Sunday, January 27, 2013

MY ADVENTURES AT THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL, DAY FOUR


SATURDAY, JANUARY 26

Saturday came a little too early. Both in the hour, as I had to get up at 6:30 AM after a long night out, and in my mind, as it was hard to believe my days at Sundance were almost over. Time flies when you’re having fun.

A morning movie was on the agenda. Craig, Ayla, Felicity, Misha and I were off to see the movie JOBS with Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs. There was a 9 AM showing but we didn’t have tickets. Did we get to see it? Well, the standby line was reminiscent of the lines for a new iPhone, so we sort of brushed up against Steverino, but that was as close as we got. Best to have tix at Sundance. Still, it was fun trying.
The closest I got to seeing Ashton Kutcher in JOBS at the Sundance Festival was this publicity still.

We grabbed a late breakfast at the Blue Iguana where my request “eggs over medium” translated into “huevos liquidos” as they surrounded by French toast like a GAME OF THRONES moat. The conversation was better, covering the Oscars and SAG nominations. It’s always fun to talk about movies with show biz people. They don’t hold back and they have very strong opinions. My friends didn’t like LINCOLN nearly as much as I did, but we did agree on Naomi Watts’ performance in THE IMPOSSIBLE. At least three of the SAG-AFTRA members at the table (Felicity, Misha and myself) confessed to voting for her. Afterwards, we all bopped in and out of the various shops and attractions along the main drag and found time to vamp it up for one last photo op at a Sundance sponsored picture booth. (See pictures below.)
Ayla, Misha, Felicity, Craig and yours truly hamming it up in the photo booth.
Then it was time for me to go to the Salt Lake City airport and start the journey home. I won’t tell you all the details about my difficult travels, but suffice it to say that US Airways employs folks who think it’s funny to place connecting gates as far away as possible so passengers have to practically run a 5K while carrying two pieces of luggage to make their plane! I made my connection in Phoenix with less than two minutes to spare and didn’t need water when the flight attendants rolled by. I could just drink my shirt.

That was the only negative part of the trip. The rest was all good. It was such a lovely thing to get flown to Sundance for my prize, and meet such wonderful folks. Funny how so many of us at Sundance all had the same dream. We love storytelling and want an opportunity to tell the world. I have a script. Filmmakers have a movie. We're all looking for a deal, a connection, a chance. (Good luck to the makers of ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW with that. I doubt they’ll be escaping the Disney lawyers anytime soon.)

 Succeeding in Hollywood takes a lot of talent, but a lot of timing and luck too. It’s a passion that takes perseverance and I intend to stick with it. I’d love for everyone to be able to see THE SCOUNDRELS CLUB up on the big screen some day, and experience hearing actors say the words the way I got to this week. But if not that script then hopefully another. I now have more contacts and friends that could get my dream closer to becoming a reality. I'll keep you posted on my progress here. And if you ever get a chance to go to Sundance, you'll have a great time just like I did.  Just don’t expect very good Wi-Fi.
Ayla and I mug for the camera with the Sundance Film Festival program.
(And I hope to see my name & movie in there some time in the near future!)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

MY ADVENTURES AT THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL, DAY THREE


FRIDAY, JANUARY 25

(NOTE: My apologies for the lateness of this post. I had a devil of a time with Wi-Fi my entire time in Park City, Utah. It's a wonderful town, but their Internet leaves a lot to be desired.)


Here it was! The big day and the table read of my screenplay THE SCOUNDRELS CLUB. As I mentioned in my previous diary entry, I’ve read my script out loud to myself a number of times but now I’d get the chance to hear others give their interpretation of it - real actors and actresses bringing this writer’s characters and words to life.
My view from the table read of THE SCOUNDRELS CLUB at the Waldorf Astoria in Park City, Utah.
Screenwriter Alvaro Rodriguez (MACHETE) would be the narrator or my script today and give me notes on my work afterwards. It was going to be a learning experience on a number of levels. And I was looking forward to this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. 

