Different Enough?

There’s a slightly longer “Director’s Cut” DVD of Paul Haggis’s Oscar-winning Crash hitting stores on April 4th. It’s just about three minutes longer than the 112-minute version that played in theatres. Extra dabs, clips and brushstrokes “integrated,” as a Lionsgate spokesperson put it this morning.
The two-disc package will have several deleted scenes and the usual featurettes, etc., but it’s too bad the slightly altered film on the DVD won’t be a little more so. A good 15 or 20 minutes longer, say, or maybe even a Wyatt Earp-sized three-hour cut. All those racist Los Angelenos, all those story strands…why not?

Terrence Howard

Or maybe a shorter, tighter version in the vein of Terrence Malick’s re-released version of The New World, maybe with substituted footage or all the same scenes but more streamlined. There’s no such thing as a film that can’t be just a wee bit improved with the right trims or reshufflings. I could go back to just about any article I’ve ever written and improve it with a few edits…easy.
I called Paul Haggis (through his publicist) to discuss the content of the extra stuff, but no callback. So I tried Bobby Moresco, who shared the Best Original Screen- play Oscar with Haggis two nights ago, and he didn’t get back either. I’m getting a distinct feeling that the 115-minute Crash doesn’t mean much in their world right now.
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I get it…I do. Lionsgate suddenly has a Best Picture winner with brand-new earning potental so they’re trying to milk it every which way…fine. And I’m always up for a good milking if the package is right.
But if I’m a food critic and a chef says he’s got a whole new menu he’d like me to try, and it turns out the only thing different is that all the dishes have an extra spoonful of steamed carrots, I’m going to feel disappointed.
A special director’s cut of a well-liked movie means a rethink or a recall of some kind. It’s about having another go. My expectation when this happens is a juicier steak or extra mashed potatoes with gravy…something with calories.

The final cover will obviously tout the Best Picture Oscar triumph — this one was roughed out a few weeks ago

I’m sure the extras on the double-disc Crash will be fine, but the film is the matter at hand.
Sidenote: In looking into this story I noticed that three credible sources — Variety, N.Y. Times and DVD Empire — give three different lengths of the original Crash.
Variety‘s Toronto Film Festival review (September 2004) said Haggis’s film ran 112 minutes, A.O. Scott’s 5.6.05 Times review said it runs 107 minutes, and DVD Empire claims a running time of 122 minutes.
Somebody at DVD Empire probably just hit a “2” key when he was aiming for the “1” but that N.Y. Times estimate is…well, odd.


For Shame

I don’t want to sound bitter or disrespectful, but Crash‘s Best Picture win last night didn’t exactly brighten my faith in the leanings of the human spirit.
I’m not saying it wasn’t a deserved triumph for some very good and talented people. Director and co-writer Paul Haggis and co-writer Bobby Moresco, principally, but also the fine ensemble cast, the below-the-liners (including dp’s James Muro and Dana Gonzales), producer Cathy Schulman, and executive producer and check- writer Bob Yari (whom I congratulated at the Crash celebration at the Chateau Marmont).

Crash producer Cathy Schulman, Jack Nicholson, director-writer Paul Haggis following last night’s awarding of the Best Picture Oscar to Crash

And most especially the vigilant, never-say-die Lionsgate marketers and publicists (along with the Dart Group’s Cynthia Swartz) who sold it like total pros.
But deep down, we all know why Crash won.
Kenneth Turan knows, Nikki Finke knows, the “Bagger” knows, and I suspect that even David Poland knows, despite his down-playing the reason in an otherwise fair- minded assessment posted last night.
Most of the pundits are going to try to sidestep or soft-pedal what happened, and if you’re looking for that kind of thing you know where to find it. This wasn’t a replay of Shakespeare in Love beating out Saving Private Ryan. It was worse…a whole lot worse.
Crash is a good film — an emotional, well-tooled, sometimes profound look at several racist and heavily bruised Los Angelenos who somehow manage to listen now and then to the better angels of their nature. They do this infrequently and haphazardly, but just enough at the end of the day (and the film) to earn our compassion.

