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 »

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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 Predictions, Part 1 (Screenplay)

5 01 2013

Well, folks, it’s over.  Kind of.

Time is up for movies to impress the Academy voters before the nominees are announced.  The race is frozen now before nominations are announced early Thursday morning, January 10.  So with nothing left to influence the nominations, I’ll be offering my final take on the race before we find out who gets to compete for the golden man, the Oscar.

Today, I’ll be discussing the writing categories, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Django Unchained
  3. The Master
  4. Moonrise Kingdom
  5. Amour

ZDTI think this is probably the biggest no-brainer race of them all for 2012.  It’s an extremely thin field, filled with several past nominees and winners.  “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Django Unchained” will vie for the win; I think it’s Mark Boal’s to lose, but Tarantino could take it if they feel Boal’s win for “The Hurt Locker” in 2009 was too short a gap.  Going through the two categories is tough to find gaps between wins, but I think Boal’s back-to-back wins would be unprecedented.

Even if “The Master” doesn’t score a Best Picture nomination, it is a sure bet to get a writing nod.  The writers’ branch has always loved Paul Thomas Anderson, nominating him for “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” and “There Will Be Blood.”  I think the Academy respects him more as a writer than a director, and I’d hedge my bet that his first Oscar comes from the screenplay categories.

Though “The Master” is not unilaterally acclaimed, I think the fact that they nominated the challenging and polarizing “Magnolia” means they’ll nominate just about anything he writes.  (Except “Punch-Drunk Love,” but that was just a terrible movie.)

Wes Anderson was recognized here for his work on “The Royal Tenenbaums” back in 2001, and his “Moonrise Kingdom” is playing a lot better on the precursor circuit than that one.  Though it may miss out on a Best Picture nomination, it will at least have this prize to compete for.  I doubt it has a shot to win, but it’s another feather in Anderson’s cap for an eventual win down the road.

AmourAs for that final slot, people (including myself) seem to have finally caught onto the fact that the writers’ branch sees foreign films and isn’t afraid to nominate them.  Despite everyone declaring “A Separation” the winner for Best Foreign Film all year, very few seemed to see the Best Original Screenplay nomination coming.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Barbarian Invasions” had turned their goodwill from Best Foreign Film into writing nods.  Not to mention “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “City of God,” directorial triumphs recognized by the directors’ branch, were also recognized for their screenplays.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention “Amelie,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” and “Dirty Pretty Things.”

Looper

And I nearly omitted Pedro Almodóvar’s “Talk to Her,” which WON in 2002.  (Perhaps it’s the subtitles that remind them that they are reading a movie?)

The writers think global.  Thus, no one wants to get caught off guard, and the smart money is on Michael Haneke’s “Amour.”  While I think it’s much more of a director’s movie, I think it glides in simply on the weakness of the pool of eligible nominees.

Perhaps they will pull a “Margin Call” surprise and go with Nicholas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage,” a kindred spirit in its vilification of Wall Street big wigs.  Or maybe they take original to heart and nominate Rian Johnson’s superb “Looper,” a critical favorite that has popped up sporadically throughout the precursor circuit.  Heck, maybe John Gatins’ script for “Flight” shows up like it did on the WGA list.

But I’ll stick with “Amour,” in spite of my reservations.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Lincoln
  2. Argo
  3. Silver Linings Playbook
  4. Les Misérables
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Argo Screenplay“Lincoln,” “Argo,” and “Silver Linings Playbook” are locks.  Inarguable.  If they don’t get nominated … well, I won’t finish that sentence since it’s a waste of time.  IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

The last two slots are a mystery to me.  I think it’s ultimately a decision of whether the writers go along with groupthink or go out on a limb for a script that they love.  Will they make sure the heavy-hitter Best Picture contenders have a writing nomination to add to their tally?  Or will they provide a lone nomination (or a high-profile one) for a movie not nearly as beloved?

Just as a reminder of how hard it is to predict, let’s look back at the past three years of the category since those reflect Best Picture moving to beyond 5 nominees.

Last year, it looked like “The Help” would ride the coattails of its Best Picture nomination to a screenplay nod.  And “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which most thought would be a Best Picture nominee, looked good too.  The writers snubbed both of these, opting for the well-wrought “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and a lone nod for George Clooney’s “The Ides of March.”  (“War Horse” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” were two other Best Picture nominees that were not recognized.)

LincolnIn 2010, the category was 5-for-5 with Best Picture nominees “Winter’s Bone,” “True Grit,” “Toy Story 3,” and “127 Hours” all scoring here.  The eventual winner was – obviously – Aaron Sorkin’s visionary script for “The Social Network.”

