Sunday, November 20, 2016

“THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN” IS THE BEST COMING-OF-AGE COMEDY IN A DECADE

Original caricature by Jeff York of Hailee Steinfeld in THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (copyright 2016)

Something curious happened while a couple of hugely high-profile movies opened this past weekend. One of 2016's finest opened at a Cineplex near you, even though you may not be aware of it due to the overwhelming attention being showered upon the new franchise FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, Ang Lee’s angst-ridden Oscar contender BILLY FLYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK, and Tom Ford’s controversial psychological thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. It's a small film called THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN and you should know that it is one of the year's very best films. It also is probably the finest coming-of-age comedy in a decade. 

Budgeted at a just nine million, THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN is written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig and stars Hailee Steinfeld, the Oscar nominated actress from 2010’s TRUE GRIT. It’s the story of a teenage girl named Nadine who’s experiencing a lot of turmoil concerning where she stands in the world. She is up to her eyeballs in the things most teens panic about - popularity, the opposite sex, and burgeoning adulthood. Nadine's plight is worse however due to the fact that her best friend has just started dating her hunky, older brother. Nadine’s two worlds collide and she decries that the world is out to get her. 

The film is about how she copes and it's both funny and sad, as she makes a lot of mistakes along the way, trying to figure out who she is and what she wants. Her journey will take her from hyper-reactive teen to a more assured young woman, and it's an extraordinary trip for the audience to take with her. I have very little in common with teenagers these days, let alone 17-year-old girls, but I related to every moment of her longing and frustrations and need to connect. She may be young, but her concerns are universal.  

And what makes Craig’s film so wonderful is that it captures such an angst-ridden world of teen panic without every condescending to or laughing at its protagonist. It's hilarious without ever resorting to glibness. It's tremendously moving without ever becoming maudlin. And it drives home truths about growing up without ever becoming heavy-handed. Not only that, but it's got an award-worthy turn by Steinfeld at its center. All that should enable it to join the ranks of the very best teenage-centered comedies in the history of cinema. It's right up there with RISKY BUSINESS, the best of John Hughes, and MEAN GIRLS.  

Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine in THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
Steinfeld imbues Nadine with a complexity usually reserved for male characters in movie where there are bigger things at stake. She is one of the best actors of her generation, a nuanced talent who is capable of making every line she utters sound fresh and brash and if it just rolled directly out of her head. Some of her comedic instincts take your breath away, like when she emphasizes certain words in a sentence that 99 out of 100 actors wouldn't. But then, Steinfeld understands that Nadine is in her own world. It's almost a prison she's in, created mostly by her own rage and frustrations. And Steinfeld makes sure that we understand all of it. 

Nadine isn't just on the edge of 17, cresting into adulthood, but she's always on edge. You would be too if your road to graduation was filled with brutal potholes. Nadine lost her father a few years back when he died from a heart attack right in front of her. Her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) is so absorbed in her own grief that she doesn’t have much sympathy for any of Nadine’s needs. And her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) outshines her at school and at home. And now he's hot for her bestie. 

When he takes a sudden interest in Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), Nadine’s BFF since second grade, it shreds Nadine’s last sense of knowing where she stands in the world. If she can’t at least have her best friend, where does she stand? Her life is nothing but drama, but it makes for sublime comedy too. 

Nadine is propelled to find someone else to fill the hole in her heart and she sets her gaze towards the opposite sex. She should choose Erwin (Hayden Szeto), a classmate who clearly likes her, and they have a lot in common. They're both well-meaning but awkward, and they have a similar self-deprecation that is endearing. But being a teen girl, Nadine gravitates toward the moody dreamboat instead. That would be Nick Mossman (Alexander Calvert), whose profile folder is full of overly calculated headshots that Nadine all too easily falls for. She thinks he must be sensitive too because he works part-time at the local pet store, but of course, such Prince Charming's are never whom they appear to be in such films. 

