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October 30, 2006
What a Month

Is it just me or did A LOT move and shake this month as far as the annual awards hopefuls were concerned?

"The Queen" (though technically a September 30 release) and "The Departed" both have had amazing box office runs following some of the best reviews of the year, putting themselves right at the top of the race, where few suspected they'd be two months ago.

"Flags of Our Fathers" is a tricky film to establish a consensus on but there's no denying it has Oscar in its sights and will be a factor in awards season, disappointing box office or not. "Little Children", meanwhile, is leaving October with far lesser expectations than it entered with, but we're still bound to see it pop up places come December and January, especially for its screenplay and its leading lady.

"Marie Antoinette" (talk about divisive) and "The Prestige" (may be considered lesser Nolan but it's still keeping his amazing run alive) will presumably be confined to the craft categories but we'll be seeing them in some capacity come December and January.

The critics had knives out for "Running with Scissors" but it's still too early to take Bening out of the running. Though the box office was expectedly poor for "Catch a Fire", one never knows what Focus Features will manage to pull (if this is looking like their worst year this decade).

And while it's too early to draw any conclusions about its ultimate fate, "Babel" also finally found its way into theatres.

November will be eventful as major titles finally show themselves yet we'll be lacking true consensus (and box office stats) on most of those titles until December.

October 29, 2006
"Fiction" Makes Waves with SAG

Another SAG screening tonight, this time for Marc Forster's "Stranger Than Fiction" at the Pacific Design Center.

I again moderated the Q&A afterward, a panel including WilL Ferrell, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman which received a lengthy standing ovation to kick things off. The back and forth was marvelous, with lots of laughs and yours truly getting to play the casual butt of jokes from Hoffman and Thompson (I guess you just don't get that opportunity too often). But all in good fun and the audience was a lively bunch. The auditorium was also packed with no walkouts prior to or during the Q&A, which is always a good sign for a film, obviously.

Producer Lindsay Doran joined the fray spontaneously half-way through, which made for a nice peripheral commentary. I understand last week's PGA screening of the film went very well, with Lindsay answering questions from another loaded auditorium.

All in all, a great showing for the film - and really, an honor to just share the stage with those individuals.

October 27, 2006
I just got off the phone with Robert De Niro.

For this Eric Roth story I'm writing for the NY Times.

It's weird talking to your childhood icons. I mean...WEIRD. Not to mention being in the position to call him "Bob." It's not that "I'm a big fan of your work" kind of talk, which we can all handle fine. It's that professional discussion about a person's work that is just otherworldly. And it'll likely happen again Tuesday when I go to Forward Pass to interview Michael Mann.

But hey, I'll cling to my childhood as long as I have to.

"Bob" is sensationally humble and nice, by the way. Hard to believe he kicked a guy's face in in "Goodfellas."

A "Cool" WGA spot

"The 40-Year Old Vigin." "Garden State." "Mean Girls." "Bend It Like Beckham."

All WGA nominees in recent years and none went on to Oscar nods or were really expected to even after their WGA citations. Who could fill such a spot this year?

I'm seriously thinking that Jason Reitman might get a nod there for "Thank You for Smoking" before missing out for more serious fare come Oscar time. "Stranger than Fiction" would be a possibility as well though I think that would be more of a genuine contender for an Oscar nod. Any other thoughts? Or am I reading too much into just three years?

October 26, 2006
Wednesday in La La Land

The Variety Screening Series unloaded Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" tonight at the Arclight, a film I'm tempted to call something of a masterwork, but I'd like to take it in again. It's unabasedly creative, and to hear del Toro talk about it and his convictions in creating the film is a definite treat. The Q&A with Variety senior editor Steven Gaydos was both enlightening and humorous. Del Toro's one of a kind.

The Arclight was also booming with the likes of Don Cheadle, Sinbad (where ya been?), and the cast and crew of "Catch a Fire," launching a red carpet premiere and making for one packed freakin' parking garage. I ducked out of the "Pan's" Q&A and headed across the street to The Cabana Club for the "Catch a Fire" after party.

Typical conversations with Jeff Wells and Pete Hammond amongst others, giggling at Tim Robbins cheesily dancing to the DJ's incarnations with Mr. Cheadle in tow and laughing at his expense. The usual Hollywood crowd (Ron Yerxa is quickly becoming the most recognizeable guy in town to me). Phillip Noyce, Derek Luke, et al. A great party really, but after last night's booze-a-thon at Morton's, I couldn't take too much so I got out of dodge soon enough.

