Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps’

Weekend Estimates – September 26

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps| 19.5|New| 19.5
Legend of the Guardians|16.3|New |16.3
The Town| 15.9|-33%|49
Easy A|10.7|-40%|32.8
You Again|8.4|New|8.4
Resident Evil: Afterlife| 4.8| -52%| 51.9
Alpha and Omega|4.6| -49%|15.1
Takers| 1.6| -46%| 53.26
Inception| 1.2| -37%|287

Mini-Review: Wall Street 2

Friday, September 24th, 2010

I wish I could say that Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps was a worthy successor to Oliver Stone’s classic. It’s not. And mostly because it, not unlike The Godfather 3, misses the heart of what made the first film work… a story that both illuminated the mysteries of Wall Street and was clear enough to resonate with the audience.

It was probably too soon for this film – which was also an issue with W, though I thought that film was a bit more successful in its goals – as the Wall Street crisis of 2008, still going, hasn’t quite been crystallized. The pieces are here, but they seem kinda thrown together hours before shooting and don’t get as clear as they need to be. Josh Brolin‘s Bretton James is the leading example of this. He’s an interesting character with multiple motives in play throughout his arc, but instead of representing the dark side of Wall Street’s smile-while-you’re-stabbing-others culture, he becomes party to some convoluted revenge plot out of a lighthearted heist comedy in which the victim is getting his comeuppance from decades earlier… but not a good one.

Likewise, Carey Mulligan‘s character, daughter of Gekko, is a Rubber Stamp Woman character, there as a whinny Greek Chorus to the men, willing to do as she is told when push comes to shove. What a waste. Personally, I would LOVE to see a movie with a seriously considered character of a young woman who lived in the shadow of That Guy and has real human reactions to that experience. What is it really like to be pre-TV Ivanka Trump… or one of Spitzer’s daughters… or Lizzie Grubman? We get only the surface and too much fake mystery that turns out not to be mysterious, but leads to a weird passivity when things change.

The movie doesn’t have the courage to make Gordon Gekko a better man than the ones who followed him to Wall Street leadership. The movie doesn’t have the courage to make Gekko, in clear terms, an equivalent to what followed him. Really, it does two stories, which don’t really add up. First is the “Gekko Returns & How With He Regain His Position” movie and the second is the “Shia learns just how ugly Wall Street can be, but never really confronts how ugly he is when the movie starts.” Neither really works on its own and neither really works as part of a whole.

All that said, it is a sequel, for better and worse. It’s an okay movie, but not a very good movie for the “betters,” like familiar characters and themes we go in already liking and some really good actors (including the odd casting of Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon as JEWS). On the “worse,” there is what feels like an indifference to really making the story work, perhaps an arrogance in trying to do too much in order to make a sequel better or more valuable than the original. So I didn’t hate the film. But man, was it frustrating.

I am an Oliver Stone fan. He is a maniac, but he is also a tortured artist. His best work in recent years has been as a documentarian and I expect that to continue. I may not agree with every view he has and chooses to discuss in his one-sided docs, but when he has a strong point of view, the work is always fascinating. WS:MNS is not.

Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Up until the last ten minutes or so, I was really digging Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. It’s not that we needed to revisit Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko (Michael Douglas), that classically evil rich white bad guy who preceded (some might say, foretold) all those rich (mostly) white (mostly) bad guys who built the dicey house of financial cards that very nearly collapsed the world economy when the bubble burst in 2008. But I didn’t mind seeing how director Oliver Stone thought Gekko would have evolved after spending those years behind bars.

Critics Roundup – September 23

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps|Yellow|Yellow|Green|Yellow|Green
Legend of the Guardians|||Yellow||Yellow
You Again|Red|Yellow|||
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger |Green|Yellow|Yellow|Yellow|
Waiting for ‘Superman’|Green|Yellow|||
Jack Goes Boating||Yellow|Green||
Enter the Void|||Green||Yellow
Buried |Green||Green||Yellow

DP/13 – Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps actor Shia LaBeouf

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

It’s Shia. It’s iPhone. It’s not pretty. But still, I think worth watching for the Shia experience and some interesting insights into how he got into the WS2 role.

