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Category: Terrence Malick

Oscars 2012: Terrence Malick not there to see cinematography snub

February 26, 2012 |  6:04 pm

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The Oscars started off with a bit of a surprise Sunday night as "The Tree of Life" cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki lost out to Robert Richardson for "Hugo." 

At least director Terrence Malick wasn't in the house for the disappointment. The famously reclusive director didn't attend the ceremony, but for anyone wondering where he was during the telecast, his wife offered a little clue: He's reasonably close to the Hollywood & Highland Center.

"I just talked to him and he's not far away at all," Ecky Malick told The Times as she prepared to enter the theater. She wouldn't say whether the reclusive "Tree of Life" director was watching the show, but it certainly sounded like he was paying attention.

Oscars: Red Carpet | Quotes | Key Scenes Ballot | Cheat Sheet | Winners

"Tree" is also up for best picture and director Academy Awards.

Would her husband offer any kind of response if he pulled an upset and walked away with the statuette? "Your guess," she deadpanned, "is as good as mine."


Oscars 2012: Full coverage

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Timeline: Eight decades of Oscar history

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Joerg Widmer (steadicam operator) and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki work on the set of "The Tree of Life." Credit: Merie Wallace / Fox Searchlight

Oscars 2012: How will 'Tree of Life' be represented?

January 24, 2012 |  5:16 pm


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When Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” was announced as a surprise Oscar best picture choice Tuesday,  it resolved one question about this year’s telecast: One of the most audacious and polarizing movies will indeed have a spot at the Kodak Theatre.

But it raises another one — namely, who exactly will be on hand to represent the film. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it had yet to determine which producers would be eligible for the best picture prize.

According to the organization’s rules,  only three can be nominated for best picture, a rule designed to stop a cavalcade of producers all trying to grab a little credit. The academy could make an exception — according to one clause, “The committee has the right, in what it determines to be a rare and extraordinary circumstance, to name any additional qualified producer as a nominee.”

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If it keeps at the usual three, it’s likely that Bill Pohlad and Sarah Green will be two of the producers. Pohlad, who financed the film, had been developing it with Malick for about a decade, while Green is Malick’s longtime producer and close confidant.

The third slot could go to one of three people — Grant Hill, a producer who was involved with it early on; Brad Pitt, who came on to produce and then star; or Dede Gardner, Pitt’s producing partner.

Asked how it would resolved itself, Pitt said, “I’m going to defer to Dede on this one.”

Of course, it’s the academy’s opinion that matters in the end. The group has been asking producers about the relative levels of involvement, said Pohlad, and should rule shortly on whether Pitt, who also produced “Moneyball,” will get a best picture nomination. If he did,  he’d actually be put in the rare position of competing against himself in the category. (“Pancakes for everybody,” Pitt quipped when asked what that scenario would mean.)

Finally, there’s the question of Malick himself.  The filmmaker, who was nominated for director Tuesday, sat out the 1999 ceremony when his “The Thin Red Line” was nominated for best picture and even asked producers to do the same. This time, Pohlad said, there could be a change — maybe.

"I'm hesitant to push Terry to do something he doesn't like doing, but I also want him to enjoy it," Pohlad said, adding that Malick did sound genuinely happy about the nomination when the two spoke this morning. The produced added,  "Sometimes, its frustrating how removed from it he tries to keep it, but it comes from a real place. He's tried to do something original and adventurous and he wants the focus to be on that."


And the nominees are...

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

-- Steven Zeitchik, with reporting by John Horn


Photo: Brad Pitt in "The Tree of Life."  Credit: Sundance Film Festival

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

Around Town: Edgar Wright shows his stuff and aliens attack

December 8, 2011 |  5:16 am

A scene from "The Day the Earth Stood Still"

Aki Kaurismäki films, a 1950s sci-fi double feature and a program curated by Edgar Wright are among this week’s film highlights.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art shines a spotlight on the Finnish filmmaker Kaurismäki with screenings of two of his films Thursday evening. The first is 1992’s “La Vie de Bohème,” a deadpan comedy about three artists scratching out a living in Paris; the second, “Drifting Clouds” (1996), tells the story of a working-class couple trying to make ends meet after both lose their jobs.

On Saturday, LACMA will show the 1951 Hindi film “Awaara” (“The Vagabond”), directed by Raj Kapoor. A global star who died in 1988, Kapoor also produced the film and plays the lead role, a tramp who is ignorant of his upper-class heritage.

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What's the lowdown on Terrence Malick’s Ben Affleck movie?