Still, Nadine cannot help herself and in one of her weaker moments she writes a confessional text to him propositioning him and suggesting they get it on in the pet store's stock room. When she accidentally hits "Send", she panics and tells her teacher Mr. Bruner that she's going to kill herself. It's a credit to the movie that we don't know entirely if it's an idle threat or not. Nadine is just that close to the razor's edge. 

Bruner helps her deal with her mistake by talking her down off her metaphorical ledge, and it's one of the film's best conceits that he's not a touchy-feely, super sensitive sort. As played by Woody Harrelson, he's world weary and may be as forlorn as his most obtrusive pupil. Sure, he cares about Nadine, but warily so, as he cares more about the 32 minutes of free time to eat lunch that she continually disrupts. 

Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson in a scene from THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN.
 Perhaps he and Nadine have such a ‘frick and frack’ relationship because they’re both misanthropes. Still, he recognizes the genuine idealism within all her angst and she recognizes the attentive listener that he is despite his best attempts to play the curmudgeon. And Harrelson has always been equally superb at playing drama as comedy. This is one of his best roles to date, and he's superb in it.

It's great watching the two of them chide each other even though we are never told exactly how they got to this point in their relationship. Screenwriter Craig lets the audience fill in such blanks as she's careful to not spoon feed us every morsel of information. She also gives little backstory to mom Mona, and we never get too good of a grasp what she was like before her husband's untimely death. All we know is what we see in the movie and that is a woman who needs some parenting herself. It's understandable, but it creates a vacuum for Nadine. 

Blake Jenner and Haley Lu Richardson in THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN.
And even though Craig's film is about a girl flailing and failing, Nadine is actually a whole lot stronger than she, or even we, realize. In one of the film's most dramatic scenes, Nadine's potential make-out session with a curious Nick veers dangerously close to out-and-out sexual assault. He believes her text even though she attempts to treat their first evening together like a spontaneous date. When he makes his move, pulling down her underwear, she refuses his advances. He loses his cool but she tries to get beyond it with him. His wounded pride won't let him so he tosses her out of the car.

Now, this could be a shattering moment, and Nadine is upset by it. But she's also is learning how to cope better and the way she handles it is measured and shrewd on her part. She turns to Bruner, knowing that he will be able to help her the most, and it's one of the film's best moves in showing how Nadine is starting to learn out to better take care of herself. 

And when he takes her into his home to help calm her, she meets his wife and infant son, not knowing he had such a life outside of school. Suddenly, her view of his world expands. She sees a bigger picture of him and it allows her to gaze at her own world, and those in it, with a more worldly view as well. She may not have the perfect relationship with her brother or her mother or her longtime bestie, but they aren’t lost causes and she has the skill set to repair the damage. 

Craig and Steinfeld create one of the better teen heroines ever put onscreen. She's eccentric, mixed up and struggling, but we always laugh with her. And there are little touches that give us clues that Nadine is going to be alright. She may be a gawky, coltish clod at times, but she's self-aware enough to know she has good legs and enjoys making the most of them with her short skirts and dark hose. (It's a wonderful juxtaposition that Nadine still wears comfortable high-tops with them though rather than trendy boots.)  Nadine gets drunk and sick in one scene, but she it doesn't turn into a prat-falling comedic drunk scene. And her constant running monologue about her life never comes off as the words of a screenwriter trying to explain her creation. Instead, it's more of Nadine's better self nagging her worse self to be better. And it's one of the charms of the movie that Craig has Erwin do similar running commentary about his own shortcomings too. Of course, he and Nadine are perfect for each other - they each come with their own Greek chorus!

Steinfeld with Hayden Szeto in THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN.
And Steinfeld is such an accomplished actor that she aces the dramatic moments as fine as the sillier ones. In one scene she spits out vicious words to hurt Bruner and they cut like a knife. The intensity in Steinfeld's eyes is palpable and shocks the audience as much as Bruner's character is leveled by such a dig. Nadine may hurt, but she can inflict pain too, and Steinfeld doesn’t shy away from playing the uglier parts of the character. It’s a truly exceptional  performance, one that should garner serious awards attention in the coming months.

