Dark Intimacies: Lisa Cholodenko's DVD Picks From the passive aggression of Ordinary People to the bittersweet romance of Y Tu Mama Tambien, the movies on the Oscar nominee's must-see list are threaded through with downbeat themes. Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right) joins NPR's Steve Inskeep to run down a few favorite scenes.
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Dark Intimacies: Lisa Cholodenko's DVD Picks

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Dark Intimacies: Lisa Cholodenko's DVD Picks

Dark Intimacies: Lisa Cholodenko's DVD Picks

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Every so often on MORNING EDITION, we talk with Hollywood insiders, get their recommendations on movies to watch at home, by DVD or any other way.

Our latest guest is Lisa Cholodenko. She wrote and directed "The Kids Are All Right." It follows a married couple. They're two women. They have two kids who seek out their biological father.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Kids Are All Right")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOSH HUTCHERSON (Actor): (as Laser) Have you thought anymore about making that call?

Ms. MIA WASIKOWSKA (Actor): (as Joni) That could really hurt moms' feelings.

Mr. HUTCHERSON: (as Laser) How can you not even be curious about it?

Ms. WASIKOWSKA: (as Joni) Each of my moms had a kid with your sperm.

Mr. MARK RUFFALO (Actor): (as Paul) Like, in both of them.

Ms. WASIKOWSKA: (as Joni) Uh-huh, like in gay.

Mr. RUFFALO: (as Paul) Right on. Cool, right? I love lesbians.

Ms. WASIKOWSKA: (as Joni) Great.

INSKEEP: "The Kids Are All Right" is up for four Oscars this year. Lisa Cholodenko's movie is seen as funny, even heartwarming. Her recommended movies, not so much.

Ms. LISA CHOLODENKO (Director, "The Kids Are All Right"): I want to just give you one caveat: I wrote that from my sick bed. I was - had a horrible flu, so those films all have one thing in common, and I think they're all quite aggressive - maybe a little, you know, pessimistic.

INSKEEP: Okay, but with the proviso that it's kind of a dark list, you still stand by these selections, including "Ordinary People," Mary Tyler Moore. What's dark and pessimistic about this?

Ms. CHOLODENKO: You know, I probably would've had that on my list regardless. It's - I think it was one of those movies that made me want to make movies, because I saw something in that - particularly that performance that struck me as completely out of the box.

INSKEEP: Some people may know Mary Tyler Moore as a comedic actress from television. But this is a very serious role in which she plays a mother whose son has died.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Indeed. And she's, you know, sort of suffering and struggling. She thinks she's doing it silently and with dignity, but she's really kind of oozing out all over the place. It's this whole sort of psychodrama between the three surviving members of the family.

And the son, Jared, is sitting in the kitchen trying to act normal, and she comes in and she serves him up a big plate of French toast. He's nauseous and bereft and picks at it. And she picks up the plate and shoves the French toast in the garbage disposal.

(Soundbite of movie, "Ordinary People")

Ms. MARY TYLER MOORE (Actor): (as Beth) It's French toast. It's your favorite.

Mr. TIMOTHY HUTTON (Actor): (as Conrad) I'm not really hungry.

Mr. DONALD SUTHERLAND (Actor): (as Calvin) It's breakfast, pal. Remember, main meal, energy?

Ms. MOORE: (as Beth) You're not hungry, you're not hungry.

Mr. SUTHERLAND: (as Calvin) Wait a minute, Beth. Hang on a second, he'll eat it. Go on.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: What really touched me about it was it was just a perfect film moment of passive-aggression.

INSKEEP: That it's the physical acting that conveys the emotion here.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: It is. It's the dialogue. It's the dialogue that's not there. And then, yes. Correct. It's really what's expressed physically that conveys what's not said.

INSKEEP: You have also put on your list of DVD recommendations here, "Chinatown."

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Yeah. You know, it was just I was - like I was...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHOLODENKO: I was thinking about all these films kind of that gave me that burst of unexpected pain or emotion, or whatever. I do recall the end of that film where the revelation happens between Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson, and having this jolt of sadness and empathy and surprise.