Nice movie massage — now welcome to real life. The fact is that last night a lot of good-hearted people, bottom line, were essentially cheering the fact that a bunch of retro-graders and hang-backers in the Motion Picture Academy voted for Crash for the wrong reasons.
Is anyone besides me seeing the irony here…the irony that howled and flooded the skies above Los Angeles last night? The very thing that Crash laments — prejudice against people of different stripes and persuasions — is what tipped the vote and delivered the Big Prize.
Hell, this might have been more than a tipping factor. It may have been a friggin’ landslide for all anyone knows.
So let’s all keep it going and dig into our hearts this morning and extend some of that Crash compassion to the small minds and timid souls who voted against (and in many cases probably didn’t even see) Brokeback Mountain.

I’m not talking about those who love and respect Crash for what it is — they’re fine and approvable. I’m talking about the duck-and-hiders.
Squeamishness, old-fogeyism (not the kind you can measure in years but which can be found among people of all shapes, ages and nations) and puptent-phobia snuck into the room, and then slowed and stalled the Brokeback bandwagon and finally turned it down an alley.
I don’t have a recording of any Academy members talking about the sacrosanct John Wayne macho-cowboy tradition, or confiding their concerns about how it might feel it they watched one of the briefest, most darkly lit, most discreet coupling scenes in movie history, and what the cultural ratification that an Oscar win would mean for Brokeback and gay people everywhere, so I guess there’s no proving these views were a factor.
The anti-Brokeback banshee was swirling over and under Paul Haggis, Cathy Schulman and Jack Nicholson as they stood on the Kodak stage last night.

“If they want to be sour grapes about it, let ’em. We made a good film and people loved it and voted us in, and that’s that.”

And it wasn’t pretty and it ain’t pretty now. I live in tres gay West Hollywood and I was walking along Santa Monica Blvd. this morning and feeling the air, and I can tell you there’s no joy in Mudville this morning.
Earlier today in Salt Lake City, Larry Miller was having a quiet little chuckle over his coffee.
I imagine he was also probably feeling a bit surprised to discover, as Nikki Finke put it last night, that Hollywood “is as homophobic as Red State country…in touch, not out of touch.”

Show of Shows

Please, Oscar God…give us surprises. Any surprises. Anything.
Even if it means Crash winning the Best Picture Oscar, which I’d rather not see happen for a few reasons. At 4:45 pm Joel Siegel, sharing the black mike with his ABC co-commentators Leonard Maltin and Anne Thompson, said this is precisely what might happen.
Ladies, it’s okay with me. Crash is a very well crafted, socially resonant film. No, wait…March of the Homophobes!

George Clooney

That was an excellent CG intro with the classic scenes and characters all blended together in that CG sepia-tone dreamscape. Awesome work.
Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, David Letterman, Chris Rock, Mel Gibson. All declining to host the Oscar show…brilliant stuff. Halle Berry, George Clooney…”I just had the weirdest dream.” Starts things off with just the right note.
Hello, Jon Stewart! The Death to Smoochy joke died. The Angelina Jolie joke died. A chance to see all your favorite stars without having to donate any money to the Democratic Party. Hmmm. Night of a Thousand Sweatpants?
Stewart’s first good one: “‘Good night and good luck’ — the line that Mr. Clooney ends all of his dates with.” Not all homosexuals are virile cowboys — some are effete New York writers. (Naaah.) Stewart to Spielberg: Schindler’s List, Munich…I can’t wait to see what happens next. Trilogy! (Too New York?)
“Bjork was trying on an Oscar dress and Dick Cheney shot her.” “ Walk the LineRay with white people.”

