January 01, 2015

Tag Archives: director

Cinematic gifts from 2014

With folks all over unwrapping presents today and the year just about over, I wanted to commemorate the time by looking at the gifts that the world of cinema bestowed on us in 2014. What do I mean when I say that? Well, in my eyes, it can mean a film, a filmmaker, or a performer who we became thankful for/even more thankful for during the past 12 months. I tried to be as eclectic as possible and think broadly, but of course this is essentially who and what I loved during the year too. It’s not my top ten list, but it might give you some idea of what mine will look like. Also, I did try and tie it into the Oscar race, of course. How could I not? Anyway, enjoy!
Here now are ten gifts that cinema gave us in 2014:
1. Boyhood – Almost without exception, everyone can agree that Richard Linklater’s film is a gift to cinema. That just makes the fact that it’s the current Best Picture/Best Director/Best Original Screenplay frontrunner all the sweeter. It’s a unique experience that may never be duplicated and 2014 contained the release of it after a decade plus of preparation/shooting.
2. J.K. Simmons – Who doesn’t love Simmons? He’s one of the great character actors of our time, but he’s never had a role like the one in Whiplash to really sink his teeth into. As such, we should give thanks that this gift of a performance is now not only guaranteed to score him his first Oscar nomination, it’s almost assuredly going to win him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as well.
3. Life Itself – Legendary film critic Roger Ebert sadly passed away last year, but director Steve James released his amazing look at Ebert’s life this year, and what a gift it is. A touching documentary about a life well lived, it’s going to compete for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars, though it’s already won a place in many of our hearts. It’s just that special.
4. The Fault in Our Stars – There were so many ways that this YA adaptation could have gone wrong that it’s a real gift that we got the brilliant movie that we did. The combination of director Josh Boone, writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, as well as cast members like Laura Dern, Ansel Elgort, and of course Shailene […]

Oscars: 9 Foreign Language Films Advance in Oscar® Race

Nine features will advance to the next round of voting in the Foreign Language Film category for the 87th Academy Awards®. Eighty-three films had originally been considered in the category.
The films, listed in alphabetical order by country, are:
Argentina, “Wild Tales,” Damián Szifrón, director;
Estonia, “Tangerines,” Zaza Urushadze, director;
Georgia, “Corn Island,” George Ovashvili, director;
Mauritania, “Timbuktu,” Abderrahmane Sissako, director;
Netherlands, “Accused,” Paula van der Oest, director;
Poland, “Ida,” Pawe? Pawlikowski, director;
Russia, “Leviathan,” Andrey Zvyagintsev, director;
Sweden, “Force Majeure,” Ruben Östlund, director;
Venezuela, “The Liberator,” Alberto Arvelo, director.
Foreign Language Film nominations for 2014 are being determined in two phases.
The Phase I committee, consisting of several hundred Los Angeles-based Academy members, screened the original submissions in the category between mid-October and December 15. The group’s top six choices, augmented by three additional selections voted by the Academy’s Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee, constitute the shortlist.
The shortlist will be winnowed down to the category’s five nominees by specially invited committees in New York, Los Angeles and, for the first time, London. They will spend Friday, January 9, through Sunday, January 11, viewing three films each day and then casting their ballots.
The 87th Academy Awards nominations will be announced live on Thursday, January 15, 2015, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
The Oscars® will be held on Sunday, February 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre® at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.
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ABOUT THE ACADEMY
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the world’s preeminent movie-related organization, with a membership of more than 6,000 of the most accomplished men and women working in cinema. In addition to the annual Academy Awards—in which the members vote to select the nominees and winners — the Academy presents a diverse year-round slate of public programs, exhibitions and events; acts as a neutral advocate in the advancement of motion picture technology; and, through its Margaret Herrick Library and Academy Film Archive, collects, preserves, restores and provides access to movies and items related to their history. Through these and other activities the Academy serves students, historians, the entertainment industry and people everywhere who love movies.
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A December Oscar Predictions Update