It will be interesting to see if this film gets such due. So many films that star actors under 18 do not, but this one deserves such accolades and more. Its comedy is always grounded in reality, as is its tragedies. It isn't just a teenage comedy, or a coming-of-age comedy. It is a fantastic film. Nadine's story should resonate with anyone who's 17, or 70 for that matter. Hers is a universal story about the desire to belong and be loved. And it packs a wallop.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

THE ARRIVAL OF A FILM AS TIMELY AS THEY COME

Original caricature by Jeff York of Amy Adams in ARRIVAL (copyright 2016)

Sometimes a film stands in tandem with the times, so prescient in its relevance to what’s going on in the world that it stops being mere entertainment and becomes something utterly profound. Such is the case with the film ARRIVAL that opened just this weekend. After a week that was one of the most dramatic and troubling in our nation’s history, ARRIVAL enters theaters as not just an elixir to soothe what ails us, but should be seen as a must-see essay about how words matter. And words in this post-election are hugely important. We cannot heal and we will not move forward without the right words.

ARRIVAL is one of those films where you don’t want to give away too much of the plot to those who’ve not seen it, thus I must be careful with my words here. Part of the thrill of this movie are its surprises, those twists and turns that await you during its hour and 56-minute running time. What I can tell you is that the film is an adaptation of Ted Chiang’s award-winning 1998 novella “Story of Your Life.” His story concerns Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams in another Oscar worthy performance, and her efforts to help the world communicate with alien visitors. Banks is a professor of linguistics, an expert who has helped out the government before, so they come calling again during this great time of need. Indeed, 12 spaceships have entered the earth’s atmosphere and are now hovering over various parts of the planet. Why are they here? What do they want? We need to ask them, but we need to know how. After some early communication attempts lead nowhere, the military all but drafts her to help them find a way to reach common ground with the visitors.

Banks knows all sorts of languages and symbols but deciphering the aliens’ strange mix of smoky emulsions they emit, mixed in with a strange cacophony of noises, will demand her best. She needs to crack the alien code to prevent potential war as no one knows if they come in peace or intend to turn mankind into pieces. Helping her with all this are physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), as well as a few military types you’d expect to show up in science fiction movies. One is the tough and by-the-book Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). The other is CIA agent Halpern, a man whose motives seems ambiguous and vaguely sinister. It doesn’t help that Michael Stuhlberg is playing him. He’s a fine actor but he’s played an awful lot of nervous nellies in his career.

Louise and Ian meet the aliens by being transported through the long, narrow passageway into the body of their ship hovering over the plains of Montana. And when they meet them, they are hardly the cuddly E.T. types. Instead, they resemble those spindly, octopus-like creatures from Steven Spielberg’s 2005 remake of WAR OF THE WORLDS. Looking at them, they don’t seem particularly cordial. Nor are their groans and gurgles warm, inviting sounds. Even their written 'words' seem utterly intimidating, shooting out of their alien paws at the observers like squid ink. They seem menacing, but are they?

One of the marvels of this movie, so carefully penned by screenwriter Eric Heisserer and shrewdly directed by Denis Villenueve (“Prisoners”, “Sicario”) is that for most of the film, we don’t know if they’re friend or foe. By coming here, and trying patiently to communicate with us, we assume they’re on our side, but until Louise can figure out just how to communicate with them, everyone in the film, as well as in the audience, remains in the dark.

It makes for a great and tense film experience, as we watch Louise and her crew keep putting themselves in harm's way as they try to engage the aliens in conversation. Eventually, their efforts start to make a difference and some of the pieces of the communications puzzle start to come together. But at every moment, it's pretty frightening as one wrong gesture, or a misinterpreted word could doom their efforts and possibly even start a war. That seems all too possible when the Chinese start to lose patience with the slow communications and develop an itchy trigger finger. Soon enough, other countries start to feel the same and their fears spread across the globe. Of course it isn’t long before America feels compelled to start saber rattling as well.  

