Hollywoodnews.com: Like every year the stars looked more like fashionistas than actors. They paraded through the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards red carpet at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills.
The delicious twist that ends Martin Scorsese’s gothic genre thriller “Shutter Island” is a doozy. At one preview screening, an audience of professional filmgoers were all but silent as they filed out of the theater with furrowed brows. But the memorable climax is far from the only reason critics and film buffs sound a tad flummoxed by the master auteur’s follow up to his 2006 Oscar winner “The Departed.” Scorsese packed a lot into “Shutter Island.” Some say too much. Indeed, depending on whom you ask, this transcendent hallucination of a film is either a masterpiece or an overwrought homage to Scorsese’s noir favorites.
Perhaps it’s a case of inflated expectations. “Shutter Island” was, after all one of the most anticipated films of last year. And for good reason. It looks like an award-winner, on paper anyway. It’s set in 1954, off the windswept East Coast somewhere near Boston. Leonardo DiCaprio plays U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels who, with his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) is summoned to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient (Emily Mortimer) from the Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane. But the investigation is soon thwarted first by the institution’s sinister psychiatrists (Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow), then by a hurricane that sweeps the rocky island and finally by Daniels’ own incessant WWII flashbacks and nightmares of the death of his beloved wife (Michelle Williams).
It was expected to be one of this year’s Oscar contenders. Indeed, movie buffs and Hollywood insiders are still puzzling over the fact that last August, Paramount Pictures pushed its release from Oct. 2 to Feb. 19, effectively pulling it from the Oscar race.
At the time, a movie trailer had already been out for months. Early screenings had already tested well with audiences. Oscar buzz was already fomenting for DiCaprio. Still, the official word from Paramount chief Brad Grey was that the economy trumped all those. The studio apparently lacked the funds to properly market the picture. So, the studio put its Oscar campaigns behind Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones” and Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” instead.
Now that the reviews are trickling it’s apparent that the studio’s reasons for pushing the film’s release were a bit more nuanced. Despite its stellar cast, its master director, its origins in Dennis Lehane’s best-selling 2003 novel, “Shutter Island” is somewhat of a tough sell.
Even the film’s new trailer has prompted some head-scratching (albeit from folks who apparently haven’t yet seen the film.) The Los Angeles Times’ Patrick Goldstein wondered why the studio plugged six Scorsese titles in the film’s Super Bowl spot, but used a trailer filled with “creepy horror-film images” that “make it feel a lot more like we’re watching a Wes Craven movie.” “It doesn’t look bad,” writes The Guardian’s Anna Pickard, “Why does it feel as if it’s being treated that way by a nervous studio?”
It’s almost as if the ambiguity of the film’s plot infiltrated the marketing of it.
The bottom line is: as a moviegoer, “Shutter Island” often feels over-the-top and strangely off-putting. There are moments of brilliance set against moments of gratuitous horror. Odd instances of discontinuity, skillfully placed by Scorsese’s longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker, keep the audience on shaky ground throughout the film.
And DiCaprio and Ruffalo affect a jaunty, formal style of delivering dialogue – something Scorsese purposefully inspired them to do with screenings of Otto Preminger’s 1944 crime thriller “Laura” and Jacques Tourneur’s 1947 tale of double-crosses “Out of the Past.” “There’s a certain style of filmmaking that the men of that era had,” Ruffalo says. “They’re different than us. They’re rhythms are different.” They’re pretending to over-act, but the audience doesn’t exactly get the reason why until two hours later.
It will almost certainly become a Scorsese classic for some. But for the rest of us, it’s almost too much to absorb in one sitting. To hear Scorsese talk, though, that response is the one he wanted.
“What’s interesting to me,” he says in the film’s press notes, “is how the story keeps changing, and the reality of what’s happening keeps changing, and how up until the very final scene, it’s all about how the truth is perceived.”
Jeff Bridges sounded a little congested on the phone. It was around 11 o’clock on a Monday morning, the day before he got news of his fifth Oscar nomination. But it was still early by his measure. There were shades of The Dude in his loping cadence. And who could blame him, really. The guy has been burning the candle at both ends for weeks.
