As 2006 draws to a close, it is striking that a modest number of films (as is typically the case in a given year) are so thematically potent, regardless of perceived success or failure otherwise, that they can be summed up in a single, solitary word. It takes a measured amount of focus to concentrate a work of art so specifically. Sometimes it goes toward the crafting of a fine film, other times peripheral aspects (performance, style, over ambition) can get in the way of moving beyond and to greatness. But at the center of each of the titles below remains a specific idea that permeates throughout, inhaling and exhaling through every pour of the mixture.
"Babel" - communication
"Breaking and Entering" - purpose
"Children of Men" - hope
"The Fountain" - inevitability
"Little Miss Sunshine" - dependance
"Miami Vice" - deception
"Shortbus" - fear
"Stranger than Fiction - altruism
"World Trade Center" - home
Anything from the crowd?
And yes, whoever's riding any sort of buzz wave currently is looking good, because most voters turn these things in quickly. But who exactly is looking good right now?
The freshest thing on people's minds are top ten lists and the Golden Globe nominations. Considering "The Departed" is landing the most top 10 mentions and the film had the second most HFPA nominations, I'd say Mark Wahlberg, for instance, is definitely making a play for that first Oscar nod. If voters can discern and Warner Bros. can make their case strong enough after flimsy campaigning, Leonardo DiCaprio can also secure his spot in the Best Actor five. But it'll be tough fighting off "Blood Diamond" votes, and how odd is that?
Emily Blunt has a definite edge going into the curve. Her film, "The Devil Wears Prada," received a Best Picture nomination from the HFPA and she, too, grabbed a nod for Best Supporting Actress.
"Dreamgirls" is the "it" film in release at the moment, so one can certainly assume it's still a nod juggernaut. But some of those places that once seemed secure still seem iffy after the HFPA snubbed Bill Condon both for writing and directing the film.
David Lynch's "Inland Empire" hasn't a snowball's chance in hell of getting some Academy recognition, but it's worth pointing out that the film has been receiving good critical approval including a decent number of top ten mentions.
We'll have a better gauge of these things when the guilds start to dish out nods. Those are, after all, the people who vote for Oscar.
You know, as much as critics like to harp on how Clint Eastwood makes films in that ole' timey vein, free of frills, built like they were in the golden years, "Rocky Balboa" is a premium example of the same. But what's more, it isn't calling attention to itself in that light. Everything about this film I loved (until the stylistically over-the-top fight scene). This is truly the sendoff this series, this character, deserved.
A great screening of "Babel" tonight for a packed WGA audience at the DGA (yes - FOR the WGA, AT the DGA - it can get confusing sometimes).
Moderating the Q&A with the gentle, unassuming and inspiring Guillermo Arriaga afterward was a real treat. And the audience reaction in the form of detailed, thoughtful questions was encouraging for the film as well. But Arriaga weathered brief queries about the collaboration with Alejandro Inarritu (their recent creative split being far too publicized as of late) and questions about artistic intent with the greatest of ease and the lightest of appropriate humor.
Listening to him describe his process of writing is like auditing a class on alternative script method. Arriaga seems to have the mind of an editor rather than a writer, taking an extremely organic approach to his material. Most interesting of all is the notion that he doesn't bother to create the final destination for his characters prior to sitting down and hammering out a screenplay. He lets his characters speak to him and take him where they may. When he manifests a character, he has no idea what will happen to him or her by the end of the story, and that's a special sort of creative bravery that I'm glad has found a place of consistency for Arriaga.
A good night all around. And boy was he swamped with admirers afterwards! Here's hoping we can get together for lunch before he leaves town this weekend. I'd certainly cherish another auditing session myself.
I was just doing some preliminary research on something totally unrelated to Oscar, and I was faced with some rather interesting information as a result.
Next year marks the tenth anniversary of the highest-grossing theatrical release of all time, James Cameron's "Titanic," which managed over $600 million in the U.S. alone. That was also the year George Lucas re-released his initial "Star Wars" trilogy, elevating the already astronomical tallies of those films and then some.
