Universal Pictures and Focus Features celebrate anniversaries in 2012

Posted by · 8:57 pm · March 1st, 2012

It looks like 2012 is going to be a big year for studio anniversaries. We’ve already talked about Paramount’s centennial celebration, which was rung in with a classy screening of 1927 inaugural Best Picture winner “Wings” at the Academy in January, as well as a new iPad app putting the studio’s classic output on a pedestal.

Also celebrating this year are Universal Pictures (getting 100 spankings like Paramount) and subsidiary Focus Features (marking its tenth year). Like Paramount, Universal has unveiled a new logo trailer for its films (see below) and started a stream of restoration Blu-ray releases that makes the mouth water. (Drew McWeeny is all over it.)

Focus, meanwhile, has released a tribute package of great performances in the company’s films over the years, including those from Oscar winners Rachel Weisz (“The Constant Gardener”), Sean Penn (“Milk”) and Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”) and Oscar nominees Julianne Moore (“Far From Heaven”), Heath Ledger (“Brokeback Mountain”) and Viggo Mortensen (“Eastern Promises”).

Curiously there’s no mention of the company’s big coming out, Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist,” which brought the company three big, surprising Oscar wins in Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Actor. Adrien Brody’s performance in the film is, to me, the jewel in Focus’s crown.

I thought I’d use it as an opportunity to scan back across the last decade and pinpoint my favorite performances. Of course, those spotlighted are inarguable, but I’d have to point out Sean Penn’s best performance of 2003, from “21 Grams,” as well as pretty much that entire film’s cast. Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson in “Lost in Translation” also go without saying, while other Oscar-nominated performers like Kate Winslet (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), Jake Gyllenhaal & Michelle Williams (“Brokeback Mountain”), Keira Knightley (“Pride & Prejudice”), Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”) and Gary Oldman (“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) would have to be included in this conversation.

However, I do find my favorite performances from the company’s stable lying outside the awarded spectrum. I think of Ben Affleck’s pleasantly surprising turn as George Reeves in Allen Coulter’s “Hollywoodland,” the film that really seemed to resurrect his mojo. The dark comedic stylings of Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleeson in Martin McDonagh’s “In Bruges” emboss the stable’s tendency toward comedic diversity (also evident in “Brick,” “Broken Flowers,” “The Ice Harvest” and “Shaun of the Dead”). And both Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna brought something special in Walter Salles’s “The Motorcycle Diaries.”

I have three favorites, though, and those are refined and penetrating performances from Tang Wei (“Lust, Caution”), Jeff Bridges (“The Door in the Floor”) and Jim Carrey (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”). Each of those would rank considerably high on a personal consideration of the decade’s best performances, in fact.

I was happy to see Focus find itself from the remnants of strong indie companies like Polygram and October Films, the short-lived USA Films, etc. And when you look back at this decade, it’s pretty dense with quality. James Schamus and company should be (and no doubt are) very proud.

A Best Picture prize has eluded the company so far, though. They were *this* close with “Brokeback Mountain” (and, presumably, “The Pianist”). It took fellow studio dependent Fox Searchlight 13 years to get there with “Slumdog Millionaire.” Maybe Focus’s day is coming in the near future.

One to keep an eye on for 2012 is Roger Michell’s “Hyde Park on Hudson,” featuring Bill Murray as FDR. Everyone from Laura Linney to Olivia Williams to Olivia Colman could pop up in a theoretical supporting actress race. Joe Wright’s Tom Stoppard-scripted “Anna Karenina” could also be a player, with performances from Keira Knightley and Jude Law.

But we won’t go there just yet.

And where do you even start with Universal? “Double Indemnity,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Touch of Evil,” “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” the classic movie monsters, just as a quick and varied cross-section of some personal favorites. That new “Deer Hunter” Blu-ray should be arriving tomorrow. You can learn more about all that at www.universal100.com.

After “Bridesmaids” success in 2011, Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” follow-up “Les Misérables” is on the way from the studio this year, as well as Judd Apatow’s sure-to-be-too-long “This is 40.”

Check out a trailer celebrating the anniversary below, followed by that updated logo intro and then the Focus Features performance tribute reel (courtesy of Thompson on Hollywood).

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VUFefkVVuA&w=640&h=360]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Pd9n75wZNU&w=640&h=360]

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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