Wilmington on Movies: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, and Our Hitler

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Oliver Stone, 2010

Oliver Stone’s new movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps returns us to one of Stone’s great subjects of the 1980s: the glamour and corruption of the American financial markets. A sequel to Stone‘s 1987 Wall Street, this show plunges us back into the seductions and pitfalls of the casino mentality on the trading floors and the stock market, of inside guys making huge, quick profits and the dangerous games and ruinous consequences of playing with other people‘s money, other people‘s lives — and not giving a damn about it.

And it returns us also to maybe the greatest fictional character Stone ever invented (with co-writer Stanley Weiser): Gordon Gekko, the brilliant, slick-as-a-whip, high-energy, amoral corporate raider with the combed-back hair, the custom made shirts and the fashion-smartie suspenders, the omnipresent half-smirk and whiplash flow of callous cracks and cynical Wall Street “wisdom” — the man whose motto was “Greed is good.”

As played by Michael Douglas, who won a well-deserved Oscar for the performance, Gekko was intended by Stone as the ultimate bad example, an amoral, selfish bastard who betrayed and exploited people, a graveyard dancer who bought up companies, squeezed them for all he could and then, heedless of collateral suffering, gutted and maybe destroyed them — while soaking up all the millions he could and living a high life beyond even the TV-and-movie- stoked imaginations of most of us. Why did he wreck companies, and also destroy jobs and lives, and swill like a sleek hog in the profits? “Because they’re wreckable,” Gekko casually explained.

What a guy! He was the ultimate hedonist with the ultimate toys, and a dark, mean heart. And Stone and Weiser tried to make sure we’d realize what a bad guy he and what an awful example he set, by clearly showing to what would seem even the slowest and densest of movie audiences, how evilly and unrepentantly Gekko damaged and hurt people, by finally exposing him, by wrecking his life and sending him to jail in Wall Street — using, as the agent of his destruction, the movie’s handsome juvenile lead and half-sympathetic, somewhat moral, up-from-the-working-class protagonist, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen). Bud wore a wire on Gekko to expose the bastard and goaded him into a screaming, revealing, rip-it-open tantrum.

But, in the ultimate irony and the ultimate bad real-life joke, Gekko — whom part of the audience at least knew was a heavy getting his well-earned come-uppance (maybe because they’d seen a lot of movies) — became instead an ultimate role model for a generation of swine. Sheeesh! Incredibly, he became the fantasy best pal/mentor and patron saint, for scads of ambitious, wolfish, proudly unscrupulous young Wall Street traders and raiders, who worshipped Gordon, had a hard-on for Gordon, wanted to be Gordon, and took “Greed is Good” as their own private credo.

Then these “Little Gekkos“ and other money-mad speculators — taking advantage of the horrendous and stupid deregulatory financial market policies of the Bush and Clinton administrations — proceeded to wreck what was wreckable, exploit what was exploitable, rob what was robbable, screw what was screwable, maybe even Ponzi what was Ponzable and Enron what was Enronnable, and to live high lives (some of them only in their 20s and 30s) beyond the dreams of even Gordon Gekko himself — until these rotten little high-rolling, high-fiveing parasites and their cohorts finally helped hurl us all into the great crash of 2008, and to what might have been the next Great Depression (and still could be, if the F.O.X.-G.O.P. ever gets back in power, dives into the loot and starts another deregulated feeding frenzy).

Most of the Little Gekkos probably thought the great lesson of “Wall Street” was not “Greed is bad,” but “Greed is good. Do it all pal, but watch out for wires and don’t get caught.”

I guess one or two Little Gekkos may even be reading this (though I doubt many of them waste much time on movie reviews written by lefties). And, if they are, all I can say is: Take an express-train ticket to Hell, buddy, because that’s where you belong.

That was then. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is now.

