No one needs awards coverage this deep
Two-time Oscar champ to give something back to the Academy
One of John Myhre's Oscar-nominated sets for the 2009 film "Nine."
Credit: The Weinstein Company
Considering what a pickle they were in only a week ago, I admire the efficiency with which the Academy is moving forward with their Oscarcast plans -- with new producer Brian Grazer and host Billy Crystal in place, Oscar-winning production designer John Myhre is now on board to literally set the stage for the event. (It's a nifty coincidence that this news should land on the same day Gerard covers the Best Art Direction race in Tech Support.)
And I must say, I'm fully down with this choice. As with Grazer, there's something classy about bringing a previous winner into the fold to design the show that has been so good to him in the past -- it suggests to me that their show, a little like Bill Condon's 2008 ceremony, will be grounded in a strong, affectionate sense of Academy tradition.
Looks like it's boiling down to her and Viola Davis for the Best Actress Oscar
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady"
Credit: The Weinstein Company
It's really striking, the similarities between Phyllida Lloyd's "The Iron Lady" and Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar." Both attempt to paint a sympathetic portrait of a conservative politician whose ideals were eventually warped and obsessed upon. Both ultimately whitewash those ideals in favor of broad, glossed-over history lessons built from lazily structured screenplays. And both feature leading performances that, in better films, would likely be no-brainers for Oscar wins.
Lloyd's film begins with aged former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher having difficulty merely buying milk in a brave new world that has moved on ahead of her. It initiates the viewer with a dementia-stricken Thatcher and finds some success in using mundane daily encounters -- a dinner party place setting, a tea cup -- to ignite her memory and send the narrative back in time for the usual biopic foundations. But that ultimately gives way to rather arbitrary flashbacks to cover her life in politics quite broadly, rarely finding time to dig in on the various human hues with which it wants to paint its subject.
Offer up your burning queries
You know the drill. Rifle off your need-to-knows and we'll address as many as we can on the podcast tomorrow.
Other contenders include 'War Horse,' 'The Artist' and 'J. Edgar'
Ralph Fiennes in a scene from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
The design of a film truly does “set the scene.” I’m obviously speaking literally in part – the sets fill up our screen and can therefore present interesting opportunities for glitz and glamor, the complete opposite or anything in between.
But I’m also speaking on a more fundamental level: sets and props build the atmosphere of the world a film's characters inhabit. If done well, the job of the directors and actors becomes much easier. It seems only fair that the talented individuals who engage in this art are recognized by their peers in an Oscar category.
Despite being called the Academy Award for Best Art Direction, the art director is unfortunately not awarded in the category. Rather, the production designer and the set decorator are cited. The production designer is in charge of the film’s entire art department as well as designing and blueprinting set construction. The set decorator is in charge of filling up those sets with elements that flesh out the space.
Also: Ricky Gervais hosts the Globes and indie threats in the Best Actress race
Viola Davis in "The Help."
Credit: DreamWorks Pictures
Hey, has there been a more hilarious performance all year than Viola Davis's wackily oppressed, zanily bereaved maid in "The Help?" There has, you say? Whatever. Anyway, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is with you, as they've barred DreamWorks's planned strategy to campaign the film in the Musical/Comedy races at the Golden Globes. The Globes regularly make iffy calls in this department (particularly irksome is their insistence that biopics of musicians are in fact musicals), but this one isn't really up for debate, tonal shifts and amusing shit-pie hijinks notwithstanding. Not that this changes anything: the floor has always been clear for "The Artist" (which has its own darkly dramatic aspects, but comedy should never be simple) to triumph here. [Deadline]
Contenders range from Pixar to the Smurfs to the Quay Brothers
A scene from the Quay Brothers' "Maska," one of 45 films longlisted for the Best Animated Short Oscar.
Credit: Se-Ma-For Studios
Aside from being a handy wild card in any Oscar betting pool (as much as I like recent winners "Logorama" and "The Lost Thing," I value them most for what I gained from their victories), the Best Animated Short Oscar is always fun to keep an eye on at this stage, given that it's almost impossible to handicap this far out, and yet not too difficult to research. So it is with the 45 shorts that were recently revealed to have qualified for the award, any number of which look from afar like potential nominees.
