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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November 30, 2006

"Tech Support": Best Music - Volume I


Can you even begin to imagine Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” without John Williams’s chugging theme? I bet you can’t. Williams’s creation of a character – the shark – through music is just one example of how, when utilized creatively and to its full extent, original music can bring a film to a level it never would have reached otherwise.

The music branch in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives out two awards each year – Best Original Score and Best Original Song. The former is one of the more high profile “tech” races on Oscar night. Precursor awards-dishing organizations like the BFCA and the HFPA give out awards for original score, and in recent years, the Academy has specifically showcased the five nominees for this award as they have done for directors and actors. I consider that a nice touch.

The category is nevertheless one of the most difficult to predict. Year after year, the branch seems to care little about what the precursors say. Nominees in the category tend to be an interesting mix of blockbusters, comedies, Best Picture nominees and serious-minded films not included in the Best Picture race.


November 28, 2006

Standing corrected by The Carpetbagger


In yesterday's Oscar column, I mentioned that "Little Miss Sunshine" directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris wouldn't have a shot at a nomination in the Best Director category due to both names being credited at the helm. This was an assumption on my part based in part on DGA strictures (recalling the hub-bu surrounding Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller and "Sin City") and last year's disqualification of the "Batman Begins" score due to two credited composers.

Well it seems I was wrong in that assumption, and perhaps should have made a few quick and easy calls like New York Times columnist and blogger David Carr (a.k.a. "The Carpetbagger") did. It seems there is no rule that would keep both directors from grabbing a nomination, and, as quoted Academy spokesman Jon Pavlik points out, Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins were both nominated in 1961 for "West Side Story," eventually winning the award.

A big "oops" on my part and a big thanks to Mr. Carr for clearing that one up. A good thing all around regardless. "Little Miss Sunshine" is one of the best films of the year, and Dayton and Farris deserve they're due.


Ryan Gosling: The In Contention Interview


Ryan Gosling is a smooth customer. Lacking pretension so much that one can’t even find a hint of his intending to steer clear of it, the actor recently celebrated his 26th birthday on November 12th. This following a year that has seen his directorial debut come to pre-production light, a coveted spot amongst GQ’s annual “Men of the Year” issue and, oh yeah, one of the most acclaimed performances of 2006.

The critically hailed star of “The Believer” and “The Notebook,” Gosling finds himself in the thick of the year’s awards race for his riveting portrayal in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s “Half Nelson.” The film received five Independent Film Spirit award nominations this morning, including Best Male Lead for Gosling.

Greeting me via telephone from Toronto, where he is nearing the end of principle photography on Craig Gillespe’s “Lars and the Real Girl,” the actor seems to have tripped over his sister’s computer chord and is having some trouble with the usual “hellos.” It’s all for the best, really, because when you have a conversation with Ryan Gosling, the last thing you want to do is bog things down in formalities. Gosling is a real guy, attracted to real ideas and, above all else, real characters.

“I had read the script and thought it was about people I had met, people I knew or was like in some way,” he says. “When I go to the movies, I want to feel like I’ve met someone. People who do things out of character, who don’t have a clear character arc, those are the people I’m interested in seeing in a film.”


In “Half Nelson,” Gosling stars as Dan Dunne, a charismatic junior high school history teacher in a drab and dismal Brooklyn neighborhood. Dan’s professional environment is one of enlightenment for his pupils. He captures the spark of their educational hunger and even finds time to coach the girls’ basketball team. But personal demons can haunt even the saintliest of souls, and Dan’s crutch is drug addiction. The allure of the crack pipe frequently pulls him away from the buoyancy he works so hard to construct for his students, dragging him through the realities of crushed idealism.

In some ways not the most sympathetic of individuals, Dan provided for Gosling a character of tangibility and truthfulness.

“I think you have to love and hate the characters you play,” he says. “They’re people. It’s not as simple as sympathizing with them.”

To prepare for the role, Gosling moved to New York for one month before shooting even began, immersing himself in the life of his character. He lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn and spent time shadowing 8th grade teacher David Easton. Speaking matter-of-factly about his methods, Gosling mentions, “There’s a million ways to get there, but it’s a challenge when there’s no real reference for the people you play.”

What might also be considered a challenge for some actors is sharing the screen with untrained thespians. But Gosling seems to have found a preference of sorts, so much so that he plans on casting his upcoming directorial debut, “The Lord’s Resistance,” with non-actors across the board.

“I love working with non-actors,” he says. “Actors are so manipulative, and non-actors are not. They push you in ways that the best actors in the world can’t.”


One such non-actor is Shareeka Epps, receiving equal praise for her portrayal of Drey in the film. One of Dan’s students who happens upon his secret early in the first act, Drey seems weathered and accustomed for her years, but exuberant and youthful all the same – qualities Gosling also found bursting out of his co-star.

“Shareeka has no reverence, which I really respected,” he explains. “She doesn’t approach any scene with any preciousness. She’s brutally honest and not ashamed of how she feels.”

Finding himself in the heat of contention for Best Actor consideration at this year’s Oscar ceremony, Gosling is predictably apathetic about the awards process. One almost doesn’t want to approach the subject with him, given the expected response from an actor so obviously concerned with the work above anything else. But this is a business of sound bites, and even the most apprehensive awards hopefuls can give you gold in that regard.

“It affects me,” he says of the Oscar race, “in the sense that I’m happy that a film that cost $500,000 can get to a point where this many people are aware of it. Awards – I don’t know who that’s up to, but I appreciate that the film is being received the way it is. I had one of the best experiences of my life on this. We never had to hit any marks. We never had to say anything twice or worry about continuity. You never felt like you were in a scene in a movie. A lot of directors never see it that way. Anna and Ryan have a great eye for the way that we are and the lies we tell about who we are, and that’s rare.”


From here, Gosling will assuredly take it all in stride. The aforementioned “The Lord’s Resistance” is high on his list of priorities. Telling the story of the Lord’s Resistance militia in Uganda, the film looks to be another pointed political entry in the current canon of Africa-centralized cinema. Even still, don’t expect the actor to look too far ahead at the kinds of films he wishes to make, in front of or behind the camera. He holds such judgment to a case-by-case basis.

“I’ll have to wait until I’m tested,” he says. “Films I love have a certain allowance for accidents. When I was a kid, my favorite films were the ‘Abbot and Costello’ movies. I love Werner Herzog’s films, Terry Malick, John Cassavettes. But I’ve got a lot of things I want to do in my life, and not just acting. There’s no anxiety about not having enough time to do all the movies I want to do or anything, but I have to keep it interesting for myself. I don’t want to make the same movie over and over again.”

November 27, 2006

Switching Gears


It’s been a while since we’ve dug into a full blown Oscar column here at In Contention. This week, with a few more screenings behind us and a modest few on the horizon (“Apocalypto” Thursday, “The Good Shepherd” a week from today), it seems like something is in the air: change.

Perhaps it’s entirely subjective, as my review of “Dreamgirls” last week is admittedly in the minority, but it seems to me the Best Picture frontrunner isn’t the frontrunner at all anymore. It seems to me the race is opening up wider, and with Clint Eastwood’s “Letters from Iwo Jima” leaping into the fray, supposedly to save the hide of “Flags of Our Fathers,” maybe an entry of social importance and relative “prestige” can take the top prize away from a thin and emotionally distancing musical like we almost saw happen in 2002.

