Starting today, Film Independent is accepting submissions for movies competing for Indie Spirit Awards. There are two cut-off deadlines: Sept. 13 (last day to receive the entry fee discount) and the final deadline of Oct. 11.
To be eligible, movies must be made "with an economy of means by filmmakers who embody independence and originality."
Trophies are bestowed in the following categories: best feature, first feature, first screenplay, director, screenplay, John Cassavetes Award (given to the best feature made for a budget under $500,000), male lead, female lead, supporting male, supporting female, cinematography, international film, documentary, and the Robert Altman award. The filmmaker grants include the someone to watch award, truer than fiction award, and Piaget producers award.
Darren Aronofsky was named best director at the Film Independent Spirit Awards Saturday for “Black Swan,” his psychological thriller about a prima ballerina suffering a mental breakdown. Aronofsky will be competing in the director race at the 83rd Academy Awards on Sunday.
Photo: Darren Aronofsky. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times
Academy Award front-runner "The King's Speech," director Tom Hooper's drama about King George VI's attempts to overcome a debilitating stammer, has won the Film Independent Spirit Award for best foreign film, representing Britain. The film is vying for 12 Oscars at Sunday's 83rd Academy Awards.
Photo: Colin Firth in "The King's Speech" Credit: The Weinstein Co.
"Exit Through the Gift Shop," directed by street artist Banksy, has won the Film Independent Spirit Award for best documentary. In the film, a French immigrant obsessed with street art has the camera turned on him by the British bad-boy graffitist.
Photo: A scene from "Exit Through the Gift Shop." Credit: Paranoid Pictures
James Franco has won the Film Independent Spirit Award for best male lead for his performance as real-life canyoneer Aron Ralston in "127 Hours." In addition to being nominated for the role at the 83rd Academy Awards on Sunday, Franco will host the Oscar telecast with actress Anne Hathaway.
Photo: James Franco in "127 Hours" Credit: Fox Searchlight
Director Aaron Schneider's "Get Low," starring Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek, has won the Film Independent Spirit Award for best first feature. Schneider shares the prize with producers David Gundlach and Dean Zanuck.
Photo: A scene from "Get Low" Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
After a successful career as a screenwriter ("Jesus' Son," "I'm Not There"), former journalist Oren Moverman made his directorial debut in 2009 with "The Messenger."
The drama stars Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson as soldiers assigned to the Casualty Notification service, which has the unenviable task of informing the families of servicemen of their deaths in the line of fire. Harrelson's older, more experienced Capt. Tony Stone warns Foster's Will Montgomery to avoid emotional connection with the individuals they encounter, but Montgomery finds himself drawn to a widow (Samantha Morton) as the job begins to take its emotional toll. Though in limited release, the film has netted a slew of awards, from the Silver Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival and the Spotlight Award for Moverman from the National Board of Review.
The Circuit spoke to Moverman on the eve of the Golden Globes, which has nominated Harrelson for best supporting actor; the pic is also up for four Independent Spirit Awards, including best first feature and best screenplay for Moverman and Alessandro Carnon.
How did your own experiences in the military affect the making of this film?
To tell you the truth, I think it had an impact on directing the film, much more than in writing it. There's nothing in the movie that I can say is my own experience. But what I think my experience allowed me to do was to understand the emotional landscape of a combat soldier. I could then communicate to the actors what the characters they're portraying are going through and what kind of experiences they're having and how they're feeling about it. The problem was projecting my own personal biases of how I felt about being in a combat zone, or what we call in the movie "the other planet," and then coming back from that.
Since a big part of the movie took place on the home front, it was all about what kind of emotions the combat vet was experiencing, and I think I was able to communicate that by telling stories and by talking with them about my feelings.
Was it easy to share those stories with your cast?
You know, it was Ben Foster that really got me talking. I had no plans of sharing my stories, and to tell you the truth, I've never had an idea about making a movie about the military -- my experiences or anyone else's experiences. But in sitting down with Ben and preparing for the movie, which we did for a good eight weeks before shooting, he was just drawing these stories out of me, and it was really easy to communicate them [to him] once I saw that he was drawing inspiration from them, because it demanded that I go back almost 20 years. It was a different time and a different place, but I think the experiences were pretty universal with soldiers.
Recent films about the Iraq War have received positive reviews but haven't fared well at the box office. Did you experience any outside resistance in making this movie?
