Best Picture Defaults…Oh, Yeah?

We’re all presuming that Interstellar, Unbroken and The Imitation Game will be Best Picture nominees when all is said and done, but something in me rebelled when I saw this montage. It sits at the top of a Kris Tapley-authored Hitfix piece about the Best Picture race. These are the presumed default hotties that lazy mainstream softies have been predicting for many weeks. Maybe but from my obviously ignorant vantage point, having seen The Imitation Game but not having seen Interstellar or Unbroken, I don’t see what’s so inherently wonderful about the latter two. Consideration #1: Surviving a brutal wartime ordeal is not necessarily a great story or the ingredients of a great film — it’s merely an endurance test. Consideration #2: You can’t save the residents of a dying, dust-choked planet by travelling to another planet or exploring it or whatever the fuck Matthew McConaughey and his space homies are up to, and yet losing out on witnessing and sharing in the various stages of your children’s lives would be a heartbreaker for any parent. All I know is that I vaguely resent being told that these are the Big Three. I’m not saying I won’t fall for them when they’re screened — I very well might. But I resent being told over and over by Oscar-blogging bend-overs that these are the Hot Babies to Beat. Make way, they’re coming!

Clift Is Fading Away

In my mind Montgomery Clift, the first method-y actor to punch through the studio system and become a major star, peaked from Red River through From Here To Eternity — a seven-year run. From the early to mid ’50s Clift, Marlon Brando and James Dean were the reigning acting gods…legendary figures then and, I thought, still iconic figures today. But two days ago it hit me that Clift is no longer regarded as a major figure, or is certainly not regarded in the same light as Brando or Dean. My older son Jett, to whom I showed classic films all through his early youth and who knows the cinema realm fairly well, had to be reminded who Clift was when his name came up in conversation, and he couldn’t name a single film that Clift starred in, not even Red River or I Confess or A Place In The Sun or Eternity. His girlfriend Caitlin, a whipsmart marketing professional, knows Clift’s name but couldn’t remember any of his films. I’m presuming these two are canaries in the GenY coal mine. If they don’t know who Clift was, nobody does. Am I wrong? I’m not talking about serious GenY film hounds — I’m talking about casual Netflix/Hulu viewers and people who go to maybe two or three films a month. It’s a shock. For the under-35s Montgomery Clift might as well be John Ireland or Wendell Corey or Burgess Meredith.

(l. to r.) Clift, Marlon Brando, Dean Martin during filming of The Young Lions.


She Was Hot

I’m not going to provide a caption — either you “know” and have been around and you get it…or you don’t. Actually all you need to have done is seen Woody Allen‘s Stardust Memories or Liliana Cavani‘s The Night Porter or Sidney Lumet‘s The Verdict or Francois Ozon‘s Swimming Pool….forget it. I’m not teaching a film appreciation class. Wait…airbrushing?

Birdman‘s Percussion Guy

2014 is a big year for solo drumming in movies with the much-hailed Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics, 10.10) about to hit and an exciting all-percussion score about to be savored when Alejandro G. Inarritu‘s Birdman (Fox Searchlight, 10.17) opens a week later. Birdman‘s drummer-composer is Antonio Sanchez, who routinely plays and tours year-round with Pat Metheny. A little while ago we spoke and kicked things around. Sanchez and Inarritu hail from Mexico — that’s one connection. Inarritu introduced himself to Sanchez after a Metheny group concert in Los Angeles and proposed an all-percussive score. It was recorded in New York during filming last spring. Curious Anecdote #1: Twice during Birdman a drummer is seen playing drums but it’s not Sanchez (who was away touring) — it’s Nate Smith. Curious Anecdote #2: Not only has Sanchez still not seen a finished cut of Birdman (he caught a rough version last year) but probably won’t see it until November when he returns from his latest tour. Here’s a taste of Sanchez’s score; here’s another. But you have to hear it loud and crisp and slampbangy with a great theatrical sound system. Here’s a link to the soundtrack’s Amazon page. It streets on 10.14. Again, the mp3.

Antonio Sasnchez, composer of Birdman‘s all-percussion score.

