Saturday, February 26, 2011

World Cinema: The Aussies Are Alright

The Oscars are coming up this weekend. When perusing the list of nominations I realized that there are a lot of talented individuals up for awards in the acting categories; this might even be the most talented lot of nominees in years. One of the best nominated performances amongst the exceptional ones recognized by the Academy is Jackie Weaver's villainous turn in ANIMAL KINGDOM. Before getting nominated for Best Supporting Actress (an award likely to go to Melissa Leo), Weaver was best known as an Australian television actress. Even though she isn't likely to win the award, this is still a big step up for the veteran actress. Weaver's quick change of fortune is indicative of a trend that seems to be giving greater opportunities, importance and recognition to Oz's films and industry talents.

I'm not saying that the Aussies haven't been players in the film industry until now. Directors Peter Weir, Baz Luhrmann and Jane Campion have all done well for themselves and there hasn't been a terrible shortage in respectable Aussie performers either, but the new breed seems to be quietly integrating themselves into the mainstream in a way that others hadn't previously.

Andrew Dominik and John Hillcoat are the success stories of today. Both made daringly entertaining, high-quality films (CHOPPER and THE PROPOSITION respectively) that won them the attention of Hollywood.

Hillcoat went on to direct 2009's critically acclaimed THE ROAD, an adaptation Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel. He followed this up with a much-seen promotional short for the video game "Red Dead Redemption" entitled "The Man From Blackwater". His next project will be 2012's THE WETTEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, based off the book of the same title. The film, which tells the tale of a family of depression-era bootleggers, already boasts an impressive cast including Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce and Mia Wasikowska and is sure to be one of next year's most anticipated.

Dominik began his Hollywood career with THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. The film garnered two Oscar nominations and is regarded by many (including myself) to be one of the finest Westerns in the post-UNFORGIVEN era. The director has yet to make a follow-up film, but has a couple projects in the works; One being an adaptation of George Higgins novel "Cogans Trade" and another called BLONDE, a semi-bio-pic of Marilyn Monroe. COGAN'S TRADE is currently filming and also has a target release date in 2012. His film is also expected to grab quite a bit of attention next year, especially considering its high-profile cast, which features the talents of Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Mark Ruffalo and Sam Rockwell. In the film, Pitt will portray a mob-enforcer tasked with investigating a heist that took play during a protected poker game.

I would be remiss not to mention the role screenwriter and folk music legend Nick
Cave has played in this Aussie resurgence. Cave has worked with Hillcoat on both THE PROPOSITION and WETTEST COUNTRY. His work impressed execs so much that they asked him to turn in a revised script of the yet-to-be-produced CROW remake. Cave has also made a name for himself as a serious sountrack composer, turning in scores for THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES and THE PROPOSITION.

The next group of players coming out of Australia made themselves known in the past couple years. First came Nash Edgerton's noirish thriller THE SQUARE, which received international acclaim. The film was co-written by Nash, a professional stunt coordinator and his actor brother, Joel.

Joel also appeared in the above-mentioned ANIMAL KINGDOM, which is directed by David Michod, who, along with the Edgertons and Spencer Susser (director of HESHER) make up the company Blue Tongue Films. Before their recent forays into feature films, the group has honed the skills making shorts together, mostly for fun. Many of which can be viewed at their official website . I'll include one here though, entitled SPIDER, for those interested.

There are no directorial projects on the horizon for the guys at Blue Tongue Films. HESHER (co-written by Michod) will be hitting theaters shortly, but it, along with ANIMAL KINGDOM premiered at last year's Sundance Film Festival. I would be thrilled if these talented individuals continued to make films in their homeland, but I would be almost equally excited if they were offered higher-profile Hollywood projects because I have little doubt that they'd be able to handle it. Either way, I'd like to see them back at work. Their gravitation toward higher acclaim and recognition is inevitable.