The table read started at 10 AM at the Waldorf Hotel. It's exactly the kind of posh resort that you’d expect the rich and famous to stay in while catching a 4-day ski vacation. And yet during my time in Park City I had seen few celebs. The only real star sighting I experienced was seeing veteran character actor Stephen Root at Flanagan’s pub yesterday. He starred in the NBC-TV series NEWS RADIO a decade ago. And since then he’s played everything from the insecure Milton obsessing over his Redline stapler in OFFICE SPACE to the man who hired both Javier Bardem and Woody Harrelson to kill Josh Brolin in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

I may not have seen many big stars but at least all actors scheduled to appear at the table read made it into town. The weather had broken and Salt Lake City's airport was open for business again, so we had the full crew for the event. Three of the most interesting actors I met at the read were Felicity Wren and Misha Crosby, a British couple working in Hollywood, and Ryan Patrick Moguffey, an Irish filmmaker-actor-producer. (Lots of hyphenates in the world of entertainment, natch.) 


The actors and their author at the table read on Friday.
The read started and it was quite a kick in the head to hear 11 different actors bring it to life. Their take on my material was similar to how I'd written and read it out loud many times. However, they gave the lines interesting pauses, hesitations and emphasis that added more to the text. That made even the most familiar of my lines seems fresh and new. And suddenly my characters seemed more like flesh and blood. I know, I know - duh, right? But it is interesting when a script goes from you hearing it in your head to hearing it by a varied troupe of performers. 


It was also good to know that the lines that I hoped would be funny actually were. It was especially gratifying to hear fellow budding screenwriter DC Sayre who won the animation/fantasy category and attended the read, laugh as hard as he did at some of them. It was his first time hearing the story and I was relieved to know that the lines just weren't amusing to me. 

When it was all done, I exchanged numbers with a number of the actors and made some fast friends too. Then Alvaro and I went to lunch where he gave me his professional ‘notes’ on the script. He was very enthusiastic about it but still had some excellent suggestions for ways to improve it. Writing, as they say, is really rewriting. Most businesses, even the arts, are collaborative, and you only learn from people whose opinions differ from yours.
Actors Felicity Wren and Misha Crosby on the main drag of Park City.
Friday night in Park City during Sundance is one humongous party. It's like spring break for the entertainment industry. A number of us from the table read celebrated by bar-hopping and I can't tell you the last time I did that! We went to the Sundance Channel bash and I got the chance to pitch some of my scripts to a few intrigued producers I met there. They not only asked me to send them THE SCOUNDRELS CLUB but also my screenplay FIEND that won the best thriller at the table read at Sundance last year. (BTW...here is the business card I was handing out to everyone, made especially for my trip. 100 cards, only 20 bucks from Zazzle. Oh, and on the back of the card was THE SCOUNDRELS CLUB poster that you've seen here at my blog already.) 
My special business card made up for Sundance. The poster is on the back!


I really enjoyed my time with the Table Read people, Alvaro, and Felicity & Misha during the Friday night festivities. I'd made some very good contacts all day and felt that my chances in this business were continuing to expand with these valuable new connections. It was an extraordinary experience all-in-all, a terrific day, and at midnight I was rather exhausted and ready for bed. 

There was still one more day left in my Sundance adventure before flying home to Chicago. So tune in again tomorrow for my final diary entry of my adventures in 'movieland'!



Friday, January 25, 2013

MY ADVENTURES AT THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL, DAY TWO


THURSDAY, JANUARY 24

I knew the balmy weather in Park City, Utah had to be a bit of a bluff. Thus, I woke up this morning to light flurries that seemed more akin to what one would expect here. A fine powder covered the town this AM. Rather beautiful to see. Unfortunately, it was storming at Salt Lake City and soon the airport would be temporarily closed, which would have ramifications on the Festival.

For starters, Craig James Pietrowiak (the head of Table Read My Screenplay) was late in picking screenwriter Alvaro Rodriguez (MACHETE) and me up at our house. This was due to the fact that he was on the phone trying to reroute some actors and staff coming in for the table read of my script THE SCOUNDRELS CLUB on Friday morning. Heck, Craig’s sound guy who would be recording the read, was rerouted back to Chicago due to the inclement weather. If I had to read some of the parts due to actor no-shows, well, that wouldn’t be too much of a problem as I’d read all the parts aloud a number of times. (I’m not as good at the female characters!) But without a sound guy how would there be a record of the wonderful event? Suddenly, the festival was filled with quite a bit of unwanted drama.
Screenwriter and new friend Alvaro Rodriguez. (My apologies for not having a picture of Alvaro with me yet!)
Of course, Alvaro and I didn’t know that just yet, only that Craig was late. So it gave us a chance to talk. And because of the hour we had together that morning, we become fast friends. He’s incredibly smart, with a vast knowledge of literature, movies, history, pop culture and politics. Alvaro's also one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. And I found out that he’s a big fan of Robert Louis Stevenson too. A script I wrote called FIEND won best thriller in the Table Read My Screenplay contest last year at Sundance and was about Stevenson. In fact, Alvaro was thinking of doing a script with Stevenson’s The Suicide Club shorts so we had a very expansive conversation together. And then Alvaro asked to read FIEND. I was very flattered.