Kurtz Recalls Empire Days

Two days ago Mashable’s Chris Taylor (“How Star Wars Conquered The Universe“) posted an interview (audio + transcribed) with Stars Wars and Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz, whom I had the honor of interviewing (along with Film Threat‘s Chris Gore) back in the late ’90s. Here are some highlights:

(l. to r.) Irvin Kershner, Frank Oz, Jim Henson, unknown female puppeteer (?), Gary Kurtz during filming of The Empire Strikes Back.

“I think George [Lucas] had it in his mind that he could direct the film remotely by telling [Irvin] Kershner what to do, and Kersh was not that kind of director. George only came over [to London] a few times during the shooting. Kersh said, ‘Look, you hired me to make this movie, [and] I’m going to make it.” And he did. He was a bit slow sometimes, and we did have to use a second unit a couple of times. I directed the second unit after John Barry died suddenly in the first week. So that threw us. (more…)

Back to Savannah

Later this month I’ll be visiting the 2014 Savannah Film Festival (10.25 through 11.1) for about four days. I don’t have clue #1 what films will be shown or what filmmakers will attend, but I have faith. I’ve been there two or three times before. It’s the vibe and the historical aroma and the hanging moss and the bike-riding and the pretty women. You can bet I’ll be visiting Paula Deen’s Lady & Sons restaurant at some point. Here are some shots and videos I took three years ago:


Absence of Cloying Emotion

“When it comes to Best Picture criteria, most people want the ‘big thing’…the lump in the throat that melts you down, the movie that delivers some profound bedrock truth about our common experience, that makes you want to hug your father or your daughter…that comfort, that assurance, that touch of a quaalude high. And if I ever get to the point that a movie like War Horse or The Artist or The Help makes me feel that way, please take me out behind the building and shoot me in the head, twice.” — from a 10.29.11 HE piece called “Miniature Golf.”

We should all take comfort that among the current Best Picture faves none are as cute or cloying or shamefully manipulative as The Artist, War Horse or The Help. The top three —Birdman, Boyhood and Gone Girl — are admirably lacking in these characteristics. Ditto The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Foxcatcher and The Grand Budapest Hotel. And you know that A Most Violent Year, Inherent Vice, American Sniper, Fury, Big Eyes and The Gambler haven’t the slightest interest in dropping a quaalude into anyone’s drink. (more…)

Present Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson wanna take you higher. His goofiest since Punch Drunk Love? How Police Squad-ish does this seem? Let’s have a show of hands. Sweaty Joaquin getting shoulder-bumped to the sidewalk by a cop…good one. Boom-lacka-lacka-lacka-boom-lacka-lacka-lacka. I don’t know about the film but Josh Brolin definitely rules in the trailer.

Richest 2014 Movie Themes Contained In Gone Girl, Says Kohn

Yes, Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn is calling Gone Girl the “film of the year”…but not for the reason you might think. Kohn is saluting Gone Girl because it delivers a kind of one-stop-shopping experience for those looking to ponder solemn social themes that have been explored in some of the best films of the year (Birdman, Nightcrawler, Maps to the Stars, The One I Love, Obvious Child, Grand Budapest Hotel).

Director David Fincher “loves characters who are difficult to love,” Kohn writes. “He shows his affection by framing them with unerring precision — and as Michael Nordine wrote in our review, it’s a level of care that often exceeds his material.

“The story of ex-journalist Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) coping with police and press scrutiny after estranged wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) vanishes under mysterious circumstances, Fincher’s prowess transforms Gone Girl into a blend of media satire and gender politics that zips along at a giddy and unpredictable pace.

“Stop to scrutinize and Gone Girl collapses into soapy melodrama” — are you listening, Scott Feinberg and Tom O’Neil? “But Fincher’s narrative command results in a movie that simultaneously embraces and mocks its own existence.


Russian Bumper Cars

I laugh every time I watch a Russian car crash video. Is it because Russians are angry assholes, drink too much vodka, can’t drive to save their lives? Hilarious any way you slice it. They drive like six-year-olds. Don’t ask me to explain but somehow this compilation serves as a kind of tonal complement to Leviathan.


Still No Chill Flashback?

