Sunday, May 23, 2010

And the sun went down on the French Riviera . . .

After 12 days, the Cannes Film Festival has come to a close. The grand consensus seems to be that this year’s lineup wasn’t terribly impressive, though I would no doubt find myself pondering the necessity of having two arms if I were offered a chance to have been able to go. I thought that I had a decent shot at predicting the awards, but, no surprise, the jury surprised me yet again. After last year’s pretty unsurprising victory by The White Ribbon, which seemingly ran away with the Palme d’Or, maybe I (unintentionally, of course) let a little pride sneak into the good old psyche. Let’s just say that my early handicap was pretty far off, and I’ve learned my lesson. And I thought the Academy was tough . . .

Helpful hint: keep in mind that the Festival almost never gives any one film more than one award.

Feature Films

Palme d'Or - Lung Boonmee Raluek Chat (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
A total surprise. I thought that either Another Year, The Housemaid, Des Hommes Et Des Dieux, or maybe even Copie Conforme would get it, so the jury’s choice is surprising. I’ve heard interesting things about the film, but nothing to suggest that it was a major contender for the Palme.

Grand Prix - Des Hommes Et Des Dieux (Of Gods And Men) directed by Xavier Beauvois
The response was very positive for the film, so winning what’s essentially Cannes’ “second prize” makes sense. I'd not heard of it until the festival began, and now it's on my must-see list.

Award for Best Director - Mathieu Amalric for Tournée (On Tour)
I heard that this film wasn’t particularly good, so Amalric’s victory in this category seems like a nod for the home team’s guy.

Award for Best Screenplay - Lee Chang-dong for Poetry
Poetry has had really strong buzz, and I’d heard its star, Yoon Jeong-hee, was a potential contender for best actress. As that didn’t happen, the jury’s decision to honor the film elsewhere is understandable.

Award for Best Actress - Juliette Binoche in Copie Conforme (Certified Copy) directed by Abbas Kiarostami
HOORAY! Binoche is one of my favorite actresses, and her victory is one that gives me great pleasure. Despite the less-than-stellar reviews for the film, the winner of the Prix d'interprétation féminine would inspire me to watch a film about just about anything. However, think about this : despite the acclaim for Binoche’s work shown here, do you think the Festival’s posterchild will get an Oscar nomination? Sadly, I have every reason to doubt that’ll happen.

Award for Best Actor (tie) - Javier Bardem in Biutiful directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Elio Germano in La Nostra Vita (Our Life) directed by Daniele Luchetti
Bardem’s been considered a contender for this one since the film premiered. As for the tie with Germano, I’m surprised. I didn’t hear anything about La Nostra Vita, and don’t know much of anything about it. That’ll have to change, and soon.

Jury Prize - Un Homme Qui Crie (A Screaming Man) directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
The first film from Chad to be included as a part of the Official Selection, and the first to win an award. I’ve heard good things.

Short Films

Palme d'Or/Short Film - Chienne D'histoire (Barking Island) directed by Serge Avédikian

Jury Prize/Short Film - Micky Bader (Bathing Micky) directed by Frida Kempff

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The State of Things as I See it

Brick (2005)
Originally uploaded by ∆P
I don’t post much of my personal journey on this blog, I have another blog for that, but I’ve realized that some of my personal experience has to do with film so I can post a bit here.

I consider myself a part-time filmmaker – one that wants to become a full-time director. Last June I completed my first feature film, entirely self-financed and made using cinematic tricks & volunteer labor from the most talented group of people I have the fortune of knowing and having worked with. My film school education carried me up to that point, the point where I had the final cut in the can & celebrated with a bottle of wine that I had completed an 85 minute film. END was no longer just words on a page, it was images, edits, sound design, color timing and fantastic performances.

Ever since then my film has been a learning experience for me. While I knew the independent film market had been rapidly changing for years, experiencing that first hand is a totally different matter.

If you’ve watched the Independent Spirit Awards in the past few years you’ve probably come to realize that you recognize most of the audience. There was a time however, when most people, even most geeks, didn’t know what the Spirit Awards were. I remember when my brother met Kevin Smith & congratulated him on his Spirit Award and Smith was shocked someone knew he won it. Now, the awards are televised and considered one of the many events of the awards season. I feel that this is indicative of the change in independent film itself.

