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Last week Ang Lee's long awaited adaptation of the popular novel "Life of Pi" opened the 50th New York Film Festival to wide critical acclaim. Richard Corliss of Time called it "a giant leap forward" for filmmaking. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter referred to it as "gorgeous and accomplished." Justin Chang of Variety was less enthusiastic, but praised the epic as a "harrowing high-seas adventure." HitFix's own Kris Tapley called it "affecting" and praised its "univeralist heart." At the same time, Tapley also noted the picture's clunky first act, and having recently seen "Pi" I have to agree with him.
Make no mistake, however, Lee has cooked up more of his trademarked cinematic magic in this water bound epic. One of cinema's greatest living filmmakers, Lee has an eye his peers would die for and his first venture into 3D is much more impressive than Scorsese's overrated "Hugo" last year. He'd aided by a superb turn by newcomer Suraj Sharma as Pi, fantastic cinematography by Claudio Miranda ("Tron: Legacy," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") and an unexpectedly gorgeous score by Mychel Danna ("Moneyball," "500 Days of Summer"). "Pi" will move many inside and outside the Academy and it could be a rare box office breakout because it is just so original. Unfortunately, the film is bookended by scenes featuring an older Pi (a fine Irrfan Khan) telling his unbelievable story to a struggling writer looking for something to put to paper (Rafe Spall with a damn subtle but distinct Canadian accent). Even hours after having seen "Pi" the journey still resonates strongly, but the modern day sequences feel more and more out of place. It's a credit to Lee that the middle portion of the film carries a viewer's satisfaction and some of the more passionate responses make it clear "Pi" should be a long term awards season and Oscar player.
With that in mind, "Pi" makes a slight jump from no. 4 to no. 3 on this week's contender countdown. It's no disrespect to "Les Miserables," but if the countdown is a snapshot of the race for a best picture nomination then "Pi" has slightly more buzz at the moment. Much more intriguing is the first Gurus of Gold poll since the Toronto International Film Festival which posted Tuesday morning. Some interesting notes to ponder:
- Only myself and Deadline's Pete Hammond have "The Impossible" in our top 10. That's OK. We'll take the stragglers later.
- "Zero Dark Thirty" made a somewhat surprising bullet at no. 6. It just seems a tad high right now. I'm a big believer of Ms. Bigelow, but I fear this movie is going to be politicized no matter how she and Mr. Boal have framed the story. Once the election is over? Watch out…
- Only 5 of the 12 voting members picked "Amour" to make the 10 this week. I'd like to say I'm surprised it's that few, but considering I don't have it in my ten I shouldn't be. Perhaps I'm more impressed that some of my fellow Gurus smartly realized it's not the slam dunk some make it out to be.
- While "Argo" and "Silver Linings Playbook" are currently no. 1 and no. 2 via vote totals (cough, I'm the only one who voted them those positions), there is little consensus at the top spot. "Argo" has four first place votes, "Playbook" has three first place votes and "Life of Pi" has two. "Lincoln" and "The Master" have one first place vote each. Yep, it's early people.
Here's some blurbs for this week's countdown…
In for the long haul. It's gonna win a bunch even if it doesn't get the big prize.
2. Silver Linings Playbook
Can't believe certain pundits are going after this one already. Ridiculous.
3, Life of Pi
NYFF certainly made a good selection to open their 50th Anniversary festival. Then again, the esteemed Film Society committee also programmed "Passion" and "Hyde Park on Hudson" (and not "Cloud Atlas" people? Really?)
4. Les Miserables
Boy it's gonna make a lot of money.
So, a select audience will get to screen it on 10/10 in New York after which there will be a Q&A with Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis. OK then.
6. The Master
Honestly, box office could be better. Is it already tapped out theatrically?
7. The Impossible
8. Moonrise Kingdom
Made the Gurus top 10, but Focus - which has the "Moonrise" DVD coming out on Oct. 16 - definitely needs to give this one another shot in the arm come November (don't wait till early December, too late).
9. Beasts of the Southern Wild
SAG news earlier this week wasn't great, but Searchlight wasn't surprised. This isn't an actor's branch play anyway.
10. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
You know how you know CBS' "The Good Wife" skews older than you'd ever believe? A promo for the "Exotic" DVD release was the only non-CBS commercial playing when I caught the season premiere on demand. Eke.
What are your thoughts on the Gurus first round of post-Toronto voting. Any surprises? Share your thoughts below.