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Michael B. Jordan Clarifies Earlier ‘Black Mythology’ Comments, Says He Wants to Bring Those Stories ‘To the Masses’ 

Michael B. Jordan ruffled some feathers last month when he opined that “we don’t have any mythology, black mythology, or folklore. …Creating our own mythology is very important because…you help people dream.” The actor has now elaborated on that comment in a QG profile declaring him one of 2018’s Men of the Year: “I meant we don’t have black mythologies and folklore that’s on the big screen and small screen, period,” he said.

“And I want to help bring those to the masses, the same stories, bedtime stories, that I was being told of Anansi the Spider and the story of Hannibal and Mansa Musa and all these historical figures!” Jordan added.

He received much in the way criticism for his initial remarks, which he chose not to expound on until now. The actor has come to great attention in recent years for his roles in films like “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”; his profile rose even higher with this year’s “Black Panther,” in which he co-starred alongside Chadwick Boseman as the memorable Eric Killmonger. All three were directed by Ryan Coogler.

He’ll next be seen in “Creed II,” which arrives in theaters in time for Thanksgiving. He’s inspired to keep going for a number of reasons, his family chief among them. “I want to make this thing so my family ain’t gotta worry about nothing,” Jordan said of his legacy-in-the-making. “My mom and dad, my brother and sister, my nieces, my future nieces and nephews, my future kids — everybody is going to be good. I want intergenerational wealth. I’m going to have fun writing my will. Oh, my God. It’s going to be so much fun.”

Revisit the Stan Lee and Alain Resnais Sci-Fi Movie That Never Got Made — Watch 

Stan Lee has shuffled off this mortal coil, but his legacy lives on. Although he’s best known for Marvel Comics and the ever-expanding cinematic universe based on them, the superhero legend had his fair share of unrealized projects as well. Among them was “The Monster Maker,” a sci-fi screenplay he worked on with “Hiroshima Mon Amour” and “Last Year at Marienbad” auteur Alain Resnais. (Incidentally, the French luminary wanted to direct a Spider-Man movie that one imagines would have been fairly different from Sam Raimi’s.)

In a short documentary produced by the Criterion Collection about the thwarted collaboration, Lee reveals that he became “very, very close friends” with Resnais after receiving a letter from the filmmaker. Resnais even stayed in Lee’s guest house while visiting America. “He actually talked me into writing a screenplay about pollution, the evils of it,” Lee said. Doing so took three weeks, with “The Monster Maker” being fashioned in the style of a Roger Corman movie: inexpensive and pulpy.

“Resnais was really a pleasure to work with,” Lee said of their process. “He was always thinking of new story plots and how to fix them and make them better…Alain was so wrapped up in what he did, and he envisioned everything, every scene. It was thrilling being with him and discussing these things. Suddenly I was working with someone who made movies, and I was just a guy doing comic books, so it was thrilling for me.”

“The Monster Maker” was to be filmed on Rat Island, a small island in the East River, where all the pollution in New York would congeal and form a monster that the film’s hero would have to combat. The duo took it to a production company that wanted them to cut a third of the dialogue; Lee agreed, but Resnais refused, and so “The Monster Maker” was never made.

Watch the short Criterion documentary below.

Oscar Cinematography Survey: Here’s the Cameras and Lenses Used To Shoot 35 Awards Contenders 

IndieWire reached out to the cinematographers whose films are in awards contention and among the most critically acclaimed films of the year to find out which cameras and lenses they used and, more importantly, why these were the right tools to create the visual language of their films

(Films are alphabetical order by title.)


Director of Photography Rob Hardy on the set of Annihilation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Director of photography Rob Hardy on the set of “Annihilation”

Peter Mountain

Format and Camera: Sony F65 at 4K, for the shimmer we switched to RED weapon 6K.
Lens: We started with Primo anamorphic, then for the shimmer we switched to the G-Series anamorphic.

Rob Hardy: I wanted a subtle shift in the look of the film as Lena’s character (Natalie Portman) moves through the story and things get progressively more and more hallucinogenic. So by switching out camera and lens systems we introduced a much more heightened look. Additionally, we generated the color shimmer effect in camera by creating a shimmer library — this was achieved by shooting color projectors against black, fired into a large format Panatar Anamorphic lens. The resulting color aberrations were then added as layering in the DI to achieve an organic look for the shimmer itself.

“At Eternity’s Gate”

“At Eternity’s Gate” cinematographer Benoît Delhomme

CBS Films

Format: Digital, 2.35 aspect ratio, 8k and the post production was done in 4k
Camera: Red Helium 8K
Lens: Vintage Kowa spherical lenses

Benoît Delhomme: I chose the Red Helium because I had never used a Red Camera before on a feature film and I liked the idea of working with a camera that I could not control and understand completely. I knew it would affect my photography but I was interested in taking that risk. I wanted to find new textures. I wanted to get surprised by my own images. I found that the Red was giving me more saturated colors than what I was used to and that was good for capturing Van Gogh’s territory. I also wanted to shoot in 8K to get very precise details in the landscapes and the trees.

I never thought of shooting this movie on film because of the way I wanted to be able to operate. I needed a camera as small as an old Hasselblad. I reduced the Red Helium to the smallest box possible with two big wooden grips to hold and I was able to run in the fields like a war photographer. I could follow Willem Dafoe everywhere and improvise complex shots. I wanted the hand-held operating to be very alive, like if the camera was a character in the movie. The Kowas lenses were very special and dangerous to use because they had nearly no anti-flare coating. So when I was framing the sun I was getting very interesting ghost circles around it. It looked very similar to the way Vincent Van Gogh was painting the sun. These lenses were far from perfect and this is why I loved them. I often added split diopters on them to blur the bottom of the frame when we were shooting subjective shots of Vincent having a crisis.

“Bad Times at the El Royale”

“Bad Times at the El Royale” cinematographer Seamus McGarvey

Kimberley French

Format: 35mm Film (Kodak 5219), Anamorphic with 1:2.39 Aspect Ratio
Camera: Panaflex XL
Lens: Panavision C Series and E series Anamorphic lenses

Seamus McGarvey: From my very first discussions with director Drew Goddard about the cinematographic look of the film we always talked about shooting on film using anamorphic lenses. We chose anamorphic because I love the natural inherent distortions of squeezing and un-squeezing an image and what that does to the “real.” It torques with the real in an interesting way and distances you from the theatricality of the set. You can throw the background out of focus more effectively. It is also a beautiful format for portraiture. We had extreme wides in our set, but also a lot of key moments play in close-up. There’s nothing more beautiful than an anamorphic close-up, with the way it focuses on the eyes and drops off. You really get a sense of being inside someone’s head, which was a critical thing for the psychological aspect of this film.

The older C series lenses bring in a bit of personality. Many cinematographers are very keen on the glass lending something that isn’t pristine clarity, contrast, and sharpness edge-to-edge. Sometimes people want a bit of distance and a gauze between you and the set and the actor. It somehow brings in a little bit of the essence and magic of cinema. Shooting with film as our medium lent the movie texture in color, contrast and grain. I love how film depicts the profundity of the darkness and the detail in highlights (especially in flames) which were crucial elements in our story. Shooting on film demands a discipline which I have witnessed disappearing on some of the digital productions I have shot. With film there is a respect for the actual take… it almost makes the set a more holy place!

