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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Glenn Whipp

George Clooney, Alexander Payne talk family drama, 'Descendants'

February 9, 2012 | 11:30 am

The other night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, George Clooney and Alexander Payne discussed their movie, "The Descendants," and its place among "classic family dramas from Oscars past and present." At least, that's how the American Cinematheque billed the event, and they went to the trouble to put together a five-minute reel featuring clips from "Kramer vs. Kramer," "Ordinary People," "Terms of Endearment," "On Golden Pond" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" that was shown before the film.

Since writer-director Payne had told me in an interview last month that he doesn't see many contemporary American films, as the moderator, I was curious just how much he'd have to say about the movies in question. Short answer: Not a whole lot. He did just see "Kramer vs. Kramer" last year, liked it and noticed some parallels between Dustin Hoffman's suddenly single father and Clooney's "backup parent" in "The Descendants."

Then Payne matter-of-factly mentioned that he'd never watched "Ordinary People," and you could hear a loud gasp from the sold-out audience. "We all have gaps," Payne said, shrugging his shoulders. Just in case you were wondering, he has never seen "Beaches," either. Don't look for these gaps to be closed any time soon. He'd much rather be rewatching an Ozu movie, thank you.

Clooney, the Merry Prankster to Payne's prickly pear, was, naturally, more forthcoming. He remembered being 19 years old and seeing Timothy Hutton in "Ordinary People" and thinking seriously for the first time about an acting career. He marveled at Hoffman's manic French-toast-making scene in "Kramer" and called "Mockingbird" a "profoundly important" film to him on a number of levels.

"Atticus Finch ... there was a reluctance to his heroism that I always loved," Clooney said. "And Gregory Peck was the quintessential leading man."

Clooney was at his Lake Como home in Italy with friends the night Peck died. He rounded up his friends and their kids, led them into his screening room and put on "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"And the minute it came on, all these kids were like, 'Oooow ... God! It's black-and-white!' And they immediately hated it. And I was like, 'Shut the ... up.' But it was great because it took them about 15 minutes to get into the rhythm of it, and by the end, they didn't want the movie to end. They were scared. They were scared of Boo Radley and they were caught up in that story. It's such a compliment to that idea of storytelling really does work. And it's something we can't lose sight of as we move into 3-D and everything else we do."

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— Glenn Whipp


SAG Awards: We predict Sunday's movie winners

January 27, 2012 |  1:21 pm

The cast of The Help
Will Uggie make his way down the red carpet? Will Meryl remember her glasses? And, more important (at least, for our purposes), will the SAG Awards voters be kind enough to throw an upset or two into the mix Sunday night? Or will the quartet of George Clooney, Viola Davis, Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer haul in another set of awards on their way to Oscar immortality?

Here are our predictions for the movie side of the awards. We predict the television side here.

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A CAST IN A MOTION PICTURE

The nominees: “The Artist,” “Bridesmaids,” “The Descendants,” “The Help,” “Midnight in Paris”

And the winner is … “The Help.” First, do that math. SAG nominated three members of the “Help” ensemble individually. “The Artist” had two, “Descendants” and “Bridesmaids” one apiece. Then consider the deep bench of “The Help,” which sports a dozen cited cast members. It’s the definition of an ensemble movie.

Unless … Voters key on just how great the “Descendants” gang did in their limited screen time. Judy Greer, Robert Forster and Matthew Lillard each brought a great deal of depth to their characters in just a handful of scenes.

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

The nominees: Demian Bichir, “A Better Life”; George Clooney, “The Descendants”; Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar”; Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”; Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

And the winner is … Clooney. Never won, despite three prior noms. Also never been better.

Unless … “The Artist” adds SAG to its lists of admirers and Dujardin rolls to victory.

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

The nominees: Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”; Viola Davis, “The Help”; Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”; Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”; Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn”

And the winner is … Davis. Yes, SAG loves Streep. Members have nominated her 12 times, and often for movies that weren’t exactly notable. (“The River Wild”? There wasn’t anyone else that year?) But, like the Oscars, victory has proved elusive, and, let’s be honest, she didn’t even deliver the best biopic performance in this category.

