"Needle in the Hay"
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach & Owen Wilson
Produced by: Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin & Barry Mendel
Songs by: Elliott Smith
JAMES McAVOY as Elliott Smith
LINDA CARDELLINI as Jennifer Chiba
FRANK WHALEY as Jon Brion
LIAM NEESON as Gus Van Sant
TIM ROTH as Jem Cohen
Tagline: "The most beautiful artists bare the most tormented souls"
Synopsis: A biopic on Elliott Smith, this the film begins in a room with Smith (McAvoy) sitting on a chair and holding his guitar, he begins to strum the notes to "Some Song," a tune that chronicled his difficult childhood. He closes his eyes and we are shown a flashback of his youth in a church. We see a surreal and colorful portrait of a sermon and a preacher going on about the "threat of Hell" and the camera focuses on a young Smith with a look of fear on his face (A reference to his religious childhood that he later claimed only made him fear Hell). The adult Smith opens his eyes, and we are given a moment of silence with Smith thinking deeply and eventually picking up where the song left off.
We mainly focus on the latter part of Smith's career (circa 2001-2003), during his most climactic time under the influence of drugs and in a state of depression and despair, a time when he was with his last girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba (Cardellini) and working on what would be his final album which was being produced by the unique and innovative musician Jon Brion (Whaley). We are at many moments shown in deep perspective a high Elliott Smith in a state of paranoia (something he battled constantly throughout the 2000s). The scenes are notably and beautifully photographed by Robert Yeoman (known for his work on all of Wes Anderson's films) and capture the true state of what would lead to Smith's eventual downfall.
Throughout the telling of Smith's turbulent era, the film takes brief but detailed flashbacks to key periods in his career spanning from his first solo show to his appearance at the Oscars, writing Beatles covers for American Beauty and into his final year whilst recording "From A Basement on A Hill"
The film concludes in October of 2003, where Smith is at his worst point. He had released his acclaimed albums "XO" and "Figure 8," achieved a major-label signing, and had recently played one of his final concerts which was described as "an obviously unstable Smith performing one of the worst shows of his career." Friends and colleagues are worried about him and he is only getting worse in his alcohol and drug habits. On October 21st, after an argument with Smith, Jennifer Chiba (according to her side of the story) locksherself in the bathroom. She hears Elliott scream and upon walking out, sees him on the floor with a steak knife in his chest, bleeding profusely. He is rushed to the hospital where he is pronounced dead at 1:36 pm. A suicide note was found reading "I'm so sorry -Elliott. God forgive me." His legacy lives on to this day and some fans still suspect (and believe with Chiba as a suspect) that he was murdered. Smith was a brilliant musician who was in many ways tormented and kept himself isolated from the world. He often lived as a "needle in the hay."
What the Press would say:
"When you first learn that Wes Anderson is making a dark, disturbing and at many times depressing biopic on Elliott Smith, you may think to yourself, 'How will the man behind colorfully comedic dramas such as The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic be able to pull off a biopic on one truly depressed and tormented musician?' When you watch this film from beginning to end for the first time, you will know one thing is true: Anderson is one brilliant filmmaker who has more range than one could ever imagine. Every director creates a picture that shies away from their usual areas of imagination and ventures into different territories. For Anderson, this is it. You become sucked into the world of Smith and witness first hand his emotional demons and experience the downfall of a truly brilliant songwriter. Beyond the dramatic and depressing states the film offers, its visual look, feel and color are true to the notable style of Mr. Anderson, thanks in part to the phenomenal cinematography provided by Wes regular, Robert Yeoman. We are given different elements from the different appearances ofrushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic. The script is superb. Penned by Anderson, Owen Wilson and Noah Baumbach, it works just right. You know these guys followed Smith's life closely and gave everything they had to create an honest and faithful homage."
"James McAvoy's performance and portrayal of Smith is among one of the best to be seen on screen since Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles. He accurately hits the voice and personality of Smith. It was learned that McAvoy dedicated himself to becoming Smith by enduring a strict diet, singing and guitar lessons, voice coaching and daily make-up jobs to get the full look and personality needed to resemble a depressed drug addict. He even stayed in character between takes and often off set. If you were to close your eyes and just listen to McAvoy for a few seconds, you would think that he really was Smith. Upon opening your eyes and combining his accurate look, you realize McAvoy is truly convincing in character on screen. Come awards season, he deserves to be a top contender for the acting awards. He has proven himself as a force to be reckoned with."
"When making a biopic, the filmmakers are faced with a decision on what to focus on in the subject's life. Wes Anderson and company chose the key point in Smith's time, his rise as a solo musician and his personal downfall as a drug addict/alcoholic. The fact that the film barely focuses on his younger days was a true booster for the film. You are brought right into what he was known for, writing beautiful music and facing his demons. This is a film without a dull moment and a true visionary masterpiece ridden with fine performances, a fantastic script and a superb use of color, visualization and photography."
BEST PICTURE (Drama- GG) (Ensemble- SAG)
BEST DIRECTOR- Wes Anderson
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY- Anderson, Wilson, Baumbach
BEST ACTOR- James McAvoy
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS- Linda Cardellini
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY- Robert Yeoman