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The Early Word on Five Buzzy NYC Films That Premiered at Sundance

Dick Johnson is Dead” (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Dick Johnson is Dead

Dick Johnson dies many times in Dick Johnson is Dead, a hilarious and moving documentary portrait helmed by critics’ favorite Kirsten Johnson. Dick is Kirsten’s dad, and he’s suffering from dementia. The documentary charts her relationship with him over his final years, during which he moves out of his rural home and into Kirsten’s one bedroom apartment in Manhattan. Over the documentary, Kirsten stages various ways in which her father could die — such as falling down a staircase, or getting crushed by a falling AC unit while doddering down the street. Each of these “deaths” feels grisly to a ridiculous degree, and as we watch Dick stand back up, alive, after each encounter, the movie evolves into a kind of absurdist cinematic therapy. Droll and divine in equal measure, Dick Johnson is Dead was a highlight of this year’s festival, proving Johnson a master of her craft. More →

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Netflix Wins Big, and More Takeaways From the Gotham Awards

Still from “Marriage Story,” courtesy of Netflix.

The 2019 Gotham Independent Film Awards arrive at a critical moment in awards season. Predating most of the major awards, they provide a clue into which indies are on the industry’s radar. But more importantly, Monday night’s ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street highlighted a selection of excellent titles — from indie gems such as The Farewell and Waves to mainstream favorites like Hustlers. More →

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The Early Word on Five Buzzy NYC Films Stirring up Sundance

Emma Thompson in Late Night (Courtesy of Sundance Institute / photo by Emily Aragones)

Late Night
Emma Thompson plays a veteran late-night talk show host in this broadly appealing comedy—think The Devil Wears Prada meets The Mindy Project—written by Mindy Kaling and helmed by Transparent director Nisha Ganatra. Kaling also stars as Molly, a comically earnest aspiring writer and zealous comedy fan who scores a job in the show’s midtown writer’s room, which until then had been comprised of only white men. The movie is based around an array of hot-button topics: sexism, representation, workplace dynamics. But the story never gets heavy. It’s fizzy and bright, existing in a kind of exaggerated rom-com reality where women are less interested in love affairs than career drive. It was nabbed by Amazon for $13 million.

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Brittany Runs a Marathon Star Jillian Bell on her ‘Couch to 5K’ Training Journey

Jillian Bell in Brittany Runs A Marathon (Courtesy of Sundance Institute / photo by Jon Pack)

At the Sundance Film Festival, you expect to see artful indies and quirky dramas — the next Little Miss Sunshine or Mudbound or Precious. What you’re less expecting is a broadly accessible comedy in the vein of Trainwreck or I Feel Pretty, the kind of unabashedly populist laugh-out-loud entertainment you would feel perfectly fine recommending to both your midwestern grandma and your Brooklyn bartender. And yet, that’s exactly what this year’s Sundance has delivered in the sweet, sincere Brittany Runs a Marathon, which stars funny lady Jillian Bell as a 27-year-old hot mess New Yorker who decides to get her life in order.

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Sweetbitter Author and Series Creator Stephanie Danler On Being ‘Hungry’ For New York City

Stephanie Danler

Lots of television shows mythologize New York City. But few succeed in depicting the city’s magnetism and allure as precisely as Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, adapted from her 2016 debut novel of the same name. Premiering last Sunday on Starz, the new series centers around Tess (Ella Purnell), a 22-year-old small town transplant pursuing a job as a waitress at a high-end Manhattan restaurant in 2006. Though the story is fiction, Danler — who is the series creator, writer, and executive producer — based it on her own experiences as a recent college grad navigating New York’s high cuisine scene. Nowadays, Danler spends the majority of her time in Los Angeles, but she still has a soft spot for the city — even during summer weeks like this one, when a stroll down the block can feel like “swimming in a thick soup.”

Bedford + Bowery chatted with Danler on the phone this week after the Sweetbitter premiere last Sunday. We talked city life, oysters, and how she can tell which of the season’s six episodes were directed by women.