Another Aussie film that received some attention last year, though not as positive as the Blue-Tongue Films, was RED HILL.

The film is further proof that Australians have a penchant for producing quality westerns. Red Hill doesn't possess the high-drama of THE PROPOSITION, but it is an effective B-styled revenge thriller.

Now, back to where I began. Jacki Weaver is an excellent, deserving actress and I'm sure her Oscar nomination is a great personal triumph, but it's great for another reason. ANIMAL KINGDOM is an Aussie film, but it's also a fantastic, masterfully- crafted debut feature. It deserves a whole slew of awards and nominations, but one Oscar nomination, especially in such a high-profile category, is quite a boon to the country's film industry. Personally, I feel that the quality of the films they are putting out rival, and in some cases even surpass, the quality of films being put out by other large, international markets, including the United Kingdom, France and Mexico. A new Aussie resurgence might be on the way. I've got a box of decade-old Koala Yummies on ice for such an occasion.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Trailer Time

Just wanted to post some trailers for some upcoming films since it's been awhile.

SOURCE CODE - Directed by Duncan Jones - Opens 4/1 and SXSW

Very excited to see Jones' sophomore feature after 2009's MOON.

HESHER - Directed by Spencer Susser - 4/?

HESHER opened to a lot of fanfare at last year's Sundance Film Fest. It's also co-written by ANIMAL KINGDOM's director David Michod, which is a plus.

I SAW THE DEVIL - Directed by Ji-woon Kim - Limited March Release

Kim is the director of 2008's THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE WEIRD, which was fun, but not overly special. I SAW THE DEVIL, however, is receiving some pretty impressive acclaim already over at Rotten Tomatoes and has lead to Kim receiving his first Hollywood directing assignment - LAST STAND starring Liam Neeson.

THOR - Directed by Kenneth Branagh - 5/6

I know most people have already seen this, but I thought to include it here. I want to be excited for THOR, but I can't really figure out what to make of it from the trailers. I have a similar attitude toward this summer's other superhero films THE GREEN LANTERN and CAPTAIN AMERICA. I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

Oscar Predictions

The Oscars are this Sunday, so I'll be posting my predictions for the show. I will add the same disclaimer that I did for my Golden Globes predictions: these are not my choices for who SHOULD win, just who I think will win. I have a much different picture of this year's best films than the Academy, which I will reveal shortly for my second annual Golden Schmoos. It's weird that it's almost already March and we're still obsessing over the 2010 film season, but that's just the way of things; even more so for your Midwestern filmgoer, who has to sit by and wait for all the important films to reach their cinemas. Personally, I'm waiting on THE ILLUSIONIST and BIUTIFUL. Anyway, here they are:

*I won't be making any predictions on the short subject nominations because they would be merely uninformed guesses, so I don't really see the point.

Best Documentary Feature:
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP - I really liked this film, but my prediction is more based on the community I believe the Academy to be. They're going to want to seem hip and this film's winning might invite some attention from the filmmaker, the notorious Banksy, whom the award show has forbid from appearing in disguise.

Best Visual Effects:
INCEPTION - I believe the Academy will award this film with several smaller awards to make up for some supposed snubs.

Best Sound Editing:
INCEPTION - see above.

Best Sound Mixing:
THE SOCIAL NETWORK - Because the Academy will want to pad its Best Picture with a bunch of awards.

Best Song:
"If I Rise" from 127 HOURS - This is going to run into some touch competition from Randy Newman. I just think this song plays a bigger part in its respective film. It's also a really dynamic and interesting song, while "We Belong Together" is no "You've Got A Friend In Me".

Best Score:
THE SOCIAL NETWORK (Trent Reznor) - It's a good score and Reznor has been cleaning up at other awards for it. He's also a recognizable talent that people are going to want to see win an Oscar.

Best Makeup:
THE WOLFMAN - I mean, c'mon! I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure Baker won the first ever award in this category for AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF. It would be fitting for him to win again for similar stuff 30 years later.

