Monday, February 26, 2007

Honorary Oscars® at Gala - Morricone and Lansing

Composer-conductor Ennio Morricone, who has composed more than 300 motion picture scores over a 45-year career, was voted an Honorary Award by the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last December. The Oscar statuette, was presented at the 79th Academy Awards® Gala, 25 February 2007, by Clint Eastwood for "Morricone's magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music.” Eastwood translated into English as Morricone read his acceptance speech in Italian.

Morricone has never received an Oscar, although he has earned five Academy Award nominations for original scores, DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978), THE MISSION (1986), THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987), BUGSY (1991) and MALẺNA (2000).

It was fitting for the Oscar presentation was made by Eastwood, long associated with Morricone and director Sergio Leone in the so-called "spagetti westerns." Born in Rome, Morricone was hired in 1964 by Leone and began a long collaboration with him, although Morricone's career has spanned most film genres from comedy and romance to horror.

The bulk of his work has been on Italian films, including THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY; A FISTFULL OF DOLLARS; ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA; and CINEMA PARADISO. Yet, Morricone has composed memorable scores for such international titles as BULWORTH; IN THE LINE OF FIRE; LA CAGE AUX FOLLES; and TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA. Due for a 2008 release is his current project, LENINGRAD.
More about Morricone.

Also, the Board of Governors voted to honor Sherry Lansing, the former chairman of Paramount Communications Motion Picture Group, and first woman to head a major movie studio, with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
Tom Cruise presented the golden statuette at the gala. The Hersholt Award is given to an individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.

Lansing helped Dr. Armand Hammer form the nonprofit organization Stop Cancer and serves on its board. She is on the board of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, founded to honor excellence in basic and clinical science, and is a trustee of the American Association for Cancer Research. In addition, she serves on the Citizens’ Oversight Committee of the California Institute for Stem Cell Research, on the American Red Cross Board of Governors Advisory Committee and is a trustee of the Carter Center, the human rights organization formed by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn. She also serves as a regent of the University of California.

A graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Lansing got her feet wet in Hollywood as an actress, a career she quickly abandoned for production. She joined Talent Associates as an executive in charge of development in 1974, moving to MGM in 1975. Two years later, she became vice president in charge of production at Columbia Pictures.

She was named president of 20th Century-Fox Productions in 1980, and in 1983 formed Jaffe-Lansing Productions with Stanley Jaffe. After Jaffe was appointed president of Paramount Communications in 1990, Jaffe-Lansing Productions disbanded, and Lansing became chairman of the Motion Picture Group in 1992. Viacom became the parent company of Paramount Communications in 1993 after a hostile takeover fight with Barry Diller.

Under pressure from Viacom's Chief Executive Sumner Redstone, she resigned that position when her contract expired in 2000. While at Paramount, Lansing was responsible for the studio's biggest hit, FORREST GUMP, among others.
More about Lansing.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Actors, Director, and Best Motion Picture Oscars®


I apologize that I will be unable to make a more evaluative post concerning these categories. We had bad storms for over 24 hours, which cut into my time on the computer the last couple of days. Here are some of my picks. I'll justify them later, if I must. Okay?

For best performance by a lead actress in a motion picture: Helen Mirren for THE QUEEN, winner of a Golden Globe. Period.

For best performance by a lead actor in a motion picture: Forrest Whitaker, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, winner of a Golden Globe. Ditto.

For best supporting actor or actress in a motion picture: This is one I never try to call, and that's especially true this year. The Academy has the habit of picking a newcomer here and all but Cate Blanchett (NOTES ON A SCANDAL) are in that sphere in the supporting actress category. There are two nominations from BABEL, a best motion picture nominee. A win for either Adriana Barraza or Rinko Kikuchi could bode well for BABEL as best motion picture, but not necessarily. Then, there's LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE'S Abigail Breslin, the youngest nominee this year, and that gives her an edge. A win for her could bode well for a best picture win for SUNSHINE. Not to be left behind is DREAMGIRLS' Jennifer Hudson, whom many consider a shoo-in.

In the supporting actor category, look early on to see if either of the veterans Alan Arkin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) or Mark Wahlberg (THE DEPARTED) win. A win here could bode well for either of these candidates for best motion picture, but not necessarily.

The favorite here is Eddy Murphy from DREAMGIRLS. Yet, it seems to me that he had more screen time performing than acting. We'll see. The two unknowns are Jackie Earle Haley (LITTLE CHILDREN) and Djimon Hounsou (BLOOD DIAMOND).