Well, the calendar has turned to December folks, so now we’re getting serious here in terms of Oscar predictions. Precursor awards are in full swing now, so expect the Academy Award picture to begin to clear itself up little by little. As I keep saying, that doesn’t mean that from now on we’ll suddenly know how the whole thing will go down, but we’re close to the point where things should make more sense. Without any unseen contenders left, all that’s left is figuring out how these various Oscar hopefuls will do. Well, that’s what I’m here for ladies and gentlemen, so let’s figure it out!
The big new piece of information here is that I’ve now seen and digested Angelina Jolie’s film Unbroken. Honestly, I’m skeptical that it’ll be a major player, which is why I now have it snubbed in the Best Picture category and not going home with a single win. I could be wrong, but I also think that Jolie will fall short in Best Director and Jack O’Connell won’t be able to break through in the Best Actor race. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a good movie, because it is, but it doesn’t feel like something that can stand up to the major players in this race. As such, voters might leave it behind.
This leaves us mostly with a race that’s going to come down to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, and Ava DuVernay’s Selma in terms of Best Picture as well as Best Director. You can make the case that Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is a potential dark horse, but aside from that, it’s those three. You’ll see what I think will happen below, but get used to seeing those titles a lot, because those are the names that will compete for Oscar glory.
Anyway, it’s time to get down to business, right? Without further delay, here is how I see the Academy Award nominations going at this current juncture, with once again my next in line picks listed for completion/as a bonus. Behold:
BEST PICTURE
1. Boyhood
2. Selma
3. The Imitation Game
4. Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
5. Interstellar
6. Gone Girl
7. Whiplash
8. The Theory of Everything
9. Foxcatcher
10. A Most Violent Year
Next in line: 11. Unbroken 12. American Sniper 13. Into the Woods 14. Fury 15. Rosewater 16. Wild 17. Mr. Turner 18. Inherent Vice 19. Nightcrawler […]

Could ‘Interstellar’ be an Oscar winner?

Last week, I was one of the lucky first members of the press to lay eyes on Christopher Nolan’s new opus Interstellar. Now that the embargo has lifted, I can say without hesitation that it’s his best work to date, an absolutely enthralling and deeply moving science fiction drama that makes both your heart and your mind soar. More important than my thoughts though (which I’ll get into more below), is how its debut could impact the Oscar race. I know that only a few of my fellow pundits love it as much as I do and some aren’t even fans of it at all, but this is a legitimate contender folks. The only question is to what extent…
For those somehow in the dark about this, Interstellar is a sci-fi movie set in the future from Christopher Nolan. It details a dying Earth and the last ditch attempt to save it by going in search of a new planet to colonize. Matthew McConaughey stars as the pilot turned farmer/single dad turned hero, with an incredible supporting cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Mackenzie Foy, Bill Irwin, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, David Gyasi, Topher Grace, Ellen Burstyn, and David Oyelowo. Nolan directs and co-writes with his brother Jonathan Nolan.
Even with high expectations, I was floored by this film. It’s visually stunning, powerful, and surprisingly emotional. Nolan has never been one to move me to tears, but on more than one occasion I got choked up. Particularly in terms of how he deals with relationships between fathers and daughters (McConaughey and Chastain/Foye, as well as Caine and Hathaway), it’s actually quite beautiful and sad. That’s really something special and unique, compounded by how intelligent the science fiction is here. The details about black holes and the Theory of Relativity is handled with the sort of faith that assumed the audience will come on this journey without turning off their brains. If they/you do, you’ll be in for something amazing.
So how can it impact the Oscar race? Well, it’ll depend on how the precursors and guilds take to it, but there’s a potential narrative where it could become one of the top contenders for Best Picture as well as Best Director. If all goes perfectly for Interstellar from this point on, it could be in line for up to a dozen Academy Award nominations. Pie in […]