Unless … Voters go with the year’s biopic champ and honor Williams.

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

The nominees: Kenneth Branagh, “My Week With Marilyn”; Armie Hammer, “J. Edgar”; Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”; Nick Nolte, “Warrior”; Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”

And the winner is … Plummer.

Unless … An unexpected number of SAG members have long preferred the sound of jackhammers to “The Sound of Music.”

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

The nominees: Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”; Jessica Chastain, “The Help”; Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”; Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”; Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

And the winner is … You could make the case for any of the nominees, save McTeer. Do the two “Help” nominees split the vote? Could the unknown Bejo ride a possible “Artist” wave? Do SAG members appreciate that comedy is tough work and reward McCarthy? We’ll play it safe and stick with Oscar front-runner Spencer.

Unless … Voters loved watching both “Bridesmaids” and McCarthy’s memorable Emmy win and keep her big year going.

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PHOTOS: SAG Awards top nominees

 

SAG Awards nominees clarify, muddy Oscar picture

-- Glenn Whipp

Whipp writes the Gold Standard awards column for The Envelope.

Photo: The cast of "The Help," from left, Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times


Golden Globes: Irrelevant? Maybe. But not the speeches

January 16, 2012 |  3:32 pm

Meryl Streep
In the most obvious of ways, the Golden Globes have absolutely no bearing upon the Oscars. No academy member suddenly thought last night, "By Jove, that 'Artist' sure seems to be a favorite of the Hollywood Foreign Press. I'd best check it out." If anything, given the reputation of the people voting for the Globes, you could see academy members wanting to go the opposite way.

But that's not how it works either. At this juncture of the award season, with nomination ballots already in, Oscar contenders can only help (or hurt) their chances by the way they conduct themselves when in the spotlight at public events. So how did this year's crop of Oscar contenders do last night at the Globes? Let's go to the tape:

MERYL STREEP

She's human. Forget for a moment the forgetting of the glasses. Did you see the kiss she gave her husband of 33 years, Don Gummer? Or the smooch she planted on Colin Firth's lips? Mamma Mia! Meryl was bursting with love last night! And then, yes, this master thespian can apparently be reduced to fits of profane yammering without her pair of trusty reading glasses. Granted, her speech went on a bit too long, but the standing ovation that greeted her and the charming humanity she displayed from the stage can only enhance her chances with academy voters. Which brings us to ...

DAVID FINCHER

When Streep did that cute little distress signal at the podium, miming a pair of spectacles with her hands, the call went forth to Hollywood: Get this woman her glasses! A specialized unit immediately sprang into action, an A-list A-Team that had Harvey Weinstein handing off the glasses to George Clooney who then made it almost all the way to the target before (in his words) "chickening out" and giving the final baton to David Fincher who ... started for the podium and then sat back down.

First, let us just remark how odd it is to see Fincher occupying the Mayor of Hollywood front-and-center table spot usually reserved for the likes of Jack Nicholson or Tom Hanks. But more to the fatal Clooney gaffe: There's no way the publicity-shy Fincher makes that final handoff in the spotlight. Clooney might as well have picked up his phone and called Ryan Gosling in Thailand for all the good he did in giving the glasses to Fincher. And viewers would have delighted in seeing him on stage with Streep.

GEORGE CLOONEY

On all other counts, Clooney acquitted himself nicely, displaying his trademark blend of graciousness and charm. His acceptance speech mixed an affable shout-out to friend Brad Pitt's humanitarian work with a profane thank-you to Michael Fassbender to "taking over the frontal nudity responsibility that I had." His remarks were short and sweet and few would mind hearing a variation of them come Oscar night.

OCTAVIA SPENCER

Tears? Check. Surprise? Check. "Seriously nuts" and "trembling ... gonna fall off these high-heel shoes"? Endearing. Quoting Dr. King? Priceless. The shot of Melissa McCarthy crying says it all. This woman will be hard to beat, even in a year dominated by her "Help" costar Jessica Chastain.

