It has never been done before, but does Ava DuVernay’s 13th—a documentary that postulates that, for black Americans, mass incarceration has replaced slavery—stand a chance at snagging a Best Picture nomination at the 89th Academy Awards?
The Selma-director’s Netflix original—which she also helped produce and co-wrote the screenplay for—opened the New York Film Festival with its world premiere, marking the first time a documentary has ever held that coveted spot in the festival’s 54-year history.
Last month, I had the opportunity to chat for roughly 40 minutes in New York with John Legend, the six-time Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter, about the roots of his music career and of his social/political activism, and the way in which those two aspects of his life are closely intertwined. Legend, 32, has focused on no cause more than eradicating education inequality in America, and over the past year has been a prominent champion of — and contributed the Oscar short-listed original song “Shine” to — “Waiting for ‘Superman’,” Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim’s documentary on the subject (which will be released on DVD on February 15). As you can appreciate from watching the video at the top of this post, he feels a deeply personal connection to the film’s subject matter, and has embraced it as the central cause of his life.
The Hollywood Reporter: Sofia M. Fernandez received word today from Fandango editor Chuck Walton that “The King’s Speech,” which opened eight weeks ago, is — on the heels of receiving 12 Oscar nominations yesterday — today’s top-selling movie ticket, with sales up about 75% from the same day last week. Walton also notes that the film “has received more ‘Must Go’ user ratings” on Fandango than any other film of the last few months.”
Company Town: Ben Fritz learns about some of Harvey Weinstein’s plans for “The King’s Speech” to try to capitalize on its nominations and “rope in more movie-going commoners who normally wouldn’t go near a historical drama about a British king.” Among them: “re-editing the movie to excise coarse language and secure a lower rating that will open [the film] to a broader audience” (although “a recut version wouldn’t hit theaters until after the Oscars ceremony”), as well as a publicity campaign that will launch around Valentine’s Day and encourage people to “see it with the person who inspired you and changed your life.”
Awards Daily: Sasha Stone passes along the news that the 26th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival has decided to honor “The King’s Speech” with its first ever “best motion picture ensemble award.” The film’s Oscar nominated lead actor Colin Firth, supporting actor Geoffrey Rush, supporting actress Helena Bonham Carter, and director Tom Hooper will be on hand to accept the honor when it is presented on Monday evening following a long-planned tribute to Rush, specifically.
Slate: Christopher Hitchens, meanwhile, rains a little on “The King’s Speech” parade, describing it as “an extremely well-made film with a seductive human interest plot” but also “a major desecration of the historical record.” He alleges that “it perpetrates a gross falsification of history” in the way that it depicts Winston Churchill (who is played in the film by Timothy Spall). He writes, “[Churchill] is shown as a consistent friend of the stuttering prince and his loyal princess and as a man generally in favor of a statesmanlike solution to the crisis of the abdication,” but, in fact, “was — for as long as he dared — a consistent friend of conceited, spoiled, Hitler-sympathizing [King] Edward VIII” (who is played in the film by Guy Pearce). Hitchens asks, “Would the true story not have been fractionally more interesting for the audience?”
Washington Post: Valerie Strauss believes that the Academy’s documentary branch “”got it right” when it denied “Waiting for ‘Superman’” a best documentary (feature) Oscar nomination yesterday. She argues that “classic documentaries are factual and straightforward, and don’t, as did ‘Superman,’ fake scenes for emotional impact.” She further alleges, “[Director Davis] Guggenheim edited the film to make it seem as if charter schools are a systemic answer to the ills afflicting many traditional public schools, even though they can’t be, by their very design. He unfairly demonized Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and gave undeserved hero status to reformer and former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.”