I have seen BABEL(Alejandro González Iñárritu), THE DEPARTED (Martin Scorsese), and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Directors are nominated for the first two, but not for SUNSHINE. Also, the directors for LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (Clint Eastwood), and THE QUEEN (Stephen Frears) are nominated. PAN'S LABYRINTH (Guillermo del Toro) is nominated in the best foreign-language motion picture category.

I've only seen the directing in BABEL and THE DEPARTED. In my opinion, Scorsese's direction is miles above Iñárritu's. Get the bonus disk for THE DEPARTED. The interview "Scorsese on Scorsese" is not to be missed.

THE AVIATOR was not his best work but with THE DEPARTED Scorsese is back doing what he does best. This time, he's walking the Mean Streets of Boston with the Irish Goodfellows. He's my pick to win.

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) named Scorsese the Best Director for THE DEPARTED. Although Scorsese has been nominated by the Guild seven times, this is his first win. He received a lifetime achievement award in 2003. This year marks Scorsese's sixth Oscar nomination for best director, which he has never won. Fifty-one of the last 57 DGA winners have gone on to win best director Oscars, and many of the movies they directed have won best picture awards.

If Scorsese doesn't win? I may never follow the Academy Awards® again.


By now you should know the nominees in this category. I have only seen three. Two of those were disappointments.

BABEL is too slow and contemplative for my taste. It's a good premise. A Japanese businessman gives his hunting guide from a Muslim country a high-powered rifle as a gift. The recipient sells it to a goat herder, who turns it over to his two young sons. The younger foolishly shoots at a tour bus, wounding a young American woman. This sets in motion actions that will devastates five families in four countries, including the family of the Japanese man. The moral? We are all connected on Planet Earth. However, overall, the movie doesn't jell.

I also feel that LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE doesn't jell, either. The movie is great in the beginning, but it falls apart when the family reaches its destination at the beauty pageant. The stereotypes at the event, and outlandish action of the family members during the talent competition are both over the top.

As for LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, what the heck is this film in Japanese doing being nominated in this category? Okay, they are throwing flowers at Eastwood, a favorite son. However, it is totally a foreign-language film. Can't judge this movie, or THE QUEEN, as I have seen neither.

That brings me back to THE DEPARTED, which won the DGA award. In light of not having seen all the nominated movies, I can't pick one, but I will be disappointed if either of the other four win. Can't help it. You see, I'm mainly Irish, but I have a wee bit of I-tie blood, too. I get this movie!

This category is a 52-card pickup. Toss the cards and see which one hits the floor first.

Well, it's time to prepare the snacks, chill the wine and get dressed for my party tonight. Hope everyone has a very enjoyable evening!

Songs, Scores, Performers for Tonight's Oscar® Gala


Beyoncé, Melissa Etheridge, Jennifer Hudson, Randy Newman, Keith Robinson, Anika Noni Rose, and James Taylor are set to perform this year’s Oscar®-nominated songs on the 79th Academy Awards® show tonight, telecast producer Laura Ziskin announced late last week. In case you haven't heard, the host is Ellen DeGeneres. To read my post about DeGeneres, click my Archive for September 2006 on the right sidebar.

Three nominated songs from DREAMGIRLS will be sung. Beyoncé will sing “Listen” (music by Henry Krieger and Scott Cutler, lyric by Anne Preven). “Love You I Do” (music by Henry Krieger and lyric by Siedah Garrett) will be song by Jennifer Hudson. “Patience” (music by Henry Krieger and lyric by Willie Reale) will be sung and performed by Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, and other cast mates.

“I Need to Wake Up” from the documentary feature AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH will be sung by Melissa Etheridge, who also wrote the music and lyric for the nominated song.

Randy Newman wrote both the music and lyric for "Our Town," nominated from the animated feature CARS, and he will perform with singer-guitarist James Taylor. Newman also composed the score for CARS.


First of all, you can read about, and listen to, excerpts from all five nominated scores from the features BABEL, THE GOOD GERMAN, NOTES ON A SCANDAL, PAN'S LABYRINTH, and THE QUEEN at There you can also read excellent evaluations by NPR's movie-music expert Andy Trudeau. So, go there first, but please come back.

When I attended film school, two things about film scores were drummed into our heads:

1. The score should not overpower the visuals, dialog, and story. If the viewer keeps noticing it, then it is not a good score.
2. The score should stand alone as a unique musical composition, allowing it to be performed in concerts.

Based the second criteria, Gustavo Santaolalla's score for BABEL should be disqualified. I noticed it more than a few times, too. Second strike. It is unique, so that may give it some extra points.

