It's come to this
Two weekends back I was told that a famous director at the Golden Globes observed the parading of "The Artist," uh, "star" Uggie on the stage yet again to get the easy laughs and "awws" from the audience as the film won the Best Picture - Comedy/Musical award. "Why does Harvey keep dragging this f***ing dog around," he quipped. "There's a dog in our movie, too. Our dog could EAT that dog."
With a recent tongue-in-cheek op-ed in the pages of the Los Angeles Times bearing his name, I suppose it's okay to reveal now that, indeed, the director in question was Martin Scorsese. The article is meant as a cute stumping call for Blackie, the Doberman "star" of Scorsese's Best Picture nominee "Hugo" in the wake of the canine being snubbed in the nominations for the first annual Golden Collar Awards, but it's absolutely brilliant for the way it takes the piss out of Oscar season oh so succinctly.
'Dimanche (Sunday),' 'Fantastic Flying Books,' 'La Luna,' 'A Morning Stroll' and 'Wild Life' square off
(The Oscar Guide will be your chaperone through the Academy's 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 26, with the Best Picture finale on Saturday, February 25.)
US audiences will once again get a chance to see the Oscar-nominated shorts this year as Shorts International (via ShortsHD) and Magnolia Pictures will be launching its popular program for the seventh-straight year. The nominees for animation, live action and documentaries (included for just the second year) will hit 200 theaters across the country for a limited time on February 10.
This year's crop of contenders in the animated field is a bit thin compared to years past, I feel. There's a great diversity of craft, which is always nice -- and typical, as the branch generally does a good job of representing a solid cross-section. However, I just wasn't as taken with as many of the nominees as I usually am. Nevertheless, personally speaking, one entry really stands out above the rest and could be the winner. Though, of course, we know what assuming can do for us in this category. It's always a fresh race and this year might be no different.
The nominees are…
Also: Jean Dujardin sings, and the 'post-macho world' of 'The Descendants'
I always find Sundance coverage rather difficult to follow from a distance -- critics there seem to talk much more about what they're seeing next than what they just saw, leaving me more aware of titles than actual movies. Still, two films generated enough buzz to permeate my consciousness, and as it happens they both emerged as prizewinners on the weekend: the rapturously reviewed "Beasts of the Southern Wild" took the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic features, while "The Surrogate," an acclaimed performance vehicle for John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, took both an Audience Award and a Jury Prize for its cast. Both have been acquired by Fox Searchlight, and some are already whispering the O-word. I just can't go there, but I'm glad we're allowed to like Hunt again. Greg Ellwood has the full list of winners. [Awards Campaign]
Honors for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Ensemble mark a stellar night for the film
The 18th annual Screen Actors Guild went down tonight and added, well, nothing to the conversation. Okay, maybe a little something. But before getting to the Best Actor surprise of the evening...
I had thought maybe -- just maybe -- Melissa McCarthy and all that TV love (though not enough love to yield a separate nod for "Mike & Molly") could provide an interesting Johnny Depp moment for her and her "Bridesmaids" performance. It wasn't to be.
Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer kicked off the evening with largely expected wins in the supporting actor and supporting actress categories for "Beginners" and "The Help," respectively. Most expect that they've sewn up their Oscar glory, but I think in the case of the former, the presence of Max Von Sydow in Best Picture nominee "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" makes things a bit more interesting than that, but for the most part, I do agree that the course is (and really has been) set.
The festival presents the 'Beginners' star with its highest honor
SANTA BARBARA - Tonight brought the second tribute of this year's Santa Barbara film fest, a spotlight for "Beginners" star Christopher Plummer and the festival's highest honor: the Modern Master Award.
The evening was moderated by Deadline columnist Pete Hammond, who is a perfect fit for this kind of honoree with his own personal obsessive classic film knowledge and considerations. Plummer told Hammond and the captivated audience a number of wonderful stories throughout the evening, starting at the beginning with his awakening to the arts.
He was encouraged at a young age in Montreal to seek out everything that would play the local cinemas, any kind of theater or ballet, etc. He gravitated toward it quickly and he remembered nursing many a cold beer at this or that club, seeing a young Judy Garland in his youth, a young Frank Sinatra and Edith Piaf, even. "I thought, 'This is the greatest life,'" he recalled. And soon he made it his own.
