Posted by Danielle Berrin
The Carpetbagger, who is today’s preeminent Oscar guru (since he is both funny, a good writer and employed by the New York Times) posted his choices for top honors and I can’t say I’m surprised. Below see my comments on some of his best bets.
“Slumdog Millionaire”—Yes, a sweet, happy ending film, which we all like. It’s the safe choice in a depressing economy although hearing it referred to as “poverty porn” filled me with strange glee.
Danny Boyle—I’ve always been a fan of Danny Boyle so this would not upset. But Ron Howard deserves kudos for turning “Frost/Nixon” into a momentous event on film that it never was in history.
Mickey Rourke—Rock on Mickey! I’m 100% rooting for him (and not just because I’m trying to get his agent to return my phone calls). His performance in “The Wrestler” was raw, riveting and possessed an honesty rarely seen on screen. The obvious parallels to Rourke’s own life motivated not only his deftness in the role, but the unbelievable humility and candor he’s shown throughout the awards season. He deserves an Oscar for being a great actor and a great movie star.
Kate Winslet—I’m all about the ‘year of Kate Winslet’ but let’s be honest—her role as a desperate housewife in “Revolutionary Road” triumphed over her Nazi war criminal in “The Reader.” Maybe that’s a good thing.
Best Supporting Actor
Heath Ledger—In all the time that a post-mortem Heath Ledger garnered a clean sweep of nearly every award for which he was nominated, you never once heard the term, “sympathy vote.” That’s because Heath Ledger’s performance in “The Dark Knight” was as profound, dark and encompassing as any role that’s ever been on screen. It could be said that for such a young actor, he made cinematic history when has a comic book adaptation ever produced so legendary a performance?
Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis—Umm, not so much. Gonna have to go with Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler” or Penelope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that, Penelope Cruz, like Winslet, also had a marvelous year on screen. Her performance in “Elegy” (based on a Philip Roth novella) was heart-wrenching. Viewing the two films back-to-back reveals that Cruz is not only the most beautiful actress of her generation, but as versatile as a chameleon.
Anthony Dod Mantle for “Slumdog Millionaire”—The fast-paced, rhythmic sequencing and mixed chronology is a foremost reason why people loved the film—and why Danny Boyle is nominated for his direction.
Best Original Screenplay
Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, “Wall-E”—Saw this on a plane, headphones broken, judgment impaired. Abstaining from vote.
Best Foreign-Language Film
“Waltz With Bashir”—Even though Ari Folman was mean to me, his film is undeniably good, technologically sophisticated and politically important. But just in case, look out for “The Class” to upset (and if you’re interested, see it playing at The Landmark this weekend).
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February 19, 2009 | 5:33 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I came out of the film “Two Lovers” the other night and didn’t know what to feel. My confusion was only partly related to the film; after two straight weeks of being on deadline (and a frenzied weekend at LimmudLA) I was feeling I might lose my mind and the movie gave me relief. Perhaps I related to the idea of being torn between two worlds, as was the protagonist, played by Joaquin Phoenix. And maybe it was no coincidence that one world was Jewish, filled with family expectations and tribal pressures—and the other was ‘another’ world, free and open and full of risk (made all the more enticing by the luring presence of Gwyneth Paltrow).
The film follows a protagonist that is being compared to the boy-men that lined the pages of Philip Roth novels. Indeed, it is a coming-of-age story (if a belated one) that focuses on the polarizing tension between family expectations and freedom. A.O. Scott writes in the NY Times that, “Like a Roth hero — and just about every other American Jewish male protagonist from Augie March to Jerry Seinfeld — he struggles with the conflicting demands of filial duty and the longing to strike out on his own. He wants to be a good son, but he also wants to live a life of danger, freedom and impulse. Does he stick with his own kind and risk suffocation, or does he risk rootlessness in pursuit of liberation?”
But while the picture’s basic conflict is, as Scott puts it, “the tension between the individual spirit and the ways of the tribe,” it fails to account for another great theme present in the film—mental illness—that at once heightens the tension or was perhaps even caused by it. The characters that are inexplicably drawn to each other—though the nature of their need is different—both suffer from inner turmoil. Phoenix’s character is labeled bipolar and Paltrow is driven to drug addiction for reasons that never become clear. There is something wild, destructive and chemical about their dependency on one another. They are, for each other, like a drug that fuels their illness instead of tempering it or curing it. And the whole time—although the idea of liberation implies choice—you know their road together leads to madness. On the other hand, all the real possibilities of life are at home; where your family arranges your marriage and your job and you are tied to a community.
But illness can destroy that, too. Or make it impossible. I must have walked away confused because the movie tells you that no matter what you choose, you’re never really safe from wanting more.
