Organizers of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival have unveiled the lineup for this year's event, which runs Oct. 20-Nov. 12. Aside from the previously announced opening-night selection of Pedro Almodovar's Volver, other big-name attractions include Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing (which I wasn't able to see at Toronto but heard great things about); the British comedy Driving Lessons; the Sundance festival darling Flannel Pajamas; and the documentary Tell Me Cuba, about the U.S. embargo on the island. For more information, visit www.fliff.com.
Who says you have to wait until December to start handing out year-end awards? The International Federation of Film Critics (or FIPRESCI for short), which is comprised of 350 critics from around the world, has awarded Pedro Almodovar's Volver its annual Grand Prix award.
The prize, voted on by 350 critics from around the world, was given to the best movie released between July 2005 and July 2006 (Volver premiered in Spain in March and will open in the U.S. in November).
Considering the paucity of worthy Best Picture candidates thus far this year, there's an increasing chance the Spanish-language Volver will be in the running for the top Oscar honor next year. Penelope Cruz, who stars in the film, is pretty much guaranteed to become the first Spanish actress to snag a Best Actress nomination, too.
I had the pleasure today of interviewing Jack Nicholson via telephone about The Departed, the Martin Scorsese crime drama that is starting to pick up critical steam. My Q&A with Nicholson won't run until Oct. 1, but here's a preview of what he had to say when we talked about the movie's Oscar chances.
Q: A lot of people often say Scorsese has never won an Oscar because his best movies are too dark for the tastes of Academy voters. But you've won three of them, and you're not exactly Mr. Sunshine.
A: I’ve been very lucky in that area, as you say. I agree with you: It’s a bit harder to win with dark things than with more easily accessible things. But another big factor has to do with who else is nominated. We got a record number of nominations for Chinatown, and we only won one Oscar. And Stanley Kubrick never won an Oscar, to put that in proper perspective.
I think Martin feels the same way about it as I do: It will happen when it happens. I’d love to see him get it. This movie is certainly representative of his work and I think it’s also dang entertaining, so I wouldn’t be shocked if this was his time around. Gosh, who wouldn’t like to win an Oscar? But other than that, Martin just likes making movies, he gets to make them, and we’re all better off for it.
Aside from an episode of the TV anthology series Amazing Stories in 1985, Flags of Our Fathers marks Clint Eastwood's first collaboration with Steven Spielberg. The movie, which is based on the bestselling book by James Bradley and Ron Powers, tells the story behind one of the most famous photographic images in history - the raising of the American flag by five U.S. Marines and a Navy corpsman atop Mount Subirachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
Directed by Eastwood and produced by Spielberg, Flags of Our Fathers aims to be something larger than a visceral war picture like Saving Private Ryan: More than half of the movie's running time, for example, centers on what happened to the three surviving men from the photo (played by Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford and Ryan Phillippe) after they returned to the U.S. and were drafted by the government to serve as poster boys for a war-bond drive.
But comparisons to Ryan are inevitable, especially a long, harrowing sequence depicting the Marines' landing at Iwo Jima that instantly evokes the Omaha Beach invasion from Spielberg's film. Still, Flags contains some of the most vital and logistically complex filmmaking of the 76 year-old Eastwood's career. It also leaves you aching to see Letters From Iwo Jima, the movie he shot immediately after Flags, which recounts the same battle from the perspective of the Japanese (who are barely ever seen in Flags).
Flags of Our Fathers opens on Oct. 20. Letters From Iwo Jima is currently scheduled to premiere in Japan on Dec. 9, then gradually roll out across the U.S. in January.
Festival organizers unveiled the list of this year's award-winning movies. Bella, director Alejandro Monteverde's tale about a life-altering chance meeting between two strangers in New York, won the People's Choice Award, which is voted on by festivalgoers. The two runners-up for the award were Mon Meilleur Ami and Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing.
The Norwegian comedy Reprise won the Diesel Discovery Award, which is given to first-time filmmakers and voted on by the media attending the festival. Death of a President won the FIPRESCI jury prize, which is voted on by a panel of international critics. The panel honored "the audacity with which [the movie] distorts reality to reveal a larger truth." Whatever, FIPRESCI dudes.
