The last time Woody Allen acted in a film he did not direct, the year was 2000, and the movie was Alfonso Arau's Picking Up the Pieces. But now he’s back, and in a big way. Somehow, miraculously, John Turturro has convinced Woody to star alongside him in a nutso project called Fading Gigolo (which Turturro is also writing and directing). Let’s let the straight-faced Variety description take it away:
Two weeks ago, Chelsea Fagan and I joined forces to discuss which Grammy nominees and winners were attainable/unattainable. The process was challenging, but at the end of the day, writing about Rihanna, Bruno Mars, and Adele isn't that difficult. We all have that Adele figure in our lives, everyone knows someone like Rihanna, and we all know how hard it is to shake a "Bruno Mars" from our friend circle. But the Oscars are a different beast. They are for adults, by adults. (FABA, if you will.) People with car loans and mortgages and pasts win and lose Oscars. This is one of the many reasons this was a more challenging task, but we did it, because that's what we do.
In the second installment of our "Celebrity Attainability Exercise in Futility," we tackle the Oscars and 10 of last night's most important figures.
1. Jean Dujardin, Best Actor, The Artist
Chelsea Fagan: I must take a moment to be a hipster here and say that some of us have been in love with Dujardin since Un gars, une fille all of 13 years ago. Some of us haven't just now hopped on the Ofthegarden train and realized how eminently unattainable he is in the past few weeks. That being said, the man is beyond adorable in every sense of the word, and has the comic timing/dashing good looks combination of an Old Hollywood star — one who you imagine might permanently smell of good Scotch, subtle cologne, and Cuban cigars. He dances, too. The man dances. If you were to meet him out, I guarantee you'd have a few stiff drinks and talk about how much better Paris is than New York, and you may trick yourself into thinking he's into it, too, but he'd leave you hanging right when you thought you had sealed the deal. He is a mirage of French charm.
We’re almost there! Three days until the winners are revealed, after which in no time flat the 2011-12 Oscar season will become an ancient, bitter memory and we can nurse our collective grudges and figure out how everything could have gone so wrong. Or, better still, scratch our heads in delighted surprise. Here’s hoping.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
I’d like to thank the Academy for throwing an extra mystery at those of us who treat predicting the Oscars as something between a hobby and a blood sport: This year, we have to figure out not only which movies will be nominated, but how many. After concluding that the appropriate number of Best Picture contenders was five for 65 consecutive years, and then 10 for two consecutive years, what the Academy’s board of governors has now settled on is “from five to ten.” How can we narrow that down? Well, the Academy did offer one clue by revealing that when it experimentally retabulated the ballots from 2001 through 2008, the results yielded, in different years, five, six, seven, eight, and nine nominees — but never ten.
You know that Oscar season has probably gone on long enough when it calls to mind the war in Iraq, but, in surveying the terrain this week, I was reminded of perhaps the only useful thing that Donald Rumsfeld ever said: his distinction between “known unknowns — that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know” and “unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don’t know.”
As we get ready to open our Christmas presents from Hollywood (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo! Tin Tin! Uh, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked!) we thought it was worth remembering that eternal truism: Sometimes the wrapping is prettier than the gift. So, with that, let's look at the greatest packaging Hollywood has ever bestowed on moviegoers: the greatest movie trailers of all time.
The Black Dragon (1975)
Alex Pappademas:0:13: Voice-over guy tells us that after Bruce Lee’s death, “Kung Fu people especially mourned the loss of their most popular hero,” and then we see some kung fu people in traditional Chinese dragon-dance costumes, presumably grieving. This movie is part of the Brucesploitation genre, which thrived after Lee’s demise turned him into the Tupac of chop-socky. The true masterpiece of the category is probably The Clones of Bruce Lee, a.k.a. Death Penalty on Three Robots, which starred Lee impersonators Bruce Le, Bruce Lai, Bruce Thai, and Dragon Lee.
0:18: “The early reports of his death were unclear and confusing.” Implication: This movie’s going to clear everything up. Implication-undercutting hint that maybe this movie itself operates in the same zone of ambiguity its marketing promises to dispel: The fact that the title cards can’t decide if the movie is called The Black Dragon or The Death of Bruce Lee. (On IMDb, it’s listed as The Black Dragon’s Revenge.)
0:21: Our hero, would-be Jim Kelly successor Ron Van Clief, is introduced; he has received an autopsy photo of Bruce Lee in the mail. Ron Van Clief, to camera: “Man.” He looks confused. This is going to be an amazing documentary.