Washington City Paper: Benjamin R. Freed, a columnist who has frequently criticized the arguments made in “Waiting for ‘Superman’,” writes that he, too, “was quite pleased to find… that it did not make the final cut for the Academy Awards.” For his post, he contacted me asking my opinion, and I told him, “It was as well-run an Oscar campaign as you can have for a documentary,” and noted that the film’s prospects were probably hurt by having to compete with “The Lottery,” a similarly-themed film that was also on the short-list of 15 from which the 5 nominees were eventually selected. I added that the snub of the popular film will undoubtedly come to be regarded as one of the branch’s most inexplicable omissions, alongside the likes of “Shoah” (1985), “The Thin Blue Line” (1988), “Roger and Me” (1989), “Hoop Dreams” (1994), and “Grizzly Man” (2005).
Hollywood, Esq.: Eriq Gardner, meanwhile, describes the legal problems currently facing the subject of the documentaries that was nominated yesterday, Banksy’s “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” Thierry Guetta, also known as “Mr. Brainwash,” has been embroiled for months now in a lawsuit in which Glen E. Friedman, another artist, alleges that Guetta “took his copyrighted photo without consent and made derivatives” for his “Life Is Beautiful” exhibition (which is prominently featured in the documentary). Gardner reports that as part of his defense, Guetta gave a sworn deposition, under the penalty of perjury, stating “that the artwork was his own and not, as some have speculated, a fabrication by Banksy.”
New York Times: Michael Cieply reports that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association claimed “in a little-noticed court filing [last] Tuesday]” that its ongoing legal battle with Dick Clark Productions, the longtime producer of its annual Golden Globe Awards telecast, might prevent next year’s show from happening at all because “there might not be time to find a new producer, a network and advertisers for next January’s show.” The HFPA is accusing the production company of “absconding with rights to the show by unilaterally reaching a new eight-year broadcast agreement with NBC, the network that now broadcasts the ceremony.” Dick Clark Productions, meanwhile, has asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed.
Photo: Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in “The King’s Speech.” Credit: The Weinstein Company.
The Hollywood Reporter: Alex Ben Block reports that the Publicists Guild of America has announced the nominees for its 48th annual Maxwell Weinberg Showmanship Award, which honors “the creativity and enterprise that entertainment publicists apply to attract the largest possible audiences for program they represent,” according to awards committee chairman Henri Bollinger. The nominees for the award in the film category (there is also one for television) are “Despicable Me” (Universal), “Inception” (Warner Brothers), “The Social Network” (Columbia), “Toy Story 3” (Disney), “Waiting for ‘Superman’” (Paramount), and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (20th Century Fox). The winner will be announced at a luncheon on February 25. (I’d like to offer my congratulations to all of the nominees.)
New York Post: Claire Atkinson claims that sources have told her that Sony has spent $55 million to promote “The Social Network” — a film that is being distributed by its subsidiary Columbia Pictures, for which it has grossed $199.8 million worldwide, thus far — including a staggering $5 million on its awards campaign. (“A typical Oscar campaign costs between $2 million and $3 million,” she writes.) These costs reportedly cover everything from “the usual pre-Oscar nomination ads in Hollywood trade magazines to the unusual move of re-releasing the film in 603 theaters this past weekend ahead of its DVD debut.” It is believed that Sony is spending so much money on this effort because Columbia hasn’t produced a best picture Oscar winner in the 21 years since Sony purchased it in 1989; its last winner was “The Last Emperor” (1987) 23 years ago.
Boston Globe: Mark Shanahan learns that Alice Ward, the 80-year-old mother/former manager of the professional boxers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund (as well as their seven sisters) who is portrayed by Melissa Leo in the recently-release film “The Fighter,” is “fighting for her own life in a Boston hospital” right now. According to Shanahan, Ward “went into cardiac arrest Wednesday and stopped breathing for more than 30 minutes… [and] was eventually placed on life support… [remarkably, however, she] regained consciousness and is now able to speak.”
