Lee Daniels' "Precious: Based on Push a Novel by Sapphire" has been winning over audiences since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival last January. The drama which featured what would seem to be a strange cast of inexperienced actors including Mo'Nique, Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey stunned the Sundance faithful during its world premiere -- I should know, I was there (it was Mariah Carey in a movie at Sundance, how could you not check it out?). What they discovered was that Daniels had crafted a powerful film that was both painfully realistic and inexplicably uplifting. Many were brought to tears that chilly afternoon, but if you suggested to anyone associated with it that "Precious" would subsequently screen at Cannes, Toronto and the New York Film Festival before transforming into a true Oscar contender they would have laughed in your face. Except, maybe, for Daniels.
The New York Times has just posted an excellent portrait of the manager turned movie producer turned filmmaker that will be the cover story for this Sunday's NY Times Magazine. It's not always flattering (he does seem a tad crazy at times), but just like his films he lets the good and the bad hang out. It's a fascinating read and features some insightful thoughts from his former "Shadowlands" star Helen Mirren and some possibly incendiary claims including that he directed Halle Berry in her "Monster Ball" scenes ("Ball" director Marc Forster must love that) and some sadly truthful revelations about racism in the movie business. It won't matter though.
Since January, this writer has heard one critic, publicist, journalist and industry peep dismiss "Precious" time after time before they've even seen it. Boy do a majority of them sing a different tune after they come out of the theater. You don't achieve the previously unattained feat of winning both the Audience Award at Sundance and Toronto without moving people. So, Daniels may be a wild cannon and he may not win best director (it may be "The Hurt Locker's" Kathryn Bigelow's to lose anyway), but he can't derail the "Precious" train all by himself.
On the other hand, no film is universally loved (LA Times reviewer Kenneth Turan is still remembered for being the only major film critic to rip "Titanic") so it's no surprise people are whipping up ludicrous stories of a "Precious" backlash. It started with Lou Lumenick's write up in the NY Post with the ridiculous take that Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry's support of "Precious" would hurt it with the Academy. That's right, because obviously the last thing the Academy wants is to fall in love with a word-of-mouth phenomenon that becomes a major hit. They don’t dominate history’s list of Best Picture nominees and winners or anything. Gotham Nods and Oprah's endorsement don't mean much. For more, check out this prognosticator's opinion along with some other commentators waxing on the subject in The Envelope. What this "backlash" is really about is that some snarky New York bloggers and critics (god love 'em) tweeted and posted about being underwhelmed after the film played at the New York Film Festival earlier this month. Ah, the contrarian set. Surprised you didn't show up after Cannes. For those that love the movie -- and they are all over the IMDB boards already -- don't fret. In another two months you'll hear whispers of an "Up in the Air," "Invictus" or "Up" backlash. It's all just part of the crazy cycle we know as awards season.
As for Daniels, considering the ups and downs his film career and his battle to get "Precious" off the ground, he'd probably expect no less.
"Precious" opens in limited release Nov. 6.
Other short bits:
- It's becoming a year of awards for Pixar and Walt Disney Animations head John Lasseter. The "Toy Story" director picked up an honor along with his fellow Pixar filmmakers at the Cannes Film Festival in May and now the Producers Guild of America will bestow him with the 2010 David O. Selznick Achievement Award. Lasseter is the first animated producer to be awarded what is effectively the organization's lifetime achievement award. He joins a distinguished alumni of recipients including Saul Zaentz, Clint Eastwood, Billy Wilder, Brian Grazer and Jerry Bruckheimer and Roger Corman.
- USC Film School is celebrating the 100th birthday of departed James Bond producer Albert Broccoli with a James Bond Film Festival Nov. 6-8. What makes this different than your run of the mill 007 marathon on cable is that Broccoli's daughter Barbara and son Michael, who now run the franchise, will speak on two panels regarding the franchise. One of the forums, "James Bond Today," will also feature previously mentioned "Quantum of Solace" director Marc Forster. You can find out more details on the event here.
- An intriguing case from In Contention for a best original song campaign for "You've Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger" by Beth Rowley from "An Education." And that discovery deserves a big ol' "Who knew?"
For constant updates on awards season and entertainment news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter at Twitter.com/HitFixGregory