Next event, I promise to have a better story. I'm exhausted...

Horner is off of "The Good Shepherd"

Just a quick FYI to all you folks that follow the tech races. Composer James Horner is no longer on Robert De Niro's "The Good Shepherd." The two men have parted ways. I forget the name of the individual Mr. De Niro has hired, but it looks like Horner's awards hopes will come down to "All the King's Men" and "Apocalypto."

October 25, 2006
Ollie's Reception

Yeah, big, lavish reception at Morton's last night for Oliver Stone. Nic Cage, Michael Pena, Andrea Berloff (very charming young lady), and Hollywood's finest behind the veil cogs boozing and schmoozing it up, lamb chops in hand.

Me (after making an eventual bee-line for the bar):
"Sometimes I hate these fucking things."

Beautiful Redhead Bartender (Coke and Bacardi Lime at the ready):
"I can tell."

Commence more enlightening conversation with beautiful redhead bartender.

October 23, 2006
Critics Awards Thoughts

I enjoy the critics awards far more than the more high profile awards myself so I'll venture some thoughts on what's coming our way while my room remains dry (if I'm dreading the next rain...it seems as though my foundation is cracked).

Picture and Director
I'd say "The Queen", "United 93", "The Departed", and "Babel" would be the major players though I somewhat suspect we'll be seeing a good deal of love for "Volver" at the NYFCC. Unless someone comes and surprises, I'd say Greengrass, Scorsese and Iñárritu are where most of the love will end up on the directing side of things.

A very interesting race indeed. The obvious choices are Gosling and Whitaker, though neither strike me as sweepers or close to them. Richard Griffiths? Jack if he's sent lead? O'Toole (one never knows)? Who else might show up?

I suspect Mirren will win virtually everything.

Supporting Actor
Here's an interesting lot. Jack's categorization will likely end up very influential on how things go. Michael Caine has never been a critics' awards favourite but his unique double bill could be an interesting factor in this race. Apart from him, the "Little Miss Sunshine" men aren't out of the realm of possibility but neither jump out as likelies. Ditto Michael Sheen. I could see Jackie Earle Haley popping up here but certainly not dominating. And even though the film isn't the sort that normally takes critics' awards, Eddie Murphy could make it here if his turn is as big as it could be.

Supporting Actress
This is wide open. Adriana Barazza and Rinko Kicuchi do seem like they might be the sort that show up. And speaking of "Babel", multiple films could certainly help Cate Blanchett. Carmen Maura and Frances de la Tour are also the sort of scene-stealing Europeans that American critics might eat up.

"Babel" seems the obvious frontrunner here if I'm not convinced at all that it'll sweep. "The Queen" and "Volver" are the obvious alternates with "Little Miss Sunshine" being a darkhorse.

Rodrigo Prieto, Emmanuel Lubezki, Michael Ballhaus and "Peter Andrews" seem frontrunners. I could also see the NSFC going for Tom Stern (they love them some Clint).

Who have I overlooked?

The Good Effort by an Acclaimed Young Director

Christopher Nolan is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting directors of his generation. And while "The Prestige" is nowhere near his best work, it's still fantastic entertainment. Fundamentally, that is the result of Nolan's ability to direct suspense, taking us through many twists and turns, always keeping us entertained and surprised. The fact that the magic is really cool as well is a big bonus. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman carry the film with ease while Rebecca Hall, Michael Caine and David Bowie (!) shine in support (Scarlett Johansson and Andy Serkis are serviceable). Meanwhile, Joan Bergin and Nathan Crowley do what is the best work of their careers with Wally Pfister's efforts being not that far behind.

I've got to admit that the plot becomes somewhat convoluted as the film goes on with the narrative not being told in the wisest of ways. And while it makes perfect sense, the ending feels a tad cheap. Because of this, I ultimately feel the film falls short of greatness. But the effort is still incredibly suspenseful, gorgeous to look at, very well acted and ultimately satisfying. I wish I could say the same about the other film from a young auteur I saw this weekend.

October 22, 2006
Damn Rain

This was supposed to be one of the most exciting weekends of the year for movie lovers. Yet excessive rain around the Great Lakes has resulted in my basement living quarters being flooded, taking up an unfortunate amount of time on a weekend that should have been spent formulating thoughts on the titles which hit us. But seeing as Nolan, Coppola and Eastwood all unveiled their latest efforts, be rest assured that my thoughts are coming.