The Wrap: Steve Pond describes the Academy’s foreign language category as one that is “full of scandal and controversy” and “snubs and surprises,” all despite years of “taking dramatic, sometimes unprecedented steps to deal with those controversies.” Pond writes that producer Mark Johnson, a member of the Academy’s board of governors who has overseen the category for a decade, has implemented changes which “have resulted in the creation of a unique three-step nominating process that puts the final decision in the hands of a carefully-chosen committee that in recent years has included actors Ryan Gosling and Keanu Reeves, directors Jonathan Demme and Nora Ephron, writer Dustin Lance Black, composer Harry Gregson-Williams, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and cinematographer Wally Pfister, among many others.” But, Pond ponders, “by turning the major decision over to his hand-picked committee, has Johnson cut regular voters out of the process and taken too much power for himself? Or has the result — better, smarter nominations in the estimation of many — justified the tinkering?”
W Magazine: Lynn Hirschberg snags “an exclusive first look from the set of the year’s most anticipated film,” the English-language adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” The film’s director, David Fincher, and star, Rooney Mara, previously collaborated on “The Social Network.” Fincher tells Hirschberg, “On ‘Social Network,’ I didn’t really agree with the critics’ praise. It interested me that ‘Social Network’ was about friendships that dissolved through this thing that promised friendships, but I didn’t think we were ripping the lid off anything. The movie is true to a time and a kind of person, but I was never trying to turn a mirror on a generation… ‘Social Network’ is not earth-shattering.”
Photo: Daisy in “Waiting for ‘Superman.'” Credit: Paramount.
Movieline: Jen Yamato surveys several awards pundits, including yours truly, about the best picture prospects of “127 Hours,” which some believe have faded in recent weeks, but which I argue are just as strong as ever because of the preferential balloting system. Yes, many Academy members can’t bring themselves to watch the film at all due to the much-discussed farewell-to-arm scene that looms over it, but the majority of those who do see it realize that the film is about so much more than just that moment, and place it high on their ballots. In the era of 10 best pictures, a film that receives a relatively small number of highly-placed votes can easily snag a spot from a film that receives a large number of votes low on the ballot.
The Odds: Steve Pond breaks the news that Ryan Kavanaugh, the founder and CEO of Relativity Media and a producer of “The Fighter,” has lost an appeal to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Producers Branch executive committee to have his name listed as one of the film’s producers. “According to the three sources close to the film,” Pond writes, Kavanaugh “took his case to the Academy after the Producers Guild of America had ruled that only three of the film’s six listed producers warranted a ‘produced by’ credit, and a PGA nomination.” Pond notes that both the PGA and AMPAS “have rules that in most circumstances limit the number of nominated producers to three,” and that “a successful AMPAS appeal would have been Kavanaugh’s last chance to land an Oscar nomination.”
Inside Movies: Lisa Schwarzbaum, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle (the world’s oldest film critics body), writes about the behavior of Armond White, the “notoriously contrarian” film critic of the New York Press and current president of the NYFCC, at Monday night’s 76th annual NYFCC awards ceremony, which he emceed. Schwarzbaum says that she debated whether it was appropriate to talk “inside-baseball about an organization to which I belong,” but then “got to thinking about the damage done” by White’s mean-spirited remarks — which, according to Schwarzbaum and other reports, provoked reactions from the stage from director director Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) and actresses Michelle Williams (“Blue Valentine”) and Annette Bening (“The Kids Are All Right”) — and “decided to use this [article] as my podium.”
Filmmaker: Nicholas Rombes unearths the trailer of the early Jennifer Connelly vehicle “Etoile” (1988), and notes some hard-to-ignore parallels between that film and “Black Swan.” The former film, like the latter, “also happens to be a nightmarish film about ‘Swan Lake’ that also features a monstrous black swan.”
Photo: James Franco in “127 Hours.” Credit: Fox Searchlight.
The Hollywood Reporter: Stephen Galloway interviews Michael Douglas, a best actor hopeful for “Solitary Man” and a best supporting actor hopeful for “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” about his rollercoaster of a year. The 66-year-old, “looking surprisingly well” and “nothing whatsoever like the haggard figure that graces the National Enquirer and its kin,” tells him, “After all the adversity I’ve had this year with my health and my son’s incarceration, my ex-wife and the lawsuit — to be able to sit here and talk to you, I’m so happy.”
