Any attempt to narrow down Martin Scorsese's career to even 15 essential films means losing whole chapters of the Scorsese story. For starters, since the beginning of his career, Scorsese has had an off-and-on sideline — lately more on than off — directing documentaries. This year alone saw the release of the remarkable, truth-bending Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story. Related, Scorsese has another sideline in concert films that dates back to his time as an assistant director of Woodstock and most notably includes The Last Wz, called in these pages the “best Thanksgiving movie ever made.”
Which brings up another issue: Making cuts is hard. The Last Wz, one of the greatest concert movies ever made, didn't make this list. Neither did The Color of Money or Cape Fear or Kundun or Silence or several other movies that would be among any other director's best movies. But it's worth noting that some of the films that did make the cut come from late in Scorsese's career. Some directors say what they have to say then find creative ways to repeat themselves, and there's really nothing wrong with that. Scorsese, on the other hand, remains restless, as evidenced by The Irishman, his most recent release which you'll find quite high on the list. One other matter: Scorsese tends to be a bit harder to rank than other directors. A handful of films tower over others, but that has as much to do with their importance to the history of film in general as their quality relative to his other movies. That said, let's press on with the 15 greatest from one of the greats.
Scorsese has never made a horror film, but this psychological thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a troubled U.S. Marshall investigating a mystery at an insane asylum in the 1950s comes close. Darkness-shrouded images and distressing 20th-century classical music set the mood for a twisty story that might border on the ridiculous in others' hands. Instead, it serves as a prime example of why DiCaprio became Scorsese's leading man of choice in the second half of his career, bearing the burden of a man carrying unspeakable horrors in his heart trying to make sense of a world that reflects only chaos and awfulness back to him.
Where Scorsese's breakthrough film, Mean Streets, saw him revisiting old New York haunts that confused men he grew up around, his follow-up found him wandering well outside his comfort zone. Ellen Burstyn stars as Alice, a woman who finds her life upended after the death of her husband. Deciding to pursue her dreams of becoming a singer, she instead finds herself living a financially precarious existence as a waitress in Arizona. Keying off of Burstyn's great performance, Scorsese captures the vulnerability of a woman suddenly forced to fend for herself and dangers that range from abusive men to a creeping sense of despair.
Sometimes dismissed as a lesser Goodfellas, Casino brings the same journalistic detail to a story about the mob and the changing face of Las Vegas starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Sharon Stone. But the film has a rhythm and energy all its own and De Niro's understated work as “Ace” Rothstein, a cautious man unsettled by conditions he can't control — be it in the casino or his marriage — ranks among his best performances. If there's a standout, however, it's Stone. Too often asked to repeat herself in the roles she took after Basic Instinct, here she gets to dig beneath the surface of a character as complex and self-destructive as any Scorsese protagonist.
What happens when you spend day after day and night after night staring at death and pondering the ugliest possibilities of human behavior? For Frank Pierce Nicolas Cage, in one of his best performances it means living always on the verge of cracking. An ambulance driver haunted by the lives he can't save, Frank threatens to fall into despair as he responds to one tumultuous situation after another in a city that also seems to be falling apart. Patricia Arquette co-stars as Mary, the daughter of a patient who grapples with addiction as her father's condition worsens. Scripted by Paul Schrader, it's one of Scorsese's most overlooked films and makes a fascinating, guardedly hopeful bookend to a previous collaboration, Taxi Driver.
An adaptation of the Hong Kongcrime dramaInfernal Affairs, The Departed transports the original's fever dream intensity to Boston for a mob story that depicts the ways organized crime destroys every life it touches. The set-up could come off as gimmicky. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, a cop who goes undercover as a mobster while Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, a mobster groomed from a young age to infiltrate the police. But it's DiCaprio and Damon's tortured performances as confused, conflicted men caught in traps built long before they were born, Scorsese's technically dazzling filmmaking, and a supporting cast that includes Jack Nicholson, Vera Farmiga, and Mark Wahlberg that elevate a story that Scorsese described in a 2005 interview as set in a place where there is “no longer a question of good and evil. The two poles are interchangeable. All that's left is the world as it is.”
