By Daniel Barna - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - 0 Comments
Fun facts you need to know about the 2013 Academy Award contenders
This morning the months of speculation, predictions, and odds-making came to an end when this year’s Oscar host Seth MacFarlane was joined onstage by Emma Stone to announce the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards. As expected, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln led all films with 12 nominations, making it the early favourite for a Best Picture win. But Spielberg’s dominance was just about the only thing that went as imagined this morning: snubs and surprises abound. First fun fact: For the first time in history, all the nominees in a single acting category–best actor in a supporting role– have won before. Second fun fact: Emmannuelle Riva (Amour) and Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of The Southern Wild) become the oldest and youngest Best Actress nominees ever. Academy, your playfulness this year is much appreciated. Below, five more noteworthy things we noticed about the nominees. Now let the weeks of speculation, predictions, and odds-making begin!
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 2:09 PM - 0 Comments
Last night, Kathryn Bigelow’s new film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, premiered here in Washington, DC. The theatre at the Newseum was packed with journalists, talking heads and a smattering of senators. Outside, protesters in Guantanamo Bay-style orange jumpsuits expressed their opposition to torture and the way it is portrayed in the film.
A few weeks ago, the acting head of the CIA, Michael Morell, wrote that the movie gives a exaggerated impression of the role the harsh interrogation techniques played in the hunt for Bin Laden:
The movie “creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Laden. That impression is false.”
“The truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led C.I.A. analysts to conclude that Bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. … Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques. … But there were many other sources as well.”
Bigelow, whose previous film, The Hurt Locker, about an army bomb squad in the Iraq War, won six Oscars fincluding best picture, best director, and best original screenplay, introduced the film last night by saying she had “no agenda in making this film.” Screenwriter, Mark Boal, engaged in a post-screening Q-and-A with Martha Raddetz, the ABC News reporter who moderated the vice presidential debates. (Raddetz also interviewed Chris Pratt, the actor who plays one of the Navy SEALs who raided the compound. He described the experience of filming the climactic raid scene inside a replica of the fortress-like hideout that filmmakers had built to scale on location in the country of Jordan.)
Boal told Raddetz that he was surprised by the some of the political reaction that greeted the film before it had even opened in Washington, DC. (In addition to the CIA comments, the Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating where the filmmakers got their information.) Perhaps he should not have been surprised. It’s hard to watch this gripping and suspenseful film and not come away with the strong impression that water-boarding and torture were key factors obtaining the intelligence that led to bin Laden.
The film opens with an extensive torture scene – including waterboarding – of an apparently fictional or composite detainee, described as a nephew to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Later, after his torture has ended and he has been allowed to sleep and is eating comfortably – but with the implicit threat of more abuse hanging over him – his CIA interrogators fool him into thinking that he had already began talking while under extreme sleep deprivation and had given up names that foiled a plot. They get him to relax and start talking more about his travels before his capture, including naming three other men who were with him at one point. Two of those names were familiar to the CIA already, but they third name is new; he describes the man as merely a computer guy. But this third man will turn out to be the courier who will lead the CIA to Bin Laden’s hideout. (In real life, none of the three detainees who are known to have been waterboarded gave up the courier’s name and identity.)
There is then a montage in which other detainees tell interrogators that they knew of the man, including one who says he sometimes delivered messages for Bin Laden but was just one of many couriers; it is not clear what treatment, if any, they were subjected to or even whether they were in American hands or some foreign service. Later, yet another detainee is introduced who talks freely to his interrogators because he does not want to be tortured again, he says without adding details; this detainee fills in the crucial description that the man is, in fact, Bin Laden’s most trusted courier. Yet another detainee lies about the man while being truthful about other information, which confirms that the man must be particularly important. (The rest of the hunt – learning the courier’s real name and the dogged manhunt to track him down in Pakistan — do not involve interrogations, coercive or otherwise. The CIA, for example, discovered some information about the man had been submitted by another country’s intelligence service shortly after 9/11 but had gone overlooked in its files; and used bribery, electronic surveillance, and the cell phone’s signal to hone in on their target.)
Here is a detailed New York Times report in May 2011 about the role that torture played in the trail that led the CIA to bin Laden’s trusted courier, and then to his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan:
But a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out. One detainee who apparently was subjected to some tough treatment provided a crucial description of the courier, according to current and former officials briefed on the interrogations. But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment — including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times — repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier’s identity.
In his comments after the screening, Boal portrayed the movie as ambiguous about the role of torture.
