Tag Archives: Carol

The Mid-Budget Film Awards of 2015

Emily Blunt in Sicario tunnels

Mid-budget films are an interesting breed these days. There’s been a great deal made about their extinction, though much of these claims exist in pretty selective territory. While it’s true that David Lynch, Steven Soderbergh, and John Waters have more trouble getting films funded these days, Clint Eastwood, Todd Haynes, and Denis Villeneuve don’t.

Google a couple of articles about the death of mid-budget film. Try this one, for instance. They lament that “L.A. Confidential” could never be made today, but wasn’t “Sicario” made just this year?

“The Insider” would never find a budget today! Except “Spotlight” found a budget without the benefit of Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.

“Zodiac” could never be made! Except “Gone Girl” was made just last year.

“In the Line of Fire?” If only lead actor Clint Eastwood had built an entire career of directing successful mid-budget films.

And certainly “Apocalypse Now” couldn’t be made for $32 million today! Well, considering that $32 million in 1979 is $104 million today, no it couldn’t.

Critics also lament that Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, and Bill Murray are essentially retired. Well, yeah, but funding for mid-budget comedy didn’t go with them. You may not like Kevin Hart, Jonah Hill, Anna Kendrick, Melissa McCarthy, or Seth Rogen, but their films are getting funded and make money.

These arguments also ignore the rise in what the industry rather derisively refers to as “urban” films. If you ignore the rise of Black and Hispanic filmmaking, then yes, the mid-budget film industry is struggling because you’re cutting half of it out. Yet Black filmmaking, and especially African-American comedy, is based almost entirely within the mid-budget realm. The spate of Mexican and Spanish directors Pedro Almodovar, Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo Del Toro, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu have brought up through the industry operate across that same mid-budget range.

When we talk about the death of the mid-budget film, we’re being incredibly selective with our choices.

For our purposes, we are defining a mid-budget film for 2015 as any film that cost between $15 million and $50 million to produce, and was either shown in at least 100 theaters for the first time in 2015, or (failing the theater requirement) became widely available to audiences through rental or streaming during 2015. The following was voted on and written by: S.L. Fevre, Eden O’Nuallain, Cleopatra Parnell, Amanda Smith, Rachel Ann Taylor, Vanessa Tottle, and Gabriel Valdez:

Best Supporting Actor in a Mid-Budget Film
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year

We liked Kate Winslet in “Steve Jobs” quite a bit, as well as Mark Ruffalo’s role in “Spotlight.” Both earned Oscar nominations. What didn’t were Benicio Del Toro’s and Josh Brolin’s roles in “Sicario,” which also got a great deal of support from us. In the end, it was a close vote (that required a second ballot), but we decided on a role from a film that tried to play last year’s Oscar race, failed, and subsequently fell between the 2015-2016 gap.

Behind every great man is a great woman. That’s how the saying goes, isn’t it? In “A Most Violent Year,” the reality is a bit different. Behind Oscar Isaac’s upstanding businessman Abel Morales is a terrifying power player in Jessica Chastain’s Anna.

Abel handles their business legally, even as competing suppliers start hijacking their trucks, kidnapping their salesmen, and beating their drivers at gunpoint. It’s Anna who threatens to start doing things her way. As the daughter (and perhaps even heir apparent) to a mob empire, she’s largely given up those responsibilities in order to build a life with Abel on his more honest path.

Yet she’s constantly keeping her finger on the pulse of the film. In fact, as the company’s accountant, she often knows more than anyone else. She makes all involved aware that if and when she’s needed, she will involve herself in ways that others will not like. It may be Isaac who’s embodying an Al Pacino-style role here, but it’s Chastain who brings to life the lurking indignance, the quiet rage, and the unspoken threat of what happens when you make her angry.

And yes, this is the second supporting actor award we’ve given Chastain this year (the other being in big budget films for her role in “Crimson Peak.”)

All actors receiving a vote (descending order):
Jessica Chastain, “A Most Violent Year”
Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight”
Kate Winslet, “Steve Jobs”
Benicio Del Toro, “Sicario”
Josh Brolin, “Sicario”
Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”
Yo-landi Visser, “Chappie”
Rachel McAdams, “Spotlight”
Jason Mitchell, “Straight Outta Compton”
Elyes Gabel, “A Most Violent Year”
Olga Kurylenko, “The Water Diviner”

Best Actor in a Mid-Budget Film
TIE: Rooney Mara, Carol
& Emily Blunt, Sicario

When we did a check-in last September, Oscar Isaac handily led this race because of his performance in “A Most Violent Year.” Nobody even came close. Then Gabe saw “Sicario” and insisted we all needed to see it in the theaters. Then Eden saw “Carol” and insisted we all needed to see that in the theaters.