Playing catch up...

I keep reading this stuff about "The Pursuit of Happyness" from people who are miraculously screaming "it's a Best Picture candidate" or "Will Smith is O'Toole's competition" as if this has just entered the ether. I've been saying those two things for months.

Ah, well...

October 20, 2006
Busy day ahead...

Lunch with Alan Arkin...phoner with Adriana Barraza for a Variety piece...co-ordinating a face-to-face with Eric Roth for a NY Times piece...oh, and there's always the pesky day job.

This is what they make Red Bull for.

October 19, 2006
Are "Cream of the Crop" critics just a bunch of pussies?

This disconnect between the mainstream, top tier critics and the rest of the pack on "Flags of Our Fathers" is staggering. Sure, there might be some biases on both sides of the aisle, but I doubt the level of supposed "Eastwood hatred" by the fringe folks outweighs the assured "Eastwood suck-up" tendencies of the older blokes.

I'm just saying.

October 18, 2006
"Scissors" plays fantastically for the SAG

"Running with Scissors" screened for the Screen Actors Guild a second time last night at the DGA, and it played wonderfully. A crowded theater of thespians responded better than Sony could have expected, following some tepid critical responses that have ranged from dislike to disgust.

I moderated the Q & A with director Ryan Murphy following the screening, and charming as always he provided the best responses. The crowd ate it right up, and I'm starting to feel foolish for bumping Annette Bening from my predictions earlier in the week. In all honesty, if anyone should be on the cusp of being perceived as "weak" in the Best Actress category as of late, it might be Kate Winslet. "Little Children" will be much more off-putting to the Academy at large than a fun excursion like "Scissors," which really seems to find acceptance amongst filmmakers and talent - you know, people who actually MAKE movies - given the two SAG screenings and last week's premiere at the Academy.

Anyway, Jill Clayburgh got a great ovation when the credits rolled at the end, which boads well for her comeback story this year. And, of course, shining star Bening was praised to no end, from viewers with experiences with mental illness praising the accuracy of portrayal, to delight over Murphy's recognition of his own mother in the erratic character that is Deirdre Burroughs.

"Running with Scissors" releases October 27.

Running with Scissors

This film was extremely uneven from the tone it tries to create to the realization of various scenes to the effectiveness of the all too self-conscious soundtrack. Yet when the film works, can it ever work and the cast elevates the material to a level it would not have otherwise achieved.

The film largely plays like a series of vignettes. The scenes do not flow from one to another as well as they should. Many scenes are too over-the-top, even for a film seeking quirkiness, while others just rubbed me the wrong way.

But in spite of this, the film was never boring, often very funny and rather emotionally involving. Annette Bening was wonderful in so many different ways while Clayburgh, Wood, Cox, Baldwin and Chenoweth (in just two scenes) are particularly noteworthy members of the very large cast. Might I add that the first 20 or so minutes – as well as the last 10-ish – are absolutely wonderful bookends for the film.

The critics seem to be sharpening their sheaths for this. And I’ll concede it’s not great filmmaking. But it’s still fundamentally enjoyable and quite affecting at times. It certainly doesn’t deserve to be dismissed.

October 17, 2006
I Normally Hate ET But...

...with exclusives from "Dreamgirls" and "The Good German" (two upcoming titles we had hereto seen very little of), I couldn't look away. We'll be getting the full trailer for "Dreamgirls" tomorrow though the bit we saw certainly looked promising, especially Hudson's singing.

The real news here is what looked like trailer for "The Good German". It looks (on the visual front) absolutely fantastic. Blanchett in particular is seemingly in top form and Maguire's role looks intriguing. The comparisons to "Casablanca" are obviously on the way (as if we didn't know that already) which could be a good or bad thing. Though I personally found the footage put together in a rather confusing manner? Yet that could be courtesy of the commentators, who make the experience most annoying and brings me back to why I hate ET. Thank goodness for Fred Willard and Jane Lynch.

Edit: The more I think about it, the more I think/hope those were just clips pasted together. Because it really wouldn't have made any sense as a trailer.

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" at the El Capitan

A great turn-out tonight for the premiere of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D" at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood. It was hard to miss Marilyn Manson (second time I've bumped into the guy in a week) gabbing to the press, and John Heder made his way up the red carpet as well. Had a few choice words with John Lassetter about the direction of the 3-D platform for some of Disney's past excursions, etc. Really chill all around, frankly.