“I remember hearing that the head of the CIA had made a statement about the movie and that was a pretty intense moment… I wasn’t totally expecting that,” said Boal.
“I think there is a lot in that statement that falls in line with the movie. The movie to me portrays a lot of different techniques over the years.”
Boal called “Bigelow” “gutsy” in portraying the interrogation techniques.
“The fact that she was willing to tackle that and not shy away from that part of the story, I’m very proud of the fact that she did that. I think she did a great job of capturing some of the essence of the issues involved. We are talking about a ten year man-hunt that had hundreds if not thousands of people involved…”
Likewise, former Democratic senator, Chris Dodd, now the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, gave a full-throated defense of the film: “It’s a movie. This isn’t a documentary,” he said.
The film “celebrates the work of the people of this town, to the world and to people in this country, who don’t think anything we do very well gets done at all. This is a great moment.”
Dodd compared the movie to the film Philadelphia, which raised awareness about AIDS and To Kill a Mockingbird, which highlighted racism. The torture controversy, he argued, is irrelevant.
“The fact that we are sitting here bickering a bit about whether or not there is a scene or two in this movie which some people think captures an acknowledgement or acceptance or approval of a certain strategy I think misses the point entirely. I think for years to come this film will be a way in which an awful lot of people will recognize the incredible efforts of some remarkable Americans whose names we will never ever know and never get the chance to personally thank — and for that reason I am thankful for what they did,” Dodd said.
But it was hard not to feel as if they were talking about a different, more ambiguous movie than the one that had just been screened.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, May 6, 2011 at 11:15 AM - 3 Comments
Kathryn Bigelow’s new film reportedly focuses on the team that wound up killing the al-Qaeda leader
Kathryn Bigelow may be glad her next movie is tentatively titled Kill Bin Laden. The independent film, which Bigelow has been trying to finance and cast as a follow-up to her Oscar-winning war drama The Hurt Locker, is said to focus on one of the U.S.’s failed attempts to take out the al-Qaeda mastermind. And according to Variety, the special forces unit she focuses on is “the very team that wound up killing the terrorist leader.” Literally overnight, the project is one of the “timeliest movies in Hollywood,” writes Deadline’s Mike Fleming.
It has company, though, since other studios have Osama bin Laden ideas languishing in development hell. Paramount has the rights to Jawbreaker, a book about how the U.S. let bin Laden escape at Tora Bora in December 2001. The studio has gone through several drafts of the script, including one Oliver Stone was attached to. Paramount even considered featuring Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character in the hunt for public enemy No. 1.
Considering these projects were all developed when it seemed the U.S. would never catch bin Laden, the latest news out of Abbottabad, Pakistan, will undoubtedly alter the plots—or at least the endings. The Hollywood Reporter said that Bigelow and her Hurt Locker writer, Mark Boal, are “digesting the news and will spend the week figuring out their next move.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, March 15, 2010 at 8:45 AM - 5 Comments
How one woman crashed the boys’ club and made Hollywood history
Barbra Streisand couldn’t contain herself. It was obvious she’d been tapped to present the Oscar for Best Director because it was expected to go to a woman for the first time in history. Even before opening the envelope, she couldn’t resist gloating at the prospect, adding as a tacky afterthought that the prize might also go to the first African-American ever to win it (Precious director Lee Daniels). Then, revealing that Kathryn Bigelow had won for The Hurt Locker, Streisand placed her hand over her heart, as if heralding the dawn of a new age, and declared: “The time has come!”
That the Academy has taken such a long time—82 years—to honour a female director makes this landmark as much an embarrassment as a triumph. And there’s no small irony in the fact that the first woman to crack Oscar’s glass ceiling prefers not to brand herself a feminist filmmaker, even if she is one. Unlike the only other women ever nominated for Best Director—Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola—Bigelow makes movies that don’t promote a feminist, or even a feminine, sensibility. She specializes in action movies populated by cowboy heroes—a gang of iconic bikers (The Loveless), a clan of vampire road warriors (Near Dark), a surfing FBI agent (Point Break), a nuclear submarine captain (K-19: The Widowmaker), and a bomb squad daredevil (The Hurt Locker). Her sole action heroine, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in Blue Steel, is a rookie cop with a gun fetish who seems to have erased her gender.
