‘We Bought a Zoo’ trailer

Posted by · 11:38 am · September 14th, 2011

Just in time to capitalize on Scarlett Johansson’s nude photo scandal (that was low, sorry), the trailer for Cameron Crowe’s latest, “We Bought a Zoo,” hits the web. The first half of this early glimpse really makes it look like a return to character study form for Crowe, while the second half lays on the heavy saccharine (I winced at “I like the animals, but I love the humans”). So the proof will be in the pudding, as they say, but Matt Damon looks to be giving a solid performance here and, well, I’ll try to remain positive. The last Crowe outing frankly took a lot out of me. Check out the trailer via Apple by clicking the image below, or watch an embed after the jump.

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Posted by · 10:07 am · September 14th, 2011

I’m elated to see that this morning’s news has been so warmly received, both by the readership here and behind the scenes in the industry. In Contention has been — as my quote mentions in the press release — a labor of love since I opened the doors (on an unassuming Blogspot domain) back in August of 2005. It was never intended to go where it went and its yearly growth and success has been heartening to say the least.

When HitFix CEO Jen Sargent asked me for that quote, by the way, I made it a point of mentioning our community here. Because rest assured, you’re all a very important part of HitFix’s decision to reach out to us. We share some overlap in audience, but they recognized this as a community alive and engaged, and something they were interested in adding to their pie. It’s win-win all around as we’ll be reaching a bigger audience with an array of new tools, and that exposure will obviously be a significant commodity going forward.

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Moverman’s expressive ‘Rampart’ offers tour de force performance from Woody Harrelson

Posted by · 8:26 am · September 14th, 2011

Oren Moverman’s “Rampart” is absolutely fantastic. Top to bottom, it’s a considerable directorial achievement, and an exciting, brazen departure from his excellent 2009 debut, “The Messenger.”

The film — from an original screenplay by James Ellroy, re-written by Moverman — uses the 1999 Los Angeles Police Department Rampart corruption scandal as a frame, a state of mind, a narrative hook, an atmosphere for conveying an intense, probing, yet curiously vague character study in the form of LAPD officer “Date Rape” Dave Brown (Woody Harrrelson).

“Date Rape” got his nickname from his own scandal, the murder of an alleged serial rapist, which he explains away at a bar with a casual, “I may or may not have done it but he’ll never hurt another woman again.” That gives you an idea where this guy is coming from. The world is black and white for him (or so he’d like it to be). But he’s haunted by its inherent grays.

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‘Le Havre’ tapped to represent Finland in foreign film race

Posted by · 7:52 am · September 14th, 2011

I finally caught up with Aki Kaurismaki’s “Le Havre” at Telluride two weeks ago. “I don’t count myself as the biggest Kaurismäki fan,” I wrote at the time, “but it’s very difficult to argue with the heart in this film. It should melt you a bit, if you have warm blood pumping through your veins.” I should also note, though, that André Wilms’s performance is sensational, and much of the film’s emotional undercurrent is owed to his work.

According to Variety, the film has now been chosen by Finland to represent the country in the best Foreign Language Film race:

“Le Havre,” directed, written and produced by Aki Kaurismaki, will rep Finland in the foreign-language film Oscar race…The pic was selected by a jury supervised by the Finnish Film Chamber. Jury members included actress, singer-songwriter Kaija Karkinen, director Aku Louhimies, producer Liisa Penttila and director-scriptwriter Ville Suhonen…The film had its world preem in the official selection of Cannes Film Festival, where it was awarded with the Fipresci prize and the special mention of the Ecumenical Jury. It also won best international film at the Munich Film Festival.

Onto the on-going list of titles it goes.

