'Slumdog,' 'The Dark Knight' and 'Button' will dominate the show
So, things have been so busy in HitFix land (i.e., Sundance) that I've been negligent in getting back to what's really important in life: Oscar!
As you're reading this, the nomination votes are being tabulated and point nervous studio execs and awards season consultants are looking forward to a two-day delay in the announcements thanks to the Presidential Inauguration. Nominees will be announced on Thursday, Jan. 22, bright and early at 8:30 AM EST and the HitFix team will be there breaking it all down (those of us not in Park City it seems). With that in mind, here are my first set of nomination predictions I've already submitted as a participant in Movie City News' Gurus of Gold and The Envelope's Buzzmeter. I'll have more catgory pics in a few days.
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
Lowdown: There's a chance either "Milk" or "Frost/Nixon" could get knocked out by "WALL-E" or "The Reader" (really), but it seems unlikely at this point.
Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Gus Van Sant, " Milk"
Christopher Nolan, "The Dark Knight"
Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon"
Lowdown: Don't be surprised if Woody Allen sneaks in for his work in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," but who gets overlooked in his place remains a question mark.
Sean Penn, "Milk"
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"
Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"
Clint Eastwood, "Gran Torino"
Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Lowdown: Richard Jenkins could bump Pitt for "Buttons," but Pitt is probably overdue for his first nomination (whoops, I mean second nomination) and should be rewarded this time around.
Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Kate Winslet, "Revolutionary Road"
Kristin Scott Thomas, "I've Loved You So Long"
Angelina Jolie, "Changling"
Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Lowdown: When I submitted my Gurus picks i went with Cate Blanchett in the final slot, but I think Hawkins may actually sneak in instead. I'm on the island not believing that "Frozen River's" Melissa Leo has a shot.
Best Supporting Actor
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"
Robert Downey, Jr., "Tropic Thunder"
Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Dev Patel, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Lowdown: Patel happily gets in on the "Slumdog" bandwagon.
Best Supporting Actress
Kate Winslet, "The Reader"
Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"
Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Lowdown: The final showdown between Winslet and Cruz begins. At least the Weinsteins will be able to claim one of their movies won an Oscar of some kind this year.
Best Original Screenplay
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Lowdown: I have the well-respected "The Visitor" getting some nomination love here, but "Happy-Go-Lucky" and "Rachel Getting Married" are possible for the final slot as well.
Best Adapted Screenplay
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
Lowdown: "Revolutionary Road" has a very slim chance of jumping over "Doubt" for the final nod.
Best Visual Effects
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
""The Dark Knight"
Lowdown: It seems ludicrous that the CG-less "Knight" would make the field, but many voters of this branch are old school practical effects guys. "Knight" is exactly the sort of picture they'd like to reward.
Agree? Disagree? State your case pundits!
Look for part 2 of my stone cold nomination picks early next week.
Less Friday night hype as fest starts off with a relative whimper
This town is dead.
O.K., that might be overstating it a bit, but after trekking up and down Main st. last night -- officially the first major party night -- something seemed a bit off. In fact, it felt more like a Monday or Tuesday night at the festival after the traditional weekend crashers have split. The energy was less hectic and, in fact, there were actually fewer events going on than previous years.
Disturbingly for Party City businesses, numerous people I spoke to shared the same story of cab drivers telling them that business was down 30-40% (although city officials are claiming only 8%) and you can see it in the vehicle and foot traffic. I can't remember ever making it to Main St. (where all the major parties, restaurants and b.s. swag suites are) so quickly on the first weekend. Was this what it was like in...1994?
Make no doubt about it, the economy is to blame. When companies like Motorola are announcing 4,000 layoffs, it's understandable why they aren't shelling out mid-six figures to hold a late night networking bash. A publicist told me one unnamed corporate client started E-mailing her from their swag suite that day because they were...bored. On the first day of the fest? Yikes. And of course there is a strange irony in how well the movie business is doing at the moment. But back to the "fun"...