Thomas Newman's score for THE GOOD GERMAN captures the big orchestrations in the Hollywood scores of the golden age with enough variations to ward off the copycat label. It can definitely stand alone as a composition but since I haven't seen the film, I must wonder about it being intrusive. Yes, he is the son of Alfred, the famous film-score composer, but Thomas has his own track record, including the score for AMERICAN BEAUTY.

Composer Philip Glass's score for NOTES ON A SCANDAL? Well, Philip Glass is Philip Glass, is Philip Glass, is Philip Glass. Even a rank amateur listener can discern a Glass composition. To me his music gets monotonous but Trudeau says that in NOTES Glass actually reaches moments of crescendo when there should be a crescendo to match the action of the movie. I did notice more contrast. I'm not sure I would go all the way with Trudeau's statement, "The result is a soundtrack brimming with melodic writing and a moody oboe theme." With those crescendos and melodic moments, the score is not as boring as his earlier works. Nonetheless, it is still somewhat sedate.

As to Alexandre Desplat's score for THE QUEEN, Trudeau says it is a score with many levels, which manages the movie's transitions between pomp and lightheartedness. Since I haven't seen the film, or heard much of the score, there it rests.

Trudeau says that Javier Navarette's score for PAN'S LABYRINTH, is a "rich, intimate score that walks the delicate line between fantasy and horror." Navarette has been composing in Spain for 20 years. His work is well known there and in Europe, but this is his first exposure in the U.S.

Since I have some knowledge of Spanish music and scores for Spanish movies, I've listened to some of this score, and I think the musical references in the score are excellent, especially the overarching theme of the lullaby, a rich tradition in Spanish music. I may have a bias here, but I'm going to choose this score as my favorite. I think it has an excellent chance of winning.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2006 will be presented tonight, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®. The Oscars® will be televised live by the ABC Television Network at 5 p.m. PST (8 p.m. EST), beginning with a half-hour red carpet arrivals segment, “The Road to the Oscars.”

Friday, February 23, 2007

Foreign Language Features in Oscar® Race

The nominees are:

Algeria, DAYS OF GLORY (Indigènes), Rachid Bouchareb, director.

Canada, WATER, Deepa Mehta, director.
Denmark, AFTER THE WEDDING, Susanne Bier, director.
Germany, THE LIVES OF OTHERS, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director.
Mexico, PAN'S LABYRINTH, Guillermo del Toro, director.

All of the above are set during WW II, or relate to it in some way, save one, WATER, which is the only one I have seen. Before you continue, please read my post of 2 February.

Did that? Now, you are back? Good. Proceed.

Lets look at the country list again, this time noting the countries that have received a nomination, and/or have received a win since the category began with the 29th Academy Awards in 1956:

Algeria - 3 nominations, 1 win
Canada - 3 nominations, 1 win
Denmark - 6 nominations, 2 wins
Germany - 6 nominations, 1 win
Mexico - 6 nominations, 0 wins

Just in case you are interested, the top six countries nominated have been:
France - 34 noms, 9 wins
Italy - 27 noms, 10 wins
Spain - 19 noms, 4 wins
Sweden - 14 noms, 3 wins
Japan - 11 noms, 0 wins
U.S.S.R. - 9 noms, 3 wins

Statistics aside, the front-runner in this competition is without a doubt Guillermo del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH. Yet, when it comes to the Academy, the voters who must see all five nominated films to vote in this category seldom favor movies with magical, or surrealistic qualities. They tend to prefer their foreign-language movies served straight-up - strong linier story, simple, emotional, nostalgic, beautifully filmed, well acted, no frills. The final choice also depends upon how many females and males vote in the final round.

PAN'S LABYRINTH (Mexico, Guillermo del Toro, coping in Franco's rural Spain, 1944, WW II.) definitely has identity problems. A.O. Scott, wrote in the New York Times that Pan's Labyrinth, ". . . is a political fable in the guise of a fairy tale. Or maybe it's the other way around. Does the moral structure of the children's story - - with its clearly marked poles of good and evil, its narrative of dispossession and vindication - - illuminate the nature of authoritarian rule? Or does the movie reveal fascism as a terrible fairy tale brought to life?"

Here's the biggest irony. A Mexican making a film about Spain with a subject that still stirs mixed emotions within Spaniards. Because I can't see this film, I can only surmise that del Toro is bringing forward the works of Buñuel, Borau, Erice, Saura, and so many others of the New Spanish Cinema.

I have seen all of their movies. Yet, none of these directors were ever honored in this category, except for Luis Buñuel. He won for his French language version of THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOSISE (1972), nominated by France. Considering more irony, despite a number of nominations, Spain first won and Oscar in this category in1982 for TO BEGIN AGAIN, ten years after that award to Buñuel for a "French" movie.

