In the interest of fairness towards Cameron Crowe‘s We Bought A Zoo, which I wasn’t entirely sold on, I’m told that it sold out all over (New York, Philly, Boston, Kansas City, Memphis, Detroit, Orlando, Salt Lake City, L.A., etc.) during last Saturday night’s nationwide sneak, and that the Fox team did some polling and found that it scored excellent with 70% and highly favorable with 94%. 82% said they’d give Zoo a definite recommend. Even if you knock those numbers down to account for a general reluctance to speak bluntly to strangers, the film still did pretty well. So I get it. I’m in the minority.
Before it was Times Square theatre marquees from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. Now I’m on the hunt for high quality color publicity stills (or color film footage) of actors during the shooting of black-and-white films. Except for color production shots of Some Like It Hot during filming — I have plenty of those.
Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra during Oahu filming of From Here To Eternity.
The results of Sight & Sound‘s annual film critics’ poll will be online next week, but In Contention‘s Guy Lodge has posted the top 11. 100 elite film critics (Peter Bradshaw, “Harmin’ Armond” White, etc.) were asked to tally a list of 2011’s five “best, favorite or most important” films.
Lodge says it was “a foregone conclusion” that Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life would be #1, and that it got way more votes that the runner-up, Asghar Farhadi‘s A Separation.
1. The Tree of Life (d: Malick). Wells comment: First hour is deeply moving, beautiful, and at times astonishing. The second hour not so much. Things come apart, the center cannot hold.
2. A Separation (d Asghar Farhadi). Wells comment: A fascinating window into family and community values, not just as they exist in present-day Tehran but pretty much anywhere when you boil it all down. The combination of Farhadi’s simple, direct shooting style and the deeply compelling performances are blended with a story that hits on a riveting moral-ethical issue. The upshot is a dividend that is socially and psychologically revealing in a way that is truly exceptional.
3. The Kid With a Bike (d: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne). Wells comment: A minor Dardennes film and nothing to do cartwheels over. I disliked the obstinate-woodpecker personality and the dogged, loon-like tone in the voice of Thomas Doret, the red-haired lead character called Cyrill.
4. Melancholia (d: Lars von Trier). Wells comment: A morose, meditative in-and-outer that begins stunningly if not ecstatically and concludes…well, as you might expect a film about the end of the world to wrap up.
5. The Artist (d: Michel Hazanavicius). Wells comment: A delightful bauble and a valentine to silent silver-screen cinema. A necessary thing to see and be delighted about for any serious film fan. But it has no real soul or undercurrent of its own. It’s all borrowed, all referenced.
6. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (d: Nuri Bilge Ceylan). Still haven’t seen it, but I’ve been told it’s a fairly trying sit that will play best with Ceylan faithfuls.
6 or 7. [Tied for sixth place]. The Turin Horse (d: Bela Tarr). Haven’t seen it.
8. We Need to Talk About Kevin (d: Lynne Ramsay). Wells comment: A beautifully painted, radiantly colored, anti-verbal horror film about a sociopathic monster. Emotional rat poison.
9. Le Quattro Volte (d: Michelangelo Frammartino). Haven’t seen it.
10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (d: Tomas Alfredson). Wells comment: Ambiguous and clean and masterful in the manner of a slowed-down pulse. It’s a furrowed-brow spy film, cautious and probing and undashing, submerged in a world of half-clues and telling looks and indications…London fog and brain matter and ’70s technology…it’s just atmospherically dead-on.
9 or 10 [Tied for 10th]. This Is Not a Film (d: Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmash). Haven’t seen it.
The Jonah Hill transformation story is a one-two punch. He’s broken out of comedies by nailing a good dramatic part (i.e.. baseball player analyzer Peter Brand) in a great film, Moneyball. And he’s slimmed down with a healthier diet and (presumably) a more moderate lifestyle. He’s a walking metaphor for “you can up your game and change your life.”
Jonah Hill in Toronto last September. (For some reason I forgot to take a closeup during our chat.)
Some have said that Hill’s thinner shape makes him somehow less funny. I don’t think it’s the weight. I think it’s the 1959 certified public accountant haircut that he’s been walking around with since last September. Audiences expect funny guys to look wild and rambunctious on some level, so Hill just needs to grow the hair out a bit and maybe add some whiskers. That should take care of it. You can’t look too regulated.
