In celebration of the 30th edition of AFI FEST presented by Audi, a trio of diverse female trailblazers will adorn the festival’s 2016 key art and be featured in its programming lineup. AFI FEST will spotlight Dorothy Dandridge, the first African American nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award®; Ida Lupino, a pioneering director, writer, producer and actress who became the first woman to direct a film noir; and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American actress to rise to international prominence.
AFI FEST will screen three films featuring each artist in its expanded Cinema’s Legacy section that celebrates motion picture heritage and presents recent restorations of film classics and films about the history of cinema: Otto Preminger’s CARMEN JONES (1954) starring Dandridge; the Lupino-directed THE HITCH-HIKER (1953); and E.A. Dupont’s PICCADILLY (1929) starring Wong.
Dorothy Dandridge (1922-1965) rose to prominence alongside her sister Vivian and jazz singer Etta Jones as part of the song-and-dance trio the Dandridge Sisters, before becoming a solo artist who starred in Hollywood musicals. With CARMEN JONES (1954), she became the first black woman to receive an Academy Award® nomination for Best Actress.
London-born Ida Lupino (1918-1995) was a pioneering actress, director and producer. Her acting credits include THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1940) and HIGH SIERRA (1941) opposite Humphrey Bogart. She made her writing/directing debut with NEVER FEAR (1949) before THE HITCH-HIKER (1953) made her the first woman to direct a film noir.
Anna May Wong (1905-1961) was the first Chinese-American movie star, having achieved stardom in the Technicolor THE TOLL OF THE SEA (1922). Among her collaborators were Douglas Fairbanks, Josef von Sternberg and Raoul Walsh, with credits including THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1924), PICCADILLY (1929) and SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932).
“The Big Short,” directed by Adam McKay, based on the book by Michael Lewis, was adapted by McKay and Charles Randolph and made its world premiere Thursday, November 12, 2015 at the historic TCL Grauman’s Chinese Theater as the closing night film for the latest edition of the American Film Institute’s AFI FEST film festival.
The film’s narrative is driven by four cynical, fringe Wall Street entities disgusted with the large banking institutions’ overriding greed for profits. They make the decision to capitalize on the ensuing housing market calamity and the financial meltdown of 2008 upon discovering the market frenzy is being driven by worthless “dog shit” collateral debt obligations.
McKay chooses to inject a significant dose of humor in the early scenes to condition the audience receptors for what they are about to experience. Utilizing the Martin Scorsese docu-drama style in a similar setting with “Wolf of Wall Street,” a strong narrative voice dominates particular moments. Several of these deliberately break the ‘Fourth Wall” in the style of “Wolfie,” Jordan Belfort, as the characters, including a hilarious cameo by Selena Gomez, speak directly into the camera to explain the complexities of Wall Street financials. The overall effect adds additional humor and adds another layer in creating a sense of authenticity and truth about the film’s subject matter.
After a rather lengthy dizzying, yet delightful, character introduction, the film picks up pace as the drama begins to unfold. Dr. Michael Burry, an eccentric financial analyst, with complete autonomy of an investment fund, uncovers variables in his economic forecast indicating a massive housing market collapse. He informs his higher up, Lawrence Fields, played convincingly by Tracy Letts, of his discovery and creates a financial prospectus. In essence, he creates a commodity of selling short on bundled mortgages.
The bankers laugh as they willingly sell Burry all the “insurance” he wants. Word quickly spreads of Burry’s perceived madness in a after-work cocktail scene. With interest piqued upon overhearing the Wall Street gossip of the day, Jarred Bennett, portrayed by Ryan Gosling, scoops up the essence of Burry’s move. Soon, he sells a group led by Steve Carell’s all-too-human, Mark Baum to buy in.
As the debacle is in full free-fall, Baum struggles with disbelief as he and his group have bet against their own umbrella entity, Morgan Stanley. The final team that has uncovered the impending financial crisis, made up of two Wall Street neophytes and veteran Ben Rickert, played by one of the film’s producers, Brad Pitt, also struggles with the imploding financial system caused by corporate greed and indifference.
