Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Closer Look at The Envelope

Is it just me or is The Envelope becoming more and more about fluff pieces than real awards season insight? They used to be my very favorite awards site from back their Goldderby days, but I'm starting to question the relevancy of some of their latest output.

Yesterday there was this piece about why Oscar voters love actors who play real life characters. Doesn't this come up every Oscar season? And then Tom O'Neill writes this kicker:
So why is it that, when it comes to declaring the best films of a given year at the Oscars, they frequently pooh-pooh their most successful work in favor of little movies about an Australian pianist ("Shine") or a prostitute-turned-serial killer ("Monster")?

Um...because their most successful work is usually crap. Could you imagine this year's most successful film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest up for Best Picture? The Oscars are supposed to be about honoring daring and original work - the best. And that is usually found in the realm of the independents.

Then today they post an article projecting winners in all the major categories. Winners? The nominations haven't been announced yet. The nomination ballots haven't even been mailed. What gives? Is there nothing else to write about? Sure there are frontrunners to be nominated, but how can we be talking about winners already? Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. The season is still young, the critics groups haven't even started their year end awards yet, and the Globes haven't chimed in yet (although Ryan Gosling of Half Nelson has gotten a nice boost this week with the Independent Spirit Award nominations and its victory at the Gotham Awards).

There is so much to be taken into account that hasn't happened yet. The nominations aren't until January. A lot can happen during that time (and as history has proven, it usually does).

A word to The Envelope - I have a lot of respect for you folks. Just please keep giving us meaningful, insightful awards buzz and commentary instead of fluff pieces like this. For those hungry for real meaty articles, we're having to look elsewhere. We can get Hollywood junk food anywhere...so please trim the fat.

Gotham Award Winners

BEST FEATURE - Half Nelson
BREAKTHROUGH DIRECTOR - Ryan Fleck, Half Nelson
BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR - Rinko Kikutchi, Babel/Shareeka Epps, Half Nelson
BEST ENSEMBLE CAST - Babel
BEST DOCUMENTARY - Iraq in Fragments
BEST FILM NOT PLAYING AT A THEATER NEAR YOU - Choking Man

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Rocket Science" = "Thumbsucker?"

From the MCN press release of the 2007 Sundance lineup:

Rocket Science (Director and Screenwriter: Jeffrey Blitz)—A 15-year-old boy from New Jersey with a stuttering problem falls in love with the star of the debate team and finds himself suddenly immersed in the ultra-competitive world of debating. World Premiere.
Is it just me or does that sound just like last year's overlooked little gem Thumbsucker? You just replace stuttering with thumbsucking and BOOM you have Thumbsucker.

Sundance Announces its 2007 Lineup

DRAMATIC COMPETITION:

Adrift In Manhattan (Director: Alfredo de Villa; Screenwriters: Nat Moss, Alfredo de Villa)—Set in New York City, a grieving eye doctor is forced to take a closer look at her life; an aging artist confronts the loss of his eyesight, and a young photographer battles his innermost demons. World Premiere.

Broken English (Director and Screenwriter: Zoe Cassavetes)—A young woman in her thirties finds herself surrounded by friends who are married, in relationships or with children. She unexpectedly meets a quirky Frenchman who opens her eyes to a lot more than love. World Premiere.

Four Sheets To The Wind (Director and Screenwriter: Sterlin Harjo)—Cufe Smallhill finds his father dead. Fulfilling a dying wish, he disposes of the body in the family pond and sets off to begin a new life in the big city of Tulsa . World Premiere.

The Good Life (Director and Screenwriter: Steve Berra)—A story about a “mostly normal” young man whose small town existence running a faded movie palace is shaken when he comes in contact with a mysterious young woman. World Premiere.

Grace Is Gone (Director and Screenwriter: James C. Strouse)—A young father learns that his wife has been killed in Iraq and must find the courage to tell his two young daughters the news. World Premiere.

Joshua (Director: George Ratliff; Screenwriters: David Gilbert, George Ratliff)—A successful, young Manhattan family is torn apart by the machinations of Joshua, their eight-year-old prodigy, when his newborn baby sister comes home from the hospital. World Premiere.

Never Forever (Director and Screenwriter: Gina Kim)—When an American woman and her Asian-American husband discover they are unable to conceive, she begins a clandestine relationship with an attractive stranger in a desperate attempt to save her marriage. World Premiere.

On the Road With Judas (Director and Screenwriter: JJ Lask)—Reality, fiction and the notions of storytelling intertwine in this narrative about a young thief and the woman he loves. World Premiere.

Padre Nuestro (Director and Screenwriter: Christopher Zalla)—Fleeing a criminal past, Juan hops a truck transporting illegal immigrants from Mexico to New York City, where he meets Pedro, who is seeking his rich father. World Premiere.

The Pool (Director: Chris Smith; Screenwriters: Chris Smith, Randy Russell)—A boy working in a hotel becomes obsessed with a swimming pool at a home in the opulent hills of Panjim, Goa in India . His life gets turned upside-down when he attempts to meet the mysterious family that arrives at the house. World Premiere.

Rocket Science (Director and Screenwriter: Jeffrey Blitz)—A 15-year-old boy from New Jersey with a stuttering problem falls in love with the star of the debate team and finds himself suddenly immersed in the ultra-competitive world of debating. World Premiere.

Snow Angels (Director: David Gordon Green; Screenwriter: Stewart O'Nan)—A drama that interweaves the life of a teenager with his former baby-sitter, her estranged husband, and their daughter. World Premiere.

Starting Out In The Evening (Director: Andrew Wagner; Screenwriters: Andrew Wagner, Fred Parnes)—The solitary life of a writer is shaken when a smart, ambitious graduate student convinces him that her thesis will bring him back into the literary spotlight. World Premiere.

Teeth (Director and Screenwriter: Mitchell Lichtenstein)—Still a stranger to her own body, a high school student discovers she has a “physical advantage” when she becomes the object of male violence. World Premiere.

THE UNTITLED DAKOTA FANNING PROJECT (Director and Screenwriter: Deborah Kampmeier)—Set in late 1950s Alabama , a precocious, troubled girl finds her angel in the Blues. World Premiere.

Weapons (Director and Screenwriter: Adam Bhala Lough)—WEAPONS presents a series of brutal, seemingly random youth-related killings over the course of a weekend in a typical working class American suburb, and tragically reveals how they are all interrelated. World Premiere.


DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION:
BANISHED (Director: Marco Williams)—This story of three U.S. towns which, in the early 20th century, forced their entire African American populations to leave, explores what—if anything—can be done to repair past racial injustice. World Premiere.

CHASING GHOSTS (Director: Lincoln Ruchti)—Twin Galaxies Arcade, Iowa, 1982: the birthplace of mankind's obsession with video games. The fate of this world lies in the hands (literally) of a few unlikely heroes: They are the Original Video Game World Champions and the arcade is their battleground. World Premiere.

CRAZY LOVE (Director: Dan Klores)—An unsettling true story about an obsessive relationship between a married man and a beautiful, single 20-year-old woman, which began in 1957 and continues today. World Premiere.

EVERYTHING’S COOL (Directors: Judith Helfand, Daniel B. Gold)—A group of self-appointed global warming messengers are on a high stakes quest to find the iconic image, proper language, and points of leverage to help the public go from embracing the urgency of the problem to creating the political will necessary to move to an alternative energy economy. World Premiere.

FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO (Director: Daniel Karslake)—Grounded by the stories of five conservative Christian families, the film explores how the religious right has used its interpretation of the Bible to support its agenda of stigmatizing the gay community and eroding the separation between church and state. World Premiere.

GHOSTS OF ABU GHRAIB (Director: Rory Kennedy)—This inside look at the abuses that occurred at the infamous Iraqi prison in the fall of 2003 uses direct, personal narratives of perpetrators, witnesses, and victims to probe the effects of the abuses on all involved. World Premiere.

GIRL 27 (Director: David Stenn)—When underage dancer Patricia Douglas is raped at a wild MGM stag party in 1937, she makes headlines and legal history, and then disappears. GIRL 27 follows author-screenwriter David Stenn as he investigates one of Hollywood 's most notorious scandals. World Premiere.

HEAR AND NOW (Director: Irene Taylor Brodsky)—Filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky tells a deeply personal story about her deaf parents, and their radical decision—after 65 years of silence—to undergo cochlear implant surgery, a complex procedure that could give them the ability to hear. World Premiere.

MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET) (Director: Jason Kohn)—In Brazil, known as one of the world's most corrupt and violent countries, MANDA BALA follows a politician who uses a frog farm to steal billions of dollars, a wealthy businessman who spends a small fortune bulletproofing his cars, and a plastic surgeon who reconstructs the ears of mutilated kidnapping victims. World Premiere.

MY KID COULD PAINT THAT (Director: Amir Bar-Lev)—A 4-year-old girl whose paintings are compared to Kandinsky, Pollock and even Picasso, has sold $300,000 dollars worth of paintings. Is she a genius of abstract expressionism, a tiny charlatan, or an exploited child whose parents have sold her out for the glare of the media and the lure of the almighty dollar? World Premiere.