When Craig picked us up he informed us of the plane problems but he smiled confidently and told us things would work out. He’s an incredibly savvy and shrewd man, also witty and kind, so I believed him. (Though I was prepared to search the frontier clothing shops high and low asking if they had any tape recorders for sale!)
CONCUSSION writer/director Stacie Passon and Robin Weigert at Sundance.

The first event for us Thursday was the premiere of a movie called CONCUSSION, which turned out to be a stunning feature. The story focuses on an unfulfilled lesbian housewife named Abby (played by the marvelous Robin Weigert) who is looking for something beyond her life with her aloof breadwinner mate, their two adopted children and the impeccably decorated suburban home they live in. She ends up falling into lesbian prostitution and if you think it’s a churlish romp, it’s not. The film is a sensual, sad, and unflinching portrait of loneliness. As Alvaro said, it blows something like BELLE DU JOUR out of the water in its frankness and female POV. You may remember Weigert played Calamity Jane on DEADWOOD on HBO a few years back, and this role couldn’t be farther from that Western ruffian. She deserves Oscar consideration next year, as does the writer/director Stacie Passon.

The snow had stopped by the time we got out of the screening. (Hopefully, the actors and soundman would be able to fly into Salt Lake City soon!) Hungry for a late lunch, Alvaro and Table Read’s Ayla Rose Barreau (a beautiful and terrific actress) and her boyfriend Will Perkins took me to Flanagan’s, an Irish pub on Main Street. Then we headed over to Cicero’s, the bar where the Albuquerque film folks were throwing their party, and the guest of honor was going to be…
The man himself. Robert Redford at Sundance six days ago. Alas, I would not get to meet him.

Robert Redford.

That’s right, the legendary multi-hyphenate and father of the Sundance Film Festival himself was slated to attend. Everyone has asked if I’d get to meet Redford and I always said I doubted it, but now it would seem that pipe dream and my mom’s fantasy would come true. (She already has him directing and starring in THE SCOUNDRELS CLUB in her mind. Not a bad thought, actually.)

But alas, it was not to be. Redford was indeed scheduled to attend. And I had thought if I had gotten the opportunity, I’d ask him to attend the table read tomorrow AM. But there was a death in the family, so Redford flew out for Los Angeles the day before and would not be back for the rest of the festival. Close. Very close, but alas, no Sundance Kid.

But for me my true celebrity sighting here has been meeting Alvaro. He's an incredibly accomplished talent, a Hollywood insider, and a new friend and contact. We went to another screening together that afternoon and spent a lot of time talking together about my work, his work and our fondness for films from the 1970’s and the late, great film composer Jerry Goldsmith. We’ve exchanged emails, cell phone numbers and Twitter accounts, and we’re now good friends. We both felt like we have known each other for a long time, even though it’s been less than 48 hours.
A scene from the controversial ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW that premiered at Sundance 2013.

The last movie of the day that we saw together spurred a good half hour conversation between us because it was a whopper of a film! It’s called ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW and it comes into Sundance with a ton of controversy surrounding it. It’s a black comedy, shot in black and white, filmed without licenses or permission in Disney World and Disneyland. Filmmaker Randy Moore has created a huge, sprawling bizarre and rather unsettling comic nightmare about a family vacation gone awry at the Magic Kingdom. It’s outrageous not only for its range of material, including infidelity, possessed children and alien probing, but also for its blatant satire on the joviality forced upon everyone at each turn in the land of Mickey Mouse. It may never get a wide release because of the lack of Disney’s cooperation, but Alvaro and I got to see it at Sundance, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

