I’ve read these stories about the battling Crash producers three times now — Sharon Waxman and John Horn‘s, I mean — and both are written so impartially that I can’t tell what’s really going on, but it seems to boil down to this: (a) Bob Yari, the former real-estate mogul who’s moneyed his way into the upper ranks of indie film producing over the last two or three years, has sued the Motion Picture Academy and the Producers Guild for denying him producer credit on Crash, (b) Crash wouldn’t have been made if Yari hadn’t put up a reported $7 million bucks (director-writer Paul Haggis has said as much) but the Academy and Producer’s Guild people who blew him off have seemingly said to themselves (by way of my extraordinary powers of perception), “He’s just an oily operator and a money guy and therefore not ‘one of us’, and we have a solemn responsibility to honor the hands-on producers…the people who really produce the movie on a day-by-day, task-by-task basis…so too bad for Yari but he’s rich so let him cry all the way to the bank“; (c) Yari has produced a lot of films recently that have been weak box-office performers (Prime, The Chumscrubber, Winter Passing, Thumbsucker, A Love Song for Bobby Long…otherwise known as “Bobby Way-Too-Long”) and perhaps he’s looking to do a little make-up bookkeeping, which, if true (and I’m not saying it is), could be a factor is his being acccused of hoarding his Crash profits. Cathy Schulman, a hands-on Crash producer who’s one of those lucky few who will be up on stage at the Kodak theatre Sunday night if Crash wins the Best Picture Oscar, recently filed a lawsuit (which I hear makes excellent reading, but unfortunately is not on The Smoking Gun) accusing Yari of acting from “greed and ego” in failing to pay at least $2 million in producing fees to her and partner Tom Nunan. So that boils it down, I think…Yari wants respect as a real producer and not just a financier but the Producers Guild isn’t buying because they see him as just a guy who writes checks and so he’s sued them to make them pay for this condescending attitude, and Yari seems to be a bit of a skinflint when it comes to paying people who think he owes them money…”seems” being the operative term. The man’s name ends in a vowel and he wants respect. If it were my call, I would give him a producer credit and let him take the stage with Schulman. He’s a player…he’s out there plugging and trying to make a dent…he had the moxie to write the check that made the film possible…c’mon.
Here’s a recording of the chat I had earlier today with Rachel Boynton, director of the just-opened documentary Our Brand of Crisis (Koch Lorber), a fascinating political doc that just opened at Manhattan’s Film Forum and will be playing in 15 other U.S. cities within the next five or six weeks. Read Laura Kern’s N.Y. Times review for background. I began by asking Boynton whey it took her nearly four years to complete her film, since most of it was shot in late 2002. And she replied….
“Seriously…fuck you and your plebian McDonald’s taste in cinema.” — reader Bill Weber over my confessing to feeling “a twinge of pride” over being part of the team that helped take down Munich. It’s hard to explain, but Munich struck me as a pretty good film with third-act problems, but the more I thought about it the less interesting it became. Then I saw it again last December and it didn’t kick back up…it just did the same thing. I may watch it again when it comes out on DVD, but I don’t especially want to.
16 Blocks (Warner Bros., 3.3) is a predictably gritty urban thriller that doesn’t screw up too badly. It’s Richard Donner‘s finest film in a long time, but that’s not saying a whole lot considering his direction of Timeline, Lethal Weapon 4, Conspiracy Theory, the piss-dreadful Assassins, the revoltingly glossy Maverick (which an attorney friend of mine called “a 75 million dollar Elvis Presley film”), the over-boiled Lethal Weapon 3, the manipulative Radio Flyer, and so on. Call it Donner’s best “street” film since Lethal Weapon, even though 16 Blocks walks and talks like a hack job from start to finish. It uses an idea that felt half-fresh 33 years ago in Sidney Lumet‘s Serpico — corrupt cops ready to kill in order to keep themselves from being prosecuted for taking bribes. Richard Wenk‘s script is pure formulaic horseshit about an aging, alcoholic, seen-better-days cop (Bruce Willis) reclaiming his honor by refusing to let a prisoner (Mos Def) be killed by his corrupt pals (led by former partner David Morse). Willis’s older-guy makeup and gut-first waddle-walk seem show-offy, Def’s mincing voice starts to really bother you after a while, the editing cheats all over the place (in the manner of the knocking-on-two-doors sequence at the end of The Silence of the Lambs), Glen MacPherson‘s photography is all long lenses and whip pans, and the whole thing is basically a wank. But it’s not hateful because it has a few half-decent jolts. If it shows up on a flight you’re on six months from now, you could do worse things with your time.