Full disclosure. I really like most of Oliver Stone’s movies. I love them even at their most outrageous and screamingly preachy and punch-in-the-gut unfair; I tend to dig them even when they’re “bad.” And, even though, like Stone, I had a Jewish father, and I was not happy with his recent London interview comments about Jewish politics, I’m willing to forgive him a lot, even forgive him my disappointment that this Wall Street is not as savage, punchy ad brainily aggressive as I’d like it to be — that it really does seem to have been mostly written by its two credited screenwriters, Allan Loeb (of 21 and The Switch) and my old colleague Stephen Schiff (True Crime), rather than Stone.

I don’t know why anybody would want to make an Oliver Stone movie about Wall Street and high finance that wasn’t written, primarily or substantially, by Stone, an Oscar-winning screen writer whose father was a Wall Street insider — though Writers Guild credits rules mean, I guess, that he could have written up to 50%, and still not gotten script credit. But I’ll trust Google for the moment. (Loeb, by the way, worked as a stockbroker.)

Anyway, business is business, art is art, and this script is certainly out of the ordinary: smart, gutsy, its subject, and better than most of what we get from the big studios. It’s not more trash for the young and horny, the Little Gekkos and their Gekkettes, and all the wanna-be Gekkos. Stone’s hand is there in the script, somewhere, if only as an inspiration. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps just doesn’t have the rip-it-open smack and the take-no-prisoners wallop of the 1987 movie.

What it does have is perspective, mellowness, maybe a little more obvious humanity. Sometimes, that gives us a surprise or two. And it keeps pulling us in.

When we first see the new Gekko, he‘s being released from prison in 2001, with all his paltry carry-in loot being stuffed in a bag and nary a friend, relative, reporter or telejournalist, there to push a mike in his face and ask if he‘s learned any lessons. (I didn’t buy that media freeze-out. And, in any case, I think the writers threw away a possible sharp, satiric scene to get their little Gekko-chastening “God, so alone, so alone!” moment. )

Flashing gecko forward to the mid 2000’s, before the crash, he‘s on the lecture circuit, peddling a book called “Is Greed Good?”, exposing what he used to celebrate. Did Gekko actually write it all, we wonder, or as with most public figures and politicos, from Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to Hillary Clinton, did he hire an interviewer/ghost-writer? (According to The New York Times, more than 80%, of the Times nonfiction bestseller list were not written by the name on the cover. The old Stone would have had the ghostwriter at the lecture and cracked a few jokes about this.)

It’s a new world, a new time, a new Gekko, new greed. The new villains of our day are the investment bankers, and the Wall Street-is-a-casino crowd, all those guys who got from George W. Bush and others, a license to steal. (And did.) In Gekko’s audience is the character we’ve met in the meantime, this movie’s equivalent for Sheen‘s up-and-comer Gekko acolyte Bud Fox: Shia LaBeouf as Jake Moore, a young financial stud with alternative energy principles. Jake, working on Wall Street, witnessed and lamented the crushing (which we see too) of his own father-figure/mentor Louis Zabel (Frank Langella And, coincidentally he’s dating Gekko’s daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan, at her cutest and wariest), who hates her dad, won’t talk to him, and is running a left-wing blog political website where she celebrates the kind of stuff and attitudes the old Gekko thought were for losers.

So the hook is baited, by Loeb, Schiff, Stone or whomever. Jake hooks up with Gekko, because he wants an insider‘s savvy and advice, so he can go after Zabel‘s wrecker/assassin Bretton James (Josh Brolin, looking like a dark cloud in an Armani suit). Gekko wants Jake so he can get back to Winnie, build a bridge to his old family, be a mensch maybe. James wants Jake on his team, because like Gekko before him, he has a strange weakness for young men on the rise, seems to have a weakness for seeing himself reborn in obvious movie juvenile leads.

