INTERVIEW: Chad Hartigan, writer/director of “Morris from America”

21 08 2016

In case you haven’t noticed from talented actors committing major blunders or fouls in an interview, the press process is long and grueling. I’ve sat at many a roundtable where journalists ask the most basic questions that were probably answered in the press kit (that the same interviewer probably chose not to read). In many ways, I almost cannot even blame talented filmmakers for getting frustrated right off the bat when beginning an interview.

That’s not what happened when I sat down with Chad Hartigan, writer/director of “Morris from America” – in case you thought that’s where my lede was heading. Quite the contrary, actually. He had a level of respect for my questions due in large part to the fact that he himself spent many years doing writing about film himself on the site In Contention. Hartigan was also just three hours removed from the rapturous premiere of his latest film in front of the largest auditorium at the Sundance Film Festival, which didn’t hurt either.

But search “In Contention” here on my site, and you’ll see just how formative that site was for my opinions and writing style in the early days of Marshall and the Movies. Hartigan served as their box office writer, a hat he wore on the side while pursuing filmmaking. We got to talking about both sides of his persona and how they didn’t really collide in “Morris from America,” a sincere and hilarious coming-of-age comedy about a black teenager (Markees Christmas’ Morris) and his widowed father (Craig Robinson’s Curtis) trying to acculturate in a small German town.

Chad Hartigan Sundance Award

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements




Live Blogging the 2012 Golden Globes!

13 01 2013

10:00 P.M.  For those of you keeping track at home, “Les Misérables” ruled the Golden Globes tonight with 3 wins!  “Django Unchained” and “Argo” also won two trophies.  “Amour,” “Brave,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Skyfall,” and “Zero Dark Thirty” each won a single award.

10:00 P.M.  HFPA awkwardly and unintentionally flips the bird to AMPAS tonight…

9:58 P.M.  BEST PICTURE – DRAMA: “ARGO

ARGO

9:52 P.M.  Unexpectedly humorous speech from Day-Lewis.  Although I laughed much harder at how most of the back of the room gave him a standing ovation … and NO ONE up front did.  Awkward…

9:50 P.M. BEST ACTOR – DRAMA: DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, “LINCOLN

Lincoln

9:50 P.M.  What a beautiful speech, Chastain looked truly humbled and honored.  To the Oscars we go, hopefully!  (Hey HFPA, didn’t appreciate your shot of the audience where we could see you all flashing “WRAP UP.”)

9:48 P.M. BEST ACTRESS – DRAMA: JESSICA CHASTAIN, “ZERO DARK THIRTY

Zero Dark Thirty

9:41 P.M.  Adorable Anne Hathaway stealing the microphone quickly to do a few more thanks and then tightly hugging Amanda Seyfried.

9:40 P.M. BEST PICTURE – MUSICAL/COMEDY: LES MISERABLES

Les Miserables (2)

9:39 P.M.  Jeremy Renner bleeped…

9:34 P.M.  What a charming acceptance speech, and so much love for his wife!  Maybe he can beat Daniel Day-Lewis?!

9:32 P.M.  BEST ACTOR – MUSICAL/COMEDY: HUGH JACKMAN, “LES MISERABLES

Les Miserables

9:22 P.M.  They talked about actors, and then the category was Best TV Series – Musical/Comedy?  At least it was “Girls!”

9:18 P.M.  Take that, Academy!  Standing ovation for snubbed Ben Affleck!

9:18 P.M. BEST DIRECTOR: BEN AFFLECK, “ARGO

Argo

9:11 P.M.  What on earth did Jodie Foster just say?  Seriously, my TV audio went out in what I assume was a bleep.

9:04 P.M.  OK, people, time for you to go watch “The Beaver.”  It has Mel Gibson, sure, but it also has Jennifer Lawrence!

The Beaver

8:59 P.M.  “Taylor Swift, stay away from Michael J. Fox’s son!” – Tina Fey, who needs to be on this telecast far more

8:53 P.M.  Lena Dunham may have won the Golden Globe, but Tina Fey got to wait with J.Lo and Amy Poehler got awfully close to George Clooney.  It’s debatable who the overall winner really was tonight.

8:51 P.M.  Hooray for Lena – NOT Lisa, Aziz – Dunham!  Go watch “Tiny Furniture!”

8:50 P.M.  Aziz Ansari being carried by Jason Bateman … fantastic.

8:47 P.M.  BEST ANIMATED FILM: “BRAVE

Brave

8:46 P.M.  What on earth did that introduction have to do with Best Animated Film?

8:45 P.M.  Goodness gracious, Sacha Baron Cohen is drunk…

8:39 P.M.  4 Golden Globes for Claire Danes in her career.  She’s halfway to Meryl Streep!

8:35 P.M.  BEST FOREIGN FILM: “AMOUR

Amour

8:27 P.M.  “Best Picture nominee ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen‘” just sounds so wrong.

8:25 P.M.  Really, Golden Globes?  Tarantino for screenplay?  Not OK with that. “Inglourious Basterds” blows “Django Unchained” out of the water.  And the speech was a total MESS.  Someone was overserved…

8:23 P.M. BEST SCREENPLAY: QUENTIN TARANTINO, “DJANGO UNCHAINED

Django

8:18 P.M.  Give us more time with Anne Hathaway’s acceptance speech – we love her!

8:15 P.M. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: ANNE HATHAWAY, “LES MISERABLES

Anne Hathaway

8:07 P.M.  Yes, JLaw, to answer the question you were so desperately trying to ask during that speech, OF COURSE we can be best friends!

8:07 P.M.  “Does this say ‘I beat Meryl?'” – Jennifer Lawrence

8:06 P.M.  BEST ACTRESS – MUSICAL/COMEDY: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Jennifer Lawrence

8:04 P.M.  The sad thing is, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig are saying what a lot of Americans are to their television sets right now.  Wondering what this “Silver Linings Playbook” thing is and cursing them for not nominating “The Avengers.”

8:02 P.M.  Nice abs, Kristen Wiig.

7:59 P.M.  Clinton introducing “Lincoln.”  Oscar for Best Picture is now in the bag, in case it wasn’t already.

7:58 P.M.  Really, Bill Clinton?!  What?!

7:55 P.M.  Tina Fey and Amy Poehler going and impersonating the absent celebrities is PRICELESS.

7:49 P.M.  Looks like we need more Grammy-winners to come freshen up film awards.

7:48 P.M. BEST ORIGINAL SONG: SKYFALL, “SKYFALL

Skyfall

7:45 P.M. BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: MYCHAEL DANNA, “LIFE OF PI

Life of Pi

7:42 P.M.  Woah, real Tony Mendez!

Argo

7:36 P.M.  Awkward teleprompter flub with Salma Hayek and Paul Rudd … hooray for “Homeland!”  Don’t understand why they present Best TV Series – Drama before Best Actress in a TV Drama?!

7:33 P.M.  Wow, now “Homeland” is set to dominate the Golden Globes too after Emmys domination.  Weird not to hear Damian Lewis speak in his gruff American accent!

7:32 P.M.  Didn’t get to see much from the red carpet, but from what I can tell … Jessica Chastain wins.  Just as she did at the Oscars last year.  Ehh, didn’t really get to look closely enough.  She’s gorgeous, sure, but the dress wasn’t that great.

Jessica Chastain

7:30 P.M.  “Call Me Maybe” needs to be left in 2012, HFPA lady.

7:23 P.M.  Don’t sing again, Catherine Zeta-Jones, unless it’s “Chicago.”  Thanks.  That line of “Do You Hear The People Sing?” was awful.

7:21 P.M.  If “Game Change” had been released in theaters, Julianne Moore would be in contention for Best Actress.  Think about it…

7:18 P.M. Hooray for “Game Change!”   One of the better movies I saw this year in any format!

7:12 P.M.  C’mon, Professor McGonagall.  It’s one thing not to do press for yourself – but not showing up to receive the inevitable award?!

7:10 P.M.  Please, Academy, you’ve already awarded Christoph Waltz for literally the same performance.  And oh, here goes Waltz again with the poetic metaphors in his speeches.

7:10 P.M. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: CHRISTOPH WALTZ, “DJANGO UNCHAINED

Django

7:08 P.M.  “This 70th anniversary celebration.”  OK.  Glad Tina and Amy mentioned that!

7:03 P.M.  “When it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent 3 years married to James Cameron.” – Amy Poehler, much to the amusement of Jessica Chastain (who was DYING laughing)

7:02 P.M.  Already loving the Tina and amy combo.  Same humor, just with less bite!

