It’s the end of the year and time for the run up to Academy Awards season. This year, critics say the favorites don’t seem to be the blockbuster films that can drive audiences to theaters. Top Oscar contenders include “Moonlight,” “La La Land,” and “Manchester By The Sea.” In “Moonlight,” a young, African-American man struggles to find himself during the war-on-drugs era in Miami. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in the new musical, “La La Land,” about a musician and aspiring actress who meet and fall in love in Los Angeles. And in “Manchester By The Sea,” a depressive loner becomes the sole guardian of his nephew when his older brother dies. Diane and three of the nation’s top film critics discuss this year’s best movies.

Guests

  • Ann Hornaday Movie critic, The Washington Post
  • Kenneth Turan Film critic, Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition
  • A. O. Scott Chief film critic, The New York Times

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. It's Oscar season and this year, critics agree the top contenders are not likely to be the big blockbuster films that drive audiences to theaters. Instead, movies like "Manchester By The Sea," "Arrival," and the new musical "La La Land," are leading the pack. Natalie Portman is creating lots of Best Actress Oscar buzz for her performance in "Jackie" about the iconic first lady.

  • 11:07:28

    MS. DIANE REHMHere in the studio for a review of the season's best films, Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post. Joining us from a studio in New York City, A.O. Scott of the New York Times. And by phone from Los Angeles, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times and NPR. I'm sure many of you have your own favorites. Give us a call, tell us what they are and how you feel about them. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send an email to drshow@wamu.org.

  • 11:08:06

    MS. DIANE REHMFollow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And thank you all for joining us.

  • 11:08:13

    MS. ANN HORNADAYHello, hello. Thank you for having me.

  • 11:08:16

    MR. A.O. SCOTTGreat to be here.

  • 11:08:16

    MR. KENNETH TURANIt's great to be here.

  • 11:08:17

    REHMGood to have you all. Ann Hornaday, this movie season is somewhat different, isn't it?

  • 11:08:25

    HORNADAYWell, it's a little bit subdued. You know, I think we have gotten into a sort of competing business model in the movie business and movie culture, which is, on the one hand, sustained by this tent pole blockbuster special effects spectacle kind of movie that tends to open in the summer and then, in the fall, in the holiday season, we get "awards movies" and those tend to be the adult drama that are a little bit, you know, less visual effects-driven, more narrative driven, more character driven. And I think we're seeing that exact same -- and with the awards campaigns and the awards attention being the marketing hook for these films that allow the studios to keep making them.

  • 11:09:16

    REHMTony Scott, how much do you think the election season affected movies this year?

  • 11:09:25

    SCOTTIt's a very interesting question, you know. I mean, I think that for a while the election just as the kind of -- while the campaign was going on, was a bigger show with more plot twists and, you know, comedy and horror and drama and spectacle than anything on the screens, I think what's interesting is that since the election, the movies have been doing pretty well. Whether people want to go to escape from the reality or find movies that, in some way, reflect or resonate with what's been going on, the movies seem kind of an important and valuable part of what we're doing in the wake of the election and in ways that I think might be a little unexpected.

  • 11:10:22

    SCOTTI mean, there's a lot of talk, for example, about "La La Land." which had a tremendous limited release opening. This is a musical with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and it's been kind of maybe prematurely anointed an Oscar frontrunner because it's so escapist, because it just seems to be giving a kind of pleasure and delight and fantasy, the way that movies did, you know, back in the depression, the way that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced America through dark times.

  • 11:10:54

    REHMAnd Ken Turan to what extent really are people going to the movies these days? Is movie-going up, down or about the same?

  • 11:11:07

    TURANNo, I think it's about the same. You know, one of the things that's interesting in this country is that we determine movie admission. We add all the numbers up and we say, this was $100 million movie or whatever. In France, for instance, they tally admissions and they tell you exactly how many people went so it's easier to see whether, you know, a country's movie-going is going up or down. But my sense is that it's kind of probably holding okay, maybe trending down a little bit. I think recently some of the films that have been intended for teenage boys have not done as well as they have in the past, which caused a lot of tremors of fear in Hollywood.

  • 11:11:45

    TURANBut you know, I think people -- if there is something that people want to see, people will go. I mean, it's just that simple.

  • 11:11:50

    REHMSure.

  • 11:11:50

    TURANPeople don't go as a habit anymore. There has to be something specific that drives them out.

  • 11:11:55

    REHMI read somewhere that 53 percent of ticket sales in the U.S. are coming from millennials that -- and that's sort of in line with previous generations. Ann Hornaday, talk about some of the frontrunners, "Moonlight," for example.

