Awards news: Director’s Guild and Sundance

There’s some sadness hanging over the American film world this morning due to the tragic and disturbing death of highly respected 39 year-old editor Karen Schmeer, best known for her work on Errol Morris projects as “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control,” “Mr. Death,” and “The Fog of War.” (Shawn Levy of The Oregonian has much about piece her shockingly random death in a crime-related automotive accident, her work, and her early start in the documentary film business.)

Nevertheless, the awards beat goes on and today, as Nikki Finke points out, we can chalk up a big victory for female directors as Kathryn Bigelow of “The Hurt Locker” defeated a boys club of directors that included such ultimate mega-males as Quentin Tarantino and her one-time husband, James Cameron.  Bigelow, of course, has been a noted director since her early features, 1982’s “The Loveless,” which introduced Willem Dafoe, and 1987’s ahead-of-its-time vampire drama, “Near Dark” attracted the attention of genre friendly critics. Her best known film, ironically enough, is probably the silly action flick, “Point Break,” which has emerged as a culty guilty pleasure after its 1991 release.

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“The Hurt Locker” is the first time Bigelow has been associated a project to get this kind of near-universal acclaim. It’s a major departure stylistically from her often slick and superficial past work, looking at an unexploded bomb team with the same kind of dispassionate intensity as “The French Connection” examined police work. This award definitely makes Bigelow the apparent favorite for the Best Director Oscar. It also doesn’t hurt it’s chances at the Best Picture award either.

“Hurt Locker” also swept the Producers Guild award earlier this week. Similar to the DGA, that award is widely seen as a harbinger for the “Best Picture” category, in which the producer is the one who actually receives the award. Still, as Dave Karger reminds us, the DGA doesn’t make the award inevitable. Also with the nominees this year doubled to ten and a more complex voting system for “Best Picture” that category, at least, remains open to any of the four or five most frequently nominated films in my opinion.

In other awards, “The Cove” got a boost in the nevertheless very hard-to-predict documentary Oscar category with an award for its director, Louie Psihoyos. I usually don’t cover TV, but it is worth a mention that the winner of the award for direction in a TV drama series was also won by a woman. Lesli Linka Glatter was awarded for her work on the action-packed “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency” episode of “Mad Men.” Not a bad choice.

Meanwhile, over in Park City, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival presented its awards, which offer a fairly significant peak into what are likely to be some of the most acclaimed and potentially award-winning films of the next year or so. Young people with family ties to crime seemed to be a winning theme in the dramatic categories: “Winter’s Bone,” about a young girl in search of her crystal meth manufacturing father, won the U.S. Prize; the Australian crime drama “Animal Kingdom,” about a teen boy born into a crime family in 1980s Melbourne, took the international award.

The documentary award went to one of the festival’s most high profile entries, “Restrepo.” From two-first first-time directors, journalist/author Sebastian Junger (the book, The Perfect Storm) and documentary cinematographer Tim Hetherington. The film is follows a U.S. Army platoon in Afghanistan for a year. As the offical Sundance description has it, it depicts a “surreal combination of back breaking labor, deadly firefights, and camaraderie….”  Indiewire’s Eugene Hernandez has a complete rundown.

Battle Company

  

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Sherlock Holmes’ most terrifying assignment

We’re in the mid-Holiday lull here and I’d rather not bore you me with rehashing the weekend box office or endless lists and Oscar speculation…though here’s a cool compilation of various awards guru’s thoughts, via Anne Thompson who happens to be one of them, for those who can’t get enough of that.

Instead, in recognition of the success of “Sherlock Holmes” over the weekend, I’m going to bore entertain you with a scene from what I think has to be the best of the near sub-genre of off-beat, “non-canonical” Holmes films, Billy Wilder’s 1970 “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.” Below, Robert Stephens as Holmes meets with a genius obsessed Russian ballerina and her manager, who is helping her with a highly personal matter. Can Holmes be of assistance?

Fun fact: that’s real life Russian expat ballerina Tamara Vladimirovna Tumanova playing the dancer, she really was 49 years old in this scene and was married to the great screenwriter Casey Robinson.

So, is Holmes telling the truth re, Tchaikovsky not being an isolated case? About him and Watson — not a chance, not in a mainstream movie in 1970, anyway. But what about himself? Well, for that you’re going to have to watch the whole flick, which is really quite a wonder. Both a darned good Billy Wilder comedy and a great, if episodic, Sherlock Holmes mystery drama.

The reason it remains obscure is that while Stephens is a very good Holmes and Colin Blakely is an entirely solid Watson, they weren’t exactly huge on that indefinable whatsis that makes for star power. If Wilder had gotten his original choices, Peter O’Toole as Holmes and Peter Sellers as Watson, you likely would have heard of this film by now, I think.

