No one needs awards coverage this deep
Signs point to 'Yes'
TELLURIDE - Like my colleague Greg Ellwood, I attended yesterday afternoon's "Sneak Preview" premiere of Ben Affleck's "Argo." Last year the spot -- an unannounced screening for patrons of the festival and invited press -- went to "The Descendants," the year before, "Chico & Rita." It's not a typical spot for Oscar bait to bow, it just happened to fall that way the last couple of years. And it was a big winner this time around.
I found the film to be yet another step up for Affleck, who continues to grow as a filmmaker and surprise not just formally but with his adeptness at handling ensembles as well. And that's what "Argo" is: an organic, finely tuned ensemble where no one really stands out from the pack. And that's not a bad thing, particularly for a film that is very much about the efforts of the many.
The still-rising starlet receives the second tribute of the festival this year
TELLURIDE - Actress Marion Cotillard didn't really explode onto the domestic film stage until "La Vie en Rose," but what a coming out it was. She managed to win an Oscar that few (ahem) saw coming and transformed that newfound respect and goodwill into a thriving Hollywood career, but it was hardly an overnight success story.
Cotillard had already seen plenty of success in her native France before that 2007 explosion. She starred in Arnaud Desplechin's "My Sex Life... or How I Got Into an Argument," Pierre Grimblat's "Lisa" and the "Taxi" action comedy trilogy -- earning plenty of recognition for each -- before breaking out in Yann Samuel's romantic comedy "Love Me If You Dare" (in which she co-starred with eventual husband Guillaume Canet) in 2003. She also eventually landed a prime role in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "A Very Long Engagement," which brought her a César Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon's doc holds a mirror up to society
TELLURIDE - "I hope this film makes you angry," filmmaker Sarah Burns said by way of introduction to this morning's screening of "The Central Park Five." She co-directed the film with her father, Ken Burns (a Telluride staple -- as is Sarah: this is her 20th fest) and husband David McMahon. And angry is a good way to put it.
Maddening, gut-wrenching, deflating, these are all words I would use to describe the film, which tells the story of five black and Latino youths who were wrongfully convicted of the vicious rape of a female jogger in New York's Central Park in April of 1989. Films like the "Paradise Lost" trilogy and "West of Memphis" have recently depicted miscarriages of justice in similarly infuriating ways, but few have been such a thorough and profound indictment of mob mentality as this. It's a must-see effort analyzing an ugly and dark hour for society.
Christian Petzold's superb Stasi-era drama is playing Telluride this weekend
A little over a week ago, I mentioned that Germany had announced a shortlist of eight possibilities for their official submission in this year's Best Foreign Language Film race -- and had evidently ceded Michael Haneke's French-Austrian-German co-production "Amour" to Austria this time, after beating their neighboring state in the tussle to submit "The White Ribbon" three years ago.
I had only seen one of the options on the list, but still found it hard to imagine they could make a better choice than "Barbara," Christian Petzold's excellent, broadly acclaimed Cold War drama about a female doctor in rural East Germany circa 1980, wrestling with her conscience over whether or not to defect to the West.
Happily, that's exactly what they've chosen -- giving Telluride audiences an extra reason to check "Barbara" out as it has its North American premiere there this weekend, before travelling on to both the Toronto and New York festivals. The film already has a US distributor in newish indie outfit Adopt Films, so Petzold's team can now just bask in the further kudos they're likely to receive on the fall festival track.
Anderson's latest man-and-boy saga stimulates and mystifies in equal measure
VENICE - How do you break an already broken man? It'd be presumptuous to say that this is one of the questions asked by Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" -- and it certainly asks no end of them, both verbally and otherwise -- but it was the first of many it left me asking. In a film that devotes an abundance of screen time to replicating (though not, contrary to more excitable pre-screening rumours, ridiculing) the Scientological auditing process, an interrogative therapy designed to draw out unconscious truths, the spontaneous personal response is surely not to be distrusted.
Elliptical but hardly indecisive, testy but hardly incendiary, Anderson's exquisitely sculpted film is about more individual-based values and desires than its grabby advance reputation as a Scientology exposé promised: trust, admiration, sex, kinship. "The Master" turns out to be many of the things I expected it to be -- a sharp evaluation of what we are prepared to believe in exchange for self-possession, a richly textured evocation of American social vulnerabilities in the aftermath of WWII, most inevitably of all, another literate chapter in Paul Thomas Anderson's ongoing thesis on the positive and corruptive powers of charismatic leadership. What I had not quite anticipated, however, was a romance -- much less one between two men.
