“The key to appreciating Birth is not so much a suspension of disbelief as an anxious surrender of reason…  Ms. Kidman, her hair cut short and dyed dark red, conveys both the toughness of a woman who has pulled herself together after a traumatic loss and the vulnerability of someone whose grieving has remained incomplete… [Kidman] gives herself so completely to the role that the film becomes both spellbinding and heartbreaking, a delicate chamber piece with the large, troubled heart of an opera.”

– A.O. Scott   

Stills from Birth (2004, dir. Jonathan Glazer) Cinematography by Harris Savides

In my capacity as a critic, I will weigh in on the artistic merits of Mr. Kechiche’s film in Friday’s paper. But I am also the parent of two mature, inquiring teenagers, one of whom, my 14-year-old daughter, has seen it twice, at the Telluride Film Festival. My permissiveness has raised some eyebrows among friends and colleagues, and I am not necessarily holding myself up as a role model. You have your own rules, and your own reasons for enforcing them, and naked bodies writhing in ecstasy may not be something you want your kids to see. But in some ways, because of its tone and subject matter, “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is a movie that may be best appreciated by viewers under the NC-17 age cutoff.
It’s a movie about a high school student, after all, confronting issues — peer pressure, first love, homework, postgraduate plans — that will be familiar to adolescents and perhaps more exotic to the middle-aged. In spite of linguistic and cultural differences, the main character, moody, self-absorbed and curious, will remind many American girls of themselves, their friends and the heroines of the young adult novels they devour.
—  New York Times Film Critic A.O. Scott and his decision to let his teenagers see “Blue Is the Warmest Color" 
At New Directors/New Films, a Glimpse of the Otherworldly
This year’s package leans toward the somber and includes assorted spirits, a number of slaughtered animals and a variety of environmental disasters.
By Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott

The New York Times critics Manohla Dargis & A.O. Scott highlight their picks from this year’s New Directors/New Films lineup. The festival, now in its 45th year, is currently underway through March 27 at MoMA Film and Film Society of Lincoln Center. Get your tickets now. 

Comic-book superhero movies seem to be taking the place in the American imagination that the western once did. It’s been estimated that more than 7,000 westerns have been made in the United States since 1903, a saturation that — much like western dime novels and melodramatic plays, Buffalo Bill shows and the art of Frederic Remington — shows how deeply the genre once spoke to particularly (if not exclusively) American ideas about itself. The genre’s iconography, from the white and black hats to the horses, remains rooted in our collective imagination, as do some of the themes, including the tension between the nominally savage and civilized, and the little woman waiting as the hero rides off.

Aside from Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, women are still waiting — on screen and off — for a place in the comic-book-branded, fanboy-dominated superhero cosmos. This is not to say that there are no superheroines. Katniss Everdeen, with her deadeye aim and her heavy existential baggage, has proved that a girl can fight injustice and inspire fans as well as any man in a bodysuit and cape. But she had to stage her incursion into the mainstream from the world of young-adult fiction. The Marvel Universe and its DC counterpart — the worlds of Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman, Superman and the X-Men (notice the pattern) — are strongholds of patriarchy. It’s time for them to open up.
—  Manhola Dargis and A. O. Scott, “cc: Marvel

CAROL, part two

“At once ardent and analytical, cerebral and swooning, Carol is a study in human magnetism, in the physics and optics of eros. With sparse dialogue and restrained drama, the film is a symphony of angles and glances, of colors and shadows. It gives emotional and philosophical weight to what might be a perfectly banal question: What do these women see each in each other?… In this film’s version of the 1950s, nobody necessarily suspects that two women out for coffee or cocktails or a drive in the country might in fact be lovers. When such suspicion does arise, the consequences can be unfathomably cruel. Shame, exposure and ostracism lurk in every stranger’s glance. A rumor can ruin a life. Terror hovers in the air along with yearning, but Mr. Haynes honors [novelist Patricia] Highsmith’s decision to tell a tale of same-sex love stripped of pathology or tragedy. There is plenty of melodrama, though, and more than a touch of film noir. Carol filters a relatively happy romance through layers of anxiety, dread and psychological suspense.” — A.O. Scott, New York Times (November 2015)