JEAN DUJARDIN

Even though (from the look on his face) Mark Wahlberg has no idea how to pronounce his name (nice save, Jessica Biel!), Dujardin enjoyed a nice introduction to Middle America last night, delivering a clever speech that played up his nationality without resorting to Benigni-level antics. The bad news: He's still being upstaged by the dog.

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Complete Golden Globes coverage

— Glenn Whipp

Photo: Meryl Streep hoists her Golden Globe for lead actress in a motion picture drama, which she won for her performance as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." Credit: European Pressphoto Agency


Golden Globes: We predict Sunday's TV winners

January 13, 2012 | 12:46 pm

Golden Globe predictions for TV, including Claire Danes in "Homeland"

Yes, the Hollywood Foreign Assn. Press consigns its Golden Globe television nominees to the back of the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom, which means less camera time and a greatly diminished chance at getting water glasses refilled. But there's one consolation: Host Ricky Gervais probably will ignore them too.

The Globes have a long history of beating the Emmys to the punch when it comes to rewarding new shows. (Unless it's AMC's "Breaking Bad." You'd think this bunch could relate to a show about desperation.) This year, look for "Homeland" and "New Girl" to break out, unless the HFPA decides to really let its freak flag fly and go with "American Horror Show."

Following Thursday's movie predictions, here are our picks for the TV side:

TELEVISION SERIES DRAMA

The nominees: “American Horror Story,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Boss,” “Game of Thrones,” “Homeland”

The winner is … “Mad Men” ran the table for its first three seasons before “Boardwalk Empire” ended that streak last year. Now “Boardwalk” faces off against four first-year series. Among them, we’re guessing Showtime’s topical thriller “Homeland” has enough heat to knock off "Boardwalk."

Unless … All the freshman series divide voters and “Boardwalk” wins for a second season that rivaled its debut year in quality.

LEAD ACTOR TV DRAMA

The nominees: Steve Buscemi, “Boardwalk Empire”; Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”; Kelsey Grammer, “Boss”; Jeremy Irons, “The Borgias”; Damian Lewis, “Homeland”

The winner is … Cranston has never lost an Emmy in this category, but has never won a Globe. (And this is only his second nomination.) We suspect that the HFPA doesn’t want to play catch-up and goes with the Brit, Lewis, who was Globe-nominated a decade ago for “Band of Brothers.”

Unless … Voters been jonesing to give eight-time nominee and two-time winner Grammer an award since “Frasier” ended its run.

LEAD ACTRESS TV DRAMA

The nominees: Claire Danes, “Homeland”; Mireille Enos, “The Killing”; Julianna Margulies, “The Good Wife”; Madeline Stowe, “Revenge”; Callie Thorne, “Necessary Roughness”

The winner is … Danes. She's an HFPA favorite, having won twice, including a victory last year for “Temple Grandin.”

Unless … Voters go back to 2009 winner Margulies or didn’t hate the Season 1 finale of “The Killing” as much as we did.

TELEVISION SERIES COMEDY OR MUSICAL

The nominees: “Enlightened,” “Episodes,” “Glee,” “Modern Family,” “New Girl”

The winner is … “Modern Family” seems poised to end “Glee’s” two-year run.

Unless … Voters side with the ambitiously layered “Enlightened,” easily the best of this season’s new comedies.

LEAD ACTOR TV COMEDY OR MUSICAL

The nominees: Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock”; David Duchovny, “Californication”; Johnny Galecki, “The Big Bang Theory”; Thomas Jane, “Hung”; Matt LeBlanc, “Episodes”

The winner is … An odd bunch. Last year’s winner, Jim Parsons, is out, replaced by “Big Bang” co-star Galecki. No Steve Carell for his fantastic last season of “The Office”, or Louis CK, but Duchovny … again? Really? Baldwin has already won three times; HBO just canceled Jane’s show. And “Big Bang” isn’t nominated for comedy. That leaves … LeBlanc? (Really?)

