Predictions for 2011’s Best Picture nominees

I’ve always found it funny to look back at articles like these. I originally wrote this prediction for The Triangle in July 2010. As someone who pays attention to the Oscars year-round and year after year, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about them, but seeing as I was pretty far off on a couple of my predictions, maybe I should re-consider this type of looking into the future… well, at least I got 5 out of the 10 predictions right. All things considered, doing that six months before the 2011 Oscars wasn’t bad.

February 2011 may seem like a long, long time away, but that doesn’t mean Oscar season hasn’t kicked into gear. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences just this week announced three new electees to their Board of Governors, including recent Oscar-winner, director Kathryn Bigelow and the next Oscars ceremony’s producers, Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer – thankfully, no Adam Shankman this year – have already been announced. Along with that news, rumors over who will host (Ricky Gervais anybody?) and a possible move to January have Oscar-watchers like myself fully occupied. So as ludicrous as it may seem, it’s never too early to make some bold predictions as to which 10 films will receive Best Picture nominations.

Many people view the Cannes Film Festival as the kick-off point for the awards circuit, as a host of big name directors premiere their films there. The truth is that the famous French film festival does not produce many “Oscar movies.” After last year’s festival, few films held onto their buzz into awards season aside from Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”

The case will likely be the same this year; however, there were two films that must be considered contenders. One was Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Biutiful.” The filmmaker premiered “Babel” at Cannes four years ago, and although the film failed to sweep away audiences, Inarritu may stand a better chance with his new film, starring Javier Bardem, who tied for Best Actor honors this year at Cannes. The better bet: “Another Year” from six-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh. The suburban dramedy stars Jim Broadbent and Lesley Manville in roles that are sure to land them in the Best Actor/Actress race when it’s released this December.

Traditionally, summer blockbusters don’t end up factoring into the Oscar race; however, with 10 Best Picture nominees, films like “District 9” and “Up” were able to squeeze a nomination. This year, “Toy Story 3” has managed to surpass audiences’ expectations and may be the first animated film to stand a chance at winning Best Picture. Also, although it hasn’t been released, “Inception” may be a contender as well. The film looks to be nothing short of mind-blowing and director Christopher Nolan is a hot commodity after his success with “The Dark Knight.”

Well-respected directors with recent Oscar recognition return with new films this year. Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem For A Dream,” “The Wrestler”) is set to put Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman into competition for Best Actress for “Black Swan” and David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) will be releasing “The Social Network,” a film about the founding of Facebook, later this year as well. Additionally, Aaron Schneider, who hasn’t directed a film since he won Best Live Action Short for “Two Soldiers” in 2004, returns to the screen with “Get Low,” which promises to give Bill Murray and Robert Duvall chances at Oscar glory. These films could be strong contenders, not just for Best Picture nominations, but for categories like acting, writing, cinematography and editing as well.

There are also filmmakers who are hoping to find Academy Award recognition for the first time in 2010. David O. Russell (“Three Kings,” “I Heart Huckabees”) is releasing his first film in six years with “The Fighter,” for which both Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale seem to be major acting contenders. Director/Producer Edward Zwick’s romantic comedy “Love and Other Drugs” about a salesman in the cutthroat world of male enhancement drugs will likely be a contender if the reviews are favorable when it’s released this November. Also, Tony Goldwyn’s film about Betty Anne Waters, “Conviction,” could bring Hilary Swank her third Oscar and finally give Sam Rockwell the awards recognition he’s long deserved.

Men directed all of the preceding films; it would be a disservice not to recognize the contenders directed by women, since Bigelow became the first female to win Best Director with Oscar 2010 favorite “The Hurt Locker.” Another candidate is Lisa Cholodenko: Her film “The Kids Are All Right,” starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, is about lesbian parents and their two kids who finally meet the man that donated the sperm. We’ll see how it is received when it goes into release this weekend. Hollywood royalty Sofia Coppola has a film titled “Somewhere” set to be released at the end of 2010, starring Benicio Del Toro as an actor who re-examines his life when surprised by a visit from his 11-year-old daughter. Perhaps other female-headed projects will emerge as well, just as “The Hurt Locker” surprised many with its success.

