Trailers of the Week: Lighthearted Until It’s Not

Begin Again

It’s been seven years since John Carney’s “Once” started its improbable run as one of the most beloved art-house hits of the decade – it collected the audience award at Sundance, made over $20 million at the box office on a pittance of a budget, won the Best Original Song award at the Oscars, and was recently turned into a highly successful Broadway musical. And during that whole run, Carney just went back to making quiet Irish indie films that never really made it out of the small-tier festival circuit. But now he’s returned to the subject of making music that he captured so well in “Once,” and it’s certainly attracted a much starrier ensemble this time around. “Begin Again” earned positive reviews at last year’s Toronto festival, where it played under the much-dripper title of “Can A Song Save Your Life?” (good call changing that, marketing folks). I wouldn’t have guessed that Keira Knightley would have any particular musical talent, but I can’t even think of the last time she played, say, a normal, contemporary person in a non-blockbuster/genre film (“Bend It Like Beckham,” maybe?). I’ll support that. Ruffalo’s obviously in his wheelhouse playing the incorrigibly charming ruffian, and there are some quality supporting players hanging around in Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, James Corden and Mos Def (OK, not so sure about Adam Levine).

Boyhood

I’m all in on Richard Linklater at the moment. I love what he did (is doing?) with the “Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight” trilogy. He’s bouncing between interesting indies and passion projects in between. And little did we know that for the past twelve years he was working on this ambitious project. Just about the only fiction-film equivalent to “Boyhood” would be François Truffaut’s Antoine Donel films, and those weren’t nearly as methodical, nor as condensed, as Linklater’s attempt to capture the development of a boy from 6 to 18 in the course of a single film. The film won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin festival and got nothing but raves out of Sundance – the utter singularity of this film ensures that we’re going to be talking about it all year, and, I have a sneaking suspicion, on the awards circuit.

Jersey Boys

Here we have a more obvious prestige contender. While “Once” went from screen to stage, this jukebox musical is going the other way, guided by the somewhat unexpected hands of none other than Clint Eastwood; though I suppose you might have guessed that, as Eastwood has brought his trademark washed-out color scheme to yet another period piece. I’m not really sure why he continues to insist the past has to look like the past, but oh well. Eastwood seems to have kept the stage version’s fourth-wall-breaking/Rashomon structure, and lead John Lloyd Young is reprising the role of Frankie Valli that he played on Broadway. Seems pretty much guaranteed to win over those who are already fans of the musical (or The Four Seasons in general), but can it draw in a wider audience?

Obvious Child

Jenny Slate didn’t have the most successful run on Saturday Night Live, but she’s been proving herself as a hilarious and talented comedienne in supporting TV roles in Parks & Recreation, House of Lies, Kroll Show, Bob’s Burgers and Hello Ladies. “Obvious Child” could be a breakout for her, as it seems like the whole thing is tailored to her particular abilities – so much so I was surprised to find she didn’t write it herself. Should make for some nice summer counter-programming.

The Immigrant

The latest from modern melodramatist James Gray (“Two Lovers,” “We Own the Night”), “The Immigrant” got good reviews last year at Cannes but didn’t really burn the house down; but perhaps that’s to be expected from a film that sure looks to be all about craft and restraint. The film’s shimmering, glowing aesthetic is certainly striking, and the central trio is intriguing: Phoenix’s career has been revitalized on the back of “The Master” and “Her,” Jeremy Renner is proving himself again in prestige/auteur pieces after being ill-served by mainstream Hollywood in the “Mission: Impossible” and Marvel franchises, and Marion Cotillard is always ravishing in a period piece. Gray has a small but loyal band of defenders, and this could be the kind of baity piece that earns him some more appreciation.

Foxcatcher

Just to make sure that you don’t leave here too happy, here’s a moody and disquieting teaser for Bennett Miller’s delayed psychological thriller/drama, based on the true story of athletic sponsor John du Pont and his relationship with Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz. Sony Pictures Classics pushed “Foxcatcher,” originally set to debut last fall, to 2014, not because of any issue with the film itself, but because the 2013 slate was just getting too crowded. Considering the dogfight of an awards race we went through, that was probably a smart move. Miller’s another intriguing filmmaker – “Capote” and “Moneyball” were very different, equally quality works, and “Foxcatcher” sure looks to continue his amorphous, flexible mastery of tone and style. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Steve Carell’s clearly attention-grabbing transformation into the schizophrenic du Pont, but his off-putting, mannered delivery could very well be the crux of the role – I’ll certainly reserve judgment until we get a better look.

The Old Familiar Faces

Whoever is making the official Cannes Festival posters is on a roll. Last year’s art-deco-meets-pop-art appropriation of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward was sparkling, woozy, a fairly perfect approximation of the filigreed hype that builds up every year on the Croisette in a one-sheet. If that poster revealed a bit too much by just barely hinting at the emptiness behind the pomp and circumstance, this year’s is everything that Cannes WANTS to be: namely, the coolest, sexiest, most suave dude in the room, and don’t you forget it. It has me thinking I put Marcello Mastroianni a couple rungs too low on this list a few years back.