(Soundbite of movie, "Chinatown")

Ms. FAYE DUNAWAY (Actor): (as Evelyn Mulwray) Will you please tell me what this is all about?

Mr. JACK NICHOLSON (Actor): (as J.J. Gittes) I found these in your backyard, in the pond. It belonged to your husband, didn't they?

Ms. DUNAWAY: I don't know. Yes, probably.

Mr. NICHOLSON: (as J.J. Gittes) Yes, positively. That's where he was drowned.

Ms. DUNAWAY: (as Evelyn Mulwray) What?

Mr. NICHOLSON: (as J.J. Gittes) There's no time for you to be shocked by the truth...

INSKEEP: It's a great film noir in that plot is a little thick, like you have to think to even figure out what's going on in that movie.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Indeed...

INSKEEP: But you don't mind, because...

Ms. CHOLODENKO: It's intellectual, yeah.

INSKEEP: ...of what it looks like, you don't care. You're willing to make the effort.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Indeed. I tend not to be so attracted to films that kind of force me into an intellectual place over an emotional one. I'm more interested in those that kind of strike a different balance, so that I'm not thinking too much I'm just kind of with it, if you know what I mean.

INSKEEP: Why did you include on your list "Gimme Shelter," this documentary about a concert gone wrong involving the Rolling Stones?

Ms. CHOLODENKO: I love documentaries. You know, there was quite a few that I thought of, and I wanted to include one.

(Soundbite of movie, "Gimme Shelter")

Unidentified Man: Well, the Rolling Stones tour of the United States is over. They wound it up with a free concert at the Altamont Speedway for more than 300,000 people. There were four births, four deaths, and an awful lot of scuffles reported. We received word that someone was stabbed to death in front of the stage by a member of the Hell's Angels.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: You know the context, and the context is it's the end of the '60s, and there's this sort of fractured American culture.

(Soundbite of movie, "Gimme Shelter")

Mr. MICK JAGGER (Member, Rolling Stones): Just be cool down in the front there, and don't push around.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Ms. CHOLODENKO: The scene of the Stones in a helicopter being flown into this concert, and it's a completely foreboding, menacing moment.

(Soundbite of movie, "Gimme Shelter")

(Soundbite of song, "Sympathy for the Devil")

Mr. JAGGER: (Singing) Oh, yeah.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: From the point of view of this band going into this concert that everybody knows is off-kilter, there's something not right about it: The location isn't right, the time isn't right, the Hell's Angels aren't right. And you look down from this point of view of the helicopter onto the road, where masses of people walking for miles and miles and miles in the sun to get to this free concert. And it just looks like a weird, creepy pilgrimage. It's just a completely synesthetic moment. I can still conjure it, and I haven't seen the film in quite a while.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about one more film on your list here. And this film doesn't seem - even though it has its sad moments - doesn't seem quite as grim as some of the others we've discussed. "Y Tu Mama Tambien," "And Your Mother Too," a Mexican film from 2001, I believe.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: I knew I needed to be vaguely contemporary somewhere in this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHOLODENKO: I just feel like...

INSKEEP: There was no requirement. You could have said anything you wanted.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Well, I adore that movie in so many ways. But I remember just being completely taken with the narrative. I felt like there was a freedom of adventure with the camera, with the color. A movie about these two boys who are childhood friends growing up together, go on this road trip with this woman, and unbeknownst to them, she's gravely ill. And that really isn't the part of the film that got to me, as much as the end, where there's this movement of the three of them coming together. And there's this kind of intoxicated, tequila-drenched threesome that happens. It's sort of fun and playful and tender and inevitable.

And I don't have a lot of experiences where I remember at the end of a film crying in that complete, you know, the joy-marries-the-sorrow kind of way. And I thought that that was a real triumph for the filmmaker and the film.

INSKEEP: Did you add that film to your list at the moment when you realized you were starting to get over the flu and you were feeling better, and you felt joy, as well as sorrow?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Maybe so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Well, Lisa Cholodenko, it's been a great pleasure speaking with you. Thanks very much.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: And her must-see movie recommendations and pivotal scenes from several of them are at npr.org.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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