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Posts Tagged ‘Debra Granik’

Tuesday August 16th, 2011


This morning, I had the great pleasure of chatting for about 25 minutes over the phone with Vera Farmiga, one of the most unusually talented (the New York Times has likened her to Meryl Streep) and unconventionally sexy (her exotic looks, melodic voice, and unmistakable confidence are all very European) movie stars working today.

The 38-year-old Ukrainian-American is best known for playing love interests in big studio pics, such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon’s in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” (2006) and of George Clooney’s in Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” (2009), but she has particularly shone in little-seen indies, such as Debra Granik’s “Down to the Bone” (2004), for which she won best actress awards from the Sundance Film Festival and Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and Rod Lurie’s “Nothing But the Truth” (2008), for which she received a best supporting actress nod from the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

Now, she has now directed a film of her own for the first time: “Higher Ground” (Sony Pictures Classics, 8/26, R, trailer), a low-budget drama about religious faith and doubt, in which she also plays the lead character. The film premiered at Sundance in January, played at Tribeca in April, and will open in select theaters later this month.

We discussed all of the above, and more, earlier today.


Photo: Vera Farmiga in “Higher Ground.” Credit: Sony Pictures Classics.

Sunday February 6th, 2011


Prior to Friday night’s presentation of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Virtuoso Award, I had the opportunity to chat in the Lobero Theatre’s green room for about 30 minutes with the only one of the five honorees whom I had not previously interviewed at length, John Hawkes.

Hawkes, 51, is a veteran character actor who has been receiving the highest acclaim of his 25-year career — including SAG and Oscar nominations for best supporting actor — for his performance as “Teardrop,” Jennifer Lawrence’s menacing, meth-addicted uncle, in Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone.” Over the course of our time together, he and I discussed his work on that film (and the somewhat jarring impact that its success has had on his life and career), as well as the long road leading up to it.

He’s someone who you may recognize from any number of productions from the past — among them Robert Rodriguez’s “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996), Wolfgang Petersen’s “The Perfect Storm” (2000), Miranda July’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know” (2005), the famous live episode of NBC’s “E.R.” (1997), and the popular HBO series “Deadwood” (2004-2006) and “Eastbound & Down” (2009) — but who you will always remember in the future because of “Winter’s Bone.” Like it or not, he will never again be just “that guy.”

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Monday January 10th, 2011


Tomorrow, the Directors Guild of America will announce its five nominees for the 2010 DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film. I believe that they will be (in alphabetical order)…

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Friday January 7th, 2011


  • Company Town: Ben Fritz writes that “pre-release audience polling” suggests that none of the films that will be debuting in theaters over the weekend, including “Country Strong” and “Season of the Witch,” have mustered enough interest to prevent “Little Fockers” and “True Grit” from staying atop the box-office leaderboard for a third consecutive week. (“The first weekend of January is typically one of the slowest of the year at movie theaters,” he notes.) “Fockers” edged “Grit” for the top spot both of the last two weekends, but “Grit,” which has outperformed all expectations, edged “Fockers” on several individual days and might prove to have longer legs.
  • The Odds: Steve Pond speaks with Kathryn Bigelow — who last year became the first woman to win the best director Oscar and the first woman to direct a film that won the best picture Oscar — about why she has recently begun to speak out publicly on behalf of Debra Granik’s best picture hopeful “Winter’s Bone,” which was released theatrically way back in June. Bigelow, who introduced two special screenings of the film on Wednesday night at West Hollywood’s Soho House, said that she hadn’t met Granik until recently, but reached out to her to offer her support and assistance because she found “Winter’s Bone” to be “so perfectly crafted… it’s just a magnificent film.”
  • Entertainment Weekly: Dave Karger offers his predictions about which specific Oscar nominations will be awarded to this year’s top awards contenders when the Academy unveils this year’s field on January 25. He prefaces his breakdown by noting, “Last year no movie earned more than nine nominations; that’s because the top two contenders, ‘The Hurt Locker and ‘Avatar,’ only had one acting nod between them. But by my guesses, three films — ‘The Social Network,’ ‘The King’s Speech,’ and ‘Inception‘ — could feasibly score a nomination count in the double digits” this year. (He adds, “I have ‘True Grit‘ close behind with nine nominations… ‘The Fighter and ‘Black Swan,’ meanwhile, could top out around eight nominations.”)
  • The Hollywood Reporter: THR staff have provided a running list of exclusive parties that will take place after the conclusion of this year’s Golden Globes ceremony. As has historically been the case, most will take place at spots within or adjacent to the sprawling Beverly Hilton, where the ceremony also takes place, but a few have also been scheduled at off-site locations.
  • Hitfix: Greg Ellwood reacts to the news that the legendary actor Robert De Niro, who will be presented with the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes later this month, has also received — and accepted — an invitation to head the jury at the 64th annual Cannes Film Festival in May. The festival released a statement indicating that it wanted “to pay tribute to the co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2011.” Ellwood, however, suggests that De Niro’s selection marks a somewhat “disturbing trend,” as he is the third American to lead the international film festival’s jury in the last four years (the other two being Sean Penn in 2008 and Tim Burton in 2010).
  • Hollywood-Elsewhere: Jeff Wells shares a YouTube video that presents facts about and scenes from “The Fighter” alongside facts about and scenes from the actual Micky Ward fights that largely inspired it, illustrating both the ways in which the filmmakers stuck closely to established facts and areas in which they took creative liberties. The video’s closing side-by-side footage, which describes Amy Adams’s performance as “Oscar-worthy” (with a minor caveat), is quite cute.