“There’s a lot of stress and anxiety available when you’re going through something like this,” he said, referencing the hoopla that’s surrounded him since “Crazy Heart” opened in early December. “I don’t think I’ve ever had this much attention when I’ve been promoting a movie.”
That’s because “Crazy Heart” was this year’s little film that could, the low budget indie that nearly didn’t make it to the big screen and now looks like the one that will finally nab this five-time nominee his statuette.
Last summer, the movie was headed straight to DVD. Then Fox Searchlight picked it up from Viacom’s dissolving Paramount Vantage and bumped up the film’s release date to qualify for an Academy Award. That meant Bridges would have a slim window to promote the movie (and ultimately campaign for an Oscar) in between the production and promotion schedules for the Coen brothers’ “True Grit” (which starts filming in a few weeks) and Disney’s “Tron Legacy” (due out in December).
But Fox Searchlight’s executives know an Oscar bait indie film when the see one. And since “Crazy Heart’s” initial release, it hasn’t disappointed. Before today’s Oscar nomination, Bridges’ portrayal of the hard-living troubadour Bad Blake had earned him a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild award, a Critics Choice award and a slew of other accolades.
“It exceeded all our expectations,” he said. “Fox came in late on the deal. There was no time for long lead press or [press junket] round tables. We did screenings and Q and A’s to build word-of-mouth. It’s been a very different kind of release. And awards are very important for a movie like this because we don’t have a lot money in the budget for ads and commercials.”
Bridges has long been one of Hollywood’s most respected performers, a true character actor with the winning charm of a movie star. If anyone would be good on the stump, it’s him. And during January, when Academy voters were still mulling over their ballots, he was everywhere. He collected an honorary award from the Palm Springs Film Festival (Jan. 5), he appeared on “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” (Jan. 15), chatted up fans at the American Cinematheque’s sold out double feature of “The Big Lebowski” and “Crazy Heart” (Jan. 16), collected a Golden Globe, delivering one of the more quotable speeches of the night (Jan. 17) and talked about his quirky album cover collection on the Ellen DeGeneres show (Jan. 19).
Mercifully, Bridges will have a bit of a break for the next few weeks. Sure, he’ll head to Santa Barbara for “Jeff Bridges Day,” (Feb. 14), so declared by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which will honor the actor with a day of back-to-back screenings of some of his best films.
But then it’s back to the craft of acting. At least until Oscar night. Bridges has just a couple of weeks to develop his version of the surly U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn in the remake of the 1969 classic “True Grit,” a role that earned John Wayne his only Oscar. It’s a lot of excitement, even for a 60-year-old Hollywood veteran.
“My wife just sent me off this morning with some advice my mother used to give to me,” said Bridges. “Remember, have fun.” He’s working on it.
The ever-affable Sandra Bullock, elegant in a red velvet dress and stilettos, was surrounded by a swarm of conspicuously underdressed journalists, leading an animated discussion about macaroons of all things. A few feet away under a crystal chandelier, “The Blind Side” director John Lee Hancock earnestly praised the actress while nearby one of the film’s producers Andrew Kosove gushed about having a “film in Oscar contention.”
Bullock’s Golden Globe win was still a few days away. And the “Oscar contention” still wishful thinking. But this bit of banal chatter is the sort of merriment that often paves the path to awards. Not that any publicist in her right mind would ever publicly admit that a couple hours of cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres in a dimly lit Beverly Hills restaurant could lead to filmmaking’s most coveted honor. Still, there seems to be a strategy that works. Hold enough of these gilded affairs, for instance, where the actors and filmmakers work the charm on select members of the press and a few gadfly Academy voters, and it can mean the difference between an Independent Spirit award and Oscar himself. At least, that’s the theory. This year, with the best picture category expanded to ten films and a complicated new vote-counting method, theories are all we’ve got.
To hear the veteran Academy members talk, scrounging up ten Oscar-worthy films is an enormous chore. Everyone seems poised to grudgingly thrust a statuette in James Cameron’s face and move on. “Filmmakers and executives are just furious and remain furious with Academy board’s decision,” said one longtime voter. “The [Academy] board has been defending its choice to everybody they run into. I just got an email from an Academy producer who is only going to nominate two films.”
