Embracing the Melodrama #124: Maps to the Stars (dir by David Cronenberg)


Maps_to_the_Stars_posterI have to admit that, for the most petty of reasons, I was dreading the 2014 release of David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars.  

This was despite the fact that I happen to be a big fan of just about everyone in the cast and David Cronenberg as a director.  (I still say that Cosmopolis is one of the best films of the decade and I don’t care who disagrees.)

My initial issue with Maps to the Stars — and again, I admit this is really petty — was that Sasha Stone, over the Awards Daily web site, was so damn fanatical about singing the film’s praises.  I have a theory that Sasha tends to overpraise certain films specifically so she can have an excuse to get angry and go off on a rant when they don’t receive any Oscar nominations.  Ever since Sasha went batshit crazy over The King’s Speech beating The Social Network, Awards Daily has pretty much gone from being a site about the Oscars to being a site about Sasha screaming in the wilderness like a biblical prophet (and not one of the interesting biblical prophets, like Elijah.  We’re talking about Haggai here.)  From what I had read about Maps To The Stars and judging from the response that it got at Cannes (where, despite mixed reviews, it did win an award when Julianne Moore was named best actress), this film seemed like the epitome of another deliberate lost cause.

Fortunately, the release date of Maps To The Stars was moved to 2015 and civilization was spared from having to deal with a thousand “If Cronenberg doesn’t get an Oscar, society is doomed!” rants.  Instead, we had to deal with a thousand “If Hillary Swank doesn’t win for The Homesman, society is doomed!” rants.

“Okay,” you’re saying, “that’s great Lisa.  Thank you for whatever all that was.  But what about the movie itself!?  Is it any good?”

Eh … I guess.

I mean, Maps to The Stars isn’t a bad movie.  It’s not bad at all.  It’s just maddeningly uneven.

One of my favorite up-and-coming stars, Mia Wasikowska, has a great role in it.  She plays a schizophrenic, named Agatha, who comes to Hollywood.  Agatha’s arms and the back of her neck are covered with burn scars and she is always taking pills.  She is also obsessed with a vile teen star named Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird).  There’s more to her obsession than you might originally think.

Benjie, meanwhile, has just gotten out of rehab and he is literally one of the worst characters ever.  The film does try to build up some sympathy for him by revealing just how fucked up his home life is.  His fragile mother (Olivia Williams) always seems to be on the verge of collapse.  His father (John Cusack) is a glib and shallow psychologist.  Benjie serves as a stand-in for every child star who has been destroyed by Hollywood.  Unfortunately, the film devotes so much time to Benjie being a monster that it never really allows us to see why Benjie’s a star in the first place.  Evan Bird gives such a boring, uninteresting, and flat performance that you never really buy the idea of Benjie could be a success.  (Say what you will about Justin Bieber, he does at least have a cute smile.  Evan Bird can’t even claim that.)

Agatha meets a lot of people in Hollywood, including a limo driver (Robert Pattinson) who is an aspiring screenwriter.  She eventually gets a job working for actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore).  Havana, herself the daughter of a legendary and self-destructive actress, is a monster but — unlike, Benjie — she’s a sympathetic monster.  She’s a talented actress who grew up in Hollywood and now, because she’s no longer in her 20s, is being discarded by Hollywood.  Havana is as much a victim as a victimizer.

Anyway, the film kinda wanders about.  Along with all the other stuff going on, the characters are regularly visited by ghosts.  Secrets are revealed.  Hearts are broken.  Lives are lost.  And yes, relevant points about Hollywood are made but … well, so what?   There’s nothing in Maps to the Stars that you couldn’t learn from rewatching Sunset Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard is a lot less pretentious.  Plus, William Holden was a much better actor than Evan Bird.

