Oscar Watch: Academy voting entering the digital age

Oscar Watch: Academy voting entering the digital age

Plus: Alexander Payne's 'The Descendants' gets a poster

It was simple, direct and to the point.  In one printed letter dated May 19, 2011, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences informed its almost 6,000 members that change was coming.  As soon as they mailed in what E-mail address they would prefer to be contacted at in the future, of course.  Yes, as early as next year, Academy members will discard mailed ballots with a new online voting system.  To say this is a sea change is an understatement, because with electronic voting all the established rules about how long you need to run the Academy Awards timetable gets thrown out the window.

There are no doubt many in the Academy who have big concerns about moving the annual date of the Academy Awards from the end of February to January (or the beginning of February for that matter), but the biggest issue about such a change has always been the lengthy voting process.  Currently, the Academy provides about three weeks for voters to submit their mailed in ballots for the big show.  Of course, ballots aren't even mailed to members until a week after the final nominations have been announced.  That's right, members currently have to wait a week after the field is revealed to even start voting.  What the Academy doesn't discuss publicly is that almost half the voters send in their ballots right away and the rest trickle in over the three week period.  The number of members who wait to the end rarely affects the outcome of any race as the controversies surrounding the actions of a "Hurt Locker" producer and Melissa Leo's now infamous campaign ads demonstrated over the past two years.  Basically, the extra long window is only assisting the stragglers in the process.

As for the earlier nomination process, members have almost two weeks from the end of the calendar year to submit their ballots (Jan. 13, 2012 this cycle).  Considering the deluge of screenings and screeners the membership has at their disposal before Dec. 31, let alone those who actually pay to see a film in theater, it's a window that could be severely shortened.  

 Publicly, don't expect AMPAS to mark this as anything more than moving the organization into the 21st Century, but when (not if) the Oscars move to an earlier date just remember it all started with a May letter asking for an E-mail address.  Oh, how 1999...

 In other awards season news…

 Fox Searchlight is working hard to make sure Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" becomes a prestige picture event.  The film won't hit theaters until December, but the studio has already launched a teaser site for the dramedy and today released a new poster featuring star George Clooney. Considering Payne hasn't directed a film since the beloved "Sideways" (also released by Searchlight) it appears the mini-major is pulling out all the stops to make sure everyone knows he's back.  Gotta love the confidence, huh?  Check out the new key art below and judge for yourself.


George Clooney in the new poster for Alexander Payne's THE DESCENDANTS

Read Full Post
<p>Jack Black is &quot;Bernie&quot;</p>

Jack Black is "Bernie"

Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey's 'Bernie' debuting at LA Film Fest

Richard Linklater's latest finds an unexpected home

In something of a minor surprise, the 2011 Los Angeles FIlm Festival has landed the world premiere of Richard Linklater's new film "Bernie" as its opening night feature.

The story finds Black as Bernie, a "beloved" mortician in a small Texas town.  MacLaine plays her now familiar role of the town’s richest, meanest widow, but - surprise - even she adores him.  The film appears to hinge on the fact that Bernie is so well liked no one will say anything bad about him even after he commits a horrible crime - killing MacLaine's character.  How McConaughey figures into the picture is unclear.

The independently produced black comedy reunites Black and McConaughey with  Linklater after both worked with the filmmaker on "School of Rock" and "Dazed and Confused" respectively.  Even with Black and McConaughey's involvement, "Bernie" is still searching for distribution.  While you have to be happy LA Film Fest is getting such a high profile picture it's somewhat bizarre the film didn't debut at SXSW in March (Linklater is based in Austin, TX) or that the producer's wouldn't wait to show it at Toronto this September (where competing films and bidders could have driven up the price).  Strange to say the least. Most of the other big films at LAFF have screened at other festivals to significant acclaim ("Drive," "Another Earth," "The Future," The Guard" ) or are commercial Hollywood films looking for a fun send off ("Green Lantern," "Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark").  It's difficult to recall the last time LA Film Fest found a potential acquisition piece in it's coffers. 

"Bernie" will kick off the 2011 LA Film Fest on June 16.  

Read Full Post
<p>Rachel McAdams talks about her role in Woody Allen's &quot;Midnight in Paris.&quot;</p>

Rachel McAdams talks about her role in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."

Watch: Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen talk the magic of 'Midnight in Paris'

Is it one of Woody Allen's best?

One of the nicest surprises of May has been Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."  Already a critic's favorite, the Cannes Film Festival opening night dramedy isn't at the level of Allen's most recent classics, "Vicky Christina Barcelona" and "Match Point," but it's clearly right behind them and is far superior to the disappointing "Scoop," "Whatever Works" and last year's frustrating "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger."  And with a Metacritic rating of 82 out of 100 and a stellar Rotten Tomatoes score of 91%, don't be surprised if Allen and "Midnight" become part of the awards season mix this fall.  That campaign also will have some financial incentive as "Paris" is primed to be one of Allen's biggest hits of the 21st Century.