The top ten domestic grossers of all time now reads like a list of genre entries, sequel glut and Jesus, perhaps as a direct result of that landmark year of 1997. But prior to that, the list was a much different one indeed.
Here's what the top 10 domestic grossers would have looked like exactly ten years ago today (in parentheses you'll note each respective film's placement on today's chart):
01. "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" (Steven Spielberg, 1982) - $400 million (4)
02. "Jurassic Park" (Steven Spielberg, 1993) - $357 million (12)
03. "Forrest Gump" (Robert Zmeckis, 1994) - $329 million (15)
04. "Star Wars" (George Lucas, 1977) - $322 million (2)
05. "The Lion King" (Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff, 1994) - $312 million (16)
06. "Independence Day" (Roland Emmerich, 1996) - $306 million (21)
07. "Return of the Jedi" (Richard Marquand, 1983) - $263 million (20)
08. "The Empire Strikes Back" (Irvin Kershner, 1980) - $222 million (25)
09. "Home Alone" (Chris Columbus, 1990) - $285 million (27)
10. "Jaws" (Steven Spielberg, 1975) - $260 million (34)
and for good measure...
11. "Batman" (Tim Burton, 1989) - $251 million (36)
There's still plenty of genre fare, and of course, the "Star Wars" installments were always apparent, lending to the sequel discussion. But there's something so much fresher about this list than the on we've got today. Something much less spoon-fed, full of films audiences obviously went out and discovered, rather than being sold on them over and over again through advertising.
I'm not naive, of course. "Batman" owes pretty much its whole box office take to excessive marketing, for instance. But there was also something SMART about the marketing of old. The single image of a giant firewall destroying New York in initial trailers for "Independence Day" put butts in seats (to say nothing of a spaceship obliterating the White House). The ingenuity of comedy in "Home Alone" travelled via word-of-mouth until it was threatening $300 million in the U.S. alone. The whole buisness of film seemed much more in the background, though, than it is today. And I really have to say, I miss it.
This whole thing came about this evening when I purchased a DVD of "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" for ten bucks at the 7-11 up the street, to go along with my burrito and Hershey bar, of course. I seemed to recall a time when it was seriously just...about...the movies.
"Little Children"'s Jackie Earle Haley has launched a strong showing amongst the critcs' awards groups this month. I'm beginning to think he might actually slip into the final five with the Academy, "ick" factor or not. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Southeastern critics seem to have their fingers on the pulse of the Academy. Their supporting actor nominee has gone on to receive an Oscar nomination every single year since they started handing out kudos in 1994.
Just htining out loud...
This guy seems to be able to open everything, from action films to a romantic comedy to, now, a sentimental drama. A very impressive run indeed.
Now, I don't think "The Pursuit of Happyness" is any exemplary filmmaking by any stretch of the imagination but still...there seems to be something about Smith that people simply like. He possesses a genuine sincerity and charm that can permeate the different characters he plays. And call me sentimental but I think it's good that his films are rewarded for that.
In honor of "Babel"'s high-mark total of seven nods this morning, I've put in the screener to give another look. This really is one of the most well-realized films of the year, full of stellar performances, wonderful ideas and praise-worthy social commentary. Those with brows too high for their own good might strain to see pretension within its frames, but they'd be woefully misguided, in my opinion. Just because a film dares to be ambitious and goes places no other film will, or seemingly can, go, that doesn't mean it is guilty of being "pretentious," the most overused term in the community of artistic criticism.
A big congrats to Paramount Vantage and the team at Perception PR for running a smooth awards campaign so far and being quite obviously excited for their film.
Rinko. Night club. Earth, Wind and Fire's "September." One of the best scenes of the year.
Prior to Paul Haggis's snub last year, the last time the HFPA failed to nominate the director of the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner: 1989.
Prior to that? 1981.
Three times in 25 years.
