Monday, February 25, 2008

Minnesota Writers Sweep Writing Awards at the Oscars

Oscar night was good to Minnesota, as filmmakers with ties to the state swept the writing awards. Minneapolis natives Joel and Ethan Coen won Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture for No Country for Old Men. Minnesota writer Diablo Cody won Best Original Screenplay for Juno.

In their Oscar speech, one of the brothers noted that this was one of only two of their films that was based on previously published material. Joel Coen said, "I think whatever success we've had in this area has been entirely attributable to how selective we are. We've only adapted Homer and Cormac McCarthy." The Coen Brother's 2000 film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? was based on Homer's The Odyssey.

Cody's screenplay for Juno takes place in Minnesota, where she resided for several years and wrote her memoir Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. Her myspace page can be found here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

On the Oscars 2008

The Academy Awards are upon us again, that special time of year when Hollywood spends millions of dollars to showcase a three hour self-congratulatory ego-fest on world-wide television. Although many in the media have bemoaned the loss of some other award shows due to the writer's strike, one less opportunity for Hollywood to proclaim upon a stage "I love me, I really love me!" makes the event a little more special and a little less obnoxious.

On today's episode of Maverick at the Movies I went through the nominees in all of the categories, although I did not predict who would win. Instead, I just gave my thoughts on who ought to win since I have discovered that I am totally worthless when it comes to predicting the winners. Before I began, however, I gave my disclaimer on award programs, which I want to reiterate here.

The Hollywood awards circuit is fun to watch and it's nice and appropriate to reward good work. However, the awards should not be taken too seriously. Remember that Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar but James Cameron got one for Titanic. When Citizen Kane was released it was a box office disaster, was savaged by critics, and although it was nominated for a few Oscars it was booed at the ceremony. Today Citizen Kane is considered the cornerstone of any film studies program and tops the American Film Institutes's lists of the greatest films of all time. So the Oscars are not the Alpha and Omega of cinematic art and critical consensus changes with time.

It's called show business for a reason and the Academy Awards are as influenced by business considerations as much as anything else. Films that get awards see an increase in their box office and DVD circulation. Directors and actors who win are able to bargain for bigger deals and better material. The nominations for the awards are influenced and shaped by magazine advertisements taken out by the studios. The academy does not nominate films that were box office flops and rarely recognize films that do not come from a major studio. Foreign films are relegated to a single category, which, rather than designate a special place to honor them, contains competition from foreign sources, keeping them from competing with domestic films, and limits their exposure. This all adds up to a troubling fact: the Oscars are controlled by the Hollywood elites to maintain corporate control over the system.

Every year there are a few films that don't get recognized. Here are some films that the Academy passed over:

Not a film that should take Best Picture, but it ought to have been a shoo-in for the technical awards like best cinematography and art direction. On the other hand, Sin City, another Frank Miller adaptation, was similarly passed over two years ago.

Alpha Dog
In a lesser year the acting in this film ought to have been enough to secure a few best actor nominations, and the screenplay holds up with anything else nominated.

Black Snake Moan
Another film that came out last spring and did not get very wide release, the performances, screenplay, film editing, and sound editing all stand out.

Amy Adams does a great job in pretty good movie. Two years ago Reese Witherspoon won Best Actress for singing and acting while playing June Carter in Walk the Line. What Adams accomplishes here is at least equal to Witherspoon's performance.

The Hoax
One of Richard Gere's best films, this film has a great screenplay and has a creative design.

Into the Wild
My pick for the best film of 2007 got a few nominations, but it deserved more, especially for Emile Hirsch for lead actor and Sean Penn as director.

The Kite Runner
Again, this is a film that received a few nominations, but not nearly enough.

Talk to Me
Check this film out for Don Cheadle as radio star Petey Greene.

Waitress and Knocked Up
With everyone fawning over Juno, these two films have been overlooked, which is a shame because they deal with the same material and in some ways do it better.

The best serial killer film since The Silence of the Lambs. It had a couple of great performances and a restrained (in a good way) directorial effort by David Fincher.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Variety: WGA Strike is Over

Tue., Feb. 12, 2008, 6:55pm PT

"The strike is over," Patric Verrone said, dispassionately but with the hint of a smile. "Our membership has voted. Writers can go back to work."

The WGA West prexy announced the news, something the town had taken as a fait accompli, shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. Some 92.5% of the 3,775 ballots cast were in favor of ending the 100-day strike, with 3,492 members voting yes and 283 die-hards ready to tilt at the windmill of continuing the work stoppage that began Nov. 5.

The vote on lifting the strike concluded a mere three days after the WGA cinched its contract agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in the wee hours of a Saturday morning. The strike vote was held over a 48-hour frame, with members able to vote in person at the WGA Theater and at Gotham's Crowne Plaza Hotel, or via fax.

After announcing the vote tally, Verrone said WGA members were free to go back to work "immediately," and he noted that writers for the Feb. 24 Oscar ceremony were believed to be doing just that on Tuesday night. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences prexy Sid Ganis and Oscarcast exec producer Gil Cates will hold a news conference Thursday morning to discuss their plans for the show now that the cloud of picket lines and stars staying home has lifted.

