2007-08 Oscar Calendar

[Monday, December 3, 2007]

Official Screen Credits
Forms Due.

[Wednesday, December 26, 2007]

Nominations ballots mailed.

[Saturday, January 12, 2008]

Nominations polls close
5 p.m. PST.

[Tuesday, January 22, 2008]

Nominations announced
5:30 a.m. PST
Samuel Goldwyn Theater

[Wednesday, January 30, 2008]

Final ballots mailed.

[Monday, February 4, 2008]

Nominees Luncheon

[Saturday, February 9, 2008]

Scientific and Technical
Awards Dinner

[Tuesday, February 19, 2008]

Final polls close 5 p.m. PST.

[Sunday, February 24, 2008]

79th Annual
Academy Awards Presentation
Kodak Theatre

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July 31, 2006

The Dark Knight it is...



The official press release:


BURBANK, CA, 31 July 2006 – As a follow up to last year’s blockbuster Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan is set to direct Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Dark Knight, written by Jonathan Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David Goyer. The film will be produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven and Christopher Nolan. Additionally, Christian Bale will resume his role as Bruce Wayne and Academy Award nominee Heath Ledger has been cast as The Joker. The announcements were made today by Jeff Robinov, President of Production, Warner Bros. Pictures.

Christopher Nolan revamped the Batman franchise in 2005 with the immensely successful Batman Begins, starring Christian Bale in the title role, which chronicled the early years of the superhero. Nolan first garnered attention from critics and fans in 2000 with the groundbreaking drama Memento, which he wrote and directed. He went on to direct the thriller Insomnia, starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams, and recently wrapped production on The Prestige, with Hugh Jackman and Bale.

Bale was most recently seen in the ensemble cast of Terrence Malick’s The New World. His other credits include Little Women, Portrait of a Lady, Metroland, American Psycho, Laurel Canyon and Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, which was his first starring role.

Ledger most recently earned Oscar Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG Award nominations and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ennis Del Mar in the award-winning drama Brokeback Mountain. His other credits include Casanova, Monster’s Ball, Lords of Dogtown, The Brothers Grimm and The Patriot.

“Chris’ unique vision is what made Batman Begins such an outstanding film and we could not imagine anyone else at the helm of The Dark Knight,” said Robinov. “We also can’t wait to see two such formidable actors as Christian and Heath face off with each other as Batman and The Joker.”

“I'm excited to continue the story we started with Batman Begins,” added Nolan. “Our challenge in casting The Joker was to find an actor who is not just extraordinarily talented but fearless. Watching Heath Ledger's interpretation of this iconic character taking on Christian Bale’s Batman is going to be incredible.”

Production is set to begin on The Dark Knight in early 2007.

Nolan and Ledger are represented by CAA.


Thank God the studio listens to the fans on this franchise.

It's official, the title for the sequel to Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins" will be "The Dark Knight." I can't tell you how awesome that registers in my mind, as the monicker is something I've been hoping Warer Bros. worked into the title at some point.

The studio is sending around the information to a few sources right now, but the official press release (also "officially" announcing Heath Ledger in the role of The Joker), will hit tomorrow.

This probably would be better served on The Blog, but I do love that character.


“It was an image the public had fallen in love with,
seeming to find in it an affirmation of the national purpose
at its very origins that no politician, no history book had ever matched.
The Photograph had become The Fact.”


James Bradley’s Flags of Our Fathers has much in common with the best of war literature. It also boasts a divergence that makes it unique against the genre, and which could serve to make the film adaptation as unique against the backdrop of war cinema.

Largely personal, the book is Bradley’s dedication to his father, John “Doc” Bradley, who was one of seven men immortalized by a photograph taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal over 60 years ago. A character driven story more than anything driven by the actual events of World War II in the Pacific, it is perfectly suited as a vehicle for actors’ director Clint Eastwood to tackle in his recent string of awards relishing films.


Old and New, the Oscar Season Approaches


The Oscar season 2006 looks to be much more varied and potentially more exciting than the drab affair that was 2005. While the steady stream of socially and politically conscious filmmaking from last year was a creatively exceptional one on a few fronts, it also set the stage for a number of pitfalls for filmmakers struggling to inject purpose and importance into their work. The showdown come Oscar night was fated from the outset, it seemed, and the two most divisive films of the oeuvre came head to head. The result was embraced by some; reviled by others.

And so we begin to dip our toes into a new season. The Toronto and Telluride Film Festivals are on the horizon, where studios begin their Oscar campaigns in earnest, gathering various reactions to their upcoming fall film product and testing the waters of critical reception. But as of this time, only a precious few films have boasted any real potential for Oscar success.

Universal’s “United 93” remains the most critically acclaimed film of the year. Cannes claimed residence amongst the awards season for Paramount Vantage’s “Babel” and, perhaps, Lionsgate’s “Bug.” The June release of Fox’s “The Devil Wears Prada” was met with universal acclaim for another revered Meryl Streep performance. And next week Paramount releases “World Trade Center,” a moment that will largely be seen as the kickoff for the 2006 film awards season.

All of this we know.


What we don’t know is which of the upcoming perceived “Oscar heavies” will inevitably crash and burn in accordance with the legacies left by such films as “Pay it Forward,” “The Shipping News,” “Alexander” and “Kingdom of Heaven.” What we don’t know is which thespian’s career is going to receive a jumpstart as a result of awards success, much like Jamie Foxx in 2004 or Terrence Howard just last year. What we don’t know is how the season will be defined. What will the industry and audiences have learned when the curtain falls on the 79th Annual Academy Awards? What effect will the awards season have on the legion of projects awaiting budgetary consideration, green lights, or otherwise, rejection? What we don’t know is so much more fun.

An Oscar column on the cusp of August is largely intangible, and certainly subjective – much more so than anything that could spring up in the midst of the season. The lack of knowledge is vast, but it also provides the final stage for rampant speculation above all else. For many, that is where the excitement lives. Next month, eyes will finally be set upon awards hopefuls such as New Line’s “Little Children,” Universal’s “The Black Dahlia,” Sony’s “All the King’s Men” and Fox Searchlight’s “The Last King of Scotland.” But right now, Paramount’s “World Trade Center” is out of the bag, Focus’s “Hollywoodland” is continuing its slow roll of screenings…and that’s about all we have to go on. I’m seeing two of the Oscar big guns this week, and those viewings could certainly affect my ponderings herein, but I wanted to give one more somewhat, shall we say, uninformed look at the pool below before taking that fateful dive into the 2006 Oscar insanity.

Now, rather than bore the readership with a lengthy dissertation on rehashed or regurgitated information – information any Goggle search of “Oscar” and “predictions” would surely turn up – I think the best course of action in attacking the dawn of a new season is to take stock of where we are. News is few and far between in an Oscar race, but a few things of relevance are turning up as the year pushes forward, and such intricacies are what I’d like to discuss here today.

A point worthy of addressing right out of the gate is the lack of distributor interest in a number of awards hopefuls. As of this writing, no U.S. distributor has taken a shining to Milos Forman’s “Goya’s Ghosts” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “Youth Without Youth.” Why that is would be a point of speculation to be sure, but one thing is certain. A film lacking a distributor this late in the year is heading for trouble if it hopes to release on domestic soil by the Oscar deadline.


Of course, last year, Tommy Lee Jones’s “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” did not pick up U.S. distribution until after Toronto. The reasoning was fairly obvious. The film was arguably a rather poor debut effort from Jones, but it was inarguably a tough sell to general and awards-watching audiences alike. Sony Pictures Classics picked up the film in September, and by the end of the year, a quartet of Independent Spirit Award nominations was the only notable fruit of its labors.

Now, I am not saying that “Goya’s Ghosts” or “Youth Without Youth” are bad films. No one can discern as much quite yet. But I do believe a lack of studio interest this late in the game is enough to consider these films either headed for the 2007 slate, or not broad enough in their appeal to generate Oscar attention of any note. As such, you’ll find in today’s predictions update that both films have been removed from all charts, though they are still on the radar in our contenders archive in various forms.

A few things are beginning to come into focus on various fronts otherwise.

With the exclusion of “Goya’s Ghosts,” which might have presumably been a Warner Bros. pick-up given the history between the studio and Forman and producer Saul Zaentz, Steven Soderbergh’s “The Good German” stands as the studio’s likely lead contender. Under the new regime of former Focus consultant Michelle Robertson, Warner Bros. might be at the dawn of a new age where awards success is concerned, success that has largely alluded the studio for some time.


Meanwhile, Emilio Estevez’s “Bobby” is sliding into the poll position over at The Weinstein Company, a position generally considered chalked up to Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering” thus far. In fact, the shape of the Weinstein’s Oscar stable is beginning to make a lot more sense, as Stephen Frears’s “The Queen” and Chris Noonan’s “Miss Potter” look to be acting showcases for Oscar familiars Helen Mirren and Renée Zellweger respectively. The sophomore year for the new distributor could prove to be a bit more awarding than 2005.

Over at Sony, the concept of releasing Mike Binder’s 9/11 character study “Reign O’er Me” in December is being tossed around. The studio is staring at a likely divisive Sofia Coppola outing (“Marie Antoinette”) and a Steven Zaillian labor of love that is shaping up to be a miss in many respects (“All the King’s Men”) for their Oscar hopes.

Considerations were being turned to quirky entries like Marc Forster’s “Stranger Than Fiction” and Ryan Murphy’s “Running With Scissors” for Best Picture aspirations, but maybe counter-acting the other, more “expected” 9/11 releases with a story refreshingly anonymous, yet every bit as emotional in context, would indeed be the right move. Though “Memoirs of a Geisha” took a lion’s share of nominations and wins at last year’s ceremony, I’m sure the folks down in Culver City would like to finally grab another Best Picture berth. It has been a long drought since 1997’s “As Good As It Gets” after all.


Lionsgate bumped one of its awards hopefuls, “Trade,” to the 2007 schedule just last week, leaving last year’s Best Picture victor with a scant two Oscar contenders this season. William Friedkin’s “Bug” generated some hoopla for Ashley Judd’s apparently staggering performance when it screened at Cannes, while Griffin Dunne’s “Fierce People” is one of those films people have been talking about for so long they thought it already came and went. So it looks to be a lax year for Tom Ortenberg’s company this time around, and maybe they can make the best of what could be a return to form for Friedkin.

Typically awards-savvy, Focus Features has a similarly thin line-up on their hands under former Weinstein consultant Karen Fried, but the one-two punch of films looks to hold the right amount of potential for garnering a fair share of notices. When “Hollywoodland” drops in a month, much attention will be paid to the performances of Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and especially Ben Affleck. Meanwhile, Phillip Noyce’s apartheid drama “Catch a Fire” seems to be floating on the periphery of awards prognostication, waiting to be unleashed in October as what could be the first major awards success of Noyce’s somewhat uneven career.