Read Full Post
<p>Alexander Skarsgard and Kirsten Dunst in Lars von Trier's &quot;Melancholia.&quot;</p>

Alexander Skarsgard and Kirsten Dunst in Lars von Trier's "Melancholia."

Has Lars von Trier sabotaged any life for 'Melancholia'?

Dunst's award season chances may be over before they started


It can't get much worse for Lars von Trier, but somebody might need to let the mercurial director know the time for games are over.  The film world is still rocking after the filmmaker's statements yesterday at this year's Cannes Film Festival where he began a long diatribe that found him sympathizing with Hitler.  Today, the Cannes Film Festival effectively banned him from appearing 100 feet from the Festival's red carpet or Festival Palais because of his inappropriate remarks. 

Read Full Post
<p>Kristin Scott Thomas in the U.S. poster for &quot;Sarah's Key.&quot;</p>

Kristin Scott Thomas in the U.S. poster for "Sarah's Key."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Exclusive: Kristin Scott Thomas searches for 'Sarah's Key' in U.S. poster

What does it open?

Finally hitting U.S. theaters after a worldwide tour, "Sarah's Key" is one of those rare international crowd pleasers (at least according to the critics and a high 7.4/10 recommend on IMDB) that could make some noise this summer on the art house circuit.

Debuting at last year's Toronto Film Festival and based on the novel by Tatiana De Rosnay, the dramatic thriller finds Kristin Scott Thomas as Julia, a journalist who begins to investigating a series of events that occurred in her French home during WW II.  Her research brings forth a painful secret to a family trying to put the war behind them.  

Read Full Post
<p>Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain in Terrence Malick's &quot;The Tree of Life.&quot;</p>

Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain in Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life."

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Review: 'Tree of Life" has a grand canvas that ultimately can't connect

Brad Pitt is solid as Jessica Chastain hints at more

Terrence Malick is one of a kind.  Others have tried to imitate his signature naturalistic style, but when the veteran filmmaker is at his best there are few artists who can bring cinema to such grand heights.  The only thing that has been missing from Malick's resume is, well, a substantial one.  With only five films to his credit over the past 37 years it's often easy to contemplate what we've missed during his long breaks from the director's chair.  His first three films, "Badlands," "Days of Heaven" and "The Thin Red Line" are unquestionably classics.  Unfortunately, his last big screen endeavor, "The New World," was something of a mess.   A visually stunning one, but a narrative and disappointing mess.  After some delay, Malick is back with the incredibly ambitious "Tree of Life" which screened for critics at the Cannes Film Festival and in New York and Los Angeles on Monday.

Read Full Post
<p>Angelina Jolie waves at a press opp for &quot;Kung Fu Panda 2&quot;&nbsp;last week at Cannes.</p>

Angelina Jolie waves at a press opp for "Kung Fu Panda 2" last week at Cannes.

Credit: AP Photo/Joel Ryan

Angelina Jolie's 'In The Land of Blood and Honey' playing awards season game

Bosnian War drama will be released on Dec. 23

Producer GK Films and new distributor FilmDistrict have just made Angelina Jolie's directorial debut prime awards season fodder and an even bigger must-see for those in the industry.  The two entities announced in Cannes Sunday that "In The Land of Blood and Honey" would hit American theaters on Dec. 23, a signature awards contending date.

Read Full Post
<p>Brad Pitt in a scene from Terrence Malick's &quot;Tree of LIfe.&quot;</p>

Brad Pitt in a scene from Terrence Malick's "Tree of LIfe."

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Watch: Brad Pitt tries to make his sons into men in new 'Tree of Life' clips

Terrence Malick's long awaited drama screens for critics Monday

The long wait to see Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" is finally coming to an end.

The acclaimed auteur's first film since 2005's disappointing "The New World," "The Tree of Life" has teased cinefiles for the past 18 months over when it would finally hit the screen.  Malick has edited it for some time, but also got caught in the dissolution of his producer's distribution company Apparition which delayed its release.  Fox Searchlight came on eventually and now the film will debut at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival on Monday before opening in limited release May 27.

Read Full Post
<p>Craig Roberts in a scene from &quot;Submarine&quot;&nbsp;with Sally Hawkins</p>

Craig Roberts in a scene from "Submarine" with Sally Hawkins

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Exclusive: Sally Hawkins gives thumbs up in hilarious new 'Submarine' clip

One comedy you can't miss this summer


The summer blockbuster season is looking increasingly sketchy, but there are some great indie films hitting theaters over the next few months that you can't miss.  From "Project Nim" to "Beginners" to "Another Earth" to "Tree of Life" to "Attack the Block" (we assume) there are a lot of great films on the horizon.  One that demands to be seen is a fantastic comedy from across the Atlantic, "Submarine."