As missiles and warships are moved into place from a number of countries and aimed at those huge, black egg-like alien vessels,  Louise faces what's known in the screenwriting industry as the ticking clock. Will she figure out what the aliens are trying to tell us in the nick of time and stave off war? Or will she communicate the wrong things to them and end up pushing them away and leaving our orbit forever? A missed opportunity to learn from them is as potentially catastrophic as a battle to the death. The words she will use to communicate now carry the weight of the world on them, and time is running out. Her words, any words, have never mattered more in the history of the planet in this film's story.

Watching it play out, one cannot help but think about how catastrophic words have been in this election. And seeing the purveyor of most of that horrendous verbiage win the White House has given many pause, here in the USA as well as throughout the world. Words matter, but for a candidate who delighted in being very loose with his words, as well as disparaging with them, it has now less half the electorate fearing how his words will turn into action. Half the country didn't vote for him, and he didn't secure the popular vote, but he took the electoral college. And now his words have everyone, even his supporters, wondering how true to them he will be. H.is words matter, and like Louise's words in the movie, they can now be used to create good or yes, create war. And not just on foreigners. Never have so many factions of the electorate felt like they were as despised as any enemy by our president-elect

ARRIVAL has other themes it gets across dramatically and emphatically as well. In addition to the importance of words, it has a lot to say about globalization. Louise’s conversation with the aliens does not come to full fruition until she realizes that the aliens are speaking as a whole from the 12 vessels. Each spacecraft is important to their overall communication, an intrinsic part of the puzzle. And in order to respond properly to the aliens, Louise discovers that she must put together all that they are saying. It’s like a treasure map with missing pieces in the parchment. She really can’t find whatever 'gold' they've got unless the whole thing is read as a whole. 

Not only does Louise realize she needs to put all of the 12 together, but she also recognizes that she needs all of the communications being bandied about by the other countries in their communication efforts with the aliens to help string together her best messaging as well.  She has to get out of her bubble, her singular world of what they’re doing with the spaceship hovering over Montana, in order to see the bigger picture. The input from the other nations is vital as what she is doing, as is that collective messaging from all 12 spaceships. Thus, once again, ARRIVAL serves as a timely metaphor for what we've just gone through during this election cycle. Too many people are living in their bubble, be it Fox News, Salon.com, or wherever they choose to get the information that best fits their world view. Accurate or not, too many who live in such bubbles think their reality is the right one. Often it isn't. ARRIVAL argues that a more thorough collection of data is needed to function. 

From a global economy to the Internet to preserving the planet, we are no longer isolated and cannot act like our small worlds are the only ones we have a vested interest in. Everything is connected. Louise must reach out to others and avidly seek their assistance to find the answers to her critical communications with alien life. And the film suggests to those watching it that we could all stand to get out of our heads more too.

And ultimately, what the aliens communicate to her when it all comes together is quite the doozy of a twist. It is incredibly profound and moving. And it forces us to reconsider much of what we've seen presented to us in the movie. We've accepted so much of it at face value. But that twists informs us that time, events and emotions are more fluid than at first imagined. It may appear to be linear, but that is not necessarily so. Again, the need for everything to be so tight and easy and selfish is discredited. The bigger picture, one that the aliens provide mankind on earth, needs to be looked upon with fresh eyes, an open mind and a willingness to step outside of ourselves, our comfort zones and yes indeed, our bubbles. It’s an intellectual space adventure, if you will, that invites comparisons to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. That's how smart it is.  I don’t want to say anything more about it. You’ll just have to see how mind-blowing it is for yourself if you haven't yet.

Still, its galvanizing message of learning to communicate better with no matter who you're trying to connect with cannot be missed. And in light of this week, it’s particularly relevant. Isolation and refusing to deal with a proper dialogue with whomever the “other” may be, is a way of conversing we cannot afford anymore. There are simply too many folks out in the nation of ours talking without thinking, and thinking without concern for what they're saying and how it may be affecting others. 