Yeah, they're "irrelevant" and everything. But FYI.
(1989 and 1981 were incidentally the only two times in the last 25 years the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner was snubbed of BOTH director and screenplay nods with the HFPA.)
I just looked at one of WB's new sprawling FYC ads for "Letters from Iwo Jima" in today's Variety, with all contenders listed from to back. There was Ken Watanabe listed in the Best Actor category, and as for the rest of this ensemble that has already been praised by various critics? NOTHING. No Best Supporting Actor mentions for stand-outs Kazunari Ninomiya or Tsuyoshi Ihara. This is especially distressing for the foremer, who puts out one of the most understated and powerful supporting turns of the year.
Couple this with the wishy-washy campaign for the actors in "The Departed" - well - the category placement for Leonardo DiCaprio, in any case, and it's all just a bit unconscionable. If the studio can't even spend a little extra dime for a touch more copy and include two more names, we can't expect the Academy will sit up and take much notice either. Sorry, Mr. Ninomiya. You desrve attention. Hopefully you'll get it some day, and "Letters from Iwo Jima" will be remembered as the moment you arrived, as it should be.
The Honorary Oscar is going to Ennio Morricone. I cannot describe how happy this makes me feel. I can hardly think of a more deserving candidate (considering size, range and quality of filmmography) or a more inspired candidate (these always seem to go to directors or actors).
...I have to get it off my chest that the mention of "Borat" as a runner-up for the Documentary Award at the NYFCC was one of the most hysterical things I've seen in all my years of awardwatching. It still amuses me everytime I think about it.
And speaking of the Globes, I may as well post my predictions for the categories which weren't covered in the conversation with Kris (I've placed the order in which I'm confident of placement in brackets)...
Michael Arndt – Little Miss Sunshine (2)
Guillermo Arriaga – Babel (4)
Bill Condon – Dreamgirls (5)
William Monahan – The Departed (3)
Peter Morgan – The Queen (1)
Alternates: Todd Field, Tom Perotta – Little Children; Iris Yamashita – Letters from Iwo Jima
Alexandre Desplat – The Painted Veil (5)
Alexandre Desplat – The Queen (3)
Philip Glass – Notes on a Scandal (1)
Gustavo Santaolalla – Babel (2)
Hans Zimmer – The Da Vinci Code (4)
Alternates: Thomas Newman – The Good German; Clint Eastwood – Letters from Iwo Jima
(I’ll mention Craig Armstrong – who I also feel could place for "World Trade Center" – while I’m at it)
“A Father’s Way” – The Pursuit of Happyness (5)
“Listen” – Dreamgirls (1)
“Love You I Do” – Dreamgirls (4)
“Never Gonna Break My Faith” – Bobby (2)
“You Know My Name” – Casino Royale (3)
Alternates: “Ordinary Miracle” – Charlotte’s Web; “I Need to Wake Up” – An Inconvenient Truth
Foreign Language Film
Curse of the Golden Flower – China (5)
Letters from Iwo Jima – Japan (1)
The Lives of Others – Germany (3)
Pan’s Labyrinth – Mexico (4)
Volver – Spain (2)
Alternates: Apocalypto – United States; Water – Canada
Flushed Away (5)
Happy Feet (1)
Monster House (4)
Over the Hedge (3)
Alternates: Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, Open Season
A desperate need to catch up on sleep this morning left me catching the BFCA announcement all of ten minutes ago. And frankly, there isn't much to say. It's all fairly predictable. I'm glad someone has finally made a play for Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Departed." Rinko Kikuchi is tearing up the scene (she's in town this week too - I'm sure she's loving life at the moment). Why anyone would put "Blood Diamond" on a top ten list is beyond me. But Djimon Hounsou might need to be taken seriously after all...which is just odd. Etc. Etc. Bring on the Globes I suppose.