With that, I retired for the night. Tomorrow was the Table Read and I wanted to be rested and ready. Craig texted me that the actors were getting into town, and that all was well. And Alvaro texted me late in the evening to tell me how much he enjoyed reading THE SCOUNDRELS CLUB. The first two days at Sundance certainly were a whirlwind and incredibly positive. Now with the table read for the third, I knew it could only get better. Stay tuned for the big event, which I will post sometime tomorrow.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

MY ADVENTURES AT THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL, DAY ONE


In addition to writing this blog, I also am a budding screenwriter. I’ve been writing screenplays since 2009 and am fortunate to have a terrific manager in Hollywood - Christine Lynne of Goddess Productions. I’ve also been lucky enough to figure in the finals of a number of screenplay contests in the past few years and just this month won the Grand Prize in the Table Read My Screenplay contest at the Sundance Film Festival. I wrote a western called THE SCOUNDRELS CLUB and it won the action/adventure category too. And the Grand Prize is a trip to Sundance, so today I am going to start the ‘diary’ of my adventures at one of the biggest film festivals on the planet.
The poster I designed for my award-winning script THE SCOUNDRELS CLUB which will be used  for the Table Read My Screenplay event at Sundance. 
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 23
I boarded a 7 AM US Airways flight in Chicago and it flew me to Phoenix and then I connected to Salt Lake City. Then I was driven to Park City, which is only about half an hour from the airport. My driver Kevin was extremely cordial and we had a nice discussion about my script.

THE SCOUNDRELS CLUB takes place in the Old West and is about a former madam forced to work with three other famous, and infamous, outlaws to hunt down Billy the Kid. It’s based on four real people whom I’ve thrown into a fictional adventure together. The head of Table Read, Craig James Pietrowiak, described my script as a sort of a western version of THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Loved that! And Kevin, my driver, told me he was anxious to see it onscreen. From his wishes to God’s ears…
The view of Park City from the bed & breakfast I'm staying at.

The state of Utah is very mountainous and our drive into Park City was like a moving picture postcard the whole way. I expected it to be very cold but it was sunny and amazingly warm. I didn’t even need to button my overcoat or put on gloves when I got out of the car to check into the bed and breakfast where I’m staying. My room was big and comfortable there and the hostess Barbara was very nice despite being struck with a bad cold. I unpacked my things and headed downtown.

Main Street of Park City was just a short walk from where I’m staying. And as I got to the main drag it impressed me how the street was fun and well kept up. Park City is a popular ski resort town and all, and they really make it warm and inviting. It’s also very western and at times reminded me of the main drag of Frontierland at Disney World. The storefronts all have a boutique feel to them, and some even could be from a western movie set. How appropriate for me, right?
One of the store fronts on Main Street in Park City. (Very western. How appropriate for those scoundrels, eh?)


I hadn’t eaten since breakfast at 6 AM so I was hungry. I stopped in at the Red Banjo saloon, a cozy little place that boasts it's Park City's oldest restaurant. There I ate a delicious, fresh grilled chicken sandwich. (Their specialty is pizza but maybe when in Rome, not at Sundance. That didn’t seem appropriate to the whole western vibe of my adventure.)

Then I met up with Craig and Will Perkins from Table Read and we hit our first party together. The Sundance Channel was throwing a little shindig (again, my western vibe) and I met some people there and we exchanged business cards. I had a special one made up with my name, details and mention of the Grand Prize win on one side, and a shrunken down version of the PhotoShop poster I made of THE SCOUNDRELS CLUB for Friday’s table read event, where my script will be read out loud by professional actors around a table and recorded too.
Craig, yours truly and Will at the Sundance Channel party. (No, those aren't stars in my eyes. Just the reflection of the camera phone light bouncing off my glasses.)

After downing a couple of Stella’s, the three of us headed over to the premiere of a movie called MILKSHAKE, a coming of age film about a narcissistic teen boy trying to navigate through basketball season and two girlfriends. It was exactly the kind of quirky, indie film that I hoped to see as my first movie at Sundance, which has done more to promote the independent film movement in this country than anything else. There was a Q & A afterwards with the filmmakers answering some questions about how the film got made. Interestingly, they ducked the question about how much their film cost and how exactly they got the budget together. Knowing the film biz, it probably came from all sorts of places, but it would have been interesting to know just what they made it for.
A scene from MILKSHAKE, one of the independent movies premiering at Sundance this year.