New York Times: Dennis Lim chats for 45 minutes with Christian Bale, a best supporting actor hopeful for “The Fighter,” during which Bale restates his aversion to interviews. “There’s only one reason to talk about a movie ahead of time, and that’s to let people know it’s coming out,” Bale says. “I want people to go see movies that I make. If I knew they’d go see them anyway, if I knew that I’d keep working, I’d never do another interview in my life.” Upon being asked about awards campaigning, Bale adds, “I’ll campaign for the movie, but I won’t campaign for myself.”
Inside Movies: Adam Markovitz shares a letter that Rooney Mara, a best supporting actress hopeful for “The Social Network,” sent to Entertainment Weekly from the Stockholm, Sweden set of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” In it, the 25-year-old up-and-comer pokes poking fun at the tendency of David Fincher, her director in both of the aforementioned films, to demand dozens of takes from his actors. “It’s -9 degrees Celsius. 37 takes down, only about 42 more to go,” she writes. “Every time he says, ‘Okay, last one,’ I fall for it. Every. Single. Time. If only I could get this damn shrug right, then maybe I could go inside and my nipple ring would have time to thaw out.”
Deadline Hollywood: Nikki Finke confirms that The Weinstein Co. has moved the theatrical release date of John Wells’s “The Company Men” from December 10 to January 21, apparently due to December’s overcrowded lineup of big releases. Finke notes, however, that the studio still plans on giving the film an Oscar-qualifying run, meaning that it will play for one week at one theater in New York and one theater in Los Angeles before the end of the year.
Celebuzz: Jamie Patricof, one of the producers of “Blue Valentine,” posts a picture of the full-page ad that The Weinstein Co. took out in last Friday’s Los Angeles Times on behalf of the film in advance of the MPAA’s decision on whether or not to reduce its rating of the film from NC-17 to R. The ad reads: “Before the MPAA makes their decision, MAKE YOURS.”
Photo: Michael Douglas in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” Credit: 20th Century Fox.
[Assorted]: David O. Russell’s highly-anticipated boxing/brotherhood drama “The Fighter” was unveiled on Tuesday night at Grauman’s Chinese Theater as part of the AFI Fest, and shortly after it ended numerous west coast Oscar bloggers began posting reactions. Pete Hammondwrites that all four of the film’s principal cast members — best actor hopeful Mark Wahlberg, best supporting actor hopeful Christian Bale, and best supporting actress hopefuls Amy Adams and Melissa Leo — “have real shots for this vivid and colorful crowd pleaser.” Greg Ellwoodbelieves the film “proved it has the chance to be a big crowd pleaser and substantial box office hit… [as well as] a legitimate Oscar player,” and adds that Adams’ high-quality performance was “the biggest surprise of the film.” Anne Thompsonfeels that “The actors shine in this and should be rewarded,” particular Bale, who “risks going too far with his druggie extrovert, but slowly wins us over,” and Adams, who “wins points for authenticity over Leo’s bigger-than-life mother hen.” Kris Tapley, meanwhile, senses that the film has real commercial prospects, noting that it “played well to a largely public audience… and by ‘well’ I mean they were kind of swinging from the rafters.” (He, too, describes Adams’s perf as “my favorite of the two supporting actress portrayals.”)
MTV News: Eric Ditzian notes that Jim Carrey has joined the “growing chorus of high-profile voices” who have been chiming in on the recent string of suicides by gay teens who were bullied by their peers. The beloved funnyman, who will next been seen in the comedy “I Love You Phillip Morris” playing a closeted homosexual who abruptly comes out of the closet to his wife and kids after meeting his soulmate (Ewan McGregor) in prison, told Ditzian that he often felt like an outsider while growing up, and feels strongly that “anybody who bullies anybody for any reason is no friend of mine.”