Finally, Fox Searchlight really does have a glut of awards product on its hands this year. From films already in release, to a variety of upcoming ventures, the studio could be looking at a sizeable portion of the awards pie, potentially even Best Picture success for Kevin Macdonald’s “The Last King of Scotland” or Nicholas Hytner’s “The History Boys” (dependant upon critical reception and where the studio decides to place most of their monetary support).


The real discussion at the moment seems to be what to make of the performances in “Last King,” as James McAvoy, a certifiable lead in the piece, performs opposite a scenery chewing Forest Whitaker (in the role of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin). It will, again, be largely dependant upon the feedback the studio receives once they start screening the film, but the wise route to take might in fact be looking to Oscar history. In cases such as these, where clear leads are either overshadowed or otherwise held in check by smaller, showier roles (think “Training Day” or even “The Godfather”), the best course of action is to let the scene-stealer take his day in the sun – and a lead Oscar nomination for Forest Whitaker has been a long time in the making.

The rest of it you already know.

Dreamworks’s and Paramount’s “Dreamgirls” and “Flags of Our Fathers” are still considered the MVPs sight-unseen. But my doubts on “Flags of Our Fathers” are beginning to get the better of me – three straight Best Picture nominations?

Universal’s “The Good Shepherd” (which boasts a rather flat screenplay that may or may not be elevated considerably by the work of director Robert De Niro and his crew) is seemingly still awards magnet Universal’s lead horse. However, the promise of Alfonso Cuarón’s cautionary P.D. James adaptation “Children of Men” or the already critically tested and approved “United 93” could easily make cases for runs if the support and faith is there from the studio.


Stories of Robert Downey, Jr.’s finally turning a corner after a rough stretch in his career will (or should be) rampant. Too much attention will be paid to Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” expecting him to turn water into wine. Any number of nominations for “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” will be directly attributed by the media at large to the film’s box office success, while the absence of any number of nominations for “Superman Returns” will be attributed to its lack thereof.

But like I said. What we don’t know is so much more fun.

Main Category Charts
Technical Category Charts
Oscar Predictions Archive

July 28, 2006


Rounding out Pre-Oscar week today is a look at the phenomenon known as the “lone director” in the awards-watching community (and I totally I think I might have coined the term…but I won’t swear to it). This is the slot amongst the Best Director nominees that tends to go to a director whose film is not represented in the Best Picture list of nominees. Typically the slot goes to a filmmaker who either offers up something truly unique (Pedro Almodóvar for “Talk to Her,” Fernando Meirelles for “City of God”) or whose film was seemingly just out of reach of that Best Picture nomination (Stephen Daldry for “Billy Elliot,” Mike Figgis for “Leaving Las Vegas”).

Now, what propably springs to mind here is “Hey, there wasn’t a lone director nominee last year.” That is true. And plenty of effort was put into trying to decipher who that nominee would be, regardless. Every once in a while, the two categories match up five for five. But it isn’t often, not by a long shot. So, it’s an exercise that still boasts some merit.

Any number of things can change one’s perception of an oddity like this, but from here, this is my ranked list of potential “lone director” nominees.

Christopher Nolan for “The Prestige”


Christopher Nolan hit his 2005 effort, “Batman Begins,” right out of the park, proving that the legacy of Bryan Singer could hold solid – comic book franchises can be tangible and realism can flourish. Nolan found Oscar recognition right out of the gate in the form of a screenplay nomination for 2001’s “Memento,” and this year his genre magician feud “The Prestige” looks to have equal parts charisma and creepiness. It might be a stretch to hope for Best Picture recognition of a film like this, but the directors’ branch is always willing to step outside the box. And surely, there might be some love left over from last year.

Mel Gibson for “Apocalypto”

Mel Gibson’s latest dead language epic is set up at Disney just like Nolan’s “The Prestige,” but it also has the distinguishing characteristic of a December opening, and, likely, being the studio’s lead horse hopeful. Now, Gibson’s 2004 opus “The Passion of the Christ” found its way to a number of nominations despite a flood of controversy. “Apocalypto” looks to be just as daring in scale if somewhat less divisive in its subject matter. It seems like just the sort of sprawl that can be recognized by the directors if left flapping in the wind where Best Picture is concerned.

Richard Linklater for “Fast Food Nation”

Richard Linklater has, yet again, been a busy bee this year. “A Scanner Darkly” is already in theaters, and eyes have already been set upon the upcoming “Fast Food Nation.” Some have compared it to “Traffic” in tone, and while Linklater’s effort as a writer might be the film’s best shot at Oscar recognition, the nature of this tale, the work that has to go into translating Eric Schlosser’s dense work of journalism onto the screen, it takes an assured and guided hand. Perhaps if it lands as a critical triumph this will be an arena Fox Searchlight can secure a notice.

Darren Aronofsky for “The Fountain”


“The Fountain” is a project that really could go either way. I’ve read the script, and it has to be one of the most difficult films to visualize tangibly. The trailer has finally hit, and the project is one that Warner Bros. obviously believes in. “Requiem for a Dream” was well received, especially where Ellen Burstyn’s performance was concerned (a drastically overrated one, in my opinion). Some might relegate “The Fountain” to tech notices or nothing at all, but I feel support from the directors is not out of the question. Even still, it seems like we have to go back to the work of Kubrick to find such genre-bending antics held on high by the Academy at large.

William Friedkin for “Bug”

While all the buzz for William Friedkin’s “Bug” seems to fall on performer Ashley Judd, most seem to be missing the notion that a return to form for someone like William Friedkin could be construed as a massive deal to the Academy. After a solid one-two punch in the early 1970s (1971’s “The French Connection” and 1973’s “The Exorcist”), Friedkin slipped far off the “player” radar following the lackluster “Sorcerer.” Word out of Cannes on “Bug” has been quite positive, and in a stable somewhat empty this year, Lionsgate might push for top tier recognition hard on this one.

Francis Ford Coppola for “Youth Without Youth”

Francis Ford Coppola has been sadly M.I.A. for nine years. NINE YEARS. It’s not a Terrence Malick drought or anything, and “Jack” aside, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying the guy has been missed. “Youth Without Youth” is an extremely unconventional choice for this multi-lauded Oscar winner to jump back into the fire with, but it might just be challenging enough to do the trick. No distributor is lined up yet, and the likelihood that the film will be bumped to the 2007 slate increases daily, but should the respect come back in droves, a nomination for Best Director would not surprise.

Sofia Coppola for “Marie Antoinette”


Isn’t that cute? Daddy’s right on her heels. It’s still to be seen what the Academy reaction to Sofia Coppola's “Marie Antoinette” will be, but it seems a bit fated we’ll see a gigantic schism amongst the critical reception. Some might think the comparison here would be “Moulin Rouge!” (a film that, to be fair, missed out on a Best Director nod). That might be solid ground to stand on, given the tonal clash “Marie Antoinette” is said to be. At the end of the day, Sony has a packed schedule. But if there is a solid amount of respect for the film, Coppola could capitalize and become the first woman to grab a second nomination for Best Director.

Marc Forster for “Stranger Than Fiction”

Zach Helm’s screenplay for “Stranger Than Fiction” is one of the most audacious and creative pieces of writing to come along in some time. No stranger (no pun intended) to the Academy’s praises, Marc Forster has the opportunity to take a lot of credit for this story, one that is a difficult one to realize on screen and register with an audience. After getting snubbed for Best Picture nominee “Finding Neverland” in 2004, this might be the perfect opportunity for an “I’m sorry” from the directors’ branch, but I have a feeling this film will be recognized as unique and beautiful on its own terms, regardless of past slights.

Alejandro González Iñárritu for “Babel”

The final two directors on this list are so interchangeable as potential lone director contenders (in my view) that it’s scary. Following the Oscar nominated successes “Amorres Perros” and “21 Grams,” Alejandro González Iñárritu unleashes a true masterwork in “Babel” later in the fall. Some think the film, his most accessible to date, could receive widespread Academy recognition. I’m not so sure about that, and in fact I expect the film to go the route of his 2003 effort with a few minor notices. However, barring a critical split that could become ugly, Best Director is a category Iñárritu could surely own when all is said and done.

Paul Greengrass for “United 93”


“United 93” remains the most critically acclaimed film of the year, and while I have serious doubts about the film’s potential Best Picture success, Paul Greengrass is a filmmaker who showed a hell of a lot of fortitude with this effort. The two 9/11 films entering the marketplace this year (and there might be three at the end of the day) are drastically different but equally emotional in what they leave behind. That might be the final point of analysis, and as I write these words, I suddenly feel remiss in leaving Oliver Stone’s name off the list. Regardless, I think we will see “United 93” make a definite mark during the film awards season, and I expect the Academy to take notice and, against typicality, feel as if they have a responsibility to recognize the film. Greengrass as the “lone director” seems to fit like a glove.

(COMING NEXT WEEK: Updated predictions, full charts in every category, archived lists of acting contenders and the first full Oscar column since March's year-in-advance commentary!)

July 27, 2006

What a guy

(I posted this over at The Blog earlier this evening, but I figured it deserved some main page love. I love it when little tid-bits like this pop up.)


So I'm on the phone today with Adrien Brody, interviewing him for that New York Times piece I'm putting together on "Hollywoodland." We've had some delays in connecting - the poor guy has been traveling a lot - and we finally got a block of time on the calendar this afternoon, both of us in traffic in our cars (well - I was parking, to be fair).

"There are many pitfalls in life," Mr. Brody begins, in response to one of my queries. He then trails off and begins to verbally signify that something is vehicularly amiss on the assuredly crowded New York street he was on. Apparently some poor girl on a scooter went unseen by a cab driver pulling out onto the street, and after what must have been an uncomfortable collision, she was left eating the pavement.

"Hang on a second, Kris," Mr. Brody says to me. He then goes to assist in helping the girl and her scooter off the street and give a helpful hand to the entire situation like he was born to do so.

"You there, Kris?"

"Yeah, pal. Everyone okay?"

"Like I was saying...there are many pitfalls in life."

Lionsgate's "Trade" gets bumped to the 2007 slate


According to the LA Times, Lionsgate's Oscar hopeful "Trade," starring Kevin Kline in what could be a major awards role for the "A Prairie Home Companion" star, has been moved to an April 2007 release date. So cross out that #4 slot I gave to Kline just yesterday in the "Under the Radar" column.

This is a somewhat curious decision if you ask me, considering how terribly thin the studio's output looks to be this year. I guess this gives them some muscle to put behind "Bug" in any case. Regardless, unless it totally screws the pooch, expect "Trade," a gritty drama concerning sex trafficking, to be a major force in next year's awards season.

Boy am I getting bummed at news affecting my columns so quickly this month. So it goes...

July 26, 2006


Continuing Pre-Oscar Week today, we’ve got a unique look at the acting contenders on the horizon. In most cases across the Oscarnet universe (did I just coin a term?), you’ll find various, typically conclusive analyses of the separate acting categories. However, there are a number of contenders I feel may be falling under the radar of prognosticators and awards season columnists crazy enough to predict the race this far out.

