Michel Hazanavicius

Garden of Beasts

According to Deadline Hollywood, Tom Hanks and Michel Hazanavicius plan to meet soon to compare their Oscars, for Hanks to endearingly joke about having more than one, and to discuss possibly collaborating on In the Garden of Beasts. Adapted from the Erik Larson book of the same name, the project would focus on the real-world story of William Dodd – America’s ambassador to Hitler-controlled Germany – who was present in the lead up to WWII. There’s also a possibility of Natalie Portman getting involved, playing Dodd’s daughter who revels in Berlin life. More than anything, it sounds like a frustration play. Dodd sent back Cassandra-like memos to the state department about growing violence aimed at Jewish citizens which went largely ignored. Just think of it. You’re a welcomed diplomat living in the heart of darkness, witnessing the growing madness of Hitler’s Holocaust, but no one back home wants to listen to your theories. It’s infuriating subject matter that could make for a thrilling drama, especially with the gold-plated talent involved. Currently, it’s set up at Universal, but it needs a writer (and a script for that matter), so it could still be far off on the horizon. Fortunately, Hazanavicius is re-teaming with Berenice Bejo for a Chechnya-set drama about an NGO worker helping a lost little boy find his family as a follow-up to The Artist and The Players. Hanks, on the other hand, is busy taking awesome pictures with fans and playing Walt Disney, so there’s plenty of both filmmakers to keep […]

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Culture Warrior

I recently viewed the trailer for Andrea Arnold’s upcoming Wuthering Heights. Besides being a truly awesome-looking adaptation of some literature you were probably forced to read in high school, the third feature by one of the UK’s most promising new filmmakers, and sporting a nice quote from none other than our own Kate Erbland, there’s something else worth noticing about this upcoming indie period drama: it uses the old-school Academy standard (1.33:1 to 1.37:1) aspect ratio instead of the more conventional cinema standard (1.85:1) and anamorphic widescreen cinema standard (2.35:1) ratios. Now, this might sound like I’m drowning deep in some movie nerd recess that actually involves numbers (and escaping anything seemingly math-related is scientifically-proven to be the means by which most movie nerds come into being), there’s something genuinely important about the fact that a handful of small independent and foreign films have embraced this all-but-abandoned ratio. In an era in which all of our screens (movie, television, laptop, tablet, phone) are rectangles, the squarer-shaped screen that characterizes the Academy Ratio is proving to offer unique, even startling approaches to film visuals that can only rarely be found in other categories of experiencing audio-visual media.

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The Independent Spirit Awards and the Oscars never agree. Well, almost never. In 28 years of co-existing, the two organizations have only agreed once before – on Oliver Stone’s Platoon back in 1986. It’s not surprising since the Spirit Awards focus on celebrating a particular method of filmmaking that is often overlooked by the red-carpet-ready Academy Awards, but if both honor prestige movies, it seems at least likely they’d agree from time to time, right? They didn’t until last night. The more-than-two-decades-long drought was finally broken when The Artist took home Best Picture less than a week after bringing home the top Spirit prize. It became the first movie since 1986 to win both the Oscar and the Indie Spirit Award. One was in an ornate theater, the other was in a tent on the beach, but the implication is clear: independent movies are breaking more and more into the mainstream.

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Editor’s Note: This article will be updated in real time as the winners come in during the Academy Awards broadcast. Please join us for our Live-Blog tonight (because we ask nicely), and while you wait for the winners, check out our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories. It’s finally here! The time of year where I can write a paragraph that no one will read because they’ve already scrolled down to see who’s won. But even though this won’t be seen by humans, here’s a personal reminder that this night may be about politics and back-slapping, but it’s also about the splendor of cinema. It’s about the magic of movies. The genius of thousands of images all strung together with blood, sweat and tears to create characters and a journey through the heart of a story. There are some great stories on display tonight. That’s what matters second most. What matters most, of course, is crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you and hearing the lamentation of their women. Let’s get to the winning, right? And the Oscar goes to…

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In a couple of hours, we’ll start live-blogging our little hearts out as Neil pretends to know what “chiffon” is, and after the red carpet, we’ll sink into that fifth drink while reveling in the sheer majesty of the 2012 Academy Awards. Stifling cynicism can take a taxi outta town for a while, because no matter what, if you want to see it, there’s still something magical about this night. Part of that magic is being completely wrong. We’re confident now, but when the winners are announced, there’s always the tiny possibility of a big surprise. So who did you put down in your office pool to take home gold tonight? Our team spent all week tossing out their best analyses, and it all comes down to this. Here’s who we picked. Would you take us up on these bets?