NANKING (Director: Bill Guttentag, Dan Sturman)—A powerful and haunting depiction of the atrocities suffered by the Chinese at the hands of the invading Japanese army during “The Rape of Nanking”, one of the most tragic events of WWII. While more than 200,000 Chinese were murdered and ten of thousands raped, a handful of Westerners performed extraordinary acts of heroism, saving over 250,000 lives in the midst of the horror. World Premiere.

NO END IN SIGHT (Director: Charles Ferguson)—A comprehensive examination of the Bush Administration’s conduct of the Iraq war and occupation. Featuring first-time interviews with key participants, the film creates a startlingly clear reconstruction of key decisions that led to the current state of affairs in this war-torn country. World Premiere.

PROTAGONIST (Director: Jessica Yu)—PROTAGONIST explores the organic relationship between human life and Euripidean dramatic structure by weaving together the stories of four men—a German terrorist, a bank robber, an "ex-gay" evangelist, and a martial arts student. World Premiere.

CHASING GHOSTS (Director: Lincoln Ruchti)—Twin Galaxies Arcade, Iowa, 1982: the birthplace of mankind's obsession with video games. The fate of this world lies in the hands (literally) of a few unlikely heroes: They are the Original Video Game World Champions and the arcade is their battleground. World Premiere.

WAR DANCE (Director: Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine)—Devastated by the long civil war in Uganda, three young girls and their school in the Patongo refugee camp find hope as they make a historic journey to compete in their country’s national music and dance festival. World Premiere.

WHITE LIGHT/BLACK RAIN: THE DESTRUCTION OF HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI (Director: Steven Okazaki)—WHITE LIGHT/BLACK RAIN offers a visceral, topical and moving portrait of the human cost of atomic warfare. World Premiere.

ZOO (Director: Robinson Devor)—A humanizing look at the life and bizarre death of a seemingly normal Seattle family man who met his untimely end after an unusual encounter with a horse. World Premiere.

WORLD CINEMA - DRAMATIC COMPETITION:

BLAME IT ON FIDEL (LA FAUTE A FIDEL) / France (Director and Screenwriter: Julie Gavras)—A 9- year-old girl weathers big changes in her household as her parents become radical political activists in 1970-71 Paris. North American Premiere.

DRAINED (O CHEIRO DO RALO) / Brazil (Director: Heitor Dhalia; Screenwriters: Marçal Aquino, Heitor Dhalia)—A pawn shop proprietor buys used goods from desperate locals—as much to play perverse power games as for his own livelihood, but when the perfect rump and a backed-up toilet enter his life, he loses all control. North American Premiere.

DRIVING WITH MY WIFE’S LOVER (ANE-EUI AEIN-EUL MANNADA) / South Korea (Director: Kim Tai-sik; Screenwriters: Kim Jeon-han, Kim Tai-sik)—When a mild-mannered South Korean man decides to track down the cab driver having an affair with his wife, a strange bond develops between the pair during a long-distance drive. North American Premiere.

EAGLE VS. SHARK / New Zealand (Director and Screenwriter: Taika Waititi)—The tale of two socially awkward misfits and the strange ways they try to find love. World Premiere.

EZRA / France (Director: Newton I. Aduaka; Screenwriters: Newton I. Aduaka, Alain-Michel Blanc)—A young ex-child soldier in Sierra Leone attempts to return to a normal life after the civil war which devastated his country. World Premiere.

GHOSTS / UK (Director: Nick Broomfield; Screenwriters: Nick Broomfield, Jez Lewis)—Based on a true story, GHOSTS is the tragic account of an illegal Chinese immigrant woman as she struggles relentlessly for a better life in the U.K. North American Premiere.

HOW IS YOUR FISH TODAY? (JIN TIAN DE YU ZEN ME YANG?) / UK (Director: Xiaolu Guo; Screenwriter: Rao Hui, Xiaolu Guo)—Blurring boundaries between reality and fiction, HOW IS YOUR FISH TODAY? traces a Chinese writer's inner journey through his fictional characters. North American Premiere.

HOW SHE MOVE / Canada (Director: Ian Iqbal Rashid; Screenwriter: Annmarie Morais)—Following her sister’s death from drug addiction, a high school student is forced to leave her private school to return to her old, crime-filled neighborhood where she re-kindles an unlikely passion for the competitive world of “Step” dancing. World Premiere.

THE ISLAND (OSTROV) / Russia (Director: Pavel Lounguine; Screenwriter: Dmitri Sobolev)—Somewhere in Northern Russia in a small Russian Orthodox monastery lives an unusual man whose bizarre conduct confuses his fellow monks, while others who visit the island believe that the man has the power to heal, exorcise demons and foretell the future. U.S. Premiere.

KHADAK / Belgium/Germany (Directors and Screenwriters: Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth)—Set in the frozen steppes of Mongolia, KHADAK tells the epic story of Bagi, a young nomad confronted with his destiny after animals fall victim to a plague which threatens to eradicate nomadism. U.S. Premiere.

THE LEGACY / Georgia/France (Directors and Screenwriters: Géla Babluani, Temur Babluani)—Three French hipsters and their translator travel through rural Georgia to claim a remote, ruined castle that one of them has inherited. En route, they encounter an old man and his grandchild who are on a journey to carry out a mysterious, morbid ritual designed to end a conflict between warring clans. North American Premiere.

THE NIGHT BUFFALO (EL BUFALO DE LA NOCHE) / Mexico (Director: Jorge Hernandez Aldana; Screenwriters: Jorge Hernandez Aldana, Guillermo Arriaga,)—A 22-year-old schizophrenic commits suicide after his girlfriend cheats on him with his best friend. Before killing himself, he lays out a plan that will drive the lovers into an abyss of madness. World Premiere.

NOISE / Australia (Director and Screenwriter: Matthew Saville)—A young cop, beset with doubt and afflicted with tinnitus (ear-ringing), is pitched into the chaos that follows a mass murder on a suburban train. He struggles to clear the screaming in his head while the surrounding community deals with the after effects of the terrible crime. World Premiere.

ONCE / Ireland (Director and Screenwriter: John Carney)—ONCE is a modern-day musical set on the streets of Dublin . Featuring Glen Hansard and his Irish band “The Frames”, ONCE tells the story of a busker and an immigrant during an eventful week as they write, rehearse and record songs that reveal their unique love story. North American Premiere.

REVES DE POUSSIERE / Burkina Faso/Canada/France (Director and Screenwriter: Laurent Salgues)—A Nigerian peasant comes looking for work in Essakane, a dusty gold mine in Northeast Burkina Faso, where he hopes to forget the past that haunts him. North American Premiere.

SWEET MUD (ADAMA MESHUGAAT) / Israel (Director and Screenwriter: Dror Shaul)—On a kibbutz in southern Israel in the 1970's, Dvir Avni realizes that his mother is mentally ill. In this closed community, bound by rigid rules, Dvir must navigate between the kibbutz motto of equality and the stinging reality that his mother has, in effect, been abandoned by the community. U.S. Premiere.


WORLD CINEMA - DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION:

ACIDENTE / Brazil (Director: Cao Guimarães and Pablo Lobato)—Experimental in form, this lush cinematic poem weaves together stories and images from twenty different cities in the state of Menas Gerais, Brazil, to reveal the fundamental role the accidental and the unpredictable play in everyday human life. North American Premiere.

BAJO JUAREZ, THE CITY DEVOURING ITS DAUGHTERS / Mexico (Director: Alejandra Sanchez)—In an industrial town in Mexico near the US border, hundreds of women have been sexually abused and murdered. As the body count continues to rise, a web of corruption unfolds that reaches the highest levels of Mexican society. U.S. Premiere.

COCALERO / Bolivia (Director: Alejandro Landes)—Set against the backdrop of the Bolivian government’s attempted eradication of the coca crop and oppression of the indigenous groups that cultivate it and the American war on drugs, an Aymara Indian named Evo Morales travels through the Andes and the Amazon in jeans and sneakers, leading a historic campaign to become the first indigenous president of Bolivia. World Premiere.

COMRADES IN DREAMS / Germany (Director: Uli Gaulke)—From the far ends of the globe, four lives that could not be more different are united by a single passion—their unconditional love of cinema and their quest to bring the magic of the silver screen to everyday lives to those who need it most. North American Premiere.

CROSSING THE LINE / UK (Director: Daniel Gordon)—CROSSING THE LINE reveals the clandestine life of Joseph Dresnok who, at the height of the Cold War was one of the few Americans who defected to North Korea, one of the least understood countries in the world. North American Premiere.

ENEMIES OF HAPPINESS (VORES LYKKES FJENDER) / Denmark (Director: Eva Mulvad and Anja Al Erhayem )—Malalai Joya, a 28-year-old Afghani woman, redefines the role of women and elected officials in her county with her historic 2005 victory in Afghanistan’s first democratic parliamentary election in over 30 years. North American Premiere.

THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN / Ireland/UK ( Director: Julien Temple)—An invitation from Joe Strummer, the Punk Rock Warlord himself, to journey beyond the myth to the heart and voice of a generation. His life, our times, his music. World Premiere.