Phillip Seymour Hoffman

The classic western gay subtext montage — another brilliant bit. The pre-prepared film assemblies so far are really terrific so far.
Best Supporting Actor: George Clooney. Predicted by all the smart guys (myself included) within the last two or three weeks. Clooney: “All,right, so I’m not winning director.” Good one. “I’m proud to be out of touch” — great line!
The Tom Hanks bit about Oscar-winners speaking too long was….okay. The Ben Stiller green-screen, green suit thing was…okay. And the Oscar for special effects goes to the King Kong guys. This was kind of expected, right? No? Whatever.
Stewart: “Ben Stiller and his amazing green leotard — proof that he’s Jewish.” I’m a goyim from Fairfield County. Help me out here. Oh…it’s about the visual evidence of being circumsized.
Wallace and Gromit (which I didn’t feel like seeing because animation doesn’t exactly levitate me (which doesn’t mean…uhm, you know…that I don’t respect it), has won the Best Animated Feature Oscar, or whatever the precise name of this pain-in-the-ass award is.
Dressed-in-white Dolly Parton is performing the Transamerica song. Bathroom break!

Reese Witherspoon

Superb Diet Coke commercial. End of a date, give in to the feeling. I’m going to find out who directed and wrote and scored it.
(By the way, the coming week is going to be great because the first four episodes of The Sopranos are arriving on Tuesday on DVD….yes!)
The Live Action Short Oscar is presented by the great Luke and Owen Wilson, recalling how the great Bottle Rocket — starring these guys, written by Owen and Wes Anderson with development guidance by James L. Brooks, and directed by Anderson — began life as a 13-minute short. And the Oscar goes to…Martin McDonagh’s Six Shooter! (McDonagh wrote the mind-bending play The Pillowman, which I saw and loved last summer in New York.)
Sorry, but I missed the winner of the Best Animated Short Oscar. Bathroom break. I stayed to watch Dolly Parton after all.
Colleen Atwood has won the Best Costume Design Oscar for her work on the dreadful Memoirs of a Geisha. Excellent kimonos! Shit movie!
Russell Crowe announcing the Oscar for achievements in…actors imitating/inhabiting the physical attributes of famous people? I’m lost. But I enjoyed the comparisons and whatnot. I’d better start drinking coffee. I’m sorry for not being faster on the draw.

Will Ferrell, Steve Carell

Will Ferrell and Steve Carell presenting the Best Makeup Oscar….with stains and white powder smeared all over their faces. Good bit! Carell: “Man, you smell really good too.” Ferrell: “It’s called Pineapple Bliss.” (No Oscar for Sith, please. Bad Sith…smack that bitch down!) Yes! The Narnia guys have won!
Stewart: “Cinderella Man…imagine the makeup needed to convince people that Russell Crowe got into a fight.”
Rachel McAdams needs to permanently die her hair brown. The ladies around me didn’t recognize her. “What’s she been in?” Uhhhm…The Notebook, Wedding Crashers, Red Eye. They were clueless. Blank-o.
Rachel Weisz has won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar! Totally predicted from Day One. Good for Rachel…totally deserved. Good lady. The credit, Dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. No…that’s not right. What am I saying?
Lauren Bacall is doing okay at first, but begins to stumble a bit and is also, it appears, trembling a tiny bit as she introduces a montage of film noir clips. I don’t know what this is about. Too many people asking me questions, whispering…waiters hovering.
The mock political ads ads for Best Actress are great. Hilarious stuff.

A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin has won Best Documentary Short. I can add nothing to this fact. Nobody can.
Charlize Theron announcing the winner of the Best Feature Documentary Award, and of course the Penguins will win. And the Oscar goes to March of the Penguins. No. surprise. At. All.
Sandra Bullock, who co-starred in Speed 2, and Keanu Reeves, who was smart enough to avoid it, giving the Best Art Direction Oscar to John Myhre and Gretchen Rau for Memoirs of a Geisha. Another compensation-for-not-getting-better-reviews- or-making-more-money award.
Stirring montage of poltical anger, revolt and spitting-out-the-truth moments in respected films. Stewart: “And none of those issues were ever a problem again.”
Academy president Sid Ganis delivering a heartfelt eulogy/plea for the tradition of watching films in a big theatre with a big screen. The genius of the crowd.
Salma Hayek announcing the Best Original Score Oscar, which will most likely go to Brokeback Mountain…and it does. Everything is predictable. No surprises yet. (Is this an omen for a Brokeback Best Picture win? Like the HAL 9000 computer, my brain is saying, “I can feel it…I can feel it.”)

