Archive | December, 2012

So Long, Charles Durning: The Best Little Sidestepper in Movies

26 Dec
Charles Durning_Hugh

Charles Durning won the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, a fitting tribute to a true professional who gave many memorable performances in a variety of genres not only in films but also on stage and on television.

Two great American character actors passed away earlier during the week while we were all finishing up our last minute Christmas shopping, etc.  Jack Klugman, revered for his work with Tony Randall in the TV adaptation of Neil Simon’s popular The Odd Couple, passed away at the age of 90 on December 24th. Klugman actually portrayed the show’s slobby sportswriter Oscar Madison on Broadway when original star Walter Matthau left the cast. Klugman won two Emmy awards for his performance in the TV show. He earned a total of 10 Emmy nods not only for The Odd Couple but also for the long running Quincy M.E. His first Emmy came years before The Odd Couple when he appeared on The Defenders in the early 1960s. Additionally, he also garnered a Tony nomination for his role as Herbie in the original Broadway production of the long-running musical Gypsy.  The second actor to pass away on the 24th  is  Charles Durning.

This one is for Charlie. Durning was 89 years old. Per the IMDb, his filmography includes 207 appearances in movies and on television, going all the way back to the old You are There TV series from the 1950s. His most recent credits include Scavenger Killers (still in production) and the well-received Dennis Leary series Rescue Me (for which Durning earned one of his nine Emmy nominations).  In between, he appeared in scads and scads of offerings, including The Sting (Best Picture, 1973), Dog Day Afternoon (a 1975 Best Picture nominee), David Mamet’s State and Main, the original creepfest When a Stranger Calls (1979) along with a made for TV knockoff, When a Stranger Calls Back. His credits also include a pair of Coen titles, The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). He had key roles in a few movies that I adore that almost everyone else despises, The Man with One Red Shoe (1985) and V.I. Warshawski (1991).  Durning was a four time Golden Globe nominee, taking home one of the Hollywood Foreign Press trophies for The Kennedys of Massachusetts (a 1990 mini-series about America’s most fascinating political clan). He also earned, as noted, a whopping nine Emmy nominations, including a pair for his work on the once popular sitcom, Evening Shade starring Burt Reynolds–with whom Durning co-starred in Starting Over (1979), Sharky’s Machine (1981), Stick (1985), and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982).

Ah yes, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, big screen version of the Tony winning stage show–originally co-directed and co-choreographed by Texas’s own Tommy Tune–that fictionalizes the story of a real-life house of prostitution that operated illegally for decades, with the complicit cooperation of local law enforcement, to clarify, until its demise became the objective of a zealous news reporter.  The movie was retooled as a starring vehicle for Parton–and Reynolds–by director Colin Higgins with whom Parton had enjoyed major box-office success in 1980’s 9 to 5. This is the movie in which Parton re-introduced her famous ballad “I Will Always Love You,” which both she and Linda Ronstadt had previously recorded–and which Whitney Houston would immortalize a decade later in The Bodyguard…but I digress.

The movie version of The Best Little Whorehouse…is a mixed bag though Parton, Reynolds, and even Jim Nabors all have their moments, but ask just about anyone: as the Good Ole Governor, Charles Durning  pretty much steals the show in one little amusing number entitled ‘The Sidestep.” Indeed, his performance in the film earned him the first of his two Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominations. Okay, when I first saw Durning break into his clever song and dance–at the long gone AMC Prestonwood 5–I had an instant hunch that I was watching a likely Oscar nominee. When Durning was named one of the finalists, I was pleased though not the least bit surprised.  I’ll let the experts argue about whether an actor who steals scenes can really be considered “supporting.” All I know is Durning’s stint makes audience members sit up and take notice of a fierce talent. He gives the movie a kick…so to speak. I still think of Durning almost each and every time I hear/see politicians being interviewed on TV, which has been quite a lot lately, given that we’ve just come through a nasty election year.  Sidestepping is what politicians do; they just don’t do it with the same panache as Durning did onscreen.

Just to seal the deal, During also appeared in that same year’s Christmas smash, Tootsie. In that one, another major Oscar contender, he played Jessica Lange’s folksy dad, a set-in-his-ways farmer who’s fiercely protective of his daughter and who lets his gruff exterior down long enough to become smitten by Lange’s new co-star and mentor, Dorothy Michaels–who, as we all know, is really a previously out-of-work actor (played by Dustin Hoffman) in drag.  Durning has some glorious moments in the film as he tries to woo Dorothy; later in a local tavern he does a slow burn that would have likely earned him an Oscar nomination had he not already been so righteous in Best Little Whorehouse.  Durning lost that year–to Louis Gossett Jr., who gave a riveting performance as the the tough-minded drill sergeant who helps whip Richard Gere into shape in An Officer and a Gentleman. During would later re-team with Lange on Sam Shepard’s Far North; however,  a year after  The Best Little… and Tootsie, he earned his second Oscar nod in the Mel Brooks remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942), which starred Jack Benny and Carole Lombard; the remake teamed Brooks with his real-life wife Anne Bancroft. Durning lost that go-round to Jack Nicholson’s randy astronaut in Terms of Endearment.

I think it’s great that Durning scored two Oscar nods, even if he never won, because his performances speak for themselves. Oscar or no,  he eked out a glorious moment or two of cinematic immortality in The Best Little Whorehouse. Furthermore, the race for Best Supporting Actor is generally considered the most competitive of all the acting categories, in that it is simply the most populated, that is, more eligible candidates each and every year scrambling for only five slots on the final ballot–and Oscar campaigns entail a lot of work and, oh yes, more than a just a little bit of luck. Truly, being nominated is an honor in itself.

Furthermore, Durning was a Broadway vet who earned a Tony and a Drama Desk award for his performance as “Big Daddy” in the 1990 revival of Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Kathleen Turner. He had previously shared a Drama Desk award with his cast mates in the original Broadway production of Jason Miller’s Pulitzer winning play, That Championship Season in 1972.

Finally, in addition to all his accolades as an actor, Durning was an honored war veteran who fought during the D-Day invasion at Normandy Beach.  (Klugman, btw, also served during WWII.) Durning earned a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts for his service though, according to a quote in USA Today, he did not like to talk about his war years: “Too many bad memories.”  On the other hand, he found great joy and even a reason to live through acting, once remarking that he could barely stand it when he wasn’t working–often driving his wife “crazy” in the process. Of course with over 200 credits, it appears he didn’t sit still too long before he was up and ready to go again. Sidestepping, indeed.

Thanks, Charles….

Charles Durning’s obituary at USA Today:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2012/12/25/charles-durning-dies-actor/1790203/

Durning at the Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001164/

Durning at the Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=38808

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Just in Time for the Holidays: The 2012 National Film Registry Inductees

19 Dec

Just in time for the holidays, Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story has been selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. This registry dates all the way back to the National Film Preservation Act of 1988, the goal of which was and is to recognize, and, again, preserve, films which hold  cultural, aesthetic or historical value. Since 1989, 25 films have been singled out for recognition each and every year. To be considered for such honor, a given film must be at least 10 years old and must be American in origin; after all, this is the National Film Registry and is designed to honor our own cinematic heritage. To illustrate, consider Lawrence of Arabia (1962), a 1991 inductee: sure the movie was filmed in such locations as Jordan, Morocco, and Spain, and, yes, the director was English; the main character, T.E. Lawrence, was born in Wales, and the actor who played him, Peter O’Toole, was Irish, so how is that in any way an American production? Well, simple: ultimately the movie was made possible by a production/distribution deal between American based Columbia Pictures and producer Sam Spiegel’s Horizon Pictures. That’s how.