As usual with this category, shorts from major animation outfits like Pixar, Disney and Warner Bros. are jostling for space with minute independent productions from various corners of the globe -- what's lovely about this category is that size is rarely an advantage here. It's interesting to note that only one of Pixar's two 2011 shorts is on the list, and it's not the one ("Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation") that preceded "Cars 2" in theaters; rather, their hopes lie with acclaimed festival player "La Luna," which you may recall Kris flipped for in Telluride. Smart move.
Our fuzzy friends star in tongue-in-cheek UK cinema ad for phone network
Ringleader of "The Muppets," Kermit the Frog.
Credit: Walt Disney Pictures
Okay, so they didn't get the Oscars. Boo. But hey, work is work, so the Muppets have instead lent their services to UK cellphone network Orange (which, if you squint at it, looks kind of like Oscar) for the latest entry in a series of celebrity-satirizing theatrical ads that have become a customary part of going to the movies in Britain.
Essentially elaborate reminders to cinema patrons who haven't yet turned their phones off, the ads do so by sending up the commercial evils of product placement in films ("Don't let a mobile phone ruin your movie," is the recurring punchline) and the vulnerability of fading stars seeking career resuscitation -- all of which ties in nicely with the meta-narrative around "The Muppets" as a comeback vehicle for previously down-and-out vaudeville veterans.
Previous good sports who have appeared in the ads range from Sigourney Weaver to Spike Lee to Patrick Swayze to Juliette Lewis, so the felt gang is in good human company; the latest ad (embedded after the jump) isn't the sharpest in the series, but frankly, I'll watch these guys in life insurance commercials if it comes to that. (Meanwhile, how envious am I that Kris has seen the movie and I haven't? Guess.)
British quad is film's first poster design to give actors face time
A detail of the new UK poster for "Shame."
Credit: Momentum Pictures UK
The collected press on Steve McQueen's "Shame" thus far has presented the film very much as The Michael Fassbender Show -- understandable, given that his superb performance in it represents the creative peak of a breakout year for the actor. Still, I do feel for Carey Mulligan, whose similarly startling work in what is arguably a co-lead role also marks exciting (I'd say career-best) new territory for a rising star, but has been somewhat sidelined in the conversation around the film.
The film's new UK poster, however, puts that to rights: each actor is given precisely half the available space, selling it very much as a two-hander. It's an elegant if not terribly inventive design, but I find it interesting in that it's the first poster for the film to place the emphasis squarely on its stars -- previous designs for the marketing challenge of a movie have skewed distinctly more oblique and theme-oriented.
It's early yet, but how is a new decade in cinema shaping up?
A scene from Fernando Meirelles' "City of God"
Credit: Miramax Films
We are right in the midst of a cinephile’s favorite time of year. Though there is no hard and fast rule, many of our darlings make their way to theaters just in time for an Oscar run from September to December. But whether it is an Academy Awards contender or not, whether it is released in November or (as rare as this may be) January, each year brings us a favorite film.
Every so often, however, a selection leaps beyond the limited scope of “best of the year” into the realm of “that against which all other films will now be measured.” It becomes the golden child to which the competing star pupils are compared.
We typically frame cinema “classes,” as it were, by decade. For me, the straight-A student that ruined the curve for all the others this past decade was Fernando Meirelles’ “City of God.” Though other films carved a space in my heart and mind, “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” among them, I have yet to find a film that was released in that same 10-year span (2000-2009) that hits every single note quite the way that “City of God” does.
Also: breaking down the screenplay race and Cooper wins the meat market
George Clooney at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Descendants."
Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
Ask most awards analysts who the current frontrunners for the Best Actor Oscar are, and you'll probably get some combination of the names George Clooney, Jean Dujardin and Brad Pitt. Clooney probably knows that, which is why it's both magnanimous and, who knows, perhaps slyly strategic for him to name Dujardin and Pitt's performances, in "The Artist" and "Moneyball" respectively, as being among his favorites of the year: I don't for a minute doubt his ingenuousness (or his judgment) when he describes Dujardin's work as "spectacular," but by singling out these performances, he indirectly puts himself in their company. The man's smoothness knows no bounds. [Los Angeles Times]