It’s the time of year when the number of potential contenders has dwindled to a precious few, and Oscar watchers tick them off one by one: “The Irishman” at the New York Film Festival in late September, “Little Women” on Oct. 23, “Dark Waters” on Oct. 28, “Richard Jewell” at the AFI Fest in November, “1917” at some indeterminate time after that… This week saw one more box get checked — Jay Roach’s “Bombshell,” the story of the fall of Fox News’ Roger Ailes that shouldn’t be confused with the 2018 documentary “Divide and Conquer” or “The Loudest Voice,” the Showtime miniseries starring Russell Crowe as the influential but disgraced Fox maven.
Roach’s version, which screened for the first time on Sunday, first for a SAG audience and then for a mixture of guilds, press and tastemakers at a swanky Pacific Design Center soiree, got awards folks excitedly buzzing for its focus not on Ailes (played by John Lithgow) but on the newswomen he was accused of harassing: Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron, also one of the film’s producers), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and a fictional composite who in this telling goes by the name of Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie).
All three actresses are clearly in the awards race, though Kidman may suffer from having a supporting role that’s not quite as meaty as Robbie’s. (In Best Actress, Theron is a potential rival to Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland for the win.) This is the movie that asks a simple question: Will Hollywood liberals vote for a movie that asks them to think of Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson as heroines because they stood up to the repulsive Ailes? Will the spirit of #MeToo trump (no pun intended) the natural distaste much of the Academy has for everybody who’s ever had anything to do with Fox News? Maybe.
By the way, TheWrap was amused to find that in a particularly heated scene in the Fox newsroom, as Carlson’s charges against Ailes are starting to get attention, somebody shouts, “Have you seen TheWrap?” At the reception afterwards, Roach told Sharon Waxman he didn’t know how that line got in the shooting script.
On Monday, the day after the “Bombshell” unveiling, the Oscar category formerly known as Best Foreign Language Film and now retitled Best International Feature Film kicked off 47 nights of screenings in 57 days with a double bill of Brazil’s “Invisible Life” and Lithuania’s “Bridges of Time.” Attendance at the first few screenings, which are divided between the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills and the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood, was reportedly on the sparse side, but there’s lots of time left for things to pick up: A full 93 films are in contention, the most ever in the category.
As the screenings began, of course, one question hung over the entire field: Can anything possibly beat South Korea’s entry, Bong Joon Ho’s Palme d’Or winner “Parasite”? And the question became more pointed considering that the official Oscar screenings launched the day after a weekend in which “Parasite” set a box office record for the highest per-screen average of any film not in English.
I suspect that the answer is no, nothing can beat “Parasite” if the film lands key nominations outside the international-film category, particularly if it is nominated for Best Picture and/or Best Director. If it doesn’t have that imprimatur of quality, who knows? Oscar voters in the category can be notoriously unpredictable and sometimes timid in their choices, and “Parasite” is a bold and unnerving film.
“The Painted Bird”
Speaking of bold and unnerving… I’ve seen 21 of the international 93 entries so far, starting with “Les Misérables,” “Atlantics,” “Pain and Glory,” “The Whistlers,” “Parasite” and “Homeward” back at the Cannes Film Festival in May. And I have to say, voters had better be prepared, because two of the entries I’ve seen in the last week are among the most brutal filmgoing experiences I’ve had in a long time: the Czech Republic’s entry, Vaclav Marhoul’s near three-hour adaptation of the Jerzy Kosinski novel “The Painted Bird,” and Russia’s “Beanpole,” by young director Kantemir Balagov.
“The Painted Bird” is set during World War II, and follows a young Jewish boy who wanders through Eastern Europe and quietly suffers unspeakable horrors at the hands of almost everyone he encounters; “Beanpole” is set in a ravaged Leningrad just after the war, and contains two lengthy scenes — one of death, one of sex — that are almost unendurable. Both films are gorgeous to look at, both are extremely powerful and it wouldn’t surprise me to see one or both end up on the short list, but they are not easy to sit through.
Here’s what is easy to sit through: “Rocketman.” I saw it in Cannes but revisited it on Tuesday night on the Paramount lot, where the studio tried to jog voters’ memories by holding a screening and a Q&A and reception with director Dexter Fletcher, actors Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell and Bryce Dallas Howard, lyricist Bernie Taupin and Elton John himself.
The audience of guilds and guests loved the actors but went nuts for Sir Elton, who of course dominated the Q&A, charmed everybody and relentlessly plugged his just-published memoir. (When they tried to get him to talk about how horrible his mother was to him, he kept saying, “Read the book.”) Elton went out of his way to praise Fletcher and Egerton and said he would not change one frame of the film — which is saying something, considering how mercurial and insane the movie makes him out to be.