The following is, therefore, a list of contenders that may find the spotlight as the year continues forward. From here, however, they remain performances, seen or otherwise, lacking the coverage they might deserve. So I’m happy to point some attention their way, as these are various acting contenders that I’m surely taking into consideration.

(NOTE: These are listed in order of my subjective take on the lack of attention the performances are receiving halfway through the year.)

Marion Cotillard in “A Good Year”


The trailer for “A Good Year” finally hit this week, and though it looks light and fluffy, I still think Ridley Scott always makes the best of even the most derivative of material. “Thelma & Louise” and “Matchstick Men” could easily have gone the way of second or third tier work, and they’re both fantastic outings, one of them a certifiable modern classic. So – that was all just buildup for justifying consideration of the love interest in this romantic comedy, opposite Russell Crowe. Marion Cotillard is largely an unknown right now, but a little screen time opposite the rowdy Aussie could make all the difference in the world for her career. And if the film proves to be a heavy-hitting awards contender, it would be quite foolish to disregard her.

Ken Watanabe in “Red Sun, Black Sand”

The question of whether Clint Eastwood’s “Red Sun, Black Sand” will be released this year is still floating around. Designed as the Japanese perspective Eastwood felt he was missing while filming “Flags of Our Fathers,” the film will be in Japanese with English subtitles. That might immediately keep it at arm’s distance from the Best Picture category, but Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe could have therein the perfect opportunity to be the standout in the film.

Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Shannon in “Bug”

The buzz out of Cannes on William Friedkin’s adaptation of Tracy Letts’s “Bug” centered on Ashley Judd, in, most assuredly, an awards-begging role. However, most seem to be forgetting that Judd has a co-lead in Michael Shannon who, freaking out and sinking into paranoia due to the “bugs” he sees everywhere (hence the title), could chew as many curtains as Judd’s junkie. Meanwhile, boasting the perfect opportunity for his own scene stealing is Harry Connick, Jr. as Judd’s obsessive and deranged ex-husband. But this sort of insularity remains a thin line to walk during the awards season, as Richard Linklater’s brilliantly adapted “Tape” showed us a few years back.

Robert Downey, Jr. in “Fur" and “Zodiac”


Why is no one talking about the imminent comeback of Robert Downey, Jr.? Last year he stirred waves for his performance in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” BIG waves in fact out of Cannes (where the waves are admittedly hyperbolic). That film happened to go on to decent critical praise but woefully underrated status on the whole. Downey was also a part of one of the finest ensembles of the year in Best Picture nominee “Good Night, and Good Luck.” But this year he’s forging ahead with FIVE major roles. And that’s, of course, not counting his better-forgotten stint in “The Shaggy Dog.” The indy hit out of Sundance, “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” and a showy turn in Richard Linklater’s "A Scanner Darkly” can only assist in highlighting his fall efforts in Curtis Hanson’s “Lucky You” and, most especially, David Fincher’s “Zodiac” and Steve Shainberg’s “Fur.” All of that traction and something HAS to stick. Right?

James Gandolfini in “Lonely Hearts”

A lot of people are talking about Salma Hayek’s bat-shit insane killer opposite Jared Leto in “Lonely Hearts.” If the film ever finds distribution, she’ll certainly have a fair shake from the awards-watching community. However, while I haven’t seen “Lonely Hearts,” I have read the script, and James Gandolfini has a nice role as the detective opposite on-screen partner John Travolta (another great role). The story is told from the perspective of Gandolfini’s character, and it’s the sort of thing that, given the right attention by a studio Oscar campaign, could load up on awards consideration. Gandolfini also has what has been considered a rather showy turn in “All the King’s Men,” and then of course, there’s the whole “Sopranos” brouhaha. The guy is going to be nominated for something…someday. But not enough people are looking at the potential of this role and performance.

Christian Bale in “The Prestige”

Christian Bale received the best reviews yet of an actor in the superhero genre last year for Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins.” This year he teams up with Nolan once more, and again, takes on a slightly psychotic character, in “The Prestige.” Bale seems to specialize in these introverted nuts-o characters, and if the trailer for this film is any indication, he’s got a stage set for the taking. Brilliant turn after brilliant turn has come out of this actor, from “Empire of the Sun” to “American Psycho” to “The Machinist.” The Academy will surely take notice someday, and while many are looking at Hugh Jackman (largely due to four prominent roles this year) and Michael Caine (double-dipping himself with this and “Children of Men”), the possibility is certainly there that Bale could garner intense critical praise two years in a row.

Kevin Kline in “Trade”


Kevin Kline won an Oscar nearly 20 years ago for “A Fish Called Wanda,” one of the coolest decisions the Academy has ever made. This year he put forth a cute and at times hilarious performance as an on-set security guard/self-fashioned noir-ish private eye in Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” Many keep that performance high on their radar for supporting actor hopefuls this season, but most seem to miss this little indy role coming down the line, in Marco Kreuzpaintner’s “Trade,” that could explode as Kline’s real awards opportunity. The subject matter of the film – sex trafficking – could certainly be touchy, but in the indy world, anything can stick for a lead performance. The Screen Actors Guild lauded Kline in 2001 for “Life as a House” while the Academy skipped the opportunity, but regardless, that “Prairie Home” performance could end up serving his role in “Trade” at the end of the day.

Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Stranger Than Fiction" and “World Trade Center”

It seems to me people are starting to come around on this one, so maybe mentioning Maggie Gyllenhaal’s one-two punch (three if you count Sundance sensation “Sherrybaby”) is ill-timed. But all year long it has simply seemed like many were missing the notion that these two roles, in Marc Forster’s “Stranger Than Fiction” and Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center,” are catty and painful respectively, two things the Academy likes in their supporting women. In Forster’s film, Gyllenhaal portrays the bohemian/sexy/no-bullshit baker that assists Will Ferrell in turning his by-the-book life around, while in Stone’s 9/11 entry she plays an emotionally distraught (and pregnant) Port Authority wife awaiting news on her husband, trapped under the rubble of the World Trade Center. People WILL be talking about this girl, folks. They’ve already begun…

Ben Affleck in “Hollywoodland”

“Hollywoodland” will tell the tragic and controversial story of the death of George Reeves, the actor most famous for his portrayal of Superman in the 1950s television serial. In the film, Adrian Brody takes on the fictionalized role of a private investigator, looking into the closed case (ruled suicide) himself. In the periphery, told in flashback, the story of Reeves’ inevitable decline offers the perfect opportunity for an actor with the right amount of charisma and fortitude to sink his teeth into the role of a man eventually beaten down by the industry in which he longed for success. In the film (which I have seen, but cannot yet review), Affleck nails the performance, despite any stigma the actor may have been enduring due to questionable professional decisions in recent years, and I think he will really kick off the supporting actor race when the film is released September 8. No one seems to really be looking that way yet, however, and I honestly expect that to change in a few months – but I’ve been wrong before.

Bonnie Mbuli in “Catch a Fire”


Closing off the list is a role (and really a film) that remains off the radar of awards prognosticators insistent on the tealeaves that are in front of their face or far-too-obvious. “Catch a Fire” (formerly “Hotstuff”) is Phillip Noyce’s film centering on the life of South African freedom fighter Patrick Chamusso. Plenty of people are starting to see the promise of Derek Luke in a role like Chamusso, but what about that suffering wife mold the supporting actress category holds so dear? Not to overly draft things into such barbaric categorization, but I really do think Bonnie Mbuli could be the awards discovery of the season as Chamusso’s wife in the film, and the vast avoidance of that possibility really stands out to me. But, as can be said following any of the above commentary – it’s only July. Things have a way of not turning out according to expectation.

(COMING FRIDAY: Pre-Oscar Week concludes with "THE LONE DIRECTOR," a look at that ever-present phenomenon within the directing category - helmers who garner recognition while their films sit it out in the Best Picture race. Who will it be this year?)

July 25, 2006

"Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" (***)


I'm no fan of Will Ferrell's comedic sensibilities in the slightest, but "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" is probably the best film of his typical mold to hit screens yet. I know "Anchorman" has its devoted, and "Old School" was apparently good enough in the eyes of Bravo to make it to an obscenely high position on their recent (awful) list of the best comedies of all time. But "Talladega Nights" has the right mixture of peripheral comedic brilliance that Ferrell has needed for some time, to off-set that "me, me, me" schtick that hasn't worked since Jim Carrey started talking out of his ass.

Nothing in the way of a full review here, but a few thoughts can't hurt. Not only does John C. Reilly prove himself something of a hilarious comedic sideman once again (playing a similar character to his "Days of Thunder" role, only this guy ate paint chips as a kid), but he at times beats Ferrell at his own game. Gary Cole, meanwhile, is becoming the master of the extended cameo yuk-yuk. Sacha Baron Cohen (along with on-screen hubby Andy Richter) gives enough reasons to slap your knee - and expect him to blow up even more once "Borat" hits cinemas, giving the actor a nice one-two punch this year). It's always great to see Pat Hingle on screen, no matter how inconsequential the part, and Amy Adams...Amy Adams has just...never been sexier. It's like a new breed. Subjective, of course...

Ferrell is what you would expect, though he really nails that southern fried cluelessness that has become it's own standard. Once "Stranger Than Fiction" releases in November, showcasing acting chops that ought to turn a head or two, the Golden Globe nominee will have potentially started the crossover that can be a painful process for comedians, bridging the gap to dramatic tendencies. We'll see how that flies with the critics and public at large.

In the meantime, go out and enjoy a laugh or two when "Talladega Nights" hits theaters next weekend. I'm fairly certain the appeal will be there for Ferrell fans, but this viewer, not one to jump in line for the comedic stylings of the Saturday Night Live alumn, was pleasantly surprised by some nice goofball entertainment. Take it for what it's worth.

July 24, 2006

Pre-Oscar Week I: STUDIO WARS

In years past it has always been a smart decision to look to studio history when laying out a set of Oscar predictions. After all, studio pedigree can be as important as filmmaker pedigree. But with the demise of the Weinstein Miramax and the collapse of Dreamworks into the Paramount fold, not to mention a shifting and sliding of Oscar consultation all over town, things are in a consistent state of transition the last few years.

That having been said, the tealeaves are beginning to settle once again, and a few studios are laying claim as awards houses to watch (Sony, Warner Bros.), while others cling to recent success as a hopeful current driving force of consistency (Focus, Universal).

Last year’s Best Picture victor Lionsgate Films doesn’t look likely to approach the higher levels this time around, and in fact it doesn’t look to be such a miraculous year for the specialty divisions of other studios on the whole. Even still, it looks like six companies have solid enough slates worthy of discussion here today.

The Walt Disney Company


Over on Buena Vista Blvd., the Walt Disney Company certainly doesn’t have a glut of awards hopefuls, but they do have a solid concentration that will likely gather a large number of nominations collectively. Not usually known for its Oscar successes outside of the animation division, Miramax has always been Disney's awards hound. Though, curiously enough, a one-two punch in 1999 came out of nowhere as “The Insider” and “The Sixth Sense” both sailed to Best Picture nods.

