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, 2007

PAGE TO SCREEN: “Margot at the Wedding”


I don’t think I get Noah Baumbach. I loathed “Kicking and Screaming” and I think I half-liked, half-hated “The Squid and the Whale.” The same could be said about his latest screenplay, “Margot at the Wedding.” I think for about half of the time I really enjoyed his writing, his characters, his dialogue and some of the conflicts he set up in such a simple, almost play-like situation. The other half I was just annoyed by how mean everyone was, how randomly disturbing acts of violence or sexuality would suddenly happen, and how the script becomes so self-aware every now and again.


July 25, 2007

TORONTO: The Canadian Cinema


John Foote keeps on waxing Toronto as we countdown to the big fest in another two weeks. Here's how his latest entry begins:

One of the aspects about TIFF I admire most is the fact that the programmers and organizers have never lost sight of the vision of Bill Marshall: this festival was created to honor cinema from around the world, but also to promote and showcase Canadian films.

Being a filmmaker in Canada is a difficult process, which is why we lose so many to the United States where they have figured out for several years now how to make films and allow artists to have their visions. With no major studios up here, our artists are stuck having to go through the government for funding, and even then the budgets are ridiculously low. That great films are made for the funds they receive is a testament to the gifts of these fine artists.


Concerning the Con


There are more than a few things I'm somewhat excited about seeing at this year's International Comic Convention in San Diego, beginning tonight with a three hour preview. Paramount's setup tomorrow will include 20 minutes of Robert Zemeckis's "Beowulf," for starters, some Indy IV stuff and according to one source, a look at Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd." An interesting George A. Romero spotlight and interview later in the afternoon. Also tomorrow night is the premiere of the DC animated "Superman Doomsday," during which it is rumored the teaser for "The Dark Knight" will pop up.

Friday is the big Warner Bros. presentation in Hall H, potentially revealing the "Dark Knight" teaser among other goodeis. Neil Gaiman will show up for his perennial spotlight around 2:00.

Let's see, Saturday there's some geeky comic fanaticism for me to sink my teeth into, some "Simpsons" shenanigans, a Ray Bradbury/Ray Harryhausen event that could be fascinating, some Robert Heinlein showcase in the evening, and Sunday, well, there wasn't much that appealed to me.

And that's the once over I gave this thing last night to decide which events I'd like to take in from the MASSIVE amount of shit going down in San Diego this weekend. And frankly, even speaking as a comic book lover, this is too much. This event has gotten out of hand, studios have turned it into another playground to launch product for a niche to which they despeartely want to appeal, yada yada yada. You've heard all that before. I guess my point is, beyond the hope and expectation for a "Dark Knight" trailer, I'm not totally amped about drifting down the 5 freeway tonight and taking this meccha in for the first time since I moved out west.

I'll do my best to report back on what I DO see, probably in most cases at The Blog, though something long-form might force itself out of me in this space. In any case, so to everyone who might be hitting the con as well this week, safe travels and have fun.

“Feast of Love” (***1/2)


“Feast of Love” is Robert Benton’s deepest, most heartfelt and certainly his best film since 1994’s “Nobody’s Fool.” A rumination on the good-with-the-bad principles of love in its many stages, the film lingers in the minute brushstrokes set to the canvas by an organic, entirely believable ensemble of actors. While Allison Burnett’s screenplay (from the book by Charles Baxter) goes for the money line a bit too often – every character seems to have insight to spare – the narrative still runs smoothly and with a purpose, indeed a whimsical drive, that allows a level of forgiveness in that arena.

The film introduces Professor Harry Scott (Morgan Freeman) quite quickly as the deep-thinking, go-to guy of the story. After a sleepless night sets Harry out on a neighborhood stroll one evening, the story leaps 18 months into the past and the beginnings of a host of love connections.

There is Bradley Thomas (Greg Kinnear), a local coffee shop owner who’s wife of nearly seven years, Kathryn (Selma Blair) is soon wooed by the sweet nothings of another woman. Bradley’s employee, Oscar (Toby Hemmingway), finds himself caught in the rapture of love at first sight with Chloe (Alexa Davalos) while avoiding his lunatic father, Bat (Fred Ward), at every step. Diana, something of a real estate femme fatale (Radha Mitchell) is both in love with the adulterous David (Billy Burke) while at the same time drawn to the lovability of Bradley and his post-divorce philosophies. And of course, there is Harry, who seems to be happiest of all in love with his wife of many years, Esther (Jane Alexander). But undercutting their utopia, still, is the haunting memory of a dead son.


Twisting these characters together in a Brady Bunch, “we are family” since of near over-bearing community, Benton and Burnett actually avoid the landmines one might associate with such an aggressive intermingling. The point isn’t the relationships so much as the individual perspectives. When Bradley falls for someone a third time in the film’s final act, we are less considerate of his object of affection than we are of his process, the emotional journey he takes when slipping into that which the gods created “because they were bored”: love.

The performances hold the film together as a sort of impenetrable adhesive across the board. Morgan Freeman milks his natural tenderness and fatherly warmth for all it’s worth here, perhaps his best performance in the three years since “Million Dollar Baby.” Greg Kinnear especially adds another reason to consider him one of the screen’s most underrated performers with his most lived-in portrayal since 2002’s “Auto Focus,” and perhaps as far back as his Oscar nominated turn in “As Good As It Gets.” It’s all there in his eyes, equal parts longing and suffering, hope and disregard.