Spotlight on Billionaire David Ellison

NAME: DAVID ELLISON
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Family
BIO: Son of Oracle’s Larry Ellison, whose net worth is estimated between 41.8 billion (Bloomberg) and $48 billion (Forbes). Brother of uber-producer Megan Ellison. USC film school graduate. Accomplished acrobatic pilot.
MARITAL STATUS: Married to actress/singer Sandy Modic.
HOLLYWOOD CONNECTIONS: His father once co-owned the 450-foot, $200 million yacht Rising Sun with fellow billionaire and DreamWorks co-founder David Geffen. David Ellison began career as an actor, appearing in and co-financing the 2006 MGM flop “Flyboys.” Founded Skydance Productions label, named for his love of flying. Raised $350 million to co-finance movies with studio partner Paramount Pictures. Re-upped co-financing pact with Paramount through 2018.
FILMS OF NOTE: “True Grit,” “Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol,” “Jack Reacher,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “World War Z.” Combined, those films have made more than $2.4 billion at the global box office—Deadline.
FILM PROJECTS IN THE WORK:
*“Terminator: Genesis.” Director: Alan Taylor. Cast: Emilia Clarke, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney. Producers: Ellison, Dana Goldberg.
*“Mission: Impossible 5” Director: Christopher McQuarrie. Cast: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner. Producers: Ellison, J.J. Abrams, Tom Cruise.
*“Top Gun 2” Cast: Tom Cruise.
*”Geostorm” Cast: Gerard Butler. Director: Dean Devlin. Producers: Ellison, Devlin, Goldberg, Rachel Olschan, Marc Roskin.
*Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” Cast: Tom Cruise.
REAL ESTATE VENTURES: Skydance Productions purchased the historic Santa Monica post office on Fifth Street which was opened as part of FDR’s Works Project Administration in the ‘30’s, but was shuttered last year after walk-in traffic dwindled, according to Santa Monica Daily Press. No price was disclosed.
QUOTABLES: “I got sick my first flight.”—2006 Q&A with Air & Space magazine.
SCIENTOLOGY CONNECTION: All those Tom Cruise movies. TMZ featured a 2011 video of Cruise doing the worm during a “dance battle” at Ellison’s Palm Springs wedding.

Spotlight on Billionaire Jeff Skoll

By Robert Welkos
NAME: JEFF SKOLL
NET WORTH: $2.7 billion (TheRichest.com) to $3.8 billion (Forbes)
SOURCE OF WEALTH: eBay
‘BIO: Born to a middle-class family in Canada, Skoll graduated with honors in electrical engineering program at the University of Toronto, then went backpacking around the world before entering Stanford Business School, where he earned an MBA degree. He was the first full-time employee and first president of eBay, the Internet auction firm. He sold a portion of his company holdings for $2 billion. In 1999. he created the Skoll Foundation, which quickly became the world’s largest foundation for social entrepreneurship. In 2004, he created the movie production company Participant Media. In 2009. he founded the Skoll Global Threats Fund, focusing on issues that could bring the world to its knees: climate change, water scarcity, pandemics, nuclear proliferation and Middle East conflict.
MARITAL STATUS: Single
HOLLYWOOD CONNECTIONS: Participant Media seeks to make films that have the power to inspire and compel social change. Skoll has served as executive producer on more than 45 films. Recently, he launched Pivot, a new digital cable and satellite television channel aimed at the millennial generation.
FILMS INCLUDE: “Syriana,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Kite Runner,” “The Cove,” “The Help,” “Lincoln,” “Fast Food Nation,” “The Fifth Estate.”
FILM PROJECTS IN THE WORKS:
“The Ardor.” Director: Pablo Fendrik. Cast: Alice Braga, Gael Garcia Bernal. Hollywood Reporter: “A tale of survival and revenge set in the Amazon jungle.”
“Out of the Dark.” Director: Lluís Quílez. Cast: Julia Stiles, Scott Speedman, Stephen Rea. IMDB logline: “A couple and their daughter moves to Colombia to take over a family manufacturing plant, only to realize that their new home is haunted.”
“The Hundred-Foot Journey.” Director: Lasse Hallström. Cast: Helen Mirren, Rohan Chand, Juhi Chawla. Producers include Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg.g among producers. IMDB logline: “A story centered on an Indian family who moves to France and opens a restaurant across the street from a Michelin-starred French restaurant.”
“A Most Violent Year.” Director: J.C. Chandor. Cast: Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks. IMDB logline: “A thriller set in New York City during the winter of 1981, statistically one of the most violent years in the city’s history, and centered on the lives of an immigrant and his family trying to expand their business and capitalize on opportunities as the rampant violence, decay and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they […]

