Dec 30, 2015


1. Rooney Mara, Carol
2. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
3. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
4. Charleze Theron, Mad Max Fury Road
5. Brie Larson, Room
6. Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
7. Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy
8. Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
9. Ian McKellen, Mr Holmes
10. Amy Schumer, Trainwreck

Dec 22, 2015


Hail, Caesar! — Coens (Jan) The Witch — Eggars  (Feb) Triple 9 — Hillcoat, C. Affleck Knight of Cups — Malick, Bale (MarchMidnight Special  Jeff Nichols, Dunst, Shannon (March) Green Room — Yeltsin, Poots (March) Demolition— Vallee, Watts Gyllenhaal (April) Everybody Wants Some —  Richard Linklater (April) The Jungle Book — Favreau (April) Snowden — Stone, Gordon-Levitt (May) The Nice Guys — Black, Crowe, Gosling (May) Maggie's Plan — Hawke, Gerwig, Moore (Sony, May) Finding Dory — (Stanton, Pixar, June) The BFG — Spielberg, Rylance  (July) Ghostbusters — Feig (July) La La Land — Chazelle, Gosling, Stone (July) Untitled Fifth Bourne Film — Greengrass, Damon (July) The Accountant — Affleck, Simmons (Oct) Live by Night — Lehan, Affleck (Oct) Dr Strange — Cumberbatch (Nov) Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk — Lee, Stewart (Nov) The Great Wall — Yimou, Damon (Nov) The Founder — Keaton (Nov) Rogue One — Edwards, Weitz, Jones (Dec) Sing — McConnaughey, Witherspoon (Dec) Avatar 2 — Cameron (TBA) Silence — Scorsese, Neeson (TBA) Untitled Howard Hughes Film — Beatty (TBA) The Book of Henry  —(Trevorrow, Focus, TBA) Creative Control — (Amazon, TBA) The Light Between OceansCianfrance, Vicander, Fassbender ( TBA) Untitled Woody Allen Film — Allen, Willis (TBA) Gold (d: Stephen Gaghan) Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll. Love And Friendship (d: Whit Stillman) Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny.  Una (d: Benedict Andrews)  Rooney Mara American Honey (d: Andrea Arnold)  Arielle Holmes, Shia LaBeouf.   American Pastoral (d: Ewan MacGregor).  Ewan MacGregor, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Connelly. Loving (d: Jeff Nichols)  Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon.  Jackie (d: Pablo Larraín) Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard, John Hurt. Certain Women (d: Kelly Reichardt) Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams. The Neon Demon (d: Nicolas Winding Refn) Elle Fanning, Bella Heathcoate, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks. 20th Century Women (d: Mike Mills) Elle Fanning, Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup.  True Crimes (d: Alexandros Avranas). Jim Carrey, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Shopper (d: Olivier Assayas)  Kristen Stewart, Nora von Waldstätten, Lars Eidinger.  Manchester By The Sea (d: Kenneth Lonergan). Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler. Wiener-Dog (d: Todd Solondz). Greta Gerwig, Zosia Mamet, Kieran Culkin, Julie Delpy, Danny DeVito, Ellen BurstynThe Circle (d: James Ponsoldt) Emma Watson, John Boyega, Tom Hanks, Patton OswaltMiss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiars (d: Tim Burton), Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Judi Dench, Samuel L. Jackson.  A United Kingdom (d: Amma Asante) David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike.   

Dec 19, 2015


'Let’s get verdicts out of the way: Star Wars Episode VII; The Force Awakens is probably the best in the series since The Empire Strikes Back. It is first-rate entertainment, fast and funny, yet filled with the prickly sense of fate a saga like this needs, and also surprisingly moving. Indeed, Abrams is pretty much peerless in channeling our collective warmth for past pop culture. He has made five films so far — Mission Impossible 3, Star Trek, Star Trek 2: Into Darkness, Super 8 and now this — two sequels, two reboots and one homage to his mentor Steven Spielberg. His hit reel is a mass of other’s mens copyrights. Somewhere between a remixer and a cover artist, he is expert at smuggling his virtues into the pre-existing grooves of other’s formats and franchises. And yet you know a J J Abrams movie when you see it — the dynamic framing, the unfakeable sense of pep and optimism, the fascination with mystery-box plots in which characters stumble out of aliases and into their true vocation. The identity crisis of multi-taskers: it’s a very Abrams theme. It’s the theme, too, of The Force Awakens, which is full of track-switchers,  unexpected alliances, reinventions, sudden reveals.  The experience of watching the film is a fascinatingly novel one, almost uncanny, in the true sense of the word: to see life breathed into elements so familiar  bordering on the eerie, like seeing a puppet move by itself. It’s magic in its purest form. Here they all are, all the old tropes: The sand planet. The hot-shot pilot. The father set against son. The opportunist who may or may not grow a conscience. But all seen from pleasingly unfamiliar angles. Lucas pretty much exhausted the typology of planets — ice, water, snow, desert — so Abrams wisely seeks out new contexts for the key pieces of eye candy: light sabres in rain,  x-wings churning up spray over a lake, the Millennium Falcon skimming sand, an Imperial battle destroyers rusting in the desert. He’s a master defamiliariser.' — from my review for Intelligent Life