  • 11:12:19

    HORNADAYOh, well, "Moonlight" is an absolutely astonishing film by a filmmaker named Barry Jenkins who adapted a play by Tarell McCraney. And this was my top film of the year. I'm not alone by any stretch. Many of my colleagues put it on the tops of their lists. It's already starting to win some of these early critics and award-giving organization awards. It's the story of a young man coming of age in Miami in impoverished circumstances and it follows him through three distinct chapters of his life during which he's played by three separate actors.

  • 11:13:01

    HORNADAYAnd his best friend, who figures really prominently in his life, is also played by three separate actors. And so it's just structurally and formally a fascinating, elegant, simple, beautifully made piece of cinema with just fantastic acting and lush poetic visuals, just extraordinary writing in terms of just revealing character through subtext and physical embodiment.

  • 11:13:31

    REHMAre you saying that the three different characters embody three different ages?

  • 11:13:37

    HORNADAYCorrect.

  • 11:13:37

    REHMOkay. I was -- okay.

  • 11:13:39

    HORNADAYYes, it start when he was a young boy and then a teenager and then a grown man.

  • 11:13:42

    REHMAll right. And let's hear a clip from "Moonlight" as Ann Hornaday has said, written and directed by Barry Jenkins.

  • 11:13:55

    ACTORThis one time, I run by this old, this old lady. I was running, hollering, cutting a fool, boy. This old lady, she stopped me. She said, running around, catching up all the light. In moonlight, black boys is blue. You blue. That's what I'm gonna call you, Blue.

  • 11:14:30

    ACTORSo your name Blue?

  • 11:14:35

    ACTORNah. At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can't let nobody make that decision for you.

  • 11:14:45

    REHMWhy is that such an important moment in the movie?

  • 11:14:50

    HORNADAYOh, well, that is the film's protagonist as a young little boy, is sort of taken under the wing of a drug dealer in that scene, played by Mahershala Ali in an extraordinary performance. An unlikely protector, a counterintuitive hero, but yet, he does emerge as a hero of the film in terms of taking care of this young man. And in that pivotal scene, we see starting him on the road to kind of questioning his identity, accepting his identity, expressing his -- you know, it's all about identity and selfhood, forging selfhood against these social forces that are kind of impinging. I don't want to give too much away, you know.

  • 11:15:29

    REHMYeah, of course not. Kenneth Turan, what did you think of "Moonlight"?

  • 11:15:33

    TURANOh, I loved "Moonlight." I’m part of that group. You know, what I'm thinking as we're talking about it, one of the great things about this film is that it's very hard to say in words why it has this affect on you. I can tend to sound very schematic. It can tend to sound like something we've seen before, but when you see it, you feel like it's nothing you've ever seen before. There's a magical way all its elements interact that just make you connect with the emotion on screen in a way that you really feel differently and, you know, people just have to take this on faith.

  • 11:16:05

    TURANThis is, you know, if you're serious about film, you have to see this one.

  • 11:16:09

    REHMTony Scott, what did you think?

  • 11:16:12

    SCOTTWell, this was my number one movie of the year.

  • 11:16:16

    REHMWow, wow.

  • 11:16:16

    SCOTTMy ten best since I saw it. I saw it in Telluride where it premiered, where Barry Jenkins, the filmmaker, has worked as a programmer and a member of the staff for a long time. And I had seen his first film. This is his second feature. His first, which came out, I think, seven or eight years ago, was called "Medicine for Melancholy." It can be watched online now. It's a terrific kind of small scale romantic story about two people in San Francisco, very different from "Moonlight," but shows a kind of a sensitivity to character and a willingness to pay attention to quiet emotions.

  • 11:16:59

    SCOTTI mean, the thing about "Moonlight" that's so extraordinary in a way is how it's gripping, it's moving, but also how undramatic it is, how it doesn't turn on the usual beats of plot or of melodrama. So yeah, you could say the story, oh, it sounds very schematic, it's, you know, a young, poor, gay African American boy coming of age. You could imagine that story being told in a very kind of conventional and predictable way. This one is told in a way from within, from inside this person's experience and with a great attention to quiet. The ending of this movie, not to spoil it, is one of the quietest endings of a movie, I think, that I've perhaps ever seen.

  • 11:17:42

    SCOTTAnd it's so moving and so exquisite and it takes you right into the characters' lives in a way that few films do.

  • 11:17:48

    REHMA.O. Tony Scott, he's chief film critic for the New York Times. Here in the studio, Ann Hornaday, movie critic for The Washington Post, and Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's "Morning Edition."

  • 11:19:59

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about one of my favorite subjects in this hour, movies. How I love them. They are my primary form of entertainment. But I'm so sad to tell you I have -- I've seen one movie this year, and it was last year's movie. It was "Brooklyn," and I love "Brooklyn."

  • 11:20:29

    HORNADAYWonderful.

  • 11:20:29

    REHMIt was a fabulous movie. Tell me about your thoughts on "La La Land."