Clint Eastwood: Spotlight on the Stars

For this week’s spotlight piece, I wanted to go old school and take a look at a classic A-lister, and that happens to be one Clint Eastwood. Depending on your age, he’s either a director who used to be an actor or a childhood icon who’s now become a rather iconic filmmaker. Few could have reinvented themselves the way that Eastwood has, with this weekend’s release of Jersey Boys highlighting his directing skills in a whole new light than really ever before. He’s tried to do it all in Hollywood, you have to tip your hat to him for that.
Eastwood has basically done it all in the business. He’s starred in franchises (the Dirty Harry series as well as The Man With No Name movies), acted in Best Picture winners, and directed them as well. Though one could legitimately make the claim that his best days in Hollywood are behind him, there was a time when he was basically the king of the industry. Two of his directorial efforts (both of which he starred in and received Best Actor nominations for) won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and he had a long run of his work being repeatedly embraced by Oscar voters. He has four competitive statues at home (for producing and directing Million Dollar Baby as well as producing and directing Unforgiven) and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award to show for it.
If you take a look at his work, he’s shown how an actor with one specialty could become a filmmaker with a completely different one. He was never on Oscar’s radar as a western star and even when he moved to the director’s chair, it was in genre fare. Slowly but surely he kept improving his work, culminating in Unforgiven in the 90’s being the first time voters cited a film of his, along with his own performance as well. Since then, he’s dabbled in comedies (Space Cowboys), mysteries (Blood Work, Changeling), war epics (Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima), and even baity biopics (J. Edgar). Now he goes the musical route with Jersey Boys. You have to say this for Eastwood…he never sits on his hands (ironic, since he’s an accomplished piano player and musical composer as well, even getting a Golden Globe nomination for doing the score to Grace is Gone, which he was otherwise uninvolved in). He always has something […]

Bennett Miller: 2015 Best Director contenders

As you folks all know, it’s one thing to read early Academy Award predictions at this point in the year in order to see what folks like myself think will happen six months from now, but it’s another thing entirely to actually know something about what will be in contention. To help out in that regard, I’m running down some of the major contenders in each Oscar category in order to prep you all for the season to come. Basically, the format will have me saying a few words about what/who I feel are the top tier contenders right now in said categories, along with a longer list afterwards of many of the other hopefuls that the Academy might take a shine to. Consider this a sort of before the awards season cheat sheet to have in your back pocket.
Today I’m continuing with the second biggest one out there…Best Director.
Here are the ten filmmakers that I have in play for Best Director, with the top five cracking the lineup at this point:
1. Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher) – I have Miller in the top spot for Foxcatcher due to how well received it was at the Cannes Film Festival. The director himself took home a prize, and for an awards bait American movie to do that, it shows some potentially strong legs to me. Miller is probably the closest thing to a lock that we have so far this year.
2. Angelina Jolie (Unbroken) – It’s basically a tie between Jolie and Miller for me, but I give the Foxcatcher director the edge due to his aforementioned Best Director win at Cannes. Without that, I’d probably have Jolie in the top spot. Her directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey showed off her skills and this war film seems tailor made for the Academy. If she nails it, she’s a surefire nominee in the directing category.
3. David Fincher (Gone Girl) – I think we can all agree that Fincher is going to win an Oscar one day, it’s just a matter of when. While I doubt he’ll be able to do it this year, he seems like he’ll very much be in contention for a nomination at least here. A lot will depend on if this is a Best Picture player or not. If it is, my guess is that he makes it in here.
4. Jason Reitman (Men, Women, & Children) […]