Photo: Matt Damon in “True Grit.” Credit: Paramount.

Thursday January 6th, 2011


  • Entertainment Weekly: Dave Karger speaks with Julia Roberts after a special screening of “Biutiful” at CAA that she hosted for industry insiders to help call attention to the performance of her “Eat Pray Love” co-star Javier Bardem. (Robert Forster, Kyle MacLachlan, and Bardem’s pregnant wife Penelope Cruz were among the attendees.) Roberts explains, “I think the movie hasn’t gotten the exposure. You don’t know where it is. It’s like this hidden little jewel… I just have a great appreciation for what he went through to show us all this.”
  • Deadline Hollywood: Mike Fleming interviews producer-extraordinaire Scott Rudin, who this week became the first producer to receive PGA Award nominations for two features in the same year (for “The Social Network” and “True Grit”), and who will also be receiving the David O. Selznick Achievement Award at the PGA Awards ceremony. Rudin credits his “great [producing] partners on both” and emphasizes that while “the Oscar stuff is fantastic, rewarding and in some ways exciting… it’s not why you do it. You do it because you want to hold your own work to a standard of excellence.” He also notes that while he was heavily involved with the pre-production of both films (he worked closely with the screenwriters, for instance, while they formulated their scripts), he stayed out of the way of the directors during the filmmaking process itself.
  • Awards Tracker: Tom O’Neil advises those who believe that “True Grit” is now the best picture favorite just because it has done well at the box-office ($91.5 million and counting) to “hold your horses.” He submits that “financial success isn’t as important as it used to be to Oscar victory,” citing the fact the best picture Oscar winner went to films that earned at least $100 million domestically 75% of the time between 1986 and 2005, but that 60% of those since have gone to films that did not, including “Crash” ($54 million), “No Country for Old Men” ($74 million), and “The Hurt Locker” ($14 million, or $746 million less than it’s fellow nominee “Avatar”).
  • Hollywood-Elsewhere: Jeff Wells passes along an andorsement of the work of the cinematographer Hoyt Van Hoytema on “The Fighter” from legendary cinematographer Michael Chapman, who lensed perhaps the greatest boxing movie of all-time, “Raging Bull” (1980), among other classics. Chapman writes, “The movie struck me as doing the basic thing that cinematography does when it’s done well, which is to present a three-dimensional stage in which the actors can move.”
  • The Carpetbagger: Larry Rother mourns the fact that the French film “Carlos,” one of the most critically-beloved movies of 2010, is ineligible for Oscar consideration in any category this year “because of a quirk in the rules set by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences.” The film “was initially broadcast on French television before it was packaged and sold abroad for distribution, in two different versions, one long and one short, as a feature film,” which constitutes a violation of an Academy rule that states, “Films that, in any version, receive their first public exhibition or distribution in any manner other than as a theatrical motion picture release will not be eligible for Academy Awards in any category.”
  • Vulture: Jordana Horn asks Quentin Tarantino why he omitted Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” — the film to which the Venice Film Festival jury, over which he presided, awarded the Golden Lion back in September — from his year-end top 20 film list. “I’m a little embarrassed by it, actually,” Tarantino says, explaining, “It was never meant to be a dig against ‘Somewhere,’ or Sofia. I simply didn’t consider any of the films I’d seen in Venice for the list.” I put them in a separate box — I was on official duty at that time, not seeing the films theatrically, independently… Now I wish I’d put it on there — I didn’t think anyone would pay attention.” He adds, “I’d have put it in my top 10.”

