A roundtable chat with Minnie Driver and Scott Speedman of “Barney’s Version”

A Brit who’s been successfully playing Americans for decades and a charmingly laid back Canadian with a definite air of California dude-ism about him, actors Minnie Driver and Scott Speedman might seem like a somewhat random pairing. Even in the new film version of the late novelist Mordecai Richler’s tragicomic swan song, “Barney’s Version,” their characters make for some pretty strange bedfellows. On the other hand “Driver and Speedman” does sound like the title of a late seventies cop show.

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Ms. Driver portrays the second Mrs. Panofsky, an otherwise unnamed Jewish Canadian princess who marries the very flawed Montreal TV producer Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti, who picked up a Golden Globe for the part Sunday night), only to find her new husband oddly distant, starting on the very day of their wedding. That’s because that’s also the day Barney meets – and goes completely nutso over – the woman who will eventually become Mrs. Panofsky #3 (Rosamund Pike). In Mrs. Panofsky’s corner: her outspoken ex-crooked policeman father-in-law (Dustin Hoffman), who speaks approvingly of her “nice rack.”

Speedman, for his part, is Barney’s multiple drug using novelist pal, Boogie. Best known for handsome-guy roles in the “Underworld” films opposite Kate Beckinsale and as the male lead in “Felicity” opposite Keri Russell, Speedman’s Bernard “Boogie” Moscovitch is a frequently charming rascal/jerkwad who both fails and assists his best friend in rather spectacular fashion, eventually starting a chain of events that may or may not lead to his murder by Barney.

Speedman entered the room first in typically low-key fashion, acting every bit the likable thirty-something surfer dude or ski-bum he could easily be cast as. Ms. Driver followed along, making a flirtatious joke about Speedman’s good looks and generally providing jovial company for a room full of entertainment writers one Beverly Hills winter’s day.

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Writers and Producers announce award nominations

The Producers Guild and the Writers Guild, two-thirds of the three best known guilds in Hollywood, have announced their award nominations. If you’re in a hurry to see the actual contenders, they’re all after the flip below. The Directors Guild list will be along next week.

There aren’t any major shocks and mostly what they do is solidify the already leading contenders for the big Kahuna of awards with the bald head and the sword where his genitals should be (thank you, Dustin Hoffman!). If you’ve been following this at all, you can probably guess which films are getting the nods.

Still, there are some interesting differences in the Writer’s Guild awards, but it has to be said that’s likely because a few major contenders were ruled as ineligible under that organization’s rules — their awards are intended not to honor the best writing, per se, but the best writing done under WGA aegis. You could call that counterproductive, but just try an argue with a writer. I guess it’s not too surprising that a British film like “The King’s Speech” might not fit as I’m sure England has its own organizations for writers, but I have no clue why the 100% American originated “Toy Story 3” wouldn’t be written under the Writer’s Guild jurisdiction. (It’s not because it’s animated. Other movies excluded include the highly acclaimed indie, “Winter’s Bone,” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”)

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Meanwhile, on the producers’ side, there’s been the usual controversy about the eligibility not of films but of the people credited as producing them. Nikki Finke covers the fact that Relativity honcho Ryan Kavenaugh — quickly becoming perhaps the most written about exec in town — was ruled ineligable for “The Fighter” despite being very much involved in the production. The problem, of course, is that at least everyone knows what a writer does. “Producing” a movie can mean almost anything from putting up the cash, to owning the rights to a property, to having the correct spouse.

The film nominations are after the flip. For the voluminous TV nominations for each group, just click on the links for the complete list.

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Weekend box office: Coal in Hollywood’s stocking as “Little Fockers” underperforms and bloated tentpoles tank; Santa smiles on the Coens

Misguided movie populists who say that critics are somehow less relevant than they were 20 years ago and that their reaction in no way tracks the reaction of other human beings should really take a close look at this weekend’s results. It’s an eternal truth that audiences and critics often differ — seeing a lot of movies does tend to make a person somewhat harder to please — but to say that there’s zero correlation between what most critics hate or love and what most audiences members hate or love is not the case. It is true that critics hated, hated, hated this weekend’s #1 film, but that clearly isn’t the entire story.

Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner don't look happyAs I recounted prior to the start of the long Christmas holiday frame last Tuesday, the oracles of the box office were predicting a reaction to “Little Fockers” somewhat in line with the 2004 performance of “Meet the Fockers.” Specifically, the numbers being bandied about were in the $60 or $70 million range for the entire five day period. The total gross instead appears to be roughly $48.3 million for Universal. That is only a couple of million higher than what “Meet the Fockers” earned over a three day period on its Christmas opening in 2004. Remember, movie ticket prices have gone up a few bucks since ’04.

Nikki Finke recounts how the megastar-laden film’s difficult and expensive $100 million production, helmed by the currently luck-challenged Chris Weitz, provided a windfall for Dustin Hoffman and, I understand, allowed him to almost literally phone-in large portions of his performance. Finke estimates that the lastest “Fockers” movie is earning only about 75% of what the prior comedy made. As for the critics, while “Meet the Fockers” left critics unhappy — as opposed to the very well reviewed original smash-hit, “Meet the Parents” — it was a regular success d’estime compared to the woeful reviews of the third film in what critics are praying will remain a trilogy. Strangely enough, this seems to correlate with diminishing returns for the series.

