As the year draws to a close, new awards and Top 10 lists are springing up right and left, many of them singing the praises of the technically brilliant but emotionally flat “Gravity.” While it’s no doubt a must-see experience for any cinephile, the same could be said of an equally immersive but far richer film, “The Great Beauty.” For nearly two and a half hours, this Fellini-esque epic transports us right to the heart of Rome’s vibrant nightlife and high society as we follow an aging journalist who begins to see the world around him from a new perspective.Directed by Paolo Sorrentino (whose English language debut, “This Must Be the Place,” was released last year), “The Great Beauty” premiered at the Cannes film festival in May before making its North American debut in Toronto this fall. The film picked up a slew of top honors at the European Film Awards this month, was nominated for best foreign-language film by the National Board of Review, and most notably, has joined the Academy Awards race as Italy’s foreign-language film submission.Although “The Past” and “Wadjda” may be the stronger Oscar contenders (as “The Great Beauty” could be too “out there” for many Academy members’ tastes), this love letter to Rome and its harlequin residents should play well among art house crowds in the weeks and months to come.Actor Toni Servillo (whose starred in breakout foreign films “Il Divo” and “Gomorrah”) delivers an affecting, poised performance as journalist Jep Gambardella, who surveys the eccentric masses as he celebrates his 65th birthday and is frequently reminded of his one successful novel published nearly 40 years prior. Trying to find meaning in religious ceremonies, ravishing women and the shallow extravagance that surrounds him, Jep is ultimately on a quest to discover “the great beauty” in life, and to some degree, he finds it.Featuring sharp, thoughtful dialogue co-written by Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello, “The Great Beauty” feels most alive in moments of silence, but also in its exquisitely shot party sequences with a hypnotic soundtrack of Italian nightclub anthems (seriously, just try and not get Bob Sinclar’s “Far L’Amore” stuck in your head). Characters speak of how they’re all on “the brink of despair” and aren’t “cut out for beautiful things,” giving this otherwise wild ride a poignant, melancholy center (akin to recent foreign-language films such as Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors” and Matteo Garrone’s “Reality”).With eye-popping splendor and sensory thrills, it’s best just to take it all in and let “The Great Beauty” wash over you. As soon as the music dies down and the lights fade to black, there’s meaning to be found in this modern Italian masterpiece.
A cinematic sparring match unlike any other in recent memory, “Some Velvet Morning” offers an unflinching glimpse into the lives of an alluring prostitute, Velvet (Alice Eve), and her domineering lover, Fred (Stanley Tucci). Over the course of 83 minutes, we eavesdrop on this toxic pair as they engage in an impassioned war of words – chatting, groping, yelling and sobbing, all within the confines of her upscale townhouse. Written and directed by Tony-nominated playwright Neil LaBute, this low-budget chamber piece has been flying under the radar since its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, but will surely blindside audiences this winter with nuanced performances and a certain shocking plot twist. Ahead of its Valley release at Harkins Shea 14 in Scottsdale this weekend, GetOut spoke with LaBute about the film, his French influences, and experience collaborating with Tucci and Eve.Q: To begin with, could you tell me what might have inspired this story, and what you hoped to convey through this film and these characters?A: Well mostly, I think the plan was to go on an emotional journey. Like most films, you want people to engage with your characters, be caught up in the story and go on that ride, but part of me had set aside this notion of, “What if and how long could you sustain that idea of taking people on a journey that ultimately didn’t exist?” Not that it didn’t exist for them, but that it was really under a different set of rules. And ultimately, they were in on it, and we the audience were the outsiders. While they wouldn’t know it, hopefully they would engage and think, “Oh, this is an interesting story and I’ve seen stories before about a man and a woman in this situation, but this is a new telling of that tale.”Also, I didn’t want to just pull the rug out, but ask, “How could you realistically make that change in a short amount of time, really make it believable, make it work, and take the story in a completely different direction?” So part of it is like an experiment, and part of it is the same thing I set out to do every time, which is to engage the audience with character exploration and take them on a ride that hopefully – while they’ve been on it before – is unique.Q: Could you tell me about the casting of Stanley and Alice? Did you write this with them specifically in mind, or how did they come aboard?A: I didn’t, I actually very rarely write for people. Alice I had known from the stage first … When she came in, we sat and talked about the piece and the character, and she had such a good sense of who this girl was and overall, why a person like this would be in this situation. She talked really smartly and eloquently about it, and that was important, to have someone that got it and you felt really wanted to be there, but also someone whose work you knew already, and it was someone I could really create something interesting with.