Here’s one thing I don’t like about the new script. Like too many sequels, it tends to repeat the original and its patterns too much — though here, much less obviously. But noticeably. James is the new Gekko. (So, maybe, is the old Gekko.) Jake is the new Bud. Lou Zabel is the new Lou Mannheim (Hal Holbrook) or maybe Lou Stone. There‘s no new Darien (Daryl Hannah), unless it’s Winnie Gekko and blogging has become the new interior decoration, but some mistakes I guess we can learn from. Susan Sarandon, as Jake‘s mother, may be the new Martin Sheen (Bud’s dad) and also the new real-estate flogging Sylvia Miles, but the original Sylvia is back too, still hustling apartments. There’s no new John McGinley as the loudmouth in the other cubicle and I miss him. (“Knicks and chicks!“) Stone himself is on the trading floor, wearing just the right dissolute grin.

Bud Fox is back too, and that‘s one scene I really liked. (Some didn’t.) David Byrne is on the soundtrack as this movie’s Frank Sinatra. Byrne is good, but “Money Never Sleeps,” Talking Heads and all, doesn’t have an adequate substitute for the Chairman of the Board‘s great opening Wall Street (‘87) ballad opener “Fly Me to The Moon” — though, if they were in a humorous mood, they might have tried The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” Or Billy Joel‘s “ Moving Up,” or even, as a bow to the Little Gekkos, Joel‘s “(I Love You) Just the Way You Are.”


Afterwards, we do tend to go through the original archetypal moves and dramatic rituals again — though there are changes or evolutions, and this time, only an idiot wouldn’t realize that Brolin’s Bretton James is intended as a bad example. (I‘m not saying that a lot of idiots won’t.)


Money Never Sleeps deepens Gekko, seemingly, and shows his more human side, which Douglas only let out in little dribbles and sips, if at all, in the first movie. (Hey, the guy liked Bud.) And it works here because of the acting and the top-chop cast. Douglas is a great movie actor, and a born star (just like his own Jewish dad, Kirk, aka Issur Danielovitch Demsky). He holds the screen here and usually, in ways that most of the younger leading men, cutie-pies though most of them may be, can’t. He holds it better here than even the often on-target LaBeouf, who’s a kind of champ of his generation of casual, watchful underplaying and sincere realism.

I’m happy to see Douglas showcased this year, maybe get an Oscar nomination, for Solitary Man or Wall Street 2 — though sometimes it seemed that the filmmakers in Solitary Man wanted to wreck their character because he was wreckable. And though there may be a little too much mellowing going on in Wall Street 2 — even though the movie still has a nasty surprise or two up its suspenders.

As for the other actors, Carey Mulligan palms her usual low-key ace, even though she has the least well-written, most sentimentalized character in the movie. Langella cracks your heart on that subway platform. Eli Wallach is here as Julie Steinhardt, backing up James like another consigliore, and I must say I’d rather watch a Wallach seduction ( as in “Baby Doll”) than a Josh Duhamel one any way. Warren Buffett, maybe tired of his day job, shows up as local color. And, just as Wall Street, shot by Robert Richardson while Frank flew us to the moon, looked great and classically Manhattan, cold light shimmering over the skyscrapers and the memories, so does Wall Street 2, in a new world without a Trade Center, shot by Rodrigo Prieto.

Stone has mellowed. Gekko has mellowed. We’ve all mellowed — except maybe Mad Money’s Jim Cramer. And though mellowing can be good — though there are things about Money Never Sleeps (mostly the personal drama sections) that are better than is predecessor — I was sorry this wasn’t the Wall Street we, or a lot of us, wanted to see.

Most movie audiences probably don’t know enough about investment banks, unless they caught it in passing on Kudlow or heard it being screamed about by Cramer — and even the smartest among them may think derivative means something ripped off from Executive Suite or Citizen Kane. It wouldn’t have been belaboring the obvious, for at least 90% of the audience, to take us through a dramatic primer on how all those deregulated assholes manipulated the system, lived their high lives, and devastated the economy for most everyone else.