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Oscar 2012 Predictions: Best Director

Film directors are responsible for every single aspect of their movie. That doesn’t mean they actually do each and every task on set, but it’s their job (and prerogative) to get each element just right. It’s a lot of responsibility, and judging by the nominees for this year’s Best Director, it’s clearly too much for a woman to handle. Sorry, Kelly Reichardt, Lynn Ramsay, and Sarah Polley…maybe you can bake something nice for the boys who were nominated? For the record, the director who should walk away with the Oscar this year isn’t even nominated. Nicolas Winding Refn deserved (at least) a nomination for Drive as he was able to craft something of raw beauty from some seemingly disparate parts. The film’s look and style, its exquisitely jarring shifts from calm to explosive, and its unexpectedly affecting score and soundtrack all make for a unique cinematic experience. The nominees are listed below with my prediction for the winner in red…

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Oscar 2012 Predictions: Best Original Screenplay

Hey, who says there are no original ideas in Hollywood? Well, us actually, whenever we have to write about the next 80s-era television show getting a big screen reboot that no one on God’s green earth could possibly want to flash in front of their eyeballs on a giant cinema screen. But this year, there were at least five films that sprung from original ideas that were solid enough to get the ol’ Best Original Screenplay nod. Really, at least five. There’s five in this category! There could be more, but I’m too busy thinking about the Valley Girl reboot to come up with any of them right now. Giggles and bad jokes aside, this year’s Oscar race for Best Original Screenplay is actually pretty, well, original. We’ve got an awards season frontrunner, a raunchy lady-centric comedy (how often do you hear “raunchy” when it comes to the Academy Awards? Not often, that’s how often), a Sundance flick about the financial crisis, a foreign film getting all sorts of (well-deserved) praise, and the latest from one of the Academy’s most nominated filmmakers. This category is truly one hell of mixed bag. What’s perhaps most interesting about this race is that it four of its nominations belong to newcomers to the Oscars, while its fifth nominee is Woody Allen, who has received more nominees in this category (15) than any other screenwriter in the history of the awards. But does that little bit of trivia spell “winner”? Read on for the […]

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Jonah Hill

As you may have noticed if you’ve gone online or been anywhere near a TV today, the nominees for this year’s Academy Awards were announced this morning. Along with that always comes the scrambling to contact those nominated to get their reaction to the honor. Usually what they have to say is pretty boring, but hey, it’s a tradition. And it’s one that Variety has been hard at work keeping all day long. As a service to the world, I’ve compiled some of the more high profile reactions they’ve received here in one place.

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It’s been a year filled with silent screen stars seeking redemption, the 1920s coming alive in Paris, a young boy searching for the first great director, sex addicts in New York City, horses going to war, maids of dishonor, and skulls getting crushed in elevators. Now it’s time to celebrate all of those things and more with the 84th annual Academy Awards. They’ve come a long way since the Hotel Roosevelt in 1929 (although sex addicts have almost always been a fixture). Get to ready to smile, ball your fists with snubbed rage, or be generally unsurprised. Here they are. The 2012 Oscar nominees:

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Culture Warrior

Usually I’m quite cynical about end-of-year lists, as they demand a forced encapsulation of an arbitrary block of time that is not yet over into something simplified. I typically find end-of-year lists fun, but rarely useful. But 2011 is different. As Scott Tobias pointed out, while “quiet,” this was a surprisingly strong year for interesting and risk-taking films. What’s most interesting has been the variety: barely anything has emerged as a leading contender that tops either critics’ lists or dominates awards buzz. Quite honestly, at the end of 2010 I struggled to find compelling topics, trends, and events to define the year in cinema. The final days of 2011 brought a quite opposite struggle, for this year’s surprising glut of interesting and disparate films spoke to one another in a way that makes it difficult to isolate any of the year’s significant works. Arguments in the critical community actually led to insightful points as they addressed essential questions of what it means to be a filmgoer and a cinephile. Mainstream Hollywood machine-work and limited release arthouse fare defied expectations in several directions. New stars arose. Tired Hollywood rituals and ostensibly reliable technologies both met new breaking points. “2011” hangs over this year in cinema, and the interaction between the films – and the events and conversations that surrounded them – makes this year’s offerings particular to their time and subject to their context. This is what I took away from this surprising year:

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This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr pulls out his screening schedule, which looks like a gambling addict’s racing form. He bounces from huge, mainstream releases to minor indie award contenders. Facing motion-capture CGI, tattooed bisexual investigators, cross-dressing waiters, silent film actors, and a lead star who is literally hung like a horse, Kevin tries to make sense of the seemingly countless releases this holiday week. Exhaustion from this process makes it impossible to buy a zoo or face the 3D end of the world, but his movie stocking is full, nonetheless.