I mentioned Friday the widely floated idea that, had Harvey Weinstein not been in the mix on “Chicago,” Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” would have dropped in and snatched the Best Picture win four years ago. Taking down victories in the adapted screenplay, lead actor and directing categories that night, it seemed things might have been heading that way for the Holocaust drama regardless of campaigns. “Chicago” was criticized in many corners as being a frigid affair – lots of glitz but not a lot of heart. And that’s fair enough, but then it wasn’t the sort of story that necessitated as much. “Dreamgirls” is much more dependant on viewer-character connectivity, and reading even the raves, I don’t see a lot of that going on. Just lots of praise for the showmanship.


Beyond “Dreamgirls,” the only largely agreed upon Best Picture shoo-in this year is Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.” A hard boiled crime flick with no warm and fuzzy center in sight, the film may very well earn Scorsese his long-deserved Best Director trophy. But a win in the major race? You’d have to go back to “The French Connection” find something so aesthetically abrasive and genre-baked taking the top prize. It seems a stretch.

“The Queen” is considered a good bet for a nomination in many corners as well. One of the best reviewed films of the year, Stephen Frears’s intimate political portrait still seems a bit too small to take the Academy by storm as a Best Picture victor, wooing technical branches alongside assuredly impressed actors and writers.

“Little Miss Sunshine” is one of the most beloved films of the year that sadly won’t be turning up in the Best Director category due to two credited helmers. There's one mark against it. Plus, it’s just too light, even if it does hit the right emotional marks.


A few other films have a clear shot at making it into contention, but seem unlikely to win for various reasons. “Babel,” for instance, is too much of a love/hate affair, while “World Trade Center” doesn’t have the muscle or the wide-spread acclaim to threaten victory. Something else has to step forward.

“Flags of Our Fathers” really is down and out. It has been forgotten into oblivion, despite pretty FYC ads in the trades – a too little too late effort from Paramount marketing. The film also has the whiff of financial failure on it. On top of it all, the release of Eastwood’s sister film has been considered a move to revive hope in that structurally distressed endeavor. No film that needs the help of another studio’s release has the strength to survive something as vicious as an Oscar season.

An idea most seem to be passing over in all of this is that maybe “Letters from Iwo Jima” is the latter season surprise in and of itself – a film that can storm in with its big ideas, emotional resonance and intimate brushstrokes to steal the thunder of all pretenders.


Hardly anyone has seen “Letters” yet, so it is certainly worth admitting the sheer speculation of this column. But the gears are turning. The film opened to some good notices at the Tokyo International Film Festival last week, fit with a big story in the Los Angeles Times. The official website went live over the weekend, and, keep in mind, the film did make the deadline for HFPA consideration. So maybe in two weeks, should it make a dent in the Golden Globe nominations, prognosticators will start taking real notice.

Then again, maybe it will fade away and be a tiny blip on the Oscar landscape that exists as a modest crutch for “Flags” and is merely seen as part of a revered director’s brave creativity in 2006 – nothing more, nothing less. Nothing, regardless, can be certain.

I don’t know about you, but I smell something. I smell a studio oddly skimping on the campaign of a critically hailed gangster flick and steering its determination to something “they” think could steal the whole show. Did I mention Warners’s new awards consultant, Michelle Robertson, comes to the team this year following a healthy awards stint at Focus Features? Focus being a studio that specialized in the intimate and the prestigious for years – a studio that almost stole the whole show from a razzle-dazzle showcase four short years ago.


So yes, I’m out on a limb this week. You’ll find “Letters from Iwo Jima” is predicted across the board, every chart updated in full. That flimsy fifth Best Actor slot seems perfectly suited for Ken Watanabe. Newcomer Kazunari Ninomiya feels like just the sort to stake a last minute claim with his portrayal of Saigo, the apparent fulcrum of the film’s cast. The techs all look just as likely to follow suit. In short, “Letters from Iwo Jima” seems more and more like the real Clint Eastwood film of this one-two punch, the real awards hog. At the end of the day, maybe “Flags of Our Fathers” will be the true “crutch.”

(Please remember, chart rankings are always in order of nomination likelihood, not win likelihood.)

Main Category Charts
Technical Category Charts
Oscar Predictions Archive
"The Contenders"

Previous Oscar Columns:
10/23/06 - "Lighten Up"
10/16/06 - "Starting To Get Serious"
10/09/06 - "'Flags' Lands and the Supporting Actresses Need Sustenance"
10/02/06 - "What's in a lead anyway?"
09/18/06 - "Aftermath"
09/11/06 - "It's All Happening."
09/04/06 - "Aw, Canucks."
08/28/06 - "On Your Marks..."
08/14/06 - "Enough Foreplay!"
08/07/06 - "Don't Knock Masturbation; it's Sex with Someone I Love"
07/31/06 - "Old and New, the Oscar Season Approaches"

"Notes on a Scandal" (***1/2)


Richard Eyre’s “Notes on a Scandal” is a particular sort of film, one that builds suspense and tension with every moving part of its machinery. On the surface, the film plays like a thriller, dragging the viewer through its wicked tale toward a sinking, almost matter of fact conclusion. But on deeper levels, “Notes on a Scandal” is a true character study, and an analysis of dependence, delusion and, ultimately, hopelessness.

In the film, Judi Dench stars as Barbara Covett, a stiff-upper lip professor of the sort one would expect the Dame to master capably. A figure of seniority, Barbara is seemingly just the craggy, sophisticated standard that clings to the values and mentalities of old, never given another thought during the workday or a second glance in passing in the teacher’s lounge, let’s say.

New to the fold is Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), a youthful and attractive woman who has taken up teaching on something of a whim, only to find it desperately out of her commanding grasp. Unruly schoolboys can be a task for any such shrinking violet, and so the bond formed early between a struggling Sheba and an authoritative Barbara is understandable enough.


Told through Barbara’s narration (via deliciously serpentine diary entries), the film becomes about the two women’s friendship for much of the first act. Sheba invites Babs into her home to meet her children (one with Downs Syndrome, the other a teenaged girl of the typical variety – both prodding fodder for Barbara’s recorded observations) and her husband, Richard (Bill Nighy – a much older man with a bohemian sensibility). But the tale turns on a dime when Barbara spots Sheba engaging in a sexual act with one of her students, an affair that has apparently been going on for some time.

Barbara ceases the opportunity to take control of Sheba’s life by holding the information over her head. “I would gain everything by doing nothing,” she notes, and soon enough, it is painfully apparent, yet certainly never indicated outright, that Barbara’s affections for Sheba are much deeper and much more – sensual – that one would have expected. After that, maybe it’s like “Fatal Attraction” with a touch of “The Cable Guy,” a truly dependant woman with a desire for affection holding sway over a weaker individual.

It would be much too simple to claim this performance as Dame Judi Dench’s bravest portrayal to date. It would be even simpler to say it is the most unique performance of her career, but both indications are about as well put as a reviewer can offer. She takes a wonderful, sickening sort of delight in the role, sporting a devilish smirk through most of the film that feels as calculated as any other peculiarity.


Cate Blanchett is fine in the role of Sheba, having one true “she’s losing it” scene in the final act that kind of feels over the top. But for the most part, she holds the character in a highly believable light throughout. Her chemistry with Bill Nighy is intriguing, though he typically boils over the edge of the pan here and there in his emotional outbursts to the revelation of Sheba’s affair. But that’s the nature of Nighy’s acting, and you either like it or you don’t. Personally, I think he adds color to every film he’s in.

