Tag Archives: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Oscar Spotlight: Emmanuel Lubezki

Cinematography is the art of making movies. Cinematographers, also called directors of photography, or d.p., might decide what kind of camera to use, what kind of film, what kind of lenses, whether a shot should be stationary or use movement, what angles can be shot, what material can be shot through (like a window pane, or water), what might obscure the camera, what light might enhance the mood, the depth of field (meaning how much of the foreground, mid-ground, and background will be in focus), and the aspect ratio (how the frame looks – a rectangle of 1.78 (16:9) is commonly used in high definition today, a compromise between the cinema’s ratio of 1.85 and TV’s 1.33 but some films, like Son of Saul, choose 1.375:1 to narrow the field of vision and Mommy used the squared 1:1, which kept the shots extremely birdmantight). They aren’t just recording the actors, they’re making choices that craft, manipulate, and interpret what we see. They oversee the camera operators, grips, and lighting crew to achieve this vision.

Emmanuel Lubezki is the Oscar-nominated cinematographer of The Revenant. He’s got a resume that’ll impress the pants off of anyone – his Academy-nominated work alone includes The Little Princess, Sleepy Hollow, The New World, Children of Men, and The Tree of Life. He actually won back to back Oscars for Gravity and Birdman and I believe he’s gravityabout to threepeat with The Revenant this Sunday. He’s remarkable in every way, yet humbly attributes lots of growth and learning to frequent collaborators, directors Terrence Malick, Alfonso Cuaron, and Alejandro Inarritu.

He’s known for seamless one-take shots and techniques that make you feel like you’re a part of the action. The Revenant allowed him to really flex his muscle and show us everything he’s capable of, all at once, in a way that still feels quite natural.  I’ll let him tell you about all his tricks in this movie: “we wanted to have a movie that was very immersive, very visceral, and to have a certain naturalistic base, even if some of the scenes have different degrees ofreality. So we didn’t use artificial light for that same reason and we used very, very wide lenses for that same reason, to be able to immerse the audience and to be able to tell the intimate together with the environment, to be able to capture the close-ups and the surroundings at the same time and allow the audience to pick what they want to see within the frame. And we used a lot of

the-revenantmoving cameras, either handheld or Steadicam cranes, but the camera is constantly moving. We did a lot of these shots that we call the elastic shots where we go from a very objective view from the audience’s point of view, to a very subjective point of view that is the point of view of the character, because we wanted to feel what he’s feeling but also see it as he would be if you were standing close to the action.”

If that sounds intense, believe me, it is. Have you seen The Revenant? You really should. There are other worthy nominees in this category – Edward Lachman for Carol, Robert Richardson for The Hateful Eight, John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road, and poor, poor Roger Deakins for Sicario, who holds the frustrating honour of most nominations without an award (13! – his work on Unbroken lost to Lubezki last year, and his work on Prisoners lost to him the year before that too). Sorry Roger, but I’m betting you’re going home empty-handed again this year (cinematographers don’t even receiving the consolation prize of a non-Academy-sanctioned swag bag, which this year contains a sex toy and a vapourizer among other fun prizes).

Cinematography is the only category in which no woman has even been nominated, and they’re shockingly under-represented in the profession. Some talented cinematographers to look out for, who just happen to be women: Maryse Alberti (Creed, Freeheld, The Wrestler), Ellen Kuras (Away We Go, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Reed Morano (The Skeleton Twins, Frozen River), Rachel Morrison (Fruitvale Station, Cake, Dope), Tami Reiker (Beyond The Lights), and Mandy Walker (Truth, Jane Got A Gun).

Back to Lubezki, who truly deserves to be honoured, penis or no penis (although when reached for comment, he gave affirmed “penis”) (not really). To me, the major feat of The Revenant is that it was shot entirely in natural light. That decision took an already grueling shoot and made it three times as THE REVENANTlong, limited by the hours during which they could shoot. They raced the sun each day, and battled the stars at night. The only extra lighting they used was during the camp fire scene – there was lighting off-screen to compensate for the wind making the flame flicker in a distracting way. The natural light also forced him to abandon film for digital, using the Arri Alexa 65 digital camera with lenses from 12mm to 21mm because film “didn’t have the sensitivity to capture the scenes we were trying to shoot, especially the things we shot at dawn and dusk. I felt this was my divorce from film — finally.”

lubezkiThe shoot was famously arduous but Lubezki insists it was worth it, citing a particular scene in the movie where Leo comes out of the freezing water, with his breath visible and lips blue, which wouldn’t have been possible without  “We would never have gotten anything like that. And while natural light is very complex because it’s constantly changing — which can be a problem for continuity — it’s beautiful.”




