“Precious” tops the Indie Spirits

Gabourey Sidibe is Precious

This hasn’t been a very good year for people who like awards surprises. And, so, this year’s most high profile indie film, say it with me — “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” —  has won the lion’s share of the more high-profile awards at Film Independent’s Independent Spirit Awards, this year hosted by Eddie Izzard.

To be specific, “Precious” nabbed “Best Feature” from a field that included the very popular “(500) Days of Summer,” Berkeley-bred Cary Joji Fukunaga’s surprisingly assured directorial debut, “Sin Nombre,” and “The Last Station.” Director Lee Daniels, whose work on “Precious” has been the single most criticized aspect of the somewhat controversial film, nevertheless beat the Coen Brothers work on “A Serious Man,” Fukunaga, James Gray of “Two Lovers,” and Michael Hoffman of “The Last Station.” “Precious” also took the Best First Screenplay. The best not-first screenplay went to Scott Neustader and Michael H. Weber of “(500) Days.”

In the acting categories, Gabourey Sidibe received the Best Female Lead for playing Precious herself and, naturally, Mo’Nique proved to own her category fully across all award shows and won the Best Supporting Female category. Among the males, Jeff Bridges, took the Best Male Lead award that is deemed pretty much his due this year for the country music drama, “Crazy Heart.”

Since the $40 million dollar budget of “Inglourious Basterds” presumably put it beyond the realm of the Spirits, Christoph Waltz was not nominated for Best Supporting Male. Instead, he cut a deal in which he collected the award anyway in return for helping the show to end early. Just kidding. Woody Harrelson in his non-zombie-thwacking mode took the award for his work in the low-key stateside wartime drama, “The Messenger.” (My sympathies to Christian McKay of “Me and Orson Welles” — so much critical praise and so few awards even when this year’s male 500 pound gorilla is safely out of the room.)

Anvil! The Story of AnvilBest Foreign Film went to a film that doesn’t feel so foreign now that England is our 52nd state, “An Education.”  Best Documentary went to one some of you might actually have seen and found fun rather than upsetting, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” defeated a list that included the highly praised “Food, Inc.” (For whatever reason, “The Cove” was not nominated.) Roger Deakins took the cinematography award for “A Serious Man.”

Among the special awards, the John Cassevettes Award, which goes to a film with a budget of less than $500,000, went to a favorite around these parts, Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday,” edging out another film we’ve kind of taken to our breast here, “Big Fan.” The latter film looked, literally, like a million dollars to me, so kudos to the penny-saving producers on that one. “A Serious Man” won the Robert Altman award for its acting ensemble.

You can see a complete list of nominees and winners here. You can also check and see if Indiewire ever corrects their typos here.

  

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“The Hurt Locker” sweeps the National Society of Film Critics Awards

The National Society of Film Critics has bestowed another big awards win on the Iraq war thriller, “The Hurt Locker,” which won’t hurt its Oscar possibilities.  As with the two other most prestigious critics groups — the Los Angeles and New York film critics — the highly praised tale about a bomb disposal unit during the chaotic early days of the U.S. invasion won the group’s best picture award scroll.

The Hurt Locker

Ironically, according to Peter Knegt of Indiewire, the last time a single film swept the best picture prize from all three groups was when Curtis Hanson’s outstanding “L.A. Confidential” managed the coup in 1997. It lost the Oscar to James Cameron‘s sentimental and spectacular romantic melodrama, “Titanic” — one of the most widely disagreed with Best Picture winners in recent history. With “Avatar” becoming a wide popular favorite and a gigantic hit, a repeat of this scenario is not outside the realm of possibility.

“The Hurt Locker” also won major prizes for director Kathryn Bigelow and star Jeremy Renner, who edged out Jeff Bridges, currently a favorite the win the Best Actor Oscar for “Crazy Heart,” as well as Nicolas Cage for “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.” For Best Supporting Actor, once again “Inglourious Basterds” break out bad guy Christoph Waltz took the top prize, with another former unknown, Christian McKay, getting the second largest number of votes from critics for “Me and Orson Welles.”  The best screenplay nod went to the Coen Brothers’ ultra-dark black comedy, “A Serious Man.”

Mo'Nique in In something of an upset that, I’m guessing, might not be repeated at the Oscars, Yolande Moreau, of the French language biopic “Seraphine,” beat Meryl Streep in “Julie and Julia” by one vote for Best Actress. Once again, however, talk show host and comedian Mo’Nique added to a truly impressive number of wins with her work in “Precious,” taking yet another Best Supporting Actress prize.

You can see the complete list of winners at bottom of the Indiewire article I linked to above.