With a mammoth cast, McKay draws on a plethora of talent in the likes of Hollywood A-listers including Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Selena Gomez, Christian Bale, Karen Gillan Steve Carell, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo and Finn Wittrock. McKay and Randolph create characters with witty dialogue coupled with complementary cinematography provided by Barry Ackroyd. The soundtrack carries a similar tone of “Wolf of Wall Street,” with a compilation of classic rock anthems. Nicholas Britell widely recognized for his work on Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” where Britell composed on set the on-screen violin performances, work songs, dances and spiritual songs rarely misses a beat this time out. Much like another AFI FEST 2015 film, “The Clan,” Argentina’s official entry to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Best Foreign Language Category for Oscar, “The Big Short,” musical score is often in juxtaposition to the the narrative and mise-en-scen adding a deeper visceral quality to the viewing experience.
In its most basic essence, “The Big Short,” builds on the visceral truth of Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street.” It depicts a not-so-long-ago present where a noble ideal, making home ownership a reality for Americans, is bastardized by the indifferent market forces of capitalism. Probably not what Adam Smith had in mind when he penned his treatise, “The Wealth of Nations.” Warmly Recommended.
Closing down this year’s American Film Institute Festival on Thursday, it’s hard not to imagine what might have been. The closing night film, The Big Short, drew an at-capacity crowd as Director Adam McKey took a few moments to introduce his star-studded cast. True to form, McKay bantered playfully with Ryan Gossling by saying how nice it was to finally meet him. Afterwards the audience was treated to a real big-screen viewing in the historic Hollywood TLC Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
The night before The Big Short, gala goers were treated to a Tribute to Brits, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay: http://bit.ly/1RZTzqd followed by a screening of Andrew Haigh’s “45 Years.”
Award winners for this years AFI FEST include: New Auteurs Grand Jury Award: LAND AND SHADE (Director César Augusto Acevedo) for its visual eloquence and its observations of environmental degradation and economic exloitation.
Special Jury Mention for Screenplay: DESDE ALLÁ (Director/writer Lorenzo Vigas) for its keen insights into the alienation, social divides and overriding need for control that allows love to flourish and die.
World Cinema Audience Award: LANDFILL HARMONIC (Directors Brad Allgood, Graham Townsley, Juliana Penaranda-Loftus)
New Auteurs Audience Award: MUSTANG (Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
American Independents Audience Award: JAMES WHITE (Director Josh Mond)
Other films I found interesting all came from the World Cinema category and included: “Dheepan,” a story of a Sri Lankan man who with an unknown woman and child, flees to France to start a new life. “Dheepan,” was directed by Jacques Audiard, known for his prison drama, “The Prophet,” and “Rust and Bone,” a melodrama; “The Clan,” an Argentinian film based on the real life events of the Puccio family during the early 1980’s is Argentina’s Official entry to The Academy’s Best Foreign Language Film category; and “The Gulls,” a cinematic treat from an otherwise barren region.
Grace Lauren Tame (pictured above) came out Wednesday evening, November 11, 2015 on the Red Carpet at TCL Grauman’s historic Hollywood Chinese Theater. Here is a live clip of Grace with lead actress Charlotte Rampling from the film “45 Years.” (Review) AFI FEST 2015 TRIBUTE: Grace Lauren Tame Live with Charlotte Rampling:
Academy Award®-winning actor Benicio Del Toro will come to the festival on Saturday, November 7 at 11:00 a.m. for a conversation about his extensive career — which includes the films CHE (2008), 21 GRAMS (2003), TRAFFIC (2000), SNATCH (2000), FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998) and THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995) — and his acclaimed performance in this year’s SICARIO at the Egyptian Theatre. The Q&A will be moderated by Variety Deputy Awards and Features Editor Jenelle Riley.
Del Toro joins a prestigious group of previously announced actors and filmmakers appearing in conversation at AFI FEST, including Michael Caine, Paolo Sorrentino, Ridley Scott, SUFFRAGETTE director Sarah Gavron and writer Abi Morgan, as well as 45 YEARS stars and AFI FEST Tribute recipients Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.” http://blog.afi.com/benicio-del-toro-is-coming-to-afi-fest/