Furthermore, many of the films in the registry are probably lost on the average American as the selections are not even necessarily feature films but include documentaries, experimental films, industrial training films, propaganda pieces, public service announcements, etc. All of these have either documented, or have made some kind of contribution to, our society (and that isn’t always a “good” thing, but it is what it is).  One of the best examples I can think of is Abraham Zapruder’s home movie footage of the Kennedy assassination (a 1994 inductee), a mere 30 seconds or less of footage, right, but who could deny its historical significance?

A_Christmas Story

^ The original poster for A Christmas Story was clearly inspired by vintage Saturday Evening Post covers designed by Norman Rockwell. Though set in Indiana, it was filmed in Ohio and Canada. It was even nominated for 9 Genie Awards, the Canadian Oscar equivalent, including Best Picture. It won Best Screenplay, and Clark shared Best Director honors with David Cronenberg (Videodrome). The screenwriting trio of Clark, Brown, and Shepherd were nominated for a WGA award as well. Now, not only has A Christmas Story become a classic, it has also inspired a stage musical currently playing on Broadway with original cast member Peter Billingsley (Ralphie) on board as one of the producers.

All of this brings us back to Bob Clark’s offering, which was released with little or no fanfare in November of 1983.  Darren McGavin, two time Oscar nominee Melinda Dillon, and child star Peter Billingsley (best known at that time for TV’s Real People), starred in the adaptation of stories culled from Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash (and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories).  Shepherd co-wrote the screenplay with Leigh Brown and Clark (hot at the time thanks to the raunchy Porky’s movies) and even provided the off-camera narration.  The movie is a loosely connected series of vignettes set during a 1940s era Christmas in which young Ralphie (Billingsley) dreams–and schemes–of owning a Red Ryder air rifle.  That’s pretty much it. There are no angels out to rescue potential suicide victims, no question of whether a jolly old man might be the real Santa Claus, and no children left home alone to defend their beautifully appointed houses from buffoonish burglars. A Christmas Story is just light, pleasant, and, yes, sweet (at least, bittersweet). That’s the charm, the timelessness, of it. After all, who among us doesn’t have a memory of yearning for a particular item as either a  holiday or birthday gift?  (I think the simplicity of this particular movie is something it has in common with the evergreen A Charlie Brown Christmas.)

Anyway, while A Christmas Story initially appeared to be a dud during its theatrical release, without much assist from the critics, it turned out to be a sleeper of sorts as it slowly found its audience,  holding on in some theaters through early January of 1984 and ultimately earning $ 19 million dollars at the box office, which doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but considering that it only cost 4 million to make, well, that’s quite a tidy return.  I can remember reading reports at the time about how its longevity seemed to take everyone by surprise after its initial lukewarm reception, thereby reaffirming the power of word-of-mouth. Clark, for his part believes the movie could have made even more money had exhibitors not given up on it so quickly (meaning after its first few weeks during the post-Thanksgiving lull), but then it wouldn’t have become such a great Cinderella story either.  Of course, it found an even bigger audience when it was released on video (more word-of-mouth), and now it is, and has been for at least a decade, a Christmas staple, airing in marathon fashion on either TBS or TNT every year, beginning on Christmas Eve and continuing through Christmas Day.  A Christmas Story is a perfect addition to the National Film Registry because it endures as a piece of Americana, touching multiple generations of moviegoers, inspiring a few well known catch-phrases (“You’ll shoot your eye out” and “frah-gee-lay”) , and throwing a spotlight on America’s past, such as children listening to serialized adventures on the radio, etc.  It also proves that a movie does not have to be box office blockbuster in order to have lasting value.

All my admiration for  A Christmas Story aside, I am most pleased that Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own (1992), a fictionalized account of the short-lived–yet real-life–All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during the height of America’s involvement in World War II, is a new National Film Registry title.  Good for Marshall. Again, even though her film is not a true story, per se, it does indeed throw a spotlight on an interesting chapter in our nation’s history: when woman were called upon to help boost morale by keeping professional baseball alive while all the men were overseas engaged in battle. Of course, women were doing more than playing baseball during that time. They were also working in factories, aiding the war effort, etc.–and that’s the point. A League of Their Own showcases the changing nature of women’s roles in society–and it does so with wit and wisdom in such a way as to appeal to both men and women, not to mention boys and girls.  Plus, it’s a reminder of Marshall’s excellence as a director, working with a large cast (Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, Jon Lovitz, and David Strathairn, among at least a dozen other actors in key speaking roles) assembling complicated sports sequences, shooting on location, veering from comedy to drama and back again, etc.  Furthermore, this was only Marshall’s fourth studio feature film–and her second to gross over $100 million at the box office. To clarify: with Big (1988), actress-turned-director Marshall became the first woman to direct a feature film with earnings of over 100 million,  and that in itself is noteworthy. Between Big and A League of Their Own, she helmed  Awakenings (1990), which earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor (Robert DeNiro), with no recognition accorded its director.

^ Geena Davis in A League of Their Own. The movie was  a huge hit (I think we played it for 16 weeks back in the day), and Davis earned a Golden Globe nomination, but the movie was ignored by the Academy.

^ Geena Davis was fresh from the triumph of the landmark Thelma & louse when she joined the cast of A League of Their Own, a late in the game sub for  Debra Winger  who reportedly departed  over what was described as  the “stunt” casting of pop-star tuned actress Madonna in a saucy supporting role. Another story is that Winger was forced out due to injuries sustained during training. The movie was a huge hit (I think we played it for 16 weeks back in the day), and Davis earned a Golden Globe nomination as did Madonna and Shep Pettibone’s song, “This Used to be My Playground,”  but the movie was ignored by the Academy.