What the hell is wrong with this crowd for willfully snubbing Martin Scorsese and "The Departed?" There's no excuse, especially given their voting method, but whatever. I tend to consider the LA critics largely out to lunch. I actually overheard one of them say "we got her two roles by giving her the award last year, 'Breaking and Entering' and 'The Departed.'" I think that potentially sums up agenda right there. Let's make waves for no reason other than to make waves and be able to claim...something...at a later date.
ANYWAY, I was correct in predicting "Letters from Iwo Jima" for Best Picture, Helen Mirren for Best Actress (the steamroll continues), "Children of Men" for cinematography, "The Lives of Others" for foreign film and "Happy Feet" for animation. So I guess five ain't bad. And two more in the runner-ups.
I'm glad to see Paul Greengrass get some recognition here, and really, "United 93" had a giant boost today. But the fact of the matter is, it was off the map until this week. Now it's back on the map, and the struggle begins. We'll see what the HFPA, BFCA and Guilds think about the obviously-bound-for-critics-award effort before serious Oscar consideration comes back into play.
Today and tomorrow mark my favourite two awards of the season. And I must say I'm quite pleased with part one. Mirren and Whitaker continue to build their deserved tallies. Sasha Baron Cohen is a brilliant off the wall choice. Paul Greengrass got a much needed boost. His name is now out there. Another "wtf" choice is chosen in Gheorghiu (Vera Farmiga last year, anyone?) and one of our greatest cinematographers, Emmanuel Lubezki, now has a major critics award to add to his resume.
No mentions whatsoever for "The Departed" is somewhat diconcerting. But, hey, weird stuff happens.
What does this mean Oscar-wise? Trends will emerge soon enough. Though "The Queen" is helped immensely, "Letters" is obviously at the front of the pack (as if we didn't know that already) and Greengrass probably gets the biggest boost.
Bring on New York!
Here is the full list from Variety:
Picture: "Letters From Iwo Jima"
Runner-up: "The Queen"
Director: Paul Greengrass, "United 93"
Runner-up: Clint Eastwood, "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima"
Actor: Sacha Baron Cohen, "Borat" and Forest Whitaker, "The Last King of Scotland" (tie) (no runner-up)
Actress: Helen Mirren, "The Queen"
Runner-up: Penelope Cruz, "Volver"
Supporting actor: Michael Sheen, "The Queen"
Runner-up: Sergi Lopez, "Pan's Labyrinth"
Supporting actress: Luminita Gheorghiu, "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu"
Runner-up: Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls"
Screenplay: Peter Morgan, "The Queen"
Runner-up: Michael Arndt, "Little Miss Sunshine"
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, "Children of Men"
Runner-up: Tom Stern, "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima"
Production design: Eugenio Caballero, "Pan's Labyrinth"
Runner-up: Jim Clay and Geoffrey Kirkland, "Children of Men"
Music: Alexandre Desplat, "The Queen" and "The Painted Veil"
Runner-up: Thomas Newman, "The Good German" and "Little Children"
Foreign-language film: "The Lives of Others"
Documentary/non-fiction film: "An Inconvenient Truth"
Runner-up: "Darwin's Nightmare"
Animation: "Happy Feet"
Douglas Edwards experimental/independent film/video award: "Old Joy" (Kelly Reichardt) and "In Between Days" (So Yong Kim)
New generation award: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris (directors) and Michael Arndt (screenwriter), "Little Miss Sunshine"
Career achievement award (previously announced): Robert Mulligan
A nice column this week at Hollywood Wiretap, Pete Hammond goes out on a limb and tries to gauge where the Academy could stray from the generally agreed upon range. He's sticking flags in the ground for "An Inconvenient Truth," Daniel Craig, Jennifer Hudson (in lead), Emily Blunt, Michaels Caine and Gambon, and a double dip for The Clint. Check it out.
(And yes, Pete...I guess it is enough to give a Dreamgirl nightmares.)