PAN'S LABYRINTH, a Mexican/Spanish/USA co-production, swept the Spanish Goya Awards. Mexico has never won a foreign language Oscar®. It is overdue. Perhaps this is Mexico's year. PAN'S LABYRINTH is also nominated for: Original screenplay (Guillermo del Toro), achievement in art direction, achievement in cinematography (Guillermo Navarro), achievement in makeup, achievement in music - original score (Javier Navarrete from Spain), 6 nominations over-all.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Germany, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Cold War), working with and against the East German D.D.R.'s STASI toward the end of the Cold War is considered the movie that will give PAN the biggest competition. However, neither movie won a Golden Globe. That honor went to a movie that should have been in this category for the Oscars but couldn't be, because there is no mechanism in place in the U. S. to submit a foreign language movie made by an American to the Academy. I am referring to LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, Clint Eastwood director.

Will someone found an AMERICAN ACADEMY OF CINEMATIC ARTS in the U.S.A.? In this time when the Academy is going more international, we need another Academy in the U.S. to champion U.S. movies. An Academy that equally honors various genres in American cinema, and can nominate to AMPAS® in this category. Listening, George Lucas?

But, I digress.

WATER (Canada, Deepa Mehta), a film about India, with Indian actors, in two Indian languages plus some English is the third main contender. This movie portrays the treatment of widows in India in the 1930's, 175 years after India’s former colonial rulers outlawed sati, an ancient Hindu practice whereby a widow is obligated by law to burn herself alive on her husband’s funeral pyre. There are documentations of this practice in rural areas as late as last December, but this movie does not go there. Instead, it deals with the practice of disenfranchising widows in all areas of their lives by sending them away to live in poverty under the care of Hindu nuns, or whatever they are called.

WATER's director, a female, was born in Indian but has been based in Toronto, Canada, for most of her life. She began filming in India around 2001. It was immediately shut down, the set dismantled and thrown in the Ganges River, because Hindus considered it dangerous to the Hindu religion. It was finally filmed in Sri Lanka, and is the bookend to two of her previous movies FIRE and EARTH, completing the trilogy.

This film is a long shot in this category, but it has all those things voting Academy members like: a cause, made under difficult conditions, beautiful cinematography, excellent editing, handsome actor (John Abraham) and beautiful lead actress (Lisa Ray) both of Bollywood fame, exotic locale, great love story, linier, simple, emotional, and nostalgic with a social conscience. If more women members vote in this category in the final round, its chances are enhanced.

I would vote for this one. Sorry, PAN'S fans, but I think WATER is excellent. If the votes for either of the leaders from Mexico and Germany are not overwhelming, WATER's chances are enhanced. When, and if, I see PAN, I reserve the right to amend my choice and offer a mea culpa.

As to the other two? Well, I don't know enough about either to vote for or against. They are: AFTER THE WEDDING (Denmark, Susanne Bier, after WW II), A manager of an orphanage in India is sent to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he discovers a life-altering family secret; and DAYS OF GLORY (Indigènes, Algeria, Rachid Bouchareb, WW II), Four North African men enlist in the French army to liberate that country from Nazi oppression, and to fight French discrimination.

Good luck in making your decision!

Nicholson, Streep to present at Oscars®

Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, each holding the record for most Academy Award® nominations by actors in their respective categories, will join Oscar® winner Philip Seymour Hoffman as presenters on the 79th Academy Awards, telecast producer Laura Ziskin announced today. Also announced as presenters: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Downey, Jr., Greg Kinnear, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts, Gael Garcia Bernal, Emily Blunt, Catherine Deneuve, former Vice President Al Gore, James McAvoy, and Jerry Seinfeld.

Previously listed in the post of 22 February:
Ben Affleck, Jessica Biel, Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell, George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kirsten Dunst, Will Ferrell, Jodie Foster, Eva Green, Tom Hanks, Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Diane Keaton, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Tobey Maguire, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, Rachel Weisz, Kate Winslet, and Reese Witherspoon.

Once PricewaterhouseCoopers has tabulated the votes, the winners’ names will be placed in sealed, foil-lined envelopes. Only two people at PWC will know the results before the envelopes are opened onstage Oscar Night®, Sunday, 25 February, lead partners Brad Oltmanns and Rick Rosas. 5,830 final ballots were mailed to voting members of the Academy on Wednesday, 31 January.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2006 will be presented this Sunday night at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®. The Oscars® will be televised live by the ABC Television Network at 5 p.m. PST (8 p.m. EST).