Greed? Good? Give me a break. A month or so ago, I was talking to an older guy in my building, a retired hospital administrator, telling him some horror stories about what happened to my 94-year-old mother Edna in the local medical system — such as the time I found her lying in sheets and her blanket drenched with blood because of an I.V. insertion error that nobody had caught. He looked at me sadly, and said he was sure that it was all true — that there was an unspoken policy at many hospitals to give second or third rate care to the elderly, because it was felt, they took up too many beds and decreased profits.

Maybe my mother wouldn’t have died in our apartment, six or so hours after the hospital released her, breathing softly “Help Me,” if there had been better medical care, kinder policies — and a few less parties, a little less Coke, one less political donation, a few less Knicks and Chicks, a few less derivatives, a little less clout, and a few less assholes, on Wall Street.

Sometimes it’s good to make your villains obvious, even too obvious, because in life they sometimes aren’t, even when they’re saying things like “Greed is good.” I’ll never forget the time one of my supervisors said to me, during an evaluation session, “You know, you’re a genuinely good person. But you’ve got to realize that there are people around here who are evil.” His exact words. I looked at this guy, surprised, and he was grinning from ear to ear. (Did I mis-hear “Evil?“ Did he really say “E-mailing?“) But I didn’t hear any alarm bells, didn’t think he was maybe tipping a hand. I thought he was complimenting me, perhaps even warning me. How naïve! Maybe I should have been wearing a wire.

Now as then, in the 2000s, as in 1986, just as Stone likes to show us, good is good and bad is bad. Greed is greed. Wall Street is Wall Street. Money never sleeps — and love of money, as they say in the Bible, is the root of all evil. Listen, you Little Gekkos, you Little Gekkettes: Greed ain‘t good and to hell with you.


Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (Two and a Half Stars)


A no-holds-barred adaptation by the energetic Zack Snyder of a Tolkien-ish children‘s animal adventure series by Kathryn Lasky, all about warring owls, and two kids birds Soren and Kludd (voiced by Jim Sturgess and Ryan Kwanten) torn between the good owls, the Guardians, and the bad ones , the Pure Ones.

I’m going to have to see this one again, because on a first viewing, with what I would have to say was a not-perfectly-sharp sound system, it struck me as beautiful and exciting, even dazzling, but also somewhat incoherent and hard to follow. There’s certainly a lot of amazing 3D, and one hell of a last battle — and two terrific voice characterizations by Geoffrey Rush as the grizzled good owl Ezylryb and Helen Mirren as an ivory faced femmey bad one, Nyra. But owls have generally similar, and often non-expressive faces. It’s actually hard to tell one from another, unless you hear a voice like Rush‘s or Mirren‘s. And the movie didn‘t reach me, didn’t kill me. Then again, it still might.

Our Hitler (Hitler: A Film from Germany) (Four Stars)

Germany; Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, 1977

Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s bizarre and brilliant seven hour investigation into Adolf Hitler and his cultural-political roots is a hermetic spectacle, a political grand opera and one of the remarkable films of its era.

Shot on a sound stage, with an ingenious use of back projection to create multiple backgrounds and environments, the movie takes many of its texts from Hitler’s speeches and ruminations and those of his cohorts (Josef Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, etc.), employees and analysts. For Syberberg, Hitler was not an aberration but the mad logical end point of part of German culture, a mélange of Wagner, The Ring Cycle and Nietzsche that Syberberg recreates in authentic, fact-based writing and eloquent sound and image.

Our Hitler was imported to the U. S. by Francis Coppola, and it’s so unusual and ambitious — and so richly textured, theatrical and unashamedly philosophical — that it requires a real adjustment from the viewer. You have to take Our Hitler with a seriousness, you might usually reserve for deep intellectual books and classical art. One of the film’s major admirers. Susan Sontag called it “the most extraordinary…film I have ever seen” and “one of the great works of art of the twentieth century.“

And though some will be alienated or confused by Syberberg’s Hitler, by its dense content and unique style, the film holds up. It also reminds you that, in cinema and history alike, we often just scratch the surface of the world. (In German, with English subtitles.) (Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago)

Warren Buffet Owes Roger Ebert 50 Cents

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Buffet Owes Ebert 50 Cents After Offering Thumbs On Wall Street 2

