Oscar Predictions: You Hurt My Feelings

Director Nicole Holofcener reunites with her Enough Said star Julia Louis-Dreyfus for You Hurt My Feelings, which has screened at Sundance. The comedy is drawing satisfactory notices in Utah with a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Look for distributor A24 to mount an awards campaign as the year rolls along.

Enough Said was able to nab Louis-Dreyfus a Golden Globe Best Actress nod in Musical/Comedy and that could certainly occur again. She stands the best chance among costars that include Tobias Menzies, David Cross, Amber Tamblyn, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, and Owen Teague.

Holofcener is already an Academy nominee for cowriting the adapted screenplay for 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? I wouldn’t count on a second writing mention. While critics are being kind, this has the feel of a Globe Predictions post with its lead’s chances. My Oscar Predictions posts will continue…

The Last Duel Review

Sword fights abound literally and figuratively in Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, which finds the legendary director covering familiar red stained territory in a unique storytelling format. Based on a true incident that transpired in late 14th century France, Good Will Hunting scribes Matt Damon and Ben Affleck collaborate with Nicole Holofcener for this three tiered tale of a tragic crime mixed with a touch of black comedy. It explores the horrors of machismo at a time when women were seen as property by the standards of thought and law. The most fascinating aspect of the film (and most appalling) is that the three principals may truly believe they’re the victim, including two that should not.

Shot in gray with a focus on grey areas, Duel is fashioned into triangular chapters (from a novel by Eric Jager). Each outlines the plot from these perspectives: Jean de Carrouges (Damon), who fancies himself a brave and noble knight; the philandering squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) who has the ear of the authoritative and even more philandering Count Pierre d’Alencon (Affleck); and Jean’s educated and strong wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer). Jean and Marguerite’s marriage is one of convenience and real estate opportunities for the former. He also desires a male heir that Marguerite has yet to produce. Jacques, meanwhile, has access to influence that Jean doesn’t possess. When he becomes smitten with his friend’s bride, the power dynamic turns more dangerous.

An accusation of rape is made in an era when most women didn’t dare do so (made clear in a potent monologue by Jean’s emotionally barren mother played by Harriet Walter). 600 plus years ago, that meant Jean and Jacques would participate in the picture’s title if a trial permitted it (and allow for Scott to play in some Gladiator type set pieces). Where the screenplay derives some humor is that the two leading men seem convinced that they are the aggrieved party and are oblivious to the damage inflicted on Marguerite. As nearly every male character is given a chance to bask in his laurels, we detect plenty of side eyes from the women around them. I suspect those sharp edges come courtesy of Holofcener’s script portions.

The Last Duel is fueled by Comer’s central performance as a victim who spoke up centuries before hashtags existed. The struggles to hold her perpetrator responsible are both centuries old and of today. Didn’t she remark that he was attractive? Maybe her no was a yes and she enjoyed it. Damon and especially Driver add sturdy support and Affleck commands the screen in his relatively brief runtime (once you get past the odd looking wigs).

The chaptered structure is occasionally repetitive. However, by the time the literal swordplay commences, the time spent with the trio builds a sense of genuine tension. Marguerite will be punished by a grisly death unless Jacques succeeds. In other words, her words mean little and she must rely on her husband to determine whether her time is up. That’s the wound that cuts the deepest as we await their fates.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Predictions: The Last Duel

The Venice Film Festival is wrapping up and it has done so with a big debut in Ridley Scott’s medieval drama The Last Duel. The first of two Oscar contenders from Scott in 2021 (the other is the forthcoming House of Gucci), Duel was seen as the lesser of the duo when it comes to awards prospects.

That has turned out to be accurate based on the Italian buzz. Duel stands at 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. As generally expected, I wouldn’t anticipate Scott’s epic (out October 15) to factor into Best Picture, Director, or its Adapted Screenplay from Nicole Holofcener. Nor do I believe much attention will be paid to its trio of male leads (Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Adam Driver). The latter will have another at bat for Gucci or possibly Annette in the lead Actor derby.

Jodie Comer, an Emmy winner for Killing Eve and recently seen in the hit Free Guy, has always been looked at as the real hopeful in Actress. Comer is getting the best reviews of the cast. She could sneak in, but I suspect her race could be quite competitive and she’s probably on the outside looking in. One of her strongest competitors might be Lady Gaga from (you guessed it) Gucci. That’s in addition to the already in Kristin Stewart (Spencer) and numerous others.

Duel could play in some technical races like Production and Costume Design or Sound. However, any hopes of a Gladiator like run at the Oscars (Scott’s 2000 Best Picture winning epic) has been thwarted in Venice. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Movie Review

The makers of Can You Ever Forgive Me? have more affection for its central character than she has for anyone other than her beloved cat. Director Marielle Heller and screenwriters Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty succeed in not making that decision seem like a forgery as they delve into what made Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) behave that way. Based on a true story, Lee is a New York loner in the early 1990s. She’s a writer of biographies whose best work is in the rear view. Her exasperated agent (Jane Curtin) advises her to explore other career paths.

That’s not in the cards for Lee. When she sells a handwritten note from her former subject Katherine Hepburn to go on the collectibles circuit, it dawns on her that it’s easy money. Unfortunately for her, she doesn’t have other pricey artifacts from celebrities lying around. So she forges them. The letters come from Noël Coward and Dorothy Parker, among others. This allows her to pay the rent. It also allows her a creative writing exercise that scratches her itch.

Lee’s partner in crime is Jack (Richard E. Grant), an aging and flamboyant drug dealer who gets through life due to his bright blue eyes. They share a love of alcohol and a lack of empathy for others. They never fully trust one another. Yet Jack comes closer to actually being liked occasionally by Lee over anything other than the feline persuasion.

We’ve seen how strong of an actress McCarthy can be, especially with her Oscar nominated turn in Bridesmaids. Her slew of headlining comedies that followed have sometimes wasted her talents. This is a different story. While there’s plenty of sardonic humor sprinkled throughout, this is her most dramatic turn. Lee is an unpleasant person to be around. Because of McCarthy’s considerable talents, she’s definitely not unpleasant to watch. She’s matched in quality by Grant, who’s terrific.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is unique in that it doesn’t paint a criminal that’s particularly regretful of her actions. After all, it gives her a way to knock out any pesky writer’s block. The screenplay is clever in not over explaining Lee. We eventually see that much of her behavior comes from a deep place of loneliness. It’s telling that she only seems capable of focusing on subjects she never knew who came from a different era that she considers better. She can’t connect with potential women who could be partners or really anyone else. Lee does find a connection with Coward and Parker and makes their missives more entertaining. If only that kind of thing wasn’t illegal. However, it gives Lee Israel one final fascinating tale. And it’s at last about her.

***1/2 (out of four)