HOT HOUSE/ Israel (Director: Shimon Dotan)—At once chilling and humanizing, HOT HOUSE provides an unprecedented look at how Israeli prisons have become the breeding ground for the next generation of Palestinian leaders as well as the birth place of future terrorist threats. North American Premiere.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON / UK (Director: David Sington)—One of the defining passages of American history, the Apollo Space Program literally brought the aspirations of a nation to another world. Awe-inspiring footage and candid interviews with the astronauts who visited the moon provide an unparalleled perspective on the precious state of our planet. World Premiere.

MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES / Canada (Director: Jennifer Baichwal)—This stunningly visual work provides the unique perspective of photographer Edward Burtynsky, who chronicles the transforming landscape of the world due to industrial work and manufacturing. U.S. Premiere.

THE MONASTERY: MR. VIG AND THE NUN / Denmark ( Director: Pernille Rose Grønkjær)— Worlds collide, tempers flare and dreams are realized when Mr. Vig, an 82-year-old virgin from Denmark and Sister Ambrosija, a headstrong Russian nun, join forces to transform Mr. Vig’s run-down castle into an Orthodox Russian monastery. North American Premiere.

ON A TIGHTROPE / Norway, Canada (Director: Petr Lom)—The daily lives of four children living in an orphanage who are learning the ancient art of tightrope walking becomes a metaphor for the struggle of the Uighur’s, China’s largest Muslim minority, who are torn between religion and the teachings of communism. North American Premiere.

THREE COMRADES (DRIE KAMERADEN) / Netherlands (Director: Masha Novikova)—In this intimate film we witness the lives of three lifelong friends who’s worlds are torn apart by war in Chechnya’s bloody struggle for independence. North American Premiere.

A VERY BRITISH GANGSTER / UK (Director: Donal MacIntyre)—Given his many contradictions, Dominic Noonan, head of one of Britain’s biggest crime families, is a man who defies stereotypes. This close up look at his life, from gun trials to the murder of his brother on the streets of Manchester , reveals a community struggling with poverty, violence and drugs. World Premiere.

VHS—KAHLOUCHA/ Tunisia (Director: Nejib Belkadhi)—In a poor district of Tunisia, self-made auteur, Moncef Kahloucha, a guerilla filmmaker in the purest sense, demonstrates that it takes a village to make fun movies as he brings the power of cinema to the people. North American Premiere.

WELCOME EUROPA / France (Director: Bruno Ulmer)—Kurdish, Moroccan and Romanian young men migrate to Europe for a better life only to face the harsh realities and the laws of survival on the streets of a foreign land. North American Premiere.

Read the full press release at Movie City News.

Why "Flags" is Still in the Oscar Race

Very few pundits out there agree with me right now (except for Sasha Stone and Anne Thompson), but Flags of Our Fathers is still very much in the Best Picture race.

Kristopher Tapley at In Contention says:

“Flags of Our Fathers” really is down and out. It has been forgotten into oblivion, despite pretty FYC ads in the trades – a too little too late effort from Paramount marketing. The film also has the whiff of financial failure on it. On top of it all, the release of Eastwood’s sister film has been considered a move to revive hope in that structurally distressed endeavor. No film that needs the help of another studio’s release has the strength to survive something as vicious as an Oscar season.
I'm going to have to disagree with that on pretty much all fronts for three reasons. A) Clint Eastwood. B) it's about World War II. And C) it's a damn good movie. A great one even. All this tounge-wagging about how it hasn't done well at the box office is meaningless. Since when does the Academy honor the box-office winners? The grosses of the nominees from the past few years have been very low compared to other years (although for the types of movies they were, the grosses were pretty good). And let's not forget that The Shawshank Redemption was a box office bomb before it was nominated for Best Picture back in 1994. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was a very expensive film that did poorly at the box office...yet thanks to spectacular reviews and love for Peter Weir, it walked off with 10 nominations (and two wins - for Cinematography and Sound Editing). Last year Munich, a Steven Spielberg film of all things, didn't make that much either. Were In the Bedroom and Capote box office giants? No. But they did moderately well for their size and budget.
The thing is, the Oscars aren't awarded based on box-office grosses. And the grosses of Flags of Our Fathers are on track with his previous films Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, and they had boosts from their nominations.
Flags of Our Fathers is a movie the likes of which the Academy can't refuse. Not only is it a flat out masterpiece (from a filmmaker they worship), but it's about one of their favorite subjects - WWII. And in the latest issue of Film Comment...it has an almost across the board 5-star rating from nearly every major critic in the country.
It has history on its side. And once the critics start announcing their awards, I think we will be hearing a whole lot more about Flags.

The Envelope on the 5th Best Picture Nominee

According to The Envelope, the four definite, slam dunk Best Picture nominees are The Departed, Dreamgirls, The Queen, and Little Miss Sunshine.

Huh? Little Miss Sunshine? Really? A slam dunk? A possibility perhaps, but not a slam dunk by any means. I think Babel should be more considered in the slam dunk category than Sunshine. I love both films, but I'm just not seeing it in the head of the pack. Those first three are most definitely sure bets. And I'm still holding out that Flags of Our Fathers will be nominated. The race will get much more interesting (and prognosticating will make much more sense) once the critics groups start announcing their awards and top ten lists. I think Flags will recieve a much needed boost from them.

Sunshine could be nominated still...but to call it a slam dunk is a bit premature. It's most definitely well liked, but will that alone carry it through to the top 5?

Chicago tells "Nativity" No to Sponsoring Christmas Festival


From the Chicago Courier:

CHICAGO -- City officials sent a message to a movie studio that hoped to help sponsor a Christmas festival with advertising for its film about the night Mary and Joseph couldn't find a room at the inn: There's no room for you.

Worried that ads for The Nativity Story would offend non-Christians browsing in the traditional German Christkindlmarket in the heart of downtown, the city asked the German American Chamber of Commerce to reconsider New Line Cinema, which made the film, as a sponsor. The group then told the studio it would not be part of the bazaar that began Thursday.

The reasoning has at least one prominent Christian group, and the studio, shaking their heads. "The last time I checked the first six letters of Christmas still spell out Christ," said Paul Braoudakis, communications director of the Barrington-based Willow Creek Association, a group of more than 11,000 churches of various denominations.

"It's tantamount to celebrating Lincoln's birthday without talking about Abraham Lincoln," he said.


Click here to read the full story.

Umm...the last time I checked no one worshipped Abraham Lincoln. But still, this sounds like a bit of an overreaction on both sides. One side being slightly overprotective and the other one automatically crying Christian persecution. Sigh...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Independent Spirit Award Nominations

FEATURE (Award given to the Producer)
"American Gun," Ted Kroeber, producer
"The Dead Girl," Tom Rosenberg, Henry Winterstern, Gary Lucchesi, Richard Wright, Eric Karten, Kevin Turen, producers
"Half Nelson," Jamie Patricof, Alex Orlovsky, Lynette Howell, Anna Boden, Rosanne Korenberg, producers
"Little Miss Sunshine," Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, producers
"Pan's Labyrinth," Bertha Navarro, Alfonso Cuaron, Frida Torresblanco, Alvaro Augustin, Guillermo Del Toro, producers

FIRST FEATURE (Award given to the director and producer)
"Day Night Day Night," Julia Loktev, director; Julia Loktev, Melanie Judd, Jessica Levin, producers
"Man Push Cart," Ramin Bahrani, director; Ramin Bahrani, Pradip Ghosh, Bedford T. Bentley III, producers
"The Motel," Michael Kang, director; Matthew Greenfield, Miguel Arteta, Gina Kwon, Karin Chien, producers
"Sweet Land," Ali Selim, director; Alan Cumming, James Bigham, Ali Selim, producers
"Wristcutters: A Love Story," Goran Dukic, director; Adam Sherman, Chris Coen, Tatiana Kelly, Mikal P. Lazarev, producers

DIRECTOR
Robert Altman, "A Prairie Home Companion"
Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, "Little Miss Sunshine"
Ryan Fleck, "Half Nelson"
Karen Moncrieff, "The Dead Girl"
Steven Soderbergh, "Bubble"

MALE LEAD
Aaron Eckhart, "Thank You For Smoking"
Ryan Gosling, "Half Nelson"
Edward Norton, "The Painted Veil"
Ahmad Razvi, "Man Push Cart"
Forest Whitaker, "American Gun"

FEMALE LEAD
Shareeka Epps, "Half Nelson"
Catherine O'Hara, "For Your Consideration"
Elizabeth Reaser, "Sweet Land"
Michelle Williams, "Land of Plenty"
Robin Wright Penn, "Sorry, Haters"

SUPPORTING MALE
Alan Arkin, "Little Miss Sunshine"
Raymond J. Barry, "Steel City"
Daniel Craig, "Infamous"
Paul Dano, "Little Miss Sunshine"
Channing Tatum, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints"

SUPPORTING FEMALE
Melonie Diaz, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints"
Marcia Gay Harden, "American Gun"
Mary Beth Hurt, "The Dead Girl"
Frances McDormand, "Friends with Money"
Amber Tamblyn, "Stephanie Daley"