Hillary Clinton may very well have lost the election by living in the Democratic bubble and telling herself that all was well, that she'd win all those rust belt states because Democrats always do. But her losses to populist Bernie Sanders during the primary season in states like Wisconsin and Michigan should have been red flags to her campaign. Did the DNC ever consider spending time and money visiting those states? If they had before the last days of the election, HRC might've secured the votes of those working class constituents there rather than seeing them sit out or show up to vote for Trump.  

And those casting their ballots for Trump may think they were merely voting to “drain the swamp”, but their candidate’s incendiary language did a lot of damage. His voters are also living in a bubble if they think their vote was just about sticking it to the ruling class. Their vote stuck it to a lot of women, a lot of minorities, a lot of Muslims, and even the handicapped as Trump ridiculed all of them over and over again in his run with a relish of  vile language. If any Trump voter thinks such words are not connected to his endorsement from the KKK, then they are deep, deep inside a self-imposed, isolated bubble. 

It’s time to burst such bubbles, and Trump must now start using words to heal and bring the nation together. An apology or two, or a hundred for that matter, would be a very good start. If not, he may find that most of the nation doesn't want to go along with his efforts, just as most of them didn't vote for him, and he will accomplish a lot less than he could with bipartisanship. His words matter, as do his actions, especially how and if they link to his worst language.

 That’s why the film ARRIVAL strikes so powerfully. The film entertains yes, but it compels us to understand communication on a different level, a level where words can have real consequences. For good or bad. 


Perhaps our new leader will see this movie and be moved and enlightened. Or maybe he’ll just continuing his practice of tweeting hateful words about all his rivals on Twitter in the middle of the night. But make no mistake about the message of ARRIVAL - we’re all in this together. And important events demand well concerned language. That message couldn’t be any more obvious or more timely than it is this week. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

HALLOWEEN GREETINGS FROM JEFF YORK AND THE ESTABLISHING SHOT

Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST.
Happy Halloween, all! To celebrate the day, I'm presenting a few caricatures I've drawn over the years from movies and TV shows with a horror theme. Enjoy!
Alfred Hitchcock and THE BIRDS.
Brian De Palma's THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE.
Yul Brynner in WESTWORLD.
Glenn Close in FATAL ATTRACTION.
Vincent Price in THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH.

Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga in BATES MOTEL on A & E television.
Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw and Roy Scheider in JAWS.
Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon in GHOSTBUSTERS.
Mads Mikkelsen in HANNIBAL on NBC television.
Jennifer Carpenter and Michael C. Hall in DEXTER on Showtime.
Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI.
Barry Atwater in THE NIGHT STALKER on ABC television.
Hope you enjoyed these tricky treats. And have a good fright night, boys and ghouls! 

(BTW...if you'd ever like me to draw a caricature of your favorite movie, TV show or actor/actress, just contact me here at The Establishing Shot. My rates are quite reasonable, and a one-of-a-kind original caricature makes for a great gift. And Christmas is just around the corner...)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

HERALDING MOVIES OF A GRAPHIC NATURE


Do movie posters still matter?

With most of the PR for films being handled online, on TV, or by the studio released movie trailers at the theater, the one-sheet for a movie seems less and less important these days. More often than not, movie posters now tend to fall into the category of ‘teaser’. Months and months before a film will come out, three or four character posters will pop up at your local bus stop or in the hallways at your local Cineplex to stimulate interest. Or the weekend before that film opens, the LA Times or the NY Times will run a full page ad based on the poster announcing said film will be opening that coming Friday. But beyond that, posters, like so much of the traditional print medium in advertising and journalism, seems almost archaic.

Still, when a movie poster is special it can say as much about a film as any press kit or 2-minute movie preview. Distilling a movie into a single graphic expression truly is as much of an art as it ever was, even if it seems to be more and more a lost one. But thankfully, there are a number each year that do the tradition proud, and here are five of the best from 2016 that caught this fan’s eye the most.