February 17, 2009 | 9:12 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Leading a religious life may be the toughest job in Hollywood. Almost everything about the business – from the power lunches to the endless work schedule to the idolatry of ratings and box office – seem antithetical to traditional Judaism. Leave it to LimmudLA to find two observant Jews with the chutzpah to satisfy both their ambitions in Hollywood and their religious commitment.
Jeff Astrof, a sitcom writer, and David N. Weiss, a screenwriter, both became Orthodox after they had started their careers. In both cases, the transformation was met with resistance – “What do you mean you can’t work Friday nights or Saturday? Do you have to have kosher food on the craft services table?” If it sounds trivial, these guys will tell you it’s not. Finding God, in fact, provided a spiritual outlet for feelings of envy, greed and insecurity, despite the sacrifices it required. In order to get Shabbat off, Astrof promised a producer he’d work harder than anybody else every other day of the week—though that didn’t stop his writing partner of 14 years from leaving him.
“Just when you get comfortable, you get thrown a curveball,” Astrof said. Just then, an Orthodox woman in the audience gave him a jolt.
“How do I discourage my daughter who has caught the acting bug from pursuing the life of an actress?” she pleaded.
Astrof wished her luck.
February 6, 2009 | 4:31 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
A week ago, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer ignored the predominant mood in Hollywood and chose to boost industry morale with optimism.
He delivered an assured and upbeat address to the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) who were assembled in Las Vegas for their annual conference. A strategic cheerlead for the lords of television, he outright refuted “the death of Broadcast” and said, on the contrary, things are better than ever. So what if the way we watch television is changing, that’s just fundamentals, the demand for content is still vital. As it were, if “High School Musical” could become a billion-dollar franchise, and “Slumdog Millionaire” an Oscar contender, Feltheimer said, that proves there’s still room for unexpected success in the unlikeliest of places.
Call him a renegade.
“Can things be so bad when a film like The Dark Knight captures the second highest box office gross on record and then helps usher in a brand new technology by selling four million BluRay discs in its first month?” Feltheimer asked. “Or can things be so bad when new shows like ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Damages,’ ‘Dexter’ and ‘The Tudors’ are coming out of a cable television environment that has tripled in size in the past 10 years?”
(As much as I love “Mad Men,” things aren’t exactly peachy if its star accepts a Golden Globe award and thanks the “two dozen or so” people who tune in to watch it.)
But that’s beside the point. A week later, after his exuberantly positive pontificating, the NY Times reported that Lionsgate spent $5.5 million buying the most depressing film in all of Sundance. “Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire” was a critical success, garnering three awards—the Audience Award, the Grand Jury Prize and a Special Jury Prize for Acting. It’s a sound choice for a company that appreciates quality independent moviemaking and prides itself on a marketing challenge. So why then, mere minutes after announcing its purchase, did Lionsgate begin backpedaling from the glory of their prize?
From the NY Times:
On Monday the company initially agreed to discuss the inherent marketing challenges. A few hours later it backtracked, rejecting any marketing talk but saying executives would be happy to speak broadly about their delight in nabbing the movie. Before long that offer was also rescinded.
I’ll give Lionsgate the benefit of the doubt, but mostly because I trust their backers. Oprah Winfrey agreed to promote the film. So did Tyler Perry. And yet, it’ll likely be Feltheimer’s strategy that will win the day. He’s not going to let a film about “an illiterate and obese African-American teenager in 1980s Harlem who is pregnant with her father’s child — for the second time — and is also abused by her mother” prevent him from making his company money. Who cares that it’s a hard sell, with dark subject matter, in a tough economy? Feltheimer’s answer is to do away with “big, soggy star vehicle[s] with no discernible story line” and target smaller, niche audiences.
“I’m making a point beyond the obvious one that commerce continues and the show will go on. Consumers are still spending but, like each of us, they’re rationing their dollars a little more carefully. Like each of us, they’re becoming a little more selective in their purchases. And, like each of us, they’re exercising the most awesome and dreaded weapon in their arsenal-the power of choice. They’re wielding it not like a club but like a laser, to target the best, the most familiar, the most recognizable and the most appropriate to their lifestyle, taste and peer group,” Feltheimer said.
“Now, think about that for a moment, because it has profound implications for what is produced for, delivered to and consumed by the world marketplace. The message is clear. A bad economy is the best critic on the planet.”
February 3, 2009 | 5:00 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Still suffering for his art, director Roman Polanski’s plea to have his 30-year old sexual misconduct case dropped was denied yesterday by Los Angeles Superior Court. Polanski’s appeal relied upon new evidence revealed in the documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,“ which suggested that presiding Judge Lawrence Rittenband may have unlawfully discussed the case during legal proceedings. Polanski fled to Paris before sentencing in 1978 and has not been permitted to re-enter the U.S., even when he won a best director Oscar for “The Pianist.” It seems the Los Angeles legal system has little sympathy for a man who admitted guilt and then evaded punishment for three decades. On the other hand, come on Polanski! Paris ain’t so bad!
