We delved into tough topics over the course of 2016 — from diversity to karaoke, last year left us no shortage of opportunities to evaluate the industry that drives our coverage. The below stories represent some of the toughest subjects we dug into, as well as the most important issues we tried to highlight. But don’t worry — we also tried to have some fun along the way.
The Oscars tell a flimsy story of global cinema, and by extension, the world. #OscarsSoWhite, meet #OscarsSoNarrow.
“[Moreshead] came to Singapore for one week, toward the end of our shoot, and was on set to visit Drake,” said Heyman. “She did not step foot in our wardrobe office and expressed no interest in seeing or talking about the new designs Abby had created for principal characters.” While the movie was wrapped, its credits were not.
I like to joke sometimes that Chris Carter ruined my adolescence. It’s a joke because really, it’s not true — he only ruined the summers. Oh, how life dragged on in the months between new seasons of “The X-Files,” especially because one of Carter’s real talents with the original series was finale cliffhangers. It’s a storytelling trope that Carter didn’t pioneer, but one that he utilized frequently during a period of time when serialized storytelling on television was a wee infant of a thing. Mulder would be presumed dead, or the X-Files would be shut down, and I’d sit three feet away from the TV just screaming for more.
If promoting diversity in Hollywood is a goal of the Academy, create a yearly honorary award to reward someone who has done just that. This year’s award could have been given to Donna Langley for the incredibly diverse and successful slate she put together at Universal. This sort of achievement needs to be feted — perhaps at the Governor’s Awards, along with other honorary awards — so that the studios understand that diversity and box office are not mutually exclusive.
Yet, like Seimetz, Bell wants to find the studio film that still allows her to be her own filmmaker. “I can’t imagine what it’s like having a corporate entity thrusting their opinions on every move, on something that will take years and years of my life,” she said, adding that she has to feel “super-passionate about [a project] to put up with all that bullshit.”
Series ownership has been a key factor since the mid-1990s, when regulatory rules were relaxed and networks could begin owning more of their own programming. But being in control of your hits has become even more important in the age of streaming, as more viewers avoid the linear telecast and wait to access those shows on another platform.
When Villeneuve was ready to consider the movie, it took countless meetings before he committed. “We met at a coffee shop for an hour and a half and talked philosophy and politics and time and science,” said Heisserer. “This went on for a month and a half.”
“The independent finance world is pretty, pretty bad, I have to say,” said Simien. “That’s where ‘films don’t travel’ bullshit [comes from] — it really has its roots in the minds of the financier, the obsession with the ‘bankable’ diverse star.”
“Which is sad,” he added with a laugh, “Because that’s where the people who are on the outside of the industry have to make their films. We can’t make our first films in a studio. It doesn’t really happen anymore.”
April premieres, meanwhile, are perfect for awards contenders. Everything from “Mad Men” to “Breaking Bad” and yes, “Game of Thrones” have used the timing to boost awareness just as voters were considering what to select for the Emmys. Ballots go out in mid-June, meaning seasons starting in April are wrapping up when every show is clamoring to be seen. And what better way to grab attention than a stirring, news-generating season finale — or a series finale?
Before they take the bag off your head, someone places a small container in your hand. It may be The Instructor, but even if you still had your glasses (they’re probably lying on the floor somewhere back near the monitors), there’s a layer of plastic covering your eyes. You shake the small gift and something small rattles inside. “Open it only when you need to,” whispers The Instructor.
He worked the crowd like a stand-up comic, engaging with his questioners and sending ushers scurrying back and forth across the room with mics, interrupting the flow. He wanted to control the occasion, and wasn’t going to let anyone else run the show, even as Carelli, her daughter and the moderator repeatedly tried to end the session. “I’ll stay all day with you,” he told his captive audience. After two hours, double the allotted time, the festival insisted that another event had to come into the venue, and Cimino finally stood down.
On opening night Moore called me up to the State stage to introduce Maya Forbes’ “Infinitely Polar Bear,” which he insisted on showcasing over the protests of his staff, who reminded him that the Mark Ruffalo dysfunctional family drama was already two years old and available on Netflix. But it’s his festival and local celebrity Moore can do what he wants.
But what of the next generation? If this year’s cosplayers are any indication, the future of “Star Wars” is decidedly female. Everywhere you looked, there was a newer, better, bigger Rey costume. Kid Reys talked to grownup Reys, scads of teenage girls walked the floor dressed in their own takes on the “Force Awakens” heroine, Han vest-clad dads carried baby Reys. Stormtroopers and X-Wing fighters and Lukes of every variation were still widely represented (and, yes, even a few scantily dressed slave Leias), but the franchise’s current breakout heroine reigned supreme.
Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios
But just because there’s a challenge in getting adventurous filmmaking seen in the venue where it belongs doesn’t mean the battle has been lost. The night before the festival, at a filmmaker welcome dinner in town, a producer currently working with several new companies noted that no streaming giant has found the ability to create a genuine phenomenon around a single movie. For now, at least, that power lies with the theatrical release alone. And it hasn’t been eclipsed by the rising influence of television.
We were used to watching shaky, handheld videos of cats and proposals online. Now we risk becoming desensitized to the violence and racism in this new genre of race documentary. However, we must watch.
A fun, fiendish, and debatably feminist delight from one of the world’s most compulsively watchable directors, “The Handmaiden” transplants Sarah Water’s “Fingersmith” to the fringes of pre-war Korea and reimagines the 2002 Welsh novel set in Victorian England as the perviest fever dream that Alfred Hitchcock never had.
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She asks herself several questions before she greenlights a film: “Is this idea strong enough to break through? Is it a celebrity like Frank Sinatra, a name we already know, which has a front place in the market, and we know people are going to recognize, so we don’t need marketing money, and it has an audience? Or is it something like ‘Class Divide,’ which is fighting an uphill battle? I want to tell stories, but if I tell a story, how will anyone know if it doesn’t punch through?”
“Despite the anger, sadness and disillusionment so many of us feel today, we will need to find the power to strengthen our work in culture, the arts, media and education,” Hernandez told IndieWire in an email. “Our American independent filmmakers have a proven capacity for illuminating and challenging our own society, government, elected leaders and citizens.”
Even as recently as the turn of the Willennium, actors still came first (who cares what the movie is — it’s Big Willie Weekend!). But oh, how times have changed. These days, the ascension is similarly abrupt, but those same means are used to very different ends. One day Chris Pratt is a supporting character on an NBC sitcom, the next he’s Star Lord. Henry Cavill can still sit in the middle of Times Square without being recognized, but he’s the hero of Metropolis. But the difference there is that Hobie Doyle’s box office power wasn’t lassoed to the roles that he chose, it was the other way around.
Inspired by “Adaptation,” Charlie Kaufman’s unorthodox handling of Susan Orleans’ “The Orchid Thief,” Osborne and writers Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti folded the classic story (to be filmed with old-fashioned stop-motion animation) inside a contemporary frame (animated via computer graphics). The result, they hoped, would convey the spiritual soul of the original within a family film accessible to all ages and cultures.
Throw aside your notions of “strong female characters” or “likable leading ladies” or “relatable problems” or other, similar buzzwords that so often push strong work into the kind of narrow frameworks they simply don’t belong in, and gaze upon the riches of 2016. Filled to bursting with truly strong characters, complicated ones, complex ones and much more, this year offered up not just compelling roles, but boundary-pushing features and performances worthy of recognition and attention.
Jimmy Kimmel has a few choice words for the Millennial generation. Speaking last month at ABC’s upfronts presentation to advertisers, he dished some serious snark: “Are we really going to let these vaping, Snapchatting, music-stealing little fuckers determine how we do business?” he quipped.
Sorry, Millennials, but next year, the answer appears to be “no.” You may be the darlings of the digital world, but your erratic TV habits are cramping the networks’ style. And they’re taking you on, even offering up swipes at your demo while showcasing their new lineups.
Cannes is a festival that prefers leaning on the status quo to advancing the conversation, and that’s certainly true in its struggle to feature more female filmmakers. While Fremaux isn’t wrong when he notes that a lack of equality is endemic to the industry, and starts long before many female filmmakers make (or, in so many cases, don’t make) a feature film that could be considered for festival programming, he woefully underestimates the power that Cannes wields as a standard-bearer in the festival world.
Ben John Medland/ABC
Like everything else in Hollywood, times are changing — but at a snail’s pace. Money drives fear, risk avoidance, and the reluctance to take chances. There’s plenty of evidence that diversity is working, especially in television — where series often boast sprawling ensembles, pilots test commercial worthiness, and characters have time to build popularity. There’s a smattering of Asian stars across the channels, from Margaret Cho, Ming-Na Wen, and Maggie Q to Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh and Priyanka Chopra.