Now, all seven of us have either Emily Blunt or Rooney Mara at the top of our shortlists. Although their order varies, five of the seven of us have them going 1-2 on our shortlists. Blunt got a few more points in our system, but we unanimously decided to call it a tie. Sorry, Oscar Isaac. Both Blunt and Mara dominated their films, albeit in tremendously different ways.

Mara has been doing remarkable work for years. Her run from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” to “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and “Side Effects” is one of the more impressive and rangy stretches of acting in the last decade. Mara’s performance in “Carol” is as vulnerable as acting gets. As the shopgirl and photographer swept up in the charms of a glamorous woman, Mara’s performance is made of utterly human reactions. From helplessness to confidence, from confusion to realization, it’s a performance to break hearts. Yet first it demands the actor break her own so that the rest of us can be let in.

Blunt is the polar opposite as Kate Macer in “Sicario.” The leader of an FBI SWAT team, she is tasked to an anti-cartel operation that doesn’t seem to be telling her the entire truth. Tough, commanding, sure of herself but distrusting of others, Blunt makes Kate one of the strongest heroes in recent thrillers.

Despite playing a very different sort of character, the unspoken treatment of Kate by the men around her most recalls Jodie Foster’s role in “Silence of the Lambs.” “Sicario” puts Kate’s life at stake a few times, but what it’s really doing is putting her entire reason for being at stake. It puts all of who she is and why she is on the table, and when Kate is finally confronted with making a choice between that and survival, Blunt makes you inhabit the impossible choice of that moment like few actors can.

All actors receiving a vote (descending order):
Emily Blunt, “Sicario”
Rooney Mara, “Carol”
Oscar Isaac, “A Most Violent Year”
Michael B. Jordan, “Creed”
Bryan Cranston, “Trumbo”
Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”
Cate Blanchett, “Carol”

Best Screenplay in a Mid-Budget Film
Spotlight

We had to do three ballots to finally figure this one out. See, we liked “Carol” for its lack of frills – for its ability to get at the story, yet it’s a film that puts a little more on its performances, direction, and design. We adored “A Most Violent Year” because it depicts a gangster film from the perspective of the one honest person in the entire plot. It also depicts that determination for honesty as something that can be wielded very powerfully.

Ultimately, we chose “Spotlight,” the story of the Boston Globe investigative team that revealed systemic sexual abuse of children in the Boston area by Catholic priests. Making a film about a procedural investigation is difficult, not least because we’re inundated with procedural TV series that increasingly make procedure up as they go. “Spotlight” manages to find the drama in the process of uncovering research. It also boils down the essence of editor-reporter relationships: when you pursue a story and when you don’t, how you keep a story churning when it gets put on the backburner, when you have to break the rules that protect yourself in pursuit of a breakthrough.

“Spotlight” is a special film in how it gives its entire cast a process to work through as their characters. It also presents the investigatory process to audiences as a living mechanism to reveal truth and affect change.

All writers receiving a vote (descending order):
Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”
J.C. Chandor, “A Most Violent Year”
Phyllis Nagy, “Carol”
Charles Randolph & Adam McKay, “The Big Short”
Taylor Sheridan, “Sicario”
Aaron Sorkin, “Steve Jobs”
Matt Charman, Ethan & Joel Coen, “Bridge of Spies”
Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington, “Creed”
Jonathan Herman & Andrea Berloff, “Straight Outta Compton”
John McNamara, “Trumbo”

Best Director of a Mid-Budget Film
Sicario

We liked “A Most Violent Year” and “Carol,” but this was a runaway vote. “Sicario” is just too perfect of a beast. There’s a sense that every speck of dust in the film has been consciously placed where it needs to be, yet the film doesn’t feel passionless because of this. If anything, the film is yearning yet melancholy, dissatisfied yet resigned. Those are rare descriptions for a thriller about the Drug War.

Despite its sense of control, however, the actors seem to have been given free reign. They’re taking chances routinely, which is something that’s come to define Denis Villeneuve’s films. There’s a sense of history, of lives lived, of both small and large sacrifices made in each of their lives that bring them to this point. “Sicario” is less of a story, and more of a culmination of lives thrown together.