Read the rest of this entry »





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 5 (Best Picture)

9 01 2013

ONE DAY MORE to revolution (I mean, Oscar nominations).  Now it’s time to lock in my Best Picture predictions.  It was an extremely tough year to forecast.  So without further ado, here are the films I think will be called out by Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone early tomorrow morning.

See my predictions for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

See my predictions for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

See my predictions for Best Actor and Best Actress.

 See my predictions for Best Director.

Best Picture

  1. Lincoln
  2. Les Misérables
  3. Argo
  4. Zero Dark Thirty
  5. Silver Linings Playbook
  6. Life of Pi
  7. Django Unchained
  8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  9. The Master
  10. Moonrise Kingdom

Silver LiningsThe top five of “Lincoln,” “Les Misérables,” “Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and “Silver Linings Playbook” are locked in.  There has been pretty consistent and unilateral support for these all season long (although some critics have savaged a certain musical I love).

I’d say given the critical beat-down of “Les Misérables” and the Senatorial inquisition into “Zero Dark Thirty,” Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” has risen back to the top of the pack.  “Argo” has also benefitted from being the least controversial, most agreeable movie in the bunch.  Find me someone that hated “Argo,” and I’ll find you a flying pig.

But who knows how the passion will play out?  Two years ago, I would have laughed in your face if you told me “The Social Network” was going to lose.  There is still time for a “Les Misérables” and “Silver Linings Playbook” surge.  If one takes a lot of Golden Globes and then the SAG Ensemble prize, it could pose a serious threat.

Argo FYC

Then again, there’s also time for “Lincoln” or “Argo” to build a consensus with wins from either the BFCA, HFPA, or SAG.  Wins from PGA and DGA in 2012 may be the biggest shaper of the odds; “Zero Dark Thirty” needs at least one of these guild trophies to prove it’s more than just a critical darling.  Hopefully it all gets split up for a fun year!

But beyond the guaranteed five, we are looking at a highly unpredictable field that could include any number of nominees.  I mean, literally, there could be no more nominees – or there could be five more thanks to the Academy’s new sliding scale.  Some are more likely to score nods than others, but there are a few longshots looking to make a few people gasp on nomination morning.  The system also rewards passion because a film needs 5% of the first-place votes to be nominated.  Hence, it pays off to be loved, not liked.

ZDT

Despite what I keep sensing as a lack of passion for “Life of Pi,” I think it will ultimately wind up with a Best Picture nomination.  I thought the flame had been extinguished for “War Horse” and “Moneyball” last year, but apparently 5% of the Academy voters thought they were the best movies of 2011.  So if they can do it, so can Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi.”  All three movies were feted by BFCA and HFPA, so I’d say it’s a good bet – especially with Lee’s DGA nod.  (It’s also effects and craft heavy, so those smaller but no less important portions of the Academy may buoy it to a nomination.)

Life of Pi

Ditto “Django Unchained,” which I had initially written off for a Best Picture nomination.  Nothing felt right at first.  When it only received Critics Choice nods for Best Picture and Best Screenplay, something felt fishy.  Then when it was totally snubbed at the SAG Awards, I thought it was dead.  (Most shrug this off as due to the fact that it wasn’t widely screened for their nominating committee.)

Yet even when the Golden Globes rescued it with 5 nominations including Best Picture and Best Director, I still didn’t buy into “Django Unchained” striking it big with the Academy.  Every year, the Globes give an absurd amount of nominations to a movie that shows up in only a minor way at the Oscars.  In 2011, it was “The Ides of March.”  (In the past, examples have been “Revolutionary Road” and “American Gangster.”)

But now, with “Django Unchained” being quite the box office hit and the discussion topic of choice at the hypothetical critical water-cooler, I think it’s probably going to be a nominee.  Surely more than 5% of the Academy voted for “Inglourious Basterds” for Best Picture in 2009.  I expect that same contingent to come out and vote #1 for “Django Unchained” since most (but not I) consider it to be superior.

Skyfall

So … where do we go beyond these seven nominees?

Do they go for more bang and blockbuster with “Skyfall?”  Crowd-pleasing comedy with “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?”  Indie comedy with “Moonrise Kingdom?”  Indie drama with “Beasts of the Southern Wild?”  Foreign drama with “Amour?”  Polarizing drama with “The Master?”  I’d say these six films are the most likely to grab any of the three remaining spots in the Best Picture category.

“Skyfall” provides perhaps the most interesting case.  Had you told me a few months ago I’d be writing about it as a Best Picture contender, I wouldn’t have believed it.  Yet here we are, and the film has grossed over $1 billion globally, racking up series-best praise in the process.  The Academy recently announced, too, that they were planning a James Bond tribute at the ceremony.  Might that be indicative of Oscar love to come?

At first, I warmed up to it being nominated for some technical nods.  Then, I started to wonder if Dench and Bardem weren’t real threats for Oscar nominations thanks to notes from BFCA and SAG.

Now with “Skyfall” making the PGA top 10 list, I’m left to wonder whether it wouldn’t be a smart prediction to land a Best Picture nomination.  The PGA did get the ball rolling for “District 9” in 2009, but they gave us false hope on “Star Trek.”  Whichever mold “Skyfall” is cut from is anyone’s guess.  If it makes the cut for Best Picture, it could easily have a whopping ten nominations!  Although if it doesn’t get the big one, it could become one of the most nominated movies ever to not be nominated for Best Picture.

MoonriseThe PGA also showed some love for “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” two summer successes that many thought might have some hidden pockets of support.  But will they choose both, one, or neither?

“Moonrise Kingdom” has been the more visible of the two throughout the season, kicking off the precursor season with a Best Picture win at the Gotham Awards.  It then dominated the Indie Spirits nominations, where it could triumph over “Silver Linings Playbook” the night before the Oscars.  Topped off with a Golden Globe nod for Best Picture (musical/comedy), the case looks good.  But I wonder if there are enough people who think it is the best movie of 2012, not one of the best.

Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” on the other hand, seems to drive more passionate support.  But will it be enough for a Best Picture nomination?  The critics groups did not speak up loudly enough for it (only 2 wins and they were for long-shot Best Supporting Actor candidate Dwight Henry).  It was blanked at the Golden Globes where young Quvenzhané Wallis should have at least gotten a novelty nomination.

Amour

Part of the trouble with predicting “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is its ineligibility with the SAG.  We have no idea whether the actors love this movie, and they are one of the most crucial voting blocs.  It’s hard to tell where the support for the movie exists, if it even does.  I’m hoping that the PGA nod is telling of invisible passion for the movie.  “Moonrise Kingdom” is assured a Best Original Screenplay nomination, and I think that may be its limit.

Some have floated “Amour” as a possible nominee based on how well its done with the critics groups.  Indeed, I like the idea of a foreign film making the cut because that’s the kind of movie the expanded field is supposed to allow.  But I don’t think this will be that first movie (of the new Best Picture era, that is) – it’s too austere and cold.

Perhaps it pops up in various other major categories like “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” did last year, but that too faltered because people admire it more than they love it.  And if Haneke can’t win Best Foreign Language Film for the critically praised “The White Ribbon,” I don’t think he’s going to cut it in competition with some real heavyweights.

I’m surprised people think there’s more of a chance for “Amour” to be a Best Picture nominee than “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  What part of the equation doesn’t SCREAM Oscars?  The old cast of prior Oscar nominees and winners plays right into Academy demographics.  It played extremely well with audiences over the summer and managed to stick around in people’s minds.  It got two Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture (musical/comedy) as well as two SAG nods including the coveted Best Ensemble.  If any movie is poised to pull a shocker like “The Blind Side,” this could be it.

But I’m putting my chips on there being nine films in contention, and that final nominee is “The Master.”  I know it is by no means a smart pick.  Other than the Critics Choice nod for Best Picture, it’s been pretty silent for the season.  It has little guild support.  The critics remain fairly divided.  But I think that this film could galvanize the Academy, and the people that like it will love it and vote #1.  The voters who appreciate it probably know it’s in peril.

So mark it down, I’m going out on a limb for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” hoping I’ve just predicted this season’s “The Tree of Life.”  If not, it just goes in the pile of other failed Best Picture predictions including “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Town,” “Crazy Heart,” and “Invictus.”  But no guts, no glory, right?





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Pre-Season Predictions, Part 2

29 11 2012

Best Actor

  1. Hugh Jackman, “Les Miserables”
  2. Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
  3. Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master
  4. Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook
  5. Denzel Washington, “Flight

The past two years have seen the leading man of the Best Picture winner take home Best Actor.  So I’m going out on a limb for Hugh Jackman.  I know it sounds illogical at the moment.  But the hope is that in a few months, we will all look back at this post and say, “Wow, Marshall!  I can’t believe you had such foresight!”  Although it’s very likely that we also look back and say, “Wow, Marshall, you were really dumb not to see the steamroller of Daniel Day-Lewis coming a mile away.”