2009 saw a surprising triumph for Best Picture nominee “Precious” over fellow nominees “Up in the Air,” “District 9,” and “An Education.”  Only one other adaptation was in the Best Picture field, but it was “The Blind Side” – a nominee few saw coming.  So unsurprisingly, an outside nominee charged the field – “In the Loop,” a British political comedy that came in from out of the blue.

So since there’s no clear precedent, what to do?  Predict that the writers just go with the flow and nominated “Life of Pi” and “Les Misérables?”  Or attempt to forecast a big passion play?

I think William Nicholson’s script for “Les Misérables” is a more likely nominee, despite many naysayers who think it won’t be appreciated because it was a musical.  “Chicago,” the last stage-to-screen musical, was nominated here; you have to go so far back to see a movie musical in the Best Picture field that it isn’t worth looking for a pattern.  We really have no idea whether it’s a contender, though, since it was ineligible at the WGA Awards.  But it did miss out on a Golden Globe nomination, and that was a nod “Chicago” did pick up in 2002.

Les Mis FYC 2-page

Basically, in my prediction of “Les Misérables” for Best Adapted Screenplay, I’m counting on the movie playing really well with the Academy (which it apparently has, in spite of the critics’ attempts to destroy it).  There’s nothing but a gut feeling telling me to predict it, and a slight inkling that they love the movie enough to nominate it a lot.

There’s much more of a reason for me to predict “Life of Pi,” which has the WGA nomination to its credit.  But a lot of people have criticized David Magee’s script for being the major flaw of the movie, and that gives me hesitancy.  Could it be that it only scored a nomination because of all the ineligible movies?

Life of Pi

I had similar hang-ups about “Hugo” last year, a movie that was visually impressive but took a lot of flak for its weak writing.  Yet John Logan’s script for that was nominated for a WGA Award … and then received an Oscar nomination.  Does “Life of Pi” have the strength of “Hugo,” though, which went on to win 5 Oscars in 2011?  I don’t think it does, and Fox seems to have little confidence in it.

But if it’s not “Life of Pi,” what will it be?  Does any film have the passion necessary to score an outside nod?

There’s an outside chance “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” gets a Best Picture nomination, but I doubt it would get nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for the same reasons “The Blind Side” missed out here.  Its success is in its feel-good nature, not because of good writing.

Though I’d say it’s written like a sitcom, there are fans of Ben Lewin’s script for “The Sessions.”  But the only heat that movie has lies with the performances of John Hawkes and Helen Hunt; love of the movie doesn’t go much beyond that.  And if it was a serious contender, why wasn’t it nominated for a WGA Award in spite of all the ineligible movies?

Perks

Heck, maybe even John Logan’s script for “Skyfall” will show up.  Some have suggested it will show up in the Best Picture field after a slightly surprising nomination for the Producers Guild’s prize.  I’d say the script, though flawed, is the smartest part of that movie – but I just don’t see it happening.  Other than “Toy Story 3,” I can’t find any franchise entry nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

A more likely nominee is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which has been nominated for the WGA Award and the Critics’ Choice Award.  It’s adapted by the writer of the novel, Stephen Chbosky, who also directed the film.  I could definitely see it being 2012’s “The Ides of March” since it’s unlikely to be recognized anywhere else, and the writing is a major strong suit of the film.

But I just have a hard time predicting the movie since it flew under the radar all season.  It didn’t do particularly well at the box office, and it doesn’t have much big name talent beyond Emma Watson.  “The Ides of March” had 4 Golden Globe nods and a PGA mention.  Likewise, “In the Loop” had popped up in a number of critics’ groups awards.  I’d be surprised if the Academy stood up for “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

Beasts 2

If any movie unseats “Les Misérables” or “Life of Pi,” I think it would be “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  It has been uniquely hard to gauge love for the film because it was ineligible not only for the WGA Awards but also for the SAG Awards.  I considered it dead when it blanked at the Golden Globes, but I’m beginning to rethink my assessment after it shockingly popped up as a nominee for Best Picture for the PGA.

Had it been eligible for the guild awards, would we have seen a groundswell of support for the movie?  And lest we forget, the HFPA blanked “True Grit” in 2010 – and that went on to received 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Some say the HFPA doesn’t like quintessential American stories, and you could make an argument that “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is just that.

