Catherine Keener and Amanda Peet give superb performances in the NYC dramedy
Has Nicole Holofcener made a bad movie yet? After taking into account her latest, "Please Give," which debuted at last night at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival that would be a qualified "no." The dramedy continues to showcase the filmmakers' unique characters and sly social commentary that have been staples of previous efforts "Friends with Money," "Lovely & Amazing" and "Walking and Talking."
Strong performances dominate John Wells directorial debut
A mostly positive day of films at Sundance concluded at the Eccles theater Friday night with the directorial debut of John Wells' "The Company Men." Wells, the creator of such critically acclaimed TV shows as "ER" and "The West Wing," also wrote the original screenplay which focuses on the systematic dismantling of a giant construction corporation in the Boston, Mass. area. While a tad long, the strength of the film lies in the performances of leading men Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper and will surely lead to a swift acquisition from any number of major players.
All three men suffer from corporate downsizing during the film, but Affleck's character, who is living the high life as a VP of Marketing (he drives a porsche, enjoys his golf club, etc.), is the first to be let go and deal with the ups and downs of trying to find a new job in the current economy. What's refreshing about his storyline is that his wife, played by "Rachel's Getting Married's" Rosemarie DeWitt, is the only one in the family who realizes how difficult his search will be and that their rich lifestyle will have to drastically change. It's hard to have sympathy at first for Affleck's ego-driven character, but Wells puts him through a realistic enough ringer that a good chunk through the movie you're hoping he can turn it around (at least for his family's sake). It also helps that Affleck avoids the "woe is me" card as much as possible in his portrayal. The frustration is there, but this is no Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido in "Nine" whining going on.
Cooper may give the finest performance of all three "leads" as a longtime employee who has risen through the ranks from the shipyard to the corporate suite only to find himself searching for a new gig in his late 50's. Rarely off, Cooper once again adds subtlety to a role that could have been an easy cliche by even the finest of actors.
As the only member of upper management who is frustrated by the new cold-hearted nature of the company he was the first employee off, Jones gives one of his more endearing turns in some time. And when he flips on the good old' "cantankerous" Jones we all know from a mile away, it's necessary and welcomed by the circumstances.
Besides DeWitt's noteworthy supporting role, Kevin Costner is superb as Affleck's blue-collar brother-in-law and Maria Bello adds a good deal of shading to her role as Jones' eventual lover and the company's Human Resources terminator.
As noted, "Company's" biggest fault is its just a tad too long. In fact, if Wells is willing to shorten it a bit it could be an even stronger film overall. Nonetheless, the subject matter is so timely the picture should strike a chord in adult audiences across the country and is why different studios -- beyond just mini-majors and independents -- may be interested in this quality flick.
A bigger question becomes release date. Does "Company" try to hit while the economy fire is hot (or not so) over the next few months or wait until the fall when the performances could gain some awards consideration? It's not an understatement to say Cooper could get attention during the next awards season cycle and Wells screenplay may have some fans as well. But politically and topically, it's hard not to see a distributor wanting it to hit theaters as soon as possible.
And for fans of strong acting and smart storytelling, "Company" will be one not to miss.
As Sundance heats up, look for breaking news and commentary daily on HitFix.com/Sundance. For the latest, follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter.
Talented director Spencer Susser can't make it all come together
One of the more anticipated features at Sundance this year was Spencer Susser's intriguing "Hesher." Unfortunately, instead of being a potential breakout at the festival, the results are a mixed bag that will recruit a small passionate fan base (can you say immediate cult film?) and heap praise on star Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Set in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, "Hesher" centers on TJ, a young boy (Devin Brochu) whose world has recently come crashing down after the death of his mother in a car accident. His father (a disappointing Rainn Wilson) is in a severe depression and the duo have moved into their grandmother's home (a strong Piper Laurie) where nothing seems to be going resistance. He's got a kid at school threatening to beat him up and then this, um, anarchist squatter shows up - Hesher (Gordon-Levitt) - with seemingly no resistance from either his dad or grandmother.
Josh Radnor delivers an uneven dramedy with big laughs and great performances
The first true crowd pleaser debuted early during the first day of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and its the charming "happythankyoumoreplease." And the standing ovation and frequent laughter during the dramedy pretty much gave it away.
Written, directed and starring Josh Radnor of "How I Met Your Mother" fame, "happythankyou" centers on three interconnecting storylines set in New York City amongst the still struggling almost 30-years-old set. Radnor plays Sam, a writer whose had a lot of success with short stories, but can't seem to knock his first novel out of the park. Malin Akerman plays his best friend (and "sponsor" -- although this is never explained) who suffers from alopecia (meaning she has no hair follicles on her body) and continues to date the wrong guys even when the perfect man is right in front of her (although it's not the Sam you might think it is). Kate Mara is Mississippi the bartender/singer that Sam is infatuated with. The final plotline finds Zoe Kazan and Pablo Schreiber (Liev's brother) play a couple in love, but trying to come to terms with how in love they are and whether to make the "dreaded" jump to Los Angeles (arguably the weakest part of the film). The story kicks off, however, with Sam finding a young foster kid (a fantastic Michael Algieri) who gets separated from his guardian on the subway. Is he being a good guy or irresponsible by not turning him into the police? Happily, the film doesn't provide any easy answers for any of its protagonists.