The movie was fine, if not really made for a 3-D experience to begin with. Not a lot of effects and such popping out at you, but fun nonetheless. The festivities across the street afterward were a blast, as entertainers on stilts criss-crossed a Highlands restaurant full of a jazzed crowd swaying to the sounds of "Ghostsbusters," "Thriller" and Danny Elfman's "Batman" score. The whole place was decorated accordingly, pumpkins galore, a delicious Wolfgang Puck catered buffet of Thanksgiving yummies.

Mr. Burton was cornered most of the night by adoring fans, past acquaintances and business partners. The poor guy had a difficult time slipping out of his booth at one point to finally make his exit, hounded by folks looking for autographs and photo ops. But ever gracious and friendly, he humored all comers.

All in all a pleasant evening. It certainly puts me in the mood for the fall season. I want some more of that turkey!

October 16, 2006
Who's going to land Dent?

Now that "The Prestige" is heading into theaters at the end of the week, I think we can all expect to hear an announcement out of Christopher Nolan's camp regarding the casting of Harvey Dent/Two-Face in the upcoming "Batman Begins" sequel, "The Dark Knight." My good friend Jett over at Batman-on-Film has been doing some nice reporting on the matter the last few weeks (well...for the bettter part of 8 years actually), and he's of the same mind. In fact, in all likelihood, Dent has been cast and the announcement is all that is imminent. Here's how things have been shaking down recently.

Early word from the start was that Nolan was high on Liev Schreiber for the part, which in this viewer's opinion, would be a hell of a good call. The Heath Ledger decision as The Joker is still floating around waiting to land smoothly in my head, but Schreiber was built for Dent, especially given the dead ringer Schreiber is for Tim Story's incarnation in "The Long Halloween" and "Dark Victory," two books that capture the essence of the character like no other. But when you keep hearing "the role is his if he wants it," you pretty much begin to expect he doesn't want it.

After that, a sickening rumor began to surface that put Jake Gyllenhaal in the spotlight. No. Please...no. I like the guy, but he's too much of a boy to play this role. I can't imagine an actor I could buy as a 16 year old playing Harvey Dent, and especially not Two Face.

Now, the real heat is around Ryan Phillippe, who's name popped up some months back and continues to be a spot of speculation. Frankly, with "Flags of Our Fathers" and "The Prestige" both landing on the same day, I think this sort of announcement would be a coup for all involved, and I would not be shocked if that's what we hear in the next week or so. What do I think? I think it's not the wisest casting decision, but I also think it could work. I trust Nolan to do the right thing with this series, but there are so many more choices that would work better.

Some names have been around for years in conjunction with this role. Like Jude Law, for instance. John Cusack's name also popped up a while back. The former doesn't work for me, though the latter does very much. And Josh Lucas has also expressed interest (coming off another Warners title, "Poseidon"). He could very well snag it, but I wouldn't be too hot on that either.

Anyway, it's all speculation until the official announcement hits. I'd bank on Phillippe getting the spot, with Lucas a close second. But then again, more than likely, we'll get someone that hasn't been in the mix at all up until this point. Such was the case with Heath Ledger, after months of speculation on names like Sean Penn, Jude Law and Lacy Hulme.

As long as it's not Tommy Lee Jones or Billy Dee Williams...

The Fall TV Slate

I don't spend a lot of time talking TV around these parts, but there's plenty to discuss lately it seems.

This is one of the best new shows of the season. It's refreshingly unique amongst the rest of the procedurals and seems to really care about its main character, building upon what we know with newfound creativity each week. I hate that I missed the pilot, but the last three episodes (especially William Forsythe's guest spot) have been nearly flawless. Woods is heading for an Emmy nom I think.

"The Nine"
Finally caught up with the first two episodes here, and there isn't a lot to discuss yet. But where do you take a show like this after season one anyway? I don't know, but so far it seems an interesting take on the "Inside Man" structure, and a harmless viewing experience each week (as long as they steer clear of the melodrama of the cop vs. the force stuff).

Sigh. Count me amongst the legions getting TIRED of the relentless measured pacing of this series. No, I don't want the answers NOW, but some more meat on the bone each week would be nice. I liked the opening moments of the season premiere, and I love that they are clearly developing the best relationship of the series (Sawyer and Kate), but I hope we get somewhere soon. Can't count our chickens two weeks in, though.

