With a little less than two weeks away from opening night, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival has slid in one more honor for its big round of tributes held throughout: the Outstanding Director Award to "American Hustle" helmer David O. Russell.
PARK CITY - The talk of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival on Friday, the first full day of the festival, centered on some surprise hits ("Obvious Child"), a major disappointment ("God's Pocket") and an out-of-the-ordinary entry ("Frank"). One film that received strong notices, specifically for its performances, was the Guantanamo Bay-centered drama "Camp X-Ray."
PARK CITY - Transitioning from being in front of the camera to behind it is never easy. And, yes, there are just as many success stories (Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Ben Stiller) as disappointments (William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, David Duchovney), many of whom made this sad discovery at the Sundance Film Festival. On Monday, Sundance is celebrating the inaugural "Free Fail" event with a special day of workshops that will center on artists' failures and how they allowed them to eventually succeed. John Slattery, best known for his work on "Mad Men," may want to pop into a few for some tips after the world premiere of his feature directing debut "God's Pocket" Friday afternoon.
PARK CITY - Slugs and snails and puppy dog tails: that is no longer what little boys are made of, if the angsty strain of coming-of-age narratives in recent American indies is to be believed. Films such as "Mud," "The Kings of Summer" and "Hide Your Smiling Faces" have presented adolescent male protagonists with decidedly adult moral and domestic quandaries, wrestled out largely without supervision; at a time when the man-child stands tall in commercial cinema, other filmmakers are keen to present the child itself as an endangered species. "Hellion," the third feature from Austin-based filmmaker Kat Candler, follows solemnly in this tradition: sun-bleached scenes of motocross racing and laddish misbehavior abound, yet boyhood is a bleak business here.
A day after the Academy dropped its array of surprises throughout its 24 categories, and notably the 10 crafts fields, it's time to reflect on what the months of build-up have left us with. A few trends come to mind…
PARK CITY - The documentary that styles itself as a genre film is a risky gambit -- for every example that pulls off the disguise (think Bart Layton's elegantly shifty "The Imposter"), there's at least one other that carries a faint whiff of desperation, employing thriller tactics in the hope of sexing up serious-minded material, selling its subject and audience short in one fell swoop.
Early on in Nadav Schirman's "The Green Prince," a smart, tightly assembled film that kicked off the World Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival tonight, there's reason to fear the film will fall into the latter camp, as title cards skitter across the screen in that analog typeface native to the contemporary Hollywood war movie, as an ominous, militaristic score rumbles in the background. "Yes, here's another urgent reflection on Israeli-Palestinian politics," these embellishments appear to say. "But wait, this one's exciting."
PARK CITY - In theory, casting a top-tier actor in your independent film is a godsend. They should elevate the material and help mask any flaws that a small budget or a shortened shooting schedule might cause. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case. Often, said actor may seem out of place among the film's other talent or another aspect of the film is so weak — say, screenwriting or production design — that the film still fails overall. The latter, among other problems, is the issue with Ben Whishaw's casting in Hong Khaou's directorial debut "Lilting," which was one of four films to open the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Thursday night.
Landing an Academy Award is usually a moment someone will remember for the rest of his or her life. As "American Hustle" producer Richard Suckle noted this morning, he's been instructed to "take it all in and enjoy the moment." Because, unless you're Scott Rudin, this doesn't happen often.
PARK CITY - Oscar nominations day is always busy, but before transitioning to Sundance Film Festival coverage, Gregory Ellwood and Guy Lodge took a few minutes to chat about what today's nods mean as the march continues toward the 86th Academy Awards.