Bryan Singer, James Franco and Jon Hamm hit the fest's first real shindig
The Sundance Film Festival got off with a semi-rocky start with the premiere of the new drama "Howl" tonight as well as a slate of original shorts and the Afghanistan war doc "Restrepo" (which we're still awaiting word on). It wasn't that the quality of films was awful -- more on that later -- but the enthusasim seems a bit muted this year. Perhaps its just the snow, the smaller press office, the less hectic Main St. scene (at least so far) or rumors the festival has $2 million less in operating budget than previous years (contrary to Redford's sunny outlook at the state of the festival earlier in the day). In any event, it didn't help that the signature premiere, "Howl," was certainly not among the best opening night film of the last few years.
Brits give the love to 'An Education with 8 nods
'Avatar' leads BAFTA nods, but what does it mean for Oscar?
Brits give the love to 'An Education with 8 nods
The nominations for the Orange British Academy Film Awards in 2010 were announced this morning in London and as expected they provided some insight into the upcoming Academy Award nominations. While not as significant a predictor as SAG, DGA or PGA Award nominations and winners, BAFTA has a significant amount of crossover with AMPAS membership and is certainly more of a true Oscar forecast than the Golden Globes. Obviously, "Avatar," "An Education" (Britain's one true Oscar hope), "Up in the Air" had strong showings, but so did -- happily - "Precious." Let's take a look and ponder the possibilities shall we?
Almost five weeks from release, the film's marketing campaign begins with new poster
There has been much speculation about Roman Polanski's new thriller "The Ghost Writer" since the controversy over his possible extradition to the United States began in Sept. And considering the commercial prospects of the material, its easy to see why.
Based on the Robert Harris novel of the same name, "Writer" centers on a celebrity ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) who is hired to help finish the autobiography of a disgraced ex-British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan). While the writer visits the PM in the states to work on the book, the former British leader is indicted by the World Court for his handling of terror suspects while in power. Needless to say, all hell goes loose politically, professionally and within the PM's personal life. As the days progress, the writer begins to tie together some of the more powerful people from the PM's life into a possible conspiracy. Is it real or all just the crazy speculation of an over-zealous author?
Contenders include Argentina, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Peru, Australia, Israel, Kazakhstan, The Netherlands
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nine semi-finalists -- for lack of a better term -- for the Best Foreign Language Film category.
The films, listed in alphabetical order by country, are:
Argentina, “El Secreto de Sus Ojos,” Juan Jose Campanella, director
Australia, “Samson & Delilah,” Warwick Thornton, director
Bulgaria, “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner,” Stephan Komandarev, director
France, “Un Prophète,” Jacques Audiard, director
Germany, “The White Ribbon,” Michael Haneke, director
Israel, “Ajami,” Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, directors
Kazakhstan, “Kelin,” Ermek Tursunov, director
Plus: A rundown of the top contenders in each category
Usually the winds of change during awards season rarely come after the Golden Globes show itself. In fact, the nominations can have more sway in influencing Academy voters because the last few years have found the deadline for Oscar nomination ballots before the Globes aired.
Not this year.
The Globes occurred almost two full weeks before ballots are due and that's a long time for Academy members to ponder the possibilities. Now, Bullock was in anyway after her SAG nod, but her win for the Best Actress - Drama Globe over such formidable candidates as Dame Helen Mirren and this year's expected ingenue Carey Mulligan was very significant. In fact, one prominent awards consultant whose company has nothing at stake whatsoever in this year's race told awards campaign to fully expect Bullock to beat Streep on Oscar night. Come again? Beat the legendary Streep? The year she's to be coronated with her third and much deserved Academy Award? It's not like she hasn't finally let the industry know she's annoyed with having lost so many times over the past 25 plus years (Perhaps it's time for Sony to ram that message down Hollywood and the media's throats?).
Let's just say this. If Bullock wins the SAG Award on Saturday night there is officially a race and "The Blind Side" star has taken the lead.
The Globes were full of other surprises such as James Cameron's win for Best Director. And as he shared, everyone including this pundit thought Kathryn Bigelow would win instead for "The Hurt Locker." We're still guessing 5,000 plus Academy members will be more amiable to rewarding Bigelow than the 80 members of the HFPA. Although, a DGA win would certainly help. With all that in mind, let's rundown the major categories and where they stand before the upcoming and important SAG Awards (remember: the largest member of the Academy is the acting branch and 99% of them are in SAG).
And is it a bad sign when Lindsay Lohan leaves before you do?
The cast and crew of "The Hangover" are no doubt having a hangover this morning after celebrating their Golden Globes win for Best Picture - Musical or Comedy. And trust me, this pundit can relate after quite a night at the Warner Bros./InStyle Party.
After the Globes end, the Beverly Hilton turns into a party circuit with the attendees and more guests arriving to go from one shindig to another. This year the rain reportedly hindered the HBO and Weinstein Company events, but Summit, NBCUniversal and the notoriously hard to get a ticket for Warner Bros./InStyle events went off without a hitch. Fox had their own shindig at the ritzy Craft restaurant offsite in Century City which made it hard to co-ordinate attending anything else unless you had your own limo or wanted to get drenched walking in the rain.