BEST FILMS of 2015

1. Carol
2. Brooklyn
3. Bridge of Spies
4. The Revenant
5. The Big Short
6. Son of Saul
7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
8the Look of Silence
9. Anomalisa
10. Mad Max: Fury Road


'Dressed in his customary Blundstone boots, dark navy jeans, and plaid shirt,  Abrams is a boyish 49-year-old, with a curly high-rise of Zeppo Marx hair, a bulbous nose, black spectacles, and a quick darting intelligence that doesn't need to dominate the room. The offices of most movie directors are mausoleums to their reputation — slightly anonymous places to stash their awards and posters — but Abrams’s office, on the second floor of his production company Bad Robot, in Santa Monica, instead burst with his enthusiasms. “Are you ready?” asks a brass placard above the buzzer. Inside, guests are invited to wait in a foyer surrounded on three sides loaded to capacity with with toys, magic tricks, movie cameras and memorabilia —  the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Star Trek, Star Wars, Flash Gordon  Godzilla,; an original Planet of the Apes ape-head prosthesis, collector’s-edition dolls from  The Twilight Zone, a stack of board games:  Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Mission: Impossible. The whole space, with its frosted glass and gunship metal spiral staircase, rather resembles a 15-year-old boy’s bedroom, as given a makeover by Philipe Stark. “No, seriously, it really is his bedroom when he was 15” says actor and childhood friend Greg Grunberg who has appeared in many of his movies,  and has known Abrams since he was a chubby, bespectacled kid,  filling his bedroom in suburban Brentwood with magic tricks, clay models and   homemade prosthetics, shooting movies on Super 8 in which he subjected his sister Tracy to zombie attack and alien abduction.    “He was always trying to figure out how this was done. How did he do that, how did he do this. It was exciting to be around him, even when he was five and six.”  The corridors of Bad Robot are thronged with young, ethnically diverse staff, some wearing headsets, all working on the raft of movie projects and  TV series Abrams seems to be either directing, writing, or producing at any given moment.   “JJ does his best work when his back against the wall,” says Damon Lindolf, the show runner of  the Abrams co-created the TV series Lost which more of less defined binge-watching for the modern age. “If he's feeling comfortable, and relaxed he will manufacture events to put his back against the wall in order to generate his best work.  Just when you think he’s bitten off more than he can chew, he Indiana Joneses it.”” — from my interview for The Times

Dec 12, 2015


1. Ode — Nils Frahm
2. Should Have Known Better — Sufjian Stevens
3. Be The One — Dua Lipa
4. Grace — Clem Snide
5. Depreston — Courtney Barrett
6. Bros — Wolf Alice
7. Homecoming — Josh Ritter
8. No Room In Framce — Deathcab For Cutie
9. What Do You Mean? — Justin Bieber
10. Bad Blood – Ryan Adams

Dec 11, 2015


1. Carrie and Lowell — Sufjian Stevens
2. Strangers — RAC
3. Solo — Nils Frahm
4. My Love is Cool —Wolf Alice
5. Darling Arithmetic — Villagers
6. Pageant Material — Kacey Musgraves
7. Dead & Born & Grown — the Staves
8. Girls Come First — Clem Snide
9. Slowness — Outfit
10. Loyalty — The Weather Station 

Dec 5, 2015


'Alejandro Inarritu's The Revenant is a visceral, immersive man-against-the wilderness tale with full metaphysical reverb: Jack London by way of Terence Malick. It’s almost too much — too long, too brutal, too highflown —  but there is a long and glorious history of overreach at the cinema, from Erich Von Stroheim to Francis Ford Coppola, which has fallen into sad decline. Technically, our directors have never been better —  you can’t fault a Christopher Nolan or a J J Abrams for ingenuity, or spectacle. Nor can anyone doubt the wormy, forensic allure of a David Fincher or Darren Aronofsky film.  But our most inventive cinema is pulled off in the shadows, hidden well away from the big budgets and studio beancounters, so even the arthouse lacks risk. What we lack is a mad genius or two,  working in full public view and with the backing and resources of a studio, towards a personal vision that could combust at any point — auteur as icarus, movie as meteor.'— from my review for Intelligent Life