"Studio 60"
This one is a can't miss each week for me, but it admittedly has some glaring flaws. But most of those flaws exist in the realm of hyper-reality, a typical Sorkin scenario in any case. Most opposition comes from an industry experienced in what's being carried across on screen, but I can't call myself a hater by any stretch. I've got live TV experience in my blood too, mind you, and this stuff is just fun and it moves quickly. Last week's episode was the best so far, and it did a nice job of building on specific characters.

"30 Rock"
On the other hand, this show is a real piece of shit. I'll give it one, maybe two more weeks, but I laughed ONCE during the season premiere - at Tracy Morgan running in his tighty whiteies down the 405. And that's a cheap joke, folks. Alec Baldwin just reads lines of the page and Tina Fey seems to have taken a step back to the pre-"Mean Girls" days of bad, Jimmy Fallon sidekick humor.

"Twenty Good Years"
That's what it's called, right? The John Lithgow thing? Well, I stopped watching ten minutes in. Not my cup of tea. Sitcoms have sucked for so, so long.

October 15, 2006
A Few Notes on Box Office

Another weekend has come and gone and North Americans have again proved they will pay to see crap. Critically maligned films are all over the top ten this week. But discussing how stuff like "The Grudge 2" is a license to print money is frankly something I'd rather not do.

Instead, I'll stay positive and look at the one well-reviewed film in the top ten...Martin Scorsese's "The Departed". Putting $90 Million into a very intelligent yet very violent action film with a target audience of adults is a risky thing to do. Yet I'm so happy that the producers have had it pay off for them. The film's budget remains very large yet the movie is well on its way to profitability. This is probably the biggest box office success story of Scorsese's career. And it couldn't be more deserved.

In other news, The Queen is having a fantastic run in limited release, grossing over a million dollars in just 46 theatres. Miramax's handling of this film has been superb.

October 14, 2006
Last words on "The Prestige"

After mulling "The Prestige" over some more this weekend in preparation of cranking out 1000 words or so, I've decided not to even review the film. There are a number of reasons why, so let me just spit it out.

First, this a hell of a twisted film to talk about without getting into specifics. The viewing experience really shouldn't be disturbed by too much insight, and certainly not by spoilers. Second, I just don't have the heart to write a pan of a Chris Nolan film. There it is.

I'm sure that's a pussy move in the eyes of some, but I'm in the easy position of being able to pick and choose what I cover. My responsibility is rather lenient in that regard, and at least I recognize and own up to it. Nolan is a genuinely talented filmmaker (this opinion came far before my "Batman Begins" love-fest, mind you), and I'm not sure there is anything to be gained about digging into this film in advance of the release. After audiences see it, I'd be happy to enter into a dialogue about my opinions, but I think I've talked about it enough for now. I get the sense my discomfort with the result lies in a novel that likely works just fine in the reader's mind, so there's no artistic villain or incompetant craftsman to go after here.

But I certainly hope you all enjoy the film when you take it in next weekend.

First Stab at Golden Globe Predictions

I wanted to go ahead and at least get some thoughts down into print regarding the Golden Globes. I've heard this and that as far as HFPA reactions to certain films, but basically, I have no idea and am just throwing some stuff at the wall here. We'll have a clearer picture as the months progress:

Best Picture – Drama

“Blood Diamond”
“The Departed”
“The Good German”
“The Queen”

Best Picture – Comedy/Musical

“Little Miss Sunshine”
“The History Boys”
“Stranger Than Fiction”

Best Actor – Drama

George Clooney, “The Good German”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Blood Diamond”
Jack Nicholson, “The Departed”
Will Smith, “The Pursuit of Happyness”
Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”

Best Actor – Comedy/Musical

Sacha Baron Cohen, “Borat”
Russell Crowe, “A Good Year”
Will Ferrell, “Stranger Than Fiction”
Richard Griffiths, “The History Boys”
Peter O’Toole, “Venus”

Best Actress – Drama

Penelope Cruz, “Volver”
Judi Dench, “Notes on a Scandal”
Nicole Kidman, “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus”
Helen Mirren, “The Queen”
Kate Winslet, “Little Children”

Best Actress – Comedy/Musical

Annette Bening, “Running With Scissors”
Cameron Diaz, “The Holiday”
Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls”
Meryl Streep, “The Devil Wears Prada”
Renee Zellweger, “Miss Potter”