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel

Alison Cohen Rosa / Netflix

Camera: Arri Alexa Studio XT and Mini
Lens: Zeiss Master Primes. zoom lenses Arri Alura 15.5-45 and 30-80

Bruno Delbonnel: I was trying to keep things as simple as possible since it was the first time Joel and Ethan Coen were using a digital camera. I’ve never been interested in the new technologies, I always tried to keep thing very simple. Light and framing are more important than the new toys. For years I was using the same package: a set of Cooke S4 lenses, an Arricam and Kodak 5219. For this project, the closest to this set on digital was the Alexa studio and its optical finder and a set of master primes because of the extra stop I would need on remote locations with a very limited access to big generators. The main challenge for “Buster Scruggs” was to find a different “look” for the six short stories while keeping the visual idea of an “Illustration book.”

Six different very remote landscapes were shot during a very bad summer weather-wise. I guess the Alexa and its wide latitude helped me to get the contrast I needed when going from a sunny morning to an overcast afternoon. With this latitude and knowing I couldn’t relight big landscapes, I knew that while grading I would have enough information in the high and low part of the image to match grade and find six different “looks.”

“Beautiful Boy”

BEAUTIFUL BOY featuring Cinematographer Ruben Impens and Director Felix van Groeningen courtesy of Amazon Studios.

“Beautiful Boy” cinematographer Ruben Impens and director Felix van Groeningen

Francois Duhamel/Amazon

Format: ARRIRAW 2.8K
Camera: Arri Alexa SXT
Lens: HAWK anamorphic V-lite 1.3x squeeze get a 1:85 aspect ratio

Ruben Impens: We wanted the film in a 1:85 aspect ratio and a look that feels not too modern, the movie takes place in 2002. At the same time it shouldn’t feel too romantic, so we tested a bunch of spherical lenses and the Alexa 65 camera. When analyzing the test footage we very quickly feel in love with the hawk look. I had never used this 1.3x squeeze lenses, but it felt like it was the perfect balance. We had a lot of sunny exterior locations and the anamorphic bokeh felt just right. The Alexa 65 was interesting but too clean and the lens choices rather limited, plus because we only had a couple of weeks left in prep I was uncomfortable going down that path.  I needed more time.

About the camera movements. We wanted a solid simple use of camera, rather wide lenses with ‘slow imperceptible‘ tracking moves. The pace of the movie is rather slow and so is the camera, it creeps on you. That was the idea and it worked out very well.

“Black Panther”

Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHERL to R: Director Ryan Coogler and Cinematographer Rachel Morrison Ph: Matt Kennedy©Marvel Studios 2018

Director Ryan Coogler and Cinematographer Rachel Morrison on the set of “Black Panther”

Format: 3.4K Open Gate Arriraw
Camera: Alexa SXT and Alexa Mini
Lens: Panavision Primo primes and zooms. We shot the majority of the film on the 27mm, 30mm and the 35mm

Rachel Morrison: We ultimately chose spherical 35mm sensor over 65mm or anamorphic because [director] Ryan [Coogler] really wanted a naturalistic feel and wanted a deeper depth of field so that the audience could see and experience the world of Wakanda. We needed glass that was sharp enough for compositing, which eliminated some of the older “funkier” optics. That said, I wasn’t interested in Master Primes, which can feel too perfect and even clinical at times. We tested a number of lenses but it ultimately came down to Cooke S4s or Panavision Primos and we chose the Primos because we liked the quality of their flare. Additionally, and importantly, we were exploring the theme of a circle for Wakanda and the Cookes have an octagonal bokeh, whereas the Primos have a much rounder bokeh — at the same shooting stop. The Arri Alexa with Primo lenses helped us to balance epic scope with humanity and intimacy.


Chayse Irvin on the set of

Cinematographer Chayse Irvin on the set of “Blackkklansman”

David Lee/Focus Features

Format: Kodak 35mm Film
Camera: Panavision XL2, Arricam LT, Aaton Penelope
Lens: Panavision PVintage Lenses

Chayse Irvin: It wasn’t really that I chose these tools, they chose us. I experimented with many ideas in pre-production, video, 16mm, 35mm, Ektachrome, anamorphic lenses, spherical lenses, modern lenses, vintage lenses. Then I viewed the footage naked, free of an obstructed view about a format or practice. I was really hypnotized by the 35mm images, and additionally when it was flashed with a Panaflasher 3. Somehow it felt fresh to me, it challenged me. Kodak had just opened a new Lab in NYC and I interpreted all these signs as the film telling us this is what it needed to be. It’s a very Wu Wei approach to filmmaking, but I never want the images to feel contrived and symbolic, to avoid that I have to let it all grow from within the process.

“Bohemian Rhapsody”

“Bohemian Rhapsody” cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel

“Bohemian Rhapsody” cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel

Alex Bailey

Format: Arriraw, 16mm and 35mm film
Camera: Arri Alexa SXT, Alexa 65, 35 Arri BL
Lens: Arri DNA lenses, vintage Cooke Speed Panchros

Newton Thomas Sigel: The beginning days of immigrant Freddie arriving in London and meeting the other boys in the band was photographed with the Alexa SXT and vintage Cooke Speed Panchros. As Queen formed and hit the national stage, a transition was made to the Alexa 65 with specially designed Arri DNA lenses – all recorded in Arriraw. I also used some 16mm and 35mm film, particularly on the iconic “I Want To Break Free” video, which was shot on a 35 Arri BL. Fun fact: We found the actual camera that photographed Freddie’s very last video, just before he passed away!

“Bohemian Rhapsody” opens with a tease of Live Aid, then dives back to 1970 when Freddie first came to London. In those days he, and his future bandmates, had a beautifully idealistic energy. I used the old Speed Panchros and a special LUT to express this period. It is very golden and romantic, but also a little raw: hand-held and grainy. Then comes “Top Of The Pops,” their American tour and they skyrocket. This was done with the 65/DNA combo, and has a cleaner, more desaturated feel. It grows as we approach the 80s and Freddie transforms his look as well. It culminates in the massive Live Aid concert.

“Boy Erased”

Boy Erased

“Boy Erased” cinematographer Eduard Grau

Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features

Format: 35mm for the exterior scenes, Alexa Arriraw 2.8K the rest.
Camera: Arri Alexa and Arri Lt.
Lens: Zeiss Superspeed t1.3 coated and uncoated sets depending on the scene.

Eduard Grau: When we talked about the movie with [director] Joel [Edgerton] we were looking to be honest to the characters and after testing it felt right to shoot spherical with an 1:1.85 [aspect ratio], because it is less fancy and made the characters more real and likable. But also we wanted to have a shallow depth of field so that Jared (Lucas Hedges) is in his own personal world. We also liked the zeiss superspeed lenses because they had a pastel look and helped us on the softness of the images. Nothing is black or white in the image, because our characters are not good or bad.

We shot on 35mm because it gave us the base texture of the film, but it was more beneficial for the performances on the movie to shoot digital, so that’s what we did on the main scenes. At the end of the day, we should help telling stories with our decisions.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Cinematographer Brandon Trost and Director Marielle Heller on the set of

Cinematographer Brandon Trost and director Marielle Heller on the set of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Mary Cybulski

Format: REDCode RAW 8K
Camera: Panavision Millennium DXL
Lens: Panavison Primo 70 series lenses with a custom optical design by Dan Sasaki that became the genesis for the Panavision Primo Artiste T1.8 lenses.

Brandon Trost: Director Marielle Heller and I had always planned to shoot “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” with anamorphic lenses, but at the last moment we tested the DXL and instantly felt that large format was the right choice for the story. Traditionally large format is used for a grand sense of scale and scope, but we wanted a smaller scale, so it wasn’t on our radar. We were after an intimate portrait of early 90s NYC and we were surprised to find that the large sensor could allow a more personal sense of depth. We could use wider lenses for closeups without a distorted effect, which felt like we were allowing the audience to experience this intimacy in a real personal way.

