REVIEW: The Danish Girl

23 12 2015

In spite of the crusade by presidential candidate Donald Trump and his so-called “silent majority,” I still care about political correctness to the extent that it preserves the basic dignity of threatened groups. (Overreach is a separate conversation, however.) Words and language are powerful tools because they serves as outward reflections of inner ideas and beliefs. How society talks about a person as a part of the group with which they identify is important.

One such group that rightfully points out inadequacies in our vernacular is the transgender community. Many activists seek nothing less than the implosion of gender-based assumptions in the way we speak, a prospect as liberating for some people as it is uncomfortable for others. Every time it forces me to pause a little longer before speaking, I use that time to remind myself that these are above all people who just want the same respect to live their lives as any other person in society.

I try to stay on top of the latest developments in acceptable language – so this could be out of date – but the last I checked, it was a dubious practice to link anatomy to gender. (If this is no longer true, I welcome someone politely educating me.) Gender is a social construct, which may or may not correspond to a person’s biologically determined sex.

Tom Hooper’s “The Danish Girl” arrives in the heightened era of trans visibility; 2015 alone brought cultural prominence to Caitlyn Jenner, “Tangerine” and “Transparent.” The film tells the story of Eddie Redmayne’s transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, formerly Einar Wagener, as she seeks a then-radical surgery to remove the male organ that ties her to the sex she was given at birth. For someone so ahead of her time, it strikes me as rather ironic that the movie telling her story seems so behind its own time. Its assumptions surrounding gender and sexuality feel only slightly progressed from the 1930s setting.

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Random Factoid #568

25 04 2013

les-miserables-dvd-blu-ray1Been a while since you’ve seen one of these, hasn’t it?

I discontinued daily random factoids back in 2011 because, well, they were becoming a lot more of a stretch.  Usually they weren’t really factoids, they were just random cultural tidbits with a little bit of Marshall commentary.  I definitely enjoyed doing that, but it became a lot more of a hassle than it should have been.  So I stopped.

But now, I have a real factoid to share with you all, so it felt like a good time to resurrect the series for the first time in two years.

I actually watched a movie with the commentary track on.  For the first time ever.

Aren’t you proud of me?  I sat for 2 1/2 hours and listened to Tom Hooper talk all over “Les Misérables.”  He had some fascinating insights into the film, and I learned a lot from it.  But I didn’t really get to watch the movie, per se.  Is that how they all are, or is Hooper just incredibly long-winded?

By the way, a big ol’ whoppin’ defense of the film’s close-ups is coming your way soon.  Get ready, blogosphere.





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 4 (Directing)

8 01 2013

TWO MORE DAYS!  I’m slowly starting to lose my mind … or at least become so consumed with thinking about the Oscar nominations that I can think of little else.

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.

Best Director

  1. Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln
  2. Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty
  3. Ben Affleck, “Argo
  4. Tom Hooper, “Les Misérables
  5. David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook

Kathryn Bigelow ZDTIn case you caught on, yes, I did intentionally structure my prediction breakdown so that I would get to publish post-Directors Guild nominations.  If you didn’t catch those this morning, they were Ben Affleck for “Argo,” Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” and Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln.”

It’s worth noting, though, that the DGA has perfectly matched the Academy’s nominees only twice since 2000.

Having said that, Spielberg, Affleck, and Bigelow are in.  I don’t think anyone will debate that.  Even as “Zero Dark Thirty” seems to have knocked aback with the fatuous claims of torture endorsement, Bigelow remains firmly in place.  Heck, I think any of these three could win.  Who knows, maybe we could even have … a split year!

Spielberg won Best Director in 1998 for “Saving Private Ryan” even though “Shakespeare in Love” won Best Picture.  Could a similar surprise be in store this year?

Bigelow’s direction has earned her tremendous accolades again.  She’s been the critical choice pick of the year, often times winning even when “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t take Best Picture.  Will she take the prize again for her follow-up to “The Hurt Locker” just three years after winning her first Oscar?

