Ian Floodgate: We come to that time of year again where there are many films being touted as awards contenders and one of those is First Man. Director Damien Chazelle seems to have built quite a fanbase since Whiplash was released four years ago. It looks like his popularity may increase further with this story of Neil Armstrong’s aspirational mission to be the first person to land on the moon. However, this is not only the first time Chazelle has taken on a project he has not written, but also the first film of his that does not revolve around a musician so I am intrigued to see how he employs his style as he has incorporated musical elements into his previous films very well. I’m also pleased to see him working with one of my one of my favourite actors again in Ryan Gosling. I enjoy how well he emotes without the need for dialogue; I find him a very compelling performer and I think Gosling and Chazelle are a great partnership.
Ben McDonald: I would definitely consider myself in the Damien Chazelle fanbase you mentioned, having seen Whiplash at least five times and La La Land twice in theaters. That being said, I’m admittedly a little wary of First Man. Early reviews have indicated that his common motif of “the price of success” carries into this film, and while I thought he tackled that theme remarkably well in both of his previous works, I’m afraid it could become tired a third time around. The sudden shift from music and jazz to the space race is also a little concerning to me personally, as is his absence from the writing credit. Even so, a Gosling performance is almost always a highlight of the year, and this third film from Chazelle could very well come to solidify his success as a rising director.
Ian: I agree, as much as it is intriguing to see what Chazelle does with First Man it would be disappointing to see him only limited to “the price of success” stories, though there have been reviews that have praised the vision shown in the grit and determination given by a person in order to succeed. This was something that stood out for me in Whiplash with the sheer sweat and tears Miles Teller shed in his performance.
Ben: With this month loaded in high-profile releases, it’s nigh impossible to choose just one I’m looking forward to the most, but Luca Guadagnino‘s Suspiria is surely close to the top of my list. A self-described “homage” to Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film of the same name, Suspiria continues the resurgence we’ve been seeing with witchcraft in arthouse horror, this time set in a Berlin dance academy. Having not seen the original, I have to say that the marketing alone for this film has been outstanding. I remember seeing articles as early as last year about how unrelentingly disturbing certain scenes in this film are (allegedly even sending its lead Dakota Johnson into therapy), and as a horror junkie myself, nothing is more appealing than a thorough scare.
The film has an interesting cast of Johnson, Tilda Swinton, and Mia Goth, to name a few. Radiohead singer Thom Yorke scored the film, becoming the second in the band to enter the world of film scoring (after their ridiculously talented guitarist Jonny Greenwood). Despite all this anticipation, Suspiria received mixed reviews at Venice and Toronto, with our own Rebecca Fisher-Jackson calling it “lavish” but with a “lengthy runtime and reliance on body horror”. I’m somewhat unsurprised given arthouse horror’s divisiveness with audiences and critics alike, and I’m still eager to see it. How about you Ian?
Ian: I’m not the biggest horror fan but I am pleased to see contemporary auteurs tackling the genre as this entices me to watch more horror films, including Suspiria. Some of the elements that are involved with the film that you’ve mentioned like the score and setting within the dance industry are appealing to me. Black Swan is one of my favourite films and the stylization of it, particularly with the use of horror traits and the way Darren Aronofsky creates an impending sense of doom and distress for the protagonist are elements that help the film excel. If Suspiria emulates this in any way then I’m definitely up for it.
I agree the cast of Suspiria is an interesting mix particularly the casting of Dakota Johnson. I know Luca Guadagnino has worked with her previously on A Bigger Splash but it will interesting to see how she shapes her career after being a part of a Hollywood franchise. I’m also curious to see how Guadagnino handles his latest effort after the success of Call Me By Your Name. He has been wanting to make his “homage” to the original film as he calls it, and I am intrigued to see how he transitions from a coming-of-age drama to a horror.