This year “Cars” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” are the summer popcorn entries that will mop up in categories like visual effects, sound and sound editing, amongst others. Meanwhile, “The Prestige” seems to be the right mixture of genre and unique storytelling that might surprise. But big dog “Apocalypto,” from the increasingly eccentric Mel Gibson, could certainly stand on its own two legs throughout a number of categories.

Universal Pictures


Universal is still the most consistent Oscar studio in recent years. Some might chalk that up to the campaign structure laid out each year by Tony Angellotti. Others would look to the rose-colored nature of films like “A Beautiful Mind,” “Ray” and “Seabiscuit,” the sort of cinema Academy members eat up, for the answer to the studio’s success. But “Munich” kind of knocks that logic. Regardless, Universal always seems to tap into something urgent and powerful when they run with a contender, and they’ve got a number of choices in that regard this year.

“United 93” is already the critical champion of the year, bursting with “urgency,” while “Children of Men” looks to tackle tough issues in the realm of science fiction later in the year. Additionally, the studio boasts entries from veteran directors Brian De Palma (“The Black Dahlia”), Spike Lee (“Inside Man”) and Michael Mann (“Miami Vice”) that could certainly provide outlets for various other notices. From here, however, it still looks like “The Good Shepherd” is where we’ll find most of the eggs, a rather epic story penned by Eric Roth, directed by Robert De Niro and sporting a who’s who of Oscar-winning talent behind the scenes.

(NOTE: Specialty division and general Oscar hound Focus Features is curiously thin on awards hopefuls this year. However, I still expect they will find the right marks with “Catch a Fire,” “Hollywoodland” under former Weinstein Oscar consultant Karen Fried.)

Sony Pictures


Sony is going to have a lot of decisions to make this fall as to positioning. Last year one of their Oscar hopefuls was bumped to the 2006 slate, while their Best Picture contender, “Memoirs of a Geisha,” crashed and burned with critics (though still went on to score the second highest tally of nominations and share in the highest total of wins). We don’t tend to see a lot of love for the studio outside of specialty division Sony Pictures Classics, but things might change in that regard this year.

Coming down the pike, Sony has a nice mixture of prestige/Oscar bait contenders (“All the King’s Men,” “Marie Antoinette”), quirky offerings that tug the heart strings (“Running With Scissors,” “Stranger Than Fiction”), and typically unique entries coming out of Sony Classics (“Friends With Money,” “Who Killed the Electric Car?,” “Volver”). At the end of the day, I actually expect the studio’s efforts to turn toward the less obvious films for awards clout, rather than lean on the bait-ish stuff that somehow seems destined to disappoint.

Fox Searchlight Pictures


What continues to be the most awards savvy specialty division amongst the studios, Fox Searchlight landed their first Best Picture nomination in 2004 with “Sideways.” Things were a little sparse in 2005, but the studio really got things started early this year when they sent out a press package containing the source materials of their 2006 film adaptations. “Fast Food Nation,” “The Last King of Scotland,” “Notes on a Scandal” and “Thank You For Smoking,” plus original hopefuls “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Margaret,” combine for a highly diverse mixture, one that could easily speckle the list of Oscar nominees in January.

All of that said, the power of “The History Boys” can’t be ignored as, potentially, the studio’s top contender – especially coming off a record-tying Tony collection a few months ago. “The Last King of Scotland,” though, seems like a threatening and powerful opportunity to make a run, but luckily these decisions are not mine to make. Furthermore, if you add parent company’s “A Good Year” to the equation, it becomes clear that Century City might be a happening place indeed this film awards season.

Warner Bros. Pictures


Warner Bros. has always been somewhat notorious for missing the boat on the Oscar procession. Not that the studio has been in need of awards hopefuls, but it’s always been rough sailing without Clint Eastwood at the helm of this endeavor or that. Well, things are slowly changing, and with the hire of former Focus Oscar consultant Michelle Robertson (a huge step in the right direction), I’m betting the studio will inevitably grow to be a dominant awards season force in the near future. This season will be the training wheels, however, but there is a promising crop on the horizon. Though the recent lack of financial (“Poseidon,” Superman Returns”) and creative (“Lady in the Water”) success could be an obstacle.

As for the films, it seems as many people are writing Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” off as too commercial for its own good as are looking to it for a return to form. Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” might be the right sort of Kubrickian individuality that turns a head or two, or it might wither away as an also-ran in most categories. Meanwhile the Curtis Hanson/Eric Roth collaboration “Lucky You” is lurking as something potentially surprising in the mix. The real contender looks to be Steven Soderbergh’s “The Good German,” George Clooney in black and white one more time, though that may change if the studio picks up Milos Forman’s “Goya’s Ghosts” (what with the past relationship Forman and producer Saul Zaentz have with the studio). Specialty division Warner Indpendent also has its hands full (“For Your Consideration,” “Happy Feet,” “Infamous,” “The Painted Veil,” “The Science of Sleep”).

Dreamworks Pictures/Paramount Pictures


Only Sony matches the multitude of films coming out of these merged conglomerates this year, vying for awards consideration. However, the difference here is the unique nature of the film output from project to project. Dreamworks was the challenger to Miramax’s throne once upon a time, while Paramount has long been one of the weakest Oscar studios in town. All of that seems destined to changed, even in the wake of a dramatic year on Melrose.

“Dreamgirls” and “Flags of Our Fathers” are already the Oscar bait contenders heavily observed from afar. But then there is “World Trade Center,” screening the past two weeks and opening at the end of the summer, much like “The Constant Gardener” last year, but likely to be touted as the beginning of the Oscar season much more strongly than that film was. “Zodiac” is being considered something of an opus from David Fincher, while the animation branch will be quite familiar with the studio (“Barnyard,” “Flushed Away,” “Over the Hedge”). Toss in potential technical branch love for “Ask the Dust,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” add a dash of Paramount Vantage’s Cannes success “Babel,” and you’re looking at a machine, folks.

(COMING WEDNESDAY: Pre-Oscar Week II: UNDER THE RADAR, a look at potential surprise performances lurking in the awards season mix.)

Page to Screen: FAST FOOD NATION

“The Golden Arches are now more recognized
than the Christian cross.”


Eric’s Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the American Meal is one of the more penetrating and thorough pieces of journalism of the decade. Much attention has been drawn to the dangers of fast food in the last twenty years, particularly in the realm of cattle raising, slaughtering and consumption. E. Coli has claimed the lives of countless thousands while labor concerns become infuriating upon even the smallest amount of scrutiny. Schlosser’s dense work in this New York Times best seller goes to great lengths to touch on these and many more pertinent issues regarding the safety practices and health concerns emanating from one of the most successful industries in the world.


July 22, 2006

Coming Monday

I'm launching Pre-Oscar week on Monday, three columns leading up to a thorough overhaul of my Oscar predictions on 7/31 (which will also include links to comprhensive lists of acting contenders as well as Oscar prediction charts). We'll kick things off after the weekend with a look at what appear to be the top Oscar-bound studios of the season. See you then.

July 19, 2006

"Lady in the Water" (**)


M. Night Shyamalan is an artist like any other. There are a lot of potent ideas and whims of fancy bouncing around inside his inarguably creative mind. He is, in all likelihood, just as his representation in the American Express commercial, discovering vibrant new details worthy of expansion at every step of the way. However, as a filmmaker, Shyamalan has never found the appropriate balance for fully realizing his themes and notions. For all of the discussions he wishes to have with his audience, for all his attempts to represent each of them completely, the insularity of his concepts gets the better of him every time out. Such is the case with “Lady in the Water,” a film far less deserving of the inevitable wave of detest coming its way, whatever level of failure it may exist upon.

In the film, Paul Giamatti plays Cleveland Heep, a man lost in his own sorrows and retreating to the far reaches of an anonymous apartment complex in Philadelphia. As superintendent, Cleveland has carved out a position of semi-importance and purpose, but one easily filled by anyone, as he well knows. That would be, in Cleveland’s mind, the point – the more invisible his existence the better. Why that is, we are left only to imagine for a while, but we discover the tangibility of Cleveland’s discontent in due time.

The complex itself is filled with an assortment of colorful characters, from the raucous and inebriated band, to the unnecessarily unique father specializing in crossword puzzles, to the former author and current animal-loving old lady, to the Asian mother and her wacky/sexy daughter. Then there is the scientifically driven young man committed to working out only the right side of his body, the Latin family fit with five daughters…oh, and let us not forget the disenchanted and wonderfully cynical film critic, truly obvious in its purpose as a character. The writer/director himself, of course, turns up in the film, in a much more layered role than he has filled in the past, proving that sometimes he just might be a better actor than he is a writer.

Late one night, Cleveland discovers a girl swimming past curfew in the swimming pool of the complex. After a routine slip-and-fall on the deck, Cleveland is rescued, as it would seem, by the mysterious girl. He is then left to wonder who this odd, comfortably naked and somewhat aloof individual is. We learn this information through the (at first glance) woefully expository story from the Asian firecracker, a story held amusingly out of context for much of the film. However, critiquing the story of “Lady in the Water” from this point forward in any traditional sense would be a drastic mistake. It is at this moment – discovering the girl is a sea nymph named Story hailing from The Blue World – that you truly have to let yourself be taken with the fantasy of it all if you are to derive any enjoyment in the matter. And that statement reads much more typically than it should. The point is there are elements at work here that command a literal release of the plot. You really and truly must reduce yourself to childhood. No one would look for sensible justification in a big, bad wolf dressing in a grandmother’s night gown, but there are lessons there to be learned all the same.


Fortunately, the above-mentioned humor is a tool Shyamalan uses quite well to keep the balance on the ludicrous nature of this yarn. It isn’t lost on him that his story is terribly contrived, even for a “bedtime story.” But it isn’t the plot he is interested in here, so much as the characters. In this fashion, “Lady in the Water” is perhaps the first true character study of Shyamalan’s career.

The film is not merely about finding one’s place in the world. It is about having the courage to face that place, and assuredly, much as with “Signs,” the filmmaker uses this opportunity to speak to fate and faith throughout. Cleveland is a man with a painful past, one that he believes will abandon him if he abandons it. But such considerations are inherently foolish. We are not only sculpted by our past, we are owned by it. We are owned by it until we sum up the fortitude to accept it, and through a fantastical, absolutely incoherent fable, Shyamalan makes this point clearly. What will certainly be lost in the shuffle of criticism of is the conviction and passion that is more apparent here than in past efforts from the director, efforts that were drastically obvious attempts at capitalizing on that fated moniker “The Next Spielberg.” It will be more fun in our typically lazy analytical film community to draw blood. Ironically enough, most points of negative concern will be viable. But they will be defeatist all the same.

Paul Giamatti truly is a saving grace here in many respects. As a stuttering, introverted and simple man, Cleveland is a curious anchor for such a story. However, dazzling as always, Giamatti sells his side of things like a champ. Conversely, the rest of the cast is filled out on the page in an extremely flat manner, all of them serving a pre-ordained purpose in the story. But Cleveland is a complex and interesting character whose ins and outs deserved the right attention.