So which 10 films will be nominated? Bet on “Toy Story 3” and “Inception;” those films will be too big to ignore. You can also bet on “Another Year” and “The Social Network,” as the buzz on them will be too good to deny. Don’t be surprised if “The Fighter” and “Love & Other Drugs” get nominations, as their directors are trying hard for them. Pete Weir has been nominated six times, and now that he’s doing a war film, “The Way Back,” he’ll likely be nominated again. “Conviction” looks to be this year’s standout drama. I doubt the Academy is tired of George Clooney, so “The American,” which Clooney is starring in, should receive a nomination. Also, the latest Coen Brothers film “True Grit” will likely be in the running, as the Coen Brothers are perennial Oscar favorites.

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The Highest Grossing Female Director is… who?

Here’s a piece I wrote for Entertainment University Online towards the tail end of the summer.

It’s no secret that there are fewer female directors than male directors in Hollywood. That story was one that was covered from many angles two years ago when Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director; however, a recent broken record sheds even more insight on this conundrum.

This summer director Jennifer Yuh Nelson has recently become the highest grossing female director of all-time. Her new film, Kung Fu Panda 2, has climbed its way to over $650 million worldwide and into the all-time Top 50 in worldwide gross.  This strong performance is despite a relatively underwhelming showing domestically, where KFP2 earned $50 million less than the original’s $215.4 million. However, Jennifer Yuh Nelson managed to become the most successful female director after only releasing one feature film!

Nelson passed Phyllida Lloyd’s $609.8 million mark from Mamma Mia, which is notable because now the top 2 highest grossing female directors have had only one film in wide release each.  This is in contrast to the top grossing male directors (Spielberg, Zemeckis and Lucas) whom have all made a slew of films. More prolific female directors like Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, Julie & Julia), Penny Marshall (Big, A League of Their Own) and even Katherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, and more regrettably Twilight) haven’t had a worldwide hit on the level of films like Mamma Mia and now Kung Fu Panda 2, so their combined gross still cannot match Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s benchmark. That being said, without another film currently lined up, Nelson will probably lose her status as the highest grossing female director once Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady (starring Meryl Streep) is released, or if another prolific female director’s next film proves to be a big hit.

Nelson’s statement from the press release read, “I am humbled and happy that audiences around the world continue to respond to the story and characters in Kung Fu Panda 2. No animated movie gets made without a huge team of people so I want to offer my sincere thanks and shared congratulations to all of the talented inspiring artists who worked with me on the movie.”

Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s achievement is also notable because she became the first female to helm an animated film by herself. Vicky Jenson, who remains the leader in domestic gross for a female director, co-directed Shrek (with Andrew Adamson), which made $267 million back in 2000. Nelson will remain the only female to directed an animated film by herself for a while longer, as Brenda Chapman was fired from Pixar’s Brave earlier this year.

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Evans gains fame in Capt. America

I was part of a conference call interview with actor Chris Evans prior to the summer release of Captain America. This, the resulting article, was originally published in the June 3rd, 2011 issue of The Triangle.

Captain America is one of Marvel’s most iconic characters, first appearing in comics 70 years ago; however, only now is Capt. finally making the leap to a blockbuster summer movie. The upcoming film, Captain America: The First Avenger, based off of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s serial, will not be released until July 22nd, but its star, Chris Evans, is already hot on the press circuit hyping up this impending release.

Evans, in his Captain America costume

Evans, who rose to prominence in the early aughts after starring roles in films like Not Another Teen Movie and Cellular, has a lot of expectations riding on him as he attempts to carry the famous shield which means so much to so many comic book readers. It’s a responsibility he understands well, “at the end of the day, you’re making the movie for the fans. These movies wouldn’t get made if there wasn’t a built-in fanbase. They just wouldn’t. So at the end of the day, your loyalty is to the people who are passionate about these comic books, so you want to make sure that they’re happy, first and foremost.”

This loyalty to the fans is not something that Chris Evans took lightly. Evans spoke to how some of his research involved reading, “as many comic books as possible… You have to get a sense of who the fans are expecting to see, who they have in their head as far as Captain America is concerned.” He then took this background knowledge and used it to inform his performance, because even Evans attests that “at the end of the day…you’re making the script that’s given to you.”

Chris Evans also spoke at length to the quality of those talented individuals around him. Aside from calling Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones “two of the sweetest guys on the planet,” he praised director Joe Johnston for his ability to make the film a collaborative process, rather than one in which the director calls all of the shots. Evans saved his highest praise for the man playing his nemesis, Hugo Weaving. “Hugo has a presence. You know, it’s his face; it’s his voice; it’s his body. Everything about Hugo belongs on film.”

