Film Archive for February, 2011

Oscar Boxing Day Thoughts

I was just chatting with my good friend Eric D. Snider about post-Oscar day, which he glibly dubbed “Oscar Boxing Day.” And I like that term, so I’m using it here. Because even though Boxing Day proper has nothing to do with punching an opponent while wearing oversized mitts, the very name does connote a sense of the losers feeling like they’ve had the wind socked out of them.
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Some Post-Oscar Tidbits

My favorite and not-favorite Oscar moments, which may be updated as I think of more of them …

Hailee “pretty in pink” Steinfeld, looking sweetly age-appropriate. But it cracks me up to have dolled-up television entertainment reporters being all, “Oh, it’s so NICE and REFRESHING to see (insert every young actress ever nominated for Supporting here) dressed so appropriately for her age. She just looks like a little girl playing princess, which is as it should be.” Well, yes, okay, it is. And Ms. Steinfeld will have another moment, if she wants it.

Jeff Bridges grabbing the mic on the red carpet and interviewing his entire family about their Oscar experience. The Dude abides. Always.

The whole set-up-with-zero-payout about the trifecta of art, cinematography and picture felt so completely random. WTF was that about? I mean, if I was placing a bunch of really obscure bets with a bookie, maybe, but who else cares?

Listening to the post-show blither-blather about fashion hits and misses. But okay, since I was listening anyhow … if I was going to have an opinion on the fashions, it would be that I hated Melissa Leo’s dress. She looked so lovely otherwise, but I would have loved to have seen her in something sleek in black or silver tonight. Loved Jennifer Lawrence’s simple, sexy red. Loved Hathaway’s Valentino. Loved the black lace on Russell Brand’s mom.

Hated the opening thing with the mom/grandma. Ugh. File under bad idea.

Definitely a mom theme going on, with resplendently pregnant Portman, radiant postpartum Penelope, and Celene Dion, who I guess just had twins. Glad that Hailee Steinfeld was not in maternity wear. She seems like a nice, level-headed kid. I hope she doesn’t Lohan.

Liked Hathaway and Franco overall. Actually, dang … I really like Hathaway a lot. Franco seemed stoned the whole time — what was with the squinting? Steve Martin with thinning hair makes me feel old. Mila Kunis looks great in lavender.

The mash-up of the Harry Potter song was awesome.

Melissa Leo having a vocabulary malfunction is exactly why we love her. More, please.

WTF was up with the Oscar guy commentator going off about King’s Speech being a great feel-good movie that people love and it makes them feel all happy-happy, and then specifically referencing Blue Valentine as “ugh, depressing, who wants to see that?” What a load of BS. I saw The King’s Speech last night finally, and I liked it, for what it is. It’s feel good, it has populist appeal, it’s the kid who’s popular for being a nice guy with a winning personality.

Blue Valentine is dark and daring and gritty, Ryan Gosling is soul-felt and terrific and Michelle Williams even better (she may just be the actress of her generation when all’s said and done), even the end credits sequence is relevant and artful.

… oh, and the Charlie Sheen joke was funny, I get it. But not. It’s sad to see someone nose-diving in the wake of addiction.

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After Oscar

Award And the Oscar Goes to … Who I Said WOULD win Who I said SHOULD win Neve’s Picks And the Gurus Picks
Best Picture

The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech


The Social Network

The King’s Speech
Best Director

Tom Hooper

Tom Hooper

Darren Aronofsky

David Fincher

Davd Fincher
Best Actor

Colin Firth

Colin Firth

Javier Bardem

Jesse Eisenberg

Colin Firth
Supporting Actor

Christian Bale

Geoffrey Rush

John Hawkes

Christian Bale

Christian Bale
Best Actress

Natalie Portman

Annette Bening

Michelle Williams

Annette Bening

Natalie Portman
Supporting Actress

Melissa Leo

Helena Bonham-Carter

Hailee Steinfeld

Melissa Leo

Melissa Leo

Toy Story 3




Toy Story 3

Inside Job

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Inside Job

Exit Through the Gift Shop

In a Better World




In a Better World
Adapted Screenplay

Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

The Social Network

Winter’s Bone

Toy Story 3

Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Original Screenplay

David Seidler, The King’s Speech

The Kids Are All Right



The King’s Speech

It’s the Oscar Countdown!