Best Costume Design:
THE KING'S SPEECH - This film possesses the period costuming the Oscars love and is a front-runner for Best Picture. Its winning here seems highly likely.

Best Art Direction:
THE KING'S SPEECH - There's some tough competition in this category, especially from other critical darlings INCEPTION and TRUE GRIT, but I'm pretty sure this film comes away with it.

Best Editing:

Best Cinematography:
BLACK SWAN - More tough competition, but I think the Academy might just throw BLACK SWAN a bone here. Otherwise look for more SOCIAL NETWORK/KING'S SPEECH padding.

Best Foreign Film:
IN A BETTER WORLD (Denmark) - I have a hard time with these predictions. I'm usually wrong, so I'm just going to go with this film because it won at the Golden Globes.

Best Animated Feature:
TOY STORY 3 - Is there really any doubt?

Best Adapted Screenplay:
THE SOCIAL NETWORK - Maybe some competition from TRUE GRIT, but this seems likely.

Best Original Screenplay:
ANOTHER YEAR - I'm thinking the Academy will throw ANOTHER YEAR a bone here as there isn't a ton of tough competition, though they might just go with THE KING'S SPEECH.

Best Director:
David Fincher (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) - It's Fincher's year.

Best Supporting Actress:
Melissa Leo (THE FIGHTER) - she is cleaning up at awards and doesn't have a ton of high-profile competition.

Best Supporting Actor:
Christian Bale (THE FIGHTER) - It's Bale's year.

Best Actress:
Natalie Portman (BLACK SWAN) - Her only competition is Bening, who would only win the award if the Academy was feeling charitable.

Best Actor:
Colin Firth (THE KING'S SPEECH) - Many people, including myself, think that Firth deserved the win last year for A SINGLE MAN, so his equally deserving performance this year should earn him the win.

Best Picture:
THE SOCIAL NETWORK - I firmly believe the Academy will stay the course and give Fincher's film the win. It's this or The King's Speech, but I think THE SOCIAL NETWORK has a 70/30 edge.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Casting News

There are a lot of huge film projects on the horizon, especially for 2012, that are just starting to cast some major roles. Recently, Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway were confirmed for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES as Bane and Selina Kyle. This was just the start of what has become a steady stream of casting news. Here is some of the higher profile casting news out of the past week:

1. Michael Fassbender will star in Ridley Scott's PROMETHEUS alongside Noomi Rapace:

Fassbender's star has been on the rise recently, especially since appearing in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS in 2009. That year, he also put on impressive performances in FISH TANK and HUNGER. His connection to this film, formerly conceived as an ALIEN prequel, but now taking on a much more ambitious sci-fi premise, has been long rumored. However, it had been reported that negotiations had stalled and that he would not be appearing in the film. Something must have changed in the past week because he is now the second actor officially confirmed for the film, after DRAGON TATTOO's Noomi Rapace. Fox, where PROMETHEUS is being produced, is said to be very high on Fassbender after getting glimpses of his performance as a young Magneto in Matthew Vaughn's X-MEN: FIRST CLASS film due out later this year.

When this film was still an ALIEN prequel, it was said that Fassbender would be playing a more primitive version of the Bishop Android (which I took to mean he'd be like Ash from ALIEN). I'm not sure if the ALIEN connection will remain, but he's still supposed to be playing an android character.

PROMETHEUS has a scheduled release date of June 12, 2012.

2. Walker is Abraham Lincoln...Vampire Hunter:

A lot of high-profile actors were vying for the role of Lincoln including Josh Lucas, Adrien Brody, Eric Bana and Matthew Goode, but the powers that be decided to go with relative unknown Benjamin Walker. The 28-year old actor has appeared in KINSEY and FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, but received a lot more attention recently for his turn as another American president in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a popular Broadway musical that closed last month. Walker also made headlines in 2010 when he was cast, albeit briefly, as Beast in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. That part eventually went to Nicholas Hoult.

