No one needs awards coverage this deep
The Salton Sea is the eerie backdrop for 2011's best doc
Benny Parrish in Alma Har'el's documentary "Bombay Beach."
Credit: Focus World/Alma Har'el
“Haunting” is one of those go-to critical terms – handily covering all manner of atmospheric tangibles in one poster-friendly epithet – that I nonetheless avoid using whenever possible, particularly when reviewing films I’ve just seen. How can a film be declared “haunting” before it’s had time to haunt a person? To immediately provoke or upset is one thing; to haunt is to play a far longer game.
Which is to say that it’s not without due consideration that I describe Israeli-American video artist Alma Har’el debut feature “Bombay Beach,” a gloriously freeform documentary following a scattering of defiantly damaged souls around California’s Salton Sea, as, well, haunting.
It’s been over four months since I first saw Har’el’s bracing, taffeta-textured film, currently on release in New York and Los Angeles, and still I find isolated sounds and images from its rich scrapbook straying, of their own accord, into my memory: two teenagers staring impassively into the middle distance in dime-store carnival masks, a crew-cut tyke in a leotard rowing a beached boat to nowhere, the rosy-bleak shadows of the sunset on this none-more-desolate settlement.
Open thread. The floor is yours.
Tom Cullen (left) and Chris New in "Weekend"
Credit: Sundance Selects
Once again, welcome to Cinejabber, your weekend soapbox space to discuss whatever's on your mind, cinematically speaking, at the moment. I can't say there's much on mine: I took in my 40th film of the London Film Festival this morning (in addition to the 30-odd titles in the LFF programme I've seen elsewhere), and the cumulative effect is rather hazy. Say, are there any good plays on at the moment?
As you've may have noticed, the festival routine has caused me to fall way behind on my reviewing duties, so expect more reports (and an interview or two) even after the fest draws its curtains on Thursday. Among other festival treats, I enjoyed Alexander Payne's witty, wide-ranging Screen Talk last night (even if I'm not that crazy about his latest -- more on that another time), while tomorrow's Surprise Film gets harder to pin down the closer I get to it. Possibilities vary in size and scale from "Hugo" to "Le Havre," with "Tintin," "My Week With Marilyn" and "Damsels in Distress" all seemingly in play; having just scored a ticket today, I'll be happy with something I haven't seen. (Selfish, I know.)
The prolific composer could be in contention for a number of scores this year
Alexandre Desplat won the Golden Globe in 2006 for his work on "The Painted Veil."
Credit: AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
Film music composers are so often the most expendable element of a given project, it seems. They come, they go, and typically, someone is brought on very late in the game when we thought another composer was on the case.
That seems to be what's up with Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," which has until now been noted as another collaboration with composer Nico Muhly ("The Reader") for Daldry. As it turns out, Alexandre Desplat - perhaps the most prolific composer in the game -- has been quietly working on the project. And his intrepid publicist just sent out a release reminding the media of this.
And it's most certainly noteworthy. Earlier in the year Desplat put out quality work in Chris Weitz's "A Better Life," a score I really think deserves some attention. Meanwhile, I've been expecting him to get a much-deserved nomination for his work in George Clooney's "The Ides of March," one of the best scores of the year.
Studio plans to use adult rating as 'badge of honor' in Oscar campaign
Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan in "Shame"
Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures
"Oscar prospects, before anyone asks: probably nil. And yay for that."
So I commented immediately after posting my review of Steve McQueen's "Shame" following its unveiling at the Venice Film Festival, hoping to pre-emptively defuse a natural line of questioning on this site, without suggesting the film in any way fell short. Regular readers will know that I can be a bit snippy when quizzed about the future awards outlook for festival films, partly because I'm loath to think like a pundit at a world-cinema carnival, and partly because there are often too many unknowns for such speculation to be at all meaningful: critical approval only counts for so much with films with no distributor and no proven real-world audience.
For every festival sensation whose Oscar potential is immediately apparent (think Mo'Nique, whose recent Best Supporting Actress win seemed sewn up at Sundance a year before she even netted the nomination), there's another that has to feel its way into the season. Certainly, nobody screamed "Best Picture!" when "The Hurt Locker" premiered at Venice a full 18 months before its Oscar-night triumph.
Also: Animated feature contenders, foreign film discussion and special guest Guy Lodge
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.
Today Anne and I are joined by In Contention's own Guy Lodge who is knee-deep in the London Film Festival these days, catching up on a number of titles he missed along the festival circuit. And, of course, he caught a certain highly anticipated film that's opening in the UK next week. Let's see what's on the docket today…
Also: Emily Watson talks a little 'War Horse' and River Phoenix's disowns his final film
Here's hoping "Assassin's Creed" doesn't go the way of "Prince of Persia."