SCREENPLAY
Neil Burger, "The Illusionist"
Nicole Holofcener, "Friends with Money"
Ron Nyswaner, "The Painted Veil"
Jason Reitman, "Thank You For Smoking"
Jeff Stanzler, "Sorry, Haters"

FIRST SCREENPLAY
Michael Arndt, "Little Miss Sunshine"
Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, "Half Nelson"
Goran Dukic, "Wristcutters: A Love Story"
Dito Montiel, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints"
Gabrielle Zevin, "Conversations with Other Women"

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Arin Crumley, "Four Eyed Monsters"
Anthony Dod Mantle, "Brothers of the Head"
Guillermo Navarro, "Pan's Labyrinth"
Aaron Platt, "Wild Tigers I Have Known"
Michael Simmonds, "Man Push Cart"

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000; award given to the writer, director, and producer)
"Chalk," Mike Akel, director; Mike Akel, Angela Alvarez, Graham Davidson, Chris Mass, producers; Chris Mass & Mike Akel, writers
"Four Eyed Monsters," Arin Crumley & Susan Buice, writer/director/producers
"Old Joy," Kelly Reichardt, director; Lars Knudsen, Jay Van Hoy, Anish Savjani, Neil Kopp, producers; Jon Raymond & Kelly Reichardt, writers
"Quinceanera," Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland, writer/directors; Anne Clements, producer
"Twelve and Holding," Michael Cuesta, director; Leslie Urdang, Michael Cuesta, Brian Bell, Jenny Schweitzer, producers; Anthony S. Cipriano, writer

DOCUMENTARY (Award given to the director)
"A Lion in the House," Steven Bognar & Julia Reichert, directors
"My Country, My Country," Laura Poitras, director
"The Road to Guantanamo," Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, directors
"The Trials of Darryl Hunt," Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, directors
"You're Gonna Miss Me," Keven McAlester, director

FOREIGN FILM (Award given to the director)
"12:08 East of Bucharest," (Romania); Corneliu Porumboiu, director
"The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros," (Philippines); Auraeus Solito, director
"Chronicle of an Escape," (Argentina); Israel Adrian Caetano, director
"Days of Glory," (France/Morocco/Algeria/Belgium); Rachid Bouchareb, director
"The Lives of Others," (Germany); Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director

SPECIAL DISTINCTION AWARD
David Lynch, Laura Dern

Premiere Agrees with Me

Anne Thompson from Premiere magazine has made her Oscar nomination predictions...and the best picture field mirrors the predictions I made on November 16. Sacha Stone said over at Oscarwatch.com; "Thompson's choices there are very interesting, and definitely do not follow the general consensus."

Which makes me happy because A) somebody major agrees with me and B) I said it first.

And has anyone else noticed that in their Oscar frontrunner sidebar on Oscarwatch, they have Home for Purim and its lead actors Marilyn Hack and Victor Allen Miller, the fictional movie and stars from Christopher Guest's Oscar buzz satire For Your Consideration listed? It made me smile.

Anyway, here are Thompson's picks:

Best Picture Frontrunners - Babel, The Departed, Dreamgirls, Flags of Our Fathers, The Queen
Long shots: Little Children, Little Miss Sunshine, The Painted Veil, The Pursuit of Happyness, United 93, Volver, World Trade Center

Director Frontrunners: Bill Condon, Clint Eastwood, Steven Frears, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Martin Scorsese.
Long shots: Pedro Almodovar, Guillermo Del Toro, Todd Field, Paul Greengrass

Actor Frontrunners: Leo DiCaprio, Ryan Gosling, Peter O'Toole, Will Smith, Forest Whitaker
Long shots:Nicolas Cage, Matt Damon, Derek Luke

Actress Frontrunners: Annette Bening, Penelope Cruz, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet
Long shots:Judi Dench, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ashley Judd, Naomi Watts

Supporting Actor Frontrunners:Adam Beach, Jackie Earle Haley, Eddie Murphy, Jack Nicholson
Long shots:Alan Arkin, Matt Damon, Leo DiCaprio, Djimon Honsou, Michael Pena, Brad Pitt

Supporting Actress Frontrunners:Adriana Barraza, Jill Clayburgh, Jennifer Hudson, Phyllis Somerville, Emma Thompson
Long Shots:Cate Blanchett, Abigail Breslin, Toni Collette, Rinko Kikuchi, Sharon Stone

Animated Feature Frontrunners: Cars, Happy Feet, Monster House, Over the Hedge, Paprika
Long shots: Flushed Away, Ice Age: The Meltdown


I'm going to have to disagree on Judi Dench being a longshot for Notes on a Scandal. She has more of a chance than Annette Bening, whose film has not been favorably reviewed. And Phyllis Somerville for Little Children had no buzz at all before this in the Best Supporting Actress category...so to consider her a frontrunner is out of nowhere and baseless. Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin should take her place.

But those Best Picture predictions are right on the money.

Source: Oscarwatch.com

Sacha Baron Cohen Nominated for Kazakh Award

From IMDB.com:
British funnyman Sacha Baron Cohen has been nominated for a national award in Kazakhstan, despite lampooning the country in his latest movie. Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan was slammed by the central Asian state on it release earlier this year for portraying the country as ridden with superstition, incest, political suppression and religious intolerance. But Kazakh novelist Sapabek Asip-uly has called on his nation's Club of Art Patrons to give Cohen its annual award, according to a letter published by the Vremya newspaper. He says, "(Borat) has managed to spark an immense interest of the whole world in Kazakhstan - something our authorities could not do during the years of independence. If state officials completely lack a sense of humor, their country becomes a laughing stock." Earlier this week Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev added his support to the movie, insisting bumbling reporter Borat has raised Kazakhstan's profile around the world.

Wow. It's good to see some people have a sense of humor...unlike some of the humorless journalists who are now ripping the film apart stateside. Kudos to the Kazakhs.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Independent Spirit Frontrunners

The Envelope is reporting that the frontrunners to be nominated for Independent Spirit Awards (which are announced tomorrow) are: "Bobby," "Borat," "For Your Consideration," "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," "Half Nelson," "The History Boys," "Infamous," "The Last King of Scotland," "Little Children," "Little Miss Sunshine," "The Notorious Bettie Page," "The Painted Veil," "Prairie Home Companion," "Running with Scissors," "Sherrybaby," "Thank You for Smoking" and "United 93."

Bobby? Really? At the Indies? You need to be a bit more edgy and groundbreaking for them...and Bobby doesn't cut it. Little Miss Sunshine will almost definitely get nominated, as will Little Children. I would love to see John Cameron Mitchell's daring and audacious Shortbus get the attention it deserves, and the Spirit awards are the only ones that would even consider touching a hardcore, sexually explicit film like that.

Hard Candy (especially Ellen Page as Lead Actress), and CSA: The Confederate States of America should see some love too...but you never know with the Indies. The Proposition and Brick too. Most of the movies they listed either aren't good enough or are too mainstream.

I guess we'll find out in the morning.

Actual Weekend Box Office Totals

1. Happy Feet - $37,038,046
2. Casino Royale - $30,785,874
3. Deja Vu - $20,574,802
4. Deck the Halls - $12,001,256
5. Borat - $10,304,802
6. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause - $9,929,029
7. Flushed Away - $5,756,455
8. Stranger Than Fiction - $5,726,536
9. Bobby - $4,857,736
10. The Fountain - $3,768,702

Yet Another Person Who Doesn't Get the "Borat" Joke

Check out this article from The New Yorker:
Dear Ken:

Got your note, deeply honored. Being new to the company, really appreciate opportunity to outline some ideas for “Borat” DVD. As Josh mentioned, we do indeed have a wealth of footage that could be put to good use as DVD extras. In other cases, have taken liberty of suggesting some reshoots:

OPENING “VILLAGE” SECTION: How about a high-speed montage of the actual difficult, brutal lives of the villagers in Romania—the hours of debilitating toil, their oppression at the hands of their corrupt government, premature loss of teeth, death of infants, etc., etc.—culminating in a panning shot of the village on the morning of the day when they first realize they’ve been had, and that, as far as posterity goes, they will always be remembered, if remembered at all, as savages, rapists, prostitutes, etc., and they stumble out of their little sheds or whatever, looking traumatized? (Would be good if one or two could fall into depression/commit suicide as a result = confirmation of their “subhuman” status? Rich social commentary.)

ALT: The scene where the one-armed old man, many months later, weeps in his room at the memory of being tricked into wearing a sex toy on his arm. Priceless!

SOUTHERN DINING SOCIETY SECTION: Do we have footage of the woman Borat identified as unattractive being consoled in her darkened living room later that night by her husband? Particularly good if, all her life, she’s fought the feeling that she was not attractive, and only recently has come to feel pretty, owing to the steady love of her husband, who does, in fact, find her pretty, in part because of her kindness to him and others in their community—and now all those wounds have been reopened! Also, although she is crying, she tries to cry quietly, so as not to alarm the kids. Super!


Click here to read the full story.