As the mysterious Story, Bryce Dallas Howard is appropriately creepy, and, I guess, appropriately detached. However, I don’t know how one would begin to critique a performance like this. When you get right down to it, it’s all external – every bit of it.

Jeffrey Wright, Bob Balaban, Bill Irwin, Freddy Rodriguez and Sarita Choudhury fill out the rest of the principle supporting cast, elementarily conceived characters on the whole, but organic to the tale all the same. And, in most cases, the actors do a fine job of elevating their roles ever-so-slightly.


The problem with “Lady in the Water” is a rather significant one, though. Tonally, it is even. Thematically, it could use some work, but the elements are there and coherent. Performances are as good as they were going to get. The filmmaking is, as always with Shyamalan, top notch. He remains visually dynamic as a director. No, the problem with Shyamalan and his latest effort is the same issue he has had for six years. He cannot seem to understand that the role of the artist is not infinitely solitary. That, my friend, would be a real “bedtime story.” If you roll with something as risky as this on your own, you are bound to trip and stumble, and who will be there to catch your fall? Better yet, who should be? Maybe that is the sort of risk Shyamalan is attracted to taking, but you can only fall so many times before you can’t help yourself up anymore. Shyamalan is getting to that point.

Ultimately, this is a filmmaker with a choice to make. With “Lady in the Water,” he has concocted, again, a string of interesting ideas that he cannot fully develop. His central theme rings true. However, there are so many particulars that threaten depth and yet remain on the periphery, it becomes apparent that Shyamalan is a director, however talented, lacking the maturity to understand that art is not a singular achievement – and a film is anything but. It is the mark of professionalism to trim the fat. This seems to be lost on Shyamalan. Furthermore, the lessons he learned (or perhaps did not learn) on “The Village” were taken personally and manifest themselves in aspects of “Lady in the Water” in very petty ways. The lessons he has been avoiding on his latest effort already show the signs of potential insularity once again, taking to chastising a studio that had every right not to believe in a project that, however booming in potential, just wasn’t there yet. The golden child simply hasn’t allowed the industry to break him, and his humility is nowhere to be found. That vicious cycle has produced terrible filmmaking since the dawn of cinema, and Mr. Shyamalan is dangerously close to the same precipice. Perhaps it is time for him to stop listening to the voices inside his head, and start lending credence to the voices outside.

July 18, 2006

"Babel" (****)


“Babel” is the crowning achievement in the early careers of writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro González Iñárritu. It will deservedly be seen as that defining moment which took them out of personal thematic expression – the mark of a true artist – and into the arena of global and human consciousness through artistic dexterity – the mark of something much more. It is the most particular specimen, yet the most universal, in the long line of socially and/or politically inquisitive filmmaking we’ve experienced over the last two years. And it goes without saying, “Babel” is the first real masterwork of 2006.

As outlined in the eleventh chapter of the book of Genesis, the Tower of Babel was a creation built by the collaborative forces of a united humanity. Having it in their hearts to emulate the Creator, the text reveals, “they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven.” As the legend states, God halted the project by confusing the languages of the united, so that they could no longer communicate with one another. God then scattered the people throughout the land, forever disconnected, yet still of a similar and undeniable origin.

The Tower of Babel is a narrative used to explain the diversity of languages and race throughout the world. It is also a rather obvious warning that any who would attempt greater personal standing than that which God has outlined for them is doomed to failure. However, at its core resides another illustrative failure begging thematic expansion: We as humans are furthermore doomed to eternal miscommunication, so long as we maintain the literal and figurative borders of our own design. This thematic is the central focus of Arriaga’s and Iñárritu’s brilliant film.

“Babel” tells four stories set in the lands of Morocco, Mexico and Japan. Each of the stories, in typical Arriaga/Iñárritu fashion, shares common strands, continuing their trilogy of interconnectivity and fateful consequence (themes also found in 2000’s “Amores perros” and 2003’s “21 Grams”).


Two Moroccan brothers, testing the range of a firearm purchased for them by their father for the purposes of killing jackals, instigate the events of the film which will outline the filmmakers’ tale. A single gunshot rings out in the Moroccan desert, spiraling the lives of Richard and Susan (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, respectively) into a dizzying and confusing abyss of political turmoil, paranoia and, assuredly, dire straits. Vacationing and searching in vain for themselves and their emotional connection once again, Richard and Susan have recently lost one of their children. Neither has recovered, and neither has found the ability to forgive the other.

Meanwhile, at the couple’s home in San Diego, their illegally employed Mexican nanny, Amelia (Adriana Barazza), is anxious to make it to her son’s wedding back home. Against the advice of her nephew, Santiago (Gael García Bernal), she makes the fatal decision to bring Richard and Susan’s children – whom she has raised for eleven years – with her across the border. The more politically relevant of the three tales, Amelia’s journey is reflective of current foreign policy as it relates to border concerns, and the heartbreaking consequences potentially harsh edicts can manifest in that regard.

Concurrently, in the communicative and technological Eden of Tokyo, Japan, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi, the film’s unparalleled standout), is a deaf-mute girl exploring herself sexually as an adolescent, but ever lost in her own paralyzing world. Chieko is the true heart of the film, lacking the ability to communicate, not merely emotionally, with her widowed father, Yasujiro (veteran Japanese thespian Kôji Yakusho), but quite literally, with the people who surround her in one of the most populated cities in the world.

The performances in the film are all of an organic whole, but as undoubtedly diverse as the characters being portrayed. As Richard, Brad Pitt finally puts forth a commendable and saturated performance to stand alongside his best work (“12 Monkeys,” “Seven,” “Seven Years in Tibet”), while Cate Blanchett, largely relegated to painful cries and disappointed outbursts, is ever-commanding as she continues her lineage of impressive portrayals.


The actors cast as the two Moroccan brothers and their father (with whose names, I’m embarrassed to say, I am not familiar) offer performances that are fascinatingly tangible and, in many ways, the most reflective of human frailty. Meanwhile, Gael García Bernal has a comfortable supporting opportunity to give the hint of depth, but still keep his cards close to the vest.

The most captivating and award-worthy performances in the film, however, come from Adriana Barraza and, most especially, Rinko Kikuchi. Barraza’s conflict is so frightening, and eventually, so terribly desperate, that it could burden the shoulders of the most gifted of actresses. She commands the role in such a way that we feel for her wholly, in ways both humanitarian and political in nature.

Kikuchi, on the other side of the world, provides a venue for us to experience the film’s themes ourselves. So much of her performance comes through her eyes and through her visual reaction to the events around her that the audience is forced to partake in her journey as well. Seemingly we feel no such personal connection to any other character in the film. It can be no coincidence that that character is the one so drastically isolated from the world six inches in front of her face.


“Babel” pushes through the journeys of its inter-connected characters toward its own vibrant, certainly logical, but altogether ideal (if profound) conclusion. Through their usual heart-wrenching tactics, Arriaga and Iñárritu paint the portrait of humanity scattered, just as in the days of Genesis, but not at all lacking the promise of rediscovery. Though not nearly as dark as their last two efforts, and certainly more accessible on the whole, “Babel” concludes in the most uplifting of fashions. The film’s closing moment at once draws the sigh of hope and a tear of thankfulness that Pandora closed her box in time, another legend entirely, yet one as applicable to humanity as that of the tower which represented man’s original arrogance.

July 17, 2006

Art Directors Guild Adds Third Category

It looks like the ADG is following suit with a similar move made by the costumers last year.

The official press release:

LOS ANGELES, July 17 -- The Art Directors Guild has added a third category of competition for feature films in its annual Excellence in Production Design Awards by separating Period and Fantasy films that were previously linked together. The third feature category continues to be Contemporary. The addition, effective with this year's contest, was jointly announced today by ADG President Thomas A. Walsh and Awards Producers Tom Wilkins and Scott Meehan.

The other five categories of competition continue to be Single and Multiple Camera Television series; Television Movie or Mini-Series; Awards Show, Variety or Music Special or Documentary; and Commercials. In addition, the guild annually presents honorary awards for Lifetime Achievement and Cinematic Imagery. The 11th Annual Excellence in Production Design Awards will be presented Saturday, February 17, from the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Entry forms for television and commercials and overall rules and general awards information may be accessed on the ADG website: www.artdirectors.org.

"Miami Vice" (**1/2)


Michael Mann’s “Miami Vice” is a terribly anxious piece of filmmaking. By its own erratic and rote design, the film marks, at once, a substantial step down for the writer/director, and merely a lateral move in the realm of stylistic representation. Boasting a curious mish-mash of caricatures and equally original representations, it is certainly the most uneven work he has offered to date, and most assuredly the worst film he has produced since the horror of 1983’s “The Keep.” Then again, the “worst” of Michael Mann would usually be a point of envy for most of today’s working filmmakers.

Based on the Anthony Yerkovich-created television series of the same name, “Miami Vice” is a meditation on deception and trust. The film wears its themes on its sleeve, though forgivably so, as, if anything is spread evenly and accomplished absolutely throughout, it is that very concept. But Mann’s film has an eagerness to it, a misplaced ardency, that leaves the impression of a movie with something to prove. Its chest seems puffed outward from the moment the Universal Pictures logo disappears (immediately bursting into the sounds of Jay Z and Linkin Park at a Miami nightclub), to the slow fade of the closing title screen (a tonally ironic deep, cool blue).

In the adaptation, Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx fill the classic roles of Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs respectively. As partners, this aspect of the story provides at least a basis for further exploring the notions of trust and deceit at the film’s core. When Tubbs says to Crockett “I would never doubt you,” it represents the reality of their lives, the only tangible aspect of their profession. It is a point, however, glossed over somewhat and certainly not capitalized upon as it could have been. A thorough examination of their relationship is not needed, but an understanding of consequence of that relationship is certainly a must, and it is really nowhere to be found, even within the confines of subtext (something at which Mann has proven himself an expert time and again).

The nuts-and-bolts plot of the film plays itself out seemingly as an expansion of one of the series’ various faceless scenarios. After a former informant compromises an FBI undercover operation, Crockett and Tubbs, being a part of the Miami-Dade Police Force and existing outside the confines of any possible leak, are recruited by the Bureau to investigate further – and deep undercover.


There is then an assortment of expected character types, from the introverted, consistently pondering drug kingpin (Lois Tosar), to the weasel-ish middle man who smells something fishy (a rather diabolically entertaining John Ortiz), to, of course, the tough-as-nails businesswoman-slash-kingpin girlfriend (Gong Li). This triumvirate of typicality is painfully derivative from the get-go, but we’ve seen Mann take the cliché and turn it into stylistic substance before in “Collateral,” so assuredly one could expect as much once more. Sadly, no such turn of events is in store.

