When the Producers Guild of America doles out its laurels at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 21, a special honor will be bestowed to Steven Spielberg: the David O. Selznick Award.
The prize recognizes "a producer's outstanding body of work in motion pictures," notes the press release. "The honor has a rich and distinguished history with past recipients including such legendary producers as Stanley Kramer, Saul Zaentz, Clint Eastwood, Billy Wilder, Brian Grazer, Jerry Bruckheimer, Roger Corman, Laura Ziskin, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, John Lasseter and last year's 2011 recipient Scott Rudin."
Before his death in 1965, Selznick reigned as one of Hollywood's greatest producers, working at MGM, RKO and independently. He produced two Oscar best picture champs: "Gone with the Wind" (1939) and "Rebecca" (1940). Spielberg's long list of producing credits includes "E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial" (1982), best picture winner "Schindler's List" (1993), "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) and "Memoirs of a Geisha" (2005).
Producers Guild Awards co-chairs Paula Wagner and Michael Manheim issued this comment: "As one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time, Steven's continued genius, imagination and fearlessness in the world of feature film entertainment is unmatched in this industry. Steven has produced some of the most iconic films in the history of cinema and we have no doubt he will continue to bring thrilling adventures, emotionally moving story lines, thought-provoking characters and cult classics to audiences across the globe. We're extremely proud to recognize Steven's contributions to the producing craft as well as the entire film industry with the David O. Selznick honor."
Just two weeks after "War Horse" swept the Tony Awards, we get the first view of the movie adaptation as it trots into the Oscar derby.
The trailer reveals scenes of heightened visual drama not possible on the Broadway stage as a farm boy pursues his beloved horse through fiery battles in World War I. On stage, the conflict is represented merely by flashing stage lights and audio of combat sounds, but on screen, director Steven Spielberg adds the same military spectacle he used in "Saving Private Ryan," which earned him an Oscar as best director of 1998.
Spielberg also won an Oscar for directing "Schindler's List," which won best picture of 1993. He last helmed a "serious" film with "Munich" (2005), which earned him an Oscar nomination. The last time he competed as a producer of a best picture contender was 2006 ("Letters from Iwo Jima"). This year Spielberg could nab two nominations for best picture if his "Adventures of Tintin" also makes the cut. Next year, he'll compete with "Lincoln."
The release of "The Adventures of Tintin" trailer this week revealed the look of director Steven Spielberg's long-gestating adaptation of the popular European comic series. The story of an intrepid young reporter on a hunt for a ship's treasure inspired by the work of Belgian artist Hergé, "Tintin" was shot in a shadowy film noir style using the same performance capture technology that James Cameron deployed on "Avatar."
The trailer's scenes of photo-real characters adventuring in an animated world raise anew a question that has bedeviled the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in recent years -- how to treat films that use performance capture, or motion capture as the technique is also called. Relying on both actors and animators to tell its story, "Tintin" is one of a growing category of movies that don't fit neatly in either the animation category or live action.
"You’ll never be able to define an animated film by how it looks, cause we’re using the same artists, the same software, the same computers to do very cartooney stuff and very photo-real stuff," said Bill Kroyer, a governor of the academy's short films and animation branch. "Where are you going to draw the line? You can see how this is going to become an increasing problem. From our standpoint, it's about preserving a specific art form."
With star power like Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson behind it, "Tintin" looks likely to garner awards season attention, and if it does, Spielberg would like it to be in the animated category, according to a spokeswoman at Paramount Pictures.
"In a year filled with sequels, ['Tintin'] should stand out for its originality," said Bill Desowitz, senior editor of the Animation World Network, an animation publishing group. "The Hergé comics, while unknown to most Americans, offer a sense of grand adventure and nostalgia. Meanwhile, the colorful, hyper-real look of the animation, with its exotic locations, should help bolster the appeal."
AMPAS amended its rules in 2010 to address motion capture. In addition to "Avatar," the technique has been used on films including "Polar Express," "Happy Feet" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. To make these films, actors wear a body suit with markers, and cameras record their movements. Then visual effects artists and animators add to the actor's performance.
"Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique," the academy rules stipulate. "In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75% of the picture’s running time."
"Tintin" relies on motion capture performances for most of its major characters, including Tintin, played by Jamie Bell, a pirate (Daniel Craig) and a pair of bumbling detectives (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). But animators are working with those performances -- Pegg and Frost, for instance, who are physical opposites in real life, play twins.
"If it was intended to simply be a copy of a live actor’s work, then we would not consider it animation," Kroyer said. "At the moment, we have not determined a way to make that decision. It lies with the intention of the director."