OK, so yet another humorless, uptight journalist has taken up a vendetta against Borat. It's funny how this movie has been accused as an elitist liberal mockery of middle America, and now it's an article from The New Yorker of all places that has come out against it. These so-called liberals are now coming to the aid of middle America, acting as if they were offended conservatives with, as usual, nothing better to do.

Do they not get the joke? Obviously not. Do you really think that the woman at the Southern Society Dinner doesn't realize his referral to her as unattractive was not serious? It was meant to illicit a reaction from her husband, as a joke from an oblivious and insensitive character.

And the rodeo scene, was everyone there agreeing with Borat's outrageous "May George Walter Bush drink the blood of every man, woman, and child in Iraq line?" Probably not. But most of them were. That's beside the point though. The point of Borat is that there is still rampant racism, bigotry, and ignorance in this country. And he exposes it brilliantly. Is it a blanket condemnation? No. Is it a warning? Very much so.

Christian Pilgrimage to "Nativity" Set for Monday

From Movie City News:

CHURCHES NATIONWIDE UNITE TO HOST SPECIAL ADVANCESCREENING OF NEW LINE CINEMA’S THE NATIVITY STORY

More Than 50,000 Christians Expected To Attend Simultaneous Screenings

LOS ANGELES (Nov. 27, 2006) – On Monday, November 27th, more than 100 churches nationwide will host simultaneous advance screenings of New Line Cinema’s The Nativity Story in a unique event expected to draw more than 50,000 churchgoers eager to see the true story of Christmas. The Nativity Story, which is scheduled for a Dec. 1st release in the U.S., will open in territories worldwide throughout the month of December.

“The anticipation for the release of
The Nativity Story within the Christian community is gaining momentum, and it has allowed us to put together this unique event,” says Rolf Mittweg, New Line’s President and COO of Worldwide Distribution and Marketing. “Similar to the world premiere at the Vatican, the scope of this event speaks volumes about the way people are embracing the film.”

The Nov. 27th screenings of
The Nativity Story, which will take place in nearly every major market in the U.S., have drawn participation from a cross-section of Christian denominations, including numerous Catholic Archdioceses, Evangelical megachurches, and Mainline Protestant congregations among others.

“For 50,000 Christians to come together at the same time to screen
The Nativity Story is a testament to the extraordinary power of this film and to the timeless message it conveys,” says Paul Braoudakis, communications director for Willow Creek Church, one of the largest Protestant churches in the country and a participant in the event.

Click here to read the full story.

"Iwo Jima" Poster Released

All Hail "The Queen"

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Weekend Box Office Estimates

1. Happy Feet - $37,945,000
2. Casino Royale - $31,000,000
3. Deja Vu - $20,836,000
4. Deck the Halls - $12,000,000
5. Borat - $10,400,000
6. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause - $10,016,000
7. Stranger Than Fiction - $6,000,000
8. Flushed Away - $5,841,000
9. Bobby - $4,909,000
10. The Fountain - $3,725,000

Source: Box Office Mojo

Thanksgiving Weekend

Sorry for my long absence. Being off for Thanksgiving for me means not being around a working computer. But I got a new computer today and I'm back and kicking. Thank goodness it was a slow week for movie news.

I managed to catch Happy Feet, Stranger than Fiction, and Bobby this week. I don't generally catch the animated films right off the bat, and Stranger slipped through the net, but I loved them both. Happy Feet is the smartest animated film since Spirited Away and the most beautiful since Dinosaur. I loved it.

Stranger than Fiction is a smart, funny, touching, all around well made mainstream film. Which is a rarity nowadays. It was a pleasure to watch, and while now we know Will Ferrell can act, I think Emma Thompson deserves an Oscar nomination. She was fantastic.

Bobby didn't impress me. And with the passing of Robert Altman it made the film's rambling interlocking stories seem even more banal. No one did it like Altman.

I see For Your Consideration tomorrow. I can't wait...it will probably be one big inside joke...but those are the best when you're actually in on them. Seeing critics and bloggers and the whole Oscar campaign process getting lampooned...a system I am a part of...should be a lot of fun.

Anyway it's late...I just wanted to post a quick update so no one would think I died. I'll be back tomorrow with box office estimates for the weekend and all that other fun stuff.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Remembering Robert Altman

When I wrote the previous post, I had just learned of Altman's death, and it had not had time to sink in yet. I wrote this later on my own personal blog:

I had never cried about the death of a celebrity before today. But this one...this one was different.

Altman was one of the great directors of this or any time. He gave us M*A*S*H, Nashville, The Player, and the movie I quite possibly enjoy above all others - Gosford Park.

Altman was one of the greats, a legend in his own time. He was one of the great mavericks of the 70s, with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg. He made cinema his own, leaving his own indelible imprint with his unmistakable style of roving cameras and - most famously - overlapping dialogue.

His most recent film was A Prairie Home Companion. How fitting that a warm hearted elegy for the passage of time and saying goodbye ended up becoming his final gift to the world.

I heard about it after I got out of voice class...but it didn't hit me then. I was too shocked...and busied myself with announcing the news on the post below. It wasn't until later, when I was standing on the sidewalk waiting on the bus, that it hit me. And then the tears came.

My mind drifted back to the poignant finale of A Prairie Home Companion, and it was all I could do to keep it together.

I'm going home today for Thankgiving break. And I'm going to rent A Prairie Home Companion and show it to my family. It seems fitting somehow, to remember Altman tonight. In that movie, one character asks another, "Don't you want people to remember you?" And the character replies, "I don't want them to be told to remember me."

No one will have to be told to remember Robert Altman. His artisitic contributions to the world will last forever.

Somehow, though I never knew him personally, the world seems a bit emptier without him. Movies were never the same after him...and they never will be again.

As a character in Prairie Home Companion says, "There is no tragedy in the death of an old man. Forgive him his shortcomings, and thank him for all his love and care."

Farewell Mr. Altman. We'll never forget you, or the movies you made. There will never be another like you.

Thanks for everything.

Robert Altman Dies at 81

From Variety:
Robert Altman, the caustic and irreverent satirist behind "M-A-S-H," "Nashville" and "The Player" who made a career out of bucking Hollywood management and story conventions, died at a Los Angeles Hospital, his Sandcastle 5 Productions Company said Tuesday. He was 81.
This is truly sad news. Altman was one of the greats, a legend in his own time. In addition to the films listed above, he also directed one of my all-time favorite films, 2001's Gosford Park.

Known for his roving camera style and overlapping dialogue, Altman created a style on his own to become one of the great maverick filmmakers of the 1970s. Movies have never been the same since him, and never will be again.

His last film, this year's A Prairie Home Companion, was an elegaic tale about the task of saying goodbye - a fitting end to one of the greatest careers in film history.
In my review of that film, I said:
Much talk has been made about the film's thematic connections to real life. At 81 years old, many have speculated that this could be Altman's last film. For his last few films, he has been accompanied by a back-up director, just in case. While the themes of moving on would certainly resonate that much more if that were the case, I think we shouldn't be too quick to bury the old maverick just yet. According to Entertainment Weekly, Altman already has another film in the works set to begin shooting this September called "Hands on a Hard Body," starring Chris Rock, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton and Hilary Swank.
As it turned out, it was his final film. In that same review I also said:

"A Prairie Home Companion" is a warm, witty ode to ends, beginnings and everything in between.
And I stand by that. It's a warm farewell to a truly great man.
Goodbye, Mr. Altman. We will miss you.

The "Borat" Saga Continues...

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Fox attorneys filed a legal brief Monday slamming a request for a preliminary injunction against the hit comedy "Borat" as a "fatuous" attempt to thwart free speech, even as the studio's legal battle spread to a second front.

"Plaintiffs may claim that they were tricked 'into making fools out of themselves' and becoming 'unsuspecting players' in the movie 'Borat,' " the studio said in opposing the request. "They never contend ... that bigoted and misogynistic statements were put into their mouths.

"The studio and three production entities are being sued by a pair of University of South Carolina students whose seemingly drunken on-camera interviews were included in Sacha Baron Cohen's outlandish mockumentary about a tour of America by a faux news reporter from Kazakhstan.

A temporary restraining order against the film's continued distribution was denied Nov. 9, when the suit was first filed. A hearing has been set for Dec. 7 in the Santa Monica branch of California Superior Court on the students' subsequent request for a preliminary injunction.


Click here to read the full story.
They can't be serious. They want an injunction against the movie? They want it pulled from theaters? Are they crazy? Hello? Censorship! They just don't like it that the whole world knows that they're misogynistic racists now. AND they signed a release.

Movie City News has posted copies of the defendant's statements, the primary statement by producer Todd Schulman, and backup statements by Chelsea Barnard and Joan Hensen.

I read all three of them. And I really don't think these three frat boys have a case at all. Time will tell I guess. But no judge in their right mind is going to hand these guys a penny. Or yank Borat from theaters.

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" Trailer

It's here! Check out the new teaser trailer for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

I'm excited about this one. Book 5 is my favorite of the series. None of the others have the same depth of emotion or epic sweep that rivals Dickens in its majestic density. It's amazing, magical, and gutwrenching...J.K. Rowling's most mature work. The 6th book comes close, but this one still wins for me. Here's hoping the movie lives up to it.