Unless … They’d like to give Jane, a nominee for all three seasons of “Hung,” a nice parting gift.

LEAD ACTRESS TV COMEDY OR MUSICAL

The nominees: Laura Dern, “Enlightened”; Zooey Deschanel, “The New Girl”; Tina Fey, “30 Rock”; Laura Linney, “The Big C”; Amy Poehler, “Parks and Recreation”

The winner is … Deschanel.

Unless … Too many HFPA members overdosed on all the good cheer found in Deschanel’s “She & Him” Christmas album. Then, look to past winner Dern or Poehler.

RELATED:

Golden Globes: What do they mean for Oscars?

Golden Globes: We predict Sunday's movie winners

Golden Globes: "The Help's" director and star on film's wild ride

-- Glenn Whipp

Whipp writes the Gold Standard awards column for The Envelope.

Photo: Claire Danes stars in "Homeland." Credit: Showtime


Golden Globes: We predict Sunday's film winners

January 12, 2012 |  1:47 pm

Asa Butterfield and Jude Law in Hugo
The envelopes are in! No, no … not the ones with the round-trip airplane tickets to Italy along with directions to George Clooney’s villa on Lake Como or the ones containing passes to Super Bowl XLVI. (Thanks, Madonna! We can’t wait for the halftime show!)

We’ll leave it Ricky Gervais to make the jokes about the ins and outs of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.'s rigorous selection process. We’re interested only in the envelopes containing the winners of the 69th annual Golden Globes awards. Who will be beaming from the podium and who will be pretending to smile while being insulted by Mr. Gervais? We'll predict the movie categories today and return tomorrow with a look at the Globes' television slate.

MOTION PICTURE DRAMA

The nominees: “The Descendants,” “The Help,” “Hugo,” “The Ides of March,” “Moneyball,” “War Horse”

The winner is … : Intimate, intricate family dramas aren’t really the HFPA’s thing, which makes us think they might go with favorite son Martin Scorsese’s theatrical, Franco-friendly “Hugo.”

Unless … : HFPA members have decided to test Clooney with a challenge far greater than anything he dealt with in “The Descendants” or “Ides” -- namely, how many times can he convincingly look thrilled, overjoyed and Just Plain Happy to Be Here in a three-hour period? Current over/under line in Vegas: Six.

LEAD ACTOR DRAMA

The nominees: George Clooney, “The Descendants”; Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar”; Michael Fassbender, “Shame”; Ryan Gosling, “The Ides of March”; Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

The winner is …: Clooney. C’mon. They gave him four nominations, and this is the most logical place to honor him. (And, yes, we realize logic doesn’t always come into play with this nutty group. But since we don’t know which movie star posed for the most photos with HFPA members, humor us, OK?)

Unless …: Pitt posed for more photos.

LEAD ACTRESS DRAMA

The nominees: Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”; Viola Davis, “The Help”; Rooney Mara, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”; Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”; Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

The winner is …: Davis. It’s her year.

Unless …: HFPA voters got a warm, fuzzy feeling in their heads … er, um … hearts while watching Streep do her darnedest to humanize Margaret Thatcher. But since even Streep is out stumping for her “Doubt” costar, we think she’ll be applauding Davis from her table.

MOTION PICTURE COMEDY OR MUSICAL

The nominees: “50/50,” “The Artist,” “Bridesmaids,” “Midnight in Paris,” “My Week With Marilyn”

The winner is …: “The Artist.”

Unless …: Its writer-director Michel Hazanavicius suddenly publishes a heartfelt remembrance of all the grand times and delightful conversations he enjoyed over the years with Kim Jong Il.

LEAD ACTOR COMEDY OR MUSICAL

The nominees: Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”; Brendan Gleeson, “The Guard”; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “50/50”; Ryan Gosling, “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”; Owen Wilson, “Midnight in Paris”

The winner is …: Dujardin. It’s going to be the first of many big nights for “The Artist.”

Unless …: Gosling’s two nominations indicate that, after two previous nods, the HFPA is ready to reward him for an undeniably great year.