It’s this mix of organic, loose performances in a tightly controlled world that makes “Sicario” feel most real. Sometimes we feel like the universe is against us, as if we’re responding too organically to something that’s consciously leading us down a path without our knowledge. “Sicario” is drenched in that feeling because it’s more or less the truth of this film. Villeneuve has made this feeling, this sense of inevitability, his calling card on film. It is rare and powerful, and it makes his films feel truly unique and purposeful.

All directors receiving a vote (in descending order):
Denis Villeneuve, “Sicario”
Todd Haynes, “Carol”
J.C. Chandor, “A Most Violent Year”
Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”
Ryan Coogler, “Creed”
Adam McKay, “The Big Short”
Steven Spielberg, “Bridge of Spies”
F. Gary Gray, “Straight Outta Compton”

Best Mid-Budget Film of 2015
Carol

If you’re guessing this came down to a four-horse race, you’re right. Even on our final vote, the difference between “Spotlight” (4th) and “Carol” (1st) was a difference between 2 points out of a possible 21. “A Most Violent Year” and “Sicario” were stuck in between.

Ultimately, “Carol” carried it, and for good reason. The love story at its core is exquisitely realized. Few films are able to carry their emotions on the surface while also hiding them from view. There’s a sense of privacy to the film, as if we’re looking in on someone else’s life from the outside. It makes us feel both invited and intrusive. “Carol” occupies a beautiful middle space that runs counter to the world continuously buzzing around its characters. That helps us feel the impossible space a lesbian relationship had to occupy in 1952, and in many ways in our society, still does.

It’s a beautiful film and one that travels in ways you don’t expect. Its snub for Best Picture at the Oscars is inexplicable.

All films receiving a vote (in descending order):
Carol
Sicario
A Most Violent Year
Spotlight
Creed
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Straight Outta Compton

Also check out our awards for Big Budget Films in 2015.

 

Where did we get our images? The featured image from “Carol” comes from Roger Ebert’s site, still maintained by a host of other reviewers even after the great critic’s passing. The image from “Sicario” is from Fox Force Five’s review.

Most Anticipated Movies of 2015: Bollywood Boxing, Argentine Vampires, Go Team Spader — #30-21

Mary Kom starring Priyanka Chopra

by Gabriel Valdez

Yesterday, we tackled 10 films and talked about everything from diversity in action movies to a burgeoning influx of Tom Hardy roles. Today, Thor’s on a boat, I wonder why the “best actors of their generations” are always considered men, and I have a theory about Ridley Scott.

30. IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

It’s hard to watch a non-Marvel Chris Hemsworth film and not think, “Why’s Thor fighting North Koreans?” or “What’s Thor doing in that race car?” or “How did Thor get on that 1820s sailing vessel?” He always delivers solid performances, they’re just all a little similar. I like him, but the jury’s still out on his acting. Maybe this is the project to break that mold – In the Heart of the Sea is based on the true story of the Essex, the first whaling ship sunk by a whale. Director Ron Howard is usually at his best when telling offbeat adventure tales, and you’ve got something that’s built for Hemsworth to be physically engaged throughout. Trailers clearly show the loudest, most awe-inspiring moments, but it’ll be the quiet ones in between that make or break a film like this.

While the wreck of the Essex served as the inspiration for Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick, we tend to treat the idea of whales attacking sailing vessels as science-fictional. To the contrary, whales attacked whaling ships every few years. To think such a social and intelligent species didn’t put two and two together, and consciously seek to combat their hunters, is to ignore a glaringly obvious piece of recorded history. I’m particularly curious how they speak about that reality in the lead-up to the film. December 11.

Carol Blanchett

29. CAROL

I remember when the very forgettable The Score came out, everyone kept talking about Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, and Edward Norton joining forces as “the best actors of three generations.” All I could think was, “Wait, Meryl Streep’s in it?”

We tend to think of the best actors of their generations as men, so if I call Carol the meeting of the best actors of two generations, please don’t be surprised when I tell you I’m talking about Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. See, it’s 1950s New York. Mara plays a clerk at a department store. She dreams of bettering her situation, and falls for a married woman played by Cate Blanchett.

That’s intriguing enough, but the director of all this is Todd Haynes. Safe. Velvet Goldmine. Far From Heaven. I’m Not There.