Roger Michell's latest bogs down in problematic romance
TELLURIDE - Actress Laura Linney -- a part-time Telluride resident -- missed the festival last year for the first time in eight years. Well, she's back this year with the film that kept her away in 2011.
However, it was odd to more than a few that the festival decided to plop the world premiere of Roger Michell's "Hyde Park on Hudson" in the Abel Gance outdoor cinema this year. It's happened in the past, of course. But somehow, films like "Into the Wild," "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Paranormal Activity" make more sense than a tiny, stuffy drama about a former president's affair with a distant cousin.
But it is what it is, and the movie is what it is, too: problematic. The above logline aside, the film is also about a visit by the royal family -- King George VI and Queen Consort Elizabeth (recently portrayed by Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in "The King's Speech," but here taken on by Samuel West and Olivia Colman) -- to President Franklin Roosevelt's Hyde Park, New York retreat on the eve of war. They'd like a little help, you see, but the young king is struggling with confidence issues, while his strong-willed wife is obsessed with appearances ("They want us to eat hot dogs? What are they trying to say??").
Tribute to Jackson's 1987 blockbuster album will air on ABC at Thanksgiving
VENICE - In a strangely programmed day at the Venice Film Festival -- no competition films are premiering, so we're feeling the effects of the slimming-down of the lineup this year -- so Spike Lee is enjoying the plum screening spot with his music documentary "Bad 25." It played for the critics this morning, and had its grand outing this evening, following a ceremony where Lee was presented with the festival's Jaeger-Le Coultre Glory To The Filmmaker Award.
It's the start of what should be a busy publicity trail for the film, a thorough, track-by-track study of the making of Michael Jackson's mega-selling 1987 album "Bad" -- marking, as depressing as this is to contemplate, the 25th anniversary of its release. (How did we ever think we could live so large and get so old?) The film will also play as a Special Presentation at the Toronto Film Festival, and ushers in a lavish reissue of the album itself on September 18, with all manner of bells and whistles. Meanwhile, Lee's two-hour-plus film will be televised by ABC on Thanksgiving in November -- though whether that precludes any form of theatrical distribution in the US, I haven't yet worked out. (It'll surely see the inside of a few more theaters internationally.)
The maverick filmmaker gets another tribute in the twilight of his career
TELLURIDE - What else can one say about Roger Corman? He may think his influence on the film industry has been "overrated," but when future stars like Jonathan Demme, Curtis Hanson, Jack Nicholson, John Sayles, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone cut their teeth under your wing, your mark on the form is undeniable.
That idea was explored in an interview I conducted with Corman last year on the occasion of the documentary "Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel." It was on the heels of a David O. Selznick award from the PGA in 2006, Honorary Oscar recognition in 2009, a Fantastic Fest fete in 2010 and a Los Angeles Film Festival tribute in 2011. Indeed, it's become rather posh to toast the maverick filmmaker, whose 400+ features may be on the fringes of cinema, but whose impact on some of its most successful artists simply means his fingerprint will always be on the industry.
Boos greeted Ramin Bahrani's unsubtle but gutsy film at first Venice screening
VENICE - "God, that was a lot of America," I heard an Italian critic remark to his companion as they slouched out of "At Any Price" at the Venice Film Festival earlier this evening. His tone did not convey great delight at this perceived abundance; perhaps he was among the few but unignorable critics heard lustily booing as the credits rolled on Bahrani's classically involving and unexpectedly robust drama of heartland morality spread thin amid the cornfields of Southern Iowa .
He wasn't wrong, however. America is an almost punitively dominant presence in "At Any Price": we're treated to a complete rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," sung in an assortment of isolated, unlovely voices, midway through the film, while the Red, White and Blue itself is a pronounced presence in many a composition, furling and flapping above characters' heads like a veritable reproach.
What could it mean for his Oscar season hopes?
It had been rumored that the "mystery guest speaker" at the on-going Republican National Convention (which I've avoided like the plague, save for the inevitable Twitter eruptions over this or that nonsensical speech) would be Clint Eastwood. And today, CNN confirmed it.
My question is: why now?
Yeah, Eastwood backed Romney publicly earlier this month, just like he bumped his head and came out for Sarah Palin in 2008. He's long been considered more libertarian than conservative, though. And I've always liked that his work as a director has never seemed agenda-driven (even if I don't like a number of the films). Indeed, sometimes the art would paint a fuzzier portrait of the artist's political leanings. But I guess in the world of "mystery guest speakers" for such a thing, he makes sense.