  

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Either “Avatar” takes the weekend box office, or we’re all in big trouble

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in

Variety has gone behind a pay wall. Jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter is either taking a night off or filing later. Still, this is one week when, if I may paraphrase Bob Dylan, I don’t need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind’s blowing. As a science-fiction adventure sure-to-be blockbuster, James Cameron‘s “Avatar” has pretty much everything going for: huge ballyhoo, much of its centered on its groundbreaking use on “performance capture” (not mere motion capture) and what everyone seems to be describing as a new and more immersive 3-D, strong advance sales (skewing male as of right now), and solid reviews.  Sure, it’s actors aren’t precisely A-listers, but we all know what good stars are these days. I’m sure people will eventually remember that Sam  Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver were in there some place.

The latest from James Cameron at this point has racked up an 82% “fresh” on the Tomatometer and a whopping 96% from the usually harder to please “top critics,” with only Village Voice‘s exacting J. Hoberman submitting a mildly negative review that is actually about as positive as a bad review can be.

Our own Jamey Codding is positive, but not quite ecstatic. Ken Turan, a critic I respect but often disagree with for his rather schoolmarmish tastes — don’t get him started on Tarantino — waxes poetic and compares the technical breakthroughs to “The Jazz Singer.” I personally hope that isn’t quite the case. 3-D is cool as an occasional treat, but I just don’t see how it’s necessary for every movie. Of course, there were people who said that about sound movies too, but don’t laugh too much because there are still people who thought they were right! (Not me. Being a word guy, I like talkies. My fogeyosity has limits) In any case, Roger Ebert might be summing things up nicely when he writes:

There is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million, or was it $300 million, wisely.

Sam Worthington in So, we know that “Avatar” will, baring apocalypse or a mass, blindness-inducing plague, win the weekend. The real question is, by how much? Well, considering it’s opening in 3,453 theaters and probably taking up nearly every higher priced regular size and Imax 3-D screen in the country, I’d say the sky is the limit for the moment. Beyond that, I really don’t have the kind of information to make these kind of assertions, but fortunately there is Daniel Frankel of The Wrap who says that the gurus have agreed the Fox film will do over $60 million at least and possibly as much as $90 or $100 million.

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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.

up-in-the-air-movie-review2

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No one wants to be a turkey on Thanksgiving

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson allow themselves a smooch in Even as the president pardons a pair of prime gobblers who will  instead be going into show business at Disneyland, there’s a good chance that at least one major release this weekend may meet a less charitable fate as a fierce battle rages for the #2 spot. Yes, the #1 spot seems to be reserved, trade mag prognosticators jolly Carl DiOrio and Pamela McClintock agree, for “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.”

Between repeat hardcore “Twilight” fangirls, their friends, and curious onlookers it really seems like a lock for the continuing vampire/human/werewolf romantic menage, considering the film’s spectacular $142.8 million domestic performance last weekend. Which is not to say there won’t be some success to go around this tme. Considering the longest official holiday weekend on the calender — and a “black Friday”-depressing economy that may put many folks in the mood to delay their shopping as long as possible — it seems more than very likely that there will be some nice money to be made at the nation’s multiplexes tonight through Sunday. (Hardcore talliers will be concentrating on the three day period starting Friday.)

The obvious favorite for the #2 spot, if only because it’s going to be booked into 922 more theaters than the next biggest wide release, is Disney’s PG-rated all-star comedy “Old Dogs.” With John Travolta and Robin Williams headlining with a premise that sounds like “Two Men and Two Six Year-Olds” and not much else in the way of broadly appealing, family-friendly comedies out there, this sure seems like a  sure thing in theory.

The slapstick-laden comedy, however, scored an abysmal 6% “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes, but what of it? Director Walt Becker’s previous all-star comedy outing, “Wild Hogs” — the two films actually rhyme — was roundly reviled by most critics and then grossed over $168.2 million domestically.

John Travolta and Robin Williams are

Still, wouldn’t we all rather to win pretty? Our own David Medsker makes a salient point:

…You would think that Disney might step up their game a little bit after seeing just how successful their partners at Pixar have been by not taking the easy way, by using their early success to branch out and make some highly entertaining but also downright challenging movies (“WALL·E,” “Up,” “Ratatouille”). Disney got a taste of that themselves with “Enchanted,” and even “Bolt” to a lesser extent. Most of the time, though, it’s balls to the groin, and gorillas cuddling humans singing Air Supply….

As the quote attributed to H.L. Mencken goes: “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” On the other hand, some have given it a darn good try. We’ll see.

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