November 1, 2011 |  7:11 pm


Terrence Malick was back in the news Tuesday when he announced two new films –- a mysterious project starring Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett titled “Knight of Cups” and an equally enigmatic one starring Bale, Blanchett and Ryan Gosling called “Lawless.

Both will shoot in 2012, and both will be seeking financing via foreign-territory sales at the upcoming American Film Market (hence the timing of the announcement). Of course, just because they shoot in 2012 doesn't mean we'll see them anytime before 2015.

But there’s a movie that will be ready before either of those, an untitled film (formerly called “The Burial”) starring Ben Affleck (who actually replaced Bale) that Malick shot right after he finished editing “The Tree of Life.” He’s tweaking the movie in the editing room now, and it's expected to be finished by next year (though that doesn't mean a distributor that buys it will bring out then).

The company selling rights to the movie, FilmNation, has been secretive, to say the least, about the details (think executives reading the script in locked offices, and the “Men in Black” amnesia-laser administered afterward). Malick’s been protective, too. Several U.S. distributors made offers just on the basis of the script and some footage, said a person familiar with negotiations. So far, he’s declined to sell it.

So what’s the movie really about?

There have been scattered reports about it, but according to a person who read the script, it’s a love triangle with an international subtext. It's also the only film Malick has ever done that's set in the same time as the period in which he's making it.

Here’s the breakdown, with the caveat that things could change drastically from script to screen (on “Tree,” Malick would sometimes rewrite scenes on the day of the shoot).

Basically, it concerns a philanderer (Affleck) who, feeling at loose ends, travels to Paris, where he enters a hot-and-heavy affair with a European woman (Olga Kurylenko). Said Lothario returns home to Oklahoma, where he marries the European woman (in part for visa reasons). When the relationship founders, he rekindles a romance with a hometown girl (Rachel McAdams) with whom he's had a long history.

According to the person who read the script, there's a bit of a happier ending than some other Malick movies (or at least a less ambiguous one than at the end of “Tree”). And a person who saw the footage said there's also the trademark visual showiness--shots of Affleck and McAdams in Malick's trademark man-in-nature style--as well as intriguing supporting actors: Javier Bardem, for instance, plays a priest whom Affleck’s Lothario visits for advice.

The more accessible dramatic premise makes one think Malick could be heading to a commercial place, at least by Malick standards. Also helping the film's prospects is the overall visibility of the director's work: After bringing out just four Malick movies in 35 years, he now can churn out three films in just a couple of years. We still wouldn't count on any interviews, though.


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--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams in the new Terrence Malick movie. Credit: FilmNation

Cosmic cinema: The science of Malick's 'The Tree of Life'

August 31, 2011 |  5:46 pm


The massive, luminous balls of gas in Terrence Malick’s cosmic family drama “The Tree of Life” were a lot of work.

And besides Sean Penn, the special effects were tricky too.

"The Tree of Life," which centers on a Texas family in the 1950s and stars Penn, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, contains a long, dialogue-free chunk that deals with some of the enigmas of the universe. Malick relied on a network of about 30 scientists to help him depict with authenticity such ambitious astronomical scenes as the Big Bang, a fly-through of the Milky Way galaxy and an asteroid crashing into Earth that may have lead to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

“We wanted to make sure the decisions we were making were as scientifically accurate as they were beautiful,” said Nick Gonda, a producer of “The Tree of Life.” “A lot of this has become possible as a result of years of research taking place in sometimes windowless rooms. As filmmakers we can collaborate with those scientists and celebrate what is now possible to experience, the mystery of the unknown and the infinite.”

“The Tree of Life” is just one of several recent films rich with outer space imagery and cosmic themes, including “Apollo 18,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Another Earth,” an issue explored in greater depth in Thursday’s newspaper.

Malick tapped researchers at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) to create animated simulations based on data collected by astrophysicists. Prior to Malick’s film, the widest audience for that research were readers of Astrophysical Journal.

The filmmaker also used imagery obtained by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which was then cleaned up and dimensionalized by visual effects artists at Double Negative in Britain, and incorporated works by New York-based artist Michael Benson, who crafts raw data from space probes into cinematic images.

“A movie is an opportunity to inspire curious thinkers, to contribute to something that might inspire a 12-year-old to think about space,” Gonda said. “While it doesn’t directly push forward the core research, it has the opportunity to inspire in a way that makes them read textbooks in the first place, a pursuit of that knowledge.”

“The Tree of Life” Blu-ray, which includes a 30-minute documentary about the making of the film, will be released Oct. 11.


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 Cannes 2011: Finally, the end of secrets on Terrence Malick's 'The Tree of Life'

--Rebecca Keegan


Photo: The Helix Nebula as seen in “The Tree of Life.” Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Is Sean Penn right about Terrence Malick--or just bitter?