I make this the lead story here only because it's Friday and I'm a huge fan of the gaming series. Not awards related in the slightest, but I really hope they don't screw it up. It looks like Sony has acquired the film rights to Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed." Ubisoft has been really careful about who these rights went to and I hope that means they are being delicate with the story, because I happen to think the story of "Assassin's Creed" -- even if portions amount to little more than boiled down ancient alien theory -- has a lot of potential. Of course, we'll likely get some kind of bottled up distillation that loses what's great about the narrative, but a guy can hope, right? [Variety]
Mexico's Oscar entry is a blazing formalist drug-war thriller
Stephanie Sigman (center) in "Miss Bala"
Credit: Twentieth Century Fox
LONDON - Having forgotten much of the Spanish I only sketchily learned in my first year of university, I’m afraid I was one of those dim critics who, at first glance, puzzled over the title of Gerardo Naranjo’s coolly crazed new film “Miss Bala”: a long-night’s-journey-into-day drug-cartel thriller, at once taut and elastic, revolving around the unlikely political center of the Miss Baja California beauty pageant.
Of course, it turns out that “bala” is the Spanish word for “bullet”; if this initially seems a clunkily direct pun for a rattling action film with no shortage of literal bullets in its arsenal, it turns out to be a coldly ironic joke on a female protagonist Naranjo’s restlessly prowling narrative methodically denudes of all defences.
Played with a tightly reined kind of anti-magnetism by promising big-screen newcomer (and, aptly, former model) Stephanie Sigman, our protagonist Laura Guerrero is less a bullet than she is a blank: a silkily gorgeous 23-year-old from a motherless household in working-class Tijuana, she pins her dreams on winning a chintzy cattle-parade pageant seemingly without any clear sense of what those dreams might be. Naranjo’s script stringently parcels out details of her background, livelihood and even personality: we know little about the woman but her meek yearning for definition.
Charting the race from 1-30
We chart the ups and downs of Oscar season in our newly revamped Contenders section.
Credit: AP Photo/Amy Sancetta
Sorry for the delay in getting our unique Contenders section off the ground here at the new HitFix digs. The hard-working team here has a number of other projects that obviously aren't In Contention-related, so you can empathize with the heavy workload.
But the wait is over! We've got the new section up and running. You'll note a link above, under the blog logo, as well as in the sidebar with our predictions, as usual. We still have things tiered. "Good Bets" is a section reserved for contenders in each category that seem good to go for a nomination. "Other Possibilities" are just that, contenders in the thick of the hunt. "Dark Horses" are outside chances that deserve to be plucked from "The Rest of the Field," which lays out most of the other hopefuls aiming for room in the race.
Where things are different is in my decision to rank the bottom tier along with the top three sections. Call it a tip of the hat to the old days of Zuesefer (those who have been following the Oscar race online for a decade will remember). I've spread the fields out to a list of 30 contenders in each category and ranked them all the way down.
The 'Anonymous' screenwriter on his chance to finally write in the genre he loves
"Anonymous" screenwriter John Orloff is a big fan of the series and has always wanted to write sci-fi.
So the news just dropped that "Anonymous" screenwriter John Orloff has been tapped to write Bryan Singer's reboot of "Battlestar Galactica" for the big screen. I was aware of this imminent announcement when I sat down with Orloff last week to discuss his work on "Anonymous" (that interview will pop up in this space in the coming days), so I wanted to get his perspective on transitioning to a project of that scale.
Orloff got the gig because Singer happened to see "Anonymous" and really liked it. Singer had talked to the writer about "Battlestar Galactica" being a sort of Shakespearean story, fathers and sons painted against a big interstellar canvas. After that, it was all about Orloff's take on the material, which he calls "pretty ballsy."
Naturally he was reticent to go into too many details. But it sounded to me like a project he wants to fit inside the pre-existing framework that came before. I was reminded of how the filmmakers behind 2009's "Star Trek" were careful about that kind of thing, not to draw any real definitive parallel here.
Fox Searchlight must be feeling good this morning
George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller were recognized as part of the ensemble of "The Descendants."
Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures
The 21st annual Gotham Independent Film Award nominations were announced this morning, effectively kicking off the precursor season. Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" and Sean Durkin's "Martha Marcy May Marlene" were the big winners with three nominations apiece.
Considering that and given that Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" also showed up in the Best Feature category (the film's only nomination), I'm sure Fox Searchlight is smiling big today. The studio racked up an impressive eight nominations total (the other being a Breakthrough Director tip of the hat for "Another Earth" helmer Mike Cahill).
Most surprising is the absence of "it" girl of the year Jessica Chastain in the Breakthrough Actress category, which predictably includes the two ladies who'll surely duke it out for similar awards all year long: Elizabeth Olsen and Felicity Jones.