Best Supporting Actor

Alan Arkin, “Little Miss Sunshine”
Djimon Hounsou, “Blood Diamond”
Eddie Murphy, “Dreamgirls”
Brad Pitt, “Babel”
Michael Sheen, “The Queen”

Best Supporting Actress

Cate Blanchett, “Babel”
Adriana Barraza, “Babel”
Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine”
Jill Clayburgh, “Running With Scissors”
Emma Thompson, “Stranger Than Fiction”

Best Director

Bill Condon, “Dreamgirls”
Clint Eastwood, “Flags of Our Fathers”
Stephen Frears, “The Queen”
Martin Scorsese, “The Departed”
Edward Zwick, “Blood Diamond”

Best Screenplay

“Blood Diamond”
“Little Miss Sunshine”
“The Queen”

Best Original Score

James Horner, “All the King’s Men”
Gustavo Santaolalla, “Babel”
James Newton Howard, “Blood Diamond”
John Tavener, “Children of Men”
Thomas Newman, “The Good German”

October 13, 2006

Anyone try this stuff yet? I think I'm gonna hurl...

A Crowning Achievement

I didn’t get a chance to see "The Queen" before today. But this experience of seeing it in an actual paying crowd was absolutely worth it. Only playing at one theatre in the city, the theatre had to move it to a screen that seats more people because of excessive sell-outs! And was this crowd ever into it.

Everything you've heard about Helen Mirren is true – she captures the essence of Elizabeth Windsor wonderfully but also crafts an utterly fascinating and layered character who we get to truly feel as though we know. We see her stiffness. Yet we see her love. We see what makes her tick. Yet we see her sorrow. (It’s also an ideal Oscar performance but also one that actually deserves the accolades it will get).

Yet the film is much more than just her – it’s incredibly concise, consistently engaging, quite insightful (regardless of liberties taken it feels very honest) and – here’s the real surprise – a great deal of fun. Peter Morgan has delivered what is the best script of the year so far, to go with his also outstanding work with Jeremy Brock on “The Last King of Scotland”. Not only is the structure brilliant but humour, drama and poignancy are combined with so many dynamic and compelling characters; that the individuals being portrayed are still alive, and that the events on screen are so memorable, makes the experience all the more unique. And Frears himself crafts what is his best film since “Dangerous Liaisons” 18 years ago.

I was entranced. Bravo to all involved.

"The Prestige"

I'll get into my distaste of "The Prestige" next week when I get around to writing a review, but I can already sense that I'll be in a definitive minority. Let alone the Drew McWeeneys of the world who are destined to love anything genre with a twist, but I expect a lot of the critical community to go with this thing despite their better judgment.

Yes, there's a lot of great artistry at work here from Nolan. The idea of crafting a film in the mold of a magic trick's three act layout is brilliant. And he is proving with every new outing that he commands thematic and creative film structure like none of his peers. But Christopher Priest's story seems to be more fitting on the page, where we are allowed to manifest much more within the confines of our imagination than we are with films. The resulting screenplay, which Nolan and brother Jonah have worked on diligently since the "Memento" days, unravels at a staggering rate in a denoument that screams stupidity - not due to unbelievability, mind you. But just a general "That's it?" feeling that is the worst feeling one can have walking away from a film.

"The Illusionist" was asking a lot as well. But it was also a tight film that worked well on it's own merits. That goes a long way. And while "The Prestige" isn't the worst film of the year, it is certainly the most disappointing.

More later

October 12, 2006

I realize everyone interested had seemingly seen "Shortbus" before today but I'm still trying to get my head around it.

It's one of few films that I really can't express my thoughts on. I'm not really sure I like the movie (mainly because of the acting and the fact that the "story" doesn't do a lot for me). But Mitchell crafts it with such brilliance that it's impossible to not admire the effort tremendously. This is a man who actually treats cinema like an art form which is so wonderful to see these days. And that final scene is utterly brilliant.

Without a doubt one of the most fascinating and memorable efforts of the year.


The fact that Fox Searchlight is the first out of the gate with screeners may end up going a long way toward "Little Miss Sunshine"'s very real bid for a Best Picture nomination. I get the feeling the Oscar update is going to be substantial next week...

October 11, 2006
"Scissors" Gets a Premiere

"Running with Scissors" played well to a premiere crowd last night at the Academy. A few severely negative critical assessments have hit publication in recent weeks, which is strange to me. This is a hard film to hate, I feel, and that's saying a lot coming from a guy who can't stand the bulk of Wes Anderson cinema (to which "Scissors" has been compared in style). But it seemed like smooth sailing in the Goldwyn Theater last night.

