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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Emily Rome

Oscar shorts: Civil rights activists see day they never expected

February 25, 2012 | 12:28 pm

'The Barber of Birmingham'

Four years ago, as Americans were facing the question of whether voters would elect the country’s first African American president, Bay Area resident Robin Fryday flew to Birmingham, Ala., to see how the nearing election was affecting a city so seeped in civil rights-era history. What she found was a project that became an Oscar-nominated documentary short.

“The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement,” a 25-minute short, is Fryday’s first film. The photographer began her research in Birmingham alone, and then –- fittingly through an introduction made by Fryday’s hairdresser -– she connected with co-director Gail Dolgin, who was nominated in 2003 for her documentary feature, “Daughter From Danang.” Dolgin died of cancer in 2010 and shares the nomination posthumously with Fryday.

The short puts a spotlight on people whom Fryday calls “the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement.”

“Many of them are dying, they’re elderly, so it was important to capture these stories,” Fryday said.

OSCARS: Cheat Sheet | Key Scenes | Pundit's picks | Ballot | Timeline

As Fryday and Dolgin documented them through the 2008 election -– a day that “most of them thought they would never live to see,” Fryday said -– they recalled their experiences fighting for the right to vote in an era when many blacks were barred from voting through literacy tests and poll taxes.

Central to the film is James Armstrong, who had owned a Birmingham barbershop from 1950 until shortly before his death in late 2009. Armstrong dedicated his life to fighting for civil rights. He got his two sons into an all-white elementary school, and he carried the American flag on Bloody Sunday in the Selma-to-Montgomery marches. Fryday met Armstrong after another interviewee asked her, “Have you met the barber?”

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Oscars 2012: Short 'Stroll' spans 100 years in seven minutes

February 23, 2012 |  3:30 pm

'A Morning Stroll'

The animators at Studio AKA mostly fill their days with working on commercials, but in the past six or so years, the British company has been delving into short filmmaking. Now their work has paid off with an Oscar nomination for “A Morning Stroll.” The talent behind the quirky seven-minute film, which is partially in 3-D, has found that a background in commercials is really helpful for transitioning to storytelling in short films.

“Working within 30 seconds teaches you to keep things concise and brief,” said director Grant Orchard.

He shares the Oscar nomination with Studio AKA head of production and “Morning Stroll” producer Sue Goffe, who added, “But it’s really nice to give yourself a little bit more time than 30 seconds to tell a story [with shorts].”

That story was originally going to last 20 minutes, as Orchard at first hoped to make a natural history film with watercolors for the studio’s fourth short. But as he was looking for a more affordable project, he came across  “The Chicken,” an entry in Paul Auster’s book “True Tales of American Life.” The story inspired Orchard to write a film about New Yorkers who encounter a chicken on a city street.

The film is structured as a triptych, as three people witness the chicken pecking on a door in three different years: 1959, 2009 and 2059. Each segment features a different style of animation: black-and-white 2-D line drawings, colorful and more detailed 2-D and concluding with 3-D animation for the apocalyptic future. Switching among the different animation styles was the obvious way to go once Orchard decided to set the film in three different years, and it was certainly nothing new for Studio AKA.

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Oscar voters: 99-year-old in academy 'never wanted to be a star'

February 20, 2012 | 12:30 pm

Connie Sawyer

At 99, Connie Sawyer is one of the oldest members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Conventional wisdom might say she's precisely the sort of voter apt to fall for “The Artist,” the French-made film about an old-time movie hero whose career runs into trouble with the advent of talkies. The movie is considered a front-runner for the best picture Oscar at the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday.

But Sawyer, who was a 15-year-old living in Oakland in 1927, when “The Artist's” story begins, wasn’t so enamored of the black-and-white film. The movie was enjoyable enough, she says, but she frankly doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about.

“Hasn’t anybody seen old films?” Sawyer asked in exasperation. “They’re easy to make and easy to act. All you have to do is overact. I saw a lot of those films in my day.”Oscar voters study

Sawyer’s been in show business for more than eight decades — she began working in stand-up comedy in Depression-era New York at the age of 19, after a childhood spent in dance lessons and traveling with her mother to see performers like Fanny Brice in San Francisco — and she takes her duty as an Oscar voter quite seriously.

Every year, Sawyer watches the movie screeners that are sent to her cottage at the Motion Picture & Television Country House, the Woodland Hills retirement community that’s home to many show business veterans. Many of them she views twice.

