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Fest kicked off today with 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist,' but what's coming up?
Paul Newman arriving at the 1963 Venice Film Festival.
VENICE - Bar this morning's review of "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," which christened the 69th Venice Film Festival (and the first under new director Alberto Barbera's rule) this evening, I'm afraid I haven't offered much in the way of festival foreplay.
I had meant to write up some form of preview piece, but travel preparations were more manic than usual, and Venice itself always offers its fair share of practical obstacles. Since arriving yesterday afternoon at the otherwise delightful flat I'm sharing with two colleagues, we've been trying to solve the riddle of how to run electricity, wi-fi and air conditioning simultaneously without short-circuiting the building's entire switchboard. I'm not going steal Jeff Wells' schtick with a diary of technical woes, but suffice to say we're still working on it.
Anyway, offering up a "preview" after the opening film would be more than a little redundant -- and anyway, yesterday's combined HitFix gallery of our most anticipated titles of the fall festival season, to which Kris and I both contributed, set the festival mood rather nicely. The long and short of it is that I'm here and, with the programme's prime offerings still under wraps -- well, mostly -- I'm excited.
'Poppy Hill,' 'Le Tableau,' 'The Rabbi's Cat' and 'Zarafa' officially join the race
As noted in the updates of Monday's Best Animated Feature Film ponderings (which revealed the acquisition of Cannes hit "Ernest & Celestine" for a 2013 release), the indie distributor GKIDS will be qualifying four films for Oscar contention this year: "From Up on Poppy Hill," "Le Tableau," "The Rabbi's Cat" and "Zarafa." Added to Disney's "Secret of the Wings" and "Arjun: The Warrior Prince" (which were confirmed to me as well), that puts us at 17 titles officially in the running thus far, one more than the 16 necessary for a full slate of five nominees. And I don't see any eligibility concerns being raised for any of them on the horizon, so we should be good to go.
I assume many readers would like to know more about these films, which could ultimately shake up the race much like the studio's efforts did last year. So below, read through the official GKIDS synopses of each and start your speculating: which, if any, could end up on the eventual slate of nominees? My bet is currently on "Poppy Hill," but each film has a shot and each, most importantly, could really connect with animators -- you know, the folks who have the ultimate say on the matter.
Mira Nair's touch still AWOL in thoughtful but drab Venice opener
Kate Hudson and Riz Ahmed in "The Reluctant Fundamentalist."
Credit: K5 International
VENICE - I haven't got my Peanuts archives to hand at the moment, unfortunately, but I think it was that pint-sized sage Linus Van Pelt who once opined that "there is no heavier burden than good intentions." Mira Nair's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," a commendably argumentative but airlessly diagrammatic plea for parity in the still-ragged post-9/11 dialogue between Islam and the West, feels that strain more than most. A somewhat speciously juiced-up adaptation of Mohsin Hamid's acclaimed 2007 novel, adding a shrill hostage-thriller framework to an otherwise theory-based study of mutable cultural and spiritual identity, it would be typical book-club cinema even without a noble literary source: distributors might want to consider handing a bulleted printout of Points For Discussion to patrons as they leave the cinema.
In a nutshell -- and the film is rather fond of nutshells -- "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" tells the story of Changez (Riz Ahmed), a young, whip-smart Pakistani immigrant whose vertiginous ascent up the Wall Street ladder begins to stall when the grim events of September 2001 raise external barriers of xenophobic American paranoia, not to mention internal concerns of cultural betrayal. It's material that seems tailor-made for the touch of Mira Nair, the maddeningly inconsistent Indian-American director, many of whose best films to date have focused on brittle clashes between Eastern and Western social and political mores, sometimes within a single character.
The Jack Kerouac adaptation was met with mixed reviews at Cannes
Sam Riley in "On the Road"
Credit: IFC Films
Despite mixed reaction at Cannes, one of the films I've been most looking forward to all year has been Walter Salles's "On the Road." It's set to play Toronto next month, and I have heard that Tom Luddy -- one of the Telluride Film Festival co-founders and co-directors -- is high on the film, so it could pop up there, too (fingers crossed). But as it turns out, it won't be the version seen on the Croisette in May.
Indiewire's Jay Fernandez sat down with IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring recently, and amid a bunch of talk about the film being "an opportunity [he] couldn't pass up" and apparently loving it just the way it is ("for us it's a step up"), it seems Salles went back to the cutting room and came out with a new cut. According to Sehring, this was the filmmaker's decision, as he took a lot of the summer reactions to heart.
The new cut "is about 15 minutes shorter," Sehring tells Fernandez. "It’s a little over two hours now. He’s added certain things that weren’t in the cut that was in Cannes. He has been in New York and Rio and L.A. working on it the past couple of months, and it’s going to be very wet when it gets to Toronto. We’re locked, but they’re finishing the mix up right now."