I also wanted a very soft and analog tone for this film, so initially I was concerned that shooting 8k would have too much resolution and look to sharp for my taste. This ultimately wasn’t the case, and I found various techniques of “softening” that worked well. I wanted to use vintage lenses at first since they’re usually softer by nature, but they proved unavailable so I had the Primo 70s lenses re-optimized. This gave an analog quality that was very soft and almost creamy feeling while maintaining the perfect amount of resolution. We also shot most of this film wide open, and the shallow depth of field we could achieve with this system was really quite beautiful, even with wide lenses. The camera was rated at 3200 ISO for the entire film which induced an additional layer of softer texture while allowing to shoot with very low light. On top of that we added a grain effect in the DI that really tied the whole thing together.

We were also the very first film to use this camera and lens system, so it was a bit of a gamble heading into this, but it delivered marvelously and the result was well worth it. I wanted this film to look like a nostalgic NYC winter photograph printed on matte paper and I think we got just that.

“Cold War”

“Cold War” cinematographer Lukasz Zal


Format: 2.8 ARRIRAW
Lens: Zeiss Ultra Prime series, Angénieux Optimo zooms 24-290mm, 19,5-90mm and 45-120 Lightweight

Lukasz Zal: The equipment is important to a certain extent, but it does not influence the way the story is told through the image. For Paweł, the image is an integral part of the story and is as important as the actors, music and the narrative. During the long preparation process we were looking for the best formal solutions to tell the story. We spent huge amount of time preparing ourselves, but once the shoot started, we allowed for some space to literally sculpt the image – we constantly reframed and refined each shot in order to find the best one. We didn’t do typical coverage, mostly we’d do the scene with just one or two shots. We took all these elements – actors, extras, props, camera movement and lighting that all needed to coincide in one go, at the same time. This magical moment when all these things come together is for me the most exciting part of being a cinematographer.

This post continues on the next page.

The Best Movie Ensembles of All Time — IndieWire Critics Survey 

Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: In honor of “Widows,” what is the greatest ensemble cast ever assembled in a movie?

Emily Sears (@emily_dawn), Birth.Movies.Death.

On March 24, 1984, five high school students entered Saturday morning detention and taught us to never judge a book by its cover. Over the course of one day, the young ensemble cast of “The Breakfast Club” tear down the walls between their disparate characters by dismantling the stereotypes of the American teenager. Collaborating with writer-director John Hughes, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, and Judd Nelson contributed to the authenticity of characters that are still relevant and resonating more than three decades later. Hughes may have conceived his own idea of the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, and the criminal on the page, but entrusting his brilliant young cast to bring their own knowledge and experience to the roles is why the film remains a timeless representation of the teenage experience.

Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker

The one true answer is so obvious, in the vein of “who’s the greatest English playwright,” that it’s both necessary to respond with the work of the cinema’s greatest Shakespearean—”Citizen Kane,” of course—and to give some different answer to avoid the sin of obviousness. Since Orson Welles’s first feature is the dividing line and the unifying embrace of the classic and the modern cinemas, it requires two corresponding selections to match its scope. In the realm of the classic, there’s “The Rules of the Game,” in which Jean Renoir creates a panorama of types that preserve their grand and deft actors’ mighty idiosyncrasies and styles of performance, including his own. From the modern domain, there’s “Daughters of the Dust,” in which Julie Dash, without relying on typology at all, fuses a vast array of strong and distinctive actors with her meticulously and forcefully conceived characters to render them as exemplary as they remain adamantly individual.

Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail, Film Festival Today

Among the many great ensemble casts of years past and present, I’m picking French director Laurent Cantet’s 2008 “The Class” (“Entre les murs,” in the original French), in which school teacher François Bégaudeau plays a loosely dramatized version of himself, supported by a fantastic group of younger actors, who are actual students, themselves. In a film that tackles issues of race, class and othering, as well as the very nature and mission of public education, Bégaudeau and his fellow performers deliver a rousing paean to the power of ideas and their free expression. Challenged by his pupils at every turn, Bégaudeau chooses to engage, rather than confront, and the result is moving and brilliant, both.

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough), Vague Visages, Fandor,, Crooked Marquee

For the 2003 film “Dogville,” Lars von Trier assembled a cast of icons from various eras, with both female and male performers driving the narrative. With its stage setting, the revenge drama looks and feels different than most Hollywood ensemble movies, and the fact that Lauren Bacall and Harriet Andersson have supporting roles, in a 21st century art house production, forever connects “Dogville” to Hollywood’s seemingly distant past. There are 70s-era tough guys like Ben Gazzara and James Caan, and there are modern female stars like Chloë Sevigny and Nicole Kidman, the latter of whom carries the film with her enigmatic performance.

The list goes on and on: Paul Bettany, Udo Kier, Patricia Clarkson, Stellan Skarsgård… all of these people make each of the nine chapters purely enthralling, certainly when things go wrong in Dogville. This ensemble cast exudes quiet star power, the kind that one can reflect on after the fact rather than being distracted in the moment. “Dogville” doesn’t have a “sexy” ensemble cast, but it’s indeed one of the most accomplished group of performers ever put together for a $10 million film.

Sarah Marrs (@Cinesnark),, Freelance

There is an argument to be made for the “Avengers,” but I will not be making it because the greatest ensemble cast of all time is the cast of “Drop Dead Gorgeous”. Any cast that features both Ellen Barkin AND Allison Janney wins by default. “Drop Dead Gorgeous” is a 1999 mockumentary about a small-town teen beauty pageant and almost twenty years later it remains one of the funniest movies ever made.

What makes its ensemble notable are three things: 1) The aforementioned Barkin-Janney connection, 2) it is a roster of 21st century talent, and 3) it’s a predominately female ensemble (which is where the Avengers get points deducted). “Drop Dead Gorgeous” has a strong roster of lady talent, starting with Barkin and Janney but also including Kirstie Alley, Mindy Sterling, Mo Gaffney, and Nora Dunn, but the teen cast is loaded with the stars of tomorrow. Kirsten Dunst was already a name thanks to “Interview with a Vampire” and general childhood stardom, and Denise Richards was coming off “Wild Things”. But there is also post-“Clueless” Brittany Murphy and “Drop Dead Gorgeous” is the first screen credit of Amy Adams. Yes, THE Amy Adams! “Drop Dead Gorgeous” plays like a highlight reel of some of the biggest stars of the 2000s, and they’re all women. Sure, Will Sasso and Thomas Lennon pop up in small parts, and That Guy character actor Sam McMurray comes through with a great Drunk Dad performance. But “Drop Dead Gorgeous” is a showcase for talented women years before it was cool to make movies featuring ensembles of talented women. “Drop Dead Gorgeous” was ahead of its time, which is probably why it’s as funny today as it was in 1999.

Robert Daniels (@812filmreviews), Freelance

Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There” easily lends itself to a large ensemble, as Bob Dylan was the last great mythology prior to the information age. He’s enigma and mystery if they walked the earth. If you counted his lies, half-truths, and full-truths, you’d find he’d lived several different lives. Haynes saw that potential and cast six actors to play the visionary troubadour, Richard Gere, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Marcus Carl Franklin, and Cate Blanchett.

Each assume a unique portion of the mythology. They’re Jude, Arthur, Jack Rollins, Billy the Kid, Woody Guthrie, and Robbie. We flip from decade-to-decade, jump ages, and even races. More is revealed of Dylan, even as less is revealed. We never know who the “real” Dylan is, though ironically, the embarrassed and self-conscious boy spinning yarns is probably the closest. In any case, so complete were the actors’ performances that Cat Blanchett would be nominated for Best Supporting Actress for playing Dylan.

And while the top-line cast alone makes the film, this Fellini-inspired, at times, surrealistic biopic also features Julianne Moore as a Joan Baez clone, Bruce Greenwood pulling double duty as a journalist and Pat Garrett, Kim Gordon, Jim James, David Cross as Alan Ginsburg, Michelle Williams, Charlotte Gainsbourg, with Kris Kristofferson as a narrator (because, it’s a Bob Dylan biopic and why not).