To be an indy film used to mean that you had no stars, you as a filmmaker were a completely blank slate to the filmmaking community and very few people had ever heard of you or your film. In most cases an audience member reading about your film that getting into Telluride or Sundance had a better chance of getting hit by a car than ever being able to see your film in their local theatre. This doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

Just as the indy music scene became the indy music genre, independent film seems to have become less of a movement created by the impenetrable walls of the Hollywood system and more about the kinds of stories you tell regardless of how recognizable the names involved with the films are, or the amount of money you spent to tell it.

In my opinion this is both a blessing and a curse. The fact that daring movies can be made in a subset of the system, by voices that are different is an amazing thing. Without this we could not have directors like Jason Reitman, Rian Johnson, or Richard Kelly. It means that films like The Hurt Locker, Donnie Darko, Brick, Frozen River and Wendy & Lucy make it to a screen near you or DVD instead of only the archives of film festivals.

Yet, this influx of an indy genre instead of films also means filmmakers like me have a tougher time getting noticed. I’ve written a lot on this subject before, so I am not going to rant again, but I spent most of the past decade idolizing directors like Kevin Smith, Bryan Singer, Robert Rodriguez & Christopher Nolan – they are all directors that got their notice on the festival circuit using films that had little in terms of budget and no one that was recognizable. While there are always exceptions to the rule, I’m not sure this is possible any more.

If you are a festival programmer who has to choose between two films – a big indy and a micro indy what would you choose? Let’s say Film A had a budget of $2 million, was shot on film, and managed to get Ed Harris, Virginia Madsen, or even Christian Bale to star, and Film B had a budget of $500 grand (if they are lucky), shot on video or Super 16, and cast 6 actors that you kind of recognize because they’ve done background work for the past ten 10 years – which film would you choose to get attendees to buy tickets?

I’m really not complaining; I’m just trying to state the facts. What was already a tight, tough market, has become tougher and part of that is our own fault. With the advent of affordable filmmaking technology it’s no longer as grand a feat to pump out and cut together a story, and once big stars started jumping on the band wagon and brought the films out of obscurity it’s become the norm to have known names behind and in your work – so indy film has fallen into the old Hollywood trap – it is once again about connections and who you know to get your movie made and seen.

I still love independent film, and my desire to become a working director has not faded. However, what my filmmaking experience thus far has taught me is that on my second time out I will need to up my game. Perhaps the second time around I can attract the financing or names I need to get my film seen – and I’m going to hope that someday someone is writing a blog that includes my name as a person whose first films inspired them too.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pocket Thoughts: Buzz and Beauty

I saw this a few days ago and fell a little bit in love. It's one of the finest movie posters I've seen in quite some time. You can watch the trailer for the film here. Unfortunately, I've never seen any of Abbas Kiarostami's films, though I'll hopefully change that soon. I think I'll start with Taste of Cherry, and (no surprise) Copie Conforme just got added to my list. I think Juliette Binoche could make just about anything worth watching. . .

In other news, I've been following the buzz out of Cannes and, from what I gather, The Housemaid and Another Year are the early favorites for the Palme d'Or. It's still early yet, so we'll see. In my book, any new film from Mike Leigh is automatically worth seeing.

No word yet on Biutiful, Alejandro González Iñárritu's first film without Guillermo Arriaga. It'll be interesting to see what direction he'll go on his "own." It did take 2 other screenwriters to finish the thing, so who knows? Arriaga never had another writer credited on the scripts he wrote for AGI. Just sayin' . . .

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Con Man Who Accidentally Became A Hero

While I’m not in the south of France this week, I do have the chance to talk about Cannes’ opening night film, because, through some strange happening, Robin Hood opened here in America less than a week after its premiere at the Festival.

Essentially, if you like Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, and battles on a grand scale, you’ll like Robin Hood. If you’re looking for a by-the-book interpretation of the traditional story, you’ll most likely have a different reaction. It’s certainly not essential cinema, but for what it is, it’s solid.

The film clocks in at a breezy 2 hours and 20 minutes, though it feels much shorter, which I believe is to its credit. If you’re watching a so-called “long” movie and are surprised when it’s done “already,” it’s certainly a cut above the traditional posture of head on fist or (god forbid) the perpetual banging of skull with plastic water bottle to keep awake.