Predicting the Palme d’Or at Cannes

HOLLYWOOD ENTERTAINMENT NETWORK: Over at the Cannes Film Festival tomorrow, the awards announcements will take place, leading up to the crowning of this year’s Palme d’Or winning film. There doesn’t seem to be a movie there that’s the obvious frontrunner, so we have a situation where the festival jury (led by filmmaker Jane Campion) could go in any number of directions. They have American Oscar bait, new works from Cannes favorites, and a whole host of other flicks to choose from. I have to say, this year is probably one of the more wide open ones that we’ve seen in a bit. I’ve never been less confident in Cannes awards predictions than I am now, but we’ll press on anyway…
Before we get to the big award, I’ll speculate a bit on the acting, directing, and screenplay awards. For Actor, I think it’ll be the high profile selection of Steve Carrell for Foxcatcher, though Timothy Spall could just as easily win for Mr. Turner as well. With Actress, Marion Cotillard seems like the far out frontrunner for Two Days, One Night here, though if you want a potential upset, look for Julianne Moore in David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, Kristen Stewart in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, or Hilary Swank in Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman. Director is almost like another runner up prize, so something that loses the Palme could win here. For that I have Xavier Dolan for Mommy, though any of the other contenders are possible, especially Bennett Miller or Mike Leigh. Lastly, I’m sort of at a loss for Screenplay, so I’ll go with what I’ve heard is the likely winner in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep, though watch out for Foxcatcher here as well.
Now, on to the Golden Palm. It seems to be a competition between Foxcatcher, Leviathan, Mommy, Mr. Turner, and Winter Sleep, though some have speculated that Two Days, One Night could be a spoiler. I suspect that at least one of those will also wind up as either the Grand Prix (Second Place) or Jury Prize (Third Place) winner, but I have no good clue as to which one, though if a gun was to my head, I’d say maybe Leigh’s Mr. Turner comes in second and Miller’s Foxcatcher comes in third. By that line of thinking, that would have Dolan’s Mommy and Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan fighting it out for the big […]

Are Passion Projects actually a good thing for filmmakers?

If you’re a lover of cinema like I am, there’s an inherent extra bit of interest on hand when a director announces that he or she is finally going to make a passion project of theirs. Just this year, we’ve seen Darren Aronofsky finally get Noah to the big screen, while Richard Linklater completed his more than a decade in the making Boyhood in time for the Sundance Film Festival. Almost two years ago, Steven Spielberg brought his vision of Lincoln to the Oscar ceremony, and next year Martin Scorsese seems at long last set to shoot his own passion project Silence. They happen every single year, but the thing is…are they actually a good thing?
Obviously, the upside to passion projects is that the filmmaker in question is almost obsessed with making it as good as possible. They’ve perhaps even had a one track mind for years with these projects. When done right, you get Oscar contenders like the aforementioned Lincoln. It doesn’t always go that way, but when it’s a success, it always seems like a bigger success.
The downside however, is that sometimes it can blind said filmmakers to the inherent issues with the project. Look no further than this year’s Winter’s Tale or 2012’s Cloud Atlas. In the former’s case, Akiva Goldsman encountered near venomous reviews and in the latter’s case, the trio of Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer received as many reviews calling it the worst movie of the year as they did calling it the best. Both films suffered potentially from filmmakers too emotionally invested in the material to see where changes needed to be made.
Earlier this year, Aronofsky’s film Noah met with decidedly mixed reviews, some of which stemming from thoughts that he should have taken a more objective look at the movie. Granted, some of the issues came from his deviations from the religious text, and that’s not a legitimate criticism to me, but the purely cinematic issues are ones that I find to be somewhat valid. Aronofsky is a master filmmaker, but the two films that he received less than raves for were his passion projects (the other one being The Fountain, ironically one of my all time favorite films). Coincidence?
We’ll see soon with Scorsese’s Silence if all this time spent waiting to make the flick will help or hurt it. He spent a long time trying to make Gangs of […]

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