Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Films of the Coen Brothers: The Ladykillers (2004)

The Ladykillers (2004)
Directed by: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen.
Written by:  Joel Coen & Ethan Coen based on the movie written by William Rose.
Starring: Tom Hanks (Professor G.H. Dorr), Irma P. Hall (Marva Munson), Marlon Wayans (Gawain MacSam), J.K. Simmons (Garth Pancake), Tzi Ma (The General), Ryan Hurst  (Lump Hudson), Diane Delano (Mountain Girl), George Wallace (Sheriff Wyner), John McConnell  (Deputy Sheriff), Jason Weaver (Weemack Funthes), Stephen Root (Fernand Gudge), Lyne Odums  (Rosalie Funthes).

There are many flaws in the Coen brothers remake of The Ladykillers – but I am willing to overlook almost all of them because I love Tom Hanks and Irma P. Hall in the film so much. Like the film they made the year before, Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers is not a film I had revisited since I first saw in theaters – 10 years ago now. It is undeniable a minor effort on the part of the brothers – an effort at a more mainstream comedy – and one that feels a little too tame by comparison to their other work – at times more like someone trying to be the Coens than the Coens themselves. Yet like Intolerable Cruelty, taken as a movie unto itself, The Ladykillers is a hell of a lot of fun – it’s a disappointment more when compared to their other films rather than a film itself. The film is nowhere near great – but I had fun watching it.

The film stars Tom Hanks as Professor G.H. Dorr, a Southern gentleman who looks and sounds like a demented Colonel Sanders. He wants to rent a room from the kindly old African American woman Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall) – he says because he’s on sabbatical and wants a quiet place to do his work. In reality, he wants the rent a room because from her root cellar it will be easy to tunnel into a nearby casino and steal their money. For his purposes he has enlisted a crack team of idiots played by Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma and Ryan Hurst. Mrs. Munson is a church going lady – a kindly, trusting old woman who doesn’t realize what the hell is going on in her basement – but wouldn’t approve if she did. She makes herself a nuisance at the police station, and donates generously to the Church and Bob Jones University.

The movie is basically made up of scenes of the would be criminals tunneling into the casino and simultaneously trying to hide what they are doing from Mrs. Munson. About half way into the movie, they get the money – but then a series of strange things keep happening, and one by one the men die – and are disposed of on a passing garbage ship. Such is life in a Coen brother movie – if you sin, you’re going to pay for it.

The reason to see the movie is the performances by Hanks and Hall. Hanks has always been a fine actor – and he normally excels at playing the Everyman – the man everyone wishes was their father because he’s so kind and upstanding. Once in a while though, he takes on a completely different kind of role and it makes me wish he’d do so more often – and his performance here is one of them. His character talks like no person in the history of world does – he has a strange laugh, an unplaceable accent, and is given to poetic flights of fancy – which often leave everyone around him perplexed. He tries hard to give the impression of a gentleman, when he is anything but. The Quentin Tarantino led jury at the Cannes Festival gave a Special Jury prize to Hall for her performance – and she deserved it. She is hilarious in her every scene as a good woman who will not tolerate smoking, swearing or ungodly behavior – and will not back down. The rest of the cast is well suited for their roles – J.K. Simmons is a particular delight as the strangely named Garth Pancake – who inadvertently blows off his own thumbs – but they fade into the background whenever Hanks or Hall are around. They cannot keep up with them.

The film is a remake of the British comedy directed by Alexander Mackendrick and starring Alec Guinness. That was a better film – not a masterpiece or anything, but quite entertaining. The Coen’s largely leave the plot intact but change just about everything else. The film is a delightfully off kilter black comedy – elevated by two wonderful performances. No, the film doesn’t come close to the Coen’s best films and it certainly does feel like something the brothers threw together on a whim. Perhaps it was. Taken as part of their filmography, there is no doubt that The Ladykillers belongs near the bottom of the list when it comes to Coen movies. That doesn’t mean there isn’t thing to admire about the film – just that there is a reason I didn’t revisit the film in a decade – and probably won’t revisit it again for another.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Films of Jim Jarmusch: Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch.
Written by: Jim Jarmusch.
Starring: Tilda Swinton (Eve), Tom Hiddleston (Adam), Anton Yelchin (Ian), Mia Wasikowska (Ava), John Hurt (Marlowe), Jeffrey Wright (Dr. Watson), Slimane Dazi (Bilal), Yasmine Hamdan (Yasmine).

Jim Jarmusch wasn’t interested in making a typical vampire movie when he made Only Lovers Left Alive – and thank god for that. Like he did with films such as his existential Western Dead Man (1996) and his East meets West gangster film Ghost Dog (1999), Jarmusch takes a well-worn genre and comes at in a completely different angle. What interests him most about vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive is how long they’ve been alive – that they’ve essentially been witnesses to centuries of human history, while remaining somewhat apart from it. The film is about two married vampires – Eve (Tilda Swinton), who lives in Tangiers, and commits the history of the written word to her memory, simply by passing her hands over the pages, and Adam (Tom Hiddleston) who lives in a rundown mansion in Detroit, producing his strange, avant-garde rock music. They may be half a world apart, but they can never escape each other – nor want to. Their connection runs deep enough that they don’t need to live with each other to share it. But Adam is feeling even more melancholy than usual – he’s on the verge of being suicidal – so Eve catches a series of planes – all leaving and arriving at night – and comes to Adam. The two talk about their shared history, the stupidity of people, or as they call them zombies (“They still doubt Darwin!”), they drink blood, procured from the local hospital, that seems them into a junkie-like stupor. For the first hour, I thought that nothing except this is going to happen in Only Lovers Left Alive – and I was completely okay with that.

This is Jarmusch’s first film he shot digitally (by Yorick Le Saux) – and it suits this movie, because as we’ve seen in many films – from Michael Mann’s Collateral to David Fincher’s Zodiac – darkness is what works best with digital. Jarmusch’s camera moves a little bit more than is typical in one of his movies – including a series of mesmerizing, revolving overheard shots that capture these vampires in repose. The majority of the movie takes place in Detroit – which Jarmusch sees as an almost abandoned city – no one is around when Adam and Eve drive around in their car. It suits Adam because he wants to be left alone. He was once a rock star, and now has obsessive followers who try and track him down. Only Ian (Anton Yelchin) knows where he lives – he’s the type of hanger on who will do anything for Adam, who is only too happy to pay him a lot of money to ensure that he is otherwise left alone. Adam spends his time amongst his old guitars, monologue amps, his vinyl records, and records his morose “noise rock” – which may or may not be interesting to listen to by itself, but works brilliantly in the movie, giving the whole thing an even more morose feel. Adam is frustrated by humanity, and growing depressed – Eve is slightly older and wiser, and blames Adam’s “early influences” (“Bryon, Keats and the French ones”) on his melancholy. She tries to convince him to see point in continuing to “live” – but all he sees in that humanity has poisoned their planet and “even their own blood”. Why go on?