  • 11:20:35

    HORNADAYOh well "La La Land" is irresistible. It's -- as Tony said, it's a -- it's by this filmmaker named Damien Chazelle, who really got on the map a few years ago with a movie called "Whiplash," which I know a lot of your listeners will recognize about the jazz drumming student coming under the tutelage of a martinet played by J.K. Simmons. And in this film, he revisits the old MGM and Jacques Demy musicals of yore just delivering this incredibly escapist parable, allegory of these two young people falling in love in Los Angeles, both of them striving to have careers in show business.

  • 11:21:18

    HORNADAYAnd so it's really about art and ideals and compromise, and I think the wonderful -- you know, in addition to just being visually lush and full of great music and dancing and romance and fun and escapism, there is a real sort of poignant subtext there, I think, where he's looking at film as an art form in terms of where it's going, it's both in terms of its past, its future, the changes that it's undergoing both as a culture and an industry.

  • 11:21:48

    HORNADAYSo there's layers to it that I think give it a lot more content and subtext than (unintelligible)

  • 11:21:52

    REHMYou know, I grew up, Tony Scott, in the era of all the musicals and used to go and see them with my mother. So having "La La Land" come out now, again one wonders, totally escapist, totally entertaining, totally different from everything we're all seeing and feeling.

  • 11:22:19

    SCOTTYeah, and I mean, it's fascinating because it's -- as Ann says, it's a throwback to those old kind of movie musicals that used to be just a kind of a part of the regular diet to moviegoers. But it doesn't feel entirely nostalgic. There's some nostalgia certain woven into it, but it's about -- the characters are living today, they're modern young people, they're millennials, and I think there's a kind of an attempt to see if -- and it's a bit of a gamble, to see if young people, you know, who grew up watching "Glee," who, you know, have memorized the "Hamilton" soundtrack and the "Book of Mormon" soundtrack, I mean, there's a lot of great musical theater and a revival of interest in musical theater out there in the world.

  • 11:23:12

    SCOTTAnd Chazelle is in a way saying, well, let's try to do this with movies again. This is something that movies can do that no other form can quite do, create this sort of fantasy. The last 20 minutes of this movie, I think, are just a kind of a tour de force of emotion and dance. There's a ballet in there like "The American in Paris" ballet. There is still that you really haven't seen a filmmaker try to do in a very long time, and for me, at least, it just -- it just works. It works beautifully.

  • 11:23:43

    REHMKenneth Turan, I was surprised to see Ryan Gosling in this movie. How does he do?

  • 11:23:50

    TURANWell he's a wonderful actor, it's always a treat to see him, and I think he does very, very well. You know, it's interesting with these films, you know, I think it kind of reminds me almost of Westerns. These tastes endure in audiences. It's just sometimes the films aren't good enough to call the audiences out, you know, and I think people forgot about musicals for many, many years, or their attempts were inept, and this one is very beautifully done, and I hope it resonates. I think it will.

  • 11:24:18

    REHMLet's hear a clip.

  • 11:25:25

    REHMAnd of course that was Ryan Gosling singing. I remember him from "The Notebook."

  • 11:25:32

    HORNADAYExactly.

  • 11:25:34

    REHMSo that's why I was so surprised that he would be in this musical. He has a lovely voice.

  • 11:25:40

    HORNADAYHe -- it's kind of got that wonderful Chet Baker softness to it.

  • 11:25:44

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:25:46

    HORNADAYNot perfect by any stretch, but that's part of the charm of this. I mean, I don't think either of them are -- although, you know, let's remember Ryan Gosling got his start as -- I think he was a Mouseketeer if I'm not mistaken. So he's a hoofer.

  • 11:25:57

    REHMHow about that?

  • 11:25:58

    HORNADAYHe's an old song-and-dance kid from way back.

  • 11:25:59

    REHMHow about that?

  • 11:26:01

    HORNADAYBut the film leans in -- I mean, first of all both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have such great chemistry, and the choreography, the music, it all kind of -- it forgives whatever weaknesses they might have as singers and dancers and just, it melds beautifully with their particular gifts.

  • 11:26:20

    REHMKen.

  • 11:26:21

    HORNADAYAnd as you heard there, there's a real poignant note to it, too. I mean, this isn't -- this isn't all, you know, happy, happy.

  • 11:26:26

    REHMHappiness and shuffling feet.

  • 11:26:29

    HORNADAYNo, and yeah.

  • 11:26:30

    REHMKen Turan, talk a little about "Manchester by the Sea." A caller who couldn't stay on, Gloria from Bethesda, said "Moonlight" and "Manchester by the Sea" were great, however no one talks about how depressing they are. Was "Manchester by the Sea" depressing for you?

