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“Understated” isn’t a word you’d ordinarily use to describe a Jerry Bruckheimer production, but that’s surprisingly what 12 Strong ends up being.

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The Final Year

A documentary about the final year of foreign policy during the Obama administration, and incidentally about the grim surprises that life sometimes has in store…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Primary interviews 2018

The RogerEbert.com Interviews of 2017

Below is a collection of some of our favorite conversations from this year. Each interview features a quote from the conversation, as followed by a link at the end to the full interview. Enjoy this survey into a year of top-notch work from actors and directors, and we'll see you in 2018. 

THE STARS

Michael Cera (“Person to Person,” “Lemon,” “Twin Peaks: The Return”) on his brief appearance in “Twin Peaks: The Return”: 

“I only got to spend an hour or so with David [Lynch]. We shot the scene exactly the way it was written and there was very little discussion of it. I just had to show up prepared, we shot it in no time and then it was over. I would’ve loved to have spent more time there.” [link]

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Daveed Diggs (“Wonder”) on preforming songs from “Hamilton” for the Obamas at the White House: 

“It was unbelievable, but in fact, the most incredible part of the day occurred before we performed. We spent hours with inner city kids doing workshops where we helped them create “Hamilton”-style retellings of other historic events, and then they got to perform those for the President and First Lady too. Having that kind of access to the White House was ludicrous. I don’t think we’ll ever have a First Family like them representing us again.” [link]

Eugenio Derbez (“How to Be a Latin Lover”) on his comedic heroes: 

Peter Sellers. Definitely. I love him. He was amazing. And actually, I have always wanted to do remakes of all his movies. But they keep telling me, ‘I don’t know, it’s dangerous. Don’t go there.’ … Probably because it’s me, it would be more dangerous for Adam Sandler. But with a new guy, the new face who is trying to do something, it could be … I’ll probably do it. But hmm … Woody Allen was a great influence at the beginning of my career. I don’t like everything that he does, but most of it.” [link]

Sam Elliott (“The Hero”) on the best advice he ever got about acting: 

“Don't take it too serious. And Ben Johnson told me something that I have applied. He was an old cowboy actor that I've worked with a number of times. He won an Academy Award. Ben told me when I was working on a show called ‘The Sacketts,’ ‘I may not be a very good actor, but nobody can play Ben Johnson like I can.’ And I took that to heart. I feel that about myself. I may not be a very good actor, but I don't think anybody can play me better than I can.” [link]

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Blessin Giraldo (“Step”) on the importance of stepping: 

“We represent our city, we represent ourselves, we represent Freddie Gray, we’re speaking to the system, we’re speaking about poverty all across the country police brutality, Black Lives Matter. It’s so much more and bigger than step. So you take this opportunity and use this platform, and wear it with pride. I was so proud of us to sit here and become such a loving, creative outlet and become so serious, so strong and so powerful.” [link]

Ethan Hawke (the “Before” Trilogy) on making movies that not everyone sees: 

"Every year there’s people impaling themselves and doing great work that for some reason doesn’t find an audience. There’s a lot of great actors who didn’t even get to play Chet Baker in a movie. That was such a blessing, I don’t need a pat on the back, but you still … you do these films because you want people to see them, because it’s so much fun to talk to you about a movie that I made 20 years ago and have somebody care about it." [link]

Melanie Lynskey (“I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”) on the physical aspects of acting: 

“Yeah. I’m pretty active, so I wasn’t really worried. I felt OK about it. I felt kind of excited about it. You just do it. But there was a day when I was like, ‘God, I’ve been rowing for two hours.’ [laughs] But it’s good to feel tired at the end of the day. It’s not often as an actor that you’re like, ‘Oof. Ow. I feel like I’ve been out working.'” [link]

Danielle Macdonald (“Patty Cakes”) on receiving acting advice from Frances McDormand

“I had a talk with Frances McDormand actually right before I did my first lead in a film and that was really amazing. I think I was just really scared, I’d never done a lead before and all of a sudden you kind of feel like a little bit of pressure and I’m like, ‘I don’t really know exactly what I'm doing.’ She gave me this great talk and it was honestly just her giving her own first experience as a lead and she was very much calming me down, making me feel like whatever happens, happens and it's okay.” [link]

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Kumail Nanjiani (co-writer/actor in “The Big Sick”) about portraying his true story: 