Come to think of it, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law might have worked quite well here also. How sad no one every thinks to reshoot great screenplays since remakes nearly always use entirely new screenplays. In this case, the studio demanded a shorter version of Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s original script, forcing Wilder to thoroughly re-edit the film, so it would also be a kind of restoration.

  

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Golden Globes movie nominations: “Up in the Air” leads the way

I’ll start with the facts on the Golden Globe movie nominations, which came out this morning, and move on to just a bit of opining about the awards themselves later on. (Will Harris has his thoughts on who should win among the television Golden Globe nominees down below.)

As the above indicates, Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” collected the most nominations from the awards given annually by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assocation (HFPA) with six nods. Just behind it was most of the other films that are emerging as this year’s awards usual suspects. The Broadway musical adaptation from director Rob Marshall, “Nine,” got five nominations; “Avatar,” and “Inglourious Basterds” received four nominations each. Following with three nominations were “The Hurt Locker,” “Invictus” and “Precious,” as well as two names that are somewhat new to this year’s awards sweepstakes, Tom Ford’s “A Single Man” and the upcoming star driven comedy from Nancy Myers, “It’s Complicated.” (Thanks to Nikki Finke, or her inevitably long-suffering assistant, for providing not only a complete list of nominations, but also a convenient awards tally not only by film, but also by studio and TV network.)

Neither “A Single Man” nor “Invictus” made the cut for “Best Picture – Drama.” Meryl Streep and Matt Damon both got two acting nominations, with Streep competing against herself in the “Best Actress – Comedy” category for “Julie & Julia” and “It’s Complicated.”

One factor that somewhat complicates covering the Globes is that they separate dramas from comedies and musicals. This year, “Up in the Air,” which bills itself as a “dramatic comedy” but which a lot of people seem to see as simply a mature and relatively low-key comedy with topical overtones, was nominated in the drama category. This prompted the AP (via MSNBC) to opine that the nomination in that category could give it more “weight” for the Oscars. I have to say that, while it’s so wrong in some many ways, there may be some truth to that and getting the meme out that the film is more drama than comedy might help Oscar voters to nominate it.

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New York and L.A. Film Critics make their choices

The two most noted critics groups both gave their awards today and the results are pretty interesting. Just released, we have the winners from New York. Somewhat to my surprise, even though it’s received very positive reviews so far, “Avatar” won for best picture.  Last year’s winner was not “The Dark Knight,” which however did make it into the top 10, but the politically-themed biopic, “Milk.” Genre movies and blockbusters rarely win critics awards.

Avatar

Also, the suddenly more geek-friendly critics group actually gave the most awards to “Inglourious Basterds” which picked up a cinematography award for the always superb Robert Richardson, a best screenplay nod for Quentin Tarantino and, of course, a Best Supporting Actor award and also a Best Breakthrough Performance award for Christoph Waltz’s movie-stealing work as the evil but magnetic “Jew hunter,” Colonel Hans Landa. Another unusual war film, “The Hurt Locker,” picked up the Best Director award for Kathryn Bigelow and, not at all surprising, “Up” won the award for best animation.

Meryl Streep won for Best Actress for “Julie and Julia” and Jeff Bridges won for the not yet released country music drama, “Crazy Heart.” Mo’Nique from “Precious” picked up the Best Supporting Actress award. “The Cove” won Best documentary. ComingSoon.net has the complete list of winners. It’s a pretty interesting group.

The Hurt Locker

Just a bit earlier, the Los Angeles Film Critics, on the other hand, gave the top prize to “The Hurt Locker” (“Up in the Air” was the runner up) and Kathryn Bigelow took another Best Director prize for the thriller. Jeff Bridges, Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique once again got the Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress prizes respectively. The L.A. crickets took a different path entirely, however, on the Best Actress category and gave it to Yolande Moreau for the French-language biopic, “Séraphine.” (The runner up was Carey Mulligan, whose work in “An Education” has been generating a great deal of buzz.)

They also, interestingly, diverted from the New Yorkers in the area of animation, giving the top prize to “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” another succès d’estime for Wes Anderson. However, they followed the NYC reviewers in giving the nod to “The Cove” for Best Documentary. In a nod to genre, “District 9” got a “New Generation” award for writer-director Neill Blomkamp as well as a production design award. Eugene Hernandez of Indiewire has the complete list.

Oscar-buzz fans take note, critics’ awards are not super-reliable indicators of Academy Awards, which tend to be less genre-friendly but also more prone to award big commercial hits. On the other hand, I think it’s safe to say that Kathryn Bigelow, Jeff Bridges, Mo’Nique, Christoph Waltz, as well as “The Hurt Locker”, “Inglourious Basterds,” and perhaps “The Cove” got a big boost today. (The documentary category is notoriously fraught.) Also, I haven’t mentioned its awards, but the little seen black political comedy and festival hit, “In the Loop,” picked up awards from both groups and could, I imagine, get a very helpful nomination or two in possibly the writing and the newly expanded “Best Picture” category.

  

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