Becky Cloonan’s cover for the upcoming Criterion Collection release of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo Del Toro just shared this on Twitter

The brilliance of “Pan’s Labyrinth” is that its current of imaginative energy runs both ways. If this is magic realism, it is also the work of a real magician. The director, Guillermo Del Toro, unapologetically and unpretentiously swears allegiance to a pop-fantasy tradition that encompasses comic books, science fiction and horror movies, but fan-boy pastiche is the last thing on his mind. He is also a thoroughgoing cinephile, steeped in classical technique and film history.A.O. Scott

View Bio on Official Site

SHAILENE WOODLEY [Beatrice “Tris” Prior] is best known for her award winning performance opposite George Clooney in Academy Award® nominated film The Descendants from writer/director Alexander Payne. Among the many accolades she received for her work in the film, were a 2012 Independent Spirit Award® for Best Supporting Actress, the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress, a Golden Globe® nomination and a Critics Choice award nomination. Variety said of her performance, “Woodley is a revelation in the role of Alex, displaying both the edge and the depth that the role demands.” A.O. Scott of the New York Times agreed saying Woodley gives, “one of the toughest, smartest, most credible adolescent performances in recent memory.”

Woodley recently starred in the dramatic film White Bird In A Blizzard for director Gregg Araki, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014. Magnolia Pictures released the film on VOD on September 25th and then in theaters nationwide on October 24th. The film debuted internationally at the Deauville Film Festival in France.

Woodley further solidified her stature as a talented and versatile actress in the critically acclaimed film The Fault In Our Stars, the big screen adaption of John Green’s hugely popular novel. Woodley earned glowing reviews from the most respected critics in the country and it dominated the box office on opening weekend. The film has earned over $250 million worldwide thus far. Woodley has been acknowledged by The People’s Choice Awards, The Broadcast Film Critics Awards and The Teen Choice Awards for her performance. Just prior, Woodley starred in The Spectacular Now opposite Miles Teller. The co-stars shared the Special Jury Prize for Dramatic Acting at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013; and Woodley was nominated for a Gotham Award and an Independent Spirit Award® for Best Actress.

Woodley’s star status was proven in the big screen version of Divergent for Summit Entertainment, based on the popular YA novel of the same name from best-selling author Veronica Roth.

Fans worldwide are also anticipating the return of Tris in the next installment of the Divergent series, entitled The Divergent Series: Insurgent, which will be in theaters all over the world in March 2015.

Woodley will soon begin production as the female lead opposite Joseph Gordon Levitt in the Oliver Stone directed film Snowden, the real-life story of Edward Snowden, the American computer specialist and former employee of the CIA who leaked classified information from the NSA about surveillance programs run by the US.

Woodley began her career at the age of 5 when an agent recognized her potential and signed her in an instant and she has been working ever since. She cut her teeth in commercials and then earned her first TV role in the 1999 TV Movie, Replacing Dad, which starred two time Oscar® nominee Mary McDonnell.

Other roles include playing the lead character in the hit ABC Family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager for five years; the lead in the popular WB movie Felicity: An American Girl Adventure, which was produced by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Julia Roberts; and recurring roles on Crossing Jordan (as a young Jill Hennessy), The O.C., and Jack & Bobby. She also had a lead role opposite Ann Margaret and Matthew Settle in the TV movie A Place Called Home.

When she is not on set, Woodley spends as much time outdoors as possible thinking of ways she can help keep the environment beautiful and healthy for future generations.

It’s not really out to prove that women can be strong or funny or handle powerful weapons. In most movies, such offers of proof are accompanied by reassurances that the women in question are still sexy or maternal or eager to settle down with the right guy — that they fulfill some kind of conventional idea of femininity. Ghostbusters doesn’t bother with any of that, and in the process seems to be on the verge of inventing a new set of archetypes.
—  New York Times film critic A.O. Scott in So That’s Who You Call: The Politics of the New ‘Ghostbusters’

Old Hollywood fans, go see Todd Haynes’ film Carol. The film, a romantic drama, is beautiful, with impeccable costuming and photography  - it doesn’t so much evoke the early 1950′s as bring that era alive - but the heart of the film is Cate Blanchett. She is magnificent, like a movie star from the past, creating a woman who is glamorous, charismatic, sophisticated and yet painfully lonely and vulnerable. And she looks fabulous ( see above). The costumes are by Sandy Powell and the cinematography by Edward Lachman. 

