Inside Movies and Pop Culture with Gregory Ellwood

Sony Classics' Michael Barker talks 'Midnight in Paris' and 'A Separation's' Oscar nom haul

An the indie vet turns the tables on this pundit

<p>&nbsp;Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson in &quot;Midnight in Paris.&quot; &nbsp;Woody Allen's latest received four Oscar nominations Tuesday including best picture.</p>

 Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson in "Midnight in Paris."  Woody Allen's latest received four Oscar nominations Tuesday including best picture.

Credit: Sony Classics

PARK CITY - Tuesday was a good day for Sony Pictures Classics co-president and co-founder  Michael Barker.  Classics scored eight Academy Award nominations including four for Woody Allen's best picture player "Midnight in Paris" and found itself with three of the foreign language nominees: "A Separation," "Footnoote" and "In Darkness." The now legendary independent film distributor also secured distribution rights to the romantic dramedy "Celeste & Jesse" starring Andy Samberg, Rashida Jones and HitFix favorite Elijah Wood.  And yet, when Barker called me to discuss his company's impressive Oscar haul he immediately turned the tables and wanted to know what films I liked at the festival.  So, if Classics ends up securing "Keep The Lights On" or "Safety Not Guaranteed," I'll happily take credit for pushing them over the top for a sale.  The Oscars were top of mind though and Barker admitted that he was once again surprised by some of the selections.

Albert Brooks reacts as only Albert Brooks can react to not getting nominated

There's always 'This is Forty' right?

<p>The usually smiling Albert Brooks looking more stern than usual at the NYFCC awards dinner earlier this month. &nbsp;Brooks won the org.'s best supporting actor honor.</p>

The usually smiling Albert Brooks looking more stern than usual at the NYFCC awards dinner earlier this month.  Brooks won the org.'s best supporting actor honor.

Credit: AP Photo/Evan Agostini

For those of us who are fans of "Drive," no nomination was more important this morning than Albert Brooks in the best supporting actor category.   However, after Brooks surprisingly failed to land the equivalent SAG Awards honor, many began worrying he wouldn't make the Oscar cut.  That sadly came to pass as Max Von Sydow was the surprise fifth nominee for "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."  

Analysis: Oscar continues to surprise in big and small ways

From 'Extremely Loud's' comeback to surprising omissions

Sandra Bullock in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"
Sandra Bullock in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"
Credit: Warner Bros.

Somewhere in the offices of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Oscar is fixing himself a stiff drink and thinking to himself, "You thought you knew it all. You thought I couldn't surprise you. How wrong you were."

'Red Light's' Sigourney Weaver, Elizabeth Olsen and Cillian Murphy talk paranormal activity

Which movie got Olsen's audience award vote?

<p>Elizabeth Olsen and Cillian Murphy discuss &quot;Red Lights&quot;&nbsp;at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.</p>

Elizabeth Olsen and Cillian Murphy discuss "Red Lights" at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

PARK CITY - In my review for "Arbitrage" this weekend I mentioned that sometimes films that should debut at Sundance are likely better served with a premiere at Toronto and vice versa.  The two major acquisition festivals have their own unique aesthetics and while they try to mix it up now and then the results can sometimes be mind-bogglingly frustrating for audiences.  On Friday night, director Rodrigo Cortes returned to Park City two years after his Ryan thriller "Buried" debuted in the Midnight section to big buzz and a Lionsgate pick-up.  His new film, "Red Lights," is a slick, entertaining and quirky thriller with fine performances from Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro and Cillian Murphy, but it didn't gel with the Sundance press corps.  If it had debuted at Toronto?  Many of the same journalists and reviewers would have enjoyed it a bit more.  

Review: Aubrey Plaza and Jake Johnson spotlight crowd-pleasing 'Safety Not Guaranteed'

Another great role for Mark Duplass too

HitFix
B+
Readers
A-
<p>&nbsp;Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson and Karan Soni in &quot;Safety Not Guaranteed.&quot;</p>

 Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson and Karan Soni in "Safety Not Guaranteed."