Radha Mitchell holds an interesting sort of chemistry with Billy Burke, who chastises her emotional recklessness in a way that has us siding with the argument of a cheater. Alexa Davalos and Toby Hemmingway also produce sparks as mere children enveloped with desire and passion. Davalos might have broken out here in a fearless performance that has her riding Hemmingway on the fifty yard line of a football stadium beneath a meteor shower.


Jane Alexander is a healthy balance for Freeman’s Harry, while Selma Blair conveys a lot of believable emotion in a brief first act performance. Fred Ward’s wasted opportunity, however, lies in a half-realized character on the page with nowhere to go but sideways.

In 35 years and only 11 features, filmmaker Robert Benton has always shot for deeper portraits, even if he has sometimes landed in shallow discoveries. 1977’s “Kramer vs. Kramer” might indeed remain his greatest effort (though some might argue in the favor of “Places in the Heart”), but even when missing the mark in films like “The Human Stain” or, to a lesser extent, “Twilight,” he always manages to reveal more about his characters than most directors would have been capable. The effort is felt considerably when he carves out minor accomplishments, such as “Feast of Love” or the aforementioned “Nobody’s Fool.”

It’s hard to say if “Feast of Love” will land awards notices at the end of the year. One has to consider an early September release good for business but bad for consideration. I also somehow expect there will be passionate detractors who might not be able to get beyond the obvious conveniences and safety of the narrative as easily as I was. If nothing else, one would be hard pressed to argue against the ensemble performance, one that will still likely fly below the radar as the season pushes forward.

July 24, 2007

PAGE TO SCREEN: "Lars and the Real Girl"


“Lars and the Real Girl” sounds like it could be a dumb, Adam Sandler comedy. “Get it! He loves the sex-toy!” Har-har. Or it sounds like it could be some weird, Cronenberg-ish movie: “He loves the plastic, the way it feels, the lifeless eyes,” and so on. With a cast that includes Academy-Award Nominees Ryan Gosling and Patricia Clarkson, I don’t know what I expected, but I certainly didn’t expect what I got: “Lars and the Real Girl” is one of the most heart-warming scripts I’ve ever read. If Frank Capra ever made a movie about a lonely young man in love with a sex-doll that was written by “Six Feet Under” vet Nancy Oliver, that’s what “Lars and the Real Girl” would be. Maybe.


July 23, 2007

Delaying "The 11th Hour"

I really wanted to put together a review of Leonardo DiCaprio's latest pet project, "The 11th Hour," to coincide with today's look at "Arctic Tale." Alas, I can't bring myself to review something that just isn't a film.

I agree with everything brought to bear over the course of "The 11th Hour"'s seemingly endless 90 minutes. I even experienced a few raised-eyebrow moments at what this scientist or that brought to the discussion, but I'm left wondering why anyone would bother making a film that will just preach to the choir. Last year's "An Inconvenient Truth" at least had the celebrity of Al Gore attached, but even that two hour power point presentation on celluloid resembled a film more than this latest effort at "green" cinema.

Basically, I can't assign a star rating to "The 11th Hour." I can't recommend it to filmgoers, nor can I refrain from suggesting those in the dark should give it a once over. It's just one of those experiences that falls through the cracks of criticism.

And so it goes.

“Arctic Tale” (***)


“Arctic Tale” is cute. Of that we can all rest assured. It’s a little difficult to open a film with a snuggly baby polar bear poking her head out of a snow cave, lay exaggerated “sniffing” effects over the soundtrack and not grab your audience’s warm spot off the bat. But while Sarah Robertson’s National Geographic Redux documentary is an interesting exploration into the arctic environment, as well as a not-so-subtle mandate against global warming, it is also much more revealing in its editorial manipulations than, say, “March of the Penguins.”

It’s too simple to mention that the film might have been as easily suited for the small screen, but it’s true. However, it goes without saying that where a film is better suited for distribution shouldn’t play for or against its successes and failures as a work of visual storytelling. So as such, “Arctic Tale” is something of a minor triumph.

Set in the arctic nether regions, a world losing its state of normalcy by the day, the film’s narrative begins by following the life of a newborn polar cub, Nanu. Awakening to the world outside her mother’s birthing cave, Nanu, along with her mother and brother, venture out into the tundra for food. We learn a lot, of course, through Queen Latifah’s (perhaps too) sassy narration. Nanu’s mother hasn’t eaten in six months. She hunts baby walrus for nourishment that will become milk for her young. The only animal she has to fear is a male polar bear that, if given the opportunity, will attack her cubs.


To parallel this narrative is the story of a newborn walrus, Seala, as well as her mother, her “auntie” and a massive family of walruses that live, eat, digest, swim and sleep as a family, “all up in each other’s business.” Like I said – sassy narration. Once again, there is information aplenty. Walruses eat clams, believe it or not. They harvest them thousands at a time and look for visual landmarks that indicate harvesting spots along the ocean floor. And they seemingly spend their entire day sunbathing, otherwise. Well, when avoiding starved polar bears.

From here the filmmakers steer the yarn toward the environmental dangers facing the animals. Each passing year thins the ice considerably, leaving animals in some cases stranded with the limited food supply they already have in a given area. The point Al Gore made in “An Inconvenient Truth” about polar bears having to swim hundreds of miles just to reach ice suitable for walking is amplified ten-fold here.