  • 11:26:59

    TURANWell yes and no. I mean, one of the things about "Manchester by the Sea" is that even though they're bleak things that are detailed, there's a real sense of humor in this film. I mean, this is a film, this is Kenneth Lonergan, who did "You Can Count On Me" several years ago. Kenneth Lonergan is kind of -- I don't know, he's a poet of the human condition. He really understands how people feel, how people talk.

  • 11:27:21

    TURANThis thing is very, very real. You really -- it almost makes you understand how far from reality so many of the films we see are. It's a story of a young man, played by Casey Affleck, not so young, who is living in the Boston area and is called back to the town he grew up in and has to become the guardian of his nephew, and he does not want to move back to the town he grew up in. And the story just pulls you in. The acting is spectacular.

  • 11:27:49

    TURANI mean, I was -- you know, for me, if something really is superbly done, I'm never -- I don't feel depressed by it. I'm exhilarated by something that really hits me so deeply. And again, as I say, not only that, but there is real humor here. There's intentional humor here. There's the humor -- anyone who's been -- who's laughed at a joke in a horrible situation will understand the humor in this film, and it's just -- it's a spectacular thing to see.

  • 11:28:16

    TURANAnd I have split it with "Moonlight" for my best pick of the year. I happened to -- saw them in like way, divided it twice.

  • 11:28:22

    REHMTony Scott, forgiveness is a big deal in this movie.

  • 11:28:30

    SCOTTIt is. I mean, I have to say I admire many of the things that Kenny does about this movie and that our other colleagues do. I'm not quite as in love with "Manchester By the Sea" as a lot of other critics. I mean, I think that the -- the writing is superb, the acting is superb. I have some problems with the story, actually. I mean, I think that there is a kind of melodramatic inflation of emotion. There's something that happens that I won't say or that is revealed to have happened that explains the state that the Casey Affleck character is in that -- I couldn't write about this in my review because it would be a spoiler but that I objected to and tend to object to when things like this happen in a story.

  • 11:29:25

    SCOTTSo it was flawed for me, but I do think that the theme of how you overcome a tragedy, how you deal with your own sense of guilt, how and whether you can forgive yourself is very present and very interestingly explored in this movie and really is the center of Casey Affleck's performance. He's a guy who cannot let himself off the hook, cannot move on. He's almost choosing to remain stuck in this tragic kind of miserable, self-flagellating situation.

  • 11:30:06

    REHMIt's interesting, Ann Hornaday, lots of people when this movie came out talked about Casey Affleck as a shoo-in for "Manchester by the Sea," and yet there's been some new information that's come out about his behavior, his personal behavior, stuff about sexual harassment, all kinds of things. What is that all about?

  • 11:30:42

    HORNADAYWell, I'm not -- I'm not very well-read about it myself, so I'll warn you, I mean, but he did -- there were accusations from female colleagues, this is several years ago now, that he ended up settling -- I think they came to a settlement, out of court, so I don't think it ever reached, you know, a civil or criminal court case, but as things do, especially with awards season coming up, you know, a lot of this stuff does resurface.

  • 11:31:10

    HORNADAYAnd whether or not -- I don't know how it will sort of cycle through at this point, since it has been sort of dealt with and I think completed, but...

  • 11:31:23

    REHMAll right, let's hear a clip from "Manchester by the Sea."

  • 11:31:27

    MR. CASEY AFFLECKI don't understand.

  • 11:31:29

    ACTORWhich part are you having trouble with?

  • 11:31:31

    AFFLECKWell I can't be the guardian.

  • 11:31:35

    ACTORWell, uh...

  • 11:31:37

    AFFLECKI mean, I can't.

  • 11:31:39

    ACTORWell naturally I assumed Joe had discussed all this with you.

  • 11:31:45

    AFFLECKNo, he didn't, no.

  • 11:31:52

    ACTORUh, I -- I have to say I'm somewhat taken aback.

  • 11:31:56

    AFFLECKHe can't live with me. I live in one room.

  • 11:31:58

    ACTORWell but Joe has provided for Patrick's upkeep, food, clothes, et cetera, and the house and the boat are owned outright.

  • 11:32:04

    AFFLECKI can't commute from Boston every day until he turns 18.

  • 11:32:08

    ACTORI think the idea was that you would relocate.

  • 11:32:11

    AFFLECKRelocate to where, here?

  • 11:32:12

    ACTORWell, if you look, it's -- well as you can see, you know, your brother worked everything out extremely carefully. Yes...

  • 11:32:17

    AFFLECKBut he can't have meant that.

  • 11:32:20

    REHMKind of a shocker, you know, to have something like that thrust on you.

  • 11:32:27

    HORNADAYAnd, you know, it's -- when Tony was describing "Moonlight," it reminded me of the way I describe "Manchester," which is that it's interstitial. I mean, Lonergan has this way of getting to those moments in between the moments that most filmmakers focus on. So you have these -- there's a scene early in the film where Casey Affleck's character shows up at a hospital, and there's just this real-time scene in a hospital corridor, and, you know, as Kenny Lonergan said when I interviewed him, we've all been in that hallway at some point, and he stays there. And where most conventional films would cut or do a montage or, you know, they'd try to elide it in some way, he just stays right in those moments.

