Today’s eyebrow raiser is Paramount’s decision to run Steve Carell as Best Actor for his for his performance as Steve Eisman, a real-life investment specialist, in Adam McKay‘s The Big Short (Paramount, 12.11.)
I wasn’t allowed to catch that special DGA screening two nights ago (i.e., Thursday, 10.15), but I’ve spoken to three guys who did attend, and two regard the Carell-as-Best-Actor thing as a “yeah, maybe, I guess” or “you could make a case that he’s a lead.” A third feels that calling him a lead stretches the definition as Short, he contends, is an ensemble piece made up of three or four parallel storylines, and Carell is basically playing a strong supporting role.
The main characters besides Carell/Eisman are Christian Bale as Michael Burry, Ryan Gosling as Greg Lippmann and, the least prominent of the bunch, Brad Pitt as Ben Hockett.
The three guys I’ve spoken to all agree that Carell’s performance stands out more than that of his costars, but only one of them (call him Observer #1) half-agrees that it deserves to be called a lead performance. Then again he’s analogizing it to Michael Douglas‘s performance in Traffic, which was kind of a lead but not entirely. His role was somewhat larger than Benicio del Toro‘s Mexican narcotics officer but not tremendously so. It was Benicio, remember, who wound up winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar while Douglas wasn’t nominated for anything.
Perhaps Paramount has decided to “run” Carell as a lead so they can push Bale as a Best Supporting Actor contender without having them compete with each other? Something like that?
It would also be nice to post some reactions to Steven Spielberg‘s Bridge of Spies, which opened yesterday and is doing fairly well for a dialogue-driven espionage tale aimed at over-40s. Rather than solicit random comments perhaps readers could address certain opinions and observations from a 10.14 Film Comment review by Michael Sragow?
Remark / observation #1: “As he did in Munich, Spielberg broadens and coarsens a fascinating tale into an overbearingly obvious and preachy statement on the cruelty of political divisions (and borders) and the importance of preserving humane values.”
Remark / observation #2: “Whenever they collaborate on a movie (this is the fourth time), Spielberg and Tom Hanks say they play to their strengths. But by now they have succumbed to their weaknesses. They prod each other into even greater pseudo-innocence and forced, excessive sentiment. Their mawkishness seems to double when they’re in each other’s sight.”
Remark / observation #3: “Partly because of Spielberg’s determination that audiences get the right messages and feel the proper feelings, Bridge of Spies, despite tense and witty passages, is misshapen, over-long and cripplingly erratic.”
Lenny Abrahamson‘s Room has finally been seen by the ticket-buying public. Including, naturally, a smattering of HE regulars. With your assistance I’d like to post opinions about the following: (a) In direct, personal terms would you describe the film as devastating, very affecting, somewhat affecting, moderately good, somewhat frustrating or somewhat draining?, (b) What was the vibe after the film ended and everyone was filing out and talking things over in the lobby?, (c) Brie Larson is said to be locked for a Best Actress nomination — agree or disagree?, and (d) does the film have the heft and heat to land a Best Picture nomination, or is it so urgent and powerful that even asking this question indicates questionable perceptions on my part?
Author-journalist-screenwriter Aaron Latham, quoted in Blake Harris‘s Slashfilm oral history piece (10.16) about the making of James Bridges’ Urban Cowboy (’80): “Debra Winger came out of the whole method tradition. She wanted to live the role. Like she would go shopping as her character. So, of course, she wanted John Travolta to really fall in love, to really have an affair. But John would have none of it. He has a different approach. He believes that acting is a craft or maybe an art. It’s something you do. It’s not method.
“For example, during the making of the movie, everybody in the cast and crew sort of started adopting, piece by piece, rodeo gear to wear. Except Travolta. Who always wore his green tennis shoes and his t-shirts and never once — outside the movie — did he wear cowboy clothes. But what he did do, was he’d hang out a lot with the cowboys. We had kind of a little company of real Gilley’s regulars who appeared in small roles in the film and John liked to hang out with them and go home and have dinner with their families. So he would do research. [Where] Debra wanted to live it, he wanted to observe it. And I guess he had some rule with himself that he wouldn’t date people he was working with. I don’t know.
Even before Friday’s box-office reports appeared, I was hearing that James Vanderbilt‘s Truth was doing poorly on both coasts. A friend who attended the 9:50 pm show at Manhattan’s Lincoln Plaza reported that the theatre was nearly empty, and the Los Angeles-based LexG tweeted that “per the Arclight seating chart Room and [Bridge of Spies] are packed tonight, [but] Truth empty all shows. Nobody tell @wellshwood.”
On top of which Cary Fukunaga‘s Beasts of No Nation, which began airing on Netflix as it also opened yesterday in select venues, reportedly tallied a lousy $17K in 31 situations for a per-screen average of $1,742, which sucks wind. Ditto Deadline‘s projected 3-day cume of $54,000. Over and out.
Was I therefore wrong yesterday in stating that Truth and Beasts are the best films opening this weekend and that viewers should take heed? No, I was not wrong. These films are the finest newbies.
I tweeted the following last night: “The public, bless ’em, sometimes has curious taste in films.” Which was a polite or roundabout way of saying that the public only occasionally exhibits taste of any kind in choosing what they’ll buy tickets to, and that they are often lazy, ignorant and ineducable when it comes to catching the highest quality fare. On top of which complexity (i.e., a lack of black-and-white simplicity) scares them to death.
Boxoffice’com’s Phil Contrino: “It doesn’t look good. The release feels really rushed to me. They put the trailer out way too late. Plus the critical reactions have not been enthusiastic enough. I think it’s going be overshadowed by bigger Oscar contenders like Steve Jobs and Room.”