MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Birthday Wishes

My 25th birthday is in a little more than a week and so I’ve compiled a list of ten hopes and wishes for the film world in the upcoming year. All of these items will be feasible, some even probable, so don’t expect anything too outlandish. But I must say that the privilege of working for Movie City News and great editors like David Poland and Laura Rooney and to have a wonderful and thoughtful audience has been one of the best gifts that I’ve received in the last year. So thanks to all of you for that. (The following is in no particular order)

1. I hope that talented filmmakers stop with the remakes.

This is not to say that I’m against the idea of remakes in principle. After all, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed was a remake. However, I would much rather see stories brought to the screen that I can’t see anywhere else, especially when the filmmakers are talented. This week brought the announcement that Peter Berg would be going into production on yet another version of the sci-fi novel Dune.

Regardless of what Mr. Berg’s reasoning is behind this, I can’t say I’m thrilled with the prospect of seeing yet another version of this story. First we got David Lynch’s 1984 version starring Sting, which was – by all accounts – taken away from the director and then we got a mini-series just a few years ago. Neither one of these versions were especially great (although Lynch’s version is odd enough to fit in with his oeuvre) and it makes me wonder if perhaps this is a novel that just doesn’t translate to the screen.

No matter, I would probably welcome this remake a bit more if a filmmaker who was less talented than Berg was in the driver’s seat. This is not to say that I believe Peter Berg is the next Scorsese, but he’s proved that he is a talented filmmaker with a discernible style. Friday Night Lights was almost revelatory in the way it was filmed and Berg helped bring that style to the brilliant television spin-off. The Kingdom was also an incredibly stylized but also deeply engrossing Middle East action flick. He has shown an astonishing ability to meld the commercial with the artistic and this is a filmmaker who I would like to see making something more original.

I hold out hopes that the film will wind up being interesting, but even so I can’t help but wonder if his time might be better spent on something else. With all the great unproduced screenplays and books that have yet to be adapted, I don’t get why a filmmaker wouldn’t want to be the first one to bring something to the screen, rather than being the third or fourth guy to the party.

2. I hope I see one decent horror film this year.

This is something of a pet peeve for me, but I am sick and tired of seeing horror films that aren’t scary. I have hopes for a few movies that might do the trick, but the one I’m counting on the most is The Ruins, Scott Smith’s adaptation of his own wonderful and twisted novel. If done right, this could be one of the scarier films you’ve seen in years. If not, then it will be a tragic disappointment. It is paramount that they stay faithful to the source material.

3. I hope the Informers is more Rules of Attraction than Less Than Zero.

Bret Easton Ellis is one of my favorite novelists. He tells modern stories that are audacious and deliberately sensationalistic, but always to prove a point. His luck has been mixed when his novels have been adapted into movies. Less Than Zero is almost a parody of the novel on which it is based, losing the heightened sense of irony that made the book so dark and riveting. Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance as Julian is solid, but it bears so resemblance to the character in the novel.

Mary Harron’s American Psycho has a tour-de-force performance by Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman and while I find it to be an entertaining movie, it isn’t a faithful adaptation of the book. It skips a lot of the gruesome passages of the book, but also some of the funniest sequences. Still, I enjoy Harron’s adaptation for its ability to get at the essence of the novel.

Then there is Roger Avary’s Rules of Attraction, which is the best film yet to be adapted from one of Ellis’ novels. Avary understands Ellis’ voice and as a result, it feels like a seamless adaptation, one that brings a sense of playfulness and mixes it with dread and despair. Ultimately, Ellis’ books are not hopeful but they are not dire either; instead, he is focused on the malaise of disaffected youth (and sometimes adults as well) and how that beat goes to go on. Avary is able to translate that attitude to the screen with aplomb.

The Informers is based on a collection of loosely connected short stories, mostly set in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s, before big hair and shoulder pads came into fashion. There are stories about rock stars, junkies, rich kids, philandering parents and vampires and while it might not ultimately come together in the end, it does in fact mean something. Gregor Jordan (of the excellent and underrated Buffalo Soldiers) is directing the film with a screenplay by Ellis himself and Nicholas Jarecki. Winona Ryder, Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Brandon Routh and the late Brad Renfro all have parts in the film.

Whenever you enjoy an author, you like to see their works given good treatment on the big screen. The fact that Ellis is involved directly in this production gives me hope that this will turn out to be a success. The Informers was not my favorite Ellis book, but I can’t wait to see it on the big screen.

4. I wish Paris Hilton would stop trying to pretend like she can act.

I suppose this is really more the fault of producers who continue to hire her, but I can’t imagine how terrible this must make up and coming actors and actresses feel. There are a lot of talented people who work hard to make it in this industry and I imagine it must be demeaning to see Ms. Hilton starring in films. Whether those films are good or bad is almost irrelevant, but I have to wonder why someone would hire a woman who brings nothing but bad press and disrepute to all those who surround her. Later this year, she will be starring in a musical calledRepo! The Genetic Opera which is being directed by the man who brought us the last threeSaw movies.
I remember when Marie-Antoinette came out, I thought that if Sofia Coppola wanted to make a real statement about celebrity culture and the vapidity of youth, she should have just gone all-out and hired Paris Hilton to play the part. After all, I thought, she couldn’t be worse than Kirsten Dunst. Then I saw The Hottie and the Nottie and I gained a newfound respect for Ms. Dunst.