LEAD ACTRESS COMEDY OR MUSICAL

The nominees: Jodie Foster, “Carnage”; Charlize Theron, “Young Adult”; Kristin Wiig, “Bridesmaids”; Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn”; Kate Winslet, “Carnage”

The winner is …: Williams. You have to understand: What’s funny to you and me doesn’t necessarily make HFPA double over with laughter. Winners in this category tend to come mostly from musicals or romantic-comedies that are heavy on the drama. That would exclude the deserving Wiig, whose movie, remarkably, represented the first-ever Globe nomination for producer Judd Apatow.

Unless …: They go with Theron, as they have rewarded actresses in black comedies in the recent past (Nicole Kidman in “To Die For” and Renee Zellweger in “Nurse Betty”).

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-- Glenn Whipp

Whipp writes the Gold Standard awards column for The Envelope.

Photo: Asa Butterfield and Jude Law in "Hugo." Credit: Jaap Buitendijk/Paramount Pictures 


DGA to Fincher: Sorry about last year, can we make it up to you?

January 9, 2012 |  3:47 pm

Rooney Mara stars in David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Now let us just say from the outset that it is possible that Directors Guild of America voters simply liked David Fincher's mesmerizing way with bleakness in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" more than Steven Spielberg's shout-outs to John Ford in "War Horse." Certainly, members didn't share Fincher's sentiments that "Dragon Tattoo" might be just a tad too dark for awards consideration.

But there has to be something more to today's DGA Awards nominations that put Fincher in alongside Martin Scorsese ("Hugo"), Michel Hazanavicius ("The Artist"), Alexander Payne ("The Descendants") and Woody Allen ("Midnight in Paris"), doesn't there? DGA voters clearly dig Fincher, handing him his third nomination in four years. Of course, they haven't liked him enough to actually give him the award in this category, even last year when most had Fincher winning for "The Social Network." Could this year's nomination be viewed as an attempt to put that whole giving it to Tom Hooper thing behind them? Or could it merely be another signal of a changing of the guard? (Spielberg hasn't been nominated since 2005's "Munich" -- not that he has given voters much reason or occasion to look his way.)

Fincher won't win this year, either. But, taken with the Producers Guild nomination for "Tattoo," it is possible that both he and the movie will now show up among the Oscar anointed. More often than not, four of the five DGA nominees go on to receive Oscar nods. Figuring that Scorsese, Hazanavicius and Payne are locks and that Allen seems increasingly likely to receive his first director's nomination since "Bullets Over Broadway," the question now is: Will the DGA slate sweep in clean with the motion picture academy, as has happened twice in the past decade? Or can Spielberg slip in, aided by the academy's older sentimentalists?

A third option and, admittedly, one that with today's news and previous snubs from the PGA, Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild seems something of a pipe dream, is that academy voters will go the auteur route and nominate Terrence Malick. "The Tree of Life" has its hard-core disciples, but they are vastly outnumbered by those who hit the eject button once the dinosaurs showed up. Oscar prognosticators have long assumed that "Tree" had enough bedrock support to win nominations for picture (provided devotees slotted it No. 1 or No. 2 on their ballots), director and cinematography. Now only director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki seems a safe bet.

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 -- Glenn Whipp

Photo: Rooney Mara stars in David Fincher's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Credit: Merrick Morton / Columbia TrStar


Oscar season: Some films let you make your own ending

January 2, 2012 |  2:25 pm

Woody Harrelson in Rampart
We live in an open-ended era with question marks hovering over our lives. So maybe it isn’t surprising that a quartet of current movies conclude ambiguously, leaving their characters’ fates not on the screen but in the minds of the audience.

We spoke recently to the filmmakers in question -- those behind "Rampart," "Like Crazy," "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Shame" -- about their cryptic conclusions. Needless to say, if you haven’t seen the movies (and, really, why haven’t you?), you’ll probably want to come back to this after you’ve first formed your own conclusions.

“Rampart”

The ending: His personal life and career in tatters, Woody Harrelson’s LAPD officer Dave Brown drives silently through the night, lost in regret.