Even though A League of Their Own made lots of money and earned enthusiastic reviews, it was shut-out by the Academy, which has bummed the shit out of me for right at 20 years.  Besides not recognizing Marshall’s achievements on A League of Their Own, the next most glaring omission was that of Geena Davis’s wondrous leading performance as “Dottie Hinson,” the reluctant star of the Rockford Peaches.  Oh the idiocy of it all as critics and actresses alike harped about the dearth of strong–award worthy–roles for women that year even though Davis was right there in a much-loved movie as the so-called “Queen of Diamonds” (as her character was known) in all her 6 foot glory.  Not only is Davis convincing as an athlete, she also creates an interesting portrait of a complicated woman who has to learn to deal with a sexist, hard drinking manager (Hanks) while putting up with the shenanigans of a jealous–and less talented–younger sister. Not only that, she’s a wife who just wants her husband to return from war safely even though her teammates look to her as their true leader.   It’s a marvelous performance (one of my two favorite by leading actresses of that year), and the Academy, well, dropped the ball on that one, so I’m glad to see the Library of Congress honoring the movie. (Oh, and let’s not ignore the contributions of well-known screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel–with story credit to Kim Wilson and Kelly Candaele–who gave us the much quoted, “There’s no crying in baseball,” pegged by the American Film Institute as #54 on the list of 100 most memorable lines of movie dialogue in a 2005 AFI retrospective. )

Okay, before we get to the list, I also want to acknowledge a few more films that have personal interest for me: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), The Matrix (1999), Slacker (1991), and The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), Of course, with Audrey Hepburn’s iconic–and Oscar nominated– performance as stylish party-girl Holly Golightly and Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer’s enduring, Oscar winning “Moon River” as its love theme, it’s hard to imagine that Breakfast at Tiffany’s is only now being recognized by the National Film Registry, but there are only 25 entries a year, so better late than never. Hmmmm…oh, yes…Breakfast at Tiffany‘s also has inadvertent cultural significance as Mickey Rooney’s no doubt unintentionally racist portrayal of Holly’s funny “Oriental” neighbor serves as a powerful reminder of what NOT to do when casting a flick. The Matrix, of course, won four out of four Oscars back in the day for its cutting edge audio/visual and editing effects, both raising the bar for years to come while also being endlessly parodied,  though it suffered a bad rap after–its alleged influence on–the Columbine High School shooting incident. On the other hand, the movie, which borrows from René Descartes (among others), still pops up for discussion/debate in college classrooms. Keep in mind, that I only graduated from college three years ago, and The Matrix was right there in philosophy class,  cultural studies, and a course in semiotics entitled “Empires and Apocalypse.”  The LOC’s recognition of Slacker is a great, great, thing for Texas-based indie filmmaker Richard Linklater, whose micro-budgeted first feature (filmed in Austin) paved the way for such subsequent successes as Dazed and Confused (1993), Before Sunrise (1995), School of Rock (2003), Before Sunset (2004– with an Oscar nominated screenplay by Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Kim Krizan), and this past summer’s Bernie, starring Golden Globe nominee Jack Black.  Finally, while we’re all glad that Sean Penn won an Oscar for playing the late Harvey Milk in 2008’s Milk, which also won an Oscar for Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay, there is still a charge in watching the real-deal, a powerful reminder not only about the ongoing struggle for equality in this country, but a testament to the power of individuals to inspire change and make a difference in people’s lives: “… you have to give them hope.” Thanks, Harvey.

The following is only a list of this year’s inductees. Some of the titles, such as 3:10 to Yuma, Anatomy of a Murder, Born Yesterday, and Dirty Harry will likely be familiar to dedicated moviegoers; however, the reasons those films were selected for this honor might not be as readily apparent. Likewise, some of the titles (Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia) might be pretty obscure.  To read more about all the films, please refer to the official National Film Registry website: http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2012/12-226.html

  1. 3:10 to Yuma (1957)
  2. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
  3. The Augustas (1930s-1950s)
  4. Born Yesterday (1950)
  5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
  6. A Christmas Story (1983)
  7. The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Title Fight (1897)
  8. Dirty Harry (1971)
  9. Hours for Jerome: Parts 1 and 2 (1980-82)
  10. The Kidnappers Foil (1930s-1950s)
  11. Kodachrome Color Motion Picture Tests (1922)
  12. A League of Their Own (1992)
  13. The Matrix (1999)
  14. The Middleton Family at the New York World’s Fair (1939)
  15. One Survivor Remembers (1995)
  16. Parable (1964)
  17. Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia (1990)
  18. Slacker (1991)
  19. Sons of the Desert (1933)
  20. The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
  21. They Call It Pro Football (1967)
  22. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
  23. Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
  24. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1914)
  25. The Wishing Ring; An Idyll of Old England (1914)

A Christmas Story at the Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085334/?ref_=sr_1

A Christmas Story at the Turner Classic Movies Database: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/2099/A-Christmas-Story/

A Christmas Story at Box Office Mojo: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=christmasstory.htm

A League of Their Own at the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104694/

Penny Marshall at Box Office Mojo: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/people/chart/?id=pennymarshall.htm

Golden Globe-a-licious

13 Dec
SKYFALL

There is plenty of star-wattage in this year’s Globe category for Best Song. Not only is Adele nominated for co-writing, with Paul Epworth,  the title track of the latest 007 flick, Skyfall, the race is rounded out by such popular talents as Taylor Swift (“Safe & Sound” from The Hunger Games-shared with T-Bone Burnett, John Paul White, and Joy Williams), Jon Bon Jovi (“Not Running Anymore” from Stand Up Guys), and Keith Urban (“For You” from Act of Valor–shared with Monty Powell). The original Les Miz team of Claude-Michel Schonberg, Herbert Kretzmer, and Alain Boublil has collectively garnered a nod for new tune, “Suddenly.” Btw: Jon Bon Jovi is a previous winner for Blaze of Glory” from 1990’s Youngg Guns II.

Lincoln picked up 7 Golden Globe nods this morning, moving it one step closer to Oscar glory–fresh on the heels of yesterday’s Screen Actors Guild nominations. Following Lincoln in total number of nominations are Argo and Django Unchained with 5 each. Weighing-in with 4 nominations apiece are Les Misérables, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.  Of course, unlike the Academy and the Screen Actors Guild, the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press–the people responsible for the Golden Globes–divide many of their top awards into separate categories for musical/comedy and drama (as well as including awards for TV stars and their shows),  thereby allowing comedies to shine among all the fuss normally bestowed among dramas while also potentially increasing the number of stars in attendance during the awards show.  It’s good for business.

Here are the nominees in the major motion picture categories

  • Best Motion Picture Drama
  1. Argo
  2. Django Unchained
  3. Life of Pi
  4. Lincoln
  5. Zero Dark Thirty

With Lincoln the nominations leader, it’s hard not to think that it stands the best chance in this category though the trick is to understand that the Hollywood Foreign Press often votes for movies with international appeal. I’m not sure Lincoln fits the bill exactly though its high profile cast, including at least three previous Golden Globe winners (and current nominees), and Spielberg imprint certainly gives it allure.  I can think of plenty of reasons why any of these films could win; however, the one that most seems like a question mark is Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Despite plenty of awards buzz, I’m not sure that Tarantino’s brand of filmmaking will play well with holiday audiences.

  • Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
  1. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  2. Les Misérables
  3. Moonrise Kingdom
  4. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
  5. Silver Linings Playbook

This is a tough call. Les Misérables clearly has scale, or heft,  on its side, but Silver Linings Playbook has the powerful Weinstein Company’s marketing apparatus behind it, but it’s not much of a comedy, not really. Michael and I chuckled a few times, but it’s hard to think of this much interpersonal dysfunction as being funny–and one ballroom sequences hardly qualifies it as a musical.  On the other hand, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, while relatively low-key, is turning out to be surprisingly popular at year’s end. Plus, it definitely has international appeal. I don’t think this one is necessarily a Les Misérables  slam-dunk. Of course, I have not seen all these movies–yet–but I love both The Best Exotic and Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, which I don’t give much of a chance.  It’s perhaps too quirky and not current, but I’m glad to see that it has not been forgotten.  Les Miz can’t get here soon enough for me.