August 22, 2011 | 10:52 am

Sean Penn didn't do many, or really any, interviews at the time that "The Tree of Life" was released this spring. Now we know at least one reason why: He isn't a big fan of the movie.

Breaking his silence on the Terrence Malick opus, Penn told the French paper Le Figaro that he didn't connect with the movie, in which he has a supporting role as a spiritually haunted man wandering both a cold metropolis and an ethereal beach.

"I didn’t at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I’ve ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact," he told the paper, according to New Yorker blogger Richard Brody.

And then, in the capper: "Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context. ... Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly."

It's rare for any actor not named Shia LaBeouf to diss his own film, much less an Oscar-winning actor (though judging by reader reaction on various sites, Penn has some supporters out there).  And his comments play in sharp contrast to many other actors who've worked with Malick, from Sissy Spacek to Penn's "Tree" costar Brad Pitt, who've come to embrace the auteur on a professional and personal level and even feel protective of him. (Pitt said as much when we interviewed him in Cannes.)

On the other hand, Penn's comments aren't that surprising. When we talked to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki earlier this year, he said that Penn, perhaps because of his background as a director, was more thrown than the other actors by Malick's unconventional way of shooting.

And as Brody points out, Penn may have a little bit of a reason to be bitter: The film didn't allow for the kind of submerge-yourself-in-the-character performance that Penn loves. In fact, it didn't even really allow for speaking.

Whether Penn's riposte comes off as honest or sour grapes probably turns on whether you feel "The Tree of Life" is a masterpiece or a naked emperor, a subject about which there's been no obvious consensus.  Still, it does make one thing clearer: When Penn in the film convinces us he's tormented and annoyed, he may not have had to act that hard.


Cannnes 2011: Brad Pitt and 'The Tree of Life' gang defends Terrence Malick's absence

What Terrence Malick's 'The Tree of Life' is actually about

'Tree of Life' cinematographer: It was like no set I've ever worked on

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Sean Penn in "The Tree of Life." Credit: Fox Searchlight

What does the climactic scene in 'The Tree of Life' mean (and why does it evoke the final episode of 'Lost')?

June 28, 2011 |  5:17 pm

[Spoiler alert: This post discusses the meaning of a key scene in "The Tree of Life." If you've not  seen the film, read at your own peril.]

For filmgoers who've seen "The Tree of Life," there's perhaps no scene as intriguing as the climactic one, in which the O'Briens (Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn and the kids) as well as others reunite on a windswept beach. Of the many water-cooler moments in Terence Malick's existential drama, it's probably the one that's most often argued about. Are the characters alive? Dead? Is it the future? Heaven? Or is the scene just something that's unfolding in the mind of Penn's Jack O'Brien?

Fox Searchlight, which released the Malick movie, last week convened a number of religion and academic experts in Los Angeles to discuss the film and the meaning of several scenes, including that final one. (They didn't always agree.) What follows is a rundown of a few of their interpretations on that beachside reunion. Please leave your impressions below.

Dr. Robert K. Johnston, professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. Citing Malick's Episcopalian background, Johnston sees the scene as a product of the Episcopalian belief that the afterlife makes things that are broken whole again. "Part of the ability to process pain ... comes from the experience that the world is whole again.... That's what Malick is saying. He's going back to his Episcopalian tradition. Black, white, poor and rich, we will be together again [in the afterlife]."

David Wolpe, conservative rabbi, Sinai Temple. Mentioning the end of the ABC television series "Lost," another beach-heavy piece of entertainment whose finale featured a reunion of characters who might or might not be dead, Wolpe said he saw the final scene as a way of contextualizing (if not explaining) human suffering. "God couldn't [explain] suffering in Job, and Malick couldn't do it in 'Tree of Life.' What [God and Malick] can give us is a moment of beauty ... [a chance] to escape your corner of the universe."

Sister Rose Pacatte of the Pauline Center for Media Studies. For her, the beach was a representation of a bridge between this world and the afterlife, a "lean imagining," she said, and "a metaphor of crossing over." Water, which figures heavily in that scene, is an ideal image to symbolize the crossing over because it represents the creation of life in Catholic theology.

But perhaps the most resonant description of the beach scene came from Scott Young, executive director of the university religious conference at UCLA. "I'm not sure I have an interpretation for the end of the film," he said.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Sean Penn in "The Tree of Life." Credit: Fox Searchlight.