“I’m Not There” is an amazing convergence of talent because great ensembles happen when you find the right mix of current stars and soon-to-be stars, but everyone, except for Ben Whishaw and Marcus Carl Franklin, were already stars before “I’m Not There.” The film, featuring, four future Academy Award winners (though it should be five, if not for the robbery of Michelle Williams, but that’s a separate post), is an ensemble befitting of Dylan’s varied lives… lies… and characters.

Lindsey Romain (@lindseyromain), Staff Writer for Nerdist

My personal favorite ensemble cast is the one Tarantino assembled for “Inglourious Basterds.” Not only did it round up a few big-namers with Brad Pitt and Diane Kruger, but it introduced me to a slew of fantastic foreign actors I’d never heard of at the time: Micahel Fassbender, Mélanie Laurent, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger, August Diehl, and of course Christoph Waltz, who immediately entered the pantheon of all-time great villains with his turn as Nazi dirtbag Col.  Hans Landa. The film was also able to bring some totally random American actors out of the woodwork — BJ Novak, Eli Roth, Samm Levine, Mike Myers — leading to a bizarre, but truly fascinating group of people who work perfectly off of one another.

Don Shanahan (@casablancadon), Every Movie Has a Lesson

Like most movie buffs my age knocking on the door of turning 40, I was (and remain) an undefeated “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” player. My key is going backwards from Bacon instead of forward from the randomly named actor. One of my top go-to starting points contains my answer for this week’s survey.  Kevin Bacon is one of 212 speaking parts in Oliver Stone’s lauded expose “JFK.”  Bigger and flashier names certainly fill the rosters of other movies, but I will take that intricate and skilled ensemble over all others.  Legends Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ed Asner, and Donald Sutherland tussle with then-contemporaries Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci, John Candy, Bacon, and Gary Oldman and it’s glorious to watch.

As wonderful as those star performers are, what impresses me the most about the “JFK” cast is the next layer of depth comprised of some of the best and steadiest character actors to grace the business, folks like Michael Rooker, Wayne Knight, Jay O. Sanders, Laurie Metcalf, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Bob Gunton, Ron Rifkin, Brian Doyle-Murray, Sally Kirkland, Tony Plana, John Larroquette, and Vincent D’Onofrio. Every performer, large or small, exudes complete commitment to the central cause of challenging history and rattling cages.  They make what was provocative and phenomenal tick even more attuned.

Danielle Solzman (@DanielleSATM), Solzy at the Movies/Freelance

“It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” While a number of high-profile stars have a starring or co-starring role, there are an even larger number of stars appearing in the film if only for a mere cameo. It’s one of my favorite comedies of all time and a film of this nature can’t easily be replicated.

Luke Hicks (@lou_kicks), Film School Rejects, Birth.Movies.Death., Bright Wall/Dark Room

Enchanting from the first second of its antique exordium to the last second of its Aimee-Mann-overlaid fourth wall obliteration, “Magnolia” is a modern, comi-tragic fable of Homeric proportion (complete with significant animal roles). Other directors might have left the same story at “shit happens,” but Anderson braves the dark of the human soul in all of its pain and longing. He weaves like Woodcock through sparsely intertwined stories of childhood disappointment, incessant embitterment, and shattering loss, slowly unveiling the philosophical reality that unifies everyone. There are no big bang realizations, no kitschy screenwriting maneuvers, nothing of the sort. It’s like a puzzle with un-primped edges all around looking for companion pieces—incomplete, but somehow perfect because the puzzle maker designed it that way.

In all of this, Anderson’s brilliant direction is heightened by the methodical array of emotion offered by the films sovereign ensemble. Tom Cruise, Melora Walters, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Orlando Jones, Melinda Dillon, Patton Oswalt, Jason Robards, Philip Baker Hall, Luis Guzman, Alfred Molina, Thomas Jane, Clark Gregg, Neil Flynn, William Mapother, and Henry Gibson (plus, voice roles by Mary Lynn Rajskub and Paul F. Tompkins) form a perfect balance of stardom and celebrated support. It also comes with one of my favorite film history stories to imagine: Anderson meeting Kubrick and Cruise in England on the set of “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999) to implore Cruise to take the role mere months before Kubrick died. I like to think of it as a passing of the torch from the once greatest living director to the current greatest living director. And Magnolia was the first thing to come of it. It is, quite frankly, one of the greatest films ever made, and without a doubt, the ensemble of all ensembles.

Mike McGranaghan (@AisleSeat), The Aisle Seat, Screen Rant

To be perfectly honest, this question is overwhelming. There are so many amazing films with outstanding ensemble casts that I couldn’t even begin to pick just one. Therefore, I’m going to put my own spin on the question. My answer is “Movie 43.” Look at this cast — Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Seth MacFarlane, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Emma Stone, Chloe Grace Moretz, Richard Gere, Jason Sudeikis, Uma Thurman, Kristen Bell, Gerard Butler, Halle Berry, Terrence Howard, and Elizabeth Banks. What a cast!

Of course, to paraphrase Bart Simpson, “Movie 43” both sucks and blows. It’s nothing short of a cinematic atrocity that should only be shown during “enhanced interrogation” sessions in which waterboarding is too subtle to get the job done. Still, even though it wastes every single one of those fine actors, you have to admit that it has an unparalleled cast.

Roxana Hadadi (@roxana_hadadi), Pajiba, Chesapeake Family magazine, Punch Drunk Critics

I do this thing where I yell at people to watch Dee Rees’ “Mudbound.” The 2017 film is a new American classic, and it deserved more acclaim than it received from the Academy (which was five nominations, zero wins), and in my dream world the film will end up as part of the Criterion Collection one day and yours truly would write an essay for the release. This is all to say that “Mudbound” has one of the best ensemble casts I’ve ever seen, populated from top to bottom with characters who are fully realized and immensely nuanced and who are conveyed deeply and poignantly through the performances of Rob Morgan, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan, and Garrett Hedlund. Each person here should have snagged an Oscar nomination: the unlikely friendship between Mitchell’s and Hedlund’s characters feels simultaneously spry and weighty; Mulligan perfects her “weary wife” thing, and shows a steely spark that shakes her unyielding husband, played by Clarke; and there is a moment late in the film when Blige describes her son’s heartbeat, and her delivery is like a eulogy and a prayer. Have I told you to watch “Mudbound” yet? It’s on Netflix. You have no excuse not to.

Fran Hoepfner (@franhoepfner), Bright Wall/Dark Room

I wracked my brain for an answer less obvious than this, but to me, the ensemble cast of 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven” stands high above the rest. The reason that movie has cemented itself as this crackerjack classic is no doubt due to the relaxed chemistry of its cast. A mix of well-established players like Elliott Gould and Carl Reiner along with some relative newcomers like Matt Damon and Casey Affleck (who, despite my misgivings about his behavior towards women, I still find entirely magnetic in the first entry in this trilogy) led, of course, by George Clooney and Brad Pitt, who make banter seem like an Olympic sport. The ensemble rounds itself out with the likes of Andy Garcia––somehow both insanely charming and devoid of charm completely in this role––and Julia Roberts, and what follows is one of the most entertaining moviegoing experiences of this century.

Ken Bakely (@kbake_99), Freelance for Film Pulse

Robert Altman’s “Nashville” uses its two-dozen-strong ensemble to weave a patchwork that’s disparate in its intimate establishment but staggering in its eventual scope. With a mix of established performers and then-newcomers, everyone develops their character with rich detail and wide emotional range, allowing them to thrive under Altman’s improvisational style as well as his more specific satirical foundations. It’s striking to observe just how well the film’s world works together, despite its avoidance of tightly plotted or overly obvious narrative structures. Individual threads and more abstract, overarching connections combine and create a true ensemble masterpiece; an overwhelming accomplishment that endures as a defining feat of the format.