  • 11:33:11

    REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. We've got a number of callers who'd like to be part of the program. Let's go to Maryann in Shreveport, Louisiana. You're on the air.

  • 11:33:30

    MARYANNHello, hi Diane, thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:33:34

    REHMSure.

  • 11:33:35

    MARYANNI may have missed it. I have -- I was off for just a minute, but I saw "Moonlight" and "Loving" back to back, and I thought "Loving" was exceptional, the acting, the portrayal of a true story of an important story, and I would like to hear your guests' opinion of that.

  • 11:33:59

    REHMAnd that's a story about legalizing interracial marriage, is it not?

  • 11:34:04

    HORNADAYYes, it's the historical Richard and Mildred Loving case that was decided by the Supreme -- you know, the wonderfully -- they just happened to have that last name, and that is now the Supreme Court case that went down in history.

  • 11:34:17

    REHMAll right, let's hear a clip.

  • 11:34:20

    ACTORYou go to the Virginia state court next, right?

  • 11:34:22

    ACTRESSYes.

  • 11:34:22

    ACTORYou nervous?

  • 11:34:27

    ACTRESSI suppose. The lawyer has told us not to expect much.

  • 11:34:33

    ACTORDo you think you'll lose?

  • 11:34:35

    ACTRESSWell yes, but I think it's all right. We may lose the small battles but win the big war.

  • 11:34:45

    REHMTony Scott, what'd you think of "Loving"?

  • 11:34:51

    SCOTTWell it's beautifully understated. The thing that's -- Ruth Negga, an Irish actress as Mildred Loving, and Joel Edgerton plays her husband Richard. And the thing that the movie, which was directed by Jeff Nichols, who had two movies come out this year, the other one was "Midnight Special," the thing that -- that he's really good at, again this is sort of the theme of our conversations, is getting into the detail and the fine grain of people's lives.

  • 11:35:18

    SCOTTSo this is a kind of movie, it's about a court battle against injustice, and you kind of expect that it's building toward one of these kind of big, emotional scenes, where the characters, or one of the characters or the two of them, are going to stand up and kind of explain the movie to you, it's sort of emote everything that this movie is about. And that seemed never happens.

  • 11:35:38

    SCOTTThey stay within their quiet, modest -- they're people from a rural part of Virginia, childhood sweethearts, they've grown up together, they're -- they don't really seek to become symbols or activists or rebels. They just want to live their lives. Actually when their marriage is declared illegal by the state of Virginia, they just move away. They move to Washington. And then family circumstances kind of call them back, and they pursue this case.

  • 11:36:10

    SCOTTAnd because you just feel the quiet reality of their lives and their love for each other, the irrationality and just the monstrosity of this system that says these two people can't be married hits you much -- with much more force and much more specificity than if you had kind of big, dramatic courtroom scenes and tearful outbursts. So it's really the understatement of this movie that I think makes it work so beautifully.

  • 11:36:37

    HORNADAYAgreed on every point. It's just -- and, you know, it's really -- I think for Jeff Nichols to take that tack is an incredibly bold, almost subversive choice in resisting all of those temptations for the big courtroom scene and, you know, like Tony said, the speeches. I mean, it's almost transgressively quiet and intimate and all the more powerful for it.

  • 11:37:02

    REHMAnd you'll be interested to know, from an email from Anna, theaters in our Indiana town are a monopoly, we don't see the films you're describing, 12 theaters over three complexes show the same big blockbuster film. They won't bring "Loving" or any artful, smaller film for us to see. And in Mississippi, it is not being shown. Short break, right back.

  • 11:40:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. I want to go back for a moment to "Manchester by the Sea" because, Tony Scott, you said this is a movie "about the sorrows of white men." Explain what you meant by that.

  • 11:40:21

    SCOTTWell, I think that there's a tendency post-election to look at a lot of different movies and things in popular culture and look for, you know, either explanations or some kind of information. And it struck me as I was watching this movie, both times that I saw it, that it's not just incidentally a movie in which the characters are all white. And I think that we need, as critics, to stop thinking of sort of the whiteness of characters in movies as just a default category. You know, it's very easy for us to say, well, "Moonlight" is a movie about African-American characters.

  • 11:40:59

    SCOTTYou know, "Loving" is certainly a movie about race. "Fences," which is coming up with Viola Davis and Denzel Washington, that's a movie about the African-American experience. But we tend to sort of take everything else as kind of by default universal without thinking about the specificity of the characters and their circumstances. And it seems to me that this movie, like many movies that are set in Massachusetts, is about the kind of suffering of white lower middle class and working class characters.