Photo: Javier Bardem and Julia Roberts. Credit: Entertainment Weekly.

Thursday December 2nd, 2010


At the 20th annual Gotham Independent Film Awards on Monday night, the woman of the hour was Debra Granik, the 47-year-old director of the low-budget indie “Winter’s Bone,” which won the best feature and best ensemble awards over higher-profile competition like “Black Swan,” “Blue Valentine,” and “The Kids Are All Right,” and now seems as strongly positioned as ever to make a run at an Oscar nomination for best picture (not unlike “The Hurt Locker,” which won those same two prizes at last year’s Gothams).

At the end of the night, Granik — a fellow alumnus of Brandeis University — was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me reflecting on the events of the previous few hours; the long journey of the film (from the making of the film to its premiere in January to its theatrical release in January to the awards season unfolding now); the excellent publicity campaign run by Roadside Attractions that has resulted in it only continuing to pick up steam over the months since its release (again, like “The Hurt Locker”); the star of her film (20-year-old best actress hopeful Jennifer Lawrence, who was unable to attend the event and partake in the celebration that would never have occurred without her extraordinary work); and more.

Thursday December 2nd, 2010


On Monday evening, I spoke with the veteran character actors John Hawkes and Dale Dickey backstage at the Gotham Independent Film Awards just minutes after they and their “Winter’s Bone” castmates won the best ensemble prize over “The Kids Are All Right” and other formidable competition. As you can see in the video above, Hawkes was still stunned and Dickey was still emotional as they reflected on how they first became a part of Debra Granik’s low-budget film; the actual process of making it; the remarkable performance of the film’s now-20-year-old leading lady Jennifer Lawrence (who was unable to attend the ceremony due to filming commitments in London, but to whom they sent their love); the feeling of being recognized in such a high-profile way for their work; and what they can be seen in next (Dickey filmed Alan Ball’s pilot for HBO called “All Signs of Death,” and Hawkes filmed a pilot for FX called “Outlaw Country” and several films that will be playing at Sundance next month).

Wednesday December 1st, 2010


  • Los Angeles Times: An unattributed report filed late tonight states, “A man believed to be connected to the slaying of veteran Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen fatally shot himself at a Hollywood hotel Wednesday evening as Beverly Hills police were serving a search warrant there.” It continues, “The name of the man was not released, and his exact connection to the Chasen murder case was not immediately known. The shooting occurred after 6 p.m., according to two law enforcement sources who spoke on the condition that they not be named.”
  • The Odds: Steve Pond reports that some people close to the Academy are concerned about the implications of the recently-announced decision that actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway will be hosting the 2011 Academy Awards. Both are Oscar contenders this year — Franco is “all-but-certain” to get a best actor nod for “127 Hours” and Hathaway is a “long-shot” possibility for a best actress nod for ““Love and Other Drugs” — and these people believe that the selection of them is akin to “giving the Academy’s seal of approval to those two performers, and by extension their performances.” Academy president Tom Sherak, though, pointed out that nominees have hosted seven times in the past, most recently in 1987, and insists “it makes no difference to us.” (Nevertheless, one consultant insisted, “I don’t work with Colin Firth [the best actor favorite for “The King’s Speech”], but if I did, I would be worried that Franco is going to get a lot of goodwill out of this.”)
  • Screen Junkies: An unattributed interview with “The Fighter” director David O. Russell sheds light on some of the drama that unfolded during the making of the film courtesy of the colorful Wards/Eklunds of Lowell, Massachusetts, whose unusual family dynamics are largely its subject. “I thought they might be some very harsh people that I wouldn’t want to spend ten minutes with,” Russell confessed, but notes, “The fact is, the people are so unbelievably lovable. I still hang out with them.” (Still, Christian Bale, who plays Dickie Eklund in the film, notes, “There were a couple of times I had to physically restrain Dickie from going and landing one right on David… There were some script changes going on, and Dickie wasn’t initially totally understanding that sometimes in putting a whole life into two hours, a little bit of license has to be taken and mixing things up. He wanted everything initially to be absolutely how it was portrayed. And if it wasn’t, there was a couple of times he would say, ‘I’m gonna go and I’m gonna get him.’ So there’s a couple of times I’d be going, ‘No, no, no.’ Then we’d talk and David would talk with him.”)
    • Wax Word: Sharon Waxman reports that former United States Congressman Tom Davis (R-VA) is “the front-runner candidate” for the MPAA chairman position that was vacated in January by former Secretary of Agriculture Daniel Glickman. Davis, who is known for his expertise in the field of intellectual property, has reportedly “met most of the heads of the six major movie companies in the MPAA… [but] one individual knowledgable about the moguls’ views said that, ‘There are still question marks’ about Davis.”