[Photo: Pandora Filmproduktion/Pyramide Productions/Sputnik/Yleisradio]

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Clooney on ‘Descendants’ at Telluride, with clips

Posted by · 7:40 am · September 14th, 2011

Via our new partners at HitFix, specifically Greg Ellwood’s Awards Campaign blog:

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9/14 OSCARWEB ROUND-UP: Plays storm the screen in Toronto, Liddell acquires ‘Killer Joe,’ Barker on Calley

Posted by · 7:30 am · September 14th, 2011

Michelle Kung writes up Toronto from the perspective of plays taking to the screen en masse, like Tracy Letts’s “Killer Joe”… [Speakeasy]

…which Liddell Entertainment, by the way, picked up at the fest. [Variety]

Sasha Stone on life after the 2011 fall festival circuit. [Awards Daily]

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InContention.com partners with HitFix

Posted by · 4:03 am · September 14th, 2011

I’m happy to forward the following exciting news via press release. I’ll get into the details of all of this later today, but for now…


LOS ANGELES, September 14, 2011HitFix, a leader in entertainment news, today announced a strategic partnership with film and awards season blog, In Contention. This mutually beneficial alliance will provide readers and Academy Members with multiple perspectives on compelling content about the upcoming awards season.

“By partnering with In Contention, HitFix is adding another strong voice to our already acclaimed team of Gregory Ellwood, Alan Sepinwall, Drew McWeeny, Melinda Newman and Dan Fienberg,” said CEO Jennifer Sargent. “The combination of Awards Campaign and In Contention makes HitFix the premier destination for anyone interested in awards season.”

InContention.com, spearheaded by Owner and Editor-in-Chief, Kristopher Tapley, is a premier film blog with an awards focus that provides unparalleled access and expert commentary about all aspects of Academy Season. HitFix.com’s Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Gregory Ellwood, currently pens Awards Campaign, a popular awards season blog that provides behind-the-scenes and in-depth analysis of Hollywood’s yearly strategic march to the Academy Awards. InContention.com, meanwhile, brings a distinctly unique voice and perspective on awards season, as well as invaluable insights from festivals and industry events throughout the year. Combined, the two blogs cover every angle, providing the best and most accurate up-to-date awards coverage.

“It’s so very gratifying to see my six-year labor of love plugged into an impressive infrastructure like HitFix,” Tapley said. “In Contention has always been about establishing a conversation throughout the awards season, with fans and industry insiders alike, and as a part of HitFix, that conversation will only grow. I look forward to tapping an even wider audience and bringing the In Contention community into this new and exciting phase.”

“Kris and his longtime contributor Guy Lodge are smart and insightful pundits who are respected throughout the industry. I’m incredibly excited to have their cinematic opinions incorporated into the HitFix mix,” Ellwood said. “This partnership will make HitFix the premier destination for awards season coverage online.”

In Contention was founded by Kristopher Tapley in 2005. Formerly a seasonal outlet purely focused on the Oscar race, the site bridged the gap with consistent off-season commentary and industry coverage in early 2008 after exclusively covering the film awards season for three years on the web. Regular contributors include Guy Lodge and Gerard Kennedy.

About HitFix
Profiled in BusinessWeek as one of “America’s Most Promising Start-ups,” Los Angeles-based HitFix brings the world of entertainment news and events to discerning fans that prefer entertainment journalism and events to celebrity scandal. The site reaches more than 2 million unique users each month and is designed for an 18-34 year old demographic. HitFix calls on the talents of renowned entertainment commentators and journalists such as Alan Sepinwall, Drew McWeeny, Daniel Fienberg and Melinda Newman to produce wide-ranging news, interviews and commentary on all aspects of entertainment. For more information visit www.HitFix.com, www.facebook.com/hitfix, www.twitter.com/hitfix or www.youtube.com/hitfix.

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The writing shines in dense and rewarding ‘Moneyball’

Posted by · 11:53 am · September 13th, 2011

Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball” is a tightly constructed piece of work, thematically layered, rich in substance, hard work from two of the best writers in the business clearly evident. And the last thing it is is a sports movie.

The film is about so much. It’s a David vs. Goliath story of changing the status quo. It’s a journey through the hardship of self-confidence. Most importantly, though, for me, it’s a story about the quest for the unattainable being the reward.

Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, a former hot baseball prospect out of high school who passed on a Stanford scholarship for a chance to go pro. He was smooth-talked by scouts who knew, with every fiber of their being, that this guy had what it took. And anyone in their right mind would have paid handsomely for him to come to their team and prove them right. But Beane’s journey through the sport became one of understanding that no one knows anything about another man’s destiny.