With these critics awards coming down the pike, I really hope at least one group finds room to recognize Rian Johnson's "Brick," one of the best films of the year that I was only able to catch up with when it came to DVD. The film already has my personal award for Best Debut Feature. I only hope in the midst of awarding films like "The Lives of Others," "Half Nelson" and "Thank You for Smoking" that critics recognize this little gem, a triumph, and an exciting start to a likely vibrant filmmaking career.
According to this academy press release, there are 56 contenders in the race for that prestigious Original Song statuette.
Perhaps the most notable omission is the latest song of The Dixie Chicks for "Shut Up and Sing." I wasn't expecting a nomination though I wonder what it did to miss qualification.
I don't think a whole lot is changing as a result of this press release but I am curious to see how the Academy fares in their second year of choosing the Song nominees in this matter. Trends may begin to emerge.
And on a final note, "O Kazakhstan" would certainly make for an interesting performance.
Number of studios represented in top 10 list:
This is coupling Vantage with Paramount, Searchlight with Fox and Warner Independent with WB. What is noteworthy is the notion that has been floated for years about studios catering to the NBR. The long-running joke was "whoever spends the most money on catering wins Best Pic." Now, it is extremely peculiar to me that nearly all of WB's awards-hopeful product got a mention. If "The Good German" was on the list, forget about it. Just painting the picture here...
Last Best Picture Oscar Winner Not on NBR Top 10:
"The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
Granted this was just three years ago, but the NBR never included Jackson's films on their list, and we all knew the final installment was going to clean up in the big race that year for 365 days at least. The last example before that of this occuring was in 2001, when "A Beautiful Mind" missed. And before that, you have to go back to 1988 and "Rain Man" missing the list. So, it does happen, but it is nontheless striking that "The Queen" and "Dreamgirls," especially, missed the NBR's top ten list this year.
Only Screenplay Winner to Miss Out on an Oscar Nod:
"All the Pretty Horses" (2000)
Last Best Picture Winner to Win Best Picture Oscar:
"American Beauty" (1999)
Last Supporting Actor Winner to Miss Out on an Oscar Nod:
Philip Seymour Hoffman (1999) - CORRECTED FROM EARILER
Also, it seems that the Best Supporting Actress winner has a tough time translating that to an Oscar nomination. And the last three Best Actor NBR winners also won the Oscar.
As for my predictions, I correctly guessed five of the ten on the NBR's list and a mere three of the peripheral awards. Ouchie.
Anyway, all in all it was a kooky list from the NBR, and an interesting set of winners. The Warner Bros. love remains skeptical for me, but nonetheless, I think it's clear "Letters from Iwo Jima" is in the Best Picture hunt now.
Welcome to the 2006 Oscar season.
Best Picture: "Letters from Iwo Jima"
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, "The Departed"
Best Actor: Peter O'Toole, "Venus"
Best Actress: Helen Mirren, "The Queen"
Best Supporting Actor: Jack Nicholson, "The Departed"
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls"
Best Adapted Screenplay: "Letters from Iwo Jima"
Best Original Screenplay: "Little Miss Sunshine"
Best Art Direction: "Dreamgirls"
Best Cinematography: "Letters from Iwo Jima"
Best Costume Design: "Dreamgirls"
Best Film Editing: "Letters from Iwo Jima"
Best Makeup: "Apocalypto"
Best Music - Original Score: "Notes on a Scandal"
Best Music - Original Song: "An Inconvenient Truth"
Best Sound: "Dreamgirls"
Best Sound Editing: "Letters from Iwo Jima"
Best Visual Effects: "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
The two films everyone is waiting to hear about...
David Poland is hinting all over the place via blog entries and Gurus of Gold chart updates about his opinion on one film. The other one...well...I haven't been told I'm under embargo, but regardless, that doesn't mean I'm dying to write a full review and kill the film in question.
However, as a mover and shaker in this year's awards race, it's done for. Big ideas it has in spades, but at what feels like three hours long (I believe it's two hours forty minutes), the convolution tears at the seams of one's patience. A killer third act that seems to be another film entirely wasn't enough to save it. Drop it from your lists...
