Last night I attended a promo party at Soho House for two outrageously expensive but undeniably cool coffee-table books — Bill Gold: PosterWorks (with commentary by Christopher Frayling, the guy who invented the term “spaghetti western”) and The Rat Pack, commentary by Shawn Levy. I flipped through both and snapped away. Any and all photos not featuring Frank Sinatra are from the Gold book.
People repeating the “Annette Bening is finished” card need to chill down and recalculate the odds. I include myself in this equation. Because she’s not totally done. She won’t win, but she’ll bounce back when the Broadcast Film Critic and Golden Globe noms are announced, and when the SAG Award nominees are revealed.
I was saying to a friend a couple of hours ago that I personally can’t imagine The King’s Speech winning a Best Picture trophy from the New York Film Critics Circle or the L.A. Film Critics Association. I mean, I’d fall right out of my chair if that happens…but it can’t…right? Anyway, when and if the King’s Speech myth of inevitability has fallen away, a healthy percentage of MCN Gurus are going to say to each other, “Oh, my…what to do? Where to go? What safe winner can we flock around now?”
And then, I’m guessing, they’re going to start moving over to The Fighter. Especially if it gets lucky and wins with either the L.A. Film Critics Association (voting Sunday) or the New York Film Critics Circle (voting Monday). Not that I think this will happen — I fully expect The Social Network to win with both groups. But you never know…
“It has been common wisdom as this awards race moves into full gallop that Best Picture Oscar may come down to The Social Network and The King’s Speech,” Deadline‘s Pete Hammond wrote yesterday morning. “But after this week, I believe we may be adding a new heavyweight contender if mounting buzz is any indication. Academy members who are starting to see Paramount/Relativity’s The Fighter, particularly after Monday night’s premiere, are starting to talk in ways that make Oscar consultants for rival films nervous.
“‘It’s a great movie, it really is,’ one major writer/director told me last night. An exec close to the film’s campaign says the studios are starting to hear this a lot and points out one director branch member who came up after the film and told her, ‘I think I’ve just seen the Best Picture of the year.’ This exec says, ‘I know I should be drinking coffee but I am starting to drink my own Kool Aid. I think this thing is really starting to take off.'”
David O. Russell‘s The Fighter (Paramount, 12.17) has strong but not AAA (i.e., Social Network-level) Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic scores. And yet it’s igniting serious emotional excitement — perhaps more so than any other Best Picture contender so far. The passion of the big guns who are with it — N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott and Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir, among others — is deep and true.
I’m feeling something here, something that might result in a Best Picture win with the New York Film Critics Circle or the Los Angeles Film Critics Association…who knows? I’ll never back off from my worship of The Social Network, but anyone can see that The Fighter is a way out of the Social Network vs. The King’s Speech impasse. I’m not saying this will happen, but it certainly could. My insect antennae is sensing earth tremors, a certain rumble, whatever you want to call it.
“The entire audience for The Fighter will know that ‘Irish’ Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), lovable palooka of Lowell, Mass., is going to get that title shot and reunite his brawling, hopeless family,” O’Hehir writes. “The magic of The Fighter is all in the telling, in the fact that Russell has taken a tale of mythic American redemption and one of those Hollywood screenplays with four credited writers and somehow made a movie so rousing, so real and so full of complicated emotions that it all feels brand-new.”
This echoes what I said on 11.12, to wit: “I really couldn’t understand how a movie about a boxer could possibly add something to the table that I hadn’t seen before in 20 or 30 other boxing movies, but The Fighter‘s focus on family feuds and crack addiction and delusion and the necessity of facing brutal truths and looking people you love in the eye and telling them they’re history unless they clean up their act…this is what real families do, and why this movie feels like it’s doing it plain and straight every step of the way.”
Back to O’Hehir: “Several other movies this year have tried to tackle working-class American reality (at least in its Caucasian, New England form), including Ben Affleck‘s self-indulgent thriller The Town and the tedious Hilary Swank vehicle Conviction. Russell’s jazzy, ruthless, affectionate and funny film outshines them all, and is a terrific date movie to boot: It’s a boxing flick with bone-jarring action scenes for the guys, and a family-and-relationship comedy for the gals!
“I’m just glad to get Russell back, because he makes movies with tremendous soul, as much of a cliche as that may be. Marvelously shot and edited, The Fighter has high style but is never showy, blends history and fiction in fascinating fashion, and includes several of the year’s best performances. Oscar voters may well end up weighing The Fighter against Black Swan, made by Russell’s friend and producer Darren Aronofsky — a similar fable, told in vastly different fashion — but no matter who wins, nobody loses. Taken together, these movies demonstrate that there’s still passion in American cinema.”
Writing in a deliberately cliched fashion, Scott says The Fighter “is quick on its feet and packs a mighty punch. With solid bodywork, clever feints and tremendous heart, it scores at least a TKO, by which I mean both that it falls just short of overpowering greatness — I can’t quite exclaim ‘It’s a knockout!’ — and that the most impressive thing about it is technique.