Polar bears have to search farther and farther for a food supply that is itself forced abroad. Animals that specialize in hunting food hidden beneath the ice are now faced with prey well aware of their approach, given the conditions of the ice. Global warming is bad, m’kay?


All of this is laid out in a rather simple, expected manner. The filmmakers cleverly edited footage together to drive the narrative forward in linear terms. And of course there’s always Queen Latifah’s audible guidance throughout. Nanu and Seala separately grow older in their family environments. Tragedy strikes each equally and the survival instincts put on display really sting the heart. Nature is an evil bitch, but that’s not the point with which the film wishes to clobber you over the head.

The point – in this, Paramount Classics’ perennial “green” film, I suppose – is that humans are affecting the environment of species that have dominated the indicated regions for thousands of years. If you buy the argument (I do), human behavior has brought on drastically shifting conditions that could force extinction onto the arctic agenda before long.

That is where “Arctic Tale” at least seemingly transcends the boundaries of a simple cut-and-paste program you’d catch on a Sunday afternoon on the National Geographic Channel. There is a greater purpose to presenting the plight of the polar bears and walruses. Its simplicity might be its greatest attribute in the final analysis. Having a bunch of kids drive it home over the credits might have been a bit unnecessary, but this one isn’t trying to win awards for nuance. In an ever changing world, indeed in a quickly sliding environmental society, perhaps we’ve charged far past the point of nuance altogether.

July 21, 2007

“The Bourne Ultimatum” (****)


“The Bourne Ultimatum” is the most riveting, most creative, most stimulating film of what has already proven itself to be a thoroughly engaging series of films. Spinning author Robert Ludlum’s spy novel trilogy away from its Cold War settings and into a modernized realm, the adaptations – writer Tony Gilroy the common denominator at every step – have been nothing short of sizzling in their willingness to stray, while remaining true to the essence of the novels and their captivating central character. With this, the final film based directly upon the work Ludlum fashioned, director Paul Greengrass has managed to provide one of those rare movie delights: a franchise that bested itself with each subsequent installment.

“Ultimatum” picks up right where we left off three years ago. At the end of 2004’s “The Bourne Supremacy,” amnesia-stricken CIA operative Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) had exacted a level of revenge against the Agency operation Treadstone that molded him into an assassin and murdered his girlfriend, indeed his only friend in the world, Marie (Franka Potente). Still yearning for total recall and left with a considerable amount of unfinished business, we are here introduced to a Bourne driven and determined to find the answers he’s searched for over the course of the last two films.

The Bourne saga has spilled onto the pages of England’s Guardian newspaper at the start of the film. Reporter Sam Ross (Paddy Considine) has cranked out a series of stories detailing the assassin’s exploits and pieces of his origin, obviously having been fed deep-inside information from some valuable source. Whoever the source is, he or she is someone who’s acquaintance Bourne would surely like to make. And as the big first act sequence of action and suspense, Bourne’s confrontation with Ross makes for the most dynamic and enthralling set piece of the entire trilogy – with nary an explosion or vehicular travesty in sight.


Through his investigation, Ross stumbled onto Treadstone’s remnants and replacement operation, Blackbriar, headed up by the cold and statuesque Noah Vosen (David Strathairn). Vosen seems to be the film’s resident Alexander Conklin (as portrayed by Chris Cooper in “The Bourne Identity”) until the narrative reveals his deeper and more fibrous connections to the events of the series. Strathairn’s performance is so honed, so doused in impenetrable realism that one nearly wonders if the actor has some level of experience with tracking and detaining a renegade soldier of espionage.

Also joining the cast in all-too-brief performances are Scott Glenn as another dirty high-ranking CIA official and Albert Finney as the architect of Treadstone. Joan Allen returns as the heat-seeking Pamela Landy along with Julia Stiles, given some extra yardage this time around in the role of Nikki Parsons. And, in keeping with typicality, an array of assassins and operatives fills the seams, faceless individuals casually referred to as “assets,” all joining the chorus in a menagerie for Bourne to twist, mold, manipulate and destroy, all to an audience’s movie-going delight.

“The Bourne Ultimatum” finds a certain level of genius in a screenplay that combines Gilroy’s talents with such stand-out scribes as Tom Stoppard and Paul Attanasio. The elaborate nature of each and every set piece is a crash course in visual storytelling of the highest expertise, moments that are sure to induce more than a few “I can’t believe that just happened” chuckles of expelled nervousness from an armrest-gripping audience. The script bends itself into the fabric of “The Bourne Supremacy” in one scene that, for close followers of the series, will have them nearly lifted from their seats, not only due to what they are witnessing, but due to the instant indication of what (and when) they have been watching unfold for the past hour and change. This is quite plainly filmmaking of the tallest order.


Matt Damon’s most demanding performance of the series perhaps still resides with “The Bourne Identity,” a film that represented his character’s slow understanding of what he was capable of. “The Bourne Supremacy” gave us a chance to see him let lose even further with those capabilities, but here we see the actor perform as a well-oiled machine of singular drive and purpose. Jason Bourne has become the role by which Damon’s early career will be defined. What James Bond was to Sean Connery, what Michael Corleone was to Al Pacino, Jason Bourne has become for Matt Damon.