Chuck Workman‘s salute to big-screen thrills, scope, majesty. This is starting to feel like those early 1950s spots in movie theatres proclaiming the virues of theatregoing and the evils of television.
Stewart: “Oh, my God..we’re out of film clips! Send us film clips, please. Even if they’re on Beta.”
Eric Bana and Jessica Alba presenting the Sound Mixing Oscar, and again the prize goes to guys who worked on King Kong. (No women — sorry.)
Robert Altman‘s honorary Oscar tribute starts off amusingly and appropriately with Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin ad-libbing and overlapping each other’s lines as a way of explaining the system-rhythm of Altman’s life-like, loose-shoes dialogue.
Give it to ’em, Bob! Just a little! Altman takes the stage, standing trim and tall, and he goes all soft and kindly on us.
“I was really honored and willing to accept this award, even if I thought at first that it means it’s over. But it’s not over. I look at this award as a nod to all [things]. For me, I just made one long film.

Robert Altman

“Making a film is like making a sand castle at the beach. Enjoy this beautiful structure, and you sit back and watch the tide come in, and the ocean just takes it away. I’ve built about 40 of them, and I’ve never tired of them. No other filmmaker has gotten a better shake. I love filmmaking. It has given me an entree into the world and the human condition, and I’m forever grateful.”
“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” the song from Hustle & Flow , was vigorously performed, although the choreography seemed a little all over the place. But damn! It just won the Oscar! Wanted to see it happen, didn’t think it would. Good stuff! The old farts no longer run it.
Stewart: “You know what? I think it just got a little easier out for a pimp.” And: “How come [36 Mafia, who wrote and performed the Oscar-winning song, are] the most exciting people here tonight?”
Another friggin’ King Kong Oscar…whatever…this one for Sound Editing. Every time the Kong guys win, it feels like the Return of Return of the King.
The Best Foreign Language Oscar will go to Tsotsi…been saying this all along, and it does. No surprise again, but hooray for director Gavin Hood!

Gavin Hood

Stewart: “Martin Scorsese, zero Oscars. 36 Mafia, one.” I’m getting the idea that Stewart isn’t much of a fan of 36 Mafia or “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” or…
Hughes Winborne has won the Film Editing award for Crash. Is this a Best Picture omen? That HAL 9000 guy in my head is getting confused. He’s not sure if can feel it or not.
Hilary Swank is delivering the Best Actor Oscar, and for the last time I wish that Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Ledger could tie. It won’t happen…can’t happen. And the Oscar goes to Philip Seymour Hoffman. No surprise. Good man. Excellent moment. No barking. Hoffman’s tribute to his mom choked me up.
No surprises…no shake-ups at all…everyone following the script. I’m almost rooting for Crash to win. No, strike that.
John Travolta with too-dark, tennis-ballish short hair handing out the Best Cinematography Oscar, and…Dion Beebe wins for Memoirs of a Geisha? A surprise! Did anyone call this?
Jamie Foxx presenting the Best Actress Oscar, which of course was engraved with Reese Witherspoon’s name many weeks ago. And the Oscar goes to Reese Witherspoon. Hooray for that, and a pat on the back (“a very special thank you”) to director James Mangold. I teared up a bit with this one too.

Penguin guys

And here’s Dustin Hoffman to present the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Brokeback has this sewn up, and the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar goes to Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana for their adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story of Brokeback Mountain . Good, richly deserved, long expected.
And Uma Thurman hands the Best Original Screenplay Oscar to Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco for Crash. Completely predicted, well deserved. Good work, hombres. (Whoops…Bobby Moresco’s thank-you sentiments were cut off by Bill Conti’s music before he could say them.)
Here comes Ang Lee’s Best Directing oscar, presented by Tom Hanks. Yup, it’s Ang Lee. Of course. Totally totally. Good good. Now there’s just one more…
Here we go — Tony Curtis vs. Brokeback Mountain!! Jack Nicholson, the presenter, sounds a tiny bit hoarse, and he just called Bennett Miller’s film Capotay.
And…oh my God…Tony Curtis wins! The Best Picture Oscar goes to Crash! Closet homophobes…yes! You’ve struck a blow for straightatude! Are you listening, Tony? John Wayne and Howard Hughes are alive and well.
No, seriously…congrats to the Crash crew, and it’s too bad the Academy and the Producers Guild wouldn’t let Bob Yari take the stage. And that’s it. I’m off to a party. More tomorrow.