As for Cronenberg’s direction — well, Maps to the Stars is definitely David Cronenberg on autopilot.  It’s filled with identifiable Cronenberg touches.  The emphasis placed on Agatha’s scars, for instance, is trademark Cronenberg.  But still, Cronenberg’s direction often just seems to be going through the motions.  Unlike his work in the far more interesting and challenging Cosmopolis (not to mention Eastern Promises), Cronenberg doesn’t really seem to care that much about the story that he’s telling.

Maps to the Stars is worth watching for the performances of Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska.  Otherwise, it’s just another well-made but only occasionally interesting Hollywood melodrama.

Lisa’s Way Too Early Oscar Predictions For June


Timothy Spall in Mr Turner

It’s time for me to update my way too early Oscar predictions!  Every month, based on a combination of buzz, reviews, gut feelings, and random guesses, I attempt to predict which films, directors, and performers will receive nominations in 2015!  For the June edition, I look at how my predictions have been effected and changed by the results of the Cannes Film Festival.

Thanks to Cannes, I’m a bit more sure about some of my predictions (in particular, Foxcatcher, Mr. Turner, and Julianne Moore in Map To The Stars).  But at the same time, the majority of these predictions remain the result of instinct and random guessing.

Click on the links to check out my predictions for March, April, and May!

And now, here are June’s predictions!

Best Picture

Birdman

Boyhood

Foxcatcher

The Imitation Game

Interstellar

Mr. Turner

Whiplash

Wild

Based on its reception at Cannes, I’ve added Mr. Turner to the list of nominees.    I’ve also dropped Unbroken from the list, largely because of how aggressively it is currently being hyped by people who have yet to see it.    Traditionally, the more intensely an awards contender is hyped during the first half of the year, the more likely it is that the film itself is going to be end up being ignored once the actual nominations are announced.  (This is known as the Law of The Butler.)

Best Director

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Birdman

Mike Leigh for Mr. Turner

Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher

Jean-Marc Vallee for Wild

I’ve dropped Angelina Jolie (Unbroken) and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and replaced them with Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner) and Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher).  I’m far more confident that Cannes winner Miller will receive a nomination than Leigh.

Best Actor

Steve Carell in Foxcatcher

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game

Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Michael Keaton in Birdman

Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner

The big addition here is Timothy Spall, who I am predicting will be nominated for his Cannes-winning performance in Mr. Turner.

Best Actress

Amy Adams in Big Eyes

Jessica Chastain in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl

Reese Whitherspoon in Wild

Shailene Woodley in The Fault In Our Stars

Based on the charming but slight trailer for Magic In The Moonlight, I have removed Emma Stone from this list.  I was tempted to replace her with Hillary Swank but even the positive reviews of The Homesman were curiously muted.  So, I ended up going with Jessica Chastain’s performance in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.  I also replaced Michelle Williams with Shailene Woodley who, much like Jennifer Lawrence over the past two years, is currently starring in both a commercially successful franchise film and a critically and commercially acclaimed drama.  That said, The Fault In Our Stars may have opened too early in the year to be a legitimate contender.

Best Supporting Actor

James Franco in True Story

Ethan Hawke in Boyhood

Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher

Martin Sheen in Trash

J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

I’ve moved Ralph Fiennes back up to Best Actor and I’ve replaced him with James Franco for True Story.  That might be wishful thinking on my part because everyone knows that I have a huge crush on James Franco.  However, the role — that of a real-life murderer who steals a reporter’s identity — sounds like both a chance of pace for Franco and the type of role that often leads to Oscar recognition.  (Just ask Steve Carell…)

Speaking of Steve Carell, he’s not the only actor getting awards-buzz for his performance in Foxcatcher.  Channing Tatum has been getting the best reviews of his career.  If he’s promoted for a supporting nod, Tatum is probably guaranteed a nomination (and, in all probability, that would doom the chances of Mark Ruffalo).  However, Tatum is apparently going to be promoted for best actor and his chances might be a bit more iffy in that race.