I think the movie’s biggest strength is its direction, not its writing.  However, I have similar things to say about “Amour,” and it appears to be cruising towards a nomination.  The writers may really admire this unconventional movie, adapted from a play and transmuted into something wholeheartedly cinematic.

Thus, the degree of difficulty gives me the confidence to say Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar’s script for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” will knock “Life of Pi” (although it could just as easily be “Les Misérables”) out of the category.  So, to answer my own questions from the beginning of the discussion, I believe the Academy will be part groupthink, part cavalier.

Check back tomorrow, January 6, for my take on the Supporting Actor/Actress categories!





Oscar Moment: First 2012 Predictions

5 08 2012

It’s never too early to start guessing, right?  With Cannes yielding little to start Oscar conversation, the pressure is on for the fall to deliver in a big way.  Film festivals in Venice, Toronto, and Telluride will begin to churn out candidates and weed out pretenders in just a few weeks now.  Then a number of big-name films that forewent the festival circuit will have to face the gauntlet of critics and audiences. By the time the year-end lists start rolling off the presses, the game will be predictable and boring.  So let’s speculate now while it’s still fun and actually involves educated guessing!

UPDATE 8/6: I can’t let these picks become dated within hours of them being posted, so I’ve replaced my predictions that included “The Great Gatsby.”

Best Picture:

  1. The Master
  2. Les Miserables
  3. Lincoln
  4. Life of Pi
  5. Django Unchained
  6. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  7. Moonrise Kingdom
  8. Argo
  9. The Great Gatsby Zero Dark Thirty
  10. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

“The Master” just seems like the movie of the year to me from this distance.  Tom Cruise has seen the movie and HATES it, that’s enough for me.  If the movie is really going to take on Scientology, it could really be a pop culture centerpiece for the fall.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix returning from his bizarre performance art stunt in “I’m Still Here,” Philip Seymour Hoffman fresh off two major supporting roles in Oscar-nominated films in 2011, and three-time Best Supporting Actress bridesmaid Amy Adams, it could certainly be a force to reckon with in the acting categories.  It’s also a period piece that could register impressively in the technical categories.

Oh, and it’s written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.  In the ’90s, his films “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” each scored him a Best Original Screenplay nomination.  In 2007, “There Will Be Blood” scored him nominations for writing, directing, and producing since the film was up for Best Picture.  The argument will be made – convincingly by the Weinstein Company, no less – that Anderson’s time has come.

Indeed, it has.  The narrative is in place.  It can easily score over 10 nominations and march towards victory.  The film just needs to not suck.  And according to people at the first public showing on Friday (a surprise screening after a showing of “The Shining” in Los Angeles), it doesn’t suck.  It’s awesome.

Though of course, that path won’t be uncontested.  However, three out of the last five Best Picture winners – “No Country for Old Men,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and “The Artist” – asserted their dominance from the beginning of the season and never looked back.  So who knows?! As the triumph of “The King’s Speech” showed us in 2010, Oscar bait isn’t dead.  In fact, it’s thriving … and there is still a big portion of the Academy that succumbs to it.

In 2011, “War Horse” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” both cracked the Best Picture field despite facing a number of harsh critics and tepid response from other industry groups.  Nonetheless, the Academy likes what it likes and refuses to apologize for it. So I doubt they will think twice about nominating “Les Miserables” for Best Picture.  The Tony Award-winning musical has everything that could possibly ever appeal to an Academy member: drama, emotion, catharsis, noble prostitutes, solid acting, historical setting, impressive craftwork … and it’s directed by Tom Hooper, the man who made them feel so good they gave him Best Director for a movie that required very little directing.

Granted, everyone thought “Chicago” was going to usher in a new Renaissance for American film adaptations of musical theater.  While the Golden Globes seem to be relishing in all the musicals, the Academy has ignored “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Producers,” “Dreamgirls,” “Hairspray,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Mamma Mia,” and “Nine” (all of which were Best Picture nominees in the Musical/Comedy field for HFPA).

“Dreamgirls” was even being tipped to win in 2006 and was a surprise snub on nomination morning (“Nine” could also have cracked the field in 2009).  So musicals are still iffy, but “Les Miserables” is in a league of its own.  Those other musicals are nice, but none are based on a Victor Hugo novel.  The story is made to win awards.

Also falling in the bait category is Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis as one of America’s greatest presidents.  Spielberg’s films since “Schindler’s List” have practically all been presumptive frontrunners, yet “Saving Private Ryan” is his only film afterwards to win an Oscar.  “Munich” and “War Horse” have both slid in on residual respect, but how far does that go?  Do they still owe a man who has won Best Director twice?  Helmed eight Best Picture nominees?