Santa Monica Vibe

Saturday’s Spirit Awards felt like the Oscars, all right…but not nearly as much as tonight’s Oscar telecast will feel similar to the Spirits.
This was the year the Academy crowd gave in to the spirit of Santa Monica and said, “We get it, we’re going with it.” Because there was really nowhere else to go. Because the big studios weren’t interested in making Oscar-calibre movies that were quite good enough. (Even though they did manage this in a roundabout way, with Warner Bros., Universal and Sony’s indie “dependent” divisions funding Good Night, and Good Luck, Brokeback Mountain, The Constant Gardener and Capote).

Looking out from the parking lot in front of Shutters, the Santa Monica hotel where the IFP Spirit Awards after-party happens each year.

And I’d love to go with the spirit of these opening paragraphs, but already I’m losing interest. This is yesterday’s news and the Oscars are due to kick off only five hours from now and…all right, I’ll stay the course.
Brokeback Mountain, the odds-on favorite to take the Best Picture Oscar until the Crash surge of two or three weeks ago (is it real or is it Memorex?), won the Spirit Award for Best Feature while Crash won the prize for Best First Feature.
Brokeback director Ang Lee, totally favored to take the Best Director Oscar this evening, won the Spirit Award in this category.
Capote star Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the guaranteed winner of the Best Actor Oscar, took the same prize from the Spirits, and Capote screenwriter Dan Futterman, nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar (but not favored to win), was handed the Spirit Award for Best Screenplay.
And Transamerica star Felicity Huffman, nominated for a Best Actress Oscar (although probably fated to lose this evening to Reese Witherspoon), took the Spirit Award for Best Actress.

Transamerca star Felicity Huffman, winner of the Spirit Award for Best Actress, chatting behind the tent with ABC network film critic Joel Siegel

Coby/Netflix DVD player, one of the offerings in the celebrity swag tent

But enough with the facts. Here’s how some of yesterday afternoon’s soiree played out, catch-as-catch-can.
It was delightfully sunny and blue-skied, for one thing. It’s always this way on Spirit Awards day in Santa Monica, as if the Gods are in league.
I was graciously given a table by the Spirits producers (apparently due to the tent being larger), which meant being able to schmooze with some of the nominees and the various journos, distributors and agents who attend each year. A very cool vibe and hassle-free access all around, although I didn’t get to talk to my hero, Werner Herzog.
The mood is always relaxed and come-what-may at the Spirits, along with a feeling of community cohesion, which is nice. Most of the time I’m alone and half-dressed and struggling with sentence construction in front of my laptop. The only thing I struggled with yesterday was finding the discipline to consume only one Cosmo- politan (which made me feel half-bombed anyway).

Factory Girl star Sienna Miller with director George Hickenlooper

For at least four hours (six hours if you count the after-party at Shutters, which finished me off socially for the next two or three weeks), life was a series of billiard ball clack-chats with Peter Sarsgaard, Vin Diesel, Our Brand is Crisis director Rachel Boynton, producer Cotty Chubb, N.Y. Times “Bagger”-san David Carr, my ex-boss Kevin Smith, Picturehouse chief Bob Berney, and Christian Science Monitor critic Peter Rainer.
Not to mention Arianna Huffington, Fur director Steve Shainberg, Paradise Now director (and Spirit Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film) Hany Abu Assad, Chicago Tribune guy Mark Caro, First Look distribution chief Ruth Vitale, N.Y. Daily News columnist George Rush, Factory Girl director George Hicken- looper and his star, Sienna Miller.
This isn’t very hard-hitting stuff, but jabber stories are allowable every so often.
My table in the big tent was so far to the rear that I couldn’t tell if it was really Sarah Silverman doing the opening monologue or not, but it was. If you watched the show it’s no secret that her routine was pretty damn funny.