Director’s Guild Awards

Drum roll please! This weekend’s prestigious Director’s Guild Awards, hosted by the effervescent Jane Lynch, made history when Alejandro G. Iñárritu took 2016dgaw001home top prize for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for his brilliant work on The Revenant. This is the first time in the Guild’s history that a director is rewarded in back-to-back years (he won last year for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)). The nice thing about these awards is that directors are the first to admit that they do not work alone. There are lots of people sharing in Iñárritu’s win. His directorial team includes:

Unit Production Managers: Drew Locke, James W. Skotchdopole, Doug Jones, Gabriela Vazquez

First Assistant Director: Scott Robertson, Adam Somner

Second Assistant Directors: Megan M. Shank, Matthew Haggerty, Jeremy Marks, Trevor R. Tavares, Jasmine Marie Alhambra

Second Second Assistant Directors: Brett Robinson, Kasia Trojak

Who are these people and what do they do? Excellent question! A unit production manager (UPM) is hired by the producer to do the fun admin-y stuff to manage a film’s budget. Based on the shooting script, the UPM will create a working budget related to the physical production. The producer stays on top of “above-the-line” expenses, ie, the creative stuff that gets the ball rolling pre-production: securing the script, writers, actors, directors, budgetproducers, that kind of thing, fixed costs that no matter what scene is cut or special effect is scrimped on will still be paid the same. The UPM gets tasked with the less glamourous crew, the “below-the-line” costs, contracting with gaffers, makeup artists, sound engineers, all the “little people” who turn up and work hard to actually turn good ideas into reality. Plus he or she will be negotiating deals for location, equipment, etc.

An assistant director on a film has a full schedule: they track daily progress against the almighty production schedule, take care of logistics, prep the daily call sheets, check in with cast and crew, keep order on a busy set, and make makeupsure everyone’s safe. The first assistant director (1AD) is directly responsible to the director and runs the floor or set; they have to accurately estimate how long it will take to film a scene – whether several pages will be shot quickly, or one emotional paragraph may take all day. The 1AD is the communicator on set: all directions to the rest of the crew from the director will run through him or her. The second assistant director (2AD) creates the call sheets and then makes sure that all the cast is ready to follow through, revenantputting them through make-up and wardrobe. The call sheet tells cast and crew what scenes and script pages are being shot today, and where. They will provide exact start times (which rarely turn out to be all that exact), and addresses of shoot locations, and transportation arrangements so everyone can actually get there and maybe even park legally. It should also have contact info for the important crew, safety notes, maybe weather reports, sunrise\sunset times, and where to find the nearest hardware store when you inevitably need another extension cord. The second callsheetsecond assistant director (22AD) (yes, that’s their real title) comes on board when the production is big and\or complicated.  You can be sure the 2AD is checking on Brad Pitt’s mustache while the 22AD is making sure there’s a dozen ladies in hoop skirts behind him, or a thousand extras in zombie makeup, or that all the parking meters are fed. This really frees up Alejandro Iñárritu to laze about in his director’s chair fantasizing about Leo’s frosty breath, or Wes Anderson to deliberate between Egyptian blue and Ultramarine, or Steven Spielberg to play another practical joke on Tom Hanks.

2016dgaw002I’m also crazy excited to tell you that Alex Garland won for Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film Director. Recognize his name? He’s the man behind 2015’s break-out indie success and seriously one of my favourite films of the year, Ex Machina. Remember the name, he’s only getting started. His directorial team includes:

Unit Production Manager: Sara Desmond

First Assistant Director: Nick Heckstall-Smith

Second Assistant Director: Ray Kenny

Also noteworthy: recipient of Outstanding Directorial Achievement in2016dgaw011
Documentary, Matthew Heineman for Cartel Land.

