Plus: Check out the Oscar-winning 1996 doc 'Breathing Lessons' and the new poster
One of the first screenings I caught here in New York this week was Ben Lewin's "The Sessions," which I saw yesterday. The film debuted at Sundance (where it was called "The Surrogate") to much acclaim and became an instant contender for Best Actor (John Hawkes) and Best Actress (Helen Hunt). William H. Macy's supporting performance could also be a player.
It's a very emotional film, ultimately, even if it gets there with a lighter touch. Much of that has to do with Hawkes's fantastic performance, carving an endearing portrait of real-life polio sufferer Mark O'Brien. O'Brien was a Berkeley poet and journalist who spent the majority of his waking hours in an iron lung and, toward the end of his life, wanted to know the pleasure of being with a woman. But the film ends up being about way more than the physical joy of sex, navigating a path of spirituality and humanity toward that most important of life's offerings: intimate human connection.
The 50th annual slate has been revealed
Okay, so, I said it yesterday, but to reiterate: a busy week for NYFF. Robert Zemeckis's "Flight," Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" and David Chase's "Not Fade Away" have been tapped for big world premieres, and today, the full line-up has been unveiled by Film Society of Lincoln Center.
As usual, there are some Cannes carry-overs, chief among them Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or-winning "Amour." Also in the mix are Christian Mungiu's "Beyond the Hills," Leos Carax's "Holy Motors" and Pablo Larrain's "No," among others.
Continuing along the fall festival circuit will be Brian De Palma's "Passion" (already set for Toronto/Venice and a potential Telluride play, too), Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha" (set for Toronto) and Olivier Assayas' "Something in the Air" (Venice). And there is another world premiere noted: Allan Berliner's "First Cousin Once Removed."
After a strong Cannes debut, the long wait for a distributor is over
A couple of weeks ago, I wondered why it was taking so long for Jeff Nichols's "Mud" -- an audience-pleasing, star-powered coming-of-age story with genre trappings -- to find a US distributor, after being so warmly received at the tail-end of the Cannes Film Festival. I closed by speculating that indie outfit Roadside Attractions was the sort of company that might be willing to take on the film, and steer it through an awards season where it could turn into a popular property.
Lo and behold, the news broke yesterday that Roadside, together with parent company Lionsgate, are all set to acquire US rights to the film -- but that they're only planning to release it in 2013. There's no word yet on when in the new year "Mud" is set to hit, but if they share my belief in its awards potential -- at the very least, it represents a decent Best Actor play for the currently resurgent Matthew McConaughey -- the wait could be rather a long one. Meanwhile, it still hasn't shown up in the Toronto Film Festival lineup.
From 'The Sopranos' to the big screen and a Big Apple bow
It's been a busy week for Film Society of Lincoln Center, lining up the program for the 50th annual New York Film Festival. Announcements of "Life of Pi" and "Flight" as bookends to the fest already stood out as a major step forward where nabbing exclusive bows was concerned, and today, it's been revealed that "Not Fade Away" will see its world premiere as a centerpiece presentation.
David Chase's much-anticipated directorial debut tells the coming-of-age tale of a group of friends inspired to form their own rock band fronted by a gifted singer-songwriter. But talking with a publicist this week who's working on the film, it's also apparently very much about that moment in time when Chase and his friends moved to New York and realized there was a way of life as artists. And with a killer soundtrack to boot.
Chase, of course, made his name on the small screen with series like "Northern Exposure" and, most especially, "The Sopranos." It's nice that his first stab at the big screen will be an intimate portrait along these lines. "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini has a role in the film, which also stars Brad Garrett, Christopher McDonald and Bella Heathcote, among others.
Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger also star in the upcoming TIFF player
When I got married in March, we chose, as many couples do, to offer up readings meant to shed light on our feelings for one another. Mine was a brief but potent (to me) excerpt from Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations." It was the final line, in fact, which has a long story of its own (Dickens offered up three versions and settled on one that carries a delicious sort of ambiguity).
It's my favorite book ever since I cheated and read the Cliff's Notes in the 9th grade (of course I've read it in full since). I love what it says about connectivity, about love, about passion and obsession and about finding one's way in the world. And like many, I always felt there was little to add to David Lean's cinematic interpretation from 1946. Nevertheless, I must say I even enjoyed Alfonso Cuarón's embattled modernization in 1998. (That film's poster hangs framed on my kitchen wall in Los Angeles.)
Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp headline feelgood Weinstein acquisition
If the opening night slot at any major festival is a high-pressure position -- one under which many a film has collapsed -- the closing night is in an even less enviable position: at least everyone bothers to see the opening film. Knowing that many journalists will already have flown the coop by the last day, festival programmers rarely leave something truly tasty to the very end, often handing the slight to something eminently skippable and/or low-profile.
