Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg in "Social Network"

Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg in "Social Network."

Credit: Sony Pictures

Contender Countdown: 'Inception,' 'King's Speech' and 'Social Network' in early Oscar lead

A rundown of the best picture field as the Toronto Film Festival kicks off

It's cloudy in Toronto today, but the best picture field for the 83rd Academy Awards is not.  There are well over 15 potential films who could fill the 10 coveted slots and that could change if certain films get picked up or find a surprise late release in December.  That's a big change from only a few months ago when many in the industry were expecting a dearth of legitimate candidates.  Oh, ye of little faith.

Read Full Post
Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech

Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter in "The King's Speech."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

First Look: Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in a scene from 'The King's Speech'

Watch a new clip from the early Oscar favorite

One of the most buzzed about and adored films at this past weekend's Telluride Film Festival was Tom Hooper's 'The King's Speech."  Set predominantly in the 1930's, the film tells the tale of Prince Albert (Colin Firth) and how his speech impediment (ie, stutter), was a dramatic hurdel for him to overcome before and after his brother King Edward abdicated the throne making him the unexpected King.

Albert, who became King George VI, was ushered by his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) to see a relatively little known Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).  This was the last stop after countless other options and doctors had been seen to try and fix his problem.  In this brand new clip released by The Weinstein Company today, Albert has returned to work with Logue after initially being skeptical of his quirky technique.  Logue notes Albert has both mental and mechanical difficulties and they immediately get to work, with his wife lending a bum, er hand, as well.

Check out the charming preview embedded in this post and see why "The King's Speech" may be a true Oscar contender.  For more on "Speech," check out my review from Telluride.

"The King's Speech" opens on Nov. 26.

Read Full Post
<p>Brad Pitt will return to theaters with &quot;Tree of LIfe,&quot;&nbsp;but probably not until 2011.&nbsp; Maybe.</p>

Brad Pitt will return to theaters with "Tree of LIfe," but probably not until 2011.  Maybe.

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

Oscar Watch: Brad Pitt's 'Tree of Life' will play the Academy game…in 2011

Plus: Sony Classics takes 'Barney's Version,' aka 'the movie Rachelle Lefevre lost 'Eclipse' for'

In a major surprise, Fox Searchlight has acquired domestic rights to Terrence Malick's long in the works drama "Tree of Life." 

Starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, the film was almost released last December and has had rumored debuts at Cannes and Venice this year only to remain sight unseen.  After Apparition, the distribution company that was expected to release "Life," began to shutter its operations over the summer it was clear producer Bill Pohlad was going to have to find the film another home.  Suitors were expected to include Summit Entertainment, Focus Features, Relativity Media or Lionsgate, but instead, Searchlight surprised the industry by placing the film on its 2011 release slate.

Read Full Post
Brad Pitt on the set of "Tree of Life."

Brad Pitt on the set of "Tree of Life."

Oscar Watch: Will Brad Pitt's 'Tree of Life' finally crash the awards season dance?

lus: Who said Jean-Luc Goddard wasn't going to pick up his honorary award?

The continuing saga of Terrence Malick's long awaited opus "The Tree of Life" took another turn on Monday with a report indicating the drama could be a late arrival to the awards season derby. 

Read Full Post
Emma Stone talks about her new comedy "Easy A"

Emma Stone talks about her new comedy "Easy A."

Watch: 'Easy A' is a pocket full of sunshine for Emma Stone

'Zombieland' star takes no credit for any of the film's great lines

If eight solid reasons on why "Easy A" isn't just you're everyday teen comedy wasn't enough, will some words from the film's always charming star Emma Stone convince you to throw $10 down at your local multiplex?

Speaking to the "Zombieland" star last month, Stone was impressively blunt in admitting how important landing the role of Olive in the Screen Gems comedy was to her.  The first produced feature script from Bert V. Royal, "Easy" is inspired by the "Scarlet Letter," but stands on its own as it follows Olive's self-induced, but inaccurate rise to high school slut because of an out of control rumor. After seeing the film, however, it's hard to imagine any other actress in the part.  Whether it was tailored made for her is irrelevant.  Stone is ready to break out big time with this one.  

One of the great pleasures of the picture was watching Stone on screen with Olive's parents played by old friends Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson.  Tucci admitted there was some improv in those scenes, but Stone gives most of the credit to the more established former Oscar nominees.  Still self-deprecating and honest to a fault (and never change no matter what your publicist says Emma), the one thing Stone did have trouble answering was regarding one of the funnier moments in the film.  Already well known because of it's release as a teaser trailer, the scene finds Olive opening a musical card that contains Natasha Bedingfield's "Pocket Full of Sunshine."  After initially referring to the song as "gross," Olive finds it stuck in her head and happily belting the tune out to the world only a few days  later.  I asked Stone if she had her own "Sunshine" song she can't believe she sings all the time, but she insisted she's just that goofy all the time and that her friends would back her up on it.

