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.

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A Farewell to Gene Hackman

Don’t worry, Gene Hackman, is still very much amongst the living. It’s just that the 79 year-old Hackman casually discussed his retirement from acting in favor of writing historical novels while talking to Taylor Antrim of the Daily Beast today. (H/t Anne Thompson) Of course, there’s always the chance some great director can lure the Hemingway-loving Hackman out of retirement for the right role, but I’m going to assume he’s for real about giving up acting and thank him for all the great  — sometimes better than great — work.

Without ever really being an Alec Guinness or Peter Sellers-style acting chameleon, Hackman had one of the most amazing ranges of any actors of his era. He played thoroughly screwed up antiheroes, serious and comical villains of innumerable types, and ocasionally simply nice and/or likable guys. He was equally interesting playing all of them — even the nice ones. No doubt one of the best ever.

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15 Movies That Were Almost Turned Into TV Series

If you’re not an ABC Family aficionado like myself, then you may not be aware that the often-underrated network is preparing to launch a new series on July 7th: “10 Things I Hate About You,” based on the film of the same name. It’s hard to say whether this is a good idea or not, though the fact that Larry Miller has carried over his character from the film – patriarch Walter Stratford – is certainly a step in the right direction, but we can say one thing: there have been worse ideas. It’s been a television staple to transform motion pictures into weekly TV series, but not every attempt actually makes it to the airwaves. Here’s a list of 15 such swings and misses, many…okay, most of which deserved to fail.

1. “The African Queen” (“The African Queen,” 1962 & 1977) – It seems only appropriate to start this list out with an attempt at transforming a classic film into a TV series. The first time around was in 1962, when James Coburn took on the role of Cap’n Charlie Allnot, while Glynis Johns played the Hepburn role of missionary Rosie Sayer, but although it aired as an episode of NBC’s “The Dick Powell Theater,” it never made it any further. Fifteen years later, CBS took a stab at it, with the leads played by Warren Oates and Mariette Hartley. No dice. If the actual movie ever makes it to DVD (can you believe it’s still unavailable?), perhaps one or both of these pilots will be included as part of the bonus material.

2. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (“Holly Golightly,” 1969) – It sounds nuts, right? Granted, if there was anyone in the late ’60s who was the TV equivalent of Audrey Hepburn, it was probably Stefanie Powers, but Hepburn’s performance was so iconic that it’s hard to even wrap your head around the idea of anyone else playing the role of Ms. Golightly. As it turns out, the original author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” – Truman Capote – didn’t like the movie, either, calling it “a mawkish valentine” to Hepburn, so he was even less ecstatic about the idea of a TV series. In an interview with Time Magazine, Capote predicted that the show would be even more “jerky” than the film and that he would not stand for the TV version “if they give me all the money in Christendom.” One doubts that his position on the matter had anything to do with the series not being picked up, but the end result no doubt pleased him, anyway.

3. “Diner” (“Diner,” 1983) – This one had a lot of potential, with the film’s writer/director, Barry Levinson, doing the same duties on the pilot. There was only one original cast member willing to return, however, but, hey, at least it was Paul Reiser (Modell). Plus, Mickey Rourke (Boogie) and Kevin Bacon (Fenwick) were traded out for Michael Madsen and James Spader, respectively, which ain’t half bad, really. In an interview with Venice Magazine, Levinson said, “We had a great cast, but CBS thought otherwise. They thought it wasn’t compatible with the current programming line-up they had.” The fools!

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You see, when Blu-ray first hit the market, there weren’t very many titles to talk about other than the new releases that were already coming out on DVD. Now that the format is more popular with studios, however, my office has become overrun with high-def titles, and well, I just don’t have the time to cover every one in as much detail as I’d like. That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be covered at all, however, and so I’ve created this column to help cleanse my conscience (and some office space) and keep you all in the know on some Blu-rays you might be looking forward to, as well as a few others you should add to your shopping list.

“Pinocchio” (Walt Disney)

One of my least favorite Disney classics after “Dumbo” and “Bambi,” “Pinocchio” is still a no-brainer when it comes to diehard collectors and fans of animated films. It’s been years since Disney last released this from their ominous vault and so they’ve not only put out a new DVD edition to celebrate the occassion, but a high-def version as well. As expected, the new digital restoration is incredible. The colors pop off the screen like they were freshly painted, and were it not for the fact that hand-drawn animation is virtually extinct, you’d swear this was made yesterday. The best part about the three-disc set, though, isn’t the new transfer or the fact that you get three different versions of the movie (Blu-ray, DVD and a digital copy), but the hours of bonus material that have been lovingly crammed onto the disc. You get all the usual stuff that you’d expect from a typical new release (audio commentary, making-of, deleted scenes), but somehow they just feel more special on a movie this old.

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