Five ways 'Tree of Life' can go

May 31, 2011 |  5:13 pm

Few were surprised when crowds packed into theaters in New York and Los Angeles this past weekend to see "The Tree of Life." Terrence Malick's movie about morality and mortality had an insanely high level of buzz coming in, and culture-vultures were invariably going to rush out on opening weekend.  As my colleague Amy Kaufman reports, they did --about 35,000 of them, according to our informal calculation.

But successful niche openings can spell disappointment as much as it can spell mainstream success.  In the coming weeks, the Brad Pitt-Jessica Chastain drama will roll out to hundreds of theaters, and in places with far less of a cinema-going tradition than the country's two largest cities. How will it fare? Here are five movies the "Tree" release could emulate, and the likelihood that it will follow a difficult or a hospitable path (or, yes, the way of nature and the way of grace).

"Black Swan": A film that defies categorization goes on to become a cultural phenomenon, spoofed on late-night television and discussed at seemingly every cocktail party. The film also improbably  tops $100 million at the U.S. box office.
Likelihood: The Natalie Portman ballet drama had sexiness and horror elements. "Tree"? Not so much.

"127 Hours:" Strong performances and striking natural imagery  generate a lot of ink and awards talk. But after the hard-core film fans turn up, the mainstream is daunted by it, and the movie never really breaks out of the art-house ghetto.
Likelihood: "Tree" seems to stand on this precipice; a few shots in the film even evoke "127." But
for all the goodwill Danny Boyle generates, Malick exists on a different plane with many filmgoers, which should help.

"Midnight in Paris:" Woody Allen's recent hits ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona," "Match Point') have taken between $20 and $25 million -- a number that lies somewhere between art-house specificity and mainstream commerciality. His new one seems to be heading in that direction. Could "Tree" too?
Likelihood: It's curious that two films so different -- one a whimsical entertainment and the other a heavy meditation -- are becoming the two independent hits of the season. In fact, so far their per-theater averages are almost identical. "Tree" could yet be seen as the more serious piece of art and lap "Midnight" -- or be seen as the darker of the two and fall short.

"Elephant:" A movie from an acclaimed American auteur with an impressionistic vibe wins the Palme d'Or and has the press breathless, but goes on to attract only the most hard-core cinemagoers.
Likelihood: The big limited-opening suggests that "Tree" is at least over this hump. (It's reached nearly half of the "Elephant" box-office total already.)

"The Thin Red Line": Malick's most successful release to date generated scads of Oscar nominations and a very solid $36 million in domestic box office.
Likelihood: "Tree" is garnering stronger reviews and is arguably more of a conversation piece -- but a film combining midcentury angst and the beginning of earthly life is not quite as digestible a genre as a World War II movie.


'Tree of Life' and 'Midnight in Paris' are independent hits

'The Tree of Life' is no easy sell

What Terrence Malick's 'The Tree of Life' is actually about

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "The Tree of Life." Credit: Fox Searchlight 

What’s next for Terrence Malick after 'The Tree of Life'?

May 27, 2011 |  6:12 pm

His new movie is coming out this weekend, but hard-core Terrence Malick fans always want to know what's next for the director, even if he himself doesn’t always know.

Malick has finished shooting his new film, a drama once titled “Burial” and now without a title. Starring  Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Olga Kurylenko, its contents have been shrouded in mystery, as is typical for a  Malick project.

What is known: It’s a love story, and it uses some of the same radical slice-of-life production techniques used on “Tree.” One person who worked on the film described it as even more experimental, in fact. It’s also the first film Malick has made that’s not in period, which should make for a switch for viewers used to his visions of throwback America.

There’s no U.S. distributor yet for the Affleck movie, but one person who saw a few minutes that are being shown to foreign buyers said that the meditativeness for which Malick is known is there in spades. There was no discernible story or a voice-over in the footage, but shots of Affleck and McAdams in Malick's trademark man-in-nature style.

Of course, given the gaps between Malick’s movies, the big question is when the 67-year-old’s new  project will reach theaters. There were at least two sets of reshoots that had the actors flying back to a Paris location after the production was complete, suggesting an elaborate, Malickian level of tinkering.

But compared with "Tree," whose haul of effects bogged down the production, Malick's sixth project has considerably fewer visual arabesques. And Malick himself may have offered the biggest clue as to when his new movie might be ready: He has told members of his production team to keep the summer and fall open for a possible shoot of yet another film –- which means he expects to be finished with this one in a matter of months.


Image from new Terrence Malick movie hints at his 'Blue Valentine' moment

Finally, the end of secrets on Terrence Malick's 'The Tree of Life'

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams in the untitled Terrence Malick film. Credit: Film Nation


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