The evening begins with a half-hour arrivals segment, "The Road to the Oscars®," before the start of the presentation ceremony at 5 p.m., PST. Film historian, television host, and Hollywood Reporter columnist Robert Osborne will once again serve as the Academy's red carpet celebrity greeter. Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley will be the voice of fashion, and Allyson Waterman will interview the various celebrities.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Animated and Doc Features in Oscar® Race

Animated Features -

I have seen two of the animated features nominated for an Oscar, CARS and MONSTER HOUSE. I was not impressed with MONSTER HOUSE, getting bored within the first half. If I had young children, I would not let them see it.

No offense to HAPPY FEET. I haven't seen it, so I can't judge it, but after seeing the American heart and soul contained in CARS, I think it will be the winner. It did win the Annie Award as best animated feature. At any rate, I would vote for it, and not having seen HAPPY FEET makes no difference.

Once I saw CARS, the deal was sealed. The setting is the small town of Radiator Springs on the famous old Route 66 after the Interstate has bypassed the town. As a consequence, the town sank into despair and depression. When a hot-shot race car named Lightning McQueen gets waylaid in Radiator Springs, the town cars, with McQueen's help, find a cause, which helps them gain back their self esteem through collective positive action, and they help McQueen find the true meaning of friendship and family. There's nothing more American than that!

Also, unlike the characters in MONSTER HOUSE, the cars are downright loveable. In the viewer's mind they grow almost human during the course of the movie, each one keeping "his/her" individual behavior characteristics throughout.

Documentary Features -

I have seen three out of the five documentary features nominated for an Oscar, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, JESUS CAMP, and MY COUNTRY, MY COUNTRY. Therefore, I can only judge these three. They all deal with strong, often controversial subjects.

The first - the environment, effects of global warming, and Al Gore. Just remember, the threat is real and it is here today! When there is no Planet Earth, there will be nothing.

The second - indoctrination of innocent children by fundamentalist evangelical Christians (here, Pentecost). Their elders use fear and other abusive tactics to warp their young minds. Child abuse in the name of relgion.

The third - the negative impact upon one Iraqi family in Baghdad during the first election after the U.S. invaded, and the gradual demise of the Sunni father's idealism as he runs for a political office, facing life-threatening odds. Filmmaker Laura Poitras actually lived with an Iraqi family for over seven months, documenting the routine and the horror of their everyday lives.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL is about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. Sorry, seen several of these. It, too, addresses child abuse in the name of relgion.

IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS is about the situation in Iraq. I'm not sure of the time frame, or the actual subject matter, except that it contains stories from modern day Iraq as told by Iraqis living in a time of war, occupation and ethnic tension.

It behooves me as to why the Academy nominated two documentaries about Iraq. Why didn't they do as they did when confronted with two Spanish language features for the Best Foreign Movie, pick the one they thought was better? Well, it seems the Academy today is not a standout when logic is involved.

I am sure that the front runner here is AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. I would vote for it. It is possible that those who are anti Al Gore will vote for one of the other four, but I think the Academy members on the whole support this documentary and that for which it stands. So, I think it will be the winner.

Click the movie titles to read more about these feature films.

Presenters at 79th Academy Awards®

UPDATE - 22 February - Academy Award®-winning actress Jodie Foster is slated to be an Oscar presenter, and has been added to the following.

So far, the following presenters have been announced for Sunday's gala: Ben Affleck, Jessica Biel, Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell, George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kirsten Dunst, Will Ferrell, Jodie Foster, Eva Green, Tom Hanks, Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Diane Keaton, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Tobey Maguire, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, Rachel Weisz, Kate Winslet, and Reese Witherspoon.

See previous posts for more details about the telecast.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

BERLINALE prizes awarded at jaded festival

The Bears were awarded today at the 57th International Berlin Film Festival, and some question the continued virility of the Festival. But, first, the awards:

TUYA'S MARRIAGE (Tu ya de hun shi) from China received the top prize, the Golden Bear for Best Film. It was chosen from among 22 competitors in competition at the festival by a seven-member jury led by TAXI DRIVER screenwriter Paul Schrader. The other jury members were: Hiam Abbas, Mario Adorf, Willem Dafoe, Gael García Bernal, Nansun Shi, and Malene Stensgaard.

Director Wang Quan'an's movie follows the troubles of a young farming woman in fast-changing China. It stars Yu Nan as Tuya, a herdswoman in Inner Mongolia trying to resist pressure to leave her pastures and move to the city as China's industry expands. She seeks a man who can help her look after her sick husband and two children. Director Wang Quan'an and producer Le Wang accepted the Bear. The other Chinese movie at the festival, LOST IN BEIJING (Ping Guo) and directed by Li Yu, screened too late to generate any buzz.