It’s also adapted by Phyllis Nagy from a Patricia Highsmith novel, whose work has been adapted before into Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, among other films. That gives her work an incredibly good cinematic track record. It’s attracted a diverse array of directors over the years, but Todd Haynes might be the most unpredictable of them all. It remains to be seen what Carol looks like in the end. All that behind it, and how can you not be excited? No date set.

28. APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR

This has been making the festival rounds, and Desiree Akhavan’s feature debut feels like one of the few comedies I’m truly excited for this year. The story of a Persian bisexual caught between what her culture tells her to be and what our culture tells her to be…it speaks in certain ways to cultural issues I’ve struggled with. Sometimes you can be good at inhabiting the identities you’re told to without feeling like any of them are are perfect fits for you. That can be cultural, sexual, social, even academic – it can take shape any number of ways.

That’s been the social struggle of my generation. The Americana answer of the 80s and 90s told us the solution was partying: women, cars, and money as rites of passage. Everybody find their place in that hierarchy or it’s just you who’s to blame. That’s only ever been salve for a symptom, ignoring and exacerbating the underlying problem. There’s a reason identity comedies have become the comedic voice of this particular generation, much as they were in the 60s. Identity isn’t something to be cured and normalized, like a cancer that needs to be cut out. It’s less broadly cultural now, more individualized. These comedies aren’t trying to give advice to the masses the ways 80s and 90s comedies (many of which I love) did. They’re simply transmitting personal stories in the hope of finding common ground. January 16/Out now/You’ll probably have to wait to DVD to have a realistic chance of seeing it.

Mockingjay Jennifer Lawrence

27. THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART TWO

And I thought Untitled Cameron Crowe Defense Industry Romance was an unwieldy title. Look, it’s the end of a franchise that’s had a lot to say along the way. I haven’t read the books, so I have no idea what’s coming. Some people didn’t enjoy the third film. It wasn’t what I expected, but it settled into the world, its characters, and its internal politics in a way the other films hadn’t. That I enjoyed. Even though it was a little less exciting, it was also a little less broadly goofy. It felt important, but it also felt like it was building toward something far more relevant.

I’m not as concerned with how Peeta’s brain gets saved as I am with what happens to Panem and what Katniss, President Snow, and President Coin all have to say to each other at the end. November 20.

26. THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

That’s right. It’s in the #26 spot. (And Ant-Man isn’t even on this list, because that trailer looked awful.) It’s behind a historical drama about a painting, starring Helen Mirren. Look, this isn’t a knock on Avengers. It beat out 150+ other films that didn’t make it to #26. My biggest worry is that, after the realizations that were two Marvel films that were really about something – Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy – we’re in for another beat-em-up. I like my beat-em-ups, especially when Joss Whedon is helming them, and Avengers 2 could have a very important message. It just hasn’t hinted what that message might be yet, so it’s sitting in the middle of the top 40. Nothing wrong with that. I also thought Guardians was going to be a disaster, not a lovely piece of emotive space opera. I’m just careful about overrating Marvel movies before I see them, particularly when Robert Downey Jr. (much as I like him) threatens to take over any individual film he stars in.

That and I’ll probably be rooting for James Spader as the villain. Why? He’s James Spader. It’s a life decision. Frankly, I’m shocked and disappointed that the rest of you will probably be rooting against him. I really expected more from you guys. Sorry, Avengers. Go Team Spader! May 1.

25. WOMAN IN GOLD

One of the most forgotten movies of the year – well, by critics, since audiences made it a success – was The Monuments Men. It was loosely based around a real-world team of art historians who tracked down French and Jewish art stolen by the Nazis. The German army had orders to destroy the art as they were pushed back in the closing days of World War 2. It was the job of these art historians to discover where the art was being kept and get to it before the Germans could do this. That film is half the story.

The other half is the art that never was found, that made it into private German and Austrian collections, never to be seen by its rightful owners again. Woman in Gold tells this side of the story. Helen Mirren plays a Jewish refugee who tracks down a Gustav Klimt painting that once belonged to her family. In a very un-Ryan Reynolds-like role, Ryan Reynolds plays the lawyer who decides to take on her case and fight the Austrian government for the painting. It will be interesting to see how they handle the complicated history of the painting and what was done with it after the whole affair was settled. April 3.