“I just knew that nobody else had this story. And we knew this story so well, what it was about and the people in it and how it felt to go through it. To me it felt like it could be compelling and so, so specific. I knew that if we did our job right we could make this movie and someone watching it halfway through would be like, even if they didn’t know, would be like, ‘I think this happened to someone.’” [link]

Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) on being able to vividly portray other people:

“I think for an actor you need … it’s about observation. I think a lot to do with it is one’s concentration and focus. I sort of have a good ear, a facility for that kind of thing. It’s all the things that you need as an actor. I think you can hone and sharpen intuition, but you kind of have to have it. It’s in the choices that you make.” [link]

David Oyelowo (“A United Kingdom”) on working with a roster of women directors:

“I am a beneficiary of what is unique about them, not only as female filmmakers or filmmakers of color, but Mira Nair specifically, Ava DuVernay specifically, Amma Asante specifically. They are no different from Spielberg or Christopher Nolan or Anthony Minghella, who specifically have such incredible cinematic voices. It’s absolutely the same with these women. I don’t see their talent as lesser than, and to have directors of that talent being marginalized purely on the basis of gender, sometimes on the basis of race, is highly egregious.” [link]

Susan Sarandon (“A Bad Moms Christmas”) on the changing definitions of family and gender: 

“We’re really having to look at what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman in a much more generous way. In a much more interesting, creative way. There’s so many different kids of households. And all I know is that raising kids is a b*tch.” [link]

Michael Stuhlbarg (“Call Me by Your Name”) on being a glass-half full person: 

“It’s a hard time to be alive in this environment right now, in this country and in the world. Not to say that any other time can’t be more complicated, because everyone experiences their own ups and downs. But I’d like to believe that we could all love and help each other in this perverse and fantastical experience we’re all going through. So why not try to help each other, as opposed to making it more difficult?” [link]

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THE FILMMAKERS 

Ana Lily Amirpour (“The Bad Batch”) on the characters in her films: 

“These characters are a reflection of how I am in my life. I’m the weirdo who doesn’t connect to many people and goes around riding a skateboard before heading home and listening to my records. I might have some powers, and I might use them to f—k you up. Both of my stories began with the central characters. The girl was the first thing in ‘Girl,’ and in the case of Arlen, I saw this girl in my head who was missing an arm and a leg. She was bleeding in the middle of a desert, but she was alive and I knew that she was going to survive. I felt like that at the time, and I think we all get chopped up by the things that happen to us. We’re all Arlens hobbling around this crazy, chaotic universe, just trying to figure it out.” [link]

Margaret Betts (writer/director of “Novitiate”) on working with an almost an entire cast and crew of women:  

“It was awesome. It was a super-collaborative environment, even the extras. My understanding is that there is normally a lot of power jockeying on movie sets and conflict between divisions: ‘You know you’re not supposed to be that that prop on this truck!’ A lot of sparring. We were not like that. Every department head was a woman except for our amazing set designer, John Sanders. The way I direct is that I make it clear you can come to me with anything. The amount of details that are really magical that came entirely from the actors is huge, and that was because they were encouraged to bring ideas. I knew what my story was, so sometimes it was, “I don’t think that will work, but bring me another idea.” I just like working with women.” [link]

Janicza Bravo (writer/director of “Lemon”) on casualness and race: 

“‘Because I want him to grow up casual.’ And that sentence is something that I think about all of the time, this idea that when you’re embodying whiteness or blackness, this idea of casualness comes with whiteness that blackness just doesn’t have the privilege of. That to me is the biggest note of ‘Lemon,’ that Isaac embodies casualness in a way that I, Janicza, will never know. But I am sort of navigating what casualness feels like in his body.” [link]

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Julia Ducournau (writer/director of “Raw”) on writing for teenagers: 

“I find teenagers super-endearing. The awkwardness that they exude is frowned upon when it is seen in an adult, but it is actually something that we keep our whole life. We just try to hide it, but teenagers don’t hide it at all. They’re just awkward. They don’t know what to do with their bodies, they don’t know what to say, and they’re a bit all over the place. Either they’re too loud or too quiet and there’s nothing in between. I really like these kind of extremes because they are relatable for everyone. We repress this part of ourselves but it’s still in us.” [link]

Sabaah Folayan (co-director of “Whose Streets?”) on who her documentary is for: 