Argo Best Director

And if “Argo” surges and looks poised to win Best Picture, Ben Affleck will likely win Best Director.  I don’t think he would benefit from a split.

Beyond the three of them, it gets dicier.  If you assume there are seven “safe” Best Picture nominees, you have four men competing for two spots: Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” and Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.”  That’s an impressive group that contains two winners and two nominees.

Some people seem to think “Les Misérables” is weak because the critics have defined people’s perceptions of the movie’s standing in the race.  This is “The King’s Speech” on steroids.  That movie beat the critical favorite, “The Social Network,” with no trouble at all.  And it didn’t need the critics groups at all; it only took one Best Picture prize.  Colin Firth was keeping the movie in discussion and taking most of the accolades, just as Anne Hathaway is doing now.

Hooper beat out David Fincher, who almost undeniably did more impressive work in “The Social Network,” in a year that perhaps more than ever screamed for a Picture-Director split.  If he can win for “The King’s Speech,” I don’t see how he doesn’t get nominated for “Les Misérables.”

Life of PiWhile many would say Ang Lee was just below the “big three,” I would say Hooper is far more secure.  I think the movie will play well with Academy voters, and I still think it could win Best Picture.  It will likely win three, if not four Golden Globes.  It could also win the ensemble award at SAG.  And if “Les Misérables” made them feel anywhere near as much as “The King’s Speech,” they know who pulled the strings of their tear ducts.  A nomination feels pretty secure to me.

“Life of Pi” support is fading.  Though I still think it will power through and get a Best Picture nomination, Fox seems to have dropped the ball on keeping the momentum going.  Lee did get nominations from HFPA and BFCA, albeit in a field of six for the latter.  And the DGA nod certainly helps.

But for all this talk of Lee getting a nomination for “Life of Pi” simply because it is incredibly ambitious or challenging do little to persuade me.  I know this is a totally different case, but that didn’t help Christopher Nolan for “Inception” in a tight year (the directing branch of the Academy loathes Nolan but likes Lee for some bizarre reason).  While he’s now in my good graces because of “Les Misérables,” artistic merit often takes a backseat to feel-good stories as shown by Hooper’s triumph in 2010 over Fincher and Aronofsky.

I can’t help but wonder if Lee will get the cold shoulder like David Fincher did last year for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  That film was getting love from the guilds left and right but was largely shunned by the Academy, including high-profile snubs in Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay.  Is “Life of Pi” that technical marvel that guilds will admire but Academy members won’t quite appreciate as much?

LincolnHowever, the Academy directing branch, comprised of only about 300-400 members, is notoriously snooty, arty, high-minded, or whatever adjective you want to use.  So maybe that will benefit Ang Lee.  But often times, it’s a boon to someone they respect but has received little recognition leading up to the nominations   With their out of the blue selections, they often provide some of the biggest surprises on nomination morning.

The ultimate case was in 2001 when they nominated David Lynch for “Mulholland Drive,” a movie that received no other nominations.  But more recent and reasonable examples are Terrence Malick for “The Tree of Life,” Paul Greengrass for “United 93,” and Mike Leigh for “Vera Drake.”  I think the most likely person to snab this kind of nomination would be Paul Thomas Anderson for “The Master.”  As much as I’d love to see that happen, I doubt it will.

They also like to nominate directors with vision working in foreign languages.  In the past decade, we’ve seen Best Director nominees Julian Schnabel for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Fernando Meirelles for “City of God,” and Pedro Almodóvar for “Talk to Her.”  For that reason, we can’t count out Michael Haneke popping up for “Amour.”  It’s certainly had the critical plaudits to be a non-shocking surprise.

David O

Maybe they really respect and admire the vision of Tarantino in “Django Unchained.”  They’ve been fans twice before, providing him nominations for 1994’s “Pulp Fiction” and 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds.”  Both of those, however, were preceded by DGA nominations.  The Weinstein Company has been floating the excuse that his passing over is due to DVD screeners not going out to DGA members.