“Mr. Haynes is a historian of feelings, of the unspoken and invisible traces of the libido. In one scene, Carol helps Therese apply perfume, instructing her to spray it only on her pulse points, where the heat and movement of her blood will activate the scent. The images in “Carol” are cool and elusive, but they also pulsate with life.” - A.O. Scott, New York Times  


“Tiny as a sparrow, fierce as an eagle, Lisbeth Salander is one of the great Scandinavian avengers of our time, an angry bird catapulting into the fortresses of power and wiping smiles off the faces of smug, predatory pigs. [She] is an outlaw feminist fantasy-heroine, and also an avatar of digital antiauthoritarianism… Her appeal arises from a combination of vulnerability and ruthless competence. She can hack any machine, crack any code and, when necessary, mete out righteous punitive violence, but she is also a lost and abused child. And Ms. Mara captures her volatile and fascinating essence beautifully. Hurt, fury and calculation play on her pierced and shadowed face. The black bangs across her forehead are as sharp and severe as an obsidian blade, but her eyebrows are as downy and pale as a baby’s.” — A.O. Scott, New York Times (December 2011)

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011, David Fincher; pictured with Daniel Craig)

The Truly Independent Filmmaker
To make the movies she wanted, Kelly Reichardt had to go it alone.

In the winter of 1994 director Kelly Reichardt almost missed the Sundance Film Festival debut of her first film because she was stuck on a train.

“I couldn’t afford the plane tickets,” says Reichardt, shrugging her slight shoulders in a Manhattan cafe. “The train froze on the tracks and took five days instead of three. We got there just in time for our premiere. We hadn’t showered in five days. We were total grease heads.”

Reichardt was one of two women filmmakers at the Park City, Utah, festival that year. Her feature, River of Grass, which she describes as “a road movie without the road, a love story without the love, and a crime story without the crime,” got strong reviews, though some of her peers were not so supportive.

“I remember Kevin Smith was there with Clerks,” she says, sipping a chamomile tea. “He’s in this book [Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes by John Pierson] talking about my film and how it’s an example of a film that should have never been made. They say that it looks like it was shot on postage stamps. The guy who made Clerks …” She pauses for wry emphasis: Clerks was memorably low-fi. “That’s the kind of friendly Sundance camaraderie back in the day. But there were other, nicer folks.”

That year, the festival launched the careers of the fanboy kingpin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy), as well as perennial Oscar contender David O. Russell (Spanking the Monkey, Joy) and documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Life Itself), to hard-earned, near-immediate acclaim. For Reichardt, it was the beginning of a more circuitous journey that, like her ill-fated train ride, took much longer than necessary. Although River of Grass was later nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards, she was unable to make a second film for 12 years. Reichardt returns to Sundance this year with a restored print of her first film, as well as her sixth feature, Certain Women, starring Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, and newcomer Lily Gladstone. Immediate acclaim, however, has remained out of reach.

Reichardt’s gender has a lot to do with this. The industry continues to wrestle with systemic gender discrimination, as the Sony e-mail hack revealed. Salary disparities affect even Hollywood’s most bankable woman, Jennifer Lawrence. Exactly zero of 2015’s 10 highest-grossing films were directed by women—as well as zero of the top 10 movies listed by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, 85 percent of films released commercially in 2014 were directed by men; 80 percent were written by men; 92 percent were shot by male cinematographers. In October the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission opened a formal investigation into Hollywood’s hiring practices.

So far, the conversation has followed the money: When will a woman direct a Marvel movie? A sci-fi epic? Why, after the smash-hit success of the woman-helmed Frozen and Kung Fu Panda 2, was not a single animated film directed by a woman last year? Why did Sundance darling Colin Trevorrow get to direct Jurassic World after making only one small-budget film? “It feels like a different conversation, because that’s not about telling the stories that matter to me,” Reichardt says, adding that the debate often feels like women are asking, “ ‘Can I make a movie as crappy as those movies?’ How awesome.”