A semblance of a plot arrives along with Eve’s younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) – who lives in L.A. Adam hates her for something that happened in Paris, apparently 87 years ago. She is reckless and impulsive. While Eve and Adam take painstaking steps to ensure their privacy, Ava simply doesn’t care. She shows up unwanted and uninvited – but Eve cannot just throw her out. She sets in motion what little plot the movie has – and keeps the movie from becoming completely bogged down in all the melancholy. It’s another dynamic performance from the young Wasikowska.

But Swinton and Hiddleston are even better. They two share an androgynous look, and when we see their naked, pale bodies lying next to each other, it’s almost hard to tell them apart. Swinton has the perfect look to play a vampire (it’s hard to believe no one else had cast as one before) – but she’s the warmer of the pair – an almost maternal figure, who comforts Adam, and looks at humanity with pity more than Adam’s disgust. This is a reminder that Hiddleston – as good as he is as Loki in the Thor movies – can do far more than that smirking villain. One of their best friends is Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) who wishes he had known Adam when he “was writing Hamlet” – and the pair do share a lot in common.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a film that I think only an older artist could make – one with experience and wisdom. Jarmusch is in his 60’s now, has been making movies for 30 years, and I think he shares much of Adam’s disdain and confusion about modern culture – a culture that seems to willfully cut itself off from its history, and remains happy in their stupidity. Adam keeps a wall of pictures of past geniuses (including Buster Keaton, a director whose career I’m immersing myself in right now) – but these are people who have long since been forgotten by most. It is a beautiful, mesmerizing film. Like all of Jarmusch’s films, it doesn’t really need a plot – he isn’t interested in one, and cramming these characters into one would somehow diminish them. For much of the movie, it seems like a downer – a look at humanity that offers little to no hope. And then the pair stumble across a bar in Tangiers, and a singer (Yasmine Hamdan) singing a beautiful song. This is something Adam hasn’t heard before – and it offers him hope. “She’ll be famous” Eve tells him. “I hope not” Adam responds “She’s too good for that”. That, in a nutshell, is what Only Lovers Left Alive is really about – and what makes it one of Jarmusch’s best films.

Dual Movie Review: Cruising (1980) & Interior. Leather Bar. (2014)

Cruising (1980)
Directed by: William Friedkin.
Written by: William Friedkin based on the novel by Gerald Walker.
Starring: Al Pacino (Steve Burns), Paul Sorvino (Capt. Edelson), Karen Allen (Nancy), Richard Cox (Stuart Richards), Don Scardino (Ted Bailey), Joe Spinell (Patrolman DiSimone), Jay Acovone (Skip Lee), Randy Jurgensen (Det. Lefransky), Barton Heyman (Dr. Rifkin), Gene Davis (DaVinci), Arnaldo Santana (Loren Lukas), Larry Atlas (Eric Rossman), Allan Miller (Chief of Detectives), Sonny Grosso (Det. Blasio), Ed O'Neill (Det. Schreiber), Michael Aronin (Det. Davis), James Remar (Gregory), William Russ (Paul Gaines), Mike Starr (Patrolman Desher), Steve Inwood  (Martino), Keith Prentice (Joey), Leland Starnes (Jack Richards).

Interior. Leather Bar.
Directed by: James Franco & Travis Mathews.
Written by: Travis Mathews.
Featuring: Val Lauren, Christian Patrick, Brenden Gregory, Brad Roberge, Robbie Acklen, Osbaldo Daniel Alvarez, Andres Barcelo, Samantha Barrows, Nick Buda, Seana Carroll, Collin Chavez, Jol Devitro, Julie Diaz, James Franco, Brianna Getrost, A.J. Goodrich, Jonathan Howard, Caleb James, Anna Kooris, Michael Lannan, Eva Lauren, Loc Le, Tatiana Leipet, Tyson C. Lenard, Travis Mathews, Matthew McKelligon, Joel Michaely, Chervine Namani, Adrian Pena, Ben Phen, Liz Phillips, Jake Robbins, Scott Schwenk, Jay Sosnicki, Lane Stewart, Iris Torres, Rob Vincent, Keith Wilson.

In 1980, William Friedkin made Cruising with Al Pacino. The production was beset by protests from the gay community, because they feared that it would portray them badly – as nothing but perverts. The film is set in the world of S&M, leather bars in New York, where a serial killer is finding and killing his victims. The police Captain in charge of the investigation, Edelson (Paul Sorvino) wants desperately to solve the case, so he gets a “rookie cop” Steve Burns (Al Pacino, then in his late 30s, so far too old) to go undercover in this world because he “looks like the victims”. Burns isn’t gay, and is uncomfortable with his new assignment. When he descends into this world, it’s like descending into hell. The film had to be radically cut after Friedkin finished it – 40 minutes in all were said to be trimmed to get a R rating – but those 40 minutes apparently had little to do with the plot, and were about the world of the leather bars. Was their hard core fucking in those minutes? We’ll never know, the footage was never released, and many believe the studio destroyed it. It came and went a commercial and critical failure, and then was mainly buried by the studio – who didn’t release it on VHS until 1996 and not on DVD until 2007. But it has become a cult film – many among gay viewers.

In 2013, James Franco and Travis Mathews made Interior. Leather Bar which was marketed as a film that “reconstructs” those lost 40 minutes of Friedkin’s film. That marketing is a lie. Interior. Leather Bar is actually about Franco and Mathews making those 40 minutes – and their lead actor Val Lauren, who is not “playing Pacino” but is “playing the same character Pacino played” and his discomfort with the project. Like Pacino, and the character he plays, Lauren is not gay and is uncomfortable descending into this world. In his first meeting with Franco and Mathews, he confesses that he “doesn’t understand” the project or its vision. But he’s a longtime friend and collaborator of Franco’s – so he trusts his vision. The whole shoot of those lost 40 minutes seem to happen all over one long day – a day in which Lauren grows increasingly uncomfortable with what he’s watching. How much of Interior. Leather Bar is staged, and how much is real? It plays like a behind the scenes documentary, but there is enough evidence to suggest that the whole thing is staged.