And indeed, when Time boldly declares him the greatest living actor (take that, Jack Nicholson!), it’s kind of hard to deny an incredibly palpable sense of momentum of Daniel Day-Lewis for “Lincoln.”  It’s the role of the moment, and he’s gotten tons of press and raves.  It could be 2007 all over again where Day-Lewis leads the conversation from the get-go and never lets up.

Fun tidbit that just popped into my head: Meryl Streep will be presenting Best Actor this year.  Imagine the sight, a three-time winner handing the third Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis.

I’m still hoping that the critics groups can revive the heat for “The Master,” and Joaquin Phoenix in particular.  His performance is mesmerizing and animalistic, and I think they should recognize that.  He’s also a two-time nominee, so that makes his edginess slightly more pallatable for them.  But if the movie flops on the precursor circuit, he could find himself in danger.  Heck, even if it does do well, it could fall victim to the same prudish mentality that snubbed Michael Fassbender’s incredible work in “Shame.”

Though Bradley Cooper may be best known for “The Hangover” series, he does great work in a fantastic attempt to get people to take him seriously.  An attempt that worked as well as the rest of the movie, I’d argue.  Though many consider him (and the rest of the movie) to be lightweight, I think it will touch the same nerve as “The Fighter” did in 2010.  Granted, Mark Wahlberg was not nominated for Best Actor … but Will Smith was a big marquee star when he went serious in 2001 for his nominated role in “Ali.”

And I know plenty of people fawned over John Hawkes’ committed physical performance in “The Sessions.”  But the film has tanked with audiences.  And Denzel Washington, whose “Flight” has done very well at the box office, is breathing down his neck.  I think it has to be considered advantage Washington at the moment.

But in summary: it’s the two locks, Jackman and Day-Lewis, in a battle royale.  Phoenix, Cooper, Washington, and Hawkes competing for three slots.  (Outside spoilers could include Anthony Hopkins in “Hitchcock,” Richard Gere in “Arbitrage,” and Jack Black in “Bernie.”)

Best Actress

  1. Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook
  2. Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”
  3. Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild
  4. Marion Cotillard, “Rust and Bone
  5. Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”

It might be a little too soon, but I’m about ready to call the race for Jennifer Lawrence.

She’s had one heck of a year between heading up the $400 smash “The Hunger Games” – and actually giving a heck of a performance in it as well.  We will forget about “House at the End of the Street” and pretend she went 2-for-2.  She’s shown versatility this year, and that’s going to work big time in her favor.  It also helps that her character in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Tiffany, is a perennial favorite archetype at the Oscars: flawed, messy, but ultimately lovable and embraceable.

It looks like her main competition will be Jessica Chastain’s gritty, steely CIA agent from “Zero Dark Thirty.”  Chastain’s epic 2011 brought her an Oscar nomination for “The Help,” and her grace and cheer really went over well with everyone.  As far as I’m concerned, she’s the new Amy Adams, who was the new Julianne Moore/Cate Blanchett/Kate Winslet.

I think we are set for a battle to rival the Best Actor race.  Especially because at the Globes, Lawrence will compete in comedy and Chastain will compete in drama.  Unless one totally dominates the critics groups, I think the two could essentially be tied until the SAGs when they go head-to-head.  (BFCA will clarify some, but they could always tie like 2008/2009.)  That’s when the momentum shifted to Jean Dujardin last year, although they chose Viola Davis over eventual champion Meryl Streep.

And maybe I’m underestimating young Quvenzhané Wallis, whose spunk powered “Beasts of the Southern Wild” into the indie spotlight over the summer.  Had the Oscars been held after Cannes or at the end of August, she probably would have been the favorite to win.  But after Lawrence and Chastain’s performances were revealed, she’s lost some of her thunder.  Unless the critics groups and early precursors make a strong contribution to her campaign, she should be content with a nomination and all the attention it adds to her career going forward.

Marion Cotillard deserves score a nomination here as well, and given the incredibly weak field, it shouldn’t be a problem.  Upon seeing the film a second time last week, I realized that where “La Vie En Rose” was a total transformation, “Rust and Bone” is a radically different movie for her.  She’s so much subtler and rawer.  It’s enormously affecting.  See it when you get the chance.

I think Cotillard’s contention bodes ill for Emmanuelle Riva, whose work in “Amour” apparently has Academy voters talking.  Two French-language performances nominated for Best Actress in one year?!  That seems a little much.  So I think the few passionate supporters of “The Impossible” will get Naomi Watts to edge out Riva (or Keira Knightley for “Anna Karenina” and Helen Mirren for “Hitchcock”) and sneak into the race in a movie with very little overall buzz.  Just like she did in 2003 with “21 Grams.”

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Robert DeNiro, “Silver Linings Playbook
  2. Eddie Redmayne, “Les Miserables”
  3. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master
  4. Alan Arkin, “Argo
  5. Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”

I have legitimately no idea how to call this category.  None.  Which is fun.  Last year, Christopher Plummer had the lead from the beginning of the summer and never let up.  And the other four nominees were a mystery until nominations morning.

In 2012, we don’t even have the benefit of a frontrunner.  I’m saying Robert DeNiro has the lead at the moment because it’s the first time in decades he can be taken seriously by the Academy.  He hasn’t been nominated in 20 years and hasn’t won in 30 years.  And hey, guess what – the Oscars can make a Meryl out of him by giving him a third golden man!  It’s a lighter role for DeNiro yet still features plenty of depth in heart.  This category has been all about career achievement awards recently, making DeNiro a perfect fit.

On the other hand, young, upstart Eddie Redmayne is apparently the scene stealer of the supporting cast of “Les Miserables.”  With Russell Crowe apparently polarizing audiences, I think voters will likely rally around Redmayne.  He has a showy number at the end, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” that will stick with viewers as they leave the theater.  If he can build consensus and doesn’t have to deal with vote-splitting, he could emerge a victor.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is just going for his second Oscar, but I think plenty of people would argue he’s an actor headed for the stature of Daniel Day-Lewis and Robert DeNiro.  He will get to two, and maybe “The Master” will get him there.  He won a prize at Venice (a tie with Joaquin Phoenix), and his co-lead status will help.

But I think his strength in the category will be largely determined by how well the movie does.  If it comes on strong (as I anticipate it might), he could be a serious threat to win.  But if it fires blanks, Hoffman will no longer be fighting to win and likely fighting to get nominated.

Alan ArkinAlan Arkin is likely in for “Argo,” but he’s only in the film for a handful of scenes.  He makes them the most funny and entertaining scenes in the film, though.  But I can’t help but wonder if he’s not as much of a shoo-in as some people think.  He’s already earned his lifetime achievement award – I mean, Best Supporting Actor prize in 2006 for “Little Miss Sunshine.”  And “Argo” may not be an actor’s movie.  So we will see.

As for that last slot, my brain says Tommy Lee Jones for “Lincoln” because a rising tide lifts all ships.  But I also wonder if Russell Crowe or Sacha Baron Cohen might make two nominations here for “Les Miserables,” the first time any movie would achieve such a feat in this category in over 20 years.

Or maybe Leonardo DiCaprio gets nominated for “Django Unchained” as so many are predicting.  I just can’t given how down to the wire the editing process is.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables”
  2. Sally Field, “Lincoln”
  3. Samantha Barks, “Les Miserables”
  4. Helen Hunt, “The Sessions
  5. Amy Adams, “The Master

Thanks for coming, everyone.  You did your best, but you weren’t good enough.  Anne Hathaway apparently gives a performance for the ages and makes everyone cry.  She has won.  It’s over before it even began.

So I just hope they don’t waste the other four nominations on people who don’t need them.  Since the other ladies aren’t really in contention to win, the word “Oscar nominee” could do wonders for a young actress’ career.  Like Samantha Barks, whose Eponine has plenty of tears she can jerk from her show-stopping “On My Own.”

And it could do a great deal to make the case for “she’s overdue to win” for Amy Adams, given that this would be her fourth nomination in her seven years since bursting on the scene.  That’s incredible.  At five, an eventual win becomes nearly guaranteed.

I don’t think she would have much of a chance to win, and probably wouldn’t be nominated if it weren’t such a weak year for the field.  “The Master” gives her very little to work with, but she’s fiercely intimidating and steely in what little she has.  I think unless the film totally collapses in the season, she will be able to squeeze in.

I bet Sally Field rides the coattails of “Lincoln” to a nomination, but she has won twice.  Would the Academy really crown two new Meryls in a year?  Past winner Helen Hunt will also probably figure into the race too, but I think her spot is at jeopardy given the film’s dismal box office performance.  She will need to stake a claim fast in the category or she runs the risk of getting forgotten.





