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You never know what's going to happen at the Oscars, but it would be a major upset if Brendan Fraser didn't snag a best actor nomination for his touching performance in The Whale, a chamber piece directed by Darren Aronofsky, and adapted from the play by Samuel D Hunter. Fraser plays Charlie, an English lecturer who is so obese that he can barely get out of his chair, let alone his apartment. Various visitors, including his loyal carer (Hong Chau) and his bitter estranged daughter (Sadie Sink), realise that if he doesn't change his life, he will die within the week. "Fraser – in his first major role for almost a decade – imbues Charlie with warmth and optimism despite the layers of make-up, prosthetics, and video effects," says Hannah Strong at Little White Lies. "He captures Charlie's deep guilt and sadness around how he has lived his life, and an aching desire to love and be loved."

And when you see it in a theater, with an audience, it’s the birth of something. It’s like seeing a live sports event where something amazing happens. It’s not the same as watching it on TV. You were there, and everyone for the rest of their lives can say, I was there at the first John Carver movie, when Thanksgiving came on. Nobody knew what it was. And I was there in a theater with a crowd, screaming because we didn’t know what was coming. And it was one of the best times I’ve ever had in my life. So that’s what matters to me, that someone comes up to me, and they go, ‘I saw Thanksgiving opening weekend in the theaters, and it was one of the best times of my life.’” We had people in the water right up until sunset,” she says. “But the light had gone down, and we didn’t think we were going to get anything new.” (See an extremely rare sperm whale birth caught on camera.) Love film and TV? Join BBC Culture Film and TV Club on Facebook, a community for cinephiles all over the world.

The Whale release date

Yet one key observation has been missing: A female giving birth. In Maui, and worldwide, scientists have only observed a handful of females with calf flukes protruding—a sign labor has begun—but not the entire birth itself. And he does mean everything. In Thanksgiving, one victim gets seasoned, basted, and roasted in an oven, then served for dinner. There’s no implication of fiery death — audiences get a whole mouthful of the convection execution. Eli Roth has returned. After a while, a crew member entered the water to film the animals—and that’s when they saw a small fluke peeking out from the female. Eli Roth will always have the reputation of a “horror guy,” even if cranial splatter is, today, only a fraction of his business. After Roth broke out with 2003’s unnervingly weird Cabin Fever, Hollywood wanted him to be that guy, and he happily accepted his role as a fresh-faced provocateur. When New York Magazine slammed his follow-up film, 2005’s Hostel, as “torture porn,” the myth of Roth calcified: He was a guy who would do anything to make the audience squirm. The critical conversations around his early work have not bruised Roth. These days, he feels vindicated. “Time is the only critic that matters,” he says. While on the press tour for Thanksgiving, he says he’s been talking to 20-somethings about their favorite horror movies, and his name constantly comes up. “They’re telling me that Hostel and Grindhouse are the single most influential horror films of the ’00s. Those are the movies that matter to them. They’re not thinking about the box-office bomb Grindhouse or torture-porn Hostel. They’re just like, ‘These are amazing movies that made such an impact in my life. They made me want to be a writer or filmmaker. I never forgot them.’”

It took all my 20 years of directing skill to be able to pull off those sequences,” Roth says. “You don’t get to do things twice. You can’t second-guess yourself. You’re just going on instinct and adrenaline and moving fast and furious.” His horror-movie martyrdom made him an obvious choice to direct a segment for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s formally ambitious 2007 double-header Grindhouse. At the time, his contribution — a trailer for a fake horror movie called Thanksgiving — wasn’t the beginning of something, but the end. Ever since he and his childhood friend Jeff were 12 years old, they lamented that the horror movie release calendar all but dried up after Halloween. A horror movie is like a bottle of perfume,” he says. “The first time you smell it, it’s really potent. But every time you open it, it loses its potency. A horror movie will never be as terrifying as that first time you see it. So the circumstances matter.

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