On a recent afternoon visit, it was difficult to miss the “For Your Consideration” DVDs scattered around her living room among photographs of her children and grandchildren, birthday cards on display and a painting of her beloved dog Mitzi, named after Mitzi Gaynor.

That’s in addition to juggling a steady work schedule that’s included small parts in films like “When Harry Met Sally” and the R-rated drug comedy “Pineapple Express,” in which she played the grandmother of James Franco's character. The actress also has appeared in several TV shows including “ER” and “Home Improvement,” though she recently lost out on a small part on the NBC comedy series “Parks & Recreation.”

Sawyer joined the academy after appearing in Frank Capra’s 1959 film “A Hole in the Head” with Frank Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson. Sawyer says that even then, she’d been interested in joining the prestigious organization for some time, and she recalls Sinatra telling her, “Don’t worry about it, kid, you’ll get in.”

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Oscar-nominated shorts, coming to a theater near you

February 9, 2012 |  6:00 am

Barber of birmingham oscar short
If you’re feeling behind on watching this year’s Oscar-nominated films, here’s one way to catch up on five titles in one sitting: ShortsHD’s theatrical screenings of the short film nominees, which kick off Friday.

For the seventh year, the Oscar-nominated shorts will screen at theaters in the U.S. and Canada, presented by ShortsHD, a cable TV network that exclusively shows short films. Screenings will group the films together by category: animation (79 minutes), documentary (130 minutes) and live action (107 minutes). Among this year’s nominees are Pixar’s longest theatrical short, a live action film by “Hotel Rwanda” director Terry George and a documentary about the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011.

“This is how the films were meant to be seen,” said Carter Pilcher, chief executive of Shorts International, which owns ShortsHD.

For those who can’t make it to the theater, there will still be a chance to watch the live action and animated films on demand, via providers including Time Warner and Comcast, and on iTunes, where ShortsHD will sell the shorts packaged by category starting Feb. 21 for $6.99. (Pixar’s “La Luna” will not be available digitally, because it is screening in front of the studio’s 2012 film “Brave.”)

“Even if you can’t have the full theater experience, we want to encourage people to watch the films together,” said Pilcher, who likened viewing all of a category’s nominees in one sitting to listening to an album instead of just one song.

When Pilcher started the screenings in 2006, he was met with resistance from theater owners who didn’t like the idea of screening films weeks before a digital release. Some shorts directors were also hesitant to hand their films over to an unfamiliar distributor. But the program has grown from about 50 theaters in its first year to more than 200 venues today.

The screenings have also gotten a boost from a new rule by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Previously, members could vote for short films only if they attended an academy screening. Now, attending a ShortsHD screening will make academy members eligible to vote for the films.

“It’s a great thing that after seven years, this has made a mark big enough to be included in the [voting] process,” Pilcher said. “It’s a big step forward for short films.”

Setting this year’s live action nominees apart from past years is a trend toward comedy, including a tale of time travel mishaps in the American film “Time Freak” and a heartwarming story of a 70-year-old man’s last days in the Norwegian short “Tuba Atlantic.”

“The live action films often deal with very serious and challenging subjects,” Pilcher said. “This year, most of the films you see will make you laugh. It’s really fun to see them on the big screen, all together in a row with an audience.”


In L.A., venues participating include the Egyptian Theatre, which will screen the documentary shorts Feb. 17, and the Nuart, which will show the live action and animated nominees Friday through Feb. 23.

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Oscar shorts: Discovering story through location in Norway

— Emily Rome

Photo: A scene from the Oscar-nominated short "The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement."  James Armstrong is a barber, whose barbershop in Birmingham, Ala., has been a hub for haircuts and civil rights since 1955.  Credit: Shorts HD.


'The Artist' stars and other Oscar nominees set for Santa Barbara film fest Saturday

February 2, 2012 | 11:56 am

The Artist

Among the many events for Oscar nominees to attend as awards season heats up is the 27th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which this weekend will feature panels with filmmakers including “The Artist” director Michel Hazanavicius and “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig.

The festival, which kicked off Jan. 26, wraps Sunday after a weekend of multiple panels and final screenings. Among the films still screening are the Adrien Brody-starrer Detachment and the documentary Nothing Like Chocolate,” which received a standing ovation at its premiere last weekend.

