"I wanted the movie to be a love letter to not just dreams, but to the kinds of dreams that society often mocks." He's only 31 years old, but has already made two of my favorite movies. Damien Chazelle is the writer/director of Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, Whiplash (from 2014) and this year's La La Land, an exuberant and exciting musical that is my #1 movie of the year. La La Land premiered to rave reviews at the Venice, Telluride, and Toronto Film Festivals this fall and is now playing in theaters nationwide. I was lucky enough to catch up with Chazelle at the Telluride Film Festival and sit down to talk about making La La Land. I was still on a high from the movie, and was very excited to chat with him about everything - from Ryan Gosling's piano playing, to capturing Los Angeles, to making sure this success doesn't go to his head.
"I feel very excited as of late for what's to come, whether it works or not." I can't say enough how much I adore Damien Chazelle's musical La La Land. It's an exhilarating cinematic experience, full of so much joy and happiness, along with superb dancing and exuberant singing and beautiful sets and gorgeous sunsets. Aside from Ryan Gosling, the other co-star of La La Land is Emma Stone. Her first big break out role was playing Jules in Superbad back in 2007, and over the nearly 10 years since she's earned an Academy Award nomination (for Birdman) and worked with some of the best filmmakers around. I was lucky to spend 15 minutes chatting with Emma about her career and her work on La La Land and it was an absolute delight.
The creative team behind the horror films You're Next and The Guest seem like the perfect choices to bring something as groundbreaking and phenomenal as The Blair Witch Project back to modern audiences. That team, director/producer Adam Wingard and writer/producer Simon Barrett, are no strangers to the world of indie horror and all that comes with it and this shows in everything the pair have delivered so far. Taking what they learned in creating the V/H/S series, the filmmakers once again take to the stage of scares for Blair Witch, a direct sequel to the 1999 film that shaped the horror genre that directly after. Their update is relentless in its intensity and loaded with surprises that fans of the original will eat up in droves.
"My goal was to create a movie that was intellectually stimulating and emotionally moving." One of my favorite films of the year is called Captain Fantastic, starring Viggo Mortensen as the father of a family he is raising to be "philosopher kings" without the toxic influences of modern society. I first saw it at the Sundance Film Festival and flipped for it, calling it "profoundly intelligent" in my review and including it as one of my favorite films of that festival. The film later went on to play at the Cannes Film Festival, where I saw it again (I really, really love this film) and luckily had the chance to meet up with writer/director Matt Ross for an interview. Ross is most well known as an actor, appearing on "Silicon Valley" as Gavin Belson, but he's also a filmmaker - this is his second feature film (after 28 Hotel Rooms) and it's truly wonderful.
"Only in filmmaking do you have time limitation in certain stages of production, while you would never restrain a painter, or a musician, or a novelist from taking the time he needs…" At Berlinale in February, I had the honor of meeting and interviewing the very talented French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve. I first became a big fan of Mia Hansen-Løve after catching her film Father of My Children at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, and I've followed her career closely ever since. I most recently loved her film Eden, we featured it recently on our 19 Best Movies You Didn't See list. Her latest film, Things to Come (also called L'avenir), stars Isabelle Huppert as a woman dealing with major changes in her life. After following her for so long it was a major moment in my own career to sit down and talk with her about making great films.
"With comedy, the rules are always changing. I don't even know any of the rules. It's probably better to not even know the rules." I love Taika Waititi's movies. At my very first Sundance in 2007, I flipped for a little New Zealand comedy called Eagle vs Shark. It was my first introduction to Taika Waititi and actor Jemaine Clement, and I've been a fan of both ever since. Ten years later and Taika is back at Sundance with his latest film, titled Hunt for the Wilderpeople, an adventure in the New Zealand bush starring Sam Neill and Julian Dennison. The film was one of my favorites of the festival, it's hilarious and so much fun to watch. I'm looking forward to the film opening in theaters so everyone else can see it and enjoy it, too.
"Why don't we have more of a riotous disposition toward injustice?" I had a good feeling about this before the festival even started. At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, The Birth of a Nation won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize, and was picked up by Fox Searchlight in a record-breaking sale. This powerful film is the directorial debut of actor Nate Parker, who not only stars in and directs the film, but he also wrote the screenplay and produced it as well. I had the honor of meeting Nate after his premiere and talking with him for 10 minutes about making the film and returning to Sundance as a filmmaker, not just an actor. It's one of the best interviews I've had at Sundance - he's so intelligent and delightful to talk with.
One of this year's holiday comedies is The Night Before, about three friends, three ride-or-die homies, who go on one final Christmas eve adventure in New York. In truth it's actually a much sweeter story about friendship, and how important is to hold onto the friends that mean something to us. The Night Before is directed by Jonathan Levine, a filmmaker I first met in 2008 at the Sundance Film Festival because I went crazy for his film The Wackness. Years later he has directed two other films - 50/50, Warm Bodies - and now his latest is this one, The Night Before, once known as X-Mas or the Christmas Eve Project. It's a very fun movie and I had a great time talking with Jonathan about the challenge of making audiences laugh.
"It was very intense." One of the best films I've seen this year is called Son of Saul, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Grand Prize of the Jury and a few other awards. Then it went on to play at the Telluride, Toronto, Vancouver, New York and London Film Festivals and will be opening in theaters this December (the same day as Star Wars). It's a masterpiece, and I said that in my glowing review, since this film totally blew me away. Let me now introduce you to its director - Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes (as seen above). He has made a number of shorts previously, including The Gentleman Takes His Leave, but this is his feature debut and it's astonishing. I had to meet László to talk about this film and so much more.
"I'm not so sure you want to be me." It was an opportunity I couldn't pass - the chance to interview Jason Segel. He stars as the late author David Foster Wallace in one of my favorite films this year, The End of the Tour directed by James Ponsoldt. The film is about the actual end of his (book) tour, specifically the time David Foster Wallace spends with fellow writer/journalist David Lipsky, played in the film by Jesse Eisenberg. The two meet in winter and discuss all kinds of topics, and it's really a beautiful film about life and honesty, and still being real even though you may be brilliant, as with DFW. Segel gives a phenomenal, Oscar-worthy performance as David Foster Wallace - and I don't bat an eye saying that. I had to meet him.
"Sometimes the rules that you put on yourself till you're figuring out how everything works don't work in your favor." Beasts of No Nation, starring Abraham Attah as Agu and Idris Elba, is a helluva film, and I couldn't wait to talk to the director behind it. The Netflix Original Film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival (read my glowing review) but it wasn't until just last week in New York City that I was able to catch up with writer/director Cary Fukunaga. Not only did he write and direct it, Fukunaga also shot the film as its cinematographer, and produced it. This is very much his film and he even spoke with me about how there were still sound tweaks he was making up to the last minute. This ended up being a fascinating, in-depth discussion about filmmaking with Cary Fukunaga and I wish I could've had more time with him.
"I like to arrive in front of the camera with all the information that I can possibly need." He's a legend. I was lucky enough to get a chance to meet up with actor Ian McKellen in New York City earlier this week for an afternoon interview. I met at his hotel near Central Park, and we spoke briefly before his appearance on a Reddit AMA. We could've chatted for the entire afternoon, but I didn't want to delay him any further. I interviewed him for his new film Mr. Holmes, where plays an aging Sherlock Holmes. I saw the film in Berlin and loved it so much that my effusive quote is featured in the trailer and on the official poster for the film. He's played many of my favorite characters, and I tried to ask some interesting questions about acting.