A time capsule of a chapter of New York in which yuppies, punks, artists, and assorted oddballs brushed shoulders in a still-untamed Manhattan, After Hours twists reality just enough to make it at once cartoonish and nightmarish. Made swiftly and cheaply after the collapse of the first version of The Last Temptation of Christ, the film stars Griffin Dunne as an office drone whose attraction to a stranger Rosanna Arquette sends him pinballing from one uncomfortable situation to another on a perilous all-night journey from one end of the city to another. The closest thing to a comedy Scorsese has ever made, there's nothing else quite like it in his filmography, but there's no mistaking it for any other director's work.
How do you depict odious acts without making them look appealing? For Scorsese, the answer has been not to try, whether depicting gangsters or cheats. Part of the thrill of watching Jordan Belfort Leonardo DiCaprio and Donnie Azoff Jonah Hill live a life of excess as they scam their way to stock market dominance is seeing how much they enjoy it. Sure, they hurt countless people along the way and destroy any chance of intimacy and connection with those around them, but it takes a long time for the high to wear off in this propulsive depiction of excess and unchecked greed. But look to the margins and you'll see used-up lives. Look in DiCaprio's eyes and you'll see a man who's abandoned humanity. The sting of the film's final irony comes from the sense that it all could, and will, happen again.
A character as haunting in his own way as Travis Bickle whom you'll find a little higher on this list, aspiring comic Rupert Pupkin Robert De Niro dreams of making it big in comedy and finding an audience outside the basement of his mother's house. When late-night talk show host Jerry Langford Jerry Lewis, in a brilliant departure from the clowning that made him famous gives him a brush-off he mistakes for interest, his ambitions take a desperate turn as he conspires with Misha Sandra Bernhard, an obsessed fan, to kidnap Langford. That Pupkin and Langford have a lot in common becomes this unflinching satire's darkest joke. Scorsese holds back from showing Pupkin's comedy until late in the film. When we do see it, it's not terrible. We also witness Langford returning to a lonely life far removed from the amiable persona he projects on television. Entertainment is a cruel business that wraps loneliness around winners and losers alike.
Read enough interviews with Martin Scorsese and you'll hear about three parts of his early life over and over again: a sickly childhood spent indoors observing the life of New York's Little Italy going on outside, an interest in movies that blossomed into obsession at an early age, and a conflicted early adulthood spent among dubious characters. Scorsese's feature debut, 1968's Who's That Knocking at My Door made a first stab at depicting that lattermost phase via the story of a young man confused and angered when he learns his girlfriend isn't a virgin because of a rape, a discovery that he can't reconcile with the Catholic values he's internalized and the cavalier treatment of women he practices with his friends. Years later, Scorsese would reunite with that film's lead actor, Harvey Keitel, for a film that expands the scope of that debut, exploring the backrooms, private moments, and violent eruptions of New York life as experienced by Charlie, a small-time debt collector Keitel; Charlie's girlfriend Teresa Amy Robinson, whose relationship he keeps secret, and the self-destructive Johnny Boy De Niro, in his first collaboration with Scorsese. It's a bit of street poetry from a filmmaker already in full command of his talents and telling a story he was born to tell.
Scorsese spent years trying to film an adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' psychologically complex retelling of the life of Jesus, even walking up to the line of rolling film on the project in 1983 only to see it canceled at the last moment. In the end, he wouldn't be able to make it for a few more years, and for a slashed budget and on a rushed schedule. Then he had to watch as it became an object of heated protest when conservative Christians objected to its content, particularly the film-ending fantasy sequence in which Jesus Willem Dafoe imagines giving up the burden of divinity and living as a husband to Mary Magdalene Barbara Hershey, who introduced Scorsese to the big years earlier. Yet the result is a reverent, deeply considered exploration of the meaning of Christianity made by a man who takes religion seriously, and who understands that true faith involves struggle and questioning.