Sharing the stage with Hazanavicius and Feig at the directors panel at 11 a.m. Saturday are five other directors who also helmed Oscar-nominated films, including “Rango” director Gore Verbinski and "Hotel Rwanda" director Terry George, nominated this year for his short film, "The Shore."

Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein will moderate the Movers & Shakers panel at 2 p.m. Saturday for a Q&A with six filmmakers behind some of this year’s Oscar best picture nominees, including “The Descendants” producer Jim Burke and “Hugo” producer Graham King.

SBIFF also presented awards to Viola Davis, Christopher Plummer and Martin Scorsese. On Saturday, "The Artist" stars Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin will receive the festival's Cinema Vanguard Award.

Festival tickets and schedule are available at Sbiff.org.

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— Emily Rome

Photo: "The Artist" director Michel Hazanavicius (left) will participate on SBIFF's directors panel Saturday. The film's stars, Bérénice Bejo (center) and Jean Dujardin (right), will receive the festival's Cinema Vanguard Award that evening. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times.


Oscars 2012: Shorts categories have multiple Irish, Canadian noms

January 24, 2012 |  4:13 pm

Oscar-nominated shorts

Fifteen short films earned Oscar nominations Tuesday in three shorts categories, each with their own trend toward films from particular countries. The contenders hail from a variety of countries and have varying degrees of experience, from first-time directors to three-time Oscar nominees. 

The live action shorts category includes only one title from an American filmmaker, "Time Freak" -– it was also the only U.S. film on the shorts list announced in December. In the documentary shorts category, though, all the nominees are from the U.S. One is a doc that is rooted in American history, “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement.” The film is about an 85-year-old barber who regales his customers with stories about his activism in the Civil Rights era, including marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. 

“I’m unbelievably excited to be nominated. And it’s amazing timing because we’ve had a lot of screenings around Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” said co-director Robin Fryday. Gail Dolgin, who died in 2010, shares the nomination posthumously with Fryday.

PHOTOS: Oscar nominees react

Fryday said it’s been exciting to get awards attention at the same time as “The Help,” the best picture nominee about African American maids in 1960s Mississippi. The “Barber of Birmingham” director saw “The Help” in Alabama with Civil Rights Activist Committee member Shirley Gavin Floyd as well as a woman whose mother was a maid and had similar experiences to the characters in “The Help."

“It was a really powerful film to see, and it was really powerful to see their reactions,” Fryday said.

In the live action shorts category, two films from the Emerald Isle earned nominations: “Pentecost” by Irish filmmaker-actor Peter McDonald and “The Shore” by Northern Ireland native Terry George.

“Ireland has always had a strong showing in the short category -– maybe something to do with our storytelling tradition,” George told 24 Frames via Skype instant message while on a flight from New York to Los Angeles for the premiere of “Luck.” (The TV series stars Nick Nolte, whom George directed in his Oscar-nominated feature “Hotel Rwanda.” Nolte received a nomination Tuesday in the best supporting actor category for his role in "Warrior.")

The writer-director said that the anticipation leading up to the nomination announcement was “nerve-wracking” for the short that was made with family members and had a storyline about the Troubles that struck close to home, even more nerve-wracking than his Oscar-nominated features. (He was nominated in 1994 for best adapted screenplay for "In the Name of the Father.")

“It felt like my family, the village I live in and grew up in and Northern Ireland were all on the line –- that’s way bigger than a studio pic,” George said.

OSCARS 2012: COMPLETE NOMINEES LIST

The animated shorts nominee list includes two films funded by the National Film Board of Canada: "Wild Life” by Calgary, Alberta-based filmmakers Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, and “Sunday” by Montreal, Quebec-based filmmaker Patrick Doyon.

“We’re so happy for [Doyon],” Forbis said. “That was especially sweet to see that NFB got two nominations.”

Also nominated in the animation shorts category was Pixar’s “La Luna,” which was some consolation for the studio after its “Cars 2” became the first Pixar feature not to receive an Oscar nod in the animated feature film category. The seven-minute "La Luna" will screen in front of the studio’s 2012 feature, “Brave.”

The short’s director, Enrico Casarosa, said “there was some really good dancing and screaming” in his home when he told his family the news.

“But for my 4-year-old daughter, there was the challenge of trying to explain it to her,” Casarosa said. “I told her, ‘There’s a big party, and if they like Daddy’s movie, they’ll give me a nice prize.’ So then she could participate in the giddiness.”

