I was just depositing some cash into a Washington Mutual account an hour ago, and the atmosphere was unmistakably edgy. A long line of people, anxious looks on some of the faces, a vaguely nervous undercurrent of one form or another. Washington Mutual went under a few days ago and was bought up by JP Morgan Chase on 9.26. There was a fat guy jabbering excitedly to a friend and making no attempt to hide his anger at bank employees behind the glass who were sitting at desks and not at teller windows. The vibe was on the sullen side. No jokes, no smiles, no chit-chat.
The Envelope’s Buzzmeter software is currently being overhauled and redesigned, so in the meantime The Envelope‘s Tom O’Neil has tallied some 2008 Oscar predictions. Nobody agrees on anything…too early for that. The contributors are O’Neil, Anthony Breznican (USA Today), Edward Douglas (Comingsoon.net), Scott Feinberg (AndTheWinnerIs, The Feinberg Files at The Envelope), Pete Hammond (The Envelope), Dave Karger (Entertainment Weekly) and myself.
“The biggest robbery in the history of this country is taking place as you read this,” Michael Moore wrote today. “Though no guns are being used, 300 million hostages are being taken. Make no mistake about it: After stealing a half trillion dollars to line the pockets of their war-profiteering backers for the past five years, after lining the pockets of their fellow oilmen to the tune of over a hundred billion dollars in just the last two years, Bush and his cronies — who must soon vacate the White House — are looting the U.S. Treasury of every dollar they can grab. They are swiping as much of the silverware as they can on their way out the door.
“This so-called ‘collapse’ was triggered by the massive defaulting and foreclosures going on with people’s home mortgages. Do you know why so many Americans are losing their homes? To hear the Republicans describe it, it’s because too many working class idiots were given mortgages that they really couldn’t afford. Here’s the truth: The #1 cause of people declaring bankruptcy is because of medical bills. Let me state this simply: If we had had universal health coverage, this mortgage ‘crisis’ may never have happened.”
“To a certain extent, I think John gets hurt by this,” said CNN contributor Ed Rollins about the failure of the bailout bill to pass the House earlier today. “He obviously, at the end of the day, said he was for it. But more important than that, he said he was the one who would bring them to the table and to a certain extent he will be viewed now as not being able to do that.
“McCain is our nominee and [congressional Republicans] will do everything they can to help him, but they are not going to go over the cliff for him. I think the reality is, he made a big show coming in and at the end of the day it really wasn’t realistic for him.”
One frequent reason why high-quality films are chosen as Best Picture finalists is because of the resonance and universality of their themes. And the themes that always seem to register more than others are contained in personal journey movies about growth, redemption and transformation. They say something with a measure of eloquence that people recognize as fundamentally true based on their own life experience, and if they don’t jerk the audience around with too much shallow diversion or emotional manipulation, they tend to shine through — even if they end sadly or tragically.
You will see change/grow/transform themes lurking within most Best Picture winners or nominees going back to the ’50s, at least. Not with every last contender, of course, but they turn up a lot.
Based on this criteria, four of the 2008 Best Picture finalists — the ones with the strongest personal-journey elements involving redemption, truth-seeking, transformation — are going to be Milk, Gran Torino, The Wrestler and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. And there’s an even-handed chance that another redemption movie, Joe Wright‘s The Soloist, may become the fifth.
Clint Eastwood‘s Gran Torino (Warner Bros., 12.25) may be one his lesser efforts — who knows? — but it he’s got game the theme of a snarly blue-collar racist, a Korean War bet named Kowalski (Eastwood), trying to “reform” his neighbor, a Hmong teenager who tried to steal Kowalski’s ’72 Gran Torino — is right out of the change-redemption playbook. Add to this my suspicion that Kowalski will need as much (if not more) reforming as the kid does, and you’ve really got the elements in play. Especially if the film is rendered in Eastwood’s usual no-frills style and if Nick Schenk‘s screenplay works on its own terms. Added element: this will probably be Eastwood’s last performance, at least in one of his own films.
Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight, 12.19) is about a downscale guy who’s screwed his life up so badly that he only has one way to go, and that’s toward facing himself and his mistakes and somehow fighting and climbing and building his way out of that. Fits the journey-of-redemption model to a T. Not to mention the real-life resonance of Mickey Rourke‘s life mirroring that of the wrestler character he plays.
David Fincher‘s Button (Paramount, 12.25), of course, is all about the journey, of course, only backwards. It really can’t miss unless people decide that Brad Pitt‘s journey isn’t sufficiently transformational or redemptive.
Gus Van Sant‘s fact-based Milk (Focus Features, 12.5) is about a geeky gay guy from Long Island who found his spirit and his mission when he moved to San Francisco and began running for local office. He was an unlikely politician, to say the least, but he kept on running for San Francisco Supervisor and was finally elected, and then fought against the Briggs Amendment and inspired others gays to hold their head high, and then was shot by a fellow San Francisco supervisor who was basically a conflicted homophobe. If it turns out to be as good as I’ve heard, Milk meets the thematic criteria so completely that it’s a near-lock for a Best Picture nomination.