According to regular “Roast” writer Aaron Lee, the only material that was off-limits for Trump was “any joke that suggests Trump is not actually as wealthy as he claims to be.” His marital life, his children, his failed businesses, even his hair and weight were fair game — but tearing at his persona as a successful businessman was off the table.
It’s a history that raises fascinating questions about the newly minted White House staffer’s motives: Did Bannon, whose alt-right allegiances have turned him into a leading proponent of nationalism, shelve his personal beliefs for the sake of perceived business opportunities? Did those beliefs — and a tolerance for the hate groups drawn to the alt-right movement — come later? Or does he, as so many have theorized about the president-elect, only believe in himself?
How ironic that a superhero story determined to celebrate the genre’s villains should feature the worst villain that the genre has ever seen. If “Suicide Squad” falls off a cliff the moment the uniting stops and the fighting begins, that’s partially because Enchantress — the enemy that draws our task force into Midway City — is an unmitigated disaster. Blessed with absolutely zero emotional stakes and forced to spend most of the movie gyrating against a green screen, the character is a perfect shitstorm of bad decisions. Delevingne is a talented young actress, but she’s helpless to save this part, a victim of putrid ideas poorly executed.
Despite some of the usual Bollywood razzle-dazzle, this might be the most authentic performance Khan has done on screen in a decade, as Sultan must undergo a considerable arc from guileless lightweight to national champion to fallen hero — and, finally, a dark horse hoping for redemption. Khan is no master at emoting, and his not-so-convincing Haryana accent renders several of his lines to unintelligible garble. But in a welcome departure from previous films, he spares us from his usual slapstick antics and stunts that only crescendo in their level of asininity.
It helps that so much of this savage duel between woman and shark is rooted in a believable physical reality. Lively throws every inch of her long frame into the role; the camera inevitably eyes her like a piece of meat (all the better to appreciate the shark’s POV), but the actress manages to carry the whole movie on one leg, fending off all sorts of hungry looks as she blossoms into a soulful female MacGyver.
“Easy” captures all of the Midwestern capital’s glory, showcasing its variant neighborhoods, hidden gems and tourist attractions with an eye toward equality. Swanberg sees the city from a viewpoint of someone who’s long appreciated the open spaces and utilitarian splendor, making the series pulse with raw magic.
Even if the show doesn’t continue, this moment is the epitome of how well the show balances emotion with story.
What makes “Civil War” so emblematic of the MCU is that it cuts to the heart of what the brand is all about: humanity. “Spider-Man 2” predates the dawn of the MCU, but these movies have never forgotten that film’s bittersweet parting thought: Compassion is both our greatest strength, and our greatest liability.
Despite obvious evidence to the contrary, Mr. Travers has become convinced the CBS drama “Code Black,” which began its second season Wednesday after adding Mr. Lowe to the cast, is actually a continuation of “The Grinder.” We can’t, in good conscience, allow the piece below to run without clarifying this is not the case. But we also couldn’t bring ourselves to break his heart.
Mark Davis/2015 Getty Image
“I don’t feel like I’ve got that cachet that I had at a certain point,” he said, looking hard at the table between us. “I see people seizing the moment when they have the same kind of explosion that I had, and I just didn’t do it. I didn’t know how to do it — I didn’t want to do it. I just thought ‘Oh, this is good! I’ll be able to just keep working.’” He scoffed at himself, one of the most visionary men in Hollywood wondering how he could have ever been so shortsighted.
Chastain admitted she felt liberated and emboldened playing Sloane. “I would say to John, ‘am I being cold enough?’ It was OK for me to not be likable or easy to understand. It was important to me that she be ambitious, ruthless, a loner and perfectionist who has flaws and is also noble and self sacrificing at the end.”
“I sat in the chair, and, one by one, they cut it off,” Brown said. “I was like, ‘Oh no. What have I done? And they told me, ‘I want you to have the mind-frame of Charlize Theron in ‘Mad Max.” And we did this sort of split-screen of her and me, and the resemblance was amazing! I thought, ‘Wow, that’s such an amazing way to put it, you know?’ It was the best decision I’ve ever, ever made.”
“This is no joke,” she said. “I would never want anyone to live this life. I’m watching myself, when I watched them portray me and Dr. Dre and it touched me in different way… it was a very eye-opening experience. I didn’t see it that way [at the time]. I thought it was just normal for me.”
“It felt powerful,” Henson said when asked about being surrounded by so many strong women while telling this story. “The message that I have, and that I’ve been saying over and over, when women stick together, we will change the world. All of those women on this project saw how important this film was, as a woman, don’t matter, black, white, whatever. As a woman, this film is important.”
