When a week of constant moviegoing fails to rouse either unanimity or contentious division, the world's film press gets a little antsy. Where is The Movie? You know, the one that will bring us to tears or to war. Where's the movie that incites peals of laughter, intentional or otherwise? Where on earth are the Oscar-caliber, midmovie storm-outs? The applause has been tepid. The boos have been virtually nonexistent. No one seems willing to kill for anything. No one has any idea what the Steven Spielberg jury will or should do.
That sense changed this morning with the unveiling of Steven Soderbergh's Liberace movie Behind the Candelabra. When the film ended, the house applauded Soderbergh's name and cheered for Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. The song that sends you floating up the aisle and through the exits is Douglas doing "The Impossible Dream" as Liberace. It's a strangely moving moment in exactly the same way that the film itself is strangely moving: It's determined to see beyond the obvious kitsch of Liberace to find something close to the man.
On Tuesday, while announcing the new gaming system Xbox One in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft popped in a little surprise: Steven Spielberg.
Bonnie Ross, the head of 343 Industries — the current developer of Halo — was getting worked up, coolly crowing about "the potential of merging the storytelling magic of televsion with the interactive innovation of Xbox One" while doing the hands-outstretched/only-touching-at-fingertips thing. Then she announced a live-action Halo series, and threw it to Spielberg to do the rest.
I'm OK, everybody. It's true that I'm staying in the very hotel where $1,000,000 in House of Chopard jewels was stolen late Thursday night. Except for the sudden appearance of a very tired-looking security gentleman asking to see hotel keys, you'd never know anything had happened. The sun was out the last couple of days, and so, I suppose, are the crazies. Well, this is the Cannes Film Festival — every other person is a little bit nuts. But now the crazies are armed. Yes, it seems an as-yet-unidentified man fired shots during the live evening broadcast of Le Grand Journal, which on Thursday featured Christoph Waltz and the French superstar Daniel Auteuil, both of whom are on the main-competition jury.
The shots were reportedly blanks fired into the air, and the grenade he allegedly brought with him was a prop. You can count on a bit of mild anarchy in France from time to time. You can also count on a pronounced police presence along the Croisette. But whether it's the fresh memory of the Boston Marathon bombing or the knowledge that the Troma Entertainment Company is in here with a ragtag crew staging Occupy Cannes events (more on that in the days to come), there's definitely an extra dose of precaution in the air.
Day 1 of this festival is usually the great unveiling. Day 2 begins the collective carping: Why on earth is this film up for the Palme d'Or and not this other one? The two major programs here — the main competition and the second-tier slate, Un Certain Regard — have very different outcomes. One puts you in the running for a handful of prizes, this year from the Steven Spielberg jury, no less. The other tends to make people scratch their heads about why the likes of Spielberg won't get to evaluate the films in it. The bafflement began in earnest today with the premiere of The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola's teen caper movie in which a handful of affluent kids steal the stuff of famous Hollywood people.
I don't know that it was brave of Coppola to turn Nancy Jo Sales's Vanity Fair article into a movie, but I'm impressed by her unself-consciousness in repeatedly X-raying lives of privilege — be it the lives of artists, royalty, or losers. She's not the kid in college who dressed like a hobo while her family's name was etched into a building or two. She's proud of her Coppola-ness and legitimately curious about the side effects of prosperity — ennui, aspiration, perversion, delusion, decadence, mono- and megalomania. In another person's care, The Bling Ring could have been a total satire, and there are certainly satirical bits, like having Leslie Mann play the sort of dingbat mom who homeschools her kids with that life-improvement cult-fad The Secret. But Coppola is up to something smarter than a pure lampoon. She zeroes in on the universal insecurities that would turn lots of teenagers, of every class, into followers: the dream of being cool.
It's easy to prepare for most of what goes on at this festival. You know that at some point you'll nearly be run over by any of the official black sedans that could be dropping off Emma Watson then heading off to Transporter 7. You know you'll wind up trapped watching a three-hour talkathon that's two hours too long. You know you'll want to marry a movie that all your friends think is totally wrong for you, which means it's really just wrong for them. These are things you can anticipate. But even though you manage to pack two-dozen Balance bars, six neckties you won't wear, and a lint brush, even though there's this service called the weather report, what you never quite see coming is rain. It's so sunny here so often that it just never occurs to you to pack protection. This is how you end up borrowing a plaid hotel umbrella that has nothing to do with the tuxedo you're wearing — not even your socks.
Last week's big On Demand release was the controversial Zero Dark Thirty, which found itself in the middle of the debate about "enhanced interrogation techniques." This week's is the controversial Lincoln, which found itself in the middle of a debate about its accuracy, and about the way its story sidelined the African Americans it was ostensibly about to tell yet another story about a white messiah.
My pros and cons about the movie have nothing to do with these issues; I am not a historical scholar, nor did I read Team of Rivals (the Doris Kearns Goodwin book on which the film is loosely based). The pros: Daniel Day-Lewis's performance in the title role, which joins his Daniel Plainview and Bill the Butcher to make a hat trick of classic American historical characters; the bevy of beloved character actors who dot the film that will have you yelling, "What the hell, HIM TOO?" in just about every other scene; the delightfully baroque insults politicians hurl at each other in the halls of power. The cons: Tommy Lee Jones's ratty wig; the oppressively dim lighting; the comically long running time. On balance, it's worth seeing — but maybe break up your viewing with a nap or two.