Another good David Carr/”Carpetpagger” rant in the N.Y. Times about some especially irksome social ticks and tendencies in the Oscar game. I’ll just address the complaint about industry journo-bloggers flogging the “Pet Cause” (David Poland on Munich, Roger Ebert on Crash ). I’ve jumped into this swimming pool from time to time (my anti-Peter Jackson and Chicago rants), and I see Carr’s point that “if you harp relentlessly on an agenda, many people will soon wish that you and your pet cause would go for a long walk.” But I’m not at all sorry for pushing The Fog of War two years ago and running that “Message to the Academy” statement in early ’01 that pleaded with voters to hand Steven Soderbergh the Best Director Oscar for Traffic and not for Erin Brockovich, which might have helped avoid a split vote in some small way. And if I’m really honest I have to confess to a twinge of pride over having been one of those voices who helped keep Munich from being serious considered as a Best Picture winner…for being one of those who stood up and fired back against that pompous and preemptive Best Picture campaign that began with a slightly smug-looking Spielberg on the cover of Time alongside the words “secret genius.” Nothing has given me more journalistic satisfaction all year than to be one of the guys who helped throw a cable around the legs of that film and see it teeter and fall and crash into the ground like one of those big “walkers” in The Empire Strikes Back.
Stop for a sec and click on this Cannes website…it has a really great crickets-and-birds soundtrack and if you throw in the rising sun visual it’s kind of perfect. It really and truly captures the way that town feels…at times. I’m feeling jaunty about Cannes because I just scored a good flat share at the right price.
A little over three weeks ago, or on February 4th, former N.Y. Times critic Elvis Mitchell returned to National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition Saturday” for the first time since…well, it gets complicated from here on. In February ’05 an announcement came down about an acqusitions gig Mitchell had supposedly landed with Columbia Pictures in Manhattan…which he apparently never performed. Maynard Institute columnnist Richard Prince referenced a 2.1.5.05 Daily News story about the Columbia gig, and also a column written last year by the New York Observer‘s 2.27 piece that Jake Brooks saying that Mitchell had “been assigned the welcome task…of trolling film festivals for potential acquisitions and evaluating the Columbia library for potential remakes.” Mitchell has a reputation of being a bit erratic when it comes to fulfilling gigs and assignments. (“In the early ’90s, it wasn’t hard to find an editor who had assigned Mitchell a piece — and it wasn’t hard to find an editor who wished he hadn’t,” Sean Elder wrote in Salon seven years ago. “Deadlines were often missed.”) And here we have Prince running a statement from an NPR spokesperson saying that Mitchell “never actually took the job with Columbia so there is no conflict of interest” with being an NPR commentator. Mitchell began on NPR as host of “The Treatment” on Santa Monica’s KCRW.
Critics have been saying for years that the Oscars have to loosen up and change with the times and not be so stiff and regimented. Well, here’s one very cool and classy idea: annnounce a brand-new category called the Masters Oscar, which in effect would be a retroactive Best Picture Oscar. The idea is to give a Masters Oscar each year to some richly deserving film that has steadily gained in reputation in the years and decades since it was first released, but was ignored or under-valued by Academy members at the time. An opportunity to right a past oversight by way of a second look, the Masters Oscar, if adopted, would probably be dubbed the “Second-Chance Oscar.” The idea partially came from reader Richard Swank, who put it to me this morning as follows: “All this talk of movies that were robbed in years past got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be great if the Academy had a veteran’s committee like the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame? It’s their job to induct those players who are deserving, but, for one reason or another didn’t make it in during the regular balloting.” My idea (thanks, Rich…now go sit down) is that each year the Academy Veterans Committee could nominate five Best Picture contenders from the past (any year, any decade) that didn’t win but deserved the honor and then some, and then of course send out DVDs of the five nominated films to the general Academy membership, and require them to vote for their favorite along with all the other categories. Think of the thrill and the major emotion that would come from films like Citizen Kane, Notorious, Psycho, A Clockwork Orange, Au hasard Balthazar, Touch of Evil, Taxi Driver, Bringing Up Baby or Out of the Past winning a Masters Oscar each year…ratified by a majority of the membership with the producers, directors and stars (or their descendants) coming up on stage to receive their Oscars to rapturous applause. It would obviously do wonders for the Oscar’s historical reputation, as well enhance the winning film’s reputation with the DVD-buying public. I don’t want to brag, but this is the best innovative idea I’ve come up with in a long time. Now watch Gil Cates and his old-school cronies blow it off.