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9/13 OSCARWEB ROUND-UP: Madonna in Toronto, SPC’s would-be ‘Shame’ plan, Clooney overexposed?

Posted by · 9:12 am · September 13th, 2011

Michael Cieply reports from the “W.E.” press conference in Toronto, where Madonna is doing slightly better than she did over in Venice. [Arts Beat]

Speaking of Toronto, Tilda Swinton keeps hitting the press rounds at the fest. [Speakeasy]

Pete Hammond hears that Sony Classics wanted to lay the groundwork for a Michael Fassbender win next year in “Shame” (had they acquired it) by pushing “A Dangerous Method” ahead of it this year. I’m not sure that would have worked out. [Deadline]

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Why there’s no Gosling “dilemma”

Posted by · 6:40 am · September 13th, 2011

Kris wrote a thorough piece yesterday on the vast number of hard-working actors this year who seem to have two or more dogs in the Oscar hunt — one to which many of you responded with even more names to add to the conversation.

In many cases, talk drifted away from serious awards potential and toward the less unusual occurrence of actors who simply had more than one film out this year: lord knows we all love Marisa Tomei, but nobody’s pretending she has more than a 0-for-2 shot at a nomination this time round.

The name that everyone seems to be zeroing in on, however, is Hollywood’s current man of the hour, Ryan Gosling: with three prominent films to go with his endless portfolio of magazine covers, style-page paeans and blogosphere valentines, many are quick to assume the Academy will naturally fall in line, despite (or, some will reason, because of) their failure to acknowledge his career-best turn in last year’s “Blue Valentine.”

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Wenders on why ‘Pina’ needs 3D

Posted by · 5:22 am · September 13th, 2011

Since seeing the film in February, I’ve been something of a broken record saying that Wim Wenders’s marvellous performance film “Pina” — which has been drawing rave responses at Toronto, and was recently submitted as Germany’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar — single-handedly restates the case for 3D, a technology that any number of recent Hollywood blockbusters have tarnished somewhat.

While even the most well-executed 3D narrative films have hardly depended on the gimmick for anything more than bonus effect, 3D actively enhances the audience’s understanding of the subject in “Pina,” where movement patterns and spatial deconstruction in the late Pina Bausch’s choreography are brought to the fore, replicating the immediacy and interactivity of live performance.

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Mark Harris joins the discussion with fringe lead actor picks

Posted by · 10:26 pm · September 12th, 2011

Two years ago author and journalist Mark Harris wrote what I think is one of the most salient Oscar season observances ever squeezed out of this unnecessary corner of the web. I always look to him for one of the most above-the-fray, but smart and informed, perspectives on a given season. And this piece over at Grantland is a great example, too.

He reduces these early days of the awards season to the echo-chamber they’ve come to represent. And I don’t count myself out of the insanity he cuts everything down to with this precise paragraph:

If you’re like most moviegoers, or most Academy voters, you don’t attend any of these festivals. So “buzz” is really code for a two-way conversation conducted between a handful of awards handicappers eager to anoint or dismiss potential contenders, and a handful of studio publicists and independent firms who are listening for the dog-whistle frequency that tells them that somebody thinks their movie might be in the running.

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Tailoring ‘Tailor’

Posted by · 5:56 pm · September 12th, 2011

One craft aspect I didn’t get around to praising in last week’s review of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is the immaculate costuming by Jacqueline Durran — a designer with only 11 feature credits under her belt, yet one who already seems something of an institution.

Durran is one of those rare designers capable of equal deftness and creativity in period and contemporary work: her reputation will likely forever rest on that green evening gown from “Atonement,” but she was also responsible for the highly idiosyncratic thrift-store ensembles worn by Sally Hawkins in “Happy-Go-Lucky.” (Indeed, she’s been a loyal member of Mike Leigh’s crew for the last decade.)

Her male-centric work on “Tinker, Tailor,” meanwhile, falls somewhere in between. Set in 1973, the film is a highly specific period piece, but one whose costumes call for the subtle character focus and practicality of her modern-day work. The gentlemen’s game of British espionage calls for some dapper suiting, and the film is every bit as stylishly dressed as you’d expect one that thanks Sir Paul Smith first in its closing credits to be.