The Paradise Now crew after their win for Best Foreign Language Feature. Director Hany Abu Assad is second from right. The other three play the three main roles, but I don’t know which names go with which actors…sorry. Anyone?

Our Brand Is Crisis director Rachel Boynton

No…not funny. Profoundly funny, nervy, brilliant. She was better than John Waters, better than Kevin Pollak in the mid ’90s. She was on it, riding it, ruling it. Wicked stuff.
Behind the monster tent are a series of mid-sized tents — a press hospitality tent with food and drink, a TV interview tent, a print and online tent for post-award interviews (hanging out in front of the entrance to this one was the place to be), an Entertainment Weekly tent, a celebrity swag tent, and two or three others.
I had to visit the swag tent. The goods were only for celebrity presenters, not winners. Publicist Erika Cosentino,who gave me a goodie tour, said the merch- andise was valued at about $36,000 bucks. Fuck! They were giving away Palm Treo 650s, Invicta watches, Netflix DVD players (which look like your standard- issue CD player with an embedded video screen), diamond bracelets, clothes, footwear, health spa visit coupons, etc.
I mentioned the $36 grand figure to Peter Sarsgaard, who’s apparently used to being gifted this lavishly. (He reportedly brought his goody bag on stage with him a while later.) Sarsgaard’s agent claimed that the value of swag is always inflated by the publicists. Producer Sam Kitt used the term “swag wranglers” to refer to the twentysomethings who pass the stuff out.

Brokeback Mountain‘s James Schamus (producer), Diana Ossana (co-screenwriter, producer) and Ang Lee (director) after winning the Spirit Award for Best Feature

Capote screenwriter Dan Futterman after winning for Best Screenplay

Documentarian Garrett Scott, who died a couple of days ago from a reported heart attack at age 37, won the Truer Than Fiction prize for his Iraq film, Occupation: Dreamland. His co-director Ian Olds accepted the award. (I heard yesterday that Scott’s death had something to with a “swimming pool” in his mother’s back yard. How does a 37 year-old guy who isn’t Chris Penn die from a heart attack?)
It was interesting to see the entire Crash team (including producer Cathy Schul- man and her arch-enemy Bob Yari) sharing a stage in the press tent. Schulman is suing Yari for alleged unpaid fees, and Yari, who wrote the check that allowed Crash to be shot, has been denied producer credit and is suing the Academy and the the Producers Guild over this call.
A fellow reporter told me after the fact that Yari was snarly about the fact that a reporter asked him about the general rancor that’s gone down among them. News of Yari and Schulman’s lawsuits are all over the trades and it’s in bad taste to ask for a comment?
Each and every winner came back to the press tent for five minutes of questions. It was all good and agreeable to listen to it and take notes from, but nobody said anything that dropped my socks.

Big tent revelers before the start of the show

Phillip Seymour Hoffman after winning for Best Actor

I shook this guy’s hand, that guy’s hand. I patted about 58 people on the back and called them chief, bro, pal.
I asked Hickenlooper, whom I consider an actual friend, if he would show me Factory Girl sometime this summer after it’s done. (He said he hopes to premiere his Edie Sedgwick biopic at the 2006 Toronto Film festival.) I told Diesel, whom I first met in ’98 or thereabouts, that I greatly admire his acting in Find Me Guilty, and the film in general. Blah, blah…this sounds like filler.
The Shutters after-event totally finished me off. I’m good for about six hours of this crap and that’s it. Bob Berney threw a Picturehouse party at the Four Seasons, and I don’t think I would have gone even if he’d invited me. I didn’t attend the Wein- stein Co. party at the Pacific Design Center, which I begged to be on the list for, or Bob Yari’s party at Crustacean in Beverly Hills.
I’ll be tapping out my live Oscar reaction stuff if nothing screws up technically at Hollywood’s Rennaissance hotel, where I’ll be watching the show from. Until that moment…

(l. to r.) Crash producer Mark Harris, producer Cathy Schulman, director-co-screenwriter-producer Paul Haggis, co-screenwriter Bobby Moresco, executive producer Bob Yari

A somewhat pretentious way to eat popcorn, but whatever works