In the case of "Avatar," Cameron chose to campaign his film, which relied on such actors as Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington and on animators at Weta Digital to create its tall, blue characters, as live action.
By calling "Tintin" animated, Spielberg, who will also have the live action film "War Horse" in awards contention this year, is stepping into an industry debate about the motion capture technique.
In 2006, the motion capture movie "Happy Feet" won the animated feature Oscar, inspiring a backlash against the technique among animators who consider it either disempowering or cheating. The credits of the Pixar movie "Ratatouille," released the following year, included the prickly disclaimer: "Our Quality Assurance Guarantee: 100% Genuine Animation! No motion capture or any other performance shortcuts were used in the production of this film."
"You have opinions that run the entire gamut," said Kroyer. "You have people who are prophets of motion capture and other people who say it’s heresy and I will never use it. I think mo-cap is as legitimate a tool as anything for making films, but it’s not the kind of animation we always did."
The motion capture Oscar debate is not likely to go away any time soon -- Jackson's "The Hobbit: Part 1," which will rely on the technique for some characters, is due in 2012, a second "Tintin" movie is currently slated for 2013 and "Avatar 2" is coming in 2014.
By debuting "Falling Skies" on June 19, it looks like TNT believes that there's little hope of Hollywood embracing Steven Spielberg's new sci-fi series for TV's top award. The cutoff for Emmy eligibility is May 31. Had TNT aired just six episodes prior to that date, "Falling Skies" could compete in the current derby. At next year's Emmy competition, it may seem like old news.
Granted, science fiction and fantasy dramas tend to fare poorly when it comes to most Hollywood awards. Spielberg's "E.T." lost best picture at the Oscars to "Gandhi" in 1982, and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" wasn't even nominated for the top Academy Award in 1977. (At least "Star Wars" made it into the race, losing to "Annie Hall," but "Encounters" also got aced out of a nomination for best picture by "Julia" and "The Goodbye Girl.")
Sci-fi/fantasy fare does poorly at the Emmys too, but at least "The X-Files," "Star Trek" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" have been nominated for best drama series in the past. One promising omen: Spielberg proved that he can get his productions beamed through such resistance in 2003, when "Taken" -- his marathon tale of alien abduction for the Sci-Fi Channel -- won for best TV miniseries.
"War Horse" is about to become that rare contender that gallops into two award derbies in one year: the Tonys and Oscars.
Tuesday marks the first preview performance of the stage drama about a boy who risks the dangers of World War I to rescue his horse that's been hauled off to serve in the cavalry. It opens on Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theater on April 14. On Dec. 28, a film version produced and directed by Oscar magnet Steven Spielberg debuts in movie houses, certain to be a major Oscars contender. "War Horse" is the first "serious" (nonblockbuster) movie that Spielberg has directed since "Munich," which was nominated for best picture of 2005.
The innovative stage production of "War Horse," which mixes actors with puppeteers, originated in 2007 at the National Theatre in London, where it won the Evening Standard, Critics' Circle and Laurence Olivier awards for set design, plus an Olivier Award for choreography. Clearly, it's now being positioned for awards on this side of the Atlantic.
Nick Stafford's adaptation of the book by Michael Morpurgo is being co-produced on Broadway by the National Theatre in league with Lincoln Center. Both the U.K. and U.S. productions are directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, with "horse choreography" by Toby Sedgwick.
Below, a preview of the West End production. Above, a photo of the film version.
'Hereafter' has a lot in common with "Ghost" (1990). Both are commercial flicks about the afterlife pooh-poohed by some major film critics. And both were dismissed by many Oscar-watchers.
In fact, Premiere magazine said in the summer of 1990 that "Ghost" had as much hope of reaping Oscars as "Ducktales the Movie." The New Yorker hated it, growling, "There's not a trace of wit or irony to it." The Wall Street Journal said, "'Ghost' isn't awful enough to be a great trash movie, but it often comes close."
"Ghost" ended up nabbing a surprise nomination for best picture, plus four other bids: music score, editing, original screenplay and supporting actress (Whoopi Goldberg as the kooky psychic). It won the last two.
"Hereafter" hasn't had a very good reception from film critics, scoring only 56 at Metacritic and 50 at Rottentomatoes, but it was just received enthusiastically by the folks who matter most: members of the motion picture academy. According to Steve Pond (The Odds, The Wrap), its official screening last Saturday night was "very well-received by an AMPAS crowd that I'm told filled as much as 85 percent of the 1,000-seat Goldwyn. One Academy member who was at the screening said the reaction to the film was 'terrific,' with sustained applause at the end of the film. Others concurred, but thought the attendance might have been a bit overstated."