Oct 27, 2015

Attachment theory and the movie audience

'Great artists are not supposed to think of their audiences, of course — that is supposed to be one of the signs of their artistry. But film is a mass medium, which puts all filmmakers in a relationship of some sort with the audience, be it grudging, respectful, delighted, neglectful. In 1970, the American psychologist Mary Ainsworth, working off research by British  psychologist John Bowlby, devised something called the ‘Strange Situation’ test, designed to gauge the varieties of attachment between infant and their mothers. Infants between 12 and 18 months were placed with their mother in a small room, and observed through one-way glass.  Then, 
(1) A stranger joins mother and infant. (2) Mother leaves baby and stranger alone. (3) Mother returns and stranger leaves. (4) Mother leaves; infant left completely alone. (5) Stranger returns. (6) Mother returns and stranger leaves.
Ainsworth found infants falling into three categories. The first, which she characterized as having a ‘”secure” attachment style, were distressed when the mother left, avoided the stranger when alone, but were friendly when the mother was present, using her as a ‘base’ to explore their environment. This almost perfectly describes a hit-maker like Spielberg, whose films are an almost exact simulacrum of that mixture of safety and fear a child feels when it is scared, playfully, by a parent.  When he makes a film that doesn’t go over well with the public, like 1941, he tends to   internalise the public’s reaction (“I’ll spend the rest of my life disowning the movie,” he told The New York Times upon its release), but he also recovers quickly: 1941 was followed by Raiders of the Lost Ark. His confidence returned by that movie’s success, he was emboldened to tackle the “whisper from my childhood” E.T. In other words, Spielberg uses his public the way the secure infant uses his mother, as a safe base to launch further explorations. Bowlby and Ainsworth’s second category was “Ambivalent” Attachment. When the mother departs, this type of child is extremely distressed, avoids the stranger, showing fear, and then ambivalence when the mother returns, remaining close but resentful, maybe even pushing her away. This is Woody Allen, whose antennae to the conflicts between his own needs and those of his audience is acute.  “There’s no correlation between my taste and public taste,” he has said.  Indeed, in a variant on the old Groucho Marx gag, quoted in Annie Hall, about not wanting to join any club that would have him as a member, Allen often distrusts, or downgrades, any film of his that has gone over too well with the public —whether Annie Hall (“nothing special" ), Hannah and Her Sisters (“a film I feel I screwed up very badly”) or Manhattan (“they’re wrong”).  He is the infant who makes a show of turning its back on its mother as a show of independence.  The  third and final category was “Avoidant attachment”. The infants in this category showed no sign of distress when the mother left, was okay with the stranger, playing normally, but show little interest when the mother returns — maybe just a look or a smile — showing no preference between their mother, a stranger, or an empty room.  One thinks of a filmmaker like Kubrick, or the more austere end of the European arthouse — Lars Von Trier, Gaspar Noel, or Michael Haneke whose films, Funny Games, The Piano Player, Amour, intentionally put the audience through the grinder in their unflinching depiction of onscreen cruelty. There are no cutaways, no reaction shots, no judicious framing devices that give the audience an out, just the uneasy prospect of our own spectatorship, reflected back to us. “By its own nature, film is rape,” says Haneke. “You can't avoid it. Film is always about manipulation. The question is to what end for what purpose, especially when you come from a German language background. What is the purpose of my raping them? In my case, to make them aware of how they are being manipulated, to make that manipulation visible so that they can reflect on it and they can become independent and form their own perspective or opinion.  The film doesn't take place on the screen, the film takes place in the audience's mind. There's not a single film that I make, but there are as many films as there are viewers who watch them.”'  
From my piece about movie audiences for Intelligent Life

Oct 25, 2015


'“I suppose I had better get some clothes on,” says Erica Jong, flitting barefoot across the floors of her   Upper East Side apartment, whose living room has been temporarily taken over by the Times photographer and his assistant. Jong has spent the last 40 minutes having her hair and make-up done and is wearing in what appears to be a black negligee. “I could do the interview naked but one reaches a certain age,” she says. “I come from a very bohemian family. It bothers me not to all to walk around here naked... I honestly thing getting older is such a trip. I think we all go through a period of, ‘Oh my god, I have to pee all the time,’ or ‘Oh my god, my beloved is going phew, because he's taking medication,’ and the pharmaceutical companies are not our friend. If you get past that, and we all do get past it, we discover that beyond that rage, there is the best time of life.” This is slightly surprising, certainly delivered with more enthusiasm than her book, I tell her. It seems so full of rage against the dying of the light — ‘age rage,’ to use her own term.  “Look, I sit in California with my adorable nephew Zane who's a young actor. I look at him and I think, if I were 40 years younger I would jump on his bones. Wouldn't it be awful? It would be incest. He's my brother's son's kid. I'm not going to at on it. I'm not a lunatic, but I feel the pleasure of looking at a beautiful young man who is 15 years old. Why not? You feel. All your life you feel. I'm not interested in incest, by the way. It's not my thing. I'm not interested in B&B. Not my thing. I thought 50 Shades of Grey was appalling. An appalling piece of shit. Appalling. It wasn't even copy edited. Anastasia, she has an orgasm, she goes, ‘Holy cow!". I have never met a woman anywhere in the world who said, ‘Holy Cow’ when she had an orgasm. Or said, ‘Holy shit.’ Have you ever met a woman who said, ‘Holy shit? when she comes? I'd kick her out of bed.” And there, in that long, winding digression — candid, verging on scandalous, but packing a terrific comic sting — you pretty much have Erica Jong, feminism’s embarrassing aunt: the one who shows up to your 15th birthday and over shares about her sex-life. At 73, she is a formidable presence, a legendary voluptuary as adept at conquering with words as she is with her flesh, her  ballsy-broad manners brooking little interruption as she scoots from one train of thought to another,  her blue eyes blazing as she lest off one f-bomb after another. She’s like a cross between Gloria Swanson and Eddie Murphy. ' — from my interview for The Times Magazine

Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer

'So now we know. The Force has awoken. And it’s female. The third and possibly final trailer for the new Star Wars film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, dropped at 7:08 pm Pacific Standard Time on Monday night and planet earth went nuts. The trailer took just 23 minutes to hit 1 million views on Facebook, and within a couple of hours had generated 390,000 tweets, — that’s 17,000 tweets per minute, or “283 freak outs per second,” as the beancounters at Wired magazine calculated. The film hits theatres on December 18th, but fans for whom the rescuscitation of the Lucas space fantasy franchise amounts to nothing short of a reboot of their childhoods,  immediately fell to digesting every large morsel contained in the two-and-a-half-minute trailer, with its remix of familiar elements: stormtroopers on ice, Sith lords in rain,  TIE fighters in close combat, and  x-wings turn up spray over a lake. But the headline news for a saga that has always been seen as skewing overwhelmingly towards young boys: Star Wars has gone fem. “Who are you?” an off screen female voice  asks of British newcomer Daisy Ridley. “I’m no-one,” replies Ridley, which is Jedi screenwriting code for  “a no-one who is going to turn out to be a very big someone at some point in the story.” Ridley plays a character called Rey, a ship scavenger on the planet Jakku — a kind of intergalactic second-hand  car-dealer — who stumbles across the Millennium Falcon and its crew. “It’s true, all of it,” says the unmistakable gravelly tones of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. “The dark side, the Jedi, they’re real.” Even more telling, though, is the gender, and identity, of the woman instructing Ridley in the ways of the Force. “The Force, it’s calling to you,” says someone who sounds suspiciously like the twinkly-toned Carrie Fisher, “Just let it in” — a sentiment more commonly associated with conferences celebrating the earth-mother deity Gaia, or Wings-era Paul McCartney, than the clash of light-sabres or march of empires...' – from my piece for The Sunday Times

Oct 17, 2015

Woody Allen: A Retrospective reviews contd

“No American dramatist has done more to document the pleasures, pitfalls, and withdrawal pains of imagining the world other than it is,” Tom Shone writes in the text accompanying Woody Allen: A Retrospective, a luxuriant photo history of Allen’s work. “Dramatist,” as Shone knows—and amply demonstrates—could be replaced by “fabulist,” “comedian” or “auteur.” The singularity of Allen’s persona—the mussy hair and owlish spectacles, the mournful oblong face, the weirdly energised droopiness—obscures his protean nature, and the many stages he has restlessly passed through. The thread that connects Allen’s work is the vision of American city life as secret paradise, the site of conquest and ego-enriching romance rather of corrupting sin. It is a familiar theme for the American Jewish artist. Saul Bellow was a prince of the city. So was Norman Mailer. Woody Allen is a third... Shone rightly praises Zelig (1983), also done in the style of a documentary. Its hero is a chameleon-cipher who randomly moves through history, slipped into actual newsreel footage of the great (Babe Ruth, F Scott Fitzgerald) and the malignant (a Nazi rally)... Shone observes shrewdly that Zelig is heir to the great comedians of the silent era, “as voiceless as he is faceless… a silent ghost, unable to voice complaint or ‘kvetch’, only to mimic and please.” Ten years ago, I was in the audience when Allen was interviewed on stage by Janet Maslin, formerly the chief film reviewer for The New York Times, who at one point asked him to comment on comedies from Hollywood’s golden age. He was dismissive of many classics: Bringing up Baby and the collected gems of Preston Sturges were all stale rube jokes; Some Like It Hot was laboured female-drag. Whom did he like? Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Judy Holliday. The only humour that mattered, he said, was city humour. All his favourites come in city flavours: Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando." — Sam Tenenhaus, Prospect

On my iPod, Oct 17th: Outfit

1.  On The Water, In The Way — Outfit
2. Homecoming — Josh Ritter
3. 3AM — RAC
4. Bad Blood — Ryan Adams
5. What Do You Mean? — Justin Bieber
6. Automatic Part 1 — Jean-Michel Jarre and Vince Clarke
7. Souvenir – Orchestral Maneuvres in the Dark
8. E*MO*TION — Carly Rae Jespen
9. Majorette — Beach House
10. Feel You — Have You In My Wilderness 

QUOTE of the DAY: Del Toro on Spielberg

'It’s preternaturally nimble with such grace in the way it’s staged. It’s so brisk. It’s so breathless. It’s so apparently effortless and so damn fluid. The hardest thing to accomplish on film is to make time stand still, or make a story completely fluid. Those are two truly, truly difficult things to do, and they mostly come most naturally through the narrator’s voice. Spielberg seems to me supernaturally suited for the story of Catch Me If You Can. It’s in my opinion one of the nimblest movies with fantastic performances... he does what Stanley Donen did so well. He’s brisk. He is muscular. The way his narrative flows is just almost miraculous and so beautifully staged. As a filmmaker, you want to see it dissected and savored the way you would if you had a sumptuous meal in a restaurant. Little by little, you taste the coriander, then you think, how did you get this far in a life without these cloves? The more you chew on a movie like that, the more you discover the subtle flavors and the materials it’s made of.' — Guillermo del Toro, Deadline Hollywood

Oct 14, 2015

Woody: A Retrospective Reviews Cont.d

"The British critic and journalist Tom Shone wrote the above-average text for an Abrams book on Martin Scorsese last year – it was a tribute that managed to recognize the wildly varying quality of a great filmmaker’s body of work. Shone and Abrams have collaborated again on a new over-sized volume “Woody Allen: A Retrospective” and it is another sharp examination of a long and bumpy moviemaking career... “A Retrospective” takes us through each of the films, with lots of new anecdotes about their creation, and fresh insights into their positions in Allen’s body of work. Shone is quite harsh when it comes to that terrible turn of the century lull that produced such indifferent films as “Hollywood Ending” and “Anything Else” but he also charts Allen’s return to peak form in several pictures made within the past decade. The book is a must for Woody Allen fans." — Joe Meyers, Connecticut News  
"Sharp, smart... Shone doesn't just follow critical orthodoxies. He makes his argument beautifully. It's the brain food Allen's rich career deserves." — Ian Freer, Empire