Not being familiar with Walker, I have no idea how he will fare in this role, but having an unknown in the part seems like a good bet. Everything I've heard about Walker has been fairly positive and the filmmakers must be pretty high on him to have cast him in such a hefty role.

It is also rumored that Joaquin Phoenix might join the production in the role of Abe's vampire-hunting mentor, which would essentially serve as his return to Hollywood features after his long and somewhat-failed experiment with the mockumentary I'M STILL HERE.

This casting news comes on the heels of the announcement that Daniel Day-Lewis will play Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's long-rumored biopic.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is based off the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith and will be directed by Timur Bekmambetov (WANTED, NIGHT WATCH) and produced by Tim Burton.

3. Javier Bardem fielding various offers - BOND 23 and DARK TOWER franchise:

Bardem has been quite busy as of late. Last week, he received an Oscar nomination for his role in BIUTIFUL, had a baby with his wife Penelope Cruz, wrapped up work on Terrence Malick's next untitled project, and received some very enticing film offers. Bardem has long been in the running to play Roland Deschain, the main character in Ron Howard's DARK TOWER franchise (based off the Stephen King series). There has been no word on whether he's accepted the role, but it has been offered to him. Howard plans to make a trilogy of films and a couple television series off the property, so there's no doubt that accepting the part would require a large time commitment from Bardem.

Bardem was also reportedly offered a role in the next Bond film, which recently lifted its "indefinitely postponed" status. There is no word on what the role is, but the actor himself has called the part "intriguing". Many have already jumped to the conclusion that he'd play Bond's antagonist. To me, this sounds like a great idea. However, he has not officially accepted this offer either. It is not clear yet whether DARK TOWER and BOND have conflicting shooting schedules.

THE DARK TOWER is set for a May, 2013 release day and BOND 23 should be in theaters around November of next year.

4. Henry Cavill is The Man of Steel:

Having never watched "The Tudors" I'm not very familiar with Cavill, but he's better than some of the people who were being considered for the part, so I'm alright with his casting. This news is exciting not for what it is, but for what it signifies; We are now going to be getting more and more info on the Nolan/Goyer/Snyder Superman film.

Already, just a couple says after the Cavill announcement, we are hearing which actresses are in the running for the female lead (who apparently isn't Lois Lane!). Alice Eve, Diane Kruger and Rosamund Pike are rumored for the role. I'm actually a fan of all these women and think it would be really cool to see Kruger (Inglorious Basterds) in a Superman film.

The production, due out in late 2012, is also said to be on the hunt for an actor to play an unspecified villain.

5. Joseph Gordon-Levitt to appear in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES:

It was recently announced that Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who appeared in Nolan's INCEPTION last summer, will also have a part in the director's next Batman film. What that part will be has yet to be announced, so speculation will run rampant until we actually learn for sure. These non-specific casting announcements are not uncommon for Nolan (we heard that Tom Hardy was in the film months before learning he'd play Bane), so it doesn't necessarily say anything about his part that it hasn't been revealed. However, one could suppose that revealing his character might give away more about the film than the secretive Nolan would like at this juncture. Or Levitt might just be playing someone we haven't heard of, such as a new DA character to replace Harvey Dent.

Who he likely won't be appearing as - The Riddler or Robin. There were rumors over the summer that JGL was campaigning for a part in the film. Fans were just so sure that he'd be donning the question-mark suit, but Nolan has since said that Riddler would not be in the film. Despite his 30 years, Levitt is boyish enough to make a run at Robin, but again, Nolan has said that he has no interest in including that character in his version of the Batman story.

So who will he play? My fingers are crossed for the character Jean-Paul Valley from "Knightfall", who takes up the mantle of Batman for a short period of time, but doesn't adhere to Batman's strict code of conduct. However, I doubt he'll make it into the film.