The surrounding cast puts forth a performance befitting the most revered of ensemble work. As mentioned, David Strathairn is a self-guided missile with pathological panache to spare. Joan Allen finds herself in a different place this time, picking up the pieces rather than seeking Bourne’s head on a platter. Julia Stiles manages a heart-felt supporting turn, while Albert Finney strikes a few solid notes in his third act revelations. But let us face it. The star of the Bourne franchise has become the man at the helm.

Arguably the most exciting new talent of the medium, director Paul Greengrass has proven a level of competence in both low-budget and high-budget situations that is staggering. Furthermore, he seems fully capable of translating his independent characteristics to films backed by a larger checking account. He has already felt the sting of losing a high-profile gig (“Watchmen,” Paramount’s loss at a time of transition for the studio), received an Academy Award nomination for what may long be considered the definitive cinematic account of 9/11 (“United 93”) and cranked out 66% of what could come to be considered one of the great film trilogies on record. And the guy’s only getting warmed up.


Greengrass’s next effort, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” will find the director partnered with Damon yet again in an adaptation from Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s account of the postwar administration of Iraq. If he brings an ounce of the dedication and tenacity to this production as he has afforded the Bourne franchise, we might be looking at another definitive account of America’s recent plight – from a Brit, no less. But here and now, “The Bourne Ultimatum” has positioned itself as a jewel in the cinematic crown of 2007. I don’t know about you, but this is why I go to the movies.

July 20, 2007

“Resurrecting the Champ” (***)


“Resurrecting the Champ” is Rod Lurie’s most thematically complex film to date. It is also clearly his most personal – a film that plumbs the psyche of a journalist ethically conflicted. A former journalist and film critic himself, Lurie knows well enough the world of newsrooms and beat reporting. But it might be that emotional over-investment that eventually tangles “Resurrecting the Champ”’s potential into something merely enjoyable as opposed to the greater moralistic drama it clearly aspires to be.

At its core, the film is about a number of things. Front and center are father-son relationships, always a soft spot for this viewer. Also leading the charge is journalistic integrity, albeit a theme that rears its head deep into the film. There are elements of reckless ambition and notions of honesty at play as well, and truly, the mixture is a healthy and conceivable one to balance on the canvas of a cinematic undertaking. It’s quite the original thematic soufflé, if you will.

Josh Hartnett stars as Erik Kernan, a composite of Los Angeles Times reporter J.R. Moehringer, upon whose Los Angels Times Magazine article the film is based. Separated from his wife, desperate to stay in his son’s life and aching for a professional break, Kernan passes his days as a sports journalist with the Denver Times, covering miniscule or, in his view, trivial events that typically find themselves buried in the sports section by editor Metz (Alan Alda).


One day Kernan stumbles upon a homeless man known to the neighborhood as Champ (Samuel L. Jackson) and finds the opportunity he has been looking for. It seems that Champ is none other than former boxing great “Battling” Bob Satterfield, long considered dead and certainly not presumed living on the streets of Denver. Taking his shot and deceiving his editor for the more venerable coverage of the Denver Times Magazine (the switch from Los Angeles is awkward, but so be it), Kernan pitches the story to editor Whitley (David Paymer, in a hilarious background performance) and takes to interviewing a subject who will open his eyes to insights about himself, yada, yada, yada.

A lot of that seems expected and even reads as trite as I hammer the thoughts out in this space, but where “Resurrecting the Champ” approaches something more, something deeper, is in the parallels it begins to sketch out between father-son honesty and the greater good honesty and responsibility of a journalist. Questions of lies told in love being as damaging as lies told in malice start to surface and, honestly, begin to make a lot of sense. But they also eventually find themselves drowned out by the surrounding thematic imagery and connectivity, multiple valid points striving to land on the bull’s-eye at the exact same time.

All of that said, I don’t believe Samuel L. Jackson has given a more thorough performance in the five years since “Changing Lanes.” I would consider taking it back as far as “Jackie Brown” or even “Pulp Fiction” to find a portrayal from the actor as lived-in as this, one that doesn’t feel like “Sam doing his thing.” Jackson is every bit as astounding in nuance and inflection as in physicality. He becomes Champ in this film, and I’d say it is one of the few award-worthy performances we’ve seen thus far in 2007.


Josh Hartnett is capable, though there are many moments that leave you wondering how he continues to find himself employed. There remains nothing compelling about Hartnett’s appearance, nothing charismatic about his work and certainly nothing demanding “must-see” attention. I don’t get it, and maybe that’s on me, but it seems someone else could have served the role more succinctly. I find myself considering the words of Metz early in the first act: “There’s a lot of typing, not much writing.” Try transforming the notion into a description of acting and I’d say we have Hartnett pegged.

Late in the second act, “Resurrecting the Champ” takes a detour that I dare not reveal here. This crucial moment is when the film indeed engages the viewer in its message in ways some might view as manipulative, but I would consider somewhat original and even daring. But it is difficult to navigate territory this thick with meaning and not lose something, so it remains that Rod Lurie is a filmmaker caught up in the flaws of his projects.

“The Contender” is still his finest effort, a film not without complications. “The Last Castle” and “Deterrence” are certainly interesting failures in their own rights. And he’s sure to have a tricky time with the upcoming “Nothing But the Truth,” concerning the Valerie Plame affair. But “Resurrecting the Champ” seems in some ways like another stepping stone for Lurie toward a more cogent and solidified feature excursion, something I have no doubt he will some day accomplish. For now, in many ways, it all just seems like practice.

