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Category: The Tree of Life

Emmanuel Lubezki wins top cinematographers honor

February 13, 2012 | 10:30 am

Emmanuel Lubezski, won the American Society of Cinematographers' outstanding achievement award in feature film for "The Tree of Life"

Emmanuel Lubezski, who has already earned a lion's share of honors this season for his cinematography on Terrence Malick's family epic, "The Tree of Life," added another accolade Sunday evening when he won the American Society of Cinematographers' outstanding achievement award in feature film.

Others nominated were Guillaume Schiffman for "The Artist," Jeff Cronenweth for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," Robert Richardson for "Hugo" and Hoyte van Hoytema for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."

It was the second ASC award for Lubezki. He previously won five years ago for "Children of Men."

In the one-hour episodic TV category, Jonathan Freeman won his second ASC award in a row for HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," while Michael Weaver was the recipient of the first half-hour TV episodic award for Showtime's "Californication." Martin Ruhe won in the TV movie/miniseries category for PBS' "Page Eight."

Special honors were also handed out at the 26th ASC Awards, presented during a ceremony at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland: Harrison Ford received the ASC Board of Governors Award; the Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Dante Spinotti ("Manhunter," "L.A. Confidential"); William Wages ("Riders of the Purple Sage") was given the Career Achievement in Television Award; and the ASC Presidents Award was bestowed on Francis Kenny ("Heathers").


It was "all or nothing"

Movie preview: "The Tree of Life"

-- Susan King

Photo: A scene from "The Tree of Life." Credit: Merie Wallace / Fox

Madonna's Oscar pick: 'The Tree of Life'

January 28, 2012 |  7:00 am

"The Tree of Life," which collected three Oscar nominations Tuesday, has a high-profile advocate in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — Madonna. 

In an interview from her Sunset Boulevard home, which appears in Sunday's paper, the singer spoke about her new movie as a director, "W.E.," her nervousness about her upcoming Super Bowl  performance and the sounds she's mining on her new album, "MDNA." Amid her many projects, Madonna, who is a member of the academy in the actor's branch, said she does make time to watch the screeners Oscar voters receive and had selected a top choice.

" 'Tree of Life' is stunningly beautiful. That’s my favorite," Madonna said. "I think it’s a spiritual, deeply profound movie. My mouth was hanging open the entire time I was watching it."

"W.E.," which Madonna co-wrote with Alek Keshishian, tells the story of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), the American divorcee for whom Britain's King Edward VIII (James D'Arcy) famously abdicated the throne in 1936.

As a filmmaker, Madonna said she is inspired by the singularity of vision reflected in "Tree of Life" director Terrence Malick's nonlinear drama starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Madonna's ex-husband, Sean Penn. The film, which chronicles the origins of the universe and a 1950s Texas family's tragic loss, was nominated for Oscars in the categories of best picture, director and cinematography. 

"[Malick] really does make the movie he wants to make," Madonna said. "It’s completely and utterly authentic. And I feel like he really is channeling something without anybody else’s input. No one’s saying he should do that, he shouldn’t do that. He gets amazing performances out of his actors."

For more on Madonna, see this photo gallery and this interview in Sunday's paper.



Madonna spills on her movie, album and Superbowl plans

Toronto 2011: Madonna says she has auteur dreams 

Madonna: A life in pictures


— Rebecca Keegan


 Photo: Madonna on the set of "W.E." Credit: Anthony Souza/The Weinstein Co.


Oscars 2012: Brad Pitt won't face himself in best picture race

January 27, 2012 |  5:15 pm

Tree of Life
Brad Pitt can relax—he won’t be competing against himself in the best picture race. At least, not as a producer.

The actor already has been nominated as a producer of “Moneyball,” in which he stars, but on Friday the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did not include Pitt as one of the four credited producers on the best picture selection “The Tree of Life,” in which he also stars.

When Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday morning, the academy said the “Tree of Life” credits had not been finalized. When the film was released theatrically, five producers were listed in its credits: Pitt, his business partner Dede Gardner, director Terrence Malick’s longtime collaborator Sarah Green, financier Bill Pohlad and Grant Hill, a veteran of Malick’s “The Thin Red Line.”

The academy, following standards set by the Producers Guild of America, typically limits best picture nominees to no more than three producers, a consequence of the producer stampede when 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love” won the top Oscar statuette.

The academy’s producers branch, working in collaboration with its executive committee, said “The Tree of Life” represented a "rare and extraordinary circumstance” in which four producers could earn a credit. The academy determined that Gardner, Green, Pohlad and Hill would be eligible to collect the trophy should “Tree of Life” win.

When the nominations were announced, Pitt said he would be happy if Gardner was the sole representative from their company, Plan B Entertainment. “It’s a great problem,” he said of the potential of facing himself. “Pancakes for everybody.”


Oscar nod a tall order for short films

PHOTOS: 84th Academy Awards nominees

Pixar’s awards hopes may lie with its short film, not ‘Cars 2’

--John Horn

Photo: Brad Pitt in "The Tree of Life." Credit: Merrie Wallace/Fox Searchlight.



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

January 24, 2012 |  5:16 pm


Click for photos of the top nominees

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.”

PHOTOS: Oscar nominees react

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...

PHOTOS: 84th Academy Awards nominees

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

'The Artist,' 'The Tree of Life' among ASC cinematography nominees

January 11, 2012 |  8:37 am


Robert Richardson received his 10th nomination Wednesday morning for the American Society of Cinematographers feature film award for "Hugo." Among his previous nominations were 1989's "Born on the Fourth of July" and 1994's "The Aviator."

Jeff Cronenweth, who was nominated last year for the ASC Award for "The Social Network," earned another nod for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." And Emmanuel Lubezki, who has already won numerous critical honors for "The Tree of Life," picked up his third ASC nomination for the Terrence Malick epic. He won the award five years ago for "Children of Men."

Rounding out the nominees are two newcomers: Guillaume Schiffman for "The Artist" and Hoyte van Hoytema for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."

The 26th annual American Society of Cinematographers Outstanding Achievement Awards will be given out Feb. 12 at a ceremony at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland.


'Inception's' Wally Pfister wins the American Society of Cinematographer's Top Film Award

 -- Susan King

Photo: Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain in "The Tree of Life." Credit: Merie Wallace / 20th Century Fox

Jessica Chastain wins L.A. Film Critics Assn. award

December 11, 2011 | 12:11 pm

Tree of life chastain
The L.A. Film Critics Assn. has started handing out its annual awards Sunday morning. Here’s a look at the first five categories it has chosen winners in so far.

Best supporting actress: Jessica Chastain, who was recognized for her work in six films -- "Coriolanus," "The Debt," "The Help," "Take Shelter," "Texas Killing Fields" and "The Tree of Life."

Runner-up: Janet McTeer, "Albert Nobbs."

Best supporting actor: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners."

Runner-up: Patton Oswalt, "Young Adult."

Best cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Tree of Life."

Runner-up: Cao Yu, "City of Life and Death."

Best music/score: The Chemical Brothers, "Hanna."

Runner-up: Cliff Martinez, "Drive."

Best production design: Dante Ferretti, "Hugo."

Runner-up: Maria Djurkovic, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."


What will win the LA film critics' top award?

National Board of Review names 'Hugo' best picture

New York critics name 'The Artist' best film of the year

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: Jessica Chastain and Tye Sheridan in Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life." Credit: Merie Wallace/Fox Searchlight 

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.

Continue reading »

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.


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

First footage of Terrence Malick's 'The Tree of Life' exceeds expectations

 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.


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