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'Tree of Life,' 'Hugo' and 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' in the running
An effects-heavy scene from "The Tree of Life."
Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Since I took over the Visual Effects category in our Contenders section, I've been maintaining that there isn't much to say about that particular race until the Academy begins narrowing the field a little -- and after the first cut today, leaving a longlist of 15 films, there's still little to add to the conversation. All the nominees everyone has been predicting all along are present and correct: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "Hugo," "Harry Potter of the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" and so on.
Of the Top 15 titles we had listed in the Contenders section, 12 made the cut: there was no love for the CGI period recreations of "Anonymous" or (and this was always a risky guess) the motion-capture acrobatics of "The Adventures of Tintin." Most disappointing to me is that the breathtakingly stylized digital imagery of "Immortals" got no love -- it struck me as more artistically ambitious FX work than, say, "Thor," but I freely admit to being a luddite in these matters. Perhaps what it lacked was a colon on the title: six of the 15 films that did make the grade boast one.
He also can't believe he gets to make Christopher Walken laugh
Woody Harrelson in "Rampart"
Credit: Millennium Entertainment
At an abandoned Pasadena hospital, Woody Harrelson patiently waits for a shot to be set up as he plays with the gold jewelry on his fingers. He's decked out like a slick street hustler, a scorpion tattoo on his neck. Across the way, Christopher Walken is primped by makeup artists, a faux bloody wound on his head tended to.
"I can't believe I'm doing a scene with Christopher Walken," Harrelson says. "I love him. You never really know where you stand with him, you know? You'll be talking and you won't know. And then he'll crack a big smile suddenly."
"That's kind of like you," I tell him. He cracks a big smile suddenly.
The scene is set and Harrelson takes a seat opposite Walken. It's Walken's close-up. Harrelson is wrapping up his day off screen, giving Walken something to work with as they perform a hilarious scene regarding a cravat. (The film is Martin McDonagh's dark comedy "Seven Psychopaths.") This take, McDonagh wants Harrelson to make Walken laugh. The camera rolls. "It looks like your neck threw up, man," Harrelson says. Walken laughs.
Where will your favorites rank?
Welcome to Oscar Talk.
In case you're new to the site and/or the podcast, Oscar Talk is a weekly kudocast, your one-stop awards chat shop between yours truly and Anne Thompson of Thompson on Hollywood. The podcast is weekly, every Friday throughout the season, charting the ups and downs of contenders along the way. Plenty of things change en route to Oscar's stage and we're here to address it all as it unfolds.
Here at the end of December's first week, all 2011 films have officially screened for press. And yet, we can't discuss the last two to drop. Whatever shall we do in this interlude...
Also: Who almost starred in Spielberg's movies and Cameron sued over 'Avatar'
Jerry Robinson's Joker as seen in Batman #1.
Credit: DC Comics
It was with great sadness yesterday that I read the news of comic book artist Jerry Robinson passing. Robinson is widely known as the creator of the Joker in the Batman comic books (though that was naturally disputed by Batman creator Bob Kane in his time). It's an iconic gift to the world of graphic literature, no matter how you slice it, and Robinson's imprint on the industry was a considerable one. For "The Dark Knight," filmmaker Christopher Nolan went back to the pages of Batman #1, the Joker's first appearance, so it's fair to say we owe Heath Ledger's interpretation of the character to Robinson. Speaking of which, the prologue of "The Dark Knight Rises" was screened for select press last night. It will be attached to IMAX versions "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol." [New York Times]
Contract negotiations halt and the union goes public
Credit: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
As the race for Oscar continues to heat up the teamsters who manufacture and deliver the physical statues are coming into conflict with R.S. Owens & Company, the producers of the Oscar and Emmy statuettes. According to The Huffington Post, contract negotiations between Owens and its workers have come to a halt and the union is now reaching out to Hollywood to back them up in their dispute. In a release on Tuesday the employees revealed that the company had frozen wages for three years beginning in 2007 and plans to renew the policy for the next three years, leaving them without the benefit of a pay increase for nearly a decade.
The union further alleges that Owens intends to cut vacation and bereavement benefits and increase health care costs. Though production continues, there is the ever present possibility of a strike, which could theoretically affect the February 26 awards show. Teamsters Local 743 plans to seek Federal mediation as a part of its negotiations strategy.
Charlize Theron keeps the ugliness inside in her best work since 'Monster'
Charlize Theron in "Young Adult."