We started off at the Def Jam/"Push" premiere party at House of Hype and, for a moment, it seemed like old times. Nas (has a song in "Tyson"), Robin Thicke (performing later this weekend) and Kelis (no clue) stoled through the tight VIP area and the expected "why are you here?" celebs such as Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Jordana Brewster (skin baby, fix that skin!) were strutting around. And yes, the stars of the fantastic flick, Jay-Z and one of Def Jam's biggest artists, Ms. Mariah Carey, eventually showed up as well, but by then I'd been dragged by friends to...
The MySpace after hours party. And this is the notable difference from only a year ago. Perhaps the crowd got better at say, 3 or 4 AM, but by 1:30, the only notable attendee was Ashton Kutcher and they "said" he was there. I looked around and never spotted him (shoot, where are those happenin' and partying Fox Searchlight publicists?). And while the DJ was spinning like it was a 2001 rave in Amsterdam and that last shot of champagne did the trick, it felt more like a winding down Tuesday night fete than any thing else.
There were two other major parties my gang and I skipped.. "Spring Breakdown" had a pre-Midnight screening party at The Village at the Yard that was said to be fun, but the locale was off the beaten path and inconvenient for those on downtown. The Hollywood Life House, home of many dinner and movie premiere cocktail events this year, held a "7 Fresh Faces in Film" fete headlined by host...Virginia Madsen (soon to be heard as the voice of Hippolyta in the animated "Wonder Woman"!). We were on the list for this one, but we ran into two colleagues coming out who warned us of the cheesy crowd and, well, that was that.
Oh, woe are us attendees. I guess we'll just have to tragically enjoy the movies instead (or hope things get better by Sunday).
Mo'Nique is stunning in what is one of the best of the fest
Probably the least important aspect of Lee Daniels' fantastic new drama "Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire" was still the biggest elephant in the room at the Racquet Club theater in Park City, Utah last night: Can Mariah Carey show any acting skills whatsoever? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. In a movie filled with unconventional casting, Carey goes plain jane (i.e, absolutely no makeup) as a social worker and has to participate in a number of intense scenes where her fans will be happy to learn she clearly does not embarrass herself. The bigger surprises, however, were provided by Mo'Nique and the film's star, newcomer Gabourey Sidibe.
Set in late '80s Harlem, "Push" tells the harrowing story of Precious Jones (Sidibe), a teenager who is living through a private hell of incest and abuse from her family. Precious escapes from her troubles by fantasizing about being a star walking the red carpet, being a supermodel and, um, marrying her math teacher. Her true freedom comes, however, through a special city learning program administrated by a patient teacher (a fine Paula Patton) who sees the positive in her tough luck students.
In her feature film debut, Sidibe is impressive conveying how battered Precious is, but she also shows glimpses of an inner strength the character will need to escape her hellish prison. Time will tell whether the young actress has the range for other roles, but its an auspicious start for sure.
As her domineering mother, Mo'Nique, who has previously only ventured into comedic roles, is absolutely stunning. Most of the film requires her to display utter contempt for Precious, but as the story progresses, she adds a sympathy that is both unexpected and moving. Mo'Nique may not have thought she had a career as a serious actress, but that will completely change after "Push"
With the film not shying away from some truly horrendous events, Daniels provides much needed relief by making Precious' learning program classmates truly memorable characters and their energy and humor contrast with her horribly unpleasant life at home (don't be surprised if a number of catch phrases including "my favorite color is neon beige" become popular among the younger set after the film's release). More impressive is Daniels confident visual style that go beyond his spot on period references in the fantasy sequences. The filmmaker could have easily fallen into the melodramatic cliches of similar stories, but instead its the combination of superb performances, sharp production design and a keen eye that make "Push" so special.
"Push" is an inspiring and powerful film that will put Daniels on the map as one of cinema's emerging talents. Now, all he has to do is figure out how to pull off an equally rewarding encore.
Can two 'straight' guys have sex for art's sake? Get the buzz started...