July 19, 2007

“Sunshine” (**1/2)


I really wanted to like Danny Boyle’s latest mind-bending cinematic excursion. The elements were in place for the talented genre director to crank out one of the great science fiction films of our time. Writer Alex Garland was on board, a certifiable genius of the narrative form. A decent cast of actors were assembled. Technical achievements seemed to be lining up to pitched perfection. But as I watched the film unfold, I soon stumbled upon that most sickening discovery every filmgoer feels at some point or another: the sense that I needed to let hope slip away. “Sunshine,” I had to admit to myself, was a colossal miss.

The film tells the story of a last-ditch effort in a future society to save our dying sun. Earth has plunged into an ice of sorts age in the year 2057. One mission to essentially reboot the giant star’s core with a massive bomb explosion has already failed as of seven years ago. And now, a new, likely final attempt has been launched with an eight-member crew aboard the Icarus II, a vessel dwarfed by the gargantuan payload it pushes through the cosmos toward an uncertain end. It is the mission or nothing at all, and that is the reality the film embosses at every turn.

The Icarus II’s octet serves as the film’s ensemble throughout. Front and center are Mace (Chris Evans), a hard-boiled military mind (though he is the resident engineer) who embodies the spirit of “failure is not an option,” and Capa (Cillian Murphy), a physicist who has to be the most important member of the crew, given the events of the narrative. Also sticking out is Searle (Cliff Curtis), a psychologist losing himself to the wonder of that which the crew seeks to save, as well as Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), a botanist charged with maintaining the vessel’s oxygen garden, the crew’s primary source of oxygen and food.


Ship captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada) and navigation officer Trey (Benedict Wong) serve their plot points well enough. Mostly they just fade into the background with second in command Harvey (Troy Garity) and pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne).

The ensemble performance is a solid one. Chris Evans especially proves again that even amidst artistic turmoil he is a charismatic presence. But if this bevy of crusaders sounds similar to “Sphere,” the Michael Crichton novel butchered in cinematic form by Barry Levinson in 1998, it should. It seems a staple of the genre has become the busload of specialists. But that’s not what “Sunshine” does to implode on itself.

You see, there is a lot of beauty in “Sunshine”’s visual realizations. Danny Boyle is a filmmaker who specializes in elevating that which should be seen in brighter intellectual and emotional hues to operatic levels. And this is certainly a Danny Boyle experience in that light. But on the page, in the confines of story, Alex Garland has managed to mangle what might have been a more than passable sci-fi experience by resorting to tactics we’ve already seen in zingers like “Event Horizon,” “Mission to Mars” or the aforementioned “Sphere.”


To further expound upon this requiem for Garland’s talents, as they relate to “Sunshine,” never have I witnessed a deus ex machina so blatantly employed and so confusing in its existence. As the third act begins to clumsily unravel, one can’t help but furrow the brow and struggle to comprehend the direction, indeed the point of the narrative – if even on the terms of the story itself, which seem to fly out the window at this crucial juncture. The cinematography even seems to unnecessarily disorient at this stage.

There are elements worthy of praise. As noted, Boyle is a visual technician without parallel. The visual effects are beautiful and seamless. Most especially, the sound work in the effects and mixing stages is another character unto itself, as necessitated by a film taking place in the vacuum of space. And the score offered up by John Murphy and Underworld is original and enjoyable. However, I can’t venture much further out onto the limb of commendation, I’m sorry to say.

The question “Sunshine” is posing is a valid one, and most important in the science fiction genre, it is a meaningful one. What if the planet’s solitary source of nourishment – in all its phases – were to lose its steam, lose its power? What if the sun were to die? Basically, what if the giant light bulb went out? What the film does with that question, most especially in its third act, is somewhat artistically infantile at best.

It has been respectfully requested by the filmmakers that none of the film’s surprises be revealed through reviews, which is fair enough. If I knew where “Sunshine” was going prior to screening it, I might have waited for DVD.

July 18, 2007

TORONTO: The Line-Up So Far


With more films added to the various programs at the fest, excitement is beginning to percolate here in Toronto about what is shaping up to be one of the most impressive lineups we’ve seen here in some time.

As mentioned before, the major and minor studios often use Toronto as their launch towards Oscar glory, and thus far that seems to be exactly the case, as several films already announced seem to be sure-fire Academy Award contenders. Among the Oscar winners or nominees to begin their journey to the golden circle have been “Almost Famous” (2000), “American Beauty” (1999), “The Cider House Rules” (1999), “Crash” (2005), “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), “Walk the Line” (2005), and countless others.

Leading the pack thus far is “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” Shekhar Kapur's sequel to his Oscar nominated “Elizabeth,” which made Cate Blanchett one of the most sought after actresses in the industry. Nine years later she is an Oscar winner and multiple nominee, likely to be pegged by the AMPAS again for her performance as Elizabeth I in this film. The trailer looks extraordinary, and though I am all too aware one cannot judge a film based solely on that, the cast and director give the film a strong pedigree. The focus of the film will be England's war with Spain when the King of Spain makes it clear he wants England to become Catholic once again.


July 17, 2007

PAGE TO SCREEN: "Gone, Baby, Gone"


Oh Ben Affleck. When “Good Will Hunting” broke in 1997, he and Matt Damon were the two hottest things not on “Titanic.” Now, look what’s happened. Damon is arguably one of our greatest actors, and Affleck, well; he’s turned into one of our greatest jokes. “Family Guy” has knocked him on a couple of occasions, and after a string of increasingly poor choices a few years ago, who can blame them?