Even if we didn’t have Marcello undressing us with his eyes from every theater wall and computer screen, this year’s Competition lineup would be another confirmation of Cannes’ particular brand of gentlemen’s club-cool – which is to say, an atmosphere generally populated and promulgated by older European men. At this morning’s announcement of the full 2014 slate, Cannes director Thierry Fremaux claimed that the festival was looking for new, fresh filmmakers, and that 15 female directors were included in the Official Selection. True only to a point – while the Un Certain Regard and Director’s Fortnight sidebars may be a bit more diverse, the official Competition  lineup remains as stodgy and masculine as ever: out of 18 films, only 5 were helmed by directors making their first Competition appearance, and only 2 were directed by women. That is not to say, especially at this early date, that any individual slots were wasted or unjustifiable, or even that Cannes’ preference for regulars is a terrible thing – one just does wish that the most renowned celebration of international cinema in the world could find ways to make diversity a regularity.

So off-beat, upcoming and female talents like Asia Argento, Ryan Gosling, Jessica Hausner and Ned Benson will try to make their impressions in Un Certain Regard. Hausner’s exclusion perhaps stings the most, considering her last film, “Lourdes,” was a critical smash at Venice a few years ago and seemed to prime the Austrian director for the next step up. For Gosling, the slot is actually fairly generous, considering we have little but his association with Nicolas Winding Refn to go on for what his behind-the-camera style might be – we’ll see how he fares with “Lost River” (formerly “How to Catch a Monster”). Meanwhile, the Competition slate will again show off new works by established heavyweights like Olivier Assayas, Mike Leigh, the Dardenne brothers and…

…good god, is that Jean-Luc Godard’s music??!

Indeed it is! The New Wave legend, unfazed by the passing of one of his last comrades-in-arms, Alain Resnais, a few months ago (or, you know, being 83) is back with something called “Goodbye to Language” – filmed, I kid you not, in 3D. As not that big a fan of Obtuse Godard, I’m not exactly chomping at the bit. As for the fact that Irish director Ken Loach is back for the 12th time (and reportedly the last) in Competition, my favorite tweet of the day generally sums up my reaction on the matter:

Those Dardennes, of course, have to be considered threats, once again, to pick up the Palme d’Or, considering they’ve taken home at least one prize from the jury each of the five times they’ve gone in Competition. They have a much starrier effort than usual, with Marion Cotillard headlining an economic-crisis drama, “Two Days, One Night,” that has been described as a “Belgian Western.” Though I’ll tell you, I wrote my senior thesis on Westerns and I still have no idea what the hell that means.

Sight-unseen a lot of people are calling it for Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Winter Sleep,” as the director’s last film, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” took a good shot at the prize three years ago. Personally, I’m keeping my eye on “Leviafan,” the fourth film by the Russian Andrei Zvyagintsev. He’s one of those 5 new-comers to the Competition, but Zvyagintsev is, in my opinion, the best thing to happen in twenty years of post-Soviet cinema, and “Elena” could’ve duked it out with “Tree of Life,” “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” and “The Kid with a Bike” if it had been in the main event in 2011.

Elsewhere, American audiences will be more familiar with names like David Cronenberg (back with another bizarro Robert Pattinson collaboration, “Maps to the Stars”) or Bennett Miller, whose “Foxcatcher” wisely sat out the 2013 awards season and was rewarded with this prestigious slot. Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo will bring some of the Hollywood buzz to this otherwise continental affair; as will Chloë Moretz and Kristen Stewart, featuring in Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria,” which stars Juliette Binoche as an actress pushed into isolation when a younger actress (Moretz) takes over her signature role. Some empathy there, I’d imagine. Finally, Tommy Lee Jones continues his attempts to keep the prestige Western alive with “The Homesman” (following his directorial debut in 2005, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” which also earned a Competition berth).

There’s plenty more to talk about, including Mike Leigh’s Timothy Spall-starring biopic of J.M.W. Turner (a passion project of his for years), Michel Hazanavicius’ first film since “The Artist,” and let’s not forget Naomi Kawase and Alice Rohrwacher, the two women who did make it. But take a look at the full Competition lineup for yourselves – what are you most eager to see?

67th Cannes Film Festival – In Competition

  • “Clouds of Sils Maria,” Olivier Assayas (Germany, France, Switzerland)
  • “Saint Laurent,” Bertrand Bonello (France)
  • “Winter Sleep,” Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Turkey, Germany, France)
  • “Maps to the Stars,” David Cronenberg (Canada, U.S.)
  • “Two Days, One Night,” Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Belgium, Italy, France)
  • “Mommy,” Xavier Dolan (Canada)
  • “The Captive,” Atom Egoyan (Canada)
  • “Goodbye to Language,” Jean-Luc Godard (Switzerland)
  • “The Search,” Michel Hazanavicius (France)
  • “The Homesman,” Tommy Lee Jones (U.S.)
  • “Still the Water,” Naomi Kawase (Japan)
  • “Mr. Turner,” Mike Leigh (U.K.)
  • “Jimmy’s Hall,” Ken Loach (U.K., Ireland, France)
  • “Foxcatcher,” Bennett Miller (U.S.)
  • “The Miracle,” Alice Rohrwacher (Italy)
  • “Timbuktu,” Abderrahmane Sissako (France)
  • “Wild Tales,” Damián Szifrón (Argentina)
  • “Leviafan,” Andrei Zvyagintsev (Russia)