  • 11:41:31

    SCOTTAnd I think it's one of the things that is a kind of subtext for this movie is very much the sense of disaffection, of alienation, of frustration, of woundedness, perhaps of resentment that, you know, political writers and journalists have been telling us played out in…

  • 11:41:51

    REHMExists, yeah.

  • 11:41:51

    SCOTT…the election of Donald Trump. So I think that this movie -- it's not an overtly political movie in any way, but I do think that it has a kind of an undercurrent that interestingly connects with some of the things that are going on in our politics.

  • 11:42:05

    REHMAll right. Now, I want to move on. Kenneth Turan, tell me your thoughts about the film, "Jackie."

  • 11:42:17

    TURANWell, I was very excited to see "Jackie." Was -- actually I was at Venice at that world premiere and it was a very exciting moment. You know, this is a story we think we know. This is a story of Jackie Kennedy and the days after the assassination. But Pablo Larraín, who is a Chilean director who actually has another film coming out called "Neruda," has been, you know, for film buffs he's really a name that we know. His films have been in festivals and we are fans of his.

  • 11:42:44

    TURANBut this is kind of a step forward for him. This is his first English language film. This is a film on a big topic. And I was just really totally fascinated by how he made the story his own, how he made it edgy, how he made it unusual, unexpected, wonderful performance by Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy. It just really gripped me. I couldn't wait to see what was gonna happen in the next frame. I just was very taken with this film.

  • 11:43:10

    REHMI gather Natalie Portman, Anne Hornaday, does a fantastic job, especially with that breathy voice.

  • 11:43:22

    HORNADAYIndeed, that voice. I mean she's really mastered that. And I think it really comes through. It's a -- this is another sort of structural triumph, in my opinion, because it takes place during the days immediately after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, when she's planning the funeral. And then a week later, when she gives that pivotal interview to "Life" magazine, when she first floated the whole Camelot myth. And brilliantly solidified his legacy in both of those actions.

  • 11:43:54

    HORNADAYAnd Larrain, in his brilliance, has juxtaposed those events with the White House tour that she gave in 1962, which we, you know, so many of us remember that prim…

  • 11:44:06

    REHMOh, absolutely.

  • 11:44:07

    HORNADAY…figure, you know, balletically making her way through that White House. And those are the sequences that -- where Portman's performance really struck me as just…

  • 11:44:15

    REHMWhy is the movie R rated?

  • 11:44:19

    HORNADAYWell, I think there's just a little tiny bit of profanity, but Larraín is very graphic, in terms of the events in Dallas. I mean, and I think it's not gratuitous at all. Because, I mean, he gets us so far into her psyche, into her vulnerability, her fear, her anger, and her brilliance in terms of understanding history and symbolism and material culture and ritual and what the American people needed and what she needed to solidify Kennedy's legacy.

  • 11:44:50

    HORNADAYI mean, it's really about myth-making. And in showing us how she made the Camelot myth it kind of addresses her own myth in a way that I found was very compassionate. I mean, it's not a negative portrayal in any way. It's very humanizing.

  • 11:45:07

    REHMTony?

  • 11:45:07

    SCOTTI think another reason for the rating might be the fact that she smokes about three packs of cigarettes…

  • 11:45:13

    HORNADAYOh, that's right.

  • 11:45:14

    SCOTT…on screen in the course of the movie.

  • 11:45:15

    HORNADAYShe's never not smoking.

  • 11:45:17

    REHMReally?

  • 11:45:17

    SCOTTShe is -- she's never not smoking…

  • 11:45:19

    REHMAnd we never saw her smoking.

  • 11:45:22

    SCOTTRight, right. That's right. And, I mean, for me it was fascinating because I realized, and I think this is part of what the movie is doing, is that, as Kenny said, we think we know the story, but she remains a very enigmatic figure. I realized when I was listening to Natalie Portman's amazing, you know, the precision of her vocal performance, that you've heard Jack Kennedy's voice. You know, that I can summon into my head. And that's been impersonated, you know, dozens and dozens of times.

  • 11:45:55

    SCOTTBut I realized that I didn't really know, I didn't have a preconceived kind of sound in my head of Jacqueline. And I had only really, you know, known her from the photographs of her in the pink suit and of her with the widow's veil as the (unintelligible) went by. So this really just kind of takes us in a very startling way from these public events that are among the best known public events in post-war American history and goes into -- not only behind closed doors, but kind of into the mind and the emotions and the personality of a key player in them, who we maybe didn't recognize.

  • 11:46:42

    SCOTTIt's also partly about her understanding her own political role and wielding the power that she has, which is a very limited and specific kind of power within the White House, dominated by these guys, Bobby Kennedy and the Johnsons and Jack Valentine and so on.

  • 11:47:00

    REHMUntil…

  • 11:47:02

    SCOTTYes. Until she figures out how to out-fox them.