Then I walked around the main drag, admiring the artsy lights dotting the buildings. I also grabbed some ice cream at the Java Cow, and ate my banana chocolate chip scoop out on the street without gloves. That’s how warm it was my first night in. (A nice change from that morning in the Windy City where it was only 10 degrees.)
The cheeky sign at Java Cow, a popular coffee & ice cream shop in Park City.
For the final event of the evening, I met up with Craig again for drinks at the Wasatch Pub, a local watering hole. (My outlaws would be so proud of my vernacular, wouldn’t they?) We were joined there by DC Sayre, the winner in the Table Read’s animation/fantasy category for his script DARBY PETTY AND THE LOST TREASURE OF THE IVERNI. Also meeting up with us was Alvaro Rodriguez, the writer of MACHETE, one of my favorite action pictures of recent years. They’re great guys and we all had a fun time talking movies and sharing a couple of pitchers of the bar’s homemade beers. Alvaro is a special guest at the Table Read event on Friday, and he will be reading the narration in my script. How cool is that?

I returned to my room quite tired but elated to be here and looking forward to screenings and parties the next day. Craig, who’s also a big honcho at the International Screenwriter’s Association, has connections everywhere and is getting us in to a party Thursday night sponsored by the Albuquerque Film Experience group. They helped BREAKING BAD get made down there. And Craig promised me that there would be a special guest attending that party and it would give me a lot to talk about. So stay tuned, friends. And come back for my diary from Day 2 tomorrow!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

HOLLYWOOD & THE GUN DEBATE


When I was a teenager, I saw DIRTY HARRY and endlessly quoted his “Do you feel lucky?” monologue. To a 13-year-old, it sounded pretty cool lauding the attributes of a
.44 Magnum. “I know what you're thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya’, punk?”
Clint Eastwood in DIRTY HARRY (1972)

What are those words really saying though? This gun is not a toy.

To me, that realization is seldom found in the debate over guns. The arguing too often concerns a person’s right to own one. But where is the question of responsibility in owning one? After all, it’s not a sports car or a stereo set. It’s a weapon, one with deadly implications. Ask any cop, or any soldier, and they will tell you - it is very, very difficult to shoot someone. It changes a person. It psychologically ravages a person. And it is a test of character like few in the world.

To use a gun is a very serious action. It suggests that all other avenues have been exhausted. Even for cops, who have to expect that taking their guns out of their holsters could be necessary at any time, it is the last resort. But to hear the gun lobby tell it, we’re all as steely-eyed and righteous as Dirty Harry and Rambo, and an armed citizenry will gladly raise their guns if they have to. I’m sure hoisting a weapon in a real situation is eminently more complex. I think the more accurate take on it is probably something more akin to what Clint Eastwood said towards the end of his anti-violence western UNFORGIVEN. There his hired killer admits, “It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.”
One of the most popular video game series of all time is CALL OF DUTY.


Which brings me to the matter of Hollywood, the video game industry and its portrayal of violence. A lot of folks are pointing the finger at the entertainment makers and saying that they glorify gunplay and killing, and that in doing so are a far greater scourge than any others we’re blaming. Granted, there are a lot of violent themes in our pop culture these days, but there always has been throughout history. Heck, the Bible is filled with slayings, mass murder and ruthless bastards. Still, I'm not sure that anything we read, play or watch can be blamed for this new surge. And reports show that economic problems, mental health issues and the ease of access to weaponry are a far greater reason. Face it, there is a lot of hostility in this nation, and a lot of jacked up people foaming at the mouth. Watch any cable news show and you see them prodding that fury, be it political, racial, social, or environmental. Is there any wonder that people act out?

Still, where does our entertainment come into play in all this? Quentin Tarantino doesn’t believe that movie, TV and video game violence leads to actual violence and I think he’s right. Yet, if we’re being honest about it, there are times when Hollywood, the gaming industry, the NRA, and the gun advocates, are all a bit too glib in making shooting seem easy. We reload so often during video games like the popular CALL OF DUTY series, the biggest frustration is that we don’t have enough artillery at our fingertips. Sylvester Stallone, even in the trailer for his newest movie BULLET TO THE HEAD, smarmily dismisses a bad guy he’s just gunned down with a screenwriter’s caustic wit, talking about them as “taking out stains”. And the NRA thinks that more good guys with guns are the only answer to bad guys with guns.