It's been over a decade since Joshua Leonard made a splash along with a number of other unknown actors in "The Blair Witch Project." After the premiere of Lynn Shelton's new film "Humpday" at the Sundance Film Festival today, his career may finally get another big boost.
This buzzed about dramatic competition entry finds Leonard playing Andrew, a wandering jack kerouac-like thirtysomething who late one night shows up at the doorstep of his old college buddy Ben (Mark Duplass of "The Puffy Chair"). It's been years since they have seen each other and while Andrew has been working on art projects in Mexico, Ben has happily married Anna (Alycia Delmore) and settled into a conventional, but seemingly tame, young couple routine (as boring as you can get for Seattle, WA that is...which, um, actually might be boring).
An energetic free spirit, Andrew soon meets a group of area artists and introduces Ben into their open minded lifestyle. Wary at first, Ben spends a whole night drinking and smoking pot with Andrew's new friends. Randomly (or so it seems), the subject turns to Humpfest, an art film festival that seeks to bring the "art back into porn." Wasted, Ben and Andrew concoct that with so much already on the internet, the most daring piece you could come up with is to have two straight guys have sex together -- for art's sake of course.
What follows is a clever and, for some, sexy comedy that will having moviegoers second guessing Andrew, Ben and even Anna's perspective on life and sexuality. Is Andrew bisexual? Is Ben straight but in love with his former best friend? Or are they really two heterosexual men whose competitive machismo has convinced them this is an "art project" and nothing else? On a shoestring budget, Shelton masterfully handles a concept that could have easily become unbelievable, but instead seduces with its character's realistic reactions to the events at hand. And while the ending may not satisfy all, in hindsight it's actually somewhat poignant.
Before I was able to write up this review, I had mentioned to a friend that the film seemed "Apatowesque" to me. It was a scenario Judd Apatow or Seth Rogen could have devised amongst their laundry list of projects.. He asked, "Is that a good or a bad thing?" In this case, without the traditional Hollywood trappings, it's definitely a good thing.
As for Leonard, he and Duplass give fantastically charismatic performances, providing unexpected depth to the characters and no doubt, putting them back on filmmakers' radar.
Lastly, reaction to the film will be interesting to gauge amongst different genders and sexual orientations. While the audience at the Eccles seemed totally into it ("laugh out loud" may be appropriate), it was apparent that women really dug it the most. With the right studio, it could become a nice word-of-mouth hit.
Controverial boxer candidly discusses his life, never apologizes for his actions
Is there anything left to say about Mike Tyson? After Robin Givens, Desire Washington and the Evander Holyfield bouts, hasn't the train wreck of the former World Champion's life been dissected enough? Director James Toback ("Two Girls and a Guy") didn't think so and if you're a boxing aficionado or too young to remember Tyson's rise and fall first hand this documentary should be a compelling and entertaining portrait.
Told completely firsthand during sessions shot at a Hollywood Hills home, Tyson comes across as more at peace, mature and articulate than this writer can ever remember. He pointedly never apologizes for anything (including the bizarre moment where he bit Holyfield's ear twice in one fight), but certainly doesn't revel in his more controversial moments.
Told in a conventional linear style, Tyson starts off recalling how rough it was growing up in Brooklyn, and more specifically, Brownsville. It was after being pushed through the juvenile corrections system that his talent for fighting was first recognized and eventually put him under the guidance of legendary boxing trainer Cus D'Amato. As someone who lived just north of D'Amato's Catskill, NY boxing academy, I keenly remember the local news introducing the young Tyson and his harrowing story from skid row to possible champion boxer. And while the death of D'Amato has always been a touchstone for the beginning of Tyson's troubles, hearing the former boxer talk about his former mentor is quite moving. Tyson has discussed him in previous interviews, but it appears the depth of this discussion brings out a vulnerable and emotional side he hasn't really shown before. This is certainly one of the more compelling moments in the doc, but unfortunately it takes place very early on.
Consequently, the film's other intriguing portions are much less personal. Toback smartly has Tyson talk about his mental state and analyze himself over footage of a number of key fights. Thankfully, this commentary isn't overdone, but from a historical perspective it brings great insight into the sport and Tyson's place in it.