Pundits had a field day with the David-and-Goliath showdown between the soft-spoken Bigelow and her often bombastic ex-husband, Avatar director James Cameron. To drive home this Hollywood fable, the six-foot, 58-year-old athletic beauty was seated conspicuously in front of the 55-year-old Cameron at the Oscars, looking many years younger—like the trophy wife who got away, and was now about to take the trophies. But this convenient fiction is as far-fetched as the notion of her as a feminist torchbearer. Bigelow, who is now dating The Hurt Locker’s Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal, 36, seems to be on excellent terms with her ex. They never expressed a discourteous word about each other during the awards campaign. And on the red carpet, Cameron cheerfully predicted she would carry the day.
By Anne Kingston - Friday, March 12, 2010 at 4:19 PM - 42 Comments
Gabourey Sidibe isn’t exactly on the road to becoming an “American Cinderella”
Howard Stern can be a nasty bastard—but he’s also often the only one willing to voice unpleasant truths others won’t. So it was this week when the Sirius shock jock unleashed a tirade against the future prospects for Gabourey Sidibe, the Best Actress nominee for her role in Precious. “There’s the most enormous, fat black chick I’ve ever seen,” Stern proclaimed the day after the Academy Awards. He went on to slam Oprah Winfrey’s tribute to Sidibe during the telecast in which she called the actress “a true American Cinderella on the threshold of a brilliant new career.” Stern was having none of it: “Everyone’s pretending she’s a part of show business and she’s never going to be in another movie. She should have gotten the Best Actress award because she’s never going to have another shot. What movie is she gonna be in?”
Stern was pilloried for being racist. He was also attacked for getting his facts wrong: Sidibe has been cast in the new Showtime comedy The C Word and the upcoming movie Yelling To The Sky, though neither are leading roles. The C Word stars Laura Linney; in Yelling to the Sky Sidibe plays a bully, which is safe to say not a role Halle Barry turned down.
On Wednesday, Stern defended his comments, taking on the role of compassionate health crusader. He compared Sidibe to his co-star Artie Lange, who recently attempted to commit suicide: “Like, I kind of don’t see a difference between what our Artie did—Artie tried to kill himself. And I feel this girl, in a slower way…she’s gonna kill herself.”
Stern being Stern, he couldn’t leave it there. He went on to deride the newcomer’s acting ability, calling her a “prop” in Precious, which suggests he didn’t see the movie or slept through it. His sidekick Robin Quivers chimed in with another inaccuracy: “You don’t have to be unhealthy to do that part,” she said. But any actress playing Precious, a 16-year-old girl monstrously abused by her parents, did have to be seriously overweight. The character’s only comfort comes from scarfing down tubs of fried chicken. Her excess flesh is not only a salient class indicator but also protective armour.
Off the screen, the 26-year-old is also creating buzz for showing no indication of signing up for a celebrity weight-loss reality show. On Oprah, she revealed she has battled her weight all of her life; it wasn’t until she was in her early 20s that she finally became comfortable in her own skin, she said. That was evident on the Oscar red carpet where she was joy to watch—exuberant, confident, loving every second, very much in the character of Precious who sustained herself with fantasies of being a celebrity. The actress ordered a camera to pan back to get her entire cobalt blue Marchesa gown in the frame and told Ryan Seacrest: “If fashion was porn, this dress would be the money shot.”
Watching, one couldn’t help wish for Sidibe to luxuriate in every second because deep-down we know Stern is right: Precious was a unique role; the odds of her transitioning into an American Cinderella—at least the Cinderella created by Disney who is slender and white—are nil in today’s Hollywood where women are valued for their youth, beauty and willingness to aspire to invisibility size-wise. “Plus-sized” or “full-figured” actresses (read: anyone over size six) have a tough enough time of it. Consider Nikki Blonsky who received high praise for her performance in Hairspray but hasn’t been heard from since. The verdict remains out on Jennifer Hudson, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Dreamgirls; she just dropped 60 pounds to play Winnie Mandela in a bio-pic.
The double-standard is so ingrained, it’s tedious: when Renée Zellweger gained 20 pounds to play Bridget Jones it was a major news story (and one suspects part of the reason she won an Oscar). Yet when Jeff Bridges packed on 25 pounds for his Oscar-winning role as washed-up country singer Bad Blake, no one asked for his weight-loss secrets. Male actors can get soft and paunchy and age and still get work—and the girl. Jack Black is allowed to play romantic lead against Kate Winslet. And nobody’s complaining that Philip Seymour Hoffman isn’t buff.
But Sidibe isn’t just “full-figured,” she’s obese—which, as Stern points out, is a hot-button topic in the U.S. and also a serious health risk. In Hollywood, morbid obesity is cheap-laugh fodder—slap a fat suit on Gwyneth Paltrow (Shallow Hal) or Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor/Norbit) and let the pathetic yucks begin. The 500-pound Darlene Cates who starred in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993 is an exception: she went on a few other roles, all of which hinged on her weight.