Even with all that talent behind him, Evans still had his doubts. In fact, he admits that the first time he saw himself dressed as Captain America he thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” He continued, “You know, it was pretty intimidating when you first put the suit on. I think I was still a little apprehensive at that time… I agreed to do the movie, but with a lot of nerve. And I think the first time I put the suit on, it was a mixture.”

For Chris Evans, the film serves as a bit of a culminating point in a career that has seen him rise to this level of stardom. The actor’s had his experience being a supporting character in a big superhero film (when he played Johnny Storm/Human Torch in Marvel’s Fantastic Four), as well as experience in smaller indies (like Puncture which just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival), but Captain America puts him front and center in a large-scale film.

“In Fantastic Four, they only want to talk to Jessica Alba, which is perfect for me, because if I had my way, I’d never say anything. This movie, it’s a lot more demand as far as promotion is concerned, which is- it’s scary… I struggle with it at times… But Fantastic Four certainly helped break me in to understand the amount that was expected.”

Evans expanded on the differences between doing a blockbuster film and a smaller production by saying, “when you’re on a big film, it’s a tedious process… a lot of waiting around, and it’s a lot of camera angles, and it’s long set-up times. Smaller films, there’s obviously a time crunch… and it’s much faster pace. I think on a smaller film you end up going home and feeling a bit more like – a bit more like you made a movie. You know, on a big movie, it’s a lot of hurry up and wait. On a small film, you come home and you say, man, I really – I really worked today.”

Still, the actor remains unfazed by the success, no matter how “crazy” it may seem. “I think if it had all happened overnight, it’d be crazy… if I showed up in LA and in the first month I booked some huge movie and, in a year I had an action figure, I think it would have maybe been too much to swallow. But I’ve had a very gradual career, where little things have happened slowly over time to the point where once there’s an action figure, you’re like, oh, OK, that’s – I guess that’s next, and that’s – you know, it’s kind of crazy.”

On the film, “I really think it’s about who Captain America is. That’s kind of why I like doing the film. He’s just – he’s got these indestructible values. You know, he doesn’t do the right thing for anybody. He’s not doing it to be praised. He’s not doing it for rewards. He’s doing it because it’s the right thing, and that’s – that’s a really commendable way to live life. And I think that’s something we can all aspire to. Captain America: The First Avenger opens nationwide on July 22nd, starring Chris Evans as Steve Rodgers aka Captain America.

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Tigerblood-infused TV Ratings & Charlie Sheen’s Future

This article originally appeared in the September 23rd issue of The Triangle under the title “Charlie Sheen makes a comeback.” Something that I basically wrote on a whim, without much thought, immediately became my most read article with my history at The Triangle, garnering 1000s of views (apparently). In the future I’ll be sure to devote more of my coverage to drug-addled tv stars and their effect on the American TV landscape.

The Charlie Sheen effect was in full force Monday night, helping deliver record ratings to more than one channel. After Sheen seized control of entertainment news headlines with his well-documented and extremely tumultuous exit from Two and a Half Men, most people wondered what would be the fate of the star and his hit sitcom. And despite the seeming Sheen-fatigue that settled in around the time of his “Violent Torpedo of Truth” tour, this week’s Nielsen ratings seem to indicate that America still has an interest in the story.

In the first episode of the post-Sheen era, Two and a Half Men posted a series high with a total of 28 million viewers tuning in. Sheen’s replacement, Ashton Kutcher, played a heartbroken billionaire and got a good response to the start of his tenure on the show. Despite this change, the occasionally womanizing nature of the show remained in tact, as Kutcher’s character was part of a threesome by the episode’s end. The season premiere also featured a funeral for the Charlie Harper character, who was described as dying like an “exploding meat balloon.”

The Men season premiere had the highest ratings of any sitcom since the series finale of Everybody Loves Raymond drew 32 million viewers in 2005. The episode drew fewer people than last May’s American Idol finale (29 million viewers), but whereas Idol scored a 9.2 rating amongst adults 18 to 49, Men had a massive 10.3 rating. Men’s ratings were so strong that the 2 Broke Girls series premiere immediately afterward lost 40% of the Men audience and yet still managed to become the highest rated series premiere since NBC’s short-lived 2001 series Inside Schwartz.