“We operate in a gray area—director-driven films in a celebrity-hungry market. This is the line we walk every day”

But discrimination doesn’t just touch women who want to be the next Steven Spielberg. Unlike Smith (who comes back to Sundance this year with his 12th film, Yoga Hosers, starring his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, opposite Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose Depp), Reichardt struggled to convert promise into a career. A project Jodie Foster was set to produce died in development. “I had 10 years from the mid-1990s when I couldn’t get a movie made,” she told the Guardian in 2011. “It had a lot to do with being a woman. That’s definitely a factor in raising money.” She couch-surfed for five years, eventually taking a job teaching at Bard College.

Reichardt brought her second film to Sundance in 2006. Old Joy, a hushed, meditative ramble of a film set in the Pacific Northwest with no stars and ominous Bush-era overtones of bygone youth, was made for only $40,000. It was one of the festival’s hits, landing on scores of critics’ yearend top-10 lists.

Reichardt’s next film, the 2008 heartbreaker Wendy and Lucy, was her true breakout. Starring Williams as a vulnerable woman who loses her dog and anything resembling a safety net, it evoked the fearful tension of America as it fell into recession. The fraught, elegant film earned a Cannes premiere and a slot on the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Films of the Year list. New York Times critic A.O. Scott championed the movie and named Reichardt a leader of a “Neo-Neo-Realism” movement.

In a business dominated by global franchises, director-driven films not based on branded intellectual property are hard to finance. Personal films by female filmmakers are doubly difficult, but Reichardt’s ability to keep budgets low and attract top-name talent has been a virtue.

Wendy and Lucy was the first of her four collaborations with the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based studio Filmscience, which went on to produce her oblique Oregon Trail Western Meek’s Cutoff, the tense eco-thriller Night Moves, and Certain Women. On the strength of Reichardt’s reputation and her latest movie’s cast, the company was able to presell global distribution rights for the film to Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions before its Sundance premiere. In Park City it will look for a domestic-release partner.

“We’ve all been incredibly fortunate in that amazing actors want to work with Kelly and make big concessions to do so (both financially and in terms of amenities they may be accustomed to on bigger films),” Filmscience producers Neil Kopp and Anish Savjani wrote in an e-mail. “We operate in a gray area—director-driven films in a celebrity-hungry market,” they added. “This is the line we walk every day.”

Actors such as Jesse Eisenberg (who starred in Night Moves after The Social Network) and Stewart (who stars in Certain Women after having made her name in the Twilight movies) are drawn to Reichardt because she offers them roles Hollywood does not.

“I’m the one who was lucky to work with Kelly, not the other way around,” says Williams, who also starred in Meek’s Cutoff. “When I saw Old Joy, there wasn’t a question of her gender, of the size of the film, or the crowds it may or may not draw. I wanted to be directed by that keen and subtle eye. I wanted to let mystery hang in the air of a film. I wanted the dignity and space she allowed her characters.”

Kelly is one of the true pioneers in fierce, make-it-your-way, independent filmmaking,” Dern says. “She’ll make movies however she needs in order to allow for that kind of freedom.”

Reichardt’s good friend and producer, the filmmaker Todd Haynes, was nominated for best director at this year’s Golden Globe awards for his film Carol, which was nominated for best drama. If Reichardt were a man, he says, “the integrity of an entire and an extraordinary body of work would have been more visible by now. It’s very hard to come up with other filmmakers in the independent film community who’ve made such uncompromising work so consistently, with such a clear, precise, and resonant vision.”

Instead, Reichardt’s work has quietly, steadily accrued greater resonance, much like one of her enigmatic films. “I’m usually not moved in the moment during her films,” says Sundance Festival Director John Cooper. “It’s more of a collective effect. You feel like you watched something quietly become powerful.”