The film is truly owned by Colin Farrell, regardless of whose name appears first on the poster and which Oscar-winning actor whined for more prominent status on the film’s payroll. Farrell in fact acts Foxx off the screen for the most part, though Tubbs is admittedly an awkwardly designed character. He boasts a quasi-romance that is ill-defined with fellow teammate Trudy Joplin (Naomie Harris), and he turns to comedic sensibilities a bit too often in his “undercover” guise, so much so that, were I Crockett, I’d demand a less obvious partner for fear of being gutted by a suspicious drug lord. No matter how rewarding the one-liners might be on one hand, on the other, they simply represent one more wrinkled aspect of the piece that could have used some ironing.

Farrell, however, lives and breathes inside Crockett in perhaps his best performance yet – though his accent does slip at times from the Bronx to the south, oddly enough. He gives us the complexities of the character that are not found on the page (unlike Foxx), and even when the forced romance with Gong Li’s Isabella rears its trying head, we believe the loneliness and the despair that drives Crockett to seek out that connection. At the very same time, we can sense him reciting the words of Neil McCauley in his head: “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” Even still, it is a different idea at work here, one about longing and necessity more so than discipline and detachment.

Li, however, seems forever uncomfortable in a position we are meant to believe is some saving grace for her. She shares the solitude of Crockett, the loneliness. That is their common denominator, and the single thread with which we are to buy this romance. But she does not sell that notion in the slightest. She seems almost lost in her character’s dialogue and motives. Who is this woman? Beyond a random anecdote about her mother – a lone wolf in her own right, it seems – from whence does Isabella come? We do not know.


Nor do we know much about Crockett. However, even when he is given the interesting task of peering longingly out of a window in the film’s first act, we know there is something there. But even then, why? What – even possibly – haunts this man? Did his career create a rift between himself and another lover? Various other lovers? Does he pursue a life of lies and deception undercover to escape the realities of his own anonymity? What are the realities of his anonymity? These themes never even threaten exploration, and the sound of air rapidly filling the space vacated by such dearly departed intricacies of character is all we can hear indeed.

Elsewhere in the cast, John Ortiz weaves a truly villainous serpent, fit with hypnotic syntax and devilish grins. Though his character is painfully ordinary, Ortiz makes him eminently watchable – as does Tom Towles as a despicable and somewhat terrifying man who chews gum as if it were his sole purpose on earth. Furthermore, Barry Shabaka Henley, always a delight, provides a steadfast Lieutenant, a serious and driven man to trust. Even when his dialogue seems forced, we still believe every syllable.

The rest of the cast is somewhat anonymous by Michael Mann’s standards. Here is a director who has always been adept at filling the frame with a variety of characters, but however minute their bearing on the story, there was always dimension to be found.

Domenick Lombardozzi (you’ll recognize him from a cameo performance in this season of “Entourage”), Elizabeth Rodriguez (“ER”), Harris (“28 Days Later”), Tosar (“Los Lunes al Sol”) and Ciarán Hinds (“Munich”) fill their positions by the book. However, the loss of substance in the peripheral cast is felt most painfully in the fact that Justin Theroux (“Mulholland Drive”) is just there, taking up space. Theroux is one of the most striking and interesting actors of the underrated lot today – potential movie star material. A Michael Mann film should be his playground, yet there he is, forever an afterthought.


All of that said, John Hawkes’s oh-so-brief work in the film’s opening scenes soaks up the role of Alonzo for all it is worth. It is rare to understand a character so thoroughly in such a brief amount of time, and with such a consistency of emotion and complexity. You’ll recognize Hawkes from last year’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and television’s “Deadwood.”

All this talk of the varied cast (however clichéd) has left me little time to fully discuss the technical aspects of the film, all a step down from the vibrant “Collateral,” yet still a move in the right direction for digital cinema.

Dion Beebe’s lensing still lacks the thematic composition of Mann’s work with Dante Spinotti in years past, and even of Emmanuel Lubezki on the underrated “Ali.” However, the juxtaposition of the imagery by way of William Goldenberg’s and Paul Rubell’s film editing keeps the pacing relentless and creative, as always.

Additionally, it seems as if Mann has found a new musical muse in Audioslave, the remnants of a singerless Rage Against the Machine with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell at the mic. Mann has always been a fan of Moby (and seemingly still is, given the inclusion of “Anthem” and “One of These Mornings”), but this is the second time Audioslave has been featured so prominently in one of his films (following the potent usage of “Shadow on the Sun” in “Collateral”). The band contributes two new and appealing songs to the film’s soundtrack, but sadly, said soundtrack feels like a mix CD, a new track every other minute. Mann is a master of aural atmospherics, and the sparse score even recalls the majesty of Elliot Goldenthal’s work on “Heat” at times. However, such things seem entirely rushed and thoughtless in his latest effort.


The question with which one is left after viewing “Miami Vice” is “Why did Michael Mann want to make this film?” Was it the desire to dig into the theme of lies through the world of undercover policing, as has been reported? Likely. But if so, where is the passion we’ve come to expect of his work when he is so focused, so driven? Where is the touch of humanity that seems almost organic? Why does this script feel as if Syd Field deserves a credit? Why such typicality? These all become rhetorical questions in the final analysis, but as filmgoers, we will be quite the lucky when Mann decides to leave the desire for romp behind and tackles much more personal and engaging fare once again.

“Miami Vice” is anything but personal. It is a – sometimes – gratuitously violent (Verhoeven-level), generally by the numbers actioner with elements of depth and promises of texture that are more often teased than explored. It is vacant and even elementary on as many levels as it hopes to be poignant and thematically authoritative, and though it concludes with the emotional tinge that recalls Michael Mann cinema, it fails to reach the bar he has set for himself. It is a high bar indeed. Perhaps he is doomed to chase it forever.

Page to Screen: THE DA VINCI CODE

“The curator spoke his next words carefully.
The lie he told was one he had rehearsed many times…
each time praying he would never have to use it.”


Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code has stirred one of the most impressive media frenzies in all of literature since its publication in the spring of 2003. Since that time, one can scarcely go more than a week without happening upon a new DVD or television program dedicated to disintegrating or upholding the ideas put forth in its 454 pages.


July 14, 2006

Miramax's "Hoax" to tickle the funnybone?

I just took a look at the new trailer for Lasse Hallstrom's "The Hoax," which Miramax is releasing later this year. In the film, Richard Gere portrays Clifford Irving, who infamously sold a falsified biography of Howard Hughes to McGraw-Hill in the 1970s.

The film looks light and fluffy, if you ask me, with a performance from Gere that looks as potentially eccentric as it could be rote. But the sell is obviously full-blown comedy, so maybe that talk of Gere's Oscar prospects that has been circling the project for some time was all for naught. Globes attention? Looks more likely, but these are decisions left to be made once we've actually seen the film.


Further trailer talk ("The Prestige") at The Blog.

July 13, 2006

What to expect when "Miami Vice" drops:


UPDATED: 7/14/06, 10:25PM:

A few things. I'll have a full review of the film Monday.

First, I was likely wrong in jumping the gun and assuming "Miami Vice" will be "panned." In conversations with various people over the last 24 hours, I've come to find that there is more love for the film out there than could be discerned from last night's somewhat jarred and mixed crowd. On top of which, tonight's audience, a much smaller one, was extremely positive. But last night - there was plenty of negativity to be found. Regardless, I think we're looking at a mixed bag from the critical community. But in both positive and negative reviews, I fully expect lazy analysis.

The film is better in my eyes than last night, but there are justifications on various levels that are difficult to swallow and accept. There are gaps in tangibility that have just never existed in a Michael Mann film before. "Miami Vice" is undoubtedly a step down, the least creatively compelling movie he has made since "The Last of the Mohicans," perhaps since "The Keep."

More on Monday.


1) When they pan the film - and they will - expect the critical consensus to have a hard time justifying the gratuitous violence.

2) Expect that critical consensus to be typically lazy and avoid taking a deeper look at the film in order to identify the purpose of said violence.

3) Expect a longing for one-tenth of the emotional complexity layered throughout the toughest of Michael Mann cinema, and a disappointment at the cheap effort found here in that regard.

4) Expect to ask yourself why Mann decided to even bother with this project in the first place.

5) Expect, as always with Mann, to take away from the experience more and more as you spin away from it, and therefore, don't expect to have your mind made up when you leave the theater. Despite what I've said above, mine isn't made up yet.

And so I will take in "Miami Vice" once more tomorrow night before committing any in-depth thoughts. I think it is a mistake to jump the gun and print a review of this film without having digested it and gone back for seconds, because this is a director - one of the few - who works on so many unseen layers as to manifest experiences, more so than "movies." And experiences are anything but one specific thing. I made a mistake judging "Collateral" too soon in 2004. Like that film, "Miami Vice" plays on the surface like a 'B' movie. But the potential for depth is too apparent to avoid giving it another shot.

I just don't want to allow myself to believe that my favorite working director has taken such a drastic step down. Not yet.

What's in a logo?

EVERYTHING. I've come to the conclusion that my design for the logo which launched the site (built from that design by my good, hardworking buddy Jim), was simply too complicated and too trying as an initial concept to begin with. Bless him, Jim spent some time understanding what the hell I meant, what with trying to emulate the marquee of a personal favorite Hollywood bar, Boardner's, for no particular reason other than it seemed "neat" to me at the time.

Then I stuck up a creation of my own with various film awards above an admittedly drab title design. Hey - I'm just not a graphics person like Jim and the like.

The like being my Oscarwatch aqcuaintance Claes, a.k.a. Grizzly, who wrote earlier this week to suggest something more fetching and eye-popping to flow with the rest of the layout's design. Claes is certainly a gifted graphics fella, and what he suggested expressed the right amount of simpleness that was missing from my anal attempts at creating something overly unique, and with that, I've settled on the design you see above.

So a very warm and sincere special thanks to Claes for the work he put in. And same to Jim, sad to see my idea didn't work but that's the lay of the land in graphics I suppose. Both of these guys chipped in when they certainly didn't have to, and for that, I'm ever appreciative.

Please enjoy the further exploits of InContention.com.

"Little Miss Sunshine" (***1/2)


Jonathan Dayton’s and Valerie Farris’s “Little Miss Sunshine” is the rare example of the quirky and fringe actually having something to say. It melts away the infection of suspicion and invariably lets itself into our hearts without the stench and waxing effect of sentimentality rearing its ugly head. It takes on human frailty and maintains relevance, all the while introducing absurdity to realism like they were long lost friends. As one of the definitive indie experiences of 2006 thus far, the film is certain to stand out as unique against whatever fray of cinematic output awaits us the rest of the year. Regardless, at this, the mid-way point, it has to already be considered the high-water mark for films in release.

It has been a few weeks since I screened the film, but I have to admit it remains as fresh and as popping in my mind as the vibrant yellow of it’s advertising campaign. Coming off the festival circuit (including an oft-covered standing ovation at Sundance) and entering the marketplace July 26, “Little Miss Sunshine” is the feature film debut of commercial and music video helmers Dayton and Farris. They’ve made the smart decision of choosing a quaint but subtly complex yarn for their first film, steering clear of any desire to show off those surely honed skills of visual artistry. That said, the duo still finds a way to capture screenwriter Michael Arndt’s world within a unique and meaningful frame every step of the way, filling it with performances that meld together into the finest of ensembles.