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood

Julianne Moore in Map To The Stars

Vanessa Redgrave in Foxcatcher

Kristen Scott Thomas in Suite francaise

Kristen Stewart in The Clouds of Sils Maria

Unlike a lot of film bloggers, I am not expecting Into the Woods to be a major Oscar contender.  (See The Law of The Butler above.)  While I was originally predicting that this film would manage to get Meryl Streep her annual nomination, I am now going to go out on a limb and predict that Meryl Streep will not be nominated for anything (other than maybe a Nobel Peace Prize) in 2015.  I’m also dropping both Viola Davis and Marcia Gay Harden from my list of predicted nominees and I’m replacing them with three actresses who received a lot of acclaim at Cannes: Julianne Moore for Map To The Stars, Vanessa Redgrave for Foxcatcher, and Kristen Stewart for The Clouds of Sils Maria.

Yes, I know what you’re saying — “Kristen Stewart!?”  Personally, if she’s as good as her reviews for The Clouds of Sils Maria seem to indicate, I think she will definitely be nominated.  I think it will actually help her case that she’s not exactly an acclaimed actress.  Look at it this way — people take it for granted that Meryl Streep is going to give a great performance, so much so that they’ll even make excuses for Meryl’s shrill turn in August: Osage County.  When someone like Kristen Stewart shows that she’s capable of more than Twilight, people notice and remember.  It’s those performances that inspire people to go, “Oh yeah, she actually can act!” that often lead to Oscar momentum.

And those are my predictions for June.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments section below!

Kristen Stewart

Here Are The Winners of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival


Winter Sleep

It’s debatable what type of effect a victory of Cannes will have when it comes to the Oscars.  Indeed, because of the festival’s international nature, it’s often the case that some of the most acclaimed films at Cannes aren’t even eligible to be nominated.  Blue Is The Warmest Colour was one of the best films to released in the United States last year but its victory at Cannes certainly did not translate into Oscar nominations.  However, at the same time, there’s probably some truth to the theory that winning the Palme d’Or allowed some of the more mainstream-minded Academy voters to consider The Tree of Life as a legitimate Oscar possibility, as opposed to just an art house indulgence.

So, in other words — who knows?

One thing is for sure.  Winning at Cannes will definitely not hurt the Oscar chances of Bennett Miller, Timothy Spall, and Julianne Moore.  In fact, the only film that truly seems to have been knocked out of Oscar consideration by its Cannes reception would appear to be Grace of Monaco(Well, okay — Lost River, too.  But was anyone expecting Lost River to be an Oscar nominee before it premiered at Cannes?)

Anyway, enough of me pretending to be an expert on how the Oscars work!  Here are the winners from Cannes:

In Competition

  • Palme d’Or – Winter Sleep by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
  • Grand Prix – The Wonders by Alice Rohrwacher
  • Best Director – Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher
  • Best Screenplay – Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin for Leviathan
  • Best Actress – Julianne Moore for Maps to the Stars
  • Best Actor – Timothy Spall for Mr. Turner
  • Jury Prize – Mommy by Xavier Dolan and Goodbye to Language by Jean-Luc Godard
Un Certain Regard[39]
  • Un Certain Regard Award – White God by Kornél Mundruczó
  • Un Certain Regard Jury Prize – Force Majeure by Ruben Östlund
  • Un Certain Regard Special Prize – The Salt of the Earth by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado
  • Un Certain Regard Ensemble Prize – The cast of Party Girl
  • Un Certain Regard Award for Best Actor – David Gulpilil for Charlie’s Country
Cinéfondation[40]
  • First Prize – Skunk by Annie Silverstein
  • Second Prize – Oh Lucy! by Atsuko Hirayanagi
  • Third Prize – Sourdough by Fulvio Risuleo and The Bigger Picture by Daisy Jacobs
Golden Camera
  • Caméra d’Or – Party Girl by Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis
Short Films[41]
  • Short Film Palme d’Or – Leidi by Simón Mesa Soto
  • Special Mention:
    • Aïssa by Clément Trehin-Lalanne
    • Yes We Love by Hallvar Witzø

Goodbye to Lanugage