Last night I sat down with Hill in a room adjacent to where Moneyball was playing. We went over the usual topics and had an easy chat. The time flew. One of the things that just popped out of my mouth was a suspicion that if Stanley Kubrick had lived and was still churning out films, he’d probably want to use Hill. Kubrick liked personality guys like James Cagney, and Hill, I think, fits that mold. His energy doesn’t push through in Moneyball (it’s a very subtle performance) but it has in most of his films so far, and I think the Great Stanley K. would have seen that.
Here‘s the mp3 of our chat.
I just wrote this for the previous piece about the Pitt-Hill Moneyball q & a:
“The 28 year-old Hill slips into a new realm or membrane of some kind in Moneyball. His Peter Brand character is mostly about analytical brilliance, but he’s a guy who loves to stay out of things. His greatest comfort is blending in with the walls and the furniture. The pleasure of Hill’s performance is in the silences, the proddings, the unspoken stuff, the stillnesses, the looks of terror and trepidation.
“It’s a major growth-spurt role, and absolutely deserving of Best Supporting Actor honors, partly because Hill’s decision not to do just raunchy comedies like Get Him To The Greek and The Sitter represents the best impulse that an actor can have, which is to move up the ladder by growing his or her game.
Hill as Peter Brand in Moneyball
Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill sat for a q & a last night with Entertainment Weekly‘s Dave Karger after a screening of Moneyball at Sony Studios. I’m not ignoring what they said or the still-potent pleasures of the film, but the standout moment was Pitt’s gentle handling of a strange, inappropriate confession from a gloomy guy in the left-front row who said he’d been feeling depressed and was “contemplating suicide.” Everybody in the room whispered “what the fuck?” but Pitt took it in stride and offered a nice brotherly reply.
Brad Pitt at Sony’s Cary Grant theatre following last night’s Moneyball q &a.
Here’s a super-dark YouTube clip with decent audio of the depressed guy. (It starts at the 42-second mark.) Cool-hand Pitt delivered a common-sense riff about the up-and-down-ness of things, and in a relaxed, no-big-deal sort of way. He gave the guy a little “chin up” and “I know it’s tough but it’ll get better.” The sound system was really echo-y so it’s hard to hear much but Pitt said that “life is cyclical…when you’re up and you’re up and when you’re down you’re down…it is tough, man…it’s tough…but man, it’s cyclical.”
After the discussion broke Pitt was mobbed by fans (mostly women) looking for photos and a word or two, but Pitt went over to the sad guy (whose depression, I gather, was over job and money prospects) and talked with him a bit more.
The Pitt-Hill discussion followed a 6:30 pm showing of Bennett Miller‘s Moneyball, which — yes, we need to do this once again — is still easily, absolutely and obviously the best film of the year so far, or is at least tied for that distinction alongside The Descendants.
It’s so much finer and smarter and more skillfully directed, written and performed than all the late-arriving Best Picture twirlybirds (especially and definitely including War Horse and The Artist and Hugo) that…I don’t want to get out the hammer but is there something in the water or what? The Artist, a bright shimmering bauble and a charming, silver-toned curio, is a hotter Best Picture contender than effing Moneyball? An almost comically schmaltzy, old-time manipulative Steven Spielberg horse film deserves more Best Picture love? Are we all living inside the Truman Show dome? If so, would it be okay if I become a heroin addict?
Pitt, Hill, Karger.
I realize, of course, that Moneyball doesn’t deliver conventional satisfactions (no big win at the end, no Natural-style home run, no cute dog) but it’s so amazingly singular and patient and wise and masterful. The fact that Miller allows the soundtrack to go utterly silent on several occasions is awesome in itself. Unlike other sports films and their standard strategems, it probably takes a couple of viewings to really get what Moneyball is throwing.
Plus it contains Pitt’s finest performance of his career and the best swaggering-movie-star performance in a long while. George Clooney doesn’t “swagger” as Matt King in The Descendants — he’s playing an anxious, grief-struck dad who settles into a tough situation and comes out of it in a stronger, slightly less selfish, more father-like place. Pitt’s Billy Beane is also besieged and uncertain, but he’s a little more of a kick to hang with. So perhaps he’s a notch or two ahead of Clooney…maybe.
