Thursday night movie news dump

I usually do this on Friday, but the interesting film related stories have been coming fairly hot and heavy all week and it’s time to play catch up. I’m telling you right now, as long as this post is, whatever the most important and interesting story from this eventful week turns out to be, it’ll be the one I skip.

* When I first heard about the project a week or so back, I was taken by the prospect of screenwriter Dustin Lance Black segueing from a biopic about the first openly gay U.S. politician in “Milk” to one about by far the most powerful closeted gay man in American history, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was the first director of the FBI starting in 1935 and, in a real blow to our democracy, intimidated several presidents into keeping him in the position until his death in 1972, a shocking 37 years later.

An already interesting project got even more interesting, however, a couple of days back when word got out that none other than Clint Eastwood, who will be joining the very smal club of octogenerian directors this May, might choose to helm it. (The Playlist broke the news on the 10th that Eastwood was “set” to direct; yesterday Borys Kit of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that he was merely “eying” the project.).

Taken together with “Invictus,” this would be the second time the right leaning but independent-minded Republican would be taking on subject matter that deals obliquely with a significant moral failure of American conservatism. Nearly all well-known conservatives tacitly supported both the racist and fascist pre-Mandela South African regime and Hoover’s uninterrupted reign.

In the case of “Invictus,” the idea of him doing it turned out to be more interesting than the film. However, for the man who embodied “get tough” law enforcement concepts as Dirty Harry to take on a law enforcement figure who enjoyed getting tough with anyone who dared to espouse politics he deemed radical — but not the mafia — that’s a horse of a potentially very different color. One to watch.

Clint Eastwood will take your question later

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Celluloid Heroes: David Medsker’s Top Movies of the 2000s

For better or worse, every decade has a couple of unique characteristics that serve as a convenient description for the period as a whole. The ’70s had disaster movies and the explosion of auteurs like Scorsese and Coppola. The ’80s had Spielberg, John Hughes, and the rise of the cheap slasher film. The ’90s were all about the indie explosion (and more disaster movies). What will history remember about the 2000s? If I had to guess, I’d sum it up in four words: Attack of the Fanboys.

Take a quick look at the top ten grossing movies of the decade (using worldwide box office numbers): There are four “Harry Potter” movies, two “Lord of the Rings” movies, two “Pirates of the Carribean” movies, “The Dark Knight,” and “Shrek 2.” And don’t forget the three “Spider-Man” movies, the two “Transformers” movies, the last two “Star Wars” movies, “300,” or “Iron Man.” Put them all together, and you have one mondo pile o’ fanboydom, right there. The first movie on the list to feature an original screenplay is Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” at #15, which brings us to the unofficial subtitle for the 2000s: The Decade When Everyone Ran Out of Ideas.

Ah, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There were some original ideas out there, and on the flip side, some of those fanboy movies made as much money as they did because they were phenomenal pieces of work. As we continue our series of reflections on the decade that was, I submit to you for your snarky dismissal approval, my top ten movies of the 2000s.

return of the king
10. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
I’ve still only seen this movie once, but so much of it is still imprinted in my mind. The final fight between Frodo and Gollum. Samwise kicking orc ass while carrying Frodo at the same time. That hellacious battle of Minas Tirith. And then, just when you think that Peter Jackson will let you take a breath, he unleashes another horrific shriek from those damn Fell Beasts. Yes, I admit that when Sam and Frodo had their tearful goodbye at the movie’s end, I wanted to scream, “For God’s sake, just kiss him already!” But there is a reason this movie won every single Academy Award it was nominated for. It’s an extraordinary piece of work.

king of kong
9. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
What began as an innocent look at the classic video game circuit slowly morphed into a tale of David vs. Goliath proportions, as unknown Donkey Kong wizard Steve Wiebe encountered a political shitstorm that would give Machiavelli pause. Billy Mitchell is my pick for movie villain of the decade, and worse: he’s real.

wall-e
8. WALL·E (2008)
Only Pixar could turn a story about a lonely robot into the most heartfelt movie Hollywood’s made in years. The fact that this didn’t win a single Academy Award for its sound work is disgraceful.


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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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Peter Gabriel bows out of the Oscars

Nikke Finke is reporting over at her Deadline Hollywood Daily blog that Peter Gabriel has pulled out of performing “Down to Earth,” his contribution to the “Wall-E” soundtrack, at the Academy Awards because he doesn’t think the nominated songs, their writers, and their performers are getting enough respect during this year’s Oscars telecast.

Why? Because the producers of the show, Larry Mark and Bill Condon, have opted to present the three nominated songs within a medley.

