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?