We’re first introduced to Sheryl (the continuously underrated Toni Collette), who has come to the hospital to pick up her suicidal and woefully depressed brother, Frank (Steve Carrell). You see, Frank is the victim of the most widespread crime of them all – heartbreak. Upon losing the love of his life to another man, Frank has attempted to end his own suffering in the most classic of fashions by slitting his wrists and hoping the despair would drain from his body along with his life force. Sheryl is here to take him home, to be monitored for fear of emotional relapse, but amongst family all the same – though it’s not the most settling environment, as we soon discover.

At the homestead we meet the host of characters who will accompany us throughout, including a trying and as of yet unsuccessful paterfamilias, Richard (Greg Kinnear – never a wrong step taken). The irony of his lack of success spells Richard’s painful reality as he tries in vain to sell his “9 Steps to Success” workshop for greener pastures.


Richard’s father, the sharp, yet somewhat asinine, and altogether freewheeling Grandpa (Alan Arkin) never misses an opportunity to be unnecessarily impudent, or, specifically, to make digs at Frank’s sexual orientation.

Richard and Sheryl’s son, Dwayne (Paul Dano), has taken a vow of silence in preparation for his dream of becoming an air force pilot, fit with a “fuck off” attitude and a token bedroom poster depicting the iconic image of Friedrich Nieztche.

And then there’s Olive (Abigail Breslin), the heart and soul of the film who defines the determination that lies at the center of Arndt’s work. Olive has made it, via technicality, into the finals for the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant in Redondo Beach, California, and she’s ready and willing to step up and take advantage of the opportunity. She’s rehearsed her routine with Grandpa for weeks. She’s honed, prepared, and damned excited. Soon enough, a road trip, from the blistering desert of Albuquerque to the sparkling coast of Redondo Beach, lays out the film’s brightest and darkest themes, with plenty of self-discovery and familial-examination filling out the scenery along the way.

Greg Kinnear seems to find the delicate ins and outs of every character he portrays, however miniscule the part. Here he balances Richard’s deep-seeded love for his family with the tendency to forget all of that due to the grime and build-up of personal gratification and professional ascendancy.


Toni Collette finds the middle ground of Sheryl, the anchor of the family and yet the most frayed of the lot. Together she and Kinnear make for a terrifically believable couple entering the apex of their lives, perhaps fearful of the other side of life, casting a watchful and ambivalent eye toward the descent that is sure to follow middle age.

On the other side of things is Grandpa, long past that first jolting drop and having the ride of his life. Alan Arkin really cuts loose and allows all of the character’s irreverence to show itself, irreverence seen as nearly commendable in the final analysis.

Dano exudes the sarcastic Cobain lyric “teenage angst has paid off well” with every hooded glance or unaffected beat. Most will remember him for his stirring work opposite Brian Cox in 2002’s “L.I.E.,” but his performance here is of a completely different emotive breed.

Then there is Steve Carrell. Certainly taking on the most contrasting role of his young cinematic career, he keeps the reins close on the comedy like most actors in his position could only dream. He affords layers for Frank that are very real, yet remains mysterious enough to surprise us when he is at his most endearing. In many ways the most balanced character of the lot, Frank is still the guy that tried to snuff it, and that irony couldn’t have been lost on Mr. Arndt as he crafted a truly contradictory experience to mirror the contradictory nature of life itself.


The determining facet of this ensemble, however, was always going to be the casting decision for Olive, and Breslin steals our hearts and ignites our passion effortlessly in that regard. A true mark of excellence in screenwriting is a hero worth caring for, and though the case could be made for the family as a whole being the protagonist in “Little Miss Sunshine,” it is ultimately Olive for whom we root, for whom we hope, and in whom we lose ourselves.

“Little Miss Sunshine” is a romp as penetrating as it is sentimental. At its core, first-timer Arndt’s screenplay is about the necessity of understanding, making some valid and, at times, poignant assertions about the importance of family. And there is a reason it takes everyone offering a collective push to get that troublesome Volkswagon bus on the road each time. The script further maintains ideas concerning the support and empathy that can sometimes only come from those sharing the same blood, while simultaneously illustrating the notion that individuals in a family are still just that, individuals – separate entities with their own sets of issues and worries. In so doing, he inevitably paints a portrait of the vilest yet most unavoidable aspect of human nature: selfishness. But you have to love us for it, right?

July 12, 2006

Introducing "The Blog"

Yeah, no need to get all fancy, schmancy with that name. It is what it says it is. The main page will be for features and links to various other columns that arise day to day, but "The Blog" will be for that good ole' daily banter you're more than familiar with. So head on over and let's start the conversation!


July 11, 2006

Wouldn't you know it?

I toss up my list of anticipations for the rest of the film year, including Michael Moore's latest, "Sicko," and it turns out Variety published a cover story two days prior (that I missed...the rigors of launching a site can deter one from "news" a bit too often) that indicates the films is being pushed to 2007. This seems about right, since the film has seemingly been somewhat slow to develop. But I suppose a documentary cannot be made on any terms other than its own. I'll be looking forward to it next year all the same.

As far as what to stick in that vacated slot? Take your pick. "The Black Dahlia" (though I'm somewhat ambivalent as Mr. De Palma hasn't hit even a ground rule double recently); "Dreamgirls" (could be a show-stopping fun time from Bill Condon, and "Chicago" was a personal favorite in 2002), or "The Last King of Scotland" (Kevin Macdonald's first bit of press on this film was for a New York Times piece I put together in the spring, and his work on "Touching the Void" and "One Day in September" shows a filmmaker with an eye toward moving the viewer without fuss).


With the year a little more than half-way behind us, I figure now is as good a time as any to look ahead to the projects that linger on the horizon, piquing my interest. Sadly, one of my most anticipated films of the year, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” was bumped to 2007. But there is still a decent amount of promising films to look forward to.

Now, I don’t tend to heavily anticipate Oscar fodder, so you won’t see a list speckled with “Goya’s Ghosts” or “Flags of Our Fathers,” etc. – just a forewarning. Now let's get into it...


10) “Casino Royale”
I never anticipate Bond films, and this slot was boiled down to about three films, including “Dreamgirls” and “The Black Dahlia.” I look forward to both of those films, but I have to say “Casino Royale” is shaping up to be an intriguing project. It’s always interesting to see what the new Bond will do, and Daniel Craig has caught a lot of flack from fans of the classic “suave” character that wasn’t even true to the works of Ian Fleming. Perhaps it could be an exciting re-launch.


9) “Sicko”
Michael Moore sure has taken his time getting “Sicko” to the screen. Ever since it was announced in 2004, Moore has tried to avoid notice while questioning pharmaceutical companies, sent out a plea for participants on his website declaring “tell me your nightmare HMO stories,” and even taken time out to visit a fat farm. The Weinstein Company will release his “Fahrenheit 9/11” follow up in the fall, and perhaps we’ll see another Oscar contender.

8) “Little Children”
Todd Field has taken his time between freshman and sophomore efforts. This time around, he looks to dark literature yet again with the adaptation of Tom Perotta’s Little Children. New Line Cinema, largely diversifying its output in recent years, hopes to land critical and awards notices with another down-tuned drama as it did with last year’s “A History of Violence.” This one will be one to watch in the ensemble awards.

7) “Catch a Fire”
Phillip Noyce is a highly uneven, hit and miss director. However, he turns his mind to politics more often than most filmmakers, and sometimes those decisions happen at the right time. “Catch a Fire” (formerly “Hotstuff”) could be one of those instances, as Derek Luke stars in the likely Oscar caliber role of South African freedom fighter Patrick Chamusso. This looks to be the big film in the Focus Features stable this year.


6) “The Departed”
This one is high on many viewers’ radars. While I don’t expect any real return to artistic form for Martin Scorsese with this remake of “Infernal Affairs,” I always look forward to a Scorsese film. Even his critical and popular misses I find thoroughly engaging. The cast he’s assembled for “The Departed” is an intriguing one, but the notion of seeing Jack Nicholson in a Martin Scorsese picture is admittedly at the top of reasons to anticipate this thing.

5) “The Good German”
George Clooney in black and white again? Let’s see it. Steven Soderbergh takes a break from the foolish experimentation and empty romps and digs into this Joseph Canon adaptation. Warner Bros. has highly skilled Oscar personnel this year, and so we could certainly see this film competing for Best Picture representation. Clooney stars opposite Cate Blanchett and Beau “Where ya been?” Bridges.

4) “Charlotte’s Web”
A live action version of note of E.B. White’s classic book has evaded screens for a long time. This year, Walden Media steps back up to the plate of children’s entertainment with this adaptation, boasting effects on the level of 1995’s “Babe.” We could be looking at a holiday box office smash, or perhaps merely modest returns are in its future. Regardless, a warm time at the movies, and a nostalgic one, this promises to be.


3) “For Your Consideration”
A film that dissects and borderline ridicules Hollywood’s yearly parade of public relations in the form of Oscar campaigns has been needed for quite some time, wouldn’t you say? I’d like to see the shenanigans put on display by no one other than Christopher Guest, whose poking and prodding skills have been honed through years of mockumentary filmmaking. And wouldn’t it be a hoot to see something like this actually embraced by the Academy?

2) “Fast Food Nation”
I recently read through Eric Schlosser’s book, which Richard Linklater adapts to the screen later this year, and was thoroughly disgusted and fascinated at the same time. I’m highly interested in seeing what the process of developing this dense piece of journalism into a film has been, and if it holds up to the labels comparing it to “Traffic,” I think we’ll be in for a highly interesting experience to say the least.


1) “Miami Vice”
My most anticipated of the year back in March is still going strong, as I truly cannot wait to see what Michael Mann has in store for a project he’s nurtured for years. It took a while for “Collateral” to grow on me in 2004, but literally everything else Mann has touched (well…with the exception of the horrid “The Keep”) turns to gold as he remains one of, if not the most interesting working director in the game.

July 10, 2006

Welcome to the NEW In Contention

We're stepping things up a notch here at In Contention. Please allow me to take a moment and orient you to your surroundings. The new site hopes to be a relatively familiar extension of the work done last year on the Blogger server, only bigger and, hopefully, better.

On the right sidebar of the main page, in our typical style, you’ll find a listing of Oscar predictions for the 2006-2007 film awards season. Please bear in mind that, while the site will have multiple contributors this year, these predictions reflect the ponderings of the editor and the editor alone. You’ll find all categories currently updated in full from the year-in-advance predictions released in March. In the coming weeks, I’ll slowly push through analyses of the major categories in preparation for the film awards season. I'll also cobble a set of charts together soon enough. However, as I have learned year in and year out, none of this makes much credible sense until we’re in the waist deep in the middle of things.