Oct 12, 2015


'We know from the way she grips her clipboard and pulls her skirt down a half inch when Brian wants to sit in the Cadillac with her with closed doors that she understands how easily a blonde Cadillac saleswoman with a buttered look that might be a Beach Boys girl twenty years later can be stereotyped. Her every gesture is decent, anxious but friendly, and every one of them is as telling as the astonishingly right clothes she wears. (Costumes by Danny Glicker.) Melinda is not rich.  She could not afford her own Cadillac, even if she drives one for work. She has clothes that are pretty, neat, stylish but budgeted and they speak to a woman of forty-one who has not had the kindness and hope drained out of her yet, and who is determined not to look fast or easy.  "Love & Mercy" is an old-fashioned film, I know, about a woman saving a troubled man, not simply because she loves him, or likes his music, but because she possesses a nuanced detailed power of sympathy that waits for someone who needs rescue and who has taken up the odd challenge of selling Cadillacs as a way of finding him.  There is something of Doris Day with Sinatra in "Young at Heart" here, or of Elisabeth Shue with Nicolas Cage in "Leaving Las Vegas."  We are not accustomed to such generosity, or to stories that place so much value in love or such belief in rescue. Melinda could have been a sentimental stooge. She could have been a mere sexpot or a bimbo. But she has the moral force of Cary Grant saving Ingrid Bergman in "Notorious," and it comes from the assurance with which Pohlad knows he only needs to photograph Melinda’s face thinking about Brian and the fairytale ordeal in which she must overcome the dread spirit of Eugene Landy. Her scenes are with Cusack (who is brilliant) and the chemistry in which their two ardent but wounded and uncertain faces dip closer together is deeply touching.' — David Thomson on Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy

Sep 28, 2015


'Drawing on several years’ history of first-hand interviews, Shone’s book betrays an equal degree of personal investment in Allen’s work – though it trades in tougher love. There’s an inquisitive rigour to his praise and criticism alike: a substantial appraisal of Allen’s 1977 smash Annie Hall builds tension between the evergreen marvels of the finished film (“its theme of fading love nestled within an intricate remembrance of things past”) and a hypothetical anatomy of the solipsistic calamity it nearly was, before its love story was foregrounded in the editing suite. The vagaries of Allen’s creative process are never glazed over here. Even when the outcome is glorious – and when it isn’t – Shone’s analysis is most piercing. He certainly doesn’t share Solomons’s (nor my) revisionist appreciation of Allen’s “pure”, Ingmar Bergman-fixated dramas: 1978’s critically mauled Interiors, he writes deliciously, boasts “a palate of slate greys, stonewashed blues, and muted beiges, with emotions to match”. This level of discernment and tart dissent is an unexpected treat in what appears a chunky coffee-table adornment, presented in slightly more lacquered fashion than Solomons’s more practically pictorial volume. It’d be easy to lose sight of the text amid the photos, many of which serve to remind casual admirers of Allen’s work of his undervalued gifts as a visual stylist. But Shone’s prose has a beauty of its own, abounding in nonchalantly exquisite turns of phrase: I especially love his description of actress Dianne Wiest’s face as “[seeming] always to photograph in soft focus”. Allen may not read criticism, but the writer in him would surely approve.' — Guy Lodge, The Observer
"Thames &  Hudson are bringing out a beautiful illustrated hardback book that follows the format of previous volumes about Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. In this timely retrospective, Tom Shone reviews Woody Allen's entire career, providing incisive commentary on his films and shedding light on this uniquely self-deprecating filmmaker, with the help of comments contributed by Allen himself. Superbly illustrated with more than 250 key images (including movie stills, archive publicity material and on-set photography), this is a fitting tribute to one of the masters of modern cinema." — the Curzon Cinema 
'Solomons and Tom Shone are in harmonious, erudite agreement on the superior technical and imaginative qualities of many of Allen’s best-loved films — Annie Hall, Manhattan, Broadway Danny Rose, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Mighty Aphrodite, Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine — and both experts are equally severe in their appraisals of experimental failures apparently influenced by Allen’s admiration of Bergman and German expressionists. Solomons seems particularly appreciative of Allen’s Jewishness, while Shone, after a long, comparably authoritative career as a London film critic, achieved an extra American critical point of view at New York University, where he teaches film history and criticism. The two authors’ best birthday present to Woody Allen is their joint assessment that he is a genius.' — The Spectator

Sep 4, 2015

'... In many ways, Allen has been working and reworking this reversal since Annie Hall and Sleeper, the romantic plot of both films essentially retellings of Shaw’s Pygmalion.  “Do you think I’m stupid?” asks Luna (Diane Keaton) in Sleeper, before transforming herself with books of Marxist theory into a khaki-clad revolutionary —“she’s read a few books and suddenly she’s an intellectual,” complains Allen’s Miles. In Annie Hall, Alvie Singer introduces to adult education classes, The Sorrow and the Pity and therapy. “You’re the reason I got out of my room, and was able to sing and get in touch with my feelings and all that crap,” says Annie at the end, by which time she has fallen in love with the teacher of her class on existential Motifs in Russian Literature. Like Miles, Alvie is hoist by his own petard.  In Hannah and Her Sisters, Michael Caine woos Hannah away from her artist-lover Max Von Sydow with a book of poems by e e Cummings, only to see her leave him, in turn, for her literature professor.  In each case, the man, assuming a position of intellectual superiority, establishes himself as the woman’s tutor-lover, only to lose her once she grows confident enough to leave him. The problem with entwining romance is that education has an end in sight: graduation.' — from my piece about Woody's Women for The Guardian

Sep 2, 2015

Are we underestimating Woody Allen?

