Condolences to Sony Home Video’s Ben Feingold on the occasion of his termination as head of Sony Home Video, but I always heard he was a real mass-market, go-for-the-big-numbers guy who wasn’t into classic titles or the aesthetic particulars. You know…a kind of antithesis of a serious movie lover or a DVD special-edition connoisseur. It was Feingold who approved the issuing of that pan-and-scan DVD of Sydney Pollack ‘s Castle Keep a year or so ago, which resulted in Steven Spielberg and George Lucas complaining to Sony Pictures oncho Michael Lynton, who led to Feingold finally issuing a new version in the correct 2.35 to 1 aspect ratio. If Lucas and Spielberg hadn’t spoken up Castle Keep would almost certainly still be viewable only in pan-and-scan. I’m basically saying that as my DVD-watching interests are concerned, I’m not feeling all that melancholy about Feingold’s departure.
Okay — I blew my Toronto Film Festival experience by not seeing Borat. If there’s a consensus among the various columnists, it’s that more people connected in a dynamic, jolting, oh-my-gosh way with Sacha Baron Cohen‘s deranged put-on comedy (20th Century Fox, 11.3) than with any other Toronto Film Festival attraction. Fine… whatever. It guess it’s something to look forward to seeing when I get back to L.A.
Toronto is the festival that presides over the death and downgrading of imperfect films. All The King’s Men died here. Bobby was all but pummelled to death. Stranger than Fiction pretty much died. For Your Consideration, Infamous and The Fountain (a film I really and truly liked) all died here. Breaking and Entering found respect and muted enthusiasm, but that’s all.
Babel and Volver solidifed their already commanding positions. Venus did fairly well, but Peter O’Toole did better. Catch a Fire tried for traction and found some, but I’m not sure if it was enough. Little Children did moderately well, although it became clear that some had recoiled due to the second-act “ick” factor. And Guillermo del Toro‘s Pan’s Labyrinth gained.
My biggest Toronto favorite (apart from the films I loved but had already seen in Cannes) was Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck‘s The Lives of Others. And I’m hugely pissed that I couldn’t manage to see Paul Verhoeven‘s Black Book his return to Dutch filmmaking by way of a World War II melodrama, as well as Patrice Leconte‘s My Best Friend, which Variety‘s Robert Koehler brought to my attention two or three days ago. I nodded and said thanks and wrote a note to myself…and didn’t see it.
The Last King of Scotland didn’t ignite, but Forrest Whittaker‘s performance as Idi Amin did…sort of. Penelope Cruz has played the role of her life in Volver, and to my mind she became an all-but-certain Best Actress nominee out of her TIFF exposure. Kate Winslet caught a Best Actress wave with her Little Children performance, and costars Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earl Haley popped through in more general terms.
I’l try and add to this piece later on, as well as get into the mezzo-mezzo’s that I didn’t feel very much about one way or the other.
“The Departed, which I have seen, will be the year’s best American film as of it’s October 6th release date,” reader David Erlich has proclaimed. “It is, without a doubt, the most riveting work that any of the players — Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson — have been involved with in ages. That being said, the film has no chance of Oscar recognition for Best Picture, if only because of the last act.”
James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo‘s …So Goes The Nation, which IFC will release in October, is easily the smartest, the most perceptive and the most fair-minded reading of the 2004 Presidential election I’ve ever seen or considered. I saw it at Toronto’s Paramount theatre last night around 8:45 pm, and came out fairly wowed. Anyone with an interest in this kind of riveting, down-to-it expose should catch it at the earliest opportunity.
The fact that Nation is a 90-minute doc and not a network TV news special is material but immaterial — the key thing is that it explains in the frankest terms imaginable how the John Kerry campaign blew it big-time with the middle American voting public, and how cagey and brilliant those evil and manipulative Bushies (hey, if the shoe fits…) were at almost every turn.
The fact that Kerry is a better, more thoughtful man than George Bush and, had he been elected, would have made for a wiser, less ideologically-driven U.S. President isn’t addressed. The doc is solely about the game of winning and losing as it was played two years ago. And the two things that come through are (a) many millions of Americans out there are living in states of appalling ignorance and religious superstition and are therefore ripe for shrewd exploitation, and (b) the Kerry people made so many mistakes it’s hard to keep track of them all, even in a doc as lucid and well-organized as this one.
A good-sized portion of the doc is about how and why the Bush forces managed a narrow victory in Ohio, which is the state that finally tipped the election in their favor. It’s been widely reported that Republican stooges (especially the ultra-partisan Republican Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell) suppressed Democratic votes, and I was surprised that the doc didn’t get into this a bit more than it did. Republicans, on the other hand, claimed that fake voters were being registered on the Democratic side.
Stern and Del Deo talked to many of the right top-level strategists on both sides, and everyone is in agreement by the end of the film that the Kerry forces couldn’t have played it worse. They fucked up just about everything. The top-level talking heads include Republican National Committee chairman Edward Gillespie, his Democratic counterpart Terry McAuliffe, Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman , Kry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill and senior Democratic adviser Paul Begala.
The film also focuses in one some local political activists on both sides of the aisle. I was especially taken with a young Democratic strategist type named Evan Hutchison who strikes me as a younger James Carville — a guy with a common, plain-spoken way about him, and yet smart as a whip.