Beyond that, there are a few interesting anecdotes (Tyson claims he had gonorrhea during his first title fight vs. Trevor Berbick, but didn't want to tell anyone), and the rehashing of his relationship with Robin Givens isn't as fleshed out as it could have been, but with Tyson only 42-years-old, the film ending is somewhat anti-climatic. Is Tyson really going to be able to stay out of the limelight? This project might have made more sense a decade from now when the years had provided even more prospective.
Its also hard to see "Tyson" making it to theaters, but it is, ironically, classy entertaning fare that could find a home on Showtime or HBO. And as mentioned previously, probably a must for all boxing fans or historians.
Will there be a 'Little Miss' or 'Hustle' this year?
How time flies. It's hard to believe I'm attending my fifth straight Sundance Film Festival. I'll admit, a bit of the thrill is gone, but I've always been partial to the euphoria of discovering a great movie for the first time in Park City than attending say, Toronto, where you've already been inundated with TV spots and trailers and the surprises come in smaller does (plus, I'll take the cold over the sweaty heat of an Ontario September any day).
My first festival in 2005 started off pretty dramatically. That year found Salt Lake City's airport inundated with fog and my plane had to turn back land in Vegas with no chance of getting to Utah till the next day. Like many, I was desperate not to miss Friday's screenings and met a stranger at a car rental counter and we ended up sharing the 8-hour drive to Park City together. Randomly, my traveling companion turned out to be Dave Kajganich, the screenwriter of the Nicole Kidman thriller "Invasion." You could tell he was pretty excited about the film as it was his first screenplay to go into production. Years later, I felt bad when I saw that the film had little of the political subtly he spoke about in his script. But, it was a great way to see the beautiful Utah landscapes.
Over the years I've been lucky enough to attend the premiere's of "Little Miss Sunshine," "An Inconvenient Truth" and The Squid and the Whale." And I've also sat through a slew of bad movies that could depress any film historian.
There was the great Beastie Boys performance in 2006. The star-filled "Black Snake Moan" and Motorola late night parties last year. The live set by Paul Oakenfold where myself and a buddy seemed to be the only people in Harry O's to realize it was Oakenfold (!). Great one on one interviews with Justin Timberlake and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The most bizarre press conference around a fireplace with Catherine Keener and Jennifer Aniston. Sitting with Terrence Howard the day after the premiere of "Hustle & Flow" as his eyes were filled with a glassy realization that his life was never going to be the same.
What will this year bring? Your guess is as good as mine, but Dan, Drew and I are ready to bring you the good, the great and, heaven help us, the ugly.
Ellwood and Fienberg have strong showing among national pundits
You must have faith in the HitFix.
Mr. Fienberg and I teamed up to pick both movie and TV winners in Tom O'Neil's Envelope Golden Globe poll and, as you'd expect, we kicked ass!
EW's telegenic Dave Karger came out on top with 19 out of 25 overall categories (can he do anything wrong?), USA Today's Scott Bowles came in second with 18 correct, HitFix (with a big nod to our Fien Print editor on the TV side) rang up 17 winners, O'Neil also had 17 and The Envelope's Pete Hammond had 15 correct. The rest of the pack found fast-rising Scott Feinberg, Rolling Stone's Peter Travers and Star Magazine's Marshall Fine with 14 right and Kris "Taps" Tapley chimed in with 11.
It's worth noting that Fienberg correctly fed the Gabriel Byrne win for Best Actor in a TV Drama for "In Treatment," making us the only pundits to get it right. Of course, Byrne didn't show up at the ceremony because even he didn't think he'd win. Never doubt the Fienberg when it comes to the TV side of the Globes!
On just the movie side, I (with no help from Daniel mind you!) had 8 of 14 categories correct. Bowles and Karger had 10 right while the Hollywood Reporter's T.L. Stanley scored nine and Rope of Silicon's Awards Season newbie Brad Brevet and O'Neil also had eight winners.