Andrea Thompson (@areelofonesown) Freelance for The Chicago Reader, The Young Folks, Cultured Vultures

Quentin Tarantino has become a problematic filmmaker for me, but his masterpiece “Pulp Fiction” still has one of the best casts ever. There’s the central duo John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, and the movie also has Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Uma Thurman, Steve Buscemi, Rosanna Arquette, Tim Roth, and Christopher Walken, each giving it their all in a series of related stories about violence, corruption, and in a few, a bit of redemption. And “Pulp Fiction” succeeds largely because of the cast, who each have a part to play in the movie’s greater narrative, stripped of much of the glamour and brand festishization of other crime movies. The criminals and the people around them are small-time, but such is the strength of the story and dialogue that their world remains one of the most compelling portraits of criminal life.

Jesse Hassenger (@rockmarooned), freelance for The A.V. Club, The Week, Nylon

The movie that always pops into my head when I think of great ensembles: “Red Dragon,” Brett Ratner’s 2002 foray into the Hannibal Lecter series. It’s a bad movie, in large part because the ensemble is so strong. This movie stars Edward Norton, Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, and Harvey Kietel. Not only are those all wonderful performers, but collectively they turn the cast of “Red Dragon” into a supergroup of actors who have appeared in multiple films from the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, and the Coen Brothers — some of the best ensemble-wranglers of our time — and in some cases, before the great filmmakers in question actually brought them into the fold. Even more amazingly, in “Red Dragon” none of these people do a goddamn bit of anything that’s interesting. I think Hoffman’s character burns to death and Fiennes writhes around with some tattoos on his back. That’s all I remember because the movie is crazy forgettable. But I’m cursed to remember its wasted ensemble forever!

Allison Shoemaker (@allisonshoe), The A.V. Club,, Consequence of Sound

The bench for Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility” is just absurdly deep. If you grouped every actor in that ensemble into one big group and then tossed a pebble into it, you’d hit a world-class character actor, and then it would bounce off that one and hit a few others. (Please toss carefully, they are precious, those actors.) It’s the anti-“Love, Actually”—instead of trying to give everyone a complete arc with lots of emotional signposts, Lee (and screenwriter Emma Thompson) simply trust that both the actors and the story are excellent, and that someone like Hugh Laurie is capable of nailing all the jokes and then fully delivering on one totally grounded, somber moment without a lot of hand-holding. Thompson and Kate Winslet are both exceptional, but everyone has at least one incredible moment. Gemma Jones! Elizabeth Spriggs! Harriet Wise, Imelda Staunton, Imogen Stubbs, and Greg Wise! Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman, the latter of whom turns in one of his very best, and sadly under-celebrated, performances! Are you not entertained?

It’s not as starry as some of the other great ensemble casts, but there’s not a single weak link in the mix, and I return to it with great frequency. Spriggs and Thompson chatting casually and sadly about Alan Rickman’s grave countenance? Inject it directly into my veins.

Siddhant Adlakha (@SidizenKane), /Film, Polygon

Ramesh Sippy’s “Sholay” ran sold out in India for six straight years back in the ’70s, and it holds up today like nobody’s business. A definitive mainstay of Hindi cinema, the Western-inspired musical has permeated the broader South Asian culture like no film I can think of anywhere in the world, and that’s thanks in part to the embarrassment of riches that is its cast.

In the lead roles of Jai and Veeru, felons tasked with protecting a small town, are Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra as the straight-man and his comedic foil, best friends who stick by each other’s side (and sing about it too!) They’re enlisted by Sanjeev Kumar’s fiery Thakur, a man carrying physical and emotional scars inflicted by the notorious dacoit Gabbar Singh, who Amjad Khan turns in to one of Indian cinema’s greatest villains by reveling in his atrocities. Jai and Veeru are joined by love interests Radha (Jaya Bahaduri), Thakur’s daughter-in-law, the only other surviving member of their family and a woman who shoulders her grief with poise, as well as Hema Malini as Basanti, a feisty carriage driver who challenges Veeru at every turn, firing off memorable lines at a mile-a-minute.

What’s more, almost every one of the film’s minor roles has become iconic in its own way. From A. K. Hangal’s Rahim Chacha, the kindly village Imam, to Asrani’s ridiculous Chaplin-inspired colonial jailor, to Jagdeep as Jai and Veeru’s sly informant Soorma Bhopali, to Helen as the alluring dancer in “Mehbooba Mehbooba” to Mac Mohan and Viju Khote as Gabbar’s groveling sidekicks, Saambha and Kaalia.

Every line and every close-up is instantly recognizable to Indian audiences. I do feel bad for Western viewers, for whom the subtitles for the poetic dialogue (written by lyricist duo Salim-Javed) are far too literal, but something that translates across all borders of language and culture is the way the actors breathe life in to their characters, making each scene feel like a world you could walk into.

Deany Cheng (@dennynotdeeny), Barber’s Chair Digital

Robert Altman’s filmography has no shortage of stacked ensemble movies, but “Short Cuts” is the quintessential Altman ensemble film. Not only is it absolutely loaded with ringers–Julianne Moore! Jack Lemmon! Tim Robbins! Frances McDormand! About a dozen other big names!–but everyone gets something to do in Altman’s sprawling, Carver-inspired Los Angeles epic. No director used a star-studded cast to greater effect than Altman, who had a way of weaving together ten different narrative threads into a single picture that never feels overstuffed despite the sheer amount of stuffing inevitably involved. Altman has arguably had more stacked casts–“Gosford Park” and “A Prairie Home Companion” come to mind–but here, he marries an A-list ensemble with a tapestry of plots more than worthy of their immense talent. Since it came out in 1993, dozens of ensemble movies have come and gone, but I’ve yet to see one that’s anywhere near as staggering or ambitious as this film and this cast.

Candice Frederick (@ReelTalker), Harper’s Bazaar, Teen Vogue, The Week

“Sin City.” There are a lot of films that have a large cast, but you still end up focusing on two or three of the characters. But in “Sin City,” you genuinely care about every single character — even the abhorrent ones. That’s because none on them fall within the strict confines of protagonist and antagonist. They’re complex, duplicitous, and even terrifying. Each member of the large ensemble cast – from Jessica Alba and Benicio Del Toro to Brittany Murphy and Clive Owen — brilliantly embodies the various shades of morality that make this movie so irresistible.

Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet), SlashFilm, Mediaversity Reviews, Shadow and Act

I have two that are tied for my favorite ensemble film. One is “12 Angry Men.” Even though it’s probably generally thought of as a Henry Fonda tour-de-force, he didn’t act alone. The other character actors help Fonda shine and give their own award-worthy performances as well. Lee J. Cobb in particular gives a stellar performance as Juror 3, an unrepentant racist who has to get verbally and morally beaten down by the others until he caves in and shows what a sad little man he actually is.

The other is “Stalag 17,” starring William Holden. Again, it’s another film where the biggest name is thought of as the one holding the entire film up, but the rest of the actors, including actor-director Otto Preminger as Nazi Colonel von Scherbach and (50-plus year spoiler alert) Peter Graves as Nazi spy Price create a tense thriller that stands up to anything contemporary films can create with hardly any special effects. It’s just great acting, and great acting stands the test of time. Also, Robert Shawley’s character, Sgt. “Blondie” Peterson, has such a cute baby face. You really hope he can be freed from the stalag and sent home to his parents soon.