(Kinda Belated) Weekend Update – August 21, 2011

21 08 2011

“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life… you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV… the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now.

You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home… I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office… and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets.

Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life.”

– George Clooney as Ryan Bingham in 2009’s “Up in the Air

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

– Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button in 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

In case you missed it…

It was a pretty slow week as I was incredibly preoccupied running last second errands before leaving for college on Wednesday.  Hopefully I won’t fall off the map too precipitously, but things might be running slow for a while – especially in terms of reviewing new releases.

I took this as an opportunity to run reviews for some older movies that tied into other releases this week.  With Jessica Alba headlining the new “Spy Kids” movie, I reviewed her “Machete” and “Little Fockers” from 2010.  James McAvoy’s “The Conspirator” hit video this week, so I took the opportunity to review “Gnomeo & Juliet,” the animated Shakespearean tale to which he lent his voice.

I also took a look at the September crop of releases, which has a few gems shining amidst the trash heap.  Kris Tapley of “In Contention” just updated his Oscar predictions to include “Moneyball” as a probable nominee for Best Picture, Actor, and Supporting Actor.  More reason to get excited.  Click on the picture below to see the September preview post.

And the end of the week saw a lot of emphasis on Anne Hathaway as “One Day” opened in theaters.  On Friday, the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” was “Rachel Getting Married,” Oscar-nominated because of her performance.  On Saturday, I reviewed “One Day” and for the most part liked what I saw.  Click the picture below to read the review.

Recommended Reading

Save a tree, read a blog. Unless you want to print out a review … in which case, you aren’t saving trees.

And Vulture asks the question we are all pondering: Why Do Studios Think There’s So Much Value in Old Titles?  After the flop of “Conan the Barbarian” and “Fright Night,” here was their best conclusion.

“‘Studios remake these movies because they often already own the title,’ says Ammer. But it’s more than that. After all, it wouldn’t cost a studio any more money to hire a writer to write an original screenplay than it would to have him or her write one based on an older film. The real appeal of an old title is more superstitious: The studios use them, says Ammer, because ‘they know it’s worked in the past.’ Even though it’s an entirely different movie made by different people for a different generation, the idea is, hey, the title worked before, why not give it another shot? For all of Hollywood’s supposed liberalism, studios, like their audiences, are quite conservative. Genre is the most predictive aspect of a film’s future results, and then title, so why not double down? A remake of a successful genre film allows a studio the greatest possible risk reduction.”

The Tree of Death

/Film said it best when they broke the story: Even Sean Penn did not care for Sean Penn in “The Tree of Life.”  However, I’ll give credit to where I saw this first, Guy Lodge of “In Contention.”

Sean Penn moping about in my hometown.

In an interview with the French magazine Le Figaro, Sean Penn had this to say about Terrence Malick’s enigmatic film:

“I didn’t at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I’ve ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What’s more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly.”

I’ll go ahead and add this disclaimer to those that love the movie or the fact-checking Gestapo that yes, I realize that’s not the full quote.  But for the sake of this post, it’s easier to just analyze this part.

Where to begin?  The fact that a two-time Academy Award winner would bash his own movie would be shocking even if it was a total sellout, but even I as a non-impressed watcher see “The Tree of Life” as anything but a sellout.  It’s high art, just not the kind of art that was to my taste.  He doesn’t exactly mince his words there, pretty openly stating his distaste for how his role in the movie turned out.

This is nothing new, of course.  Adrien Brody complained when he was largely cut out of Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” – while I don’t like when whiners get their way, he certainly got it with Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” in 2002.  But Penn’s statement goes far beyond just a diva fit, although I do think it dabbles in a sort of self-centered sensibility.  He questions the very way that the movie was made!  Keep in mind that Sean Penn has stepped behind the camera before, even turning out an all-time favorite of mine with “Into the Wild.”

Penn gets to the core of my issues with the movie.  I’m even a little bit more flexible – I’d be fine without a conventional narrative.  But Penn points out that the movie was incredibly disjointed.  I’m sure that the movie was beautiful in Terence Malick’s head, just as Penn says it was beautiful on the page.  Interestingly enough, I’ve heard from industry insiders that Malick shot the script with the dialogue, even allowing Jessica Chastain to speak.  Then he would cut, walk over, and tell her to emote all of the dialogue just with her eyes.  An interesting philosophy that produced an interesting end product.

Still moping...

Yet when everyone on set is not working in sync with the same vision towards a final product, the movie inevitably suffers.  If an actor doesn’t understand his purpose on screen, how can he do a decent job?  Moreover, how can he contribute anything to the movie?  If a director can’t even articulate his vision to the people he entrusts to help him create art, how can he articulate it to an audience?  I’ll inevitably be hit with the “it’s subjective” argument, but give it up here.  You can’t honestly argue that Malick is such a visionary that he can’t even be on the same page with his fellow artists.

Even those that I’ve talked to who LOVE the film can at least admit that the Sean Penn segments were the weakest parts of the film, and the actor’s statements shed some light on why that is.  An actor just existing on screen because a character exists on the page doesn’t make for compelling cinema if he doesn’t understand the basic objectives and motivations.  It’s just … boring.

I guess my biggest question here is why didn’t Penn make a bigger fuss on the set?  It seems kind of cowardly to whip out these harsh words now, potentially even in “too little, too late” territory for those who feel they’ve wasted their life watching the movie.  I get the whole mindset that Malick is a genius and you don’t question him, but for such primal acting concerns as these, why wouldn’t you demand more from the master during production?  If he was really that dissatisfied, why not walk off the movie?  These problems Penn has should have been settled a long time ago, and by just bringing them up now, he’s either searching for attention or absolution for being the worst part of the movie.

Penn did close with this statement about the movie, something that I’d say I basically espouse:

“But it’s a film I recommend, as long as you go in without any preconceived ideas. It’s up to each person to find their own personal, emotional or spiritual connection to it. Those that do generally emerge very moved.”

 





Weekend Update – August 7, 2011

7 08 2011

“I felt kind of trapped in that material. I felt, This is not my boat. I’m just a passenger, but I’m going down and there’s no way out.”

– James Franco on hosting the 2011 Oscars

“Here’s my guess: Critics will be out to kill [‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’] and blame me for it just because they are out to kill me. Last year people were pretty nice. This is the year when people are going to have fun going after me. I don’t feel the same way about ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ as I do about ‘127 Hours’ or ‘Milk.’ It was a ­different kind of acting.”

– James Franco on the media in Playboy, July 2011

Credentials

This week, I went to a promotional screening for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”  I decided to show up an hour and a half early because I knew the line would be ridiculously long.  However, I didn’t anticipate that the theater would already be full by the time I got there!

Reeling, desperate, dying to see the movie, I resorted to a card I had yet to play.  I went up to the rep and said, “You may not believe me but I’m a member of the press.”  I wasn’t lying.  And no, I’m not a member of the press just because I write a blog.

I guess it’s time for me to make a big announcement, one that I should have made several months ago.  My work now appears on The Christian Science Monitor‘s webpage.  That’s right, selected posts from “Marshall and the Movies” now appear on a section of the Monitor‘s site called the “Culture Café,” which pools a handful of bloggers for their opinions on the culture at large.  Since May, 8 posts from my blog have appeared on their webpage, ranging from reviews of new releases to Classics Corner posts and even, most recently, a “F.I.L.M.”

Don’t believe me?  Check it out for yourself by clicking on the link below!  I’ll do a better job from now on including links to the posts they syndicate on “Weekend Update,” but know that you can always read it here first!

In case you missed it…

Not much went on at “Marshall and the Movies” this week.  Running frantically behind, I resorted to publishing a lot of reviews I’d been holding back for a long time, “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” and “Burlesque.”  I did, however, strategically publish my review of “Howl” as James Franco had a big movie opening this week.

Yesterday, I reviewed “The Change-Up.”  What a disaster that was.  In case you don’t want to read the whole review, let me sum it up for you in one fragment: AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

The F.I.L.M. of the Week was Charles Ferguson’s “No End in Sight,” a documentary about the American occupation of Iraq.  It’s still a fascinating watch even though the end is in sight … hindsight, as a matter of fact.

And because I didn’t get a chance to point it out in last week’s post, the July edition of “Classics Corner” took a look at Mel Brooks’ timeless comedy “Blazing Saddles.”  Thank goodness people like it enough to put clips on YouTube so I can embed them here.

Recommended Reading

And here’s what I read this week.  You should read it too, unless you are illiterate.  Then find someone to read it for you.