You can read the laundry list of pundits who followed far behind here.
On to the Oscars!
Downey, Jr. and Winslet also celebrate nods at the Chateau
So, there's nothing like sharing a drink with a good friend on the patio of the famed Chateau Marmont hotel on a Saturday night in Los Angeles. And, like clockwork, just like you'd expect on any other night, who walks through the crowd but the world's current "it" couple: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
No, this wasn't a typical night on the town, it was the star-studded Paramount Pictures pre-Golden Globes party. The studio has had an impressive year at the box office and had an equally impressive turnout of celebes and, more importantly, Academy members arrived to celebrate their HFPA nominees from "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Tropic Thunder" and "Revolutionary Road."
As you'd expect, Jolie and Pitt were the center of attention wherever they went during the course of the night. Both were dressed in casual chique (Pitt had jeans and a sweater on) and, of course, looked damn fine. It was sort of odd to see other stars gawk at them, but that's just a perk of being the industry's most noteworthy power couple.
Not only were Mr. and Mrs. Smith in attendance, but Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Robert Downey, Jr. were found mingling with prospective voters as well. DiCaprio was more than happy enough to take pictures with some of the attendees (although, not the classiest thing to ask at one of these events) and later was spotted chatting with Terrence Howard as he made his way out the door.
Downey, Jr., in for a quick visit while shooting "Sherlock Holmes" in New York, was a late arrival, but seemed his usual congenial self. Shoot, if you were on the verge of being nominated for a role in a Ben Stiller comedy (granted a great performance), wouldn't you be?
Took a moment to say hello to Ian McKellen (friend of a friend), who was chatting with old buddy Brian Cox. The star of the upcoming "Prisoner" reboot stopped by before heading over to the Vanity Fair/AMC party also on the grounds of the Chateau.
Beyond the A-listers, a number of other notable names were in attendance. "Revolutionary Road's" Michael Shannon, James Caviezel, Elizabeth Banks ("The Uninvited"), Zachary Quinto ("Heroes" and the upcoming "Star Trek"), Beau Bridges, Jackie Earle Haley ("Watchmen"), Jane Krakowski ("30 Rock"), Robert Forster ("Jackie Brown") and Ernie Hudson.
Plus, with the deadline for ballots due less than 48 hours away, we can't forget the potential votes in the room, directors Sam Raimi and Paul Haggis, "Hairspay" producer Neil Meron and "Transformers" producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura.
Oh, and did we mention Tiki Barber was there? Yes, my guest and I couldn't figure out why either. Perhaps, the former New York Giant is covering the Globes for his current gig on The Today Show? (Like I'm ever up that early.) Still, he got more "Is that?" looks than anyone else in the room. (On a side note, there is no way he's the 5'10 that was listed as his "official" playing height. 5'9 -- maybe.)
More intriguingly, ran into two fellow Oscar prognosticators: the enduring Pete Hammond and Variety's superblogger Anne Thompson. It's no secret that Hammond is one of the best in town because he knows so many Academy members and is eerily proficient at gauging their likes and dislikes. I won't go into all the correct prediction's he's made over the past few years (though we were both on the "Crash" bandwagon long before it was hip to be), but as he's recently written in The Envelope, he's still hearing lots of love for the Weinstein's box office dissapointment "The Reader." He also seemed concerned that a certain blockbuster everyone assumes is in may be more on the bubble than everyone thinks it is. Yet, none of us could land on a contender that could legitimately take it's place.
In any event, the Paramount crew should be congratulated for putting on a truly classy show. The fireworks begin tonight at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Are you ready?
Ledger, "Slumdog" and Streep should dominate
The Golden Globes have a special place in my heart.
No, it's not all those HFPA screenings filled with an international smorgasbord of perfumes and colognes I endured working in worldwide theatrical for Fox (that just caused allergy problems later on). See, back when I had time to organize such endeavors, I used to hold an annual Golden Globes party. I mean, anyone can have an Oscar or Super Bowl party, but this is the only night when the worlds of television and movies come together as one. And while certainly an odd pairing, it creates a bizarre kitschiness of A and C-level stars crossing paths in ways that just shouldn't be allowed, but must be celebrated!
