Conversation: Summer Movies
Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday joined us by phone to discuss the strong roster of films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and, as we kick off the season this holiday weekend, what we can expect and look forward to in theaters this summer.
A transcript is after the jump.
JEFFREY BROWN: Welcome once again to Art Beat. I’m Jeffrey Brown and joining me today, once again, is film critic for the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday. Welcome back.
ANN HORNADAY: Thank you, Jeff.
JEFFREY BROWN: So Ann, speaking of welcome back, you just got back from Cannes, where there was news on- and off-screen this year. Do you want to take the responsible approach and talk about on-screen first?
ANN HORNADAY: There always seems to be a little bit of a continuity between the two, but on screen I have to say I went away really encouraged. It was one of those years where, I think, we all agreed the movies were really strong. The most amazing thing was that they were strong even though they were incredibly diverse. I mean, we had big events, like the Terrence Malick film, ‘The Tree of Life.’
JEFFREY BROWN: Which won the top honors, right?
ANN HORNADAY: Which won the top honor, the Palme D’Or. A huge ambitious epic that’s dealing with sort of— On the microcosmic side, it’s dealing with a family life in 1950s Texas, and then is just sort of switches gears into this sort of cosmic inquiry into the origins of the universe. And of course, because you’re Terry Malick, you know, you can pretty much pull it off. I had a few quibbles with it, but it was an absolute trip and experience.
JEFFREY BROWN: Let me just ask you about him for a second because he’s such a mystery man. You know, people just know that he makes a movie about every five or seven years, and they get a lot of attention. Does he himself ever appear? Have you ever had a chance to talk to him or know what he’s like?
ANN HORNADAY: I actually met him socially a few years ago at the AFI in Silver Spring and he’s an utterly delightful person and he’s not strange in any way, you know. And he was there, he did show up for the premiere, and he came to support the film, but what he won’t do is press. He just doesn’t do interviews with journalists regarding his films. And it’s just a policy that he’s stuck with all his career. And partly I think it’s sincere, in that I think he really does feel like he’s made the movie and he shouldn’t be involved in the selling of it. But it’s also been a very canny move, because it’s created this myth around him.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
ANN HORNADAY: In a way he gets more hype for not showing up to press things than if he did.
JEFFREY BROWN: Exactly:
ANN HORNADAY: So it’s worked for him in both ways. Oddly, you know, you had Brad Pitt who is the star of the movie and also produced it. He was really the main spokesperson for the movie, and he did the press and he did the press conference, and he was the one kind of, you know, doing the hustling.
JEFFREY BROWN: He’s willing to do the press, right.
ANN HORNADAY: Yes, exactly.
JEFFREY BROWN: Another thing you wrote about the other day in the Post was the noticeable number of women filmmakers.
ANN HORNADAY: Yeah. Yeah, I mean we were all — or at least, I know, most of the women last year – were really disappointed that there was not one female director featured in the competition. So maybe in response to that, they upped the number to four women competing this year. I think probably the most talked about film was Lynn Ramsey’s adaptation of the novel ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin,’ which amongst — and I’m one of them — but amongst its partisans, it’s a fiercely cherished book. And those of us who are fans of the book were sort of holding our breath hoping that she didn’t mess it up and she didn’t. I mean she really has created a movie all of her own. And Tilda Swinton plays the lead role of this mother who’s confronted with a child that she just does not bond with, and then kind of lives through the ramifications of that psychological distancing throughout his childhood. It’s a very difficult movie, it’s not a happy story, but it’s a really superbly crafted film, and at the end of the festival, the little distributor Oscilloscope announced it would be picking that movie up. And they’ve done things like ‘Wendy and Lucy,’ they’ve done ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ this year. They are sort of good at taking these little movies and sort of showing them life. So I’m glad it has a safe birth and we’ll be seeing this later this year, I think.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now get to the off-screen business. Lars Von Trier, the strange ramble that ended up with him saying, I’m a Nazi, got him in a lot of trouble. Tell us from being there of that whole kerfuffle.