To the left, in addition to a typically comprehensive list of links to various sources, film coverage outlets and news sites, you’ll find a listing of the site's current features. At the moment, these features include my "Page to Screen" series, outlined in detail below, as well as "Tech Support," a weekly column which will be authored by Gerard Kennedy (whose work you may have read at Oscarwatch last season). Gerard's column, which should prove to be a unique and thought-provoking look at the various technical branches recognized by the Academy, will launch in a few short weeks. However, "Page to Screen" is already off to the races with its first installment. Rounding out the left sidebar, you'll also find obligatory category listings for the various posts on In Contention's main page, as well as archiving.

As far as commenting on entries is concerned, I have to do something to combat a rash of "anonymous" postings, so in order to post a comment you'll have to have a Typekey identity. But signing up for Typekey is no hassle in the slightest, and if you already comment on the MCN blogs, for instance, then you know what I'm talking about. If you'd like to briefly set up a Typekey identity, please click here to do so.

Finally, I've carried a couple of more recent entries over from the old site, and I hope to continue the transtion of material so that everything is archived here for your perusal. That will be a long process, however, but in the meantime, the old blog is still up and viewable here.

All in all, I hope this proves to be a smooth transition, and as always, I hope you enjoy the output. So please feel free to drop me a line anytime at the new email addres, ktapley@incontention.com.

I'd like to extend one more special thanks to Sasha Stone for helping get the new site rolling. Oscarwatch has also experienced a beautiful reload, so be there or be square!

Welcome back to In Contention.

Back in the Saddle


It has been four months since I gave any serious consideration to this year’s Oscar race, and even in the year-round business of Oscar prognostication, it was nice to shrug the whole mess off for the spring and early summer. Shockingly, the 2006 film awards season is right around the corner, as this year seems to just be whizzing by. As such, here we are, ready to get our feet wet once again.

Now, even on hiatus, I took the opportunity during the last few months to familiarize myself with some of the year’s Oscar hopefuls, in script and/or source material form. I’ve also seen a couple of the awards season’s upcoming films, but given the test screening nature of those viewings, I won’t be commenting on them in any depth. But you’ll pick up the clues here and there, I’m sure. Suffice it to say, I’m decently prepared to dive back into this crazy mix of glitz, glamour and gluttony.

But let us first recap. As far as the first half of the year is concerned, the stories have been few and far between. But already, I have to say that 2006 has shown the signs of a much more satisfying year than we saw in 2005 at theaters.

After the insanity of Oscar night, Universal Pictures dropped a few critical hits on the scene in the forms of Spike Lee’s overrated “Inside Man” and Paul Greengrass’s awards hopeful “United 93.” The former came and went, thankfully, while the latter boasted, at the very least, a directorial talent to be taken seriously. Universal will hope to ride the critical reception of “United 93” all the way to the awards season, but it’s yet to be seen whether Oliver Stone’s upcoming “World Trade Center” will affect it in anyway. It is also yet to be seen whether the Academy will be as respectful of the film as the critics were.

Also releasing in those early months were two independent gems that I fear will be lost in the shuffle and long forgotten when all is said and done. Doug Atchison’s “Akeelah and the Bee” was a heartfelt story that certainly did its job on screen, while Sidney Lumet’s “Find Me Guilty” boasted what is still one of the year’s best performances from a hair-piece-laden Vin Diesel. The handling on that one really was botched, but hopefully it can find an audience on DVD.


The summer arrived in the form of sequel splendor, and the press actively sought the story they’d hoped for in “Mission: Impossible III”: a weak box office showing that would somehow reflect on negative reaction to Tom Cruise’s private life. In so doing, the media pretty much avoided any sense of historical typicality where third installments in franchises are concerned.

Next up, “The Da Vinci Code” swept in and REALLY stunk up the joint, proving just how unnecessary adapting a book that essentially reads like a screenplay is. The audiences showed up, however, and so commerce outweighed art as always.

Speaking of art getting the short end of the stick, Fox’s “X-Men” franchise finally hit a snag – one hell of a snag – as “X-Men: The Last Stand” proved just how foolish it can be to rush a project of substance to the screen. Despite the position the studio was put in by an abandoning Bryan Singer, and despite the fact that Brett Ratner held the threads together to provide at least a WATCHABLE movie, it really was painful to witness that franchise crash and burn like it did. But, again, the commerce was certainly there for the taking, and the “X-Men” series is now one of the few trilogies to best itself at box offices each time out.

Also having a world premiere in May was Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Babel” at the Cannes Film Festival. The film received wide-spread acclaim and was a real threat to win the Palm d’Or. Iñárritu took home the Best Director prize and Paramount Vantage laid claim to the second real Best Picture contender of the year. The film, which will be featured here in the coming days, absolutely lives up to the hype, becoming Iñárritu’s crowning achievement in a trilogy that has defined his sensibilities and strengths as a filmmaker. I look forward very much to seeing it again.

June saw the first truly substantial domestic release in Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” Though hindered ever-so-slightly by bookends that do not lend to the conviction of the film’s themes, the film is a wondrous experience from the mind of the timid but assured Garrison Keillor. The ensemble is fabulous, including another exceptional turn from Meryl Streep, who has also further stirred the awards buzz waters with her scenery chewing in “The Devil Wears Prada.”


The rest of the month was rather drab, including lame horror remakes, repetitive fart gags, Adam Sandler and yet another sequel to “The Fast and the Furious.” But things really hit a high note when “Superman Returns” landed two weeks ago, as the discussion of art versus commerce took a whole new meaning.

There has been no question that the budget for “Superman Returns,” amongst those of numerous other tent pole productions, reached embarrassing heights. But the most expensive movie ever made certainly won't be the highest grossing film of the year - or even of the summer. I wrote about this subject as one of my final points of business at the old site, but as Bryan Singer left the “X-Men” franchise alone to wither away, he may have in turn crippled another franchise before it even has the chance to take off. “Superman Returns” really is one of the best films of the year, but I hope what it does to the check book of Warner Bros. doesn’t negatively affect the future of the series.

Now...we finally got a story this past weekend, as "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" swept in and demolished box office records left and right. However, the excitement rather stops there as the bloated and drunken screenplay of this follow-up to the 2003 smash hit needed some drastic lessons in structure, even if it does boast highly creative action set pieces that bring with them a delightful and at times hysterical sense of humor. We can pretty well expect this one to march on toward further monetary accomplishment. However, while many found the film to be terribly empty, I at least caught glimpses of Gore Verbinski cutting lose and experimenting as a director. I find him to be one of the more underrated filmmakers working today, to be quite honest, and to see him stretch his legs here and there within the confines of this admittedly trying story brought a smile to my face at times.

In the thick of summer now, we’ve still got M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to the atrocious “The Village,” testing his box office valiance with “Lady in the Water;” Michael Mann’s “Miami Vice,” stealthily skimming along all year with stylish trailers and rampant budget speculation; a Woody Allen comedy in "Scoop" that looks like the old guy might be grinding the rotors; Oliver Stone’s 9/11 drama “World Trade Center” that, if executed beyond the flatness of the script, could resonate as a Best Picture hopeful; and the already-a-cult-phenomenon “Snakes on a Plane,” hoping against hope not to have peaked too early buzz-wise (anyone even care about it now?).

Tucked in here and there are a few films that could make a stand awards-wise, depending on the handling (“The Night Listener,” “Quinceañera,” “The Illusionist,” “Little Miss Sunshine”). However, Oscar season really kicks off on September 15 with the wide release of Universal’s “The Black Dahlia” and the limited engagements of Warner Independent’s “The Painted Veil” and “The Science of Sleep.” And I guess Michael Moore’s “Sicko” will hit eventually in September – that is, unless no one responded to his plea for assistance.


And at that point...expect the heat to turn up around here. The next two months will be mere preparation for whatever surprises lie in store. What film will lurk about and become this year's "Crash?" Does "United 93" have the chops? Can Streep really pull out a 14th mention for one of her two stellar performances this year? Will "Superman Returns" prove to be more than a popcorn flick in the minds of Academy voters? Or is the cream of the crop still to come?

We'll know soon enough.

Introducing "Page to Screen"

For those of you who have read my work the past five years, “Page to Screen” might seem like a familiar concept. I offered something similar at Oscar Central during the 2002 Oscar race.

In this series, I will be analyzing the source materials for a number of the year’s cinematic offerings – some already in release, but the majority of them still to come as awards season approaches. I will offer up my interpretations of the material as it pertains to potential success at the Academy Awards, perspective on various category disputes that might be more easily discerned from a reading of the material, as well as various observations that may or may not relate to the adaptations’ Oscar hopes. The ultimate idea behind “Page to Screen” is to familiarize the reader with this year’s adapted screenplay race, and peripherally, the choices made, the directions taken, by adaptations this year – from the page, to the screen.

You will notice that one entry in the series has already been published, examining Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V For Vendetta. Next week the series will continue, settling into its normal Monday slot, with another already-in-release title, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.


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2008 Year in Advance Predictions

UPDATED: 2/25/2008

Main Charts | Tech Charts

[Motion Picture]

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”



“Revolutionary Road”

“The Soloist”


David Fincher
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Ron Howard

Gus Van Sant

Sam Mendes
“Revolutionary Road”

Joe Wright
“The Soloist”

[Actor in a Leading Role]

Benicio Del Toro
“The Argentine”

Jamie Foxx
“The Soloist”

Frank Langella

Sean Penn

Brad Pitt
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

[Actress in a Leading Role]

Vera Farmiga
“Nothing But the Truth”

Angelina Jolie

Julianne Moore

Meryl Streep

Kate Winslet
“Revolutionary Road”

[Actor in a Supporting Role]

Josh Brolin

Russell Crowe
“Body of Lies”

Robert Downey, Jr.
“The Soloist”

Heath Ledger
“The Dark Knight”

Michael Sheen

[Actress in a Supporting Role]

Amy Adams

Kathy Bates
“Revolutionary Road”

Cate Blanchett
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Catherine Keener
“The Soloist”

Carice van Houten
“Body of Lies”

[Writing, Adapted Screenplay]

“Body of Lies”

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”



“Revolutionary Road”

[Writing, Original Screenplay]


“Hamlet 2”


“The Soloist”


[Art Direction]



“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull”

“Red Cliff”

“Revolutionary Road”



“The Dark Knight”


“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull”

“Revolutionary Road”

[Costume Design]

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”


“The Other Boleyn Girl”

“Red Cliff”

“Revolutionary Road”

[Film Editing]

“Body of Lies”

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”



“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull”


“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

“The Dark Knight”

“Red Cliff”

[Music, Original Score]

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull”

“The Soloist”

“Revolutionary Road”


[Music, Original Song]

coming soon

[Sound Editing]


“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull”

“Iron Man”

“Speed Racer”


[Sound Mixing]


“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull”


“The Chronicles of Narnia:
Prince Caspian”


[Visual Effects]

“The Chronicles of Narnia:
Prince Caspian”

“The Incredible Hulk”

“Iron Man”

[Animated Feature Film]


“Kung Fu Panda”


[Foreign Language Film]

coming soon

[Documentary, Features]

coming soon

[Documentary, Short Subjects]

coming soon

[Short Film, Animated]

coming soon

[Short Film, Live Action]

coming soon