24. DARKNESS BY DAY

An Argentinian vampire film about a shy, young woman who becomes more confident, outgoing, and bloodthirsty once she…well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but it is a vampire film. It’s been getting raves for its atmosphere and beautiful cinematography on the horror festival circuit, and Argentinian horror is an industry still finding its footing and community. No date set.

Child 44 Tom Hardy Noomi Rapace

23. CHILD 44

What’d I tell you yesterday? 2015 is the year of the Cold War thriller. This one stars Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, and…. No. No, it can’t be. I thought we were done with him.

It’s…it’s Tom Hardy, you guys. He’s back. And this time, he’s Russian!

Child 44 takes place in Stalin’s Soviet Russia, and follows a disgraced investigator (Hardy) who must navigate corrupt orphanages, decrepit mental hospitals, and the secret police in order to track down a mass murderer.

It’s based on the novel by Tom Rob Smith, which is apparently the author’s real name and totally not a super-generic deep cover. April 17.

Ridley Scott on Prometheus set

22. THE MARTIAN

Movies that include stranded astronauts facing dire circumstances have gotten a huge boost from Gravity and Interstellar. Unfortunately, movies that take place in deserts and directed by Ridley Scott took a hit with Exodus: Gods and Kings. Throwing the two together makes…I’m not sure what exactly. Me nervous, mostly.

Based on the novel, the concept of an astronaut (played by Matt Damon, no less) having to jury-rig his own survival on Mars – that should shoot to the top of this list. But Scott, legend that he is, has been anything but consistent lately. He still puts forward beautiful movies, but he doesn’t make them matter as much as the audience would like to care for them. It leaves a strange empathy gap between a willing audience and movies that put the effort into everything but connecting.

Scott’s always let actors do what they want, preferring to focus on the design and technical portions of a film. This has given us flat performances by stellar actors ranging from Julianne Moore (Hannibal) to Christian Bale (Exodus). It’s also given us career-best performances from Nicolas Cage (Matchstick Men) and Noomi Rapace (Prometheus). Hell, Russell Crowe owes part of his career to the five films he’s made with Ridley Scott. What a Scott films turns into depends entirely on its actors’ abilities to work in beautifully realized spaces with some of the least direction for acting they’ll ever get in their lives. The more green-screen used, the faster the story is told, and the faster scenes whip by one to the next, the less opportunity those actors have to stretch their arms out into a space and exist in it as their characters. So I’m very nervous for The Martian, which could rely on green-screen, or take place entirely in fabricated sets, depending on how you decide to film it. November 25.

21. MARY KOM

India has a rape epidemic. That isn’t to say other countries – including the United States – don’t have their own, as well. One of the most important aspects of addressing issues of inequality and marginalization is to tell the kinds of stories that aren’t being told, that champion the subjugated and offer them examples of strength. Mary Kom has hardly solved such a large issue on its own, but as part of a greater movement that crosses art, politics, and a melting pot of cultures, it is a piece of the puzzle. As more movies like this are made, they begin to define a battle that takes place between a country’s civil rights and its status quo.

So to you and me, Mary Kom may play into Bollywood narrative tropes that seem melodramatic or overwrought, but Mary Kom isn’t made for you and me. That’s what makes it more interesting – films like this aren’t just about the narrative on-screen, they’re also about the narrative off-screen. They’re a chance to witness and have just a glimpse of greater understanding into how and why another culture is telling certain stories today. That’s an incredibly special opportunity, and it makes Mary Kom – based on the true story of a female Indian boxer who won multiple world championships, but was barely known in her own country – a very important movie.

It’s a film that has – since its Indian release – effected rulings of discrimination by Bombay’s governmental authority on sports, and that has inspired a dance style that helps teach women how to defend themselves. Pirated copies have flooded Kom’s home region of Manipur, which bans Hindi films from the theaters and has a long history of suppressing women’s equality. In these ways, it may be one of the most important films in terms of women’s rights of the past year.

So I don’t care if the boxing looks a little stiff or the plot looks a little trite. I care that I can watch something that is rare and special in the effect it can have in the world. Some of the best, most classic films can’t say they do that. And there is a certain feeling of awe when watching films that demonstrate the ability to effect change in the real world that all the best cinematography and Oscar-winning acting can’t match. Out now/Available on DVD.

Keep an eye out as we count down the top 20.

If you want to see yesterday’s choices, here they are.