The same questions can be asked of Day-Lewis, who clearly has a ton of respect as shown by his two Best Actor trophies.  However, the Academy felt no shame in shutting him out of the 2009 Best Actor race in favor of first-time nominee Jeremy Renner.  Granted, Renner’s “The Hurt Locker” was worlds better than Day-Lewis’ “Nine,” but it’s still fair to wonder if the Academy is done with him like they are done with Clint Eastwood.  Unless you are Meryl Streep or Jack Nicholson (or John Williams), two is basically the magic number.

People have been raving about Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” since its presentation of footage at CinemaCon back in the spring, and I think the coupling of a respected, Oscar-winning director tackling 3D will be the “Hugo” of 2012.  It will also probably score no acting nominations and plenty of tech nods like Scorsese’s 5-time winner from last year.

Beyond those four heavy-hitters, it’s anyone’s guess. Perhaps I guessed the overdue writer/director incorrectly, and the Academy will choose to fete Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.”  People counted out “Inglourious Basterds,” and it wound up with eight nominations.

Beasts of the Southern Wild” has certainly proven to be the art-house hit of the year, winning major prizes at Sundance and Cannes, stealing critics’ hearts, and racking up enough money to where it can’t be dismissed as totally esoteric.  There’s certainly precedent for a summer indie favorite to sneak into the Best Picture field – “Winter’s Bone” in 2010 and “The Tree of Life” in 2011.  It will need the critics groups to come out in favor for it in a big way or the pint-sized star Quvenzhané Wallis to be a unanimous and strong first-choice in the Best Actress race.

Some people think the inclusion of “Beasts” might leave out the other summer indie sleeper hit, “Moonrise Kingdom.”  To that I say, look to last year when “Midnight in Paris,” a funny crowd-pleaser, cracked the same field with “The Tree of Life.”  I think the Academy could decide the time is here to honor Wes Anderson’s peculiar gifts.  If they could accept “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Juno,” I see no reason why “Moonrise Kingdom” couldn’t be a Best Picture nominee.

“Argo” could also be a sleeper to watch in this race.  Ben Affleck’s directorial skills are definitely improving with each movie, and his last film, “The Town,” was definitely just on the outside looking in at the 2010 Best Picture field.  Could getting out of his native country of Boston put him in the race this time?  We’ll know after its Toronto premiere.

Baz Luhrmannn’s singular work “Moulin Rouge” tickled the Academy’s fancy in 2001.  His 2008 “Australia,” a more refined, baity piece, only netted a Best Costume Design nomination.  Which will his adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” be?  My gut says a hit like “Moulin Rouge” because I’m so in love with the source material, but that love could be blinding me.  This will either be a big hit or a big flop.

And who knows if the Academy field will extend to ten this year, but I’ll go ahead and predict ten.  Could lighting strike for the fourth time for Peter Jackson with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey?”  Will “Hyde Park on Hudson” be more than just a feel-good biopic?  Can Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” finally get the franchise the recognition it deserves?

These are big “if”s, so I’m just going to choose safe (because my wild-card predictions in years past have spawned picks of “It’s Complicated” and “Never Let Me Go”) and predict Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.”  It could be bold, daring, and thrilling if it succeeds.  The expectations will be high since the production has been so guarded.  But if it works, it could be a major player.

And for the hell of it, why not say that the decidedly middling “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” becomes the low-brow film that makes the cut and makes me curse the Academy once more. Read the rest of this entry »





Marshall Takes Cannes: Day 1

18 05 2012

Sorry, guys.  It’s been pretty overwhelming getting used to life in the Cannes Film Festival, and I’ve come back the past two nights from screenings past midnight with the intention of writing something … but have then quickly fallen into bed.  I’m working on 5-6 hours of sleep each night, which can be quite lethal to moviewatching.  Even in the movies I’ve loved like “Rust and Bone,” I found myself drifting off at the beginning just from sheer exhaustion.  I’ll try to be better, so my hope is that I can churn out this piece pretty quickly and then hit the hay.  The goal for tomorrow is to get into the 8:30 A.M. press screening of “Lawless,” which means waiting in a rush line beginning around 7:00 A.M.  Party!

Anyways, here come some pictures and plenty of stories!