First choice or later decision: “Rampart” originally had a substantially different ending, centering on a now-removed subplot involving bad cops, gangbangers and Officer Brown. “There was a killing spree, followed by a getting-killed thing,” Harrelson says. “When [writer-director] Oren [Moverman] first showed me a rough cut, I was a little startled.”

“No. He was shocked,” Moverman says. Midway through filming, Moverman began to feel that the dynamics of Brown’s family life were becoming the core of the movie. The shootout ending, he says, felt too “routine.”

“I felt like we had the opportunity to go deeper and shed the things more familiar from genre movies and concentrate on the interior voyage we take with this character,” Moverman adds.

Leaving the door open: “That drive is clearly a metaphor for the purgatory that he’s going to be driving in for the rest of his life,” Moverman says, “no matter if the rest of his life is five minutes from now or the next 30 years.”

“Like Crazy”

The ending: Immigration issues resolved, young lovers Anna (Felicity Jones) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin) finally reunite. It’s not exactly magical. They take a tentative shower together at Jacob’s L.A. loft while the film flashes back to more innocent times. The final shot of Jacob indicates resignation but no resolution.

First choice or later decision: “We had an extra scene that was on top of that, kind of a double beat with Anna and Jacob in the loft space on opposite ends of the frame,” says writer-director Drake Doremus. “But the shower scene ended up being so strong that we just ended the film right there.”

Leaving the door open: “My favorite films have endings where the rug gets pulled from underneath you and you’re stuck dealing with your emotions,” Doremus says. “That’s what I wanted to do here. Love stories are too often tied up in a nice, neat bow, and that’s not my experience in relationships. Love is gray. They don’t have conclusive elements sometimes. This is my version of that.”

“Martha Marcy May Marlene”

The ending: Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) believes that members of her old cult have found her. She's on the way to New York with her sister and brother-in-law when their car nearly hits a man walking across the street. Is it the same, familiar-looking man that Martha saw watching her swim earlier in the day? Martha looks back. The man is still there. She’s frozen in fear.

First choice or later decision: “We never talked about anything else,” says writer-director Sean Durkin. “I never thought it would be so discussed. People always ask me what happens. And it’s pretty equally divided. Half believe she’s paranoid. Half think they’re coming to get her. We tried to give as little information as possible. I was far more interested in creating the moment and having it feel true.”

Leaving the door open: “It’s the honest way to end the movie,” Durkin says. “It takes years to recover. She’s always going to be looking over her shoulder, thinking someone’s following her. The goal was to put you in her shoes.”

“Shame”

The ending: Brandon (Michael Fassbender) spies on the subway the same sexy redhead (Lucy Walters) he noticed on an earlier commute. They again lock eyes. She seems very open to the idea of cutting her subway ride short. Do they or don’t they?

First choice or later decision: “When I came to New York to start production, I had an ending, but I wasn’t happy with it,” says “Shame” writer-director Steve McQueen. “And it was one of those things. I was always riding the subway to work every morning, and the ending just came to me. It felt right to circle back to that woman he saw at the beginning of the film.”

Leaving the door open: “Does he change or does he stay on the train?” McQueen muses. “I’m not making a Disney film where he falls into the arms of his new love and lives happily ever after. That’s just not the way it is with addiction. It’s a struggle, and I hope that Brandon fights it in some form. But I don’t know if he’ll ever recover.”

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-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: Woody Harrelson in "Rampart." Credit: Millennium Entertainment


As Oscar ballots go out, where does best picture race stand?

December 28, 2011 |  4:07 pm

Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris
What screener goes best with eggnog and leftover Christmas cookies? That’s the question academy members have been asking their families -- and each other -- while scanning the stacks of DVDs the studios have been sending them over the last several weeks.

Since (nearly) everyone’s home for the holidays and nomination ballots went out Tuesday, let’s run down the leading best picture candidates and see how they're faring as we ring out the old and ring in the new.

“The Artist”: Nomination locked. Now up to Harvey Weinstein and his awards minions to convince voters that it has enough substance to deserve a win.