Ultimately, making movies is a privilege and it’s a sad state of affairs that allows someone to coast into a talent industry without having the requisite talent.

5. The Academy Award season should be year-round.

I know a lot of folks already think the award season is too long, but I’m sick of having to wait until late September to see quality films. If only the Academy would start nominating films that come out in March and studios would release Academy-worthy films in January and February, then perhaps movie-going wouldn’t be a slog for a third of the year. Studios like to pretend that certain dates are box office poison or deterrents to getting awards, but this is nonsense. If you make a good movie and market it well, then that movie will be successful. If you continue to buy the ads, then it might get noticed by the Academy. As it stands now, everyone is counting down the days until summer starts and trying to figure out how much more they can say about 10,000 B.C.

6. I hope Sydney Pollack continues to hang around.

The recent death of Anthony Minghella was a tragedy; this was a man who crafted works of art each time he wrote and directed a film. Some of those works were better than others for sure, but I would argue that with The Talented Mr. Ripley, he created a masterpiece that will be remembered fondly for decades. The film had everything that people want in a movie; intrigue, beautiful locations, murder, obsession, betrayal, sexy music, elegant costumes, great acting from top to bottom, and some of the most sumptuous photography that you’ve ever seen. It is also one of the ballsiest studio films to come out in the last ten years, with a gay love story at its center long before Brokeback Mountain hit the screens. Minghella is the master behind that work of art, getting some of the best work out of great actors like Jude Law, Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow. I urge everyone to take that one out of your library and throw it on in honor of its maker.

That said, one of the most distressing bits of information that leaked out in the aftermath of Minghella’s death was the news that Sydney Pollack, Minghella’s friend and collaborator, was also ill. I cannot tell you what a tragedy that would be for the movie industry. Pollack is not just the man who brought us Tootsie, Out of Africa, Jeremiah Johnson, The Way We Were, Three Days of the Condor, They Shoot Horses Don’t They, Absence of Malice, and The Yakuza; he’s also the producer, often with Minghella, of recent films as varied asMichael Clayton, Forty Shades of Blue, The Quiet American, Heaven, and Iris. He and Minghella ran Mirage Enterprises together and it would be a shame to watch this shingle lose both of its chairmen. Here’s hoping for a swift recovery for Mr. Pollack and that he continues to shepherd important and interesting motion pictures.

7. I’m thankful that I am another year closer to seeing Linklater’s Boyhood.

I remember hearing about this project a year or two ago and I’m still just as excited to see it now as I was when I first heard of it. Richard Linklater is filming a movie, tentatively titledBoyhood, with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as the parents of a young boy. Every year, the crew gets together and films for about a month and we get to watch the child age, following him from 5 or 6 to 17 or 18. What I find most remarkable about this is the mere fact that nobody had ever thought to do this before; or at least, nobody had ever actually done it, despite thinking of it.

Richard Linklater is one of my favorite filmmakers because he crafts pictures that have an emotional heartbeat and his films often revolve around the simple act of two people talking, usually about getting older. Even in Dazed and Confused, the majority of that film is just people sitting and talking about growing up, becoming seniors in high school and what that means. In Before Sunrise and the sequel Before Sunset, we got to see these two young lovers as both idealistic twenty-somethings and worn-down thirty-somethings and Linklater doesn’t shy away from the complications that life has thrown at them. A lesser filmmaker might have shied away from having one the characters have a child and a marriage, but Linklater understands that life sometimes has obstacles that aren’t easy to overcome.

I am confident that with someone like Richard Linklater at the helm, the ambition ofBoyhood will not overwhelm the emotional punch of the story. We’re only five years away now…

8. I hope Robert Downey, Jr. finally becomes the star he should have been.

For literally twenty years, people have been predicting that Robert Downey, Jr. would be a huge star. After all, this is a man who has turned in more than a handful of brilliant performances for two decades. I first noticed him when I was growing up and loved to throw on my tape of Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School and I noticed the wry smile he had on his face while he was heckling a diver towards the end of the film. He knew how to commit to the moment, that was for sure. In films like Less Than Zero, Chances Are and even Soapdish,he proved to be an actor that was fearless. He didn’t mind looking idiotic and that gave him a certain grace. He put it all together for a magical performance as the title character in Chaplin, a film that falls apart without Downey in the lead. He got an Academy Award nomination for that film and then life got in the way.