Having recently been denied a third Oscar for Best Director, Steven Spielberg may instead be focusing on racking up a perhaps-less-prestigious fourth Outstanding Miniseries Emmy (after Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and, um, Taken). To do so, he's once again partnering with the late Stanley Kubrick, whose 1961 script for a film about Napoleon will be the basis for an upcoming Spielberg adaptation.
Said the recently announced 2013 Cannes jury president to French TV's Le JT de CANAL:
There's always an element of fatalism with making Oscar predictions. You actually hope you're wrong. You want to be right because people conflate educated awards-guessing with expertise. But when you have to sit and watch more than 190 minutes of the Academy Awards, you really don't want a predicted outcome. You want to be wrong about who the majority of 6,000 or so people will say was the best supporting actor of 2013. You want to go in with a little conventional wisdom and know that Tommy Lee Jones will win so that when Octavia Spencer opens her envelope and says Christoph Waltz's name, you can stare at the television and just say, "Wow."
Waltz was a surprise in a season of surprises. This was the year voters decided to pee into millions of Oscar pools. It was the year that everything started to seem refreshingly upside down: no Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson or Kathryn Bigelow or Wes Anderson up for Best Director, but Benh Zeitlin?
Welcome to the Oscar Travesties finals! As expected, Crash, the most egregious error of collective judgment in the long and distinguished history of the Academy of Crash Mistakes and Haggis Sciences will face off against ... wow, Crash again, in a winner-takes-all battle for the honor of being the most contentious kudos recipient since two Cro-Magnons bludgeoned each other to death with jagged rocks over a disagreement about the artistic merits of a poorly rendered cave-scrawling of a three-legged bear that earned an approving nod from a blind elder.
Say you're a fairly literate pop-culture person that's, somehow — for no particular reason — avoided watching even one second of Smash. You'd probably know the rough outline of its trajectory: that it's on NBC, that it's a sing-along drama about the staging of a Broadway musical, and that it's been picked over like crazy since it premiered last year. You might know that, for its second season, original showrunner Theresa Rebeck got the boot in favor of new blood, ex-Gossip Girl'er Josh Safran, and that NBC made a lot of noise about the new and improved Smash. You might even know that, before it changed course, it birthed a populist hate-watching phenomenon. You probably wouldn't know the whole thing was originally Steven Spielberg's idea, and that he's been meddling in the process along the way, and that, eventually, the bad news ran all the way up the flagpole to Stevie himself. (He was nonplussed: "I can either watch all the dailies or I can follow the social media. I can't do both." Get 'em, Stevie.) What you'd definitely know: The show used to have a lot of characters in scarves, or maybe just one character wearing a lot of scarves, or maybe anthropomorphic scarves providing voiceover narration and the occasional song-and-dance bit. In its new iteration it has less scarves, and possibly even no scarves. None of which, ultimately, mattered.
You can be honest. When Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announced the Oscar nominations this morning, you were nervous they were going to go all Baseball Writers' Association of America and say, "This year there are no nominees." Of course, if you're Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow or even Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino, isn't that kind of what happened? 2012 was a strong movie year, and that's pretty much demonstrated by the dozen or so legitimate candidates for the five directing slots, two of which, at least, seemed preordained for Affleck, who made Argo, and Bigelow, who made Zero Dark Thirty. But when the names of Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Michael Haneke (Amour) and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) were called alongside Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) and Ang Lee (Life of Pi), somebody in my one-person living room turned into the Retta Twitter feed and said, "Oh, no they didn't!" But they did. And what did they do?
Nov. 15, 2012
"We had just watched the movie 'Lincoln' in the White House theatre with the director, screenwriter and many of the actors attending. Later, the President invited Daniel Day-Lewis upstairs to see the Lincoln Bedroom in the private residence. Here is Day-Lewis, who had just come to life as Abraham Lincoln, viewing the Gettysburg Address." — The White House Flickr page
Some might say that we have been a little obsessed with Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's latest cinematic jaunt into American history, for months now. Before we had glimpsed even a millisecond of actual footage from the film, we were convinced that the very first promotional image had begun and ended the Oscar race with the terrifying efficacy of a bloody head on a pike outside a cannibal village, warning us to proceed no deeper into the jungle lest an angry tribe of awards consultants eat our still-pulsing hearts whole and work off the meal by jumping rope with our glistening entrails. Then came our possibly reactionary concerns about the official poster, followed closely by a totally reasonable, frame-by-frame dissection of the trailer and its inevitable impact on Academy voters. Doubts crept in. Beards were feared. But then Abraham Lincoln himself, perhaps sensing, as great leaders do, that it was time to end our petty squabbling about trivial matters, brought down a thundering fist and bellowed, "I am the President of the United States of America, clothed in immense power, and I am tired of you nattering idiots carrying on about a movie you have not seen!"
So that was that. There was nothing left to do but wait. And then, finally, Lincoln debuted on a handful of screens in Los Angeles, and we were there to extinguish our ignorance. Today, it opens wider, and so it's time to answer, once and for all, the only remaining question that truly matters: Should you see it? Read on, and let's try to make your ticket-buying decision a well-informed one. We wouldn't want to turn you loose on the Fandangos without all the information you require.
Editor's note: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln gets its wide theatrical release this weekend, so the rest of the country can see what we coastal elites have been ooh-ing and ahh-ing about. Fun fact about Lincoln: Everyone is in it. And sure, everyone will be talking up Daniel Day-Lewis's no-brainer Oscar nomination as the titular president, but we thought the rest of its all-star ensemble should get their moments in the sun as well.