The winners will be announced Sunday, Feb. 26, at the 84th Academy Awards, which will be held at Kodak Theatre and telecast on ABC.

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– Emily Rome

Photos: Left: Ciarán Hinds stars in Terry George's "The Shore," one of two Irish films nominated in the live action shorts category. Credit: Aidan Monaghan. Right: "Sunday" is one of two Canadian films nominated in the animated shorts category. Credit: National Film Board of Canada


Oscars 2012: VFX artist says ‘Potter’ best pic snub ‘a shame’

January 24, 2012 |  1:23 pm

Voldemort

Warner Bros. campaigned heavily for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” with hopes that the final installment in the eight-movie series could get some awards attention in best picture and best adapted screenplay categories. But the Oscar nominations announcement revealed Tuesday morning that the fantasy film would only get attention in technical and craft categories.

The movie, based on the second half of J.K. Rowling’s seventh book in her beloved series, received Oscar nominations for visual effects, makeup and art direction.

“It’s a shame it didn’t get more nominations in categories like best picture,” said Tim Burke, one of the filmmakers sharing the visual effects nomination. “It’s difficult to know quite why ['Harry Potter' films] are often shunned by the academy and especially in the U.K. -– where it’s homegrown –- with the BAFTAs. Maybe it’s negative response to the commercialism, that these are very successful films at the box office that puts people off.”

PHOTOS: Oscar nominees react

Burke said he was still “absolutely thrilled” to learn about his nomination when he saw several texts from friends and family from London upon waking up in his Los Angeles hotel room. The visual effects artist is currently in L.A. working with Disney on a project in development.

Burke, who supervised visual effects on all eight “Harry Potter” movies, earned Oscar visual effects nominations for two other films in the franchise. He won the award in 2001 for “Gladiator.”

Despite any lingering disappointment at “Harry Potter’s” snubs in other categories, Burke noted there’s still cause for plenty of butterbeers and fire whiskeys -– or at least the Muggle alternatives.

“There will be a few drinks when I get back to London with my crew,” Burke said. “We’ll have a little toast to the success of ‘Harry Potter.’”

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PHOTOS: 84th Academy Awards nominees

Power Players: Warner Bros. hoping 'Harry Potter' conjures Oscar nods

-– Emily Rome

Photo: Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.


Oscars 2012: 'Descendants' producer closer to 'career goal' with nom

January 24, 2012 | 12:11 pm

Click for photos of reactions from top nominees

After "The Descendants" received a best picture Oscar nomination Tuesday, producer Jim Burke spent the early morning reading congratulatory texts from family and friends and sending his own messages to fellow nominated cast and crew from the Hawaii-set family drama.

So it’s been a morning to be thankful for accolades -- and unlimited texting plans, though, as Burke pointed out, “These are texts I’d be willing to pay for.”

PHOTOS: Oscar top nominees

The producer watched the nominations announcement on his laptop while in bed at his Los Angeles home. For Burke, earning an Oscar nomination means he’s one step closer to a longtime goal. “It’s been just my own personal career goal to win an Oscar since I was 23,” said Burke, 53.

"The Descendants" stars George Clooney as Matt King, a middle-aged man trying to become a better father to his two daughters after his wife suffers a grave injury in a boating accident. Things grow more complicated when he learns that she had been unfaithful to him prior to the incident.

Burke shares the best picture nomination for “The Descendants” with Jim Taylor and director-co-writer Alexander Payne. Those filmmakers and cast members such as Clooney (who nabbed his own nomination for lead actor in the film) are all people Burke has spent a lot of time with during the last few months of campaigning -- though he made a point to not call it “campaigning” but instead “discussing” the film with reporters and with audiences at screenings.

“We have become really close, the cast in particular, and the filmmakers too,” Burke said.

As audiences have dissected “The Descendants” during multiple Q&A sessions, Burke said he’s gained a greater understanding of the film than he had at the time of its release.

“I’ve learned things about this film that I was not conscious of. I was probably subconsciously aware of them. And I would say Alexander feels the same way,” Burke said. “When art reveals itself to you, it really is a wonderful experience.”

“The Descendants” received five Oscar nominations, including best director, best editing and best adapted screenplay.