However, aside from performances, the real triumph of “Notes on a Scandal” seems to be its direction and pacing. The film is laid out for the viewer in such a wonderful way and is truly suspenseful on every level. Sharp cuts in the editing and intriguing shots throughout keep you on the edge of your seat, as one would expect. And Philip Glass’s score, perhaps his best to date, tells the story as well as the visual elements, functioning more appropriately as a work of musical composition than any other such effort this year.

What’s more, there is something paradoxically safe about “Notes on a Scandal” that makes it strangely more enjoyable. It presents tension without anxiety in a manner I don’t think I’ve ever really seen before. To speak personally, I was pretty sure nothing truly ghastly or terrible was going to happen here, but I was strangely terrified of Barbara nonetheless, and certainly jolted here and there by certain suspenseful elements crafted by director Richard Eyre. In some way, that lack of focus on the style and panache required to install dread in the viewer allowed for a specific investigation of artistic design. The appreciation of what the director put into visually telling the story was left undisturbed, and that seems to be what makes the film go down so, so easily.

Of course, a brilliant and typically pitch-perfect performance from one of the greatest living actresses can never hurt.

November 24, 2006

"Dreamgirls" (**1/2)


The last nine days have afforded a number of positive assessments in the wake of “Dreamgirls”’s press screening debut on November 15. Critics and journalists have found themselves left exasperated by the sheer electricity of it all. It makes sense, really, because “Dreamgirls” is a film that never allows the viewer to catch up. It never slows down to take a breath, and that can be an exhilarating experience. But while being left breathless can be riveting in the cinematic environment, it is never as much when it comes at the expense of narrative cohesion.

The problem with “Dreamgirls” isn’t the capable razzle-dazzle. It isn’t the meritorious technical achievements across the board, from striking costumes to lush cinematography, riveting sequence editing to bombastic sound design. The problem with Bill Condon’s film version of Michael Bennett’s stage sensation is that it isn’t a film at all. It is a collection of stunning moments and musical numbers, strung together without any sense of stability, collecting itself as something more akin to an extended VH1 “Behind the Music” special than anything else.

The background has been covered extensively. Adapted from the hit Broadway musical (which was loosely based on the careers of Diana Ross and the Supremes), “Dreamgirls” tells the story of Effie White (Jennifer Hudson), Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles) and Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni-Rose): The Dreams.


Pushing through an epic journey of fame and fortune, first as The Dreamettes, back-up singers for the electric James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy), then as their own act, The Dreams, the girls confront an ugly and weathered road of success that tugs at the binding stitches of their life-long friendship. Everything turns on its head when manager Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Jamie Foxx) pulls the buxom and not-as-visually-pleasing Effie from the lead vocal spot in favor of the prettier face, Deena. From there, the narrative conveys the ups and downs of the music business, staying with the times, keeping up with what sells, its characters disregarding artistic ethics all the while.

It really is a fabulous story, one that worked well on stage. It remains a difficult task to make this brand of theatrics work on film, however. The notion of characters randomly breaking out into song has to, and can, be editorially justified. Condon did a fantastic job with this in “Chicago,” blending the conventions of the stage with the conventions of the cinema through definitive expertise. “Dreamgirls” is a different sort of cinematic effort, so comparisons might not be fair. Regardless, the writer/director seems much more interested with “big” than he is with “intimate,” and whether it be the smallest of independent film efforts or the grandest of studio blockbusters, “intimate” is what sells drama on celluloid.

What’s more, this decision to hold fast to the electricity of the music leaves the entire affair at arm’s length. I can’t comprehend a serious filmgoer sensing real emotion from these characters, let alone getting to know them. The audience has little time to become familiar in any case, as one musical extravaganza bleeds into the next in a way that recalls a DJ spinning hits in a club with the sole purpose of keeping the crowd moving. Maybe that was the intention here, but it doesn’t work. The resulting residue is chilly, unfamiliar and even uncomfortable. Who are these people?


The performances can’t really be faulted here, because honestly, there isn’t a lot asked of the cast members beyond exuding theatrical, rather than cinematic, emotion. The multi-lauded Jennifer Hudson must be mentioned at the top, especially with talk of an Oscar campaign switch to the lead actress category.

It would be hard to dispute that this young lady has a voice to die for. She wrenches the feeling out of her numbers from deep within her gut. The major stumbling block comes in the character’s biggest moment, however. The “I Am Telling You” sequence leaves the first-time thespian stumbling around in a way that might have been believable from Jennifer Holiday, but seems like playing make believe for a 25 year old American Idol. When she isn’t singing, the performance ranges from direct and pointed (when she has a great line) to self-aware and conflicted (when she doesn’t).

Beyoncé Knowles has little to do other than be a pretty face, task at which she excels. Even still, her number “Listen” is one of the best sequences of the entire piece. Jamie Foxx has a lot of obvious fun in the role of the film’s antagonist, while Danny Glover and Keith Robinson pull down convincing supporting turns for the most part (Robinson’s mid-song mannerisms during “We Are a Family” are, regardless, chuckle-inducing). The real acting showcases of the film, however, come from Anika Noni-Rose and Eddie Murphy.


One of the more interesting relationships covered by the “narrative” of “Dreamgirls,” Murphy’s and Rose’s chemistry ignites far beyond any other coupling in the film. Murphy’s work in particular is a testament to his showmanship (certainly in his final number, a pre-hip-hop riff that was much more exciting than I had expected it to be after reading the script). His character does not get the proper benefit of adaptation in the middle of the screenplay, however, which makes him work even harder for those third act high points. But what he does with the material he has to work with announces a new level for this seasoned comedic actor.

The technical aspects are expectedly achieved. Virginia Katz’s editing is expert craftsmanship, quick and frenzied – the obvious creative mandate from on high. Sharon Davis’s costumes are the best of the year, spanning a number of decades and making a vast amount of character commentary. John Myhre’s production design doesn’t call attention to itself in the way one might have expected it to, while cinematographer Toby Schliessler fills the frame with a wide range of colorful hues that makes the film one of the more visually pleasing experiences of 2006. The hair and makeup design is organic across the board, and the sound
design is crisp and flawless.

But even still, the talk on “Dreamgirls” will continue to be the awards season. It almost seems unfortunate that there has not, and seemingly never will be, a way to distinguish the film’s personal merits (or lack thereof) from the expectations it set for itself all year long as the prohibitive awards frontrunner. Perhaps a culture of film awards discussion is to blame for that. Meanwhile, the Oscar season looks to be changing shape in the latter weeks of 2006, as consultants begin to see their opportunities and studios look to capitalize on missteps.


With that in mind – and I don’t believe anyone has really said this in print yet – but I’m not sure “Dreamgirls” can be considered the frontrunner in the Best Picture race anymore. It is too thin, too distancing, too cold – and it doesn’t have the Miramax campaign power behind it that ushered the similarly criticized “Chicago” to greener Oscar pastures in 2002. Let’s be honest. Had Harvey Weinstein not been in the mix that year, “The Pianist” would have taken the cake – the warmer, more sentimental, but all the same more “important” entry in the film season. Might it be time to start looking elsewhere, past the groupthink and beyond the all-too-easily agreed upon “consensus?” I think so.

November 23, 2006

"Tech Support": Best Sound Design - Volume I

Gerard is Canadian after all. They celebrated Thanksgiving north of the border last month, so hey, this isn't really "working on a holiday," is it?


