cart.

Nathaniel: It was a pleasure to talk to you.  Thanks for bearing with me.

Patty: You didn't seem to be winging it.

Nathaniel: Well I've been watching since High Art.

Patty at the New Yorker Festival in October.

And with that we said our goodbyes.

Did you see Patty's triple this year? It's actually a quadruple as she had a role in Legendary but that one, alas, slipped by me. Which was your favorite of her recent roles? If you haven't seen Cairo Time, queue it up. But just make sure to turn off your phones. It's one of those movies that requires your full attention, all the better to appreciate Patty's careful modulation of that slow burn arc.

But then, you should always pay close attention to Patty's work. She rewards audiences again and again.

Leonardo DiCaprio Stanley Tucci