Whatever. The Hollywood publicity machine loves a challenge. And at this point, that formidable force moves into what one studio Oscar consultant termed “Phase Two.” The Globes’ awards have narrowed expectations a bit. “Avatar” is the one to beat. It has two Golden Globes for best director and picture and racked up industry guild nominations for best picture (Producers Guild of America) cinematography (American Society of Cinematographers), direction (Directors Guild of America) and best original screenplay (Writers Guild of America). The Academy ballots are due Saturday. Two weeks from today (TUESDAY, Jan. 19), the Oscar nominations will be announced.
And then it’s all just a glittering downhill slalom to March 7. “It’s like the Tour de France,'” said the studio Oscar consultant. “You have to reserve your energy for the post-Oscar nomination part of the race. You’re asking yourself, ‘What else can we do? What else can we do again?'”
Sure, news of the starving Haitian earthquake victims, coupled with our nation’s 10% unemployment rate dampens the mood a bit. There have been reports of more semi-private parties, more filmmaker Q&As. The Hollywood Reporter last month declared it “no longer cool to throw a splashy, public event to hype an Oscar contender.”
And publicists are finding their jobs especially tough this year, because as one Oscar consultant put it, no one wanted to “spend the money, effort, and time to campaign a film that would conceivably be the seventh or eight or ninth nominee.” (Yet, with a broader best picture category, many more filmmakers expected to have a shot.)
“Moon” director Duncan Jones wasn’t one of the lucky ones. He angrily Tweeted in late December that Sony had omitted screeners of his film from its awards season packet send out to voters. “They say it costs too much for our little film,” he wrote. In desperation, he launched an online petition — seeking an Oscar nomination for the film’s star Sam Rockwell. It now has more than 3,700 signatures. (We’re big fans, Sam, but don’t hold your breath.)
For the top contenders, though, there appears to be plenty of time and money to go around. Studios still rely on the trades to run their “For Your Consideration” ads. According to the Los Angeles Times’ Tom O’Neil, each studio spent $200,000 just to send screeners to the entire 94,000-person Screen Actors Guild membership in an attempt to give their nominees a leg up.
Just last week, even Magnolia Pictures’ little documentary “Food Inc.” had scheduled a party at the upscale Italian restaurant, Campanile. And there have been no shortage of events honoring Jane Campion’s indie costume drama “Bright Star.”
Then there was that swag-bag faux-pas last month at the “Brothers” event held by Relativity Media chief Ryan Kavanaugh in which party-goers, including Hollywood Foreign Press members and celebrity Academy voters, were given Blu-Ray players and DVDs of Maguire’s Oscar entry “Brothers.” (The next day, the HFP members returned the players. But that didn’t stop at least one disgruntled competitor tattling to Nikki Finke that it was the gifts, not Maguire’s publicist Kelly Bush’s relentless lobbying that got Maguire his Globe nomination.)
Harvey Weinstein and Universal Pictures meanwhile haven’t exactly scrimped on promoting “Inglourious Basterds.” Producer Lawrence Bender held a big, star-studded party at his home for the film. Then a swank DVD release screening was held at Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema, complete with cute girls dressed as WWII era movie ushers. Before the film, Tarantino showed a series of specially edited “trailers” from old films that had inspired him to make “Basterds.” Later, guests went to the nearby Grace restaurant, which was turned into a vintage lounge complete with schnapps bar and DJ Bizzy spinning records.
Back at Bullock’s low-key soiree at the Il Cielo restaurant, her “Blind Side” co-star Quinton Aaron couldn’t entirely believe his luck.
“It’s been interesting,” said Aaron, who had apparently hit hard times after a couple small film roles in Michel Gondry’s “Be Kind Rewind” and the Channing Tatum movie “Fighting.” “A year ago today, I was living in a house with no food, no water, no lights.”
He towered over the rest of the crowd, beaming about the night before at the premiere of “The Book of Eli.” Rosario Dawson had hugged him. Gary Oldman congratulated him. He got a picture with Denzel Washington. Best of all, he stood eye-to-eye with Magic Johnson. “We’re almost the same height,” he said.
“I’ve watched ‘Entourage,'” Aaron said, referencing HBO’s comedy. “But to actually be in the moment and be the main reason for people coming to something. It’s almost indescribable.”
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