Sound mixing is the multi-faceted art of compiling, engineering and balancing what we hear in a given film’s soundtrack. It is not the integration of artificially created sounds into said soundtrack (that would be sound editing), but the mixing of recorded sounds into the overall audible template of the film. Up to three sound re-recording mixers and a production sound mixer can share an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound Mixing, which had simply been known as “Best Sound” prior to 2003.


November 22, 2006

"Children of Men" (****)


Alfonso Cuarón’s is one of the most singular voices in the filmmaking community. Along with longtime collaborator, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, the director has ushered forth textured visions of skewed fairytales for over a decade.

With “A Little Princess,” he took audiences into the mind of a little girl and her trying tenure at a miserable boarding school. In perhaps his most underrated work, “Great Expectations” (a loose adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel), he unveiled the mysterious and fateful journey of a dreamer. “Y tu mamá también” brought the director’s choice of material into a more mature light, still keeping the exuberance of youth, while “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” became one of the most adult installments in a series aimed at a younger market.

“Children of Men” fits rather paradoxically into these otherwise whimsical endeavors. Another sort of fairytale altogether, one cloaked in the mystique of dystopia, it is a film as unflinching in its bleakness as it is penetrating in its deep-seeded sentimentality. And in manifesting one of the most horrific visions of the future yet committed to film, Cuarón has given us his masterpiece, the crowning achievement of 2006.


Adapted from the P.D. James novel of the same name (and, through much arbitration, crediting some five writers on the screenplay), “Children of Men” reveals the hellish world of 2027. Baby Diego has died, the affectionately labeled youngest person in the world – 18 years old. Fertility is an aspect of the past, and humanity’s time is clearly borrowed. The world’s nations have crumbled to apocalyptic ruin. England remains the last refuge for potential stability and order…but those days are quickly slipping away.

Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is a man lost in this sea of chaotic apathy, sliding amongst the beleaguered masses, one of the hordes, most concerned about his morning coffee and skipping out on work than with finding something of considerable happiness. His best friend, Jasper Palmer (Michael Caine), is a stoned hippie who listens to the oldies and laughs away the final years of human existence in the woods, surrounded by marijuana and nostalgia.

An immigrants’ rights terrorist organization headed by the mysterious Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore) kidnaps Theo in broad daylight one day in order to attain transport papers for an unnamed woman. Julian and Theo, we learn, once had a child together, a child they lost and whose memory haunts them equally.


The unnamed woman is soon revealed to be Kee (Clare-Hope Asitey), a refugee holding the potential key (I feel as though I’ve just discovered the point of the character’s name) to the future of man: miraculously, she is pregnant, waiting to give birth to the first baby the earth has seen in 18 years. It soon falls to Theo to protect Kee and her unborn child, a veritable political football, and smuggle her to the Human Project, a scientist organization bent on curing the world’s infertility crisis.

Through sheer drama and brutal tension, Cuarón sets about weaving a blistering yarn that draws parallels to current political climate. Truly penetrating visual cues bring the viewer’s mind to everything from ground assaults in Iraq to conditions at Abu Ghraib prison.

Clive Owen’s portrayal is largely physical, as Theo is an elusive character (even by the actor’s own admission). Even still, this is one of the year’s great performances, an immediately believable portrait of a hero called to unconscionable task. Asitey is equal parts preciousness and irreverence as Kee, and Caine has far too much fun for his own good in the role of Jasper. Moore’s turn is fleeting, but elevated by her own angelic screen presence.


Elsewhere, Peter Mullan has a great second act performance in store as one of Jasper’s amigos, while Chiwetel Ejiofor offers up yet another controlled supporting turn, this time as part of Julian’s terrorist organization. It is, however, the technical elements of the film that propel it head and shoulders above anything else in the market place this year.

Some of the set pieces Cuarón orchestrates are the most electrifying, living and breathing sequences ever imagined in the history of cinema. Much credit here is due to Lubezki and camera operator George Richmond, not to mention a meritorious technical and stunt crew who must have rehearsed these moments into the ground. You’ll hear it for the rest of the year, the cinematography on display in “Children of Men” is God-like in its skill and quality.

Equally impressive is the production design of Jim Clay and Geoffrey Kirkland. Dreary, decaying urban landscape spans the frame. Graffiti and bullet holes decorate sets constructed with a defining clarity of intent, and ultimately the world envisioned on the drafting table becomes a character in its own right.


The most interesting aspect of the mise en scène, however, has to be the director’s decision to litter the frame with various animals, usually dogs and cats. Representative of humanity’s longing and desperate need to replace children with something else, it is one of the more subtle aspects that isn’t brought out into the open for inspection, but upon examination is all too brilliant an element in the director’s arsenal for this, his finest film to date.

“Children of Men” is a shocking portrait, indeed. From an opening scene that grips you by the collar and never lets you turn away, it is stomach-churning in its abjection, and it is resonant in its refusal to buckle under the cynicism with which Cuarón paints his canvas. It is stark and it is pointed, but it is warm and full of hope all the same. It is a miraculous achievement.

November 20, 2006


I'm having a time getting Dreamweaver back up and running on my recently ressurrected computer, but I refuse to leave this site chartless for yet another week. So, after the jump, enjoy the rather barbaric formatting, but a chart's a chart. And I'm sticking my neck out here and there this week. Namely in Best Actor, where I think WB remains cuckoo for not declaring Leonardo DiCaprio, SCREAMING it, even, in the lead actor caegory. Their timidity is leaving a vacancy, and Aaron Eckhart is one hell of a charmer, as is the film he's in. I'm just sayin'...

The real thorn in my side this week is figuring out how "Letters from Iwo Jima" is going to play into this thing. It's said to be a smaller, more intimate film. We've all heard it's supposedly "better," but "Flags of Our Fathers" still has tech potential all over the place so who knows what'll happen. Are you pulling your hair out yet? I sure am.


1. Dreamgirls
2. The Departed
3. The Queen
4. Little Miss Sunshine
5. World Trade Center
6. Babel
7. Letters from Iwo Jima
8. The Pursuit of Happyness
9. United 93
10. The Good Shepherd


1. Martin Scorsese
2. Bill Condon
3. Stephen Frears
4. Clint Eastwood
5. Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu
6. Paul Greengrass
7. Oliver Stone
8. Alfonso Cuaron
9. Gabriele Muccino
10. Robert De Niro


1. Peter O’Toole
2. Will Smith
3. Forest Whitaker
4. Ryan Gosling
5. Aaron Eckhart
6. Leonardo DiCaprio
7. Matt Damon
8. Derek Luke
9. Nicolas Cage
10. Jamie Foxx


1. Helen Mirren
2. Judi Dench
3. Meryl Streep
4. Penelope Cruz
5. Annette Bening
6. Kate Winslet
7. Cate Blanchett
8. Beyonce Knowles
9. Naomi Watts
10. Renee Zellweger

Supporting Actor:

1. Jack Nicholson
2. Eddie Murphy
3. Alan Arkin
4. Michael Sheen
5. Brad Pitt
6. Steve Carrell
7. Jaden Smith
8. Ben Affleck
9. Michael Pena
10. Jackie Earle Haley

Supporting Actress:

1. Jennifer Hudson
2. Abigail Breslin
3. Adriana Barraza
4. Cate Blanchett
5. Rinko Kikuchi
6. Maggie Gyllenhaal
7. Shareeka Epps
8. Vera Farmiga
9. Emma Thompson
10. Jill Clayburgh