Only in bare description does Scorsese's three-and-a-half-hour story of a labor union leader/mob assassin sound like a return to familiar territory. It's set in the underworld milieu he's depicted before and reunites him not only with De Niro but also Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel to say nothing of producer Irwin Winkler and, of course, his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker. But the film has an autumnal tone all its own and it needs every second of its running time to arrive at its gutting final stretch, an invitation to stare into the abyss and contemplate final things. Along the way, he tells the story of Frank Sheeran, who confessed late in life to killing both Jimmy Hoffa played as a kind of an American Julius Caesar by Al Pacino and gangster Joe Gallo. The veracity of those claims might be dubious, but that's not really the point. Instead, it's an opportunity for Scorsese to raise questions about fate, history, the passing of time, the possibility of forgiveness, and the ways sin weighs on the soul, questions he's been exploring since Who's That Knocking at My Door, and which clearly still trouble him. Scorsese seems hehy and active and has many projects in the works. Hopefully, he'll live to be a hundred. But he might never make a final statement as stunning as this one.
In adapting Edith Wharton's 1920 novel about life among the privileged in Gilded Age New York of the 1870s, Scorsese found a setting as rich in codes and casual cruelty as Goodfellas. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as a lawyer engaged to May Winona Ryder, the right woman by society's reckoning but drawn to Ellen Michelle Pfeiffer, the wrong woman by that same reckoning. One of Scorsese's most lyrical films, it offers a heartbreaking depiction of an impossible love while depicting how the impediments to that love operate together like gears in a machine. It's bittersweet and lovely, but there's real anger, frustration at the heart of a love story that understands how some wounds cut to the soul.
Scorsese didn't know much about boxing when he took on Raging Bull, but he did understand how easily success could turn to failure. Over the course of the film's long gestation, Scorsese's second marriage ended; his ambitious musical, New York, New York, met with mixed reviews and commercial indifference; his career prospects turned shaky; and a descent into drugs, depression, and suicidal thoughts climaxed in a scary hospital stay. He came to see his own life reflected in that of Jake LaMotta, the middleweight boxing champ whose self-destructive and just plain destructive tendencies led to a long fall from glory.
Scorsese reunited with De Niro and Schrader for the film, which he shot in striking black-and-white chosen in part to set the film apart from the many boxing movies released after Rocky. As usual, he meticulously planned the shots, bringing a balletic rhythm to the often brutal fight scenes. But the story is of a man with no control over his life, or himself. De Niro takes no steps to make LaMotta more sympathetic. He's delusional, jealous, and misogynistic and his mistakes are all his own. But by staying so close to such an ugly person, Scorsese dares viewers not to see the humanity of even such a fallen man — and maybe see a bit of themselves as well.
Working from a screenplay written by Paul Schrader inspired in part by would-be assassin Arthur Bremer's diary, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground, and a low point in Schrader's own life, Scorsese crafted a portrait of profound alienation that doubles as a descent into hell. De Niro plays protagonist Travis Bickle as a man incapable of connecting with others who comes to blame the darkness inside him on the darkness around him, a grimy mid-'70s New York filled with porn theaters, pimps, and casual cruelty. What he can't see, as he styles himself as an avenger of wrongs, is that his fascination with violence will do nothing to reshape that world.
Driven by De Niro's hollowed-out performance, it's a queasy film that walks a tightrope, wrapping both Travis' alienation and the city around him in a kind of dark glamor — aided by Bernard Herrmann's final score — without shying away from the ugliness and brutal consequences of his mental state. He's a man who comes to see killing his only release. Hauntingly, he fits right into the city around him.
A tour de force that never stops moving, Goodfellas both returns Scorsese to the underside of New York via a decades-spanning story and to the subject of men unable to prevent their own downfalls. Adapted from Nicholas Pileggi's Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, a non-fiction account of mobster Henry Hill's career, Goodfellas plays out against the backdrop of a mafia, and a New York, undergoing profound changes between the 1950s and the turn of the 1980s. It's no ordinary mob movie. Scorsese isn't shy about violence, but it's the attention to the day-to-day life of a gangster that sets it apart, the schemes mobsters engage in, the routines needed to keep those enterprises afloat, and the codes by which they live. It's a crime story, but also a film about work.
In fact, part of what makes Goodfellas's violence so chilling is that the film treats it as just a logical extension of the job. No one wants to commit murder — OK, maybe Tommy Joe Pesci occasionally wants to commit murder — but the business Hill Ray Liotta, Jimmy De Niro and those around them engage in sometimes demands it. There are rules to follow whether for murder “You got out of line, you got whacked” or adultery “Saturday night was for wives, but Friday night at the Copa was for the girlfriends”. Hill ends the film having lost everything and having betrayed his friends, but still unable to see his own role in his undoing. He's learned nothing. Those watching, however, have ridden the highs and lows of a way of life they'd otherwise never glimpse — and witnessed a mirror-image version of the American dream in the process.