It seems like Affleck himself couldn’t. Starting with last year’s startling performance in “Hollywoodland,” he’s been changing his career in a very deliberate and impassioned manner. The Allen Coulter film showed an actor knowing it could be his last chance, and devouring the role with a fearless, career-best performance. And now, he’s out to silence all other critics with his first screenplay away from Damon and a directorial debut.

I can’t say how the directing turned out, but I can say this about the script: we’re going to have to stop making fun of Mr. Affleck real soon, because “Gone, Baby, Gone” is a tight piece of writing.


July 16, 2007

Anticipation Station


It’s that time again; time to rattle off a list of anticipations for the 2007 film awards season. Starting with August releases and moving forward, I came up with only 17 films that have me chomping at the bit. A small number, but I’m picky. There are other interestes, but these are the only ones I’d jump at the opportunity to screen tomorrow.

Let’s get into this…

10. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”
Warner Bros. Pictures; Directed by Andrew Dominik

This was high on my list of anticipations in 2006, its original year of release. But with every new bump down the schedule, every new bit of distressing information and the increasing likelihood of a studio hack job on the final cut of the film (word is director Andrew Dominik has been going back and forth with Warner Bros. on this very subject, holding up release as a result)…I have to say I’m having my doubts. But being a massive fan of the western genre and the Shakespearean power of this story, I still find myself hoping – and anticipating – this troubled project.

9. “Leatherheads”
Warner Bros. Pictures; Directed by George Clooney

There’s something rose colored and endearing about George Clooney’s tackling such homely subject matter as the world of 1920s football. When I talked to film editor Stephen Mirrione last year about the project, he was visibly excited at the day-to-day work he was doing at the time. So color me sentimental, I’m looking forward to “Leatherheads.” And I’ve found myself more and more in line with Clooney’s school of thought behind the camera, so any time he offers up a new vision, I’m sure I’ll be there.


8. “Charlie Wilson’s War”
Universal Pictures; Directed by Mike Nichols

I wasn’t anticipating director Mike Nichols’ latest until I read Aaron Sorkin’s lascerating screenplay. Now I can’t wait to watch what can only wind up becoming an awards hog with teeth take hold of the Oscar season later this fall. Some might say, with reason, that Tom Hanks is a bit miscast in the lead role of a Texas Congressman footing the bill to arm Afghani troops against Soviet encroachment in the mid-80s, but I’d stand in line just to see what Phillip Seymour Hoffman will do with the role of Gust Avaraktos. And, personally, I can’t get enough of Sorkin.

7. “The Savages”
Fox Searchlight Pictures; Directed by Tamara Jenkins

There aren’t a lot of comedies I’m holding out for this season, but the Fox Searchlight awards hopeful “The Savages” staked a claim pretty early for me. I didn’t attend Sundance but was happy to hear the positive reaction, and of course, the trailer released a couple of months back really piqued my interest. It looks like Phillip Seymour Hoffman will have a solid year, what with a lead turn here and a supporting riff in “Charlie Wilson’s War.” But I’m most looking forward to stage actor Philip Bosco’s portrayal.

6. “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”
Universal Pictures; Directed by Shekhar Kapur

To my mind, one of the great Oscar tragedies of the 90s was Cate Blanchett’s losing the 1998 Best Actress prize to Gwyneth Paltrow for what had to be one of the great performances of that decade. Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth” was a towering achievement and a surprising introduction to the director. In the nine years since, Kapur has only offered one other piece of work, 2002’s woeful “The Four Feathers.” But tackling some of the most exciting and juicy material from the life of Queen Elizabeth I in “The Golden Age” should put him, and Blanchett, right babck in the groove.


5. “Youth Without Youth”
Sony Pictures Classics; Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Some negative early word isn’t enough to kill the anticipation of Francis Ford Coppola’s first film in a decade. Indulgent or not, “Youth Without Youth” should be high on the list of any cinephile’s expectations. Based on a short story that seems to beg for creative expansion, I have to expect Coppola at least has the opportunity to offer his A game, but we’ll have to wait and see. A solid performance from Bruno Ganz is certainly expected, after a dazzling portrayal in 2004’s “Downfall.”

4. “Beowulf”
Paramount Pictures; Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis is one of the last couple of filmmakers actually pushing the boundaries of the medium’s technical possibilities. Along with Steven Spielberg, he seems to share the desire to put an audience in the middle of a film. His work seems to exponentially hint at this with every passing picture, the last dazzler being 2004’s “The Polar Express.” This time he takes on the legend of Beowulf and Grendel in a film cast to perfection. The technical showcase is there to be had, but let’s simply hope the legend shows through as the great story that it is, without too much unnecessary finagling.

3. “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Warner Bros. Pictures; Directed by Tim Burton

I will forever consider Tim Burton one of the singular talents of the filmmaking medium. I will forgive a “Planet of the Apes” here, a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” there if it means we get “Batman,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Ed Wood” and a host of others as the payoff. And even with his failures, Burton is a director undebniably personal in his approach each and every time, for those willing to look beyond his bogus “style over substance” classification. “Sweeney Todd” is pegged as an Oscar contender in many quarters, but beyond looking toward the Oscar season, this looks like yet another genre twist up Burton’s sleeve, and a likely cinematic feast for us all.