And 28 year-old Hill slips into a new realm or membrane of some kind. His Peter Brand character is mostly about analytical brainpower, but he’s a guy who loves to stay out of things. His greatest comfort is blending in with the walls and the furniture. The pleasure of Hill’s performance is in the silences, the unspoken stuff, the stillnesses, the looks of terror and trepidation. It’s a major growth-spurt role, and absolutely deserving of Best Supporting Actor honors, partly because Hill’s decision not to do just raunchy comedies like Get Him To The Greek and The Sitter represents the best instinct or impulse that an actor can have, which is to move up the ladder by growing his or her game.
Here‘s the mp3 but good luck with understanding it due to an echo effect caused by the Sony tech guys. Pitt, Hill and Karger’s voices were audible to those in the first few rows, but their amplified voices came out of a pair of speakers in the rear which created a delayed-echo effect. Pitt would say “I’d like-like to give-give credit-credit to Bennett-Bennett Miller-Miller,” etc. Plus the mikes didn’t work half the time. (Pitt threw his to the ground.) Plus there was no light on the trio so you couldn’t really see much.
I’m sorry but the Sony tech guys get a failing grade and five demerits each. If I was their boss I would ream their ass.
Each and every time a job-appointment release is sent out, the new hire is quoted as saying that he/she is “excited” by the upcoming task or challenge or opportunity. They never omit that word…ever. And I can’t remember the last time an appointee has said they’re enthused or aroused or elated or intoxicated or intrigued or enthralled or charged or throttled or invigorated, or that they’re humming or tingling with anticipation.
They never convey an inkling of any particular passion, and in fact go to some lengths to suggest that particularity of any kind is not something they intend to even consider, much less look into.
The under-message is always the same: “It sure is nice to land a high-paying gig, and for starters I’m not going to say anything that will even vaguely hint that I’m anything other than a very grateful go-alonger.”
Even Frederic Boyer, a Frenchman and former Directors’ Fortnight honcho at the Cannes Film Festival, said be was “excited” at being named artistic director of the Tribeca Film Festival. “I could not be more honored and excited to begin this new chapter at Tribeca,” his statement read. “This Festival has matured and developed so impressively from its origins, but there are many more frontiers” blah blah…zzzzzzzz.
Please, please remove that word from job-appointment press releases for the remainder of the 21st Century…please. I’m not saying that anyone who subsequently says they’re “excited” by a new job is presumed to be a corporate drone who will do little more than follow the usual dance steps. I’m not saying that. But from here on anyone who uses the term “excited” in any official context will (and probably should) be regarded askance.
The New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review are sitting down today for a screening of David Fincher‘s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which, given what Fincher has been saying about it, may be more of a critics pick or a Fincher fanboy fave than what most of us regard as an “Academy film.”
A select group of Fincher fanboys (Hitfix‘s Drew McWeeny, First Showing‘s Alex Billington, etc.) are now watching Tattoo at Sony Studios. I thought my incessant Social Network and Zodiac ravings quaified me as a Fincher fanboy, but I guess not.
The dates and times of subsequent screenings will be made known later today, I’ve been told. I’m hoping to hear a comment or two later today from somebody about how it plays.
Hundreds of lefties were milling around the Occupy Los Angeles encampment last night when a friend and I visited around 10:30 pm. The city had announced an intention to evict the squatters for sanitation (and no doubt irritation) reasons, and so the word had gone out for people to join the protest and possibly dissuade the bulls from making their move. The cops surrounded the encampment early this morning but then backed off. No one was forcibly removed save for a few arrestees. But sooner or later the Occupy-ers will be gone.
I was there strictly as a non-militant, picture-snapping dilletante, as were many others. (Strategy p.r.’s Emily Lu was there with a friend.) I visited Occupy Wall Street a couple of times in September in the same capacity. At least I’m passing along images to several thousand people, whatever that’s worth.
We all know that the Occupy movements across the country are ragtag congregations that don’t have any particular focus other than to deliver a kind of mass theatrical be-in statement about flagrant financial criminality among the 1%, but it’s better than people wandering around in states of numbed-out fantasy and lethargy and other LexG-style mood pockets, which is what the powers-that-be would certainly prefer. The fix is in for the one-percenters, and at least the Occupy-ers are saying what they think and feel about that.
