The filmsinfocus.com guys have run a series of New Year’s Resolutions from a variety of filmmakers, but the funniest one was written by Pride and Glory‘s Gavin O’Connor. I don’t have any New Year’s Resolutions myself because I don’t believe in anything being renewed on January 1st. I don’t believe in numerology of any kind. I don’t believe in magic, in Jesus, in yoga, in kings, in Elvis, in Zimmerman, in David Poland, in New York “Vulture,” in Defamer, in Beatles…I just believe in me. HE and me. And HE advertisers. And the redemptive power of movies. And that’s reality.
The Academy’s Foreign Language Committee has done it again! Last year they failed to include the brilliant 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days on the short list, and this year they’ve blown off Matteo Garrone‘s Gomorrah, which has been honored left and right by critics’ groups and last month won the European Film Award for Best Film of 2008. Committee chief Mark Johnson…what happened, bro? This b.s. wasn’t supposed to repeat itself, and yet here we are. Another embarassment!
I have to leave for an appointment and can’t get into this but here are the films that the foreign-language committee has chosen, short-list-wise:
3 Monkeys (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey) — agreed, excellent film. The Baader Meinhof Complex (Uli Edel, Germany) — tough but very good. The Class (Laurent Cantet, France) — brilliant. Departures (Yojiro Takita, Japan). Everlasting Moments (Jan Troell, Sweden). The Necessities of Life (Benoit Pilon, Canada). Revanche (Gotz Spielmann, Austria). Tear This Heart Out (Roberto Sneider, Mexico). Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, Israel) — masterful.
“I read your morning-after Golden Globes piece,” a publicist friend wrote earlier today. (He was referring to “Winslet’s Double Win.”) “Answer me this: how is Kate Winslet a Best Supporting Actress contender for The Reader when Nicole Kidman was a Best Actress winner for The Hours?”
I didn’t expect very much from Armando Iannucci‘s In The Loop, a Sundance ’09 movie that I caught here last week. The notes made this low-budget British political comedy sound too ambitious and convoluted and cross-burdened. Except it’s not. It’s easily one of the funniest comedies about governmental inanity and media mis-speak I’ve ever seen. It also felt to me like one of the fastest laughers of this type since Billy Wilder‘s One, Two,Three.
In The Loop director-writer Armando Iannucci
And it has some absolutely wonderful insult humor. I’m talking one beautiful saber thrust and club-bludgeon after another.
Suffice that my pre-viewing concerns evaporated almost immediately. The reason I didn’t expect a lot going in is that I didn’t know Iannucci — he’s a successful British-based comedian, writer, director, performer and radio producer — or anything about his shows. I didn’t know squat, for instance, about The Thick of It, a 2005 political satire for BBC Four that Iannucci devised, directed and largely wrote. Some of the British government characters in In The Loop originally appeared in The Thick Of It.
In The Loop is basically about how the media can sometimes focus on a gaffe by an official or spokesperson and make it sound (via sheer repetition and obsession) to represent firm government policy concerning this or that major issue. In The Loop‘s major issue is a potential military conflict involving U.S. and British troops — think Iraq in ’02 — but the humor is about how various second- and third-tier government types in London and Washington try to dodge, maneuver and counter-spin their way around an essentially meaningless statement by a British cabinet minister that war is “unforeseeable.” Meaningless and yet strangely meaningful once the media gets hold of it. And the source of endless misery for many people.
Some of the In The Loop-ers.
“Wickedly sardonic and filled with secrets, lies, leaks, plugs, and faulty intelligence and walls, In the Loop leads us behind closed doors to reveal bungling bureaucrats entangled in petty rivalries, obsequious aides jockeying for favor, and the Keystone Cops of government,” say the Sundance notes.
Every cast member — Peter Capaldi, James Gandolfini, Tom Hollander, David Rashe, Gina McKee, Chris Addison, Anna Chulmsky and Mimi Kennedy topline — is clearly on the same Iannucci wavelength. They know they’re working with great material, and so do we. What is unmistakable is that they’re all having enormous fun with the material, although in a very assured and ultra-disciplined way.
I was so taken with In The Loop that I asked to speak to Iannucci. He called from London last Friday or something. (Thursday?) Our discussion speaks for itself. I’m hoping to meet with him in Park City, along with Gandolfini and Kennedy.
“The bottom line is that the old model — let’s go to Sundance and cross our fingers that someone is going to buy it — is ridiculous,” says veteran publicist Cynthia Schwartz, whose firm 42West is repping 15 films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and also consults on several DIY releases during the year. “Filmmakers have to take control. If they get a distributor, terrific. But if they don’t, they have to have a Plan B. And for the first time at Sundance, I feel like people are getting that.” — from Anthony Kaufman‘s 1.13.09 Indiewire piece, “Not Picked Up in Park City? Filmmakers Look Forward to DIY Release Options.”
“The reviews of Oliver Stone‘s W. were generally pretty good, which always helps ‘prestige’ films, but Lionsgate’s hopes really rose when NRG’s tracking for W. jumped after the film’s premiere. Marketers pay particular attention to how many people volunteer knowledge of their film — if the numbers are low a few weeks out, they will tweak the campaign–and W.’s ‘unaided awareness’ had risen from two per cent that Monday to a healthy eight per cent on Thursday.
“The three main research companies use their tracking data to predict the opening weekend’s gross, and their predictions for W. were in the eight-to-nine-million-dollar range. These forecasts can be astonishingly accurate — or way off. Palen has found that the tracking for Lionsgate’s hits routinely underestimates their audience: people who are slightly outside the mainstream. At the studio, they call these party crashers ‘the freak factor.’
“NRG predicted that Tyler Perry‘s first film for Lionsgate, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, would open at four to six million dollars, and it opened at $21.9 million. Tracking studies are conducted among people who’ve seen at least six movies in the past year, but Perry’s films have proved to be wildly popular with churchgoing African-American women. Other hidden pockets of interest made The Passion of the Christ and Sex and the City even bigger hits.
“Kevin Goetz, president of the worldwide motion-picture group at the research firm OTX, says that his company, knowing it can’t track all of Perry’s audience, simply inflates the ‘unknown variable’ segment of its predictive model by twenty to twenty-five per cent for his films. Often, then, the algorithm of box-office estimation, which is itself the algorithm of marketing efficacy, is actually the algorithm of the informed hunch.” — from Tad Friend‘s 1.19 New Yorker profile of Lionsgate’s Tim Palen, called “The Cobra.”
For the fourth straight year, the Oscar-nominated short films in the live-action and animated categories will play in U.S. theatres. This year’s crop, which will ultimately be seen in about 60 theatres nationwide, will open on 2.6.09, or roughly 16 days before the 81st Academy Awards telecast on 2.22.09.
Shorts International and Magnolia Pictures are the entities behind the release. A press release says that the short films “have charted a dramatic 223% increase in attendance at U.S. theatres since the [program’s] launch in 2006. Together with the theatrical run, the nominated short films will also be released on iTunes on 2.17.
I’ve assembled a slight rethink of prime Sundance Film Festival features. The total is now up to 19. I might have time to see five or six more but that’s it. I know how this works. You never get to see as many films as you’d like. Not when you’re filing eight to ten stories daily, you won’t. If I’m missing something major, please inform.
R.J. Cutler‘s The September Issue. Carlos Cuaron‘s Rudy and Cursi. Lynn Shelton‘s Humpday. (Maybe.) Antoine Fuqua‘s Brooklyn’s Finest. Gregg Mottola‘s Adventureland. Ross Katz‘s Taking Chance. Sophie Barthes‘ Cold Souls. Jonas Pate‘s Shrink. Armando Ianucci‘s In The Loop.Emily and Sarah Kunstler‘s William Kunstler: Disturbing The Universe. Josiane Balasko‘s Cliente. Tom DeCillo‘s When You’re Strange. Marie Noelle and Peter Sehr‘s The Anarchist’s Wife. Lone Scherfig‘s An Education. Oliver Hirschbiegel‘s Five Minutes of Heaven. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa‘s I Love You Phillip Morris. Davis Guggenheim‘s It Might Get Loud. Noah Buschel‘s The Missing Person. Shana Feste‘s The Greatest.
I’ll see Mary and Max, the opening-night film, but only because there’s nothing else to do. Max, the character voiced by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, is said to be morbidly obese, so right away I don’t want to go there. Even if he’s made of clay. Obesity is the King Kong of metaphors in terms of the current American malaise, and particularly the economic meltdown that is now threatening our security and stability.
Today is my last in North Bergen/Manhattan until January 30th or thereabouts. Flying to Park City and the Sundance Film Festival tomorrow morning, and then doing the Santa Barbara Film Festival from 1.22 to 1.30.
Michael Cieply‘s 1.13 N.Y. Times piece on Gregor Jordan‘s The Informers, based on Brett Easton Ellis‘s 1994 short-story collection about sex, drugs and depravity in 1983 Los Angeles, is a Sundance attention coup. Here, it says, is the definitive scurvy-pervy Naked Lunch/Alphadog/Less Than Zero-revisited flick of early ’09. Join us! Hey, got a smoke? I can’t find my fucking lighter. Wanna do an eightball in the parking lot?
Or, to go by a Publisher’s Weekly review, here is a cinematic revisiting of Ellis’s “one-dimensional satirical style [that weds] the sensational hedonism characteristic of Danielle Steel [with] the spiritual malaise of Douglas Coupland.”
The only downside is that Sundance programmers have given The Informers a bum’s-rush slot — Thursday night, 1.22 and Friday morning, 1.23, or two days after all the big buyers and journalists tend to bail out. But the Informers Sundance screening and after-party is going to be quite the madmen/party animal/poets’ corner event. Every person involved is an eccentric X factor danger-risker of some sort.
Everyone benefits for the time being — Jordan, the producers (Bret Easton Ellis, Vanessa Coifman, Brian Young, Jere Hausfater, Nicholas Jarecki), the screenwriters (Ellis, Jarecki) and the hot-shot cast — Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke, Winona Ryder, Jon Foster and Amber Heard. As well as Chris Isaak, Lou Taylor Pucci, Rhys Ifans and the late Brad Renfro .
The four stand-out quotes in the piece: (1) “You’ve got to be worried when I’m the sanest person on the set,” reportedly said by Thornton to Jordan early on; (2) “If you want to take a shot at it, it’s a full target,” said by Sundance Film Festival honcho Geoff Gilmore; (c) “I know it will be polarizing, it isn’t for everyone,” said by Senator Entertainment’s Marco Weber, and (d) “It’s a guilty pleasure — I think Amber Heard wears a dress once in the entire movie,” spoken by Mark Urman, Senator’s president of distribution.