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The logic of casting

Yesterday, Mike Fleming reported that Nick Cassavettes was in talks to direct the fourth, or possibly fifth — depending on how you reckon it — version of “A Star is Born,” a perpetually successful property that dates back to the 1930s.

You can complain about remakes all you want, but this is one story that really begs to be remade with every generation, as it’s always pretty much always relevant and only more topical with each new decade. In case you’ve never seen any version, it’s the story of a young actress and/or singer on the way up who becomes involved with a star very much on the way down, mostly because of substance abuse. Apparently the thinking is to once again make the on-the-go female a singer, as in the now iconic 1954 version starring Judy Garland and James Mason directed by George Cukor, and the commercially huge but critically dissed 1976 Barbara Streisand/Kris Kritofferson version directed by Frank Perry and, perhaps, an uncredited Streisand. Names like Beyoncé and Alicia Keys are being mentioned for the female lead.

The two male stars Fleming mentions are interesting. I don’t need to say why Robert Downey, Jr. is either too on the nose or absolutely and utterly perfect for the role. Real-life parallels and method acting possibilities aside, he’s a intriguing choice also because of his own forays into singing. Could make for a dramatic duet or two.

The other name being floated according to Fleming is Jon Hamm of “Mad Men.” This would presumably take the film more in the direction of the 1954 version, which featured James Mason as the alcoholic movie star in love with Judy Garland’s singer. Hamm’s a terrific and versatile actor and I’m sure he’d be very good. I just hope, however, they’re not just mentioning his name because just he does a great impression of Mason.

This Mason, by the way, is mainly inspired by his “A Star is Born” character. In real life, it was Judy Garland who had the drinking and drug issues. As for Hamm, let’s hope we see his impressionistic skills again — and the writers can again figure out something funny for him to do with them — when he returns to SNL later this month.

  

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Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me

Though he was a rich man, an underrated singer in his own right, and the co-founder of Capitol Records, Johnny Mercer is, 34 years after his death, nowhere near as famous as the author of such brain-burrowing mid-century lyrics as “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)”, “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” “That Ol’ Black Magic,” “Satin Doll,” “Laura,” and “Moon River” really should be. Lyricists rarely get the respect composers do. Moreover, Mercer worked primarily in Hollywood, which in his day meant more money but less prestige than writing songs for Broadway. That’s show business.

“Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me” suffers slightly from the ill-fitting inclusion of some new material featuring super jazz fan and executive producer Clint Eastwood chatting with film composer John Williams and others, but overall, this TCM documentary written by Ken Barnes and directed by Bruce Ricker is a massively engaging documentary look at Mercer’s often surprising career. The 90-minute film efficiently covers his personal riches-to-(not quite)-rags-to-greater-riches story and tumultuous personal life, including a lifelong affair with Judy Garland, but wisely focuses on the music and takes full advantage of some priceless archival footage. Performances and interviews featuring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Julie Andrews, Blake Edwards, Ray Charles, a young Barbara Streisand, a middle-aged Bono, and new performances by Jamie Cullum, Dr. John and others (seen in their entirety on the DVD bonus disc), beautifully illustrate Mercer’s gifts and chart his extraordinary influence. An obvious labor of love, “The Dream’s On Me” is not exactly great filmmaking but it’s got great taste and is a must for fans of great popular music.

Click to buy “Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me”

  

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DGA nominations: no surprises

If you’ve been following the various awards and awards nominations that have been coming out of the past several weeks, there’s a good chance you can guess exactly what the Directors’ Guild nominations are without me even telling you. But just for the sake of latecomers, the casual and those who can’t be bothered, they are:  Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker,” James Cameron for “Avatar,” Lee Daniels for “Precious,” Jason Reitman for “Up in the Air” and Quentin Tarantino for “Inglourious Basterds.” It would be a fairly big surprise if the Oscar’s nominees were a whole lot different.

Gregg Kilday at THR points out that Lee Daniels is the first African-American to be nominated (!!!!) and Kathryn Bigelow is joining the very small club of women to be nominated for the award. However, you can be sure that if she wasn’t nominated, her absence would have been the story, considering how her film has been received up to now. The same might have gone for Daniels, though perhaps to a lesser degree as he has more detractors.

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My hunch is that Bigelow also enjoys a somewhat better better chance to actually win than did such past female nominees as Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sofia Copolla, and, yes, Barbara Streisand, though the competition is mighty stiff. Of course, there’s always some controversy, so now the question is, why leave out first-timer Tom Ford of “A Single Man”? And so, the Playlist asks  a related question: “Too Gay or Too Little Money?”

Fun fact time: This is also the first time, I’m pretty sure, a once-married coupled (Bigelow and James Cameron) have been nominated to oppose each other for the directors’ awards. Of course, once we succeed with overturning Proposition 8, that could get more common even if the DGA remains predominantly a boys’ club.

On a related note: The BAFTAS long list.

  

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