Director Jason Reitman made 2 of the year's best movies. But you probably didn't see them.
- Oscar-nominated writer-director Jason Reitman had two movies out this year and you probably didn't even realize it.
- Charlize Theron in "Tully" and Hugh Jackman in "The Front Runner" both give career-best performances, but both movies were forgotten when released in theaters.
- Here's why you should see both movies.
I have this recurring dream. It starts somewhere in the bowels of the Sony offices, and I'm hearing in the distance faint sounds of yelling and loud banging. As I get closer, I realize the noises are coming from inside a glass-walled board room. I peek at what's going on inside and see writer-director Jason Reitman standing on the table, yelling at executives, while behind him Hugh Jackman is in full Wolverine berserker mode throwing chairs, a sofa, and trays of finger food set up for the meeting.
Okay, I never had this dream. It's more of a fantasy I have of how Reitman and Jackman reacted during the nonexistent release Sony's Columbia Pictures gave their movie, "The Front Runner."
In a year when the field of Oscar contenders is so wide open, I'm still puzzled how this movie is on the outside looking in.
In "The Front Runner," Reitman takes the sex scandal that flatlined the presidential campaign of Senator Gary Hart in 1987 and delivers a Robert-Altman-esque satire that explores the insanity of political campaigns and the start of reporters digging deep into the personal lives of those running for the highest office in the land. This is all done with some of the best writing in any movie this year. And Jackman delivers one of the best performances of his career.
But you wouldn't know anything about that, because you probably didn't get a chance to see the movie.
Columbia played it in theaters for six weeks, but its highest theater count was around Thanksgiving on only 800 screens. It ended up making just $2 million. I mean, honestly, did you ever see any advertising for this movie? It's hard to go see a movie if you don't know it's playing.
In May, Reitman's movie "Tully" - in which he teamed once again with his "Juno" screenwriter Diablo Cody and had Charlize Theron (like Jackman, giving one of her best performances ever) in the lead playing a woman navigating the challenges of being a mother - also had a blink-and-you-missed-it release.
It wasn't quite at the level of "The Front Runner." Focus Features at least gave it a marketing push and opened it on over 1,300 screens. The movie also had a 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But it's likely you didn't see this movie, which was in theaters for five weeks, because "Avengers: Infinity War" had just come out the weekend before and had taken over the zeitgeist. The plan was probably that "Tully" would serve as a counter-programming release to the Marvel blockbuster. But instead it was forgotten, only making $9.3 million domestically, and $15.5 million worldwide.
Jason Reitman's work has always been an acquired taste, but when he finds the right material his movies are powerful works. He hit it out of the park with 2007's "Juno," which led to a best original screenplay Oscar win for Cody and nominations for both Reitman and star Ellen Page. Reitman then captured Clooney at his leading man zenith with 2009's "Up in the Air," which was nominated for six Oscars, including another directing nomination for Reitman and best picture.
Both "Tully" and "The Front Runner" are as good (arguably better) than Reitman's most well-known titles and both show his growth as a filmmaker.
In "Tully," Reitman uses Cody's words and story structure to weave one of the most honest looks at parenthood you'll ever see.
Stressed, tired, and at the end of her rope with everyone in her life, Marlo (Theron) hires a nanny, Tully (Mackenzie Davis), whose specialty is to work overnight and take care of a newborn while the mom gets some much needed sleep. The mom then wakes up to a clean house and is recharged to take care of the kids during the day. Gradually, Reitman peels the layers to show that what the audience is watching is not reality as much as the world Marlo has created through her state of exhaustion.
While "Tully" is very much Reitman being the vessel for Cody's powerful story, in "The Front Runner," he's the driving force.
Reitman shared screenwriting duties with political columnist Matt Bai (who wrote the book the movie is based on) and political strategist Jay Carson. Together the trio dived into the weeks leading up to Senator Gary Hart dropping out of the presidential race in 1987. What resulted is an authentically told look at not just how Hart's reported affair crippled his campaign, but how campaign trail life is. Reitman tells the story at a fast pace, with most of the shots featuring the cast talking over one another and the camera moving around showing the numerous things going on at the same time. It's highlighted by the movie's opening: Reitman does a long uncut shot that begins at a news truck delivering election results, and weaves through a crowded street, ending high above the action with a political aide of Hart's looking outside a hotel window.
And then there's the performance given by Jackman as Hart. Hart is a man who has become a beacon for young voters to get behind with his good looks and platform that is different than most preached by the political establishment. And Jackman plays him as someone who doesn't like the political game but knows he has to do it to make the change he wants possible. When he's confronted with the affair news, Jackman then perfectly plays the crippling effect of a front runner relegated to tabloid fodder.
"The Front Runner" is Reitman's most unique movie yet, and is a fascinating evolution to see after the strong work he did on "Tully."
But you probably wouldn't know that.
Sure, my fantasy of Reitman and Jackman making a big stink is probably just that. But I hope someone got a stern phone call from Reitman - or at least a text.