People went overboard rooting for Sidibe, Stern argues, “because she’s a big fat lady.” Maybe he’s right again. Consider it the Susan Boyle effect—the righteous pleasure of being so broad-minded to see that talent can come in different-sized packages. But the craving for change, evidenced in the first U.S. Black president, is deeper than that. Hollywood is taking tiny steps: Kathryn Bigelow broke through the male Best Director Oscar barrier. Meryl Streep is hotter at age 60 than she’s ever been. Helen Mirren is an inspiration. And non-stick figure Queen Latifah is playing a romantic lead in the upcoming movie Just Wright.
Fat, however, is more impenetrable, reflected in Stern mocking Sidibe’s for saying “I’m going to hit a Chick-fil-A,” a L.A. fast-food chain, after the awards. “That’s so sad,” he said. Of course, when the slender Best Actress winner Sandra Bullock expressed similar sentiment, it was heralded as a sign of how down to earth she is: “I just want to eat!” Bullock told the press room. “I just want to sit down and take my shoes off, and take my dress off, and eat a burger—and not worry that my dress is going to bust open.” Nobody, even Howard Stern, sees anything wrong with that picture.
By Brian D. Johnson - Sunday, March 7, 2010 at 7:09 PM - 23 Comments
7:08 p.m. Let the Games begin. As in Vancouver, we’re rooting for the Canadians. Which means King of the World (aka James Cameron), Jason Reitman and Ivan Reitman (director and producer of Up in the Air). And the two men behind District 9, writer-director Neill Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell.
Watching Ben Mulroney on the red carpet. Mo’Nique has just called him “brother.” Ben, you can take that to the bank. Jason Reitman has his soundbite down to a weary koan. On Up In the Air: “It’s a movie about family and it was made by a family.”
James Cameron talking to Ben about his rival, and ex-wife: “Kathryn has done a number of small films. She doesn’t play the Hollywood game.” And on the results tonight: “The tea leaves tell me that it’s going her way.”
7:13 pm: Barbara Walters’ Special. Her last special. OMG. Mo’Nique has just finished talking about the frictional specifics of being abused by her brother, and now she’s leaving Barbara Walters slack jawed by talking about how sex outside of her marriage is not a deal breaker. Next the camera moves in for a close-up of her hairy legs, as she delivers defence thereof.
7: 32 pm: We’re flicking between Barbara Wawa and Ben collaring Hollywood royalty. Ben asks George Clooney whether he gets more mileage out of an Oscar or being People’s Sexiest Man Alive. George says being sexy goes further. Ben, morphing into crazed fan, lunges at Meryl Streep as she sashays by, and she pats his microphone maternally. Media version of an air kiss. Or a polite way of saying, “Get lost.”
7:57 pm: This live blog, by the way, is coming to you from Helga Stephenson’s annual Oscar party. Helga is a former director of TIFF, chair of the recent Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival, and a global among cinephiles. Her annual Oscar soiree is always a blast. But I feel like a freak: typing at a party while watching television is perverse. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 4:49 PM - 8 Comments
Scott Macaulay tries to explain the new Oscar voting system and how it works, with quotes from economist Justin Wolfers. Wolfers also provides some follow-explanation here. The use of ranked voting, familiar to those who follow sports MVP voting, means that a movie has the potential to win even if it doesn’t get the most first-place votes.
But that doesn’t really answer the big question: should Avatar or The Hurt Locker be considered the favourite to win? No one really seems to know. Unlike the other big categories, where the winner is almost pre-ordained, Avatar and Locker have sort of been co-favourites for a while; sometimes Avatar seems to have the momentum, and sometimes it’s Locker. (If Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were alive, they would right now be playing Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron in romantic comedy about a divorced couple whose films are competing for the Oscar.) They’re different types of filmmaking, and both of them are types of movies that would, at certain times in Oscar history, be considered the likely winner. The question is not whether history will repeat itself this year, but which moment in history will repeat itself.
I reflexively think of Avatar as the favourite, because it’s a type of production that usually wins Best Picture: the long, huge-budget mega-blockbuster that “saves” the movie industry and gets the award because it’s doo too big to ignore. Winners that fall into this category include Gone With The Wind, The Sound of Music, The Godfather, and Cameron’s own Titanic. These were movies of epic length and scale that became tremendous hits (often after people thought the studio was going to lose its collective shirt on them). They combined massive popular appeal with technical finesse and a tendency to impress movie insiders: Continue…