Dealbook Lunches With Oliver Stone

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Dealbook Lunches With Oliver Stone

Best Picture Chart

Thursday, August 5th, 2010
The Films Most Likely (by release date)
June 18
Toy Story 3
July 16

July 30
Get Low



Oct 22
Dec 25
True Grit



The Next Tier Of Likely (by release date)
Dec 17
Everything You’ve Got


Oct 1

The Social Network
Nov 12
Morning Glory


Oct 8
Nov 24
The King’s Speech
Dec 1
The Black Swan
Nov 19
Made In Dagenham
Dec 25




The Rest Of The Legitimate Contenders (by release date)
Feb 19
Shutter Island

June 11 Winter’s Bone
July 9
The Kids Are All Right


Aug 13
Eat Pray Love
J Roberts
Sept 1
The American
Sept 15
Never Let Me Go



Sept 17
The Town




Sept 24

It’s Kind Of A Funny Story


E Roberts
Sept 24
Wall Street 2


Oct 15
Nov 5
127 Hours


Nov 24
Love & Other Drugs


Dec 1
Dec 10
The Fighter
O. Russell
Dec 10
The Tempest
Dec 29
Another Year


Dec 31
Blue Valentine




London Boulevard


30 Weeks To Go Yeah… It’s Time To Start Thinking Oscar Again

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

We’re a few weeks away from Venice/Telluride/Toronto, which kicks off the Oscar season in one 19-day period. What these festivals do is to get a few titles rolling, but mostly, they start eliminating would-be contenders from the race.

It’s not just press, fans, and reality in play here … it’s the studios too. Fox Searchlight has four Oscar-thinking films this fall, really leading the pack in density of potential. And they will throw all four at the wall and see what sticks in the next seven weeks. Darren Aronofsky and Danny Boyle, who shared the Oscar Wars of 2008, are both back with Black Swan and 127 Hours, respectively. The great Mark Romanek, who rarely makes features, lands in theaters just days after his Toronto slot with Never Let Me Go, featuring Oscar-nominated girl goddesses Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley (plus Spider-Man!). And then there is perhaps the wildest of the cards, Conviction, starring two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank as a hard-ass woman out of her depth, but unable to be deterred … sounds swanky, eh?

Searchlight, which is as good as anyone in the Oscar game, will do as they have done repeatedly in the past … put the work out there … test the waters … smell the breeze … set their real strategy for the fall. It’s ballsy, but they get the joke. There are two pushes going on for these films: the films need to work commercially, and if they can also work as Oscar-bait – especially if it improves their commercial prospects – great.

I’m not saying that Searchlight won’t honor their directors and their sense of what’s necessary. But how realistic the future for these films is in awards season will be determined under festival circumstances. Aronofsky would likely have gotten a BP nod for The Wrestler in a 10-film field … so Black Swan will be measured in that way … unless it plays badly. Is the Boyle an Oscar-bait film or just commercial? The release date says that it is probably commercial, but they will see how it plays. And Conviction could be a dark horse surprise, hitting people hard in the heart and sticking. You never know.

Rule of thumb overall, not just for Searchlight, is that you can secure acting nominations in September, but you need to ride it out for much longer if you’re looking for a Best Picture nod. So from the outside, one can assume that the September 15 release date means that they don’t really think of Never Let Me Go “that way” and would be happy if Knightley or Mulligan can stir it up. (Carey also has Fox’s Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps due nine days after Never. There is some buzz for her in Supporting there.)

Looking back at 2010 to date … well, let’s not yank chains …

Shutter Island is brilliant, but its legacy is not the strongest. Still, it’s one of the very few realistic pre-September hopefuls. Toy Story 3 will test to see whether we are now going to see a Pixar film in the ten every year. The only other 3s to get nominated were Godfather III and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

Inception, which inspires lots of debate and discussion, won’t win many critics awards (though Nolan might, for director or writing), and would be very unlikely in a field of five … but becomes likely in a field of 10. And last, but not least by any means, Get Low, a very small, intimate portrait of a man considering the end … but funny … and with sure-bet nominated performance by Robert Duvall, possibilities for Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray (a long shot), and a first-time director.