Also, the new teaser poster is pretty cool too:

Monday, November 20, 2006

Actual Weekend Box Office Totals

The final numbers are in - slightly different from the studio estimates:

1. Happy Feet - $41,533,432
2. Casino Royale - $40,833,156
3. Borat - $14,602,874
4. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause - $8,302,661
5. Stranger Than Fiction - $6,605,197
6. Flushed Away - $6,596,962
7. Saw III - $2,916,062
8. Babel - $2,904,642
9. The Departed - $2,585,402
10. After Dark's Horror Fest: 8 Films to Die For - $2,310,680

Click to see the full chart.

I must say it saddened me to see that Let's Go to Prison (#11) actually ended up beating the excellent The Queen (#12), despite the fact that the initial weekend estimates gave The Queen the edge. The Queen continues to add theaters yet its grosses continue to slip, although it has done pretty well for itself so far.

And I find it flabbergasting that audiences are actually falling for this Horror Fest series. Films that were deemed too intense for theaters finally being released? Please. That's ridiculous. It's a silly marketing ploy to try to lure audiences to see films that weren't good enough to be released on their own.

Plus if they're only being released for one weekend only, why not the weekend before Halloween? That would seem more timely.

Whatever.

Anyway...all hail the penguins!

Slate Claims to Have Copy of "Borat" Release Form

Slate Magazine is claiming that it has a copy of the infamous "Borat" release form signed by the film's unwitting "stars" who have become the butt of a national joke.


Is that really it? If so, the lawsuits won't have a leg to stand on. That's a lot more obvious than what these people who are doing so much complaining about it have let on. Maybe they're just upset they didn't read it closely enough.

Click here to see a bigger version at Slate.com.

Military Refuses to Show "The Ground Truth"

The New York Daily News is reporting that the military is refusing to show the documentary The Ground Truth, which was recently shortlisted by the Academy for Oscar consideration, despite the attempts of Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Olivia Wilde to get it shown to the troops.

During one phone pitch to a Colorado base, a commanding officer told a Focus Features distribution exec that the content of the film was "inappropriate"
and would be "detrimental" to the servicemen and their families.
The distributer, Focus Features, describes the film in this summary on IMDB.com:

"The Ground Truth" stunned filmgoers at the 2006 Sundance and Nantucket Film Festivals. Hailed as "powerful" and "quietly unflinching," Patricia Foulkrod's searing documentary feature includes exclusive footage that will stir audiences. The filmmaker's subjects are patriotic young Americans - ordinary men and women who heeded the call for military service in Iraq - as they experience recruitment and training, combat, homecoming, and the struggle to reintegrate with families and communities. The terrible conflict in Iraq, depicted with ferocious honesty in the film, is a prelude for the even more challenging battles fought by the soldiers returning home - with personal demons, an uncomprehending public, and an indifferent government. As these battles take shape, each soldier becomes a new kind of hero, bearing witness and giving support to other veterans, and learning to fearlessly wield the most powerful weapon of all - the truth.

According to the NY Daily News story:

An Army spokeswoman replied: "First of all, I actually only know one place they went to, and that was West Point. … This is more of an activist piece than a documentary," she said. "If you look at 'The Ground Truth,' it has a definite point of view. We don't say, 'Don't go see it,' but we don't see why we should promote it.

"We don't get too many requests on documentaries," she said. "It's usually more things with entertainment value, people saying we'd like to do something nice for the troops - like the movie 'Sahara.'"
Oh yes, heaven forbid you show them anything that might make them think. Entertainment is fine, I'm sure the troops need it to take their mind off their troubles. But would something worthwhile once in a while be so harmful? I guess the military doesn't like anything that isn't their own pre-packaged propaganda.

I look forward to seeing the film. It sounds like a real life version of Coming Home...taking a hard look at the lives of soldiers coming home from Iraq. It's most definitely a story that needs to be told.

Click here to read the NY Daily News Article.

The Death of the Movie Star

From The Independent:

How Hollywood's power elite lost the plot
The very public transgressions of Lindsay Lohan, Tom Cruise and Mel gibsonmark the end of an era. Say goodbye to the last movie stars
By Mark Hooper

Published: 19 November 2006

It's been an extraordinary few months for Hollywood's A-list actors: embarrassing outbursts, drunken tirades and - here's the real issue - their films tanking spectacularly at the box office. Are we witnessing the last generation of true movie stars?

In a recently published biography of Jimmy Stewart, it emerged that - when he was just starting out, in the 1930s - his studio, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, deemed it necessary to scotch any rumours that the young actor might be gay. He was packed off, under the instruction of Louis B Mayer, to the private, studio-owned brothel located just off the MGM lot, with the following words ringing in his ears: "Get your ass over there and get those rocks off with at least two of those broads."

Ah, the golden age of Hollywood. When stars were stars - otherworldly and untouchable - and a selection of discreet broads were readily available to help a not-gay-anyway man to get his rocks off. It's a relief that Stewart and, most of all, Mayer are not alive today to witness the antics of the present crop of Hollywood's finest. What would they make of Tom Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah's couch screaming, "Whaaooo!" What advice would they give "teen queen" Lindsay Lohan as she is drunkenly and very publicly scraped off the sidewalk, offering indecent photo opportunities to the expectant paparazzi? And you can be sure they would have an uncompromising view on Mel Gibson, who added to this summer's A-list implosion after his drunken, anti-Semitic and sexist remarks to police officers were leaked to the press.

But also, what are we - the people who pay their wages (well, £8 every so often, anyway) - to make of it? Hollywood has always been a strange place, but increasingly it seems to be out-and-out dysfunctional.

The isolated incidents with major stars hint at a much larger truth: the business of movie-making is undergoing a major shift, one that will be felt a long way from California.

Click here to read the whole article.


I've been bemoaning the death of the movie star for ages. Now I'm not the kind of guy who goes rushing to see a movie for the actors alone (unless of course, it's Maggie Smith). I go to films to see the quality of the work on all levels, not just acting. Yes there are actors I like more than others, but they are not the sole reason I go to movies. It takes more than that for me.

Here is the essay I wrote on the subject for my Film Theory and Criticism class:

FROM MARY PICKFORD TO PARIS HILTON
The Falling “Star” Mystique


The mystique of the movie star has been with us nearly as long as the movies themselves have. From Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino to Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, the stars have always been with us.

But what exactly makes a star? When does one cease to become a mere celebrity and attain the status of ‘star?’ Where is the line drawn?

In his book Film History: Theory and Practice, Robert C. Allen explores the idea of stardom. He quotes sociologist Edgar Morin as saying that “essential to the concept of stardom…is that the stars’ private livesmust be public (Allen, p. 607).”

Allen states that there are four categories for building a star - promotion, publicity, films, and criticism/commentary (Allen, p. 609). Studios promote their chosen stars, therefore creating their persona, stars vie for publicity in ways that are meant to appear accidental or non-manufactured, the films create a certain “type” for the star, and the critics begin defining the star through writings on their body of work.

As his example, Allen uses Joan Crawford, a star whose image was so manufactured by the public that even her name was chosen by a vote (it was originally Lucille Le Sueur). She was known as the indomitable woman, a modern independent female who held her own against the men at the expense of her love life, and Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945), her comeback, Oscar-winning role, is the ultimate embodiment of that image.

For me, stars represent something larger than life. Although Allen is quite right in his essay, the term star “is so overused as to become almost meaningless (Allen, p. 606). Indeed, in an era where the term is used on people such as Paris Hilton, who have done so little to deserve the title, it is easy to see how flippantly it is used.

How can Hilton be even mentioned in the same breath as a Crawford or a Pickford, a Bogart or a Bergman, much less in the same league. What has Hilton done to deserve such attention? She certainly fits the star requirement that her private life be very public. She makes headline everywhere she goes…yet she does nothing, save for a much touted death scene in the remake of House of Wax, which most people went to see just to watch her die.

Stardom is all about presence. While Allen claims that acting ability is not always central to the makings of a star (since many stars, such as James Stewart and Humphrey Bogart were known for playing “types”) I don’t believe this to be true. While their versatility may not always be showcased, they must be extremely good at what they do. I don’t think much of John Wayne as an actor, but he fit into his niche well, and was rewarded with great popularity because of it.

It is true that stars must be larger than life. But they don’t have to be tabloid bait. To me that only lowers them in my eyes. Tom Cruise has become little more than a punchline, while Tom Hanks, George Clooney, and Julia Roberts maintain a certain amount of privacy in their roles as the modern stars. They must have a balance, a certain mystique about them. Richard Dyer describes it in his book Stars as a “structured polysemy…the finite multiplicity and affects they [stars] embody and the attempt so to structure them so that some meanings and affects are foregrounded and others masked or displaced (Allen, p. 607).”

In other words, a star must be exposed to the public, but not too exposed so as to become tiresome, which is Tom Cruise’s current problem. They create their persona, the exterior they show to the world, and thus become larger than live. Stars offer a mirror onto which audiences can project themselves, perhaps an ideal image of a human being, however detrimental thatmay be to society’s notion of self-image and worth.