Not that Downey stopped working; oh no, despite whatever problems he had in his private life, he continued to turn in great performances in Short Cuts, Natural Born Killers, Restoration, Two Girls and a Guy, and Black and White. He was sublime in Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys, but he still wasn’t the star of the show. He really needed a film that would show the world how charismatic he was. Unfortunately, The Singing Detective wasn’t that movie.

Instead, the turning point was Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a film that he just dominates from start to end. The dialogue in that film might seem awkward coming out of the mouth of any other actor, but Downey makes it poetry. He is hilarious and likable and makes Harry Lockhart a character that you just want to pull out of the screen and hang out with, despite the fact that he’s a massive fuck-up. This was the movie, I felt, that made clear all of Downey’s faults as a person and the majesty with which he portrays those faults on the screen. When he did A Scanner Darkly and then Zodiac last year, he was just pounding that point home. This is a man who is unafraid to plumb the depths of his own despair, as long as it puts a great performance on the screen. Utterly fearless.

Now he’s the star of a tentpole summer film called Iron Man and if you’re a fan of nuance and depth and subtlety and charisma, then support Robert Downey Jr. and see Iron Man. I just hope the film is worthy enough to have him as its star. After that, he’s got Ben Stiller’sTropic Thunder where he plays a white actor who changes his race for a part, which I think is a perfect summation of both Downey’s dedication and his playfulness. He’ll end the year inThe Soloist, which is co-starring Jamie Foxx and directed by Atonement’s Joe Wright and is garnering lots of awards buzz already. It seems as if he’s got his life back together and now he’s out to prove that this is the year of the Downey.

9. I hope John Cusack writes more of his own movies.

After the one-two punch of Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity, I was certain that John Cusack was one of the great talents in this industry. He was the co-writer on both of those films and both of them were masterpieces of a very different sort. Grosse Pointe Blank was a hitman comedy that deviated from the usual post-Tarantinoisms and High Fidelity is perhaps one of the best break-up movies ever made, filled with nuance and sadness and heartfelt humor. Every time I catch one of those movies on cable, my heart sinks because for the past eight years it seems as if Cusack has been mired in a sea of mediocrity. That is not to say he’s given a bad performance, it’s just that they’ve been in middling pictures like Identiy, Serendipity, Must Love Dogs or Martian Child. He’s always a welcome presence, but it’s been a bit of a drought for him.

This year he’s got a film coming out which he co-wrote called War, Inc. in which he plays another hitman who is supposed to assassinate a Middle East oil minister (according to IMDB). But it’s also a comedy and it co-stars Hilary Duff and Marisa Tomei. I’m just thankful that Cusack is coming out with a film that has his name on it, not just above the credits. I hope he continues to put the pen to the paper.

10. I hope that all the unique and special voices continue to find an outlet.

I am partial to older films. If I were to make a personal top-ten list of my favorite movies, chances are most of them would be made before 1980. However, I feel that right now we have as many talented filmmakers as we ever have. I believe we are living in a film renaissance, despite my constant complaints about the current crop of movies (give me a break, it’s March!).

We are lucky enough to have filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, Alfonso Cuaron, Charlie Kaufman, Rebecca Miller, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Sofia Coppola, Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Terrence Malick, Eric Rohmer, Mike Nichols, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Arnaud Desplechin, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Fernando Meirelles, David O. Russell, Gus Van Sant, The Coen Brothers, Cristian Mungiu, Sidney Lumet, Noah Baumbach, Julian Schnabel, Judd Apatow, Brad Bird, Werner Herzog, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Shane Meadows, Mira Nair, Paul Greengrass, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Todd Haynes, Todd Solondz, Keith Gordon, Miranda July, Neil Jordan, Jim Sheridan, Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarittu, M. Night Shymalan, Gullermo Del Toro, Todd Field, Larry Clark, Stephen Frears, the Wachowskis, Oliver Stone, Cameron Crowe, Clint Eastwood, Pedro Almodovar, Atom Egoyan, Danny Boyle, Gabriele Muccino, Alexander Payne, Kevin Smith, Frank Darabont, John Cameron Mitchell, Tom Tykwer, Bryan Singer, Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, Ang Lee, Lodge Kerrigan, Sam Mendes, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Walter Salles, Michael Corrente, Shane Carruth, Michael Mann, Bernardo Bertolucci, Mary Harron, Peter Weir, Kenneth Lonnergan, Gaspar Noe, David Gordon Green, Roman Polanski, Lawrence Kasdan, Milos Forman, Doug Liman, Mark Romanek, Christopher Nolan, Bill Condon and countless others.

What a wonderful time in film that we are living through when we can hope to see films by all of these directors in any given year. If you ever want to reaffirm your faith in film, despite these dogs days of March, then I urge you to look at that list above or better yet, make your own list of filmmakers you admire. It might surprise you to find out just how many directors would pique your interest; I know it surprised me.

For my 25th birthday, the greatest gift I could possibly receive is the knowledge that I will see more films from the directors on the above list.

– Noah Forrest
March 25, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 24 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon