Holy cow, I almost choked on my coffee as I looked at these covers.  You never see non-whites on the cover of Vanity Fair, never ever.  In the second term with our first African American president, a film that looks like it might become — MIGHT BECOME — the first ever film written by, directed by and starring black filmmakers and artists to win Best Picture now Vanity Fair has actually turned a very very significant page.  How much easier it would have been to put Margot Robbie and Julia Roberts and the other white stars on the cover?  That is how you sell magazines but it certainly is not how you make history.  So here’s (what Jeff Wells would call) a crisp salute to Vanity Fair.

I mean, Lupita doesn’t get the cover still, but hey…it’s a start I suppose.  To date, no black woman has ever gotten on the cover of the Hollywood issue. A small handful of black male actors but as yet, no females.

Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue, and bigger version of this photo, after the cut.

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Music moves me – duh – and that is like having a window opening on a heightened reality, but the effect is fleeting: When the music ends, the magic, the uplifting, vanishes and the window slams shut. Words, on the other hand, by the nature of how they work, emotions evoked by dint of carefully laid out thoughts, have a more lingering effect. — Yann Martel

Enter the theater, descend a ramp, climb the steps to find a good seat. If we’re lucky we’ll be running late, cutting it close, so maybe we’ve missed most of the commercial noise that litters the last few minutes of mental prep before a movie begins. The lights dim down and we’re led into trailer territory, the last distractions to bug us. Then the light source shifts. Studio logo rolls up. The film we’re there to see finally comes alive. We’re pulled inside another dream, one of a thousand dreams we’ve all seen and shared onscreen.

We might start a series to take a closer look at how credit sequences are put together. A movie’s opening shots can clutch us tight by the hand or hold us by the throat when done right. Good directors use those moments to ease us into the proper frame of mind while we’re still suspended between between light and dark, between reality and dream state. Great directors grab our attention with flash and dazzle. Genius directors do all those things and then go a step further, setting up signposts to guide us through the journey we’re about to take together. As the credits roll in the first four minutes of Life of Pi, Ang Lee lays out a tidy diagram of the visual schemes he plans to employ and hints at some of the themes we’ll explore. Right away he begins to engage our minds so we’ll be revved up in the right gear when the story proper gains traction.

It wasn’t until the second time I saw Life of Pi that I noticed the very first shot features a hyena emerging from behind a bush to look around and regard a grazing giraffe. For a hyena, he appears to be a placid mellow fellow — and why shouldn’t he be? He’s safe, secure. There’s no threat or danger in sight. His habitat is so lush it might pass inspection as a real forest if not for the barred fence and stone wall in the background. He’s a happy hyena because all his needs are satisfied. No reason to be defensive because he’s not hurt. No need to stalk prey because he’s not hungry. Of course, all this will look a whole lot different in future viewings, won’t it? Next time we’ll know the bad news in store for this hyena, but even in the midst of all this serenity Ang Lee has already introduced us to a villain in the first 15 seconds of nimble foreshadowing. Another thing we see is how “Fox 2000 presents” hangs projected on another plane, thrust forward in 3D relief. Cool enough, but I’m a 3D skeptic. I knew going in that Ang Lee had said he didn’t think he could tell this story as well without 3D, so on first viewing I was anxious to have him prove it to me.

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Best Picture

Michael Haneke, Amour

Emmanuelle Riva, Amour

Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour

Original Screenplay
Michael Haneke, Amour

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Like many of us, the Producers Guild seems anxious to put the current dance marathon behind us and look ahead to the sharp elbows and foot stomps of next year’s tango fiasco.

LOS ANGELES (February 21, 2013) – The Producers Guild of America (PGA) announced today that the Producers Guild Awards, honoring excellence in motion picture, television and new media productions, will celebrate its 25th anniversary on Sunday, January 19, 2014 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

In 1990, the Producers Guild held the first-ever Golden Laurel Awards, which were renamed the Producers Guild Awards in 2002. Richard Zanuck and Lili Fini Zanuck took home the award for Best Produced Motion Picture for DRIVING MISS DAISY, establishing the Guild’s awards as a bellwether for the Oscars.

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(Press release): LOS ANGELES – February 19, 2013 – CBS Films announced today it has acquired US rights to INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS. Written and directed by Academy Award©-winners Joel and Ethan Coen and produced by Scott Rudin and Joel and Ethan Coen, the film stars Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham and Justin Timberlake.

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I can’t recall the last time I ever read a more devastating shredding of a film than this dismantling written by Jesse Williams (mild-mannered actor, model, producer, star of Grey’s Anatomy by day; heroic blogger, teacher, Temple University grad, though-provoker, and movie-bullshit fighter by night). Today a tweet from Ava DuVernay led me to Williams 1500 word critique of Tarantino’s lazy insults on CNN.

In the film’s opening sequence, shackled blacks literally hold the key to their shackles and don’t use them, choosing instead to trudge forward, hindered by biting chains, to kill a white man. In the third act, after seeing Django kill the Australians, the blacks sitting in an open cage neither communicate with each other or consider stepping outside of the cage.

In fact, in this entire, nearly three-hour film, there are no scenes with black people interacting, or even looking at each other, in a respectful or productive way.

The CNN essay throws a harsh spotlight on the worst of what’s wrong with Django but that’s nothing compared to the far more rigorous bitch-slapping Jesse Williams delivers in a detailed scene-by-scene dissection that runs more than 5600 words on his own blog. Anyone who dislikes Django Unchained as much as I do will relish seeing it so deftly dismantled — and I’ll be surprised if even the film’s biggest fans don’t see it differently if they take the time to read Williams’ formidable takedown. Check out some choice excepts after the cut.

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Jeff White joined the legendary LucasFilm visual effects company Industrial Light and Magic roughly ten years ago, and has since worked on some of the biggest blockbusters of the past decade. His work spans all three Transformers movies, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and Star Wars: Episode III “Revenge of the Sith.” During the course of those films and many others, White has worked his way up from his initial post as a Creature Technical Director on Van Helsing to being Visual Effects Supervisor on last year’s The Avengers. The adaptation of Marvel’s superhero world from acclaimed filmmaker Joss Whedon (Serenity) has already become the third-highest-grossing film of all time and received near-universal acclaim. The Visual Effects branch of the Academy has recognized White and his fellow visual effects artists with an Oscar-nomination for Best Visual Effects for the work on the film, and I recently spoke with White in celebration of his first Oscar nomination. Here’s what White shared with me about reimagining The Hulk, bringing his own ideas to light while carrying the banner of existing franchises, and assembling the team of The Avengers.


Jackson Truax: You’ve worked on so many massive special-effects films in the past ten years, but this is your first Oscar nomination. What does the recognition from the Visual Effects branch of the Academy mean to you at this point in your career?


Jeff White: It’s pretty incredible… I’m just so honored to have the work recognized… There were probably thousands of artists working on the effects. So the nomination for Best Visual Effects is really a recognition of all the great work that people put into the film.

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Sally Field was featured on ABC Evening News tonight in a story that originally aired on Valentine’s Day.

Sally Field has been a beloved part of American pop culture for nearly a half-century. At 66, she has as many Best Actress Academy Awards as Meryl Streep. Pretty good for someone who began on the ABC sitcoms “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun.”

“When I started in the business, I started in situation-comedy, that’s kind of– those were it,” Field said. “People will say to me, ‘you made such wonderful choices in your life.’ I have? I had so few choices.”

Still, she was undaunted and unabashed in her desire to play Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”

“I’m proud of the film, I’m proud of my work in the film, I’m proud I fought to get in it,” Field said.

Proud, too, of doing it all, deep in the midst of a heartbreak she has never talked about publicly before: Her mother’s death.

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kennedy kathleen 2


Since the Oscar race that started with Argo in Telluride is now finishing with Argo in Hollywood I have really no choice but to quote Bob Dylan — “You just kinda wasted my precious time but don’t think twice, it’s all right.” All of the in-between that happened there? That was the stuff that dreams are made of. One of the things that happened this year and will likely be remembered by whomever decides to write about the Oscars ten or twenty years hence, was that Kathleen Kennedy became the most nominated producer in Oscar history with zero wins. Together with Steven Spielberg the two of them now hold the record for most producing nominations. It is astonishing to me, and should be to you, that a woman — A WOMAN — holds that record, considering Hollywood and the Oscars are driven, year after year, up to and including this one by men. You will say, oh she’s just bitter. Shut up about sexism already. Well, honey, if I don’t say something who will?

Maybe you’re tired of reading about it, the near shut out of women and people of color now that the Oscars are hitting their 85th year. If I hope to leave all of you Oscar watchers with anything once I end this insufferable game for good it’s this: don’t be lazy about what you see happening before your very eyes. Speak up about it. Always. You are the future. At their best, Oscars can mean more doors being kicked down.

Last month I went up to the Santa Barbara Film Fest and attended the Producers Panel. A group of very prolific, ambitious and supportive producers were there: Bruce Cohen for Silver Linings Playbook, Debra Hayward for Les Miserables, Dan Janvey for Beasts of the Southern Wild, Stacey Sher for Django Unchained and David Womark for Life of Pi. In the middle sat Kathleen Kennedy — self-assured and mostly quiet, letting the others draw applause for their engaging stories of basically turning water into wine. Each time the question was brought up about how any of them got their start or who taught them to do what they’re doing now they all looked over and said “Kathleen Kennedy taught me everything I know.”

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All the films up for Best Picture are formidable challengers in their own right. But only one of these has a secret weapon: a charming, handsome actor-director most people have known for years. The public knows his suave celebrity disposition, the industry knows his reputation as one of the nicest guys in town. Good luck going up against that.

Likeable movie, likable star with an added narrative of having been “snubbed” — it’s easy to see how this wildfire started and why it keeps burning. The one factor that can’t be underestimated, though, is the presence of an actor in the race with a really successful movie. Actors-turned-directors can do serious damage when they’re in the mix because they bring with them a whole career that everyone has seen develop onscreen for years — we grew up together! We feel intimately involved with an actor’s ups and downs, his good times and bad relationships, his successes and failures feel personal. Ben Affleck’s story is a good one because there was a time when he was considered a self-absorbed joke. But he’s come back and reinvented himself as respectable filmmaker, affectionate husband and father, his whole beautiful family photographed daily. He’s made three films but finally hit the jackpot with Argo.

It’s a scrappy success story but an irresistible one. Voters like to think their vote is doing someone some good. Either they’re rewarding impoverished Indian children and the nice plucky director who made that movie, or they’re making Oscar history with Bigelow, or they’re finally rewarding Scorsese or the Coens after years of neglect. If there isn’t an emotional imperative they won’t throw their weight behind something. Somehow, the imperative this year has been to reward Affleck — if not to make amends, at least to show he’s not taken for granted.

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Best Film: Argo
Leading Actor: Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis
Leading Actress: Amour, Emmanuelle Riva
Director: Argo, Ben Affleck
Film not in the English Language: Amour, Michael Haneke, Margaret Ménégoz
Supporting Actor: Django Unchained, Christoph Waltz
Supporting Actress: Les Miserables, Anne Hathaway
Cinematography: Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda

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Life of Pi and Brave each win 4 awards at the 11th Annual VES Awards.   (thanks to Mikhail)

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Feature Motion Picture

  • Life of Pi

Outstanding Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture

  • Brave

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture

  • The Impossible

Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture

  • Life of Pi: Richard Parker

Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture

  • Brave: Merida

Outstanding FX and Simulation Animation in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture

  • Life of Pi: Storm of God

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Ben Affleck has just become the third director in DGA/Academy history to win the DGA without a corresponding Oscar nomination.

Best Feature: Ben Affleck, Argo
Best Documentary Feature: Malik Bendjelloul, Searching for Sugarman

Televison Directors award winners, after the cut.

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For 82 out of 86 Oscar years the directors have controlled the way Best Picture has been handed down. They matter. They are what the Academy was built to do: professionals deciding the best of the year. The entire Academy has looked to them for guidance in almost every year of their existence.  Yet this year, suddenly, they don’t matter. What they think doesn’t matter. They are being passed over.   I have to say, that blows my mind just a little.

14,500 DGA members thought Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper should join Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg as the Best Directors of 2012.  But their nominations came out after Oscar ballots had already been turned it. Without the DGA to guide them the directors branch at the Academy did what they wanted to do: they picked the five films they thought were the best of the year: Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Michael Haneke’s Amour.

Why does it matter that the directors decided on five different films to win if the whole Academy gets to decide, you might ask? We might be heading into an era where it no longer matters at all. After all, the Oscar race has morphed into a flea circus and the race itself has begun to resemble a reality show, like Dancing with the Stars or the Amazing Race;  You have to win the moment by having a compelling “Oscar story.” An Oscar story isn’t: Kathleen Kennedy the most nominated producers in the history of the Academy has never won an Oscar, Steven Spielberg bringing a beloved project to the big screen after 13 years, or that movie about ideas earning an unbelievable $170 million.  An Oscar story sure to capture Hollywood’s attention is “Ben Affleck didn’t get nominated for Best Director.”  It is art imitating life because Argo is about Tony Mendez who did a great thing then didn’t get recognition for it. Rewarding Affleck is like rewarding his character and believe me, that is irresistible.