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‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ US trailer

Posted by · 11:49 am · September 12th, 2011

I’m hoping to see Tomas Alfredson’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” soon-ish. It has a solid track out of Venice for a spot as the thinking man’s Best Picture play (especially considering the British vote). The US trailer sets up the intrigue nicely for those on these shores, nevertheless opting to go back to the international teaser and that awesome music from Danny Elfman’s score for “The Wolfman” at the top. Lots more Tom Hardy, too. Check it out via Yahoo! Movies by clicking the image below, or watch an embed after the jump.

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OFF THE CARPET: Strong year for double-dippers

Posted by · 8:58 am · September 12th, 2011

We find ourselves right in the middle of the big Toronto press junket, er, film festival, where 200-plus films are landing, many of them as world premieres, and the landscape of this year’s Oscar race is really beginning to take shape.

As I looked out at the various films in play this year, it suddenly occurred to me that, perhaps more than ever, there are a lot of double-dipping actors and actresses in the hunt. Not all of these performances are or will be awards bait necessarily, but there could still be cases for more than a few saddling up to dual nominations this year.

At the top of that list would have to be Brad Pitt. After already giving what many believed to be his best performance to date in Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” the paparazzi-hounded star found himself the recipient of a lot of great ink for his work in “Moneyball” when it screened in Toronto at the end of the week. Wisely, Fox Searchlight will be planning a supporting actor push for the actor in Malick’s film, which is both practical (given his clear lead in the other film), and organic (given that, at least in my opinion, he is supporting to Hunter McCracken’s lead in “The Tree of Life”).

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Iran’s ‘A Separation’ latest to enter Oscar race

Posted by · 8:15 am · September 12th, 2011

I’d say this was a no-brainer, but one should never underestimate the ability of countries to shoot themselves in the foot when selecting their submissions for the foreign-language Oscar. Happily, Iran has done no such thing, picking Asghar Farhadi’s critically beloved festival sensation “A Separation” as their pony this year.

It’s a choice that I suspect will pay off handsomely. I’ll be astonished if the film doesn’t at least make the January shortlist — it should play well enough with general voters, but the executive committee should swoop in if it doesn’t. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine this smart, humanistic marital drama going all the way to the podium, particularly with Sony Pictures Classics — unmatched campaigners in this category — steering the film.

Ecstatic critical notices at Toronto and Telluride (Kris’s take here) are merely the newest feather in the film’s cap: it already nabbed the Golden Bear (plus Best Actor and Actress) at February’s Berlin fest, and was released to a shower of acclaim in the UK this summer. If the buzz continues to build for this late-December release, could Sony even angle for extra attention in the highly pliable Best Original Screenplay category? A far-fetched suggestion, perhaps, but I wonder.

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9/12 OSCARWEB ROUND-UP: Clooney on self-competition, Woodley ready for her close-up, genre movies at the Oscars

Posted by · 8:03 am · September 12th, 2011

Bill Desowitz calls “The Lion King 3D,” which hits theaters Friday, “a noteworthy achievement for post-converting hand-drawn animation.” Agreed. He also talks to those responsible for it. [Thompson on Hollywood]

Clooney: Clooney vs. Cooney just hype. [Variety]

Shailene Woodley, meanwhile, is ready for her close-up in Toronto. [The Guardian]

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Toronto reception takes ‘360’ back to zero

Posted by · 6:10 am · September 12th, 2011

The warning signs were there for “360.” An umpteenth reworking of “La Ronde” didn’t seem an obvious fit for either Fernando Meirelles or Peter Morgan — a pretty dispassionate writer even on his best form, he came badly unstuck last year when he veered from his fact-based template with “Hereafter.”

Meirelles, too, is seeking to bounce back from a flop (2008’s “Blindness,” in case you’ve forgotten), and ensemble members Anthony Hopkins and Jude Law have of late been unreliable indicators of quality.

Interest in the film seemed to hover mainly in how it might serve Rachel Weisz, whose multiple lead roles this year — including an acclaimed turn in “The Whistleblower” and a buzzy one in “The Deep Blue Sea” — have many wondering if a second Oscar nod could be on the cards. It might be, but tepid reviews following the film’s premiere suggest it won’t be for “360.”

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