You can check out the rest of the festival winners here. I'm off to try to sneak into a sold-out public showing of Paris, je t'aime, a collection of 21 short films by 21 famous filmmakers (including the Coen brothers, Alexander Payne, Gus Van Sant, Wes Craven and a bunch of others) all set in Paris. It sounds like a nice way to cap off the festival, and since they're all short films, I won't have to concentrate all that hard, which is good, because I'm feeling pretty movied-out. I just wanna go home and catch up with last week's premiere episode of The Wire.
The other harrowing documentary I saw, Amy Berg's Deliver Us From Evil, recounts the astonishing story of Father Olivier O'Grady, the Roman Catholic priest and self-described pedophile who sexually molested and raped what may be hundreds of children - including a nine-month old baby - over the span of 20 years.
Berg's main theme in the film is to show how the Catholic Church continually ignored the mounting evidence against O'Grady and essentially pretended nothing had happened, the way any major corporation would hide the wrongdoings of one of its executives to avoid public scrutiny and criticism. But the key to the film's success are the plentiful interviews with O'Grady, who currently lives in Ireland, has the manner and tenor of a kind-hearted, friendly man, and speaks so calmly and clinically about his crimes and why he did them, he becomes as frightening and monstrous as Hannibal Lecter.
Lionsgate Films plans to release Deliver Us From Evil in theaters next month. Sitting in the row in front of me at the screening was director Brian De Palma, who often attends the festival as a fan, just to gorge on movies. Being a huge fan of his films, I was tempted to lean forward and ask him a couple of questions about The Black Dahlia, which opened in theaters yesterday. But I had a feeling that most reviews were probably going to be a lot like my own, so I didn't bother him.
Two of the most powerful movies I've seen here happen to be balanced, informative documentaries about incendiary subjects. Lake of Fire, director Tony Kaye's first film since 1998's American History X (which he publically disowned after the studio took the movie away from him and allowed actor Edward Norton to re-edit it), is an epic, two-and-a-half hour documentary about the abortion debate in the U.S.
The movie, which currently has no U.S. distributor, will probably have to be trimmed a bit to make it more commercially viable. But even at its current length, Lake of Fire is utterly engrossing and provocative, forcing you to consider the other side's stance, no matter which side of the fence you happen to be on.
The movie gives equal time to both pro-life and pro-choice groups; recounts the shootings and bombings that have taken place at various abortion clinics since 1993; interviews Norma McCorvey (a.k.a. the original "Jane Roe") about her conversion to Christianity and her subsequent anti-abortion stance; and uses interviews with respected authors and commentators (including Noah Chomsky, Nat Hentoff and Frederick Clarkson) to put the abortion debate into a political context and show how it reflects American's current ideological climate.
Kaye also does two daring things in the movie: He follows a 28 year-old woman through her abortion procedure, providing an up-close and personal account of her psychological and emotional turmoil. Kaye also includes in extremely graphic and disturbing images of aborted fetuses, knowing that the sheer power of those images alone express things no amount of pro-life rhetoric could ever hope to express. What's best about Lake of Fire is that it doesn't set out to change anyone's mind, pro or con: It just hopes to raise the level of the debate by giving viewers as much information as possible, as experienced by those - both extremists and not - who are in the thick of the battle.
The Toronto Film Festival officially ends tonight, but for the few journalists still lingering here, the party was over two or three days ago. I haven't had a problem getting into a press screening since Wednesday - unlike the first half of the festival, when you had to show up at least a half-hour early if you hoped to snag a seat.
I wish I could say that the extra elbow room gave me the chance to catch some worthwhile movies, but most of what I've seen over the last 48 hours has been on the level of Bonneville, in which Jessica Lange, Joan Allen and Kathy Bates play three Mormon women who go on a road trip from Utah to California in a Pontiac convertible, a la Thelma and Louise, and raise all kinds of hell, like drinking coffee or laughing so hard inside their motel room that they disturb the neighbors.
It's always strangely fascinating to watch good actors in a bizarrely bad movie, although the novelty wears off after 30 minutes or so, and you start wondering why, exactly, you're forcing yourself to watch the thing. The best moment in Bonneville came when the hapless heroines are stranded by a flat tire in the middle of the Utah salt flats and they see a figure on the horizon approaching. The critic sitting next to me leaned over and whispered "Maybe this is going to turn into Wolf Creek," which momentarily got my hopes up. Alas, it was not to be.
Caught up this morning with All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, which was scooped up for a U.S. release by the Weinstein Co. here after a wildly successful midnight screening on Saturday. As often happens at film festivals, I found the movie to be a tad overrated. But there's no denying first-time director Jonathan Levine is trying to do different something with the slasher-flick genre, incorporating Columbine-era themes of teen alienation and violence into the usual Friday the 13th formulas.
