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