Last year was a slightly quieter one than usual for Sony Pictures Classics on the prestige film circuit -- the studio had a number of strong titles, from Asghar Farhadi's "The Past" to Ralph Fiennes's "The Invisible Woman," but only a couple that really connected with audiences. Their strongest Oscar contender, Woody Allen's surprise hit "Blue Jasmine," ruled the Best Actress race but didn't make it all the way to Best Picture. Meanwhile, Best Foreign Language Film -- the category that they normally have on lock, with four consecutive wins between 2009 and 2012 -- didn't go their way at all, with several surprise omissions keeping them out of the final five.
It's nearly that time of year. The hot months, when popcorn fare tear through the multiplex on the way to massive box office receipts. The result, for most, is a shortlist of must-sees throughout the next couple of months, lists typically dominated by franchise entries, anticipated sequels and high concept spectacle. But as always, there are a number of counter-programming options, if you will, gems — or potential gems — lurking beneath the radar.
If there was one Cannes Competition entry you could absolutely set in stone before the announcement last week, it was Ken Loach's "Jimmy's Hall." The 77-year-old king of British social realism has been in Competition 11 times before, making him the most-tapped filmmaker in the festival's history. So there was no way Thierry Fremaux and his team weren't going to make it an even dozen with the film that Loach has stated will be his final narrative feature.
When it comes to "Foxcatcher," Sony Pictures Classics have certainly been playing the long game. Bennett Miller's third film was originally set to premiere on the opening night of AFI Fest in LA on November 6 last year, priming it for a 2013 awards run, before being abruptly pulled from the release schedule -- the reason given that it wasn't ready in time..
I've been fascinated by Andrew Dominik's "Blonde," based on the Joyce Carol Oates book about Marilyn Monroe, for some time. A book like that, steeped in the division between myth and reality, wading into some dark corners, seems perfectly suited for the man who brought us the most complex take on the outlaw Jesse James to date with his 2007 masterpiece "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." Speculation has run rampant as to who would play Monroe in the film, and today, it looks like we have an answer, and that answer is Jessica Chastain.
When the Cannes Film Festival's Official Selection was unveiled last week, many were surprised not to see one carry-over from the Sundance fest in the Un Certain Regard section -- in recent years, it's been something of a tradition for a Park City sensation (often the Grand Jury Prize winner) to compete again there, with the likes of "Precious" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" getting a second surge of festival buzz on the Croisette.
We'd been waiting a good long while to see James Gray's "The Immigrant" even before it premiered at Cannes 11 months ago, and we've been waiting a good long while since -- split festival reviews presumably made The Weinstein Company cautious with this delicate art-house item, but those excited for it have been understandably impatient. Anyway, the wait (in the US, at least) is almost over, with the film set to hit screens on May 16 -- just as Cannes 2014 starts up, as it happens. And while the posters thus far haven't exactly sold the film, the latest trailer is rather more seductive.
Critics' Week at the Cannes Film Festival is one of those institutions that generally looks impressive only in retrospect. In advance, it's hard to tell which of the films selected for the sidebar will really land, but look back at the archives, and it's remarkable how many significant films -- from Ken Loach's "Kes" to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu's "Amores Perros" -- have quietly premiered there.
As noted in last week's news about Steve Spielberg saddling up to a new Tony Kushner script, the Oscar-winning director has plenty on his plate, as always. The Film Stage recently dug through all the possibilities and came up with an ordered list of eight projects most likely to come to fruition, including a Cold War project, further details of which have bubbled up today.
With ratings on the rise over the last three years, the Academy is sticking with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron as Oscarcast producers.