Attaboy’s to the principal IFP Spirit Awward nominees, i.e., those with three nominations or more. The big winner was Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale with six — Baumbach for Best Director and Best Screenplay, Jeff Daniels for Best Male Lead, Laura Linney for Best Female Lead, and Jesse Eisenberg (one of the more intriguing young actors out there as well as a very cool, sharp and thoughtful dude to shoot the shit with) for Best Supporting Male performance. Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, Bennett Miller’s Capote, George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck and Tommy Lee Jones’ The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada got four each. Congrats to Team Capote‘s Dan Futterman for his Best Screenplay nomination. And a hearty “good going” to Paul Haggis, Bobby Moresco, Mark R. Harris, Don Cheadle, et., al. over Crash‘s being nominated for Best First Feature.
The IFP Spirit Award gang has nominated Robin Wright Penn’s brief but pulverizing turn in Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives for a Best Supporting Actress award…all right! Maybe the Academy and the Gurus of Gold prognoticators will listen up and consider this. I went apeshit over her performance in a 10.19 piece.
I don’t want to make too much of this, but it comes as a jolt that the IFP Sprit Awards nominating committee has given a pat on the back to Hans Petter Moland’s The Beautiful Country by nominating Sabina Murray’s script for a Best First Screenplay award. (Veteran screenwriter Larry Gross also worked on it, no?) Country was so roundly ignored by the media and public alike (or so it seemed) that I’m feeling a bit shocked. I fell hook, line and sinker for The Beautiful Country way back on 4.20.05…not that it mattered.
It’s evident why David Poland would be miffed at Patrick Goldstein’s just-up column about Oscar bloggers (“Making Oscars a mule race”), but I’m not going to squawk about Goldstein calling me “the Lewis Black of Oscar bloggers.” Plus he compounded whatever impact my anti-Memoirs of a Geisha views may have on the local populace by imprinting my words on wads of actual lumber-mill paper, which, for some people over the age of 45 or so, carries a certain legitmacy that cyber copy lacks. I have to say that I agree with Poland in his dispute with Goldstein over which acronym applies in the matter of a deminishing media enterprise. Goldstein describes himself and the L.A. Times as representatives of MSM (i.e., mainstream media) while Poland refers to the same as OM (i.e., old media). Either way, the notion that you need to hold finger-smudging newsprint in your hands in order to read something of consequence is totally out the window as far as the under-35s are concerned.
IndieWIRE has put up the complete list of competition titles for Sundance ’06 — Dramatic, World Cinema Dramatic, Feature Documentaries and World Cinema Docs. (Hey, three films from that discredited Film Finders list are included! Dito Montiel’s A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Julian Goldberger’s Hawk Is Dying and Hilary Bourgher’s Stephanie Daley.) Spectrum, Park City at Midnight, and Frontier lineups will be announced Wednesday, 11.30 at 1:00 a.m. eastern (Tuesday, 11.29 at 10pm). The Premiere’s section lineup will be announced on Thursday, 12.1 at 1:00 a.m. eastern (Wednesday, 11.30 at 10 pm). The short film lineup will be released on Monday, 12.5.
Excellent news on the Best Actress nomination front for The Upside of Anger‘s Joan Allen, whom I went to town for last weekend in a lead Elsewhere feature. Allen is now in sixth place on MCN’s “Gurus of Gold” Best Actress nominee list, right behind non-actress Keira Knightley, who’s been bizarrely favored for some reason because of her looks and coy charm deployment in Pride and Prejudice. Knightley lovers should ask themselves how much better that film would have been with Rachel McAdams, a real actress, playing Knightley’s character. I admit Allen is far behind with only 24 points to Knightley’s 75, and only Thelma Adams and Peter Howell have put her on their lists besides me. All I know is, the top four nominees (Witherspoon, Dench, Huffman, Theron) are untrashable and deserve to be there. But it’s time to quit piddling around and face reality and admit that Knightley doesn’t rate. I shouldn’t have to point out that being young and foxy and having bewitching eyes ain’t enough, but maybe I need to.
Laura Holson’s N.Y. Times story about the value of Steven Spielberg these days (“So, What’s The Spielberg Magic Worth?”) as Universal prepares to buy his creative services via their purchase of DreamWorks can’t be easily answered. What’s the value of a guy whose name automatically spells “quality thrill ride” as far as the general public is concerned? Big value, I’d say. What’s the value of a guy who was at his creative peak from 1974 to 1982, and then briefly bounced back with Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List and then again with Saving Private Ryan and Minority Report? And who may re-surge again (for all I know it may happen with Munich), but who has basically been banging out this and that “commercial” film for years without any apparent interest in becoming Jean Renoir? What’s the value of a director who made Always? What’s the value of a director who struck terror into the hearts of thousands of media people when he threatened a few years ago to direct an adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha? (Would Spielberg’s Geisha have been less ghastly than Rob Marshall’s version? Thankfully, blessedly, we’ll never know.) What is the value of a director who decided that Tom Cruise’s teenage son survived a suicide charge into a pitched battle with alien invaders in War of the Worlds, and in so doing caused who-knows- how-many-thousands of moviegeors to groan out loud in their seats? The public sees Steven Spielberg as some kind of golden goose, yes, and that means big money, but he’s been an erratic goose and an infrequent golden-egg layer for a long time, and his serious golden streak happened a long time ago.