That's really all I care to say about it right now. And all of this doesn't mean the studio doesn't still have the best film of the year elsewhere in their stable to push for awards success (if they so choose).
Universal Pictures is apparently quoting me, re: "Children of Men" at the official site for the film. Interesting that they chose the brief "Bleak. Bold. Brilliant. Best." blurb I tossed up immediately following the screening rather than something more long-form from the full review. That could have been in reaction to any number of things! But hey, I know Mr. Moses at Uni dug that tid-bit, so much appreciation for the ink on the site, folks.
And speaking of it all, I watched the film again over the weekend on the small screen, and it plays pretty good outside of a bombastic theater. I was worried, but it still reeled me in as it did a few weeks back.
Hard to believe we're already here, no?
This can be an awfully random organization. They do try to make sure every studio is thrown a bone of some sort. I frankly don't like the group as much as the two coastal critics bodies nor do I find them as easy to predict.
Nevertheless, it’s fun trying to wonder what they’ll cook up.
So I’ll go out and guess…
"Babel", "Children of Men", "The Departed", "Dreamgirls", "Flags of Our Fathers", "Little Children", "Little Miss Sunshine", "World Trade Center"
Martin Scorsese – "The Departed"
Will Smith – "The Pursuit of Happyness"
Helen Mirren – "The Queen"
Eddie Murphy – "Dreamgirls"
Maggie Gyllenhaal – "World Trade Center"/"Stranger than Fiction"
"Little Miss Sunshine" – Michael Arndt
"Notes on a Scandal" – Patrick Marber
Ryan Gosling – "Half Nelson"
Jennifer Hudson – "Dreamgirls"
"An Inconvenient Truth"
"Volver" – Spain
Allen Coulter – "Hollywoodland"
He drops one of the usual "hints" today at The Hot Blog:
I am under embargo... but I just thought I'd offer anyone who gives a damn about the Oscars this thought...
As of this week, there is a very real chance that one of the "new" movies will grab one of the five Best Picture slots, kill off Babel, Little Children, and World Trade Center once and for all, and create a major dogfight between Little Miss Sunshine and The Pursuit of Happyness for the five slot.
So as much as I rail against lust for change for the sake of change... change still happens.
I could be wrong. A second viewing will answer that question more clearly. But as with Dreamgirls, if you feed The Academy a movie that allows them to do what they really want to do, most of the time, they will do it.
"Letters from Iwo Jima" screened last night for the BFCA and LAFCA, with Clint Eastwood there to play it up for all it's worth. So when David's Thursday column lands next week, watch for "Dreamgirls," "The Departed," "The Queen" and "Letters from Iwo Jima" to fill out his top four slots, with "Little Miss Sunshine" taking down #5. Basically -- the exact same chart I went with last Monday when I went out on a limb by placing "Letters" all over the place in my updated predictions.
I had a feeling this thing would come around and be a late entry powerhouse. The first word I heard on it was from Pete Hammond last week, who sang its praises and claimed "you might be right" of my expectations for the film's Oscar prospects. Now we get this and, with a ton of critics already tripping over themselves for "Flags of Our Fathers," expect even more to step up to bat for this, a likely critical darling this season.
...about watching a film as raw as "Apocalypto" in the old animation building of Disney studios. There were "Lion King" paintings on the walls in the hallway. In the screening room, hearts are being ripped out of chests. Trippy.
Someone needs to give Mel Gibson a hug, regardless.
The Liberal Party of Canada is choosing its new leader this weekend. So hope for the best, everyone. The Liberals are in power in Canada about 75% of the time (every one of their leaders since the 1880s has become Prince Minister) so they need to choose someone who can be a good Prime Minister and also knock out this current Conservative government.
Yet one of the principal four candidates to win this job is named, wait for it, "Gerard Kennedy". I hope he doesn't win; I might have to start using my middle initial all the time (and he's not the best candidate anyway).