Credit: Paramount Pictures
There’s a single line—make that a single word—in the opening reel of “Young Adult” delivered with such pointed lack of empathy as to immediate wipe clean any cosier expectations we might have had of a second collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Staring disconnectedly into her glass while on a blind date with a seemingly decent chap wittering on about his experience of teaching in South East Asia, Charlize Theron’s divorced, 37 year-old youth fiction novelist Mavis Gary screws up her face and spits out the question, “Why?”
The guy doesn’t acknowledge the question; indeed, it doesn’t break his flow for a second. But after Theron’s drolly apathetic tone gets the required laugh from the viewer, her sourly confused expression seals the moment as more than a snarky throwaway: this isn’t just a woman who disdains people who help others, it’s one who sincerely doesn’t comprehend them. A kind of high-functioning autism invisible beneath her snippy intelligence and immaculate lipstick, Mavis’s misanthropy makes in her mind a gigantic ‘why’ of all human relationships, though she’s sufficiently self-possessed enough not to care about the answers. We never see the face of her hapless date in that early exchange; in a sense, one doubts she does either.
'The Help' co-star's Supporting Actress campaign gets an extra boost
Octavia Spencer is in line for an Oscar nomination for her performance in "The Help."
Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
It's never too late to be recognized as a "breakthrough performer," apparently. 15 years after making her first big-screen appearance in "A Time to Kill," 39 year-old actress Octavia Spencer -- the chief source of comic relief in the ensemble of "The Help" -- has been honored with the Breakthrough Performance Award at the Palm Springs festival.
Like most of the awards dished out at Palm Springs and Santa Barbara next month, this honor acts chiefly as an Oscar nomination forecast: previous winners of the prize include Felicity Huffman, Jennifer Hudson, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner and Carey Mulligan. (Hard luck, Mariah Carey and Freida Pinto.) Not that one needs any such minor bellwethers to predict Spencer's nomination, which has been set in stone since "The Help" opened in August: the question is whether she can win in a field that still has no clear frontrunner.
Other contenders include tunes from 'Captain America' and 'Footloose'
An Elton gnome from "Gnomeo & Juliet." Yes, an Elton gnome.
Credit: Walt Disney Pictures
Tech Support inadvertently took a week off as I never did get around to writing up the Best Original Song category. No worries. Nothing has happened of note in the field all year long, really, and the contenders have pretty much laid themselves bare, for the most part.
Naturally there will be some other considerations when the official list of qualifying tunes is revealed soon enough. That announcement dropped on December 15 last year, so I imagine within the week we'll know what's in the running.
For now, though, it's time to run a comb through what we're aware of and see what makes sense as formidable in the field. There are a number of tracks worth considering, so as we close up shop on Tech Support's category analysis this season, let's see what they are.
Also: George Méliès turns 150 and Asa Butterfield talks Scorsese film school
The cover of "Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros."
Credit: Warner Home Video
Remember that exchange on "Entourage" a few years back? Something about Clint Eastwood being set up at Warner Bros. for decades. "We give him $90 million to make movies now," the studio head said. To which Turtle quipped, "I heard he uses 60 and pockets 30. That's why he only does one take." Like so much of the show, it was inside baseball, but it cracked me up. Anyway, the point being, Eastwood has been a fixture on that lot seemingly since the dawn of time. Every once in a while he's ventured out and done a film with another studio, but home base is Warner Bros. So it makes sense for a handsome boxed set of his work there to hit the market. Enter "Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros.," which would make a great Christmas gift for the Eastwood fanatic in your family. It has everything from "Where Eagles Dare" to "Invictus." [Amazon]
1967 doc 'Titicut Follies' to receive retrospective recognition
A scene from Frederick Wiseman's "Titicut Follies."
With Oscar season so invariably focused on the new and the now, it's refreshing when the occasional awards body casts a look backward to slightly older releases -- though they don't tend to go back 44 years. Trust the conscientious folks behind the Cinema Eye documentary awards to take up that cause with a Legacy Award for classic individual documentaries that, in their view, still carry resonance and influence today. This year's recipient: Frederick Wiseman's 1967 debut feature "Titicut Follies."
I've never had an opportunity to see Wiseman's film, an exposé of the grim conditions at a Massachusetts prison for the criminally insane, but it'd be interesting to see on what note he started his prolific and still-productive career. I'm familiar only with the director's later works, peaking with his staggering Paris ballet study "La Danse." His work of late has been preoccupied with human movement and performance; his latest, "Crazy Horse," about the titular Paris nightclub, continues in that direction. It opens in the US in January, neatly coinciding with the Cinema Eye presentation.
Edited press release after the jump.