As I was saying the other day, James Franco has a lot going on. As an actor, he's already had four films out this year, others from Sundance and Berlin still awaiting release, while his sixth feature as a director, the William Faulkner adaptation "As I Lay Dying," just premiered at Cannes. He's got an art exhibition on the go in London, and, with his producer's cap on, is currently seeking crowdfunding for three feature-length adaptations of his short stories. Whether you love, loathe or are simply bemused by Franco, you can't accuse him of hiding his light under a bushel.
When you take a look across Sony Pictures' impressive slate for the upcoming fall movie season, it becomes clear that the studio has a lot to work with. There's George Clooney, fresh off "Argo"'s Best Picture Oscar win with his directorial effort "The Monuments Men." There's also another heavyweight from last year's Oscar race, David O. Russell, back in the saddle with a big cast in "American Hustle."
Those two would be more than enough for any awards campaign to handle, but then there's Paul Greengrass's "Captain Phillips," the true-life account of a 2009 Somali pirate raid starring Tom Hanks. And finally, "Moneyball" director Bennett Miller will be back with "Foxcatcher," the bizarre true story of convicted millionaire murderer John duPont with Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum. Something might need to blink, and the way I hear it, it may just be "Foxcatcher."
Boy, make $400 million at the box office and everyone wants to hop on your franchise. Young Adult adaptation "The Hunger Games" hit last year and it hit big, making a bigger star of Jennifer Lawrence and establishing a giant money magnet for Lionsgate in the process. The sequels were immediately set up with Lawrence and co-stars Woody Harrelson and Josh Hutcherson returning, with director Francis Lawrence at the helm.
You can hear the Oscar gurgles percolating as studios have been showing films in hushed theaters looking for feedback and shuffling their schedules to find the right release dates for this and that. Soon the fall festival season will reveal what's what and it'll be a race to the finish among the players.
As the clock ticks down on June, so it does on the first half of 2013. It's funny how fast those first six months zip by. The Oscar season bleeds into the year, March rolls around and soon enough, the summer movie season arrives. Then Cannes and before you know it, the mid-way point.
How has the year stacked up so far? Personally, I've been consistently pleased, and I'm even somewhat satisfied with the blockbuster offerings of the hot months. Could anything we've seen so far show up on the Oscar radar at the end of the year? Time will tell, but I think there are some strong possibilities.
EDINBURGH - This year's trip to the Edinburgh Film Festival has been a brief, last-minute one. After three days of attempting to distil the highlights of artistic director Chris Fujiwara's defiantly independent-minded programming -- ranging from "The Conjuring" to "Leviathan" --, I'm heading home this evening, my festival experience over before it's even begun. (Tomorrow: off to Karlovy Vary.) Still, I'll be sharing the standouts with you in a couple of paired review pieces. First up: "This Is Martin Bonner," which begins its staggered release tomorrow, and "Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction" -- which, it was announced yesterday, will be released in Los Angeles on September 13.
The 39th annual Saturn Awards were presented by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films tonight in Burbank, Calif. Top prizes for film went to "The Avengers," "Life of Pi," "The Cabin in the Woods" and "Skyfall," while "Revolution," "Breaking Bad" and "The Walking Dead" triumphed in the television categories.
Since seeing it almost exactly a year ago, I've devoted a lot of column inches to Belgian director Joachim Lafosse's magnificent domestic drama "Our Children." A jolting worst-case study, inspired by actual events, of a young mother driven to the brink by a combination of postpartum depression and an excess of male authority figures, it wound up at #7 on my list of 2012's best films and continues to eat away at me.
This year's Best Visual Effects category is sure to be stacked. We've already seen great stuff in "Iron Man 3," "Star Trek Into Darkness," "Oz the Great and Powerful" and "Man of Steel." The work in "Pacific Rim" is, as you might expect, jaw-dropping. We still have "Elysium," "Gravity" and a new "Hobbit" installment to come, and who knows how films like "Rush" and "All is Lost" might figure into the otherwise blockbuster-heavy (as usual) line-up?
All of that is to say that Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" is going to have a difficult time insinuating itself into the conversation. I know this film didn't land very well with a great many but I'll still stick up for it, and even though the effects go perhaps a bit too far for my taste here and there, for the most part, they are the extension of a discernible vision. That's more than you can say of a great many contenders that find themselves duking it out in this race year after year.
It was 40 years ago this December that William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" terrified audiences and found itself in the rare position of being a critically admired prestige horror film. It landed 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Ellen Burstyn), Best Supporting Actor (Jason Miller) and Best Supporting Actress (Linda Blair). William Peter Blatty even walked away with the trophy for the adaptation of his own novel.
Why am I mentioning this now? Because four decades later, James Wan's "The Conjuring" is easily the best film of its kind since Friedkin's masterful thriller. In a genre that has increasingly given way to the cheapest levels, where films like "The Devil Inside" are rattled off like products on an assembly line, here is a film with a real respect of the craft and, most importantly, a level of restraint. Restraint and a sense of build is what made the most chilling elements of "The Exorcist" land like holy water burns on demon flesh, and it's equally what makes Wan's more direct terrors connect in "The Conjuring."