Oscar Watch: Wasp Network

French director Olivier Assayas has flirted with Oscar attention before in titles such as Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper. Some of that awards chatter for both of them focused on the work of Kristen Stewart, but it never came to fruition.

His latest is the Stewart free Wasp Network which follows a group of Cuban spies in 1990s Miami. The cast includes Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramirez, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Ana de Armas. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival over the weekend to mixed results with IndieWire deeming it a misfire.

Assayas is certainly a filmmaker with a critical following, but it appears Wasp will not fly onto the radar screen of Academy voters. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-iTbAyV7VWo

Oscar Watch: Non-Fiction

NonFiction is the latest release from writer/director Olivier Assayas and it’s my latest Oscar Watch post coming from the Venice Film Festival. The pic is said to be a departure from the French filmmaker’s recent fare like Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper. More of a comedic effort, Guillaume Canet and Juliette Binoche star and reviews from Italy indicate another critical darling for Assayas.

However, strong critical reaction hasn’t translated into Oscar nominations previously for the auteur and that is likely to be the case here. Kristen Stewart received career best reviews for Clouds and Shopper and Academy voters didn’t notice. This will need to break out in a huge way stateside for any chance at recognition.

Bottom line: NonFiction is probably a non-starter in the biggest awards derby.

Personal Shopper Movie Review

A mashup of ghost story, exploration of grief, and psychological thriller, Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper ultimately achieves the word that doubles as its overall theme. It’s haunting and features a showcase performance for Kristen Stewart, who inhabits every nearly every frame of this experience.

She plays Maureen, who spends her hours picking up designer clothing and jewelry in Paris and other locales for her famous boss Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), a royal pain in the rear who seems to be famous for just being famous. Maureen doesn’t like her occupation, but she’s also occupied by another storyline that makes her stay. Her twin brother Lewis has recently died from a heart defect that she shares. Brother Lewis was a medium and she fancies herself as somewhat of one too. Maureen stays in his expansive old house as she waits for a sign from him that he promised would materialize.

There is supernatural activity, but it’s not exactly what Maureen anticipates. And just when you think Shopper might go full ghost tale, it switches into something else. Our central character begins receiving mysterious texts from an unknown caller that are flirty, threatening, and exhilarating to her. It provides Maureen with a bizarrely exciting way to think of something other than her miserable job and grief over Lewis.

An entire middle section of Personal Shopper is solely focused on these texts. I didn’t know until now that such activity could be as thrilling as it is here. Those three little dots cause Maureen and the audience to go through a range of emotions as we await this person’s (or is it a ghost?) next move.

Shopper is mostly unpredictable as it shifts genres with little warning. The thriller aspect contains some elements you may see coming as far as certain character’s motivations, but it’s always followed by the unexpected. The ending leaves room for interpretation and I found myself happily going through its possibilities in my head.

The picture wouldn’t succeed without Stewart’s fine performance. She has to carry it considering her constant screentime. If an actor can convincingly convey an array of feelings in a brief period of time when her primary acting partner is an iPhone, that’s good work. And Personal Shopper is stylish, spooky, and sexy.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Personal Shopper

The French psychologist thriller Personal Shopper from director Olivier Assayas has hit domestic theaters in limited release this weekend. It was nearly a year ago that eyeballs first saw it at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016. Assayas was honored with the Best Director Award, which he shared with another filmmaker.

Now that stateside audiences are getting a look at it, the buzz for its star Kristen Stewart is increasing. Many critics are calling it her finest work. She plays the title character – an American working for a celebrity in Paris in this pic said to have supernatural overtones. Shopper stands at 78% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Stewart has worked with Assayas before in Clouds of Sils Maria, which also whipped up some chatter for an Academy nod for the actress. It didn’t pan out then and may not here, but look for her name to be in the mix as the months roll along.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…