1. The Departed
2. Thank You for Smoking
3. Dreamgirls
4. Notes on a Scandal
5. The Painted Veil
6. Little Children
7. The Last King of Scotland
8. Children of Men
9. The Prestige
10. The Good German


1. Little Miss Sunshine
2. Babel
3. The Queen
4. World Trade Center
5. Volver
6. The Pursuit of Happyness
7. Stranger than Fiction
8. The Good Shepherd
9. Bobby
10. United 93

Art Direction:

1. Dreamgirls
2. The Good German
3. World Trade Center
4. Children of Men
5. Marie Antoinette
6. The Curse of the Golden Flower
7. Pan’s Labyrinth
8. The Prestige
9. Flags of Our Fathers
10. The Good Shepherd


1. Dreamgirls
2. Apocalypto
3. Children of Men
4. The Good Shepherd
5. Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima
6. Babel
7. The Curse of the Golden Flower
8. World Trade Center
9. The Departed
10. The Black Dahlia

Costume Design:

1. The Curse of the Golden Flower
2. Marie Antoinette
3. Dreamgirls
4. Miss Potter
5. The Good German
6. The Devil Wears Prada
7. The Prestige
8. The Black Dahlia
9. The Painted Veil
10. The Queen

Film Editing:

1. Dreamgirls
2. The Departed
3. World Trade Center
4. United 93
5. Apocalypto
6. The Queen
7. Flags of Our Fathers
8. Letters from Iwo Jima
9. Babel
10. The Good Shepherd


1. Apocalypto
2. The Queen
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
4. Pan’s Labyrinth
5. Dreamgirls
6. Flags of Our Fathers
7. World Trade Center

Music – Original Score:

1. Notes on a Scandal
2. The Good German
3. Apocalypto
4. World Trade Center
5. The Painted Veil
6. The Queen
7. Volver
8. Little Children
9. Cars
10. Bobby

Music – Original Song:

1. Dreamgirls
2. An Inconvenient Truth
3. Cars
4. Happy Feet
5. Bobby
6. Dreamgirls
7. Dreamgirls
8. Curious George
9. A Prairie Home Companion
10. Little Miss Sunshine


1. Dreamgirls
2. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
3. Apocalypto
4. World Trade Center
5. Flags of Our Fathers
6. Letters from Iwo Jima
7. The Departed
8. Superman Returns
9. Cars
10. Happy Feet

Sound Editing:

1. Flags of Our Fathers
2. Cars
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
4. Superman Returns
5. World Trade Center
6. Letters from Iwo Jima
7. Apocalypto
8. Monster House
9. Happy Feet
10. The Departed

Visual Effects:

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
2. Superman Returns
3. Flags of Our Fathers
4. Charlotte’s Web
5. The Fountain
6. World Trade Center
7. X-Men: The Last Stand

November 17, 2006

"Tech Support": Best Makeup - Volume I


The Academy Award for Best Makeup really recognizes makeup and hairstyling. The hairstylists might be largely forgotten on account of the title of the award, but this is nevertheless the category in which their work is noticed by the AMPAS. Both makeup and hairstyling help create a character, specific to time, period, setting and persona, whatever these factors may be.


"Letters from Iwo Jima": The Press Release


BURBANK, CA, November 16, 2006 – Letters From Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed World War II drama Flags of Our Fathers, will open domestically in limited release in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco on December 20, 2006. The announcement was made today by Warner Bros. President of Domestic Distribution Dan Fellman.

Like Flags of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima chronicles the pivotal battle for the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. However, while the first film is centered around the six men who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi in the famous photo, Letters From Iwo Jima views the battle from the perspective of the island’s Japanese defenders. Both films are co-productions of Warner Bros. Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures.

Clint Eastwood offered, “I have been extremely gratified by the response from the press and the public who have seen Flags of Our Fathers, and what all of us keep hearing is that they want to understand the other side of the story. While working on Flags, I was intrigued by the idea of revealing what happened during this important battle from different perspectives. I’m happy to know that others feel the same way about seeing both sides. The two films were meant to complement each other, so it just makes sense to release Letters From Iwo Jima this year, closer to the release of Flags of Our Fathers.”

Dan Fellman added, “Flags of Our Fathers told an important story about one of the most famous battles of World War II, but history has shown us that it is impossible to truly understand any story unless you can see it from other sides. We feel Letters From Iwo Jima is a powerful movie that brings a different, but equally important, part of the story to the screen, and we are both proud and excited to be bringing the film to American audiences this year.”

Letters From Iwo Jima has already screened in Japan, where it received an enthusiastic response.

Sixty-one years ago, U.S. and Japanese armies met on Iwo Jima. Decades later, several hundred letters are unearthed from that stark island’s soil. The letters give faces and voices to the men who fought there, as well as the extraordinary general who led them, Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe). With little defense other than sheer will and the volcanic rock of the island itself, Gen. Kuribayashi’s unprecedented tactics transform what was predicted to be a quick and bloody defeat into nearly 40 days of heroic and resourceful combat.

In an effort to explore an event that continues to resonate with both cultures, Clint Eastwood was haunted by the sense that making only one film, Flags of Our Fathers, would be telling only half the story. With this unprecedented dual film project, shot back-to-back to be released in sequence, Eastwood seeks to reveal the battle of Iwo Jima—and, by implication, the war in the Pacific—as a clash not only of arms but of cultures.

Warner Bros. Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures present a Malpaso/Amblin Production of Letters From Iwo Jima, starring Academy Award nominee Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Memoirs of a Geisha, Batman Begins) as Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the Imperial Japanese General who led the resistance.
Directed by Eastwood from a screenplay by Japanese-American screenwriter Iris Yamashita, story by Yamashita and Oscar winner Paul Haggis (Crash), the film is produced by Eastwood, Oscar winner Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List) and Oscar nominee Robert Lorenz (Mystic River).

Eastwood’s longtime collaborators headed the creative behind-the-scenes team: director of photography Tom Stern; costume designer Deborah Hopper; editors Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; and the late production designer Henry Bumstead, and production designer James J. Murakami. The music is by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens.

Letters From Iwo Jima is being released worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures.

November 16, 2006

Roger Friedman is delusional...

We all know he's a shill, so it isn't as if there should be any respecting the guy to begin with. But what about this doosey he drops in his "Dreamgirls" review today:

For months I’ve been telling you that "Dreamgirls" was the film to beat at the next Academy Awards, and several other pundits have followed in suit. So yes, it is very satisfying to report that Condon has made a wildly entertaining, exciting and moving film that should draw all kinds of audiences when it’s released next month.

Whew. I'm pretty sure you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn't been leaning toward a "Dreamgirls" win for the better part of a year (and this is coming from someone who admittedly left the film off my year-in-advance predictions, so I'm not in the club here). If you're going to brazenly take credit for something, make sure you don't look entirely foolish doing so.

November 15, 2006

So how will "Letters from Iwo Jima" affect the race?


The chatter is all over the place, forum members are standing in for qualified sources, calls are being made and left unreturned, exhibitors are speaking up and through it all, speculation mounts. How will "Letters from Iwo Jima" affect the Oscar race if (and it's looking more like "when") it gets that one week qualifying run in December? I think major awards talk is a bit ahead of itself and, in the end, a move like this can benefit one man more than any other: Clint Eastwood.

