The Morning Read: James Franco may write and direct 'Blood Meridian' adaptation
Credit: AP Photo

The Morning Read: James Franco may write and direct 'Blood Meridian' adaptation

Plus Mike Leigh, Edgar Wright, and the return of Slate's Movie Club

Welcome to The Morning Read.

I guess I should say welcome to 2011, as well, since this is our first column of the New Year.  I hope you guys had a chance to check out the David Fincher interview I ran last night.  He's got some great quotes in there.  I love how excited he gets when we end up talking about George Lucas for a moment.  I'm just pleased that somehow our conversation led to David Fincher saying, "You go, dude.  That's so sick."

I'd like to say the same to James Franco if the reports of him signing on to write and direct "Blood Meridian" for Scott Rudin are true.  That book by Cormac McCarthy is considered one of the great unfilmed books, and it feels like dozens of filmmakers have crashed on those rocks already.  Franco's tastes are interesting, and if he does end up making the McCarthy film or adapting Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, those are challenging, dense pieces of material that will test Franco as a filmmaker.  I consider his ongoing evolution to be one of the most interesting stories in Hollywood right now, and the jump to writing and directing is one that will define him in a new way yet again.

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<p>Jodie Foster, seen here at the premiere for &quot;RED,&quot; should have a very busy 2011 thanks to joining the cast of Neill Blomkamp's 'Elysium'</p>

Jodie Foster, seen here at the premiere for "RED," should have a very busy 2011 thanks to joining the cast of Neill Blomkamp's 'Elysium'

Credit: AP Photo

Jodie Foster returns to Sci-Fi with Neill Blomkamp's 'Elysium'

Oscar-winning actress will co-star with Matt Damon

This is very good news, indeed.

As much as I admire and respect Jodie Foster as a filmmaker, I would always rather have her in front of the camera.  I think her presence is missed in mainstream film, and I think she's one of the most intriguing and unusual leading ladies of our age. 

I've always had a particular fondness for the work she did in "Contact," a film that seems to still hotly divide viewers (our own Greg Ellwood broke my heart a little when he told me this morning that he hates the film) even now, thirteen years after its initial release.  Foster hasn't really dabbled in the "lesser" genres much, so "Contact" remains one of the clearest examples of what sort of SF might actually draw her to participate.

Good to keep in mind, since she's been added to the cast of "Elysium," which is Neill Blomkamp's follow-up to his Oscar-nominated "District 9."  This means Jodie Foster will co-star with Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley in the top-secret film which starts shooting some time this year.

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<p>David Fincher, seen here on the Boston location of 'The Social Network,' sat down to discuss his highly-acclaimed film with HitFix just before the end of the year</p>

David Fincher, seen here on the Boston location of 'The Social Network,' sat down to discuss his highly-acclaimed film with HitFix just before the end of the year

Credit: SPHE

Interview: David Fincher talks 'The Social Network,' 'Fight Club,' and the digital age

The 'Social Network' director opens up in a candid interview

The last interview of the year was, as it turns out, one of my favorites.

David Fincher's offices aren't in the part of town you'd expect, and from the outside, you'd never realize one of Hollywood's most in-demand filmmakers was working there.  On the Thursday before the end of the year, a small group of journalists were invited to spend some time talking to Fincher about the upcoming Blu-ray release of his latest film, "The Social Network."  An early copy of the Blu-ray was messengered over so I could check it out before sitting down with him, and I took that seriously, since there's no reason to ask him a question that he answers in the film's supplemental section. I also noticed that they beep him for language several times on the commentary, and also once when he gave out Aaron Sorkin's e-mail address.  In the following interview, Fincher is not, in fact, beeped, so be warned.

I watched the film with his commentary track, and then watched the feature-length documentary on the making of the film that was put together by David Prior.  It's an excellent look inside the development and creation of the film, and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants an unvarnished look at big-budget studio filmmaking.

As I prepared to head into the conference room to chat with Fincher, I saw Steve Weintraub from Collider on his way out.  He ran his interview just before the New Year break, and it's interesting how there are a few quotes that Fincher worked his way around to in both interviews, things that are very obviously on his mind.  We covered a lot of different ground, though, and reading his, then reading mine, you get a good portrait of where Fincher's head is at right now.

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<p>It may be sunset for John Marsden in the Old West, but 'Red Dead Redemption' signals a big jump forward in total world immersement in video games in 2010</p>

It may be sunset for John Marsden in the Old West, but 'Red Dead Redemption' signals a big jump forward in total world immersement in video games in 2010

Credit: Rock Star Games

Movies Top 10 Of 2010: Drew's Best Of The Rest

It's not a list of ten, and it's not a list of movies, but it's worth celebrating

2010 will be over by the time you read this, most likely.

I won't be sad to see the year go.  It's been a tough one, creatively and personally, and it's taken a toll on me here in print, I believe.  There are things I wish I'd done, things I'd like to have published, coverage I think I could have done better.  I know the New Year is an arbitrary moment that we picked to signify the change from old to new, but I like that symbolism.  Always have.  I like packing a year away, putting a lid on it, and moving on.