One of the films I am really looking to seeing this month is Wildlife. It will be interesting to see how Paul Dano handles his directorial debut and I have enjoyed his performances as an actor. This film sees him once again working with his off-screen partner Zoe Kazan who wrote the screenplay which is adapted from Richard Ford‘s novel of the same name. It tells the story of a marriage break up in the 1960s from the point of view of their teenage son. I’m particularly drawn to seeing the central performances from Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal. Both seem to choose their projects wisely and I find that their work is often underrated especially Gyllenhaal’s. From what I’ve seen in the trailers his performance in Wildlife could draw strong empathy from audiences.
Ben: I’m not sure why, but there seems to be a greater than usual influx of actors trying their hand in the director chair lately. Ethan Hawke with Blaze, Bradley Cooper with A Star is Born, and now Paul Dano with Wildlife. I always find films directed by actors fascinating. They obviously tend to allow performances drive their films, and Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal are both stunning performers to place in such a structure. Bill Camp is also on the cast, one of my favorite supporting actors right now. He has an incredibly dynamic screen presence especially for a supporting role, and I always am pleasantly surprised when I see him pop up in something. You may have seen him in last year’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer, or on HBO in The Night Of and The Leftovers. Wildlife has received some quality buzz in film festival circuits, and I’m really hoping to see Paul Dano emerge as a strong directorial voice.
Ian: Another film that is drawing attention for its acting performances is Felix Van Groeningen‘s Beautiful Boy. The film is based on David Sheff‘s memoir about how he and his family dealt with his son Nic’s meth addiction. The father and son are played by Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet who have both previously been nominated for an Oscar and this project could see them being nominated once more. Carell has been taking on more dramatic roles in recent years. Ever since he played John Du Pont in Foxcatcher, the industry has begun to see he has more to offer than just comedic performances, and at only twenty-two years of age, Timothée Chalamet looks to have a bright future ahead of him as an actor after shooting to prominence for his turn in Call Me By Your Name. Beautiful Boy looks like a film that has given him the chance to showcase his talent yet again.
Ben: I think the make-or-break of this film is without a doubt going to be the performances. Like you said, Steve Carell is proving to be capable of taking on more somber roles than Michael Scott, and it seems like Chalamet has been appearing in just about every indie release the past two years. Though Chalamet demonstrated in Call Me By Your Name that he is one of the most talented young stars today, I think the next few years will be crucial for his career. Playing a drug-addicted teenager has got to be a pretty demanding role to fill, but we’ll have to wait and see how he fares. Early reviews from Toronto seem to indicate both he and Carell deliver, so I’m hopeful for the film.
I may have slightly lied before when I said I’m not looking forward to one particular film the most this month. There is one film that I’ve had on my mind almost constantly since I got back from Cannes in May, and that’s Lee Chang-dong‘s Burning, which sees a limited New York opening late this month before a somewhat wider release in November. Starring Yoo Ah-in, Jeon Jong-seo, and Korean-American actor Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Sorry to Bother You), Burning is Lee’s first film in eight years after 2010’s Poetry. The film is based on the short story ‘Barn Burning‘ by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, and centers around a young man (played by Yoo) who becomes increasingly obsessed when an old childhood friend (Jeon) disappears after introducing him to her suave but enigmatic new friend Ben (Yeun).
I’ve got to say, Burning has probably been my favorite film I’ve seen all year. It’s a dense and ambiguous psychological thriller, shot and scored with an impeccably muted resentment, and features some equally magnificent performances. South Korea has submitted Burning as their Best Foreign Language Film nominee, and with this primetime awards season distribution, I’m desperately hoping for it to pick up some Oscars attention.
Ian: Ever since you came back from Cannes and spoke about Burning I must admit I’ve been intrigued by this film. I don’t know much about the cast and crew behind it, but from what footage I have seen it looks a compelling piece of drama. Some of the cinematography looks fascinating, particularly shots that focus in on the protagonist Lee Jong-Su (Yoo Ah-in). I admire filmmakers who are able to invite the audience into the thoughts of the film’s characters and this looks like something writer/director Lee Chang-dong has done with Burning. I agree I am expecting it to be a strong contender for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about all of this month’s films as we approach awards season.