The following clip is from the recent Envelope Directors Roundtable. Here, filmmakers Alexander Payne ("The Descendants"), Michel Hazanavicius ("The Artist"), George Clooney ("The Ides of March"), Stephen Daldry ("Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close") and Martin Scorsese ("Hugo") talked about how nerve-racking it can be to start a new film, and how they deal with it.

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-- Emily Rome

Photo: Jim Taylor, left, Alexander Payne and Jim Burke at the 69th Golden Globe Awards ceremony in Beverly Hills. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press.


Oscars 2012: ‘Hugo’ costume designer on her 10th Oscar nom

January 24, 2012 | 11:57 am

Sandy Powell OscarThe Oscar nominations were announced early Tuesday morning, but the day was heading into night in England, where costume designer Sandy Powell ended up learning the news of her Academy Award nod for Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" while she was stuck in traffic.

“I was in a car being driven by a friend in a traffic jam on a rainy London afternoon,” Powell said. “David [Davenport], my [costume] supervisor, sent me a message saying, ‘You better start looking for a dress!’”

This is Powell’s 10th Oscar nomination. She has won the costume design award three times, including for Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic,“The Aviator.” The opportunity to work again with the director, a frequent collaborator, was a major motivation for her to sign on to the lavish 3-D family movie, but so was its source material, the illustrated children’s novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”

PHOTOS: Oscar nominees react

“We used the book as a starting point and a reference point," Powell said. "I think everyone on the movie captured the essence of the illustrations in the book without just re-creating it.”

Allegiance to “Hugo” aside, Powell is “convinced” that “The Artist” is going to take home the best picture award come Oscar night next month. In a noteworthy coincidence, both movies pay homage to silent filmmaking.

“It’s the exact same period [as 'Hugo'], and they’re both films about film, but they couldn’t be more different. But I’m really happy that they’re so different,” Powell said.

Speaking to 24 Frames on her cellphone from a London store, she said the exciting news hadn't kept her from “trying to do my normal working day,” she said. There hasn’t been time yet to talk with fellow “Hugo” filmmakers -– the film earned 11 nominations, more than that of any other film for the year -– but she’s eager to celebrate with them later.

“I’m only disappointed that it didn’t get a makeup nomination. That would have been nice. Costumes and makeup -– it’s all part of the same thing,” Powell said.

The London native will be celebrating her own nomination during dinner tonight.

“I already had dinner plans with a good girlfriend,” she said. “So now we have a nice excuse to order a bottle of champagne.”

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Pals Clooney, Pitt are rivals; ‘Artist,’ ‘Hugo’ dominate

–- Emily Rome

Photos: Sandy Powell winning a best costume design Oscar for "The Young Victoria" in 2010. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times; Powell's sketch for Sasha Baron Cohen's "Hugo" costume. Credit: Paramount Pictures


Watch the Oscar nominations live Tuesday morning

January 24, 2012 |  4:00 am

Academy Awards

 LIVE COVERAGE: 84th Annual Academy Award nominations

Hollywood will be one step closer to knowing who will take home this year's Oscar gold on Tuesday, when the nominations for the 84th Academy Awards are announced at 5:38:30 a.m. Pacific time. (Don't forget the 30 seconds; precision counts when it comes to the year's most coveted nominations.)

During a news conference at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak will reveal the nominees with Jennifer Lawrence, who received her own nod last year for her role in “Winter’s Bone” and is set to star in this year’s much anticipated “The Hunger Games.”

Heading in to the announcement, “The Artist” and “The Descendants” are both considered locks for a best picture nod.

FULL COVERAGE: The Oscars

This year brings a key change in the Oscar rules: A shift in the voting structure will see best picture nominees number anywhere from five to 10 . And contenders who have received heavy campaigning attention -– such as “Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ ” Andy Serkis for his motion capture performance and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” for that final shot at a best picture prize –- will learn whether they’re off to another month of campaigning or whether their long-shot odds were just too much to overcome.

You can watch the nominations on Tuesday morning live, right here, and check out 24 Frames for more coverage, including analysis of the nominees, a roundup of snubs, and reactions from actors and filmmakers who woke up to some good news.

The 84th Academy Awards will be presented on Feb. 26 at the Kodak Theatre.

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PHOTOS: Front-runners and longshots

 Pundits predict the Oscar nominations

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-– Emily Rome

Photo: Oscar statue standing outside Kodak Theatre at the 2010 Academy Awards. Credit: Amy Sancetta / Associated Press


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