EXCLUSIVE: Marc Butan, Kim Fox and Vincent Maraval are at AFM this week with their newly rebranded company MadRiver International, the sales outfit formerly known as IMR Insiders MadRiver.
The firm is a partnership between Butan's production house MadRiver Pictures and Maraval's Wild Bunch International, with Fox overseeing the joint venture. But there's been some confusion over the rebrand, so on the eve of AFM we sat down with the trio at their new rental digs on the Santa Monica beachfront to give them a platform to clarify where the company is at. In a wide-reaching interview, we also talk through the health of the international biz and what's working in the market right now.
The company's AFM slate features the market debuts of King Of The Jungle, the Zac Efron-starring comedy from the directors of Crazy, Stupid, Love, Gerard Butler action flick The Plane, and Joe Carnahan's Thriller Leo From Toledo with Mel Gibson and Frank Grillo.
DEADLINE: What's the thinking behind the rebrand?
MARC BUTAN: Let me give some background. Kim and I started MadRiver three years ago and we were staffing the company up at the exact time that Vincent Maraval was building up Insiders. We're friends, first of all, and we found ourselves putting the same lists of people together to build up a sales company infrastructure.
It was Roeg [Sutherland, co-head of CAA Media Finance] who suggested it. He said, 'Why are you competing? Why don't you join forces and do it together?' With Vincent being in France, the relationships were very complimentary. Instead of going and reinventing the wheel, we told our investors we'd create a joint venture sales company under IMR Insiders MadRiver and we've done that for three years.
The biggest issue is that, because Vincent still has Wild Bunch, and Kim was also representing Annapurna's films for a while, we had all these company names swimming around. People were confused about who did what, so we decided to get rid of the IMR brand and focus on MadRiver, which is a more American independent film brand, and then Vincent has Wild Bunch International, which is a traditional European, foreign language film brand. It was done for clarity.
KIM FOX: I was getting some questions about what we were doing, whether we'd split with Vincent, so we wanted it to be very clear. First of all, if anyone leaves it's going to be me [laughs]. Speaking seriously, everything is remaining the same, it's the same team doing the same thing.
DEADLINE: So no more Insiders?
VINCENT MARAVAL: When we started the operation, the idea was to develop two labels, but we ended up doing everything together. Insiders was not really working as a production company, while MadRiver was [through its production wing MadRiver Pictures]. Insiders is closed now. It doesn't exist anymore. We wanted to save us time, to stop clients asking us every time to explain the structure.
BUTAN: MadRiver Pictures owned 50% of IMR and Insiders owned the other 50%. Insiders is now being absorbed into Wild Bunch, for all intents and purposes.
DEADLINE: And the wider structure of MadRiver remains the same?
BUTAN: The same.
DEADLINE: How does Wild Bunch fit into this?
MARAVAL: The Wild Bunch Group was refinanced by the original shareholder last year. In May this year we carved out the international division and that became an independent company, operating on its own and focusing on arthouse, foreign language, festival films. The only real change is the department becoming a company.
So an easy way to put it is, with Insiders gone, the primary focus for MadRiver is English-language projects while for Wild Bunch its foreign language?
MARAVAL: It's not that strict but it's basically that. There are exceptions, like if Claire Denis is doing High Life in English language. Wild Bunch also does some British films.
DEADLINE: Vincent, how are you personally splitting your time between those two companies now?
MARAVAL: I make each of them believe that I am spending time with the other one [laughs].
BUTAN: I put Vincent at 5% Wild Bunch, 5% MadRiver International and 90% other stuff [laughs].
MARAVAL: I took care of the Wild Bunch restructuring which took me a lot of time. Now I am taking care more of the acquisitions, I don't do any sales there, I am selling at MadRiver International.
DEADLINE: Do the company changes reflect changes in the market?