“The Descendants”: It’s in, but Fox Searchlight needs to find a way to jump start interest in the film after the nominations are announced. The huge push now is to somehow land the movie a below-the-line nomination or two, particularly in the editing category. It might be a losing battle.

“The Help”: A sleeping giant. Figures to clean up at the SAG Awards with wins in drama ensemble and perhaps for actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.

“War Horse”: DreamWorks has been smartly targeting older academy voters, trotting out a huge pull-quote from roughly 186-year-old film critic Rex Reed in advertisements and playing up the film’s nods to the great John Ford. Its solid crafts work should deliver five below-the-line nominations, provided voters can relieve the ringing in their ears from John Williams’ score. And if the box-office receipts are huge, watch out.

“Midnight in Paris”: “The screener,” as one academy member puts it, “that everyone can agree on this holiday season.”

“Hugo”: Ben Kingsley’s Georges Méliès character arc moistens academy members’ eyes with as much precision as anything in “War Horse” or “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” and, arguably, in a much more honest fashion. As with “The Descendants,” its handlers need to keep it in the conversation. A Kingsley nomination would help.

“The Tree of Life”: A screener that, for many, goes the eject route right about the time the dinosaurs trample through the forest. The question remains the same: Do enough academy members love the film to put it at the top of their ballots?

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”: Not that Oscar voters necessarily care, but the reviews have been brutal. Again: Not just bad. Brutal. A bigger issue, though, lies with the child actor. The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy writes that “Thomas Horn gives an exceptional, natural performance.” But one academy member compared that “natural” performance to “having a child kick your airline seat nonstop on a five-hour flight from New York to L.A.” Natural, yes, but also deeply annoying. Or as Wall Street Journal critic Joe Morgenstern put it: “The boy is so precocious, you want to strangle him.” That, folks, is a problem, one of many for this late-arriving contender.

“Moneyball” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”: Fine movies both. But neither has much traction in the best picture category, though as other contenders stumble, perhaps they can take some small comfort in this wisdom from Brad Pitt’s “Moneyball” general manager: “When your enemy’s making mistakes, don’t interrupt him.”

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 Golden Globes: What do they mean for the Oscars?

-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." Credit: Roger Arpajou/Sony Pictures Classics


Golden Globes: What do they mean for the Oscars?

December 16, 2011 |  3:47 pm

A scene from the Artist
It’s been 15 years since Harvey Weinstein had a clear best-picture Oscar front-runner at this stage in the award season. How will he handle being the odds-on favorite with "The Artist"? And would "Seinfeld's" Elaine Benes like “The Artist” any more than she did “The English Patient”?

While we ponder those questions, let’s look at how this week’s noms from the Globe voters, Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice have changed the landscape for best picture and the other Oscar categories.

PICTURE:  Who, among the likely nominees, might best “The Artist”? Possibly “The Help,” which has a devoted following among older academy members. Maybe “Hugo,” though it won’t have a presence in the lead acting categories. “The Descendants” will have acting nominees but may be shut out in the below-the-line races. “War Horse” will soon be earning box-office ribbons, which could translate into a boost with voters.

LEAD ACTOR: George Clooney, Jean Dujardin, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio swept the Globes, SAG and Critics noms. The quartet seems on solid footing, even DiCaprio, who has transcended “J. Edgar’s” disappointing reception. Michael Fassbender and Gary Oldman rank as the leading contenders for the fifth spot, though Oldman’s blanking this week indicates trouble. Demian Bichir’s SAG nod for “A Better Life” makes a great story, but it’s unlikely he can ride the momentum to the Kodak Theatre come February.

LEAD ACTRESS: Viola Davis, Michelle Williams and Meryl Streep swept through the week as expected, and Glenn Close shored up her standing after being passed over by the Spirit Awards. After going 3-3 this week, Tilda Swinton looks good for the final spot, though one shouldn’t discount Rooney Mara, either. More academy members will be watching “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” than “We Need to Talk About Kevin” over the holidays.