One of the things that's particularly nice about the end of the year is sifting out the things that really mattered to you, the pieces of pop culture that you want to keep.  I've already published my ten best of the year and my ten runners-up, but there were a few other things that I leaned on this year for distraction and enrichment.  Here, then, my short list of...

The Top Five Things That Weren't Movies In 2010

"Red Dead Redemption" (PS3)

The single most satisfying entertainment experience I had this year was the time I spent playing every single square inch of Rock Star's latest game, this exceptional Western simulation that finally gave me the feeling I've wanted from every other Wild West game I've ever played.  The gunfights, the stagecoach robberies, the sunsets over the desert… the memories I have from the game aren't about individual moments.  They're more like the memories I'd have from an actual physical vacation somewhere, and I suspect that as games become even more sophisticated, these memories will become even more tactile.  The age of "Total Recall" is here, and losing myself in this particular story was deeply rewarding.

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<p>Emma Stone, Johnny Depp, the inhabitants of the Hundred-Acre Wood, and boxing robots are just a few of the things in store for filmgoers in 2011.</p>

Emma Stone, Johnny Depp, the inhabitants of the Hundred-Acre Wood, and boxing robots are just a few of the things in store for filmgoers in 2011.

Credit: SPHE, Walt Disney

Want even more films to look forward to in 2011?

Alien invasions, animation, old school laughs, and innovation are all on deck

I'm almost done looking back at 2010, and at the same time, I've already begun to look forward to 2011.  Greg Ellwood and I put together a look at 30 of the most anticipated films for next year, but in doing so, there were many more that we ended up cutting that are still worth anticipating.  If you reach January 1st and you're already excited about more than 30 films, that's great.  But you factor in at least 30 more that I'm curious about, and I'd say we're starting off 2011 in a very good place.

There were some big titles we didn't include in the preview gallery, including "Pirates Of The Carribbean: On Stranger Tides," "Transformers: The Dark Of The Moon," and "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," and that's mainly because typing those three titles out in full takes seven and a half hours.  Good god, 2011 is the year of the big giant sequel subtitle, evidently.  And while I find it hard to get wildly excited about part four of much of anything at this point, each of those has something that's got me intrigued.  I'm curious if they can reinvent the "Pirates" franchise with Sparrow at the center instead of supporting the main story.  I'm curious to see if Michael Bay's use of 3D sends more people to the hospital than the "127 Hours" arm scene.  And I'm curious to see what Brad Bird does in live-action, and how many more tall buildings they can find to hang Tom Cruise off of.

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<p>Chris Hemsworth stars as 'Thor' and Anthony Hopkins is his all-powerful father, Odin, in this Marvel Studios twist on Norse myth</p>

Chris Hemsworth stars as 'Thor' and Anthony Hopkins is his all-powerful father, Odin, in this Marvel Studios twist on Norse myth

Credit: Marvel Studios

Which of the Avengers may be showing up in 'Thor'?

We'll hide the name under the fold in case you want to be surprised

I'm of mixed mind about reporting this, and so I want to give you an opportunity to make up your own mind about how much you want to know, so you can enjoy what is obviously meant to be a surprise in the upcoming film "Thor."

And, yes, I know I'm the guy who reported that Samuel L. Jackson was playing Nick Fury on the exact same morning he was shooting his top-secret cameo.  I know I've spoiled my share of surprises.

To be fair, I didn't realize quite how they were working him into the film, and I didn't know it was going to be the kicker after the credits or that they'd even keep it out of the press screenings to try to preserve some sort of surprise.  Since then, I've realized that a lot of the tiny connective threads from one film to the next are designed as surprises, and I'm reluctant to ruin all of them for viewers before they have a chance to see a film.

In this case, "Thor" is coming out this May, and The Wrap has broken the story about who you'll see in that film making their very first Marvel Universe appearance.  They did a nice job of tracing the rumor from the start to finish, confirming it via someone who they say has seen a cut of the movie.  I just sort of wish they didn't give it away in the headline.  Makes it hard to miss, even if you're trying.

If you don't want to know who I'm talking about, go ahead and bail out now.  I won't hold it against you.

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<p>Elizabeth Olsen is the star of the daring new horror film 'Silent House' that is set to premiere at the Sundance 2011 Festival</p>

Elizabeth Olsen is the star of the daring new horror film 'Silent House' that is set to premiere at the Sundance 2011 Festival

Credit: Tokio Films

Sundance adds horror film 'Silent House' from the directors of 'Open Water'

Ambitious visual plan makes this a must-see at Park City

Now that I'm actually spending time digging into the Sundance website to read all the entries on all the films, I'm starting to get excited about the line-up. 

That's the way it almost always is with a festival.  There are titles that jump out at first, titles that get interesting as you read about them, and titles that you'll never see coming that will blindside you.  I just accept that and do my legwork ahead of time and roll the dice.  Sometimes you see the films that really are worth seeing, sometimes you miss something special, and it's all part of the game you play when you're covering these events.

It helps when a film has a number of things about it that are immediately compelling, and that's the case with the latest addition to the line-up, just announced this morning in an e-mail to the press.