“This is yet another tale of an underdog battling long odds and stubborn adversity in search of a shot at the big time. It is also a love story, a family melodrama and the chronicle of a close and complicated fraternal relationship. The love of a good woman (the unaffectedly lovable Amy Adams), the rivalry and camaraderie between brothers, the battered face, bruised knuckles and wounded pride — The Fighter has it all.
“But the inevitable comparisons arise only in retrospect, when it settles down into the company of Rocky and Raging Bull and other very good (and Best Picture-nominated) boxing pictures. Mr. Russell, a restlessly — sometimes recklessly — inventive filmmaker, does not try to subvert the genre, but rather, as Clint Eastwood did in Million Dollar Baby, to refresh it, to find new insights and angles of vision within the parameters of the tried and true.
“Mr. Wahlberg, for his part, leans back against the ropes and watches, underplaying so gracefully and with so little vanity that you almost forget that the movie is supposed to be about Micky. Everyone else seems to do a lot more fighting than the ostensible title character. But the brilliance of Mr. Wahlberg’s quiet performance is that it so effectively mirrors the deep logic of the story, which is finally about the paradox of a man in a violent profession who is fundamentally passive and who must learn how to find some distance from the people who love and need him the most without abandoning them or betraying himself.
Another sample quote from my 11.12 review: “The simple fact is that The Fighter is alive, really alive. It’s a rugged little blue-collar thing that (I know this sounds like a cliche) pulses with grit and real feeling and emotional immediacy. It’s loose and crafty with a hurried, shot-on-the-fly quality. Which makes it feel appropriately ‘small’ and local-feeling. To watch it is to be in it.
And another: “Hollywood has made good films about Massachusetts blue-collar people, but for me they felt ‘acted’ (like The Town and, no offense, The Departed). But Russell and Wahlberg, shooting almost entirely in Lowell on a fast 33-day schedule, have made some kind of real-deal thing here.
“Ten minutes into [the] screening and I was saying, ‘Wait…this is good…this is good…this feels right.’ The acting is great from every player, especially from Bale (he’s got the big showy part) but also Wahlberg, Amy Adams and fierce Melissa Leo as the headstrong mother of Walhlberg, Bale and five or six of the gruntiest-looking family of blue-collar sisters you’ve ever seen in your life, let alone a film. And George Ward and several others are also on it. They all say what they mean and mean what they say, dammit. Nobody’s playin’ fuckin’ games here.”
If Hollywood Reporter investigative hot-shot Kim Masters is reporting about the curiously high cost of making James L. Brooks‘ How Do You Know (i.e., $120 million not counting marketing), you can bet she’s not focusing on this 12.17 Sony release just to pass the time of day. She’s circling because she smells blood.
Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon in James L. Brooks’ How Do You Know.
It’s a Kim Masters “uh-oh” story, in other words, because this romantic dramedy has only just begun to be shown over the last few days (delaying press exposure is always a sign of concern), and because chattering naysayers are guessing that the probable box-office tally will be in the realm of Spanglish ($55 million worldwide) rather than that of Nancy Meyers‘ It’s Complicated ($220 million all in).
Why did this occasionally deft, not terrible, sometimes amusing but strangely artificial film cost $120 million? Talent. Reese Witherspoon got $15 million, Jack Nicholson pocketed $12 million, Brooks and Owen Wilson both earned $10 million (with Brooks expected to receive extra “backend” bucks for writing, producing and directing) and poor, bottom-of-the-totem-pole Paul Rudd took home a lousy $3 million.
Costs also mounted due to Brooks being a “slow and meticulous” worker, according to a production source, as well as a decision to reshoot the beginning and end of the film.
In short, it was apparently unwise of Sony honchos to have approved spending this much dough to make How Do You Know. The term that might best describe their reasoning might be “inexplicably detached.” As I watched the film, my feeling was that as charming as it sometimes is, How Do You Know is clearly not going to be an across-the-board hit and probably should have been brought in for under $50 million, and even then it might not have broken even.
The word to all the agents and managers should have been “we love Brooks and are committed to keeping his flame burning, but it’s not the ’80s or the ’90s any more and we have to face facts and work within the realistic financial realm that his movies now reside in — they’re now labors of love. James L. Brooks used to be a gold-seal brand, but he’s no longer the person he once was. None of us are. The fact is that Jim has, financially-speaking, become a kind of hand-to-mouth indie-level guy, in a sense. GenY and younger GenX audiences don’t know or care who he is, and Spanglish was a turd. So if you love and believe in Jim, as we do, accept back-end participation deals with next to nothing upfront, and then we can all hug each other and move forward and make this movie and hope for the best. Oh, and Jim? That goes for you too.”
I need to underline again that while much of How Do You Know feels oddly inert and sound-stage artificial, it does deliver here and there and is not, by my yardstick, calamitously bad. As I said yesterday, I can see a portion of the critical community being okay with it. But Brooks is clearly holding on to a compositional shooting aesthetic that used to be and no longer is. The world has moved on and he has not. Because of this older-filmmaker, shot-on-a-sound-stage, key-lighted-to-death quality, How Do You Know is going to be rejected, I’m presuming, by the under-40s and play only with the older GenX and boomer women and couples, if that.