The New York Review of Books: Zadie Smith, a Harvard contemporary of Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO and subject of the best picture hopeful “The Social Network,” offers a unique look at how digital media has changed the face of her generation and those to come. Smith, who is now a professor, writes, “The more time I spend with the tail end of Generation Facebook (in the shape of my students), the more convinced I become that some of the software currently shaping their generation is unworthy of them.”
Photo: Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey in “I Love You Phillip Morris.” Credit: Roadside Attractions.
The Wrap: Steve Pond learns that concerns raised yesterday by Guy Lodge about the Oscar eligibility of “Frankie and Alice” were unwarranted. Pond obtained emails that show the film’s production company contacted the Academy in November 2009 seeking details about the submission process, but the following month — after the Academy’s “reminder list” had been published with “Frankie and Alice” on it — “informed [them] that the film would not be opening in 2009 after all.” Academy spokesman Leslie Unger confirms that merely “having been included on the list last year” — as opposed to having had a one-week qualifying run on at least one screen in New York and Los Angeles — “does not disqualify it.”
In Contention: Guy Lodge wishes that the Academy would lighten up and give a best actress nod to Emma Stone for her “frisky, funny and stealthily wise performance” in “Easy A,” a “bubbly teen comedy,” but acknowledges that they rarely recognize “unadulterated comic fluff” in the category — indeed, one has to go back almost a decade to find the last time they did, when Renee Zellweger snuck in for “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (2001). As Guy puts it, “when the dish goes down that easily, one can forget how much expertise goes into making it rise.”
Movie Line: S.T. VanAirsdale performs a post-mortem on “Hereafter,” the clunky drama written by Peter Morgan and directed by Clint Eastwood — both highly-respected Oscar winners — that has received a luke-warm critical and commercial response. After reviewing the evidence, VanAirsdale divides the blame between both men: that the root of the problem, he says, was Eastwood’s rush to turn Morgan’s screenplay into a film (even though Morgan says it was a rough draft written “very sketchily” and “in a disgracefully short period”), and Morgan’s willingness to let him do so before he was pleased with it.
Hollywood-Elsewhere: Jeff Wells surveys the Oscar punditocracy to try to establish whether or not “I Am Love” star Tilda Swinton might snag a best actress nod for her performance in the two-hour-long subtitled Italian film. (Scott told him, “She has a very real shot… she’s very popular among her fellow actors, who admire her fiercely independent streak on-screen and off.”) Swinton’s rep told Wells that in a few weeks “she will be in L.A. for a big round of screenings and then on to New York” and that “Magnolia will be sending screeners to the entire Academy, SAG nominating committee, and HFPA, for starters.”
Time: Nate Jones interviews Sir Michael Caine, who is currently making the rounds promoting his newly-released memoirs “The Elephant to Hollywood,” and asks him several questions about the director Christopher Nolan, with whom Caine has collaborated on four films over the last six years — “Batman Begins” (2005), “The Prestige” (2006), “The Dark Knight” (2008), and “Inception” (2010) — and challenges him to explain “Inception” in just one sentence, to which Caine offers the tremendously helpful response, “If I’m in a scene, it’s real; if I’m not, it’s not.”
Politics Daily: Bonnie Goldstein notes that last Wednesday, just days after President Barack Obama hosted director Davis Guggenheim and the young subjects of his doc “Waiting for ‘Superman’” at the White House, the president’s half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng — a “lifelong educator” (she was a high school history teacher and university instructor in Hawaii)” — wrote “an unsolicited email to her friends and family” urging them to see the film, which she believes will “help people to see the importance of graceful negotiation when trying to change a system and recognize the true power of persuasion.”
Deadline New York: Mike Fleming confirms that the Film Independent Spirit Awards (aka the “Indie Spirit Awards”), “one of the most enjoyable Oscar weekend events,” will be returning to the beach in Santa Monica and the Saturday before Oscars Sunday, just as it was held for years prior to last year — its 25th anniversary — when it was relocated to downtown Los Angeles and held on the Friday before Oscars Sunday.