Getting back to Cruising, it is at best a flawed film for Friedkin. The original protestors were somewhat right about the film. The identity of the killer (if he really is the killer, or should I say the only killer) does represent kind of the worst sort of “killer Queen” stereotypes that upset gay viewers to this day. Yet, it is also true that Friedkin never really does any moralizing about the clubs themselves. There are two blatantly homophobic cops near the beginning of the film, but they are portrayed as such. Sorvino’s Edelson is more than sympathetic to the victims and wants to find the killer. There are gay characters – like Pacino’s neighbor – that don’t fit into the stereotypes we normally associate with gay characters (at least completely). Friedkin’s camera captures what was happening in the leather clubs, but doesn’t make it look sick or disgusting and doesn’t judge the people in them. This is mainly why the film has become a cult hit among gay viewers – it’s one of the only films of its era that addressed gay characters at all – and almost works as a look back to a more carefree, hedonistic time in gay culture – before AIDS came along and ruined it. There are certainly elements to the film beside the “killer Queen” angle that come across as slightly homophobic – the giant black man in a leather G-string who is apparently on the NYPD payroll just to beat gay people during interrogations for example – but it almost seems accidental. I believe Friedkin when he says he never saw the film as about gay culture, but rather a murder mystery set in gay culture. And if the film is dark and nihilistic, offering a very bleak view of humanity, well’s that’s perfectly in line with the filmmaker who made The French Connection, The Exorcist, Sorcerer, To Live and Die in LA and Killer Joe. He has never been the cheeriest of filmmakers.

What sinks Cruising for me though is the central character played by Pacino, who is a character you never really get a handle on. The ending of the movie implies some things about him, that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the movie. There is a darkness to him to be sure, but as much as the movie implies? Perhaps that what was what the missing 40 minutes really were – something that explains why Burns does what the movie implies (but never states). I can see any numbers of things that happened during that time making the ending make more sense. There are other problems with the film – Karen Allen as Pacino’s girlfriend for example is given nothing to do except to be there when he wants to fuck a woman to remind himself that he’s heterosexual – but it’s the confusion of the ending, that strains for profound ambiguity but doesn’t make it – that makes the film a somewhat ambitious (perhaps even honorable) failure.

Interior. Leather Bar is an interesting film, but in some ways has the same problems as Cruising – in that it wants
ambiguity and ends up with confusion. Watching the film, I was never sure what I was watching was reality or staged – which I think is part of the point of the film but one that I found increasingly annoying. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film that’s more about itself than Interior. Leather Bar is. Lauren admits he doesn’t know why the film is being made – and when he asks Franco, the director, he admits he doesn’t know either. Franco has a few monologues about how he doesn’t like how he’s been conditioned to except “normal” to be heterosexual, and expressing frustration that you can show pretty anything in a movie you want to – but not sex, which is the most natural thing in the world. He wants to make Interior. Leather Bar, with real, un-simulated sex, in part to show it as a beautiful thing. Lauren is unsure. What will this do to his career? Franco is a major star, so he can do whatever he wants. But will Lauren become just the star of the “Franco faggot film” and his friend on the phone calls it.

Watching Interior Leather Bar I couldn’t help but think that the whole thing was really just an elaborate joke on Franco’s part. He is a celebrity who has done his best to become anonymous but in the opposite way most celebrities do who crave it do- which is to be reclusive - Franco instead is seemingly everywhere, doing everything. You can never get a read on who the “real” James Franco is, which is how he wants it, and makes him an exciting actor to watch – because you never know what the hell he’s going to do next. He has been dogged by “gay” rumors for years – his entire Comedy Central Roast last year was basically 90 minutes of his friends calling him gay – and Franco decides to play with that in this film. He’s not “in” the film – just directing it. But he’s in the film as the director “James Franco” which may or may not be the real James Franco. Who knows? Who cares?

The film is interesting in many ways. It does contain some interesting material about all the gay stars of the films – basically unknown actors who show up for a casting call, some of which know Cruising, some of which don’t – and are willing to do whatever Mathews (who seems to be the only one directing the film within the film, as Franco recedes to the background if he’s on set at all) wants them to do – including a real life couple who actually do have sex on screen.

What is Interior. Leather Bar really about then? I honestly don’t know. Perhaps it’s about an actor confronting his own discomfort with gay sex, or about flipping the idea of what a film featuring gay sex is really about. Basically though, it’s about itself and its own making. Strangely, although the film itself plays like a making of documentary about itself, I would like to see the making of documentary about the making of Interior Leather Bar. But then again, perhaps that is what I already saw.

Criticwire Survey: Un-Romantic Comedies

Q: What's the most un-romantic romantic comedy you know? Not just one that doesn't work, but one where you're actively rooting for the couple not to get together, or despise both of them.

There’s a lot of romantic comedies where I despise both characters – How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days – comes to mind, as does The Ugly Truth. But the one that I remember best is the Ashton Kutcher-Amanda Peet vehicle A Lot Like Love. Kutcher can be funny and charming – at I think he could be, although the evidence is lacking in his movie career so far. And Peet can be as well – although she’s been stuck in more than one of these horrible “comedies” (Remember Whipped? No? Good). This is a movie though that forces the audience to endure the worst part of romantic comedies – the “Meet Cute” again and again and again – as the two characters are so incredibly stupid that it takes them a lot longer than most to realize that maybe they should date. And perhaps they should date – if only to spare the rest of humanity their company. These two idiots deserve each other.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Movie Review: Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin
Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier.
Written by: Jeremy Saulnier.
Starring: Macon Blair (Dwight), Devin Ratray (Ben Gaffney), Amy Hargreaves (Sam), Kevin Kolack (Teddy Cleland), Eve Plumb (Kris Cleland), David W. Thompson (William), Brent Werzner (Carl Cleland), Stacy Rock (Hope Cleland), Sidné Anderson (Officer Eddy), Bonnie Johnson (Margaret), Ydaiber Orozco (Amanda).

Stories about revenge are amongst the oldest stories in history – and movies about revenge have been around since the beginning. The reason is simple – revenge stories are simple, visceral, violent and instantly relatable. Who doesn’t at least sympathize with someone trying to get revenge on the people who wronged them? Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is in many ways a classic revenge story – the story of a man who sets out to get vengeance on the man who killed his parents. But Saulnier subtly twists the genre – not enough that he’s twisting the genre just to be clever or for the sake of twisting it, but enough that the film keeps you guessing as to what is going to happen – and the reasons behind it.