JACKIE
This intimate biographical look at Jackie Kennedy during the week after her husband’s assassination in 1963 is to be released by Fox Searchlight in December. For now, we have a clip or two online, a haunting trailer, and this incredible one-sheet showcasing Natalie Portman in the title role. Her resemblance to the title character is remarkable, as is the tentative yet steely pose and facial expression clearly evident by the actress. But it is truly the red on red in the poster that rivets the eye. Red is an especially striking color, one that not only represents beauty, but also rage and death. All present in the experience of the First Lady in those days after her husband was struck down in Dallas. Rarely does a poster say so much, so dramatically, and so succinctly.


THE BIRTH OF A NATION
Here’s another great poster from the studio that created the one for JACKIE. Fox Searchlight is the distributor of THE BIRTH OF A NATION as well, and from a distance, the poster looks like an editorialized take on the American flag. It’s yellowed, as if to say freedom in this nation is tarnished. Or perhaps the less-than-pure white of its flag speaks to it being “old school”, a period piece if you will, which it is. Also evident from that distance, is the idea that the red strips are dripping blood. All that would be more than enough to be fantastic graphically, but when you get closer to the design, you realize that the stripes are lines of slaves fighting for their freedom. That makes the poster all the more meaningful. And stunning.


THE LOBSTER
One of the quirkiest films of the year received one of the best posters too. And it’s one that perfectly captures the darkly comic feel of the subject matter. THE LOBSTER is about a future society where loneliness becomes an act of unlawfulness. Those who’ve not found a mate are banned from society and punished and turned into animals. The metaphorical nature of the story sounds more on-the-nose than it is. In reality, it's a rather subtle film, droll even, and not overplayed. The loneliness of its subjects attempting one last time to connect with another human is palpable. And the fact that their last hurrah takes place a a hotel symposium that plays like a sales convention makes for rich, dark humor. The poster captures both that wit and pathos as it visuals lead Colin Farrell holding a yet-to-be-realized lover. The use of negative space rarely is exploited so brilliantly. Distributor A24 not only showcases the film superbly, but it illustrates how shrewd their marketing department is as well.


THE BAFTA BEST FILM NOMINEES 2016
Sometimes the best movie posters are those done for awards show. BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) does brilliant work year in and year out as they highlight their Best Picture nominees in their publicity materials. And last year’s slate of graphic depictions of the five films were nothing short of mesmerizing. 


How adroitly artist Paul Willoughby creates an image within another image, adding dimension to his illustrations as well as suggesting the layers of intrigue in each film. Each poster stands on its own, yet as a set, make for one of the greatest graphic tributes to the movies in 2016. 


THE WITCH
The best horror movie of the year also had one of the year’s best teaser posters too. THE WITCH, written and directed by the brilliant Robert Eggers ,is a haunting portrayal of a 1630 New England family struggling with evil. They are pious pilgrims, yet evil finds its way into every family member through all too human flaws – pride, lust and envy. Even the barn yard animals, the surrounding wilderness, and the weather are darkened by the smothering evil. The tagline “Evil takes many forms” and disturbing image of a hare with Satanic eyes perfectly complement the idea of the film. Kudos again to distributor A24 for their superb  work here, with extra kudos for using an Old World version of the letter “W” to make THE WITCH all the more disturbing.

Finally, let's look at the small screen for the last highlight of this 2016 season. Here is the sublime logo created for the new HBO television series that has everyone talking this autumn.


WESTWORLD
The premium cable network's new program is more than just a riff on the 1973 cult classic film about a grown-up theme park where tourists can live out their wildest fantasies (sexual, violent, heck, you name it). Instead, this new take on WESTWORLD goes even deeper in examining humanity than Michael Crichton's original did.   The show suggests that in our modern computer age, not only are robots becoming as intuitive as we are, but they're actually becoming more humane as the world of man becomes a colder and meaner place. The logo for the show captures all of that idea and more. It is cold, stark, even brutal. And there is a lot going on in all those points and planes in the design. Note how the double points suggest everything from fangs to devil’s horns to women’s cleavage. And in doubling the W's, as the name does, the design creates bars that hold the other W. Perhaps this was meant to suggest the idea of confinement, the idea of our world being squeezed? Yet that inside W still remains open in its way. Is that for man to escape, or the more likable robots? 