Joel Mayward (@joelmayward),, Freelance

Would you be interested in seeing a film starring Hugh Jackman, Emma Stone, Chris Pratt, Kristen Bell, Kate Winslet, Greg Kinnear, Naomi Watts, Richard Gere, Uma Thurman, Common, Jason Sudeikis, Chloë Grace Moretz, Terrence Howard, Halle Berry, Tony Shalhoub, Elizabeth Banks, Dennis Quaid, Kate Bosworth, and Jack McBrayer? I’m talking about the atrocity “Movie 43,” a prime example of a fantastic ensemble cast brought together in a terrible film. So, I want to distinguish between Greatest Ensemble Cast and Greatest Ensemble Film. You can bring a lot of great artists together–it takes true synergy and a bit of cinematic magic to create great *art* together.

Thus, my true pick is “The Thin Red Line,” Terrence Malick’s metaphysical meditation (and the best WWII film of 1998) set in the lush green world of the South Pacific during the conflict of Guadalcanal. Its cast is impressive: Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Adrien Brody, Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, John C. Reilly, John Travolta, Thomas Jane, Jared Leto, Nick Nolte, Tim Blake Nelson, Nick Stahl, Ben Chaplin, Elias Koteas, Miranda Otto, and the barely-present-but-still-survived-the-Malick-edit George Clooney. It’s a non-war war film, more interested in the internal conflicts of human souls than the external conflicts of bullets and bombs (although there are plenty of the latter). In a movie full of movie stars, it draws our attention to the ordinary beauty in the natural world–sunlight through leaves, waves crashing on a beach, wind moving over grassy hills, human faces. All things shining, indeed.

Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG), Contributing Editor of Wicked Horror, freelance for Birth.Movies.Death, Vague Visages, The List

There are so many great, modern examples of brilliant ensemble casts, from “Pulp Fiction” to “Anchornman.”  When it comes to comedy, though, nothing comes close to the star power of “Wet Hot American Summer.” Even as various performers became bigger stars than others (where did you go, Marguerite Moreau?), the calibre is so high here, and across the board from leads to bit parts. “Wet Hot” is one of those movies that, even though I’ve seen it a million times, each new re-watch brings the same excited feeling of “oh my god, it’s so-and-so.”

Each scene brings somebody beloved to the screen, from Paul Rudd to Amy Poehler to Elizabeth Banks to Ken Marino. And, with “A Star Is Born” storming its way to an Oscar, it’s even more wonderful (and hilarious) seeing a then much less famous Bradley Cooper engaging in a loving on-screen relationship with a man.

Carlos Aguilar (@Carlos_Film) The Wrap, MovieMaker Magazine, Remezcla

Comprised of six distinct segments thematically connected by rage and its consequences, Damián Szifron’s Oscar-nominated “Wild Tales” (Relatos Salvajes) is in itself an exemplary catalogue of some of the best Argentine actors working today.

Each chapter essentially functions as an individual short film, but collectively they create a cohesively hilarious examination of the human condition at its most vengeful and combative. Szifron entrusted himself and his team with the titanic task of casting multiple stories, each with its own demands and specifications, thus creating an ensemble in which performers wouldn’t share screen time directly with one another —beyond their section— but had to work on the same tonal playfield. Cleverly, the director also wrote underlying commentary about relevant social issues into each tale: economic inequality, corruption, irrational bureaucracy, or impunity.

The opener sees Darío Grandinetti (“Talk to Her”) discovering he is on an airplane with people that share something rather unnerving in common. Then, Julieta Zylberberg (“The Holy Girl”) follows as a young woman confronted with a prime opportunity to eliminate a villain from her past. For the third episode, Leonardo Sbaraglia (“Burnt Money”) and Walter Donado play two men who take road rage to baffling extremes in a battle fueled by toxic masculinity.

In the fourth one, Argentina’s brightest star, Ricardo Darín (“The Secret in Their Eyes”), becomes “Bombita,” a man radicalized by the absurdity unraveled after getting a parking ticket. The second to last piece centers on a wealthy man, Venice-winner Oscar Martínez (“The Distinguished Citizen”), making a deal to get his irresponsible teenage son out of trouble at the expense of someone else’s life. The crowing jewel is the final installment where Erica Rivas and Diego Gentile portray a couple on their wedding day. Happiness quickly turns into madness when a revelation sparks chaos.

This group of actors—raging from the most seasoned to those jump-starting their careers—constructs a single vision by working separately, and that’s as remarkable feat on their part and the filmmaker who brought them together.

Sara Clements (@mildredsfierce), Much Ado About Cinema

“The Women” (1939). The film is based on Clare Boothe Luce’s play of the same name and stars some of the biggest names of the era: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Fontaine. With a supporting cast comprised of Lucile Watson, Mary Boland, Florence Nash, Virginia Grey, Ruth Hussey, Virginia Weidler, Butterfly McQueen, Hedda Hopper, as well as Marjorie Main and Phyllis Povah who reprised their stage roles for the film. Despite the film’s slogan “It’s all about men!” the entire cast of 130, including extras, were all women (even the dogs featured were female). The central theme of the film is the women’s relationship with the men in their lives, with most of them going to Reno to get a divorce. The film follows these Manhattan socialites, focusing primarily on Mary Haines (Shearer) who, thanks to the gossipy Sylvia (Russell), finds out her husband is having an affair with the perfume counter girl Crystal Allen (Crawford). The claws come out and leads to one of the best scenes of the film, a standoff between Mary and Crystal who dish out some harsh quips. The drama between Mary and Crystal allowed for the interconnectedness of the rest of the cast, as their lives change over the film’s two year period. With witty dialogue and elegant costuming, sparks-fly in this comedic classic of extravagant bitchery.

William Jones (@Mrwill_jones) WhatCulture, Big Shiny Robot

Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” is not just one of the best comedies ever made, it also sports the greatest ensemble cast to ever be assembled. What this ensemble may lack in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality.

Gene Wilder plays Frederick ‘Fronkonsteen’ as the perpetual straight-man trapped within increasingly ridiculous circumstances. He manages to convey incredible amounts of heart and charm in the first act, and then kind of magnificently steps into the character’s arc, committing fully to the insanity and the third act as he becomes a true Frankenstein. Meanwhile, Marty Feldman’s Igor manages to score some of the biggest laughs of the entire film with what is undoubtedly his goofiest and most endearing performance.

But the real scene-stealers of Young Frankenstein are the women. Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, and Cloris Leachman all frequently steal the spotlight straight away from their male co-stars. Garr’s Inga is very much the beating heart of the film throughout the first two acts, as Frederick and Igor commence with their experiments and she brings a measured dry-wit humor to the chemistry between the three. Kahn’s Elizabeth earns early guffaws during the train station sequence with her cries of “not the hair, darling!” but she really comes into her own in the third act when she gets to share scenes with the monster himself. And Leachman? Her Frau Blücher is phenomenal, leading to a handful of the film’s best running gags, including the ever-hysterical, “Stay close to the candles. The staircase can be treacherous.”

There are numerous other highlights such as Mel Brooks’ voice cameos or Gene Hackman’s wonderful role as the Blindman, but I would be remiss to not honor the one and only Peter Boyle. Like Karloff before him, Boyle infuses the monster with an innocence and energy all his own. Most brilliantly of all, Boyle knows when to drop the innocence and give the audience a knowingly cynical look, such as in the flower pedal scene or the dance sequence.

The Best Movie Currently Playing in Theaters: “Suspiria”

‘Widows’ Might Be Something Truly Rare: An Oscar-Winning Action Film 

Plenty of posh European directors make a breakout movie but fail the transition to a commercial Hollywood picture. Oscar-winning British filmmaker Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) is defying the odds by fashioning a smart hybrid genre movie that combines his sophisticated sensibility with an accessible, aspirational story that’s enriching and fun. What’s harder to gauge: Where does “Widows” fall on the awards spectrum?