It’s almost Oscar night, and you can almost, but not quite, feel the excitement all the way up here in Seattle. Everyone’s dying (yes, dying!) to know which designer’s dress their favorite actress will wear, who will show up looking like their mother dressed them for prom, who’s going to be voted Cutest Couple, and who has the brightest, toothiest grins … and the worst outcomes of plastic surgery. Then Justin Bieber gets the Oscar for Best Documentary and we all go home.

See, I’m being snarky there because watching the Oscars is for losers who don’t have anything else pressing to do with their time, like making homemade goat cheese or baklava or playing Dungeons and Dragons, right? The cool kids don’t know what movies are nominated for the Oscars, don’t read about the Oscars, don’t wonder who will win the Oscars, and they most certainly do not watch the Oscars. Or at the very least, they don’t own up to watching the pre-show red carpet festivities.

The rest of us, whether we (admit we) care who wins or not, are waiting with more or less bated breath for Oscar’s Big Day. Other people have been writing about this year’s Oscars since last year’s Sundance, thinking seriously about who will win and who will not for months now. Even if you don’t agree with them, you at least appreciate that someone has been carefully weighing these matters with gravitas since this time last year, moving this nomineee up a slot one week, then down two the next, so that all you have to do is comment vociferously on how stupid the pundits are and how much you disagree with them.

I, on the other hand, haven’t given it much thought at all, so my guess is about as good as yours.

I used to do a column here called Oscar Outsider, which I kind of miss now that I don’t do it anymore. I particularly enjoyed exploring things that not everyone was writing a lot about — contrasting the then Oscar-nommed Slumdog Millionaire screenplay with its fairly obscure source material, for instance. It went on to win the Oscar for Simon Beaufoy, and whether you still like the film, or are now in the camp of “I hate that movie,” the screenplay, as an adaptation, was pretty brilliant.

Last year’s Adapted Screenplay winner was Precious: Based on the Novel Push By Sapphire (one of the most unwieldy film titles ever, but whatever … the title “Push” got usurped by that lousy Dakota Fanning flick, so they had to do something). I can’t particularly argue against the Precious screenplay winning this category, because if you’ve read the source novel, well … it was a challenging book to adapt to a screenplay, and Geoffrey Fletcher did a fine job of it.

Of all the Oscar categories, the screenplays are my favorites, probably because they speak to my own interest in writing and because the nominees and winners sometimes feel random, and every now and again winning a screenplay Oscar can completely change the winner’s life (see: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck). On the other hand, I see a lot of independent films in a year, many of them with better screenplays than some of the nominees, and those writers will never get any love outside of maybe the Independent Spirits. But even those awards feel like they’ve gotten more and more big-name and studio driven. Bah.

Anyhow. So I’ve done Oscar predictions in various random ways over the years, on the theory that just about any method of picking Oscar winners that the average person could come up with would hit, on average, just about the same percentage of accuracy as the predictions Oscar pundits spend months fine-tuning. And for the most part, these various prediction methods have been surprisingly accurate.

(As an aside, one of my favorite random prediction methods — aside from using a Magic-8 Ball, which is always fun — was James Rocchi’s Ernest Borgnine predictor. James has the theory that to accurately predict the Oscars, all you had to do was think like Ernest Borgnine, and you’d mostly be right. And I think he had the highest accuracy percentage among Cinematical writers when he did that, so maybe he was onto something.)

All this doesn’t make it any less fun and profitable for pundits to spend months every year talking about Oscars and trying to predict Oscars and getting into sometimes hilarious arguments about who should win versus who will win. I mean, yes, it’s hard to take the Oscars seriously sometimes, but on the other hand they are deadly serious business in Hollywood, so what are you going to do but watch them anyhow?

This year, I decided to actually given the nominations some carefully considered thought before making my own Oscar picks — who I think will win, and who I think SHOULD win. Then I polled my daughter Neve, who turned 14 yesterday and has actually seen most of the nominated films with me, on her picks, just to get a perspective from the teen demographic. So without further ado, here they are

Best Picture


WHO WILL WIN: The King’s Speech

POSSIBLE UPSET: The Social Network

AND NEVE’S PICK … I think The Social Network has a good chance of winning. Or maybe Black Swan.