Says Ms. Frinke:

I’m told the producers have slotted 90 seconds in the medley for each song sung by its original performer. But Gabriel said in his letter that he was only being offered 65 seconds for his song. “I don’t feel that is sufficient time to do the song justice, and I have decided to withdraw from performing,” Gabriel informed AMPAS. “I fully respect and look forward to the producers’ right to revamp the show. Even though song writers are small players in the filmmmaking process, they are just as committed and work just as hard as the rest of the team, and I regret that this new version of the ceremony is being created in part at their expense.”

What do ya’ll think? Personally, I don’t blame the guy. They had a chance to have Peter freaking Gabriel sing his Oscar-nominated song, and instead they said, “Can you cut it down a minute five?” If it’d been me, I don’t know that I’d have been nearly as polite with my response.

  

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Academy Awards recap: Oscar loves Nazis, hates robots, superheroes

Wow. Just…wow. Do you ever wonder just what movies the Academy voters are watching, and if they’re seeing the same movies the rest of us are? I certainly had that thought after scouring through the list of nominees for the 81st Academy Awards, when I saw that most of my favorite movies – one of which made over half a billion dollars – were discarded in favor of an overripe Nazi legal drama. And, just to have some fun with how far off some of these selections are, I’m going to include the Rotten Tomatoes freshness ratings. Let’s start at the top:

Best Picture
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (72%)
Frost/Nixon (91%)
Milk (92%)
The Reader (60%)
Slumdog Millionaire (95%)

Now, fellow BE movie critic Jason Zingale and I admit that we are in the minority on “Milk” – it’s a fine movie, but neither of us understands what people think is so wonderful about it – but I’m not surprised to see it here. It’s about a gay California poilitician in the year that Prop 8 passed. Of course Hollywood’s going to get behind this one. But “The Reader” for Best Picture? You have got to be kidding me. Look again at that freshness rating. Sixty percent, which means only three out of every five people liked it. Granted, “Benjamin Button” isn’t rated much higher, but movies with that kind of scope and reach always have their detractors. (Indeed, in our local film critics’ poll, “Benjamin Button” finished ninth.) Simply put, “The Reader” has no business whatsoever being nominated for Best Picture, not in the same year that saw the release of “The Dark Knight” (94%) and “WALL-E” (96%).

So why is it here? My personal theory: because Hollywood’s liberal populace sees Kate Winslet’s character getting tried for war crimes, and fantasizes about doing the same to George W. Bush. Get over yourselves, people. “The Reader” isn’t about you, or us, or now. It’s overdone melodrama, nothing more.

Best Actor
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Man, I’m torn here. On the one hand, I’m thrilled for Richard Jenkins that he finally got a lead role, and earned an Oscar nomination for his efforts. On the other hand, Clint freaking Eastwood just gave his final acting performance, and it was unforgettable. Again, I don’t think Sean Penn belongs here, but I’m starting to think Jason is right when he says he’s going to win. Damn. I’m totally pulling for Mickey Rourke.

Best Actress
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Kate was far better in “Revolutionary Road,” for my money, and for the life of me I can’t understand why the Academy is throwing that movie under the bus. This is not a strong list of nominees, if you ask me. My money’s on Melissa Leo to surprise the world.

Best Supporting Actor
Please. Does it even matter who else is nominated here? This is Heath Ledger’s to lose, and he’s not going to lose. Bonus points for nominating Robert Downey Jr. for “Tropic Thunder,” though.

Best Supporting Actress
Both Amy Adams and Viola Davis from “Doubt” were nominated, and will surely split the vote. I’d like to see Marisa Tomei (“The Wrestler”) or Taraji P. Henson (“Benjamin Button”) win, but my gut tells me Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) will be the winner.

Best Director
Danny Boyle, Danny Boyle, Danny Boyle. Again, Stephen Daldry is here for “The Reader,” while Christopher Nolan (“Dark Knight”) and Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E”) watch from the cheap seats. Absurd.

Best Animated Feature
Here’s your bone, “WALL-E.”

Best Foreign Language Film
Where the hell is “Let the Right One In”? Inexcusable oversight, that.

Best Song
Where the hell is “The Wrestler”? They know that Springsteen wrote it, right? Wouldn’t that alone guarantee it a nod? Ugh.

Best Documentary
God help them if something other than “Man on Wire” wins this.

Come Oscar night, I’m going to make sure I don’t have anything heavy in my hands when they announce the Best Picture winner. Because, if for some ungodly reason “The Reader” wins, I will kill my television, then fly to Hollywood and burn the place to the ground. Academy, you’ve been warned. Do the right thing.

  

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