Sideways is a perfect film.  The more you watch it the more of itself it reveals.  It is a story of a greatly flawed man who clatters selfishly forward — his book, his breakup, his misery.  If he is given any redemption by the film’s end it’s because he comes to terms with being an asshole.  But The Descendants is about more than one’s own personal journey of self-discovery; it is about selflessness, and how most of us are really here not to polish our own knobs 24/7 but to look out for others, especially those we’re responsible for, those we’re leaving behind.

I loved this film.

One must be cautious this time of year not to spill over with enthusiasm only to see a truly wonderful film such as this deflate during awards season for every reason except the only right one — that it isn’t good enough. It’s plenty good enough. But that might not stop people from wanting to hate it (in the end, we’re fairly petty creatures, truth be told).  Although it’s positioned as a major Oscar contender, and from the looks of it, it should meet those expectations, it is a movie that can thankfully transcend the need for validation from those 6,000 voting members.

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The idea to drive into Albuquerque and make the nearly six hour drive to Telluride turned out to be a good one by my travel mate, Jeff Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere.com.  At first it seemed like the way to go was to wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am it and fly in just for the film fest.  But to know a place, to fall in love with a place, it is sometimes necessary, advisable even, to take a different route than everyone else might take.  The work is the work, but the place is the place. And when it comes to Telluride, Colorado, and all of the magnificent landscape that surrounds it, a broader view is the way to go.  I will admit fully, though, that as a “Telluride virgin” perhaps I don’t know what I’m talking about.  I’ll take that chance.

New Mexico was covered with a swatch of moisture-soaked clouds threatening to rain and every now and then letting some raindrops go – in bursts sometimes.  Every once in a while there’d be an ominous flash of lightning splitting the flat horizon line, darkening as we headed toward Durango.  We would make it to our hotel by 11pm, a full hour earlier than expected, careful to avoid the many cop cars which were pulling people over right and left, looking an awful lot like immigrant purging but one brings one’s liberal agenda with them everywhere.

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Jeff Wells went down the Best Picture rabbit hole, riffing on Guy Lodge’s piece at In Contention.

The movies Guy has chosen as the best bets — he stipulates that this is mostly just for fun — are:

The Artist
The Descendants
The Ides of March
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
The Tree of Life
War Horse

I think it’s a pretty good, for the most part, though I’m firmly against the notion of choosing films as best bets before they’ve been seen. After twelve years of this I know without a shred of doubt that you can’t count your chickens before they hatched. Oh, if only you could. So many great projects would be Best Picture winners. Usually, a Best Picture winner, or even a nominee, comes not out of its designated ambition of being such, but of its own greatness. One hopes, anyway. The Artist and Tree of Life are the only two that can be considered at this point because they’ve been seen. The only film I think right now that is a sure bet is Woody’s Midnight in Paris.

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Relativity Media’s Machine Gun Preacher just sent out a first look pic – which by now has hit every website known to man.  But the web is so hungry for any real news of movies that don’t involve super hero costumes that they’re soak it all up like a dry sponge.  Machine Gun Preacher  is a true story about Sam Childers, a former drug-dealing criminal who undergoes a transformation and becomes the founder of Angels of East Africa rescue organization.  The film is directed by Marc Forster.    What think we?  Mr. Butler on the road to a nom?

Riding high off of last year’s The King’s Speech, which became the first movie in a while to do Toronto before Oscar and still win (although it followed the similar pattern of Slumdog Millionaire which snowballed from Telluride, to Toronto, to Oscar, to …). A weepy that makes them stand on their feet works anywhere you show it first but Toronto was kind of hit and miss. Suddenly, after last year, it feels like how the Oscar race used to run.

This morning, a few titles have been announced — Venice announces Thursday and there is some crossover. For Toronto, according to Steve Pond over at The Wrap, George Clooney’s The Ides of March, Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, and Madonna’s W.E., which will be ushered in by the Weinstein Co. and tells the flipside story of The King’s Speech — now that the Tom Hooper movie made a villain of Wallis Simpson Madonna is back to give the notorious woman a makeover. Pond also notes that the fest will open Davis Guggenheim’s U2 doc, From the Sky Down after the success of the Bruce Springsteen doc last year. Fist pumping bloggers, here they come.

Moneyball (Brad Pitt, directed by Bennett Miller), and Alexander Payne’s The Descendents will be joined by Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz (named after a Leonard Cohen song…)

Here is the list–

Opening Night:


“From the Sky Down,” Davis Guggenheim

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Spotted: Werner Herzog holding court with a gaggle of Comic-Con beauties. What is he doing here? Just looking around.