Is any of that a realistic portrayal of the responsibility of carrying and/or using a gun?

I think Hollywood has actually done a pretty good job of offering an alternative narrative. Most of the DIRTY HARRY movies didn’t shy away from the implications of shooting and killing. Harry is a tremendously lonely figure, a man who’s lost touch with much of his humanity. The audience may have misinterpreted parts of those films, choosing to concentrate on his “Make my day” quotes, but the melancholy is always there. TV series like THE SOPRANOS, the LAW & ORDER series, and JUSTIFIED, just to name three, have always been chock full of dread and fear. Their worlds are not black and white, but nuanced with dark grays of the heaviness of what violence and guns do. Heck, even James Bond broke down and cried when "M" died in his arms at the end of SKYFALL. Violence, shooting and killing – they have serious implications. And the evidence of such is there in most of Hollywood's product. 
Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce in LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997)

One of my all-time favorite movies is LA CONFIDENTIAL. And one of the reasons why is that it shows what shooting is really like. It’s not glamorous, or sexy, or easy. It’s terrifying. Towards the end of the movie, the two hero cops have a shoot-out with the bad cops. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is shot in the arm and is about to be gunned down because he can’t reload. His injured arm is limp and worthless to him and he’s a sitting duck. Luckily, Bud White (Russell Crowe) takes out the remaining baddies but he’s then shot at point blank range and is seriously injured. Ultimately, both survive the gunplay, but Exley’s arm is in a sling, and White’s whole body is so f**cked up he can’t even talk.

That’s what happens when you get shot. You don’t keep shooting. You don’t keep running. You don’t keep making smug quips. You likely drop. Stop. And probably die. And that’s what happens if you shoot someone too. There is an extraordinary amount of responsibility in raising a gun. 

Maybe we’d be better off as a nation if we required those who want to own a gun to take more responsibility in doing so. I'd suggest that those who want to have one should have to take a test. They should be required to take target practice, gun safety courses, and then prove that they're worthy of owning a gun by passing a test. Cops have to, why not the average citizenry? We require a license to drive a car or go scuba diving, why not insist on the same measures for a deadly weapon? It also might weed out more of the crazies, the hotheads, and the idiots. You want a gun? Earn it. Clear the background check. Take courses to learn to shoot properly and take care of your weapon. Register them. Then you’ll be a responsible gun owner, rather than just a gun owner.

I applaud the Obama administration for their courage and insistence on doing something about the gun violence problem in this country with its latest proposals. And I hope we can veer away from the debate concentrating on ownership. It’s high time we stopped regarding a gun as a toy or a collector's item or a hobby or a conceit or a symbol of one’s manhood, political party and sense of freedom. It’s a weapon with dire consequences. And Dirty Harry was right - the damn thing can blow your head clean off. It requires, hell, demands a greater responsibility than we're currently giving it.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

LINCOLN LOGS 12 OSCAR NOMINATIONS BUT SURPRISES PREVAIL


As expected, LINCOLN dominated this morning’s Oscar nominations with a stove top hat high record of 12 nods. LIFE OF PI was close behind with 11 nominations, while LES MISERABLES received 8. But this year, the real buzz coming out of Hollywood is how many surprises the Academy had for all of us movie fans watching with nervous excitement at 7:30 this morning.

Groups like the collection of critics and industry analysts over at Gold Derby (http://bit.ly/Qko4Xh) have practically got predicting Oscar season down to a science, but the Academy still finds ways to defy convention. That’s what makes the Oscars so exciting. And this year there were more than a few jaw droppers. For starters, the Best Direction category does not include the names Ben Affleck (ARGO), Kathryn Bigelow (ZERO DARK THIRTY) or Tom Hooper (LES MISERABLES). History shows that it’s almost impossible for a film to win Best Picture if its director is not nominated, and this morning those snubs were game changers. On the other hand, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK now leaps in status as a top contender due to its director David O. Russell securing a director nod as well as his being nominated for the adapted screenplay. 
In fact, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is probably the big ‘winner’ this morning as far as the nominations are concerned. Not only did it prevail in top categories like those just mentioned but also it was the first film to score nominations in all four acting categories since REDS in 1981. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence were recognized for their leading roles, while Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver both got into the supporting categories.