  • Best Actress in a Drama
  1. Jessica Chastain  (Zero Dark Thirty)
  2. Marion Cotillard  (Rust and Bone)
  3. Helen Mirren (Hitchcock)
  4. Naomi Watts  (The Impossible)
  5. Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea)

I think this one is wide open, and by that I mean, I don’t think there is a clear front-runner.  Marion Cotillard and Helen Mirren are previous winners (for La Vie en Rose and The Queen respectively)–and both have international followings. I also think the surge of interest in Mirren’s work in Hitchcock suddenly makes this race just a wee bit more exciting than it originally appeared. We saw Hitchcock this afternoon. Overall, it has the effect of a curio, but Mirren’s beautifully modulated performance keeps it grounded in something akin to reality. Elsewhere,  Naomi Watts keeps popping up among lists of contenders from one group or another, but her film is not getting as much praise as she is; meanwhile, Rachel Weisz earned the first accolade of the season (from the New York Film Critics Circle), but she wasn’t on yesterday’s telling roll-call of Screen Actors Guild nominees. Still, Weisz’s climb to Oscar glory for 2005’s The Constant Gardener got a nice bump when she won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

  • Best Actor in a Drama
  1. Daniel Day-Lewis  (Lincoln)
  2. Richard Gere (Arbitrage)
  3. John Hawkes (The Sessions)
  4. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
  5. Denzel Washington (Flight)

If the Best Actress race is wide-open, this one may very well be too close to call. The performances are uniformly great. That noted, DDL seems to have a slight advantage as his is apparently the most admired vehicle. I think it’s marvelous that Richard Gere is getting recognition for Arbitrage, but it’s hard to imagine he could win against actors in weightier films. Personally, between all these performances, the one that has stayed with me the longest is John Hawkes’s, and for reasons that are difficult to articulate. Maybe it’s because he’s so different from the dark character he played in Winter’s Bone, or maybe it’s because he’s playing a character quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a film. Still, as close as I think this race is, Hawkes is not a star in the same way as, say, DDL, Washington or Gere.

  • Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy
  1. Emily Blunt (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen)
  2. Judi Dench (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
  3. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
  4. Maggie Smith (Quartet)
  5. Meryl Streep (Hope Springs)

My first thought about this is that Hope Springs is in no way a comedy even though it was marketed that way when it came out over the summer.  Of course, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith inspire fervent loyalty among Globe voters (Smith is a double nominee thanks, once again, to Downton Abbey), so I would not rule them out, but I think Jennifer Lawrence might be better positioned given the HFPA’s  record for recognizing exciting young talent–even though, like Streep’s vehicle, I’m not sure Silver Linings Playbook is actually a comedy. Emily Blunt’s nomination for Salmon Fishing in Yemen, directed by the wonderful Lasse Hallström, is encouraging. Blunt is seemingly capable of acting in just about anything. Ever since she made a name of for herself as the bitchy office-mate in The Devil Wears Prada (alongside Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway), for which she earned a Globe nomination, she’s chosen one interesting change of pace role after another, sometimes barely recognizable from one film to the next: Young Victoria (GG nod), The Adjustment Bureau, Looper, and Salmon Fishing in Yemen.  Hmmm…if there is a slight in the category, it might very well be Barbra Streisand in The Guilt Trip, which has been getting a little buzz mainly because it’s Streisand’s first starring vehicle in a number of years; her appearances in the Meet the Fockers movies hardly count as leading performances.

  • Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy
  1. Jack Black (Bernie)
  2. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
  3. Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)
  4. Ewan McGregor (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen)
  5. Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson)

Of course, I’m thrilled for Bernie‘s Jack Black, but I don’t think he’ll win. My guess is a fight to the finish between Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper. I think the nomination for Bill Murray, playing President Franklin Roosevelt of all people, is an amusing touch.  His  movie is getting mixed reviews. I don’t know if a Globe nod gives it credibility, but it definitely makes me curious all over again. PS: What? Nothing for Mark Wahlberg in the smash-hit, Ted?

  • Best Director
  1. Ben Affleck (Argo)
  2. Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
  3. Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
  4. Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
  5. Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

Knowing the HFPA’s love of movie stars, I simply cannot rule out Ben Affleck here.  Even so, this is a powerful lineup, but my guess is Tarantino  might be the…weakest link…so to speak. Most surprising omission? Tom Hooper (Les Misérables).

  • Best Supporting Actress
  1. Amy Adams (The Master)
  2. Sally Field (Lincoln)
  3. Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
  4. Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
  5. Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy)

Kidman seems to be getting a lot of year-end publicity for The Paperboy, co-starring Zac Efron and Matthew McConaughey, but my thought is that members of  HFPA would rather see Kidman at their party more than they want her to actually have a Globe for a supporting performance. She’s also up for her starring role as Martha Gellhorn in the teleflick Hemingway and Gellhorn. My gut tells me that this is Hathaway’s, but that’s not necessarily a prediction. More like a hunch.

  • Best Supporting Actor
  1. Alan Arkin  (Argo)
  2. Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)
  3. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
  4. Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
  5. Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Nominations for two of Django Unchained‘s supporting players, one of whom (Waltz) already has an Oscar and a Golden Globe for another Tarantino film, but nothing for star Jamie Foxx as the title character. Of course, Waltz, being an international star, might have a slight edge; however, everyone seems to love Tommy Lee Jones right now, so I’m most interested in him for the moment.  That noted, DiCaprio would be an interesting choice because he has toiled in the business for so long–19 years since his first nomination for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape–without getting much recognition. He earns plenty of nods, but he doesn’t often win. (I do think he should have gotten more acclaim for his role in last year’s J. Edgar [Hoover] even though the film as a whole was a dud.) Yes, he did snag a Globe as Best Actor in a Drama for 2004’s Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator, but the big prize winner that year was Jamie Foxx for his much loved performance as the late great Ray Charles in Ray. Fox won the Oscar as well as the Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, thereby outshining DiCaprio, which makes DiCaprio’s nod here such a kick.  Even so, Leo seems too young to be a sentimental favorite, but, again, the HFPA is often dazzled by star power. Meanwhile, has the Matthew McConaughey bandwagon (Magic Mike, Bernie) run out of steam?

  • Best Screenplay
  1. Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
  2. Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
  3. David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
  4. Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
  5. Chris Terrio (Argo)

Since Russell and Tarantino also directed their films, I think they are well-positioned for consolation prizes here, especially since Russell wasn’t even nominated for his directorial efforts; however, since both properties are coming from the Weinstein group, I don’t have a sense of how the studio will promote one of the guys over another–and that is definitely a factor in the Golden Globes: making sure the stars are trotted out for the Hollywood Foreign Press’s consideration. It’s good for business.