But I think it’s telling that the Academy will stay away.  His only major nomination so far has been from the Golden Globes, and it’s clear they were high on “Django Unchained.”  I think it has proven to be much more of an audience success than a critical or guild one, though it has supporters amongst those groups.  The “Inglourious Basterds” nod was looking good from the beginning; this time around has not been so fortuitous for Tarantino.

I don’t feel that PTA or Haneke are nearly as revered as Malick and thus have the power to displace a sure-fire Best Picture nominee.  With all my reservations about Tarantino and Lee, I’m left to predict David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook.”  Though overlooked by the DGA and the HFPA, he was a Critics Choice nominee and (perhaps more importantly) a nominee for Best Director for “The Fighter” in 2010.

Academy voters are creatures of habit.  If something works for them once, it often works again.  Why do you think so-called “Oscar bait” was born?  Once the studios figured out their tastes, they play right into their wheelhouse time after time.  “Silver Linings Playbook” is very similar to “The Fighter” in terms of tone and emotional payoff.  The only real difference this year is that he has directed a comedy as opposed to a drama.  (Although there is little funnier than Charlene beating up Micky’s white-trash sisters.)

So it looks like I’ll be predicting a more conservative, sure-fire Best Picture nominees slate here.  I know it’s at odds with the whole notion that the season is one of the most unpredictable ever.  But I’ve watched for the signs (to quote “Silver Linings Playbook”) and don’t get the sense that anything radically wacky is going to happen in Best Director.





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Pre-Season Predictions, Part 1

27 11 2012

Best Picture

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

To quote “Les Miserables” itself, the time is now, the day is here.  Tom Hooper’s film has finally been revealed to critics and awards voters – and all reports indicate they are eating it up.  Shrewdly opening on Christmas Day, it will be an audience favorite undoubtedly as it opens wallets and tear ducts across the nation (and world).

It has its own merits, but this is the kind of movie that the Oscars eat up and nominate for EVERYTHING.  If we must call it so, let’s call it what it is: Oscar bait.  The nomination count should easily extend into double digits; the question before us now appears just how many nods it will rack up.

Tying the record of 14 is feasible, and even scoring 15 or 16 doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable at the moment.  With the exception of Best Original Score, pretty much every technical category is in play for “Les Miserables.”  And with weak years in the Supporting fields, it could easily score multiple nods in one or both.

But take a look at the record.  Both movies with 14 nominations won Best Picture.  5 out of the 9 films nominated for 13 Oscars won Best Picture, and 9 of the 15 films nominated for 12 Oscars won Best Picture.  I don’t think there’s any denying it though – “Les Miserables” will be the most nominated film of 2012.  And that will make it very tough to beat.

Of the other likely nominees, only “Lincoln” really stands a chance of getting 10 or more (perhaps “The Master” if it comes back roaring).  Everything seems to be going right for it at the moment.  The box office is great, the reviews are great, the press is great, and the timing could not be more perfect.  Spielberg struck a gold mine here.

This isn’t “Munich” and it isn’t “War Horse” where the Academy just defaulted to rewarding a Spielberg film with a Best Picture nomination out of an almost Pavlovian habit.  It’s got the support and the public conversation going for it in way not unlike “Schindler’s List” or “Saving Private Ryan.”  We can talk all we want about how timely “Argo” was, but it did not nearly enter the drinking water in a way that this film is.

More importantly, it is currently setting up an important dialectic should it be the main opponent for “Les Miserables:” the head and the heart.  “Les Miserables” is a movie of passion, one that makes you feel and weep.  Though I’d argue that it’s also quite brainy, “Lincoln” is the smarter movie in the more traditional, Oscar sense.  It boasts a thoughtful, well-wrought script by Tony Kushner and a rather controlled direction by Spielberg.

When this battle waged in 2010, Tom Hooper and “The King’s Speech” emerged victorious over David Fincher and “The Social Network.”  Since that was only two years ago, voters surely remember.  Will they fall face-first into another weepy, sentimental film from the same guy – or think twice and reward a living master.  These are the questions that keep me tossing and turning at night!