The NY Times’ story on Herzog Herzog:

“I have never seen the collective dreams all in one place,” said Mr. Herzog, who claims to have expected men in suits — business suits — when he heard the term “convention.” Mr. Herzog was being guided through the heart of darkness by Erik Nelson, a producer with whom he often works. Mr. Nelson is here on business — on Friday evening, he is scheduled to appear on a panel explaining “Dinosaur Revolution,” a planned Discovery Channel series that promises “an insider’s view of the private lives and strange behavior of dinosaurs,” according to the official Comic-Con program guide.

Mr. Herzog, meanwhile, was absorbing the Breughel-like atmospherics, while taking a break from his own next project with Mr. Nelson, a death row documentary. It is so intense, he said, it has caused him to start smoking again.

“Not a lot, just sometimes,” said Mr. Herzog. “I can only work on this for five hours at a time. I’m usually an eight-hour guy.”

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It is easy, as was recently done on Twitter, to dismiss Harry Potter’s Best Picture chances.  If the process was run the way last year’s votes were handled — the clusterfuck that was 2010 — Harry Potter would have a great chance at finally getting a Best Picture nomination after seven successful films of the beloved and revolutionary JK Rowling book series.  But now, things have evolved once more so that there is no need to fill up ten slots with films that the Academy members don’t deem worthy just for the sake of having ten.  2009 would have been, for example, a better year for ten slots than last year.  However, last year’s slate was one of the best Best Picture lineups the AMPAS has ever seen in any year.

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I heard two things about Meryl Streep today. The first, I received two DMs from @dialmformovies. He said that Meryl Streep has never presented a competitive Oscar – which is interesting. He then followed it by saying not since 1990 has a woman given out the Best Pic prize. Also interesting.

Meanwhile, Sean Fergus sent in a rebuttal to Pete Hammond’s assertion that Meryl Streep in Iron Lady is the defacto frontrunner for the Best Actress prize. Pete posted an exclusive today that Glenn Close is the one who might be winning this year (FINALLY).  Says Pete:

It appears Glenn Close may be shaking up the Best Actress Oscar race this year. Today’s announcement that Roadside Attractions and Liddell Entertainment have acquired all U.S. rights to Albert Nobbs, in which Close plays a woman passing as a man in order to survive in 19th century Dublin, and plan a fall release and likely Oscar campaign adds a bit of drama to 2011’s budding Academy race. Meryl Streep, a two-time winner and 16-time nominee, is the presumed front-runner as Margaret Thatcher in the Weinstein Company’s The Iron Lady. Streep hasn’t won since 1982, and many think (sight unseen) that Thatcher could be her ticket back to the winner’s circle. Ironically, that was also the year Close received the first of her five nominations (for her first film, The World According To Garp) in a remarkable run between 1982 and 1988 when she received her last nod for Dangerous Liaisons. Of course she’s won Tonys and Emmys, but the Oscar has famously eluded her.

Sean Flynn argues with the idea that Streep otherwise has the Oscar in the bag:

I did some research on 2nd lead Oscar wins – and basically, virtually never does someone win one unless his/her film is a best picture nominee, and has a director of awards stature (either previous nominee or at the latest at the time of the race).

I have other doubts about Iron Lady – Thatcher is not a sympathetic figure that much to Academy members (particularly the Brits), but if it is an unsympathetic portrayal, what will the audience be? (Think of Tom Hanks playing Reagan – would he be an automatic favorite?)
2nd time winners for best lead acting, status of film in BP race:

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David Cronenberg started making movies before the Oscar machine morphed into what it is today.  There have always been great movies and “Oscar movies” and the market for “Oscar movies” has always existed.  But there was a time that I can actually remember, back in the 1980s for instance, when great directors were celebrated for their work and no one cared whether they won an Oscar or not.  Or maybe I should say, I never cared.  It felt good not caring.

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Pete Hammond interviews David Carr and the LA Times’ Jim Rainey

If Microsoft never saw the internet coming, and Google never saw Facebook coming, and Facebook never saw Twitter coming, it is chilling to imagine what newspaper publishers never saw coming: all of the above.  The movement towards “citizen journalism” coincided with the movement towards “reality TV,” as we find ourselves in an age of self-made stars, writers, bloggers, photographers, YouTube stars, chefs, and anything else you can imagine: it was, to a degree, a cultural mutiny, an insignificant revolution where the mob rose up and decided to take their entertainment into their own hands.