One night is not going to push “Rocketman” into the thick of the awards race, but hope springs eternal for Egerton and for the new song Elton and Bernie wrote for the end credits. (And for those costumes, of course.) If I didn’t find the film quite as winning the second time around, I had fun with it again and credit Fletcher and crew for their very smart choice to make it a full-fledged musical fantasy in which people break into song and the chronology is creative, to say the least. Every time I felt the urge to nitpick — He didn’t do “Crocodile Rock” at the Troubadour, and the door’s on the wrong side of the room! “I’m Still Standing” was written before he went into rehab, not after!! — I had to acknowledge that I was being silly, because this wasn’t supposed to be how it happened but how it felt.
It was a busy week for Elton, who appeared at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Monday night for Brandi Carlile’s wonderful performance of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album. (Egerton was there, too, as was Mitchell herself.) And then on Thursday, he was back in action at the Greek Theatre, where he and Egerton performed “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” after a screening with live orchestral music.
We’re still a few weeks off from the time when new nominations will be announced almost on a daily basis, but the Critics Choice Association — what used to be the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association — announced its fourth annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards this week. I’ve never quite trusted a group of film critics and writers for television, radio and online outlets to keep their fingers on the pulse of nonfiction filmmaking — and I say that as a member of the group and a former member of its nominating committee — but they do provide a look at what docs are getting through to mainstream voters.
And in a year without the doc hits that we saw last year — there’s no “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” or “Free Solo” or “RBG” or “Three Identical Strangers” — you can cross-reference the CCDA, the recent IDA Awards short list and the DOC NYC list of the likeliest awards movies to come up with a decent overview. On that basis, the docs with the most heat are “American Factory,” “Apollo 11,” “The Biggest Little Farm,” “The Cave,” “Honeyland” and “One Child Nation” — though I think that might be slighting “Maiden,” “For Sama,” “Diego Maradona,” “The Edge of Democracy” and “Knock Down the House,” among others.
Also of note, the Critics’ Choice nominating committee became the first to nominate or short-list “Rolling Thunder: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese” as a documentary, which I suppose is easy to do if you’re not paying attention to how much of the time Scorsese and the people he puts on screen are lying to you or trying to mislead you. I’ve gotten flak for saying this before and I’ll probably get more for saying it again, but here goes: It’s a great, wildly entertaining movie, but it’s not a documentary and it shouldn’t be getting doc awards or nominations.
But hey, the quote on the front of the “Rolling Thunder” awards screener that Netflix sent out says “A BRILLIANT ROCK DOC” in all caps, and the Academy’s Documentary Branch has put it on their voters’ streaming site and made it required viewing for 20 percent of the branch. So what do I know?
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www.thewrap.com | 10/18/19
IFC Films has acquired the U.S. rights to “The Painted Bird,” a Holocaust drama starring Stellan Skarsgård, Harvey Keitel and Udo Kier that played at Venice and Toronto earlier this year, the distributor announced Tuesday.
“The Painted Bird” is directed, written, and produced by Václav Marhoul (“Tobruk,” “Smart Phillip”) and is based on the novel by Jerzy Kosinski. The foreign language drama will be the official Oscar submission from the Czech Republic. IFC Films is planning a theatrical release for 2020.
The film was praised on the festival circuit for its bleak, unsparing look at Holocaust atrocities and evil, but the nearly three-hour saga, all in black and white on 35mm film, also prompted walkouts among moviegoers and split some critics.
“Marhoul’s film isn’t shy about the steady stream of ugliness, and that’s likely to turn away the terror-sensitive, and yet its immersive aesthetic also allows for the visually poetic and compassionate, even if those moments are few and far between,” TheWrap’s Robert Abele wrote in his review from Venice.
“The Painted Bird” stars Petr Kotlár, Udo Kier, Lech Dyblik, Jitka ?van?arová, Stellan Skarsgard, Harvey Keitel, Julian Sands, Aleksey Kravchenko, and Barry Pepper. The story follows the journey of The Boy at the end of World War II as he’s entrusted by his persecuted parents to an elderly foster mother. The old woman soon dies, and the Boy is on his own, wandering through the countryside, from village to village, farmhouse to farmhouse. As he struggles for survival, The Boy suffers through extraordinary brutality meted out by the ignorant, superstitious peasants, and he witnesses the terrifying violence of the efficient, ruthless soldiers, both Russian and German.
The film is a Silver Screen production in co-production with Czech Television, Directory Films, Radio and Television Slovakia, Certicon Group, Innogy, PubRes, Monte Rosso Production, with producer Václav Marhoul and co-producers, Eduard Ku?era, Milada Ku?era, Igor Savychenko, Vladimír Ma?ík, Karel Kraus, Zuzana Mistríková, ?ubica Orechovská, and Richard Kaucký. The film was supported by the Czech Film Fund, Slovak Audiovisual Fund, Ukrainian State Film Agency, and Creative Europe – MEDIA.
