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Indie Focus: Unraveling truths with 'Phantom Thread,' 'The Post,' 'Molly's Game' and 'In The Fade'

Hello! I'm Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

This week the recent Envelope Roundtable for lead actresses was published, featuring Annette Bening for “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool,” Jessica Chastain for “Molly’s Game,” Diane Kruger for “In The Fade,” Margot Robbie for “I, Tonya,” Saoirse Ronan for “Lady Bird” and Kate Winslet for “Wonder Wheel.”

It was a wide-ranging conversation, that took in what it was like for Chastain and Bening to recently be part of high-profile film festival juries and the impression they got from watching so many films in such a concentrated time, the added responsibilities of portraying real-life people and events, and also the knowledge they all have of what their work can mean in a broader context.

Speaking about role as a high school student in “Lady Bird,” Ronan said, “Young kids need to know from all of us that it's all right to not feel really confident all the time. It's all right to not always feel your best because we feel that, too. Actors definitely go through it; we're so vulnerable.”

This will be our last newsletter of the year. Thanks so much for reading! We’ve had another great year of screening events with lots of exciting guests for our Q&As. We’ve already got a few things coming up early in the new year. For updates on future events, go to

‘Phantom Thread’

The latest work from filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson is always something to pay attention to. His new “Phantom Thread,” is arriving on an even bigger wave of expectation following the announcement that its lead actor, three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, now plans to retire. In its story of a 1950s London fashion designer who falls in love, the film is an exploration of how to balance the demands of a creative professional life with a personal, romantic one.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang called it “a film composed entirely from exquisite moments,” before going on to say “what holds you throughout isn't just the picture's astounding craftsmanship but also its unsettling, exploratory vibe — the sense it conveys that you've seen something like it before, even as you assuredly haven't.”

I spoke to Anderson, actress Vicky Krieps, costume designer Mark Bridges and production designer Mark Tildesley about the collaborations that brought the movie to life.

"This was something that really came fresh and unexpectedly. And that was really an exciting thing," Anderson said of the story's origins. "There's always the feeling, like, ‘Will I ever have a good idea again?’ And so to get at one that felt really good, ‘Oh, I want to follow through on this, I want to keep pursuing this.’”

Reviewing the film for Slate, Dana Stevens noted “This devilishly funny and luxuriantly sensuous film is so successful as entertainment that it’s hard to stop and notice the extreme degree of craft that went into its construction.”

As an intriguing counterpoint, at the New York Times, Vanessa Friedman wrote about the film and its lead character from the perspective of the contemporary fashion industry. “He may be a designer, but he’s the designer as tortured genius, a man whose idiosyncrasies and unreasonable behavior are enabled ad tolerated in the service of his art. It’s an old and favored trope in fashion, once cultivated by many.”

‘The Post’

Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep as publisher Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks as Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, “The Post” tells the story of how the Washington Post came to publish the government documents known as the Pentagon Papers in 1971. And yes, a story that explores the complicated relationship between a free press and the government does indeed feel particularly timely.

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan said, ‘“The Post’ is the rare Hollywood movie made not to fulfill marketing imperatives but because the filmmakers felt the subject matter had real and immediate relevance to the crisis both society and print journalism find themselves in right now.”

Reviewing the film for the New York Times, Manohla Dargis said “The pleasure of ‘The Post’ is how it sweeps you up in how it all went down.” While adding “As a filmmaker, Mr. Spielberg invariably comes down on the side of optimism; here, that hopefulness feels right. It also feels like a rallying cry.”

For the Washington Post, Amy Nicholson spoke to screenwriter Liz Hannah, who wrote the original draft of the film as a spec script only to see it become a film directed by Spielberg and starring Streep and Hanks.

Of the script’s careful attention to Graham, the 31-year-old Hannah said, “I’m not a 55-year-old woman in 1971, but I know what it’s like to be a woman.”

At Racked, Esther Zuckerman wrote an ode to the golden caftan worn by Streep in a pivotal scene and the film’s costumes designed by Ann Roth.

‘Molly’s Game’

Based on her memoir, “Molly’s Game” tells the story of Molly Bloom, a one-time aspiring Olympic skier who found herself running a wildly successful series of underground high-stakes poker games before running afoul of law enforcement. The directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, the film features compelling performances by Jessica Chastain as Bloom and Idris Elba as her lawyer.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang called the film “an incorrigible, unapologetic blast,” before adding “the movie is a big, brash tale of American striving as well as an identity-blurring, chronology-fudging bit of storytelling business. It's held in check, and held together, by its clear-eyed admiration of its protagonist and a genuine sense of commitment to her story.”

The Times’ Amy Kaufman profiled Chastain, capturing the unique position the actress has carved out for herself as among the most outspoken in Hollywood on social issues.

“I'm more interested in the idea of making the world a better place," Chastain said. “In thinking about 'What am I contributing to the world?,' my passions keep shifting away from myself."

At the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday wrote of the film, “Swift, stylish, tough-minded and sharp-tongued, this engaging fact-based drama, about a young woman who at one point ran the richest poker game in the world, is worth recommending if only to see its star, Jessica Chastain, at the top of her nerviest, most icily self-controlled game.”

‘In The Fade’

Diane Kruger won the best actress prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in “In the Fade,” surprisingly her first role in a German film. Written and directed by Fatih Akin, long an exciting presence on the international festival circuit, the film is a fact-based story of a woman coming to terms with her grief after losing her husband and son in a terrorist bomb attack. Nominated for a Golden Globe for foreign language film, the movie recently also made the Academy’s shortlist for the foreign language Oscar as well.

The Times’ review won’t publish until later in the week, but Jeffrey Fleishman recently spoke to Akin and Kruger about the movie. Akin told him, “I needed a catharsis. That's why I did my film. But somehow this project of mine became relevant all over the world, including the U.S. …This need for catharsis seemed to be everywhere.”

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