Oh, and while we’re at it, thanks for your consideration as well…

SAG Awards 2012/2013: It’s Good to be Dame Maggie

12 Dec
robert-de-niro-press-conference-silver-linings-playbook-01

Lincoln, Les Miserables, and Silver Linings Playbook earned 4 Screen Actors Guild nominations each. Robert DeNiro (above) is in the running for his performance as Bradley Cooper’s dad in the latter film. This is an interesting turn for the two time Oscar winner. De Niro won his first Oscar in the supporting actor category for playing the younger version of Marlon Brando’s Godfather character, Vito Corleone, in the Godfather II (1974). De Niro was 31 at the time, and he bested sentimental favorite Fred Astaire in the extremely popular Towering Inferno. De Niro went from supporting player to leading actor with the likes of Taxi Driver (1976) and The Deer Hunter (1978), both of which netted him Academy nominations. He became the second Best Supporting Actor winner to move on to Best Actor status, after Jack Lemmon, when he took the top prize for 1980’s revered Raging Bull. He has subsequently been in the running for Awakenings (1990) and Cape Fear (1991). Now, after a decade or more of mugging his way through such formula comedies as Analyze This and Meet the Parents (and multiple sequels), he’s garnering serious acclaim in the same category from which he emerged as a breakout star.

Maggie-Smith--Quartet_gallery_primary

^ It’s good to be Dame Maggie Smith, seen above in Quartet, the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman. Smith is currently in the running for 4 Screen Actors Guild Awards, a likely record.

The members of the Screen Actors Guild have voted on the year’s best performances in movies and on television,  and now there is officially a race.  The SAGs, as they are regrettably known, are important because unlike the various critics’ societies, which basically operate independently of the movie-making community, members of the industry do the judging similar to the Oscars, so the SAG awards can, and quite often do, preview the voting trends of the Academy; however, there are a few key differences, the main being that the SAG group has always been much larger than the actors branch of the Academy since membership in the latter is by invitation only; furthermore, the Screen Actors Guild now boasts even greater membership since it recently merged with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Yikes! As such, I’m not surprised that such critical darlings as Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) and Quvenzhane Wallis – (Beasts of the Southern Wild) are not among today’s nominees. My guess is that these actresses’ films have not been as available as some of the more high profile entries. Keep in mind, again, that the Screen Actors Guild is a national organization with members scattered all across the nation rather in just a few locations, mainly New York and Hollywood. That noted, film publicists work hard to make sure that everyone who has a vote gets to see the work even if that just means assemblages of clips rather than full-length features, but it is what it is. It’s a hard for a movie that hasn’t been seen outside of select markets–and screening rooms–to garner votes from all points of the map.

Still, there is plenty of swell stuff in this race, including the nomination of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in the Best Ensemble Cast category. The well-reviewed flick about British senior citizens on holiday in India came out relatively early in the year, and, as typical, there are a lot more splashy prestige items currently vying for attention, so it’s heart warming to see such a beautifully made little gem getting recognition at year’s end–and it doesn’t just begin and end with the lone nomination for the cast as a whole. Maggie Smith, already a two-time Oscar winner and currently enjoying yet another wave of popularity thanks to the Downton Abbey  TV series, is in the running for Best Supporting Actress thanks to her fine turn in The Best Exotic Marigold. She is also, to clarify, a quadruple nominee this year thanks to her work in both Best Exotic AND Downton Abbey, reaping individual and shared nods for both projects. Whoah!

SAG nominee Hugh Jackman: No, I'm not a butch-queen. I just play one on the cover of Italian Vanity Fair.

SAG nominee Hugh Jackman: No, I’m not a butch-queen. I just play one on the cover of Italian Vanity Fair.

The most high-profile omission–or snub–has to be that of Joaquin Phoenx (The Master).  Well, let’s face it, Phoenix is a wonderful actor, but his off-screen antics often confuse people, especially when he rails against awards and what not. Plus, The Master does not appeal to everyone’s taste though that did not stop SAG members from nominating Philip Seymour Hoffman, in the role of an “L. Ron Hubbard” type cult leader, for Best Supporting Actor.  It’s not looking so good right now for John Goodman, who earlier seemed a sure bet among supporting actors for his work in Argo, (or possibly Flight).  The Guild nominated Goodman’s Argo co-star Alan Arkin (a 2006/07 Oscar winner for Little Miss Sunshine) while Goodman has instead been nominated only as part of the Argo ensemble.

Phoenix’s slot among the Best Actor finalists is arguably filled by no less than Hugh Jackman in the role of Les Misérables‘ beleagured Jean Valjean.  I’m happy for Jackman. The 6’2.5″ Aussie has been a major film star in the making for slightly more than a decade, but–until now–he has not had a screen role that really showed his mettle–and please don’t remind me that he’s had all kinds of success playing Wolverine in the X-Men series.  Oh sure, on Broadway he’s all the rage, most especially in his Tony award winning role as the late singer-songwriter Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz–and that’s precisely my point. Onscreen he has yet to have a role of that kind of stature–until now, that is. I know some people loved him in the sweeping fake “epic” Australia, opposite Nicole Kidman, but that was a movie that failed to live up to all the hype; it was virtually shut-out of any and all awards consideration back home.  I actually liked him in the time-travel romantic comedy Kate and Leopold, co-starring Meg Ryan, from 2001 though even with his lone Golden Globe nomination for his performance, I still admit that the movie as a whole is a dud.  That noted, I know many people love The Prestige, which I have not seen. Mainly, because of his exquisitely masculine build, American producers want to cast Jackman in mostly macho action roles, but I think he’s capable of so much more. At any rate, I think Les Misérables is destined to become a great big holiday hit–and possibly a major Oscar contender and a class in its own right. Michael and I are looking forward to it as well as Zero Dark Thirty, but we’re planning on seeing The Guilt Trip. with Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen, on Xmas day because it seems like it will be more fun and less crowded.

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That’s SAG nominee Helen Mirren on the far right as Alma Hitchcock in, well, Hitchcock. Among her myriad awards and nominations are both an Oscar and a SAG award for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in 2006’s The Queen in addition to Oscar nods for The Last Station (Best Actress, 2009), Gosford Park (Best Supporting Actress, 2001), and The Madness of King George (Best Supporting Actress, 1994). She won her own SAG award for Gosford in addition to sharing the prize for Best Ensemble for the same movie.

On the other hand, if there is a surprise nominee in any of these categories, I would say it would have to be Helen Mirren in the role of Alfred Hitchcock’s beloved wife and frequent collaborator Alma in Hitchcock, which we still have not gotten around to seeing. Of course, we love Mirren, so this could be an interesting turn…

Here are the SAG nominees in the film categories. You’ll have to use the link to read about the TV nominations.

  • OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY AN FEMALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
  1. Jessica Chastain  (Zero Dark Thirty)
  2. Marion Cotillard – (Rust and Bone)
  3. Jennifer Lawrence – (Silver Linings Playbook)
  4. Helen Mirren (Hitchcock)
  5. Naomi Watts  (The Impossible)
  • OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE  ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
  1. Bradley Cooper  (Silver Linings Playbook)
  2. Daniel Day-Lewis  (Lincoln)
  3. John Hawkes – (The Sessions)
  4. Hugh Jackman  (Les Misérables)
  5. Denzel Washington (Flight)
  • OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
  1.  Sally Field (Lincoln)
  2. Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
  3. Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
  4. Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy)
  5. Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
  • OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
  1. Alan Arkin  (Argo)
  2. Javier Bardem  (Skyfall)
  3. Robert De Niro ( Silver Linings Playbook)
  4. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
  5. Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
  • OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A CAST IN A MOTION PICTURE
  1.  Argo
  2. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  3. Les Misérables
  4. Lincoln
  5. Silver Linings Playbook
  • OUTSTANDING ACTION PERFORMANCE BY A  STUNT ENSEMBLE IN A  MOTION PICTURE
  1. The Amazing Spider-man
  2. The Bourne Legacy
  3. The Dark Knight Rises
  4. Les Misérables
  5. Skyfall

Official Screen Actors Guild Awards Press Release: http://www.sagawards.org/media-pr/press-releases/nominations-announced-19th-annual-screen-actors-guild-awards%C2%AE

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Phoenix Rising

9 Dec
Emmanuelle Riva

If France’s Emmanuelle Riva earns an Oscar nod for the acclaimed Amour, she could at age 85 very well become the Academy’s oldest winner in a competitive category. Jessica Tandy was 80 when she won Best Actress for 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy, yet Christopher Plummer was 82 when he won Best Supporting Actor for The Beginners earlier this year. Btw: Riva’s impressive filmography includes the 1961 classic Hiroshima Mon Amour from director Alan Resnais. Interesting coincidence on those titles.  Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence, who shares this year’s LAFCA prize for Best Actress, could emerge as one of the youngest ever winners in category, just behind Marlee Matlin, who was 21 when she was recognized for 1986’s Children of a Lesser God, and about the same age as the very first Best Actress honoree Janet Gaynor, who conquered the competition by starring in  three celebrated films: Seventh Heaven, Street Angel, and Sunrise…kind of like Lawrence with her two films only different.

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association has weighed in on the year’s best, and the result is, not so much for Zero Dark Thirty, and a publicity boost for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.  Oh sure, top honors went to Austrian director Michael Haneke’s Amour, but Anderson’s film won the most awards overall, including Best Director, Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams), and Best Art Direction, not to mention “runner-up” status in three more categories: Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Score.  I’m happy for Phoenix though I wish John Hawkes (The Sessions) were getting more of the love at this point. Oh, and good for Amy Adams, who does wonders with a sketchily written role, and that includes performing a bit of business with Philip Seymour Hoffman that has to be seen to be believed. If Adams scores an Oscar nod, it will be round four–after Junebug (2005), Doubt (2008), and The Fighter (2010).

Here are the Los Angeles Film Critics Association winners in most categories:

  • Best Picture – Amour
  • Best Actress – TIE: Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games AND Silver Linings Playbook) and Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
  • Best Actor – Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
  • Best Director – Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)
  • Best Supporting Actress – Amy Adams (The Master)
  • Best Supporting Actor –  Dwight Henry (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  • Best Screenplay – Chris Terrio (Argo)
  • Best Cinematography – Roger Deakins (Skyfall)
  • Best Editing – Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg (Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Best Production Design – Jack Fisk and David Crank (The Master)
  • Best Original Score – Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  • Best Documentary – The Gatekeepers
  • Best Foreign Language Film –Holy Motors
  • Best Animated Feature – Frankenweenie
  • New Generation Award – Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

I think the LA group has made some interesting choices. I fully support the selection of Roger Deakins as Best Cinematographer.  Skyfall, the latest entry in the 50 year old James Bond/007 franchise, and a bona fide global blockbuster, is the most visually sumptuous movie of the year–at least for my money. Sorry, Mihai Malaimare Jr (The Master). Indeed, it was the trailer’s stunning visuals, not hunky Daniel Craig nor Adele’s walloping title tune that caught my attention, prompting me to make the movie a priority once it was released. Now, how any of this figures in the Oscar race is anyone’s guess; after all,  Deakins has already been nominated nine times without a single win even though he is a two time champ among his peers in the American Society of Cinematographers: The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Man Who Wasn’t There. He lost the former to John Toll (Legends of the Fall) and the latter to Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring). He was a double nominee for 2007’s Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men AND The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford though he was bested by Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood). Many Oscar prognosticators thought he had his best chance to date with the Coens’ redo of True Grit, but that film’s breathtaking vistas were no match for the  dazzling Inception and its variety of logistical details.  If Skyfall ekes out a Best Picture nod, which is entirely possible, Deakins could be well-positioned to take home the golden boy at last. Meanwhile, all that much praised 3-D razzle-dazzle in The Life of Pi does not seem to be translating into awards. At this point, I think director Ang Lee and his film are fading fast, faster than what many insiders might have expected. On the other hand, even though Martin Scorsese’s 3-D Hugo was a 2011 box-office bust, the movie still earned 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, but its wins were all in the technical categories: art direction, cinematography,  visual effects, etc.

I’m thrilled that Dwight Henry has been named the year’s Best Supporting Actor by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for his superb portrayal of”Wink,” the conflicted pop of young “Hushpuppy” played by dynamic newcomer,  Quvenzhane Wallis, who has generated much more press, much more Oscar buzz.  This man, who runs his own bakery in New Orleans and had reportedly never acted, prior to this film, just blew me away as he experiences emotions both raw and tender. I’m glad to know it’s not just me who was/is impressed. This is a performance so good that it hurts. I hope to see him on Oscar’s final ballot. Two years ago, I had similar hopes for John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone, and that worked out pretty well. Last year, I was mad for Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, but that campaign never developed the necessary momentum. I’ve got my fingers cautiously crossed for Henry at this point.

I’m also glad to see the great–unsung–Jack Fisk (The Master) in the win column. Though Fisk has been working in the biz since the 1970s, on such pictures as Badlands, Carrie, Days of Heaven, and The Tree of Life, he only has one Oscar nomination–for 2007’s There Will Be Blood (also from director Paul Thomas Anderson), but the Oscar went home with the team of Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo for Tim Burton’s big screen treatment of Stephen Sondheim’s macabre musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. On the other hand, if I were voting, I’m afraid I’d be torn between Fisk and first runner-up Moonrise Kingdom‘s Adam Stockhausen.  That noted, I can also imagine nominations in the Art Direction/Production Design category for Anna KareninaSkyfall and Beasts of the Southern Wild, a movie that, because it looks so true-to-life, probably has a lot more design elements in it than viewers might think possible. Oh, and speaking of Tim Burton and Sweeney Todd, my guess is his flop update on Dark Shadows won’t be garnering too many Oscar nods even though Burton’s films tend to do well in the design categories, going all the way back to 1989’s Batman (designed by the late Anton Furst), up through Sleepy Hollow (1999), Sweeney Todd (2007), and Alice in Wonderland (2010).

Even though Ben Affleck’s Argo did not make much of a splash with this group, winning in only one category (Best Screenplay), and coming in second in another (Best Editing), I feel like Affleck is very much in the game. He’s an actor-hyphenate, and I expect that to make a much bigger impression among people in the biz than critics who operate from an entirely different point of view.