'Introverts often grow up thinking themselves invisible — a fear perhaps but a strangely comforting one, and something of a sustaining fantasy should you become famous.  These days, Allen has the invisibility of his own ubiquity, noiselessly producing a film every year, for critics to take a whack it: is it good Woody or bad Woody?  He is a figure occluded by the scandal and speculation given off by his private life, which still manages to send tabloid geiger counters crackling, some two decades after his break with Mia Farrow. It could almost be the subject of a Woody Allen film, were it not that Allen has already made it: Zelig, whose chameleonic hero is, you will remember,  “sued for bigamy, adultery, automobile accidents, plagiarism, household damages, negligence, property damages, and performing unnecessary dental extractions,” before finding redemption with some Lindberghian derring-do — an uncannily accurate forecast of Allen’s own return to crowd-pleasers in the mid nineties.  Except that Zelig was released in 1983.  On the rise and fall of Woody Allen, Allen, it seems, was there first.' — from my article on WA for The New Statesman

Aug 30, 2015


“Mother always had to say the truth, sometimes to the point of embarrassment. The phone would ring, and she would pick up. We all trembled — because maybe it was somebody we didn't want to talk to —whisper, whisper — so you would say 'can you call later, leave a message she is not here.' Mother couldn’t even lie to do this — not the tinest white lie. It was always 'don't make her answer the phone, don’t make her do anything because she always told the truth'. ‘My daughter does not want to talk to you..’ And yet she would do this with a naivety, an innocence, that she had. I always felt like my mother was partly my daughter too; I'm much stronger than her; so I was very protective of her. She was so shy, so painfully shy, more a New Yorker than American.” 
Isabella Rossellini on her mother, who would have turned 100 today, from an interview I conducted in 2010

Aug 20, 2015


'Freeman is that undefeatable quarry: the merry philistine. Cultural tastes being the last refuge for the snobberies and attendant anxieties that used to attached themselves to class in Britain, there is great value in a genuine passion that horrifies the room for a writer as punchy and vivacious as Freeman. And decades don’t come much more horrifying than the eighties. The sixties always knew they were cool.  The seventies have received their revisionist due. But the go-getting, greed-is-good, need-for-speed eighties, when producer John Peters, “the man who once permed Yentl’s hair commanded the kind of respect once accorded to Robert Altman”? There’s one lovely moment near the start of her book when Freeman phones up Peter Biskind, the king of seventies revisionism and all things Altmanesque, for advice. “You should really writer about Salvador,” he tells her. “That’s a fascinating film.” She doesn’t have the heart to tell him that by “eighties cinema” she doesn’t mean Oliver Stone’s piercing disquisition on American foreign policy in Latin America, but Three Men and Baby.   “I love the silliness of eighties movies, their sweetness, the stirring music, “ she writes, “I adore montages and anyone who doesn't thrill to a power ballad is lying to themselves” — from my review of Hadley Freeman's Life Moves Pretty Fast for the New Statesman

Aug 16, 2015


'The rules of the apartment were simple: never go out, except when supervised by Oscar. Never talk to strangers. And never go into the rooms which shared adjacent walls with neighbors — the living room and the one the boys called the ‘attic’—  without permission.  “Movies were our window to the outside,” says Narayana, the second eldest. Like all his brothers he is exceedingly polite,  with a placid, thoughtful demeanor that bespeaks a childhood spent largely in his own head, but with a wilder performative side that first manifested itself in lavish at-home re-enactments of all their favorite movies —  Reservoir Dogs, Lord of the Rings, the Dark Knight — complete with astonishingly detailed home-made costumes and props fashioned from cereal boxes and yoga mats. “Sometimes I think of a lot of  our childhood as the Shawshank Redemption, where he says that there is that one place where they can't build walls around, one place that has no cages or cells, one part in you they could never touch. That's hope. And that's one place they can never get to. In our head, we could go wherever we wanted.” This is how they all speak, I realize when I meet the brothers  for breakfast one morning  for breakfast outside a cafe in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, not far from the family apartment: Describing their inner lives they can often sound like they are pitching a movie.  They are lovely lot on all number of counts, not least the seemingly decisive answer they seem to give to the oft-asked question “what happens to the human psyche on an uninterrupted diet of Quentin Tarantino movies, heavy metal and pizza?” The answer is rather more hopeful than you might think. By turns fascinating and fascinated, shy, smart, garrulous, charming, and thoughtful, the Angulo brothers give feral a good name.' — from my interview with the Wolfpack in The Daily Telegraph