Oh, Emma.  You already had before we sat down in the interview chair.  You can watch the entire conversation with Stone embedded in this post.  

After debuting at the Toronto Film Festival this weekend, "Easy A" opens nationwide on Sept. 17.

Read Full Post
Oliver Maltman, Lesley Manville and Ruth Sheen in Mike Leigh's "Another Year"

Oliver Maltman, Lesley Manville and Ruth Sheen in Mike Leigh's "Another Year."

Credit: Sony Classics

Telluride: 'Another Year,' 'Incendies' and…Brad Pitt?

Some thoughts on the last 24 hours of the cinefile's film festival

The 2010 Telluride Film Festival was an unqualified success.  Well, at least that seemed to be the universal opinion according to the slew of veterans who have made the Labor Day festival a yearly tradition.  The programmers at Telluride refer to filmmakers and attendees as "family" and considering how amazingly friendly everyone was, its hard not to see why.

This year's installment had fine films such as "Black Swan" (review),  "Tabloid" (review), "127 Hours" (review), and the universally adored "The King's Speech" (review). Other movies that found positive notices were "Tamara Drewe" (review), "Inside Job" (review), "Precious Life" and "Another Year."  Peter Weir's "The Way Back," "Incendies" and "Never Let Me Go" (review) received more mixed reaction -- at least from patrons.  With that in mind, here are few quick roundup reviews from the festival

Read Full Post
Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon Levitt in "Inception"

Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon Levitt in "Inception" grossed an impressive $278 million domestically, but a massive $696 million globally.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Summer Box Office Hits and Misses Part II: 'Inception,' 'Eclipse' and 'Expendables'

Plus: 'Takers' defies all expectations

It wasn't a monster summer, but overall, every studio had their share of hits and misses.  Hollywood knew since June, however, it would be unlikely any picture would overtake Disney's blockbuster "Toy Story 3" to win the individual summer box office crown.  And to be frank, no other contenders came close to the animated adventure's $408 million domestic cume by the time the Labor Day weekend numbers were revealed.  Instead, three films passed the $240 million mark ("Eclipse," "Inception" and "Despicable Me"), while there were a number of surprise $100 million grossers.  

Read Full Post
Natalie Portman is a ballerina in the dramatic thriller "Black Swan"

Natalie Portman tries to fight off the influence of the "Black Swan" in Darren Aronofsky's startling new thriller.

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Telluride: Natalie Portman triumphs in Darren Aronofsky's riveting 'Black Swan'

Thriller has impressive twists and turns in a startling third act

Standing in line for the Telluride Film Festival screening for Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" today, I was introduced to a distribution exec from a major independent studio who was extremely curious about the new Fox Searchlight thriller.  It turns out his company had come "this close" to financing the film, but backed out because of concerns over the tone of the project.  If mishandled, the story of a young ballet dancer who begins to go through a bizarre psychological journey after winning the coveted lead role in "Swan Lake" could have become a campy mess.  The world behind the ballet curtain is not always subtle and as Aronofsky noted before the showing, he was surprised how hard it was to get the picture made after his success with "The Wrestler" as well as having Natalie Portman on board.  After the film's positive reception both in Venice and Telluride, a number of distributors may have wished they taken a chance on this potential classic.

Read Full Post
James Franco in Danny Boyle's 127 HOURS

James Franco as Aron Ralston in Danny Boyle's "127 Hours."

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Telluride: Danny Boyle's '127 Hours' is a visceral and uplifting experience

James Franco pulls off the toughest role of his career

At first glance, the story of Aron Ralston is simply a tragedy.  In 2003, the 28-year-old Colorado mountain climber had to go to horrifying extremes to escape entrapment in a Utah canyon.  And yet as evidenced by his novel "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," Ralston's journey is really one of perseverance and, forgive the cliche, embracing life.  However, bringing the tale to the big screen seemed arduous at best.  How do you convey one man's immovable plight stuck between rocks for over five days without losing your audience?  Enter director Danny Boyle.

Read Full Post
Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in Oscar contender "The King's Speech."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Telluride: 'The King's Speech's' Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush talk their way into Oscar contention

Plus: Could that be Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen Mum?