There were other ‘snubs’ in the sense that most people thought John Hawkes was a lock for a nomination for his lead in THE SESSIONS but in a crowded field of superb Best Actor possibilities, he was overlooked. Interestingly, Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for his leading role in THE MASTER even though he’s been griping about award season politics. Other names that weren’t called this AM were Leonardo DiCaprio, a certain Best Supporting Actor nominee to many, while his co-star Christoph Waltz got the nod instead for his terrific turn in DJANGO UNCHAINED.

The other big positive story this morning was the Academy love for BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. It scored Best Picture and Actress nominations (Quvenzhane Wallis, the youngest nominee ever at 9 years old!) and its director Benh Zeitlin. In all, it got 4 nods including an adapted screenplay nomination. 

As Chicago’s Horror Examiner, I was thrilled to see that both  FRANKENWEENIE and PARANORMAN made it on the Best Animated Feature list of five nominees. (http://exm.nr/UQB6hH) The other animated nominees were the expected BRAVE and WRECK-IT RALPH, and the somewhat surprising choice of THE PIRATES! A BAND OF MISFITS.

I was also pleased to see the recognition of two other films that have some roots in the horror/fantasy genre. HITCHCOCK, a movie bio about the Master of Suspense’s making of PSYCHO which many consider to be the greatest horror movie of all-time, got a nod for its makeup. And Colleen Atwood received a well-deserved nomination for her brilliant costumes in the fantasy SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN.

Here are the nominees in the six major categories:

Best Film
“Amour”
“Argo”
“Beasts of the Southern Wild”
“Django Unchained”
“Les Miserables”
“Life of Pi”
“Lincoln”
“Silver Linings Playbook”
“Zero Dark Thirty”

Best Director
Michael Haneke “Amour”
Ang Lee “Life of Pi”
David O. Russell “Silver Linings Playbook”
Steven Spielberg “Lincoln”
Benh Zeitlin “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper “Silver Linings Playbook”
Daniel Day-Lewis “Lincoln”
Hugh Jackman “Les Miserables”
Joaquin Phoenix “The Master”
Denzel Washington “Flight”

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain “Zero Dark Thirty”
Jennifer Lawrence “Silver Linings Playbook”
Emmanuelle Riva “Amour”
Quvenzhane Wallis “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Naomi Watts “The Impossible”

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin “Argo”
Robert De Niro “Silver Linings Playbook”
Philip Seymour Hoffman “The Master”
Tommy Lee Jones “Lincoln”
Christoph Waltz “Django Unchained”

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams “The Master”
Sally Field “Lincoln”
Anne Hathaway “Les Miserables”
Helen Hunt “The Sessions”
Jacki Weaver “Silver Linings Playbook”

So what does it all mean? Well, the Academy is always a fascinating juxtaposition of the expected and truly shocking. As their pick of Seth MacFarlane to host shows, the Academy is willing to go out on the edge. (http://exm.nr/Oa88Ky) He and Emma Stone were quite funny this morning as they announced the nominees, and he was nominated for Best Song in TED too. Their morning schtick today struck the right balance between reverence and cheeky. And the nominations they read off will keep us talking about the shocks for some time.

For my money, this year will now be more exciting with so many surprises. I still wish the Academy would keep their Best Picture nominations list to just five, but this list of nine is a very good list. And if expanding the list means there’s room for Quentin Tarantino and Michael Haneke, well, that’s a very good thing.

The Oscar statues will be handed out on Sunday, February 24. My predictions will come soon, but for now, all the nominees are winners. I just feel really sorry for Ben Affleck. It was a really good morning for ARGO, but a Best Director nod would’ve made it great.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

IF I HAD AN OSCAR BALLOT


The Oscar nominations will be announced this Thursday morning at 7:30 AM Central Time. It’s a fairly easy year to predict the nominations, as most categories seem to have only about six or seven real contenders vying for slots. I don’t expect any huge surprises, but there are always one or two underdogs, usually in the acting categories. I’ll cover what the Academy decides this Thursday morning, but for right now, here are some of my choices if I had an Oscar ballot.
Javier Bardem in SKYFALL


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Philip Seymour Hoffman “The Master”           
Tommy Lee Jones “Lincoln”                                   
Javier Bardem “Skyfall”                                               
Ewan McGregor “The Impossible”
Tom Holland “The Impossible”