The film starts Macon Blair, in a brilliant performance, as Dwight. When he first meet him, he seems like a homeless man – long hair, scraggily beard, dirty clothes, digging through dumpsters and sleeping in his old, beat up car. These early scenes – that are largely wordless – are among the best in the movie, and Blair’s performance is subtle, yet holds the screen. When he is told that the man who killed his parents has been paroled, he packs up his car, and drives to get his revenge. He’s there when the man is released from jail, and follows him to a bar. After a confrontation is the bathroom – that ends with the result he wanted, but still counts as a screw-up, Dwight is forced to get ready to kill even more people. Cutting his hair and shaving his beard makes Dwight look like a mild mannered accountant – and when he visits his sister, he is still barely able to get himself to talk above whisper. He knows that the family of the dead man – criminals in their own right – isn’t going to let him get away with what he did, so he prepares for more.

But Dwight does not all of a sudden become a Charles Bronson, Death Wish-type killing machine. The confrontations are often end the way he wants to, but are clumsy, bloody, messy, and end with him being hurt. And when he gets hurt, he stays hurt. One of the best sequences in the movie involves an arrow wound he gets to the leg. The movie sets it up like a typical scene – with Dwight going to the store to get everything he needs to remove the arrow, and stitch himself up himself – but ends in a much more realistic way.

That type of scene – setting it up like a normal revenge movie would, but ending in a different, more realistic way, pretty much describes the movie as a whole as well. I won’t spoil the secrets of the movie, but needless to say, things are not as simple as Dwight thought they were. In some ways, the movie is like Chan-wook Park’s revenge trilogy – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance – except instead of going over the top, and trying to screw with the audiences head, Saulnier tries to bring things back down to earth. The end result is the same though – the main character realizing that he, and everyone else, would have been much better off had they not started down the path to vengeance in the first place. This may not be an overly original message – but it’s still effective in the hands of Saulnier, and Blair.

Blue Ruin is micro budgeted filmmaking at its best. Saulnier, who has only directed one other film – the horror comedy Murder Party (unseen by me), used Kickstarter to fund the movie, and unlike some more recent projects that used the website, didn’t have a name brand to fall back on. This is stripped to the bone, raw, bloody filmmaking – expertly written and directed, and whose acting is better than most films with bigger budgets, and names. It may not be the most original film of the year – but it’s still great filmmaking.

The Films of Jim Jarmusch: The Limits of Control (2009)

The Limits of Control (2009)
Directed by:   Jim Jarmusch.
Written by: Jim Jarmusch.
Starring: Isaach De Bankolé (The Lone Man), Alex Descas (The Creole), Jean-François Stévenin (The Frenchman), Óscar Jaenada (The Waiter), Luis Tosar (Man with Violin), Paz de la Huerta (The Nude Woman), Tilda Swinton (The Blonde), Yûki Kudô (Molecules), John Hurt (Man with Guitar), Gael García Bernal (The Mexican), Hiam Abbass (The Driver), Bill Murray (The American).

Have you ever fallen asleep briefly while watching a movie – perhaps for only a minute or two – and when you wake you feel slightly confused as to what is going on in the movie? Where you have a feeling that you have missed some vital piece of information that would make the movie you’re watching clearer? That feeling pretty much describes the feeling I had throughout Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control. The film stars Jarmusch favorite Isaach De Bankole as a character known as The Lone Man who has a series of meetings with various characters – most often over coffee, where The Lone Man insists on two espressos, in separate cups – not one large espresso. He exchanges colorful match books with the person he’s meeting, who always begins the conversation with “You don’t speak Spanish do you?” – in Spanish – which makes sense since the movie takes place in Spain, although the people he meets are from all over the world. The Lone Man than listens as his scene partner rattles on about something – movies, bohemians, capitalism, etc. – than the pair exchange something else, and The Lone Man goes on his way again. He has a definite end game, but the audience isn’t privy to it until the very end. Whatever it is, it’s certainly illegal.

More than even most of Jarmusch’s films, The Limits of Control is all style and little substance. Watching the film the first time in 2009, I was confused through much of it, but basically sat back and enjoyed isolated moments. Jarmusch knows how to write cryptic conversations that can be funny, confusing and interesting all at the same time, and he gets good performances from his cast. That’s the case here as it is amusing to see such talented actors as Alex Descas, Tilda Swinton, Yuki Kudoh, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal and Hiam Abbas play characters with no backstory and no context come in for a scene, deliver what is essentially a monologue, whose meaning is left vague, than go on their way again. And in Isaach De Bankole, Jarmusch has found the perfect straight man – largely silent with a mysterious, unreadable look on his face for the entire movie, I could not help but be fascinated by him. Who is this guy?

Other scenes don’t work as well. Paz de la Huerta shows up as a character billed as The Nude Woman, because, well, she’s nude the whole time. This, sadly, seems to be all that many directors choose to do with de la Huerta, who undeniably looks great nude, but in films like this or Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void isn’t really given anything else to do.

The scene eventually leads to a climax where The Lone Man confronts The American (Bill Murray), who talks about the same things everyone else did, but in a much different way – decrying them, instead of celebrating them. He is in a heavy guarded compound, and wants to know how The Lone Man got in – which is a good question since we don’t see him do it either. “I imagined my way in” he tells The American, before doing what he was sent there to do.

Jarmusch has said that he “wanted to make an action movie with no action, whatever that means” and in The Limits of Control, I guess he succeeded in doing that. I can easily imagine a movie with a similar structure being turned into a Paul Greengrass thriller, with The Lone Man meeting a series of contacts to get him next to his target, and then dispatching him with ease. All that’s missing is the gunfights from The Limits of Control – and of course, more perfunctory dialogue than Jarmusch gives his characters.

Watching the film a second time helped clarify things – not really in terms of plot, but in terms of what Jarmusch is trying to do in the film. I didn’t really like the film back in 2009, and I don’t really like it that much now. It’s too cryptic, too slight to be satisfying in any real way. It’s something though – and whatever that is, I think it’s what Jarmusch intended. Take from that what you will.
Note: I will be seeing Jarmusch’s latest film, Only Lovers Left Alive, today, and will write a review – and a conclusion to this series, next week.