"Letters from Iwo Jima," however splendid the film may be, isn't going to turn into a Best Picture nominee. Is it really expected to be in the realm of the select few foreign language films that have crossed that barrier in the past? Sure, the difference is we're talking about a domestically created piece of filmmaking that just happens to be in Japanese, but the facts are a subtitled film, whatever its origins, has an uphill battle in the Best Picture category.

Then there is the discussion that releasing "Letters" could spell renewed hope in a "Flags of Our Fathers" bid. Hardly. A failure is a failure, and "Flags" simply stalled at the box office and in the hands of Dreamworks/Paramount marketing.

Just to throw my opinion out there, I think if anything comes of this whole scenario it will be in the form of a Best Director nomination for Clint Eastwood. There might be some outside opportunities for, say, Best Original Screenplay or something in the tech arena, but Warner Bros. has a Best Picture nominee sewn up in "The Departed." Snagging a lone director bid for a director who was courageous enough to make these two films seems to me to be the only likely awards scenario. But lets wait and see how it pans out.

November 14, 2006

Predictions Updated

The sidebar is up to speed as of yesterday, and no new charts this week (I know I promised them, but next week - I swear). The Gurus of Gold are back this week at Movie City News as well, by the way. Enjoy your Tuesday evening.

November 11, 2006

"The Painted Veil" (***1/2)


Romance seems to be the theme that sparks the most diverse reaction from the artistic community, filmmakers in particular. There are various methods and structures utilized to tell tales of the elusiveness of love, and new, fresh takes on this binding structure of human interaction come into the cinematic arena every year. Some audiences prefer the restraint but equal probing of, say, “The Remains of the Day.” Others might yearn for the creative ferocity of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” John Curran’s “The Painted Veil” might not be as calm as the former, and certainly not as unique as the latter, but it is nonetheless a story fabulously woven and penetrating in its exhibition of a new kind of love story. It is one of the year's finest films.

Based on the M. Somerset Maugham novel of the same name, “The Painted Veil” is a tale of forgiveness above all else. It is a deconstruction of our surface frailties and a call to understanding the virtues that lie beneath, and certainly, the lessons that might be learned all too succinctly with the experience of poor decision. Conveyed through a creative structure and filmed with long, deep breaths of beauty and compassion, John Curran’s effort propels him from an independent background and into a stoic place of assured filmmaking competence. He might be a director to keep an eye on in the future.

Naomi Watts stars in the film as Kitty, a spoiled and monetarily nurtured sort who longs to break away from her meddlesome mother and tiresome life in London. She meets Dr. Walter Fane (Edward Norton) at a family gathering one night and the good doctor falls for her immediately. Inevitable courtship commences, though Kitty doesn’t seem to take a specific interest over the course of two years (which fly by in the tight structure of the first act) until Walter asks for her hand in marriage. Kitty agrees, if only to break free of the ties of London, and the doctor whisks her away to Shanghai where he will be working and studying.


All of this is told betwixt scenes depicting a very different Mr. and Mrs. Fane making an overland voyage to a Chinese village, a couple uncomfortable with one another and uninterested. This cross editing comments directly upon the present in a structure recently apparent in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins.” As the past blends with the here and now, the first act comes to a head with Walter’s discovery of Kitty’s affair with Charles Townsend (Live Schreiber), a popular diplomat in Shanghai who is also married. Under the threat of divorce (and therefore scandal), Walter forces Kitty to accompany him to the faraway village where he will study and help treat a cholera epidemic, and in so doing, perhaps glean some sort of pleasure from Kitty’s distress at the expedition.

Tensions, meanwhile, are running high between nationalist Chinese and the westerners they feel are invasive to their way of life. Held somewhat emotionally captive in this unfamiliar environment, Kitty spends her days and nights wasting away and feeling useless. Walter avoids her, quite clearly considering her with disgust and disdain. But the man Kitty married, she never bothered understanding or even knowing, and so a trying excursion to the Far East, it seems, might reveal the good man she was too selfish to discover, and the life she has wasted on herself for far too long.

“The Painted Veil” is a complicated but delicate film. It really is a lasting sort of story, however, and credit seems to be best served to writer Ron Nyswaner. I personally have never read Maugham’s novel, so if the first act structure of the film is apparent therein, forgive my ignorance. But my assumption is that is not so and it was the clever creation of Nyswaner to comment directly on the Fanes through a simple but purposeful structure from the first frame of the film. Whoever is responsible, the device is a brilliant one because it works on so many levels. Nyswaner (who was nominated for an Oscar in 1993 for his original screenplay “Philadelphia”) also takes a certain care to pace the story with a sense of measure, but never at the expense of interest. A film that might seem boring to some is in fact quite engaging throughout.


Edward Norton and Naomi Watts have a specific chemistry that is extremely organic to the piece. Norton in particular (who also served as one of the film’s producers) provides perhaps his best performance since “American History X,” and certainly his best since “25th Hour.” He trumps the quality he tends to have difficulty shaking, that tendency to be Edward Norton first, the character second. Here, he is fully believable and lived-in as Walter.

Naomi Watts shines and has the clear character arc of a woman who grieves for her past mistakes. Kitty is extremely child-like at the film’s start. By the end, she is a woman with a life of experience and a future that would have been uncertain otherwise. It is a slow revelation for the character, which in some ways makes it more poignant. To paraphrase, a convent nun puts it to her late in the film, “When duty and love are one, then you are truly full of grace.” And that is the lesson Kitty learns a thousand miles from familiarity.

Another performance worth commenting upon is Toby Jones’s portrayal of Mr. Waddington, a liaison for the Fanes who is quite the warm friend of the family, so to speak. It’s the kind of small but meaningful turn that Harvey Weinstein would have ushered to a supporting actor nomination in the 90s, one that typically slips under the radar in today’s movie-going environment.


The technical elements of the film are quite lovely, hinting at the works of James Ivory or Anthony Minghella in some instances. Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography thankfully avoids the temptation of drowning the scenery out in golden hues and tonal recreations, rather depending on putting forth beautiful imagery to tell the story first. The work of editor Alexandre de Franceschi is some of the most understated but clearly exemplary efforts at the AVID this year, and Alexandre Desplat’s majestic score is his finest work to date, fit with soaring themes and delicate subtlety.

“The Painted Veil” is the crowning jewel of producer Bob Yari’s output this year. It is also a fantastic get for Warner Independent Pictures, who might try harder with the film than a larger distributor would (though that is yet to be seen). It is a comforting reminder of the filmmaking medium, that stories can be told with beauty and simplicity and still evoke effective emotional impact. A fantastic effort.

November 10, 2006

Don't expect "Dreamgirls" talk next week...


Not around these parts, anyway. I won't be attending next Wednesday's screening of the film at the Academy because, well, Wednesday is my birthday, and the Oscar race can be put on hold for a few days. Sue me. And I'd rather not experience the anxiety of tracking down Paramount/Dreamworks for a screening schedule on "Dreamgirls" (and specifically an invite to this particular event...I've heard zip so far) with the same amount of effort I've had to put into the studio on other films this year. Too much effort.

It makes no sense why they lag behind the times and remain at arm's length from the internet, and certainly with the awards-coverage faction of that medium, but that's a whole drawn out, bloody conversation

On "Dreamgirls," basically...I can wait. You'll have plenty to tide you over in the interim, but I won't be tossing another mundane voice into the fray on this one. I'll be welcoming 25 with a stiff Jameson and the antics of Lady Sovereign at the El Rey instead.