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Here are some of the runners-up in the Los Angeles Film Critics Association voting: Best Picture – The Master; Best Actor – Denis Lavant (Holy Motors); Best Director – Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty); Best Supporting Actress – Anne
Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises and Les Misérables, as seen above ); Best Supporting Actor – Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained); Best Screenplay – David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), and Best Editing – William Goldenberg (Argo). Btw: the buzz for Anne Hathaway’s turn in Les Misérables, singing showstopper “I Dreamed a Dream,” is deafening. She may very well be on her way to front-runner status.

 

Now, let’s see what happens later in the week with the announcements of the Screen Actors Guild nominees as well as the Golden Globe nods.

Thanks for your consideration…

Los Angeles Film Critics Association website: http://www.lafca.net/years/2012.html

Emmanuelle Riva at the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0728938/

Article about Dwight Henry from the Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/27/dwight-henry-beasts-of-the-southern-wild_n_1631624.html

The National Board of Review: The Name of the Campaign Game is ‘Compliance’

5 Dec
Compliance-Ann-Dowd

The National Board of Review’s selection of Compliance’s Ann Dowd is certainly an interesting pick. Just last week, Dowd was likewise nominated for a Spirit award for her performance, so good for her; however, I also wonder if there isn’t some blurring of leading/supporting players in order to make that happen. In the film, which carries the familiar Magnolia Pictures banner (per Dallas’s own Mark Cuban), Dowd plays the manager of a fastfood restaurant who believes she is helping police investigate one of her own employees, played by Dreama Walker. Though Walker’s pretty face is plastered all over the poster–and Dodd’s image is likewise nowhere to be found, the fact is that Dowd is top-billed on the IMDb, and she appears to be very much the lead in what is by all accounts a riveting indie slice of the evil that men–and women–do.

Well, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is looking more and more like threat to a pair of much ballyhooed Oscar hopefuls, Argo and Lincoln, as Bigelow’s latest scored a pair of important wins in Wednesday afternoon’s National Board of Review voting on the heels, so to speak, of her victory earlier in the week with the New York Film Critics Circle. If Bigelow’s streak continues, she could very well become the first AND second woman to claim Academy Awards for Best Director, which, actually does not show a whole lot of progress on the part of the Academy. To clarify: of the three women who were nominated for Best Director before Bigelow won for 2009’s The Hurt Locker, none have earned nods for follow-up films. That list, btw, includes: Lina Wertmuller (Seven Beauties, 1975), Jane Campion (The Piano, 1993), and Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, 2003).

Furthermore, Bigelow shouldn’t get too comfy with her new frontrunner status because, simply, most directors don’t win Oscars for back-to-back projects:  John Ford, Oscar’s only 4-time Best Director champ, won for 1940’s The Grapes of Wrath (presumably snatching victory away from Alfred Hitchcock whose Rebecca won Best Picture) and then came back for more with 1941’s How Green was My Valley. Per the IMDb, Ford completed Tobacco Road and The Long Voyage Home during the interim.  Also, Joseph L. Mankiewicz collected back-to-back Oscars for directing–and writing–Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950), the latter of which also won Best picture honors.  The last director to snare a second Oscar was Clint Eastwood, who waited 12 years–and directed eight features–between Unforgiven (1992)  and Million Dollar Baby (2004). (To clarify, while Zero Dark Thirty is Bigelow’s first feature film since The Hurt Locker, she worked on a failed TV pilot entitled The Miraculous Year in 2003.)

Here are the National Board of Review winners in most categories:

  • Best Picture – Zero Dark Thirty
  • Best Actress – Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Best Actor – Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Best Director – Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Best Supporting Actress – Ann Dowd (Compliance)
  • Best Supporting Actor –  Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)
  • Best Original Screenplay – Rian Johnson (Looper)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay – David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Best Animated Feature – Wreck-It Ralph
  • Special Achievement in Filmmaking – Ben Affleck (Argo)
  • Breakthrough Actress – Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)\
  • Breakthrough Actor – Tom Holland (The Impossible)
  • Best Ensemble – Les Misérables
  • Best Directorial Debut – Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  • Best Foreign Film (Amour, France)
  • Best Documentary – Searching for Sugarman
  • Best Foreign Film – (Amour, France)
  • Spotlight Award – John Goodman (Argo, Flight, Paranorman, and Trouble with the Curve)
  • NBR Freedom of Expression Award: Central Park Five
  • NBR Freedom of Expression Award:Promised Land

I have to say that this looks like a mess to me.  It appears as though the NBR was determined that every actor/filmmaker should have a trophy as is the case today with the “everyone is special, and everyone gets a ribbon/award just for participating” mind-set that ensures no one, including losers, goes home feeling like a loser.  Hmmmm…Ben Affleck’s Argo craps out as Best Picture and Best Director? Give him an award for “Special Achievement in Filmmaking.”  John Goodman doesn’t garner enough votes to earn Best Supporting Actor in spite of a highly prolific year? Let’s hand him the “Spotlight Award” whatever that is.

If all of the above were not enough, the National Board of Review, which predates the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scientists, has long released a “10 Best List.” Here, after Zero Dark Thirty, are the board’s 9 runners-up in alphabetical order:

  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Misérables
  • Lincoln
  • Looper
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Promised Land
  • Silver Linings Playbook
Compliance_Movie_Poster

Lots of praise and lots of pretty Dreama Walker, but not a lot of Nancy Dowd who may very well play the leading character in Compliance.

Even with all that, the board wants everyone to be a winner, so there are separate “Best Of” lists for foreign films, documentaries, and even independent films, which is good news for Bernie, Compliance, and Moonrise Kingdom, all of which made the indie cut while other “specialized” fare, such as Beasts of the Southern Wild and Silver Linings Playbook, both of which are currently in the running for Spirit Awards (aka the Independent Spirit Awards), are being lumped with some of the more mainstream offerings.  How confusing can this get?

Meanwhile, I have to say I was aggravated–when I wasn’t underwhelmed–by  writer-director Rian Johnson’s time-travel yarn Looper, starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt (improbably as younger and older versions of the same character) though both actors have done this sort of twisty concoction before–only in much better films: Willis in Twelve Monkeys (1995)  and  Levitt in Inception (2010). Looper starts out intriguingly enough, but in spite of its razzmatazz,  the storytelling is sloppy. My take for Best Original Screenplay would have been Moonrise Kingdom. For that matter, while I have not  yet seen The Impossible, Moonrise Kingdom‘s young Jared Gilman would have certainly been my pick for the “breakthrough” actor of the year.

Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio’s appearance as Best Supporting Actor kind of confuses me, but only until I remember that Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino, is coming to us from the Weinstein Brothers, perhaps the craftiest Oscar strategists of all time, and they no doubt want to keep DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx–as the title character–from competing against each other.   More compliance.

Thanks for your consideration…

The National Board of Review: http://www.nbrmp.org/

Kathryn Bigelow at the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000941/

Compliance at the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1971352/

Magnolia Pictures: http://www.magpictures.com/films.aspx

(Almost) Live from New York: It’s the New York Film Critics Circle Winners!