The past weekend also brought us “Zero Dark Thirty,” whose ambition and scope seem to make it a likely nominee at this point given the weak year and its impressive pedigree.  Reteaming director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, both winners for “The Hurt Locker,” seems to be a recipe for success and recognition.  But its length and apparently rigid procedural aspects should hold the passionate voters at bay and make a Best Picture nomination the win for the film.

We’re arriving at a point where the race is becoming more or less set in terms of nominees.  We know “Argo” and “Silver Linings Playbook” are almost assuredly going to make the cut.  However, unless they regain some steam from the precursor season, they probably won’t pose much of a serious threat for the win.

A lot of pundits have clumped “Life of Pi” with the two aforementioned movies.  While I don’t doubt the preponderance of critical and industry support for Ang Lee’s ambitious 3D film, the film seems to lack true and vocal champions.  Maybe the box office will continue to improve and the audience will override the lack of passion I’m sensing from the people who really matter in the Oscar season.  I’m placing it at the bottom of my list of predicted nominees for now, holding out for some reinforcement from the establishment.

And while a lot of people give the Academy flak for being too commercial and predictable, there are still plenty among their ranks who want film to be artistic and innovative.  These people got “The Tree of Life” a Best Picture nomination in 2011, and I suspect they’ll turn out in force for “The Master” this year.

Unless it just gets absolutely shafted the entire season, I’ll continue to predict Paul Thomas Anderson’s ambitious film until the nominations are revealed.  (They could go for “Amour,” as many are predicting, but I don’t buy it.  Too austere and too foreign.)

That gritty, spunky Sundance/festivals quotient (“Winter’s Bone,” “Precious“) is due to be filled again after taking a one-year hiatus.  I think the critics will bring “Beasts of the Southern Wild” back into consciousness and contention in a big way, doing their bit of good in 2012.  It has to cope with ineligibility for guild awards, but Benh Zeitlin’s film has the power to get in – it just has to be remembered.  (“Moonrise Kingdom” could also score a nomination, perhaps at the expense of “Beasts,” if it regains some heat in the early days of the season.)

For all those wondering where “Django Unchained” falls on my list, I refer you to this tweet by Kris Tapley: “Two weeks ago Django was three hours and 12 minutes long. They’ve experimented with it since, re-ordering scenes, etc. Down to the wire.” Yeah, it’s bound to disappoint.

Best Director

  1. Tom Hooper, “Les Miserables”
  2. Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
  3. Ben Affleck, “Argo”
  4. David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
  5. Paul Thomas Anderson, “The Master”

Picture and Director nearly always go together, so it seems illogical for me to predict anyone other than Tom Hooper out front.  If Spielberg, Affleck, or (fingers crossed) Anderson start generating serious heat, I’ll reconsider.  But I’ve learned better than to opt for a split.

But I’ve learned better than to opt for a split. The Academy also doesn’t seem bothered by picking novices over experienced directors well-regarded throughout the industry.  They like what they like, and whoever delivers them the best movie is going to win Best Director.  Truffaut would be smiling if he were still with us because his auteur theory is etched in stone in AMPAS mentality.

2012 is going to be a year where voters are asked to deliberate if someone deserves to go down in history with a third victory.  We know they love Spielberg since he already has two trophies, and 5% of the Academy thought “War Horse” was the best movie of 2011 since it was nominated for Best Picture.

But does he deserve to join the ranks of William Wyler and Frank Capra as the third director to win three Oscars? His films are totally in their wheelhouse, so it could happen.  His next movie is “Robopocalypse,” so Academy voters may feel they are running out of chances to crown him King of Hollywood once again.  The “Lincoln” PR has been absurd in feting Spielberg, from the cover of Time to an address at Gettysburg.  He’s definitely formidable to win again.