“This film is mostly for people who ... there’s something in their power that they can do and they need that energy, they need to be activated, they need to see their work in a larger context, they need to see it connected to historical legacy. They need to know that it’s valid. Because a lot of us, especially those who are connecting on social media, people who are young, are being told that this is not a real movement, and that we’re not doing it like the civil rights movement, and that it’s just a moment, that it’s just a trend. We just wanted to take the energy of this movement and bring it to ... just represent it in the way that it really is and really feels when you’re engaged and when you’re standing with people who are very thoughtful about it, who are very analytical, very strategic.” [link]

Yance Ford (director of “Strong Island”) on what his role is next in the era of the Trump administration:

“So right now for me, my role with this film is to go out and—if the Trump administration start talking about a ‘law and order’ society—we know from Nixon what that means—my role is to say, remember history. It’s the only way that we’re going to survive the next four years, is if we take our lessons for history and apply them on a daily basis. We have to say: this is not new, this is how it was successfully challenged and defeated in the past, and it can be done again.” [link]

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Greta Gerwig (writer/director of “Lady Bird”) on deciding to make her sole directorial debut: 

“There was a moment when I finished this script and it was done, when I felt you just have to jump. You have to do this, or you’ll never do it. And I’d always really wanted to. Courage doesn’t grow overnight. It can be a long process. Now I feel like that first mountain is probably the hardest, but it definitely needs to be crossed.” [link]

Amy Heckerling (director of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Clueless”) on the changing business of film and TV: 

“There is a weird thing, like, you’re watching the Oscars and the guy who is winning for ‘Whiplash,’ J.K. Simmons, is on a commercial selling insurance. In the olden days, you do that when you can’t be in the Oscar movies anymore. But everybody is all over the place now and the movies that the studios want to make are the big tent-pole movies.” [link]

Ben Lear (director of "They Call Us Monsters") on what he wants the world to gain from his documentary about incarcerated youth: 

"First I wanted to show the shared humanity of the young men whose lives we are observing. I got to connect with them in ways that at first I wouldn't have thought possible. But it seems that the more barriers you shatter to connect with someone, whether those barriers are race, age, or socio-economic status, the deeper and more visceral the connection. You cross that bridge and step into the unknown. But I was also asking them to step out of their zone of comfort and through storytelling, imagine how their lives could change." [link]

David Lowery (writer/director of “A Ghost Story”) on how the personal nature of his film: 

“But everything in there is deeply rooted in fears and questions and very prevalent … everything that’s in the movie is bubbling up straight from my own fear. It’s tough for me to answer because I could break down every instance. There’s dialogue that’s pulled 100% from conversations I’ve had with my wife. There’s a reason I’m transcribing and putting them in the film verbatim. There are things I was trying to dig up and uncover. I was treating the movie almost like I was going through therapy to a certain extent.” [link

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Adrian Molina (co-director of “Coco”) on making characters out of skeletons:

"People initially think of skeletons as spooky and scary and I think a lot of that kind of comes from the fact that maybe they all look the same. Deep down underneath we’re just these anonymous piles of bones, which made it all the more important that for this film we really needed them to be characters and we needed them to be specific and expressive and lovable. So the way we went about doing that is we created characters out of them … We knew a lot of skeletons aren’t represented in film history with eyes and that gives you an effect but once you give them the eyes it really is the window to the soul." [link]

Dee Rees (co-writer/director of “Mudbound”) on what she hopes her film adds to the conversation:

“That we are all in the same boat. This illusion of safety, the illusion of well-being … it’s sad, but we’re in danger. And if we don’t deal with our history and if we don’t deal with the truth, it’s going to happen over and over again. If we don’t admit what the system is and who Pappy is, you’re going to keep repeating those behaviors and those attitudes.” [link]

Nanfu Wang (director of “I Am Another You”) on how the Trump era will influence independent filmmakers: 

“I think that it will create more art. The most repressed countries often produce some of the most amazing films. I think that it will push people to find a way to express their ideas in new ways. I’m currently working on two projects, and both are in production. One is about the human rights situation in Cuba, and the other one is set in China. I should say less about that one because I feel like the government is still monitoring what I do.” [link]

The legendary Lina Wertmuller on the changes in feminism throughout her time as a filmmaker:

“I’ve never been a feminist and I can’t say how the movement has changed. I can just say that I’ve been criticized by feminists because of the portrayal of women in my films, especially in ‘Swept Away.’ I simply don’t agree with them.” [link]

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