Aug 14, 2015


'The actress Greta Gerwig has had same liberating effect for Noah Baumbach what Diane Keaton had for Woody Allen: she has opened him up, lending his films a giddy sense of release. Like Allen, Bambauch’s tendencies are eeyoreish: his characters, in films such as Greenberg and Margot at the Wedding, hyper-articulate   injustice collectors who play their nerves like violins.   But Frances Ha, Baumbach’s first film with Gerwig in 2012, about a young woman trying to find her footing in Manhattan, inhaled deeply of the French nouvelle vague — with it’s black and white cinematography, Georges Delerue on the soundtrack — and outlined in sketch form, a new type of screen heroine, a sort of Annie Hall for millenials: absent-minded, free-spirited and a little dizzy, half in love with her own failures, lolloping from one humiliation to the next as if they confirmed her refusal to join the adult world. The new film fills out the sketch, and adds a spirit of screwball farce — Howard Hawks for the sexting set.  There’s a still a hint of menace at the edges, but Gerwig’s loopy spirit has been allowed to fashion a whole world for her heroine, and the result is more of a piece — it hums and fizzes with the fitful energies of twentysomethings pushing excitedly forward into the world and holding back lest it take a bite out of them. Gerwig gives us a ditz in the manner of Carole Lombard and Judy Holliday but viewed with a touch more sad-sack pitilessness. Dressed in clothes that resemble a child’s raid on her aunts closet, Brooke seems permanently stuck at 21, too busy taking mental selfies of herself having eureka! moments to follow-through on any one of them. An interior designer who also dabbles in Soul-Cycle classes, she nurses plans for a Williamsburg restaurant called Moms, where she would also cut hair and teach cookery. Oh and it would also function as a community centre for like-minded lost souls. All this is delivered in a breathless tumble, with lots of waving as if she forgotten she had hands or where she last put them. "I'm gonna shorten that, punch it up, and turn it into a tweet",’ she says, crossing the street, but even  a tweet sounds beyond her — requiring too much follow-through.' — from my review for Intelligent Life

Aug 8, 2015

Best movies of 2015 so far

1. The Wolfpack
2. Mistress America
3. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
4. Listen To Me Marlon
5. Inside Out
6. The Look of Silence
7. Mad Max: Fury Road
8. While We're Young
9. Ex Machina
10. It Follows

Aug 7, 2015


'The suspicion that the rest of mankind is lying to you is a keen insight in an actor and, at the same time, a recipe for great personal unhappiness. “The most mistrustful man I’ve ever met and the most watchful,” said the screenwriter Stewart Stern of Marlon Brando, a man who raised screen acting to new levels of truthfulness but recoiled from offers of love or friendship as if they were a lie. It’s not that he was gifted but troubled. The gifts were the trouble. Brando saw through everything. “The face can hide many things,” he says in a new documentary, “Listen to Me Marlon”, directed by Stevan Riley and drawing on 300 hours of personal tapes found in the actor’s Beverly Hills home, in which Brando ruminates on his fame, his talent, his failings as a father, voicing regret for a life he feels to have been largely wasted. “I searched but never found what I was looking for,” he confides in that familiar, plummy rasp, like King Lear with a head cold. “Mine was a glamorous life but completely unfulfilling.” The tapes are a performance, too, of course, maybe one of Brando’s best—by turns bawdy, wounded, sentimental, self-pitying, bewildered—much of it teetering on the edge of pseudo-philosophical profundity, like Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now”. “All of you are actors, and good actors, because you’re all liars,” he says at one point. “You lie for peace, you lie for tranquility, you lie for love.” Newly arrived in New York with holes in his socks, Brando would position himself on Manhattan street corners, collecting faces as they passed, trying to divine their hidden thoughts and feelings. Faces were masks for Brando, and the film turns his into one too, using a series of Cyberware scans he had made of his face before his death to re-animate him into a floating head. We first see it, rotating and fritzing like a radio signal from beyond the grave, reciting the “sound and fury signifying nothing” soliloquy from “Macbeth”. The effect is spooky, shamanistic—powerful enough to give you goose bumps.' — From my review for Intelligent Life

Aug 6, 2015

So Farewell, Then: Jon Stewart

'There’s been a demob-happy, end-of-school looseness to Jon Stewart as he counts down the days to his final show on Thursday night. For one thing he has been counting, with undisguised glee, blowing kisses to Donald Trump not just for being a gift from the gods — “comedy entrapment” as he put it — but for helping push him across the finishing line. The restlessness he gave as a reason for leaving the show has started to show itself, and the raggedness has only further fuelled his candor. Doing a bit on Mike Huckabee’s characterization of Obama’s Iran deal as marching Israel “to the door of the ovens,” Stewart bypassed words altogether, miming slack-jawed amazement, eye-popping incredulity and Scooby-doo befuddlement (“Urrgh?”) in what amounted to a small masterclass of silent clowning. The idea for the bit seemed to come from Stewart’s dismay at having to write another eye-rolling commentary for another burst of Republican crazy-talk, depletion forcing further invention from him. Exhausted, he still riffs, in part because exhaustion is the correct response to a country in which a deal aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons is compared the holocaust. American pop-culture success is dependent on doing two things extremely well: a very complicated thing and a very simple thing. The complicated thing that Stewart did well has been the subject of the many tributes comparing him to Edward R Murrow and A J Libeling. Stewart combed the broadcast pronouncements of America’s public figures, painstakingly researching their inconsistencies and teasing out their humbug in video montages that made their hypocrisy seem almost self-evident, then sat in frank, eye-rolling amazement at the low-hanging fruit with which he seemed to have been presented. By the end, so primed were the audience for his mugging that he shaved it down to the most minimal of expressions: a cocked eyebrow, a look of deadpan despair, a jowly double take.  Like Sloppy in Dickens Our Mutual Friend, he could “do the police in different voices” tending to   a small barnyard of favorite impressions, reducing Dick Cheney to a single quack, Bush to a Mutley-esque laugh (“heh-heh-heh”), and Trump to de Niro-esque New Joisey thug.' — from my farewell to Jon Stewart for The Economist