I quite like the film "Open Water" by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau.  It's a simple premise, but the execution is what made it particularly effective.  Their new film sounds like an experiment, and if they pull it off, it could be remarkable.  "Silent House" stars Elizabeth Olsen as a woman "trapped in an unnerving nightmare." 

And here's the kicker… the film is one long continuous camera shot.  One.

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<p>Just look at the richness of detail and design in Sylvain Chomet's new film 'The Illusionist,' based on a script originally written by the great Jacques Tati</p>

Just look at the richness of detail and design in Sylvain Chomet's new film 'The Illusionist,' based on a script originally written by the great Jacques Tati

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Review: 'The Illusionist' conjures up animated whimsy, heartbreak

How much of the spirit of Jacques Tati survives in this animated fable?

I did not grow up with the films of Jacques Tati.

I did, however, grow up with a healthy appreciation of silent comedy.  I saw my first Chaplin and Keaton films when I was very young, and as long as I've been a film fan, I've had images of Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy in my head.  I fell in love with French films in general through Truffaut, my particular Gallic gateway drug.  Even so, Tati was not part of my vocabulary.

When I started working at Dave's Video, a laserdisc-only store in the San Fernando Valley, it was the early 90s, and it was Criterion who introduced me to Tati's work.  "Jour de fete," "Mr. Hulot's Holiday," "Mon Oncle," "Play Time," and "Trafic" were a revelation, the work of a filmmaker who has obviously absorbed the lessons of the silent era of comedy only to bring a new voice to that style.  His films weren't, strictly speaking, silent, but he was a purely visual storyteller.  His Mr. Hulot character is as indelible a creation as Chaplin's Little Tramp, and the real testament to how strong Tati's work is may be the influence he had with only nine films to his name.

Even today, Tati is not a name I hear referenced often in American film, and I'm not sure what level of awareness there is of these great lovely films he made with younger film viewers, if any.  Right now, you can see "Play Time" on Netflix Watch Instantly, so if you want to get a taste of what his work was like, that's a good place to start.  It would be a great way to warm up for a viewing of the new film, "The Illusionist," but not essential.

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<p>Blake Edwards and his most iconic creation share a tender moment</p>

Blake Edwards and his most iconic creation share a tender moment

Credit: MGM/UA

Listen: The MCP says a special goodbye to Blake Edwards

A full hour of unapologetic comedy fandom as we bid this legend farewell

In addition to a regular podcast this week, Scott and I decided to record a special tribute to Blake Edwards.

I know I published my own tribute to him last week, called "Seven Things Blake Edwards Taught Me," but this was also a conversation I wanted to have with Scott.  When we first met back in '86, we were at that age where we were using VHS to mainline movies, learning about directors and actors by watching whole filmographies.  We used to star in an on-camera movie review show on our high school's closed-circuit TV channel, and one of the movies we reviewed in our first season was "That's Life."  At this point, that's become a missing Blake Edwards movie, pretty much forgotten and not really in circulation.

For someone who knows Edwards's work and who knows something about his life, "That's Life" is a mess, but it's also very revealing and nakedly autobiographical.  To a sixteen year old who only really knew the "Pink Panther" films and "Victor/Victoria," it was nearly incomprehensible.  Like many of the films we reviewed back then, we just weren't equipped to make sense of what we were watching.

Now, years later, Scott and I have over 20 years of shared Blake Edwards fandom between us, and we've had conversation after conversation about various films of his and aspects of those films and aspects of his filmmaking.  I wanted to try to preserve some of that and communicate some of the love that we have for his work

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<p>As you listen to the podcast today, picture Scott as the kid in this picture and me as Billy Bob.&nbsp; That's pretty much exactly how it was when we recorded.</p>

As you listen to the podcast today, picture Scott as the kid in this picture and me as Billy Bob.  That's pretty much exactly how it was when we recorded.

Credit: Miramax/Dimension Home Video

Listen: The MCP takes a close look at Netflix Watch Instantly

Can an online library replace physical media completely?

It does not remotely surprise me to see a trends piece in the Wall Street Journal (I'd link to it, but it's behind a paywall, so what's the point?) about Blu-ray sales finally starting to convince the industry that people might actually want physical media still.

Well, duh.  I've been saying that in print during this entire digital explosion, and people have spent a lot of time and energy telling me how wrong I am.  "No way.  Everything will be streaming in the future."  While I believe that streaming media is a major part of the marketplace at this point, I don't believe it's ever going to replace physical media completely, and I'm tired of being told that it will.

As a result, I've been guilty in my own way of being willfully blind to a bit part of the industry.  I have enough movies here in the house that I don't see much need to rent, particularly if it involves driving somewhere or mailing something.  I'll rent PS3 games from GameFly, but that's because I'm tired of paying $60 to play something for eight hours.  I rarely play a game a second time after I beat it, and the price point doesn't make enough sense to me on most titles.  With movies, I rewatch them, and I keep them so I can share them with others.

I decided to finally try out some of the various digital rental services for myself.  I rented a movie from iTunes.  I rented a few movies from the Playstation Network's rental service.  Finally, a little over a week ago, I signed up for Netflix's Watch Instantly service through the PS3.

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