That’s it for the pre-September titles with realistic Best Picture ambitions. There are plenty of additional titles with potential for acting, writing, and other noms. Of these four, I like three to get in.

Moving back into the fall … let’s start with the surviving Dependents…

Focus Features, like Searchlight, has an interesting line-up. They have the hit indie of the summer, The Kids Are All Right, though it seems more likely to break through in acting and writing than elsewhere. They are releasing The American, a George Clooney action-drama from Anton Corbijn, the legendary short-form director who is making his second feature here. The September 1 slot would smell funny … except that that is where they launched The Constant Gardener, which won Rachel Weisz an Oscar and did surprisingly strong adult business.

Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson and Sugar), who are highly thought-of young directors, are up next with It’s Kind Of A Funny Story, which seems to be a psych ward ro-mental comedy … (500) Days of Summer with better meds. And what seems to be The Big Dog for the distributor is Somewhere, the new one from Sofia Coppola, who puts Stephen Dorff in the Bill Murray seat in what seems to be her version of Jim Brooks’ failed I’ll Do Anything … but without music being anywhere near it. (Was that an obscure and twisted enough list of references for you?)

Sony Classics always makes a big splash in Toronto. This year, their new product will feel familiar, but with no expected 95 mph fastball like Capote or Penelope Cruz on hand. Nigel Cole gives Sally Hawkins another Oscar shot with the bright & breezy version of Norma Rae in Made in Dagenham. The great Mike Leigh returns with the Cannes-launched Another Year. And Sylvain Chomet, who threatened to upset Finding Nemo (which had that year become the biggest grossing animated film of all time) with The Triplets of Belleville, will now face this year’s threat to become the new biggest-grossing animated film of all time (Toy Story 3) with L’illusionniste. Of course, SPC’s big gun for Oscar will be Get Low, mentioned above as one of the few pre-September contenders this year.

In spite of being sold, Disney’s Miramax division is still scheduled to release The Tempest, now off the table for Toronto but premiering in Venice and then centerpiecing the NY Film Festival. However good or great the film, it is hard not to imagine that NY was a much cheaper choice than Toronto and that the plan was hatched from that perspective as much as any other. Taymor’s last two films (Across The Universe and Frida) played Toronto. Titus, a Christmas Day release, did not. I LOVE Titus. Hopkins was stunning. The imagery was truly spectacular. And for very tough Shakespeare, it was very accessible. We’ll see what comes of a female Prospero, though the cast, from Mirren down, is absolutely first rate.

There are only three True Indies who have shown themselves to have Oscar firepower.

The Weinstein Company is not without ammunition this season, even if the company hasn’t released a film this year (well … one … on two screens … oy.) They’ll release The Tillman Story in a couple of weeks, in time to qualify for Oscar noms without a sneaky run in a corner of LA. But that’s a doc play only. The loudest noise for Oscar will be around Julian Schnabel’s Miral, a Palestinian-Israeli flick that is all but guaranteed to get months of stories and op-eds in the NY Times, as well as being a favorite of Fox News for not being 100% pro-Israel. Julian and his pajamas will be the hottest Fox topic since Obama’s birth certificate.

Nowhere Boy is the John Lennon bio-pic-ish film, which has left both fans and the non-plussed in its wake. Also on the docket, Sundance slow-sellers The Company Men and Blue Valentine. Blue Valentine has more heat … but also more people who HATE the film. And perhaps the dark horse for their season … The King’s Speech, a Brit tale of a stammering king, loaded with faves like Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Gambon, Tim Spall, Derek Jacobi and so on.

Lionsgate is not scheduled to be in the Oscar game this year. The one possible last-minute entry would be Tyler Perry‘s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, a classic piece of theater converted with an all-star cast. The film is currently slotted for Martin Luther King Day weekend, but it’s hard to imagine that Perry is going to settle for this to be another commercial success. We’ll see.