I first praised Richard Ayoade's directorial debut during last year's Toronto Film Festival praying a U.S. distributor would pick up the coming of age comedy with a dark side. 
The Weinstein Company complied and are giving the flick a prominent roll out next month.  And if you've had your share of superheros and Hollywood comedies it's a legitimate "must see."

Based on a novel by Joe Dunthorne, "Submarine" centers on Oliver Tate (an impressive Craig Roberts), a teenage boy in Wales who falls for an emotionally detached girl, Jordana (Yasmin Page), all while trying to stop his mother (Sally Hawkins in picture stealing mode) from having an affair with her old high school boyfriend (a bizarre Paddy Considine).   The entire cast is spectacular, but Roberts, Hawkins and Taylor (the latter two playing completely against type) stand out.

In this exclusive clip provided to HitFix, Hawkins confronts her son after he got into a fight "defending the honor of his girlfriend."  To say she's surprised is an understatement.  To say any more would spoil, the subtle turns by both the former Oscar nominee and Roberts in the scene.

You can watch the entire clip embedded in this post.  

To watch the film's U.S. trailer click here.

"Submarine" opens in limited release on June 3.  Mark your calendars.

Read Full Post
<p>Meryl Streep is &quot;The Iron Lady.&quot;&nbsp; Watch out potential best actress contenders because this lady carries one big stick.</p>

Meryl Streep is "The Iron Lady."  Watch out potential best actress contenders because this lady carries one big stick.

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Meryl Streep's 'Iron Lady' becomes a prime Oscar 2012 contender

Can the living legend finally win her third best actress statue?

If there was ever a movie in production that screamed Oscar bait over the past year or so it's Phyllida Lloyd's "The Iron Lady."  The true story of Margaret Thatcher's early years as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the drama features legendary actress Meryl Streep as Thatcher and Academy Award winner and prestige picture vet Jim Broadbent as her husband in the title roles.

Independently financed and produced by Pathe UK, "Iron Lady" kept its goods close to the vest before showing five minutes of the picture at the Cannes Film Market yesterday to entice U.S. bidders.  Summit, Fox Searchlight and The Weinstein Company reportedly had the most interest, but Weinstein teamed up with billionaire Ron Burkle to seal the deal for approximately $7 million.  The two parties previously partnered on acquiring "The Details" with Tobey Maguire and "Our Idiot Brother" during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

In a statement released by The Weinstein Company, Harvey Weinstein remarked “Having worked with both Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent, I know that they are without peer as film actors.  Even so, I was absolutely blown away by what I saw of their performances as Margaret and Denis Thatcher. Phyllida is doing an incredible job.”

Ivernel and Cameron McCracken, MD Pathé UK, who produced the picture, added, “We are excited to be in business again with Harvey and his team - 'The Iron Lady' has found a worthy home in TWC and a great champion for the US market.”

Expect "The Iron Lady" to hit the top of prospective best picture and best actress lists once awards season ramps up in August (And yes, it's only two months away).  To say it would be shocking if Streep isn't nominated is an understatement and the picture, based on its pedigree, is a clear player for a best picture nomination.  On the other hand, I wouldn't lay any money down in Vegas that "Lady" will actually win best picture.  That's a bigger reach.  For The Weinstein Company, "Lady" will be able to run the awards season game to positive theatrical returns based on Streep's presence and the subject matter alone.  Looking at Streep's box office history, "Doubt's" $33 million U.S. gross would have to be a minimum benchmark with the similarly themed "The Queen's" $56 million take a good bet. 

Back to Streep's quest for a third Oscar win, if she delivers another impressive turn in "Lady" 2012 will again find her facing a slew of young and impressive ingenues.  Elizabeth Olsen in " Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Like Crazy's" Felicity Jones are just two of the youngsters out there in contention (and if the buzz is to believed, Tilda Swinton might find another nomination for the Cannes drama "We Need To Talk About Kevin").  Few studios have been willing to play the "it's time" card for Streep to not leave the Kodak Theater a loser once more.  As Streep finally admitted in 2009, attending the show 12 times since 1983 and losing each time has started to wear a bit on her.  She might already be a two-time winner, but in the history of the Academy Awards no actor or actress has ever been teased so cruelty  by his or her peers (intended or not).

Will 2012 break the streak? We'll find out sooner than you think.  "The Iron Lady" should hit theaters sometime this December.

For everyday entertainment commentary and more follow Gregory Ellwood on twitter @HitFixGregory.

Read Full Post