The Films of the Coen Brothers: Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
Directed by:  Joel Coen & Ethan Coen.
Written by: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen and Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone and John Romano.
Starring: George Clooney (Miles), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Marylin), Geoffrey Rush (Donovan Donaly), Cedric the Entertainer (Gus Petch), Edward Herrmann (Rex Rexroth), Paul Adelstein (Wrigley), Richard Jenkins (Freddy Bender), Billy Bob Thornton (Howard D. Doyle), Julia Duffy (Sarah Sorkin), Jonathan Hadary (Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy), Tom Aldredge  (Herb Myerson), Stacey Travis (Bonnie Donaly), Jack Kyle (Ollie Olerud), Irwin Keyes (Wheezy Joe).

Alongside the film the Coen brothers made right after this one (The Ladykillers), Intolerable Cruelty is the only film of the brothers I had only seen once before sitting down to this retrospective of their work. The film doesn’t enjoy a very good reputation alongside most of the Brothers work – and there is a reason for that. This is a film that they reworked another pair of writers screenplay for in the mid-1990s and never planned to direct. When another project fell through, they decide to direct this one if for no other reason than because they could. Intolerable Cruelty was an attempt by the brothers to make a more mainstream comedy while still infusing their own unique brand of strangeness of the proceedings. They were partially successful on all fronts. When you compare Intolerable Cruelty to most of the rest of the Coen filmography, there is no doubt that this is a minor effort – a trifle that the brothers tossed off with ease. When compared to most mainstream comedies, Intolerable Cruelty however is a delight. It’s been a decade since I saw the film and I was surprised by what a good time I had watching it. It’s no Fargo – hell, it’s no The Hudsucker Proxy – but not every film has to be.

The film is clearly an homage to screwball comedies of the 1930s. In it, George Clooney plays Miles Massey, a successful divorce attorney, famous for the Massey Prenuptial Agreement that is unbreakable. He not only wins his cases, he decimates the other side. He’s happily single and successful and quite simply doesn’t care about anything other than winning. Then he meet’s Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones). She’s the soon to be ex-wife of his wealthy client, Rex Rexroth (Edward Hermann), and a gold digger who was just waiting to catch her husband fooling around so she could divorce him and make off with his money. She doesn’t count on Miles however – who is able to thoroughly destroy her in court, but not before falling for her himself. He thinks the feeling is mutual – especially when she shows up in his office a few weeks later. But she’s not there for that – she’s there because she already has her claws in another rich man – Howard D. Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton – saying much more in his short performance here than in all of The Man Who Wasn’t There – if you don’t count the narration). She wants to prove it’s all for love, and therefore wants the Massey Prenup. He’s devastated – he thought they really could have something. But with Marilyn, you can never be sure what’s really up her sleeve.

The movie survives – hell thrives – on the palpable sexual chemistry between Clooney and Zeta-Jones. From the moment they lock eyes on each other, the heat between them – the sheer physical attraction – can be sensed by everyone in the audience. This is Clooney and Zeta-Jones at their movie star level best, delivering seemingly effortless comic performances and playing brilliantly off each other. Had the Coens spent more time on the screenplay, Intolerable Cruelty may well have been a brilliant screwball comedy – Clooney and Zeta-Jones are certainly game and capable of pulling it off.

Unfortunately though everything other than Clooney and Zeta-Jones are nowhere close to their level – with the exception of Thornton’s few brief scenes – he’s brilliant as a Southern fried dimwit – and a few moments with a character named Wheezy Joe that is. Everyone else in the cast is stuck with horribly underwritten roles – and no matter how talented the likes of Geoffrey Rush, Cederic the Entertainer, Edward Herrmann, Richard Jenkins or the rest of the cast is, they cannot cover up that basic fact. The movie also, cruelly, forces Clooney and Zeta-Jones apart far too often – we want them together, because when they’re together the movie is wonderful.

Even the visual look is not quite up to snuff with the rest of the Coen’s films. They add some nice touches to be sure, but it’s one of the only films in their filmography that at times feels more like someone trying to be the Coen brothers than the Coen brothers themselves. It’s hard to pick on the visual look of the film – it is polished and professional all the way through – but the Coens can usually be counted on for far more.

Intolerable Cruelty is far from a bad movie – whatever its reputation would suggest. I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed myself watching the film this time through. But again it still has to rank as a disappointment given the usual level of the brothers work and the undeniable fact that this movie does not reach that level. On many – in fact most – directors resume, Intolerable Cruelty would not stand out as a weak film. But on the Coens resume, no matter how much I like the film, it is undeniably one of the weaker efforts.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Films of Jim Jarmusch: Broken Flowers (2005)

Broken Flowers (2005)
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch.
Written by: Jim Jarmusch inspired by an idea from Bill Raden and Sara Driver.
Starring: Bill Murray (Don Johnston), Jeffrey Wright (Winston), Julie Delpy (Sherry), Alexis Dziena (Lolita), Sharon Stone (Laura), Frances Conroy (Dora), Christopher McDonald (Ron),  Chloë Sevigny (Carmen's Assistant), Jessica Lange (Carmen), Tilda Swinton (Penny), Pell James (Sun Green), Mark Webber (The Kid).

When writing about The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou recently as part of my series on Wes Anderson, I noted that I thought Anderson misused Bill Murray in that movie – that the movie required Murray to be too active, to drive too much of the plot, when Murray’s gifts are primarily reacting to others around him, more than driving the plot itself. A year after Anderson misused Murray (the only time in their fruitful collaboration that Anderson has), Jarmusch used Bill Murray perfectly in Broken Flowers. As Roger Ebert noted in his review of the film – “No actor is better than Bill Murray at doing nothing at all, and being fascinating while not doing it.” That perfectly describes Murray’s performance in this film – which is one of his very best.

Murray stars as Don Johnston, who latest younger girlfriend, Sherry (Julie Delphy) has decided to leave him – telling him she doesn’t want to be with an “aging Don Juan” anymore and complaining that she treats him like his mistress even though he’s not even married. Don doesn’t put up much of a fight when she leaves – he’s been through this before – he knows the drill. Then one day a letter arrives in the mail – it’s unsigned and on pink stationary. In it, someone claiming to be an old girlfriend tells Don that he has a son – now 19 – and he’s decided to leave to look for his father – even though he knows nothing of the man. She just thought he should be warned in case he does in fact track Don down. Don tells his friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright) about the letter – and Winston thinks he should track down this woman to determine if he does in fact have a son. The problem is that Don thinks it could be one of five different women. He gives the list to Winston, who makes the arrangements for Don to go and visit the women one at a time – well, at least four of them, because the fifth died in a car accident a few years before. Don, begrudgingly, decides to take the trip.