Hoffman and Jones are a lock, and both are very deserving of all the accolades they’re receiving. Three actors on my list will likely not be called, but I wish they were. Tom Holland and Ewan McGregor are heartbreaking as they fight to survive after the dreaded Thailand tsunami in "The Impossible". And Javier Bardem makes for the most memorable Bond villain in decades in "Skyfall". It would be the first time any actor from over 50 years of Bond films got an Oscar nomination. He would, if I had a vote.
Helen Hunt in THE SESSIONS

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Helen Hunt “The Sessions”
Sally Field “Lincoln”
Ann Dowd “Compliance”
Anne Hathaway “Les Miserables”
Charlize Theron “Snow White & the Huntsman”

Anne Hathaway may be an absolute lock to win this season. (So everyone seems to be feeling in the prognosticator world.) But the other actresses I’d nominate were equally as outstanding. For my money, it’s one of the strongest supporting actress categories in years. Dowd might have had the hardest role, playing the good-hearted but gullible fast food manager falling for a terrible practical joke in “Compliance” but I doubt enough Academy members have seen it. And the fantasy genre rarely figures in the acting categories so Theron’s nuanced work as the evil queen will probably go unnoticed. And I wish that certain nominee Helen Hunt was considered more of a contender this year. I think she gave the female performance of the year. She was naked, physically and emotionally, and her work was a marvel. 

Jack Black in BERNIE


BEST ACTOR
Daniel Day-Lewis “Lincoln”
Joaquin Phoenix “The Master”
John Hawkes “The Sessions”
Denzel Washington “Flight”
Jack Black “Bernie”

Daniel Day-Lewis seems to be a lock for the win here. And it’s hard to argue with his monumental work in “Lincoln”. Hard to argue with the others I’ve listed too, or Hugh Jackman in “Les Miserables” or Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook” for that matter. Still, I’d love it if the Academy found room for Jack Black. He certainly put the black in that black comedy, but he also gave it a lot of heart. It’s a small, indie film that deserves some recognition and it would be very cool if the Academy was edgy enough to nominate him.
Naomi Watts in THE IMPOSSIBLE

BEST ACTRESS
Naomi Watts “The Impossible”
Marion Cotillard “Rust & Bone”
Zoe Kazan “Ruby Sparks”
Rachel Weisz “Deep Blue Sea”
Jennifer Lawrence “Silver Linings Playbook”

Is Naomi Watts the most unheralded big star in Hollywood? She’s given great performance after great performance, from “Mulholland Drive” to “21 Grams” to “King Kong” to “Fair Game” and yet doesn’t ever seem to get as much due as say, Kate Winslet or Cate Blanchett. I think they’re great, but so is Watts. And now she does perhaps her best work ever, as a mother trying to survive a tsunami and save her family, and she is considered on the 'Oscar bubble'. I hope not. I not only am hoping she's nominated I hope she goes on to win for her incredibly raw, physical and brave performance.
The animated FRANKENWEENIE

BEST PICTURE
“Lincoln”
“Life of Pi”
"The Sessions"
“The Impossible”
“Frankenweenie”

I’ve already picked my 10 best in a previous Establishing Shot post (http://bit.ly/VkPe3m). And if the Academy indeed sees fit to nominate 10 pictures this year, well, I’ve had my say. But if they could only pick five like they used to, these are the ones I’d like to see called.

It’s a shame that the Best Animated Feature category seems to have somehow blocked any cartoon from going farther at the Oscars, but I’d love to see “Frankenweenie” up for Best Picture. I'm afraid its chances are about as good as Sparky's after that car accident. (But wait!) He came back, so maybe there's hope. The Academy is getting better about honoring genre films in the Best Picture category. They nominated “District 9”, “Inception” and all of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. And they gave the horror movie “The Silence of the Lambs” the coveted top prize in 1991. So perhaps Tim Burton will have a great day on Thursday, instead of an expected good day.

We shall see…

(BTW...I was inspired to write this column by The Establishing Shot follower Jason Kinnison. He made his major category picks in  one of the threads here, and his list was superb. So what are your picks? Who would you like to see get nominated Thursday AM? Let Jason and me know, and we'll keep the discussion going...)