Later that night, the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen scored the cable channel its highest ratings in almost 3 years. The broadcast, hosted by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, brought in 6.4 million viewers and an impressive 4.5 rating in adults 18-49, far above the 3.5 million and 2.2 ratings for the Roast of Donald Trump earlier this year. In fact, the Roast of Charlie Sheen had the 2nd highest ratings in Comedy Central’s history, more than the 6.2 million who tuned in for the Roast of Jeff Foxworthy in 2005, and only falling short of the 6.8 million viewers that watched ventriloquist Jeff Dunham’s 2008 Christmas Special.

The high Roast ratings come amidst a substantial image rehabilitation attempt by Sheen and his people. In an effort to clean up the oft-troubled star’s perception, Sheen laid low for a couple months before agreeing to present Best Actor in a Comedy Series at last weekend’s Emmy awards. He showed up clean-shaven and coherent, a drastic change from the Twitter-friendly ramblings he was noted for earlier this year.  The star even posed for a photo backstage with Ashton Kutcher and wished the newest Two and a Half Men actor good luck through his infamous Twitter account.

This image revamp comes on the heels of Lionsgate TV announcing their plans to develop a sitcom around Charlie Sheen, based on the 2003 Adam Sandler/Jack Nicholson comedy Anger Management (Sheen would play the Nicholson role of the crazy counselor). Months ago, it was hard to imagine a network taking the risk of hiring a drugged-up actor with a $125 million lawsuit against Warner Bros. TV hanging over him. But now, as Sheen seems close to a $25 million settlement with WBTV, Lionsgate has begun preparations to shop their Sheen series to the various channels. The actor appears to be clean and professional, the type of person that a studio executive would be willing to make a commitment to. With veteran show-runner Bruce Helford (The Drew Carey Show, George Lopez) now attached to the project, an Anger Management sitcom starring Charlie Sheen seems like a significantly more realistic proposition than when the news first surfaced.

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Where Soldiers Come From (review)

I was recently able to catch up with Where Soldiers Come From at the 20th annual Philadelphia Film Festival. My review of the documentary is up on Entertainment University Online, but I’ve included it below for WMWT readers, too.

When noting the casualties of war, the statistics typically referenced are those killed or physically harmed in battle. The experience for countless others is one that takes a greater toll on mental health than physical well-being. In Where Soldiers Come From, three childhood friends from a small town in Northern Michigan suffer the psychological damage from a 4-year tour searching for IEDs in Afghanistan.

This documentary from director Heather Courtney begins with Bodi, Cole and Dom as lively 19 and 20 year olds out of high school. When one friend chooses to sign up for the National Guard, the others follow suit, and soon all are shipped overseas. Their job is to be the first in the field, driving their well-armored tanks in search of bombs planted in the Afghani roadsides. The cameras planted inside of these tanks document much of the film.

Courtney doesn’t use a great deal of cinematic flair, allowing the story to be told in a stark manner. Aside from one musical montage of the men searching for IEDs to the tune of Nappy Roots’ “Good Day,” it’s hard to find an overt directorial/editorial touch on the movie. Consequentially, the transformation of the documentary’s subjects from their young selves into disillusioned 20-somethings happens quietly and without warning.

A particular moment features Dom returning home to his family after his tank was blown to the side of the road and he sustained a concussion. As his family gathers around the computer to look at pictures of the smoldering machinery, an uncle tells the young soldier he’s lucky to have gotten out in one piece. And in the young man’s hesitation to respond we can clearly see that “lucky” isn’t a word that he would use to describe his experience.

By allowing these raw moments to unfold without interruption, Heather Courtney creates a layer of sadness that hangs over the entire run time. The young men who decided the National Guard was better than being bored post-graduates feel the consequences of their quick decision taking a greater and greater toll over the course of their 4-year deployment. By the end of their time in the military, they are all changed men; they’re unhappy and short-tempered, unable to move past the frustrations and head injuries sustained in combat.

Winner of the Grand Jury prize for Best Documentary at the recent Philadelphia Film Festival, Where Soldiers Come From is a subtly effective anti-war statement that is less about the greater implications of war and more about the effect that war has on a person’s livelihood. The young men in this movie not only are plucked from their enjoyable lives in Northern Michigan, but are then thrust back into it, unable to properly transition back into the real world with little help from the National Guard. What the documentary ultimately accomplishes is explaining what happens to a solider. The film is available now, online, through PBS.