Enjoy the weekend.

EDIT (8:33PM): This piece has been truncated, as the prior content can no longer be of use to anyone. If you saw it, you saw it. If you didn't, it's not worth digging back into it.

November 09, 2006

Leo Trombetta/Lucia Zucchetti: The "Tech Support" Interview


Film Editing necessitates a story being told at a reasonable length with smooth transitions and, of course, applicable structure. Some genres, such as action films, musicals and non-linear stories, naturally tend to be opportunities for an editor to really show their stuff. But such an opportunity does not make the task exceptional in and of itself. It can even prove itself distracting at times.

On the other hand, films that flow seamlessly can be demonstrative of some of the best editing in the field. Less is more is by no means out of style. I recently had the opportunity to speak with two editors whose subtle work was integral to the success of two 2006 awards hopefuls: Lucia Zucchetti, who concisely and gracefully pieced together Stephen Frears’s “The Queen,” and Leo Trombetta, charged with the task of blending satire, drama and suspense in Todd Field’s “Little Children.”


November 08, 2006

New Predictions


I felt compelled this morning, with renewed faith in balanced government and a few more relevant whims of fancy zipping through my brain, to update the Oscar predictions in the sidebar. Rest assured, chart updates should be coming back soon enough (hopefully as soon as next Monday's column). It seems as though my computer is on the road to recovery after a horrendous bout of Screwkrisandhisworkitis.

Anyway, a few things have been bugging me the last few weeks regarding the predictions, so I thought I'd give things a facelift.

The first thing that sticks out is the unfortunate fact that "Running with Scissors" isn't catching on in, really, any quarters. Even enthusiastic SAG screening responses might not be enough to benefit Annette Bening's solid portrayal, and same for Jill Clayburgh. Each has given way to Cate Blanchett and Adriana Barazza (joining co-star Rinko Kikuchi) in their respective categories.

Speaking of the women of "Babel" and their film, I really hate to see this thing, at least in limited release, missing the rave traction I had hoped for. A mixture of opinion came, kind of expectedly, out of Cannes, but I don't know. It just doesn't feel right anymore as that lone director slot, and certainly Best Picture is floundering. In the meantime, Universal and The Angellotti Company are stepping up their game for "United 93," so maybe Paul Greengrass can slide into contention at the end of the day. Just thinking out loud.

Also, with "The Curse of the Golden Flower" coming out headstrong from Sony Pictures Classics via numerous FYC ads and the definite intention of campaign muscle, I thought I might start lending credence to the film in the technical categories. Best Art Direction and Best Cienmatography are definite threats, but I'm sticking with Best Costume Design alone for now.

Speaking of the cinematographers, "The Good Shepherd" remains extremely quiet from the studio. I've read the script and interviewed Eric Roth fairly extensively (for other purposes), so I'm as informed as one can be on the story without having seen the film. I still think that trailer was a smash, however, with some nice work from Bob Richardson, so I thought I'd throw the film a bone this week with a mention in the cinematography category. When screenings start gearing up in the coming weeks, maybe more notices will come back its way.

Finally, Fox Searchlight is stepping their game up on screeners. "Little Miss Sunshine" is really threatening that light-hearted, four nomination Best Picture spot that films like "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Field of Dreams" have secured in the past. And "Sideways" is still a valid comparison, given the money involved. But with "The Last King of Scotland" and "Thank You for Smoking," the team is entering that second wave of buzz for their product. Maybe Jason Reitman can grab an adapted screenplay nomination afterall.

Anyway, that's all for now. "Tech Support" tomorrow, maybe something on Friday if I am freed up to write about the stuff I've been seeing recently. Otherwise, enjoy the rest of the week.

November 07, 2006

Ink for a Friend


This is off the beaten path around these parts, but I wouldn't really consider In Contention "on" the beaten path.

I never saw eye to eye artistically with Aaron Katz in college. We disagreed on movies with a ferocity that made us, ironically enough, decent friends. I think in all the time we spent creating films during that four year stretch, we each ended up truly enjoying only one specific work from each other (a poignant and meaningful screenplay he wrote for another student on my end, my own sophomore writing and directing effort on his). But even when we thought we'd be on the same page, we'd find ourselves at odds by the time we got around to discussing it (my distaste and his respect of "Spider-Man" comes to mind).

Well, Aaron's gone out and made a feature, and though I haven't seen it yet (the fellas are sending a screener I believe), I'm happy to see some positive marks coming it's way.

I've been hearing about "Dance Party USA" since long before the film hit the festival circuit recently, stirring some discussion in this or that corner of the film-going world. I remember Aaron piecing together the script and hooking up with other college pals Brendan McFadden (producer), Sean McElwee (cinematographer), Zach Clark (editor), Marc Ripper (1st A.D.) and Chad Hartigan (actor) to finally push the thing out into the living, breathing world. Now that the film is approaching a November release date in New York (on my birthday, no less), I have to say I'm proud of all involved, because as anyone who's ever had experience actually MAKING a film will tell you, it's a lot easier to talk about than it is to put your money where your mouth is.

"Dance Party USA" was recently reviewed at Ain't It Cool News, and it was received positively by the individual who submitted the ink (along with reviews of "Fur" and "For Your Consideration"). Here's what "Ghostboy" had to say about Aaron's film:

DANCE PARTY USA (dir. Aaron Katz)

There's that aphorism about all the good girls always falling for the bad guys. There are those implicit and eternally frustrating questions of how, of why, of what do they see in them? There's that hope that maybe they'll come to their senses. And there's the possibility, which most lonely, pining romantics rarely pause to consider, that maybe the bad guys aren't all bad. Dance Party USA is about one of those bad guys. We first see Gus (Cole Pennsinger) on a train with his friend, bragging emphatically about a fourteen year-old girl he almost slept with. It doesn't matter whether or not he actually slept with her (his friend doesn't believe him) - the point is that he's the kind of kid for whom success is measured by sexual conquests, whose aspirations are mostly limited to being Matthew McConaughey in Dazed And Confused and whose conscience doesn't extend to the numerous girls whose hearts he's probably broken. He defines himself with a story about the time he had an ugly girl put a paper bag over her head before she gave him a blowjob.

But he's is also seventeen, and his youth gives him an edge, an intensity not yet dulled by the sad life he's setting up for himself. And, too, a little bit of innocence; he's an immature little boy in an adult's body. Maybe that's what all those good girls see in their bad boys: sweet naivete, and room to grow.

The film takes place over a twenty four hour period in which Gus drinks a lot, has sex with a random girl and, later, achieves a sustained moment of clarity when he meets Jessica (Anna Kavan), a sad wallflower at the titular party. He realizes pretty quickly that she's not going to fall for his moves, his usual lines; but instead of moving on, he keeps talking to her, and it's here that Dance Party USA moves past the improvised naturalism of a Cassavetes film and into Bergman territory. Over the course of about fifteen minutes, Gus tells Jessica a story -- not to impress her, or to make her sympathize with him, but because he suddenly sees in her rejection of him all of his own shortcomings.

What he tells her is a little bit shocking and quite a bit sad. It's a long, long scene, and it's not funny or pleasant or uplifting. But it comes so unexpectedly, and is so sincere and unflinching, that it turned Dance Party USA into one of the most vibrant and exciting alive cinematic experiences I've with a film in a long time.