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Anna Karenina – Jacqueline Durran
Argo – Jacqueline West
Les Misérables – Paco Delgado
Lincoln – Joanna Johnston
Moonrise Kingdom – Kasia Walicka-Maimone

(thanks, Elton!)  Nominees in Contemporary and Fantasy categories after the cut.


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Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary

Malik Bendjelloul (Searching for Sugar Man)
Kirby Dick (The Invisible War)
David France (How to Survive a Plague)
Lauren Greenfield (The Queen of Versailles)
Alison Klayman (Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry)

(thanks to Paddy at ScreenOnScreen)


Best Picture: Argo
Best Director: Ben Affleck, Argo
Best Actress: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty!
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Picture, Musical/Comedy: Les Miserables
Best Foreign Language Film: Amour, Michael Haneke!
Best Actress Comedy: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
best Actor Musical: Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Best Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Best Original Score: Mychael Danna, Life of Pi
Best Song: Adele, Skyfall
Best Animated Feature: Brave

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  • Argo, William Goldenberg, A.C.E.
  • Life of Pi, Tim Squyres, A.C.E.
  • Lincoln, Michael Kahn, A.C.E.
  • Skyfall, Stuart Baird, A.C.E.
  • Zero Dark Thirty, Dylan Tichenor, A.C.E. and William Goldenberg, A.C.E.

(Comedy Musical, Documentary and Animated cats after the cut)

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Best Picture – Argo
Best Actor – Daniel Day-Lewis
Best Actress – Jessica Chastain
Best Supporting Actor – Philip Seymour Hoffman
Best Supporting Actress – Anne Hathaway
Best Young Actor/Actress – Quvenzhane Wallis
Best Acting Ensemble – Silver Linings Playbook
Best Director – Ben Affleck
Best Adapted Screenplay – Tony Kushner
Best Original Screenplay – Quentin Tarantino
Best Cinematography – Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi)
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Sally Field (Supporting Actress) – “I’m spinning and beyond thrilled on so many levels. To be included in this amazing group of extraordinary craftsman and exquisite talents has been an honor in itself. But now for us all to receive so much recognition from the Academy I’m deeply appreciative and overwhelmed, and basically, I still can’t believe I got the role.”

Emmanuelle Riva, Amour:
“I am truly happy, touched, and honored to receive, today in New York, a nomination for the role of Anne in AMOUR by Michael Haneke. For me,  it is an immense gift, at this stage of my life, to be chosen by my sisters and brothers, for what I do as an actress. I never thought,  while working throughout the years in Europe and France, that one day, i would cross the Atlantic Ocean, come to the United States, and be nominated. It is quite surreal for me.  Shooting AMOUR with Michael Haneke was a complete joy for me, as I felt an absolute trust in him and we were in complete synch. Michael is the very music of his own film.”

Denzel Washington’s statement regarding his Best Actor Oscar nomination for Flight: ‘Flight’ was one of the most challenging roles I’ve ever had in my career, and it was an honor to be directed by Robert Zemeckis. It’s always nice to be asked back to the show, and it will be fun to share the evening with our nominated screenwriter John Gatins.”

Michael Haneke, Amour:
“I am very happy and gratified by the Oscar nominations that AMOUR has received today, and that the voting members of the Academy have taken the film so strongly to their hearts. It is fulfilling to discover that a film has found the audience and critical acclaim that AMOUR has garnered.  I have been very fortunate on both those fronts, but it is especially rewarding to discover that a film has found favor among one’s industry peers who know, in particular, the effort that goes into getting a film – any film – made.  I am also especially happy for all the people who made AMOUR with me.  It is a joyous occasion for us all.  Many thanks.”

 Steven Spielberg (Director/Producer) and Kathleen Kennedy (Producer) – “We are absolutely thrilled and astonished with the 12 nominations. It is such a tribute to the work of those who joined us in this 12-year journey to bring LINCOLN to the screen. We humbly thank the Academy members who honored so many of us.”

Tony Kushner (Adapted Screenplay) – “I’m tremendously honored to be a nominee in the company of so many writers and filmmakers whose work I admire. I’m very grateful to Steven and Kathy, to Daniel, Sally, Tommy Lee and the whole cast, to Rick, Joanna, Janusz, Mike and John and everyone who made Lincoln happen. I’m overwhelmed by the Academy’s response to the film. I heard that I’d been nominated while waiting to take off on a plane from JFK to LAX. James Gandolfini, who’s sitting in front of me, gave me a hug and a kiss, so I’m about as happy as can be. ”
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