Day 1 – Wednesday, May 16

I spent my first afternoon in Cannes running around the Palais du Festival, the big building where most of the major festival events occur, trying to find an entry into the 3:00 P.M. press screening of “Moonrise Kingdom.”  To give you a sense of just how massive this place is, just take a look at the picture below and know that my iPhone hardly captures the scope of it.  Some people affectionately call it “the Death Star,” and I have to say, that’s a pretty apt description.  It’s room after room, hall after hall, theater after theater, making the Palais one heck of a cumbersome place to navigate.

I couldn’t find a non-blocked entrance, so I just gave up and went to a Market screening of “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap.”  Another cool thing about the Cannes Film Festival that many, including myself until recently, might not know is that there is also a concurrent market for buying and selling films in all stages of production.  Some international rights are being sold to blockbusters like “Catching Fire,” which is still in pre-production … and then there are screenings of films like “Silent House” and “Casa de Mi Padre,” which opened in the US months ago but are still seeking international distributors.  The Marché du Film (Cannes Film Market) sees thousands upon thousands of transactions, and it provides an excellent opportunity for cinephiles like me to piggyback onto their business and see some movies that won’t come stateside for a while.

So my first Marché screening (and as of right now, also the only) was definitely interesting.  Like I said in the intro, I fell asleep intermittently throughout the first 45 minutes, which was miraculous given how booming the sound was coming from the screen showing Ice T’s documentary.  I’ll save my more detailed opinions for a full review coming later, but the short form review is this: I don’t doubt Ice T’s passion, but he clearly needed someone to help him edit and refine his fascination in a more appropriate cinematic way.

Then I got great news … I won a ticket to see the 11:00 P.M. showing of “Moonrise Kingdom” in the Lumiere theater, Cannes’ 2300-seat theater which will forever put every other moviegoing experience to shame.  Only this theater requires an “invitation,” as they call it, and proper attire must be worn or the Fashion Police (actual people, not Joan Rivers the morning after the Oscars) will wag a finger at you and turn you away.  Even if you do have this, your clothing is more important:

I had never seen a movie from a balcony before, so I was glad to receive an education in how they did this back in the good old days.  Not to mention because of the mammoth nature of the Lumiere, the filmmakers come into the theater in the wee hours of the morning to calibrate the picture and sound especially for the screening.  So in other words, the movies I get to see in the Lumiere are exactly as the director wants me to see them.  Crazy, right?!  Here’s my view of the screen from the balcony on Wednesday night:

And as if the experience weren’t already magical enough, each Cannes screening begins with this bumper, accompanied by the music from “Aquarium” by Camille Saint-Saens that I already associate with magic and enchantment.  (Start the video below at 0:35.)

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I WALKED THE RED CARPET.  The same red carpet that Wes Anderson had walked with Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, and Bill Murray just a few hours earlier!  I saw their numerous photo opportunities from not too far away and even snapped a few pictures of my own.  The highlight of the whole thing was Edward Norton lingering for easily a minute after everyone else on the steps of the Palais to just be goofy.

And then I got to walk it myself, which was INCREDIBLE to say the least.  If only hundreds of other people weren’t rushing the steps for their own photo opportunity, I might have felt like a celebrity myself.  But regardless of that, it was still pretty freaking cool.  Oh, and don’t buy all the illusions you get from seeing these images of movie stars walking the red carpet – it’s actually not very long and there are very few steps.

 

Oh, and the movie was good too, I guess.





REVIEW: Moonrise Kingdom

17 05 2012

Cannes Film Festival

Wes Anderson made a name for himself on clean, quirky visual style, and “Moonrise Kingdom” forges a further name for the director on that basis. It’s a Wes Anderson movie for people that love Wes Anderson movies, and for everyone else … yeah, there’s a different movie for you out there somewhere. If his insistence on the rule of thirds, smooth horizontal tracking shots, and manipulation of the mise-en-scene frustrated you in “The Royal Tenenbaums” or “The Darjeeling Limited,” then this movie, which is Anderson stylistically to a T, will only frustrate you more.

I, like many, enjoy the quirkiness of Anderson’s idiosyncratic eye, so watching “Moonrise Kingdom” felt like devouring sugar for an hour and a half. The film almost feels like the director is making a tribute to his own technique as it hits the viewer with a sledgehammer with its flair within the frame. But that sledgehammer is more like a blow-up hammer you get at a carnival, one that whacks you in a fun and enjoyable way (provide you don’t mind the bump on your head). He does extreme close-ups on written notes, takes it to Kubrickian lengths with his dolly shots, and sports costumes and sets that look both of their time and out of this world. I doubt there is anyone that couldn’t tell you what a Wes Anderson movie is after watching his latest feature.

Read the rest of this entry »