Best of 2018: Jason Reitman Talks Hannah Fidell’s The Long Dumb Road and Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War

The director of two excellent 2018 releases, Tully and The Front Runner, opens up about two of his favorite movies of the year.

I’ve been familiar with Hannah Fidell’s work since I saw A Teacher a few years ago at Sundance; I immediately said, “Who is this director? I need to find her!” I fell in love with A Teacher, as it reminded me of American vérité filmmaking from the 1970s, but with women characters. Since then, I’ve really looked forward to what she’d make next.

The Long Dumb Road was a film that I simply didn’t expect from Hannah. She makes something very complicated seem very easy: two guys in a car, driving from Austin to Los Angeles, making stops along the way, having conversations about class and gender and how we see the future. It’s a movie about what happens to our dreams and aspirations. It is made in an almost throwaway style with this gentle filmmaking that is deceivingly beautiful. Hannah gets a career-best performance out of Jason Mantzoukas, an actor who – much like his character in the film – has always been part of the ensemble, but never the lead. All of a sudden, she gives him a role to own the entire screen and simply shine, and use all of his brilliance and intelligence to thrill us.

The performances from Tony Revolori, Taissa Farmiga and Grace Gummer are all so good, too. The trick to road movies like this is that we move along and meet new people, and each time we’re wondering if the next set of characters is gonna live up to the last. In The Long Dumb Road, Ron Livingston does something he’s never done before, and Pamela Reed does something she’s never done before; each person you meet along the way is more extraordinary than the last.

I have a movie theater at my house and for the past eight years I’ve hosted a weekly movie night. Every Sunday, a group of close friends comes over and we eat dinner and watch a movie. I’m friends with Hannah and before The Long Dumb Road came out, she brought the film over. It just won over our hearts completely. It’s exactly the kind of film we need right now, when the world is falling apart. We need something that is profoundly American and profoundly decent, and lovely, and charming, and reminds us to be hopeful, and makes us want to be young again. I adore Hannah and I don’t think enough people are talking about her movies and what an interesting young director she is. I just can’t say enough good things about The Long Dumb Road; it’s the kind of film that makes me want to make better movies.

I saw Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War at Telluride. The filmmaking in Cold War is so good, it’s scary. I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie with that economy of storytelling where, with almost no dialogue, with almost no coverage, the director tells a complicated and complete story that takes place over 15 years. He takes these two characters through time, and each time we stop at a moment along the timeline, sometimes he only uses one or two shots. That’s all he needs.

Just like in his previous movie, Ida, Pawlikowski shoots Academy ratio in black-and-white and composes these frames that are just extraordinary; they’re like exquisite paintings, every single one of them. I remember it stopping me in my tracks. I’m used to seeing films with exquisite cinematography which give short shift to the character work, but this is a movie where somehow the writing and performances are competing peacefully against the brilliance of the shooting.

There’s a line that people like to say, “You can stop the movie at any point and put that photo on the wall,” and that has never been as true as with Cold War. These are stunning images, complicated images, and Pawlikowski uses the camera in ways I haven’t seen before. There’s a shot with just three people standing in front of a mirror, which is somehow a medium shot of the three of them having a conversation, and then in the reflection of the mirror is an enormous ballroom, and Pawlikowski plays the contrast of everything happening in the ballroom against this medium shot of these three people. It is so clever and so grand, and simultaneously intimate. And that’s what the film is constantly: simultaneously grand and intimate. In less than 90 minutes, Pawlikowski is able to sum up the intricacies of a relationship playing out against one of the more complex political times in recent history.

If The Long Dumb Road is a charming movie that makes me want to be a better director, Cold War is such an intimidating film it makes me want to never try to make a movie again! Obviously, these two films could not be more different in their style, but what connects them is that they are both road movies, movies that physically take us on a journey: one takes us across America, and one takes us through Europe. These are films that contrast a physical journey with the emotional journey of two people, that use the metaphor of movement against what it actually feels like to be in a relationship that goes hot and cold. These two filmmakers, so different in their approach and style, each working at the top of their game, allow us to relate to people we’ve never met before, within scenarios we’ve never experienced before.

Jason Reitman made his feature film debut with the 2006 Sundance hit Thank You for Smoking, and notably earned Academy Award nominations for directing Juno and Up in the Air. His other films include Young Adult, Labor Day and Men, Women and Children. He recently executive produced the Academy Award-winning film Whiplash and produces the Hulu comedy series Casual. He next will direct for Dreamworks the animated feature film Beekle, about an imaginary character who sets off on a journey to find a friend.