The reception afterwards was a star-studded event. A youthful Joseph Cross talked to me a little about his future schooling plans in Westchester County New York. He certainly had an air of humility to him considering he had just come off another major premiere the night before, for Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers."

Jill Clayburgh looked ravishing, especially after seeing her de-glammed performance in the film. Brian Cox worked the room finding numerous friends, while Joseph Fiennes (who kills in the film) had the girls in a tizzy.

Other attendees included Seymour Cassell and Dennis Haysbert (who I happened to catch at the last minute as I was leaving). But at the center of the room was Annette Bening, crowded and basking in the glory of a fantastic performance. Husband Warren Beatty (one of the few folks in this town, it seems, that can make me star-struck) hovered in the background, chatting here and there, but mostly enjoying some fine (as always) cuisine.

Anyway, all in all it was a swell evening. "Runing with Scissors" might have its head ripped off by critics, it might not. Regardless, I've thought it to be a fine film for some time and wish brand new feature director Ryan Murphy the best as he tackles more material in the future. Just wrap up those "thank yous" a little quicker at the next premiere, sport.

Oh, most unexpected moment: when Marilyn Manson sat down next to me and David Poland. Crikey!

October 10, 2006
Anyone notice this?

Emanuel Levy keeps altering his review ratings, kind of swaying with the eventual en masse critical assessment. First "The Black Dahlia" went from an "A" to a "B+," and now his "A" review of "Flags of Our Fathers" gets demoted to an "A-." Weird.

Shouldn't you make a stand if you like a film no one else is crazy about? Isn't that the essence of the thing?

October 08, 2006
Giving Thanks

Today is Turkey Day in my home and native land. Here’s what I’m cinematically thankful for this year…

1. That Martin Scorsese has delivered his best film in what seems like eons. And this is coming from someone who thought “The Aviator” was one of the best films of 2004.

2. That Christopher Nolan and Alfonso Cuaron have company in the top echelon of young filmmakers in the person of Kevin Macdonald. Here’s hoping both Nolan and Cuaron keep up their great runs later this year.

3. That the great Meryl Streep, at 57, still finds herself in the top tier of actors getting great roles...and is still as fantastic as ever in them.

4. That the great Helen Mirren, at 60, just keeps getting better with age.

And most importantly…
5. That 2006 already seems better than 2005 and 2004 combined…with many more great films hopefully on the way.

Clarification on my "Flags" review...

I already get the feeling a number of readers are going to be confused by my three star review of Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers." The review certainly reads as a negative one with little indication of enjoyment, and I certainly wrote the review I meant to. However, I still see the film as a three star endeavor, and that is largely due to Eastwood's handling of the battle sequence. His work really represents one of the most unique battle sequences ever captured on film, and that goes a long way, as does the underlying themes of manipulation and media deception, whether they are capitalized upon to the fullest or not.

October 06, 2006
"Flags" flubs it here and there...

That's not to say it isn't an unstoppable Oscar giant, because it is. But it's also too long, too unfocused, too scattered and too structurally insecure.

Adam Beach is a real find, gets his scene upon which an Oscar campaign will be built - but I'm not sure he has the goods to go all the way. Never say never, though.

The film takes obvious leads from "Saving Private Ryan," but also finds room to set its own rules in the midst of combat sequences. Sometimes this comes at the risk of storytelling, I must say.

More either on Monday or over the weekend with the full review.

Please take note Gerard is a blogger here now...

"The Blog" is no longer a singular voice. Gerard is on board with his own various ponderings.

So I've finally seen The Departed...

I honestly cannot remember feeling so exhiliarated at the end of a Martin Scorsese movie. This pulls you in from the first scene and doesn't let go. William Monahan obviously deserves credit for a riveting and spellbinding script (improving on the original) but this is the sort of movie that is in Scorsese's blood and he creates a cinematic experience that is rarely rivalled. People are saying it's his best since "Goodfellas". I'd one up that and say it's his best since "Last Temptation" (if I'm admittedly one of about five people on this earth who thinks "Goodfellas" is great yet not a masterpiece).

Jack, of course, owns all. Yet he does so without chewing scenery nearly as much as one would think. I find it incredible he waited so long to work with Scorsese. Yet the wait could not have been more worth it. Oh yeah...and the rest of the cast is damn fine as well.

