In his first “Notes on a Season” column for the L.A. Times/Envelope, Pete Hammond says that “the big question some are asking is whether 2009, a slow starter for Oscar-level quality pictures with as many as 30% fewer releases coming in the final months, is turning out to be the right year for launching the ten (as opposed to five) Best Picture nominees rule. One leading marketer says, ‘I love the idea, just not this year.’
“Another person very close to the process and a supporter of the change is still nervously eyeing the contenders, saying The Hurt Locker is so far the only certain nominee at the eight-month mark. Others would probably add Disney/Pixar’s Up to that assessment, but the spotty track record of animation in the Best Picture race adds some lingering questions as to whether Up can prevail — even with five extra slots to play with.
“So what we’ve got so far is a Summit Releasing arthouse Iraq war movie and an Ed Asner ‘toon. Hmmm. Time to get to work, Oscar Gods.”
HE note: I’m not disputing the existence of the Oscar Gods, but it it my contention that the Movie Gods occupy a higher station in the celestial realm.
An apparently legitimate (i.e., non-fraudulent) early review of Danis Tanovic‘s Triage, which will play at the Toronto Film Festival, appeared a few hours ago. The writer (who couldn’t be bothered to reply to my email) is Anya Wassenberg, a Toronto-based writer/model. She’s not a film scholar, okay, but she did she care enough about Tanovic’s film to post on artandculturemaven.com. “If you’re going to the Toronto International Film Festival at all this year, Triage is a must-see,” she says.
She calls it “a truly engrossing film that features masterful storytelling and nuanced, completely convincing performances; one that tackles some of the darker realities of human existence with a view that seems entirely authentic, and truthful in a way that mainstream films so very seldom are.” Her stand-out line: “Damn you, Colin Farrell, for making me cry!” Only I don’t get the “damn you” part. What’s wrong with weeping during a film?
If I was loaded and living in LA and looking for Hollywood Elsewhere office space, I would definitely take Madison Partners’ Brad Feld up on his offer and rent myself an historic bungalow or suite on the Paramount lot. A friend says this is “an example of how dire things are at Paramount” and “remember when 20th Century Fox sold the land in the early ’60s that eventually became Century City?” and so on. I say it’s a great opportunity for anyone looking for a little emotional uplift.
In recognition of the MCN Gurus of Gold having today taken a stab at Best Picture handicapping, HE’s Ten Most Likely are as follows (and in this order): Invictus (Warner Bros.), d: Clint Eastwood; The Hurt Locker, d: Kathryn Bigelow; Up In The Air (Paramount), d: Jason Reitman; An Education (Sony Classics), d: Lone Scherfig; Nine (Weinstein Co.), d: Rob Marshall; The Lovely Bones (Paramount), d: Peter Jackson; A Serious Man (Focus Features), d: Joel and Ethan Coen; Bright Star (Apparition), d: Jane Campion; Up (Disney), d: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, and The Tree of Life (Apparition), d: Terrence Malick.
It’s been feeling like a relatively strong and stirring year to me, but some are going to start complaining any day now that the above films aren’t hefty enough — not broadly emotional or large-scopey or whatever — and that 2009 is therefore shaping up to be a somewhat pallid year in terms of Best Picture competition. I don’t think so — I’m calling it a pretty good, better-than-so-so year — but just you wait.
It’s worth noting that eight of the fifteen Gurus — USA Today‘s Scott Bowles, Toronto Star‘s Peter Howell, Entertainment Weekly‘s Dave Karger, L.A. Times Mark Olsen, Steve Pond, Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone, Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson and USA Today‘s Suzie Woz — have picked Mira Nair‘s Amelia as having a decent shot at ending up as one of ten Best Picture nominees.
I haven’t seen the film, but I’ve been hearing this and that. There’s nothing better than a nice surprise, but for now these guys need to lie down on the tracks and put their ears closer to the rails.
Oscar oddsmaking aside, the best films of 2009 so far are The Hurt Locker, An Education, In The Loop, Humpday, Public Enemies, Up, Sin Nombre, Adventureland, Three Monkeys, The Girlfriend Experience, Il Divo. And among the docs: The Cove, Tyson, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Food, Inc, and Of Time and the City.
Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson has posted ten big Toronto pick-up titles. The only ones I’m feeling even somewhat keen about are Danis Tanovic‘s Triage (because Tanovic is…well, Tanovic), Don Roos‘s Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (despite the awful title, and primarily because of favorable ingering memories of The Opposite of Sex), Atom Egoyan‘s Chloe (which isn’t supposed to be half bad) and Tom Ford‘s A Single Man.