0:32: “A Chinese millionaire from San Francisco was willing to pay $100,000 up front to find out the truth. The assignment went to the most feared man in America — Ron Van Clief.” Wikipedia facts about Ron Van Clief: He was the fight choreographer on The Last Dragon; he made history in 1997 as the oldest man ever to fight in a UFC event (and get choked out after four minutes by Royce Gracie); he was supposed to be in a movie called The Art of Cliefing, but funding was pulled at the last minute “due to widespread protests in Korea,” a nation historically inhospitable to Cliefing after Hawkeye Pierce invented it during the war.
0:38-1:19: Voice-over guy lists Van Clief’s qualifications for this fake job; Van Clief meat-tenderizes a bunch of dudes. You just experienced the Art of Cliefing, motherfuckers!
1:30: “No, baby, it’s the real shit.”
1:39: Fast-motion eye-gouge!
1:55: “His connection: Charles 'La Pantera' Bonet — the Puerto Rican Terror!” Who looks like a nunchaku-wielding Pete Townsend, kind of, but who we’re assured is “unsuspectingly, one hell of a kung fu man, something the Chinese didn’t expect to see.” No one expects the unsuspected!
2:36: Slow-motion groin-stomp!
2:54: Sleazy porn-funk groove over title-card reading “Serafim Karalexis presents THE BLACK DRAGON.” Karalexis was still in the picture business as late as 1995, associate-producing something called The Steal, with Alfred Molina. The IMDb page for The Steal has a picture of the DVD box for another, unrelated movie called Steal. Wiki-synopsis of that one: “Slim, Frank, Otis and Alex are a group of youthful bank robbers who commit their crimes in innovative ways involving extreme sports such as skating and snowboarding.” Because there are so, so many banks located at the top of sweet black-diamond snowboarding runs. Stars of this “Steal” include Stephen Dorff and Natasha Henstridge, the Stephen Dorff of women.
3:22: “We’ve said enough. Now we’ll let him do the talking.” Someone kicks Van Clief from behind. “Why, you creep!” he says. Maybe he should not do the talking.
3:44: V/O: “None of that jumpin' around and flying through the air, because this is the real shit!” For your consideration: THE BLACK DRAGON!
4:18: “Also starring the Latin Terror — Jorge Esparga,” and his Freddy Fender mustache. There is some real transcultural outreach going on here; you get the sense that only scheduling conflicts and/or DGA rules about one movie being too awesome prevented them from including Patrick “The Human Shillelagh” O’Flanrahan, the Hebrew Hammer, and some guy from Finland who gets mean when he drinks.
I’m going to begin this edition of Oscarmetrics with a cautionary tale about overreaction, backlash, and misbehavior. Appropriately, it comes from one Best Picture nominee, and it’s about another. In the 2005 film Capote, we watch our brilliant, narcissistic protagonist (Philip Seymour Hoffman) experience a friend’s success the only way he can — as a staggering personal humiliation. He attends the premiere of the movie version of his loyal pal Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Afterward, Lee finds him at the bar, magnificently self-absorbed, and, of course, choked with jealousy.
“How’d you like the movie, Truman?” she asks patiently. He can’t even rouse himself to look at her. She finally walks away — at which point he murmurs sourly, to himself, “I, frankly, don’t see what all the fuss is about.” And nobody cares.
As we enter a season that’s defined by a great deal of fuss, of hyperbolic praise, and of hyperbolic dissent, it bears remembering that at some point in the next few months, we’re all going to find ourselves on the losing side of at least one movie argument. And when a film that everybody seems to love leaves us cold, we all, to some extent, risk sounding like Truman Capote — pissy, superior, bitter, bored. This is the time of year when the ridiculous word “overrated” gets tossed around as if it were an actual qualitative property of a movie rather than a silly side argument about what other people thought of it. So my current resolution is to try to be arrogant about movies that I love, but humble about movies that work for everybody else but not for me.
