Alexander Payne's vision for "Nebraska" was always in black and white. Going way back to prep on 2004's "Sideways," he told his director of photography, Phedon Papamichael, that he had this little road trip movie he was keen to do free of color, which of course was appealing to Papamichael. Nearly a decade later they finally set out to make the movie, but they had a bit of a roadblock.
PARK CITY - One of the more intriguing aspects of the U.S. dramatic competition at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival is just how unconventional it has been. Dramedies and films with slight sci-fi elements have been a mainstay of the festival's premier category, but straight comedies, zombies and supernatural horror? Well, that's something very new to the mix. One picture that mixes serious drama and supernatural elements in this year's dramatic competition premiered Sunday night, "Jamie Marks is Dead."
It's wonderful when an exemplary year of filmmaking yields an awards season as unpredictable and wide open as this one is. "12 Years a Slave" and "American Hustle" won Globes. They each led guild nominations. "Gravity" and "Hustle" led Oscar nominations, but "12 Years" wasn't far behind. "Gravity" and "12 Years" tied for the PGA Award, but "Hustle" won the SAG ensemble award. And each film was given a Best Picture prize of some sort at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards. (Some of them dubious but that was clearly the point of the BFCA adding those categories: the opportunity to spread wealth.)
Do you know how difficult it is to tie on a preferential ballot? Do you know how even the distribution of votes has to be? It's mind-boggling that that happened. I thought 2000 was a tight year. Three different films won the top guild honors. A Best Picture/Best Director split happened at the Oscars. But three films this evenly dispersed? Call it. This is the most competitive Oscar season I've ever covered.
PARK CITY - The unexamined life, to tinker brashly with the words of Socrates, is not worth filming. That, at least, appears to be the key tenet behind much of Richard Linklater's work, in which ordinary lives are put under the most exacting of microscopes, and granted the level of scrutiny and detail usually reserved for the extraordinary. After the 18-year relationship study of the "Before" trilogy – currently a trilogy, at any rate – it seemed Linklater could hardly push his interest in magnified realism and time-lapse chronology any further. Turns out he can, and "Boyhood" is the astonishing result.
Heading into today's Producers Guild of America (PGA) Awards announcement, it was "12 Years a Slave" and "American Hustle" that appeared to have the momentum. The former had landed some major media prizes in the form of Golden Globe and Critics' Choice wins, while the latter added a Screen Actors Guild ensemble award to its own Golden Globe prize last night. But, well, Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity" had a little something to say about all of that. And the season itself had something to say about calling this thing just yet, as the final award of the night ended up split down the middle in a tie between Cuarón's opus and Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave."
PARK CITY - In the world of intelligence thrillers, the Cold War, much like smoking, is a hard habit to break. And both, as it turns out, feature prominently in Anton Corbijn's "A Most Wanted Man," the first big-screen adaptation of a John Le Carré novel since Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" in 2011, and a worthy spiritual successor to that tangled, tea-stained tale of world-weary espionage. The difference, however, is that we're long past the Cold War's big thaw in this particular story: post-9/11 paranoia is the order of the day, though Le Carré's typically dry, rueful tone and Corbijn's pewter-colored aesthetic combine to suggest the shift is immaterial: the more things change, the more they stay the same, and political distrust springs eternal.
PARK CITY - If you only see one Dust Bowl sci-fi eco-western starring Nicholas Hoult this year... well, maybe wait for the next one. Arriving in Sundance on a tide of buzz that seems justified only by its on-paper singularity, Jake Paltrow's infallibly earnest genre experiment "Young Ones" marries the stark heartland integrity of John Steinbeck to the post-apocalyptic nihilism of "Mad Max," with the waxen self-importance of neither. Relocating a classical land-ownership saga to a barren New-Old West situated, we can only hope, in the very distant future, Paltrow's film never quite finds the happy medium between B-movie splatter and literary elevation; if nothing else, it confirms my suspicion that films adorned with their own chapter headings are rarely good news.
PARK CITY - You could be forgiven for wondering what we stand to gain from a documentary about the Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage issued in California in 2008, and its subsequent reversal. The final Supreme Court ruling on the case is not even a year old, and the five long years of back-and-forth legal wrangling toward this resolution should be fresh in the minds of even those only casually concerned by the issues at stake. Has enough time passed for our perspective on the events to have shifted? Are proponents of the ban ready to engage in even-handed conversation? Can any film on Proposition 8, whatever its stance, do much more at this stage than preach to the converted?
PARK CITY - Imagine you worked at a Hollywood studio and someone were to pitch you a movie set in the late '70s centered on a clinically diagnosed manic depressive raising his two young daughters all by himself. Your first thought would be to immediately question its commercial viability. Happily, Maya Forbes' directorial debut wasn't dependent on a studio. If it had been, there's no way this wonderfully unexpected tearjerker would have found its way to the big screen.
The 20th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards have come and gone and so it's time for another round of best and worst. What were the touching, heartfelt, funny and endearing moments of the evening? What were the cringe-worthy, false-note, unfortunate moments? Some of Team HitFix has a few ideas, so click through the gallery story below for our thoughts and feel free to tell us what you thought of the show in the comments section.