2. “There Will Be Blood”
Paramount Vantage Pictures; Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

I’m quite proud of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson and the choices he’s made in his career thus far. All too often can a writer/director get locked into the “me” mentality that spells disaster on the screen, films succeeding in the head of the creator alone. (I suddenly find myself considering that other Anderson). But after coming close to insularity with 1999’s admittedly brilliant “Magnolia,” P.T.A. took a radical departure in 2002 with a 90 minute romantic comedy, “Punch-Drunk Love.” And now, he takes up the reins of an adaptation – blasphemy! You mean to say a level of security exists in the writer/director lot that will permit creativity from without rather than within??

1. “No Country for Old Men”
Miramax Films; Directed by Ethan Coen & Joel Coen

My Most anticipated film at the start of the year remains as much, especially after such high marks at the Cannes International Film Festival. I’ve been high on “No Country for Old Men” ever since I discovered it to be the Coen brothers’ next venture. With added personal endearment for author Cormac McCarthy, on whose book the film is based, I find myself counting down the days until I can finally sit down and screen this film.


“Across the Universe”
Julie Taymor is a visual genius and this is one of the most ambitious cinematic projects I’ve heard of in a long time.

“American Gangster”
Ridley Scott is on more often than off, and working from a hell of a true story his latest promises to be an awesome ride.

“Gone, Baby, Gone”
Ben Affleck has been working to get back in the saddle, and following a great performance in last year’s “Hollywoodland,” he takes a stab behind the camera in what could be another great Dennis Lehane adaptation.

“I Am Legend”
I’m a major fan of the novel (which contains perhaps the most intellectually exciting closing paragraphs in science fiction literature). I consider myself a fan of Will Smith. And – shockingly – I found some room to forgive director Francis Lawrence’s “Constantine.” This could be a good time.

“Into the Wild”
Sean Penn tackles subject matter that could lift an audience out of its seat with idealistic wonder. Or not.

“Michael Clayton”
More Clooney, this time under the guidance of “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” scribe Tony Gilroy, a wonderful new talent stepping out from behind the laptop and behind the camera for the first time.

“The Walker”
There’s something imminently appealing about Woody Harrelson in the role of an aging gigolo, in a Paul Schrader film, no less.

July 12, 2007

Oscar Coverage Announcements


A few notices in the way of dates for those awaiting Oscar coverage.

I forced myself to stay away from July and most of August this year, as consistent Oscar coverage has no place in those months beyond wheel-spinning speculation (I ought to know). That isn't to say I won't be offering the obligatory "Most Anticipated" piece in the coming weeks, or some pre-Toronto knick-knacks. But weekly Oscar columns will begin on Monday, August 27. Gerard's "Tech Support" columns will begin the same week, on Thursday, August 30. A shortened schedule will probably be what the doctor ordered for each of us.

Brian's screenplay coverage will continue on a weekly basis at "Page to Screen" throughout the next two months, while John's Toronto coverage will get some weekly commentary the next couple of weeks before his daily reports hit during the fest beginning Thursday, September 6.

To quote a favorite mid-90s quilty pleasure actioner: "It's coming! It's headed right for us!"

"It's already here."

TORONTO: Festival Fever Sets In

John has cooked up a nice introduction for you folks, gives you a little insight to his process (he's been covering the Toronto International Film Festival for some time) as well as a hint of the flavor a festival-going experience can create. He will be in touch more and more as announcements come down the pike, all leading to day to day coverage at the fest starting Sepetember 6.


It starts in mid-August, when the festival pre-screenings begin, that hunger for cinema, as much as possible taking hold like heroin must grab a drug addict. My kids are getting ready to go back to school, and dear old Dad is getting ready for the Toronto International Film Festival, quite frankly the finest such event I have attended. For ten days I do nothing else but see films from around the globe and interview actors and directors who have come here with their films hoping for success. They have every right to hope, as Toronto has been the launching pad of many an Oscar winner, or a critic’s darling over its long history now spanning three decades.

We already know that “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” is coming to town, as is the Coen brothers’ latest “No Country for Old Men.” Recently added were Cannes standout “The Diving Bell and Butterfly” and Alan Ball’s as yet sans distribution “Nothing Is Private.” “Michael Clayton,” “The Brave One” and “Reservation Road” round out a list of awards-hopeful product set to unveil at the fest, and that’s just the tipping point. Announcements will soon start coming once a week, a couple of huge ones first, then through the summer some enticing ones, ending with a blow out press conference where the whole list of films is announced to a movie-hungry press.


July 10, 2007

Page to Screen: "Charlie Wilson's War"

Brian kicks off the revamped "Page to Screen" column this week with a script review of "Charlie Wilson's War." Again, Brian's reviews (well - expanded thoughts - we aren't really "reviewing" scripts more so than offering pontification on awards potential) will run every Tuesday.

It’s a tricky thing, “reviewing” the screenplay of a film yet to be released theatrically. That is where I found myself with Aaron Sorkin’s “Charlie Wilson’s War,” an adaptation of the book by George Crile. Hell, we don't even have a trailer yet and many in the awards-watching community have begun pinning the film with that cursed “frontrunner” label. The film has arrived at this distinction due to a number of reasons, chief among them the sheer prestige of the picture. Mike Nichols. Tom Hanks. Julia Roberts. Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Plenty of reason for high expectations.


July 09, 2007

Foote at the Fest


It is with great pleasure that I can announce In Contention will be covering the Toronto International Film Festival this year after all.