And Joe Wright‘s The Soloist (DeamWorks, 11.21) is about a homeless schizophrenic musician (Jamie Foxx) and an L.A. Times jourmalist (Robert Downey, Jr.) who tries to help him realize his dream of performing at Walt Disney Hall. Could be icky, but it sounds half-right on paper, and Wright has shown he’s an emotional director with good chops.
One might assume/presume that Gabrielle Muccino and Will Smith‘s Seven Pounds would qualify in this respect, but for reasons I’d rather not say at this time I temporarily have doubts.
N.Y. Times reporter Michael Cieply has an Oscar season piece out this morning. It mainly focuses on Paramount’s intention to push The Curious Case of Benjamin Button big-time. The most interesting line comes from marketing chief Megan Colligan, who says the not quite finished slogan for the film is something along the lines of “you must live your life forward, but it can only be understood backward.”
A portion of the Cieply piece raised an eyebrow. “Some publicists who specialize in Oscar campaigns,” he wrote, “are privately predicting a year-end shootout between Button and Frost/Nixon, a planned December release from Universal Pictures, directed by Ron Howard and with Michael Sheen and Frank Langella in the title roles. The films have been seen by few, but the campaign machinery is already lining up behind them.”
By all reports, Frost/Nixon is a solid film based on a very well-written play (which I saw), but I’m not hearing “favored Best Picture contender” from anyone. That’s certainly not what I’m hearing from a guy who’s seen Frost/Nixon and who’s heard from a trusted L.A. friend that there’s much more to be had from Gus Van Sant‘s Milk, the biopic of slain gay-rights martyr Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn.
This guy — a distribution/exhibition exec whom I’ve known for years and whose views I trust — believes it’s much more likely that Milk will be the shit rather than the Ron Howard film, which he feels is good enough but hardly a Best Picture front-runner.
An L.A.-based journalist (also a friend) says, however, that Frost /Nixon is “Howard’s best film” although “we haven’t seen most of the contenders yet and it’s a little early to say whether it’s going to be in or not. But it’s a classy drama that really works. Designed for the Broadway stage, but it’s been made into a cinematic thing with real suspense and dimension. I really liked it.”
Cieply really goes off the rails when he runs down other possibly Oscar-worthy films. He mentions Marc Abraham‘s more or less discredited Flash of Genius, which was more or less trashed in Telluride. He also lists Clint Eastwood‘s Changeling, which was well received in Cannes (I saw and liked it) but doesn’t quite have that “wow” schwing that puts it into Best Picture contention, even if Angelina Jolie will probably snag a Best Actress nomination.
Cieply also mentions “coming award contenders” like Baz Luhrman‘s Australia, Gabrielle Muccino‘s Seven Pounds and — no joke — Quantum of Solace, which he says has “provoked early Oscar talk.” People are actually telling Michael Cieply that Quantum of Solace is an Oscar contender? For what, special effects? Explosions?
This David Byrne/”Once in a Lifetime”-themed trailer for Oliver Stone‘s W. is, make no mistake, brilliant — an award-level advertisement if I ever saw one. Is this a Tim Palin original or did an outside agency throw it together? TV junket press saw W. last weekend. Print/online showings will almost certainly be this week.
Luhrman is a fever-pitch, headstrong, first-rate director — one of the dependable visionaries in this business. The finely crafted script tells a rousing, big-canvas, primary-colors story that’s set in the World War II era. And the movie is clearly looking to deliver an eye-filling, epic-sized experience with a mostly realistic (i.e., not too much CG) brush.
The only uncertainty is whether or not the Nicole Kidman marquee factor, which hasn’t been working in recent years and has in fact put her at the top of Forbes’ list of overpaid stars, might get in the way. Costar Hugh Jackman is a solid bloke in my book, but take away the Wolverine knife blades and he’s seen as second-tier — or am I wrong? He has a following among over-30 women, or so I’ve read.
I hate it when trailers tell you everything about a movie except the final beat, so you’d think I’d be receptive to the plot vagueness in this recently posted trailer for Seven Pounds, the Will Smith movie coming out on 12.19. But it bothered me. “What’s going on here?” I was saying to myself. I got the part about Smith being shattered by something he did and wanting to help others in a kind of Pay It Forward vein, but what’s the shot?
You have to search around on the Seven Pounds IMDB page — among the reader comments, I mean — to understand what’s really going on. Which I did. So now I know.
The first assumption you might have is that the title refers to a birth weight. Nope. It alludes to the term “pound of flesh” from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (i.e., Shylock’s demand that Antonio literally surrender a pound of his own flesh if he fails to pay a monetary date by a certain date). Thematically it refers to seeking atonement for a terrible deed, and specifically it refers to Smiths’ character looking to do good things for seven deserving people, and falling for one of them, a lady with a heart condition played by Rosario Dawson.
For some reason I was reminded of a line spoken to Malcolm McDowell‘s Alex in a prison scene from A Clockwork Orange. He’s talking about morality to the rotund minister/priest, and says at one point, “I don’t know about the whys and wherefores, father — I only know I want to be good.”
The director is Gabrielle Muccino, who directed Smith in last year’s Pursuit of Happyness. The script is by Grant Nieporte.