The Silver Bear for the Grand Jury Prize went to Argentina's EL OTRO (The Other), directed by Ariel Rotter.

Silver Bears for acting went to Argentina's Julio Chavez as Juan in EL OTRO, and Germany's Nina Hoss for her role as the heroine of the film's title, YELLA, directed by Christian Petzold.

U.S.-born Israeli director Joseph Cedar won the Silver Bear for best director for BEAUFORT, which takes place in an outpost in southern Lebanon ahead of Israel's withdrawal from that country in 2000.

The Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution 2007 was awarded to the ensemble cast of Robert D Niro's THE GOOD SHEPHERD.

French director Francois Ozon's ANGEL made its world premiere as the Festival's closing film.

As to the Festival being jaded, "Berlin film festival fails to reel in the critics," was the header for a Reuters' news release written by Mike Collett-White late in the Festival in which he quotes A. O. Scott, New York Times, as writing, "The 57th Berlinale might best be thought of as an average festival." Scott went on, to say that Berlin, once a bastion of serious cinema, has become "something bigger, more varied and perhaps less distinctive."

For instance there are critics who argue that some of the best films in Berlin this year were outside the main lineup, and wondered whether festival director Dieter Kosslick had shied away from incendiary topics. Collett-White mentions one such film, THE LARK FARM, a drama depicting the tragedy of a family almost wiped out in the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915. According to him, this could have been this year's FAHRENHEIT 9/11 at the Berlinale.

Turkey continues to deny allegations by Armenia and others that 1.5 million Armenians died in systematic genocide at Turkish hands. Critic Peter Zander of the German newspaper Die Welt (The World) wrote, "The film comes at precisely the right time -- after the murder of the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and threats against the Turkish Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk . . . It would have been a highlight of the Berlinale, perhaps the most important film of the year. But it's not in the main section. Perhaps they wanted to avoid the big controversy. How unfortunate."

I went to the Berlinale when it was held in the summer. They moved it to February, the Berlin Wall came down, and I no longer had an appetite to attend. Also when I went, Germany was still divided. The Festival was the showcase of East German and Eastern European movies, showing at least twice as many movies as they do today. It was a fantastic opportunity to see wonderful films that I could never see in the U.S. because of State Department restrictions, and dance the night away at the U.S.S.R.'s party.

The festival has grown rapidly in recent years, now mainly spotlighting Hollywood glamour-types and art-house films. This year, they had an agreement with Sundance to feature the top movies shown at the Sundance International Film Festival and, of course, to attract the stars of those movies. I have followed this Festival since the late 1970's, and have watched the Festival's slide. I agree that it is now an average film festival. What made it unique is gone. As we approach the end of this decade, the "old gal" ain't what she used to be. Sad.

That said, the Festival this year had some films, besides the winners, from which you will hear more this year:

IRINA PALM, starring British singer and actress Marianne Faithful; Germany's YELLA; the French biopic Edith Piaf, LA VIE EN ROSE; Germany's THE COUNTERFEITERS, based on a real Nazi plot to disrupt Britain's wartime economy by flooding it with counterfeit banknotes made by Jewish craftsmen in a concentration camp; Brazilian director Cao Hamburger's THE YEAR MY PARENTS WENT ON VACATION, about the country's military dictatorship seen through the eyes of a boy; as well as two French films, WITNESSES (Andre Techine, director) about the start of the AIDS epidemic and Jacques Rivette's DON'T TOUCH THE AXE, a version of a Balzac novella.

For more, click the link for my Film Festival Page on the right sidebar, or click the title of this post.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Final Oscar® Ballots Due by 5 p.m. Tuesday

Voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are reminded the Post Office will be closed this Monday, 19 February, for Presidents Day. Since they must return their completed final Oscar ballots to PricewaterhouseCoopers before 5 p.m. Tuesday, 20 February, California voters should post them today or tomorrow. New York voters better get overnight delivery now, if they have not yet done it. Ballots received after the 5 p.m. deadline will not be counted.

I remember receiving a call, at what was then Price Waterhouse, from actor Richard Crenna the day after the ballot deadline. He said his secretary had failed to mail his ballot, he had just discovered it, and asked if he could send it by courier immediately. I told him, as politely as possible, that the deadline had passed, and there were no exceptions to the rule. He understood, just thought he would give it the old college try.