There may be no Oscar category more maddening to try to handicap than writing. When it comes to editing or sound, at least we all know that we’re clueless — film editing, after all, is called “the invisible art” by the very people who do it, and if you’re aurally sophisticated enough to judge the difference between sound mixing and sound editing, you’re probably either a sound mixer or a sound editor. Good screenwriting, by contrast, is supposed to be self-evident. But everything that can make a screenplay praiseworthy — dialogue, character development, story structure, gracefulness of adaptation, or originality of concept — can play as shoddy or hackneyed when a filmmaker mishandles it. And if you think the blame is always fairly apportioned, consider how many reviews make the claim, “The talented cast and director do their best with a weak script,” and how few say, “A fine piece of writing has been undermined by haphazard directing and tepid performances.” Critics never go there, because they don’t have access to the material — the script itself — that would support that argument.
The truth is, it’s virtually impossible to separate your judgment of a screenplay from your judgment of a completed movie — even if you’re one of the screenwriters who does the nominating. During campaign season, many studios send voters printed copies or flash drives of screenplays they want considered. But those versions have been retrofitted to match the finished films; they don’t contain any scenes or constructions that you didn’t see on screen. Unless you’re a big fan of stage directions and character descriptions, they’re not exactly essential reading.
So let’s start from the premise that Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay should probably be called Movie That Suggests Most Strongly That It Was Based On A Really Good Piece Of Writing. What do we know about the predilections of the Academy’s writers’ branch?
There was a time when the artistically minded couldn’t wait to get out of Germany. (With very good reason!) But for the last few years, the country has transformed itself into a magnet for the creative underclass. Drawn by cheap rent, an abundance of atmospheric graffiti, and a liberal attitude towards ketchup, these broke bohemians have revitalized Germany’s international cred not to mention its GNDJP (Gross National DJ Product). The latest struggling artist to take advantage of Germany’s cultural open door policy is no hipster, however. Hip replacement, maybe: European nomad Woody Allen has chosen Munich as the site for his next neurotic opus.
Leonardo DiCaprio is circling a lead role in Todd Field's (In the Bedroom, Little Children) The Creed of Violence, a Western based on the recent book by Boston Teran about a criminal who smuggles weapons into Mexico in 1910 but ends up in the custody of a government agent who turns out to be his son (DiCaprio hasn't yet decided between the two characters). Creed has been in development at Universal for years, but DiCaprio's interest could put it back on the fast track. Then again, maybe the failure of Cowboys and Aliens over the weekend means Universal will cool it on Westerns for a while. Grade: A- ["24 Frames"/LAT]
Woody Allen, currently enjoying his biggest-ever success with Midnight in Paris, will open up in a new documentary to air this November on PBS. Produced by Robert Weide (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Seriously Funny: The Comic Art of Woody Allen will feature interviews and footage of the director visiting his old Brooklyn neighborhood. Grade: B+ ["Show Tracker"/LAT]
What do auteurs Michael Bay and Terrence Malick have in common — other than that they’ve both made Megan Fox wash their cars in a bikini in lieu of auditioning for a role? (Fox got the part in Bay’s Transformers but her performance as "Celestial Dinosaur No. 3" was sadly cut from Malick's of Tree of Life.) They’ve both written letters to projectionists, advising them on how best to present their 2011 films! While the letters themselves strike differing tones (Malick terms his a "fraternal salute" to a "forgotten art" while Bay, unsurprisingly, uses capitalist logic – "your theaters invested a lot of money in this equipment" — in his plea for 3-D perfection), they are the latest missives in a trend that stretches at least as far back as noted control freak Stanley Kubrick, whose own letter re: Barry Lyndon also recently surfaced.
But this epistolary practice goes deeper than most cinephiles realize. Grantland gained access to some other recently-penned letters to projectionists from the directors of a few of summer 2011’s other prominent releases. We are proud to share excerpts of them with you now.
This week brings the release of Super 8, director J.J. Abrams’ bighearted tribute to the sort of wide-eyed, family-friendly alien adventure movies Steven Spielberg used to make before he discovered less interesting things such as American history, Oscars, and Tom Hanks. The compelling wrinkle? Spielberg himself is the film’s executive producer and, in Abrams’ words, its "key voice." Imitation, flattery, and outright theft have a long, distinguished, and shameless history in Hollywood — but this strikes us as something different. Rather than merely aping his idol, Abrams is, essentially, making a Spielberg film for Spielberg.
And this got us thinking: What other faded masters could use the vibrant influence of their own artistic descendants — and what current up-and-comers could really use the firm, if graying, hand of an old master? Thus we propose the Director Mentorship Academy, in which younger directors enroll to make a better version of someone else’s movie — with the help of that very someone else. Below are some suggestions for the inaugural class.