Although it's primarily a horror movie, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane isn't really all that scary or disturbing. It is most effective, really, as an exploration of adolescent sexuality, especially when it focuses on Mandy, the prettiest and most sought-after girl in school, who is either oblivious to the effect she has on the opposite sex or just hasn't let it go to her head. Played by the excellent Amber Heard, whose sexy confidence and poise reminded me of Chloe Sevigny, Mandy is a fascinating and original heroine who ends up rewriting all the rules in the slasher-film canon.
That's how director Leon Ichaso describes the relationship between Puerto Rican singer Hector Lavoe and his wife Puchi in El Cantante, which made its world premiere here last night. The story of Lavoe, who popularized salsa music in New York City in the 1970s and 80s, shares more than a few similarities with the ones recounted in Ray and Walk the Line - drug addiction, marital strife, the pressures of stardom - except that Lavoe's is infinitely more tragic.
To his credit, Ichaso does not attempt to sugarcoat the reality of Lavoe's life: If anything, the movie could have used less darkness and more levity. The script, which Ichaso co-wrote, nimbly covers more than 20 years of Lavoe's life and career, but lacks the depth and dimension to properly convey what made Lavoe tick.
The casting of Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez is both blessing and curse: It's undeniably entertaining to watch the real-life couple tear into each other during hysterical, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-scale arguments, or snorting lines of cocaine and cackling madly while riding around 80s-era Manhattan in the back of a limo. But the actors' personas are ultimately too big for the characters they are playing: Despite the filmmakers' obvious affection for Lavoe and his legacy, El Cantante is more The Marc and J-Lo Show than anything else.
But the plentiful musical numbers, which Ichaso choreographs and directs with tremendous energy and style, are all outstanding - joyous, infectious, and worth the price of a ticket. Even if you've never heard of Levoe, El Cantante is bound to turn you into an instant fan, a testament to both the singer's talent and Anthony's excellent re-recordings of his songs.
is currently on the market for a U.S. distributor has been picked up for U.S. distribution for a reported $6 million by Picturehouse, the same company releasing Guillermo Del Toro's marvelous Pan's Labyrinth in December. However the movie fares, I suspect the soundtrack album will be a big hit. Despite its flaws, El Cantante is also instantly recognizable as a story about Hispanics told and acted by Hispanics, which should earn it an audience beyond Lavoe's considerable fan base.
Just as I feared, I got shut out of this morning's press screening of Death of a President, along with some 200 other journalists and industry types. I did, however, manage to snag a ticket for its final public showing here later in the day.
Noah Cowan, a programmer for the Toronto Film Festival, introduced the movie by saying "This film should be considered more than a single image or a scandal for the American right-wing," referring to the controversy that has surrounded the picture since festival organizers announced it would be making its world premiere here (the $4 million was made for British television, where it will air next month).
Newmarket Films, which bought the U.S. distribution rights for the film here Monday, should hurry up and bring it out soon, because the controversy is bound to be short-lived. As a technical achievement, Death of a President is fascinating: Director Gabriel Range seamlessly mixes real-life footage of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney into his fictional documentary, Zelig-style, to create a convincing and disturbing depiction of an imaginary assassination of Bush during a speaking engagement in Chicago in October 2007.
But what follows is a highly manipulative, dramatically clumsy and painfully obvious scenario in which the Cheney presidency first tries to go to war against Syria for the assassination, then passes an amendment to the Patriot Act which further erodes personal rights and privacy in the U.S., resulting to the arrest and conviction of an innocent Muslim man. The lack of imagination in the film's "what if?" scenario isn't just disappointing: It also renders the second half of the film so dull, it's no surprise that two people sitting near me in the theater were sound asleep.
After the film, Range and his producer/screenwriter Simon Finch took the stage for a Q&A session with the audience. Range said he wanted the film to double as "a series of reflections about things that have happened in America since 9/11" and claimed that the only response he's had from the White House about the movie came from a spokeswoman who said "the film did not dignify a response."
Range also said he wanted to make sure Death of a President strongly conveyed the "horror" of the assassination so no one could accuse him of making a wish-fulfillment fantasy or encouraging anyone to try to kill the President. He can, however, be accused of making an obvious, sensationalistic movie that squanders its potential as speculative drama.