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?
Bejo, Chastain, McCarthy, McTeer and Spencer face 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.)
After seeming an excitingly scattered race for much of the season, Best Supporting Actress solidified with curious rapidity in the weeks leading up to the nominations. By the time ballots were in, only six names were seriously in contention for a slot -- and as we predicted, a strong Best Picture vehicle wasn't enough to get SAG-snubbed 20 year-old Shailene Woodley across the line.
What we have is a respectable if not terribly enterprising selection of performances, with one broad turn in a summer comedy smash crashing the polite prestige party, one seasoned British stage vet preventing a complete slate of first-time nominees, one pair of twin turns from the same film (for a fourth year running) and -- strangely -- two unrelated performances that both hinge on a scatalogical plot point. Shit happens.
The nominees are...
Also: Ebert on Farhadi, and the geography of Oscar
Year after year, the Academy's music branch finds new and inventive ways to dismay fans and pundits alike, and they were on rare form this year: from disqualifying Cliff Martinez's acclaimed original score for "Drive" on a vague technicality to somehow finding only two nominees for Best Original Song (a record low), they made it clear to all observers that both their qualifying and voting rules are in sore need of tuning. Joe Reid offers a pointed but cool-headed diagnosis of just what's gone wrong in the music races, criticizing the grading process that allows branch members to effectively vote against songs, while allowing that movie songs are no longer "part of the fabric of American pop music." And I heartily co-sign his Best Adapted Score suggestion. [NPR]
Another Cannes winner, 'Polisse,' leads with 13 nods
It may be the first French frontrunner in the history of the Academy Awards, but on home turf, "The Artist" had to settle for third place in the César Award nominations. Michel Hazanavicius's awards-guzzler landed a robust 10 nominations in the so-called French Oscars, but the top tally went to another Cannes prizewinner, actress-turned-filmmaker Maïwenn's sprawling law-enforcement drama "Polisse," with 13. "The Minister," a complex political drama that won acclaim in Un Certain Regard at Cannes but doesn't seem to have much travel potential, took 11 nods.
Of course, it's not an entirely fair fight. With its vast ensemble cast, Maïwenn's film was always going to have a numerical advantage: seven of its nominations are in the acting categories. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to see "Polisse" trip up the "Artist" juggernaut at home: more envious César voters may feel inclined to take the international phenomenon down a peg or two, and they'd in turn feel noble rewarding the tough topicality of "Polisse," a study of personal and professional tensions in the Paris police department's Child Protection Unit.
Honorees will include Viola Davis, Christopher Plummer and Martin Scorsese
SANTA BARBARA - The 27th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival kicked off tonight with the world premiere of Lawrence Kasdan's "Darling Companion," starring Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline. Unfortunately I couldn't make it down in time to catch it, but I'm here now and ready for a few days of awards season awareness.
The Santa Barbara fest smartly positioned itself a number of years back as a destination for Oscar contenders. Being the biggest phase two exposure of that sort, the festival's profile has sky-rocketed since Roger Durling took over executive director duties some time ago, adding lengthy tributes scattered throughout the fest as well as the Kirk Douglas Award (which is handed out every October at a private dinner -- this year's recipient was Michael Douglas). This year, a number of Oscar nominees will be appearing at the fest to have a little love thrown their way.
Could 'The Help' have its biggest night of the season?
Positioned almost a month away from the Academy Awards ceremony, the Screen Actors' Guild Awards are frequently something of a buzzkill in the Oscar race -- not because they don't make for a perfectly entertaining evening in themselves, but because they have a nasty habit of sealing up the competition in a number of categories, making life rather dull for attentive awards-watchers.
A certain degree of overlap with the Academy membership makes their routine foreshadowing of the acting Oscar winners -- in the 17-year history of the awards, nearly 70% of the performances honored by SAG went on to take the big prize -- inevitable, though since the awards calendar was reshuffled a few years ago, they tend to answer some questions in the race a bit too early. With this year's acting races already showing little wiggle room, don't count on the Guild to open things up.