These three directors may be men, but you’ll have noticed there are lots of females sprinkled in amongst their support teams, which I can only hope means the ladies are movin on up. Here’s a lovely lady worth highlighting – Mary Rae Thewlis was the recipient of the Frank Capra Achievement Award, given to an assistant director or unit production manager in recognition of career 2016dgaw013achievement. Thewlis worked under Martin Scorsese on The Age of Innocence as a DGA trainee. She worked on the Tupac Shakur movie Above the Rim as the key second assistant director and under director Jon Avnet as second second assistant director on Up Close & Personal and then spent a lot of years at Law & Order originally as Second Assistant Director and eventually First Assistant Director. Kudos to her, and may she be an inspiration and example of hard work to aspiring young film makers everywhere.

A director is only as good as his or her team, so pick wisely, folks. It’s not just true of the movies. Find talent and nurture it.

The Revenant

Jay: Zohmyfucking god have I ever been waiting a long time to see this movie.

Sean: It’s been a very long wait.  This has been one I’ve been looking forward to all year, and the wait has increased my expectations, which were already sky-high!

Jay: The premise of this movie is pretty simple: a bunch of frontiersmen are out in the frigid north, hunting pelts. Native Americans attack. Everyone flees behind Hugh Glass (Leo), The Guy Who Knows The Land. 2FA41A5E00000578-0-image-a-1_1451264937734Except Glass gets half-eaten by a bear. So then the men have a difficult choice to make: carry a stretcher over torturous, snowy terrain but retain their navigator (when he’s conscious), or put him out of his misery, lighten their load, but risk getting lost or wandering straight into enemy territory. Glass’s son is understandably on #TeamGlass but John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is more #TeamFuckHim. But don’t underestimate DiCaprio: he’ll get his revenge, even if has to crawl on broken legs and light his own neck on fire to do it.

Sean: I was on my own team: #TeamHolyShitThisIsAwesome!  And I was all in.

Jay: This movie is balls-to-the-wall intense. It’s so relentlessly brutal, for more than two and a half hours, that it wasn’t until the 3 hour mark that I began to ask myself if it was good.

Sean: The momentum of The Revenant is absolutely unstoppable.  It sweeps you up in its frenzy so that you don’t even get to think “big picture” until it’s over.  It’s like a bear attack that way!

Jay: Well I can tell you right now: it’s beautiful. Stupid gorgeous. The vistas that they found in both Alberta and British Columbia are worth the crappy, harsh conditions the crew endured for the shoot. And these sweeping, stunning backdrops are a genius juxtaposition to the utter bleakness that is going on for the characters. It’s like heaven and hell on the screen at the same time.

Sean: I was struck by the beauty of the vistas as well and felt the same way as you did about them.  They provide such a wonderful contrast between the bleakness facing Leo in his journey from worse, to even worse, to absolute hell.  There was a quiet and peace about the wilderness that restores us, paces us, and upon reflection, ties into Leo’s story more than I realized at first glance.  Is this peace and calm perhaps coming from Leo’s soulmate?  At any rate, there’s something spiritual about the connection between the land and our protagonist, and I am still trying to unpack all that we saw.  It all felt so god damned meaningful and important.

Jay: Whoa. Did you just italicize meaningful and important? This from the guy who dumped on Star Wars but praised Will Farrell’s new movie Daddy’s Home? Anyway. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki decided to shoot this movie entirely in natural light, which sometimes results in a picture dripping in golden sunshine, other times awash in the stark reflection of sun on snow, sometimes just a very small flame casting shadows on Leo’s busted face. It was a bold decision that meant very short shooting days (the sun takes forever to rise and sets so damn early during our Canadian winters) and an extended shooting schedule that forced Tom Hardy to lose out on Suicide Squad, and it caused Inarritu to forfeit film and shoot on digital since the former just couldn’t handle dim lighting. But it was worth it. Lubezki has won back to back Oscars for his work (Gravity, Birdman): can he threepeat? Can he not? This movie’s just soaked in glorious authenticity that made it difficult for me to breathe for 156 long minutes. It’s striking to me how different those three movies are from each other – Gravity, Birdman, The Revenant – and what flexibility and mastery Lubezki must have to have painted each world so beautifully and precisely.

Sean: The differences between this and Birdman were on my mind as well.  This is not the movie I expected and it’s a completely different feel than either Gravity or Birdman.  It’s night and day.  The imagery in all three is incredible and what is most amazing to me is that these are not at all similar – they are each their own masterpiece.  Inarritu gives us something new, again, and I wasn’t expecting that he could possibly be capable of that.  I may not have connected with Birdman as much as you did, but it was such a unique piece of filmmaking that I did not think Inarritu would be able to come back with something that feels this fresh and unique.

