It’s absurd, I realize, to speculate or fantasize about the absolute finest film of 2012 actually winning the Best Picture Oscar…ridiculous! The best films don’t win the Oscar, dummy — the most popular ones do. And yet Zero Dark Thirty is turning into a highly popular film with $75 million tallied + 9/11 families expressing their support + Leon Panetta giving it a thumbs-up + Martin Sheen going “homina-homina-homina…I’ve changed my mind!” + the Stalinist haters having been marginalized by common sense and routed by public scorn. Tables turnin’, cut down to size, how ya like me now?
The never-say-die Lincoln crowd among the Gurus of Gold (i.e., those who are still projecting a Best Picture Oscar win despite the writing on the wall and the flagrant Argo aroma) are (a) Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson, (b) L.A. Times guy Mark Olsen, (c) Toronto Star‘s Pete Howell, (d) MCN’s David Poland, and (e) Award Daily‘s Sasha Stone.
It was reported yesterday that director Phillip Noyce (Salt, Clear and Present Danger, Rabbit-Proof Fence), actor Sam Worthington and screenwriter Oren Moverman are teaming on an Italy-set thriller called For The Dogs, which is based on Kevin Wignall’s thriller of the same name. Which is well and good except that “dogs” is a problematic element in a movie title.
People hear the word “dog” or “dogs” and they think it’s a family movie or something smelly or sentimental. Something about the word “dogs” feels rank and flea-bitten. Rod Lurie‘s Straw Dogs was a flop. Remember when Orion tested Dog Soldiers and realized the negative and changed the title to Who’ll Stop The Rain? The use of a singular Dog (as in Wag The Dog, Mad Dog and Glory, Alpha Dog, Man Bites Dog, The Shaggy Dog, A Boy And His Dog and Dog Day Afternoon) isn’t as bad as “dogs” plural. Sam Peckinpah‘s Straw Dogs and Quentin Tarantino‘s Reservoir Dogs were super-cool titles but the latter sounded niche-y and ultra-male.
Cuba Gooding‘s Snow Dogs was one of the worst titles in the history of motion pictures.
Just call it something besides For The Dogs, which sounds too close to Gone To The Dogs or For The Birds or that line of country.
Here’s the Publisher’s Weekly summary of Wignall’s book: “In this slim, fast-paced page-turner, Wignall returns to one of the themes of his well-received first novel, People Die — the sympathetic hit man who has, if not exactly a conscience, extended internal considerations of the moral implications of his trade.
“Stephen Lucas, a recently retired, emotionally stunted hit man, emerges from his Swiss hideaway as a favor to old friend Londoner Mark Hatto, who hires Lucas to surreptitiously guard his daughter, bright, extroverted Ella, while she’s vacationing in Italy with her boyfriend. After Ella’s entire family is murdered, Lucas foils several serious attempts on Ella’s life, and the two of them form an odd, almost familial relationship. The boyfriend soon drops out of the picture as the hit man reluctantly helps Ella exact revenge on those who killed her family.
“There’s plenty of action, but it’s the twisting, turning, complicated relationship between Ella and Lucas that forms the core of this compelling novel.
“Most popular genre writers allow and even encourage the category elements — action, adventure, suspense — to subsume the literary ones, but Wignall concentrates instead on the questions of character and motivation that make for a deeper reading experience. The names le Carre, Simenon and recent British mystery author Mark Billingham come to mind, making this a blend of old and new masters wrapped up in an original, finely hewn effort.”
“The Oscars have become so commodified because there are so many awards that come before them so we all know what’s going to win.” — Village Voice columnist Michael Musto in a chat with Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neil. Their chat was posted this morning at 10:30 am Eastern. Musto: “Let’s not forget [that] they don’t really love Spielberg.”
I tweeted the following last night during John Horn‘s on-stage interview with Quentin Tarantino at the Santa Barbara Film Festival: “On one level, the Horn-Tarantino discussion is somewhat interesting because it’s been almost entirely about QT’s writing process.” And, I would have added, because Tarantino’s answers were typically candid and amusing and occasionally profane.
I don’t want to under-convey my admiration for Tarantino’s standard schpiel. Give him a microphone and he’s a chuckling, rollicking one-man band.
“But on another level,” I tweeted, “hearing Tarantino go on and on about how smug and confident and cocksure he is about his creative process is quite boring.” After about a half-hour’s worth, I meant to say.
It was almost as if Tarantino had cut a deal with the Santa Barbara Film Festival when he agreed to make an appearance in place of Leonardo DiCaprio, who withdrew a week or so ago — a deal in which QT said “I’m happy to help you guys but all I want to talk about is my writing process…will you agree to ask me only about that?” And the festival said okay. I don’t know anything, mind. I’m just talking out of my ass. But last night’s chat certainly felt as if this one conversational topic had been pre-agreed upon.
It was either that or Horn is a very focused and cerebral fellow who doesn’t have much of an instinct for what makes a lively and engrossing on-stage interview. Because his QT encounter began to feel like a classroom experience that gradually sank under the weight of a single myopic thread.
Tarantino basically said the same thing over and over last night, which can be condensed as follows: “Not everything that I fart out can be spun into gold, but obviously a lot of my farts have been. By me. Because I’m fucking good. And because I know how to make them smell good in context. Because I’m bold as brass.
“Clearly I’m doing pretty well and here I am, sitting on a stage and being applauded by the locals and being interviewed by an L.A. Times guy, so basically…all right, I won’t say that all my farts smell sweet as lilacs. But mine are different because they’re Quentin farts and that makes all the difference. They make money and people love them and major actors want to work with me…”
In essence, Tarantino also said this (and in some instances I’m paraphrasing): “I have to write within the conventions of genre” — i.e., remakes of ’70s B flicks, martial-arts films with samurai swords, attitude-heavy gangster pics, spaghetti westerns, cheeseball Dirty Dozen films set in World War II — “because I’m devoted to and fully respect genre, and that devotion gives me discipline. Without genre conventions I would just write on and on and on with a resolution I don’t suffer from writer’s block. My problem is that I write and write and write.
“And yet one thing I’ve noticed is that when you watch your older films on cable, you never want them to go on longer. You wish they were shorter, but they are what they are. But fuck it…here I am.”
Audience questions weren’t permitted and Tarantino didn’t show up for the after-party, but if I’d been permitted to ask my Big Question — “If you were presented with a Lars Von Trier-styled filmmaking exercise in which you had to write a film that didn’t use flip, cynical, grindhouse-style, cartoon-panel violence — no handguns, machine guns, samurai swords, baseball bats, grenades, silver-nitrate infernos or violence of any kind, either naturalistic or ‘in quotes’ — what would your movie be about?” — he would have answered with the same riff about how he has to write within genre or his stories would just blather on without shape or resolution.