The AMPTP was quick to weigh in after the vote tally was announced with a statement credited to the eight top execs of its member congloms.

"This is a day of relief and optimism for everyone in the entertainment industry," read the statement credited to CBS' Leslie Moonves, MGM's Harry Sloan, NBC Universal's Jeff Zucker, News Corp.'s Peter Chernin, Paramount Pictures' Brad Grey, Sony Pictures Entertainment's Michael Lynton, Walt Disney Co.'s Robert Iger and Warner Bros.' Barry Meyer.

Read the full article here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Newsday: 'Jaws' actor Roy Scheider dies in Arkansas at 75

Gene Seymour, Newsday
12:15 AM EST, February 11, 2008

Roy Scheider, a two-time Academy Award nominee best remembered as the reluctant, shark-hunting police chief in "Jaws," died yesterday. He was 75 years old and lived in Sag Harbor.

Scheider had suffered from multiple myeloma for years and died in Little Rock, Ark., from a staph infection, according to his wife, Brenda Seimer.

Outside of his film career, Scheider was active in East End causes, helping co-found the Hayground School in Bridgehampton, which is dedicated to creating a progressive, culturally diverse educational environment for local children. Scheider "was deeply committed to the school in every way," said Jonathan Snow, another of the school's founders.

He was also a regular participant in the annual Artists and Writers Softball Game, a star-studded event peopled by summering celebrities in East Hampton that raised money for a variety of local charities.

Born in Orange, N.J., Scheider was athletically gifted, specializing in organized baseball and boxing. He studied drama at both Rutgers and Franklin and Marshall College. After a stint in the U.S. Air Force, he made his mark on Off-Broadway and in TV roles.

Scheider's taut physique, authoritative speaking voice and openhearted demeanor combined to make him a welcome presence on stage and screen, whether in lead or supporting roles. Mostly, he was known for playing tough, honorable cops, such as the beleaguered Martin Brody, chief of police for a Massachusetts island community terrorized by a great white shark in the 1975 blockbuster "Jaws."

He repeated the role in the inevitable, far less successful 1978 sequel, "Jaws 2."

He was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar in 1971 for "The French Connection," in which he played New York police detective Buddy Russo, cocky partner to Gene Hackman's high-strung Popeye Doyle. His second nomination was for best actor in the offbeat role as the dying, dream-haunted choreographer Joe Gideon in Bob Fosse's 1979 autobiographical musical, "All That Jazz."

Scheider brought grit, grace and a modicum of hard-won worldliness to his heroic roles, whether he was a high-tech chopper pilot in "Blue Thunder" (1984), a space scientist in "2010" (1984) or a blackmail victim in "52 Pickup" (1986). Later roles, such as the sinister Dr. Benway in 1991's "Naked Lunch," were less stalwart.

His witty turn as an East End lawman in this year's "If I Didn't Care" proved he could serve up a good, quirky cop role.

Scheider is also survived by his children, Maximilla, Christian and Molly.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

CNN: Writers Guild Asks Members to Ratify Contract, End Strike

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- The Writers Guild of America moved swiftly Sunday toward a resolution of its three-month-old strike, with guild leaders deciding to recommend the contract to members and ask them to vote on a quick end to the walkout.

By asking writers to vote separately on ending the strike and accepting the contract, the union cleared the way for the entertainment industry to return to work almost immediately.

Membership meetings will be held Tuesday in New York and Los Angeles to allow writers to decide whether the strike should be brought to a speedy end, said Patric Verrone, president of the guild's West Coast branch.

"This is the best deal this guild has bargained for in 30 years," Verrone said.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What Do Your Favorite Movies Say About You?

The Early Show featured a story this week about a pair of authors, Ezra Werb and Risa Williams, who have written a book titled, Cinescopes: What Your Favorite Movies Reveal About You. Based on a list of your top ten favorite films, the pair believe that they can match your film preferences with a list of sixteen personality types. Here is an excerpt from the article.

Werb explains that he and Williams believe there's a psychological link between our personalities and the movies appeal to us. It's a very personal thing, and we connect with the heroes and themes in the movies we're drawn too.

He and Williams focus on the individual character in a film that the movie-goer connects with. If it's two characters, sometimes it's the dynamic between the two that you're drawn to.

Williams says the lists tell about the type of heroes people like and the themes that resonate with them. If you're drawn to romantic comedies, you could be a romantic. If you like action movies, you could be an adventurer at heart.

Williams holds Masters degrees in psychology and dramatic writing, and specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy. Werb has a Bachelor's degree in film studies and literature, writes screenplays, and works as behaviorist for an autistic child.

They began with the Top Ten lists of 1,000 people and, using psychology, cinematic analysis and astrology, came up with 16 movies-based personality profiles. They claim people are shocked by how accurate those profiles are.

You can learn more about the book and take the test here. Like any personality test, especially one based online, I would not put too much stock in it, but it is amusing. For those who might be wondering, my test came back a Destined Hunter, someone who has "the ability to look evil right in the eye and tell it where to go. They are drawn to things physical and primitive, whether spending time outdoors or screaming at the top of their lungs. When it really counts, Hunters choose fight over flight (Famous example: Rambo in First Blood)."