3 Dec

Well, it took awhile, but members of the New York Film Critics Circle have announced the winners of their annual voting, and it looks like the two most honored films are Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln, both of which picked-up three awards. This is interesting to me since both entries cover major events in our nation’s history, albeit more than one hundred years apart.

ZeroDarkThirty2012Poster

Is Zero Dark Thirty this year’s The Hurt Locker? I’m sure Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow just hopes her movie reaches a wider audience than her last effort acclaimed though it was. I think the public still has a fascination with the
search for Osama bin Laden, but timing is everything. It might be a tough sell during the holidays.

Zero Dark Thirty is, of course, producer-director Kathryn Bigelow’s theatrical follow-up to 2009’s The Hurt Locker, the film for which Bieglow won two Oscars and broke through to the then previously “No Girls Allowed” club of Best Director winners, also breaking ground and claiming top honors from the Directors Guild of America at the same time. Additionally, she picked up a pair of awards from the NYFCC for her work on that picture as well. Bigelow’s latest, written by Oscar winner Mark Boal, with whom Bigelow collaborated on The Hurt Locker, reportedly takes viewers behind the scenes of the hunt for–and ultimate death of–the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. I can’t wait to see the movie even if the title is one of the biggest head-scratchers since, well, The Hurt Locker. I am also a bit concerned that according to one early report, Bigelow and Boal were pressured to remove any mention of President Barack Obama from the final cut even though, like it or not, he was, in fact, the commander-in-chief at the time of the decisive raid on bin Laden’s compound. Another head-scratcher, that.  It will be interesting to see how the Academy responds to Bigelow’s latest; after all, she is still the only woman to ever win Best Director, and one of only four women to have ever been nominated. Furthermore, she is also the LAST woman to have been nominated in that category.

DEEP-BLUE-SEA-3D-DVD

Okay, so it looks like Rachel Weisz might be a contender for her acclaimed work in Deep Blue Sea, a movie I read about but could not/did not make the time to see earlier in the year. I’m sure I remember reading about it, but I don’t know that I read enough to even know if it ever played in Dallas, but I now have it on my to-view list. If Weisz, 2005’s Best Supporting Actress victor (The Constant Gardener), wins
a Best Actress Oscar, she will join Meryl Streep and Jessica Lange as the only two actresses who have “graduated” from Best Supporting Actress to Best Actress. Not bad, Rachel, not bad.

Meanwhile, Lincoln is director Steven Spielberg’s take on our nation’s 16th president and his determination to pass the Thirteenth Amendment in order to abolish slavery before the close of the Civil War. Spielberg has twice won the Oscar for Best Director (Schindler’s List, 1993; Saving Private Ryan, 1998); he also won an Oscar for co-producing Schindler’s List, 1993’s Best Picture winner.  His big screen version of the WWI era War Horse was a Best Picture nominee last year though it was not considered a major contender since Spielberg did not garner a correlating Best Director nod as well. I don’t see that as an obstacle this year.   Lincoln is the second collaboration between Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner, who previously scored an Oscar nod for co-writing 2005 Best Picture nominee Munich, the director’s tense and taut exploration of the aftermath of the terrorist attack during the 1972 Summer Olympics. Kushner, for the uninformed, is the Pulitzer and Tony winning author of the magnificent Angels in America.

Okay, here are the NYFCC winners:

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Is this wascally good ole Texas boy Matthew McConaughey’s year to finally be lassoed into the Academy’s corral? Just last week, McConaughey was nominated for not one but two Spirit Awards: for Best Lead Actor in Killer Joe, and Best Supporting Actor for Magic Mike. He was honored for the latter as well as the Texas-made Bernie by the New York Film Critics Circle. I have to confess that were it not for director Steven Soderbergh’s name in the credits, most people probably would not think of Magic Mike as an “indie” film, considering the way the drama about male strippers, starring recent People magazine cover-guy Channing Tatum, was splashily promoted earlier this year, but I digress. If McConaughey doesn’t make the cut this season, he’s got a head start on the next round based on all the publicity he has received over his recent dramatic weight loss in order to play in the fact based story of a man battling HIV, Dallas Buyers Club. In the meantime, I’ll take another order of Bernie, with McConaughey as a self-promoting, yet increasingly frustrated, D.A., please.

  • Best Picture – Zero Dark Thirty
  • Best Actress – Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea)
  • Best Actor – Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln)
  • Best Director – Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Best Supporting Actress – Sally Field (Lincoln)
  • Best Supporting Actor – Matthew McConaughey (Bernie & Magic Mike)
  • Best Screenplay – Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
  • Best Cinematography – Grieg Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Best Documentary – The Central Park Five
  • Best Foreign Film (Amour, France) [1]
  • Best Animated Feature – Frankenweenie

Of course, we all know how fabulous Daniel Day Lewis is as Lincoln, but I’m also glad to see Sally Field garner some attention for her role as Mary Todd Lincoln, a misunderstood historical figure if there ever were one.  Field hasn’t has a role this dynamic in years (Mrs. Doubtfire and Forrest Gump already matter), and she’s magnificent–so much so that she obliterates widely circulated concern about the age discrepancy in casting. Field is at least a decade older than star Daniel Day Lewis, yet in real-life Abraham Lincoln was almost ten years older than his much debated wife, so, yes, there’s a little trick, a little  suspension of disbelief, involved in casting, but it works beautifully.

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That’s the real Mary Todd Lincoln on the left. If Sally Field (r) wins a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Lincoln, she’ll be in the same company as Ingrid Bergman who won leading actress trophies for Gaslight (1944) and Anastasia (1956) before winning in the supporting category for 1974’s star-studded Murder on the Orient Express. Other actresses who have won as leading players followed by award worthy supporting turns are Helen Hayes and Maggie Smith. Not bad, Sally, not bad.

Frankly. I’ve always thought that the Academy erred, big-time, when it awarded Field, yet again, for her lead role in Robert Benton’s Texas-based Places in the Heart (a mere five years–and one major comeback–after emerging victorious for 1979’s much celebrated Norma Rae). It wasn’t that Field was horrible in Places in the Heart, it’s just that her performance wasn’t remarkable enough to warrant top honors from the Academy. Anyone could have played the part of put-upon young widow Edna Spalding just as well as Field did–and when I say anyone, I mean any reasonably competent student actress preparing to play the lead in a high school play. Yep, I went there. On the other hand, I think Field was almost criminally, or at least cruelly, ignored by the Academy for her no-holds barred performance as the cautious–then grieving–mom in Steel Magnolias, especially now after hearing the DVD commentary by (late) director Herbert Ross as he explains how she performed the gut-wrenching graveside monologue over and over for one angle and then another, including the other actresses’ close-ups,  without ever wavering in her delivery. Of course, at that time–1989–Field had already won two Oscars, and a third, in a span of 10 years, just wasn’t going to happen. I say, “Bravo,” Sally, and welcome back.

By Sunday night we should know if the wins here are truly indicative of a trend as both the National Board of Review and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association are scheduled to announce their picks later in the week.  Stay tuned.

[1] Director Michael Haneke’s film also earned the prestigious Golden Palm, the highest award at the Cannes Film Festival, earlier this year.

The official site of the New York Film Critics Circle: http://www.nyfcc.com/