Cannes has particular form in this area -- barely a word was breathed about this year's closer, "Therese D," even if it was the late Claude Miller's final film -- and Toronto tends to take a similar approach, the festival's recent closing selections having included "Stone of Destiny" (no, I don't remember either) and last year's "Page Eight," a dreary Rachel Weisz-starring spy drama that had already premiered on British TV.
Still, there have been notable exceptions to the closing-night curse: Venice picked a winner last year with Whit Stillman's "Damsels in Distress," just the tonic jaded critics needed after 10 days of heavyweight viewing, and I wonder if Toronto has been a little savvier this year with the selection of "Song for Marion," a feelgood British dramedy that has already been picked up for US distribution by The Weinstein Company.
The documentary could be in the hunt for an Oscar nomination later this year
Saturday night I shelled out cash to see Sundance hit "Searching for Sugar Man." Malik Bendjelloul's documentary tells the incredible story of musician Sixto Rodriguez, who crashed and burned with record sales in the States in his time (the early 1970s) but became an inspiration for South Africans fighting Apartheid throughout the decade and into the 1980s.
Of course, the kicker is Rodriguez (his stage name) never knew about his worldwide success (he was also huge in Australia). Many fans had come to believe the myth -- different depending on who's telling the tale -- that he had killed himself on stage in some dramatic fashion.
Rodriguez was re-discovered in the 1990s and actually went to South Africa to perform sold-out concerts, much to the shock and delight of his daughters, who had no idea their father had it in him. But that's where he belonged, on the stage, telling stories through really great music. Indeed, many of the major music figures who worked with Rodriguez -- as the doc points out -- consider him on the top tier of their collaborators.
'Life of Pi' and 'Flight' will get their close-ups in the Big Apple
In spit-balling the upcoming fall festival circuit recently, I noted that, in my view, the New York Film Festival -- at least as a launching pad for year-end awards hopefuls -- had been underutilized in its time. But things have changed the last few years.
Up until the unveiling of David Fincher's "The Social Network," NYFF had been a stopping-off point for Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Telluride and Toronto holdovers, for the most part. Films like "Good Night, and Good Luck.," "The Queen," "The Darjeeling Limited," "The Class" and "Wild Grass" opened the fest after bowing elsewhere, while closing nighters such as "Caché," "Pan's Labyrinth," "Persepolis," "The Wrestler" and "Broken Embraces" did the same. Ditto a slew of centerpiece screenings.
But that exclusive bow for Fincher's film in 2010 was a turning point. The excitement was probably dampened a bit by the fact that Sony screened the film for press in New York and Los Angeles in the middle of the Toronto Film Festival, looking to get some headway while ultimate Best Picture winner "The King's Speech" was dominating the festival conversation, but it was a good start.
The festival will premiere a restoration of the director's ill-fated 1980 film
For a film that a lot of critics continue to believe is a disaster of momentous proportions, Michael Cimino's epic flop "Heaven's Gate" has received an awful lot of second chances. The vast period western is one of Hollywood's most enduring cautionary tales: made on the back of Cimino's Oscar triumph with "The Deer Hunter," it fell prey to the director's hubris as it ran catastrophically behind schedule and over budget, ruining United Artists as it grossed not one-twentieth of its then-massive $44 million budget.
Critics may have piled onto the already woebegone film, both in its 219-minute premiere edit (still a feat of restraint compared to the five-and-a-half-hour edit Cimino originally had in mind) and the studio-shredded 149-minute version prepared for general theatrical release, but the rehabilitation has been steady and dedicated over the years. Originally unveiled in Competition at Cannes, it's since been given other illustrious platforms from to recoup its credibility.
As his latest joint hits theaters, he reveals his Top 15 films on iTunes.
After lying low in TV-land for a few years following the damp squib that was "Miracle at St. Anna," Spike Lee seems to be all over the place this month. His latest feature "Red Hook Summer" -- a loose follow-up to "Do the Right Thing," which Kris partially saw in Sundance, and rather liked -- opens Stateside today to mixed, if not unsympathetic, reviews.
In a few weeks, he'll be unveiling his new documentary about Michael Jackson, "Bad 25," at the Venice Film Festival -- where he'll also be receiving a career achievement award. Finally, his long-mooted remake of Park Chan-wook's "Oldboy" is moving forward, with shooting set to begin in New Orleans this autumn, and Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Sharlto Copley attached to star.
On another note, he's also jumped on the list-making bandwagon we've all been on since Sight & Sound's poll results last week, revealing his own Top 15 Films Of All Time -- not via Sight & Sound (he didn't participate in the 2002 poll, and doesn't appear to be involved with this year's either), but through an iTunes playlist of sorts. What a time it is to be alive, folks.