I think the idea of a star is becoming more and more cloudy in today’s society. There are very few true stars left. In an era of instant celebrity, anybody can become famous. Now people are becoming famous before they do anything. They become famous, then get a film or singing career. The process has been reversed. Studios peddle product now. Not that they haven’t always, but so many Hollywood films are mere rehash – remakes and sequels ad nauseum. Stars, who could carry a film and whose very presence made the screen light up with mythic intensity – Bogart, Bergman, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando, Bette Davis…where are our modern day equivalents? Who of the new generation could possibly rise to rival them?

Audiences of today concern themselves with special effects and explosions, the actors are interchangeable and non-descript. They matter less than the what the computer can create to thrill the people.

And I find that sad. While I firmly believe that some of the best actors are some of the most underrated, those that could never be considered stars per se but are definitely the finest in their field. But there is something to be said for the stars. We need them I think, because they give us something to look up to, to admire, to aspire too.

They are called stars for a reason. Like their shining cousins in the sky, they offer windows into another world, a world of dreams and swirling images we see only at a distance on a canvas screen flickering in the dark. They seem so reachable yet always just beyond our grasp.

It’s an enduring fascination, and a mystery, that help make movies the magic that they are.

Roger Ebert Released from Hospital

From Movie City News:

Great News From Chicago After 5 Challenging Months, Roger Ebert Is Out Of The Hospital, Back In His And His Wife Chaz' Home, Continuing His Successful Physical Rehabilitation & Returning To Select Screenings.
It's been odd having Ebert out of commission for so long. The movie world has seemed, well...empty.

He did, however, get a look at The Queen, and had this to say:
Told in quiet scenes of proper behavior and guarded speech, "The Queen" is a spellbinding story of opposed passions -- of Elizabeth's icy resolve to keep the royal family separate and aloof from the death of the divorced Diana, who was legally no longer a royal, and of Blair's correct reading of the public mood, which demanded some sort of public expression of sympathy from the crown for "The People's Princess."
Get well soon Roger. We've missed you.

Jackson Parts Ways With New Line

In a letter posted on theonering.net, Peter Jackson says:

Several years ago, Mark Ordesky told us that New Line have rights to make not just The Hobbit but a second "LOTR prequel", covering the events leading up to those depicted in LOTR. Since then, we've always assumed that we would be asked to make The Hobbit and possibly this second film, back to back, as we did the original movies. We assumed that our lawsuit with the studio would come to a natural conclusion and we would then be free to discuss our ideas with the studio, get excited and jump on board. We've assumed that we would possibly get started on development and design next year, whilst filming The Lovely Bones. We even had a meeting planned with MGM executives to talk through our schedule.

However last week, Mark Ordesky called Ken and told him that New Line would no longer be requiring our services on the Hobbit and the LOTR 'prequel'. This was a courtesy call to let us know that the studio was now actively looking to hire another filmmaker for both projects.

Has New Line lost their minds? After what Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings, they just dump him and go looking for another director?

Peter Jackson also describes his lawsuit against New Line in the letter:

You may also be aware that Wingnut Films has bought a lawsuit against New Line, which resulted from an audit we undertook on part of the income of The Fellowship of the Ring. Our attitude with the lawsuit has always been that since it's largely based on differences of opinion about certain accounting practices, we would like an independent body - whether it be a judge, a jury, or a mediator, to look at the issues and make an unbiased ruling. We are happy to accept whatever that ruling is. In our minds, it's not much more complex than that and that's exactly why film contracts include right-to-audit clauses.
So that means we will never see a Jackson directed Hobbit. What a shame. If they don't come to their senses and hire Jackson back, chances are The Hobbit will be a disaster.

Read the full letter here.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

German Hitler Comedy to Debut Next Year

From Variety:

BERLIN -- A Hitler comedy made in Germany?

It might seem tasteless, but "My Fuhrer" is now in post-production and will hit German auds in January amid a tidal wave of publicity -- not all of it good.

Turning a historic demon into a comic figure has worked elsewhere, but what will Germans think of Hitler gags? Will the shamed country, which still feels pain six decades later, be able to chuckle at a fictional Fuhrer playing with toy battleships in a bathtub?

Swiss-born Jewish helmer Dani Levy and X-Filme topper Stefan Arndt are gambling that Germans are indeed ready to laugh about their horrific past and the madman at the center of it with "Mein Fuehrer -- die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit ueber Adolf Hitler" (My Fuhrer -- The Absolutely Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler).

"In this experimental age, everything's allowed. Taboos can be broken and the boundaries of good taste violated as long as your conscience is on the good side," Levy said of the farce, due out Jan. 4. "People will laugh watching it, but at the same time be shocked at themselves for laughing."

Click here to read the story.

Hmmm...sounds...interesting. It's not a new idea though. Charles Chaplin did it in The Great Dictator in 1940, which became his biggest box office success. Still though...it depends on how they go about it. Stefan Arndt isn't Charlie Chaplin (but then again, who is?). Only time will tell.

"Happy Feet" Takes # 1 at the Box Office

Studio box office estimates, 11/17/06 - 11/19/06

1. Happy Feet - $42,320,000
2. Casino Royale - $40,600,000
3. Borat - $14,350,000
4. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause - $8,218,000
5. Flushed Away - $6,812,000
6. Stranger Than Fiction - $6,600,000
7. Babel - $2,902,000
8. Saw III - $2,800,000
9. The Departed - $2,605,000
10. After Dark's Horror Fest: 8 Films to Die For - $2,482,000

Saturday, November 18, 2006

An Open Letter to the Academy

Dear members of the Academy,

Every year, tiny movies with no buzz go unheard of by most of the general public. These films are usually art-house releases - independent or foreign films that nobody has ever heard of, and probably wouldn't care about if they had.

What a shame. As is often the case with films like this, studios have no confidence in them because they have almost zero marketability. Mainstream audiences just don't go see them. They would rather watch something blow up or Will Ferrell run around a race track in his underwear.

That is a how a stunningly beautiful film like The House of Sand gets lost in the shuffle.

Given a microscopic, art-house release back in August, Andrucha Waddington's The House of Sand is one of the most rapturous and haunting films I have seen in ages. Chronicling the lives of three generations of women stranded in the Brazillian desert, the film takes a lyrical look at the relationship between mothers and daughters, the idea of home, missed opportunities and chances regained. The breathtaking desert locations become their own character...the sand literally has its own personality.

Fernanda Montenegro and Fernanda Torres give powerhouse performances, playing both young and old versions of all the film's characters. Their subtle, unassuming (and yes, Oscar-worthy) acting adds to the film's stunning realism, drawing us in and refusing to let us go...leading to a heartrending emotional catharsis.

It's also devastatingly quiet, the only music being the rustling of the sand in the wind. Music here represents the world they left behind, and when we finally hear it, its power is magnified.

Few films capture such depth of emotion with such simple, unassuming direction. Waddington's camera simply observes, the sands of time keep moving, scattering into the ever-present wind, and we are given one of the most surprisingly engrossing, breathtaking films of the year - the kind that unfolds like a good novel. You can almost understand why one character never wants to leave...because neither do we.

So this is my plea to you members of the Academy. Please nominate this film. See it. Live it. It's worth every minute. Brazil did not submit it for consideration for Best Foreign Lanuage Film, and if any movie ever deserved that title this year, this is it.

The House of Sand is a gloriously simple film of magnificent power. It's a shame to see such talent go unnoticed.

- Matthew Lucas

"Casino Royale" - The Consensus

The latest James Bond outing, Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig in his first appearance as Bond, is blowing critics away. With a 95% positive rating at Rottentomatoes (which puts it in a 5-way tie for 4th place for the highest rating of the year) and score of 80 at Metacritic, Casino Royale is getting some of the best reviews of any Bond film ever. Here is what some of the critics are saying:

"Relaunches the series by doing something I wouldn't have thought possible: It turns Bond into a human being again -- a gruffly charming yet volatile chap who may be the swank king stud of the Western world, but who still has room for rage, fear, vulnerability, love." - Owen Glieberman, Entertainment Weekly

"Flat-out one of the best Bonds ever." - William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Craig, excellent in both art house endeavors ("The Mother," "Enduring Love") and blockbuster think pieces ("Munich"), has both a nasty streak and a soft side never before seen in the series; Fleming would recognize him as most like his literary creation: damaged goods in a tailored tux." - Robert Wilonski, Village Voice

"Let the purists squawk: In Daniel Craig, the Bond franchise has finally found a 007 whose cruel charisma rivals that of Sean Connery." - Ty Burr, Boston Globe

Friday, November 17, 2006

Last Laugh on "Borat?"


According to the Carpetbagger over at the New York Times, Cindy Streit (left), the etiquette coach who attended to Southern society dinner party in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan said:
“I am outraged with his deception — how dare they! The last laugh will be on “Borat,” not innocent members of the public.”
WRONG! Sacha Baron Cohen has the last laugh here...because he created a comedic masterpiece...one that has cemented its place in the cultural history books. It's a phenomenon, and now people are coming out of the woodwork to denounce him.