  • 11:47:07

    REHMExactly. All right. Let's go to Lori, in Pittsburgh, Pa. You're on the air.

  • 11:47:16

    LORIHi, Diane. I will miss you. I love your show with its blend of politics and art.

  • 11:47:19

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:47:20

    LORIAnyway, last year I saw "Spotlight," like in October and I knew then I'd seen the best movie of the year. And this year I'm not so sure of -- although, there's so many things I haven't seen yet because I live in Pittsburgh. We get stuff late. So "Hidden Figures" isn't here. "Moonlight's" not here. "Living's" not here. "Manchester by the Sea" is across town. And "Rogue One," which is not really opera, but I mean, Oscar-caliber, but I'm looking forward to it. Opens up on Thursday. But my favorite movie this year has been "Arrival" because it's a smart science fiction movie. It's quiet. It's not bombastic. And it has a wonderful Amy Adams performance.

  • 11:48:01

    REHMLet's hear a bit of "Arrival."

  • 11:48:06

    ACTOREverything you're doing here I have to explain to a roomful of men whose first and last question is how can this be used against us.

  • 11:48:14

    MS. AMY ADAMSKangaroo.

  • 11:48:18

    ACTORWhat is that?

  • 11:48:19

    ADAMSIn 1770, Captain James Cook's ship ran aground off the coast of Australia. And he led a party into the country and they met the aboriginal people. One of the sailors pointed at the animals that hop around and put their babies in their pouch and he asked what they were. And the Aborigine said Kangaroo. It wasn't until later that they learned that kangaroo means I don't understand.

  • 11:48:41

    ACTORI can sell that for now. And remember what happened to the Aborigines. A more advanced race nearly wiped them out.

  • 11:48:49

    ACTORThat's a good story.

  • 11:48:51

    ADAMSThanks. It's not true, but it proves my point.

  • 11:48:57

    REHMSo we should explain what "Arrival" is all about.

  • 11:49:01

    HORNADAYIt's wonderful. It's an adaptation of a -- I don't know if it's a novel or a short story now -- about these mysterious spacecraft that appear hovering over the Earth at these -- at 12 different points around the globe. And the U.S. military, embodied there by Forest Whitaker, brings in a linguist, played by Amy Adams, to try -- to encounter these -- the beings that are inside these spacecraft to try to figure out what they want and see if she can establish some kind of communication with them.

  • 11:49:34

    HORNADAYAnd what's so interesting, you know, to circle back to your early question about the election, "Arrival" opened the Friday after the election. And I remember being very interested in seeing whether people would go. I mean, you know, were people so shell-shocked and sort of numb and -- but -- and they did. I mean, "Arrival" has actually become a really big success. It's done very well and it did particularly well that weekend. And its themes of communication and trying to break down paranoia about aliens and immigration, I mean, there are all these sort of subtexts to it that I think made it a very interesting film in the immediate aftermath of the election.

  • 11:50:12

    REHMAll right. I want to go back one moment, because we've heard from several listeners who've said that "Loving" is being shown in Mississippi. It's being shown in Tupelo and Madison theaters, at least, and in Jackson, as well. So I'm glad we're correcting that. And I want to hear a clip from "Jackie." I want to hear that voice.

  • 11:50:51

    MS. NATALIE PORTMANI've come to discuss tomorrow.

  • 11:50:54

    MR. MAX CASELLAThe attorney general relayed to me your desire for a more modest ceremony.

  • 11:50:58

    PORTMANI've changed my mind.

  • 11:51:01

    CASELLAI'm sorry?

  • 11:51:02

    PORTMANI said I've changed my mind. We will have a procession and I will walk to the cathedral with the casket.

  • 11:51:10

    CASELLAWell, even if we could resume the arrangements, I'm sure you can understand the Secret Service still has their concerns.

  • 11:51:16

    PORTMANAnd President Johnson?

  • 11:51:18

    CASELLAPresident Johnson would like nothing more than to fulfill your wishes, but I have to take into account his safety. The country couldn't endure another blow should any -- I started to say if it were up to him he would do anything that might bring you comfort.

  • 11:51:33

    PORTMANThen who is it up to, Mr. Valenti?

  • 11:51:35

    CASELLAWell, as I'm sure you know, tomorrow we're expecting close to a hundred heads of state.

  • 11:51:39

    PORTMANOne-hundred, three.

  • 11:51:40

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Pretty powerful moment in that.

  • 11:51:49

    HORNADAYVery. And very crafty. And it gets exactly to what Tony was saying about her wielding…

  • 11:51:54

    REHMYeah, right.