BUTAN: The market has changed a lot in the last 3-4 years. What used to work isn't working anymore. We used to develop a script, put the elements together, and then go to the international market and that would be the backbone of your financing. Everything has turned on its head right now. On a lot of pictures, you need to understand what your domestic strategy is first.
There's still a lot of cross-pollination between MadRiver Pictures and MadRiver International, several of our pictures at this market have both involved, but at the Picture level we are also setting films up at distributors for worldwide, or television at networks. At the beginning Pictures and International were very integrated but we're trying to be responsive to the markets.
DEADLINE: Is pre-selling still a viable way to do business?
BUTAN: It is for certain titles.
FOX: For some titles it's as robust as ever. But it is changing. There just aren't as many $30m+ packages — that hasn't changed the opportunity to sell them when you do have one.
BUTAN: It has bifurcated. There's the $30m and over, or maybe $20m and over, bracket — those movies people understand and if there's a domestic theatrical strategy in place, it can still sell to distributors worldwide. It's hard to sell a $30m movie into major territories without domestic already in place, or at least promised. The other market is the $12m and under, the more traditional independent film market, more speciality films or genre films, that buyers can still come onto at a level without the domestic strategy being in place.
DEADLINE: What kind of projects are working in the market right now?
FOX: Honestly, it's the stuff that always has worked. The larger budget, more commercial action, fun, popcorn type movies.
BUTAN: You still need a good script and a director.
MARAVAL: And a good concept.
FOX: Absolutely. Shit doesn't work. That is 100% true. Maybe the marker used to be a bit lower, it's certainly higher now. On the more speciality stuff, really specialized, interesting material that we see pop up in the fourth quarter every year — there's always a market for that.
Phil Mccarten/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock Phil Mccarten/Invision/AP/Shutterstock
BUTAN: Two examples: we have the Gerard Butler movie [ The Plane] in this market which is going bonkers, we have everybody offering on it everywhere. It's an expensive movie but it's a high-concept action movie that works in every territory around the world. When that happens, you think, 'Why aren't we doing this all the time?' But they're hard to put together. The flip side is we have this movie in post-production called What Is Life Worth. It's a sub-$15m Michael Keaton drama with a brilliant Black List script that has sold pretty widely with no domestic in place. People read it and thought it was a special one. Those are two areas that really work.
FOX: One thing that's very different, there's no such thing as a 'piece of business' anymore. There used to be such a strong ancillary business but that doesn't exist anymore. Nobody says [a movie] is just a 'piece of business'.
BUTAN: Vincent has also had movies with the likes of Jacques Audiard, those special directors always break through.
MARAVAL: At one stage people needed quantity, they would take the middle range just to fill their line up, now they just want exceptional projects.
DEADLINE: Are there any territories that are working particularly well at the moment for sales?
MARAVAL: Asia is good. China is in a weird moment, it's hard to say. The structure of that market is not so solid, a lot of people were paying expensive prices for films and now they are wondering what to do next.
DEADLINE: What about foreign-language films? Capernaum, which Wild Bunch sold to China [to local distrib Road Pictures], was a phenomenal success in the territory this year.
MARAVAL: China has become a very big territory for international films, the number one for some. That's the other side of the trade war, as they were buying fewer U.S. films they were buying more international films. We have been lucky at Wild Bunch to have Capernaum and Shoplifters, it was a great year, does it mean it will become a rule? I'm not sure.
DEADLINE: Where's the Euro business at right now?
MARAVAL: The main issue today is that we moved from a local pay-TV model to a worldwide streaming model. Most European distributors were relying on pay-TV, that value was the key to proposing an MG, and as that business is suffering from the competition of the platforms we are now in a period of transition and reorganisation. There's still a theatrical market, admissions are not going down, it's stable.
So far, it doesn't look like the European market has found the right business model [for the future]. Europe is looking for a way, quotas on the streaming services will create a business inside Europe, if Disney+ is required to get 20% of its content from Europe, that's good news. Netflix is investing a lot in foreign language. But it's science fiction to try to know what will happen.
DEADLINE: How's AFM shaping up?
FOX: It certainly feels more robust than the last couple of years, it seems like there are interesting things, but we'll see in a week.
DEADLINE: What's your take on how the AFM has changed in recent years?