Originally, the project was going to be called Nottingham and was to feature Crowe as a heroic Sheriff of Nottingham. Ridley Scott was apparently less than thrilled with this concept and moved to take the script in a much more traditional direction.

Or not.

Robin Hood is not the usual story of an outlaw in Sherwood Forest accompanied by a band of misfits who go about doing good and evading the clutches of the evil Sheriff. This story is set against the backdrop of an invasion by the French against a leadership-challenged, newly established King John. Robin Longstride (Crowe) pretends to be Robin of Loxley (nice touch, no?), one thing leads to another, and Robin finds himself a key figure in what must happen.

Crowe and Blanchett are solid, although their roles don’t exactly challenge them in any kind of way. It occurs to me that their parts might be generic in that they could have been played by any number of actors, where, on the other hand, can you imagine anyone else as Maximus in Gladiator or Elizabeth I in Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age? I can’t. Seeing Max von Sydow, one of cinema’s greatest actors, was a pleasant surprise, though his performance is a far cry from the brilliance of his work with Ingmar Bergman.

On one level, I quite enjoyed the film, though I was surprised that it didn’t involve the conventional trappings of the Robin Hood story. I wonder if it’s entirely fair to bill it as “Robin Hood” at all, as the film I saw really isn’t quote-unquote Robin Hood so much as it’s the origin story for what is clearly intended to be a franchise. I don’t know how well this is going to work, as Ridley Scott’s never really gotten involved in making a series of films. (no, Alien doesn’t count, as he only directed the first film) Additionally, Russell Crowe’s previous attempt at anchoring the first film in a series, 2003’s wonderful Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, failed to generate the revenue to warrant a follow-up.

Based on the returns of Robin Hood’s opening weekend, an estimated $111.1 million. I’m not so sure this is going to happen. That amount looks great on paper, but the film’s budget was approximately $237 million. For a film to be considered a success, it generally has to make 2 ½ - 3 times its budget. So, for Robin Hood to make some dough and get that sequel greenlit, we’re looking at a hopeful return of almost $600 million. You really think that’s in the cards?

3 ½ stars out of 5.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In a little town by the sea . . .

Apologies for my absence. I, Adam, destroyer of worlds and recovering slacker, resolve to post much more frequently.

Ah, Cannes, sweet Cannes, the time has come again! Every May, I turn my attention here and here. For the next 12 days, my body will be at work, at home, and about town, but my heart will be in France at the Cannes Film Festival. Sadly, I’ve never been able to attend in person, although one day that’s going to change, and is a fact that you could bet Vegas money on the level of the certainty of death and 5 more celebrity relationships to go south before finishing this lovely read. Strange? I think not.

Out of all of the film festivals I can think of, with the exception of A Pilgrimage, (which remains one of the best ideas in recent memory) Cannes is the one that I look at with the most respect. It serves as a major influence upon my own plans as to which films I resolve to see in the coming year. Quite simply, Cannes plays the types of films I like to watch.

In some ways, the winner of the Palme d’Or could be considered to be a more valid title-holder than the film awarded Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Think about it for a moment. The Academy tends to recognize films that are in English and funded/released by a major American studio. Of course, having big names in the cast doesn’t hurt a film’s chances either. On the other hand, the field at Cannes is nothing if not multinational, tends to be much edgier than the Academy’s nominees, and isn’t based nearly so much on sadly misguided notions of hierarchy within the film industry. Think that the Academy’s decision to start nominating 10 films for its top prize is a good one? This year, Cannes is screening 18 films in competition, and I wouldn't dream of trying to handicap the race.

Additionally, the festival allows for a much different type of selection process. Instead of a vote put to a membership of over 6,000 members, the winners at Cannes are decided by a 9 member jury. And what a jury! This year, the jury’s president is Tim Burton and is rounded out by Kate Beckinsale, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Alberto Barbera, Emmanuel Carrere, Benicio del Toro, Victor Erice, Shekhar Kapur, and Alexandre Desplat.

Think for a minute. If you look at the last couple of films that have won the top prize at Cannes, how many have you seen? How many have you even heard of? If we wanted to dig even deeper, how about the films in competition for the past 5 years? That list contains films from some of the most talented artists at work in film today, and the so-called “mainstream” is largely oblivious to it.

I think I’ll keep puttering around in my little stream, thank you very much.