    Photo: Ronni Chasen. Credit: Getty Images.

    Thursday November 11th, 2010


    • [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 Hammond writes 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 Ellwood believes 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 Thompson feels 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.”)
    • The Huffington Post: Dan Lybarger manages to get longtime Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert to reveal a few of the films that will ultimately appear on his year-end top 10 list. Lybarger was interviewing the 68-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner about his new cook book “The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker,” but snuck in a question at the end in which he asked Ebert if he felt that any 2010 films “need more attention,” to which Ebert replied, “You mean like on ‘Best 10 Lists?’ Sneaky. Well, I suppose my list will include ‘The Social Network,’ ‘Inception,’ and ‘I Am Love.'”
    • indieWIRE: Nigel Smith summarizes Tuesday night’s Gotham Independent Film Awards “nominee reception,” which was held at the Dunhill store on Madison Avenue and highlighted by actor Oliver Platt’s announcement of the five films nominated for GIFA’s first-ever “Festival Genius Award.” Chosen from “audience award winners from the top 50 North American festivals,” this year’s nominees are Doug Dearth’s “9000 Needles,” Will Canon’s “Brotherhood,” Davis Guggenheim’s “Waiting for ‘Superman’,” John Gray’s “White Irish Drinkers,” and Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone.” The winner, like the nominees, will be determined by online voting.
    • People’s Choice: Nominations have also been announced for the 37th annual People’s Choice Awards, and while a few Oscar hopefuls earned nods — “The Social Network” for favorite drama movie and “Toy Story 3” for favorite movie and favorite family movie — the public’s selections were, by and large, decidedly more populist and less high-brow than those of most other awards groups. Among them: “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” for favorite movie; “Dear John” for favorite drama movie; Robert Pattinson (“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”) and Taylor Lautner (“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”) for favorite actor; and Angelina Jolie (“Salt”) and Kristen Stewart (“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”) for best actress.
    • 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.

    Wednesday October 27th, 2010


    • Deadline Hollywood: Pete Hammond writes up the 14th annual Hollywood Awards, which “drew an impressive star turnout” Monday evening at the Beverly Hilton. The honorees included the following: best actor Robert Duvall (“Get Low”), best actress Annette Bening (“The Kids Are All Right”), best supporting actor Sam Rockwell (“Conviction”), best supporting actress Helena Bonham Carter (“The King’s Speech”), best director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”), best producers Danny Boyle and Christian Colson (“127 Hours”), and the cast of “The Social Network,” which won best ensemble.
    • Gold Derby: Tom O’Neil reports that the latest DVD screener to arrive in Academy members’ mailboxes — on the heels of “Animal Kingdom” and “Mother and Child” (9/29) and “City Island,” “Please Give,” “Solitary Man,” and “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” (10/15) — is Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone,” which showed up for most of them on Friday. As you may recall, the film received a field-leading three nominations for the Gotham Independent Film Awards last week and was released on DVD yesterday.
    • 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.