Jay: Well I do remember us fighting about Birdman last year (I guess Star Wars is this year’s Birdman) but at any rate I’m glad we both fell in love with this one. It’s so awkward when we don’t.

Inarritu’s direction is amazing. From the very first attack scene (that makes the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan feel like a pillow fight), the camera swirls around the way a panicked eye would, taking in surroundings choppily, and a little too quickly. It ratchets up the anxiety in us: where is the danger? Where’s in coming from? Where is safety? Where is the enemy? How do we get out? The wide lenses make this shit immersive, so like it or not, you’re getting dragged into the fray (and thank you, Inarritu, for not making me wear 3D glasses to get this effect). But the camera can also be quite intimate: sometimes just Leo’s anguished face, the hand-held camera so close it gets condensation from his breath. But it’s this intimacy which also makes the movie’s craziest scene, the bear attack, its most interesting, and its most ballsy. Our mind knows we should never be this close to a bear, and definitely not a bear as angry as this one. We see Leo’s blood on her teeth and how many inches of claw get sunk into his flesh. Both of them are sweating. The three of us are sweating! It’s the most brutal thing, unrelenting thing I’ve seen in a long time and I couldn’t look away (warning: the audio alone is nightmare-inducing).

Sean: When we are dragged into this world, we see and feel the terror that the characters are dealing with.  The Revenant is such a visceral experience from beginning to end.  The camera work sucks the viewer in so much I was short of breath at times.  The bear attack in particular is just spectacular in its intimacy.  You are right there with Leo, you are shouting at him to stay down.  Literally, Jay, you were shouting!  And how could you not when it feels so real?

Jay: Yes, I was shouting. Sorry, Ottawa. But seriously, Leo should learn to take my advice. Remember that, Sean: I was right. But let’s talk about what really matters: will Cinderella finally find her glass slipper? Leo’s been invited to the ball 5 times, but has never taken home a statue come Oscar night. Will this finally be his year? Leo’s as ferocious as the bear, and maybe more so, in this role. He’s committed, and you can see it in his darting bloodshot eyes and his flaking, chapped lips. I can’t shut out Tom Hardy, because he’s stellar also; reunited again since appearing in Inception, Leo begged and convinced Hardy to take the role and though they may be friends and respect each other as colleagues in real life, in this movie there is a fascinating hatred between them that reminded me of Leo and Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York. Hardy looks dodgy and cornered every bit of the way. But this is undeniably Leo’s film – it’s his bloody trail we’re following. Since he takes a bear to the throat early on in the film, a good portion of the film is nearly dialogue-free, just grunts and bellows and silent agony. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen before from him (and I’m not even talking about the bear rape rumour). If he gets the Oscar, it won’t be a “sorry we missed you last time” make-up award, it’ll be legit. He’s earning it on every frame.

Sean: Leo has to get the Oscar.  HAS TO.  He’s masterful.  He doesn’t even need words here.  Tom Hardy better be nominated for supporting actor as well.  Give him something!  He’s had an incredible year and he’s another guy who is so versatile, so absorbed in this role that I would not have recognized him unless I was looking for him.  He’s a force of nature in this movie.  Both of them are and the anticipation of their final showdown builds to a point where it can’t possibly live up to what you are expecting, and then it does!

Jay: Did I love this movie? Yes I did. Did I nearly die from a heart attack watching it? Yes I did. Is it perfect? No it is not.

Sean: The Revenant isn’t perfect but it’s so forceful and committed, I didn’t care.  I still don’t.  It exceeded my expectations, I loved every minute and I’m still trying to digest it all.  It’s such a tough movie to take but I think that’s what I liked best about it.

Jay: You interrupted me, dear. I wasn’t finished. I think the problem that I had with the movie is that it was straight revenge saga. And I get that this is the wild, wild west where punishment is doled out swiftly, savagely, without the law or due process. But Glass was a husband and a father and something of maverick. Was there really nothing to him but revenge lust? Actually, Inarritu’s attempt at spirituality, if I may call it that, with the ghostly visitations and whatnot, was my least favourite part. The movie is so grounded and real that those apparitions felt jarring and unnecessary.