We experienced nothing but resistance. Lawrence Inglee, who put together the financing for this movie, really had a tough time because everywhere we went, people were patting us on the back and saying, "Good job, nice try, it's very compelling, but forget it. It's just not going to connect with audiences, because they don't want to see these movies." In regard to the other movies, people were leaping to the same conclusions: They said it was too early [to talk about the war], they'd had enough, so it was nothing but resistance. We believed we had something special on our hands and wanted to communicate that to audiences, so we just kept going and ultimately found people who said, "You know what? We hear what everyone else is saying, but we feel that there is something special about this, and we'd like to support this movie." So that's how we got our financing.
With the release of "The Hurt Locker" and now your film, there seems to be a shift in that public resistance. To what do you attribute that shift?
I think that's a very complicated question with a very complicated answer. I do think that our tendency as filmmakers or as journalists is to create narrative around these things. We like to look at the trend and say, "Well, this is what's happening with this kind of movie." But the truth of the matter is that every movie is a case study in itself. And I really think it takes real analysis of how a movie is made and marketed, because not all the films in this arena that have failed are bad films. Quite a few of them that I've seen have been good films. Ultimately, their success or failure at the box office is a product of the machine that was behind them and the timing. I think that they've created an openness that wasn't there before, and I think that the dialogue about this war has shifted somewhat -- not enough, in my opinion -- to a more sober [tone], whereas before it was more impassioned and not particularly productive.
And I think that you have to look at the fact that, for whatever reason, "The Hurt Locker" connected with audiences in a way that others have not been able to by doing some very smart things in the marketing of the film but also in the making. For us, our exposure has been very great, but it's also been limited. It's only now that we're starting to get a bit of mainstream attention. It's a work in progress.
In our case, it's because it's a small film with not a lot of money behind it and something that really has to work through word of mouth. We can't put a big marketing campaign behind it, so we're fortunate that the word of mouth has been good.
I know that the military gave its approval to the script -- what has been the reaction from veterans who have seen the film?
We've had a lot of feedback from veterans as well as active duty members, and I have to say that the reactions have been similar but different. The Vietnam vets have really treated this film as their own. Even though it takes place during the Iraq War, the reaction from Vietnam vets has been overwhelming. They've shown up at screenings to say a few words, and they've written us letters; some novelists of the Vietnam era, like Tim O'Brien ("The Things They Carried") have reacted very strongly to the film. With the Iraq and Afghanistan guys, it's a lot harder for them. It's a lot closer to home. They've just come back, and it's very, very emotional, but the overwhelming response from them has been gratitude. Of course, I'm only talking about the guys we spoke to -- I'm sure there are a bunch of guys who hate the movie and never want to see it again, but they didn't speak up. But the guys who liked it have thanked us for shooting a portrait of how they're feeling right now, without any politics or agenda.
I think it's also a big deal for them that Woody Harrelson is in this movie, because he's so outspoken as an anti-war activist. And he's playing a soldier with a lot of empathy and respect for soldiers, and I think they're as surprised and pleased by it as he is.
"The Messenger" marks your directorial debut, but you've been involved in filmmaking as a screenwriter for many years. Can you talk about the challenges of switching roles?
I think the biggest challenge lies in communication. When you're writing a script, you have a very specific way of communicating your movie to people -- it's on the page. You express yourself in that way, and if taken to the next level and made into a film, then your role, depending on the director, is either done or just ceremonial from that point on. When you're directing, you have to communicate with every single person working on the film and find a way of talking about the movie in a practical sense but also in a creative way.
"The Messenger" has received a number of awards and nominations. What has the impact of this recognition had on the film?
I would like to think that the effect an award has on a film is that more people become aware of the film and then check it out. I can't hide my secret agenda when I'm talking to you -- it's more of a dream, really. We started early in November, but we got squeezed out of a lot of theaters. So my dream is that if we do get more nominations, then we can relaunch the film in cities that we're not in right now and get more people to see it. The motivation is very simple -- this movie, partially because of what we did on it, but mostly because of what it is, sparks a dialogue and gets people to be aware of something that's going on in this country right now. It's been a real gift to get involved in that dialogue and get people engaged.
-- Paul Gaita
Top photo: Oren Moverman. Credit: Oscilloscope Laboratories.
Bottom photo: Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster in "The Messenger." Credit: Oscilloscope Laboratories.
You can add Jeff Bridges to the growing list of prestigious names -- and possible Oscar contenders -- who are receiving an honor at this year's Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF). The actor -- who received four prior Oscar nominations for "The Last Picture Show," "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot," "Starman" and "The Contender" -- will receive the festival's Desert Palm Achievement Award for his turn as a down-on-his-luck country singer in "Crazy Heart" at its awards gala on Jan. 5. Joining Bridges at the event are such fellow buzzworthy talents as Morgan Freeman,Helen Mirren, Anna Kendrick and Mariah Carey, who will each receive awards.