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The Artist

The major criticism I saw this morning of the New York Film Critics Circle and their live-voting awards show, as broadcast to the world by several member Twitter accounts, was that they seem to be placing a higher priority on being first than any other element of being relevant. Then again, their choice for best picture — Michel Hazavanicius’ silent smash The Artist — is the talk of The Town this awards season, so it doesn’t seem out of left field or completely irrelevant that they chose to honor it with both Best Pic and Best Director. What is striking about this morning’s NYFCC awards, however, isn’t the awards at all, it’s the fact that they were mightily overshadowed by the postings of a fake account on Twitter. Is that a comment itself on the awards process itself, that the most entertaining part of it all what the part not taking it seriously in the least? Lets explore a bit, shall we?

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Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist is not only a throw back to the days before people spoke in films; it almost makes you wonder why we ever added sound in the first place. Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo shine as the film’s two leads able to say more with a look or a soft shoe than most of us can in 140 characters. Filmed in stunning black-and-white, The Artist takes us back to a time when men wore suits, women wore hats and a simple dance could lead to love. The movie tells the story of silent film star George Valentin (Dujardin) and how his world and career are threatened when sound and talking are introduced into art form. At the same time, aspiring actress Peppy Miller (Bejo) finds herself the sudden face of this new style of filmmaking with her star rising as George’s falls. After a chance encounter at one of George’s film premieres, Peppy wins a role as an extra on his next film (much to George’s surprise and delight). It is clear Peppy is a natural star from the start with a contagious personality and bright eyes that play right to the camera. Audiences quickly fall in love with the new starlet, and they are clearly not the only ones.

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It feels like every year when The Weinsteins are pushing, shoving, and clambering for Oscars, everyone responds, “Really? That movie? It was good, but… really?” This year, that will not be the case. If a viewer doesn’t get a goofy smile planted on their face during Michel Hazanavicius‘ The Artist, then something is probably wrong with them. Their brains must not be ticking right, they could very well be part monster, or perhaps their hearts are missing up their cynical *expletives*. Why would that be? Because The Artist oozes with undeniable charm.

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Director Michel Hazanavicius’s newest film The Artist made a big splash at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Not only did it walk away with some decent praise from critics to plaster on its ads, it also earned the film’s star Jean Dujardin the Cannes award for Best Actor. That’s nothing to sneeze at. And also nothing to sneeze at is the visual ecstasy that is the new US trailer for this French film. The Artist is shot in black and white, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. The story takes place in late 20s Hollywood, and it tells the tale of a romance between a big star who is entering the twilight of his career and a bright young starlet who is just coming into the prime of hers, as the movie industry in general transitions from silent films to talkies. Not only is it set in old Hollywood, it’s made like a film would have been in old Hollywood, complete with no sound and including all of the old school, broad stage acting that one would have expected from silent films of the time. So why it would need a trailer specifically for the US is beyond me, but let’s continue.

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On paper, Michel Hazanavicius‘s The Artist looks a fairly difficult sell. Tell anyone you’re off to see a black and white, silent movie that runs over 90 minutes long and they might look at you with a mix of pity and downright confusion, and it will probably take a Herculean effort by Warner Brothers and The Weinstein Company to convince audiences to come out to see it. But make no mistake, the film is as good as any cinematic experience gets, and will have a far more lasting effect on the world of film than any bloated 3D “epic” that screens out here. The Artist is an infinitely charming, and incredibly clever homage to the Golden Age of silent film: as authentic and believable as if it were made circa 1927, right from the opening credits which are so subtly unquestionable that you’re immediately gripped by the glamour and romance of the era, before we’ve even met a character. When we do, it’s Jean Dujardin’s George Valentin, an intoxicatingly charming mega-star of the silent period, who has the whole Hollywood world on their knees before him – the film subsequently charts his peek, before the advent of the talkies arrives, and he finds himself cast out overnight in favor of the new breed of speaking stars. Along the way he meets Berenice Bejo’s Peppy Miller, a wannabe who miraculously finds her way to stardom when she bumps into George during a photo shoot, and takes her fate in her own hands to […]

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