As I mentioned last week, "Tech Support" columnist and Toronto native Gerard Kennedy will not be able to take on the gig again this fall. His coverage was meaningful and comprehensive last year, but he will still be offering coverage of the technical races at "Tech Support." So with that in mind, I'd like to take a moment to introduce our new Toronto correspodent, author, journalist and Toronto Film School Director John Foote.

As mentioned at his website, Foote on Film, John is a member of the International Association of Film Critics and the Internet Film Writers Society. He has a number of biographies both under his belt and on the way, subjects including Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Duvall. He manages to find time to lecture film history across Ontario while still navigating the hectic life of a film journalist, and we're very lucky to invite him as a new voice in the In Contention mixture.

As noted in an introductory entry at the revamped Toronto section, John will be offering daily reports with pre-coverage beginning in mid-August.


July 01, 2007

The Silence is Deafening


Posting this column on a Sunday pretty much sums up my feelings about digging into the Oscar season with vigor just yet. This town is pretty empty at the moment, and as far as the awards season goes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a publicist willing to whisper sweet nothings about any of their awards hopefuls too soon. Even the more notorious spinsters are sound asleep. I’d rather catch some more z’s myself.

Then again, what better time to revamp category predictions than in a vacuum? I’ll get to that in a second.

As we push past 2007’s halfway point, I come to you a writer blissfully ignorant of much of the industry’s output the past six months. A road trip across 49 states kind of demands your attention more than consistently taking in filmed product does. I am, however, pulling myself out of the cobwebs and dusting off my awareness somewhat, reading some scripts, making some calls and getting the gears back in motion here at In Contention. But first, a few notes.

The first announcement has to do with the “Page to Screen” column, something of a misfire last season as I simply couldn’t keep up with the workload. Well this year I’ve brought in writer Brian Kinsley to tackle the feature in a slightly different vein, reviewing numerous screenplays for films coming down the stretch and offering his own points of analysis where their awards hopes might lie. Look for Brian’s initial column to launch next Tuesday, July 10, with a look at Aaron Sorkin’s scorching “Charlie Wilson’s War.”


Secondly, Gerard Kennedy will be back this season giving the technical categories the attention they deserve with his “Tech Support” column. However, Gerard is tackling some changes in his life that will make it impossible for him to cover the Toronto International Film Festival as he did so wonderfully last season. It’ll be a sad loss for the site, but with the bulk of information thrown at the web during the festival season, I think we’ll all manage.

With that out of the way, and with life changes in mind, I should mention that things could potentially be touch and go around here this fall. I stress the word “could.” It’ll be a learning process, really, to distinguish what may or may not suffer, because I have been accepted at the University of Southern California as a graduate student in Annenberg’s print journalism program. It goes without saying this will be no picnic, and it is obviously a new stage in my life that should be given the bulk of my attention. Regardless, I will know further into the season how the marriage of my professional and educational lives will (or will not) work out. I just wanted to make all of this known from afar.

Now, the Oscar season. Sigh…


Does anyone else get the feeling that we’re in for one heavy – and heady – slate of contenders? We can start at the top of agenda filmmaking with the four films that reflect political status quo in one way or another. These films can also be broken down into two groups of two fairly sufficiently.

Group one, the behind the scenes, congressional drama, political underbelly genre, if you will, holds in store Mike Nichols’s “Charlie Wilson’s War” and Robert Redford’s “Lions for Lambs.” If the former can be translated from a rather engaging screenplay and opened up somewhat by its clearly capable director, there is no reason to believe it can’t hold strong to that strange label of “frontrunner” it has enjoyed for some time. Meanwhile, every new piece of information we get on the more current production makes the film out to be a bit too overbearing for its own good, but that’s just my persoective.

The second group would consist of Paul Haggis’s “In the Valley of Elah” and Marc Forster’s “The Kite Runner,” films that deal with the emotional complexities of “real people,” shall we say, and how they are affected by their social and political climates. Each filmmaker has directed a film to Best Picture recognition. The Haggis film has already got some not-too-covert champions and will certainly be one of the big weepers of the year. The Forster film, somewhat beside the point of politics but certainly in a similar wheelhouse, could give “Elah” some stiff competition in that tear-shedding regard, but it also comes into play from a studio with a lot on its plate.

I get the feeling we’ll only see one film from each “group” slide into contention this year, but that’s just me. They could each systematically fall flat on their faces.


Looking at what’s come into the picture already this season, it seems that the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” is way ahead given critical reaction at the Cannes International Film Festival. Something so rooted in genre has a hell of a shot in a post-“Departed” world where Oscar is concerned. But elsewhere, beyond some performances of note, nothing has shown up that demands immediate consideration. And so, we seem all but guaranteed a bottom-heavy awards year.

Oh yeah - and all the threequels sucked.

Anyway, I’ve already dug in here more than I wanted to, so I’ll just let the updated charts tell the tale. They needed some cleaning up, in any case. I won’t be giving them another look until the beginning of August and then not again until just before the Toronto International Film Festival. I’d prefer not reliving last year’s nightmare of intense, weekly Oscar coverage beginning in JULY. But we there’s plenty to talk about in the meantime.

Be sure to check out Brian’s weekly screenplay reviews. And of course, there’s always movement on The Blog.

Main Category Charts
Technical Category Charts
The Contenders (by category)
2007 Films-by-Studio Rundown

2006 Predictions Archive

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