This year, 22 of the 54 films in competition at Sundance, or 41 percent, were directed by women. But critics have proclaimed it the “year of the woman” before, and despite the isolated success of directors such as Kathryn Bigelow, Ava DuVernay, Jennifer Lee, and Elizabeth Banks, the overall statistics have barely budged. Reichardt, who’s been interrogated about the role of women in Hollywood since her debut 22 years ago, says she feels a bit trapped by the unchanging discussion. “This is a losing conversation for any woman to have—to hell with the women-in-cinema thing,” she says, sighing more out of fatigue than pique.

Reichardt has always preferred to let her work speak for itself, so she perks up when asked to describe what’s at stake for the character in her new film. Set in Montana, Certain Women features a hostage situation and feuding lawyers. But Reichardt says it’s less about topical conflict and more about women finding ways to live their particular lives. She could be describing her career.

“It’s about small struggles, just small, personal politics with strangers, with neighbors, with husbands,” she says. “And I think it might be about entitlement on some level: what some people feel they have coming to them and the expectations other people just don’t have.”


Sundance Film Festival

For a quick background and preview of Sundance Film Festival, watch the 4-min clip of TalkingMovies here: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20160121-a-preview-of-the-sundance-film-festival

Kristen comes on at 1: 44 talking about how she loves Sundance.

…imagine a world where no one is in charge and no one necessarily knows what’s going on, where identities are in perpetual flux. Mothers and fathers act like teenagers; little children are wise beyond their years. Girls light out for the territory and boys cloister themselves in secret gardens. We have more stories, pictures and arguments than we know what to do with, and each one of them presses on our attention with a claim of uniqueness, a demand to be recognized as special. The world is our playground, without a dad or a mom in sight.
—  A.O. Scott
Watch on moma.tumblr.com

We mourn the passing of David Carr, an insightful & passionate voice. In this memorable video, he walks through our galleries with colleagues Randy Kennedy and A.O. Scott.

The Big Picture Strikes Back

A.O. Scott on the state of cinema:

Equally hard to refute is the idea that we are approaching a horizon of video convergence, in which all those screens will be equal and interchangeable and the distinctions between the stuff that’s shown on each one won’t seem as consequential as it does now. We still tend to take for granted that a cable drama, a network sitcom, a feature film, a web video and a first-person combat game are fundamentally different creatures, but they might really be diverse species within a single genus, their variations ultimately less important than what they have in common. They are all moving pictures, after all, and as our means of access to them proliferate and recombine, those old categories are likely to feel increasingly arbitrary and obsolete. The infrastructure of a multiplatform future is before us, and resistance to it can look like an especially tiresome kind of sentimentality. Cinephilia is nostalgia. We might keep going to the movies out of habit, or because it’s sometimes nice to leave the house, but we are losing the old, sustaining belief that this is a special and exalted cultural activity, the supreme mode of participation in the popular arts.

But even as the studios, in the midst of a panic, trip over themselves to look dumb and greedy:

But within this landscape of bloat and desolation, there is quite a lot worth caring about. More important, there are filmmakers determined to refine and reinvigorate the medium, to recapture its newness and uniqueness and to figure out, in a post-film, platform-agnostic, digital-everything era, what the art of cinema might be. Like every previous period of decline — which is to say like just about every other moment in the past century — this is an age of wild and restless experimentation. Maybe even a golden age.


You might end up watching these at a theater, on a tablet or in your den, courtesy of Netflix or BitTorrent or your local cable provider. But you will not be able to mistake them for anything but movies. What is cinema? You know it when you see it.

The entire article is well constructed. In the post-Ebert world, Scott has become the go-to writer not just for reviews of film, but about film.

[Drive] is a prisoner of its own emptiness, substituting moods for emotions and borrowed style for real audacity…it is, for all its bravado, timid and conventional.
—  A.O. Scott, still correct, though this only halfway explains my distaste.
‘One Day’ - Review - NYTimes.com

A.O. Scott’s review of One Day is positive and blah blah blah, but can we just focus on this sentence for a second?

One Day turns an episodic story into an anthology of feelings and associations, many familiar, a few surprising, some embarrassing and one or two worth holding onto.

Oh hello, an anthology of feelings. You're my new favorite phrase.