Other cool things I read this week from non-blogger types:

James Franco and the Rise of the New Celebrity

You’re always hearing something about James Franco.  Whether it’s him pursuing yet another degree, opening yet another movie, publishing a book, announcing a directorial venture, or appearing on a soap opera, the man seems to keep reinventing his own celebrity as he goes.  But at the same time, we can’t help but ask, “Who is James Franco?”  A Renaissance Man or a jack-of-all-trades spreading himself too thin?  An entertainer or an artist?  And I think that’s the question he wants us to be mulling over constantly.

The one thing that is certain about James Franco, however, is that he is brutally and blatantly honest.  The man will say what’s on his mind and act his feelings; he won’t take pull any punches or hide behind any veneers.  Case in point: the Oscars this year.  You may or may not have read the quote at the top of the post, but he hated the material and was very vocal about it.  In that same interview with Playboy, he said that he told the producer of the telecast that “I just don’t think this stuff’s going to be good.”

So how did he react?  With boredom and a complete lack of enthusiasm while Anne Hathaway tried to exude enough enthusiasm for both hosts.  But for those of us who know James Franco beyond the obvious filmography, this isn’t really a surprise or something we haven’t seen before.  Have you seen 2008’s “Camille,” a little indie he starred in alongside Sienna Miller?  If you haven’t, don’t because it’s awful.

Here’s the thing about “Camille” – Franco knows it’s terrible and acts accordingly: bored and brutalized, much like how those of us stupid enough to watch the movie feel.  Or if you saw “Eat Pray Love,” you’ll see a similar display.  The guy caught in the thankless A-hole ex-boyfriend role isn’t an exciting place to be, and Franco doesn’t act thrilled at all.  But honestly, should he be?  If you see “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” you’ll see a similar side of Franco: bored and acting like he’s above the material the whole time.

My question to you, the reader, is this: is James Franco justified in showing his feelings toward the movie on screen?  Is he allowed to say “Yes, this is a paycheck movie, but that still doesn’t mean I have to like it” through an inferred glance?  Or does he need to swallow his pride and just act?  Because in the end, do we pay to see James Franco or the person that James Franco is acting as?  Do we need to be able to separate the actor from the character?  Or can we accept a post-modern blurring of the two?

Now allow me to shift gears while you mull over the tremendous amount of questions posed in the last paragraph.  Back in March, when the Charlie Sheen phenomenon was raging out of control, the brilliant author Bret Easton Ellis (“American Psycho”) wrote a fascinating editorial for Newsweek cleverly titled “Charlie Sheen IS Winning.”  In it, he broke down how Sheen epitomizes the modern (or post-Empire, as he calls it) celebrity.  While acknowledging that there may be some mental or substance issues present with Sheen, he lays out a convincing case for Sheen as the smartest celebrity in Hollywood because he understands what the public wants.  Try arguing with this:

“To Empire gatekeepers, Sheen seems dangerous and in need of help because he’s destroying (and confirming) illusions about the nature of celebrity … What Sheen has exemplified and has clarified is the moment in the culture when not caring what the public thinks about you or your personal life is what matters most—and what makes the public love you even more (if not exactly CBS or the creator of the show that has made you so wealthy)…

… Do we really want manners? Civility? Empire courtesy? Hell, no. We want reality, no matter how crazy. And this is what drives the Empire to distraction: Sheen doesn’t care what you think of him anymore, and he scoffs at the idea of PR.”

So, is James Franco the bellwether of a new kind of celebrity entering the mainstream consciousness without having a drug-fueled implosion?  Or is he something else entirely?  Weigh in!





Random Factoid #548

27 01 2011

How important is historical accuracy in film?

Get this: Issac Chotner of The New Republic called “The King’s Speech” “historically inaccurate, entirely misleading, and, in its own small way, morally dubious.”  That’s not exactly one of the jubilant cries in support of the movie that have become so boisterous recently.

Here’s just an excerpt of the article that looks to tell the ACTUAL events that Tom Hooper’s movie depicted:

“The only reason that Bertie managed to ascend to the throne in the first place was that his older brother, David (aka Edward VIII), decided to abdicate so he could marry a Baltimore divorcee by the name of Wallis Simpson. In the film, Edward VIII (nicely played by Guy Pearce) is presented as childish and cruel to his brother (which no doubt he was). And, as a way of presenting his political views, we see him make a single foolish comment about the Nazis. What the film never mentions is that Edward VIII was an ardent admirer of Hitler and of fascism, and a proponent of appeasement long after Germany moved onto Polish soil and hostilities began in earnest. Edward lived in continental Europe with Simpson after abdicating; following the German invasion of France, he absurdly asked the Nazis to look after his house. Eventually, the British government convinced the couple to move to the Bahamas, where he became governor. The idea was to keep the pair far away from the Nazis so as to prevent Edward from cutting any deals with Hitler. The last we see of Edward and Simpson in the film is when they listen to Bertie’s big speech. (There is a beach in the background but the viewer has no idea where they are.)

By shortchanging the danger that Edward posed to Britain, the viewer is likely to believe he was no more than a ridiculous and self-indulgent brat. But he isn’t the only character who is sanitized in the movie. First, there is Winston Churchill, played by Timothy Spall in a small role. Spall’s crucial scene takes place after the Simpson affair has become known. Churchill counsels Bertie and reports his (Churchill’s) dismay at the way Edward is behaving. This will come as news to historians because Churchill—astonishingly—supported Edward throughout the abdication crisis. His grandstanding on the issue even shocked his allies, who couldn’t believe that he would risk his political comeback to support an appeaser and fascist like Edward. Most likely because of Churchill’s historical standing, the film simply omits all of this and assigns the heroic war leader the opposite position to the one he actually held.

Bertie himself is also romanticized. He is seen presciently raising the question of German aggression before the invasion of the Sudetenland. Edward waves off Bertie’s warning, and, the next time we are instructed to focus on political questions, the King is heroically rallying his people to the battle against fascism. The film leaves out what happened in the intervening period.”

It’s hard to even say “inspired by true events” when you stray that far from the truth.  But while I find myself a little peeved that I got such a candy-coated version of history, I can’t get too worked up about this.  There’s a reason that “The King’s Speech” is not presented as a documentary or a History Channel special – it’s not about the events and the history.  It’s about the humans, and it’s about the emotional story of how one man overcame his stutter.  To move the audience, some liberties had to be taken.  Maybe they went a little too far, but it worked for me.

But I think Guy Lodge of In Contention said it best when he compared it to the smear campaign against the accuracy of “A Beautiful Mind” – the argument holds water, but it doesn’t destroy what the movie tries to do.





“Another Year” Poll Results

24 01 2011

There was a time when “Another Year” seemed like not only a sure-fire Best Picture and Director nominee, but a legitimate threat to win them both.  That was back in the summer after the Cannes Film Festival when it had all the buzz.

Fast forward two seasons and Mike Leigh’s movie is on life support, barely breathing in an awards season that has given the movie little love other than for Lesley Manville from the BAFTAs and National Board of Review.  Mike Leigh’s direction and writing have gone basically unnoticed.

Now, the movie hopes to draw enough support from the Mike Leigh-loving Academy voters to get a nomination and salvage itself.  I can’t say whether or not the movie merits a nomination as it has yet to open in Houston.  But I can tell you that its prospects are slim.

Back in September when the Oscar race looked entirely different, I wrote an Oscar Moment piece covering “Another Year.”  In it, I pointed out that the deserving factor could work to Mike Leigh’s advantage:

“… at 67, Leigh may be the beneficiary of ‘let’s-give-it-to-him-before-he-leaves-us’ syndrome in the Best Director category.  If he’s nominated, he’ll be a big threat because he’s been there twice before and many will feel that he finally deserves it.  Plus, according to Kris Tapley of In Contention, ‘to say the least, it’s Leigh’s finest hour in years.'”

The poll voters were split back then with half thinking it would be Leigh’s time and half thinking it wouldn’t be.  Four months later, it seems almost certain that it will NOT be Leigh’s time.

I enjoy looking back and seeing what the race could have been.





“Country Strong” Poll Results

13 01 2011

Gwyneth Paltrow gets to host “SNL” this weekend, and once that’s over, talk around “Country Strong” will die forever.  It has put up lackluster numbers at the box office, only grossing $7.5 million in its opening weekend.  Surprisingly, Screen Gems chose to open it in less than 1,500 theaters, something that drove down numbers.

The reviews have been pretty poor, too, and I’m no exception.  Last week, I wrote:

“Unintentionally hilarious … it’s ridiculously melodramatic and populated with four stock characters who go through alarmingly little growth throughout the movie.  [There’s] no reason to care …”

It seemed like a good idea for Paltrow to be in contention for Best Actress given that rehabbed characters often make for flashy performances.  You all seemed to think bite the bait as well judging by the poll results.  3 voters thought Paltrow could get nominated, while only one detractor thought she wouldn’t.  If the I‘s have it, I’ll eat my hat in two weeks.





