HOLLYWOOD — The American Film Institute kicked off the 2013 AFI Film Fest on Thursday night with the North American premiere of John Lee Hancock's "Saving Mr. Banks" at the TCL Chinese Theater. Hancock noted during the screening's introduction that the entire event felt a tad like deja vu. Not only had "Mary Poppins," a classic film that is a key element of the movie's plot, held its world premiere at the Chinese, but "Banks" re-staged that premiere for its own ending about a year ago. Needless to say, the Walt Disney Company may own the El Capitan Theater across the street, but "Banks'" Hollywood debut proved the Chinese has special place in the studio's history.
The nominations for the Gotham Independent Film Awards were announced two weeks ago, delivering predictably good news for "12 Years a Slave," which led the field with three nominations, including Best Picture, Actor and Breakthrough Actor. Well, it has now extended that leading tally to four, as the nominees for the Gothams' Audience Award were announced today -- and, naturally, Steve McQueen's Oscar heavyweight is on the list.
When George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" ducked out of the 2013 Oscar race and opted instead for a quiet February release, it seemed obvious that a Berlin Film Festival date was in the offing. And so it is: the film is being released too early in the US to have its world premiere at the fest, but it will be included in the Official Programme. (I take that to mean it'll play out of competition.) This makes sense for a film that is, after all, a part-German production. “Over five million cultural assets stolen by the Nazis were returned to their countries of origin in the years following World War II. As the recent discovery in Munich demonstrates, the art theft of that time is as current as ever. 'The Monuments Men' finally gives this little-known subject a worldwide audience," says festival director Dieter Kosslick. [Berlinale]
Things haven't exactly gone swimmingly for Paul Haggis since he won that contentious Best Picture Oscar for "Crash" nearly eight years ago. Clint Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima" nabbed him another writing nod a year later, and a pair of new-model Bond films kept him ticking over, but on the directorial side of things, it's been a case of diminishing returns. Only a surprise Best Actor nomination for Tommy Lee Jones kept "In the Valley of Elah" from sinking without trace, while the Russell Crowe-starring thriller "The Next Three Days" was pretty unmemorable pulp. Reviews out of Toronto for his latest, "Third Person," didn't exactly suggest the slide had been reversed.
We're a little ways off yet from the Academy unveiling its long list of eligible contenders in the Best Original Song Oscar race. But in the meantime, and particularly since we finally started populating the category's Contenders section with entrants in the last week or so, it doesn't hurt to put a finger to the wind and see what's what.
The Academy has announced this year's short list of Best Animated Short contenders, and as always, it's a varied crop of tone, form and style.
The production of the Warner Bros. western "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is a unique entry in the annals of cinema history. The studio had been courting Andrew Dominik for some time, eager to work with the director of 2000's "Chopper," and he had a gem of a project for them to consider: a film about the outlaw Jesse James, based on a dense novel he found at a second-hand bookstore in Melbourne, Australia, with Brad Pitt in the iconic role.
Surely the studio saw dollar signs. Brad Pitt as Jesse James? It must have felt a few steps removed from a Batman movie. Batman in the wild west. But what Dominik had in mind wasn't a Batman movie. It was a deeply ponderous, Malickian thing that would speak to themes of celebrity and a dying age. This would not be Jesse James in his prime. This would be, as the title lays bare, the end of a legend, and all the artistry such an unconventional take on that legend would suggest.
A little surprise happened at the art house over the past few months. Fox Searchlight's late addition to the September release schedule, "Enough Said," has become one of the biggest indie releases of the year.
You've got to feel a bit for Naomi Watts. Her 2013 started so promisingly, with a second Oscar nomination for "The Impossible." She'd waited pretty long, and fought pretty hard, for it -- cue a second wind for her career, right? Wrong. Well, not yet, at any rate. Only days after the nomination announcement, Watts' silly romantic drama "Adore" (yes, the one where she and Robin Wright shag each other's sons) was laughed out of Sundance. And that wasn't the worst of it: once talked up as a possibility for Oscar nod #3, "Diana" has been humiliated by critics and ignored by audiences. And there was "Movie 43"... Nathaniel Rogers considers her briefly triumphant nightmare year, and wonders what she can do to put it behind her. [The Film Experience]
Alfonso Cuarón returned to Los Angeles this week as "Gravity" completes another awards season orbit. The critically acclaimed phenomenon is battling "12 Years a Slave" for this year's frontrunner status (not that either of them want it) and Warner Bros. took some time Tuesday night to celebrate the $428 million-plus global box office hit.