So Don sets out, driving from house to house (“I’m a stalker, in a Taurus”, he complains to Winston over the phone) on a journey into his past, and gets four vastly different reactions from the women he has left behind. The first, Laura (Sharon Stone), holds no grudges – and is happy to see Don, invites him in, and he even spends the night. The comic highlight of this segment is Laura’s daughter, the appropriately named Lolita (Alexis Dziena), who is casually half dressed the whole time unless she is completely naked, but has either perfected her act of naiveté, or really doesn’t understand what she is doing.  This is the happiest stop for Don – even though he never manages a smile.

From there, it’s onto Dora (Frances Conroy) – a woman who lives a picture perfect life, in a picture perfect house in a picture perfect suburb with a picture perfect husband, Ron (Christopher McDonald), serving picture perfect dinners and is perfectly, utterly miserable. The woman Don once knew – who we catch a glimpse of in an old photograph – is gone. Dora seems on the verge of tears the whole time, and can barely make eye contact with Don, let alone speak. She is a broken woman – although precisely what broke her is never stated, only hinted at.

Then there’s Carmen (Jessica Lange) – who wanted to be a lawyer when Don knew her all those years before, and now has a lucrative career communicating with animals – she cannot “read animals minds”, but she can communicate with them – if they want to tell her something, she can hear it. She gained this power when her dog – Winston – died many years ago. She’s friendly to Don – but quite clearly wants nothing to do with him (“Do you want to get a drink later?”, I don’t drink”, “Something to eat then?”, “I don’t … eat”). There’s a passive-aggressive way she – and her assistant (Chloe Sevigny) deal with Don that makes it clear he isn’t wanted.

That passive-aggressive behavior is at least preferable to what Don gets when he visits Penny (Tilda Swinton – in her first Jarmusch movie – she’s been in the only two he’s made since). She doesn’t attempt to hide her contempt for him, and he ends up getting beat up for his trouble – and never really gets an answer from her.

In many ways, Broken Flowers is the most mainstream, conventional film of Jarmusch’s career. His penchant for long takes is still apparent – but not as noticeable here, as he gives the film a more typical “Sundance” look than any of his other films. The screenplay is also a touch more conventional – certainly when compared to his two prior features (not including the short film collection Coffee & Cigarettes) Dead Man and Ghost Dog. He fills the cast with stars – although that’s not all that new to Jarmusch – he is working with many of them for the first (and so far last) time. This was, as far as I know, the only film Jarmusch has made directly for a branch of a studio instead of finding independent financing – and it shows a little bit.

Yet just because Broken Flowers is slightly more conventional that most of Jarmusch’s work, that doesn’t mean it’s worse. The film is also the most conventionally satisfying of Jarmusch’s career – yet still does leave the ending daringly ambiguous. The movie provides a few different answers at the end of the film, but no real resolution - and when you consider Dora’s line earlier in the film “I didn’t think I could be a good mother to Ron’s children”, which doesn’t exactly confirm that she doesn’t have any children, just not Ron’s children, or if you consider that someone could have been writing on behalf of the one woman who died, while posing as her, the film implies even more possible solutions. But Don may never get the answer – look at the sad, mournful way he looks at a young man driving by in a car in the film’s haunting final shot. For him there is no closure – and perhaps he doesn’t deserve any. Any man, who when faced with a possible child of 19, that comes up with five different women who could be the mother, obviously has some issues with women – something confirmed by the women’s reaction to Don when he shows up. Some may have moved on with their lives, but they aren’t really interested in Don anymore – or reliving old times – except for Laura, of course.

What Murray does in Broken Flowers is quietly brilliant. I have never seen Murray look so sad before – or since – in a movie. He’s reached an age – he was in his mid-50s then – when his life is set. He has become a success – has lots of money that he made with computers, but he doesn’t like his career (he doesn’t even own a computer). He sits and stares sadly at the TV. His one friend is Winston – and he sees that Winston has chosen the opposite life of his – one woman, many kids – and seems perfectly content. Whereas Don has lived the life that we are told many men would love – hoping from one beautiful woman to the next – and has been left empty – longing for something more it’s too late for him to get.
All of this probably makes Broken Flowers seem more of a downer than it really is. The film is funny – but like with all of Jarmusch’s film, it’s a subtle humor – not really laugh out loud funny, but something a touch quieter and deeper. This is probably as mainstream of a film as Jarmusch is ever going to make – and it still stands out from the pack of the regular Sundance indies we see every year. It’s a deeper, darker film. And it’s one I find that grows in my mind each time I watch it.

The Films of the Coen Brothers: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
Directed by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen.
Written by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen.
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton (Ed Crane), Frances McDormand (Doris Crane), Michael Badalucco (Frank), James Gandolfini (Big Dave Brewster), Katherine Borowitz (Ann Nirdlinger Brewster), Jon Polito (Creighton Tolliver), Scarlett Johansson (Birdy Abundas), Richard Jenkins (Walter Abundas), Tony Shalhoub (Freddy Riedenschneider).

The Man Who Wasn’t There make is clear the Coen brothers know their film noir. Filmed in glorious black and white, the film takes place in small California town in the late 1940s, and has a “regular Joe” at its center. Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is a normal guy, and he narrates his story, as how he went from small town barber and got sucked into a world of adultery, blackmail and murder. That’s classic noir stuff – and the Coens hit all the right notes. Yet, the film is more than a mere genre exercise – more than simply a recreation of a genre the brothers obviously love. Some complained that the film was perhaps too long – at nearly two hours, it’s half an hour longer than standard noir B-pictures of the era were. But it’s that extra time that I think elevates the movie into more than what it appears to be. There is a moment, almost precisely 83 minutes into the film where the Coens could conceivably have ended their movie and had a perfect homage to noir. But they push on for another 35 minutes. And that makes all the difference in this film.

Ed works as a second chair barber for his brother-in-law Frank (Michael Badalucco). Frank talks non-stop when he cuts hair – and the rest of the day too for that matter. That suits Ed just fine, because the man barely says a word – he cuts the hair, and smokes. Ed is married to Doris (Frances McDormand), who perhaps picked Ed because of this quality of standing silently and smoking – and basically doing what he is told. Doris works doing the books for the town’s big department store. Her boss is Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini) – and it’s clear when Ed and Doris get together with Big Dave and his wife, Ann (Katherine Borowitz), the heiress of that department store, that Big Dave and Doris are having an affair. They laugh and talk to each other in a way that is too familiar. Ed deals with this the same way he deals with everything – by silently smoking.