Why did N.Y. Times video critic Jim Hoberman review Criterion’s Big Chill Bluray on 9.26 when the Criterion website page says it came out almost two months earlier (i.e., 7.29)? More importantly, why after three decades is director-writer Lawrence Kasdan still declining to show what Hoberman calls “the revered flashback epilogue — cut during previews — that showed the Chillsters as the flower children they were in 1970, complete with a longhaired Kevin Costner as Alex.” I asked Kasdan about this in the mid ’90s; his response was that as the sequence didn’t work he would find it embarassing and/or deflating to show it and then hear everyone say “yup, you made the right call.” Who cares at this point? History demands a public viewing. I would buy the Chill Bluray just to see this sequence, but without it? Naaah.

WR: Mysteries of Kent Jones, Dennis Lim, Marian Masone, Gavin Smith and Amy Taubin

Given the extraordinary acclaim that Nuri Bilge Ceylan‘s Winter Sleep and Andrey Zvyagintsev‘s Leviathan found during last May’s Cannes Film Festival and particularly given the New York Film Festival’s long-established focus on the finest foreign-language films of the moment, it’s really quite strange that the 52nd NYFF has snubbed both. In the case of Leviathan a colleague has suggested this is “an even greater indignity than the treatment it received from Jane Campion‘s Cannes jury.” Obviously the selection committee didn’t care for either, but what could their justifications have been? If you look at things objectively, it’s incredibly perverse to have excluded both of those films when, regardless of what the selection committee may have felt, it’s a fair bet that the core NYFF audience would have loved to see these films, and may even have enjoyed them more than offerings like Jean-Luc Godard‘s Goodbye to Language, Abel Ferrara‘s Pasolini and Pedro Costa‘s Horse Money.


In The Mood For Clips

Birdman is all knockout camera work, whipsmart character conflict and dialogue that cuts right to the quick of things. Pretty much an embarassment of riches. So why not throw up a few scene excerpts instead of just another trailer?

Boring Dissolute Splendor

Bertrand Bonello‘s Saint Laurent (Sony Pictures Classics), which screened this morning for NYFF press, is said to be the darker, sexier and druggier of the two YSL biopics. The other is Jalil Lespert‘s Yves St. Laurent, which the Weinstein Co. allegedly released last June. I haven’t seen the latter but Bonello’s film is initially appealing but then it becomes more and more boring, particularly during the second hour. Most of it is about YSL‘s debauched years, which apparently happened between the mid ’60s and mid ’70s. The 150-minute length is way too long. There are few things on the planet earth more boring that (a) watching club vampires lie around and giggle and snort cocaine and (b) watching gay guys eyeball each other at said clubs before hooking up. Saint Laurent drove me mad with such scenes. It’s generally understood that Bonello has delivered a more candid account of YSL’s life than what Lespert’s film offered, but I felt far more interested and emotionally fulfilled by L’Amour Fou, the 2010 YSL documentary.



I scanned the A.V. Club’s review of The Equalizer (written by A.A. Dowd) too quickly when it first popped about 20 days ago, but now that I’m in a calmer, more meditative frame of mind this assessment of director Antoine Fuqua strikes me as particularly spot-on: “An action-junk journeyman still dining out on the 13-year-old success of Training Day.”

Everything I Hate

If I were to run into a guy dressed like this on a Brooklyn street I would take a poke at him. No thought, pure instinct, general principle. What kind of sickening metrosexual beardo mixes a dark longsleeve button-down shirt with…yeesh!…rose-colored shorts and sandals? I realize that nobody in the real world would actually dress like this, but if somebody did I would drop him on the pavement like a bad habit. (Note: I found this ad on Deadline.)

Young Again

As expected, Noah Baumbach‘s While We’re Young was the New York Film Festival’s “surprise” screening earlier this evening. It played just as well for me as it did the first time in Toronto. Here’s a recap of my 9.7 review: “This is Baumbach’s snappiest and most commercially appealing film yet. Not as darkly hilarious as Greenberg or as visually ravishing and mood-trippy as Frances Ha, but it’ll be well reviewed and catch on with most under-50 urban sophistos. It’s a nimble, fast-moving, culturally attuned relationship dramedy about a generational chasm (late 20somethings vs. 40somethings) or more precisely the vague sense of anxiety that somewhat older guys have about younger guys in their field or realm — a fear of being out-hustled or out-cultured and possibly even left behind if they’re not careful.

While We’re Young star Ben Stiller, director-writer Noah Baumbach during this evening’s post-screening q & a at Avery Fisher Hall.

COstars Adam Driver, Naomi Watts.