Toward the end Hutchison says something very interesting about the differences between the Bush and Kerry campaigns. If a Bush worker had a good idea that looked like it might pan out, he/she was given a shot and wasn’t held back by organizational bickering or jealousy or a lack of high-level patronage, whereas the Kerry campaign, Hutchison felt, was too loaded down with older guys who’d done little more than lose campaigns and were looking to protect their power and their turf.
Listening to and acting upon good ideas is one of the essential qualities of any winning organization, and if what Hutchison says is true, I respect the Bushies a lot more now than I did before seeing this film.
As Oscar contender piece by Pete Hammond turned up on Hollywood Wiretap yesterday. I heard a couple of days ago that Hammond has been talking to somebody about writiing a running Oscar blog thing, so maybe this is the berth.
Reading it led me to a familiar conclusion, which is that the four most likely Best Picture nominees at this stage are still Clint Eastwood‘s Flags of Our Fathers (pure mystique…nobody has seen anything), Pedro Almodovar‘s Volver (probably his finest flm ever, and one of the best chick flicks of all time with a serious chance of being included — maybe — among the mainsream Best Pic contenders), Bill Condon‘s Dreamgirls (so far only extended product reels have been seen), and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu‘s Babel with the fifth slot up for grabs.
The intrepid Little Miss Sunshine could work its way in there; ditto World Trade Center, although I’m doubting this more and more. What indisputably strong and accomplished film especially deserves to take the fifth slot? Paul Greengrass‘s United 93.
If there wasn’t such an ingrained Best Picture prejudice against films in the cinefantastique realm, Guillermo del Toro‘s Pan’s Labyrinth would be at least be considered worthy of end-of-the-year distinctions. It is without question del Toro’s finest film to date — a dark political melodrama and a serenely tender child’s fable in a single package.
My gut says don’t hold your breath waiting for derby action on The History Boys. Something’s not quite happening with this film — I can just feel it with my insect antennae.
Gabrielle Muccino‘s The Pursuit Of Happyness won’t pop through for another couple of months, and the less said the better until it does. Ditto Christopher Nolan‘s The Prestige .
Some other HE conclusions based on portions of Pete’s piece: (a) All The King’s Men is dead (in my estimation this Steve Zallian period drama has been over for months — the disastrous Toronto Film Festival reception was just the official confirmation); (b) the Running With Scissors strategy of skipping the early festivals is indicative of…uhm, something; (c) Little Children is a fine film and a major creative surge by director-cowriter Todd Fields, but it has an ick-factor thing to contend with; (d) The Last King Of Scotland is a respectably crafted real-life drama (no more that that) but it also has a great Forrest Whitaker performance as General Idi Amin; (e) due respect to tjhe illustrious David Thomson, but Infamous is nowhere near as cultured or artful as Bennett Miller ‘s Capote and is basically dead in the derby; and (f) the lead performance by Derek Luke in Catch A Fire is tender and affecting, but I don’t know if the flm will launch him or not.
And what else? Breaking and Entering is mostly middling Minghella — soulful and smartly assembled in many ways, but curiously plotted in terms of the infidelity activity between Jude Law and Juliette Binoche; Peter O’Toole‘s performance as an aging actor with a wink in his eye is Venus‘s ace in the hole; Stephen Frears‘ The Queen is…I’m not going to share just yet, but Helen Mirren‘s performance as Queen Elizabeth II is a near-lock for Best Actress; and the derision that greeted Emilio Estevez‘s Bobby in Toronto (the “Love Boat” label is going to stick) has begun to turn the film into a Jay Leno joke.
I wrote last week that Stranger Than Fiction is dead in the derby, and take no notice of anyone who says it isn’t.
Films yet to be seen and handicapped are Martin Scorsese‘s recently rebounded The Departed, Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German and Ed Zwick‘s Blood Diamond. Clouds of doubt are hovering over Alfonso Cuaron‘s Children Of Me and Robert DeNiro‘s The Good Shepherd.
Ridley Scott‘s A Good Life is agreeably escapist and goes down easy, but the bottom-line distinction is that it’s formulaic (as in predictable). Agreeably so, but formulaic nonetheless.
Radar‘s Jeff Bercovici is reporting that Paramount Pictures president Brad Grey was accosted by a squad of Scientology goons during Grey’s negotiations with Tom Cruise over his M:I:3 gross revenue payment deal, which Grey was determined to reduce. “According to a high-ranking media executive, Grey was walking to his car on the Paramount lot at the end of a business day and suddenly found himself surrounded by more than a dozen Scientologists, who pressured him to ease up on [Cruise], according to the source. Following a terse exchange, the visitors allowed Grey to get into his car and leave, but the message was clear. Though he was unnerved by the incident, sources say, Grey stood his ground. After protracted negotiations, Cruise eventually agreed to a less generous deal.”
Esquire has finally put up that delicious making-of-Bobby piece on its website. The author is John Ridley‘s (a.k.a. “Nikki Go”), who worked on the screenplay. The intro copy calls it “a story of determination, career redemption, selflessness, and how not to make a movie.”