The reaction to this has been divisive.  Some just don’t want to know – as in, they don’t want to accept the reality of the shift. They disdain Facebook, Twitter and bloggers.  They don’t even turn on the television anymore.  They will hold steadfastly to what came before.  There are those who embrace the new, as monstrous and repulsive as it can sometimes be, while also being refreshing and visionary at times.  And there are those who actively try to attack so-called “new media.”  They will dismiss the way people communicate now as one grand “hall of mirrors,” where we massage our narcissism on a daily basis.  All of these reactions are fair.  We must try to understand how the world has changed.

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Sony Pictures Classics announced today that they have increased MIDNIGHT IN PARIS’ theater count to 1, 038 screens, which marks the widest release of  any  Woody Allen film. The film has earned over $16 million dollars to date, so went today’s press release for the film.

Midnight in Paris is successful, I think, not just because it has big stars in it but because, for the first time in many years, a Woody Allen movie has good word of mouth.  Why is it so good?  It isn’t particularly great.  But somehow whatever it has just works really well.  The seemingly accidental casting of Owen Wilson does wonders to kickstart Woody’s character template recasting him not as a neurotic intellectual who needs to be pulled out of his shell to become a living, breathing human (usually at the behest of a underage girl) but as a dreamer – someone who takes the dialogue and dances with rather than wrestles it to the ground.  And he never tries to sound like Woody Allen either.  He sounds like Owen Wilson and somehow that works.

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The AMPAS rocked the Oscar blogging world …cough cough, sputter sputter.  Let’s start that again.  The mildly interesting news announced overnight that the AMPAS has decided that they will not be beholden to a solid number of ten Best Picture nominees.   And will instead choose an arbitrary number.  It could be somewhere between five and ten.

The truth that those of us who have been following them for these many years know that the Oscar race is a game.  It’s a game of winners and losers.  It’s a game of very astute publicists, popular stars, good looks, the occasional naked lady, and a lot of people whose greatest moments of revolutionary thinking happened back in the 1970s.  They can keep tinkering with the plumbing but it’s never going to make the shit not stink.  Nevertheless, there is some maybe interesting fallout from this and that’s their loose admission here that picking ten, for them, was probably a mistake.

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Last year, Melissa Leo famously took out those ads for herself, showing her to be ONE CLASSY DAME.  I loved what she did for two reasons. The first, it exposed all of the hypocrites who pretend that winning Oscars is only about the performance, and two, it was the funniest thing ever.  She didn’t need to take out those ads and glory be that she won that Oscar anyway.

Now Pee-Wee Herman is at the same game and has decided to take his cue from Melissa Leo for his Emmy ad:

(see Pee-Wee in all his full-length fur glory, after the cut)

It begs the question, since Leo won the Oscar anyway, how many others might follow suit, either in a humorous way, or a serious way.  Back in the early days of Oscarwatch we used to post fan-made ads — it was always so fun to build those.  Source: EW

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Peter over at AwardsCorner has done a fairly exhaustive rundown of Best Picture contenders and all I want to do is sharpie all over it. But I think it’s a good starting place. You might be able to just work with the first section he has up called “Potential Frontrunners.” I will list them here and provide some commentary without sounding like too much of a defeatist.

When the hype comes from a film sight unseen one is only asking for trouble. Or so I have learned from these many years watching this race.

So it is with a bit of disappointment that I report the news that the web is seeing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as the defacto frontrunner. To this I say: why? All that can do is set the film up for unrealistic expectations (maybe it will get a nomination out of all of that hype) — but moreoever, it guarantees that the film will not BE the frontrunner simply because people are putting it in that place now, before anyone has seen it, based on the trailer and it being Fincher, etc.

But I see now that many people ARE putting it there now, so it’s not surprising that Peter has chosen to do so also.

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Can the Tree of Life go all the way to Oscar’s Big Ten?  It’s a tough one, and ultimately a little depressing to think about in all honesty.  Coming out of the Cannes Film Fest, it seems that the year’s best films would be selected over the course of the year until the very best remain.  But we know that it doesn’t really work that way because “best” is a matter of taste.  You have to choose films that will appeal to the most voters.  Since they vote in the dark and there are no consequences to their own decisions, most don’t care what anyone thinks about the films they choose: they simply vote for what they like best.