Ed probably would have continued silently smoking until he died had he never met Creighton Tolliver (Jon Polito) – a man with a horrible toupee who comes into the shop one day just as they are closing. Frank heads out, but Ed stays behind the finish the stranger’s hair. Tolliver is in town because he was hoping to get an investor for his brilliant new idea – dry cleaning. He only $10,000 to start the first business, and is willing to split the profits 50/50 with his investor. Ed doesn’t have $10,000 – but Big Dave might. He sends a blackmail note to Big Dave demanding the money – and from there, things unsurprisingly go to shit. Plans never work in film noir like they are supposed to.

Thornton’s performance in the film is one of his best. We hear his voice almost constantly throughout the film, but it’s almost all in voiceover – when he’s with another person, they do almost all the talking. Thornton’s performance is the subtlest of his career – one of the subtlest I have ever seen actually – as he gets a remarkable amount of emotion across with very little facial movement. His Ed Crane is really a man who simply wants something “more” in his life – not necessarily more money, but more meaning. He goes after the dry cleaning because it would something that is his – and his alone. The subplot involving his growing obsession with the teenage daughter of an acquaintance, Birdy (Scarlett Johansson) is not sexual in anyway – at least from his end. He just thinks she plays the piano beautifully. Ed Crane is the sad, lonely, quiet man who fades into the background wherever he goes – no one notices him – not even his own wife (the look on McDormand’s face when it becomes clear to her that Thornton knows about her affair with Big Dave is one of quiet shock). Yet this guy that nobody notices is the driving force behind everything that happens in the movie. The seeds of his discontent are actually sewn earlier – before the start of the movie, and we see it in flashback, as a salesman comes calling about their pea stone driveway. This looks like a throwaway scene, but I don’t think it is.

The Coens surround Thornton with a lot of really good “talkers” – from McDormand as his domineering wife, to Polito as the gay entrepreneur, to Badalucco as his lovable, lunk headed brother-in-law, to Gandolfini, as sad and perhaps pathetic as Ed, but in a different way, and best of all Tony Shaloub, as the fast talking lawyer who first defends Doris, and finally defends Ed.  The technical specs of the movie are perfect – it looks like a film noir right out of the 1940s, with brilliant cinematography by Roger Deakins, to the sets that look like they could be out of a studio back lot, and the costumes that are perfect.

The Man Who Wasn’t There will always hold a special space in the Coens filmography for me. Their films are often about characters that cannot shut up – who are witty and funny throughout – or at the very least are noticeable. I love those characters. But poor, silent Ed Crane reminds me more of myself that I probably care to admit. I too fade into the background a little bit – I sit back and observe like Ed does as well. Now, I haven’t killed anyone, and likely never will – but the character, and Billy Bob Thornton’s performance, is something I relate to more than most movie characters. To some, The Man Who Wasn’t There was little more than another genre exercise for the Coens. For me, it’s far more personal.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thoughts on the Cannes Festival Lineup

I’m a little late on this, but last week, the Cannes Film Festival unveiled their official lineup. We all know it will be a mixed bag of films, but there will be some great films – ones that will define the movie year. Last year for example films like Blue is the Warmest Color, Nebraska and Inside Llewyn Davis were in the official competition. Below are my thoughts on each of the 19 films in the official lineup, plus winner predictions. I did pretty good on those last year – I nailed Bruce Dern for Best Actor, and also had Like Father Like Son, The Past and Inside Llewyn Davis winning prizes – although different prizes than they ended up winning. The big news for a Canadian like me is that three of the films are from Canadian directors – David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Xavier Dolan. For Cronenberg and Egoyan, this is old hat – they’ve been in competition, and won prizes, more than once – for Dolan it’s a promotion, after both his I Killed My Mother and Laurence Anyways played Cannes – just not in the main competition.

Anyway, onto the films.

1.       Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas) – It’s always hard to get a read on where Assayas is going next – as he goes from intimate family dramas like Summer Hours to epic, crime dramas like Carlos to a look at his own radical youth in Something in the Air. This one seems more mainstream – an aging actress Juliette Binoche, who has become a recluse, drawn back to the theatre. Co-starring Chloe Grace Mortez, Kristen Stewart (rediscovering her indie roots after Twilight) and Brady Corbet, this could be Assayas attempt to go more mainstream – or could be incredibly strange. Either way, I’m looking forward to this one.

2.    Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello) – The IMDB page doesn’t have a plot for this film from the director of House of Tolerance – which had quite a bit of critical acclaim at the 2011 festival. This one stars Lea Seydoux, Jeremie Renier, Brady Corbet (again) and Gaspard Ulliel as the title character – Yves Saint Laurent. This could be a sleeper at the festival for awards.

3.    Winter Sleep (Nuri Blige Ceylan) – This marks the fifth straight film by Turkish director Nuri Blige Ceylan that made the official competition – Distant won its stars the Best Actor prize, Three Monkeys won Best Director and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia won the Grand Prize. Is he finally in line for a Palme? I don’t know anything about the film other than its 3 hours and 16 minutes long.

4.    Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg) - David Cronenberg reteams with Robert Pattinson as well as Mia Wasikowska, Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Carrie Fisher and Sarah Gadon (for the third straight film). It is a look at the poisonous culture of Hollywood. Cronenberg was riding high on critical acclaim with A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, before two more divisive films in A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis. He is a fixture at Cannes, but never won the big prize. Will this film be the one?

5.    Grace of Monaco (Olivier Dahan) – Olivier Dahan is the latest of many directors warring with Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein over the cut of his film. This film was supposed to come out last fall, but was delayed until March – and then delayed again. It stars Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, and has had two trailers out. It is the “Opening Film”, and I suspect the French will be sympathetic to it, no matter the end result.

6.    Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne) – The Belgian filmmaking brothers are once again in the Cannes lineup. The already have two Palmes – for Rosetta and L’Enfant, and had several other films win awards there – The Son for Best Actor, Lorna’s Silence for Screenplay and The Kid with the Bike the Grand Jury Prize. This one stars Marion Cotillard as a woman who has to convince her co-workers to give up their bonuses so she can keep her job. They always win something. Perhaps they’re due to miss.

7.    Mommy (Xavier Dolan) – Canadian Wunderkind Dolan makes his Official Selection debut, reteaming with his I Killed My Mother star Anne Dorval for the story of a single mother raising her violent son alone – and their mysterious neighbor. Dolan continues to grow as a filmmaker, so I’m interested in seeing his fifth feature.