Film Society announces 2012 'Directors Dialogues' and 'On Cinema' features
Credit: AP Photo/Guillermo Arias
The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced today a bunch more goodies for the upcoming 50th annual New York Film Festival. First up is the 2012 NYFF HBO Films Directors Dialogues feature, which will include fillmmakers Abbas Kiarostami ("Like Someone In Love"), David Chase ("Not Fade Away") and Robert Zemeckis ("Flight") as participants. The annual program pairs a director with a journalist as they discuss the filmmaker's career, views on their own approach to making movies as well as the current state of the art of filmmaking.
Separately, the fourth edition On Cinema master class will feature two directors for the first time, who will share the stage for an expansive dialogue about influences, filmmaker choices and their own personal histories of cinema. Tapped for the program are Noah Baumbach ("Frances Ha") and Brian De Palma ("Passion"). All five filmmakers' respective films are featured on the NYFF slate.
That rare moment when a studio does what's right by a young actor
Tom Holland in "The Impossible"
Credit: Summit Entertainment
I've written pretty much all I should about Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Impossible" at the moment. But to recap, I walked away thinking Naomi Watts was probably the film's best shot at an acting nomination for the raw emotion and embattled nature of her character in the film (which depicts one family's plight during the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004).
Otherwise, I figured that even though Ewan McGregor doesn't have as much to chew on as Watts (though he nails it when he's called upon), he'd probably get a lead actor push to go along with hers, while young actors Oaklee Pendergast, Samuel Joslin and Tom Holland (who play McGregor and Watts' sons in the film) would be shoved into the supporting ranks like so many child actors before them. Well, in the case of Holland, who largely anchors the film and is a definite lead by anyone's measure: not so fast.
But the indie studio still has a lot to play with this year
Strike one potential animated contender from the list (which was just updated this morning). You might recall that Guy was a big fan of Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner's "Ernest & Celestine" at Cannes, offering that it's "schooled in the gentle economy of picture-book storytelling: its words are witty and well-chosen, yes, but it's the delicate visual construction of its parallel worlds that invites the most scrutiny and empathy." He then went on to declare that it deserved US exposure.
Well, it looks to get it, as hero to the independent animated film community GKIDS has just announced acquisition of the title. But it won't be bowing it in this year's race. It's being held for fall 2013, where it should be considered formidable amongst whatever usual usual studio fare will surely be in the conversation. The film is officially set for a North American debut at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival, but I'm hoping it might pop up at Telluride first. That's where I discovered "Chico & Rita" a year before GKIDS picked up that unassuming but beautiful ditty, which went on to nail down an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film last year.
On the Oscars in an election year
Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln"
Credit: Touchstone Pictures
The most important piece you're going to read on the awards season right now is Sasha Stone's "The Oscars in an Election Year" over at Awards Daily. Even if you chafe against her politics (with which I am personally aligned), you can't argue against the fact that she nails a certain truth: socio-political environment will impact reaction to art.
That's what's so great about movies, books, paintings, songs, etc. They are as much a direct reflection of the times as they are a nebulous Rorschach for them. Involuntary extrapolation can be as significant as clear-eyed reaction to a straight-forward treatise. And in an environment as heated, tense and divided as this, the art that escapes the cauldron is bound to be, if not willfully profound, then a fascinating looking glass, at the very least.
I hopped on iChat with Stone last week to chew on this idea a bit and do something I've been meaning to do for a while: really dig through the history of election years and the Oscars. Much of what follows is owed to that conversation and the ideas that came out of it. It's a fool's errand to try and tie any given election year down to the Best Picture winner, of course, but it certainly makes for intriguing considerations.
The film is set for the Toronto and Venice film fests
Robert Redford in "The Company You Keep"
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
Sony Pictures Classics has quite a few irons in the fire this season, as usual. There is the Cannes trio of Michael Haneke's "Amour," Jacques Audiard's "Rust and Bone" and Pablo Larraín's "No." There is the recently acquired "At Any Price" from Ramin Bahrani. There are Sundance hits "Smashed," from James Ponsoldt, and "West of Memphis," from Amy Berg. And now, there is Robert Redford.
The movie star/director's latest, "The Company You Keep," is part of the slate of films announced for Toronto and Venice. It features a spectacular cast, including Redford, Shia LeBeouf, Julie Christie, Brendon Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling. With Sony Classics' just-announced acquisition of the title, I wonder if we might see the film pop up at Telluride first? They always come to Colorado with plenty to show.
Meanwhile, Germany, Mexico and Israel announce shortlists
A scene from "Lost Loves," Cambodia's submission for the foreign language Oscar.
Credit: N.D. Palm Film
Before I get to the second official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race, a word about the film that many have been casually assuming is the film to beat in the race: "Amour." Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or basked in critical adoration at Cannes and looks sure to stand as one of the year's most lavishly acclaimed films when 2012 wraps up. After the Academy broke with tradition last year by actually giving the prize to the critics' favorite -- Iran's "A Separation" -- you could be forgiven for liking Haneke's chances this time round, particularly given that his film should resonate with the Academy's older voters, who are legion.
First, however, it actually has to be entered into the race, and that's less of a sure thing than you might think. Though it's a wholly French-set, French-language production, three countries can lay claim to it: France, Germany and Haneke's home state of Austria.