The PSIFF award is the second major acclaim for Bridges' performance in recent weeks, following his Independent Spirit nomination on Dec. 1. But does it improve his chances at academy gold? One may look at last year's Desert Palm Achievement winner, Sean Penn, who subsequently won the Oscar for "Milk," as a positive indicator, but, as is always the case, all bets are off until Feb. 2, when the academy announces its noms.
Duncan Jones' meta-sci-fi feature, "Moon," took top honors at the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) on Dec. 6. The drama, which stars Sam Rockwell (who was nominated for best performance by an actor but lost to Tom Hardy in "Bronson"), also earned Jones the Douglas Hickox Award for best debut director. Andrea Arnold's "Fish Tank" continued its winning streak by claiming best director for Andrea Arnold and most promising newcomer for star Katie Jarvis; previous awards include the Jury Prize from the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and honors from the Chicago and Edinburgh fests. "Let the Right One In" took best foreign film, while Daniel Day-Lewis and Michael Caine received the Richard Harris Award (for outstanding contribution to British film) and the Variety Award, respectively.
In an attempt to boost their profile during award season, the Broadcast Film Critics Association is making changes to its Critics Choice Movie Awards show. The title change is the most immediate -- in previous years, the show was known as the Critics Choice Awards, which organizers believe may have not indicated to audiences that it was an Oscar-style event -- as is the addition of eight categories for technical achievements, such as cinematography and art direction. The show has also moved from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to the hipper Hollywood Palladium. The hope is that the new direction, combined with the wealth of talent the show attracts (note the glossy gallery of celebs on its home page) will give ratings a jolt with broadcaster VH1, which has aired the show for the last three years. The Critics' Choice Movie Awards will air on Jan. 15.
"Up in the Air" led the Washington Area Film Critics Assn. Awards (WAFCA) today; the pic landed three of the top awards, including best film, best actor for George Clooney and best screenplay (adapted) for director Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner.
"Precious" earned wins for Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe as best supporting actress and best breakthrough performance, respectively, while "The Hurt Locker" claimed best director (Kathryn Bigelow) and best ensemble. Christoph Waltz continued his winning streak with the supporting actor nod for "Inglourious Basterds," while his director, Quentin Tarantino, was awarded best original screenplay. It was also a big weekend for Carey Mulligan, who doubled her awards for the weekend with a lead actress win on the heels of her BIFA honor on Sunday. Walt Disney/Pixar's "Up" and "Food, Inc." were the day's other winners for best animated film and best documentary.
So how will this affect the honorees' chances this award season? Glad you asked: the 2008 WAFCAs accurately predicated last year's Oscar wins for best picture ("Slumdog Millionaire"), director (Danny Boyle), supporting actor (Heath Ledger), adapted screenplay (Simon Beaufoy), animated feature ("Wall-E"), art direction ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") and documentary feature ("Man on Wire"). So place your bets accordingly.
And lastly, here's an interesting list of the 100 best films "beyond the canon" -- that is to say, beyond the popularly accepted roster of best films ever made -- from Iain Stott of The One-Line Review. Stott rounded up a solid list of participants to aid him in building his list, including Sean Axmaker, "People vs. Larry Flynt" co-author Larry Karaszewski and Mike White of Cashiers du Cinemart; the result is an ambitious and unquestionably polarizing lineup, as evidenced by its top choice -- Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut." The remainder is a tantalizing list of cult favorites, oddities, personal obsessions and quite a few great films -- I'm personally pleased to see "Suspiria," "Eyes Without a Face," "Seconds," "Dead Ringers" and "Point Blank" represented here -- which should incite passionate pro and con debate for nearly every single title. Which is, of course, part of the reason we love the movies, isn't it?
-- Paul Gaita
Photo: Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart." Credit: Lorey Sebastian.
UPDATED 1:25 p.m.: "Up in the Air," a serio-comic look at the world of corporate downsizing, was named best film of 2009 Thursday by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.
Directed by Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air" revolves around a corporate downsizer (George Clooney) who begins to question his isolated life. The film, which opens today (see review on D1), also won awards for best actor (Clooney shared the prize with Morgan Freeman for his role as Nelson Mandela in "Invictus"), supporting actress for Anna Kendrick and best adapted screenplay for Reitman and Sheldon Turner.
Board of Review favorite Clint Eastwood earned best director honors for "Invictus," a drama about how South African President Mandela brought the country together in 1995 through the Rugby World Cup. Eastwood won best actor last year from the group for "Gran Torino." And his 2003 drama "Mystic River" and 2006's war drama, "Letters From Iwo Jima," won best film from the group.