Summit won Best Picture last year, but has no film in position to chase the award this year. There are a couple of interesting floaters out there – no US distributor – in William Monahan‘s London Boulevard and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu‘s Biutiful. Either could end up with Summit just before or after Toronto … or not. All that really matters for Summit is caring for the fang hags, so it’s hard to imagine the studio getting into a tough sell like Biutiful. If London Boulevard gets some heat, maybe.

And this year’s Little Indie Distributor Who Could – last year, it was Oscilliscope with The Messenger – is Roadside Attractions, who could hit an awards jackpot with Jennifer Lawrence‘s performance in and Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini‘s script for Winter’s Bone, a film that drew a lot of LA eyeballs during a slow summer for quality films. Could that convert to a Best PIcture nod? It’s a longshot… but that’s a lot better than a no shot.

Moving on to The Majors …

The two major studios deepest into this season will be Warners, Sony, and Paramount, each with at least two serious contenders and at least one interesting Maybe Something.

Paramount closes out the season with big potential films David O. Russell‘s The Fighter (via Relativity Media) and, especially, The Coen Bros’ True Grit. Not much to say about those, except, “Let me at ‘em!” A dark, dark horse for the studio is the comedy Morning Glory, directed by Roger Michell. Could it be this year’s unexpected Working Girl? It has the right players. And you never know. I know that I am looking forward to seeing Harrison Ford playing a prick for laughs. And McA still remains The Superstar Most Likely.

Sony is relying on David Fincher, who scored 13 nominations with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, to deliver some golden action with The Social Network. The studio is very high on the film and decided to open the film at the New York Film Festival, precluding every festival before it. On either side of this one is Eat Pray Love, a film in the same slot as Julie & Julia, with similar awards aspirations and higher commercial expectations, and Everything You’ve Got, a James Brooks film with Oscar winners Nicholson and Witherspoon and princes-in-waiting Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson.

Warner Bros has Inception already in play and I think it’s safe to assume that they will push it. They also have the new Affleck film, The Town. The release date makes me nervous, but his first feature behind the camera was so promising, this film has to be considered. Also, they have a slightly more veteran director, Clint Eastwood, with what sounds like an Arriaga-esque triptych of stories involving death. Hereafter. The biggest surprise on this one is that it is not opening or closing NYFF? So the studio will know where they are before October is over – their commercial onslaught begins in December – and decide how into the Oscar game they are.

One additional potential player for WB is Due Date, the new comedy from the director of The Hangover 2 … and Robert Downey, Jr., who they could chase acting nods for after he managed to be nominated for being funny in blackface once before.

he other three majors are not going into the season with a deep awards line-up … but that doesn’t mean they can’t get nominations or even the Big Win.

“Big” Fox’s only real Oscar play this year is Ed Zwick’s Love and Other Drugs. If any director should be excited about 10 nominees, it’s Zwick, who has been right there and missed the cut a number of times in his career. Ironically, his two BP nominations are for Traffic and Shakespeare In Love … OPF … Other People’s Films. Of course, this is a romantic comedy, so not the serious turf of Glory or The Last Samurai or Blood Diamond. But who knows? Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps will be touted … but the September release date is not a good sign. Acting campaigning is the most likely trend here.

Besides Pixar’s Toy Story 3, Disney is also in the Oscar hunt with Secretariat. The owner is too female, the jockey’s from Entourage, the trainer’s too scary, and the audience is too forgetful to remember that Seabiscuit was only seven years ago … they hope.

And Universal is pretty much out of the Best Picture game this year. They will focus on a Best Animated Film push for Despicable Me … which will be most interesting because Universal stalwart Tony Angellotti handles Oscar for Disney for animation only. Universal will soldier along in-house with a hand from a consultant or two while Tony does his very successful thing for Disney.

So, there you go … a starting point. Things will change – including the design of this page after seven seasons – as we get through Toronto and into October. But you have to start somewhere, right?