Oscar-snubbed 'Project Nim' wins in documentary category
And with that, I think you can just about call this Oscar race -- if you weren't willing to do so already. Fabricate uncertainty if you like by remembering the last time the winner of the award didn't take the Oscar (it was Rob Marshall, nine years ago), but in winning the Directors' Guild of America Award last night, "The Artist" and Michel Hazanavicius have enjoyed their biggest and most telling victory yet on the circuit.
There was speculation in some quarters that immense peer affection for previous DGA honoree Martin Scorsese could see him pull off an upset, but I'm not sure how realistic a prospect that really was -- when the industry embraces a frontrunner as warmly as they have "The Artist," and it happens to be a film that hinges on its showy directorial conceits, there's little reason to suspect they won't reward the helmer as well.
Don't expect cameras to find the directors of 'Midnight in Paris' or 'The Tree of Life'
The DGA Awards will be going down tonight, and the smart money remains on Michel Hazanavicius. But speaking of directors, I hadn't quite taken note yet of the fact that two of the Academy's nominees in the field are inevitable no-shows for the event. Stu VanAirsdale is way ahead of me, but let me add a few nuggets.
Woody Allen, of course, has only attended the Oscars once. It was a surprise appearance six months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when the writer/director came out to introduce a Nora Ephron-directed package of clips featuring New York cinema in a show of solidarity for the city.
My colleague Steve Pond tells the story of being backstage and seeing "Nora Ephron" on the rundown, a placeholder for someone, but for whom, no one knew. It wasn't until Allen walked by decked out in his tux that everyone suddenly went, "Oh, shit."
Reads a lot like a scene from the film itself
Typically blooper reels feature actors breaking out of their created roles. There may be some unforeseen accident on set, a stray boom falling into frame, performers losing their handle on the dialogue (or language in general), unexpected bouts of Tourette syndrome, uncontrolled laughing during the funeral scene or otherwise unusable, though amusing, takes. But it is always clear that, for that moment, Fred Friendly (or whoever the character is) has dropped away and George Clooney (or whichever actor) has reemerged.
What is striking about the blooper reel from Michel Hazanavicius's “The Artist” that Coming Soon made available yesterday is that it is difficult to discern the moment where George Valentin/Peppy Miller disappear and Jean Dujardin/Bérénice Bejo emerge. Sure, when Uggie the dog fails to follow a command, it is obvious that the shot has not gone as planned (it is also more than a little bit adorable). When poor Bejo face plants in the midst of a sequence, we know it wasn’t an “I meant to do that.” But the distinction between actor and character is infinitesimal at best.
The 'Help' star receives Santa Barbara's Outstanding Performer of the Year Award
SANTA BARBARA - The tributes at this year's Santa Barbara Film Festival kicked off with a bang tonight as Viola Davis took the stage at the Arlington Theatre to be fluffed up for her Outstanding Performer of the Year Award. And in my four or five years of attending the festival, it was one of the better productions I've seen.
After Davis's "The Help" co-star Octavia Spencer introduced the actress, my Oscar Talk colleague Anne Thompson served as moderator for the evening -- her first stint in this format, and she did a great job. But Davis also makes it very easy with her organic and incredibly thoughtful responses. Truly, she commands this kind of setting so well, offering up authentic, specific insights into her process as an actress, and not in a sound byte way, but with a kind of matter-of-fact poignancy that really is exceptional. She's "on" in ways other stars only hope to be in such a scenario.
The Manassas Tigers try to break 110 years of bad luck
One of the documentary features nominated by the Academy Tuesday was Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Matin's "Undefeated." No, not the Sarah Palin thing. This is a chronicle of an inner-city North Memphis, Tennessee high school football team's journey through one defining season, with all the petty and profound drama that comes with it, and it's an outstanding portrait.
If you're a fan of football, you're sure to take to it and no-nonsense coach Bill Courtney immediately. If you're not a football fan, you might just find yourself surprised by the film and the universal elements it folds in. "You think football builds character," Courtney says in the film. "It does not. Football reveals character."
Of course, the film is about more than just the high school gridiron. It uses this one season to tell a rousing underdog tale, one that makes you thankful the cameras were there to capture it. The Weinstein Company picked the film up out of South by Southwest in March and has already spun it into an Oscar success story. How far can it go in a documentary feature category that appears ripe for the taking?