The Fox movie wowed critics and audiences at its Toronto debut and played the international fall festival circuit, winding up at AFI FEST before it opens wide November 16. Impeccably crafted by such Oscar perennials as McQueen and Denis Villeneuve’s go-to editor Joe Walker, composer Hans Zimmer, production designer Adam Stockhausen, and lead actress Viola Davis, the ensemble movie is a crowdpleaser nourished by its provocative gender-bending plot and social realism. It could be a factor in several Oscar categories.

Back in 1983, McQueen was 13 years old and he adored a Lynda La Plante (“Prime Suspect”) TV series, “Widows,” in which four criminals die and their last job is carried out by the women they leave behind. While everyone underestimates the widows, they prove to be more than capable of pulling off a complicated heist. “It left an impression,” he said, “following these women and how they overcame their hurdles and the assault-course of the every day to achieve what they did. It was heartening to me as a black boy in London.”

Steve McQueen'Widows' film premiere, Chicago, USA - 13 Oct 2018

Steve McQueen

Cindy Barrymore/REX/Shutterstock

Some 35 years later, McQueen updated the series to contemporary Chicago, collaborating with American novelist/screenwriter Gillian Flynn (“Sharp Objects”), who impressed him with her adaptation of her page-turning dark thriller “Gone Girl.” “We took the A to Z narrative of Lynda La Plante and steeped it in the reality of modern contemporary Chicago,” said McQueen.

The filmmaker never forgot a story his father told him about jazz great Ornette Coleman. While walking down the street in Harlem, someone told him: “I don’t understand what you are doing.” Coleman responded, “Let me think about that. How can I bring people in?”

“You can have your cake and eat it too,” said McQueen. “Have an elevated intellectual discussion about it and drag the audience with you. It can be gritty and at the same time affluent.”

“There’s no use talking about important things if no one goes to see the movie,” said Flynn. “I don’t want to make a movie that’s pure guilty pleasure.”



Flynn and McQueen spent weeks in Chicago researching the FBI, organized crime, and the city’s disparate neighborhoods, adding multiple new characters and layered subplots, including the rivalry between corrupt racist politician Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall) and his rising-star son Jack (Colin Farrell) and equally ruthless gangsters the Mannings (Brian Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya), who run their side of town.

“We stuck the fiction onto Chicago,” said McQueen. “Everything crisscrosses: politics, gun crime, policing. You’ll notice in the picture the police aren’t really present. The catchphrase of Chicago is, ‘I’ve got a guy.’ Someone is always doing something dodgy. That’s how it is.”

Pages flew back and forth between McQueen’s home in Amsterdam and New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. “We surprised ourselves with what interested us,” said Flynn, “grabbing back and forth from each other.”

“It’s like writing music,” said McQueen. “You know when it’s right and when it’s wrong.”


The script attracted a superb cast, led by Davis, who met McQueen on the 2013-14 Oscar circuit. As she rose to TV stardom, Davis was so dismayed by the scripts presented to her that she launched her own production company to develop projects about the likes of Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, and Harriet Tubman. With “Widows,” however, she was delighted to sign on. The “Fences” Oscar-winner was eager to dig into Veronica, a beautiful and powerful middle-aged woman who surprises herself as she does what she needs to survive.

In a central scene, grieving Veronica stands alone in the deluxe apartment that she does not own, listening to music and staring out the rain-soaked window, conjuring up the ghost of her lost husband (Liam Neeson). “At the core of the story is this love she has for this man,” said Davis. “That spoke to me. Liam comes up from behind and I’m imagining him just holding me. That cost me something — at first I tried to suppress it, then I tried to use it. There’s a certain woman who gets relegated to love scenes and that’s not me. I am a woman in love with a beautiful man. Why would she be with a man who lives a life of criminality? She probably felt like, ‘Wow, here’s someone who loved me.'”

Davis had one note for her director: “I felt this movie was rooted in drama. Why would these seemingly normal women pull off a heist? I have to believe there’s a reason why.”



The propulsive narrative is driven by three disparate women (Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, and Cynthia Erivo) who are pushed into action by Veronica, a ringleader who is more fragile than she appears. All the characters juggle public and private personae. “That’s what we do in life,” Davis said. “We put the mask on. Alice, Linda and Belle are being liberated from the confines that kept them from living their full life and take ownership and pride from tapping into their intelligence.”

Before the director juggled a massive ensemble (81 speaking roles, 75 locations, 150 shot scenes), he mounted rehearsals. He was “an actor whisperer,” said Davis. “Those elements in yourself that you feel shy or insecure or feel a little shame about, he coaxes out of you, gives you permission to just be, to dare to fail. His famous mantra is ‘Leave it all on the floor,’ meaning, ‘Just put it out there.’ And it was the ride of a lifetime.”

Chicago was a prime character, Davis said: when they filmed over the 2017 July 4th weekend, there were over 100 shootings and 14 gunshot deaths. “Why is that?” she asked. “With any Ibsen or Shakespeare story, it’s born from what is happening in the culture.”

Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry in Twentieth Century Fox’s WIDOWS. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry in “Widows”

Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth

On the set, McQueen sees himself as a Tai Chi master who works without a shot list and confers with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt to figure out “what the scene wants to be.” In one stunning long take (invisibly trimmed by editor Walker), McQueen and Bobbitt mount the camera on the hood of Jack Mulligan’s town car as he traverses Chicago from the Mannings’ rough-and-tumble 18th ward to the leafy suburban neighborhood where Barack Obama used to live. We hear Farrell in voiceover, but never cut inside the car. “You see the journey visually,” said McQueen. “You have the audio of what he is saying in the car, the public and the private.”

“It’s painting a picture of Chicago,” said Walker. A trained musician who cuts without temp tracks, he tries to make a rhythmic edit with dialogue and sound effects that works on its own before composer Hans Zimmer applies his aural magic. “It gives the film a tough workout, massive liposuction,” Walker said. “We’re on a planet; Hans has to land the spacecraft at the right angle and provide music at exactly the right temperature.”

Davis’s character provided the editorial spine as the editor built up the tension toward the heist. “I always concentrate on the eyes when I’m cutting,” said Walker, “the dance between the actors’ eyes. Viola’s real on every take. With only a few actors I’ve worked with is every single take authentic and heartfelt and on the money. She lives every emotion.”

German Playboy Stands By Ennio Morricone Interview Featuring Composer Bashing Quentin Tarantino 

German Playboy has released an official statement standing by its publication of an interview in which Oscar-winning composer Ennio Morricone criticized Quentin Tarantino (via Variety). The interview, conducted by music journalist Marcel Anders, appeared in German Playboy’s December 2018 issue and went viral over the weekend for quotes in which Morricone called Tarantino a “cretin” and referred to his movies as “trash.” Morricone later issued a statement denying the contents of the interview.

“We are surprised that composer Ennio Morricone denies giving an interview to German Playboy,” the publication said in a statement. “In fact, the conversation took place on June 30, 2018, at his estate in Rome. The interview, about the concert organizer Semmel Concerts, which was also present at the interview, had been agreed to with German Playboy. We also cannot understand that parts of the published statements were apparently not found to have been accurate.”

Morricone provided the original score for Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” which won him his first competitive Oscar. The composer denied he bashed Tarantino and said in a follow-up statement that he considers the filmmaker a “great director.”

“It has come to my attention that Playboy Germany has come out with an article in which I have stated extremely negative comments about Tarantino and his films, and the Academy,” Morricone wrote. “I have never expressed any negative statements about the Academy, Quentin, or his films — and certainly do not consider his films garbage. I have given a mandate to my lawyer in Italy to take civil and penal action.”