Once PricewaterhouseCoopers has tabulated the votes, the winners’ names will be placed in sealed, foil-lined envelopes. Only two people at PWC will know the results before the envelopes are opened onstage Oscar Night®, Sunday, 25 February, lead partners Brad Oltmanns and Rick Rosas. 5,830 final ballots were mailed to voting members of the Academy on Wednesday, 31 January.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2006 will be presented that night at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®. The Oscars® will be televised live by the ABC Television Network at 5 p.m. PST (8 p.m. EST).

The evening begins with a half-hour arrivals segment, “The Road to the Oscars®,” before the start of the presentation ceremony at 5 p.m., PST. Film historian, television host, and Hollywood Reporter columnist Robert Osborne will once again serve as the Academy's red carpet celebrity greeter. Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley will be the voice of fashion, and Allyson Waterman will interview the various celebrities.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Banderas' SUMMER RAIN in Berlinale

Antonio Banderas
I was in Spain, including Malaga, the summer of 1978, traveling, studying and teaching Spanish Cinema for the University of Southern California (USC). It was my first time in Spain, and I was struck by the repression lingering after the death of Francisco Franco in 1975. It was everywhere. At that time, movies were concerned with two subjects: religion and sex, in that order. However, it wasn't overt sex. Everything was cloaked, including criticism of the church. Yet, they were already taking open potshots at Franco.

There was no love lost between the new King Juan Carlos and the late dictator, although Franco had picked Juan Carlos as successor. The new king was already easing Franco's fascistic fist that controlled Spanish society.

I went back three years later. Censorship had been lifted, and the order of movie themes had definitely reversed. Most of the films dealt with sexual repression. Oh, my, titillating sexual images were on display everywhere, especially in the movies.

Now, someone who was there at the same time and experiencing this enormous change has made a movie about it. SUMMER RAIN, (El Camino de los Ingleses, Spain, 2006), directed by Antonio Banderas, had its world premiere at this year's Sundance International Film Festival, and will screen at the Berlin Film Festival. RAIN is set in Malaga, Spain, in the late 1970's as Spain emerges from the almost four-decade dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

During a news conference at the Berlinale, talking about SUMMER RAIN and his life in Malaga, the AP reported that "Banderas, 46, recalled being laughed at for wanting to be an actor. 'The 70s were years in which they actually didn't allow me to dream — not only in a political context but in my family, even my friends. What I remember being in Malaga at the time, very strongly was the complex of inferiority that we had.' "

I first saw Banderas in Carlos Saura's LOS ZONCOS (The Stilts, 1984), during another time in Spain. Then, I saw MATADOR (1986) at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in 1987. I remarked to my companion, "Wow! If Banderas can speak English, he can be a huge international star." He didn't at the time, but he learned, and broke out in the U.S. market in the 1992 THE MAMBO KINGS as one of the Castillo brothers. It was his first English-language movie and in it he did it all -- act, sing and dance. Hollywood noticed!

Pedro Almodóvar is given credit for discovering Bandares. Actually, he didn't, but he gave Bandaras his first starring roles in the 1986 MATADOR and 1987 La Ley del deseo (LAW OF DESIRE). Both screened in the U.S., and were well received.
In 1999, Banderas directed his first film, CRAZY IN ALABAMA, and then returned to acting in SPY KIDS and THE LEGEND OF ZORRO. With SUMMER RAIN, he returns to his Spanish roots.

This movie, based on a novel by Banderas' childhood friend Antonio Soler who also cowrote the screenplay with Banderas, follows the lives, loves and dreams of a group of teens growing up in the Mediterranean resort still impacted by fascistic repression, especially sexual repression. The cast: Victoria Abril, Alberto Amarilla,Raúl Arévalo, María Ruiz, Juan Diego, Félix Gómez, and Fran Perea.

See post of 27 January for more details about SUMMER RAIN, and click the links on the right sidebar for my Film Festival Page and Spain/Cinema page. Note: I cannot explain why the movie's English title is SUMMER RAIN when the Spanish title literally translates to THE ENGLISH ROAD. Hu-u-u-um.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Oscar's "Shorts" to Show in NYC

Prior to the 79th Academy Awards® show, New York moviegoers will have two opportunities to see all ten of this year’s Oscar®-nominated films in the Animated and Live Action Short Film categories on Saturday, 17 February.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences annual “Shorts!” program will be presented 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. at the Academy Theater in New York City.

