Anthony Hopkins is not playing by your rules. The actor, who earned his latest Oscar nomination this year for “The Two Popes,” has had an expansive, lauded 60-year (and counting) career that’s handed him roles as a prince (“The Lion in Winter”), a god (“Thor”), a psychopath (“Silence of the Lambs” earned him his first Oscar in 1992) and another kind of god (“Westworld”), to name just a few — so the rules are really his to invent. And as he tells The Envelope, he’s not interested in examining or lingering on his past roles, but he does have a lot to say about religion, taking things seriously, and sinning with bread. Let the games begin.
No matter what some directors or producers might assert, no film makes it to the screen with every frame shot. There are always a few scenes that just couldn’t be made to fit. Length can be an issue, but cuts are also made for clarity and plain old storytelling. So what didn’t you get to see? Here, six filmmakers talk about the shots that couldn’t fit — and, in some cases, where you can still see them!
This year’s crop of WGA-nominated adapted and original screenplays appears on the surface to be a grim lot. There’s war (“1917,” “Jojo Rabbit”), insidious homewreckers (“Parasite”), a Civil War-era coming-of age (“Little Women”) and an arch murder investigation (“Knives Out”), to name just a few of the nominated scripts.
But here’s a surprise: Every one of them is funny. Or, at least, funny in parts. And as screenwriters and producers alike admit, a script without funny moments is possibly the grimmest one of all.
“Ah, yes, the hilarious ride that was ‘1917’!” laughs Kristy Cairns-Wilson, who wrote the WWI screenplay with director Sam Mendes. “Here’s the thing: even when you’re going through something horrible, you often crack jokes. Our characters were young men. There’s a wanking joke in the trenches!”
There’s that one point in every film where an actor’s performance turns on a very thin moment — the moment when they truly embody the character and convince the audience of the importance of the story being told. These are those moments from the 10 actors and actresses nominated for lead-acting Academy Awards this year.
In the opening shot of Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” (2003), Scarlett Johansson is lying on a bed, back to the camera, shown in partial view, wearing underpants. In Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner 2049” (2017) a banged-up Ryan Gosling stares up at a bone-thin, enormous nude projection of a woman. More recently, Jay Roach’s “Bombshell” (2019) featured Margot Robbie lifting her dress for John Lithgow as the camera takes in her legs.
All typical images from Hollywood films, all doing their job: telling story, building character and providing context. These are images that have been used in cinema almost since its beginnings more than 100 years ago. But what if many shots framed and filmed by directors and cinematographers — men, women, nonbinary — actually do something else, too — like undercut every other progressive stride women make on the camera, and in real life?
The directors of this awards season’s documentary hopefuls explain the ticking hearts at the center of their shortlisted films.
Apollo 11, Director: Todd Douglas Miller
Setting the Scene: The pre-launch sequence for the first mission in which humans landed on the moon, featuring NASA workers and regular citizens alike.
“It encapsulates everything and highlights a lost time — a hot day in 1969 in a fidelity that hasn’t been captured before,” says Miller. “It’s the bridge between what is coming and what’s come before. It’s kind of the pinnacle of human evolution.”
Every awards season, the battle for best picture is a brutal assault. Films claw their way up from the heap of other releases, assailing audiences’ senses with marketing and buzz — all to hopefully stand triumphant atop the pile of also-rans, declaring victory.
No wonder war movies are perennially popular this time of year. This season saw five films taking audiences into war zones — “Jojo Rabbit,” “A Hidden Life” “1917,” a remake of “Midway” and even “The Two Popes” — but not always the battlefields you might expect.
“The easiest way to have maximum effect is to show a bullet entering the human heart,” says Oscar nominee Anthony McCarten, screenwriter of “The Two Popes” and 2017’s Churchill-focused “Darkest Hour.” “But there’s zero emotional impact in someone dying unless we care about that person — that’s where a war story becomes difficult to write.”
Greta Gerwig’s screenwriting style starts in the middle and fans out.
“I don’t write in a straight line,” admits the “Little Women” writer-director. “It’s like a quilt I try to stitch together.”
But one piece was more important than the others: the opening scene.
“Getting the opening just right was so important,” says Gerwig. “When I had it, I thought, ‘There’s a movie here.’ I knew I could make that movie.”
Direction, performances and technical details are all critical to a film, but it’s the opening scene that sells the picture — or sinks it. And every writer has a different approach to start telling their stories.
When Adam Driver and Noah Baumbach decide to brainstorm a new project, they’ve got it down to a routine. The longtime friends gather at a restaurant and just start … talking.
“The conversation turns to work, things we’ve seen, things we want to make, structural ideas,” says Driver, who has now appeared in four Baumbach-directed productions, including the new “Marriage Story.” In it, he plays Charlie, a New York City theater director whose marriage has crumbled. The role has already earned Golden Globe and SAG nominations — and few will be surprised if/when he lands his second Academy Award nomination for it.
Anyway, that’s how it starts when Driver and Baumbach put their heads together. “Then it changes location, and suddenly we’re in a rehearsal room, and then we are on set, and then it’s over,” Driver continues. He’s sitting in a New York City hotel room a few days after Thanksgiving, dressed head to toe in black, the neckline of his sweater starting to fray. His back is to the wide bay window, so it’ll take a few moments before he realizes it’s snowing.
“And then — ” yes, there’s more — “we still come and talk about it,” he says. “Even when it’s all over, we talk about it, and then we move on to ‘OK, what do you want to do next?’ That’s the cycle.”
Being inspired by film actors, directors and writers is easy. It’s all there on the big screen, in the finished project. But fewer aspirational filmmakers first think, “What I really wanna do is produce.” That particular job, which can cover an enormous range of organizational, financial and generally unsexy duties, is frequently invisible and thankless.
But without producers, films wouldn’t get made.