Best Actor

WHO SHOULD WIN: Javier Bardem

WHO WILL WIN: Colin Firth

POSSIBLE UPSET: Mark Zuckerberg. Er, I mean Jesse Eisenberg

AND NEVE PICKS: … Jesse Eisenberg

Best Supporting Actor


WHO WILL WIN: Geoffrey Rush

POSSIBLE UPSET: Christian Bale

AND NEVE PICKS …Christian Bale

Best Actress

WHO SHOULD WIN: Michelle Williams

WHO WILL WIN: Annette Bening

POSSIBLE UPSET: Michelle Williams (I really hope this is this year’s “Holy crap!” moment …)

AND NEVE PICKS … Annette Bening

Best Supporting Actress

WHO SHOULD WIN: Hailee Steinfeld

WHO WILL WIN: Helena Bonham Carter

POSSIBLE UPSET: Melissa Leo … although I’d kind of like to see the Greek Chorus of sisters from The Fighter storm the stage and get into fisticuffs with Helena Bonham-Carter. That would be an awesome Oscar Moment.

AND NEVE PICKS … Melissa Leo

Best Director

WHO SHOULD WIN: Darren Aronofsky

WHO WILL WIN: Tom Hooper


AND NEVE PICKS … David Fincher

Best Adapted Screenplay

WHO SHOULD WIN: Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini

WHO WILL WIN: The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin. I hate that he will likely win for this.

POSSIBLE UPSET: True Grit … but don’t hold your breath for an upset on this one.

AND NEVE PICKS … Toy Story 3, which would be pretty awesome.

Best Original Screeplay

WHO SHOULD WIN: Inception, Chris Nolan

WHO WILL WIN: The Kids Are All Right, Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg

POSSIBLE UPSET: The King’s Speech, David Seidler

AND NEVE PICKS … Inception, Chris Nolan

Best Documentary

WHO SHOULD WIN: Exit Through the Gift Shop. Inside Job is brilliant, but the sheer creative genius and daring of Exit puts it at the top for me.

WHO WILL WIN: Exit Through the Gift Shop


AND NEVE PICKS: Exit Through the Gift Shop. I think it definitely has a fair chance of winning.

That’s it folks. Carry on with arguing amongst yourselves up until show time, and then we can pick apart all the fashion choices, good and bad — and the winners, for better or worse. See you after the Oscars …

More on Hollywood as Brand

Clearly, David and I disagreed on the validity of the premise of Mark Harris’ GQ piece “The Day the Movies Died.” Over on the Hot Blog, David more or less tore Harris’ arguments to shreds in making his own points. But while I don’t agree with every argument Harris makes, and I don’t disagree, necessarily, that tonally his piece is a bit of a Chicken Little, look out the Hollywood sky falling melodrama… on the other hand, I agree with Harris that the sky is falling and has been for some time.
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Building the Indie “Brand” — If We Build It, Will the Audience Come?

I was just mulling over the importance of indie filmmakers and regional film fests in the afterglow of the Oxford Film Festival and the slew of upcoming regional fests, when lo! A trend (well, if you can call two articles a “trend”) arose this month on pieces about the whys and wherefores of Hollywood making shitty movies. Apparently I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about why this is so.
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Over at All These Wonderful Things, AJ Schnack posted a piece over a week ago about the Justin Bieber flick, Never Say Never, breaking into the top 10 all time moneymaker docs list at number 8. Apart from my own neglect in thinking of the Bieber film as a doc — which I guess it is, in a manner of speaking — the most interesting tidbit from the piece is this:
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Girls On Film

No, not the Duran Duran song (though I have that stuck in my head now).

What would guy-centric movie scenes look like with chicks playing the roles instead? That’s what website The Girls on Film set out to find out. So they’re taking movie scenes with male actors and reshooting them (essentially shot-for-shot, so far as I could tell without a frame-by-frame analysis) with female actors. And at first I thought it was gimmicky but as it turns out, it’s really a fascinating project.
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The Atlas Shrugged Trailer … Shrug

They said it couldn’t be done. And maybe it shouldn’t have been.