The film was written and directed by Aaron Katz; it's his first picture, and he's populated it with fresh faces, many of whom have never acted before. Everyone in front of and behind the camera (which, like so many intimate character films these days, is digital and frequently handheld) is flawless. I can't wait to see what they do next - but in a certain sense, nothing they ever do will be as exciting as this. I go see a film like Babel and I enjoy it, but its qualities are no greater than I expected going in. I know what to expect from Inarritu and Arriaga and Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett; I know the extent to which they can be great, and so do they, and thus their film, for all the punches it might pack, contains no surprises. There's comfort in familiarity, to be sure, but there's excitement in the unexpected. There is no anticipation preceding filmmakers like Katz and actors like Lavan and Pennsinger, and when their movies work - as Dance Party USA does - it's like rediscovering the magic of film for the first time, all over again.

The film opens in New York on November 15th.

When I finally get that screener in the mail, I'll be sure to chime in with my own impressions (or perhaps I should do so privately with the guys, should the same old, same old occur in my reaction to an Aaron Katz creation). But no matter what I think, or what anyone thinks of this film, I'm really glad these gentlemen are staking their claim. God knows the North Carolina School of the Arts, School of Filmmaking needs something more interesting than David Gordon Green to show for itself...

"Dance Party USA" IMDb Page
"Ghostboys"'s review of the film at Ain't It Cool News

The British Are Coming


Okay, so the story is kind of floating around and is worth commenting upon. There is a giant British contingent in the awards race this year. At the end of the day, the Oscar telecast might even largely resemble the BAFTA awards ceremony.

Just look at the names in play: Jeremy Brock, Michael Caine, Sacha Baron Cohen, Brian Cox, Judi Dench, Stephen Frears, Richard Griffiths, Toby Jones, Jude Law, Kevin Macdonald, Patrick Marber, Helen Mirren, Peter Morgan, Peter O'Toole, Michael Sheen, Julie Walters, Kate Winslet...it really seems to keep going and going.

I recently took in two films in two nights that are certainly in the thick of this "British Invasion" and a part of the Oscar bruhaha: "The History Boys" and "Venus." Neither struck me enough to flesh out full reviews (especially the former), but they're worth discussing briefly, given their stake in the awards push. So let's get on with it.

I never caught the stage production of "The History Boys," and so my full knowledge of the Tony-winning play comes from my viewing of the film Sunday night. Now, my guess is the film is pretty much the play on celluloid, so I'm confident in commenting on Alan Bennett's work on all levels. So...this story - I must reside in some minority - is potentially more full of excrement than anything I've come across this year. Maybe I just don't "get" what's being done here, but aside from the whole mess being a tiresome bore, I can't believe something so empty, however apt at posing as though it had something of substance to offer, became the film to tie "Death of a Salesman"'s record for most Tony wins. But that's neither here nor there.

As a film, the thing really just sits there, flat and impotent. I don't know what could have been done cinematically to something like this to engage a viewer and exist as an exmplary - or at least acceptable - piece of filmmaking. Nonetheless, it's a filmed play, nothing more. And the use of instrumental intros of tunes from The Smiths, The Clash, The Cure, etc., is more annoying than anything on those segues. Just my personal take.

I really have nothing positive to say about this film...

Anyway, moving on, Roger Michell's "Venus" is another snooze on a number of levels. Peter O'Toole's performance is fine, but what is there to gain from watching an old, withering legend simply playing an old, withering legend? It's an interesting role I suppose, especially when you toss in the random bits of lust and sexual intrigue that lie at the heart of a character hoping to feel something in his waning years, but I just can't say I cared all that much. I guess this the one that will finally secure O'toole a proper Oscar, but it's just a bit dry, and confined by a plodding, sluggish film with no real sense of itself or its aspirations.

I tend to take similar umbrage with most of Michell's work, to be quite honest. His sense of filmmaking is all about ambiguity, with nothing lying underneath, and therefore, no sense of subtext. It seems as though there might be the intention of working on some other level, but it's never there. It's out of touch, and Michell ultimately seems to be making his films for an audience of one.

In any case, sorry for the somber report on two rough film-going experiences this week. But I guess it's only one guy's opinion...

November 06, 2006

Columnless Week #2


Yeah, that's right. Nothing worth filling a column with this week (and you certainly won't catch me preaching the rules and anti-rules of the game that have been covered en masse for the better part of a decade).

Still no chart updates, though the predictions in the sidebar are updated accordingly. I'm buying "Little Miss Sunshine"'s Best Picture potential now, especially in the face of "Babel" dropping to fine but not across-the-board praise. It's always been a tough sell, one that still might fight its way into the drama race at the Golden Globes. But I'm not so certain of its Oscar potential anymore. I wasn't at last night's Westwood party, so I couldn't test those waters...but then, it was assuredly a thumbs up crowd all the way. Who can be negative when you've got free food and booze, stars floating around, etc.?

Meanwhile, the interesting thing this season seems to be that everything has peaked a bit early. "The Queen"'s buzz was massive and now there really just isn't anywhere else to go with it. Forest Whitaker's buzz wave has also subsided, which isn't great news considering "Venus" (which I'm seeing tonight) still has a release, and therefore, Peter O'Toole talking point bruhaha, still to come. And when "The Pursuit of Happyness" finally drops in December - watch out for Big Willy.

I'm eager to see the new listing of Gurus of Gold charts at Movie City News this week as well (which has been a far better gauge of the buzz than anything else out there - an honest observation, not a pissing match instigation). A few of the Gurus, I think, were also at last week's screening of "The Pursuit of Happyness," so it'll be interesting to see who's thinking Best Picture this time around.

In the meantime, a few heavy-hitters still need to be unveiled. Some have seen "Notes on a Scandal," others have not. Some have seen "The Good German," others have not. And no one's seen "The Good Shepherd." Ditto "Dreamgirls," but that'll change next week. So there's really nothing but immediate anticipation and no real commentary on the whole mess to bother with this week.

Keep it here later in the week for Gerard's interview with editors Lucia Zucchetti and Leo Trombetta of "The Queen" and "Little Children" respectively. And, of course, there's always rumblings aplenty at The Blog.

November 04, 2006

"Tech Support": Best Costume Design - Volume I


The art of Costume Design involves a number of factors. Of course, the work must be appropriate to the era of the film (whether it be the present, the past or a fantastical time). It also must feel appropriate to the circumstances the characters are in (you can’t have every costume looking as though it’s come directly from the tailor).

The costume designer can add a lot to a film by creating costumes that express the character that wears them and designing wardrobes that add to the feel of a movie. This can best be done by blending the costumes into the film so that the viewer hardly notices them. Distracting costumes hardly serve the art of storytelling.

It’s not surprising that period films form the overwhelming majority of the nominees in the category of Best Costume Design at the Oscars. Period films necessitate the costume designer being loyal to the period in which the film is set while also drawing more attention to their work than they would if the costumes were merely the sort of clothes we see in everyday life. Fantasy films, however, also frequent the category, albeit to a lesser extent. Truly contemporary films are almost never nominated here.


November 02, 2006

Sorry for the drought.

Things will be normal around here as soon as possible. At the same time, what's there to discuss? WB's pushing everyone in supporting for "The Departed," "The Good German" is beginning to receive a strange "not so much" wave, "Notes on a Scandal" is going to start rolling out more and more in the coming weeks and, as you can see, Oscar ads are flying about with a vibrant agression. Act accordingly.

Stay tuned for Gerard's latest "Tech Support" column.

Contact Us


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