Oscar Moment: January 7, 2011 Awards Round-Up

7 01 2011

It’s been 3 weeks since I last ran this column (thanks to Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and a general lack of events in the awards sphere), and I sure have missed writing.  In a ways, a lot of things have happened since then.  Yet, at the same time, not a whole lot has happened.

So, without further ado, here are some developments in the Oscar race worth nothing:

The Producers Guild nominates. A group representing the interests of Hollywood producers, the Producers Guild is generally a pretty good indicator of how the Academy will ultimately shape their field.  They ultimately solidified that we have eight almost sure-fire nominees, leaving the two remaining spots up for grabs by a few movies.  In case you don’t know which eight movies I’m referring to, here they are in a convenient bulleted list (in alphabetical order):

Some might argue that “The Kids Are All Right” isn’t a lock since it missed a BFCA nomination and wasn’t a big audience favorite; others might say that “True Grit” isn’t certain because it was totally snubbed at the Golden Globes.  I think that both will ultimately get nominated, but “True Grit” is safer because of its robust box office numbers.

But for their last two nominees, they chose Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” and Ben Affleck’s “The Town.”  Both were BFCA nominees for Best Picture that missed Golden Globe nominations for the same award.  Neither were big hits with the SAG, only garnering one nomination.

The big story is that Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” was left out in the cold after garnering a BFCA nod for Best Picture and two SAG nominations.  It’s been basically narrowed down to “Winter’s Bone,” “127 Hours,” and “The Town” to fight for those last two spots, and missing out on the PGA nomination really hurt here.  It’s not a big movie for producers being the tiny budget indie that it is.

I’d also say that the indie portion of Best Picture has been covered without “Winter’s Bone.” Three nominees for the Best Independent Film at the Independent Spirit Awards, “127 Hours,” “The Kids Are All Right,” and “Black Swan,” will likely be represented in the Academy’s field.  These three movies had better box office than “Winter’s Bone,” which only made $6 million this summer.  So, in other words, “The Town” has leap-frogged “Winter’s Bone” in my predictions.

For historical reference, the PGA chose 8 of the Academy’s 10 selections, choosing “Invictus” and “Star Trek” over “The Blind Side” and “A Serious Man.”

The Writers Guild nominates. Before listing the nominees, it’s worth noting that there were many high profile ineligibilities this year.  In original screenplay, “Another Year,” “Blue Valentine,” and “The King’s Speech” were among the most notable; in adapted screenplay, they excluded “Toy Story 3” and “Winter’s Bone.”

In original screenplay, the surprise nominee was “Please Give,” which will compete against probable Best Picture nominees “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Inception,” and “The Kids Are All Right.”  I envision this race as a battle between the latter two movies; the winner will then have to go head-to-head with “The King’s Speech” at the Oscars.  (All three were nominated at the Golden Globes but will probably lose to “The Social Network.”)  As for “The Fighter,” it will probably be fighting “Another Year” for the final slot in the category – and will most likely be snubbed due to the Academy’s worshipping of Mike Leigh.

In adapted screenplay, they threw a total curveball by throwing “I Love You Phillip Morris” into a field that included “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “The Town,” and “True Grit.”  Aaron Sorkin is going to run away with this category, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see “The Town” and “True Grit” make way for “Toy Story 3” and “Winter’s Bone” at the Oscars.

The USC Scripter finalists announced. An award for film adaptations of literature, the USC Scripter award is a nice award for screenwriters to pick up on the way to Best Adapted Screenplay.  (In case you couldn’t deduce it, “Toy Story 3” was ineligible.)

The surprise nominee was “The Ghost Writer” among potential Oscar nominees “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “True Grit,” and “Winter’s Bone.”  It’s a nice boost for Roman Polanski’s movie, and it certainly gives it a blip on the awards radar.  But given how unofficial the award is, it’s probably unwise to look to much into it.

Besides, as I already said, it’s the year of Aaron Sorkin.  However, many people believe it to be practically an original screenplay as Sorkin finished his screenplay before Ben Mezrich finished his book, “The Accidental Billionaires.”  Mezrich sent Sorkin his notes and research while he was writing the book, and “The Social Network” is based on those – NOT the final book.  So perhaps as an adaptation, it’s not the kind of movie that could win this.

BAFTA longlists announced. The real nominations for the BAFTAs (the British version of the Oscars) aren’t announced until January 18, but for some strange reason, they choose to announce a field of 15 in each category that they will ultimately select their nominees from.

The result is ultimately a bunch of clutter not worth looking too much into.  “The King’s Speech” and “Black Swan” led the long list with 15 mentions each.  Obviously the former, being such a prominent British title, stands a pretty good chance of taking the most nominations when the real ones are announced.

They did star the top five vote-getters in the preliminary rounds which do provide some interesting insight into their ultimate nominees.  So with that in mind, here are some highlights from the list so you don’t have to look at it yourself:

  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” made their Best Picture longlist.  (They didn’t star any nominees in the category.)
  • Danny Boyle was one of the starred directors.  This is a good sign for Boyle, who seems to be slipping with his movie in the Best Director race.  If the British contingent is behind him, he could outmuscle the Coen Brothers for the final slot.
  • Aaron Eckhart was longlisted for “Rabbit Hole” (personal favorite, sorry) as were both Leonardo DiCaprio performancesi in 2010.  Starred were the usual suspects Eisenberg, Firth, and Franco as well as Jeff Bridges and surprisingly Javier Bardem, who could use a boost right now other than an endorsement of “Biutiful” by Julia Roberts.
  • Among likely Best Actress nominees Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, and Michelle Williams, starred selections included Carey Mulligan for “Never Let Me Go” and Julianne Moore for “The Kids Are All Right.”  This is big for the latter, who seems to be bullied out of the Best Actress category by her co-star Bening.
  • Justin Timberlake was longlisted for “The Social Network,” but co-star Andrew Garfield was starred, along with favorites Bale, Rush, and Ruffalo.  Also starred was Bob Hoskins in the British movie “Made in Dagenham.”
  • All three of the supporting females in “Black Swan” were on the longlist, including Winona Ryder.  Surprisingly, it was Barbara Hershey and not Mila Kunis who was starred.  (Fingers crossed Hershey could score an Oscar nod!)
  • Melissa Leo, the apparent frontrunner in Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Fighter,” was not starred.  Her co-star Amy Adams was starred, as was Miranda Richardson was starred for “Made in Dagenham.”
  • Category fraud was seemingly corrected by placing Hailee Steinfeld in leading actress for “True Grit” and Lesley Manville in supporting actress for “Another Year.”
  • Don’t trust them too much – “Alice in Wonderland” was listed as a potential Best Director and Best Actor nominee.

See the full longlists HERE at In Contention.

Technical guilds chime in. The Cinema Audio Society announced its five picks for Best Sound Mixing, which included “Black Swan,” “Inception,” “Shutter Island,” “The Social Network,” and “True Grit.”  Perhaps the most surprising nominee is “The Social Network,” which isn’t perceived as a big technical movie.  Yet if it continues to pick up nominations, it will prove how widely appealing the movie is – and make it that much more likely to win Best Picture.  The more nominations it can pick up, the better.

The Art Directors Guild recognized excellence in three categories as follows:

Period Film
Get Low
“The King’s Speech”
Robin Hood
Shutter Island
“True Grit”

Fantasy Film
Alice in Wonderland
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
“Inception”
TRON Legacy

Contemporary Film
“Black Swan”
“The Fighter”
“127 Hours”
“The Social Network”
“The Town”

Again, it’s good for “The Social Network” that it picked up a mention.  But perhaps the movie most in need of technical guild support is “Inception,” which came up blank at the SAG Awards.  To take home Best Picture, it’s going to need to make a strong showing with these guilds.

“Shutter Island” showed up on both guild lists, setting it up as a dark horse Best Picture nominee.  I doubt it happens, but now it can’t be totally unforeseen.

Critics groups all but wrap up. In case you didn’t hear, “The Social Network” swept pretty much all of the critics groups in 2010.  It earned its status as “critical darling,” taking home Best Picture from just about everyone.  Here are those that dared to be different:

  • Austin – “Black Swan”
  • Central Ohio – “Inception”
  • Dublin – “A Prophet”
  • Phoenix – “The King’s Speech”
  • San Diego – “Winter’s Bone”
  • Utah – “127 Hours” (tied with “The Social Network”)

So as you can see, there was no clear second place movie for critics to “The Social Network.”  But someone with the time to calculate the results wrote that “Black Swan” took the second-most honors from critics groups.