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Nico, 1988 Director Susanna Nicchiarelli On Structuring Her Biopic Like a Record

When Susanna Nicchiarelli made up her mind to take on the story of Christa Päffgen, better known by her stage name Nico, she wasn’t interested in depicting all yesterday’s parties. Best known for her psychedelic heyday as a Chelsea Girl and Velvet Underground muse, Nico lived out her later, tamer days as a solo musician in Europe. This is the era captured in Nico, 1988, which, according to Nicchiarelli, is structured more like a vinyl album than a conventional biopic.

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Juno Director Jason Reitman Tackles the ‘Very Taboo’ Subject of Parenting in Tully

(l to r.) Mackenzie Davis and Charlize Theron in Jason Reitman’s Tully. (Courtesy of Focus Features)

Eleven years after his zany teen pregnancy screwball — a little film called Juno — Jason Reitman is back with a new kind of motherhood comedy. Tully may be less indie-music-infused than its Ellen Page-starring forerunner, but don’t be fooled: this isn’t one of those broad parenting comedies like Mr. Mom, although Reitman wouldn’t be mad if it was.

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Trailer Premiere: Lincoln Center’s French Cinema Fest Features a Heavy-Metal Joan of Arc

The crème de la crème of contemporary French film is headed our way. Presented by Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance, the 23rd edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema will run from March 8 to 18 at Film Society, featuring a vibrant, female-centric lineup. Opening with the U.S. premiere of Mathieu Amalric’s Barbara, this year’s series boasts a diverse slate of narrative and documentary features, Q&A’s, and free panels. We’re premiering the trailer for you, above. 

Among the 24 films making their North American, U.S., or New York debut at Rendez-Vous are favorites from international festivals including Cannes, Toronto, and Venice, helmed both by established masters and new talents. This year’s programming especially foregrounds the strength and creativity of women, featuring works from seven female directors and a slew of stories with women at the center –– from a coming of age tale about a teenage girl going blind (Léa Mysius’s Ava) to an intimate and imaginative mother-daughter portrait (Noémie Lvovsky’s Tomorrow and Thereafter).

Additional highlights include C’est la vie!, a wedding comedy from Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano (The Intouchables). Albert Dupontel’s Jazz Age crime epic See You Up There; Hubert Charuel’s dairy farm thriller Petit Paysan; and Tonie Marshall’s feminist corporate drama Number One; as well as Film Comment presentations of Eugene Green’s magic-laden Waiting for the Barbarians and Laurent Cantent’s cerebral social thriller The Workshop. You can peruse the full slate here. There’s even a heavy metal rendering of Joan of Arc’s early life, courtesy of Bruno Dumont’s Jeannette, The Childhood of Joan of Arc– a respectable alternative if you haven’t managed to score tickets to David Byrne’s musical take on the French heroine

And for all you aspiring under-40 critics, a special $40 pass is available which includes all-day March 12th screening access, a partial Film Society membership, and a bottle of champagne to boot. Bon appétit.

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The Early Word On Six NYC Films That Premiered at Sundance

A film still from Skate Kitchen by Crystal Moselle.
(Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Ryan Parilla)

Skate Kitchen
Crystal Moselle won the grand jury prize at Sundance in 2015 for her shocking, Lower East Side-set documentary The Wolfpack. Skate Kitchen finds Moselle moving into the narrative space with another study of New York City misfits: an all-girl skateboarding crew. After she met the real-life skate squad on the subway, Moselle teamed up with the teenage women to develop a fictional story script surrounding their lives. The result is an immersive, dynamic coming of age centered around Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), a Long Island native whose initiation into the Skate Kitchen gang launches a summer of downtown debauchery and newfound camaraderie.
Critical Response: Variety says the “young women are mesmerizing to watch”; Hollywood Reporter says the script “often surprises, hinting at trauma that never arrives”; it’s “one of the more positive depictions of millennial community-building in recent cinema,” per IndieWire.
Distributor: Seeking distribution

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