They may sue him, complain about him, protest...whatever. No one cares. Because people will keep going to see Borat...and the uproar will only encourage viewers. We have seen the movie, and we have loved it. According to its scores on Metacritic and Rottentomatoes, it is the second most critically acclaimed film of the year, behind The Queen (talk about apples and oranges).

People can attack Cohen for what he has done all they want. But nothing can revoke the verdict of court of public opinion on this one...and the box office returns speak for themselves, $76,154,492 so far according to Box Office Mojo.

"Shortbus" is a Triumph

SHORTBUS
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Stars Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, Lindsay Beamish, PJ DeBoy, Raphael Barker, Peter Stickles, Jay Brannan, Justin Bond
Not Rated



In John Cameron Mitchell’s sophomore directorial effort after Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the actors do almost every conceivable sex act under sun, and it’s all real. Once referred to as “The Sex Film Project” while in production, Shortbus uses graphic, unsimulated sex to explore the profound effect that sex and sexuality has on a group of disillusioned, post-9/11 New Yorkers – a married sex therapist who has never had an orgasm, a gay couple thinking of opening up their relationship, a dominatrix who can’t connect to other people, and the denizens that surround them in a sex-themed nightclub called Shortbus.

Watching the film, I was reminded of a recent discussion in my Film Theory and Criticism class of what defines pornography, and what separates it from art. The definition we arrived at was that to be called pornography, it must have a “money shot.” Well, Shortbus delivers two – within the first ten minutes. So where do you draw the line between art and pornography?

Shortbus is the perfect embodiment of that question, because it is the most sexually explicit film ever shown outside of a back alley porn house, and as such was released unrated to avoid the inevitable NC-17 rating (although even no NC-17 has even been this extreme). What separates Shortbus from being pornography, or for that matter mere sensationalism, is its heart. Pornography is not meant to have any emotional impact or make any statement, it is only meant to excite. Shortbus, on the other hand, is a deep and probing film, exploring the intricacies of sexuality and relationships with warmth, humor, and heart.

Mitchell fearlessly breaks ground with his new film, but the real sex is more than just a subversive gimmick to lure in curiosity seekers – it adds a gravity and a realism that the film wouldn’t otherwise have had. Knowing that the actors are actually doing what we see on screen in real life is also a tribute to their dedication to this project. The actors worked in close collaboration with Mitchell to develop their characters and their individual stories, making the film an ensemble piece of the truest kind.

But what makes Shortbus so unique and so special, is that no other film in history has ever been this open and honest about sex. It’s frankness, mixed with its keen insight into the carnal desires of human nature makes it the most essential film about sexuality since Last Tango in Paris in 1972.

It explores sexuality in a very open and moving way, with a joy and exuberance that is as exciting as it is liberating. The enthusiasm of Mitchell and the cast simply radiates from the screen.

Without boundaries, without restrictions, and without fear, Mitchell has crafted a singular work of art, an unabashedly erotic amalgam of sexual experiences - straight, gay, and everywhere in between - fearlessly melded together in one fantastically raucous, yet somehow poignant visceral experience.

Mitchell is a born filmmaker, one of America ’s true independents, and Shortbus showcases his bravura narrative and stylistic talents. He boldly goes where no other filmmaker has gone before (literally and figuratively), and emerges with a glorious, groundbreaking, taboo-shattering film that transcends convention and skillfully avoids exploitation.

In an era where violence in entertainment is becoming more and more accepted, while sex remains mysteriously more taboo, Mitchell intrepidly tears down barriers for something more than shock value. He has created one of the most emotionally naked films in recent memory and a landmark in cinema history.

Shortbus is at once wild and untrammeled, loose and free-wheeling, yet strangely tender and moving as well. It’s a giant, ecstatic, no-holds-barred love letter to sex, the human condition, and all the complications that go along with it that's like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.

In short – Shortbus is a triumph.

GRADE - ****

Opens today at Greensboro's Carousel Grande

Oscar Prejudice?

From The Envelope.

Last weekend I had a long, leisurely breakfast with one of Hollywood's most notable studio chiefs. While we chatted casually, he said, in between the lattes and bagels matter-of-factly, what we all know but seldom admit out loud: "Of course, 'Brokeback Mountain' didn't win best picture because of the gay thing."

He's an academy member, seasoned Oscar veteran, a "str8" chap, as the lingo goes, and not affiliated with "Brokeback."

"I couldn't believe how many academy members even refused to watch it," he added, shaking his head. "There's no doubt in my mind that we saw the secret, ugly side of Hollywood when the best picture winner was announced. I'm not saying 'Crash' wasn't a great film, no, no, but that's not why they voted for it.Look, I've been in this Oscar game long enough to know how to read these things. Believe me. What we saw was a disgusting display of anti-gay bigotry. Yep, in so called liberal Hollywood."

There's much evidence to back up this studio boss' assertion. Many academy members both hip (Sarah Jessica Parker) and old school (Ernest Borgnine, Tony Curtis) admitted they didn't watch "Brokeback" before voting. In toto, "Brokeback" received more best-picture awards from kudos organizations than any other film in history — 26 — but not the film academy. Odd, eh?
Click here to read the full story.
The article goes on to talk about how the prejudice demonstrated by the Academy last year may translate into prejudice against the predominantly African-American cast of Dreamgirls. I don't buy it. It's much harder to claim racism against the Academy than homophobia, especially in a voting body that just awarded Crash Best Picture of the Year.

There may very well be unspoken racism in the Academy, the kind they may not even see in themselves, much like Crash portrayed. But I don't think that the fact that most of the Dreamgirls cast is black is going to keep people from seeing the film, the way gay love kept them from seeing Brokeback.

Will it stop them from awarding it Best Picture? Well that is yet to be seen. It hasn't even been nominated yet, and most of us have yet to see it. It's also not the cultural milestone that Brokeback Mountain was.

I don't know if it will be the best film of the year. I haven't seen it yet so I can't pass judgement. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But I do think it's a bit early to be fretting about racism just yet. If, when awards time rolls around and we find out that Academy members aren't seeing the film, then maybe there is a case for racism.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Documentary Shortlist Announced

From AMPAS:

Beverly Hills, CA — The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that 15 films in the Documentary Feature category will advance in the voting process for the 79th Academy Awards®. Eighty-one pictures had originally qualified in the category. The 15 films are listed below in alphabetical order:

“Blindsight"
“Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?"
“Deliver Us from Evil”
“The Ground Truth”
“An Inconvenient Truth”
“Iraq in Fragments”
“Jesus Camp”
“Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple”
“My Country, My Country”
“Shut Up & Sing”
“Sisters in Law”
“Storm of Emotions”
“The Trials of Darryl Hunt”
“An Unreasonable Man”
“The War Tapes”

The Documentary Branch screening committee viewed the eligible documentaries in a preliminary round of screenings. Documentary Branch members will now select the five 2006 nominees from among the 15 titles on the shortlist.

Nominations for the 79th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 23, 2007, at 5:30 a.m. PST in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2006 will be presented on Sunday, February 25, 2007, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live by the ABC Television Network at 5 p.m. PST, beginning with a half-hour arrival segment.

What!? No Why We Fight? No Wordplay? Argh. They always give the shaft to some great docs, and Why We Fight is the most powerful documentary I have seen this year. It's good to see The Trials of Darryl Hunt on the list, as it trials the wrongful accusation of a man for a murder in my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC. I still have yet to see Jesus Camp and Deliver Us From Evil, so right now I'm pulling for An Inconvenient Truth. That is, as always, subject to change.

New Best Picture Predictions

In light of the gushing early word on Dreamgirls, I figure it's time to update my Best Picture predictions. Here they are:

Babel
The Departed
Dreamgirls
Flags of Our Fathers
The Queen

I may be the only one still insisting that Flags will be nominated...but I just have a feeling that they can't ignore it.

It's a Rave!


From The Envelope:

Bill Condon and crew blasted the roof off the joint. We now, officially, have a best picture frontrunner and one that's going to be tough to beat.

I eavesdropped on lots of conversations out in the lobby afterward and everybody was raving, gushing, shaking, cheering. Clearly, "Dreamgirls" is a dream come true as a film production. It transforms a Broadway classic into a movie masterpiece. In fact, it's even better than its stage original. I'm a longtime fan, I'm allowed to say that. The new song additions are transcendental. "I Love You, I Do" is a bouncy delight, but "Listen" is a knockout. While watching "Dreamgirls," just when you think Jennifer Hudson has stolen the whole film from Beyonce the same diva way Beyonce steals the Dreams away from Hudson in the film story, Beyonce rallies with a song that dares to try to upstage "Dreamgirls'" emotional core: Hudson's rip-your-head-off performance of one of the great f-you songs in Broadway lore — "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."
Wow. Dreamgirls looks like it not only lives up to the hype, but blows it out of the water. Tom O'Neill calls it "a dream come true" and "a perfect film." It looks like it has now solidified and justified its status as a Best Picture frontrunner.

Click here to read the full story.