Overall, things weren’t any better, with Sony’s two expensive, poorly reviewed, star-laden turkeys  — “How Do You Know” and “The Tourist — being slaughtered in their second and third weeks, respectively. (To be fair, since it stars literally the two most famous people in the world right now not named “Obama” or “Oprah” or “Palin” or “Assange,” “The Tourist” is doing significantly better than the latest from James Brooks, but both films are money losers right now.) The extremely un-promising and critically derided “Gulliver’s Travels” was all but thrown to the wolves by Fox and its release was delayed until Friday. It opened in 7th place for the weekend with a Lilliputian estimate of $7.2 million.

Anne Thompson notes that this three-day weekend at the movies was 44% lower than last year, and had some choice words on the drop:

Little Fockers repped the widest-appeal offering among the weakest bunch of holiday releases in recent memory. At a time when studios usually try to maximize returns on their strongest pictures, they instead offered audiences a menu of costly, tame, MOR fare—and moviegoers stayed away in droves.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon happily calculate their back-end deals in

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Red Carpet Chatter: Mike Nichols Gets His AFI Lifetime Achievement Award

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Born in 1931 in what was very soon to become Hitler’s Germany, young Michael Peschkowsky was living in Manhattan by 1939. It was great luck both for the future Mike Nichols and for the country that accepted him.

Nichols is, of course, one of the most respected directors in Hollywood, and for good reason. He’s the original, craftsmanlike, and emotionally astute directorial voice responsible for such sixties and seventies classics as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,”  “Carnal Knowledge” and, of course, “The Graduate” (the source of his only directorial Oscar so far) as well as such eighties, nineties, and oughts successes as “Silkwood,” “Working Girl,” “The Birdcage,” and “Closer.” Even if some of the later films are not on the same level of quality as his earlier films — and several, especially his 1988 box office hit, “Working Girl,” stray into mediocrity — it’s still one of the most impressive and diverse careers of any living director in Hollywood.

That’s just on the big screen. On television, Nichols has rebounded in the eyes of many critics, directing two of the most acclaimed television productions of the last decade, 2001’s “Wit” with Emma Thompson, and the outstanding 2005 miniseries adaptation of Tony Kushner’s brilliant and mammoth epic play, “Angels in America.” With his 80th birthday just a year and a half away, he’s still working hard with two thrillers movies planned, including an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low” currently being rewritten by the decidedly counter-intuitive choice of Chris Rock.

Before he directed his first foot of film, Mike Nichols was a noted theater director. That in itself is not so unusual a root for directors to travel. What is different is that, before he was a noted theater director, he was half of one of the most influential comedy teams in show business history, Nichols and May. (His comedy partner, Elaine May, went on to become an important, if less commercially successful, writer and director in her own right.)

Still, from the moment he directed his first major play, Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” Nichols mostly abandoned performing. Today, his highly regarded early work is mostly known only to fairly hardcore comedy aficionados.

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Midnight at the movies

Not quite a movie news dump, more of a movie news sampler…

* The various Deadline folks have a lot of reporting going on tonight, starting with the news from Mike Fleming that Robert Downey Jr. is negotiating to possibly star in a new science fiction film Alfonso Cuaron wrote with his son. He also reports on the somewhat delayed sale of a hot Sundance feature staring “Twilight” fave Kristen Stewart, James Gandolfini, and Melissa Leo. In addition, there’s word from the London office that 72 year-old Dustin Hoffman is finally graduating to directing with an upcoming project with BBC Films.

* Todd Gilchrist has the closest thing yet to an official review I’ve seen of “Kick-Ass” and it’s…mixed. Could the film already be a victim of its already amazingly effective hype? Or is it that Gilchrist is, after all, just one guy? Of course, there’s always the possibility that it’s simply not as good as we all seem to be expecting. If so, shoot me now, I say!

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* The Red Skull has always been one of my favorite supervillians — just pure evil and nothing but. I think casting  Hugo Weaving to play him in the upcoming Captain America flick is probably about as good a choice as they could make. If anyone can act without skin, it’s Weaving.

* Quentin Tarantino will not be smurfing around, after all. He did, however, accept an award at SXSW, which is just getting started and where our own Mr. Jason Zingale is hanging out.

* Patrick Goldstein doesn’t approve when Tom Hanks has the temerity to voice a strong opinion because it annoys rightwingers and that’s just the worst thing ever.  Yes, it’s a celebrity’s job to play it safe at all times. Good to know. I wonder if he’ll hold rightwing actors to the same standard when they say something controversial. It’s a true fact that many journos who probably themselves vote Democrat wind up carrying the water of the far-right through their obsession with being even-handed at all costs at all times and regardless of the merits. The American rightwing really did a number on the press during the late 20th century, and it doesn’t look like they’ll ever recover.

* I hate to see any creative person lose their job, especially in this economy, but I hope this item means there’ll be some kind of shift in the creative direction of Robert Zemeckis’s future animated/motion-capture projects. How anyone can think that style of animation is  anything other than creepy — and not in a good way — is beyond me.

  

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