It’s taken over 50 years for Ayn Rand’s seminal, 1,000+ page work, Atlas Shrugged, to get adapted for the big screen. I’ve lost count of how many writers, directors, big-name stars, and studios have been attached at various points to this mammoth project. Angelina Jolie. Not Angelina Jolie. Randall Wallace (whose script culled the novel down to a 2 1/2 hour film and was supposed to be not bad). Lionsgate. Not Lionsgate. Vadim Perelman. Not Vadim Perelman. Miniseries. No, not a miniseries! One movie. No, wait, three movies! You practically need a spreadsheet to keep track.

Look, I am not one to beat down anyone for trying their best to make a film independently, as producer John Aglialoro has been trying to do with Atlas Shrugged for over 15 years. That’s tenacity, people.

And I am not going to get on a soapbox about Objectivism, which, as it happens, I know a few things about because there was a time, many years ago before I became an Evil Socialist Liberal, when I identified with much of Rand’s philosophy. I met my ex on an Objectivist discussion board, so in a way I guess you could say I owe my four younger children to Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged.

And I know that it’s not really fair to judge a movie solely by its trailer, and that good movies have wretched trailers, and vice versa. However … okay, you’re just going to have to go watch this trailer for yourself. Go ahead, now. No, really, it’s okay. But maybe brace yourself a bit.

Back? Okay. Now maybe it’s just me, but I never fully appreciated just how atrociously bad Ayn Rand’s ear for realistic dialogue was until I heard it expressed in this trailer. Maybe part of it is the direction and the delivery, but sweet Mother Mary! What is with all the yelling, and the laughably earnest line delivery, and the dude who looks like he’s trying to channel Philip Seymour Hoffman but doing it badly?

I get that to a large extent their hands were likely tied on the dialogue. The Ayn Rand Institute and Leonard Peikoff (who sold rights to the novel to Aglialoro) probably had all kinds of stipulations in there about not changing Rand’s language and having to pull dialogue directly from the book. And if they had changed it up too much, the Objectivist fan base for the film would have had a conniption. They take their Rand very seriously.

I’ll reserve complete judgment until I watch the entire film. Maybe it all comes together really well, and it will be as moving and emotional and artistic as a film based on an Objectivist novel can possibly be (have you ever heard Objectivist poetry? I have. I wish I hadn’t.). But good Lord. This is just part one, there are two more parts slated … I just hope the last film isn’t three hours of John Galt’s big speech and nothing else, because that? Would be excruciating.

If you’re interested, by the bye, you can read about what it took to get the film made over here.


Documenting Social Justice and the Racial Divide

Right now I am particularly interested in the role of regional film fests in addressing greater social issues through both films and ancillary programming. I believe strongly in the role of regional fests to educate and inform as well as to entertain.
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Oscar and the Banksy Dilemma

TheWrap has a piece up about how the Academy will handle it if Banksy wins the docs Oscar for Exit Through the Gift Shop. The notoriously mysterious street artist protects his true identity rigorously, and when he has been seen it’s only as a hooded figure in shadow (as in the film) or, on occasion, wearing a monkey head.

So what’s the Academy to do?

The money quote from the piece, for me (from Academy president Tom Sherak):

If Banksy isn’t comfortable showing his face on the Kodak stage, Sherak said, then the Academy isn’t comfortable having him on that stage.

“We suggested to them that it might be a good idea that if he did win, one of them would accept in his place – that it would not be dignified for the Academy to have somebody come up wearing a monkey’s head.”

That’s pretty funny. I mean, sure, the Oscars are less questionable in their merit than the completely laughable Golden Globes, but still. It’s an awards show, people! It’s a bunch of industry folks getting together to acknowledge how very excellent they are all with statues of a naked golden man. At least they haven’t used the Bayifier to make the statue into a busty, scantily clad young girl leaning over a car, but still. It’s. An. Awards Show.

Personally, I think it would be more entertaining to have every Oscar presenter recite their spiel while wearing monkey heads, and have the production design augmented by Banksy graffiti. Embrace it, don’t hate it.

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Step in the Right Direction

Now here’s an example of someone in film who has an idea and is taking active steps to implement it.