No offense, but I’m either slightly worried or starting to grind my teeth over the rest, to wit: Jon Amiel‘s Creation (experience has taught me to beware of any and all husband-and-wife teamings), Edward Norton‘s Leaves of Grass (Edward Norton playing twins feels…I don’t know, a little too gimmicky), Neil Jordan‘s Ondine (generally scared of mermaids), Brian Koppelman and David Levien‘s Solitary Man (feeling scared of Michael Douglas at this stage of the game, particularly since he did a film for Peter Hyams), Aaron Schneider‘s Get Low (sorry but I’ve been scared of both Robert Duvall and, regret to say, Bill Murray for the last three or four years), and Niki Caro‘s The Vintner’s Luck (North Country put the fear of God in).
A day or so ago Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson talked about the difference between “artsy” and “art film.” I immediately thought of the last dialogue scene in Stanley Kubrick‘s Lolita when she did. When it was released the term “art movie” had a more or less specific meaning, depending on the mentality and education level of the person you were speaking to. It happens at 2:59 but go back to 2:40 for the full flavor.
My impression from Todd McCarthy‘s review is that Werner Herzog‘s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans isn’t quite declarative enough in its (apparent) attempt to be a loonier-than-life psycho-detective drama. Star Nicolas Cage, he says, “is sometimes so over the top it’s funny, which one can hope was intentional.” And there’s the rub — McCarthy isn’t sure. And yet, he says, if Cage “was looking for a vehicle in which his hyper-emoting would be dramatically justifiable, he found one here.”
Nicolas Cage in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
And yet, he says, “there’s also a sort of deadpan zaniness, stemming from a steadfast conviction in its own absurdity, that gives the film a strange distinction all its own. Herzog approaches the setting of New Orleans, as well as the depredations of the title character, with a straight face and unblinking lens, the better to catch a glimpse of the links connecting Katrina, the corruption of authority as seen through the outrageous behavior of the lieutenant, and the money, which lands mostly in the wrong places.
“If one watched this movie without knowing the identity of the director, it would admittedly be difficult to give it much credit, since it is so indifferently made, erratically acted and dramatically diffuse. For a considerable stretch, it remains unclear how one is to assess the helmer’s handling of vet TV crime writer William Finkelstein‘s pulpy scenario. The film is offbeat, silly, disarming and loopy all at the same time, and viewers will decide to ride with that or just give up on it, according to mood and disposition.”
I’m getting a feeling that Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans isn’t one for the Eloi. I for one can’t wait to see it in Toronto. I wish I still got high because this definitely seems like thje kind of film that you need to smoke a bowl before seeing.
It’s fully in keeping with my listless viewing habits that I’m only now interested in seeing La Vida Loca, a recent documentary about the Mara gangs in El Salvador, now that the film’s director, Christian Poveda, has been killed. The poor guy was reportedly found Wednesday in Tonacatepeque, a rural region north of San Salvador capital, with more than one bullet in the head.
Can you order La Vida Loca on Amazon? Of course not. And a site that has information about it has some kind of virus on it, according to my computer.
On 4.10.09, a story by L.A. Times Mexico City correspondent Deborah Bonello reported the following:
“La Vida Loca reflects a depressing and hopeless reality. The documentary, by photojournalist and filmmaker Christian Poveda, follows some of the members of ”la dieciocho,” the so-called 18th Street gang in a poor San Salvador neighborhood.
“‘Little One’ is a 19-year-old mother with an enormous ’18,’ reflecting her membership in the 18th Street gang, tattooed on her face. The numbers stretch from above her eyebrows down onto her cheeks.
“‘Moreno’ is a 25-year-old male member of the same gang who works in a local bakery set up by a nonprofit group called Homies Unidos. The bakery eventually folds when its owner is arrested and sentenced to 16 years in jail on homicide charges.
“And ‘Wizard,” another young mother and gang member, who lost her eye in a fight, is followed by Poveda during a long series of medical consultations and operations to fit her with a replacement glass eye. She’s shot and killed before the end of the film.
“Stories like that, punctuated with funerals attended by silent, heavily tattooed male gang members and wailing young wives, mothers and girlfriends, make up the sum of La Vida Loca.
“The nature of their existence meant that Poveda had to spread his camera lens wide in the 16 months he spent shooting the film.
“‘I knew right from the start that I couldn’t film just one character,’ he explains during an interview on a trip to Mexico last month when La Vida Loca was part of the Guadalajara International Film Festival.