The Board of Review comprises film professionals, educators, historians and students. The group is often a leading bellwether for the Academy Awards. For the last two years its best film selections -- "No Country for Old Men" and "Slumdog Millionaire" -- went on to receive the Oscar for best picture.
Carey Mulligan won best actress for "An Education" as a British teenager in the 1960s who falls in love with an older man. Woody Harrelson was named supporting actor for "The Messenger." And Joel and Ethan Coen earned original screenplay honors for "A Serious Man."
Jeremy Renner won breakthrough performance by an actor for "The Hurt Locker," and Gabourey Sidibe earned breakthrough performance by an actress for "Precious."
Earlier this week, "The Hurt Locker" won the Gotham Independent Award for best film, and "Precious" and "The Last Station" dominated the nominations for Film Independent's Spirit Awards. The awards season kicks into high gear the week of Dec. 13 with the American Film Institute, the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. and the New York Film Critics Circle making their selections along with the announcement of nominations for the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
The NBR awards will be presented at their annual gala Jan. 12 at Cipriani's 42nd Street in New York.
Other winners announced Thursday include:
Best foreign language film: "The Prophet"
Best documentary: "The Cove"
Best animated feature: "Up"
Best ensemble cast: "It's Complicated"
Spotlight Award for best directorial debut: Duncan Jones for "Moon," Oren Moverman for "The Messenger" and Marc Webb for "(500) Days of Summer."
Special filmmaking achievement award: Wes Anderson for "Fantastic Mr. Fox"
William K. Everson Film History Award: Jean Picker Firstenberg
NBR Freedom of Expression: "Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country," "Invictus" and "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers"
For a complete list go to <a href="http://www.nbrmp.org">www.nbrmp.org</a>
Original post: “Up in the Air,” which opens Friday, was named today as the best film of 2009 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.
The dramedy directed by Jason Reitman revolves around a corporate downsizer (George Clooney) who begins to question his isolated life.
The film also won awards for best actor (Clooney tied with Morgan Freeman for “Invictus”), supporting actress for Anna Kendrick and adapted screenplay by Reitman and Sheldon Turner.
The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures consists of film professionals, educators, historians and students. The group is often a leading bellwether for the Academy Awards. Its past two best film selections — “No Country for Old Men” and “Slumdog Millionaire” — went on to receive the top Academy Award.
Earlier this week, “The Hurt Locker” won the Gotham Independent Award for best film, and “Precious” and “The Last Station” dominated the nominations for Film Independent’s Spirit Awards. The awards season kicks into high gear the week of Dec. 13 with the American Film Institute, the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. and the New York Film Critics Circle making their selections, along with the announcement of nominations for the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards
The Board of Review awards will be presented at the organization's annual gala on Jan. 12 in New York.
-- Susan King
Photo: George Clooney in "Up in the Air." Credit: DreamWorks
Cinematical has hosted yet another intriguing movie award debate, this time over the supernatural blockbuster "Paranormal Activity" and its best first feature nomination by the Independent Spirit Awards. Author Erik Davis raises the point that although it's most definitely worthy of this debut nomination, shouldn't it be in contention for best picture at the Spirits? Or has the stigma of its genre, in combination with its overwhelming popularity, excluded it from that particular race? Davis goes so far as to question why "Activity," which has been featured on numerous top-10 lists this year, wasn't it in consideration for an Oscar.
His query is answered by responses that either hew toward "it's a good movie, but not Oscar worthy" or "Dude, you must be joking," and my two cents are evenly split between them. "Activity" is a terrific piece of scare machinery, and most definitely worthy of its box-office windfall and the best first feature nomination, but an Oscar nod, let alone inclusion in the best picture category, is a playing field it's not entirely equipped for. Let director Oren Peli get his stride with his next picture, the much-discussed "Area 51," or the ones after it, and then we might be able to discuss his date with the academy.
And while we're on the subject of "Paranormal Activity," Moviemaker has a roundup of the most memorable hand-held camera movies that came before Micah and Katie's adventures in home video production. It's a solid collection, though composed of all the usual suspects -- "Blair Witch Project," "District 9," "[REC]" and its remake, "Quarantine," and of course, "Cloverfield." But it fails to include Patrick Duncan's Vietnam War drama "84 Charlie MoPic," or even Ruggero Deodato's harrowing "Cannibal Holocaust," which set the tone for POV horror back in 1980. And if the focus is first-person frights, shouldn't Michael Powell's still-unsettling "Peeping Tom" (1960) be on the list as well?
-- Paul Gaita
Photo: "Paranormal Activity" stars Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.