Welcome back to our annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival podcast! Tim and Frank recount their experience at this year’s festival. Included in the red carpet interview portion of the podcast is Roger Durling, Rami Malek, Adam McKay, Spike Lee, Viggo Mortensen, Richard E. Grant, Glenn Close, Josh Lucas, John David Washington, and Sam fucking Elliot.
“I’m most intrigued by how you remember all that shit? It is just astounding to me,” joked Sam Elliot with his token southern drawl to TMC’s Dave Karger who moderated the Virtuoso awards at the 34th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Elliot, along with John David Washington, Claire Foy, Richard E. Grant and many more were honored with the prestigious award as the awards season campaign comes to a close. Elliot was the flagship honoree, saving his Q&A for last.
“He’s the most brilliant director I’ve ever worked with,” he said speaking of Bradley Cooper, who after their initial meeting, became text message buddies and that is how the two communicated all the way up until filming. Elliot was concerned that he was going to be unable to film his role in A Star is Born, due to his commitment to Netflix’s The Ranch, a four-camera sitcom that is filmed before a live audience that has a lot of moving pieces. Elliot expressed his concern to Cooper via text message and Cooper instantly replied: “I’m not going to let you go. We are going to work it out.”
Filming for The Ranch ended on a Wednesday and the following Friday Cooper arranged for a set to be constructed in the parking lot of the Greek Theatre in LA, where they filmed their first scene together, the emotional brother v brother moment where Cooper punches Elliot and knocks him to the ground. Elliot did not once say “Lady Gaga”, instead he referred to her as “Stefani” and spoke of her very affectionately.
The first time he saw the film in its full cut was at its premiere in Toronto, recalling how he was weeping throughout the film and was surprised at how much screen time he had in the final cut because when he had seen the rough cuts prior, his role was reduced substantially. Backstage, before the Q&A at TIFF, Stefani came up to him and asked if he was okay because he was still crying because he was so affected by the film.
“I’ve wanted this for so long,” Elliot candidly said about his first Academy Award nomination as the audience of over two thousand people erupted in thunderous applause. “Awards are great. Awards are a wonderful thing, but it’s all about the work.” Elliot turns his phone off at night and was awakened by his wife, Kathrine Ross, at seven-thirty in the morning the day nominations were announced. When asked by the moderator what it was like for his wife to be the one to tell him, Elliot instantly responded, “it was pretty cool.”
At the close of the evening, Elliot was asked what film came out this year that he thought that everyone should see, after thinking for a moment he said Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman and said that the film is very important and more relevant now than the period for which it took place. He was also asked what accent he thinks would be impossible for him to do, where he quickly quipped “anything that isn’t a south-western accent.”
Sam Elliot is effortlessly cool. He’s been a cinematic mainstay for five decades. He’s been a lifeguard, the President’s chief of staff, and countless cowboys and military brass. After all this time Elliot has been awarded a Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nomination for his finest role to date. He may not win the gold, and that is okay because Sam Elliot will always be Sam Elliot.
For a film in its fourth incarnation, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is an endearing and remarkable film that contains every familiar trope, cliché, and prepackaged plot narrative possible. It embraces exactly what it is, it is self-aware with both subtle and tongue and cheek nods to previous versions as well as to the rich ensemble of actors who bring their own homages to their own roles. The film is a triumphant spectacle; it is visually stunning by being shot and crafted with command authority and passion. The musical scenes, which were filmed with live singing, only add to the powerhouse of the film that ushers in urgency to its melodramatic plot. Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is a beautiful showboat of cinematic achievement.
The film is stocked with a wonderful ensemble who richly detail their respective characters. Bradley Cooper is the best he has ever been as the washed-up country auteur (not stadium popstar) who is hell-bent on destroying his life with pills and alcohol, as he is rapidly approaching the twilight of his career. He is in limbo between burning out and fading away. Lady Gaga is a marvel in her most mature screen performance to date. While watching her performance, it is insane to think that there hasn’t been a filmmaker prior to Cooper that has tapped into her raw talent and beauty on screen. Sure, her metamorphosis as a live performer is one thing, but her screen presence is something completely different; it is a sight to behold.
Aside from the two showstopping lead performances, Sam Elliot and Andrew Dice Clay are respective counterparts to Cooper and Gaga. Elliot is the older brother who is Cooper’s handler, and the Diceman is Gaga’s father. Both bring their own on-screen gravitas to the picture, Elliot commands the screen in sobering moments as Cooper’s firm-handed father figure while Andrew Dice Clay is the affable and warmly supportive father of Gaga, offering quite a few appropriately humorous moments to the film. Elliot gives one of the finest and most vulnerable performances of his career, while Clay is consistently becoming a formidable supporting player since his scene-stealing performance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.
For all the conventionality to the film, it is rather perplexing with its unorthodox self-awareness of the casting of Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle (who gives a very sweet and touching performance). The musical performances feel genuine. They are photographed with a sense of urgency and emotion by cinematographer Matthew Libatigue (who also shot Sony’s Venom which bested A Star is Born opening weekend at the box office).
Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is so grandiose, that he has poised himself to be the next Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson or Robert Redford, having the ability to direct himself while creating a magnificent film that will remain relevant for decades to come. When the awards season dust settles, there more than likely will not be a more nominated film, and could very well sweep all the major awards. Regardless of Oscar buzz and cultural momentum, A Star is Born will stand the test of cinematic time and be remembered as a film that is filled with boundless love and passion.
We’re very excited to present to you our new series of mini-podcasts. Join us for a twenty minute long chat where we celebrate some of the most SHITTY AMAZING movies in film history. For our first episode, we’ve chosen a film that we instantly bonded over, BLUE JEAN COP aka SHAKEDOWN.
The Hi-Lo Country is a very unique film, totally under the radar (where’s the Blu-ray?!), made with supreme skill and confidence by an eclectic group of collaborators, and anchored by two fantastic performances by Woody Harrelson and the eternally undervalued Billy Crudup. Set in post-WWII New Mexico, it’s a cowboy film, it’s a Western, it’s a family drama, it’s a romance, and there are more than a few grace notes contained in Walon Green’s poetic screenplay (based on the novel by Max Evans) which provides a lyrical sense of love and sweep for the time period and dusty locations. Directed with a classical sense of proportion and clear-eyed dramatics by the gifted British director Stephen Frears, the film also boasts Martin Scorsese as a “Presenter,” further adding to the name-brand quality of the filmmaking team. The stellar supporting cast includes Patricia Arquette as the woman who falls in love with both of the leads, a crusty Sam Elliot as the chief antagonist who feels right at home in this material, a baby-faced Penelope Cruz in one of her first English-language feature films, and the distinctive actor Cole Hauser in an early (and possibly best) performance as a sketchy acquaintance of both Harrelson and Crudup. Carter Burwell’s familiar orchestral notes lend an interesting aural texture to the film, with Oliver Stapleton’s honeyed and golden widescreen cinematography made excellent use of the vistas and endless desert and open-plain landscape. The film was barely released back in late 1998 (it grossed $166,000!), and curiously, critical reception was more mixed than might have been expected. But over the years, it’s been a film that’s always enticed me back for revisits; there’s just something so different and offbeat about this movie, which while trading off of expected conventions (both visually and narratively), feels like few other modern genre pieces that I can think of. This film is the very definition of a small gem, a work that’s begging to be re-discovered by a more appreciative audience.