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TV Gets Gayer

I have an editor at the Triangle who takes my articles with stupid titles like the one above, and changes them to things that sound thought-out, such as “Television turns fabulous with variety of new shows.” This originally ran the week of October 21st in The Triangle — I’ve included it below.

In lieu of recent hits like Glee and Modern Family embracing gays and gay culture, rather than using homosexuals for the punchlines to bad jokes, it seems as if the majors TV networks are ready to “get gayer” with some of their recent pilot pickups. Announcements from NBC and HBO indicate that there will be an increasing amount of guys who like guys and girls who like girls on TV screens come next year.

Ryan Murphy

Glee-creator Ryan Murphy, whom is gay himself, has apparently landed one of the most lucrative deals of the season after selling his new half-hour project to NBC. Murphy will direct and co-write the upcoming show with Allison Adler (Chuck, No Ordinary Family), a lesbian with whom Murphy has worked with in the past. Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva writes that the new half-hour show is a, “heartwarming comedy about a blended family of a gay couple and the woman who becomes a surrogate to help them start a family.”

The single-camera project is said to be based on Murphy’s and Adler’s real-life experiences with trying to have or start a family. The show will be Murphy’s first venture into half-hour programming, as his previous creations (FX’s Nip/Tuck and the new American Horror Story) are all hour-longs. Despite the gay characters at this sitcom’s core, the sale came after a three way bidding war in which NBC won out over Fox, the network that already airs Murphy’s Glee, and ABC, the home of Modern Family.

Also reaching a deal to develop gay-friendly material: HBO and Oscar-nominated lesbian writer/director Lisa Cholodenko. The filmmaker is set to turn her hit The Kids Are All Right into an hour-long series for the premium cable network. The show will reportedly follow the continuing story of a same-sex couple, their son and daughter, and their estranged sperm donor “father.” The film starred Julianne Moore, Annette Benning, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska, and Mark Ruffalo in those roles, respectively, although sense would indicate that those film stars wouldn’t reprise their roles for TV.

Fans of the film version will likely be pleased to learn about the pick-up, considering that so much was left hanging at the conclusion of the film (particularly what ultimately became of Ruffalo’s character). HBO seems like the perfect outlet for a series version of The Kids Are All Right since the film showed its characters’ relationships in a stark and raw manner (with cursing and nudity abound). Cholodenko has already worked with HBO in the past, directing an episode of Hung last year and an episode of Six Feet Under during the show’s first season in 2001. And HBO is no stranger to gay content, with homosexuality playing a prominent role in some of their hit shows, like Six Feet Under and True Blood.

News like this is a further indication of American TV audiences coming to terms with homosexuality. Whereas in the past, shows like Ellen and The L Word were noteworthy because of their inclusion of gay storylines integral to the plot, simply having a gay character on TV is no longer headline material. Nowadays, the public seems to react in the opposite way. Fans have even championed on screen affection between gay characters, such as the kiss between Chris Colfer and Darren Criss on Glee, and the mini-controversy over Modern Family’s gay couple, Cam and Mitchell, not locking lips at all during the show’s first season (a grievance that was amended by the second season episode “The Kiss”).

For 22 years, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has awarded the television networks and shows that have “outstanding images of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community,” awarding Fox, HBO, and the show True Blood last year. Now, it seems as if we’re approaching an era in which GLAAD’s acknowledgement may not be necessary in order to spotlight that community. As more and more of Hollywood gets behind the idea that the casual American TV watcher is as comfortable watching a gay couple as they would be watching a straight couple, entertainment will continue to become a friendlier place for homosexuals both in front of the camera and behind it.

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Elizabeth Olsen shines in psychological thriller

This is a piece I originally wrote for The Triangle on October 28th of this year. For my radio show, Pretentious Film Majors, I had the opportunity to speak with director Sean Durkin and actress Elizabeth Olsen about their new film Martha Marcy May Marlene. It always appreciate when the opportunity to speak to people about a movie I actually genuinely thoroughly enjoyed. My article (and a photo of me with Sean & Elizabeth) is included below.

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From left to right, director Sean Durkin and actress Elizabeth Olsen of Martha Marcy May Marlene, me, and Chris Blondell, one of my fellow Pretentious Film Majors

On the morning of August 23rd, actress Elizabeth Olsen and writer/director Sean Durkin of the new film Martha Marcy May Marlene awoke in Philadelphia, not knowing their day of press interviews was going to be interrupted by the first earthquake to hit our city in years.