Robert Osborne, Hollywood Reporter columnist, host of Turner Classic Movies, and official biographer of the Academy Awards, will host. The 2006 Animated Short Film and Live Action Short Film nominees are:

Short Film (Animated) and director(s) - -
“The Danish Poet," Torill Kove, director;

“Lifted,” Gary Rydstrom, director;
“The Little Matchgirl,” Roger Allers, director;
“Maestro,” Geza M. Toth, director;

“No Time for Nuts,” Chris Renaud and Michael Thurmeier, directors.

Short Film (Live Action) and director - -
“Binta and the Great Idea,” Javier Fesser, director;
“Eramos Pocos,” Borja Cobeaga, director;

“Helmer & Son,” Soren Pilmark, director;
“The Saviour,” Peter Templeman, director;
“West Bank Story,” Ari Sandel, director.

Tickets for “Shorts!” are $5 for the general public, $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. All seating is unreserved. Reserve tickets by calling 1-888-778-7575. Depending on availability, tickets may be purchased the day of the screenings. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. The Academy Theater is located at 111 East 59th Street in New York City.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2006 will be presented Sunday, February 25, 2007, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live by the ABC Television Network at 5 p.m. PST (8 p.m. EST), beginning with a half-hour arrivals segment, “The Road to the Oscars.” Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley, and Allyson Waterman will co-host. Talley will be the voice of fashion, and Waterman the main interviewer for the Oscar® red carpet arrivals segment.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Foreign Language Motion Picture Nominees

Nominees for the Best Motion Picture in a Foreign Language for 2006, listed by country with director:

Algeria, DAYS OF GLORY (Indigènes), Rachid Bouchareb;

Canada, WATER, Deepa Mehta;
Denmark, AFTER THE WEDDING, Susanne Bier;
Germany, THE LIVES OF OTHERS, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck;
Mexico, PAN'S LABYRINTH, Guillermo del Toro.

Other foreign-language movies that made the final cut for possible nomination but were not nominated, listed in alphabetical order by country with director:

France, AVENUE MONTAIGNE, Daniele Thompson;
Spain, VOLVER, Pedro Almodovar;

Switzerland, VITUAS, Fredi M. Murer;
The Netherlands, The Netherlands, BLACK BOOK, Paul Verhoeven.

Nominated Best Motion Picture in a Foreign Language for 2006, listed by title and with some detail:

AFTER THE WEDDING (Denmark, Efter brylluppet), Susanne Bier, director / co-writer A manager of an orphanage in Denmark is sent to Copenhagen, where he discovers a life-altering family secret.

DAYS OF GLORY (Algeria, Indigènes), Rachid Bouchareb, director / co-writer. During WWII, four North African men enlist in the French army to liberate that country from Nazi oppression, and to fight French discrimination.

PAN'S LABYRINTH (Mexico, El Laberinto del Fauno), Guillermo del Toro, director / writer / producer. A young girl travels with her pregnant mother to live with her mother's new husband in a rural area of northern Spain in 1944. Franco's fascist repression is at its height in Spain and the girl must come to terms with it through her imaginary world. This movie is NOT for children.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Germany, Das Leben der Anderson), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director / writer). This is Von Donnersmarck's debut movie, which focuses on the horrifying, sometimes unintentionally funny former East Germany, set in the 1980s.

WATER (Canada), Deepa Mehta, director / writer. The plight of a group of widows forced into poverty at a temple in the holy city of Varanasi. It focuses on a relationship between one of the widows, who wants to escape the social restrictions imposed on widows, and a man who is from a lower caste and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.

Mimi Comments - -

LABYRINTH reminds me of Spanish director Victor Erice's THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, (El Espíritu de la colmena, 1973) in which two young sisters, also in Franco's rural Spain of the 1940s, set out to find the Frankenstein monster after a traveling picture show visits their small town. One sister, played by Ana Torrent in her movie debut, finds only an army deserter, despite all her fantasizing about the monster Mary Shelley created within her own imagination. The late great Fernando Fernan Gomez plays Ana's detached bee-keeping father. Actually, the entire family is never seen together, leading the viewer to speculate if the family is also imaginary. If you can, rent the DVD.

I really think this category should be called Best Motion Picture in a Foreign Language. I once had a professor in film school who constantly reminded us that film is the physical material that facilitates the process of making a motion picture so that it may be exhibited. That was before video tape, digital, or computer generated images (CGI). The award IS given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, not the Academy of Film Arts and Sciences.

Furthermore, is it necessary to attach "film" to the categories? Why not Best Animated Short, Best Animated Feature, Best Live Action Short, Best Documentary Feature, Best Documentary Short, etc. The use of "film" is superfluous in all the categories except, Achievement in Film Editing. That is, if anyone actually edits using film stock anymore. Think about it.