Justin Theroux: It was literally Damon zeroing in on the three things I like to do the least: sing, be under a spotlight and public speaking — you know, as karaoke. So it was like a trifecta of three things that made me absolutely uncomfortable.
Damon Lindelof: All we had to put in the script was, “Kevin sings ‘Homeward Bound,’” and it was up to Justin and Mimi to execute that incredible performance.
Theroux: I think I called Damon and said, “Fuck you,” right after I read the script.
On the one hand, it’s just kinda crazy, but on the other hand, I wonder if that’s just how it is for me. One of the ways that helps me to get into character is much more profound of a tool than I had even realized.
That marketplace deficiency only made Jenkins want to to get the job done. “I’m a guy from the projects who got together with a playwright from the projects to make a movie about a gay black kid from the projects,” Jenkins said. “The whole point of making it was for people who might’ve grown up under similar circumstances.”
Gerwig was taken by the details of Tuckerman and the First Lady’s enduring friendship. For example, Tuckerman wrote the press release when Jackie Kennedy passed away. “In their yearbook in high school, there’s a question, like senior questions,” Gerwig explained. “It says, ‘Where are you most likely to be found?’ And Nancy wrote, ‘Laughing with Jackie,’ and then Jackie wrote, ‘Laughing with Tuckie.’ Doesn’t that make you just so happy?”
She balks at being lumped into the “Greek Weird Wave,” a media term that also includes Lanthimos. “We don’t even acknowledge it,” she said. “People who started talking about this hadn’t seen ‘The Slow Business of Going,’ which was way back in 2000. I was a Greek film student, but I was working in America. I had been educated in filmmaking in America. It was an American independent film. Was that ‘Greek Weird Wave’? I don’t think so.”
“Now in this 400 series universe, where there’s over 70 buyers doing scripted programming, it allows us the most amount of flexibility in the deal-making process,” Frank said. “If we want to go in and just be producers for hire we can do that. If we want to go in and co-produce with somebody and allow the network’s in-house unit to own part of it, we can. Because we’re not beholden to anyone.”
Miranda had to carve out time to write songs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when he would share what he had done with the Disney “Moana” team at 5pm Skype meetings. The animators were waiting on him, so he did not have the luxury of taking the entire year it took to write the “Hamilton” hit “My Shot.” In some ways, writing “Moana” provided “joy and oasis,” he said, as his life was getting increasing crazy.
“We could tell that Katherine was an actress who had been operating at a consistently high level,” Perry said. “She was literally hours away from the world discovering just what she was capable of.”
Pine felt “a joy in the free jazz” of shooting with Mackenzie, who was channeling the freewheeling films of the ’60s and ’70s — from McMurtry’s “The Last Picture Show” (also set in Archer City, Texas) to “Fat City,” “Thunderbolt & Lightfoot” and “Charlie Varick” — “when films were about things,” he said.
Alwyn recalls the audition in slightly less effusive terms. “I thought it had gone well,” Alwyn remembered of the encounter. “I’d felt a connection with [Lee], but at the same time, this was Ang Lee and I was a kid at drama school and I was British and I had long blond hair and I was a lot skinnier than Billy and like, what do I know?”
Huppert chooses her directors and roles carefully. “I have confidence in the people I work with,” she said. “That’s why I pick them. It’s not that I trust myself, I find people who I can completely rely on their talent and the confidence they have for me, it’s a mutual relationship. It’s not only me that trusts them but they trust me.”
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Last fall, the people you thought were part of the moment, or what was happening, were Trump, Bernie and Hillary. And we had all three on the show pretty early. You catch a lot of grief for doing it but it’s what we’ve always done, and what I think the audience expects us to be doing.
When the first draft didn’t work for him, Lonergan started over with the material he found most intriguing: the depressed janitor/handyman/mechanic Lee, shoveling snow near Boston. “He’s in so much distress, he doesn’t wish to function, doesn’t want to connect to anybody else,” said Lonergan. “But he has to, because he’s still connected to his brother and his family. He’s been through a terrible, life-destroying tragedy, but his brother does not allow him to disappear into the void.”
But when Chazelle pitched the movie, the word “musical” made the finance people recoil. “Then, to add to the damage, I would say, ‘It’s going to be great, because the music’s going to be jazz.’ Then I’d add, ‘It’s a love story and they don’t end up together at the end.’ Then the final capper would be, they would ask, ‘Who’s doing the music?’ and I’d say, ‘My college roommate. He’ll do a great job.’”