On a final note, Michael Ballhaus and especially Thelma Schoonmaker are receiving immense acclaim for their cinematography and film editing. And deservedly so. Their work ranks among the best of the year. Yet Sandy Powell's costumes and Kristi Zea's production design are also superb. Both artists resisted the temptation to showboat yet ended up doing work that served the story, creating character and atmosphere. This is the sort of craft work that rarely gets awarded...and that's really too bad. At least their guilds will hopefully cite them.

October Winner Predictions

I think I'll give this a shot on a monthly basis. Here are September's predictions. This time I'm thinking:

Best Picture: "Dreamgirls"
Best Director: Bill Condon, "Dreamgirls"
Best Actor: Peter O'Toole, "Venus"
Best Actress: Helen Mirren, "The Queen"
Best Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy, "Dreamgirls"
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls"
Best Adapted Screenplay: "The Good German"
Best Original Screenplay: "Babel"
Best Art Direction: "Dreamgirls"
Best Cinematography: "Flags of Our Fathers"
Best Costume Design: "Marie Antoinette"
Best Film Editing: "Flags of Our Fathers"
Best Makeup: "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
Best Music - Original Score: "The Good German"
Best Music - Original Song: "Dreamgirls"
Best Sound: "Flags of Our Fathers"
Best Sound Editing: "Flags of Our Fathers"
Best Visual Effects: "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"

Terrible, I know...



October 03, 2006
Another Tuesday in La La Land

Lots going on around town tonight. "The Queen" had a premiere at the Academy, and the Arclight was jumping with the DVD release party for "Thank You for Smoking," fit with a screening and Q & A. Me? I was taking in "The Departed" for a second time, which was luckily at the Arclight, so I was able to hustle it upstairs for the Searchlight after-party.

I got a few words in with actor J.K. Simmons before he headed off to do his own thing. Refreshingly he says he steers clear of the business side of things. His agent calls him, tells him what he's got lined up, he goes there, does the work (which is always outstanding and singular). But basically, he'd rather be coaching baseball or soccer and hanging with his two kids. He's a really nice guy, with the iciest set of blue eyes you'll come across.

Anyway, "The Departed." Yeah. It still kicks ass. A lot of it. And the opening title card is so...awesome. You'll see. And this time around, a lead nod for Jack Nicholson really makes a LOT of sense. It didn't stick out to me before because I had supporting on the brain all year long like the rest of the pack, but a lead berth is coming more and more into focus. The case really is there to be made more than I initially thought, and, well, welcome to lucky 13 Jack.

Next week, more craziness. Finally seeing "Infamous" after, like, everyone else has seen the thing. "Running With Scissors" premieres at the Academy Tuesday, which should be fun. Oh, watch for a great "Tech Support" column from Gerard Thursday handicapping the cinematography race. Maybe a piece on screenwriter Jeremy Brock ("Driving Lessons," "The Last King of Scortland") will hit. Had lunch with him at the Beverly Wilshire last week and he's the coolest of the cool.

Just cruisin'...

Closing the gaps...

In a year with this many good films, the bad stuff is bound to surface. I should be cleaning my plate of some extremely negative reviews of "For Your Consideration" and "Marie Antoinette" in the coming weeks. A few straggler screenings to knock out first and I'll just hand it all off in a rush. But I have to say, Ms. Coppola REALLY missed the boat in her respective effort. Not so much that it grates the nerves and makes one want to disintegrate her existence or anything, but if I weren't fond of her to start with, things could easily have gone that way.

More later. Tonight - another helping of "The Departed!"

October 02, 2006
Re-addressing that "Lone Director" slot...

Diving back into one of my favorite phenomenons...I'm thinking Stephen Frears could make good on the major awards buzz for "The Queen" in the stead of a Best Picture berth. Beyond that, Kevin Macdonald's wonderful, textured work on "The Last King of Scotland" could appeal to the directors. Paul Greengrass is still in the hunt for his singular work on "United 93." Martin Scorsese could certainly fight his way through for his work on "The Departed," because face it, it's not a Best Picture film, no matter the buzz from legions of fawning critics. But I'd love to be proven wrong.

Elsewhere, Chris Nolan's "The Prestige" is still safely hidden away at Disney (who's seen it???), but maybe his genre work could land a spot. Alejandro Innaritu, should "Babel" miss in the big race (looking less likely each day), certainly has the chops. Pedro Almodovar also has a definite shot to repeat his lone director berth from 2002.

What else?