I still wouldn’t count out Ben Affleck to win, especially if “Argo” holds on and starts winning big.  But if it’s “Les Miserables” and not Hooper, I think the Academy votes Spielberg over Affleck.

I doubted David O. Russell’s ability to muscle into the Best Director category in 2010.  Won’t be making that mistake in 2012.  Clearly his abrasiveness has not phased Oscar voters, and if “Silver Linings Playbook” is a big hit with them, he’s a shoo-in nominee.  Think “Juno” scoring a nod for Jason Reitman.

And I hold that the contingent that got Terrence Malick a nomination last year will give Paul Thomas Anderson a second Best Director nomination.  Because believe it or not, there are some people in the Academy who care about supporting the advancement of film.  It’s not as sizable as the contingent that cried at “The King’s Speech,” but it’s big enough to make this happen.





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 »





Know Your Nominees: “The King’s Speech”

10 02 2011

The Oscars are a great cultural conversation for all to participate in, but it’s all too easy to only have surface knowledge of the nominees.  It’s all too easy to know “Black Swan” as the ballet movie, “The Fighter” as the boxing movie, and “The Social Network” as the Facebook movie.  But don’t you want to know more and stun your friends with your knowledge of the movies in the weeks leading up to the awards and ultimately during the broadcast itself?

That’s what my KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series hopes to do.  Every three days, I’ll feature ten interesting facts about the ten Best Picture nominees of 2010 that would be fascinating to pepper into any conversation.  My hope is that you will come away with an enhanced appreciation of the movies but also enjoy learning strange and interesting things about them.

So, as we proceed in alphabetical order, our next stop on the tour is “The King’s Speech.”

“The King’s Speech” should feel like a very personal movie for a number of reasons, but probably chief among them is screenwriter David Seidler.  As a boy growing up in England in the 1930s and ’40s, Seidler was a stammerer and idolized King George VI for his ability to overcome his problem.  He had to wait many years to secure the rights to write a movie about his hero, mainly due to being asked personally by the Queen Mother (played by Helena Bonham Carter in the film) to pass away.  Seidler then wrote it as a play, which director Tom Hooper saw and decided to make into a movie.

The director then added his own personal touch to the movie as well.  Hooper stated in an interview that “The King’s Speech” is really a movie about his family.  For example, the opening scene of the movie showing the preparations for the radio broadcast is an homage to his sister, a presenter for Radio 4.  But mainly the connection comes from the relationship between the British Bertie and Australian Logue as Hooper has an Australian mother and an English father. He talked greatly in interviews about the interesting relationship between the two countries and how he conveyed it in the movie.

Lionel Logue, King George’s speech therapist played in the movie by Geoffrey Rush, kept a detailed set of diaries chronicling his work (although they don’t start until the coronation of the king).  However, the diaries were not made available to the filmmakers until nine weeks before the shoot.  Hooper has said that the only changes they made were for the sake of accuracy, and nothing was drastically altered.  He also stated in an interview that some of the best lines in the movie were taken directly from the diary.  For example, after the climactic speech, Logue jokingly says, “You still stammered on the w,” to which King George replies, “Well, I had to throw in a few so they knew that it was me.”

Colin Firth looks like a sure-fire winner for Best Actor, but this easily could have been someone else.  Firth was actually the third choice to play King George VI and only received the role after first Paul Bettany and then Hugh Grant passed.  Neither have Oscars at home on their mantle, so I’m pretty sure that both are regretting this decision.

So how did Firth nail down that stammer, which he executes so immaculately in “The King’s Speech?”  What might be surprising is that Firth did not work with a speech therapist.  He did, however, use a dialogue coach who helped him make the stammer come from a very personal place while also not affecting the pacing of the movie (imagine how dreadful the movie would be if it took him 20 minutes to utter each word).  A speech therapist did come to some of the rehearsals for the movie, and Firth’s sister is also a vocal therapist, which he claims was very helpful for consulting purposes.  He also talked a lot with screenwriter David Seidler, who compared stuttering to being “underwater.”