8.    Captives (Atom Egoyan) – Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson and Mirelle Enos star in the latest from Egoyan about a father trying to track down his kidnapped daughter. At this point, we’re fairly far removed from Egoyan’s last great film. Who knows, maybe this gets him back on track.

9.    Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard) – Apparently this is Godard’s swansong (I think I’ve heard that one before) a 3-D film, that will likely be another like Film Socialism – that has critics tying themselves in knots calling it a masterpiece, but that I find to be incoherent twaddle. I keep hoping to love a new Godard film, but never do.

10.  The Search (Michel Hazanavicius) – A sort of modern remake of Fred Zinneman’s The Search, which was about Montgomery Clift’s forming a relationship with a refuge in WWII. This one stars Annette Bening and Berenice Bejo about a woman forming a bond with a boy in Chechnya. Hazanavicius’ follow-up to The Artist will be one of the more anticipated films at the festival.

11.  The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones) – Jones long awaited directorial follow-up (save for the made for TV Sunset Limited) to his Cannes winning The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada – which many liked far more than me – it’s another Western, starring Jones and Hilary Swank about the pair escorting three insane women across the prairies. Melquiades Estrada won two awards when it played – for Jones as actor and the screenplay. Perhaps this one will as well.

12.  Still the Water (Naomi Kawase) – This is Japanese director Kawase’s fourth film in the Official Selection – having won the Grand Prize of the Jury for The Mourning Forest back in 2007 (not to mention the Golden Camera award for her first film). She has never really had a breakthrough in North America, and given that this film has no plot description yet, it’s tough to tell if this will be one.

13.  Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh) – Celebrated British filmmaker Mike Leigh returns with this biopic of painter JMW Turner – played by Timothy Spall. Any time Leigh makes a film, it’s an event in film buff circles, and it’s been four year since his last one – Another Year – which was brilliant. It’s his fifth film in completion – and he’s already won Best Director (for Naked) and the Palme (for Secrets and Lies).

14.  Jimmy’s Hall (Ken Loach) – The latest from Ken Loach, not surprisingly written by Paul Laverty, who have become shoo-ins for a competition slot at the festival. This will be Loach’s 12th film is completion – having won numerous prizes in the past, including the Palme for The Wind That Shakes the Barley. This one is about political activist Jimmy Gralton, who was deported from Ireland in the 1930s during the “Red Scare”.

15.  Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller) – Another film delayed from last year, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher stars Steve Carrell’s as a deranged millionaire, who sponsored the US Wrestling team, and eventually killed one of its stars. The trailer released last year looked great, but the delay raised some red flags. Perhaps they really did need more time for editing. This is one of my most anticipated films of the year.

16.  Le Meraviglie (Alice Rohrwacher) – A wild card in the race. This is only Rohrwacher’s second feature, and she’s never been to Cannes before. The Italian film stars Monica Belucci, but has no plot synopsis on IMDB, so I have no idea what it is about (the title translates into The Wonders, which doesn’t help).

17.  Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako) – African director Sissako’s film doesn’t even have an IMDB page yet – although it does have a film of his listed for 2015 with another title, so it’s a mystery. He’s never been to Cannes before.

18.  Wild Tales (Damian Szifron) – Another wild card. Argentinian director Szifron’s first film in 9 years – and none of the others I have heard of – all I learned from IMDB is that it is a comedy and a thriller. That’s it.

19.  Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev) – The Russian director behind The Return and Elena, which is according to IMDB is “A present day social drama spanning multiple characters about the human insecurity in a "new country" which gradually unwinds to a mythological scale concerning the human condition on earth entirely.” Sounds like it could be great, or not, as that’s fairly vague.

Palme D’Or: Maps to the Stars – David Cronenberg
Grand Jury Prize: The Search – Michel Hazanavicius
Jury Prize: Winter Sleep – Nuri Blige Ceylon
Director: Naomi Kawase, Still the Water
Actor: Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher
Actress: Marion Cottilard, Two Days, One Night
Screenplay: Clouds of Sils Maria
Special Award: Goodbye to Language – Jean-Luc Godard

Reasoning Behind My Predictions

The jury is led by Jane Campion, who is still the only woman who has ever won a Palme D’or. This may mean that Kawase and Rohrwacher have an edge, but I don’t know enough about either one to really go all in for the top prize for either based on the little information I know.

Why Cronenberg for the Palme? Easy, it’s his fifth film that has made the completion, and other than a Jury Prize for Crash, he’s got nothing. He’s one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of his generation, and a dark look at Hollywood will likely play better in Europe than America – and I think Campion may be sympathetic to it. They often give it to filmmakers the feel are overdue – like Loach for The Wind That Shakes the Barley. If the film is as non-mainstream as Cosmopolis though, all bets are off. A more crowd pleasing choice may well be The Search, by Hazanavicius, who knows how to work an audience, so I put that in the second slot. A 3 hour 16 minute Turkish film seems like it was tailor made for the more respect than loved slot of the Jury Prize - unless they ignore it altogether.

Of the two female filmmakers, Kawase has more profile, so I’ll put her in the director slot – I do think Campion will want to give something to a fellow woman filmmaker. Steve Carrell looks great in the trailer for Foxcatcher, so I give him an edge over Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner or Tommy Lee Jones for The Homesman – especially since the later has already won this prize before. The studio just announced a mid-November release date, so they are hoping for Oscar love. I gave Cotillard the actress prize, basically because other French actresses in competition – Bejo in The Search, Binoche in Clouds of Sils Maria and Seydoux in Saint Laurent have already won Cannes prizes (Seydoux shared the Palme last year for Blue is the Warmest Color, Bejo won last year for The Past and Binoche won for Certified Copy in 2010). Besides, the Dardennes films always wins something here, so it's a safe guess. Clouds of Sils Maria seems like the type of film they’ll reward somewhere, and screenplay was all I had left.

As for Godard, his post-1960s output has been divisive, and it’s getting more and more incoherent (at least to me), but if it truly is his swansong, I doubt they’ll let him walk away empty handed – so they’ll invent a prize for him. I cannot imagine getting a whole jury to agree to give him the Palme if the film is anything like Film Socialism.

Of course, this is all a crapshoot – last year, I had no information on Blue is the Warmest Color – I even had the name wrong (The Life of Adele I called it in my preview piece - which is the direct translation of its French title) and it won it all. In short, any of these 19 films could win.