Editing the annual Esquire at the Movies issue is, I fancy in my wilder, even-more-megalomaniacal-than-usual moments, not unlike playing a video game: Fantasy Film Producer.
First you need a director, the best you can get. You’ll want a critical darling, of course, but a crowd-pleaser, too; an auteur, but not an art-house priss. Someone with a track record of making films spectacular and sophisticated, thrilling and fast-paced but also nuanced, intelligent, moving – even profound.
Let’s start at the very top, just to rule him out: is Marty available? Marty, it turns out, is between pictures. But Stephen Smith, Newsnight culture correspondent and Esquire contributing editor, recently caught up with the world’s greatest living film-maker in New York for an extensive discussion on past glories, present obsessions and future plans. They talked movies from Taxi Driver to The Wolf of Wall Street and another film Scorsese’s hoping to get off the ground: The Irishman, starring Robert de Niro.
So Marty’s in. This is a good start. The best start possible. You can get anyone you want with Marty.
And now what we want is a star. An A-lister, clearly, with box-office clout, but none of your weedy, pretty boy hunks. We want someone with kudos, with depth, with substance. An Oscar winner, if we can get one. But an Oscar winner who can convincingly kick arse. Who can bring it, when we need it brung.
Seems too good to be true, but Christian Bale’s got a film on the way – Exodus: Gods and Kings, the new Old Testament epic from Ridley Scott. Bale plays Moses. He wouldn’t hop aboard, would he?
Calls are made and, on one memorable occasion, taken. Bale’s up for it. Batman/Bateman/Bible Man is in. Our creative director, Nick Millington, flies to California to orchestrate Peggy Sirota’s shoot, at which the famously intense star of Americans Psycho and Hustle, plus The Fighter and The Dark Knight trilogy, reveals a lighter, looser, loopier side. Another meeting is arranged: early in the morning at a down-at-heel Mexican place in East LA. Esquire’s deputy editor, Johnny Davis, finds Bale on fighting form: fatherhood, religion, motorbikes and Rob Brydon’s impression of Tom Hardy doing Bane; no topic is off limits. The man, reports Johnny, is a mensch. You can see why he keeps getting the big roles.
So we have our star. Now our drama needs some conflict. A black hat to Bale’s white. Someone with heft, gravitas, a bit of menace if the moment requires it. Wait, what’s that? Marty has a suggestion. Ray Winstone? They worked together on The Departed? Of course they did! Is Raymondo available? Raymondo is! Ben Mitchell is dispatched to meet him and, as ever, finds the world’s favourite East Londoner in fine fettle. This is coming together nicely.
How about an unexpected cameo, to keep our film issue on its toes? Someone we love and respect but perhaps haven’t heard from in a while. Someone who can come in and shake shit up, steal his scenes, add the element of danger. Word has it Michael Keaton’s about to have a moment, in Birdman. That’s Michael Keaton as in Mr Mom, Beetlejuice, Batman... (Yep, another one.)
But the live-wire Keaton is notoriously mercurial. How to pin him down? Happily, American Esquire’s Tom Chiarella spent some time at Keaton’s ranch in Montana earlier this year. The result of that meeting is a delightfully freewheeling, iconoclastic portrait of a Hollywood survivor. Keaton, amazingly, is in.
So that’s Scorsese to direct Bale, Winstone and Keaton. A dream team. What else? Well, no disrespect to those four but now we need some younger blood. Eddie Redmayne is already well established but in this month’s The Theory of Everything, he breaks into the big league. I don’t want to jinx anything, but far better informed people than me are talking Oscar. Speaking of which, the most exciting new face in cinema for some time belongs to Jack O’Connell, he of Starred Up, ’71 and, now, Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, also tipped for prizes.
Eddie and Jack? In and, once again, in.
And what kind of movie are we making here? Well, it’s not a romcom, is it? Nor a cloying bromance, thanks very much. Superhero blockbuster? Bale and Keaton have been there, done that. Plus: not Marty’s style. Screw it. You know what I want to see? A proper, old-fashioned, grown-up action thriller, the kind of thing no one made anymore until Liam Neeson revived the genre with Taken. (Fans of that film should pay attention to page 102.)
Now we need a script. Great writers are not in short supply at Esquire: this issue, in addition to those mentioned above, we’ve been able to call on Kevin Maher, novelist and columnist; Bennett Miller, director of Capote, Moneyball and the remarkable Foxcatcher; and the world’s greatest writer on the movies, David Thomson. Script should be a doddle.
But there’s something else missing. Jean-Luc Godard once said all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun. Guns we have (thanks, props). Girls? Happily, there’s another film on the horizon that plays right into our pages. A film that isn’t likely to trouble the Academy, nor the Esquire reader as he scans the listings, looking for something to see. But if you’re playing Fantasy Film Producer/movie-issue editor, as I am, the imminent release of Fifty Shades of Grey does provide an excuse to draft in lots of nearly-naked actresses – and some actors – to make things go with a swing.
Not that our use of these images is at all gratuitous, you understand, supported as they are by essays by Thomson, on the role of the naked body in cinema, and Maher, who counts down the ten most important sex movies in cinema history.
“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is the headline on that final feature. You’ll know the phrase, perhaps, from the cultish, slightly-too-pleased-with-itself Robert Downey Jr/Val Kilmer movie from 2005. Before that, among other things, it was the title of a book by the famous New Yorker film critic, Pauline Kael. And before that it was a phrase used, slightly dismissively, to describe the plots of James Bond films.
Bond, you’ll be relieved to learn, also features in this issue, on page 120. Because you didn’t seriously expect us to get through a whole men’s magazine film issue without mentioning 007, did you?