Plus, as many of you are so keenly aware, the show itself has a party atmosphere to it that is hard to hide on TV (not that NBC wants to anymore) and there's something fun about watching your favorite star try to present or accept an award after having few too many vodka tonics from that open bar in the back of the room.
And in the context of awards season, the Globes actually can claim some influence this year (it's true!). The past few shows found the Globes airing after Oscar ballots were due, but this year the glorious HFPA will be able to claim they swayed last minute voters who waited until the 5 PM Monday deadline. That's a subject to wax about post-Oscar nods, but until then here are some predictions for Sunday night's spectacle.
BEST MOTION PICTURE, DRAMA
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"Slumdog Millionaire" – WINNER
Breakdown: It would be a big surprise for "Button" to beat "Millionaire" out for this one. The crowd pleaser should easily take this one home.
Streep and Hathaway tie, Ledger, Penn also winners
Ah, there is nothing like the magic of the Broadcast Film Critic's Association and the bigger and better Critic's Choice Awards. As the first major awards show of the season (no the People's Choice Award’s doesn't count) it seemed like a good idea to sit in front of the TV with an East Coast feed and, um, react.
Please, add your comments to the party. We can all pretend we're in Santa Monica too!
5:55 PM PST
Have you had enough of Sam Rubin yet? I hear there a lot of "last minute A-list arrivals" on the way.
5:56 PM PST
Big star no. 1! Jason Alexander.
(Well, it turns out there were lots of relevant stars on the pre-show, but I was enroute and missed them.)
6:00 PM PST
Alexander kicks off the show spending 10 minutes embarrassing Clint Eastwood, Mickey Rourke, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Oh, and he justifies the existence of the Broadcast Critic's because if not, we'd have to endure...his mother. Who also happens to be the president of the Boca Raton Mickey Rourke fan club. Hey, he was available, right?
6:10 PM PST
Josh Brolin and Kate Beckinsale look might fine, although the set behind them looks like Jonathan Adler designed it and that might not be a good thing.
Best Comedy Winner: "Tropic Thunder"
Accepting is Ben Stiller, who finally gets an award from an organization other than MTV. He's also growing his hair out. Interesting.
6:15 PM PST
Amanda Bynes and Corbin Bleu, two actors I can guarantee you won't be anywhere near the Oscar stage as presenters next month (or nominees for that matter), are here to present the Best Acting Ensemble Award.
(Geez, I haven't seen this many clips on an awards show since 1993. The BFCA members spend way too much time watching those EPK's.)
Best Acting Ensemble Winner: "Milk"
Josh Brolin wins an award! Where is Sean Penn? Shouldn't he be up at the mike? Why is he hiding? Is Emile Hirsch making a pirate movie (or a retro porn movie)? Nice.
Backstage interviews with whatshername from MTV. Awkward. Emile and Brolin excuses the rest of the cast for not coming up on stage and then Hirsch is forced to give a serious response about making a movie about Harvey Milk. Sell it baby!
6:23 PM PST
Common and Eva Longoria Parker are here to tell us: there’s a house band. Rooney.
Best Young Actor/Actress: Dev Patel, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Somewhere all the Searchlight publicists are cheering and jumping up and down, but...Dev isn't there! But his beautiful co-star is and this certainly doesn't hurt for his underdog shot at a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Where is Dev?
6:26 PM PST
Stop. Are they putting member's review comments over clips? Doe these people have no shame? (Why am I even asking?) I wanna see their quotes for "Fool's Gold" and "Meet Dave." Is Shawn Edwards in the house?
6:35 PM PST
Best Action Movie: "The Dark Knight"
Chris Nolan gives an OK speech. Let's be honest, he isn't he most charismatic fellow and never has been, but it's nice to see some recognition for his work in his hands instead of just those Warner Bros. checks (not that he's complaining)