“‘The Painted Bird’ is a brilliant cinematic achievement with a fiercely accomplished cast to match. We’re incredibly proud to bring such a monumental film to audiences across the country,” Arianna Bocco, EVP of acquisitions and productions of IFC Films, said in a statement.
“IFC Films is committed to providing thought-provoking and challenging films, and this is a prime example of maintaining this core mission and continuing our legacy for nearly 20 years now,” Lisa Schwartz, co-president, IFC Films said in a statement.
“We are delighted to be working with IFC again. Their curation is extremely astute, and they have unparalleled expertise with important, provocative movies. We look forward to this new adventure and to American audiences responding to a 21st-century masterpiece. We are also grateful to Federica Sainte-Rose at CAA for her support throughout the festival and sales circuit this fall,” Hengameh Panahi, president of celluloid creams and VP Charlotte Mickie said in a statement.
“I am extremely gratified that IFC has acquired ‘The Painted Bird.’ They have demonstrated a deep, sensitive understanding of the message of the movie, which is so important in today’s volatile world. I deeply believe the movie’s advocacy of tolerance, fellow-feeling and community must reach American audiences. IFC will make that happen,” Marhoul said in a statement.
The deal for the film was negotiated by Arianna Bocco of IFC Films with CAA Media Finance and Celluloid Dreams on behalf of the filmmakers.
News of the acquisition was first reported by Variety.
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www.thewrap.com | 9/24/19
Students at the American Film Institute lead the way for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s annual Student Academy Awards.
The Academy named 16 students as winners on Thursday, including three in the narrative category from AFI. The competition received 1,615 entrants from 255 domestic and 105 international colleges and universities, the Academy said.
AFI was the only school to take more than one award. AFI students Asher Jelinsky (“Miller & Son”), Hao Zheng (“The Chef”) and Omer Ben-Shachar (“Tree #3,”) took home awards in the narrative category. Last year, the University of Southern California was the only school to take home more than one award, with four.
Winners of the Student Academy Awards are eligible to compete for Oscars in the Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film or Documentary Short Subject category. Past winners have gone on to nab 62 Oscar nominations and have won or shared 12 awards.
The 2019 winners join the ranks of such past Student Academy Award winners as Patricia Cardoso, Pete Docter, Cary Fukunaga, Spike Lee, Trey Parker, Patricia Riggen and Robert Zemeckis.
Here’s the full list of winners:
Alternative/Experimental (Domestic and International Film Schools)
Animation (Domestic Film Schools)
Animation (International Film Schools)
Documentary (Domestic Film Schools)
Documentary (International Film Schools)
Narrative (Domestic Film Schools)
Narrative (International Film Schools)
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www.thewrap.com | 9/12/19
The television series “Mrs. Fletcher,” “Briarpatch” and “Limetown” have been added to the lineup at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, which will screen two or three episodes of each series followed by extended Q&As with the creators and cast.
Those three U.S. series will be part of TIFF’s Primetime section, which will also showcase the international series “Black Bitch” (Australia), “Savages” (France) and “The Sleepers” (the Czech Republic).
“Mrs. Fletcher” is an upcoming series from HBO and Crave, based on the Tom Perotta novel and starring Kathryn Hahn as an empty-nest mother. “Briarpatch,” from USA Network, stars Rosario Dawson as a political fixer investigating the death of her sister. And Facebook Watch’s podcast-based “Limetown” follows a public radio journalist (Jessica Biel) looking into the disappearance of 300 people at a research facility.
Toronto organizers also announced the lineup for its five-day TIFF Industry Conference, which will launch on September 6 with a conversation with director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer, whose collaborations include the TIFF opening-night documentary “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band.”
The conference will also include master classes with Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles and Chinese-born director Lulu Wang; a conversation about gender equality led by Swedish Film Institute CEO Anna Serner; and guest speakers including Edward Burns, Barbara Kopple, Franklin Leonard and Alan Berliner.
The TIFF Doc Conference, curated by Thom Powers and Denae Peters, will include talks and panels featuring Kopple, Berliner, Kickstarter’s Elise McCave, Showtime’s Vinnie Malhotra, the International Documentary Association’s Claire Aguilar and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Ashley Clark, among others.
Finally, TIFF named four young actors – Argentina’s Chino Darin, Norway’s Josefine Frida, the United States’ Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Australia’s Geraldine Viswanathan – to its Rising Stars program. The four join a quartet of previously announced Canadian Rising Stars, Mikhail Ahooja, Shamier Anderson, Kacey Rohl and Nahema Ricci.
Darin will appear at TIFF in “Heroic Losers,” Frida in “Disco,” Harrison in “Waves” and Viswanathan in “Bad Education.”
The 44th Toronto International Film Festival will kick off on September 5 with a screening of the documentary “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band,” and conclude on September 15.
Additional information on the programming is available at www.tiff.net.
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www.thewrap.com | 8/15/19