HOLLYWOOD — AFI organizers expected some star power on their red carpet when they booked "August: Osage County" for the film festival's prime Friday night gala, but they probably didn't expect it to be from the movie's producer. With Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep officially "unavailable" (the two-time Oscar winner was in London shooting "Into the Woods"), George Clooney was the biggest name at "August's" LA premiere and - like the pro's pro he is - he graciously charmed the press on hand with the soundbites and smiles they so desperately wanted.
LOS ANGELES — In the new drama "Out of the Furnace," premiering tonight at the 2013 AFI Fest in Hollywood, Scott Cooper has finally delivered a follow-up to his 2009 debut "Crazy Heart." That film, which won Oscars for Best Actor and Best Original Song, came about as a vessel through which the Virginia-born director could, in some way, tell the story of singer Waylon Jennings (something he could not do directly due to legalities surrounding the country crooner's life). Indeed, Jennings' Nashville smack-down "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?" made it onto the soundtrack, part of the DNA of a film that aimed to strip away the flashy rhinestones and fancy bolos and tell a straightforward story of a musician's life on the road, no place for the weary kind.
Given how entrenched that film was in its musical identity, it's only natural that one might be curious about the musical pulse of his latest, an account of life and death and the thin line between in the mountains of Pennsylvania Appalachia. And make no mistake, there is a musical soul to "Out of the Furnace," perhaps one even deeper than that of "Crazy Heart."
Well, in the heated war of words between the director and stars of "Blue is the Warmest Color," the European Film Awards have (albeit probably not intentionally) taken a side. In this afternoon's nominations announcement, Abdellatif Kechiche came away with two nods for Best Film and Best Director, but Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux were both left out of the Best Actress category -- a shock for a film that's so performance-driven. (Still, it's something of a surprise to see the film nominated at all, given that it wasn't on the initial longlist of eligible titles announced in September.)
20th Century Fox's "The Book Thief" opens in limited release today and it's landed with something of a thud. Reviews are very mixed (and that might be kind) and there's little pre-release buzz about the film. That being said, this was always a tough sell for Fox. The film's biggest names are Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, the movie did not make a splash at any of the major fall festivals (it debuted at Mill Valley) and feels more like an Oscar bait movie than it probably should, being based on a popular novel by Markus Zusak set in Germany during WWII. That period is almost the definition of an Oscar bait movie these days.
The Palm Springs Film Festival calls it the Desert Palm Achievement Award -- but that's really just code for Star Sure To Get An Oscar Nomination Award. Every year, they tap an actor and an actress hot on the awards trail for the honor: recent recipients include Naomi Watts for "The Impossible," Bradley Cooper for "Silver Linings Playbook," Michelle Williams for "My Week With Marilyn" and Brad Pitt for "Moneyball." (In 2010, they neatly foreshadowed the eventual Oscar champs, picking Colin Firth and Natalie Portman. Indeed, of the last 10 recipients, the only one who failed to secure an Oscar nod afterwards was Marion Cotillard. (R.I.P. "Nine.") Who is this year's first buzz-heavy recipient, then? Matthew McConaughey.
Though I'm not terribly invested in the Marvel universe, and am definitely feeling the effects of superhero fatigue, I found myself looking forward to "Thor: The Dark World." I was unexpectedly charmed by the literate sweep and dippy comedy of Kenneth Branagh's franchise-starter two years ago, and a London set visit last year got me intrigued by the promised expansion of its story world. So I was disappointed to find the follow-up a more turgid, less cohesive offering, with the much-vaunted "darkness" translating mostly to digital murk, with less room for the cast to play -- and Tom Hiddleston's invaluable Loki confined to a box for far too long.
But that's me. Others have been far more tickled, while Drew McWeeny was guardedly favorable. So, over to you: it's been out internationally for over a week now, and hit US screens today, so share your thoughts if/when you've seen it, and be sure to vote in the poll below.
Even from a continent's distance, the American Film Market, which began on Wednesday and continues until next Friday, tends to make me aware of a number of films that I previously had no idea were even at the germination stage, much less wrapped and ready to go. One such film is "Mojave," the second directorial effort from William Monahan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "The Departed."
It's not often that an actor has three different films to support in the Oscar race, and in three different capacities to boot -- but Forest Whitaker is a busy guy. The 52-year-old actor, an Oscar winner seven years ago for "The Last King of Scotland," is chasing a second Best Actor nod for his quiet turn in "Lee Daniels' The Butler." Meanwhile, as a producer of "Fruitvale Station," he's chasing a less likely nomination in the Best Picture category. And now he has a horse -- or, to be more accurate, a bear -- in the Best Animated Feature race, as he leads the English-language voice cast of GKIDS' delightful art house hopeful "Ernest and Celestine."
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.