Jul 1, 2015

Face-to-face with cinema's Mona Lisa

'Collecting movie posters has always been among the more socially acceptable of cinema-related perversions. Above my desk hangs a 5-ft poster for Jonathan Demme’s 1986 film Something Wild, featuring a geometric rendering of two parted female legs by acclaimed Polish designer Andrzej Nowaczyk, not because I speak a word of Polish but because I have always wished for my writing career to proceed from a point equidistant between the knees of Melanie Griffiths’. “It was part of this urge or impulse to posses the cinema experience,” director Martin Scorsese once said of his own collection, begun in the 1970s and now numbering some 3,000 posters, 34 of which are currently on display at New York’s Museum of Modern Art as part of a show which runs until October entitled “Scorsese Collects”. The posters range from Raoul Walsh’s silent classic Regeneration (1915) to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969) but the great majority hail from the 1940s and 1950s, when Scorsese was a teenage movie fanatic, marinading in flicks like Howard Hawk’s Gun Crazy (1950) or King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun (1946) which he remembers for its “bright blasts of deliriously vibrant color, the gunshots, the savage intensity, the burning sun, the overt sexuality.” He was, at the time, just four years old, an age when most of us are taking in Bambi. And you wondered why Raging Bull is a little intense.' — from my piece for Intelligent Life

Coming soon to bookstores

Yes, it's time. My book on Woody Allen, whose 45-film ouevre tested but did not defeat my hardy completist impulses — bring it on! — is nearing bookshelves, arriving on September 28th in the UK and on October 20th in the US. I will also be appearing at the Port Eliot Literary Festival on August 1st talking on the subject 'Ten Things Woody Allen Has Done For You'  in the course of which I intend to touch on such personal favors to moviegoers as:— introducing Sylvester Stallone, employing Gordon Willis, and directing 6 actresses to 6 Oscars.

Jun 30, 2015

INTERVIEW: Laura Linney

'Linney has the droll, sympathetic manner of a veteran novelist: the kind of woman you might talk to all evening at a dinner party before realizing in the car on the way home you were the one who did all the yakking. That, you suspect, is how she likes it.  A theatre actress by training, she affects surprise and humility at her movie career, which has often found her playing the kind of women it might be easy to take for granted  — her struggling single mom in 2001’s You Can Count On Me, her devoted first lady in the HBO series John Adams — who nonetheless find themselves acting in a way which surprises them as much as everybody else. She makes mysteries of ordinary people.' — from my interview for Net-a-porter magazine

On my iPod June 29th 2015

1. Life's Work — The Weather Station
2. Vapour —Vancouver Sleep Clinic
3. The Only Thing Worth Fighting For — Lera Lynn
4. I Know I'm Not Wrong — Fleetwood Mac
5. A Field Of Birds — The Tallest Man on Earth
6. Diana Krall — Don't Dream It's Over
7. Depreston — Courney Barnett
8. Somebody Was Watching — Pops Staples
9. Primrose Green— Ryley Walker
10. Gracious — Bobby McFerrin

Jun 27, 2015

The origins of the summer blockbuster

'Not for nothing does the trailer for Jurassic World feature a 15-ton Monosaurus, rearing up from a Seaworld-style lagoon to devour a dangling Great White Shark, acting as bait. These days, Jaws counts as a pre-lunch snack. Jaws has become synonymous with wide openings but the chairman of Universal, Lew Wasserman, actually dropped the number of theatres the film played in from a proposed 900 to 409. Lew said  ‘I want you to drop three hundred of them. I want this picture to play all summer long. I don’t want people in Palm Springs to see the picture in Palm Springs. I want them to have to get in their cars and drive to see it in Hollywood,’” the film’s late producer Richard Zanuck told me before his death in 2012. “He was so fucking clever, because that’s exactly what happened.” In other words, the theatrical release of the original summer blockbuster benefited from the oldest trick in the book — artificially reducing supply to increase demand.  The film’s eventual 409 cinemas wasn't even closest to the widest opening —the year before, Warner Brothers had opened The Trial of Billy Jack on 1,000 screens and watched it take $89 million. And while Universal devoted $700,000 to promoting Jaws, the largest such expenditure in the studio’s history, Zanuck and partner David Brown’s insistence on using the same image of a shark’s head that adorned author Peter Benchley’s paperback, to cross-promote film and the book (“from the acclaimed bestseller by Peter Benchley…”) was a tactic borrowed from the playbook of producer Robert Evans, who had done the same with The Godfather and Love Story. “The making of a blockbuster  is the newest art-form of the 20th- century” Evans told Time magazine. The modern summer blockbuster owes as much to Ali McGraw saying “Love Means never having to say you're sorry” as it does Roy Scheider going “we’re going to need a bigger boat.”  
— from my piece on Blockbuster Strategies for the FT