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Albert Brooks’ SAG snub reinforces the notion that this category belongs to Christopher Plummer for his beautiful turn in “Beginners.” Brooks still gets in, as will Kenneth Branagh, who went 3-3 in the week’s precursors. Max von Sydow got bupkis, but it’s hard to imagine his silent turn in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” won’t connect with older academy members. And Paramount will be pushing Ben Kingsley hard for “Hugo,” knowing an acting nomination will help the film’s standing in the best picture race.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Octavia Spencer and Berenice Bejo connected with all three groups. Jessica Chastain did too and, importantly, for a single performance (“The Help”) of the many roles she had this year, which gives academy voters a clear signal. (Not that they necessarily needed it, since, as mentioned, “The Help” plays huge with this group.) Melissa McCarthy and Janet McTeer had good weeks too. That could be the final nomination group, though newcomer Shailene Woodley remains strongly in the mix.

RELATED:

2012 Golden Globes nominees

Why is Harvey Weinstein the ultimate Oscar campaigner?

Golden Globes: 6 nods for 'Artist'; 5 for 'Help,' 'Descendants'

-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: A scene from "The Artist." Credit: The Weinstein Co.


Golden Globes: Funny Woody Harrelson was 'liberated from concern'

December 16, 2011 | 12:29 pm

Woody Harrelson teases the audience that his new film Rampart has received a best picture Golden Globe nomination, when in fact, he was plugging it's opening day before announcing the nominees.
If the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. grows weary of Ricky Gervais’ act, they might want to think about bringing in Woody Harrelson as host next year.

Harrelson's self-deprecating humor at Thursday morning’s Golden Globe nominations announcement earned more laughs than any joke Gervais told during January’s ceremony. Example: When Gerard Butler finished reading the nominees for best motion picture actor drama, a list that did not include one particular actor from the fine indie film “Rampart,” Harrelson could be heard off-camera asking, “Didn’t you leave one name off, Ger?”

Then, when his turn at the podium came, Harrelson utilized the comic timing he honed during all those years on “Cheers.”

“Best motion picture drama,” Harrelson said, pausing before announcing the nominees. “ ‘Rampart’ ...  opens Jan. 27," he teased, leading the viewers to think "Rampart" had been nominated before plugging its opening. "Um … but I don’t see it on the list … there’s a lot of things left off today, I just want to say,” he went on.

Talking by phone after the nominations, Harrelson admits to feeling a little freer once he realized he wasn’t nominated.

“I was liberated from concern,” Harrelson says. “I knew I didn’t have to worry about offending anyone anymore.”

Asked about the HFPA’s oversight (“now that’s a beautiful word”) of his bad-cop thriller, Harrelson laughed. “It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t even want to get drawn into the caring about awards. It feels weird to be in competition with your fellow actors or other films. It’s just friggin’ lucky to do this. I don’t want to get into thinking that we deserve more.”

Given that he woke up at a quarter-to-four to make it to the Beverly Hilton, Harrelson sounds pretty wired during our conversation. Coffee?

“No, I don’t drink much coffee, and I’ll tell you why,” Harrelson says. “A couple of years ago, sittin’ where we live in Maui, they have this biodynamic coffee that’s as clean as it gets. So I said, ‘What the hell. It’s grown right there on the farm where we’re sitting.’ So we had some and it was about noon. And, literally, at midnight I was still bouncing off the walls. I called it a ‘happy cup.’ And I try to stay away from the ‘happy cup,’ except on special occasions.”

So what‘s the secret for his buoyant energy?

“Today I took a nap,” he says. “Coffee ain’t gonna do what a nap can do for you.”

RELATED:

Golden Globes: The complete list of nominees

Golden Globes: 'Extremely Loud,' 'Tinker Tailor' snubbed

Golden Globes: 6 nods for 'Artist'; 5 for 'Help,' 'Descendants'

-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: Presenter Woody Harrelson gives his new movie "Rampart" a plug onstage during nominations for the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Thursday. Credit: Chris Pizzello/AP


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