BUTAN: The way this market has been for the last few years is, Kim will send a script out worldwide, and within 36 hours I know, deep down in my soul, if we're screwed or not [laughs]. On the ones that are going to work, offers start coming in pretty quickly.
FOX: That started happening a fair amount of time ago. When I started out, you'd go to a market, meet everyone in the first four days, and start closing deals after. It's been close to a decade now where you start closing deals immediately.
BUTAN: It's smartphones.
FOX: I think buyers are panicked now if they get on a plane and they haven't already bought a couple of things.
FOX: Markets are still important because both ourselves and distributors look at it as 'a month'. They have a budget, they know they're going to buy some movies and fill part of their slate. If we didn't have markets, we wouldn't have that drive where everyone is competing at the same time and it would become lackadaisical.
American Film Market
DEADLINE: Do we think the big deals will come back this year?
FOX: Honestly, I do. We just handled a film for Miramax [ The Gentlemen] over the last year and the sales have been fantastic over the course of three markets, you can point to that and say that there's still a dynamic business here.
BUTAN: If distributors believe in a film's theatrical potential, the business is very good. The problem is if they're worried about theatrical it's very bad. That film Kim is referring to didn't pre-sell, but then we showed up at Berlin with a promo reel and the world sold out within a day or two. From our point of view, the biggest challenge on the right projects is figuring out how to get them made. With the pre-sales business not as strong as it used to be, getting them to that place is harder than it has been in the past.
DEADLINE: Any plans to expand the company?
BUTAN: We've just been through a pretty big expansion. We brought Adapted Studios in May [the LA-based film and TV production outfit behind HBO's Project Greenlight], they had raised a lot of money over the last few years, bought and developed a ton of IP, so we acquired that library. We're now putting a lot more effort and focus into developing projects, and we also hired a TV person [Scott Emmer, formerly of AT&T's Audience Network] to focus on that, we have a show with Hulu, and another one we're in negotiations on now.
DEADLINE: Is TV a planned growth area?
BUTAN: Yeah. So many of the stories we like to tell have now migrated to television. Outside of the $12m-and-under and the $30m-and-over spaces, that stuff in between is more being told in hourly formats now.
DEADLINE: You work on quite a lot of agency packages, do you have any formal tie-ups?
BUTAN: There's nothing exclusive. We're all friends with each other and it comes down to who you trust, and if you're an agent who do you trust to execute and be honest about a project's potential?
MARAVAL:We work with most of the agencies.
DEADLINE: Has the WGA dispute impacted you?
BUTAN: A little bit. It's been challenging mostly on the TV stuff. Television is 100% driven by writers, you call up the agents we have relationships with looking for writers, you forget that they're not doing their business right now so you have to go to their managers instead.
DEADLINE: Is MadRiver able to draw on funds to finance?
BUTAN: In a limited way we do.
DEADLINE: Is that MGs or do you have the capacity to take equity?
BUTAN: It's case specific, it's not our primary business, but we can plug holes [in budgets].
The Boys executive producer Seth Rogen recently promised that the Amazon Prime series’ second season would be “better” and more outrageous, and it certainly looks like the show has upped the bloody ante, but not all is going as planned with production. The superhero-skewering series, which prided itself upon only cutting one scene from its first season and marketed itself partially upon a bulge, apparently went too far while plotting and preparing to shoot an ultra-violent scene in Toronto.
The series hoped to film on Wednseday a scene including 450 people in Mel Lastman Square, not far from where a 2018 van attack took place against civilians on Yonge Street, killing 10 people and injuring over a dozen more. Toronto Councillor John Filion declared that the scene would have been “disrespectful” and likely result in “people literally re-living those events.” From the Toronto Sun:
According to the production company’s description, it would unfold as follows: “One of the rogue superheroes attacks the crowd. There will be people screaming and running in the scene as well as a considerable amount of fake blood.”
“I flipped out,” said Filion. “There are people who work in this building, who went out onto Yonge St. to try to help the van attack victims - many of them are still traumatized. And think about the families and loved ones of those victims. So I made some phone calls and that second portion was cancelled.”