There’s a piece in the New York Times on Ava DuVernay, filmmaker and publicist, who wants to see black-theme films thrive (the story is behind the wall, but you can register for free if you don’t already have a NYT account).

Her idea? Target those cities which already have existing audiences for black-theme films. Take advantage of the independent film program announced by AMC theaters, which has chains everywhere, to get those films in there for two-week runs. Support those films with grass-roots efforts from the cities’ ethnic-themed film festivals, using social marketing tools. Aim for 50 cities, but start with five to show it’s a workable model.

These are the kind of innovative ideas we need more of from the independent film community in general. We need to be thinking outside the model that says the only way to achieve “success” with your film is to make that elusive high-6 to-7 figure distrib deal at Sundance or Toronto.

I love the idea of targeting a specific niche and finding ways to market to that niche. I don’t necessarily agree with her that the only market for black-theme films is African Americans … that to me is just the reverse of asserting that African Americans can’t or won’t see indie films, which, while it may be true in terms of actual ticket sales at the moment, is not necessarily a truth that’s etched in stone. Get black audiences seeing some smart, indie black-theme films, and maybe you can expand their interest into other niches as well. Encourage white audiences, or Latino audiences, or Asian audiences, to explore black cinema, and you open minds to new ideas. Draw on the commonalities that unite us, not just the differences that divide.

I know, I know. Kum-ba-ya and all that, but I’m a touchy-feely liberal who believes, truly, that there are commonalities across cultures: love, death, happiness, fear, grief, celebration … things that tie us together. And for me, a big part of the role of independent cinema of all stripes is to make the world a smaller place, to bridge those cultural divides.

Still, I applaud this effort as a model. For me, the money quote from the article was this bit:

“Chris McGurk, who was then vice chairman of MGM, even tried to position the studio as a gathering point for black filmmakers.

But the strategy faltered, Mr. McGurk said, as costs rose, and black-theme films, which generally underperform in foreign markets, outgrew their niche. “The economics of that business really only work if you’re able to produce them for $10 million or less,” he explained.”

Well, yes. That’s true across indie film, folks. And really, you can produce a hell of a movie for under $10 million. That’s a LOT of money in the indie film world, and I can think of many, many superior films made on much smaller budgets than that. Really, the economics of the business, whether you’re making black-theme films or any kind of indie film is this: How much can you raise to make your film without going substantially into debt? How much can you get financial or in-kind support to help finance it? And, most importantly, what is your realistic plan for selling your film enough that you can make that money back, plus enough extra to live on and make the next film?

But still, this is an interesting idea, and it’s a start. We need more smart people thinking outside the box like this about how to promote indie film.

Wish List for the Future of Indie Film

Out of the blue, I woke up this morning thinking about Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc . Maybe I was pondering on this whole AOL/HuffPo thing, and even more about The AOL Way and how it tries to reduce into Powerpoint slides geared toward traffic and keywords how writers should write, and how editors should assign stories.
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The AOL Way: Insert Keywords, Barf Out “Content”

Update: I just added a response from Cinematical’s Deputy Editor Scott Weinberg, below.

Over on The Daily Beast, Dan Lyons offers a scathing analysis of the AOL/Huffington Post merger. Lyons quotes Gawker Media’s Nick Denton, who asked the question: “Is this a fearsome Internet conglomerate or simply a roach motel for once lively websites?”
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Why Are So Many Films for (Insert Group of Your Choice) Bad?

Alonso Duralde, writing for Salon, ran a piece the other day asking why so many films for Latinos are bad. The heart of his piece: Spanish-speaking countries have given cinema bankable, artsy, serious actors like Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Gael Garcia Bernal, Salma Hayek … so, Duralde ponders, ” …why is Hollywood returning the favor by making such dreadful movies for Latino audiences?”

It’s an interesting enough question, but try reversing Duralde’s premise: Is Hollywood is making terrific movies for everyone but Latinos? Maybe in some parallel universe, but certainly not in this one. Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Asians, Gays, Women, hell, even kiddie flicks and teen schlock — the problem is not that Hollywood makes shitty movies for Latinos, it’s that Hollywood, with very few exceptions, makes shitty movies for everyone. Unfortunately, people keep paying to see them, and as long as that’s the case, Hollywood will keep on churning them out.
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Quote Unquotesee all »

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