Photo: Emma Stone in “Easy A.” Credit: Screen Gems.
The Odds: Steve Pond gathers reactions from members of the National Association of Theater Owners to the 10 upcoming films that were screened for the group during last week’s ShowEast conference in Orlando, and concludes that “the news is good for ‘The Fighter,’ ‘Tangled,’ and ‘Morning Glory,’ but not so much for ‘Due Date’ and ‘Fair Game.'” (The event “marked one of the first times anyone outside of Paramount” had seen “The Fighter,” and Pond’s sources reiterated what Scott has been indicating for weeks on his projection charts: the film’s strongest awards prospects are Christian Bale for best supporting actor and Melissa Leo for best supporting actress.)
USA Today: Anthony Breznican previews the reunion of actor Jeff Bridges with directors Joel Coen and Ethan Coen on “True Grit” 12 years after they collaborated on “The Big Lebowski” (1998). He reports that the Coen brothers told Bridges not to think about the 1969 JohnWayne film of the same title while formulating his performance, but rather to draw inspiration from the Charles Portis novel that inspired it.
WENN: Sources reports that actress Rooney Mara has not only dyed her hair black and gotten a lip ring but also pierced her nipples as part of an effort to “fully transform herself” for her starring role in the upcoming “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which will reunite her with her “The Social Network” director David Fincher. (A spokesman for the film would not comment on the story other than to say, “She’s going to look like the character as described in the novels.”) Talk about commitment to a part!
The Big Picture: Patrick Goldstein notes a stunning correlation that “has be to be bad news for Clint Eastwood’s Oscar chances, not to mention Western Civilization in general” — namely, that the aforementioned director’s spiritual drama “Hereafter” and the tomfoolery-packed “Jackass 3-D” have received matching on Metacritic and nearly identical scores on Rotten Tomatoes.
All Headline News: Anthony Jones spreads the news that Tim Palen, Lionsgate’s marketing chief and an award-winning photographer, has shot 35mm “living portraits” of eight of the women who star in Tyler Perry’s upcoming “For Colored Girls,” which his studio will be releasing. Jones notes, “This project marks Palen’s second time working with [cast member] Janet Jackson after directing the music video for her single ‘Nothing.'” (The portraits will be displayed at the Lehman Maupin Gallery in Manhattan from October 24-27; Jackson will be hosting an opening night celebrity.)
Photo: Melissa Leo and Christian Bale in “The Fighter.” Credit: Paramount.
On Monday, President Barack Obama paid tribute to the five children featured in Davis Guggenheim‘s education doc “Waiting for ‘Superman’” (Anthony Black, Daisy Esparza, Bianca Hill, Emily Jones, and Francisco Regalado), along with their parents/guardians and Guggenheim (who was accompanied by his wife, the actress Elisabeth Shue, and others who worked on the film) at the White House.
As you can see in the above video, Obama invited everyone into the Oval Office. He told the kids, “I just want to say how proud I am of all of you. I know you guys are working hard; I want you guys to stay focused, and work hard, and listen to your folks when they tell you to do your homework; and I have every confidence that you guys are going to be incredibly successful.” He added, “To the parents, I just want to say how proud I am of you guys because, you know, teachers can be good, schools can be good, but, you know, making sure that parents and grandparents — that you guys — are supporting high expectations? That makes all the difference.” And he closed by telling the filmmakers, “This [the film] is a great American story and you guys really moved me a lot. So I’m very proud of what you guys have done.”
Obama also gave the kids a tour of the Oval Office and, at the end of the visit, invited them out to the White House’s South Portico balcony to watch as he took off for other business aboard his helicopter, Marine One.
Video: President Obama with the subjects and filmmmakers of “Waiting for ‘Superman’.” Credit: The White House.