The first phase of the Oscar race in 2010 is over, and “The Social Network” has clearly won.  But can it keep the lead?  Or will another movie come and steal awards from the BFCA, Golden Globes, or SAG?  Check back next week as phase two begins.





Oscar Moment: “Easy A”

21 12 2010

In honor of “Easy A” hitting video today, I’m writing this Oscar Moment specifically in regards to Emma Stone’s performance.  As Olive Penderghast, the 2010 model of Hester Prynne from “The Scarlet Letter,” she got some very deserved attention for her breakout role.  Here’s what I wrote back in September:

“Emma Stone is hardly a new sight for anyone that’s been seeing good movies recently; she has been scene-stealing as the heartbreaking Jules in ‘Superbad’ and the zombie-killing Wichita in ‘Zombieland.’  This, however, is the movie that will bring her into the mainstream consciousness.  ‘Easy A’ gives her all the material for a breakout role, and Stone seizes every moment to create a character that will shoot her into stardom.”

The movie was very well received by critics upon release (an 88% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes) yet still somehow managed to miss a Best Picture (Musical/Comedy) nomination from the Golden Globes.  In its place: “Alice in Wonderland.”  Big mistake.  Huge.  However, Stone did get her recognition in the form of a Best Actress nomination.  There’s hardly a chance for a win against the two “The Kids Are All Right” actresses and an even further shot at an Oscar nomination thanks to an impressive dramatic faction headlined by Natalie Portman.  But what’s with our bias against comedic actresses?  Why does the Academy only feel the need to honor actors dealing strictly in serious fare, perhaps dabbling in comedy but keeping their heart in drama?

A lot of Stone’s fans have raised this concern for months now.  Why not Emma Stone?  She’s as deserving as most of the actresses in the predicted five at the moment.  While she may not have an illustrious career under her belt or have undergone a massive physical transformation, Stone goes above and beyond what a movie like “Easy A” requires from its leading lady.

Castor over at Anomalous Material elaborated on Guy Lodge’s article at In Contention making a case for Stone, listing five reasons he came up with that might be the reason why comedy is so constantly overlooked by the Academy.

  1. Western audiences are conditioned to enjoy flashy and bombastic dramatic performances, such as Daniel Day Lewis’ in There Will Be Blood, over more subtle or seemingly “effortless” portrayals.
  2. Giving a good performance in a great movie is harder and hence more deserving of recognition than shining in a mediocre/good movie.
  3. Comedic actors are generally less talented than dramatic actors.
  4. Comedies are generally not as good, serious and important as dramas.
  5. Drama is harder than comedy.

As an actor myself, I’ll argue that comedy is every bit as hard as drama – there are just those for whom comedy comes naturally.  You can’t fake comedy because it takes total commitment.  Drama can be passably done with half a heart, and a well-liked actor can often do this to great acclaim.

For my money, Emma Stone gave one of the best performances of the year.  But according to Academy standards, her Golden Globe nomination is her highest reward.  Is this right?  Should comedic actresses get their due?  Is a performance like Stone’s deserving to stand next to Natalie Portman’s come Oscar night?

BEST BET FOR NOMINATION: Best Actress





Oscar Moment: December 10, 2010 Awards Round-Up

10 12 2010

Welcome back to another exciting awards round-up post!  It’s been a whole week since I’ve said anything about the Oscars, which is the longest I’ve gone since September!  It’s a good thing this week has been pretty stagnant aside from a few minor critics groups and some top 10 lists out in the mix.

Please remember to take the poll at the end of the discussion!  It will help to make these posts more community-driven – it’s fun just reading it and writing about it, but I sure do enjoy it more when I get your feedback!  You don’t have to live and breath Oscars like I do to take part!

As for last week’s poll, you all think that “The Social Network” will beat “The King’s Speech” for Best Picture.  And by you all, I mean all one voter that took the poll.  So let’s shoot for higher this week!

(And another reminder: I spent a lot of time linking the titles of movies in this post to their respective Oscar Moments/reviews if you want to know more about them.  So don’t hesitate to click!)

Awards

Washington, D.C. Film Critics announce. Generally not a very exciting bunch; Kris Tapley of In Contention said their picks are usually just guessing what the Oscars will nominated in about 7 weeks.  Like myself and several others, they think “The Social Network” is going to be the cup that the Academy sips from when picking their awards.

Their Best Picture line-up was absolutely stellar though: “Black Swan,” “Inception,” “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” and “Toy Story 3.”  If those were Oscar’s five (way back when they only nominated that many movies for Best Picture), I would be a very happy man.  Since many are already boiling the race down to a horserace, it’s curious not to see “The King’s Speech,” but it got plenty of love, including a win for Best Actor for Colin Firth and Best Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, and Original Screenplay nominations.

Jennifer Lawrence took Best Actress for “Winter’s Bone,” which definitely showed some strength from the win as well as nominations for Supporting Actor (John Hawkes) and Adapted Screenplay.  I think we could definitely be looking at a critical favorite in Lawrence, although this is a very similar trajectory to Carey Mulligan last year who wound up not taking home any major prizes.

Predictable wins for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo in “The Fighter” in the supporting categories, with the former looking more and more like a lock with each passing day.  “The Social Network” also won Best Director and Adapted Screenplay, neither of which was surprising given the group’s love for the film.

Interestingly, “Inception” won Best Original Screenplay over the field of “The King’s Speech,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Another Year,” and “Black Swan.”  This category has played out interestingly at the Oscars over the past two years.  2009 brought us “The Hurt Locker” ultimately triumphing over “Inglourious Basterds” with “Up” as a dark horse looming in the background.  2008 was the horse race between two totally different types of movies, “Milk” and the almost non-verbal “Wall-E.”  Given what’s been going on recently, “Inception” makes a fascinating wild card.  “The King’s Speech” is like past winner “Milk,” and “The Kids Are All Right” gives off “Juno” vibes.  There hasn’t been a movie like “Inception” in the race in a long time (unless you want to compare it to the mind maze of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”).

For a historical reference point, last year the group picked “Up in the Air” as their Best Picture.  Aside from the slam dunk supporting categories, the only Oscar winner they selected was Kathryn Bigelow as Best Director for “The Hurt Locker.”  Since 2002, they haven’t been a very reliable predictor at all of the ultimate selections of the Oscars.

For a full list of nominees, see the official press release from the WAFCA.

The British Independent Film Awards. Predictably, “The King’s Speech” cleaned house at the British Independent Film Awards, the equivalent of the Independent Spirit Awards across the pond.  The very British story of King George VI took home Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay.  Curiously, director Tom Hooper lost Best Director to Gareth Edwards for his work on the ultra-low budget “Monsters.”  Mike Leigh was also nominated for “Another Year” in this category.

These awards don’t really show us much other than that the British are firmly allied over their love of this movie.  Last year, “Moon” triumphed over eventual Best Picture nominee “An Education,” the movie considered to have the “British vote” going into the Oscars.  This faction will be crucial to “The King’s Speech” if it is to prevail in the Best Picture category, and this is a very reassuring ceremony for the movie.

Also worth noting: “Never Let Me Go” may be almost entirely forgotten, but apparently Carey Mulligan isn’t.  She won Best Actress for her performance, and I still wouldn’t count her out as a dark horse Oscar nominee.  I don’t think a Golden Globe nomination is entirely out of the question (a la Tobey Maguire in last year’s “Brothers“).

The European Film Awards. Not much to report here as the only awards contender really in play was “The Ghost Writer,” and it capitalized on its seven nominations by winning a stunning six categories.  Lesley Manville was in contention for “Another Year” but lost Best European Actress to an actress I’ve never heard of in a movie I’ve never heard of.

Read the rest of this entry »





Oscar Moment: “The Ghost Writer”

28 11 2010

Back in June, I wrote a polarizing piece suggesting that “Shutter Island” could be a legitimate player in the Best Picture race.  In the poll, most people thought that was a big pot of croc.  But what if the February release that we should be looking out for is Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer?”

For many of the same reasons “Shutter Island” is being considered, we should consider this movie.  It has the name of high-prestige director on its masthead who has been rewarded by the Academy in the past decade (2002 for “The Pianist”).  It has critical support; both movies received identical BFCA scores of 81.  It is an audience-pleasing thriller that keeps you closely tied into the action until the conclusion.