The outlet adds further word from City of Toronto spokesperson Brad Ross, who revealed that nearby residents had complained about the planned scene. Meanwhile, 26-year-old Alek Minassian stands charged of multiple first-degree murder and attempted murder counts, less than two years after the attack. Obviously, this tragedy is still very fresh in people’s minds, but Amazon Studios hasn’t issued an official statement on the matter as of yet, so clarification may be forthcoming.
In the relatively recent progress toward portraying authentic trans lives onscreen, trans men have often gotten the short end of the stick. Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, and Janet Mock have made great strides for trans visibility, and done it with grace and strength. “Pose,” “Tangerine,” “Euphoria,” and “Transparent” gave young trans feminine people a diverse array of role models and examples. Trans male characters have popped up on TV much more recently, but so far their presence has had a smaller impact. “Man Made,” a documentary about four trans men training for a trans bodybuilding competition out on VOD this week, won’t tip the scales heavily in the other direction, but it’s a poignant and worthy addition to the growing trans film canon.
The other distinction that sets “Man Made” apart is its director, T Cooper, a trans filmmaker and producer who has written for TV shows “The Blacklist” and Baz Luhrmann’s ill-fated “The Get Down.” While allyship is almost always a good thing, too many films about the trans experience lack a meaningful trans perspective behind the camera, a blind spot that inevitably filters into the final product.
In the film’s emotional peaks, the guys openly discuss such vulnerable topics as transition, parenting, relationships, family, and body image. Their vulnerability in these moments, which is the film’s greatest strength, is undoubtedly inspired by the fact of shared experience with the person behind the camera asking the questions. It is these tender emotional moments that distinguish “Man Made” from the slew of trans documentaries coming down the pipeline, and help it transcend its otherwise formulaic narrative structure.
Cooper speaks volumes with the film’s casting, which represents the broad spectrum of trans identity in its various forms. There’s Dominic, the bright-eyed adoptee going who invites Cooper’s camera crew into his top surgery. A rapper with a supportive girlfriend, he is the most outgoing and charismatic of the characters. A tearful reunion with his birth mother provides a more holistic view of his story.
Rese is a parent in a cross-gender relationship with a loving trans woman. Though he eventually finds housing with his beautiful trans family, he represents the scores of trans people who become homeless after coming out. Kennie is at the beginning stages of transition, and dealing with the possible dissolution of his relationship. He throws a gender reveal party the day he takes his first shot of testosterone, and his lesbian-identified partner worries she won’t be attracted to him once he grows a beard. Her presence in the film would feel problematic were it not for Cooper’s perspective and gentle questions.
Of the four subjects, Mason is the most binary in his gender presentation. A lightweight who has competed stealth in mainstream bodybuilding competitions, his muscles bulge out from underneath his worn-out Indigo Girls t-shirt. Estranged from his parents, his wife and mother-in-law support his hobby, even if it does seem “a little obsessive” to them at times.
In one of the film’s most shocking reveals, a pre-transition Mason appears in 2000’s Ellen DeGeneres comedy special “The Beginning.” During an audience Q&A following the show, DeGeneres calls on Mason with a “yes, sir” and he corrects her with “ma’am.” After falling dramatically to the stage floor in shame, Ellen listens intently to Mason’s tearful words of gratitude for helping him come out. When he finally finishes, after choking back tears, she gestures for him to come greet her and the two share a poignant embrace.
It’s a famous moment for fans of the lesbian comedian, and seeing Mason’s baby face amongst her fans somehow epitomizes the awkwardness and complexity of transition. The lesbian community is not always welcoming to trans men, but many trans men were once proud lesbians see: Indigo Girls t-shirt. Suddenly his story feels bigger than just Mason, bigger than trans bodybuilding, bigger than “Man Made” — it’s a vital thread in the colorful fabric of queer culture.
Of course, Cooper understands all of this or he wouldn’t have included the clip, just as he understands the importance of turning the camera around on himself periodically. For any filmmaker, stepping into frame is an act of vulnerability, truth-seeking, and an attempt to connect. Cooper’s brief moments onscreen — like when he gets emotional after Dominic sees his new chest for the first time, or steps into frame to help adjust a binder — breathe authenticity and life into “Man Made.”
Journeyman Pictures will release “Man Made” across all VOD platforms worldwide on Thursday, November 7.