“Earthquakes don’t happen on this part of the country!” Olsen noted, in a bit of post-earthquake shock. The younger sister of famous twins Mary Kate & Ashley, Elizabeth, or “Lizzie,” grew up in The San Fernando Valley, where these tremors are a more regular occurrence. “I mean [earthquakes are] like my biggest fear. I slept in my sister’s room for 2 years after the ’94 earthquake in Los Angeles.”

Even the much more reserved Sean Durkin seemed spooked. He’s an NYU graduate who founded his own production company with three friends upon graduating. With this movie, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Durkin and Borderline Films are making their debut feature-length (as is their star, Olsen). Before any questions are asked, he comments how he’s not sure whether or not the room is still shaking. “If you guys can’t tell I’m a paranoid person. You saw the movie.” Sean’s comment sends Lizzie into hysterical laughter before adding, “Me too!”

This ominous note made for a not so awkward transition to their new film. A movie more unsettling than that day’s events, Martha is about young woman that flees an abusive cult but can’t shake her painful memories; however, you won’t catch the filmmaker calling the “family” at the center of his movie a “cult.” He began, “I think “cult” is a narrow word and has a lot of connotations that… come with a lot of judgment. Not that this group shouldn’t be judged, obviously… Just that it’s too narrow and… we wanted to stay away from stereotypes and create something that was real and specific.”

The movie’s story is told partly in a linear way, showing what happens to its lead character, Martha (Olsen), after she escapes the cult and moves in with her estranged sister (Sarah Paulson) and the sister’s husband (Hugh Dancy). This linear storyline is intercut with flashbacks that take Martha back to her time with her previous “family,” a group young men and women that live together on a farm run by the very creepy Patrick (John Hawkes). It was a script that Olsen, who previously had no real screen credits, jumped at the opportunity to take part in.

“There are two different things I reacted to, the first being I really loved the non-linear narrative… I loved the way the story was told… and then, I really just loved Martha, and I thought I understood her and I had a lot of compassion for her… it was just a role you don’t get to read when you read scripts, especially where I was because I was completely an unknown.”

The film’s loose structure and refusal to quickly dispense information about the enigmatic Martha character were carefully calculated decisions by its creator Sean Durkin. The writer/director’s research for the project brought him to interview someone who had escaped a violent group. He said, “She didn’t remember anything from that time… except two things: she lied to everybody about where she’d been, and she remembered she was paranoid that she saw him everywhere.” It was this element of paranoia and that state of confusion that lead Durkin to try and replicate the feeling for the film, “[It] became the center of everything. So, the structure, the way it’s shot, the way you don’t know what space we’re in at times… it’s all made to enhance that central idea of creating Martha’s experience.”

A non-linear timeline means that the characters’ headspace may be completely different from one scene to the next, which provided a challenge for Lizzie, the only actress whose character jumps back and forth during the film. Although she noted not knowing what was going to happen when first reading the script allowed her to enjoy feeling like an audience member, when it came time to shoot the movie, the young actress was committed to being well prepared.

She explained, “The first thing I did when I found out I got the job was I just, like, drew actual timelines and I drew two different arcs, and I just had to structure it as specific as possible for myself, so that I had a guide… I always had the scenes we were doing and a piece of paper on top the night before and I would write everything that affects that scene.”

The performance that Olsen ends up delivering is completely captivating, mysterious and powerful. So much lingers just beneath the surface of this movie, and it’s demonstrated through the restraint adopted by the film’s lead performers who are all doing some strong work. With a talented cast all performing at high levels, it makes Durkin’s job a lot easier.

“My biggest concern would be that, before I had Lizze, that the actress that played Martha… would have to work really hard to discover this character and translate it to film,” the director said. “It ended up being totally hands off. She came prepared, we didn’t do a lot of prep and she just approached it with a lot of ease.”

The Olsen/Durkin pairing seems like a natural and effective partnership. Although both are relative novices to the film industry, they carry themselves like seasoned veterans and consummate professionals. It’s clear that both the actress and the filmmaker are fresh voices working at a very high level, and their combined skill is truly on display in Fox Searchlight’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. The film’s already opened in New York and Los Angeles, where its $34,413/per theater gross was more than double Paranormal Activity 3’s take last weekend. The movie now expands and it makes its debut here in Philadelphia this weekend at the Ritz Five theater. A completely chilling and engrossing thriller, this movie is a must watch and one of the best of 2011.

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