There are Oscar bait roles that work and lord, there are Oscar bait roles that are embarrassingly bad.  Playing someone with a handicap has always moved the Academy and usually audiences, but for an actor looking for a challenging part, even the greatest thespians can fall flat on their face.  For every Daniel Day-Lewis in "My Left Foot" there are a number of unfortunate turns that will easily come to the top of your head (Ben Stiller did a wonderful job mocking them in "Tropic Thunder").  What's so impressive about Colin Firth's turn in the new Tom Hooper drama "The King's Speech" is how a role that could have gone very, very wrong, may arguably be the best performances of his career.  

Unbeknownst to most Americans at least, King George VII of England (known as Prince Albert before he took the throne), the father of the current Queen Elizabeth II and the nation's ruler during WWII, had a major speech impediment.  To put it bluntly, he was such a stutterer that as Prince Albert (he changed his name upon assuming the throne), he avoided as many public speeches as possible.  And, while much of the British populace knew about his problems, it was kept as historically quiet as possible.  Similar to the lack of images or newsreels of a wheelchair stricken President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the same era -- you just never saw evidence of the handicap.  "The King's Speech" focuses on how the dramatic events leading up to the abdication of the throne by Albert's brother, King Edward VII (Guy Pearce) , forced him to use unconventional methods to overcome his stutter.  And, how he was able to do so in a major speech at the dawn of the British being forced to enter WWII.  How he accomplished this breakthrough was through a remarkable friendship with an Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

The other great performance in "Speech" belongs to Rush, the former Oscar-winner who is,  sadly, best known to most moviegoers for his role in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" (not that we aren't thrilled Captain Barbosa is returning for a fourth go around).  But since coming onto the global cinematic scene with "Shine," Rush has been consistently excellent in films such as "Elizabeth," "The Quills," "The Tailor of Panama" and the largely unseen "Swimming Upstream."  For some reason, he just hasn't reached the stature of some of his British peers in the media (your guess is as good as mine).  As Logue, Rush is playing a quirky man ahead of his time who uses counseling techniques to reach the core of Albert's problems.  In many ways, because of Albert's impediment Rush's performance is central to keeping the audience engaged to our hero's pligh.  The Aussie is not only charismatic when needed, but makes the audience believe Logue's intentions are honorable.  This isn't a man trying to latch himself on to the aristocracy, he truly grows into a friend of the future King's.

As for the third major role in the film, it spawns one of the more unintentionally exciting moments in the film.  Set in the first five minutes of the drama, Albert has been charged with delivering a major speech at the closing of a global exhibition in London in 1925.  He can barely make it through -- which hints at the film's initial conceit, his stutter - but it's the actress standing next to him playing his wife that's so surprising.  It's none other than Helena Bonham Carter.   What's so thrilling about the revelation is that she's not wearing an ape costume, looks like a crazy witch (or actually playing an evil witch) or yet another Burton-esque character which might find her head three times the size of her body.  Clearly, Carter has been captivating in many of her more fantastical roles over the past decade or so, but there's something exciting about seeing her play a real person again (as real as a royal figure can ever be).  And as the mother of the current Queen Elizabeth II (ie, the last Queen Mum who died in 2002 at the age of 101), Carter's role is key to assuring a beaten down Albert he can rule a nation on the brink of war.

Hopper, who directed last year's critically acclaimed "The Damned United" and has become an HBO regular with "Longford" and stints on "John Adams" and "Elizabeth I," does fine work with a story that is confined at times to extended sequences at Logue's office.  Instead, he picks up the pace when necessary and assists Firth in purposely editing Albert's stutters to the bare minimum.  He's one filmmaker who deserves more accolades for an increasingly impressive resume after this one.

The film's only flaw, and its a slight one, is the depiction of King Edward VII and Wallis Simpson.  Edward is portrayed almost one note as a selfish, willowing and whipped boy to the twice-divorced American socialite.  The film take the point of view that their love wasn't real (at least on Simpson's part) and that she was overtly disrespectful of the British Empire (although thankfully it has little to do with her Yankee origins).  Now, I'm no expert on this part of the Monarchy's history, but this is a couple that were married for 35 years until Edward's death.  And to many, it was the greatest love story of the 20th Century.  There's got to be some real love in that relationship, don't you think?  

Make no mistake though, overall  "The King's Speech" is one of The Weinstein Company's strongest awards season contenders in quite some time.  Whether it can lock down a best picture nod is unclear, but its absolutely in the race just as "An Education" was a year ago at this time. As for Rush and Firth, it would be shocking if one of them isn't awarded another Oscar nod.  The duo are that good.  It's also worth noting Hooper is assisted by an excellent production design team made up of production designer Eve Stewart and art director Netty Chapman.

"The King's Speech" opens in limited release on Nov. 26.

Look for continuing coverage from both the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals on HitFix and Awards Campaign.  Get the latest scoop and buzz from all the premiere screenings and buzz by following @HitFixGregory on Twitter.

Read Full Post