Check out this slide show of Mike Russell’s “history of Aeon Flux” strip that ran in the Boston Globe last Sunday. There are infer- ences about the general worthiness of the Charlize Theron-Karyn Kusama movie that Paramount is releasing on 12.2, although there’s an explanation at the end of the Globe slide show that “all snark aside, the author has absolutely no idea how the live-action movie turned out.” (He doesn’t? Kids from Tibet and Afghanistan with their ears to the rails have an “idea” about this.) There will also be a one-page, slightly expanded “CulturePulp cut” of this comic available tonight at midnight on Russell’s CulturePulp.com site.
Forget that whole Sundance Film Festival ’06 thing I posted in this section a few days ago, and in the main column last Saturday. I’ve now been persuaded that a good portion of the titles I mentioned won’t be at the festival, and that some weren’t even submitted (!). Five or six days ago a friend from the festival circuit sent me a document put together by Film Finders called “Tipped for Sundance,” and it had those 22 films listed. I went for it because (a) the Film Finders people are known to be fairly well connected on a business affairs level, (b) the document was passed along only a few days before the official announcements (the trades will be running the stories this week), (c) the document “looked” superficially reliable — it had production info history, sales contact info and phone numbers for each film — and (d) the combined reputations of Film Finders and the guy who sent me the document convinced me the information was probably jake. And for the most part, it wasn’t.
Last July 15th I ran a column piece about a very tangy and well-respected redneck race-car movie called The Last American Hero (1973), which was directed and co-written by Lamont Johnson. Hero didn’t do much business and kind of sank beneath the waves after its initial release, and it hadn’t been seen on laser disc or DVD since, and I was pushing for Fox Home Video to think about releasing a DVD now. Hero was loosely based on Tom Wolfe’s legendary 1965 Esquire article about one-time moonshine smuggler and stock-car racer Junior Johnson. Wolfe’s piece was called “The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!” The movie is about a guy named Junior Jackson (Jeff Bridges) who’s more or less content to smuggle illegal hooch until he gets pinched and his soul-weary dad (Art Lund) persuades him to think twice, and he eventually uses his car-racing skills to break into stock-car racing. Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ed Lauter, Gary Busey and Valerie Perrine were among the costars.
There’s no question that Johnson’s film was widely admired (nearly all the serious film critics got behind it, especially Pauline Kael). And its influence in Hollywood circles seems hard to deny, its commercial failure aside, for the simple fact that it was the only backwoods-moon- shine movie at the time that was seriously respected for what it was, as opposed to being (nominally) respected for what it earned. When I called Fox Home Video’s public-relations guy on 7.14 to ask about potential DVD plans for Hero, he asked, “This is ours? It’s a Fox movie?” Yeah, it’s a Fox movie, I said. Fox has the rights. “We produced it?” Yeah, Fox produced it in ’73, I said, and Fox Home Video put it out as a VHS in ’97. Anyway, it’s a little more than four months later, and coincidentally or not, Fox Home Video has just announced that The Last American Hero will come out on DVD on Feburary 7.
“Well, ya really don’t know much about nobody until ya lend ’em money or punch ’em hard.” This is just a mock Rocky Balboa line from that Robert Welkos L.A. Times piece about Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky 6 that ran a week or so ago…but it’s true. You kinda don’t know a person until you lend them money or punch ’em hard. I would add that the way a person reacts in any kind of heavy-duty, act-now-or-die situation can be revealing. Was it Norman Mailer who wrote that a man never truly knows who his wife is until he meets her in court?
Newsweek‘s Devin Gordon has seen and written about Peter Jackson’s King Kong (Universal, 12.14), and right off the top he uses the same “I” word I’ve been using to describe Jackson for the last four years. (What columnist would use such a term, after all, if he/she wasn’t unfairly biased against Jackson?) “Some critics will complain that the film’s length is an act of Oscar-drunk hubris,” Gordon allows, “but while Kong may be indulgent, it’s not pretentious. And it’s certainly never dull. Jackson has honored his favorite film in the best possible way: by recapturing its heart-pounding, escapist glee.” Keep in mind that any journalist-critic would be inclined to show politeness (if not outright gratitude) to Jackson for his goodwill gesture of letting the journo-critic get a world-exclusive look at King Kong, and that this would probably translate into stepping lightly and obliquely in the rendering of any judgments. And yet even with this psychology in place, Gordon has called the film “indulgent.” He also reports there’s a scene between Kong and Naomi Watts’ Ann Darrow “on a frozen pond in Central Park that tilts toward the corny.” Asked about the film’s three-hour length, Jackson tells Gordon, “A few people have already asked me why we’re taking twice as long to tell essentially the same story, and I don’t really know. We’ve been asking that ourselves. I’m going to have to come up with a better answer.” That quote alone gives me the willies. Jackson’s Kong is 80 minutes longer than the original, and he doesn’t even know why?