But unlike “Shutter Island,” there is an aura of controversy surrounding “The Ghost Writer.”  Timed almost simultaneously with the movie’s stateside release was Roman Polanski’s arrest overseas for the statutory rape he fled the United States for decades ago.  The director instantly became a topic of heated conversation.  Should he face justice, or be pardoned after all these years?  No matter what you think, the debate put Polanski into a very present mainstream consciousness.  As Sasha Stone put it in her excellent piece Cinema Paranoia, “there was no room, nor any invitation, to look at ‘The Ghost Writer’ [after the hysteria].”

The Hollywood community flocked to Polanski’s side, and it will be interesting to see where this support goes in Oscar season.  The movie took an unexpected resonance in the face of the controversy, and I think it added a different dimension to the experience.  It certainly brought out a great deal of passion in certain people, and as Guy Lodge of In Contention pondered, “progressive media loyalty to Polanski may have gone into overdrive … [I] wonder whether the director’s band of supporters in the Academy might show up for the film come nomination time — despite its low profile and early release date.”

“The Ghost Writer” has already racked up several impressive feats this year that could bode well for it during the long season ahead.  Back in February, Polanski won Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival.  Over the summer, FIPRESCI, the international critics’ association, named it their best movie of 2010; their previous choices have included art-house favorites “Magnolia” and Best Picture nominee “There Will Be Blood.”  At the beginning of November, it received seven nominations for the European Film Awards, more than any other movie.

It remains to be seen whether these accomplishments or the controversy will amount to anything substantial in terms of Oscars.  What happens in Europe doesn’t necessarily reflect American tastes.  I think if the movie can get some support from critics groups, which isn’t too far-fetched given its 83% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 77 on Metacritic, “The Ghost Writer” could gain some significant traction for one of the bottom 5 Best Picture nominations and perhaps even an out-of-nowhere Best Director nomination.  Some have even speculated that Olivia Williams, who plays the wife of the former Prime Minister, could play into the Best Supporting Actress race.  Given the volatile field there, I wouldn’t discount her if the film starts to catch on.

Worth nothing as well: a below-the-line nomination could also be in store for composer Alexandre Desplat, who was recently awarded Composer of the Year at the World Soundtrack Awards.  However, he also has scores in play for “The King’s Speech” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the former of which is probably much more Academy friendly than “The Ghost Writer.”  I haven’t listened to the score from the ultra-baity English flick, but I will say that Desplat’s score was one of my favorite parts of the movie and is very deserving of a nomination.

The general consensus is that this isn’t one of Polanski’s best, but is “not his best” better than “really good” from lesser filmmakers?  We’ll find out.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actress (Williams), Best Original Score

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay





Oscar Moment: “Country Strong”

26 11 2010

“Country Strong” is Middle America bait, combining country music and rehabbed alcoholic singers a la “Crazy Heart” with a spunky heroine with a down-home charm a la “The Blind Side.”  Coincidentally, both of those movies featured leading performances that won Oscars in 2009.  So are we looking at a similar trajectory for Gwyneth Paltrow, the movie’s leading lady?

Paltrow has already hit the promotional trail in somewhat unconventional but definitely effective ways.  She guest-starred on “Glee,” singing a cover of Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You.”  Then, directly aimed at the people who will see “Country Strong,” she performed the movie’s titular track at the Country Music Awards (CMAs) in Nashville.  Here’s a clip of her singing:

Let’s not forget that Paltrow has already won Best Actress for a completely different flavor of acting (for “Shakespeare in Love” in 1998).  Her star power could power her into the race even though her only Academy friendly movie that has gotten any recognition was “The Royal Tenenbaums” back in 2001.  However, her foray into the dramatic with “Proof” landed her a Golden Globe nomination, so perhaps “Country Strong” will have that extra push to get her into the Best Actress field.  Yet even taking her competition out of the picture, I think it would be difficult for the Academy to vote her to a second win.  They realize now what a great honor their trophies are, and when someone like Hilary Swank has the same amount of wins as Meryl Streep, something’s up.

Paltrow and the movie have lost one big building block to an Oscar campaign in the Golden Globes.  The HFPA decided to place “Country Strong” in the drama category, which is much tougher to receive nominations (not to mention wins) because of the more respected field.  If the movie were placed in musical/comedy (since it features a lot of song), Paltrow would compete against Annette Bening and Sally Hawkins.  In drama, she will face Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, and several other talented actresses.  And for the lightweight movie, talk about a huge long shot to score a Best Picture nomination.  The only way I could see it sneaking in would be for there to magically be more than 5 nominated films.

And since this is a movie about country music, it will be a strong contender in the Best Original Song category.  There are two featured tracks in contention for the win, “Me and Tennessee” and “Coming Home.”  The rules have changed in the Best Original Song category to try to prohibit one movie from hogging all the nominations and thus vote splitting; this is why Alan Menken only chose to submit one song from “Tangled” for consideration.  If “Country Strong” wants to win this category, Screen Gems needs to pick one song to put all their horses behind.

There are 18 days between the wide release of “Country Strong” and the announcement of the 83rd Oscar nominations.  If it manages to rake in some nice box office dollars, I suspect we could be looking at a financially successful movie popular with Middle America that this year’s Academy Awards really don’t have.  It could be an enticing proposition … but it would have to make big money FAST.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actress, Best Original Song

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Picture





Oscar Moment: “Blue Valentine”

19 11 2010

You’ve probably heard about “Blue Valentine” for all the wrong reasons, particularly because of the absurd NC-17 rating it received at the hands of the violence-loving but genophobic (that’s the fear of sex) ratings boards of the MPAA.  Harvey Weinstein lawyered up and is now going to stare down the ridiculous organization until they renege on the rating that has led all other movies to final ruin.

Why is the movie NC-17, for all those curious out there wondering?  Because it dared to give an honest portrayal of a relationship in its most devastating moments.  The movie has gained a reputation over the past year, after playing at Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto, for being a brutal watch but incredibly powerful because it dares to not fall into Hollywood schmaltz.  As Guy Lodge of In Contention put it when he first saw the movie at Cannes, the movie’s tagline should be “don’t see it with someone you love.”

The reviews so far have been fantastic, and they have been consistently rolling in as the film plays a new festival.  Kris Tapley of In Contention wrote in October that he “found it to be a delicate and truthful examination of a relationship in crisis.”  Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly raved:

“No movie I’ve seen at Sundance this year conjures the possibilities — or the current, gloom-and-doom marketplace environment — of independent film more powerfully than Blue Valentine. A lushly touching, wrenching, and beautifully told story, directed by Derek Cianfrance with a mood of entwined romantic dreams and romantic loss …”

The movie is a promising debut for writer/director Derek Cianfrance, and if the critics really show their love for the movie through their year-end awards, I think he could be rewarded with a Best Original Screenplay nomination.  Best Director this year will be packed full of some fan favorites reaching their peak (Fincher, maybe Nolan and Aronofsky), and the choice newcomer of 2010 will probably be Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech.”

But I get the sense that the reward for “Blue Valentine” will come through its actors, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  It is their movie, and most reviews I read state that Cianfrance largely steps out of the way and lets them create the art.  According to Sasha Stone of Awards Daily, this movie is the culmination of a whole lot of work and passion from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams:

“… Director Derek Cianfrance has been meticulously working on this film for a good ten years.  He brought it to Michelle Williams back in 2003, and a few years later they brough in Ryan Gosling.  The idea was to wait until the two of them were old enough to be believable in the part.  Since the film takes place in different moments in time, the actors had to take a hiatus and change themselves physically before coming back to film the later scenes of the couple.”

Cianfrance went to great measures to get the most authentic performances possible out of his actors.  Gosling and Williams largely lived their roles during filming, and Cianfrance captured as much of it as possible.  Praise has been pouring out for the two stars, ranging from “the performances of their careers” (Stone) to “pitch-perfect” and “gold” (Tapley).  Gosling and Williams, who both recently turned 30, are tremendously respected for their ages as can be seen through their previous nominations.  Both face difficult fields, but I think they can do it simply because “Blue Valentine” appears to fly because they knock it out of the park.

And then there’s the big question of them all: what about Best Picture?  For starters, it’s already racked up one nomination on the road to glory.  The Gotham Independent Film Awards recognized “Blue Valentine” as one of the five best independent movies of the year, along with other hopefuls like “The Kids Are All Right,” “Black Swan,” and “Winter’s Bone.”  This group picked last year’s Best Picture winner, “The Hurt Locker,” as their favorite and nominated “A Serious Man,” a 2009 Best Picture nominee, as well.  The Gotham Awards are hardly a reliable indicator for Oscar tastes, though, with a Best Picture nominee popping up every once in a while.

So who knows?  The publicity from the ratings drama isn’t hurting, but with the film’s release set for December 31, it will have very little time to find an audience, making it the “obscure indie” pick that the expanded field might be phasing out.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actor, Best Actress

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director