But that’s in retrospect. And you’ll need retrospect up the wazoo in order to come to terms with the movie. While watching, you’re just holding on for dear life, and all that desperate grasping for survival on-screen makes your life seem all the more dear when it’s over.

“Pew, made it!” I said as the credits rolled.

“Who did?” Sean asked.

“I did!” I said. Yes, I did.

Oscars 2015: Best Director and Best Picture

Birdman cinematographyBest Directoruntitled

Richard Linklater- Boyhood

Alejandro González Iñárritu- Birdman

Bennett Miller- Foxcatcher

Wes Anderson- The Grand Budapest Hotel

Morten Tyldum- The Imitation Game

One of the more controversial categories this year, the Best Director race is traditionally one of the more reliable predictors of the Best Picture Oscar. The Academy’s snub of Ava DuVemay for Selma has put a bit of a damper on things but Linklater and Iñárritu’s inclusion still make for an nteresting race.

Miller and Tyldum are strange nominations. Not only did I find Selma a much better movie than The Imitation Game, it was much more of a director’s showcase. And Miller won’t win. Since I started watching 20 years ago, no director has won for a film that didn’t even earn a Best Picture nomination. As good a job as he did with Foxcatcher, it really is bizarre that the Academy passed over four Best Picture nominees in favour of Milller.

Now for Wes Anderson. I am running out of things to say about him, having praised The Grand Budapest Hotel several times over the last couple of weeks. We love him here at Assholes Watching Movies and are thrilled that the Academy finally got around to giving him his first Best Director nomination.

That leaves Linklater and Iñárritu who have made two of this year’s best movies. How do you compare the ambition of these two projects. Birdman’s self-aware screenplay and dizzying cinematography vs Boyhood’s 12 year commitment. I wouldn’t be disappointed either way but I’m voting Linklater. He made a great film, not just an ambitious one that was filled with beautiful moments filled with truth.

Best PictureBirdman script

American Sniper



The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation GamePatricia Arquette


The Theory of Everything


I’ve commented on all eight of these films at length andhave made no secret of my love for boyhood. Experts have declared Boyhood and Birdman as the two frontrunners, leaving me with no idea what is going to happen. Both movies are great so I won’t mind either way. As long as American Sniper doesn’t win as my colleague just predicted.



Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I walked out of Birdman last night feeling exhilarated, confused, and unqualified to review it.

The film, nominated for seveon Golden Globes including Best Picture- Musical or Comedy and Best Director), follows (literally, through most of it) Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a fictional ex-movie star most famous for playing a superhero called Birdman as he tries to re-invent himself as a Broadway star in a play that he wrote, directs, and stars in. The production is shaping up to be a disaster throughout rehearsals as it’s star must not only deal with his own demons but also with his eleventh-hour replacement co-star who threatens to steal the spotlight (Edward Norton), a high-maintenance actress afraid of spoiling her one chance to be in a Broadway show, his high-strung lawyer (Zach Galifanakis), and his resentful daughter who is straight out of rehab.

Whenever possible, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inamitu gives the appearance of one long continuous take as he follows his actors from backstage to Times Square to a nearby bar. Some of this was accomplished through fancy editing tricks but the film’s stars apparently would have to shoot up to 15 pages of dialogue at a time. That and the complex choreography of the walk make what would otherwise be a pretty talky movie feel action-packed. Even those with little interest in cinematography and editing are likely to be impressed. And the cast, with Keaton and Norton being clear stand-outs, seem grateful for the challenge.

I feel shy about reviewing Birdman because it’s more surreal touches involving Thomson’s frequent arguments with the voice of Birdman in his head left me scratching mine. Many scenes are ambiguous and are probably meant to be but sometimes left me feeling like I wasn’t understanding what was going on. But mostly, I feel shy to review it because few seem to be able to escape its brutal honesty as it takes aim at Hollywood, Broadway, critics, bloggers, Twitter, awards season, and self-importance in general. I felt like I was being dared to love this movie- or to hate it- only so it could mock me for it. The script and acting feel refreshingly honest even as it seems to question its own ability to do so. Keaton and Norton contribute to the multi-layeredness, both playing parts that are so close to their real-life public personas.

My review of this is all over the place. Sorry about that. I’m still not sure what to make of this movie. I can tell you that you I doubt you’d regret watching it. And that (I never thought I’d say this) someone should nominate Michael Keaton for an Oscar. Even if the makers of Birdman would laugh at them for it.