Police Chief Charlie Beck was quoted saying in a Huffington Post story filed this morning that “there is no concrete deadline” for removal of the nearly two-month-old Occupy LA camp. “About half of the 485 tents had been taken down as of Sunday night, leaving patches of the 1.7-acre park around City Hall barren of grass and strewn with garbage,” the story reports.
“The chief said he wanted to make sure the removal will be done when it was safe for protesters and officers and ‘with as little drama as possible.’
“We want to make sure that everybody knows the park is closed and there are services available, that there are alternative ways to protest,” LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in an interview with MSNBC. “By the way, we will be opening up the steps of City Hall for protests, they just can’t camp out.”
Villaraigosa, a former labor organizer, earlier said he sympathizes with the movement but felt it was time it moved beyond holding on to “a particular patch of park” and that public health and safety could not be sustained for a long period.
I’m sorry if this annoys fans of the late, great Ken Russell, but he never made a better film than…you thought I was going to say Song of Summer, right? I mean Women in Love (’69), the last and only theatrical Russell film that got it more or less right — sensually crafted, high-toned, erotic, impassioned — without going over the top. I love his artist-bio wacko period (Mahler, Savage Messiah, The Music Lovers) and I’m a huge fan of Altered States, but Women in Love was/is the pinnacle.
My last encounter with the great Ken Russell happened on 7.30.10 at Manhattan’s Walter Reade theatre: “I regret to report that last night’s Film Society of Lincoln center showing of Ken Russell‘s The Devils — a kickoff of a seven day, nine-film Russell tribute — was a disappointment in some respects. Russell attended with Devils costar Vanessa Redgrave, and it was, of course, delightful to see them sitting together, and to share in the love.
Legendary director Ken Russell, Vanessa Redgrave following last night’s FSLC screening of The Devils — Friday, 7.30, 9:55 pm.
“But FSLC showed the wrong version of this 1971 classic, the print was less than mint, projection was substandard, and a befogged Russell offered no hard answers about the Devils controversy.
“I’m not faulting the 83 year-old Russell for not being a younger man, God knows. What matters is that he’s attending each and every FSLC screening and ‘making the effort’ and so on. But the fact of the matter is that Russell wasn’t very snap-crackle-pop when asked about this and that.
“The Devils print looked vaguely cruddy — poorly aligned, underlit, green scratches here and there — and was not the promised 111-minute ‘rape of Christ’ version but the 108-minute version that was originally released in the U.S. This was a massive letdown. FSLC had promised the notorious version, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room who felt burned.
“I asked series programmer (and Film Comment editor) Gavin Smith what had gone wrong, and he said it had something to do with Warner Bros. not ‘allowing’ the unrated print (which is sitting in England) into the country due to some legal blah-dee-blah. I’m still not clear on this. A FSLC screening sells tickets, of course, but isn’t a “commercial” screening as much as a museum-type showing. Will Warner Bros. ever stop messing with this film?
“In a post-screening q & a Russell offered no inside explanation as to why Warner Bros. has twice offered and then withdrawn The Devils from commercial release over the last two years. (I wasn’t persuaded that he knew the particulars about the DVD and the iTunes versions being yanked after being announced and/or offered.) All he said was that ‘they don’t want it shown,’ and something about their obstructions more or less constituting the same kind of political repression that is depicted in the film. The whole Warner Bros. thing is just infuriating, I swear.
“When I say ‘poorly aligned’ I mean that the image projected last night was too large for the screen — that the ‘throw’ was miscalculated — resulting in a significant amount of the film’s image being cropped by the projector’s aperture plate. Throw in the poor lighting and the green scratch marks and it was indisputably a substandard experience. I love film as much as the next guy, but the iTunes version of the The Devils that I rented for my iPhone? Perfect, brightly lit, immaculate.
“I asked Russell after the q & a why Song of Summer, the 1968 BBC film that he considers his all-time career best, wasn’t being shown in the series, and he just looked at the floor. (Maybe he didn’t hear me clearly.) When I asked Smith about this he didn’t seem aware that Russell once called Song of Summer ‘the best film I have ever done.’ My impression is that the FSLC never gave the idea of showing this film much thought.”