For Beatty, there’s no such thing as off the record. He’d rather tell rambling accounts of the good old days with Elia Kazan, William Wyler, David Lean, Sam Goldwyn et al., than answer queries about himself or Howard Hughes. If he doesn’t want to respond, he taps his fingers as he waits for you to ask a question he’s willing to answer. Volleying with him can be an amusing sport, but it takes focus, time, and patience. He knows his charming detours are more fun than the subject at hand.
“I set out my career thinking that there were enough stereotypes about black women, so I wanted to make a difference in this arena,” Harris recently told IndieWire. “The only area where I have power is in the roles I choose, so I want to portray progressive images of women.”
“If you were a crazy baseball fan you knew what was happening in Chicago and it was not that hard to extrapolate and say, this is an incredibly good team and they have every chance to go on and win the World Series in two or three years,” he said. “Honestly it seems like a big magic trick that we predicted this, but it wasn’t really a magic trick, it was just being a big baseball fan and knowing what they were doing.”
There is a love triangle, which more served as a moral referendum on what sort of person she’s going to be, is it this boy or that boy? It was very liberating, after the romance I had been working on. I felt I was allowed to do what the movie wanted to be, a Faust story, a “Wall Street” for ladies, and not worry about giving her a romantic happy ending, because the studio and David set up the pattern for me that it was OK to write something where the love story was not the whole thrust of the movie.
When the director read Philippe Djian’s award-winning 2012 French novel “Oh…”, “It was the first time I read something where I said, ‘ I have no idea how to do this,’ because I had never done anything like this. ‘Let’s do it!’”
Shannon had to adjust her creative process to include writing her characters and sketches, which had already included characters like Mary Katherine Gallagher and Sally O’Malley. It was an ongoing process to find air time for her creations. “To get into the show, you have to write yourself on,” she explained. “‘SNL’ is the hardest. People don’t know that.”
That rule also meant that Heckerling refused to be boxed in by the expectations heaped on female filmmakers. “I knew that I didn’t want to be a ‘female’ director doing ‘female’ projects, because there’d be damn few of those. Everybody I know would be competing for them, and anybody that messed up would reflect on all of us,” she said.
Photo by Stephanie Branchu. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Portman screened Larraín’s movies, from Oscar nominee “No” to this year’s Chilean submission “Neruda.” “His films were incredible and had a unique, specific vision,” she said in our video interview. When they met, “he had a clear idea of what he wanted to do. He’s open to discovery.” The filmmaker told her, “You’re either diving into this right now — or walk away. You commit and you go for it.”
“Merchant and Ivory pay you a pittance — and everyone else,” said Thompson. “And it was hilarious. They struggled from week to week to get everyone paid, it was tough for them, and pretty tough on the crew as well. Making a Merchant Ivory movie, you knew you were making something of weight, and of course for me, it was only my fifth movie, a completely different experience from the ones I’d done before. It was a great joy. I’m glad I was young. Ismail occasionally would nip into the catering section and knock up a wonderful curry at the end of the week.”
Lists and Galleries
From “Game of Thrones” and “Fleabag” to “High Maintenance” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” these critters made the most impact on our TVs this year.
When is a vampire movie more than just a vampire movie? When it’s an allegory for drug addiction with frequent philosophical musings directed by Abel Ferrara.
“People always ask who’s my favorite captain, and I say Picard because if I’m on his ship, I’ll probably survive,” Roddenberry told IndieWire. “I think the first Enterprise would’ve been blown away a long time ago. But [the Prime Directive] was for the most part always there, that they shouldn’t interfere. Although, they always did.”
The focus on the rehabilitation of these severely wounded veterans is at an all-time high — but things can always be improved.
Since “Game of Thrones” series creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss have tried to keep flashbacks and exposition at a minimum, there’s still a wealth of stories that haven’t been represented on the screen.
Sarah Paulson’s central role as Marcia Clark was one of the main reasons the “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson” grabbed the public’s attention in the year’s early months. But Paulson also gave another 2016-best performance in a venue where no one could see her face. WBUR’s Modern Love enlists notable performers like Paulson to perform entries from the regular New York Times column that highlights love in all its forms. Paulson reads Amy Seek’s story of navigating an open adoption with a gentleness that conveys the underlying heartbreak without being manipulative.
“The Goonies”: Kids on a mission their parents definitely wouldn’t approve of and a monster or two thrown in for good measure. We’re beginning to sense a pattern here.