“‘Firstly, they get bored after a couple of months and don’t want to be filmed anymore. Or two, they get put in jail, or they get killed.'”
The mind seizes up trying to imagine the mentality of Proveda’s killers. They probably imagined that he was going to rat them out to authorities (or some equally brilliant deduction), or perhaps took offense as some meaningless thing he said or did.
This is my second cinematic exposure (in a sense) to El Salvador gangs, the first being Cary Fukunaga‘s Sin Nombre. The right-wing fantasy in my head right now is an army of 10,000 or so Creasy-like characters (i.e., the CIA guy played by Denzel Washington in Man on Fire) moving in on the gangs and just wiping them out, one by one. Their mothers and girlfriends would be upset, of course, but who else would be?
The hard one is a two-man comedy bit in a sly, low-key vein. Recorded around 1958 or ’59, the humor comes from what used to be a basic fact in the American media landscape of the ’50s and early ’60s, which is that straight-arrow radio and TV guys were totally clueless about subterranean hipster culture. If you’re in the right mood, the bit is hilarious. If you’re not, it plays flat. There’s no guessing the comedian’s name because he disguises his voice.
Easy clip #1 is obviously from a war film. I have a special affection for it because of the way a certain actor says the words “one bullet now.” Easy clip #2 isn’t a guesser but a heavenly piece from West Side Story, which I saw at the Palace four or five weeks ago with an audience of out-of-town tourists, many of whom looked funny or dressed oddly in some way. The only moment that I truly loved was when they played Leonard Bernstein‘s “Scherzo (Vivace leggiero).”
Over and over, MTV’s Josh Horowitz mock-pleads with Jennifer’s Body star Megan Fox to sing “Over The Rainbow.” And all she does is refuse with that reedy little voice and a testy look on her face. “What is this about?…I’m not gonna sing it.” In short, Fox hasn’t much confidence, isn’t into relaxation or chuckling at herself, clearly knows she’s limited and that it’s safer to stick to reading lines in movies, and hasn’t much gumption. I mean, I could do “Over The Rainbow” on MTV.com. I could hit the notes, I mean.
John Hillcoat‘s The Road, which screens today at the Venice Film Festival after months of being kept out of sight by the Weinstein brothers after postponing its release from the end of last year, has been totally dismissed by Variety‘s Todd McCarthy. The opening graph of his review says “this Road leads nowhere” and that “it falls short on every front.”
Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee in John Hillcoat‘s The Road.
The drama as composed by novelist Cormac McCarthy in his 2006 novel “is one little genre step away from being an outright zombie movie,” McCarthy observes. “[And this is] something that’s much more evident onscreen, with its drooling, crusty-toothed aggressors and live humans with missing limbs; memories of Night of the Living Dead unavoidably advance in all the scenes in which Viggo Mortensen and son Kodi Smit-McPhee take refuge in a house, where they must contend with unfriendly marauders.
“But Hillcoat, who played with heavy violence in The Proposition and made some of it stick, shows no talent for or inclination toward setting up a scene here; any number of sequences in The Road could have been very suspenseful if built up properly, but Hillcoat, working from a script by Joe Penhall, just hopscotches from scene to scene in almost random fashion without any sense of pacing or dramatic modulation.
“Dialogue that should have been directed with an almost Pinteresque sense of timing is delivered without meaningful shadings, principally by two actors who have no chemistry together. Unfortunately, Mortensen lacks the gravitas to carry the picture; suddenly resembling Gabby Hayes with his whiskers and wayward hair, the actor has no bottom to him, and his interactions with Smit-McPhee, whom one can believe as Charlize Theron‘s son but not Mortensen’s, never come alive.
“Tellingly, both thesps are better in their individual scenes with other actors; Mortensen gets into it with Robert Duvall, who plays an old coot met along the road, while Smit-McPhee registers a degree of rapport with Guy Pearce, practically unrecognizable at first as another wanderer. Generally, the boy’s readings are blandly on the nose.
“If you’re going to adapt a book like McCarthy’s bestseller, you’re pretty much obliged to make a terrific film or it’s not worth doing — first because expectations are high, and second, because the picture needs to make it worth people’s while to sit through something so grim.
“Showing clear signs of being test-screened and futzed with to death, the Dimension release may receive a measure of respect in some quarters but is very, very far from the film it should have been, spelling moderate to tepid box-office prospects after big fest preems.”
McCarthy didn’t review The Road out of Venice, but off a showing at LA’s Sunset Screening Room on 8.27.