Does stammering come with side effects?  For Colin Firth, it did.  During the shoot, he claims to have suffered from some headaches and neck tension.  But the more debilitating toll was on his arm, which became numb, went to sleep and thus hard to use.  He went to the set doctor who had little to offer due to the lack of precedent.

Helena Bonham Carter received her second Academy Award nomination for her work in “The King’s Speech,” but just as the case was with many of this year’s nominees, she almost missed the chance.  Due to her commitment on the “Harry Potter” movies, Carter turned down the role numerous times despite director Tom Hooper’s insistence.  Yet she did star in “The King’s Speech” by making what she calls an “illegal” maneuver – shooting BOTH at the same time.  Carter would go off on the weekends and shoot her scenes for Tom Hooper while never being truly “released” from the “Harry Potter” sets.

How do you get a good actor – an Academy Award winning actor, for that matter – to play a convincing mediocre actor?  Tom Hooper got Geoffrey Rush to do some unconvincing Shakespeare by shooting the scene on the first day with English actors in the room who knew that Rush had some experience with Shakespeare. To quote Rush, “I was nervous and I was bad, and he just shot it.”

What of the royal reaction to the film? Queen Elizabeth II, George’s daughter portrayed in the movie as a young girl, gave “The King’s Speech” her seal of approval.  Cynics might ask how much Harvey Weinstein paid for it; others are probably just thrilled to see the royal family showing interest in popular culture.

Cynics might also say that “The King’s Speech” is a stuffy British royal family costume drama that’s totally designed to win over the Academy.  The last part seems to be somewhat true, but it’s hardly stuffy like most other movies about royal life.  Director Tom Hooper is largely responsible for that.  He stated in an interview that he purposefully set up the opening and closing shots of Bertie/George VI so that the movie would stand apart from others in the genre.  We first meet Bertie in normal clothes, not looking all snazzy in his royal get-up.  The movie closes reaffirming King George and Lionel Logue’s friendship, not with him cured of his stammer as if by magic or medicine.

Check back on February 13 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “127 Hours.”





Random Factoid #547

26 01 2011

I’m generally against watching recut movies; this includes all those DVD gimmicks like unrated versions and director’s cuts.  If what we are seeing in the theaters isn’t the best thing the director can put forward, why bother releasing a movie at all?  I firmly believe that artistic integrity dictates that the original theatrical version of a movie represents a movie in its most pure and true form.  (See more in one of my earliest factoids, Random Factoid #11.)

But Company Town wrote yesterday in a very buzzed-about piece that Harvey Weinstein has spoken to Oscar-nominated director Tom Hooper about recutting his Best Picture-nominated “The King’s Speech” to be PG-13 or potentially even PG by cutting some of the movie’s language (which comes mostly in one scene that’s a comedic riot).  Weinstein unsuccessfully tried to appeal this rating to the MPAA earlier, saying that the profanity isn’t offensive to anyone.  It’s a common sense argument, and I think the movie has PG-13 subject matter.  But no matter how tame the context, you just can’t drop the F-bomb that many times in a movie that anyone can see unsupervised.

This move is forcing me, at least for the moment, to reconsider my policy on recut movies.  Removing the profanity would make the movie more accessible to audiences, although I’m not quite sure how many teenagers would consciously choose to see a movie about a stuttering king over the latest half-baked mindless horror flick like “The Rite.”  Trust me, I was a middle schooler not too long ago – movies are a social experience, not a time to absorb quality cinema or to think.  And smaller kids – well, I just don’t think it would be of that much interest to them.

According to the article, the recut version would not even be ready until AFTER the Oscars.  I think that makes it kind of pointless as this whole marketing move is centered around getting attention for the Oscars or making money off the Oscars attention.  Since that aspect is out of the picture, I think Harvey should just leave “The King’s Speech” alone and let parents decide for their selves whether or not to let their children under the age of 17 see it.  Most will probably be mature enough to say, “Oh, it’s only R because of some harmless profanity they hear every day in the hallways at school.”