  • 11:51:54

    HORNADAYAnd I think, in addition to the White House and the incoming Johnson administration, she's battling the Kennedy family. I mean, you know, she was -- and that has its roots in, you know, they did sort of see her as a prop. And they kind of dismissed her and underestimated her. And this is a woman really coming into her own. And part of the kind of drama for the audience is that we do know what she became, you know. But she doesn't know at that point. She's a young, young widow, the young mother of these two tiny children. And she's just so -- you really experience firsthand her vulnerability and her not being sure what will become of her.

  • 11:52:33

    REHMAnd yet, to be able to show this power and authority, to demonstrate this will that she has to conduct this funeral in her own way. Tony, talk a little about "O.J.: Made in America."

  • 11:52:58

    SCOTTWell, "O.J.: Mad in America" was, for one thing, a great gift to film critics. 'Cause it was made for ESPN, but it was released theatrically. It's a multi-part, I think total of six hours, I believe, documentary directed by Ezra Edelman about -- not just about the O.J. trial, which we saw on TV, but about the whole career of O.J. Simpson, before and after the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

  • 11:53:32

    SCOTTAnd it's also about sports. It's about race. It's about the relationship between the police and the African-American community in Los Angeles. It's about celebrity. It's kind of like a great American novel, but a true story brought to the screen. And because it was released the way it was and is eligible for the Oscars, we got to write about it instead of our TV critic colleagues, which was a great victory.

  • 11:54:00

    REHMYeah, Kenneth Turan, what did you make of it?

  • 11:54:04

    TURANOh, I was entranced by it. I mean, I think it is actually not six, it's seven and a half hours long. And long as it is…

  • 11:54:10

    SCOTTTwo parts, right?

  • 11:54:10

    TURAN…when it ended I wanted more. I didn't say, oh, thank God, it's finished. I wanted more. The interviews are spectacular. You know, this is -- Ezra Edelman is just a -- clearly a very smart individual. He asks good questions. He's a gifted interviewer. He structured each piece in a very intricate way. I mean, this is really as good a documentary film as you're gonna see. And if -- you can tell this in the first 10 minutes. You know, if you're hesitant about watching it, just start it and you'll be pulled into it.

  • 11:54:36

    REHMAll right. Let's hear a little clip.

  • 11:54:39

    ACTORO.J. went to USC in 1967. So he's plucked out of the black community, out of black consciousness. And he's submerged in an all-white university. And I say this, and I don't say it facetiously, but he is seduced by white society.

  • 11:55:05

    REHMYou saw it, too, Ann.

  • 11:55:07

    HORNADAYI did and to Kenny's point I was preparing to talk about it and had all these episodes. And I thought, well, I'll watch the first couple just so I -- I was a little bit on deadline. And I thought I'll watch the first couple just so I'm, you know, cognizant of it. And to Kenny's point, I sat and watched the whole thing.

  • 11:55:25

    REHMThe whole thing.

  • 11:55:25

    HORNADAYI couldn't -- I could barely leave my chair. I mean, it's just that well constructed and riveting. And in particular, that USC material, I mean I really didn't know very much about the culture of Los Angeles in the '60s. And the archival research that Ezra Edelman and his team have done, I mean, just finding the -- they tell the story, visually, so beautifully. And, again, the nuances that he's able to tease out are just -- it's remarkable.

  • 11:55:52

    REHMIs it available online?

  • 11:55:55

    HORNADAYOh, sure, yeah. I think by this time it should be available on -- I don't want to speak out of turn, but it should -- people should look for it on Netflix.

  • 11:56:00

    REHMTony, is it available, do you know?

  • 11:56:04

    SCOTTI think that it is, yes.

  • 11:56:05

    REHMYeah. All right. The one last film we haven't…

  • 11:56:06

    SCOTTYou know, we get our special screener so we don't know…

  • 11:56:10

    HORNADAYThat's right.

  • 11:56:11

    REHMI mean there's so many films out there. "Fantastic Beasts," I think it's "Moana"…

  • 11:56:18

    HORNADAY"Moana."

  • 11:56:19

    REHM…the Disney film. But the "Edge of 17," talk about that very quickly.

  • 11:56:24

    HORNADAYYeah, this was a charmer that kind of came out of left field this year. It's a coming of age teenage movie, kind of in that history of the John Hughes' movies, with a wonderful performance by Hailee Steinfeld, who came to our attention in "True Grit." And I think really this is the best role she's had since that movie. It's about this kind of spiky, contrary, not very likable adolescent girl finding her way. And it just turns out to be a really charming, funny, observant movie.

  • 11:56:52

    REHMAll right. So the message of this program, enjoy yourselves at the movies this year. Before the year is out, after the year is over, enjoy the movies. Ann Hornaday, A.O. Tony Scott, and Kenneth Turan, thank you all so much.

  • 11:57:15

    HORNADAYThank you.

  • 11:57:16

    TURANOh, thank you.

  • 11:57:17

    SCOTTThank you, Diane.

  • 11:57:17

    REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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