PARK CITY - It took long enough, but the 2012 Sundance Film Festival finally produced a big winner.  The feature debut of Colin Trevorrow, "Safety Not Guaranteed," premiered Sunday evening to a festival looking to embrace something (anything entertainingly good) and this new comedy absolutely fit the bill. 

Review: 'Arbitrage' an odd mix of Richard Gere, 'Law & Order' and indie sheen

Gere and Brit Marling can't save the thriller from a convoluted script

HitFix
C+
Readers
n/a
<p>&nbsp;Richard Gere and Brit Marling in &quot;Arbitrage&quot;</p>

 Richard Gere and Brit Marling in "Arbitrage"

PARK CITY - Over the past few years, there have been an increasing number of pictures that were questionable inclusions to Sundance's premieres slate.  A few them were actually good films ("The Company Men," "Smart People," "Cedar Rapids," ), but many were star-filled pseudo indies seemingly intended to satisfy sponsor attendees and the affluent contributors looking for a little bit of Hollywood during their Park City festival vacation ("The Great Buck Howard," "Brooklyn's Finest," "Motherhood," "The Butterfly Effect," "My Idiot Brother" and "The Son of No One" come to mind).  A good deal of these films would have been more appropriate at the more commercial Toronto Film Festival (and it's worth noting the opposite is true with pictures such as "My Sister's Sister" debuting at Toronto this past year).  Saturday night featured two of these broad, star-filled premieres: "Arbitrage" and "Lay the Favorite."  The former was clearly the better of the two, but it still another disappointment for an edition of the festival where that's become the operative word.

'The Artist' wins the 2012 PGA Awards film honor - Is Oscar next?

Plus: All the TV winners

<p>&nbsp;Jean Dujardin in the PGA award-winning &quot;The Artist.&quot;</p>

 Jean Dujardin in the PGA award-winning "The Artist."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

One major guild win down for "The Artist," two more to go?

The Producer's Guild of America announced the winners of their 2012 PGA Awards Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills and the big winner was "The Artist." The critically acclaimed Weinstein Company favorite beat out competitors such as "The Descendants," "Hugo," "The Help" and "War Horse." It was the first PGA win for Thomas Langmann who received sole credit for the honor. Langmann has worked exclusively in his native France for the past decade.  

Review: Thure Lindhardt fuels remarkable gay drama 'Keep the Lights On'

Ira Sachs semi-autobiographical film his best to date

HitFix
B+
Readers
A+
<p>Thure Lindhardt gives a remarkable performance in Ira Sachs' &quot;Keep the Lights On.&quot;</p>

Thure Lindhardt gives a remarkable performance in Ira Sachs' "Keep the Lights On."

You likely haven't heard of Danish actor Thure Lindhardt, but after Ira Sachs' new drama "Keep the Lights On" finds distribution after its premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival his studio and English-speaking roles should substantially increase.  Lindhardt has had small roles in American films such as "Into the Wild" and "Angels & Demons," but is best known for his critically acclaimed role in the Dutch feature "Brotherhood."  He has a reputation for becoming a chameleon-like ability to physically transform himself for a role and in "Lights" he has been given a substantial opportunity to show his vast array of acting skills.

A semi-autobiographical drama from Sachs, who won the Grand Jury Prize in 2005 for "Forty Shades of Blue," "Lights" begins in 1998 where we find gay New York resident Erik (Lindhard) satisfying himself on a now antiquated phone sex line.   He ends up connecting and hooking up for the first time with Paul (Zachary Booth), a closeted publishing industry lawyer.  To say they have enough chemistry for more than a one time shag is an understatement and the film goes on to chronicle the ups and downs over the next 10 years of their unexpected relationship.

Review: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' is a cinematic wonder

Story issues aside director Behn Zeitlin shows true talent

HitFix
B+
Readers
A
<p>&nbsp;Quvenzhan&eacute; Wallis in &quot;Beasts of the Southern Wild.&quot;</p>

 Quvenzhané Wallis in "Beasts of the Southern Wild."