Tree of Life

Whether a film just won the Palme d’Or, or whether the critics hail it as a masterpiece doesn’t necessarily mean that industry voters will go that way.  The Tree of Life is more esoteric than industry voters can usually handle.  They tend to vote for films that have a plot, at the very least.  On the other hand, this is Terrence Malick we’re talking about – someone who is revered by major players in this industry, many of whom name him as a major influence.  It was no less a shock to the system last year to see the industry snub such a critically acclaimed director as David Fincher (no director in history has ever lost the DGA heading into the race with that kind of acclaim) but Fincher and Malick are two different animals. Fincher represents the new – digital filmmaking, the video age – he carries around an iPad.  Malick represents the nuts-and-bolts glory days of filmmaking — and has long since paid his dues, proved his longevity and earned his acclaim over time.  But there is still the matter of “if we didn’t like it we won’t vote for it” to contend with – as every year the Academy must attempt to represent the best of the year while using judging criteria that relies on unreliable  human emotions; crushes, love and lust don’t last for the long haul.  But they’re unstoppable in the moment.

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It’s only been five days and already I feel like a resident of the seaside community of Juan-Les-Pins. In my fantasy, I’m someone who lives outside of Cannes but commutes into work every day. I wake up around 5am, drink my Starbucks instant, which I heat in a mini electric kettle, take my shower with my sweet smelling French shampoo, am dressed and out the door by 7:15am, giving me more than enough time to make my way leisurely down to the Palais du Festival. One of the problems I must confront every day is where to park.

Imagine paying $20 a day to park and go to work. That is what it is like parking in the public garages here. You can take your chances on the street but you never know if you’re going to get a ticket or, god forbid, towed.

To truth of it is, any person with common sense would never rent a car to work the Cannes film festival. You either find a place in town or else you take the train or the bus. But I have no common sense, notoriously. That is why I am paying for a rental car, the rental car insurance (almost more than the car itself), the gas and on many days, the parking. The only reason I’m renting a car, other than sheer stupidity, is that my daughter is staying with me and I need to be able to get to her if I have to. So I’ll pay through the nose for peace of mind.

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Some Mother’s Son: We Need to Talk About Kevin

So many times now we’ve had to endure another tragic news story Рsome disgruntled teen has shot the whole school down and then killed himself.  Sympathy goes to the victims and their parents, as well it should. Hatred and blame have to go somewhere, especially when the shooter has taken his own life.  The first thought on everyone’s mind is always “what kind of a mother could raise such a monster?”

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The weather is unusually sunny this year in Cannes, which means that if you’re hurrying to a screening with your heavy computer bag, your badge flapping up and down on your chest, your feet long since blistered by your shoes, you’re bound to be sweatier than usual. Even those who never sweat turn up sweaty at screenings.

But to wait a full hour in line and be turned away at a screening can cause even the coolest among us to despair. This was why I decided to squirrel up my courage and talk to the press office about my yellow badge. I’d been told that if you make a good enough case they’re “look at your file,” which means they’re reconsider your application. In my case, I’d gotten a bump by doing some freelance reporting and reviews for The Wrap, which did change my application status. After a long, heated debate with a very pretty, poker faced woman wherein I invoked the French Revolution, I was informed that they would have a decision for me in the morning.

Since I’ve been driving back and forth from Juan-Les-Pins to Cannes, I’ve come to know the backstreets quite well. I’ve learned, for instance, that the French people here, except in Cannes, shut their doors, turn out their lights and head to bed around 9:30pm. If you’re in need of dinner your choices are going to be fairly limited.

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One of the best things about the two prominent film critics at the New York Times, AO Scott and Manohla Dargis, isn’t necessarily their take on new releases, although that’s certainly valuable, though often frustrating — and I don’t think it’s their Q&As particularly, at least not the way they do them now — and they don’t really dig into film discussion the way most movie bloggers do – which puts The Times at a disadvantage, I think: they really need a couple of hard core movie bloggers on their team because their film critics will never offer the same kind of ruminating. But where they are essential is in their knowledge and appreciation of great cinema. Check out this critics pick by Scott on The Last Picture Show:

A while back, when we were still doing them (we’re trying to get it together to start them again), Craig Kennedy, Ryan and I discussed the year that The Last Picture Show was up for the Oscar. For me, this year stands up as one of the best and a moment in Oscar’s history, and frankly in the DGA’s history as well, when they didn’t only want to pick the movie that most moved them, but seemed to have an appreciation for films that were breaking new ground, pushing the envelope, and not giving us the kind of the easy way out that Oscar winning films, and Oscar nominated films, often do, and certainly, with a few exceptions, have since the 1970s.

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