According to the German Playboy article, Morricone spoke about Tarantino and said, “The man is a cretin. He only steals from others and puts that stuff together in a new way. None of that is original,” Playboy’s article quoted Morricone as saying. “He is not a director. Meaning you can’t compare him to Hollywood greats like John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock or Billy Wilder. Those were great. Tarantino only recycles old stuff.”

Per Variety, the Morricone interview is advertised on the cover of the German Playboy December issue.

Rashida Jones Reveals What It Was Like to Make ‘Quincy,’ the Netflix Documentary About Her Dad 

Rashida Jones and her “Quincy” co-director Alan Hicks had unprecedented access to their documentary subject (and Rashida’s dad), Quincy Jones, but she said that he’s refreshingly unguarded no matter who you are.

“I think that’s he beauty of him. Whether you’re family or a fan…he gives you access,” Rashida told the audience at a Q&A following a screening of their Netflix film at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series in Los Angeles.

Hicks and Jones shot 800 hours of footage over a period of nearly four years, but just as valuable as that intimate footage is the discovery of never-before-seen interviews and film from the artist’s own collection.

“We were working in Quincy’s archive in his basement and it took us nearly a year to get through the whole archive,” said Hicks, who met the elder Jones when he produced Hicks’ first documentary “Keep On Keepin’ On.” After Rashida and Hicks finished digitizing VHS tapes and scanning photos, they told Quincy they were done.

“We said, ‘Hey, we finished the archives,’ and he said, ‘That’s beautiful. Have you seen the vault?’ And then we went to the vault and it’s in freezing temperatures and he says, ‘That’s where you’re gonna find all the good shit.'”

Quincy was right. The vault contained Super 8 footage of his childhood and conversations with Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra.

“There’s all these things that people haven’t heard before, and he hadn’t heard before,” Hicks said. “He’s too busy to sit down and listen to the raw tapes of interviews through his career.”

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones Archive

The film tells the story of his life from growing up in Chicago to the present day, and follows him as he organizes a concert for the opening of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Quincy tells his own story through archival footage from the vault, audio from his 2001 autobiography audiobook, and interviews from different periods.

“The way that he is able to confidently tell those hard truths about himself all the way through is something I noticed about him while filming for so many years,” Hicks said.

According to Jones, her father didn’t have any requests for the film — and didn’t even see it until it was finished.

“He loved it. He’s watched it several times now, but the first time he watched it he laughed, he cried, he participated like an audience member,” she said.

Said Hicks, “Our main focus was for people to be able to feel what it’s like to hang out with Quincy.”

“Quincy” is available to stream on Netflix, and its soundtrack — there were 725 contracts involved to secure the music for the film — is available to stream on Spotify.

The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.

‘Vox Lux’ Director Brady Corbet Compares Natalie Portman’s Character to Kanye West 

Natalie Portman’s pop-star persona in “Vox Lux” has already earned comparisons to Lady Gaga for her eye-catching aesthetic, but the film’s writer-director has a different performer in mind: “If anything, I feel like the character’s closest to Kanye West,” Brady Corbet told Vulture at the film’s AFI FEST screening. Portman agrees: “Oh! That’s a good example!” she said. “That’s funny that he said that! I wasn’t thinking Kanye but now that he said it I totally could see it.”

“I love his work,” Corbet said. “I’m sort of fascinated by his persona. I don’t know what to take seriously or not, to be honest, so I don’t ever find anything he says to be particularly offensive…hopefully he likes it.”

“The idea was that the character would be sort of an amalgamation of many, many, many, different real-life personages,” the filmmaker added. “There are certain character traits or parts of the story that evoke real-life people. You never want people to take the comparison the wrong way. The character is a fictional character so I wouldn’t end up insulting anyone.”

Portman concurs with this point as well. “I don’t really see it as one [person] … I really see different sides because, you know, the relationship with her sister is different, having a kid and having this period where she’s having troubles with substances, and, like, the desire to shock,” she said.

Neon will release “Vox Lux” on December 7.

Stan Lee, Remembered: Chris Evans, Kevin Feige, and More of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Honor the Comic Book Genius 

The stars and directors behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe have taken to social media to mourn the loss of Stan Lee, the legendary Marvel Comics icon and former editor-in-chief of the company. Lee passed away November 12 in Los Angeles at the age of 95.

“There will never be another Stan Lee,” wrote Chris Evans, who has played Captain America on the big screen since 2011. “For decades he provided both young and old with adventure, escape, comfort, confidence, inspiration, strength, friendship and joy. He exuded love and kindness and will leave an indelible mark on so, so, so many lives.”

One person who owes much to Stan Lee is Bog Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company. The Marvel Cinematic Universe got its start under Paramount Pictures, but Disney quickly jumped at the chance to produce and distribute the superhero movies and purchased Marvel Entertainment before the release of “The Avengers.”

“Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created,” Iger wrote in reaction to the news of Lee’s passing. “A superhero in his own right to Marvel fans around the world, Stan had the power to inspire, to entertain, and to connect. The scale of his imagination was only exceeded by the size of his heart.”

“Government needs to enact a Stan Lee Day ASAP,” wrote Logan Marshall-Green, who had a supporting role in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” “Who has reached further and impacted deeper, our story telling and dreams than Stan Lee?”

Edgar Wright, who developed an “Ant-Man” movie for years before leaving the project over creative differences, also shared his condolences on Twitter. “Thanks for inspiring so many of us to pick up a pen or pencil and put your dreams onto paper,” Wright wrote. “Excelsior!”

Check out an updated list of reactions to Lee’s death from members of the Marvel Cinematic Universe below.

You gave us characters that continue to stand the test of time and evolve with our consciousness. You taught us that there are no limits to our future as long as we have access to our imagination. Rest in power!

George R.R. Martin Says He’s Struggling to Finish the Next ‘Game of Thrones’ Book Because the Show Is So Popular 

Game of Thrones” book fans have been waiting over seven years for the release of “The Winds of Winter,” the sixth novel in George R.R. Martin’s beloved fantasy franchise, and it doesn’t appear the book will be ready any time soon. Martin recently spoke to The Guardian about the pressure he’s facing to finish “The Winds of Winter,” and admitted the blockbuster HBO series is at least partially to blame for the novel’s delay.

“The show has achieved such popularity around the world, the books have been so popular and so well reviewed, that every time I sit down I’m very conscious I have to do something great, and trying to do something great is a considerable weight to bear,” Martin said. “On the other hand, once I really get rolling, I get into the world. The rest of the world vanishes, and I don’t care what I’m having for dinner, what movies are on, what my email says or who’s mad at me this week because [the book] isn’t out.”

Martin admitted the challenge over the last couple years has been getting into that “almost trance state” where he can write. While the HBO series has added significant pressure, cracking “The Winds of Winter” is also difficult because of how complicated Martin’s story has become.

“I’ve been struggling with it for a few years,” Martin said. “‘The Winds of Winter’ is not so much a novel as a dozen novels, each with a different protagonist, each having a different cast of supporting players, antagonists, allies and lovers around them, and all of these weaving together against the march of time in an extremely complex fashion. So it’s very, very challenging.”

Martin’s last “Game of Thrones” novel, “A Dance With Dragons,” was released July 12, 2011. The HBO series finished covering elements of “A Dance With Dragons” at the end of its fifth season and famously started going beyond what Martin had already published in the sixth and seventh seasons. Martin gave “Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss the plot structure of the entire series, including the ending, and therefore the delay of “The Winds of Winter” has not prevented the show from continuing.

While readers will have to keep waiting for “The Winds of Winter” to hit bookshelves, HBO’s “Thrones” will come to an end in 2019.