PARK CITY - It's rare that a first-time feature filmmaker delivers something truly memorable with their debut - even at a festival such as Sundance - but Benh Zeitlin has done just that with "Beasts of the Southern Wild" which premiered Friday on the first full day of the festival.

Review: Melanie Lynskey can't keep 'Hello I Must Be Going' from indie cliches

Newcomer Christopher Abbott makes a strong impression

HitFix
C+
Readers
n/a
<p>&nbsp;Melanie Lynskey and Christopher Abbott in &quot;Hello I Must Be Going.&quot;</p>

 Melanie Lynskey and Christopher Abbott in "Hello I Must Be Going."

PARK CITY - It may be time to seriously take a look at the creative process of the Sundance Institute's Sundance Lab. Originally founded to help foster new screenwriters and directos trying to develop independent features, it has also become a major source for films debuting at the festival over the past 10 years (a not unexpected byproduct).  Sometimes, that allows features such as Dee Rees' "Pariah" to find an audience, but other times it seems to create a homogenized product of recognizable indie film themes and story lines.  One of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival's four debuts tonight, "Hello I Must Be Going," unfortunately falls into the latter category. 

Director Todd Louiso, who is also known for his acting roles in films such as "Jerry Maguire" and " High Fidelity," made his feature film debut at Sundance 10 years ago with the Philip Seymour Hoffman dramedy "Love Liza."  He then had a massive misfire with the Paramount  Vantage title "The Marc Pease Experience" which finally was dumped in 2009.  Now, he returns to Park City with "Going," a dramedy about a thirty something woman, Amy (Melanie Lynskey), who is trying to recover from a painful divorce while staying at her parent's impressive mansion, er, home in Bridgeport, CT.  The picture is the first produced screenplay for Sarah Koskoff, a longtime collaborator of Louiso's, and according to Festival Director John Cooper's opening remarks, it was developed at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.  
 
It takes quite awhile for the audience to find out what Amy's life was like before her New York husband divorced her which is something of a problem because she mostly seems like a dysfunctional ghost.  Lynskey has been fantastic recently in "Win Win," "The Informant" and "Up in the Air," but "Going" spends so much time initially having fun with Amy's obsessive and meddling mother Ruth (a going for it Blythe Danner) and her overly concerned family members including a  dad who constantly comes to sit on her bed with sage advice (John Rubinstein) that she's the one seemingly dragging the story down.  Additionally, the more you learn about Amy's life the harder it is to believe Lynskey as the character.  It's only when newcomer Christopher Abbott (the upcoming HBO series "Girls") comes on screen as 19-year-old love interest Jeremy that the film even starts to get interesting.
 
While the cougar-esque storyline is doomed to fail, Abbot makes you believe Jeremy's affections for Amy are genuine and his youthful charisma's is a nice counterpoint to the more established actors onscreen. And for a good 20 minutes or so, Amy's romantic blossoming and some hilarious scenes with Jeremy's mom (a fantastic Julie White) allows the film to find an entertaining rhythm.  Unfortunately, Louiso and Kaskoff feel the need to wrap up every one of the film's story lines with a bow and "Going" just putters awkwardly to the finish line. The movie's characters would have been much better served by leaving some of the story's secondary conflicts open to the audience's imagination.
 
Three films in, its also hard to determine Louiso's voice as a filmmaker.  At times "Going" feels like it could have been directed by Rodrigo Garcia,  Nicole Holofcener or Miguel Arteta or someone trying to emulate their styles.  Other times it "Going" seems as though it could have been directed by a random indie director and no, that's not a compliment.
 
Cinematographer Julie Kirkwood shows some talent giving the picture a grittier look than the material necessarily required.  On the other hand, the film suffers from a seemingly never ending rotation of indie music song cliches. You can't recognize them and they are no doubt original, but boy they sure sound familiar.
 
As for acquisition potential, "Gone" isn't commercially friendly enough for a mini-major and likely in the IFC Films or Magnolia Films category. 
 
For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter.

 

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