ANN HORNADAY: It was really too bad because his movie, ‘Melancholia,’ was really warmly received by critics and by the journalists who were there at the press screening. And his last movie, ‘Antichrist,’ was not quite so warmly received. So he was coming on the heels of another ambitious piece of work dealing with some sort of supernatural cosmic issues. A very fine lead performance by Kirsten Dunst, who got the award for best actress at the festival. And he went right into the press conference and was doing great, and then I think it was just a combination of nervousness and he just didn’t know when to stop. But he started sort of rambling on about how he identified as a Jewish person, because I think at one point he had some Jewish heritage in his family, and then he found he had a Nazi link in his family. And I think in all honestly, it just went awry. And I will say, being in the room at the time, I mean, it was so clearly a product of him being nervous.
JEFFREY BROWN: You say nervous. You were talking about Terrence Malick before, the sort of canny approach where he doesn’t talk. Von Trier has the opposite reputation of being sort of a provocateur and getting a lot of attention for himself.
ANN HORNADAY: Yeah, definitely, but I just didn’t get the feeling that he was doing it — I mean, it was more of a kind of misguided attempt at humor. I had spoken with him when he brought “Antichrist” a couple of years ago. I met him and he said the same things about Hitler and at that time, and I took it this way, too, this time, what he meant was you can even see the humanity there, and that it’s at our peril that we don’t, when we kind demonize these people into just monsters we’re able to distance ourselves with the wickedness that all people are capable of. I honestly do think that is the spirit in which he intended it.
JEFFREY BROWN: It didn’t go over well now did it?
ANN HORNADAY: No. But in the room at the time I have to say I didn’t pick up on people taking issue with it. It was not until later that I actually went to a screening and then came back, and by that time the festival had issued an apology, he had issued an apology and then it kind of snowballed. So I kind of got the feeling that it had actually taken on a life outside of the room, because in the room I did not pick up on that much consternation.
JEFFREY BROWN: So now you are back, now you are looking at what’s out there and what’s to come. Is it an exciting summer season? Is it that summer blockbuster model we’ve talked about in the past?
ANN HORNADAY: I think I read somewhere that this is a record number of sequels this summer to huge blockbusters. There is just a huge, huge numbers with the number two and three and four after them. We’ve already seen ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ which did not open as strongly as they thought it would. We have ‘The Hangover 2’ coming out this week, which I personally felt was a pretty weak movie. ‘Transformers’ is coming out soon. We have a lot of 3D movies. Again, “Pirates” did not do as well in 3D as I think they were hoping, so again there is some doubt to whether maybe 3D is the magic bullet that people thought it was. Lots of super hero movies. We have ‘Green Lantern,’ we have another ‘X-Men’ movie, we have ‘Captain America,’ so you know it just looks more blockbustery than ever, but then as always you have these sort of little ones that they bring out in order to counter-program. There is a lovely little film opening next week or in a couple weeks called “‘Beginners’“http://youtu.be/rXUFUp6vsxg by Mike Mills, which stars Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer. It’s about a young man whose father comes out of the closet at an elderly age. The young man is kind of coping with that new information and also embarking on a romance himself. It’s just a really lovely meditation on parenthood and love. The one I’m the most curious about is this little comedy called ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ with Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling. I have my fingers crossed. I think that’s the one that I pin most of my hopes on.
JEFFREY BROWN: And just one more, the one that’s out now, ‘Bridesmaids.’ Did you like that?
ANN HORNADAY: Yeah, and you know, I was a fan of that. It’s sort of taking the raunchy comedy over to the female side, and I think we’ve all be waiting for the Judd Apatow movie that would —
JEFFREY BROWN: — couldn’t wait for it to flip genders.
ANN HORNADAY: Exactly. That would do for women what he’s done for guys, and that has been I think so far, that’s the bona fide surprise hit of the summer. They were definitely not expecting it to do as well as it did. It’s really gratifying to see the female version of that can do well. And it bodes really well for films that are geared toward female audiences, but I really maintain that’s for men and women. I think everybody is having a blast with that movie.
JEFFREY BROWN: Ok, Ann Hornaday with Washington Post, nice to talk to you again.
ANN HORNADAY: Thank you, Jeff.
JEFFREY BROWN: And thank you for joining us on Art Beat. I’m Jeffrey Brown.