Also: Tweets vs. critics' quotes, and can Jackman win?
It's common knowledge that January is a cruel month for moviegoers -- assuming you can't just jet off to Sundance for the hell of it, once you've caught up with the late-releasing awards titles, there's little left to see but studio dregs like "Gangster Squad." Ty Burr considers the problem, digging up such noble January exceptions as "Dr. Strangelove" and "The Silence of the Lambs," and making this suggestion: "We should simply declare the first month of the year a new-release-free zone. As a preliminary step toward regaining our trust, studios would have to rerelease their most underrated entertainments from the previous year for a second chance: 2012’s sly meta-shrieker 'The Cabin in the Woods,' say, or the found-footage superhero movie 'Chronicle.'" [New York Times]
Deliberately paced mood piece boasts stunning sound and images
PARK CITY - There's something alluringly, disconcertingly off-kilter from the get-go in "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," an imposing third feature from editor-turned-filmmaker David Lowery, and it's not merely the quivery infighting of strings and handclaps in Daniel Hart's striking score: it's that the opening scene of this film is one that has closed so many others. Bob and Ruth, criminal lovers on the lam, are apprehended by the cops on dun-colored Texan terrain after a bloody shootout, A killing spree is ended, justice is served, the couple is parted, pledging devotion. The end. No, the beginning.
Catching up with some capsule thoughts
PARK CITY - Four days into this year's Sundance fest and I should probably catch up with some thoughts on this and that. I've already written at length about the two films that are the big stand-outs to me thus far, Jeff Nichols's "Mud" and Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight," but I've filled in my schedule with a few things in between.
The ongoing cinema romance is a natural, profound next step
PARK CITY - Prior to tonight's world premiere of Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight," I went back and revisited the first two installments of what has now become a trilogy. "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" are incredibly easy watches at 90 and 80 minutes apiece. They have an easy flow, owing plenty to the writerly collaboration between the director and his stars, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, which yielded a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for "Sunset" in 2004.
The story of Jesse and Celine is one of the great romances in all of cinema, and one of Linklater's most significant accomplishments in a unique, rebellious career. The whole journey began on a train in 1995 with a couple arguing in German. That rocky relationship, which somehow seems perfectly stable despite the aggression and the fact that we have no clue what they're arguing about, fires an intriguing starting gun for three films that follow the progression of Jesse and Celine's love and lust and star-crossed passion over 18 years.
Company already has 'The Bling Ring' and 'Spring Breakers' in tow
PARK CITY - James Pondsolt burst onto the scene a year ago with break-out Sundance hit "Smashed." The film was acquired a few months later by Sony Pictures Classics and was released during awards season, where Mary Elizabeth Winstead's performance turned a few heads but never managed to get any real traction.
He's back this year with one of the most buzzed films of the festival, "The Spectacular Now," starring Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, with Winstead, Kyle Chandler, Brie Larson and Jennifer Jason Leigh filling out the cast. But he won't be waiting quite as long to find a home this time around, as upstart distributor A24 has announced its acquisition of the title.
Daniel Day-Lewis misses a rare stop on the precursor trail
One of the few downsides of being at Sundance this year is that I missed the awards ceremony of my own critics' group, the London Film Critics' Circle. They've just been handed out at a classy gathering at London's Mayfair Hotel, and I'm pleased to see that a good half-dozen of the nominees I voted for took home awards -- not that I'm inclined to complain about any of the winners on this well-balanced list.
"Amour" was the night's top winner, taking Best Film, Screenplay and Actress for Emmanuelle Riva, but no one film was allowed to dominate too heavily. In something of a surprise, Ang Lee took the Best Director award for "Life of Pi," which took an additional technical achievement award for its visual effects.
Biopic of London's red light district king could use another pass in the editing room
PARK CITY - Sometimes a title change -- even one necessitated by external forces -- can reveal more about a film's uncertainties than anyone involved could possibly realize. Michael Winterbottom's jazzy but scattershot biopic of London nightlife kingpin Paul Raymond, at one point declared Britain's richest man, is one such example.
Originally dubbed "The KIng of Soho," the film was made to change this straightforward title following the threat of legal action from a rival Raymond project. That's neither here nor there, but as a replacement appellation, "The Look of Love" seems so irrelevant to the subject at hand -- bar the recurring presence of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David chestnut on the soundtrack -- that one wonders whether those who chose it had any idea what the film was about.
How Watts moved to 'a place of forgiveness' with a difficult character
PARK CITY - Since premiering on Friday evening, steamy romantic melodrama "Two Mothers" has been one of the most talked-about titles of this year's Sundance Film Festival -- even if it doesn't have all the critics on its side. At the screening, audience reactions ranged from stunned gasps to nervous laughter at the film's highly unorthodox relationship study.
Set in idyllic coastal Australia, the film stars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as two lifelong best friends who, as they approach middle age, both find themselves sexually entangled with younger men. Well, that's burying the lede a little: the man in each case is the other woman's teenage son.
The actor was endeared to his character's streak of romanticism
PARK CITY - In Jeff Nichols's "Mud," Matthew McConaughey tackles a truly charismatic spirit. A man of virtues, many of them at odds with themselves, the eponymous misfit is running from a dark, complex past and toward a brighter, idealized future in the film. He is a cauldron of opportunity for any actor, and McConaughey says that was very much what endeared him to Nichols' script in the first place.
In fact, Nichols had begun the project years ago in film school and had the actor in mind since day one. McConaughey smiles with pearly whites when asked about that fact. "I remember having a moment of going, 'Oh, I've been doing this acting thing for a while,'" the actor says, "'long enough where someone could have me in mind for an original script and write something. I like that.' And it was a side of me that I haven't ever really played. The guy's an adolescent. It's the dreamer side. I think we've all got it in us."
Michael C. Hall and supporting cast stand out in Beat Generation drama
PARK CITY - The past few years have seen a number of films focus on the writers of the Beat Generation and iconic writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Keroac. This year's entry to the growing genre is John Krokidas' "Kill Your Darlings" which debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Friday afternoon and opens the door to a historical incident which had remain mostly unchronicled for almost 60 years.