Aside from star Robert Pattinson whose workout routine is with the same trainer who prepared Keanu Reeves for John Wick, The Batman is boasting a who’s who of actors and actresses in its sizeable supporting cast. This includes, as far as we know, Paul Dano as the Riddler, Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, and Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon. Per a new report from Deadline, however, it seems writer and director Matt Reeves’ cast is about to get even bigger.
It seems none other than Colin Farrell, who previously faced off with prior Batman actor Ben Affleck in 2003’s Daredevil movie, is in talks to play the Penguin. Should the Irish actor decide to take part in the production, he will “round out the trio of villains” that already includes Kravitz’s Selina Kyle and Dano’s Edward Nashton - the latter being a riff on the Riddler’s original name, Edward Nygma.
Seeing as how Farrell is still “in talks” for the part, however, his casting isn’t necessarily a done deal. Previously, Jonah Hill took part in a series of long negotiations for one of the two male villain roles. He ultimately dropped out of consideration, prompting rumors that frequent collaborator Seth Rogen might replace him as the Penguin, though this obviously hasn’t happened. Previous live-action versions of the character include Danny DeVito’s performance in 1992’s Batman Returns and Robin Lord Taylor’s take on FOX’s Gotham series.
Following online criticism over the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's decision to disqualify Nigeria's first International Feature Film submission, Genevieve Nnaji's Lionheart, co-chair of the International Feature Film executive committee Larry Karaszewski has responded, calling the situation “less of a controversy, and more of a misunderstanding.”
Academy rules for the category stipulate that “the recording of the original dialogue track as well as the completed picture must be predominantly in a language or languages other than English.” Lionheart's 95-minute running time is understood to contain a little more than 11 minutes which are not in English.
Nevertheless, when word began to spread that the film had been deemed ineligible, names including Ava DuVernay took to Twitter to question the ruling. DuVernay commented, “English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring the country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?”
While the name change of the category this year, from Best Foreign Language Film to Best International Feature Film, perhaps lends itself to some confusion - since it excised the words “foreign language” - the rules have remained the same. There is a track record of eligible submissions from countries such as the UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada which are not in the English language.
The fact that the regulations have not changed has been clearly communicated to the submitting committees in overseas markets. Says Karaszewski, “We changed the title of the award, but made it clear the rules remain the same.”
He allows there may have been a “misconception,” but says, “If you're submitting for something as important as an Academy Award, I would think you should look at the rules.” Still, he allows, “there are no bad intentions on either side. We would love a film from this country and for it to be part of the process.” An appeals process this year, however, would fall too far after the fact given the submission deadline was October 1.
The Nigerian committee that selects the country's Oscar submission told Bloomberg that “Going forward, the committee intends to submit films which are predominantly foreign language - non-English recording dialogue.”
Karaszewski says, “We are trying to be as global as we can. We opened Phase II voting of this category this year to all members. We are not looking to make things ineligible. I don't think this film was disqualified as much as it was ineligible… It's not a dismissal. It's not like we didn't like the movie, but it would be unfair to other films to not adhere to the rules.”
The last high-profile film to be disqualified for not meeting the language requirement was the 2007 Israeli film The Band's Visit, which had more than 50% English dialogue.
Netflix acquired Lionheart ahead of its debut at the 2018 Toronto Film Festival and it was one of 93 films officially submitted to the Oscars this year. The Academy published its list of the 93 on October 7. However, typically this list is compiled of the submitting countries which have been vetted for country of origin purposes, but not yet in all cases screened for content ie, language requirements.
Nkem Owoh, Pete Edochie and Onyeka Onwenu star in Lionheart, about a woman Nnaji who steps up to the challenge when her father is forced to take a step back from running the family's company due to health issues. He appoints his crude and eccentric brother to run the company with her, and complications arise when they discover the business is in dire financial straits and both try to save it in their own way with divergent results. The pic is currently streaming on Netflix.
The Academy will announce an International Feature Film shortlist in December. Along with the new category name it formerly was Best Foreign Language Film, other changes in the category this year include the shortlist moving to 10 films up from nine, with seven selected from the committee currently viewing all 93 entries, and three “saves” selected by the executive committee.
Five finalists will be selected for the Oscar nominations which will be announced January 13.