You may think that I’m reading an awful lot into a logo, but believe me, designers put such detailed thought into the iconography they create. Clearly, they want the marketing to be as clever as the entertainments. And they want their communications to grab us graphically. They do. And how.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

DIANE KEATON IS NAMED THE 45th RECIPIENT OF THE AFI LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD


Today, Diane Keaton was named as the 45th recipient of the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. Sir Howard Stringer, chair of the AFI Board of Trustees, heralded her with the following words, “Peerless in her mastery of both comedy and drama, she has won the world's heart time and again by creating characters of both great strength and vulnerability. Her career as a director and producer is even further evidence of her passion for the art form and her seemingly boundless talents."

Indeed, Diane Keaton is a terrific choice. Few have excelled at both comedy and drama with equal aplomb, and her list of films that have stood the test of time is unquestionable. ANNIE HALL, THE GODFATHER, THE GODFATHER PART 2, REDS, THE FIRST WIVES CLUB and SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE are just six of them.

She’s also starred in seminal works such as BABY BOOM, THE FIRST WIVES CLUB, CRIMES OF THE HEART and MARVIN’S ROOM. Why, a number of the films she’s done for Woody Allen alone firmly implant here in the comedy psyche of a generation including PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM, SLEEPER, and MANHATTAN. She’s also done sterling work in films that few remember as they were not big hits in their time. SHOOT THE MOON, as a sparring ex to Albert Finney after the break-up of their marriage, in particular is a film that should be recalled more than it is. Her work in that was sometimes fierce, sometimes funny, but always complex.

The 70-year-old actress was nominated four times for the Best Actress Oscar. ANNIE HALL (1978) was her first nod and a win, but she was also honored by the Academy for her work in REDS (1982), MARVIN’S ROOM (1997), and the aforementioned SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE (2004). Keaton has won a slew of other awards, and she’s produced and directed too, even helming an episode of the television series TWIN PEAKS in 1991.

Keaton is only the ninth female recipient of the award, and she very possibly could be the only winner as well known for comedy as drama. (Okay, maybe Jack Lemmon gives her a run for the money in such duality.) But has any other AFI Life Achievement recipient also stood as a fashion icon for over 50 years? No. They haven't.  

She has always been outspoken and witty in interviews, and you know her acceptance speech at the award ceremony next June will be a special one. Many of her contemporaries should be there to applaud her including Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and Leonardo DiCaprio. It will be quite interesting to see if Woody Allen will come out to Los Angeles participate in the event. It’s doubtful that he will, as he has shunned awards ceremonies for decades. He didn’t even show up to receive his Cecil B. DeMille Life Achievement Award from the Golden Globes two years ago. (My guess is that he’ll pre-record something. But he should be there.)

Keaton is such a worthy choice, and continues the AFI’s recent streak of unquestionably smart choices for their award like Jane Fonda, Steve Martin and last year’s first below-the-line talent – composer John Williams. In fact, the only bittersweet part of this latest honoree is the group of potential icons who it appears the AFI is going to pass over. Character actors who became above-the-title stars like Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall should have been honored. Robert Redford doesn’t seem 80, but the fact that he hasn’t been tapped is ridiculous. Perhaps he’s turned it down. (The story always was that Katherine Hepburn and Woody Allen have said “no” repeatedly.) Still others blame the AFI passing him over on their competition with Redford’s Sundance Institute and Film Festival. If that’s the issue, on either side, get over it please. And it’s still inexplicable that Michael Caine has yet to be honored. He’s starred in major films in six decades now. What does he have to do to get this career-capping accolade?

Still, this time is Keaton’s time, and the applause will be deafening from movie fans across the globe, including yours truly. Michael Corleone may have famously closed the door on her character Kay in the final shot of THE GODFATHER, but the AFI has swung their exclusive club door wide open and beckoned Keaton in. Bravo!