Roman Polanski’s attorneys have lost their bid to disqualify all Los Angeles Superior Court judges from considering their request to dismiss the 31-year-old sex case against the fugitive director.
The California 2nd District Court of Appeal issued the decision Monday, and also lifted a stay on all proceedings.
Polanski’s attorney, Chad Hummel, claimed the entire Los Angeles Superior Court bench is biased against the director. Prosecutors countered that the claim was frivolous.
Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles in 1978 but fled to France before he could be sentenced.
February 3, 2009 | 4:48 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
All I want to know is: who’s buying the movie rights to the SAG drama?
The latest development in the SAG ordeal has president Alan Rosenberg filing a restraining order against fellow guild members. He’s trying to prevent the higher-ups who voted to oust national executive director Doug Allen last week from starting contract talks with the AMPTP.
SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg has filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to bar other guild leaders from restarting contract negotiations with the majors.
A lawyer representing Rosenberg filed a motion in Los Angeles Superior Court Tuesday ayem seeking the restraining order, filed with Judge James Chalfant. Rosenberg is listed as the plaintiff, along with SAG first VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord.
Rosenberg and the others are taking the legal maneuver in protest of the decision made last week by a slim majority of SAG national board to fire national exec director Doug Allen and to relaunch contract talks with the AMPTP with a new task force of SAG negotiators. The SAG board members who voted for Allen’s ouster are listed on the motion as defendants.
It was not immediately clear when Chalfant would hear the motion.
February 2, 2009 | 8:33 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Every week there is more news that studios, agencies and production companies are tallying mounting layoffs. The assumption is that Hollywood has hit some choppy waters and the once flush Tinseltown is in danger of economic desiccation. Yet, even while economists predict that things will worsen, January box office numbers suggest that things aren’t quite as bad as they seem. And unsurprisingly, the industry is mum. There’s nary a mention of this news in any of the trades today, which is why we’re lucky to have Nikki Finke.
Here, Finke sets the record straight. She also suggests a motive for the tight-lipped numbers game—and rest assured, it has absolutely nothing to do with a pending SAG strike (yeah, right).
From Deadline Hollywood Daily:
...compliant Hollywood news outlets are hardly publicizing the latest big bold movie precedent set this month. MediaByNumbers.com was first to spread the news Sunday: from January 1, 209 to February 1st, 2009, year-to-date North American grosses were $1.028 billion, compared to 2008’s January take of $867.2 million. And let’s not forget that every week this January the studios boasted to me how cheaply they made and marketed all these films that did so well. So revenue was up 18.57%. Attendance was up 16.78%.
Yet there’s no lead story about this $1B gross benchmark in either Variety or The Hollywood Reporter. At the same time, NBC set a record and sold out its Super Bowl ads for $201 million. But that isn’t prominent in the trades either. Here’s what I think: the studios and networks want this good news played on the downlow in Hollywood (as opposed to the layoffs bulletins) when the AMPTP is restarting contract talks with SAG’s “task force”—aka the newly configured negotiating committee—on Tuesday. Because isn’t it amazing how Big Media can keep making so much money but never filter it down to either their staff or the showbiz guilds?
Sure enough, Variety reported on Superbowl ratings, but said nothing about its revenue.
February 2, 2009 | 7:33 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
On the internet, the name Bar Refaeli is synonymous with “hottest Jewish girl alive.” Whether it’s true—or not—the notion that the Israeli supermodel is simply “hot” fails to acknowledge her other salient personality traits.
To be fair, Refaeli is an uber-ambitious supermodel who would do anything to nourish her career (even if it means dodging her country’s required military service and then saying, “I don’t regret not having been drafted . . .because I made out big,” as she told Yediot Achronot over a year ago. “Why is it good to die for one’s country? Isn’t it better to live in New York?”)
So far, her audacious methods are working: MTV is reportedly courting Refaeli to host the revival of “House of Style,” the popular fashion and design show of the 90s, then hosted by Cindy Crawford. Contracts are currently under negotiation, though nothing is final.
In any case, we should consider forgiving Refaeli for her shameless draft dodging; she’s obviously a pacifist. Otherwise, can you imagine the cat fights that might ensue between she and boyfriend Leonardo DiCaprio’s ex-flame, Gisele?
Besides, it’s substantially more challenging to express loyalty to your country when you’re so darned busy sustaining your boyfriend’s.
From the NY Post:
“HOUSE of Style” is making a comeback. The popular ‘90s show about fashion and design, which helped make a household name of original host Cindy Crawford, is being revived by MTV, says a source close to production. Contracts are out to Leonardo DiCaprio’s girlfriend Bar Refaeli and recent Page Six Magazine covergirl Chanel Iman to host, though neither has officially signed on yet. We hope some of Refaeli’s assignments will bring her to the beach, where she can show off her bikinis.